Thursday, June 4, 2020

A Hard Look At Thieves

I've written quite a bit about thieves over the years; this will be my 24th post with the "thief" tag.

While trying to put my thoughts on the character in order this morning, I asked my nine year old to give me his thoughts on the thief class. How do you feel about it?

"Overrated," was the reply. I asked him to elaborate.

"Even though thief can open locks and such, he's going to get killed." He said. "Especially in OD&D, he's just too weak in combat to survive; he doesn't get to use bows, he's forced to fight in leather armor, and even his chances of being sneaky aren't very good."

He went on: "In B/X the thief is a little better, because he can use bows and his dexterity gives him a bonus to his armor class. But you don't give DEX bonuses in OD&D and leather armor isn't good enough. They have useful abilities like climbing walls and stuff, but they're killed too easily."

What about his ability to backstab? "Well, there is THAT, but you need a couple beefy fighters in your party to distract the monsters so you can sneak around and get him from behind." You couldn't sneak up on someone? "Well, your percentage is really bad especially at low level. If I was going to take a thief to, say, the Tomb of Horrors, I'd want to be at least 6th level. At least! Then I could go armed with a sword and daggers."

So if you were to rank your class preferences, where would the thief land? "Hmm...top of the bottom." Out of four classes? "Oh, you're not talking about elves and dwarf classes? Well, if it's just the basic four [cleric, fighter, magic-user, thief] he comes in at #4 (last place) in OD&D, and maybe tied with cleric or slightly better than cleric in B/X." Clerics are worse? "Well, in B/X they don't get a spell at first level, and it's really tough that they can't use bows and arrows." That's the same in OD&D. "Yeah, but in B/X thieves get the DEX bonus and they can use bows." Oh, right, I see. And thieves need to use bows because they're kind of weak with bad armor? "Yeah, unless you're in one of Sofia's dungeons, because then you can talk your way out of fights with monsters and still get millions of gold pieces." Okay.

So is it worth having a thief in an adventuring party? "Yes, so long as they have fighters for protection. Then you can use them for other tactics." Tactics? "Like picking locks. But they need protection." Picking locks is useful? "Yeah, and fighters can't do it. Well, maybe they could, but they'd have a lot harder time. They don't have the right equipment or skills." Okay, thanks.

No mention was made of traps or hearing noise in this conversation.

As I mentioned (briefly, in passing) in my last post, I haven't actually implemented thieves in my OD&D game...if you were to read my compiled/cleaned up copy of Book 1, you would find no mention of a "thief" class. My son's inferences of the "weakness" of the OD&D thief come from (I believe) my OD&D rules (like the lack of ability score bonuses) and discussions of different weapon proficiencies in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons...the OD&D thief presented in Greyhawk appears to have the same proficiencies as the B/X thief (i.e. no restrictions on weapon use at all).

Anyway...I wanted my son's input before writing this because...well, because I appreciate his opinion on the subject. I understand that the D&D thief is/was an iconic character class for DECADES (only supplanted by the "rogue" archetype in modern versions of the game). But much as I've worked with it and used it over the years (24 posts!), I dislike the thief for a number of reasons:

- A skill set that dividing the party: picking pockets and "backstabbing" encourage PVP play. Moving silently requires the PC to be alone in her sneaking. Hiding in shadows requires the thief to be left behind (no movement) to be effective.
- An alignment restriction that might be at odds with other party members (if Paladins can't adventure with non-Lawfuls, and thieves cannot be Lawful, well...).
- Low survival rating (as pointed out by my son) without adjusting hit points and/or increasing attribute bonuses.
- As written (in OD&D and AD&D), providing demi-humans with a means of unlimited leveling, moving the game away from being humancentric by taking away one of the unique abilities of humans (the only species allowed unlimited leveling).
- Emphasizing mechanical "traps" in dungeon exploration, in order to give the thief a way to earn her keep. How many strongboxes really need poisoned needles?
- In OD&D: implies something strange with regard to the thief's (1d4) hit dice: that humans are weaker than originally modeled (1d6 hit points). I can take a magic-user's lowered survival ability being related to the pasty, sedentary lifestyle of an academic (or the corruption and body wracking toll of learning sorcery). Why d4s for thieves? Vice and (medieval) city living? Okay...but then that concerns ALL folks living in the squalor of King's Landing (or its equivalent).
- Thieves Guilds as required institutions.
- Lock picks on the normal equipment list.
- Combat considerations (backstabbing) that adds an element of tactical detail to what should be the abstract, chaotic swirl of melee. Extra justification required to explain just how backstabbing works with a number of monster types (slimes, golems, undead, beholders, dragons, giants, etc.) or else the inevitable restriction/nerfing of the class's beefiest attack form.
- Unique abilities (skills) that are so ineffective at low level as to discourage use.
- The ability to "read magic" without a spell or read and understand languages that the character doesn't know like some sort of super-linguist.

