Monday, July 21, 2014

Games in the Planning Stage

So, reading over the 5E Basic pdf (still only about halfway through, actually), I decided to give it a try.  Since it's pretty darn close to the play test packets (I assume the NDA is no longer valid...or maybe it will be until all the core books are out, but anyway nothing in this blog post should constitute a breach), I'm going to allow options (races, classes, backgrounds, etc.) from the last open play test packet along with the stuff in Basic.

Now, for an adventure, luckily the play test packet again comes to the rescue.  We shall play...
Yep, that's right.  There's a 5E conversion of the module in there.  We used this little sandbox adventure so much as kids, I still remember lots of it by heart.  There have been a few changes in the conversion, which is a good thing.  I've been reading through it, and have some ideas for a few more.

Of course, getting this game going with the regular Saturday night crew may take a while, since I'm still not finished with reading over the rules of the game (or the module update).  And to my knowledge no one has created a character, although a few players have a few ideas.  And I need to figure out how much cash/magic they should have as starting 4th level characters.

And that's not all, folks!  One of my current private English students, an upper elementary school boy, has been asking me a lot about RPGs and how they differ from CRPGs.  So tomorrow, we're going to play a bit of Jeff Moore's Hi/Lo Heroes, with a Percy Jackson and the Olympians theme, using a One-Page Dungeon Contest entry and a couple of 5-Room Dungeons.  Assuming we make it through char-gen and rules explanations quickly, that is.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Adventuring Rules

It's been a month since my last post in this series.  My apologies.  The end of the grad school semester, the approaching birth of our second son, an extra project for one of my professors, the release of the first bits of 5E, and Arrow Season 2 conspired against me the past month.  At least with regard to posting about Mentzer Basic.

This section, about 1 1/3 pages, covers some general advice on game systems and exploration within the game for new players.  And it's one of those gems of a section that really seem pitch perfect to me to explain certain concepts to a new gamer.  It gives solid advice about game mechanics, but just enough hints about "in-game" activities to get the player thinking creatively.

The first sub-section is on equipment, and explains what certain items on the equipment list are, and what they can be used for.  These are the sorts of tips that you could pick up from other players if you begin playing with an experienced group, but if everyone is new no one might think to try. 

One interesting note in this section is that Frank suggests poking things with a 10' pole might eliminate a surprise check.  I've had games in the past where even poking something suspicious with a pole didn't prevent surprise, but I will try to remember this one going forward.  It also just made me realize as I typed this, that the standard "traps are set off on a 1 or 2 on 1d6" rule from Holmes (and Moldvay?) is really a surprise check.  Again, note to self to remember this.

The next section on time explains game turns and rounds, the distinction between game time and real time, and that sometimes the DM will skip to the exiting bits.  Also, many every-day or common sense actions should just be assumed.

Related closely is the next section on movement.  We get general movement rates explained (per turn, per round, running per round, unencumbered and encumbered speeds).  At the end of the section, sort of easy to forget, especially for the DM, are rules for exhaustion.  After running for 20 rounds (the book says 5 minutes, but that should be 30 rounds; 20 rounds is just over 3 minutes), characters will need to rest for 30 minutes (3 turns).  Fighting while exhausted results in a +2 bonus to monsters to hit, and a -2 to hit and damage for you. 

Listening is the next section.  Good advice for new players.  Listen at doors.  Listen down hallways.  Gather what clues you can so you can make informed decisions.  However, it's explicitly stated that everyone gets one shot at listening in any instance.

Light is next.  Tinder boxes are explained.  The pros and cons of torches and lanterns are explained.  Light can ruin chances to surprise monsters.  Elf and Dwarf infravision is given a bit more detail about the sorts of things you can and can't see.

Doors.  They come in two types, normal doors which may be easily opened, stuck and in need of bashing, or locked.  Secret doors may be the type we usually think of, with hidden switches and sliding panels, or they may simply be concealed normal doors.  Reading this reminds me that I use too many "secret" doors and not enough concealed doors in my dungeons. 

