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Topics - jhkim

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OK, so I'm DMing a 5e game, and there will be a powerful magic item for the PCs that they might get as a reward from a grateful dragon. It should be a big deal - maybe not quite artifact level, but much more than just some extra damage.

One of the options I'm thinking of is an item that conveys the approximate shape of earth and stone, to within plus or minus 3 feet, out to 300 feet or so. This would mean that once they are at the site, they would know what the map of the dungeon looks like - although not what is inside the rooms.

At a metagame level, this means that the players can look at a rough map of the dungeon beforehand. I would probably given them a traced map, and they would just fill in a few details, which would simplify the back-and-forth of drawing out map shapes.

As a straw poll, how would you feel about such an item as a player? Would it spoil the fun of dungeon exploration? Or would it be a useful reconnaissance?

Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / PC Death in 5th ed
« on: February 03, 2016, 01:28:15 am »
So I've been running a 5th ed D&D game, and I have trouble killing characters.

At least, I had the idea originally that this would be a fairly deadly game. And it has often been tough for the PCs. They each took two PCs in a sort of mini-funnel with the idea that they might die. However, thus far, only one has died.

Compared to early editions, it's hard for a single PC to die without the whole party dying. There are a lot of options to keep a PC alive. And if it looks like the whole party might die, I'm usually a little lenient and give them a chance at something that will save them - like a last-minute negotiation, or a chance that a severely damaged enemy will retreat. Thus far, they've been lucky in those.

It's not like it's a critical problem, but it is something I'm pondering - and I'm wondering what other people's experience is with this.

So, I'm doing an apocalyptic campaign using D&D5 - along the lines of The Walking Dead, except that instead of zombies, there is a plague of dragons that are coming to completely dominate the surface world. The PCs are going to be part of a largish (but decreasing) group of survivors who start out as normal things like bakers, tailors, and farmers.

I'd like it if in addition to personalities, they had some distinctive abilities as well, rather than all just being identical drones.  Also, some of these will over time grow into more experienced veteran survivors - in keeping with the genre.

Anyone have experience or suggestions for this?

I'm considering coming up with something like NPC classes.

So this is split off from a thread from Pundit's rant, "Only Players Roll" is the Exact Opposite of Good Design, as it doesn't have to do with who rolls.

One of my pet peeves in RPG design has to do with the effect of skill. In the real world - and in many fictional worlds - someone with expert skill can reliably do tasks that a beginner has no chance at. Examples I gave from the earlier thread include,

Quote from: jhkim;853097
1) An expert professional acrobat can do a back flip hundreds of times on stage without failing. A beginner can try a back flip over and over and never succeed.

2) An expert computer programmer can write a quick program to do something that someone new to computers has no chance at. Say, find the frequency that each of a given list of names appears in a given ebook.

3) An expert locksmith can reliably pop open a door that a beginner can't get through at all.

4) A grandmaster at chess can reliably beat someone who is middle-ranked. In turn, a middle-ranked chess expert can reliably beat someone who is a beginner to chess.

5) An expert sniper can reliably make a shot that a beginner can't hit even after dozens of tries.

6) An expert mountain climber can reliably make it up a cliff face that a beginner can't get up after dozens of tries.

This is not reflected by many systems. For example, in BRP, rifle skill starts out at 25% for someone with no training, and 90% is considered high expert skill.

My preferred way to deal with this is to have this built into the skill system.  For example, suppose my resolution mechanic is to take stat total + 1d10 and compare to a difficulty number (like Eden Studio's Unisystem).

I can say that a backflip is difficulty 15, an expert professional acrobat has stat total 14 or more, and a beginner might have a stat total more like 3 or 4. Then I can easily scale this, so that a legendary acrobat might have a skill of 22, and reliably perform feats that even experts regularly fail at.

Quote from: jhkim;853122
CORPS (1990) is a generic universal RPG by Greg Porter, which can be a little drily generic, but has a lot of good features. I used a version of it for several Star Trek campaigns that I quite enjoyed.

I find that this sort of niche protection is actually quite fun for game-play, and indeed many RPG designs seem to downplay their skill system as niches, and instead play up non-skill abilities that are more absolute.

In the Star Trek games, say, there was no problem that other officers couldn't do the tricky engineering tasks that the engineer could. It's just like when other characters can't do magic like the wizard can, or can't fly the way the energy projector can in a superhero game.

On the other hand, there are other systems where skills are in a narrower range. Bren replied on the earlier thread,

Quote from: Bren;853137
It sounds like you are saying characters either have Engineering - in which case they can fix the Jefferies tube - or they don't have Engineering - in which case they can't fix the Jeffries tube at all.

