Sunday, January 29, 2012

D&D Next - Skills and Abilities

The final D&D Next seminar at D&D Experience was about how they are handling skills and abilities (i.e. characteristics).

I find this interesting
Bruce: Looking at the playtest characters here, you might have noticed that a class or a theme might have given you a bonus to skill, but you didn't have a skill list. Normally if you were to call for a check, you would just call for the ability score - like a dexterity check for sneaking up. But if you have a class or character feature that gives you a bonus to sneak, you would add that in. There are a lot of different expressions for skills. Trained, sneaking at full speed (stealth twice). Lots of options.
Sounds a lot like I did with my Majestic Wilderlands Abilities. Based on discussion at Knight & Knaves, the RPG Site, and other forums I am wondering if they are better off renaming some of these mechanics. Feats, skills, etc bring up preconceived ideas in people's head.

Of course the stuff on saving throws tied to abilities will bring up comparisons with Castles & Crusades but it sounds like with 5e skills it will be a different implementation of the idea.

It would be interesting if they flat out say that any character can do any action just some are better at certain things.

I find this exchange interesting as well

Rob: It's been a difficult problem for a while. In 3E and 4E skills were sort of the doorway to interaction with the world.

Monte: In previous editions, ability scores played into skills. We want skills to play into ability scores. Maybe more open-ended.

Bruce: If skills are not the portals to ability scores, but rather the tweaks to them, we can add interesting tiny skills. More flavor. Because the ability scores are the core, we can make any little skills we want.

Monte: It means that if you're a DM and you don't even want to deal with skills, you can totally do that.
To me what important here is the attitude. Even you think D&;D Next's mechanics are stupid compared to AD&D, B/X, etc, we will wind up having a larger pool of gamers understanding how older editions are played. It sounds like it will be a less of a leap from D&D Next to AD&D, or OD&D than it was with D&D 4e or even 3.X.

Certainly the Do it yourself spirit, is compatible with how gamers in the OSR actually run their campaigns, a mishmash of their favorite D&D rules.

Hopefully this means a larger pool of gamers for the editions we love.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Help with NPC Spellcasters

In Kellri Classic Dungeon Designer Netbook #4 there is an very useful table for generating spellbooks. From it I can make a NPC Magic User with the spells he has memorized and have it differ from NPC to NPC.
While Clerics don’t have spell books it would be nice to have something similar for them. Also Kellri’s net book is oriented to AD&;D.
My question is that is there something that already been written for Clerics and other spell using classes? And as a bonus oriented to Swords &; Wizardry? Also I have old Dragon Magazines so a relevant article would be useful to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

AD&D survives it's System Shock Roll!

 In 1974, the world changed forever when Gary Gygax introduced the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The legacy of his innovative ideas and the extensive reach of his powerful influence can be seen in virtually every facet of gaming today. To help honor his work and his memory, we created limited-edition reprints of the original 1st Edition core rulebooks: the Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide. These premium versions of the original AD&D rulebooks have been lovingly reprinted with the original art and content, but feature an attractive new cover design commemorating this re-release. Available in limited quantities as a hobby channel exclusive in North America. Your purchase of this monumental book helps support the Gygax Memorial Fund—established to immortalize the “Father of Roleplaying Games” with a memorial statue in Lake Geneva, WI.

Product Release List
Player's Handbook

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Print on Demand with CreateSpace

I just got a email from CreateSpace notifying me that they did away with the Pro Plan. Looking over their site it looks like they decided to operate more like Lulu then the weird byzantine setup they had before. They have a cheaper base price and more format sizes than lulu but offer a different set of royalty rates that you will have to review. For $25 per book you can get expanded distribution which has the best royalty option of anything I seen for PoD although I think it requires the use of an ISBN for the book.

Also unlike Lulu it appears their method of selling online is to have the author create a estore and customize it's appearance. Doesn't look much more difficult than setting up with Cafe Press. That setup offers the best royalty option outside of paying for Extended Distribution.

It good to have more options when it comes to Print on Demand.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From the Attic: Why D&D is the way it is; The Different Versions

Wizards is getting the word out that a major goal of the new edition is to reunite the D&D fan base. I figure it would be useful to list all the distinct versions of D&D that are out there. This list focuses on those games released by TSR/Wizards.

