Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Starter Set Plus Free Basic and How I Plan on Using Them Or Not

Yesterday, I said I wasn't going to talk about yesterday's announcement from Wizards of the Coast that the 5e iteration of Basic D&D was going to be released as a free pdf, and when I said that, I meant that I wasn't going to be talking about it today. Many people far smarter than I, I knew, would have things to say about it, even if that thing to say was "enough already!" Of primary interest, I thought, was +Gerardo Tasistro's blog post in which he dared to ask: is it this free release what's important or is it what WotC bothers to do with it? It's a great read and, while I'm not likely to reference the post again, I would totally understand if you took a break from my gibberings and look into it while I wait here patiently. (And yes, I'm aware that Gerardo says plenty more than the little nugget I distilled him down to, but for me, that's the point that grabbed me.)

And so, I will not be talking about how great free D&D rules are for the industry, because you, dear reader, probably already know that. You've probably got the art-free Labyrinth Lord and LotFP's latest Weird Fantasy release and every edition of Swords & Wizardry, which you got for free. You know because we did it first and WotC is copying us (how's THAT for coming full circle, eh?). Well done, OSR community, the side you came down on was the victor in the war for players' (and publishers') consciences, and for that, you deserve a round of applause.

No, the idea of releasing your Basic rules isn't new for the industry, just new for the Subsidiary of Hasbro.

Instead of lamenting particulars of the next edition, I thought I'd tell you how I plan on using it, if I use it at all. Every other edition of D&D I've ever played, I first engaged with the rules as a DM. This time, however, I plan on engaging with the rules as a player, since I'm not particularly jazzed up about the edition. (Sure, I think there's some promise, just not in the "OMG DRAGONZZZZ!" crap WotC & the Kobolds are shoveling down our throats right now.)

But I'll need a DM.

Enter my lovely wife, +Kathryn Muszkiewicz who, for years, has threatened me with learning how to DM. Since the new Starter Set is aimed at teaching board gamers how to DM, she decided that it might just be up her alley. With her learning all of the DM-side stuff, I don't have to worry about it and get to screw around with just the player-side stuff. Which, if we're starting with the Starter Set, would be the Basic rules.

Here's the part where I talk about how I want to use the Basic rules. These rules, as WotC has stated, include everything you need to level one of the "core four" classes from level 1 to 20. I'll cut them a big amount of slack and say that I probably don't care about anything over level 9 or 10 or so (probably less; I can't recall the last character I had over level 6). I want these rules in print, but WotC is only giving them to me in pdf, but that pdf is at least free. Now, these days it's really easy to just upload a file to Lulu.com and have them print you however many copies you want at cost. This is how I have several "all-in-one Moldvay Basic, Cook Expert" books (two in paperback, in hardcover; they're sexy and you should be jealous unless you already have them). So yes, that's how I'll be dealing with the distinct lack of a print Basic: I'll just make my own.

That's the deal, though, isn't it? That's what keeps coming back as the refrain of the old schoolers: "If I want it, I'll make my own." "Don't sell me something I could make on my own." If we're going to pay for a thing, we want it to be something that we (a) can use and (b) is unique enough that we might not have been able to cook it up in an afternoon with a pad of graph paper, a Vernor's SLURPEE (it's a thing!) and a pint of Sailor Jerry. (I'm pretty sure this logic is why monster books sell well. At least the ones that introduce lots of new stuff.)

Why the hell wouldn't I print my own? As my BX Conjoined Twin experiment proves, Lulu really doesn't care about copyright so long as you don't try to sell it, so there's no real barrier in my way to have the thing that *I* want out of the new edition. Plus, my wife is kind of geeked about learning how to DM an edition that I don't know anything about. I've promised her that, until she runs it, I won't even look inside the Starter Set without her approval.

Of course, all of this is predicated on me actually playing 5e, which I'm not opposed to. I would rather, however, stick to my guns and engage with the rules as a player rather than as a DM and, for the first time in my 30-year D&D career, I might be able to.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tales of Crowdfunding Triumph, Part 2: Adventures in the East Mark Red Box

Today, I'm consciously staying away from the gaming industry's big announcement. You know, the one where lots of folks are freaking out and others are saying "I told you so" and still others are saying "money grab!" somehow despite the goodwill and nearly every other person in your stream is asking you not to talk about it because they're already sick of it and it just got announced earlier today? Yeah, I will not be talking about that. At least today. You know I have things to say about it, but I'll just be keeping them to myself for a bit here.

