Sunday, November 15, 2015
I wrote a while ago about classes (here and here), and I never felt like I had really said what I wanted to on the subject. Some current thoughts have me revisiting the idea, so here goes another attempt to come up with something meaningful on the subject.
I first started role-playing with D&D, and core to it has been the concept of classes. I've played plenty of games since then, and overall I don't really like games that use the class system. Which was what I wanted to work out in my head with my last two posts on the subject. But recently I'm realizing something - in a way, I actually do like classes. For something that I overlooked before.
In my last posts I mentioned that I didn't like classes because I thought they conflated what a character did, what a character had, and why a character acted. My argument was not great, but I did have a point. There's another point I didn't bring up, and I'll illustrate it easily - Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition and the Hero System. In the D&D 5th DMG there is a section on making a new class. It says, basically, look at the existing classes and make up something that seems to fit. Compare that to the Hero System where you have a giant list of powers (like "ranged killing attack" and "invisibility") that each have a point cost, and then there are lists of advantages and disadvantages that effect each power in a specific way and have a specific modifier to the cost of the power they modify. This is why I don't like most class-based systems - they are made up with no underlying structure. In the Hero System, with specific rules for how to build an ability (or power or weapon or spell, anything), you know what kinds of effects are considered by the game (or game designers) to be equivalent. So changing one ability for another is easy, swap same point cost for same point cost. But in most class-based systems the abilities were randomly created based on what "felt right" for that class and then playtested (worst way to test something, people can fix problems - make it a computer program, those are unforgiving of mistakes) and either approved or modified.
This is all subjective and leads to some weird results: in 5th edition the Barbarian can Rage at level 1. He basically gets 2 tries at every strength-related activity, does extra damage with melee weapons and takes 1/2 damage from all normal weapons for a minute (10 combat turns). He can do this 2 times per day (or long rest). Meanwhile the Bard, at level 1 as well, gets Inspiration. They can give one ally 1d6 that the ally can add to any roll, once, then it's lost. The Bard can do this his Cha modifier per long rest. How the hell are these equivalent? The Barbarian becomes a combat fiend, taking on enemies and surviving damage that should be impossible to take - and the Bard can kind of add a sort of benefit to one roll, though, granted to any roll not just combat (though it does have to be used within 10 min). The Barbarian's power can easily effect 2 rolls per turn (attack and defense) for 10 turns, so 20 rolls/effects, times 2 uses for 40 total rolls per rest - compared to the Bard's 1 effected roll, for about 3-5 rolls per rest total. Really? Am I the only one who thinks this is lop-sided?
And what happens when there is no visible structure, no limits on how much is too much; how is a GM supposed to be able to create a new class or modify an existing one? You end up where Pathfinder is, with a billion classes and abilities and feats and they form such a tangled mess that you can't objectively measure any of them.
Thing is, as much as I don't like that about class-based RPGs, that problem isn't really a problem of having a class. It's the problem of not having an explicit structure.
The Hero System's exposed structure allows you to make abilities. And if you create a bunch of abilities and package them together, now you have a template, and then if you spread out the acquisition of abilities over time, well, now you have a class. Because a class isn't about what you have, not really, it's about how you grow (essentially how you grew from being "class-less" to having a class and forward). It's a progression, a span of time, not a single moment or level.
That can be a very helpful thing. When you have to create all your own abilities from scratch, and keep making up new ones over time/growth, that's a lot of work. It's actually hard to be creative when anything is possible. A class simplifies things by making choices for you, and a well-designed class will make good choices and bundle together abilities that play well with each other and give you an effective role in the game. Also, the end-level abilities, that super-cool thing you can do, can become a reward to strive for in itself. A class gives you direction.
Thing is, like in the eternal "railroad vs sandbox" debate, too much direction can be as bad as too little. The trick is to find a happy medium. Here I think the archetypes in 5th edition and Pathfinder sort of touch on a very powerful concept. The thing about the traditional class is that it makes all the choices for you. You choose your class and after that everything is out of your hands. Or you choose an archetype to modify your class, and again after that choice you're on auto-pilot. My best example about why this is troublesome is when it comes to multiclassing. I really like the hybrids, like the fighter-wizard. Now, in early Pathfinder and D&D 3.x you had to take a whole level to multiclass. So you took, say, 3 levels of Fighter and then 1 level of Wizard, giving all the abilities of a Wizard, with the trade-off of those abilities being at a lower level than you should be at. Here's my problem though, I'm thinking of being a Fighter first, it was literally my first level, so I don't want to switch to being a Wizard - I want the Wizard abilities that compliment my being a fighter.
What I really want is to take only a sub-set of the Wizard. To be able to cast evocation spells so I can dish out elemental damage, or replace my bow/ ranged attack with spells. Or, maybe instead to take transmutation/ enchantment spells and be able to buff my attributes or polymorph into a more powerful form that still uses weapons (unless I'm an unarmed fighter in the first place). I don't want all the random stuff a Wizard can do, I want to make my Fighter side deeper and more versatile. Taking a whole level is stupid, it leaves you too weak for what you gain - since most of what you gain will not expand your core concept.
Which makes me think of a possible type of class progression. Let's say you want to be a "pure" class, like fighter or wizard. You gain proficiency in everything related to that class, so you can cast all spells or use all weapons. Let's take a page from 13th Age too, you also get a feat, a bonus to one of your abilities. So you can become a ranged or melee specialist as a fighter, a diviner or evoker as a wizard. Then, at level 2 or 3 your class asks you a question: do you want to gain another specialization, or do you want to gain a cross-class ability? If you "multiclass" then you get only one specific proficiency, so as a wizard you can add melee or ranged weapons (but not both), as a fighter you can add evocation or transmutation spells (again, not both or everything). Ideally these should either be from a list that is specifically helpful to your base class, or should explain how each can be useful to your base concept (always good when you ask questions to explain the reasons or consequences for that decision). This is a really cool class structure to me, a series of guided questions with the abilities built on an explicit framework. And as much as I like the Hero System, hopefully a framework that was as broad and flexible but maybe not so math-heavy.
Under the idea of "class as questions" you are not on a fixed path, so that every level 10 Fighter looks exactly the same, but you also are not doing a million random and prerequisite-dependant feats like in Pathfinder. Instead you're gaining abilities by asking yourself questions, and those questions are related to your class. Like, first of all, what do you want to do? Do you want to be the fighter, or the explorer, or the talker? Then you build on that first decision. For fighters, do you want to be melee or ranged? Offense or defense? And then you can grow over time. Do you want to add some arcane magic, or maybe some divine magic, to enhance your fighting abilities (after all fighter is "what you do," the weapons or spells is just "what you do it with")? Do you want to be the kensai, or "sword saint," and master a specific weapon? Do you fight solo or as part of a team?
All of these questions, layered one level at a time, builds your character under your control, based on your experiences playing the game. Not a path set in stone, but a journey of discovery.
That, I think, would be an awesome class system.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Thursday, November 5, 2015
If you ever toy with designing a game, or get serious about house ruling one, you eventually start asking yourself the metaphysical questions of game design. What is fun? How is an adventure supposed to flow? Why are these numbers the way they are? Any game's rules are made on top of foundational beliefs and decisions by the designers. I first started designing my own RPG back in 1992 - given that it's not finished yet you can tell I'm rather bad at the whole thing; but a part of the delay has been asking myself deeper and deeper foundational questions that keep shaking the rules I have on top of them. So this post is going to be really theory heavy (in a way), and maybe just flat out crazy rambling in some places.
I posted a while ago a quote about how the two most important things in a role-playing game are player choice, and that player choices have an impact on the game world. In retrospect I think I was a little off on that. Those actually seem to be one element, in my current way of thinking. In fact, I think there are 3 essential elements that make the kind of game I want to play and run. You might be able to guess that they are the three parts of this post's title. In which case give yourself a cookie.
