Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hey Gen Con Attendees....

If you aren’t doing anything Saturday afternoon at Gen Con, why not consider joining us for the 2014 GM’s Jam (SEM1459210)? This event is focused around a fun give-and-take between Game Masters, Referees, Dungeon Masters, Judges, and whatever other Powers Behind The Screen there are. We talk about common GMing pitfalls, joke about player issues, and have a great time coming up with ideas, inspiration, and potential fixes for campaigns. It’s really just a great exchange of ideas overall. Hey, and as a seminar, it's totally free! Here’s the info and link for those interested:

Game ID: SEM1459210
Title: 2014 GM's Jam!
Description: Back for another year, this popular event brings Game Masters together to discuss how to handle issues, tweaks, and problems at the gaming table. Novice & veteran GMs are welcome!
Event Type: SEM - Seminar
Experience Required: None (You've never played before - rules will be taught)
Materials Provided: Yes, materials are provided for this game. You do not need to bring your own.
Start Date & Time: Saturday at 4:00 PM
Duration: 1.5 hours
End Date & Time: Saturday at 5:30 PM
Location: Crowne Plaza : Conrail Stn


This event is one near and dear to my heart. Because when you cut through all the drama and hobby silliness and edition wars and everything else, there’s a part dedicated to running great games, improving campaigns, and improving one’s craft at the gaming table. The tips, advice, and discussion on how to do that transcend a lot of different tastes and systems, and is one of the best features to me in all of Gen Con—making a better gaming experience for my gaming circle and myself, and improving my creations. The 2014 GM’s Jam is very much about all of that!

This is usually the time of year where I post with a great deal more frequency about Gen Con. For those of you who aren’t attending Gen Con or don’t have a particular interest in the proceedings, I promise that’s not the only sort of post I’ll make in the next couple of weeks. But I have to admit, the pull of Gen Con is getting stronger…

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Opinions on 5e from the Gaming Circle

Now that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has been out at least in Starter/Basic form, I wanted to get the opinion of some of the gamers in my gaming circle. The names have been changed to protect the guilty/innocent, but it's interesting to see the different positives and negatives everyone has taken away from their gameplay and reading so far.

The overall consensus seems to fairly neutral-to-good, with some more enthusiastic and some merely tolerant. However, I feel like I should point out that itself is a huge swing overall--I think our circle was largely less than thrilled with Wizards of the Coast in general and 4th Edition, so even coming back to a point of neutrality is a good step. I know more of us are looking ahead to getting into some 5e games at Gen Con, so it'll be interesting to hear further opinions then, as well as see if any of the concerns raised are better understood or clarified.

Opinion A
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is a system that I have very much come to like. The game has been in development for at least three years and I believe it shows. I played in the Beta at Gen Con in 2012 and 2013. The game has come a long way since then. I have played three sessions with the Basic rules in the last few weeks and truly enjoy it. I believe the game flows well and comes off as a bit “rules lite.” The artwork is what I expect from D&D and looks great. It seems to me that WotC took a lot of player information and opinions when they formed this game. However, some people will always be put off from it since it is D&D and that is unfortunate. Sure, you can look at the game from a Munchkin or Min / Max view and find problems. You can with all games. I look at fun and playability and I think this version of D&D is right up there with 2nd in my book. I will be playing this version as my main RPG for quite some time. I hope others give it its fair share of attention.

Opinion B
Wizards' newest entry into the Dungeons and Dragons series is a mix of good and bad. The system itself is solid, providing us with Advantage/Disadvantage, and carrying over some of my personal favorite bits from 4th Edition (renamed of course so people who never played it can't recognize them). Proficiency Bonus being the same across the board makes things easier mixed with the lack of feats (initially) allows the focus of the character to move to their IC actions, versus what is on the sheet. Certain spells that were Save vs X have been retooled to make them less of a go to answer for a quick and decisive victory, and damage spells were buffed to scale with the inflated HP values introduced in 5th.

However, there are small cracks in the drying veneer of the product that can make game play bog down into arguments and moments of bad vibes. Abilities are tied to two different kinds of rests meaning players can argue when to take a knee versus a full sleep (why stop for 1 hour when we can take 8 and just let everyone re-pick spells). Monster CR is back and judging from the Starter Set is poorly implemented, the PDF is vague on many rules resulting in Twitter questions to Mearls being replied with 'have the DM decide'. If you need to house rule on issues that every edition prior has covered, then perhaps it needs to go back to the drafting tables?