And so, let us turn our attention once again to that great boon to the RPG industry (or curse, some might say), the realm of crowdfunding. Last week, a Kickstarter I had been excited about for some time released its pdf version: Adventures in the East Mark, the English translation of Aventuras en la Marca del Este, an award-winning Spanish-language retroclone. There were a number of things that drew me to the East Mark, but perhaps most strongly due to the "Red Box" nature of the release (so much so that Uncle Frank endorses the product and wrote the Prologue), right down to its adoption of a vaguely Karameikos-like "Known World" setting.

It was pretty excellent timing from my point of view that Extra-Dimensional Publishing released its pdf just as the kerfuffle over the D&D 5e "Starter Set" was kicking up, but I think I've already covered that bit.

So, let's talk about the actual product, shall we?

Details

Please remember that, at the time of this writing, the print version of the Adventures in the East Mark Red Box is not available, just the pdf, and so that's what I'll be talking about. The pdf package is actually several files: a hi-res pdf (a 177 mb whale of a file that is, quite frankly, stunningly detailed), an optimized pdf (34 mb), a 2.63 mb rendering of the extremely well-made East Mark map and a 2.82 mb portrait-style character sheet. The rules (whether hi-res or optimized) clock in at 143 pages (including covers), which is pretty hefty for a basic set, all in glorious full color. On a side note, a B&W version might have been nice to add to this package, if only to have an even lighter version of the file for tablets and smart phones. (Note to self: remember my own preferences for stuff like this for things I might publish in the future.)

The Nitty Gritty

East Mark provides everything players need to play characters from level 1 to 20 in 9 different classes, most of which closely echo their counterparts in Mentzer: cleric, dwarf, elf, explorer (the East Mark ranger, a new class), hafling, mage (magic user), paladin (new), thief and warrior (fighter). I find the addition of a paladin and explorer unnecessary in a basic set but not unwelcome. The explorer I particularly like, if only because rangers tend to be more in-demand as a character type in my games than the others. Among the "Mentzer 7" classes, not everything is as Uncle Frank (or even Tom Moldvay) wrote. Clerics get a spell at first level, for example (which makes me think that the original Aventuras rule set might have been more closely based on Labyrinth Lord). Warriors get 1d10 hp per level. Stuff like that.

The heft of this book does lend itself exceptionally well to the player side of the table. Yes, it has everything needed to present a broad basis of challenges and rewards for a parties of 1st to 20th level, but the focus here is more on the characters and stuff they can do (having enough spells to cover this level range gets pretty bulky pretty quickly). There are some rules details I particularly like, such as the removal of "racial languages," and their replacement with the general admonition that dwarves and elves tend to get the gist of and communicate basic ideas in the languages of their typical foes. Makes sense, right?

After some discussion of the overall game rules (which cleave very close to Moldvay and Mentzer), the rules move on to discuss the setting of the East Mark.

Setting

Ever notice how often we as gamers talk about the "implied setting" of a game? The East Mark is an explicit setting rather than an implied one, but one that is smart enough to give you just enough detail to use and make your own.

I mentioned before that I thought that the East Mark would end up looking a lot like Karameikos and, big surprise, it kind of does. Remembering well that Karameikos included lots of scary differing territories in relatively close proximity, we can see this model is replicated in the East Mark as well. If anything, the East Mark is a little wilder than Karameikos; sure, there is a Specularum-sized city nearby, but the setting doesn't presuppose any connection to it. Also, the East Mark (much like "marks" or "marches" in real life) is a border area, a buffer zone between different kingdoms where no one's power can be absolute, no law may be perfectly applied.

Coupled with the map, the East Mark red box book does a great job of providing just enough information on the different areas of the East Mark that I'd feel comfortable running and improvising it, shaping it to fit my vision. As-written, it kind of has a "Tolkein meets Lovecraft and Howard" sort of feel, particularly with the "post-genre" D&D inclusion of those sorts of things that I like to leave out of my D&D games (kobolds, orcs, goblins, and other predictable things). I'd like to turn up the CA Smith dial on this setting and make it a little bit weirder were I to run it, but out of the box, the setting is a solid "genre D&D" reimagining of Lovecraftian and Howardian fiction, particularly if you play down the Tolkein influences.

The Voice of Dissent

So far, I've only had good things to say, which makes sense for a crowdfunding something that I've been excited about and is actually starting to deliver. However, it'd be rather fanboy of me if I didn't tell you the few sticking points I have with the set as it was published in pdf form.

