Wednesday, October 4, 2017

GM 101: Basics of Stealth and Hiding in D&D

Dragon Magazine #88 cover by Jim Holloway
Why is stealth so hard in D&D?

Based on recent social media chatter, it appears GM’s have some confusion when adjudicating stealth and hiding, and players believe their Rogue skills give them Advantage more than the rules as written would suggest. A re-review of the rules as written with a few examples should help.

To break this down a bit, let’s start with the rules as stated in the SRD 5.0 (bold emphasis added).
___________

Stealth

Make a Dexterity (Stealth) check when you attempt to conceal yourself from enemies, slink past guards, slip away without being noticed, or sneak up on someone without being seen or heard.

Hiding

The GM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding. When you try to hide, make a Dexterity (Stealth) check. Until you are discovered or you stop hiding, that check’s total is contested by the Wisdom (Perception) check of any creature that actively searches for signs of your presence.

You can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly, and you give away your position if you make noise, such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase. An invisible creature can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, and it does have to stay quiet.

In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However, under certain circumstances, the GM might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack roll before you are seen.

Passive Perception

When you hide, there’s a chance someone will notice you even if they aren’t searching. To determine whether such a creature notices you, the GM compares your Dexterity (Stealth) check with that creature’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score.
__________

So there are a few things that are implied by the above rules that could be stated more clearly, or at least clarified with examples.

1) When a creature is actively searching for a hidden foe, the minimum Perception for that contested check is the creature’s Passive perception. This mean that whether the player or a creature rolls a “1” on their active Perception check, their score to notice a hidden foe is at least as high as their Passive Perception. As I read it, you can’t be less aware when actively searching than passively just standing there. This was clarified by Jeremy Crawfod in a recent official D&D podcast about stealth.

2) You can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly which means that even though your has a bonus action to Hide, that doesn’t imply the circumstances are appropriate for the Rogue to hide at any time. It doesn't matter how high the Rogue rolls. They just can't use that Hide action if opponents can see them. As noted in the rules, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around during combat. Your foe’s heightened awareness means the circumstances may not be appropriate for hiding. It is the GM’s call.

The problem lies in those fuzzy words “clearly see you”.  If I’m standing in some underbrush, does the creature “clearly” see me? If I have some cover from the creature, does he “clearly” see me? If I duck around a corner or behind some cover and do a pop-tart snipe, does that mean I can Hide and get Advantage on my attack?

In my game, absolutely NOT.

Ducking behind terrain does not mean you can attempt to Hide
if the enemy already knows you are there.
As an example, think of the gunfight at the OK Corral (or any Western movie equivalent). If I duck behind the water barrel or horse trough, or around the corner of the saloon, my enemy doesn’t stand around confused like “Hey! Where’d he go?!?”

The other combatants know that I’ve ducked behind an object and expect me to shoot from around my cover. Even if I take the “Hide” action (which the GM should not allow), that’s not going to fool them. They saw me. They know where I am. Object permanence is a thing. The circumstances are not appropriate for the Hide attempt in these situations. To claim that I get combat Advantage for pop-tart sniping is silly and unrealistic… but that appears to be how many players interpret the rules.

Now, if the situation allows that PC to move away from that position stealthily to another location and snipe from a different spot, that may be a different story depending on terrain, cover, light conditions, etc. If the foes are not able to easily detect the Rogue's movement or change in position, then you should probably allow the stealth/hide attempt.

In one game session, my rogue player ducked behind a house, but then moved around the back side and snuck over to a different location to attack the foes from a different angle. I allowed the rogue the stealth action given that he had taken a couple turns to move to a new location, but gave the enemy Advantage on their perception rolls because they were expecting an action like that. However, they were not actually able to see where the PC was moving due to buildings and terrain. Despite the foe's heightened awareness (represented by Advantage on their Perception), the situation allowed the rogue to attempt the stealth maneuver. That is a perfectly acceptable scenario for stealth and hiding.

So where is the line?

It does leave a lot up to the GM to decide what is considered “appropriate circumstances” as stated in the rule. In my game, once a foe is aware of the PC, generally the PC does not get to use stealth or hide again unless circumstances change. That means, once the Rogue has attacked from a hidden position, their position is revealed as stated in the rules (unless there is a Feat or other special ability that may allow them to remain hidden).

In order to re-establish stealth, the PC needs to be able to move away from the detected position, assuming there is concealing terrain or other distractions to allow that stealthy movement. However, a foe will often anticipate this, so it is left up to the GM to decide how well they can be fooled if they expect another snipe or similar ambush situation. A PC definitely cannot hide if the terrain is open. Similarly, a Halfling's ability to Hide behind a larger creature does not automatically mean circumstances are appropriate for the Hide action. Just like ducking behind the horse trough at the OK Corral, this Halfling ability does not remove the foe’s situational awareness, and the ability does not alter the stealth rules as stated above, except to allow another creature to be the “concealing terrain,” as it were.

If a foe is engaged in melee with another PC, that also does not automatically mean they are distracted enough to grant combat Advantage due to the Rogue’s hide ability (of course, the Rogue does still get the bonus damage in that circumstance without the Advantage due to the Sneak Attack rules, but that's a different topic). If the melee-engaged PC decides to use the Help action to provide additional distraction, then maybe I’d allow a rogue the hide attempt, depending again upon the circumstances.

Final Thoughts


Just because a Rogue has “Hide” as a bonus action does not mean that the Rogue has the ability to hide under any circumstances. It goes above and beyond the rules as written that a Rogue gets to Hide at any time due to their Cunning Action. Keep in mind that in a combat situation, foes are going to have their situational awareness heightened which means circumstances are usually not favorable or appropriate for a Hide maneuver. And lastly, on a contested Hide roll, Passive Perception is the minimum for the seeker’s Perception score when actively searching.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Raging Owlbear interviews Frank Mentzer

Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
This past week I was delighted to welcome Frank Mentzer as a guest in my first video chat. I hope to do more of these with other industry folks in the future, but that's for another day. Forgive my rough style, as I don't usually do interviews, but this opportunity was one I just could not let pass by.

