Monthly Archives: October 2017

D&D 5E Play Analysis Part 3

So I have spent the last couple of weeks re-reading the various versions of Dungeons and Dragons, from the Holmes boxed set, to AD&D 1E, 2E, right through 3E and I even reviewed 4th edition. I love those old editions of the game. Simplicity is really what shines in OD&D and AD&D1E, nothing was terribly over thought and players were given broad power within the framework to do what they wanted. The problem was the rules often did not make sense and had multiple dice mechanics to remember and sometimes those dice mechanics did not make sense even in the framework of the rules. AD&D 2E cleaned a lot of this up, organized the rules better and added a credible skill system, but it still retained the wonky dice mechanics. 3E and 4E went the other direction, while they built a unified dice mechanic, they added way too much crunch to the game. Even at the beginning there was a ton of crunch that would complicate the game and clever rules lawyers would bully their way into ridiculously over powered characters.

Having looked at all these games, I have come to the conclusion that D&D 5E is in fact the best edition of the game so far. The unified dice mechanic makes rolling the dice and judging the results quick and easy, you know you are rolling a d20 and you know you will have just a couple of easy to remember modifiers to that roll. If you like a simple game with very little crunch, where the players add the depth to their characters via back story and life experiences, You can play the game basically for free by downloading the basic game PDF from Wizard of the Coast. It has a very simple broad set of skills that define what a character can do well and what he is not so good at. At the basic level there are no feats, but in the intermediate level, feats are a good way to allow interesting abilities to be added without breaking the game. At the basic level the game is not to different from playing the Holmes basic set. However, when the scope of the game is expanded, there are lots of interesting options to build a wide variety of characters while at the same time limiting the ability of rules lawyers to produce characters with ridiculously high armor classes and hit bonus’s.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I love the old versions of the game and I would certainly play them again and I will most likely run games in the future using AD&D 1E. Again, there is no arguing with the simplicity of those games, the innocent wild eyes wonder of playing the game. Unfortunately it is not 1980 anymore and we have a higher expectations of our games. I am also not 17 anymore, I don’t have enough time these days to build my own campaigns from scratch. I depend heavily on published material and even with the OSR in full swing, there is not enough quality published material out there to keep things fun and interesting, this is why dead games are dead. When I go to Dragonsfoot, THE bastion of old school gaming, most of those people do not actually play the games they are talking about. For the most part, they are re-living their glory days, some are running campaigns, most are not, most are playing D&D 5E or Pathfinder. When WotC reprinted all the books from earlier editions, the sales were not all that good and if you go to DMGuild.com, the best sellers are from the current edition. So I think most people, even the ones like me, who love the old games have pretty much come to the same conclusion, Dungeons and Dragons 5E is the best version of the game so far.

Homemade Gaming Books

Okay so here it is, I used my laser printer to print out a couple of (legally purchased PDF’s) game books. Since my current obsession is with the 1977 Holmes edition of D&D, I went with that and B1 In Search of the Unknown. Both are fairly small page counts, a nice test run before I go on to bigger books. I considered buying a book binder, Amazon sell them for around $50, but I am just not planning on doing that many projects. PezWitch suggested Slide binders, available on Amazon for $10 for 10, which include plastic sleeves. Overall I am happy with the results, these would make fine table copies. The plastic covers, along with the heavy stock paper I used for the first and last pages, should make these resilient to wear and tear of normal use. Of course the downside is they are pretty ugly and I think even if I had a color printer I would not be particularly happy with how they look. Again though these are not meant to be collector copies, these are meant o be brought to the table and used week in and week out and making them needs to be cheap. Laser printer generally cost around 10 cents per page to print in black and white, the rule book is 50 pages, so including the slide binder, this means the rule book cost roughly $6 for me to make myself. The module cost around $4 to make, so $10 in total, considerably cheaper than buying on Ebay.

5th Edition Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

In pure ability in their area specialty, Fafrd and The Grey Mouser are probably in the high tier 2 power level, but because both have spread outside their niches, both have become “Jack of all Trades” of sorts and are very capable of facing off with tier 3 opponents. I would like to say as well, these are very basic builds designed to give a feel for the characters, I did not invest any time in figuring out Archetypes or anything of that nature.