  1. They Spelled My Name Wrong. Sure, this is a vanity issue, but I expected them to actually pay attention to the spelling of their backers' names. Yes, they missed the first "z." It's "Muszkiewicz." And, despite what Spellburn may tell you, it's pronounced "muz-KEV-itch." There, you've been schooled. [Update: So, turns out this was all my fault. Still, it's been caught and is being fixed and will apparently go to print correct.] 
  2. They Needed A Translation Editor. There are a few peculiarities of the translation (most noticeably in the Setting chapter) that really would have benefited from the eye (and red pen) of an editor looking for translation artifacts such as the following:
    1. Imprecise Wording. I'm still really shaky on what the Forest Kingdom is and whether that's where elves come from or not. 
    2. Incorrect Homophone Use. At one point, the word "passed" is used where "past" is appropriate (page 121: "Passed the moor..."). Stuff like this occurs, not frequently, but it does occur. 
    3. Goofy Name Syndrome. "Poptar Grove?" Sounds like the place you get your breakfast from. I have similar feelings about places named "the Willowcreek," "Brownish Mounds" and "Great Gully of the Druids." Yeah. You might've wanted to think those names through before proceeding with typesetting. Every goofy name, however, has that odd "it might work in genre D&D" feel to it, though, so they might belong in someone's D&D, just not mine.
  3. Next Time, Hire Dyson Logos. The maps in the adventure chapter are really uninspiring new school fancy pants computer-drawn ones. They feel out of place and awkward (and bland!) in an OSR-style product. Next time, hire +Dyson Logos or Matt Jackson and get it done right. No, really, these maps suck and detract from the product. XD Publishing, if you're listening, I'm pretty sure these guys work at reasonable rates, so jazz it up with old school mappery rather than new school crud. 
  4. Why Goblins & Kobolds? I know they're standard genre-D&D fare, but really, haven't they been done to death? This will always be a point of contention with me: if an adventure is worth writing, it's worth coming up with a better enemy than kobolds, goblins, orcs and the like. Precisely because everyone understands them is exactly why you should not use them. The "our elves are different!" thing got played out back in the day by Talislanta, Dark Sun and Earthdawn, so there's no sense in retreading that sort of ground here, either. Just put them to bed and let them rot. Again, if you're bothering to write an adventure, bother to give it new and exciting foes; if I can write it using just the stuff out of the book, you didn't need to write it for me. 

Final Word

I'll bet you thought this was going to be all sweetness and light, eh? Well, as my lovely wife will gladly tell you, if there's a nit, no matter how small, rest assured that I will pick it. All in all, however, the Adventures in the East Mark Red Box pdf is exceptional. I expect that the box itself when I get it will not disappoint, either (I'll let you know on that front when time comes). This is the sort of "all in one uber-box" that could keep a guy like me without needing additional material (which I could make for myself anyway) for years. Well done, folks (both Extra-Dimensional Publishing and the original Holocubierta Editiones)! I look forward with great anticipation to your Blue Box!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Roll Your Own

A major reason I stay away from RPG controversy is that it's really quite common that people come to a blog post that addresses a controversy and have already decided their opinion and, in many cases, have already judged the content of the post they're about to read based on whatever biases they bring to the table, rather than the actual content of the post in question. And so, let me move away from the controversy of the 5e Basic Box ("Starter Set" sounds like it's freaking LEGOs, man) and instead explain a core theory that I came to while I was getting myself acquainted with one particular rule set last year: character creation is a player's entry point to the rules.

When I wrote about +Sarah Newton's Monsters & Magic system, I questioned the logic of placing character creation at the fore of what amounts to a new rules system. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me. I did not know the rules of the game, but if I'd made a character, I'd know about the working parts that make that character go. I'd know his Ability Scores, ability modifiers, know something about effects and descriptors and all that other stuff that I can't remember right now because I'm writing this at work where I don't have my copy of M&M. Basically, by making a character in that game system, I've shown myself what parts of the rules my character will interact with, and thereby nearly given myself a checklist of things to learn. The "Oh, that's what that means" effect here is huge.

I spend a lot of time talking to and gaming with a Mr. +Donn Stroud. One of his big issues in gaming is "immersion," a word that I will think I understand as it relates to gaming, but then I'll learn something new that means I didn't know what I was talking about in the first place. So, these days, the concept of "gaming immersion" has been at the forefront of my thoughts on game structure and game writing. Of course, my concept of immersion is drastically different from others' (and, I'd guess, from Donn's) because what immerses me in a game is, naturally, different from other folks. One things that Donn likes to touch on, though, is that he dislikes when rules "take him out of the game," meaning that the rules of the game distract him from the play of the game. I think that part of rules doing this is learning curve (if you don't know rules and have to look them up, you're typically taken out of the game) and that, the better connected you as a player are to the rules themselves (in your comprehension of them), the better able you are to remain immersed in the game when the rules come into play. It's just that simple.