In the chat, we talk extensively about Worlds of Empyrea, his new game setting coming to Kickstarter on October 2nd, as well as anecdotes about his life before, during and after TSR Inc in the early 1980's.

Full disclosure: I did not ask for, nor was I offered, any compensation for this interview. It was my absolute pleasure to talk with Frank as a fellow gamer and fan, and I would be pleased to chat with him again at a future date. I hope I don't come off as too fan-boyish, but I found him to be extraordinarily open and friendly.

Highlights


A couple weeks ago, Frank's website leaked several names on the Worlds of Empyrea project which are mostly unconfirmed (as of this writing) such as Janelle Jaquays, Clyde Caldwell, Jeff Dee, David "Diesel" LaForce, Larry Elmore, and Erol Otus.

Box contents will include perfect bound books, maps and an introductory adventure. Jeff Easley planned as designer of the box covers. Pre-generated characters in small brown character folios reminiscent of OD&D box set.

13:25 Hoping to release Worlds of Empyea in game system specific box sets -- RuneQuest, Savage Worlds, D&D 5e, AD&D, BECMI, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Pathfinder, and Swords & Wizardry all hinted. Chaosium and Pinnacle Entertainment were specifically noted in the discussions, and RuneQuest is one of Frank's favorite game systems. (Hints also at sci-fi toward the end).

15:10 / 23:04 Darlene (World of Greyhawk) confirmed as art direction and cartography. Alyssa Faden (Dragon Kings, Bethorm) also confirmed for cartography and game maps. Hints at an "Anna" which very well could be [unconfirmed] Anna B Meyer (Midgard game setting).

52:00 Looking to release Empyrea box set for Gen Con 2018 and more details about the box content.

Frank also dropped two exciting names off the record which I cannot reveal, but suffice it to say, D&D fans will be thrilled what these folks will bring to the realm.



Video Index:
00:00 Introduction
00:50 Empyrea - TSR/RPGA origins
03:16 Contrasts between Gary's Greyhawk game and Frank's Empyrea campaign in the 80's
05:48 Distinction between I12 intellectual property and Frank's new setting
07:52 Reminiscing about early internet chat room play
09:18 How is the content for Worlds of Empyrea being developed?
10:11 Eldritch Enterprises side bar
11:25 Talking about the setting format for Worlds of Empyrea
13:25 Intent to releaseWorlds of Empyrea for multiple game systems -- RuneQuest, Savage Worlds, D&D 5e, AD&D, BECMI, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Swords &Wizardry...
15:10 Darlene as the Art Director and doing the large maps, and other well known TSR names adding art and other content. Roughly 35 contributors developing content of some variety.
17:57 Community crowd sourcing setting content as a future project
19:53 Future project to develop a global non-profit gaming database allowing gamers to connect, game together and share community ideas/content.
22:30 RPG Creators Relief Fund - http://www.rcrfcharity.org/
23:04 Darlene and Alyssa Faden contributing to cartography and game maps... Hints at an "Anna" which very well could be Anna B Meyer (unconfirmed).
25:14 Box set content: Maps and perfect bound books, full color bleed. Aiming for top quality contents and product design like you would find from one of the larger game companies. Jeff Easley planned to design box cover. Liz Danforth (Tunnels & Trolls) invited to contribute production efforts or artwork? [unclear]. Character folios reminiscent of OD&D brown books.
29:52 Discussions with Chaosium on a RuneQuest-specific version of the Empyrea box set
31:04 Talking about the history of TSR and breaking into a job during the early days
34:04 Getting the Basic / Expert set project
36:45 Legacy and importance of the RPG design community
41:40 Development of Basic and Export into BECMI
46:20 Life after TSR
48:33 Coming back into game publishing
52:00 Empyrea Kickstarter details
54:07 Genre variants for Empyrea to match the theme of the different game systems, including sci-fiction or space opera.
58:00 Frank's play style

Friday, September 22, 2017

D&D in 3D (printing)

Mixing existing OpenLOCK and OpenForge tiles,
I modified some arched corners for my dungeon.
You may have read in an earlier post that I funneled some funds that might have been spent on other terrain into a new 3D printer. It was a bit daunting, because there seemed to be a lot to learn just to get started, but I found an excellent entry-level printer, the Monoprice Select Mini V2, for around $250 (including the first spool of filament). [PS - Don't buy one off Amazon, they still only have V1's. Go direct to the Monoprice web site].

First Impressions


First, I must say the MP Mini is an amazing entry level 3D printer. The build area is a 120 mm cube, or just shy of 5 inches along the X, Y and Z axis. Note, this does mean some models may be a bit large to print without breaking them into pieces, but printers with a 6’ x 6’ build area are more than I was prepared to spend and I was ok with compromise on this one point. If you do have a little more to spend, consider one with a slightly larger build area.

The Mini V2 comes pre-configured out of the box. Sometimes a little plate-leveling is required, but there are a few YouTube videos to assist the learning curve on this. I had a small struggle getting it just right, but all in all, it wasn’t a major issue and the Facebook communities were a huge help. I selected PLA filament, which is better than ABS for my purposes (and no poison fumes), and I was off to the races!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Chronicles Kickstarter

There’s a new Kickstarter on the block!  (Well, that’s pretty much true every week… but this one piques my interest)

UPDATE 09/15/17: Unfortunately, Chronicles looked like it was not going to fund, so the designers have decided to cancel and review how they might revamp the product. I wish them the best of luck!

Chronicles: The Game

I was lucky enough to meet the guys from Happy Gorilla at 1D4 Con in West Virginia, and I got to try Chronicles out in a demo skirmish. Chronicles: The Game takes the traditional war game niche (like 40K, Warmachine, Hordes, Malifaux, etc) and aims to make the genre more accessible to the board gaming fans (Blood Rage, Conan, Rising Sun, etc).

