Wednesday, October 22, 2014

D&D 5E: Adding some bite to Magic Resistance

Over the course of running 5E the last couple months I've noticed that Magic Resistance, while impressive for what it does (simplify the concept using the advantage mechanic) really doesn't stack up all that well in actual play....although it could just be that the principle now is that spells which should "just happen" are more tightly defined. But ask yourself many spells have you now seen hit a creature with magic resistance...and had full effect....that you know would have likely fizzled out in prior editions? Even Magic Missile is a viable spell against targets with magic resistance since there's no saving roll! It's madness, I tell you....

My thought is to make an option with Magic Resistance in which it also forces a saving throw against any effect. In thinking about this it makes me wonder if that was the intent....but the only discussion I can find on how Magic Resistance works is in the description of MR itself in each monster entry. So, to make it more meaningful and also to follow the tradition of how MR has worked before, my suggestion would be this:

1. Magic Resistance does all it says it does, plus any spell that acts on the creature but does not require a saving throw normally (i.e. magic missile) now requires a saving throw based on the caster's magic DC to work (with accompanying advantage for the creature, of course).

2. Any spell which does not specifically have to target the creature or is environment does not provoke magic resistance (i.e. Entanglement, which RAW would normally do so, and Silence, which can target the area instead).

Ideas or suggestions are welcome...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Maybe the OSR should be defined by classic D&D after all

In my recent post on defining the OSR I got some feedback from various people, including Tim Newman who suggested that my definition might be too broad, and that defining it in terms of early versions of and imitators of early D&D is the tightest approach to the concept.

My first reaction was of course, "that's not right," because of course I am one of many gamers who defined their experience in the 80's by games other than just D&D. However, the truth of the matter I also pointed out, most of those games which still have surviving communities are still alive today, usually in forms quite similar to their original incarnations. Playing Call of Cthulhu or Runequest today is not far removed from how it was done in the early 80's. Playing T&T today is exactly the same as it was back then, or even in the 70's (we'll see how that holds up when the Deluxe edition arrives, though). Even GURPS, in it's 4th incarnation, would still be recognizable to a 1st edition GURPS player, albeit more organized and thorough. It took Hero System until 6th edition to slay even a few sacred cows, but nothing that would otherwise invalidate material from the original Champions.

So.....I guess what I'm saying is that in thinking about it, maybe the OSR movement as a definable thing today really is about what happened with D&D's identiy crisis in the 00's, and the effort of fans to get some version of the original (or close to it) back....and that defining the OSR as anything other than the "Old School D&D Revolution" really is muddying the waters.

From that perspective, it means maybe I'm not that old school, since I don't currently play any iteration of classic D&D or retroclone. When I want my SF I'll play actual Traveller, not Stars Without Number. When I play D&D I'll grab 5th edition because it works for what I want out of the game now. When I want practically any other genre of game I go for Basic Role Playing, Savage Worlds or GURPS.....and that's okay. These games have all kept good communities and remained active even in the face of the changing hobby.

So, I'll give you this: maybe the OSR really is defined by D&D and its retroclones, and that's okay, because perhaps they really did need to rebuild the community that had been lost by three editions of churn and change.

Add this post to the rocket ship to the sun. Thank yew!

(Side note: despite Tim suggesting it could, I think FATE is fundamentally divergent from any old school play style. Nobody, anywhere, was playing games FATE-style in the 70's and most of the 80's that I was aware of, and the very groundwork for FATE-like systems didn't even manifest until the 90's, with the nascent manifestation of FUDGE. FATE is so weird to classic gaming styles that it requires a very fundamental leap of faith to even grab on to it's intent and style, something I've tried and failed to do, despite putting a great deal of interest into learning how to do it. I'm not saying anything bad about FATE....but I am saying I think it's a very good delineator between old school styles and a new school of game design and play, something which emerged out of what came before but which is decidedly it's own thing. Sure you can apparently use FATE to play a hexcrawl, but that doesn't mean that the way that FATE-powered hexcrawl plays out will feel or look anything even remotely like an OD&D or T&T version of the same. I gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere!).

D&D 5E: Naught, adventuring minotaur

Naught was born under peculiar circumstances, a homunculi body forged into the form of a minotaur by the Lich Malenkin and later liberated from the Lich's tower by a group of errant adventurers who had no place poking their nose into his affairs. Naught was forged into his form of a minotaur and so has no understanding of their culture, their ways or even their language and mannerisms; he is a tabula rasa of sorts, learning about the world as he travels along.