No idea what this means
Effectively, at least to me, the issue of "immersion" becomes one of a quintessential dichotomy between two very different players: one is you, the player-as-player-of-a-game; the other is also you, the player-as-player-of-a-character-role (an actor). The more in sync these two halves are, the less dissonance you as a player experience and therefor the greater your immersion. It is dissonance between these two halves, I believe, that disrupts immersion and jars a player "out of the game." Thus, it is key for a game to work to close the gap between player-as-player and player-as-actor. One of the easiest ways to do this, I feel, is to introduce folks to the game rules (the "player-as-player") at the same time as introducing them to their characters (the "player-as-actor") by getting them to make characters.

That's what I expect out of a Basic Box (or "Starter Set" if you must): the job of the box is to introduce players to a rule set and involve them intimately in the game, including both the player-as-player side and player-as-actor side. From my perspective, this means including character creation rules. Let's look at some of the more successful Basic Boxes of the past and present.

  • Holmes Basic: The box that made Basic Boxes a thing. Not only was this box created to introduce new players to the game, but also to simplify and streamline the rules of D&D from the original (and often convoluted) 0e rules. This set also introduces the now-obligatory "WTF is an RPG anyway?" bit and then launches pretty quickly into character creation. Many friends of mine and folks I look up to in the gaming community list this set as their entry into the hobby. 
  • Moldvay Basic: No list of successful Basic Boxes would be complete without this gem. This is one of those editions that I knew nothing about growing up, but I really appreciate as an adult. A further refinement of the 0e rules from the Holmes, this box introduced race-as-class, simplifying the "what classes can my dwarf be again?" question with the answer "just put down 'dwarf.'" This rule set improved the character creation experience significantly from Holmes without bulking out the page count, with the result of a concise but robust character gen system that gets the job done simply and elegantly.
  • Mentzer Basic: Some folks will poo-poo my inclusion of the BECMI Basic on this list. However, I will readily argue that Uncle Frank's inclusion of not merely character generation rules but also an example adventure in the section intended for players is the real gem here. The choose-your-own-adventure style mini adventure is a stroke of immersion genius: it taught the relevant rules as you went and dovetailed nicely into the character creation rules. 
  • Pathfinder Beginner Box: I have as much derision for the Pathfinder system, the thing is this is a really well done box. Character generation is fairly limited (three races choosing from the core four classes), but still robust enough that you can keep using it for a long time. This box cribs from Mentzer with its own CYOA introduction. As far as a Basic Box that introduces you to the concepts of the game in a cohesive manner through the creation of your character, it's hard to find another modern Basic Box that does as good of a job as this one.
  • Adventures in the East Mark: This is the newest box on the list and, to be fair, I haven't had the chance to use it yet. This box doesn't use the Mentzer CYOA tactic, which is unfortunate. This Basic Box feels like it floats somewhere between BX and BECMI and is really satisfying.
The surprise honorable mention:
  • 4th Edition Red Box: Many of you know that I don't hate 4e. These days, I don't have the particular itch that this game scratches, though, so I've let it fall by the wayside. Really, it's a prep issue; I'm not interested in spending all of the prep hours that 4e requires. As far as a Basic Box that introduces game concepts to you, the player, gradually, though, this one is pretty solid. Character creation, for example, is integrated directly into the Mentzer-style CYOA section of the players' book, which makes it interesting (you build your character as you learn how the game is played). The major fault with this box, however, is replay value. Once you've used this thing once, it's useless. You as a player or DM are not given the tools to build stuff beyond the adventure that's included. The other fault of this box is the "gamey" nature innate to 4e: it can be hard to maintain immersion when there's a large amount of dissonance between in-game capability and in-character logic. 
Basic Boxes that sucked:
  • 3.5e Basic Game: This black box really had some promise, especially if you were into the whole "game board and miniatures" approach to RPGs which, back then, I was. While the parts that were in here were really useful for that style of play, the whole box wasn't the sort of thing that would "immerse" you in your character. It still felt like a board game and little emphasis was put on creating your own character (if memory serves, you might have just selected a pregen "playbook" for a class). 
  • Marvel Super Heroes Basic: This one was pretty much useless to us when we were kids because we didn't want to play Marvel's existing heroes, we always wanted our own heroes. Sure, our heroes were just rip offs of X-Men characters with often-unfortunate names (yes, I once named a Colossus-alike with sound powers "Vibrator;" fuck you, I was 10), but we always wanted to make our own stuff, you know? As a result, I don't think I ever really understood the funky FEAT table until someone got a copy of the Advanced Box which included chargen rules. 
Non-Basic stuff that misses the mark:
  • I talked about MWP's Marvel Heroic RPG the other day. I continue to hold this up as an example of how to completely screw your audience out of understanding your game. I still have no idea how the Cortex system works, despite the fact that I own the Cortex Plus Hackers guide. I'm sorry, but talking about the moving parts of a system without ever showing me how they work inside of a character makes all that stuff pointless. 
  • It might come as a surprise that I consider HOL to be a complete failure in this arena as well. Long-time readers may recall that I'm a fan of thenigh-apocryphal RPG HOL, which many  folks have probably never heard of. If not, do yourself a favor and look into it. It's kind of an artifact of the 90's post-old school, post-kewl gaming scene which includes other neat stuff like Over The Edge, a madcap shitshow of over-caffeinated, tobacco-stained and syrup-encrusted craziness that is basically Dungeons the Dragoning 40k before Dungeons the Dragoning 40k was ever dreamed of. The downside of the system is that (a) it's absolutely nuts and complete unrelatable to anything anywhere ever, (b) it failed to include chargen and (c) dude, this thing is so convoluted and wobbly, sorting out what's a rule and what's a joke can actually be pretty damn tough. The joke was really on me all along, however, because the more I ever explored the rules here, the less they seemed to matter. Which leads to that dissonance thing. 
Last night, after I posted the "controversy!" post, I spent some time discussing this whole shebang with my wife, who is not the sort of person who gets terribly involved with the rules of different games. Basically, I wanted to know from her whether the whole topic was worth discussing at length. While the end result of that conversation was that "yes, Adam, bothering to write about this thing does make sense because you have things you'd like to say," she added something that I really wasn't expecting but that I'm kind of excited about. "The new Basic Box is designed to turn a board game player into a DM? Maybe that's how I'll learn how to DM." 

