Saturday, September 27, 2014

Looking good

My son and I just finished up putting the first coat of paint on his Predator costume.  We'll touch up some areas and do some detail work later.

Probably none of the kindergarten kids will have a clue what he's supposed to be.  But he's so excited about it!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Plenty to like in 5E

I've been working my way piece-meal through the 5E PHB when I've got the time.  I've mostly been reading parts that seem interesting or relate to ideas I have for potential characters (or reworkings of old characters), and trying to focus more on stuff that wasn't in the Basic Rules pdf. 

When I get back to a point in my life where I can DM full time again, I'll still likely run Classic D&D/Labyrinth Lord, but I'd be really happy playing in someone else's game of 5E.

Some random observations of things I appreciate, in no particular order:
  1. The Paladin's "detect evil" ability has been changed to only allow them to detect the presence of certain monster types (celestials, infernals, undead), plus hallowed or unhallowed grounds and holy/unholy magic items.  I mentioned this one in my G+ feed a couple of days ago.  No more worrying about the Pally trying to determine every NPC's alignment and smacking them down simply because they're evil.
  2. I'd actually consider playing an Abjuration specialist Wizard for the first time ever!*  While I still haven't tackled the 90 or so pages of spells, the special abilities that Wizards get for specializing all seem interesting.
  3. Creation of additional or specialized subraces looks quite easy to do.  Ditto for Backgrounds.
  4. I could see allowing certain class specialization paths to be used by different classes.  They might not fit exactly, but why not let a Barbarian or Ranger take the Eldritch Knight specialization, or allow a Sorcerer to have a pact with Cthulhu instead of draconic heritage?
  5. The art of the edition pleases me more than the video game/anime inspired Dungeonpunk look of 3E/Pathfinder.  And diverse.  The art actually looks (despite the insistence of the troglodyte comment in the link there) like it comes from a fully fleshed out, consistent world rather than a Star Wars single-ecology planet.  Except for that Halfling with the bobble-head and bound feet.  God, that's a terrible picture.
  6. The actual rules needed to play/run the game only take up about 30 pages or so of the rulebook.  Most of the book is options for character creation.
  7. The list of "monster" stats in the back aren't really intended for use as a stop-gap until the MM's released, they are the stats players might need for animal companions/wild shape/familiar/animate dead.  Useful to have them here instead of having to look through the monster book for them.
  8. Every PC is assumed to be competent.  They got the Skill system right, I think.  Everyone can try any of the skills simply by rolling an ability check.  Proficiency grants a set bonus to the roll depending on level, but no one is excluded from trying to climb the wall or disarm the trap or decipher the runes or look for the clues to who murdered the bishop on the landing.
  9. Continuing with the Skill system, careful (or careless) play trumps the die roll.  If the description of what you're doing would lead to "success" there's no need to roll.  Conversely, if you don't describe what you're doing properly (reference to the Perception skill for searching), it doesn't matter if you roll a natural 20, you aren't finding the loose brick in the fireplace if you say you're examining the ceiling.
  10. There is a focus on doing stuff besides simply fighting monsters (although that's still a big part of the game). 
 OK, 10 is probably enough.  I may do a list of things I think they did wrong later, but it may be a short list.  We'll see.

*In the past, I've played two Enchanters, a Conjurer, a Transmuter and an Illusionist as specialist mages, but never in my life considered specializing in Abjuration.  Until now.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


The references to the world of Krynn/Dragonlance campaign and related novels in the 5E materials have got me wanting to play a game set in that world.  Preferably play not run, since I don't have the time at the moment to even continue the 5E Isle of Dread game I started.

I read WAY too many Dragonlance novels as a teen, even as the quality steadily degraded.  A game set during or just post-War of the Lance that steers clear of areas the Companions went to could be a lot of fun. 

But maybe kender scare everyone away.  That's too bad, the playtest documents actually had rules for kender that made them playable without necessarily annoying the other players with kleptomania.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jesus saves! You suckers take full damage.

Thinking about saving throws.  And about a lot of the "saving throw hate" I've read on various forums (and rarely, blogs) in the past.

Mostly this stems from me looking over the save system in 5E (the Basic .pdf, the PHB has been ordered from the States but I'm not expecting it for another week).

