Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Promised Impressions

Without further ado (and in the order I received them) . . .

Monster Manual

This is simply awesome. Monster Manuals are odd beasts (sorry). They are slam full of ideas, but reading them doesn't really flow. Each monster is almost like a chapter, not always related to any other chapter. The art, and graphic design, are phenomenal. The write-ups are fantastic, giving each monster all the space it needs, and nothing more. I grew to detest the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium paradigm of "One creature per page". Some of them just don't need that much space. The stat blocks also appear very user-friendly. The stat-blocks in 3.x/4E intimidated me somewhat.

Bounded Accuracy is evident here, in the monster ACs and bonuses to-hit. For example, from the d20 SRD, an Ancient Red Dragon (because, why not?) has the following AC and to-hit bonus: AC 39 and Attack Bonus of +44. The 5th Edition Ancient Red Dragon has an AC of 22 and an Attack Bonus of +17. Of course, there are other points of comparison, and factors that will influence the relative hazards, but I think this is somewhat telling. When we're talking about characters gaining a class-based maximum of +6 to-hit, an AC of 22 is frightening, but not a death sentence. A character could conceivably hit such a beast without benefit of any magic weaponry or other aids. Not advisable, but conceivable.

This speaks to a desire I've had for a while for my games. Characters who are butt naked badasses. They have the potential to be serious threats, sans magic items. I blogged about that in this post. It also means that creatures remain viable threats further into the campaign.

Player's Handbook

I was already familiar with most of what's in here. The system proper is in the free Basic pdf. This book has more options for characters, mainly in the form of expanded class selection, and optional Feats. I'm not trying to review anything here, or even give details, so this is very subjective. I'm just as happy with 5th as ever following this release.

I haven't really read all of the classes. I like what I have read, though. The Paths idea is awesome, and incidentally, something I postulated in this post. That post is dated from a point over a year into the playtest, and I'm not suggesting that my idea for it was original. My point is that I like the concept.

I love the power curve here, too. The max bonus a character will have to do anything, based solely upon class, is +6, and they don't reach that bonus until 17th level. Of course, there are still bonuses based on stats, and other factors.

Backgrounds are awesome, and make excellent hooks into a campaign. I even like the implementation of Feats (at least on paper). They seem to be a gateway to a more limited (and easier to manage mechanically) form of multiclassing. There are feats that allow any class to learn some magic, or cast ritual spells. Weapon and armor feats for the martially challenged. Skill feats to allow non-thieves to dabble in larceny. All in all, a convenient way to customize a character without having to go all-in with a whole new class.

On a slight tangent, I like this for another reason. I have to admit that I liked the concept of prestige classes. In practice it became a min/max holiday. A frenzy of taking a level here and a level there for the sake of a certain combination of abilities. Meh. This is much better implemented and tightly focused. Many of the feats give almost a prestige-class vibe, without the need to have a character with 4 classes just to achieve a particular vision.

Dungeon Master's Guide

This one blew me away. This book is a work of genius on every level. I don't even know where to start. It is like reading the 1st Edition AD&D DMG, if it was written in 2014. It has so many of the things from the original that screamed "DM!" It even has the old Forms of Government table and descriptions. Totally awesome.

The chief way it differs from its predecessor is that the original included tons of advice on adjudicating your campaign. This was vital when you're talking about a game that operated on the concept of DM rulings being part and parcel of every session. This DMG focuses more on conducting the campaign, rather than handling the mechanics. Set the dials and switches, and start the engine. After that, it's all about the story. The rules hum quietly in the background, always ready to smoothly rise to the fore when needed.

On my very sketchy first readings, one of the things I think is pure gold is Appendix A: Random Dungeons. Tables for generating the maps of a dungeon level, as well as "backstory" type details. My favorite tables are the ones for random environment things. Sounds, smells, room furnishings, random books and scrolls. All completely awesome.

The other part that immediately caught my eye was Chapter 9: Dungeon Master's Workshop. This chapter is loaded with optional rules, many of which have their origins in the playtest documents. So, if there was something you liked that was cut from the playtest, like Proficiency Dice, chances are it is in this chapter. The thing I really like about this chapter is that these options are fully realized. This is not a few words of vague advice, like "Rather than static proficiency bonuses, you could roll a die based on level to randomly determine your bonus." No, no. It is fully spelled out, including how it changes the feel of things. Also included in this chapter are optional rules for Honor and Sanity, both very welcome additions.

There is so much to be excited about with this new edition. I haven't even scratched the surface of what I'm excited about, and I have only begun to scratch the surface of what is offered. If you haven't picked it up yet, run, don't walk.

By the way, even if you plan to run a campaign using the free Basic pdf (which is completely viable), you should strongly consider getting the DMG, at the very least. With the advice in it a Basic campaign will seem anything but basic.

I'm Back, Bitches

Call off the search. I have escaped the clutches of the dire time-villain known as the Christmas Peak.

Quick recap: I've been working 70+ hours per week since the beginning of November, so my reading time has been highly restricted. I've read some, but more as some relaxation before collapsing into a fitful slumber. I've briefly touched on several titles. My gaming ADD has an absolute field day under these conditions. Probably the runner-up for Biggest Interest Piquer (I made that word up, it isn't misspelled, so don't look) was  . . .

I love to read and think about Burning Wheel. I also love the hack Luke Crane came up with for Mouseguard. In practice, BW is too story-oriented for me, while paradoxically, it is extremely crunchy. A lot of moving parts, which depend on each other to a (much too) large degree. Torchbearer, though seems like viewing BW through a D&D lens. I didn't read all of it, let alone play it, but I did like what I did read.

Which brings me to the current focus of my creative energies . . .

These are my copies, and not some pic of someone else's I snagged.
Go me!

So, I am fully, firmly, and committedly in the 5E camp. I haven't dug too deeply into my hardbacks yet, but I have previously been reading the basic rules pdf. I want to give my initial impressions, though. Let's get started, shall we?


