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Now available through the DMs Guild, Clerics of Lesser Domains is a brand-new 23-page manual of material for players of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Six new domains (Beauty, Illumination, Language, Twilight, Winter, and Youth), four new backgrounds (Beggar, Prophet, Templar, and Zealot), and five new feats (Anointer, Divine Channel, Guiding Spirit, Oracle, and Slayer) allow you to create a functional cleric who serves a less “adventurer-conventional” deity or add a little sacred or supernatural flair to any character. Play a haughty and hauntingly pretty priest of a goddess of love and beauty, a gentle twilit harvester of souls, the mischievous favorite child of a deity of youth, or many other character concepts.

Costing less than $1 per new sub-class, this booklet is a steal at $4.99 even before you get to the optional system of story-rich and flavorful blessings for clerics to give, with three unique blessings for every officially published domain plus the six in this book. After all, what’s the good of being a cleric of beauty if you can’t bless a child with good looks?

Get it today, get it here:

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

alexandraerin: (Default)

Tanks For The Memories

I saw a thread on a D&D forum recently where someone was talking about making a defensive Fighter build, but said they worry about what they called “the standard tank problem of ‘if I can’t harm it, then why focus on it?'”

A little bit of background here to get everyone on the same page: the concept of a “tank” comes from computer games based (through winding paths) on Dungeons & Dragons. In Dungeons & Dragons, the Fighter’s high AC and Hit Points has always meant that other characters would tend to hide behind the Fighter, especially during lower levels.

In a computer game where there’s no human mind directing all the monsters and minions you fight, this is represented by giving Fighter-type characters abilities that allow them to attract a monster’s hostile attention—“aggro” in the parlance—and hold it better than more vulnerable characters. In simple terms, a tank is a higher priority target for the computer than other characters are. The tank’s two defining abilities are to be attacked more often than their teammates and to survive more attacks than their teammates.

In D&D, a human mind is directly responsible for directing the “aggro” of any NPC enemies the party fights, so all you really need to have in order to tank is the second clause: the ability to survive more attacks. Or that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The “standard tank problem” described by this prospective player is the notion that in the absence of any mechanical incentive for monsters to attack the Fighter, game theory demands that they don’t. The odds of hitting the well-defended Fighter are lower than the odds of hitting another target. It will take more hits to drop the “Fighter than anyone else on the field, a side’s ability to inflict damage does not decrease until a member of that side is taken out of the fight, and it decreases fastest when characters optimized for doing damage rather than taking it are knocked out first.

This is an example of the law of unintended consequences in action: in making it so that your character is the best at taking hits, you become the least attractive target on the battlefield.

This was considered a big enough mechanical flaw in the era of 4th Edition that they did attempt to import some computer-game style “aggro grabbing” mechanics that complicated battle but made it easier for tanky warrior characters to do their job of standing between the oncoming horde and their squishier friends.

Some of those mechanics survive in 5E as an optional rule in the DMG and an equally optional feat in the PHB, but I’m not going to talk about those rules or their effectiveness. Instead I’m going to talk about the mindset that leads to the situation where they seem necessary, and how to avoid it.

What’s A Meta For?

The “metagame” is essentially the game of playing a game. A boxer who notices that their opponent has trouble keeping their left glove up because of an old injury that’s bothering them is metagaming the sport of boxing, as is a boxer’s manager who cherrypicks opponents to build their fighter’s confidence and public profile.

Though you can game a system for many purposes, metagamers typically analyze the rules of a game, the social practices of playing it, and even the context in which it’s played in order to figure out how to achieve their goals within the game.

When people talk about metagaming a roleplaying game, they usually mean taking advantage of their mastery of the system in order to first build the most mathematically optimal character and second to use that character to overcome all challenges they encounter while playing it. My previous column touched on the problem of thinking there’s a single path to “optimizing” a character, alluding to metagaming in the process.

A lot of players will metagame combat in particular, out of some combination of desire to crush their opponents decisively because it’s awesome and fear that if they don’t leverage their characters’ abilities to the hilt, those characters will die and they will lose the fight and fail in their quest. They see metagaming and playing to win as being interchangeable concepts, and don’t understand why anyone would not play to win.

I will argue until I’m blue in the face against the idea that such metagaming is the only way to play the game, but I’m not overly concerned with players who do it. The problem comes when Dungeon Masters match a player’s metagaming with metagaming of their own. This is what creates the supposedly standard problem for tanks. DMs who metgame in the same way that players do and for the same reasons will inevitably deform the game system, breaking down the tacit assumptions on which the combat system is based and robbing it of any hint of realism.

The Conga Line of Death

A textbook example of how two-way metagaming deforms things is a phenomenon of the 3E/d20 system known as the Conga Line of Death. Internet personality Spoony explains the concept in a video.

The basic idea of this: since you get a mechanical advantage to hit enemies when you have an ally on the other side of them (called flanking, in the system), the “correct” strategy is to always flank.

And since you can still form a flank against an enemy that is flanking you, once someone has you flanked you’re halfway to flanking them back; it just takes one ally moving into position opposite you on the other side of a flanking enemy and now the two of you are flanking that enemy.

And now that enemy is halfway towards flanking your ally, so another enemy moves into position, and so on.

If this continues, then before too long the entire battle will consist of people standing in a line, alternating between your side and their side. A battle that is 5 people against 5 people somehow becomes a series of fights that are all two-on-one fights.

The first time I saw someone watching this video, I was fascinated by the fact that Spoony is describing the concept with a bit of frustration, but he treats the Conga Line of Death as an inevitable outgrowth of the rules, because “you always want to flank.” You never don’t want that advantage. There’s a sense of, “This is terrible, but what are you going to do about it?”

Despite Spoony’s air of resignation, the Conga Line of Death is not inevitable. Probably more groups have played 3E-style games without it happening than have played it with it happening. Or maybe it happens once, everyone sees how ridiculous it is, and never again. It’s just that in the circles in which it does happen, it will keep happening. Because the logic that drives it will lead to the same conclusion in every situation where there are enough combatants, because everybody involved wants that mechanical advantage of flanking.

But all it takes to break the deadlock that creates the Conga Line is for one person in particular to abstain: the DM. If the DM controls one entire side of the battle. If the DM isn’t in a dancing mood, the conga line can’t happen. In a very real sense, players can’t create a Conga Line situation. It’s what happens when the DM matches them flank for flank, meta-tactic for meta-tactic.

People who defend this type of metagaming by the DM often make the argument that it would be unrealistic to not metagame, because everybody in the fight knows that it’s likely to the death and the best way to survive is to win, and the best way to win is to use the best tactics. It’s not really metagaming to take advantage of rules like flanking because the characters in the game know how flanking works, too.

But I think it’s obvious to everyone that the Conga Line of Death is not a realistic depiction of how a skirmish among two groups of about half a dozen or so combatants would break out and then break down. People would never line up like that for a fight.

