What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
After Winter Dark Campaign Setting

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Quick Rules: Elite Units

I thought I would share a little houserule and game mechanic I've used in my C&C games (which can be applied to any D&D type game).  I've been using this successfully for the past three years and was something I was going include as an option in the Ballista.

Now, it the concept behind the mechanic isn't entirely new and it's been seen before in other applications.  It also looks like D&D Next may be using something like it as well.  The mechanic in question has to do with what the Advantage / Disadvantage system uses.  Basically, you roll 2d20 instead of just the 1 and you take the better (or worse) of the two rolls.  In 3rd Edition, some of the d20 games (Wheel of Time comes to mind) you had a Feat that allowed you to re-roll and (if memory serves) keep the best of the two rolls.  The only difference there was that you didn't roll the dice at the same time, you just used the Feat / Ability to re-roll a potentially bad roll.

I started using it a few years ago to bring a much difficult challenge for my players and their higher level PCs.  I love creatures like Goblins and I realize that most players don't think much about them after a certain level unless they are in sufficient numbers.  I've employed strategic deployment in some cases where a higher, more intelligent power, was involved and a combination of a line of goblin archers and skirmishers can have a devastating effect on the player characters that don't exercise a bit of caution in combat.  But in some cases, I want to do something more without necessarily adding hitpoints / hitdice or overly equipping them.  In order to keep it simple, I figured out a while ago that rolling 2d20 and taking the better of the two rolls for purposes of attacks, certain skills, and certain saves will transform any creature into a much more devastating and challenging opponent.  This opponent, because of the increased odds of success effectively becomes an 'elite' unit without necessarily changing any of his stats.  At most, you can always max out the hitpoints for a creature of that type and that's it.

A squad of 6 'elite' goblins can be devastating to an experienced party -- especially if they get the drop on them.  Careful though, a well executed ambush may even wipe out the party.  ;)

So to sum up:

Elite Units get roll 2d20 for each attack and physical based save or skill check, keeping the best of the two rolls.  Max out their hitpoints and you're good to go.  As far as XP is concerned, I'd double that too.  ;)

For a more detailed examination behind the math, I suggest Robert Conley's excellent post detailing the math behind Advantages/Disadvantages in D&D Next over HERE.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Even More R&R: Diablo II - The Awakening [pt.2]

In part one, I talked about an often overlooked accessory that came out at the tail end of the life cycle of 2nd Edition AD&D -- mere months before the release of 3rd Edition.  As far as an adventure/accessory is concerned, it is a diamond in the rough.

After flipping though it a few times, I can't help but think this could really be an epic campaign and possible be considered a 'megadungeon'.  Now some people will argue what makes a megadungeon and it's probably a term that is thrown about a bit much.  I probably have used it out of precise context on occasion and others will disagree on the nature and label of some well known dungeons and adventures.

One point: Does a megadungeon have a big overarching plot and goal?  Some will say no, it does not.  Others have no problem if it does or not.  Was the Temple of Elemental Evil considered one?  Depends who you ask but, at the very least, it shares many things that a megadungeon happens to possess.

And so does Diablo II: The Awakening.

The story for Diablo really begins when the demon was first trapped by a group of magi into a crystal of sorts which was then buried and a monastery was built on top of it.  After several generations, a town sprung up next to the ruins of the forgotten monastery and the King decides to take and make a Cathedral on top of and out of the ruins of the old monastery.  The old evil remained however, and the biship was 'compelled' to free the demon from his prison.  The King became possessed, and then his son, and evil shrouded the small town.  Many people die and many atrocities are committed.

The adventurer in the game arrives some time later and essentially has to set things right.  Now, in the original game, you end up playing through the Cathedral, down through the Catacombs, followed by the Caves, and finally Hell itself.  16 levels worth where you end up fighting the animated skeleton of the king, the archbishop that freed the demon, and finally Diablo himself.  At the very end, you have the original crystal shard and, you decide to sacrifice yourself to take the crystal away in an attempt to 'contain' the evil.

In the second game, you essentially find out that the adventurer from the first game wasn't quite successful in his efforts and again, you must hunt down Diablo as well as his brothers.  The game once more starts off in the small town but has you traveling the globe and many different dungeons to combat this evil.  Once more, you grace the edges of heaven and hell.