I want to share something from the Lost Mine Of Phandelver (hopefully the WotC lawyers will give me a pass on this):
"The chest also contains a +1 longsword in a silver-chased scabbard. The sword is inscribed with the name "Talon," and its hilt is worked in the shape of a bird of prey with outstretched wings. It once belonged to a great knight named Aldith Tresendar, known as the Black Hawk. A character who succeeds on a DC 15 Intelligence(History) check recognizes the sword and recalls this lore.
Sir Aldith died fighting off the orcs that attacked through the hidden caverns below this manor. Talon was lost here until the nothic found it."
I know that I have recently, well for a while actually, fallen into the 'boring magic item' trap. Magic items become just another piece of gear, and you gloss over them except for their abilities - and know that odds are someday they'll be replaced for an upgraded version. Which is not a good thing. How can a player, or even a GM, become attached to something they do not know about? This doesn't just go for magic items, when running Phandelver it was hard because I know very little about the Forgotten Realms setting and WotC has not yet put out a book on it. So I couldn't give my players any real back-story for where they come from or what they might know about the area and local history. You need knowledge, you need stories and information to get to know something or someplace or someone. While an RPG is an exercise in imagination, it is hard to imagine a rock if you've never seen one before. Likewise, it is hard to imagine a fantasy world and races and things that don't exist in our own (or that few really see, like ancient armor and weapons). In that vein, if my players find this in the game I'm not going to roll, I'm going to have the bard recite all this good history - if I didn't have a bard in the party then I'd have a fighter recognize a notable weapon and hero, somebody. Why waste such useful detail that helps bring something to life?
This is such a big issue, a foundational thing really. Forget magic items, how can a player connect to a character class? In most books the "fighter" is just a list of powers - no actual story or frame of reference. I like the 5th edition idea of Backgrounds, to help fill in some of that; but I don't think they go quite far enough. There is a big difference in the feel between a "warrior" who fights alone as a champion of a people or place, and a "ronin" who has no master and just wanders the land, and a "soldier" who has comrades and belongs to a specific group and fights with allies, and a "mercenary" who is just in it for the money. Each of these is a fighter, but they all feel much different, have different goals and priorities, and will appeal to different types of players. And yet, what do we get in most games - just "fighter." Sure, you can come up with all kinds of back-story on your own - but then does that fit into the game? And do you agree on the same definition of a "whatever" as your GM does?
Knowledge is the beginning, it is the foundation. It is something you can build upon. Without it, or when it is weak, you have shaky ground to build your character upon or connect with the game world through.
Knowledge is such a foundational concept to a game that it is everywhere. I've talked above about describing the world and items - but you need knowledge about everything in the game. You need to know what your character can do, you need to know how the game works, you need to know what is or is not possible in your game and even know what kind of GM you're dealing with. There's a whole bunch of things you need to know. And that is good, the more you know, the more you understand the more you can do - the more options you have and the more clarity about how to create the character and story arc you want. Mind you, here I'm talking about player knowledge - character knowledge like the dribs and drabs of information from "knowledge checks" and such are not really knowing the game and the world. Having a fleshed-out world, even a good example of play, all are knowledge to help you connect to the game.
I've had a dream of making the "smart character" in a new way. Like, give the player a list of "tells," little behaviors that mean something. So, "looking up and right" could be a tell for lying (I think it was looking up that accessed the creative side of your brain, and down the memory - not sure now that I type it, oh well, roll with me here). So when the GM describes an NPC who is talking, and that NPC lies, the GM would say that the NPC, "looks up and right while saying gruffly, 'No sir, never heard of that bloke.' " There would have to be lots of tells, and multiples for each meaning (like, say, 5 tells for lying, 5 more for guilt, etc...) - plus some "neutral" tells that didn't mean anything (the "nervous ticks" I guess). The higher the level or skill of the character, the more tells they had revealed. With a system like this the player could have the same knowledge as the character. Another blog also talked about "5 things everybody knows." (might have been Charles Ryan)(yeah, here) Making 5 things that everybody knows about, well, everything. Places and items and stuff like magic and on and on. This way, with some things everybody knows, you can give extra facts to the player who wants to be the "smart guy." Or diseases, there could be a list of symptoms (many of which would be common) and the character/player could test to determine what exactly someone had and what course of treatment (since treating the wrong disease is usually a bad thing). I believe it was Hack and Slash who had a lock-picking mini-game with how to pick locks using a simple formula that the player and character could both learn (here's one link, think there was another I can't find). There are a lot of ways to build knowledge into the game.
Along with this idea, I really like descriptive ranks. I think your character sheet saying you have Remarkable (30) strength or Monstrous (65) intelligence is a lot better than the D&D-styled 14 (+2) or 18 (+4).
Knowledge isn't just between players and the GM either, the game designers need to provide lots of examples of play and the foundations of the game to GMs so every GM knows how the system was meant to work: that way they know how far they can house rule it to taste. I do love the Hero System for this, even if the game is rather dense; there must be a happy medium somewhere.
I think all the work it takes to create this level of detail is worth it. A lot of games don't give the players very detailed knowledge. And that's fine in general, better to keep things simple; but when it comes to something important, or something special, more knowledge can really help the player become more immersed in the game. Even min-maxers want to know everything they can about the rules and how each ability interconnects.
Knowledge leads to Consequences
What I missed in my old post about player choice was that really player choice is about knowledge. Knowing what your options are, and most importantly what consequences those options will have. If the game world ends in the same state it began with, then why did you bother playing? (the reason I hate MMOs) Likewise, if your character takes an action that has no effect on the game world (ah, the whiffle-ball combat phase - love you flat-curved d20), then you feel like you wasted your time. Because you did. The whole point of playing the game is to change things. Acting, expressing your character, is really just fluff. Making the world different, taking out the marauding orcs, or just lining your pockets with more gold, doing something - that is the game part of playing the game.
But there is a difference between consequences and calculations, as a great Extra Credits episode pointed out. If one choice is always better than another, that is not a choice it's a calculation. A choice is when either decision has both potentially good and potentially bad consequences. Which is why I didn't put "choice" in this section's header. The focus is on consequences, for both the game world and your character. When you talk about GMing you often talk about reducing rolls. "Don't roll, think" was a great title to a post (cannot remember from where now)(found it). If there is no choice, if it's just a calculation, then don't roll, don't waste time on it - just choose the best option and move on. This comes in large part from the game, from how the rules are structured. If your only option is to attack - then there is really no choice and only one possible consequence, pretty flat. If you have a million choices, but you have no knowledge about how successful they might be, or how big an impact they could have - again, very little choice and you'll end up with few consequences when the players find the simplest option and just repeat it.
Fighting Defensively is a good example. I can choose to not attack and instead increase my defenses. Okay, but by how much? If I'm only getting a +2 to my AC, is that really big enough to matter to the monster attacking me? If I'm using 5th ed Disadvantage, well, that's pretty significant, but still can be kind of hard to tell sometimes. And what am I doing in return? Nothing. I'm not attacking, so I'm not moving the combat towards a resolution and I'm running the risk of getting hit anyways. Not a great option overall. When I tried to think of a tactic for this I chose something different. When being Deliberate, choose a number (from a d6, could be whatever). Attack and defend normally, but the maximum damage you can deal is the number you chose, and the maximum damage you can receive is the number you chose. This way, I know exactly how much the situation can change, I am in control of the damage "crazy train." I can put on the breaks and slow things down. I can control the consequences and clearly see/know the effect of this choice. I can still have an effect, but the safer I'm playing it the less effect I can have. Not always a great choice, if time matters I'm dragging out the fight a lot longer. Likewise, more time means the situation could change, reinforcements could arrive - for either me or the monsters.
