Showing posts with label Saving Throw Show. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saving Throw Show. Show all posts

Monday, June 10, 2019

Episode 161: Geekerati Returns with a New Format and an Interview with Dom Zook of Saving Throw Show

The Geekerati Podcast was founded in 2007 and streamed 160 episodes before going on hiatus in 2014. It was meant to be a brief hiatus as the Geekerati panelists coordinated their busy schedules, but it ended up lasting almost five years. With this episode Geekerati returns with new Bi-Weekly prerecorded episodes with new guests and new segments. We are proud to relaunch with an interview with our friend Dom Zook. Dom is the Executive Producer of Saving Throw Show a Role Playing Game Live Play streaming channel on Twitch. If you're a fan of Critical Role, or any other live play show, you should give Saving Throw Show a look.They are currently running a number of gaames online, but their Savage Worlds show launches its new season during the channel's Fundraising Marathon on June 21st!

This episode also sees the introduction of our first new segment, Something Old/Something New. This segment will be a regular review segment and will be joined by other segments including our Dungeon Master advice segment Dungeons & Dilemmas in the near future. Our current segment reviews the old Conan Roleplaying Game by TSR and Attack of the Necron, the first entry in Warped Galaxies the new YA Warhammer Adventures book series from Games Workshop. 

 If the discussion in Something Old/Something new piqued your interest in the system used by the TSR Conan Roleplaying Game, you will want to take a look at its Open Content successor ZeFRS and download the pdf rulebook.

This episode featured the following sound effects from Plate Mail Games: 1950s Space, Inside the Internet, and Space Battle

Friday, December 08, 2017

Stop Freaking Out About the New Patreon Fee Structure

I love crowdfunding sources, but there is one thing that I don't love. I don't love my fellow crowdsourcers. When we aren't bullying the people we profess to be supporting, we are finding new things to complain about. The latest in a long list of ridiculous complaints is the recent outcry about Patreon's new fee structure. Patreon announced that the would be shifting the charging of fees away from the creators and putting the cost of the transactions onto the backers in order to maximize revenue to the creators. This was done in response to a number of complaints by creators that they were losing as much as 15% of the total pledged to them to fees and that the fees were fluctuating. To remedy this issue, Patreon decided to charge patrons a fee of $0.35 + 2.9% of their pledge instead of charging a variable fee that depended on type of transaction etc. to the creators.

In response to this, a bunch of backers have flipped out. This is ridiculous. Why? I've got a couple of reasons.

1) The fees are exactly the same fees that you would pay at an AM/PM Market. They charge you $0.35 to use your debit card and they add the percentage processing fee they are charged by the bank (usually between 2.5% and 4%) to the price tag of items in the store. I don't see people picketing AM/PM demanding the $0.35 back on their pack of gum, and I don't think it is fair to complain to Patreon or the creators either.

2) This is an extremely reasonable fee. If you look at the graph below, you can see how much this costs patrons.

At a level of $100, this fee doesn't even come to a total fee of $3.50 and yet it ensures that the creator will receive 95% of that $100 instead of losing an additional $3.25. 

3) It only really affects microbackers. It makes it so that the person pledging $1.00 is in reality pledging $1.38 and that the person backing at $5 is really backing at $5.50. Let me get this straight. You are losing your shit over $0.38 more money out of your pocket that allows more money to go into the pocket of someone you are supposed to be patronizing? Some patron you are. Microbackers might matter to creators in large numbers, they can help pay the bills after all, but in my experience they are more trouble than they are worth. We've all seen the concern troll $1.00 backers on Kickstarter. Look, $0.38 isn't going to break your bank and it allows more money to go to the creator that you supposedly believe in. Didn't know you were such a free rider. I thought you wanted to support a creator's efforts.

I personally never backed below $5 in any of the projects I backed anyway. Why? Because I knew fees were coming out and that I'd rather give $4.50 to a creator than $.75. I back within my budget and support projects I admire. I wish I could support more. I cannot, but I CAN afford to pay an extra $10 total on all my pledges combined. Does this prevent me from backing 1 more project at the $10 level? Sure.

It also means that when I increase my pledge to Saving Throw Show to $100, they'll be getting $95 instead of $85 and it will cost me less than they would have lost otherwise.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Tom Lommel's #Ironkeep Chronicles and Disorganized Play Are a Masterclass in Game Mastering.

