Friday, December 19, 2014

Delving into AD&D: How combat is supposed work.

+Erik Tenkar blogs on casting time segments in ADnD 1st edition. For me the gold standard for figure how combat is supposed to work by the book in first edition is DM Prata's A.D.D.I.C.T essay over on Dragonsfoot.

The two main things I learned from reading ADDICT is that
  • Speed Factors only come into play with a tied initiative.
  • That side (or individual) starts on the segment indicated on opponent's die roll.
The second point needs some further explanation. What the convoluted explanation in the DMG boils down too is that if I rolled a 5 for initiative and you roll a 2 for initiative. This means you start on segment 5 and I start on segment 2. If I was a spell caster, that would mean that I would cast any 1 or 2 segments spells before you could act. If  I cast a 3 segment spell we would go at the same rime. Or rather we would then go to the speed factor rules to see who go first. If you have  a speed factor 2 or less weapon you would go before me because of the 3 segment casting time. If you had a speed factor 3 weapon, then the spell and the melee attack would be simultaneous.

The most important thing about ADDICT is that it reinforced the feeling I was developing about ADnD 1st Edition. That the game as a system didn't deserve to be on the pedestal I placed it on. Don't get me wrong, I think the writing and aides in the DMG are pure gold, I think the PHB reflects what most people want for their characters when playing classic DnD. The Monster Manual likewise is still a classic in my eyes. But is more of a ODnD book than a ADnD book.

With Playing at the World and Hawk and Moor documenting and explaining the genesis of Dungeons and Dragons, I fine myself respecting ODnD far more than ADnD. Why? Because it was developed as a direct result of Gygax running his campaign. Despite is poor presentation almost everything in that book was actually used at some point by Gygax. 

In contrast ADnD 1st edition feels more or less designed. I haven't read any account of Gygax actually using the combat system in the DMG, or other subsystems like Pummeling, Grappling, and Overbearing. The few accounts of I read suggest that there is a whole lot of "Well that seems like a good idea, lets put it in." and little actual playing of the content. And on top of that, TSR was being bombarded by rule questions, and having to deal with tournaments*. Which I feel had a major influence on what Gygax focused on.

I realize that Gygax did play some of ADnD but it wasn't developed the same way as DnD**. I do realize that some parts of ADnD improved on ODnD especially in terms of clarity.

However the differences in how they were developed is why I opted to build the Majestic Wilderlands on top of Swords and Wizardry instead of OSRIC. The Majestic Wilderlands is born of what I actually did in my campaigns and ODnD proved to be a better fit than ADnD.

*Organized play has been both a boon and a bane for tabletop RPGs from the beginning. in the 1970s to today.

**For modern example of a RPG designed this way, look at Goodman Games DCC RPG. +Joseph Goodman+Harley Stroh, and their team spent countless sessions of actual play, playtesting the game before it was printed. It is my opinion is that it is best way to a good design if you have the time and resources to do it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gothridge Games Starter Adventures, a story about a lot of maps.

+Tim Shorts finally released Starter Adventures. For those you who liked his Knowledge Illuminates, you will like this. Moreso because you don't get just one adventure, you get about a dozen and a half adventures, locales, creatures, and items. Along with great art from +Jason Sholtis and maps from me.

Lulu PDF
Lulu Print

The Map from Bender's End.

I tell you need to be careful around Tim with cartography. He just might have you redo the trees ....

Nope. But to be fair showing just the tree trunks was not a good idea. 

Nope. Didn't like the spiky branches or gray transparency. So tried round trunks and transparent foliage.

Nope. now I tried a general fill.

Nope. He finally made up his damn mind combining the branching trunks with transparent foliage.

I can't complain as Tim as been putting up with my bad grammar for years when editing my stuff.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Now for a word about Traveller

Traveller has always been one of my favorite science fiction RPGs. One of the hallmarks of Traveller is its dedicated fanbase and the fact they have supported the game continuously since its publication. First with Fanzines, then with mailing list, finally through a succession of websites. There may have times when there was nobody publishing Traveller material but there never been a time when the fans were not doing something with Traveller or its quintessential setting the Third Imperium.