All that being said...

I could work with most of this. I have worked with most of this throughout my decades of playing D&D. And for many years I haven't had to do much with it because thieves are so garbage no one wants to play them...

[there are a lot of exceptions to this last. AD&D players with demi-humans always worked thieves into their multi-class mix. A level or five of "rogue" was often taken in my 3E days (both by myself and others). I've played thieves on more than one occasion, including a Nehwon based B/X convention game that included ONLY thieves and fighters. And my old friends Kris and Jason were notorious for ONLY playing thieves in D&D games]

I dislike that all thieves have the same skill sets, all progressing at the same increments. And yet I dislike EVEN MORE the idea of implementing a "skill system" to the D&D game.

I dislike thieves. I dislike them a lot.

The OD&D game has a character type that finds traps: the dwarf. The OD&D game has a stealthy character type: the halfling. The OD&D game has a character type that reads old, dead languages on maps: the magic-user (with the proper spell). The OD&D game has a character type that "hears noise" well: demi-humans. Does the game need to combine all these abilities in a single package?

What happened to having a party of multiple individuals contributing their individual skills, being forced to rely upon one another?

I think...I think that instead of including a "thief" class, I'd prefer to include a list of "adventuring skills" that player characters could choose from. Maybe someone is adept at free-climbing. Maybe someone is good at setting (and disarming) small traps. Etc. Characters could take a number of these skills based on their intelligence score (learning one such skill in place of a language they might otherwise know).

Maybe I'll include other skills like tracking, woodcraft, and herb lore (for healing).

I wouldn't tie success chances to level...skills would be either you have it or not. Climb sheer walls with 90% ability (penalties if doing it in windy, rainy, or snow conditions)...or whatever. Some players could build their own thief, mixing and matching the skills they want. Perhaps a magic-user was a street conjurer and pickpocket prior to her apprenticeship. Perhaps a fighter is skilled at commando-like stealth, having been a scout for the army. Whatever.

We've been playing OD&D without thieves for a while now, and I really don't miss the class. As a DM, I like having a character type that can pickpocket and backstab, but I don't like seeing it in my players' adventuring party (not in a "dedicated-to-this-way-of-life" type of fashion). My players haven't missed the class or complained about its absence. But they might appreciate adding an extra distinction to their character.

Yeah, thieves. I'm kind of done with them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Grappling with Stuff


How many pages? That's the question that's been in my head the last couple days.

[yes, there will be some ACTUAL grappling discussion...at the end of this post...just give me a minute while I wrestle with THIS for a moment]

How many pages does it take to teach someone how to play an RPG? Specifically Dungeons & Dragons, though I suppose one could apply the question to any role-playing game. Most RPGs I've read (and I've owned and read A LOT) provide precious little info on what an RPG is, let alone how to run it. Instead, they throw a wall of text at the reader mixing an odd amount of instruction with "fluff" (setting/genre specific flavor)...as if these two things, blended in the proper proportion, will (through some strange alchemical process) yield the game you want to play.

That's not enough, in my learned opinion. And yet it's often too much as well.

OD&D is a fairly simple game, rules-wise. Very simple as far as procedures go. Roll a D20 when making an attack (or save) and consult a chart to determine success. Characters (player and non-) have certain amounts of resources that are depleted through use (spells, hit points, arrows, torches, rations, etc.). Certain actions acquire points (XP); charts tell you the reward for obtaining certain numbers of points (extra resources in the form of hit points and spells; extra effectiveness for attacks and saves). There are some additional exploration procedures (finding/opening doors and traps, wandering monsters, surprise) mostly handled with a six-sided die, but it mostly comes down to resource management via risk/reward.

All the trappings of the game...monsters, spells, treasure and magic items, purchasable equipment and fortifications...are subject to customization by the referee. As such, they're pretty unnecessary for inclusion in the game (save as examples). And this has been proven upteen times simply by the way DMs have modified all these things SINCE THE BEGINNING of the game. Even before the game was first published and made available to the general public.

I think the rules could be written up in a very small document, including an appendix with the necessary charts, and you would have all the necessary instructions for the game. A book of monsters, a book of spells, a book of treasures (including normal equipment and goods) could be written up separately...or not...and you'd be just fine. For long time, experienced DMs, this would really be all you need...probably MORE than what you need.

