Friday, June 29, 2012

No Time for Love

The fiancee and I are getting ready to entertain her 9 year-old brother for a week. I love the kid, but he can wear a pair of moonlighting grown-ups right out.

Hang on, lady. We go for a ride!
In other news, I have the sinking suspicion that the Minecraft server I played on has been permanently shut down. For the past several weeks, the place has been a complete ghost town and then it stopped working yesterday. Ah well... "back to the old drawing board" as they say.

Finally, I'm working on my first requested book review to be posted on this site. I should have warned the author that I'm a notoriously slow reader, especially when things get hectic. Not to fear... the e-product/book-like substance is in the process of being consumed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Chaotic DM

One of the most wonderful and horrible things about reading lots of game-mastering blogs is that it causes me to constantly reflect and revise my own approach to the practice of running a game. This is wonderful, because it helps me keep things fresh, and grows my own DM toolbox and techniques. It's horrible, because I feel like I am never quite able to settle into my own style as a GM. As soon as I start to hit a groove after trying something out, something new comes along to steal my focus. The shifting sands of my GM record (game notes, NPCs, maps and such) appears as a jagged, uneven wasteland. I have disparate files spread across physical binders, OneNote, Evernote and other assorted tools. I have drawers of half finished paper crafts and monster tokens, primed but unpainted minis and other detritus jostled overboard by collisions with new ideas.

Lately, my course has been set towards efficiency: Speeding up combat, minimizing prep time and playing loose with the rules. I run a weekday game with short sessions and my stress levels at work have been spiking. As such, I don't have a lot of time or energy to devote to game prep. While I have discovered or developed several useful techniques which help me run a more efficient game, lately I have begun to yearn once again for a more meticulous approach to GMing.

My campaign is nearing its climax after a three and half year run and my mind is seeking ways to make the ending deservingly epic. I feel like I need to draw maps and develop sets on which my PCs can do truly epic battle. I enjoy doing these things. I daresay that mapping and plotting were the very things that drew me to the world of gamemastering. Unfortunately, with my busy schedule, I am hard-pressed to justify these pursuits when I can run an exciting game without them.

I think I am really craving order among the usually chaotic fluctuations in my GM style. I want to organize my notebooks and minis, build more sets, draw out maps and plan dungeons and really refine my approach to running a game-smooth out the rough bits and all. Alas, when faced with a choice between fleshing out necessary NPCs for the next week's game and building a functional dungeon of doom out of cardboard and sewing is a time-pressed GM to indulge?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Feast for Birds

The ongoing saga of the war between the Gnollish Queen Coldnose and the the Kenku Mad Berry King finally has a new installment over at Animals Talking in all Caps!


It appears things are not going well for Queen Coldnose. If you haven't been following this saga, ATIAC has started including links to the previous installments of this epic tale of berry bush battles. I seriously need to create D&D equivalents of these characters in my game world.

Seriously though... that blog makes me smile and chortle with glee on a regular basis.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Pinteresting Development

Bell Tower Peak, by Conway from CGHub

So, I finally caved and started a Pinterest account. I had been holding out on this particular social media experience because, quite frankly, I didn't really see a use for it. I keep in touch with my friends via Facebook, I promote my blog and quick-changing work-related events via Twitter and I keep images to share in all those in Picasa.

Then I decided to take an active role in my wedding planning. I signed up for Pinterest, in part because I had to play a game of "looks like" visual charades around some of my ideas for our cake and invitations.

I then realized that Pinterest might be just the thing for keeping inspirational game images and dungeon maps handy without bogging down my computer with junk I may or may not use. So, if you Pinter? Pint? Pintersect? with others, feel free to check out my Gamespiration board... or my wedding board, for that matter, if that's your...thing.

In related news, I highly recommend you all check out the Id DM's recent post about procrastination. The article contains some general insight on the causes of procrastination. So, while it focuses on the ubiquitous problem as it applies to game prep, there is something in there for the whole family!

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Dice that Bind: Bounded Accuracy in D&D Next

Welcome to your doom!

Wizards of the Coast has an article up about a game mechanic/rubric/system that they are evaluating for inclusion in D&D Next. The system, called “bounded accuracy” seeks to curtail some of the negative side-effects of player advancement.

