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.


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...


*  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.


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?


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.


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?


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

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Standard Gold

The blog post that CHANGED EVERYTHING?  (Spoiler alert: nothing actually changed)

Here's the gist.  A 4th edition D&D designer, Robert J. Schwalb, was hired to "fly the 4e flag", bringing 4e fans' preferences and concerns to the 5e table.  Obviously, 4e fans want influence just as 3e fans, 2e fans, straight down the line.  Well, there wouldn't be any hubbub, except that 4e designer brought on board rejected 3/4e playstyles and design goals.  Seems as though he's found the old school love just as many of us have.

Now, just to be clear, there are 4e innovations embedded within 5e's DNA... there's just hard to see.  My guess is about 5%.  5e is mostly an amalgamation of OD&D, AD&D, 2e, and 3e (without much 3.5).  I'm calling it the "compromise edition", as are many others.  It's a little bit of this and that from the past 40 years.

You'd think, OK, this guy's had a change of heart and prefers one thing over another now.  Like he helped invent Chicago deep-dish pizza and then years later was asked to help create the ultimate pizza only to realize that deep-dish ain't so great after all.  Fair enough.  No biggie.  Let's move on.

Nope.  Shit's gone crazy in the wake of this "revelation" that 4th edition wasn't awesome for a lot of D&D fans.  Chances are, you've read some of the fallout / rejoicing (depending on which side your on).  This probably doesn't come as actual news.  Although, if it does, then... you're welcome, I guess.  Just remember one thing - you'll never got those hours of your life back.  Ever!


p.s.  From GnomeWorks on TheRPGsite:  Originally Posted by Mike Mearls, commenting on Schwalb's blog post (commenting on the hateful comments, actually).

"Revolutions are never painless. Sorry you're on the frontline catching flack, but I can't think of a single RPG designer I've talked to in the past year who wants to design games for the faction hassling you over this blog post. That crowd has managed to burn their own house down, and nobody is coming to rebuild it. Turns out when you treat designers like crap, they stop wanting to court your business."

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reviews of Liberation & Purple

Yes, a double-review!  And two reviewers as well...

Origins of a Dark God (possibly the best name for a gaming blog ever) has done me proud.  Check out their thoughtful analysis with a mind towards 13th Age with a shout-out to Adventurer Conqueror King.  Nice!