Chainmail Fantasy Supplement in 1971
Original Dungeons & Dragons published in 1974
Supplement I Greyhawk published in 1975
added rules made Dungeons & Dragon into a form we recognize today.
Basic Dungeons & Dragons by Holmes in 1977
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1977-1979
Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons by Moldavy/Cook in 1981
Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immortal Dungeons & Dragons by Mentzer in 1983.
Unearthed Arcana for AD&D in 1985, Some say that this made AD&D 1.5
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition in 1989
Rules Cyclopedia for Dungeons & Dragons in 1991,  A one book compilation of Mentzer's BECM D&D, some consider this the definitive version of the original Dungeons & Dragons line.
Skills & Powers for AD&D 2nd editionSome say that this made a AD&D 2.5
Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 in 2000
Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 in 2003
Dungeons & Dragons 4.0 in 2008
Dungeons & Dragons Essentials in 2010. Some say that this made a D&D 4.5

Friday, January 13, 2012

From the Attic: Why D&D is the way it is; Levels and Hit Dice.

During the rampup to the next edition of D&D, I figure it would be useful to look at how D&D changed over the different editions. Today I look at the origins of levels and what they meant.

Levels started with the Chainmail Miniature Wargame. First off you have to remember that in Chainmail for the ordinary fighting man 1 hit = 1 kill. In the fantasy supplement to Chainmail there was the Hero and the Super Hero. A Hero was worth four fighting men, and took four hit to kill. The Super Hero was worth eight fighting men, and took eight hit to kill.

When Gygax developed D&D he changed the 1 hit to a 1d6 roll. Likewise for the number of hits a character could take he changed that to 1d6 roll and called them hit points. The three original classes varied in modifiers to the 1d6 roll with Magic-users being the worst, and Fighters the best.

In general a level in OD&D could be looked at as a multiplier. A 4th level character was four times as effective as a first level character, and a 8th level character was 8 times as effective.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

If you don't want to suck in older edition D&D then...

Start at 5th level.

Why fifth level? Because from long years playing both older D&D and GURPS a 5th level character feels roughly as capable as a 150 pt GURPS Character (100 pts in 3rd edition GURPS). And starting GURPS Character feel about what starting characters feel like in other skill based games like BRP, Hero System, etc.

In D&D, GURPS, etc this represents basically a character who lived a little and now is coming into the prime of his adventuring career. 

While I was running GURPS 3rd my rule of thumb conversion rule was 20 pt per level/HD. With 4th edition I use the same formula but add 50pts to the total.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A tale of two RPGs

Last Saturday I got the chance to run Champions (Hero System) for the first time in ten years. I used Hero 5th Edition as that was the last version I got the books for. To me the Hero System is voluminous but not particularly complicated. Also I simplified things for the players by having a session where they sit down with me and come up with a list of powers for their characters. I then take that and create the actual character.

For this round I got the Hero Designer software to cut down the time I would need to help the players create characters. At $25 dollars it is a pretty good deal. What made a A+ program was the easy way it had to enter (and remember) custom modifiers. That made it a snap to use the paper character I have from years ago.

I got the characters finished and had enough time to run a sample combat. I was definitely rusty but the system came back to me. After all it was my primary RPG from 1986 to 1989 (Fantasy Hero 1st and Champions). The biggest difficulty was trying to figure out how to do one player's siphon kinetic energy power. In the end it wasn't as hard to setup as I thought after I figured out that absorption. Also I highly recommend the Until Database of Superpower in conjunction with the main rulebook. It is easy to find something close to what the player wants and modify it to the exact power.

Also it is interesting on how Tim of Gothridge Manor Just above Suck post related to the champion game. While superheroes, they are not the most powerful hero, yet. Some of the players struggled with this expecting their character to be more capable than they were. However in all fairness they targeted the supervillains first. When they finally got down to the lackeys they tore them up fast especially the speedster who was able to knock out a half dozen of them in a single round with a series of move bys.

So why this was a tale of TWO RPGs. Well because I been refereeing Swords & Wizardry for a while now (over two years), and I was startled by the contrast in complexity.  I guess I lost the taste for RPGs with detailed mechanics I once had. With GURPS I have 20 years of notes and experience to make the game second nature. With the Hero System the change in my tastes was made apparent.

I have a fun campaign planned out for Champion but I am glad that I have decided to limit it to a half dozen sessions or so. After Champions I moving on to Traveller which I ready ran at a convention.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Wizards remakes D&D?

