Friday, May 29, 2020

A Manifesto



Recently, a game designer, publisher, blogger, and Ennie winner posted a Manifesto about how to play Dungeons & Dragons on Twitter.  Yes, Twitter. The Internet's equivalent of Mordor.

This Manifesto took a stand about how you should play DnD, used a terrible font, used profanity, railed against Wizards of the Coast and Paizo, used a terrible font, and revealed that game balance was a lie. The font is terrible, please trust me on this.

A discussion was had in a Facebook group and I posted my thoughts there. I don't think any arguments ensued though because Tim Knight hosts a great FB group and its members are very cool people.

But the Manifesto stuck with me. There have been times where I would have completely agreed with its author, but at the moment I almost completely disagree with the author but that could change tomorrow.

And that led me to think about my opinions of games and gaming as I've "matured". My maturity level changes by the hour. I'm not proud of that fact but I am honest enough to admit it.

In the early 90s I loved playing Champions, I wanted to love playing ADnD, and I was looking everywhere for the perfect game to play and run. I consumed games purely to learn their system. I'd run games purely to test them out and abandon them and my player's characters without a second thought.

In the Mid-90s I wanted to love the World of Darkness because I dug its system and I had an interest in horror and serious roleplaying. Or so I told myself. In fact, when I ran the WoD it was more like Shadowrun with Supernaturals as stand-ins for Supers.

At the turn of the century, I fell in love with John Wick as a game designer and his Legend of the Five Rings RPG helped my wife and I fall in love with each other. I would run games with up to 18 players to prove that I could and to impress her. Roleplaying was still very important and story mattered more than anything else.

Through the next decade, I found Story Games and bought games like John Wick's Thirty, Dark Pages, Spirit of the Century, and Sorcerer. Only a handful of my players could live up to my expectations as a Story Teller and I was obsessed with forming some kind of Invite-Only Uber Role Playing Group. I was a turd looking for drama and I found plenty of it.

In fact, I found so much drama that I stopped role-playing at all. Except that's not 100% true. I began to realize that being a Husband and a Dad was more important than role-playing and they damn well should be. I should have realized it sooner but I still needed to grow up.

Eventually, I found the OSR, started this blog, and came back. Except I don't have time for drama and this takes a backseat to everything else now. I won't lie, I'm pretty darn tired and I'm not yet 50. All I expect from my players is that we all be kind to each other. All that I want from a game is to blow off some steam, laugh like heck, and roll some dice. That's it. Will things change? I assume so, but that is where I'm at right now.

My point to all of this is to say that I could have written that Manifesto at any time between 1991 and yesterday and I might not even feel the same way about it an hour later. We change. And that means we are alive.

And in 2020 that might be the only thing we have left.

I hope to reach a point in the near future where my biggest concern is how people play DnD. I'd like that a whole lot. That would be a nice change of pace.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Percentile Systems

For the record, I loathe the Zocchihedron.


I'm not sure if the first time I encountered a Percentile system was FASA's Star Trek or Call of Cthulhu. I do know that when I saw how clear my odds of success were I was kind of gobsmacked (I was equally transformed upon learning Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0.'s mechanics). No probabilities to work out on a d20, 2d6, or 3d6 -- just a flat percentage.

Sadly, for many years, I avoided them because I felt many Percentile systems had a fairly low chance of success even though analysis of other games like D&D shared similar probabilities that were merely camouflaged. Additionally, you shouldn't have to roll your Drive of 40% skill whenever your character gets behind the wheel, but you have to learn that as a player and game master.

I will say that Chaosium's Magic World and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition's option of assigning a certain number of percentages to skills in a similar fashion to FATE's skill pyramid helped me look past that flaw. I'd always enjoyed assigning points to skills but I often would only assign a 40 or 50% chance of success in my most important skills so I literally ignored the probabilities even as naked as they were.

Over the last few years, I've also been working out my own twist to Percentage systems. Its basically a riff on the D20 system in that the GM assigns a Difficulty (generally 30, 50, or 70%) and the Character's skill (say between +10 & +30%) alters the Difficulty. E.G. Earl wants to climb a wall at night to get past some armed sentries to steal some important data for ESCHELON. Earl's Climb is +15% and the GM sets the difficulty at 40% so Earl has an adjusted Difficulty of 55%.

I'd like to do something with this but so far haven't mustered the gumption to get it done.

If my group needs a One-Shot in the next few months, I'm thinking about running the Storm Trooper game with this system.

