Monday, May 23, 2016

At last! Compatible Mass Combat Rules for D&D5e!

In the last two most recent game sessions, our DM has played out two different scenarios involving large numbers of troops vs. our party. 

He wound up using Warhammer 40k rules, which went really smoothly the first time, but it went kind of wonky last week. Ever since he announced the mass combat sessions, I've been frantically searching for any & all mass combat rules that I might have on my gaming shelves to use, and most importantly, compatible with 5e rules.

No such luck, before game time. :P I did find all versions of AD&D Battlesystem rules, which included the large red boxed set for 1st edition, and both books for 2nd edition - the regular Battlesystem and Skirmishes rules, and I quickly read through them, thinking these would be fairly simple to convert into 5e to use for mass combat. 

Well, I didn't really think so, after I finished going over them both. Ironically, the 2nd edition versions of Battlesystem was far more complicated than the 1st edition version. Of the two, I'd choose 1st edition, even though I used and ran several sessions BitD using 2nd edition's Skirmish rules for large PC/Monster encounters.

This weekend, days after our last Warhammer 40k rules laden session, I recalled (!) the original Chainmail rules, and got out the full sized copy I made out of (legal) PDFs a few years back. Wow. What a breath of fresh air! I'd completely forgotten this ancient system, but mainly because the last time I gave it a serious read-thru, the system completely baffled me. 

Now, years later, and invariable 0e & Holmes house rule writing exercises, I look at Chainmail, break out Jason Vey's "Forbidden Lore; Supplement VI" and read that stem to stern alongside the Chainmail rules.

Holy chimi-cha-ching!-changas, Droogpool! It all makes sense! It all fits perfectly into 0e, sand-tables, and even freakin' 5e! 

There is no conversion to be done at all from 5e to Chainmail rules. Simply look at the troop types, find the correlating chart, roll dice, cross-reference the results! 

Yes, there are a lot of confusing charts & tables in Chainmail, but once you learn that each one serves a different purpose, according to who's attacking, and defending, the choices become much clearer. 

Now, I was not going to post anything of real, physical teach-wise stuff about Chainmail here, at least not in this post, as I have another thing that I might post about shortly. The point is, I would be interested in posting more about Chainmail here, in the interest of clearing up the wonky/fuzzy rules bits that no one seems to understand, and I'm talking to those who have a copy of Chainmail and Jason Vey's excellent "Forbidden Lore" the so-called "Supplement VI", that used to be free, but these days I'm not so sure if its still available.

Anywhat, I'mma looking at my next post: 5e's Challenge Rating system for monsters and thinking what doucheable material this section of the DMG is, and what I'd love, love, lurrrrve to see in anyone's future monster supplement at the DM Guild - if anyone is interested in taking suggestions on what to put out there for 5e at the Guild.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Google Drive Sucks

If you're a friend of mine on Facebook, you've seen my posts about trying to get Google Drive to work right - namely giving a preview of newly uploaded PDFs without having to download it to actually see it. 

Isn't that the idea behind a preview? To look at something to see if its worth your time to actually download it? 

Anyhooo, I'll be shopping for a new uploadable document storage facility, and I've already checked out Dropbox, which is a basement level soggy cardboard mess that may or may not charge non-virtual $$ for their crapulence. 

Perhaps that's what Google Drive will do next: charge $$ for their shitty services. I guess that's the direction everything on the internet is going, and there's no use whinging about it: pay up or shut up. What's a poor fuck-up like me to do? Start charging for my stolen RPG ideas?

Friday, May 13, 2016

More Provocative 5e Trash Talk

They called me in to work last night, so on the drive out and on the way back, I had a lot to think about in my previous post; the actual fun that the entire group had as we got to trash some really nasty, evil NPCs, the way 5e works, and how it doesn't work, how much I like the Warhammer system, but never have actually played it (until this last session), and all the trash-talk.