I was thinking about replacing the 1 level of Bard for Fafhrd with the Actor feat, this would probably be more faithful to the books because even a 1st level Bard can cast spells and Fafrhrd never did that in the books. I also considered replacing Grey Mousers 3 levels of Wizard for and replace it with Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster feats which would account for the bulk of the magic ability he demonstrated in the books. I opted for levels in different classes for the flexibility they provided to the characters.If you decide the feats are better options, remove the 1 level of Bard from Fafhrd and trade the 3 levels of Wizard for 2 levels of Fighter, so the Grey Mouser is Rogue 10/Fighter 3. You will also have to fiddle with their hit points a bit.


Fafhrd:
Str 19 (+4), Dex 17 (+3), Con 19 (+4)
Int 15 (+2), Wis 10 (+0), Cha 17 (+3)

Barbarian 10 / Rogue 3 / Bard 1

Hit Points 208 (10d12+3d8+1d8)
Armor Class: 17 (10 + 3 (Dex) + 4 (Unarmored defense))

Skills: Acrobatics (+3), Animal Handling (+0), Arcana (+2), Athletics (+9), Deception (+3), History (+2), Insight (+0), Intimidation (+3), Investigation (+7), Medicine (+0), Nature (+7), Perception (+5), Performance (+8), Persuasion (+8), Religion (+0), Sleight of Hand (+8), Stealth (+8), Survival (+5)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Durable, Keen Mind, Savage Attacker, Tough, Weapon Master

Fafrd is not terribly different from Conan as a barbarian/thief. Fafhrd favored weapon is a Great sword, which refers to as Greywand and a dagger which he calls Heartseeker. He has also been known to use handaxes and Long bows as well.


The Grey Mouser:
Str 15 (+2), Dex 19 (+4), Con 17 (+3)
Int 16 (+3), Wis 11 (+0), Cha 17 (+3)

Rogue 10 / Wizard 3 / Fighter 1

Hit Points 150 (10d8+3d6+1d10)
Armor Class: 16 (11 (Leather Armor) +4 (Dex) +1 (Dual Wielder))

Skills: Acrobatics (+9), Animal Handling (+0), Arcana (+8), Athletics (+7), Deception (+3), History (+3), Insight (+5), Intimidation (+3), Investigation (+8), Medicine (+5), Nature (+3), Perception (+5), Performance (+3), Persuasion (+3), Religion (+8), Sleight of Hand (+9), Stealth (+9), Survival (+0)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Dual Wielder, Keen Mind, Lucky, Observant, Skulker

Grey Mouser is a Dual weapon finese fighter, he uses a rapier and dagger combination to great effect. Grey Mouser rarely uses magic and tends toward utility magic rather than splashy fire or effect style magic.

Millennial bashing

To the Baby Boomer Generation, I know it is fun to mock Millennial’s, but please remember you are the generation that could not figure out how to set the clocks on your VCR’s.

OMG I am an Intelligencist

Pezwitch and I were having a discussion about some people we know. One of the woman she has been hanging out with has a new boyfriend, whom PezWitch just met tonight. Apparently this boyfriend was relieved to meet her, because all of his girlfriends friends appeared to be stupid and PezWitch was the first smart one he had met. As we were having this conversation, I was thinking, “Yeah, you always did like to befriend dumb people and take them under your wing, I just find them boring and try to ignore them.”. I realized at that moment I am an Intelligencist, I am prejudiced against people who are willfully ignorant. If someone has no intellectual curiosity, I am entirely uninterested in them and have very little patience with them. I am kind of embarrassed about this.

The World in VR

Next year Facebook is putting out a new Oculus Rift product, a $199 headset that does not require it to be attached to a computer or a smartphone, the product is called Oculus Connect. Thier stated goal is to get a billion people in the virtual reality. This will probably be the strike price point where VR headsets become cheap enough that nearly everyone can afford a set. My guess is this will be a loss leader for Facebook and they will make their money sell eyeballs to AD companies and sell software through their own software store.

While I am not terribly excited about this product, I suspect it will not be very good and the software will suck, at least in the beginning. My own experience with the Oculus Rift has been less than rewarding. Initially I was very excited and awed by the experience. But as time went on I realized there is very little quality products available for the Rift. Certainly I have watched some really great documentaries and Google Earth is fun, but all of the games seem to have limited re-play options, meaning once you have played through it once, there is no particular reason to do so again, because you now know where everything is at and you know what you need to do, there is no variations to make re-play interesting. The one bright spot here is of course porn, VR porn is really cool.

