Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Current assessment of 5e combat.

I am still writing up my con report. But here are some thought on 5e combat.

I played 5e about two dozen times with four different groups with one of them very large in size (8 to 10 players per session).

My opinion is that there is no single combination of abilities or characters that provides an "I win" in D&D 5e. Sufficient numbers will provide a challenge every time.

I ran running Phandelver for two different groups, one a five man party and the other the 10 man large group. Doubling the Phandelver number wasn't sufficient. It wasn't until I increase the number to four to five times the original value did the encounter have the same outcomes as the five man party.

My takeaway that the teamwork rules 5e. Multiple character working together effectively have a huge multiplier effect. Then again they do in real life as well. That it works for monsters as well as PCs. Even if the characters are carbon copies of each other. The interim encounter guidelines leads me to think that Wizards know this as well. I think they need to play with the number but overall the interrim encounter guidelines have the right idea.

There are some character ability combination that are highly effective against some types of monsters. For example life clerics versus undead.

Preparation and planning are force multipliers exactly in the same way they are in real life. My last two sessions of the Phandelver campaigns illustrate this. In the next to last session, the party had a plan, stuck to it and hit Castle Cragmaw. They aborted the attack after killing a quarter of the goblins and hobgoblins. They didn't suffer much in the way of damage but were very cautious. Also the Cragmaws were largely unprepared scattered about in the module setup.

In the last session, the party did not have as good of a plan. They had one and stuck to it but it wasn't the right one for attacked the now prepared Cragmaws. So they got strung out in the center of the castle being attacked by the remaining Cragmaws.

Despite a little higher in level, and facing a weaker foe (most of the Cragmaws killed in the previous session were hobgoblins) the party had a rougher time.

For the larger group what did them in was a horde of orcs at Wyvern Tor and exhausting all their area of effect spells. The orcs due to their bonus move were able to disperse. Plus they got strung out along the perimeter around the cave entrance. When the orcs managed down one party member it opened a hole and allowed the orc to attempt to defeat the party in detail. In the end out of 10 only two were standing with two permanently dead. This even after a failed morale check took out a quarter of the remaining orcs.

In my opinion 5e rewards tactics in the same way as 4e but without all the detail and fussiness of 4e. That the decreased number of abilities has effectively minimized broken rules combination.

That for groups that don't care about tactics all they have to do is maintain superior numbers in combat to come out ahead. Mainly through by carefully picking the time when to start a fight.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why you can't game the OSR

There is been a lot of conversation about what the OSR is, how to define, people "trying" to take over,etc. I been offering my own opinion about the OSR for a long time in the hopes of getting people to realize that if they want to they can do their own thing with classic DnD and other old school games.

This article has crystallized a thought I long held about the OSR.

You can't game it.

In the article Paul Graham talks about his experience with computer technology startups. On thing that leaped out at me was this piece of advice.
t's not surprising that after being trained for their whole lives to play such games, young founders' first impulse on starting a startup is to try to figure out the tricks for winning at this new game. Since fundraising appears to be the measure of success for startups (another classic noob mistake), they always want to know what the tricks are for convincing investors. We tell them the best way to convince investors is to make a startup that's actually doing well, meaning growing fast, and then simply tell investors so. Then they want to know what the tricks are for growing fast. And we have to tell them the best way to do that is simply to make something people want.
The OSR from day one was about making something that people want. At first it was focus on making stuff people wanted for classic DnD. As number of people joining in grew that broadened to to a focus on Old School in general.

So anytime somebody or some group tries to define or take over the OSR the cold hard fact is that unless they play, promote, or publishing something that the people in the OSR want, they will be ignored.

Of course what makes Paul Graham different than any other person writing an article? He was one of the first to make to make a fortune off of the internet in the 1990s. He was part of a company who made Viaweb one of the first software program that allowed people to create Internet stores easily. Viaweb was sold to Yahoo for several million dollars. Then he became part of a group of investors who started Y Combinator to help people with technology startups along with writing about his experience. I been reading his stuff for a couple of years now and my impression that he is a smart guy who knows his stuff who continues to have successes.

While the OSR never needed a Y Combinator, I felt it does need guys like Paul Graham to encourage and help people with their own projects and I resolved to be one of those guys.

What I tell people when they want to publish or promote for the OSR that there are two known paths of success in addition to doing good work.

  • You write for one of the classic editions of DnD or something very similar
  • You write something that you think would be interesting to fans of classic editions of DnD and put a lot of work into promoting and selling it to the rest of the OSR.
The first reflect how the OSR started among the fans of classic DnD and that classic DnD still is the core of the whole thing. The second reflect that OSR gamers are not one-dimensional caricatures and have other interested. That the most common interest is in other old school games.

