January 27, 2015

Dungeon Survey - Timewarp to Now!

I've been looking through some old Dungeon magazines lately and in issue #37 (1992) they had a Dungeon Survey asking people what they were looking for from the Dungeon Magazine. For fun I decided to fill but with how I would do it for a Dungeon magazine being produced today. After my choices I've included a copy of a blank form in case anyone wants to download it, fill it out and put it up on their own blog.

January 20, 2015

The Reality of Character Balance

In the early days of D&D, and early rpgs in general, characters were not balanced with each other or even sometimes with the system. Some were weak to the point of uselessness and some could break the system. Some of the first counter-D&D rpgs touted character balance as a system advantage. D&D itself slowly followed course as each edition created more and more balance between the characters, each other and the system. 4E was the height of this building-for-balance philosophy, to the point where classes became blurred with each other. But why all of this pursuit of balance? Is it to create ease of encounter balance, wherein a DM can more efficiently create balanced encounters knowing that the capabilities of the characters fall within certain parameters? Or is is it something else?

Character balance is done for exactly one reason. Players want their characters to be as powerful as the character played by the other people at the table. Players do not expect their characters to be balanced against the monsters; they can always run away or wait a few levels if a monster is too powerful for them. No, they want to know if their character has an even chance against another player character.

Now some players really don't care about that level of balance. Those are the ones who play characters with shticks that usually inhibit them somehow - the one armed character, the blind character or any bard. But they don't care about balance. However, for the rest of the players who complain about a game system being unbalanced it that PC to PC disparity that annoys them.

I once played a human druid in 1E wherein I rolled horrible with my stats; nothing was over a 12 and I had a 6 Int. I actually had a lot of fun at the beginning playing that character, especially since me, the player, would often figure out a puzzle or situation and I'd have to think of a way for my character to relay that info while still keeping him an idiot. It was fun setting my character against the world setting and by extension the game system.

When did it stop being fun? When another player's character began to bully and antagonize my character. The character was stacked and very unbalanced. The DM was allowing for alternate races, as found in various magazines of the time, and this one had made a Githyanki with excellent stats and abilities. The player started having his character pick on me (attacking nature fauna, etc knowing that as a druid I couldn't stand by and let it happen) - he was goading me into a fight my character could not possibly win because of the imbalance between our two characters. Clearly the two characters were unbalanced with each other. You could say that by allowing splat rules is where the imbalance to come in, but really, in those days D&D was not a balanced system even RAW.

Balance is about player vs player, not about player vs game system.

December 19, 2014

5E Friday - Codename: Morningstar

This is tangential to 5E in that WotC already cut their ties with Trapdoor and their Codename: Morningstar aka Dungeonscape digital product. However, 5E put their name in the public eye and I feel their Kickstarter is a continuation of their 5E work. And that is what I want to talk about today, their Kickstarter.

As most people know, they have a Kickstarter to update the software they were working on for 5E to be used for Pathfinder (and any other system they can get). They are asking for nearly half a million dollars ($425,000). For any Kickstarter that is a lot to ask for in the initial offering. Most Kickstarters, even those that break $500,000 initially ask for far less. Look at Numenera - $517,255 pledged but $20,000 was the initial goal. I think Trapdoor asked for too high an initial goal.

Now for my real problem with Morningstar. Essentially Trapdoor is asking to people to fund a product that already failed. They already had a contract with WotC. They failed to reach their end of that deal. They failed to meet their deadlines with the quality they had promised and was expected. From many accounts, the beta, which didn't start until after the product should have already been launched, was riddled with problems. Some of those problems were basic things that should have been sorted out long before a beta (mis-adding stat bonuses to a basic attack). And now they want us to give them more money to finish the product they couldn't finish before.

Sure, converting the software from 5E to Pathfinder can take some time, but their proven track record is...bad. Really, the software should have already been completed.

