04 November 2014

Novel Writing!

You've probably noticed, but November is National Novel Writing Month and I'm throwing in my hat!

Anybody who's more than skimmed this silly blog for more than five minutes has probably thought to themselves "Damn this dude carries on about stuff," and when some of my friends said that they were doing it, I figured maybe it'd be good to get most of my writing all in one convenient place! It's only 50k words over a month, which means it's as little as 1,600 words a day. That's next to nothing!

So check me out here, add me as a writing buddy, read my novel as it happens, suggest titles, insult my grammar, anything you like! Anything's better than nothing, after all, and nothing warms one's heart like knowing that an internet person cares about what you're doing.

02 November 2014

5e Report, Two Games In

I've been playing in an open-table 5e game for the past month or so. Has it been that long? It feels like we just started. It's mostly the same people as my regular Dungeon-World-Turned-FantasyCraft group, with a couple of friends added from the GM, who is one of my players.

It's been fun, in its own strangely familiar way. I like it. But you know, I'm not sure if I love it.

Part of it might be the way that the system is strangely "flat." There are a small handful of moves you can perform in combat, like Ready and Dash and Dodge, but that's really it. It's back to move and attack in combat, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. You can get a lot of mileage out of just move and attack, as the continued popularity of old-school systems shows. The thing is, the combat wasn't the focus of the show. It's just another simplistic mechanic in a simple system designed to get players interacting with the world through the medium of the rules, and it serves its purpose so well that it's still getting re-purposed decades later.

And here it is again! The thing is, it doesn't feel like the right lessons have been learned here. The designers looked at 4th edition and said "nobody likes being on a modifier treadmill," and they took it out. They looked at 3rd edition and said "every character should be able to contribute at every level," and "every class should have interesting tweaks," and they changed things up to that end. And I appreciate that. But combat is still a drag; it's still half a dozen rounds of "I attack the orc with my sword" and no amount of action surges or infinite-use cantrips really solves the inherent contradiction of the system: they've tried to stretch out the very simple and clear mechanic by adding complications. While intended to create additional depth by providing options, it sometimes feels like padding and a band-aid on the wrong system.

What I'm trying to say is that combat takes up an inordinate amount of space and class features and it doesn't benefit the game. Damage still doesn't matter until you're out of health, and status effects are simple "save or suck for a while" effects that are almost entirely doled out by special abilities. Tripping, stunning, bleeding, tiring, blinding, and knockdowns just aren't effects that you have access to unless your class allows it, and that means that the vast majority of damage is just whittling down the creature's hit points until you reduce that last hit point and they finally fall over.

That said, there are parts of the game I still do like. The classes are distinct and have abilities that are fun in play and create interesting design space in the game. The backgrounds set some cool non-combat abilities and ground your character in the game world (unless you've chosen the Outlander, in which case your choosing not to be part of the game world is your place in the game world, another nice touch). Your skills, attacks, and saving throws all use the exact same proficiency bonus, which is a great step since it makes math much easier. You either have a skill or you do not, and all saves are just tests against your ability score, which is just beautiful design.

I'm very impressed with the way the non-combat systems work together,  and I wish that the combat had been designed with the same elegance as the rest of the system. It's almost certain the that the designers would rather add more classes and feats and continue over-engineering a core mechanic that just plain doesn't need it.

The campaign itself is pretty fun; we've managed to kill some monsters and help people out, and I've been getting almost too much mileage out of Minor Illusion and been enjoying Magic Missile. But the best parts of the game are the parts that aren't in combat, and that's just a shame in a game where the main method of experience gain is killing monsters and the main point of experience is gaining further combat power.

Maybe the game changes substantially at higher levels; we'll have to see. Wish me luck!

01 November 2014

Blog Trimming

I got rid of 30 or so blogs. Mostly they were dead blogs that hadn't updated even once in half a year, but one or two managed to veer from what I like to read about to what I don't like to read about. What's left are 60 of the finest roleplaying related blogs that I care to read and also pimp on my website.