As a DM, you can’t prevent this by telling the players, “That wouldn’t happen.” when they try to grab the first or second flank in a sequence. The rules say they can, so they can. And so can you. But you don’t have to. If you know that it wouldn’t happen, your job is to make sure it doesn’t. As a DM, your number one power for preventing the game from devolving into a ridiculous farce is to not do things that wouldn’t happen.

So I Just Have To Let Them Flank Me?

Yes, you do have to let the players grab mechanical advantages without concern for verisimilitude, the suggestion of reality. It’s not their job to provide that kind of feeling. It’s your job to do so. The rules are there to provide them with knowable, predictable limits of what they can and can’t do. The fact that they’re knowable and predictable means they’re game-able. The fact that they can be gamed means that some people will game them. But you don’t have to game them back.

A lot of times, when someone goes on a D&D forum asking for DM advice about what to do with metagaming players, particularly ones who only seem to be metagaming, not roleplaying or engaging with the game on any level except “How do I win?”, the advice is that you have to match them move for move or they’ll walk all over you.

Unfortunately, this tends to make the game less fun for everybody, and it also reinforces the mistaken notion that this is just how the game is played. It not only reinforces the behavior in the first player, but it teaches everyone at your table that they have to play the metagame to the hilt, even if it comes at expense of playing the actual game.

The truth is that as a DM, you are really not playing the same game as the players are, which means you shouldn’t be playing the same metagame. There are some goals that everybody at the table shares. Having fun is the obvious one. Telling a story is another possible one.

But the players are also trying to complete a quest, and/or advance their characters’ goals, and/or amass riches and power through daring exploits and/or living out their heroic (or villainous) fantasies. You as DM are not trying to do any that. You’re trying to provide an environment where they can do all that while being entertained and challenged. The balance of challenge might vary from group to group, and there’s no right level except the level that provides the most fun for the group (yourself included). But even acknowledging that challenge is one of your goals, you’re still not playing the same game as they are.

Unlike a player who is playing to win, a DM’s metagame doesn’t—or shouldn’t, at least—consist of things like knowing that if you combine this ability with that rule and take advantage of an exception provided by interference from a conflicting interpretation of an optional rule then you can do an extra 37.5 damage per round. A DM’s metagame consists of taking the knowledge that Player A is motivated by the thrill of combat, but Player B likes a good mystery and Player C just wants to goof off and coming up with an encounter that has something for everyone.

A player who builds a “tank” character by making a Hill Dwarf Fighter with the defensive fighting style and maximum Constitution, AC, and HP for level one is using metagame knowledge to create a character who can fulfill a certain role on the battle field: being a living meat shield for the rest of the party to hide behind.

The DM’s metagame should take into account that this player created this character to achieve a particular experience in combat; i.e., the thrill of being in the thick of things, laughing as sword and axe blows slide off their armor with nothing more than a bruise underneath. This knowledge helps the DM “win” by allowing them to run the game in a way the player will enjoy more.

A DM who choose to ignore the Dwarf in order to pile on the weaker party members and obliterate them so they can then dogpile on the defense-optimized Dwarf safely is playing the player’s metagame.

Now, is it realistic for the party’s foes to focus their “aggro” on the one target they’re least likely to meaningfully affect, in favor of immediately changing the course of the battle by taking out the unarmored wizard in a single round?

Of course it is.

In terms of in-game “reality”, none of the little people on the battle grid are actually little or on a battle grid. None of them are watching the battle with a bird’s eye view. None of them are seeing things in terms of polite, orderly turns during which they can assess, over the course of a minute or so, the possible targets and note their odds of a successful attack. They don’t know the D&D rules of combat, only the reality that they are intended to—with some help from the DM—loosely emulate, and the reality is that there’s big armored dwarf right in front of them who is the most obvious, most immediate threat, too dangerous to be ignored.

The weakling in the robe, the skinny person with the knives? The DM knows that they are a Wizard and a Rogue, two of the most dangerous people to ignore on a battlefield. But most people in the world who don’t wear heavy armor or carry big weapons aren’t particularly dangerous in a fight, and the average NPCs won’t know on sight that they’re looking at exceptional individuals who are the protagonists of a heroic adventure story.

The trick is actually to let it go. Let them have their metagame and focus on your own. Once you do that, all the things that seem inevitable—the “standard” problem for tanks, the “unavoidable” Conga Lines—just sort of fall away.

Death of the Ego

The hardest part about adopting a better attitude towards metagaming as a DM is the feeling that when the players are winning, you’re losing. Very few DMs consciously believe this, but when characters under your control are dying and the people across the table are crowing about how easily they dispatched them, it can be hard to let go of the idea that you yourself are suffering a defeat. It doesn’t help if the player is obnoxious about it and talking about “owning” you, of course.

The trick is to remind yourself as well as them that you are not the bad guy. The best way to do this is to celebrate with them. Say “Nice one!” instead of “Ouch!” or “You all are really kick butt.” instead of “I’m getting my butt kicked here.” Involve yourself in what the players are doing.

Ironically, the more you separate yourself from the NPCs in an encounter, the easier it becomes to consider how the battle looks from their actual point of view instead of what the winning move in the metagame would be. This also discourages even more objectively deplorable types of meta-DMing, such as shutting down a player’s illusion or charm spell or clever non-magical trick because “Sorry, I just can’t see this person falling for that. It’s not realistic that they’d be caught off-guard.”; i.e., you feel like a chump when you have to go along with something that you know is a trick.

I’ll likely talk more about that—particularly as it applies to illusion and trickery—in a future column.

Don’t Just Let Them Win…

…but remember it’s not your job to make them lose, either. Give the metagaming players challenges that give them the benefits of being awesome, rather than challenges that take away their awesomeness. If someone made a character who really is the best at killing spherical goblins in a vacuum, throw a lot of things at them that they can kill. If someone is enjoying always having the answer to everything (because they know the books inside and out), make that knowledge relevant some of the time instead of trying to put a mechanical stranglehold on it (“You don’t know that. Your character wouldn’t know that. Make a knowledge check.”) or constantly pulling gotchas and switcheroos like trolls that are healed by fire instead of being vulnerable to it.

Now, you can’t let the game become about celebrating the one player who has mastered the metagame the most to the exclusion of everyone else, of course. As a DM, your metagame is figuring out what every player is looking to get out of the game and, within reason, helping them find it.

Related: sometimes people will lament that you can’t balance combat when one character is heavily optimized for fighting and the others aren’t, because anything that challenges the overpowered character will wipe the floor with everyone else, while anything the others can handle will be wiped out by the overpowered one.

This is actually less of a problem in 5E than many people think, because of the care that went into the system’s design. But even to the extent that it’s true, it’s actually pretty easy to balance encounters for characters of disparate power levels, whether because one’s super optimized, or you rolled for stats and someone got lucky, or because they’re all different actual levels.

The key is to remember your metagame as DM: you’re not playing the combat to win, you’re playing it to provide an experience. And no one said you have to give everybody the same experience.

Spherical goblin-type game theory says that the PCs’ enemies should always focus their fire on the same target, preferably the one at the greatest intersection of “easy to kill” and “does the most damage per round”. But that’s not a realistic model of how the fight would actually go down.

