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Tibalt
May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee


Fantasy Craft
Part 2: Getting Started/The d20 System


Alien Rope Burn posted:

Fantasy Craft was, at heart, my D&D 4e. Pathfinder didn't do anything significant I didn't already have on my shelf of 3.5 books, I felt, and D&D 4th Edition felt too stifling with its deeply focused classes. Fantasy Craft was just right in the middle.
I like this quote a lot. It'll probably end up being the TL;DR of this entire review.

So now that we've gotten past my feelings on the OGL, let's start talking about the books themselves. This review could have easily been a comparison between Fantasy Craft and 3.5, but I chose to look at Pathfinder instead. Pathfinder stays very clearly on the path set down, and continues to follow it. I called it D&D 3.75 earlier for a reason - the system as a whole feels like an unbroken continuation. So why not compare the fixed version of the original game? Fantasy Craft, on the other hand, is a much more radical effort while still clearly within the framework of the d20 System. While the Pathfinder Fighter class is about the same as the original, Fantasy Craft's Soldier class is closer to the Soldier in Spycraft, including a level 14 Capstone "One in a Million" that lets her automatically roll a 20 once per session. I'll talk more about that sort of stuff when we get to classes, but there's a lot of suprising and interesting decisions made by Crafty Games throughout this book.

The d20 System
But first, I'd like to talk about the d20 System. If you're in this thread, you're almost certainly familiar with it. At the core, you have six attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) and a secret 7th attribute, Attack Bonus. Whenever you want your character to do something, you roll a d20+attribute, modified by any skills, feats, or abilities she might have. You want to roll high.

There are the races and classes and feats piled on top of this, but that is the core mechanic of the game. It's also the fundemental flaw in the system, in my opinion. It's not an objective fact, of course - everyone involved in the d20 System were competent and intelligent game designers, so they would have noticed an obvious "I can prove it with math" sort of problem. And a lot of what I'm about to say will seem like fixable issues that Fantasy Craft will try to address.

The problem is the d20, the range of levels, and incoherent nature of Difficulty Classes (DC). At low levels Pathfinder characters seem incompetent and fragile, because they are. A level 1 character will have, at best, +8 to a skill that she maxed out (including a precious feat) or a +6 to attack. She'll fail a DC 15 skill check 30% of the time, and she'll completely miss an Armor Class (AC) 10 enemy 20% of the time. She is the most competent person in your party, and she's mostly at the mercy of the dice.

Is a DC 15 skill check difficult? Is an AC 10 enemy hard to hit? Depends. A level 4 party will be mostly competent and able to hit those sorts of number - which is why the DM will throw harder enemies at you. DC checks are generally presented in Pathfinder as naturalistic - that a DC 10 climb will be a DC 10 climb regardless of your parties' level. However, a good DM is going to tailor the challenges to your party. So in my experience, DCs end up being a lot like an enemies' AC - a sliding scale that grows with the characters. Hopefully your DM can explain why the DC 30 lock is so much more impressive than the DC 20 lock in a way that doesn't make your Rogue feel patronized.

The optimal strategy for a player to take is to avoid the swinginess of a d20 altogether, and force their enemies to make saves with massive penalties for failure. In practice, that has generally meant using magic, but there's nothing inherent to this fact that makes a wizard overpowered. But when a wizard gets access to Knock and a rogue has to rely on their skill points, you can see the issue. And in theory there is a way to balance a save-or-lose spell like Color Spray against hitting someone with a sword, but it tends to be a problem in practice.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this, of course - people have been debating these things for literally a decade at this point. And there are a great many people who would argue with me whether these are even flaws, or just part of the game. There are some other issues that I'll talk about more when we reach Crafty Game's solution - action economy, hit points, loot, genre expectations. But for now, I'd like to point to the very first solution that Fantasy Craft provides: action dice. Yes, it's true, this whole review won't be warmed-over Quadratic Wizard rants from a decade ago - I actually want to explore what Fantasy Craft does differently from Pathfinder.

Action dice, as mentioned by Nights during the Spycraft review, is a metacurrency used by the players and DM to affect the game. Players use them to boost rolls, boost defense, activate a threat/an opponent's error, or heal the character. You're automatically given a set number at the beginning of each session, and they don't carry over - encouraging you to use them. It functions as a limited, session-based resource that dramatically increases a character's competency - and I'm using dramatically in both sense of the word. When used to boost a roll at low levels, it increases the result by +4 on average. To go back to our +6 attack character trying to hit AC 10, they're almost certainly going to succeed if the players wants. But players get to choose which rolls they boost, meaning they're going to boost the rolls that are important to them and when they really want to succeed. Ever scored a critical hit on a 1 health minion? Yeah. There will be feats and abilities later on that interact with action dice, but I'll cover them later.

So what's the problem with action dice? Well, there's two issues. First, my issue, it's a bandaid over the fundamental variance of a d20. It's entirely possible to just roll bad all night. You've used up your action dice for the session, and you've still got a couple hours to go. Hope you roll better, I guess! Second, presumably the one that the designer of Pathfinder had, it's a session-based metacurrency with an element of narrative play at work. Occasionally feats and abilities will give you the opportunity to just demand things from your DM, such as clue about the current puzzle. The DM is free to say no, but has to give you an action dice for doing so. It also constrains the DM - she has to trade in her own action dice to activate a player's error, or to put special rules into effect for a scene. While I'm not going to go down a GNS rabbit hole, you can appreciate why this clashes with the simulation mindset that seems to be behind Pathfinder.

Next time, I'll start talking Fantasy Craft and races.

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Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


I actually think the element of the Action Die where it becomes a sort of narrative conversation between the players and the GM is one of the best parts of it. I'll be going into my own reasoning on that on Spycraft, but fundamentally, I think Crafty Games likes to have solid rules and mechanics for what's normally very narrative and loose, and it's an interesting approach that worked well in play when I was playing the game and running it, both.

