Showing posts with label DndNext. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DndNext. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#RPGaDAY #4: Most Recent RPG Purchase -- What Do You Mean by Most Recent? Espionage vs 5th Edition Player's Handbook

I've been having fun thinking about Dave Chapman's (aka +Autocratik or @autocratik) #RPGaDAY prompts. While I haven't been keeping up with the calendar, and am about nine days behind, the list of 31 ideas for rpg related blog posts have been thought provoking in different ways. One of the most interesting things about the prompts is that there are many ways to approach each one. For example, when I wrote my response to prompt #2 I made some distinctions about what it was to actually be a gamemaster. The distinctions led me to two different answers. A similar thing happened when I thought about today's post on the "Most recent RPG purchase." I began asking myself whether Dave was asking what was the most recent RPG I've purchased  or whether he was asking which RPG I've purchased most recently. These are two different things.

The "most recent RPG I've purchased" isn't a recent RPG at all. For the past month I have been scouring through my gaming collection to find the copy of the Espionage adventure Merchants of Death that belongs in my Espionage boxed set. I've never played Espionage, nor it's follow up Danger International, but I have always been intrigued with how his game shaped the future of the Hero Game system and more importantly the Champions RPG. Though I own - and have played - Top Secret and James Bond and have run sessions of Night's Black Agents (which is awesome and currently available from Pelgrane Press), I haven't run or played an spy thriller using the Hero System. I am a fan of the system overall and have wanted to run a game ever since I read Aaron Allston's Strike Force where he discussed how he had adapted the martial arts rules from Danger International for use in his Champions campaign. He believed that the way martial arts were modeled in DI were superior to the old 3rd edition and earlier Champions system. Clearly the other designers agreed because the 4th edition of Champions uses a modified version of Aaron's adapted system.

So my interest has been high for a long time and Espionage and Danger International have long been a part of my game collection. Recently I've been wanting to play a superhero game with my gaming group and have been confronted by one significant problem. All of my favorite superhero role playing games that have tactical components have a fairly extensive character generation system. DC Heroes, Champions, and Savage Worlds each have qualities I very much like, but since they allow you to build characters based on a concept and my group has little experience with this kind of character generation. In fact, it often leads to analysis paralysis due to an overwhelming number of choices. Yes, 3.x D&D/Pathfinder have a daunting number of choices too, but some of them are spaced out across play and not all the decisions have to be made up front. My thoughts were that if I could run a game of Espionage which utilizes the Hero System, but where the choices are more confined, it would be a nice introduction. Trust me when I say that character generation sessions have broken down by merely asking the question "How strong is your superhero?" Given that some of my players don't own all the games I own...scratch that...none of my players own all of the games I own, we often have to have character creation sessions. Given the build a character nature of Champions/DC/Savage Worlds this can lead to some pretty dull "game time."

Long story short, I wanted to run Espionage for the players and I wanted to use the introductory adventure Merchants of Death. I couldn't find it anywhere, so I had to hunt eBay and various online used RPG stores until I found a copy of Espionage that had the adventure. I am clearly not the only person who has misplaced the adventure as it took quite some time to find a copy. But find one I did, and it arrived today making it my "most recently purchased RPG."

As for the most recent RPG that I have purchased, I will spare you the long context laden backstory. Last Friday I got my copy of the D&D 5th Edition's Player's Handbook at my Friendly Local Game Store. Let me just say that I am a big fan of D&D in all of its editions, but that I am very impressed with this particular edition and look forward to playing it. I am also intrigued how Hasbro has chosen to have D&D be the only brand mentioned on the cover of the Player's Handbook. Wizards of the Coast is mentioned inside the book, and Wizards and Kobold Press are listed on the module, but D&D is the only brand present on the cover of this book. It's a very interesting assertion of brand commitment.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons: 5th Edition and "Zones of Control"

Back in 2012, I wrote a blog post discussing how every edition of Dungeons & Dragons had miniature use as a part of its default mechanics assumptions.

Let me repeat that in clearer language. Every edition of Dungeons & Dragons is a miniatures based tactical role playing game.

As I wrote in the earlier post, this doesn't mean that those playing without miniatures were "playing the game wrong." I've played in at least one adventure in every edition of D&D and there are plenty of rules my gaming groups have either ignored or added to make our own experience more fun. Here are just a few ways my groups have modified game play:

1) None of the 1st Edition AD&D campaigns I've played in has ever used the Weapon Speed Factors or the Modifications for Armor Class.
2) I've played in 1st Edition games that used "Spell Points" for spell casters.
3) As a Game Master, I've disallowed non-Lawful Good Paladins in 3.x and 4e.
4) I had a DM who used Arduin's Damage System in his AD&D Campaign.
5) I've never used the initiative system from Eldritch Wizardry.
6) I give every race a second wind as a minor action (Dwarves get it as a free action) to speed up play.
7) One campaign I played in had us set our miniatures on the play mat in "Marching Order." No matter the shape of the room our characters were attacked based on that formation in Bard's Tale-esque fashion. We could have been in the center of a room 100' x 100' and all of the melee attacks would have been targeted at either the front row or the back row without anyone attacking our Magic Users in the middle.

Every one of the games I played with these groups was fun and thus none of these groups was playing "wrong." None of these groups played games to the rules as written either. No one - with the exception of organized play - should play to the rules as written. Role playing games are written to be adapted to play for your local gaming group. There are two key elements that allow for this without "breaking" the game. First, there are no winners and losers in D&D. The only way to win is to have fun and changing the rules for your local group is one way to create fun. Some changes are fun for a short time before they create more boredom than fun - in general - so there is room for advice regarding power scaling and Monte Haul campaigns, but the aim is to maximize fun. Second, most role playing games - excepting a couple of innovative Indie games - have a Game Master who moderates the game and who has absolute authority in rules interpretation in the local gaming group. So long as the Game Master is fair and focuses on keeping the game entertaining for the players in his or her group, then what rules are included or left out don't matter much.

Man...that's a lot of prefatory information. You can read the older post to see how each edition of D&D has implemented the use of what are called "Zones of Control" or "ZoCs" in great detail in the older post. The short version is this:

Original Edition (Chainmail): Once engaged in melee a unit was stuck until death or a failed morale check.

Original Edition (Alternate Combat): Not locked in combat, but adds "flanking" rules in Greyhawk Supplement. Swords & Spells supplement adds attacks of opportunity.

D&D Basic (Holmes): Attack of Opportunity against those leaving combat.

D&D Basic (Moldvay): Adds "Defensive Withdrawal" similar to "5 foot move" or "shift" in later editions.

1st Edition AD&D: Attack of Opportunity for withdrawal and Rear Attack Rules (Page 69 & 70 of DMG)

2nd Edition AD&D: Similar to 1st (Pages 81 to 84 of Revised DMG)

3rd Edition D&D: See image below.

3.5 Edition D&D: See image below.

Pathfinder: See image below.

4th Edition D&D: See image below.

Each of these editions demonstrates the influence of tactical wargames on the combat systems of each edition. It should also be noted that each edition of the game adds new layers of complexity regarding what affects whether you are in a Zone of Control and whether you are flanking an opponent. Pathfinder, 3rd Edition, 3.x, and 4th edition all have creatures with reach that expands their Zones of Control and each of those games has specific rules regarding how conditions influence your ability to flank other combatants. If you read the earlier article and examine the pages of the 1st Edition DMG you will see that there are rules similar to those implemented by later editions, but you will also wish that the earlier edition had created cool graphic representations like those of later editions.

