Friday, August 26, 2022

Mad Mashup: Weapons

I’ve decided to start my dive into my mad mashup of various D&D and OSR sources with weapons because they may give the broadest range of examples of rules I’m pulling from.  The goal was to keep the math simple but also give reasons for picking one weapon over another.  The inspiration was the fact that weapons are, in fact, tools for getting various jobs done.


Every weapon is designed to allow you to kill that guy over there, when that guy over there has done things to keep from getting killed.  Maybe they’ve got their own weapons, or they’re mounted on a horse, or they’ve wrapped themselves in protective metal.  Western Europe during the Middle Ages saw an amazing flowering in the design of weapons and armour.  And every single one of them was designed to solve the problem of doing unto the others before they had a chance to do unto you.


(If you want a deeper look into what I’m talking about here, check out this guy’s videos.  He does a great job discussing the historical uses of weapons and spends a lot of time talking about the context that lead to the individual designs.)


With that in mind, let’s take a look at what I did for my B/X mashup game. 


(This just didn't want to upload properly. If it's as unreadable for you as it is for me, go here for a Google Docs version.)

In original B/X, all weapons did 1d6 damage.  That keeps things simple, but utterly flies in the face of my “a tool for every job” philosophy on weapons.  Still, I like that simplicity, and just giving weapons different ranges in damage doesn’t really get where I want to go either.  So I compromised.


If you’re wielding a weapon in one hand, it does 1d6 damage.  If you’re using two hands, it does 2d4 damage.  Some weapons can be used either way.


The next column is Oversized.  This is for the LotFP encumbrance system, where a single oversized item gives you a point of Encumbrance straight off the bat.


The prices I’m pretty sure were taken from 2e D&D.  I love 2e’s equipment lists as they’re just huge across the board.


Notes is where the magic happens.  I gave most weapons a special ability.  Under “arrows,” for instance, bodkin arrowheads (narrow, stiletto-like heads designed for armour penetration) give you a +1 to hit if the target is wearing armour or has a thick hide.  Broadhead arrows, conversely, add +1 damage per arrow shot.


And that brings up a thing with arrows.  In traditional D&D, a round of combat can range in length from 6 seconds to a full minute.  And in all of that time, an archer can only get off one or two shots.  This is supported by assuming that the targets are moving around defensively, so the archer has to take their time lining up their shots.  I’ve always been meh on this.  So instead, I allow the archer to fire up to four arrows in my 6 second rounds.  All arrows are fired at the same target, and every arrow after the first increases the likelihood of landing a telling shot.  So instead of doing more damage, every arrow after the first gives the archer an unmagical +1 on the attack roll (for a total of +3 from the arrows). 


You still only roll one d20 for all for arrows to see if the target loses hit points, and you still roll a single d6 or d8 to see how many hit points are lost.


And so we can go down the list to see how weapons differ.  The bill, for instance, is good at unhorsing opponents.  Flails ignore shields, hammers and maces give you a +1 on your attack roll if your foe is wearing armour, shuriken only do a single point of damage but the target suffers Disadvantage on whatever their next attack roll (because shuriken are traditionally more about distracting people than killing them).


Advantage/Disadvantage is what I ported over from 5e, and it works the same here: you roll an extra d20 and you take the higher if you have Advantage and the lower if you have Disadvantage.  You can’t stack multiple Advantages or Disadvantages on top of each other, and if you have one of each they cancel out.


The special abilities of the two-handed sword are based on the montante bodyguard techniques.


And that’s all there is to say there.  None of these are terribly complex and each has its role.  Also, since they are individual to weapons, I can leave it up to the players to remind me of what special thing their weapon of choice does during the fight.



Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Answering JB

 JB, author of the awesome B/X Blackrazor blog, calls me to task for making unsupported arguments yesterday.  So here are my attempts to answer him:


Okay, understanding is that 5E has a LOT of fans, including a large proportion that played some prior version of D&D (including many folks who, at one time, might have been classified as "old school" or "old edition" gamers). When you say you think MOST 5E fans are going to LOVE 5.5 you have to be a bit more explicit: what specifically is it you think is going to appeal to "most" 5E fans? What's the draw? The anime/storytelling thing? I don't get the sense that that's the reason "most" folks play 5E.

