Using Computers with Paper and Pencil Games…


Very interesting article. The vision of an RPG that is played on paper using computer and tablets to enhance the game experience…hmmmm.

OK, first, as always I understand that Wizards of the Coast, as a company owned by Hasbro, seeks to make a profit by selling gaming stuff. I’m good with that.

I’m not sure I really, personally, like the idea of having your character on an app, on a tablet, that somehow interacts with your DM’s computer to track everything. Sure, use the computer to write adventures, create maps to print out, prep work, and all that, but leave the paper, pencils, and dice in the game, at the tabletop! That is part of the experience!

When I was a young kid, I learned about probability from playing D&D. I learned what a bell curve is. When I got to college I was ahead of my classmates in that area. The computer will rob kids of that experience.

All of us spend enough time looking at display screens already. I don’t see their inclusion in D&D as a big benefit. Oh, maybe the DM has some stuff on a tablet to refer to — that’s not a big deal. But really, I think migrating it to some kind of online/tablet-based thing is dumb.

I disagree with the guy in the article. It’s not all about the story. It is also about the experience. How much can you change the experience before you have lost what was special about RPGs?

5th Edition D&D – Easier for PCs?

I posted the previous article, the one about 1st v 5th Edition fighter against orc, on a Facebook group devoted to 1st Edition AD&D. Some of the responses were really interesting. Hard to say for sure without playing, but it seems like the power level of 1st level characters has been greatly increased. Used to be couple of orcs could give a 1st level fighter a real problem.  Now I’m hearing that it takes a LOT of orcs to kill the same fighter.

In fact, I’m hearing that pretty much all 1st level characters, regardless of class, are a lot harder to kill.

Does this cheapen the game?

Granted, it does stink to have your first level character die in the first fight you get into with some kobolds, orcs, or goblins, but I have always just assumed that starting characters are supposed to be weak. That’s part of being 1st level, right? Am I way off base here? In my first D&D game, I went over to my friend’s house, rolled up a fighter, and lucked out massively. In front of everyone, I rolled an 18/00 STR. 30 minutes later, my super strong fighter was dead. He died. That’s how it goes. He was strong but inexperienced.

I’m sure that even back then a lot of people would have said “this sucks” and quit playing. The cynic in me wants to say that these days, with kids brought up on videos games where they get multiple lives, most kids would not play in a 1st Ed. D&D game where it’s so easy to get killed. A lot of people are saying this. I’m not sure if it’s true. I’d like to think it isn’t. But it probably is.

I’ll get around to reading the Spell Casting rules for 5th Edition this week. As I’ve said, I think they’ve done some good things in the new edition. So for now, based on those good things, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

D&D 1st Edition v 5th, a Simple Comparison

I was wondering how the to hit numbers would compare at 1st level, for fighters, between 1st Edition and 5th.

1st Edition: 1st level fighter, 17 STR. Fighting Orc. 1st edition – Orc AC=6. Base to hit=14, -1 for Str Bonus = 13 to hit.

5th Edition: Orc AC=basic to hit number = 13. 17 Str = +3 to hit. Requires a 10 for 1st Level fighter w/17 STR to hit.

That seems like a pretty huge difference to me. Not saying it’s bad — just big. Unless they have reinvented the base 10 number system, making it 3 numbers easier to hit an opponent is a 15% difference.  

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, 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.


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.

What 1st Edition D&D Got Right

I’m kind of thinking “out loud” in this post, so please just bear with me…

Like a lot of gamers my age (perhaps most of them), AD&D was my introduction to RPGs. My friends had been playing for about a year before I got interested. It has always been hard to break through the mental barrier my skateboarding addiction has created, so I was a slow adapter to the RPG cult.

There were, of course, things we didn’t like about the system. Mostly the combat system. As teenage boys, I think we wanted greater detail in the combat. There were a lot of competing systems that we tried. The Fantasy Trip (soon to become GURPS), the Hero System, the RuneQuest system, etc, etc. All were really better combat systems. Much better.

But when I think back on it, it seems like what we gained in combat realism, we lost in over the top heroics.

And that’s where D&D got it right. All that stuff about gaining experience levels, hit points, becoming harder and harder to kill. All that contributed to that great “Conan swam across the Eastern Sea with an ox under one arm, came out, cooked and ate the ox, and then single-handedly defeated an army of ghouls” feeling.

The system didn’t work (nor was it intended to work) well for unarmed combat, armies, or combat purists who wanted specific fighting moves. To me it was kind of a middle of the road system. It offered some detail, but not enough to get bogged down.

Some players just don’t want to get so wrapped up in game mechanics, and are willing to give the GM a little more latitude to flesh things out on the fly. They are into the story and the roleplaying, and don’t want to spend 2 hours on one fight.

Now, all these years later, I also think the Experience Point/Levels system was a good thing for D&D. Most other RPGs don’t really have levels. They let you add points to your character and improve your characteristics and skills, which is great and I tended to gravitate toward those systems. But there was some real utility to knowing the difference between a 1st level fighter and 10th level fighter. In retrospect, I don’t see it so much as a “dumbed down” system, but rather one that is conducive to a particular kind of role playing, meeting particular needs.

So why do I think the more realistic systems lost the super heroics of D&D? Simple. In most of those, there is still a chance that a very minor pest (kobold, etc), could score a lucky hit and just KILL a player character dead. That is realistic, but for a lot of gamers it isn’t fun.

I haven’t had a chance to delve back into the 2nd Edition rules, yet, but I seem to remember from the game I ran in the mid 1990s that those rules had improved the combat system a bit. I’ll have to check them out this week, but it seems like they offered a little bit more realism/options during combat without turning the game into simply a game of combat simulation.

I suppose this is all just today that what I thought sucked (AD&D) as I gained experience as a gamer did not, in fact, suck, but was actually pretty damned good for a particular kind of game.