Friday, August 1, 2014

5e Investigation skill.

Over on the Hack and Slash blog and other sites discussing 5e there some talk on the Investigation skill.


Perception. Wisdom (Perception) check lets you spot, hear, or otherwise detect the presence of something. It measures your general awareness of your surroundings and the keenness of your senses. For example, you might try to hear a conversation through a closed door, eavesdrop under an open window, or hear monsters moving stealthily in the forest. Or you might try to spot things that are obscured or easy to miss, whether they are orcs lying in ambush on a road, thugs hiding in the shadows of an alley, or candlelight under a closed secret door.

Investigation. When you look around for clues and make deductions based on those clues, you make an Intelligence (Investigation) check. You might deduce the location of a hidden object, discern from the appearance of a wound what kind of weapon dealt it, or determine the weakest point in a tunnel that could cause it to collapse. Poring through ancient scrolls in search of a hidden fragment of knowledge might also call for an Intelligence (Investigation) check.

The way I view it is that Perception is about knowing that something exists. Doesn't tell you anything about it other than the fact it is there and whatever information your sense gives you.

Investigation is about deducing a larger picture from the things you perceive. In GURPS Perception would be coupled with a specific knowledge skill. For example you use perception to find a shiny golden rock and geology to tell whether it is fools gold or real gold. In 5e Investigation is what would be used in place of the Geology skill.

I would recommend limiting Investigations to deducing any information on specific objects. Leave it to player skill to figure out the larger picture that connects the details that are uncovered. It very easy for a referee in a crime scene encounter to allow his player a Sherlock Holmes moment via a simple successful investigation check. I think this would take too much away from the experience of being there as the characters.

For example a party discovers Mr. Peabody dead in the foyer. Through a successful series of Perception, Medicine, Wilderness Survival and Investigation checks. They find

  • Mr. Peabody was killed by a blunt instrument (Medicine)
  • The instrument was a candlestick (Investigation)
  • The candlestick was in the bushes (Perception)
  • A bloody footprint in the mud nearby (Survival)
  • The footprint was of a man of medium height and weight (Investigation)
  • They met earlier Miss White a older heavyset women.
  • Met earlier Colonel Mustard a middle aged man of medium height and weight
  • Met earlier Miss Black a young petite women in her 20s.
  • Met earlier Professor Plum a middle aged man of medium height and rather thin.
I would leave it up to the players to put this information together to deduce that it was Colonel Mustard in the foyer with the candlestick who killed Mr. Peabody rather than have them make another investigation check.




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A near party kill, a D&D 5e tale.

Due to various circumstances the Monday night crew was down to three regular players. +Tim Shorts  of Gothridge Manor, +Chris C. of Clash of Spear on Shield, and Josh. Luckily +Joshua Macy  of Tales of Rambling Bumbler answered the call.

The Scenario
On the northern edge of the orc infested forest of Dearthwood lies the mining village of Phandelver. Phandelver is one of the many communities surrounding Tain, the bastion from which the Invincible Overlord is launching his attempt of cleansing Dearthwood of Orcs and claiming it for his own.

Gundren of the dwarven Rockseeker clan is in the City State of the Invincible Overlord organizing supplies to exploit a potential rich mining claim being exploited in the hills to the northeast of Phandelver. He sends a wagon north with a group hired from the Mercenary's Guild of City-State and rides ahead on a fast pony to get things organized.

The Majestic Wilderlands
I elected to set the game within my Majestic Wilderlands. I am more familiar with the setting and by taking the original adventure apart and reassembling allows me to master the adventure better.



The Roster

  • Ara (Joshua Macy) - an Elven wizard dwelling in human lands in order to return to his people's lost cities that lies in ruins within Dearthwood. 
  • Sidwin the Sharp (Tim) - a native of the City-State, he senses opportunity in Phandelver and positioned himself to be hired as one of the caravan guards.
  • Squirrel (Josh)  - by all appearance a no-account street rat, but his cunning intelligence and a chance encounter with the possessions of a unlucky mage has allowed him to master arcane powers.  
  • Vognur (Chris) - a warrior armed and ready to take his place in the world and to pursue the mystery of the box left to him by his family.
The Game
The session started out slow as everybody entered in their characters. We are taking advantage of Roll20's new options for character sheets. Not only the webform looks like a character it has basic automation features like correctly rolling the dice for an attack or skill.

One thing that took getting used for this particular sheet was the fact it was always rolling 2 d20s. The idea if it is a normal roll you just used the first number. But if you had advantage or disadvantage you use both numbers.