Overall impressions: Fun to play, rules have potential but ultimately other rules-light systems have it beat due to the lack of documentation on certain things. For a game that was 3 years in the making, it still has a lot of small issues that I am lacking a word count to list. I could probably write an article on it.

Opinion C
Overall, I’m…warmly neutral?....on the game. I was not a big fan of what 4th Edition did with powers for fighters or how they focused almost entirely on combat for spells compared to previous editions. However, I believe the at least the Basic and Starter of 5th Edition looks a lot more promising. Defining what Dungeons and Dragons is can be very difficult, but this just “feels” more like it was made by someone who actually played earlier editions of the game. This doesn't have that "tactical wargame" feel from 4th, though I still see some bits adjusted and changed in there.

With that in mind, I do not like the hit point inflation, and I think they could have stripped this down even more. I really wish they'd stop the entire "auto recharge" concept on rests--it takes away from a certain grittiness in terms of the long, hard wilderness slog, hundreds of miles from proper rest and refuge. A lot of the magic has been tweaked, which is nice, but I think wands are way overpowered—I really don’t like the whole recharging bit. Still, the background options are neat, and this is a game I would at least play for a short campaign, if not longer. I doubt it will be my absolute favorite, but I think it will do well for itself. I hope so—we need more gamers!

Opinion D
I have had a very hard time trusting Wizards of the Coast to create anything close to a decent gaming product since about 2004-2005, so understand I’m coming to this from a position of extreme skepticism. However, I do believe that the merits of an open playtest can be seen here, as this game more closely resembles the D&D I’d want to play than anything they’ve done in a while.

Having stated that, I don’t see myself personally running this anytime soon. Even stripped down for Starter/Basic, there are too many bells and whistles for characters compared to what I want. Although I’m happy about how spells like Fireball are back up to snuff, I think magic staves and wands have too much power—the recharge rules aren’t my cup of tea, to say the least. I’m also not too enamored with the feats I’ve seen too far—I don’t want to dive down the rabbit hole of min/maxing and specialization again. Then again, maybe I’m just tired of feats in general. I want simpler, more open play, and for all that is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t look like 5e will be that for me. Full Rest=Full Hit Points, HP recovery by a “Second Wind”-type mechanic, unlimited Cantrips are all big “Nays” for me. In their defense, these are all things that look pretty adjustable, and I do like the Backgrounds, for example. I’ll stick with my older games in the main, but would definitely play in a campaign. I'm just not sure there's anything here that a game like Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry or Dark Dungeons doesn't do better, but perhaps find players--which shouldn't be undervalued!

In future versions, I’d also like to see a fully-functioning Basic pdf—one including a few sample monsters. That’s something they can still work on, though. Pathfinder, the SRD, and OGL have set a very high bar for free game support. Still, this is a good starting effort--I hope they build smartly on it!

Opinion E
Honestly I don’t mind NXT (which I will continue to call it). However, I don’t mind it because it seems like Hasbro/WotC ran away from 4th but tried to take things some people liked along with them. For example, I like having something to do all the time as a low level wizard but still have things that are unique enough that it doesn’t feel like the fighters are casting my spells also. Further the 1/day (Wait… extended rest we kept that nonsense) the ability to use a “healing surge” is nice at low level. I am unsure how it correlates to higher levels. Also it feels like the Clerics have a severely limited spell casting ability.

In our session the cleric had two level 1 spells (great, yeah?) and he could heal a superb amount (It was like 1d8 +5 or 6) which is great for a single burst heal. But it also meant that when the rogue and I were at the 4 or so damage level (roughly 50% of our max) we had to decide if he wanted to make that heal (essentially losing a large portion of healing) or waiting until the fighter needed the larger amount of healing.

The two fighters seemed cookie cutter. Apparently NXT has some sort of specialization when you make your class. I think both of our fighters were ranged specialists. At least it seemed that way they both used more ranged weapons than melee. Otherwise NXT fighters are the same as 4th, PF, 3.5, 3, AD&D… etc…

Okay so the Wizard. I played a wizard. NXT does the same thing with Cantrips/Orisons as PF does (so I can cast them all day long) My level 0 Ray of Frost did as much damage as my short sword (with a lower minimum 1-8 as compared to the sword’s 3-8). Also instead of my normal ranged attack for it I used my INT bonus as the attack bonus. Which is cool. I liked actually being able to hit with ranged touch spells. But further other than Magic Missile I would rather cast my Cantrips all day long. I learned that unlike previous editions using HD for spells like Sleep and Color spray it uses amount of HP or % of remaining HP. Which is kind of neat (makes some spells useful at higher levels) but seems to hurt lower levels.

