Thursday, May 31, 2012

Got the Survey...

Hmmm, they (WotC) just sent me the survey of how I felt about the D&D Next game I played in last week.  I'm glad they waited this long because it really let me think about the game.  I do wish I could run it, maybe a couple of times with different tweaks to see how it all plays out.  But I get the feeling that I'd end up just running it like Swords & Wizardry/Basic D&D so it wouldn't be a fair test.

In general, that's kinda how I answered the survey.  They first off asked which version was my favorite.  While 1st ed is my base point, I've really come to love the simpler Basic edition even more.  I kinda wonder if that relegates my answers to some back room in which it will be ignored.  Since the playtest, I've been trying to figure out who is this game made for?  It's not made for 4e players because it is nothing like the MMO experience they all appear to enjoy.  It's not aimed at old school folks like me because there's all these little fiddly bits which get in the way.  Plus, the hit points and hit dice and healing are just way too far out in left field to even feel like a part of the game.  Is it trying to steal back the Pathfinder crowd?  It might be.  As PF simplified 3.5, this appears to simplify PF.  And as much as we would like to think our version of gaming is The Right Way and The Most Popular, I know that is not the case (either case).  So, it could be aimed squarely at the folks who are fully into 3.5 and didn't jump on the Pathfinder boat as well as the current crop of PF players.  The one hint in the survey which I feel is in favor of this opinion is when it asked "what edition did this feel like" and I said 3rd.  It had things like Feats and things like Skills and you could still do a lot of different things. 

So, now that I've sent it in, I feel a little deflated.  I wish there had been a chance to push for the re-release of the older edition modules.  Maybe that will come if they're trying to pull in the grognards like me.  I won't hold my breath.  I'll just continue playing S&W and ignoring the latest edition news....and edition wars.

Monday, May 28, 2012

D&D Next Playtest Report

If you don't already know by now, the starting adventure for 5e is B2 Keep on the Borderlands.  Specifically, the material centers around the box canyon of caves known as The Caves of Chaos.  The play test pack comes with a bestiary, a DM guide (of sorts), a How To Play section, and 5 pregens.   The pregens are a Halfling Rogue, Dwarf Cleric, Human Cleric, Elf Wizard, and Dwarf Fighter.  Our group had 6 players so we decided that there would be two dwarf fighters...twins.  Thus, the group consisted of Bella the halfling, Canute the human cleric, DALF (me, the Dumb A$$ Little Fighter), his twin brother SALF (Stupid A** Little Fighter), BAMF (Big A** Monster Fighter...yeah, I know, but there were kids present) the dwarven cleric, and Alanryn the elf wizard. 

Opening: the king has died and his heir is missing.  The Prince was sent to a nearby kingdom to seal an alliance and to prevent a potential war with two other neighboring kingdoms.  However, the prince's caravan was attacked near the Caves of Chaos by some creatures and he was probably carried off.  His disappearance is a State Secret and we are to find him or his body before a major war breaks out.  Thus, we're at the head of the box canyon and surveying the area as the game opened.

From our vantage point, we could see maybe 5 or 6 cave openings as well as several areas where there were piles of refuse from said cave openings.  Using the standard adventurer Right Hand Rule plus Which One Is Nearest tactics, we found a freshly eaten human with some tattered clothing of the make of the prince's retinue.  Thus, we decided to investigate the nearest cave.

Once inside, we saw an open pit with a few boards across it on our right.  Beyond that we could see a tunnel heading off into darkness.  On our left was a tunnel which curved to the right.  We took the boards from the pit and stacked them on our side of the tunnel and went left.  We found a room full of rats with a larger rat apparently giving orders.  The cleric one-shotted it with his divine bolt thingie and then the mage slept them all.  Anticlimactic end.

Going back to the pit we find 6 kobolds working to put more boards across the pit.  Again, cleric one shots a kobold, mage one shots a kobold with magic missile, rogue one shots a kobold (sling does 1d8 damage? okay......) and I get a crazy idea.  I ask the depth of the pit.  DM says, about 10 to 12 feet.  I ask the length of the boards on our side.  DM says about 14 feet.  I say I'm going to drop one end of board into pit, get running start and plant foot on board end to essentially pole vault into kobolds.  The players and DM look at me like I've just grown 2 heads.  SALF's player immediately grins and says "me too!"  BAMF's player says "yes!  all 3 dwarfs do this".  Well, I not only jump into them I also scream in an attempt to Intimidate them.  Intimidate check, natural 20 +3 = 23.  One kobold essentially breaks mentally in fear.  He collapses, soils himself, and goes fetal.  Another literally runs to the nearest wall, drops all he has, and starts trying to claw and chew a new hole in the wall.  I capture him.  The others are wiped out.  SALF's player doesn't roll above a 5 on anything for an hour....and only rolls double digits once.  It was a bad day for any rolls for him. 