Full disclosure: I am not a war gamer. I enjoy the occasional casual game of X-Wing and Imperial Assault, but I don’t play heavy miniature war games like 40K, Hordes, Warmachine or their like. Also, while I have met Happy Gorilla guys at a con, I have no other ties, personal or business, with them.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

D&D Beyond: Impressions, Pricing, and Licensing

Just in the past couple weeks, Curse officially launched D&D Beyond and published all of the pricing arrangements for the service. This is not a full review, but just a few impressions on the tool, the pricing and Wizard's content licensing.

First, the Good


As a product, D&D Beyond is slick. The interface is reasonably easy to pick up (the search features could use some minor improvements for usability, but that's mostly nit-picking). All in all, it’s a well polished reference engine. 

All of the content from the SRD and adventure supplement PDFs (as published on the Wizards.com web site) are also included for free. For instance, Snilloc’s Snowball Swarm and other spells from the Princes of the Apocalypse player PDF is included in the free tier. As a player, you also get 6 unlocked character slots for free.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Missing Gen Con (again)

This is me not packing for Gen Con 50.
I am extraordinarily bummed I’m not to be going to Gen Con this year. Due to the 50th Anniversary, everybody is going to be there… and I mean every body. If a designer or artist once worked in RPGs or board games, chances are quite high they will be at Gen Con 50.

It will be an amazing opportunity to get your stuff signed by almost anyone you can think of. Tim Kask, Frank Mentzer, Tom Wham (possibly?), Jeff Grubb, Larry Elmore, Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis, Darlene, Luke & Ernie Gygax, Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Ryan Dancey, Peter Adkison, Steve Jackson, Davis Chenault, Jolly Blackburn, Chris Perkins, Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford… just about anyone old school or new school is going to be around if you can hunt them down for a chat and a selfie. If Gary Gygax or Dave Arneson were to rise from the dead like Lazarus, I'm pretty sure you'd see them there.

Monday, August 7, 2017

D&D: Breaking My Dwarven Forge Addiction

My intrepid PCs invading the Caves of Chaos.
I confess I have an addiction to Dwarven Forge.

Years ago, I’d see their resin dungeon sets at conventions or online and always thought “Wow. Those would be so amazing to own and use in play.” Then in 2013, they kickstarted a light, durable plastic version of their Dungeon tiles and I was immediately sold. It was the first product I pledged on Kickstarter. I unhesitatingly pledged two unpainted sets for the amazingly low price of $120. I later regretted not buying painted sets, as I have still not finished painting all my tiles… but I still love the tiles.

In 2014, they introduced the Caverns and I promptly signed up for 2 painted sets at $220 (not going to make the unpainted mistake again). In 2015, I pledge the city builder, but at $250+, could only afford to buy enough for a few small houses and a bridge. In 2016, my Castle Builder pledge was another $200+, but that really only got me a few extra City Builder pieces, another bridge and some terrain bits. I couldn’t really afford any of the actual castles. The pledge amounts were getting higher, but the sets I could afford were getting smaller.

In 2017, Dwarven Forge kickstarted a new set of Dungeon tiles that solved a lot of the issues I’ve had in play with my own DF pieces. You could purchase base trays to pre-set rooms to easily move on and off the table. They added more magnetized parts to hold things together. They introduced large-size elevation boxes to allow easy creation of elevated terrain. They added all kinds of awesome bit and parts to make encounter areas just drip with detail and theme.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

D&D: The Pros and Cons of World Building

(with apologies to Roger Waters)

In a recent Tweet, Mike Shea (@SlyFlourish) made a controversial pronouncement about world building (he has since moderated his stance a bit), but I considered it thought-provoking enough that I wanted to “deep dive” on it a little, especially for those who don’t follow the #dnd Twitter verse… and I also made a bit of a joke that I was going to refute each one of his tip tweets with a blog post (It was only a joke).

I had meant to write this post back when this occurred, but with Origins and other life events, it took me a couple weeks to post about it. Unfortunately, I can’t find the original tweet (possibly deleted, since he clarified his stance later), but you can see a fair amount of the discussion that ensued by searching through the various Tweets and replies.

As noted, Mike moderated his stance after reviewing both sides of the debate, but the original gist of the comments were:

No one cares about your world building. Spend more time becoming a better DM (encounter building, PC hooks, etc) rather than exploring the intricacies of your fictional world, especially given that players will not see (nor possibly care about) most of that effort.

This stirred up a bit of a bees nest, because he is both absolutely correct and utterly wrong at the same time (yes, I know this statement appears self-contradictory).

Roger Dean paintings always put me in a world building mood.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Origins 2017 Post-Game and Owlbear 500K

Last weekend, I spent my long overdue vacation time attending Origins Game Fair. During that period, Raging Owlbear crossed the 500,000 page view mark. Three years ago, I could have never guessed I’d get more than a couple thousand page views in any given month. It’s been pretty surprising the blog has grown the way it has. Thanks for the support!

Anyway, back to Origins… If you don’t already know, Origins is one of the largest tabletop gaming conventions aside from Gen Con. This year saw approximate 17,000 attendees in the Columbus Convention Center.

In a prior post, I ranted a bit on the issues encountered during pre-registration. Thankfully, the on-site badge pick up this year was fairly quick and painless. This year they had multiple laptops available on which one could perform a self check-in and have your event tickets printed.This was a welcome improvement over the last year where check-in took anywhere from ½ hour to 2 hours depending upon when you arrived. This year, we were in and out of the line in a matter of minutes.

For the most part, the convention appeared to run fairly smoothly, although I did hear from a Mayfair representative that all was not perfect. Mayfair, who is a major sponsor of Origins (and publisher of many popular games such as Agricola, Caverna and Patchwork), submitted over 700 events into the pre-registration system which, due to a technical snafu, were not in the registration system, nor printed in the events program. Because of this, the Mayfair hall was very lightly attended in comparison to other years. There is bound to be some damage to the relationship, as Mayfair has been a headline sponsor of Origins for as long as I can remember. I hope this doesn’t create a permanent rift.

From my perspective, the convention went quite well and some of the lost esteem due to pre-registration was regained over the course of the weekend.

