Friday, August 31, 2007

Some people like to buff?

This morning, I read the D&D article on PC Roles. It looked at a Fighter 4/Bard 7 under running under 3.5... and how the PC was relatively ineffective. The character, Nils, could increase his party's effectiveness though bardic music and spells, but that took actions in which he wasn't actively accomplishing anything on his own.

The 4e solution to this seems to be that buffing will largely be free actions.

I have another, radical, solution: get rid of it.

It might be possible that some people like to buff. I suppose. Personally, I don't get a whole lot of satisfaction from giving the rest of my party a minor bonus that they may never actually benefit from. Moreover, as a player with a buffer in my party, it seems like half the time it is more trouble than it is worth to keep track of the temporary bonuses.

Why not just build the assumption of buffing into the base character rather than requiring another character to accomplish it?

Alternatively, each character could have a normal state and a buffed (inspired?) state - and these latter states could vary by class (for example, a barbarian's inspired state would include rage). A 'leader' type could just toggle other PCs between the two states (reducing the tracking of a bunch of bonuses).

Thursday, August 30, 2007


This blog has been in need of a makeover for a bit. Some of the links are out of date and there isn't a good way to sort posts by label. I ought to have a link, at least, to my OGL content.

I should also add some graphical elements - perhaps even an avatar of sorts.

I may do this over the weekend. Suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More external effects of the 4e announcement

I'm finding a lot of people writing thoughtfully about the d20 rules and how they might be tweaked and/or rewritten. Some of this is speculation. Some of it is wishful thinking. Regardless, I think it is, in general, a good thing to think critically about rules and whether they serve the purposes of fun.

I'm enjoying reading EN World's 4e forum and the Wizards staff blogs. There's some good stuff there.

I've also been toying with some of my FM ideas... tweaking them to fit within a d20-like framework. I'm not sure why.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dynamic combat

I was reading this thread on EN World. It is about how movement might be encouraged/more important in combat in D&D 4e.

I'm not going to speculate here on 4e mechanics, but this idea did get me to start thinking about how to encourage dynamic combat. Part of the goal is to get people to use their environment to their tactical advantage.

There are a few things you could do here. It would be helpful to have a few different kinds of terrain ratings (other than difficult). It would also help to have a Knowledge (Tactics) skill - or something like it. If you had these things you could institute rules of the following types:

When a character moves to a new square of Terrain Type X, she can make a Tactics roll as a swift action to gain a benefit for a single round. The DC of the check might depend upon the benefit. Benefits could range from +1 to attack rolls if flanking to gaining partial cover or a shield bonus from terrain features to a bonus on checks when defending against a bull rush... or other things. Class features might extend the duration of some of these benefits or (in the case of Marshall-types) allow you to make the check on behalf of an ally when they move... or obviate the need for a check at all in some cases.
Forcing an enemy to take a 5 ft step backwards might be another option that could be fun - what if, while on simple terrain and not flat-footed, you could avoid an attack that hits your AC exactly by taking a 5 ft step straight back? Or what if there was a "press attack" combat option where, if you hit, your opponent must make a Will save or step back 5 ft (allowing you to follow as a free action)... and doing so might allow your opponent to take half (or no) damage? (Making the will save would subject them to full damage).

Friday, August 24, 2007

Abandon All Hope... and stop having fun

This is a continuation, of sorts, of my last post.

Let's assume that the primary point of gaming is to have fun. You might disagree with this, but if you do... well... then what you and I do when we game are wholly different activities.


In any situation, some things can make a gaming experience more fun and some things can rob it of fun. Presumably, we generally want to do what we can to maximize the former and minimize the latter.

So... what about those situations in which a group of PCs find themselves in over their heads? I think that these situations cease being fun as soon as the players realize that their characters have no hope of accomplishing anything meaningful. Are the characters really facing certain death? Who is that fun for? The fun of such situations is facing certain death... and then surviving by luck or cleverness. (OK - some situations exist when facing certain death and dying can be fulfilling... when the death itself is meaningful and accomplishes something. I'm not talking about those situations.)