According to the NY Time Hasbro/Wizards is going to announce a new edition of D&D.

NY Times article (login required).

Brief Twitter Mention

UPDATE: It official.

Your Voice, Your Game.

The article and even the twitter post mention that player input will be solicited. The NY Times articles was surprisingly astute in it's analysis that the the D&D fan base is fractured among the different editions. Another thing I noticed is that whoever fed the NY Times the information was emphasizing a more inclusive message.

As much as I love the OSR, I have to admit that it was the good folks at Paizo with their excellent Pathfinder game that made Wizards wake up. For several months now the few bestselling game lists we have access too has Pathfinder topping D&D 4th edition. 

One though off the top of my head is that Wizards is going to have a tough time reconciling the work done on 3.X and older with 4th edition. As games like Castles & Crusade, and the retro clones show it possible to make a game that functions like older D&D using the 3.X rules as a foundation. 4th edition in contrast is very much it's own game.

Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games thought he could create a "classic 4e". My impression is that the project failed because of changing life circumstances and the GSL license rather than for any technical reason over the mechanics. So it may be possible for a imaginative person to create a version of 4e that has the simplicity of older edition D&D and works with the older material.

From my experience with the OSR and watching Pathfinder grow, I have to say that fans of various editions want to play that edition,  not something like it. The clones with the most appeal are the ones that stick close to their parent ruleset, (Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, etc).

Wizards can take advantage of this by release again pdfs of the older editions. Expanding DDI to encompass all editions of D&D. For the 5th edition of D&D I would focus on three things. A evergreen simple game to sell in Target, Walmart, etc. Something like the Holmes boxed set, or the Pathfinder Beginner's set. An Advanced version that covers pretty much the same range of stuff (classes, monsters, etc) as older edition. It should have generic support of a variety of play styles. Finally every year come up with a theme to use for organized play (game stores and conventions), and a handful of products to sell to these players. They use the advanced version as the foundation but it is understood they don't extend core game but rather implement it for some particular theme, plot, idea.

If and when Wizards make their announcements I will post some further thoughts.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Refereeing Skills and Abilities

I had success doing the following while refereeing anything involving skills or abilities.
  1. Player(s) describe what they are doing as if they are there as the character.
  2. Think about how to use the mechanics to resolve it.
  3. Tell the players how it going to be resolved.
  4. Listen to any feedback
  5. Have the players roll.
In short describe, make a ruling, and roll.

I personally don't mind feedback from the players. Often they think of things I don't. So after I tell them how it going to be resolved I will listen to what they have to say and make any changes I feel is warranted. But in the end the final decision is up to me.

I can't stress enough how always making sure that the players describe things before rolling is important for roleplaying. For me as well as the players. Often it leads to interesting details being revealed and enhances the encounter.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Virtual Table Tops and the Future.

I been using Fantasy Grounds, Virtual Tabletop software for several years now. In conjunction with Skype it been the perfect tool to use for running the weekly campaign that my friends and I have. There are other VTTs like Battlegrounds, Open Grounds, MapTool, the one that Wizards has, and others each with their strengths and weaknesses.

What makes a VTT work is that it is a sophisticated whiteboard application combined with RPG utilities (Dice roller, character sheets, etc) with voice/chat. The whiteboard aspect means all you need to do something is to be able to create or scan in a image, something that many of use already do in our regular tabletop game. Some things are easier like fog of war, and secret notes. Some things are harder, opening ports, everybody needing a copy, need to scan anything you want to show. But overall it is a win for tabletop roleplaying because gamers are doing same things and using the same products as they do in a regular tabletop game.

Ryan Dancey  makes the following comment.
The problem is that VTTs exist, and they’re not successful. If you give people the choice between a VTT and an MMO, they pick the MMO. The VTT doesn’t solve the real problem that is that the MMO experience is simply better for a significant portion of the former TRPG social network. My opinion is that a successful and widely used VTT will remain an elusive mirage despite how much effort is poured into developing them.

Trying to compare VTTs with MMOs is indicative of a common problem in the industry in comparing tabletop roleplaying to other types of roleplaying games.  The issue arises from the fact that myriad children of D&D compete and supplanttabletop roleplaying for many.  Many in the industry, including Ryan Dancey look at these other forms of roleplaying and say to themselves "If we can take X feature from them, tabletop can now successfully compete." 

