Thursday, July 31, 2014

Because She Said This Over Dinner

The wife wearing GOD'S TEAM ON HER SHIRT and playing D&D


Me: "I can't believe you've never played Halo!"

The Wife: "I can't believe you've never taken a dick up the ass. Do you want to keep going down this path."

Me: "No Ma'am. You win."

Basic Dungeons and Dragons 5e v0.1, Part 5 (pgs.11 - 19): Races and the Elegance of Sub-races


Races of Ravenloft by Everwho (source)


Picking a race in Dungeons and Dragons can be a complicated affair; especially in Second, Third, and Fourth Editions as the variety of choices available to players increasingly became an exotic and sprawling mass that could slow the character creation process to a crawl. With the Basic Game our options are truncated from the vast repertoire of possibilities to four major races: Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Humans.

The decision to use these four races in the Basic Game harkens back to the Original Dungeons and Dragons Game where you could be a Human and have a class, or you could choose to be an Elf, Dwarf, or Halfling (at that time picking a non-human race was considered the same as picking a class - something that would change with later editions). Yet this decision wasn't only couched in a sentimental nod towards the older games. Instead it was a deliberate move to provide players with the races that were most common in the Forgotten Realms where the majority of the early action in this edition is set to take place.

Advanced D&D Races by Donald C. Sutherland III pg. 19 1st ed PH

Longtime players of the Dungeons and Dragons game may wonder at this point how the Basic Game will provide for the variety and complexity of life that exists not only in the Forgotten Realms but in all other settings if players are only provided with four choices. The answer to this problem is the elegant Sub-race mechanic which we'll discuss in more detail shortly; however, before we move any further along in this discussion it's imperative that the main question of this chapter be addressed: how do you pick a race to play.

The answer to this question tends to bring up a lot of contention online as most every player has a favorite race so they tend to skew things towards that option while belittling others. Fortunately, if you've never played Dungeons and Dragons before then you've got one of the best introductions to the races.

Each of the race descriptions (pgs. 12 - 19) begins with a short paragraph from one of the many Forgotten Realms novels that sets a tone for the race. These little paragraphs, though, do one more important thing that no other edition has done before - they remind you that the stories we've shared in this hobby aren't something to be ashamed of and that should be forgotten. After that short quote you're presented with a general overview of you the race you're looking at that will tell you what sort of world they inhabit, the languages they speak, and even their views on the other races.
". . . Hee hee hee. The races have little 'What they think of other races' boxes. One one hand, this is actually a fun role playing thing, but on the other hand it’s always been such a signature White Wolf thing that it’s jarring to see . . ." (Donoghue).
While the the boxes telling how the individual races feel about each other from their own perspective was something that White Wolf Publishing did quite successfully with their products in the 1990s it isn't something that was only their purview. Wizards of the Coast's first version of Dungeons and Dragons, Third Edition, provided a section for each race's outlook on the others under the section titled "relations" (pgs. 12 - 20 Third Edition Player's Handbook).  When Fourth Edition was published in 2008 the relations between the races was dialed back. Instead a greater focus was placed on how a particular race dealt with the world as a whole without directly addressing each of the other races. So why did Wizards of the Coast choose to re-emphasize the relations between the race with Fifth Edition?

The simplest answer is that by providing a new player with an idea of how the races view each other in the broadest sense that it would make things easier on them when it came to understanding how to play their character. It also provides new Dungeon Masters with a simple understanding of non-player characters (anyone in the game who isn't a player's character and is generally controlled by the Dungeon Master) how these races should interact with their players.

Now that you've looked over each of the races and have a general understanding of who they are it's time to talk about Sub-races. Sub-races exist for each of the non-human races and the Basic Game provides the player with two sub-races for each race. You don't have to choose one if you don't want to, but each sub-race provides additional changes to your base race that improves and more fully integrates them into the Forgotten Realms setting.

Of everything we've discussed so far this is the first opportunity for most people to create something for their home games that will help make the game their own. If it sounds like something you'd like to try I highly encourage you to do so. Making things for this game is a huge part of the hobby and it's appeal for many enthusiasts - whether you're talking about races, classes, dungeon terrain, maps, or setting - but be forewarned that not everything you attempt is going to work, but that's half the fun. 


Custom DM Screen from RPG Booster (source)

Before moving on to classes I should also advise you that you should not marry yourself to what's presented in the Basic Game's descriptions of your races and sub-races. Instead you should remember that this game isn't set in stone and is instead a framework for you to play your own version of Dungeons and Dragons. If you want your Dwarves to ride across the plains like the Mongol Hordes of Genghis Khan then do it.  If your elves hate magic and love metal working then go for it.

In the end what matters with this game is not what I or anyone else thinks about it, but rather it's about what you and your players enjoy. Own what makes you happy with this game and don't worry if the kids on the Wizards' forum (or any other for that matter) don't like it. They're not playing in your game. Instead listen to your own players and respond to what they want. If they like your game with magical ponies and dragon riding giants then so much the better. Make each other happy with your races and how you play the game and it will be fun. 

In the end that's all that matters.

Basic Dungeons & Dragons 5e v0.1
Part 4 (pg. 10): The Problem with Experience 
Part 5 (pgs. 11 - 19): Races and the Elegance of Sub-races


Works Cited
Donoghue, Rob. "D&D Basic Rules: Creating A Character." The Walking Mind. The Walking Mind, 9 July, 2014. Web. July 28, 2014.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Blargh.

Due to some family situations going on this month which has made updating a real pain in the ass I'm going to be away for a few more days as I deal with somethings. Sorry for the inconvenience but if everything works correctly I'll be back on Friday, August 1, 2014. If I'll be gone longer than that I'll be sure to let everyone know.

