Yesterday we played the first session in +Colin Ritter‘s new GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign, which he calls Darkwoods.

I decided to play another hand-to-hand combatant, this time a Swashbucker. But rather than a straight-up Swashy, I wanted to try my hand at a pirate. Thanks to +Sean Punch‘s take on the pirate theme from Pyramid #3/64: Pirates and Swashbucklers, this was fairly straight-forward. 

That being said. Colin wanted to run something a bit more sophisticated? detailed? than something with “town” and “not town,” so he gave us an extra 50 points total. So I’ve got (for example) 20 points in Seafarer 2 and another 20 points in “I hope they’re useful” social skills. Heraldry already came in handy, so we’ll see.


The first session was basically a quick intro, then setting off into the woods to find some traces of goblins that have been plundering the local supply routes. Only three characters: a Knight, a Scout (half-elven, I think?), and Sh’nan Ettalur, the Swashbuckler-oid. Our Scout totally spanked the goblins in the tracking/scouting roll, and we found that (a) we were being followed, and (b) we could approach from behind, ambushing our ambushers.

We basically came up behind them, thanks to Sean again for that “skills everyone should have” post from a while back, we all made our rolls and I was able to All-Out Attack a goblin from behind to open the combat, hitting him for something like 10 cut and 11 cut with a dual-weapon attack with sword (2d+3 cut) and hatchet (2d-1 cut). Even through DR 2 leather, it was 24 or so injury and an instantly incapacitating/mortal blow. Our knight came up behind another, and decapitated him. We even found a severed head icon in Roll20. The scout pincushioned the third, and I think Sh’nan came up to the last one, cut him once (might have been our Knight) . . . and he tried to cut and run. Well, hatchets do swing damage when thrown, too, and four yards is only a -2 penalty. So thwack to the back, no defense, KO’d. 

We left one alive to interrogate, but none of us spoke Goblin, and he didn’t speak Common. Sh’nan has a hatred of Goblins (see below), so with no complaints and legal sanction, they were dispatched. Biggest loot was a fine thrusting broadsword on the part of the leader, which the Knight took as his own. That’s good loot, too. 

We did manage to find a crude map leading to this tribe’s cave (the Blue Hand, I believe). Colin was worried that with only three of us, we wouldn’t stand a chance against the two dozen goblins in there. I asked if they were all in one room, or strung out. Strung out. I noted this was DF, and the two ‘front line combatant’ templates were well represented. We decided to press on.

We came to the cave mouth, and staged a quick plan for a rush. The Scout went in first and Double Shot the shaman-looking spellcaster dude, dropping him instantly. SwashyPirate rushed in with a Heroic Charge, and on his turn, critically failed a cut with his cutlass, Unreadying it in my hand. Knight (Gabriel, or Sir Gabriel) rushed in to the third guard and something else untoward happened that I can’t recall. That hatchet came in handy, though, as I was able to Parry and then incapacitate my target, and Gabriel took care of his. Technically, three guys down in 2-3 seconds, I think, which is about right for DF.

We ended there.

Sh’nan Etallur


As soon as I get home, I’ll paste in the character details. He’s not what I feel is a typical Rapier-22 DF starter character. I think we established that our Scout has Bow-22 and the Knight has Sword-20. My skills are spread around more, with Shortsword-18 and Axe/Mace-16. As I said, I have 40 points in “not related to killing things,” though, which could easily be cashed in for +1 to DX, +3 to Shortsword, and perhaps +2 to Axe/Mace, or just focus on the one weapon to maximize the first-offender. Still, I like him, and that parrying hatchet was cool for many reasons.

Attributes [170]

ST 13 [30]  DX 14 [80]  IQ 11 [20] HT 12 [20]
HP 13  Will 12 [5]  Per 12 [5]  FP 12 
Basic Lift 34; Damage 1d/2d-1
Basic Speed 7 [10]; Basic Move 7
Ground Move 7; Water Move 1

Social Background
TL: 3 [0]
Cultural Familiarities: ****;  Languages: Common (Native) [0].

Advantages [110]
Ambidexterity [5]; Combat Reflexes [15]; Enhanced Dodge (1) [15]; Luck [15]; Perfect Balance [15]; Seafarer (2) [20]; Trading Character Points for Money ($2,500) [5]; Weapon Master (Fencing Weapons) (one specific weapon) [20] 

Perks [3]
Fearsome Stare [1]; Sea Legs [1]; Weapon Bond (Shortsword) [1]

Disadvantages [-55]
Chummy [-5]; Code of Honor (Pirate’s) [-5]; Greed (12 or less) [-15]; Impulsiveness (12 or less) [-10]; Obsession (Get rich enough to regain his former status and position (he’ll never feel rich enough)) (Short-Term Goal) (12 or less) [-5]; Overconfidence (12 or less) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5]; Vow (Never refuse a challenge of combat.) (Minor) [-5]

Quirks [-5]
_Unused Quirk 3 [-1]; _Unused Quirk 4 [-1]; _Unused Quirk 5 [-1]; Proud [-1]; Trademark [-1]

Skills [77]

  • Acrobatics DX/H – DX+1 15 [4] – includes: +1 from ‘Perfect Balance’
  • Axe/Mace DX/A – DX+2 16 [8]
  • Boating/TL3 (Unpowered) DX/A – DX+2 16 [2] –  includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Brawling DX/E – DX+1 15 [2]
  • Broadsword DX/A – DX+1 15 [0]
  • Carousing HT/E – HT+0 12 [1]
  • Climbing DX/A – DX+0 14 [1] – includes: +1 from ‘Perfect Balance’
  • Cloak DX/A – DX+0 14 [2]
  • Connoisseur (Dance) IQ/A – IQ-1 10 [1]
  • Crossbow DX/E – DX+0 14 [1]
  • Fast-Draw (Sword) DX/E – DX+1 15 [1] – includes: +1 from ‘Combat Reflexes’
  • Fast-Talk IQ/A – IQ-1 10 [1]
  • First Aid/TL3 (Human) IQ/E – IQ+0 11 [1]
  • Gesture IQ/E – IQ+0 11 [1]
  • Heraldry IQ/A – IQ+0 11 [2]
  • Interrogation IQ/A – IQ+0 11 [2]
  • Intimidation Will/A – Will+0 12 [2]
  • Jumping DX/E – DX+0 14 [1]
  • Knot-Tying DX/E – DX+2 16 [1] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Merchant IQ/A – IQ-1 10 [1]
  • Navigation/TL3 (Sea) IQ/A – IQ+2 13 [2] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Observation Per/A – Per+0 12 [2]
  • Savoir-Faire (High Society) IQ/E – IQ+1 12 [2]
  • Seamanship/TL3 IQ/E – IQ+3 14 [2] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Search Per/A – Per+2 14 [8]
  • Sex Appeal (Human) HT/A – HT-1 11 [1]
  • Shortsword DX/A – DX+3 17 [12]
  • Stealth DX/A – DX+0 14 [2]
  • Streetwise IQ/A – IQ+1 12 [4]
  • Survival (Island/Beach) Per/A – Per+2 14 [2] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Swimming HT/E – HT+2 14 [1] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Throwing DX/A – DX-1 13 [1]
  • Thrown Weapon (Axe/Mace) DX/E – DX+0 14 [1]
  • Wrestling DX/A – DX+0 14 [2]

Stats [170] Ads [110] Disads [-55] Quirks [-5] Skills [77] = Total [300]

Hand Weapons
1  Cutlass  LC:4|4|4  $1500  Wgt:2  
    Swing  Dam:2d+3 cut  Reach:1  Parry:12 
    Thrust  Dam:1d+3 imp  Reach:1  Parry:12
    Hilt punch  Dam:1d+1 cr  Reach:C  Parry:11

1  Hatchet LC:4|4  $40  Wgt:2  
    Dam:2d-1 cut  Reach:1  Parry:12  ST:8 

Ranged Weapons
1  Crossbow (ST 13)  LC:4  Dam:1d+4 imp  Acc:4  
1  Hatchet  LC:4|4  Dam:2d-1 cut  Acc:1  
1  Heavy Cloak  LC:4  Dam:spec.   Acc:1  Range:2  

Armor & Possessions

  • 1  Bandages
  • 1  Blanket
  • 1  Boots 
  • 1  Bull’s-Eye Lantern
  • 1  Canteen
  • 1  Compass
  • 1  Delvers Webbing
  • 1  First Aid Kit
  • 1  Grapnel
  • 5  Iron Spike
  • 1  Leather Gloves
  • 1  Leather, Medium (Legs)
  • 1  Mail, Light (Arms)
  • 1  Mail, Light (Neck)
  • 1  Mail, Light (Torso)
  • 1  Mirror, Hand
  • 1  Plate, Medium (Pot Helm, Nasal, Padding)
  • 2  Pole, 6′
  • 15  Rations
  • 1  Rope, 3/8′ (30 yards)
  • 1  Tent, 4-Man
  • 1  Torch, Waterproof

Parting Shot

So, as I do my own campaign prep for Alien Menace, there were some things that came out of the game session, and more importantly, from the time leading up to it.

1) Having clear rules and expectations for what GCA files and equipment lists will be used is key. Write these down and make them accessible. +Nathan Joy does this with a Wiki for his campaign, and I’m doing it (though badly) with my Alien Menace campaign.

2) You’d best have the players talk to each other beforehand, and set up the campaign background. Sir Gabriel was a sanctioned Knight of the Realm or some such. Michael’s character, some Elvish name I can’t recall but really should, is an official Ranger-type. 

Sh’nan? Criminal pirate. 

“How will your player fit in with these guys?”

” . . . ” I said. After hemming and umming for a few moments, I gave the straight answer: “No idea.”

We retconned it. I was a privateer, not a pirate. And my character’s ship had been sunk by Goblins (need to add that disad to my sheet). So the sheet was the same, as was, mostly, the motivation, but now he could fit in with the other two better. That’s the sort of thing that you really want settled before play starts.

3) Setting up a big background without a map or at least a sketch does not promote immersion.

4) Practice with your VTT interface before you start the session. Get your first map(s) in place, have tokens for all PCs and NPCs, learn how the initiative tracker works, and realize that the GM often has powers and abilities in the VTT that the players are denied, so you must be facile with it.

5) Understand the rules “exploits” you have on your own character sheet. I totally forgot about some of the real awesomeness other than the damage bonus that come along with Weapon Master. Cadmus, my Warrior Saint in Nate’s game, doesn’t have it. But some of the real benefit to Knights and Swashbucklers in a DF campaign is making brutal use of Weapon Master. Bad Doug! No biscuit! I also tend to forget you get unlimited Dodges, and I think I have a natural Dodge of something like 11 without a retreat. That’s not bad, and if I can get to light encumbrance via magical armor and other things that give Defense Bonus, that could get nice as a floor for how hard it is to hit me.

Really, what I learned here is no surprise: be prepared. RPGing is a joint effort of storytelling, and no one want you to play, either apurpose or by accident, the loner ass-wipe. Make your party fit together and have a good reason for going out together and adventuring. If you’re going to have a background world, the players should be given the opportunity to be at least a tetch familiar with it before play starts. A short session only focused on character interaction and background setting (maybe 60-90 minutes) wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Hopefully the teething pains on this first session will subside for the next game in two weeks. 

Today the Firing Squad puts Nolan T Jones of Roll20 up against the wall, in a slightly-belated but much anticipated (at least by me) continuation of the Virtual TableTop  topic for the RPGBA Blog Carnival. We’ll be discussing the ideal features of VTTs, where Roll20’s strengths and weaknesses lie, support for major and minor games, and what’s currently enabled and what lies in the future.

Unlike the usual process, we’re uploading the video immediately, with the audio file and transcript to be made available as soon as possible.

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. Today we are joined by Nolan Jones from Roll20.

Very excited to have
Nolan with us today, as I believe Roll20
is the largest virtual tabletop on the market. If not it certainly seems to be
the best known. Nolan, thanks for joining us today.
Nolan Jones (Content Creator Roll20): Thanks for having me.
Doug: So am
I right? Is Roll20 the biggest, best kid on the block.
Nolan: By
everything we know, it is. There is no way to know that for sure, but looking
at Google Traffic, we are actually coming to the assumption that now, if you
added up all virtual tabletops over time together, we are bigger than all of
them, by what we’ve seen just in terms of Google Traffic. We’ll hit a half
million users in about a month and a half, if things keep on pace, and that’s
way more than anybody else has had.

Continue reading “Firing Squad welcomes Nolan T Jones of Roll20”

Today’s installment of the Firing Squad welcomes +James Introcaso , proprietor of the World Builder blog and all-around fun guy to talk with. We chat about the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons, his world-in-progress called Exploration Age, the edition wars, and other fun topics (like grappling!) having to do with RPGs.

We spoke for nearly two hours, and if nothing else, this interview taught me that while I might not stick with my list of questions, not having one makes for some scattered topic coverage! 

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. We are joined today by . . . James Introcaso?
James Introcaso (World-Builder Blog): Yes.
Doug: Very
good! James Introcaso. Proprietor of the World-Builder Blog, and I believe that
you got a few publishings to your name, and you also run the Roundtable – a
regular podcast on . . . all-things role-playing, or all-things Dungeons and
Dragons, or both?
James: It’s
all things Dungeons and Dragons, but we do often delve into other systems and
topics as well. But it’s very role-playing centric for sure.