Highlights:
  • Played Castles & Crusades with author Davis Chenault (which I wrote about). He’s a true mensch.
  • Had a chance encounter in the hallway with Chris O’Neill of 9th Level Games. Not only did he remember who I was, we had a pleasant (but quick) conversation about 9th Level and their new releases. Super nice fellow.
  • Briefly watched Ken St. Andre GM’ing a game of Tunnels & Trolls. I would have liked to say hello, but I did not want to interrupt his game.
  • Won a Tie F/O model playing X-Wing. 
  • Played a truly enjoyable home brew Savage Worlds scenario.
  • Participated in a crazy Paranoia LARP
  • And a crap-ton of D&D Adventurers League (probably too much, to be honest).
Misses:
  • I did not get an opportunity to chat with any WotC people.
  • There were a few well-known authors/bloggers I wanted to meet, but did not.
  • I really wanted to get to play a demo of Dragonfire which looks like it could be a hit.
  • There just isn't enough time in the day to fit in all the extra gaming.
  • I don't have tickets to GenCon this year... sigh.

Let me know about your Origins experience in the comments!

Owlbear and the Troll Lord
These come equipped with ER-PPCs, right?
Bit of a furball going on...
7 evades in a row?!?
Hey Guys... What's in here?
Meeting Chris O'Neill in 2016
Dice Tower's Tom Vasel
Acerak demands your.. erm... devotion.



Thursday, June 22, 2017

D&D Character Sheets - a $10 Review

TLDR Summary: Don’t buy this. Not worth the price.

Wizards of the Coast recently released a new character sheet folio for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I recently previewed this in an article a couple week ago, but here is a “full review”.

The D&D Character Sheets contains a folder with a ampersand dragon artwork, 4 copies each of 3 standard character sheet designs (12 total), 8 copies of the "newbie" character sheet, and 4 copies of the spell sheet. Basically, a folder with 24 sheets of paper.

Don’t buy this crap. Seriously. Just don’t.

With two exceptions, the character sheets included in this folio are all directly downloadable for free from the Wizards.com website. If you don’t have a printer, go to the library. They have internet and printers. I just saved you $10.

http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/character_sheets

The folder? It's a folder. It's glossy. It's made of card stock. It's basically the same as any other glossy folder at an Office Depot (are those places still around?), but with the ampersand artwork seen above on the cover (originally a Dragon+ cover) which I find less than inspiring. Looks a bit like an 80's metal hair band album cover. These are character sheets. Why doesn't the illustration contain characters? Inside, it has a list of actions in combat, but MPMB's combat reference sheet is much better -- see below.

If you want more pictures, you can check out Grand DM's blog.

"Newbie" Sheets


One exception to the freely downloadable clause is the character sheet designed for new players. It uses a larger font with a larger layout area for the most basic numbers a new player would need (AC, Initiative, Saves). It leaves off ideals, bonds, flaws and the full skill list for a shortened fill-in-the-blank one. It also includes two sections called "Things You Should Do" and "Things You Shouldn't Do" to help the players take notes on good and bad idea.

Under "Things You Shouldn't Do" it should have listed "Buy these character sheets" as the first entry. These newbie sheets are not a terrible redesign, but they don't really bring anything new to the table.

Where is the Value?


Is a glossy folder with an ampersand logo really worth the $10?

If you want a fancy folder, buy a 3-ring binder. Print out your own custom artwork for the cover sleeve. Wizards.com even provides the same artwork on their folio as a wallpaper… but you can also just search “D&D wallpaper” on Google image search and find all kinds of awesome imagery... many of which actually contains characters doing character-y things.

Want help making your own character sheet folio with a player reference? Try these links:
http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/character_sheets
https://crobi.github.io/dnd5e-quickref/preview/quickref.html
http://swshinn.com/dnd-5e/rules-summary/
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2Fbq7v8pucJVENWZlE5Z2h1T00/view
https://olddungeonmaster.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/combat-reference-sheet_b.pdf

Final Thoughts


If you really want to waste $10, go for it... but this just encourages Wizards of the Coast to put out crappy products when they should be focusing resources somewhere else. If they had come up with some interesting character sheet designs that weren't available online, then maybe this might have been worth a look... but as a product, this whole thing is an underwhelming money grab.

If you want a truly useful character sheet, download  MPMB's fully-automated printer friendly character generator (mobile link) which is Pay What You Want from DMsGuild.com. This sheet is truly worth $10, but all that is asked is a voluntary donation.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Random Encounters with a Troll Lord

Best SWAG from Origins this year
First a bit of background… In 2004, Castles & Crusades by Troll Lord Games was the very first OSR** game to hit the market. It utilized the Open Gaming License released by Wizards of the Coast to re-create an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset, but with updated mechanics. This was years before anyone used the terms “retro-clone”, “OSR” or had published D&D-adjacent games like Pathfinder.

This past weekend at Origins, one of the game masters in C&C game for which I had tickets did not show up. Even though it was not an official C&C event, the Troll Lords had heard about it and another GM from the community offered to run a different adventure in its place.

As a bit of a “sorry this happened” consolation, C&C author and lead game designer, Davis Chenault, showed up to the game with a handful of C&C beer stein swag and sat in on the game with us. The next day I had a very pleasant conversation with Davis about C&C and D&D 5th Edition, and he generously gave me a signed copy of A1 - Assault on Blacktooth Ridge for D&D 5th edition (I own the C&C version).

Owlbear and Troll Lord
I don’t have any connection to the Troll Lords other than being a huge fan over the last 10 years, but these folks are definitely the Good Guys of the industry and very committed to their fans. I urge everyone to support their work. Davis Chenault is a class act and his modules A0 and A1 are two of the best RPG adventures written. They are up there with Village of Hommlet and Keep on the Borderlands in style and substance and as good as the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set for starting a new campaign.

A0 - The Rising Knight
A1 - Assault on Blacktooth Ridge

Don’t forget that in addition to Wizards of the Coast, there are several other small publishers making awesome content for Dungeons & Dragons. You should check them out!