5th edition (in the Basic Rules) takes a big step away from the trend and is even more abstract than the earliest editions of the game with regard to flanking. I would argue that 5th edition is the first edition with takes "no position" with regard to miniatures and carefully crafts descriptions so that combat can be run either way without house rules or dropping rules -- though it does still refer to "squares" from time to time. The new edition still includes Opportunity Attacks - a firm Zone of Control concept - as described on page 74. But instead of listing a specific amount of distance moved as in Moldvay, 1st AD&D, and later editions it merely lists the need to use the "Disengage" action. The Disengage action can be used with a tactical map, but doesn't require one as it is more narrative in its description than the older "Defensive Withdrawal."  The Rogue class on page 27 hints at the flanking rules for 5th edition which does not seem to entail a good deal of examining to see if combatants align properly on opposite sides of an opponent in a way that require illustration. Under Sneak Attack, the Basic rules state that you can deal extra damage if you have advantage OR "if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn't incapacitated, and you don't have disadvantage on the die roll." That's a pretty big shift toward simplicity and away from map use. While it could be argued that the 5 foot rule implies the use of maps, one could easily assume that a creature engaged in melee has an enemy within  feet. If this replaces needing opposite sides for advantage, this is a boon for mapless gaming. It is easily adaptable regardless. So what does this make 5th edition's Zone of Control rules based on the Basic Set?

5th Edition D&D: Attacks of Opportunity (strong ZoC) and potentially with Flanking if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Tiger, The Princess, Monty Hall, and Probability

Every now and then I encounter a book that changes the way I think about the world. Sometimes a book has one insight and sometimes it has several. In the case of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, I've lost count of the ways it has forced me to re-evaluate my perceptions. This is partly because the book covers a wide terrain of psychology and partly because it presents so many interesting observations. One of my many take aways from the book was how we don't think intuitively about statistics. Let me restate that in a paraphrase, while our mind is great at seeing patterns in nature (even sometimes when they are not there) our mind is not great at seeing the patterns that underlie probabilities and statistics.

This is an important observation for game design and game play. We've all seen the player who has rolled several low scores on to hit rolls in a D&D session who says "the odds are getting better of me rolling a 20" or the player who has rolled 6 "aces" in a row in Savage Worlds who picks up the dice and says "the odds of me acing again are 1/(some huge number)." In both cases, the individual is wrong. While it is true that given a sufficiently large draw that the die rolls of a player will tend toward the mean, prior die rolls have no influence on future die rolls. As an extension of that, the player who has already rolled 6 "aces" has exactly a 1/6 chance (assuming a d6 is being rolled) of acing on the 7th roll. The prior rolls have no influence over the initial roll. The answer would be different if the person had stated before rolling at all that there chances of acing 7 times was 1/(some huge number) but it isn't true after the person has successfully aced 6 rolls and is now rolling the seventh roll.

When I was a 21/Craps dealer as an undergrad in Nevada, I saw how this kind of flawed logic could have real financial consequences.

"Wow!" The player would say, "there have been a lot of 7's rolled in a row, so it's time to 'buy' the 4 at a 5% vig." Their underlying assumption is that prior rolls affect future outcomes in die rolls. They don't.

Interestingly, when players are in situations where prior decisions DO affect future outcomes they are just as prone to intuitively come to the wrong conclusion. A great example of this phenomenon is the Monty Hall problem where a player is given three choices, shown the results of one of the selections they did not make, and then asked to either switch or keep their original choice. The correct answer to this question - because prior choices DO affect outcomes in this case - is counter intuitive. I'll let the good folks at Khan Academy explain why.

Think about how this dilemma will affect game play in hidden information games that you design and play. And let this be a reminder that understanding how a probabilities work can make you a better player, designer, or game master.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Would You Like to Play a Game? -- Hasbro's Original D&D Collector Box is a Part of a Corporate Vision

The new Original Edition D&D Premium Reprint from Wizards of the Coast is truly a wonder to behold, and it gives the buyer a good glimpse at Hasbro's D&D corporate strategy moving forward.  I'll discuss this a bit more in a minute, but first let's just have a look at the box.

The original three D&D booklets were sold as a part of a collector's edition which featured either a woodgrain box (super rare) or a white box (the version I have at home), and this new edition comes in an engraved wooden box that I found to be pretty spectacular.

One of the nice little features that stood out as a real highlight for me was the reflective image on the inside of the box top. Wizards/Hasbro could have let the wood alone speak for the product, and that would have been great, but this Wizardly image really sets a nice tone.

Here you get a glimpse of what the box looks like when the booklets are stored within. Notice the red ribbon? That ribbon will allow you to remove the 7 paper saddle stitched books without damaging the edges, this is a nice bit of design that like LORDS OF WATERDEEP demonstrates a significant amount of thought has been put into both presentation and utility.

The box itself contains the original 3 booklets as well as all four of the eventual supplements that were published for the original D&D game. This new edition provides new cover art for all of the booklets. The Eldritch Wizardry cover that freaked my neighbor out so much when I was a kid is no longer present, instead there is a picture of a Wizard summoning tentacles. This would probably still upset said neighbor, but it is a less controversial image. And the old cover is one that would stir up some serious discussions on my Facebook feed where the battle lines of some Lamentations of the Flame Princess fans would do virtual battle with some of the Athena Anthology supporters would debate its appropriateness. I won't enter that fray as I am a fan of LotFP and of many of the Progressive game design that has been created over the past few years. Regardless of anyone's thoughts on the Eldritch Wizardry cover, the Greyhawk cover is a beauty.

Covers aside, there is plenty to discuss regarding the interiors of the booklets which are unchanged from the original -- or largely unchanged. Part of me thinks this is endearing as it lets gamers see the art that inspired a 40 year old hobby. The other part of me thinks that if they were going to redo any of the art, they might as well have replaced the interior art. There are talented artists who could have done chiaroscuro work that was an homage to the old art, but didn't look like doodles that ...well...I drew. Then again, that might just be the point. Anyone is a good enough artist to draw visual monsters for their home campaign. All you need is suspension of disbelief.

There is no inclusion of the Chainmail rules set here, so you will have to play D&D using the "optional" combat system presented in the first booklet. Thankfully, that system was the basis for the modern d20 engine and can be easily learned by the modern gamer. Or, rather it can be created rather easily by the modern gamer as this game is nigh unplayable by itself without some interpretation and house rules. This is why there were articles written and an explosion of alternate RPGs. The modern gamer has 40 years of interpretation, precedent, and house rules to work with so we can actually use these rules, but I do warn you that they are a bit different from what you might be used to.

Which brings me to the point I hinted at during the opening paragraph. This product points to Hasbro's new corporate strategy -- or rather a better tactical application of their long time strategy -- they want to have "a D&D experience for every gamer at your table." They make this abundantly clear with an advertising flier containing that very quote. In the past, the tactic used by Hasbro to advance the strategy of "a D&D for everyone" was an attempt to create a "perfect D&D" that was balanced, appealed to old gamers, and was hip for new gamers. This was what 4th edition was trying to be, a D&D for everyone. That tactic failed. It insulted some gamers and further fractured the customer base.