I did think of a work-around for the Warlock soul-sucking ability that doesn't totally nerf it. Instead of disallowing its use altogether when a Warlock casts a spell (See? That statement alone makes no sense! A Warlock power that doesn't work with spell-casting! Wha???), how about we only allow the Warlock to suck a soul once per round, and not allow multiple souls to get sucked with one major spell that kills multiple hostile creatures, like a Fireball in the middle of an attacking army. (By the way, this rule is on page 109 of the PHB. I meant to include that in yesterday's post, but I had to shut down because of... work.) :P

Now, even I think 180 temporary hit points is ricockulous, even if it is my favorite character evar, but the looks on everyone else's faces when I announced that she just acquired 180 temps - was priceless! I'll put this suggestion forth to the DM, and I hope he goes for it, as I'd really hate to see the ability totally nerfed in conjunction with spell-casting. 

Now, I read a couple of comments via Facebook, and one from a friend who said that this play report pretty much sums up his opinion that 5e isn't for him, and I don't want to dissuade anyone from trying the system because of this skewed report. It was sloppy journalism. 

(What can I say? I don't have a degree in journalism, and only took one course in community college for English Comp.)

Now, to explain the philosophy behind the system in a little more depth, I should mention the Monster Manual for 5th edition. Showing what our super-heroic proportioned heroes are up against may begin to make a lot more sense. The monsters your daddy fought in the 70's & 80's are pussies compared to what they are these days. Thanks to Final Fantasy's version of Bahamut, we now have a super-powered dragon with a Disintegration Ray. Fu-hu-hu-hu-huuuuuuuuuck! Okay, maybe Bahamut back-in-the-day was pretty bad-ass too, but honestly, I never worked my players up to the level where they would encounter Bahamut, so the point is a bit moot. (The Tiamat encounter doesn't count. THAT was a totally over-the-top encounter to begin with! Tiamat, asleep in her lair???? Shut up!)

Okay, from the get-go, we beginning players & DMs (with 5e) were thinking that 5e had a lot of powerful character "builds", and ridonkulous monsters. However, please note two things about monsters in this edition: Their hit points are bloated, and their AC's never go above 20. This is a design "feature" (I call it a drawback and a slap in the face to old school gaming...) that WotC decided was of vital importance to "winning" the game of D&D.

It goes something like this: the toughness of monsters relies mostly in their hit points. That demon lord in 1e that was considered pretty bad-ass back-in-the-day with 90 hit points, is now a demon lord with 200+ hit points in 5e. Now he's mega-bad-ass. BUT, the 1e demon lord usually had an AC of -6, which for those of you who absolutely lose your shit when anyone mentions THAC0, a -6 AC is equal to AC 26 in today's game. (Just FYI...) In 5e, that demon lord with 280 hit points only has an AC of 19! (For those of you who haven't played since 1st edition, AC 19 is equal to our old school AC of 1. I know, it's inverted, but its cool, since what you roll to hit on the d20 is equal to the AC you need to hit. Want to hit AC 19? Roll a 19 or better on a d20! Easy-peasy, elves are sleazy...)

"What does this mean? Why does this ultra-powerful, multiple-hyphenated, mega-bad-ass have such a sucky AC? A 1st level character could hit 'em, fer Cryin' Out Loud!"

Yes. That's it, exactly. Right on the nose in one shot! WotC designed 5th edition so that that your 1st level precious-snowflake-murder-hobo has a chance to hit the big-bad-douchebag-boss of your dungeon. It doesn't mean your 1st level character is going to have a chance to KILL the BBDBB of your dungeon, but you might be able to hit him/her/both/neither/it.

So, what happens when your characters start dealing a lot of damage every round? Against 5th edition monsters, it can only mean one thing: The combats take up much more game time, or we finish fights faster, and our characters have a better chance at living through it. Perhaps the monster Challenge Ratings are skewed a little to favor the PCs to make players feel as if they are accomplishing something "heroic", but this is what the game has been focusing on now for the last few editions. At least 5e took a step back in the right direction. Slightly.

