Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Stat Trackers for 5th Edition D&D

In a lot of RPG's it's important to track initiative and there are a lot of ways to do it from pen & paper to mag-boards to computer tools. I've used a variety of methods over the years but when we started playing 5E I went with the fairly popular "hanging cards over the top of the DM screen in order" approach. It's simple, inexpensive, and requires no hardware other than a DM screen, which I already had.

Then some guys ran a kickstarter for an improved version of everybody's homebrew solution: trackers pre-printed with monster stats! Now there were form-style printable sheets sort of like this available but for even less prep these are pre-printed which means I don't have to go through and transcribe the Monster Manual - instead I have a 300+ of these things ready to go. For roughly the cost of a 5E book I have all of that plus a bunch of blank monster trackers I can use for IP-restricted monsters and homebrews. I also have a bunch of blank character trackers so I can keep my PCs' stats available too if I so desire. Honestly I almost never track my PC stats in any game - that's their job, not mine - but I may give it a try since these make it so easy. Here's what it looks like in action:

The purple sticky notes are where I'm recording the actual initiative number. I'm not sure this is really something I need to do anymore as there aren't really ways to change it once it's rolled - just ways to shift who goes before who. It's a holdover habit from older editions and maybe this tool will help me let go of it.

As the frost giants were beating down the gate to Bryn Shander I had their stats right there in front of me and I DID NOT HAVE TO OPEN A SINGLE BOOK TO RUN THIS ENTIRE FIGHT!

That's huge. I had the adventure in front of me, but it basically sets up the scene, the goals, and the aftermath. I did not have to look up anything specific to the fight itself and could focus almost entirely on what's going on and not what the numbers are.

This is exactly what I'm looking for when running a game.

For 4E and for previous 5E runs I would typically put together the monster stats I knew would be appearing and print them out on individual sheets. This saved me from using books or flipping through adventures or using a laptop for stats. This tool is a step beyond because I still needed to track initiative separately from those sheets and this accomplishes both with one item and leaves one less thing to clutter up my table space.

I'm very happy with this product.

One other note: Part of what makes this possible is the simplification of the statblocks for 5E. I think it would also have been possible for 4E as those were similarly clean. There's no way this would work as well for Pathfinder because a lot of the bigger and more advanced monsters have extremely long statblocks, sometimes a page or more for the heavy hitters. It's a good example of an unanticipated benefit to simplifying things where it makes sense.

Solutions to potential future issues: Say I want to run multiple frost giants on individual initiative but I only have the one card? Photocopy the tracker, add a colored post it or sticker dot that corresponds to a colored dot on each individual frost giant mini.

If you're interested they are now "Top Dog Games" and have a website here where you can order them. I don't know them personally or have any involvement with them - I just like what they've done.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Savage Rifts - Session One!

So ... finally ran my first Savage Worlds Rifts game over the weekend. We had some character building to finish up at the start but after that we covered the ground I wanted to cover so I'm calling it a win.

Part 1 - Character Creation
It's more complex than a normal Savage Worlds game and there's a lot of jumping back and forth within the Rifts player book and over to the SW rulebook. Additionally the various Iconic Frameworks have different effects on the normal character creation process - some replace race, some alter the number of attribute points you get, some alter the skills, so each one would sort of have its own procedure chart if there was such a thing. We managed though and ended up with ...

  • A Cyber Knight (Paladin Steve)
  • A Glitter Boy (Paladin Steve's 10-yr old son)
  • A Juicer (Variable Dave)
  • A Dragon Hatchling (Apprentice Blaster)
That's pretty iconic Rifts right there for a 4-man party 

Part 2 - The Opening Scenario
I used (well, re-used) one of my starting concepts mentioned in this post. Specifically, the "Slave Ship" option. They wake up in the dark, stripped of gear, and in unfamiliar and confined surroundings. The ground shudders, the lights flicker, and a previously locked door half-opens, and you're off to the races!

For the GM this is a nicely controlled situation that you can use to introduce players to using various skills, then hand to hand combat, then to ranged combat almost like a tutorial if you wish. Less-disarmable characters (like the juicer) are held in higher security single occupant cells outside the general human "slave pen" and provide another way to try out skills and thinking while getting them free. the whole thing can be mapped out as a flow chart  - you don't even need a map!

