Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mapping the Forester's Wilds

As strange as it is to modern sensibilities, AD&D 2nd Edition is still one of my favorite games. I haven't yet gotten to run it, but I've been working on a map of my fantasy world's continent which will serve me well for all of the following:
  • Eventual hex-crawls for my current B/X group.
  • A possible politically-oriented 2e game I'm turning over in my head (and which I'll be posting about once I figure out if it might happen).
  • Reference for the novel and/or short story collection set in this world that I hope to write.
I initially began sketching this out on hexagonal graph paper, at a scale of 1 hex = 18 miles (per the guidelines given in Basic Fantasy). Now, however, I'm doing a more detailed layout on the free version of Hexographer, using the 1 hex = 24 miles scale hinted at in the 2e Dungeon Master Guide. I'm not sure if this scale matches up with the Cook Expert Rulebook, but I figure it's a workable alternative. (EDIT: This is the scale suggested in the Rules Cyclopedia as well, so I'm sticking with it.)

A small section of the map, showing where the party has
been, where I'm sending them for their next adventure, and
where they might decide to go from there.
After this week's usual Pathfinder-style scripted adventure, I'll be doing something I've never done before: opening up the world completely. Using some basic rules for wilderness adventure (cobbled together from AD&D 2e, Basic Fantasy, and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia), I'll let them travel to wherever they wish, encountering random hazards and (possibly) getting lost if they're not careful. Obviously I'll be giving them some hints as to where some randomly-stocked dungeons (per Moldvay Basic) might be found, but aside from that they'll have free reign.

I'm really curious to see how this goes. Out of the four players in this group so far, two are almost entirely new to RPGs, and the other two have never played in a game with me that wasn't scripted and confined (although Rhiannon's player is also in a Pathfinder game; I don't know how that GM runs things).

Also, side note: My FLGS just got in most of the new 5e books, including the Starter Set and DM Screen. I also spotted the former at Walmart, of all places! While I certainly prefer to buy from locally-owned places, hopefully this wider exposure (in the trading cards/Pez section near the checkouts) will lead to more people getting into the hobby.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

5th Edition is looking pretty good

I've read through most of the Basic Rules for 5th Edition, available as a free PDF from the Wizards website. Honestly, it looks pretty good; none of my thoughts are detailed enough to merit organization into paragraphs, so I'll just put some bullet points here.
  • The advantage/disadvantage mechanic is excellent. I love that, whether making skill checks, saving throws, or attack rolls, the means of adjusting the odds remain the same. It reminds me of the guidelines given in B/X that suggest an attack roll penalty or percentile roll for unusual tasks, except that here the DM doesn't have to take any time to think about just how likely it is that, say, a character will be able to swing on the chandelier.
  • The inspiration mechanic follows on from this, and I think it's a good idea. At first, I thought it might get confusing or too mechanical, but it's as simple as can be: when you use inspiration, you get advantage. Being able to give it to other players is also helpful, especially if one person keeps rolling threes or fours.
  • The subraces for demihumans are good, managing to ensure a variety of characteristics and abilities even among characters who might have the same race and class - a bonus, since the Basic Rules only contain the "core four" races (dwarf, elf, halfling, human) and classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard). Ditto for the character backgrounds.
  • Attacks of opportunity have been made even simpler. In 3.5e and Pathfinder, there's a whole table of different Move, Minor, and Standard actions, telling you whether each one provokes an attack of opportunity. One of the few changes that 4e made that I genuinely like was simplifying this, to the point where only two actions provoke an opportunity attack: moving, and making a ranged or area attack. (It still baffles me that Pathfinder didn't use the looseness of the d20 System to incorporate this change; maybe they will if a second edition comes around.) Now, in the 5e Basic Rules, it's only moving that draws an opportunity attack. Making a ranged attack while threatened by an adjacent enemy instead gives a penalty on the attack roll, which is fine.
  • The necessity of the dreaded Grid has been removed, although there is a sidebar giving optional rules as such. This was the thing that pissed me off about 4e; giving distance only in squares destroyed whatever shred of immersion might have been left after the way that everything was divided into "powers". If I ever play this, I'm thinking I'll use a mat and minis, but not lock the combatants into the squares.
  • The default modern method for ability scores - 4d6, drop lowest, arrange to taste - is given here, along with a set of (for this range) average pre-picked numbers. If I were to DM this, I would probably have everyone roll 3d6 and arrange to taste, instead; there are enough ability score bonuses given by race (and increases every other level or so) that there wouldn't be too many below-average scores.
  • The one criticism I have is that there is only one cleric Divine Domain and one wizard Arcane Tradition. While these categories are pretty broad, it seems kind of silly to explain all the details of Domains and Traditions, and then only give the player one possible choice - telling them to buy the PHB if they want more. A couple of extras (such as the three gods and three schools given in the Pathfinder Beginner Box) would have gone a long way toward creating some more variety between the classes. The same criticism could be leveled against the similar systems for fighters and rogues, but the ones given there are broad enough to encompass pretty much anything a player would want to do with those classes.
When I sat down with these rules, the first thought that popped into my head after reading them was: I want to play this. I want to experience a new game from the other side of the table, and I have so many ideas for creating my character swimming around in my head. Hopefully I can find someone willing to DM.