180 hit points is still a lot to swallow, and, I've never said this before, but you shouldn't have to swallow that. (I know, I know, I'm a shameless thief, but for what it's worth, I am an amateur journalist with a blog, and if you're reading it, it proves that cheap shots & trash talk like that are worth it...)

A few months ago, our DM complained that we walked over everything he sent at us, with the thought that "This will challenge them!" Boy, was he wrong. We did walk over everything he sent at us in that session, and we were pretty damn happy about it. The DM has come to the conclusion that 5e is broken because we constantly beat stuff up, but I think that there is a lot more to this edition than combat. Here's the thing: Combat encounters shouldn't be the only thing on our plates, and we'd like a little more role-playing, puzzle-solving, and exploration. 

(*A side note: I should also mention that it is possible to kill characters just as easily as it is to kill monsters in 5th edition. Gone are the "Save or Die!" and instant death rules, but characters are just as likely to die from bad player decisions as before, and this is a good thing. Our group has suffered casualties, and character death in the very first session, and we've lost a couple of players because they thought the DM was picking on them, but really, they made assumptions and bad decisions, and the DM had monsters respond accordingly.)

When a game is based solely on combat, we tend to see the game through combat lenses more. The DM and a few other players believe that 5e is a flawed system because combat is "broken". What they don't believe in, and I do, because I'm used to 0e, BX, Holmes and 1e, (but especially 0e) is that combats were designed to be quickly resolved to allow more time doing other things, more interesting things, that didn't get our characters killed, and give us players more opportunities to gain XP with relatively less danger involved.

The biggest mistake in D&D game design was doing away with the GP = XP rules, making combat the only major avenue of gaining XP in the game. Oh, there's the Story Award = XP, but that's just an arbitrary number of points awarded for something that may or may not have happened in the game. I could contest any Story Award given to PCs in any game I've ever played in because Story Awards don't correlate with anything the players or characters earned. 

Oh, but they convinced NPC so-and-so to come to their aid! They rescued NPC so-and-so from Certain Death! Those are definitely worth Story Awards! 

Okay, yeah. Whatever. But those are role-playing achievements that have been arbitrarily quantified to make you think that for some level of role-playing is superior somehow to other levels of role-playing and is worth something. 

Bullshit. That's an unbalanced system of awards if I evar heard of one. Now GP = XP is equitable and totally quantifiable, and always has been from the get-go. Unfortunately, only Dave Arneson got it right in one by having GP = XP only if the PCs spent it on things in the game (that largely included role-playing). That was missing in 0e & 1e, and therefore missed by most mainstream D&D gamers.

Now we have a game that's over-balanced towards XP for combat only. That's not a skewed view at all, is it? Okay, maybe I'm in the extreme minority who believe in a totally different set of criteria that determines "balance", but my main point is that XP should be quantified by other quantifiable things like GP and combat. Not combat only.

But one thing that 5e seemed to do right is to make PCs just as powerful at certain levels, which allows them to finish fights faster and get on with other things in the game, and I think I've already mentioned that, so I'm writing in circles now. Lovely.

I had a point buried in here somewhere, and I know I was quickly closing in on making it, but here at the last intersection, I lost it, and now it eludes me altogether. Oh, here it is...

Don't be dissuaded from trying 5th edition. Its lighter than 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, 4th & definitely Pathfinder. It is still intricate and challenging, and still offers a lot of options for the players for their characters. It's challenging in ways that D&D should be challenging, and not quite as intimidating as other rules heavy editions are. It still needs work, however, and the kind of work you can only do by jumping in and doing yourself. There are a lot of other things I could talk about here, but this follow-up post has already gone on 10x longer than I thought it would. I guess there was a lot I just had to get off my chest. ;)

5th edition can be so much more than it appears to be. If you work at it, you can draw those things out, and, like a writer with nothing but a pen and a blank page, this game can help you design the kind of game you want to play. But you have to give it a chance, or, like the Lotto commercials would have you believe: "You can't win if you don't play!"

Thursday, May 12, 2016

5e Play Report: Awesome & Unbalanced and 180 Temporary Hit Points!

