Friday, September 5, 2014

More Fun With Amazon and 5E

So, this morning I decided to order the only other thing that is out for 5E right now, the first part of the big anti-dragon campaign. Jumped on Amazon, ordered placed, then I noticed this:

Hey now ... is that a glitch? We did decide to sign up for Amazon Prime a while back, but that's normally just 2-day shipping. There was an article I read that said DFW now has some same day delivery but could this be ...

Yep. So for $20 I picked out a full-color hardback adventure and had it delivered straight to the house the same day. I think that's pretty cool.

As for the adventure, well hopefully it's good and I can do something with it sometime soon. If not then I'll come complain about it on the internet like everyone else.

Thrifty Gamer Alert : Savage Worlds Sale

From Drive Thru RPG:

Savage September is here, folks, and that means great deals on all kinds of Savage Worlds titles starting tomorrow and lasting through till the end of the month.

Starting Monday, September 8, we'll have a huge list of Savage Worlds titles on sale for 15% off. You can check those out here starting Monday.

Then, every weekend this month, we'll also have some really great deals on core Savage Worlds titles from notable publishers.

This weekend, starting tomorrow, look for amazing bargains on Savage Worlds books from Savage Mojo!

Game on!

Sounds like a fun month for Savage Worlds players.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Quick Look at Traveller 5

Well, this arrived last week:

After some experience with the early playtest versions of T5 I have dropped in and out of the T5 discussions over the years and until recently had not really bothered to look into the status post-kickstarter etc. This copy was a good deal on eBay and as I page through it I'm beginning to understand why.

For one, it's huge:

It's thicker than the Pathfinder core rulebook, and that's one of the heftier ones on the shelf. To think this game started out with 3 little black books of 48 pages each ... this one is over 650 pages. Sure, there's a lot in there, but even Mongoose Traveller's core book is under 200 pages. I am not normally opposed to the single-rulebook approach but there is so much here I think it turns into a negative on some level. When you're talking options with someone who isn't as into RPG's, pulling out a rulebook that looks like a thick college textbook is not a strong selling point. It was a problem for Hero 5th edition and it's a problem here too, I suspect. Especially compared to some of the other options.

Second, it uses that !#@$#@^% dice mechanic that showed up either in 4th edition or in that early playtest of 5th. The basic idea is to roll under a target number which is typically stat + skill +/- modifiers. Picking a lock might involve Dex (8) + Intrusion (3) with a -1 for crappy tools, giving a target number of 10. To show varying levels of difficulty, we roll dice - an easy task would mean rolling 1D, while a difficult task might involve 3D or more. So on top of the already counter-intuitive roll-low system, now we add on a layer of "rolling more dice is bad" - gah!

I see some of the benefits of doing it this way - hey, your raw stat number really matters in this system - but I am not looking forward to trying to sell that to gamers who have been playing everything from a whole bunch of d20 games where roll high = good to games like Savage Worlds/Star Wars/Star Trek where dice explode and games like Hero where rolling more dice is always better!

Contrast this with classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller where the basic system is roll an 8+ on 2d6, modified for stats, skills, and situational modifiers. That same lockpick check now is 2d6 +1 (Dex mod) + 3 (Skill mod) -1 (bad tools) to beat an 8+.

I'll post a more detailed look as I dig into the massive tome, but my initial reaction, and this is as a Traveller fan since about 1981, is that it's not great for new players and not all that great for old players either. MegaTraveller was my favorite version until Mongoose came out, and it had a lot more structure to checks and systems than Classic did, which I thought was a plus. Here that systemization is carried to the extreme with everything fitting into a neat little box to the point that even I think it's too much. I suspect those who like "game as art" will hate it but I also suspect Traveller was never their game anyway. Those who like "game as game" may find that it's turned into such a technical manual that the fun has dissipated right out of the game. I'm not kidding here - there are 9 pages of probability charts showing different numbers of dice and percentages vs target numbers. This begins on page 25. Character generation starts on page 59.

I know I'm going pretty negative here but the initial "hitting the high points" survey of the book left me here. A more in-depth exploration may change it but that's going to take more time and I'm not sure how quickly that's going to happen.

Honestly, if you like Traveller and are not particularly wedded to one of the prior editions, check out Mongoose Traveller. It's well-supported, has mechanics that make sense, and has a respect for the earlier versions that is a really nice touch. The main rulebook is comparable to the original 3 little black books and is plenty to get a campaign going.

More to come.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

5E - The Starter Set Review

Yes, I  bought it. I felt like I should own a copy if I'm going to go on about it , and at the Amazon price it's lunch money.