What I am hoping for, is this new low end entry to the market will drive developers to finally start building interesting virtual worlds that we can explore together with friends. I am waiting for the first VR World of Warcraft to come out, where its not just a single adventure, but a whole world filled with 8 million other people. Killing monsters and stealing their stuff is cool and all, but I also want to be able to visit different cities and have experiences in different cultures. Finally, maybe, just maybe, someone will develop a VR operating system.

I hate Facebook

I quit Instagram because it was basically stupid and shallow. I quit Twitter because it was just a steady stream of people vomiting whatever came to mind and most of it is stupid and shallow. I quit Google + not because it was stupid and shallow, but rather because it was a ghost town, almost no one was on it and the communities were all dead, so it was just a waste of time. This left me with Facebook.

I have always had a tenuous relationship with Facebook. I have never particularly liked it, I don’t like their privacy policy, I don’t like the interface, and I dislike how easy it is to pretend you are doing something important on Facebook when in reality all you are doing is screwing around. Everything about Facebook is designed to be a time sink. The real problem is I cannot give it up, this seems to be the primary communication method of just about everyone I know. There are exceptions of course, but not many. If I want to stay in touch with my family back in Montana, I pretty much need to be on Facebook.

I have kind of come to the point where I really no longer post anything there. I do respond to other peoples posts, but I don’t contribute. If I am going to express myself in some meaningful way on the internet, I do it here. I don’t want people to read my posts because I was in between two other peoples posts as they scanned the news feed. I want people to read what I have to say because they want to find out what I am thinking and went out of their way to do so, otherwise I am just another time sink for Facebook.

Code 4 ?

So I went to Office Max Hobby Lobby today. I am looking for a cheap way to bind PDF’s that I print out. I don’t do it often and I don’t really like binder notebooks where I have to insert the pages into plastic sheets and such. They have binding machines available on Amazon for under $50, but I wanted to see if there was something available locally. I was surprised that I did not find what I was looking for at Office Max, I assumed this was the sort of thing they would have on hand, but I was wrong.

I did not expect to find a binding machine at Hobby Lobby, but I figured they might have a clever alternative for me. So I walked in and went over to the scrap booking section. After looking around for a bit, I hear a calm voice over the intercom, “Code four in Isle 12”. I thought nothing of it, I figured it was a feisty child making a mess. Within a minute or so I had 4 employees surrounding me asking me if there was anything They could help me find. They started asking me questions about the project I was working on and what types of material and tools I was using. I thought this was very odd, normally in stores like this you have to chase employees down and handcuff them to the shelving to get any help. After explaining what I was doing, there seemed to be an air of relief and most everyone wandered away. Curious, I found one of those employees and asked I was the “Code 4”, and she said yes I was. Confused, I asked what a “Code 4” is, and she sheepishly told me it was an unattended male in the store. Apparently scrap booking with power tools is both a thing and is frowned upon by the scrap booking community.

5th Edition Conan the Barbarian


Str 20 (+5), Dex 18 (+4), Con 17 (+3)
Int 14 (+2), Wis 15 (+2), Cha 16 (+3)

Barbarian 12 / Rogue 5 / Fighter 3

Hit Points 274
Armor Class: 17 (10 + 4 (Dex) + 3 (Unarmored defense))

Skills: Acrobatics (+10), Animal Handling (+8), Arcana (+0), Athletics (+11), Deception (+8), History (+0), Insight (+8), Intimidation (+9), Investigation (+2), Medicine (+2), Nature (+8), Perception (+8), Performance (+0), Persuasion (+3), Religion (+2), Sleight of Hand (+4), Stealth (+10), Survival (+8)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Durable, Great Weapon Master, Inspiring Leader, Keen Mind, Savage Attacker, Tough, Weapon Master

This is Conan at the height of his abilities, but prior to becoming King Conan. He is among the greatest warriors in the world. Conan does wear armor occasionally, but even without it he is incredibly difficult to kill and often defeats his enemies with stamina alone. His equipment varies heavily, especially early in his career where he is basically equipped with whatever he has taken off the dead bodies of his opponents. His preference for weapons is Great Sword, but can use anything within arms reach to deadly effect.