Last night was the first session of our DM's 'end-game' wherein he is winding up everything he had prepared for his campaign, so, it was destined to be an epic battle. We'd been playing together as a group for 7-8 months now, ever since forming at the FLGS (Friendly, Local, Game Store) for weekly D&D Encounters, although now, we were so much more than that.

A 5th edition Campaign World is Born

I wasn't there for the first few sessions, but I joined up relatively early enough to be considered one of the "founding members", and that's a stretch, in my own mind anyhoo. It is a great group, and I am very happy to have been a part of it, and with luck will continue to be a part of it for as long as we can keep filling up the gas tank on this behemoth of a vehicle.

Originally, we were supposed to be playing D&D Encounters, but for one reason and another, the DM never got the material from WotC to carry out the campaign. After a few failed attempts to communicate with, and correct the situation with the store manager, we all gave up and just continued in the only direction we could - we kept playing completely off-the-cuff, making stuff up every week to keep our group entertained, if not a little bewildered and directionless.

I talked to the other players and the DM as soon as they'd enter the door to game, either barely in time to start, or just after the DM started, or if they stuck around for any amount of time after the session ended and the store closed it's doors and shut down the register. Talking to them all took a bit of effort. Eventually, another player got smart and started taking down names, email addresses, and phone numbers. I finally got the questions out that I wanted: 

"What kind of campaign are we playing?" "Where are we?" Since I already knew the when & where (Wednesday night at FLGS - otherwise known as "D&D Encounter Night"), I bulldozed right on through to the meat of the matter: "Do we have a campaign world?" When the DM told me that he did not have a camapign world in mind, but he did not want any campaigns previously associated with D&D - such as Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Nentir Vale, etc., so I asked the $ shot question: "Would you like to have a brand new one?"

After talking with the DM about what worlds he didn't want, I talked to the other players, and with all the input I received, I put together a world that everyone could claim as their own. It was only a framework, and all the borders were open for expansion, although the DM's initial political-world view was limiting (humanocentric, continental sized human controlled government, with more in common with Joel Rosenberg's "Guardians of the Flame" series than a free-wheeling D&D world...), but with room for expansion, at least I'd nailed down the topography and geo-political regions of where we were.

With more input from the DM & other players, we had a brief description of the movers & shakers of this new campaign world, and a rough proximity of where our characters originated from, but most of the non-human characters wound up coming from quite a ways away in this human controlled kingdom. 

The Blades of Mercia Campaign

After a few sessions, we realized that D&D Encounter material would not be coming forth from WotC or the FLGS manager*, the DM commenced with a campaign of his own, a leftover plot from his old D&D 3.5 edition campaign - and pitted us against a group of technologically advanced humans bent on taking over every world they landed on, and they were called "The Blades". 

Initially encountered in heavily armored and armed pairs - one knight and one mage, it took maximum effort of the entire group to fell these asshats, but we did it, and the DM was surprised we actually did. We also levelled an entire village doing it, so we had to go on the run. Levelling that particular village was okay, since the Blades had somehow convinced all the medieval minded & human only population to have cookies on their side, so they were all against us and yelped for help whenever our non-human PCs made their presence known. 

Due to the shifting and chaotic nature of game-store gaming, we had a fairly fluid, and often-times large group of players every week. However, once we determined who the regulars were always going to be (roughly - even I got called in to work on game night once in awhile...), and by large, I mean 10-12 players each night*. 

 (*Segue for a bit here...) As far as I understand D&D Encounters, each of the Encounters planned by WotC and implemented by associated game-stores is supposed to support a DM and up to 6 players in a session. If there are more players, an extra DM is supposed to be available to run more players through WotC approved Encounters material. Now, I'm not blaming the game store, manager, or the DM, but more than one person has admitted to not wanting to initiate a full-blown confrontation, so we left the store for greener pastures.