Chance really comes out here. What are the odds of success? And can you figure them out yourself? Do you really know the odds of this action succeeding? After all, if you don't have good odds of success then why bother? A lot of combat maneuvers fall into this hole. Sure, in Pathfinder I could disarm the bad guy, which might be very helpful, but if my odds of success are 10% then why bother? Or, if I have no idea what the odds of success are, then why not do something safer and more reliable?
I think that consequences, and the choices that precede them, are where RPGs shine. A pen-and-paper RPG, people thinking up crazy stuff that other people are responding to, has something no computer game can quite capture. Or card game, or board game - both can be complex and unpredictable, but an RPG can go to places that literally its designers never thought of. It's the most amazing thing to me about playing RPGs, those stories of the totally unexpected that you'll tell over and over again, or will become in-jokes between the people who were there.
I really like the idea of giving the players plenty of clear and distinct choices, and making the mechanics as simple as possible so that the players are spending all their brainpower on choosing wisely- and not spending so much time adding a fist-full of dice and modifiers that are really out of their control. Randomness seems to belong more with the GM - is this an honest guard or a corrupt one? Is this an easy lock to pick or a masterwork dwarven mechanical/magical hybrid? It feels like the GM should be rolling from a limited pool of possibilities more than the players should be rolling and hoping they can do that thing they chose to do in the first place. Honestly, is there so much a chance for failure, or is it that you might have to work harder or differently than you expected before you started? Forget that "fail forward" stuff, in life I think it tends to be more "try a different approach." Failure does not have to mean that everything is lost, the world has come crashing down. It could just mean that you have to stop, you've hit a wall with that choice, choose something different and try again. This style tells the players that success is always possible, at some sort of cost - which sounds like a good premise to me since it implicitly asks, are you willing to pay that cost?
Consequences lead to Growth
"Change" is one of those words I don't like in connection with gaming. Change is random. A goblin turning into a candle is a change. Growth however implies a movement from one thing to another thing, which can imply possible future movement. A goblin becoming a goblin champion (and maybe one day leader) - that's growth. We have plenty of change in games, stuff that just happens without rhyme or reason; I think we could all use more growth, more guided progression.
When I reviewed The Last Witch Hunter a few days ago I commented that RPG-based novels did not tend to have super well-written storylines, much like the RPG adventures they were based on. That wasn't meant to be a dig at either RPG writers or players, it's a simple fact that with so many people all contributing to the development of the "story" it is almost impossible to have something tight, focused and with the typical structure of a novel. An RPG is very improvisational, things just develop during the course of play that sometimes no one could have predicted. Which is good, everybody needs to contribute, but can also feel un-focused and scattered. Ironically a core mechanic, classes, are all about growth. You start with a few abilities and you gain more over time, but they are all built around a specific theme and usage (if it's a well-designed class at least). You grow into you class - but in your character, in the story? Not the same kind of help there.
Now I'm not advocating for a straight-jacket outline of the hero's journey that every character must follow - that would suck. Really, growth isn't about following a pre-destined path, it's about a series of questions I think. It's about moments of choice, moments that have far reaching and long lasting consequences, moments that change the paradigm to follow - and the "story" is all about the lines connecting those moments. I don't like background stuff that says "you did xyz" as much as I like background stuff that asks "what did you feel about xyz, or why did you do xyz?" Growth is a measure of how we face the choices of life, not tactically like the choice of what to do in combat but strategically like the choice of who to be and what to believe in. Choices that are not fixed in stone. People change, life events change them, stuff happens. Like I said above, if the game world ended exactly the way it began, that would be pretty boring - but if your character ends the same way they began, isn't that also boring? And does gaining new powers from leveling up really count as growth? Or at least as meaningful growth?
Stories grow, at least the good ones do, they don't just change. Characters grow, and the character growth is reflected in the story growth. Vin the street urchin becomes Vin the Hero Of Ages. Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. And the world around them changes in response to and reflection of their choices. Something I don't think many RPG characters go through - and again, not to blame the players or say that every character should have a super-huge arc. Rather, I think some structure would be a good thing, and I think that most players could have a more engaging time with their characters if they had a guided series of questions to help them grow over time. How exactly to do that, and what it should look like I have no idea, there is a reason it hasn't really been done, it's incredibly subjective and hard to do; and co-ordinating it with 4 or more players all at the same time is a whole extra level of tricky.
A part of this for GMs I think is Justin Alexander's advise of "Don't Prep Plots." He talks about making nodes, places and people that the players can interact with and understand the goals and purpose of the bad guys. If you "begin with the end in mind" as the writing advise goes, then you have a goal to always be working towards. Like my complaint about Rise of the Runelords, it did not seem to be written to really drive towards the final showdown, instead it ambles and rambles its way along with no clear goal in sight - so the final battle was very anti-climatic and didn't really feel worth all the time and effort to get there (didn't help that one player pretty much finished the final battle by himself, though that was hilarious). I think if a GM knows where he is going, and why things are headed in that direction, then he/she can freely let the players interact with the world and still maintain a sense of growth instead of randomness.
Also my idea for "social levels" in a previous post is a nod towards that. Having a class and level, and straight progression is a good thing. But I wonder if having more that just one thing to spend XP on would be better. If there were some options about how your character grows, not just in personal power but in other ways that seems like a better progression system that can more richly model different types of characters and tell different stories easier (not that you can't now, but again having a list of options makes being creative easier than a blank page). More growth than change maybe (since I don't have a system for that fleshed out, that's pure speculation).
* * * *
Wow, so this turned into a super-long rambling discourse about I don't really know what :)
Like I said, game design is sometimes about the big concepts, the foundations of what a game is and how you want it to play. I guess this is a part of my ideas on that, on my "ideal" game that exists only in my head. I have no idea if this is useful for anyone else - but I am glad I got some of this down, because it has been influencing how I've been running games and house ruling them lately, and it is always good to take a look at one's assumptions. Most importantly I need to make sure my players are okay with the same outlook I have, so that they can also enjoy the kind of game I seem to be morphing things into. Surprise is not good, better to discuss all those assumptions openly between players and GMs so everyone is in agreement. This was all off-the-cuff though, so I need to think about it and polish it up some more.
Still, if I had to sum up my philosophy on RPG design in one line it would be: Knowledge leads to Consequences which lead to Growth - and the game mechanics should facilitate all three stages.
As for you, dear reader, hopefully this can inspire you to look at your own game assumptions, or at least was not a total chore to read. As always feel free to leave any comments below.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Way back in the days of early D&D you spent gold to earn XP. Most everybody should know that, if you know anything about D&D. I was never a fan of that system. I thought the actions themselves, like defeating the monsters, should earn XP - weather or not they had any lunch money to steal. So I have appreciated the changes in modern times to awarding XP directly, and expanding what to award XP for like exploring, or bypassing the monsters instead of defeating them. And now, after playing 13th Age, I really like the idea of not counting XP at all and just leveling the party when it seems dramatically appropriate (and given how high you want to get in the time you have).
But something hit me when I was playing 5th edition a while back. I decided to go ahead and play the game more "as written" and track XP and gold and stuff. I also decided to give this privilege to a player, so I didn't have to break out the calculator (well, I still did have to tweak the encounters for having an extra player than the adventure was built for). While looking over the amount of gold that the pre-written adventure gave out, something jumped at me. D&D has always written a description of a gem or piece of jewelery and then its value. So you get a line like, "A small gold statuette of a smiling woman with tiny rubies for eyes (150 GP)." I have always wondered at that. Personally I've never cared about what something looked like, or what kind of gem it was, because the only thing I was going to do was sell it and split the proceeds among the party. Who cares about the flowery description, I just want to know what I can pawn it for.
What hit me though, was that I could actually see a system of using gold for XP. If every character had a "social level," with names like the old D&D levels, starting with a level 1 Commoner and going to something like a level 10 Baron and level 20 King/Emperor. Your social level would come into play when dealing with NPCs. If your social level was below them you'd have a penalty to social interactions since you are "beneath them" and if higher a bonus instead. Also, it could be a gateway, so the King's birthday party requires social level 4 or higher to attend. The difference could be a modifier to get in if you aren't high enough level (like -2/level lower than required) for Bluff checks.