In past editions of D&D, as characters leveled up, they automatically gained numerous skills and abilities. Though this makes sense from a “practice makes perfect / what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” sort of thought line, the way it was implemented became a bit broken as characters reached higher levels.

In earlier editions of D&D, low level characters would be reasonably challenged by a hostile encounter with the city watch, or an attempt to scale a cliff. However, as they leveled, these challenges would remain challenging for some while becoming dice-negatingly easy for others, depending on where the players chose to put their points as they leveled. To keep things challenging, GMs had to scale the difficulty of such challenges along with the player’s growing power. City watch officers were laid off in droves and replaced with elite squads of psi-ninjas, and freak hurricanes would appear out of the blue sky any time the characters ventured near a mountainside or city wall... all to maintain a sense of excitement. This mutual power-escalation also often caused a fracturing of player engagement as different characters began specializing in different skills. This resulted in encounters in which the player with the skillz would be the only participant while the others adopted an “Its not even worth trying” stance, choosing instead to just sit things out and comment on their companion’s performance.

Based on my reading of the article, bounded accuracy seeks to mitigate this spreading power creep without removing the rewards gained by leveling. It doesn’t eliminate the power gains, but rather condenses them, so that small bonuses are more meaningful and so that those without bonuses can still participate with some hope of success. According to WOTC, the bounded accuracy system will allow low level characters/monsters to remain a potential threat even against much higher level opponents.

In past editions of D&D, a low level creature couldn’t even make contact in a fight with high level opponents, because the gap between attack rolls and AC made such attacks mechanically impossible. A 10th level player could reasonably decimate an entire continent of kobolds, even if they all banded together to fight back. Zombie hordes were just not that scary past the levels where just a few zombies would suffice. Bounded accuracy seeks to correct that by replacing the gains in attack and defense rolls with gains in hit points, thus allowing the little guys to get in their punches while keeping the big guy resilient. Under this system, if you got enough kobolds in on the action, it could mean death by a thousand tiny fists, even for a badass level character.

The folks over at Obsidian Portal voiced their opinion on the matter in this week’s Haste podcast. The OP guys really hone in on the bounded accuracy’s implications in combat. They raise an excellent point that such strength in numbers threats pose other problems under the D&D rules, specifically that resolving tons of little attacks takes tons of time and drags a game to a halt.

I agree that running a great orcish pigpile might not work very well. However, I think the new system presents a tantalizing opportunity for long, running-battle encounters. The heroes might not have to face a whole horde of low-level baddies at once for it to be a challenge. If the GM sends in the bad guys in waves, he/she can keep the encounter’s scope manageable while  creating a slowly building challenge for their heroes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lego Hydra!

Last night, I was idly watching Minecraft videos on YouTube while tinkering with my Legos IRL. I came up with my latest Lego D&D creature creation. The dreaded Hydra of Brix!

I'm particularly proud of the wiggly toes on the front legs
Should my players be worried? Plan ways to counter an imminent hydra attack? Pshaw! No, of course not! Why would I telegraph my nefarious plans over the internet?

Player Paranoia Levels: [GROWING]

Anyway, if you weren't around these parts in April of 2011, you can check out some of my other Lego D&D creations here. (I should note that the celestial bee at the link is actually the work of my player, naughtsauce)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Plants vs. Zombies, D&D-style

Wednesday night I ran an experiment that I have been mulling over in my head for months... I was finally inspired to take action based on this post from Vanir over at Critical Hits. I created a D&D encounter based on PopCap's tower-defense game, Plants vs. Zombies. If you are unfamiliar with the original video game, I'm not going to explain it here. I recommend you check out the free online version at PopCap.

So, how did this work in D&D?

The Set-up:
My players found refuge in an undead-infested wilderness at the home of a druid named Mad Dav. When they arrived, he was frantically setting up for a protective ritual at his shrine to Obad Hai (nature god), but needed more time to prepare. The undead were just moments away and he needed the players to hold them off long enough for him to complete his protective spell.

The playing field:
The undead were approaching through Dav's vineyard. This consisted of 5-foot wide rows of dense vines (essentially acting as walls) separated by 15-foot wide furrows. This set up the controlled rows that would funnel the baddies along in a straight line, while still allowing the use of different-sized plants and undead.