See you cats soon!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Basic Dungeons and Dragons 5e v0.1, Part 4 (pg..10): The Problem with Experience




After killing your adversary perhaps the most satisfying part of playing Dungeons and Dragons is leveling. It represents the tangible evidence of your time playing. New abilities become available, old ones improve, and the monsters that used to terrify you suddenly stop being so scary.

Why then has this been the most substantive point that people have been dissatisfied with online?

In a situation that probably only comes up online people begin this expressing their dissatisfaction with leveling in Fifth Edition by complaining that leveling early comes too quickly and that once that becomes remedied at higher levels it's now too slow. It's an exasperating argument where level progression might as well be compared to the three bears and their porridge. But are they right in their criticism? Is the leveling progression off?

Level |     1st   |     2nd   |     3rd   |     4th   |     5th
  1   |         0 |         0 |         0 |         0 |         0 
  2   |     2,001 |     2,000 |     1,000 |     1,000 |       300  
  3   |     4,001 |     4,000 |     3,000 |     2,250 |       900
  4   |     8,001 |     8,000 |     6,000 |     3,750 |     2,700
  5   |    18,001 |    16,000 |    10,000 |     5,500 |     6,500
  6   |    35,001 |    32,000 |    15,000 |     7,500 |    14,000
  7   |    70,001 |    64,000 |    21,000 |    10,000 |    23,000
  8   |   125,001 |   125,000 |    28,000 |    13,000 |    34,000
  9   |   250,001 |   250,000 |    36,000 |    16,500 |    48,000
 10   |   500,001 |   500,000 |    45,000 |    20,500 |    64,000
 11   |   750,001 |   750,000 |    55,000 |    26,000 |    85,000
 12   | 1,000,001 | 1,000,000 |    66,000 |    32,000 |   100,000
 13   | 1,250,001 | 1,250,000 |    78,000 |    39,000 |   120,000
 14   | 1,500,001 | 1,500,000 |    91,000 |    47,000 |   140,000
 15   | 1,750,001 | 1,750,000 |   105,000 |    57,000 |   165,000
 16   | 2,000,001 | 2,000,000 |   120,000 |    69,000 |   195,000
 17   | 2,250,001 | 2,250,000 |   136,000 |    83,000 |   225,000
 18   | 2,500,001 | 2,500,000 |   153,000 |    99,000 |   265,000
 19   | 2,750,001 | 2,750,000 |   171,000 |   119,000 |   305,000
 20   | 3,000,001 | 3,000,000 |   190,000 |   143,000 |   355,000

If we compare the leveling progression from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons with each of the subsequent editions* what becomes clear is that leveling has increasingly become easier throughout the editions. In the transition from First to Second you'll notice that up until level 8 Second doubles the required experience each time to better establish a solid progression that makes sense; unlike First which doubles for the first four levels, then adds an odd amount, then doubles to level 8 where both editions lockstep with the 250,000 experience point increase for each subsequent level. This resulted in a slightly increased rate of leveling for Second and then the same arduous slog once your character started leveling beyond level 10.

Now on to the difficult ones


Third Edition established a very easy to understand progression where predicting how much experience you needed to advance was no more difficult than remembering your current level. All you had to do to know how much experience was need was to know your current level, multiply it times a 1,000, and add the result to the current level's threshold.

For example: 171,000 - (Level 19 threshold for experience)
              19,000 - (19 x 1,000 = 19,000)
             -------
             190,000 - Level 20 threshold

This creates a steady rate at which your experience point requirement increases, just as First and Second did, but it made the process far less arbitrary and more predictable throughout all of the levels.

Fourth Edition's progression between levels, however, remains a mystery to me. Early on your progression is by an increase of 250 experience points each time. Thus it takes 1,250 experience points to advance from second to third; 1,500 from third to fourth; 1,750 from fourth to fifth; and 2,000 from fifth to sixth. After that the increase is by a value of 500 for three levels and then it continues to change at odd rates that don't make a lot of sense to me. What is clear, though, is that Fourth Edition has the quickest climb from level 1 to 20. Part of the reason for this speedy climb is that this is the only edition that actively encouraged players to reach beyond 20th level from the Player's Handbook. This larger field of play brought forth the idea of tiers of play assigned to levels within the game - something that had not really been at the forefront of the discussion in previous editions where you only had regular adventuring and then epic levels after 20.

It's been my contention throughout this series that Fifth Edition is a love letter to Dungeons and Dragons, so you might be wondering why it's experience progression doesn't mirror any of the previous editions. It's because they're listening to us.




After observing the results of survey after survey it became clear to them that a lot of us - whether we had jobs, children, or just went to high school - weren't making it past level ten. Why?

Time.

To take a character from level one to 20 in First Edition wasn't something that could be generally done in summer even if you played multiple times a week. Hell I ran a Third Edition campaign which has a markedly quicker progression for two years with weekly sessions, each averaging six hours, and it took us 78 sessions for the first player to break 20 (that's over 468 hours of play). That's a huge level of commitment for everyone involved.

The new edition continues Fourth Edition's tiers of play by breaking up the 1 to 20 progression into four distinct sections. Levels 1 - 4 represent your Apprentice levels and it's designed to have you level each time you play. Levels 5 - 10 represent your Journeyman levels where you level every other session. Levels 11 - 16 represent your Tradesman levels where you've become a powerhouse and you can expect to advance every three to four sessions. Levels 17 - 20 represent your Master levels where progression has slowed further but your challenges are now matters of importance with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

Unlike Third Edition where it took my players nearly 40 sessions to advance to tenth level you can reasonably expect to make tenth in 14 sessions. That's absolutely brilliant as it helps eliminate so much of the slog from the game and makes each session an opportunity to experience the fun of advancing in the game.

Out-freaking-standing!

