Saturday, May 21, 2016

The curious anger against The Forge

I read a post earlier this week that was one of those that makes you wonder what world the poster lives in. The thrust of the argument was that The Forge has ruined indie publishing, and that the theory discussions there were pretentious, and that Ron Edwards hates old school.

The last point is fairly simple, as Ron have posted a lot publicly about games he has played and what he has liked or not. That he wrote a essay about D&D and used the words "brain damage" doesn't prove much. I have myself used those words when talking about alignment, many times. I have played with Ron, read his actual play posts about e.g. T&T, and know how ridiculous that claim is. But, even if it's true, what does it matter? How does Ron and The Forge threaten you?

I wonder, why do some people who feel affiliated with OSR sensibilities feel so threatened by The Forge and its inheritance? I can understand how an approach to gaming that focuses on actual play to see how it works, can feel theoretical underpinnings and that kind of talk to be pointless. Let's disregard for the moment to what extent a theoretical conversation means you do not play. I know I found some of the jargon sometimes obscured the experience of play, so I see some point with that criticism.

But, apart from that, what is so threatening? Is it the thrust towards cooperative storytelling, where the DM no longer reigns supreme, the big threat? I know some people don't care for player narrative powers and just want to explore the world and roll dice. I can sympathize with that approach as well, even if I don't see it as a threat.

This leaves me wondering.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Covenant Items from Midnight for BRP

I've started to play a basic BRP based fantasy game at home, and the first adventure we did was a small crypt crawl. Naturally they found a magic sword.

Before you start to groan, let me tell you the kids have already started to ask for dragons and maybe a demon or two. They want fantasy to feel fantastic.

So, what can you as a GM do with the proverbial magic sword to keep it fresh and interesting? Well, I remembered the Midnight campaign setting for D&D 3rd ed. It might be a little to grim for children, but there was a few rules ideas in there I could steal. I'm thinking of Covenant Items.

Covenant Items are magic items that "grow" with the wielder. It's a neat solution to the question of what to do with the simple +1 sword when you find a +2 one.

Since we play in the Kingdoms of Kalamar, this sword is blessed by Brovandol, of the Knight of the Gods, and thus its powers are themed to that.

  • +5/+10   -  Lvl 1 - Countermagic
  • +10/+20 -  Lvl 1 - Sharpen
  • +15/+30 -  Lvl 2 - Protection
  • +20/+40 -  Lvl 2 - Countermagic
  • +25/+50 -  Lvl 2 - Sharpen
  • +30/+60 -  Lvl 3 - Protection
  • +35/+70 -  Lvl 3 - Countermagic
  • +40/+80 -  Lvl 3 - Sharpen

The idea is to have the weapon develop with the character, so the first column is how many skills points have been put into the weapon. The first value is for those who like me uses a d6 for skill advancement, and the second if you use a d10 (like modern CoC does).

Just as a random fact the levels happens to match with the different levels of the Halls of the Valiant, as the church of the Knight is knows as.

The powers are names of Magic spells from the Big Yellow Tome edition of BRP, and roughly correlate to familiar RQ spells like Bladesharp, Shield and Spell Resistance.

Now I have adventure hooks and a money sink ready for the character to develop those powers!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Deep thinking on T&T going on

After my last few posts, I started to wonder why things were like they were in the rules for T&T and initiated conversations with the creators of the game. There are some quite interesting stories and facts coming out in this conversations, but I'm going to let those run their course before posting. But, just so you know. More posts are coming on the topic.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Mix and match T&T rules - Rules for gear

Finally, after dissecting multiple editions of the game, I get so mix and match up the rules for the perfect experience. According to me. I would agree with critics who claim the game is taking too long with big dice pools, and I have my own issue with the lack of money sinks. I think these can successfully be handled, together.