Again, in real life, the most obvious, immediate threats grab the most attention first. And in stories, what usually happens when one person in the group is the best warrior is that someone on the other side recognizes this and chooses to engage them, either for the protection of their friends or because “At last! A challenge worthy of my skills!”

One of your goals is to challenge the players, yes. But it helps to think about designing adventures and encounters the way you would a similar thing in a video game; i.e., remember that the point of the challenge is that the players can overcome it.

Don’t Go Soft, Either

Finally, remember that this not about being a soft touch as a DM. Allowing players to metagame doesn’t mean you have to put up with argumentative rules lawyering or let them tell you how to run the game or dictate the terms of combat.

When it comes to interpreting the rules as written, I can be pretty hard line. I have the exceptions and house rules I allow at my table, but I know they’re exceptions and house rules. When it comes to what you can do and can’t do in combat, I’m very much a stickler.

I mean, if you’ve got a rad stunt that just doesn’t follow any particular rules, I’ll let you try it… if it fits the situation, doesn’t exactly emulate an existing ability that you don’t have, and it’s clear you don’t think you’re inventing a new rule that lets you do this cool thing at will. But don’t try to tell me that Quicken Spell should let you ignore the per-turn limits attached to spells with a casting time of bonus action because you think it stands to reason that it does. I’ll ask you to read what it actually says and then hold you to that.

If that example in particular means nothing to you, I’ll put it like this: allowing players to have their own metagame you don’t need to let players build “game breaking” characters or tactics that rely on questionable rules interpretations. If you don’t think the thing a player is trying to string together should work, you don’t have to give in. Deciding and enforcing the limits of what’s possible is part of your job as DM.

Also, just because you don’t automatically follow the same metagame tactics as the players doesn’t mean the rules that enable those tactics are off-limits to you. You can flank, if your edition includes flanking rules. You can decide that some of the enemies will gang up on a particularly troublesome hero (once the hero has had a chance to prove troublesome).

In particular, it’s worth remembering that you can always increase the ruthlessness of your tactics if a fight is going a lot easier than you expected… but it’s also worth remembering that there should be some easy fights. The fact that the dice are kind to the players isn’t something you have to actively counter. The law of averages will take care of that down the road for you.

But I don’t set limits within the rules on what players can “get away with”, nor do I try to match them meta for meta.

Remember: you’re the DM. If you won the game by killing the player characters, you could win it at any time. If you don’t just want to declare “Rocks fall, everyone dies,” you could have them accidentally wander into the dragon version of a chamber of commerce meeting. There’s no rule that says you can’t, only guidelines that say you shouldn’t.

You don’t do that kind of thing because it’s not fun. (Maybe funny, maybe once, but not fun the way the game is supposed to be.) And while working out the limits of what’s allowed and making use of that knowledge is a metagame for players, working out the limits of what’s fun and making use of that knowledge is the metagame for DMs.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

alexandraerin: (Default)
First, there's the proof that this game's designers are after my own heart: they made the Fighter good at fighting. Whether the Fighter is best at fighting is something that's going to need to be road-tested, but here's something: most warrior classes gain an extra attack at level 5. Fighters do, too... and then they gain another one at level 11 and a fourth at level 20.

Mathematically speaking, the ability to attack more than once is one of the most devastating mechanical abilities. It's often been observed that the damage output of a haste spell (when cast on a qualified combatant) is greater than fireball or any other wizard spell, which is why earlier editions had it age the subject a year and 4th edition nerfed it beyond recognition.

(As a side note: 5E undoes the nerf, but puts some brakes on: the extra action granted by haste can only be used for a small range of standard actions, which does include attacks but not spell casting... this heads off a lot of weird exploits. The spell requires the caster's concentration to maintain, which means it can be broken and while it doesn't preclude *all* spells, it precludes it stacking with other, similarly powerful ones.)

So, without even looking at everything else, the fact that the Fighter can end up with 3 or 4 attacks while any other warrior type has 2 and almost everyone else is a compelling argument for their superiority.

Then there's the fact that two enduring vestiges of 4th Edition seem to have been relegated to Fighter abilities: action points are embodied in the Fighter's "action surge" (a bonus action that can be used during one turn of combat between rests), and the second wind action has simply become a Fighter ability.

It's interesting that where 4E tried to put everyone on a level playing field and then gave everyone these things on top of that, 5E uses them as part of elevating Fighters to the same playing field as everyone else. And when I say it's interesting, I don't mean it's good and I don't mean it's bad. I mean it's interesting.

Certainly it could be said that it's a pretty pure expression of 4E's idea that martial prowess--as embodied by Fighters--can transcend mortal limitations in a way that's almost magical. Here is the most martial class around, the most mundane one, but they have two fairly basic abilities (gained at level 2) that let you ignore two of the hardest and fastest physical limits the game models.

And the basic "martial archetype" (Fighter subclass) offered as the default choice in the basic rules is basically built on this idea of transcending physical limitations. Their special abilities include more frequent criticals, amazing acts of athletic prowess, and eventually the ability to keep spontaneously generating hit points when you're between 0 HP and half HP.

And talking about archetypes? The basic one, the Champion, is pretty much what I would want from a newbie friendly fighter build: ridiculous amounts of physical power, not a lot of moving parts.

So what did they do to the more tactically interesting build-a-style Fighter who uses "martial exploits" the way Wizards use spells that 4E introduced?

They sewed that Fighter to the Warlord and called the result "Battle Master", the second Fighter sub-class.

Seriously, when you reach level 3 as a Fighter, you basically get asked, "Do you want to keep being an old school D&D Fighter, or do you want something more like the 4E experience?" And if you choose the 4E experience. It's a much more elegant solution than 4E Essentials' attempts to introduce basic fighters late in the game, especially since they weren't much simpler in concept or execution. And the fact that you spend two levels as a basic Fighter before you start messing around with sub-classes (a common feature for every class) means that probably more people will feel comfortable going the advanced route than would otherwise if they had to choose at level 1, and that they'll likely get more out of it.

On a side note: I was bummed to see that Maneuvers--which is what I said "martial exploits" should have been called from the beginning--were a thing that was restricted to a single subclass of Fighters, until I noticed that there's a Martial Adept feat that gives anyone access to them. It's like a 4E multiclass feat but without the arbitrary restrictions... in fact, you can be a Battle Master and use it to get more Maneuvers.

eshusplayground observed in a blog post that the Skilled feat--which lets you choose three new skill trainings--does a lot to obviate the need for taking on a whole class's worth of baggage in order to fill out a character concept. The Martial Adept feat described above and the Magic Initiate one (which basically gives you half a level's worth of spellcasting ability from any class) also fall into this category. These are more substantial advantages than any 3E or 4E feat would give, but feats in 5E are rarer and have more impact.