Tibalt
May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee


Night10194 posted:

I actually think the element of the Action Die where it becomes a sort of narrative conversation between the players and the GM is one of the best parts of it. I'll be going into my own reasoning on that on Spycraft, but fundamentally, I think Crafty Games likes to have solid rules and mechanics for what's normally very narrative and loose, and it's an interesting approach that worked well in play when I was playing the game and running it, both.
I don't disagree, I was more offering a guess at why Paizo Games decided to not include it. They weren't unaware of the concept - Pathfinder has action points as an optional rule. However, instead of being per-session and refreshing each time, you get one per level up and they're consumables.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Tibalt posted:

I don't disagree, I was more offering a guess at why Paizo Games decided to not include it. They weren't unaware of the concept - Pathfinder has action points as an optional rule. However, instead of being per-session and refreshing each time, you get one per level up and they're consumables.

Oh, agreed, I'm just excited to get to Action Dice in my own writeup because they're one of several things that makes me say Crafty Games knows what they're doing as designers, they're just...not exactly to my taste in a lot of ways due to being tied to the d20 system in general. Both a matter of taste and the long-running issues of the base system.

Also, seriously. Every time I try to read Spycraft 2e, 478 pages of pure heavy crunch. I like crunch! But that is too much for me. Especially when they ended up embracing the Modern Arms Guide model for their equipment, and I'll be talking about why that's disappointing in a lot of ways.

Jerik
Jun 24, 2019

I don't know what to write here.

Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 2: Gods and Monsters


The first thing we see when we open the book (assuming we open it at the beginning) is another piece of art by Erol Otus:


I kind of like to think the entities on the left are good, and the ones on the right are evil, just to play against type. Or maybe both sides are good and it's a dispute of law vs. chaos. Just a friendly disagreement. They're not really trying to hurt each other.

None of these creatures appears in the book either.

Anyway, below that image are the credits, and then we get a foreword by Gary Gygax that lays out the goals of the book.

Gary Gygax posted:

[O]ne particular aspect of fantasy role playing was foremost in my mind: there was either a general neglect of deities or else an even worse use by abuse. That is, game masters tended to ignore deities which were supposedly served and worshiped by characters in the campaign, or else they had gods popping up at the slightest whim of player characters in order to rescue them from perilous situations, grant wishes, and generally step-and-fetch. Obviously, there is a broad ground between these two extremes, and that is squarely where I desired AD&D to go."

He goes on to emphasize just how much input he had into the book and its format, and how closely he supervised the authors to make sure the book matched his vision. Which, incidentally, I totally believe; I think pre-Blumes Gygax was pretty hands-on and protective of his game. I'm not going to quote the whole foreword—it fills most of a page; I don't think anyone ever accused Gygax of being laconic—but there are two other bits I want to highlight. One is that he mentions that the "[d]iabolical and demoniac deities are important to the campaign milieu", but not included in this book, because they were already in the "MONSTER MANUAL and the attendant volumes forthcoming", and it was "no great matter to extract these beings from the other works and include them amongst the other deities"—which seems to imply he intended Dispater and Demogorgon and the other archdevils and demon princes from the Monster Manual to be considered gods on par with Anubis and Artemis. (Actually, that's made more explicit later in the book, in the chapter on Nonhumans' Deities... we'll get to that eventually.) The other thing I wanted to mention is this:

Gary Gygax posted:

It is worth commenting that the strength and powers of the beings contained herein are appropriate to the overall work. Thus, addition of these deities and demigods does not imbalance the campaign. Furthermore, characters who become a match for them are obviously to be ranked amongst their number, no longer suitable for daily campaign interaction, but to be removed to another place and plane and treated accordingly.

So the PCs were not intended to fight the gods, because any PCs powerful enough to fight the gods would ipso facto be gods themselves, and no longer player characters. So then why were the gods given full statistics in the first place? This question is revisited (but not really answered) in the Editor's Introduction—not directly bylined, but presumably by Lawrence Schick, who's credited as the book's editor:

Lawrence Schick posted:

Well, here it is, DEITIES & DEMIGODS, the latest addition to the series of ADVANCED D&D volumes. But what exactly is it? Let's see, it has a nice cover—open it up, inside there are lots of pictures next to sets of stacked statistics . . . it must be just like the MONSTER MANUAL! There, that was easy. Now that we know what it is, we know what to do with it, right?

Wrong.

DDG (for short) may resemble MONSTER MANUAL, and in fact does include some monsters. However, the purpose of this book is not to provide adversaries for players' characters. The information listed herein is primarily for the Dungeon Master's use in creating, intensifying or expanding his or her campaign.

Okay, but again, if the gods aren't intended to be encountered by player characters, why do they have full statistics?

This wasn't the first time this matter had come up. The "Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes" supplement to the original D&D boxed set had also included full statistics for the gods within—"full" being a relative term, because statistics for anything in the original boxed set were pretty sparse. This matter was addressed in that book by Timothy J. Kask, TSR Publications Editor:

Timothy J. Kask posted:

This volume is something else, also: our last attempt to reach the "Monty Hall" DM's. Perhaps now some of the 'giveaway' campaigns will look as foolish as they truly are. This is our last attempt to delineate the absurdity of 40+ level characters. When Odin, the All-Father has only(?) 300 hit points, who can take a 44th level Lord seriously?


I feel like this post needs more images, so here's the cover of "Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes"

While this—along with the Editor's Introduction from Deities & Demigods— wasn't written by Gygax himself, it seems a sure bet that Gygax read it and approved it before it saw publication, and that it mostly reflected, or at least didn't conflict with, his own views. But, well, this last rationalization really doesn't seem to me to hold much water. First of all, if you want to highlight how ridiculous high-level characters are, there are simpler means than creating more than a hundred stat blocks you never expect to be used. Second, well, if that was really the intent, the method seems counterproductive. If you provide the players with statistics for anything, at least some players are going to think they're supposed to fight them, no matter how much you try to protest otherwise in the introductory sections that a lot of players are just going to skip over anyway. Stat up the gods, and players will fight the gods. And of course they did.