Doug: I
listened to at least one of your episodes, and it was kind of fun. There were
three or four people, and all had definite opinions, and you’d have one person
saying “This rule is the greatest thing ever,” and this other one said “This
ruins the game for me.”
So it was a good [James
laughs] friendly, but really you had all kinds of opinions on the topics you
were covering.
James:
Absolutely, but that’s kind of the point of the podcast.
In the Dungeons and
Dragons community there is a division, the edition wars as they say. With the
old school grognard gamers sticking to 1st and 2nd
edition [Dungeons and Dragons], people who prefer 3rd [Dungeons and
Dragons], and there is a whole new group of gamers who prefer 4th
[Dungeons and Dragons].
And on the Internet, and
message boards is want to do in a virtual anonymous space, people can get
pretty nasty.
We’re hoping to have more
intelligent, thoughtful debate about the new rules coming out, particularly for
the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons which is supposed to be
released this summer.
The whole point of that
podcast is to bring people to the table and have a civil debate about things.
It remains pretty civil for the most part, though it does degenerate sometimes
into wackiness – which is sometimes fun.
Doug: Yeah,
indeed. I’ll offer up a couple thoughts on that.
First of all my system of
choice, where I play most often, and contribute most often, is GURPS.
So to a certain extent,
some of the edition wars are kind of funny to me, largely because I’ve played
Erik Tenkar’s Swords & Wizardry campaign, which is about as old school as
old school gets.
I grew up with the Basic
and Expert, I never had Champion or Epic. But I had the 2nd edition
[Dungeons and Dragons] Player’s Handbook with the statue and all that [James
laughs].
[Note I got this wrong: The PHB with the statue was
obviously AD&D.]
I played in one game that
I think was 3rd edition, and I have played extensively, recently, in
Pathfinder, which is a 3.5 modification I believe.
I know not a thing about 4th [James
laughs].
James: 4th
is very close to 3.5 and Pathfinder; in fact it even does some of the same
things Pathfinder does. But it’s also very different, in that characters have,
instead of spells, and fighting feats that allow you different maneuvers,
everybody has power sets.
You have powers you can
use during encounters, and you have you powers that you can use daily, and you
have powers that you can use at will. It takes its cues from modern day MMOs,
and I think that sort of turned people off, because it felt a little two
constricting. It became very combat focused.
And Dungeons and Dragons
has always been heavily focused on combat, that is where most of its rule set
lies. But this is really . . .  laser
focused that in, and there wasn’t as much to do rule-wise with your
role-playing aspects.
I think that turned a lot
of people off, which is why 4th edition came out, four . . . six
years ago, and you’re already seeing the release of another edition.
This time they brought
everybody in. Hundreds of thousands of people for a big, open playtest. The
point of that was to get everybody’s opinion, hopefully they get to a point
where everybody likes the game and will buy it.
I think they actually lost
a lot of business to Pathfinder when it came out, because Pathfinder still had
a lot of the role-playing aspects. It still had spells that could be used
outside of combat for wizards. And the fighters had some crazy moves that make
them feel a little more magical mechanically.
And I think it was, rather
than you starting as a regular guy who gets better and better and better, it
was you started as a really great hero, and then by 30th level your
heroes are definitely superheroes. They had these ridiculous abilities that
begin with the phrase like “Once per day, when you die, you’ll come back from the dead, and be even better than you
are.”
Doug: “I got
better” [Monty Python Black Knight voice]. There is the gratuitous Monty Python
joke for the podcast.
James: Yes.
That’s fun.
It can be fun. I played
two campaigns with people with the group from level 1 to 30 and that has its
own appeal as well, flying around the battlefield, and shooting lasers, and
farting, and killing orcs with that fart. It has its own appeal as well.
Doug: One of
the more memorable characters from Mystery Men: The Spleen . . . had that ability.
It’s part of the nerd canon so to speak.
A couple of questions. A
couple of things about that I guess. One is . . . a hundred thousand people in
a playtest. That is bold.
James: Yeah,
I think it’s obviously an unprecedented move, particularly for Wizards of the
Coast, to show us how the sausage is made – so to speak – and to invite people
in on that process.
And it has changed, if you
look at the first packet and the rules that were in there, and the way things
have changed from this final packet, and now the playtest has since closed, but
you can…but there is a friends and family playtest that I’m not actually a part
of.  But you know they’re continuing
along up to this August release date that has been leaked. And not officially
announced.
They really have been
listening to people, it seems, like up until the playtest closed. I have high
hopes.
Certainly at first it was
a very simple, basic game like you would expect the first round of a playtest
to be. But they really did have some things in there that could be considered
game-breaking. They’ve gone through and found a way to please the min/maxers,
but to also please all the role-players, so they don’t feel like their characters
are nothing compared to the people who enjoy min/maxing, you know?
And hopefully everybody
can sit together at a table, or convention style setting and get along.
Because I have players who
were in a theater troupe with me in college, so they love the role-playing
aspect, but then I have a couple of guys that we know that are somebody’s
brother, and they went to see all the shows, and they want to build the min/max
characters . . . and it’s a hard balance, sometimes, to please everybody at the
table.
Doug: Sure.
Sure. The other part of that is, do you think that having it so large actually
generated a useful amount of signal to noise ratio, or do you think that you
could have done better with…at least with the playtest of the book that I did,
I had about 12 to 15 people, and the one thing that I regret, and has come up a
couple of times later, is we didn’t get enough opportunity to actually play games. We did have some
good fights, and it was a grappling book.
I looked over the 5th
edition grappling rules…ehhh, I don’t know [James laughs].
James:
They’re much simpler probably.
Doug: Where
they are, is the grappling rules in most games actually up until . . . I’m sure
it was Riddle of Steel, or Burning Wheel . . . I know that there are games that
have done more detail in everything.
But the original GURPS
rules are fairly similar to original Dungeons and Dragons rules. You roll to
hit, if you hit you are grappled or not grappled, and it’s an event state.
Whereas the system I came
up with is…“Well isn’t it fun to hit…” and in GURPS if you fail to
defend, or you roll under your armor class in D&D. And then you roll some damage, and the damage counts for
something.
I’ve actually been
noodling in the back [of my head] with something like that in a D&D paradigm,
because I think it would be useful and fun for people who wanted to have more
detail about that.
The flip side of that,
though, is I don’t know of a venue in which house rules are published.
James:
Right. Well you can find a lot of house rules/suggestions on the message board,
but one of the things you’re going to see, supposedly, we’ve been promised, are
modules.
You’re going to see a lot
of optional rules modules they’re
going to publish. I would love to see something like that because whenever I
think about grappling, I think about the climactic scene in every action movie,
the hero or the villain are wrestling on the ground, one of them has a dagger,
and they’re trying to turn it around. You don’t really have that option in the
Next rules.
Doug:
Because that scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan wasn’t tense or dramatic at all.
James: Right
[both laugh].
Doug: Or a
little more action hero-ish, the first of the two recent Sherlock Holmes movies,
with Robert Downey Jr, had a great Technical Grappling scene where there was an
arm bar, legs, all kinds of stuff. It was very much period as well because I
know that Conan Doyle studied fighting and wrestling and he studied the
Bartitsu stuff, so he knew about it.
It was a accurate
depiction of what Arthur Conan Doyle was trying to put into his stuff, there
was judo or jiu-jitsu or Bartitsu or whatever. The kind of stuff can be really
cool, but having it be a “state thing, grappled, not-grappled,” is…
Let me give you the flip side
of that though: Grappling is slow. Grappling is slow.
A typical grappling match
(you can see I’ve got my Hwa Rang Do sweatshirt on), a typical grappling match
is – what we do is two minutes, a championship match is five minutes. In
Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and no offense to any BJJ practitioners since I’m not
deeply experienced in it. The kind of the joke is, maybe it’s their testing, is
they grapple forever. They just work,
it and work it, and work it, and they are very patient. They are very good
offensively, and they’ll break you in half like a pretzel, but they are very
cautious, deliberate grapplers, and you can be wresting out there for 10
minutes.
In GURPS at least, 10
minutes is 600 turns.
James: Huh [Laughs
as he realizes the implications]. It’s the same way in D&D.
Doug: Yeah.
In D&D it would be…let’s see, 600 seconds is a hundred turns. And if you’re doing a die roll a hundred times, with
just two guys. I mean, you’re going to get pelted with d4s and beaten with the
Player’s Handbook. And you’ll deserve it.
James:
[laughs] Exactly.
And that’s one of the
things that they wanted to do, was to be able to have combat be very speedy and
expedient at the base level with this. I think they definitely achieved that.
4th edition
combat was really fun, because you had so many choices and options, but combat
at first level took an hour.
So you never had a random
encounter, because it would slow down your story.
Now, a random encounter
can take about five minutes. It’s super-lethal right now, 5th
edition.
I think you are going to
see options for more facing rules, and they’re really going to get into, with those
rules modules, into the nitty-gritty, again.
What we’ve been promised.
I don’t speak for Wizards.
But it would be great to
see that kind of thing. But it is nice to be able to do a theater of the mind
style – four goblins are guarding the door, the party comes in and they waste
some of the party’s resources, but ultimately the party wins overall, and
continues into the dungeon or whatever it is.
You want to see for the
bigger encounters, I want to have those grapple rules because I want to see
that action take place, I want to see Solid Snake, from Metal Gear Solid, get
into a close-quarters battle with a knife and handgun.
So hopefully that kind of
stuff is available, that’s the dream [crosses fingers].
Doug: It
should be kind of fun, because one of the complexities of, for example, playing
GURPS
with close combat, is if you ever throw somebody down on the ground, it
actually…playing with a actual face-to-face group with cardboard heroes or miniatures
it’s actually pretty easy, but on Roll20 or MapTool all of a sudden they are a
two-hex figure, so you better have a second token prepared [laughs].
James:
That’s one of the challenges. Or if you’re in a battle when someone is flying,
that’s really hard too . . . [laughs] on a virtual table, how do you express
that? Or even on a regular table that can be hard to express.
Doug: Right.
Squadron Strike. Ad Astra games. Ken Burnside has a really neat system where
you stack up 3D tiles or cubes and it gives you facing, orientation, and
everything, and gives you vectors because he uses vector math for where the
ships go. And it’s all visually intuitive at the blink of a eye.
So theoretically you could
show that your red dragon is banking at a certain acceleration [James laughs].
That would be kinda fun. The Dungeons and Dragons extension to Squadron Strike.
James: Well
I actually heard that they’re making…so they just released news that there is
going…WizKids is going to be making miniatures for them. There is going to be a
dogfighting dragon minigame that’s going to come with those minifigs.
Doug:
Because why not? [James laughs more]
So let me back up a little
bit and ask a little bit about yourself: It sounds like you’ve been gaming for
a bit.
James: Yes.
Since…I guess I was in about 2nd grade when I joined my brothers
AD&D game in our parents basement. So very stereotypical: little brother
wanted to tag along and play D&D in the parent’s basement, and they gave me
a Halfling thief, and it’s been my favorite class/race combination ever since.
Doug: So I
actually just started reading the Forgotten Realms book, with Cale, and the Slaad,
and Riven…I’m going to have to look it up because now I’m irritating myself.
Erevis Cale I think. Cale
Forgotten Realms. There we go. Erevis Cale thank you, by Paul Kemp.
Paul Kemp. I finally got
around to that, I was forwarded the books by a friend, but it wasn’t a great
copy, so I bought ‘em online anyways.
So it’s part of the
original D&D mythos, so in a way it’s like reading history to see how that
works.
But one of the things that
is interesting about those books to me, at least in the beginning of the first
book and this really does get to your point, it’s not as random walk as it
seems.
Your point about D&D 4th
edition actually has a strong resemblance to the initial character types if
you’re doing a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign, which start at 250 points, or
about a 100 points more than a typical action heroish starter character.
The guys…and then there is
Monster Hunters which is 400 points, which is even more over-the-top, because
you’re playing in that particular genre, you’re playing Monster Hunters International,
or whatever, or Laurell K. Hamilton’s character at the middle of her powers
before she got really out there, and was mostly soft porn. [both chuckle]
But these characters start
badass, and they get more so.
And so the interesting
thing was, in a lot of this stuff, and the Halfling and whatever – it showed
that you could start off…it felt to me and I don’t know what the character
types were, there must have been a cheat sheet – but it felt to me they started
at 10th level and got more awesome from there.
James: Yeah.
I’ve heard that book described as these guys are power-leveling through, and
they just keep getting crazier and crazier, and more and more epic, as the
story goes on. Which is definitely true. It’s a very like manly sort of adventure too. There going into planes to fight demons
and all that kind of stuff. It’s really over-the-top with the action and with
their ability it’s pretty crazy.
Doug: It
kept getting more and more and on the flip side you’ve got a book like Elizabeth
Moon’s Paksenarrion. First of all, as I’ve said at least one, if not two or
three of these interviews, is my favorite paladin story: it’s not the lawful
goody-two-shoes that everyone wants to see die [James laughs]. [garbled audio]
and I don’t know if there was
…I’ll come back to this,
this is what happens when I don’t have my cheat sheet.
The thing was, very
clearly that Paksenarrion started off as a first level fighter, went through
mercenary training, you could see her getting a couple levels there,
multi-classing to ranger for a little bit, and then came into a full-on paladin,
and it really did feel like walking through the first half of character
progression, like going from a level one to a level twenty character,
And Elizabeth Moon used
the terms, and you could see the fighter, and the cleric, and the different
races, and the dark elves made an appearance and all kinds of stuff.
It was a great series of
stories, but you really got to experience the novice, to intermediate, to
professional, and the character progression, and it sounds like in 4th
edition you started a little bit more badass, but maybe in 5th
edition they dialed it back?
James: Oh
yeah, absolutely. It’s a very…not to the point where you are useless, but to
the point where you feel useful cleaning out a cellar of goblins.
Whereas if you were doing
that 1st level in 4th edition it was more like “Where’s
the real action, I didn’t feel threatened at all?” And I didn’t feel…
Whereas in this one,
you’re back to smaller hit points, you have a lot more hit points in 4th
edition at first level. You have smaller hit points, you have less options for
what you can do in combat. It seems like your starting equipment that you can
afford is as not as good as it was in 4E and that’s great, I like that feeling.
Because by the time you
hit twentieth level in any fantasy RPG it seems like you’ve reached that
superhero status. This is definitely less so.
To give you an example, I
have a player at my table who is a rogue and your back to…rather than point buy
being the standard, you’re rolling for abilities scores. Point buy was the
standard for 4E, and so he rolled a 6, and rather than put his 6 in Charisma
which is sort of a dump-stat for a lot of classes in D&D, he put it in
Constitution. He began the game with 3 HP.
Doug: There
is a motivation to play cautiously.
James: Absolutely!
It was so interesting to see that. You don’t normally see that in a
combat-focused game like D&D.
You don’t see that guy who
is constantly being cautious, and he really did have to play smart.
And kudos to him, it took
him a good four sessions before his character actually died [laughs] as it was
bound to happen at some point.
He had a lot of fun doing
it, and you know they have a lock of his hair, so a resurrection spell is in
the future perhaps.
Doug: Could
happen.
James: But
that’s a example of the lethality of 5th edition. You’d never have a
character at 3 HP at first level. It’s just impossible to do in 4E.
Doug: Okay.
I want to talk a little bit about yourself, because I know you got this World Builder
blog, and you’re into doing, it seems, adventures and world building.
Walk me through how you
started gaming, what games you played, and how you started into…whether it’s
the pro or semipro- or playtesting, writing, or authoring or offering opinions
on a blog.
Just go through that
history a little bit for those who are curious.
James: Sure.
I started with my brother, way back when we were in the basement. And I had
some other friends over, and I was young enough that it was kind of like “You
want to do that? Now roll this die. Now roll this die. And here’s what
happens.”
AD&D is difficult for
an eight year old to understand. I invited some friends over, and we were
deciphering it, and trying to play it, and it was hard for me to translate for
my friends and everything. So one of my friends went home and told his father
and his father said “Oh, I have this other game.”
We played a game called The Fantasy Trip that is a old and
definitely in print anymore. It’s a d6 based Fantasy game where you have three
attributes – Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence.
It’s the kind of game
that’s not built very well. Your Strength score is also your hit points, your
Dexterity is used any time you want to something, and your Intelligence
determines your spell casting ability. And if you want to be able to cast
spells, you have to be able to hit with them, and spells use up your hit points,
so to be a spellcaster you have to have high all three. And every time you
leveled up you got to put a point in another one of them, and that was kind of
how the game worked.
And we played that for
years, until we were in middle school, and then we started played Dungeons and
Dragons again, and then the 3rd edition game out, and we stuck with
that.
And then I, in college,
introduced a lot of people to that. I have been playing D&D and kept
current with whatever the current edition was since then. But I also play
Mutants and Masterminds. I’m a big fan of the Ghostbusters RPG from the 80s
[laugh].
Doug: Do you
remember what system was that? A d6-based?
James: It
was d6-based. I’ve played a couple of iterations of the Star Wars role-playing
game. I dabbled in GURPS, I’m trying to find people who want to play it. I think
it’s a awesome system.
One of the reasons I’ve
stuck with D&D is I’ve had a rotating group with people, and I find people
latch onto that one pretty easily. It’s the easiest to understand, it’s the
easiest to find materials for, although now with DriveThru RPG you can find
anything, man.
I also, in my life, my like
day-job is I’m a television writer and producer. Promos, mostly. And I have
traveled around, I was in Atlanta working for Cartoon Network for a while, I
did a year-long stint there, and I was long for people to play with, and I
didn’t know anybody and that was how I met people.
I went to DragonCon which
is a big media/gaming convention down there. I met some people and started to
game with people that way.
And that’s sort of what
happened. I have submitted a lot of article proposals to Dungeon and Dragon
magazine in the past, but I’ve been very busy. My job is sometimes a 60-hour a
week job.
I recently decided I
wanted to take this to the next level. I wanted to start my own podcast and
several months ago, I reached out to a guy named Mike Shae who runs a blog
called Sly Flourish, he’s published numerous books and adventures for a lot of
different systems, dungeons and dragons included.
He told me I should talk
to a guy named Jeff Griner, who hosts a podcast called the Tome Show. Jeff has
a lot of followers and subscribers, and he talks about D&D, and it’s really
his passion.
So I emailed Jeff and said
“Jeff, do you have any advice for someone starting a podcast.” And he said
“What’s your idea?” so I pitched him my idea for the roundtable and he said
“Ah! That sounds really cool, why don’t you do that and I’ll host it for you.”
I had a built in several-thousand
subscriber base and everything. His podcast is really great, TheTomeShow.com if
you want to check him out. Tome Show.com is a weird Asian blog that pops up,
which I’m sure is also really good if you want to check that out too.
And I’ve also wanted to
design my own world from scratch. I’ve played in Eberron, Forgotten Realms,
Dark Sun, which are all pre-built Dungeons and Dragons settings.
But it’s probably been
since college that I had my own setting. So I thought a great way to make sure
I’m using my free time to create a setting, rather than sit around and play
video games, which for me is a good thing, it’s a fun thing to do, but it’s also
. . . I can spend hours. Like a entire Sunday doing nothing else, but playing
Arkham City.
So I thought it would be a
good way to hold me accountable for
writing and designing stuff, and putting out work. So that’s what World builder
blog is.
For creating exploration
age, which is a PDF which I’m eventually hoping to put out, and depending on
the people who are interested, it will be available for a moderate or free
download. So that’s the abridged version of the story.
I’m very passionate about
gaming of all kinds. I love Kobold Press puts out a lot of good stuff, but I
really want to step into the world of publishing. I really want/hope to be
putting out stuff that is canon if you will, but until then, I really just
enjoy making it, so I’m going to do it whether or not I’m getting paid to do
it.
That’s what Worldbuilder
blog is all about. I’m sort of discussing the techniques I use sometimes to
create something, and sometimes I’m just putting out ideas I have there, and
it’s a hodgepodge of stuff, some of it’s stolen.
Doug:
Leveraged. Leveraged. It’s leveraged.
James: Yeah,
exactly. Like any good idea [chuckles].
Some of it is weird
brainchild stuff that I’ve had over the years. Which I’m sure is probably
subconsciously leveraged from somewhere else.
Doug: That
was one of the fascinating things about talking with Kenneth Hite. We spent
almost two hours yakking it up. The process that he goes to to connect…it’s
like “Here is something you can look at in a history book” and “Here’s
something you can look up in a mythology book” and “Here is something that occurred
to me (him) while drinking heavily one day.”
We’re going to put these
three things together, and go to the logical extension of that idea. And that’s
for example, I think, where Day After Ragnarok came from. Which is World War
II, I don’t know if you are familiar with it: you’re in the middle of World War
II . . . and Ragnarok happens.
You take this two huge,
cataclysmic events, World War II and Ragnarok, and just blend them together and
you get three or four parallel mythologies going on there.
Because he wanted to have
a world, to make this connect a little bit. He wanted to have a world where one
part of the world was sword and sandal, Robert Howard Conan the Barbarian, and
the other part of the world was Norse mythology, and then you had other things
at other places. He had these turning points where it went off.
It’s exactly where you
take your sources, and you have your variations, and you borrow where you can,
and invent where you must, and take it to a logical conclusion.
James: Is
that the kind of place where you can have fun? Can you have a Nazi riding a
T-Rex that kind of thing [laughs]?
Doug:
Possibly. I don’t know about the T-Rex and the dinosaurs, but certainly you could
have a Nazi wielding the Spear of Destiny, or Valkyries flying into battle, or
something like that. I know that he had this thing where the giants – the Jotunn
return to Earth in the steppes of Russia . . . and stuff! There is a lot to it.
James: Well that’s
fun right?
I think D&D is one of
the last places – not just D&D, tabletop RPGs in general – are one of the
last places where you can collaboratively put crazy things out there and people
say “Yeah, I’m on board with that.”
You don’t necessarily have
box office appeal to do it. One of the classic Dungeons and Dragons monsters is
a beholder, which is a floating mass of eyes that all shoot different kind of
rays. What was someone thinking when that came up?
And it’s nice to know that
you can go there, and you can try something new. And that’s what it’s all
about.
I invite people certainly
on the blog. I want to know if they think, “Ah…that’s a little too close to
something” “Not as original as I hoped” or “That idea is so crazy and here’s
why I think it would never work.”
I’m all about the debate,
I definitely want to see that, and I want to see if people say “This is cool.”
That always makes you feel good.
But I think it’s great to
explore new avenues. To play on archetypes. So, for instance, in Exploration Age
elves, one of their main industries in this nation that the elves run, they cut
down trees – and sell the lumber. They’re like lumberjacks. Which sort of goes
against everything you’ve ever known about elves, and that was on purpose. Because
I was like “What would it be like if elves were actually cutting down trees and
slaughtering and herding cattle and selling burgers? What would that do?”
Doug: Invert
the trope, and see what breaks.
James: It’s
all about playing.
And Exploration Age, the
big idea is…there are big, blank spots on the map. Particularly…it’s based on
the Age of Discovery.
Australia had just been
discovered by Europeans, and the Americans had just been discovered by
Europeans. It’s based on the idea that all of a sudden these people’s world has
doubled in size. And they have a whole, hopefully rich, history of war with one
another, that war has translated into land grabbing over in this other place.
But oh, wait, there’s people who are native to this world. There like… “You
can’t come in here and just start grabbing up land.”
Doug: “What
do you mean you annexed this in the name of the king? I’m going to kick your
ass for that.”
James:
Exactly. Instead of Native Americans, maybe a civilization of intelligent
minotaurs, so that could go very
differently
for the people settling the land.
Doug: I’m
resisting nine different puns. This is very difficult for me. There’s no bull
about it. Bull in a china shop. I just can’t. I just can’t.
James: I
love the puns, bring them on.
Doug: Puns
and Monty Python jokes . . . they are like two of the fundamental base proteins
in the DNA of gaming.
James: That’s
right! Because it’s all about fun, and it’s all about fun that people aren’t
going to judge you for having. I feel like, no offense, I feel like the
community overall is awesome, but I feel within the D&D community there are
these fissures that are forming that don’t need to be there.
Play the game you want to
play. That’s what Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were all about. They were saying
“Here is a book of rules we’re hoping you change. We’re hoping you modify for
yourself.”
Do that, with any system.
As long as you’re sitting around a table, or going online at some sort of
virtual table with people, hanging out and having a good time. It doesn’t
matter how weird it is or crazy like, get out there and have fun, if someone
thinks it’s lame, that’s their problem.
Doug: Right.
And they don’t have to sit down and play with you.
That’s actually one of the
things where I feel very much a kinship, and frankly the two interests do
overlap. I’m into martial arts I do this very eclectic art called Hwa Rang Do,
which no one has ever heard of it, well, they’ve occasionally heard of it.
James: What
is it?
Doug: It’s a
eclectic Korean style that is a blend of striking, and grappling, and joint
manipulation and all kinds of weapons, and notionally it dates back to the Silla:
the Hwarang knights, which are these noblemen, who were kind of like the
samurai, but except a thousand years before the samurai hit it big.
The Silla, Hwa Rang in
Korea, so when Silla unified the Korean Peninsula during the Three Kingdom
period there were these groups called the Hwa Rang which were a noble and the
rangdo, which were a bunch of knights and there were all kinds of crazy.
James: this
is awesome!
Doug: It’s
really neat. The history of these guys is really cool. You know you can start
fights over whether it’s accurate or not accurate, or whether the history is
made up, or only recently recovered, because the Chinese and Japanese destroyed
a lot of the records of Korean history purposefully, regardless of that it’s a
great story.
I visited Korea with the
Grandmaster, the person who reintroduced this to everybody, to the West. And
you go to this Buddhist shrine in Korea, and there is this massive immovable
bar around the statues eyes, because it was a guardian spirit, a guardian
temple, and the (I think it was the) Japanese put this bar in front of the eyes,
so that it couldn’t see the threats that it was supposed to protect against.
James: WOW.
That’s going in a dungeon!
Doug: They
were messing with the ki of this Buddha, so that it could not bring it to the
harmony that it needed to be.
In any case, it’s a very
eclectic art that does striking, weapons, and whatever. You were supposed to be
an awesome archer, and a horsemen, and a poet, and a general, and calligrapher,
and a scholar. There are these six disciplines, and all kinds of stuff . . . so
it’s a great rich history, someone, maybe me, really ought to do something with
that, and it doesn’t’ have to be a carbon copy, but it would make a very fun
class. A Dungeons and Dragons class or something.
Or a template or a fun
variation on the knight template for a Dungeon Fantasy campaign.
So Hwa Rang Do is very
eclectic, maybe a thousand black sashes ever.
It’s very small. But it’s growing, and if you really want to see Hwa Rang Do go
to insane levels, go to Italy. The Instructor
Mattiucci has got this thing going and they’re all gung ho and they go up into
the mountains and go and fight in the snow and stuff.
James:
Arghhh, that’s so cool!
Doug: And
Instructor Mattiucci is really cool, and there is a lot of that because the
people who stick with this are really dedicated and it’s a unique thing. The
thing is, you could say “It’s not this style” or “It’s not that style,” but one
thing that a lot of these styles have in common, that a lot of these martial
arts are f****** bizarre relative to people playing pickup football.
And so the schisms between
D&D, OSR, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, 4th
edition, and now 5th edition, the schisms there are every bit as
counterproductive as a lot of the schisms between the BJJ guys and Tae Kwon Do
guys, and the aikido guys, and Hwa Rang Do, and whatever the fact of the matter
is until it really is “What martial art do you do?” “Oh, of course I do this
one.” Instead of “You punch people for fun?!”
Until it’s sort of
accepted into the mainstream society, as not an oddity, and role-playing is
that same thing. We are best saying “Yes, we do this collaborative story-gaming
thing, it’s creative and it’s fun, and it’s pizza, and beer, and Monty Python
jokes, and yeah there is a rules framework, as long as you’re playing you can
have fun. And if you’re playing the type of game you like to do you can have
fun. And if you don’t like that particular style. Try something else.”
Until it’s more that then
“This sucks!” or “That sucks!” or “This breaks the game!” we’re not going to
ever break out, and make it so that “Of course, everybody…” you grow up
watching 90210 or Star Trek, or something really mainstream like Desperate
Housewives (I’ve never seen a single episode, but . . .) or Seinfeld! Best
example, right.
Something that crosses
everything. I have roomed with those guys. I roomed with a guy who reminded me
so much of Kramer that I could never watch the show. The George Costanza
character is yes, I’ve had to work with someone like that, so why would I watch
it on TV. It was one of those things that hit to close to home. Growing up in
New Jersey and working in New York City and Philadelphia, it was never my thing
because it was like “Oh God, I lived with some of these people. I don’t need to
remember” [covers eyes in shame].
James: Yeah,
you lived the show. You didn’t need to watch it [laughs].
Doug: Jerry
and Elaine were the only people you could tolerate. None the less, I will
always remember the pirate puffy shirt. So value has had.
James: And
you’re absolutely right, the deck is already stacked against you. When these are
the things that you enjoy. Why would you fight amongst yourselves, when what
you’re doing is already looked upon as taboo, out there, or weird. Until we
have reached that critical mass point like football. Until we’ve reached that
level of pro-sports fanaticism for these things, having those debates doesn’t
make any sense.
Doug: You’re
a TV writer/producer right? We need to do a little mockumentary that is like
the World Series of Poker . . .  but for
D&D.
James: I
would love to do that.
Doug: You have
like the announcer. “The fighter is moving around. I think he’s going to use
the Cleave feat. Yes! He’s doing it and the orcs are going down.” [whispery
voice followed by a sudden and very loud elated voice].
James: “He’s
going to need a 17 here – or higher – otherwise his game could be very…”
Doug: With
the appropriate extra…
James: I’m
in. Let’s do it.
Doug: That
just sounds like a awful lot of fun to me. Coming back round, you said that
sort of the conceit of Exploration Age is that there are giant areas of the map
that haven’t yet been discovered, whole new civilizations. In a way, is it a
Dungeons and Dragons version…oh, sorry, is it D&D-based or systemless?
James: The
plan right now is to depending on the Open Game License to put it out as
D&D, but it will be systemless too. There is going to be a lot of tables
you can use no matter what edition you’re playing. No matter what game you’re
playing. As long as you have some dice, you can use Exploration Age for your
