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Where do I begin?

I was a part of the public playtest, and, towards the end, I became very skeptical of the outcome of D&D Next. The part of gamers that was working with me up at SRU to test out the regular updates and changes agreed with me: it was just missing something. It didn’t feel right, and what’s worse, at more than a couple turns, it felt worse than fourth edition.

That’s really saying something. Towards the end, Fourth suffered from power bloat, redundancy after redundancy, and it had all the style of ruled loose-leaf composition paper. I was worried; yes, we have Pathfinder, but D&D was the first game I ever played, the old BECMI set. (That’s an acronym that stands for Basic-Expert-Companion-Master-Immortal, referring to the Basic D&D boxed sets from the Eighties.) It was disheartening to me to think that it was likely dying before my eyes.

For the past year, I have watched, cautiously, as more and more was leaked out about the new edition being finalized. I watched Google Hangouts with Mike Mearls and others with mounting skepticism. Cautious Optimism was the catchphrase, emphasis on the Cautious.
I have now had a chance to look at the Player’s Handbook for a few days, pulling it apart like a finely smoked pork shoulder, examining every strand of meat. I dug down in to the bones, poking and prodding.

And I’ve come to a conclusion:

They did it. They saved the game.

I will go into details in a moment, but bear with me on this. I am not saying it’s the finest iteration of the game, nor am I saying it’s perfect. But it is a good game.

I am going to flat out say this right now: the price tag pisses me off.
Yes, I know the Pathfinder Core Rulebook is fifty bucks. I know the new Shadowrun Core Rulebook is sixty bucks. But, with those two, you get absolutely everything you need to run the game, player and gamemaster alike. It’s a bit of sticker shock to get hit with fifty bucks for the Player’s Handbook. Now, I weaseled out of that by working for a bookstore and having a lovely little employee discount, but the average gamer doesn’t have that opportunity.

But once you crack open the book, the artwork alone is a good example of what you are in for. And now, without further ado, I will go through, bit by bit, and talk about what works and doesn’t.

Character Creation: Ability Scores.

They advocate a number of different methods for making characters, including a starting array of scores, (instead of my personal favorite method, which is rolling for them) that includes an 8. This means that at least one score is giving you a penalty, unless you utilize an attribute bonus to level that out. I like that; it encourages players to embrace the idea that you don’t have to be good at everything. They still stick with the standard set in 3.X of pairs of numbers giving escalating bonuses to anything related to that score.

Character Races.

The Big Four are your standard races: Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and Humans. They uphold the old standards well, and go into detail for each about all of the various major campaign settings and how they fit in, from Dragonlance’s Silvanesti High Elves, to Eberron’s tribal Halflings. The inclusion of subraces for options does a good job, so far, of allowing for more customization. Yes, even the much derided Drow are there, but done very well, in my opinion.

Uncommon Races are included as well, such as Gnomes, Dragonborn, Half-Elves, and Tieflings. Gnomes and Half-Elves are well done, but I was never a big fan of either the Dragonborn or the Tieflings, as they are ported over almost directly from Fourth Edition. I hated the appearance unification to Tieflings, and thought that the Dragonborn were flat out fan-service. But, they aren’t out to just impress me, and let’s face it, you don’t have to use everything in the book.
Character Classes.

These impress me immensely. The inclusion of the new Proficiency bonus system, instead of Base Attack Bonus and the like, feels a lot better. Your class dictates what armor, weapons, toolsets, saving throws (more on that later), and skills you are proficient in, and may benefit from that bonus. In addition, your Background (more on that later as well) can add to this list.

Instead of flat out buying your gear, you have a number of options to pick from for starting weapons, armor, and gear. Backgrounds can add to this as well, just like Proficiencies.

The abilities granted by classes are finally tamed a bit. There is nothing outrageous, per se. Many of it could be abused at a table by a dickish player, but every game has that. For example, standard Barbarian Rage now just adds a bonus to damage, gives Advantage on Strength based skills and checks, etc., instead of coming with an arcane and almost trigonometric set of augmentations.

The classes have long-term balance. Survivability is still an issue for many characters at low levels, but if you ask me, that is as it should be. In the long run, classes balance well. Fighters have various “traditions” to choose from, including the Battle Master that utilizes Superiority Dice, much like the Maneuver dice in one iteration of the playtest that I thought was a spectacular idea, as well as Maneuvers fueled by the Superiority dice. You get the dice back after at least a one hour rest, meaning that in many situations, you aren’t just saying, “I swing at the orc… again” in every combat, round after round.

I do foresee one problem with this, and that is what I term “lazy boring player.” So many people will think that unless you have a power, ability, or spell that says, specifically, that you can do something, you can’t. And frankly, if you stick with that kind of mentality, whether you are a player or a DM, you are missing out on the fun of the game.