Some GMs enjoy slaughtering PCs who don't stand a chance. Sure. That might be fun if you are an antisocial sadist. As a GM, I prefer to put PCs up against long odds and then seeing them find their way to succeed (or at least persevere) despite them. If the PCs fail, then we are all disappointed. It is a difficult balancing act, and I can't get it right all the time... but if the PCs die meaninglessly, then a significant portion of the blame is always on me as the GM.

Playing in the Sandbox

Three weeks ago, Jeff blogged about sandbox play, and I said that I'd address it here at some point. Between then and now was a New Orleans trip, moving, and GenCon. Now, I am trying to get caught up.

The basic idea of sandbox-play is that there is a world around the PCs and that the PCs can go anywhere in that world. In Jeff's post, this is set up as the alternative to having all encounters be scaled in difficulty to the level of the party. The idea is that in sandbox-play, it is possible for PCs to get in far over their heads if they aren't careful.

I think that the dichotomy here is false and is conflating two separate things.

On the one hand, you have unrestricted play versus restricted play. In unrestricted play, PCs can go anywhere. In restricted play, PCs are restricted to a particular subset of locations in the game world. This restriction might be by GM fiat, social contract, plot pressure, or any of a variety of things.

On the other hand, you have encounters that are set in particular locations without respect for the abilities of the PCs versus encounters that are scaled to the PCs.

The sandboxers seem to be in favor of unrestricted play with set encounters. Personally, I strongly prefer (as both a GM and a player) unrestricted play with scaled encounters. That doesn't mean that I think that PCs should be able to defeat any monsters they encounter... but they should have a chance of survival if they are resourceful.

In unrestricted play with set encounters, low-level PCs can walk into a dragon's lair. They'll be quickly killed.

In unrestricted play with scaled encounters, low-level PCs can walk into a dragon's lair. The dragon might be meeting with a powerful wizard - and the PCs can overhear their plans (and pick up some plot points) and sneak away while the dragon and his guest are distracted. Alternately, the dragon might confront them and let them go... if they agree to perform a quest for it.

The second sounds a whole lot more fun to me.

Part of this involves broadening the definition of what 'scaling to PC capabilities' means. In the post that Jeff originally quoted on this topic, Melan (on EN World) said:

Of course, none of this preserves the party from random encounters, or accidentally stumbling into something way over their heads. Here, responsibility gets divided between the DM and his players. The players must shed the mindset that challenges in the world are tailored to their abilities. They must be prepared to say "We are not going there", they must be prepared to declare "RUN!", and they must be prepared to negotiate or, yes, grovel/surrender before an obviously superior and intelligent foe. Getting out of an unpleasant situation imposed on them by a demon, lich or dragon (who could, for example, take their valuable equipment, even spell books hostage to prevent flight, or use a magical sort of compulsion) is always possible, while death is very final.
See, I think that if it is possible to get out of a situation then the situation was, in fact, scaled to their capabilities. In d20, the Encounter Level is based upon defeating the foes. Scaling a situation doesn't necessarily mean that the resolution of the situation involves your foes' defeat. It might just involve your survival.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

GenCon Report Part IV: other random stuff

I forgot to mention that I also picked up a copy of Fractal Mapper 8.0 - hopefully the learning curve won't be too rough.

Overall, GenCon looked to be very well organized in advance... but not so much on the ground. Fortunately, when I got there, the line was negligible. When I checked in, no one provided me with any information - they didn't tell me how event tickets worked or even that I got a free bag o' stuff.

More pictures!

