Fire Goose

Created at the behest of Mark Hunt, for a silly little project on MeWe.

Fire Goose

Small beast, probably evil
Armor Class 16 Natural Armor
Hit Points 30 (5d10 + 5)
Speed 25 ft., fly 80 ft., swim 35 ft.
STR 12
DEX 14
CON 14
INT 5
WIS 9
CHA 3 (because geese)

Immune to Fear (as near as we can tell)

The Fire Goose is basically just a goose, from a fiery pocket dimension. We assume. No one wants to go to whatever beknighted hellhole spawned something as terrible as a goose (which is already terrible) but also on fire. We wouldn’t even know the damned things existed – and might then sleep slightly better – except some idiot in a robe summoned one and the sodding things keep pulling more of their feathered, furious kin over. Seriously, it’s terrible. We may be doomed. Did you learning nothing from the Vrock Debacle that leveled the city of Yll, Kevin ?!?

Not noticeably larger than a typical goose, a fire goose is often mistook as its local cousins, if you approach in bright sunlight (which makes the fiery crown nearly invisible). However, once you get close enough (why would you get closer?!? – even if you didn’t realize it’s on fire, it’s still a goose, and thus nothing but pure evil and spite), it will stretch out its wings and wreathe itself in flames; either as a power display or – and gods above and below help you if this turns out to be the case – a mating stance.

The fire goose is not afraid to attack an intruder, but is also MORE than willing to summon aid and kill anything not goose-shaped with the support of its hellish kin. It is not unusual to see two or three fire geese turn into a large flock of twenty in less than a minute.

Also, they’re apparently mating with local geese as well, now? And get viable progeny? Gods’ tears, Kevin, what did you do? This is the darkest timeline.

Squawking Lava Charge. If the fire goose moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a beak attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) fire damage. The target must also succeed on a Wisdom Save or become Frightened. This is not a supernatural effect: geese are just effing terrifying, man, and this one is on fire.

The Great Honk. When the Fire Goose feels threatened, wants to BE threatened, or – as near as we can tell – just bloody feels like it, it may attempt to summon more Fire Geese to its aid. The Fire Goose must attempt a CON save; on a success, its call was loud enough to be heard beyond the filmy veil between worlds, and another Fire Goose appears within 30 feet, already angry and ready to get stuck in.

Fearsome Hiss. At The start of the Fire Goose’s turn, it wreathes itself in flames and emits a hiss that affects all creatures in a 15-foot cone in front of the dire goose. Each creature in the area must succeed a Wisdom Saving or have disadvantage on its attack rolls until the end of its next turn.

Fire Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6 + 4) burning damage.

Wreathed in Fire Wing Attack. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one horrified target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 4) fire damage. CON save or become prone.

Fate Accelerated: Trouble Magnet – Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session #6 – Fight Fire

Due to unexpected fallout from last session, Nataly’s brawl with an alien gargoyle got her and her new family put on a blacklist that seems to have made it impossible to find a home in Mercury Bay. Things were looking grim as Matthew and Marilla pondered hitting the road yet again, hoping for better luck in another city.

But they got a surprise a few days later when the motel room’s phone rang. The woman on the other end of the phone spoke for a minute or so with Marilla, who sounded first suspicious, then surprised, then handed the phone to Nataly.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is this… Nataly?”

“Yes.”

“Hi Nataly. You probably don’t remember me, but we sort of … met. I mean… you…” Nataly hears a deep breath, then: “You flew in and stopped that boy who stole my purse, then flew off before I could really thank you.”

“Oh!” Nataly pauses. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I should have stopped.”

“And I was too surprised to say anything, then. So…” Another pause. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Nataly, I was talking to your mom.” Nataly looks confused, then glances at Marilla, who looks away. “I heard through the grapevine that you were looking for a place to live. Actually, I gather you were looking at one of the apartments in my building, when you came to help me.”

“We’re… having some problems with that.”

“I heard that too,” the woman replies. “I wanted to invite you and your folks to come back over and take a look at that apartment again.”

“Really?”

“Really,” the woman says. “I’m sure we can work something out.”


“The fact is, Mike and I used to date,” the woman – Patricia – confides to Marilla as she walks the trio through the slightly-too-pink apartment again. “We don’t even talk anymore, really, but sometimes he brings people by to see any properties the building has open – I think he thinks he’s doing me a favor.” She shakes her head. “I don’t even own it; I manage it.”

“I’m surprised you had us back here,” Marilla comments, “what with the warnings that have apparently gone out.”

“I said we used to date,” Patricia says. “I’m long past the point where I care much for what that man thinks I should or shouldn’t do. And in any case -” she smiles at Nataly – “how could I not help out?”

The place isn’t perfect: the kitchen isn’t very large, the wiring is a bit dated, and there’s not much room for Matthew to work on projects, but it’s theirs if they want it.

“If you need to keep busy,” Patricia adds to Matthew, “there’s a huge workroom in the basement… that comes along with a handyman position I’d love to find someone for.”

“Well…” Matthew glances at Marilla and Nataly. “I think that’ll do just fine.”


Things settle down into a comfortable routine. Their new home – The Marquis – is a six story building built in the sixties, originally with thirty-six apartments (six apartments per floor, with three on either side of a central hallway/stairwell) but (after fifty years of modifications and tenants merging two or three smaller units) now boasting 26 of varying sizes. Nataly and her new family are on the fifth floor, in a “trio” condo (three old apartments, combined) that takes up all of one side of the floor. All the balconies from what were once three apartments have been combined into one.

(After a week, Matthew’s list of things to fix in the building is enough to ‘keep me busy until the girl graduates high school… if nothing else ever breaks.”)

Nataly starts attending the local public school, and makes friends around the neighborhood (most of the kids don’t know she’s any kind of superhero, and the ones who do (Patricia’s oldest son, a year younger than Nataly) keep it to themselves.

As a matter of fact, no one seems to be that bothered by the idea that there may be a part-time superhero in their midst – a few are especially friendly, most everyone is blandly neutral, and those that don’t seem to like the idea (Mr. Higgins, 1B) simply glare and stay away.

Patricia turns out to be a big help – she’s a bit of a pillar in the community (she *does* partly own the building, after all), well-liked, and a bit of an activist for good schools, walkable communities, and public green spaces.

And the school isn’t bad. Nataly makes a few friends fairly quickly (Kaylee has fun naming and detailing all of them), and things get familiar very quickly. It’s a nice neighborhood, and fairly quiet.

Which makes the sounds of approaching fire engines all the more notable.


The Fire

The kids in Nataly’s grade were on the playground as the fire trucks approached, and everyone crowded toward the fence to watch them pass.

Except Nataly. She was looking at the skyline, and what she saw worried her: it looked like the smoke was coming from the direction of The Marquis.

Since no one’s looking her way, Nataly ducks under the slide, puts up her force bubble, forces it to the light-bending transparency that makes her all but impossible to spot, and takes off, heading for the fire.

For this, I stole straight from the Jason Morningstar’s “Fight Fire” chapter in Fate Worlds, Volume 1 (one of several game settings in the book – this one designed for playing teams of fire fighters – brilliant). Specifically, I borrowed and modified the set-up for a ‘fire incident’ in an apartment building, from page 101:

Aspects: Mid-sixties construction; Not up to code; Reinforced ‘safety’ doors.

People and Circumstances:

  • Crowds in the street — residents desperate for their homes to be saved and most of the neighborhood as curious onlookers.
  • Nobody can find Mrs. Lupo from 6-B.
  • Miguel Flores is trying to break into his ex-wife’s apartment, 6-C, because his 11-year-old daughter Inez may be alone inside (home sick with an ear infection).

Zones
6-A (Void fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Good (+3) Spread, Fair (+2) Smoke, Average (+1) Burn; five stress boxes

6-B (Ignition site, Open fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Family treasures, Broken fire escape, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Superb (+5) Burn, Great (+4) Spread, Good (+3) Smoke, seven stress boxes

6-C (Smoldering fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Dripping roof tar, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Great (+4) Smoke, Good (+3) Burn, Fair (+2) Spread; six stress boxes

So with a little cribbing from an entirely different setting, we have one of those classics of comic book hero challenges: the burning building. I’m quietly pleased.

Nataly does a quick inspection of the building from the outside, from high up, while the fire trucks are setting up and trying to push back the crowd. The fire seemed to be focused on just one side of the sixth (top) floor. These apartments are some of the least expensive (read: smallest, sixth floor walk-ups, and no balcony except the fire escapes… one of which probably couldn’t safely be used as an escape in the first place). All the apartment windows on this floor are barred (why, this high up, Nataly can’t guess), so she enters the building through a window that opens onto the hallway that runs down the center of the floor.

Through the haze of smoke, she can see Mr. Florez at the end of the hall, trying to break open the reinforced safety door on 6-C. She approaches, and he’s so distracted that he doesn’t see her until she’s standing next to him. He’s not making any headway on the door.