I've often been torn over wether I like a game system with some neat dice tricks like 13th Age, Unknown Armies, and Fantas AGE or ones that just get out of the way like D20, Unisystem, or Basic Role Play. My answer changes depending on the hour, but I find myself looking for simpler options as I get older. Additionally, with such a large number of newer and younger players in my stores I feel that teaching a Percentile system is pretty straightforward and can let you get into the action fairly quickly. Especially, if you play around with a

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Playtesting the Psi Knight Sub-Class for Fighter



Our Friday group was able to physically get together this past weekend and I asked if I could convert my 7th level Kensei Monk to the Psi Knight to try it out. My DM is cool and allowed me to switch it up with a story idea.

AJ is great DM and his sessions are always a blast. We have a lot of fun in his game and this session was no different.

As I played the Psi Knight something strange occurred. I've never one of those people who think Psionics doesn't fit into Fantasy but that is the conclusion I ended up feeling at the end of the session. The Psi Knight did pretty well in our fights, at least as well as my Monk, but his powers just didn't feel right to me. In fact, I felt the build was a little one-dimensional.

While the movement abilities are intriguing I don't know that I'd use them much.

At the end of the session I asked if it was cool to go back to my Monk build and thankfully AJ was good with that too.

I'm still intrigued by the Psychic Sub-Classes but I'm not sure if I'm as willing to add them to my games.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Mythic Odysseys of Theros is Making Me Eat My Words


A few months back I went on a tirade about Wizards of the Coast publishing the Magic: the Gathering Setting Theros this June for Dungeons and Dragons 5E. 

I owe WotC an apology and I am here to eat my words. I find myself getting excited about the setting and looking forward to the product. While the print book will be delayed the DnDBeyond content won't and since our group pitches in to unlock all the content we will be able to read through it on June 2nd.

I won't lie that I'd like to see a classic setting this winter or next year but that is WotC's decision and not mine and I'm going to enjoy reading up on Theros.

While I'm not defending my anger, I will say that there have been several Greek/Roman-inspired settings for 5E in the last few years, but none of them from Wizards. 

And I won't lie, staring at a Global Pandemic makes you really put your Nerd Rage into perspective, plus Wizards need to eat and apparently I need to consume.

I don't know if I'll still be running my Epic 5E game come June, but if I am, you can expect that I will take the PCs there and post about it right here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tarrasque's Are Overrated or I Wish 5E Hadn't Used the Name Challenge Rating



Friday night, my player's characters moved back in time and went from 13th level to 20th level. Don't ask.

As they came to their senses after the time jaunt the Tarrasque loomed large in the Fantom Ocean roaring a challenge to them.


The battle was joined...


This is the second Tarrasque fight I've run in 5E and this one went better than the first but even with running multiple enemies, the fight was pretty easy for the PCs. I did swallow one, but she had acid resistance and when she cast thunderwave in his gullet I had it deal double damage.

The notion of balancing encounters is something that I ignored in previous editions. I started embracing it in early 5E because I had a group that preferred it. But as we've played together we all mostly agree that a group skilled at playing 5E has huge advantages against most enemies as the rules are written. Additionally, we play 2-3 hours sessions and I don't worry about X number of encounters per adventuring day. I'll be thinking of ways to make battles more interesting and more challenging. I don't have the answer yet, but I'll post about it when I figure out how I want to proceed.

I'm excited about leaning into an Epic DnD game and I've decided I'm going to use Grant Morrison's JLA run for inspiration. Maybe I can even research how he used those stories for his Wizard War with Alan Moore. I've always wanted a game that used their War as a setting. Maybe this one will do that, two demi-gods using the PCs as pawns in their machinations.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Epic Level D&D: The Bard



As I prepare to run a 20th Level DnD 5E game I decided to mine DnD 4E's Epic Destinies for inspiration on Boons. Its kind of odd, but I've found that I really miss many elements of 4E. I love the Nentir Vale, I'm a big fan of Essentials, and I think it's pretty damn cool that some Epic Destinies have Powers that start with "Once per day when you die".

One of the characters is a Bard, and I'm going to convert the Lorekeeper Epic Destiny from the Player's Handbook 2 to 5E.

Lorekeeper Epic Destiny for DnD 5E

Lorekeeper's Wisdom - You have Advantage on all Intelligence checks. Additionally, if you are trained in the skill appropriate to a monster's type (Arcana covers aberrations, constructs, dragons, elementals, monstrosities, and oozes; Nature covers beasts, fey, humanoids, giants, and plants; Religion covers celestials, fiends, and undead) you deal an additional 1d4 damage any creatures of those types.