Less dice - faster combats
For me, two things should be done to the game as written in the latest edition. My first suggestion would be to scale back the number for dice for all weapons. The older editions had smaller numbers and I see nothing to be gained by bigger numbers on both armour and weapons. One big benefit of this would be a game that runs faster. It's not hard to add at max 6 to 6 and so on, but every little step counts. Worth noting for those who like big pools of dice is a trick I learned Hero and D6 system players using, is to block the dice up in sums of ten, i.e. sort out those 5 + 5 and 6 + 4 matches and then you can quickly count those groups times 10. Supposedly it speed things up a bit. I'd just use less dice.

Ablative armour - money sink and more tactical combat
In my games I've found that after a short while, everyone have gotten the best armour they can buy. This is very similar to how D&D works in older editions. Check the price list in the B/X edition and you'll see what I mean. In D&D there's the possibility to save money to build that hold of yours at 9th level, but in T&T the only thing you have to pour money into is spells. The other option is to have a very developed system with an open market of magic items in general, but since that would make them feel less magical I don't like that option. 

The solution would be to go back to ablative armour. If you take a hit, the armour absorbs the damage and gets reduced at the same time. An interesting option would be to take a page from dT&T and allow a LK roll to see if the armour holds up. But, in line with my first point, I'd limit that to a special occasion. Allow a LK roll to see if the armour absorbs all damage a round, and then it's wasted. For good.

This relates somewhat to character abilities, like Warriors and armour. That's the topic for the next post...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Combat capabilities through T&T editions

The next part of my walk through of T&T editions will be a closer look at some miscellaneous rules that pertain to combat, and that might exacerbate or alleviate some of the issues you might have.

Having talked about the hardware, it's time to look at how the classes/types work in combat. In T&T you have those wielding swords, and those wielding magic. There is the middle ground, the rogue wizard, but I will leave it out of the discussion as there's nothing new for that type of character. But, it's worth noting how opposition works, because the monster have their own rules.

Let's start with the Warriors. In the first two editions, the only thing a Warrior got was their adds from high stats. Then from the T&T Supplement and on to the latest edition, they get the ability to use their armour extra effectively. So, twice the value for absorbing hits. This kind of coincides with the first serious bump in dice for weapons. From the unofficial 6th unto the latest edition Warriors have also gotten a boost by adding extra damage. I think the +1/lvl kind of makes sense as the armour suddenly absorbs more from 5th ed on, but 1d extra damage per level as in 8th ed just sounds ill thought out. They mention in a side bar it was questioned in play testing. That should have told the game developers this was a bad idea.

The magic wielding class have been very uniform through the editions. All first level spells have been available for all wizards, and apart from the 7th ed era where they needed to make a Saving Roll to cast, they have been able to lob spells freely, paying for then by WIZ or STR points. From 5th ed they have been upgraded combat wise with the ability to not only use 1d weapon, but 2d weapons. Then they also got the ability to use adds from high stats, which they were forbidden before. Interestingly, before that switch they had the benefit of being assigned hits last.

How about the opposition then? Monsters can be stated out like characters, or they can use the more basic method of just having a Monster Rating. The basic idea is the MR gives the dice rolled, and the adds you add to that in combat. From 5th ed on you use the same amount of adds for each combat round, and before that the monsters used to loose steam as the fight progressed, loosing dice and adds. Interestingly enough, before 5th ed. the rules stated that monsters thrived in darkness and got double their rating in darkness! As sometimes is the case, the British edition adds in a line about rolling the dice off MR to generate the amount of hits a monster can take. Feels a bit odd if you already have the MR, right?

So what does this all mean?
I think we can see how the power of the classes have increased in lockstep with the die ratings for weapons and armor. There are some quirks on top of this, like the Wizards being last to take a hit, that I had either not noticed or just plain forgot. There was one quite interesting note in the editions before the 5th about monsters on deeper levels. I guess they game expanded out beyond the dungeon. But, that suggestion was to multiply the dice the monster rolled by the level to make it easier on the GM when rolling many dice. It seems like the rules writer and developer somehow changed their minds about big dice pools being a hassle.

