Wednesday, September 25, 2013

White Dwarf #3

Another issue of White Dwarf and another fantastic cover, this one by Alan Hunter. I am fascinated by this cover - mostly because I'm unsure of what is happening.

There are three adventurers on the cover, one of whom has been captured by some sort of spectral creature. The groups paniced expressions are perfect and you know that with that gigantic fucking spider coming from behind that this group is about to wipe. The cover is great even if the male warrior in front has a bigger left tit than the woman behind him.

The one thing that I wish White Dwarf would do is have story attached to the cover printed in their magazine. I assume that their reason for holding back from such a story is to avoid the more direct comparisons with Dragon Magazine which had been published for nearly a year more than White Dwarf at this point. 

My expectations for this magazine only continue to rise after White Dwarf #1 and White Dwarf #2 were so fantastic. I really hope that this issue continues that tradition.

Solo Dungeon Mapping by Roger Moores

Rodger Moores is of the opinion that Dungeons and Dragons, and especially the Empire of the Petal Throne, are ideally suited for solo play. After reading this article it is clear that he is partially correct but a whole mess of wrong.

Mr. Moores created 100 maps representing an area of 200 ft x 200 ft and though it is not stated directly in the article he then numbered each of the maps from one to one hundred. He then rolls percentile dice to determine which map is first to be 'explored' during his solo play. After denoting the correct map he then begins to manuver around the map, rolling for encounters as ascribed by Dungeons and Dragons, until he comes to the end of the map and must move on to a new one; at which point he repeats his previous actions. 

That is most assuredly a game that can be played using the Dungeons and Dragons rule sets and being industrious, but it is not fucking Dungeons and Dragons. What Mr. Moores has forgotten when creating his mini-game is that Dungeons and Dragons is ultimately a game of social exchange between the players and the referee within the confines of a fantasy setting. It is not a board game; but that is what Mr. Moores has created with his solo experience.

Competitive Dungeons and Dragons 
by Fred Hemmings

This article is like reading half a book with all the pages out of order and the numbers missing. There are ideas within the article itself that are worth incorporating into your own game, but by and large it is a frustrating and difficult read. 

For the first time I am actually disappointed with this article series.

The Monstermark System 
by Don Turnbull

I have no use for the Monstermark System devised by Don Turnhull, but what is of infinite use is his musings on Experience Points and their value during game play. 

Mr. Turnbull begins his assessment of the Experience Point system by making the observation that a Dungeon Master should not use a static system as was expressed in Supplement I: Greyhawk. The static system present a situation where monsters represent only a single, set value; which creates a situation where the monsters are knocked off like pieces on a game board. By recognizing this problem he foresees the issues associated with the Challenge Rating System employed by third and fourth edition Dungeons and Dragons where the creatures faced become less and less challenging for the players as they are always level appropriate and there is never a really gruesome challenge waiting in the level of the dungeon they're exploring.

That nugget is one of the key arguments I have read on-line against play in third, and especially, fourth edition Dungeons and Dragons. In those editions the monsters you face are so specific to your current level that you aren't really facing a true challenge - unlike in earlier editions where you could face an ork, a land shark, or a mind flayer at second level. Those Oh, no! moments are missing in later editions and it isn't necessarily a good thing that they're gone.

The final aspect of Experience Points that Mr. Turnbull focuses on is the idea that a Dungeon Master should not be consistent with experience point values. The risk involved should determine the valuation. 

I agree with him. 

Open Box by Various Authors

The only review worth reading is on the line of Judges Guilds products. I really, really wish that I could find these at a reasonable price after reading this review. 

Dungeons and Dragons Campaign 
by Lewis Pulsipher 
Part I: Philosophy

After skipping an issue one of the best articles in White Dwarf has returned and Mr. Pulsipher comes back like a house of fire. This installment is focused on the skill game which was the only one he found worth pursuing back in White Dwarf #1.

He begins the article by stating that the ". . . referee must think of himself as a friendly computer with discretion . . ." (pg. 16). This is because, for Mr. Pulsipher, the Dungeon Master is supposed to have the entire game environment plotted out so that no matter which way the players go what they will encounter is already accounted for; that is a fundamentally different way of running than I have ever encountered and one that is going to change how I run for the better, I think. 

