Friday, August 9, 2013

40K Friday - New Marine Stuff

It's been a quiet week here 40K-wise. This week's hubbub seems to be all about the new Space Marine models and units coming along for the next release.

Some new type of armor between a terminator and a dreadnought. Always happy to see Imperial Fists but I'm not sure I care much for these otherwise.

...and another rhino-based gun vehicle. This one is supposed to be the marine AA unit and it's perfectly fine.

More info here , and here of course.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

This Week's Random Gaming Thoughts

  • The latest Next packet renamed the "Wizard" class - now it's "Mage" and I am amazed at the amount of commentary on such an insignificant switch. It's fun though - you can tell the age/experience level of many of the comment-makers though as they post things like "that's definitely a move towards World of Warcraft fans" or other assumptions that it's always been "wizard" and this is some kind of radical change. Heck, some of us still abbreviate them as M-U's without even thinking about it.
  • Lots of people on the boards calling for non-spellcasting rangers. I still don't get this. There's a lot of retro in Next and rangers have cast spells since OD&D. Where does this come from? Maybe I've been watching too much Bill Cavalier but there's already a class of non-spellcasting rangers: IT'S CALLED THE FIGHTER!
  •  Really getting tired of RPG books referred to as "product". Aren't these supposed to be labors of love? Isn't this a creative niche hobby thing? Isn't most of this "product" created by companies with fewer than ten employees? If so why do we have use corporate lingo to describe it? Sure, the WOTC guys can call it that, but Tinydice Press doesn't need to use it in their "press releases" or on podcast interviews - talk about it like you give a sh*t, not like you're a corporate salesman who had nothing to do with the creation of the "product". Yes, I work in corporate marketing and some of that stuff has a place but a lot of it is just buzzwords and trying to sound trendy. You don't need it in RPG's! The same thing goes for "brand" too - I'll save that for another time
  • I really like the Cortex Plus system as it appeared in the Marvel Heroic game. It's a cool change of pace game from D&D and a lot of other traditional type RPG's. That said I really don't care for the licenses they keep picking up. Even as a fan of Firefly, I don't really need a game dedicated to it, and if I do I have Traveller. I know we have the Cortex Hacker's Guide but MWP please consider developing some non-licensed settings for your really cool system - I think there's an audience for it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

D&D Next - Characters

Some further notes on characters after our weekend playtest:

Attributes: It's roll, spend points, or use the standard array for the standard d20 attribute list. The bonuses use the same d20 scale we've been using since 2000.

Alignment: Still an option though de-emphasized. No apparent magical effects or class restrictions  based on it which makes it fully an RP choice rather than a mechanical one.

Races: Standard classic D&D races. nothing exotic like Dragonborn or Tieflings or the like. They have brought back a lot of the subraces now, so you will be choosing mountain dwarf or hill dwarf, high elf or wood elf, and even the halfling subraces are back. There's a definite AD&D feel there. In general each racial choice gives a +1 to two different stats and the usual vision enhancements/resistance to something/bonus language. For the subraces, the over-race gives one stat bonus, like elves +1 dex, and the subrace gives the other - high elves are +1 int, for example. There are some other things in the mix, like halflings are "lucky" and get to reroll some 1's. Oh and humans get no racial abilities but get a +1 to all stats. That's getting some flak on message boards as "too powerful" but I'm not so sure after seeing it in play.

Backgrounds: In earlier packets these were skill packages. now there are no skills in the game so they grant "lore" abilities (a big bonus on Int tests in one area) from a list of around 10 lores. They also have equipment packages and some kind of minor non-combat perk. A lot of people are upset about the loss of skills and I get that but going with attribute checks for skill type checks and saves does return them to prominence. I like the background concept as it does make it more obvious that a mage might have been a soldier before, or a thief might be a noble and so mixes up the default/stereotype things we see so much.

Feats: Nobody starts with feats. Starting around 4th level most classes get the option for an ability score increase, and they will have 3-4 more levels between there and lvl 20 to do the same thing. Instead of taking this increase they can take a feat instead and each feat is pretty strong with multiple abilities and no level requirements or other pre-req's. Some of them also cover minor multiclassing in a way similar to 4E's multiclass feats. There are fewer of them and each character will have fewer of them, but they are a lot more interesting.

Classes: Fighter/Cleric/Mage/Rogue plus Barbarian/Druid/Paladin/Ranger/Monk. There are "paths/traditions/oaths" now which are sort of like a build in 4E or a subclass in older editions - for example, illusionist is a school choice under the tradition of wizardry. Barbarians can go berserker or totem warrior, clerics can choose from several domains (sun, life, etc), Fighters have gladiator/knight/warrior. I'll use Druids as an example as theirs seemed to show the differences pretty well.