After getting everything setup we started out in City-State. My usual style, particularly for a new system, is freely allow unsolicited comments about the rules. I let Joshua know about this. During the game this proved to be a great help as he extensively studied rules beforehand.

The party was in the Seahawk Tavern meeting with Gundren where he outlined the parameters of the job, and their pay. He was going to ride ahead to get there sooner but expected the party to arrive in seven days. Gundren expected little trouble with orc or goblins along the journey. Explaining that things were unduly peaceful for the past year.

Their last night in City-State and journey was largely uneventful. However four hours outside of Phandelver they ran into some an ambush set by four goblins of the Troll Skull tribe. Note that I was going to reskin the goblins as small orcs but I was caught up in the game and just blurted out goblins, sigh.

So I had the party roll perception rolls. They didn't do too bad but unfortunately the goblins rolled various 20s for their stealth check. So they got a surprise round. Which of course immediately took out Ara and Squirrel knocking down to 0 and their death count. Next round only the dead wizards rolled higher initiative than the goblins.

The goblins then shots at the remaining party members including the driver of the wagon, Alfred. Vognur takes an arrow through the thigh nearly crippling him, while a pair of arrows killed Alfred. Desparate Vognur summed his last reserve and leapt out of the wagon, while Sidwin covered him with his shortbow shouting at the Goblin, "run before rest of our caravan gets here. Despite the missed shot he was convincing enough to cause of the goblins to hesitate.

Ara started rallying from his near fatal arrow shot. Squirrel eyelids fluttered and despite his weak constitution he crawled behind some cover on the wagon and looked around the battlefield (rolled a 20 for a death save giving him 1 hit point and consciousness). 

The Goblins seeing the warrior charging shot wildly. One arrow grazed off the warrior's armor, and other stuck in his shield. Unfortunately Vognur's sword blow went wild after his charge. Taking advantage of the Vognur's distraction, Sidwin shot a goblin and lodges an arrow into its face coming to to rest inside the skull. 

Focusing on the remaining goblins, Squirrels summoned a mystic force to put the goblins to sleep, trusting in  that Vognur's constitution will allow warrior to stay awake. Only one goblin fell into a deep slumber. But that was enough to break the morale of the remaining goblins. They both tried to break and run for it. But between Vognur's sword and Sidwin's bow they both died.

The remaining goblin was tied up for questioning as the party rested. They learned that there was lair nearby.  However the group decided to get the cargo to Phandelver and their 100 silver payment. Luckily Vognur was skilled at being a teamster and could drive the wagon.

Arriving in Phandelver, they immediately saw Barthan's Provisions, their destination. When Barthan checked over the manifest, the party was paid their 100d each. It was learned that Gundren never arrived. Taking stock the party decided it was best to spend the night at the Stonehill Inn and then head out in the morning to see if they can find Gundren at the goblin lair. They also learned of the Redbrands, a gang of thug in charge of everything except for the Miner's Exchange.

After securing lodging and eating a meal the group retired for the night. All except for Sidwin who decided to check out the Redbrands at their favorite watering hole the Sleeping Giant. After looking it over he returned to the inn. Along the way back he noticed a Redbrand lookout keeping an eye on him. Sidwin quickly turned a corner and was able to shake his tail. Then he turned the table and followed the Redbrand for a short while before retiring to the inn.

And that where we left it. Hopefully some more of the Monday night gamers will be able to play next week. And Joshua Macy was great to have as an addition to our group.

Pro
Gamewise 5e is pretty much like the other clones I ran. It has details in its mechanics but it is well within the OSR ruleset I played before. The skill of the referee is of paramount importance in running a successful 5e game as there is little to fall back on in terms of mechanical detail. 

Once I dug into Phandelver, I found it to be a basic but well executed sandbox. Basic because the various plot threads running through the locales can be exhausted within a few weeks of play. But well done because what there make sense, follows from the premises, and makes for an interesting adventure.

Con
The only major con is the organization and layout of Phandelver. Too many words and it is not laid out well for play. I would give it a C-. The layout not terrible but not good either for a sandbox. Here to hoping for a decent third party license so I can put my money where my mouth is at.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

D&D Next - Random Starting Levels

A while ago, +Jeff Rients  of Jeff's Gameblog put out an adventure Xylarthen's Tower. At the end of the adventure there was a random starting level chart. The idea that when you run this adventure at conventions or games store, you had the players make up characters on the spot. They would roll on this chart for their starting XP.

I found it very useful and used it for my Majestic Wilderlands playtests and events at game stores and conventions.