 

5th Edition Elric of Melnibone

Str: 5 (-3) Dex: 20 (+5) Con: 5 (-3)
Int: 20 (+5) Wis 20 (+5) Cha 12 (+1)
Wizard 20 / Fighter 8

Hit Points 30
Armor Class: 25 (Plate Armor 18, Shield +2, Dex +5)

Skills: Acrobatics (+5), Animal Handling (+5), Arcana (+11), Athletics (-3), Deception (+1), History (+11), Insight (+11), Intimidation (+1), Investigation (+5), Medicine (+11), Nature (+5), Perception (+11), Performance (+1), Persuasion (+11), Religion (+11), Sleight of Hand (+5), Stealth (+5), Survival (+5)

Feats: Alert, Great Weapon Master, Keen Mind

Spells: At this level, Elric can cast pretty much any spell at will, however Elric rarely has anything other than Summon and Conjure spells memorized and ready.

Elric of Melnibone is the greatest mage in the known world. His specialty is Conjuration and he is adept at summoning all manner of entities to aid him to include gods. Normally when encountered Elric will have recent access to his potions and his Strength and Constitution will be 15. When fighting, Elric will invariably use Stormbringer rather than cast spells, preferring to use magic only to solve great problems. Elric’s high Dex, Int and Wis are directly connected to his being an aspect of the Eternal Champion.

Potion of Invigoration: +10 Strength, +10 Constitution. While Elric is using his potions, his Strength and Constitution are 15 (+2), and has 170 Hit Points.

Ring of Kings: Allows Elric to summon Elemental-Lords, Beast-Lords and Plant-Lords as a Bonus Action. Upon summoning the entity, it must make a DC 20 save, if the save fails, the elemental must obey Elric, if the save succeeds, the summoned entity may decide for themselves if they wish to help Elric or not.

Stormbringer (Great Sword): +3 to Hit, damage 5d6+3. Upon a successful hit, Stormbringer reduces the target’s Constitution by 1d6 points. For each 2 points of Constitution drained in this manner, increase either Elric’s Strength or Constitution by 1, up to a maximum of 20. Stormbringer also transfers half of the damage inflicted on the target to Elric. Elric’s hit points max out at 340. Stormbringer will continue to regenerate Elric until it becomes satiated after transferring 1000 hit points to Elric, at which point it looses interest in fighting and will no longer provide any benefits to Elric and will act as a normal weapon. Undead and constructs which have no life energy are unaffected by the Strength and Constitution drain. Any creature killed by Stormbringer can not be resurrected even by the most powerful of magic.

The digital age is here

I was reading a forum thread about how disappointed people are that local game stores no longer cater to the role playing game community. Back in the 80’s there were stores dedicated to nothing but role playing games and today game shops tend to be more about Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon card games. The complaint seems to be that game shops are chasing the easy money instead of doing the hard work needed to attract serious RPG customers. This made me laugh.

First off, of course game shops are going to chase the easy money. These guys need to pay the rent, they need to pay their employee’s and hopefully have enough left over at the end of the month to pay themselves something. Collectible card games have regular release cycles, if a game shop stocks the top 4 games, they will likely have a new set on the stand every month that keep the customers coming in. RPG’s are just not like that, the big guy, Wizards of the Coast only releases new product 2-3 times a year, usually an adventure module that only 25% of the potential market (GM’s) is going to buy. The number two guy Paizo, is a bit better, but not by much and all the rest are hit and miss, more often missing.

Second, RPG players simply do not need that much product. I can buy the core book and play for decades without ever investing another penny in the game. I like having adventure modules, but I don’t need them, I like supplemental expansions to the game, but I don’t need them. I could pull out my copies of the Moldvay D&D basic set published in 1981 and I could run a 3 year campaign. Just because an RPG is old, does not mean it is unplayable. Lets face it, we are a notoriously cheap bunch anyway.

Third and finally, the digital age is upon us. We no longer need game stores to be the center of our community. Thanks to the internet we can look at products and read reviews prior to buying. We can discuss our hobby with people all over the world in dozens of different forums covering all aspects of gaming. We can even play online now, we don’t even have to put on pants and go over to someones house or the game store to play anymore. On top of that, DrivethruRPG have more games on their site than any game store could ever hope stock, I have 3,000+ RPG PDF files totaling 24GB, and you know what, I store all of them on my tablet and I can carry them with me everywhere I go. Even on the off chance that I want a printed copy, I can always buy from Amazon and get a 30% discount on it, which totally makes it worth the 2 day wait to get it. Alternately, for under $200 I can buy a laser printer and a binding machine to make my own. Okay, I don’t get a full color glossy paged hard bound book, but honestly, do I really need that for a table copy that is going to be exposed to Mountain Dew and Cheetos? At today’s prices, that setup would pay for itself after 4 or 5 printouts.

