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.