I decided I would do the same thing for DnD 5e. This will produce roughly a similar range of levels as the +0% column of Jeff's Chart.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Everybody talking about Sleep

Tim Shorts and Douglas Cole both talk about sleep spells. When I run a classic DnD game (Swords and Wizardry, ADnD 1st, etc). I ignore the HD chart and simply have the players roll 4d4 for the number of hit dice they effect. With a cap of 4 HD as the highest that can be effected. Area of effect is all enemies within line of sight. I never made starting at the lowest HD a formal rule but thanks to the clarity of 5e's version of sleep, I will make that a formal part of my house rule.

Also the use of current hits points by 5e is really interesting in terms of tactics. I may adopt this in lieu of HD.

On the Wilderlands Map project I am halfway completed having done Map 1 (City-State), Map 2 (Barbarian Altantis), Map 12 (The Isles of the Blest), Map 11 (Ghinor), Map 17 (The Silver Skein Isles), Map 15 (The Isles of Dawn), Map 4 (Tarantis), and Map 3 (The Valley of the Ancients).

While the proofing catch up I am back to going layer by layer on the remaining nine. I completed all the roads, all the alpine terrain on the mountains, and in the midst of finishing up the snow caps on various mountians. After that will be swamps, plains, desert scrub, desert sand, jungle, and finally forest.

With this the only I need to do to complete a map is type in the various map keys and do the post processing steps to turn a section into a finished map. It looking I will be finished with the initial version of all 18 within weeks.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver and the Virtual Tabletop (like Roll20)

Mike Schley, the cartographer for the module, has digital versions of the maps for the Lost Mine of Phandelver for sale at his zenfolio website. Most important he has version of his maps WITHOUT the numbers, secret door locations, etc. Something that is very useful for printed off battlemaps or for use in VTTs like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds.

Note that he has digital downloads available for other Wizards modules as well.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Breaking down DnD Basic Part 5

Lets look at the DnD Basic rules in detail.

The purpose of these posts is to summarize the rules accurately with commentary from the perspective of an OSR Publisher.

We will get to Backgrounds in a second. I found an interesting post by Warthur over on the theRPGsite. That breaks down the experience points requirements for DnD 5e and compares them to other additions.

At first glance with the first three levels it looks like DnD 5e progression is way faster than older editions.

However that only true for the low levels. By 5th level 5e equal the requirements of older editions and afterwards greatly increases the number of xp required. If I am ever allowed to do a MW supplement for 5e I will probably present an alternative xp chart. I am in the camp that has a lot of leveled NPCs in the setting.

But I can see the point of this and can live it with for a straight 5e campaign if I had to. They are obviously trying to get characters up fast to the mid levels and hold them there for a while.

Chapter 5
Personality and Background

This section focuses on the roleplaying elements of DnD 5e. First are Characters Details including name, sex (which has generated controversy*), Height, Weight, and yes the nine fold alignment system. They added unaligned for unthinking animals instead of neutral.


*I am firm proponent of treating people like people and intensely dislike bullying and discrimination. In no small part this is due to the fact I am 50% deaf and suffer language impairment which is part of the cause of my deafness.

My hearing aids compensate to a point. I live in a world of partial silence and miss many of the verbal cues that make up normal human interaction. The net result that many wind up thinking I am a goof or worse an asshole because I either misheard them (most common) or didn't hear them altogether. I learned to overcome this but I would lying if I said it isn't a pain in the ass to deal with.

While my problems are not the same as the discrimination felt by the LGBT community, it has left me intensely aware of the impact of discrimination. As long a person is not harming another it none of my damn business what folks do in their bedroom or how a person feels about their body.

And as the controversy and drama that surrounds the sex section. Ask for proof , links and do your research. Don't rely on me, or somebody else before forming your opinion. There is lot of baloney floating around along with a lot of I said, he said telephone tag rumors.

And that is all I will say on the topic.


Next are backgrounds. Which I consider to be an outstanding addition to any DnD addition. Unlike 2e's kits these are independent of class. You can be a noble thief, a criminal wizard, a sage fighter, or a folk hero cleric. Of the myriad play styles that make up tabletop RPGs, I consider myself a roleplayer when I sit on the player's side of the screen. I like to immerse myself into my character and interact with the players and npcs of the campaign.

Background confer a small set of mechanical benefits. Skill proficiency, tool proficiency, etc. In the Basic PDF these follow logically from the background premise and mostly impact non-combat situations.

Along with is usually a subtable that you can roll on to further detail your background. For example a criminal can roll to see what their criminal specialty is. Anything from being a Blackmailer, Enforcer, to a Smuggler.