Not that I did myself, or know anyone who did. I've never been interested in powergaming, and I've never had a character reach nearly that kind of power level—nor has it happened in any campaign I've run as a DM, and I've run long campaigns that went on for real-time years. But my experiences are not universal; there's clear evidence that some players did play in such absurdly high-level campaigns. Early issues of Dragon Magazine include letters from players boasting about their 358th-level characters. That's not an exaggeration: a letter in Dragon #137 began with the sentence "Recently my AD&D® game character, Waldorf, a 358th-level magic-user, created the nuclear bomb." Okay, maybe it's a little bit of an exaggeration, in that I referred to "358th-level characters" in the plural, but while others may not have reported that exact level, some claimed levels that were even higher. In Dragon #31, a writer to the "Sage Advice" column mentioned having "two characters that are at one thousand-plus level". ("I don't know whether to laugh or cry," columnist Jean Wells responded.) And in the same issue as the 358th-level Waldorf, the writer of another letter stated that his friends had "been playing the AD&D game for over six years now" and their characters had "levels in the millions, maximum scores for almost every ability, and can obliterate five planes of the Abyss in a round." (They complained that they were out of challenges, and asked how they could "have fun with these high-level characters." "Perhaps you should meet Waldorf," editor Roger E. Moore replied.)


"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds! Do ho ho ho!"

Actually, those "thousand-plus level" characters are particularly pertinent to the matter at hand, because of how they got to be thousand-plus level. I think I'll just quote that entire letter:

Some silly person posted:

Question: In GODS, DEMI-GODS AND HEROES it says that a forty-plus level character is ridiculous. In our game we have two characters that are at one thousand-plus level. This happened in "Armageddon," a conflict between the gods and the characters. Of course, the characters won. What do you think about that?

In other words, yes, at least some players are on record as having used the book of gods as a book of monsters, having their players gain experience from defeating gods. I'm sure they weren't alone.

But was this really an unintended consequence? On Gygax's part, at least, I'm inclined to say yes. I think Gygax's oft-expressed contempt for such absurdly high-level play was genuine, and that he really didn't intend for players to treat the gods as monsters to be fought. Which, however, again leaves unanswered the main question: Why did they have full statistics?

I think I may have an answer. One thing that gets talked about with regards to early versions of D&D is "Gygaxian naturalism"—the idea that Gygax included a lot of statistics and details in his books not because they had any direct impact on gameplay, but just because they made the world seem more detailed and real. This wasn't really the case in the original D&D boxed set, but certainly was in first edition; monsters frequently had abilities that didn't directly relate to combat; stats and rules and tables were included to deal with all sorts of relatively mundane situation; Gygax's adventures often included notes as to how dungeon features were maintained, even though adventurers were unlikely to discover this. Gygaxian naturalism survived Gygax's own involvement with the company; arguably second edition engaged in it to an even greater extent than first, with monster entries having detailed notes on their habitats and ecologies and even their reproduction, and third edition went so far as to stat up monsters using similar rules to player characters. Of course, this kind of naturalism wasn't unique to D&D, and other games have similarly fleshed out their gameworlds and tried to give them a plausible basis, some to a greater extent than Gygax ever did. So maybe "Gygaxian naturalism" is a bit of a misnomer, but even if wasn't something unique to Gygax, it was definitely something promoted by him. And I can see that as the reason for the gods having stats—if these are something that exist in the gameworld, then by golly they should have statistics (for purposes of naturalism), even if they're never going to be used!

Now, personally, I'm all for Gygaxian naturalism, or whatever you want to call it. To me, a big part of the appeal of role-playing games—maybe the main part of the appeal—is to feel like I'm vicariously experiencing another world, and having the setting feel like a living, breathing environment not entirely focused just around adventures is an important part of that. That's probably why I'm not a big fan of "storygames", or other games that heavily incorporate metagame mechanics; the contrivances they go through to give the players a larger role in defining the gameworld and the environment work against the immersion for me... I don't want, as a player, to be able to influence elements of the surroundings that my character shouldn't have control over, because that undermines the sense of a larger world that doesn't exist just to serve the characters. It's why I don't like "rules light" games that leave much up to DM fiat and narrative convenience; I like having rules for everything, because it bolsters the illusion that there's an objective world where these events are taking place. It's also at least part of why fourth edition was my least favorite edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, it may have been the most balanced edition, but it achieved that balance at the cost of jettisoning any pretense of naturalism; it may be the best edition for games centered around fighting monsters in set encounters and not worrying about what else is going on in the setting, but that's not the kind of game I want to play. (I am not, of course, saying that any of these kinds of games are objectively bad—only that they're not the kinds of games I, personally, prefer.)

So I guess my point, to the extent that I have one, is that while it's easy to poke fun at his including statistics for gods and then not expecting the players to use them, I think I can see why Gygax did that—or more accurately why he allowed (or even encouraged?) the writers to do that under his supervision. I might even have done the same in his place. So what, if anything, should he have done differently? I'm honestly not sure. Maybe been more upfront about his reasons for including the statistics? (Though introspection can be hard, and maybe he wasn't totally aware of his own motives—that's in no way intended as a slam on Gygax; I can't claim to be sure I'm fully aware of my own motives for everything I do either.) Maybe been more explicit about what players and DMs should do about characters who grow too powerful? Or maybe there's really nothing in particular he should have done differently, and the way it was presented served the goals he meant it to serve, and the fact that it also enabled powergaming players who wanted thousand-level characters was an arguably unfortunate but unavoidable side effect.

(Though it may not be directly pertinent to the matter at hand, I feel I would be remiss not to at least mention the existence of the third-edition Deities & Demigods (with its fully statted gods) and Epic Level Handbook (with its rules for characters becoming powerful enough to challenge them). Those books attracted a good deal of mockery and criticism at the time, but they're not completely without precedent; as we've just seen, giving full stats for the gods goes all the way back to the original D&D game. Still, I guess there's a difference between giving stats for gods when those stats are brief enough that you can fit four gods on one page, and giving them when the stats for a single god take up nearly two pages; and while some players may have played ridiculously high-level characters in earlier editions, no previous edition explicitly condoned and encouraged such play the way the Epic Level Handbook did (the closest was probably the Basic D&D Immortal Rules, but even that was less over the top); so maybe the criticism isn't entirely unwarranted.)

ETA:

Tuxedo Catfish posted:

Quick point of order -- the Epic Level Handbook wasn't unprecedented by any means. AD&D 2E had "Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns" which is almost a 1:1 model for the content in Epic Level Handbook.

