Friday, June 1, 2012

A Super Status Summary!

  • ICONS Team-Up is now due out in June and I will happily download it on day 1. More ideas and rules options are always welcome for a game we play regularly.
    See what I did there? Man I used to love these!
  • Marvel Heroic: Civil War is the first big campaign release and Cam Banks has said (recently) it's scheduled for 2nd quarter (rules were Q1, then one event book for each quarter after that for the rest of 2012) We're ready for it - we just need the book! Q2 normally is Apr-May-Jun so I'm hoping the books are making their way through various transportation systems now.
  • M&M: the next big thing is the Emerald City Boxed Set which is supposed to be out for Gen Con - look, old-school is not just for D&D anymore! I'll consider this pretty strongly but I'm not sure how much I will use it. I might have to "break it up for parts" - for Atomic City. Then again the Apprentices might be ready for a separate M&M campaign with maps and online support.
  • Champions: The current state of Champions isn't great. The company cut way back late last year and I see they're now doing a kickstarter to fund a Villains book and a reprint of one of the core Hero books! I know kickstarters are a hot thing right now but I think that's a bad sign. If they were trying to do some big boxed set of Millenium City or some super-deluxe edition of the rulebook I would be less concerned. On the other hand it is how a lot of modern board wargames are funded so maybe some smaller RPG's will end up going a similar route. I'd hate to see Champs fall out of print, even if the current edition isn't my favorite. Editions come and go, but not having a rulebook on the market can be a big problem. I'm crossing my fingers that things improve for them.
  • BASH - I didn't think here was a ton of new support out there for it but there have been some adventures and villain collections released this year on RPGNow. I was thinking I'd like to see another Basic Action Magazine as that seemed to be a good way to keep new ideas flowing into a central source and look here - #6 just came out yesterday! I really have to find time to work this in.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thursday Quick Hits

  • Despite 4 years since the release of 4th Edition, the most computer-friendly ruleset mechanically (and despite its reputation as an MMO-emulation game) we so far have zero computer games based on it. The only thing even on the horizon is Neverwinter, and it has been delayed and gone quiet to the point that it smells like vaporware to me. We will see how it goes but this is a surprising state of affairs to me.
  • Speaking of computer games I am playing Diablo 3 and besides being a lot of fun it is Baldur's Gate-like in a noticeable way: NPC interaction. You can have one NPC along most of the time and they will talk to your character about different things, some of which are pretty funny. When you pick up a second NPC - giving you 3 characters in the party - there is even more conversation as you explore or fight and it is a lot of fun to observe.
  • I have introduced the Apprentices to the D&D Next rules and characters and they immediately identified it as a Basic D&D game replacement without any input from me. We will be trying it out this weekend. Here's another chat about Next.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The State of the Games at the End of the Schoolyear

No, not the main game - that comes later in the week.

For the Apprentices this is the last week of school, down to just a couple of days now. With summer schedules we might actually get more game time in, but it's hard to tell.

Not long after school started we began our 4E Temple of Elemental Evil game and sad to say we have averaged less than a session a month due to complicated schedules and trying to accommodate and include some friends, which has only complicated the schedule that much more. I will say that 4E is not really built for short sessions and that makes it harder to fit in. They're about finished with the Moathouse so I'm going to try and wrap that up this weekend when everyone is here and set the stage for the next chapter. I'm still interested in converting and running it, and they're still interested in fighting through it, so we will press on.

What has been filling our shorter batches of time has been ICONS. I have to say this is one of the major discoveries for me and the crew of the last few years, as it's perfect for running with low to no prep on either the DM or the Players' part and it still has just enough crunch to make them feel like they're accomplishing something. The easy availability of inexpensive adventures online is a hidden strength of the game. Even if we don't finish a whole story arc in one sitting they (and I) still enjoy the time spent in-character.

Our Basic D&D game has largely fallen by the wayside. Everyone likes it because it's fun and it plays much faster than 4E, more like ICONS, but for most of the last year if we have time then they'd rather play lite supers than lite D&D. Oddly enough I still get excited about the campaign world and add to my notes on it regularly. It's a very old-school approach in that most of the people and place names are homages to someone or nods to places we have lived. I have a vision of them suddenly clamoring for a sustained campaign in BECMI/AD&D and me being able to unveil a fully-formed campaign world ready to romp in but that's probably not very realistic. I do have one glimmer of hope though.