The new tactic is very different and is what Hasbro should have been doing all along. That tactic is to provide products with D&D Intellectual Property and Brand that match the needs of various gamers.

Want old school games?

Cool. Hasbro will release old rule books in collectors editions and pdfs. You can play D&D as it was originally played.

Want to play 2nd through 4th edition? 

Those are being supported too in different ways.

Interested in D&D Next our new rules set that is a combination of old and new school design and fairly easily converted between editions?

That will be coming out this year.

Are you a Eurogamer?




Casual RPG/Board Gamer?

Our Ravenloft, Ashardalon, and Drizzt game is just right for you.

New to gaming?

Try DUNGEON out.

The same is true for video games etc. and I think that this is a wonderful approach by Hasbro. The games they have been designing to support their IP have been excellent. RAVENLOFT and LORDS OF WATERDEEP have been played several times by my group over the past two years and the digital app version of WATERDEEP is looking pretty compelling to me.

So how about it? Would you like to play a game?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Joys of Being a Geek Dad #3167(a).1 -- Warhammer Thank You Letters

I run D&D Encounters at my Friendly Local Game Store in Burbank, CA once a week in the evening. Because my wife Jody works during the time I am running the game, I bring my daughters History and Mystery to the game store with me (that's them in the banner above). They play with some of "dad's little guys," color, watch movies, and come over to the table to ask questions while we play. At the end of most of these evenings the girls get a comic book "for good behavior."

This past week I was playing with my regular group and my daughters decided to write thank you letters to the game store. Here is what they did -- oh...and keep in mind that they are 4 years old.

The drawing above is by my daughter History. She's written the word Warhammer -- missing two Ms -- and drawn the game playing table where players can play Warhammer. I was pretty impressed by her inclusion of terrain on the table.

Next up is my daughter Mystery who tried to write Thank You -- that's the Thathe Uouu which is her own attempt -- she then asked me how to spell it. I told her and she wrote Thank You To Gome Stre which is her way of writing game store. All I can say is Yay phonetics!  Both History and Mystery are getting very good at figuring out the consonants in words. The vowels are sometimes tricky, but they seem to be catching those too.  

Last, but certainly not least, is this beauty were Mystery has repeatedly written Warhammer on a sheet of paper. I'm tempted to have this made into a T-shirt.

Friday, August 17, 2012

D&D Keynote -- A Focus on Vision Rather than Hype

In prior years, the Gen Con presentations by Wizards of the Coast have focused on selling consumers on an upcoming product. The staff of wizards would present the upcoming year's product line up, or try to sell the audience that the latest edition or product line was the best invention since the dawn of role playing. This tendency hit its peak with the launch of 4th Edition in 2008. The prior year's presentation was filled with advertising buzzwords and alienated some gamers.
This year, Wizards of the Coast decided to try an entirely different tactic. They still provided presentations about product lines that gave gamers a look at what was coming out in the near future, but they also sponsored their first Keynote Address. During the address, Wizards of the Coast CEO Greg Leeds discussed the company's vision as it faced the challenge of providing consumers with "D&D Next." That vision was to ensure that Wizards worked with the most talented designers possible, and to make sure that the D&D brand was controlled by the most important individuals. Who are the most important individuals to D&D and the brand? The fans. The vision of D&D Next and the Future of D&D is to let the fans make D&D the game they want it to be.

Leeds' comments were brief and to the point.  He wasn't selling a line of products or attempting to build hype for D&D Next.  In fact, his portion of the presentation was very low key.  He was focusing on the vision of the "Future of D&D."

After his initial presentation, Kevin Kulp of EN World came onto the stage to talk with three people heavily involved with the production of what will be the next edition of D&D, an edition that according to Mike Mearls still faces 2 years of playtesting.  Mike Mearls -- the head of the design team -- was joined by Ed Greenwood and Jon Schindehette who are involved with the creative side of the development of the next edition of the game.  Ed is working on the literary elements and Jon on the visual elements, and both are working with the design team to ensure that the next edition will work for a broader number of fans than the last edition.

As can be discerned from the above commentary, the focus of Wizards' vision is on fan involvement.  This includes more than having the fans participate in a two and a half year open playtest, it also involves letting the fans influence the direction that future content evolves.

Mearls described D&D as "more than a game, it is a shared experience.  It is about drama, the table, the thrill of victory, and the agony of a natural one."  He also stressed that the point of D&D is the people, the DM and the Players.  D&D -- at least in earlier editions -- is the one game where the rulebook tells you to break the rules.  D&D Next will be about putting the rules behind us and letting the players tell the stories they want to tell.

As an example, the Forgotten Realms will be the first setting released for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons and like in previous edition changes there will be a major event that shakes the world -- an event called "The Sundering."

The highlight of the event will be a series of six books by many of the big Realms authors:

R.A. Salvatore will write the first book in the series, THE COMPANIONS
Paul Kemp will write THE GODBORN
Erin M. Evans writes THE ADVERSARY
Richard Lee Byers writes THE REAVER
Troy Denning writes THE SENTINEL
Ed Greenwood writes THE HERALD

These books will give points of view of the events that make up "The Sundering," but unlike in  previous editions, the players and the results of the adventures they play in the Realms will now shape the future of the setting.

You read that correctly, no longer will the "Giants of the Realms" like Elminster, Drizzt, Khelben Blackstaff be the ones who shape the world.  Instead the campaigns that people play in -- at least those who use published adventures -- will shape the future of the official world.  Let's hope that Wizards is able to use the skills they gained from the old Living City experience, as well as by watching the development of Legend of the Five Rings, to make this work fluidly.

Additionally, and most excitingly, Wizards will be rolling out their full back catalog of D&D products in digital form.  Starting early next year, Wizards will release the first wave of digital products.  They are using the lessons they learned from producing the collector's editions of the AD&D books to inform the production of these digital offerings.  Good news indeed, as the old scans often seemed rushed.  Wizards won't release all the products in one lump sum, rather they will release them in waves.  This ensures quality and means that Wizards will officially be supporting all editions of D&D.  They will truly be supporting all fans, even those who won't play D&D Next.

I for one am excited about the "Future of D&D."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

[Dice Chuckers] Why I'm Having Talented People Direct the Film

It's been a dream of mine to make a documentary about role playing games and gamers. Since I was a kid, I have thought that the representations of gamers in the mass media have been denigrating.  I think that Michelle Nephew, in the excerpt of her dissertation published in Gaming As Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity And Experience in Fantasy Games, captures the presentation of gamers perfectly when she writes:

[R]ole-players are problematic for the dominant culture, can't be dismissed as intellectually inferior...In reaction to this unresolveable circumstance, fan cultures are instead interpreted by the dominant culture as being brainless consumers, cultivators of worthless knowledge, who place inappropriate importance on devalued cultural material.  They are seen as social misfits, emotionally and intellectually immature, unable to separate fantasy from reality, and are feminized or desexualized as a result.