You're right; that's another precursor to the Epic Level Handbook that I should have mentioned—honestly, I guess I'd forgotten this book existed, even though I had it and even used it in a campaign I ran. (Not the high-level material; I used the material in Chapter 5, on Magical Duels, which wasn't restricted to high levels. Which of course raises the question as to why it was in this book in the first place.) However, I wouldn't say it's "almost a 1:1 model". There are certainly some commonalities—extending class abilities beyond 20th level; high-level applications for skills; a special system for spells above 9th level. But there are plenty of things that are in one book but not the other, too, and I'd still argue the Epic Level Handbook goes significantly farther over the top. Most notably, Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns insists on a hard level cap at level 30, which means it only lets characters exceed the levels in the Player's Handbook by a relatively modest 50%; the Epic Level Handbook imposes no upper limit on the levels a character can theoretically reach, and includes monsters with CRs as high as 66 (and some epic monsters from other, later official sources had even higher CRs!), implying that it's expected that PCs could conceivably reach those levels. I wonder how many actually did. I did run a long 3E campaign once where the PCs got up to epic levels before the campaign ended, but only barely; they were in the low 20s. I really don't think I'd want to try to run (or play in) a campaign for 50th- or 60th-level characters.

Anyway, I've now spent almost two thousand words discussing why the gods have stats. Time to move on.

After Gygax's foreword, we come to the table of contents, at the bottom of which is our first piece of art not by Erol Otus. I'm not sure who it's by, actually; while the credits list all the artists, they don't say who did what, and I don't see a signature on this piece—and I'm not sufficiently intimately familiar with the styles of the various 1E artists to recognize it. (If I had to guess, I'd venture it's probably Paul Jaquays (as she was then credited; she now goes by Jennell Jaquays), but I'm not sure.)


He looks kind of bored. "It's a living."

At least, assuming that's supposed to be Poseidon, this time it depicts an entity that actually does appear in the book.

We then get a preface by James M. Ward, who spends much of it discussing (in generalities) his reasons for the creative decisions the authors made in deciding on the gods' abilities and relative power levels. I'll just quote a part of this:

James M. Ward posted:

All of the leaders of the pantheons were given 400 hit points and the rest were scaled down from there; the relative resistance of beings to blows and magic was derived from studies of their battles with natural and supernatural forces; while concepts like strength were easily assigned in the case of deities of strength or war, this concept is less easily applied to the more powerful deities who have no need for massive muscles. Alignments were perhaps the hardest AD&D concept to deal with, and the one that will have the most debate among the interested users of this work. Beings like Set, Loki and Arioch are easy to classify, but when working with the middle-of-the-road deities who were often chaotic but known for consistent kindness, or were rogues of the worst sort but very companionable, it became necessary to consider them as a whole to make a judgment.

Actually, I don't think even Set and Loki were as straightforward as he's making them out to be. Both are usually depicted as evil in modern pop culture, but neither really was evil in the oldest myths. Set was originally a benevolent god of the desert and of warfare, and was widely honored; his name was used for love spells, and he accompanied Ra on his daily journey on the solar barge and protected the sun god by fighting off the evil serpent Apep. It was only after Set was adopted by the invading Hyksos that his association with foreigners, combined with the rise in worship of Osiris, induced the Egyptians to have a more negative view of him. As for Loki, he was certainly mischievous in many of the myths about him, but he was generally a staunch ally of the Aesir, and the only myths in which he did anything outright evil were set during (and just before) the events of Ragnarǫk—which may very well have been at least in part an invention of the Christian mythographers who are the only source we have for these stories.

Anyway, below the preface are the credits, including the aforementioned thanks to Chaosium, and then on the next page we finally get to... the Editor's Introduction. Yes, we have a foreword, a preface, and an introduction, each written by a different person. Don't worry; we don't also have a prologue, a preamble, or an exordium.

I've already quoted the beginning of the Editor's Introduction above; Schick goes on to discuss the vital role that clerics should have in a campaign and the importance of the DM's considering "the flavor of the campaign" when deciding which pantheons to use, and encourages DMs to read up on the mythologies themselves to "discover the fascinating stories behind these immortal characters, and get a really solid feel for how to play them." There's one odd statement I want to highlight:

Lawrence Schick posted:

The most important thing to remember about this book is that, unlike the other AD&D volumes, everything contained within this book is guidelines, not rules. DDG is an aid for the DM, not instructions.

I'm honestly not sure exactly what Schick is getting at here. Surely in some sense every book contains guidelines, not rules, but why is this more true of Deities & Demigods than any of the others? Gary Gygax was never going to come to your home and force you at gunpoint to roll a loyalty check for your faithful henchmen when you left them in a position where they could potentially steal your silverware. I think what Schick means is that you can choose which gods and pantheons to use in your campaign, and you can change their alignments and abilities if it works better for your purposes, but the actual rules regarding gods are just as much rules as anything in the Player's Handbook or Dungeon Master's Guide.

Anyway, after the Editor's Introduction we now finally get to the "Explanatory Notes", which... I guess I'll save for another post, because this one got long enough as it is. (Admittedly mostly because of the long digression about the gods having statistics.) Sorry.

Next time: The Consequences of Negative Charisma

Jerik fucked around with this message at 16:22 on Jul 1, 2019

Just Dan Again
Dec 16, 2012

Adventure!


A couple days late, but just read the Rifts wrapup and wanted to join the chorus: Thank you and congratulations, ARB! You've done a god's work, and that's at least 12,000 MDC worth of work!

I have vivid memories of reading and mocking Rifts while hanging with a bunch of other tabletop nerds in college. We couldn't have known that we were just probing the uppermost layers of the endless 80's toybox that was (is?) Rifts. I'll certainly be reading through those reviews a few times more.

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


I feel like most people say "Gygaxian Naturalism" with a sneer, but to me, likewise, it's a good thing. I especially loved 2nd edition when each monster had a full page with not just a stat block, but an explanation of how it fit into the world. It made them feel like residents of the world, not just encounters. 3rd ed, on the other hand, I didn't consider to be engaging in Gygaxian Naturalism at all, because it only had stat blocks. 3E's monster manuals, and all monster entries, were so disappointing to me. Plus they felt terribly edited because they never just kept to a monster per page, they clearly tried to jam in as many entries as possible at the cost of editing.

