Author Archive: morrisonmp

Star Wars Quirks

Anyone familiar with Fantasy Flight RPGs knows that while they are pretty good at making good games… the Force is not particularly strong with their editorial teams. The more I run my Age of Rebellion game (and my experiences with Edge of the Empire added on) I realize that while many things about the system are very well done, the core rulebooks have some… quirks. I thought I’d touch on a few of these today and see how others are addressing these things in their games or what suggestions those familiar with the system might have.

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Today, I wanted to write about the 5e D&D Player’s Handbook. But something else has a hold of me and I need to start getting it out of my system.

I’m still thinking about player skill vs. character skill but I want to take a slightly different tack with it. I want to take the “vs.” part out and replace it with something else – some way to join the two that makes the experience more seamless – perhaps player skill (+) character skill. Not quite there but getting there.

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Blind Difficulties and Hidden Trouble

I’ve been tinkering with Fantasy Flight’s newest takes on the Star Wars RPG quite a bit lately, transitioning from Edge of the Empire to Age of Rebellion with a group that ranges from fairly new roleplayers to old hands. We’ve been having fun and despite a few oddities, the game is well put together and fun to play. One of those quirks came up recently and I’ve been running over it in my mind a lot trying to think through my feelings on the issue. The issue of course is blind difficulties.

To try and explain what I mean, let me set the scene of what happened in game. So I was using an idea from an old SW adventure as a starting point for my new game and this involved a droid that the party meets who is in the employ of a really impressive slicer. The party’s computer expert (who is really good) wanted to check into transmissions being sent by the droid but these transmissions are being overseen by the droid’s employer (the slicer). So it’s an opposed roll. And I didn’t consider when planning things out that I was going to come to that moment when the PC looked at me and said that they wanted to check this out and I had to assign them a difficulty pool.

Of course, the whole point is that the droid is undercover so by assigning this huge difficulty pool (5 difficulty with 4 challenge dice), the party learns exactly what the computer skill of their opposition is. More than that, they learn – no matter what else happens – that the droid is definitely not what he seems. Not that they suspect it, they know it.

Admittedly, only the players know, not necessarily their characters, but it’s no longer a point of suspense or conflict – it’s clear knowledge.

And with this roll, I realized that in this system it is nearly impossible to “keep secrets.” This was such an odd moment for me that I actually did something I’m usually loathe to do and paused the game to discuss and consider the issue with my players.

We kicked around a few ideas – that the GM just make the difficulty pool and roll it “behind the screen” – and compared it to other games such that, “hey, I rolled a 30 and still failed, there must be something going on!” This was good brainstorming, and I’ve considered these ideas more fully since then but honestly, it’s still a difficult piece of design to navigate. Sure, in a game like a d20 system rpg, a roll like the one mentioned above does make a difference – but the player is still in the dark about the bits “under the hood” of that difficulty check. Why a 30 failed is a different question than, “why does this robot have a 5/4 stat/skill split when that doesn’t jive with his story at all?” It’s a different level of information being presented in a very straightforward manner. The other idea about hiding rolls is untenable as well – as the game engine is so built around the very transparent nature of dice pools and the resultant narrative-shaping symbols.

Information is powerful and shapes decision-making even when we try to ignore it. More importantly than metagaming, this type of information creates a situation where very straightforward revelations are made that do not exist in other aspects of the game. Combat, for example, uses standardized difficulties with upgrades for NPC qualities like “Adversary” but as my group has learned, combat is another quirky bit of the game where the margin between the PCs winning easily and the NPCs wiping the floor with them is very swingy. Even so, combat still contains surprises because even though you might suddenly learn who is a nemesis versus a rival… you probably already had some indication of that going into the fight from other in-game information that had little to do with stats. This same issue exists with any area of the game that could benefit from “hidden information” from Stealth rolls to Social Interaction rolls.

Of course, my last paragraph suggested a possible “halfway” solution to this. It is possible that I could just come up with a system of standardized difficulties – such as with combat – and then upgrade the dice (or use setback dice) as modifiers based on the opposition. While this still reveals the caliber of opposition, it is less directly revealing than providing the opposition’s dice pool exactly. So, creating a talent similar to Adversary for different types of NPC actions such as awareness or slicing, etc. It’s a step but not necessarily a solution.

