Showing posts with label Cam Banks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cam Banks. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Remember when D&D Combat was "Simpler" and "Easier" to Understand than 5e? Me Either. Part 1: Some Initial Thoughts

GamerGrls by Jody Lindke ©2011
Back in September of 2019, Cam Banks wrote a brief response to people who argued that they missed the "good ol' days of gaming" when combat was easier to learn and play than the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Cam's response was direct and to the point.

My response was a little snarkier than Cam's and included a reference to the Weapons & Armor chart in the 1st Edition AD&D Players Handbook (sic).

The point that each of us was making was that it is a myth that older versions of D&D were "rule light" that were easier to learn for newer gamers, or were somehow superior to more recent versions of the game because of their ease of play. Dungeons & Dragons has always been a complex game with arcane rules for combat that could be intimidating to new gamers and veteran gamers alike.

I've been a fan of every edition of Dungeons & Dragons that I've had the pleasure of playing. Yes, I even LOVE 4th Edition D&D. I think it has a nice balance of tension at the heart D&D system, whether to focus on role playing or on tactical combat. Each edition of the game has tried to fall somewhere in the middle, allowing for players who favor each kind of play to have a good experience, but I think that 4th Edition hit an almost perfect balance between the two. I would also argue, and this might shock some people, that it was less a tactical combat game than most of the editions that preceded it. This is especially true of 3rd Edition, which is the most granular simulation of tactical skirmish combat ever designed. 

There are so many sub-systems in 3rd Edition that you can essentially solo-play "SIMTavern" by using the skill rolls and random encounters without the need of a DM. I'm not writing that as a critical statement. It's a remarkable achievement that appeals to a sizable group of gamers that includes me as a card carrying member. I've spent many an hour using GURPS and Hero System to do exactly this type of gaming, and prior to 3rd Edition I never thought D&D was a good "SIMCity" rpg.

But this post isn't about the underlying skill system and how well it can be used to simulate day to day activities in a Bayesian's Daydream of game play. This post is the first in a series of posts about D&D combat and how complex it has always been. This series will cover Original Dungeons & Dragons, using both the Chainmail and Alternative Combat System variants, Basic D&D (Holmes, Molday/Cook, and Mentzer), AD&D 1st Edition, and AD&D 2nd Edition.

Today's post is just an overview regarding the motivation for the series of posts, which is a desire to argue that there never has been a truly simple era of D&D combat. As Cam stated above, each edition has its problems and gamers have adapted to those problems. Smart people have been confused by D&D from the beginning. If you read the first few issues of the famous Alarums and Excursions fanzine (you can order them from the source here), you'll see that some early gamers misinterpreted the spell system and Lee Gold initially thought that saving throws were based on rolling 2d10 and adding them together.

Lee Gold Discussing Saving Throw Probabilities Based on Assumption of 2d10 Added Together

While modern gamers may wonder how a game designer like Lee Gold could have this assumption, one need only look at the older twenty sided dice to see that they were numbered 0-9 twice. Thus it seems natural to infer that the alternative combat system and saving throw system were based on a roll of two of these dice added together. Later editions discussed this more expressly and included recommendations for how to convert these dice to "true" twenty-sided dice.

Modern gamers have the advantage of beginning play upon a foundation of norms established over decades. Early gamers didn't. This made early D&D even more confusing than today's game. Though I will argue in the next post that using the Chainmail system for D&D combat is even more confusing than today's game, even for a gamer with strong foundations in both role playing and modern miniatures games. Had I not played Warhammer I would have been in the dark on how to play Chainmail, even having read the rules several times. Though after examining those rules, rules it seems no one actually used for D&D, I think they would work quite well and eagerly want to try my hand at them.