And with a system like this, you could definitely use gold for XP. After all, if you want to look noble you have to dress noble. You have to own a house (and not be a murder hobo) and have nice things in your house. Servants, throwing parties, all that stuff takes money. Sure, you could trade some general XP for social XP - killing the goblins threatening the town is worth some social capital; but it really takes cold hard cash to climb the social ladder. And this way, the flowery description tells you that item is worth full value for social XP (instead of the half when you sell something) - plus you can describe how you have that gem put in a necklace or display the statuette in your foyer. This also covers the "living expenses" background stuff for characters. You stay at the same social level unless you spend gold/wealth to level up. For extra fun you could even take a page out of Torchbearer- every character gets a certain number of actions to take "in town" in-between adventures, the higher your social level the more actions and the more types of actions you can take.
I kind of like this idea. I've never liked just asking my players, "Well, you're in town, what do you want to do?" As Joe Haldeman once wrote: art thrives on restriction. Having a list of choices, having any kind of starting point, makes it easier to be creative than a big blank page staring balefully back at you. So having places in town where certain actions can be taken, like in Torchbearer, helps the players decide what to do in-between killing things (mind you, I've only read Torchbearer, haven't played it yet, so this is my impression of the system). If a Wizard can get his social level up to 5 and acquire an apprentice then now the player has something he can choose to strive for - which is easier than saying "what do you do in town" and not having any rules. There can be a lot of desert in the sandbox, a railroad track at least gets you to where you want to go. So while having a separate social level is a bit more complicated, I think the potential benefits could be worth it. And it really does make treasure feel different if that ancient painting is worth full value in social XP on your wall, or half value sold in your wallet.
Still, I don't know of any game that has a system like this. It would be a challenge to tack on to an existing game, and have to be customized to each system - not sure if you can really do a "universal" down-time system since it interacts with the rest of the rules. Worst of all, this is a tempting project to work on when I already have a dozen other projects in my life that I can't keep up with. The idea does intrigue me though, so I figured I'd post it and see if anyone else thought it was interesting.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Something strange happened in my Dungeons and Dragons 5th adventure last weekend. Something that has been so incredibly rare I can only think of one other time when it has almost happened and that was over 20 years ago. It was incredible, strange, got my on the verge of spitting mad - and all really was a huge misunderstanding from not metagaming. Which has given me a revelation: Metagaming Is A Wonderful Thing.
Okay, this one you really had to be there to appreciate, so I need to set the scene a little. Bear with me, this will help my point make more sense. I have a small group of friends that I play with. As with all long term gamers we all have our stereotypes (or maybe typecasts?). Aaron is the theif, and usually ends up the de facto party leader weather he wants to or not. Sara is the pinch-hitter, she tends to make whatever character role no one else has filled. Thus, she's been a cleric more times than any of us. Brandon is our archer. And Matt is the wizard/sorcerer/magus, usually with a cart full of crafting supplies. I tend to GM the most, even when we were doing the rotating GM thing (which I honestly like more than being a player). To our merry band we have added three newer players, each with less role-playing experience. Angela, Rose and Matt's wife Karlli are all somewhat new to gaming, but have played some Pathfinder, were in our 13th Age, and tried D&D 5th ed (except Karlli who was swamped with schoolwork that day, hopefully she'll be ble to join us later). We've all played together, from a few times to dozens of times, and we all know each other to varying degrees in real life - and we're all friends.
Which made this so strange. When we started our 5th edition game, I gave the party time to introduce themselves. Half the group had been making characters before we started playing, and we had not been able to meet together to go over stuff beforehand. So during the uneventful initial carrage ride I let everybody get to know each other. Which everybody did - except for Matt. He just said that his abilities were not important, and he actually seemed to walk off during that section (Matt was talking to us over ooVoo from another state). It was very unexpected, and nobody seemed to understand what was going on. We all knew he was actually a Sorcerer though, we had talked to him a little before the adventure began. Still, we didn't press, we just got the adventure started. During the adventure, Matt sent me some text messages, telling me about how he was casting spells without letting the party know, and some other stuff. I thought it was a little weird.
Now, I have to step back a little again. I had never ran a 5th ed game before, so I was a little nervous. I had been in the middle of house ruling 13th Age to the point of making a new game, so I was glad to have a pre-packaged adventure for 5th that I didn't have to prep; but I also did not know it super-well since I had been distracted. And that day, I had not slept well at all, actually for about a week before I'd been having trouble sleeping. So I was not on top of my game that day. And, like a bad GM, I let things spiral out of control instead of dealing with them. Because at one point I got a text from Matt saying that he was going to go off and search for any loot away from the rest of the party - and I saw red.
My take on RPGs is that they are team sports. I do not award individual XP, it all goes into the group pot along with all the gold. I expect my players to act like a team. I am not out to get my players, I am not their enemy as GM, I am trying to give them an interesting box to play in (little sandy, but with some rail cars here and there). The only "adversarial" game I have ever run was the original West End Game's Paranoia. While players were at each other's throats, it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek send up of the RPG genera and players were given 6 clones in the expectation that they would all likely be dead before the end of the adventure. And we only played it in junior high for a couple of times (best adventures ever to read though, laugh out loud funny stuff). So I am focused on the players acting as a team. And because of that, with only one exception, we have never had a player break off to do his own thing or be the sterotypical "backstab the party" sneaky bastard (actually, that exception was even in Aaron's game, I just got caught in the middle of it).
So when Matt sent that text my first assumption was that he was going for that sort of 'betray the party' character, and I was pissed. Like, hopping, frothing at the mouth mad. I stopped the adventure, and started a diatribe that quickly escalated out of control.
I was also completely wrong. And so were my players. I did not handle that situation well, and I need to apologize to Matt about it, because I only did one right thing in the whole situation - I stopped the adventure. I went "out of character" and started what many would consider "metagaming."
Metagaming tends to get a bad rap. If you are not "playing in character" then you are doing something wrong is the usual assumption. And I can kind of understand that. I like associated mechanics (to borrow The Alexandrian's phrase) that keep the player in the character's headspace. I like to keep my players engaged with the adventure. But metagaming is not bad, and it is not wrong. Actually a couple of great articles by The Angry GM (which I'll link below) really got me thinking about it in a clearer light. And metagaming is great because it is the one thing that can clear up what I did wrong:
I made an assumption about my player.
I assumed that Matt was being an antisocial pain. I assumed that he wanted to find some loot for himslef and not share it with the party. I made a lot of assumptions and I didn't do the one thing I should have in the very beginning:
I didn't ask him.
Now, we all share some of this. Even the players knew Matt was acting oddly, not the guy we had gamed with plenty of times before. We knew something was up. But none of us just steeped out of the game and asked him directly, "hey man, what's going on?"
Instead, it took my blowup and nearly ejecting him from my game to actually stop and talk about why he was being the way he was. And when we did, it made perfect sense.
If you don't know 5th edition, it adds some role-playing stuff not in previous editions of D&D. Namely, you get a Background, what you did before adventuring (and maybe still), and that comes with an Ideal, Flaw and Bond. Your Ideal is what you value, your Flaw what tends to get you in trouble, and your Bond something or someone in the world that matters to you. It adds some depth to your character beyond your abilities to kill monsters effectively.
Thing was, Matt was just playing his character. He had taken the Background of being an Urchin, and his Ideal/Flaw/Bond were all about how he had been hurt before and had trouble trusting anyone else. So he hid his actions and his powers - not to backstab the party, but because Matt is an Actor at heart, and he was acting his character to the hilt.
And I'm okay with that.
