Gaming Friday

There’s this refrain I’ve seen pop up a few times over the past few weeks that, while the first time seemed amusing, by the third there was clearly some gross misunderstanding going on at best or, at the other end of the spectrum, some downright purposeful falsehood being peddled to promote hostility and prejudice.

So here’s the thing:

NO, D&D did not remove all distinction between ‘races’ in the game.

NO, all ‘races’ are not now the same.

NO, the publisher was not forced/pressured/browbeat into doing this by some sort of morality warrior mob.

NO, the game hasn’t been ruined.

What has occurred is that the recent sourcebook (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) notes that the standard attribute score bonuses of the various races (species) speak to archetypes and gives the option for you to switch them around on your character, if you choose.  Also, you can swap out languages and proficiencies for another.

That’s it.

Now, I’ve made the argument before that attribute bonuses are the most boring way to differentiate between different species, while also being sorely restricting to RP and flavour.  So I’m quite happy that this change has been made, opening things up.

But for those who are making the argument that without these attribute bonuses all races within the game are now the same, what they’re saying is that for them, a +2 to Dex is a greater differentiator than being resistant to poison.  Or being a construct that doesn’t breathe or sleep.  Or innate magic.  Or, you know, breathing fire.

Which, to editorialize for a moment, I find absolutely and hilariously ridiculous.

Besides providing a more prominent distinction between the different heritages, these kind of abilities are also far more exciting and meaningful in their use and how they shape the feel of the character’s lineage.  Best of all, in sidelining attribute bonuses it also sidelines the potential for them to invoke or reinforce limiting and/or negative stereotypes, connotations, and contexts that can bleed beyond the game.

So I would invite those who are worried to set that aside and see that far from being a diminishment this is a flourishment instead.

And to those who say the game itself is under attack by a bunch of hysterical agitators, I would like to say that we all can see that it is, in actuality, you who has got your knickers all up in a twist.

The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 12

We’ve been playtesting the Aurora RPG Engine during our regular Sunday game and it’s been going very well!  (Much smoother than I figured it would, actually, which has been a most pleasant surprise.)  As we play on, I’ve noticed a couple of really neat things.

Postscript 2 – Further Probabilities

First, because Margin of Success is determined by the number of “remaining” dice, there’s an easy way to figure out what the probabilities are for achieving a certain MoS for a certain number of dice.  This is because asking “What’s the chance of generating an MoS of 1 on 5 dice?” is the same as asking “What’s the chance of generating success on 4 dice, so that I have one die left over?”  To which we already have the answer from the previously generated probabilities chart:  roughly 50% (though again it’s really 45%).

This also makes it nice an easy to generate a matrix to quickly reference the probabilities for each MoS:

Or, as a chart showing the chance of getting at least MoS X:

Postscript 3 – Hidden Rolls & Discoveries

Second, the above leads to another very cool and interesting thing: the system is bidirectional.

Typically, the difficulty of a task is handled by adjusting the base dice pool.  This allows the player to viscerally feel their chances and properly size up the situation, thus letting them make appropriate choices (and fully RP it out).  However, there are certain instances where it may be more appropriate to not “give away” the difficulty of a task to the player and have them roll blind.  In certain campaign and genre styles – such as one where the characters are expected to be over their heads or one where it is a grim and failure-heavy milieu – this may apply to most of the tests/rolls.  For others, this may be saved for more uncommon circumstances where the level of tension is heightened by explicitly being uncertain and not in the know.

The sweet thing here is that, as evidenced above, the probability of success when removing dice is the same as requiring an MoS equal to that number of removed dice.  Therefore, if a player needs to succeed on a test where the difficulty is pegged at minus 2d, the test can instead easily be run ‘blind/hidden’ by having the player roll and checking if they get an MoS of at least 2.  If not, then the test is failed.

This can also be useful for areas like perception, discerning realities, investigations, and similar, where the GM may not want to tip their hand that something is there (by specifying there is a penalty) and where the overall margin of success can be used to determine the amount or exactness of the information gained or discovered.  For example, the players are searching a room and there is a particular item that is difficult to find (the GM has determined it’s well hidden indeed at a -3d difficulty).  They roll; on an MoS of 0 they find a few mundane items, on an MoS of 1 they find some important documents, and on the MoS of 3 they find the secret compartment containing the important item.  To flip it around, if the characters already knew the object was in the room but just not where, and they were actively searching for it, the GM could let them test normally with the up-front 3d penalty.

(As an aside, Star Trek Adventures does a version of this for many types of searching, sensor, and etc tests, giving a basic amount of information on a success and allowing the player to spend Momentum (their version of MoS) to give additional and more exacting details and information.)

