D&D Starter Set Combat Rules

I just finished reading the basic combat rules from the new D&D Starter Set.

I must say, they are pretty good. I’m sure that they will give some more complex rules in the upcoming three “core” books but at this point I would say these basic rules are pretty playable. They seem to account for a number of different actions without making combat take a lot of time.

The rules for using skills are pretty good to.

They seem to have dropped the use of percentile dice. Thus far I’ve not run into use of percentile dice. That’s weird. But whatever.

I haven’t read the spellcasting rules yet.

It’s kind of funny. D&D was the first popular RPG. Not sure if it was the first, but it was certainly the first popular one. It has its flaws, and many RPGs since then have come up with better combat systems, spellcasting systems, etc. But they all had something to start from and compare themselves against. So I’m think that perhaps the new D&D design has finally taken advantage of the same fact.

More later, as I continue to delve into this.

Something Old, Something New

Not sure if I mentioned, but earlier this week I picked up the new D&D 5th Edition Starter Set. I’ve been trying to decide what to send my nephew. 1st, 2nd, or 5th Edition. The Starter Set is only $20 (even less on Amazon.com), so I decided to just check it out.

The game mechanics are a bit different, but all the essential elements are there. I like it that they have included rules for using non-combat abilities and skills, like every good RPG since the old days has done. That is an improvement for sure, and very good for role playing.

Combat, in some ways, is greatly simplified. The higher the Armor Class, the better the armor (a huge change, actually). So for any character, the base roll to hit, say AC 18, is an 18. That number is then modified by level bonuses, specialization, etc, etc, etc. So there’s no big table to cross reference like in 1st edition. I actually like the THAC0 system in 2nd Edition, but I must admit it was still kind of convoluted.

Magic users are not quite as weak at 1st level. They have a d6 for hit dice, rather than d4, and have more spells and whatnot. I always preferred to play Magic Users, so this is kind of cool. Oh, they don’t call the character class “Magic User” anymore. It’s Mage, or Wizard, or something.

There are other differences, and I’m sure more will come to light as the new Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and DMG are released.

Now…do I still personally prefer 1st and 2nd Editions? Yes. So far the new version seems pretty good, but there is still something that rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps I’m just being silly about this, but the “slickness” of the new game design and the actual materials is clearly the product of a division of a big company, not a few guys sitting at a table making up a new game. However, I spent some time getting up to speed on the history of 5th Edition, the crowd-sourcing they used to help design it, and it seems like the folks working on the game are real gamers who really love RPGs. There are some features I’ve seen in info released from the upcoming Players Handbook that I don’t like a lot. I’m not crazy about some of the stuff they’ve done for character classes and backgrounds. Some of it frankly seems like stuff you’d see in a card game or video game. But that’s the era we’re living in, and they want to sell some books and make some money, so whatever.

I’m not a game design professional. I think this new version will probably appeal a lot more to current young gamers than to old guys like me. If they seek to please people like me, they will be pleasing a very happy but dying market. Not a good business model.

So, I’ve just sent a copy of the new Starter Set to my nephew. I think he will enjoy it. I think the materials, the quality and presentation of it all, will speak to a kid of his generation. I can easily learn the game mechanics and help him out if he needs help. So if he digs the Starter Set and gets a little game time in, I’ll send him the three new core books as they are released, and get them for myself for reference.


Interwebs Treasures #4

Some reviews of D&D Next (also known as 5th Edition).

I am having a hard time recognizing this as “real” D&D. I am old.

Other stuff I found this time:

I have a few observations on sexism and gaming. A few thoughts. I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, so cut me some slack if I’m way off base, but do comment if you wish.