For those who haven't checked it out, the new game uses the six ability scores as saving throws.  Roll d20 plus/minus your ability modifier, plus your proficiency bonus if it's a save you're proficient in.  Beat a target number, you pass the save.

I see some potentially big problems in that.  Now, with the bounded accuracy theory of design, this first one may not be so bad - most saves don't really improve with level.  Since they are tied to ability bonuses, which do increase every few levels, there is some improvement.  But you don't get a bonus to every score, only +2 in one score or +1 in two scores every four levels or so.  And most players are probably going to be pumping those increases into the prime abilities for their character at first, which are probably the ones already increasing because of the proficiency bonus.  The other saves will remain as poor at level 20 as they were at level 1.

Also, the Basic .pdf lists some things that can be trained in to gain proficiency, like tool use, weapons, armor and languages.  Saving throws are not listed.  I could see a DM house-ruling it (or maybe it's in the PHB, or will be an option in the DMG?), but it's not RAW.

So that's a potential weak point of the new game.  I'll need to examine some of the save DCs though to see if it's a big problem or merely an annoyance.  But it's kinda lame that the Fighter will almost never improve Wis/Int/Cha saves, or the Wizard in Str/Cha saves, or the Cleric in Dex/Int saves, etc.

I have read plenty of gamers extoll the 3E system of Fort/Ref/Will saves as being very logical.  The focus of the system is (like in the 5E ability score saves above) on YOU and how YOU negate the special attack.  It does have a sound logic to it, but it's also lacking in flavor at the game table.  You don't even need to think about what it is you're saving against, just your bonus to the die roll to resist whatever bad thing is happening.  Plus, high level DCs just get crazy, and unless you're focusing lots of your char-build into saves (or playing a Monk) you're gonna get burned because the DCs go up at the same rate or better than your save bonuses.

There's a lot of hate out there for the old school system, with it's arbitrary save categories.  But the math is solid, and the system has a more external focus that I think serves the game.  First of all, the math.  Old school characters just GET BETTER at saves.  Across the board, every few levels.  And while everyone sorta sucks against dragon breath or spells, there are varying levels of ability against other forms of attack (and Fighters get a boost against that old dragon breath even).  The BX/BECMI 1st level Cleric has a 50/50 chance to save against Death Ray/Poison.  Even their worst save, against dragon's breath weapons, has a 25% chance to succeed (although at that level, with those hit points, a successful save will still probably kill you...). 

All saves increase at every 3, 4 or 5 levels.  Fighters get the boost every 3 (when Thac0 also increases), but Clerics and Thieves get it every 4 levels, and have lower XP requirements, meaning they can keep up at first.  Magic-Users get stuck with advancement every 5 levels and the most expensive levels (of the human classes), but that's kind of the point of the class, right?  AWESOME COSMIC POWERS!  Itty bitty living space (or make that chances to live to next level). 

In 2E, Fighters get a definite boost in that they gain every 2 levels, IIRC.  But even the poor M-U, if he or she survives to mid to high levels, ends up with good chances to save versus most special attacks.  And that's a good thing! 

It also means that monsters get really good at saving at high HD, so all those awesome "save or die" spells of the M-U become gambles.  In 3E, you just need to target a creature's weak save with the proper save or die effect for a good chance for it to succeed.  In Classic or AD&D, you may end up wasting several spells before one sticks.  Those "overpowered" M-Us aren't necessarily dominating every combat the way some claim.

But let's move on to my other claim.  Old school saves are definitely arbitrary and illogical in their groupings and possibly their assignment of which classes are good at which and poor at others.  I won't argue that point.  But the saves are based on the attack you're trying to defend against.  That's a huge thing in play. 

When the DM calls for you to make a Save vs. Petrification, everyone at the table is likely to stop and listen, and pay attention to that roll.  A Fort Save?  Maybe, maybe not.  The thing is, the DM can call for a Fort, Ref or Will save at any time, and it doesn't give the players much to sink their imagination-teeth into.  Those arbitrary categories give description and focus the play on the effect happening IN THE GAME WORLD rather than on the numbers on the character sheet (although those do get referenced too, of course). 

This is also the reason I'm not fond of Swords & Wizardry's single save.  It's too generic, and with each class/race getting bonuses to certain arbitrary save types, there might as well be the whole old school system in place. 