The point, I'm trying to make is that the game is pretty much using a recognizable model  Just consider the list:

  • A small town besieged by evil which can be used as a base of operations for multiple forays into the 'megadungeon'.
  • A very basic plot line to give players a goal to strive for but with little to no direction on how to best accomplish this task (at least in the first Diablo game).  Well, maybe 'go down till you reach the last level of the dungeon'  ;).
  • Each section of the larger dungeon has it's own creatures, foes, challenges, and traps and a creative DM could easily build an 'ecosystem' and societies accordingly which can function independently from other sections.
  • There is no reason to believe that most of these sections could ever really be cleared either... not with a gateway to hell open at the very bottom at any rate.

It would only take a few notes and minor effort on the part of the DM to transform this into a viable and memorable adventure.  Some of the overarching themes are very reminiscent of other classic adventures and campaigns.  Given the price point of a used copy, there are many gaming sessions that could be had with this little gem.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Attitude Towards D&D Next

While I am not the slightest bit surprised, the release of the playtest document for the next version of D&D has caused many to stir and comment on it.  For the most part, I'm happy to say that it seems to have been positive.  I'm sure that is partially due to the generally poor reception and sentiments that 4th Edition received.  On the other hand, there are those who are already proclaiming that this is the last act and that the game is effectively 'dead'.

Interestingly enough, the D&D brand must be pretty hard to actually kill since this isn't the first time this sort of proclamation has been made.  Gygax leaving TSR, a 2nd Edition to AD&D, WOTC buying TSR, 3rd Edition, the OGL, and 4th Edition and the GSL have *all* been used to justify this claim.  I'm certain for some, some of these could still be true.  I'm not saying that there isn't a perfectly good reason to say this now with the new edition either.  I've read many interesting blogs and followed various discussion threads in the past couple of days talking about what this means for D&D.

One of the more interesting ones was the fact this new D&D is no better or worse than the various OGL permitted creations that has spawned since the introduction of 3rd Edition.  Games that I actively play and support like C&C benefited greatly with the reaction that some had to the 3rd Edition game as well as 4th Edition.  Some people didn't care for all that 3rd Edition had to offer but appreciated some aspects of it while retaining a better simplicity.  Then 4th Edition happened and a lot of fans jumped ship... some to games like C&C and a whole bunch to Pathfinder.  In efforts to reach a new customer demographic, WOTC effectively alienated everyone else and they realize that now.

But with this kind of 'break', can we consider the game dead or just a whole new game?  I don't think so.  I'm certain that many (former) fans will eventually be wooed back from games like Pathfinder and C&C.  If most of the commentary holds true, I'm sure there will be more than any of us would like to admit.  I neither think this a bad thing or a good thing but since it sounds like it strongly links back up with pre-4th Edition material, it could garner at least a good initial reception and end up sustaining it if they continue to play their cards right.  In the end, the majority who have played the game 'want a D&D' product which is 'familiar' to them.

While there is concern about the future of D&D, I honestly am a bit concerned about the future of other games and the companies that produce them.  Pathfinder can only continue to sell for so well for a while longer before sales begin to dwindle compared to initial figures.  This was part of the issue with 3rd Edition after all.  Will Paizo eventually concede to a new Pathfinder edition to maintain and bolster revenue streams?  What about TLG with C&C?  Right now, preparations are being made for the 5th printing of the PHB.  How does a company continue to revitalize a game without an edition change and how can they compete?  Well, in this case, the PHB is going full color which will be a first.  It's trying to do something to keep noticed and hope to be considered as an alternative to the bigger games.

Frankly, this just isn't the end that a few are making it out to be nor is it a miracle that will unify gamers.  It is just a game though.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Even More R&R: Diablo II - The Awakening [pt.1]

Back in the TSR had just bought out and work was progressing on Third Edition, someone must of have thought there was some great value by licensing the Diablo brand.  Diablo was insanely popular and Diablo II even more so and it provided a great PC game for some good old "hack n' slash" in the Action RPG video game genre.  It had a decent backstory... NPCs to converse with... and tons of critters to kill and much loot to be had.  It's been 12 years since Diablo II and now Diablo III is providing amusing entertainment to older and new players alike.  However, back around 2000, someone thought that Diablo and D&D were a good match and they released a box set as well as a separate sourcebook to do just that.  It was among the last in a line of AD&D 2nd Edition materials WOTC was publishing prior to the release of 3rd Edition.  Subsequently, they also recycled and put out d20 / Third Edition versions of the material.  I distinctly remember my thoughts on it when I bought my Third Edition PHB (when it was first released, the first printing was MUCH cheaper in order to woo older AD&D players -- a mere $20).  I dismissed it entirely as a cash grab.  I loved Diablo II *very* much but didn't see the need of an AD&D sourcebook for the computer game.