campaign.
Doug: That
seems like, in a way, it’s like the Civilization game, and there are
civilizations there, and you can either work with them or against them, it’s
really up to you.
James:
Exactly. And part of the fun of the blank spots is, I’m hoping to provide what is
a DM-only sort of packet, with secrets about the world, and what is within
those blank spots.
However, part of the
appeal of blank spots for people, I know, is you can put in whatever you want
there. And I highly encourage…you don’t have to listen to me, you can put
whatever you want there. And I would love to see what people actually come up
with, because I think those blank spots…you could have something completely
different and your idea is probably why more awesome to me.
Doug: That’s
actually something that Steve Jackson Games did with their Banestorm world, the
world of Yrth, the primary continent that they detailed is Ytarria. And
everything else in the world . . .is blank.
James:
That’s awesome, that’s great.
Doug: You
have a start, here is where the campaign starts, but everything else around it
might as well be Exploration Age, because it’s just not detailed. It’s there
for the GM to flesh out.
James: And
that’s awesome. I like that kind of flexibility, because then if you want to
stay and have your whole campaign in a area where you can see, that’s mapped
out, the party has that option. There is going to be plenty to do in those
areas that I’ve mapped out.
Political intrigue is one
of the big things, I’m hoping that sort of the problems of the real world can
also translate well enough with a good fantasy twist. Political leaders don’t
always have black and white decisions to make…
Doug: Hardly
ever.
James:
Exactly. I’m hoping to bring that to the table. It’s not just “This guy is evil
for the sake of evil, and so he needs to be destroyed, because his goal is
world domination.” I’m hoping that it’s more nuanced than that, I’m hoping that
the bad guys don’t think they’re bad guys. They don’t see themselves as evil.
That’s sort of a writing
101 kind of thing to say, because there are bad guys for the sake of evil in a
lot of fantasy literature. Sauron is a pretty awesome bad guy. The Emperor in
Star Wars is a pretty awesome bad guy.
But I think that you can
get deeper with those things other than they’re power hungry and crazy.
That’s when it gets
interesting, and players can have hard choices to make, and really influence
the outcome of what’s going on in the world. It’s not a coin toss. There are
multiple options that could happen here. There isn’t just A and B. There is A
through Z, and none of them are completely white and none of them are
completely black.
Doug: And
one of the people who’s done…two things leap to me with that kind of thing
built in. Probably not ironically, they are both Joss Whedon.
One is the core worlds
from the Firefly series. The operative. He’s like “Look. This is not the evil
empire, this is what’s going on.” There were two sides, and you can see the
point in both. And yet, he was like “I’m not going to live there. I can’t live
in that world. I do evil. I am Lawful Evil.” You could just see: ‘The
Operative. Lawful Evil.’ He was going to do anything to preserve the order.
The other is, as a friend
of mine said “You had Thor, the Avengers, or Thor: The Dark World. Or Loki 1,
Loki 2, and Loki 3.” Loki is a complicated character who is mainly reaching
into a toolbox of manipulation, and trickery, and deceit, for reasons, by the
end of those three movies, that you really get.
James: Yeah.
You feel for him. People keep saying, no matter what you think of the movie it
seems like in Thor 3 [Dark World] he is complications are interesting. The
complications, and layers of his character, are so fascinating because you are rooting for him.
Doug: In a
lot of ways you are. You’re rooting for the bad, you want him to lose, but you
don’t want him to lose so badly that it strips him of his dignity as a
character.
James:
Exactly. When you think about it, I’m a younger brother. I have an older sister
and a older brother, so I’m the youngest.
So when you think about it
from the perspective of the beginning of the first movie Odin is saying “One of
you will be king some day.” And then the very next scene, Thor is at his
coronation. I think to grow up as Loki, with your brother being Thor in the
public eye for all of these people to see, that’s bound to mess you up a little
bit.
And then to find out that
your dad isn’t your dad. Spoilers, I guess Thor has been out a while so statute
of limitations.
Everything progressively
that happens to him from that point on is downhill for him. He’s had a tough,
tough way of it. You can relate to that. Not that I…I love my brother and
sister and parents. I did not have a hard time like that. But you can related
to that. Living in someone else’s shadow.
Doug: Sure.
And I don’t know if you’ve seen all the deleted scenes from the first Thor
movie, but right before that coronation is a deleted scene, where you actually
see some of Loki’s “I’m so going to mess with his head this day.”
James:
That’s awesome. I haven’t seen…I’ll have to check it out. I have it on iTunes,
so I can check out the special features.
Doug: It’s
worth watching. I go on and on about that particular movie, and I will again.
It’s one  of my favorites. First of all
it’s beautiful, second of all because it’s so wonderfully epic.
This is sort of the same
kind of thing you’re talking about in Exploration Age. You take a base human thing,
like being jealous of an older brother, or a struggle to reach power, and you
span it over five thousand years with a mission of protecting the Nine Realms
instead of your local shire, or being the mayor of your town or whatever.
You take normal human  events and you amp them up. That’s what epic
fantasy is all about. It’s taking some of the little stuff and making everyone
have the opportunity to participate in these Earth-shattering world-shaking
events and feel like you made a difference. And you were creative and there was
pizza and beer and dice.
James:
Exactly. That’s the thing. You have the interactions are happening very
intimately, so that people can understand them. You can understand the jealousy
of that, and for the things that you can’t understand, like living for five
thousand years, that just amplifies what I do know. I hate to be jealous of
someone for 30 seconds, let alone five
thousand years
. I think that helps play all of that out.
It helps play out . . . the
other day on the podcast, this actually…this hasn’t come out yet. But somebody
was saying that when you think about fantasy realms, priests are given magic
powers often in fantasy tabletop games. If that were true into today’s world:
you would get all magical healing powers and shoot radiant light. Every single
person, the line on Sundays would be out the door because everybody would pray
to a god to get powers.
Doug: That’s
actually a great point. One of the funny things about D&D, especially, at
least in my experience with the people who have gravitated towards certain
types of roleplaying arena. Nobody in
a D&D world is an atheist. If they are, they are deluded. They are absolutely insane.
When the gods walk among
you and give you powers, the word miracle probably wouldn’t exist – or maybe it
would exist as a miracle, a true blessing from God. You wouldn’t really have a
concept for the kind of intervention that happens, as having had it not happen,
probably because it’s just part and parcel of the fabric of all those realities
that these monstrously powerful beings are mucking around with you at all
times.
James: Yeah,
and exerting there influence in mortals, and sometimes fighting them by end of
campaign sometimes. They’re calling you up, because they need help with the god
of death over here, “He’s at it again he’s trying to take over the realm of the
living.”
One of the things we’re
doing in Exploration Age is we are, I say we
like I have a team of designers, one of the things that I’m doing . . . I do
have my friends though who often comment and I’ll brain storm with them.
But one of the things
that’s happening, is the gods are not so interventionist if you will. The
cleric class still exists, and the paladin class still exists, and they still
get powers, but the gods don’t walk among people. They don’t have avatars that
they’re sending down, or heralds. Demons have never met up with evil gods, and
angels have never met up with good gods.
The idea to the common
folk then is that priests are just kind of like mages. They just kind of
practice a different kind of magic. They don’t necessarily…there are going to be atheists who think that
priests have gotten their magic the same way that wizards have – praying is
just another form of memorizing your spell book every day. So we are trying to
bring a little bit of that edge to it.
Also this idea often times
in fantasy campaigns, there is one pantheon. There is obviously exceptions to
that, but Exploration Age is going to have a lot of different pantheons. There
are a couple of polytheistic religions, there is a dualistic sun and moon
worshipping religion, and there are going to be a couple of monotheistic
religions – people who believe there is just one creator god. There are plenty
of people who are lapsed in their faith. They’re going to church, but maybe
they don’t necessarily believe in what they’re doing. They are doing it more
out of traditional values. And then there are people who believe it’s all a
bunch of hooey and people are deluding themselves.
Doug: but in
to have that you need to make sure that the priests or whatever…it’s
interesting, because if you’re going to say…one could go the other way and say
“Well, mages are just finding a different way to tap into divine power.” So, there
needs to be something that identifies that “tap” that “power tap.”
As an example, if you are
familiar with the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan’s epic . . . eternal
lengthy…sorry. I started reading those bad boys in 1990 or so and
unfortunately – I read through the first three books, because that was all that
was published at the time, and then I was just waiting. I would read it, and I
would stay up, and I would read all the book. When the Shadow Rising came out,
I read the whole thing in a couple of days, and then you’d wait, and wait, for
years and then the next one would come out. It seems like the large part of my
life from 1990 until last year I think – 2013 was basically waiting for the
next Wheel of Time book to come out to come out.
Then the gentlemen had the
unfortunate happenstance to pass away. Which was really ripping the needle off
the record player, and then fortunately Brandon Sanderson did a masterful job
of finishing it up. I told you that story, so I could tell you another one.
The point of that was that
the wizardry, the sorcery, called Channeling was a direct tap into the power
that drove the universe. It was scientific, almost, you had the male side, and
the female side and they were admissible, but worked together and against each
other in a very yin-yang or in Korean Um-Yang. And there was a Creator and there
was a Dark One and they were outside of creation. That was the point. They had
minions and stuff, but it would be like, in your world, it would be if the gods
of this pantheon (let’s say they do exist), but if they ever face down the gods
of this other pantheon, all of this local creation comes to an end . . . and
that doesn’t serve their purpose.
So there has to be a proxy
fight so you have the humans and all that stuff, and it’s like this infinite
series of chess boards.
James: Yeah.
That’s what I like to imagine. Maybe all of these gods are real, all of them exist,
or none of them do. I think that makes it hard for people to wrap their heads
around.
But the real world
religion and theology is very hard, if you want to wrap your head around all of
it.
That’s the hope is to make
a rich world that feels real, but at the same time there is dragons flying
around, and there is this divine energy, and arcane energy and I think that
that’s key here in this specific problem. If some people think that priests get
there magic from one source and wizards get if from another, some people
believe it’s both…
Doug:…some
people believe it’s neither.
James:
Exactly.
Doug:
Something’s going on because the dude
just chucked fire at my face
. There are few things as visceral as fireball.
You can’t explain a fireball in the face with hypnotism or chicanery or whatever
in a fantasy setting.
James:
Right. How did this ball of bat guano and sulfur, which is the standard
material component, how did this become a huge explosion. The idea then would
be kids trying to combine those two things. “Can I make this explode like old
crazy grandpa?”
I think that that’s fun,
that’s part of where the fun is that thinking about “Okay, if this is a real
world situation and there were people who were able to shoot fireballs. How
would those people be treated?”
Doug: I have
to imagine respectfully.
James: Yes!
Respectfully, in some places feared, in some places with extreme caution. If
you go into your local tavern they demand you hand over your crossbow and sword
in a lot of places. So maybe they demand you hand over your spell component
pouch. You could blow up the whole bad. Stab another guy and then the guards
can come and break it up. But this guy is a liability to your entire business.
So it’s thinking about
things like that too, that we get to do as gamers. Think about the minutiae of
it. So I want to introduce a little bit of that as well and go beyond the
standard fantasy tropes. Find the spins. Find the details.
My boss often says that
when you’re writing a good script you should get your overall idea down and
then look at it again and have fun with the details. I think that’s where we
get to have our most fun as gamers. When you get to read a new setting or new
rulebook you’re never like “The overall feel of this is so…” you’re usually
after your friends and you’re like “Look at this one little paragraph here!
This is how I feel about this expressive of everything else.” So that’s what
I’m hoping. I’m hoping people have fun.
We just did a big post
that got more traction than any other post than I’ve done that is about
mind-controlling parasites that live in a swamp and feast upon citrus fruit
that is being exported all over the world. There are small green beetles crawl
up into your brain and latch onto your brain stem and control your body.
Doug: I
think that’s been done in Star Trek a couple of times.
James: Yeah.
The inspiration from it came it from the old Animorphs books that I read when I
was in 1st or 2nd grade [laughs].
They were books for little
kids about alien slugs that went into your brain and took control. But I
thought “Okay, so when you’re a little kid this is interesting. But how can I
make it terrifying?” Because, really what it would be would be terrifying if
that happened to you, and that’s what I tried to do, and hopefully it is scary.  And my adventurers whenever they met somebody
they will be second-guessing themselves if they see them with a bowl of citrus
fruit. “Oh no, what happened here?”
Doug: The
forbidden food group.
James:
Exactly. It’s a lot of fun and that’s really why we do this, right? It’s fun.
Doug: I do
want to return, this has been fun, I want to cover broadly. I am one of the
kings of tangents, because we started with it, and we talked about world
building and that’s good, and we got a couple of plugs for you podcast, which
is also good.
But I also do want to talk
a little bit about the next edition, the 5th edition of Dungeons and
Dragons. Having looked over it, a little bit, you sent me the playtest packet
and it was public and that’s cool, and I looked through it.
It is very clearly and
recognizably D&D. It does not feel to me, as someone who’s dabbled over the
course of 1980 to now – over the course of about 35 years of roleplaying. I
started with Dungeons & Dragons. I can recognize it, I see the d20, I see
the hit points, I see the hit dice, you have attacks, you don’t have defenses.
Armor Class is still recognizably present. You still have spell lists
So it seems to me, as
someone who makes his gaming living in a system that is designing around
tinkering: You can use this set of rules, you can use the basic grappling rules
or the Technical Grappling rules? Are you going to use the rules from martial
arts or the ones in the basic set. Are you going to use ritual path magic or
one of the different magical styles from Thaumatology or the Basic book or the
entirely cool Divine Favor rules?
Which is if you’re into GURPS
and you’re looking at it and you want your priests and clerics to have
something that feels very different from spell casting, Divine Favor is your
drink. It’s really neat. So instead of casting spells, what you have is a prayer.
You have…two rolls. One is a reaction roll, can you get your deity’ attention
and does he feel well disposed to you on what you’re asking.
James:
That’s awesome.
Doug: You
can ask for whatever you want, but you usually define it in the framework of
power, but it’s basically like “I’m going to make the prayer and if I
successfully contact my patron/power source, how well disposed is he?”
I might say that the
specific prayer would be “Me and my party I want to be teleported away from
this battle or whatever.” Or it might just be “THOR HELP ME!!!” [whiny voice].
But if you get a really
good reaction the GM is encouraged to improvise wildly about what happens.
John: That’s the best.
Doug:  It’s really very flexible and it feels very
different than “I cast a 3d[6] Fireball spell,” which is a very 9mm kind of
effect, right? Casting a fireball spell in regular GURPS magic is almost
identical to cocking, point, and firing a .45 ACP. It’s really: I mean you cast
the spell, you throw the spell, and if it hits, it hits you for however many
dice of damage. And if it’s an explosive fireball it bursts and if it’s not
it’s not. It’s a very “defined contribution” plan, you spend however many
fatigue points and if it’s successive “Boom! Your Dead” whereas in Divine Favor
it’s more like “I call upon the power of…oh yeah, you’re right I forgot to pray
. . . yeah, you know, that thing with the bar wench. Alright. Fine. Here’s a
sword because I forgot to pray.”
Or I asked Thor to help me
out and all of a sudden Mjolnir showed up or he can show up and he can just
show up and kicked people’s ass, right? It really depends on how well your
reaction roll is and what’s happening at the time.
So all the pieces of
D&D 5th edition feel like D&D to me, and yet from listening
to the podcast I know that there is great umbrage being taken with some of the
choices. And I happened by a blog post talking about a rule that I guess has
disappeared: Damage on a miss. Which apparently has come and gone.
So I guess what I would
ask is: tell me a couple of things that are like “Yes, this is D&D, and it always
will be D&D, and it hasn’t changed. Tell me the top three things that have
changed for the better, and what three things are going to happen to make
people hate it.
James: Sure.
Absolutely. So as far as new goes, when they did the playtest, one of the goals
for this edition was they wanted it to feel like D&D so the word iconic was
a big buzzword around it and they didn’t want to stray too far. Which I think
sometimes happens to their detriment.  
Which might be too weird to
make a classless system or something like that.
But because of these rules
modules, there are a lot of modules we haven’t seen yet. But they’ve talked
about crafts like a classless system and that kind of thing. I think if the
modules, if they deliver on this, they are going to be a huge strength of the
system. I’m really excited to see it.
They have a couple of
healing modules, so you can dial into…it’s as good as whenever you sleep all of
your bad conditions are gone. Just like resting in a video game. Or you can
dial it back to way gritty where there is a wound system and things like that.
I think those modules are
a huge strength of the system which D&D has always kind of had and it’s
come out in supplements, but they seem to really be pushing it with this
edition.
They have a new mechanic
that really speeds up gameplay at the table. The advantaged/disadvantaged
mechanic. In previous editions you got some sort of mathematical bonus usually:
if you were attacking someone who was prone, or you were flanking, or they were
paralyzed with poison whatever the reason is you would get these bonuses that might
stack up, but then of they are behind cover so you need to subtract and…
So to speed up play
they’ve introduced this mechanic which is if you have advantage you roll two die
and you take the higher result, if you have disadvantage you take two die and
take the lower result. It really has sped up play, in the sense that you’re not
trying to constantly figure out…there is always the classic “Oh, I forgot this
guy. He’s blind in one eye.” Three turns after the fact, would 31 have hit as
opposed to a 30? It’s really sped up play and really canceled things out and
from the playtest feedback a lot of other people have liked it as well.
Doug:
Interesting. I did the math: it’s equivalent to a ±4, I think.
James: Yeah.
Exactly. I actually posted up a chart on my blog that one of my players named
Andrew Timis made and it’s like …
Doug:
Probability distributions?
James: Yeah,
the probability curve that happens.
Doug: The
histogram, yep.
James: Yeah,
and that’s really interesting to see because it is at some points, depending on
what you need it’s equivalent to a +4 on average, but sometimes if you need to
roll really high it’s only equivalent to a +1.
I really like that
mechanic too and I think people are going to like that. And I think overall
people are going to enjoy the speed of combat, it’s really great.
I can already tell you
that at the table the lethality is one thing that’s making my players a little
unhappy and I also think that they’re going to need to provide an alternative
to Vancian spellcasting which is I know is a big stable of D&D. It really
wasn’t in existence in 4th edition. It’s also one of the things that
since I began playing for me personally it never really made a lot of sense.,
And I like that they have
at-will spells. They finally have a system where your wizard doesn’t run out of
spells after the first battle and is sitting in the back using a crossbow that
he can’t fire at first level like that. That was on big frustration.
I know a lot of people
like the Vancian casting system, but for me I definitely want to see an
alternative to that. I’m hoping there is a rules module for that, but I think
they’re going to turn off a lot of 4th edition players if they don’t
have that kind of option.
Another thing is in 4th
edition, the martial characters, your fighter, your rogue, had a lot of really
great options. They didn’t feel like they were just swinging a sword or
shooting a bow and D&D was not a system that really provided a lot of
options beyond that. You could try a grapple or a disarm occasionally, but if
you’re fighting an ogre who is bigger than you and using his bare hands there
is nothing to disarm and that grapple is not going to go well for you.
They have some
alternatives, I think I’d like to see a few more alternatives for martial
characters than are currently in the last playtest packet because I think
that’s where you’re going to lose people. A couple of your options for combat
and with that Vancian casting system really.
Those are the things…and
the lethality, that’s always sort of up to the DM. You can dial that up or turn
that down as needed.
Save or die is back, which
I think is great used sparingly. I don’t think a save or die monster needs to
show up every session. But it is great for that occasional fight when the save
or die monsters are in there. That’s great. Everybody’s adrenaline is up
because they know that gaze attack is coming and they got to be careful.
So those would be the
things I’m calling out specifically good and specifically bad.
Rules modules I think can
fix a lot of those problems so let’s see some rules modules for those.
Doug: It’s
funny though…the thing where I like . . . I’ll pick on Pathfinder because it’s
the thing I’m most familiar with in the D&D world. By the time, you get to
whatever level – high – ten, fifteen, twenty: Yes, you’re a superhero, but you
have this trail of feats or spells or whatever that if you inflicted that on a
player at level one there would be one word that would be used to describe it
which would be “GURPS-like.”
[both laugh] Because the
knock against GURPS and it’s fair, even Sean Punch, the line editor says yes,
the complexity is front-loaded.
Where I think that
Dungeons and Dragons, the OSR, or level one Pathfinder do right is “Here’s an
archetype, you’re going to play that archetype,” this is your chance to get you
to the rules because at level one . . . I had an old game where my friend Carl
Hinman was game mastering and my other friend Ken Capelli (who went on to
design videogames for Accolade, and now is doing other things). Ken was playing
the 1st level Cleric and in old D&D I think clerics did not have
a first level spell.
So we’re going around the
table, hold on, I got to find a black pen that actually writes. Naw, that does
not work, let me find a marker.
And it was every time . .
. it was one combat after another, every time poor Ken’s time would come around
he would like [holds up paper pad] with this sign that said “Hit him with my
mace,” because that was the only thing that he could do. There was nothing
clever or nothing whatever, yes, of course, I hit him with my mace.
Now, in a way that’s
boring, but I did notice that the number of experience points that you need to
get from 1st to 2nd level in 5th edition is
like 3 – it’s tiny. Getting out of the cellar so to speak seems to happen very
quickly. Which is probably a good thing.
To at least get a few more
options, but the nice thing about that first level character is that it denies
the opportunity for the complexity to be front-loaded. You’ve got one or two
spells, maybe a couple of cantrips – I do my homework – maybe a couple of
cantrips, I can hit them with a sword and maybe there are a couple of combat
options that anybody can do.
I don’t know if fighting
defensively or offensively or whatever.
But it’s not like “Oh!
WHAM! He’s the GURPS Martial Arts book,” and in order to make not owning that
– what they tried to avoid in 4th edition GURPS is that when the
Martial Arts book came out in 3rd edition [GURPS], if you didn’t
have the book and you had a character who wasn’t designed with the book it was
significantly disadvantaged to a character who did have the book.
Because there were things
you could do, but they cost you points. So if you had a character and a martial
arts character with all this rules stuff where you can bend the rules, break
the rules, or alter the rules and you had the “hit him with my mace” on the
other side.
What 4th
edition [GURPS] said is everybody can do almost everything. So if you’re
a Karate guy you can punch, strike, kick somebody in the nuts, you can do a
jump spin kick or whatever. Everybody can do everything for zero points, but
here are the penalties. And good martial artists buy off those penalties.
So anybody can do a jump
spinning kick it’s just a -6 or something like that. People who are in Hwa Rang
Do we do jump-spin everything. We do jump-spin sit down and have dinner. We do
jump-spin everything, it’s just part of what we do, a lot of spinning. So you
buy off that technique and all of a sudden you can spin kick at full skill
while somebody has to accept the penalties. Lots of choices.
The nice thing about the
D&D paradigm is that the complexity grows with your experience with the
game. Is that still basically present?
James: Yes,
it is. In fact what you said about first level is true. First, second, and
third level are being referred to as “apprentice tier.”
So you don’t even get
like…you used to be that you would get all of your base class abilities dumped
in at first level and now they’re spread out across those first three levels.
So really experienced role-players could start at 3rd level in
D&D and it’s only supposed to take you one session to level up from one to
two and two to three so that does exist. Really there is not a lot of
difference, though.
The trade off is, in GURPS,
two “first level” thieves can be completely different. Where that’s not really
the case for D&D mechanically, your two first level rogues are not going to
be all that different from one another. By the time you get to 3rd
level there is a little diversity and that continues to branch out.
But essentially your
choice of weapon maybe or your choice of a few spells and your race make a big
difference and then the rest is all going to have to be role-played as far as
what makes your character truly unique at those levels. But yeah, complexity
definitely scales up as it always has.
Doug: So
Pathfinder had, I’ll have to remember, twenty or thirty individual skills. GURPS
of course has several hundred. But Pathfinder had a very – it was pared down –
but you could do a lot of stuff with skills in Pathfinder, especially if you
were the rogue class, which is basically the “skill class.” [James laughs] Has
that been retained? Or are there ten core skills or a hundred or five or six
different skills, but each class has its own skill, how did they break that
out?
James: Yeah,
they did break that out. So the big thing in this is they want skills to be
optional because there are people who believe that skills were introduced in 3rd
edition and it shouldn’t be part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience. So
at base, your ability scores and their modifiers are sort of the things that
you latch onto. So you have ability rolls that are the standard base for
everything.
Doug: Those
are your proxy for skills.
James:
Dungeons & Dragons has what’s called, this new edition has what’s called a
bounded accuracy system. You don’t get…by the time…the difference between a
first level character and a twentieth level character in their bonus to hit
something is probably not going to be in what it would be in previous editions.
This is something else
that I think is really great. You actually get better. It used to be you had a
table so if you’re thirtieth level, the DC to pick a lock is 45, like a hard
lock, because you’re have to make it a astral crazy diabolical lock that people
are picking.
Whereas now what they are
saying is at twentieth level should be better at picking locks and your chance to
succeed should be greater. It shouldn’t be that the difficulty is scaling with
you. So that’s interesting.
So skills…the idea of
skills comes in again as this optional system that I think most people are
going to play with and they give you bonuses to those ability checks like they
had in previous editions and Pathfinder.
There is a core list of
[he counts] eighteen skills that I think is one more than it was in 4th
and certainly les than it was in 3rd edition which more resembled
the Pathfinder skill list. So you also have, you add what’s called your
Proficiency, so a slow-scaling bonus. But you’re also Proficient in various
pieces of equipment that aren’t skills. You’re Proficient on mounts so anytime
you’re on a horse and trying to pull off something fancy with a horse, you make
ability roll and if you’re Proficient in mounts you add your Proficiency bonus.
Any time you’re using thieves tools, so like Pick Lock isn’t a skill anymore,
but if you’re using thieves tools you add your proficiency bonus to pick a
lock, use a disguise kit, or something like that.
Doug: And if
you’re not Proficient then you’re disadvantaged as I recall so you have to roll
twice and take the lowest.
James:
Exactly. What it does is it allows…because you’re DCs in previous editions of
D&D were set with the assumption that if you’re going to attempt to do this
it’s because you’re trained in this skill.
It no longer assumes that.
It assumes you have an ability bonus. So that means a wizard can actually try
to climb a cliff now. It means that the fear is gone of the “Oh, I’m not
trained in this so I’m not going to even try.”
And that’s one of the
things that’s great about this Bounded Accuracy System and the way they’ve set
up skills.
The other thing that’s
really cool is so your class can grant you some skills, but your skills are
also tied to your background. So at first level, you either pick or create a
background and that’s where you get your proficiencies and stuff.
You could have a druid who
before they were a druid made their life as a scholar so they have all these
crazy lore like Urban and Arcana lore bonuses that they get because that was their
background.
It’s nice to see D&D
doing a little bit on that. Focusing on those story aspects because then you
can have a guy who was a wizard, but he was a spy for the army so he’s great at
disguise or diplomacy and bluff. I think that that’s going to be one of the
more fun things and that’s going to be a way at 1st level you can
have that sort of customization and make your character different.
Doug: So
just to repeat that was at 1st level you can make the customization
of the character different? I got a little bit of reverb there.
James: Oh,
sorry. Yes. [Doug sneezes] So at 1st level, we were talking about
mechanically they’re the same, but that’s not necessarily true With this
background system you could take the spy background or take the charlatan
background, they’re a little different.
And you can build your own
which is really great. There are already guidelines out there for how to build
you on. So that’s fun. I’ve had people already come to me and [say] “This is my
background! I’m human who was raised by elves and this is the background that I
want to have.” So, it’s cool.
Doug: One of
the knocks I’ve seen occasionally thrown at Pathfinder is you really kind of
had to map out your feat progression from 1st to 20th
level and hope your character doesn’t get killed before you can execute on that
plan and get maximally awesome. There was also a case, I think, (again I’m not
a Pathfinder expert. There were also cases where you could kind of be stupid
about your feat selection and really get some non-optimal series of picks which
might be fun, but another character who chose to be optimal would wipe the
floor with you. Has that been toned down in the latest edition, first of all is
that a) accurate assessment and b) is that some easier to tone down in the next
edition.
James:
Absolutely. And it’s certainly not just Pathfinder – that’s been true of all
sort of things based on the d20 system it seems like. 4E that was true…
I think yes that that has
been as far as the playtest package suggests I do think that and I’m sure there
are people who would disagree with me, but I do think a lot of that has been
taken care of…I think Wizards had a particular eye towards that and that was
one of the goals on the open playtest was to see like, “Okay, what can people
exploit that we’re not thinking about because we’re not necessarily designing
the game with that in mind.”
Looking at every single
feat . . . and one of the ways that they’ve done that is, feats are optional.
They are a optional part of the game and you get them less often than you have
and you have to give up…so you can either take every four levels, a character
can take a +2 to bonus to a ability or a +1 bonus to two ability scores or they
can take a feat.
As a result your feats are
way better because they need to be equivalent to that. So your feats do things
like “Whenever you wear heavy armor you get damage resistance against piercing,
bludgeoning, and slashing damage.” What would have been four archery feats in
past editions is one feat now.
Doug: I
remember seeing that as Master Archer or something like that. Took all the things
that a really cool archer ought to be able to do and said “Bam! Here you go.”

