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Posts Tagged ‘D&D 5th edition’

The torch has been passed, or at least lit with a cantrip.  It is a time honored tradition for a man to pass onto his children the accumulated wisdom gleaned from his time on this earth, so they can carry on and forge new and brighter paths into the future.  As of today, I have fulfilled that responsibility by initiating and teaching my eldest son the ways of the D&D. I glossed over the darker days of wedgies, public ridicule, and involuntary abstinence (he is only 8). It’s a brave new world out there; and the geeks have truly inherited the earth. We are no longer relegated to parents’ basements…unless we want to be. We are everywhere, and social cliques are as fluid as they have ever been. I can’t believe he is going to grow up in an age where people will actually go to a theater or convention centre to watch a live D&D game be played. Still the necessary nods and respect to the old ways were observed. There was Cheetos, chips, and mountain dew aplenty. I tried to kill the boy with a save or suck effect, but he is wily like his old man, and he came away unscathed.

I have to say, without ego, that my son was absolutely amazing, he was a natural.  I mentioned last post that I had converted UK1 “The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” module to 5th edition. The party is comprised of my son’s elven rogue, Stargazer, my friend is playing a half-elf warlock, and two dwarven NPC brothers (life domain cleric and fighter). They have penetrated the “haunted house” and have cleared the first floor. We started with a brief session 0 to establish bonds. My son came up with the idea that he was orphaned  when orcs wiped out his village and he was taken in by the dwarven brother’s family, and now seeks to hunt down these orcs. That’s pretty good eh? He even role played at times. When the barkeep at the Drunken Sea Urchin told him he needed to speak to an elderly poacher if he wanted more information on the “Haunted House” he asked me if he could “mutter” under his breath that this is ridiculous and a waste of his time. Also, when he found out how much it would cost to rent a room for the week he exclaimed, despite having no concept of money and what things cost, that this was “outrageous” and a “rip-off”. We also had to gently explain to him why he couldn’t make the NPC brothers go and investigate the horrible wailing and screams coming from the dark basement.

I think the hardest part was trying not to overly constrain his imagination. He was climbing into rafters to shoot his bow down at the monsters and dodging out of the way of incoming attacks. I made a sinfully bad DM error. He kept wanting to attack with his daggers, but he does more damage with his rapier, which I kept pointing out like some kind of overbearing power gamer. This is something I would never dream of doing with another adult, but I guess I am so used to telling him or teaching him how to do things as his dad that I didn’t catch myself until after. Next time I will be more mindful of that and just encourage him to do what he thinks is cool……and then kill him and build a character that doesn’t have any daggers.

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Long time no post eh. Were you hoping I had blog faded? Died? Gone forever? Stopped subjecting you to my banal and asinine ramblings? Well no such luck suckers, because I’m back.  What have I been up to for the last 2 ½ years you ask? Well, I have been doing exactly what you would imagine a 45 year-old with 2 kids would be doing, dealing with bullshit and grinding out an existence. But seriously, I found myself not gaming much and a little burnt out on tabletop rpg’s. It seemed that my limited free time was being filled more with video games and brewing beer than with tabletop rpg’s. I also found it difficult to carve out a chunk of time to be able to just sit and play. I had typically played online after the kids had gone to bed, but was struggling to maintain consciousness for longer than an hour after I had put them down. So I had nothing really to blog about, but I guess if you wanted to be technical I am not sure you could really say I ever had “anything” to blog about.

Just like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I am back dropping (do the kids still say that) loads of rpg goodness all over your face, neck, and chest. How did this happen you ask? Well like any addict, all it takes is a little nudge or taste to get that itch going. I happened to read an article on Polygon, during my daily procrastination routine, about the upcoming “Tales of the Yawning Portal” by WOTC in which several classic modules from past editions were being updated to 5th edition. The article was about the Tomb of Horrors update and I had the ridiculous idea that I should run it for my old gaming group as their first experience with 5th edition.  It actually took buying the book and reading halfway through the adventure before it dawned on me what a horrifically dumbass idea that was. So I flipped to the beginning of the book and started prepping “The Sunless Citadel” update instead. I sent out the call to arms and was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive and excited response. I guess we were all caught up in daily grind of trying to manage family and demanding careers, that a little escapism seemed just right. We play Friday nights every 2 to 3 weeks, and it seems that it has hit the sweet spot of not cutting into family time or generating too much spousal aggro. We made our way through the Sunless Citadel with me killing them multiple times and onto Princes of the Apocalypse, where I have also killed them multiple times; but more on that later.