** Old School Revival or Old School Renaissance depending upon whom you ask.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

New D&D Products in 2017

The Wizards of the Coast "Stream of Annihilation" was accompanied by a plethora of product announcements (in addition to the few that had dribbled out in prior weeks). Some of those products elicit eye raising, while others might be a bit more eye rolling. Here's my take (as if you cared... or perhaps you do, because you're reading this, right?)

First off, on the eye rolling side of things...

D&D Character Sheets


Yes, for the low, low price of only $10, you can get what you already download for free, but in a pretty folder! Seriously, who f@$%ing buys character sheets in this day and age?  Several weeks ago, I noted that there is a huge amount of revenue that could be had for little cost by putting out core book PDFs, and some of the WotC defenders said Wizards had "bigger fish to fry"... Yeah, apparently instead of spending time on PDFs which could net a lot of revenue, they are putting out a product that can already be had for free. Way to build new revenue, WotC!

By the way, if you are not already using MPMB's Pay What You Want character sheet (mobile link), you need to get your butt over to DMsGuild.com and donate to this author. Like, right now. This is the single best character sheet builder you can get pretty much anywhere. Not that I want to dish on Hero Lab and the like, but this guy is essentially giving away (for a voluntary donation) what others are charging $35 for. Toss a buck or two his way. Well worth it.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything


In the same way Volo's Guide to Monsters was not a Monster Manual II (it kinda was), Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is not a Player's Handbook II or Unearthed Arcana (it kinda is). Xanathar's Guide is going to take many of the UA website articles and combine them into a larger book. I am extraordinarily interested to see exactly what this book contains. I haven't bought SCAG, or VGtM (yet)... but this one is certainly on the "eye-raising" side and I'm pretty certain this will make my own must-buy list.

Hopefully, this will quell some of the bitching over 5e "not having enough character options". Back in my day, we had four damn classes (and 3 race/classes), and we were happy with that!

Tomb of Annihilation


At first, I was a but skeptical because I've had about enough of Tomb of Horrors or other death trap dungeons. It just doesn't speak to my play style... but, the more I've read about it, the more it seems to be a spiritual successor to X1 Isle of Dread. This, I can get behind. I'm not at all interested in running this one, but I am pretty damn sure I want to play in it instead. I think I need a little gonzo in my game, and it zombie dinosaurs sounds about right.

Tomb of Annihilation Dice


I'm a bit of a dice fiend, but have broken my habit in recent years. At first, these prompted a kind of "meh" reaction, but when I looked more closely, I actually quite like the color scheme. At $20, it's a little on the high side, but not a terrible deal for a full set of dice (assuming you want something nicer than a big bag of random dice or factory seconds). It will be interesting to find out if the Epsom salt test shows if these d20s are balanced or not. Pearlescent dice are notorious for bias because the different resin plastics can create density variations. This is generally not a problem with a single color plastic die.

Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated


I've always been a fan of DM screens even though I almost never use them in play. I feel like they are too much of a physical barrier (and sometimes a mental one) to the rest of the table, especially given than I like minis and 3D terrain so much. Despite that, I have a big collection of DM screens from AD&D (first edition) onward.

D&D 5th edition screens have been notable for their lack of utility. Other than the condition chart, the real estate on the screens published in support of the adventure paths has been wasted space. They mostly showcase artwork for whichever adventure path they correspond. With several helpful PDF DM screen layouts on the internet, the desire to purchase yet another condition chart is pretty low.

Supposedly, the new screen design is going to be better. First, it will be landscape to be lower, which I like... and it also "provides an at-a-glance reference for the most relevant and often used in-game information," according to the Wizards.com website and has been "revisited and refreshed as a direct result of feedback," but that really tells us nothing. This is very much a wait and see product, since they've had several iterations to try to get this right already.

D&D Adventure Grid


This is essentially the competition to Pathfinder Flip-Mats... but at twice the price. For $25, you get a single double sided map, which appears to be 20" x 24" (hard to tell exactly from the images, but that would correspond to fold lines for a map that folds down to 8x10.  The Pathfinder Basic Terrain Multi-Pack offers 2 double-sided maps at 24" x 30" for the same price. I like that Wizards is getting back into the accessories business. I recommended this very thing in prior posts. It's just a shame that they can't be more competitive on price. While I like the color patterns, because of the price, I have to give this one an eye-roll as well.

Nolzur's Marvelous Minis


These have been out for a while now, but I hadn't talked about them on the blog. I love these. I am so sick of random miniatures and these are at an excellent price point for the Friendly Local Game Store because they can match the same price as offered online. Please go out and support your local game store by purchasing these miniatures. They are excellent. I just wish these had been available years ago when I was trying to bulk up my collection of iconic monsters like goblins, kobolds, orcs and gnolls. Now if we could just get an affordable beholder or huge dragon, that would be a major bonus.

D&D Adventure Module Collector’s Editions


This is another item that I am looking at with guarded anticipation. Wizards of the Coast is partnering with Goodman Games to create updated reprints of classic modules. Starting with B1 and B2, they appear to be more than just a stat block updates, and will include some rewriting as well as extra content. Many of these classic modules can be run today with community created conversions. I am hoping Goodman Games brings a little more to the table than just a stat block update given the price difference. Classic Modules Today conversions are an extraordinarily cheap way to have someone else to your conversion leg work.

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate


While Betrayal at the House on the Hill is not one of my all-time favorites in my game collection, I do enjoy breaking it out from time to time as a light, beer-and-pretzel traitor mechanic game. I am cautiously optimistic about this re-skin of the game. Betrayal is one of my wife's favorites, so this is likely to enter our collection at some point. I just hope they play test it better than the original or expansion. It seems there is almost always some missing text or rule clarification needed for almost every haunt. This really knocks down the overall enjoyment, especially when a misunderstanding of a haunt mechanic can alter how the haunt plays out in game. This is probably the most frustrating aspect and one of the major reasons I do not enjoy the original game more.