Anyway, back to the point. The classes are done very well, from the Domains of the Clerics, to the way Wild Shape now works for Druids, to the nature of Sorcerous magic. You get a feel for who you are as a Cleric, Bard, Ranger, etc., instead of just getting an idea of what part you are to play in the tactics part of the game. At one point, I was a serious proponent of the way Fourth Edition freed up space in characters for individual roleplaying, but then I got to see what it turned into at the table, and realized just how crappy many of the roleplayers can be.

Saving throws are now based on your Abilities. Need to avoid being paralyzed? Your DM may tell you to make a Strength saving throw. You roll a d20, add your Strength modifier, and if you are a class that is proficient in Strength saving throws, your proficiency bonus. Oh, did I mention that proficiency bonuses increase with level? Yeah, they do.
Backgrounds.

This is a great addition to the game. Reminiscent of the Kits of second edition AD&D, they serve to augment your character, adding another dimension to him or her. Sure, you get a couple more skill proficiencies, maybe a tool proficiency, and some gear, but you also get depth. The Backgrounds help you choose some things like personality quirks, bonds, and even flaws to help build a good three dimensional character. You want to make a War Wizard, take the Soldier background with your Wizard, and make things happen. Want your Ranger to be a Falconer from a great and powerful family? Take the Noble background and play it up!

Combat and Resolution.

First of all, the Advantage/Disadvantage is fun. Oh, you’re in a situation that gives you the drop on a foe, or puts you in a position of power? You get to roll two d20s and take the better result. Five minutes later you find yourself in a situation that has you (hopefully metaphorically) bent over a barrel? Now you are at a Disadvantage, and you roll two d20s again, but this time you have to take the lower roll. It’s not necessarily going to absolutely ruin your chances, but it doesn’t help.

Combat itself is amazingly streamlined, and no longer relies on miniatures and maps to work. You can go back to winging it, or you can use your minis, your choice. I, myself, prefer to wing it. I like the internal mental envisioning part of the game.

Skill and Ability checks are still faced against a DC, and the system encourages non-roll resolution of the simpler things, preserving the narrative flow of the game.
Spells.

Vancian magic, kind of, is back. Yes, you still memorize spells, and you are limited to what you can prepare in a day, but now you slot them into spell slots of varying levels in order to cast them, giving a spin of personal energies being used. As well, when you use a higher level slot to cast the spell, you get an increased effect. And here’s something else: a couple of classes get a chance to regain some of those expended spell slots when they take at least a one hour rest, meaning you’re no longer just a one trick pony at lower levels. Oh, and they followed Pathfinder’s lead and you can now cast your prepared Cantrips as many times a day as you like.

Bound all together, this makes a game that I actually really want to both play and run. I have made about five characters to get a feel for the generation process, and I am impressed with how it flows. Sometimes it is a very difficult decision to make regarding class and background, or what you want to specialize in. I get the feeling we’ll see more options coming out for the various classes, and more background, especially setting-specific ones. Until then, it is easy enough to make your own to fit your home campaign.

Pick it up, or even just the Free Basic Rules (available here: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/basicrules?x=dnd/basicrules) and give it a spin. Well worth it.

What do you think?

I know I have been silent for a rather long time, but the semester ended up taking a lot of my attention towards the end.   But, with the most recent announcements of WotC about the work on the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons, I find myself torn.  Fourth ed worked alright, but I am very worried about the general downward trend Hasbro/WotC is taking with their roleplaying games.   I have signed up to be a playtester for the new edition, and hope to make some kind of decent impact on the new iteration of the game.

In pursuit of this, I have been watching the developer blogs closely.  I came up with this one this afternoon: http://community.wizards.com/dndnext/blog/2012/01/20/mechanics_supporting_story.

Monte Cook, one of my favorite damned game designers of all time, takes a very short amount of time and text to deal with something I do find problematic: Should a flavor factoid for a race, or of any kind for that matter, provide a game mechanic bonus?  The example given by Cook is how dwarves favor axes and elves favor bows.  Should they necessarily receive a mechanical bonus to attack just because they are the stereotypical weapons for the race?

My answer to this is a firm No.  Think about it: just because a race favors a weapon over others doesn’t mean they all attack better with them.  In addition, rulesets like this create a problem.  I call it the No Child Left Behind Effect.

Follow me on this.

When No Child Left Behind came around, it was discovered that teachers were told by administrators to teach the test materials in an effort to secure greater funding for the schools.  In essence, they stopped teaching comprehension and began teaching rote memorization.  All for a bonus.

Now, when you tell players that al dwarves gain a +1 to attack with all weapons considered axes, you are, in essence, telling them that if they play a dwarf, they better use an axe.  After all, to do otherwise is to miss out on a mechanical loophole that makes you a better warrior.  This causes players to, at least 19 out of 20 times, follow the stereotype in order to min/max their character.  You are encouraging a decrease in creativity instead of offering chances for your players to break out of Tolkienian molds in order to blaze new trails and ideas.