All in all I would play it but I am not a huge fan. If [redacted] decided to run a long term game I may play in it but I wouldn’t be going out of my way to find games/players/GMs. That’s all I have to say about that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The GM's Binder Table of Contents

This past weekend, I finally finished (for the moment) compiling and organizing my GM's binder. I had printouts dating back a decade in some cases, but more often I had pdf printouts or maps that were in folders that I wanted to finally bring together in one, central location. Sometime late Saturday, after a few hours of organizing, scrounging up every last page protector in the house, and printing off a few last items I realized had gone missing, I had my GM's Binder how I wanted it:

Yes, it's a lot of pages--274, to be exact, and it'll probably grow/shrink a bit as I add/subtract stuff that comes along. A few folks on Google Plus asked if I'd mind sharing the Table of Contents. It wouldn't mind at all, but it's a pretty long list of pdf printouts, excerpts, scan-ins, and photocopies. In some cases, I no longer even have the original book, which make some of these pages of great value personally:

Zack's GM's Binder Table of Contents

Cover Page

Character Creation/Getting Started
-Castles & Crusades Character Creation Guide (Homebrew)
-Forgotten Realms Random Class/Race Table (Homebrew)
-Forgotten Realms Approved Deity List (Homebrew)
-C&C Character Sheet Examples
-Additional Starting Item Table (Homebrew)
-Standard Adventuring Charter (Homebrew)
-Homebrew C&C Classes
-SIEGE Engine Notes (Homebrew)

Charts and Tables
-Character Background Pages & Tables (Epic Role Playing)
-Random Physical Features (Colin Chapman)
-Background Occupations (Adamant Entertainment)
-Exchange Rates/Gem Types (Judges Guild)
-100 Treasure Chest Stuffers (Top Fashion Games)
-100 Marketplace Goods (Top Fashion Games)
-Libraries (Dragon Magazine #37)
-Hireling Traits/Generation (somewhere online)
-Drunken Debauchery (Colin Chapman)
-Random Dog Table (Swordfish Islands)
-Ship Names (Jon Brazer Enterprises)
-Adventure Generators (New Big Dragon Games)
-Quick Treasure Hoard Generation (New Big Dragon Games)
-Gems and Jewelry (New Big Dragon Games)
-Gems and Valuables (Hackmaster 4e)
-Magic Item Reference Sheet (Zenopus)
-Mundane Items Table (somewhere online)
-100 Whispered Insults About The Adventurers (Top Fashion Games)
-Treasure Map Destinations (Jeff Rients/Miscellaneum of Cinder)

Monsters & Encounters
-Random Encounter Charts for C&C (Homebrew)
-Excerpts from Appendix C: Monster Encounters (AD&D 1e)
-Monster Mutations (Jeff Rients/Miscellaneum of Cinder)
-Forgotten Realms Regional/Location Encounter Tables (Based on the lists from Realms 3e)
-One Hit Point Monsters (Zenopus)
-Orc Encounters (Troll Lord Games)
-100 Exciting 1st Level Encounters (James Mishler)

Equipment & Arms
-Magic Items, I-VI (New Big Dragon Games)
-Miscellaneous Treasures (Kellri's CDD #4)
-Additional Items (Homebrew)

Forgotten Realms (Note: New Section)
-Maps and Annotations of the Savage Frontier/Moonshae Isles/Sword Coast (Various)
-Forgotten Realms Trade Map (Wizards of the Coast)
-Forgotten Realms Calendar, Holidays, and Notes (Fan-created/

-Bars, Bartenders, Gamers, and Wagers (Hackmaster 4e)
-The Development of Towns in D&D (Best of Dragon, Vol. I)
-Settlements & Inhabitation by Population Density (New Big Dragon Games)
-Generating Towns and Cities (Expeditious Retreat Press)
-Settling Down (Dark Dungeons)
-War! (Dark Dungeons)
-Construction Costs and Time Required (Judges Guild)
-Assorted Ready Reference Sheets (Judges Guild)
-Trade Goods (Silk Road, Expeditious Retreat Press)