Anyway, I capture the one kobold and prevent any of the other players from killing him.  Now, the other players were an interesting bunch.  The rogue and human cleric's players were a husband and wife in their late 60'ss or early 70's.  SALF's player is an Episcopal priest.  BAMF's player is a youngish guy who prefers Pathfinder and was wearing the oddest plaid fedora I had ever seen.  The elf player was very reserved but did let slip that he's not native Texan and is not fond of Texas either.  So, when I tried to capture the kobold, the wife asked "are you a cleric?  why are you protecting him?"  I had to explain three different times that our mission was to learn where the prince was and we would get no information from dead creatures unless her husband's cleric could Speak With Dead.  After we got that straightened out, we decided to call our kobold Patsy. I tied a rope around his neck and gave him 25' lead.  I also convinced him that we were looking for a job.  Thus, he needed to take us to his leader.  Again balking by the other party members, and I had to explain again that we were trying to get information to find the prince.  At this point, the elf's player asked for my character's INT.  Okay, it was an 8 but his WIS was 14 and I tried to pass this off as Cunning and not Smarts.  Finally I said, okay, the elf thought of this.

Well, Patsy leads us to the boss's room.  There were 3 tougher looking kobolds there and they were confused by us and Patsy.  I reiterated our desire for jobs by pointing out how easily we defeated the guards and how much stronger we were.  One kobold went to get the boss leaving us with the other two and Patsy.  At this point, the cleric, rogue and wizard blatantly attack the two tough kobolds...and kill them in less than half a round.  We hide the bodies and then the door is opened again as the tough kobold looks around for his teammates.  Behind him is a group of kobolds that are Patsy sized and one tough looking kobold in really nice armor.  I speak up for a job.  He challenged me to single combat.  And everyone else broke faith and attacked them all.  In two rounds, we had killed all the kobolds but the chief.  Patsy hid in a corner.  SALF tried to question the chief as everyone else ransacked the room.  SALF found a beat up horn and asked the chief about it.  After being told it was holy, SALF blew it.  The chief grinned, "now you die!  Many come to save me." we heard them coming, SALF takes the bound chief in one arm and the horn in the other and walks out to meet the kobolds.  "Bow to me, your new king!" he proclaims.  We're all standing around him with dead kobolds at our feet.  I'm the only one who took any damage in the battle and I look crazy.  So, they bow.  We let Patsy kill the chief in front of them and proclaim him new chief under SALF.  We learn that there is an orc cave nearby with human captives.  We tell the kobolds we are going to make war on the orcs. 

We rested overnight.  Gathered the kobolds into an army and entered the orc cave.  Here's where I charged and fell amidst 4 orcs.  Divine bolt took out one orc.  The other three still didn't hit, even with Advantage.  The kobolds took down two more orcs.  And the mage magic missiled the last. 

At this point, we stopped and debriefed.  We're going to try to play again soon but SALF's player will not be in town all summer, so he's out.  This will make it tough leading the group with the king gone, I think.  And, reviewing the XP, we basically split 5500 XP six ways which puts us about halfway to 2nd level.  As I mentioned before, the game went smoothly.  I think the spells are overpowered as is sling damage.  My character had a 16 STR and was using a greataxe, so he did 2d6+7 damage.  His Theme was Reaper which allowed him to do 4 points of damage on a miss, which I don't get at all.  I guess I helped to make it fun by doing weird things and thinking outside the box.  I am very disappointed that there was nothing to guide the DM in helping to give out roleplaying XP.  But maybe I can harp on that during the evaluation.

D&D Next, part 3...

(Can you tell school's out?  And I'm trying to find something to keep me occupied?)

One of my biggest faults is that I can be easily swayed by stuff that's new and shiny.  I have a tendency to jump on a bandwagon, especially if someone I respect has already jumped on too.....or appeared to have jumped on.  Anyway, I've had to really keep myself in check as new things showed up in the OSR, like Adventurer, Conqueror, King system or Crypts & Things or even Rappan Athuk kickstarter. I've had to make myself sit back and ask some tough questions to make sure that I'm not spending money I don't need to spend.  I learned that I had this fatal flaw (which advertisers love to see) when 3.0 went to 3.5, and when Pathfinder came out, and when I read of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and....the list can go on for quite a while.