James: Yeah!
So I think they’ve taken that out in that “you get it all” with that feat now.
If you want to do that you’re giving up the +2 to Strength in an attribute
based game could also be really helpful.
One other thing they’ve
done to encourage people to take feats is all your abilities cap at 20, so you
can’t exceed that. You can with magic – finding a magic item or that kind of
thing – your base physical ability score can’t exceed 20.
So if you’re a fighter and
you get your Strength up to 20 pretty quickly – maybe 8th or 12th
level – you do start to take those feats because they’re more interesting than
boosting your Charisma if you want to. Or maybe you are going to boost your
Charisma because there is still a benefit to that too if you’re a fighter.
Doug:
That’s…oh, go ahead, sorry.
James: Oh,
not I was just going to say it boosts Saving Throws and some Defenses.
Doug: I
actually brought it up on my screen so I can pronounce his name right. Gerard
Tasistro [spelling?] at Saurondor, he writes a blog and he talks about…he’s
working on a modern game using the d20 resolution. He’s got a some really neat
articles on guns and bows and arrows type stuff using a d20 resolution.
One of the things that we
got into a little bit on my blog when I was going through the Pathfinder
core-rules and I made it through chapter 11 before I got distracted. It’s a 600
page rulebook so there was a lot to go through and I was going through every
section, I got to magic and lost my steam because after 110 pages of spells my
eyes glazed over.
The point is that Pathfinder
characters especially seem to be mostly one or two attribute dependent. If you
were a fighter you cared about Strength and you wanted your Strength to be
between 20 and 30 and between your natural attributes and your class and your
magic items and your gauntlets of strength, bracers of strength, and your
braces of strength, and your earring of strength you could get like a +15 bonus
to hit and to do damage with a melee weapon and the assumption that that’s what
you were going to do was built into the rules.
One of the things that we
were flirting with in this house ruling party that we were having was to say
all to-hit bonuses or ranged weapons or melee or whatever were Dexterity. All
damage bonuses are based on Strength including for a bow. Because if you’re a
big freaking guy you can pull a big heavy bow and do more damage.
Then you’d have fatigue…you
could only swing a sword so many rounds without taking a break unless your
Constitution was a particular bonus level or whatever. Which was sort of
hearkening around an article that I wrote for GURPS called The Last Gasp which was…I’ll get into
that later or maybe I won’t.  
It’s not important, but
the thing was when someone came back to me and said “You need to stop this
crazy talk because to have this where you have three or four or five attributes
that matter out of six is a bad thing because of the way that the game was structured.”
But I always thought there
would be no such thing as a dump-stat if you took that 6 in Charisma. It was going to matter. It wasn’t “Oh, I’m
a fighter so I don’t care how bad my Charisma is”
It means no one wants to
heal you, you don’t get any followers, you get bad prices at the whorehouse or
whatever so it all comes back to that. That would be a great example…sorry,
that’s not a great example, but what I’m going to is a great example – I get
myself in real trouble – a fighter
with a lousy Charisma has to pay more for all his gear . . . because he’s a
asshole.
James: Isn’t
that the way the real world works too? If you walked around and treated
everybody terribly and you were big, dumb, ass and you were mean . . . people
wouldn’t like you and there would be consequences to that and I like to see
that in a game.
You still have your
dump-stats certainly in this edition, but I think that one of the things that
you touched on is it assumes you have all your magic items – this game the
math…because of that bounded accuracy system in combat as well, doesn’t assume
that. So if you find a +1 sword, that +1 sword is still going to be just as
good for you at 20th level as it was when you found it at third
And that’s really cool
because it also means finding magic items is more special. As a DM, you don’t
have to constantly give them out to make the math in the game work. You can
give them out whenever you feel like. “Ah, this is an appropriate time for
someone to get something” and it feels more special and they cherish that item
instead of “Oh, this is my +2 sword, when am I going to get my +3.”
Doug: When
do I get my next piece?
I did a…it’s funny…let me
see if I can find it really quick. I was writing about something, and I was
using Pathfinder as an example. “Fighting People Better Than You” there it was.
We do this thing on my
blog, and I started it and then a bunch of others got into it. We do two
things. One is called Melee Academy and the other is called GURPS
101. Melee Academy is a series of posts, front-loaded right? So Melee Academy
was something . . .
So that one was…I’m
surprised you saw. So that was the thing if you look at the iconic…I was saying
“oh he’s a example of a Pathfinder character or whatever.” I was like “I want
to make a good example.” Cause I had a 6th level rogue and his name
was Pel and he was a pretty good archer and that was all cool, but I was making
examples, but I was like “I’m not really good at this so can someone provide me
with a Pathfinder character.”
As it turns out, on the
SRD they have the iconic characters at multiple levels, so you can click on
Valeros the 12th level iconic fighter, and I’m looking at this thing
and I’m going “I am utterly incompetent at designing Pathfinder characters,”
because this guy has a +6 this and +5 that the amount of stuff that went into
it.
Or Merisiel the 7th
level iconic rogue, which was just one level more, would just wipe the floor
with my guy because we didn’t have enough magic items or the right kind of
design or feat structure.
You really had to know
what you were doing. And the difference between a high level character and a low
level character was…the ultimate capability if you were a 5th level
fighter and going up against a 10th or 15th level fighter
you were just deader than hell.
There is nothing that you
can do because your hit points are lower than his, it doesn’t matter how many
criticals you get, his typical stuff is just going to cut you in two.
Whereas in GURPS
you can get lucky, if you get behind someone who is really awesome and they
don’t have something that gives them vision in the back you can totally crit
their brain with an All-Out Telegraphic Attack [James laughs] and they’re just
dead. If you can punch through the armor or whatever.
That was always the
difference. It sounds like the…
So what would happen if a
5th level fighter fought a 10th level fighter in this
next version of D&D, how one-side is it? Or how far apart do the levels
have to get before it’s really just a one-sided beat down.
James: I
would say that probably…it’s probably closer to the Pathfinder example that
you’ve described. I don’t know if it’s a big as difference as one level to one.
But I would say that if you’re three or more levels above another character you
could probably easily take them out
However, I do think that
if that character…if the lower level character is a magic-user, because there
is a variety of spells that are back, you can probably play certain things to
your advantage.
And I also think that
they…one of the things they’ve done well is that a dragon…if there is a army of 1st level guys they
stand a chance against a dragon and in previous editions it was like “These 1st
level guys will never pierce the dragon’s armor class. They will never get
through his damage resistance, and he’s got a breath weapon that can kill all
of them at once.”
Doug: Fifty
of them at once, right, yeah.
James: That
is one of the interesting things that they’ve done. One of the things you might
face in a lower-level is something like a big monster attacking a town and you
need to rally all the townspeople to help you defeat this thing.
Doug: And there
is a point to that.
James:
Exactly. It will mechanically make a difference in your battle.
Doug:
Instead of getting together 15 chew toys to distract the big beast.
James:
Right. We need meat shields for when we run away. Yeah, and I would like to
see…I love that example you gave in getting lucky in GURPS and planning
something out.
Doug: Make
your own luck.
James:
Exactly. So if you can have like an A-Team style planning montage, you can go
up against a force greater than yourself. That’s what all fantasy is about,
right?
So I would like to see
that aspect come into it. I think, again with the right magic spells and
everything you can probably pull that off.
Doug: And
that’s probably true if you can’t get behind a really good…it’s true and it’s
not true.
The one thing that GURPS
has is the critical hit which bypasses all defense rolls.
The flip side of that is a
really good cinematic fighter should have one or more advantages of Luck which
allow you to reroll. So if I roll a critical hit, if I’m a 150-point schleb a
500-point experienced Dungeon Fantasy character, if I swing my sword at you and
I roll a 4 it’s a critical hit and it’s going to bypass you…you get no active
defense. You may have awesome armor that I may not be able to penetrate
through, but the GURPS damage model is, armor subtracts directly from points of damage.
James: Oh,
wow.
Doug: You
have to defend too. I think the Fantasy Trip had it. You rolled to attack and
rolled to defend.
Fantasy Trip is a lineal
descent of GURPS. Steve Jackson, it was the whole lineage thing.
But if you bypass defense
you got the armor. And if the guys like 
[affects a deep voice] “Yes, I’m a mighty fighter, I don’t need armor.”
His skin is every bit as vulnerable to a broadsword as yours is. So you can get
lucky, and you have to watch the critical hits and stuff.
So let me give you a parting
shot. What do you want people to know or anticipate about the Next edition of
Dungeons and Dragons that you feel like, because your view in the playtest or
people who haven’t done it. Or because of your interactions and whatever with
people who have been actively debating this.
What point do you want to
leave people with for the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons?
James: So
the point I want to leave people with is come try it out.
If you’ve been away for a
while I would come, give this one a shot, but do not change whatever you’re
game of choice is. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying “Oh, this is
better.”
This is a different
experience, that it’s going to remind you certainly of old dungeons and
dragons, and you’re going to have a great time at the table with this one. Because
it is flexible and there are a lot of really great mechanics that are coming
out with it and building a character with it is super-fun [laughs].
Come check it out, check
out the background system, I guess my big plea would be that if you don’t like it
play your other game of choice, but let’s just stop the edition wars. Because they’re
done. There is plenty of information 
available, go play it, have a good time, that would be what I say.
Doug: All
right, very good, thank you for joining me this evening and thank you for your
time.
James: Thank
you, Doug. I really, really appreciate it.
Doug: I’m
sure that when you get closer and closer to having Exploration Age either get
into a beta for playtest or whatever you can come talk about it and see what
interest we can scare up.
James: Thank
you very much, that would be great. Check me out [points to his blog link].
You’re already checking out Gaming Ballistic but it’s awesome.
Doug: Thanks
a lot.
James:
Thanks, Doug.