For months, we endured new players (who, coincidently always wanted to play Dragonborn characters...) who have never played D&D before, or were so rusty that they hadn't played since 2nd edition (1989) days, so getting them up to speed for the night was a challenge for all of us. In many cases, this was a pleasant experience, but there were a few players who just never got the concept, or didn't realize that D&D is always a cooperative gaming experience and one little Dragonborn sorcerer always tried to kill off the other players...

Eventually, we moved out of the game-store, and into the DM's house, and since there were only 7 regulars now, and we'd lost a couple of key characters (we had a cleric, two thieves, a monk, a ranger, a gnomish wizard, and a barbarian dwarf) - I talked the DM into letting everyone have two characters, since we needed tanks if we were going to continue fighting the Blades. He allowed it, with the caveat that we no longer had PC XP, but PLAYER XP - each players' XP determined the level of both of our characters, and we had to pick which character to play, singly, each session.

Party Make Up

Now, we had THREE clerics, a ranger, a gnomish wizard, two thieves, a paladin, a monk (ninja), two barbarians, a Hellgirl (female Tiefling Warlock - Infernal Weapon Pact), and finally a FIGHTER! Of course, we only played one character apiece, (one player still only controlled a single character), and I missed a lot of sessions in the last two months thanks to work, but here we all are now at the end of the DM's Blades campaign.

He's burned out and really wants to just be a player from here on out. So, we're allowed to bring both of our characters into play if we want to, and sometimes we do. Sometimes, it just gets too crowded, so we only play one or the other, so this varies.

Our group is incredibly strong, and I mean, Avengers + Deadpool & Negasonic Teenage Warhead strong. And its all "by-the-book". The Paladin gets several extra dice of damage. The Ranger, after he hits his target, does extra dice of damage. The Monk (Ninja) can instantly move by jumping through his shadow - every round. The Thieves cause extra dice of damage via their Sneak Attacks. Hellgirl...

...requires her own paragraph (...and because she's my character, correction: one of my favorite characters I've evar played in any edition of D&D). Not only does she do an insane amount of damage every round with her Eldritch Blast cantrips, the Warlock rules allow her to augment them with Infernal Evocations, so they cause extra damage, and at higher levels, she can fire off more than one every round. She can attack twice per round with her pact weapon (now a +1 longsword), and, thanks to being a Warlock, every time she reduces a hostile creature down to 0 hit points, she "swallows souls" and gains temporary hit points based on her level and Charisma modifier. He Charisma is 20 (+5) and she's 7th level, for a total of 12 temporary hit points that last until she is hit for damage, or a long rest. This comes from any source of damage that she can cause, i.e., a spell that can cause 8d6 damage, (like a fireball) could possibly net her hundreds of temporary hit points!

...and this is exactly what happened in last night's session. 

The End Game

We received word that the Blades were amassing an army of just over one thousand non-Blades, with a squad of Blade knights and mages in overall command on the march to attack our friend/benefactor/my thief's uncle Baron "Bear" DeSilva's little keep in the mountains, affectionately called "The Rookery". Bear DeSilva, played by none other than Brian Blessed in my mind, had a few hundred troops, and thanks to our efforts to rid the Realm of the Blades' human-only racism, we'd amassed an army of our own. 

In the last few months, our group sought out and recruited some NPCs that had also become very big PITA for the Blades. One of the most powerful of them is "Kevin", a young boy who also happens to be a very powerful werewolf. 

We prepared ambushes and deadfalls throughout the hills on the trail to the Rookery, and along with a successful assassination (ninja'd!) of the leader of the army (non-Blade noble poof), we were only faced with a demoralized army, not a fully competent one.

We had the army bottle-necked and ambushed them with only a portion of our total forces. In retrospect, if we had our entire army there to do battle in that pass, we could have wiped them all out, but the logistics of getting (maybe) 500 troops in place to ambush 1,000 was a little dicey, so we chose to use only 50 to assault the vanguard. 

Once the Blade army came to the wall of thorns blockade in the pass, we sprung our trap, with Kevin & Hellgirl attacking the "rear" (not the true rear, where the siege engines were, unfortunately...) along with many archers, spearmen & light cavalry.