Yes, folks, I am pre-ordering now. We'll figure out the chargen thing on our own, I guess (even if the rumors have it that it won't be a big deal). 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Roll My Own

Lately, my G+ feed has been abuzz with mostly negative discussion about the upcoming release of the D&D Next materials. First, there was the "leak" of the uninspiring covers that even I am personally sick of hearing about, despite how uninspiring and boring they are (which they are). I can look past cruddy covers if the content is good (and I think most gamers have at some point, otherwise Chivalry & Sorcery never would have sold copy one), and there's a strong part of me that really wants D&D Next to be good and be a success. The D&D brand and gaming hobby freaking needs it.

And so, the impending release of the Basic Box loomed in my mind as the potential "get out of jail free" card that WotC could have played to bring the skeptics and old schoolers back into the fray. Give us the nod that we deserve to get us amped up for a game release that (so far) holds no real tangible promise for us.

But then they released the details of the Basic Box.

Allow me to switch gears for a moment.

The biggest mistake any game publisher makes, in my opinion, is assuming that players are happy playing pregenerated characters. However well-designed it was, the biggest flaw of FFG's Edge of the Empire Basic Box was the lack of "roll your own" characters. Sure, this would have expanded the size of the release, but it would have resulted in a game box that you could use more than once, which in my mind is a good thing. Margaret Weis Publications, in their Marvel Heroic RPG, felt like players, for some reason I cannot fathom, would rather play the established X-Men or Avengers rather than create their own. Similarly, MWP seems to think that, when your group sits down to play the Firefly RPG, that you only want to play the crew of the Serenity. Sure, each system also features tacked-on character creation rules, but they're largely lackluster and uninteresting (when compared with the "pregens.")

When I open up any old school rpg, they always begin with the obligatory "this is what an RPG is and this is how they're played" chapter, but that almost universally segues into a character creation chapter. I've talked about this before. The old school style creates an early union between a player's understanding of the rules and his creation of a new character. "I rolled a 13 for Strength, which gives me these bonuses when I fight something, which means I might want to learn how to fight things." "My class and Intelligence give me spells, so I need to learn how to use them and what they do." "I get an experience point bonus from my cleric's high Wisdom; what's that mean?" These are the sort of connections that players make between the characters they generate and the process of learning the rules that are core to the old school method not only of play, but also coming to grips with the game itself. We learn by doing, and in an RPG, the first part of doing (which really means "playing") is creating a player character.

Consider not merely D&D, but stretch that to include pretty much every old school RPG. Traveller. Runequest. Call of Cthulhu. Earthdawn. Marvel Super Heroes (the advanced one). Pretty much every game I played back in the day and pretty much every game I find myself able to get into, all of them start with how to create a character. Notebook after notebook belonging to every old schooler I know is filled with half-built characters for a dozen or more systems, most of which were made and never once played. That is how you fucking write a game.