Basic Dungeons & Dragons 5e v0.1
Part 4 (pg. 10): The Problem with Experience

* For both First Edition and Second I have used the Fighter/Warrior's progression as my standard of comparison with later editions that do not have fluctuating leveling based on class.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where's the Money You Owe Me?

 
I was feeling like hell warmed over as I was walking down King St. when I saw them following me. Two 'borgs with nice, shiny new limbs and scope eyes designed to make them the most accurate shooters this side of the spin. Covering their rear was a PXL-143Q-T assault bot that didn't bother to hide that it had just found me. I stopped in front of the Queen Bee Brothel and Spa to light my cigarette. I was making a show of it for them to see if they were going to even pretend that they weren't following me. They just came right on and grabbed me there on the street. 

"You've been a naughty boy, Quinn," the 'borg on my right said with the stench of bourbon on his breath. "Diamond wants her money."

I smiled up at him, I'm afraid you've got the wrong man, friend. My name's Jerimiah Johnson.

"Cute," a little girl's voice said from the 'borg on my left. "I bet you thought that little joke of yours might throw us off."

Another smile as I looked at the wiring over his left eye. Sloppy work there, same as with his friend. No joke guys. It's really my name

A metallic voice box barked at the two 'borgs, "Diamond said he'd be difficult. Said when he was that I was to take over and begin breaking each of his bones and not to stop until I'd gotten them all."

"Not on the street," the first 'borg said. "Lizzy, let's take Mr. Johnson into the Queen's Private Chambers to continue this conversation."

"Oh let's," answered Lizzy, "and after Pixel get's done breaking his bones I'll skin him. Wouldn't you love a new rug for our apartment Jonas?"

"I would indeed," he said as the trio lead me into Bee's, through a secret passage in the entryway, and down a flight of stairs. Cozy little place. Drain in the center of the floor with chains overhead for letting your guests lounge at their convience. 

They shoved me into the room expecting me to panic. They wanted me to fight them so instead I walked to the drain and lit a new cigarette. Boys, I said, you really don't want to do this. Lizzy laughed as he began to smack his fist into his open palm and walked towards me. I smiled as he came, Last chance. 

"You've already had your last chance," Pixel's voice box ground out, "Diamond doesn't consider you worth waiting on any longer."

Too bad, I said as I flipped my cigarette up toward the ceiling. 

The thing about having an automatic targeting system attached to your cerebral cortex when you take on a cybernetic conversion is that you track any sudden movements. Birds flying into your field of sight when you're trained on an enemy combatant and you'll follow the fucking birds if your enemy is standing still.  So as that cigarette flipped up in the air Lizzy and Jonas watched it go up in the air; when they looked back at me I shot both of them with my old Beretta. Blew their brains all over Pixel's shiny red chest. 

Whoops

"You'll die for that," he groaned out as he charged!

I dropped under his first swing and emptied seven rounds under his chin, blowing his brain box across the ceiling. Fucking robots.

I reloaded the Beretta and started searching the bodies for anything useful. Five thousand credits between them which became mine (it's not like they were going to need it), my picture (fuck, I need to shave more often), two las-guns, and a burner phone. I slipped one of the las-guns into my boot; the Beretta into my shoulder harnes, and readied the last las-gun for some heavy use. As I started back up the stairs I could hear an alarm going and heavy footsteps racing down the hall. I smiled as I started firing into the first dumb son of a bitch to come down the stairwell. 

Today was going to be a good day after all.

366 Days and Counting!


Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the blog - and I was too busy chasing a two year old around to notice! During that time I've managed to write 622 posts, gotten 3,482 comments, and 199,125 page views!
 
Captain Jack, my Spirit Animal, says, "Fucking Awesome"

Thank you to everyone who's come by and read this blog, commented, and shared my posts with their own communities. I appreciate all of you helping to make this blog more than just me talking into the void. Thank you, thank you, a million times over thank you!

Monday, July 21, 2014

It Can't be Just Me? Can It?


A lot of times when you see me posting on here I'm trying to figure out an answer to some question that's been bothering me lately. Tonight the question that keeps bouncing about my head is: Why do some people feel the need to go after "soft" targets rather than directly dealing with the individual who has pissed them off.

Without calling people out (because the conversation is long since done and dead) I watched as a certain blogger, Blogger A, was engaged in a conversation about misogyny when another blogger, Blogger B, came along and started accusing Blogger A of using his female friends for personal gain. The conversation went about how you'd expect at that time, but then Blogger B went out of their way to attack Blogger A's long time girlfriend.

Why? Why go out of your way to attack someone else when your problem is directly with a person you're currently dealing with? 

Let me put this another way. If my wife and her friends got all excited to be involved in a photoshoot that would draw attention not just to my own efforts but theirs as well why act like I'm using them to get the attention? Why then go out of your way to call them names and belittle their choices? 

What the fuck is wrong with some people?

I have a Proposition for Business that's for Business for You!

You guys, my inbox has been getting some really strange shit lately. Like this guy from Pakistan who keeps telling me he's from Detroit even though it's clear that he has no idea how to use the English language. Dude totally has this super legit, for reals yo, offer to bring me into his hush-hush dealings where I'm gonna make a $2,500,000 for just opening up my checking account. 

How could I not do it?


Basic Dungeons and Dragons 5e v0.1, Part 3 (pgs. 6 - 9): Building a Character the Easy Way.



Now that we have a general idea of what a role-playing game is (see Part 1: Learning About Role-Playing Games for more), how to get started playing, and why we would go adventuring in the first place (see Part 2: Worlds of Adventure for more) it's time to start talking about Player Characters (PC) and how to create them.

