More Blog Posts About Games And Such

10 06 2008

I’ll keep it short and simple. As much as I can.

I was on fire metaphorically in TF2 last night; did my best pyro runs evar. Probably helped that the other team wasn’t particularly coordinated while mine was, but I was an actual difference-maker a few times instead of being the ineffectual guy who runs out and gets critrawketed over and over. I’m greatly looking forward to the pyro unlocks… given they’ve got nine classes to get through and they move in Valve Time, probably better they’re doing him now rather than in 2012.

Did a Rock Band session that was completely unsatisfying until I gave up on trying to play with other people and just jammed solo. Yessir, nothing quite like some jackhole picking Green Grass & High Tides and a difficulty level that’s clearly over his head, forcing the entire band to scramble to save him and the whole thing to collapse under its own weight and fail out at the 85% mark. Also, once again, everybody is a cheap bastard and does not buy extra tracks, so the 40+ songs I got were unselectable. I eventually folded and ran off to play some The Cars. …how do you refer to a selection of a band that has a plural as the last word of its name? Is it like having a few of The Cheat?

The “will you / won’t you” question of DDI (Dungeons & Dragons Insider) is effectively solved by virtue of the DDI tools not actually being available for several months to come, despite WOTC advertising the hell out of them as a selling point despite not even mentioning on their website that they’ve been delayed except in a hidden tiny article deep in their archives. Epic fail, folks. Rolling a natural one. So even if I wanted to support their questionable subscription model, there’s nothing there yet.

Probably for the best. Every time I try to get my head around DMing my head explodes. Even with the guides (my paper copies got delayed, dammit) it’s bewildering how to properly set up combat encounters, design monsters (a must since the MM book basically just has high level badasses), and pace out the XP to keep things going. I can tell a story just fine but as always the gymnastics are confusing. I’m probably better served PLAYING D&D instead of trying to RUN D&D a few times first. Which, again, I can’t do without DDI or some variant. Yay catch-22! I need to devote less headspace to this game considering it’s a divine confluence of contradictions and suck right now.

Blah blah, made massive progress in COH, blah blah, basically avoiding SL except to take care of IMs, blah blah, meh, whatever, done now.

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28 responses

10 06 2008
Anonymous

Setting up encounters is basically like building a party out of things that like to eat parties. Unless they’re abnormally powerful or weak for their level (you determine this by how much trouble they end up in frequently) you throw approximately 1 enemy per party member of equal level. Elites and Solo monsters count extra, minions count as part of an enemy each. They even have “roles” of their own so you can tell the sneaky types from the “hit it with trees” types without even reading their statblocks (kinda like the point of class “roles”).
As far as designing monster, many of them have a semi-lowlevel variant, and you just tack on a couple of powers to describe it better. For generic humanoids you can get away with taking the race template from the back of the MM and the class template from the DMG and tack on an appropriate number of HP and 10+1/2 it’s “level” to all defenses (+ the modifiers listed in the templates), you’ll be close-ish. Close enough to be believable, at least.
Oh, and err, umm, “Hi?”. I’ve been lurking on your blog since the Penultima days, you picked me up as a fan back then, and I keep an eye out for any/all of your projects (don’t use SL though, so I haven’t seen your work there yet). =)

10 06 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Hiya. :)
I’m thinking I’ll need to ‘fake’ my enemies via humanoids with appropriate level-boosts and a few select powers that make them into a controller / defender / whatever. Anything else is just flavor text, whether that humanoid is actually human or is a bioengineered monster or a magnesium elemental or whatever. I did the same thing in NWN — I used the critter wizard to develop a pretty ordinary player-race enemy (because the wizard excelled at those), switched out the weapon for something more appropriate, gave them story-appropriate spells or resistances and weaknesses, and set them forth.
The problem is that my first adventure idea involves a lot of insanity like fire elementals and posessed magical weapons and clockwork killer robots and people toting around steam powered cannons and crap. In the Monster Manual, for 1st level folks or so, you have kobolds and… um… well, that’s roughly it. I hate, hate, HATE the idea of doing Ye Generick Bolde Adventurers Go Tomb Robbinge And Beat Up Some Kobolds games because they’re so painfully straightforward… and sadly easy to design compared to my madness.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of balancing the group of them after that, and since the only way to TEST it is with a live fire exercise, um, yow. Springing my own hideous mutants on an unsuspecting party with a n00b DM at the wheel is probably not a kind thing to do.