What about that “Ancient Blood” adventure from Dungeon Magazine I kept threatening people with? Did I ever finish prepping and playing it? Let’s be honest, you already know what the answer to that question is, so stop badgering me. What I have done is begun a second game, I know like WTF how is that even possible, and before you ask , no I haven’t been laid off or “fired” or divorced thank you very much.  My 8 year-old (he is the baby seen on the header of the blog) has taken quite an interest in D&D and has been pestering me for a while around when he would get to play. Of course he took my suggestion that he needs to be a little older and a more capable reader before he begin his journey as me being a mega asshole dad who just wants to ruin his life and won’t let him do anything fun. You know, pretty much the usual.  When he started reading through the Harry Potter novels I knew I couldn’t push it off much longer, so I bought him the 5th Edition Starter Set and told him to read through the player /game rules and then we would build his character (FYI I made him roll his stats).  So I decided to convert the U1 AD&D module “The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” to 5th Edition (super-easy to do) for us to play through with one of my friends. Needless to say, I am looking forward to how this turns out as my son takes his Elven Rogue “Stargazer” into his first grand adventure (FYI I will probably kill him).

Alright, I feel like at this point I need to remind you of the ground rules here. For full disclosure, if you are looking for any kind of substantive, insightful, or thoughtful commentary or criticism, then this is not the place for you.  I also design or create nothing or really offer anything of value. So you have been forewarned.

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Hmm where to begin? I am still slowly prepping to run “Ancient Blood”, and by slowly I mean a brisk glacial place. I should be finished just in time to convert it to the 6th Edition rule set. I have been spending most of the time lately making maps for the vtt, reading the adventure again and again, and because I am an asshole, pondering how to add extra content to the adventure. There is one thing that has me concerned and that is converting the combat encounters/monsters over to the new edition. I have loosely mapped out and substituted a motley assortment of foes with which to antagonize my players with. My concern centers on the encounter building rules or guidelines set out the DMG. My little experience with system and what I have heard from other sources seems to indicate the guidelines might be a bit jenky. Encounters meant to be a fun donnybrook can turn out to be a bloodbath or vise versa a deadly set piece battle can turn out to be as threatening as a child’s tea party. It’s kind of all over the place. Part of the issue I think is the increasing experience point multiplier for more and more opponents; it seems to be off the mark a little. A friend of mine (the guy from the last post with the anal fissure surgery) suggests having a way for the players to succeed without killing everything, a way to escape, or knowledge of the threat ahead of time so they can tilt the odds in their favor. The game seems to require a bit of critical thinking and analysis when it comes to encounters, which I am not sure how I feel about it as I am a bit of a button masher kind of guy. I mean really, anymore demands on my critical thinking or mental resources and I am at risk of being reduced to a talking chimp.

So as I mentioned above, like an asshole, I felt I needed to add content to the adventure. A good portion of the adventure is based on content that doesn’t really match my play style and without it the adventure is kind of thin. What I am talking about is the overland travel. In the adventure, much is made about challenging the players and their characters to survive the trek, in sub-arctic conditions, to the abandoned Frost Giant keep. This is meant to be done by playing out each days travel and making camp through random encounters, foraging for food, not getting lost, and surviving and navigating environmental dangers such as breaking ice. I plan to incorporate that into a scene or two, but it is not my thing anymore to play out travel in a live action kind of way. In order “re-fill” the adventure so to speak, I have settled on adding a faction/threat, fleshing out one of the encounters into a possible side trek, and making the spirit of Mok-Turoknin’s (the dead Frost Giant king who’s curse is trigged) more of a factor.

The one faction or danger that I am adding is called “Erik the Viking”. The danger/faction is essentially a classic Viking clan lead by Erik. Their impulse is to grow strong, crush their enemies, and be worthy of Valhalla. Grim Portents for Erik the Viking are: trade to Dagmalstad is disrupted, Dagmalstad is attacked, the clan acquires and ancient power/magic. The impending doom is: Tyranny. As you might have noticed I am using Dungeon World terminology to organize and frame things. It allows to me to leave room for collaboration and to make moves more organically based on what the players do. Well at least in theory. I think the key will be in tying the players to the specific cities or factions in the adventure during character creation or session zero. I will give them the various groups that they can tie themselves too, including, and hopefully, Erik the Viking.