The PC is your representative in the game world but it isn't a token to be moved about without a life of its own characterized by no more than the game statistics written down on your character sheet (where you record all of your PC's vital information). If done correctly the PC will have a sense of verisimilitude that makes Ugg the Barbarian someone you and your fellow players care about a great deal. This doesn't mean that your PC must have the same political, religious, or moral views that you hold in life. It doesn't have to be the same sex, sexual orientation, body type, or even come close to approaching your own physical and mental abilities (which it will probably greatly exceed in game terms).

What it does mean is that when you craft your PC it will develop a personality that will be expressed in your game world throughout the time you play it. It may be aggressive when you are afraid of your own shadow. Or it may be one of the great intellects of the age when you can barely add 56 + 47 without the aid of a calculator. Regardless of how the PC's personality develops you need to remember two things: (1) this is just a game and the PC isn't real; (2) if this one dies you can make another one in less than 20 minutes.

Not Black Leaf from Jack Chick's Dark Dungeons comic.
I've belabored these points because of what our hobby has been through in the past. We've been accused of teaching children witchcraft, encouraging them to worship Satan, join the Communist Party, and kill themselves - all of which is complete foolishness. Or as Gary Gygax (co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons and arguably its greatest module author) put it in his book, Role-Playing Mastery:
. . . Recently, role-playing games have come in for some of the same sort of complaints. However, the critics seem to overlook or disregard the supportable contention that engaging in vicarious aggressive behavior is an outlet for such tendencies in humankind. This is especially the case when one becomes more than a passive observer of such activities.

Even the most outspoken of the critics must admit that long before we had print and film media to “spread the word,” mankind was engaged in all forms of cruel and despicable behavior. To attribute war, killing, and violence to film, TV, and role-playing games is to fly in the face of thousands of years of recorded history. In Little Wars, H. G. Wells pointed out that tin soldiers leave no  orphans or widows and ventured the thought that if more people were busy “fighting” such “little wars,” they would have no time for big (real) ones. While definitive studies of the topic are not yet available, the initial evidence points toward the likelihood of less aggressive and violent behavior among RPG participants. Two reports mentioned to me indicate that in the group of RPG hobbyists, the incidence of such behavior is fifty to two hundred times smaller than is typical of the populace at large.

Certainly, those who are or aspire to be role-playing masters do not have violent or aggressive personalities because of their participation in role-playing games. They understand that the conflict and violence in such games are only simulations, not meant to be translated into real-life experiences or used as an excuse for such behavior. A master player or game master does not allow - in fact, never gives a conscious thought to allowing-actions taken in the context of the game to dictate or affect his or her activities in the real-world environment. A master knows the difference between role-playing, role assumption, and real life and never mixes one of these with another. This is the best, and indeed the only, way to get the utmost benefit out of each activity . . . (Gygax, pg. 23)
While it seems strange today to look back at such a serious rebuttal as Gary wrote above, or the bizarre attack from a Jack Chick comic strip, these sort of outlandish attacks exist in the history of this game - even though there is no factual evidence that playing Dungeon and Dragons will make you any more likely to do any of the things I mentioned than say drinking a Coke would. Today you're far more likely to find such attacks levied at violent video games than at Dungeons and Dragons.

The process for creating a PC in the Basic Game is different than it was in any of the previous editions. In all the old versions of Dungeons and Dragons your first step was to roll your ability scores. For some editions this would determine which classes and races you could play while for others it affected how far your character could fully advance within certain classes. After rolling ability scores you would then choose what your PC would be. If you were playing certain editions this meant that your Race / Class choice was one in the same while other, more recent versions of the game, broke that process into race then class. After that step came Naming your character and describing him for those who were very sure they would survive the first few sessions and for the rest of us that time was filled with purchasing equipment and getting ready for the game. 

What do you mean my character already died!

Today the process throws me for a loop because instead of rolling your Ability Scores first you pick your race, then your class, and then you roll. For me it's an alien process to pick in that order after I've spent the last decade doing the opposite; but it's such a minor tweak to the process that it doesn't really matter if you roll your ability scores first or third. In the end there is no real discernible difference.

There is another difference in how you approach making characters with this edition that wasn't really a concern in older ones. Today the authors encourage you to come to the game with a character you're excited about before you even start building it. If you can do this I encourage you to do so; however, it has been my experience that you start with a character to play, and through your play of the character, you develop an attachment and excitement that makes you look forward to coming back to the table to play Thorin Foehammer III.

Picking a Race



We'll talk more about picking a race in Part 5: How to Pick a Race, but for now it's enough to know why we use race. In the Dungeons and Dragons game a race not only represents your biological ancestry and cultural heritage but it also determines your physical capabilities and natural talents. This isn't some sort of racial superiority play at work; it's just a simple way to make each race have something special about them from the get go without making character creation into a quagmire that no one ever makes it through. 

Picking a Class

Dave Trampier Rogues


Picking a class can be an intimidating process if you've never played Dungeons and Dragons before. The names of the classes are familiar but as you look at them there's a lot of things that have an impact on how you play them and that will determine what happens to you later in the game as you advance. So allow me to explain them in a simple way:

Fighters kill things
Rogues steal things
Clerics heal things
Wizards bring the pain. 

There is a lot more to each class, and we'll deal with all of that in Part 7: Classes, but for now this should give you an easy way to sort these into which ones you'd like to play at this early stage. Before moving on to Ability Scores there are some terms that you're going to have to become familiar with in order to play the game.
Class Features: this term refers to any ability, including spell casting, that sets your class apart from the others. An example of this would be the Fighter's Second Wind feature (pg. 25).

Level: A denotation to mark how advanced in experience and powers your player character has become. You advance in level by gaining experience points (more on that in Part 4: Experience Points).

Hit Points: A numerical value that defines how tough your character is; how much damage they can sustain before succumbing to the damage and falling unconscious or dying.