10 06 2008
Anonymous

For the most part, find the closest match to what you want, and subtract half the level difference from it’s defenses and to hit, dock it an appropriate number of stat points, and adjust the damage from it’s powers if it’s higher than what a PC could do at that level by much.
For your Fire Elemental example:
Start with a Firelasher.
Take away 1 to two stats twice, reduce all stats by an additional 1, then reduce all defenses and to hits by 5 (half the level drop from 11 to 1). Also adjust for ability score changes if a modifier went down.
His attacks are Dex-1 vs Reflex doing [dice]+str damage. You may consider reducing the attacks to doing a single die of damage, depending on how nasty they are supposed to be. Might also remove Whirlwind dash, or reduce it’s damage and distance.
Give him 25-35 HP, because that’s typical for a level 1 enemy.
You now have a fire elemental that should be appropriate-ish for a first level group.
Do something similar starting from Homunculus or Warforged for the clockwork killer robots.
As for possessed magical weapons, umm, err, not sure.
A steam powered cannon (if man portable, which “people toting around” would imply) is basically a weapon. Just stick it where you think it should go and deem players who don’t blow a feat to be nonproficient and give them a penalty?
Would you believe that my entire day at work is basically assigned to installing hardware that hasn’t arrived yet as soon as it walks in the door, so I’m burning time waiting on it on here? =)

10 06 2008
keikotakamura

I was wondering where you were. :P I wanted to say, James is totally all about getting all that new D&D stuff. He’s been reading up on technical specs and thinking up backstory for his merchant dwarf character. He’s been trying to get *me* into it, but I told him, “Hey, Seven’s going to be playing it.” And he said, “Oh, cool! If Seven’s going to be playing it, I’d have at least one solid player who knows what he’s doing.” But I guess if all the stuff that you were planning on getting isn’t going to even be available for months and months, then there’s not much of a point, huh?

10 06 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

…ah, right, people can pick up weapons dropped by enemies. I keep thinking of video games, where once someone’s dead, they flicker a few times and vanish. c.c; I’ll need to take into account that the players can pick up the various steam cannons and steam swords and steam whatevers…
Good working example with the fire elemental. I’ll use that pattern to develop the other dudes. I’m definitely adding Warforged to the campaign since they’re THERE, and there’s even a player race for them now, which makes my job a lot easier — the clockworks aren’t quite Warforged but they’re a good starting point.
Next thing I’m wondering about is pacing. I was told on forums a brawl will probably take an hour to get through. I’m thinking I really can’t have more than 3-4 of these in a single adventure (three of which are in the campaign) or else we’ll be bogged down in slaughter and have no time to roleplay, do skill challenges, and enjoy the story. Then I look at Keep on the Shadowfellborderlandwhatevers and it’s unending supply of fighting and wonder how many days that’d take to get through… what’m I missing?
Lastly, XPies and lewt. I’ve always been of the mindset that trying to micromanage these is folly. I like to say “Okay, you finished this major plot point, you all level up” rather than calculate out the exact costs and expenditures. As for weapons I’m coming from an anime background where generally the characters don’t toss out their signature swords in favor of a +1 fire axe, so I’m pondering just offering upgrades to existing gear, crafted by the hardworking peoples of the town they’re visiting, per levelup. This won’t satisfy the MAD LEWT type players but I don’t think I could satisfy those guys with my style anyway.

10 06 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Honestly, every time I drop in SL I’m bogged down by support IMs. And on top of that I’m really not sure what to work on, other than the looming spectre of massive 2.2 revamps to 7Seas… and I’ve never been very good at just ENJOYING my time rather than investing it in something. I’m hopeless. :(
I wouldn’t define myself as a “solid player who knows what he’s doing.” Despite designing several award winning NWN modules I actually know very little about the mechanics of D&D. That’s why even though I’m brainstorming DMing techniques I’d rather try things out as a PLAYER for a change before I dive headfirst into running the show.

10 06 2008
sptrashcan

A historical note that may be explanatory. While D&D is considered the grandfather of RPGs, its origins are in tabletop wargaming, and it has never strayed too far from this origin. Unless 4Ed changes things significantly (and yes, I have been lackadaisical about actually looking at the thing), the emphasis of the game is probably still combat, with the rest of the game playing a distinctly secondary role. The loot system is part and parcel of advancement, and this has also been true from the earliest days of the game.
It’s possible to use D&D for games that aren’t combat focused, but your feeling that this is working against the grain is correct. You may want to consider other systems: though they won’t have the mass-market cachet of D&D, if you’re planning a game with a circle of friends that hardly matters.
(I’ve been rattling around various ideas for a much less combat-focused system that promotes character diversity and equal participation by all players, but it’s not nearly ready for prime time. Maybe someday.)

