Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Year With D&D Fifth Edition

So, a little over a year ago, I talked my friends into humoring me and giving Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition a try. They knew I had been staunchly anti-D&D for years and I don't think they took me seriously. Since I don't know how to do anything small, I set out to run The Hoard of the Dragon Queen for the group.

We are now closing in on the end of The Rise of Tiamat and the entire Tyranny of Dragons campaign. As appealing as Princes of the Apocalypse and Out of the Abyss look, odds are good that we are playing something other than D&D when this is finished, but we haven't decided for sure yet (and I am probably running at least a short campaign for my son).

So, I thought I would blog about my experiences as a DM for the last year. I have ran Rules Cyclopedia D&D, AD&D 2e (a LOT) and D&D 3/.5. I have read all kinds of books up and down the D&D lineage, including 4th Edition. I grew bothered by the rigidity of the 2e rules (though I loved the settings) and the insane amount of math and modifiers for 3rd edition (this being a huge part of the reason why I have never indulged in Pathfinder).

  • The backwards compatibility is amazing. I have managed to pull items and monsters from Labyrinth Lord, 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition with only minor modifications and drop them into my 5e games with no fuss. This means that my available content was loads larger than the five books in the initial wave. I have peppered the campaign with magic items from the 2e Encyclopedia Magica and the 3e Book of Vile Darkness, and used Small Niche Games' Inn of Lost Heroes as a side trek in Hoard of the Dragon Queen to hugely dramatic effect. Huge win on 5e's part.
  • Critical hits are bland. Doubling your dice roll and adding modifiers was too boring for us. We agreed to double damage after modifiers, and I added a critical hit chart I found online. This had led to great moments, like powerful enemies mortally wounded and bleeding out, and even one PC losing their hand in a fight. Everyone agreed that this was an improvement over Rules as Written.
  • Despite simplifying things, it can still be easy to get lost in the Action, Reaction, Bonus action cycle. No one at the table gets too bent out of shape about anything, so if there's confusion, we just kinda roll with it and I look up the actual rule after the fact. This particularly comes into play when extra attacks are involved. Still better than trying to track a Fighter's 3 attacks every 2 rounds.
  • Advantage/Disadvantage in place of the various fiddly modifiers is absolutely brilliant and I love it. Simplifying +/-  into "Roll 2d20 and take the highest/lowest"? Wonderful. And yes, it IS still possible for players to whiff a roll with Advantage, as one player in my game has rolled double 1s more than once while rolling with Advantage.
  • The math for Challenge Ratings and the like is absolutely and gloriously borked. I learned very quickly that CR 5 may well mean that the beast will get smoked by a single level 5 Barbarian, while a couple of CR 1 guys may absolutely shred a group of level 4 characters. I *like* this. This makes the world feel more "real" and less like a well-balanced game, and causes level 12 characters to go "Let's see if we can sneak around that ogre" instead of "Just one ogre? Let's bag him".
  • When the DMG came out, we added in Proficiency Dice (a die you roll instead of flat bonuses, that scales up as you level up). Coming from Savage Worlds, it made my group feel more comfortable with the mechanics. It also helped the whiff factor early on. Now that they are on to d10s as Proficiency Dice, though, I feel like it's a touch overpowered. Not sure I would use it in another game.
  • We also added Hero Points, which are a number of points you can get per level that allow you to add a d6 to your die roll. Similar to Savage Worlds bennies, these were also met with universal approval. I would keep them in the future, but I think I might add the "scaling effect" of Proficiency Dice. Roll a d10 to try to make a Saving Throw still has a ton of risk, but also has enough reward to make you seriously consider it.
  • Speaking of the DMG: Their Horror/Madness rules are frightening, and nearly led to a TPK in Ravenloft when most of the party was disabled by them (one PC was paralyzed with fear, while another was driven to rage and left attacking the closest thing to him...which was party members more than once).
  • Legendary Actions are extra actions that certain monsters can take in a fight, giving them multiple actions on a round. Not only does this make certain monsters (looking at you, dragons) absolutely terrifying, but it also largely prevents a group of PCs versus a monster from turning into a one sided gang up curb stomp when the monster is attacking multiple times around (and then getting multiple attacks on a round). Throw in Lair actions and the PCs have had to earn their victories.
  • Attunement is another great feature. Essentially, some magic items (namely really powerful ones) require Attunement. You can only attune to three items at a time. This prevents PCs from having loads and loads of items. The number of items our group owns has crept up through the campaign, but they are also level 15 now, and I have tried to keep magic items a little more rare but a little more powerful.
  • I ditched the requirement for Spell Scrolls that state that the spell must be on your class' spell list and allow anyone to use the scroll...but if they fail, they risk the Scroll Mishaps table. I like my magic being just a bit more dangerous, what can I say?
  • Combat isn't as fast as Savage Worlds, but it's not horribly slow. Much better than I remembered 3rd Edition being by a long shot. Even with the PCs at level 14-15, everything tends to run pretty quickly. I did give everyone index cards so they could write down the details of their spells and abilities for easy reference. That helps.
  • I did think they needed Mass Combat Rules, so I ripped off the Savage Worlds/Army of Darkness Combat Rules. When they actually released Mass Combat Rules, I still preferred mine...but I love the Savage Worlds Mass Combat rules.
  • God, I love the release schedule. So glad they aren't just flooding the market with books. A few adventure books, followed by a bunch of stuff released for free online? That's aces in my book.
  • The Tyranny of Dragons campaign has been fun, and I have found it terribly easy to add my own flourishes to it (including adding in involvement from the Drow, a Lord of Hell and a side trek to Ravenloft). Are there parts that weren't detailed very well? Well, yes. But I have been GMing over 20 years. I can fill in a few blanks here and there. We have had epic moments, I have nearly driven one player to tears with story twists, and we have laughed hysterically at some of the events that have occurred. I call that a success, folks.
My initial reactions to the 5e Player's Handbook were very positive. This is why I cancelled my planned 13th Age game and ran 5e instead. A year later, nearing the end of a campaign that was fairly broadly panned online (for both being a "railroad" and for being "too open", somehow), we have had a blast, and I feel very secure in calling this my favorite version of D&D ever made, even if I'm not willing to call it my favorite RPG.