Hit Die: The type of die you use to determine your maximum hit points at first level, and then use to determine how much that maximum increases at each level. Your class will tell you which die to use. Additionally, this dice helps determine how much you're able to heal while resting (more on that in Part 16: Resting)

Proficiency Bonus: This bonus is applied to a variety of tasks and is bound to your level.
When we discuss classes in more depth I'll demonstrate how this is applied but for now it's enough to know that proficiency bonus will be used on: attack rolls with certain weapons; certain spells; some ability checks; some saving throws; and in determining a spell's Difficulty Class (DC).

Ability Score Generation

There are nearly as many different ways to roll ability scores as there are groups out there and you can read about a lot of them in the comments section from the post How Do You Roll. I was very fortunate to have a lot of long time readers, and new ones too, discuss their favorite methods for rolling ability scores (and if you have one but haven't joined the discussion I would love for you to tell us about it). I encourage you to not only attempt the methods mentioned in the Basic Game but to experiment with some the alternatives as well. 

One thing that needs to be mentioned here is how to determine an ability score's modifier. It's not hard, but it's easy to miss. To find the modifier subtract 10 from the score and divide by two, round down.  

Example: Strength 18          Intelligence 6   
                 -10                     -10
                 ----                    ----
                   8                      -4

                 8 / 2 = +4          -4 / 2 = -2

If you ever come up with a fraction, like 1 1/2, then the answer rounds down (in this case to 1). 

Describing Yourself

Most of the things that you're supposed to do in this section will be dealt with later when we come to a more detailed examination of them. For right now though I would like to say something about describing your appearance and naming conventions. When you describe yourself pick something you're comfortable with that reflects your choice of race. If you want to have an eye patch and lots of tattoos then expect those things to be commented on throughout the game.

As for names, I encourage you to pick a name that everyone at the table can say with ease. If you pick something that's long and hard to say it will get shortened into a single syllable word. Pick something your Dungeon Master can't say and their libel to change it into something they can say - even if it's nothing close to what you've named your character.

Equipment

When it comes to picking your equipment you have two options: taking the starting equipment set or picking it all yourself. If you're pressed for time the starting set is a good way to go, but I'll tell you I've never done that. For me it's always so much more satisfying to pick out the armor I'll be wearing and all the individual ephemera that I'll be rolling with since I can do far more damage being clever than I ever could just following a set pattern (see the completed series Nobody Makes it Out Alive for more).

We'll talk more about the specifics of armor and weapons during the larger discussion of classes and equipment later.

Works Cited
Gygax, Gary. Role-Playing Mastery. New York: Perigee Books, 1987: pg. 23 PRINT

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Question on Style



I was going to publish the fourth part of the D&D Basic Series today, but my son deleted all of it when he was trying to watch his favorite video on youtube. Such is the way with children and wives. Anyway, as I'm retyping the entire thing it occured to me that I should ask a couple style questions before I get too far into the series.

1.) Do you want a "Click here to begin at the beginning" link at the top of each post?

2.) Would you like a "Click here to read the next part" at the bottom of each post instead of just the overall series of links that I've got there now?

To anyone who answers these two questions, thank you in advance.

-- Charles

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Basic Dungeons and Dragons 5e v0.1, Part 2 (pgs. 2 - 5): Worlds of Adventure.


Basic Game Mockup by Morrus at EN World


Dragonlance, Mystara, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Eberron, Greyhawk, and the Forgotten Realms likely sound like the sort of places that some hapless fool would go exploring and lose his life in to the uninitiated - and you wouldn't be far off from the truth. These places represent seven of the most dominant settings (also known as game worlds) that have become a part of the official Dungeons and Dragons game. Each was designed to help Dungeon Masters and players alike find a world to explore and make their own.

Dragonlance




This is the setting that changed the industry, for better or worse, when it burst onto the scene in 1984. It was the first to present the players with a linear story that forced them into a romanticized version of High Fantasy. Dragons dominated this setting with enough fantastic elements to make it a best selling novel line that would inspire TSR and other game companies of the viability of books based on their game lines. It's a fantastic place to explore and you can find far more on this incredibly deep setting at the unofficial home of the setting online at Dragonlance Nexus.

Mystara or the Known World

The world of Mystara from Vaults of Pandius


For a generation of gamers this setting was the default world for many players. It boasted a detailed world that had no fear of making fun of itself or the tropes of the fantasy genre. Yet even as it became more detailed it never did so at the cost of the players' ability to make the world, and the stories they created, their own.

When it was active this setting produced some of the finest gazetteers and adventures the game has seen since the magnificent Greyhawk adventures Gygax put out for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (also known as First Edition). You can find out a ridiculous amount of information about this setting from two places: About Bruce Heard and New Stories and Vaults of PandiusAbout Bruce Heard and New Stories is the online home of the man who helped make the setting what it would become - one of the most loved settings to ever be produced. Mr. Heard's blog is filled with his efforts to finish expanding the setting as he would have liked had he been given the opportunity and with his current efforts on his successfully funded Kickstarter. It's a great place to visit for more information on the setting and to ask one of the men who had a hand in creating it just what was going on with your favorite nation. Vaults of Pandius is filled with information from published products, the people who developed the settings, and the people who played and loved it. I cannot think of another website that provides anywhere near the volume of information this one does.

Ravenloft



This is the setting of classical horror where you're likely to encounter something that haunted the dreams of Poe and Stoker - but there is so much more here. Every location, or realm, has an evocative nature that seeps into the game. An atmospheric setting that isn't for everyone, but when it's done correctly you won't find a better place to explore the darker side of the hobby. You can find a fountain of useful information on this setting at Ravenloft the Fraternity of Shadows and if you dig the Gothic style then you should consider reading the blog Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque (in particular the Ravenloft Remix series is really worth exploring).

