Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Comic-Con spending


This blog post is in response to an article in the paper.  For those with limited time, it's about Comic-Con attendees spending as little money as possible or, at least, much less than the national average of convention attendees... which annoys corporations wanting to capitalize on all those potential wallets with legs.

My gut reaction is this: corporate america can't have it both ways.  They can't subjugate their employees with depressed wages, fewer benefits, and laying off workers while, at the same time, complaining that young adults aren't spending enough money on their expensive products.

Maybe there's a larger issue here.  A reason why fans of Captain America and Spider-Man aren't also fans of State Farm and Chrysler.  Generic blanket advertising doesn't always work.  According to corporate america, people are consumers; but geeks are geeks, thinking for themselves, adhering to whatever it is that turns them on specifically.  They're not credit card carrying zombies, mindlessly buying whatever's in front of them.

The old model is dying.  I believe we're in the midst of a paradigm shift.  Progress.

Money, that valuable resource upon which the world turns, is no longer the ultimate goal.  That's reserved for the creation of something truly awesome.  I'm talking bout Subjectivism: the opposite of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged - artists, visionaries, and creators are doing their thing in spite of greed.  Their efforts will be compensated; not just by trickling down from corporate overlords but empowering themselves, individually.

This isn't art for art's sake but the kind of recognition that comes from realizing a vision rather than being subjected to regulation by soulless industries and politicians.  That kind of appreciation is worth more than a million impressions of a product that has nothing to do with Lovecraft or Doctor Who or Dungeons & Dragons.  Respect emanates from aesthetic integrity.


VS




Monday, July 28, 2014

Character Class Options in D&D 5e


Here's the full list of classes.  Wow, that's a lot to work with.  Not only because players have a whopping 12 character classes, but now each class has a variety of kits or sub-classes, emphasizing a specific aspect of that class.  Let's take a closer look at each package...


Barbarian: A barbarian picks a primal path that reflects the nature of the character's rage. The two options in the Player's Handbook are the Path of the Berserker and the Path of the Totem Warrior. The berserker fights with an implacable fury, while the totem warrior channels the magic of beasts to augment his or her rage.

That's cool.  I kind of wish there had been three sub-classes instead of just two, but hey... two is better than one.  How about something reflecting Thundarr or Conan - if I come up with something awesome, I'll do a separate write-up.



Bard: Each bard is inspired by a college—a loose affiliation of like-minded bards who share lore, stories, and performances. The Player's Handbook presents the College of Lore, which focuses on knowledge and performance, and the College of Valor, which focuses on inspiring bravery on the battlefield.

Is it me, or does the Bard seem to be less a watered down Fighter/Wizard and more its own thing now?  I think that's a good thing.  For too long the Bard was just a cool sounding name with wasted potential.  The whole College thing adds roleplaying and setting/campaign possibilities.


Cleric: Cleric domains reflect the nature of the gods and shape the magic a character wields. The domains in the Player's Handbook are Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, and War.

My first thought - why is Tempest italicized?  My second, are Life, Light, Nature, and Trickery really the best lowest common denominator domains for Clerics?  War is a no-brainer but Life and Light just seem like two generic sides of the same coin, and Nature makes me think he'll encroach onto the Druid's territory (perhaps literally).


Druid: A druid joins a circle—one of a number of loose alliances of like-minded druids who share similar outlooks on nature, balance, and the way of druidic magic. The Circle of the Land allows a druid to select a type of terrain from which he or she draws magic. The Circle of the Moon augments a druid's ability to transform into various beasts.

I love the "type of terrain".  Having desert druids and swamp druids and mountain druids makes sense and enriches the setting / campaign world.  Kudos for the outside-the-box Circle of the Moon... a were-druid?  Awesome!


Fighter: All fighters select a martial archetype that reflects a specific approach to combat. The Champion is a mighty warrior who scores deadly critical hits in combat. The Battle Master is a flexible, cunning tactician. The Eldritch Knight masters magic that allows him or her to protect allies and devastate foes.