So far Naught, who took the name to reflect that he was neither a minotaur nor a homunculi any longer, has spent some time studying sword and spell under the adventurers who liberated him. They have been perplexed by his hesitance to fight, though it eventually became clear that Naught's problem stemmed from the innate fear that the homunculi feel at being around any truly living things.

Because of his odd upbringing as a mad lich's experiment, Naught's time in the tower taught him core survival skills (rogue). His subsequent time with his liberators has introduced him to the more martial skills, with some dabbling in magic. However, their training has focused entirely on fighting with a single long sword and some minor magic. This has led Naught to favor a duelist's style, which is unusual for his race.

Naught (Source)
Minotaur (shifted homunculi), Rogue Level 1, Fighter level 3
Medium male minotaur (8 feet tall), albino skin and fur
Background: Wizard's Experiment
Str 17 (+3), Dex 13 (+1), Con 12 (+1), Int 14 (+2), Wis 9 (-1), Cha 10 (0)
Proficiency +2; Saves: Str, Dex, Con, Int
Hit Dice: 1D8+3D10 (+4); Hit Points: 31 Armor Class: 15 (14 natural plus Dex)

Languages: Common (Mercurian), Homunculi's Tongue, Minotaurish

Skills: Arcana +4, Athletics +5, History +4, Perception +1, Sleight of Hand +3, Stealth +5

Proficiency: Light armor, medium armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons, thieves tools (expertise)

Rogue Abilities: Expertise (Stealth, Thieves Tools), Sneak Attack (1D6), Thieves Cant (special: Homunculi language)

Fighter Abilities: Fighting Style: Dueling, Second Wind, Action Surge, Archetype: Champion (improved critical)

Minotaur Abilities: reckless, charge, gore attack (2D8+Str), darkvision 60 feet

Feats: Magic Initiate (wizard spells: Blade Ward, Mending and Comprehend Languages)

Background - Wizard's Experiment Traits: Odd familiarity: once per long rest naught can apply advantage to an untrained Arcana check on something magical, be it an item, piece or lore, or odd fact.

Armor: Naught wears only a loose tunic and leather harness. He favors his natural armor (AC 14) and dexterity.

Weapon of Choice: longsword +1 (+6 attack; 1D8+6 single-handed, or 1D10+4 as a two-handed versatile weapon; Crits on 19-20) or Gore (2D8+3 damage, possible extra 2D8 charge damage)

Duelist and Gore: for purposes of Duelist I am interpreting it literally that a duelist must be wielding a one-handed weapon to get the bonus, and gore does not qualify for it.

Design Notes: Naught is an ongoing NPC in my Saturday game. His development is based on what he's exposed to in the course of play, ergo his rogue, then fighter-duelist choices. His Champion option is based on expedience; it's much easier to adjudicate a champion fighter in play which requires none of the extra work of the other fighter archetypes. Likewise, his magic initiate feats, while based on what was taught to him, reflect a combination of what Naught could learn and what he would personally find useful; Naught is indeed "not" a real minotaur in many ways, so his spells reflect the interests of a being that began as a tiny homunculus and was eventually forged for sadistic amusement by the lich Malenkin into a giant of a being with no understanding of its own heritage. Naught really, really wants to learn what it means to be a real minotaur....but he still has yet to meet a live one!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

D&D 5E: the minotaur character race

Okay, it's back to D&D this week! I'm working up different interesting items for the next few blogs  in celebration of my work schedule calming down a bit, leaving me with a moment or two to actually think of things not work related. So....first up, a race important to all four of my core campaign worlds....minotaurs!

Minotaurs in the default 5th edition are descendants of a blasphemous race of humanoids which served the demon god Baphomet and were transformed in a ritual of blood and murder. Minotaurs could have a variety of other possible origins, as well, including:

The engineered race of anthropomorphs created by an advanced ancient civilization which eventually collapsed, leaving their slave races to grow up in their absence (Chirak)

The pious spawn of a first Minotaur who was cursed by the gods with bestial traits for his impertinence and trying to steal their secrets (Enzada)

A degenerate race of beast-men spawned from a primal chaos god, who evolved over time to develop a sense of self and an understanding of their nature; now they seek out their own personal fortune or philosophical sense of being in the world to atone for their origins in chaos and sin (Lingusia)

The bastard spawn of a heinous ritual of blood and lust put forth by a barbarian cult which believes that they must honor their beast god through the magical coupling of men and bulls, which lead to these mule-like minotaur-spawn riddled with madness, seen as blessed sons of the dark god (Pergerron)

And so forth.