The next section is on traps.  Some basic types are explained.  Pit traps are listed as the default option, although poisoned chests and doors, blade traps, and poisoned needles are also mentioned.  Searching for traps is listed as less time consuming than searching for secret doors (from the previous section).  Secret door searches cover a 10'x10' area in one turn, while a trap search covers a 20'x20' room or 20' stretch of corridor (shouldn't that be a 40' stretch of corridor?) in one Turn.

Wandering monsters are explained, and a warning is given that they are nuisances best avoided, especially as they rarely have treasure. 

The next section covers using miniature figures to represent characters, suggesting that if they are used, they can be used to show marching order.  Of course, "Official DUNGEONS & DRAGONS(r) figures are available."  Graph paper or a vinyl mat are suggested to be used for mapping the dungeon, and the final small section suggests this should be done at a scale of 1 inch = 10'.

My reaction on re-reading this, is very positive.  I remember getting ideas about equipment uses from this when I first read it, and it also boils down some of the game concepts that players will want to be familiar with (Dungeon Masters need to know by heart) such as time, movement, and perception.  In general, it gives a new player most of the information they will need to play smart and keep their PC alive during exploration phases of the game.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Not all orcs are created equal

So, most of the people who read this blog probably also read certain other blogs in which over the past week or so there has been a big debate about whether Darwinian "survival of the fittest" as it's commonly misunderstood should apply to fantasy world orcs due to the laws of probability and statistical analysis.

The math has been covered several times by several blogs, and I'm not going to repeat it here.  Suffice to say that those orcs with more hit points are more likely to survive multiple rounds of combat than those with low hit points.

Now, does that mean that high hit point orcs should be more common than low hit point orcs?  It's logical that the veterans are more likely to be high hit point orcs.  But the argument ignores several factors, one of the most important one is that casualties tend to be replaced.

There will be (as I mentioned in comments on another blog) young orcs out on their first raid, wimps and shirkers finally forced to fight, not to mention the fact that some orcs you meet may have already taken a wound (assuming they are so bloodthirsty and battle-hungry) or may just be exhausted or sick or simply have fortune not smiling upon them that day.  Which if you go by Gygax's words in the AD&D DMG, are all perfectly fine ways of explaining why an orc has only 1 or 2 hit points (if it ever really needs explaining).

Now, we all know that Alexis, who started this, loves to track all sorts of things behind the screen that happen in his game world.  And trying to figure out logical consequences of actions as they would apply to his game world is his thing.  That's fine.  Nothing wrong with that.  But I know in my games, and I assume many others, I'm not tracking orc populations in the world.  All monsters exist in a Shroedinger's dungeon until encountered by the PCs.  So I see no need to try and explain why some orcs have only a few hit points and some have more.

I think the real meat of the issue, though, is not the number crunching.  It's your conception of what an orc actually is.  OD&D through 2E drew on Tolkien (the primary source for the orc in D&D), in which most orcs are small, weak, cowardly, and devious.





Most of the above orcs will fight, but they don't look like they're necessarily much stronger or tougher than humans, do they?   Some are, but not all of them or even most of them.






















These guys, however, look like they've had the weaklings weeded out of their numbers.

So, what's your conception of an orc?  Is it of a hulking GW/Blizzard/WotC D&D (but not MTG) orc?  Then by all means, go along with Alexis and make sure most of them have above average hit points.

If you think they're more along the lines described by Tolkien and most older editions of D&D, then go ahead and let them have that flat 1 to 8 hit point distribution.

But please, even if you're Alexis, please don't try and track individual hit points of orc populations within your made up world.  I don't think that there's much fun to be had by that.  Orc activities, migrations and raids, sure.  Track those things. Those can make the game awesome.










Friday, July 11, 2014

Of Coins and Coinage

Medieval Japanese currency has been on my mind lately.  For Flying Swordsmen, with its emphasis on crazy kung fu action over adventuring for treasure, the simple system of Dragon Fist, tael (gold) and fen (copper) was good enough.  So far, in Chanbara I've just switched the names to ryo and zeni.