For the players this means they have to try out some things without auto-starting with "shoot big gun". I had the human-form dragon, the GB pilot, and the cyber-knight start out in the "gen-pop" pen as they all look like normal humans without some kind of special scan. Admittedly, ridiculously high physical stats make things like forcing open a door much easier but I do want them to get somewhere so this is not really a problem. Our heroes forced the door open, ventured down a hall, found some doors labelled "Special Prisoner Containment" and with the help of some NPC's (I have no serious magic PC's and his restraints were mainly magical)  freed the juicer.  

Part 3 - Combat!
Moving through the next set of doors led to a group of humanoids in armor with pistols and vibro-knives - combat commenced! The basics of combat came back pretty quickly but we were all making wrong assumptions about who or what is or has mega-damage pretty much every round. The knight's Psi-Sword was probably their best weapon (remember that they're all basically naked) until the juicer slapped the pistol out of one crewman's hand, caught it, and then shot him in the face with it - all in the same round! The dragon was the victim of horrendous dice-rolling and did almost nothing during the fight - the wild die doesn't always save you! I'm sure we got some rules wrong here but it helped to shake the rust off. 

Part 5 - Gearing Up!
After this fight they reached some kind of control room that was connected to the armory where all of the prisoner gear was locked up. Several failed hacking attempts and several successful strength checks later they were picking up their gear and some "backups" as well. The Glitter Boy pilot was particularly thrilled at this point. 

Part 6 - The Big Fight
They had several options after getting their stuff back but the ongoing explosions, sounds of firing, and "whoosh" noises from outside led them to make "getting out" a priority. They took an elevator down to the lowest level of whatever they were in, The doors open and ...

... they appear to be in a large flooded room shaped like a U with ships docked on both sides. The elevator opens at the base of the "U" and there is daylight shining in an opening at the top of the "U". It's basically a hangar for waterborne attack craft and most of the attack boats are already gone. There is one still docked near the party and they immediately start after it. 

The boat has two deck gunners warming up their stations and a single full conversion borg watching aft. The juicer takes a shot at him which does very little and the fight is on! The borg gets off one shot with his railgun then the dragon sheds his human form, flies up, and flames the entire deck, setting it on fire, killing the two gunners and shaking the borg. The juicer and the cyber-knight charge in on him and out comes the chain greatsword to test their skill and protection. 

After this brief flurry of actions an armored figure emerges from a different elevator on the other side of the docking bay - a figure wielding a red psi-sword. "Duel of the Fates" fires up out of nowhere as he and the Cyber-Knight take stock of each other. Then the Glitter Boy declares "Everybody Get Down" and unloads the boom gun into the red-saber knight.

The boom gun does a lot of damage and ignores a lot of armor. After the first shot the red knight has taken 4 wounds but managed to soak one (DM bennie) so is still on his feet. We imagined he's just punched full of hole except for a line that perfectly matches where his psi-sword was when the blast hit him. He sneers at the party.

Then the GB fires a second shot and erases Mr. Red Sabre from the planet. Completely.

The juicer, knight, and dragon are all fighting the borg but are having a hard time getting past his armor. They've hurt him but it could be a long fight. Then they all back off and the big gun speaks for the third time and blows the borg into fragments while largely removing the upper deck of the attack boat, The controls are intact as they are inside what was the control cabin or bridge, but the boat is definitely a convertible now. 

They figure out the controls and jet out of the larger ship into the daylight. They spot a shoreline not too far away and speed for it as they watch Coalition SAMAS and skycycles making attack runs on the larger ship where they had been prisoners. They safely make it to land ... but what land?

The Aftermath
I know we mangled the combat rules in that last part as there was a lot going on. Autofire - that could have been a lot nastier if I had thought about it and there were several missed opportunities on both sides to do other cool things. The knight's psi-sword seemed overpowered against the normal crewmen but under powered against the borg. 

The good thing about the "slave ship escape" opening is that it lets me drop them anywhere in the world near a shoreline. The even better thing about ending it just as they land is that I can change my mind now about where they are and they will never even know the difference.

Our youngest gamer was hating life when his character was running around naked but he was cackling with glee once he finally got to fire the big gun. It is every bit as nasty as advertised and it's a medium burst template which means things like the red knight's -1 to be hit power doesn't help as you don't aim at a target, you aim at a spot on the ground, and everything near that spot gets blasted with fragments. It's going to be fun.

Everyone had a good time, including me, so it is going into the rotation. I'm going to re-read the rules and work up some cheat sheets for combat, psi, and magic to make things easier next time. I have the general SW cheatsheets but I want some Rifts-specific ones for this. 

Next time: Strangers in a Strange Land!