I also don't feel like 4E's game system is fundamentally at odds with GN(because I got tired of writing it out every time), it's structured combat was a cool and interesting change, but nothing prevented the world outside of the fights from still being... "objective." It did feel a bit like they scraped back all rules not directly associated with the combat system, though.

Do any of the DD editions contain suggestions for spheres/powers for the associated Clerics? Because that always felt like something that was left partially unfinished in, say, the 2nd ed AD&D PHB.

Tibalt
May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee


Fantasy Craft
Part 3: Races


Human, Dwarf, Halfling, Elf, Gnome, Half-Orc, Half-Elf?

Try Giant, Treant, and motherfucking DRAGON.

The drake is the party's face

Unfortunately, I don't have time to really dig into the races offered by Fantasy Craft - a lot of this post is going to be spent just talking about Humans. Race options are Drake (miniature dragons), Dwarf, Elf, Giant, Goblin, Human, Ogre, Orc, Pech (Combined halflings/gnomes), Rootwalker (Treants), Saurian, and Unborn (Warforged, Golems, and other constructs). About my only complaint is that Orcs are based on Tolkien, i.e. deformed and tortured elves turned evil by some ancient Dark Lord. Like I get it, but it's a bizarrely specific take on an otherwise setting-neutral game, and it's not the last one either.

Splinter races (or what Pathfinder would call sub-races) are defined by feats - Ice Drakes have the Elemental Heritage feat, Blood Tribe Goblins have the Great Horde feat, Frogmen are Saurians with the Swamp Clutch feat, and so on. All the races have a couple splinter race feats. It's all pretty neat, and a pretty straightforward way of handling the problem of sub-races without too much bloat. About my only complaint is that it's too many options - 12 races with 2 or 3 subraces is a bit too much. You'll hear this complaint from me a lot this post.

But let's get into the meat of the discussion. In Pathfinder, Humans receive a +2 to one ability score, a free feat, and an additional skill rank. It is generally the safe, optimal choice but also a bit boring. In most situations, the specific feat you selected will be stronger for your character than the grab bag of flavorful abilities you get from being an Elf or Dwarf. While Pathfinder has significantly improved the other races, the specific abilities that fit into your build are usually going to be stronger than the half dozen abilities that don't.

Fantasy Craft Humans are similar at first glance. They receive no innate modifier, and are the default "Medium biped folk with a Reach of 1" (aka the baseline). They receive one Talent, a specific set of pseudo-feats that represents a particular heritage, personality, or outlook. Talents are things like Charismatic, Methodical, or Savvy. For example, Charismatic (part of a cycle with Strong, Agile, Intelligent, Wise, and Hardy) provides a +2 CHA and the Double Boost (Cha), Charming, and Encouragement benefits. Methodical provides +1 WIS, and the Enlightened Haggle, Enlightened Investigate, Free Hint (the ability to ask for a hint from your DM and either get it or an action die I mentioned earlier), 1 Origin Skill, and Slow and Steady benefits. Savvy provides +2 WIS, -2 STR with the Grace Under Pressure and If I Recall... benefits. There are no obvious lemons in the Talent list, and they all seem to put you about on par with the other races. Just about any of them could be justified based on what class you wanted to take.

In total, there are 25 talents. When I played Fantasy Craft, it was an all-Human game loosely inspired by Game of Thrones. Within that context, the Talents worked great for differentiating characters in a way that I don't think Pathfinder would have supported. That said, I got a bit of decision paralysis just picking out which ones to include as examples. While better than most d20 System games, Fantasy Craft doesn't really support building towards a concept (which is frankly a pretty unreasonable request, I know). On the other hand, I literally can't imagine building a character without at least some strong idea of what you want. You've got to go into this with a core vision, like a Pech martial artist who punches like Giant, or you'll just end up lost.

And then there is your Specialty. Where you'd be done with this section and moving on to classes in Pathfinder, Specialties in Fantasy Craft function mechanically as something in between a race and a class. You choose one at character creation (like a race) but it provides you a specific feat and some abilities like a 0-level class. Example specialties are Adventurer, Barbarian, Fencer, or Physician. Some races are incentivized towards a specific specialty - Pech don't get their Specialty feat if they don't pick Acrobat, Adventurer, Bard, Cavalier, Corsair, Merchant, Physician, Rogue, Swindler, or Warden for example.

What the hell, Fantasy Craft, you were doing so well. Why are you punishing my dreams of Danny Rand-gins, the Iron Proudfist? But nope, I'm mechanically discouraged from picking the Fist Specialty (aka Monk) for my Pech Soldier focusing on martial arts. There's actually a lot of these sort of issues. Goblins lose 2 of their starting action dice if their highest class isn't Lancer or Priest. Orcs can never make a Calm or Influence Check. Rootwalkers take double damage from fire. Elves receive half the usual amount of healing for vitality. Unborn explode like egg shells if they fall, as they suffer 1 additional damage per die and the damage gains the Keen(20) quality (this means nothing to you yet, don't worry).

As rad as being able to play as a miniature dragon might be, I really have to give it to Pathfinder here. Sure, their races are PSL-drinking Basic, but they're servicable and straight forward. Fantasy Craft on the other hand feels bloated, with too many races, sub-races, talents, and specialties to really be able to take it all in at once. And it doesn't really feel like it's in service to anything, either. Specialties are alright, I suppose, as a sort of expanded mechanically-supported Background but you're probably still going to pick the specialty that gives you the best feat for your character. Talents make Humans much more varied, but at the expense of their own special subsystem. About half the limitations on race-class-specialty combinations seem driven more by flavor concerns than balance - but Fantasy Craft has no proscribed setting. It frankly feels like a mess.

But maybe I'm missing it, because I lack a well-rounded experience. Like I said, the only game I played was all-Humans, and the Talents were wonderful in that setting. Maybe games like that justify Talents as a subsystem. And maybe having the option to play Team Large with a Drake Spellcaster, Rootwalker Keeper, a Giant Sage, and an Ogre Soldier justifies their own existence. Maybe I'm just getting a little cross-eyed because I'm reading it and not creating my own character. I'd love to hear other people's experience, but it really does feel like too much.

Next time, we'll talk about Classes!

