Thursday, March 28, 2024

Problems, Annoyances, and Misconceptions

I watched this YouTube video titled "5 Things in D&D that Make No Sense" [Of course referring to 5E specifically], and I found it interesting that she found these specific things to be annoying: 

1. Falling damage in 5E caps at 20d6 (200' fall). She rightly points out that most mid-level 5E PCs will survive that. 

Of course, they are also going to survive around six or seven sword stabs or axe slashes at that level, and be fully healed after a good night's rest. So I don't know why this particular break from real world physics bothers her so much. I do wonder if the 20 dice cap is related to the 20 dice cap for high level magic users in BECMI/RC D&D? It is a fairly arbitrary number to place the cap upon. 

2. Shields. 5E treats all shields the same. Buckler or kite, round or tower, they all give a +2 bonus. 

Growing up playing BECMI, this was just a given (although only a -1 bonus to AC), and the reasoning was addressed in the rulebook. Smaller, lighter shields are easier to maneuver into place to block an attack, while large shields provide more cover. Again, it's an artificial simplification that aids gameplay, even if that leads to a loss of realism. 

And you could always go the AD&D route, where all shields give that -1 bonus, but only to specific attacks from specific directions, or a specific number of attacks in the round. 

3. Religion in D&D. Pantheistic religions don't work the way they do in D&D, where everyone is devoted to a singular deity within the pantheon. Also, how can there be atheists in a word where the gods actually sometimes walk the Earth?

Again, starting playing with BECMI, and even in AD&D, this isn't really a thing. Maybe it started to develop in the 2E days, but it wasn't until 3E hit the shelves that I noticed this about how gods/religions work in D&D. And yes, it is odd, and shows the likely monotheistic cultural bias of the setting designers. But this isn't really something that's hard-coded into the rules, really. It's more of how things are presented, and how many players role-play the situations. So long answer short: don't like it, change it for your table.

4. The Find Traps spell. This is the one that really made me want to write a post about this video. Apparently, in 5E, this spell doesn't actually find the traps for you, it just lets you know that there are traps in the area that you can roll skill checks to locate. 

OK, that is pretty lame. 

But once more, coming from an older edition background (particularly editions where the find traps spell actually DOES find the traps for you), this is one of my big beefs with 5E magic. Everyone thinks that 5E magic is much more powerful than old school spellcasting classes because of at-will cantrips, more spells per day (at low levels anyway), and all the special abilities involved. 

BUT... So many 5E spells are completely nerfed compared to how they worked in older editions. I can see why this spell in particular bugged the YouTuber, because it doesn't do what the name says it does, and it's fairly useless to cast this version of the spell. 

So why is it named this? Continuity of spell names across editions of the game. As mentioned, the spell used to do exactly what the name promises. It's not a problem with the spell name, it's a problem with lazy game designers who think that they need to reword the spells in every edition to take away their usefulness, and in particular with 5E, to make everything into something that requires a d20 roll against some arbitrary difficulty number. 

It's interesting to me that the YouTuber is mystified by this. And she probably doesn't even realize just how crappy so many 5E spells actually are. Anything that used to be an encounter winner spell in older editions has been depowered so that players won't get The Feels when NPCs or monsters use it against them. Or there are so many caveats on the use of the spell that interesting utility functions that creative players thought up over the years are now explicitly prohibited by the spell text. The only spells worth taking are just the boring "deal more damage" spells. Yawn. 

5. Advantage and Disadvantage. Her problem is not with the mechanic itself (which is handy), but with how different situations that grant advantage and disadvantage always just cancel out to zero. You could be trying to make a ranged attack while prone, tied up, blind, in a wind storm, and cursed (all giving disadvantage), but your buddy using the Help action grants advantage, so all those negatives are cancelled. Roll normally. 

Yeah, that is dumb. But if a DM really wanted to total up all the positive and negative factors in a situation, and make a rule that, say, 2 more advantage factors than disadvantage factors grants net advantage (and the reverse), who's stopping her? I don't think WotC can send Pinkertons to her door for that. Not yet, anyway. 

It's not something I need to worry about anymore, so whatever on this last one. 


Next week, I'm flying back to the U.S. with Flynn, so unless I get the itch to blog over the coming weekend, I probably won't have any content up here for a couple of weeks. As Arnold says, though, "Ahl be bahk."