Dark Sun



If Dragonlance, Mystara, and Ravenloft harken back to the classical, high fantasy tradition that dominated the game then Dark Sun was a complete refutation of this aesthetic. This brutal setting where life was harsh, short, and filled with danger was filled with psyonic warriors and eternal Dragon Kings that ruled over a post apocalyptic world. Think Mad Max with Dragons and you're not far off. This setting was highly influenced by the artistic sensibilities of Brom and any discussion of it will eventually work it's way back to him.

This setting isn't for everyone, but if you can find the right group no setting will be more rewarding. You'll find a lot of information on this setting from The Burnt World of Athas and if you're lucky you'll find a group to explore this world with in the near future.

Eberron



The newest official setting for the Dungeons and Dragons game but you shouldn't be worried that this game doesn't have a rich storyline filled with the sort of intrigue and plots that the older lines have in abundance. In fact this setting may have more of that than any other. Here you'll find sentient robots (the Warforged); magically enhanced mass transit; a continent where the restless dead still haunt the land where they lost their lives and protect the long forgotten treasures of a lost civilization; and a world that's rife with political intrigue of the sort that could get out of hand any moment and send the world over the brink and into a new world war.

This setting was created by Keith Baker who is still active in the community. His blog, Keith Baker.com, is filled with lots of great information on the setting and he's often available to answer your questions on the setting.

Greyhawk




This was the home of the Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, and a dozen other classic modules that set the tone not only for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (also known as First Edition) but they became the standard that all future adventures would measured against. Greyhawk was created by Gary Gygax and boasts names like Mordenkainen, Tenser, Otiluke, Tasha, Leomund, and Rary; names that live on in every campaign through the spells that bear their name. Their spells, artifacts, and actions have become so iconic that even the Basic Game, which is supposed to take place in Forgotten Realms setting as a default, only has one spell with a name attached: Mordenkainen's Sword (pg. 98). Yet spells and artifacts only get you so far in a world that has setting crossing villains like the Arch-lich Vecna and the globe conquering Iuz the Old.

While Greyhawk has sadly been neglected for the last seven years by Wizards of the Coast it has not been by its legion of supporters. You can read about Greyhawk through the Oerth Journal (which is an amazing read practically every issue); through blogs like the Canonfire Crier, Greyhawkery, Greyhawk Grognard, and the Dyvers Campaign; and through the fantastic home of Greyhawk online: Canonfire.

The Forgotten Realms



This is the official setting, at least for the foreseeable future, of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition and you'll find out more about in the upcoming Player's Handbook and through its Campaign Source Book that's yet to be announced. Until then I suggest reading Ed Greenwood's fascinating Forging the Realms series.

Now that we've talked briefly about each of these settings you may find yourself wondering if creating your own game world would even be worth the effort. That's a question that only you will be able to answer. I will tell you, though, that one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Dungeon Master is world building.

Game Dice

This hobby is filled with strange dice that no one else in the world cares to use, and that's fine by us. Now you might be looking at those dice in the book and wondering where you're going to find them. The answer really isn't as difficult today as it was even ten years ago as you need simply go to one of the manufacturer's websites.

Manzanita Burl d20s from Artisan Dice

If money is no object for you then I highly suggest the dice made by Artisan Dice. You can customize them for your personal needs; and as a side note, there aren't many that will rival them for sheer beauty. The sets start around $30 for a full set of polyhedrals but I have my eyes on a custom set of apple wood polyhedrals (that's a $100 discussion for another day though).

Crystal Caste Oblivion dice

Crystal Dice produces some really neat shaped dice that are supposed to function just as well as the more traditionally shaped polyhedrals, though they do offer those as well. This line starts at $9.80 but provides lots of options (with an ever increasing price tag) to create your own personal set that will rarely be duplicated.

Beige-black Dwarven dice set from Q-Workshop


Q-Workshop is another manufacturer that produces some outstanding looking dice. Though I find that the patterns on these dice tend to make them difficult to read I've had players that will use nothing but these bad boys. They're more expensive than Crystal Dice (the beautiful set above starts at $17.00 + $6.50 shipping) but they offer a wide range of styles which makes them a good place to start looking for your own dice needs.

Chessix Gemini Black-Blue / Gold Polyhedral Set

Chessix is by and large the most common and easiest to find brand of dice on the market today. They offer a wide variety of dice for most every game you'll encounter and start around $6.99 a set. This is personally my favorite dice manufacturer and I own more sets from this company than any other.

What's All This About the d20?

There are three types of tasks that call for dice rolls to determine success: Ability Checks, Saving Throws, and Attack Rolls. We'll deal with each of these types of rolls more in depth later in the series but for now it's enough to understand when these rolls will be brought to bear. The Ability Check will be called for whenever your character attempts to do a task that goes beyond what a normal person could reasonably do without much effort (for example, you wouldn't be asked to roll for climbing a ladder, but you would for climbing a rock face without many discernible handholds). Saving Throws are rolled when your character is attempting to avoid certain types of damage, like when a wizard casts Fireball (pg. 90). Attack Rolls are done when you want to harm another creature with an offensive ability such as swinging your sword or casting certain magical spells. In all the cases mentioned above your goal is to beat the Difficulty Class (DC) of the task at hand. The DC will be determined by the Dungeon Master and will reflect the difficulty of the task being attempted.

When you attempt to complete a task you will have modifiers to your roll. These modifiers can come from a range of sources; such as, being proficient in a task (which we'll discuss in Part 3 (pgs. 6 - 9): Building a Character) or having an Ability Score that provides a bonus. Once you've been playing for a while it will be easy to determine which ones apply and how to combine certain situations to provide yourself with the best chance at success. For now though you just need to be aware that such things exist so that when we come to them later you'll be able to understand them. 