So, in the end, if I do end up playing 5E a lot, and running the game ever, saving throws are one area I'm likely to come up with some house-rules.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 years and sorta limping along...

This blog hasn't been going full steam since 2012 or so, but I'm still not planning to call it quits.  Just get me through this Ph.D. program so I can get back to gaming! 

Looking back, I was really at my peak in 2010, when there was a sort of perfect storm of OSR blogging, along with me setting out most of my "big ideas" about role playing and D&D in particular.  2011 continued in that vein, but not quite as energetically.

Then in 2012, I released Flying Swordsmen.  Still very proud of that, and progress continues on its sequel Chanbara (more on that below).  It was also the year I did my "Beast of the Week" feature, releasing a new monster for the game every week. 

The last year and a half, though, have been pretty slow: mostly actual play reports, some general chit-chat about games or other stuff, and the like.  No surprise that that was when I moved from the Masters program to the Doctorate program.  The difficulty level went up a few notches, as did the amounts of required reading.  Anyway, I'm in the final semester of the course work, and am (like every Ph.D. student, I know, I know...) planning to knock the dissertation out ASAP after finishing those classes. 

So, other than hopefully getting Chanbara out sometime next year, expect more of the same from What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse... for the time being.

But don't let that get you down.  We can still celebrate WaHNtHaC's 5th anniversary.  If you're fairly new to the blog, and haven't downloaded my wuxia (fantasy martial arts) retro-clone Flying Swordsmen yet, the link is right over there on the sidebar!  -->  

Now, about Chanbara - I did a bit of work on it today, and had a few new ideas to consider this evening as I was trying to get the baby to go to sleep.  There are two things I need to do, and a couple I'm considering. 

One is to streamline the social status (noble, samurai, farmer, artisan, merchant, outcaste) with the background skills and allegiances.  Yes, I'll end up copying 5E to an extent with this (and d20 Modern before it, which is where I got the idea in the first place).  Allegiances are both a roleplaying hook and an advancement mechanic, as similar to carousing rules, you get XP for gold given to a liege.  At the moment, social status is mostly for RP purposes, but has a small effect on starting money/gear.  Background skills are for things you're good at besides fighting monsters and taking their stuff.  I'm going to try to roll all of these into one if I can.  Or at least connect them, as Background and social standing should have a big effect on Allegiances (your daimyo, sensei, oyabun, family patriarch/matriarch, trade guild, etc.).

Two is to sort out some treasure tables for the monsters.  I have an abstracted system similar to 3E, where it's just by monster hit dice how much treasure they have.  But that's sort of boring, and some monsters of a certain hit die size are more likely to have treasure than others.  Plus, I like the old school tables for individual/incidental treasures along with another set of higher value treasures for lairs.  So I'll be imitating that, but of course I'll have to come up with values myself.  And then I'll need to assign treasure types to all of the monsters.

Now, for things I'm considering: changing the way the Skill Dice work yet again.  Actually, the way they will work in play will not change.  I'm thinking of changing the way they are assigned and improved.  Right now, they depend on your ability scores, so power-gamers will want to have high stats across the board.  High scores net bigger die types for Skills.  I'm thinking of changing it up so that the stats have less of an effect, but leveling up does.  So maybe whatever your Primary ability score is will automatically start at 1d4 regardless of your ability score, while Secondary and Tertiary ability scores will start at lower levels.  And then I can work in standard ability score bonuses a la mainstream D&D in addition to the Skill Dice. 

This would allow for less optimal ability score PCs to still do well in their main area through Skill Die bonuses.  Players can count on a good die type in their area they wish to specialize in, and having a good ability score in one area means they may be less likely to always rely on one die type.  For example, as it is now if you have an 18 Str, you only get a bonus to hit/damage in melee when you use your Str-based Skill Die.  In the new system, that 18 will get you a +2 bonus to hit/damage every round, plus the Skill Die if you use it.  If you decide to roll a different Skill Die for the round, you still get at least that +1 or +2 from a high stat.  Hopefully it will work out better than my current system.  And it may make conversion/FLAILSNAILS games a bit easier.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

My son and I went to see the new TMNT movie the other day.  He's gotten into the Turtles, and really wanted to see it, so even though I could have easily skipped it, we went.  And per usual, those wondering if there are "curse words" in the movie, there are a few, but nothing too bad.