Below is the vtt map for the start of the game in medias res with the player’s boat sinking and being boarded by a raiding party from Erik’s clan. The 4e Dm in me was reflexively putting sharks in the water, because well sharks, until I realized that was like asking for a TPK in the first scene. I am a bit of douchebag but not that much of a douchebag. Besides I usually save the TPK for the second scene or when I want to rage quit my own game.

viking1

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I have been thinking a lot about complexity in rpg’s , that and the metric ton of shit that Rob Schwalb took over a recent blog post . From what I can gather it seems that some folks felt betrayed by his self-admitted rant as they perceived it to be the metaphorical equivalent of him dropping his pants and bricking into the mouth of the character optimization play style and by extension into the mouths of 3rd and 4th edition fans, who he was supposedly meant to represent in the design of 5th edition. I didn’t take his post that way, I mean really what DM hasn’t felt the berserker rage as some filthy fucking optimizer…er sorry… -deep cleansing breaths, finding my warm happy place- I am also not prone to being narcissistically wounded by the decisions a game company makes or need what I like to be validated by others, but hey that’s just me. Anyone who has followed Rob’s personal blog shouldn’t be surprised by this at all as he has long expressed his growing dissatisfaction with the aspects of very “crunchy” game systems that were becoming increasingly at odds with the experience he was looking to have at the gaming table. If you look past the hyperbole, you see a guy who is really just describing the results of his gaming “vison quest”, and what he has learned about his preferences and what makes the hobby awesome for him.

I also happen to agree with what I think Rob is trying to say. I didn’t take his post as advocating or that he, in some way conspired, to remove the mechanical crunchiness or complexity from D&D, but rather that the game needs to offer more than just that. D&D, to be truly successful, moving forward needs to allow and support different play styles. I realize that you can play a given edition anyway that you want and are not limited to doing things just one way and I am not talking about flirting with barmaids or talking to the king because those are the same whatever you’re playing. I am talking more about the game in action. For example you can try and recreate a heavy exploration or dungeon crawl feel similar to what you experienced in 1st or 2nd edition D&D with say 4th Edition but the system constantly fights you. It pulls for long set piece tactical skirmishes where the roleplaying, exploration, and interaction happen in combat. The combat essentially is and where the roleplaying happens. The combats are long because we need to make sure to use every standard, minor, immediate, free, and no action we painstakingly crafted together and that are at our disposal. Character creation can be a beast, even for someone like me, and a bit of a barrier just from the sheer volume of decisions and options. It’s one thing if that kind of stuff is your jam, but if it is not then you are kind of boned in 4th edition. I saw this first hand in my face to face group, were none of them probably ever read the core rulebook let alone a charop forum. Character creation and leveling were brutal. When they clicked on that button for their first level feat you could see their eyes glaze over at the nauseating volume of choices. Again, it doesn’t mean 4th edition is bad or wrong or that you can’t just say fuck it and pick the first option you see, it’s just the system pulls for something different. I found Pathfinder the same way, maybe even more so.

After reading the Basic Rules I am beginning to get sense of what they meant by an edition for everyone through modularity and I think it’s fantastic. If you want easy character creation and an old school feel of play you go with the baseline classes, opt out of feats and stick with stat bumps, and use theatre of the mind for combat. It’s quick, easy, and you’re cooking with gas. You want a more 3rd to 4th kind of feel? Then add some of the more complex sub-classes, opt into feats, use the rules for grid play, and boom Bob’s your uncle. There is even supposed to be different ways to handle healing, other than the default hit dice system, coming in the DMG that will allow you to tailor it to your desired play style. For those of you who are having aneurisms at the thought that Mr. Schwalb has single handily ripped out the still beating heart of the charop play style devoured it in front of you, take it easy. It doesn’t matter what system it is the minute you have any choices there will always be the best choice and best combinations, especially with multi-classing and feats. Plus this is just starting; you don’t think there is going to be tons of more player options in the future? You have to remember that charop is a lucrative play style for any company, because there are more players than DMs and player options sell. I think the take away is that WOTC is trying to provide you with options in terms of play style, not choosing one over the other. Is it going to be perfect? No, but what in life is aside from beer, pizza, and for some of us online streaming pornography?

Personally, I would have to say I have been leaning towards moderate complexity, in terms of character creation and game rules. You could sort of say I am like goldilocks in that regards. I like a descent amount of choices or options in character development and play, but not so much that it is overwhelming where you have to study the books like they were the Dead Sea scrolls. In gameplay, I am finding I prefer a system that is easy to adjudicate (parsimony over simulationistic detail) and combat that is not sluggishly long. I know you are laughing at the last point as I have played predominantly 4th Edition over the past 4 years, but it is likely that fact that has more clearly defined my preference. However, having said that I can make do with less or more complexity; I am kind of a cheap date that way. I am pretty intrigued with the new D&D, and maybe it will hit my sweet spot, but more on that later.