The question I have for +Mike Mearls and company at WotC: How THE HELL can you expect anyone to use your Basic Box when they will not have the conduit to game awareness that creating a character is? I do not know anyone who wants to ever play pregens outside of a con or one-shot. Is the answer that your Basic Box will only ever be a one-shot experience? If so, why even bother? You must understand the severe disservice you are doing the fond memories that we old schoolers have for the Basic Boxes, beginning with the great work of the esteemed Dr. Holmes, moving on to excellent work of Mr. Moldvay, the accessible and useful work of Uncle Frank and even the restatement and revision of the Mentzer that was the 90's black box Basic. After the promise that this D&D would be the unifier, the D&D that brings all of us back to the same table, it's disconcerting that the Basic Box for this edition would be this far from the mark.

Of course, WotC calls this a "Starter Set," rather than a Basic Box and mentions that it is aimed at DMs rather than players. If they believe that splitting hairs between what a "Starter Set" and "Basic Box" is is an argument they can win with the grognards, they obviously haven't thought this one through. It's designed to teach board gamers how to DM? *le sigh* This ain't the 80's. It's not terribly likely that someone who has no connection to the hobby will be picking up this box, and even if they were, Uncle Frank's "choose your own adventure" session from the 83 Red Box would be of much more use to a gaming group than teaching a board gamer how to DM. Bad form, WotC. Bad form.

For me, every rule set needs to give me the opportunity to roll my own.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Stupid Dice Tricks: The Probability Rosetta Stone

It's been a long time since I've written any Stupid Dice Tricks. Man, do I miss it. I haven't had much need for new stupid dice tricks for awhile, so I've tapered off not just sharing them, but working them out as well. (It may be interesting to note for newbies to the Dispatches and Metal Gods zine stuff that the d11 mechanic that a lot of folks seem to applaud me for was originally written down as a stupid dice trick.) Lately, my gaming interests seem to have solidified around three core OSR-style games: Dungeon Crawl Classics, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea and Adventurer Conqueror King. All of these games, at least the way I use them, have a similar feeling of grandiose Swords & Sorcery abandon that I crave in my games without any of the post-genre pseudo-medievalism that I eschew (again, at least the way I use them; ACKS could get kind of pseudo-medieval-y if you let it).

All of these systems have unique takes on task resolution that intrigue me. DCC uses the "d20 system"-style "roll a d20, roll high, get equal to or above a number declared by the Judge and you succeed" method. ACKS uses a "d20, roll high" method, but the target number is set by class features & proficiencies (and is thus baked into the character, rather than up to Judge discretion) with no bonuses for ability scores and the like. ASSH usually uses a d6 with Judge-assigned target number, usually listed in the number of facets that would account for an actual success (which I like because the roll low people can just keep it the way it is while the roll high people reinterpret it to descend from 6 instead of going up from 1).

DCC's method of task resolution (d20 system style) is pretty well documented and is modified by character ability, so modelling out exact parity between it and systems like these can be difficult since character traits like Ability Scores don't really play into the dice rolls. Further, ACKS uses some odd but discrete success intervals, so most rolls are not on a strict sliding scale. For example, lots of tasks are resolved on a roll of 18+ (or "throw" of 18+ if you want to use Autarch's actual terminology) or 14+ or 11+. These large and inconsistent chunks seemed odd to me. Sometimes, Autarch will muddy the waters themselves by saying things like an open doors check requires an 18+, but that every point of Strength bonus improves the chance by four. Now, you could simply add four to your roll, or you could just take that off the target number. 18+ becomes 14+ (one of Autarch's commonly used target values) with a 13 to 15 Strength, but with a 16-17, it becomes 10+ (which doesn't fit the model). When I started looking more closely into this, I realized an interesting fact: Autarch's 18/14/11 scheme fits the rough probabilities of a d6, in that an 18+ is roughly the same probability of 1-in-6 (1:6; Autarch is 15%, 1:6 is 16.67%), 14+ is roughly the same as 2-in-6 (2:6; Autarch is 35%, 2:6 is 33.33%) and so on.

And thus the idea of a Trans-System Task Resolution Rosetta Stone popped into my brain. The math is really quite easy, so I decided to collate it in one place for you to use however and whenever you thought wise. Here it is:


I hope this makes sense. Basically, it states that something that is a 1:6 chance in ASSH is roughly the same probability as something that requires an 18+ d20 roll in ACKS. DCC doesn't have any direct analogs to the ASSH and ACKS probabilities, but I included the standard DCC Difficulty Classes where applicable. You will notice some slight differences in probability percentages between ASSH & ACKS, but that's because of the granularity of the dice in question. Each facet on a d6 has a 16.67% of being landed on, whereas each facet of a d20 has a 5% chance of being rolled. It's just the way the math pans out. You'll also notice that I include nothing between a DC 5 and a DC 10 on the DCC side of this comparison; that's not to say you cannot use, say, a DC 7 for anything in DCC, but rather that DCC itself uses only the DC 5, 10, 15 & 20 as its stated DCs.