Don't rally the villagers and dole out torches and pitchforks here, but I ordered these off Amazon. I don't have a local FLGS. There is a comic shop that probably carries it, as well as a shop that caters almost exclusively to Games Workshop miniature guys. They are both rather tightly focused on their core market (read: elitist), so I don't frequent them very much (read: not ever since the first time). My only other options were Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble, which are every bit the chain-store giants that Amazon is, and they don't discount shit. How does this equate to the "Nostalgia" heading?

Well, as a younger man, I had to save allowance for D&D swag. I also had to either wrangle a ride to a game store, or order by mail. (Incidentally, I acquired a set of those old soft plastic dice by mail, as well as Eldritch Wizardry) That meant time spent in sweet, maddening anticipation. Waiting for my shipments from Amazon (they were all shipped separately), was very reminiscent of that anticipation. It was an awesome way to get into these books.

Taken as a Whole

My feeling at this time is that this really is a melding of all that has gone before.

It has the obvious roots in the LBBs, shared by all editions, in the concepts of the six stats, hit points, classes and levels.

Philosophically, it has the smoothness of B/X in its operation, ease of play, and ease of DMing.

  Its debt to AD&D I will discuss in the DMG heading.

From 2nd Edition we get kits, streamlined, balanced, and standardized in the form of Backgrounds. This new edition seems to evoke 2nd Edition to me somehow. The move from the baroque language of 1st Edition to the smooth, easy-reading of language of 2nd Edition is mirrored here. 5th Edition is much more pleasing to read than either the law-tome known as 3.5 or the tech manual of 4th Edition. It also uses the concept of colleges of magic and clerical domains, first appearing here.

From 3rd and 4th it draws concepts that unify and streamline. Ascending AC allows a much more unified mechanic. In a real way, the to-hit roll simply becomes another skill roll. The three saves being based on stats, found in 3.x, became the six stat-based saves of 5th. The idea of Feats was born in 3.x. Their appearance in 5th is much better implemented, and entirely optional.

4th even offers useful tidbits. The "rest" structure is alive and well, which I do like (blasphemy? Perhaps). One of the most irritating disconnects in D&D, for me, has always concerned hit points. On the one hand we're told the bulk of the damage a character takes represents minor nicks, close calls, and general fatigue. Yet, if depending on natural healing, it could take weeks to recover from a couple of fights. I have always liked the idea of regaining a chunk of hit points following a chance to catch your breath, take a pull from a wine flask, and slap on a bandage or two.

So, that is my thumbnail sketch of what got us here. I think I'm going to split my initial impressions into another post. I'm going to do it right now, so this isn't going to be one of those time I tease you with something I never deliver. Promise.

Monday, September 29, 2014


I adore Harn. Simple and to the point. Sure, it's not for everyone or every game, but I love it. At one time I had a LOT of Harn material: the Harnic boxed set, the Ivinia boxed set, all of the Encyclopedia Harnicas, the Kaldor module, the Melderyn module, and 100 Bushes of Rye and Dead of Winter adventures. I also had Nasty, Brutish, and Short. All of this was before a house fire destroyed very nearly all of my gaming collection.

I ran a short-lived campaign centered on Trobridge Inn whilest living in Atlanta. We used GURPS 3rd Edition and conversion notes I found somewhere. It was fun, but we ultimately found GURPS too frustrating.

I have nothing against HarnMaster, having owned the 2nd and 3rd editions, along with HarnMaster Magic, pre-fire. I really like the rules set, but have no problem with the idea of using something else with a Harn campaign.

The point to this is simple: I'm rolling some ideas around for a Harn campaign using a rules set I've never talked about before (at least not to you lot). I apologize for the mystery. I promise I'm not gratuitously amping the drama, I just don't want to give away too much, too quickly. In truth, I found the key to the first stumbling block only this evening.

I really hope I can maintain some steam with this, if for nothing else than to collect some notes that I can refer back to when my mood swings around. And around.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Delving Deeper Compendium

It's here! Actually it came in yesterday morning, but I was at work. This is a very initial impression. I plan to expound upon it, but for now, these are my thoughts.

First and foremost, this is v4 of the Reference Rules. I haven't noted any significant changes from the v3 rules. In point of fact, for anyone that pays any attention to this project, the changes have been available for some time. The project's author, Simon Bull, is very good about posting his ideas on his blog and on Delving Deeper's Google+ community.

I will say that I am undecided about the cover. It is a very nice piece, but I'm not sure it survived the reduction to booklet size very well. There are a lot of little details in the piece, and it is black and white. I'm absolutely certain that at a larger size, such as maybe 8.5x11, it would look fantastic. As it is, to me it looks good, but too dark and too "busy". I hate to be critical about a game I love so much, but that's my honest feeling about the cover.

Speaking of the cover, the stock seems a little "light". I routinely cover all my softback game books with clear shelf liner. I definitely recommend that here. It added just the right amount of weight to the cover.

I ordered this because I respect Simon's work on these rules, his respect for the original rules that his are derived from, and his scholarship in these matters. I have two sets of the v3 rules printed, and didn't intend to order anything until the Reliquary finally comes out. I felt like giving my feedback was the least I could do to support Simon's work, though. I'm very happy to order this, offer my thoughts, and get some of my houserules posted this weekend. We'll see how that part goes. I do have some ideas, but actually getting them typed up and posted. Well, therein lies the rub.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Circular Logic

The draw and appeal of LBB D&D is undeniable to me. Every single time I read a post from Delta's D&D Hotspot or any of the other old schoolers I read regularly I want to put everything else on the bookshelf and never look back. In fact, I seriously considered doing that this past week.

I was reading the new rules booklet in the Starter Set. It occurred to me that I really don't enjoy reading rules that much anymore. I think the problem is with patience. A lot of rules these days are written to be very friendly. I get this. Our hobby needs new blood, plus it is not populated merely by people that get off on reading rules. I prefer rules that are written in a conversational, yet very straight-forward manner. Delving Deeper and Lamentations of the Flame Princess are two examples, though they have quite dissimilar "voices". One of the reasons I never really make the leap with Alternity is the excessively nurturing writing.