Both have successful examples. Examples of the first include OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry, and a wealth of adventures, like Barrowmaze, written specifically for an older edition of DnD. Examples of the second include Dungeon Crawl Classic, Lamentation of the Flame Princess, Arrows of Indra, and my own Majestic Wilderlands.

They are successful because people wanted them. Classic DnD continues to be played and promoted because people want to play a game they have a lot of fun at. That the closest you will ever get to a definition of the OSR,  It also why I say the OSR is defined by those who DO.

Also realize that because of the OSR's origins on the internet, the Open Game License, along with existence of multiple classic DnD communities from the beginning means it is insanely diverse. These factors in conjunction has ensured that there are no gatekeepers or artificial barriers for a gamer needs to leap in order to do his own thing.  

You will notice I talked a lot about classic DnD. No doubt that there will be people getting upset at the fact I am seemly giving old school little credit or acknowledgement. That I am claiming that the OSR is only about classic DnD thus reinforcing the notion that the clonemanics are continuing to attempt to capture the OSR for their own devious purposes.

The OSR is indeed mostly about classic DnD for the simple reason that classic DnD has the largest fan base of any old school. It dwarfs other old school games by at least an order of magnitude. The only way an old school movement can not be about classic DnD if it excludes it.

Conversely a movement starting out at being focused on classic DnD will expand to include other old school games in the absence of gatekeepers. Gamers are not one dimensional caricatures and like any other human being are capable of being interested in more than one thing. 

Thanks to the factors I stated previously the OSR never had gatekeepers. So naturally that led to the situation today where you have an OSR centered on classic DnD along with a wealth of other old school games under the OSR label.

And this whole glorious mess is why any attempt to game the OSR is doomed to failure. Either you play, promote, or publishing something that OSR gamers are interested in, or you are ignored. No amount of punditry, or sermonizing is going to grant a shortcut to success in the OSR.

If you are reading and have an idea for classic DnD or old school in general I strongly encourage you to do your thing and share it with rest of us.

Fight On!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My favorite map

+Tim Shorts over at Gothridge challenged all map makeers to show their favorite map. I actually have two.

The first is the Isle of the Blest of  the City State of the Sea Kings.

The original incarnation of Judges Guild produce modules under the Wilderness series. Each book took an area of the Wilderlands and extensively detailed it. Mines of Custalon and Spies of Lightelf were first two books. One of the details was the use of the Judges Guild Hexagon Mapping system to flesh out the interior of the various 5 mile hexes that book focused one.

For example

The Isle of Blest map for City State of the Sea King.was going to be a poster map making each hex over 1 inch. I figured with all that room why not draw it like the Wilderness series but update it with color. What made even more doable is that the Wilderness series maps were pseudo contour denoting slope. Similar to old style hachure maps. Full contour maps are finicky to create and do right by hand over the scale of something as large as the Isle of the Blest. Another challenge I wanted to overcome is better use of color on my maps.

The successful completion of this project not only led to the satisfaction of coming up with a new style, in color no less, but also to the license from Judges Guild that allowed to publish the Majestic Wilderlands and Scourge of the Demon Wolf. Finally it led me to be invited to help with the project to come up with new official maps for the original Wilderlands.

My other favorite maps is actually a work in progress.

Looks pretty complete? But it is actually a section of a much larger map that I been working off and on for the past couple of years. The map to the main campaign area of the Majestic Wilderlands.

I like the Nomar map because it represent the current pinnacle of the work I been doing ever since I made the Wilderlands my main campaign.

Starting with this

To This

To this

Then to the Nomar map above.

Finally this map gets an honorable mention. This was going to be the foundation map for the Majestic Realms. The Majestic Wilderlands with all Judges Guild IP stripped out but then I got the license which was not only cool of them but made it a lot easier to write the supplement. Instead of the City-State of the Invincible Overlord I had the City State of Eastgate (the name coming from Tim). Instead of Thunderhold, I had Hammerguard Keep named after the best dwarven PC ever to play in any of my campaigns, Zephrus Hammerguard.

I plan on still using this sometime as part of the loose setting behind Points of Light and Blackmarsh.

So there you have my favorite map err maps.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Boy Scouts and Dungeons & Dragons

As told in my last post, I spent the weekend with my son at a Webelos Scout event. As I was dozing off Sunday, I started to remember the importance of scouting was to me in regards to Dungeons & Dragons.