He tries to get her to leave.

She blasts the door off its hinges, and he shuts up in a hurry.

The two rush into the room. The smoke is thick (Nataly takes some stress), but the gush of new air into the space luckily doesn’t cause the fire to flare up. Inez (age: 11, “one grade ahead of Nataly, but nice to younger kids”) is crouched in the bathroom tub, but otherwise okay. Nataly gets them both heading downstairs as fast as they can.

Now would be an excellent time to leave, but while circling the building, Nataly had heard several people mentioning the missing Mrs. Lupo, and knows she has to check her apartment before she can go. She does the trick with blasting the door down from the hallway again, but this apartment is a much different situation: the source of the fire, the apartment crawls with flames that reach for Nataly as soon as the door opens. Her force shield barely holds, and this is from the doorway.

Still, she tries.

The apartment is small, and doesn’t take long to check – Mrs. Lupo isn’t there, pretty much the only thing not on fire is an old piano in the living room, covered in framed photos.

Nataly is almost out of stress, and is coughing violently from the hot air (Minor consequence), but decides to take a few more seconds and at least save something from the fire. She scoops up all the photos into a second bubble and knocks out the nearest window to escape. The rush of air gives the fire new life, however, and the heat is more than Nataly can withstand – she flies through the hole on fire, barely under control, and (shouts and screams echoing from the street below) crashes onto the roof of the building across the street, still cradling the photos in a force bubble and her burned arms (moderate consequence).

The fire fighters take it from there.

Nataly requires some medical attention, but she’s reported as ‘a child trapped in the fire,’ and no one asks too many questions. Around the Marquis, no one needs to. Flowers, small gifts, cards, and “irresponsible piles” of candy (in Marilla’s words) appear at their apartment door. Mrs. Lupo (who’d been visiting her sister across town) comes by every afternoon and helps Nataly keep up with her homework.

Mr. Higgins isn’t any nicer, but that’s just Mr. Higgins.


And now you’re all caught up to where Kaylee and I are, so far. We have Nataly set up in a new home, with a base of operations, friends and family, and things to fight for. I love the way this has played out so far: it feels a bit like the apartment block in the new Hawkeye series, mixed up with a little Runaways and maybe Zita the Spacegirl.

What’s next?

I tell you, I just don’t know where to start: there’s just so much cool stuff we can do.

Optimizing my free time

I don’t have anything against DnD 4e. In my opinion, it’s a big step up – a real evolution – from the 3rd edition rules.

I don’t have anything against the folks in the monthly game of DnD 4e that I play in. They’re all decent enough folks.

I like my character. I like the way my character works in play. I even like the storyline.

But I’m done.  I was at the game for eight hours on Saturday, not counting travel time, and we managed two fights and one scene that might nominally be deemed ‘role-play’ that ended becoming a player-discussion of the inherent morality (or lack thereof) of groups of adventures who categorize entire sentient peoples by racial stereotypes, then kill ’em and take their stuff.

Fascinating, in a petri dish kind of way, but not what I signed on for, general.

So I’m done.

What shall I do instead?  There’s a weekend writer group that invited me to join in, and I think I’ll do that.

As for gaming in general, I think I’ll stick with things that produce a better fun to time ratio.

Coming back to the old home town: Paragon City

Saturday morning, I revved up the old comp and prepared to get in a little gaming goodness. Would I get back to the incredibly satisfying, incredibly frustrating Braid? How about restarting Bioshock, to get at some of the story I’ve missed? Perhaps a little of the Ol’ Reliable, with Lord of the Rings Online?

None of the above. This weekend, I played City of Heroes.

Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve played CoH, though I think it’s fair to say that, when I played, I logged enough hours to last me the rest of my life, if I so chose. Still, I’ve been feeling an itch to play some supers lately – and, specifically, to play particular characters from CoH – and the opportunity presented itself, so that’s what I did.

Also, there’s two more Supers games coming out this year, and I want CoH fresh in my memory when I go check them out.

I don’t have a lot of nuanced analysis to present, so here’s just some stuff off the top of my head.

Good

  • Well, it’s fun, isn’t it? Not having to worry about bad guys getting behind you, the fairly intuitive interface (with some important exceptions), and hell… it’s super heroes – that’s pretty damned fun.Don’t discount this bullet point: it balances out a GREAT DEAL of the “Bad” and “Meh” below.
  • CoH is easy to play. If you don’t want to sweat the details, you really don’t have to, and that’s okay: you get an arrow telling you where to go to get missions, then you get an arrow telling you where the missions are, and then you do the mission and repeat. Provided you don’t ramp up the difficulty setting at all, I’m convinced a half-trained monkey could get a character into the mid-thirties with no problems at all. If you’re working with familiar contacts in a big zone, you can fly from mission to mission of mindless fun.
  • Extensible. If you like crafting systems and character stat tweaking CoH definitely comes through, limited only by your pocket book.
  • New content. Seems the development team is still doing solid work, and while I haven’t messed with the Mission Builder (nor am I likely to do much creation with it — my days of creating custom stories for CoH are long past (when it was much harder to manage), and that desire has NOT returned at ALL), I’ve heard that some of the new player-created content is excellent, and there certainly is a LOT of it.

Bad

  • Fucking. Timed. Missions. Why aren’t all the timed missions LABELED AS SUCH? It’s a simple, fixable thing, and game is, basically, fucking rude for not warning people. It’s doubly annoying when combined with this: I think they MUST have changed this somewhat since I last played, because damned if I remember this, but WHY IN THE HELL do you automatically get the next mission in a chain when you turn in the previous one? I just click on the NPC and BOOM: new mission? WTF, over?
  • Bugs. Perhaps I got so used to it last time that I didn’t notice, but DAMN the game is buggy. Kind of stupid bugs, also. Base problems. Costume options that migrate to some other table and screw up your character’s look. NPC pathing stupidity that borders on the laughable. Weird door bugs. Those stupid fucking CoT teleportals that go the wrong direction. Crashing the game if I’m using the wrong power when I zone. Seriously: for a game that relies SO HEAVILY on Zoning, it should be less crash- and bug-prone.
  • Zoning. Ugh. So much zoning. I don’t care if it’s fast (it isn’t, even on a good comp), it’s overused.
  • Inventory Management. The inventory capacity on CoH characters is STUPIDLY small. You can get 10 enhancements before being full up. Roughly 15 recipes. About 30 types of salvage. Roughly speaking, that’s half the bag space of LotRO – about a third of WoW. The number of times my recipe or enhancement slots filled up (with useful or valuable stuff), requiring a trip to a store (or four) was frustrating.
  • The interface is great, except when it isn’t. Is there any way to get into screen where you can see your powers and how they’re slotted WITHOUT clicking “Manage” in the Enhancement bag inventory? Is there any indicator that screen even exists, if you didn’t already know?
  • Why can’t you just drop a mission? I don’t mean “Drop it and get credit for it.” I mean DROP IT. I have three mission slots (at least one of which I probably got dropped on me without warning when I turned in an old one – see “Stupid Fucking Timed Missions” above), and I end up in a new area with cool new missions and I can’t just drop the crap I have and take these new things – I *HAVE TO* do those existing missions first.

Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the nanites in my blood.

  • Anyone who tells me that CoH doesn’t have an Inventory system, WoW-like auction house, crafting halls, potions, or body looting — YOU ARE FOOLING YOURSELVES, or just being disingenuous. The ONLY difference in the looting between CoH and other MMOs is that CoH has it happen automatically, without clicking on the body. That’s it. Salvage, inspirations, and enhancements? That’s LOOT. Some of it even makes a coin-jingling noise when you get it. All CoH does is remove a single click. (Actually, WoW doesn’t make you click anymore either, really, so…)
  • Level Cap. Like the urban spawl of Los Angeles or Denver, CoH continues to grow perpetually OUTWARD, with no interest in growing UPWARD. This is apples for some, oranges for others.
  • Only three missions can be live at a time? Really? Three? I get that CoH is geared for ultra-casual players, but goddamn: THREE? I’ve got over Forty-five quest slots in LotRO, and I manage. My daughter can count to ten without using her fingers; give us some fucking credit.

Now, did I enjoy myself? Oh hell yes. I played enough on Saturday that I didn’t get much of anything else done, and Sunday wasn’t much better. I’m pretty sure I dreamed about it Saturday night – it gets into my pores. It holds a special place in my heart – surrounded by a bit of scar-tissue, but still.

And Kaylee loves it. More than any other MMO, she just loves it. That might be partly due to the fact that she heard it in the womb, but it is what it is – she loves it. Like LotRO, she loves hitting the attack buttons as long as they make a satisfying BOOM, and LOTS of powers in CoH go Boom.