And I was not blown away by it, but it wasn't all that bad, either.  Capsule review - don't bother unless you have kids that want to see it, like me.  I want to add "or unless you're a massive TMNT fan" but then I wonder if actually that might be a reason to skip it...

Spoilerish commentary below.  Click away if you don't want to have the rather weak plot spoiled for you.

Still with me?  I'll start with the good parts.

There were plenty of funny moments, lots of callbacks to the original comics (maybe more than I caught, as I've not read that many of the original issues yet) and to the 80's/90's Saturday morning cartoon.  And lots of general pop-culture references.  My son was really excited when he picked up on them. 

The action scenes were a mix, some fun to watch, others either too fast or too drawn out. 

The voice acting for the turtles and Splinter were all pretty good.  And the turtles definitely were written as, and performed as, teenagers!  Leo and Raph are at each other's throats most of the movie, Mikey has an annoying crush on April O'Neil, and Donatello is a big stereotypical nerd.

Big spoiler (I think, based off of the trailers/promo material I'd seen going into it) - The Shredder actually IS Japanese!  They made it look like the William Fichtner character was the Shredder, but he's actually Shredder's minion. 

Not so good stuff?  Well, I wasn't fond of the turtles being 6' plus tall, nor of their weird facial animation/rendering.  I think it's that the eyes were too human.  Splinter looked pretty cool, though.

The "Foot Clan" really only has two ninja, Shredder and Karai.  Everyone else is just a mercenary with guns and occasionally melee weapons. 

Maybe the cartoons have made Baxter Stockman seem too incompetent, but they could have used the original comics version of the character rather than Eric Sachs as the main villain (yeah, Shredder is really the secondary villain in this one, even though the climactic battle is against him, and plays out similarly to TMNT #1).

Was the cartoon that influential that April O'Neil needs to be a TV reporter?  And why was Whoopie Goldberg as her producer not given any funny lines?  And why didn't April show her cell phone video of the turtles to Whoopie to save her job/prove she's not crazy when in the very next scene with her she's showing it to Sachs?

Hmm, I could go on, but that' probably enough.  It wasn't a great movie, but it wasn't dreadful either.  My son really enjoyed it, so that's worth something.  We got to spend a quality afternoon doing something together that he enjoyed.  I won't recommend seeing it, but I won't judge you if you watch it and find you like it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Progress on the Halloween costume

Got some more work done on my son's Predator costume.  I think it will look really good once it's painted.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Additional Rules

This section begins with a short notice that these rules can be added to the game once two or three sessions have been played, as they increase the complexity of the game.  I've been playing the full game for so long, and playing many more complex games than Classic D&D, that it's easy to forget how much there was to digest as an 11-year old.  And as I've stated several times in the past, there were several systems we ignored or got wrong for a few years, and sometimes preferred the "wrong" way once we realized the error.  So while many of these things seem like integral parts of "Ye Olde Game," the real "basic" game is even simpler.

In other words, here come the optional rules.

Missile Weapons
If you want to attack hand to hand, it's pretty simple.  Ranged combat adds complexities like range, cover, and the (unstated here actually) tracking of ammunition.  Not overly complex, but I can see how it makes sense to have beginning players and DMs sticking to the simpler melee combat rules for a few games before adding all of this in.

We're given rules for missile devices (bows, crossbows, slings), as well as thrown weapons (spears, axes, daggers, plus holy water and oil).  Devices may not be used within 5', period (unless the target is helpless).  Thrown weapons may be thrown or used in melee, giving them versatility to compensate for poorer range. 

Both holy water and burning oil do 1d8 damage.  Holy water is expensive and only works on undead, but oil is cheap.  Also, while oil requires two hit rolls, it also burns for two rounds.  We never abused burning oil as kids, but in recent games I've found it is a life-saver for low level adventurers.

There's one small mistake in this section, the crossbow is stated to have the best range of any missile weapon, when actually it's the long bow (180' crossbow, 210' long bow).  Rather unimportant, really.

