Saturday, September 13, 2014

Adapting Narrative Movement in Combat to the 40K RPG Ground Game

After tinkering with making narrative movement in combat systems for D&D 5th Edition and the starship combat rules in Rogue Trader, the next thought that naturally occurred to me was to apply this same idea to character scale combat in the 40K RPGs.



Originally I had thought about trying to convert the 40K RPGs to the Star Wars range system, which would involved assigning ranges to all of the 40K weapons, as well as revisiting some of the actions that character can take to see if they worked with the 40K system, since Star Wars is a little different (for example, being able to get another move action for straining your character).

In the end, I decided to stay with the simpler 13th Age model for what I was attempting to do.  Anyone reading  this blog long term probably remembers that way back before 13th Age was out, I was tinkering with this sort of stuff, but was never really happy with it.  Thankfully, lots of talented designers have already tinkered with this kind of system, and they are a lot better at this than I am.



The Basics

Like 13th Age, you only really have Nearby or Far Away for where your characters are located in relation to other characters.  In addition to these two places, there are modifiers to these locations.  Nearby can be Nearby (Short Range) or Nearby (Engaged) and Far Away can be Far Away  (Long Range).



Got You In My Sights

If two groups are about to engage in combat, if characters in one group have a longer range than characters in the other group, any character in group with the longest range weapon whose weapon's range is greater than anyone in the opposing party may fire before initiative is rolled.  Additionally, if this is the same weapon that a character used for a surprise round, the character gets their surprise round as well as this additional attack on their opponents.

If even one person in the opposing party has a range that matches the range of the longest range weapon in the opposing party, even if the opposing party all out ranges the other party, and only one character in the outranged party has a long range weapon capably of firing at the same range as opposing party, this attack does not happen.  Only characters whose weapons have a longer range than everyone in the opposing party get this extra attack.



Starting Positions

Depending on where a combat encounter happens, there may not be enough room for Far Away to be an option.  This is especially true if the combat takes place indoors with a limited ingress into a given area.  Even if an encounter area is large enough to have a Far Away area, it may still make sense for characters to start out Nearby their opponents.



Moving Far Away or Closing on a Far Away Opponent

It is a full round action to move to Far Away, to move from Far Away to Nearby, or to close on an opponent that is Far Away from you.

If you have a movement rate less than 30m for your top speed, subtract your top speed from 30, and the number is the penalty that you apply to your Toughness test.  For each degree of failure on this test, you gain a level of fatigue.

Characters may spend a move action to take cover, unless the GM has specified the the encounter zone has no cover.  The GM will then have to provide the AP of the cover available in the encounter.

A character that is Far Away may opt to use a move action to become Far Away (Long Range).  If a character is Far Away  (Long Range), the character must use the Long Range penalty for their weapon, but anyone targeting the character at Far Away  (Long Range) must treat them as if they are that far away for the purposes of their own weapon ranges used against the target.

A character that is Far Away (Long Range) may spend a move action to become Far Away  (Extreme Range).  If the character does this, they must use the Extreme Range penalty, but anyone targeting the character at Far Away (Extreme Range) must treat them as if they are that far away for the purposes of their own weapon ranges used against the target.

Characters that are Far Away  (Long Range) or Far Away  (Extreme Range) can still be closed on in the same manner as a character that is just Far Away.

Any weapon that is at long range at 31m or more must be fired at Long Range penalty.  If the weapon must be fired at Long Range to attack from Far Away, the character does not need to spend a move action to move to the Far Away  (Long Range) category.



Moving Within the Nearby Area

It costs a move action to take cover in the Nearby area, unless the GM states that the Nearby area in the encounter area does not have any cover available.  The GM should then provide the AP that the cover provides.

A character that wants to attack with a ranged weapon and gain their Short Range bonus must spend a move action to get into position, putting the character in Nearby (Close Range) category.  When moving into the (Close Range) category, the character indicates who they are Close Range from.

A character that is Nearby  (Close Range) may spend a move action to become Nearby  (Point Blank) to that same character.  The character can then utilize the Point Blank category for their weapon.

A character that is already nearby an opponent that wishes to engage in melee with an opponent must spend a move action to put themselves into the Nearby (Engaged) category.  When moving into the (Engaged) category, the character indicates who they are (Engaged) with.



Overwatch

Overwatch can still be used to keep track of an area in the encounter zone where reinforcements might come from, for example, but a character in Overwatch can activate this ability any time a character changes their range in combat.

For example, if a character is in Overwatch, and an opponent moves from Nearby to Nearby (Close Range) or Nearby (Engaged), the Overwatch triggers, as would a character moving from Nearby to Far Away.  Because this is very open ended and narrative, the character in Overwatch can trigger Overwatch on a number of creatures equal to their Ballistics Skill bonus.