I see an RPG as being two parts. One is acting: speaking and making decisions in character. The other is the game: having an adventure to discover and obstacles to overcome. Monsters to kill, things to talk to. I'm okay with acting, as long as it doesn't get in the way of playing the game. As long as we keep moving and overcoming the obstacles, unfolding the adventure, I don't care how much or little acting a player wants to do. And metagaming is a part of stepping in-between the two. Of asking for clarification, of seeing the things that can't be properly replicated at the table. Of setting up future stories and directing the game towards things the players find interesting. Metagaming, talking about the game from outside the characters, is a great and wonderful thing because it can eliminate confusion. It makes sure that everyone is on the same page, and that each player and the GM are all helping to create something specific and engaging to all involved.
Funny thing is, for as much as I was mad at Matt at the time (and chagrined now), I actually like the kind of character that he created. One of my favorite characters in fiction is Vin, from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn fantasy series. Vin is just like Matt's character, she was a street urchin, betrayed by her own brother and expecting to be hurt or betrayed by everyone. Her story of growing and becoming a part of a team, and eventually a sort of savior of the world, is very compelling. Also, in our own group Rose made a character with a very similar background, an urchin Half-Orc who grew to become a Cleric. So knowing what Matt's character is, we can actually make a lot of great stories out of him discovering a better way to live, learning to trust his fellow adventurers, and possibly even make a great bond between Matt's and Rose's characters. There is some great material to work with.
Which we would have never realized unless we did the "metagaming" thing and actually talked about who everybody was. So while I'm not proud of my own behavior, I think something very useful came out of the whole sticky situation. A reminder of what we all knew, just managed to overlook.
So my advise to you, from hard experience, is: don't be afraid of metagaming. Step out and make sure that everybody is one the same page, then go back into inhabiting your character's head. It's not a bad thing - it's vital to having an enjoyable experience for everyone.
* * * *
And since so many others tend to say things better than I can, here are a few links to The Angry GM about this very topic that I think are highly worth reading and discussing with your group-
Angry Rants: Stupid Decisions (and Metagaming)
Angry Rants: Stop Playing Against Stereotypes!
Angry Rants: Secrets (Part 1)
and find parts 2 and however-many-else because Angry is always worth reading :)
These guys are a little depressing, but I really like their music. If you are in a bad spot in your life, or have ever been, odds are you can relate to at least some of their lyrics.
I totally get this song, though my addiction is not booze. I sincerely hope that you don't get this song, or feel this way, as much as I do.
For when you feel like your relationship is killing you. I have never known this song personally, but I have been the one doing the cutting.
"Not Broken Anymore"
Not all of their songs are about pain and heartbreak, but they seem to be kind of deep no matter what. I like this song a lot, though the lyrics a little confusing. It seems like the singer talking to himself, but it's phrased a little odd I think. Still, great song.
What Is It? A Dungeons and Dragons adventure brought to B-movie life on the big screen
Okay, I'm a die-hard, life-long gamer. I love pen and paper RPGs. In fact, they are one of the few things I really feel strongly about. But I will be the first to admit that, weather home-brew or professional, they do not tend to have the most compelling or well-crafted plots. I've read lots of books based on RPGs starting with Gygax's Gord the Rogue series through some Forgotten Realms and Eberron books, detouring through Arena for Magic the Gathering and even the couple of Top Secret S.I. novels. None are what I would consider great fiction like Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks. Just like with a game at the table, RPG-based stories tend to wander a little. Now, for RPGs this is not such a big deal- the fun is in making the decisions and exploring the world, you generally are not expecting a tight and emotionally deep plot with so many cooks in the stew. But when it comes to novels and movies, well, you generally want something just a bit more refined.
Which leads me to The Last Witch Hunter. This is a lot like a D&D adventure, which means it does not hang together as well as a movie should. A lot of the screen time feels like it is chasing something that while a key part of the plot, does not really feel that dramatic or compelling. There are enough explanations for everything, but none feel very well fleshed-out. I really walked away with the feeling that there was a great movie buried in there somewhere, but it just was not quite executed right. So many events could have been very interesting, but did not feel like they were set up. There is a betrayal, but I had honestly forgotten that character was even in the movie - betrayal scenes only have an emotional beat if you are attached to the betraying character. Not the character being betrayed, no, the character doing the betraying - that is where the real emotional punch is for the audience. And the final plot hinges on being merciful and that mercy coming back to bite the characters in the posterior - which just did not really get set up with the right groundwork to have an emotional payoff. So many things that were close, were good ideas, just not built right. It actually reminded me a lot of Tomorrowland, another movie I thought had great concepts buried under poor execution.
I did like Vin Deisel, thought he did a fine job with his character. Rose Leslie was a really cool sassy street witch. Michael Caine was in the movie, in a cameo basically. And no one else left that much of an impression. But the best character of all was the sword. There are not many flaming swords in film, and the effect does not always look that cool. A good flaming sword should be as awesome as a lightsaber, and in Last Witch Hunter the sword is awesome, looks perfect, and honestly was a big part of why I went to see the movie. The sword deserved more screen time.
My recommendation- wait for it to come out on cable, it's good enough for passing a lazy afternoon
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Yes, I know I'm about a year late to the party :)
Yesterday I ran my first game of D&D 5th, with 2 players who had played it a few times, and 4 players who had never played it. So, here are some off-the-cuff impressions.
Simple But Flexible
This is a turn away from the rules-heavy 3rd/4th editions to the mechanically lighter original D&D. Which is good. Every action is basically 4 things: attribute + proficiency + d20 roll (normal, advantage or disadvantage) + class/item/spell modifier (if any). That's a pretty easy formula to get used to, and a lot of it is binary. Either you have proficiency or you don't. Either you have advantage or you don't. Things don't stack, so if you have 2 things giving advantage and 1 giving disadvantage then you roll normally. I'm not as sure about that, I kind of think it would be fun to pile up modifiers Fate Aspect styled, but it's fine in play. Lots is also fixed, the proficiency bonus is the same for all characters of the same level, and attributes don't change very often. Really easy to adjudicate on the fly. The tight mechanics means even being bad at something still gives you a chance to succeed or contribute.
Not A Lot Of Class Abilities, But Usually Enough
At first level most characters had 4-5 skills they were good at, and one or two decent abilities. It was not as much as in Pathfinder, or even 13th Age in some ways, but it seemed to be enough. I am a believer that the fewer abilities you have the more flexible they need to be. Having Advantage on tracking Goblins is pretty specific, but having Advantage when Tracking is a bit more flexible. 5th falls just a little on the "too narrow" side to me, but is still playable enough. Really, that's up to the players and while one did comment that he felt short on options everybody seemed to roll with it okay.
Decent Starter Adventure - The Lost Mine Of Phandelver
I did pick up the Starter Set box a while back, so I ran the adventure straight out of the box (just adding a few monsters here and there since I had 6 players to start with). It is not high fiction, but it is a pretty solid adventure/ mini-campaign. We only got about halfway through it, but each the locations and encounters had enough interesting bits to keep everyone engaged. It also goes from clearing a cave to talking to NPCs, and while the traditional goblin fight leads things off, there are a varity of opponents after that. Overall I was satisfied with it, and it has enough dangling plot bits that I already know how I can continue it if the players want to keep playing.
Worst DMG Ever
Wow, I cannot say enough about just how godawful that stupid DMG is- it's like it was written by children instead of experienced game designers. A million random-roll tables to build everything from worlds to plots to plot twists to NPCs !?!?!?! Really? Have you never heard of the Internet? A Google search will give you literally thousands of random generators for anything you want. But even more importantly, have you never heard about creativity? About building a world and NPCs and scene for a reason, to illustrate a point or convey an emotional beat? For a purpose, not "because the dice said so"? Really? I would have expected a book like this back in the early 80s when the industry was new, not now. And the stuff you really need, the peek inside the designers' minds to help you understand the fundamentals of the game? Barely there at all. No table for "expected wealth by level" to know how much loot and magic the monsters are scaled to be challenging against. The section on making your races, classes, backgrounds, spells and magic items - the foundations of understanding the game's power and options - that's a whopping 7 pages. And most of it boils down to "look at the existing and make up your own stuff" which is, well, pathetic. You really never made a chart of abilities you think work for each level when you designed the classes yourselves? You just threw darts at the board and hoped you'd get lucky? Like I said, not very professional.
