Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Hinge's Handle

The mysterious, and yet ultimately annoying, "Hinge's Handle".
There's clearly been some sort of mistake. I recently entered RPG Superstar 2012 - the industry's equivalent of the X Factor - yet somehow my magic item didn't make the final cut. Surely a clerical error? Either that, or the sheer originality of my submission simply blew their minds.

Sadly not. Now the lights have come up and I stand nervously before the judges. "This is a really annoying item", says one, whom I naturally assume to be Simon Cowell. "You're making too much work for the GM", snaps Paula Abdul. The crowd snickers. All that's left now is for me to make some hissy, retributive comment and flounce off-stage.

They're right, of course. It's great that Paizo runs this every year, and in all seriousness, it's a massive undertaking for the judges to reply individually to every item they receive. I just hope that GMs look beyond their own submissions, and view the competition for what it truly is: a creative gold mine. Just reading through the final 32 - and the rejects pile - has given me a stack of solid items to introduce into my campaigns (won't my players be pleased!). But beyond that, its given me ideas for villains, organisations, even whole adventures. There's a lot of talent out there.

So what did I submit? Well, I'll be the first to admit my item is a bit "gonzo" - and does put a lot of work onto the GM's shoulders - but hopefully it facilitates some creative thinking at the table. That's the hallmark of a good wondrous item. Unfortunately for me, it's also fairly abundant in those suggestions that beat me to the cut!

Still, I suppose there's always next year.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Drowning in Rules

Have at you, internet! (thanks to Tjaart for the pic)
Eh? What’s that? You didn’t know they’re making a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons? There now, I’m sure we’ll still find a use for you around here somewhere. Sharpening our pencils, perhaps.

Of course, you should have heard the internet exploding. Just when we thought the Edition Wars had reached an uneasy impasse - its soldiers settling down to a peaceful Christmas dinner in the trenches, perhaps even a spot of footie on no-man’s land – then, blam, here we go again. 

Here at Beholder Pie we remain optimistic. We’ll be participating in the play-test, and I’ll be reporting our findings. As the rules get clearer, we may even start playing a few one-shots between campaign sessions. I'm looking forward to it. If "D&D Next" succeeds in reconciling our community's fractious differences, the hobby as a whole benefits – and for that, I’d happily see a few of my sacred cows slaughtered.

My predictions? Well, loads of people are saying they’ll be able to “port” their 1E character into a 5E game, or pitch a 2E thief against a 3E rogue, but personally, I think that’s reading too much into it. When Monte Cook says “your 1E-loving friend can play in your 3E-style game and not have to deal with all the options he or she doesn’t want or need”, I believe he’s talking about play styles, not rules. I’m guessing what we’ll see next year is a core set of rules heavily based on 3E and 4E - but just very, very basic. An “Essentialising of Essentials", if you will. Then, a bunch of optional modules to cover all the varying situations a campaign throws at you, presented for varying levels of simulation (which is where 3E sensibilities come into play). As for playing highly-customised characters alongside simpler characters, compare the Essentials Slayer to the Weaponmaster fighter. I think we’ll be seeing more stuff like that.

Still, in this time of reflection it’s interesting to compare how some of those older rules sit alongside the new ones. Take drowning, for example.

In 4th Edition, swimmers last three whole minutes before running out of breath. Thereafter, they need to pass a DC 20 Endurance check each round or lose a healing surge, followed by Hit Point loss. If we assume our swimmer is a 1st level wizard with no skill training, that’s a 95% chance of failure every round. Even if he fails every check, it’s still going to take him twenty six rounds to drown after running out of breath. To put that into perspective, with a swim speed of 3 our wizard can swim 512 metres underwater before drowning – or just over ten lengths of an Olympic swimming pool.  

I’m no athlete by any means, but I grew up near the sea and I’m a relatively good swimmer. Diving underwater, I can hold my breath for thirty, maybe forty seconds before I start to freak out. Three minutes? Not a chance. Now, I’m not opposed to bending the rules of reality if the payoff is good – but here, I’m not sure what this rule is actually doing. For determining how long you can hold your breath out of combat, it’s simply broken. In underwater combat, that three minute “buffer zone” is meaningless – a single blow and you’re onto the endurance checks. So why have it at all?

According to my Rules Cyclopedia, an average swimmer in Basic D&D lasts fifty seconds before he runs out of breath. After that, he could drown any round (50% chance first round, with a -5% penalty each round thereafter).  In Basic, each round equals 10 seconds, so the longest he could go after running out of breath is one minute forty. 

This is a great example of Basic doing it better, but it doesn’t take into account skills. For 4th Edition, I’d use something like this...

Given a few moments to prepare, an adventurer can hold their breath for a number of rounds equal to their Constitution score (or half their Constitution score if they are performing a strenuous activity such as swimming). Once out of breath, the character must succeed on a DC 10 Endurance check. Success buys them another round, but raises the DC of their next check by 5. If they fail any of these checks, the character is now dying.   

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Lost in the Labyrinth: An Alternate Storyline

It's almost time to wrap up my Thunderspire Labyrinth series, and look to new things. Amongst other more mundane resolutions (see: waistline), I've committed myself to gaming more this year. I want to play a complete campaign of Gears and Gunpowder in ten parts, one session per month, and get our main H-E campaign as close to Epic as possible. I want to play more, write more, and - most important of all - submit more. This month is a bit of milestone for me, as I've got my first published article coming out in Dungeon magazine! It's really given me the kick I need to take this stuff more seriously, so here's hoping you'll stick around for the ride.

So. Thunderspire. Thus far all we've done is re-imagine a few of the NPCs. Now it's time to take the bull by the horns and look at the adventure as a whole. As far as encounters go, I think it's got some of the best so far. You'll have a fun job converting everything over to MM3 maths, but beyond that it's all pretty cool, especially the Well of Demons. No, the biggest problem, I think, lies with the story.

As written, you've effectively got three "acts". The first ends at the Chamber of Eyes, where we learn that the McGuffin (the captives), has been taken to the Horned Hold. The second act takes us from the Horned Hold to the Well of Demons. However, the link into Act 3 ("Interlude 2") is somewhat clumsily shoehorned into this section. Paldemar - this dude we know nothing about - decides to destroy us, because "we could pose a threat". When we take the fight back to him, the chances are we'll miss his big plan completely. After all, the only clue seems to be a bull's head floating in a vat...

When I played this, I kept the same sequence of locations, but shook up the story. My main changes were:

  • The captives are now Lord Markelhay's daughter and her servants. Sure, it's "Rescue the Princess", but it adds a whole lot more gravitas to the chase.
  • The enemies are the Mages of Saruun themselves. For years, they have been trying to unlock a door at the heart of the labyrinth, and now they hope to trade Markelhay's daughter for the key.
  • Behind the door is, you guessed it, a primordial. If they manage to open it, all hell breaks loose.    

I'll be the first to admit it's not particularly original, but in my defence I was looking for that "classic D&D" feel. Not to say it doesn't have a few neat flourishes - final battle in a chamber containing a moving map of the labyrinth made from smoke? Yes, please!

Anyway, see what you think. I like to think it holds together better as a narrative, at least.