If a character does not have a range greater than 30m with his weapon, characters that are Far Away do not trigger Overwatch.

Supressing Fire

A pinned character does not change location.



Blast

Using this system, the Blast quality indicates the maximum number of characters that can be effected by the blast.  The following characters, in this order, are affected by the blast, until the total number of extra creatures is reached:


  • Targets engaged to the original target
  • Targets that are providing a gang up bonus for the original target
  • Targets that have not moved since they have performed an action that required they be adjacent to the original target.
  • Targets that have performed actions to aid anyone engaged to the original target and have not moved since performing that action.
  • Targets that are at Point Blank Range to the original target.
  • Targets that are at Close Range to the original target.
  • Targets that are in cohesion with the original target (Only War) or Support Range  (Deathwatch Rank 3 or lower)
Grenades

Whenever a grenade misses it's intended target, everybody Nearby has a 25% chance to be effected by the grenade.  If multiple characters roll lower than 25%, the character that rolled the lowest is the character "hit" by the grenade, and multiple hits to the total number of individuals hit by the Blast are figured from that character.



Tactical Advance

Once a character is under cover, they may use the Tactical Advance move to move while still benefiting from cover.  This is a full round action, but as part of this move, the character can move to Far Away  (Long Range), Nearby (Short Range), but not Nearby  (Engaged).



Vehicles and Mounts

If Vehicles are present in a fight where there are also opponents on foot on both sides, vehicles can use a single move action to move from Nearby to Far Away or to close to Nearby on a Far Away opponent, but taking Far Away  (Long Range) or Nearby  (Close Range) positions still takes an action.

Vehicles or mounts that have a charge movement higher than 30m can charge from Far Away to Nearby (Engaged) as part of a full round Charge action.

Cohesion and Support Range

In order to be in cohesion with other characters, all characters that wish to be in cohesion must be Nearby one another.  Characters utilizing Squad Modes in Deathwatch must be Nearby at ranks 1-3, Nearby or Far Away  (ranks 4-6), or Nearby to Far Away  (Long Range)(Rank 7-8).

Does It Work?

Who knows?  If I get a chance to use it, I will certainly let you all know how it went, and if by some crazy happenstance you get the wild notion of using these rules in your game, please, let me know how it went!








Friday, September 12, 2014

In the Abstract Void of Space: A System for Narrative Combat Movement in Rogue Trader Space Combat

I will freely admit it.  I always hated keeping track of exactly how far away characters were from one another in my youth, and while games that assumed a grid map made it easier to track, this also made combat too fiddly for my tastes.  Thus, I'm really pleased that games like 13th Age, Numenera, and Fantasy Flight's Star Wars game use relative positioning and narrative constructs to figure out how far away from one another characters are.



But I do sill like a lot of games that rely a bit more heavily on keeping track of range and movement rates.  This has set me to thinking about how to convert those games over to a more narrative style without losing anything important from the rules.  I've already addressed D&D 5th Edition in this regard, but as I've been rereading Rogue Trader, starship combat strikes me as being a prime candidate to be simplified, especially since the "narrative" technique is suggested, but not fully fleshed out, in the core rulebook.

The Importance of Range

While these rules will minimize the importance of measuring actual range, one important factor still comes up.  If a ship has a weapon that has a range greater than another ship with which they are about to engage, the ship with the longer weapon range may get in a round of attacks with the weapons that have longer range before the ships close for combat.

If a ship has longer range, but would be considered to be at long range in order take advantage of that longer reach, the attacks must be made with the standard penalty for long range.  If the attacking ship is ruled to be surprising another ship before combat begins, and they only use weapons with greater range in the surprise round, they may attack again with the same weapons in addition to the surprise round before the ships close for combat.



Void Dancing

Once ships close for combat, determine initiative as you normally would in game.  One difference in this version of combat is that the movement phase is always before the weapons phase, although extended actions by the crew may still take place before either phase.

The helmsman will make an opposed Pilot + Maneuverability test against whatever ships they may wish to attack that round.  If the ship is going to engage more than one enemy that round, the pilots on the outnumbering ships gain the standard gang up bonus for opposing the solitary ship.  If the ship being targeting is moving faster than the attacking ship, the opposing pilot whose ship is moving faster gains a +10% to their check.

If the check is failed, the attacking ship must chose a single firing arc to utilize this round, and must treat all attacks as if they are at long range.

If the check is successful, the attacking ship may either bring to bear a second firing arc, or consider their weapons at close range for their attacks.  For every two additional degrees of success, the ship may bring another firing arc to bear  (or treat their weapons as being at short range, if that option was not initially chosen).

This represents how well the attacking ship manages to fly around their prey, lining up shots for the weapon crews.