-Travel distance in the Forgotten Realms (Various)
-Travel tables and references (Hackmaster 4e)
-Weather Conditions/Events (New Big Dragon Games)
-Off-Course Determination (New Big Dragon Games)
-Hunting/Foraging (New Big Dragon Games)
-On The Road (Kellri's CDD #4)
-Living Off The Land (Kellri's CDD #4)

-Sobriquets (Dungeon Crawl Classics)
-Names of Middle-Earth (Colin Chapman)
-Holmesian Random Names (Zenopus)

Plots and Rumors
-The Big List of RPG Plots (S. John Ross)
-Rumor lists from old modules (TSR)

Random Matters and Appendices
-Movements and Encumbrance (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
-"The Campaign" (from AD&D 1e Dungeon Master's Guide)
-Appendix T: Titles (Dungeon Crawl Classics)
-Giant Rolemaster Herbs List (somewhere online long ago)
-Tavern Menus (Small Niche Games)
-Writing Notes
-Middle Isles Map (Rob Conley)

Additional References and Inspiration
-Various blogs, forums, links, and online references
-Appendix N

So, there you have it: one take on the almighty GM's Binder. I'm happy that I was finally able to organize so many of my well-loved and handy reference materials in one (admittedly large binder). Now to wait for the next random table or bit of inspiration I can't do without...

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Wiz Dice Review (With Pics)

The other day, I came home to a pretty cool surprise--my wife had raided my Amazon Wish List and purchased a bag of 100+ Wiz Dice! There they were, on the table in all their dicely glory.

(I should explain that I am normally a Gamescience man, but the recent uncertainties, reported poor dice quality, and ownership change with Gamestation have not been easy on those of us who like our "precision" dice. As a result, Gamescience have become rare, and the price has gone way up. I have hope for their booth at Gen Con under Lou Zocchi, but for now, it's a tough road for the Gamescience fan).

I've been looking for some good dice for my loaner sets, for my box of "reward dice" for my gaming group, and for a couple of other projects. So precisely what did the Wiz Dice bag yield?

The kids and I poured out the dice on the table, and started putting complete sets together. We ended up with 13 complete sets of polyhedral dice. Some were rather plain green or red, but some had a nice sparkle effect or sort of a whorled look:

13 sets of 7 each yielded 91 dice. There were 7 in a small wiz dice dice bag--sort of a blue/gray swirl set. There were another 13 dice that were "strays"--mostly part of a green set and a white set. Overall, I had 111 dice in this bag, almost totally evenly split between each dice type.

As far as the dice quality, they aren't Q-Workshop, but I'd say they're on par with what you'd get from Chessex or Crystal Caste. The numbers are big, and except for one set of white "cloudy" dice, are pretty easy to read. I only found a few where the number paint was chipped at all--of course, at Amazon, it says the bag will contain "no factory seconds", so take that as you will. Compared to the Chessex Pound-O-Dice, there seems to be more complete sets in Wiz Dice, which is going to be a big plus for many.

Overall, this was a really nice surprise, and I think 100+ polyhedral dice for $19.99 is a pretty good deal. I was able  to put together some nice loaner dice bags, and had plenty more left over for the general pool and other projects. Wiz Dice are currently available at Amazon under free Prime Shipping, if you want to check them out for yourself. They'd be great for a group who's just starting out needs to grab some dice for everyone, for folks who like to have a healthy dice stockpile, or for anyone looking for some pretty nice dice at a pretty good price.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More Random Hamlet Names, Hoosier-Style

How awesome is it to see Jeff Rients blogging again? Over the weekend, he posted "Random Hamlet Names", which got me thinking about some of the small and strange town names we have here in Indiana--many of them quite suitable for use with the fantasy world of your choice.

So, Hoosier-based and approved for use by the Order of the d30 (or so say I), here are 30 random Indiana-based Hamlet names, ready for use in your next campaign. Remember, each of these is an actual town, community, or village in my Hoosier* Homeland:

(Roll 1d30)

1) Gnaw Bone
2) Stone Head
3) Toad Hop
4) Mount Ayr
5) Windfall
6) Dead Mans Crossing
7) Oolitic
8) Needmore
9) Floyds Knobs
10) Hardscrabble
11) Brown Jug Corner
12) Sunman
13) Elkhart
14) Sulphur Springs
15) Loogootee
16) Hogtown
17) Birdseye
18) Greens Fork
19) Battle Ground
20) Kingsford Heights
21) Onward
22) Crows Nest
23) Shamrock Lakes
24) Town of Pines
25) Salamonia
26) Rocky Ripple
27) Stoney Lonesome
28) Ossian
29) Roachdale
30) Etna Green

*-For the uninitiated, "Hoosier" is the term for someone from Indiana. Many legends surround the name, from the "Husher" name given to argument-quelling early Indiana boatmen, to any number of individuals. It also sometimes is used to denote "hicks" or "white trash" in Missouri, which caused a great deal of consternation during a family visit to St. Louis. -Zack.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wrapping Up RuneQuest 6: What A Ride!