The dominant culture's attempts to feminize and desexualize participants in the RPG fan culture can be seen in the yearly media coverage of GenCon, the United States' largest role-playing convention.  Full-page color spreads of convention-goers dressed in medieval armor or as Klingons regularly decorated the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's City pages before the convention moved to Indianapolis in 2003.  Other photos showed awkward, aging boys with Dungeons & Dragons t-shirts stretched taut across their bellies, holding up their prized custom-painted fantasy miniatures for the camera.  Year after year, the media coverage of the event took a "look at the freaks" approach that did, indeed, portray male RPG fans as de-gendered, asexual, and impotent.
She doesn't mince words, does she?

This is exactly the kind of presentation that we don't want to do with Dice Chuckers.  Yes, we want to show gamers having fun and cutting loose at conventions like Gen Con.  Cos-Play can be a great way to enjoy one's self at a con, but it isn't the sole behavior of convention attendees nor are most Cos-Players infantile in their day to day lives. We want to show subjects who play role-playing games and for whom the playing of these games has been a benefit.  Whether as a creative outlet, a place of inspiration, or a place to make and keep life long friends, hobby gaming is a wonderful hobby and I want to share my love of that hobby.

Now...if I were to make a film about the hobby by myself, it might end up looking something like the "Support Dice Chuckers" video I put together using my iPhone.  You can watch it below...needless to say, there is a reason I will be working with Wes and other professionals.  The fact that I was unable to capture the sound properly -- due to background noise -- combined with the my classic Hong Kong style dubbing are proof that my skills lie in recruiting participants and not in filming them.

Please support our humble project.  We'd love to make the film, and to make one that will make the hobby proud.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"The Silence of Metaphysics" -- DM Advice: Stealing Ideas from Other Sites the Zak S. Edition #431

I'm a frequent reader, and infrequent commenter, on Zak S's gaming website "Playing D&D with Not Safe for Work."  That's not the site's actual name, that's the "Safe for Work" version.  It's a site that is, in my opinion, actually pretty safe for work...unless your work place values productivity.  Zak is an extremely creative guy, who has the gift of being able to explore ideas.  Most gamers have the ability to come up with ideas, but many of us refrain from truly exploring them.  This isn't good.  Zak's website is good, great even.  I have actually lost count of the number of his ideas that I have lifted for my own home games or for the Encounters group I run each week.  I invented the number 431 for the purpose of the post, as it is probably more than the actual number of times but is potentially less.

This isn't to say that I always agree with Zak regarding the quality of rules sets or that a particular style of play is what I want at my table.  No.  What I appreciate is his willingness to explore ideas and to present them and really engage with them.  It adds value to the hobby and makes the game better by providing fodder for thought and inspiration, and that's what every DM needs.

To have a fun game, a good DM needs not only to be able to come up with good ideas on his or her own, but a good DM also needs to be willing to steal ideas from every source possible in order to provide a good time to players.  That's the DM's job.  Make sure others have a good time.  The fact that Zak's site is a rich place to borrow from, is why I'm writing this post.

Which brings me to "The Silence of the Metaphysics"...a new campaign setting for your role playing pleasure.  Zak recently posted an article entitled "Cats Outside the Factory that Makes Cheeses."  It's a thought experiment post that results in one of the best articles I think I've ever read on the internet.  The article begins with three simple steps -- like an Agent Oso plan:

 1. Take an RPG product you find profoundly uninspiring

2. Turn to the first page

3. Going sentence by sentence, write the exact opposite until you have a whole game.

Zak then proceeds to apply these steps to a well known independent role playing game, and the end result is "Cats Outside the Factory that Makes Cheeses," which could be a role playing game or an episode of the classic "Avengers" or "The Prisoner" television series.

My thought was that this wasn't just a good idea for games that one finds "profoundly uninspiring," but would also work with ones that one does find inspiring.  And so, I now give you...

The Silence of Metaphysics
Slow-Finish Rules 

Slow-Finish Rules for "The Silence of Metaphysics" Role Playing Game
Includes the unpopular adventure, "The Mundane!"

The Unimpressive New Multitudes have been governed all over the earth since the rise of humankind.  In the end they will burrow into the depths of the earth and will be worshiped by even lesser beings.  Blueprints of their tiny farms and shared secrets will not be found on remote islands in the Pacific, laying boldly on top of the stiff trees of small forests, or in the blistering openings of the equatorial regions.  Now they are awake -- some high above in the firmament and others above the temporary sea, in the dry city of Davis, rotting in the sands by the science of weak metaphysics.  When the Earth is wrong they will burrow, and never again fly in Space.

Silence of Metaphysics is a new roleplaying game of Henry Jamesian heroism in which extraordinary people are confronted by the calming and natural forces of Material Science...     

Courage. Heroism. Bravery is at the edge of our existence.  Tales of Heroism provide re-enforcement to the joy we hold in our souls on a day-to-day level. first that doesn't seem all that great.  Certainly it isn't as surreal as Zak's "Cats," but I think there is a seed of an idea.  Let's consider this a first draft and move forward.

We have the "Unimpressive New Multitudes" who have been subjugated to the rule of mankind.  

They are not secret, their secrets have been shared.  They have recently been "awakened" from their places flying above the earth and seas.

At some great cataclysm they will burrow into the earth and disappear forever.


And there are characters who are extraordinary people confronting the mundane and natural forces of Material Science.

Aha!  The characters are extraordinary in a mundane oppressive world...a world of pure materialism...except for the PCs.  A world in which a population -- inhuman but new -- are subjugated by mankind.  The New Multitudes once flew high, but do so no longer.

The PCs are creatures of legend who feel the weight and power of the will of mankind stripping them of their innate extraordinary powers.  They are fighting a futile battle against the will of mankind.  They will be thrown into the dustbin of history, but what will the PCs do before that happens?

I don't know...this needs more work, but I'd like to see where Eric and my other friends might take it.

"The Earth is Wrong!"

Friday, April 13, 2012

What Every Gamer Should Know About Probability

Given that most analog games -- whether role playing games or table top games -- use some form of randomizer in their determination of successful or unsuccessful outcomes, every gamer should have at least a basic understanding of probability and statistics.  One doesn't need learn enough to become a professor of statistics or a professional poker player, but if you have an opportunity to take an intro to statistics class I highly recommend it.

If you cannot afford either the time or the money to take a class on statistics, I recommend Reiner Knizia's "Dice Games Properly Explained" and "Scarne On Dice."  Both of these books have excellent chapters discussing dice and how to determine probabilities of outcomes.  These are vital books, especially if you wish to become a game designer.  I find that the biggest weakness of many games is the designer's lack of understanding of basic statistics (or bad application of them when the designer does have an understanding), or a failure to explain the underlying statistical engine of a game to the players.  The Dream Park role playing game by Mike Pondsmith is an example of an otherwise great game that has some serious statistics problems in its basic mechanics, and the otherwise brilliant Feng Shui game does a poor job of stating flat out that the average bonus toward success that a player's given die roll provides is zero.  For proper play, games like these either need tweaking or careful adventure design by the game master.  This is especially true in Feng Shui where the addition of a "mere" 3 points to a villains attributes/skills can significantly affect probabilities.  For example...did you know that in all "balanced" encounters in 4e Dungeons and Dragons, that level is essentially a meaningless construct?  Since the players and monsters advance on the same linear path, To hit = x + level, Defense = y + level, Skill DC = x + level...the probabilities set at first level essentially remain true throughout the game.  Only the length of combat changes.