Disengaging 

A ship may attempt to disengage from a fight and make a run for it.  The pilot of the fleeing craft must either accept fire from any weapons from one firing arc of the pursuer that have longer range then their own weapons, then make a Routine Pilot + Maneuverability test to disengage, or they may attempt an opposed Pilot + Maneuverability test to attempt to disengage without drawing fire.

If the ship manages to disengage and their opponent wishes to give chase, see the rules for Stern Chases on page 216 of the core rulebook.

Note that if the attacking ship does not have any weapons with a longer range than the fleeing ship, or all of their weapons are shorter range than the fleeing ship, the fleeing ship only needs to make the Routine Pilot + Maneuverability test to disengage.

If the fleeing ship fails to disengage, it can still attack during the round in which it attempted to escape, but it may only do so with one firing arc, treating all of its weapons as if they were at long range, just as if they had failed the opposed test for combat above.



Critical Hit Effects

Whenever an effect spreads out over a number of Void Units, any ship that utilized the short range bonus during the same turn is assumed to be within range of an effect.  Any effect that spreads to 1d10 VU has a 25% chance of hitting a ship, and any effect that spreads to 2d10 VU has a 50% chance of hitting the ship.  Reduce both of these by 10% if the ship attacked using long range values this turn.



Torpedoes and Narrative Movement

Torpedoes cannot be fired at close range, and are resolved as soon as they are fired, assuming to have heading into the right area to strike their target.  The test involved for guided torpedoes allows for the test mentioned in the text to add to the torpedo rating before the attack is resolved.



Nova Cannons and Narrative Movement

Nova Cannons can be fired at short range, but the attacking ship will automatically be assumed to be in the blast radius of the shell.

How Do These Rules Work?

I have no idea!  I haven't had a chance to try them out yet, but should you happen to do so, please let me know, and if and when I get the chance to I'll check back in as well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Comparing 13th Age and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

+Sean Phelan on Google+ asked me about comparing 13th Age and D&D 5th edition.  As a disclaimer, I've been playing in a 13th Age game for months, and while I've read through both the basic rules and the Player's Handbook for 5th Edition, I have only run about three session of 5th edition.  So I have limited "live" experience.

That said, lets make with the comparisons!



Icons Versus No Icons

The first thing 13th Age introduces you to are the Icons, which are major NPCs that drive the setting of the game.  While other settings don't have the exact same Icons  (though most of them are designed to be pretty universal to fantasy settings), the idea that there are Icons and that your PCs have a relationship to them is pretty central to the game.

You have a certain number of dice based on your relationship with major NPCs, and at various times in the game, the GM will be making rolls to see how that relationship effects the course of the adventure.  This is pretty wide open, but it is stressed that this should be happening in the game.  The PCs should get random help from their Icon, or from someone opposed to them  (if they have a negative relationship), and at the beginning of the session characters should make these rolls to see what Icons might be subtly manipulating effects.

While D&D doesn't really have an analog to this, for anyone knowledgeable of the game system, its not entirely unlike how Obligation or Duty colors an Edge of the Empire or Age or Rebellion Star Wars RPG session.

Alignment

Strictly optional in 13th Age, and mentioned, but not defined, although the Icons are given standard d20 alignments.  Technically the default in D&D, although there are no longer any strict alignment requirements or mechanical connections in 5th Edition that I have found.

Backgrounds

Similar terminology means completely different things in 13th Age and D&D 5e.  In 13th Age, a background is something you invest a certain number of points in, and then when you want to make a skill check, you attempt to find a background that matches the skill you are making the check for. For example, if your background was "second story man for the Thieves' Guild," you can probably justify using that background to make a Stealth check.

This is another case where I'm actually more reminded of the background mechanic in Dungeon Crawl Classics than anything in D&D 5th, since D&D 5th uses backgrounds to help establish a series of personality traits that are used to guide roleplaying and measure the awarding of Inspiration.

Feats

Optional rules that give characters bonuses to do certain things centered around a given theme in 5th Edition D&D, in 13th Age, feats tend to be something similar, but are much more tightly focused on allowing a character to specialize in a given class feature or racial ability, and they aren't optional by default.



Armor and Weapons

While D&D 5th Edition has cleaned up and moved around the stats for various armor and weapons, individual armor and weapons still have meaningful stats.  By that, I mean that plate mail has its own stats separate from chain mail, and a longsword is different from a warhammer.  There is enough granularity in the game that those differences matter.

13th Age really simplifies things by basically having heavy or light armor, penalties for characters if they shouldn't be wearing one or the other type of armor, and shields.  Weapons do damage based on being light, one handed, or two handed, and this varies based on class as well as size and weight of the weapon, but not based on the weapon itself.  So a two handed weapon for a wizard isn't going to do what a two handed weapon does for a barbarian, and there are examples listed by class for what they might be carried that qualifies to each of these things.  Interestingly, this also means that rogues do more damage with a light weapon like a dagger than with a longsword.