But looking at one of my history books on Tokugawa Japan, there's a convoluted system that's full of flavor but would likely be a bookkeeping nightmare in play.

Early on, the Japanese just imported coinage from China (and possibly Korea).  Later, the shogunate began to mint coins.  But local daimyo were also able to mint their own coins for their provinces.  And there ended up being three separate currencies.

Gold coins were the ryo (mentioned above), the bu (1/4 a ryo), and the shu (1/4 a bu or 1/16 a ryo).  One ryo was enough to buy one koku of rice, about 5 bushels/180 liters, considered enough rice to feed one person for a year.  Samurai salaries were calculated in koku of rice.

Silver coins were the monme and the kan (1000 monme).  The official exchange rate with the ryo was 50 monme to the ryo, later raised to 60 monme to the ryo.

Bronze/Copper coins (zeni) were the mon and kan (1000 mon).  The official exchange rate with the ryo was 4000 mon.

--the above taken from Nakane, Chie and Oishi, Shinzaburo, Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan (1990), English translation edited by Conrad Totman.

Now, part of me thinks it would be fun to have all of these different coins floating around in Chanbara, but just getting the names straight might be tough enough for many players, let alone trying to remember all of the conversions.

So I think I'm going to just use some of the names as analogous to D&D coinage. 

*Platinum piece = oban (a large gold disk used for savings rather than as currency), only the oban will be worth about 20 ryo as with a silver kan, rather than the standard 5gp to 1pp.
Gold piece = ryo
Electrum piece = bu?  Not sure if I'll include this one
Silver piece = monme
Copper piece = zeni

That should make things easier.

Now to figure out how I want to do treasure tables, and revise prices on the equipment lists...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I should be writing this down!

Recently, my son has begun asking me to play Dungeons and Dragons with him.  He's six now, and remembers a bit of free-form play we did on our morning commute to the kindergarten two years ago.  He suffered from a lack of linguistic ability then (one drawback of raising a multi-lingual child is that development in each language is slower at first compared to a monolingual child).

Anyway, now his English is closer to native speaker level (give him a couple more years), and he's more cognitively developed.  When we free-formed two years ago, he would make interesting choices (fight the dragon, run away from the skeleton, things like that...hey, skeletons are scary!).  It was refreshing to me to see his actions/reactions through fresh eyes, without the baggage of nearly thirty years as an RPG gamer that I have.

Last year, he didn't like the free-form improv, but did enjoy pulling out my old Dragon Strike board game and moving his piece around the board (usually the Wizard), pretending to fight monsters with my wife and I as companions.  He also loved playing Pixel Dungeon (a free Rogue-like) on my smart phone.

Anyway, in the past week or two, he's been asking nearly every morning to play that improv style game again, along with nights and weekends.  A few months back we tried playing some actual D&D by the rules, with dice and maps and everything.  He enjoyed it, and this current round of free-form play started with his new character, the Fighter Stinky-Feet, avenging his previous character, John Jacob Bibbybobby, who died fighting a bone golem (and who had avenged his first character, Wizard the Stinky-Feet). 

His new character has managed to recruit some allies (knight, sorceress, thief, and Sloth) by releasing them from magic mirrors, find the pirate treasure of One Eyed Willy, battle goblins/orcs/hobgoblins (and run away once the alarm was sounded and his group was outnumbered), explore a mummy's pyramid, raid an ogre's castle, put a ghost's spirit to rest in a haunted tower, sailed to the Ghost Kingdom to rescue Bibbybobby's spirit, and more!  He's made it to Level 5 by now! (Level advancement is at the hands of the arbitrary and capricious DM, of course.)

While he's apt to suddenly declare his character to have certain abilities ("I speak Egyptian, so I say to the mummy...") or items, for the most part he's using clever ideas to deal with challenges and traps, although he usually just battles against the monsters.

We use rock-scissors-paper as a resolution mechanic, by the way.