It's not very far fetched to think that if you feel the present edition is cumbersome, just roll scale back all the numbers! In my next post I will consider that, and some other options.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A bucket full of dice - how the dice have changed in T&T through the ages

Like I wrote in my last post, it seems the biggest issue people are having with dT&T who have come to the game cold, are the dice pools. Since the basic combat mechanic is you roll all dice on one side of the conflict, add it up and subtract from the sum of the other side, you will roll a lot of dice. There ways to either roll fewer, or to sum them up, but I'm going to focus on the historical perspective.

So, was the game always like this? Let's take out the old books. I have in my possession the 1st ed reprint, the 2nd ed, the British 1st ed (1st ed with The T&T supplement included), 5th ed, 7th ed, the revised 7th ed and now dT&T.

Let's take a look at how some of the weapons have looked like through the ages.

1st2nd1st British5th7th8th
Bastard sword
1st2nd1st British5th7th8th
Great axe
1st2nd1st British5th7th8th

Can you also see a trend here? I could take more examples, but I think the point I'm trying to make is clear. The game has become more unwieldy because of  dice inflation.

It kind of reminds me of how D&D grew out of proportions in 4th ed. where the hit points of both player characters and monsters were in the hundreds! The game wont feel more epic if all numbers are raised, it will only take longer to play. I think WotC proved that for all of us who played that edition of D&D. But, wait! Did T&T raise all numbers? Let's look at some armor.

1st2nd1st British5th7th8th
1st2nd1st British5th7th8th

Even though the Plate armor is not increasing all the way, we see the trend here as well. The fact is, the situation is more complex than it seems. In the earliest editions, armor was ablative! That 18 points of damage reduction you get in 7th ed is even better than the 10->18 step looks like!

So, the damage dealt have increased, and the damage absorbed by armor have increased. You could try to figure out the relation between those, but I will just state that in that increase you have also increased another thing. The time it takes to resolve a combat.

In my next post I will take a look at some other rules that have changed during the years, and in the final post I will serve up my take on how I would use the rules in my game.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Some thoughts on the latest T&T edition

So finally did the big book arrive! The Kickstarter campaign was not really the most pleasurable experience you could imagine, but it no shit-storm either. It was overdue, long overdue, and sometimes you wondered why. But, here it is at last. Let's read.

I own multiple editions of T&T, from the reprinted 1st ed, the 2nd ed, the British 1st, 5th ed, 7th ed, 7th ed revised and now the 8th AKA dT&T. I have some seen some trends and changes from 1975 to today, and I was actually worried about some of those carry on into the latest edition. The worst fears were not realized, luckily. But, some things have clearly been changing for better or worse.

My biggest complaint, which seems to mirror most of the play reports I've seen from peoples who have come to the system cold, is that there's too much arithmetic and too many dice. While it's not hard to add 1 and 4, or 6 and 6, it becomes more cumbersome to add 1 and 4 and 6 and 6 and 4 and 3 and 2 and 2 and 4 and 6 and 6 and ...

Have you tried any wargames lately? I have found that what makes a hex and chit game workable for me today with family and commitments outside gaming is mostly the amount of counters. I figure it's the same thing for a miniatures game. The more you have to handle during your turn, the longer it takes.

So, doing simple things multiple times is time consuming? Great insight, Sherlock!

Well. I have some data I want to talk about, and a suggestion to make those problems mentioned less acute. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Newbie friendly games - using probability

My last post was inspired by how my friend had a horrendous strike of unluckiness, which made his game nights less than fun. He is after all a seasoned gamer and while an experience like that might sour him on a game, it would not make him run screaming from the hobby. But, how about someone who never played a RPG before? Maybe it is actually more newbie friendly to use a game with a bell curve instead of a flat probability when introducing new people.

So would I use any of the games mentioned in my last post, or the systems mentioned in the comments to introduce a newbie?

The Fantasy Trip
This game has one big drawback, it's out of print. If you want to get it, you will have to search on eBay and be a bit lucky to get a complete set in nice condition. Luckily there are clones and derivatives out there. My favourite is Heroes & Other Worlds, which is an attempt to take some cues from B/X D&D and fuse it with TFT.