  • Rule book
  • Adventure book
  • Pre-gen character sheets
  • dice
No poster or maps, no tokens or mini's. The dice are decent, a far cry from the old TSR sets.

The worst part: I've said it before, no character creation rules. I know they take up space, I know there's a free PDF out there now, but the whole point of a roleplaying game is to play a character, traditionally one that you create. Cutting that out of the initial out-of-the-box experience is just the wrong call in my opinion. Maybe you lower the level range to 1-3 instead of 1-5, maybe you raise the price of the box $5, I don't know what the options might have been, but running pre-gens is not the heart of the RPG experience.  

The best part: the included adventure is pretty good.
  • It has dungeons
  • It has a dragon
  • Many "monsters" have notes regarding goals and reasons they might talk to a party or respond with something other than violence. That's a nice touch and opens up a lot of possibilities.
  • It's not over-mapped or over-described, so there's "room to breathe" here for the DM
  • It's very MMO-like in that many NPCs are there specifically to give out quests. One town especially is a "quest hub" that I expect the party will be coming and going from quite a bit. There's a lot more individual detail but it's similar to the classic B2 style of base area with a lot going on around the countryside. The NPC's will hand out titles/membership in various Realms organizations as well if they like the PC's - that is an especially fun little addition.
Compared to the 4E red box it's very similar but I'll give the 5E set the nod because the adventure is quite a bit better.

Compared to the Pathfinder Beginner Box it is definitely a lesser product as the PF box has more complete rules including character generation, poster maps for the first adventure, and stand-up figures. Keep in mind the PF box is more expensive though.

It's not a terrible value, especially at a discount. The pre-gen approach is not my favorite, but the rest of the set works. If I was giving it to a kid I'd print out the PDF of the Basic Rules and give that to them at the same time for the best possible situation. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Post-Holiday Update - DC, M&M, and Emerald City Begins!

With a 3-day weekend and all of the Apprentices coming home for at least a day I planned absolutely nothing and paid the price. Red wanted to play 40K, Blaster wanted to play Deadlands, Who wanted to play something with Superheroes, and I was thinking about trying out 5E. Great - no consensus at all! We finally settled on superheroes, but I had done zero prep for anything supers this week. I decided to start the Emerald City Knights adventures for M&M, but they wanted to play in the DC universe ... alright ... the first part isn't really going to change anyway but I'm going to have some homework to do for future sessions. Also ... characters:

  • Who took Arsenal, formerly Speedy, Green Arrows old sidekick - who has also had some addiction problems over the years. He was a little disappointed to find out after the fact that he doesn't have a bow in this writeup! We decided he was moving out to the west coast to get away from his old problems and in the wake of the death of a family member.
  • Blaster took Batman Beyond - clearly this is some kind of "next generation" campaign in the DCU - and since I didn't have a Hero Lab file for him ended up running him out of the book itself. He's in town running down a case that is honestly pretty vague right now.  
  • Red made up his own hero named "Archangel" who is a winged mentalist. No, he hasn't read a ton of X-Men so I don't care about the name - besides, this is DC! As it turns out he didn't recall the finer points of character creation even though Hero Lab declared it legit and this caused a few problems later. He's a local who has been genetically modified by someone into his current state.
Emerald City is a quiet city on the west coast up around Seattle/Tacoma. It hasn't ever had a significant or long-lasting hero presence - but that's about to change. The characters are all downtown when there's an explosion and a silvery cloud whips through downtown, moving on its own with no regard for the wind and blasting out blue bolts of lightning, bringing havoc and devastation to an otherwise nice afternoon. It dissipates as quickly as it appeared but there is a great deal of damage, numerous injured citizens, and some people have ... changed.

After leaping into action to help pull people from damaged cars and clear the rubble from a partially collapsed building (to many thanks), the heroes notice that one of the victims has multiple rubbery arms and is throwing other survivors around. Another is hovering over the area near the center of the destruction and pulling pieces of cars and signs towards her. One more victim is glowing, rotating through the colors of the spectrum, while one more is crumpled on the ground, surrounded by swirling black shapes.  

Of course a fight breaks out - what kind of jerk mugs people during a disaster? - but it's a tough one for our heroes. The octo-man fights BB to a standstill until he and Arsenal bring the mutant down together. The light-guy and the darkness-guy take a few shots and then disappear. Magnetic-girl blows Archangel out of the sky after he takes a few shots at her and his attempts to mind-control her come to nothing. At the end, three battered heroes stand amidst the damaged downtown with an unconscious octo-man as the police and fire finally begin to push past the traffic jams and rubble. Their intent is to ask the "villain" a few questions then turn him over to the authorities but that will have to wait until next time...

