Thursday, June 25, 2009

Onward, Dragon Warriors

My longtime friend Kent Bonifield drew an excellent sketch of the player characters from my Dragon Warriors PBP that I had to share. From left to right, we've got:

Iblis Smythe, a.k.a. "Ib the Pale", Assassin (played by my brother Chris)
Taebryn Kayatlaen, Barbarian (played by Bret)
Tobias Strangwald Wroxley-Nott, Sorcerer (played by Kent)
Olethros, Warlock (played by Keith)
Sir Yezekael of Rozhan, Knight (played by Dave, a.k.a. noisms)

Kent's art will soon be gracing the pages of at least one professional RPG publication (which I'm not allowed to mention by name just yet), but until that day, you can see more of his work here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tinkering With Initiative

So, after about a week of running my Dragon Warriors PBP, with only one combat, I'm already messing around with the rules.

Dragon Warriors has fairly straightforward and simple rules that often remind me of gamebooks like Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy. One of the things I ran into as I was reading the rules again that I thought would bother me was the way weapon damage is calculated, or rather, isn't. If you hit an opponent and roll over their Armor Factor, you inflict a set amount of damage based on the weapon being used.

As I said, I thought this would bother me, and the editors of the revised rulebook must have anticipated this, as they included an optional chart telling how to roll damage for different weapons. However, when I started running the game, I decided to stick with the original rules as written before I started mucking around with them. First, I wanted to understand the system and the intent of its authors, Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson.

As it turned out, the fixed weapon damage didn't bother me at all. What did bother me was the way you determine the order in which combatants get to take their actions: they go in order of their Reflexes characteristic score, highest to lowest. Combatants with the same score go at the same time. Now, there are a couple of stumbling blocks here, at least for my taste.

One is that monsters don't have Reflexes scores. You're told to roll 3d6 once for all of the monsters in the fight, and use that for their Reflexes (for this purpose, at least). This means that if you're fighting five feral dogs, all the feral dogs go at the same time. This is a little unrealistic, but realism isn't really a major concern in role-playing. It does keep things streamlined and simple, so I'm willing to go with it.

Another, bigger problem for me is that this system means the player characters will always go in the same order, every single time they get into a fight. To make matters worse, characters with identical Reflexes scores will always act simultaneously, in every combat. It's workable, but quickly becomes repetitive and silly when you're describing battles in narrative form, as I'm doing for this PBP campaign, especially when you consider that the player character party we're currently using has the following Reflexes scores: 14, 14, 14, 13, 10. Our Barbarian, our Assassin, and our Knight would always act simultaneously under the rules as written. That would get old fast.

So, here is my simple fix: all combatants (including groups of opponents, at the GM's option) roll a d8 and add their Reflexes score to determine the order in which they take action. I'm using the d8 because I think a d10 or higher value die will add too much variability, and because I think the d6 is boring. The variability thing could be complete bullshit - I suck at figuring out probability curves and don't really care to improve. But we'll see how it works soon enough.

I imagine that as time goes on I will continue to tweak Dragon Warriors. House ruling is fun!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

At Long Last

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, but I finally got my Dragon Warriors play-by-post up and running! I guess a slight delay is to be expected when you're using a ruleset most of the players aren't familiar with, but I thought I was going to lose my mind waiting for everybody to finish up their characters.

The good news is that everybody's on board now, and we've got a nice mix of professions and personalities so far, both in terms of characters and players. I'm also excited to be playing with my older brother Chris again. He's the one who ran my first RPG sessions, and it'll be fun to turn the tables on him after all this time.

I've had a couple of people ask if they can lurk on the campaign forum, but for now I'd like to keep it private. I may well post occasional updates here on the blog detailing the characters and their progress, though.

Welcome to Legend, travelers... hope you survive the experience!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

HackMaster Basic Preview

Kenzer & Company have released a PDF preview of the new edition of HackMaster on their forums, downloadable here.

Yeah, the PDF is essentially an advertisement, but you know what? This version of HackMaster sounds pretty cool to me.

I used to own most of the HackMaster rulebooks and almost really liked them. The players-versus-DM attitude kind of put me off, and the humor wasn't really my style, but I thought there were some cool ideas in it. Ultimately I thought it would probably work better as an AD&D supplement than as its own game, but I have no gameplay experience to back that snap judgment up.