As far as I am concerned, this breakup was inevitable. Back in the 80’s games stores needed RPG gamers and vice versa, today, not so much. You know, I don’t think that is a bad thing.

Review: BlueHolme

Product Summery:
Name: BlueHolme Journeymanne
Publisher: DREAMSCAPE DESIGN
Author: Michael Thomas
Line: OSR/Basic D&D
Cost: $9.99 for PDF
Pages: 118

Someone may have finally come up with a retro clone of Basic D&D that does not piss me off. In the past, these things have stuck very close to the original rules, even to the point of including stupid and outdated rules, like the race as class nonsense I have complained about in the past. The author of BlueHolme seems to have come to his senses and left that shit out and that is why I shelled out the $10 to get the expanded version of the rules, even though I can get other retro clones that are 90% identical to these rules for free.

Like all retro clones, BlueHolmes set out to re-imagine a specific game from a bygone era. In this case it was the Blue Box D&D Basic Set from 1977 written by J. Eric Holmes, thus the name BlueHolme. The writer originally put out the BlueHolme Prentice rules, which like the game it is based on, only went to third level.In that book he used public domain art from various sources, which gave the book an interesting vibe. Recently he decided to expand the rules to 20th level and get some original art done for the expanded book. He ran a kickstarter and raise a nice chunk of change to commission this art and the end product was the Journeymanne rule book.

What did I liked; the book does a very good job of re-imaging the game it was based on. Quick easy to build characters with very little crunch to get in the way. Classes are limited to the 4 base classes, Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User and Thief. Here is the interesting part, there is no limitation. on races the player may choose from.

Page 5: Just about any being detailed in Part 6: Creatures is suitable for use as a player character with a little work by the referee,

So yes, the player can play a small dragon or a giant beetle if they so desire. I felt this was an interesting twist on the game, something not really done in the past that sets this game apart.

Things I did not like; I think my problem with this game are really problems with the Original D&D, so I would like to be clear about it. This is not a modern game and falls into many of the same traps that old school games fall into. Unbalanced classes, wonky rules, too much hand waving of rules and terrible scaling at high levels. Of course there will those who say, this is what makes these games so much fun to play. But I think there are some areas with these OSR games that are ripe for improvement.

For instance the “All weapons to 1d6 damage” rule, okay I get it, its simple and straight forward. The problem is there is no reason to ever use anything other than a dagger, it does 1d6 damage just like a long sword, my character can carry 25 of them and I can throw them as well as use them in melee. This is something I would house rule, small weapons do 1d4 damage (dagger, dart, short sword, hand axe), medium weapons do 1d6 (long sword, mace, battle axe), large weapons do 1d8 damage (two handed sword, great axe, pole arms). Or even if you wanted to stick with the 1d6, you could do, 1d6-2 for small, 1d6 for medium and 1d6+2 for large. This gives fighters a reason to use a two handed sword other than “Its cool” or “I am a barbarian so…”.

Over all, I liked the game, I think it is well written and accomplishes what it set out to do. I doubt I will ever play it, I think if I were inclined to play this sort of game, I would simply run the Original D&D in some form. However if you are not interested in scouring ebay for copies of the original, but want to play a game approximating it, then this is definitely the game for you.

Saturday Night Game

Tonight we had what I consider a really great game. I think this is one of those games we will look back on and say, “Remember that time when….?”. So after last games TPK and the activation of everyone’s proteges, the party was hired to clear out the dwelling of an old mage who had passed away. Simple right, well except for all the mad mages pets and weird experiments, so you know, nothing is ever easy. In the very first room, they just kind of glance into, because they get distracted by an animated suit of armor. While the other players were horsing around trying to figure out how to use the animated suit of armor to their advantage, the party thief went noising around that first room looking for money in the sofa cushion. The thief of course gets knocked out and replaced by a Doppelganger. David, the player, played along with it. He waited in the back of the party until the group got into t fight with something else and then attacked the character who was in front of him. He grabbed the character and covered his mouth so he could not raise the alarm. I told him he could only suffer and take damage until he either made a Strength roll or died. He missed 4 consecutive Strength rolls and was down to just a couple hit points when the party finally turned around, saw what was happening and saved the poor bastard. This was just part of the whole game, there was a little bit of everything. Puzzle solving, roleplaying and good old hack-n-slash, interspersed with plenty of “Holy Shit” moments. It was a well rounded and fun game.