There are at least about 10 pages of how to build a monster, so some solid advice, though I highly recommend you go to The Angry GM and check out his articles on building a monster in 5th. And the obligatory list of magic items. Not much else of use if you've ever GMed any RPG before. I literally would not buy this book if I could find the magic items somewhere else.
My players were a group with a Cleric, Barbarian, Fighter, Bard, Sorcerer and Ranger. All were okay except for the Ranger. What the hell happened to the Favored Enemy? Talk about weak-sauce. You learn their language, when the game already gives you more languages than anybody in even modern times learns. You have Advantage to track and recall information about them. And THAT IS FRIGGING IT ?!?!?!? W with a T and a giant all-caps in bold and italics F. That's not a favored enemy, that's a favored friend. A casual acquaintance. No combat bonuses at all? I remember back in D&D Next them talking about adding abilities to the favored enemy that would be targeted at that race's abilities. So, a favored enemy of dragons would mean you were immune to fear, since all dragons had a fear aura. That would not only be good against that favored enemy but also all other monsters with the same ability. So, flexible. Instead we went from that, I have to say brilliant, idea to this weak snot? Somebody dropped the ball.
Otherwise, the Bard's inspiration only applying to one character also kind of sucks. If they can do it so infrequently then it should at least effect the whole party. The rest of their abilities are useful enough though. The Barbarian's Rage is crazy strong, he soaked damage like a sponge. Everybody else seemed okay.
I've got some more ideas, and a more detailed write up on some elements of 5th that I'm working on. So I'll try to publish a more detailed review, or at least look at certain aspects of the game, soon. Again, I'm pretty late to 5th so odds are you can find lots of people talking about everything I've noticed already - but since it's new to me I'm gonna blab about it anyways ;)
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Lifehacker is one of the sites I visit every day. You can find all kinds of great articles about how to do all sorts of things in day to day life. So when I read this article I had to link to it myself.
Being Poor Is Too Expensive - Lifehacker
This isn't the usual tips and tricks, instead it's a very interesting look at some of the difficulties of being poor. The thing is, in my experience, being homeless or poor is actually a lot harder than most people think. There are a lot of different factors at work, not just economic but also often psychological. The stereotype is that homeless people are alcoholics, but actually mental illness may be far more common.
So what? I hear you ask. Well, nothing really. This is just a great look into a lifestyle that hopefully you cannot relate to yourself - if so you have led a blessed life. If you have been there, well it's just kind of nice to know that you haven't been the only one.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
I don't listen to the radio, or any streaming radio services, so I find new music in different places. In this case, I really liked the song on the trailer for the Supergirl TV series coming out. A quick Google and I found it was Rachel Platten, so here are some links.
This was the trailer song, and I really like this a lot.
"Stand By You"
I have a friend going through some trouble right now, and this song perfectly says how I want to be there to help.
"Beating Me Up"
And finally, here's another cool song I like.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
Okay, I have to give props, again, to the great work done on Large Polyhedron Collider about adding tactics to RPG combat. That series of posts kind of influenced this 13th Age idea, and while I have linked to them before I think they are worth mentioning again.
That out of the way, let me ask you a question: what do you spend the most time thinking about in combat?
Rolling dice, adding up modifiers, those certainly take up a chunk of the combat turn. Deciding what spell to cast, or limited-use power, might take a little time too - assuming your class has those. In Pathfinder we had all the combat maneuvers, you could try to disarm or trip or stuff - but I found they rarely took a lot of time to contemplate, since they generally sucked. In Pathfinder if you didn't build a character specifically for maneuvers then they were very hard to pull off. Even if you did take a feat or class good at them, a lot of times they were hard to do (unless you wanted to grapple the mage) - generally you would have better odds of success by stabbing something with your sword.
13th Age seems even worse. They don't have any maneuvers. The flexible attacks trigger on die rolls, so you don't need to think about them at all. 1/Battle and Daily abilities you think about, but once you actually use them then you have nothing to think about again. From my limited playing and watching my players as GM, there is not a heck of a lot you really have to focus on. At least, not much that the rules help you with - sure, you could concoct some wild scheme, but without a rule or guideline you have no idea if that might be possible or even helpful. Rules give you a degree of understanding - this might work, that probably won't - and you can't make a choice without some knowledge. New players, I think, really have a hard time trying to pull some hair-brained scheme out of their back pocket.
So, tactics. Tactics are specific maneuvers to accomplish some kind of goal. Strategy is a broad framework, I'm the Ranger- good in the wilderness and with a bow. Tactics are specific, I'm going to shoot that guy. Strategy is pretty well represented in most RPGs, it's all the character creation stuff. The character you built (or rolled) defines your general strategy. But every fight is not at 30 feet on a flat field at noon (or, well, hopefully it isn't) - so you need tactics for how you change your fighting style to accommodate the environment or the opponent. Sadly few games have tactics, mostly tactical choices instead are strategic abilities when you build your character. Pathfinder was pretty bad about that (again, if you didn't specifically build for maneuvers you had slim chance of pulling them off successfully, and who cares about an option that doesn't work?). 13th Age really seems to suck at that, since the flexible attacks that should be tactical are instead taken out of your control and there are no maneuvers, fighting defensively or aid another.
Okay, all that complaining out of my system- here's a house rule to add some tactics to your 13th Age game, that shouldn't imbalance things too badly (actually, given that combat is generally against the players, this might really help them avoid the TPK). Fair warning, I haven't implemented this system in my own game yet, so use at your own risk.
My 13th Age game is a mashup with some Fate elements, but you don't need that for this house rule. I am going to present the tactics tied to the Fate Approaches, but that's just flavor text in this case (though, honestly, I love them a lot better than the default 13th Age "skills"). So this is something you can actually drop on top of your vanilla game despite the strange wording.
So, tactics are about choices. I want these to be choices that anybody can make - so these tactics are available to every character (and monster, if you want). The best choices are conflicted, they have elements that are good and bad, so I'm going to try to make these both positive and negative (in different ways). I'm going to say that a character can change tactics at will, but the post above has a good point that once you start fighting a certain way it can be hard to stop (given the focus on staying alive) so you could say that you have to disengage to switch tactics. You could also say that the lowest initiative has to declare what tactic they are using first, then they are resolved from highest initiative to lowest. This lets the characters/ monsters with good initiative try to pick the best tactic for the situation, which might be worth the extra time (and means some monsters at least need to use tactics, like the "elites" and/or normals - mooks don't seem like they should be skilled enough to use tactics). Basically, there are a lot of ways to play with this system that I will leave up to your imagination.
On to the actual tactics. I have two sets of them, you can use some or all. First, let's look at the active tactics, the ways a character can modify how they attack. These were mostly designed for melee combat, but might work well enough for ranged combat too (this is a work in progress). There is one tactic for every Approach. With every tactic you have to set an Approach Die (AD)- which is just a d6, you choose what number, before rolling or resolving the tactic:
- Forceful- add the AD to the damage you do and also to the damage you take. This could be to only one opponent, or to everybody (up to your GM (or how crazy you're feeling?)). This is like the "power attack" from Pathfinder, better damage at the risk of taking extra damage.
