Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Predictions for the RPG World in 2015

- Roleplaying games in general will see an uptick in popularity as more and more TV shows have D&D episodes and Wil Wheaton's RPG YouTube show starts. They will especially grow more popular among women.

- Wizards of the Coast will announce the sale of 5e PDFs late in the year. The prices will frustrate anyone who has already purchased the physical books.

- WotC won't release very many new D&D books but there will be a new Forgotten Realms setting book and it will be praised for being the best version of the Realms yet.

- No official D&D electronic tools.

- Likewise, Project Morningstar will non-existent by the end of the year.

- There will be a lot of A Red & Pleasant Land hacks, but the best one will be A Red & Pleasant World.

- Lamentations of the Flame Princess will release (almost) all of the many miscellaneous adventures from all those crowd-funding projects. Probably all at once along with the Referee Book.

- The RPG clique war will be quiet for most of the year. There won't be any major controversies. More and more people learn to co-exist.

- The line between storygames and D&D will blur to the point of irrelevance.

- Fantasy Flight announces a new Warhammer Fantasy Role Play edition that will marry the older editions with the current 40k RPGs.

- Troll Lord will run eight different Kickstarter campaigns.

- The inevitable Unknown Armies 3e Kickstarter will be a huge success. Things get really crazy while post-modern conspiracy and chaos magick becomes the flavor of the month.

- There will be another huge Reaper Kickstarter. It's a massive success but somehow puts Reaper out of business. No one gets their Bones 2 packages as a result.

DC Heroes will see a resurgence in popularity.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review: Mead & Mayhem

Mead & Mayhem is a small supplement for OSR roleplaying games (although it could easily work for any medieval fantasy game) that sets out to power raucous and unruly tavern brawls. The biggest chunk of the supplement is a big d30 table that keeps escalating the chaos of the bar fight to catastrophic levels. The table actually has 40 results, the highest of which can only possibly be reached after the brawl has been going on for a while and the accumulative bonuses to the rolls has escalated things out of control.

Here is a sample of how one such fight goes down:

Things kick off when some rowdy dwarves smash up a barrel of beer to fill their flagons, resulting in the floor becoming slippery. Punches begin the fly as people slide into each other. Suddenly, a group of adventurers burst out of the wine cellar (which I guess is attached to a dungeon). They enter the melee, already in murderhobo-mode.  As the brawl gets more and more out of control, someone begins shouting out accusations of theft and assault at the tavern's owner, adding paranoia to the mix of heated emotions. Seizing on the opportunity, members of the local thieves' guild begin to nick the coin purses of anyone distracted by the bar fight. And finally, as if summoned by the drunken brawl, a coven of witches dance nude on the tavern's roof, drawing a crowd to the building.

At this point I think I would stop, because a coven of naked witches seems like an excellent set of antagonists, but I could continue rolling on the table, which will likely result in the complete destruction of the tavern itself.

Also included in Mead & Mayhem are guidelines for combat in a bar fight and a playlist of recommended fight songs.

Although it is a small supplements at only five pages, Mead & Mayhem does its job well in making the tavern fight an actual interesting prospect for the DM. Before reading this I would have problem run any bar fight my players instigated as a straight-forward combat encounter or simply have their opponent lay them out because fighting yokels in a bar is boring and a waste of time. Not any more.

Pair Mead & Mayhem with the Brewhouses of Vornpathium and you can run an entire session around one crazy night at the bar.

One thing that should be noted is that, as far I know, English is not the native language of either of the authors. As a result there are many grammatical errors and awkward wording. While pervasive, these errors do not get in the way of the functionality of the supplement. I have already sent a list of suggested edits to the authors and they have said that an update will be uploaded eventually.

Mead & Mayhem is currently Pay-What-You-Want on RPGNow. Grab it now and toss a few bucks to the authors.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Random 5e Character Generator (and a God Maker)

Since it doesn't look like Dungeonscape will be released any time soon, I've gone ahead and created a random 5e character generator at Last Gasp. This makes the sort of random characters I would use in my home game.


This generator doesn't do any math, but it does give you base ability scores using the probability results of 4d6, dropping the lowest die. This way the 5e character is properly strong.

The race results are weighted with the following probabilities:
Human 45%
Dwarf 10%
Elf 10%
Halfling 10%
Gnome 10%
Half-Elf 5%
Half-Orc 3%
Dragonborn 3%
Tiefling 3%
Drow 1%

While I don't place any limitations on my players when it comes to races, I'd like my pregens to skew towards the classic races and even moreso to humans as the dominant race. The generator actually spits out subraces, which are evenly distributed among the races.

The backgrounds include those posted on Hack & Slash.

The classes are just those in the 5e PHB with no special weighting. Boring.

