November 30, 2009

Luke Skywalker Must Die

Playing in a licensed setting that you like can be fun. However, there is the problem of metaplot. If you are running a game in the Star Wars universe, there are a band of rebels running about, blowing up the Death Star, redeeming one of the two Sith and killing the other one, that sort of stuff. There's the expanded universe, but meh. It's even worse if you want to play around in Middle-Earth - the fate of the world is hanging on the shoulders of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee.

So whack those guys. If I were to run a Middle-Earth Game, Frodo would have failed (or never been born) and the PC:s have (or be able to gain) access to the One Ring if destroying it is a part of the campaign. In Morrowind, the Nerevarine isn't a separate character - it's one of the PC:s. The Zelda game I've been pondering would start with King Link's funeral, as he is laid to rest next to his beloved Queen Zelda, dead two years ago. Kirk has retired. You get the idea.

The alternative is to have the players play the actual characters from the franchise, or something very close. It can be done well. There is a Castlevania game on RPGnet where the characters are Simone Belmont and other descendants of the official families from the Castlevaniaverse. I'm not familiar enough with it to comment, but I suppose it's more of a sequel to the actual games.

November 24, 2009

Screw Initiative

So I've been running a D&D game for a while now, and I've been trying out a houserule inspired by Ars Ludi. Namely, instead of rolling initiative for all distinct monster types in combat, the DM makes one roll for his entire side. After that, the players can go in whatever order they like between the DM:s turns. (Players still roll individually.)

So what happens is this:
  • Initiative is rolled. Players roll individually, the DM makes one roll.
  • The surprise round, if one occurs, is handled.
  • Any PC:s that beat the DM on initiative can act. In whatever order they like.
  • The monsters act in one huge block.
  • It's the PC:s' turn again. With the looping initiative of 3.x and 4E, Players and DM now take turns acting.

As Ars Ludi points out, this nudges players into cooperating because it's never really "not their turn". Also, for play-by-post, it speeds up the game when players don't have to wait for each other to act. It's been working fine in the four fights we've had so far.

One downside is the potential for double-dipping: One character can go first in a round and hit a monster with an effect that lasts until the end of his next turn. Then he goes last in the next turn, letting all the other PC:s benefit from it twice. In practice, this isn't a huge deal (and monsters can sort of do this too, so it evens out), but one could enforce a policy that characters only get to benefit from such effects once. (That sounds like it would be annoying to track, though.)

Mike Mearls had a similar idea, with the added step that there is a "group cleanup phase" at the end of the PC:s' turn instead of each player's turn, where durations are tracked.

Hey, try it out. Three geniuses can't be all wrong.

November 16, 2009

Degrees of Success in Skill Challenges

Skill challenges in D&D is a nice concept, but as written, they are rather binary. You succeed or you don't. Not surprising, D&D hasn't really supported degrees of success in non-combat situations ever.

As one of my players has showed me, it's easy to fix. Post-errata skill challenges always require three failures to... fail. (Non-errataed challenges required a varying number.) That sets up a handy system for degrees of success.

  • Success with no failures: Flawless Victory! As a DM, you'll probably want to throw in some bonus if the players manage this.
  • Success with one failure: The baseline. If you are using pre-written skill challenges, the default result of a success can probably be substituted here.
  • Success with two failures: You succeed, but there is a setback.
  • Three failures: Failure. What it says on the tin. Pre-written skill challenges can have the default failure result inserted here.

The astute reader who's familiar with skill challenges may have noted that one can add "degrees of failure" based on how many successes the party got before failing. Unfortunately, the required number of successes varies, so it's not quite as straightforward. For me, four degrees are enough, but I might suggest a fifth:

  • Three failures with no successes: Ballads will be written about this utter defeat. Don't expect this one to actually happen, the probability is pretty low unless the party is taking on overleveled skill challenges.

Let's do an example. The PC:s are hitting the library books before facing down some Elder Evil which is supposed to return to the world at the next solstice (in three days).
  • Three failures: The PC:s find nothing about the Elder Evil. They'll just have to play the fight by ear when it arrives. In addition, they have drawn the attention of the Elder Evil's cult. Some cultists will interfere in the upcoming battle.
  • Two failures: The PC:s find out where the Elder Evil will arrive (near a site sacred to Dagon, which is the temple ruin outside town), and basic information about it, but draws the attention of its cult.
  • One failure: The PC:s know where the Elder Evil will arrive and basic information about it.
  • Three failures: The PC:s know where the Elder Evil will arrive, and also finds some notes by a priest who fought it eons ago. (OOC, the players get to know its vulnerabilities and resistances.)

November 09, 2009

Legend of Zelda in D&D 4E

Another of my crazy ideas for future D&D campaigns is ripping off the Zelda: A Link to the Past. It's one of my favorite games from the SNES era, and it might translate well enough to D&D. Link needs to go away and be replaced by the party, but that's easy enough. The question is whether to make them a party with the Hero of Courage (Link in the canon) among them, add in the Hero of Wisdom (canonically Zelda) or just say that the Triforce of Courage actually picked five guys when Link was AWOL.

Either way, the party is somehow pulled into a quest to gather a bunch of plot coupons in order to beat Ganon and save Hyrule. Or something, it's not like I've planned the whole thing already.

Some elements have to be translated from the SNES game, of course:

So far so good, but the most important part is... 16-bit battlemats! Oh yes.
  • Jaywalt has a great guide to editing such maps.
  • The Video Game Atlas is a great place to get the maps themselves. You could probably do worse than scrolling down to Chrono Trigger and grabbing those maps while you're at it. Similar style.
  • The Spriters Resource has all the monster sprites for you.
  • Zeldapedia should cover most other stuff, particularly the lore. Helps me, since I haven't played any of the games after Link's Awakening, and only Link to the Past extensively.
  • There's also Wikia Gaming if the former wiki doesn't cover something.

There you go. Partly a note to self, I hope it helps someone.

November 02, 2009

Ritual Availability In Towns

The availability of rituals just came up in my PbP game. What rituals are available for purchase in a given town? My answer is: All of them, up to a level limit.

My players are in Hommlet. It is a small village, but a natural rest point for caravans, and has a resident wizard (former adventurer), druid and priest. I decided that the players can get any ritual up to level 5 there. Higher may be available, but they have to go to bigger cities like Verbobonc to get them reliably.

So, something like:
Village: Up to level 5. Examples: Hommlet (Village of Hommlet), Winterhaven (Keep on the Shadowfell), most towns in "starter" modules for whatever version.
Town: Up to level 10. Example: Fallcrest (4E DMG).
City: Up to level 20. Example: Amn (Baldur's Gate II). I'd guess Waterdeep and Greyhawk too, but haven't read those supplements.
Metropolis: Up to 30. Mainly extraplanar places like the City of Brass, Sigil, etc.

Note that "village", "town" and "city" are roughly defined in the 4E DMG. "Metropolis" is not, but there are definitely places bigger than what the DMG calls a "city". Hope this helps someone.