Please note that I understand this breakdown is not the be all and end all of probabilities for ASSH & ACKS. There are other circumstances in both games where probabilities will cut between these broad categories, most notably with thief skills (which get really exciting in ASS; hello, d12!). Most task resolution, however, can be handled with the probability break downs as given, however, and should serve your purposes most of the time; however, a big "X:12 vs. d20" chart like the one above is probably somewhere in the offing as well. It'd just be fun to make.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

DCC Donnerstag: Level 1/2 Part 2, the Demihumaning!

Last week, I gave you the "core four" classes stated as 1/2 levels, and this week, it's demihumans' turn. The point of the 1/2 level is to run a DCC funnel with fewer characters that have better aptitudes than normal zeroes, but aren't quite as capable as full-on level one adventurers. Without further ado, here's how the 1/2 level demihumans stack up.

Dwarf

The 1/2 level dwarf has 1d8 hit points, +1 to Fortitude and Will saves, +1 to attack and damage, the normal dwarf-y senses (infravision, subterranean senses, ability to smell gold, etc.), may burn a point of Luck to make a Mighty Deed of Arms. The dwarf does not get any ability to perform a shield bash at this level.

Elf

The 1/2 level elf has 1d4 hit points, +1 to Reflex and Will, the normal elf-y senses (infravision, detection of secret stuff, etc.) and may cast Invoke Patron and Patron Bond; he may Spellburn when he casts these spells, but if he does so, he immediately takes Patron Taint. He may not burn Luck to reduce or prevent this Taint.

Halfling

The 1/2 level halfling has 1d4 hit points, +1 to Reflex and Fortitude, halfling-ish senses (infravision and... I don't know... always knowing which way it is to the nearest kitchen or pub?), may fight with two weapons as normal (i.e., as if he had a 16 Agility) and may spend Luck both normally on himself and on the actions of his allies; this Luck expenditure is never doubled (it is always at a one point for one bonus basis).*

*There has been some debate as to how much of a bonus the normal halfling's +2 from Luck expenditures extends to his ability to spend Luck on his allies' behalf. Some folks (myself included) said it should only be +1, since the language of the text states that this extra bonus applies to the halfling's use of Luck, not his expenditure of Luck to improve the an ally's rolls. +Joseph Goodman has gone on record on the Goodman Games forums stating that yes, indeed, the hafling's +2 Luck effect does apply to Luck spent on another's behalf. 

Experience and Level 1/2

In a normal funnel, the advantage that players have over their environment is twofold: first, they have the brains of several players trained on the concept of overcoming the environment and monsters that the Judge presents them with and second, they have pretty solid numbers, so that if some few (or some many) zeroes die, the players can still overcome the challenges presented them with smart play. The experience system of DCC is tuned toward this concept. For the 1/2 level funnel, though, there are fewer characters (probably) and each one has a higher degree of capabilities. Since most 1/2 level classes are more survivable than 0 level characters, I don't believe that the numbers issue would be too terribly off-kilter against the PCs (even if their overall HP total is much lower) and, further, they are much better able to dish out punishment to enemies and overcome challenges than your average, run-of-the-mill 0, even if their Ability Scores aren't tip-top. As such, I'd place the experience points needed to hit level 1 at the same place for a 1/2 level character as for a zero: 10. That doesn't feel too punishing.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Convergent Evolution & Sci Fi In My Fantasy

The other day, the new episode of Spellburn was very generous to the DCC zine scene. One thing it made me notice is how much in common all of the zines have. Obviously, we're all involved in the very inspiring, very energetic, very creative and enthusiastic DCC community, enough so that we all can't just keep our ideas contained to blogs or G+ communities or (shudder) forums and want to share them with the wider DCC player base by publishing. Yes, we have all that in common, but we have something else in common, too.

Here's the secret: we all seem to grasp the real truth of the Appendix N: That there is no fantasy without sci fi. That fantasy necessarily descends from a basis in sci fi. 

I know that in today's post-genre world (the world once fantasy became accepted as its own genre rather than a subsection of the larger category of sci fi), it's hip to whine about someone "getting sci fi in [your] fantasy." Back it up, pal, you've got it backwards. You tried to take your fantasy out of the sci fi that created and informs it and got all huffy when someone reminded you where your schtick came from in the first place. 

Deal with it.

The DCC zine scene does.

Actually, it seems like we kind of own it.