That said, it’s a game I have to approach with some caution – it’s fun and all, but it has a bad tendency to cause me to push other things out of my scope of vision — that’s all on me, not the game, but it is something of which I need to be aware.

NCSoft has a payment scheme these days that lets you pay for a single month at a time via paypal, without the annoyance of starting-then-stopping a recurring monthly plan, just to get some casual play – I’ll probably do that for the next month, simply to get my ‘fix’ for the superhero goodness and to analyze how much influence it still has on my productivity. Maybe I’ll even lure Kate along for the ride: who knows?

But I had a good time. It’s a good game, for all it’s quirks and flaws; maybe even despite – or because – of them.

Birthday presents for nerds

From a GChat with the DM in my once-a-month DnD game:

12:59 PM Dale: Congratulations: your character gets 175 xp in celebration of you living another year 😉

Cha-ching.

d20 update (and a bit of a rant at the end)

I feel weird using ‘d20’ to refer to a game of Dungeons and Dragons 4.0, as the game is fundamentally different than the versatile-but-expensive set of lego bricks that made up the 3.5, 3.0, and d20 systems of old.
But anyway.
We played a little more of the Keep on the Shadowfells on Saturday, and by ‘a little bit’ I mean ‘just that one fight that notoriously kills entire parties, followed by some handwaving in the direction of roleplay’.
Man that’s a vicious fight. I’m only playing with one house rule to the 4.0 system, and it is this: “You can trade in Healing Surges for Action Points on a 1:1 basis, and use the resulting action points as indicated within the rules.”
If there a limit to one Action Point per encounter? If so, we ignored that one too. If not, and it’s just ‘on AP per round’, we were fine.
Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that without that little house rule most everyone would have died. (And don’t anyone blame the halfling wandering off, because the fight is tuned to five players, and you had five even not counting the halfling.) As it was, Irontooth dropped the Paladin and Warlord about a round before he himself fell, but some first aid rolls got them standing again.
A few thoughts on the system, scenario, and our general gameplay:

Continue reading “d20 update (and a bit of a rant at the end)”

Patch 4.1 out for DnD

Okay, not a patch, but people make the DnD = MMORPG comparison so much, I figured one more tired joke wouldn’t hurt.
Actually, it’s errata and updates for all three books, enough that I hope they correct this stuff in a second printing of the 4.0 rules.
They has completely overhauled the skill challenge system in the DMG errata. All skill challenges now end with 3 failures regardless of complexity, so Complexity 5 challenges are going to be very difficult. However, they also dropped the difficulty of all skill checks by 5 (which is something I was already doing, based on the number crunching geniuses at Story-Games… you know, they don’t right many crunchy games, but those guys grok dice probabilities.
Anyway: all Easy skill checks are now difficulty 5 instead of 10. Moderate skill checks are now DC 10 instead of 15, and Hard checks are now DC 15 instead of 20. This still scales up with level.

Hacking the DnD Action Point rules

So I looked over the various gaming threads that had come out of discussions of Action Points and how they were used — I agree and disagree in equal measures with what folks are saying, so I’m just writing down my thoughts on Action Points from my own point of view.
This essentially codifies the House Ruled Action Point system I’ve been using.
First, my thoughts:

1. Action Points are cool. I don’t necessarily love how they’re implemented in the game, because:
– 1a: They can only do one thing (take an additional Standard Action).
– 1b: That option is alternately kind of lame or potentially game breaking.
2. Due to (1b) and the risk of a game breaking series of Action Point expenditures (two or three rounds in a row of additional actions would kind of break things, yes), the game designers opted to:
– 2a: Heavily restrict the number of APs a player can have.
– 2b: Heavily restrict how often APs can be used.
I understand why they did that, but I think it simply treats the symptomatic problems of the system as implemented — it doesn’t fix what’s busted.
3. Since Action Points, under the standard system are both (a) rare and (b) unstable in terms of payoff, they’re rarely used by the players.
– 3a: Their primary purpose (allowing players to combat the unavoidable whiff-factor in a dice mechanic with no bell curve and roughly a 50/50 chance of success on any given roll) is alternately too weak or too powerful in practice.
– 3b: Their alternate purpose (as a way to make characters more awesome) is diluted.

Truly, they might just as easily not even be in the game: as written, they represent a lot of bookkeeping (“a new Action Point accrues every two encounters, but the total resets to 1 after each Extended Rest”? Really, Wizards of the Coast? Really?), for a rare and often anticlimactic pay-off.
They are, alternately, “too much” and “not enough”, in my opinion.
So here’s my hack. Changes and additions are italicized.

1. Your character starts with one Action Point. For the purposes of drifting as little as possible from the core rules, we’ll retain the standard accrual rules I just made fun of:
– 1a. You gain a fresh Action Point every other encounter.
– 1b. Your current total of Action points resets to 1 after an Extended Rest.
2. You can use your Action Points for one of three things:
– 2a: Spend an AP to take an additional standard action. (Once per Encounter)
– 2b: Spend an AP to reroll a failed (or successful) d20 roll. (Once per Turn)
– 2c: Spend an AP to add +3 to (or subtract 3 from) a d20 roll. (Once per Turn)

Edit to Add: A natural 1 can’t be rerolled, and always misses. Sometimes, you’re just screwed, and that’s awesome too.
3. At will, as a free action, you can cross off a Healing Surge and give yourself an Action Point, which can immediately be used in one of the ways listed under 2. Healing Surges reset per the normal rules.

The end result allows players to “push” by sacrificing some resources in a way that I already know I like a lot from playing lots of other games with similar options. (Vincent Baker uses a phrase “trading in your future for your present” and I like that term quite a lot.)
It’s also relatively “trad gaming” in the options it presents: if I really wanted to hack it into some kind of Indie co-authored hippie craziness, I’d add a few Meta-options under #2, like spending an AP to let you add facts to the game fiction, a la Spirit of the Century.
Even without that option, I’d definitely consider a player who really wanted to take part in a scene and suggested paying an Action Point to conveniently show up, if it was remotely plausible.
Bones?

The One Where He Totally Geeked Out Like a Mid-1980s Gamer Nerd ((Hacking DnD 4 into Lord of the Rings))

I noticed early on that LotRO’s main conceit about their “Health Bar” really really works in DnD 4th with regards to healing.
Lord of the Rings refers to your ‘health bar’ as Morale — so it’s mostly representative of your will to continue the fight — the rest of the game works in similar ways — where death =’s ‘retreat’ and so forth. This makes ‘healers’ in Lord of the Rings (which is really quite a low-magic setting) make sense — they are the minstrels with their uplifting songs (VERY Tolkein), the Captains with the rallying crys and bold words, and even the Lore Masters with their quietly whispered words (or sometimes taking your worries on their own shoulders to ease your burden).
That idea really works in 4th edition DnD, especially when you look at the Healing Surges everyone has (accessible in combat as Second Wind) and the names of the healing-type abilities for the Warlord (Captain), which indicate that they’re really just boosting your will to continue the fight.
Mike Mearls was saying in an interview that it changes nothing in the game if a player wants to take all his mage spells and switch them to ‘cold’ damage instead of, say, fire; it’s the kind of customization hacking he expects from players in the game as they make their character their own.
Then I thought: it would be a pretty simple thing indeed to hack the Cleric into a sort of lore-master and/or minstrel (or both, depending on which path you took at creation) simply by changing the names of the powers and changing their “implement” from a holy symbol to either a wizards staff or a musical instrument. Do that, drop Mages and Warlocks from the game (or leave them for the bad guys), and you’re pretty much ready to play in Middle Earth in LotRO style.
So, to sum up…
– Drop Dragonborn and Tieflings. Duh.
– Elladrin are the elves of Lothlorien and Rivendell.
– Sylvan elves are the elves of Mirkwood.
– Fighters: unchanged. Depending on build, they are either Champions or Guardians.
– Rogues: rogues are more melee damage dealers than the LotRO Burglars, and their benefit to the group is slightly different, but it’s still similar enough. Halfling rogues should favor trickster builds, probably, with the other type being more common with sylvan elves and the like.
– Rangers: virtually no changes.
– Warlord: call em Captains and you’re done, though I think a lot of them would be multiclassed.
– Cleric: the ‘sit-in-the-back’ build (whatever the name) you tweak in Power names and Implements to be Minstrels, and the ‘up-in-your-face’ build you likewise tweak to be Loremasters.
– Warlocks: probably only bad guys — infernal types serve Sauron entirely, I’d guess. Fey types work alright with the High elves, and Star-pact warlocks would make an interesting type of Loremaster, maybe.
– Mages: too overt to be anything but bad guys, really.
This would simulate LotRO pretty well, would work for a game setting like Midnight quite well, but still be too much magic for true Tolkein.
If you really wanted to be totally hardcore Tolkein, not LotRO, you remove Clerics and Mages. Healing would fall entirely to the use of Healing Surges and any Captains you had with you. Warlocks stay in the setting in very particular instances. Infernal Warlocks are bad guys, Fey Warlocks are the Elf Lords, and Star Pact Warlocks are Gandalf and Sauruman. (Keep the Ritual List, from which you’d likewise remove things like passwall and the Portal magic, but keep the ‘rezzes’ for when Frodo gets insta-gibbed a ringwraith on Weathertop. Only the various Warlocks would get such Rituals automatically — anyone else would need a Feat to learn a few — Aragorn did so.)