- Clever- roll your attack normally, without any modifier from this tactic. If you hit subtract your AD from your opponent's AD for any positive elements. For example, if your opponent does a forceful tactic subtract your AD from their AD damage bonus - but do not change the extra damage they take from the tactic. (this could go only on hit, or weather you hit or not depending on how hard you want to make combat) This is only good if monsters (by which I mean any bad guy, including humans and humanoids) can also use tactics, but hey- you only need to be clever against damgerous opponents. I guess you could re-work this as a penalty to a foe's special ability (like spells, spell-like abilities and such) depending on your system and how you want it to work.
- Quick- add the AD to your to-hit roll, but subtract it from your damage. This is a fast attack (or series of attacks?), but that means not well aimed or very strong. Good for when you have a hard time hitting anyways (I'd say a minimum of 1 damage after the AD mod) and to make weaker monsters a little dangerous.
- Deliberate- roll your attack normally, without any modifier from this tactic. If you hit your maximum damage is the AD (or, each die rolled maxes at the AD). However, if you get hit the maximum damage you can take is the AD. This is "fighting defensively," looking to protect yourself, at the cost of doing less damage. Good if you need to buy time for an ally to come to your aid. Exactly how to convert the damage depends on your system (I'm actually moving to a different, simplified HP system myself which I'll describe later).
- Noticeable- roll your attack normally, without any modifier from this tactic. On your next turn only, add this action's AD to your next action in a positive way (for example, to the bonus damage done with forceful, but not the extra damage taken). Noticeable is about being seen, so this is where you create a false opening to lure in your opponent. It's planning for the future, watching the fight unfold.
- Sneaky- choose weather to add the AD to hit or damage or armor class/defense. After the action, lower the AD by 1. If the AD is still in play (above 0) then the next time you use a Sneaky tactic in this battle you re-use the die. You can still choose what to apply it to, and again lower by 1 after until it is out of play. Being sneaky is very powerful, and flexible, the feint or backstab kind of maneuvers. But, once you've stabbed someone in the posterior the odds are that they are going to pay more attention to you to avoid that happening again. So I designed sneaky to stick around and lose effectiveness over time, keeping that "burst damage" feel I think.
With those 6 tactics, players now have ways to modify how they act in combat, hopefully giving them something interesting to think about and a meaningful choice to make. But after working out the above system I noticed that something was still lacking. There wasn't really a way to do that "aid another" like in Pathfinder. I debated adding it as another tactic/approach, then had a really crazy thought- what if each tactic could be used either for oneself, or to aid an ally? Now, there would be 6 different ways to help your teammates, which again hopefully you could customize to the situation. So here is a list of six more tactics, when used to help an ally instead of yourself. You still roll a normal attack/action - but instead of adding the Approach Die somehow, instead the AD is used for your ally. If you hit, or no matter what if your GM is generous (since something that you know will work is worth doing as opposed to trying something that may or may not work).
- Forceful- knock your foe off-balance, giving your ally your AD as a bonus to hit.
- Clever- create an opening, giving one ally a free attack (with or without tactic modifiers?) against your opponent.
- Quick- interrupt your foe, subtracting your AD from their positive tactic bonuses against one ally.
- Deliberate- interpose yourself between your foe and an ally, taking the foe's attack against yourself instead. You can intercept 1 attack for every point of your AD, but you also take your AD as a penalty to your defense.
- Noticeable- attract a foe's attention, giving that foe your AD as a penalty to hit any allies.
- Sneaky- set up your foe for an ally to finish off, adding your AD to your ally's positive tactic modifiers.
Combat is important, life is on the line after all. So we want it to be meaningful, to be engaging. Which I think a lot of games have a hard time doing well. Too much combat seems to be crunching numbers or adding dice, and not enough thinking about the situation and trying to find the best actions. You should ideally be thinking about the fight from your character's boots, not juggling standard/move/quick/free actions, attacks of opportunity/reactions and 5 foot squares. I think this tactic system might help add some meaningful choices to the player's list of things to think about. I'm still polishing it to use in my current campaign, so I'll let you know after I have a chance to use it. If any of you are brave enough to try, please throw me a comment below. Theoretically you could use this in any game, Pathfinder or D&D 5th say, that had similar mechanics for resolving a fight.
Random Note- in Fate Accelerated the approaches have slightly different names. What I call Deliberate is called Cautious. And my Noticeable is called Flashy. I kind of like my names better, for reasons, but I wanted to point it out to clarify any possible confusion.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
I ended up seeing this one with some friends, it was not something that looked very interesting (given that I'm a SF&F guy) but I decided to tag along and give it a try. First, as a 40 year old guy the Robert De Niro character says something to me (granted I'm not his retirement 70, but I can see that down the road (and it terrifies me)). So I had a little bonding to the premise. "Ben" has retired, lost his wife, and is bored out of his skull. So he decided to try an intern position with a fashion/web company founded by "Jules" (Anne Hathaway). He is the fish out of water, with his old-school ways amid a group of twenty-somethings. But his unique perspective helps everyone around him re-evaluate their own lives.
It's a cute movie, and a lot better than I expected it to be. It starts at a good pace, and things keep unfolding steadily with some interesting characters. Until the end. None of the plot threads really seem to wrap up well, I was trying to think of how to describe it for this review and "lack of closure" is the only phrase that comes to mind. It does end, but I did not feel a good sense of closure from anything.
Still, it was well-acted, and entertaining to watch. There were some great moments (the break-in scene, classic). De Niro is great, of course - and so is Anne Hathaway and the supporting cast. I liked everybody, as characters and performances. My only real complaint is how the story just didn't seem to close very neatly. It kind of fades away instead of ending on a good cathartic note.
My recommendation- catch the cheap show and give it a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Monday, October 12, 2015
A good friend of mine sent me some songs that really moved me, which prompted me to spend a while searching YouTube for some songs to send in return that said the emotions I was feeling. I don't listen to the radio, so I don't hear a lot of new songs. Mostly I just replay the music I've accumulated over the years. And since this blog is about whatever random things I like, well, here are some links to a band that - like me - you might not have heard of, The Script.
I like a good, upbeat song- so here's one.
"No Good In Goodbye"
So, let's switch gears and listen to something kind of sad (in an upbeat way). This one has some personal meaning to me, I lost someone I really cared about some time ago, and it has been difficult to deal with. Mostly because I was an idiot and treated her badly, but that's going to be another post.
"If You Could See Me Now"
My biological father passed away when I was in High School, and I've met a lot of great people who I will likely never see again - so this is another song that has some personal meaning to me. Also, this is about the only kind of "rap" that I like.
As the video says, there is some language in the song - one whole swear word. So it's not much, and if you don't like cursing then don't play the clip.
They have a lot of other cool songs, but if you don't like these three odds are you won't be a big a fan of their music.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
My friend Aaron got the Space Hulk board game back in High School, and we also got into the Warhammer 40,000 wargame too. So I kind of fondly remember the WH40K universe, and when we saw the Death Angel card game I talked him into getting it (which just involved putting it in his hands). That was a few years ago, and just now I finally played it solo (apparently he forgot about it).
I was not a big fan of the Space Hulk board game, while a hard game makes winning feel even better, I don't like games so hard that you should expect to lose far more often than you win. I'm kind of a wimp gamer that way. And Space Hulk was hard. You played a group of Space Marines, basically super-soldiers in high-tech armor, exploring a "space hulk" - a ruined starship - infested with Genestealers, basically the aliens from Alien. There were only about 6 marines, and a whole bunch more of the aliens. Like Descent you had terrain tiles that made up the rooms of the ship, and you had a "quest" to get to a certain room or do something. It was a tactical wargame, and the Space Marine player needed a lot of luck and smarts, and the Genestealer player got to enjoy being evil.