One of the things I alternately offered was called a Proficiency Downgrade; certain races treated certain weapons as being one category lower for proficiency purposes.  Dwarves would treat Axes as part of this, meaning that in Fourth Edition, an Urgosh, normally a Superior Weapon, would be treated as a Martial Weapon for proficiency purposes.  By the same token, a battle axe would be treated as a Simple Weapon instead of a Martial Weapon.  This shows that the Axe is a weapon favored by dwarves, but mechanically speaking, there is no bonus to attack or damage offered.    Sure, many players will opt into Axes still, but it dramatically decreases that amount.

Personally, if I wouldn’t face absolute rebellion by doing so, they would be a simple thematic element.  Dwarves like axes; big deal.  Most dwarves you run into will use them, but not necessarily every PC.

What do you think?

Well, I figured I would let the cat out of the bag and tell everyone the project I am working on, and that is a comprehensive update of Ravenloft to Fourth Edition.  So far, I have about 12 pages of notes for this, and I haven’t even hit on the Curses or on the Domains themselves.  One week in, and I really wish I was getting paid to do this stuff.  I am also considering finishing off the Shadow power source, ignoring the Vampire class from Heroes of Shadow, and instead making up a leader, controller, and defender class using the power source to go along with the Assassin class from Dragon Magazine.

Please, tell me what you think; you would all be surprised how your feedback helps spur me on.

Thanks, and hang in there!

Alright, folks, I have decided to try something new.  I have created a character for D&D 4E, a warlord named Rami.  What I am looking for is three other characters that would make a good party to accompany Rami on adventures.  Since Rami is a warlord, a leader class, I am looking for other characters of the other roles: defender, striker, and controller.  This is less about game statistics and more about background and flavor.  I am looking for a cool character with a great backstory that will work well with Rami’s background.

I wish I could offer something like a cash prize or such, but really all I can do it offer this: each winning entry gets a chance to decide a subject for a blogpost.  So, what you can do is come up with a one to two page character backstory, along with a description of your character (stats are optional) and email it to dragoneyes77@gmail.com.  The deadline for the contest is June 7th, with the winners announced on June 8th.

Here is Rami:

Rami ibn Rashid ibn Faris

At the edge of the Great Desert is the city of Muraq, the last bastion of greenery and opulence before the sands and nomadic tribes of the Great Desert dominate life.  The city of Muraq is a great metropolis of various peoples from all over, a meeting point for a countless number of merchants and travelers on their way to other places.

The city of Muraq is guarded by a great and powerful force of warriors dedicated to Al-Ha’Daarah, the Muraqi version of Erathis, goddess of civilization.  Calling themselves the Jadaar, or wall, they protect the city of Muraq as well as everyone within its walls.  Made up mostly of fighters, paladins, warlords, rangers, and swordmages, the force of Jadaar stalwartly guards the walls and streets.

Rami ibn Rashid ibn Faris was raised in the household of his father, Rashid ibn Faris, a powerful paladin of Al-Ha’Daarah herself.  Rami himself never felt the call of the goddess, but did always feel the call to lead others and protect those he could.  Rami joined the ranks of the Jadaar, and found he had great ability with the Muraqi Greatbow, a powerful ranged weapon made by laminating layers of strong wood with layers of extremely strong horn harvested from the Horned Sand Sharks of the Great Desert.

Rami was soon put in charge of a patrol of the city’s slums, taking the early evening watch.  Rami himself led many forays into the sewers of Muraq, chasing down both criminals and vicious monsters with zealous power.  Awarded various medals for his exploits, Rami was on his way to becoming one of the most honored patrol leaders the Jadaar had seen in three or four generations.

But tragedy soon struck.  A rival of his father’s, one Zamir ibn Jahziir, set into motion a plot to discredit all of Rami’s family.  Zamir was once a powerful and vicious assassin, notorious throughout Muraq as the best at his craft.  Rami’s father Rashid had caught Zamir, and had Zamir’s right hand cut off for his crimes.  Zamir was left with only his “unclean” hand, and a significant loss of ability.  Using his amassed riches, Zamir had a magical replacement crafted for his lost right hand.  And then, he began plotting.

Rashid ibn Faris was making one of his daily trips to the marketplace when the order came down from the Caliph himself: items of worship for the dark god Eblis, the Muraqi name for Asmodeus, were found in Rashid’s home.  Rashid was declared fallen, and arrested for the worship of one of the Dark Gods.  Rami was incensed; he knew his father was no more fallen than he was.  All of the Jadaar were convinced of Rashid’s fall from grace, as the word of Caliph was seen as that of the Goddess herself.  None could know that Zamir himself had bought off an official, and planted the items of Eblis in Rashid’s home.  That same official was dead less than a week after Rashid’s arrest.

