Thursday, June 23, 2022

Not all that glitters is golden

So yesterday, I had a bit of free time between administering final tests so watched a few YouTube videos. First two were political/philosophical in nature. Then one of the suggested videos was about D&D, titled "The Problem with D&D Rangers" by someone called Pointy Hat. Obviously, it's 5E centric (that's what gets the views), but it did discuss how the class has evolved over the years and came up with an answer to the title question that I think is prescient for the 5E Ranger and why people say it sucks: 

Too many gamers have too many disparate ideas about what the ranger is and what its role in the game should be. 

Is the ranger a ranged combat specialist? 


Is the ranger a wilderness expert and guide? 


Is the ranger a guy who tames animals? 


Is the ranger a two-weapon fighting specialist?


Is the ranger some sort of half-fighter/half-druid?


Is the ranger a guy with a magic energy bow?


Is the ranger a specialist at combating one type of monster? 


Is the ranger an attempt to make one specific fictional character into a playable class?


Is the ranger some sort of elite guerilla fighter? 



Is the ranger something else?


OK, jokes aside, there are too many ideas about what a ranger is supposed to be, and the video rightly pointed out that the class sucks because it's trying to be all of them at once. 

In 1E, the class was heavily inspired by Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. 

In 2E, it got heavily influenced by Drizzt and that set the tone for many players in the 90s.

In 3E, it tried to be both Aragorn and Drizzt at the same time. It wasn't great. 

Not sure about 4E. Never got that into that edition, and never tried to play a ranger. I think they were all about sniper DPS though...

Anyway, 5E has tried to make a class that covers pretty much everything above (except the pickup...unless that's covered in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything or one of the other splat books?). As the video pointed out, there are several versions of the ranger for 5E, and multiple alternate abilities that can be taken to cover most of the archetypes above. But since the designers can't pick one lane, the class sorta sucks. And players coming to the class expecting one (or maybe two) of the above archetypes end up disappointed. 

Anyway, it's a long way around to pointing to MY latest update to my ranger class for TS&R Ruby [Classic (BX/BECMI style) D&D]. 

My revised version hews somewhat closely to the 1E class in inspiration, but may be a bit more like the 3E or 5E classes in mechanics. 

But what it has that other previous ranger classes lack are some bonuses to the actual game rules related to wilderness exploration. 

Classic D&D has wilderness rules for moving through different types of terrain (speed reductions), rules for getting lost, rules for hunting/foraging, and rules for evading encounters. These are actual rules systems, not just "roll a survival check" or some bullshit like that. 

My ranger starts out based on the Fighter (attacks increase every 3 levels, Fighter saving throws, d10 hit die). They start out with Dwarf class XP requirements (2200xp to level 2) but that diverges a bit at higher levels. They can use any weapon, and armor up to chain mail/lamellar, plus shields. 

Among their special abilities, they can Sweep (1 attack per HD against 1HD or lower opponents) and gain extra attacks at higher level like Fighters. At 8th level, it's 2 attacks per round when not using Sweep. At 12th level, they gain a 3rd attack but only if using ranged weapons (Fighters get a 3rd attack with any weapon at this level).

They can cast a limited number of Druid spells, starting at 2nd level, and getting up to 4th level spells. They can select from the entire Druid spell list. They just don't get as many spells and never get 5th or higher level spells.

Finally, the abilities that are unique to the ranger: 

Rangers are only surprised on a 1/d6. If the party is surprised on a higher roll, rangers get to act when everyone else is surprised. 

Rangers add +10% to the chance to evade encounters in the wilderness (max 90%). 

Parties with a Ranger become lost only on a 1/d6 regardless of terrain type. [A nice combat bonus available any time, and two abilities that interact with the wilderness exploration rules! Useful, but not overpowered.]

Rangers gain a +2 bonus to hit, and add their level to damage, when fighting goblinoids or giants [I considered 2E style "select your favored enemy" but really, that's one of the things that makes rangers suck if that type of monster rarely appears. Most games will have kobolds, orcs, goblins at low levels, more of these at mid levels plus ogres, bugbears, trolls, and at medium-high to high levels lots and lots of the below plus plenty of giants and giant-kin. So the ability is very likely to remain relevant in the typical campaign. DMs can switch this up if they have a special campaign world without lots of goblinoids or giants.]

Rangers gain animal companions at 4th level. They get a number of normal or giant animals equal to their level. So you could have one hefty animal like a bear or ape as your combat buddy, a growing pack of wolves, or a variety of creatures like those of Dar the Beastmaster, each with its own purpose (scout, mount, thief, guardian). If slain, they can be replaced after one game month.