Great job, Wizards. I was looking for something to scratch that "D&D itch", and I found it. Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Savage Tales of Horror is Here!

I have been a pro wrestling champion, I have published comic books, and now I have an honest to God official Deadlands adventure under my name.

If I die tomorrow, let it be said that I achieved goals that I reached for in life.

Melodramatic? Maybe. What do you expect from an ex-pro wrestler turned comic book writer turned RPG writer?

Inspired by a folk song, Love on the Mountain is written with Deadlands in mind, but is completely compatible with The Sixth Gun RPG or playable with just the Horror Companion, and it is found in Savage Tales of Horror volume 2, along with several other amazing horror adventures.

You can preorder the bundle today and get the first two volumes in PDF right now!

And I would dearly love to know what you think.

Monday, August 31, 2015

#RPGaDay Day 31: Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come Out of RPGs

A sense of community.

God knows this hobby can get up its own ass at times with edition wars and you're playing it wrong and that book shouldn't be for sale, but then you see publishers and creators banding together, rallying around community members who have lost children, or spouses, or have learned they are very ill, or who have lost their homes due to natural disaster. Many times, our hobby rallies around people in times of disaster even when we don't know that even a single gamer was affected.

It really tends to make the standard weekly drama bearable when you remember the love and beauty that people are capable of.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

#RPGaDay Day 30: Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

You can keep your Wil Wheatons and Vin Diesels and Stephen Colberts...this one was an easy pick for me:

Credit to Stezak for creating this image.

Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs has not only won all of the awards and accolades listed above, but he's a HUGE Dungeons & Dragons fan, and - by most accounts - is a completely selfless teammate and a gentleman to deal with.

#RPGaDay Day 29: Favorite RPG Website

Honestly, I don't have a lot of destination sites. As a reviewer, I avoid other reviewer sites, especially if it's a book I haven't reviewed, so their impressions don't paint my own.

That said, there are great resources all over the internet for games that I wind up stealing from, and I access almost all of that from my Google+ Google+ it is.

Friday, August 28, 2015

#RPGaDay Day 28: Favorite RPG I No Longer Play

Cheating again on this one and adding two:

I don't think I have ran this since my friend Kenny moved to Boston. Sad, really, given how much I love it.

The next one is...

I thoroughly enjoy the Cinematic Unisystem, and my favorite incarnation is the Angel RPG with the Buffy Magic Box supplement. Anytime I run this game, people tend to enjoy it, but it never lasts for more than a couple of episodes. I'm so frustrated I no longer even try. =/

#RPGaDay Day 27: Favorite Idea for Combining Two Games

More like a setting and a game, but Midnight was sure satisfying when I used Jeff Scifert's conversion to Savage Worlds.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Shadow Has Fallen...

This is not a review.

