ENnie Awards 2015

It is no surprise that the awards-granting occasion started by and closely followed by D&D fame granted most of the mentions to Wizards of the Coast. What is somewhat surprising that the Dungeon Master’s Handbook won an award in the supplement category. I would have guessed that it would’ve been a core product, but little do I know…

The surprise this year was Zak Smith’s Red and Pleasant Land, which gained 4 mentions! To my knowledge there were people there who left the occasion when Zak got the award for best writing and then continued to get three more awards. I have only read two reviews about that, and the first thing I thought after reading about the idea of two vampires being locked in a near-eternal battle was: Hey, that was my idea! Then as I got further into the review I noticed that this is nowhere near anything I have ever thought of. But enough of that, this is about ENnies.

Mutant: Year Zero deservedly got a mention. I would have liked to see it winning even more stuff, but alas, mostly D&D oriented voter base.

I was somewhat surprised that Iron Kingdoms ranked so poorly. Their artwork is usually of the highest quality. Also the setting is not half-bad ;)

Next year should be more interesting as there probably will be fewer WotC products coming up. Although they have now adopted a policy of using third party publishers to do their work for them, so that fact will play the dark horse in 2016.

My not-so-favorable view on Hollow Earth Expedition character creation

I stumbled on an internet forum to a thread about Indiana Jones type roleplaying, and noticed that Hollow Earth Expedition is a very popular choice. For the life of me, I cannot understand why. OK, there are good things in it, but more on those later. The first thing I always do when I try to decide if a new RPG system is worth my while, is to begin reading on character creation. After about five minutes of reading it I notice the first warning sign. Attributes and Skills are first bought on one-to-one basis, but later they get a scaling cost. This is a classic White Wolf mistake. Perhaps it has been around before WW, but if it is, I have no idea where that idiocy sprang from.

I steel myself and venture further into the mechanics. Then I notice: six attributes that start from zero, and you add 15 points to them, but there must be at least 1 in all of them. Why not say: “every attribute starts at 1 and you add 9 points into them”, because that’s what it really means!? OK, a rookie design mistake (again)… Let’s see what it looks like when the system is played with optimization in mind.

Derived attributes have way more mentions on Dexterity, Body and Intelligence than on any other attributes. Strength and Willpower get mentioned once each. It is obvious that low character intelligence almost never gets any real hindrance in games, it is “just” roleplaying stuff, so I decide to “dump” it. I toyed with the system for a while, and the “ideal” character is: Body 5, Dexterity 5, Strength 1, Charisma 1, Intelligence 2 and Willpower 1. Of course Dexterity is related to shooting at things, like in almost every game. So now my guy has the maximum “hit points”, maximum shootyness, maximum defense, good initiative score and sometimes even notices stuff happening. Otherwise it is very lackluster, but who cares about those other types of thingies anyway?!

Obviously that is not the most ideal character, there never is, and definitely not very enjoyable to play. It is just so easily maximized to most of the things that happen in RPGs, outside of player-GM narrative (i.e. within the mechanics of the game). Note that I could, if I wanted to, start this guy with 5 points in Diplomacy and Investigation each, for example, and rock pretty well in those departments too.

To clarify, I am most definitely a role-player, not roll-player, but this kind of thoughtlessness in character creation mechanics just makes me mad, and makes me not want to play your game. At least not under your rules, that is.

I promised to write something positive about this so here goes. Setting is innovative and exciting, as is the dice-mechanic. This setting would be great with some other RPG system, and if polished, or rather reconstructed from basics up, the dice mechanic could be really cool.

Open Versatile Anime analysis

Regrettably I won’t be talking about artwork, layout, or any of such things. I want to talk about raw data.

Why this little gem has restricted itself solely to anime genre, I have no idea… It could do any type of game where the characters and the story matters the most, and tactical chess-type gaming next to none. There are tactical elements there, sure, but they are largely intentionally left in the background. The most astounding thing in OVA is the amount of different character types it can support, but you better leave your power-gaming hat at the hat-stand, because even a novice attempt to work the system is guaranteed to break it. This is a game for character-players, such as myself.

OVA won’t be satisfying for players who look for realistic or detailed systems, nor will it satisfy people who want to play in a fully shared narrative, such as Fiasco. It has Drama Dice as a mechanic, but as written, those alter the perceived surroundings only in traditional rpg style. There are some written examples though how players can ask questions from GM whether something is in immediate vicinity, but that’s it. This is a game for people somewhere in the middle-ground of those previously mentioned groups, such as myself.

Now here’s the boring stuff. Mechanics. I’m sure that anybody’s who’s worth their google-fu-salt can find out what the mechanics actually are, so I won’t go into details here. The Difficulty Numbers (DN) are too low. As written the DNs go from 2 to 12, but they should go from 4 to 15. That way the percentile chances are exactly what they say they are, from easy – to nearly impossible.

Seriously, check it out. Show some support to Wise Turtle, so that they would be able to give us some more books! :D

How I made my peace with Silhouette Core

Long ago, I got myself acquainted with Heavy Gear 2nd edition RPG. I liked the basis of the system, but the more I read it, the more I found some of the usual offenders of RPG systems of the time. Agility as a god-stat, Combat Sense skill 2 is mandatory unless you like to do nothing in many of the combat rounds, movement calculations need to be done beforehand by whipping out a calculator to do some fraction counting, and the overall fiddliness of the system made me dump it. But before I had the chance to do that, I fell in love with its seamless integration of the vehicle rules, and the damage system. SilCore as a whole stuck to my mind as a diamond in the rough; probably salvageable, but not without a heck of a lot of brainy type work.