Monday, March 18, 2024

Emergent Characters vs. Bespoke Characters

When people create an RPG character these days, I'd say it's most common for folks to come up with their character concept first, then roll dice & arrange, or assign a standard array, or do point buy to try and 'build' that character. But back in the day, we mostly rolled ability scores first, then figured out what sort of character this one would be. Both have their place, and this post will discuss the merits of both methods.

Last Friday, when I logged on to Discord for our CoC "session 0" (third round), I had a bit of interesting discussion with Richard (the Keeper). Although he's decided CoC is his game that he wants to stick with for most of his gaming, he was reading up on Original D&D, and was curious about some of the methods and the rationale behind the methods in those rules. We will, schedule permitting, get together and just chat about that hopefully some day soon. 

One of the things we did talk about last Friday was relevant to the task at hand. We were generating characters. Richard prefers rolling dice to see what you get, and then crafting a character based on those rolls. I'm partial to that method myself, so we all did that. In the first adventure Richard ran, he just had us use standard array since that speeds up the process and we players were mostly new to the system. My previous Cthulhu experience was under the 3E d20 rules (which didn't really fit the bill). When that adventure was complete, one of the players, Brady, took a turn as Keeper, so we had to make new PCs. Some of the players used the standard array, but Richard and I rolled the dice. This time, Richard is back as Keeper, and everyone tried die rolling. 

Even though we rolled randomly for our abilities, the other three players all had ideas for their character that they modified slightly to the rolls they received. Mostly, though, since CoC is so heavily skill based, the background chosen was more important to their character concept than what abilities they rolled. 

My case was different. I rolled without any real preconception of what the character would be. I had briefly considered trying to remake my old d20 CoC character, a young seminarian convinced that all the eldritch horror was the work of The Devil, but had changed my mind on that before I started rolling. I looked at my scores (pretty poor ones for the most part), and decided that this would be a desk-jockey type analyst for the FBI-like government agency we would be working for on this adventure. He's the stereotypical nerd. Very poor physical stats and appearance (and luck, and power). Lots of 35s. But Education is very good (75 from the roll, bumped up to 84 by lucky die rolls for being in my early 30s), and Dexterity and Intelligence are both around 50. So a weakling, but full of useful skills. I think he'll be fun to play. 

And so, Richard and I spent part of the session discussing the merits of rolling first then crafting the character's class/role and description/personality around those rolls. I'm calling this an Emergent Character. This works best when rolling in order, of course. Any sort of adjustment, including the OD&D through RC version of trading for Prime Requisite, or the BECMI suggestion to swap the highest die roll for the desired PR, move the process closer to the Bespoke Character, where the player comes up with the concept first, then tries to fit the concept around the game rules. 

Honestly, as a veteran gamer, I understand well the allure of the Bespoke PC. Players with experience know what they like, or know what might be a fun new novel challenge for them, and like to come up with concepts first. I often do that myself. Especially in systems where there are point buy abilities, or even point buy skills, this makes sense. If you have to select all of your skills/abilities from a big old list of possibilities (like in WEG d6, GURPS or Palladium games), it speeds things up immensely to have an idea of what you want to play. Yeah, Palladium is technically a class & level system, but with so many sourcebooks and so many skills on top of the copious number of classes to choose from (some with just very minor differences...looking at you, Ninjas & Superspies), it might as well be a carte blanche skill purchase system. 

Class & Level games obviously lend themselves better to a roll-first Emergent Character creation process. And the funny thing is, this method is both better for beginner players who don't really know much about the system, and for experienced veterans who are in for a challenge. The Emergent PC needs to be created on the spot, to reflect the rolls. This makes it easy for a new player. You have them roll, then you can advise them on the best class options for that set of rolls. Granted, sometimes the rolls might be best for a difficult class to play as a newbie, but often jumping into the fire feet first can be a good initiation to the game. And as I mentioned, for the jaded veteran who's tried it all, being able to roll randomly and THEN figure out who this weirdo adventurer is can be both fun and challenging. 

Quite often, when I try to join a new game on, the GM wants players to submit their character concept in advance. This can be hard for me, as I don't always have a concept...or rather, I probably have many potential concepts that I'd like to play. For example, I've been hoping to join a d6 Star Wars game. But if I'm accepted, I'm not sure if I'd like to play a "wandering space cowboy" or a "Jawa scavenger" or a "Guardian of the Whills" type character. All three sound fun to me. Of course, in d6 Star Wars, you don't roll for stats so I could pick any of these that I like. So it makes sense for the GM to vett players by their concept(s) before they're added to the game. Bespoke is the way to go.