Rami left the Jadaar, seeking to find a way outside of the city to gain power.  In time, he wishes to return to Muraq and free his father, clearing his name.  Rami had heard stories for years of Zamir, and is convinced the maimed assassin had something to do with the false crimes his father was arrested for.  So now Rami finds himself far from the lands he once roamed, seeking the items he needs, as well as any companions he may come across in order to one day return to Muraq, clear his father of his crimes, and bring Zamir to true justice once more.

What do you think?

The supplement book Arcane Power introduced familiars to the fourth edition of the D&D game.  Starting on page 137, an entire section of the book is dedicated to how familiars work, the feat needed in order to have a familiar, as well as feats that augment both familiars and your arcane caster.  But, honestly… I hate parts of it as well as love parts of it.

First off, it shouldn’t be a damn feat; it should be a ritual.  Yup, you heard me correctly: it should be a ritual.  As such, I give you the Find Familiar ritual:

Find Familiar

With the last words chanted into the wafting smoke of the incense and components consumed in the brazier, you clap your hands loudly.  There, in the circle you prepared ahead of time appears a small figure: your servant.

 Level: 1                                 Component Cost: Varies; see below

Category: Creation          Market Price: 150 gp

Time: 8 hours                     Key Skill: Arcana

Duration: Permanent

 Prerequisite: Must belong to either an Arcane class, or by multi-classed into an Arcane class to perform this ritual.

Once completed, this ritual binds to the caster a small spirit in the form of an animal or monster.  Familiars are the companion creatures to arcane practitioners, both as friends in their journeys, and as repositories of arcane knowledge and insight.  No two familiars are exactly the same, and none are actually creatures of the type they appear to be.  They are, in truth, those arcane spirits bound into a form they find most beneficial to the caster.

At the Heroic tier of play, it costs 50 gp to perform this ritual; at the Paragon tier, it costs 500 gp; and at Epic tier, it costs 5000 gp to perform the ritual.  At any time, an arcane character may dismiss their familiar.  Doing so costs them one healing surge until they take an extended rest, as they use their own life force to break the bond with the spirit.  Unbound familiars crumble to dust instantaneously.

The player may choose which familiar form they wish their character to receive.  Some DMs may require that the player instead roll on a random table, or they may dictate which familiar the character receives.

Voila, the feat is now a ritual.  Not too difficult.  But, I am not done yet.

I like all of the rules listed for familiars, as far as things like defenses and hit points with the following changes:

Hit Points: Equal to ½ of your Healing Surge value, rounded down.

Destruction of a Familiar: When a familiar is reduced to 0hp, the character no longer gains any benefit from the familiar, and the familiar does not regenerate until after the character’s next rest.  If, for some reason, the familiar is ever reduced to a negative hit point value equal to the familiar’s hp total, it is completely destroyed, and the ritual must be performed again to gain a new familiar.  Either way, the familiar’s master to suffer a -1 penalty to all d20-based rolls until it regenerates in passive mode after the next rest the PC takes. This penalty is cumulative with ALL OTHER PENALTIES, regardless of source.

Objects: The familiar may only pick up Tiny-sized objects or smaller, unless there is a special circumstance as decided by your DM.

DMs may wish to make this ritual available to other mystical power sources such as the Divine, Primal, Psionic, or Shadow sources.  When doing so, the overall flavor of the familiar, i.e. its appearance, should be altered as well.

Primal: The familiar appears more feral, perhaps appearing as a Tiny version of a dire animal, or just with a more savage aura.

Psionic: Psionic familiars tend to appear more crystalline and give off auras and indications of their nature just as their master does.

Divine: Divine familiars tend to either evidence a metallic (gold, platinum, silver, etc.) appearance, or have a glowing aura depending on their master.  Divine familiars are often seen as emissaries of the PCs god, wishing to keep an eye on the character.

Shadow: Shadow familiars appear darker and slightly more sinister than their usual counterparts.

I myself would never allow this, but then again, I am a bit of a strict person about some thematic elements.  I like my arcane casters a bit classic, and it is very infrequent that any other class has a relationship with familiars they way arcane casters do.

That being said… look within the next couple days for a new Druid option: The Animal Companion Druid!

What do you think?

Folks, the blog may be a little quiet for a while.  A friend of mine just suggested an excellent project to work on this summer, and I am taking up the reins on it starting immediately.  I am not going to reveal what the project is, but I like the sound of it.

Hopefully talk to you soon,

Erik

I picked up my copy of Heroes of Shadow about three weeks ago from UPS (totally different story there) and tore into it like a maniac.  My girlfriend chuckled at me, making a bunch of jokes about me being like a kid of Christmas morning.  Admittedly, I was.  I get like that when I am really waiting for a new gaming book, or even a new book that I have been dying to read.  What can I say?  I just get all tingly and excited.