DnD Skill Challenges

Skill Challenges are a new wrinkle in DnD skill use that aim to make said skills use… well, more interesting. The basic idea is that each Skill Challenge has a Complexity rating from one to five.
A Complexity One skill challenge for a group of level 1 adventurers, for example, requires that the group as a whole succeeds at 3 skill checks before it fails at 3. A complexity Five skill challenge is something like “succeed at 11 before you fail at 7”.* The idea is that everyone around the table who is involved is taking turns at working on this challenge, either by making their own skill rolls or helping someone else hit theirs, and that each of these ‘moves’ is roleplayed/narrated as you go, making the whole thing more interactive.
In an ideal world, there are a few ‘obvious’ skills that work for each encounter, and the unspoken challenge to the players to come up with novel ways to apply the skills they’re good at that aren’t on that pre-approved list. It’s all very, if I may say so, hippy and indie. It’s a LOT like how all the skills and combat in Heroquest work.
In practice, the Challenges have come under a lot of fire, both because the Difficulties for success are weighted HEAVILY toward failure in some places, and because people are having trouble getting their heads around it, and finally because the results of the Challenge are, as written, binary: you either Win Completely or fail completely.
Enter Keith Baker, and some excellent thoughts on making Skill Challenges interesting and winnable, without actually changing the math. (Which I’m doing anyway.)
One good suggestion is something straight out of Heroquest, but predicated on the DnD Combat model: more graduated levels of success, ranging from the Crit-like total victory, to a regular old Success, to Moderate success, partial success, failure with some benefit, failure with a single mote of light, and the Crit-fumble of Total Loss.
But the best suggestion is one I’ve been working on for what seems like years, now: setting up conflicts so that the failures are as interesting as the victories.
* – I know the numbers I quoted for Complexity values are off, compared to the rules — I’m quoting a mathmatical rework of the rules that makes more sense to me.

“Keys” for DnD

For a longer-term DnD game, I am seriously considering using something like the experience point system in The Shadow of Yesterday — the “keys” that you pick for your character and which give you xp when you ‘hit’ them. (You’d need about 10 to 15 to level, probably, which would be pretty fast, even compared to the speeded up ratio in 4.0.)
Clinton wrote up a hack of the system for 3.5 d20. It’s here, and would require a very little bit of tweaking to update to 4.0. Some excerpts:

The first way you get XP is through Keys. They determine behaviors that will earn XP for your character. Keys are motivations, problems, connections, duties and loyalties. You should pick one at 1st level, and one every odd level after that. You can never have more than five Keys.
Counters
Each Key has a Counter. If you go against the Key – that is, act according to the Counter – you can choose one of two options:
* Lose 2 XP.
* Remove the Key and gain 7 XP. You can never take this Key again.
((A few particularly typical d20 key examples.))
Key of Bloodlust
Your character enjoys overpowering others in combat. Gain 1 XP every time you/your group wins a battle, or 3 XP for defeating a foe equal to or more powerful than your group. Counter: Be defeated in battle.
Key of Glittering Gold
Your character loves wealth. Gain 1 XP every time you make a deal that favors you in wealth (max: 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP every time you finish an adventure with more wealth than you started with. Gain 5 XP every time you finish an adventure with double your previous wealth. Counter: Lose (or give away) over half your fortune.
Key of Fraternity
Your character has someone he is sworn to, a friend who is more important than anyone else. Gain 1 XP every time this character is present in a scene with your character (maximum 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP whenever your character makes a decision that is influenced by them. Gain 5 XP every time your character defends them by putting himself at unusual risk. Counter: Sever the relationship with this person or the person dies.
Key of Vengeance
Your character has a hatred for a particular organization, person, or even species or culture. Gain 1 XP every time your character hurts a member of that group or a lackey of that person. Gain 2 XP every time your character strikes a minor blow at that group or person (killing a member of the organization or one of the person’s lackeys, disrupting their life, destroying their property). Gain 5 XP every time your character strikes a major blow at that group or person. Counter: Let your enemy go or destroy the entire organization.
Key of the Masochist
Your character thrives on personal pain and suffering. Gain 1 XP every time he is bloodied and 3 XP every time he is dropped to 0 hp. Counter: Flee a source of physical or psychic damage.

There are also some “classic fantasy trope” examples of Keys on the TSoY wiki, here. I particularly like:

Key of the Explorer
Your character seeks novelty and discovery at every opportunity. Gain 1 XP everytime she goes somewhere or encounters something new to her. Gain 3 XP whenever she experiences something unknown to her society. Buyoff: Settle down to a quiet life.
Key of Extravagance
Your character seeks every opportunity to impress those around you with his means and generosity. Gain 1 XP every time he gives a gift or spends money on an unnecessary luxury. Gain 3 XP every time he blows a significant fraction of his net worth. Buyoff: Refuse a luxury you could have had.
Key of Glory
Who cares about power or riches? You crave fame! Gain 1 XP when your actions inspire strangers to talk about you insultingly (there’s no such thing as bad publicity). Gain 3 XP when your deeds win you acclaim and adulation. Buyoff: Adopt a pseudonym or go incognito.

You can probably see where a set up like this would speed up the leveling process in some entertaining ways. 🙂