Star Wars has also largely fallen by the wayside. I chalk it up to time available and it being 3rd priority at best. After D&D and Supers there's not much time for anything else and that's where it falls. I still have all of my notes, and a campaign outline, and I think it would be a blast, but it's close to impossible to sustain 3+ campaigns on a regular schedule, even when all of the kids are here. Even ICONS tends to be played in self-contained adventures without any overt connections. Running through a 12-24 session campaign over 10 levels is a tall order. Plus their interest ebbs and rises too - sometimes they are all about the Jedi and the clones, other times we go for a week without hearing about anything. I could probably push this more if I tried, but I'm trying to let their interest guide me. Plus it's not like we ran a lot of sustained campaigns at their ages back when we were playing. After the lack of interest in a Star Wars game among my regular adult players I wonder if there's something to the genre itself that makes it a harder sell then fantasy or supers or even more general science fiction games.

As far as the Apprentices go...

  • Apprentice Who is getting more interested but still has a shorter attention span than the others. He loves ICONS and played Basic D&D (with Apprentice Blaster running!) and had a good time but his experiments in 4E left him a little winded and he was getting bored by the end of one combat encounter. He's cautiously interested in M&M and has had a good time with Star Wars so there's promise for the future. Side note: For the younger set, I can't recommend ICONS enough. I use a green d6 for the "plus" and a red d6 for the "minus" so it took very little time for him to pick up the mechanic and the rest is largely making it up as you go along.
  • Apprentice Blaster is up for almost anything but D&D (any flavor) is probably his favorite, followed by closely by Supers in general and ICONS in particular. He's run a session or two for the other two and is probably most likely to start running his own games with some of his friends. He's very action-oriented and wants to get things done. he's much more Logan than Reed.
  • Apprentice Twilight has about zero interest in anything at this point. The teenage girl is a fickle thing and though she was as enthusiastic about seeing Avengers as anyone (she wore the shirt for opening night without argument and has actually seen it one more time than I have at this point) she has no interest in rolling dice as a character right now. I'm giving it time.
  • Apprentice Red has the busiest schedule of any of them. He's the oldest so he gets what is cool about them as much as anyone and has shown some interest in running as well. He's just distracted by learning to drive and girls and stuff like that  - playing D&D and Warhammer is no longer the girl-repellent that it once was, which allowed us that intense focus that burned things into our young brains. He does like his D&D and ICONS though, and he likes M&M quite a bit too. He and Blaster argue quite a bit but when they work together they can power through adventures rather impressively. he's likely to put a little more thought into his characters and backgrounds, which helps drive the other two to step up their game in that area too.
That covers the past and the present, what about the future?

Well, for one, I think ICONS will continue to be a major player. Supers in general is very popular here and I intend to push M&M into a prominent role too via some limited campaigns that I have plotted out. BASH may get a tryout, at least one, to see if it's worth some of our time. I also am looking forward to formally introducing them to Champions this summer, probably after we play through one of those M&M arcs. 

The other big player is the new Marvel game. The boys really liked our run-through of Breakout and I am waiting on Civil War to be released to fire this one up again. I even ordered some new dice to make sure I had enough to run it.

On the D&D front I expect to continue ToEE 4E through the end of the year and then see where things stand. I'd like to run through the whole adventure and then into the G-D-Q series for Paragon and Epic. My hope for rekindling the Basic game is to convert it over to the Next playtest rules for now and to each new iteration over the summer as they release. They made B2 part of the kit so I might as well, right? If that goes well then maybe it springboards into a new campaign with the official new rules sometime late next year. Plus it lets me bring my little homebrew world back into play which is a good thing too.

Beyond these I'll see if there's any more room for a third area of focus like Star Wars or Deadlands or Gamma World. Deathwatch would be a big player with the older boys but it's yet another set of rules to keep track of and that's more of a barrier for me than I thought because I have to be the rules expert on the thing. Later. The system I most feel that I'm neglecting is Savage Worlds, so I hope to work it in sometime too.

They really liked the looks of this one - even without powers
Anyway, there's the update and collected thoughts for the year 2012 so far, and some ideas for the future. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Few Thoughts on The Coming Thing

Brisco and Bowler suffer a slight setback while looking for the coming thing.
I've read it all once now, though I have not run it. I ran the kickoff for the next chapter in our 4E game on Friday night so the current version was quit fresh in my mind as I read through the Next version.