So, I was touring through the book, looking piecemeal at the contents.  (If you want my overall impression of the book, look at this post: Heroes of Shadow: A Review, or Spoooooookyyyyy Stuff… Kinda.)  And I hit on what I was really chomping at the bit for: the Vampire class.  Now here was what I wanted to see!  I had read bits and pieces online leading up to the release of the book, and I was anxious.  No class had yet really disappointed me about the edition at all.

But this was… well, it felt half-assed as hell.

Really, it was like they phoned it in.  So, I decided then and there that I would rework the class to my liking.  They missed out a chance to make a great class out of this, but I wasn’t going to let it fly.  So I set down with pen and paper, and the great program 4E Power Toolkit, I plotted out a new version of the class.

What I can suggest is that you get creative as hell with your secondary class choice, and have fun with it.  Because of this, while Vampires are primarily a Striker, but can also bring in bits and powers from Defenders, Leaders, and Controllers.  Does this make Vampires a hybrid?  Nope.  Does this means Vampires get more powers than others?  Nope.  It does mean that there is a lot of wiggle room for theme and flavor.  So please, enjoy it class re-write, and let me know what you like and don’t like.

DISCLAIMER: This work is based off the Vampire class from the Dungeons & Dragons supplement Heroes of Shadow, and is not meant to be an attempt at copyright infringement or theft of intellectual property.  I in no way take credit for the idea of the Vampire class; I only attempt to rework the class in such a way that I think is an improvement.  I do not now, nor ever will, take payment for the free distribution of this class.  Please, just give credit where credit is due.  Thank you. Erik Fry.

What do you think?

Link to PDF of the file: https://chalybsanimus.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/vampire-heroic-levels1.pdf

I enjoyed being wrong about Fourth Edition D&D when it first came out, I really did.  After sitting down at the table and giving it a try, I found out that it significantly reminded me of the old D&D from the Red and Blue boxed sets when I first started playing back in the 80s.  There was room for roleplaying without rules interfering, there was fast action that still had a dangerous thrill to it, and there was fun at the table.  It was absolutely amazing.

I loved the way it structured everything as a modular power in a mix and match setting.  I saw that people would instantly think you couldn’t do something unless a power said so, and have made sure to tell all my players that if they come up with a cool idea, to suggest it, and we would come up with a way to do it.  There was still so much room for improvisation and inventiveness in the game.  It was great.  I knew there would be tons of new splatbooks coming out for the classes, and new classes coming out as well.  I looked forward to it.

Well, now that it has been out a few years, there is a huge glut of powers out there to choose from, making it a seriously flooded option pool.  That is easily remedied, really.  What I have a real problem with is power creep.

Power creep is the tendency for a system to become overpowered over time as the designers try to come up with new and fresh ideas, and end up overdoing it.  It comes in the form of more powers and increased effect behind the powers, thinking it is improving something that works fine as is.  This has happened in a large number of games I have seen, time and again.  But this time, D&D is really overdoing it.  They really are.

I realize there are a lot of reasons why power creep occurs, not the least of which would be audience.  My disdain for the majority of what passes for gamers anymore is well documented.  There is the rare diamond in the rough that really catches my eye and impresses me, but more and more, gamers want big numbers and quick kills, instead of enjoying challenge.

The most recent form of power creep for D&D comes in the form of character themes.  Introduced in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, they were a way to flavor about any character, and offer new power options.  They also gave a character a free encounter power.  That’s right, another power.  Another one.  It’s too much.  When you do this, as a game designer, you are tipping the balance of the game over, causing more and more problems, and decreasing challenge.

The themes were so well-received (given that most of the players just salivate like Pavlovian Puppies at the ring of a damn bell when offered another power) that they have decided to adapt it to the rest of the game, making it an overall powercreep now, instead of an isolated one in Dark Sun.

Now I can hear you all calling foul on me, citing that it’s optional.  You’re right, it is.  But how many have you have had to argue with a player or players about excluding a ruleset?  Isn’t it kind of like arguing with a damn toddler about why they can’t have a certain cereal?  You bet it is; they whine, cajole, wheedle, bitch, moan, and generally make a scene.  The problem is that most of them (note I didn’t insinuate all of them) think that more powers = more fun, and they miss the fun in a challenge.  To them, winning is the goal, not having a good time.

I have the same problem with Backgrounds.  They have turned bits and pieces that should only be flavor into mechanical points, just as they have done the whole way along.  What’s next?  Aspects?  Quirks?  Give a character another boost to a skill or a power at first level?  Just for the hell of it?

I have read a number of players bitching about what they call a “Feat tax” that is all about getting a benefit to attack, damage, or the like, by spending a feat.   Characters can spend a feat to change their Basic Attack attribute.  This to me is a very powerful thing, as it takes something of the strength out the abilities of Fighters and the like to make melee basic attacks.  I can see a Weapon Finesse feat that allows certain weapons with, say, the Finesse quality , to be wielded using Dexterity for basic attacks instead of Strength.  But Charisma?  REALLY?!