Actual Play: Keep on the Shadowfells, Session One

As I mentioned, had a chance to play the first couple events in the sort of “DnD 4th Edition Lite” Keep on the Shadowfells. What you get with this game is basically a DnD Lite version of the rules (somewhat too light in a few places — would have helped to know a few things that aren’t mentioned in the 16 page rules booklet, but it worked out), 5 pregenned characters with all the math worked out and put on a nice, easy to read sheet and their first two level-ups already worked out, and an 80-page adventure… a pretty good one, at that.
Oh, and you get all the maps you’ll need for any combat, so when I fight starts, you just lay out the map, drop down the tokens, and go at it.
Stuff I noticed about the game
1. In MSExcel-speak, 4e still tests as “True” for whatever value you assign to “Dungeons & Dragons.” A lot of people have been busting on it, saying that it’s all-combat, all the time, and there’s no support for anything else, etc. etc. This has pretty much been true for every iteration of the game. The people saying such things are very silly. We haven’t had a chance to do a skill challenge yet, but when we do, I expect good things.
2. You really do need mini’s or good counters to play this thing. I need to get better wood discs than the ones I made — smaller, and less splintery. Either pre-made, or I need to get a 3/4″ dowel and get a MUCH finer-toothed blade for the saw.
3. Combat is a lot more interesting than it’s been before, because…
3A. Everyone can contribute meaningfully to the fight, even/especially the (traditionally useless) first-level Wizard.
3B. Everyone can do a lot of crazy maneuvers and funky stuff. It’s entirely possible for everyone to “Use their Nuke” and really do something awesome.
3C. We did not make full use of it, but I did see that classes are designed to have serious synergy in combat: the Cleric’s maneuvers set up Paladin’s maneuvers set up Fighter’s maneuvers. You’re really a TEAM now. Heaven help me when Margie and Kate start coordinating their respective ‘battlefield control’ abilities — they started to get a handle on them by the middle of the second fight and suddenly my super-mobile Kobolds had a VERY difficult time moving around.
3D. The monsters are really a team too. I played stupidly with the Wyrmpriest in the second fight. I should have bombed guys with his acid bomb ability from long range for awhile first, THEN come in and drop his two AoE attacks once the battlefield set up.
3E. The monsters require so much less book-keeping than before.
3F. A lot of the crazy 3e complications are now much simpler.
3G. There’s some better rules on building an encounter so that terrain, traps, conditions, etc., matter more–the scene is more interactive… there are many more ways to interact and use terrain.
4. On the other hand, while fights require more intelligence and imagination than prior editions’ Rock-em Sock-em Robots combat system, fights last a long time.
5. There’s a disconnect at the table, because most of use have played 3.0 and 3.5 before — I’ve played a LOT, Dave and Margie and Jackie played quite a bit, and Kate’s played less, but MUCH more recently — so when a rule in 4.0 is different from 3.5, there was a bit of shock… sometimes it was “is that a new rule or a Doyce Houserule?” (disclaimer: I used no houserules) and stuff I remember from 3.5 that isnt’ true anymore (Example: Standing up from being prone doesn’t cause an Opportunity Attack — in fact a LOT less stuff does, which makes it easier to deal with… but leaves veterans with the niggling suspicion that we’re forgetting to do something.)
6. In previous editions, each class had a very different feel: if you were a 1st level Magic-User, you had to play the game very differently than a 1st level Fighter. This difference is FAR less pronounced now. Also, the classes that are “simple” versus “complicated” have changed. Paladins and clerics have a LOT of stuff on their sheets. Rogues LOOK simpler than that, but the way you apply what they can do during a fight is pretty advanced stuff.
7. There is pretty much no effort to make the mechanics hyper-realistic. Hit points are as much “morale” as they are “health”, and that kind of logic is the only way some abilities make sense. I like it.
Stuff I noticed about the play
1. All the characters are awesome. I want to play a fully tank-specced dwarven fighter so much I can taste it. Similarly, I think a rogue with a rapier, a ranged weapon (vs. twin-blade) ranger, and a cleric would all be a ton of fun. There are really no classes that, when reading about them in the PHB, didn’t sound fun and worth checking out.
2. Christ, but we are a persnickety, particular, optimizing bunch of nitwits. I mention this solely because Katherine played with us last night, running the rogue, and by the end of the night I felt positively terrible for her, because the nice nurturing adults just could. not. let. her. play. her. guy. and just do whatever she wanted, because there was a tactically better move to be made somewhere. We need to let her just ‘go in and hit that guy’ for awhile before we worry about shit like flanking and such. Let her GET flanked once or twice, and I guarantee she’ll learn to do it herself.
3. Along the same lines: good lord we’re terrified of taking an Opportunity Attack. Damn.
4. I was tired, and Kate was flat out exhausted — really, we shouldn’t have played, but I’m glad we did — it would have been close to a month before we could have gotten these specific people to the table again, and it was nice to pull out all the dice and really beat on stuff.
What happened?
Oh, Margie’s guy is friends with a sort of professional adventurer guy. Said guy is haring off on one of his wild adventures to find a Dragon’s burial site. He’ll be back in a month. It’s been three month’s and the guy’s wife comes to margie and guilts her into going and looking for him. Said dwarf recruits several mutual acquaintances to come with. His drinking pal the mage. The paladin he knows from the warrior’s guild. The cleric the paladin is tight with… and the rogue that the cleric has turned into a little “rehabilitation side-project.”
Right. Oh, and when word gets out that the priest and paladin are headed for Winterhaven, a friend of theirs in the temple who researches such things drops in while they’re packing and advises them to keep on the lookout for a death cult that was spotted heading that direction about a year ago. “You know, just in case. Sure it’s nothing. Ta-ta.”
Right.
So they’re traveling to the town and about three days in and getting close to the town they get waylaid by bandits. Little lizardmen- kobolds. There is fighting. The slinger gets away and the others die.
The group gets to town and starts talking to folks, asking after the dwarf’s buddy. Clues are had. The paladin approaches the Lord of the town and gets a promise of reward if they wipe out the kobolds that are harassing the town.
So they have to decide about what to do next: go down to the rumored dragon’s graveyard to look for the missing guy, or head for the Kobold camp? (Or even head for the old abandoned keep from the fallen empire, up in the hills — the one either haunted, or infested with goblins, or both.) They decide that the dwarf’s buddy is the first priority.
They head south out of town and are ambushed by more kobolds — a bit tougher group. The slinger had run back to camp and told such a tale of horror about the adventurers that some bigger guns were called out.
There was more fighting. A lot of “once per day” powers made an appearance, some of which healed the party for large amounts, others of which set large patches of foliage on fire. The group came out of the fight largely unscratched (thanks to healing) but with some of their bigger powers already used up for the day. They’re a little shaky about if they should move on or rest up. *mutters about over-cautious heroes*
And that’s when we called it for the night. I had a good time. I hope we play again.
At the same time? It made me really appreciate the kind of play we have with In a Wicked Age. Different (very), but also very good. I should always make sure to have a copy of that game with me when heading to someone’s house.
As a side note: I’m rolling all my dice out in front of everyone. No fudging, so there’s a good chance some folks are going to be making Death Saves at some point… heaven knows how many times I soft-pitched a fight in 3.5 to keep folks from dying (and the rogue still bit it like… what? Five times?)

Dealing with the whiff-factor in DnD

Played some DnD last night. It was good. I will talk about that more in a bit, but for now, an idea for combating the frustration of repeating missing in a fight.

The Angry Meter
If you miss, you get a token. A Big bowl of glass stones that you get to grab from when you miss — a nice tactile way of portraying building anger. Conceptually it transforms a miss from “a whiff” into “I didn’t hit you yet…but I’m getting closer”.
You can turn in five tokens on a future roll, after the roll has been made.
In Heroic Tier: they’re worth a +5
In Paragon Tier: +10
In Epic Tier: +15
That way, if you would miss anyway by spending tokens, you wouldn’t spend them and just rack up another for the pile.
Critical Fumbles give you two tokens, because 1’s make us really angry… alternately, if you want a fumble to suck more, you lose all your stones when you roll a 1.
You lose all your stockpiled tokens during an extended rest.

Kind of like it… but I’m not sure a game with so much “Marked enemy” stuff going on needs another token floating around the table.

OM Freakin’ G: The DnD 4.0 game with the seven-year old got even more awesome.

You haven’t been keeping up with the exploits of D and his dad Tony? Why on earth not? Go here. Read.
Turns out two of the kid’s characters can speak draconic, and they’ve been fighting kobolds, so the kid is making Dad translate what they’re saying all the time.

At this point in the fight it was very much all over but for the agonized draconic shouting. But that, interestingly, is when things got really funny and weird.
“GGLgLGGGLGG! SSSSSSSssss ss ss …”
“What’s that mean?”
“We are done for, my brother! Let us die with honor!”, I say. After all … they’re toast. Everyone knows it.
Quoth D: “Do you surrender?”
>Blink, blink< "Uhhhh ... SSS?" "What's that mean?" "Uhhhh ... yes?" So now he's got two prisoners, and I'm all like "What the heck is he going to do with prisoners? Is there going to be horrific torture involved? Is he going to wring information out of them, then slaughter them? Kids can be dark ... " Quoth D: "Are you good now?" >Blink, blink< "Uh ... I don't think we're really ... uh ... good or evil. We're just sorta ... us." "Oh. Well I've decided you're going to be good." "But that ... that doesn't actually make us good." "It will. I believe in you." Wow. His major adventure-genre influences have been Fantastic Four, Naruto and Avatar ... but I didn't realize he'd actually been listening.
So he took them back to Winterhaven. He said “You’re going to live here now, and you’re going to be good.” He spent all afternoon talking to extremely mistrustful villagers, convincing them to give these two guys a chance.
In the interest of having chances to, y’know, fight (which D definitely agrees is a lot of fun) we established that he’d gotten lucky and captured the only two non-evil kobolds in the whole tribe, and that the rest of them were terribly evil right down to the core and needed to be killed with extreme death.
D listened to that and said “Yeah, because otherwise we’d have to rescue everybody, and I don’t have enough legos for that.”

Can’t. Stop. Grinning.

Watching the 4.0 DnD release

… is a fascinating kind of car-crash voyeurism.
Lots of folks into gaming have never really tried anything outside of their comfort zone for gaming, and that’s fine.
Many many of those folks are playing DnD.
But what’s happened with 4.0 is that the designers for the game, unlike many of their players, have been watching and (unlike some of the gaming-industry-aware-but-disdainful d20 faithful) embracing some of the significant gaming innovations of the last five years or so. For example:

  • In-combat “tagging” with non-combat skills to give your allies bonuses. (Spirit of the Century)
  • Reducing resource overload to keep the characters streamlined and fun to play as they level. (MMOs)
  • “Respeccing” your character without significant penalty as you level. (SotC. MMOs)
  • The same system used for all actions, even spellcasting. (Heroquest. Dogs. Hell, any indie game in the last 5 years.)
  • Taking actions that set everyone up to be awesome, not just you. (The driving force behind most any indie game.)
  • It seems like a small thing, but it’s something *I* had been playing with a hack for for a couple months now… mechanics to support a “Tank, holding aggro” in a tabletop game.

One of the things I hadn’t seen so far, though, was this little tidbit…

*Q:* Will there be social combat rules in 4E or some other system that allows for non-combat conflict resolution?
A: Yes. We have been playtesting a new social encounter system, which has been one of the most heavily developed—and contentious—parts of the game. Look for it in the DMG.