Though Fighters still potentially get more of them than anyone else, just like in 3E. And unlike 3E, they aren't restricted to "fighter bonus feats" but can take any. I say "potentially" because feats are an optional thing in 5E. What do you get if you're not taking them? Attribute improvements. Which works out handy for the person who really just wants the basic Fighter. But since the Fighter's feats aren't restricted to fancy weapon maneuvers but can be skill training, magic, stealth, whatever... well, the Fighter ends up being potentially the single most versatile single class character. Heck, that's true even if you're taking the stat increase every time. I think the Fighter can raise their attributes a total of 14 points compared to most people's 8. A Fighter could max out their dump stat.

And on the subject of Fighters being versatile and Fighters learning magic and Fighters not being bound by arbitrary restrictions, there's a third sub-class in the PHB: the Eldritch Knight. Name aside, it's clearly inspired in large part by the 4E Swordmage, but gone is a lot of the arbitrary restrictions inherent in that. For one thing, their magic bond isn't tied to swords, but any weapon. Or two weapons.

It's really interesting to me to see how many 4E classes have come back in 5E, as part of 5E's branching sub-class scheme. And also how the two classes that were fully "martial" in 4E that didn't traditionally have spellcasting abilities in earlier editions (that is, the Fighter and Rogue) both have a dedicated spellcaster sub-class.

In fact, every class in the 5E PHB that doesn't cast spells at level 1 has one sub-class that gets explicitly supernatural abilities by level 3, and every class except two (the Barbarian and the Monk) can actually cast spells, and two of the Monk sub-classes gain spell-like abilities.

But at the same time, every class that's not a spellcaster has a "basic" build that stays pretty firmly rooted in the mundane world, with the slight exception that the monk's master martial artist class still uses supernatural "ki powers", just not ones that explicitly reference spells for their effects.

In short: there are a lot of interesting ideas here.

I still have a biiiiiiiiiiiiig problem with the price point... I kind of suspect that they jacked up the price with the idea that whole groups would be sharing them, but given that I tend to play online I would really, really, really like it if they would sell PDFs of the PHB for ~$20 or so. Because yes the basic game is free and that's a great step forward for getting people into the game in the first place, but I really feel like people need a better option than paying $50 or torrenting the book if they want more than the basic Fighter/Rogue/Wizard/Cleric.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, one of the things I brought with me when I fled here several weeks ago was the 4E PHB, which I've been re-reading to get inspiration not so much for game design but more for game presentation... I have these rules, I have these structures, I have a loose outline for the world, how do I introduce players to it?

And one thing that's appallingly clear is that 4E was not designed with the idea that such an introduction would be necessary.

There's the obligatory Why Timmy, A Roleplaying Game Is Just Like When You Played Cops And Robbers As A Kid But Instead Of Arguing About Whether A Forcefield Dog Beats A Dinosaur You Roll Dice And Do Math chapter, of course, and this introductory chapter contains the sole example of actual play given in the entire book, which barely fills more than a single column on a page. Given that this is before any rules have been introduced, obviously, this is more about covering the idea of gameplay than showing how it works.

The rest of the book? There's no step-by-step example of character creation. The skill checks aren't paired with examples. There's no example of combat.

I'd imagine that at some point they asked their players--either in the sense of customer surveys or in the sense that everybody involved in making this was a player who knows other players--whether or not they ever read the examples in RPG books and were told "Nah, man. Waste of space." If they emphasized D&D in the question, then it was probably even more so... these people have been playing D&D for decades.

And more examples would take up space, in an already densely crowded book... but it's the dense crowdedness that necessitates the examples in the first place. And examples aren't there for the people who already get this stuff.

Even more than that, though... reading the PHB, it's really quite apparent that the designers either gave no thought to what the entry point into the game would be for new players, or else concluded the answer was "People who are already playing, obviously. How else would they get into it?"

The description of Dragonborn... a core player race introduced to get the iconic monster that forms half the name of D&D more closely tied into the game's identity... assumes the reader is already familiar with "chromatic and metallic dragons", which it tells you that Dragonborn don't resemble.

If you're a new player, the pages that briefly detail the existence of Dragonborn, Dwarves, Eladrin, Elves, Half-Elves, Halflings, Humans, and Tieflings may be your first glimpse of the D&D world as anything more than a sitcom punchline or a distant ancestor of a video game. And the Dragonborn are alphabetically first. And then here's this mention of D&D's signature monster and a reference to the unique taxonomy that every existing player knows, the thing that makes them D&D dragons, and it's just a throwaway line letting players know that Dragonborn don't actually look like them.

That's an important piece of information to put out there if you're concerned with making sure that established players don't get the wrong idea from the dragon/born connection... but it does nothing to help brand new players understand how Dragonborn fit into this strange world with its dungeons and its dragons.

(As a side note, given how iconic D&D's dragons and their color schemes are, I really have to wonder at the decision to make Dragonborn dull-scaled and have their elemental breath attacks not be keyed into the color scheme. Especially given that they were explicitly added as a way of emphasizing the & Dragons.)

I remember one of the old boxed "starter kits" that came out in the late 80s or early 90s had not just an example of play but a solo adventure that started out as a choose your own adventure type booklet with a prefab character and then graduated into the player setting up a map and putting tokens on it at the directions of the booklet, introducing them to both the role of player and DM and easing them into how the game is played. My memories aren't clear enough to speak to the execution, but I think that's brilliant.

While it's not something I'm going to focus on before playtesting (writing examples for rules that aren't finalized is bound to lead to tricky editing or a lot of redundant work later on), I think I'm going to make my approach for the published version of the Basic Player's Guide be to try to make it live up to its name. Established gamers will probably be able to jump into the Character Guide with only a few glances at the BPG, but I want it to work as an entry point for people who are new to both this game and the hobby.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I was flipping through the Adventurer's Vault 2 last night for random ideas/inspiration and I came across something that I think really sums up one of the big weaknesses in 4E's approach to codify as many things as possible in the same few simplistic game mechanical terms.

I never noticed this before because of a quirk of the book that a lot of the inset flavor text boxes and artwork is on a different page from the item it refers to. Not like on the facing page, but you see something and then turn the page and there's an inset reference to it, or vice versa. It's not a terrible flaw for a book to have, but it is something that should probably be avoided where possible.

Anyway, on one page, there's an illustration of someone in a jail cell using an item called "Gloves of Dimensional Grasp" to reach their hand through a tiny portal to grab the key ring hanging on a peg outside.

Pretty cool, right?

On the page before it, the description of the gloves. Their effects are defined as a static +4 bonus to Thievery (not too shabby) and a daily power, with the result of it being that the user can make a Thievery Check against a target in your line of sight 5 squares away.

Which, you know, sounds more like Gloves of Sublime Thievery than Gloves of "Dimensional Grasp". It makes you such a good thief, you can pick someone's pocket without ever seeming to go near them.

Which makes for a nifty magical item (though there is still an issue with the daily power that I'll get to in a minute", but it's not what the illustration on the next page implies.

The illustration makes it clear that "dimensional grasping" means reaching through a tiny portal, and clearly shows an action that is impossible under the rules as written. Picking up an object is not making a Thievery check against a target. It's allowable under the logic of "Well, if I could steal these keys off a guard's belt using this glove, it should be easy enough to steal it off a wall," and as a DM, I wouldn't think twice about someone using it to pick up unattended objects.