In the oil section, we get a version of what will be called "touch AC" in 3E.  Once a creature is covered in oil (which for some reason appears to requires a hit roll against normal AC), an attack with a torch or other flame only needs to hit AC 10.

Range penalties are different from other editions of the game.  AD&D and its descendants use normal odds for short range, and apply penalties for longer ranges.  Not so here.  Being within short range grants a +1 bonus to the roll, while medium range is at no modifier, and long range is at -1.  Nice and simple, and I prefer it to having to remember 0/-2/-5 like in AD&D or the progressive penalties of 3E/d20.  Not that those are hard, mind you.  It's likely just familiarity and years of use of the Classic system.

Variable Weapon Damage
For us, this went into effect from the get-go.  It's only in recent years that I tried "all weapons do 1d6" (not counting the starter adventures in this book).  We weren't always sticklers for the two-handed weapons automatically losing initiative thing, since we usually used group initiative. 

And despite this, as kids we still had a wide range of weaponry among characters.  We definitely played to type, rather than optimizing, when we were kids.  Often our characters were copies of, or at least inspired by, some character in the media (comics, books, TV, movies, video games).

Combat Maneuvers
This is a bit of a loaded term for me, now, since it's what I call all the crazy martial arts "feats" in Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara.  Here, it simply covers fighting withdrawals and retreats, and paired combat (individual initiative) rules.

Fighting withdrawals are at 1/2 speed, the opponent may move with you, and you both still get to attack/defend normally.

Retreats are at full speed, and the fleeing character may not attack, suffers a -2 penalty to AC, and may not use a shield bonus.  Simple and about as complex as attack of opportunity rules need to be, IMO.

Paired combat replaces the standard group initiative rolls with rolls for each PC and monster (or group of monsters).  This allows players to add/subtract Dex modifiers (and a +1 bonus for Halflings) to the rolls, and makes for a bit more dynamic combats.

I'm all for round-by-round initiative, if the rolls are simple as they are here.  Whether it's group init, or individual, a simple 1d6 (with a couple of modifiers) makes it easy to implement each round. 

The "basic" Basic game ignores encumbrance, which as this section tells us can get silly.  But then most classic video games ignored it and no one seemed to care.

Here, we're given a functional but abstract system to use, with advice that a more detailed version will be given in the Expert set.  Basically if you're in no or leather armor plus normal gear, you can carry up to 100 cn and still be unencumbered (120' per turn).  Wearing chain or plate armor plus gear slows you down to 90' per turn, and again you can pocket up to 100 cn worth of treasure before being slowed further. 

10 coins to the pound is a bit ridiculous when considering real-world coinage, but it makes for simpler calculations.  I do like how special treasures, like jewelry and potions are simply listed as weighing 10 cn, with gems being 1 cn.  The gems and jewelry, we imagined, were like the types you see in movies.  Honking huge.  I imagine now the intent was that they're usually in a padded case of some sort like actual jewelers use, or will be wrapped in rags or something when carried to minimize damage.

We get capacities for bags and backpacks, and some brief rules for pack mules as well.


Retainers get some detailed rules here.  Hiring them should be an adventure of sorts all its own, heavily role played.  There are no "men at arms" 0-level NPCs mentioned in this section, only classed characters.  They get what they are paid, rather than a share of treasure, although bonuses increase morale.  They do take a 1/2 share of all XP earned.

In play, we've always tended to have classed retainers ask for a 1/2 share of treasure (minus magic items) instead of a salary.  0-level hirelings get set amounts of pay and no XP.  Not by the book, but then we didn't use retainers or hirelings much anyway in the early days.

I do like how it suggests that retainers will leave after their contract is up or after gaining a level, but the sheet should be given to the DM so they can use them as recurring NPCs.  Shared world building on a small scale, but I like it.

Hirelings can be expensive, too.  As per the book, the PC should buy ALL equipment for the character.  That's one way to use up some of that treasure at low levels.  Especially if the retainers don't renew contracts.  And considering, why would they?  Many of them have just made a fair amount of money and somehow not been lucky enough not to have been wearing a red shirt. 

Retainers - the overlooked money-sink of low level play.

And with that, I think I've got one more post to do to cover the final section plus all the end of the book stuff (glossary, ads, character sheet).  Then it's on to the Dungeon Master's Rulebook!