It feels nice. It feels like spring cleaning, in winter. I feel good.

If you notice that I've removed your blog by mistake, because you're writing about roleplaying games and you have good opinions, it was probably a mistake, so tell me so I can read up your opinions again!

If you notice that I'm missing one of your favorite blogs, let me know because I want to read the good stuff too! Don't hog it all for yourself, there's plenty for both of us!

FantasyCraft Encounters: Pygmy Raiders

Pygmies are interesting in our world- nobody's quite sure why they are so short. Some theories point to a lack of food, some point to a lack of ultraviolet light stunting growth for generations, or to rapid reproduction in a dangerous area, or to minimal calcium in the soil. Whatever the result, pygmies are short and live a harsh life.

In FantasyCraft, though, I wanted to go another route. I wanted to put Pech into the game in a way that they aren't usually featured, in the style that's as far from the "placid peaceful pseudo-Hobbits" that they get stuck into. They had to be bloodthirsty, mean, and crazy, which means island tribesmen. And so we have the Pech pygmies. They're not especially dangerous, since they're small and unorganized, but there are quite a few of them and they keep their skills sharp in raids against each other, hunting for heads and Pech meat.

Outside of combat, they can be found loafing about, fishing, cooking or smoking meats, making small crafts, or playing music. They are cannibals but they're not insane or savage. They're not especially used to visitors, and they're not especially friendly. They are mostly afraid of outsiders and Pech they don't recognize, since they're used to warring and raids, and most Pech pygmies will either have a small knife they carry on their belts, a bow near them, or both.

When fighting, they will flee to a good distance and launch arrows. They are generally disorganized but will attempt to work together, firing at targets closest to their allies and retreating if they must. They are not cowards, and will fight with their sharp knives if they must. Some Pech have been known to go into a bloodthirsty rage, abandon their bows, and fight with tooth and nail and dagger in a frenzied flurry of bone and blood.

Pygmy Warrior (Small Folk Walker — 20 XP): Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 10; SZ S (1×1, Reach 1); Spd 30 ft. ground; Init II; Atk III; Def III; Resilience III; Health III; Comp III; Qualities: cagey I, meek.
Attacks/Weapons: Short Bow (1d6 lethal, bleed, poison), Dagger (1d6 lethal, bleed, 19-20 threat)
Gear: Bow, Dagger, Loincloth
Treasure: 1L, 1T
Just copy and paste that into the Web NPC Builder (here) and set the Threat Level to whatever is appropriate for your party.

Since there are so few of them, there are usually two to three times as many Pech as players in a "balanced" encounter. This means that there are two or three 1d6 bleeding arrows aimed at a player each and every round. This can get monotonous after a round or two, so it's an excellent idea to spice it up a bit with unusual pygmies or some non-pygmy combatant. They could have a pet, like a tiger or hyena or dinosaur that leaps into combat while the pygmies stand back and launch volleys of arrows. There could be a strong pygmy, or a mutant that's absurdly strong and very tough. There could be a shaman or wizard that casts spells and provides utility beneits, or an elderly leader-type that provides buffing benefits to his warriors with his commanding presence. A giant monster could arrive in the middle of the fight that's hostile to both sides, leading to either an interesting three-part battle, or showing the pygmies and the players that the real enemy is the island itself! Consider each part of the encounter in terms of how the pygmies would expect to win and make that your battle plan. If there's no way the pygmies could make it work, have them retreat and live to fight another day. Their culture has no use for "honorable" combat if it means standing and dying.

Additionally, pygmies are good hunters, so have them ambush the players while they tromp through the wilderness and while they're on their back foot. They might strike at dusk, when  players are setting up camp and getting ready to set up watches, and then retreat after inflicting a couple of wounds. They could even return at dawn with a larger force, ready for combat (and eating!) when the players are still just trying to recover some vitality. Think skirmishing, annoying, constant harassing once they've gotten on the pygmy's bad sides.