For new DMs, it wouldn't be enough. You need another text that explains how to run the game. One that puts aside assumptions that 'oh you'll just figure it out.' Something that explains the concepts, why systems interact with each other the way they do, how they're justified. Something that shows what the game should look like, how to maintain it, how to maintain the players' interest. A teaching manual (though I hesitate to put those two words together) I guess. The players need very little instruction aside from the nuts and bolts of the rules (and an admonition to explore the world based on the description provided by the referee). The referee needs something more.

Because being a DM isn't just about being a referee. It's not just an umpire or group facilitator. "Referee" is a misnomer for what it is that a Dungeon Master does.

How many pages do you really need?  I'm thinking about this at the moment.

With Regarding To Actual Grappling: I went back and looked at the simple grappling rules I wrote up for my B/X Companion. They're fine for what they are (a tack on to the B/X system). For my OD&D game, I use the following procedure, based off an example provided by Gygax in The Strategic Review #2.

  • An opponent that wishes to grapple a non-grappler loses initiative (that is, the non-grappler may make a normal melee attack before the grappler attempts her move).
  • The grappler makes a normal attack roll against the defender's normal AC.
  • On a successful attack roll, the grappler throws dice to determine the success of her hold: roll a number of D6 equal to the grappler's hit dice and compare the total to the defender's similar roll. High roll wins (which determines whether or not the hold/pin is successful).
  • Magic-Users and Clerics divide their total in half.
  • If both sides wish to grapple, no attack rolls are made: simply throw dice.

For example, six goblins attempt to grapple two 2nd level characters: a fighter and a magic-user; four attack the former, while two go after the wizard. The fighter manages to kill one and wound a second (two attacks per round against 1HD opponents), while the magic-user fails to even land a hit. All three remaining goblins manage to hit the fighter; only one goblin manages to hit the magic-user. Grapple dice are thrown as follows:

Fighter: rolls 2d6, gets a 7. Three goblins roll 3d6, and get 10. Fighter is pinned.
Magic-user: rolls 2d6, gets an 8. Goblin rolls 1d6, gets a 5. Because the magic-user's total is divided in half (resulting in a 4), she is also pinned.

You got this, man!
Grappling should be a commonly considered tactic. Small, weak monsters that have a superiority of numbers should consider attempting to overwhelm stronger opponents (though they lose initiative and are subject to broken morale). But grappling can also model large monsters (giants, golems, rocs, dragons) grabbing a character and carrying her off.

A pinned character can attempt to escape from the hold in the following round, by throwing dice against the foes holding her. No attack rolls are made (both sides are engaged in "grappling") winner determines whether or not pin is broken. If a total is exceed by a large enough number (probably double), a DM could allow a character to reverse the hold (the formerly pinned character has now pinned her opponent).

A character may not grapple a creature especially larger than herself; generally, that means more than 1 hit die difference. Thus, a human could grapple something up to gnoll in size, but not a bugbear or ogre; a halfling or gnome might grapple something up to a hobgoblin in size. A DM might allow multiple grapplers to succeed where one would automatically fail (for example, four humans might bring down an ogre...maybe) or might not (no number of humans should be deemed sufficient to "pin" a dragon or cloud giant...).

What about thieves? I still have yet to implement thieves in my OD&D game. If I did, I'd allow a dextrous thief (13+ dexterity) to roll dice as a fighter; thieves with average or low dexterity would be limited as magic-users and clerics (divide die total by half). Not every thief is some slippery rogue type!

Cheers.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Hard and Soft

AKA a "thoughtful addendum" to yesterday's rant.

It strikes me that much of what I dislike about the changes in the world...whether you're talking gaming, pop music, or whatever...has to do with my perceived "softness" of these developments. As in people going soft. I'll provide a couple examples:

In D&D: Character death being removed from the table. Character's becoming more "superheroic" (fighters getting spell-like special abilities, wizards throwing unlimited magic missiles, etc.). Complaints about X.P. calculation or adventure design being "too hard." Etc.

In music: Over-produced music. Sampling former song-writers music and turning it into their own "hit songs" (Aloe Blacc's "The Man," Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You," etc.). Virtuoso instrument playing being replaced by computers. Vocal talent being auto-tuned. Etc.

Heck, I can even apply it to daily family life: fast food culture, too much television, participation awards for kids, grade inflation, video games that do all your imagining for you, lack of book reading, smart phone culture, social media replacing human interaction, etc.  Hell, we probably all live too long these days what with the pills and prescriptions one can take to relieve problems that are probably caused by our (generally) sedentary, overindulgent lifestyles.

I recognize this is just me being a cranky geezer of the "when-I-was-a-kid-we-walked-ten-miles-to-school-in-the-snow-uphill-both-ways!" variety. When I was a youngster, my elders complained about my generation and how "easy" we had it. Now I do the same thing. This is a recognized cycle in our part of the world.