Anyway, the new game certainly seems to be toning down the blatant (and formerly contractually required) goofiness while still retaining a sense of fun. I like that the mechanics are AD&D-inspired but still willing to go off in different directions - combat, especially, looks like it will be pretty interesting. I get a cool "let's take what AD&D did right, and go from there" vibe from this I haven't felt since I got into Palladium Fantasy when I was a teenager. That's exciting.

Between this and Aces & Eights, Kenzer is definitely starting to intrigue me.

(Yeah, I just preordered it.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Recruiting For Dragon Warriors

If anybody is interested, I'm recruiting for a play-by-post Dragon Warriors campaign. I have three players so far, and am looking for two more. You don't have to have the new book, but access to some version of the rules (old or new, print or electronic) is a good idea.

I'm not vastly experienced with PBP games, but have been having a good time playing in them recently and figured I'd give it a shot. This will also be my first time running Dragon Warriors. I'll be using published adventures, mostly, so if you've already read them (or played them) you might want to sit this one out.

It's still in the early stages, but I will be setting up a dedicated forum specifically for the campaign in the near future. Comment on this post (preferably with your email) if you're interested in giving it a shot and we'll talk.

Looks like I found my two players. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Judge Not

Over the past couple of days I've been sitting down with my copy of DragonRaid, with the intent of reviewing a game I've been talking about since I started Dungeonskull Mountain. I had every intention of giving the game a fair shake, but I'm afraid I can't.

As I've mentioned before, DragonRaid does have some admirable qualities. It is presented in a very attractive, colorful box with excellent production values. It contains some interesting ideas, like having characters' combat statistics be based on the "Armor of God" passage in Ephesians, or a magic system that uses memorization of Scripture for its core mechanic.

Unfortunately, I simply can't make myself objectively review a game like DragonRaid. This is a game that puts a race that does good deeds "for the sake of helping people, rather than for the glory of the OverLord [Jesus]" in the monster section. A game where creatures on the heroic side are called "Victims". A game where the idea of recreation is portrayed as sinful in the introductory book.

I hope nobody thinks my own atheism is overly coloring my opinion, but this game... this is not my kind of game.

I will leave it at that.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New School Sandbox

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition's default feel of over-the-top magical superbadasses hitting monsters in the face with big glowing things isn't necessarily my preferred style of fantasy - I tend to go for the mucky stuff like Warhammer Fantasy, A Song of Ice and Fire or Dragon Warriors - but lately I have been finding myself getting into it again. And by "getting into it" I mean doing something more than playing it every week, which is what I have been doing for about a year now.

I find myself thinking about running 4e again a lot lately. I mean, I actually took a test to see if I could qualify as a RPGA "Herald" Dungeon Master yesterday afternoon. Now, I didn't pass (yet), and I was mostly doing it in the hopes of being able to grab the RPGA-exclusive revamp of The Village of Hommlet, but the effort is there.

One thing I was thinking about was that the encounter-design structure of 4e makes it hard to do a traditional, Wilderlands-style "sandbox" (or "hexcrawl") campaign. You know, one where the characters are plunked into a detailed area with lots of site-based adventures from which they can pick and choose. On the surface, it seems like D&D 4e makes that difficult, since encounters are constructed specifically for your characters, based on experience level. But it's always been possible in sandbox play for players to wander into things way above (or below) their characters' ability to handle. I mean, yes, you're going to get your butts kicked if you decide to take on an Exarch of Orcus at 5th level. How is that any different from the way D&D worked in the past? You take your risks.

Now, another stumbling block is the absence of any sandbox-style setting supplements or adventures for 4e. (There are rumors that Wizards' upcoming Revenge of the Giants super-module is going to be site-based, but that was supposed to be a boxed set, too, and that's looking less and less likely as time goes by.) But if you take a look at the Dungeon Delve hardcover, you've got tons of mini-adventure sites for a variety of different levels. Just lay a hex grid over a map of the Nentir Vale and place the delves where you want them. Combine your new sandbox Vale map with the published modules, the DMG, and Dungeon PDF magazines, and there's a whole mess of trouble waiting for your wandering PCs.

Yeah, I want to give this a try.