Final Thoughts


A lot of people online have been poo-pooing the speed at which Wizards of the Coast is bringing out new D&D product. I actually think the publishing pace has done pretty well for the game. One of the banes of prior editions has been the need for multiple splat books (and the inevitable power creep that results). So far, D&D 5th Edition has avoided this pit fall and the designers appear to be cognizant of that trap. Given the recent Unearthed Arcana articles, Xanathar’s Guide appears to be a step in the direction of providing additional PC options, without creating power-game creep of older editions.

With the addition of more non-book accessories, Wizards also appears to be strengthening their non-book revenue stream, which is a good idea... but Wizards, you really need to learn how to promote on your web site. Your products shots suck. Who doesn't offer zoom-ins or multiple angle product images in this day and age?  Seriously, offer some fracking high resolution images, for Pete's sake.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

D&D / OSR: The Dunning-Kruger Effect on GMs

We are all terrible Game Masters, but we [mostly] don't know it. Why do I say this? Because of Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect basically says there is a bias in cognitive ability that prevents us from evaluating ourselves objectively. Basically, we all think we are better than we are because we may not have the skills (or the lack of bias) to judge ourselves appropriately.

This is especially true for "soft skills" where it is harder to judge success or failure in a given task. If I am a terrible juggler, I know I am bad as soon as I can't make it past the first few seconds of fumbling objects before they come crashing to the ground. If I am bad at telling anecdotes at cocktail parties, my friends are likely too polite to tell me I'm a shite story teller. So I may never know. If I am a terrible leader, I may still believe I am a godsend, even if the press and a majority of my constituents are believe I can't count to 21 without taking off my pants.That is Dunning-Kruger in action. Out incompetence masks the ability to recognize our incompetence.

Real knowledge is to know
the extent of one’s ignorance
So what is a thoughtful Game Master to do? 

Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Socrates was also famously quoted as saying , "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing," which makes one wonder if he had somehow heard of Eastern philosophy.

As a Game Master, your best bet is to assume you are bad at it. Only through that lens of reality will you aspire to be better. If your initial reaction to reading the first sentence of the post was "I know I'm a good GM because my players don't complain," then it is highly likely you may actually need help.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

GM 101: Just Say No To Fudge

Bonus points if you can spot the Easter Egg.
+Venger Satanis wrote a little piece a while back about GM fudging which I found thought-provoking, but also found the advice a bit concerning, especially for a new game master.

In addition, on my post about Fun and Story over Rules, several comments mentioned "fudging rolls" as a way to bend the rules with the goal of enhancing story or fun.

For the record, I am strongly against this. I am more than willing to change a lot of parameters in a scene or encounter on-the-fly for the purpose of storytelling, but once dice hit the table, reality becomes static. (Read on for the why).

While I agree with a few of Venger’s musings, there needs to be a lot more context for anyone who is a relatively new game master for a role playing game like D&D. Some strong words of caution: Fudging can destroy a game just as easily as it can help it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

GM 101: Does Story trump Rules?

Another Facebook thread tweaked my interest a few weeks back where the poster simply asks, “Do Rules trump Story? Or does Story trump Rules?”

For those of us who have been DMing a long time, the answer may seem obvious (and most of the responses were in accord), but there is some nuance to that question that requires a bit of analysis for our younger, newer Dungeon Game Masters.

There is a famous quote by one of the original authors of Dungeons & Dragons:
“The secret we should never let the game masters know is that they don't need any rules.” - Gary Gygax

You see, the rules and mechanics are there to provide us a framework for telling the story… but they are not the story and should not necessarily dictate narrative. The rules are not what make the game fun. What makes the game fun is the collaborative storytelling and epic moments produced by the players and DM working together. But, what’s really important, and not stated in the original question is fun. Why do we play these games? To have have fun… Otherwise, what’s the point?

Caveat: There is a difference between the game as a whole being “fun” versus any given moment of the game being “fun”. A favorite character dying can be a bummer, but the experience that lead up to the character death may have been the best time ever… And sharing memories with your friends about that time Dave’s PC epically died in a heroic (or decidedly unheroic, but humorous) way can be great fun, even if, at the time, it was a bit of a downer.

Given the above stated assumptions, the “mathematics” of D&D is basically:  Fun > Story > Rules

Almost always, but again, there is nuance (and caveats).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

D&D: The Slippery Slope of Saying Yes

GAME BALANCE!!!
As expected, the reactions to my last post were quite intense and often fierce... but there was were a few themes among the Rules-As-Written purists that I found intriguing and wished to explore deeper.

Game Balance


There were quite a few people who cited game balance as a major objection, which I found peculiar given the small magnitude of the change being discussed. They cited that this change wasn't "extensively play tested" or "balanced against other racial abilities" or some other silliness about min-maxing. This kind of anxious hand-wringing seemed overwrought for utterly minor change to a racial stat. I mean how much min-maxing can occur with just one point? (and BTW, they are giving up a point of DEX for it).

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

D&D: Just Say Yes, For F*ck Sake.

And we will call it "this land..."
...Or The Case of the Curiously Intelligent Elf.

On a recent Facebook post, the OP asked a simple question:
“My player wants to play an Elf Wizard and would like +2 INT, +1 DEX for his Elf Racial Bonus instead of +1 INT, +2 DEX. Would you allow that?”

Yes. YES! For F@CK SAKE YES! …and yet in the poll, over 800 people, a staggering 60%+ of respondents answered “I would never allow it.”

What is wrong with you people? I hate when people tell others they are having Bad Wrong Fun, but I’m sorry, in this case, you are doing it wrong (yes, that's a satirical comment in case you missed it).

Here’s the thing. In 5th Edition, a Forest Gnome can get a +2 INT / +1 DEX (and also has Darkvision, etc), so we know that this minor change doesn’t break the game mechanics at all. All non-human races get some combination of +2/+1, and Elves already get a boost to INT and DEX… so it isn’t a stretch at all to just swap their bonuses.

The racial bonuses are completely arbitrary anyway (and even differ significantly from one edition of D&D to the other). Why does an Elf get +2 DEX? Because Mearls and Thompson decided that’s what they thought an Elf was at this one moment of time. Why does the Gnome get the bigger INT bonus? Who the f@ck knows. It’s just a game of “Let’s Pretend”. The Player’s Handbook is not some religious scripture handed down by the gods.