I've been a fan of the team at the Saving Throw Show for quite some time. I didn't jump on the Saving Throw Show bandwagon as early as their Kickstarter, but I did become an ardent fan soon afterward. One of the key reasons I jumped on the Saving Throw Show bandwagon was that they brought on The Dungeon Bastard and Lady Vorpal, Tom Lommel and Amy Vorpahl, as two of their recurring castmembers. This appreciation has only increased over the past few months as I've been watching Tom Lommel run the #Ironkeep Chronicles on Wednesday nights. On that show, Tom has managed to do something that isn't replicated by any other online streaming role playing game show. He's managed to both replicate the home game play experience and fused that with a series of interactive tutorials on Game Mastering where the audience helps shape the campaign.

What Makes #Ironkeep Chonicles Work

While there are many great live play rpg streams on the internet, the primary thing that sets #Ironkeep Chronicles apart is that it replicates the average home play experience. Many of the professional rpg-streams feel more like you are watching a television show or listening to a radio audio drama than they feel like the game play around your tables at home. While Tom has fantastic players, which like many rpg-streams includes actors/Twitch streamers/YouTubers, the show never loses the home game feeling. One great example of this phenomenon is the character creation episode of #Ironkeep Chronicles when Tom incorporated elements of John Harper's proto-rpg The Wildlings into the character design session to facilitate character creation.

 Unlike Wil Wheaton's excellent Fantasy Age run on Tabletop, which used a very scripted adventure and where the character creation was focused on elements native to Fantasy Age, Tom did what many Game Masters do and mashed up game mechanics from multiple games right from the start. This trend of bringing in elements from outside of D&D, and not as original game design content, demonstrates to players and Game Masters how they can incorporate their large gaming libraries even when they don't get the chance to play anything other than D&D. Tom runs #Ironkeep like a home campaign and not as an IP generator. He's not trying to create new rules from scratch that will be sold by Saving Throw Show at a later date, though he probably should be, instead he is showing what busy but good GMs do. Busy but good GMs incorporate and improvise.

Speaking of improvisation, that's another part of what Tom does that mirrors the home gaming experience. Like many online shows, #Ironkeep Chronicles uses pre-published materials as its gaming foundation. In this case, the players are playing through Tales of the Yawning Portal, but due to time constraints and player tastes the actual adventure content wanders away from the written page. Take a change he made to White Plume Mountain as an example. In some ways, the classic deathtraps of the adventure don't make narrative sense. So Tom makes a significant change to the environment and turns it into a sort of amusement park prison that has Blackrazor as its key.

This is a significant change to the narrative of this classic dungeon, but it is the kind of change that one frequently sees in a home game. I've used The Veiled Society as the starting point for my D&D campaigns several times. I love the urban setting and the politics of Specularum society. It has yet to run the same way twice. Not just because the players make different decisions each time, but also because I change who the real villains are each time in response to the players' actions and preferred style of play. Are my players "democrats" who want to see the end of feudalism and see Duke Stefan as a threat to free peoples? If so, then one of the old families might be heroic. Is the Veiled Society the actual threat? These things and more change in my game and by the time I'm done, the many changes I've made are often so significant that even rerunning the adventure for the same group, the players don't notice. They only notice they are in the same setting. This is the kind of thing that happens in all of our games, and that is what Tom shows the world.

The Secret Engine Behind #Ironkeep Chronicles is Disorganized Play

As good as #Ironkeep Chronicles is, the real secret to its charm and benefit to Game Masters is Tom's supplementary show Disorganized Play. This show is filled with tips on how to prepare for role playing game sessions with minimal prep time. Tom goes over all aspect of preparation including: crafting of NPCs and combat encounters, designing battlemaps that provide interesting challenges for players, and how to use Kanban style Plot Radar charts to improve your ability to script a campaign . It's a simple method of note taking that will help keep your games on track, especially if you are like me and only play once a month. Additionally, Disorganized Play is also a place where you can interact with Tom in real time as he brainstorms the campaign and answers questions from viewers. You have to be watching the Live Stream on Twitch to get the full benefit, but I highly recommend it. It's a perfect place for experienced and novice GMs to go to learn. In fact, his episode with Vana preparing her to run her first session is a great example of how fantastic an advocate for our hobby Tom is.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Mystrael Shawk -- An Effect Based Lightning Wizard for D&D

Last week, I discussed how useful it can be to approach D&D magic from an effects based or special effect design philosophy as both a player and a DM. Using this approach allows for gamers to add a little of narrative magic without the need to have a deep understanding of the mechanical balance underlying the game system required to make new spells from whole cloth. This is an approach used by the Champions role playing game and by Pinnacle Entertainment Group's Savage Worlds rpg. The Savage Worlds rule book describes this approach in the following way:

"But just because these powers work the same from setting to setting doesn’t mean they have to look the same, have the same names (to the characters in that world), or even have the exact same effects—that’s where Trappings come in. 