Advantage & Disadvantage

By and far this is the most elegant and beautiful mechanic to be introduced with this edition. What this mechanic does is simplicity defined. In previous editions when you wanted to attempt a task you would have a slew of modifiers that would come to bare. At times you would have ten or more modifiers applied to a roll that would drastically affect your chances for success and as you leveled these would continue to increase. This, in turn, lead to a sort of arms race with the Dungeon Master constantly increasing the DC of tasks to keep the game challenging. 

This mechanic eliminates a lot of difficulty by providing the Dungeon Master with a quick and easy way to provide you with either a positive or negative bonus to your rolls - without making you break out a calculator and hoping that you don't miss one of your modifiers. If you're in a situation where you hold an advantageous position, such as holding the high ground in combat, then the Dungeon Master will tell you that you're Advantaged. You then roll 2d20s, take the highest roll, and then add your modifiers to that result. If you're the one attacking from the low ground then your Dungeon Master will tell you that you're Disadvantaged. You then roll 2d20s, take the lowest roll, and then add your modifiers to that result.

This is an incredibly easy mechanic to use and after you've gone through a few tasks where it comes to play you'll soon find it speeding up the game at a tremendous rate (especially when compared to previous editions).

Adventures



This game isn't designed to simulate working in a bar day after day and trying to earn a living (though you can certainly do that if you want); instead it's about going out into the world and living a life fraught with danger. You're an explorer in a world where there is no GPS and the maps are filled with blank spaces. You'll plunder long forgotten tombs, explore underground labyrinths where vile monsters lurk, just waiting to pick your bones clean. You'll talk to royalty and battle gangsters, evil cultists looking to bring their dark gods back to the world, and all manner of evil. 

Why?

Because this is a game about being the hero of your own story. Your struggles, triumphs, and tragedies matter here because you matter. Welcome to hobby; you're in for a lifetime of fun!

Basic Dungeons & Dragons 5e v0.1
Part 2 (2 - 5): Worlds of Adventure
Part 3 (6 - 9): Building a Character the Easy Way

Friday, July 18, 2014

Basic Dungeons and Dragons 5e v0.1, Part 1 (pgs. Cover - 2): Learning About Role-Playing Games.


D&D Basic Cover by "Jester" David (source)

With the publication of each new edition of Dungeons and Dragons it has typically been done at the expense of the previous editions. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had to come about because Original was too sloppy and unfocused. Second Edition had to come about because Advanced was too difficult to read and was filled with lots of rules no one ever used. Third Edition was required because Second was too simple and didn't provide the modern consumer with the sort of options that they demanded. Fourth Edition had to come about because Third made quadratic wizards and linear fighters (whatever that noise means) and had these incredibly archaic holdover rules that no one really wanted anyway!

This edition is different though. Unlike every previous version of Dungeons and Dragons that has ever been produced this edition is proud of where this hobby came from and makes an effort to show both old and new players that they should be too. This pride begins on the title page where this beautiful disclaimer appears and is re-emphasized throughout the later document:
Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the consequences of splitting up the party, sticking appendages in the mouth of a leering green devil face, accepting a dinner invitation from bugbears, storming the feast hall of a hill giant steading, angering a dragon of any variety, or saying yes when the DM asks, “Are you really sure?” (Mearls, pg. 1)
This disclaimer isn't just a string of silly events that only hold meaning to older gamers; it's a beautiful statement on the shared nature of this hobby. Everyone who has ever picked up a pair of dice and played the game has made the glorious mistake of splitting the party. It almost always ends in death or misfortune but some of the best memories you will have from playing this game will come when you've made that mistake. It's a universal move that has been described in countless blog posts, gaming backroom stories, and even in song.


The green devil face is one of those iconic moments from the Tomb of Horrors that continues to be one of those memorable moments that stays with you for years after you've explored the dungeon and is talked about even today by players who have made it far enough within that wicked module to know what happens next. It's been celebrated and mourned since it first appeared at Origins in 1975.

Green Devil Mouth by Erol Otus


The invitation for dinner came from the module B2 Keep on the Borderland. In this iconic adventure the players enter a bugbear lair and find a scene that courts both disaster and player ingenuity:
". . . The group of bugbears is not numerous, but what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in strength and cunning. There are signs beside the entrance cave in kobold, orcish, goblin, etc. Each says: 'Safety, security and repose for all humanoids who enter - WELCOME! (Come in and report to the first guard on the left for a hot meal and bed assignment.)' . . .” (Gygax, pg. 19)
Storming the Hall of the Hill Giant Steading is a reference to another classic module, G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (which is the first part in the larger Against the Giants module that's available for purchase now). This module was part of the classic G, D, Q series of modules that formed a larger omni-campaign that sent thousands of players across the surface world and down into the depths of Underdark for the first time. And this particular part of the adventure sets a bloody tone for what follows in the series because in this room lurks a fearsome group of monsters that would easily decimate many prepared groups - let alone those fools who rush headlong into danger without care for the consequences of their actions. 

Cartoon by Jason Bradly Thompson (source)

The last two warnings in the disclaimer are actually just sound advice that never gets listened to no matter how many times it happens. So let me provide those new players with some solid advice: do not anger dragons, for you are tender and taste delicious with ketchup; and whenever you hear the Dungeon Master say, "Are you sure," the correct answer is "Hold up, let me think about that," as bad things are about to head your way (which is when I usually go ahead because it's more fun).

If these nods towards the past were all that existed within the Basic Game then it would be nothing more than window dressing and should be forgotten entirely. Luckily, as will be discussed later there are far more examples of Wizards showing off how much we have to be proud of in the past of this hobby and how much we have to look forward to as well.