Let me be the first to admit that I am no professor of statistics myself.  I have taken three courses on statistics, which makes me good enough at them to make stupid mistakes in algorithm designs but hopefully smart enough to admit when I've made a mistake.  This is one of the reason I often harass other gamers, who are in fact professors of statistics, to either review my stuff or to help design an analysis.  When I do have stuff reviewed, it tends to be very good.  When I don't...invariably there is an error.  Ugh.

This is because statistics aren't always intuitive.  One of the questions that Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has researched throughout his career is whether we have an "innate" or "subconscious" ability to make probabilistic determinations.  In his excellent book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman gives a nice overview of his life's work on the human mind's ability to count, make correlations, detect patterns, and whether we are good at "intuitive" statistics.  What he found, and others, is that the human capacity to recognize patterns and to make associations also makes us very poor at intuitive statistics.  Our mind can at a split second -- and without effort -- make all kinds of calculations and recognize associations, but to accurately figure out probabilities takes work.  Our very ability to make associations works against the skills needed to apply statistics.  Thankfully, we are good at analytical thought -- but that takes more effort than our associative abilities.

One of the key ways that our ability to recognize and induct from patterns, a wonderfully useful skill, is in the "law of averages."  There is no such thing.  It seems like there should be, but there isn't.  If the random events are independent of one another -- meaning that prior acts don't affect future ones -- it doesn't matter how many times you've flipped a coin and had it turn out to be heads.  The play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead plays with this concept wonderfully.

In fact, game designer and podcaster extraordinaire Geoff Engelstein has a nice discussion of this misleading "law" that often infects our minds as gamers.

Note that all of the above applies to the use of dice -- or other independent randomizers -- and not to the use of cards.  Cards aren't independent in their randomization.  What cards have been used affects what cards remain available -- but that is a discussion for another post.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Trying to Stand Out in a World of Kickstarting Awesome

Where to begin...where to begin?

I have long been a big believer in independent projects and fan supported endeavors, especially in the hobby gaming community.  It seems to me one of the best ways to ensure that the projects we want continue to get made, especially when "start up" costs would be too expensive to raise otherwise.  Pre-funding projects allows gamers to become a kind of venture capitalist, angel investor even, in some exciting products.

I was one of the first patrons of Wolfgang Baur's excellent Open Design Project.  I interviewed Wolfgang for my Geekerati podcast and am a long time subscriber to his Kobold Quarterly.  I think what Wolfgang has been doing for the gaming community with his "Switzerland of the Edition Wars" magazine and projects, is a great service.  He not only produces fantastic gaming products, but involves the community in those projects as well.  If only he would recognize me the next time I introduce myself to him at a con... ;-)

I have also been a long time customer of the Indie Press Revolution.  While not as "venture" oriented as the Open Design project, IPR has helped a lot of games that might otherwise have been overlooked get release and play.  It was the first place that I saw "Spirit of the Century," a fantastic game by Fred Hicks' company Evil Hat Games.  I like to think that my friend Eric's successful creation and launching of "Race to Adventure" started with my purchase of SotC and my excitement about the company.  I take no credit for Eric's game itself, I just imagine that I motivated a handshake that led to gold.

I really have to thank Ken Hite for pointing me in the direction of IPR and the games it offers, so ultimate credit for the handshake would transfer from me to him anyway.  I also have to thank him for directing me to Pelgrane Press and their Gumshoe product line.  I've been pre-ordering -- a kind of venture capital/patronage -- the games in their line for a couple of years now, and have been impressed every time.  I also have to thank James Maliszewski -- who I discovered at IPR -- for pointing me in the direction of a number of other independent projects in the Old School Renaissance/Revolution (OSR).  Thanks to James, I have ordered the White Box of Sword and Sorcery and Delving Deeper -- a product that I have been waiting for quite some time to examine.

And prior to Kickstarter, word of mouth through blogs and whispers at conventions and in game stores was really the only way one could find out about exciting projects that needed "pre-release" support.  In the past couple of years though, as Kickstarter has grown and along with it the number of successful projects -- Kickstarter has become a go to place for exciting gaming related products.

Which is why last March, my business partners and I at Twin Suns Entertainment decided to launch our initial product offering on the site.  Our vision was to make a documentary film that told a surprising tale about the people who play role playing games, a tale that broke stereotypes.  We wanted to show the world that gamers come in all stripes, from students to professors and from attorneys to screenwriters.  Gamers come from all walks of life, and the only real stereotype about gamers is that they enjoy games.  That had been our experience and we want to share that with the world.

We also want to do it right...which isn't cheap.  We want to follow a number of gamers (say four) in their day to day lives, gamers on different coasts with diverse backgrounds.  We also wanted to interview experts and visit the homeland of gaming...Wisconsin, as well as a couple of major conventions like PAX and GenCon.  Add visits to major publishers to this mix, and the travel expenses get pretty high.  But we want to do it right, and that means a pretty sizable budget of $41,000 or so.  That isn't huge by film making standards, but it's pretty big for a first Kickstarter project.  This is especially true when it comes to competing in a saturated market, by which I mean a market saturated with projects worth backing.  I would have to be arrogant and ignorant to think that our project was the only project worth backing.  I think our project is the best idea of all time, but I am still dumbstruck by the awesome that emanates from the minds of my fellow gamers.  Let me give you a few examples of what I have recently supported...if you are interested in everything I support you can check out my profile.  Oh...and not all of what I am currently backing is game related.  There really is a ton of great stuff out there.

So, here goes.  I have recently supported:

  1. Xombie: Death Warmed Over by Epic Level Entertainment.  Epic Level produces the very funny web series "Dungeon Bastard," and I loved the original Xombie stuff so this was a natural for me.  I would love it if Cindi Rice would participate in our documentary.  The Dungeon Bastard himself has agreed to let us invade his life, but to share with others the journey from game creator to television producer is one I would love to provide.
  2. Random Dungeon Generator as Dungeon Map   I think the coolness of this project speaks for itself.
  3. Dwimmermount -- I told you I love James Maliszewski's stuff.
  4. Free RPG Day Adventure from Gaming Paper -- I have supported every one of Erik Bauer's Gaming Paper forays.  He's one of the nicest guys in the industry, and a Friendly Local Game Store owner.
  5. Geek Seekers starring Monte Cook and Jen Page.  
  6. Tales of the Emerald Serpent -- A fiction anthology from Scott Taylor of Black Gate Magazine.  It harkens back to the old Liavek, Thieves' World, and Wild Cards anthologies.  I cannot wait.
And that is just a smattering.  There is a ton of great stuff out there.  You should support it.  