In a D&D game, though, most DMs still require potential players to pitch their character before they're allowed to roll the dice. There are a few DMs I play under who will allow a change if the die rolls don't go the way you wanted, but mostly they want you to stick with your concept, even if the rolls don't really allow for that (of course, many want players to use a standard array, or point buy, so you can get your Bespoke PC). Sometimes, the dice fail to cooperate. I pitched an idea for a human paladin Champion of Kord, a consummate athlete turned adventurer. Then the my highest die roll for ability scores was a 14. My other scores were 12, 11, 9, 9, 9. Since this is 5E, I used variant human, and got the 11 up to a 12 and one of the 9s to a 10 so there wouldn't be a penalty, and snagged a feat. So my "amazing athlete" character had a middling Strength (14), just slightly above average Constitution (12), and an average Dexterity (10, because the other 12 went to Charisma), and below average Int and Wis. Not at all the character I'd pitched. 

So I had to rework the idea into a young up-and-coming teen devoted to Kord, hoping to become that amazing athlete some day, rather than having that as the backstory to his adventuring. Honestly, I can't imagine the character giving up adventuring for sports, but that was what the rolls gave me. 

While there is that down-side to Emergent PC creation, Bespoke PCs of course tend to fall prey to either the cookie-cutter effect, or the twinked-out CharOpBoards effect. System mastery tends to suggest certain builds for certain types of characters, and if you have full control (or nearly so) of the character's mechanics, it's easy to just go for the basic builds, and every PC trying to fill a certain niche will look pretty similar to the others in the same niche. And at the extreme end, you get the players trying to find the exploits in the system, designing the "ultimate" PC for whatever purpose, or the game breaking Pun-Pun the Kobold build. 

Both Emergent and Bespoke PCs have their merits and their drawbacks. I tend to prefer the challenge of rolling the dice first and then fitting a character to the rolls. It's annoying to have to come up with all that first, just to have to rework it like my Champion of Kord. But I do also enjoy the dedicated Bespoke PC options in games from time to time. That is also a sort of challenge, trying to create a certain archetype or idea out of the elements allowed for that game.

Getting the Groove Back Over the Weekend

So my last post, I was complaining that I just wasn't feeling it with RPG stuff, and hadn't been for a bit. Part of the reason I wrote that and posted it publicly was to see if it would jump start my motivation to game/work on game stuff. And I think it did. Also, thanks to JB and Dick McGee for sympathizing with me. I think it did what I hoped it would, but not completely. A few things that happened over the weekend got me fired up again. 

My son started Korean high school this month, and hates it. I wasn't surprised. Korean high school is three years of suffering in order to get the highest possible score you can on the Korean version of the SAT test. Lots of stress, lots of late night cramming, lots of competition. So he asked if we could move up or scheduled plan for him to study in the U.S. My parents agreed, so we spent last week making arrangements. At the start of April, he and I will fly to Illinois and I'll get him set up to live with my folks for the next couple of years and finish high school there. Kinda stressful, but kind of exciting, too. 

And I was so busy with those arrangements on Friday that I completely forgot that I was supposed to get on Discord to make a new Call of Cthulhu character with the guys for Richard's new adventure. Luckily, Richard texted me, and after getting Steven ready for bed, and finishing up the translation of Flynn's high school class schedule, I joined up. 

I had no real idea what sort of PC I wanted to make, but everyone else did. I rolled for my abilities instead of using the standard array, and I'm glad I did. I rolled horribly overall, but Education was really good, so while my basic abilities are not good, I've got good skills for my super nerdy 1920s version of an FBI forensics/CIA analyst guy. And discussion with Richard about character generation and OD&D during the session gave me inspiration for my next blog post, about whether to roll and figure out the PC, or figure out the PC then try to build them. 

On Saturday, I finally got to watch Godzilla Minus One, and really liked it. Good film. It makes you actually care about the people in the film, while having some great (if not quite enough) monster smashing Tokyo mayhem. And that's tickling a few ideas that I might also be able to work into some game-able material. And possibly a blog post. 

Oh, and some of you may have heard that NASA put out a D&D (5E-ish) adventure! I downloaded it, read through it briefly, and unfortunately I don't think I'll be using it after all. 

On Sunday, I had my TS&R Jade session coming up, so I got off my ass in the morning and wrote up another location on the map, and have been working on some ideas for another one. I want to do a fairly Jacquaysed map, with lots of verticality and multiple pathways for this second location, so that may take a bit of time to do. But I'm hyped by the possibilities of that map and location. The location I did add is fairly simple, a barbarian encampment that could be attacked (type A treasure, after all!) or could become a resource since they specialize in animal training. If the party makes good relations with them, they could buy trained animals from them, or capture animals to take to them for training. 