For the most part, Trappings should be merely cosmetic. But sometimes it makes sense for there to be additional effects. A heat ray should have a chance of catching combustible objects on fire, for example, and an electric blast should do slightly more damage to targets in full metal armor."
Coming at magic from a special effects approach can be intimidating and you might not trust me that it can be done without creating a lot of work for players and DMs, but I'm going to attempt to show you how it does just the opposite. It allows for the creation of a lot of imaginative and narrative effects without the need for creating new mechanics. To aid in this process, I will be posting a series of D&D 5e Wizards based on Power Themes and who use effects based spells.

Image Source Anna Steinbauer
Mystrael Shawk 
Human Lightning Wizard (Soldier) 
Level 5

Str 8 (-1)   Dex 14 (+2)  Con 14 (+2)  
Int 16 (+3)  Wis 10 (+0)  Cha 12 (+1)

HP (5d6+10) 32           AC 12 or 15 (dex; Crackling Aura + dex)
Init +2      Speed 30      Proficiency Bonus +3

Attacks: Dagger +5 (1d4 piercing), Dagger (ranged) +5 1d4 piercing, Spells +6 
Senses: Investigation 16, Perception 10
Saves: Intelligence +6, Wisdom +3
Skills: Arcana +6, Athletics +2, Intimidation +4, Investigation +6, Sleight of Hand +5 
Feats: Keen Mind
Human Traits: Bonus Skill (Sleight of Hand), Bonus Feat (War Caster)
Wizard Traits: Spellcasting, Arcane Recovery, Arcane Tradition (Abjuration), Lighting Ward (13 HP)
Spell Casting Ability (Known: 3, 6, 6, 4; Slots: 4, 4, 3, 2; DC 14)

Cantrips:Lightning Ball (Acid Splash), Crackling Illumination (Light), Shocking Grasp


1 -  Arc of Lightning (Burning Hands), Crackling Aura  (Mage Armor), Electric Shield (Shield), Synaptic Shock (Sleep), Static Tickle (Tasha's Hideous Laughter), Plasma Arc (Magic Missile)
2 - Lightning Cloud (Cloud of Daggers), Immobilizing Shock (Hold Person), Electrify Weapon (Magic Weapon), Mystral's Lightning Arrow (Melf's Acid Arrow), Clinging Field (Spider Climb), Electrical Flash (Blindness/Darkness)
3 - Electrical Animation (Animate Dead), Sphere of Lightning (Fireball), Ride the Lightning (Fly), Lightning Bolt

As you can see, merely by renaming some of the spells the descriptive effect in play of certain spells is altered without changing their effects. Take Crackling Illumination as an example here. When it comes to game effects, it doesn't matter whether light is produced by illusory fire, real fire, crackling electricity, or radiant illumination. All that matters is that the spell produces the effect of light. Similarly for Mage Armor, since we aren't categorizing any kind of damage, the appearance of Mage Armor doesn't affect game play.

It isn't until we get to spells like Lightning Ball (Acid Splash) that one's "but that's a typed damage and it matters" alarm should flash a warning that there might be some mechanical differences of consequence. One could merely hand wave such concerns and point out, as Michael Shea at Sly Flourish often does that Dungeons and Dragons isn't designed to be a balanced game and that imbalance is a part of what we like. I won't do such hand waving here, though that is a perfectly "D&D" thing to do. Instead, let's take a look under the hood of Acid Splash.

Range: 60 feet
Damage: Save or Take 1d6 Acid Damage
# Creatures affected: 1 or 2 within 5 feet.

The reskinned Lightning Ball only changes one aspect of the spell, the damage type. In fact, since the spell already can damage up to 2 creatures in close proximity the spell's mechanics fit nicely with the reskin. The question here becomes, "Does the spell significantly improve if it becomes lightning based?" There are after all different creatures who are resistant/immune to different damage types and affecting a disproportionate number might affect game balance. This criticism only holds so much weight since the Elemental Adept feat allows casters to ignore type resistance (though not immunity). So...what are the differences between Acid and Lightning regarding number of creatures affected?