But why? Simple discomfort with new ideas? An inability to change with the times (and a willingness to complain)? Just plain old inertia? Fear of being "left behind?"

Maybe...but I don't think so. After some thoughtful pondering, here's what I do think:

Growing up, there was a certain amount of hardness I had to acquire. I don't mean discipline (I'm fairly undisciplined, much to my detriment), but a certain resilience and strength. If you cared about something, there was a certain amount of work that was a part of doing it. Nothing of lasting value is easy, you know? Suffering for one's art; adversity builds character...or something like that.

And now that I've paid my dues (at least, in the things that I cared about and that mattered to me) I look at those coming after me, after my time, and I worry for them. I worry that they aren't developing the necessary hardness, the necessary strength. I worry that they're "soft" and that this will end up...I don't know..."bad," somehow.

And I would guess my elders felt and thought the same when I was younger. And their elders felt and thought the same when they were younger.

Doesn't matter what profession you're in. A soldier in today's army is tough, but is far more advantaged than those of twenty years earlier...who were more advantaged than those who fought in WWII, who were more advantaged than those who fought in The Great War, etc. all the way back to the damn bronze age. "Kid, back when we fought battles, you were lucky to have a solid club and a few rocks to throw! You guys are so soft with your "helmets" and "spears." Punks!"

Less sass than you'd get
from Rosie the Robot.
And, of course, it's all ridiculous, right? One of the things humans are trying to develop is ease and comfort...both for ourselves and our descendants. We'd like to make things gentler and easier for our kids, right? We want better (i.e less suffering) lives for our families. That's why people invent things like the Roomba...it's not just because they loved The Jetsons as a kid.

Likewise, we don't want to go backwards, do we? It's nice that I'm able to self-publish my own print books with nothing more than a laptop and a word processor. Do I really want to go back to the elaborate publishing process of the 1970s? Hell no! No more than I'd want to go back to a time before indoor plumbing.

Even so, I worry. I worry that there's such a thing as "too much" softness. Is non-stop texting any worse than the way my friends and I used to spend hours kabitzing over a landline? No, probably not. Is sitting on your ass in front of a computer eating junk food and forgoing the simple pleasures of a brisk walk, a thought-provoking book, or an engaging conversation an improvement to our quality of life? Probably not...but then television has been around since the 1950s and that, more than anything, has contributed to the general "softening" of society.

In the end, I suppose it (mostly) comes down to this: with regard to Dungeons & Dragons, I prefer a "harder" version of the game. Harder to run, harder to manage, harder to survive (talking about survival of the characters, not the players). It's a preference. I dislike late editions of the games for a number of reasons. But (and I realize I'm writing this not for the first time) I recognize MY version isn't a "better" version of the game. It is simply better for me. Hopefully, there are some likeminded folks out there.

Later, Gators.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Cranky Pants Bastard


I've had more than my fair share of game-induced nausea the last couple days...so much so that I have to write a blog post about it just to keep from having my head explode.

[yes, yes...another rant. I know there are several readers cheering at the moment]

Hmm...let's see. Just to try to diagram my map of spewing bile, we can start over here at All Dead Generations discussion of 5E's most recent starter set. Then there was this post over at What a Horrible Night about a meme discussing the difference in D&D cultures between the Old and New. Alexis's blog directed me to this post about 5E advancement from DM David, after which I found myself to read both the post that preceded it and his trainwreck conclusion.  This was then followed by Fr. Dave's referral to just a hummer of a post from the Alexandrian and an in depth perusal of the distressing comments it elicited. Finally, Trollsmyth's recent post on the non-imminent appearance of "6E" brought my attention to the disturbing article that prompted him, a list of concerns 5E players "want" and "worry" about with regard to any new version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Look. I get it. I'm old. Some people love the hell out of 5E. Some people think "Party in the USA" is one hella dope jam. I am a cranky-ass geezer with no right to dictate to people.

But man o man...I could write a whole series of posts addressing the particular idiocy found in each of these brain-bursting missives. And I have! (over the years, in various forms)

But what good would it do? What good...really? Would it DO "good?" It would just be one cranky old man pissing all over someone's good fun, right? Just once more trying to rain on everyone's parade. 'Hey, Old Man: how is Party in the USA any worse than Gettin' Jiggy Wit It?' It's not, jackass...but I thought THAT was a stupid song at the time, too. Besides, that was 1997...I stopped listening to music after '95.

[did you know that Party in the USA was #29 on Billboard's Top 100 for 2009? Not that 2009 was a fantastic year for music or anything; Pittbull had a song at #17 the same year and his "music" is absolute garbage]

See? Just a cranky old geezer am I. And no one gives a flying f*** what I think. Certainly not in the numbers that would generate the amount of ca$hflow for folks to care.