Actually, I just figured out how to make it work, rules as written. Define what you're doing as sleight-of-hand. You can't simply pick up an unattended object by reaching through the portal, but you can palm it.

And again, as DM, I wouldn't make somebody go through that kind of tortured logic to justify using this glove for its clearly intended use.

The reason things get written as this is one part for purpose of clarity ("open a portal through which you can reach one arm and manipulate objects, including making one Thievery check, or pick up an object and pull it back through" actually does leave open a lot of potential questions about its exact limits, whereas a Thievery check is a defined quantity) and one part for purpose of stopping munchkins (because there are people who can and will raise those potential questions
with an eye towards shaping the answers in such a way that an arm-sized portal becomes an unstoppable murder hole).

By thinking, "Okay, the main purpose of this item would be to take things people don't want you to have, from some distance away. What's that? It's a Thievery check. These gloves let you do Thievery checks at a distance," both those potential interrelated problems are nipped in the bud.

And it's not that this particular item would be puzzlingly vague or potentially unbalanced if its effects weren't tightly defined. This is just part of 4E's design philosophy, the way that 3E felt the need to define terms like "door" and "bridge" in the DMG (did you know that stone doors are similar to wooden doors, except they're made out of stone?).

But apart from weirdness and tortured logic created by the inherent limitations of a Thievery check, there's also weirdness created by the lack of such limitations. D&D 4E pared the skill list down to things that have potential direct adventuring applications, which leads to many of them being quite broad to begin with and some odd logic about what skills to apply when you need to bring in something that didn't make the list. Dungeoneering deals with both caves and artificial structures, so your party's underground ranger is both a geologist and an architect, and because Dungeoneering is the monster lore skill for the abberant creatures that come from another dimension beyond our reckoning, your geologist/architect is also a Lovecraftian scholar, with knowledge of the Far Realm and all the Things Mortals Were Not Meant To Know.

And Thievery? Thievery is the only skill that deals with mechanisms (traps and locks), so it's also used for anything dealing with mechanical matters, and because it's the de facto mechanical skill, it's the skill that adventures suggest be used whenever something other than a weapon or armor is in need of repair as a plot point. Do you know how to fix a broken axle on a caravan wagon? Slip on a "Glove of Dimensional Grasp", and you'll have a +4 bonus to do it from 25 feet away!

I mentioned above that there's a problem in defining its remote thieving power as a daily power. In previous editions of D&D, magic items were one thing that made play balance... swingy, because there wasn't a fixed progression or a hard limit on their accumulation. D&D 4E was structured with the expectation that magic items would mostly a follow a progression that was part of the normal character growth in power/experience (which is something that a lot of people objected to, me not among them because if magic items are important and powerful they should be seen as another aspect of the character itself), and part of that is that when a magic item has a power that can be used once per day, that doesn't just mean it can be used once and then it's done until it recharges.

There's also a limit on a given character's ability to use such magic items in total. Like, it takes something out of you to activate a magic item and you can't do it too much before you're done. Which isn't a terrible idea in and of itself. It's not how things worked in earlier editions, but it follows the same kind of logic of magic in general for D&D.

Again, this is a balance/munchkin aversion thing. By the time you get to higher levels, you could afford to make/buy lower level magic items over and over again. So you could end up with ten copies of a power that's supposed to be once per day. It'll be weaker than other powers you have available to you... but you can do it over and over again.

I think the limit is one per ten-level tier. I could be remembering that wrong, but assuming I'm not, this means that a character who uses these gloves has basically just given up the ability to use a daily attack or healing power from another item. This is a mid-second-tier item, so if you have the Gloves of Stealing And Wagon-Fixing From 25 Feet Away, a Ring of Hey I Almost Died But Then I Didn't. and a Sword of We Kill The Boss Before The Boss Kills Us, how often are you going to use the gloves? The way a typical D&D 4E adventure is structured around the use of daily powers and "going nova", you'd pretty much have to be backed into a corner to use the gloves' daily power, and instead of thinking, "Man, I used these gloves to do some impossible thievery and it was awesome!", it would be, "Man, I got cheated out of being able to use a daily attack power."

So if the rules as written are followed, what should be an interesting magic item with all sorts of inventive uses basically just becomes gloves of +4 thievery.

As a side note along the same lines, the same page with the picture of the gloves has an inset fluff box for an item called Illusionists' Gloves, that tells a story of how a master illusionist once killed a traveling street conjurer who was using them for entertainment in order to become a master burglar.

What do the illusionists' gloves do? Like the Gloves of Stealing And Wagon-Fixing From 25 Feet Away, they have both a static property and a daily power. Sidenote: I think the combination of fixed benefit and invoked limited use power is a good idea in general. The property here is that any time you hit someone with an illusion attack, the victim gets a -2 penalty to their attempts to fight off an ongoing effect. The daily power is something you can trigger when you miss with an illusion attack power, allowing you to re-roll the attack and you the second one.

THIS is a daily power that will get used. Why? Because an illusionist character is going to have illusion-based daily attack powers. And missing with a daily power sucks, because again, adventures the game is structured around them as a finite and definite resource.

So my point here isn't that this is a terribly designed item. It's... this is a combat item. The one line description in the info box says that it allows you to alter an illusion on the fly to make it more effective. And okay, a penalty to throw off the effects of an illusionary attack and the ability to re-roll an attack that misses are a good way to convey that, but this only affects attacks. There's no utility effects. If the original owner in the example story was using them at children's birthday parties, that's... that's pretty bad. And the second guy? The illusionist thief? The stolen gloves are explained as something he uses to cover his escape. It doesn't sound like he's using illusions to murder the minds of guards and witnesses, which is all these gloves are actually good for, in game terms.

How hard would it be for them to have a property that raises the DC of and/or gives a penalty to Perception Checks to see through illusions the wearer creates? Answer: not hard. Easy. It would be the direct equivalent of the property that applies to attack powers, and it would make the item actually fit with the story.

I really don't resent the general nerfing of magic items in D&D 4E. I understand the reasons behind them and in some cases the more limited items are more interesting. And they're less likely to overshadow the character's own abilities. But so many items, as part of the nerfing/clarification process, had their effects so exactly defined that they no longer do the things they're depicted as doing on the same page (or near the same page) as the rules defining them.
alexandraerin: (Default)
This is what happens when I randomly think of D&D after months of working on something else. I had my general impression that the hit rates were too low and I think what happened was my brain took that and conflated it with my memories of the last actual sessions I ran (which was with level 1 characters) and I was remembering the targets the players were trying to hit (level one opponents, typically 14-16) as the raw number they needed to roll rather than the modified number.

Which would have been completely ridiculous, instead of moderately ridiculous.

In fact, the actual hit rate is pegged pretty close to 50%, which sounds reasonable, but in practice missing as often as you hit can be discouraging, and I still believe it contributes to the feeling of combat as a slog.