I’d love to hear any thoughts about FF’s Star Wars games, the idea of blind difficulties, or navigating this terrain in game. I think my follow up post to this one will discuss how I let the PC’s set their own difficulties on a recent occasion and how ridiculous space flight is in this game. But all that is still to come.

As always, thanks for reading and comments are welcome.

D&D 5e, Part Two

So this is part two of my observations about 5E started in my last post.

I’ve spent a little more time with the Starter Set box contents and the free D&D 5e PDF – which you should take a moment to download and read if you love RPGs and haven’t done so yet. Let’s not call what follows a review… let’s call it an exploration of my perceptions as I move through the material. I’m mainly going to focus on the Starter Set and occasionally reference the more complete PDF rules.

A disclaimer: I did not follow the playtest very closely. I kept it at the edge of my awareness but I did not play any games with rules, etc. I mention this only to say the new material was very new to me and not tempered by the playtest experience. Also, what follows is my own meandering ruminations and should be considered in that light…

The Short Version (again)
If you just want the really short version… I like it. I enjoyed reading it and think that some of what has been done here is amazing, some of it is derivative, and some is “meh.” But overall, I really like what I’m seeing so far.

Character Creation
Honestly, I don’t yet fully know how I feel about this. I like the new character sheet – it feels like an old school character sheet but with some notable differences (like prioritizing the stat bonus over the stat) which I find interesting and useful. Many d20 system-style games have simply done away with the base stat and gone to the bonus but I think keeping the 3-18 range is nice. 4d6 drop the lowest is probably the most common version of “roll your stats” and with a solid point buy option in the rules as well I think they covered everything.

The basic 4 races are covered well and each is pretty exciting. The use of subraces is awesome and really evoked 2e for me as I was reading, while still feeling like a new game. This makes me excited to see the full PHB and the treatment of some of the newcomers to D&D. One of the great innovations of 3e/4e was the fact that you could make effective characters (maybe not optimized, but effective) with almost any race/class combination. I’m a huge fan of this and happy they continued this trend.

Classes look solid. They all have something and the clever implementation of advantage/bonus actions seems like it will be a big part of 5e design. Obviously, with smaller design space it may become an issue at some point but if they are planning to keep the splat books to a minimum this may not be as much of a problem anyway… time will tell on this front. I like the idea of Backgrounds.They seem well-integrated into the system and to provide evocative, helpful choices without being all-important decision points. That’s a good thing. Yes, some of this stuff doesn’t need mechanics but these seem to be well considered and I think they are going to become a fun part of the new game.

We don’t know a lot about multi-classing or implementation of options like “feats” yet but from the little clues we have in the PDF, I’m happy with the direction I see this going in. It looks like a real trade-off and a genuine way to expand the design space without overwhelming the core choices. Again, we’ll see as it grows, but the initial implementation looks very well thought out.

Rules
Combat
I haven’t run a combat yet. I’m still trying to process how I’ll fit in time to play 5e around my Star Wars game and everything else I do during the week but… it says something that I actually want to do it. I’ll freely admit to being predisposed toward not wanting to play this edition. Now, I’m intrigued. Other than that, I’ll say that I like what I see about the combat chapter. It seems straightforward. I’m a fan of removing tactical/map & mini based combat as the core option (though I’m sure it will be supported as a play-style, which is good) and the focus on simple actions again feels like they learned real lessons from their previous iterations and really worked to keep the good stuff. I look forward to trying this out for the first time.

Magic and Spellcasting
I’ll start this by saying that I’m not really sure why the Fireball needed a base 8d6 damage (I get it, because they changed the scaling, etc.) but it feels really strong now at level. On the whole, I really like the “cast it in a higher slot” as an alternative to all the metamagic craziness of previous editions. Again, tough to say how it will grow and change across the life of the edition but just the basics we see now are very encouraging. Not sure yet if this will change but… I did love the discussion of “Spellcasting Services” in the equipment chapter and how no prices were attached. It was more about whether or not you could find someone willing to do it and what they’ll want in return.

One thing I’m still missing is the fact that spellcasting is still so simple. One action, no chance of failing for most spells. I get why, really I do, but after playing Adventurer Conqueror King with its system of asking you to declare spells in advance of initiative and then a chance that they get ruined before you go… that’s good stuff. This is fine, and probably “fun” but it seems too consequence free considering how overwhelming magic gets pretty quickly.