Sweet!  Low maintenance old school types can have their closer-to-1st-edition Fighter in the Champion.  WotC D&D fans can have their special move heavy Battle Master along with Figher/Wizard hybrid that I'm sure will have its own exotic flavor. 


Monk: A monk commits to a monastic tradition, defined by a specific form of martial arts that helps channel and shape the use of ki energy. The Way of the Open Hand augments a monk's unarmed strikes and allows mastery of the deadly quivering palm technique. The Way of Shadow turns a monk into a stealthy warrior who manipulates darkness to confuse and confound enemies. The Way of the Four Elements allows a monk to channel ki into spells and blasts of elemental energy.

Sometimes, fantasy RPGs give the Monk everything but the kitchen sink.  Other times, he gets just the essentials or is simply left out altogether.  Its hard to know what Monks deserve since one extreme or the other is usually too far in either direction.  After all, what is he?  Martial artist?  Wanderer?  Mystic?  Unarmed Cleric?  The sub-classes of Open Hand, Shadow, and Four Elements sharpens the focus, getting the grab back proportional.  I think 5e is doing great things with the Monk and Bard.


Paladin: All paladins take an oath—a pledge to a code of conduct that guides their lives and shapes their abilities. The Oath of Devotion binds a paladin to the ideal of justice, virtue, and order. The Oath of the Ancients pledges a paladin to protect the natural world and preserve hope across the land. The Oath of Vengeance turns a paladin into a deadly avenger who seeks out and punishes wrongdoers.

Again, I like marrying the sub-classes to background elements like ideals, bonds, flaws, etc.  And this explains why Paladins don't have to be lawful good.  Regardless of alignment, it saves players from constantly having to define and reiterate that their character isn't the standard paladin but a paladin that seeks out the immoral or a paladin who's part of something like King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, etc.


Ranger: A ranger selects an archetype that reflects his or her ideals and relationship to nature. The Hunter stands guard in the wilderness, stopping threats before they can menace civilization. The Beast Master cultivates a powerful bond to creatures, fighting alongside them to bring down enemies.

Makes sense.  I like the class tying in with ideals.  And I'm really glad that if they aren't going to use "he" or "his" that they include both genders.  I never understood why so many RPG books starting using "she" and "her" exclusively.  Is there overlap between the Barbarian's Totem Warrior and the Ranger's Beast Master?  Probably, but I'm sure the execution will differentiate them enough - hopefully not just in a "power A vs. power B" way.  I want to see story/character/setting reasons for why things are the way they are.


Rogue: A rogue selects a roguish archetype that reflects his or her approach to crime and chicanery. The Thief is an evasive, sneaky trickster. The Assassin is a focused and quiet killer. The Arcane Trickster uses enchantment and illusion magic to enact his or her schemes.

That's awesome!  Now the old school has its Thief back... and their Assassin!  Also, 3rd edition fans can have a Rogue/Wizard type without the hassle of multiclassing.  Makes sense because there are so many different kinds of Rogues out there.  I could see WotC or a 3rd party creating a Scoundrel type sub-class.  Who doesn't want to see Han Solo in the local tavern wearing leather armor and holding a hand crossbow below the table?  Of course, you could do that with either the Thief or Assassin.  It'll be interesting to see how diverse these sub-classes get.  Will there eventually be dozens for each class, all with tiny details to differentiate themselves?


Sorcerer: A sorcerer's magic arises from a sorcerous origin—the event, ancestry, or quirk of fate that gifted the character with power. The Draconic Bloodline reflects a sorcerer's distant dragon ancestry, and grants powers that reflect a dragon's nature. Wild Magic imbues a sorcerer with the energy of raw chaos, producing unpredictable results from his or her magic.

I like it.  'Nuff said.


Warlock: A warlock's patron shapes this class's power. The Archfey grants beguiling magic useful for trickery and quick escapes. The Fiend imparts the power of destructive fire and diabolic resistance. The mysterious Great Old One grants telepathic abilities and chilling glimpses into the nature of the multiverse.