But, I digress. So, I had decided to just pass on 5E, even though I really like its direction, because I just want to stick with something I've been intimately familiar with for almost 40 years. No muss, no worries. No rules that are almost like they used to be, but you need to read them again like you've never read them before, lest you miss a significant detail. OK, good, so that's what I'll do. I think, though, I'll incorporate some house rules I've been knocking around a while now. Such as:

  • This one which makes each of the four main classes the "starting point" for what your character will ultimately become
  • All my many ideas for making fighters Fighters
  • My ideas for bringing some variety to magic-users, including such things as increasing spell efficacy based on ability, forcing mages to be more focused, and making them more combat-survivable
Plus, I do like the way 5E handles Feats (at least in the playtest) and I like the idea of Advantage/Disadvantage.

It then became evident to me that all my house rules have been implemented into 5E to some degree or another. That, along with the things I would drop into any old school house tules I cook up, brought me full circle. Honestly, I don't like house rule documents all that much. I love cooking them up, but at the table, I think it can be a pain to get everyone on the same page (pardon the pun). Plus, for me, I have an easier time trusting a DM (and claiming DM authority) when working as closely as possible with the RAW. Personal limitation, I suppose, but there it is.

The final solution here, which is probably obvious, is for me to stop reading the Starter Set rules document. It is specifically targeted at people that need their hands held by a friendly presentation. Moving forward, I'll be sticking to the Basic pdf for my rules needs. At least until the Big Three drop. After that, all bets are off.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Are DMs or Are We Mice?

There's a lot being said around the interwebs about 5E. Some of it good, some not. Some sensible, some not. Some reasoned, and some reactionary nonsense. I want to touch on something I'm seeing a lot, but I want it known here and now: this isn't endemic merely to 5E as it relates to any older edition. This is equally relevant to any two editions, or entirely different games, for that matter. 5E is just the most current topic of this sort.

After that preamble, my point is quite simple. Old school DMs are imaginative and independent thinkers. We blaze our own way through our own worlds, even if "our own world" is our own version of a published world. We take it all and make it our own. So, why, then, do detractors want to cite certain aspects of 5E as "robbing" us of our self-determination? They report the following:

  • The Standard Array takes the dice out of the players' hands from the outset of character generation
  • There is a lot of grumbling that the default hit points per level is just a little too attractive to pass up
  • The equipment by class and background limits player choice further
  • The Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws tables with each Background totally restrict player creativity

 This brings me to the point of this post. All of those points would be among the easiest houseruled things to work with. Most of them simply aren't even true. Observe:

  • 4d6, drop the low roll and arrange to suit is given as the first method of generating ability scores, standard array and point-buy are given as options to that
  • We all know that the average roll on a given die is 1/2 that die, plus .5, so the average of a d10 is 5.5, for example. The default hit points for each class simply use this, rounded up. This causes some concern, since it means there is no risk with taking the default value. I say "So what?" If you want your character to be average, knock yourself out. But, seriously, we're old school DMs here. Can't we just reduce that default hp value by 1 on the fly, and move the hell on?
  • The equipment packages are offered simply to speed things up when no one wants to take a lot of time hand-selecting equipment that is likely in the packages anyway. Generating starting funds and purchasing equipment piece-by-piece is fully supported in the equipment chapter. And if it wasn't, So What? Prices are given and we all know how to roll for starting gold
  • The Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws tables are there for either players that don't have a firm idea in mind, or NPCs. Now, the RAW don't exactly spell that out, but c'mon, they do say we're not bound to use these options (pg 35, second paragraph). If you're an old school DM and feel absolutely shackled to those tables, maybe you should step outside the box. One of the oft-overlooked aspects of roleplaying old-style was discovering your character through play. It was a process with a certain degree of randomness to it. I like these tables for that reason

The last thing I want to pontificate about is the quick leveling up to 3rd level. It is an established design paradigm that characters are essentially "apprentices" during the first three levels, finding their way in their chosen profession. Some old-schoolers complain about losing the white-knuckle excitement of those low level adventures. Posh! For me, with 37 years at the dice, those levels are tedious as hell. In fact, in every campaign I've played in for almost 20 years, if we started at 1st, we were given either a hp "kicker" of up to 20 hps, a supply of healing potions, or both. And this doesn't even consider the poor wizard, who has but 2 options once a fight breaks out 1) Cast, 2) Pray to not be attacked.

If it sounds like I'm edition warring, please accept my sincerest apologies. I stated in a post a long time ago, I don't mind criticism, as long as it is reasonable. I don't like it when something is picked apart and/or held to the strictest possible interpretation just to make it look bad compared to a liberal and generous interpretation of someone's favorite something.

I like 5E, not just because it looks like a good system. I like it, too, for what it means to the game that has been a steady and constant friend to me, telling stories together lo these many years.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Moderation and Randomization

There is a curious dichotomy  in most gaming philosophies. It is the roleplay vs roleplay, that age-old argument.

Consider this:

The party enters a seemingly empty room, which the DM describes thus:
"It appears to have served as sleeping quarters. There is what appears to be the remains of a rough cot, along with a shattered chest, and curiously, a moose head hanging askew on the wall to your right. What do you do?"

Party A
(Thief) "I give the moose head a good once-over."
(DM rolls a successful check, but knows there is nothing there) "You don't notice anything out of the ordinary."
(Thief) "No hidden compartments or triggers or anything?"
(DM) "Nope. Just a lot of dust and a definite funk in the air."
(Thief) "Alright, how's about that cot?"

Party B
(Thief) "I carefully approach the moose head and, without touching it, look at it carefully for any signs of tripwires or disturbance on the wall where it is mounted."
(DM, going strictly with player description to inform what the character perceives) "You don't notice anything unusual."
(Thief) "Ok. How many spikes are on the antlers? I carefully move the left ear clockwise. The right counter clockwise. Both of them at the same time in opposing directions. If there is a tongue, I pull it out and swirl it around. I try to push in the eyes." Etc etc etc for the next 15 minutes.
(DM knows there is nothing there) "You don't notice anything out of the ordinary."
(Thief) "Let's move on to that cot."