I'd love it if you'd support us in our project.  We've lined up some great participants who include the following:

  • John Rogers -- the creator of the Leverage TV show, author on the Blue Beetle comic book, user of unobtainium before Avatar, and player of Savage Worlds, D&D, and other games.
  • Ashley Miller -- screenwriter on Thor, and X-Men: First Class.  He and his group play an interesting mash up rpg that I hope I'll be able to share in more detail with you.
  • Cam Banks -- the creative force behind much of what Margaret Weis Productions is putting out these days.  His evolution of the Cortex system into the Cortex Plus system with games like Smallville, Leverage, and the Marvel RPG is quite remarkable.  
  • Matt Forbeck -- If credit for me even attempting a project in the gaming industry belongs to anyone, it belongs to Matt.  He is an incredibly nice guy, and is attempting a challenging project of his own.  He's trying to write 12 books in 12 months and to become a modern Walter Gibson.  Though he will have to become a professional grade magician -- you know card tricks etc. -- to truly match Gibson.
  • Ken St. Andre -- Not only was he the inventor of two of the earliest role playing games ever written -- Tunnels and Trolls and Starfaring -- he's offered to host a session of T&T at GenCon for us this year.
  • David Nett -- David is the creator of the entertaining webseries about gamers Gold: The Series.  It's not everyday that someone tries to make a dramatic comedy about our hobby.  He did, and with Night of the Zombie King -- the second Gold offering -- he accomplished that task with style.
We've got some great people involved in our project.  We are looking for more.  We hope that we can get Wil Wheaton or Felicia Day to participate.  They are in our neck of the woods after all, but they do have their own exciting projects lined up.  You might have heard of it.

It's pretty hard to stand out in a world of awesome, but that's what we are hoping to do.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

[DnDNext] What Makes a Rpg a "Role Playing Game"

Some of the early criticisms of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons was that the game over-emphasized miniatures play, it felt too much like a board game, it plays like a MMORPG, and skill challenges don't work.  While these criticisms might seem distinct from one another, they all share one quality.  Each of these criticisms has as a component that the critics felt that 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons had focused almost solely on the combat aspects of the game, and had forsaken the improvisational, acting, and role assuming, parts of the game that are the reasons that games like D&D are called role playing games in the first place.

I won't go into the legitimacy of these complaints, as they are highly contested matters of opinion where there are persuasive arguments on both sides.  I will say that I think that 4th edition is possibly the best fantasy tactical game I have ever played.  I will also say that the indie game influence skill challenges system is difficult to implement, but can create some of the most rewarding actual "role playing" experiences one can have in a game.

That said, what I really want to ask in this post -- ask you that is -- is what makes a role playing game a "role playing game?"  The hope is that someone at Wizards will read this discussion and bring some of the ideas to their playtest tables in house.  I'll provide a little context, but I hope that you will provide some opinions.

Back in what James Maliszewski would call "The Golden Age" of role playing games, Steve Jackson wrote an essay for the second issue of gaming magazine Different Worlds.  The essay was for a semi-regular column in DW entitled "My Life and Roleplaying" in which DW covered the lives of many people in the hobby.  In that essay, Steve Jackson points out that "most people reading [his essay] probably cut their gaming teeth on a role-playing game, years and years ago."  Given that Jackson was writing these words in 1979, this might seem a shocking statement to most gamers, and I do believe it was meant to be provocative.  Jackson followed this disarming statement with an even more controversial one, "The most popular board game ever developed in the US is pure role playing.  Yes...Monopoly.  Consider:  Each player takes on the role of a cheerfully rapacious real-estate tycoon, wheeling and dealing until he alone commands the board."

Jackson goes on to say that his own OGRE game is a role-playing game as well, a fact that he didn't realize for quite some time but true never the less by what he had come to consider a useful definition of a role playing game.  His definitions was:  A role-playing game is one that invites its players to take on a personality different from their own.

The key term for Jackson was the word "invites."  Rpgs don't require players to take on a different personality, but they do offer the opportunity.  Jackson was taken aback by the number of players who told him how much they like "being" the OGRE, and that was when he realized he had made a role playing game.

What also amazed him was how many people playing role-playing games don't ever take the time to play a role.  As he described it:

It is a shame that so many of their fans don't really bother with role-playing at all.
That, I'm afraid, was the first thing that impressed me about D&D -- and it's still true today, with that and almost every similar game.  Role-playing goes right out the window.  Every player is being himself, often in the most obnoxious fashion.  Whether he's swinging a sword or a wand, every adventure is the same.  Zap, slash, kill, loot.  What did we find?  Whoops, a random monster.  A million hit points.  Zap, slash, kill.  A million experience point.  Babble, babble, 27th level Brouhaha with a Ring of Instant Permanent Total Monster Charming.  *yawn*
 Jackson is quick to point out that not all role playing sessions are played this way, but that every game has players who play this way.  It was his goal to write the rules of The Fantasy Trip to disincentivize that kind of play and to encourage actual role playing.

I think that 4th edition encourages role playing in some ways, but also discourages it in others.  There is no rich IP in the initial rules of 4e, so the players are left to imagine only a world of stats and powers.  Heck, even the way that powers are presented -- effectively as Magic: The Gathering cards -- fails to support role playing aspects of the game.  There is little advice, in the Player's Handbook, regarding creating a collaborative story and there are seemingly no rewards for them -- only rewards for hitting "plot points."  What about rewards for entertaining play?  Interestingly, the Organized Play rules -- for Encounters -- include benefits for a "moment of greatness" a feature that can encourage actual roleplaying in addition to tactical innovation.  With no rich backdrop, and detailed rules for combat, what is the player to think the game plays like?

Even when the DMG for 4e, and even more so the DMG 2, provide some great tools for fostering "role" playing -- the fact is that the Player's Handbook doesn't.  I think this is what led many players to think that 4e de-emphasized role playing in favor of tactical combat.  Was it true?  Not necessarily, but it seemed true.

But in order to write rule books that foster role playing, it is necessary to come to a useful definition -- or many useful examples -- of what role playing is.  This is where you come in.  If you were writing for DnDNext, how would you describe role playing?  What examples would you use?  If you were to bring in the very "Indie" skill challenge system -- it's straight out of Burning Wheel -- how would you describe it?


Friday, March 30, 2012

[DnDNext] Warding Off System Snobbery

I'm as guilty of it as the next gamer.  If you mention that you play F.A.T.A.L. or one of a small list of games, I will roll my eyes derisively and mock you behind your back.  I might even make a snide comment about your gaming preferences.  Equally, I will be deeply offended if you roll your eyes at me when I mention that I love playing Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Essential Edition or The Rocky and Bullwinkle Role Playing Party Game.  It's System Snobbery and one thing that the "edition wars" and the recent "dndnext" conversations have aptly demonstrated, it is alive and well.

The thing is that System Snobbery isn't new, and it isn't beneficial to the hobby as a whole.  I was recently reminded of how insidious System Snobbery can be when I picked up and read Laryy DiTillio's commentary on the topic in issue 7 of Different Worlds Magazine.  I've been spending a lot of time recently reading old gaming magazines, magazines from when I was just getting into the hobby.  At the time, as a tween, I had neither the resources nor the knowledge that gaming magazines other than "The Dragon" existed at all.  Heck, even though I lived in the same town as the talented and prolific Allen Varney -- we probably shopped at the same game store -- I hadn't even heard of The Space Gamer at the time.

Back to the point though.  In his commentary on System Snobbery, Larry DiTillio has a couple of key observations that I think are worth sharing as we enter discussions regarding what we would like to see from a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

Larry's commentary follows a visit in 1979 to a reasonably sized convention in Oakland, CA called GrimCon.  He mentions that the games organizers all are employees/founders of various small gaming companies like the Multiversal Trading Company and Grimoire Games.  As such, the Con offered a lot of non-traditional role playing games as their "tournament fare." 