As embarrassing as it is to have made this mistake, I'm kind of glad I did just because all of my combat models for AWW have been based around the assumption that equal opponents will have a 50/50 chance of hitting, and that's clearly something that I find dissatisfying in practice. AWW isn't based around the idea of equal opponents, but still, it happens, and a match between rivals should be exciting.

Maybe this is why I haven't really liked anything I've come up with? I read a statistic on a forum when I Googled to see if I was alone in having this impression (that 50% hit rates led to boring combats) that interest declines when the success rate is lower than about 66%. I don't know if that's true or not, but I have a simple tweak to the multi-dice system I'm working with now that would favor offense by about that ratio.
alexandraerin: (Default)
When I first got into D&D 4th Edition, I was excited because it came closer than any previous edition to giving the experience I'd always wanted from a roleplaying game, something that actually resembled the traditions of heroic fantasy that had inspired (and been inspired). Player character death was possible but rare and never completely random/unforeseeable, player characters were larger-than-life heroes who could perform incredible feats, and wizards used magic wands and staves as an integral part of their schtick and didn't have to lay down after every battle to turn into a wizard again.

The things I don't like about it mostly revolve around the way it's still stuck stuck in the model of earlier games. The fact that one-shot kills have been largely eliminated is good. The fact that missing is still the most likely outcome of most attacks isn't. The fact that players can pick the dramatic moment to use their hard-to-pull-off moves instead of relying on an 11% activation chance and failing most of the time is a significant improvement. The fact that they still have to roll to hit normally when they pull out the big guns and don't have any better than the normal about 40%-ish (been a while since I immersed myself in the numbers) hit chance is a bad thing.

(The designers clearly knew this, which is why most daily attack powers still do something on a miss. But this still lends itself towards anticlimax.)

The hybrid character class system? Great idea, great addition to the game. Exponentially increases the types of characters available... only not, because classes with wildly different attribute requirements are hosed by it.

Skill powers and optional racial utility powers? Add a lot of depth and color to the game. Except that you have to give up a class utility power to use them, and in a lot of cases the utility powers are where your class's flavor comes from... and while there are a lot of skill utility powers that you can look at and go, "Yes! Yes! This is the awesome kind of thing someone with larger-than-life tracking (or whatever) skills should be able to do!!", there aren't a lot that you'll look at and go, "This is superior (or even equal) to anything I could already choose at this level."

Of course, these sorts of things are a large part of why I'm working on A Wilder World, but D&D's always going to be a nostalgic favorite of mine. So I think a lot about what house rules I would use to rectify these.

The tediousness of combat, I would alleviate by making it so that heroes and important villains roll a d10 and add 10 to it for their hit rolls, instead of rolling a d20. The result is treated as the natural/raw die roll, so a roll of 10 counts as a critical. Result: Everybody on the battlefield would still take the same number of hits, on average, to drop (with a slight increase in deadliness due to crits being twice as common), but those hits would be spaced out wider. A player's tactical choices (i.e., where to use their encounter and daily powers) would matter more because the results of those choices would be more predictable.

Along those lines: encounter attacks have a +1, daily attacks have a +2.

(I might also have each player pick a skill to be their character's primary skill. Primary skills also benefit from the d10+10 rule. Rogues, Bards, and Artificers would pick two primary skills. Rangers would have their Dungeoneering or Nature pick plus one other of choice as primary skills.)

Solving attribute dependencies gets a little more complicated, but the way the game is played in the wild tends towards "sink attribute points where the game engine expects them to be and then roleplay the character you want to be regardless of stats" anyway. So I'd add two stats to the sheet: Primary Competency and Secondary Competency. The values of each would be +5 and +3, or +4 and +4, player's choice. Primary Competency would be subbed in for one attribute of your choice for purposes of attack rolls, class features, etc. Secondary Competency would be subbed in for all others. This does have the tendency to boost things that are clearly meant to be a tertiary attribute (as the Fighter's Wisdom-based abilities, or the Wizard's implement-dependent class features), but I'm not sure that giving a couple points' boost to a once-per-encounter thing like Wand of Accuracy would be a devastating change.

The progression for Primary Competency and Secondary Competency would both be based on the normal attribute progression with the assumption that you're raising the same two attributes every time you get to choose. You would also separately raise your actual attributes as normal.

As for the intriguing yet not necessarily "worth it" skill powers... the designers clearly understood the basic problem they presented because they added a feat that gives you a skill power, which suggests they understood that trading a utility power slot for a skill power would not seem like a good deal to most players. The problem is that 1) that doesn't go far enough and 2) most players wouldn't trade a feat for one, either. Especially since most skill powers, like a lot of the interesting utility powers, are totally situational... if the situation doesn't come up, you might as well not have it.

I think what they needed to do was just make skill powers an optional part of the progression... if you use them, you get them automatically in a second set of power slots. Obviously this makes characters more power, but they didn't care much about power creep when they added character themes to the game, or when they gave bards a set of "social cantrips" in Heroes of the Feywild. And no skill power is really game breaking.

So I would just make skill powers an automatic part of progression... I'm not sure exactly what rate I'd use, but I'd like to see something where the number of skill powers you have relates to the total number of skills you have, so that "skill monkey" characters get a little more razzle-dazzle out of that aspect of their character. The skill power slots could also be filled with utility powers taken from a theme or racial power set.

Obviously the upshot of these changes is that characters would be more effective/powerful (hit more often, have more efficient abilities, have more powers), but I don't think it would quite be enough to turn the game into God Mode, it would just do a bit more to emphasize that 4th Edition is already in Potential Demigod Mode.

I don't know that I'd go all-out and include the Competencies and extra skill powers for a group that's heavy on beginners or people who just don't care that much about customizing a character past the off-the-shelf versions, but I'm definitely using the d10+10 attack formula.

Also note that while skill powers are entirely an artifact of 4th edition, the d10+10 thing is portable to any d20-based game (and for that reason, I'm probably not the first person to propose it), and a version of Primary Competency/Secondary Competency could be used to solve multiple attribute dependency in earlier editions... though this might make multiclassing even cheesier in 3.X.

There's a good chance that any or all of these changes might open up holes that a dedicated char-op'er could drive a tank through, but these rule changes are meant to appeal to players who want the heroic stature experience without having to perfectly tailor their character choices for it.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, in just about every story with a dragon ever--including D&D spin-off novels--there's a moment when a dragon is about to unleash its destructive breath, and it does what you would expect someone to do before an explosive exhalation: it inhales, deeply. Sometimes it rears up and throws back its head or even closes its eyes. Other times there's just a sharp intake of air.

Regardless, this is treated as a significant thing. It lets the reader know what's about to happen so that the blast of fire or whatever doesn't come across as casual as a swipe of the claw, but it's also often significant in the story. It gives the hero time to scurry back, or twist to the side, or try for one last desperate blow, or whatever.

But if you look at the actual D&D rules, the dragon's breath weapon isn't treated like this at all. There will be a limitation on how often it can be used/how many times it can be used, but other than that... it is as casual as a swipe of the claw, or any other attack. The idea that there might be a moment of warning is abstracted away in a roll of the dice (saving throw/hit roll, and "Feats" or advantages that allow characters with better reflexes to better avoid the effects of the breath).