Weapons are also where we start to see that 13th Age goes completely the opposite direction of 5th Edition when it comes to bounded accuracy and scaling damage.  Weapons do their listed damage x the character's level.  That means a fighter with a longsword at 1st level does 1d8 base weapon damage, and at 10th level does 10d8 damage.  But we'll see this making more sense when we visit hit points.

Races

Races in 13th Age have fewer more flavor based abilities rather than more, and more granular, rules that 5th Edition provides.  Humans are reactionary, so they get to roll initiative twice and pick the best one, for example.  As mentioned above, a lot of the racial abilities in 13th Age have feats that can improve them.

Interesting, like 5th Edition  (possibly because 5th Edition had this as a model), races are arranged as "standard" races  (Human, Wood/High/Dark Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, Gnome, Half-orc, Half-elf) and optional races  (Aasimar, Tieflings, and Forgeborn).  One of the Tiefling racial abilities also shows some of the difference between 13th Age's approach and 5th Editions, in that the Tiefling's Curse of Chaos isn't overly defined and involves making stuff up on the fly.

Classes/Progression

This is going to be a large catch all for how the game is set up.  13th Age (like Dungeon Crawl Classics) organizes things into 10 levels.  Its not that "someday we may do more levels," 10th level is meant to be uber-almost demi-god level.  There is no bounded accuracy in 13th Age.  In fact, there are three tiers to play  (not unlike 4th Edition D&D), and hit points and damage ranges make larger jumps between the tiers than between the rest of the levels.

The recoveries that a character has are similar in 13th Age as they are to 5th Edition, but they are worth more hit points, and there are more of them.  While a GM could run a challenging campaign where players would need the edge provided by a cleric or bard, but its also completely conceivable that players will have enough healing without any "in combat" healing from leader types.

Classes that have powers usually have them organized by At Will, Recharge, or Daily.  There are classes that don't actually have powers, like the Barbarian or the Ranger, who just have class abilities that modify their normal attacks, or number of attacks.

Derived statistics for Magical Defense and Physical Defense, the stats that determine if non-weapon attacks harm you, are actually averaged from multiple ability scores, making it harder to assign a dump stat to a character, or perhaps easier to put your stats where they "should" go for the type of character you want to run.

Like 5th Edition, 13th Age asks a character to chose what "type" of character within a class they might be.  Unlike 5th Edition, it's less about choosing a broad archetype that might have multiple mechanics tied to it, than it is actually choosing smaller class abilities that might make a character distinct.  For example, you might chose an archetype in 5th edition that lets you be a weapon master, and then pick the bow as your weapon of choice, but in 13th Age you would just pick one of the archer class abilities to represent this.  Each class has multiple class abilities, and to begin with you chose three  (some classes have options that count as two of their three class abilities).

Just as the Tiefling has a racial ability that requires you to ad lib a bit and make up what it actually does on the fly, some classes, like the wizard, have abilities like this as well.  For example, some wizards have very specific names and variants of the spells they cast, and if you can come up with a suitably grandiose variant title for a spell you cast, you can come up with some kind of extra kick that the spell has, which isn't specified, its just something you make up, and the GM approves.



Combat Rules

Combat rules between 5th Edition D&D and 13th Age are pretty similar, in that you roll initiative, roll a d20 and add a bonus to compare to a DC to see if you succeeded, do X amount of damage subtracted from hit points, etc.  But the differences are once again in some of the narrative grey space that 13th Age likes to play with.

Movement in 13th Age is about being nearby, far away, or engaged to your opponents.  No other ranges are really tracked, and the GM and players are told to do what seems logical withing this paradigm.

The Escalation Die is a big deal when it comes to the difference between 5th Edition and 13th Age.  In some ways, the Escalation Die is the what 13th Age did to solve the same issues that 5th Editions bounded accuracy attempts to address.  When numbers keep going up, and the defensive arms races keeps up with the attack bonuses, you can have a lot of rounds of no one doing anything to anyone.

But every round after the first, the escalation die goes up, and this gets added to combat rolls for the PCs  (and some iconic monsters, like dragons).  This means that, as heroes, if the PCs can survive the first few rounds, they should be landing lots of blows towards the end of the fight.  Rather than keeping things "close" by keeping the numbers close, as 5th Edition does, 13th Age starts out weighed in favor of the monsters and then swings hard towards the PCs.

Fleeing is another rule that 13th Age introduces that is meant to be a narrative based solution to what is going on in the game.  If everybody wants to run from a monster that is too tough, they can. They get away just fine.  Then the GM comes up with some kind of campaign setback.  Maybe they escape the dragon, and it torches their hometown.  Maybe they survive, but when they get back to camp, all of their horses and their treasure is gone.