10 06 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

That is truth in that it’s based on wargaming — but I think it can be more. Notably with the online play concept, where you don’t have to have this massive gulf of distance between you and your character and actual roleplaying is very much possible. You can do good story and plotting AND good brawling, and that’s in fact my ideal; I love video games with really enjoyable cutscenes and dialogue trees AND entertaining action sequences. (Mass Effect, anyone?)
Part of the reason why I want to use D&D to do this is BECAUSE it’s against the grain, too. It’s a subversion of a system normally used for pedantic goblin slugfests to take those rules and apply them to something slightly skew to the original intent. It has a bent appeal. :D It won’t be easy, and I’m having trouble getting my head around it, but I think it’ll be entertaining in the end.

10 06 2008
kublaikhan

Re: the weapon upgrades. 4e actually kindasorta encourages this, given that there is a ritual to ‘disenchant’ weapons into ‘residuum’ which can then be used to enchant something else. You may want to consider this.
Re: your remark upthread about kobolds. You do know about Tucker’s Kobolds, right? And what with the racial ability kobolds have now, they are to be feared and respected. ;-p
I’m reading through all the materials now trying to figure out how to port 3e monsters to 4e–I think it should be possible in most circumstances.

10 06 2008
keikotakamura

I’d rather try things out as a PLAYER for a change before I dive headfirst into running the show.
Then why don’t you?
…She says, obviously not aware if it’s that easy or not.

10 06 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

For that, I’d need someone to DM an adventure. For that I’d need to know someone who’s doing such and have access to them. For that I need online play because I don’t have any locals. For that I need the DDI tools or similar services which are vaporware. And thus, fail.
Maybe in time. I gotta stop fixating on this since there’s not likely gonna be any real development on it anytime soon.

10 06 2008
Anonymous

Actually, it’s not against the grain at all for 4th ed. The DMG for 4th devotes a fair amount of space to giving solid rules on how to run social and skill challenges as encounters of fitting difficulty.
As for combat, when I played in the game day event this weekend, our 5 character 1st level party took on:
2 Hobgoblin soldiers who had blocked the corridors to reach them with tubs of burning oil
Necromancer + 4 armed skeletons (this one was ugly, since the BBEG blocked the doorway with some AoE attack spell, leaving our rogue stuck in the room by himself for a turn)
2 animated stone statues (fortunately, we had the sense to not trigger the trap that animated the 2nd one until we’d finished the 1st)
We could have fought a wraith, but we were able to convince it not to interfere with what we did, so long as we didn’t offend it.
Adventure took a total of a bit less than 3 hours. Hmm… now that I think about it, it didn’t seem like there were so few fights, considering the amount of cool things all the PCs got to do.
Finally, I’ll say that being 1st level in 4th Ed is 10 times more fun than being 1st in 3rd Ed, since you’re strong enough to actually take risks and have fun, instead of having to do everything you can to avoid ever taking 1 – 3 hits and dying.
-NeoVid

10 06 2008
kublaikhan

I’ve been thinking about a system that I plan to set up if a potential job offer comes through.
Essentially, build a standard tabletop, and hang a webcam over it. Then, just use cam/VoIP software for the networking aspect, and have the person with meatspace access to the table (probably the DM) handle the various aspects of moving the characters and monsters around.
Building an electronic form of the character sheet should be easy enough; I’ll probably do it in a spreadsheet tomorrow.

10 06 2008
pyromaniac_ks

There are various freeware gametable software widgets.
And Twoof, I think you are seriously underestimating the enthusiasm of people you already know for (virtual) tabletop gaming. I’ve been plotting vague campaign ideas out, I know WS has been engaging in worldbuilding, although I dunno if he’s planning on running a campaign or not… And so on.

10 06 2008
kublaikhan

True enough, though I’ve not had much luck with them, as the people I play with run on multiple operating systems–I run Linux, and I have both windows and mac users as players.
In the past, I’ve sorta halfassed things with IRC and a basic gametable program, though it was always a pain trying to figure out whose firewall wasn’t playing nice during that particular session–either that, or describing the battlefield in text, and giving approximate distances for people. That worked OK in 3.5e, but 4e will require something a bit more concrete for tactical movement.

10 06 2008
sukael

Fortunately, the 4e DMG has some very solid sections of what the stats, attacks, and damage for level-appropriate monsters should be… leaving the DM to figure out the flavor and unique special abilities instead.