Tied to this fault is my great ability to make bad decisions quickly and good decisions take time.  So, I'm now applying a "wait-and-see" approach to a lot of my life which upsets some of my friends because they want advice now.  Sorry.  Good advice will take me a little while.  Give me a day or two to ruminate and I'll get back to you.

So, applying this to 5e after the one playtest may still be a bad decision, or it may be what I need to answer whatever survey comes from WotC about how I liked the game.  In addition to this, I've gone out and read some other blogs by other playtesters to see if they saw what I saw and to see if I missed anything.  Here's some things that came out of my reading and ruminating.

Advantages & Disadvantages - Basically, there are no more +4 or -4 or +2 or -2 bonuses for things.  There's just the idea that you get an advantage or the opponent is at a disadvantage.  It's an interesting mechanic but I can see a lot of potential rule lawyering in it as well.  For example, (I'll write up the full story of the playtest it self in the next post) my character charged a group of orcs.  I rolled a natural 1 on my attack which we ruled that I had tripped, fell, and slid into them.  That means I'm at a Disadvantage and they had Advantage.  An Advantage means they got to roll 2 d20's instead of 1 and to take the higher rolls when they attacked me.  My attack back was at Disadvantage, which meant I rolled 2d20's to attack and had to take the lower value roll.  I like the variability of the rolls but I think there will be arguments about what constitutes Advantage and Disadvantage.

XP - this may be a problem of the skimpy little rules they sent but it appeared that you only get XP from killing things.  No XP from defeating or outwitting opponents.  No XP from gold or treasure.  This could be houseruled differently, but the XP values for the creatures are pretty high themselves (at least when compared to Swords & Wizardry).  We defeated 40 kobolds but we didn't kill them.  If we go hard interpret of the rules, then we get no XP for that.  This could be a big game changer for old school players.

At-Will Spells - our cleric regularly threw these divine bolts several times during each combat.  And then the mage joined in with Magic Missile.  Really?  Unlimited use?  I had the most difficulty with that.  It's one of the reasons I chose to play a fighter.

So, overall, it still wasn't a bad game or a bad system.  There's a few spots I'd houserule to make it palatable for me but might be a dealbreaker for others.  I can see this as a good intro system for D&D.  But, when I consider all the changes I would have to make (for me), I end up with another version of Swords & Wizardry or OSRIC or 1e with a few things added (like Advantages & Disadvantages, maybe).  Of course, the one thing many of the other bloggers are trying to get across also is that this is a playtest.  These are not the final rules and in fact, the final rules may not resemble these at all.  If the 5e rules stray too much further toward 3e/4e, then I'll not even bother getting the books to steal from.  If they pull back more toward 1e, then I might use it as a hook to wean players from MMO/4e styles to more old school styles.  Time will tell.  The current rumor is that they're working on a release of the rules for GenCon 2013. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

D&D Next, Part 2....with a little crow....

Well, I did it.  One of the players/DMs of the Old School Group opted to playtest 5E and asked us all if we wanted in.  Since no one spoke up, I figured I'd give it a shot.  At the very least, I would have actual data on which to draw a conclusion.  At the most, I'd enjoy it.  And, surprise, surprise, surprise....I actually had fun with it.  Now, my initial good feelings may dwindle as I learn more about the rules and such, and as more of the rules get published.  As for now, it was fun.

The "I like" parts: Skills & Feats are now Backgrounds and Themes.  Easier to work with and easier to ignore if you want.  Different weapons do different damage.  The hit dice type and classes are same as in older editions.  Silliness and creativity are still options.  Electrum is back as coinage.

The "I don't like" parts:  At-will spells is just too overpowered.  The multiple saving throws after you reach negative HP to survive.  Sleep all night = ALL hit points back, no healing magic needed.  Ridiculous number of hp at 1st level.  (I played a dwarf fighter.  HD was a d12 and I had 20 hp at 1st level.)

Now, I read through the rules quickly so I might have missed some things.  Also, this was the only game I've played, so I'm not going to go too far as I analyze this.  We were scheduled to play from 12:30 to 5:30.  Due to lost folks, kibitzing, bathroom breaks and time for discussion, we ended up playing for 3.5 to 4 hours.  We did not test all the things in the rules, nor did Stan use all the features written on the creatures' stat blocks and such.  I was the only one who got hurt, but that was due more to us roleplaying our way out of fights than actually fighting.  I am curious to try this again with a tougher, more rules lawyer like DM.  I think some of the things we got away with would not fly there.  But, Stan did a great job of making this a fun game.  I would like to play it again/some more.