Sold.
One of the things that bothered me about 3.5 DnD is that, as a tactical combat game at heart (something it does very very very well), non-combat interactions (ie: the “roleplaying” in RPG) never got the same amount of system support that combat does. Consequently, combat is more *important* than other activities; it has more weight, just in terms of time-devoted-to-it-at-the-table. When a scene that uses Bluff and Diplomacy will simply be ten minutes of roleplay and (if I’m lucky and it’s not simply hand waved away via GM Fiat) one die roll… while a combat with that same antagonist might run 30 minutes to an hour of game play… why would I put much time into developing my Bluff and Diplomacy feats when Combat skills let my character ‘be awesome’ for a much longer stretch of play-time at the table? It’s got a bad payoff percentage at the gaming table.
Answer: I wouldn’t, or I will anyway and be frustrated. (See also: my bard character Gwydion.)
Rules that let an important ‘soft skills’ encounter get the same love and attention from the system that a physical fight does? Games with that kind of ability are the reason I abandoned 3.5 in the first place.
It heartens me that the designers for 4.0 obviously paid so much attention to the best stuff that the REST of the gaming industry (both pen and paper and electronic) has introduced in the last 5 years.
Why is watching the release of the game like watching a car crash?
Well, for many DnD players, all of this new stuff, which is familiar to ME (and my friends, thanks to the evangelical nature of my enthusiasm for those sorts of games in the last few years), is very unfamiliar, new, strange, and just plain WEIRD to them… watching them come to grips with the new DnD is just… fascinating.

Learn about DnD 4.0 with some cool, funny guys.

Okay, so here’s what happened.
Tycho and Gabriel from Penny Arcade, plus Scott Kurtz from PvP, got together with one of the R&D guys from Wizards of the Coast, who runs a DnD game for them.
They recorded the whole thing. Plus, Gabe and Scott drew some scenes from the adventure.
So what the teeming public gets out of it: the whole adventure has been recorded as eight podcasts, plus funny comics.
But that’s not all!
See, Tycho plays d20 all the time. Scott hasn’t played in years, but did at one time. Gabe has never played DnD or any other tabletop RPG at all.
And the GM is really good and takes his time explaining everything, so you find out about the game’s system in a way that’s really natural — the guy is REALLY good explaining the game.
And you have players who are just kind of excellent to listen to.
The first session is here.
The second session is here.
You have to create a login to the Wizard’s web site to see the stuff and download the podcasts. If you have the least little interest in the game, at all, this is how I would suggest you learn about the game, before even looking at the rules, or buying them.
I have to admit, I’ve been looking over the rules for the levels 21 to 30, the “Epic” ranges, and thinking that those rules represent exactly the direction our long-time DnD game went… an ogre warrior gathering an army to become a battle master… or a cleric on the way to demigod-hood, for example (she gave birth her deity’s son, after all)… it’s a shame these weren’t the rules we were using back then. We would have had somewhere to go.

For the nerd on your Father’s Day list

Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition.
I’m sorry, I’m just hearing too much good stuff about it. The indie roleplaying community is going gah-gah over it. “If old-school basic Dungeons and Dragons were rewritten by Days of Wonder, after they’d played Spirit of the Century for six months.”
It’s meant to be a high magic game… crazy high magic like rivers of flowing earth and villages of dragonblood humanoids. Dunno if I love that, but …
Eh. I dunno. I mention it mostly because of the great reactions from people whose opinions and gaming tendencies I frequently agree with, and from this actual-play write up, in which the gamer’s seven year old son plays through the first DnD 4th edition module, simultaneously running five characters, keeps all the rules straight (even for Attacks of Opportunity), and outmaneuvers his dad.
I confess: the battlefield rules sound really fun.

Analyzing the last few sessions

It is something of an irony that the players in my d20 game have been so interested and involved and generally pleased with the last couple sessions that have followed the dungeon-crawl-that-wouldn’t-end. Having well and truly poisoned the well with regards to combat (six months of nothing but pretty much put paid to that need for awhile), I’ve been digging in with what can best be described as Bangs for each of the characters (there are about 3 too many players for this to be wholly effective, but it’s basically working), and we haven’t rolled more than a handful of dice per session in that time.
It’ll never last — I haven’t got the stamina to make things up on the fly in d20 forever and the system works against anything of the kind, really — but right now we’re doing some interesting things and I’ve gotten folks to a point where they’ll be willing to put their characters away pretty soon and call the whole thing good.
After that, I’m looking forward to trying out HeroQuest and some other systems — still a little surprised at some of the resistance to anything-but-d20 that I keep running into, but them’s the breaks. I have to acknowledge that I run games better when the system doesn’t fight more freeform story construction and try to find a system that let’s me run a better game in the genre that both I and the players find interesting.

Narrative d20?

I’ve heard a lot of interesting stuff about the new Conan RPG from Mongoose publishing — that it gives players alot of input on the story, et cetera — the sorts of things that currently flip my skirt up — whatever.
I’d also heard that the author both read Sorcerer, Sorcerer & Sword, and talked quite a bit with Ron Edwards about narrativist play.
Well, lookie lookie, here’s a d20 and narratavism thread that pretty much documents part of that evolution.
Kinda makes me want to go get that damn book. Again. Bleah.
I particular like this “how to help make d20 more character-driven” idea.

…personality feats.
The mechanic is simple – you take a thematic feat that has some sort of behavior associatited with it, and when you follow that behavior, you gain an action point (one per session). The action point can be spent for a roll bonus, or can be turned in at the end of the session for xp for the whole party. That last bit is genius, since it makes even the most gamist players willing to tolerate non-optimal behavior from their compatriots in the name of role playing because there’s a tangible reward for it (for gearheads, the xp reward for a single point is the same as an encounter of a level equal to the party’s average level).
There’s a sampler of the rules with some example feats in pdf form here. The only thing I should add is that the common practice (Even by Mr. Aylott, or so I’m told) is to give each character one personality feat for free.

I don’t know that it encourages the players to step in and add to the overall plotting, but it’s a great thing for getting traditional KIAMO-style players to get into character a bit. I’ll have to check out the game they mention the idea comes form.

d20 skill-check hack

As noted here:
Where d20 breaks down is when it shifts to non-combat rolls where the entire task (skill) is handled with a single, linear-odds roll.
Here’s how to fix that.
There’s a little known optional combat rule that states that people can choose to ‘roll’ their AC every round. Basically, you don’t have a Base 10 AC… figure out whatever you’ve got over 10, call that your “AC Bonus”, and add that to a d20 roll every time you’re attacked.
I doubt anyone does that — hell, I doubt anyone knows it’s there — but look in the DMG.
ANYWAY: while I don’t recommend it for combat necessarily, I think it would be useful for Skill Checks. Many of these are Opposed Rolls anyway — this little house-rule would make all Skill checks opposed.
Find the current DC for a skill. Subtract 10. Whatever’s left over is the DC Bonus. When someone tries to do something to overcome that challenge, the GM rolls a d20 and adds that DC bonus.
What does this do? Two main things.
1. Creates a pyamidal instead of linear success curve. In the case of a Thief with Open Locks +15 vs. a Lock with a DC bonus of +15 (formerly a DC 25 lock):
00.25% You Crit succeed, it crit fails.
02.50% You Crit, it fails
49.5% You succeed, it fails (or, you tie each other)
44.75% You fail, it succeeds.
02.50% You fail, it crit succeeds
00.25% You crit fail, it crit succeeds
00.25% Mutual Fumble
It’s a pyramid curve, but it’s a curve.
2. Removes instances of “Ugh… I got a 19… I know that d20 modules always set the DC’s in five-point increments on everything, so I’ll spend an Action Dice to give me a boost… worse case scenario, I get to a 20, and maybe I’ll get to the 25 break point.” (Particularly annoying on Gather Information charts, when adding the AD will almost certainly glean more info)… If the DC’s are d20+5, d20+10, d20+15, et cetera instead of 15, 20, 25… there wouldn’t be those artifical ‘rungs’ in the DCs to shoot for… that d20+5 DC might be, on your try, a net DC 6 all the way up to a net DC 25… every NPC you talk to is talkative in different ways, after all.

d20 vs. the Dice Pool… or is it?

Overheard on The Forge :: d20 vs. 3d6, regarding “linear curves”.

D20 combat is really a die pool system (rolling multiple dice and counting sucessess) in disguise. You roll so many to-hits on single d20s in any given combat that, over the course of a battle, you get a reasonable normal distribution of expected results. Where d20 breaks down is when it shifts to non combat where the entire task is handled with a single roll, and you don’t get this faux pool effect. This is why Take 10 and Take 20 were invented [and, Doyce would add, rolling to Assist…] to patch the weakness of using linear single-rolls for everything other than combat […] increasing the likelihood of getting the expected result.

And… they’re right. One of the things I’ve realized that I really like about the games that I’m currently looking over is that they’re ALL either (a) dice pool mechanics or (b) single-dice mechanics with a means of earning re-rolls or (c) both.
I’ve always liked dice pools — ever since Shadowrun 1 came out. (Roll and add: not so much.) Really negates the chance of Being Good and Sucking Anyway — if you’re good at something, you’re adding not only to your skill, but actually affecting the odds of rolling good numbers.