Minotaur Traits

The core Monster Manual minotaur translates into a playable character rather easily, with the caveat that recklessness and charge make it a formidable fighter.

Ability Score Increase: Minotaurs start with a +2 Strength and can actually increase their Strength to 22 with ability score increases by level at the DM's discretion (for a total Strength mod of +6). Minotaurs also gain a +1 modifier to your choice of Wisdom or Constitution.
Optional Ability Score Limits: DMs can optionally limit minotaurs to a maximum of 15 Intelligence. If you choose this option, the let the minotaur have the increased Strength option as well.
Age: though it may vary by world, most minotaurs reach puberty by 10 and are fully mature by 15. Minotaurs live 40-60 years depending on how hard a life they have been subjected to.
Alignment: in a world where minotaurs are the spawn of some beast cult, demon or chaos god they will tend to be chaotic and evil. In worlds where minotaurs are a more conventional anthropomorphic race they may lean toward chaos but be equally common as good, neutral or evil beings.
Size: Minotaurs range from the high end of medium (8 feet tall) to the middle range of large (10-12 feet tall). Decide on your size at character creation based on setting; default minotaurs are large creatures.
Speed: minotaurs move quickly with a base speed of 40 feet.
Darkvision: minotaurs have darkvision 60 feet.
Charge: a minotaur can engage in a charge attack if they are able to move straight toward the target for at least 10 feet first. If the minotaur strikes with a gore attack it adds 2D8 to the damage and the target must make a save equal to DC 10+the minotaur's Strength modifier or be tossed up ten feet away and knocked prone.
Maze Sense: a minotaur has perfect recall of any maze it move through and gains advantage on any wisdom check to determine direction or recall the correct path to a place it has previously visited.
Reckless: A minotaur can choose to gain advantage on all attack rolls during its turn but all attacks against it also gain advantage as well. This last until the start of its next turn.
Gore Attack: a minotaur's natural gore attack deals 2D8+strength modifier damage on a strike. Minotaurs are always proficient in this attack.
Natural Armor: a minotaur's skin provides AC 14 protection. This does not stack with other armor, so when wearing armor of different types the minotaur uses either the AC 14 or the AC of the armor worn, whichever is greater. Dex will apply to the natural armor without limit.
Racial Affinity: Minotaurs are always proficient in the great axe.
Languages: default minotaurs speak Abyssal, but a player character minotaur starts with the common tongue and one other; those worlds where minotaurs are not spawned of Baphomet or simialr entities may speak giantish or some other language, even their own minotaur dialect, instead.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Warner Brothers announces schedule for ten DC Comics movies over six years

Yikes! What a line up. Read about it here, but this is the list of DC Comics movies they have planned:

Suicide Squad in 2016 - holy cow, this one has me excited. I have been reading Suicide Squad in all of its incarnations since a very large Amanda Waller was first introduced in the late 80's.

Wonder Woman in 2017 - starring Gal Gadot, of whom I know nothing.

Justice League part I in 2017 and part II in 2019. Honestly this is the most interesting of the movie plans, because I've always been of the opinion that the core DC characters are most interesting when they are brought together. Of all the core (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman and Batman) I find only Batman to really be worth reading in his own titles, probably because the menagerie of iconic DC Heroes are all rather exotic and high-powered individuals, while Batman is just a very driven guy with All the Money. Wait...I forgot Green Arrow, who I also follow for much the same reason (his comic got better once it changed hands late last year, BTW).

The Flash in 2018 - I hope this ties into the TV series, which I haven't seen yet, but I'd expect that if they want to outdo Marvel then they need to make sure the continuity is cross-platform, so to speak.

Aquaman in 2018 - so the Flash will already be introduced via TV series in time for the 2017 Justice League film, but will Aquaman make an appearance there? Marvel's method of having key side characters who don't get movies but show up in other films (Hawkeye, Falcon, Nick Fury and Black Widow so far) has worked well for them, and honestly while I can see how Aquaman has movie potential, his legacy as a difficult character to actually portray properly in both film and cartoons makes me wonder if this movie will have any hope at all. I predict it will suffer the same problem Fantastic Four continually experience with every effort at big-screen adaptation. Some comic characters just aren't meant to smash through the fourth wall into film.