I don’t really know why exactly I decided to give Silhouette Core another look after all these years, I guess I was bored or something, but I broke it into tiny pieces and put it back together. High attribute modifiers apparently are one of the things that have offended people playing it. I’d say the contrary: too much low attribute modifiers is the reason it doesn’t work well. Or rather, the radical contrast between them. This is a dice-system feature and nothing much can be done about it, if one wants to preserve the original game engine. The problems may be alleviated by handing out the essential bits free for everyone.

When I had put it back together, I reverse-engineered to see how it compares with the original, and I saw that the characters made through my method were somewhere between “cinematic PCs” and “cinematic major NPCs”. But that’s the way I like my games pretty much always. I do not want to sit moping in my chair due to an unfortunate Initiative roll, not even bothering to watch as other players get to do all kinds of cool shit.

So in my mind Combat Sense, along with Agility are the main offenders. Combat Sense and ranged defense had to be separated from the skills, so I made derived attributes out of those. In SilCore there are a whole lot of pretty much redundant attributes, so I decided to begin my work by cutting those. I ended up with four attributes, so that all of them would be used in determining Defense and Combat Sense. Alertness + Body for Defense and Intelligence + Spirit for Combat Sense.

I worked on simplifying skills, movement stuff, overall action economy, injuries, you name it. I even added some stuff that I felt was missing, like different close combat maneuvers, which are completely absent from SilCore. I ended up with a 23 page skeleton of a system that goes best for modern-equivalent settings or sci-fi when put some meat on its bones (I never thought that SilCore would be a good fit for fantasy or horror genre).

Anyways, here it is available (with permission from Dream Pod 9). I you have any suggestions, praises, comments, or you would just like to let me know how I have ruined the game, please leave a comment! ;)

SCUMM basic rules v0.2

SCUMM character sheet

Edit – Made a better character sheet.

Edit 2 – Made a change to the damage system.

D&D fifth edition. On characters and design choices

At the point where I am writing this the Dungeon Master’s Guide is not out yet, so this is really too early to form a cohesive opinion about it. My comments will be all over the place; because there is so much that I know that will fit into place only in larger context, and when the game has seen at least a year of usage.

Let’s start with the races. There are all the Tolkienesque races first and after a brief disclaimer the rarer races are introduced. Familiar from D&D4, none of the races get any minuses for their abilities, only bonuses. I like this approach better, as I firmly believe that not handing out bonuses is penalty enough in itself. Dwarves are good fighty types, as much is to be expected. But Mountain dwarf armor training bonus does not mesh with powergaming aspect at all. Same can be said of the half-orc/barbarian combo. Half-orc already has bonuses that a barbarian will get later on, so powergamers won’t get to squeeze all the juice out of it. Wood elves and lightfoot halflings are naturally sneaky and they have Dexterity bonuses as well, so it is a good idea to put them in sneaky classes. There’s no powergaming un-synergy going on in those latter cases. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why!

There’s much unbalance going on here, and it is a good thing in my book! D&D4 tried really hard to be mathematically balanced (without a 100% success, I might add), and ended up being a somewhat bland numbers-crunching game. It is a very good game though, just not for me.

Briefly about the classes. Much has changed, but special mentions go to:

  1. Barbarian. Despite from what is written in the book, the barbarian does not need a high Constitution (at least from where I am looking at things at the moment). They already have the biggest hit die, and proficiency in Constitution saves. Why put a third bonus into the same basket? They get some class features that would enable the barbarian being an unarmored type, but they also get the a similar benefit from using a medium armor. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why!
  2. Fighter. Does not need a high Dexterity. This has been true from the days of D&D3, but now it is even more pronounced. They most probably use heavy armor, so they don’t get to add any Dexterity bonus to Armor Class.
  3. Sorcerer: Oh man I love this. Finally they have realized that sorcerers are all about metamagic! D&D 3.x actually hindered sorcerer’s metamagic usage, and I have no idea what 4e did for them, as I stopped following the line before sorcerer was published.

Right. Onto spells. They have condensed and streamlined whole spell “chains”. Some of the spells are really unbalanced. These unbalances are by design choice. For example, a high level druid could create a whole forest of loyal awakened trees to serve him, without any kind of limiting factor. Why? Because Fuck you, that’s why!

It is as if the design team would have had an epiphany that it is not their problem what goes on in each individual gaming table, it is the job of the dungeon masters to even things out. This is a real improvement to the viewpoint that both 3.x and 4e tried to convey. “We tell you how it is supposed to be played”.

That much said, I must say that I have never been a fan of high level play in D&D. With this edition, I probably wouldn’t go much higher than the 7th level. To conclude, I say that it is very well made, and I will definitely give it a spin someday. There are probably some kinks here and there, but nothing that a little good old fashioned GM work won’t smoothen out.

 

Roleplaying with my child

On a recent summer day I was spending time with my son and I was looking at the weather forecast. Rain, rain and more rain. During the summers I usually like to spend time with him in more outdoorsy activities, but now that wasn’t a good option. My brain went into work. How to keep a kid entertained indoors aside from TV or computers? I considered bowling and billiards, but neither of them is really suitable for a ten-year old. Then it came to me… Roleplaying!

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