Creatures Resistant to Acid in Monster Manual: 17
Creatures Immune to Acid in Monster Manual: 15
Number of Creatures Vulnerable to Acid: 0

Creatures Resistant to Lightning in Monster Manual: 34
Creatures Immune to Lightning in Monster Manual: 19
Number of Creatures Vulnerable to Lightning: 0

Here we can see that by choosing a Lightning damage type, the spell has become more limited with regard to the number of creatures it can damage. Given the negligent effects of changing the damage type, we can quickly see that this won't change game balance.

Similarly, describing Sleep as an effect that results from a quick electrical burst or Spider Climb as a static field that surrounds the hands and feet of the caster does nothing other than add a narrative touch to play. The same is true for describing Animate Dead as electrical impulses arching through corpses to control their movements.

There are some damage types that are clearly better or worse than average when it comes to this kind of analysis. Very few creatures are resistant to Radiant damage and 98 monsters are immune to poison, for example, and you would have to decide whether or not to do the "it doesn't really matter" hand wave or ban those as reskinnable trappings in your games. One thing to consider for spells like Sleep is that you might have the creature's resistance apply to the hit points rolled against the spell. That significantly reduces the power of that particular spell against certain foes, but it adds the illusion of unpredictability to your magic and makes magic more magical.

My next character will be a cold themed Wizard.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Using a Special Effects Approach to Spell Casting in D&D Games

There are too many spells in Dungeons & Dragons and it reduces the sense of wonder in the game. Magic systems are one of the most difficult design challenges that face prospective game designers, players, and game masters. Magic in fiction, and in our imagination, often defies quantification. In fact, one might argue that what makes magic magical is that it is mysterious and that by quantifying it, you diminish its impact. I am sympathetic to this view, but I actually think that having the rules present purely mechanical effects and letting players add special effects is the best way to handle this problem.

The solution that D&D often uses is what Jeff Grubb calls the "Very Large Spellbook" approach in the Kobold Guide to Magic. This works by flooding the zone with so many spells that no one really knows what every spell does and thus leaves a sense of wonder as new things are discovered. The problem with this approach is that you can end up with five different spells that turn a target's bones into liquid. This isn't bad when the mechanical effects of each spell is different, but can be a problem when many of them have pretty much the same effects with minor changes in the amount of damage done. If the spells have different mechanical effects, it allows for themed mages. If it only fiddles around the edges of damage, it isn't very interesting. Jeff Grubb's discussion of how standardizing bones into liquid spells reduced the wonder of the game, while reducing the number of times spells need to be looked up in the rules because no one knows how a specific spell works.

One solution often under utilized in D&D circles is the approach used by Champions.

Whether or not you play the game, the Champions role playing game by Hero Games is one of the best role playing games ever designed and is one that every Game Master should read for advice on how to best run a game in any system. My first experience with the game was the Revised Edition, also known as the 2nd Edition, of the game, and I spent hours upon hours making characters for the system. Okay, I spent hours and hours making my version of the X-Men for the system only to have friends who were more experienced with the system tell me how I had done everything wrong, but that's beside the point.

The thing that most struck me about the game, and that still amazes me, is how the game took what is often called an effects based approach to gaming. What is typically meant by this description is that the rules don't worry about what powers and abilities look like, rather we are only concerned with their in game effects. While this is a central concept to how the character creation system works in Champions, it was an idea that took a few editions to fully articulate. The first edition of the game, published in 1981, only mentions the concept in passing in the Energy Blast power and on page 29 where it describes how to model a character who can change shape using Multipower with three slots that each represent a different special effect. The second edition expands on this idea more clearly and states on page 47, "Powers in Champions have been explained thoroughly in game terms, but the special effects have been left may be lightning, fire, cold, sonics, radiation...The special effects of your Power can contain minor advantages and disadvantages..." By the 3rd edition of the game, the designers have moved discussion of special effects to a position at the beginning of the Powers chapter, rather than following it. On page 20 it states, "When choosing powers in Champions always start with the effect and work back to the cause." The stress here is that the mechanics are important for the adjudication of success or failure in the game, but that what something looks like in the minds of the players during the game doesn't need to be categorized in the rules.