The Plants:
The players were each given a pouch containing seeds for several of Dav's special quick-grow plants. There were 5 varieties in the pouches that the players could choose from. Each had a different ability and a set Challenge Rating (CR). The CR was my ad hoc key to quickly resolving combat and a number of other mechanics for the encounter. More on that later. Here's the specific roster of plants.

  • CR2 Slinging nettles (based on Needlefolk from the 3.5e Monster Manual 2) These had a basic ranged attack.
  • CR6 Assassin Vine These would choke 1 enemy per round and slow the progress of any others crossing their space.
  • CR6 Tendriculous These had two bludgeoning tendrils that could reach 10 feet and a swallow attack that could reach adjacent enemies
  • CR7 Ram Topiary Guardian These could bull-rush an enemy back to the start of the row, or until they hit another enemy... whichever happened first.
  • CR8 Treant These big guys could reach 15 feet and deliver 2 powerful attacks per round

Planting the seeds:
The players had to move to where they wanted to plant a particular seed and use a standard action to place it in the ground. It took a full round to become active, after which time it could start attacking. After planting a particular seed, the player rolled a die corresponding to the plants CR. (e.g. d2 for the slinging nettles, D8 for Treants.) The result of the roll was the number of rounds they had to wait before planting another seed of that type. Hence, lower strength plants were more likely to be available quickly.

The Zombies/Bad Guys:
I used a mix of undead and other blighted creatures of the type rampaging across this particular part of my game world. Again, the CRs are important.

  • CR1/2 (round up to 1) Zombies basic, slow moving melee enemy
  • CR1/3 (round up to 1) Skeletons basic ranged enemy
  • CR3 Ghast faster, more powerful melee enemy
  • CR5 Tainted Ogre large, tough enemy with a 10 foot reach
  • CR8 Mohrg (I forgot to put any of these into play, but the plan was that they would move out and spawn zombies)
  • CR9 Huge Taint Elemental Big baddie with a 15 foot reach

I was really glad I limited the types of units on each side to just a few different types. It helped keep things manageable. I also selected units to offer a variety of attack modes, sizes and reaches.

The premise of Plants vs. Zombies only really works if you have tons of plants fighting tons of zombies. For a tabletop game, this means you need to resolve combat FAST or slip into horrible, draggy boredom. I came up with some very fast and loose combat rules based on each creature's CR. The basic premise is as follows:

If a higher CR creature attacks a lower CR creature, it knocks the lower CR creature out of the game. The caveat being that each creature gets only a certain number of attacks per round.
If a lower CR creature survives to hit a higher CR creature, it deals 1 point of damage to the creature. Each creature could survive (you guessed it!) a total amount of damage equal to its CR. This way, a sufficient mob of low end baddies could take down even tough plants, and vice versa.

I also had to add some elements to how each round played out. I basically divided each round as follows:

  1. Players move, plant seeds and take other actions.
  2. Plants attack if targets are in range
  3. Existing undead move and attack
  4. New undead appear and attack if possible
  5. Freshly planted seeds become active for the next round

During the planting and seed activation process, I had all my players act simultaneously to speed things up. I then went row by row to all the plants with targets in range and had the players select which targets were being attacked if there were multiple options.

Players had the option to use spells or things against the baddies rather than planting more plants. They also had a couple NPC clerics with them who could help turn undead and three NPC paladins who could eliminate the front ranks of baddies in a mounted charge down a row.

The players' impenetrable wall of plants bars the press of undead

We went through 6 or 7 rounds of combat over the course of an hour despite a whole lot of pieces on the board, so I felt like the speedy combat worked well. My players said they enjoyed the encounter, but mentioned that they didn't feel like the undead were ever on the verge of breaking through. I think I didn't throw enough at them early on... plus they were hasted, and so planting two plants a round. They managed to turtle up pretty quick.

The Out:
Because this was an experiment, I thought it was especially important to have a guaranteed way to end it in the event that things went horribly wrong or became horribly tedious. In this case, Mad Dav completed his ritual. This caused his tree/shrine to glow with a blinding light that melted the remaining undead and caused a burst of growth in the surrounding plants, sealing the area from further intrusion.

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