This is not a press release.

This is not solicited by Schwalb Entertainment in any way, shape or form.

This is my squeeing with fanboy glee at the release of Shadow of the Demon Lord in PDF.

Disclaimer: Using that link will provide me with a percentage of the sale at OneBookShelf sites.

Earlier in the month, I named this most most anticipated upcoming game. As of today, it is out digitally. I have only skimmed it, but I am very, very pleased. It is brutal, grotesque and over the top. You can roll up characters in minutes, literally, because the thing is overflowing with tables. I think the only thing missing is a random adventure generator.

I wanna run this thing very, very badly.

Things you should know:

- It is class and level. Those classes tend to fall in fantasy archetypes. You start at level 0. At level 1, you pick a Novice Path, which is a Magician, Priest, Rogue or Warrior. The options branch out at 3 and 7, and there are no Path requirements (so you can go a couple of levels as a Warrior, then become an Assassin, before ending you career as a Druid). The level scale is 0-10, but the promise of higher level range is coming in the future. If I counted correctly, there are a whopping 84 paths to choose from, from iconic roles like Ranger and Paladin, to odder choices like Exorcist, Shapeshifter and Technomancer.

- The game uses d6s and 1d20. The core mechanic uses a d20, but if you have Boons, you add a d6 to the roll for each Boon. If you have Banes, you subtract a d6 from the roll for each Bane. A lot of the random tables use 3d6.

- Characters have four main stats, rated from 1-20: Strength, Agility, Intellect and Will. They also have Health, Defense, Perception and Insanity.

- Races include Human and Dwarf, but also Goblin, Orc, Clockwork and Changeling, each with unique tables for character creation.

- The Shadow of the Demon Lord is a mechanic in the game that can have bizarre consequences in the world, from the dead rising to beastmen being more violent, to famine and drought...and worse.

- The world is provided in loose detail, to not bind you to too much "canon", and encompasses demons, dragons, undead, Elves ARE in the game, but you can only kill them, not be them. Just tossing that out there.

The game has a bit of a Warhammer/Diablo feel with none of the canon, and a slew of D&D5e style customization options without a ton of book keeping. I'm not telling you to buy it, but I'm telling you I threw a bunch of money at the Kickstarter and, with the first release, I am REALLY freaking pleased with what I have seen thus far. If I have time (which is a maybe, my plate is suddenly very full), I will try to review it. More importantly, I will try to run it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#RPGaDay Day 26: Favorite Inspiration for Your Games

Random tables.

Totally and completely and without fail. I love using random tables and just figuring out how to make it work. Heck, I made random adventure generators for Marvel SAGA for this reason

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#RPGaDay Day 25: Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic

So for Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic, I'm going to go with the Fate Deck from Marvel SAGA, with a list of reasons why.

  • It provides a nice mix of randomization, combined with resource management and decision making. Each character has a variable hand of cards, based off of their experience level, and uses that to decide what to do and when to do it, generally attempting to match up their actions with the cards in their hand. Why?
  • Trump. If the card you play matches your active ability, you Trump, which means you get to flip over the top card of the Fate Deck and add it to your total. If you Trump again, you keep adding. It can make for some truly explosive moments in-game.
  • Pushing. As part of that resource management, if you need just a little something extra to put you over the top on an action, you can Push. You Push by spending a card and adding it to your action total, but not redrawing it, to simulate the exertion of the effort...because sometimes you need to hold that gate just a little longer so the last civilian can slip through...
  • Edge. Probably my favorite mechanic of all. The great equalizer. Every character has an Edge score. They can play any number of cards equal to, or less than, their Edge score before playing their action card. What does that mean in play? Say She-Hulk has an Edge of 2 and a Hand Size of 4. She's holding the 2 of Intellect, 8 of Doom, 6 of Agility and 4 of Agility. If she wants to punch someone (Strength), she knuckles down and uses the 8 of Doom (giving that card to the Narrator to use against her later), but she can also add that 2 of Intellect, giving her a 10 to go with her Strength of 17 (for an action total of 27 - Impressive).  Now Captain America, who has a Will of 12, wants to calm a rioting crowd. His hand includes the 3, 4 and 7 of Doom, the 6 of Will and the 4 and 6 of Strength. He can dump the 3 and 4 of Doom, plus the 4 of Will to set his score of 23...before playing the 6 of Will to push it to 29, which also Trumps! Captain America is very resourceful in SAGA, and Edge can be more important than cool powers and high scores.

    See kinda why I love Marvel SAGA?