Monday, September 12, 2011

Advanced Dungeons for Dimwits, 3.14th Edition

Character Generation- Pretend to be an Elf.

Enter the Dungeon- Roll a six sided die.

  1. You fall in a pit and die.
  2. You get killed by a [monster]*.
  3. Waste time quoting Monty Python. Roll again.
  4. Injured. Roll again at -1.
  5. You survive the dungeon but don't level up. Roll again +1.
  6. You level up, congratulations! Add one to your level and enter a new dungeon.

*- replace [monster] with the following depending on your level:

1-3: Orc
4-9: Troll
10+: Demon

Saturday, September 10, 2011

4e D&D Starter Set – Review

I've had a chance to take a good look at the starter set and it's left me with mixed emotions. On the plus side, I really liked the counters which have some really nice art and are sturdy- just like the included dungeon tiles. I also found the DM's book to be pretty well done. It has a nice selection of low level monsters and just enough info to run a game - if you've played D&D before.

That brings me to the down side. The Starter Set is just woefully inadequate when it comes to actually being a starter set. I can't see how anyone who is new to rpg's would be able to take this boxed set and get near to playing what would be recognizable as D&D. It's not just that there's no character generation rules- other, better starter sets have done this before. This set is missing much more. What more do I expect? Examples, lots of examples and there are very few here. No combat examples. No example of play. The only real example is for a Skill Challenge which is probably the last thing a newbie needs to concern themselves about. Beginners need a lot more hand holding than this. And what makes this worse is the included "adventure" is only three encounters long. Three. So, you basically have about 2 hours of play time out of this before the fledgling DM has to start making up his own dungeons? The old 2e starter set had enough adventures to last at least a month of play time.

Another thing that I didn't like was the Quick Start book itself. It's basically the same that came with the Keep on the Shadowfell module. I didn't like it for two reasons. The rules are just a subset of what is in the DM's book so it's just a repeat of what you already have. That's six pages that could have been used for something else without having to raise the price any. Something else like a combat example or, I don't know, how a list of some stuff I could buy with all that loot I find in the dungeon!?! Yes, that's right. Treasure has no purpose in the starter set and is almost completely ignored. The other thing I disliked about the Quick Start book was that the pregen characters have to be cut out or photocopied to be able to actually play. This is just enough of an inconvenience to keep me from getting to play it. This is yet another mistake that the 2e version did not make.

I certainly hope that WotC puts more thought into their new boxed set coming out later this year. This set combined with a Player's Handbook would be enough to start playing. It's really more of a DM's Starter Kit than anything. By itself though, it's really incomplete as an introductory D&D game.

Update: you can view some treasure rules that were left out here- Excerpts: Economy & Reward and you can get some more kobolds to use here- Kobolds!.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review of DCC #59 Mists of Madness

I wrapped up my second D&D 4e session in Goodman Games Mists of Madness adventure module last week. It's a full module by Harley Stroh that only costs $2 (disclaimer- I bought the pdf during a recent sale at rpgnow for even less) and is for 1st level parties which is just what I needed. It is advertised as being 32 pages long, but after subtracting the OGL and advertisements is only around 25 pages in length. The adventure follows a well worn plot as the party must defeat a band of evil cultists before they can summon a lich. WARNING- there be spoilers ahead.

First the good parts. The interior art gives it a nice old-school flavor although I do miss the cover style that they used for their 3rd edition modules. The module details a ruined castle and its dungeons in a swamp that are pretty generic and are easily dropped into most any campaign setting. While the main plot of foiling the plans of cultists has been done to death, this one does have a clever twist to it by having a table of curses that characters may either start with as a hook or fall prey to while adventuring in the module. Some of the curses are helpful (but only at expense of others) like- "Anytime an uncursed PC suffers a critical hit, the cursed PC gains 1d6 temporary hp" and some are just evil like "The character develops an insatiable desire for human blood; his maximum hit point total is reduced by 5 every day that he does not indulge the mad craving." These effects were fun to use, but were kind of hard to remember once there were several of them in force.

The best parts of the module for my group were the big fights- the one against the cultists in the castle and then the one against the crazed wizard at the end of the dungeon. These fights were big and fun. Lots of minions to chop up and some fairly tough spellcasters backing them up. Both fights pushed my group almost to their limit and required some sharp tactics to win.

Ok, now the not so good. As written, this module is insanely hard. First, those pc's that have been cursed are supposed to roll saving throws every hour or they get another curse as well. That might be ok if the group could actually be expected to make it through this module in one day but I really doubt that's possible. My group was exhausted completely after fighting the cultists in the castle and needed to rest. Plus they had rescued a hostage which they needed to take back to town. So each cursed pc would have to make 24 saving throws to account for the day's length of time for the rest and the travel to come back which would have given them at least 10 new curses apiece on average. Umm... no, let's not do that. Next up there is an area that spawns an exact shadow clone of each character and they are supposed to ambush the group at some point. How exactly does a fight against an equal foe in every way not end up with half the characters dead? I removed that too. But that's not even the most dickish thing the module does. There is a teleport trap (practically inescapable too, I might add) that teleports the characters to an area with an EL3 fight... without their equipment. If I ran this as written, my group would have quit right then and there and I wouldn't have blamed them. And if they survived that fight without their stuff (my group barely did even with all their equipment), they then get to fight the BBEG still sans equipment. Good luck with that. Oh, and there's still the chance that the lich is summoned and kills them all without a breaking a sweat.