Here's the giant Beholder:

...and here's Angela being sort-of-menaced by an inanimate troll (and being really unhappy about having her picture taken):

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

GenCon Report Part III: Loot

Stuff I got at GenCon:

Some pretty d20s (gift from Angela):

Some 'practical' dice from the Chessex booth:

A d6 from the Hinterwelt guy:

An ugly d12 from Zach (I tried to pick his ugliest die):

(and, for Jeff, the die that Zach identified as his most "metal":


Squirrel Attack (free from the Hinterwelt guy - William? - at the Ennies)
- A game about squirrels? Yeah. It turns out that Grace almost did some art for this book (or another book in the line. Yes. There is a squirrel-rpg-line.)

Supers, Inc. (ditto)

Manual of Exalted Power: Sidereals (a gift from Angela)

Tekumel, Empire of the Petal Throne (the GoO/Tristat remake, $5)
- I've always been curious about Tekumel. It seems like a good place to mine for ideas of weirdness.

Ex Machina (GoO/Tristat Cyberpunk game, $5)
- It occurred to me that I hadn't read a cyberpunk game that wasn't written in the 1980s. I wonder how this will be different...

Underdark Adventure Guide (Goodman Games, $5)
- Why not?

Splintered Peace (Atlas/Penumbra, $5)
- I like the Penumbra line. A lot. This particular book is a campaign/city book that focuses upon a city torn by racial strife. I like the idea of gaming as a method of addressing serious issues. We'll see how this book stacks up.

DCC #14 Dungeon Interludes (Goodman Games, signed, not $5)
- Jeff ran this in our ridiculously-powerful gestalt game. The idea is brilliant: a munch of mini-adventures for a wide range of levels that tie together in an overarching plot - it can provide a good direction (or major subplot) for a campaign.

Burning Wheel Revised (Key 20, $25)
- I've been curious about Burning Wheel for quite some time. I decided to check it out.

50 mg D&D flash drive (free giveaway at the Ennies)
Raistlin mini (free giveaway at the Ennies)
A bunch of free modules: The Stone Crown of Cladham Silvertongues (Tronen Games, for D&D), Just a Delivery (Goodman Games, for Etherscope), Temple of Blood (Goodman Games, for D&D), DCC #51.5 The Sinister Secret of Whiterock (Goodman Games, for D&D)
A WoW CCG starter set (free in the GenCon bag)
A Mon Calamari Star Wars mini (free in the GenCon bag)

WoAdWriMo: Day 82


It has been a while since I worked on Goblins of Gourm.

I took a break in order to move, go to New Orleans, and deal with some personal stuffs. Getting some distance from the material was probably a good idea, though.

I'm still fixing up my new place... and I have a huge gaming reading list that I acquired at GenCon... but I am going to get back on track.

That is a promise.

Monday, August 20, 2007

GenCon Report Part II

I spent more time in the exhibit hall than anywhere else. There were a few reasons for this. First, Angela's booth was in the art show and, you know, I wanted to spend some time with her. Second, the place was huge and filled with cool stuff. I easily get entranced by books as it is. Add in swords, cool minis, computer game demos, and a giant Gleemax brain? Yeah. I had no chance. Third, the demo games were fun - little snippets of games being run by people who really wanted you to have a good time. I had some trouble getting into actual RPGs due to a combination of not pre-registering, being a bit on the socially tentative side, and being annoyed at the fact that playing stuff cost money even after you paid for your badge - so I mostly stuck with demo games.

Some random things about the exhibition hall:

The Godsend Agenda guy (Jerry) tried to sell me on his game as I walked by - I told him that I had a copy in my house, because my roommate Grace had done some art for it. When he found out Grace was in the art show, he got really excited and got me to take him over there so he could meet her in person. He seemed like a really nice guy, and he bought one of Angela's boxes.

I felt like Gary Gygax was stalking me. I kept turning corners to be confronted by him. It was a bit unnerving.

Starcraft II is very pretty, but I wasn't really a Starcraft I fan.

Greg Stolze ran a quick demo of Reign for me, but I still don't really have a feel for it as a game (it felt more like a toolkit for running organizations/countries/factions).

Fin Fang Foom.

I got cheap and free books. I'll post a list of the stuff later. Angela picked me up a copy of the new Sidereals book for Exalted.

