Sunday, January 10, 2016

about D&D and 7th Level

We've hit 7th level on a couple characters in our round robin 5th edition D&D game.  When the 5th edition books dropped, our group decided to switch to to playing a long campaign of D&D instead of playing short 7-8 session games of whatever the guy in the DM chair wanted to run .  We agreed to give it a good old 1-20 test run if possible but we still liked the idea of rotating DMs.  We settled on short adventures that run about 3-4 game sessions each and it has worked pretty well so far.  So we've played through the lower levels and gone around the table twice - and have hit about level 6-7.  This is playing every second week for about a year and a bit now.  The DM rotation works very well as no one gets too burnt out running things or waiting to run things.  Also as your PC sits out an adventure there is always a bit of a range of levels as PCs fall behind and catch up.  A side effect of this is that XP is split among fewer PCs and the downtime lets us paint in some narrative for the characters sitting it out.  We've had a number of PC deaths, which is always good (the most recent being a TPK ah-ha!), and when that happens we start new PCs at the lower end of the spread.  Based on this I'm going to give a short review of what I like and what I don't like about the system.

I still really like the advantage/disadvantage mechanic.  I was worried it might wind up to be a bit of a blunt stick, but it is really good.  Anytime you can get advantage or give disadvantage it really has an impact in a way that just getting a +x or -x would not.  Its fast too.  I can't say enough good things about this as an addition to d20 core mechanics.

I do like the death saves.  We've had a couple times where a player dies due to a critical failure on these to make it meaningful but on average they give enough buffer to function as that second chance.  It's a decent mechanic as well.

I think the combat is pretty well done.  I like the special class abilities that let you stun opponents or modify advantage as these do seem to let you get a bit tactical.  We have generally used theater of the mind with some on table aids for combats, but I have found that the 5e combats are a bit more visual than the same combats in older d20 or something like gumshoe.  Things I've noticed is that the game encourages positioning or using bonus actions to modify advantage, which is as intended I expect.  the HP levels of the monsters so far seems to be keeping the fights long enough but not a grind.  I have noticed that groups of monsters do work better than a single larger baddie mostly - that's not really surprising.  Around level 6 the PCs are getting in some serious hits and it's not unusual for them to destroy something before it gets in a second round.  The CR system is way out I think, we've had to go way into deadly to break a sweat many times however some minor abilities can throw that out and make things too dangerous.  I have no big problem with this as I don't fret too much about a 'balanced encounter' as the players usually adapt or can retreat if things are going badly.  I wouldn't want to be beholden to the system however because I think if you follow the guidelines (say in organized play or if the players got huffy about it) the fights are way too easy.

The magic system is a bit, well, twee.  I have some real problems with the lack of consequence/gravity of some of the spells and magic abilities.  Light as a cantrip bugs the crap out of me as no one is ever going to buy a torch and I think it would have been better as a level 1 spell that could be ritually cast.  Ritual casting is great as it lets spell casters use those utility spells again and so is the way they deal with spell slots and subsitituting spells.  I have no problem with increasing magic use up from the old X slots per day of old D&D - but I did not like the effortless spell casting in 4e and think that 5e still takes it too far.   I would go so far as to say that having at-will cantrips and ritual casting is overkill.  I would much rather just ditch the at-will cantrips altogether.  I think that the at-will stuff devalues the 'feel' of magic while at the same time turning spell casters into 'laser beam archers'.  I'm also not too fond of the disposable familiar or the paladin warhorse, i.e. the rule that lets them respawn like a video game sidekick.  The joke has come up a couple times in game that you could use a familiar or warhorse as a trap detector or as food.  Some of the wording is obviously there to ensure that the spell gets used a specific way or guarantees its utility.  The hedge betting nature of these spell rules has always grated on me and seem like a hold over from the 'dm is trying to cheat me' school.  What this kind of rule does is take away all those good stories and situations where something doesn't go as planned or there is hesitation to use a resource because it might be damaged or lost.  I guess that's the crux of it - interesting situations come from resource management so baking in resources takes that away.  I would say the same about games that hand-wave money.  Anyway I still prefer the Beacon spell system - having to pay for spells makes them a bit more dear and therefore a bit more interesting.