In this post on the GURPS Forums, TheOneRonin was asking about how to fight multiple opponents in GURPS while unarmed. This was sort of interpreted to mean “I should be able to beat up many foes if I have Karate and Judo!”

That wasn’t precisely fair, but the advice he received: expect to lose; expect to get hurt; expect to die. This is more or less spot-on in real life.

But GURPS isn’t real life, and when I dug in to the situation a little by private message, I’m revising my opinion. The character in question could rock out with Jason Bourne. The bad guys were utterly unimpressive . . . and there were but two of them.

Meet the Combatants: The Good Guy


AGENT
DX 13, ST 14, Basic Spd: 7.0, HT: 14, HP: 14
Trained ST: 15 (1d+1 CP)
Very Fit, Combat Reflexes
DMG: Thr 1d, Swg 2d (Punch w/Karate : 1d+1, Kick w/karate: 1d+2)
-Judo: 18 (Judo Parry: 13 w/combat reflexes)
-Karate: 18 (Karate Parry: 13 w/combat reflexes)
– Techniques:
–Joint Lock Judo (improved to Judo+4 [22])
–TA: Karate/Exotic Hand strike – Neck (improved to max [16]), 1d+2
–Kicking (Karate), improved to max (18)
–Judo Throw for damage: (17), 1d-1 crushing

–Judo Grab: 18, 1d+1 CP

He automatically gets kudos for using Technical Grappling. Everyone should. Still, what you have here is well into the “badass” territory, with Karate-18, Judo-18, ST 14 and Trained ST 15. His defenses are good. Parry(Karate or Judo)-13; Dodge-11. If he retreats, he gets +3 on any defense. He gets a parry for each limb. He gets -2 damage for another +1 to defense.

Meet the Combatants: The Bad Guys


Two bad guys:

THUGS (x2)
• DX 10, ST 11, Basic Spd: 5.0 HT 10, HP: 11
• Trained ST: 12
• DMG: Thrust: 1d-1 (1d-2 w/punch)
• Brawling: 10 (Brawling Parry: 8)
• Dodge: 8 (11 w/retreat)
• No improved Techniques

These guys, with only Brawling-10 and low defenses aren’t impressive. Not sure why they have Trained ST 12 (that, with only brawling, is for defending against grapples only, but requires DX+1 to get there if I recall correctly). We’ll leave it.

True Lies: Fight in the Bathroom


The scenario was described to me by the original poster as follows.

I blew a PER (my PER is 15) check to notice them follow me into the bathroom. It was in the middle of being remodeled, so there was an “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” sign on the door. The inside was partly demolished, and there was a large drying fan blowing in the corner so it was hard to hear. I’m guessing a had a few penalties, but it was probably close…the GM rolled for me.

Once I got in sight of the back corner of the restroom and didn’t see my contact, I turned around and there they were…Ivan and Dimitri or whatever. 

They were already closing for the attack, hoping to take me from behind. The GM allowed me a quick Observation roll to size them up. Average size/build, poor posture, bad teeth, gaudy/fake jewelry, 2nd hand clothes, didn’t look at all like professionals.

Also, since we were inside one of the terminals and past security, it was a safe bet that they were armed…at least not with anything that couldn’t slip past airport security.

Nothing about this seems unfair to me. He was given the chance to make a Per roll to note them following into the bathroom. That’s a 5% chance, but he got jumped anyway.

The Starting Scenario



The fight starts with the bad guys more or less bracketing our Agent (Z). The agent has higher speed than the other guys, so gets to go first.

The first rule of many-on-one fights is “never be attacked by many if you can help it. Also, unless you can go for an instantly incapacitating option, making it a one-on-one fight, you are better off playing a defensive game, especially with Judo, a skill weighted to the defense.

What are the options?


I’d say there are two. Defensively, he should step back one hex, and Wait. He can even trigger the offensive option on the Wait, but the first thing to do is back the heck up.

Offensively, he’s looking to score a cripple. His kicking damage is pretty good: he’s got Karate kicking at full skill, Karate-18, and does 1d+2 if he hits. That puts a 6HP instant leg cripple at 50% if he can land it.

But can he? He’s at 16 or less to hit the leg, so he can either go for a critical or he can try -2 skill loss for a -1 deceptive attack. The thug is at 8- to defend, 11- if he retreats, 9- if he parries. At this skill level, they’ll be doing a lot of retreating Dodge, I think.

So let’s say he steps back, and Waits. He’s going to attack with a low leg kick the first guy that steps into range.

A attacks, stepping close – but wait, he can only get in range, that is, Close Combat, for a punch if he does Committed Attack. Let’s say he does that – he’s going to do Committed Attack and take two steps. This nerfs his defenses a bit.

Our hero, Agent Z, gets his kick in. He opts to throw it deceptive, since with Committed Attack, his foe Dodges at -2 (and is -2 to hit for the second step). That’s a net -3 to Dodge, and the foe can’t retreat. Net is Dodge-5, which is a near-certain failure, against Karate Kick-14, a near-certain success. Five times in six, Agent Z will strike the leg. He’ll do enough damage to potentially cripple it half the time. The HT roll to resist seems to be for Knockdown and Stunning; the limb is automatically crippled if Agent Z does 6-8 points of damage.

Thug A at this point could be out of the fight – or at least Knocked Down and Stunned. Let’s say he’s not, though – he takes 4 points of damage to the leg instead. OK, he’s now at -4 to hit for shock penalties, and -2 for Committed Attack (a wash with the +2 for Determined). So he attacks at Brawling-6. He tacks on Telegraphic to get it back up to 10.

In this case, Agent Z actually hopes he hits. He rolls a 10, and does hit. Good for Z, because it means he gets to do a Retreating Judo Parry.

The red lines show Thug A’s two-step path of attack, while the blue arrow shows Agent Z’s step backwards. The Judo Parry is a base 13 anyway, +3 for the Retreat. Net of Parry-16, so he might as well Riposte for -2. Parry-14, and Thug A is -2 to defend if the Parry succeeds. The roll is a 7; Thug A has been Judo Parried and may be thrown next turn.

Note that Z is now three steps away from B. Thug B can do a Committed Attack and kick at range 1, but has to give up his bonus to do it. That’s Brawling-8. Not good. He can do a running tackle, basically a slam. That allows the +4 AoA bonus, giving him a 14-, but he can’t defend against the agent. He can play it safe, and Step and Wait, with the intent to Committed Attack and punch Z. Let’s say he does that.

Well, it’s Z’s turn, and he does not need to step into CC to throw A (“within one yard”). So he’ll do that, assuming he’s going to rapidly be backed up against the bathroom wall. Judo Throw is a roll against full skill on the defensive, and our Thug A is already at -2 to defend from the Riposte . . . and he can only dodge, since he did CA on his turn, nor can he retreat. The RAW don’t let you stack Riposte and Deceptive attack (though it’s a common enough house rule). Might as well go for a JT for damage, and see what happens. He attacks at 17, rolls a 15, and hits. A tries to defend, rolling Dodge-6, and biffs it as expected. He’s now prone, but only takes 1 point of damage. He’s now down to 5 HP. He makes his HT roll to avoid stunning.

But he’s now prone, and occupying the two hexes between Z and B . . . just to make the approach more difficult.

Z steps back again, putting his back to the wall (we’re assuming a 5yd x 5yd bathroom here, mostly because that’s the size of the mini-map I drew).

A’s turn now, and he needs to get to kneeling, because even an All-Out Attack for him while prone is likely a waste of time. But why not? He tries to grapple at DX to Z’s foot. He’s at -4 to attack for being prone, -1 for the foot, +4 for All-Out, and toss in another +4 for Telegraphic. Net is DX+3, or 13. He rolls a 17. Sucks to be him.

Technically B can move through A with no penalties (p. B368). So B will do this, stepping up twice into CC with Z to punch him. This is a flat Brawling-10 attack, but he’s lost his ability to parry. Alas, he rolls a 14 and misses.

Agent Z goes again, and he’s in close combat with his foe. Let’s go with an elbow strike to the jaw, Committed Attack for the +2 bonus. So Karate-18, -5 for the face, +2 for CA. Gives a net of Karate-15. He rolls . . . a 15, and hits. B can only dodge, at Dodge-5 again. He rolls an 11, and fails. 4 points of damage to the head, and it’s a head blow . . . he rolls a 12 and fails his HT roll, and is knocked down and stunned.

With both of his foes on the ground, and good defenses, he could probably finish this fight any time.

Inflection Point 1


Bolded up there a ways is “Let’s say he does that,” which is where B took Step and Wait. What if he’d have done a Move and Attack, for a slam? He’d actually hit, but Z has already retreated, so he’s relying on his (not bad) Dodge-11 or Judo Parry-13. Two times in three, he’ll dodge out of the way and B will slam face-first into the wall behind him. Ouch. However, one time in three, he’ll do 1d-2 slam damage on each other. 50-50 chance of forcing a DX roll to Z to fall down. This isn’t really a high-value option, even it if works.

Parting Shot

Ultimately, I think the initial mistake made was closing with the foe rather than backing off and playing for space. With skills as low as the Thugs have, and as high as the Agent’s abilities, this two-on-one fight should really stay fairly one-sided on the part of the Agent.

Toss in guns or knives on the part of the thugs, and it’s a different story, since the injury potential is higher, and an All-Out or Committed Attack to the vitals of our Agent is a totally legit threat.

A third attacker would make for a real problem, too. Especially if they can move to flank. A bit of cautious Evaluation might be in order for Thug A, B, and notional C, but the scenario setup was they were already attacking.

Still, I think it comes down to tactical initiation – attacking into the foe or not stepping allows the other guy to come in from a flank or rear hex. That’s never good.

How did it play out in TheOneRonin’s Game?


Actually, not too badly for the Agent. Ironically, the Agent’s player received this from his GM:

So my GM sent this to me today. I immediately called him and said “no way…the fight was much harder than that.” So we talked through the scenario, and sure enough, this is probably what it all looked like. Still, I made some very sub-optimum choices.

I have a feeling that the player was expecting a total cakewalk, but struggled a bit. Why? Look for my comments in colored text!Setup
Two unarmed Thugs are in hexes adjacent to the Agent, in his front arc

Agent goes first, then Thug1, then Thug2

Agent
Agent decides to throw a kick to the Thug1’s leg
Use DA @ -2, hits
Thug 1 attempts a Dodge, fails
Damage roll sucks, only 2 damage, limb not crippled

This is the same opener I used, but you can Attack and step back, which is what the Agent should probably have done here.

Thug1’s turn
Thug 1 suffers Shock (-2 DX/IQ)
Thug1 takes a step into C with Agent and throws a wild haymaker
AoA(D), Telegraphic Atk, TA Face. Hits.
Agent attempts an aggressive Parry. Success
AggP targets hand, Hits. Dmg : 0 (Crappy roll)

Aggressive Parry precludes a Retreat, I believe. But had Agent used a Judo Parry, he could have taken another step, and Thug1 would have certainly been open to a Judo Throw next turn.

Thug2’s turn
Thug2 steps into Close Combat with Agent and throws a body punch
Hits.
Agent attempts a parry, fails.
Thug’s punch connects to Agent’s ribcage: 1d-2, (1 total dmg)

While Agent couldn’t do a retreat on the Aggressive Parry, he could have done one here. Sometimes the dice are cruel, but that extra +3 for a Judo or Karate retreat would be a big equalizer.

Agent’s turn
Agent suffer’s shock (-1DX/IQ)
Agent throws a spear hand strike to Thug1’s throat 
Exotic Punch TA/Neck, hits
9 dmg to neck, a Major Wound!
Thug1 suffers a Major wound and is reduced to 0 HP
Immediate HT Roll (success) Not knocked down or stunned

Nice.

Thug1’s turn
HT Check (failure)
Thug1 falls unconscious and collapses into a heap

One down.

Thug2’s turn
Thug2 tries for another body blow
Hits.
Agent attempts a Parry, (success)

Personally, I’d still be looking for ways to step in and out. Defensive Judo Throws can be done from Reach 1, where you don’t have to step into CC.

Agent’s turn
Since he parried the last attack, Agent attempts a judo throw for damage
Judo Throw TA Face (Hits)
Thug 2 attempts to parry (failure)
Agent dumps Thug2 on his face
Dmg: 3 dmg to Thug2’s face
Thug2 is prone. HT check to avoid stun (success)

That’s a bold move; Judo Throw to the face is -5, leaving him at Judo-12. But with only one foe to worry about, it mightn’t be that bad. Besides, it worked.

Thug2’s turn
Thug2 is shocked (-3 DX/IQ) and prone
Thug2 uses CHANGE POSTURE maneuver to get up to his knees

Agent’s turn
Agent attempts to grapple Thug2’s neck
All out Attack Strong Judo Grapple, TA Neck, DA -2 
Thug2 attempts to parry (failure)
Agent inflicts CP: 1d+3 CP (base + AoA Strong) for 7 CP
For active Control, Thug2 is -3 DX/ST for Torso/Head actions

Now here, I’d have just kicked Thug2 in the face. Maybe even Committed or All-Out. I loves me my grappling, but to do this right Agent wants to get around behind Thug2.

Thug2’s Turn
Attempts Break Free (failure)
Still grappled

I’ll take it to mean Thug2 attacked with Brawling to Break Free, or using DX, and missed his roll, removing no CP from the Agent’s grip. Removing CP and breaking free are not binary using Technical Grappling!

Agent’s Turn
Agent attempts to combo Lock & Throw from lock
All-out-Attack Double
1st Attack: Joint Lock on Head/Neck: (success), 1d+3 CP (6, for a total of 13)
2nd Attack: Throw from lock attempt
• CP Spent: 6 (counts as 12)
• QC Lock vs. ST 7, succeed by 10
• Swing dmg: 2d+1 (7 dmg)
• Thug2 takes 11 damage (7 * 1.5)
Thug2 must immediately make a HT roll for being below 0 HP (failure)

Thug2 falls unconscious

And we’re done!

Not nearly this cool, alas.

I got to get back into Cadmus’ skin today, in +Nathan Joy‘s GURPS Jade Regent DF game. Cadmus woke up after his last memory was being crushed under an Ice Worm, way back when. He woke up uncertain, neither tired or particularly rested, and with a bunch of money in his pouch that was the reminder of his stake from before he got squished. Or something.

Guess Pharasma wasn’t done with him, but I didn’t get to turn all nifty white like Gandalf. I’m still Cadmus the Bland.

We wander down the hall into a huge room, split by a very deep chasm. There’s an upraised dais with lots of skulls and evil looking stuff. We approach the chasm, and hear barks and snarls. Staver launches an arrow towards the sounds of barks and yelps, and scares up a bunch of Yeti.

Looks like MapTool b90 has punched up the lighting model. Sweet. Lots of lights that attach to tokens.

Anyway, Staver launches a few arrows at the Yetis, starting a couple on fire, and after a moment, the other Yetis spring their trap. That’s right, we got ambushed by a bunch of hairy frozen ape-men.

They pop up next to Shiba and Staver, for the moment leaving Cadmus, Thumvar (currently hovering on our side of the chasm), and Hiro Nakitome alone. Five attacks go Shiba’s way, all connecting, while another five go for Staver. Fortunately for him, only three hit. Lucky lucky!

Shiba gets peppered with five arrows. Left leg, right arm, torso, left arm, right arm. Staver is right leg and torso (nifty player-designed macro!).Damage to Shiba ranges from 3(2) pi to 6(2) pi, and Staver gets nailed for 6(2) and 4(2). Oh, bonus . . . the arrows seem to be poisoned, triggering a HT-3 roll for every hit, and 1d toxic damage if that fails.

Pretty good opening salvo for the bad guys. After all this time, we still don’t form up behind the fighters, but then, it’s served us pretty well for this time. On the flip side, Cadmus just did wake up from being pretty dead, so perhaps not.

The new bad guys are 10 yards up and 30 yards to my southwest, while the other group is about 20 yards to the northeast over a chasm Cadmus cannot cross.

He very, very, very much needs to buy “On the Wings of Angels,” which is going to be unaspected Flight, as a learned Prayer. 8 points gets me Move 12. Plus badass ghostly etherial wings.

OK, now on “must have” list is some sort of ranged ability, plus the flight thing. I’m definitely OK with it being a Learned Prayer, as I only really want to use it to get into the fight.

Because being stuck out of range to do anything? Boring.

Ah! the berserkers and Hunters surge forward, leaping the chasm! The fight comes to me! Excellent. The hunters on the walls release their foot-holds, and slide towards the ground, unnaturally slowly. Cadmus rejoices, and prays to Pharasma: “Holy Pharasma, give me the might to face these creatures, and I thank you for this trial of arms to welcome me back to the world.” 1, 4, and 4 to physical traits. He chooses +4 DX, +4 ST, and +1 HT. He is, for 3d6 seconds, a 470-point character.This just about doubles his net move, and he’s now lightly encumbered. And 3d+4 (2) cut damage, Parry-19, Block-18. Let’s get it on.

Staver looses two arrows at two of the descending Yeti, one fails to defend, and hits the ground with a crunch. We think they’re suspended from the ceiling with magical ropes, physical or mystical.

The bad guys continue to hurl themselves over the chasm. Lining up pretty well along the west edge. Thumvar chucks a vial of alchemist’s fire at the biggest of the yetis, which explodes on his shield, setting it aflame. Shiba launches some sort of exploding arrow at the Wall of Descending Yeti, and kills at least three.

Cadmus fast-draws his own vial of alchemist’s fire, and critically hits the hex in the center of lots of bad guys. They all try to dodge and drop. The ones on the cliffs’ edge can’t, and take minor damage. Still: on fire is good. Will burn for 30 seconds, which is also good.

Staver continues to fire arrows at bad guys’ vitals, killing another. Only two remain to the southwest, and against Shiba and Staver, they will not last long.

Thumvar steps in, Fast-Drawing his sword, and executing a Rapid Strike on the two foes in front of him. One eats 13(2) cut; the other parries. The one that got hit dies.

The yeti all scamper and close on us, a veritable mob of living fur. Lots of targets, very close by. They all seem to rush Thumvar, who is flying:

Thumvar: Note, I’m 9′ up, unless they have reach 2+ they can’t attack.

GM: What’s the penalty for hitting above you with melee.

Thumvar: unless they jump

GM: They have greataxes.

Staver: Hilarity

Two might hit, but Thumvar parries both easily. Seven arrows are drawn or nocked.

Cadmus swings twice, with minor deceptive attacks, but both blows are parried. Next time, one blow, more deceptive attack. Good to know.