So, I'll eat a little crow here and say that this game has potential to fit that little niche where a group of friends can play the different editions together almost seamlessly....if the rules are not too different from what I played.  However, if the rules change too much from this, then I don't see much of a point in getting it.  As Stan pointed out, for some folks there is a need for the rules to look colorful & shiny.  Black & white drawings, inexpensive paperback books, and slim volumes of rules just don't look "right" to a generation used to playing video games and MMO's.  And, if you can cut pieces out as easily as it looked like you could in the playtest, then those that need that color and shiny will be interested in playing it and we'll have no trouble running it. 

Anyway, that was my first impressions.  I'll post more later as I cogitate on the rules some more.

Friday, May 25, 2012

D&D Next....And It's Towel Day!

First off, Happy Towel Day to you all!  May 25th is official Towel Day to commemorate the death of Douglass Adams.  And today is extra special because 5+25+12 = 42.

Then the other news of the day, or past few days, is the release of the basics and hints about the direction 5th ed D&D will go.  I've read a lot of different opinions already, ranging from "this is pretty neat" to "eh, this sucks".  I must admit that when 4E was announced, I was angry because I had just spent another chunk of money on some books which were supposed to make DMing 3.5 easier.  Then as the rumors of 4E's rules became reality, I was disgusted.  I'm not a video gamer nor a console gamer nor an online MMO player.  None of those interest me in the slightest.  So, I started looking for something else and my eyes returned to my old 1E books on the shelf.  I discovered Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, Dragonsfoot forum, Knights & Knaves Alehouse, and other old school blogs, forums and resources.  My gaming group decided to go Pathfinder at the same time I discovered the North Texas RPG con.  I was done with heavy rulesets.  I was going to go back to my roots.

Well, now that we've reached this stage in 5E development, I have to ask the question: Why?  I understand the answer from WotC's perspective.  They need to make money and they believe this is their best avenue.  Fine.  I get that.  But I don't understand the feeling that's showing up in many of the gaming blogs.

"It's easy to roll up a character like 1E."
"The new skills are cool!"
"It's themes and packages instead of feats, so interesting."

Really?  Okay.  But what's wrong with the game you're playing now that you feel that you need a change?  What is wrong with your game that house-rules don't fix it?  Why do you need another set of rules?  I just don't understand the need.  I've played everything from 0e to 3.5e, from Swords & Wizardry to Pathfinder, from Tunnels & Trolls to Warhammer FRPG.  And in all that time, I've found two rulesets I really like.  If I want a light-hearted, beer & pretzels D&D like game, I pull out Searchers of the Unknown.  If I want to run a D&D campaign, I'll use either Swords & Wizardry or 1e (or OSRIC which is the same thing).  I don't see what's wrong with these rulesets that require me to "upgrade". 

"But I want to play a thief/rogue!"  Guess what?  You're already a thief/rogue because only thieves break into tombs and steal.

"But I want to play a monster!"  Why?  Can you really think so differently that you can view people as food? 

"But I want to play a barbarian/ranger/druid/bard!"  Fine.  Most of that's just roleplaying.  If you mean you want special bonuses because you're 'different', how does your job make you different from the guy next to you on the bus?  Again, just roleplay it.  That's why they're called ROLE PLAYING GAMES. 

Okay....sorry for the rant.  But I'm just tired of the ridiculous hoopla over essentially nothing.  As everyone with more than 4 brain cells has said already, if WotC really wants to make some money then they should just release the older stuff again.  Do it as pdf's or print or both.  Doesn't matter the format so much as the availability.  But then, that would make sense.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Monstrous Pathfinder

Well, as the title suggests, the game last Friday was a "monster" one-shot using the Pathfinder rules.  Our other DM (besides me) got to wondering a while back: Where do the summoned monsters come from?  When a mage casts Summon Monster, where does it come from and where does it go?  So, he decided to have a little fun with that idea. 

At the start, he handed us these large packets.  They were corner stapled and had been turned to the "Dire Rat" creature.  Each page was a stat block (which I thought was ridiculous).  Anyway, the story goes, "You all bunk down for the night after a fairly uninteresting day walking through the woods, heading toward the next town.  The next thing you know, you hear the voices of a halfling and a gnome.  But they're loud and above you.  As you begin to focus your eyes, you see these creatures standing taller than you.  The gnome is holding a wand or rod with all these odd protuberances.  He says, 'go down this hall and look for traps and secret doors'.  You feel compelled to follow his orders."