I bought some practical dice. Angela bought me some pretty dice. I bought her some D&D minis. This seemed to make her happy.

There was some really pretty mini terrain out there.

I didn't see a single copy of Ptolus other than the one in the Ennies booth (which wasn't for sale).

Wizards didn't actually have much merchandise for sale. A few of their newer books, and that was about it. Mostly, they seemed to be trying to sign people up for the D&D Insider stuff.

I sort of expected big, panicky sales on 3.5 stuff after the 4e announcement. If there were any, I missed them.

GenCon Report Part I

I got back from GenCon last night. It was my first, and I think I took it to be a learning experience.

Initial impressions:

  • Damn. This thing is huge.
  • I kept feeling like I was probably in the room with people I knew online... but I didn't know who they were...
  • There needs to be a Beginner's Guide to GenCon. It isn't obvious how to get involved in, you know, actual gaming other than demos.
  • The Ennies were pretty classy. I got to hang out with Zach.
  • People gave me free stuff. Free stuff is cool.
  • The game demos were cool, but none of them jumped out at me as must-buys.
  • I spent some money, but not as much as I might have feared.
  • Angela and Grace were in the art show - which meant they couldn't really do anything but hang out in the exhibition hall. They did OK - not great, but it was a really good learning experience for them. Angela sold a decent number of creepy eye boxes.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The 4e announcement depresses me.

I am trying to figure out why this is.

Some random thoughts:

  • I'm worried that the licensing will change. From what I've read, it sounds as if all open-license-fan-material will need to be run through Gleemax. If that is true (and it may not be), it has at least some unpleasant consequences for what I've been doing in this blog.
  • I'm worried that the system will be substantially similar to the Star Wars Saga Edition. When SWSE came out, I didn't think this - but with 4e following so closely, I am concerned. I think that there are some great things in the SWSE system, but I also think that it has some serious issues - and I worry that they wouldn't be fixed for 4e.
  • I've invested a good chunk in 3.x - not just money, but time, thought, and effort. I feel like I am invested in the system. I enjoy tinkering with it, changing it, playing with it as a rule toolbox. Part of my enjoyment of it is my ability to easily share what I create with others. 4e's release will reduce interest in this sort of thing.
I think that there is something else that is bothering me, but I am still not sure what it is.

Well, then.

Last night was the first session of Jeff's Rebel Scum game. It was a whole pile of fun. Heavy on the action, light on the rules. It felt like Star Wars. That was good. I finished the night with two hit points - mostly because I kept forgetting things like Force Points and the Second Wind rules...

Then I got home, and I had Internet. That, too, was good.

Then I noticed that the D&D website had been replaced with a countdown to 4venture.


That ruined my night.

...and I am not entirely sure why.

Things coming together...

I have internet at home. This is a good thing.

In celebration, I will share with you a happy beholder:
(pen and pencil doodle created during an rpg session, colored quickly in Photoshop.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Current plan:

Leaving work early on Friday. Going to GenCon. Coming back Sunday night.

I have no idea what I will do once I am there.

Have fun, hopefully.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I'm back

It was good to be in New Orleans.

Now I am back.

The guest house I was staying in was awesome. They had an internet connection, but I mostly stayed connected via my nefty-new phone (a Treo 700). It occurred to me that the Treo probably has some good gaming uses, other than being a handy calculator.

It can function as an mp3 player (or a video player) which might be useful when GMing. It can store pictures. It has a camera and camcorder.

More usefully, it is a web browser - I can access at the table, which is nice.

Maybe I can find some die-rolling programs for it? The Pen, Paper,& Pixel one isn't working on the Treo... though most of their other tools do (which is good). Ah! The Wizards die roller does work, though. That's cool.

If I figure out a workable format, I could keep my character sheets on there... and definitely can use it to track things like xp, cash, and such.

I'm sure there are some other cool ideas out there.

Also, I should note that Angela has taken to referring to my Treo as a Pocket Secretary.