I realized that I forgot to include alignment, but it must not have actually been that important to me if I didn't think to include it. With the advent of Bonds, Ideals, etc, alignment is largely unnecessary in 5e.

I also translated my random deity generator, but I'm less happy with the results. The generator creates unique names based on three sets of 20 syllables, but the generator forces a space between the parts of the name. For example, "Ra tul dul, the King of the Unknown," should be Ratuldul, King of the Unknown."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Two-Sentence D&D Setting Pitches

Taking Zak Smith's lead, here are a few pitches for how WotC can approach old D&D settings for 5e.

Nentir Vale
Rather than being a painfully generic fantasy setting, have the Nentir Vale books be a series of toolkits for creating a custom sandbox campaign, such as cities, forests, underdarks, etc. No two Nentir Vales are the same.

Another extremely generic fantasy setting that could be greatly improved by turning the crazy fantasy tropes up to eleven. This would be the setting that appeals to Dungeon Crawl Classics players and Adventure Time fans.

More sci-fi than fantasy with Moebius and cosmic superhero comics being a main source of inspiration. This is the best opportunity to show that the 5e ruleset can be used for genres other than medieval fantasy and should lead to other settings in unusual genres.

The multiverse is a mess of portals, time tunnels and tears from magic spells; jumping from plane to plane requires more luck than intention. Adventures in this setting should feel like a season of Doctor Who with the TARDIS having a completely fucked-up navigation system.

You can play the setting game by following these rules:
Tell WOTC how to renew their settings for 5th Edition in two sentences or less. You have to do at least three settings. Extra points if it seems like something they might actually do.

My Predictions for the D&D 5e Licencing Scheme

Everyone is still in a tizzy in speculation over how Wizards of the Coast are going to approach third-party licencing for Fifth Edition products and the non-commital answers from Mike Mearls in a recent Reddit AMA only added fuel to the fire. The OGL of 3rd edition produced a flood of products, some of which were actually pretty good. The more restrictive GSL of 4th edition produced almost nothing. I think a lot of people are hoping for something akin to the OGL so that they can start working on products for 5th edition, which is fun to write for, but I think that WotC is going to go into a different direction, one that is both more and less restrictive.

First, I predict that there will not be an open licence. You will not be able to put a page of legal text in your PDF and release a product for D&D. Any product that is explicitly for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons will need to be officially licensed, such as Goodman Game's recent Fifth Edition Fantasy adventures.

However, this is not to say that the little guy is going to be cut out of making and even selling 5e content. I expect WotC to be very picky about who they send cease and desist letters to, in an effort to keep people interested in the newest edition of D&D. Going after your most passionate fans is not a good way to grow a brand.

I think it will all come down to whether a third-party, unlicensed product hurts or helps WotC sell copies of books. Adventures, new classes, new monsters and new rules options are more likely to drive up demand for the core books and therefor put more money in WotC's pockets.  On the other hand, a website that practically regurgitates the spell descriptions from the Player's Handbook only deters people from purchasing the physical product. A full-featured character creator app may prevent people from buying the PHB, but a random character generator based on the free Basic D&D text isn't taking any revenue away from WotC.

I'm optimistic about the future of third-party D&D products. I think WotC will embrace the DIY nature of tabletop RPGs while not being explicit about it. This may suck for anyone hoping to slap a D&D logo on their modules, but for the most part this will be a good time to be a D&D fan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Convention Report: Game Con South Bend

October 18th marked the return of Game Con South Bend, which was held at the Century Center in South Bend, IN. This was the first time I was aware of a gaming convention in South Bend since getting interested in RPGs, so I was extremely excited to attend and run a game of Dungeon Crawl Classics.

The convention was a small affair, but seemed to be well-attended for the relative size. There were a ton of people playing card games throughout the day and the Artemis booth seemed to be getting a lot of attention. The wargaming tables weren't very busy but the boardgame and RPG tables had a good number of people hanging out at all times.

There were a handful of vendors, including two local-ish game publishers, a booth selling general nerd supplies and games, and Impact Miniatures, which took much more of my money than I expected to spend. I grabbed a handful of funky dice (including three of their Roman numeral d3s and the new non-caltrop d4 design), a chibi Cthulhu mini and a copy of Impact City Roller Derby, which I had wanted to kickstart but couldn't afford at the time.

How could I resist this little guy?
I went hoping to play a session of the new Star Wars RPG, but when the GM was a no-show, I joined a session of Baker Street, the upcoming Sherlock Holmes RPG coming from Fearlight Games. It was my first investigative game and was a lot of fun. The system places an emphasis of deduction and logic when examining clues and leads. It seems to strike a good balance between games like GUMSHOE, who give you all of the clues upfront, and Call of Cthulhu, who gives you clues if you made the roll.