Gotta' give me more as an explanation for your conclusion.


First of all, let me say that there is a lot of guesswork going on here.  However, it’s not completely groundless.  My first source comes from WotC.  That said, WotC isn’t exactly an uninterested observer and has all sorts of (mainly financial) reasons to shade this data.  And I’m fairly certain some of it has come from very unscientific public surveys. 


With those caveats aside, let’s look at the data we do have.  We’ll start with this infographic published by WotC back in ’21. 


Ok, assuming most of us started playing around age 10 (4th or 5th grade in the US), that means people who started playing with TSR-era D&D at most make up 27% of their current players.  Even if we say only half of those played before 3rd edition, that gives us better than 1-in-10 grognards amongst 5e’s fans.  That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it also means at least 70% (and it’s more likely closer to 80%) of people playing D&D missed the TSR era simply by being born too late.


Of course, just because they missed it doesn’t mean they’ve never experienced it.  Thanks to the OSR, it’s not impossible that they have had a taste of OSR play.  So, how are people playing D&D?


And here, I’m really gasping: a Reddit poll.  In this particular poll, Wild Beyond the Witchlight came in first, an adventure notorious for being so light on combat you can actually finish it without spilling a drop of blood.  Also in the top 10 are the investigation-heavy Dragonheist and the atmosphere-heavy Curse of Strahd.


Of course, you can also counter that the “hard core” (kinda-sorta but not really) hex crawl Tomb of Annihilation came in 2nd and the chock-full-of-TSR-goodness Ghosts of Saltmarsh came in 4th.  I can counter that WotC doubled down with Strixhaven, but then you can counter that WotC has published a lot more Stormgiants and Frostmaidens than Strixhavens. 


My final datapoint is the popularity of CriticalRole.  People keep linking D&D’s success to Critical Role’s.  I have no idea how correct they are; after the collapse of what had been the “conventional wisdom” of over the past 20 years, I’m hesitant to lean too heavily on the new conventional wisdom.  That said, having seen the lines (and the money-generating power) of Critical Role and Acquisitions, Inc., I’m not going to believe that these streaming games haven’t had an effect on how people play the game.


None of these are silver bullets, just a collection of data points that nudge me towards believing that the build-your-own-furry combined with a build-your-own-background-based-on-your-eight-page-backstory is something that will please most D&D players these days. 


But just because it’s a scientific wild-ass guess doesn’t stop it from still being a wild-assed guess.





Tuesday, August 23, 2022

5.5 is 5 Finding Itself

 Having flipped through the first playtest doc for D&D 5.5 (as I’m growing more certain everyone is going to end up calling the new edition), and having actually created a character with them, I think what we’re seeing is 5e finding its focus.  I’m not going to shock anyone when I say that 5e was a bit of a flailing hot mess of a game, which is perfect if you want to make it your own, including what you want and leaving out what you don’t.  But the “all things to all people” language of D&D Next is missing from One D&D.  5.5 knows what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is a story-telling machine.


Now, first off, I absolutely do not mean a story-telling engine like those that came out of the Forge, obsessed with replicating the structure of stories through the game mechanics.  Quite the opposite.  The models for 5.5e are the streaming games like Acquisitions, Inc. and Critical Role.  They want to give you that beloved anime series feel of friends banding together and going on a crazy journey that mixes soul-rending drama with wacky hijinks, interspersed with a seemingly random fan-service session where they all go to the beach or dress up to attend a high ball. 