Fighting in Spirit actually has mechanical effects, but requires some narrative justification.  In 13th Age, if your character is missing from the fight or can't take actions anymore, you can fight in spirit.  Effectively, this means you pick an ally and give them some kind of boost  (if you have ever played Sentinels of the Multiverse, this might sound familiar).  The challenge is that you have to come up with why that character gets a boost from someone that is not present.  Did you give them a pep talk the night before?  Do they have one of your old lucky charms?  Did you give them pointers on fighting foes like they are facing now, and your words echo in their heads just now?

Full Heal Ups are the equivalent of 5th Edition's Long Rest.  A short rest can be taken, but all it really does is allow you to spend your recoveries before the next fight.  The trick to 13th Age's Full Heal Ups is that you can't just rest 8 hours and get the benefit of them.  You have to have completed at least four encounters before your extended rest to recover you powers and recoveries.  Essentially this is to encourage a character to keep adventuring for a substantial period of time and not just blow everything in one fight and then rest.  In some ways, its something 5th Edition addresses with getting back minor abilities with a short rest.

Hit Points

Holy crap is there hit point inflation.  If you like zeroes, 13th Age is the game for you.  The game totally accounts for the hit point inflation, but it is totally present.  Not only does weapon damage scale to 1 die per level, but ability bonuses to hit points and damage start to jump between tiers, so your +3 on damage is eventually a +6 even if you never bumped that ability score, and eventually a +9.

Encounter Building

Its hard to completely gauge this, because there is only a lose example of how this is suppose to work for 5th Edition so far, but the general thrust of it is not to throw something with a CR too high at the players, and then "eyeball" it, with an XP formula that can be used for more precise calculations.  The overall idea is that you can throw "unfair" things at PCs if you telegraph that they may not want to deal with these baddies.

That said, a 5th Edition character trying to punch above their weight class is going to have a better shot at surviving and maybe even winning than a 13th Age character.  Too many levels above their current level, and a 13th Age character will have almost no chance at hitting their opponent without the Escalation Die maxed out.  Too far below, and there is no challenge to the PCs.

13th Age does encourage GMs to design "unfair" fights from time to time, although much of this is centered around how many enemies and what kind of nasty extra special abilities you give them, and not throwing something more than a few levels above their current level at them.

Advancement

D&D 5e characters level up pretty quick at low levels, then take longer to get levels after the first few.  13th Age characters get levels when the GM determines that it makes sense for the campaign.  This may be a set number of sessions, after an adventure is over, or every session.

Because 13th Age characters only have 10 levels, 13th Age also has incremental advancements, which essentially allow you to pick one thing that you would get next level and use it now, if you didn't level up.  So if the GM determines that you will get a level every four sessions, in session 2, 3, and 4 you will pick something that you get next level that you can use now  (another spell, feat, hit poitnts, etc.)

Another narrative flourish for 13th Age is that characters aren't suppose to level up until they come up with at least a rudimentary story for how they became more skilled, whether it's something mundane like training at a fencing academy for a month or absorbing the dreams of a dying dragon by breathing in their soul as it escapes in wisps of smoke.



Rituals

Another game mechanic that has a similar name and different function between the two games.  In 5th Edition D&D a ritual is a spell that you can take longer to cast without expending a spell slot to make it more of a utility.  In 13th Age, a ritual is an open ended story element that you need to work out with your GM.

If you are a ritual caster, you come up with what you want your ritual to do.  The GM tells you how much you need to spend to set it up, how hard your check will be to pull it off, and you expend a Daily or Recharge power to "power" the ritual.  How hard and how expensive the ritual is will be based on how powerful and wide ranging the ritual is.



Monsters

5th Edition has a few special rules for monsters, such as Legendary abilities and Lair abilities, which are meant to help set up some monsters as "solo" monsters and also to reinforce a certain mystique about them.

In 13th Age, something similar is done with monsters being either normal, large or double strength, or huge and triple strength.  Double or triple strength monsters count as twice or three times as many monsters of their regular level.

Some monsters are escalators, which means they also use the escalation die, meaning that combat moves faster for both sides, potentially to the PCs detriment.

In a manner not altogether unlike Lair or Legendary abilities, some monsters have abilities that trigger when they or an opponent have a certain condition, or that trigger when the escalation die hits a certain number.  Some monsters also have abilities that trigger on an even or odd number on the die in addition to their normal abilities.

Monsters, in general, don't have the full range of stats that monsters in 5th Edition D&D have, having a more simplified stat block with the above listed special abilities listed afterwords, if present.



Magic Items

It seems to have become the trend in d20 level based fantasy to move away from buying "level appropriate" magic items and move back towards only utility perishables being available for sale.  This is present in both 13th age and 5th Edition D&D.