Personally I think Trapdoor has high and lofty ideas, ideas that are great if they can be achieved. I'm not sure they can do it, certainly not in a timely manner. And to ask for half a million dollars to finish something that should already be done, seems ludicrous to me.

December 16, 2014

5E Group Background - Family

The World Builder Blog did a nice article on Group Backgrounds for 5E. Basically these are backgrounds with the assumption that the player characters are all from the same background instead of the usual individual ones. This allows for player character group to have some initial ties, giving a more coherent reason of why they are together.
The initial article gave some basics for the Group Backgrounds, but I thought it would be neat to expand them into regular backgrounds. These could also work as regular Backgrounds for individuals.

Group Background: Family
Your party is made up of characters who are all part of the same family. Not everyone needs to be blood-related. Some might be related through marriage or adopted. Others might be servants or friends so close they might as well be family. Whatever the relation, you have spent a significant portion of your lives together and that time has created a familial bond.

Skill Proficiencies: Persuasion, choose one of the following (Insight, Perception, Sense Motive)  
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A set of fine clothes, a token from your favorite sibling (a ring, toy, or scarf), a belt pouch continuing 15gp

Feature: Favor Exchange
If someone outside the family owes a family member a favor they can repay the debt to any member of the family. Any NPCs consider your family one close unit and as such will grant favors and friendship to all members of the party equally.

Suggested Characteristics:
Family has its own quirks and foibles. You may hate each other, but in the end you are all family. Blood runs thick. The truly odd part is that it is possible to be an individual while still being part of a large group all with a similar background.

Personality Trait:
1. I have an annoying habit of always saying what’s on my mind – no filter.
2. I tend to interrupt people in conversations. We just got used to talking over each other growing up.
3. I love to cook but I always over-estimate how much to make.
5. Growing up I had to wear hand-me-down clothes. Now that I’m an adult I make sure to always wear new and fine clothes.
6. I eat my food quickly.
7. I tend to be the quiet one in the back. I’m used to not being noticed; being noticed makes me uncomfortable.
8. I try to have good manners all the time. I don’t swear or yell. I open doors for others. I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I am respectful to others.

1. Clannish. My family is the most important thing to me. Everyone else takes second place to them. (Neutral)
2. Closeness. A family is the fundamental core of any society. It all starts with the family and a strong family can make the world a better place. (Good)
3. Pandemonium. In a large family there are always multiple things going on. I embrace that diversity of action as it keeps life interesting. (Chaotic)
4. Respect. The elders of the family are the ones with the learned wisdom to best make the decisions for the family. I treat them with the respect they deserve. (Lawful)
5. Exploitive. I’m just using my family to get ahead. (Evil)
6. Enduring. Every family has its ups and downs, but in the end we’re still family. (Any)

1. The founder of our family was a famous adventurer who changed the world. I seek to emulate him and make my name just as celebrated.
2. The family has fallen on hard times and I seek to bring it back to the heights of society.
3. Some of the ancestors of our family live on as ghosts. Maybe it’s just my overactive imagination but I believe I can see them…and that they talk to me.
4. A few generations ago we lost our ancestral sword in battle against orcs. My driving goal is to recover it for our family.
5. One of my sisters married into a powerful family. Unfortunately I believe she is in an abusive relationship. I will find a way to free her from her predicament.
6. I have a favorite sibling; I would do anything to keep them safe.

1. Every family has its black sheep. I guess it’s my turn for this generation.
2. One of our ancestors was a traitor to the kingdom.
3. My family is used to sharing, clothes and other possessions, all the time. Sometimes I forget other people aren’t like this and they get upset when I take their items.
4. I suspect someone in the family is cheating on their spouse. It’s only a suspicion so I am not sure what to do about it.
5. I am deeply in love with someone, but one of my siblings is also in love with them.
6. You are an illegitimate child. While not of direct blood, they still accept you as a member of the family…for the most part.