Why are these two methods always portrayed as being mutually exclusive? It is odd to me that a lot of gamers are fine with randomly determining some things, but call random determination of others utter bullshit. A lot of old schoolers despise the idea of any kind of Spot/Notice/Search checks. I've read of some that won't allow a thief player to roll to disarm a trap unless the player describes how he's doing it.

By the same token, I don't like the notion of the party arriving at a tavern and having the bard's player say "I toss 20 gp at the barman for a round for the house. That should give me a +2 on my Learn Rumors roll. Aha! 20! What rumors do I hear?" I prefer a game where player description and roleplay are part of the process, not ignored and not all of the process. A game where a brief description of looking in the moose's mouth and twisting its ears might grant a bonus.

Nothing should be automatic, based solely on player description. I have been looking directly at something I've been searching for and still not seen it. I've dumped everything in my backpack on the ground and still not found the Clif Bar lurking around in a nook in the thing. A thorough description by the player shouldn't grant automatic success. I like some randomness. It makes me feel more like I'm exploring and discovering the dungeon right along with the players.

The bottom line is, RPGs are, at their core, playing make-believe. The rules for rolls and randomizations keep us from devolving into the arguments we had as children. "I shot you!" "uh-UH, I shot you first! I already called it!"

Sunday, July 6, 2014

5E Basic: Rambling About Fighters

I've read up through the Classes chapter. I don't really want to discuss races (sorry) except to say that for some reason the 5E dwarf speaks to me more than any dwarf ever has. In fact, the elf is appealing to me as well. I've been human-centric for a long time, mainly because I felt like the other races had become nothing more than optimization options (and this feeling goes back to 2nd Edition). With viable bonuses for all races, plus the old-school vibe (and please don't hate me for wanting an old-school vibe; I am old), I want to play dwarves and elves again.

One of the things I always look for, no matter the system, is to see if I can make a fighter to be feared. This shouldn't be news by now. Well, I believe the answer is yes, but can I make a fighter that is more fearful than one of the other classes? That's always the lurking question, isn't it? So, I'm going to jump the order and look at the fighter first.

With the Proficiency bonus anyone proficient with a given weapon has the same "to hit" bonus as a fighter of equal level. That's a bit unsettling, if considered in a vacuum. In truth, it is just a part of Bounded Accuracy, which basically means that a character's ability to emerge from a fight victorious isn't tied primarily to his ability to lay steel on an opponent once. Fighters get truly nasty starting at 5th level (unless I'm reading something wrong, chime in if I am). See, at 2nd level fighters get Action Surge, which they can use once per rest (until 17th level). This allows them to take an extra action on their turn. Then, at 5th level, they get an extra attack, when they take the Attack action. So, one action (Attack) and they get two attacks. I guess you see where I'm going with this. Use the Action Surge for an Attack action and make four attack rolls. Now, if we couple all this with the Champion Archetype, it gets even more nasty. See, at 3rd level a Champion scores a critical hit on a 19 or 20. Suppose a Champion with Great Weapon Fighting is involved. In a nutshell, he can roll 4 attacks in one round, with a 10% of doing a critical with each, rolling 4d6 if he does crit AND re-rolling any of those that come up a 1 or 2.

Ok, so that could seem a bit contrived, maybe borderline min-maxing, but I don't think so. It isn't twisting up some weird combination that has zero roleplaying verisimilitude. It's pretty much a natural progression along a path set upon during character generation.

Here's my take on the new fighter.

  • He is proficient with all weapons, which is something of an advantage, but no class is really screwed concerning weapon choice, so it isn't a great big deal.
  • He is the only class proficient with heavy armor (the mountain dwarf has such proficiency)
  • Fighting Styles will make him marginally better than any other class in a narrowly-defined area
  • The Action Surge/Extra Attack dynamic will be what really sets them apart as death-dealers
  • Martial Archetypes will further distance them as Not-to-be-Trifled-With

One other thing: the cleric and wizard gain five Ability Score Improvements at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19. The rogue gains six, at 4, 8, 10, 12, 16, and 19. The fighter gains a whopping seven, at 4, 6, 8, 12,14, 16, and 19. So, when the other classes are getting their second, the fighter will be getting his third. This essentially means that any fighter can easily have his primary combat ability maxed out by 6th level, if his starting score is decent and the player concentrated the improvements there.

I think the new fighter should rightly be feared as he advances. I'm looking forward to seeing the other archetypes on offer in the upcoming PHB. It seems like it would be a simple matter to homebrew some as well.

By the way, the cover I posted earlier is not the one I went with. Here is the cover I ultimately made and went with:

Friday, July 4, 2014

So, This Is the New Basic

I haven't printed it yet. I needed to whip up a cover first. I've skimmed over it, and I dig what I see. There is a printer-friendly version, too. As far as I can tell, though, the "friendly" comes from doing away with a (very light) marbling texture background.There's still a light green background to the sidebars and alternating lines on tables. There is a tan-ish accent at the bottom edge, incorporating the page numbers. I'm not entirely sure how much of a toner issue the marble effect will cause, but I plan to print mine in glorious color.

A note for you OCDers out there: The way the pdf is set up, the page numbers will end up close to the spine. I personally prefer my page numbers in the outer corners. I simply inserted a blank page following the title page (or leave the "back" of the title page blank).

Anyway, here's my cover:

Hopefully I'll have it printed by this time tomorrow. If I have time, I'll post some thoughts.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Little Chunk of Gaming History

So, I'm kicking around RPGNow this afternoon, and what should I find?

It seems that one of the stretch goals of the Deluxe T&T kickstarter was a re-issue of 1st edition T&T. It is only $1.95. It includes a new forward by Ken St. Andre. It is endlessly fascinating to me that our hobby grew to such lofty heights from such humble beginnings. This is a scan of the original deal, and it looks like it. It looks as if it went straight from Ken's typewriter to a high school mimeograph machine. It practically smells like an English test. It even looks like the pages were hand-numbered, either as an afterthought or due to technical limitations. I love this sort of thing. My hard drive is almost a museum of the hobby and this is a welcome "piece" in my collection. Get it here, if you want a glimpse into our collective past.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Runequest Essentials

It appears there is an embarrassment of riches at my gaming fingertips. I just finished posting about the D&D 5E Basic rules being released as a free pdf, when, lo! I see news of this (thanks to Akrasia).