Finally each background has tables for Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws. I think they are a great tool to mine for ideas, for you are stuck on a detail, or for the novice starting out. Like all mechanics focused on roleplaying these are presented more as guidelines than rules you much following. I can see them useful for randomly generating dozens of NPCs traits as well.

Last are inspirations. I stated before I am not a fan of meta-game mechanics. Thinks like fate points, whimsy cards, GURPS luck advantage that have you looking at the wall clock, and so on. As meta-game mechanics goes this is reletively mild and can be ignored. For good roleplaying you get awarded inspiration. Which you then use later to give yourself or another player advantage on a roll. Either you have it or don't there is no stockpiling like fact points. There is also no mechanic or economy to impose complications. Although if you really want to do you can probably adapt the mechanics from Fate.

I give this chapter an A+ and if they follow it up on it in the PHB and the DMG it will make me very happy as it would mean that roleplaying will be as emphasized as much as combat.

Don't forget you can download a 5e character sheet I created from this link. It is designed to print out on one sheet of paper and fold over so you can use the inside for notes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Breaking down DnD Basic Part 4

Lets look at the DnD Basic rules in detail.

The purpose of these posts is to summarize the rules accurately with commentary from the perspective of an OSR Publisher.

Chapter 3
Classes

As mention previous there are four classes in the Basic Rules Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizards. DnD 5e characters are meant to be customizable. What the Mearls and  crew opted for is a subclass approach. You pick your class and then what is effectively a subclass. To their credit they didn't treat the subclass as a universal hammer. Rather they customized the concept for each class.

  • Clerics have domains
  • Fighter have archetypes
  • Rogues also have archetypes.
  • Wizards have traditions.
For the basic set apparently they pick the subclass that best fits the DnD classic view of the class. 
  • Clerics - Life Domain
  • Fighter - Champion Archetype
  • Rogue - Thief Archetype
  • Wizards - Evocation Tradition
For players who hate picking through equipment lists each class has a preselected set of equipment you can take as an option.

All Classes
Each Class as extensive notes on roleplaying normally I would be for keeping things as terse as possible. But as readers of my blog and the Majestic Wilderlands known I am proponent of tying classes back to a setting even if it is generic like the one that underlies classic DnD. Unlike my complaint with the Race chapter there is little of the Forgotten Realms here. The introduction to each class I feel effectively ties it to the generic fantasy of classic DnD and emphasizes that the game is not just about combat. Something that it sorely needs after 4e.

Mearls and his team has stated repeatably that DnD Basic character are mechanically on par with Characters made  with the advanced options. From reading over the basic rules the way they accomplish this by granting the characters ability increases instead of feats (or other special benefits) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level. There is a cap of 20 for the maximum any one attributes can be raised. This means a +5 bonus for saves, skills, and attacks. The five increases allow +10 to be distributed among all attributes.

My experience with the playtest has show that feats tend to increase the flexibility of the characters to do things including damage. But do little directly to increase the the raw power of the character the way increased Strength, Intelligence, etc does. So for now I think this will work out when the 5e PHB shows up.

Spellcasters
Clerics and Wizards prepare a limited list of spells (Int or Wis bonus + level) and then can use their spell slots to cast any spell from the list. You can cast a lower level spell through a higher level slot often with increased effect. But not vice versa.

While not the same as classic DnD, this counts as DnDish in my book. This also means that the 5e Sorcerer will have to bring something else to the table in 5e as this mechanic merges the two 3e spellcasting mechanics.

Ritual are present, basically spells that are marked as rituals can be cast out of combat without using up a slot. Wizards will need to have the spells in their spellbook. Clerics will need to have the spell prepared. There is no other cost other than the fact it takes 10 minutes. The only downside is that there not many ritual spells in the Basic rules spell list.

Spells explicitly require Verbal, Somatic, and/or Material Components. This includes cantrips. Gagging a spellcaster and tying their hands is still an effective technique.

Clerics
One benefit of a domain is that it gives you free prepared spells that don't count towards your limited.
Another is that Clerics have Channel Divinity ability. This the mechanic used for traditional cleric abilities like Turn Undead. Apparently different domains will grant you different abilities to use with Channel Divinity.  Like the spellcasting system you have a list of Channel abilities and how many times you can use Channel. What you actually use it for it up to the player. Again Mearls and crew are trying to balance the flexibility of 3e with the simplicity of 5e. In the Basic rules the two Channel Divinity abilities (the result of the Life Domain) are Turn Undead and Destroy Undead. 