Shazam in 2019 - formerly known as Captain Marvel for those who care. I can see this one being a fun movie, Shazam has enough unique elements that if done right (and see the recent side-series from Justice League now collected in in its own TPB for an example of how to update the character to modern times properly) could make for a great movie.

Cyborg in 2020 - Cyborg is currently mostly a Justice League character, which is cool, despite the fact that I grew up thinking of him as a Teen Titan. If they can keep his current New 52 origin as a byproduct of an invasion from Apokalypse I will be pleased.

Green Lantern in 2020 - so the question here is, are they setting this far enough out to reboot the Green Lantern in hopes people have forgotten the old movie by then, or will they try for a "ignore the old movie but don't specifically violate it's existence" approach like Marvel did with the first and second Hulk films? I'm hoping for the latter, because we don't need them to spend more than five minutes retelling the Green Lantern origin tale, but we do need them working in some of the amazing stuff done with the character and GL-verse side of the New 52 into this future movie.

Notably absent from this list: a new Batman or Superman film. Not sure what that means....I personally think that we could use a full Batman reboot; I want a Batman for this cinematic DC Universe that bears a closer resemblance to the one in the current comics. Superman I'll reserve judgement on until I see what they do in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman, because I still need to watch Man of Steel. I admit, I am kind of a fan of the character, or at least what I've seen of his New 52 reworking so far, but I've never been into Superman enough to have much of an opinion one way or another.

No word on whether del Toro's Justice League Dark is still in consideration, unfortunately.

Okay, now for the long and arduous wait for all these movies to appear!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Turn to Define the OSR

Tenkar posted a blog about this review of D&D 5E which in the course of being written tried to define the OSR, albeit from a relatively uninformed outsider's perspective, and the review included a throw-away line toward the end which said that D&D 5E proved the OSR didn't exist. Naturally the OSR rose up like a vengeful revenant and engaged in righteous anger to correct this issue. Including me, I admit! But the author of the piece, Andrew Girdwood, did respond to me and others and was basically clarifying/backing off on assertions that I gather were not taken as intended. In the course of my responding, I accidentally defined the OSR (from my perspective) so in the timeless tradition of OSR and hybrid blogs like my own I decided to immortalize that definition here:

I think the OSR community is best defined as a group of people with a common interest in the style and methodology of role-playing games exhibited in the formative years of the hobby. It covers a lot more than D&D in this sense (I am a big fan of Chaosium systems such as Call of Cthulhu and Runequest, for example, both of which are archetypal examples of OSR gaming from back in the day). I think attempts to define the OSR in the context of game design fail because there was no consistency in design back in the day, either; but there definitely was --and is-- a community that appreciates the "feel" of that era and replicates it with contemporary retroclones and new systems (edit: as well as the original games). About the only certainty I can say is that game systems and styles which focus on more progressive mechanics such as FATE are definitely not typical of the OSR methodology, chiefly because these more story-based/collaborative systems did not exist in any form back in the seventies and early eighties.

I think the only way to define the OSR is for EVERYONE to write down their short definition of the OSR, then someone like Dyverse collates it somewhere forevermore and fires a print copy into the Sun. Then and only then can the topic rest easy, for the Sun is the OSR definition's only weakness, unless you also happen to have a +5 vorpal long sword. That'll work too.

The Great Martian War and Fortress

Another amazing find on Vimeo. I'd totally play in this setting:

Great martian war from PLAZMA on Vimeo.

Also worth showing off, Fortress, a one-man production that makes me wish this was a trailer to a very eerie post-apocalyptic movie or game:

Крепость/Fortress from Dima Fedotof on Vimeo.

Keep in mind that one guy did Fortress just for the hell of it (okay, his love of CGI).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rite Designs reaches the 13th Age with 101 Not So Simple Monster Templates

I don't know about the serpent-wraith-lady, but that rakshasa is full of awesome. The come hither pixie lass with her favorite skull is a bit concerning though!

This crept up rather innocuously on (and its other drivethrurpg site). Rite Publishing has done a lot of stuff for Pathfinder over the last few years, most of it good or notable as 3PP resources go. This foray into the 13th Age is no exception, and actually the first really cool 3PP resources I've stumbled across that's worth a review and mention.