Tonight, he wanted to go to the Dragon Mountain.  I described the mountain with five caves, each the home to one of the standard D&D chromatic dragons.  The green dragon was his first target, but it surprised him, and after breathing poison gas (and losing the rock-scissors-paper), he found himself nearly dead.  He decided to try talking.  The dragon demanded his treasure and magic sword, which he surrendered in exchange for his life. 

Undaunted, he went back to the blue dragon's cave, but gnomes allied with the dragon convinced him not to fight it.  His third attempt was the black dragon's cave, and due to some unlucky "rolls" his knight companion died to acid breath.  He and his other companions escaped.

He handled the setbacks well.  "Dad, if Stinky-Feet dies, I will make a new character."  That's the spirit!  During dinner, he then managed to defeat a Man-Bat (like from Batman comics), and just before his shower a giant (buy building a giant punching machine and getting the giant drunk before the punch).

In addition, I've been making up these dungeons and adventures for him on the fly.  Several of them might make good one-page dungeons, or at least interesting locations in a sandbox game.  As I say in the title of this post, i should write them down!  And by posting this, I'll at least hopefully have enough down here to spark my memory when I finally get around to it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

You know what I'm talking about...

That thing.  No, that other thing.  The one that's on everyone's mind.  Yeah, that one.  (I have no idea why I'm avoiding naming it, other than just to be contrary)

Yep, I got it.  Downloaded it this morning.  Looked at the first few pages this evening, the introduction part, which was boring has hell but gave me a good idea what the designers intend the thing to do.  It's written for the newbie, really, which is why I was bored reading it.  At least the tone wasn't quite as dry and textbookish as I found the 4E books to be.  Quite similar to the 3E books as I recall. 

Anyway, no picturesque High Gygaxian, nor simple yet effective Mentzer prose.

And it's basically still the d20 system (I knew that from the playtest documents, of course).  The primary way to adjudicate some action is d20+mods vs. a DC set by the DM/module.  Ugh.  I've discussed the benefits and drawbacks of a flat d20 distribution before, vs. curved distributions, but I'm too lazy to look up the link, and honestly, unless you're new to D&D math you probably understand it just as well or better than I do anyway.

Still, a recent playtest by Jeremy in our Saturday night groups, using only 3d6 rolls instead of d20 rolls has instilled in me a greater appreciation of times when a flat spread is needed (combat, saving throws) vs. a curve.  Yet my own work on Chanbara has made me appreciate how nice it is to use a curve for non-combat tasks, as it means you can make them as easy or difficult as you like (see recent discussion on the Thief and said Thief's skills in other recent OSR blogs, and quite a few old ones if you do a Google search, on the low chances of success and flat distribution of the d%).

Anyway, the first sample of play has the players trying to engage the DM in exploring the entrance to Castle Ravenloft.  What's the first thing the DM does to answer a basic question?  Have the player roll an Int check.  A memory returns of one Pathfinder session, where my Paladin was checking under a bed for treasure.  There was treasure there, but I rolled low on my Search check, so the DM had to inform me that I don't find anything.  Another player then rolls, and finds the bag of jewels that was just hidden under the bed.  Seriously, I described my player looking under the bed, but since the module had a Search DC listed (and apparently didn't describe the treasure as hidden/concealed other than being under the bed), despite describing doing exactly what was needed to find the treasure, I had to make a roll.  And I failed it.  Yeah, we got a laugh out of it at the time, but it was just another little event that reinforced my belief that common sense should come before a die roll, and that the proper player description should make die rolls unnecessary in most cases.

Finally (my wife's ready for bed, have to make this quick), we have the listed "Three Pillars of D&D" which are exploration, interaction, and combat.  Are these the three things that will earn players XP in this edition?  Unsure as of yet.  Combat's a given, as it has been the only pillar of WotC D&D play, really, until now.  Will something like Jeff Rients' EXploration be in the rules? (Gaining XP for finding new things, going to new and unusual places, experiencing strange events, etc. or just covering new ground in the dungeon/wilderness crawl.)  Will there be "social combat" XP for successfully interacting with NPCs?  I remember reading that XP for gold will be an official option, but to me it's a bit disappointing that treasure hunting is no longer considered a "pillar" of D&D play.  Not every game need revolve around combat, yet it's a "pillar."  The same could be said to be true of treasure hunting, and it has a pedigree in both the game's history and in pulp fiction, film, and other inspirational sources.  Well, if I ever run 5E (there, I said it), it will by my "fourth pillar."