Finally, at Name level, if they build a stronghold, they attract some mercenaries like a fighter, and some lower level ranger apprentices, and may also, at the DM's discretion, attract monster retainers of similar alignment. 

I've play-tested all of the features of the class except the animal companion rules (new) and the higher level monster retainer rules (no one's gotten that high level yet). Everything else seems to work. The ranger is different from the Fighter. They don't overshadow them. And since I no longer have a Barbarian/Berserker class, Rangers get to shine in the wilds. In dungeons, they still have enough useful features to make them valuable.  

Oh, and my recent TS&R revisions use BX/BECMI level caps for demi-humans of 8, 10, or 12 (I previously had limits more like 1E, with some as low as 5th or 6th level, but decided those are too low). Humans have no limit (although my rules only go to 15th). Elves and half-orcs can go to level 8 as Rangers. Halflings can go to level 10. Other races don't get to be rangers.  


So, my Ranger class is still a bit of a mixed bag. Fighter abilities. Druid spells. Wilderness bonuses. Favored enemy. Animal companions. But I think, at least, it's a bit more consistent than the 5E Ranger class. At the core, it's the wilderness survival guy. Everything else flows from that. No need for special dual-wielding rules, or spells for magic arrows, or selecting one favored terrain or favored enemy type that may be super useful occasionally and worthless the rest of the time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Retiring the campaign

 I went back to the West Marches campaign last weekend. It was not very satisfying. The characters are in the mid-level range, and I'm starting to feel the down-side of the West Marches format. The conceit is that there's always more to explore beyond the edge of the explored map, with greater challenges and bigger rewards the further you push. It's basically a megadungeon transposed into the wilderness. 

But some of my players have dropped recently, and of those that remain a few are giving me some headaches. One is a power gamer, pushing for more powerful magic items (not quite demanding) for his already fairly powerful PC. The other is the disorganized guy who doesn't know the rules, doesn't keep a character sheet, and just tries to BS his way through things...and keeps asking for concessions and rules changes to give his PC more power. 

Normally I could deal with those two without much trouble, but this session they were 2/3 of the party. 

And it just felt like a drag. 

After 4 years, I'm ready to put a lid on this campaign, even though there's still lots to explore. Most of the players who were interested in actually exploring have left the game (a few say they'll be back after a break, but I'm not holding my breath). 

The Star Wars game is much more satisfying, and these two players don't cause too much hassle in that game. 

Both of the problematic players are in other countries, though, and with drops in covid-19 in Korea, I may be going back to a face-to-face game soon anyway. I'll keep the Star Wars online, but my new D&D campaign will be face to face.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Acronyms & Ampersands

So, a little update. I'm just about done with my two versions of the Players' Rules books: Ruby and Jade. 

Ruby is standard Euro-Tolkien D&D races and classes. Jade is my version of Oriental Adventures. 

For the overall game title, I'm going to stick with Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins. The ordering just flows better than reversed, at least to me. 

BUT!

When I abbreviate it into an acronym from now on, it will be TS&R. 

Hopefully that's enough of a change to set my little house rules docs apart from the racist wannabes and their grifting. 

And who knows, maybe a better name will come to me before I release this thing to the wilds. 

Anyway, the game so far includes: 

TS&R Ruby Players Rules: PC races including humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, gnomes, and half-orcs (half-elves just use the human or elf rules, whichever side they favor). For classes, I have Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Magic-User, Paladin, Ranger, Thief. No subclasses. No multiclassing (I will have optional rules for that in the GM Guidebook). Levels 1-15, with demi-humans capped at 8, 10 or 12 (as in BX and BECMI, but class assortments similar if not identical to 1E AD&D). Spells levels 1-6 (1-4 for bards, paladins and rangers). Equipment lists and some rules for play including some higher level end-game stuff. Still need to add some art to this one but the text is done.

TS&R Jade Players Rules: PC races including humans, koropokuru (dwarves), shenmin (spirit folk), vanara (monkey-men) and yeongno (oni-folk). Classes are Cleric, Fighter, Kensei, Sohei, Thief, Wu Jen, Xia (monk/martial artist), Yakuza. Everything else pretty much the same as in Ruby. Completely done, including art.

TS&R Jade Bestiary and Treasury: Lots of monsters for Asian fantasy games, plus treasure tables and magic item lists, and wandering monster tables. Text is done, just need to add art.

TS&R Rules and Procedures: The small book with how to run a game, including rules for managing exploration and combat, creating adventures and campaigns (still working on writing this section), and to include rules for high level "end game" play (to be written). 

