A New D&D Campaign

Well, our longtime DM, Willliam, and his wife are moving to San Antonio. We’ll be able to continue our D&D 5e campaign online via Roll20, but I think it’s important that the group that is left still get together in-person. Since I’ll be moving the Traveller game back online, I’ve decided to start a D&D 5e campaign. My wife has been playing in William’s campaign and enjoys it, and really only in the last few months I think she’s really caught on to how to play RPGs, and 5e in particular.

However, we’ll only have three players, so I really can’t run a typical combat-centric game. They will all die.

So I’m going to run a 3-player campaign with a bit more Swords & Sorcery tone. I’m keeping the available players races to the original ones from AD&D 1e, but without half-orcs. We’ll start it as more of an urban campaign, based in a massive city inspired by Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, and we’ll be generally shooting for the spirit of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novels, minus the sexism, racism, and other cringy stuff. I love those books, but parts of them haven’t aged well, even if the spirit of them has.

So without having tons of combat, and not giving experience points for treasure obtained, how to do this? Well, I’m going to award XP for good roleplaying, problem solving, clever use of abilities and skills, etc. I may actually use the rules in AD&D 2e for awarding XP for use of class abilities during play. For example, in that edition thieves got points for actually using their thief skills in-game. I really liked that.

So this campaign, I hope, will center on exploration, investigation, problem-solving, etc., and I’ll award points accordingly.

I’m using my Legend Keeper account to create a wiki for the campaign from the ground up, and I set up this blogger blog too.

Interwebs Treasures #15

As usual, a few cool things from the internet.

Character death within a party

This is not a new topic. I’m sure it has been talked to death, but when a member of a somewhat advanced party is killed, how do you handle it?

In D&D, I think this presents a very large problem, since the gap in survivability of 1st level characters and say, 6th or higher, is huge. So you lose a character or two, and what do you do. I’ve recently read about various ways people handle this. Some have the person roll up a new character, and advance them to the old character’s level, or maybe a level or two below. I’ve never been a big fan of starting characters at higher levels. For me as a player, I never feel like I have any emotional investment in that kind of character. It just doesn’t feel the same as running a character up from level 1. I actually saw one guy on a Facebook discussion say he considered the Experience Points to belong the the player, rather than the character. Obviously people can do what they want, but that seems weird to me. A little too much like just getting extra lives in a video game.

BUT – if you have a party of somewhat advanced characters, and one dies, if you make that player start over again with a 1st level character, a couple of undesireable things seem likely. First, the new 1st level character may simply ride on the coat tails of the rest of the party, gaining levels almost by association. Or second, the challenges faced by the party may simply be too difficult for the new character, killing him/her quickly if the DM doesn’t go easy on him. I can remember really good DMs who could integrate the new characters in, and give them challenges appropriate to their level whilst still challenging the higher level characters, but that’s not easy in a D&D game.

In the past I’ve participated in groups that avoided this situation a couple of ways. In some cases, in a particular DM’s word/campaign, players would have more than one character, so that if one died, there was still another to work with. We only played one at at time, so this made progress slower. It did have the added advantage of giving the players a more diverse group of characters to chose from when starting a game. If you played in a shared world, with multiple DMs running games at an agreed upon power level/style, the multiple characters can work out pretty well.

As I am about to start a GURPS Cyberpunk campaign in a couple of days, it made me realize that game systems like GURPs make it a lot easier to introduce new PCs to replace dead ones.  In GURPS, a PC gets better, but the world is still pretty dangerous. There isn’t such a huge gap in survivability between new PCs and experienced ones.


DMing Again

Just DMed my first game in about 20 years.

Gave my nephew the 5e D&D Starter Set a few months ago, and we started through it to teach him to play. A little challenging as I was not totally sharp on the new rules, but I had the basics down OK, which is really all you need. Did about 1/2 of the first segment of the adventure than comes in the set. Will finish tomorrow. Overall it was pretty fun, and a good chance to get back into the gamemastering thing.

To simplify the learning process, we used the Starter Set straight-up, prefab characters and all. I had him control two of the characters, a fighter and magic user, and I used another fighter and a cleric as NPCs. At 14, I think my nephew is to the point he can start to learn role playing and the rules system. He won’t have it down perfectly, but did any of us at that age? Probably not. I think that keeping the spirit of the game is what counts.

Granted, we didn’t go deep into the 5e system, but I really must say that we I experienced as DM was pretty much identical to my experiences with 1e.  I liked it. We played pretty bare-bones. Pencils, paper, graph paper, and dice. Not even any miniatures. It worked quite well.

Anyway, we’ll finish up that leg of the adventure tomorrow afternoon. My nephew was pretty stoked, and is talking about getting his friends together to play, which makes me very happy.

OK, interesting thing. At one point he was trying to figure out a way to test the depth of a stream. I explained to him that in D&D you can do anything you want, like cut a branch off a tree to use. He said he had thought of that, but wasn’t sure if he could do that. He is very involved in video games, which of course are totally restrictive. You can’t do anything the game designer didn’t account for. But in RPGs, you don’t have that limitation. It was cool to see this fact register on my nephew’s face.


The Player from Hell

All this character creation thought has brought back memories of my most difficult player ever. This guy played Champions and D&D with us. He’d always create a character so lopsided – both physically and psychologically – that he’d be a pain in the ass. Example: in a regular 200pt Champions game, his favorite character had a 9 speed, practically no defenses, a 36 Dex,  and his major power was the ability to throw knives (armor-piercing ranged killing attacks) on autofire. Had I been older, I’d just said “no way”, but I was only about 17 or 18, and he was over 20, and I allowed this bullshit to go on. hahahaha. So you have this “superhero” who really goes beyond the “Dark Champions” vigilante stereotype right into the psychotic murderer zone.