I was in scouts in the late 70s and early 80s. I started Boy Scout just when I started gaming and the two paralleled each other as I moved through Junior High School and then Senior High School. I lived in a small (15,000) town in the middle of rural northwest PA. Just big enough to have one or two of most things including game stores.

At the time of joining Boy Scout I was heavily into playing Avalon Hill and SPI wargames with a friend, John. He was very good and I rarely beat him. He was scary smart when it came to those games. Along the way one of us picked up the Holmes Basic Set and tried it out. Immediately we saw it was a different type of game. Despite just the two of us there there was little of the competition that characterized our wargame sessions.

My Boy Scout Troop was very active in organizing campout and other event. Including events held in the middle of winter. For the most part these winter event were held on sites with heated cabins. One site was on the shores of Lake Erie and the troop traditionally reserved a cabin perched right next to the cliff that formed the shore in that area.

Sunset came early in those events and this meant that there was a long stretch of free time in the evening. During the winter after John and I discovered Dungeons & Dragons this time become filled up with sessions of Dungeons of Dragons. A group of mostly older boys would take over a table and sit down and play a session. I remember it spread like wildfire, and there was a stretch where nearly every cabin had a session of D&D going. Not everybody played but it was by far the most popular activity.

I remember getting my first look at the Monster Manual at one of those sessions. And probably got a look at a PHB as well. Which probably why John and I split the $10 cost get one for ourselves.

In later years I started playing and running sessions myself. The one that stick out the most in my mind was probably around 1980 or 81. We where at the Lake Erie camp in the cabin by the shoreline cliff. Since it was communal sleep area we couldn't turn on the light as it would disturb those sleeping. So we played by the light of the fireplace with the sound of ice grinding and snapping in the background. A good time was had by all.

My other major memory was when I got to attend the 1983 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill. I remember learning that there was D&D being played. Luckily I stashed some of my books and dice and so I went over to check it out.

Everybody was playing on the gradual slope of a grassy hill on blankets and tarps. There were dozens of groups scattered across the slope. It was like a mini game convention, I don't remember and specifics other than I chatted about D&D with kids from all across the United States and learning about how people played in different region. I remember walking away thinking "Man there are a lot of ways to play D&D."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Update on the 5e Update

Failed my save versus Webelos Scounts Weekend and going to bed. I will try to have the update tomorrow.
The event also included a failed save versus inclement weather and leaky tents.

However but for the kids I believe I rolled a natural 20 for fun and interesting weekend. Interesting to hear some of the old standbys like Duck, Duck, Goose mixed with newer things like Slenderman, zombie chase, and widespread use of the iPhone/Android devices. For some reason the kids got a kick out of getting videos of themselves in the dark.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chess is a game, Dungeons & Dragons is an experience.

This post is a counterpoint to John Wick's Chess is not an RPG: the illusion of game balance.

Every since I became involved in tabletop roleplaying in 1978, there have been debates over story, game, roleplaying, and realism. As many of you know I am a long time fan of GURPS, yet in past years I been heavily involved in publishing and playing classic D&D. Now I am refereeing a D&D 5e campaign.

When I run fantasy, I use my Majestic Wilderlands setting. It started with the first edition of ADnD, moved on to Harnmaster, Fantasy Hero, ADnd 2nd, a lot of GURPS, DnD 3.X, DnD 4e, ODnD and now DnD 5e. Yet the despite the varying rules I was successful in maintaining the feel of the setting not by house ruling all of the above but by focusing on what I call the roleplaying. The fuzzy side of RPGs that many call fluff. In each system NPCs acted the same way they did in previous campaigns using different systems, the same with broader events.

All of this lead me to conclude that rules are not important in the way many think they are. If rules are not that important. What is? If rules are not important why tabletop roleplaying a game?

After I started blogging, I came more aware of the larger community of RPG hobbyists. Their likes, dislikes, and opinions. I learned a lot. As consequence of my own experience and reading a lot of other people's experience. My opinion shifted that there is a core rule behind all tabletop RPGs. One that is obscured in the What is Roleplaying? section most rulebooks have, or not written down at all.

The rule?

This s a game where player act as individual characters interacting with a setting where their actions are adjudicated by a human referee.

It is my option this is the foundation on which every single RPG every made has been built on. The rest is details. Which details are used i.e. the rules most consider to be a RPG, depends on the needs of the campaign and preferences of the individual particpating

But my opinion on the fundemental rule of RPGs doesn't address why. It only talks about the how it played. You have a character, you interact with a setting, the referee tells you want happens.

What the point of it all?