Tell me this...what kind of cynical SOBs must industry designers be these days? Was catching up on my tenfootpole the other day and read a comment from a particular Adventurers League writer whose work had been lambasted by Bryce (as AL stuff often is) in which he confessed the difficulties writing to WotC's required specifications. Yeah. I'm sure it's a tough gig, writing creatively within structured parameters. Really rough. Probably with deadlines, too.

Did you know? The average budget for a feature film in Hollywood is $100-$150 million. "Blockbuster" films can have budgets two to three times that amount (Avengers: Endgame had a budget of $356 million). You know what the average budget has been for feature films that won the Academy Award ("Oscar") for Best Motion Picture the last ten years? Just over $19 million ($19.2 to be exact).

And that average is thrown off by Argo (2012) which had a budget of just under $45 million.  You can go back 20 years and the average increases to $34 million thanks to a couple big budget winners (Gladiator, The Departed, and LotR: Return of the King), but they're still mostly in the "under $25 million" range. If you think I'm trying to imply something like money and commercialism damages quality (or that overproduced products are lesser works because of artists kowtowing to the "demands" of the "masses")...well, yeah, that is what I'm doing. That is exactly what I'm implying.

But I'm an ass. A cranky old man. Me scribbling angry diatribes means nothing, does nothing, is just a waste of everyone's time. Besides, what the hell am I angry about? The trials and travails of the 5E player has ZERO effect on me as I don't play 5E. It's annoying that there aren't more folks playing a brand of D&D I prefer (so that I'd have more tables to sit down at when I go to conventions)...but since the pandemic continues, it's not like I'm actively recruiting new players (nor going to cons).

[similarly, who cares about the dreck produced in Hollywood when I don't have enough time to watch half the films I'd like anyway. "How is that possible, JB, when you're in lockdown?!" Yeah, well, I'm in lockdown with my family, people, and most of the films I'd like to watch aren't stuff they could or would watch...and in my free time I'm writing blog posts, of course! Duh]

So, yeah. Much as this stuff turns my stomach, just writing it all out helps defuse my anger and irritation. And anyway, there's plenty of worse stuff to get angry about these days (police murdering folks, for example...Jesus, this country!).

How about THIS for an idea: I'm going to STOP being Mr. Cranky Pants. I will continue to blog about the goodness of my own brand of gaming (or complain, as the mood strikes me) but instead of complaining about the state of things in the ongoing industry, I will simply make fun of it. Instead of yelling (virtually) at folks who insist on playing 4th or 5th or 6th edition whatever...as if doing so would actually change their minds or something...I will (gently) poke fun at them and laugh about the foibles and flaws of their game.

This will, of course, take some practice. My skill at purposefully producing good natured snark and sarcasm is, sadly, a little rusty these days...the last few years of blogging I've mostly tried to be sincere and helpful (if not always respectful). Most of my snark (especially the mean-spirited stuff) has come from "lapses" due to off-the-cuff (emotional) writing; what I've attempted is to be open and up front with things I dislike, reasoned or (at least) somewhat logical, rather than snide, backhanded, or clever. But that's just butting my head against a wall...might as well find a way to laugh instead!

Yep, time to take off the cranky pants; time to try on some snarky shorts. It's a sunny day, after all!
; )

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

One Man Army


Once again, I find myself marveling at the elegant simplicity of the D&D combat system.

It's just so lovely how two fighters, equally armed and armored, will have a (roughly) 50-50 chance at killing each other. Certainly, one might get lucky (or unlucky)...in fact, luck will (in such circumstances) be the deciding factor in their battle, assuming neither chooses to withdraw. And having more experience simply prolongs their struggle, as well it should.

But how does D&D model combat against non-fighters? Pretty good, in my opinion.

Mail armor...what most D&D books refer to (redundantly and incorrectly as chain mail) was really, really good stuff. Nearly impenetrable to most weapons of its time, requiring both specialized tools and tactics to harm a human so armored. Is an "armor class" of 5 sufficient to model this? Even an untrained combatant (what B/X calls a "normal human") can land a successful attack against a veteran (1st level fighter) in mail with a D20 roll of 15, 16 if the vet carries a shield. 16? That's a 25% chance to hit (1 chance in 4) with a decent probability of the blow being a killing stroke!

But let's talk law of averages here. Played "by the book" a first level fighter has an average of 5.5 hit points (1d8 roll, discarding 1s and 2s). Assuming average damage from the untrained opponent (3.5, average for a 1d6 roll), it will take the guy on average 6.3 combat rounds to finish a veteran dressed in mail and using a shield. How much damage will the veteran inflict upon unarmored opponents in six rounds? 11.55 on average, enough to kill nearly five "normal" humans. And that's assuming you're using 1d6 damage and no bonus for high strength; a 1d8 damage sword coupled with 13 strength (+1 attack and damage in B/X) pushes the damage output up enough to fell nearly eight (7.92) normal men whose average hit points are 2.5 each.