Finally at 10th level the cleric has a chance to invoke Divine Intervention. The recommendation that the impact be equivalent of a free cleric spell but in the same paragraph leave it up to the referee to ultimately decide. I think it would make for some great roleplaying and makes sense for a cleric who up in the teens in levels. 

Remember in ADnD for higher level spell Gygax recommends that the cleric has to talk to the deity or his minion to memorize them. So the precedent for cleric to be up close and personal with his deity is there.

Fighter
Fighters gain some flexibility in picking a fighting style. They also have a minor healing ability called Second Wind. DnD 5e appears to be catering up to the stamina portion of the traditional portion of abstract hit points. The mechanic gives you a once per combat heal of 1d10+level. I don't see a major issue with it, it is an edge but not an overwhelming one.

Action Surge, Indomitable are also once per combat abilities building on the theme that a fighter can find it within himself to exert himself during combat.  

In lieu of a radically increase change to hit fighters gain extra attacks starting at 5th level.

The Champion Archetype mainly focuses on increasing the odds of scoring a critical. The effect of a critical is that you get to double your damage dice. But you only add your damage modifier in once.

Other benefits you get is that at 7th level you get to add half your proficiency bonus to any Str, Dex, or Con check if you not proficient already. At 18th level you are highly resilient and regain hit points equal to you 5 + Con modifier per round if you start the round with 1/2 your maximum hit points.

Rogue
First off understand that in DnD 5e any class and attempt any skill. That means a Wizard, Fighter, or Cleric can pick locks with some chance of success. But the Rogue definitely does it better.

The Rogue becomes definitely better because his Expertise ability which allow him to pick two skill proficiencies to be an expert in. This allows double the proficiency bonus to applied to uses of that skill.

Rogues have the traditional back/sneak attack. Called sneak attack it grants extra dice of damage. It is easier to execute then classic DnD. All you have to do to get the extra damage is to have advantage on the creature or have an ally with 5 feet. 

In addition to this Rogues get abilities like Uncanny Dodge, Evasion, Reliable Talent, Blindsense, etc. Collectively these abilities allow the Rogue to be more mobile during battle and avoid damage easier.

The Thief archetype brings it Fast Hands, Second-Story Work, Supreme Sneak, Use Magic Device, and Thief Reflexes. The package appears to me to be largely non-combat oriented and ties directly in what a Thief is expected to do. This gets a solid A and gives me hope that this type of stuff will appear as often as combat related abilities in the upcoming PHB.

Wizard
Like most classic editions of DnD, Wizards sling spells, little spells, and big spells. Like Clerics, a Wizard must prepare a list of spells before using a slot to cast them.  They still need a spellbook with the spells written in them in order to prepare.

Some class abilities of note are

Arcane Recover where you can recover a number of spell slots whose level equal to or less than your half of your wizard levels rounded down. The max level that can be recovered are 5th level slots.

At 18th and 20th level you get Spell Mastery and Signature spells. Mastery allows you to cast prepared 1st level or 2nd level spells at those levels without expending a slot. You can still use a higher level slot to cast them. Signature spells allows to designate two 3rd level spells and they don't count toward the prepared spell limit. You can also cast them once per combat without expending a slot.

The Evocation traditions ha Evocation Savant, Sculpt Spells, Potent Cantrip, Empowered Evocation and Overchannel. They are gained at 2nd, 6th, 10th and 14th level. They basically make it easier to learn Evocation spells (Fireball, etc), and increased their damage. 

The most notable is Sculpt Spell which allows the caster of Fireball and other area effect evocation spells to designate a number of targets up to 1 + spell's level to automatically succeed on their saving throw. If the spell does half damage on a successful save the targets don't take any damage. This is was used to devastating effect during a high level playtest session and proved instrumental to allowing a party of 7 players to overcome a horde of Treants attacking.

Conclusion
Having written the Majestic Wilderlands supplement I can't complain about their approach. In the Majestic Wilderlands I tied each class back to the setting and made it explict why it existed. The same approach is repeated here. Each class has a lot of roleplaying details up front, and many their mechanics (especially the Rogue) are handy for roleplaying as well as combat. They are about as complex as some of the more detailed ADnD subclasses (Druids, Rangers, Assassins, Paladins, etc) so the simplicity goal is largely achieved.  

We will see how it plays out in the PHB. I give this chapter a solid A. 

Next post we will look at Chapter 4 Personality and Backgrounds.

Don't forget you can download a 5e character sheet I created from this link. It is designed to print out on one sheet of paper and fold over so you can use the inside for notes.