One big difference is that true magic items  (those things you can't buy) have at least a rudimentary intelligence. PCs can only have as many magic items on them as they have levels, and if they go beyond this limit, the personalities of the magic items they carry begin to take over.

The magic item examples have quirks listed, but there isn't really a mechanical aspect to this.  If you have four magic items at 3rd level, your magic items start making you do things, and if the player can't come up with good ideas for what this makes their characters do, the GM is encouraged to get suggestions from the other players.

My Humble Analysis

I'm not going to declare one system better or worse.  Despite having similar mechanics and tropes, they do have a distinctive feel to them that sets them apart, and in my opinion, makes them better for different styles of games.



5th Edition D&D reminds me very much of the source material that inspires it.  While your characters will eventually be able to kill ancient red dragons and even put the hurt on weaker demon lords, through most tiers of play D&D characters feel more like "action heroes" rather than full on mythic characters or super heroes.  Your D&D characters may be the best of the best, but they still feel like the top tier of an existing class of people in the setting.



13th Age feels a bit more like playing mythological characters.  With the emphasis on narrative resolution and the jumps in power between tiers, it really feels like characters that gain even a few levels in 13th Age are already likely some of the most powerful people in the setting, and by the time you are nearing 10th level, the Icons themselves are probably the only people that outclass you.  This is less about playing Fafhrd, the Grey Mouser, or Conan and more about playing Perseus, Cu Chulainn, or Gilgamesh.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Road to GM Burnout is Paved with . . .

When I ended my Age of Rebellion game, I didn't think was had GM burnout.  I've had it before, and I didn't think I was feeling the symptoms.  The problems with the campaign were problems with that specific campaign, and everyone was still having fun.  There was some painting into corners that happened, and I didn't want to leave footprints.



In the mean time, I had been reading Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, and actually getting really excited about the game.  I hadn't run a long term d20-ish fantasy RPG in a while, and after running a few session online via hangouts, I was even more excited to put together a face to face game, even if it was a one shot.



That session didn't go badly.  However, it didn't go smoothly.  While it seemed like a lot of participants enjoyed the game, almost every effort I put into the game at the table that night felt like a chore.  It wasn't flowing naturally, and I kept losing the player's interest and attention.  I wasn't attracting it by doing my job.

Even though the game was at worse average or maybe mediocre, not really bad, I started to question if I ever wanted to GM again.  It was so much work for so little return.  I felt like I was working for the table, and I definitely did have GM burnout.

Let me reiterate, there is not animosity towards anyone at the table, nor is any of the rest of what follows directed at any one person, but looking back over a career of GMing, some clearly drawn lines begin to show up in sharp contrast.  Last Thursday just helped remind me where the lines were.

So, with that preamble put in place, let me present the things that personally throw me into GM burnout faster than anything else.  I don't expect this to be universal, but I would also be surprised if there aren't a few other GMs that have run into similar walls in their illustrious careers.

Making your own characters when I made up pregens



When I'm running a one shot, and I make up pregens, part of the point is to be able to jump straight into the game.  I know it's a new game system, and people are interested in making their new characters, but that's probably something they could have done on their own time, rather than having the session start an hour later.

Not only did the session start later, and hold up all of the people that just took a pregen and were ready to play an hour ago, but I wasted a lot of time making up pregens.  It feels a lot like someone telling me, "I really don't care how much time you put into this.  That's your problem."

That feeling comes up a lot on this list.

Nit picking the pregens I made up

Yeah, its a minor thing, but it builds up.  When I buy, read, and take notes on an adventure, and then make a pregen of every single class in the game, and you go through a few of them and point out things I forgot  (or even things that I didn't forget, but I did differently on pregens I did one weekend as opposed to the later ones I did), I just feel like, again, you may not care how much time and effort I'm putting into the game.  If I'm not perfect, even with a new rules system, I need to be called out.  Thanks for that.

Playing the exact same character over and over again



I know that sometimes people don't have a great idea on what to play next.  They just want to play.  But make an effort to make your next dwarf warrior a little different than the last one.  Personality, weapons, something.  If you are playing the exact same character over and over again, its really hard for me to not feel like just running the same encounters over and over again.

On on a related note--if you die, play someone else.  Don't change the name and keep going.  Even in a one shot, with a very minimal amount of investment, that type of thing kills even a minimum of immersion.

I realize this is probably another thing I personally need to get over.  My expectations of having some modicum of immersion probably don't count for much when everybody else just wants to roll dice, but that doesn't make me want to GM that much either.

If you can't prove otherwise, you are probably neutral

I'm not against alignment, but I do think that if it can be avoided on the player side, it should be.  Why?  Because people get weird ideas in their heads, and one of two things happen.