This idea would be nearly unthinkable in 4E's action economy, where the medium of exchange is attacks-per-round and big solo threats like dragons are supposed to be able to attack swiftly and often, but... what if a dragon's breath were a two stage affair? Round one, the dragon quite obviously prepares, using the action that would be spent attacking to inhale in a big, obvious way. Round two, the dragon lets loose with a giant attack that's powerful enough and big enough to make up for the lost opportunity.

Of course, the players can scurry out of the way and dive for cover... but isn't that potentially more engaging than a roll of the die? And maybe the dragon can hold its breath in for a few rounds before it has to unload it. Maybe the act of inhaling can also be used to pull everyone in closer, making it slightly harder to get away.

The "Oh no, the dragon's about to breath fire! *react*" thing is already potentially part of the combat system in A Wilder World, because of the fact that actions are declared in advance. But I think for big dramatic attacks like dragons, it should go a step further... either make it so that they have to be declared first even if the dragon has the advantage (the side with advantage normally gets to hear what the other side is doing before finalizing their actions), or just go with the two phase thing described above.

I'll probably go with the latter, so as not to further complicate the tactical phase of combat. And maybe make it so the dragon can only initiate a breath attack if it has advantage for the round... give another consequence to advantage, and incentive to keep a dragon pressed back on its heels as often as possible.

D&D 5E

Feb. 6th, 2012 07:42 pm
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, I haven't had a lot to say about the new edition of D&D that's under development. That's because there's not a lot of information about it yet, but really, I'm just not that interested. The grand concept behind it is to produce a game that "unites the editions"... in other words, they want to make everybody happy. That's the shortest route to making nobody happy.

Look at how much the 4E player base was fractured at just the idea that Essentials was going to be catering to fans of earlier editions... and nobody could even quite agree on whether it was aimed at bringing in the 3rd Edition fans or the old school grognards or what. Almost everybody who liked the current edition feared that the things they didn't like about previous editions would supplant or dilute what they liked.

The people who are still playing BECMA or either edition of AD&D or 3.X/Pathfinder are doing so because those are their favorite editions. Some of that might be partisanship or nostalgia but some of it is an honest matter of taste. You could maybe sell an AD&D 2nd Edition group some more refined material for their favorite editions but you're not going to sell them on a whole new edition unless it seems like a legitimate continuation of their game in a way that 3rd Edition wasn't, and the same is true about people who went over to Pathfinder... if they didn't buy 4th edition, you need to sell them 3.5.2, not 5.

Wizards of the Coast will keep putting out new editions because they keep needing new products to sell. That's the reality of what happens when a hobby becomes a corporate concern... lest we forget, one of the first big edition splits happened in large part because it allowed TSR to get out of paying royalties to one of the game's original creators. But every time they do that they're going to be leaving whole groups of players behind. It's just the nature of the beast.

This is a big part of why I'm interested in developing my own humble little indie game. I think at its core roleplaying is always going to work better as a hobby than an industry. I think that's why it seems so hard to make money at it. It's not like video games... everybody is the person who can keep playing the same game over and over again for years, because the game product is not the game that is played. Everybody's a modder, everybody's a designer. There are still people playing games that were rebooted and relaunched two or three time since, there are people producing material for editions of games where the intellectual property has changed hands multiple times or vanished completely.

I don't think it's impossible for a corporation to make a business model around roleplaying games that really works a lot better than the ones they've been using, but I think the corporate culture is going to get in the way. The focus on "brand identity" that keeps them from even passively supporting older material is a big sticking point, for instance, as is the fear of piracy that keeps them from utilizing the easier ways of capitalizing on out of print books.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...on the D&D website to do a sort of series on theories of complexity in game design that's only really been marginally interesting to me, but the newest installment on skill systems caught my eye.

Here’s what I propose as a starting point: A skill gives you something new to do or it makes you better at something you already can do. In other words, if you removed the skill chapter from the rulebook, the game would still be playable. You’d be missing options, but the basic functions of the game remain intact. We don’t hide things like the rules for climbing or jumping in the skills chapter. We just have rules for how to climb, and then perhaps a skill that makes you better at climbing.

For a lot of other stuff, we can shelve the basic rules for how to do things under the ability scores. For example, Charisma describes guidelines for using that ability to lie, gather information, negotiate a treaty, and so forth. It takes a general approach that sets the scope for the ability.

I think a skill system in D&D can either serve as a set of rules for how to do stuff, or it can serve as a way to customize your character. You can do both in the system, but I think that needlessly hides stuff away from the players. It’s clearer to just create a flexible, core mechanic, set out the basics of how to do common actions that you expect anyone to be able to do, give the DM a robust mechanic to improvise or make a ruling, and then focus skills on customization.

Mearls favors having broadly applicable basic rules and skills as ways of customizing character, making them stand out from each other. He gives an example of a skill system where being "trained" in a task like climbing gives a flat bonus and then each time you gain a further point you can choose from various talents represent advanced or specific training (Cautious Climber, Team Climber, Fast Climber, etc.)

This is sort of like a more systematic approach to what is basically the reality on the ground in D&D 4E: you do get a flat bonus for having training in a skill, and then you can gain more specific capabilities through Feats and Utility Powers. Those Feat and Power selections take up "character design resources" that could be used for other things, like combat abilities or more colorful customizations, which means that some players will habitually overlook or scorn them and others will look longingly at them while pragmatically making the character design choices they feel they "need to" make. By giving a separate space in the system for things that modify skills, that is avoided... though it adds another step/layer of complexity to character creation.

Among the reasons that this column speaks to me more than earlier ones in the same series did is that Mearls's thoughts on broad rules and customized capabilities speaks to what I'm going for in A Wilder World.

I take it as axiomatic that:

1) any adventurer ought to have a chance to get through a locked door
2) some adventurers will be able to do so better/faster/more reliably
3) getting through a locked door (or past a comparable obstacle) should rarely require opening up a rulebook.

I also take it as given that things that diversify character abilities are more interesting than linear number progressions. That is, abilities that start with "You can..." are preferable to "You gain +1".
alexandraerin: (Default)
I had a short D&D session tonight. It was only the second session with a new IRL group and only two players were able to attend (nasty stomach bug going around our circle, apparently)... by coincidence, they were the two least experienced players in the group so we did an out-of-continuity session with quick combats to help them better learn the system and their characters' powers.

It went pretty well. New players can be either resistant about using their encounter and daily powers because of the "What if I need it later?" syndrome, or just throw them out there with little to no tactical concern... like using Elven Accuracy to re-roll the first strike of a Twin Strike against a minion. I think the latter is a better newbie habit than the former, because then at least you do learn how to use them and you might start spotting patterns. And when Daily Powers have ongoing effects, then even if the "attack" portion is overkill for whatever purpose they put it to, they might get some use out of the effect for the rest of the fight. On the other hand, hoarding the powers means that you not only never really become conversant with their use, but you miss out on a real sense of your character's full capabilities.