RuneQuest Essentials

In a lot of movies and stories is an oft-heard line "We might have been brothers/friends in another life". Well, RQ may have been as D&D to me in another life. I wish I had the history with RQ that I do with D&D. Not replacing D&D, just alongside. Brother in arms, as it were.

On a side note, give a listen to this: 

Anyway, I've been mightily intrigued by RQ6 and everything Design Mechanism has been doing for it. It has been admiration from afar, though. The releases are getting a fair amount of love and appear to be of high quality, but I haven't taken the plunge. I have OpenQuest and Legend to scratch my infrequent RQ itch. RQ Essentials gives me a sterling opportunity to really get a look at what they're doing and how they're doing it: the writing style, editing, artwork, etc.

One of the things I love about RQ is the Bronze Age flavor that just oozes out of it. The new cover certainly keeps that alive, so now I get to really see what this is all about.

D-36 (or D-25 Depending on Your Reckoning)

So, here we are at 36 days and counting. And yet it isn't really 36 days. As it turns out, there are certain outlets that will be going live with the Starter Set on July 3rd. That isn't really an issue for me, here in the beautiful Tennessee Valley, as there are none of the uber-special stores convenient to me (at least that I know about). Of real interest to me, though, are the Basic Rules. I'm sure you all know by now that the basic core of the rules will be available free (more on that in a moment). What I learned only today is that the free Basic pdf will be released also on July 3rd, coinciding with the Starter Set pre-release. Hence, he D-25.

Free Basic

I'm ridiculously happy that they are doing this. There are two aspects of my gaming nature that suffer serious compatibility issues:

  • I'm an open-source kind of guy and I like my games to embrace that philosophy
  • I'm a D&D whore. Period. No matter what other games I look at, post about, or fawn over, D&D is my THING. With the exception of Moldvay/Cook B/X, I have snapped up every edition as soon as availability and finances allowed. It's who I am, it's what I do.
So, releasing the Basic rules free (at least as in beer, not much word about an OGL at this point) is a bold stride toward being able to resolve these opposing forces in my gaming psyche.

By the way, I also pre-ordered the PHB. Unfortunately, I am at my math limit for the weekend, so a countdown to that release is currently unavailable.

Monday, May 26, 2014

50 Days and Counting

I pre-ordered on Amazon. They have that lowest price guarantee going on. Last week the price was $12 and some change. So, I decided to wait for the weekend, after payday, cause, you know, I'm not made of money. Well, Saturday it was back at $17+. I passed on that, not knowing for sure what the price would do. I felt pretty safe in the idea it would come back down, but didn't know it for a fact. And since a hold will be put on my account, I wanted to hit that price at a low point. Cause, you know, I'm not made of money.

Happily, the price today was $12.65 (or so), and I was a go. Green light. Execute. Now the waiting begins.

There is something I want to mention, 'ere I go. I've seen a lot of hubbub about there being no character generation rules in this set. It comes with 5 pregens, with canned progressions thru level 5. I'm mostly ambivalent about it. I'm getting this for two reasons:

  • I want to get a real sense of what the new edition should be. Art, layout, etc.
  • I'm a fanboy. Even though 4E turned out not to be my cup o' tea, I always wished I would have entered it with it's red basic box.

As far as what I can and can't do with it in the interim until the "big books" come out, that seems like much ado about nothing. There will be a 48-page pdf (free) containing the meat of character generation from the PHB. If that isn't enough, I have the final playtest pack printed and spiraled (booklet sized, no less). So, I think most of us should have enough of our bases covered to survive until the DMG finally hits in November.

By the way, this will be the last post carrying the "Next" label. From here on, posts relating to the new edition will have the "5E" label.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Manic Fervor

So, in case anyone missed it, I am officially JAZZED about the D&D release. One of the reasons I actually set aside my hesitations about this iteration is Bounded Accuracy. I mentioned it as part of another post, but here is a link to a WotC article talking about in-depth. It is a very cool concept, and this is worth looking at.

Bounded Accuracy

A Follow-up to the "Whore" Post

Ok, I've looked at some higher-res images of the covers at EN World I like the style of it. Not quite as "sharp". They have a little bit of fuzziness to them, which, to me, seems more artistic. One thing I love about them, though: NO Tieflings anywhere to be seen! Hell yeah! If I never see another one of those guys it'll be too soon.

Monday, May 19, 2014

I'm a Whore . . . What of It?

I'm not fooling anyone. I have every edition of D&D made, at least as far as core rules go. I've acquiesced back and forth on Next for a long time. I've printed at least two of the playtest packs. Now, late as usual, I find out that the Starter Set is due in less than 2 months. Here is an ad from WotC's website, D&D Starter Set.

I will be getting this. Period. C'mon, 64-page DM book, 32-page Player book, PC levels 1-5. What's not to love?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Delving Deeper v3 Random Wilderness

Well, thanks to the tireless efforts of the esteemable Mr. Simon Bull, I now have all three volumes of v3 of the Delving Deeper Reference Rules. I'll talk more at length about the new version in another post (maybe). For now, I wanted to talk about a very specific portion of the rules and share a little something.

On pages 20 and 21 of Volume II: Delving and Exploration, there are two tables for randomly determining a wilderness environment. I am always intrigued by such things. I am very enamored of the idea of randomly generating certain "facts" and imagining the ties that bind them together. So, I generated a small region, and without further ado . . .

I like it. In case you're interested, here's how I did it:

I started with a blank hex map and randomly generated the far-left column. From there I just went column by column, top to bottom. If a roll made zero sense, I ignored it, but otherwise I followed the table pretty close. Of course, most hexes were adjacent to more than one other hex, so I used that to inform my decision if I chose to ignore the roll.

Once I had all the terrain generated I then went hex by hex rolling on the terrain features table. For rivers and trails, i marked each hex as they occurred and "stitched" them together whenever it was all done. This did involve connecting rivers and trails through hexes in which they were not indicated, but that's how shit gets done.