  1. I have only DMed one campaign in which we had female players. This was when I was in my mid 20s, and I ran a game for my wife, a female friend of ours, and straight male friend, and a gay male friend. I’m assuming this may not be a common mix of players, but times have changed and I could be wrong. All of these people were highly educated – working on or having Masters degrees or PhD in some heavy subjects. It’s been said that women are not attracted to gaming because of the complexity of the rules. I don’t know about this, because I’m not a woman. I can say that these two women had never played an RPG before, and they LOVED it. The truth is that once a player has created a character, and has some understanding of what the character can do, the player doesn’t need to know a lot of rules. The Game Master needs to know the rules. The players just need to tell the DM what they want to do.  So if women really are generally averse to games with tons of rules, it really shouldn’t matter for RPGs. Over time everyone picks up the rules.
  2. People get very attached to their characters. Young people in particular, but I think everyone can get very psychologically caught up in the game. Thus, it is entirely possible for an act of violence or intimidation happening to a character in the game to be very much real to the real-world player on the receiving end. When my 15th level thief got killed in the Tomb of Horrors when I was 15, I was BUMMED! And I wasn’t even being harassed by a horny DM.
  3. I’ve read some stuff lately about women at conventions being harassed, in particular when they are involved in Cosplay. Dear men: because a woman decides to dress as a sexy Thor, and regardless of how well she succeeds, she is not giving you permission to act like an ass. There is no contradiction in a human being wanting to have fun and be sexy whilst simultaneously not wishing to be verbally or physically harassed, groped, etc.
  4. To sum up: if you are gaming with someone, it is incumbent on YOU to help that person feel welcome, respected, and appreciated at the table. Err on the side of caution.


the Overman

Back in college my roommates and I played a lot of Champions. I had a martial artist character who was a human/alien hybrid, Randal V (Roman numeral 5). Due to his strange appearance and experience with prejudice, he hated racism to the point that it was a disadvantage.  Our GM therefore designed his arch-enemy to capitalize on this. Thus, the neo-nazi supervillian, the Overman, was born. Our GM recently sent me a file with all the old character sheets he had with my artwork on them.

As you can see, when the Overman was last seen I had kicked the crap out of his racist ass, reducing him to -58 Stun.

I can’t remember if I made the swastika on his chest backwards intentionally or not. I probably just messed up.

Just remembering fun stuff.



Interwebs Treasures #3

Regarding the first story about the ouster of Gary Gygax from TSR: I’m sure Gary was no cakewalk to work with, but man, reading this stuff sorta makes me want to not play anything past 1st edition.

2nd Edition D&D Revisited

This last weekend I finally had a chance to look through the 2nd Edition books again. It has been, well, about 20 years. That seems impossible, but it’s true. Damn, I am getting old.

A few things I really like about the 2nd Edition rules.

  1. I like the weapon specialization rules for fighters. I suppose they are similar to the old Unearthed Arcana rules, which I never had but have heard a lot about.
  2. The 2nd Edition DMG has some rules/guidelines for awarding XP to character for doing the things their character class would, in fact, do.
  3. On a similar note, I like the separate Group XP awards and Individual XP awards. That makes sense.
  4. Specialization for magic users is also cool. I like that.
  5. The higher level limitations for demi-human races is nice. Some of the originals were way too low.
  6. I think the advice in the DMG about creating encounters is really good.
  7. I like addition of the Bard as a subclass of Rogue, that can be played from 1st level.
  8. The use of THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class Zero) system for determining the “to hit” number is nice, actually.

Overall, the 2nd Edition is streamlined where it needs to be, but adds stuff where it needs to. I do remember liking it a lot when I was using it.

A few things I don’t like about it:

  1. They removed the Half-Orc PC race. That sucks. I would add it back.
  2. This is kind of silly, but the 1st Edition books were written at a higher level of literacy. A college level. They seemed scholarly. They made you feel smart. The 2nd Edition books are not written for morons, but they are certainly written for a lower reading level. I miss the sage-like writing.
  3. I liked the Monk character class from 1st Edition. I would add it back in.
  4. I would keep the Demons and Devils and other evil stuff from the 1st Edition Monster Manual. Because, you know, that stuff is fantasy.

