September 9, 2014

Why Rush Character Generation?

I've seen numerous articles about how to speed up character generation...but I have to ask, why are we in a rush to finish character generation? I am sure some groups just want to start playing RIGHT NOW! but the faster the character generation, the less time is put into the character itself. They just become a series of numbers with no...character.

Case in point is the new 5E D&D. From everything I've read and seen, it takes about 30 minutes to create a character from scratch to being able to start play. 30 minutes. And yet, for some people apparently this is too long. So they create ways to speed things up. Now, I can see this for a one-shot, but if its a one-shot there are plenty of resources (check out these 1000 characters) for playing a pre-made character that you have no attachment to. With a pre-made you can completely skip character generation and start playing RIGHT NOW!

For me, I happen to like character generation, especially if its a character in a campaign that will last for some time. The decision making process causes me to grow an attachment with the character. I start envisioning why he has a low strength or how I'm going to play that low intelligence with a high wisdom. I can think about why he uses a bastard sword instead of a short long sword. I can use character generation to help define the character.

Only a newborn baby is devoid of a personality. By the time a character is able to start their adventuring life, they already have defined personalities. How do they react if someone snubs them, how do they react to nobility, do they like magic? While it is true many of these questions get answered during game-play (and I personally am against giving your character too much background) but many fundamental, or at least interesting, personalities are created as part of the character generation process. If you skip this process, you lose a lot.

Which then leads to the question of...exactly how long should character generation take? While I think there needs to be some time spent on character generation, sometimes it is possible for it to take too long, especially if all you are doing is defining numbers.

What do you think is a good amount of time to spend on character generation?

August 19, 2014

When I Like the Game but Not the System

I like Firefly. It was a very good show and there is so much there that would make it an excellent rpg...but I don't like the Cortex system. I have a version of Cortex but I just couldn't get into it. For me it was too "fiddly" rules-wise.

In the unseen war between DC and Marvel Comics, I am a Marvel guy. I just prefer their universe building over DC. Thus I have all of the Marvel rpgs that have been made...except the one that came out recently using much of the Cortex system in it. Also, to me it seemed like the ability to create your own characters over being "stuck" playing the established Marvel characters seemed an afterthought to the designers. I revolt against rpg systems that don't let me create my own characters.

FATE. I have Fudge (the base game from which it derived) and the Dresden books, but I don't think it's my type of game. I am more for the DM being in charge with the DM setting the universe and the players...playing in it. But I really like some of the ideas for games using the Fate system. Dresden for one and Base Raiders for another.

Conan. This has been seen in 3 different systems; one by TSR, one for GURPS and one for d20 by Mongoose Publishing.I don't own the TSR version and the system itself was widely panned by people. GURPS is not my favorite system despite attempting to run it in the past. d20 is too bloated for my tastes. But playing in the Conan universe sounds like a lot of fun.

GURPS. Talk about having a bunch of cool and interesting books, but not liking the system! I've tried to run their Riverworld book but couldn't get past the system. More fascinating books are Illuminati, Swashbucklers, Hellboy, Horseclans, Wildcards all games I'd like to play but held back by a system that is not to my taste.

I could go on with games such as West End Games d6 Star Wars, Dungeon World, Earthdawn, Elric by Chaosium and more. All games/genres that I like but tied to systems I do not. Basically these have all been games I would like to play/run but the systems keep putting me off from doing so.

Now, I know I could convert these games to systems I do like (despite the many systems I do not like, there are more that I do like), but honestly, that is a lot of work and I'm not sure the payoff is there. Usually if I am buying a setting book it is because I don't want to do the work required in creating a version that fits my favorite game systems. I am looking for something I can use off the rack.

I do however, own a bunch of these games despite the fact I won't be running them with their systems. Often I get them just to read them for fun. Sometimes I get them with the notion of actually doing the conversion work, or at least looking for ideas for creating my own version. Or sometimes I get a crazy notion of running with their chosen system...but that never seems to work out for the best.

Do you have something similar; games/settings you really like but that use a game system you do not like?

August 15, 2014

5E Friday - Monsters

This week saw the online release of the free Dungeon Master's D&D Basic Rules v1 (the printer friendly version is here). Basically this is about 50 pages of monsters, some guidelines on building balanced encounters and some background on monster design (enough so a person can design/convert monsters for 5E). This was then followed up with some sample monsters and the Table of Contents for the upcoming Monster Manual being released.

-The DM Basic Rules is very bare bones. Sure, there a bunch of monsters a group can use to create their own adventures. That seems to be the purpose of the document, to let groups run their own is not a true preview of the MM.

-The formatting of the DM Basic Rules is weird Monsters are listed completely alphabetical...Adult Red Dragon is listed under A for Adult, not under D for Dragon. However, looking at the MM samples it looks like they are listed in the "usual" manner...Dragons go under D with different types of dragons also being listed under Dragon. Likely the formatting for DM Basic Rules was done for speed and ease.

-The DM Basic Rules really only give stat blocks and then a sentence or two for a description. The sample monsters from the MM show much more detail. Again the sparseness of the DM Basic Rule entries was likely done for speed, ease and space.

-Looking over the list of monsters to be in the MM, it looks like they included all the "mainstays" of monsters. There was no iconic monster I was looking for that was not included. There were very few "oddball" or "new" monsters (except for a maybe a couple like the Flumph). I like this. For a first MM, people want to see their favorite monsters given stats. People don't want to look for their favorites and not be able to find gives a sense of the book being short. Instead I feel the book looks like it will be "full".