I've only had a bit of a chance to play with some of the DMG rules, like chases or downtime stuff in the DMG (chapter 6).  I do like that they included this in the game because it adds a lot to a campaign.  I know you can bolt on this stuff, but having it in the DMG adds to its legitimacy when you get pushback from players who don't necessarily see how complications add to the game.  I like that there is a carousing table in there, also simple building upkeep.  The Players Handbook has a expenses chart for players and it works with the charts in these sections pretty good.  I like how the running a business chart adjusts for how much time a character spends running their business - having a PC weigh the cost of escorting a caravan against the cost of lost revenue to their inn is interesting in my opinion.  I would have liked to see a bit more in this section, like how to repair equipment maybe.

So between this game and the Ashen Stars game I'm running on roll 20 I've not had a lot of time to work on things for Beacon, but that's OK.  I consider this time as a research phase.  I'm also pretty interested in the work going on for the Blades in the Dark RPG.  I missed the kickstarter on that but from what I've heard there is a ton of great stuff int here for task resolution, managing group dynamics, and having character development run on an economy.  I missed the kickstarter for Blades but I'm hoping they will release a PDF soon so I can read it.

Cheers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Beacon on Roll20

So the Beacon character sheet is up on Roll20 and if you want you can go there right now and start a campaign and use this sheet - all squeaky new and modern gaming style.  I am pretty jazzed and hope that it gets a lot of use.  My changes for the next draft are not in there yet but they are minor changes anyway and I'm sure there will be updates to the sheet in the next few months as in all new web things.

The sheet looks like this:

Tab 1- holds all the stats and skills - nicely laid out.

Tab2 - the combat tab where you track AC,  fatigue, also list weapons.

Tab 3 - Spell Book and Magic roller widgets.
Go play the piss out of it and tell me what works for you and what doesn't work for you.  Have some happy d20 based adventures.  Fill yer boots as they say.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Like School On Saturday


"Skilled" it turns out is an even worse idea than "Savant" for a class name.  My wife who has played maybe three RPG sessions in her life and doesn't even understand why I bother messing around with this stuff told me that it was a stupid name.  At game night I was told it was a bad change to a bad idea in the first place.

So time to cut the Gordian knot.  I am going to suggest giving the option to not choose a class during character creation and instead get additional skills every second level.  Do you see what I did there?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sayonara to the Savant

I believe I'm renaming the Savant class to Skilled.  Savant has bothered me since I added it, but the class is nether a generalist or a specialist or a sage or a trader which were some of the other terms I considered so it was the least evil choice I thought.  The class is about skills - someone with a lot of good skills or fewer but really exceptional skills, so saying that they are Skilled seems reasonable.  I also considered dropping the class all together but I hate to do it because this class is my concession to the part of me that played MERP* way back in high school.

I don't think I could go back to using the Rolemaster system but I do admire the way it let you build characters with strange skill combinations.  I think having a way to model a character who is just really good at cheese making and has a deep understanding of the cheese trade and who can go on adventures where those skills win the day is a desirable feature.









*Well made MERP characters anyway, we never got an actual game together.  Great books though.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

a short one

Yes I am updating the book.  No I'm not done yet, thanks for asking.  I'm only on page 6 or something but since it's only a 44 page book its a happen as the kids say. No big changes as yet, I've tried to clear up some of the wording on starting Hit Points as well as a slightly better explanation of how to assign stat and skill bonuses and difficulty.  The real changes in this draft are going to be the damage modifiers for stats and making weapon ranges simpler to handle with a quick short/medium/long range modifier instead of all this increment stuff.  I was also toying with the idea of getting rid of dual wielding all together since it takes up so much mechanical space and there isn't much return on it but I'm not sure I want to revise all that this late in the game.  Someone out there probably wants to duel wield claymores I'm sure.