And then the session was Flynn's final session before he heads to the U.S. We've got other things planned for the next two Sundays, so no more D&D. Going into the session, he was thinking of trying to go out with a bang, and get his PC killed in a fun and memorable way. But then in the game, he changed his mind and did his best to keep his PC and henchman alive, so that he can keep playing them whenever he comes back to visit. And after the session, we discussed some of the ways he could use the down time to improve his character (martial arts training, spell research, etc.) which we can do via emails or whatever while he's away. 

So, yeah, I've got my gaming groove back. I'm looking forward to getting some content up here on the blog, as well as working on the campaign and my TS&R GM book this week.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Low Motivation

For the past two weeks or so, I've been struggling to get motivated. I keep telling myself I should work on developing my TS&R campaign world, or get ready for the next Star Wars adventure, or keep plugging away at my TS&R GM Guidebook, or work on the idea for the Gauntlet arcade game inspired tabletop skirmish game idea, or playtest my modifications to the BECMI War Machine mass combat rules for TS&R a bit more, or something. 

I'm running my campaign. We had a good session on Sunday. But other than that, I'm not doing much gaming related stuff. 

It's just a lot easier to sit down, when I've got some free time, to watch some political bullshit commentary on YouTube, or continue my watch through of Star Trek Enterprise (finished that the other day), or some other way to just waste my time. 

The new semester has started, and I'm getting into the groove of the different classes and schedule this semester. Students are mostly people I've taught before, so that's always nice. 

I did pick up a copy of the 5E DMG, finally. My friend Lisa is leaving Busan for Belgium, and had to sell off a lot of her board games and RPG books because it would be too expensive to ship them. So I got her DMG. I'm not gonna run 5E, but I did want to have it for reference/comparison purposes. I haven't really looked through it yet, though. For that matter, I've barely looked at the 4E books that I got from Pat when he left Busan last year. And I promised Joe Block that I'd read through his Swords of Wuxia book and post my ideas here. Maybe that's what I should do to get back into the mood. Do a bit of RPG reading, and post my ideas and reactions here. 

Sorry for the mopey navel-gazing post, everyone. I'll try to get some new, interesting, gaming related content up here soon.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Full Circle

I was reading the new post on Raven Crowking's Nest, and saw that he had stats for a monster from a poster of a Minneapolis ska band that my cousin had introduced me to. I thought, that's funny, I know I've posted that poster on my blog way back when. Is Raven also into ska? 

Turns out, he was reblogging the comment he'd made on my old post about the poster

Anyway, if you need stats for a cyclops Deep One boxer, check it out (either link). 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Movie Capsule Review: Dune Part 2 with bonus Lynch 84 Dune notes

Last Thursday, I showed the boys the 1984 David Lynch Dune movie. I hadn't seen it since I was pretty young (late teens or early 20s?). I'd forgotten or hadn't realized back then that it was acted and directed much like as if it were a stage production. Sparse sets, heavily enunciated, etc. And of course, watching it now, the personal shields make the characters look like Minecraft or Roblox characters. 

Still, I enjoyed it. It is suitably weird, and while many of the effects do look dated, I think the sandworms hold up after all these years. Plus, you've got to love Patrick Stewart as Gurney. But this film's version of Duncan Idaho really gets treated poorly. If you hadn't read the books you'd wonder why we should even care about his death. 

Oh, then on Saturday, Flynn and I went to see the new Villeneuve Dune Part 2. 

I liked it, and so did he. It has good production values, and it's pretty well acted. In particular, Christopher Walken is restrained as Emperor Shaddam IV, which is good. Maybe it's his age, maybe it's the directing, but wacko Walken of yesteryear would not have worked for this. 

The film follows the book more closely than the 84 film, but then being split into two parts allows for that. And it has been quite a while since I've read the book, so some of my memories of it could be off, but in this film, Paul is very reluctant to 'go south' and lead the Fremen for a good part of the movie, which I don't remember it being such a big character point in the book. Maybe it's time to read it again, though, I may be misremembering. Other than that, I enjoyed it. 

Is it my favorite sci-fi movie of all time? No, but it was definitely worth the wait from part 1. And having just recently (finally) read Dune Messiah, I'm looking forward to the Part 3 coming in a few years.