Monday, November 13, 2017

GM musings, UA GreyHawk initiative

The Unearthed arcana article on the grayhawk style initiative system has been out a while. I've had time to let it roll around in my head. I think it's an interesting idea, I'm not totally against using it....but I'm not totally sold on it.

I think what really bothers me about it is lowest going first. It feels so counter intuitive. All of 5E is roll high. Maybe if I used it regularly I would I would get us to it.

My only analogy for how rolling low for initiative feels to me is if I was driving, and at every intersection there was a roundabout, and in roundabouts you drove in the opposite side of the road. You drive on the same side before the roundabout, same side after, but while in it, you drive in the opposite direction in the opposite lane.

After a lot of mulling it over I came up with what for me feels much more organic to 5E. Everyone rolls a D10 (D20 if you like but I feel d10 makes the bonuses more meaningful) highest roll goes first.

Ranged weapons, including bows, wands, cantrips and any other ranged fast attacks get a +6. Melee attack, fisticuffs, Molly whopping of any kind gets a +3. Spell casting is just a standard roll.

As a totally optional rule, for  this totally optional rule: If player chooses to move after their action, no matter if the choose to shoot, Molly whop, or cast add +2. Moving before the action doesn't give a bonus or penalty.

What I like about this is it can be recorded on the character sheet. Add bonus for type + Dex adj.(if you choose to keep Dex bonus)= Initiative bonus. Long sword with a +2 Dex adj.? Then +5 to initiative.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

D&D 5E in its 4th year.

It's hard for me to believe D&D 5E is in it's 4th year. My players and myself really got excited with it's launch. We did the Next play test. When basic dropped we played it. When the core books came out we grabbed them up. We like the system alright. We like the way characters advance and how paths give a nice level of customization.

The core three books is where my excitement ends. I've come to the realization that I'm not the target audience for 5E. I don't run campaign books whole cloth but rather mine them for ideas. Full color hardbound art books sold as campaign books are not for me.

I've picked up a couple, namely Curse and yawning. Curse because Ravenloft was my thing back in the day. And yawning anthology format seemed like it could be useful. Also some of those classic Adventures are worth a look. Xanathar's might be worth a look.

As of right now there is no setting books. Sword coast is as close as we have and it's just a players guide to a setting that really doesn't exist yet in 5E.

Rather than have an actual forgotten realms we are just told with every product how to shoehorn it into the realms. Or we are told to use the product in any number of other settings not out for 5E but only fleshed out in older edition products. Not sure how this format is in any way new player friendly. Which is I guess where the campaign books come in. It just feels so empty and soulless. It's just generic fantasy tropes.

At this point Adventures in middle earth by cubicle 7 has been out for less than a years. Yet has more books made or in the works for 5E that I want. More than wizards has that interests me. The Adventures are part of a larger world, the locations are interconnected places. The feel and tone are the same, not a bunch of disconnected campaign books that "can be dropped in any campaign world you like" even though their tone and settings have nothing in common like all the wizards campaign books.

In the end all I can say is that 5E clearly isn't for me. It's not marketed or intended for me. The longer it's out the clearer it gets. I'm pretty sure from here on out I'll be more interested in 3rd party publishers and their products.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Running games for big groups

I run games for large groups. For about three years now my smallest group size has been six. My largest has been thirteen. The average group size in usually nine or ten. For about a year we played twice a week as well.

When I mention this to other groups or people online I get a range of reactions. From disbelief to shock. The most common sentiment is "I never run for more than 5 (average 4-6)" and "games break down with more than 6 players"

Some of the recent reactions inspired this post to my poor neglected blog. This post is in no way me claiming to know the best, or only way to run big games. This is simply what has, and is working for me and my group.

First of all my group is full of adults, couples mostly. We don't have much free time to game. An average session for us is between 2 to 4 hours with the majority of sessions being 3 to 3.5 hours. This is relevant because big groups take a level of intensity and focus that gets harder to hold onto as time passes.

Once game starts the table is all about the game. Small side conventions happen, but are kept to a minimum. If you want to visit do it before or after the session. If session starts at 6:30 and ends at 9:00 then that time is for playing. Times to hangout and visit are (always) set by the host of the session. Often they will say "any time after 5". Meaning hanging out and visiting is on for 5-630.

As the GM I rarely sit, I stand with something to keep my notes on. If I'm sitting it's just at the start of a session or while players are discussing options and working things out between their characters that doesn't involve me as the GM.