Also Ryan and others propose creating games that fundamentally change the mechanics of tabletop RPGs in order to compete. Like eliminating the need for a human referee, zero prep games, collaborative story telling. They may create fun games as a result, but also games that are no longer tabletop roleplaying.

If tabletop roleplaying is to compete then it needs to emphasis the elements that are unique to it alone. Namely the human referee and how easy it is to let the imagination roam free with the human referee interacting with his players. Just as important making it easy for players to find one another.

Because of this VTTs are going to be an important element of tabletop roleplaying future. The whiteboard nature of the software makes it easy for the referee and the players to throw up whatever their imagination think of. Far easier than having to construct or place 3D objects and paint them with textures. All one has to do see this in action is look at the volume of fan fiction. It is far easier to write about your favorite things than to construct a 3D world, or shoot a video.

One thing that VTTs haven't effectively addressed yet is getting gamers together to game. Many are working on this including Wizards.  What is needed is a site where hundreds or even thousands of gamers can browse to find open campaigns or create new campaigns. I personally think it will take a large preexisting network to make this happen. Either Facebook/Google+ will get a VTT app, or Paizo or Wizards throw their weight and resources behind one. Wizards has taken the first steps in this regard but not there yet.

VTTs are not the only answer. Things like an effective intro product, quality products, and game store events need to be part of the mix as well.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Comments on LEGOS Heroica

Over the fall my youngest son, Gregory and I collected all four Heroica sets and had a lot of fun playing with them. Grognardia has a nice in depth review of the components and game.

The only thing he missed emphasizing in his review is that the Heroica components are basically dungeon tiles that you assemble in a wide variety of configurations. There are two types of "tiles". The rooms which are mostly built on a 6 by 6 plate and the corridors which are built on 2 by X plates. Both rooms and corridors use the 2 by 2 pieces with a single post on top to control movement and placement.

There is no reason why it can't be used to run a game of basic D&D if you and the kids want a more detailed game. In addition once you get how the corridors and rooms are built it is easy to rob your other lego sets to build your own custom pieces. Gregory built a half dozen new potions and items to put into the dungeon. When we finally got all four sets he even took the extra weapons and items and painted them when he saw me painting my miniatures.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

An interesting conversation to start the new roleplaying year

John Wick on Facebook posted about the Escapist's article on D&D's Future. I suggest reading the comment section as Ryan Dancey weighs in and the two (and others) go back and forth in an interesting conversation.

I find the discussion interesting on whether the roleplaying market is developing a even longer tail.  Switching to market where the best strategy is selling small quantities of a large range of unique products.

And finally a Ryan Dancey quote that sums up what is fueling his comments on roleplaying.
I'm talking about people who work full time designing/developing tabletop RPGs.
Perhaps what we are seeing is the collapse of mass market RPGs. Games and products that appeal across the entire spectrum of gaming. The large volume generated by such products can generate a lot of jobs. There are jobs in the Long Tail as well but people who prosper in working for a company may find it difficult working in the Long Tail and vice versa as well.

I think why we have mass anything is because of the limitations of technology. There are things that have broad appeal. But for type of consumer items that many of our parents and grandparents have been buying, individual tastes rule. The problem that throughout the industrial era there is only so much variety a company can offers before costs going up. Henry Ford's famous quote of "They can have the Model-T in any color as long as it is black." is not arrogance but part of what made the Model-T affordable in the first place.

Now computer aided manufacturing has considerably narrowed the cost difference between mass produced items and one of the kind unique items. The internet have allowed the entire world to become one large bazaar catering to every tastes where Kelly Anne, my wife, sends her d20 hairsticks all around the world. For some reason Norway is her biggest customer in those items.

(Note to James Raggi, she sent some to Finland so you may see some pop up at one of your conventions)

Given the choices folks rather buy the item they exactly want and this includes roleplaying game products.

But on the flip side a lot of people like buying some that makes them part of a larger group. For roleplaying games this is a distinct advantage as well as it increases the chances of finding players for that game. In the coming decades large gaming companies will live or die on how well they do in getting their players together to play their games beyond just selling.  Because this will be one area that smaller game companies will find it hard to compete with.

That is until the Long Tail figures out how to do the same thing.