December 9, 2014

5E Group Background - Secret Society

The World Builder Blog did a nice article on Group Backgrounds for 5E. Basically these are backgrounds with the assumption that the player characters are all from the same background instead of the usual individual ones. This allows for player character group to have some initial ties, giving a more coherent reason of why they are together.
The initial article gave some basics for the Group Backgrounds, but I thought it would be neat to expand them into regular backgrounds. These could also work as regular Backgrounds for individuals.

Group Background: Secret Society

Your party is made up of characters who work for an organization with inner workings which remain a secret to the public. Your society might be spies for a government, a cabal of assassins, a band of hidden protectors of nature, a team of vigilantes, a group trying to divine the secrets of the world, an organization bent on world domination, or something else. Whatever the case, you have a secret mission to carry out. This secret bonds you and your party together in trust.

Skill Proficiencies: Deception, choose one of the following (Persuasion, Stealth)  
Tool Proficiencies: Disguise kit, forgery kit
Equipment: A set of fine clothes, two sets of common clothes, a disguise kit,  a belt pouch continuing 15gp

Feature: Information Network
You are part of a network that relays secret information on a regular basis. You are able to pass along and gain information easily. Once a day you can send out information or request information on a topic and sometime thereafter (as determined by your DM) a response will come back to you through your network. 

Suggested Characteristics:
Being a member of a secret society means always living a lie. Who can you trust? Who can trust you? Fortunately, you have a core group of people you know you can trust, but beyond them the world is uncertain.

Personality Trait:
1. I do not have many possessions. I may have to pick and move on a moment’s notice.
2. I don’t like looking people in the eye. This tends to make them nervous around me.
3. I enjoy discussing politics.
4. I am afraid of giving too much away so I talk as little as possible.
5. It’s very hard for me to trust anyone I haven’t known for a long time. I assume everyone is lying to me.
6. I am more of a follower than a leader. Maybe that explains why I was so willing to join this society.
7. I like to think I’m a sexual charmer.
8. I am as outgoing and friendly as possible. Everyone trusts a friendly face.

1. Revolutionary. Things need to change. I haven’t thought much about what the world will be like after the change, but that can wait for later. (Neutral)
2. Idealist. Only through change can the world be made better. (Good)
3. Anarchic. Down with those in authority! Change the status-quo! We will prevail and change the world! (Chaotic)
4. Trust. I have reliance on the society. To question it would introduce doubt and lead to failure. (Lawful)
5. Rebel. I like being outside the established societal order, whatever that might be. If we win by accomplishing our goals and become the new society, I’ll rebel against that. (Evil)
6. Diligent. I believe in our mission. (Any)

1. I once had an intimate relationship with a leader of the society. It didn’t work out but I still have feelings for them.
2. My older brother, who was also part of the society, was taken in for “questioning” by the local authorities and has been missing ever since. I will find him one day…or at least uncover what happened to him.
3. I’ve used so many aliases, it’s starting to get confusing as to which one I’m supposed to be using when.
4. There is one new recruit that may be too young for this sort of thing. I’ll have to keep an eye on them and make sure they stay safe.
5. I used to do a lot of heaving drinking to help me get through everything. I realized I had a problem and stopped completely. However, some days it’s hard not to go back to drinking.
6. I am building a hidden stash of money and items in case it ever all goes bad.

1. I was once accused of selling out the group for money. It was later proved it was someone else instead. Now no one completely trusts me any longer.
2. Members of my family have been asking a lot of probing questions about my activities of late. Soon I may have to choose between my family and my society.
3. I have the local authorities out looking for me.
4. I suspect another member of the society, one outside on my immediate circle, of betrayal. However, the person is highly placed within the society so openly accusing them without proof will get me killed…but the longer I wait the more harm they can cause.
5. I am being blackmailed. Someone knows of my membership in this society and is threatening to reveal it.
6. My father is a high ranking member of the authorities that are actively hunting us.