Once I had everything generated, I drew the map in GIMP. There is a script and brush set called hexGIMP that is available for free download. It includes more terrain than just that generated by the tables, so I used a little DM license in those cases.

I plan to further flesh this out using the D30 Sandbox Companion, but I've made such plans before that have come to naught. So, we shall see.

Edit: The red skull/crossbones I used when the table indicated "lair", however, when fleshing out, I intend to view these more as "something interesting".

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Spell Lists

This is something of an open question and solicitation of opinions.

A very common thing in older editions of D&D is specific spell lists for certain classes. Rangers and Paladins are prime examples. One thing I never really put too much thought into is the limitations of such a list. Does it mean that a spell casting class can only ever use spells on its class list? Maybe the spells on the list are the only ones that can be selected from freely, like when a level is gained. If that is the case, what about researching new spells? Could these be any spell the player wants?

I kind of think they should be limited to only what's on their lists, since a limited list seems to be a balance thing. But, it doesn't make much sense, really, from the character's perspective. If there was some sort of college of magic situation, then it makes more sense. Or maybe a source-of-power sort of thing.

This is pertinent because I am working on a spell using class for Delving Deeper. I want a limited spell list to be one of the balancing factors. So, from a DM perspective I wouldn't want a player of the class to go trying to research Fireball, which isn't on the list for the class. On the other hand, I can understand a player finding a scroll with Fireball on it and saying "I want to copy it into my spellbook", and being pissed if I said no, with no game-world reason for it.

I know this is post is a bit more disjointed than usual. I hope I made enough sense to get my question across so I can get some advice.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Delving Deeper Reference Sheets

At long last I have completed my Delving Deeper Reference Sheets. These are done in the style of the little reference sheet booklet that came with the white box. They are meant to be printed double sided and folded. I wouldn't recommend stapling, though, because I find they work better when you can pull them apart as needed. As a matter of fact, I would suggest that when (if) you print them out, don't just send them to the printer all at once. I tried to group things in such a way that they made sense even once folded, but my attention span doesn't support that sort of thing for long periods. So, look them over and decide for yourself what should be on the back of what. Here is a sample of one of the sheets:

Hopefully these will be of use. Oh, by the way, all the tables concerning classes and characters came from v3 of the Reference Rules. The rest are from v2.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Dangerous Thing

I've been thinking a lot since my last post (hence the title of this one). I won't bore you with the trip through my psyche. What I have arrived at, though, is a real desire to seriously look at other systems. I used to be fairly well-versed on a number of systems, even if I never played them. Since I've been a retro-cloner I've had less tolerance for new systems (new to me, that is). My current M.O. is to snarl my nose at anything that I can't have up and running in 3.9 minutes or less.

Gaming is my hobby, though. To my mind, my current attitude would be akin to a golfer who refuses to play on any course he is unfamiliar with and is more than a 3.9 minute drive from his house. Foolishness. So, I end up getting new things, but I only skim them.

Once upon a time (about a year ago), I posted about Runequest and the fact that I have always wanted to learn it and like it. To that end I purchased the pdf of Legend from Mongoose. I had it printed, and I have picked it up and put it down numerous times. Now, I've picked it up again, with a (hopefully) new and improved attitude.

I like a lot of what I know of the broadstrokes of the game. I have also always been in awe of Glorantha. So, wish me luck, I'll probably need all I can get.

By the by, I came up with my own cover. The minimal black cover is appealing, but I totally dig the older color Runequest cover. That cover, along with the original PHB cover, is one of the very best rpg covers. So, I fired up the GIMP and whipped up this mash-up cover.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some (Very Early) Thoughts on Dungeon World

I've been reading my printed pdf a bit, and studying forums, reviews, and blog posts. One of the biggest problems I am having is that I didn't take the plunge with this game sooner.

I really dig the core mechanic, from concept through implementation. I'm a big fan of the bell curve, so naturally a 2d6 resolution mechanic is right in my wheelhouse. I also really like the graduated results. Just in case you didn't know, to resolve an action roll 2d6 + relevant stat bonus. If the roll is 10+ you succeed as desired. A 7-9 means you succeed, but with some sort of complication. On a 6 or less, it is the GM's call. Maybe you succeed but with a cost of some sort, or maybe you suffer humiliating defeat. (This may sound arbitrary, but the rules hammer the notion of "the fiction". So, the GM's response to a 6- roll should be logically consistent with the scene as it is being played out.)

In the last campaign I played in we had a situation wherein this type of mechanic would have been useful. We were playing my friend's heavily houseruled AD&D 1e/2e mash-up. I consider my friend a completely awesome DM. He knows his world inside and out, being immediately ready with details like the best vintages from particular wine regions, through giving little clues buried in ancient dialects in lost writings. One of is "soft spots" his in strict interpretation of the dice. In this campaign, our first "encounter" was . . . frustrating.

There was a room which was obviously trapped. He didn't allow a detect trap type roll unless and until we described exactly what we were doing. Now, as a principle that is keeping with the finest old school tradition. But, there was a very specific method to this trap. We spent over an hour of that session mucking about with that trap.

I'm not busting on my friend. I would leap at the chance to play in one of his campaigns, any place, any time. I also know that his way is not the only way to DM situations like that. My only point is that a graduated mechanic, like that in DW, would have mitigated that situation and kept the game moving. When this type of mechanic is hard-wired into the rules, and everyone at the table knows it, the expectations change. When the expectations change, the dynamic changes, and thus the game itself changes.

I can see the other side of this argument. If we, as a group, had approached that room/trap with the expectation that we would get past it in one turn, even if it meant "something bad" happened, it would change how we approached it. However, it doesn't work that way. If you roll a 6-, as GM it is my option for how things progress. It is incumbent on me to exercise that option in keeping with the established fiction, though.

To return to the room for a moment: the room was large and filled with stone columns. The trap was that the columns would start falling before we could cross the room. My character (an 8th level fighter) had a column fall on him. He took quite a bit of damage, but, being a fighter, had the HP to cover it. So, he was described as being pinned, and had to be pulled out.