Lorekeeper's Cunning - You can double the time it takes to perform a Ritual to reduce the component cost by half. Additionally, whenever you score a critical hit against a creature whose origin is within the purview of one of your trained skills, you gain Advantage to attack rolls against that creature until the end of your next turn.

Lorekeeper Tactics - As a bonus action target a creature within 60 feet of you. Until the beginning of your next turn, you and any allies within 60 feet of the target gain a bonus to damage rolls equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of 1).

Lorekeeper's Revelation - Once per day when you finish a short rest, you can choose expended spell slots to recover. The spell slots can have a combined level that is equal to or less than half your bard level (rounded up).

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Funny Thing Happened On Roll20



I'm really enjoying running games on Roll20. My anxiety before running a session is less and I'm sure it has to do with not being able to see my players. For the record, I have great people in my groups, but my anxiety often makes me feel like I'm not good enough to do this or this will be the session where they group finally grow tired of my DMing. It's illogical, but that's anxiety.

One of the games I'm running started at 10th Level and was based on a Savage Worlds Campaign called Evernight. Essentially, Illithids (and their aberration servitors races) invade the Lands of Valusia and Kos and begin to block out the Sun (in effect blocking Pelor from his faithful).

I opened the game with the players waking us as clones with no memories after being cloned and they discovered that their native Valusia was being invaded from the stars. As they moved into Valusia and tried to help the innocent, they encountered the aberrations that were terrorizing the lands of Valusia and they learned that they may have had a hand in helping the invasion occur. Additionally, due to their folly, Istus the Goddess of Fate was abducted into the Far Realms by a tentacled thing.

One of the players, Russ, had a half-orc Fighter named Sholgar with a Dark Secret, he knew what had transpired and why.  

They eventually found their way to the lair of the Sphinx Aravel and she explained that she was surprised to see them again. They asked what they had wanted from her in their previous visit and she explained that they had sought the Wish she guarded but they couldn't solve her riddle and were kept from obtaining the spell. This time they solved the riddle and the Wish was handed over and Russ, due to his Dark Secret, immediately  Wished that his allies would be returned to a time before both the invasion and the death of his friend Ashton.


So the Party, sans Russ (casting a Wish destroys the caster with no possibility of resurrection) learns the truth of their missing time. Several years ago, the characters made the acquaintance of a Sorcerer named Zing Zao Zang and while fighting the Tarrasque a member of their Party, Ashton Starcatcher, prevented King Gryph of Valusia from reading the Wish spell to destroy the monster by ripping it from the good King's hands and casting it himself.

While Valusia was saved, their band, especially Shlogar, wanted to find a way to bring Ashton back. Zing Zao Zang promised them that she had researched an item that would allow the user to cast a Wish without paying the price of total destruction. She needed two things, an orb called the Heart of Darkness that was acquired in the Tomb-City of Pifany and a Wish spell guarded by the Sphinx Sarkt and his wife Aravel. However, they could not pass the riddle that guarded the Wish spell, though they did retrieve the Heart of Darkness.

They met up with Zang in King's Port, the capital of Valusia, and presented the Heart of Darkness to her. When she found out they had failed at securing the Wish spell she lost her temper, raging at them for their weakness and cursing them for making things harder. Then she used the Heart and an Illithid ship crashed down upon the group slaying them instantly and announcing that the invasion had begun.

However, with the Wish sending them back before this they arrived as Level 20 characters that are preparing to face the Tarrasque with King Gryph heading their way with the Wish presented to his family from Boccob several hundred years ago.

Shits gonna get real.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Wish Spell



I remember the first time I sat with my group and made ADnD 2nd Edition characters and the conservation swung around to the Wish spell and we all marveled over the possibilities and cracked jokes about how Todd, our DM, would screw us over with the wording.

I won't lie, the Wish spell had only played a part in one of my campaigns, the only DnD campaign I've ever run from 1st to 20th level. This was a few years ago using 5E and the characters needed a Wish to kill the Tarrasque (I don't know where I picked up this being necessary to kill it, but that's how my multiverse works). I was super hyped to run that fight and because I hadn't caught on to how CR worked in 5E it was a pretty short fight. The characters...or more precisely the players were too adept with their abilities and the Tarrasque was a chump.