This special effects, or effects based, approach was relatively freeform in the first three editions of Champions and is what enabled players to simulate an infinite number of effects with only limited mechanics. For this reason, I prefer to call this earlier approach to effects based design the special effects approach. This distinguishes it from the more granular effect based approach of later editions of Champions and give primacy to only quantifying what absolutely must be represented mechanically and leaving the rest to improvisation. Later editions of Champions, beginning with 4th edition which is my favorite edition, began a process of quantifying too many effects for my tastes. Given my preference for improvisation, I prefer to avoid over quantification of phenomenon. Your mileage may vary on that account, but that will have little bearing on this discussion as it continues.

So when might a special effects approach help a D&D game?

Let me look to one of my favorite online shows to explain.

An example of a situation that could have benefited from a special effects approach occurs in Episode 8 Part 1 of Saving Throw Show's series "The Lost Brigade" when Havana Mahoney attempts to have her Druid Theronna Wolfmancer cast the spell Summon Swarm upon some creatures she and her allies were combating. This event happens at around minute 41:37 in the episode (also embedded above). The Dungeon Master, Mason McDaniel, initially encourages a special effects approach when Havana asks what the spell looks like and Mason gives a few possibilities while leaving the final depiction up to her as to whether the rats she wants to summon burrow out of the earth or are vomited from her mouth. Either one of these options is narratively interesting and visually exciting. It's a good moment of game play, but this quickly gets sidetracked as the group attempts to find the spell in the rules. This leads to a few minutes of discussion which pull both the players and the audience out of the game. Eventually, it is discovered that the spell Havana wanted to cast is a Pathfinder spell. She asks if she can use it anyway, but after some discussion this is rejected and Havana sighs and casts Call Lightning. It's the first time in my life that I think I've ever seen a Druid essentially say, "yawn...I guess I'll just use the old standby Call Lightning. YAWN again. KABLAM! DRUID TAC-NUKE! Wish I could have done something interesting."

And you know what? I agree with that assessment. I really wish that Havana had been allowed to cast her 2nd level Summon Swarm spell, but how do you do that?

The first thing that you can do is to let the player use the Pathfinder spell. For a second level spell, which was the case in the episode, this wouldn't particularly damage the game as OP-finder doesn't spiral out of D&D maths until higher levels. In this case, the player would have summoned a swarm of rats that attacked the monsters as listed in the Rat Swarm entry. This isn't a bad solution, and it would have rewarded the player for an inspired narrative choice, but it isn't a special effects based approach and the search of various wiki/books delayed game play. Notice, I am not discussing that Havana's presentation of how big the swarm would be and how much damage it does wasn't accurate to the Pathfinder rules. That was merely a product of the websearch and getting her phone trapped by wiki-spam.

The second approach, the special effects approach, is to ask what special effect the player wants and what mechanics fit the expressed mechanical limits. Havana wanted to use a 2nd Level Druid spell that summoned a swarm of rats that bites foes. So the mechanical emulation is area effect damage appropriate for second level. The first spell that jumped into my head was Spike Growth.

"But," you say, "Spike Growth is a spell that transforms the ground into spiky thorn covered terrain."

Does it? Not from a special effects/effect based approach.

From this approach, the spell covers a 20 foot radius of terrain with ___________ which makes the ground difficult to walk on and which cases a creature to take 2d4 piercing damage for every 5 feet they travel. This transformation is camouflaged as to not be obvious until the victims move into it and take damage.

So here are the effects:
20 foot radius
Difficult Terrain
Moving within or into causes 2d4 piercing for every 5 ft moved.

Havana wanted a swarm of rats to attack the foes. This pretty much does that. All you have to do is say that Theronna Wolfmancer has summoned the rats and that the creatures will soon feel those effects. Imagine the shocked looks on the creature's faces as rats rose from the earth to devour them.

That's not all this spell could represent. It could represent an area of earth where magma has been brought close to the surface, ice spikes, the thorns in the book, a miasma in the air that chokes those who move through it. None of those effects change the mechanics of the spell, which are what define the level of the spell, but each of those feels different in play due to the role playing aspect of the game. It is key to note that the damage is piercing for creatures who have those kinds of resistances.

Personally, I like the idea of Spike Growth being a near invisible miasma of toxic spores which pierce the lungs. The again, whose to say that Call Lightning couldn't just be Lightning Rats rising up from the earth to bite opponents with their Lightning powers or even just the summoning of a Pikachu?

What are some other spells that you would/could reskin for different effects?