Ok, before getting into my favorite part (and filling my pants with a Lovecraftian load), I love the Fiend sub-class.  As divorced as 2e D&D tried to be from demons, the occult, and Satanism, this goes back to the sword & sorcery literature of Robert E. Howard.  Nice!  

The Great Old Ones!!!  From the days of yore... Deities & Demigods to 5th edition.  Every RPG from here to Albuquerque has dipped their big toe into the fetid subterranean lake that is H.P. Lovecraft.  Finally, the Cthulhu Mythos has come home!  Please let their be a large and monstrous illustration of the Dreaded One on that page.  Ia Ia Cthulhu Fhtagn! The only possible downside?  How can I be expected to play anything but a Warlock now?  Unless, the cleric can tap into the Great Old Ones as well...  Ok, I feel another write-up approaching.


Wizard: A wizard selects an arcane tradition—the specific approach to the study of magic that shapes his or her outlook and talents. Though many traditions exist, the Player's Handbook focuses on the established schools of D&D magic—Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, and Transmutation.

The third and final dedicated spellcaster class looks pretty standard.  This must be a world filled with magic!  Not only do you have Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard but Arcane Trickster and Eldritch Knight along with the Cleric, Druid, and possibly Bard.


So, there you have it.  Got something to say?  Leave a comment.

VS






Friday, July 25, 2014

The Sharquitogator!


You thought you were safe in the water, the sky, and the swamp?  Ha!  Turns out, you're screwed in all three, noble adventurer.  The Sharquitogator spells your doom (albeit, with some difficulty).


Sharquitogator

HD:  13
HP:  87
AC:  16 [3]
Attack Bonus:  +10
# of Attacks:  5
Damage: 1d4 x 2 (mosquito arms), 2d6 (shark fin), 3d6 + poison (mosquito stinger), and 4d8 (alligator bite)

Special Attacks:  Its poison reduces victims to a quivering mass of uncontrollable itching for 10 minutes or until healed by magic.  1 in 6 Sharquitogators are natural rogues (thieves), doing an additional 3d6 damage on any attack for which they have the element of surprise.

Special Defense:  Besides the ability to fly, the Sharquitogator has resistance to water damage (including drowning).  In large bodies of water, they make use of camouflage to hide from other predators.  A Sharquitogator can use its high intelligence and cunning to feign weakness in order to escape danger.

Treasure:  Found within their lair, these unnatural creature horde a plethora of gold, gemstones, and at least one magic item or weapon.
___


I did something similar with the Sharktipede.  Go ye, and unleash both of these aberration upon your unsuspecting players!


VS




Friday, July 18, 2014

D&D 5e Starter Set Success!


The 5e demonstrations I scheduled months ago went super-smooth.  Last night might not have been my best DMing, but it was incredibly memorable and enjoyable.

Two back-to-back sessions, each two hours.  I ran Lost Mine of Phandelver with the Starter Set.  I'm not going to write down every little thing that happened but here are some noteworthy details...