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Unless you’re a gamer that lives under a rock then you have probably heard that 5th edition is jismming (is that a word?) all over our collective faces, necks, and chests July 15th with the release of the Starter Set, and get this, a free version of the core rules (or what they are calling Basic D&D) in a pdf download. The Starter Set is DM focused coming with pre-gens, advice/rules, and an adventure for levels 1 to 5. The free Basic D&D is the core of the game with character creation rules for levels 1-20 with four classic races and classes. It will also include some monsters, game rules, and magic items so you could technically play full campaigns with the free pdf if you so desired. The traditional core books will have a staggered release (a sort of refractory period between jisms if you will) with the Players Handbook coming August 19th, the Monster Manual September 30th, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide November 18th. The PHB will have the fuller contingent of classes, sub classes, races, and the rest of bells and whistles. The DMG will provide the traditional world building/campaign guidelines and magic items as well as some of the promised modularity in terms of variant rules. I of course pre-ordered all three core books. It also looks like WOTC is going to try and focus on adventure paths this time around, especially after giving the core rules away for free. The two entries The Hoard of the Dragon Queen (8/19/14) and The Rise of Tiamat (10/21/14) are set in the Forgotten Realms. I am not sure how I feel about this. It just seems like yesterday’s news, but I guess they want try and appeal to the largest segment of the audience.

The reaction to the free Basic D&D was pretty amusing. I personally thought it was a great move and a lot of others on the interwebs were in agreement. However, there was a fairly vocal contingent that took a dump all over it. I have never seen a company take so much shit for trying to give something away for free. A friend of mine said you’d think they were giving away free syphilis or something. People are screaming that it is not enough, giving us a gimped game, with chants of an OGL or nothing. WOTC has stated that they have plans that they will announce later detailing the license structure of 5th edition and it seems like there will be a system for being able to sell individually created stuff, so will see. On a side not it would be ridiculous for WOTC to ever do an OGL type thing again. It was probably the worst business decision they have ever made, great for consumers, but ultimately terrible for them.

My own gaming has been a little stagnant of late. I have prepped the new introductory module for the Slaver’s A-series published in the re-released hardcover collector’s edition using the OSRIC system. The game has been put on hold as sadly one of the players, who is my best friend, is dealing with the final stages of his father’s battle with cancer. I am still playing in the 4th edition Against the Giants game and we have slowly ground our way to the last bit of the final module. My Dwarven fighter Karl Laggerbelly is a beast of a defender. I have to say that the published modules in 4th edition have really not been great. Even with Chris Perkins writing the giants ones, I just find the combat system ill-suited to the traditional dungeon crawl. The best 4e games I have played in or run have been homemade with an eye towards the mechanics of the game. Lastly, I have been slowly working my way through the new Runequest rule book. I really like the system as it brings back a lot of fond memories from my youth. I am amazed by how much more complexity they have added to the system. I had the thought that with the gritty style of play that can be created that the system would be great for a Dark Sun setting. With a little work the Folk Magic could be re-flavored as psionics. So I have that percolating around my brain, we’ll see what comes of it.

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Well the specter of D&D next hangs heavy over the nerd realms these days like a giant Rorschach level pit stain evoking a myriad of responses ranging from the second coming of Christ or Elvis to complete and utter revulsion and white hot rage. Where do I fall on this spectrum? Well somewhere in the middle around indifference and bordering on complete apathy. Don’t get me wrong I will still buy the core books because well, I buy everything anyways. But I really need this thing to come out soon so some of the edition warring can simmer down. I know it will never stop but with the open play testing it seems to have concentrated it like a lightning rod in the WOTC forums. They still haven’t set a firm launch date, which isn’t helping much as it gives the illusion to some that the game is in trouble design wise. They have stated that they are shooting for a summer 2014 release, which most took to mean at GenCon this year. However, with that date inching up on the horizon, they have been pretty coy about whether it is a go or not. There aren’t any official events listed for D&D Next on the schedule aside from some seminars that use the wording “upcoming” edition (edit-a poster named Wavester confimred theat he has entered WOTC events for the registration at GenCon but they are waiting for a few details to be ironed out before they get “turned on” and that they will be using a D&D Neext ruleset). There is an unconfirmed rumor that the Basic or starter set (not to be confused with the PHB, DMG, and MM which will come later) will be launched July 15th. I don’t envy the developers and I f I was one I would probably try and push it off for as long as possible as there is the very real possibility that it’s release could land with a big echoing thud, regardless of the actual quality of the game. Then what?