Of course, being B/X, you can't kill say than one peasant per round.

Still six men dead in sixty seconds...not too shabby for a 1st level fighter, and a testament to the fighter's training and equipment. And adding extra armor, beefier weapons, and more combat experience simply increases this lethality.

"But D&D is so deadly to low-level characters!" Sure it is...if you're entering the lair of a manticore or a nest of orcs with naught but a couple buddies at your back. Yes, getting mauled by a tiger or bear will probably mean the end of our poor veteran, mail dressed or not...and that seems pretty true to reality, no? It would take a pretty high level hero (and/or one armed with magical equipment) to face such a foe and live to celebrate victory. As it should be.

Against non-supernatural horrors and the majority of gentlefolk met in the streets, however, the armored warrior is the Angel of Death, and should command a similar amount of respect, awe, and/or fear. Here's what's NOT realistic: law-abiding communities (especially towns and cities) allowing armored, be-weaponed slayers to roam freely and unchallenged through their streets. No such individual should be allowed entry to a temple (unless a sworn member to the church's knightly order or some such). No such individual should be granted access to a guild hall or the home of a nobleman or town official. No such individual should be allowed to shop at the public market, unmolested by local militia (who are similarly armed and armored for the express purpose of dealing with threats like the character). Assuming the town has any sort of wall at all (as nearly all medieval communities larger than a village would), it's unlikely a strange warrior...or a party of them...would even be allowed to pass the gates girded for war.

Dude's a one man army, after all.

"Superheroes" get eight
attacks per round.
Anyway, that's what I'm thinking about this morning. I like OD&D's multiple attacks against 1HD opponents based on fighter level, but I feel it likely needs a cap (probably around nine) and that it only really works because the OD&D combat turn ("round") is so long (1 minute, as opposed to 10 seconds in B/X). I like 10 seconds as a unit of measuring one "attack;" I think, for example, that four minutes is an extremely long time to optimally fight an ogre (one attack landing per round depleting one hit die of the monster). On the other hand, it seems to me that shoe-horning all spell-casting into 10 second rounds is a little too "cartoony" for my taste. Shouldn't it take longer to cast, a death spell or flesh to stone than a simple wave of the hand?

[yes, it probably looks fine in a cinematic scene...wizards in Thundarr doing all sorts of instantaneous, high-level hijinks. But then, cartoon sorcerers tend to shoot lasers at will, like 4E/5E cantrips, and I find THAT particular practice disgusting...]

But regardless. I like the simple fighting-person and "basic" combat system. That was the point of this post.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Break


I'm taking a break from running D&D.

I write that sentence, and then I stare at it. Then I stretch, then I write this sentence. In about thirty seconds I'm going to get up and microwave another cup of cold coffee, maybe use the bathroom, then return to the keyboard.

[*sips hot coffee*]

Almost a year ago, I made a decision to really get back into AD&D, or at least make a valiant stab at it. I wrote a few posts about rangers and illusionists, and I watched (or listened to) a LOT of webcasts on AD&D, the best of which are the two Grogtalk dudes in Florida who I find HIGHLY entertaining (their antics, self-deprecating humor, and snarky comments often make me laugh out loud).

But it's hard to run an AD&D campaign without like-minded players. And I have no such players at the moment. OD&D has been quite enjoyable...better in many ways than AD&D. Customizable as it is, it's quite easy to make it as "Advanced" as you want it. But the same old gripe returns: why bother doing the work, when you can just play the (Advanced) game that already exists?

[*sips coffee; thinks for a moment*]

There are two issues that arise from the game I've been running. One is the small pool of players I have available: I don't want two or three viable regulars; ideally, I'd like five to seven. Even four players is too small a number for the type of game I want to run.  The other problem is the age and ignorance of the kids. Or just that they ARE kids...I'm not saying kids can't run or play D&D, just that I'm not comfortable running the type and style of game I want with kids. Not with my own, not with other peoples'.

[*sips again; pauses again*]

Taking a break from running doesn't mean taking a break from reading or designing or (possibly even) designing for the game. It just means what I wrote: I don't want to run a D&D campaign at this time. And this is sad because...well, the game is meant to be played, right? And if I'm not playing or running the game, do any of my jotted thoughts or designs or writings count for much? I can't see that they really do...and consequently that makes me feel...I don't know. Like a fraud, I suppose.  At least, like someone who has no right (or less right) to talk and write and theorize and design then someone actually doing the work of playing and running the game.