  • Even though I'm not a huge fan of boxed text, I found it easier to just read what was provided (most of the time) than paraphrasing.  I think where I ran into trouble is this: why would the PC's patron and friend take the journey ahead of the PCs?  Sure, he might want to take care of business a few hours earlier than when the party arrives in Phandalin but surely that's a stupid thing to do with so much at stake.  As the words came out of my mouth I felt myself getting confused because what I was saying (or trying to say) didn't make much sense.
  • Inspiration, in conjunction with all the background elements, is awesome... a godsend.  It made roleplaying (wanting to speak in character and develop relationships, as well as, reasons for engaging in particular activities) easier.  If you think about it, roleplaying a character in front of strangers can be awkward or even nerve-wracking for introverts (about 50% of the table).  Inspiration as a game mechanic makes it less weird because now there's an in-game reason for mentioning your character's delusions of becoming king one day or asking socially inept questions around the campfire (So... how often do you masturbate?).  I've roleplayed with enough strangers and noobs in my life to know that the roleplaying that took place last night just does not happen with prior editions of D&D, Pathfinder, or 90% of the tabletop RPGs out there.  Even V:tM could do with something like inspiration!
  • Acquiring and expending inspiration requires a token or marker of some kind.  Honestly, there was so much god damn great roleplaying going on throughout the adventure that I couldn't keep track of who had just gotten inspiration, who was without, who had it but then used it or gave it away so they were eligible again, etc.  For a 2 hour one-shot it was slightly annoying to keep it all in my head.  If you plan on running a campaign, keeping track of inspiration would be an absolute nightmare without something physical in front of the player to remind the DM of who has what at any given time.  Inspiration markers should have been in the Starter Set!
  • One of the PCs looking for traps rolled a natural 20.  I wanted to do something special for him because of his extraordinary roll.  Not knowing exactly what to say, I told him that he deftly maneuvered out of the way, springing the trap as a badger was walking by.  The badger got caught in the snare and could make a nice meal for the party.  The wizard immediately salivated over the thought of badger meat.  After talk of rations, provisions, etc.  I made an off-hand suggestion that the badger might make a decent familiar.  I had forgotten (or perhaps there are no coincidences?)  that the dude playing the wizard had originally wanted to play a ranger before seeing the pre-gen choices.  The  idea of a badger familiar excited him and from then on the wizard included it in his persona.  A lot of humor came out of throwing the badger at goblin archers.
  • Speaking of goblin archers... why are they all doing 1d6+2?  We didn't have a lot of playing time and I didn't want to start deconstructing monster stats, so I left the damage "as is".  But I'm still wondering... WTF?  Is it because short bows are considered light weapons and you can use your dexterity for to-hit and damage?  No idea, but that's a lot of damage for 1st level characters to take.  Especially if they crit!  One or two PCs were somewhere between zero HP and dead in each group.
  • On the flip side, the archer-based fighter had a flippin' +7 to hit with his long bow and I think a 1d8+3 on damage.  At 1st level?!?  With the cleric's bless, I think he was able to kill a goblin with only rolling a 6 on his to-hit roll.  A six!!!  I still think that a proficiency bonus of 1/2 their level works better but to each their own.
  • "How do I charge?  What's the modifier for that and do they get an attack of opportunity?"  Without remembering the exact rules, I followed my memory and the spirit of 5e (as I see it).  I told the player that charging was just running up to the enemy and attacking; no modifier, no attack of opportunity, just standard movement and rolling to hit.  For a second, that player's mind was blown.  But the fast and loose mechanics of 5e seem to demand those kind of no bullshit adjudications.  Consequently, I felt somewhere between empowered and obligated to narrate the combat moves for both sides.  Do they add anything to the game mechanically?  Not really; the numbers didn't change.  Nevertheless, a little more life was breathed into the battle.
  • As long as we're talking about modifiers, I finally got to experience advantage/disadvantage in actual play.  Yep, it works just as awesome as I imagined it would. Even if we're not consciously aware of it, I think we often wonder how things might have gone differently if only there had been a re-roll.  

That's about it.  No one complained about the rules.  Everyone thought it "felt like D&D".  A good time was had by all.  In my opinion, Lost Mine of Phandelver is a superb introductory scenario, even if it does showcase a standardized, medium-low fantasy setting.  Both sessions ended after exploring the goblin cave, about 1/5th of the total adventure.  The players were amazing.  Thanks to them and Madison Geekery meetup for making last night possible.

Now that I've run 5e rules as written (as much as possible given my limited recall of the new rules), I'm going to start tweaking little bits from here on out, playing around with various concepts (and borrowing from 13th Age and others) in order to make the pre-PHB/DMG 5e D&D wholly mine... because it must feel like D&D to me.  Tabletop roleplaying is a subjective experience.  The more subjective that experience is - tailored to individual aesthetics, sensibilities, and preferences - the better.

If you have a question, comment, suggestion, or feedback of any kind, please feel free to post it.


VS



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

R&R and RPGs


It's all done.  The writing, the art, the maps, the construction and layout, the tables, the loot, the packaging, the trips to the post office.  Everything about publishing The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence was finished a month ago.  While getting it onto DriveThruRPG was a challenge (Amazon was easy), that's done, too.  My Kickstarter duties have been discharged.  Yay!