It would be several years before I decided to track down and pick up the sourcebook from a secondhand source.  Why did I do it?  I honestly don't remember to be honest.  Probably because I was able to get it very inexpensively.  I had also starting buying a whole bunch of d20 and AD&D based material I didn't already own because of the rekindled interest in RPGs of the sort after picking up Castles & Crusades.

I liked what I saw.  It's not exactly an adventure though everything you need to run an adventure based on the computer games is included.  It's a shame that most people (unless they were Diablo fans coming to D&D) have the same sort of reaction I had when I first saw it.

The book covers a few key things to make this experience 'Diablo-esque':
  • The AD&D version gives PC kits to convert/upgrade various classes to be recognizable to what you played in Diablo II.
  • It stats out the various monsters and key villains for AD&D...  Diablo is kind of sick as a 50 HD critter.  ;)
  • Provides spells and skills inspired from the game
  • Provides the means to construct random magical items in a manner that is reminiscent of the computer game.
  • It gives maps and details of various levels found in Diablo as well as a summary of the plot and information on town of Tristram
The bulk of the book is the tables for items, the monsters, and the spells, skills, and kits given. Really, what else would you really want from a book which is promoting a D&D version of a video game whose primary focus is hack n' slash and monty hauling?

For this, an accessory such as Diablo II: The Awakening, is deserving of some scorn.  However, I've come to love the book for what it is.  It's a diamond in the rough, so to speak.  In the hands of a capable DM and someone who has the capacity to look at the greater picture, this can be a campaign of epic proportions.  Just a bit of work is required to turn this into a mega-dungeon based campaign that can be fondly remembered as opposed to a book left on a shelf.

If you lack vision, the critters and magic tables (as well as the magic shrines), provide enough material to be consistently used as a tool for your own games.  The spells and skills may seem a bit 'video game' in presentation but that's hardly surprising either.  Still, there is some good stuff here too.  It's a solid resource at minimum.

Speaking about 'minimums' ... fortunately, it isn't expensive if you are stumble upon a copy.  It is part of the WOTC collection which got yanked from PDF vendors but a physical copy of the AD&D version shouldn't cost more than $10 - $12 used.  Noble Knight Games has a couple in stock.  As to my thoughts on the 3rd Edition version... well, while the Skills and Abilities lend themselves quite well as Feats, due to the level of crunch Third Edition play has, it looks like the one book as been converted and split up into two books.  One is entitled "Diablo II: Diablerie" which contains the what's needed to create 3rd Edition versions of the characters, as well as usual Player Guide stuff as well as some monsters and a sample adventure.  The other is entitled "Diablo II: To Hell & Back" which covers various regions and maps from Diablo II from the various acts and a bunch of more monsters.  In my opinion, the AD&D version is a lot more 'bang for your buck' when comparing to the Third Edition versions.

Now, since that's settled -- Why do I think this "Diablo II: The Awakening" is possibly a worthy megadungeon and what would be needed to solidify and transform it into one?  That my readers, I will talk about in Part 2.


Good Intentions

There's a lot of good intentions which end up floating about... I really had good intentions about writing something once more for the blog Wednesday or Thursday evening.  Didn't quite get to do that... and Friday was spent with at the doctor's and the dentist's.  And then the long weekend and a good friend visiting us for the long weekend here in Canada.

And so on.  My bad.  So tonight, instead of playing Diablo III (which also has not been touched since the middle of last week) is getting bumped in favor of at least the first part of a two part piece I wanted to talk about.

It's about megadungeons and one in particular... and something about Diablo as I do a special edition of the R&R posts I have been doing.



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Getting Back On Track

Sorry about the absence... the return to work from my Vacation has been a bit busy.  I'm also doing a lot of work around the apartment the past couple days which has largely kept me away from my computer.

Admittedly, I did spend a couple of hours yesterday combating the minions of Diablo.  ;)

Full posts will resume by the end of tomorrow!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

One More Tome For The Bookshelf!

I had to go out briefly today to run some errands.  Upon coming home a package was waiting for me outside my door.  This is what it contained:

Between this book, my very late delivery of my "Eldritch Tales" compilation of Lovecraft, and my copies of "Carcosa" and the "Isle of the Unknown"... I'm really happy and have got tons of stuff to look through and read!