If this would have been DW, and we had rolled a 6- to defy the dangers of the trap, I would have been rolling up a new character. The fiction would demand it. A 2-ton granite column falls on you and it is time for your companions to salvage any of your gear that isn't flattened.

Of course, my friend could have narrated it that way. That's not the D&D way, though. That's not a criticism of D&D, just a contrast of two different games. D&D is about shaping the narration to fit the numbers, while DW is about using the fiction to inform the numbers. So, in the campaign, my guy took about 60% of his HP, obviously he was still alive since he still had HP. So, my friend had to narrate it that he was pinned under a chunk of granite. In DW the fiction states that 2 tons of granite falls on you and you're screwed. Period.

That may not sit well with some of you. Hell, when my ADD swings again, it may not sit well with me. However, on this rainy Sunday morning, it sits very well with me.

Friday, March 21, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different

I'm a fighter guy. Nothing different there. One of the things I always hated about my old group was the wild disrespect they had for niche protection. Especially where combat rules were concerned. There was zero effort expended to make sure my fighters were consistently better at fighting. I can dig the thief backstabbing or a magic user with a Staff of Striking. Sure, my fighter won't mete out more damage than everyone else, every single round. But when it comes to laying down the hurt reliably, there should be no substitute for the fighter. I mean, it's right there in his name.

Now, for the "completely different" part . . .

I have noticed this game from afar for quite some time. It seemed far too narrativist for me, though. Even though I was seeing a lot, and I mean lot, of mad love for it, I couldn't get past the product description. There was a part of the blurb that said something to the effect that the players and GM collaborate on the world/setting when the campaign kicks off. Whoa! That kind of talk is like the Black Knight solemnly intoning "None shall pass".

That kind of talk rankles my referee nerves. One thing I despise about the narrativist movement is when it goes overboard with player agency. Said agency is a good thing, in moderation. In many cases, though, it goes too far, to the point that the referee is present to manage the players' entertainment. We're all there to have fun, and that includes the referee. I get it if the players don't want to play in a post-apoc dystopia, and the referee shouldn't be a dick about trying to force it. By the same token, maybe the referee doesn't want to run a game set in Candyland. Obviously, there is plenty of middle ground in which to meet, it's just that I've seen too many systems that think player agency should be Almighty.

Well, something happened (I can't say what happened because I don't know) that prompted me to give Dungeon World another look. I took up arms and approached the Black Knight, intent on passing and learning the secrets he was guarding.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I've Become Aware of a Disturbing Trend

I can be lazy. No, really, it's ok, I can admit my faults. I started my gaming life as a wargamer. Of course, that led directly to roleplaying. Now, with old school wargaming you played with heavy cardboard counters maneuvered around on a map. Prerequisite to this movement was the set-up. The counters had to be sorted and appropriately placed. In many cases this was very specific, based on which unit was historically present at a given location. For some games this could literally take hours (the Longest Day game, from Avalon Hill, is an excellent, and extreme, example).

Over time I discovered that I was playing less due to the tediousness of the set-up. I still wanted to play, or more specifically, I wanted the fun of playing. In other words, I wanted fond memories of a well-played game, but was increasingly put-off by setting up the game.

Fast-forward to this Weekend

This weekend I went bat-shit with [S.]ine [N.]omine. I already had Stars Without Number and several Mandate Archives. I nabbed the pdfs of Skyward Steel, Other Dust, Red Tide, An Echo Resounding, Darkness Visible, and Suns of Gold. I also picked up more recent Mandate Archives, along with Black Streams for Red Tide and Codex of the New Earth for Other Dust. It's been quite a haul. In case it isn't obvious, I've become quite a fan of Mr. Crawford's work.

How does this fit in with the title of the post, and the blurb about wargaming? Good question. Here is the answer in a nutshell:

I've been spending more time reading about the above titles rather than actually reading the titles.

An obvious side-effect to my employment with FedEx has been a sharp decline in my posting here. It has been a necessary, and lamentable, sacrifice. It is actually a by-product of the real sacrifice: a near-total lack of time to devote to gaming on any level. The weekend is the only time I have to squeeze in any time for anything game-related.

I guess we could safely file this post under "Whiny Little Bitch". If you've reached this point in reading this and feel like it has been a total waste of your time, you have my sincerest apologies. It's just been one of those things I needed to vocalize, in hopes that it will help me move past it.

Dang it! I forgot!

DrivethruRPG is having a sale thru March 15. 30% off selected items. All of the [S.]ine [N.]omine things I mentioned (that aren't already free) are included in the sale. If you kicked yourself for missing the Stars Without Number Bundle of Holding, now's your chance to do-over.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

False Start

So, I previously owned the 3rd edition of Ars Magica. I never played or GMed it, though. It was during my days with my "D&D or Death" group. I loved most of the ideas of the game. I honestly don't remember the system overly. I remember the covenants, troupe-style play, and of course, the magic system. Mythic Europe struck me as one of the coolest "settings" ever devised, and I still hold that opinion. From time to time I still google the game and look at various reviews and forum posts.

Recently I finally decided to go ahead and order a copy. It was one week ago today, in point of fact. The game is in its 5th edition, which based on all my research, is the best. Fans of Ars Magica don't indulge in edition wars, though. They almost universally like every edition of the game, although they acknowledge the 5th edition as the "best".

So, I bounced over to Amazon, searched for "Ars Magica 5th Edition" and came up with this:

I selected a Used Paperback (Like New condition), and waited. The projected delivery date was this past Thursday, which surprised me. I didn't select any sort of expedited shipping. Well, it didn't arrive on Thursday. I was tracking it online and knew it had found its way to Atlanta. I also knew Atlanta was locked in the grip of a rare southern snow storm, so I expected a delay. It arrived Saturday (yesterday).

When I opened the box, I saw this:

I was not amused. As I said earlier, fans of the system have plenty of good things to say about all the editions, but I want the latest, and generally considered best, edition available. Besides which, I have the free pdf of 4th edition which Atlas Games makes freely available on their website.