Hellgirl cast a fireball spell into the midst of the army and killed 15 troops immediately. At 12 temporary hit points per, that's 180 hit points gained. Flush with the souls of the dead, she waded into battle with Thurston Howl (her +1 longsword pact weapon), taking on and killing a Blade knight in 3-4 rounds. Kevin, meanwhile, took out a LOT of troops and a couple of Blades on his own. 

The paladin, barbarian, human cleric, and one of the dwarven clerics were at the front, directing the full-frontal ambush. (We had the choice of devoting some, all or none of our heroes to this fight, and so these are the characters we chose to run; the player controlling the gnomish wizard and the party's only fighter couldn't make it...) 

The player with the dwarven barbarian chose not to devote his character to this fight at all, saving him for the main fight at the Rookery, so he was chosen to roll all the dice for our army forces. 

I have to back up to the start of the session where the DM announced that due to the complexities of D&D rules, he'd be using Warhammer 40k rules to run the battle. I am vaguely familiar with Warhammer rules, and since the mass combat rules are the same for the WFRP (Warhammer Fantasy Role Play) and 40k (futuristic sci-fantasy/horror) settings, everything went smoothly, and our DM was quite capable of translating our D&D character's abilities to WFRP/40k rules on the battlefield on the fly. No one else was familiar with the rules at all, but suffice to say that all we had to roll for an attack is roll 4+ on 1d6, and roll again for damage - and hope not to roll any 1's. D&D hit points translated to W40k Wounds at a rate of 20 to 1. Hellgirl, before temporary hit points had 3 Wounds. Plus temporary = 9!

Although we lost some men (army), by the end of the engagement, we'd managed to obtain our objective, which was to kill or demoralize the enemy forces, make them retreat, and kill some Blades while we were at it. The army retreated, (I won't even go into detail about the avalanche that buried hundreds or Bahamut's avatar showing up to disintegrate a large portion of the Blade's army...) and we beat feet back to the Rookery to prepare for the main engagement. This was the fortified position, and we had a lot of battlement defenses set up here. 

The Blades lost about half of their forces. We lost about 40 men. Them's good odds in WFRP/40k rules, or D&D rules. However, the DM also said that he would put a house rule into effect limiting the Warlock from gaining temporary hit points from damage caused by spells, which was the only sour note for me.

Granted, we hashed out the Monk (ninja!) ability to shadow-step by ruling that a shadow must be in dimly lit environments - ruling out any shadow-stepping during the daytime, indoor or outdoor, unless in a dungeon with no light at all, or a building with no windows, etc. 

By rule-parsing, we also determined that the Ranger was NOT doing enough damage per round, but the Paladin was doing too much. The thieves could use their Sneak Attack ability (and extra damage) simply by being within 5 feet of a friendly combatant fighting the same opponent - they weren't required to Flank an enemy to cause Sneak Attack damage! These were all handled "by-the-book", or IOW, carefully reading the rules, so I will be a bit sore if this is handled with a straight-up houserule that nerfs this Warlock ability. 

By-the-book, Warlock's get the fewest amount of spells to cast. Far fewer than the wizard, and, even though the Sorcerer only gets half as many as the wizard does, the Sorcerer still gets at least twice as many spells per day than the Warlock. The Warlock's "swallow your soul!" power is only available to warlocks taking the Infernal Pact (one of three pacts available), and is not contingent on the warlock choosing another pact feature - weapon, chain or tome. 

I could understand if the soul-sucking ability could be contingent on the weapon pact, but it is not; the soul-sucking ability is granted at 1st level, the pact weapon comes in at 2nd or 3rd. So, the only way the warlock could gain temporary hit points at 1st level is only by casting cantrips, or fighting with a weapon in melee combat, which at lower levels is pretty risky, even for a warlock...

On the positive side, when Hellgirl cast Fireball, I had the (NSFW) verbal component ready, and when the Blade knight climbed up the hill to attack Hellgirl face-to-face, she told him the (NSFSJW (not safe for Social Justice Warriors)) three biggest lies in the world. ;)