I also wanted to give a shout out to Stork at Happy Jacks RPG podcast.  I was listening to their last podcast* on my way to Hamilton and heard him mention Beacon in a non-derogatory way.  I always like that.  Stork has often said kind things about Beacon - so my thanks to him and all the Happy Jackers.  One point I'd like to clear up however: Stork did happen to say that Beacon was an AD&D clone and it isn't.  Beacon is based on Microlite M20 and both are derived from the d20 OGL so its closer to 3rd edition or Pathfinder in it's core mechanics than AD&D.   That means rolling d20 vs Difficulty Class as a unifying concept instead of just one of many resolution mechanics.  This makes it pretty easy to convert d20 materials into Beacon use.  It also happens to be a rather close to 5th edition D&D although that wasn't around when I was designing Beacon (and no I didn't check out the play-test material - I had low expectations of D&D Next which I am happy to have been proved wrong about).

Beacon does have a lot of modern game mechanics but it is definitely an old school inspired application of those mechanics.  So if you came here looking for AD&D you should go check out OSRIC or the Labyrinth Lord Advanced rules.  However, if you came looking for a light and fun free D20 system you could do a lot worse than trying Beacon.

OK, my nerdish diatribe is over.  I do have one last update however. The Roll20 character sheet for Beacon is looking pretty good.  I hope to put it through some paces and see it roll out soon.




*it was the Swords & Wizardry Day episode I believe.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

News of possible interest.

I have been pretty excited this week and I have been excited to update the blog after quite some time of being inactive. It's not that I had blog fade or whatever, well maybe a bit, but its more I just haven't been doing much with Beacon for a while.  It's been there in the background, but mostly I have been playing 5th edition D&D and reading assorted stuffs on the Internet about other games.  You know, chilling.  But today- today I have news to share.  Exciting news.



I'm doing an update to the Beacon rules very soon.  

OK, don't get too excited yet. It's not a huge update but I want to edit some of the damage rules and reexamine how range is calculated.  Little things but things that bug me.  That makes it a good time to go through the book again and edit bad wording and stuff.  That's some of the news.  The other news is more interesting and related to this.  I will now tell you a long convoluted tale to draw it out a bit.

So I've been meaning to set up an online game for quite some time and it's been hard to figure out just how I wanted to do that and when, and what game to run.  I did consider Beacon but I also considered 5th Edition or Ashen Stars.  I even considered something totally new to me like Traveller 2300AD or Dungeon World.  I had played a bit on Google+ and I knew it was part of what I wanted to use but I just didn't have my crap together.  I haven't been too worried about dice rolls but one of the things that has been on my mind is how to manage character sheets and how to track things.  

I finally started looking into Roll20 which I had heard about but which I didn't really spend too much time on because I wasn't really interested in a virtual table top.  A virtual table top looked like too much work.  I didn't want to have to create icons and set up battle-mats and edit xml for all my encounters or determine facing and lighting when running my games.  That's all fine stuff if you want it but I wanted that other stuff - campaign management stuff.  I wanted tools for shared files, scheduling, item tracking and maybe a shared dice roller.  Well I kept hearing things about Roll20 so I finally broke down and looked at it and found out that it is a very good VTT, but it is also pretty good for campaign tools as well.  There are places for all sorts of shared or hidden notes.  Card decks you can modify.  Token trackers you can make a simple or as complex as you like.  And character sheets.

Roll20 has character sheets and they are pretty good ones - they calculate stuff for you if you want or they can be simple.  They can track stuff and there's a lot of choice in how you use them.  When you make a campaign you can choose the character sheet you want and they have a lot of sheets available - Dungeon Crawl Classics, Trail of Cthulhu, Savage Worlds, Traveller.  Lots of sheets and sheets available in a pop-out browser window or on your tablet while still being hooked up to the virtual dice and the tabletop session!  It's pretty slick.  And this brings me to the next bit of news.

Soon they will have a sheet for Beacon.

See exciting eh?

You see I noticed that there was a sheet for Microlite and I contacted the person who had worked on it, someone by the alias of Hylianux.  I asked if they had seen Beacon and if maybe they would help work on a sheet for it.  And then Hylianux went and checked out this very blog and looked at the Beacon rules and saw that they were good.  And they said yes Beacon should have a character sheet on Roll20.  Happy days!  No really, you have no idea how fine that made me feel.  And so now I have been working with Hylianux to get it together.  Well mostly they have been working on it while I point out errors and ask for changes and say "can you just..." or "how about this..." which is probably even more annoying than I imagine it is and I've worked in development.    But the sheet looks good and I'm getting excited to have people use Beacon as an option for playing their games in Roll20.  That is good for Beacon but also good for people looking for a fun and free d20 variant to play online in Roll20. You know children and hobos and misers and such.

