Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Basic Set with Character Generation

This is something of a cross-post from a discussion at ENWorld. Once again there's been a discussion of "how to simplify the new player experience" that usually turns into calls to use pre-generated PCs, or templates or stock packages, etc. I rather strongly disagree with that, and here's why:

A lot of the addictive goodness in D&D comes from playing your own, personalized, unique character. The new player experience simply must have that element. The way they pick a character really has to be the same core process that the rest of us use, so they can cleanly interface with the rest of the rules after they play the first time.

To me, that means that the core process itself has to get whittled down. After a lot of thought, I have a campaign that does this:
- 4 core races
- 4 core classes
- No skill points (see Unearthed Arcana)
- Only class bonus feats (i.e., none at 1st level)
- Spontaneous divine casters (see Unearthed Arcana)
- Fixed starting spell lists for spellcasters (in 3 flavors)

Therefore, 1st-level character generation looks like this, for all players:
- Roll abilities & arrange
- Pick race & class, roll hit points
- Spellcasters choose starting faction (spellbook)
- Buy equipment (from one-page basic list)

I think that's easy enough for first-time players, but it's not any different for expert players in my campaign. If you want expanded options, those are all pushed to higher levels: new spell selections, fighter feats start at 2nd level, etc. If you have expert players and that's not enough for them, start them at higher level, to whatever point the number of options match their taste.

A really important thing to remember is that D&D's hugest growth came in the 1978-1984 era when they had the "Basic Blue Set", limited to levels 1-3, and was intended to directly connect with the larger AD&D ruleset that was coming out at the same time. For some reason, TSR/WOTC has avoided that ever since, and IMO it's the biggest ongoing mistake the company ever made.


To recap: Player choices are great; just push some of the choices to higher levels. Start new players at first level, and expert players at higher levels if so desired. 3E has too many of the choices front-loaded at first level.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Castles!

I've been doing some extra reading on historical castles lately. I've hit on a wonderful architectural book: "Castles: Their Construction and History" by Sidney Toy. It's got almost 200 detailed maps and floor plans, so it's about the best resource for nearly game-ready historical maps that I can think of. Here's a few random thoughts:

Porting a small amount of magic into a historical milieu wouldn't change things a whole lot. Within a few pages of medieval siege chronicles, there's several references to what could be considered the belief in magic in the first place:
- "Among the engines of the crusaders there was one which threw enormous stones with unusual force. It did great execution among those on the battlements and the enemy's attacks on it had no effect. The Turks then brought up two witches and set them on the wall in order that they might curse it; but a missile from the engine struck and killed both the witches as well as three other women who were with them." (Siege of Jerusalem, 1099; p. 146).
- "The fleet, having erected on their galleys a tall siege tower and other engines, all covered with raw hides, made a vigorous attack on the Tower of Flies. Those in the tower, assisted by the citizens who came to their aid, responded with equal energy; they threw Greek fire on the siege tower, and on the other machines of their foes, and by this means destroyed them, and so the attack from this side failed." (Siege of Acre, 1189-1192; p. 147)
- "Greek fire, having the property of spreading in all directions, was thrown from the engines of the Saracens on the Crusaders to their great terror and consternation." (p. 143)

These last two quotes force me to think of replacing historical Greek fire (poorly understood by the Crusaders, and something of a mystery even to this day) with one or two wizards casting fireballs, and having much the same effect.

The other thing that occurs to me, is that even if some amount of flying magic or creatures are a concern in the setting, the likely technological response would be to simply halt castle evolution at the stage of strong square and round keeps, as seen in the 10th and 11th centuries. (That is, the evolution of large curtain walls and bailey complexes in the 12th and 13th and later centuries might be arrested.) In other words, the presence of some amount of magic and fantastic creatures might itself serve to retard certain technological progress beyond a low-middle-ages level.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Software Tool for 3E: OGCombatWin

I just completed a tool that I was aching for over a long time. What it does is automatically simulate several thousand combats in 3E D&D with any monster you enter, and evaluate what level of NPC fighter would be evenly matched against it. I'm using this as a super-fast starting point for CR evaluations of new (or advanced or modified) monsters. OGCombatWin only evaluates raw attacks (melee or ranged), against as many opponents as you'd like. It doesn't handle any spells, magic, or special abilities, so you'll still need to evaluate or playtest to come up with hard CR numbers (usually more devaluation is needed at higher levels).

In fact, I've found this incredibly fun to play around with, and I'm finding it to be a really useful tool for exploring how the 3E CR system fits together. One thing I've been really surprised by is how well the x2 monsters = +2 EL rule works -- it's not perfect, but it's close to correct a whole lot more than I originally would have guessed. Try it out, it's kind of fun! (I also provide all the source code if you want to see it or improve it.)

http://www.superdan.net/software/

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Playtest Party Stats

Recently I've been doing some playtests for a potential reduced d20 System game. Among the things I worked up is a nice page of standard statistics for NPC parties of levels 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12. I've found this pretty useful -- you might check it out under "Standard Party Statistics" located here: http://www.superdan.net/dnddocs.html