With this bidirectionality, the engine gains even more flexibility and adaptability, all in service of running the game in a way that supports the campaign genre, tone, and style.

Postscript – Breaking the Core Mechanic | Index

Gaming Thursday

Playing over Discord during these physically distanced times has been working out quite well, albeit with the occasional moment of hacking something together. To whit, you might get a kick out of this map of an epic assault the crew recently did, as annotated realtime by me in Photoshop as our ‘battle map’…

Rough legend:

  • Characters are in blue
  • NPCs in yellow
  • Structures, vehicles, and antagonists in red
  • Effects and actions are in cyan (and sometimes green)
  • Situation modifiers in the upper right corner
  • Map is not to scale! So it says in the lower right corner

It was quite effective and very fun to do, chronicling everything as we went forward.  And I am super amused at the end result in this crazy work of ‘art’.  BTW, that shuttle at the left side of the map?  It was sitting on the pad for the most of it, and I made great use of the layer transform tools to ‘animate’ it as the player inside piloting, fired the big guns (hence the giant cyan Xs on various bits), and then made their escape with all the kidnapped folk safely onboard…

Needless to say, a good time was had by all involved.

(Super bonus points to all who recognize where the base map comes from…)

 

Gaming Thursday: Pet Classes

Here’s a quick, off the cuff, totally not fleshed out or playtested idea on how to handle a pet class (ie someone with an animal companion or similar) in D&D that may resolve the current disappointment/issues with the current iterations of the Beastmaster Ranger (and similar) classes.

To begin though, I get the difficulty in crafting this kind of class.  There’s a few of major things to balance:  first you don’t want to add too much complexity (having a player have to manage two full-fledged characters), and second you don’t want to add too much power (where the character + their companion’s abilities overshadow everyone else at the table).  And while the revised Ranger and it’s Beastmaster subclass from Unearthed Arcana seems to have found a mostly workable solution for that, there is a third area of balance that remains the Achilles heel:  hit points.  To avoid allowing the companion to become a vast sponge of extra hit points for the party, the companion’s AC and Hit Points remain modest… which means they are all too often going down like a chump.  Sure, the Ranger can resurrect them, but few want to play a class where their best bud is dying every other day.

So here’s the concept:  Have the companion fully share the combat economy with the main character, not only in actions and attacks, but in Hit Points as well.  How this is fluffed will depend on the specific pet class – a ranger or druid could have a real spiritual connection/ bond to their companion, a warlock might have a more parasitical and/or arcane tie, etc – but the basic idea is that you can balance the class almost as a single actor within a combat encounter.  So when the main character takes a move action one or both can move, and when the main character takes the attack action, each attack they get as part of that attack action can be performed either by the main character or their companion.  And when one gets hit, both are closer to being knocked down.

At its simplest, as well as in some ways the most extreme, everything about the two could be set to be exactly the same:  to hit, damage, AC, etc.  It’s one character, just being two places at once on the board.  (To be fair, though, if both are caught in an area attack, they only take the damage once).  It’s also workable to have some minor differences between the two in AC and attack power.

The nice thing about this is it makes it easy to turn nearly any character into a pet-using class, since there’s little change in their effective contribution to the party’s abilities and power.  Of course, even if using the option of complete identicalness, there are some extra benefits that come from having two bodies in play, but they mostly fall into the same category of advantages that come from having a familiar (albeit one with much greater hit points, though outside of combat that should matter much less).  The biggest impact may come from having an extra ally for the purposes of controlling territory or granting the Rogue sneak attacks.  It’s fair then to have the character need to swap out a minor class feature, or make a custom Feat that allows them to gain the companion (with, I’d say, a few extra riders or a single +1 ASI, since the power gain wouldn’t otherwise be a full feat’s worth).

The last tweak that may make this sing is to allow – or require – the character or companion (whichever one takes the damage when this occurs, or a choice if they take area damage simultaneously) to drop unconscious when they reach 25% of their Hit Points.

So that’s the idea.  Iffn’ and when I get a chance to test this out, I’ll report back.  And if you try it, please comment below with how it went and any suggestions you have!

Gaming Thursday: GM Advice – Preludes

Last weekend our group wrapped up the first part of our Star Wars campaign (and the first part of my Aurora RPG Engine playtest).  Though, in reality, it wasn’t really the first part of the campaign, for the campaign I’ve got planned to run is the Dawn of Defiance campaign, a massive 12-part adventure.  Instead what wrapped up was three prelude adventures, which, originally, I meant primarily as a shakedown cruise for the new ruleset, to fix any egregious problems before we began to play in earnest.  But what I’m realizing now is that these preludes provided so much more than just that, enough that for any epic-length campaign I run from now on I will always run a series of preludes.