Still, the guys who he set on fire a few turns ago continue to burn, and one collapses from the flames. The shaman’s still all stoic.

Hiro, our magic user, casts a nasty pit spell. A five yard chasm opens up, dumps a whole lot of bad guys into a 15′ pit. They’ll hit the bottom next turn, after which the pit will fill in. Not sure if it’ll trap them or not. We shall see.

Thumvar chops at the big guy, who is falling. 13(2) cut is delivered.

***

We call it there. The biggest lessons I learned for this:

1) Either all the players should stay close together, or you’d better ensure you have the mobility to join a fight quickly. That Flight learned prayer is on my “next 8 CP I get” list

2) One BIG hit is best when fighting guys with good defenses. The one attack I got, I wasted by doing a Rapid Strike. I had Axe-24. I should have just thrown down with a -8 to hit, -4 Deceptive attack. But that would still have left him with something like 10 or 11 for his defense. So maybe that wouldn’t have been enough. Had I hit, 3d+4 (2) cut vs hard leather (call it DR 2-4?) would have been something like 7-30 injury. Alas, he defeated both my swipes, and I got nada.

3) Chat-based gaming is still very slow. Very. Slow.

I’ve been having issues for a while updating certain parts of my Blogger page. I’d try and add a link or something, and get a javascript(0) error – the only browser I use for posting and editing is Chrome. I’d click Save once, and . . . nothing.

I accidentally solved this – as have probably many, many before me – by simply double-clicking in the OK or Save box. This works 100% of the time. Click once, javascript(0). Double-click rapidly, works fine.

If anyone else is having this problem, this is how you solve it. If it was only me, well, some posts are bound to be useless, and thus this would be one of them.

Hope it helps someone out there.

(Note: This post is dated March 31. Additional posts are available below, so if you came looking, you’ll find them underneath this one until March ends.)

The March 2014 Blog Carnival Topic was “Virtual Table-Tops and Online Gaming.” As part of the carnival, I sought out and interviewed as many creators of computer-based gaming aids as I could find.

While the topic wasn’t as popular as I’d figured it’d be – after all, it’s a blog carnival, an inherently computer-based format – there have been some good insights offered up, and I hope that between the interviews and future posts, this topic continues to get attention.

The Interviews

Firing Squad: Interview with ConTessa founder Stacy Dellorfano

Firing Squad: Interview with RPTools’ Keith Athey

Firing Squad with John Lammers of Epic Table

Firing Squad with Doug Davison of Fantasy Grounds

Firing Squad with Benjamin Loomes of Syrinscape

Firing Squad with Nolan T Jones of Roll20

The Posts

RPGs on-line: how I do it (Roger Bell-West)
I use a bunch of smaller programs that deal with individual components. I wouldn’t say I’ve got much more gaming this way, but some of my players certainly have. It’s not as good as physical presence, but it’s better than not having the player at all. I think there’s more of a feeling of pressure to get on with the game when one’s gone to the trouble of setting up a net connection

roll20.net ( +James Introcaso )
Through talking with some friends, I learned about roll20.net. We tried it out and I cannot say enough good stuff about it.

Virtual Table Tops-The Solution or the Problem? ( James Arthur Eck)
Exploring the Pros and Cons of Virtual Tabletops and how to get the best of both worlds.

RPG Blog Carnival (March 2014): Online RPGs ( Craig Duffy)
Online gaming is great but it requires a significant shift in your expectations.

RPG BLOG CARNIVAL POST: GAMING ONLINE ( +House Rule )
Not only have I played online exclusively for something like three years, but our games have been guinea pigs for our own virtual tabletop. What I’d like to do today is share some of my experience with you, hopefully helping you have a smoother online role playing experience or convince you that it’s worth taking a look at if you want to get your RP on!

March RPG Carnival – VTT Gaming (Ethos RPG)I thought I’d take a stab at giving my thoughts on it.  Unfortunately, I have a deficit of experience and yet, oddly, an overabundance of opinion on the topic. So, foolishly or not, here I go…Online Gaming with Mr. Insidious ( Mr. Insidious) I’m going to talk about gaming with a battlemat, map, VTT, board, or other media to help show positioning first, then talk about gaming over Skype, and then maybe get into VTT’s specifically.

Here’s my thoughts on VTTs.  I only have experience with two of them, but I think they are the most popular two.  I give a short review of what I think are the pros and cons of both.RPG Blog Carnival (March 2014): Virtual Table Tops and Online RPGs ( +Erik Tenkar )
Let me give you a quick background of my VTT history. I’ve tried (and own licenses for where applicable) Klooge, Screenmonkey, MapTools, Battlegrounds RPG, iTableTop, Fantasy Grounds I and II, Roll20 and a small handful of others that escape me at the moment. Yes, a virtual plethora of virtual table tops.Virtual Table-Tops – Impact on Games and Gaming+Eric Paquette )

Technology helped improve our games in several areas. One area in which technological advancements helped is communications and maintaining groups. In the past, when a group member left because of a move, we removed the character from the game. Now, when certain members of our ongoing campaign moved, we kept playing with them through the online networks.RPG Blog Carnival (March 2014): Virtual Table Tops and Online Play+Ken H )
Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic) started off a chain of excellent blog posts on other blogs with his post on using virtual table top systems to game online. I have used three systems: Gametable, Fantasy Grounds II, and Roll20.
Multi User Dungeon – Online RPG Blog Carnival (RPGames.be)
As I have no experience whatsoever with virtual table tops, I’ll talk about some online gaming I did a long time ago : MUD (Multi User Dungeon).My Love/Hate Relationship With Virtual Tabletops+Christopher R. Rice )
I’ve been playing role-playing games for a long time, I’ve been into computers almost as long. When I found out the two could combine…oh man, I geeked out. My first VTT was MapTools (version 1.19 I think). I spent hours toying with it and trying to make it work…and it did. But not the way I’d seen others demonstrate it working. It was incredibly frustrating. When I finally get time to evaluate what software is right for me, I’ll probably come back and edit this post.Virtual Table Tops+David Brawley )

Overall, I think with VTT’s can bring a lot to playing online, and I’d recommend that DM’s running online games check it out.

What I Would Want From My Ideal Virtual Table Top (My Wish List)+Erik Tenkar )
After some discussion with a few of the members of the “Friday Night B-Team” I started to think about what I would want from my ideal online Hangout styled gaming session. The list below is NOT all inclusive, I am sure, nor is it written in stone. It has been on my mind, more or less, for a while tho’. It is fairly focused on Roll20, which is what I use these days, but if one package offered all that I wanted, I’d jump VTTs in a heart beat. I can be such a whore 😉

March 2014’s RPG Blog Carnival is focusing on Virtual TableTops and Online Gaming. I invited VTT creators to chat with me briefly about the state of VTTs, and what’s the future of online RPGs.

This evening I sat down for a brief chat with +Benjamin Loomes, lead developer of Syrinscape, a program that enables playing thematic background sounds and music to enhance the tabletop roleplaying experience. We spoke for a bit less than an hour, and he gave me a pretty detailed walk-through of the program. We spoke about Pathfinder-native content, as well as more generic sounds.


In any case, here’s the interview!
Text Transcript
Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. This evening we welcome Benjamin Loomes – who is from Syrinscape – which
was designed to create background sound and music for in-person tabletop
gaming.
That being said, this is
part of a continuing series of interviews for the March Roleplaying Game Blog
Association Blog Carnival. Whose topic is virtual tabletops, online gaming, or
computer enhanced role-playing.
So Benjamin thanks for
joining us this evening.
Benjamin Loomes (Syrinscape Creator): It’s a pleasure. It’s fun. It’s the middle of the day
in sunny Sydney here.
Doug: And
coming on 10 o’clock PM here in Minnesota, where it freaking snowed again here
today! Come on, really?! This is just uncalled for, even for Minnesota.
So just broadly, before we
get deeply into Syrinscape, talk a little bit about how you got into
role-playing. Clearly your interest in music stuff for the game comes from love
of the game.
What got you into
role-playing and what current games do you play?

Benjamin:
Yes. Cool. So in about 1980 or something – it must have been a bit later than
that – when I was about 10, yeah it must have been later than that. It’s back
in the distant past.
I was 10 years old on a
camping holiday on Smith’s lake, which is above Sydney, and my parents gave me
the red box, the original red box, with the crayon that colored in the numbers
on the dice (and you wiped it off).  And
you went on a little self adventure with the cleric, who you got friends with,
and she healed you, and she died and all that stuff.
So I read that red box and
it totally blew my mind. I just really fell in love with the whole fantasy
genre obviously. I read lots of stuff, I read lord of the rings when I was
young. I’m still a bit of a sci-fi and fantasy tragic: Star Trek or Lord of the
Rings or Star Wars obviously, anything, just give it to me!
So I started playing when
I was about ten, I played as teenager, not a lot of incredibly immerse
role-playing when I was a teenager, lots of dice rolling and collecting massive
amounts of gold pieces off dragons and stuff.
And then I probably took a
bit of a break from role-playing while life took over, and Uni and all that
stuff. Maybe from 16 or 17.
Late 20s I got back into
it, just when 3.5 starting coming out – which is really great, and I fell in
love with that.
Since then we built up my
gaming group with a bunch of really creative people. I’m a composer and
classical singer and musician, so I’m surrounded by actors and directors and
writers – so we got a fantastic gaming group.
Now we play incredibly
emotional and story-driven epic role-playing games, whether it be Star Wars or
Pathfinder – we play lots of Pathfinder – Call of Cthulhu, all that stuff.
Amazing activity.
I love role-playing
because of the social aspects, sitting around the table, looking at each other,
laughing at each other, being stupid, telling those big epic stories.
Does that answer your
question?
Doug: It
does.
It’s funny you mention. .
. I had forgotten about the crayon – because I have a similar role-playing
history to you. I started with Dungeons and Dragons, actually, technically it
was probably Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, because I played with a friend.
Again, it was 1980 or 1981,
I was ten, I asked for it for Christmas. I think my parents got me the red box
and the blue box, the basic and expert set.
I remember sitting down
with my father, the one time he ever
played. “Here’s all the characters you can do and you got this. . . ” and he
goes “I want to be elf.” And I didn’t know that he was fairly voracious
consumer of the Tolkien books. I think that they got thrown away, but I had a really early edition of Hobbit and Lord
of the Rings paperback. Probably you know one of the first couple with the very
odd sketchy cover that was really interesting.
Benjamin:
From what I read I remember a brownie cover which was very cool.
Doug: yes.
Exactly. So I played and whatever, but it sounds like you got a interesting
game going.
I also heard of this thing
called “The Dicestormers” to bring role-playing games to anyone who wants to
watch. Tell me a little bit about Dicestormers.
Benjamin:
Yeah, so about 18 months ago, our gaming group – who are pretty much stagey
people whether we are salesmen or composers or directors or whatever. We just
grabbed a couple of cameras for a lark and filmed our games.
The first one we filmed was
Star Wars d6 and put it up on YouTube. It just got heaps of views, and then
straight away they started commenting and demanding more content.
And we’ve just stick the
cameras up whenever we play now, we got more cool stuff, we have four cameras
generally and a really good audio recorder, and we edit the games after.
I have a fantastic set up
at home where I have a projector that projects – a normal theater projector –
but we stick a mirror up on the roof, and it bounces the maps back on the
table. And we’ve now got 3D maps, because we have little white blocks built up
on the table, because it actually projects the cover on the top of this 3D
terrain.
Doug: Oh,
wow.
Benjamin:
And yes, we’ve been videoing. . . and it’s just gone bananas there are so many
people watching, there is about 10x people watching as minutes that go past.
For every minute that goes past this interview, 10 people are watching a minute’s
worth of video.
And we’re getting about
30,000 views a month now, and what’s fantastic about the game community is real
connectedness right across the world, people are always commenting on a videos,
and encouraging us, and picking up rules violations, and asking for more stuff.
This incredible community
has grown around us. Dicestormers, all one word if you search on YouTube, you
can’t miss us.
We’re coming up really
high: if you search for Pathfinder RPG, I think we’re like the second hit from
the top or something.
As you said it’s. . . we
almost feel like you’re modeling one of the ways you can role-play. Quite
cinematic. Quite epic. Really storytelling focused. Lots of dice and all that
stuff. Lots of stuff happens, and lots big successes and epic fails.
I feel like a lot of young
players are looking at us and saying “Wow, I’m really learning from you. Which
is really cool, and quite humbling as well. It’s such an amazing hobby,
anything we can do to make it stronger and better is good for us.
Doug: I
agree. It’s not just good for the hobby, and the more people that play and more
immersive and – popular is the wrong word – but the more people play, the more
easier it’s going to be to have the market base to have innovation within it.
If there s enough market
out there so that someone can try something, and do well enough to encourage
them to try again, you can get enough failures to get the real successes out
there. You got to try stuff: very few people are going to walk into the first game
mastering experience – sometimes even their first roleplaying experience – and
are going to go “I am a natural game master and everything I do is soaked in
awesome, all the time.”
[Benjamin laughs] You have
to have the epic fail out there as the game master, where you have six people out
there looking at you like this [mimes disbelieving look]. “What just happened?
You really want us to do that? No?”
Benjamin: We
get those on our channel, people get to see us making actual genuine mistakes.
There is a classic moment
in one of our games recently – where we actually played four games in a row on
the international tabletop roleplaying game day theme and I was GMing at like 12:30 am in the middle of the night – and
I had this remorhaz miniature, and I was like “You come over the hill, and
there’s a remorhaz there . . . and it attacks you.”
And I’m like “Oh, that
wasn’t very a. . . maybe it wasn’t there . . . can I take it off the table?”
Everyone was laughing and
laughing, it was the worst set-up for a non-dramatic battle that you could have
possibly have wanted.
So people get to see us
play, warts and all which is really cool as well.
Doug: Tell
me a little bit about. . . so you’ve got your projector, and you flash it up,
and you got this really cool set up, and that’s neat for a face to face game – but
to what extent do you use computer aids to enhance your tabletop games?
Obviously, you’re
broadcasting over the Internet, so there is something going around there with
computers – even if it’s just a proxy for a pair of eyeballs, or a audience.
What. . . do you think
that’s going to be core to the future gaming experience or do you think it’s just
kind of temporary?
Benjamin: I
think. . . apart from Syrinscape, which we’ll talk about, with the whole audio
thing which is totally computer-based.
For me, sitting at the
table, the ability to search rules and . . .  let’s go back a step actually.
In preparation I’m using a
computer lots. I’m brewing up an individual description of a monster, or had a
template applied to it. I can print out individual sheets of all my counters
all ready to go from the computer. I can bring up a rule clarification really
really fast, and that makes a big difference.
One of the things that filming
our games for the public has done is those dead spots, flat spots. I’ll look
through the book a while, and try and find the rule – no one is going to want
to watch that. The ability to do text searches on games is really fantastic,
and that’s totally computer-based, Internet-based.
The sharing of ideas
across a social media community helps us. People are pushing for what they
think might be cool, or they’re suggesting things, and it’s actually – our
gaming group has become a worldwide interaction, with everyone out there
contributing in their own way, which is really cool, and that’s totally
dependent on computers as well.
Doug: More
broadly, what do you think that that means for the roleplaying game industry –
the content creators, the marketing, or dice manufacturers? I don’t know.
Whatever.
As far as an industry, you
got the game guys, but do you think there is a lot of room for a healthy cloud
– to use an overused word – or peripheral support pieces, as a part of the
gaming industry?
Benjamin:
From the very top, for a starter, it was Paizo who really got into the whole
beta test online, actually directly starting a conversation with users, rather
than delivering what the user was supposed to like, and it would be the next
thing for them to take.
Paizo really asked the
users, and extended beta test on that Pathfinder game, and developed a
community around themselves – and they basically do that every time they
release a book. They’re not just doing a pretend beta test – it certainly
appears genuine, and the ideas of the users and the community get incorporated
into their new books.
Then going to the actual
question, the thing with PDF you can publish a book or gaming content
incredibly cheaply. I’ve bought and paid for cards, printed out, of all the
monsters you can summon.
Which is fantastic,
because I barely used to summon things because it’s a pain in the butt.
Especially if you’re playing a celestial template, or augmented template, or
whatever, and I can support a tiny little publisher who went and set all of
that out correctly using the OGL – and I can give them money for the work
they’ve done.
Then you’ve got publishers
publishing physical gaming aids, like spell cards, which are fantastic, and I
used for a long time . . . plus you got apps. Most of my guys, now, when they
are casters, they got a little app on their phone that brings up all the spell
details.
Yeah, there is a whole big
set of companies that now can survive. From the very top ones, who are using
all those online things, and smaller and smaller companies who are able to do
it on a hobby basis to support it on the costs they got.
And I think that’s really
exciting and it gives us more great stuff to play with.
Doug: It
does seem a little bit that the key to that is some kind of – whether its open
gaming or a system resource dictionary – it’s some amount of content that’s out
there for anybody to use, reuse, repackage and make some money of off it in a
unique way, without bringing the holy wrath of Paizo or Wizards of the Coast,
or someone, down on them.
Benjamin: And
that was the genius of the d20 system and that whole open gaming license, which
just happened to be when I came back to gaming, and I think that’s lucky for me
and wonderful – and that’s what Paizo, obviously forced into the situation, had
to then develop a game within that system.
There is obviously a big
crossover from people who had the concept of the OGL originally, and those
people who were in Paizo when they lost the magazines and all that stuff, so
it’s a logical continuum for them, and a gaming industry philosophy for them.
But I think it really is
the way of the future, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with D&D
Next. They’ve tried to do public trials of their rules and everything, and got
some big decisions from what they do then release-wise. That’ll be really
interesting to watch and how they sort of structure their business.
Doug: Yeah,
I was impressed. I’ve obviously been playtest leader for a couple of GURPS
books, and those playtests are like . . . my book was I think twelve people.
Tactical Shooting was twelve or fifteen. High-Tech was maybe a few more. I’ve
been participating in other Steve Jackson Games playtests where you got about a
dozen or maybe two dozen in the past playtests, but not many, and I guess that D&D
Next or 5th edition – which is “Dungeons and Dragons” I guess is
what they’ll call it – had a quarter million people or something like that.
I’d be very interested to
hear their impressions, afterwards, of the signal-to-noise ratio for a playtest
that was that broad.
Benjamin:
[laughs] Yeah. We say on our website that Syrinscape is developed as part of a
community, the only reason it exists is because people demanded it, and
demonstrated a desire for it to go from the next level as the little thing that
it was that I had – that was a homebrew kind of thing.
The market created its own
market research, and its own clear stats about how many people were probably
interested in using it, and that helped me get the funding and financial
backing to develop Syrinscape to the next level.
It really is a user-demanded
system, and because people are so engaged in this community, they will
criticize, or complain, or write, or encourage – especially encourage. I’ve
found 95% of incredibly positive, encouraging, thankful, and grateful comments.
Every single day I’m waking up to more people thanking me for making Syrinscape,
and what it does and what I’m adding to people’s table, and it basically
motivates.
Doug: I was
going to say that’s a perfect segue: what is Syrinscape? What’s it do, and why
would you write it?
Benjamin:
That’s right, as I said earlier, I’m a musician and composer, and I love
computer games with their big thundering scores, and all their roars and sounds
like that.
We all know that if you to
a movie and turn off the sound, then the noodle kind of drains out of the
noodle.
I’ve seen things where you
put different soundtracks behind the same footage, and you can completely
change the interpretation. Someone is cutting up carrots in the kitchen, and
there is nice happy music, then you think “It’s nice happy carrot cutting
music” or if you put a spooky sound behind you, the imagination immediately
paints this monster creeping up behind them, or stab them, or eat their ankles,
or something like that.
I was playing this tabletop
roleplaying game, sitting at the table, and there is no soundtrack at all,
obviously. And lots of people have done what I did, which was to start to use
computer game soundtracks that I was stealing, ripping off the games I own, or
using movie soundtracks.
And they’re pretty good,
but a lot of these soundtracks have really strong associations with particular
plot points, and I was finding the wrong music coming at the wrong time, or it
was evoking. . .  You can’t be putting on
Lord of the Rings soundtracks without being there in Hobbiton with the actual
hobbits. Are we Aragorn or are we something else?
Movie soundtracks are
written specifically, and they have rises and falls. That was working
reasonably well, so what I started doing was making 10 minute audio tracks,
which actually a lot of people are doing on Kickstarter now, where you got ten
minutes of environmental noise sort of going on, maybe with a wind loop behind
it or maybe a music track.
We found really quickly,
because you might spend an hour in a particular environment discussing the way
you’re going to skin the goblin you just killed, or whatever. You start to
notice patterns really quickly, and I was actually surprised, but if you get a
sort of [mimes bird and monster noises]. Once you’ve heard that five times in a
row you start to notice it and it starts to pull away from the table.
That’s what we are
designed to do. Human beings are designed to notice patterns. That’s really
important for our survival, and we’re really good at it.
So I sort of extended the
passages, and I was mixing them out on a sequencer, Q-bass, so I made them 20
minutes. But that becomes a lot of work, and then you still notice the patterns
pretty much.
So I started looking
around for something that would do generative sound playback of samples. There
were a few products, some of them written in the past, but a lot of them were
abandoned, or weren’t flexible enough, the sound was dodgy, a lot of them were
too dense.
You put in a wolf and it
pretty much goes “Woof! [pause] Woof! [pause] Woof!” and you’re like “Ah!
Stop.”
Not being able to find
anything else, I’d done a bit of programming in the past, and I found a
programming language that seemed appropriate, and programmed my dodgy, home
version that would do something like what it did.
So of course, because it
was an online world, and I lived in a community, I just shared it. And the
reaction was just amazing, and so strong, and people really really liked it.
I haven’t really explained
how it works. The reason why Syrinscape works well is, what it does . . . take an
element, okay. In fact, should I show you this on the actual interface?
Doug: Sure!
Go ahead. Yeah.
Benjamin: This
is Syrinscape in a bar fight, and I need to turn the volume up so I can hear
it..