Look, there is nothing wrong with giving your players some of what they want, but you have a responsibility to preserving the game as well.  And when you allow power creep like this to consistently accumulate, you are not being responsible.    And GMs, you have a responsibility to outlaw the bits and bobs which overpower these games, in order to preserve the game as a whole and the challenges it can offer.  This goes for magic item distribution, power allowance, player indulgence, and the like.

Stop power creep, and I think everyone will be much happier with their games.

What do you think?

I got to spend some time tonight talking to an old friend of mine about gaming, and about how bad things have gotten, in our opinions at least.  This isn’t just old fart talk: I am in my early thirties, he is in his late twenties.  Both of us, though, are long time veterans of gaming.  We have over two decades of experience at Conventions, and almost four decades of gaming experience in general between the two of us, and we are noticing how bad it is getting.  I realized that it comes down to this: there is no grace to the people playing the game.  None whatsoever.

Now, grace is defined as “elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action; a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor or good will.”  All of these definitions paint a specific picture of a set of attributes and qualities, actually, that a good gamer should possess.  And mind you, this isn’t just aimed at players; GMs are just as bad.  They really are; I have had as many bad experiences of late with bad GMs as well as bad players.  It just seems that my hobby is getting more and more boorish and crass with every passing edition.

So, instead of just bitching about how bad things have gotten, I am going to talk about how to have grace as a player and as a GM.  I have said it before and I know I will say it again: I am an elitist about my gaming.  I am.  I can be a real prick about it, and I don’t mind getting told I am prick about it.  To me, that is like being told I have exacting standards, which I do.  This is another one of those lists you should really work on achieving, in my opinion, if you want to have a positive impact on your games, whichever side of the screen you chuck your dice on.

Number One: Learn to Rules Lawyer Correctly.
Yup, this can be done correctly, people.  First of all, if you are the GM, make sure you know your stuff as well as you can.  No, don’t necessarily spend eight hours a day memorizing rulebooks and errata; you’ll just go crazy.  But make sure you have the good, solid foundation that will take you through the game.   Yes, I know there is always the Platinum Rule (The GM is always right), but this only applies if you have a purpose to what you are doing; it’s not an excuse to cover your ass if you don’t know what to do.  Cowering behind this rule because you haven’t got the give a damn to know your job is something only politicians do.  Don’t be a politician!

This also applies to players.  Rules lawyer players are bad players as much as min/maxers are.   I will deal with min/maxing here in a bit, but let’s stay on track here.  Rules Lawyer players are fine at the table so long as they realize a few things.  First of all, the GM is not always out to get you; quite often, they want to see you succeed as much as you do.  There may be a very good, valid reason for their call on something.  I get rather twitchy when it comes to Rules Lawyers, but those few I have run into that bring up a rule infraction, but then drop it when I explain that I Have a reason that will be forthcoming impress me.

The other way I am impressed is when Rules Lawyers also bring up rules infractions which will actually not benefit the party, or themselves, at all.  When a player does this, it shows me that the player wants to take on each and every challenge instead of slumping through it.  It shows a completeness in the player that is encouraging to GMs as it shows us that our work is actually rather valued.

Overall, though, there are some guidelines for all Rules Lawyers: first of all, have some sense of time.  If you can find the rule that is being referred to within a couple minutes, great.  The action will progress at the table until you find the rule, at which time it is incumbent on the GM to rules appropriately.  But, if you think you should have a half an hour to find an obscure rule, stop.  Just stop.  You are halting the game for no good reason.  By the same token, if you dropped the ball, admit it.  Just fess up and correct your mistake.  It shows more character than being a jackass and arguing about it.  And at the same time, players, if the GM says he knows, but there is a reason, take him at face value.  There may indeed be a very good reason the rule got trumped, and it may be in either your favor, or in favor of the plotline of the game.

Number Two: Min/Maxing
I have heard so many people bitch and whine about min/maxers that it is ridiculous.  And here is the real scoop: min/maxers are some of the most realistic of all gamers.  Think about it: Did you really pick a career that you have no talent or ability at?  Or did you play to your strengths?  Uh huh, that’s what I thought.  Look, there is nothing wrong with trying to shore up your weaknesses, but we all play to our strengths; that’s what all those placement tests are about.  It’s not pigeonholing; it’s called proper placement.  Now, let’s differentiate this from Munchkinism.  Munchkins are those reprehensible beings that exist only to try to outdo everyone at the table, hoard all the best treasures, suck up all the glory, and make everyone in earshot wish to stab them with mechanical pencils and beat them with a dice bag full of metal dice.