That doesn't sound that different to saying that a character with professional level skill in Drive Auto (40%) can driver the car without needing to roll unless the circumstance is very unusual and a character with 0% can't drive the car at all. (Not all characters get all skills above 0%.) A character with >0% and less than 40% might need to make a roll under some circumstances where the professional would not - say driving at speed in the rain or some such.

I'm not seeing what you find significantly different between the two systems. Can you elaborate?

Let's say we have four characters - one with skill 6%, one with skill 17%, one with skill 33%, and one with skill 40%. They want to drive to Arkham quickly. You say that the one with skill 40% doesn't have to roll. Does the one with skill 33% have to roll? What should his chance be? What should be the chances for the others?

In my preferred system, I'd just set a difficulty for the driving task, and everyone would roll their skill against that difficulty. There's no need for me to make judgement calls about who needs to roll and who doesn't - that's handled by setting the difficulty level.

I'm not saying that engineering is a binary case of either (a) has engineering means automatic success, or (b) not having engineering means automatic failure. Some characters might have a little engineering skill, some characters might be somewhat skilled and can do middling tasks, and some characters are masters. What you can do automatically is described by your level of skill.

The Indie RPG Awards for games released in 2014 have been announced:

The OSR has had more of a showing this year, with Blueholme Prentice Rules tying for 2nd place for Game of the Year, and Deep Carbon Observatory winning for Supplement of the Year.

Something that occurred to me from the thread on "Do your PCs walk around town in armor?"

I've been in a number of games where the PCs were set up to be bumbling fools, which tend to culminate in conflict and frustration. Personally, I have a few rules of thumb that I have for play. There are always exceptions, but these are the baseline:

1) The PCs will be key movers and shakers for the scope that they're currently in. So, rather than being junior members of a national organization, acting as backup for the big heroes, they are some of the toughest people in the village.

2) Their adventures generally give the PCs social status. If they eliminate the monsters from the caves outside town, then they are celebrated heroes of the town. If they are scary dangerous, then they are like famed outlaw gunslingers.

3) The PCs will be better informed about action-relevant stuff than the NPCs they meet, in general. An individual NPC will have many pieces of information that they don't have, but they have a better grasp of the big picture. In particular, I strictly avoid having dialogue with NPCs which are really about me as GM lecturing to the players. If they really need an info dump, then I'll have them make a skill roll for information-gathering, and give a concise summary of what they find. Preferably, though, I'll set them up to already have key information that others don't know.

How do these compare to your rules of thumb?

I'm possibly taking aim at a sacred cow - but I'm wondering about the whole purpose of individual XP.  As a counter-example, one of the features of True20 was that it has levels but no XP. Instead, everyone went up to a new level based on GM judgment. Alternately, one could have XP but they are accumulated by the group rather than by individual character.

Some people felt that this was opposed to the "game" aspect of RPGs, but I don't think that's true.  In competitive sports or games, no one gets a head start because of experience.  More experienced soccer players or chess players do better solely because the player actually has more skill - not because they have more points accumulated from previous games. In both, everyone has the same level - it's a "level of play" for the group, rather than an individual "experience level".

In this sense, making an equal playing field can emphasize player skill rather than hiding it.

That said, I don't have a problem with inequality - such as having random-roll characters where a player can get lucky or not.  With random roll, though, you're getting something from the mix-up, by making players try things they might not have chosen. The question in my mind is, what is gained by having some players be at different levels?  What's the individual XP supposed to motivate?

So I was impressed with the latest Mad Max movie, and was considering about what systems would be best for handling that sort of vehicular action.

Older choices might include Car Wars, GURPS Autoduel, and After the Bomb. I'm not a big fan of either Car Wars or GURPS Autoduel, though, and they're about high-tech armed cars with mounted weapons - while Mad Max is more about chases and people on top of cars/trucks shooting and jumping around on them.

New choices might include ocTane and Atomic Highway. I haven't tried either.

What are opinions here?

The Indie RPG Awards for games release in 2014 are still registering until this Saturday, May 30. I think there's a fair mix of games registered, but all the best games of 2014 should be represented.

The list and registration is up on the site at:

Please give a gander and register games you think should be there.

Note that this is a new domain name from last year, so if you have old links, please update them.

Split off from Everybody always rolling for checks since it seems to be a distinct issue.

Quote from: Bren;827157
* Players fall into several somewhat overlapping categories.

   A) Those players who intentionally use OOC knowledge. They aren't actually interested in separating IC and OOC knowledge.