SO WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU TELL HIM NO?

The most important job of a DM is help the players have fun. The players only have power over their characters. The rules on everything else in the world -- setting, genre, NPCs, cities, populace, everything -- is basically in the control of the DM.

By saying "No" to this entirely minor and arbitrary change, you are telling the player “the trivial rules of my game world are more important than your character concept or enjoyment of the game.”

If he enjoys a tiny amount of PC optimization as part of character generation, why not let him have fun with that part of the game? Who cares if he gets to INT 20 at 8th level instead of 12th (assuming he picks no Feats)... It will make no difference to the game at the table. [EDIT: Actually, all PCs can get to INT 20 by level 8 with point buy. The only difference is the player that starts at 17 will also get a Feat. This makes the change have an even smaller impact.]

AD&D Half-orc photo bomb
And racial bonuses are entirely arbitrary and trivial. This isn’t a game breaking request. Elves have always had arcane abilities. As an example, in the original Basic D&D sets, the Elf class was a fighter/magic-user hybrid. So why not just let him play an Elf from some special Elf school of trained Elf wizards... or something. Who the hell cares what the rationale is. Maybe he just doesn't want to play a damn Gnome.

As another example, I had one player decide he wasn't crazy about his Feat selections when he reached 4th level (Human). I said "No problem. Just re-pick whichever ones you want". It made no difference to the game. It made a huge difference in his level of fun.

Take the broomstick out of your posterior and let him swap the ability bonuses.  Just get out of the way and facilitate the fun. That is your most important job. 

PS -- This obviously doesn't apply to AL legal characters since there are very strict chargen rules for Adventurers League. Also, if you comment a rebuttal using some example like giving darkvision to a Human, or some other bulls#!t straw man, I will f@#%ing cut your heart out with a spoon. (Rest in peace, Alan Rickman)

[UPDATE]
I just wanted to note an awesomely on-point comment by Robert Ehrman on Facebook:
"This whole article is just imploring DMs to be the bigger person at the table because a 1 point differential isn't going to be truly relevant to either party and player satisfaction matters. Clearly that point went over like a lead balloon."

Yes. YES! A thousand times YES!

I'll go one step further. As I noted in comments:

This article is not about a stat swap. It's about a philosophy. It's about not being married to rules. It's about facilitating ideas from the players. It's about keeping an open mind to player input because it's not the DM's game. The game belongs to everyone at the table. Saying "yes" to a player is not about giving them some insignificant +1... It's about saying "your ideas are just as important to this game as mine are." You want a sub-race of Elves that are tied more to the Arcane through a connection to the Feywild? Awesome! Let's incorporate that idea. We share this game world together.

Update: I posted an follow-up based on some responses.

My Last Origins

This will be my last Origins.

Just about every year, Origins opens its registration system to a rush of several thousand attendees. Just about every year, it’s a disaster of web site unresponsiveness, and just about every year they say, “Next year we will improve.” Every year, they don’t. Last year, they couldn’t even get badges quickly to people attending on the first day because of “computer problems” and ran out of convention programs.

This year was no different… and actually even worse than usual.

You see, this year in order to make sure I was ready for event registration day, I attempted to login to my account prior to event registration. For whatever reason, my password was not working. I was not terribly surprised, as I have a whole bunch of different passwords in order to minimize any attack on my identity. After trying several different times, I just decided to just use the “Forgot Password” option.

It didn’t work.

It was a few days before registration, so I emailed the Origins contacts so that I might get it reset before the event registration started. At first, there was no response, so I emailed again, and I called. They assured me it would be fixed before registration starts, and they would notify me as soon as it was.

Days pass. I email again the morning of registration. I asked if they could change it manually. “It will be fixed prior to registration opening,” I was told again. “We can’t change the password. We will let you know as soon as it is fixed.”

It wasn’t. They didn’t.

My wife and I were screwed. I had registered us both for the weekend pass, but could not access either account because of the password issues and thousands were about to flood the queue.

There was, however, a small breakthrough for us. We had two other family members that were going to attend, but doing events that were not the same as ours… So we asked if we could register our events under their itinerary  in order to hold the spots. Thankfully, they were totally cool with that.
So, on Wednesday, event registration opens and the site fails dramatically. No one can login without getting timeouts. No one can search events without all kinds of Java site errors or 503 Service Unavailable errors. The website was crashing so often, NHTSA said they were going to open an investigation.

Over the course of 3+ hours, my wife and I managed to get enough page loads between us to get into about 10 events… Or about 3 successful event registrations per hour.

Origins then announces on Twitter and Facebook that they will close registration until Friday at 1 PM to get the issues fixed… but then they secretly re-opened registration on Thursday without telling anyone they had told to wait until Friday. So, basically, if you listened to them, you were screwed out of events you might have wanted because other people kept trying anyway and found that registration has been re-opened earlier than announced (and the password issue was still not fixed).

The password issue was eventually fixed over the weekend, four days after event registration was initially opened (and after almost everything was completely booked). I was extremely lucky that I had family that could grab the slots my wife and I wanted to play. I’m certain many others did not have that opportunity.

They never emailed to let me know the password recovery had been fixed, despite telling me repeatedly they would. No notification. No apology.

S#!t technology… Even s#!ttier communication. For a 15,000+ attendee event, this is the worst event management I’ve ever seen. They apparently don’t even test the most basic functions of the website -- login, password recovery, and event registration -- which is basically everything you need to have a convention website.


I have been a major proponent of Origins on this blog and among my gaming friends, but there are other smaller cons that are growing each year with better customer experience -- Gamehole Con, BGG Con, Dice Tower Con, PAX East, and now PAX Unplugged. Origins may be the #2 spot in terms of size at the moment, but if it keeps offering crap customer experience, it will find itself less relevant as time goes on. It certainly will be for me as my family and I  will be seeking other alternatives and recommending others do the same. If they can't fix their management issues, they do not deserve our money.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Remembering MUDs

I recently poked my head into a G+ conversation between two random commenters on a random thread that had nothing to do with RPGs... but it sparked some really strong recollections in the dark corners of my brain.