In Next this might be a druid and his ranger friend
Druids get the usual weapons and armor restrictions, natural lore, and the un-aging type features they've always had. They also have spellcasting and wild shape and this is where things get interesting. At 3rd level each druid has to pick a "circle" and this choice determines which druidy things will be emphasized in future levels.

Basic druid spellcasting is pretty strong - they get thunderwave as a 1st level spell which is pretty nice - and the "Circle of the Land" is a choice to focus on spell power. It grants an extra cantrip, extra prepared spells at each level, and extra spell per day at each level. The land circle druid chooses one of 7 types of terrain and their bonus spell choices are tied to that, a themed list of spells so the mountain druid gets things like stoneskin while the coastal druid gets things like water breathing. I think it's a pretty flavorful set of choices. Land also grants the traditional ignore natural entanglements, immunity to poisons/charm/disease at various levels. The big sacrifice here is that you're not going to be turning into a T-Rex and chomping on a dragon with this circle choice, though you could hit it with an insect plague or an earthquake spell.

The only notable druid spell choice that's missing is summon nature's ally, which was a big part of some past druid types. I'm guessing this is a deliberate playtest choice as there are no summon monster spells in the wizard list either. I'm also guessing the summoning stuff will be handled down the road and might even end up as the big feature of another druid circle.

Druids also have wild shape and this is somewhat different, between the spellcasting-dire-bear combat monster of 3E and the notably weaker "why bother" version of 4E. The core wild shape ability starts at 2nd level with a wolf/hound option and then continues fairly quickly with steed/fish/rodent and bird options all available by 9th level. Note that these are utility forms, not combat monster forms. Fish lets you swim, bird lets you fly, hound is a sense boost, rodent lets you hide, but none of them are big boosts in a fight and I was a little disappointed when I first read through this section. However, for fighting forms you have the "Circle of the Moon".  Bear & cat forms come into play and then enhancers such as "giant", "ancient", and finally "behemoth". All wild shapes are basically stat boosts with some other enhancement like swim/fly/senses and with the battle shapes there's also a damage enhancement. There are limits on using gear and most importantly on spellcasting but if you want to play a melee druid it is certainly possible here.

So the circles do add significant flavor and I could see two druids in the same party not stepping on each other too badly, as long as they each choose a different circle. The same thing applies to the other classes as well though I am sure some accomplish it better than others.

Comparing this to 4E character creation, well, it's no comparison - there are more races, more classes, more options within each class, plus skills, backgrounds, and themes. This is a playtest though and I would expect more and more options once the game is published. Next is a more old-school in feel and does not need a computer to generate them but I'm sure one will be coming along in the near future anyway.

Comparing it to Labyrinth Lord (basic and advanced) well it's a lot like the advanced player's guide version of LL with a few extra house rules. Attributes, races, equipment and alignments are very similar. I've played around with different ability check options when we've played that game so that's not unfamiliar. The spell lists are similar though saves are fairly different. Next classes allow for more differentiation between two characters of the same class, so two fighters may work very differently, and that's a good thing but there are some ideas here that could easily be ported to LL and used without much complication.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

NEXT Weekend

Lots of new games are coming out, then a rare and unexpected sync-up of kid schedules granted us some actual playing time this weekend. So what did we play? Numenera? Shadowrun? 13th Age? Any of the stuff I've been reading and posting about for the last two weeks?


We played Next.

This was sort of a surprise as there has been flat-out rejection any time I have brought it up since the Great Next Debacle last year. Time does heal, and Blaster especially has been itching to play more D&D. There was also the new playtest packet that came out on Friday with many revisions and quite a bit of buzz online. So we spent Saturday afternoon reading through it and some of Saturday night and Sunday playing it.

I had also run my 4E game Friday night after a long gap so it was a D&D-intensive weekend. Once again, comparisons were inevitable as both versions saw action so close together. This year we have also played some Basic/Labyrinth Lord so that was on my mind too.

The Rules: The new packet is a fairly complete set of rules but the organization is a little messy for use in play. I have not tried to run any of the recent packets but the organization has stayed similar throughout the whole process and it might be time for a change.  Someone commented online that they are certainly capturing a retro feel in one way: there are rules tucked in to little corners all over the place like in AD&D.

After going through the rules we ended up with the following:

  • Wood Elf Ranger (Blaster) - Of course, this is kind of his thing. Bow, dual blades.
  • Human Cleric (Blaster) - Sun clerics get fireball as a 3rd level domain spell. He's a sun cleric.
  • Human Druid (Lady Blacksteel) - Druids get  thunderwave at first level. Sold!
  • Wood Elf Monk (Who) - One monk "order" looks a lot like a fire/air/earth/water bender. Sold!
  • Human Rogue (Red) - Sneak and stab, this is one of his things as well
  • Human Mage (Red) - He took an illusionist because he likes to trick my poor monsters
I was unsure of what setting to use then decided not to worry about it - it's a playtest right? It's generic-D&D-land! Once we got going though this got a little more complicated. Then I had to decide what adventure. The packet has conversion rules for the Slavers adventure reprint that just came out, and the S-series reprint from a few months ago. There's no way I was going to drop them in any of the S modules with new rules for all of us. I seriously considered the slavers but the boys insisted that we start at 1st level, so that was out. I cycled through a few options and then in the interest of getting things moving I went with the old standby - the Caves of Chaos.  