Then a couple of months ago it hit me.

It about the experience. That the hook and the draw, the ability of RPGs to allow people to pretend to be in another time and place doing interesting things. RPGs make this exciting because the adjudication process makes the outcome uncertain. With uncertain outcomes events can spiral in random directions. And that interesting and fun to many.

Tabletop RPGs are games used to create experiences. It is only afterward that the stories come when you attempt to entertain or describe to other what you experienced.

The rules supply part of the details of the experience. The rest is in the setting and plans that the referee creates for his NPCs.

Accordingly the rules should focus on what the experience is to be about. Some type of experiences it doesn't matter there is a difference between a tin cup, a thumb 5.56 mm AR-15 assault rifle and a 9mm pistol. In others it matters a great deal.

The only hard and fast is understanding what you are trying to accomplish and know what your groups is interested in. The two will tell the referee what kind and amount of rules he will need for his campaign. Often there are several good options in which case the ones use should be the one that resonates the best with the referee and his group.

Last what is roleplaying? My opinion that ONLY requirement is you act as if you are really there as your character. You do not need to do funny voice (but by all means do the voices if you have fun with it). You don't have to adopt a different personality (but if that your thing go for it). You don't need an elaborate backstory (ditto). But you do need to imagine if you were standing right there in that situation and act accordingly. The rest will follow from that simple maxim.

I have players that could not act to save their life. But they still managed to enjoy the complexities of the Majestic Wilderlands because I focused on putting them in the moment. I told the most uncomfortable to imagine yourself there and act accordingly. And it works. The funny voice guy, the great actor, the combat fiend, and the guy just playing himself in plate armor can enjoy the same campaign.

Finally John Wick criticizes campaign that focus on combat. Saying (I am paraphrasing this) that they are little more than wargames focused on individual characters.  Sorry to offend John's sensibilities but combat is roleplaying as well. The players are acting as they there as their characters using a detailed set of rules to resolve their actions. For those groups what they want to experience most often is a lot of beating things up and taking their stuff. Maybe it is not his type of roleplaying but it is roleplaying.

The genius of Dave Arneson's and Gary Gygax's work is that is so darn flexible. The basic structure of the game they created can encompasses the exploration of a monster filled dungeon maze, the high drama of Arthurian Britain, life in a medieval village, along with the blood and sand of the arenas of ancient Rome. It can encompass the barebones mechanics of Mircolite 20, to the complexity of GURPS with all the options on.

Focus on making the best experience possible. Pick the rules that suit that and people involved.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rob Conley's OSR Maxims

Defining the OSR, you don't need too unless you feel need to express an opinion. Either way it OK.

Play stuff, can't find people in person or like your local gaming community, try Google Plus, Fantasy Grounds, or Roll 20. They are not computer based roleplaying games but function as super enhanced chat programs oriented toward RPGs.

Promote something you like or found useful. We can always learn something new every day.

Make stuff, more power to you if you label what you do as part of the OSR. Or don't, Either way the larger community benefits regardless of the label you place on yourself. But if you making material for a classic D&D edition, feel like it ought be for a classic D&D edition, or just old school in general don't get upset if people start talking like you are part of the OSR.

If you wanted have your stuff printed the most economical way is to do it through print on demand on Lulu RPGNow/DrivethruRPG, and other places. If everything goes right you are getting hundreds/thousands of sales then you probably need to ask around and see about getting into distributions and doing print runs.

Make sure you credit everything you use that is from somebody else and that you have the proper license to use it. Please ask folks for help if you have any questions. Be generous in your credits, For many, people using their stuff and acknowledging it is what fuels their involvement in the hobby.

Ask for help if you need it. Somebody will reply. One of the nice things I noticed about the general community. You especially need to this when you have something new to get the word out. Just remember not everybody is interested in everything. But the OSR is diverse enough that usually there is somebody out there. Most folks I know will at least point somebody in the right direction.

The above applies even if you are just doing stuff at home..Myself and everybody involved are just gamers playing games they like. Have a question? Ask it.

If you feel to need to speak up on something then do so. Everybody has the right to express their opinion. Just everybody has the right ignore said opinion, or agree with it. Between the forums, blogs, social media (faceboox/google+), and twitter there are a lot of places one can be heard.

The OSR is kaleidoscope of people doing their own thing centered on classic DnD and old school in general. It only natural that people in the attempt to wrap their head around it to try to it fit into a nice set of definitions or a particular "story".

But it is bigger than that, much much bigger.

My advice on dealing with it? Embrace the craziness, enjoy what you like and have fun.

Until next time
Fight On!