Larry's firsts observation of gaming snobbery was that while the hosts of the convention were offering a wide variety of games for sampling, that the attendees pretty much ignored them to spend time in the open gaming area to play D&D.  His thoughts, and I agree, were that conventions are the perfect time to try something new.

His second observation is of how he was treated at a DunDraCon event.  At the event, Larry was scheduled to run a session of Tunnels and Trolls.  He had been invited to DunDraCon IV by Steve Perrin to run the game. After sitting and waiting for players to show up, eventually a convention representative asked Larry why he had cancelled is T&T session.  He notified them he hadn't, but discovered that someone had -- likely as a prank -- written "cancelled" on his sign up sheet.  He eventually got gamers to a T&T table, but not before being passive aggressively bullied by some System-hater. 

Larry makes a number of other observations, and is a talented storyteller in how he shares them, so I recommend picking up the issue.  The crux of is article is the following:

"[A Good GM] will provide you with and enjoyable, rewarding RPG [experience].  NO MATTER WHAT SYSTEM THEY PREFER." So long as the GM is talented and committed to providing the players with a good time.  He also acknowledges that we should be thankful to Steve Perrin (for "Runequest), to Dave Hargrave ("Arduin"), Ken St. Andre (T&T), Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (D&D).  I would add that in the years since, we have many more names to add to the list.  These names range from Greg Gorden (007 and DC Heroes) to Mike Mearls (4e) and from Erik Mona (Pathfinder) to Chris Pramas (AGE/Green Ronin) to name only a few.  We should also thank those, like Shelly Mazzanoble, who may not be among the "creators" of our games, but who stand at the front lines of those who promote our hobby and try to bring new people in.  Not to mention the great stuff coming out of the Indie games marketplace.

Instead of being snobbish about the games we don't like, we should be thankful that we have so many great ones to choose from.  Does that mean that we cannot criticize mechanics?  No.  We can and should, in a constructive manner that moves the hobby forward.  We just shouldn't disparage people for preferring a system.

Gaming Snobbery...and public snobbery against gamers...are a couple of the reasons Wes, Joel, and I created the Dice Chuckers project.  Join us in that project as either a sponsor, a participant, or in conversation.  We'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DNDNext: The Kids Are Alright -- He-Man, Cartoons, and D&D

When I was around 11 or 12 years old, my best friend Sean McPhail and I used to play a fair amount of D&D.  Our first foray into the hobby wasn't the best experience, we had a killer DM who had "memorized" his own personal dungeon.  I have discussed that particular debacle in an earlier post.  I am glad that my initial terrible introduction to D&D didn't sour me on the hobby as a whole, or the game in particular.  I have a number of wonderful hobby related memories, and keep making new ones each week when I run games today.

Of those wonderful memories, there are a couple that stand out brilliantly in my mind.  There is the use of the D&D Basic set as a substitute for the combat system in Broadsides & Boarding Parties.  There is the 20 PC siege of The Keep on the Borderlands...  Hey...the book provided stats for the residents of the Keep, that meant we were supposed to attack it right?  Stats = dungeon right?  No?  Well, we thought so at the time and Darg and his crew had a good time sacking the Keep.  There was also a great run through Castle Ravenloft.  These were all experiences with Sean, and they were a great deal of fun.

But these weren't my most cherished D&D moment with Sean.  No indeed.  My most cherished D&D moment with him was when he ran his He-Man and the Masters of the Universe inspired dungeon.  It was a dungeon that he had drawn out himself.  The map was a complex maze of rooms that was a wonder to behold and a challenge to map out.  In one of the rooms of that dungeon was a deadly Death Knight with it's delay blast fireball gems.  In another room...and I'm getting overwhelmed with nostalgia just thinking about it was ... Beast Man.  Beast Man was the challenge of challenges, and Sean presented him with awe inspiring description.  He was the most intimidating foe my characters had faced to date.  I don't know what Sean's full write up for the character was, but I do know that the blue gem in Beast Man's chest had a "sleep" spell within it that overwhelmed one of my characters.  It was good stuff.

The toys, and cartoon, had inspired Sean and he in turn created an adventure that left me with one of my all time favorite D&D memories.  What I didn't know at the time was that the writers of He-Man, Larry DiTillio for one, were players of D&D and that He-Man was in some ways a D&D cartoon.  Fans of a certain age all know and love the old D&D cartoon with Hank the Ranger and Eric the Cavalier, but many of us also have a deep and abiding love for He-Man as well.  For those of you who wonder just how much D&D influenced the He-Man show, let me share with you the words of Larry DiTillio (who also wrote Tunnels and Trolls adventures)  who was a writer on the TV series. 

 In issue 34 of Different Worlds, Larry writes:

Incidentally, knowing Ye Ol' Sword is a game buff, it should come as no surprise that I often use game concepts in writing He-Man scripts. This includes spells, characters, traps, and plot twists.  In fact, I even inserted a much-beloved dragon from one of my game supplements into a show and much to my delight the character proved popular enough to warrant a sequel.  See how games and films fit together?  He-Man fans should also keep an ear open for famous names from gaming, an inside joke I sometimes like to throw in my animated stories.

D&D was not just a part of popular culture, it was a part of the popular culture of the youth of the age.  We grew up with the Moldvay/Cook Basic set with its Jeff Dee, Bill Willingham, and Erol Otus artwork.  Artwork that was cartoony and that translated fantasy perfectly for the minds of 9 to 13 year olds of the era.  It was the perfect "tween" introduction to the hobby.  The Mentzer basic set that followed continued the tradition and provided a perfect jumping on place for younger players.  Let the older players start with the AD&D books without the need of a basic set -- such as those in the Space Gamer crowd who asserted that the Basic set was a moot and unnecessary product.

It wasn't an unnecessary product, it was vital.  It was a product that brought an entire generation into the hobby.  Even with a horrible first experience with the game, Tom Moldvay's playful tone made sure that I retained my interest in the hobby.  The Basic Set was marketed at younger gamers, but it wasn't "dumbed down" for younger gamers.  It included all the rules of original D&D, but in a more coherent format.  It lacked some of the complexities of AD&D, but it perfectly prepared players for those complexities.

D&D Next needs to make sure that it has a product -- from day one -- that is aimed at younger gamers and the beginning gamer.  It needs a true basic set along the lines of those old ones.  The more recent "Red Box" edition that Wizards released to promote the Essentials line doesn't cut it.  I love that box and think that it was a good product, but the Essentials books themselves better fit the bill of what I am referring to.  If the Red Box included Heroes of the Fallen Lands, that would be what I am talking about.  Maybe with some artwork by the artists who are working diligently and with artistry on the current D&D comic books.  Andrea Di Vito has done some great work on that book.  My recommendation is that a new basic box have a cover that looks something like the following, and with rules aimed at the younger generation. 

We were all new gamers once.  Let's try and introduce new gamers with the same open arms and seriousness with which we were greeted.  Let's create a new line of toys, a new animated series, and more boardgames like the recent "D&D Adventure Series."

Friday, March 16, 2012

DnDNext: What's Wrong with Having Armor "Reduce Damage" in RPGs?