Keeping in mind that the plural of anecdote isn't data, my experience has reinforced this.  The "kids these days" seem quite happy to toss the settings and rules and use D&D to run Narnia or Hogwarts or this really cool thing they came up with themselves that combines the Mandalorian with the Inheritance Games set in a distant corner of Tal'Dorei.  (Exactly like we played rangers with the double-barreled crossbow from Lady Hawke teamed up with a thief wielding the glaive from Krull and the psychic winged-
snake Pip, hunting color-coded ninja through the post-apocalyptic world of Thundarr the Barbarian.) 


The playtest doc they've released kneecaps the Rules Masters by basically banishing any sort of best-combos of race and class from 5e.  It's all about letting you play that runt orc who ran away from home to become a wizard, the tiefling rock star, the human kid abandoned as an infant and raised by fairies. 


I'm almost willing to bet real money that milestones become the de facto default advancement mechanic.  I'm not at all being sarcastic or mocking when I say that I'll bet they wish they could remove death from the game almost entirely, since nothing is more disruptive to a long-term storyline than PC death. 5.5 is gonna be weird, but I think most of the fans of 5e are going to love it.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Playing with B/X, OSR, 2e...

So where has this troll been?  The reason I’ve not been blogging about RPGs is mostly because I’ve been playing them.  For the past year, I’ve been regularly running a weekly 5e game face-to-face, taking part as a player in weekly 5e game on Roll20, and irregularly running a mad mashup of TSR-era and OSR games.  

The spine of the game is B/X, so that means race-as-class, wonky leveling mechanics based on gathering treasure, etc.  I’m using a more modern combat turn system (as much as I love the B/X one, asking everyone to decide what they’re doing before their turn was just a bridge too far), the 2e Monster Manual (which I still consider the best ever made for the game if you ignore the art), and the equipment list from 2e’s Al-Qadim setting.  I’ve created a new character sheet that incorporates LotFP’s encumbrance system.  I’m also using Shields Shall be Splintered, my minor magical effects and spell-leakage rules, a variation on DCC’s Might Feats of Arms, and yet another variant Table of Death & Dismemberment.

The resulting games have been a hoot.  I’ll be sharing more on this soon. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Return of Gleemax!

So if you watched the trailer for the next “edition” of D&D, now called One D&D, you’ll have noticed that half of it was devoted to their upcoming virtual tabletop.  (For those of you playing developer-speak bingo, it was described as “robust” but they did not actually use the word “scalable.”)  With DRAGON emagazine vanishing once again, you’d be forgiven for thinking this feels awfully familiar…

I, for one, welcome our new digital overlords!  One of the big disconnects in the RPG hobby has been that the publishers are called publishers for a reason; they make their money selling books, not necessarily by getting people to play the games.  Appealing to the collector/completist has been a financially superior strategy over people actually playing the game.  

That this is a horribly bass-ackwards way to run an industry should be obvious.  If WotC can pull off the VTT this time, it might not revolutionize the industry, but it ought to revolutionize the publishing plans for D&D.  We might even see the books become loss-leaders, funneling people towards the monthly subscription of Gleemax 2, where the real money will be made.  

In addition, while One D&D might smack of the same sort of marketing BS as D&D Next, Ben Milton thinks they may mean it this time.  The more they integrate the rules of D&D into their VTT, the more expensive it will be to change those rules.  They’ll also avoid bifurcating their audience (which, according to Ryan Dancey, was what happened every time they released a new edition during the TSR era).  And, as Milton points out, if Curse of Strahd is still a viable adventure in 30 years, they can release a big, deluxe anniversary edition for the nostalgia sales with little effort or expense.  

However, just launching a successful VTT won’t be enough.  Lots of groups have already invested the time and effort to learn how to play via Roll20TaleSpire already has the 3D virtual minis thing going strong and has alliances with virtual market heavyweights like Heroforge.  I am absolutely certain WotC can lean into D&D’s domination of the TTRPG market to overtake those competitors who’ve already stolen a lap from them, but I suspect it won’t happen overnight.  

I just feel really sorry for One More Multiverse, who just announced full integration of the 5e rules into their VTT the literal day before this all dropped.  The timing on this has got to smart.