101 Not So Simple Monster Templates provides exactly what it indicates: one hundred and one templates you can overlay on existing 13th Age creatures. The templates follow the standard set in the 13th Age core rules, which is basically additional features or modifications that enhance or change the existing creature (so, standard D20 system stuff). Unlike some of the existing monster templates in the game, these offer a really wide range of the strange and familiar all at once.

Want a kyton-bound minotaur? Here you go. Are you determined to stat out that homeless, legless beggar? Add the legless template. Eager to take out your party with an exploding manticore? Add the Pyrrhic template. There's some good stuff here.

All of these templates are concise and too the point, except for the ones that are really complicated or offer a lot of specific detail such as the winterwight, walking fortress, grim reaper or bloodshackle templates.

Some of the templates add in some "D&Disms" to 13th Age currently absent or under-represented. If you've been missing crypt things in your game, you can make all sorts of them with the appropriate template. The aforementioned kyton-bound, constructed, divine, phase, and others will fill in needed gaps.

All of the templates offer definitely flavor and make for interesting and distinct creatures....for the right mix of encounter stew, naturally. A few could be the basis of entire plot lines (I'm thinking a kyton-bound template would open up all sorts of interesting denizen concepts for a visit to the City of Chains, for example).

Anyway, if you're a 13th Age junkie like me this is a PDF well worth checking out. I've printed out my copy for easy access at the table in my next planned 13th Age campaign (coming soon!)

Rite Designs has a sample on their blog if you'd like to see a bit for free.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Renegade, which is a slightly NSFW video below, would honestly make a fantastic Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, too. Look upon this three minute micro-movie and witness the life of a true fighting-man from Level zero to Hero.....

!!RENEGADE!! from michael cavanaugh on Vimeo.

The Last Parsec Kickstarter

Pinnacle is doing a Kickstarter of note in the form of The Last Parsec, a setting for Savage Worlds Sci Fi. As many of you may recall I am rather fond of the new Savage World Science Fiction Companion (see Savage Space) so I'm looking forward to what they do with this new universe. Previous Pinnacle Kickstarters seem to have worked out rather well (Weird Wars: Rome, for example) so I think Peginc. is worth it.

I have a rule of thumb now that I don't back Kickstarters because frankly I feel bad for all the developers who get deathly ill not long after their Kickstarters complete (my theory is that successful Kickstarters are the leading cause of illness and Ebola in the US), so I won't be backing this one, either; but it's definitely on my "I will buy this when it is available for public purchase" list.

Cool news over....KS rant ahead!

Pinnacle is not on the list of disease-affected KSers so far as I know; it's more like the handful I have backed have taught me that I do not want to be a backer for any project, ever, simply because I think the entire KS model lacks the sort of oversight a normal agreement with someone putting money down on a product should offer. There's too much cool stuff coming out now for me to throw money down on hypotheticals for the the time I'm ready to stick some money on The Last Parsec, it will already be out. That's something I can appreciate: here's some money, send me my books.

By contrast, if I hadn't backed Legends of Dawn I wouldn't be experiencing the crushing disappointment of a computer game that was poorly designed and badly tested. If I had not backed the T&T Deluxe set I would not be wondering why I haven't seen any of the print products that have been produced and which I ordered as part of my KS pledge but which are still not in my hands (my pledge covered pretty much print copies of everything), despite being sold at Cons and available on Ebay right now. Stuff like that really sours you on the KS process, and that's from a team I trust will deliver. I continue to hold faith in Flying Buffalo and co. that I'll eventually see all the stuff I ordered and the DT&T set, but I wish I wasn't in this position; I'd much rather have waited until the final product was out and ordered it directly from FB instead, it turns out. I'm not a collector, and I don't like being a backer; I'd rather just play a finished product.

Now, there is an argument that some of these projects wouldn't be possible without Kickstarter, and I'll grant you that. But Kickstarter really only works for certain types of creators: people who have the good business sense to manage the KS funds properly, and to apportion the necessary time and effort to get the project done; this approach is shockingly uncommon in our tiny corner of the gaming universe. It seems like the most successful RPG KSes are those which use the medium as a preorder venue, rather than as a way to back the project and prop it up from the start. I suspect I could back those with confidence (and I did, with Fantasy Hero), but honestly? I'd rather just do a real pre-order, or buy the finished product. Someone needs to be there at the tail end, sending them money for a job well done; I'll let all the aspiring entrepreneurs chuck their money in at the inception, instead and save my cash for the "reward" at the end.