Greedy

One of the things I said in the comments on this post regarded the way that d20 (or some other ‘classic’ games) de-protagonize the player character though those instances where you’ve got this great character that blows stuff he’s supposed to be good at.
Eventually, that’s the character they become, and they aren’t the guy you wanted to play anymore.
There’s the other side to that: the situtation where you absolutely nail something you’re really not that good at. One of the examples from a recent game was in Dave’s spycraft game a few sessions back — my character was trying to occupy the guards at the front gate while the rest of the team engaged in a firefight in the back of the house. My plan (very impromptu) was to keep them tied down by pulling up in front of the gate and engaging in a firefight.
Three rounds (and three 20’s) later, I had all three guys disarmed or unconcious and was busy shackling them to the gate.
Now, I’ll give Spycraft this much: you have some control on when and how you’re going to suck and rock — I got the 20’s but I had to spend… Karma, for all intents and purposes, to really capitalize on the luck of the roll.
I didn’t have to do that… I could have left them as normal hits and saved the karma dice to spend on something I’m supposed to be good at, either to capitalize on good rolls or alleviate bad ones.
But damn, we needed break right about then — and I got greedy — so now I’m reconciling smooth-talking, psych-degree, professional profiler Agent McEvitt with “Shotgun Dylan”. Something I can deal with, yes… but noteworthy in that it is something that needs to be dealt with.
Just sayin’.
“Uncharacteristic Success” wasn’t something that it had occured to me as something that could blow your concept as well.

The beginning of the end of the beginning…

So I wrapped up the OA campaign last Friday night with the the most unwrap-uppy wrap-up I’ve ever done. Let’s go over the salient points:
I introduced a new Evil Faction.
I reintroduced a new Bad Guy.
I failed utterly to bring closure to any of the various personal storylines going on, merely advancing them slightly and leaving them dangling in tantilizing ways.
In short, I did little more than leave things in a very good position for a sequel campaign. So good, in fact, that my players are already asking for it. (For which I partly blame Last Samurai).
And yes, I’m considering it. But not now, and not soon. I accomplished the closure of one of the campaigns I was trying to close up, and I’m going to revel in that for awhile (and keep plugging away at the end of the current DnD game).

Weekend review 3

Sunday: Finished up the second serial in Dave’s In Deo Confidemus :: Spycraft campaign in a blaze of gunfire (mostly not ours, surprise surprise) and a couple of fine moments for [self-centered] my own character[/self-centered], the most married man in the entire intelligence community, ever.
(Crap, Dylan still needs to call his wife.)

Making the lower levels not matter

While talking about something else, Bryant mentioned something called the “No Myth meme”, which sounds vaguely interesting, especially when combined with task resolution:

The No Myth meme rejects preplotting altogether; a No Myth GM doesn?t know anything about the world other than what the players have seen; a failed task resolution check doesn?t mean the players have failed, it means there?s an additional obstacle in the way of reaching whatever objective the players have chosen. And that?s a reasonable approach.

This gives me something of an insight into how one would logically be able to run certain kinds of games in d20, even with low-level characters: if failure (one a skill check, for instance) actually just results in the situation become one level more complicated, then you have a framework in which a 1st level character can play in any sort of game at all — some situations may be (or become) too complex to be worth the effort of resolving, but you don’t have to worry about a situation where simple low-level skill scores make it impossible to succeed at certain tasks.
GM: “The door’s locked.”
Player: “I pick the lock. I did that last time I was through here.”
GM: “Let’s have a roll.”
Player: [rolls] “Ulp… umm… how about a 5? Total.”
GM: “Well, it was easy enough the last time you worked this door, but this time you get over-eager and snap the lockpicks off in the lock. How will you approach the problem now?”
Granted, I’m not sure this can apply in ‘opposed’ situations (sneaking versus someone else’s listen, or, more obviously, combat), but in most other cases it should be pretty doable.
I can certainly see applications for this in some genres. Pulp is a good example, as is any sort of fantasy setting with lots of intrigue, and of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it works really well in a Spycraft campaign. I can think of any number of situations in, say, Alias where, by failing, the protagonist simply causes the situation to become more complicated.
Sneak in and steal something.
Snag fingerprint to get into door.
> Take too long in the lab (blew the first search roll).
>> Have to talk your way past guard who, since you took so long, noticed you leaving the area.
Eventually, you get to a point where, if you’ve screwed up quite a bit, you find yourself strapped to a chair and getting dosed on sodium pentathol, but really that’s just another level of complication to deal with.
(Or, in a 1st-level Amber campaign, Corwin just built up so many complications in his first assault on Amber that he ended up blinded and stuck in a dungeon cell. 🙂

This post is a year late

Having finally had a chance to play through some Spycraft stuff, I can finally see what people have been saying — the combat system changes take it head-and-shoulders above the standard d20 combat system. Fluid, smooth, and much more intuitive to a non-tactically-thinking gamer, they literally made it possible to ‘do what the guys in the movies do’ without having to have read a book on squad tactics, or know anything about the system works with regard to cover and the like.
The skill and feat system? Ditto. I’ll lay most of my enjoyment at the feet of the GM and fellow players, but I must say this is a hugely improved d20 system varient.
[Addendum: As a GM, Dave stays in character with his NPCs much better than I do. Much much better. Much]

Update review

The clearest review of 3.5 that I’ve seen is here:

This release is like Microsoft charging for software updates. If you love the operating system and are devoted to it, you’ll buy it. If you’re a casual user, you’ll ignore it until a time comes when you need it, or have the means to get it. If you’re a first-time user, by all means, this is for you. If you prefer another operating system, it becomes moot. If you thought 3.0 and the D20 system was “broken”, a common euphemism for “these rules aren’t to my taste so let’s just hate them”, you’re not going to be impressed by 3.5, either.

Grumble

Jackie got an email notice today that her 3.5 PHB is shipping.
Me? Nothing. Why? Because I preordered my stuff too soon.
Yeah. A lovely but little-known fact of Amazon pre-orders is that, once they get the book in, they start shipping out in reverse order of the date the order was placed.
So… the longer you wait to pre-order, the faster you’ll get the book. Makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Oh my

Mongoose Publishing: Babylon 5 RPG, due to hit local shops any day now.
I’m only surprised it took this long for someone to get this license. I’m not surprised it’s d20.

All the previews are up on the web site. Tidbits include a sneak peek at the rules for Telepathy and a few of the major characters on board Babylon 5 — including Sinclair and Ivanova.
Fiery Trial, the first story arc, will be shipping to distributors this week.

I’m of two minds about this. First: cool. Mongoose is going the way of the licensed BESM products: half game-book, half sourcebook, so that there’s lots of good stuff even if you’re ‘just’ a fan of the show with no interest in the game. They repeat a number of times in the production blurbs that the book is ‘more detailed than anything you’ve ever seen from yadda yadda yadda’, so that’s good.
Second: this is Mongoose. Mongoose is a mixed bag for me — on one hand, I like their stuff, but on the other, they have a REAL tendency to come up with REALLY COOL IDEAS that are in no way balanced within the d20 system.
Emphasis: Often really cool. Often not balanced.
For an example, I present the Quintessential Monk book — the ‘varied paths’ that they came up with for monks, coming up with ‘substitution sets’ of alternate feats for the free stuff that monks get as they progress to give you a dozen ‘variant’ monks that are nicely balanced… that’s beautiful.
The prestige classes from the same book? An abomination before man and GM. Wow. Absolute crap. Cool concepts? Absolutely. But game busters? Wow.
So you’ll have to understand my trepidation — do I think they’re going to come up with some great ways of handling the deep, intriguing bits of the B5 setting. I think they will be fantastic at that… Story they understand.
Game balance? Well, we’ll see.

House Rule: Called Shots

Found a good one in the Quintessential Fighter:
CALLED SHOTS
There are many more ways to cripple and defeat an enemy besides simply swing a weapon at him again and again. Some instead choose to aim their blows at specific body parts, not only dealing damage but hindering the enemy’s ability to keep fighting.
How it works:
You can make a variety of called shots, provided you meet the requirements listed below.
1. First, you must score a threat against your target.
2. Rather than rolling to confirm a crit, you announce “Called shot to [body part]” instead, then make the roll that would normally confirm the threat.
3. The base damage is applied normally, but if the confirmation roll succeeds, consult the chart below rather than doing normal critial damage.