Plus it's sad because...well, because I want to run, but I'm tired of being frustrated. Someone once said something like "no gaming is better than bad gaming" and I wasn't so very sure I agreed. Certainly, I would have had a harder time buying into that expression back when I lived in Paraguay. Now, well...I'm starting to come around to the idea.

So, I'm taking a break. Been playing quite a bit of BattleTech the last week. Been considering running some Boot Hill and Top Secret for the kids (my kids, anyway). Maybe some Marvel Superheroes or D6 Star Wars. Lightweight stuff that requires little in the way of world building or investment.

I can't run D&D that way anymore. I mean, I can, but dammit, it's not satisfying. Not to me, anyway.

[*pauses to get reheated coffee from the microwave*]

One-off games of D&D are not my thing anymore. The game is designed for longterm play and development over time. That, at least, is how I derive the most enjoyment: watching characters (my own or those in my campaign) go from being pawns and patsies to individuals of note and legend. Watching their impact on the fantasy world. Seeing how the setting changes based on the actions of the protagonist characters.

Those other "lightweight" games? They are designed for minimal impact. The Succession Wars continue whether or not the Mechwarriors' lance is wins or loses a battle. A gunfighter in Boot Hill may affect the fate of a small western town, but the mythical west continues unheeded. The actions of the agents in Top Secret cannot stop the Cold War, only foil (possibly) some villainous scheme bent on world domination...and failure simply means an end to the game itself (always with the possibility of starting it up from scratch). The same holds true for Star Wars and Marvel: the game is structured and limited by the impositions of the genre and setting.

Which makes for easy, light gaming...if not especially deep or enriching stuff.

Oh, I have toyed with the idea of doing something non-D&Dish but equally "deep:" adapting something like Heroes Unlimited to the concepts found in Savage Worlds' Necessary Evil or even LESS conventional (like The Boys)...but again, I don't really have the players to do that sort of thing. Mature gaming demands maturity, and I don't just mean the ability to curse and drink beer. I'm talking about the ability to be amused by something more than the vicarious thrill of sniping law enforcement with imaginary firearms...enjoying genre conventions while subverting them requires one to understand them, no? Eh...like D&D, that's a lost cause at the moment.

Anyway. It's Friday, and it's Memorial Day weekend and for the first time in its nearly fifty year history, there will be no Folklife Festival in Seattle. This is the extremely depressing for Yours Truly but, you know, people are dying all over the country (still)...I mean, what are you going to do? And depression and disappointment are par for the course these days. Maybe I'll get around to doing my taxes or something.

Regardless, D&D will NOT be on the menu.

Hope the rest of y'all are doing well. I know this whole post is kind of a bummer, but I hope the the near future holds good things (and good times) for all of you.

Later.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Rooting Against the Players


I am not a thirteen year old boy anymore.

But I remember being a 13 year old (barely) and having friends who were 13 year old boys and what our D&D games were like.

*sigh*

As usual, apologies for the lack of posting. I've been in a bit of a...a what? Malaise? Is that a word?...lately that I just can't quite shake. Activity, keeping busy (running errands, gaming, working around the house) helps. Sitting in front of the computer, writing, does not. Not that I have excessive amounts of time to do that...the kids, when awake, need near constant attention, and when they're asleep, the malaise is generally pulling at my eyelids, too. Daily naps have become, more-or-less, a necessity simply to retreat and recharge my batteries from the constant interaction with my family.

Ugh...apologies. Didn't want to get into all that. Just wanted to offer a reason why it's hard to bring myself to the keyboard recently.

Back to the kids...while it's certainly interesting to be involved in campaign play with children, I can't say I'm finding it especially enjoyable. There's so much that children just don't know, so much information they don't have. Not just life experiences, but knowledge and ideas. Hell, vocabulary.

But, that's the bed I've chosen to lie in. And regardless of the sophistication (ha!) of any adventure design or narrative prose I might contribute to the mix, in the end things generally come down to a D6 roll for initiative, a D20 roll for attack, and...well, you know the rest. Basic arithmetic.

The kids, being of different ages (and, thus, different stages of life development) provide an interesting snapshot of different approaches and priorities in gaming. The six year old is most likely to think out-of-the-box in terms of game play; her grasp of the rules isn't strong, and she approaches the game with her imagination, often trying to befriend or communicate with monsters. The nine-year olds are straight-forward game players: their first instinct is to go for the sword (if they think they can beat an opponent) and loot the bodies. One exhibits more caution than the other, though this manifests as "hanging back," not in taking any separate or different approaches to encounters and challenges.