And so, something else seems to be going on in the DCC zine scene that I can only explain by the fact that we - and please forgive me for speaking on behalf of my esteemed colleagues like +Tim Callahan and others - get the "there would be no fantasy without sci fi" angle. In our various publications, certain themes keep popping up and, if someone weren't careful, they might blame one or another of us for plagiarizing each other. I assure you, that is not the case. Take the following case: 

The zine Crawling Under a Broken Moon by +Reid San Filippo just hit the market. Notice that title. Particularly the "Broken Moon" part. Then look at the cover of Metal Gods #1. What's that hanging up in the sky? A broken moon? Why, yes, yes it is. Did Reid steal that idea from me? No freaking way.

Issue #2 of the Metal Gods zine will feature an adventure tool kit called "Secrets of the Serpent Moon," in which the players get up to some nonsense in space. Eventually, they'll have to wrassle up some space travel method or another, if only to get home. Now look at Crawljammer issue #1. Pretty much the whole thing. Now, I know you don't have MGOUH#2 yet, but when you'll get it, you might notice a similarity or two. Did I steal my ideas from +Tim Callahan? Again, no freaking way. (In fact, folks who attended the Goodman Games meetup at GenCon last year can attest that these ideas have been screaming to get out of my skull for awhile now.)

Reid and I are both influenced by the Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon (Reid wears that on his sleeve), and so each of us giving a shout out to that prominent feature of the show (the broken moon) seems a natural fit. Despite the inevitable comparison due to its name, Crawljammer has less in common with the TSR campaign setting Spelljammer than it does with the planetary romance and planetary adventure genres which spawned both the zine and the setting (and, in many ways, sci fi and fantasy in general); when I do anything about space travel, that's my influence as well.

And so, the point is not that "DCC zinesters are stealing from each other," but rather that "DCC zinesters are all cribbing from the same sources."

Which I think is really neat. It makes picking up Crawljammer more useful; I'm already running a game that has some planetary adventure in it, so if Tim's work inspires some more stuff in there, all the better.

Rock on, DCC zinesters, rock on. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

DCC Donnerstag: Level 1/2, Part 1

Before we get this thing started, I'd like to acknowledge that this is an idea that I'm half stealing from +Doug Kovacs. Often times, in our late-night con games, Doug will run (or facilitate the running of) what would otherwise be called zero-level funnel games, but Doug allows the players to beef up their 0s slightly with a few more hit points, usually a d6 or so. Since 0s are typically disposable characters, this allows most players to approach a huge game of tons of players with only one PC and survive at least some of the challenges thrown at them. Being one of the guys who occasionally works with Doug on these games, it makes a ton of sense to me: instead of each player controlling 2-4 characters, all of which I'd have to keep track of, each player is only controlling 1, which means I can just identify the player with the character and be done with it. This is why I assume that +David Baity always carries around condoms ready to be filling with gasoline at a moment's notice.

Anyway, Doug's 1/2-level characters, I feel, could work great in other circumstances, with just a little modification. Thus, I began modifying. Here's how it works.

The 1/2 Level Funnel

You do not start with multiple PCs. You start with one 1/2 level character, somewhere in strength between a largely-incompetent 0 and full-on 1st level character. This means you'll have some of the benefits of the class you choose, but not all of them. Before you roll anything, pick the class you want to play. Now, roll out 3d6 in order 3 times. Pick the set of stats which best fits the character class you said you want to play. Live with it. If you said "Warrior" and you rolled out stats that would be "more optimal" for a Wizard, a Cleric and a Thief, you're SOL buddy. Leave your metagame at home. Tack on the normal profession and Birth Augur stuff (or the substitution preferred by your gaming group) and round it out with the class info below. Done. Now begin gaming.

Warrior

The 1/2 level Warrior has 1d10 hit points, +1 to attack and damage, +1 to Fortitude saves and may burn a point of Luck to make a Mighty Deed of Arms.

Cleric

The 1/2 level Cleric has 1d6 hit points, +1 to Will saves, knows 1 spell (his level counts as "0" for casting these spells) and may Spellburn for 2 points to perform his Lay On Hands power (again, his level counts as "0" for the spell check and the points Spellburned do not count toward this roll).

Wizard

The 1/2 level Wizard has 1d4 hit points, +1 to Will saves, knows 2 spells (his level counts as "0" for casting these spells) and may Spellburn as normal; however, whenever the 1/2 level Wizard Spellburns, he immediately takes corruption. He may not burn Luck to ignore this Corruption.

Thief

The 1/2 level Thief has 1d4 hit points, +1 to Reflex saves and may use all of the Thief skills but gains no alignment- and level-based bonus (Ability Score bonuses still apply) and may still Backstab (but gains no extra bonus to do so). The 1/2 level Thief still may spend Luck points as normal, but his Luck die is a d3.

Next time, we'll look at 1/2 level demihumans and making the transition to 1st level from 1/2th. (1/2th? 1/2st? 1/2nd?)