I’m sure I will come up with some other observations over the next few months. I think I would probably go ahead and use 2nd Edition rules these days. They retain enough of what was good about 1st edition improve a few things.

I still haven’t really taken a hard look at the 5th Edition basic rules, and I don’t have the new Starter Set. I will most likely pick that up this week and spend some quality time with it.  A quick look revealed a few things. They have changed the magic-user to a 6-sided hit die, so they aren’t quite as physically weak. They’ve also added the ability to use Cantrip spells at will, and they don’t take up a spell slot. I think I like that. I am anxious to see the new Players Handbook and DMG and see what they did with it.

Trying to decide whether to send my nephew the old 2nd Edition stuff or the new 5th. It seems like maybe 5th would be better. Might as well start him with the version most of his friends will be playing.

An adventure partially designed…

I’ve been working on the skeletal structure of an adventure and a campaign setting. I think the setting itself needs a lot of work still, but it is at least a start. The structure of the adventure is coming along a little better. I think that my best DMing days were without a doubt the game I ran in the early 1990s for my wife and some friends. I wouldn’t say I’m a fantastic DM/GM, but I think I got a lot better during that campaign. I spent a lot more time working on various levels of plot, from the big picture to the character level.

I am also seeing why I haven’t gamed in a while, or at least DMed/GMed. I am not satisfied to just slap an adventure together. I really like the process of creating a solid game with some good rationale and motivations. Over the last few years I’ve been writing a lot in general – nothing I have published on blogs – and have come to appreciate the value of being a very harsh self-editor. After writing anything but a blog post , I give it a day or two and really go back and edit with great fervor. Even in the writing up the outline of this first adventure, I can see the effects of these years of writing on adventure creation. If I do DM a game, it may not be the greatest thing ever, but it will be a lot better than anything I’ve done before.

In particular, I think the enhanced editing skills and planning will help the non-dungeon parts of an adventure. In my experience, that is where a lot of DMs kind of lose it. It’s easier to keep a party on-track when they are confined to a dungeon or similar environment. They can still do unexpected things, but it’s unlikely they’ll do something terribly off the path you envisioned.  I’ll write more about this soon, but in my last game I started making what I called “contingency trees”, to try to envision what the characters might do at critical points in the adventures (for instance, finding a clue or something), and thus give myself a clearer route to getting them back on path without them ever realizing they were off it.

This helped me a lot, as I’m not super good at coming up with stuff on the fly.

That’s all for today.


Something Challenging…

…making interesting adventures for 1st level characters, played by very experienced gamers.

I would like to see some comments about this. It is kind of a bummer, I think, for experienced players to have to go through the usual kobold-infested adventure to start a campaign. I have my own ideas on this subject – ideas and opinions – but I’d rather see what other GMs and gamers think about this.

So please…get your comments on.

Interwebs Treasures #2

Nerd Poker: a podcast by comedian Brian Posehn and other funny people who play D&D do exactly that – play D&D – and you listen to it. And it is fun, and funny. I listened to the most recent couple of episodes, and today I’m starting on episode .


Google Sketch-Up of the classic AD&D module setting, the Tomb of Horrors. This is where my highest level character got killed – turned into pink dust. To compare, here is a very nice reproduction the original map from the Dungeon Module, from Mad Irishman Productions.



Back in the 1980s, radio preachers/huckster/entertainer Bob Larson took on all manner of spiritual malady. Heavy Metal, Goth Culture, Yoga, and yes…D&D. Every day was a fantastic journey into strangeness. He compiled all his notions into to a book he sold on-the-air. Sorry – he didn’t sell it. It was a gift for people who contributed to his forever-almost-out-of-money-and-off-the-air ministry. The book was called “Bob Larson’s Book of Spiritual Warfare. Here is a link to the section on D&D. Awesomeness.