B) Those players who are interested in separating IC and OOC knowledge but who, for one reason or another, end up more or less unintentionally using  OOC knowledge.

C) Those players who are interested in separating IC and OOC knowledge and who are willing and able to separate the two.

D) Those players who separate IC and OOC knowledge, but go too far and have their PC do IC stupid actions just so they won't be perceived to be using OOC knowledge.

Most people I game with fall into types B) and C). Category B) players will sometimes ask not to be told things their characters don't know. Some players who really want to act from a deep in character perspective will also not want to know OOC stuff.
As another side note, in over 40 years of gaming on two continents and many states I've never encountered a player who in my judgment was able to fully separate all OOC knowledge.

On the one hand, I agree that players can't fully separate OOC knowledge. An important corollary to this, however, is that I cannot recall ever encountering a GM who really *wanted* the players to act only on IC information.

Most importantly, GMs almost always give out a host of out-of-character cues that they expect to be acted on. Things like "Are you sure you want to do that?" along with "There is rumor of strange hauntings in the ruined castle" and other "the adventure is here" cues. In a lot of games, there are a ton of IC options that I avoid because they wouldn't be fun OOC for the players.

Of course, there are still players who will blatantly act on completely OOC information - which I am annoyed at. My point is that fixing this should be focused on communicating norms rather than pretending that there is a hard-line "No OOC" stance.

So, playing 5th ed D&D, one of the features we have is that many fights get to a point where there is a lot of having a PC drop and then revived later in the round. Compared to earlier editions, there are a few things that help this:

1) No negative hit points, so even 1hp of healing brings you back from dying.
2) The Healing Word spell, that gives 1d4+stat bonus at range as a bonus action - along with a few similar options.
3) Getting up from prone takes only half your movement, with no attacks of opportunity.

In our fights, that means there is a phase where some characters keep dropping and then getting back up.

On the positive side, I hate it when players are taken out of the fight early and then have to sit around on their thumbs for a while through the remaining fight. Most versions of D&D are good at preventing this - the cleric is a vital innovation - and 5th edition does this very well. However, even with magic, I find the popping in and out of death to be hard on suspension-of-disbelief.  

I'd like to brainstorm on ways to keep the effect that all the PCs tend to stay up until they are close to TPK - but being easier on suspension-of-disbelief.

Related to a recent thread (now closed)...

I still haven't read the game yet, but there was an update from Monte Cook Games over the weekend, from Google Plus:

Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / Isolated fights in D&D
« on: February 12, 2015, 06:13:19 pm »
I don't play D&D that often, but I'm playing in the D&D5 campaign now.

The last few sessions, we've had a number of isolated fights in the wilderness - where we're traveling for severals days with nothing happening, and then get into a fight. Since it's so long between these, it means that we can use all our best spells and limited-use abilities immediately. Doing this, we were able to win all of these fights handily.

Is this a problem, do people think?

To my mind, the one issue is that we got a ton of XP compared to the difficulty. Intuitively, it feels like the XP should be proportional to how difficult things are. Under the experience system, if we have five fights within an hour - that's the same XP as if those same five fights are scattered over a month. However, it is vastly more difficult to survive the five fights in an hour.

Inspired a bit by the thread, Ridiculous Things You Saw Done With Point-buy,

In principle, ultra-specialist characters can potentially be pretty interesting, having to work around their limitations and leverage their strengths.

Certainly in fiction, there are fun plots around, for example, a super-soldier who can't manage civilian life at all, or an analytic genius who is forced to live by his wits, or a prodigy who is barely on the edge of functional, or a smooth-talker who gets into situations that he can't talk his way out of.

However, in RPGs, such characters tend to be disparaged as broken and/or munchkin. So, what allows ultra-specialist characters to work well? What problems are there with them, and how do you solve those problems?

Personally, I don't tend to find them a problem in games. It does mean that as a GM, I have to think a little more deliberately about throwing in stuff within their specialty and outside their specialty. It doesn't have to be exact, though.

In the D&D5 group I play in, we have one player whose job now forces him to travel regularly. He is not at all a flake, and is a good player, but he just can't maintain our weekly schedule at this time because of his travel schedule. So far, he has only made it to about half the sessions, and thus he lags far behind everyone else on XP.

We've boosted him up so that he's up to the player with the next-lowest XP. Still, it seems a bit unfair.

In some other systems, the effect is still there but can be less glaring. So, for example, in GURPS or Amber the difference between a 115 point character and a 130 point character isn't all that glaring - but the difference between 3rd level and 6th level in D&D is.

How do other people deal with a situation like this?

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