Min/maxers are NOT the hogs that Munchkins are; they just want to be the best at what they do, and this is admirable.  After all, you want your meatshield to be able to take some amazing punishment so that your spellslinger mage can fire off some impressive fireballs, right?  Or you want to make sure your Rigger can do the most with his drones so that your team can get into the warehouse and heist the paydata, all so the Johnson can hand over the cash, right?  Well, guess what… are you really going to hire the sickly looking swordslinger, or the Rigger who is constantly unable to interface with his drones?  You would be an idiot if you did; admit it.

That being said, make sure not to over min/max.  If you skimp too much on other facets of your character, you risk becoming a one-trick pony.  A little redundancy in a party as a good thing, so long as the redundant parties act in support.  This means that your ranger may be pretty accomplished at sneaking around and spying, but you should only do it in order to support the rogue, or when the rogue is out of commission.  This isn’t about being able to hog the spotlight; it’s just about making sure everything is covered properly.  After all, that’s a form of min/maxing as well.

GMs, beware this on your side of the screen.  Remember, the bad guys are there to harass the PCs and make them fight, but not absolutely eat them alive.  If the fighting gets thick but the PCs come out on top by the skin of their teeth, you did your job well.  However, if they don’t get out at all (TPK), or they barely escape, then you dropped the ball somewhere.  This precludes the notion of PCs with delusions of immortality, taking on foes way too tough for them, and announced to be so.  Still, try not to introduce those bad guys that are way above the PCs too much, it gets discouraging.

Number Three: Respect
This is perhaps the one arena that really chaps my ass.  I run into so many players and GMs that are completely disrespectful of each other that it turns my stomach.  I have covered some disrespectful behavior in other posts, most notably A Gatheriing of Geeks and Friends, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Con all about etiquette at Conventions, but that applies anywhere, really.  These are pointed at ANYONE at the table, not just players.  The major points include cleanliness, appropriate use of humor, over-arguing, and space.  Seriously, go read it; there are some great points there that go a long way towards general respect.

Number Four: Cheating
This is ridiculous.  I mean it; why do people feel the need to cheat at these games?  Everyone thinks that they need to be on top of the heap constantly.  They don’t realize how many opportunities are opened when they fail at something.  Seriously!  When you screw up, and the crap hits the fan, it doesn’t mean that the game is over.  It might be just beginning.  Being a hero isn’t about always winning, but it is about plugging away.

You see, that is something that is missing from most players: they all want cheat codes so they don’t ever fail, falling into FPS (first person shooter) syndrome.  Look, if you want to play that kind of crap, go play it and leave my table.  This isn’t Quake, Doom, or any of that crap.  This is about cooperative play and storytelling, and sometimes the heroes just have to fail.  Hey, the Fellowship of the Ring busted up, Aslan does get killed, and the A-Team gets jailed for crimes.  In each and every case, the failures facilitated the progress of the plot, and opened new doors for the characters.

When you cheat, you cheat yourself of the chance at something greater, something better.  I catch you cheating, you get one shot at redemption.  If I catch you again, it will be a very long time before you every play at my table again.

There are some other points: GMs, respect your players.  If they didn’t come play your game, who would?  Players, respect your GMs; you have no idea how much goes into making a game for you guys and girls to play.  Guests, respect your hosts, they are giving you a place to play your game.  Respect each other’s right to play your characters the way you designed them.

Do you want to know the killer point of all this?  Just so that everyone enjoys the game.  You see, this all still comes down to the selfish pricks that join us at the tables.  It is not just about your own enjoyment, you realize.  This is about everyone’s enjoyment.  The instant you only worry about your own gratification, you are a problem at my table.  If you realize that everyone else has just as much right to have a good time as you, and that your actions may be destroying that good time, then you need to stop doing that crap.  I mean it; I will kick your ass off my table, even if you are the host.  I would rather break up the game than allow you to be an ass and ruin the time for everyone else.  Go play video games and stop wasting  my time, your time, and the time of the other players.  Period.

These are really four simple points.  They are; this isn’t rocket science.  It’s about valuing everyone at the table.

What do you think?

So a friend of mine caught me leaving the dining hall last week, and made a passing comment: “Dude, a D&D 4E game of Zombie Apocalypse would be great.”  And it got me thinking.  Holy crap, I could so do that without much effort.  It would be a great chance to debut my new idea for a campaign setting.  My brain got rolling, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a bunch of ideas.  But out of all of them, one shone like the sun: Gamma World.

Hey, everybody does the ultra-serious, survivalist drama and the introspective human-spirit preservation games, but not a hell of a lot of people get funky with it.  And so, I latched onto something that struck me as a grand idea: What would a zombie apocalypse be like in the post-Big Mistake world of Gamma World?  How would it be different given the random mutations of that world?  What difference would the Omega Tech and Alpha Mutations make?  Even better, what kind of differences could I inflict on the zombies themselves?