1.  People think that if their character is nice, they are also good.  I've seen Into the Woods, this is not the case.

2.  People think that the motivations in their head are clearly being broadcast to the party, so their long term plan for the greater good, or their convoluted reasoning about murdering an innocent NPC must be obvious to everyone without explaining it.

Here is my quick primer--if your character doesn't do something for someone else every day, for no personal benefit, and potentially at a cost to themselves, assume your character is neutral.  You don't need to be good to be a ranger or a paladin these days.  You can be a well meaning neutral person with a pleasant disposition.  But if you really want to be good, you should probably be making hard choices or at least be able to defend your choices with some degree of competent philosophy.  Otherwise be neutral.

"Why do you care?"

"Because I'm one of the idiots that lives there!"

And if you have a hard time picturing your neutral character saving the world, just remember Star-Lord's answer to Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Disensentivising any non-humorous role playing at the table

Somewhat tied to the above.  What if someone really wants to be a pure and righteous good guy at the table?  They really want to spend time with orphans and doing charity work in their downtime.  They really want to spend five minutes after a battle to talk about how devastated their character is that so much slaughter had to happen.  They want to spend their action just before the BBEG is defeated trying to convert them back to the side of the angels before killing him.

"Sure, you can do that, but you better make it into some kind of joke, because that kind of character depth makes us uncomfortable with our murderhobos  (oh I hate that term)."

If you pressure the person wanting to play a true blue valiant good guy into joking about it, make them into the butt of jokes constantly, or in any way try to nudge them towards the way adventurers "should" be, how are you any different than the guy that bugs you when he plays a paladin and tells the party what they can and can't do?

Looking up rules even when the GM says not to do so

"There has to be an entry on how long an average candle burns!"


"How do the rules handle X?"

"I don't remember for sure, but for now we'll just do this, and we'll look it up later."

Player doesn't take turn, but rather looks in book.

"We'll just roll with this for now, okay?"

Another player starts looking up rule as well.

"Fine, we'll just ignore the GM and let the game grind to a halt so we can look up exactly what the rules say on this relatively minor subject."

I'm not really the kind of guy that wants to be a tyrant GM.  But if I am running the game, I'm responsible for the pacing and the taking of turns and such, and if I say we run with something, we need to run with something.  If we stop to look up rules, everybody gets slapped in the face with the fact that this is a game first and a story second, and if that's the case, why not just grab Talisman or Descent off the shelf instead of me wasting my time running the game?

Looking up rules when the GM is 99% certain of a given rule

Related to the above, if I say something works a certain way, we're going to roll with it that way.  When I tell you I'm 99% sure it works the way I just said, the above is really, really in effect, and you looking up the rule, even if its just to say, "hey, you were right," is pretty much like telling me you don't trust me to run the game, and you want to make sure I don't screw you over with my malice or incompetence.

Being coy with your actions

"I am place three stones equidistant across the entryway."

"Uh, okay."

"I have scratched the letter Z into the far wall in blood."

"Uh, okay."

"I have placed three broken arrows in the back pocket of a fallen friend.  Now it should all work."

"What should work?"

"You know, that one ritual from that one book that I read where that ritual summons the Wild Hunt to murder the last guy that touched the dead guy with the arrows in his pocket.  So the encounter is over, because nobody can fight the Wild Hunt, and I'm going to start looking the treasure chests now.  How much XP do I get?"

When you do cryptic things without explicitly explaining your intent to the GM, and then expect some grandiose plan to come into place because he didn't stop your sequence of events before you got rolling, you are either assuming that your GM is a genius that knows exactly what you are doing, and isn't keeping track of the actions of the game world and five other people at the table, or you are trying to "beat" the GM, immediately casting the game in a competitive light.

So the GM either feels dumb or like the enemy.

Expecting the GM to remember what is on your character sheet



Depending on the game, you might have motivations, personality traits, or goals that might grant you bonus XP, fate points, bennies, or inspiration.  There might be six people at the table with similar attributes.  When its appropriate, and when it is the right time, let the GM know when you think something like this triggers, rather than grumbling after the session that you never get a chance to use a given rule.

By absolving yourself of the responsibility, you also imply that the GM's job is to memorize every character sheet.   Even if he has copies of all of them, its going to slow the game down tremendously if he stops to look at every one of them after every exchange, just in case.

Fishing for bonuses

While you should bring up the above to the GM, and while its fine to ask a perfectly logical question, fishing for bonuses can get tiresome, especially when you aren't pointing out the logic of the situations, but just trying to give your character a better chance at doing something that the game rules have already assigned a number to.

"I'm on the high ground!"

"Okay, you get +2."

"And I know what those helmets are like, because my crafting skill lets me build them."

"Eh, I don't think that's worth a bonus."