There are some useful Traveller Links

Far Future Enterprise
Mongoose Traveller
GURPS Traveller
The Traveller Wiki
The Traveller Map
The Traveller Forum

The most cost effective method of owning older Traveller material are the Far Future CD-ROMS

Of all the subsequent editions The Mongoose Traveller Core Book is the most worthy successor to Classic Traveller. However their supplement quality has been spotty (but improved in later printing). At all cost avoid the 1st edition/printing of Mongoose Mercernary.

If you want a printed copy of Classic Traveller, Far Future has you covered on RPGNow with the Traveller Book for $20 plus shipping.

GURPS Traveller has the best supplements, like their historical books they are useful even if you don't use the rules. GURPS Traveller:Nobles, GURPS Traveller:Far Trader, and GURPS Traveller: Solomani Rim are particularly good. The only real dud in their line is their version of the Spinward Marches.

The Traveller Map is an incredible resource. Probably the best one ever made for any RPG. It even allows you to pick any of the its sectors and download it in a booklet form that is similar to the original Classic Spinward Marches. Some of the utilities can be used with custom data that you created for your own Traveller setting.

Now go and answer that mayday!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Comments on 5e combat.

From my answer to a question on RPG Stack Exchange about the deadliness of 5e combat.

Yes 5e combat can be deadly. I blogged about the initial encounter in detail in this post.
The Party
  • Elven Wizard
  • Human Rogue
  • Human Wizard
  • Human Fighter
The Fight
  • Four hours outside of Phandelver the party ran into an ambush set by four goblins.
  • The party roll perception rolls. The goblins rolled various 20s for their stealth check. The Goblins got a surprise round.
  • In the surprise round, the goblins shot arrows taking out both the human wizard and the elven wizard.
  • The Goblins win initiative over everybody except for the downed wizards. They shout a NPC Wagon Driver and the Human Fighter who remain standing.
  • The human rogue starts running towards the goblin shooting his short bow. The human fighter dashes toward the nearest goblin.
  • The Human Wizard rolls a natural 20 on his death check. The Elven Wizards get a successful death check.
  • The next round the goblins focuses on the charging Human Fighter but his high armor class prevents him from being hit.
  • The Human Rogue closes in and kills a goblin with his short bow. The Human Fighter reaches a goblin. The Human Wizard hides. The Elven Wizards continue to roll death checks.
  • The next round the Human Wizard cast sleep causing one more goblin to fall.
  • The remaining two goblins start running away
  • The Human Rogue shot down one goblin, and the Human Fighter kill the last goblin.
  • The fight is over with all goblins down. The Elven Wizard is stabilized.
  • Surprise is important and goblins are good at creating a surprise round due to their high stealth.
  • In general low CR 5e monsters have one special ability they are good at. This can be decisive under the right circumstances.
  • Quantity is also a decisive advantage. For another group with 8 PCs I ran this encounter with 8 goblins. The goblins were completely outclassed even with surprise. It is my opinion that the multiplier for number of opponents needs to be used for the party size as well. In subsequent session it is obvious that doubling the monster does not provide the same challenge if you double of the number of PCs. It wasn't until I increase the difficultly to four times the original I was able to get comparable results for the eight PC group as I did for the four PC group.
  • 5e combat is highly situational. Different plans, different terrains, different initial conditions can produce widely varying results. The result is that small differences in CR don't mean much. Only when the numbers are increased from 50% or 100% on either side the differences become decisive.
  • 5e rewards system mastery but there is less to master. And because of 5e combat sensitivity to circumstances, there is no combinations of abilities that make for an instant win.
  • The use of a d20 and the flat probability curve means that a run of bad or inferior dice rolls can and will happen. The same with a run of superior dice roll. In combination with 5e's sensitivity to situational factors this means results can vary wildly from group to group even when using the same PCs.
In general the book values work great for four man parties. Try running a few encounters with a four man party, Phandelver is good for this. Do this to get a feel of how 5e combat is supposed to be like. Then for a larger group, increase your encounter size by 25% increments until you get the same feel as the smaller group.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The D20 Hairsticks are back!

Kelly Anne, my wife, has operated a Etsy store selling hair sticks for a few years now. On occasion, she will buy d20s and turn them into jewelry namely hair sticks. She hasn't been stocking them for a few years and I been nagging her to make some more. She has a iron cauldron filled with d20 ready to be turned into hairsticks. Finally this year she did and half of them sold all ready. So if you looking for a gift for yourself or a loved one check out her selection.