Introducing the Role-Playing Game

The next four pages of the Basic Game are designed to introduce new players to the idea of playing a role-playing game and if you've never been involved in one before than this section will be incredibly valuable to you. Yet I will caution you that the example of play that appears in this section is incredibly brief and won't give you all the answers in how to play. That was intentionally done by the Wizards of the Coast design team.

Why?

Most examples of how to play either present the game in a manner that doesn't reflect how it's actually played or it establishes a standard of play that may not be actually possible when you're sitting down with your friends to play the game. Luckily there are some great examples of how to play the game - with actual players and Dungeon Masters - available today that you can find on YouTube, RPGMP3.com, and through countless other podcasts.

Perhaps the most popular series that showcases how to play Dungeons and Dragons is the Penny Arcade Dungeons and Dragons Games. While they are playing the Fourth Edition version of the game the basics are still there: the player creativity and complete rejection of the Dungeon Master's desired goals; the humor; and most importantly the fun. The video below has the entire series from the very first all audio games to the most recent episode with Morgan Webb at PAX this year (see D&D Live Game at PAX East: Guest Player Revealed for more).




Basic Dungeons & Dragons 5e v0.1
Part 1 (pgs. Cover - 2): Learning About Role-Playing Games
Part 4 (pg. 10): The Problem with Experience

Works Cited
Gygax, Gary. Keep on the Borderlands. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1981. pg 19. PRINT

Mearls, Mike and Jeremy Crawford. D&D Basic Rules. Renton, WA: Hasbro, 2014. Cover. PDF

Basic Dungeons and Dragons 5e v0.1: Let's Journey Down the Rabbit Hole Together

On July 8, 2014 Wizards of the Coast released the free version of the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons (click on either of these links for a Printer Friendly Version or Standard Version of the rules). This was a big moment for many in the role-playing community - not just because it was a major move by the largest force in the hobby but because it represented the final product that more than 175,000 playtesters had been involved in making for the last two years. The release of the Basic Rules also meant that all of us who had been playing the game during that time were no longer bound by the non-disclosure agreement and were finally able to publicly talk about it.

I begun running this version of the game recently (see the This Will End Well series for more) but I noticed that there are lots of gaps in my knowledge of the rules. Some of these are due to the new editions terminology and concepts that differ from past versions; while others are caused by my own lack of knowledge regarding this system's game mechanics. These miscues have created bad judgement calls in my games and I don't like that one bit.


So I've decided to run a series on the Basic version of the game discussing it in detail in an effort to better understand how to play this game. The goal is to create a companion series to the actual game that will help new players to the system gain mastery over it. I hope that it will be as useful for some of you reading this as it will be for me. Now without any further discussion, let's get this journey down the rabbit hole underway.

Panel from Wormy by Dave Trampier
Click here to read the next part.

Basic Dungeons & Dragons 5e v0.1
 Introduction: Let's Journey Down the Rabbit Hole Together

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

This Will End Well Part 2: Murder Hobos Attacking the Town




A little bit of hand waving had them heading north to Baldur's Gate looking for loose women, drunken debauchery, and gambling that would make Bugsy Siegel proud. They passed under the Troll Bridge and paid it no mind. They wandered through the Low City and fucked not with one person. Then they found the old man (there's always an old man in every role-playing game).

"Hey, you, old man," Tesla called.

Eh?

"Do you know of anywhere to gamble in this place?"

Ah, I said in a voice that wouldn't warble no matter how hard I tried, if you head into the city proper and go to Picard St you'll find the Purple Worm Casino and Bordello. 

"Wait, did you just say it was the Purple Worm Casino?"

And Bordello.

"Why do they call it the Purple Worm?"

Because it was built inside the corpse of a juvenile Purple Worm. Old Bal -

"Shit," he said with his jaw hanging low, "that's three of my favorite things: hookers, gambling, and dead purple things! See you the fuck later old dude. I've got whores and gambling to do!"

They made their way inside the main gates and paused at a Chinese Food Cart while some politician rambled on in the square about the glory of Baldur's Gate. Nothing was said that held their interest so after buying some discounted Peking Duck that was about to be thrown away they started pressing through the crowd towards Picard St. and the Purple Worm Casino and Bordello. 

It was then that all hell broke loose.

Four big bastards wearing bondage gear and wielding meat cleavers in each hand started hacking down people right in front of them. They spoke in a language strange that burned the listener's ears and drove lesser people to madness. 

"I call them all," Tesla boomed as he jumped into the fray with the sort of reckless abandon that had me liking the hell out of him. He rolled well and quickly dropped the first berserker.

"Four on three hardly seems like a challenge for us," New Boy said to me as he missed his attack.

I started rolling my d20 and said, That's because you didn't realize you'd been shot twice.

"What?"

You've been shot twice, I repeated. There are archers up on the balcony shooting down in the crowd and after your attack two of them fired into your side. You're bleeding, Holmes, and down six points.

"See," Icarus said as he healed Tesla, "that's why you don't talk shit to the Dungeon Master."

The politician jumped off the stage with a long sword in one hand and sheild in the other to confront the berserkers charging the stage. Which was when New Boy added, "See, he's giving us an NPC to help. This isn't a challenge."

I smiled at him as I introduced another big bastard, this one with a black axe that dripped a nasty looking liquid that boiled the stone where it dripped. He attacked their would-be ally while the archers continued to rain arrows down on them from above. 

"I love when these campaigns of yours get bloody," Icarus whispered to me. "Especially when the new players think it's what they've said that brought the trouble."

You know me, always trying to give the people what they want. 

Feel like you've missed something?

Monkey Business by Jens D., The Disoriented Ranger

For those of you who haven't yet heard Jens D of the Disoriented Ranger produced an adventure, Monkey Business . He's publi...