Angrymog
Jan 29, 2012

Really Madcats



Tibalt posted:

What the hell, Fantasy Craft, you were doing so well. Why are you punishing my dreams of Danny Rand-gins, the Iron Proudfist? But nope, I'm mechanically discouraged from picking the Fist Specialty (aka Monk) for my Pech Soldier focusing on martial arts. There's actually a lot of these sort of issues. Goblins lose 2 of their starting action dice if their highest class isn't Lancer or Priest. Orcs can never make a Calm or Influence Check. Rootwalkers take double damage from fire. Elves receive half the usual amount of healing for vitality. Unborn explode like egg shells if they fall, as they suffer 1 additional damage per die and the damage gains the Keen(20) quality (this means nothing to you yet, don't worry).
That's changed in the second printing.

Orcs posted:

Restricted Actions: Calm, Decipher, and Influence checks you make are considered untrained (see page 63).
So they can make them, but can't crit and max a result at 15. (it's not clear IMO if you can spend action dice to boost an untrained check past 15, unless I've missed it, I'd say you can because of the limited nature of ADs). The goblin thing has gone too.

The unborn thing has changed to:

unborn posted:

Achilles Heel (Electricity): When you suffer electrical damage, you also suffer an equal amount of lethal damage.
The rootwalker one is the same but for Fire. It's not quite double damage, because you may have managed to get different resistances, though in most cases it would be.

2nd Printing doesn't seem to have anything that specifically discourages a Pech Fist, unless its hidden later on.

There's a lot of errata for FC 1st printing.

re: number of races, I'd limit it based on the world we're playing in rather than open up everything from the start.

Jerik
Jun 24, 2019

I don't know what to write here.

PurpleXVI posted:

I feel like most people say "Gygaxian Naturalism" with a sneer, but to me, likewise, it's a good thing. I especially loved 2nd edition when each monster had a full page with not just a stat block, but an explanation of how it fit into the world. It made them feel like residents of the world, not just encounters. 3rd ed, on the other hand, I didn't consider to be engaging in Gygaxian Naturalism at all, because it only had stat blocks. 3E's monster manuals, and all monster entries, were so disappointing to me. Plus they felt terribly edited because they never just kept to a monster per page, they clearly tried to jam in as many entries as possible at the cost of editing.

I also don't feel like 4E's game system is fundamentally at odds with GN(because I got tired of writing it out every time), it's structured combat was a cool and interesting change, but nothing prevented the world outside of the fights from still being... "objective." It did feel a bit like they scraped back all rules not directly associated with the combat system, though.

I completely agree about second edition; I loved the detailed monster descriptions too. I think third edition had more naturalism than you're giving it credit for, though... it certainly suffers in comparison with second edition, but it did include information about the monsters beyond the stat blocks and combat abilities—not as much as second edition, but at least as much as first. Just looking through a few of the monsters under A in the 3E Monster Manual, we get a paragraph on aboleth reproduction; we get the feeding habits of ankhegs and how their burrows and their nutrient-rich waste are beneficial to farmland; we get the arrowhawk's complete life cycle; we get colorful details on the athach's love for collecting crystals; we get a decent-sized paragraph about the societal structure of azers.

Fourth edition, on the other hand, really did leave out almost everything except the stat blocks. There was a little flavor information buried in the brief "Lore" sections, but it wasn't much. As you say, 4E "scraped back all rules not directly associated with the combat system", and I guess that's mostly why it seemed to me less naturalistic. Yes, of course a DM could detail the larger world and make it seem like an active, living place, but I feel like that wasn't really supported by the rulebooks the way it was in earlier editions, and some of the advice in the Dungeon Master's Guide actively discouraged it. (Though as a Planescape fan the fact that 4E completely altered the D&D cosmology also bothered me.)

Again, though, this is all just my feelings on the subject, and I'm not saying it was an objectively bad game. It certainly had its good points—besides the better game balance, I think that even though there were some problems with the implementation, the idea behind skill challenges was a good one, and something I do wish fifth edition had followed up on.

quote:

Do any of the DD editions contain suggestions for spheres/powers for the associated Clerics? Because that always felt like something that was left partially unfinished in, say, the 2nd ed AD&D PHB.

Yes, actually. Second edition didn't do this in the Player's Handbook, but the Complete Priest's Handbook went into considerable detail on customizing clerics to fit specific faiths, with bonus proficiencies, possible special restrictions, major and minor access to particular spheres, and often additional powers unique to that faith. It included dozens of "sample priesthoods" covering topics from agriculture to wisdom—and after that, each book about gods would also include similar details on specialty priests of each god. The 2E Legends & Lore, Faiths & Avatars, Monster Mythology, Powers and Pantheons, Demihuman Deities... each of these books gave information on specialty priests for each deity, though some in more detail than others.

In fact, aside from the detailed monster descriptions, that was probably the thing I most missed about second edition when third edition first came out. Sure, domains allowed some differentiation between gods of different faiths in 3E, but it wasn't at all the same thing as having customized specialty priests for every god.

(On the other hand, the main thing I didn't miss about second edition was the deadliness—2E had a lot more save-or-die effects than third, though third edition certainly wasn't entirely free of them.)

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


Jerik posted:

(On the other hand, the main thing I didn't miss about second edition was the deadliness—2E had a lot more save-or-die effects than third, though third edition certainly wasn't entirely free of them.)

Also a completely different save system that made later-game characters very likely to shrug them off, on the other hand, because saves no longer had an opposed DC that could get higher, only a static save that could get better. :v: And most of the save-or-die stuff was stuff the GM had to actively opt into and drop on unaware players like a dickhead, like medusas and catoblepas.

JcDent
May 13, 2013

Give me a rifle, one round, and point me at Berlin!


Cults: Palers, pt. 2

Degenesis Rebirth
Primal Punk
Chapter 3: Cults




Faith

So, why did RG meme-code a religion for the Guardians? Why, to keep the maintenance of the bunkers and Sleepers going, which is a lot easier when the instructions are encoded into the rituals. I guess it's much more reliable than hoping that the original Guardians will imbue their corporate bootlickerism into their (inbred, malformed) children.

quote:

The memetics modifications within the dispenser code finally unraveled completely: picture walls that had been dead for eons woke up, displayed some shining creatures for a few seconds, and then died down again.