As most of you know, fantasy is the most popular setting for RPGs and TFT fits the bill. Also, there are only a few stats (one extra in HOW) and it's fairly easy to make a character in a short amount of time. Nothing weird, nothing fancy, just swords and sorcery.

Even though it's not as visible as it used to be, this is still a game supported and published. Since it's a generic system it can be used for whatever setting, making it easy to run a game set in whatever setting you newbie favours. The flipside of the coin is that a adapting a generic game to a specific setting will take some work.

Character generation can be overwhelming, to say the least. Since there are so many options it's very easy to get analysis paralysis. Then, even if you as the GM do your homework, and you use a template system, the game is detailed enough to cover any eventuality. That can very easy bog down a game. But, it's extremely versatile.

In my basement I have a big box with nothing but Traveller books. Science fiction is not a popular as fantasy, but considering how popular Star Trek or Firefly is, it's not exactly weird or exotic. There have been a ridiculous amount of stuff published for this game system, and many different editions of rules available.

Mongoose Publishing is a company that I would generally advice people to stay away from. They have a terrible track record of games with awful layout and abysmal quality control. But, their little black book of Traveller is really neat. It takes the classic Traveller and packages it in a very sweet package.

There is one thing that's less than ideal of Traveller for newbies. Since it uses a life path system where you take terms in different careers, and you can get thrown out of said careers on a bad dice roll, you never really know what kind of character you will get. As a mini game on it's own, it's quite fun. But, I imagine it could be less than ideal if you as a player had your eyes set on a specific kind of character with a specific set of skills.

Tunnels & Trolls
Everyone who looked at the text on the top of this page, or followed the blog, might know I have warm feelings for this game. It has some neat features, like a generic resolution and stunt mechanic. It also have a slightly comedic, or at least less than totally serious, attitude which I personally like.

If there's something this game does less well is probably the fact that it uses really big piles of dice, especially in later editions. Thus it can take some time to gather all the dice, roll, sum and subtract. It can be a bit slow.

HERO System
Everything I said about GURPS is valid for HERO, even more so. This is ridiculously adaptable. But, compared to TFT and GURPS which have a small set of stats, this game's character sheet can be intimidating. If I have to choose between GURPS and HERO, I'd choose the former, as it's as clunky to make a character, but it's more smooth in play.

Over the Edge
I have played this game system twice. Once was in the original setting, and once was a free adventure for Harn I found online and ran with the OtE system as I did not own Harn, and I did not really fancy it anyway.

In the original, and very weird, setting this system is just right. You have so much oddity to keep straight that the game system has to be very light and narrative. If it has a problem, it is probably the same as Fate. Both game system suffer from the fact you can make a Trait/Aspect out of anything, and that can make you stumble before you understand how it works in play.

It's a quite expressive system and I think the fact you can just ask a potential player to describe in a few words what they envision, and then put dice to that is a big win.

The D6 System
Most players of this system have probably used it for Star Wars. I have only played it once, and then it flowed very freely and the action was exciting. Since then I've read how the piles of dice can be cumbersome, and that there are some rules that are fiddly. The latter case would be the target numbers, that can be chosen from a range, but probably just works best if you just have a set interval of 5.

So would I use these games to introduce a newbie to rpgs? Well. I think the fact these games all use multiple dice, and thus probably have a more even spread of successes, yes that is a point in their favour.

Would I use one of the more generic ones, like D6 System, GURPS, HERO or OtE? No, probably not. I think fantasy is popular for a reason, and even though it's the game on the list I am least familiar with, I lean toward TFT/HOW.

You would maybe expect me to champion T&T, but I think that maybe for once I have to agree with those who think the names of the spells are less suitable. Also, the free flowing stunt system of SR are not very easy to handle even by seasoned gamers.