Last year, I posted about the various rpg mechanics for representing the effects of armor in combat.  I often hear from some corners of the gaming community that armor "reduces damage" and it shouldn't "reduce your ability to hit." 

On the surface, this argument makes sense.  Armor prevents the impact of a blow that did in fact come into contact with you from doing damage, and it doesn't make opponent's "whiff."

The problems with the argument only really come to the fore when one looks at armor from a strictly mechanical presentation.  As my prior article mentioned, all armor effects are part of a linear equation -- at least in systems with a "to hit" mechanic.  The to-hit roll represents one variable, the damage roll another, etc.

Damage = (Probability of an attack hitting)*[average weapon damage + damage bonus] - Damage Reduction

Pretty much all role playing games have some variation of this basic equation.  Hero games, d20, Chaosium's systems...they all have some variation of the basic linear equation above.  What this means in mechanical terms is that whether you use damage reduction or you use "increased chance to miss" armor always mechanically reduces damage.  If it only reduces the probability of an attack "hitting," then it reduces the average damage of an attack by that percentage.  In d20 based systems, this means that armor reduces damage by approximately 5% per point of armor class.  One could arguably represent armor as a percentage damage reduction without ever altering any mechanics in D&D by doing exactly this.

There are many "reduce damage" systems on the market, Tunnels and Trolls and Hero come to mind quite readily.  Some of these systems understand the linear equation and thus their mechanics reflect a certain threshold of effectiveness that armor/defenses should apply to attacks.  T&T doesn't have "to-hit" rolls in the traditional sense at all, so having armor reduce damage is a direct effect of that system.  Hero's mechanics are heavily playtested and balanced applications that are quite mechanically robust, and I won't bore you with the details of point cost to damage effectiveness.  Just let me say that the system is remarkably predictable in this an amazing way.

While there are very sophisticated, or simple, damage reduction systems that work, I think that a large number of these systems don't work at all.  Those that don't work tend not to work because they fail to understand that the mechanical equation is always a linear equation and they end up with armor reductions that are out of order with the basic percentages to-hit.  By having a to-hit roll, which as I mentioned is a percentage of damage reduction system in its nature, with an added static damage reduction system armor there is the potential to create everlasting combats.  This is because the armor reduction values often end up as making the effective Damage Per Round of attacks zero.

To illustrate this, I'd like to look at Christopher McDowall's new quick to play game Into the Odd.  The game is open for playtesting under the Creative Commons, and I recommend taking a look.  It has some very good ideas.  I like that the system is based on an underlying ability "Save" system that has quick and easy determination of attribute bonuses that reflect a nice bell curve.

Attributes range from 5 to 15 and bonuses range from -5 to +5.  The bonuses are applied to rolls against an opponent's attribute.  Roll d20 and add your bonus, if it equals or exceeds the opponent's attribute (or the difficulty of a non character task) then you are successful.  Quick and elegant.  I really like it.

That said, Into the Odd includes a "dodge" system and an armor damage reduction system.  Armor doesn't increase the chance to dodge, it reduces damage directly, but players have a chance to dodge and suffer no damage.  The basic combat system is as follows:

  • Attacker rolls damage -- the assumption is that if an attack isn't actively dodged then it hits.  I like that.
  • Damage bonuses (from size of weapon, magic, or circumstances) are applied.
  • Subtract Armor Reduction.
  • Target rolls to avoid attack.
In the linear equation, this would look as follows:

Damage = [Damage Rolled + Damage Bonuses-Armor Defense] * Chance to Avoid Damage

The average damage per round for a light weapon (which does 1d6 damage) would be:

Avg. DPR = [3.5+0-Armor]*Chance to Avoid Damage

By having the reduction effect applied before the chance to avoid, McDowall allows for some interesting effects and makes the damage reduction effect less exaggerated than it would be if armor's bonus was applied after the chance to dodge was resolved.  But armor still has an amazing effect on the game's combat system.  Let's look at the average damage of a light weapon versus the armor types based on an opponent's attribute. 

You can see by looking at the picture that even light armor provides a pretty significant defense against a light weapon.  The average damage of a light weapon is 3.5, but depending on your opponent's STR you might take as little as 0.5 points of damage on average per round.  The above chart includes the chance to dodge factored into the damage equation.  If you have a 10 in a stat and you are trying to dodge someone with a 15, you have only a 30% chance of success (15+ on the roll). 

But let's look at the Armor reduction from a different perspective.  Let's remove the effect of the dodge roll completely.  Into the Odd doesn't give Armor defensive reduction values that look in any way extreme.  Light armor subtracts one point, heavy two, and a shield adds one additional point.  That seems pretty moderate...until you look at how big a percentage of damage this is for an average light weapon.

Light Armor's 1 point of reduction is 28.57% of the average damage (3.5) of a Light Weapon, and heavy armor and shield reduce the average damage amount by 85.71%.  This is before any chance to dodge has been applied.  You see similar, though not as drastic effects, against the "maximum" damage a light weapon can do.  The protection of Light Armor, against a Light Weapon's average damage, is a greater percentage than would be gained by having a +5 bonus from a statistic.  Wearing Light Armor is a better benefit than being among the 2.78% most physically capable people in the world.

Here you can see that even when applied to the maximum amount of damage possible from a Light Weapon, Light Armor reduces the damage by 16.67%.  This is the equivalent reduction of having a +3 bonus in a statistic.  The amount of protection provided makes equipment more important than statistics in Into the Odd.  

This seems odd to me.  Should Light Armor be a better defense than being epically agile?  I don't think so, but that is what is reflected in this system.  If weapons did more damage, then this effect would be muted.  If attribute bonuses were added to the damage dealt, this is not clear in the rules as written, the effect of attributes would be increased.  My personal recommendation for this system is to step up the weapons a die, or to use something other than a d20 for the dodge roll.  The d20 has linear probability of 5% for any value, and thus each +1 bonus equals a 5% shift.  If a 2d6+bonus system vs attribute were used, this would radically change things and make attributes matter more.  

As you can see, even when an armor "reduction" value is low, it might end up being the most significant combat effect.  Is this the effect you want in your game?  If it is, then this is what you want.  If you want the game to be attribute -- or even skill driven -- then you might want to consider some alternatives.  I like the "armor penetration" roll system where each armor has a penetration value that must be equaled or exceeded to hit the target underneath and where different weapons roll different armor penetration dice.  This is the system used by the classic game Dragon Warriors.  You can also create an "armor save" where armor protects from damage on a specific roll.  Say a 6 or better.  Light Armor could roll a d6, Medium a d8, Heavy a d10 and a shield could provide a die bump to the next better die.

Remember that damage when converted to a mechanic always creates an equation.  Look at how big a factor armor ends up being in that equation and ask if that is what you want.  In D&D attributes and Armor are equal in what a +1 difference means.  A +1 to hit increases damage by 5% and an increase in Armor Class reduces damage by 5%.  The fact that attributes also add to damage -- post to-hit determination -- means that attributes have a greater impact than armor.

There's a lot you can do in game systems, but don't let "common sense" be the only tool you use to analyze games.  Break them down to the mechanics.  In D&D Armor does "mechanically" reduce damage even though it seems like it reduces chances to hit.  It's all a matter of perspective.  I hope D&D Next sticks to the classic AC system.  It's more balanced and robust than you might initially think.