Yeah, I have nothing: is this just the system malfunctioning and randomly displaying propaganda, or is it the last step of the process, showing the Guardians random visions? I dunno.

Anyways, songs and noises unlocked doors closed for ages, while recovered artifacts additional granted access or played sounds from intercoms.

Every bunker became a faith-based, voice-activated quest dungeon. :dawkins101:

Eventually, the right combination of song and artifact could open “the biggest mystery:” a room with domed ceilings. The place had strange acoustic properties, making the speaker sound like he's behind the listener.

But if you had a pendant (probably a lanyard) and strong voice, the dome would show stars on the ceiling, accompanying it with “supernatural murmurs.” This was very convincing to even those who were less than totally believing in Sleepers.



Welcome, brothers, to the First Sleeper Church Of They Could Have Drawn Us Some Girl Palers

From the Dark

Stuff broke down, but the Guardians/Palers could always replace it with spares... until they couldn't.

quote:

The water preparation became more and more undependable: the drinking water stank; the toilets clogged. Mold spread in the corridors and made entire sectors uninhabitable. The bioreactors leaked; cable isolations became brittle; displays flashed for one last time and then blacked out.

Even the entrance controls stopped responding.

quote:

The dispensers had become the guardians’ prison – or their deathtrap.

See this? Do they mean that the bunkers or the machines became the prison? The will refer to the bunkers as “dispensers” quite a few times later.

Some Guardians, dedicating their lives to Bygone languages, would browse whatever databases still worked, found manuals and emergency plan. It's also mentioned that this knowledge often died with them because sharing is caring and caring is bad, I guess? However, some did manage use that information to break the seals and go outside.

quote:

For the first time in their lives, they saw the sun and realized the limitlessness of the sky. And they were afraid.

A reaction one can see when a gamer leaves his home, too.

Awakening

The outside world was a shock. The Balkhani – I guess this implies that either the first or all of the bunkers are in the Balkans – only laughed at these troglodytes talking about their gods. They were beaten back into their holes in short order.

quote:

For so long, they had called themselves ‚guardians‘, but now they received the title that would spread on the surface: Palers, a war name to hide their true nature.

What is this “war name” poo poo, it's not the first time I read it in the book. More bad translation?

In any case, the Palers felt hatred rise in them. “Back in the safe body of the dispensers” those that survived first expeditions argued what to do, giving rise to probably the first good joke in the book:

quote:

The aim was clear: they had to pave the way for the divine ones, build palaces out of limestone and bones for them (they did not all agree about how gods liked to reside).

Palers weren't exactly numerous, so they couldn't go into a real war against the surface. However, they had one advantage: they were very good at navigating in the darkness, which also included the night. So at night, they returned to the place were the Balkhanis beat them up like so many nerds, strangled them in their sleep (probably metaphorically) and looted their poo poo. That's how reconquest of the surface world started.

And no, I don't think we're ever told which bunker did that – or if that's just how it happened to every bunker on first opening. Degenesis, being unclear on details or time frames? No way!

Well, at least the Palers were smarter than to send out a single bunker-dweller to take on a world he doesn't know to bring back a vital piece of infrastructure :v:



"Re...reco... reconbi... gently caress it, I'll be an Apocalyptic."

Demagogues

Here we learn that the memetics that enslaved Palers were created – and endlessly tested online – by Getrell, that rear end in a top hat that gave birth to Shirbirds. The idea was to boost territoriality and dominance, but also instill submissiveness to superiors. It's an elitist ideology (as in "Palers the chosen of the gods") that worked because isolation from the world allowed the memetics to develop according to the plan.

quote:

They created a form of solidarity for which love or devotion are only insufficient descriptions, as well as a special talent: the ability to lead and to instruct by voice, facial expressions, and gestures.

Yeah, because regular humans can't lead and instruct by voice, facial expressions and gestures. Degenesis invented oratory the same way the internet intellectuals invented “steelmaning” because they had never heard of the principle of charity.

Regular humans are probably even better at the talk-influence thing since we can see expressions and gestures :rolleyes:

“Language and sounds had always held immense meaning in the Paler society,” wrote some man who never considered that this applied to humanity in general. However, what they wanted to mean that Palers set their pecking order by the depth of the voice. Children with deeper voices were taught how to develop it and elders taught them storytelling, with hopes of raising “one of their best: a Demagogue.”

I don't know if calling someone you expect to be your rightful leader a “demagogue” is very natural, but then again, maybe the Palers were as good at understanding language as whoever peppered this section with strange words.

A Paler Demagogue is someone who uses eloquence and memetics to a great effect, becoming essentially a turbo orator that basically does video game buffs and debuffs by just saying poo poo.

quote:

The Demagogue judges, leads councils, and gives solace. His memetics develop along with his nature: Rato, a Demagogue of fear, controls his subordinates through terror and punishes deviance with panic; the words of Chire, a Demagogue of violence, hurt like whip lashes; Jiklas’ people indulge in the intoxication of song to forget the terrors of the outside world.

This works wonders on Palers, since it's part of the plan to control them, but the Demagogues are good enough to even affect the surface dwellers – or “abovegrounders,” as the book calls them.

Next time: low life and times at Paler high

JcDent fucked around with this message at 10:50 on Jun 26, 2019

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


God, every post I feel like maybe, maybe, Degenesis is just one proper translation from not being a pile of baffling garbage. :v:

Josef bugman
Nov 17, 2011

Pictured: Poster prepares to celebrate Holy Communion (probablY)

This avatar made possible by a gift from the Religionthread Posters Relief Fund


PurpleXVI posted:

God, every post I feel like maybe, maybe, Degenesis is just one proper translation from not being a pile of baffling garbage. :v:

Is it though? I am not ragging on JCDent here but I have never seen a game more wedded to unfun weirdness than Degenesis.

Mr. Maltose
Feb 16, 2011

The Guffless Girlverine


I don't think you can translate away all the racist garbage, that would move it to the territory of rewriting the game entirely.

Barudak
May 7, 2007



Yeah Degenesis is a game setting that feels like a hundred youtube videos with no relationship to each other put into a playlist and has exactly as much racism in it as that implies

Tibalt
May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee


Angrymog posted:

There's a lot of errata for FC 1st printing.

re: number of races, I'd limit it based on the world we're playing in rather than open up everything from the start.
Good! I assumed most DMs and players just ignored the Iconic class and specialty rules, but it's good to know that Crafty Games actually removed them.