    Arm

  • Requirement: BAB +2 or greater
  • Effect: Victim drops held item. 1d4 damage. -4 to all checks and attack rolls using wounded arm.
  • Duration: d6 rounds
    Leg

  • Requirement: BAB +2 or greater
  • Effect: 1d4 damage. Speed halved. Climb, Jump, and Swim @ -4.
  • Duration: d6 rounds
    Groin

  • Requirement: BAB +2 or greater
  • Effect: Victim Staggered for d6 rounds.
    Head

  • Requirement: BAB +8 or greater
  • Effect: 1d4 damage. Stunned: Loses Dex bonus to AC, can take no actions, attackers +2 to attack victim.
  • Duration: d4 rounds.
    Eye

  • Requirement: BAB +10 or greater
  • Effect: 1d6 damage. -4 to all Dex-based checks. Two such injuries = blindness.
  • Duration: d6 hours, eye loss possibly permanent (DC 15 Fort to avoid)

Called shots only work against the same sorts of targets that Critical Hits are Effective against. The effects of these can be negated early with the use of Cure spells or Healing checks. (Unless referring to permanent eye loss, which would require regeneration.
Also: There are variant rules for monks that cause similar effects in combat. They are different in that they require Stunning Attacks instead of critical hits (so are more controllable) and allow Fort Save. Also, they can be targeted against more body locations.
Use of those rules for “Pressure Point Attacks” doesn’t mean that monks cannot also use this rule when they score a threat.

Captain Oblivious

I’m taking a ‘regular campaign’ hiatus for the month of November so I can do other stuff-that-is-not-gaming. Interesting conversation today.
Player: So are you dropping [game] permanently or starting it back up after November?
Me: I’m starting it back up for sure.
Player: Oh. [pause] I don’t think you should.
Sometimes I become glaringly aware that I have no idea what’s going on around me in terms of my friends and acquaintances. It was (apparently) true in college (something that’s become clear to me in recent months, talking with my old college friends), and it seems as though I’m pretty well out of the loop even today.

Kick ass

I found someone to run Living Arcanis for me this weekend so I can play the module instead of GMing it.
Kethos will ride again. Yee-haw.

Tick Tock

We’re coming up on a changing of the guard, I think. People’s schedules are changing, including mine, and I forsee a major alteration in my regular gaming schedule, probably within the next month.
Not sure what I think of that.

Pulpy Goodness

I’ve finally added a link to the Pulp Adventures! website on the linkbar to the left. (The only reason I hadn’t up to this point was technical complications that would have come up with certain search engines.)
At any rate, this thing has been taking up a big chunk of my time lately, especially at cons, and I’m really excited about what we’re working on — in a few more months, we should have all the requirements completely in place to become an official member-run “Living” campaign for the RPGA. This means that people will be able to download and play the available scenarios anywhere the RPGA is active, using characters that gain benefits and experience as the storylines progress (yeah, just like in a normal campaign, but participating in the storyline with hundreds of other gamers). The fact that this could be a very popular and fun thing to be working on is a benefit — the fact that the whole thing is set in the Pulp genre of the 30’s makes the whole thing a blast.
After an abortive attempt at creating some gaming products last year, Rey and I have sort of fallen backwards into this and already accomplished even more than we’d originally planned for the other project.
It’s been easy (except for all the ass-busting labor). Go check it out.

I’m really smart about being Stupid

This weekend, I play-tested Rey’s Pulp Adventures module that we’re debuting at Tacticon next month. Good stuff.
I was playing Tony Vincetti, “Professional Driver” (read: New York cabbie). Tony’s quick on his feet, and quite personable when you get to know him, but in the words of one of the other players at the table “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” Here’s a sample:
Interpol agent: “The Doctor has escaped a prison for the criminally insane in Rouen.”
Tony: “Well Jeez, put him in a place that ain’t fallin’ down, for starters.”
On encountering french food:
Tony: “What’s this?”
French PC: “Quiche.”
Tony: “Excuse me?”
French PC: “Quiche.”
Tony: “Hey, that reminds me of somethin’ I heard about you French girls, c’mere a second…”
Later:
French PC: “No no, eet is Quiche.”
Tony: “Oh, that’s what you call eatin’. You french guys gotta different word for everything.”
Talking to French guard
Tony: “You like doing guard work? My cousin does that and he likes it.”
Guard: “Eet is veree good.”
Tony: “You guys get holidays off, like the Fourth of July?”
Guard: “No, we do not celebrate the Fourth of July.”
Tony: “… what?”
Guard: “We do not celebrate the Fourth of July. [Short pause, then he adds, trying to be helpful.] We celebrate the Fourteenth of July instead.”
Tony: “[thinking] Oh, sure, cuz of the international date line. That makes sense.”

Just when you thought was safe to go back in the Scheduler…

Okay folks, this looks like what I’ve got on the upcoming game schedule, both from Friday night stuff and what I’ll simply label “other”.
June 14 (Friday): Star Wars
June 15 (Saturday): JSquad & Cry Havoc
June 21 (Friday): DnD
June 22 (Saturday): Living Force catch-up at the house
June 28 (Friday): Star Wars
June 29 (Saturday): Weekend in Greyhawk thing (up at Red Rocks?) & Cry Havoc
June 29 (Sunday): More Weekend in Greyhawk 😛
July 5 (Friday): Very Likely Out of Town 🙁
July 6 (Saturday): Ditto that. 😛
July 12 (Friday): DnD
July 13 (Saturday): Living Greyhawk catchup at the house
Pity those of you who are so mired in this that more than 50% affects your schedule, but before you chuckle, let’s not forget the Oriental Adventures game 🙂

“I got to kill the [insert spoiler here].”

We ran the slot 0 for part of the RPGA Living Force Almas trilogy last night.
Because she’s a backup GM for the gameday and because the author of the modules was GMing the slot 0 for us, the only way for Jackie to ‘get’ the module was to play it.
This meant I FINALLY got her into a Star Wars game.
And she liked it. 🙂 She was 3 levels lower than the average at the table, but we put together a character who was really good at a few things that Jackie personally likes her characters to be good at — good enough to match the higher level characters.
Good enough to drop the main bad guy when the other ‘shooters’ couldn’t hit, and tough enough to survive a really REALLY nasty “throat crush” thing.
And she liked it. I lucked out and her first Star Wars game was fun. Very cool.

T.P.K.

It stands for Total Party Kill.
I’ve never perpetrated such a thing on any of my tables.
Until Saturday.
Long story short: in a lighthouse, someone (okay, it was Rey) cast a wall of fire in a room containing six 250-gallon copper tuns full of lamp oil.
In the next room were sixty-five five gallon clay jars full of more oil.
I’d mentioned that they were passing through rooms full of buckets of sand, and that the sand was there to control fires, because of the risk involved in having all the lamp oil….
…then I mentioned the big copper casks. The fact that they were full of oil was not specifically stated, but no one at the table claimed that the clues hadn’t been there. Mostly, there was a lot of rueful head-shaking.
It was a playtest, so it didn’t ‘count’, but it was still sort of fun.
Me: “You take… as near as I can figure… you take about 500d6 fire, plus the same amount of explosion damage.”
Them: “Wow.”
Me: “Then the lighthouse falls on you.”
~Another funny bit.~
Me: So… four months later, you wake up in the nearby village…
Rey: …where we’ve just landed.

They like me, they really like me

Putting it mildly, my review of Legend of the Five Rings Magic of Rokugan (for d20) was well-received by the staff. I’ll post up a link when they publish it to the site.
I enjoyed doing the review quite a bit (would have liked more time, but the situation demanded a quick turn around), and I hope I get a chance to do some work with that site in the future.
Update
That was fast: You can see the review here (although they stripped the formatting… c’est la vie).

Updates

Not many. I’m writing a review for an online Gamer Magazine, on a d20 sourcebook. I’ll link to that that when it’s up.
I purchased Spycraft for d20, which I hope to incorporate some ideas from into the Living Pulp endeavor. Star Wars this weekend, and I believe I owe this site an update on what’s happened in the last few sessions, so expect those soon. (Yay, something else I need to do.)

Wishlist:

– Oriental Adventures
– Farscape RPG (or even frigging info on when it comes out)
– Tome and Blood sourcebook
– Silence and Song sourcebook
All of the WEG modules converted to d20.

Cool

Added a new Shapeshifter class to the d20 Amber Basic Character Classes. I really like how that guy turned out. Also, tweaked ranger and got rid of Druid.
Things still to do:

  • I figured out the rules for making Trumps (needs more detail), but not the rules on how to use them. Extension of this: mental combat.
  • I need to fiddle with the age brackets for chargen. Realized it’s not quite right yet (following some testing).

Addendum: Just doubled the size of the Feats section, adding a bunch of “Background” feats, as well as things like Improved Familiar and Heroic Recovery (A.K.A. “Cockroach”).

d20

Updates to the Amber d20 pages. Specifically, did some work on the character classes, notably Ranger. Started the painful process of eliminating non-genre spells from the Magic section. Finished the Feats and skills for Logrus (Probably won’t do the non-canon powers for a long while, especially since my favorite power (Twilight) can be done more easily with the Prestige class Shadowdancer).
Did a bunch of reformatting in the skills, feats, and power skills section, and reeditted the equipment section.
Also, slowly replacing the term Gold Piece with Game Point (thus abstracting money).