The one she currently has for sale are:

Gathering Magic (pictured above)
The Sparkling Sorceress
The Water Elemental

Plus a new style for this year

The Shield Maiden

Check out the rest of the selection at Aliarose. She also takes custom orders. 

Game Notes:

Sharpened Hairsticks: Dmg: 1d3, RoF 2, Rng: 10/30. Up to 6 may be worn in a character's hair.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Playing 5e Combat from the other side of the screen

Monday I got to play 5e as a player character. We wrapped up Phandelver and switched over to +Ken H's Monteporte Megadungeon. Ken decided to go with the 5e rules and we converted all of our characters over. The party consisted of a Male Human Warlock (+Chris C.) , a Female Gnome Barbarian (+Joshua Macy), and my character, a Human Rogue, Thief archetype. We also had a small army of henchmen the most important of which is Little Larry a Kobold archer. Unfortunately for this session most of them, except for Little Larry, had to be left behind beyond a chasm that had to be crossed to get into this level.

The Conversion
Ken prorated the experience between our Blood and Treasure characters and 5th edition. If a character was 2/3rd of the way to 7th level then the character xp total was 2/3rd of the way to the 5th edition 7th level. For Luven Lightfinger, my thief, this meant he was 200 xp short of 8th level.

Our stats translated over 'as is'. Leaving Luven Lightfinger at a start point of  Str 10, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 8, Wis 15, and of course his signature trait of having a 7 charisma. As human this meant it translated to Str 11, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 9, Wis 15, Cha 8. I use Luven slight more winsome in a 5e world.

Luven is a 7th level Rogue, I opted for the Thief archetype as it reflected Luven's thug prowess. I took the Criminal background. Luven is a scumbag so that fit. Despite Ken allowing feats I opted for an ability increase at 4th level to get Luven's dexterity up to 18. For skills by 7th level I opted for Acrobatics, Deception (yeah right), and Sleight of Hand. For expertise I had Athletics, Thieves' Tools, Perception, and Stealth. Why Athletics? Because Luven is at heart nothing more than a street thug so a physical skill like Athletics fits well.

By this point in the Monteporte campaign we have accumulated lot of magic items.

  • +2 swortsword, the Sword of Karn
  • +1 dagger that does +1d6 lightning damage, reset on a long rest, the Blade of Ung
  • +1 throwing daggers, the Knives of Melvin Spellpudding that allow me to attack twice with one attack option. They only do 1d3+1 damage tho. 
  • Magic cloak that gives me +2 to all save and +1 to all skills
  • Earring of Stoss, +1 to perception check involving hearing, and gives me a sonar ability to see 10 feet in total darkness.
  • A Ruby that does 1d4 healing, reset on a long rest.
  • A Ring of Mind Shielding
  • The Ring of Iktark, +1 protection, +3 protection versus dragons.

Plus I have a Marcus Aurelius a magic intelligent shortsword. It is +1 to hit, +2 to hit when backstabbing, and +4 to damage when backstabbing. It also grants 120 feet darkvision as well as +3 to Climb check, Phantasmal Force 1/day, Quench fire 3/day, fireball of considerable damage when fighting evil clerics Marcus Aurelius was the one magic item I had that had to be substantially altered due to the +4 bonus when backstabbing. Ken decided it was now +2 to hit and still +4 to damage. Marcus is also mouthy as hell and I rarely use them keeping the obnoxious sword muffled in its scabbard.

In Blood and Treasure I took Finesse as a Feat. But 5e already has that so I opted for the ability increase. If Ken allowed the alternative human racial package I would have opted for the Tavern Brawler feat.

The Game
The session consisted mostly exploration of the 21 miles down level, the introduction of Joshua's Female Gnome Barbarian, and several fight. Monteporte has a lot of empty rooms so exploration takes up a lot of the session's time. In particular was a room with a pink pool that we had to figure out how to use in order to open various secret doors one the wall. In involved the chucking of valuable gold or silver into the pool much to Luven's regret. Well perhaps not so much Luven's regret but the other party member regret who dumped gold and silver bars into the pool.