Anyway this whole exciting exercise has got me looking at some of the rules and examples again and that's why I've decided to do an update.  Add half your STR bonus to melee damage with a light weapon?  That's too much math!  A bow has 10 range increments and a modifier for each?  What idiot thought that up? <*cough*>  And there are probably still a bunch of weird phrases or spelling errors to correct still.  This update will still be 'a draft'.  It will remain in draft until I can afford a proof reader and do the lovely full POD Beacon treatment on DriveThru RPG or whatever (or if ever).   But this Beacon draft is still fully playable now and soon it will have Roll20 support!

So Beacon draft 7.  Look for it soon.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What would I steal from 5e

Bring on the feast!
Still playing the round robin D&D Fifth Edition game.  No deaths yet and when I ran my run of the campaign I found that the third level is about where players can stop worrying about getting killed every fight if you go by the challenge levels in the book.  This is not bad, I'm not saying it as a bad thing, but I found that you have to ramp up the monsters quite a bit above what the book says in order to challenge a decent group of players.  I would say that unless you are doing a closed set dungeon crawl you should aim for what the DMG describes as 'deadly' just as your usual baseline and then go over that for the big punctuation type fights.  Again that is a normal group in a story type game.  As I was reminded by a player, if there were a string of these combats with no breaks it might be a challenge.  Also my players didn't bother with careful approaches to combat, using healing potions or taking a lot of advantage of terrain and defensive play - they didn't really have to.  So what a highly tactical or paranoid gang would need for a challenge to provide a good fight would be very high compared to the challenge levels as written I think.  Well that's a digression for another day anyway.

I've played enough 5e now to know what I like and what I don't like as much.  I like the death mechanic.  I wouldn't steal it as is since I think the Beacon stat loss is a better system overall, however I would consider using it in some way.  I do like the hit dice recovery mechanic and I would consider stealing that idea and the short rest idea so that if you wanted to restore some HP after a fight you could.  I like ritual magic and I thinks its a great way to get spell casters to use those utility spells.  I did actually steal that idea before 5th ed even had it (ritual magic is old folks - I think it was in DragonQuest and Roll Master and probably RuneQuest or something)  Beacon ritual spells are there to provide a different kind of magic for the Divine classes that wasn't locked into the usual combat.  So not quite the same mechanic - In beacon you can use your utility spells when you like at the price of fatigue - but the idea was there to break up magic a bit.  Same as spell slots - a good idea for d20 fantasy in general but not needed in or not compatible with Beacon.

The Advantage mechanic, now that is an idea worth stealing.  It's funny because I added a second dice roll for rogues as a mechanic in Beacon but I didn't realize to use it more broadly like it gets tapped in 5e.  The advantage/disadvantage thing is a real good idea.  I don't know how it would work in Beacon I suppose you could use it the same way - replace many bonus and penalty situations with advantage and disadvantage instead.  For the Rogue class I think you would have to change their special skill into something else if you adopted advantage.  I'd have to speculate on that.

Aside from that it has been refreshing playing this version of D&D.   I think it's probably the best version of the game to be printed, although it isn't perfect.  Does it replace Beacon?  No - I still think Beacon does things that I like to see in my fantasy that 5e does not.  Spell Fatigue, physical damage, critical hits and fumbles - I think Beacon does all this better.  5e still has an air of heroic fantasy that is more fantastic than than heroic in my opinion.  It's still a bit gangling and goofy.   But for all that it is still a fun game and playing 5e has gotten me to rethink some things in Beacon.  I don't think I need such detailed rules for duel wielding for example and I do think that I need to streamline bonuses even better than I have.

That's about it for now.  Last year was a bad year for me and blogging and I'm not going to make any promises for this one, however I'm not planning on packing up the nerd-shelf or stopping with games any time soon.