So for this session, once I'd pointed out that there were no consequences to losing these battles and they didn't have to worry about saving things for the next fight because they'd start each one fresh, the players started cutting loose a bit more.

It kind of makes me think that a "tutorial combat" might be a good idea in general.
alexandraerin: (Default)
News For Today

Well, the fundraiser's started to really take off in earnest. One of my tasks for tomorrow (formerly a task for yesterday) is to re-write the fundraiser post so that it's more concise and bullet-pointy. I'll make a blog post that explains things in greater detail.

The Gift of the Bad Guy has officially broken even. The money I sunk into producing it has been made back. Next week's "technical day" I will be working on getting it onto Amazon and Smashwords, which should help boost the income quite a bit.

And in a final bit of news, I'm posting this on Dreamwidth. I have it set up so it should cross-post to Livejournal automatically. If you follow me on Livejournal, know that I have no plans to abandon LJ at the moment. But given the level of their troubles and the extent to which I rely on my blog as a productivity and communication tool, a backup is in order.

Personal Assessment

I have both less pain and a greater degree of mobility in my arm. It doesn't seem like it's going to interfere with computering today.

I slept okay.

I'm feeling fine, mentally.

Dreams From Last Night

I was running a D&D game at the Colonial in Memphis. No special guest appearances. Flabberghast really was the combobreaker, I guess.

Plans For Today

I'm going to go throw a flash up at Fantasy in Miniature, then my one task for the day is writing the next chapter of Tales of MU. Giving over an eight hour work day to it worked out so well and felt so good on Monday. This is Friday's chapter, so if I finish it today it won't go up immediately, but I won't be waiting until Friday night in that case.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I have, I think, at some point before, linked to or embedded a song called "The Napoli" by English folk due Show of Hands. This song tells the true story of a modern-day shipwreck on the cost of Britain, and the modern-day piracy that followed in its metaphorical (yet still nautical!) wake.

As a refresher, here's the video:

(Their website.)

I threw that video up before today's link, which also tells a true story, one that's probably familiar to more of the readers of this blog than the wreck of the Napoli.

Give it a listen... and if you enjoy it, please note this track is free to download and the rest of the album may be listened to online for free. Also note that this album is nominated for a Rose And Bay Award this year in the category of Other Project. If you enjoy it, you know what to do

Re: D&D

Dec. 30th, 2010 09:02 am
alexandraerin: (Default)
I'm not actually "up" yet today... I'm only awake at this moment because there were some birds messing around on the roof directly over where I sleep. But I've got something on my mind that I want to put up now so that it doesn't catch people by surprise.

I'm not enjoying the D&D campaign any more. The first adventure went fairly well and I had a great time running it. The second one kind of went off in unexpected directions in the first session and since then there has been drama between a couple of different groups of players, involving people I care about a lot... not the people whose real life identities I can barely keep separate. This is the kind of thing that eats my brain, and every time I turn my attention to the subject of the campaign I end up trying to figure out how to minimize or avoid it or resolve it without hurt feelings or kicking people out of the game that I'd really like to keep playing with, under better circumstances.

And this is especially bad since, as I mentioned, the second adventure jumped the rails in a couple of big ways in the first session. That's not usually a problem as I'm pretty good about improvising, but when I have to be making up stuff and my mind's worrying itself around in circles, it just doesn't work.

I had been determined to get through the end of the second adventure and try a fresh start with the third one, but my first thought when I was woken up by bird noise and a freaked out cat on my feet was "Oh dear God, tonight is D&D night". That's not the first time I've had that thought, but this week... my actual paying work that pays my bills has been going so well. Yesterday was a bad brain day. Today should be a productive one. It won't be if I keep this looming over me.

So no game tonight. The campaign isn't canceled... I feel like it's past the point of salvaging for me at this point, but I often have the experience that when I am sure something is past the point of salvation and I determine to put it aside, I'm filled with renewed inspiration. Let's say it's "on the bubble", as they say of network shows. If after a week or two... meh, let's be firm and say two weeks. Two week hiatus and if I still feel this way in two weeks... well, then it's safe to say it's not coming back. But if things come around to the point that I feel like I can continue, then by that point my new writing regimen should be well-established and I should be able to "write around" any problems.

Comments are off because I seriously don't feel like talking about it. Please respect that.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I hate to leave it to so late, but I'm in no shape to DM tonight... today is just an absolute no-brain day for me. I will *probably* be doing something with my family this time next week, so it'll be the 30th when we reconvene. Hopefully the break will give people a chance to get their computer and scheduling issues fixed.

Game on!

Nov. 11th, 2010 11:06 am
alexandraerin: (Default)
Just in case anybody in the group is wondering, yes, D&D is on for tonight. I went to bed at midnight last night and slept more or less soundly until close to 9 this morning, so we shouldn't have a repeat of last week's "technical difficulties".
alexandraerin: (Default)
I'll work on getting the transcripts up in a bit. In the meantime, here's a character interaction thread for anyone who wants to continue the action from last night.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...okay, so I've had another instance of calendar fail. This Thursday I have tickets for a satellite simulcast of A Prairie Home Companion. Which means the next D&D game is going to be on the 28th. I'm going to take the extra prep time to try to make things a little extra awesome, so I'd appreciate it if everybody in the group could please confirm their availability for it in this thread. I'll also get transcripts for the past few sessions posted, so the people who were missing can see what they've missed.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Today is sunny and calm and the forecast for tonight is more of the same, so there shouldn't be any interference with tonight's D&D session. Last week was seriously freaky weather... it was clouded over, but the sky wasn't very dark, and yet the rain was pretty torrential. It was light enough out and the wind was blowing hard enough that I could look outside and watch the sheets of falling water moving horizontally faster than they were falling vertically. I'd just got done lashing my parents' pontoon boat back to the dock for the second time, after the last wind storm had snapped one of its lines. I feel pretty lucky at having grabbed some newer rope that was a lot longer. Because I didn't exactly bring home a lot of merit badges for knot-tying, I'd ended up looping the excess rope around several different points, which I think helped keep it in place. The next day my mother (who is in Florida while I'm watching her house) emailed me to ask how the weather was because she'd heard on the news that the midwest was being lashed with storms spawned by the remnants of a hurricane.

Aaaanyway, game's on for tonight... players, please make sure you upload your level 2 character over the old one on iplay4e. We're going to act like the level up occurred during the downtime before you started exploring the city, so your HP, etc. are all full.

Rain Out

Sep. 23rd, 2010 08:41 pm
alexandraerin: (Default)
I tweeted this because I couldn't figure out how to better get the word out, but then I remembered this phone does pretty decent at Livejournal posts. Due to some weather conditions we're having I can't get online right now, so tonigbt's game is canceled. However, it's been two sessions since I gave XP and this game really needs some Utility Powers... so let's say you hit level 2. Considering the hinjinks-to-combat ratio of this campaign it might be worth looking at skill powers and other things that are useful for problem solving.


alexandraerin: (Default)

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