Luven also decided that it was a great time to start using the hand signals he developed to use when he is scouting ahead and needs to tell the party silently whats ahead. Of course with an intelligence of 9 and a Charisma of 8, Luven's Investigation and Performance ability were not quite up to the task to be used to a system of hand signals. Come to think of it, he never did get to use Investigation as the party never responded to Luven's signals. I am sure that the new Gnome Barbariasn was thinking that Luven was batshit crazy. She probably correct in that regard.

While the roleplaying was as usual zany and highly entertaining, the combat I was looking forward to. I have refereed 5e for nearly two dozen sessions and I was looking forward to fighting as a player. The two times I played 5e the two referees used theater of the mind. I am fine with that but I knew Ken used maps and tokens so I was excited to see how that would work out from the player side.

The Hydra
Our first combat encounter was with a hydra. After solving the mystery of the Pink Pool the western passageway led to an empty room with a north and south passageway. Since south was to our left we followed Adzeer's (+Tim Shorts' character) rule and went south. This lead to a series of large caverns. The first of which had a large pool of water. While exploring, a multi-headed Hydra emerged from the western passage.

Part of the charm of 5e is that while as experienced hands at DnD we knew what a hydra is and that it multiple heads make is a tough mid level monster for a party of three and their henchmen. What didn't know is the one or two abilities that 5e adds on top of the classic stats that make 5e creatures a novelty to fight. Especially when I hadn't ran or used a Hydra in any of the game I ran. So the party was totally in the dark about this version of the Hydra.

As it turned out we totally lucked out as Dante, the human warlock, had as his prime attack that one thing that shuts down a hydra, fire. Otherwise we would be facing a rapidly multiplying set of head making the hydra deadlier as combat went on.

We entered from a passage to the north of the cavern with the lake. The Hydra emerged from the west. Luven was on the westside of the lake. Lucky Luven's Earring of Stoss gave him ample warning so I opted to move to the cavern wall and hide behind some rocks. I rolled a 27 for stealth. Good thing because the Hydra rolled a nat 20 giving it a 26 for a perception check. Good but not good enough to find Luven. My goal was to stay to the rear of the Hydra and be in position to use Marcus despite his sarcasm and mouthiness. The damn sword won't shut up so Luven keeps it in his scabbard.

While I hid the rest of the party retreated back to the north passage in hopes of using it as a bottleneck. Now some of you thinking that it is a dumb ass idea to split the idea. While it is true that it is stupid to split a party in most situation, you have to understand what a split party truly is. Splits not only occur because of position but also because of time. What kills split parties is the inability for the one half to arrive to the aid of the other half in a short enough time. Luven is a rogue with Cunning Actions, I can move up to 90 feet per round, I can move up to 60 feet with a disengage. So while I was behind the hydra my ability to reach the rest of the party was not compromised.

Now it happens to be that Rob Conley the player is a hell of lot smarter about tactics than Luven. But in this case it worked out because Luven had done this dozens of time before in order to use Marcus' backstab ability. The only thing about the damn sword that makes it worth keeping from Luven's point of view.

The only problem in combat is that Ken forgot that Monster get actions as well and did not have the Hydra dash to where the party was. So the party had a lot of time to pepper Hydra with ranged attack. Between the barbarians hand axes, Larry's arrows, and Dante's fiery eldritch blasts, the Hydra already lost half his heads before reaching the entrance of the north corridor.

In the mean time I was holding my action, setting the condition that if the Hydra melee attacks I would attack. That is up until I saw the Hydra was one move away from the entrance. In which case I made my condition if the Hydra reaches the entrance I would do a dash. The reason for this so I can kite the Hydra on the next round,

When my turn came up again, I use part of my move to close the distance with the Hydra, pulling out Marcus at the last minute (incidental action), I successfully make my strike with advantage bringing in my +4d6 sneak attack into play. Doing 22 points of damage in the process. I then used my Cunning Action to disengage as a bonus action and move out of melee range hoping like hell my attack didn't attract the hydra's attention.

As it turned out the hydra was much more pissed about the eldritch blasts and the multiple arrow shots then me. I also lucked out in that the Gnome barbarian ran out of hand axes and decided to rage. The subsequent image of a small gnome women hulking out is going to have trouble leaving Luven's head. That was wrong on several levels. But it did have the advantage of bringing the barbarian into melee which meant I could continue to use my sneak attack bonus.