While at the convention I was able to meet and chat with two people I had only previously interacted with on Google Plus. It was pretty cool meeting these people IRL, and almost surreal to talk about G+ things with someone in the same room.

At 6:00 I ran my game of "The Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine" in Dungeon Crawl Classics. It was attended by two teenagers in Homestuck cosplay and one of my fellow G+'ers. I had fun and didn't suffer any of the anxiety I was expecting. It probably helped having a semi-familiar face and two weird kids, because I didn't feel the pressure to live up to the expectations of some hardcore roleplayer. The scenario went pretty well and resulted in only one PC death, although another did become completely infected and remained in the cave waiting for food.

The only big boo-boo I committed during the game was forgetting to allow Fortitude saves to avoid infection. I feel bad about that, but then again the kid sent his warrior screaming into melee with a pile of four worm tumours. Infection was going to happen no matter what and stupidity should be punished.

I had lowered my expectations for Game Con South Bend based on the patchwork of sites used to promote it and the general lack of communication coming from the organizers even up to the day of the con, but I think it really went off very well. It was a good way to spend a Saturday in South Bend and I look forward to next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Feathered Swine Mini-Supplement: What Happens When You Eat the Mushrooms?

I don't know about your players, but when mine find themselves in a cave filled with strange mushrooms they will not hesitate to shove one of them into their mouths. This was one of the first course of actions taken when they arrived in area XII of "The Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine." Because I plan on running the module again and I am pretty sure that mushroom eating will occur again, I have made the following chart for the effects of each mushroom on the humanoid body.

  1. Drooping Moonshade: Save vs Poison or DC 15 Fortitude Save. Failure causes 1d4 damage. Success causes shroud of unnatural darkness to obscure the body of the eater for 1d10 minutes.
  2. Deliquescent Bluecap: Will cause violent vomiting within 1d6 minutes after being consumed. The vomit will be a vivid green color.
  3. Inner Sea Veincap: Save vs Poison or DC 12 Fortitude Save. Failure causes 1 point of damage. Success results in faint glowing of skin that lasts for 1d4 hours. Natural 20 on saving throw results in eyes of the eater glowing bright blue and gaining perfect darkvision for 1d4 hours.
  4. Purple Hypnagog: See original description.
  5. Ruby Tears of Mercy: Results in a temporary immunity to ingested poisons for 1d6 days.
  6. Screaming Puffball: No immediate effects, however the bowel movements and flatulence of the character will have a floral scent for 24 hours.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Playing Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine

In a few weeks I will be running "The Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine" in Dungeon Crawl Classics at Game Con South Bend, so I thought it would be a good idea to run the adventure a few times so that I am intimately familiar with this terrible cave. The first of two play-throughs happened last Saturday with three players.

Here are the highlights and observations. Spoilers, obviously.

  • The players selected the randomly generated Warrior, Dwarf and Thief characters. This may have increased their odds of survival since the Warrior and Dwarfs came out as killing machines, even though they were completely random. 
  • I think I will skip the encounter with Felix Longworm as he doesn't provide much incentive to go into the cave unless the PCs are really hard up for cash. In a one-shot context, the promise of gold that can't be used isn't very motivating. I will attempt an info dump for my next play-though and see if that works better.
  • The players immediately picked up the resemblance of one cave feature to a part of the female anatomy. This landmark became known as "the vagina pit." I might note that this was my first time DMing a game for an exclusively male group.
  • The players found the mushrooms and armor before getting a good look at the feathered swine. They spent an awful long time looking at the armor, thinking it had to be booby trapped. It was not until one of them ate the bio-luminescent mushrooms and gained perfect darkvision that they were convinced it was safe to put on.
  • The Warrior did not seem too pleased when the armor attached itself to his body. The Dwarf immediately asked "How will he poop?" which I actually had an answer for.
  • The players essentially ran the adventure backwards and made short work of the Worm Tumors, luckily avoiding any infection. However, they were terrified of the things and would not go near the group of four of them.
  • Aspeth gave them her quest item and then hobbled off to become a suicide bomber. The players assumed that she killed all of the remaining Worm Tumors this way. They were wrong.
  • The Thief performed the surgery on the feathered swine as he was the smartest character in the group. He did manage to get infected and had his left arm cut off at the elbow and cauterized immediately. He then removed one more cyst before calling it a day.
  • The players decided that going up the vagina pit would be the best way out of the cave. The Dwarf and Thief have no problem scaling the walls. The Warrior was not so lucky and repeatedly fell onto the cave floor. Although his new evil armor absorbed most of the damage from the fall, he made enough noise to attract the three remaining Worm Tumors, charred and angry from their encounter with Aspeth. Although the monsters were quickly killed by the three PCs, the Warrior was still infected as the worms crawled through the plates of his sabatons. 
  • Tired of failing to climb the cave wall, the Warrior decided to walk the long way through the cave. By the time he got back to the rest of the party, the infection had taken hold and he was now a super-powered Worm Tumor in evil armor. Luckily for everyone, he could not pass the pit and remained in the cave.
  • The Thief and Dwarf left him to die and got paid. The Dwarf had an awkward sexual encounter with Felix, who he had developed a crush on.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Painlessly Keeping All the Rolls Behind the DM Screen

Last weekend I attempted to run the first part of Lost Mines of Phandelver, but didn't get much further than three combat encounters as the PCs ran around the woods being attacked by goblins.