Something I’m wishing for…
So, this is just a little tidbit from me and my own wish list. I get why they are using Forgotten Realms as the default setting. I get that this makes sense for them from a product standpoint and a game standpoint. I do. But as they go forward with this edition, as they dive into the next incarnation of D&D I have to wonder… why not bring back Birthright? This incarnation feels like it would be perfect for Birthright (with the subrace rules and the focus on offering options through backgrounds) and its vaguely 2nd ed feeling. But more than that… we live in an era of geekdom practically ruled by Game of Thrones (btw, Birthright had a novel of kings and tragedy title, The Iron Throne, just sayin’). Birthright is the dark fantasy game of kings and armies with a vibrant, well-detailed world and history that D&D already has sitting right in front of it. Sure, it’s not really the best choice for the “core” setting experience but it seems a shame not to revisit this wonderful world perfect for the tastes and environment of the now. It’s always been a personal favorite and I’d love to see it come back.

In closing
Again, this is long enough. I can say without reservation that I’m heartened by what I’m seeing and I really think the new rules have a chance to be a great D&D, that feels like D&D and brings the community back together again to some extent. That said, we still know very little and we’ll have to see more when the full PHB comes out in August.

Thanks for reading.

D&D 5e, part one

Do I need anything else to the title of this post?

I’ve just had the chance to complete my first read through of the Starter Set box contents and the free D&D 5e PDF – which you should take a moment to download and read if you love RPGs and haven’t done so yet. Let’s not call what follows a review… let’s call it an exploration of my perceptions as I move through the material. I’m mainly going to focus on the Starter Set and occasionally reference the more complete PDF rules.

A disclaimer: I did not follow the playtest very closely. I kept it at the edge of my awareness but I did not play any games with rules, etc. I mention this only to say the new material was very new to me and not tempered by the playtest experience. Also, what follows is my own meandering ruminations and should be considered in that light…

The Short Version
If you just want the really short version… I like it. I enjoyed reading it and think that some of what has been done here is amazing, some of it is derivative, and some is “meh.” But overall, I really like what I’m seeing so far.

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Masters (of the Universe) Monday

Posted on time this week – you know the drill – please enjoy the newest Master of the Universe made using the rules for SUPERS!.

Never one of my favorite characters when I was a kid, she gets better in the 2002 reboot, but especially in the current comic book incarnation… Evil-Lyn

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Masters of the Universe… Tuesday(?)

So apparently, me and technology are not friends. Well, I mainly blame basic math skills when I was setting the scheduler to publish this post.

Day late – but please enjoy the newest Master of the Universe made using the rules for SUPERS!.

It may actually be appropriate to be a little slow with this one… meet, Ram Man.

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Randomness, Niche Protection, and a little frustration

I have a friend who hates using the d20. He pretty much hates any version of the d20 system. His primary gripe – although there are many other well-founded ones – is rooted in the randomness of rolling a single d20 to determine outcomes. Basically, no matter how good he is, bad rolling can ruin that at any time.

My own gripes with the d20 system(s) trend toward a different direction but ultimately, the randomness of these activities really grates on me as well, sometimes doing a disservice to another convenient part of many d20 related games – Niche Protection.

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Masters (of the Universe) Monday

I’ve been watching the 2002-2003 remake of the Masters of the Universe (MotU) lately and I must say that I enjoy it quite a bit. It’s inspired me to give a day of the week to these fantastic characters and I always thought that if I decided to stat these characters out, I’d use Simon Washbourne’s game, SUPERS.

As SUPERS has recently been given a revision/2e treatment I thought it was the perfect time to take on this project.

Last week I wrote up Mekaneck – a personal favorite – so I thought I’d start the villains this week with the first MotU toy I ever had – Beast Man!

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Time and Expectation in RPGs

This is a post about expectations and the interaction of reality and fantasy at the table. I don’t want to bog myself down thinking too much about the extremes of reality in games where people can throw fireballs and routinely get attacked by undead creatures. Overall, that dichotomy doesn’t bother me too much, I genuinely enjoy fantasy. But I’ve noticed that certain expectations are dictated as much mechanically as they are narratively, and the interactions are sometimes jarring for me.

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