And so we start this little adventure.  After carefully going about 80 feet down the hallway, our resident wargamer who cannot roleplay takes off at a full run down the middle of the hall.  He trips a wire withing 50 feet which sets off an old-school (read 1E) fireball trap.  We all have 9 hp points. The trap does 8d6 damage.  TPK within 20 minutes of starting., using 2d30 (yes, not d20 but d30) we roll up new creatures.  The DM took all the splat books lists of summoned monsters and sort of evened them out around 2 to 5 HD.  Also, the halfling turned out to be kender (the hint was he was wearing shoes) and the gnome was a tinker gnome.  Great....we're on Krynn.  I ended up playing a dire rat, a medium venomous snake, a large centipede, and a centipede swarm.  Surprisingly large amount of combat was accomplished given the way PF combat tends to bog down.  Though, I must admit he often would say things like "make a Perception check" and I'd say, "where's that?"  Not much roleplay since we couldn't communicate with the summoner but it was still fun for a one shot.

Next game will be in 2 weeks because of graduation and Memorial Day holiday.  Then the NTRPG con!  Yea!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Searchers of the Unknown, Game 2

I believe this may be my second favorite fantasy game system, right after Swords & Wizardry. It's simple.  Easy to run.  And very amenable to gonzo gaming.  I have really enjoyed the two sessions I've run it.  This time, I had two folks who played before and a new guy.  Four others were scheduled to join in, but they all bailed for various reasons: job, health, in-laws, etc.

SPOILER ALERT: If you've not played and want to play Tomb of the Iron God, read no further.  To tell the story, I must let certain secrets out.  Once they're out, they cannot be hidden again.

So, using the new character sheets I picked up, we quickly realized that they needed to be tweaked a bit for us all to understand them at a glance.  I figure something got lost in translation, because if I read the original post correctly, the creator of this system is French.  Anyway, a little tweaking on wording, a little tweaking to switch the descending AC to ascending AC (for the new guy).  And we were back in the Tomb of the Iron God.  The group had spent the night and healed up.  Heading out they further explored the first level.  Their first encounter was with a group of large rats.  A tough battle ensued and one of the players made a roll to capture a rat.  The rat then became a test subject for any potion-like fluid found.  The first potion found was a potion of levitation.  And, voila!, a rat "balloon" was created.  Then they discovered that the little potions of embalming fluid they had found are flammable and can be used as small explosives.  Their first big challenge was with the iron High Priest.  They managed to blow him up while taking minor damage, including soaking the rat in embalming fluid and throwing it at the priest.  They managed to capture a goblin after they had blown up most of the rest of the tribe.  The new guy was playing a savage barbarian like fighter.  At the insistence of one of the other players, he took the mantle of new Chief Goblin.  The goblin said "okay", especially after they fed him and gave him some armor.  He helped them find a secret room and take out another goblin tribe.  (I used to hate running the NPC in a party, but I now enjoy playing them as little jerks to push or pull the party around.)  The group found a magical room in which the savage entered into communion with the Iron God and received a magical iron spear.  The group is charged with cleaning undead out of the catacombs, and they seem to be enjoying this a lot.  So, far, they've cleared out about 1/4 of the catacombs.  They've fought skeletons, zombies, and ghouls.  The next game won't be for quite a bit, though.  This group doesn't meet up again until mid June.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Oops....I got busy and have forgotten to update in a while. 

Recap:  Turned 50 last week.  Went to a Pub and participated in a trivia contest.  Worked and continue to work on wrapping up the school year.  Gamed a little bit.

Speaking of games, last Friday I ran Boot Hill for a second time.  However, because of the high demand every free moment, I didn't get to prep until literally the few hours before hand.  I had forgotten most of the rules and I needed to remember the rules because I had to teach 2 people how to play.  So, long story short, I made up stuff as I went along and we all had a pretty good time.  The characters were hired by the town of Brimstone to be city marshals to restore law & order when the town boomed because of a silver mine hitting big in the hills and the railroad deciding to come through town.  The "module" I used was from an old Dragon magazine and it had a great table for rolling up random "offenses" for the marshals to handle.  They dealt with a disturbing the peace, a manslaughter case, and a bank robbery.  Next time (whenever that is), we'll have a follow-up on one of the robbers that got away and have the circuit judge come through town. 

This coming Friday, I'm running a group through Matt Finch's Tomb of the Iron God using Searchers of the Unknown.  I did some more research on the rules and found a compendium which applied the rules to all sorts of genres.  I also found a really nice character sheet which explains the game well also.  Looking forward to more door removal and gonzo gaming.

Well, still have a stack of labs and tests to grade.  More later.