After some clicking and "research" into the Amazon page, I discovered that ALL of the paperback copies are 4th edition. That is not made overly clear, considering you get to them from the 5th edition page. On top of that, while far from identical, the cover bear the same "celtic snake" centerpiece. Well, to be honest, I think my own haste played more a part than a very modest similarity in cover art. My main point of confusion, though, was that I did not anticipate the 5th edition product page to take me to 4th edition buying options.

Anyway, I notified Amazon. I chatted with a representative about the problem last night. In the end, I was issued an RMA and return shipping label. I was told that the procedure is that I return the unwanted product and that upon receipt they will credit my debit card for the purchase plus shipping. It should take about three weeks total for the credit to be applied.

BUT . . . my representative went ahead and issued the credit request, rather than have me wait until they received the 4th edition copy. That was excellent customer service. I was very pleased. I've not had any problems with Amazon before this, so I had no experience with their customer service. I've not had any qualms about using Amazon, but this experience make me even more comfortable.

As soon as I finished with customer service, I went back to the product page and promptly ordered a hard cover copy of 5th edition. Guess what? It is due to arrive Thursday.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Great Kingdom Trailer

The Great Kingdom is a documentary chronicling the history of TSR and D&D. This is a trailer and it looks pretty damned good. As an added bonus, parts of the trailer feature "Ten Years Gone", one of my absolute favorite songs of all time. Vastly underappreciated by the masses, it is easily one of Led Zeppelin's best, and that is saying a lot.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ranging Far Afield

It occasionally happens that I become hyperfocused on OSR. My attention zeroes in on D&D and all of its direct descendants. The term is vague enough to encompass anything the person using it should desire. Does it refer to games with a particular progenitor? Uh-huh. Does it refer to a specific play-style? Sometimes. Can it refer to a specific period of time? Sure, why not.

Even in the face of bouts of being hyperfocused, it has never been my aim with this blog to limit myself to any narrow definition of OSR. This post is a direct result of looking beyond where I had previously focused my attentions.

Who remembers this? I can't recall exactly when I became aware of this. It wasn't in the form pictured here. It was an advert for Arms Law as a stand-alone product. It was billed as a drop-in replacement for the combat system of whatever RPG one happened to be playing. In all honesty, at that point in the hobby, it was aimed squarely at D&D. RQ and D&D were the only two with serious crunch and market presence, and RQ already had a crunchy percentile combat system. It promised a combat system that resolved all attacks in melee with no more than two rolls.

It achieved this by having the attack roll also indicate damage. The system's take on armor was quite interesting, and still very solid in its conception. Simply put, heavier armor actually makes you easier to strike, but much harder to critically injure. You'll take more "exhausting" damage as you get knocked around inside the armor, but your squishy bits are more protected.

The second roll (if required) was the critical roll. It was based on the type of damage a weapon caused (slashing, piercing, or krushing), and a letter value based on the severity of the hit. There were separate tables for the damage types.

This isn't really intended to be about Arms Law, despite the amount of time I've spent describing it.

I had a very serious flirtation with Rolemaster, the unification of all the "Laws" into a single system. During my first great break with D&D, I loved RM's supposed realism, its ability to model a wide variety of character concepts, and the "nerd" value of using such a chart and math intensive system. I had some friends that were into it, too, and we played some. Not much, nor regularly, as we lived a few hours apart. Eventually RM fell into my regular ADD rotation and would get some attention every few months. Even that waned once I lost all my old ICE products. I never really worried about replacing the materials due to my preferences moving toward "lighter" systems.

One of the things I always loved about RM was the house setting for it: Kulthea, the Shadow World. There are a number of concepts I still love in this setting. The geography for one. I mean, look at that map. It makes me want to be there. The peoples of the world are often times isolated and cut off from one another by powerful flows of magical energies, as well as forbidding geography. There are world-spanning organizations, such as the Navigators, who have learned to travel using these magical energy currents. There are the Loremasters, dedicated to recovering and recording knowledge from across the breadth of Kulthea.

If you've read much of my ramblings, you know it is a sad fact of my life that I don't have any second-hand stores that make a point of catering to gamers. There is one used book store in Huntsville that is of any real use to me. There are actually a fair number of used book stores, but all save the aforementioned one cater mainly to used romance paperbacks. I sporadically drop into the Booklegger because they do have a very small game section (populated primarily with World of Darkness titles). Hope springs eternal, and I did actually find a softback copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay there.

You can imagine where this is going, and you're (mostly) right. I found a copy of High Adventure Role Playing, HARP, in there for $10. It is the older ICE edition, not the newer one published by the Guild Companion. I don't have a clue what the differences are. I believe the GC edition has a slightly larger page count.

HARP is its own game. It borrows from RM, even to the point of using it as foundation. It is not a "lite" version. I guess in a way it is to RM what Castles & Crusades is to AD&D (HARP is in no way OGL, though). It is a streamlining and re-imagining, not a replacement nor is it some sort of quick-start.

I still haven't read it all the way through. It claims to be complete. It contains stats for over 40 creatures. It contains six individual spell lists for the spell using classes, but there are some spells that appear on more than one list. There is a very serviceable treasure section, including mundane treasures.

Characters are a combination of class/level and skill based. Skills are all-important, and any character has the ability to learn any skill. Class and level govern the development costs of individual skills and when development points are gained, respectively. Thus, it is easier for a fighter to learn weapon skills (lower development point cost) than for him to learn a spell. He can learn the spell, but it will greatly impact his development in his chosen profession.

The skill list isn't particularly burdensome. Skills are divided up into 10 categories, with between 3-9 skills per category. The categories are important as they inform the types of things a given class is naturally predisposed to.

There are nine classes, five have spell lists, and thus use magic in some capacity. The class descriptions are very brief and setting agnostic.

The usual races are present, along with a unique system for mixed-race characters.

Ok, so I didn't intend to go into this kind of depth with this post. I just wanted to ramble about another game from my past and a younger cousin of it I recently found. If anyone wants to know more about the game I'll be glad to share, but for now, I think I'm going to get back to reading.