Right now, it looks as if our RuneQuest 6 campaign will wrap up right around Gen Con. This weekend's session was pretty indicative of what I see as one of the biggest strengths of the system--combat.

The group of characters has really increased their power level--one wields the sword of the world's great legendary hero from ages past, and two of their party may be descended from gods. One is a half-Nereid, with a stunning command  over the waters,  and their shaman continues to unlock his family's tradition of power. The supposed vengeful scoundrel of the group has worked tirelessly on his connections, and  this weekend help lead an attack on a city that meant a great deal to his sense of revenge.

The group managed to start fires within the walled city, smashed much of the occupying fleet, but also decided to attack the occupying legion's camp outside the walls in the midst of all the confusion. The legionnaires were scattered and confused, but enough of them formed into lines and rallied to make it an epic battle.

That's where RuneQuest 6 absolutely shone. The fights were desperate, and it really felt desperate--someone said it felt like the group's version of the Alamo, or the sense of defeat at the end of Empire Strikes Back, and it's hard to argue. RQ6's Combat Effect system saw such effects as Max Damage, Disarm, Choose Location, Pin Weapon, and Bash Opponent used to tremendous effect on both sides. The fighters did their best, but even the greatest fighters in the world can fall when surrounded. They wounded or incapacitated 27 soldiers--27! They fell back, rallied, faltered, surged, and finally, overcome by terrible wounds, fell to the ground. And the legions still pressed on, and they stubbornly fought on--probably well past the time they should have begun a fighting retreat, but that's party of the fun and temptation of a back-and-forth combat system--the idea that the tide can be turned at any time.

Instead, the front-line fighters fell, one by one. In the end, they escaped only by the sacrifice of the priest of the Sun Lord, who essentially left himself a ruined husk by channeling the power of his deity to destroy enough of the opposing soldiers to give those still standing a chance to drag their terribly wounded comrades away to a longboat that was also fleeing. In the end, they had smashed a fleet, torched a city, and caused massive disruptions to the organization and ability to wage war of one of their greatest foes. But they did it with terrible losses. I'm not sure yet what the lingering results of the severe injuries will be for the wounded, but they'll have paid deeply for it. For a group that has at times seemed nigh-unstoppable, they ran into an absolute buzzsaw--and I watched them desperately fight with everything they had--not a death spiral, but with a sense that any single move could mean not only the end for them, but could mean the end for the player they were fighting besides. As a Game Master/Referee/Castle Keeper, that's a pretty great feeling.

Honestly, games that are overwhelmingly combat-oriented don't always do it for me. And we've gone sessions in this game before with minor combat, if any. Still, when it's time to do RuneQuest combat, even though I at times miss a bit of the simplicity of some of my OSR games, I can't really have any substrantial complaints. Even having to reference to see just how certain rarely-used Effects work hasn't been too much of an irritant, even though I'll admit it slows us down somewhat. I'm very glad I chose RuneQuest 6 for this campaign--it has really helped impart the epic combat and sense of mortal-but-awesome heroes I wanted for this Greek/Bronze Age/Viking/Earthsea mashup.

This group will likely have some hard fights ahead in the last couple of sessions before the campaign wraps. Maybe they won't all be like this weekend's titanic struggle, but I bet they'll still be anything but dull.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bedroom Wall Press Going Free

I definitely wanted to mention this, as I think it's a really cool step to take and an interesting experiment besides. Bedroom Well Press, the makers of the very cool Hulks & Horrors RPG, has decided to make all their pdfs free. Not only that, but except for artwork, all their Product Identity clauses are being rescinded as well. Of course, if you like what you see from the pdfs of great games like Hulks & Horrors, John Berry is still selling softcovers of the games, too.

It's not my gaming company, of course, but I like this move. There are more RPGs out there than ever before, and I can only imagine how hard it can be to do anything in the mode of sustaining sales after an initial burst. I'll be wishing BWP the best with this, and I hope John shares how it plays out for his endeavor.