A lot of the way this
works is that things are subtle: I’ll use this one, [the sound of breaking
glass can be heard].
What it will do, this
smashing glass element, will just play a sound every now and then, it picks up.
I’ve got a whole lot of samples in there of various different smashes, you need
kind of about 10 or 20 [laughs, more smashing noises], and as it plays back
it’ll actually pick up one of those sounds, it’ll pick up one of those sounds,
put it out in the 3D spectrum in surround sound, at a randomized distance that
I can set up, and it will play that sound.
That little element will
sit there playing, and you can turn on grunts and shouts as well, and it will
just sit there playing. All of these elements add up, eventually, to what you’d
have in a movie as sound design.
If there is a bar fight
going on: You might have someone whimpering under a table, you might have the
sound of people chatting, so that’s all the elements of the sound design. They
are all completely dynamic. All completely randomized, you’ll never hear the
same sound twice and it will just keep going and going and going.
Now you don’t have to turn
those on and set all those. So over here, on the second panel, are presets, and
it will set up this mixer where sliders are moving.
The music will start in a
certain place, and it will just play the fantastic sound of a bar fight in the
background, until you are satisfied.
On the right hand side
you’ve got one shot sounds, which sounds you can actually set off on a sound
board, like this sound [makes a dull thump], which are all punches sounds. Or
this one, which I like of course: The Wilhelm Scream, which every game
absolutely needs.
There are a lot of spells
here. But the main point of Syrinscape is. . . let’s say you’re in the
Witchwood . . . you just click that,
that’s all the clicking you have to do. Syrinscape will just slowly transition
though, and everyone can try this. It’s free to download and everyone can play
with the top two sound sets.
It’ll just sit there and
keep playing, and every now and then a distant roar or growl or whatever. It
won’t fill up the whole room with lots and lots of sounds, but just be really
really subtle.
So we’re about to have a
bugbear battle, so we click on the bugbear battle sound set. And then suddenly
we’re in a battle and the music will play, there we go, that’s a bit louder.
It’ll just sit there as well, you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to
touch it. I really don’t want to take any attention away from the games or the
players.
Let’s say we’re in a
spaceship, we’re bringing out [space lasers and ships can be heard in the
background]. That’s cool. I don’t know how that’s coming through the speakers,
but it’s coming through over here.
Doug: It
sounds vaguely Star Wars-y.
Benjamin:
You can have thunderstorms, all sorts of stuff like that. Does that make sense?
Doug: It
does. It’s something where you’ll do a couple of presets, or pick some presets
that someone has done for you, and it creates some background ambiance to help
set the mood.
Benjamin:
That’s right. It just runs in the background, and is putting on that movie
soundtrack.
The music that you get,
which plays every now and then, and all the background wind, which is kind of a
continuous bed of sound, and also those individual events that occur every now
and again like distant roars, or wolf howls, or crash of thunder, or goblins in
the distance, smashing stuff up, or whatever you need.
So that’s it. That’s
Syrinscape, it’s available on PC, Mac, and Android tablets and iPads as well,
so people can try it out on all those devices.
Doug: That’s
pretty cool. So I was wondering, in terms of the overall theme of what we’re
talking about this month, do you see a web-based or client-based version of
this in the future?
Benjamin: So
yes, we built it in the unity engine – it can work in a whole lot of different
contexts, there is a web-browser version, we’ve had a lot of people telling us
lately that we should be integrating it with the online gaming systems, because
there are some solutions. . . Roll20 for instance you can play tracks off Soundcloud
and stuff like that.
They’ve sort of got a free
player kind of thing, with integration of premium content in their business
model. This is the same sort of thing.
You download the player
for free to run within a few games, and if you want to buy more stuff on top of
that, you can do that. Integration into one of these devices makes a lot of
sense in the future.
At the moment it is built
primarily for my tabletop game, but it makes absolute sense online. You have it
on a tablet and you can feed it through a mixer.
Doug: Sure.
It just seems like it would be almost a perfect – and we’re talking in Google
Hangouts on Air, and Roll20 integrates perfectly with Google Hangouts, and it
seems like this would be a fairly straight forward inclusion into a Hangout
environment.
Benjamin:
Yeah, definitely. That’s something we need to get on to.
What we’re working on at
the moment with Syrinscape is we’ve got the Fantasy player – all that content
is all set up and being built. At the moment we’re concentrating on getting our
Sci-Fi player out, which has some of those sounds that you heard there that I
played.
And we’re looking at
getting an editor, because in my original version of Syrinscape, everyone could
build their own stuff. It’s very important on getting the community involved,
and building stuff again in this version.
That’s. . . hopefully
we’ve got a beta of that in April. Once again, we can get that whole community.
. . they can build what they want, and be contributing, and they can make it
grow as a community.
Doug: Are
you going to publish a set of Syrinscape standards? Your noise level has to be
this. You have to have this clean.
I’m just trying to figure
out how you can make sure the sound quality. . . for example, you were talking
about. . . let me finish that sentence actually.
I have a tendency to go
from one thought to another, and it makes the transcriptions really odd.
You want to make sure that
the content that is being community provided is at least at certain standard of
quality, because otherwise – fair or not – Syrinscape gets the knock for not
providing an immersive environment because somebody is doing something with
sound effects and flushes the toilet in the background or something.
Do you envision some sort
of standards set?
Benjamin:
Yeah, totally, yeah. I think what we’ll do is we’ll greenlight.
The current concept is –
and this is open to discussion and argument amongst us – that we would probably
let you build anything you want, and that automatically syncs with your server
home online, and that means you can have it on all your devices when you log in
as you.
Then probably what we’ll
do is to be able to propose the addition of what they built to the community,
and then I think we would have people vetting them.
We also have copyright
concerns as well you know. We need to make sure people don’t just go in and . .
. people can use community commons sounds, as long as they credit them correctly
if there is an attribution license, and that’s so great to be able to pass on
that credit.
So as long as all the
sounds are edited, as you say, if the quality is good enough as you said. I
think that’s really important.
Doug: Yeah,
because otherwise I could see where:
“Doesn’t that sound a lot
like the Avengers soundtrack?”
“Yes. . . yes it does. Yes.
. . that’s going to be a problem.”
The safeguarding of IP in
digitally distributed world is difficult; especially . . . Some people don’t
get too exercised when a fifty billion dollar corporation has a song go public.
It’s a different story when having that song go public is one of 15 songs in an
artist’s repertoire, and “Oh, I’ve downloaded this great song!” Well
congratulations, that person is now eating twice a day instead of three times a
day.
As a writer of a book that
has maybe sold 300 or 400 copies, having a few free downloads done at a couple
bucks a pop is a –  relatively speaking –
a big deal.
GURPS
Technical Grappling
will never
have me quitting my day job, but for those who might wish to make a career out
of the gaming industry – although I think many gaming industry professionals
will give a word of advice, which is: “DON’T.”
It’s like joint ventures:
just don’t. You still want to? DON’T. You still want to? It’s like converting
to Judaism – you have to be convinced three times. [Benjamin laughs].
Once you get into that you
want to make sure that, yes, you want people to enjoy your product, but you
also want to make sure the artists are getting compensated both intellectually
and monetarily for the work that they put in.
Benjamin: Absolutely.
The thing is, the community on the whole is really really keen to support
innovation and things that are going to make the game better, and they want to
have a mechanism to do it.
And that’s what
Kickstarters have shown if nothing else. Once there is an idea that catches the
imagination, this community is really keen to put their money behind it. Which
is great.
I think what we’re going
to do is build a subscription model, where they become a supporter and they get
access to absolutely everything that they can possibly get access to. And we
get to have a steady stream, and know how big our base is, and adjust our
business model on the basis of that.
I think that makes sense,
and people are asking for that. People don’t want to have to go to a shop and
buy all the different bits and that sort of stuff. They just want to go “Yep. I
believe in that product and I want to make sure it still exists and we can all
keep using it.”
Doug: Right.
I see where that would go, and it’s somewhere between Kickstarter and . . . Patreon
is the other one where you’re just basically funneling money. . . it’s like
buying a subscription to a content creator.
It’s. . . .instead of
saying I’m going to buy Pyramid magazine, and I’ll buy that issue or this issue,
or that issue or Dungeon Magazine or Dragon.
I’m going to throw $10 a
month to Bob the Game Designer, and if enough people do that he’s got a secure
living doing good content. And if that content starts to be not-good, then the
subscriptions go away, and it’s a very active . . .  “Yay Capitalism! Yay!”
(If you’re an Austin
Powers fan. “Oh, we won. Yay! Hey comrades.” I need to rewatch that movie. The
first time I saw that I nearly busted a gut. I was a huge Ian Fleming James
Bond fan, and he [Mike Meyers] did such a great job of doing a homage to both
the books and the movies that . . . the first one was wonderful to watch from
that perspective. Anyways, I digress; see I told you I digress.)
So you’ve mentioned Paizo
a little bit, you’ve got some great fantasy bar fight going on. I hear that
there is something in the works, and I hear that because you sent me an email
saying “something is in the works.”
So why don’t you tell me
about that?
Benjamin:
Yeah, so I’m a really strong believer in the Paizo model, the community base,
and the OGL concept and everything like that. I really love what’s been done
with Pathfinder, and I love the game world, and love the quality of their art.
Some sort of licensing relationship
with some of the big companies has always been obvious for Syrinscape, the big
one for us was Pathfinder and Paizo, because we feel a real connection with
their business model and philosophies.
We just approached them
and said “We have this fantastic product, we think that people need to have it
on the table and we’d really love to be able to build content for your game and
directly support Golarion, or just directly support all the monsters in the OGL
which is the Dungeons and Dragons-cum-Pathfinder monsters.”
They liked the product – any
digital product that actually turns up
and is done is a bit of a massive
achievement in this industry. There have been many attempts to produce physical
products some of which have never emerged and yeah, I basically went to PaizoCon
and asked for a meeting. Give me 10 or 15 minutes of your time.
And we set down with the
guys and said “Look at this” and they were like “Oh! That’s so cool.” They were
pushing the buttons, and making the roars, and we entered into a conversation
with them, and have agreed to build licensed content for Paizo – and that’s all
official and signed up.
So the last couple of
months have been building whole other content – which I can’t mention what it
is – but once we’re ready for release, we’re doing the final polishing for all
that stuff. Then it’ll start rolling out, and as I said, it’ll be a
subscription base, you’ll be able to get to the ever widening support for every
tabletop experience you want to get going.
Doug: I can
easily see – you can smile mysteriously, because I know you’re probably under
nondisclosure – but I can easily see areas of Golarion each having their own
theme song.
I can see starting with
the most popular monsters, whether it’s a beholder, or a remorhaz, or a dragon,
or a troll, or goblins, those guys have a certain theme song or certain noises:
the goblins getting angsty or getting angry would have a certain background
noise. You can have a troll thump thump thump.
You could really easily
see where something like a . . . you’d load in. . . I just did an interview
with the gentleman from Fantasy Grounds – Doug Davison – you could see, for
example, when you load in these monsters: a bear, 3 dire bats, and a troll, that
it brings in the bear, dire bats, and the troll sounds. And starts playing some
background music.
Benjamin:
Yeah, integration with some of these products is really good.
Syrinscape is running as an
API at the moment. We’re just building the native interfaces, so the skin that
you saw before is just a surface controller, and there is no reason that any
other program or web device or whatever can’t control that API. Yeah.
Absolutely.
That’s something certainly
that . . .  there have been a few chats
with a few people about it about that sort of stuff and once we find the right
match then I think that’s definitely something that should happen for sure. And
it’s really easy to do as well. The elements are there; you just need any
device that turns on the element that’s the goblin noises, and any sort of player
interacting with clicks, or automatically attached to an icon you put down on
the table, are all possibilities for the programming.
Doug: Another
fun thing that would leverage the power of automatic searching as well as some
of the speech-to-text capabilities that are found on iPhones or whatever would
be something where you’re actually at a tabletop (or online) and it’s listening
to what you’re saying. “Yes, and there are three trolls” and it hears the word
trolls and goes out to the database, comes back with crunching sounds or [makes
growling noises] or something.
Benjamin: These
are the “stupid” ideas that people come up with, and people say “oh, it’ll
probably go wrong and play the wrong thing at the wrong time” and somebody
makes the thing, and it works, and it’s like “Way cool, why didn’t I think of
that?”
Lots of people thought of
it, but only one idiot went and did
it.
Doug: Right.
So with that in mind, let me ask: For your tabletop-enhancement environment,
what are you satisfied that exists that enhances your tabletop experience? Can
be Syrinscape, can be anything, but just as someone who is creating content to
make a better tabletop experience and by extension, a better online experience.
What’s good that you like
that’s out there already? What needs to be out there to enhance the experience,
and how do you see that evolving over time?
Benjamin:
Mmmm. So I think I’m satisfied audio-wise because I built exactly what I
wanted. I really want Syrinscape to be a community with shared content, so we
get really great content instead of relying on one central team building stuff,
though as long as you control the quality that’s going to work really well.
What’s still lacking for
me at my table is a really useful, easy way to control the maps at the table. A
lot of the mapping programs are focused for online play which is cool. . . but
if people go and check out the Dicestormers on YouTube you’ll see that what
we’re doing at the moment with maps – and I’ve actually been using PowerPoint
to do my maps to control position and the scale, to apply grids and un-apply
grids, and then to be able to show and hide various different areas in an
effective way.
I was using MapTool, which
is amazingly, fantastically powerful, and to be able to move your digital
miniatures around so that it automatically does lighting and all that sort of stuff,
it’s really cool.
But when you’re using
physical miniatures, that doesn’t really work very well, because you’ve got to
move the digital miniature to match the physical miniature.
It takes a really long
time to do all the walls and everything in it in a program like MapTools. So
there is a lot of prep time, so whether there is a better way of sharing maps once
their built – getting excited now.
So also, when I’m taking a
map from a digital product that I own, say a module and then wanting to import
it into any program projector, the resolution is always a problem.
I absolutely love what Paizo
has done recently, where you can turn off the room numbers and hide the secret
doors. So you have a player version of the map, which I can easily project on
the table, but the resolution is nowhere near what it needs to be, it’s just
because they put in a PDF and they want to keep the PDF size down, so they lack
a higher resolution.
But the really big thing
for me, that I haven’t been able to find online at all, is animated elements to
put on my maps.
I would love to be able to
place down easily on my digital map, on my table, a fire element and just draw
an area and have it sort of burning. That’d be so coo-ool! And also a flowing
river just to designate. . . just draw right across the map and automatically
flow, that would be fantastic. Or to be able to have it snowing and wind.
I’m sort of doing things
like that at the moment, just cobbling together things, but I’d love that to be
there in the future, hopefully I’ll get fed up enough and do it.
Doug: So I
was taking a look at the Battlegrounds demo, and it has some of that. It has dynamic
lighting where you have a fire, and it flickers, and you actually see a flickering
light in two zones. The bright zone and the dim zone.
I’m fairly sure it’s got a
robust dynamic lighting module to it, it seems to be a little bit ahead of some
of the other dynamic lightning introductions.
I do know that Roll20 – I’m
not experienced with it yet – but I think it’s part of their rugged reroll
upgrade, they’ve done some neat things with dynamic lightning.
Benjamin:
They’ve been talking about animated icons for a while. The last time I looked
was maybe a month ago and everyone saying “Well, yes, we don’t do it yet, and
it’s difficult for this reason.”
I totally understand that,
it can take a lot. . . sometimes when you have to reengineer the whole way the
graphic system works in order to incorporate something like a animated gif or
whatever, it can be really major.
I just want one of these
people to do it, and soon as they do, they’re going to go off, if I can just
chuck down fire and burns my players are going to salivate all over the table.
Doug: The
other thing that would be kind of neat, just thinking out loud: They have these
things all over the place in malls, and in our Minnesota Zoo. It’s a projector
that not just projects, it senses, so if you go [mimes a hand swipe] like this
over a projector screen, and it interacts with the images.
It would be interesting to
have such, if you’re doing it on the surface, or if you put an actual miniature
on there it can sense that. . . there is a barcode on there or something, and
if you move it, it moves the map or scales to the map.
You could have an
interactive system, you’re moving your miniatures on the table, the projector
receiver is finding out where they are, and giving it back to the GM’s screen,
so you can have hidden things or put a river here and you actually draw on the
computer screen touch screen and it shows on the map.
Benjamin:
The Microsoft Table Surface thing did that really well, didn’t it? But there
like $20,000 or something. I want that, to take an icon or miniature with a barcode
and draw on a table and say “That’s a shadowed area or whatever.” That would be
so cool.
Doug: It
seems that the capability to not drive it. . . you’d need that special
projector. . .
Maybe you wouldn’t need a [special]
projector, you’d need a webcam, you’d need a [dumb] projector, and you’d need a
tablet that you could receive it to. You’d probably want a full computer with a
touchscreen like some of the new Dell’s. What was it? A 27” touch screen, the
Dell XPS or whatever, and you can do all that and interact with it, viscerally,
and have that experience.
I think we’re coming down
to the end – if nothing else because of the conference call I have in the
morning.
Unfortunately I can’t keep
chatting, although you’re really fun to talk to, but I always give my guests
the last word, so I’m giving you the last word:
What do you want to leave
anyone who’s watching this about Syrinscape or the future or the community or .
. . what do you want to let them know?
Benjamin: Yeah,
look: Just get involved in the community. “Make your voice heard.” It is what
drives us I think, and if any of the stuff we’ve been talking about catches
your imagination, talking about it will make it happen. Workshopping these
ideas online.
So go download Syrinscape,
it’s free, you can try it out, so jump on Facebook or Twitter and hammer me
until you get it looking the way you want it to. And we can enter a discussion
and we can argue about things.
Definitely check out the
Dicestormers, people are always saying “You guys should be known more, because
you’re heaps funny and embarrassing.” Just go on Dicestormers on YouTube and
search that out. Then yeah, make comments and pick up all our rule errors and
make jokes about us. We had someone make a special cut of one of our
Dicestormer videos the other day, because Murray’s character was chopping ears
off things and giggling in a slightly maniacal way. They made a video of just
that one slightly scary moment and we totally love that stuff. Community,
community, community.
Most of all: just game!
Get out there and game more! Because it’s good stuff, and it’s fun, that’s me.
Doug:
[laughs] Fair enough.
Alright, I want to thank
you for your time.
This, just so you know, we’ll
be transcribing this and will show up in a couple of days. I want it to come
out before the end of March, so it’s in time for the Blog Carnival.
Everyone who is watching,
get out there and write posts about this stuff, because it’s part of the “community”
piece: The more people talk, and the more it’s shared, and all the different
videos. . .  You yourself should stop by
the firing squad if you haven’t already, because some of the features you’ve
just talked about, John Lammers talk about some of the things Epic Table can do
and Doug Davison walked me through Fantasy Grounds.
If you’re really into
immersive, deep, epic storytelling, Liz Theis walked me through Realm Works
which is by the same company, Lone Wolf Development, that did Hero Lab. Realm Works
is this huge, scripting, story-driven, mind-map, relationship web. You can do
mapping, you got all this stuff you click on it to share with players. It’s
really neat and for people who do big stories, it’s actually technology that –
and I said this in my post about it – I expected to be unimpressed. It totally
impressed me. When I do my campaigns, I want to do it in this so it’s there and
easy and don’t have to do your prep twice. It was really kind of neat.
Syrinscape is another
capability that you’ve developed to add to the immersion experience for either
people at a table, and hopefully, eventually, people online as well. Thank you
for your time!
Benjamin:
Thank you for having me!