Big-ass campaign modules are kind of in vogue right now.  Whether they be termed “adventure paths” and bought as a series of interconnected modules, or whether they come in a single and big 256-page book, there are plenty out there that promise to take the characters through a big, grand, and heroic adventure arc.  Which can be great!  But if the campaign starts with beginning or new characters, there’s no time for the players to get settled and feel out and inhabit their characters before they get plunged into that big narrative.  Which can weaken the feel and excitement and visceral experience right at the most crucial moments of the game: those events and those hooks that are intended to serve as the fire that carries the campaign forward.  If those moments fall flat, or the investment isn’t there (because the investment isn’t yet there in the character(s)), then the feel of the entire campaign can suffer.*

Hence, running a series of preludes to give the players a chance to feel out and develop their characters before the inciting incident of the campaign proper.  This goes both mechanically and RP-wise.  Sometimes a certain build doesn’t play out at the table as well as, or as interesting, as we’d thought it would.  Or, as our character’s character settles down, maybe what we built no longer suits this new direction.**  And getting that direction itself is critical.  While we may come with a backstory and thoughts on how they behave, often that shifts during game time as we explore and play and let things bubble up… often seemingly from nowhere, but it fits and feels right and so it becomes part of the character.  Through the chance to play and develop the players get to know their characters, the characters get to know each other, and the builds get settled, all so that once they begin the adventure path there’s nothing left to hammer out and they can immediately fully inhabit what’s to come.

So that’s my little epiphany and cheerleading for always running a few introductory adventures before embarking on the grand adventure path voyage.

 

* Of course, for campaigns that consist of independent and smaller scaled adventures this isn’t required – in effect, every adventure is like a prelude.  And sometimes the adventure path/big book/etc already does this, with a series of small things to deal with before the big hook, in which case great, the work’s already been done for you.

** Or, equally important, if the campaign starts with very experienced characters (ie, starting at a higher ‘level’), then there’s the added layer of just learning how to run that character and all their abilities.  Plus, there are more abilities and combos to tweak and try out to find the fit that suits the vision and the evolving character.  Nothing is worse than having an epic start to a campaign grind to a halt as each player tries to figure out what their character can do or how to do it… and yes, very much speaking from experience here).

Gaming Thursday: Aurora Results

Alright!  With a gaggle of sessions under our proverbial belts, our Star Wars game and my new ruleset that powers it have been going great.  Thus far, things have run very smoothly and has already fueled a lot of great moments.  There’s still some rules gaps and wrangling to do, but the base document is pretty much complete (if written completely in point form language).  I’m not quite ready to share it yet, but I will try to get back to writing its big gestures and intents.  Until then, here several cool things that have emerged thus far, specifically around core Aurora Engine elements: Continue reading

Gaming Thursday

I am very much excited about WotC’s announcement that they’ll be shifting how they portray (and thus limit) ‘inherently evil races’ to open up much greater latitudes in alignment, abilities, societies, and etc.  For one, the term race is confusing, since these are really whole different species.  For two, just as our species (humans) are vast and varied, so too should be and can be members of other species (whether elves, or dwarves, or kobolds, or orcs).  For three, it’s far more interesting!  Automatic evil is easy (and still available, be it through fiends or monstrosities or undead) but allowing for greater agency by the antagonists is more juicy, and the meatiest stories often deal with the ‘evil within’ (both individual character but fellow humans/etc acting in very bad ways) vs an external and ‘black box’ kind of auto-evility machine.  For four, as someone who finds attribute bonuses the least interesting way to differentiate different species, I hope this pushes more games (even if D&D itself likely won’t adopt this unless they ever do make a new edition or come out with an optional ruleset) towards more nifty species talents/stunts/feats (such as the Dwarf’s resistance to poison, or the Dragonborn’s breath weapon) that create far more interesting options, capabilities, and side uses for players.

For five, and of great importance, is this:  who we know ourselves as a person and as a collective people is/are thoroughly governed by story – the story we know about ourselves, the stories we tell about our community, the stories we speak of about the world. As such, the stories we make up and tell each other for entertainment absolutely has an impact on how we view, interact with, and treat the real world and others within it. They are not separate.  Thus to say ‘this race is all bad’ or ‘this race is always big and scary’ or ‘this race is really only good at this’ creates mental traps for us as we relate to and deal with others in our actual and lived lives.

So yeah.  Doing away with the more rigid stereotypes and tropes and that present a gameworld view that one’s place, role, competencies, and expected outcomes in the world are governed primarily (and almost entirely) by factors of their species and instead moving towards the item(s) that often draws us to our favourite fiction: culture, style, worldview, way of life, way of building things, and ways of dealing with things. In short: towards character.

Because character and characters are what an RPG is all about.