First of all, I needed a good Zombie Plague.  I needed something that would threaten the PCs seriously, with the good chance that they could be turned into zombies themselves.  So, I started searching through my D&D 4E books.  The two games cross-over very well, so I figured, what the hell?  I came up with a reference to a zombie plague in Open Grave, but no listing.  TO THE INTERNETS, I thought.  Then I thought I needed to calm down.  A third part of me decided the second part of me needed to get more excited about this.  Things got kinda fuzzy for a while after that…

When I came to, I found an errata’ed zombie plague on the WotC website, and started looking through it.  Problem… there is no Endurance skill in Gamma World, and no disease rules;  I had to get creative.  Hmmm, what to do, what to do…

So, using my gaming brain, I picked apart the basic mechanical idea of diseases in D&D, and how the skill systems worked in both D&D and Gamma World.  Pretty similar, overall, with some minor differences I could get around.  First of all is the Gamma World standard that you add your level to pretty much every d20 roll, instead of half your level like D&D does.  Okay, I can adapt that on both sides of the equation.  Now, I didn’t want contraction of the disease to be automatic; that would make things a little too deadly.  Plus, let’s admit it, everyone in Gamma World is a messed up mutant; who knows what kind of crap a plague has to go through to infect that kind of being?

So what I came up with was that I needed a Contract DC in order to get the disease, as well as DCs for Improvement, Stabilization, and Worsening conditions.  But more than that, not ever attack by a zombie should be inflicting a chance of the plague on the PCs.  So, I came up with the idea that a character has to be either bloodied already or bloodied by the attack in order to have a chance of contracting the plague.  I figured it this way: up until bloodied, a person is just getting whaled on, bruised and beaten, but not actually laid open.  Once you hit bloodied, though, you got open wounds on your body, and now there is a chance for you to catch that damn plague.

As for the progression of the disease, after looking at the effects of the plague, I realized that the way the designers at WotC designed this part of the mechanics extremely well.  So, I just copied it.  Hey, if it works, go with it.  And since they did that so well, I went ahead and looked up a bunch of the D&D zombies, as Gamma World really only gives them for the upper levels.  Jackpot!  I ended up with eleven pages of transcribed monsters I could use.  While I did that, I hit up Open Grave one more time and lifted the Infected Zombie template from it.  I figure when a PC dies of the plague, it means I can use the template to throw them against their old party.  And hey, now I can inflict it on other Gamma World monsters.  Nice.

So now I find myself figuring out where to set it.  Luckily, I live right next to a college campus so hey, there I go.  I am still in the process of putting that all together, but I have a hell of a start on what to do for this Zombie Apocalypse in the land of the weird and wild.  I have a good idea of where my plague is going to originate from, but I am not revealing it here yet.  After all, some of the players may read this, and there is no way I am letting the cat out of that bag.  Takes all the fun out of my life.

So, as you see, it is not all that hard to come up with a campaign idea that is actually workable around the stories your PCs want to craft as it happens, no matter how off the wall they may be.  Hell, it’s not even that hard to find and corrupt mechanics, I mean, adapt mechanics (heh) to your own ideas.  A little bit of working ahead, a little dedication to adapting to fit your idea, and the next thing you know, you have something workable.  And guess what, the more you do this kind of thing, the more you learn how the mechanic works, and how to think on your feet to deal with what the PCs are going to do during your games.  I don’t care how much you prepare, your PCs are going to do what they want, and if you try to hard-ass them into going the way you want, they are going to hate your games; after all, at that point, they aren’t making any actual choices, and they might as well be playing a damn Playstation game instead.

What do you think?
PS: Here is my adaptation of the Zombie Plague for Gamma World.  Feel free to use it, just give some credit, okay?

Zombie Plague

Attack: Any non-weapon melee attack made by a zombie creature that bloodies a target, or is made against a bloodied target.  The victim must make a Constitution + Level check against the Contract DC.  If they meet or succeed the DC, they do not contract the plague. If they fall short of it, they contract Zombie Plague and suffer the effects as listed under Initial Effects.  After that, the PC must make a Constitution + Level check every hour; if they meet or succeed the Improve DC, they move up the ladder of the disease; if they meet the Stabilize DC but do not meet the Improve DC, they remain on the tier they currently occupy.  If they meet but do not succeed the Worsen DC, they move one step down the ladder of the disease, until they reach the Final Stage rung.

Contract: DC 10 + Zombie Level

Improve: DC 15 + Zombie level

Stabilize: DC 10 + Zombie level

Worsen: DC 9 + Zombie level or less

Disease Progression:

The Target is Cured

Initial Effect:

The target regains only half normal hit points from healing and healing effects.

Worsened:

The target regains only half normal hit points from healing and healing effects.  In addition, each time the afflicted character fails to improve it takes 5 necrotic damage that cannot be resisted or healed until the disease is removed.

Final State:

The afflicted creature dies and rises in three rounds as an infected zombie; apply the infected zombie template to their character.  This can be prevented by dealing fire or radiation damage to the body of the victim equal to its bloodied value before it rises.  This destroys the body entirely.