31 July 2011

d20+ redux

I was a little surprised when I realized how few dice I’ve had out for the current WotC D&D 3e campaign.

With more d20+ dice, I’ve put my ten-siders, my “tens” dice (ten-siders numbered 00–90), and regular twenty-siders in storage. That really lightens up my “in use” bag and the number of dice on the table.

I’ve also swapped all my Gamescience six-siders in favor of my casino-style sixers.

Now I’m thinking that I want to acquire some of those d30s numbered -0 to -9, 0 to 9, and +0 to +9. (d30±) Like these from Kevin Cook’s collection.

30 July 2011

Composite long bow?

AD&D lists a composite long bow. As does WotC’s 3e D&D. Which recently struck me as odd. As I understood it, longbows weren’t composite, and composite bows weren’t long. Am I wrong?

29 July 2011

Real Monopoly

The Campaign For Real Monopoly:

Somewhere along the line someone said, “Let’s just leave out that stupid auction rule; we’ll have much more fun that way.”

Now if parents want to play a crippled game of Monopoly because they’re too scared to teach their children how to deal with interpersonal conflict then fine, that’s their prerogative.

But we’re gamers; we don’t have to descend to their level.

I think there’s something different at work here. When it comes to subterfuge—and lots of games are about subterfuge, younger players are generally going to be at a disadvantage to older players. Though there are certainly exceptions. It’s less about not teaching the kids to deal with interpersonal conflict but trying to put everyone on a more equal footing.

Although, in the matter of auctions in Monopoly, I think it is something different. I think most people just don’t like the auctions themselves. Not the outcome. Not how anyone deals with the outcome. Just the actual auctioning itself. It’s seen as trouble and not fun.

For what it’s worth, I believe the last time I played Monopoly was less than two years ago and the auction rule was used.

22 July 2011

Digital RPG books

In the comments to the Grognardia post, “Books, young man. Books.”, faoladh writes:

When digital books improve considerably, I will consider going there, but for now they are too clumsy (especially for the particular sorts of use that game texts see), there are problems with issues of ownership vs. “licensing”, and they are too expensive for initial entry, among other potential problems.

I can’t say that faoladh is wrong. This is his opinion and experience, and I can’t argue with that. What I can do is look at my own experience and opinion...

I don’t bring books to sessions anymore, unless it is a book I can’t get a digital version of. I just bring my iPad.

The Hypertext d20 SRD site is, for me, better than the books. It has all the open content from several D&D 3.5 books in one location converted into easy-to-read and easy-to-navigate web pages including good hyperlinking. The licensing is clear enough and without issue. (Especially from the “I’m just playing the game” point-of-view.) And, it’s free.

I also really like the SpellbookMaster app that imports the SRD spells into a database.

I bought the Mekton Zeta and Mekton Zeta Plus books from RPGNow. Mekton Zeta Plus I actually bought, downloaded, and used in the middle of a session. They are watermarked PDFs and DRM-free. I don’t remember the prices I paid, but those PDFs are currently $10 and $12. They are pretty clumsy to use, but I have the same issue with the hardcopies. The problem is in the lay-out itself. In fact, the ability to add bookmarks to the PDF may actually make them a bit easier to use.

Not to mention the number of RPG books I can carry with me almost anywhere to read or reference at a moment’s notice.

And it really comes down to the iPad. It was the final piece of the puzzle that made this practical for me.

21 July 2011

AD&D2e Rangers

Why do rangers get two-weapon fighting in second edition AD&D (and later editions)? Well, I’ve heard reasons that claim to be informed by people from TSR, but this is why it made sense to me at the time.

When I looked at the ranger class, I primarily saw Robin Hood. (And perhaps the strongest image of Robin Hood for me then was the Disney movie starring anthropomorphic animals.) My image was of someone who wouldn’t wear heavy armor or carry a shield. Yet, under the AD&D rules (as I and my friends played or misplayed them) the advantage of heavy armor and a shield were too good to pass up. Giving the ranger class two-weapon fighting ability and restricting it to when they were wearing lighter armor gave mechanical reasons for our rangers to look more like my image of the class.

My opinions have changed these days. I have different opinions about armor. I have different opinions about two-weapon fighting. I have different opinions about the ranger class. At the time, however, it made perfect sense to me.

20 July 2011

Operational rules in RPGs

Jeffs Gameblog: LotFP vs DCC

Assuming you aren’t weirded out by the artwork then LotFP shines as pretty much the tightest version of D&D ever. This virtue comes across most clearly in the section devoted to what I call “operations”, i.e. how to open a door or check for traps or crap like that. Most reviews of most D&D descendants (and many whole games!) completely skip this stuff because it's usually boring to read, but in actual dungeoneering play these mechanics are crucial. LotFP delivers the best, most coherent set of operations rules I’ve ever seen.

Let’s consider all the rules in D&D that don’t have to do with combat or magic. Let’s call these the “operational rules”. (Which may be slightly different than what Jeff is talking about above. This is my springboarding off his post.) There’s a surprising amount of them. Even in ye olde original D&D. They are often glossed over when talking about the game, but I’ve come to see them as very important.

These operational rules are what makes D&D an exploration game rather than a combat game.

Take a look at the combat system. Excluding Chainmail and WotC D&D, the D&D combat system is enemic compared to wargames of the era. (Oh, let’s exclude AD&D too just to keep it simple.) And D&D was created by wargamers. That says to me that D&D wasn’t primarily about combat.