What now...

Anyone who thinks I'm gonna jump back on the horse after that wild ride is motherfucking crazy!  No, I need a rest.  The batteries need to be recharged.  Otherwise, they burn out and I'll end up like some derelict designer talking to himself on the street with a little sign that reads, "There's a 1 in 6 chance you'll give me a dollar."

But it's not just about the R&R.  That might be good for the batteries but what about about growth?  How am I ever going to top myself, expand, evolve, reach for stars in a whole other galaxy if I just sit back and let the lazy wash over me?  No, I need to game different.

Here's some of the new stuff I ordered or plan on ordering over the next couple days...


  • Qelong
  • tremulus (with elder sign dice)
  • Fate Core *(with minimalist Fate dice)
  • Crawling under a Broken Moon
  • Crawl Jammer
  • Star Wars: Edge of the Empire core RPG (with silly ass dice)
Also, I bought 13th Age weeks ago and pre-ordered D&D 5e before that.  Plus, I purchased a couple books of weird tales revolving around Thomas Ligotti, one of my favorite authors.  Inspiration and just great, dread-filled reading.


When I'm going to have time to digest all of that, let alone run it, is anyone's guess.  I've got to try, though.  Promised myself I wouldn't start writing the next RPG related thing until October... though I believe I may already have a working title.  

Meanwhile, I'll keep blogging and if a stray idea hits me, I'll jot it down in a journal.  Will attempt to do some RPG reviews as well.

Finally, yet another round of thanks to everyone who supported Purple in one form or another.  Together we shall rule as They once did...


VS

*  Why I haven't dived into Fate before today is kind of a mystery to me.  Maybe the stupid looking cover?




Sunday, July 13, 2014

Post-Apocalyptic Purple


I had the extreme pleasure of reading this brief write-up of awesomeness! 

Back when I was creating The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, my mind wasn't just on my favorite D&D knockoffs (as much as I love them) but on games like Mutant Future, Hollow Earth Expedition, The Mutant Epoch, Gamma World, Encounter Critical, and dear god, even Rifts!

Science-fantasy has never been so weird... or so purple.


VS



Friday, July 11, 2014

Two Separate Groups


This post has been a long time coming.  It's been in the back of my mind, unformed, for awhile. A recent issue brought it into the light:  D&D 5e's rules on backgrounds and inspiration.  A few don't like them and refuse to use them in their game (I assume these are games they intend to DM because it would be difficult to do such as a player).

From my perspective, that's a shame.  I personally believe that the character flaws, ideals, bonds, and inspiration are the best parts of 5th edition.  Beyond that, it's an evolution and codification of what makes roleplaying games unlike anything else.  Not something that RPGs started becoming in the early 90's but a quality present way back in 1974.

The following query will probably be controversial, alienating a number of individuals.  That's why I'm not going to shoot a link of this blog post to any google community or discussion board (you may do as you will, dear reader).  Without further ado, here's the question...

Aren't we now, finally, able to see that there are two separate groups involved in this hobby of ours - those who would be better served playing a miniature war game, board game, collectible card game, or computer/video game based on familiar RPG elements and the rest of us who actually want to focus on playing a role distinct from ourselves, not simply pretending we're the little guy on the grid blowing things up?


VS




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Haz the Starter Set!


Though I've had mixed feelings about it, 5e is a welcome addition to my gaming library.  The Starter Set has special significance because, well... it's fucking D&D, man!

First thing I did was take a picture of the green dragon on the box's cover and text it to a dozen people.  Glancing at the people walking by, I wondered if they knew the joys of becoming an elven wizard or dwarven fighter, carving out a destiny of power and riches.  I imagined myself sitting behind the DM screen, narrating an enticing tale twixt good and evil.

My kids would probably ruin these booklets within 10 minutes, assuming they're at least mildly distracted by Mickey Mouse and Barbie as a mermaid fairy princess.  The booklets are glossy and neat looking but have the same durability as a full-color magazine or expensive pamphlet/brochure selling high-end houses.  But the artwork, layout, and informative text are quite nice.