One of the fun things that happened in yesterday’s romp through the Castle of the Mad Archmage+Joseph Bloch ) is that we were able to clear out quite a few rooms. Each combat was short, sweet, to the point. The enemies (and if we screwed up, the players or friendly NPCs) fell like mown wheat, more or less.

This allowed us to probably do 6-10 short, lowish-risk combats in the three hours we played.

In contrast, in the GURPS Banestorm game I played with +Brian Ronnle and his crowd, we roleplayed for a while – a long while – but when we got to the final combat, it took a long time to resolve.

What’s going on?


I still mean to do a post on not fighting the rules, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help them along.

The S&W truth is that at the levels we’re at, and maybe even in general, you don’t have too many choices as to what you’re doing, especially as a fighter. Rul Scararm is a 2nd level fighter. His options are basically:

  • Roll 1d20+3 to hit with a magical bow; 1d6+2 damage if successful
  • Roll 1d20+3 (or 1d20+5) to hit with a magical sword (extra good against undead), and 1d8+3/1d8+5 vs undead if I hit
  • Roll 1d20+2 to poke with a mundane spear or bastard sword (which I probably should get rid of). 1d6+2 for the spear, 1d8+2 for the sword.

The spell users get to pick from a list of spells, but unless things have changed, they pick some spells each game day, use ’em up, and until the day passes, that’s it. Then they’re back to trying to hit with a crappy dagger, club, or mace. The foe’s ability to defend is all rolled into AC. Rul has +1 banded mail and a shield for AC 18. Mirado ( +Peter V. Dell’Orto ) has plate armor for AC 17. So their chances of getting hit by someone with similar ability is about 1 time in 3. If the foe can last longer than three turns, it can be assumed that the bad guys are going to start digging into Team Ogre HEDS hit point pool.

GURPS isn’t better or worse, but it is different. GURPS Martial Arts is so awesome I have yet to play with a game that doesn’t use it, but even in the Basic Set, there are a lot of tactical choices you can make/must make in a fight. If nothing else, you may, as a fighter, at the very least:

  • All-Out Attack
  • Attack
  • Move and Attack
  • All-Out Defend

But that’s not all. If you strike your foe, he must choose what options to use.

  • Block with a shield, if he has one
  • Dodge more or less nimbly
  • Parry with a weapon or unarmed body part

So you can throw a notional hit with a blow, and then find it parried. Each turn, you choose what maneuvers you use, and you can add Combat Options, like Telegraphic or Defensive Attack on top of those, or the popular Deceptive Attack if you’re skilled. There’s also goodness like Feints (or Setup Attacks, if you like Delayed Gratification), as well as a Riposte, a defensive version of the Deceptive Attack. Most of those (but not all) are found in Martial Arts. In many, but not all, cases, the defender may Retreat, gaining a bonus to defend that varies slightly depending on what skill you’re using it with.

So after all those choices, you may or may not have hit. If you hit, you roll damage, but if the guy has armor, it might bounce off.

The “good” news is that once you do reach the chewy center, it’s a big deal. It can set off a “death spiral,” where the bad guy’s skills go down, and you might get a turn or so where he’s less effective.

After all that, one second has elapsed.

That’s Bad, Right?


As I said, it’s not bad – it’s different. But what I’ve found it does – and I tried to write The Last Gasp to help address this – is a sort of view of the world where you feel like “I take a turn to catch my breath” is a big deal. Your turn might not come again, or it might be a while.

It’s a bit of self-reinforcing pseudo-complexity, because if each turn is that valuable, you might as well do as much as you can. Whether that’s to be effective, awesome, awesomely effective, or effectively awesome, in any case you try and get a lot done.

Heck, in the Banestorm game I just played, the only thing that made Radskyrta effective was he had a horse in an open field, with Move 8/Move 16 in a straight line. Even so, there was a time near the end where he had to take a few seconds to chase down a bad guy, and my instincts were telling me “find another way!”

Old habits die hard.

Whittle Down the Choices


Most usual fighters do not reach deeply into a big bag of varied options. They have things that they like ( Chuck Norris’ roundhouse kick) that become staples of what they do. For a rapier fighter, it might be a thrust to the vitals, or to (because the vitals might be well armored) a leg or something. An axeman may have a penchant for trying to chop off legs.

Each fighter should have a couple of if-then moves they like, and they should write them down. In many cases, GCA can help you.

Note that this doesn’t imply that you have to buy Targeted Attacks or Techniques, though you can, and probably will. But in a front-loaded game, why not front load a bit more so that you can do the things fast in play that you’ll probably wind up doing anyway?

Once things can happen faster, they will naturally happen faster for everyone, as the group (and the GM) get used to having more “Do Nothing” time in the game. Pausing for a single second to take stock, or get your breath, or whatever isn’t a big deal if you’re going to be asked for your next action in a brief moment.

Roll 1d6 for how to use your Cuisinart

GMs can play too, with a similar trick. Make a quickie d6 table, and roll against that each turn. Maybe even scale it with more aggressive numbers being higher, so you can penalize it if you get hit.

Something like this for an experienced fighter

  1. All-Out Defend, taking +2 to Best Defense
  2. No matter what, Step backwards, disengaging. Use  Defensive Attack if in range*. Wait otherwise.
  3. Defensive Attack, step forward if necessary to close distance
  4. Attack to the torso, step forward if necessary to close distance
  5. Attack to a lesser armored or higher value target like the legs, arms, vitals, or head
  6. Committed Attack to the head

What’s not on this chart? Lots of things. No All-Out Attacks (those are not the refuge of trained fighters). No deceptive attacks (only bring those out if net skill is 16 or higher), and no telegraphic attacks. Actually, there’s so much that could be on there that while one would be tempted to expand it to 2d6 or something, I wouldn’t. Keep it simple. Is the chart above a good one? Probably not. It’s the concept that matters here, not the details.

Animals are even easier, and so are unintelligent monsters. They will do one of several types of behaviors: hunting/eating behavior, killing for fun or territory, or dominance display or challenge.

Parting Shot


What I’m trying to say here is that one need not invoke all of the available tactical choices and options in GURPS every single turn. You will probably get more satisfaction, and certainly the game will move faster, if you don’t.

Or if you must do this, have the courtesy to your GM and fellow players to have it worked out ahead of time. People will thank you. In VTTs, this can even be automated in a macro. MapTools and Roll20 both have built-in macro capability, and Fantasy Grounds can have skill listings with everything pre-figured. Just drag it into the dice window. Again, that’s having a list of favorite options or stratagems.

That can also make your character pretty unique. A warrior who is always trying to stab or chop his foes in the legs, to reduce their mobility and make it hurt to even think about moving (plus, legs are crippled at a lower threshold) will play very differently than one that always goes for head shots, or just attacks the body the entire time.

It also isn’t a prescription for stupidity in the face of tactical situations. If a foe clearly has an inch of steel on their chest, don’t have a pro warrior hacking away with a sword at the heaviest part of the armor. That means, also, for GMs to give out visual and visceral clues about the foes being faced. Reward a player taking a turn to Evaluate, by telling them that they notice that the armor is particularly thick on the torso and left shoulder. Or something like that.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto points out in a comment that he’s covered this before. One on how he runs combat fast, the other on limiting your own choices. This advice was not new to me (they were both spawned, it looks like, from comments I’ve made before), and I kept thinking “I’ve read/said this before.” Still, it always strikes me as an interesting point when it comes up.

We’ll see if I can pull this off in my upcoming Alien Menace Game. The first one will be interesting. And holy crap . . . only three weeks away.

We started out, after the usual banter, buying healing potions (4 at 130gp each) and +Peter V. Dell’Orto hired two hirelings and a 14-year old torchbearer. We called them Red 1 and Red 2 to start, and decided that the torchbearer was an exchange student, and we’d be giving him two gp and one credit.

We enter the gates of the theoretically long-dead archmage. We actually find a tent, and the guards ask for our group name. We are so screwed. We decide on the Ogre-Heads. “No. H-E-D-S.” “F**k.”

Apparently we have to pay to adventure here. So we pay. 12gp for a licence for the group. We’re now the Licensed, Official, Ogre-Heads Ogre-HEDS adventuring group. Mirado’s Ogre-HEDS.

Valid for a year. I ask if we get a map, Fast-Pass, and a monorail ticket? Nope.

Mirado thinks fast, and bribes the guards to give us a hint of what we might find below.

Kobolds, dwarves (licenced), and elves (also licenced). None have returned. The last time a group of adventurers went in? Three days. So line not quite as long as Pirates of the Caribbean.

We decide to bring our own food, because you never eat in the park.

We descend a spiral staircase, and the 2nd level fighter recommends we stay on the first level for a bit. The stairs are surprisingly clean, and the staircase is open to the air.

We enter into a room that is at least 50′ x 50′. Lots of art, details, King Triton, and . . . the last few images have our own faces on it.

Creeeeeeeppyyyy.


Peter (in Eddie Murphy voice): “Too bad we can’t stay.”

The faces in mosaic look like us, aged, and covered in enough graffiti that it looks like it’s been there forever.

Minister: “It’s neither killing us, nor getting us money, we should move on.”

We establish a marching order, and head left at the first intersection. We head left. The GM will make us pay for that, I’m sure.

We head down the corridor, find out it’s an alcove, and after brief embarrassment,we head left down the next hall.

We hear skittering and chittering coming from the south of the intersection. We’re in an area with an unadorned alcove, but as we approach, a Rat Pack comes after us.

There are six, they’re not counting coppers, and the GM “accidentally” rolls 1d10 for initiative. We call him on it, and he rolls a fricking 6 anyway. The rats attack first, one on each of us.

the Roll20 random number generator is in fine form, And when we roll our Luck (a reroll), the Minister’s reroll goes from 20 . . . to 20. One rat eats the torchbearer for 1 HP, enough to put him in Mortal Peril. The Minister gets eaten for 3 HP.

My own first attack produces two hits, rolling 21 and 22, for 10 and 10 damage. Killing two. Peter nails three more.

The Minister kills the last rat. He heals himself full up, and we climb up, leave the unconscious and bandaged, gnawed on. “Does he need a cleric,” the guards say. “Nope. Nope. Nuh-uh. Why, looking at the gore and torn flesh, would you think we need a cleric?”

We head back down, giving the torch to Red 1.

We come to an intersection, and have fun teasing Roll20 about the shape you can reveal the maps in – rectangles only, apparently.

Lots of parallel construction

We come to a basically trapezoidal intersection, and level one is a giant double corridor? Who knows.

We keep going, looking for a fight.

We come to a giant “42” on the ground. No, really, we don’t. Rul is asked to roll a d4, gets the wrong answer, and Red 2 and Rul both have to make Saving Throws. Rul dodges a spear, while Red 2 takes 1 point.

Rul looks at Red 2 and says “walk more carefully next time.”

We decide to use spears to probe ahead, continuing on. We come to a room, and inside there’s a frackin’ rhinoceros.


Mirado disbelieves, saying “no way there’s a frickin’ rhino in here.” It starts to shimmer, and is clearly bogus. Good thing Peter’s used to megadungeon play, because that never occurred to me at all.

Room Full of Crap. Really.

We look around and one of the Red Shirts . . . and he finds a secret door. The torchbearer and Mirado open the door, because Mirado has the most HP and we have no thief.

We head south, because the half-elf minister “smells something.” We follow our noses, obeying not at all Gandalf’s advice to follow your nose to the nice smelling passages. Yes, it smells of sewage and feces. Yum.

We come to a door, and Mirado, designated door opener, does his thing. It’s a 20×30 room, covered in crap, perhaps 1-2 feet deep. A literal dung disposal area. We decide one day we’ll tell the torchbearer that there’s 2,000cp hidden in a pile of crap in room 67.

We move on. From the west, we hear individuals moving in armor. We back up to set an ambush. We hear muttering in an odd language; it’s Dwarven. Probably one of the adventuring parties; they can see our torch, despite trying to hide it, and we send the Minister to tell them that we’re not at all peaceful, but not interested in fighting them.


They’re apparently Cockney Dwarves. They claim a party of fifteen. I note that traditionally dwarves travel in packs of Seven. Or thirteen.

“How’d you know there were seven of us?!!” They come around the corner. Seven of them, and a bear. We chat to try and figure out what threats are where. We’re apparently in kobold country, and there are zvarts or xvarts or something. Zvarts in the rafters.

The dwarves pay a bounty on kobold ears. We can take heads, though. Heads make the best ear-holders, notes +Tim Shorts.

We introduce ourselves as we part, and Kalizhun (the dwarf) is the guy to whom we’re supposed to give ears. We compare maps. We’re nervous about traps, so we double back and avoid the dwarves, who go back through the secret door.

We check out the alcove, but find nothing. We press forward, and find a door, and find three zombies. They are kitted out with two sweaters, a ukulele, and . . . I can’t bear to go on.

Rul pulls out his magic sword, +3 vs undead, and totally whiffs. Mirado hits with his weapon, and hits the one with the ukulele, while Minister hits him as well. He absorbs 11 HP of damage and is still up.

Zombies attack, and roll 14, 6, and Minister Magnet gets hit with a ukulele for 2 HP and a bad tune.

Rul finally hits one, and kills the wielder of the mini stringed instruments. Mirado nails one of the cheerleaders for 8 HP. Minister tries to turn undead, rolls a 1, and we joke he turns himself. Or just invites them to stay, and entertain us with their chanting.

We actually win initiative by rolling 1, beating the zombies’ 0. Woo. Rul rolls another sucky roll, as does Mirado, while the Minister nails one, taking one day. He too gets his cleave, rolling another hit, and with 7 HP into that one, he took nice chunks out of him. He’s rolling 1d6+2 for damage, and we discover he’s tied for Mirado for ST. Yow.

The zombie goes first again, and hits for 2 HP, bringing him down to 2 HP. Rul finishes the last zombie off. We recover a beaver coat worth 400gp. The Red Shirt puts it on, and looks absolutely fabulous.


We track back, find a giant number on the floor and bypass it. We open a door at the end of a corridor, and find a sunlight-bright room 20×30′. We find five flowerpots, each with a rosebush in it. On general principal, I shoot the middle pot with an arrow, and broke

Every rose has it’s, oh, never mind.

We examine the rosebush. It looks . . . rosy. We decide to continue our vandalism, and break and search all the pots. Underneath is a map. To treasure, no less. Not exactly a precise map. There’s tiny script in the corner saying “not all objects drawn to scale.” Or there should be.

We track back, and as we continue down the corridor, and we hear a buzzing sound. It gets closer. Two giant blue butterflies are coming after us. Rul feathers one with an arrow for 8 HP, Mirado kills and cleaves for 10 HP more, killing one.

One attacks Mirado, and misses vs AC 17. Minister attacks from the side, but can’t score a bonus for flanking or nothing. He rolls a 1. Again. The dices hates us, they do. Rul hits for 6 HP more, then Mirado hits for 5 HP.

Minister rolls another 1. Really? We decide that Minister has inspired the wounded creature to greater ferocity, as surely someone that incompetent is no threat.

The butterfly misses Rul, and we roll for initiative again, kill the thing, and then look for obviously valuable stuff in the butterfly poop.

Poop. Why did it have to be poop?


We find bones, and a poop-covered dagger. After wiping off the poop, we find it to be a silvered dagger.

We backtrack hugely, zig-zagging to avoid areas that we’ve not traversed before, fearing traps. We go left again, of course, and then see a door and a corridor that ends in a T.

We set up with the Redshirts to guard the rear. This room is very mildewy, with lots of mildew guarding the walls and floor. Rul guards, and Minister and Mirado look for secret doors, and discover they can’t find their own feet. We head on down to the T, and of course go left, looking right for traffic.

Lots of looking, lots of doors. We enter an opportune one. A 30×30 room awaits us. A trio of fire beetles. They win initiative and all miss. Our turn comes and Minister . . . rolls another 1.

Rul rolls a 20, kills one with 17 HP damage, and cleaves doing 10 HP to the next. Mirado kills the second and hits the third . . . and Minister actually rolls a 20. He chooses to double his die roll, and kills the last.

Fire beetles are valuable in and of themselves. We cut them up, and score a gold ring with a ruby worth 75gp. The redshirt now looks extra absolutely fabulous.


There’s another door. The elf says, with his elf-senses, that it’s a door. He opens it, feeling cocky. A short passageway leads to a T, and we check it out. We head south. We find that we’ve looped a bit, and we come across a door we bypassed earlier. We enter it, Mirado going first this time, and we open the door, charge in, and find three skeletons wielding battleaxes.

They attack, and I take 6 HP of damage. This angers me. Rul kills all three in one giant cleave attack. The only thing of value are the three battle axes. We leave them behind. We find a big red X painted on a door. We chuck a battle-axe at it. It embeds in the door, and the door (the Gazebo!) has a battleaxe sticking out of it.

We continue on. to another door. Mirado forces open the door. No one is surprised, and we see 3 humans, one wearing robes, two wearing chain and shield. The man in robes casts two magic missiles, hitting Mirado. We do some hand-to-hand damage, and Minister casts Sleep. Go figure. He’s a magic user too. All the foes fall asleep.

We loot them, gag them, tie them, and question them. The mage has a very nice dagger, which glows when unsheathed. We give it to Minister, who can use it. It’s a +1 dagger, +2 vs. humanoids. Cool.

Mirado examines the chest, which we assume is trapped. We lift the chest carefully. We hear the shifting of coins. It doesn’t look locked; we get bored and open it, finding 200gp.

One of the fighters says he was hired by the magic user, Doorkar the magnificent or something. They were four, lost two to dwarves, then they fled and big beetles, and they kept running. They did not have a successful delve. It ended badly.

We offer to hire them on to our side. They would rather not continue adventuring. We kill the magic user, fearing spells that are voice activated. Wound-licker restores a HP to Peter. It feels . . . yummy.

Tim looks through the wizard’s spellbook. Five or six first and second level spells go into Minister’s spellbook.

We escort the fighters back, give them their swords back, and let them go.

We want to do one more room, looking for cooler treasure. We find a door, and open it up. Three more doors. Woot. We force open the north door, find yet another. The archmage was truly mad. We find lots of freaking doors. We decide to spike them open, because they seem to close magically. In the distance we hear light laughter.

We forget that crap, and go searching for trouble We find it in the form of 10 giant rats. Our turn, and we kill five rats.

The other five attack, and hit Red1 for 1 HP of damage. Next round comes. Lots of hits by rats; only Mirado is missed. One red shirt is KO’d. Damage all around. Rul kills three more. Minister hits twice, finishing them all off.

We loot the room . . . and Rul (finds 92% of 2,000 cp. Kidding.)

In the ratscat we find a broken gold chain, 80gp.

We head back to the surface.

****

Loot summary:

  • Beaver coat worth 400gp
  • A map, notionally to 3,000gp (yeah, right)
  • A silvered dagger, value unknown
  • A gold ring with a ruby in it, valued at 75gp
  • A +1 dagger, +2 vs. humanoids (claimed by Minister most Sinister)
  • The Wizard’s spellbook (copied by Minister)
  • Coinage: total 280gp