[interesting that the "cautious" player is a fighter while the the "gung-ho" player is a magic-user who hurls one dagger before charging into melee with his second. Seems to work for them, though]

The thirteen year old. Mmm. I ask him to roll for initiative and he asks what die to roll; same with attacks. Told there's an evil high priest bent on taking over the world and he wants to find the guy and join his cause. Capture a band of mercenaries via a sleep spell and he wants to tie a guy up, pour oil on him, and light him on fire. Just to watch him burn. Find some mysterious cave fungi and he wants to try eating them; same with dead insects. Find a cold, natural tunnel covered in a thin layer of frost and he wants to get on his shield and see if he can "sled" along its length; failing to scoot more than a few inches, he decides to pick up shield, move a few feet, and try it again. And again.

Having been a thirteen year old once upon a time, I understand about the need/desire to push buttons and boundaries, to experiment with what is possible. I get that. Some folks might even feel that it's appropriate (or important!) to engage in some "asshole behavior" not only to assuage curiosity but to "try on" the behavior and integrate the experience into the developing psyche. I'm sympathetic to this point of view myself (I'm of the belief that repressing developmental experiences can lead to worse behavior in adulthood...and that being an asshole in youth doesn't mean you become an asshole in adulthood, so long as you have the proper guidance, teaching, and parenting).

But, as I said, I'm not thirteen anymore. And I'm not terribly interested in indulging in bad behavior, or having it indulged in at my gaming table.

This is the problem with having a mixed-generation group like this. When I was a young teen, I was gaming with other young teens (boys and girls) and, out of the sight of any parental supervision, we explored our own imaginary transgressions. Pushed each others' buttons. Acted like assholes. Laughed uproariously. Eventually, somehow, still growing up to be well-adjusted members of society.

That's not where I'm at anymore. And it's irritating to have to pause the game and explain why, no, it's NOT a good idea to murder the matriarch to whom you owe 10,000 gold pieces for a raise dead spell because, A) you might need her services again, and B) she's a respected figure in the city that you use as a base of operations, and C) the temple is full of under-clerics, followers, and temple guardsmen.

I haven't done a whole lot to curtail the bad behavior, other than letting the chips fall where they may, but it's hurt and frustrated the other players...in our last session (yesterday) the boy's nine year old sister did not attend (claiming excessive school work) and I'm not so sure it didn't have something to do with the prior session's incident of torturing a prisoner to death for no reason. I find myself rooting against the player, hoping karma catches up to him before he causes more harm (to his own party)...and THIS is a bad place to be in as a DM. Not when it's already a challenge to maintain one's impartiality.

At the end of our last session, heavily wounded and burdened with treasure, the party decided to make a three day journey through the swamp in which the adventure is located, back to the tiny village that was the nearest "civilization." I explained that this wasn't the best idea; that they should try to stay on dry ground, at least to heal up a bit, rather than drag their wounded (at at reduced pace) through knee-deep water, infested with mosquitoes and snakes and whatnot, risking infection and disease. The magic-user was too weak to even walk (having been reduced to exactly zero hit points), and the kid didn't even want to spend the time to build a litter for him, preferring to sling him over his back, risking further injury or reopening of wounds. In the end, they compromised, building a litter with broken spear shafts, but deciding to make the hasty journey regardless.

First instance of
disease rules.
This morning, I decided to check the chance of the party contracting an illness or parasitic infection. Because I find the Blackmoor (Supplement II) rules to be both less informative and too specific for my tastes, I went with the more abstract rules in the DMG, as they are familiar to me; as I've written before, we were pretty By The Book back in our AD&D days. While I gave all the characters (except the paladin) a chance of contracting an illness, only two did: the party's dwarf henchwoman and the thirteen year old's fighter. Both earned gastrointestinal disorders: the dwarf's mild and chronic, the fighter's acute and fatal...karma indeed.

Of course, the party's paladin can cure disease once per day, so normally this wouldn't really be an issue. But would she use it on such a despicable human being who engages in torture and mayhem? Should she be allowed to? A lawful cleric might not even be granted the ability to heal such an individual, but paladins' powers are largely undefined (they appear to come from the character's own "innate goodness"). Since I do use alignment and class strictures, I had toyed with the idea of removing the character's paladin status for standing by while the fighter burned the mercenary alive (only dismissing the penalty as there had been nothing the paladin could do to prevent it from occurring at the time).

Mmm...decisions. I have a few days to consider before our next game session. In the meantime, I've introduced the classic BattleTech role-playing game to my kids and the children are having fun managing a mercenary company (lot of nice economic nuance in the old Mechwarrior RPG).  More on that later, perhaps. Turns out that my giant pile of hoarded role-playing games is a nice resource for a cloistered family. I'm debating if, perhaps, I should pull Boot Hill from the pile.

Anything to stave off the malaise.

[thanks for reading, folks]