The Starter Set Rulebook, along with the free basic D&D rules online, is enough to learn the game, start playing immediately, and continue a campaign for many adventurous months.  There might be little nitpicky things I would prefer this way or that but, on the whole, it's a perfect compromise between all prior editions.

The intro adventure is "Lost Mine of Phandelver".  It's just over 60 pages, so I haven't read it all.  Skimming through the booklet, it looks really good.  A nice mix of history, locations, monsters, NPCs, interaction, adventure, exploration, villainy, investigation, sorcery, and heroism.

There's a page and a half of DM advice at the very front, including a handy guide to setting the difficulty class for easy, moderate, and hard tasks (10, 15, and 20, respectively).  While one and a half pages doesn't sound like much DM coaching (it's not), there are helpful prompts, reminders, and notes provided throughout the adventure.

Dice, pre-generated character sheets (including a blank one), and plain white insert make up the rest.  Even at $20, the suggested retail price, it's a good value.  It's the gateway to tabletop fantasy roleplaying for the next few years.  This is only the beginning...

Evaluating a system from the outside is a perfectly natural way to judge a roleplaying game.  That only gets you so far, though.  Playing D&D is what it's all about.  Soon, I'll be knee-deep in blood and secrets and darkness.  Then we'll know how it all turned out.  Will 5e live up to its promise?  Time will tell.


VS





Tuesday, July 8, 2014

5th Edition Hit Points & Grievous Wounds


Damage and healing is a polarizing issue among the 5e crowd.  We have one camp believing hit points should be fatigue/stamina while another believes hit points are actual injuries.  For those somewhere in the middle, who don't want to house-rule away the HD healing and total refresh after 8 hours of sleep baked into the system's core rules, I propose this...

Instead of the standards double damage crit, the DM may elect to apply a grievous wound instead (not counting bludgeoning damage).  Grievous wounds do not heal at the same rate as other hit points.  They represent an arrow to the gut, slash upside the head, or taking a morning star to the spine.  The kind of physical devastation that won't disappear after a good night's rest.  Such damage takes 1 day to heal 1 hit point, unless supernatural healing is proffered such as cure light wounds, a healing potion, etc.

For instance, a slathering beast with orange and aqua scales lunges at the party's warrior.  The creature normally does 1d10 damage.  GM rolls a natural 20 and chooses to make this a grievous wound rather than doubling the damage.  He rolls a 7.

The fighter loses 7 hit points which will take 7 days to fully heal without magical means.  Whatever the fighter's hit point total, he can eventually self-heal that number minus 7 until tomorrow, at which point his total available hit points will be the usual number minus 6.  The day after it's minus 5 and so on...

Grievous wounds are not cumulative.  If that fighter took another critical and grievous wound for 5 points later in the day, his total aggravated damage would still only be 7.  However, if the damage rolled was 11 instead of 5, then the fighter's grievous wound would be at 11.

I thought about the difficulty some 5e gamers are having with healing damage quickly.  Rather than shouting, "This is terrible!" or sweeping it under the rug with justification after justification, I decided to try and fix the problem.  Some of us oldschoolers enjoy the deadlier aspects of D&D when players were somewhat afraid for their characters' lives.  But, if you prefer the modern approach, enjoy your coddling.

On the way home from work yesterday, I remembered aggravated damage from one of my favorite old school RPGs, 1st edition Vampire: the Masquerade.  Those who know V:tM will remember that being chewed up by a werewolf doesn't go away after drinking a little human blood.  Aggravated wounds are persistent.

Though it will only happen approximately 5% of the time (not counting advantage), I think this is a reasonable compromise for those, such as myself, who feel that not all injuries should alleviate swiftly.  Disagree?  Send me your feedback.  I want to know what you think?  Is this something you might use?  Why or why not?


VS


p.s.  Or you could simply use exploding dice for all damage (again, excluding bludgeoning).  Just as lethal but without the extra bookkeeping.