Mr. Pulsipher then moves on to the proper adventure admonishing the Dungeon Master to avoid manipulating the game one way or the other. If he moves the game in favor of the players than he circumvents their skill at the game and if he moves the game against them, by adjusting hit points and rolls, then he maligns their skill. Instead the Dungeon Master should create the setting and populate it with intelligent monsters who move and react as thoughtful beings do in reality. This, by turn, will create a situation where your players are forced to increase their skill at play. 

Fantastic advice.

Morale Rolls are then discussed which I had not previously encountered. Roll 2d6 for your monster, this result sets the bar for when they run. Now whenever something happens that might cause them to run, for example, an obviously more powerful party, you roll 2d6 and if you tie or beat that original number the monster flee. After finally having it explained to me I'm adding that into my games.

More advice:
. . . The referee who, for example, schemes to take a magic item away from a player is incompetent. If the player doesn't deserve the item he shouldn't have obtained it in the first place . . . (pg. 16)
I love this line if for no other reason than the idea that Mr. Pulsipher would like to project the idea upon you that he has never fucked up and given a player something they shouldn't have. What an ass!
. . . Don't lie to the players when speaking as referee. If players can't believe what the referee tells them they are cast adrift without hope. If one doesn't want them to know something, avoid the question . . . (pg. 16)
This is actually one of the tenets of my own beliefs about being a Dungeon Master and as a Manager (which I've been doing as my profession for the better part of the last decade); however instead of avoiding the question I tend to be direct and say either you're unable to tell or I have no idea. There is nothing wrong with not knowing - though in full disclosure I should also point out that a family motto has always been:

If you can't baffle them with brilliance, 
Blind them with bullshit. - Akins family motto
The 'quick thinking' of any military encounter is largely the result of training - troops don't have to think, they know by reflex what they're supposed to do. The characters in D&D, career adventurers, must have similar reflexes, but why expect someone who plays this weird game once a week to have the same reactions? It's ridiculous, and no more realistic than the system I prefer. My method is designed to enable players to make the best possible decisions, if they're intelligent enough. Reaction time isn't involved. The longer players are permitted to think, within broad limits, the more the skilled player will differentiate himself from the poor player. In most situations only a short time is needed. At the other extreme I have waited as long as fifteen minutes in a desperate or complex situation before reminding players that they ought to decide. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game for the referee is watching the players devise an often brilliant plan to attack some monster . . . (pg. 17)
I have run across only one Dungeon Master who insisted that we contain our actions within the 6 seconds of the round, and he was an asshole. I'm with Mr. Pulsipher here.
Don't permit player consultation when characters wouldn't be able to communicate . . .(pg. 17)
This one seems kind of basic but it's one of those events in a game that happen so often that it usually needs to be reminded to novice Dungeon Masters - sometimes even to those of us who have been running games for a decade or more too.
. . . there is a good case for making Chaotic characters do exactly what they say immediately - they're chaotic, after all . . . (pg. 17)
I've often considered doing that with Chaotic aligned characters but had dismissed it as a wild hair. Now after reading that someone else has done so with at least some good effect I think that I would like to do so in my games for a few sessions just to see how it affects play.
. . . I use the following method. Players must stop for a one-fourth turn while using a detection spell. (Note that this time is given in Book III under 'The Movement in the Underworld' for an ESP spell). They receive information from all around, though if there are many separate places detected, more time than normal may be required. The players may then continue, but while moving or meleeing the caster may not use his spell, though it is still potentially useable and time is counted against its duration . . . (pg 17)
I'm really a fan of this interpretation of the spell and will be implementing it in my 3.5 game next Sunday.

This series just keeps getting better.

Colouring Conan's Thews by Eddie Jones

Thank god for this article!

For years I've been contemplating painting miniatures but have always felt like I didn't have the right understanding of the process for me to go wasting money on what is a very expensive hobby. But after reading this article I've actually decided to go for it. We'll see how that goes!

Treasure Chest by Various Authors

Unlike the last issue of White Dwarf there isn't a thing here worth using for me or my games. 

We finish with the back cover, which is really cool. 

Overall Review

I am still immensely enjoying the White Dwarf magazine and highly recommend all three of the issues I've reviewed so far. As always there are features that I could do without (the Monstermark and Loremaster of Avallon in particular) but by and far articles like Colouring Conan's Thews and Dungeons and Dragons Campaign are so worthwhile that I can labor through the crap just to bask in their glow.

Score: 9 out of 10

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