Let’s party like its 1999 – 5th Edition reflections

It has been just over 2 years since 5th Edition D&D came out, and I thought I would share my impressions of it.

The Good

  1. The advantage system is great – it really makes it so much easier to run. Instead of calculating modifiers, you just say “take advantage on the roll” (or disadvantage, of course).
  2. It really has the feeling of a modernised AD&D (hence the title of this blog post).
  3. Its easy to convert classic D&D modules (and you can buy PDFs of these online at Drivethru). The most difficult part are classed characters who don’t fit into the archetypes at the back of the Monster Manual. For example, I am converting Dragon Mountain at the moment, and I had to provide stats for a Paladin. I just modified a Knight. You can even convert on the fly, once you get used to it (and 1st/2nd edition monster numbers seem to work most of the time). I did this for a lot of Night Below.
  4. Some of the adventures are very good (Lost Mines, Out of the Abyss, Princes of the Apocalypse, Storm King’s Thunder I have played or read, and Curse of Strahd by all accounts is good too).
  5. The rules are pretty simple – I have gone whole sessions just referring to the Monster Manual.
  6. Backgrounds. An excellent and flavourful idea 🙂
  7. Basic rules available for free!

The Bad

  1. Some of the adventures are very bad (the two Tiamat ones for example).
  2. It can be hard tracking background personality, bonds, ideals and flaws for the inspiration mechanic
  3. Some of the monsters can be a bit “samey” in play.
  4. Casters are still supreme (but not as much as in 3.x and Pathfinder).

The ugly

  1. Slow release schedule – this is both a downside and an upside, to be honest. Supplement bloat can cause unforeseen synergy issues, but its always nice to see new options :-).
  2. Bloody Forgotten Bloody Realms. Although its easy enough to run in other campaign worlds, especially Greyhawk.

The Hexed Gamer is back!

After a couple of years working shifts I am now able to put some effort into my blog…rising like the Phoenix from the ashes.

What am I playing at the moment? I have just started playing in a FFG Star Wars game, where I play a Bothan spy. We are currently caught in the middle of an Imperial invasion…

I am also running a 5e D&D campaign, which started with the Saltmarsh series, then went to Isle of Dread and is has just started Storm King’s Thunder (which is very good). Its amazing how easy it is to convert 1e and 2e modules to 5e. I am planning to run Dragon Mountain next.

Finally, I am running a Pathfinder game set in Ptolus. The party is in the middle of the Banewarrens adventure at the moment, and I plan to run 13th Age next (Eyes of the Stone Thief looks so good). I run this game on Mondays, and don’t work on that day so we can get a lot more sessions in.

I am working on a 5e setting called Greymark at the moment, and hope to put the information in a wiki at some point.

I am also hoping to get more involved with my gaming club to play more board games.

GMing the Pathfinder Starter Set

On Monday I ran the Pathfinder Starter Set with 4 players new to RPGs, and I had a blast (and it seems they did too!). We were using the adventure in the box, and the four ‘iconic’ characters (Fighter (Mark), Wizard (Bruce), Rogue (Adam H) and Cleric(Adam N)).

It didn’t start well – two Goblins got the drop on the party and attacked the Wizard and the Cleric. One was dispatched quickly, but the other was obviously a super Goblin, as it survived three rounds, before being downed by a Ray of Frost from the Wizard.

But things improved (although Bruce’s Wizard seemed to think he was a Rogue at times and got himself into several scrapes), and in the final show down against the ‘big bad’ of the dungeon was successful (although the Wizard and Rogue were both dying at one point, and were saved by the Fighter with a magical sword he found earlier).

As I said, it was fun for me (and different to run Pathfinder for a new group), and the players seemed to enjoy it. I was amazed how fast they slipped into the ‘architypical’ roles – the Rogue palming treasure etc.

I am looking forward to the next session!

Dungeons and Dragons is 40 years old today (we think)

On 26th January 1974 at 1.40pm EST (7.40pm GMT), E Gary Gygax invited some friends around his house to play a new game. Based on his Chainmail minatures rules, the game used the Man to Man variant of those rules to run adventures in fantasy dungeons, based on the works of Tolkien, Vance, Leiber etc (although Gygax himself disliked the works of JRR Tolkien, he mined it for ideas, especially Elves, Dwarves, Halflings/Hobbit and Balors/Balrogs, to the extent he was threatened with legal action by the Tolkien estate). The infamous Appendix N of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide gives some idea of the influences on Gygax.

This game became Dungeons and Dragons (named, according to legend, by Gygax’s daughter), which spawned the Role-playing industry. Without D&D you would not have computer Role-Playing Games, at least not in the format they took, with levels, hit points etc (World of Warcraft and most other MMORPGs pay a hugh debt to D&D). Although many RPGs moved away from the conventions of D&D (dispensing with levels, hit points, armour class etc), they are still recognisably the bastard children of E Gary Gygax’s original game.