(Side note: the DM screen available at my local Barnes & Noble is four-panel landscape. Nice!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Other Unusual Player Character Species

Apologies for any disjointedness apparent in this post; this is coming straight from my brain to the rich-text composer. (A "gonzo" post, as some might say.)

Thinking back to my adventures with Sradan, I started remembering my other ideas for having a non-traditional player character at my command. Mostly, this is due to a wish to avoid sameness among the members of a party. Playing 3.5e or Pathfinder (and, from what I've read in the Basic Rules, 5e as well), this is less of a problem, due to the proliferation of previously "optional" classes, and the removal of demihuman class and level restrictions.

The Lizard Man as he appears in the AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual.

The early editions of D&D had some of this built in: in Holmes' D&D book, dwarves and halflings are explicitly stated to always be fighters, and elves to progress as a kind of split-classed fighter/magic-user (although race-as-class of the kind used in B/X and BECMI wasn't implemented - the class restrictions for demihumans were just really strict). Interestingly enough, though, there seems to have been some expectation even at this early stage of unusually creative players:
At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man.

(Holmes p. 7)
I confess that I haven't yet had the opportunity to read any of the original AD&D (1e) books, although I do plan to pick up the original Dungeon Master's Guide on my next trip to Austin. AD&D 2nd Edition, however, is something I'm very familiar with (though, sadly, not experienced in playing or running), and it seems to be explicitly fighting back against modifying demihuman class restrictions:
Allow nonstandard race/class combinations only on a case-by-case basis. If you institute a general rule--"Gnomes can now be paladins"--you will suddenly find yourself with six player character gnome paladins.
Anyway, back to my original point: I had some ideas for unusual characters. One that I definitely wanted to play when I was lost in my pipe-dreams of getting people together to play 2e was the Rogue Modron (from The Planewalker's Handbook). I tend to be a very analytical, left-brain person in real life, so having a sentient creature that is quite literally the embodiment of those qualities appealed to me.

"Does you over-exuberance in attacking these slavers
have anything to do with the fact that it rained yesterday?"
(Pic from The Planewalker's Handbook)

I also thought of converting Sradan for use in 2e, using the info on Lizard Man PCs from The Complete Book of Humanoids. Close examination, however, told me that doing so strictly by-the-book was a very bad idea:
Lizard men are fairly slow and clumsy on land, having a base movement rate of 6.
(p. 42)
Okay, sounds fair. That jibes with the movement rate given in other editions, such as B/X, and is presumably still offset by their base movement of 12 in water. 
Lizard men must wet their entire bodies once a day. If they are unable to find adequate amounts of moisture (a full waterskin is enough), they begin to lose Constitution at a rate of 3 points per day. If their Constitution falls to zero, they die from dehydration.
What the hell?! There is no mention of this in the Monstrous Manual, nor can I find any such references in Holmes or the Rules Cyclopedia. It's possible that there is a precedent for this in a 1e book, but I strongly doubt it.
If food (which could include a fallen friend or foe) or treasure appear during a battle, a lizard man must make a successful Wisdom check to keep his mind on the battle. Failure means he turns away from the fight to feast or gather spoils. This distraction lasts at least one round. Every additional round, the lizard man can attempt to break away from the distraction by making another Wisdom check.
If this was true of them normally - i.e., when fighting them as monsters - it would make dealing with lizard man attacks much easier. As a trait for a PC, it's just stupid. And it isn't as though this is needed to balance out their wide selection of classes; their maximum levels are Fighter 12, Thief 9, and (if using some optional mythos priests) Shaman 7. Crap like this is why so many people hate the AD&D 2e splatbooks (although I must confess that I like some of the ideas in The Complete Fighter's Handbook).

Suffers from dry skin, dehydration, compulsive eating, and kleptomania.
(Pic from The Complete Book of Humanoids)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Demons Have Rectums, Too

As part of the adventure on which I took Sradan, the GM had us up against a demon (for which he used a gargoyle pawn, and had to keep reminding me that it was a demon, not a gargoyle) and his pet hell-hound. The devil dog is a story in and of itself, but the fight with the demon was an eventful one. Apparently, we weren't supposed to kill him just yet, but as one says, the best laid plans of mice...

Sradan struck a good blow on the demon, but because our cleric Carella had used the Bit of Luck power on me, I decided to roll the d20 again; it couldn't hurt, and I might even get a shot at some extra damage. I rolled it - natural 20. Rolled to confirm - success.