Thanks to Dante' Eldritch Blast the party was in never in any real trouble. Between the three of us and Little Larry the Hydra fell a few rounds earlier.

The outcome of this fight was largely due to a matter of luck. Ken not taking advantage of the Dash attack which give the ranged attacks of the party an extra two rounds in which to inflict damage. But more important that Chris' warlock, Dante, had the one attack that was the key in putting down the monster, fire based eldritch blasts.

In the monster lair we found a bunch of partially eaten bodies and a rug with a teleporter exit. While it wasn't  match for the rug with the teleporter entrance we already had. It was an interesting find. Luven really wants to find the entrance rug as he has all kinds of ideas of what to do with a matched set.

The Gricks
After exploring all the caverns we returned to the entrance room to this section and went North. Once again Luven scouted ahead and discovered a room with three worm like creatures with tentacles. One of them a lot bigger than the other two. Luven conveyed his discovery to the rest of the party through hand signals. Who then promptly thought that either Luven discovered something doing something obscene or that Luven wanted to do something obscene. Either way the party wasn't too keen on finding out the details.

Luven returned to the party and cleared up the confusion and the group decided to attack. We all hit them with ranged attacks and retreated down the corridor to use the north exit into entrance room as a bottleneck. While we didn't exactly planned this out the party did the right thing by taking out the small guys first and then focusing on the big guy. In these type of situation it is best to eliminate the sources of extra attacks as fast as possible. Sometime the reverse is needed but not in this fight.

The first small Grick was taken out by ranged attack. Then they closed into melee ranged. Luven was able to use his sneak attack to take out the second smaller Grick and the party started in on the bigger grick. Unlike the fight with the Hydra, Ken used dash so there was only two rounds of ranged attacks. Once in melee several party members took hits especially Chris's warlock, Dante who went down after being smacked around by the tentacles of a very pissed off alpha Grick. Little Larry accepted disadvantage and shot his bow in melee, amazingly he got at least one hit every round thanks to his two attacks. Between the Gnome barbarian and Luven we were able to take down the Alpha.

We searched the Grick's Lair can came up with several gold and silver bars. At which point we decided to take a short rest and end the session for the night.


I was very pleased at how 5e worked out as a player. I liked the tactical interplay of the various options and felt it compared well to what I experienced when playing and refereeing with GURPS. Now granted GURPS has far more options overall but in practical terms when a single GURPS character is played only a dozen or so will be actually used by that character.

Like GURPS combat options, the different 5e options played nice with each other and felt like a well designed whole. Unlike GURPS, the total number of options is much more reasonable so we quickly understood what each of us could and could not do.

It also helped that the group had a dozen or more session of 5e sessions in the Phandelver campaign.

I also liked that actions didn't feel particularly gamey and that they adequately translated what my character was doing into game terms. This part I despised the most about 4e despite it being a fun well designed game in its own right. And it is one of the reason why I like GURPS so much that nearly every GURPS mechanic is some genre or real world action in game terms. 5e is more abstract than GURPS but not as much as OD&D or other classic editions.

Certainly it played very fast unlike 4e which is a plus in its favor. The only reason we had two combat is because of in-game exploration, out of game bullshitting, and the fact we had to do some logistics to get our characters straightened out due to the fact that we were playing 5e for the first time. For the most part a typical session of Monteporte.

The first Hydra fight shows how important positioning for your best attack is in 5e. The Hydra is a melee monster. The extra time we had for ranged attacks meant the advantage was all on the party's side. Which resulted in a fight with little damage to the party. The Grick fight showed what should have typically happened.

Luckily 5e is just not that complex, a referee using tactical combat can easily master the combat rules within his first half dozen session.

And while it didn't come up in this session remember numbers have an outsize effect in 5e. Those of you refereeing large groups that are having an easy time of defeating encounters of equal CR it is because the number of PCs geometrically not linearly increases their ability to handle threats. So when gauging the difficulty of the encounter you need to take that into account.

So thanks Ken for a running a good game and looking forward to seeing what next in two weeks.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

5e mapping and hex maps

In case it was missed in my mammoth review, I made a set of hex maps to be used with the 5e mapping system as outlined in the Dungeon Master's Guilde on page 14.

5e mapping system.

I designed them so that they nest side by side. The master grid and the sub grids are on layers so you can turn them off if you don't want them.