Tomorrow, I'll delve into D&D Chainmail. For now, I'd like to know if any of you have tried it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Marvel Villains & Vigilantes [Civil War]: Ant-Man

While I am in the process of researching my article on the first edition of Villains & Vigilantes, I thought that I might try to emulate something that the early writers of Different Worlds Magazine did and adapt some Marvel characters to the system. While the article I am researching is the second in my series of reviews of the games in the history of superhero rpgs -- the first can be found here -- discusses the first edition of Villains & Vigilantes, all of the adaptations I make will be for the more commonly available 2nd edition of the game. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that the 2nd edition is more widely available on ebay, from FGU, or a "revised revised" edition from Jeff Dee and Jack Herman at Monkey House Games. The second is that the revised edition is an easier game to play than the first edition.

My hope/plan is to emulate the Friends and Foes from the excellent Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Civil War Sourcebook to see how well the V&V system represents the characters in that product. This being the first of the adaptations, I've already notice some major differences in how V&V works versus the mechanics of Marvel Heroic. In this case, the way that Growth works. The Size change power is one of the wonkier powers in V&V because of the way that weight affects hit points and carrying capacity. As adapted, Eric O'Grady would be a pretty effective Solo character against many of the characters published by FGU and Monkey House Games.  If you are wondering, here are the guidelines I used to adapt.

1) As much as possible translated powers on a 1 to 1 basis. If a hero has Energy Blast, then they will get V&V Power Blast. The only exception might be if they have Energy Blast at the d12 level, then I might increase the damage capacity from the base V&V power.

2) For "Enhanced" statistics of up to d8, I give the Heightened "x" power at the "A" level -- +2d10 -- as opposed to the B level which is +3d10. For characters that have d10, they get B, and for those of d12 they get both A and B.

3) Base statistics tend to be in the 10 to 16 range. For example, O'Grady is a covert expert etc. so he has a 16 Agility. Most of his other stats were 10 to 12 before the bonus from powers/training.

4) Specialties are treated as Heightened Expertise and give +4 to the area on attack rolls or "saves" that are related to the expertise. Ant-Man has "Vehicles" expert and so any rolls he makes to drive - Agility Saves most likely - will receive a +4 bonus to his Agility for those purposes.

5) All Heightened Statistics results will be rolled and not selected in order to emulate the way that V&V works.

Those guidelines will be used in all cases. I will minimize my own editorial decisions to add powers or increase them, because Cam and crew did such a good job adapting the characters for Marvel Heroic and I thought it might be nice to be able to play through the campaign they developed with V&V stats.

You can access a PDF of these stats here.

As you can see, O'Grady is kind of a power house. We'll see how he compares to AraƱa in a future post.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Margaret Weis Productions Releasing Smallville RPG at Gen Con

Margaret Weis Productions is quickly becoming the West End Games of the 21st Century -- and that is a good thing.

In the 1980s, West End Games went from a publisher of war games and board games. Among their early titles were Campaigns of Napoleon, Operation Badr, and Killer Angels on the "war gaming" side, and Junta and Bug Eyed Monsters on the "board gaming" side. In the mid-80s, West End Games acquired the license to make official Star Trek based board, war, and role playing games. They weren't the first company to get the Star Trek license, but they were the first company to create consistently high quality products based on an existing license. Star Trek itself had been licensed as an RPG product prior to the West End license, but that product lacked the combination of high production value and quality mechanics that West End brought to the table.

Following on the Star Trek license the company acquired a license for a Ghostbusters role playing game, and the rpg they published for that game secured their reputation. So secure was their reputation that they eventually landed the grand daddy of all rpg licenses -- Star Wars and the game they produced was a masterpiece. To this day it stands as the gold standard for adaptation of a licensed property into a role playing game. The Star Wars mechanics were an adaptation of the Ghostbusters d6 system, one of the cornerstone rules sets for players who prefer "cinematic" role playing games over "mechanics."

The list of licensed properties that West End created games for grew and grew, and they maintained their consistent quality, but changes in the gaming market like the explosion of Magic: the Gathering, the d20 explosion, and the loss of the Star Wars license conspired to bring the company down. It took a while for the company to completely peter out, and you can still find a small pulse out there somewhere, but peter out it did.