  • Ability Scores, modifiers, and hitting a Difficulty Class is basically the same system we've seen since 2000. Scores are capped at 20.
  • 4th edition-isms - spells have an attack bonus, Starting hit points are Con Score (not modifier) + class hit die, Nat 20 to hit does max damage, Cover is still +2/+5, Death Saves at zero HP, 3 successes = stabilize, short and long rests, conditions are still in though the list is different, weapon categories and qualities
  • 3rd Edition-isms - spells force the target to make a save vs. a DC, masterwork weapons, measurement in feet not squares
  • Old School - Ethereal Plane is back, Armor is a fixed AC (not a bonus to a base 10) with modifiers for a shield and Dex, Areas of effect - cloud cone line sphere cylinder, Detailed material components for spells, concrete durations for spells - one round, one minute, etc, 
  • Non-Edition Specific -isms - Combat is move + one action
Completely new stuff:
  • Advantage/Disadvantage - Either of these means you roll an extra d20 when performing the relevant action. Advantage means you take the higher roll, Disadvantage means you take the lower roll. This is a good example of using an intuitive mechanic to help avoid tables of modifiers for a bunch of different things and I like it. I've played around with stuff like this a little bit in some of my Basic games and it's very easy to integrate into the flow of the game. Good move. Also, this now appears to be the recommended way for the DM to grant mechanical bonuses and penalties instead of the +/-2 or +/-5 of 4E.
  • Hit Points as thresholds for effects - this shows up mainly in the spell section and it was mentioned in one of the earlier articles on the WOTC site. It's a little weird, but I think it probably works. I'm just not sure about the feel of it. We used hit dice as a threshold for things like Charms and Holds in AD&D, and this is really just another version of that. I'm not sure about the feel but we will have to give it a try before I give it a thumbs up or down.
  • Monsters do not have a level, a CR, or even hit dice - they just have stats comparable to Basic D&D with hit points instead of hit dice and a size/space/reach indicator. This seems like a tremendous step backwards from pretty much every previous edition - even Basic had hit dice with asterisks indicating special abilities like regeneration or breath weapons. There's a reason that every new edition has had more and more systems for balancing monsters with groups of player characters - because people asked for it. Now were abandoning it completely because ... it's hard? Every DM I know that runs 3E/4E/Pathfinder pays attention to that kind of thing and even back when I was running Basic and AD&D that kind of comparative rating was an significant consideration when planning out a dungeon or a wilderness adventure. Now admittedly monsters are not the focus of this iteration of the playtest - the general mechanics of the game are the focus - so this may be a bit premature, but it is something I intend to watch closely as I DM 90% or more of the time and I like having that kind of indexing available

Beyond this the monster damage looks kind of low. Again we will have to check it but the big nasties look like they don't do much per attack. Maybe multiple attacks (claw/claw/bite makes a return here) will make up for it. They do have standard spells listed, which means we will be doing some lookup in play, not something I'm excited about after being spoiled by 4E's incredibly useable statblocks.

Here's a link to an article by Mike Mearls that discusses some of the design decisions thus far.

It's not quite this bad - yet

Overall there is less "system" here  than we've seen maybe since the days of BECMI. One example: there are no saving throw tables or scores or defenses - you just make a "Dex save" or a Con save or an Int save which is d20 + stat modifier - no level-based element at all. level does not appear to do anything mechanically in this draft but add more hit points and another option of some kind - there's no to-hit increase or defensive increase or skill increase as far as I can tell. That's going to be a little weird since it was a big deal in 3E and is a huge deal in 4E. Mike Mearls said they wanted to keep the number escalation down but wow - they are certainly doing that in this version.

It's also clearly a very different game than the last two editions. It's almost as if you took the mechanical refinements of 3rd Edition and some of the concepts of 4th Edition and then applied them (like a monster template) to Moldvay Basic. The 3E goal of a universe made up of common building blocks ala Hero System is clearly gone, as is the 4E goal of BALANCE DARNIT. Even at this point I can see it making conversions of older material really easy, but is that really that important? It's almost a rules-light version of D&D and considering from AD&D onward it really has been the opposite of "light" anything I'm not sure how to take it. One comment I've seen on multiple old-school blogs is how old rules used to give you a complete game in one 64 page rulebook. Well, Rules+DM Advice+monsters for this package is 74 pages. I think this version of the game could easily be presented in one big rulebook with rules, monsters, spells, and items rather that the traditional three. There's another thing to watch.

I also have some business model questions. While we were looking at the Next character sheets before our run Friday night one of my players mentioned that it would be nice to have a version of the game that didn't rely so much on a computer program to build characters*. The problem is that WOTC has a revenue stream right now from DDI and one of the big draws for that is the character builder. Have you ever heard of a company voluntarily giving up an existing source of income without a court order? I don't see that happening here. I expect there will be a builder, and probably an online tabletop too, but how do you make it as integral to the game as the 4E tools became? I'm not sure, and maybe they have another angle I can't see, but it's an interesting question. Also, will they be bringing back PDF's of their old material as part of that "reuniting the editions" thing? Also maybe as part of that "online revenue stream thing?

*Now we have all played Champions and Fantasy Hero without relying on computer assistance so I am confident that we could play 4E without it too. BUT, the 4E applications make it so so easy and print out such a pretty and functional character sheet that no one wants to go without them.

Motivational Monday

My players will appreciate this one ...