This is the same guy who, when DMing a D&D game, would start your character at Zero Level, and then make it hard as shit to even find a mentor to get trained in a class.

Thinking back, I’m not sure what this guy was trying to prove, other than lording power over others and showing “how smart” he was. And he was a super smart guy. And frankly, he was a really good guy too. Love that guy to this day, BUT he was the Player/GM from hell.

I learned a lot about how to game from this guy. Just – do – the – opposite of what he did.

Still More About New Player’s Handbook

Friday night I rolled up a character for D&D 5th Edition, just to get more familiar with the game.

True to D&D form, it was pretty simple. I am so used to building a character with points, as in the Hero System, it was kind of nice to have a simpler method.

In a comment on a previous post, my friend Bob mentions that GURPS has a reputation of being very complicated. I can see that. As soon as you start building your character you are faced with a lot of choices — a high level of complexity. Hero System is even worse (or better, depending on what you like). Back in the old days (ughhhh…gotta stop saying stuff like that) it would never have occurred to me that anyone interested in RPGs would avoid complexity. It was all that complexity that made the Hero system so superior to anything else for running a Supers campaign.

But…perhaps that’s not the best way to introduce people to RPGs.

Anyway, I rolled up a Wizard character, which is the equivalent of the original AD&D “Magic User” class, but a little more robust than the original. In the new game, you start with some cantrip spells you can use at-will without using up a spell slot and with no preparation. You also start with the ability to cast 2 “real” spells at 1st level, and have a number of spells prepared for use equal to your level + you intelligence modifier. So a 1st level Wizard with a 17 Int can have 4 spells memorized/prepared, and use them as he/she sees fit with the 2 spell slots. You regain your spell slots with rest. This seems like a much more logical and playable system than the original one, which I always thought was dumb.

The new D&D materials give a lot of background info on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. In my own gaming history, we never really used the published settings. We used a lot of dungeon modules, but always within our own worlds — which were not well thought-out. I feel like in 10th grade we were playing pretty good D&D, but I and our other regular GM didn’t really spend much time on the overall setting. We just tried to design good adventures. Looking back at the 1e books, they were a lot more skeletal. The new PH actually details the characteristics of a number human ethnicities/cultures from Forgotten Realms. The notion of being able to drop players into a preexisting campaign world is pretty nice. It reminds me a bit of the Stormbringer setting that was available for Runequest.

So, I have to admit that 5e is growing on me. The stuff in the Players Handbook is good. I expect the Monster Manual will not disappoint. How could it? It’s just a list of monsters, right? I am really anxious to see what they do with the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

What I’m seeing is that Wizards of the Coast is doing a pretty good game redesign, and providing a lot of material to make it super easy to get into for those who don’t have the time or desire to create their own campaign world. I think that is fine.

More on New Players Handbook

I’ve been reading it more carefully.

There is some nice emphasis on backgrounds. I like that. There was very little in the 1e Players Handbook. 2e introduced more non-weapon proficiency skills, which was good. This new edition seems to give a nice method of using such skills. I like that.

I feel like the Dragonborn and Tiefling PC races are a bit over the top for PCs. In particular, the Dragonborn have a frickin’ breath weapon. I would probably allow a PC to be a Tiefling, but I think I’d not allow the Dragonborn race. It’s just too stupid.

Non-Human PCs have a lot of racial abilities like dark vision, etc., and they get to add points to one or more characteristics. And of course they no longer have limits on either class selection or level achievement. This would seem to make humans really really suck. BUT — Humans get to add a +1 to every one of their ability scores right off the bat. So that is not too bad.

I love the changes to the magic system, and I think the division of magic-users into Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards is good. They are nice and distinct, and it makes sense.

At this point, I think that once you get over the slick and glitzy look of the new book, the game looks like it is pretty good.

This weekend I’m going to use the adventure and pregenerated characters in the starter set to run some practice combats, and see how it works out.

New Player’s Handbook

newPHSo, yeah, I bought it. I’ll send a copy to my nephew via Amazon, as it is easier for shipping and a lot cheaper.

I spent a few minutes at lunch looking through this new core rulebook. It is a well-written book. Well-edited. Easy to navigate.

This new edition is really not backwardly compatible at all with 1e or 2e. You’d just have to fudge it and recreate your characters.

They seem to have eliminated character class restrictions based on character race. Anyone can be anything. I kind of like that. It is more inclusive.

I also see no mention yet of level limits for demi-human races. 1e and 2e always assumed level limitations for non-humans, for game balance. With such long lifespans, long-lived races would easily dominate humans given hundreds of years to advance in level. I am curious to see if they have inserted some other counter to this problem in the new edition or if they just ignore it.

The artwork is all really nice and slick.

They’ve split the Magic User class into 3 — Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. Monk’s are now powered by Ki magic force.

There are two new races: 1/2 Dragons, and 1/2 Demons, called Dragonborne and Tiefling.

In the old editions, it always seemed like most adventurers were assumed to get to the mid levels of 6-9 level and kind of stay there for a while. Over 10th level was pretty damned powerful. 12th or 13th was badass. The new books give me the feeling that attainment of higher than 10th level is assumed to be more common. Maybe I’m wrong about that. It just seems like this new edition has some of the stink of “power gaming” on it. More later as I read more.