With D&D itself having gone through four revisions (not counting BECMI in the 80s), and a new version due out this Summer, all I can say is Happy Birthday Dungeons and Dragons!

2nd Edition, here we come!

I will hopefully soon be running AD&D 2nd Edition for my Monday night group, which is currently making its way through the Serpent’s Skull Pathfinder AP. After running 3.x and Pathfinder since 2000, it will really make a nice change :-).

We will be playing with the class/race splat books, and a lot of the optional rules, as I like crunch. There are some options not available, like Bladesingers and Elven archery.

I plan to run the party through several first and second edition modules I own, cumulating in G1-3/D1-3. They will start with N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God. Along the way, I hope to run Castles Forlorn, House of Strahd and the Dungeonland modules, as well as a couple of the UK modules. There is also the option of Greyhawk Ruins to fill in gaps.

Kill the monsters and take their stuff

I have been developing a new RPG over the last year or so: it is intended to allow quick and dirty dungeon based adventures, at least initially. It is called Kill the monsters and take their stuff, which I think sums up the ‘old-school’ philosophy. This is shortened to Kill the monsters… or KTM.

I currently have brief alpha documents, outlining chargen, the game systems and spell casting, and am transfering them into a beta document, which should be playable. If anyone wants to be a playtester, get in touch.

Alpha documents are here: http://db.tt/VrEp2nXL

D&DNext first public playtest kit

Well, its here – the first glimpse at D&DNext, via the first public playtest documents. It consists of 5 characters (Fighter, Wizard, Rogue and 2 Clerics), basic rules, DM guidelines, a bestiary, and an adventure (based on the caves of chaos from Keep on the Borderlands).

Characters

The clerics and wizard seem pretty solid. Turning is now a spell, but the Clerics have an ability to cast it at will, which indicates it will be available as a spell for other classes (the Paladin?). Both get minor spells, which can be cast at will. For the Wizard, vancian casting is back.

The rogue is a real skill monkey – he can take 10 for a skill check after rolling the check. He is explicitly a Thief, and does thiefy things. Sneak attack seems to improve every level.

The Fighter is, well, crap compared with the other classes. All he seems to get is +2 to damage. At second level, he can attack twice 2 times a day, and at third level gets cleave. That’s it, basically.

All the characters have a background and a theme. It is not clear whether these are class agnostic, or not. Could you, for example, have a Slayer Wizard?

Rules

All in all, the basic system is pretty good – it seems to have been dialled down from previous editions. The highest DC seems to be 27, and attributes max out at 20 (+5) for PCs. Given +3 for a trained skill, the best skill check appears to be +8. Saves are now attribute rolls, and there is no explicit BAB. As written, characters going up a level get more HP and some powers, but no bonuses to attack rolls/saves, which seems…odd. It may be that they stripped out level bonuses to keep things simple.

All rolls are checks now, based on attributes. So a melee attack is a check based on Strength, plus bonuses.

Combat notably has no rules for using a grid, which suggests such rules may be a module. This will be jaring for those used to later editions of the game. The armour table is one of the worst parts of the game – the maths is totally wonky, and Chain Shirts rule…

The rules include a selection of spells, most of which are the old classics. The save DC does not increase with the level of the spell, apparently.

DM Guidance

This is a shorter document, outlining what the DM needs to know. One glaring ommision is the lack of information on the check required to disable a trap.

Bestiary

The bestiary includes all the mosters from the adventure. The stat blocks seem to be a combination of 2nd and 3rd edition information. There are very few monster powers a la 4th edition. HP seem a bit high (88 for an Ogre?), but apparently that is one of the areas they want to test. It is all a bit bland, but thats OK for a playtest.

Adventure

This is a faithful reworking of the caves of chaos from B2. I think it would require a lot of work by the DM to be fun, to be honest.

Good Points

– underlying system seems solid
– Wizard and Clerics have plenty of option in play
– old school feel

Bad Points

– fighter is very poor
– maths seems wonky at times (especially on the character sheets)

Overall, a good, solid start.