There were two many reasons why the game did not progress very far. First, it was a pretty large group of eight players, some of which were very new to the game. Secondly, I was the only person with a flat surface on which to roll dice. Everyone else was sitting on the floor or in sofas without coffee tables. Because of this, I decided I would roll for everyone, in the true old-school tradition.

It was awful.

There isn't a lot of math or things to keep track of in D&D 5e, but when you are the only one doing any of the calculating, it’s all enough to turn your head into mush. Compound this with having to ask players for if they are proficient in something, what is their ability modifier (no, that is your ability score, I need the modifier) and if they have any other relevant bonuses or features. I would end up rolling a die, staring at the result for a while, my brain freezing up, and then just make a call based on if it was a low or high roll.

When I went home that night I told my wife “never again” would I run a game like that.

But yesterday I had some time on my hands as the internet cut out at work, so I figured I’d solve the problem rather than just give up on that mode of play. My solution is a small chart that resembles the charts that power DC Heroes, which compares the ability of the character to the challenge of the task they are performing and then gives a target number.

This is an untested system, but the target numbers are based on percentages that I’m comfortable with. A d20 is just a d100 broken into 5% increments, after all.

The rows on the left refer to the general skill of the character in regards to the action he is performing. For example, a fighter is trained in hitting an enemy with a sword, but a wizard would be untrained in doing the same thing. The wizard may even be poor at it if the weapon is a bastard sword or other device that requires martial training. A high level fighter, or one with the archery fighting style would be an expert when firing an arrow at a goblin.

The columns on the chart reflect the relative difficulty of the action. For example, hurting a goblin with a sword may be an average action. Hurting an ogre with the same sword may be hard and hurting an ancient red dragon would be an epic action. Hurting a horse or other defenseless target would be easy.

The intersection of the skill level and challenge level is the target number for a d20 roll. Any roll of the target number or better succeeds. There is no match or numerical bonuses. If you think the character should get a special bonus or penalty, just shift the challenge level accordingly or use the advantage mechanic.

Damage is rolled using the dice from the PHB +2. This keeps combat moving very fast and attempts to account for bonuses from modifiers. Critical hits do maximum damage and critical failures cause something bad to happen, like dropping the weapon or falling prone.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Simplifying Weapon Proficiencies for D&D 5e

When creating several fifth edition characters this last weekend, it came to my attention that certain race and class combinations cause the proficiencies section of the sheet to get completely bloated with all the different kinds of specific weapons that can be used.

For example, the list of proficiencies of an elven wizard is as follows: Longswords, shortswords, longbows, shortbows, daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs and light crossbows.

While this may look like a flavorful list, it also is a complete mess. Combine this list with the default character sheet that labels sections at the bottom and players could be forgiven for thinking this is an inventory list, not skills.

Not all classes are as complicated with weapon proficiencies, but the elf wizard has me wanting a better way.  Seems to me that the most obvious solution is that which most of the classes come close to using, which is to use the basic weapon categories. Most of the combat-focused classes can use both simple and martial weapons, while all other classes can use simple weapons or a specific list.

This awesome character sheet by John Grumph suggests that weapon proficiencies should be restricted to Simple and/or Martial weapons. I like that. It's simple and no longer relies on old ideas of that a wizard or cleric can or cannot use. I would go one step further to include a Finesse weapons proficiency for classes like rogues and bards.

Below are my recommended simplified weapon proficiencies for 5e PHB classes:

Barbarian: All weapon types.
Bard: Simple weapons, finesse weapons, martial ranged weapons.
Cleric: All weapon types.
Druid: Simple weapons.
Fighter: All weapon types.
Monk: Simple weapons.
Paladin: All weapon types.
Ranger: All weapon types.
Rogue: Simple weapons, finesse weapons, martial ranged weapons.
Sorcerer: Simple weapons.
Warlock: Simple weapons.
Wizard: Simple weapons.

I see no problems with allowing elves and dwarves to keep their racial weapon proficiencies. I'm even considering to allow Dragonborn to be proficient in all weapon types in my home game.