-The Table of Contents has 25 pages of Miscellaneous Monsters. No detail is given but I am assuming this is animals, dire animals, dinosaurs and such. Seems like a lot of pages for these which I like. Again, I suspect the animal and similar categories will be covered fairly completely.

-9 pages of NPCs. If it's like the ones in the DM Basic Rules this should be sample of generic NPCs (Thug, Acolyte, Mage, etc) which can be readily inserted into an adventure. Again useful.

-I didn't see anything in the Table of Contents that showed there would lists showing monster CR. Maybe that was on another page...or they won't be included. If not included that would be a shame. I wouldn't want to have to be forced to flip through the book looking for the monsters that fall within the encounter levels I am building an adventure around.

-Overall, the Monster Manual looks strong...and the DM Basic Rules is an excellent (and free) aid to adventure design until the MM and DMG come out later.

August 8, 2014

5E Friday - Morningstar

Morningstar is the codename (stand-in name) of the software suite for 5E...because despite the fact that 5E has already released they still don't have a name for the software yet. Here are some of my questions/thoughts on Morningstar...

-Sounds like they will have all the books online. If you like running games with a computer at your side this should be useful. I prefer paper and dead trees but I know a lot of people like being able to use a pdf during play to look stuff up. Hopefully they will be bookmarked.

-The test beta is currently ongoing (I signed up but haven't gotten in yet). I know some, if not a lot, are in the beta, testing the product out. Maybe there is a strict NDA on this but other than a few people saying they are in the beta, I haven't heard any first hand info on the product yet. I suspect the product is not close to ready yet.

-Will a delay in the product hurt it? There really hasn't been a lot of info on it yet, not a lot of blogs/sites are talking about it. Is this because there is nothing to work with or that no one cares?

-There is not a lot of hype about Morningstar. Even the company producing it hasn't been real aggressive on hyping it. I suspect part of this is that the software promised for 4E (and 3E) were over-hyped and then never delivered on. Seems like this time they are holding the product close to the vest so that anticipation doesn't run amok. You can't be disappointed if you're never told what to expect.

-Custom magic items, monsters, treasure will be customizable. This will help bring 3rd party publishers into the fold more readily. However, character races/classes are not currently on the table for the software. They say they are working on it but there are "obstacles". I can see this from a programming side, but I really hope they can work it in. Allowing it to be fully customizable will be very important for 3PP buy-in.

-Seems to me from their FAQ they are still a long way from completion; a lot of "we hope to", "we're working on". This is a bad thing as they will miss the initial 5E hype.

-And they need a better name.

July 25, 2014

5E Friday

Finally I'll take a look at the Starter Set and Basic Rules...

-What is the "job" of the Starter Set? To provide those who have not played D&D an easy to handle and comprehend method to learn what D&D is and how to play it. Does it do its job? Yes. All the rules needed to play are laid out. The only thing missing is the character generation rules, but characters are provided including how to level them up (which I like since I believe character leveling is an important thing to learn).

-Interesting that they went with an Ability based system. It could be said that D&D has always been an Ability based system, but I would say that each edition kept moving away from such a thing, downplaying Ability over the other powers a class had. 5E goes back to an Ability based system, perhaps even more so than even 1E was.

-The Ability rolls are mostly random. A step above just rolling just 3d6 per sat...or even 4d6 drop 1 stat in order. Still...with an Ability driven system it could get painful. So many things rest of the stats. Of course they do offer alternate stat generation systems. I suspect this one will be house ruled to each groups taste.

-Advantage/Disadvantage will work very nicely. Last week I wrote a fairly long piece on Advantage. I'm looking forward to seeing it in play.

-Saving Throws. Again Ability based. Different from 1E but should still work fine. In fact, keeps it simple - no added categories or mechanics to remember. More elegant.

-Skills were gutted. The reliance on them has been limited. The number of them has been reduced. Right now there are no ways to get more, however, I suspect if a group adds feats then there will be a way in the PHB.

-Races. The basic 4, good to see. I also like that they have no negative stats (that always annoyed me). Also I like that they have room to grow for new races. Each race has several perks. If they only had 1 or 2 it would be harder to add new races that are diverse enough. Adding in new races will be easy. I also liked the subraces. Now instead of adding "aquatic elves" and giving them a 3 page write-up with new just add a paragraph as a sub-race.

-Classes. Basic 4 again. They work. Again they have enough "perks" that creating a new class allows for enough "wiggle room" to add new concepts instead of only 1 new idea. Also again the Archetypes will be very interesting. Instead of creating a whole new class an Archetypes will likely handle it.

-Pet Peeve. Both the Starter Set and Basic Rules go out of their way to make mention that you always round down...and then the Fighter/Champion Archetype has you round up for the Remarkable Athlete ability. I know that specific rules trump general rules, but why break the rule in the first book. Is it really a rule if we start breaking it right away?

-Inspiration. Not sold on it yet. Seems nice but I suspect it will be a "necessary" perk before long i.e. people will expect to always have Inspiration.

-Backgrounds. Nice. However, I wonder if its overkill. Classes have their core abilities, then Archetypes, now Backgrounds. In effect when making a character you have 3 choices to make (4 if you count Race). It's nice for individuality but seems a bit much. Still it does allow for customization.

-Multiclassing. I worry that we'll have every Wizard going 1 level in Fighter for the Proficiencies they would get, like wearing armor. However, we'll have to see the PHB to see how it actually works.

-Will I play it? I'm not going to drop my current campaigns, but I will likely use 5E for my next campaign once those wind down. Also, I was writing a campaign for Savage Worlds that I'll now do up as a 5E game.