Another thing I had a problem with was that the module felt fairly railroady for a dungeon as there were a couple of areas where you either had no choice of which way to go or your choice really didn't make a difference. For instance, in the teleport trap mentioned above there really is no alternative to jumping into it. The way behind you has been closed off and there is no other way out. Railroaded.

Also, there were a couple of very complicated trap areas that were hard to comprehend as written and really needed a much better diagram of how things worked. The maps in the module were not sufficient in this regard. I ended up guessing and improvising much of the details and probably made the traps easier to deal with than they should have been.

All in all though, we did have fun and for $2 you really can't go very wrong.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Quick Start Characters are for Suckers

The Quick Start rules in HackMaster Basic allow you to create characters very quickly (10-15 minutes), but the characters made just don't compare to scratch built characters using the full rules. Why? Simple, they don't spend all of their available build points- in most cases, not even close to all their build points. Here's the breakdown-

Everyone starts out with 50bp. QS pc's all get a 50bp bonus for leaving their stats as rolled. 100bp total now. QS pc's are all human so every class costs 25 bp. So 75bp total. Every pc gets +2 stat points which costs 40bp. 35bp total.

Ok, so every QS pc at this point has 35bp to spend. This is where they diverge.

The Fighter spends 5bp on weapon proficiencies, 7bp (maximum) on 2 random skills, and 20bp for level one specialization in longsword. This only leaves him with 3bp left over. That's pretty fair.

The real problem is with the other classes.

The Cleric (True) spends 2bp on weapon proficiencies and 0bp on skills (all his skills are free). This leaves him with a whopping 33bp left over.

The Thief spends 4bp on weapon proficiencies and 6bp (maximum) on 2 random skills. This leaves him with 25bp left over.

The Mage spends 2bp on weapon proficiencies and 9bp (maximum) on 2 random skills. This leaves him with 24bp left over.

So you can see that every QS class other than the Fighter gets shafted. How do we fix this? The main thing that separates the Fighter from the other classes in efficiency is his specialization. This is kind of an advanced concept in my opinion and would be best if left out of QS pc generation. That would bring the Fighter back more into line with the other classes and leave him with 23bp left over.

Now to spend those left over points in the easiest, most effective way. Simply give each pc an extra point to add to any stat (worth an extra 20bp). Plus I'd give every pc a bonus skill- pick either literacy or observation for free (both skills that everyone can find useful and are fairly expensive). That should bring Quick Start characters to a more even footing with their made the hard way brethren.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How to disable all applications in Facebook

Tired of getting annoying Farmville requests from your stupid friends? Yeah you can hide requests from different apps and games one by one as they turn up, but wouldn't it be great if you could just disable them all, forever? Well, there is a way. Just follow these steps and you'll never be bothered with any of this stupid crap again. Bonus feature- it also seems to disable some of the advertisements in Facebook. I bet they don't realize that yet.

  1. Go to your Facebook page. (duh)
  2. Click on Account at the top right.
  3. Click on Privacy Settings.
  4. Where it says Apps and Websites, click Edit your settings.
  5. Where it says Apps you use, click Turn off all platform apps.
  6. Click the Turn Off Platform button.
  7. Enjoy your much less spammy Facebook account.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Your Character is Not a Special Snowflake

How special is your average D&D player character? Obviously above average, but what exactly does that mean? Is he or she one in a million? One in a thousand? I decided to put it to the test and find out.

I wrote up a quick and simple program that randomly rolled (3d6) sets of stats which would compare them all and decide which one had the highest stats for a certain number of characters rolled. I then figured out the average point buy value for them by D&D 4e rules to see where that would put them.

So, how special is your average character? The highest level test I ran was for 1 million pc's. The one in a million pc was a whopping 50 point buy character. What does a one in a million character look like? Here's one picked at random- 13 17 16 14 15 17. Pretty nice stats, eh?

Ok, so my character isn't one in a million. He's still pretty special, right? Well, not really. I ran tests for a hundred thousand, ten thousand, a thousand, even one in a hundred; and they were all too high in point value. I found that your average 22 point 4e character is more like one in fifty. So in a small city of 5,000, there's around 100 people in it with stats as good or better than you.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Treasures from the past

I've found some more stuff from my old site that I've been able to recover, so expect some old posts to find their way here soon. To start things off, here are two java programs I created for D&D some years ago.
Just download to your computer and double click to run the program. If you have problems running it, you probably don't have Java installed (correctly) on your system. You can download the Java VM at http://java.com/.