The things still to be created include: 

TS&R Ruby Bestiary and Treasury: I actually just need to edit out the stuff that's too Asian from my current working document that I use for my West Marches campaign. I've already done that for Jade, since I was planning to release the East Marches adventure and wanted something without the Greek/Norse/British/etc. monsters in it to work from. Although a few creatures were just re-skinned (like turning minotaurs into yakmen, or having chimeras with tiger heads instead of lions'). I'll do the same for Ruby fairly easily. 

TS&R GM Guidebook: This is where I plan to stick the (half-baked?) advice for GMs. Rules and Procedures is how to run a game. GM Guidebook will try to explain why things are the way they are, and suggest ways to change things up. Reading back over Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara lately, I think I've got some solid advice that I can include, but every time I get too wordy in my R&P, I end up deleting it as I want that to be just stuff that is needed at the table. So R&P will be the handy rules reference, GMG will be my attempt to out-Gygax old Gary. 

And especially once R&P and GMG are done, it should be pretty easy to make Players Rules and Bestiary and Treasury books for other genres of play. 

Oh, and despite being told it's a bad idea because people will just shit all over it, I've decided that these will all be released Pay What You Want. I make good enough money from work. Chanbara has been a nice little bonus each month, but I'm not gonna get rich from this game. It's just D&D in a different package, after all. Might as well just let people have them and they can throw me a few bucks if they appreciate what I've done.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

More Disgusting than I Realized

I've been really siloed from the greater RPG community, and even the OSR the past few years. There are a handful of blogs I read regularly, and a bigger handful that I read occasionally. I'm not active on any forum sites, and don't watch a ton of RPG YouTube content. Actual gaming with my friends have been enough to scratch my gaming itch for the most part. Yeah, I blog here occasionally. I tinker with my house rules document for a potential public release. That's about it. 

I've been using Treasures, Serpents & Ruins (TSR) as the name for those house rules for several years now. I thought it was clever to have a game title that abbreviated to the same acronym as the original company. And the name is fitting, as well. Dungeons & Dragons is a great game name, but it leaves out the most important part of the game - finding treasure! My name has all three! So clever, right? [Yeah, I know, I know...]

Anyway, thanks to Pauli Kidd's post on Facebook, linking to this video (also Pauli) and also to screenshots of social media posts they posted, I learned about just how terrible the "new" "TSR" group (TSR3 some are calling it) really are. 

Tenkar's Tavern has been posting about them from mostly a legal-ish standpoint. Or at least what I've seen has been. Apologies to Erik, but since he appointed himself the Kickstarter Police many years ago, I don't follow his blog as closely. But I have read some of his posts exposing Justin LaNassa's attempts to steal the TSR trademark. So I knew they were sketchy grifters, but I didn't know anything else about them.

Thanks to Pauli, I know now just how disgusting some of the people LaNassa is working with really are. Seriously, the guy who wrote their version of Star Frontiers is a blatant white supremacist, often posting Nazi symbology and slogans on social media. 

I want nothing to do with that crowd, and as was suggested by Donjondo a while back, it's probably confusing enough having two companies trying to be TSR already. With one of those companies being blatantly white nationalist, I need to find a new name for my game if I plan to release it to the public. 

This is probably a dumb idea, but reordering it to Ruins, Serpents, & Treasures would abbreviate to RST (alphabetical order!) and would be in the order that these elements are usually encountered within the game. Or maybe I can just call it something else entirely and stop trying to be clever/cutesy with the name.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Finally!

Well, it took 10 years (over 20 if you count since the release of Dragon Fist), but I'm finally getting to be a player in a game of Flying Swordsmen! 

As luck would have it, I had a post on RPOL.net's GMs Wanted board asking if anyone would run a game of d6 Star Wars on there. I'm enjoying running the game for my group (our next session starts in about 40 minutes), but would like to experience it as a player. 

I went to bump that thread and saw someone else had posted asking for a GM to run Flying Swordsmen! I jumped in on the thread saying I'd like to play, too. And since my RPOL ID is Lord Gwydion, it took the OP all of about no time at all to realize I was the writer! Well, we found someone willing to run it (the Star Wars game, too!), so I've now rolled up my first Flying Swordsman player character:

Spitting Tiger Zhao, Outlaw Thief. 

The GM messaged me to sort out a few things, since he is new to the rules. I told him I'm happy to answer questions about my intent when I wrote the game, but it's his game so I'm happy to run with it the way he wants it to go.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Moving in a New Direction

My plans to run a play-by-post Gamma World game are on hold right now, as is my live D&D West Marches game. I've been running the West Marches for about 4 years now, and I have enjoyed it, but just need a bit of a break. Also, I'm seeing now, as the PCs inch closer to Name Level, some of the cracks in the system. 