While I was not a huge fan of the board game, I had some sort of fond memories playing it - so I was more than willing to give the card game a try. Essentially the two are the same, in the card game up to 4 players control the Space Marines, and cards set up the rooms and control the Genestealers. Which was one of the things that intrigued me about the game, you can play it solo. At the end of each turn there is an event card that creates new Genestealers, moves a random number of them to random places, and basically controls everything else. I played solo, everybody else was at work. The Space Marines form a line, and each row is like one space or hex. The Marines also have facing, and can only use some abilities against Genestealers in the same facing, so there is a real boardgame feel of space and positioning. Most Marines can shoot 1 or more rows, so they can help defend other Marines, but a few are melee only and restricted to their own row. Each room has terrain, like a corridor or door or grate, and each piece of terrain is in a different row, and the Genestealers spawn from those rows at random. There can only be one Marine in a row, but the Genestealers can form groups. To attack, the Marine rolls a custom D6 and has a 50% chance to hit, killing 1 Genestealer. The Marines also roll to defend, and the die has numbers from 0 to 5. If the Marine rolls a number greater than the Genestealers in the group attacking he survives, roll equal or less and he dies. Thus, a group of 5 Genestealers is a automatic death sentence, which has that feel of dread and pack tactics that the board game also had.
The game is hard, but the funny thing is that it feels artificially hard. Like it was deliberately stacked against you, not that the circumstances themselves were difficult. Each pair of Marines chooses one action to perform each round - from Support (help another Marine), Move + Activate (switch places or change facing and use a door or terminal if it is on the same row) or Attack (try to kill Genestealers). In the board game each Marine could move and attack using Command points, and basically vary exactly what and how much they did from turn to turn. In the card game, you cannot perform the same action twice in a row. So if you attack this turn, you have to Move or Support next turn. Why? This feels like a totally artificial problem, it does not make any sense on its own. Also, in the board game the Genestealers were represented by "blips," face-down markers that could be anywhere from 0 to 3 (I think, maybe even 5, not sure) individual Genestealers. Basically, it was like the Aliens motion tracker, you were pretty sure something was over there, but not exactly how many. This lack of knowledge was a big part of the suspense and downright fear of the game. In the card game however, every blip card is exactly 1 Genestealer. So there is no guessing, no fear involved. To move on to the next room you have to clear one of two blip piles, and to win the game you have to clear the final room. I lost 2 Marines in the first room, and then 2 more in the second room, and survived a turn or two in the third room - the fourth was the last. So it was hard, like I remember the board game being, but it didn't really feel fair. I felt like I was supposed to lose, like the rules wanted me to lose, not like they wanted to challenge me.
What I liked...
- Has The WH40K Trappings - you have the Space Marines, one that carries a Heavy Flamer, another has the Autocannon, going room by room trying to survive the wave of Genestealers; so it has that Warhammer feel that is pretty cool.
- Tactical Positioning From Simple Rules - getting that "board game grid" feel from having rows and facing is actually a pretty neat trick for just some simple rules, I would love to see that layout used in other card games to give them some depth.
- Solo Play - it is neat to have a game that you can play without an adversary, or even without any other players. I do like that sort of thing.
What I didn't like...
- Doesn't Feel Hard, Feels Mean - hard is okay, when there is a good reason for why things are hard; this just felt mean.
- No Good Example Of Play - the rulebook is not that long, and really the game is pretty simple, but there is not a great example of play to make the game and its steps clear and easy to understand. Still, you get the hang of it pretty quick.
- Not Sure What Good Having Friends Is - I played the game solo, and honestly I don't know what benefit it would have been to have friends with me. So much of the game is random, and so hard to plan ahead, I would think adding more people would actually make it harder, not easier. Still, I never did try it with multiple players, this is just an impression.
My recommendation - skip this one, or borrow a friend's deck to try it first. May not be everyone's cup of tea.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
My friend Aaron got me playing the first Descent, and then he ended up getting the Second Edition a few years ago. Neither of us really likes the second edition as much, the mini-sized cards I find terribly annoying, and the defense dice instead of a fixed number makes things feel even more swing-y/less predictable. But overall it's not a bad game, and we play from time to time.
A while ago we got the Forgotten Souls expansion, which claims that you can play Descent (2nd) without an Overlord. I like this idea, I don't really like adversarial games, and while a GM in an RPG does have to play the "bad guys" the goal is to provide something for the players to work to overcome and unexpected twists and a logical sequence of events (that on a good day even resembles a plot). So I've never felt an RPG was adversarial, but the Overlord in Descent always seemed that way. After all, the Overlord doesn't set the board that the players have to run, placing traps at predefined points like in an RPG, instead the Overlord dynamically spends points to create traps and monsters and such out of thin air in the most effective/dastardly way possible. So, as I said, the idea of a non-Overlord game sounded nice, in theory. And a few weeks ago we actually played it for the first time.
Forgotten Souls is basically a set of cards that describe each room of the dungeon and what happens. There is one opening encounter, represented by a card that has any special rules (in the first room I believe one was that the heroes could not heal) for the room. There are 3 more encounters that are a part of the story, which get shuffled into a set of 8 other rooms that act as filler. I actually like this idea, I think it's kind of cool to build the dungeon one room at a time, with each having its own gimmick or purpose. I don't think it would be bad if you just decided on how many encounters you wanted, like 2 random in-between every story encounter, so that you could shrink or grow the dungeon for the time you had available.
Once you draw the room you set the tiles up according to the rulebook - which I would prefer if the map was on another card or a poster. You drop more monsters based on the number of players, so it scales well from 2 to 4 people. And then you draw a card that tells you how the monsters are going to act. Players go first, until they meet the victory condition for the encounter card. But, if any figures are still on the board, random "peril" events trigger to encourage the players to keep moving. That was a kind of odd system, and I'm not sure I even played it right. Then you move on to the next encounter until you reach the end.
Overall it did what it said on the box, it was a way to run a dungeon without an Overlord - but it was also fairly limited enough that you couldn't use it in general - you had to be playing the particular dungeon it came with. Not a bad thing, but also with lots of room for improvement and expansion.
What I liked...
- No Overlord - makes the game feel a little more co-operative (to bad the rules don't always support that).
- Room By Room Design - it was actually really nice to look at the dungeon as a series of little rooms each with a purpose instead of the one giant floor of regular Descent. I liked the pacing and flow a lot better, not as many random hallways and stuff.
What I didn't like...
- Random Monster Goals - each encounter you draw an Activation Card that says what the monsters are going to do in that room. Which is kind of weird. In one room the monsters targeted the character with a ranged weapon, which only one player had - so the other player was pretty much free to act. Or another room they targeted the farthest away character, running past the closer one. Really, this over-complicates things. Unless a set of different monsters were specifically chosen to do something (tanks in front, archers in back) then really they always move and attack the closest character - if they want to be effective. There is not that much tactical depth, at least in the limited playing I've done, to justify having lots of different targeting/action conditions. And really, the monster tactics should be specific to a room - if the room has something to be guarded, then some number of monsters should be guarding it, regardless of what the players do.
- The Peril System - when you complete the goal of the encounter, but have not cleared the map, it seems to switch into some sort of countdown timer with random "peril" events triggering at the end of each round. This felt really arbitrary and artificial.
- No Example Of Play - this is a very different way of playing Descent, it really should have had at least one room written out in some detail with an example of play to help you understand what you were supposed to be doing.
What I wish I knew before I started playing...
- The Rulebook Is A Fancy PDF - along with the new sets of cards you need the rules for how to run the expansion, which is not included in the physical package. Instead you have to go online and download the PDF of the rules, and said PDF is full-color with lots of background graphics and gradients on each page. So, printing it in color is going to use a lot of ink, and printing it in black and white is going to have a lot of grey - not ideal either way. When we played I ended up running between the game board and my laptop (didn't think my phone was big enough to read it) to figure out what to do next. This isn't too bad, if you play it enough times I'm sure it'll become second nature, but at first it is annoying. Don't know why they couldn't have printed at least the room layouts in a folded poster format.
Recommendation- If you like the idea of Overlord-less Descent give it a try, or at least go to the company's website and read the rulebook and see what you think.