I won't go into a roll-by-roll description but they basically cleared out the kobold lair. It was a fun series of fights and gave us a chance to play with the combat, healing, and magic systems along with some of the "skill" rules. There were some walking wounded all through the run, but no one died. They could probably use another fighter type but the monk actually has the highest AC (monks get 10 + dex bonus + wisdom bonus) and does pretty decent damage with his double bare hand attacks so when paired with the two-weapon ranger they plow through kobolds just fine.

Red was determined to find some way to use his illusions (heh) and I was forced to walk that line between "gently redirecting" and "don't be stupid" as there aren't a lot of things you can do with low level illusions that are going to fool a monster in its own lair. The best thing they came up with was an illusion that the planks used to cross the pit trap in the entrance were in place when they were not, but they never got a chance to use that one as the fighting all happened on the other side of the pit. It was still a good idea. Beyond that I had to ask "do you need a lot of trickery to defeat 2hp kobolds?"

The unexpected backfire came when the boys declared their intent to clear out the caves. This caught me off guard because I assumed we had moved on from this and were going to go with my "world's fastest playtest" idea where we would do one encounter/lair then level up and do another one. I mean the Isle of Dread is in the playtest pack and I've been wanting to run that one for them for a long time - we could at least jump to 3rd level, right? Nope. We need to finally (their words) clear out these caves. Side question, as yet unasked and unanswered: what about our Stonehell game? Conversion is going to be tricky given the limited set of monsters in the test pack but I think I can manage it. So now I'm thinking that Next is going to be dropped into Dragonport and the old progress in the caves there and the old characters there will be translated for next time. Improvise, adapt, overcome - right? 

Some mechanical notes from the rules and the play session:
  • Anyone can make two-weapon attacks (no stat bonus on the off-hand attack is the limitation) and rangers have dropped the whole two-weapon vs. bow thing that has consumed them for some time now. Now they are stealthier, faster, tracking wilderness fighters.
  • There are no specific skills in the game anymore, everything is tied to stat checks of d20 + stat bonus with occasional bonuses form a class feature. Many classes have an "expertise" die they can roll and add to certain checks, like a d6 on all wisdom checks. There is usually a choice between two types, and the die type increases (slowly) with level. This is pretty flexible but I know a lot of people are howling about the loss of skills.
  • Spellcasters now know a few "cantrips" which re nothing like the cantrips we came to know back in the old days. Cantrips in next are basically at-wills as in 4E. Shocking Grasp is a cantrip now, and does a d8 damage at 1st level and has a 5' range! Some of them are more utility spells but every class has at least one combat option that looks pretty good. Mages won't be tossing daggers any more - they have Ray of Frost!
  • Monks don't suck, at least at first level. He gets to use his dex bonus for offense and defense and his karate chop starts at 1d6. With the more open two-weapon rules he can throw two punches a round. Monks have "Ki Points" to power their special abilities and the first one he gets is to use a point to make another attack so he can throw 3 attacks in one round twice during a fight - that can really clear out the low hit point stuff. They get more interesting down the road, including some elemental powers, so we will see how it goes. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The World's Fastest 4E Campaign

I played some D&D this weekend - more on that tomorrow - and while doing so I seriously started thinking about how to run a normal leveling up type campaign at an even faster pace. The goal would be to experience the full range of levels in the game in roughly a year. I'm thinking specifically of 4th Edition D&D but I'd be open to trying it in other level based games as well.

I can think of two ways to start: with a pre-built set of adventures or with a core concept such as "Against the Giants" or "Against the Dragons".  The idea would be to play a complete "encounter" or short adventure entirely within one session once a week or more likely once every other week. After each session the party levels up and the next session is set at one level higher.


  • Experience every level of a class in a relatively short period of time
  • A complete campaign in a fixed period of time (complete in some senses anyway)
  • A chance to run/play a new campaign every year
  • Some players are going to love it - episodic play is great


  • Sessions are going to be tight
  • Mission type focus comes at the expense of just wandering around, and some NPC interaction
  • No real room for bigger adventures spanning multiple sessions
  • Some players are going to hate it - episodic play is terrible

Structuring the campaign
Using a set of unrelated prebuilt encounters like Dungeon Delve means there's no overarching theme or plot so to some degree your players are just going to have to buy in and agree that this is what they want to do. Think of it as a set of short stories chronicling the career of a group of heroes - you don't get a story about every adventure they had,  nor do you get text covering all the downtime in between - what you get is a story focusing on the biggest and best adventures they have, and the other stuff comes in the form of the author's notes before or after or in between each story. Alternately, think of a movie series, like the Bond films: we don't get an exhaustive rundown of everything he does and we don't typically get a serialized story. That's the approach I'm thinking of taking.