Now came the fun part. Since Sradan was doing his fighting with a spear (in lieu of the trident wielded by the miniature figure representing him), the damage on a critical hit was multiplied by 3. I rolled the damage die. I'd love to say it was a natural 8, but I honestly can't remember at this point; regardless, Sradan's various bonuses made the result an 8, multiplied by 3.

Taking 24 damage on a single roll? Even this mighty demon was felled.

Best of all, the GM decided I could describe how exactly I killed this demon with a single thrust. I told him that Sradan, gripping the shaft of his mighty spear, thrust the head deep inside the demon's bowels.

So, aside from prostitution and landscaping, the world's oldest profession (in Golarion, if nowhere else) seems to be freelance proctology.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sradan, the Lizard-Rogue of Golarion

When I decided that I wanted to be a player in the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box, rather than the GM as I had been since the beginning, I wanted to play an unusual character. Our group already had a fighter, a wizard, and a cleric (two clerics, if you count the person who was going to GM for the time being), so I figured a rogue would be in order, as the barbarian class presented in the Beginner Box Player Pack didn't interest me in the slightest.

I didn't want to limit myself to just a human, elf, or dwarf, though. The Beginner Box GM Kit had creature stats for the lizardfolk, and I happened to find a neat Pathfinder mini of one of these guys online. After some tweaking with the numbers, I presented my character sheet to the GM; comparing it with the stats of the rest of our party, and noticing that lizardfolk are typically (True) Neutral, he allowed it. I named my guy Sradan, after a character from a long-forgotten fragment of an RPG Maker 3 creation.

The "Lizardfolk Champion" mini I used. (Note: that's not how you use a trident.)

Here's where things get interesting. The reason lizardfolk tend not to get along well with humans and demi-humans in D&D/Pathfinder is due to their cannibalistic tendencies. I decided to role-play this to the hilt, forgoing standard rations in favor of skinning and roasting the corpses of enemies.

And the best part? One of the other players - the only one who I still have as a player on occasion - is an ethical vegetarian. It got to the point where I would lightly poke fun at her by describing in gory detail how my character would consume his defeated enemies, and asking the GM which parts of different monsters were the best to eat.

And yet, this was still in keeping with True Neutral alignment; Sradan never killed innocent people to eat them, after all.

Maybe one day, I'll bring him back in some form, if I can ever get someone "normal" to DM/GM for me.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Adventure Begins (and quickly ends...)

This was the shortest-lived group I ever got together. The one time I got some folks together for AD&D 2nd Edition doesn't count, because that group never finished a single game session. This one did, but not in the way I expected (or hoped).

After meeting up with some acquaintances in my sophomore year of college, I decided that the best game with which to introduce a new group would be the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box. After all, it was my introduction to roleplaying games, and the art and design was certainly snazzy enough. I quickly ran into a couple of problems, though.

First, creating characters took way too long. Like, two hours long. This is also why I have never bothered to try running D&D 3.5; a bunch of college students in the Honors program (or equivalent programs at other universities) don't have this much time, and if they did it would be better used playing instead of crunching numbers. We pushed through, though, and got a party of three together.

Second, these players were obviously too used to video games. In the introductory adventure that comes with the Beginner Box, Black Fang's Cave, the PCs can find a wooden toy dragon on the body of a dead goblin. The idea is then to present this toy to the goblin chief deeper in the cave, and he'll let you go freely and call off the attacks by his minions.

Needless to say, one member of the group didn't stop to learn this. Instead, he tried shooting at the goblins as soon as he spotted them. This pissed them off to no end, and thanks to a string of bad rolls (and one player accidentally shooting another one in the head, although I can't remember which it was), I ended up with my first Total Party Kill (TPK).

Henry, Eli, Bob, wherever you are, just know that you will always have a special place in my heart.


Hi, I'm Fuzzy Skinner (aka Skinr, or just Fuzzy). I've been playing and running various tabletop role-playing games since high school - mostly in the latter capacity - starting with the D&D Fast Play Game The Sewers of Sumdall (included on the DVD release of the Dungeons & Dragons movie), and moving on to my first 'real' campaign using the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box. Since then, I've also participated in the following:
  • Basic Fantasy RPG (GM and player)
  • D&D Basic Rules, Moldvay (DM)
  • D&D v. 3.5 (player)
I also own, and hope to one day run and/or play, the following:
  • AD&D 2nd Edition (all hail the Apparatus of Kwalish!)
  • Demon: The Fallen (only as a PDF, which isn't ideal)
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (yes, really)
  • HackMaster Basic (also currently PDF-only in my library)
  • The World of Darkness
Finally, there's one game I desperately want to own so that I can play it, and that game is Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game. I've searched in vain for it digitally, but the closest I've come is a beautiful OCR'd PDF file... of the Spanish translation. Yes, really.
On this blog, I hope to share some of my roleplaying game stories, old and new alike.