So, who knows. Maybe I get to try to use one of these systems to bring new gamers to the fold. Maybe I actually will try to use TFT/HOW! Today I started to read HOW and I really felt like I wanted to play it. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The value of bell curves

A while back I started talking to some friends about starting up a regular game again. To fill some time, after realizing that it would need some discussion to find a game everyone agreed on, we picked a game we had played before as a starter. 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars was that game.

For those who have not played this game, I can summarize a key point of the rules system. All rolls are one 1d10, roll under but high is good, against a Trait. I guess you see what this means. Right. No bell curve.

We started to play and since it is very much driven by black humour and creative narration by the players, it worked quite fine with some cynicism and beer. But, after a few sessions a pattern started to emerge. One of my players rolled really shitty. Like some of us say, he storked it, repeatedly. The thing is, he rolled maybe 10 dice rolls a night and missed all but one. Even after changing dice, we are not superstitious, he kept rolling like that in session after session. It just was not fun any more. In the end the game was not just a chore, it was actively un-fun to roll dice for him.

Now, I guess you have all heard of games where the narrative is as much in the hands of the players as the GM? You would imagine that maybe that would alleviate the problem, maybe? The problem here is that 3:16 is just such a game. I as the GM could only limit the stiffness of the opposition, and the players still had to sit there and narrate the hell out of repeated failures. Kind of sucks after a while.

We decided to fade to black after a few missions, and now I had pitched a new game which all seemed to like. It was all down to the weird imagination of Ken Hite, since who can resist a game with both nazis and the Midgard Serpent? Savage Worlds it was.

I guess you see one thing that differs from 3:16? In Savage Worlds you roll multiple dice, and if you fail you can spend a token and roll again. Once again you roll multiple dice. Multiple dice, i.e. more chances to succeed, since you get to pick which to use.

That choice of game system was intentional.

As you probably know, there are more than one way to skin a cat. The cat I wanted to skin was player enjoyment. While I do not subscribe to the school of design that say encounters should be "balanced" and that the players are entitled to this or that, I do believe game system matters for how much fun you can have.Clearly linear probabilities do have some potential to screw up your game night.

Savage Worlds and Fate are two game systems that have decided to let you have all that wild and intense fun you get by rolling dice, but have also included some way to take the edge of Those Nights(tm). I think that is good game design for a game for modern adults, for whom game night is time you clawed back from all the necessities of family, work and other obligations. Narrative control is one thing, but getting to describe your failure yourself over and over again does not make it more fun. Maybe the first time. I think some game mechanic that works as a "safety net" should be in your mind when you design a game for my kind of gamer.

Are there other ways? Let's go back to those dice, and our subject line.

I know I am not the first one to notice that some games are really swingy, and D&D with its d20 based to hit roll is one of those. As those of us than own a AD&D 1st ed DMG know, there are more ways to roll dice, and one of them produce a bell curve. Such a probability distribution skews towards the middle, making it harder to get those extremes. On the other hand, it also makes it likelier to get above that first hump of lower target numbers. Is this possibly the way to increase player enjoyment? I will leave off dice pool systems, since I find the probabilities of those headache inducing, instead focusing on rolling multiple dice and adding them before comparing to a target number.

Strangely enough, there are few games I can think of where you roll multiple dice of a similar kind and add them, as a basic mechanic. Sure, it's used for damage, but more seldom for other things. Off the top of my head I can only remember five game systems that use this, and two of them are closely related.
  • The Fantasy Trip (TFT) - roll 3d6
  • GURPS - roll 3d6
  • Traveller - roll 2d6
  • Tunnels & Trolls (T&T) - roll 2d6 for Saving Rolls, in combat roll weapon dice and add stat bonus.
  • HERO - roll 3d6
Maybe these games are actually kinder to gamers who just want to succeed once in a while?

Next topic: Are these thus newbie friendly games?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie and Back to Future!

Thanksgiving turkey and then some pumpkin pie looking at Back to the Future with the family. Quite a good day!

Soon some more gaming topics as well on this blog.
Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Andreas Davour. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Blogger.