If you hand craft this thing then you can work in a theme such as a creature type, a nation, or a power from the outer planes that is the focus of the game. The level 1 adventure might focus on the tower of an evil wizard with a quasit familiar, and by level 30 the party is taking on Orcus himself, with a trail of crushed demonic types littering the way between the two.

You could theme the party too, if the players are agreeable - this campaign is about a dwarven quest for vengeance against the lord of the frost giants. Or maybe it's a group of humans trying to get as rich as possible. Or a group of elves and allies out to slay Lolth once and for all. There are certainly some options here but getting players to agree to them could be tricky.

Structuring the sessions
One limitation here is that a lot of the shopping and chit-chat is going to have to happen in between sessions, via email or messageboard or however your group likes to communicate. To get in a full short adventure the focus really needs to be on what's happening right now in the game. I would use "en media res" as my default, with a very flexible timescale,  as it's the most sensible way to account for last week's session being against the pirates of the gulf and this week's session being against giants up in the mountains. Something like this:

"It's been six months since you vanquished the Black Fang pirate band in the Gulf of Storms. Recently a messenger from the Monastery of the Blue Ox that giants are stirring in the mountains and have begun raiding local farms and travelers. They seek your assistance in this, given your reputation as mighty slayers of giant kind." You agreed to dispatch this threat and have traveled to the hold of the giant king, facing down terrible beasts and giant patrols alike. You now stand outside the gates, prepared for action."

Now the "what do you do" type questions start, ideally from the players looking over the area, the guards, and anything else they think is important. Augury type spells might be cast, summoning spells might be used, and then action starts happening. Ideally this introduction would be sent out ahead of time so the players could do any prep they wanted to do, like crafting items. Stuff like this.

Everybody comes in ready to go, actions happen and a good time is had by all. Everyone has a new story to tell. Next time, hopefully the same group comes along and more fun is had. I might be a little more restrictive on character swapping for this campaign as character continuity is going to be the main thread holding it together, especially with something like the Dungeon Delve approach. For a new player, sure, jump on in, but for an existing player I'd probably press them to pick one character and stick with it for the whole campaign, especially after the party has been stable for a while. Sure, characters die and that has to be accounted for, but other than that and new players stability would be a bonus here.

The other potential obstacle I see here is gear: so much of D&D is built on magic items that I would have to really think about how to handle this. For this one, since it's a structured situation anyway, I would probably be OK with the "wishlist" approach that a lot of 4E game take. This would give the players a fair amount of control over how their characters develop and it eliminates the need for the DM to keep up with it. Within the game, it's easy enough to handle this: Option 1, the Paladin has heard that a legendary holy avenger was taken by this demon lord -now he has another reason to be interested as he can reclaim the sword. Option 2: After finishing off the giants the monastery awards the fighter a mighty blade that it has long held in keeping for a worthy bearer - and the fighter just proved worthy.

For 4E the goal is the run to lvl 30. I'd go with the delve model of 3 encounters, just enough to work through in an evening. I've found skill challenges to go much faster than combat so there might be room for more if a skill challenge was a big part of one or two of them.

For 3.5/Pathfinder I think the same concept would work, you'd just have to monitor how fast things were moving to fine tune it for your group. In 4E fights tend to take a certain amount of time, but I remember 3E as being more swingy - having the right tool could shorten a battle considerably, while having the wrong set drew it out some. You also only have 20 levels to worry about so it could take a lot less time to accomplish.

For BECMI I think it works too, but you have fewer tools for setting up encounters, especially at the higher levels. For levels 1-10 sure, but you get up to level 30 in the master set and I think there will be more swing than in 3E's high levels.

For Older school AD&D I think I would put a lower level cap on it - no more than 20 for sure, and maybe even 18. That would let M-U's get to their highest level spells for a level or two before wrapping up.

Heck it might be worth a shot in a d20 Star Wars game too. It would certainly be easy enough to plot something out that made sense anyway. I think you're going to need even more player buy-in though than D&D.

What it comes down to really is how you want to spend your game time. My current 4E campaign is running around 30 sessions now and the party is at 10th level and it's been one long uninterrupted arc. If we took the "WF4EC" approach we still would have played 30 sessions, but we would be at level 30 and would have less of an epic tale but more and smaller tales. After running multiple campaigns where everyone expects to start at level 1 and work their way up the ladder only to have a TPK or loss of interest reset the game, it would be nice to explore the higher end of the level scale in months instead of years.

Motivational Monday