The original West Marches was for 3E, an edition that supposed the adventure life cycle to be: explore dungeons, fight monsters, and collect treasures until you reach 20th level, then go on EPIC!!! adventures across the multiverse or something (never got the Epic Level Handbook, never even got close to those levels in my games). So the system had explore/fight/loot baked in to the design from level 1 through 20. 

BECMI, and AD&D, the two published editions I crib the most from for my home game, both have a different expectation. Explore dungeons, fight monsters, loot treasures at low levels. Mix dungeon exploration with wilderness exploration at medium levels. Become a ruler at high levels and get involved with political stuff. Go on planar adventures and epic quests at very high levels. 

I'm getting close to the point in the campaign where in a normal game, players would be planning on where to set up their baronies and whatnot, dealing with the local power structures to make alliances, stuff like that. But West Marches gaming is premised on just continuing to explore the wilderness, and the players in my campaign have only explored about half of my map, maybe a bit less than half. And the feeling that the deeper campaign (which Tao of D&D, and recently BX Blackrazor often post about) isn't really a West Marches thing. 

So I'm going to retool my ideas for an East Marches module to release to the public to go along with Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins: Jade (yeah, I'm renaming that as well, and given enough time, it might end up just as Jade). Instead, I'll keep the ideas for adventure sites but instead of scattering them around an unexplored wilderness, they'll be scattered around a map with various political factions and established towns and cities. 

Most of the Asian fantasy media that inspires me requires civilization. I think there is room for an Asian fantasy wilderness exploration game (Journey to the West/The Monkey King being one example), but not one that's expected to last from levels 1 through 12+. 

When I was in Japan, I would often watch a jidai-geki called Abarenbo Shogun. In it, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune would disguise himself as a low ranking samurai and wander around Edo (Tokyo) looking for trouble. 

Two other shows, Mito Komon and Sanbiki ga Kiru (Three for the Kill), were about the hero(s) wandering from town to town, solving problems of the week in each location. A lot like American shows of the 80s like Knight Rider or The A-Team. 

Chinese novels like Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh are all about political power struggles. 

I want competing feudal warlords. Scheming Civil and Military bureaucrats. Peasant rebellions and tongs/yakuza gangs and marital arts societies. And some strange unexplored lands as well. 

So, time to make a new map, pull ideas from previous campaigns and a few new ones I've had over the years, and also the ideas for dungeons and other points of interest I developed for East Marches, and work them into a new campaign that has potential not just for typical D&D murder-hoboing done Asian style, but also all that other good stuff mentioned above.

 I think the potential for richer gaming will be there. 

Until then, I've got another Star Wars d6 adventure to prep based on the events of the previous session.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I'm going to keep this brief to avoid spoilers. I took the family to see the film on Children's Day (May 5th), a national holiday in Korea, and the day after it opened. 

Is there cursing in the film? Parents want to know. There's a little. Disney seems to frown on too much cursing in their movies. Black Widow got away with a fair amount, and the Disney+ TV shows, but this one doesn't have too much in the way of bad language. 

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. The movie is very much a Raimi film. Lots of little touches and callbacks to his previous work. Of course there's a Bruce Campbell cameo, but beyond that. This movie touches on horror more than any previous MCU film, but never goes full bore horror. There's plenty of humor, as well, but not chock full of it like Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok. It has a pretty good balance of drama, comedy, horror, and action. 

Of course, there is a TON of CGI in this film. The magic is over the top, as is the dimension hopping. Very fun visually, especially the musical magical duel. That was fun, although maybe it went on for just a touch too long. Won't say more to avoid spoiling it. 

As for character development, Stephen Strange has to deal with the fact that Christine Palmer is getting married (lost his chance) and his need to be in control of every situation. America Chavez has a very typical introduction character arc, trying to control her powers to dimension hop. Wanda the Scarlet Witch was a big part of the movie, but her portrayal was a bit off after her development in WandaVision. Can't really say more without spoiling things, though. 

Cameos? Besides Campbell and Patrick Stewart (his voice is in the trailer, it's no secret he's in it) there are a few more, mostly fan-service oriented. Since they're jumping through multiple universes, they can play with the characters they throw in without it affecting the main MCU continuity. 

I was entertained by the movie, and I liked it, but I'm still not sure how it stacks up to other MCU films. Of the recent offerings, it's better than Black Widow or Eternals, but not as good as Shang Chi in my opinion. Probably need to watch it again before deciding how it holds up overall, as it's a pretty busy film. It does break the trope of recent MCU films of degenerating into a big messy CGI final battle. The whole movie is kind of a big messy CGI experience. 

It doesn't dig deeply into the characters, and it's messy, but still I found it fun.