DM Notes: The word of the day is "rust" as in it felt like I had never run this game before. Between the character scrambles, the last-minute setting changes, and not having read the rules in months, I was really sloppy and really slow. This is a fairly simple game to run but you wouldn't have known it if you were watching me today. We only spent a few hours doing this and some of that was set-up time, but that's as "off" as I have felt in a long time. I maybe should have run ICONS but we really didn't even consider that option. Some points:
  • One was running from the book, two were running from Hero Lab sheets so just the basic "where is this stuff" was a little different between the two, slowing things down
  • I'm trying to run 4-5 separate villains with completely different types of powers with no prior review  - that's not a good place to be. Advantages, maneuvers, different action types - it really slowed me down as I realized I don't know what the powers do by sight like I do with say, Champions so I spent some time flipping through books to figure out exactly how some things work. 
  • Red was not really thinking about power limits when he made his character and so was not really running at a full PL10, with lots of things like attack 10, effect 5, shorting himself when it came time to roll dice. 
  • I'm still not great at managing the transition to M&M's damage system, and it's the one part of the game I think might be hardest for my players to handle, so I need to make it work. That whole resistance roll mechanic with bruised/dazed/staggered/out is not as visceral or intuitive for us as "I did 37 points with my greatsword" and that's hard to embellish when I'm struggling to work the rules and the villain tactics and the players are just as raw as I am. 
Anyway it went alright and they are interested in playing more. It will be a while before we play again and I will have time to refresh myself on the mechanics. I've been so focused on Pathfinder and 5E the last couple of weeks that it's tricky to keep all of the details for all of the games in my head but I think i'll be fine with a re-read when I'm not actually trying to run a game.

The fun part will be re skinning this adventure to fit into the DC Universe. I had started working on this a few months back and then put it aside as we played other games. Looks like it's time to put that back on the front burner. As a campaign it has some railroad in it, but that's a plus if we're going to have some breaks between sessions anyway. I kind of like the idea of time-shifting it forward too, where the sidekicks and younger heroes are taking a place in front, and some of the older heroes are semi-retired. I'm not sure I'm going to stay with that, but I'll be chewing on it for a while. I expect some familiar faces will be dropping in and out regardless.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 31 - Favorite RPG of all time

This one is a little difficult because I don't really think of RPG's like this, ranked or favored or in some kind of order. They're more like a cloud, with the ones I am running and the ones I am reading more prominent in my mind at that time but still floating against a backdrop of hundreds if not thousands of systems, settings, adventures, and campaign possibilities.  There are memories of what I have played and done in the past, thoughts about what I am playing or running now, and speculation on what I might do in the future.

Then again, it's fairly easy because there is one game I have run or played pretty much continuously for 35 years and that pretty much says everything that needs to be said. It's not an accident that we're circling back around to the first couple of days of this event.

I don't think there's been a time longer than 3-4 months where I wasn't running or playing some kind of D&D game. Now I've done plenty of things with plenty of other games in and around the D&D stuff but it's been the constant. Even those times when I have grown tired of something about the current edition I've kept with it for my friends who were still excited and enthusiastic about the game. Even then there is usually some shiny new or overlooked old article or supplement that brings a new angle to the game, or even a new edition.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Gamma World - I've had so much fun with Gamma World over the years that it deserves a mention even if it has been a long time. The most post-apocalyptic game of all!
  • Star Trek - One I have talked about more but still haven't played much recently, I think I like the potential I see here for long-term interconnected campaigns  more than anything else.
  • Champions - I expect we will reconcile one of these days. I need to run or play more supers
  • Mutants & Masterminds - the most likely of all of these alternates to turn into some kind of regular thing, I hope it's around for a long time.
  • Savage Worlds - So much potential, I like everything about it and have to  find time for it. Of the "multigenre" systems I think it has the most built-in style and is the easiest to learn as a new player. 

So as I write this on Labor Day weekend 2014 I've handed the 5th Edition D&D PHB over to Apprentice Blaster and I'm reading through the 5E Starter Set adventure to see if I might want to run the boys through it while we're off. I also have some Pathfinder Iron Gods stuff to read through, and just to mix it up the Traveller 5 hardback (ridiculous!) arrived this week and awaits my attention too. Thinking about all this, I'm comfortable labeling D&D my "favorite of all time". I'm ready to roll with any edition and any offshoot, and I'd be perfectly happy playing any of them.

Have I told you about my 20th level ranger ...