"And I've killed a guy from above before."

"Lots of people in this game have killed people from above before."

"Oh, come on! I need a better chance to hit.  I have X, Y, and Z traits on the character sheet!"

"None of those have anything to do with this.  You just rattled them off because the names almost make them sound as if they are related.  They have a very specific use in the game, and this isn't it."

"Fine.  I guess I'll get ready to take my action.  You do remember that I said I was reading a book on jumping on top of people back in the library, right?  I at least get that bonus, right?"

Not only does this get tiresome to the GM, but its a disservice to the other players, because unless you have an unlimited time to play the session, you fishing, and then complaining about not getting extra consideration, just just cut down on the amount of time they get to play their characters this session.

In fact, this kind of situation is what makes me cringe when I read GM advice that says, "don't say no," because that advice is predicated on reasonable behavior by the players.

Expecting the GM to know all of your options

Destiny of the Endless was the multiverse's first GM.  He is also about to tell Superman that his flight and super speed are part of the same array so he can't use them at the same time.

Some RPG rulebooks are big.  The basic rules may not be that complicated, but things like powers, spells, feats, traits, etc. can be daunting.  As a GM, I figure I should know the base rules, and skills, since most players will be able to use those with or without training.  I should know the spells/powers/traits/feats that my NPCs are likely to use, and how the overall system of powers or spells or what have you work.  But I can't memorize the whole she-bang.

So when it gets to your turn and you ask the GM what this feat does, or what this spell does, I can only immediately think, "what were you doing while everyone else was taking their turn?"

Please, please look up the rules on your turn.  I know in a new game, if you aren't familiar with things, you may not know what you are doing, but even then, asking someone where you would find information, especially before your turn, really helps everybody out.

Requiring a recap at the start of your turn because you weren't paying attention

Once in a while you were looking up what your character can do, so you miss something.  I get that.  Once in a while, something happened on the turn right before yours and it didn't sink in what just happened.  But if it is your turn, and every time you need a recap on everything that has happened since the last time you took a turn, as a GM, I'm going to feel like a failure, because my game is so abysmally boring that you can't even be bothered to pay attention from round to round.

That said, it's more and more understandable if people stop the game to look up rules, question the GM, ask the GM to remember all of their abilities, and/or argue about potential bonuses for hours at a time, and in that case, I'm already annoyed and may not think it's my ability to run a game that's boring you, but rather the constant roadblocks to a smooth game play experience.

And that spells BURNOUT



I guess what it boils down to is, if the amount of work that went into a game amounts in a bad, or even mediocre game, and the players don't seem to appreciate what you did to run that game in the first place, even if said lack of appreciation is shown indirectly, it's not going to do much to keep you coming back to the table.

And the real problem is, once you've failed to engage enough people, you do really start to wonder if it's you.  It may be me, and if that's the case, I don't want to burden even people that do appreciate the effort with my GMing skills once they have begun to atrophy.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Thirteen Plus Five

After having a chance to play 13th Age for a while now, and having the chance to run Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition a few times now, I think some house rules have congealed in my head.  If I were to run 5th edition again for any length of time  (more on that later), I think these are the rules I'd have to use.



Alignment




Alignment doesn't effect anything in 5th edition, as near as I can tell.  Bonds, personality traits, ideals, and flaws all define the character, and work with the Inspiration mechanic to encourage role playing.  Alignment is less important than ever in D&D.

Yeah, its traditional.  Its also divisive and misapplied more than just about any other rule in D&D.  13th Age does a great job of feeling like a spiritual successor of D&D without alignment, so I'm pretty sure a D&D game can survive the excision.



Movement

I don't like playing on a grid.  I have learned this in recent years.  After having run 5th edition a few times, I have also learned I don't really want to keep track of exactly how far away people are from one another, and to have a bunch of running totals for character distances.

13th Age has a great tactical movement system that doesn't involve exact movements.  Its not particularly difficult to translate "Far Away/Nearby/Engaged" into D&D.  Precise movement rates are still useful for chases to help determine advantage or disadvantage.

13th Age has simplified weapons and its ranges already take into account the movement system, but I don't think it's too hard to convert ranges on the fly.



Abstract Ranged Attack Ranges

Since it takes a full round of movement to get "far away" using the 13th Age system, and given the average PC moves at 30, if a weapon or attack cannot be used at a range greater than 60 feet, it can't be used "far away."

If a weapon has a range greater than 60, but that range would put the attack at long range, then the attack from far away at disadvantage.  If the entirety of the weapon's range is 60 feet or less, then a character doesn't need to worry about the weapon being at long range so long as they are attacking a nearby target.

Disengage

Since D&D has it's own rules for disengaging, instead of the disengage check in 13th Age, a character would follow those rules to disengage.