It’s hard to get a bead on what’s going to happen. The forums are a bit of a wet hot mess with each feature, mechanic, or playstyle being constantly attacked and ripped apart by packs of jackals. Nobody can agree on anything and everything seems polarizing from cries of dissociative mechanics to vancian vrs neo-vancian casting to healing and hit dice. Perhaps my favorite clash was WOTC’s decision to remove movement penalties for the smaller races in combat. The rational being that there are more interesting ways to bring out the flavor of the individual races than a movement penalty. So Dwarves and Halflings no longer have a lower speed than the rest of the races. The shit storm and threatened rage quits that erupted in a thread was something to behold with some decrying it as the further pussification of the game because the munchkins don’t want any kind of challenge compared to the good old days. Then there were simulationists claiming that this ruined their verisimilitude because it’s just not physically possible for someone smaller to move the same speed as someone taller. This led others pointing out that in a six second period a little person or even a child could probably sprint 30ft which then led to, I shit you not, someone entering the land speed of a cheetah into the conversation. How can you win when you’re designing for these people? Now granted I am a firm believer in the silent majority that are way less bothered by any of this bullshit and I see a lot of people that are reasonably flexible that seem to like what they see so far. But then there is the part of me that thinks who is really going to run a table top rpg these days other than some crazy, intense motherfucker that posts on forums (or writes a dumb blog-natch). When you look out over the hobby landscape these days table top rpg’s are an ever shrinking niche market with so many strong options and contentious factions you have to wonder what the expectations for D&D can be? The strength of Pathfinder alone and I realize rpg’s are not a zero sum area, has to dent performance expectations let alone the general hatred that WOTC tends to evoke in a lot of people.

I know personally I won’t allow myself to get caught up in the product frenzy like I did with 4th edition. I look at my shelve full of all that crap and get angry. I am going to keep it simple this time around and be a little judicious with what I get, perhaps being satisfied with just the core books…yah and then pigs will start flying and hell will freeze over and I will start shiting golden eggs out my ass.

 

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I think I must be voyeuristic by nature. It’s likely what pushed me in the direction of becoming a psychologist. With the coming of “Next” it also has me transfixed on the forum boards, mesmerized by the bickering and bile being spewed back and forth. I think what I find most amusing are the cats that hated 4th edition, all puffed up with self-importance, like the coming of “Next” is a validation of their hate and proof that WOTC was wrong and now must grovel at their feet.

I don’t buy it for a second that 4th edition wasn’t financially successful. I also think it helped to significantly grow the hobby in very crowded entertainment environment dominated by video games. People look at the successes of Pathfinder as evidence of 4th edition financially underperforming and the “split” of the player base, but I think that ignores those that have purchased and played both, people like me. Another claim of 4th edition suckage is its short edition cycle. I guess I would counter this with the fact that the business landscape is dramatically different than what the previous editions faced, particularly being a publishing business in the era of digital piracy. When I was involved in D&D Encounters I couldn’t believe the number of virgin players that showed up to pop their d20 cherries, mostly young guns, and I was equally amazed that virtually none of them ever bought a book. Oh they had all the products, usually stored on whatever mobile device they were carrying at the time. I am beginning to believe only old fucktatrds like me buy actual books anymore, although I would gladly purchase a pdf alongside my hardback copy if WOTC is listening. I also think that WOTC had run out of design space in 4th edition. I mean really, I don’t know what else they could have possible sold us at this point. It’s partially a consequence of their diarrhea style release schedule, plus nothing sells quite as good as the core books of a new edition.  

I have sniffed around the D&D Next playtest package and I can honestly say that I have no desire to playtest or play that game. It doesn’t look bad, it looks exactly like what it is proposing to be, a very rules light, old school vibe system with some tweaks. It reminds me a lot of Castles and Crusades, particularly in how they handle skills, saving throws, and “contests” which seems to mirror the “SIEGE” engine. I guess for me, if I really want play with old school nostalgia I would just play with the original material or a retro clone. I realize that this is the base core rules and that they are going to hang optional rules modules on it like some kind of giant gaming Christmas tree, so I want to wait and see what some of the more tactical options are before I make a real yeah or nay. My speculation is that the souped up version will look a lot like 3.5/Pathfinder so I am not sure how much that will entice me to throw money at it. I am also curious about the packaging and how they are going to manage these so called “modules”. I mean are they going to be in the core rule book? Or are they going to go with separate books for a lot of these things? If they do that it seems like it might be very confusing for new players and if it costs me more to get the game I want than the previous core books that might seriously give me a case of the old red eye. In the end I am kind of left wondering how long you can continue to re-package rules with some tweakage and survive.

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