What's interesting is that a Wish spell and the Tarrasque are part of the conversation with one of my current DnD 5E games on Roll20.

While not all of my DnD games take place on the same Prime Material Plane, they all share the same multiverse. For instance, in my multiverse, the Tarrasque is Vorel, the older brother of Bahamut and Tiamat. Tiamat is dead and has been replaced by Ashardalon. St. Cuthbert has disappeared from Oerth because he was trapped within Demiplane of Dread. A Wish is needed to kill the Terrasque and the Tarrasque only appears when one of the God of Dragons is killed. Last time it appeared because Tiamat was assassinated.

Wish is not a spell that a caster can learn. There are always five Wish scrolls available and they are all guarded by Sphinxes. The big drawback to the Wish spell is that the person who casts it (and anyone can) is completely consumed in the process, their body and soul empowering the magic they invoke with a small portion used to create and hide the Wish spell that replaces it and create the Sphinx including their lair. Essentially, when you cast a Wish spell you die and it is impossible to resurrect you. Unless, of course, someone else wants to cast a Wish to do it.

I gave the Players a Wish spell last session and one of my players cast it. Now they have traveled back in time and are about to face the Tarrasque. But that's a story for another post.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

May the 4th Be With You: Storm Troopers



Back in January, I started using TinyD6 to run a couple of Star Wars one-shots where the players were Storm Troopers just after the Battle of Yavin.

I picked up Modern War from Zozer Games that uses the Cepheus Engine (an OGL version of Mongoose Traveller 1E) with the plan to run a one-shot using the system. 

For the record TinyD6 is great, but I've never run or played Traveller/Cepheus and I'm intrigued by it.

Here are those same Storm Troopers using Modern War:

Trooper 1
SLICER
Strength: 6 (+0)
Dexterity: 8 (+0)
Endurance: 6 (+0)
Intelligence: 6 (+0)
Education: 11 (+1)

SKILLS 
Blaster +0 (3d6 damage)
Computers +1
Hover Vehicle +0
Linguistics +1
Melee +0 (1 damage)
Navigation +0
Slicer +3
ARMOR 6

Trooper 2
GUNNER
Strength: 11 (+1)
Dexterity: 9 (+1)
Endurance: 6 (+0)
Intelligence: 8 (+0)
Education: 5 (-1)

SKILLS 
Blaster +0 (3d6 damage)
Carousing +1
Heavy Blaster +3 (4d6 damage)
Hover Vehicle +0
Melee +0 (2 damage)
RPG +1
Streetwise +0
Survival +0
ARMOR 6

Trooper 3
SQUAD LEADER
Strength: 6 (+0)
Dexterity: 10 (+1)
Endurance: 6 (+0)
Intelligence: 9 (+1)
Education: 12 (+2)

SKILLS 
Blaster +1 (3d6 damage)
Comms +0
Computers +1
Hover Vehicle +0
Jack of All Trades +0
Leadership +1
Melee +0 (2 damage)
Tactics +1
ARMOR 6

Trooper 4
MARKSMAN
Strength: 10 (+1)
Dexterity: 9 (+1)
Endurance: 7 (+0)
Intelligence: 7 (+0)
Education: 6 (+0)

SKILLS 
Blaster +3 (3d6 damage)
Heavy Weapons +0
Hover Vehicle +0
Melee +0 (2 damage)
Pistol +0 (2d6 damage)
Recon +1
Survival +1
ARMOR 6

Trooper 5
RIFLEMAN
Strength: 8 (+0)
Dexterity: 8 (+0)
Endurance: 6 (+0)
Intelligence: 8 (+0)
Education: 6 (+0)

SKILLS 
Blaster +1 (3d6 damage)
Hover Vehicle +0
Medicine +0
Melee +0 (2 damage)
Navigation +0
Recon +3
Survival +1
ARMOR 6

Trooper 6
MEDIC
Strength: 6 (+0)
Dexterity: 6 (+0)
Endurance: 8 (+0)
Intelligence: 8 (+0)
Education: 12 (+2)

SKILLS 
Blaster +1 (3d6 damage)
Computers +1
Hover Vehicle +0
Linguistics +0
Medicine +3
Melee +0 (2 damage)
Pistol +0
ARMOR 6


Universal Monster Monday: Count Dracula for AD&D 2nd Edition and Ravenloft

Before Dungeons & Dragons, Champions, Art, Comic Books, or even Toys I LOVED the Universal Monsters. As a kid, the only books I'd ch...