Of course, there’s also the fact that D&D is a role-playing game, and that role-playing doesn’t really show up in rules. Yeah, I know you might disagree with me, but whenever I see rules that claim to govern role-playing, I generally see just another mechanical game rather than role-playing. Role-playing happens in the spaces between the mechanics.

19 July 2011

What’s right for you...

Reading this review of Mutant Future, this just struck me as funny. The “to hit” tables get a bulleted mention as a negative. Levels, however, get a “might be a negative to you but not for me” in the concluding paragraph.

18 July 2011

The benefits of standard tuning

One of the reasons that I bought my Roland VG-8EX is that I broke a string.

I was trying to tune one of my guitars in major thirds. The standard tuning for guitar consists of perfect fourths except for the interval between the second and third strings, which is a major third. It would be nice if the tuning were uniform. Also, standard tuning requires shifting position to get to certain notes even on the middle strings. Tuning to straight major thirds addresses both those issues.

The Roland “virtual guitar” systems allow you to “virtually” retune each string, so you can experiment with wacky tunings without having to worry about strings breaking, being too loose, or non-uniform tension across the neck. So, I have been able to play around with major third tuning without breaking any more strings or being worried about abusing my guitars.

Major third tuning is cool. Strangely, though, it has also given me a new appreciation for standard tuning. Those challenges that standard tuning presents are also opportunities for creative solutions. (e.g. Instead of shifting to get to a note, bend to it.) Or sometimes simply pushing yourself to do something that isn’t easy. And that can spur musical creativity too.

17 July 2011

On initiative

The way that a role-playing game determines the order of actions in combat is usually called “initiative”. Some games use a dice roll, while some use a character stat or some combination. Some games determine initiative “per side” while some do it per character or some mix. Some determine initiative anew each round of combat while some keep it the same throughout a combat.

What is my favorite system for initiative? None. At least, none of those. Ideally, for me, it goes something like this:

  1. The judge determines what the NPCs/monsters will do
  2. The players describe what the PCs do
  3. Actions are resolved in the order that makes the most sense based on what everyone is doing

So, a character with a readied ranged weapon is going to be able to get a shot off before his opponents close with him. If two opponents are coming towards each other, they’re going to meet in the middle—exactly where depending on their individual speeds—and the one with the longer weapon is going to get the first attack.

Generally. Extenuating circumstances might change any of those situations.

Some games do list such things as exceptions to the rule. I tend to think of it the other way. Those are the rules and the dice and/or stat method is the exception. There are still plenty of times when the situation doesn’t dictate initiative and dice/stats have a part to play. Though I might prefer an ad hoc contest rather than the generic rule most games have. And, I like a mechanism that allows for ties, because sometimes it happens. (“Jump ball!”)

Now, I’ve heard plenty of reasons why such a subjective system shouldn’t work, but—in practice—it seems to work just fine. Although...

Our Saturday group currently has nine players. We’re playing Wizards 3.5e D&D. While I may not be overly fond of 3e combat, it does handle combats of this size. I think it would be hard to run them my way. The number of PCs alone is pushing “7±2”. On the other hand, based on past experience, I’m wary of running a game with that many players anyway. Still, I might have to experiment.

16 July 2011

Why “story games” aren’t my preference

It’s the difference between being a character in a story and being the author (or a co-author) of a story.

15 July 2011

One of the great things about RPGs

The Guitar Hero & Rock Band games seem to have peaked. No more versions may be produced. Eventually, the controllers will be discontinued. New consoles will come and the old ones—along with their controllers—will get sold in garage sales, given away, etc. The controllers will also start breaking down. Thirty years from now, it may be very expensive to get a working console and working controllers to play some Rock Band with friends.

There’s a great Avalon Hill game called Magic Realm. If you’ve never played it, it will cost you a lot to get a used copy. It has so many parts, there’s a good chance a used copy will be missing some.

Thirty years after the classic, c. 1981, D&D Basic and Expert sets were published, you can download a copy of Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy for free and play pretty much the same game. In another thirty years, that should still be true. (Heck, I’ve got the rules on my phone.) Sure, you need a computer, a connection to the Internet, and—optionally—a printer; but the expense of those things are spread over lots of other uses. If polyhedral dice become hard to find, you can fall back on electronic dice simulations. (I’ve got a bunch of such apps...on my phone.)

14 July 2011

War hammers

Back in “Worst Labyrinth Lord melee weapons”, I wrote:

The war hammer. Is this something like Mjöllnir or a late medieval bec de corbin kind of thing? Is the latter subsumed within pole arm or pick? Why is it two-handed with no one-handed counterpart? Note that dwarfs can’t wield two-handed weapons, but the magical dwarven [sic] thrower war hammer has special rules when used by a dwarf. I’m beginning not to care that the mechanics are suboptimal and unlikely to be picked by a PC. ☺

So, after too little research, I jumped to this conclusion: Mjölnir wasn’t a weapon but a blacksmith’s hammer used as a weapon. Or, if it was a weapon, perhaps it was a throwing hammer. The kind of thing that became the sport of hammer throwing. Or maybe both.

(And that’s ignoring the note I saw that said sometimes Mjölnir was called a club or axe.)

So, the war hammer is your typical bec de corbin sort of thing. (Probably one of the shorter variants with the longer ones being pole arms.) The “War Hammer +2, Dwarven Thrower” is not a really a war hammer but a throwing hammer. Which makes me wonder what the stats for a non-magical throwing hammer ought to be. Same as club or hand-axe?

13 July 2011

Characters and spreadsheets

How much I like a role-playing game system is inversely proportional to how much I feel I need to use a spreadsheet for my character.

As a general thing.