One of them noted the the "/me" emote was from World of Warcraft. Of course, being an old, pedantic fart, I had to add my 2 cents by explaining how they were mistaken.

The /me emote actually pre-dates modern MMO's by a few decades. Back in the days of 300 and 1200 baud modems (yeah, one could actually type faster than they could display text), people with access to university computer systems (or a spare IBM XT) would set up what were called "MUDs" or Multi-User Dungeons. They were text-based like the old Zork games, but you could "see" and interact with other users through text chat and emotes.

So, the screen might read:

> You walk to the entrance of the Hedge Maze. Passageways in the hedge head off the the North and West. Steve_the_Barbarian and Sorcerer_Tonya are here.

$ /me wave
> Marty waves.
$ /say "Hey, what's up? Are you heading into the hedge dungeon?"
> Marty says "Hey, what's up? Are you heading into the hedge dungeon?"
$
> Sorcerer_Tonya waves.
> Sorcerer_Tonya says, "yup we're heading in"
$
> Sorcerer_Tonya invites you into the group.
$ /follow Sorcerer_Tonya


It was a lot of typing just to do pretty rudimentary stuff (and it was real time combat, so you had to type fast or have macros ready!)... but these were literally the first seeds of the modern MMO.

I'm not sure what the whole point of this post was except to think... Jeebus, we've come a long way and damn... I am old.

D&D 5e: Running Storm King's Thunder - Part 3

Source: Tumblr of Gabriel Cassata, freelance artist 
(used with permission)
This series of articles started out as "Running Nightstone" but is expanding as I delve deeper into the book and learn lessons from running my group through it. This first post is mostly generalized tips I’ve learned over the years and are applicable to almost any adventure you may be prepping.

First off, I have to say if you are DMing Storm King and not already watching Tom Lommel's (aka Dungeon Bastard) Disorganized Play on YouTube or Twitch, you need to start right now. There are about 50 hours of content, which is a lot to take in, but there is a plethora of fantastic ideas in there if you can spend the time listening to it in the background like a podcast.

Some spoilers ahead so be warned.

Monday, April 24, 2017

D&D 5e: Hex Crawling through Storm King’s Thunder

In a Twitter conversation, +Mike Shea (slyflourish.com - who you should definitely be following, btw), noted that he thought Chapter 3 in Storm King’s Thunder has an excess of information about the Sword Coast and the North. From the conversation, it can be inferred that the page count could have been better spent on detailing 10 to 20 specific locations with maps, encounter locations, deeper hooks, etc. rather than spend 60 pages on 164 distinct locations, many of which only get a very small paragraph or two. He further states that the kind of information in Chapter 3 is better in a book like Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide rather than an adventure like Storm King’s Thunder.

He is not entirely wrong… but he’s not quite right either.

It’s true, that with 60 or so pages, one could detail 10 or 15 really kick ass locations. If you are given 3 to 6 pages for each location, rather than just a few paragraphs, you can really do a lot with that page count -- several side quests, maps, hooks, etc.  However, I disagree with his with the premise that Chapter 3 is less useful than 10 or so more detailed encounter locations. It's more a matter of preference.

A few very mild spoilers ahead, so be warned.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

D&D 5e: Scads of People Really Really Want Legal PDFs

On Saturday, April 1st, I shared a little fake news story about Wizards of the Coast finally selling PDFs for the D&D 5th Edition core rulebooks.

And it got a lot of attention. A CRAP LOAD, one might even say.

Let me give some perspective. I am a nobody in the RPG blogging world. I mean, I have a small amount of recognition on Google+ and the regulars on the D&D Facebook communities may vaguely recall the name of my blog... maybe. But really, I don't get a lot of traffic compared to some more "famous" bloggers. Last year, a really active month was 15,000 to 20,000 page views for the whole month. Lately, a good month is in the mid to upper 20's.

In one day the PDF "press release" article got about 13,000 page views in ONE DAY. That's more than half of my monthly traffic from all of February, and about 45% of the March total.

So, clearly, it got a lot more attention in the community than a typical post. So what does that tell me?

People really want those f@&%ing PDFs to be a reality.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Wizards of the Coast announces D&D 5th Edition PDF core books

Please note this article was originally published April 1, 2017.

In an effort to enable more D&D players use their books on any platform, Wizards of the Coast announced that D&D 5th Edition core rulebooks, Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual, will be available in PDF format.



In a statement Wizard of the Coast President Chris Cocks reports, “We’re bringing D&D to the 20th Century… and besides, there are already so many bootleg scans on the Internet, we finally just figured ‘What the f@ck.’”.


As an added bonus, Cocks also announced that owners of the existing hardback books will receive $5 off the PDF price, as long as they present proof of ownership at their offices in Renton, WA.

“We believe $44.95 PDF price is an amazing discount for current D&D hardback owners. I don’t think you’d see a discount like this anywhere else in the RPG industry... and all you have to do is show up at our doorstep with your books in hand.”

Yeah... I guess you already knew this was an April Fools joke from the headline. Too "on-the-nose"?

Wizards of the Coast announces new D&D VR video game

Wizards of the Coast announces the first virtual reality video game out of their newly formed game studio!

In a collaboration with Sir Tech, Wizards of the Coast is bringing Wizardry into virtual reality with its new title: Dungeons & Dragons Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Sword Coast Lords


"You will be amazed at the 3D virtual reality dungeons we have created, complete with 5-foot square movement, a hallmark of the D&D tabletop experience," comments Chris Cocks, President of Wizards of the Coast.


"Once inside the Proving Grounds of the Mad Sword Coast Lords, you will experience a rainbow of 16 color virtual reality. We are pushing VR to limits not yet seen from Wizards of the Coast. Not since Nintendo Virtual Boy has anyone experienced VR like this!”


"With this title, alongside Battle Chess Dungeon Chess, we are are bringing VR to the 20th century!"



(p.s. - Dungeon Chess is an actual thing...)
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