When West End's reign as the king of licensed rpgs ended, there was no clear leader in the field. Several companies had licensed properties. Wizards of the Coast had Star Wars. Decipher had Star Trek and Lord of the Rings (the movies only). All of which are/were good products based on "mainstream" intellectual properties, but none of which fired the imagination in the way that West End Games' Star Wars line did.

The death of West End left a hole in the marketplace for a company to emerge as a leader in creating adaptations of "mainstream" intellectual properties.

Green Ronin is earning a reputation as a skilled creator of licensed games, but prior to their recent acquisition of the DC Comics license their properties had been more niche than mainstream. As much as I love George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, it's a fantasy series and not a television series/movie.

It appeared that Eden Studios, with their Buffy, Angel, and Army of Darkness games might have become the next true successor to West End, but these hopes fizzled with their City of Heroes license.

Margaret Weis Productions, on the other hand, seems to be acquiring license after license and publishing quality product after quality product. The first licensed game they produced was Serenity based on Joss Whedon's film of the same name -- and which takes place in the Firefly universe. The game was well put together and well received. This was followed by a Battlestar Galactica game and an excellent game based on the Supernatural television series. All three of these games use some variation of Margaret Weis Productions' in house "Cortex" gaming system. The "Cortex" system is a cinematic system, in the tradition of West End's old d6 system, and bears some similarities to the excellent Savage Worlds game system. Not enough similarities that one would accuse MWP of lifting another system, but both systems are easy to learn and use "steps" of dice to signify attributes/skills. The similarities, and the quality of products, likely contributed to their ability to acquire the license for a Leverage based game. The fact that John Rogers, the creator of Leverage, is a big gaming geek couldn't have hurt either.

What is remarkable about this list of licenses is that they come from a variety of networks and companies. Serenity is Joss Whedon/Fox, mostly Joss Whedon due to the status of that IP. Battlestar Galactica is NBC Universal. Supernatural is a CW property (CBS and Warner Bros.), and Leverage is a TNT show (Turner). All of the properties have "geek street cred," but all of them also have audiences outside the gaming community.

This summer, MWP will be adding Smallville to the list of games it produces. According to MWP, the game will use a variation of their in house Cortex system -- but with some key changes:

We've had a few questions regarding if we'll be using the Cortex system for Smallville. The answer is we'll be using an updated version now called
Cortex Plus. It focuses on Values (what's important to you) and Relationships (who is important to you). Powers, training, etc. are Assets you can add
into your rolls when appropriate.

Smallville will use d4, d6, d8, d10 and d12. Many of the game elements are the same but fixed difficulties are gone, replaced by opposed rolls. We feel it's a super fit (sorry for the pun) for this line of product!

The focus on "Values" and "Relationships" demonstrates a desire by Line Developer Cam Banks -- and the writers working on Smallville -- to highlight the interpersonal relationships of the characters over combat situations. Stressing interpersonal relationships in superhero rpgs is an important, but often overlooked element of the emulation of the subject matter. One of the innovations of the "Marvel Method" was the incorporation of personal relationships with "real life" stakes attached. Marvel's genius was in combining Teen Romance comic narratives with superhero action. Some roleplaying games -- like Capes, TSRs Marvel Superheroes (FASERIP), Mayfair's DC Heroes -- have internal risk/reward systems that facilitate non-combat role play. Other games -- like Champions and Mutants and Masterminds -- encourage and allow for personal interactions, but lack a robust mechanic specifically designed to encourage such interactions.

About a year ago, Cam Banks blogged some initial thoughts regarding the development of an independent RPG called Superteam. The game would have been a superhero role playing game that was structured around team dynamics and team-member interdependence, inspired by comics like Teen Titans and the X-Men. Sadly, Bank's posts on the topic faded and I had lost hopes of seeing some of his ideas regarding the proper design of a superhero RPG.

Thankfully, he is working on the Smallville project and we'll get to see some of his ideas there. I would still like to see where he was going with Superteam, but I eagerly await Smallville.

MWP is offering free pdfs of their Supernatural rpg to anyone who pre-orders Smallville.

I'm wondering if one can pre-order and request to pick up the game at Gen Con rather than to have the game shipped.