Anyway, as I continue to look over the document, I'll post more.  There was stuff I liked about the playtest materials, so I'm remaining guardedly optimistic about the rules overall.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reworking the Kensei

Sorry for the blog going mostly dark for the past month or more.  Hopefully I'll be generating more content over my summer grad school vacation.  In that vein, I had a bit of inspiration on how to do my Kensei (Weapon Master) class for Chanbara yesterday, and just finished typing it up as we speak.

Here's a sneak peak of the class write-up at the moment.  This is probably not final, I'll tweak a few things, and likely embellish the description a bit more before I publish.  But I think these are the mechanics I want for the class. Before I had the class limited to certain special abilities (combat maneuvers) depending on the weapon chosen.  Now, I assume players will likely take those maneuvers anyway, and give them a few small oomphs, in the allocatable Form bonus and "critical hit" abilities.

Mifune Toshiro as Miyamoto Musashi
Kensei (Weapon Master)
Few have the patience or drive to dedicate their life to perfecting the art of combat with a single weapon, but the kensei (also known as kengou) are those rare few. They may be soldiers or duelists, and legends are often written about them due to their amazing reputations. Kensei must select a single weapon (unarmed strikes and psychic duels are possible choices) to master, and some of their special abilities are determined by this choice.
HD: d10
Skill Dice: Combat
Primary: any except Con
Secondary: Con, any one other
Proficiency: any 4 weapons, no armor
Special Abilities: Maneuvers
Level
XP
BAB
Form
Special Abilities
1
0
+1
+1
2




2
2000
+2
+1
2
1



3
4000
+2
+1
3
1



4
8000
+3
+2
3
2
1


5
16,000
+3/+3
+2
4
2
1


6
32,000
+4/+4
+2
4
3
2
1

7
64,000
+4/+4
+3
5
3
2
1
1
8
125,000
+5/+5
+3
5
4
3
2
1
9
250,000
+5/+5
+3
6
4
4
2
2
10
500,000
+5/+5/+5
+4
6
5
4
3
2
Kensei select one weapon to specialize in, gaining a +1 bonus to hit and +1 bonus to damage with that weapon. At 4th(natural 20), 7th(19-20) and 10th level (18-20), kensei gain special benefits on an attack roll depending on the type of weapon used as shown below.
  • Axe: the wound bleeds out for 1d4 damage each round for one round per level of the kensei or until magically healed.
  • Bludgeon: the opponent must Save vs. Fire (at -2 at 7th, -4 at 10th) or be knocked out for 1d4 minutes.
  • Bow/Firearm: the shot pierces the opponent, doing +1d4 damage, and may strike another target behind the opponent if there are any, roll normally to hit.
  • Ninja/Martial Arts Weapon: the kensei automatically adds a tactical attack effect to the hit.
  • Open Hand: the kensei can make two more attacks at the highest BAB bonus this round.
  • Psychic: the kensei gains Spirit Points equal to the amount of psychic damage inflicted, with any over the maximum being temporary until the end of the duel.
  • Spear/Staff/Polearm: the opponent struck loses their next attack and is forced back 5' (10' at 7th, 15' at 10th).
  • Sword/Dagger: damage is doubled after all bonuses are added
Weapon Form: Kensei can apply this bonus as they wish to one of the following areas each round: initiative, standard attack, tactical attack, psychic attack, weapon damage, psychic damage, AC, TD or PD, but the Form bonus does not stack with combat skill dice.
Soul in the Weapon: a kensei of 5th level or higher can damage creatures only harmed by magical weapons when using their special weapon.