10 06 2008
sukael

Take a look at Maptool, maybe? It’s Java-based and so platform independent, in current development (but already very solid for most uses), and a VPN program like Hamachi (which has a free version and works for Linux, Mac, and Windows) gets rid of firewall problems.

10 06 2008
kublaikhan

Looks like an update of what we’d been using previously….
Thanks for the tip. My DM cravings have been very strong as of late.

10 06 2008
sukael

It even has a “measure diagonals as 1 square instead of 1.5” option for 4e’s non-Euclidean battlemaps. :D

10 06 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

This may help. I’ll look into it. The few gametables I’ve tested so far were terrible, basically half-abandoned open source projects with clumsy interfaces and few art resources. Something professional grade with a GOOD UI would help a lot.

10 06 2008
kublaikhan

Which is handy, as I was thinking of doing an HP Lovecraft-themed Farplanes-heavy campaign. ;-p

10 06 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

3 hours for 3 fights. That seems to jive with the “one fight an hour” policy — did you do anything other than move from fight to fight?

10 06 2008
sukael

Maptool doesn’t come with much art, but it’s easy to import maps and stuff.

10 06 2008
schadrach

How long a fight can take depends entirely on how quickly people move and what level they are. Fights last longer rounds-wise than they did in 3e, but each round can be handled much quicker.
As for XP, you can either hand it out per DM fiat, or do it hard by the numbers: 8-10 encounter = 1 level, where skill challenge encounters count as encounters, as do major puzzles and completion of major quests in the story arc yo have planned.
As for your concerns about loot, there are two rituals in the PHB that solve it, so long as some member of the group has the “Ritual Caster” feat. One of them destroys a magic item and gives you magical golden dust called residuum worth 1/5 market price (coincidentally also the resale price of the item) and the other is the new item creation, which can use either generic buyable reagents or residuum and is used to create or enhance magic items.
In the DMG there is a chart with 10 packets of treasure to hand out per level that will keep the group on the expected wealth curve. Use them as-is, or chop them up and dispense them in some other distribution.
Oh, and I’m the anon that posted the first two blocks of mechanics advice, figured I might as well sign up. =p

11 06 2008
sukael

blah blah blah~
A small expansion on this statement – 4e is the first edition of D&D to really take a solid look at the math underlying the distribution of stats and such.
Pre-3e, putting monsters together was basically intuitive guesswork.
In 3e and 3.5e, it worked a bit better – the CR system gives a rough idea of how powerful a monster is. The problem is that CR is basically reverse-engineering… you create the beastie, then you figure what its CR is. THis is good for simulationism, not so much for easy gamemastering.
In 4e, a monster’s level and role directly determine its basic stats, typically with small boosts or unique abilities corresponding to its racial type (goblin, whatever) or keywords (undead, demon, etc etc).
On a side note, one thing you may like storytelling-wise is that the 4e DMG has fairly solid guidelines for stunts that don’t quite fit existing powers (the general rule being “Str/Dex/Con/Int/Wis/Cha vs Fort/Ref/Will” with miscellaneous bonuses to either side), complete with a table outlining damage amounts to hand out that won’t unbalance the game (or, more importantly, suck completely) compared to a PC’s normal powers.
Also, though it’s (obviously) not as well-fleshed-out as the combat mechanics, the “skill challenge” subsystem (taking three pages in the DMG) gives a guide for complex use of skill checks, including difficult social interactions.

11 06 2008
sukael

A note on fights – because of the way 4e generally encourages larger encounters (anywhere from four or five to sixteen or twenty beasties in a single fight, not counting the PCs), it’s much more feasible to have small encounters that “snowball” into running fights as creature X calls for backup Y or whatever.

11 06 2008
Anonymous

It was just an intro scenario, so the only major things outside of combat were a statue moving puzzle to open up the labyrinth in the first place (took about 10 minutes, since the conclusions I jumped to with the clue we were given were pretty close), figuring out how to placate the the wraith the 3 or 4 times it showed up, and rescuing the 2 victims who were chained directly to a trap trigger.
Afterward, the DM told us that we pretty much beat the adventure perfectly, with two major events done out of order (though I think that made it easier on us) and a secret exit missed… but since we managed not to set off the cave-in, we didn’t need it. A less decisive or lucky group would have taken longer.
-NeoVid

11 06 2008
Anonymous

That’s probably the main way to make a fight harder in 4th. A big reason my group did so well was because of dividing up the enemy groups. We were told afterward that if we’d screwed up, we could have triggered 3 encounters at the same time, including one that we circumvented entirely… Yikes.
-NeoVid

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