Red Stars sci-fi setting riff

[also posted to rpg.net]

The year is 250 SE (socialist era) (or AD 2167 in the old, bourgeois dating).The Federation of Socialist Friendship (FSF) dominates the earth and space, following the collapse of the imperialist west in the 70s SE (1990s), and is itself dominated by the Soviet Union, reformed by Mikhail Gorbachev in the 60s-100s SE
The USA is a declining state, still clinging precariously to its outdated imperialist-capitalist dogmas. Its main ally is Canada, along with some Latin American states and Australia. It survives mainly due to superpower rivalry between the USSR/FSF and China, and its nuclear arsenal. Both find the existance of the USA useful in their geopolitical tussles. Western Europe has been absorbed into the FSF as a number of Socialist states. The African Socialist Union rules Africa from its capital in Addis Ababa. The nations of the middle east are allied to the FSF. Most of South and South-East Asia is dominated by China, the FSF’s only real rival (and nuclear competitor).
Dominating earth orbit is the massive FSF orbital complex Lenin-Gorbachev, the HQ of the FSF fleet and administrative capital of the non-earth FSF in the solar system. The Chinese have a smaller orbiting complex, the Chairman Mao Zedong. The solar system is exploited by both the FSF and China, and there have been several stand-offs in the last few decades (none of which have thankfully resulted in a shooting war).
68 years ago, FSF scientists developed a practical hyper-drive, exploiting holes which had been exposed in the theory of relativity. China soon reverse-engineered the drive, and a new extra-solar space-race began. Dozens of colony worlds were established, and soon  great quantities of extra-solar resources were pouring into earth.
The strains were showing, however, and in 225 SE, 14 colony worlds revolted from the FSF, arguing that they should decide what was done with their resources. After a short civil war (and some humiliating defeats for the FSF: it is rumoured that the Chinese gave the rebels help), the Out-worlds treaty of 228 SE established the Out-world Union, independent of the FSF. These planets have developed into more democratic states than FSF or Chinese colonies, although they still have socialist economies. The FSF, China and Out-world Union have all started new exploration programs, and the total number of colonies and Out-world planets number in the hundreds.
Both the FSF and China have so-called Gulag planets, where criminals, dissidents and other undesirables are exiled. Whilst not as notorious as the early Gulag camps on earth,  in the 1st century SE, these are still tough planets to live on and are dominated by gangs and mafias.
The FSF and Chinese both maintain large space fleets. The pride of the FSF fleet are the Kutuzov and Zhukov class dreadnoughts, whilst the Chinese have the Zhou EnLai and Long March class Battleships. Although the USA doesn’t have much of a space fleet as such, its massive Yankee Clipper class merchant transports are important in transporting goods, especially to and from the Out-world Union. In addition, they are rumoured to support the Freebooters, pirates in all but name.

Dragonrage Review

[Archived from www.thehexedgamer.co.uk]

Publisher: Flatlined Games (only available direct)

Designer: Lewis Pulsipher
Developers: Eric Hanuise and Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon Rage is a remake of a game originally published in 1982, shortly before the then publisher (Dwarfstar games) went out of business. I had a copy of the original game (no longer, unfortunately!), so I was intrigued when I heard about the remake.

What’s in the box?

You get a lot of bang for your buck – a mounted, double-sided board, with a Human city on one side and an Orc oppidum on the other, 2 rule books, 213 counters, 4 monster cards and a player-aid card. The counters are thick, with rounded corners, and feel like they can take a lot of play! They are double-sided, with the original artwork on the back.

Gameplay

The basic scenario (covered by one rulebook) has 2 dragons attacking the city – large monsters like Dragons have several hit locations and attacks, so the scenario is well balanced. The Dragons have to make hit and run attacks, and avoid being caught on the ground. Other scenarios (in the other rulebook) have various combinations of units attacking the city or oppidum, and there are also point-buy and campaign options.
The way the large monsters work reminds me very much of the Steve Jackson games Ogre and GEV. They have several hit locations, and damage affects the movement modes (walking, flying, bounding or crawling, in the case of Dragons) and the attacks it can make (Bite, Wings and Legs, for Dragons). Other large monsters are Rocs, Wurms, T-Rexs and Sea-Serpents. Each has its own combination of hit-locations and attacks. Giants (Minor Monsters) have several wound points, but only one attack.

Combat is a case of rolling against a target number. If the target is a Major or Minor monster, wound points are reduced according to the attack score of the attacker. Normal units die if attacked successfully.
One or both sides may have a Hero and/or a Wizard. Heroes are ‘super’ units, able to provide leadership and take on monsters single-handed. They die after 2 hits. Wizards cast spells.

The rules are pretty comprehensive, with rules for breaching gates, scaling walls etc. There are some confusions, but these can be resolved by agreement. Each unit has its own section – this can cause a lot of flipping between pages in early games. There is a lot of fun little rules which add a lot to the atmosphere (Orcs and Goblins can only scale walls once, as they leave their ladders behind!), but the complexity is low (Eric Hanuise has stated that this was developed as a introductory wargame).

The victory conditions confused me somewhat – the attacker gets Victory Points by destroying important buildings, the defender wins by destroying the attackers – what happens if both things happen? I decided that the attacker can declare victory once he has reached the VP target. If he wants a better victory, he will need to continue and risk being destroyed.

This is an excellent game, and I recommend it as both an introductory wargame and a fun game which you can play to a conclusion in a couple of hours.