I like to walk around the table and interact with players individually or in groups. Especially in combat or tense situations. I'll call out a group "the wolf man comes flailing out of the burning room, swinging wildly at the four of you by the door, how do you react". Then I move over to that side of the table, as they each describe their action I ask for the rolls. Then I'll move on to another group "everyone who entered the room behind those four, you see the other four fighting off the wolf man, how do you react?". And I keep going around til everyone is taken care of. With initiative rolls you can do the same, take the highest three rolls, have them rapid fire their action/reactions then roll. Move to the next three. Give each player time and focus within the smaller cluster to do cool stuff...then move along.

One thing I try to do is read the room. If I can tell people are drifting and the intensity is leaving the game and people are wondering off I'll end a session early. I would rather play fast and intense for two hours than two hours of intensity and another hour of people distracted or bored. I'm never afraid of ending a session mid fight or at a cliffhanger...sometimes there is nothing better to rev up the excitement for the next session as an unresolved combat where characters are in real danger.

And last of all credit where credit is due. I have some awesome players. They police themselves and each other. I have 2-3 players who act as assistant GMs. They know or pick up rule sets as fast as I do and walk other players through things so I can focus on others. Have a rule question?, need to know what attribute to roll on?, Need to know how to cast a spell or use a skill? Ask one of them especially while I'm focusing on other players. That way they are ready when the focus is on them. Every one of my players is good about helping each other out.

Running larger groups is so much more about group dynamic than the skill of the GM. I feel being a more experienced GM helps, but would mean absolutely nothing if my group didn't have my back ever second of the game making it work...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Adventures in Middle Earth player's guide

I finally made my way through the players guide. It's been a crazy month with very little time to do a single read through. A few sections got a twice over. While other chapters got a quick scan.

While I'm no Tolkien scholar, I am a big fan. I'm now also a very big fan of this book. After reading through I really want to run this.

First off the book clearly has a setting. It's set firmly between the Hobbit and LotR. There is information on the people who follow Beorn known as the Beornings. As well as Bard leading his people north to rebuild Dale. It's really laid out well and good at explaining the time between the major events in the books.

The Cultures, which replace races are really done well. I find enough in them to encourage players and support different story possibilities. The cultures of man are the Bardings, Beornings, Dundain, men of Bree, men of the lake, men of Minas Tirith, Riders of Rohan, and the Woodman of wildland. The non-human cultures are Dwarves of the lonely mountain, Elves of Mirkwood, and the Hobbits of the Shire.

The Classes, of the six classes provided none are magic users. The scholar has some healing abilities and some trick abilities but nothing like the spells of 5E D&D. I like the variety of classes available. They really do cover the spectrum without too much overlap. The classes include Scholar, Slayer, Treasure hunter, Wanderer, Warden, and warrior.

The next section of the book is Virtues. Virtues are in essence feats. While a few (5) virtues are open and allowed by anyone the rest of them are Cultural specific. I find 5E feats truly superior to the version in eirlier editions. I find the ones in this game even superior to those in the 5E players book. Flavorful and specific to the people of each culture.

Backgrounds in AiME is less what job you once did, and more who your character is at its core. Part personal story and part archetype.

The equipment section is pretty basic yet  inclusive. Included in the equipment is a section or cultural heirlooms, which can be gained through story or Virtues.

Something new and interesting added to the rules is Journeys. This is a phase where the players plan out a route. And the number of perils will be found along the way. Players assign roles to characters and roll to see how well the party does on the travel. The journey will also include encounters both fellowship and combat along the way.

Some rules added by AiME is a new Ability called Shadow and some added skills. Shadow is taint of the dark forces. It's both the mark of dark influence and a measure or sanity, as the darkness clouds the mind of the effected.

After finishing the read through I was listening to someone review another game describing it was "not just another Tolkien based fantasy". And it hit me how un-tolkien like most fantasy is. Middle earth is actually a very dark and dangerous place. Middle earth is a very low magic when placed next to any version of D&D. It's full of personal horror and corruption, well intending people who do evil trying to do greater good. And stories of the lowliest of people rising to the occasion, overcoming the greatest evils. This to me IS what I want in a setting.

I've seen a few people talk about using things from AiME to run other low magic settings. One idea I would like to add to that is everything written in The Hobbit and LotR is set in roughly 1/6 of the total land of one of two continents of Tolkien's world. It would be just as easy to introduce other material to the AiME world.

Ideas for stealing from D&D to add to your AiME game. Goliaths could be men of the north, living north of the grey mountains for 1000s of years. Genasi are elves who originate from the northern undieing lands, from the region that are elemental touched. Eladrin are elves who have lived in the southern undieing lands who are closer to elf magic. Drow are elves touched by the shadow who moved to the land east of Rhûn. There is a lot of room on Tolkien's map not fleshed out.