I think a little bit of my frustration stemmed from the fact that Crafty Games tried to make a toolbox, but sprinkled on some implied setting in ways that are kind of weird.

And thinking about it as a toolbox, I've actually come around a bit on the number of races. The fact that you could play a game set in Eberron out of the box without having to patch in Warforged is pretty impressive. It still feels like a lot, but probably more manageable in actual play.

Halloween Jack
Sep 11, 2003

Let your word be "Yes, Yes" or "No, No"; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

I still don't understand Degenesis. It feels like a bundle of premises for low-budget post apoc movies, corny racist stereotypes, and honestly pretty good industrial metal album covers, in search of an actual setting.

By popular demand
Jul 17, 2007

IT *BZZT* WASP ME--
IT WASP ME ALL *BZZT* ALONG!




Halloween Jack posted:

I still don't understand Degenesis. It feels like a bundle of premises for low-budget post apoc movies, corny racist stereotypes, and honestly pretty good industrial metal album covers, in search of an actual setting.
:agreed:
Now we just need a sentence or two about the ruleset and we can leave this whole soggy mess behind.

JcDent
May 13, 2013

Give me a rifle, one round, and point me at Berlin!


Palers will be done this week, then I'll probably do a post about the 30 pages of history (separated by Cult) that caps the book.

Then I'll go into the rules.

Angrymog
Jan 29, 2012

Really Madcats



JcDent posted:


Then I'll go into the rules.
There are rules?

Tuxedo Catfish
Mar 17, 2007

You've got guts! Come to my village, I'll buy you lunch.


Quick point of order -- the Epic Level Handbook wasn't unprecedented by any means. AD&D 2E had "Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns" which is almost a 1:1 model for the content in Epic Level Handbook.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Spycraft 1e

Mechanical Lever Action Gun Porn

So I realize I've never actually precisely defined a term I use a lot in my reviews. 'Mechanical Levers'. When I'm talking about that, I'm talking about things you can meaningfully modify to make two options mechanically different. Take Myriad Song, an example of a game with a shitload of gear that actually had the mechanical levers to make the differences between its items matter: You could change which Traits an item used to attack, you could modify the capacity or give it a Sweep attack, you could modify where it threatened enemies or where it could be used to attack, you could modify damage, and there were a ton of special rules that actually mattered while being sort of standardized in what they did and how you countered them. So that game could have a massive gear list and actually have a reason to have it! By contrast, Urban Jungle, despite being in the same system, wasn't interested in having dozens of space weapons and so greatly simplified gear rules, preferring simpler equipment. Or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e had very few actual traits about a weapon that could change it meaningfully, so by way of that its own 'gear porn' book was a bit underwhelming in actual new items because when you have a 1-5 Armor scale and then the majority of weapons are just SB+0 and maybe a couple minor traits, there just isn't room to produce dozens of items. Meanwhile, Warhammer 40kRP was a game that had very few actual mechanical levers, but tried to have a ton of gear, with the outcome being that every game had a couple clear best options you should always use and a ton of equipment with no mechanical reason to ever touch it if you could avoid it taking up page space.

I say all this because I want you to think about how you meaningfully distinguish non-magical weapons in a d20 based game. Damage, Threat Range, Error (In Spycraft), Range Increment, maybe magazine capacity, Cost, Fire Modes, and maybe accuracy, but accuracy starts to get into what's normally the province of magical gear and in Spycraft, you have very limited access to things that directly raise the accuracy of your weaponry outside of a few laser sights and some very expensive accurizing. A maximally accurized weapon (which takes about 2 missions and a ton of gadget points to get, but if you put it on a personal weapon you only pay for it once) with a laser sight will have +4 to hit at 50 feet or less, which is extremely good by d20 standards (+20% to hit is good in almost any game), but that's about the limit of crazy modifications you can make to your personal weaponry in the core book. Similarly, the Core Book doesn't really care if you're using a Mateba .357 'semiauto' revolver or a Colt Python, or if you carry a Browning Hi-Power or a VP70; they're both just .357 revolvers or 9mm service pistols.

For some people this would not stand, and so we get the Modern Arms Guide, a book that belongs in the trash. This is the book for when you really care if you're using a SOCOM .45 or a simple Colt M1911. For if you need to make dozens of minor modifications to your personal service pistol or need to describe how your rifle has a cryogenically treated barrel that improves the weapon's harmonics and makes it a whopping +1 more accurate for a shitload of Budget points. Yes, a +1 bonus to hit is valuable. Yes, many of the new rules introduced in the MAG have actual mechanics attached to them. No, they still don't meaningfully distinguish an M16 from an M4, even if they try.

This is a book that adds full rules for 25 distinct polearms to a superspy game. Though on that count I can't tell if that's an in-joke about the way D&D's origins lie with a man whose three passions in life were weird fictional race wars, weird purple prose, and shitloads of polearms.

There are something like 40 new weapon special qualities and rules introduced in this book, all as ways to pretend they can meaningfully differentiate between 12 different 9mm service pistols. And, of course, you get a full 'guns and bullets' pop-firearms 'realistic' primer on every single gun in the book. 20 new types of special ammo, most of them useless! New rules for when your body armor doesn't work, as if body armor didn't have enough issues outside of Soldier! New ways to spend shitloads of budget on weapons, making them dominate the Budget system even more! Rules for determining if a target is a soft target or not! Rules for crawling, crouching, and going prone! Extensive fiddly gunsmithing! For instance, now you have weapons defined as 'Armor Defeating' that will blow through 'hard targets' (anyone with DR 6 or higher) and ignore 10 DR (15 if you also use an Armor Defeating ammo type) but do half damage to 'soft targets' (DR 6 or lower). Many of the new special ammos will do 0 damage to anyone with DR 6+. Lots of other rules will give +1 or +2 in various situations but rarely ones that matter that much; how often does someone actually try to Sunder your sniper rifle for that heavy Bull Barrel to actually matter?

Part of why this is an issue is that it conflicts with a major point of abstraction the game was trying to push: Vitality Points aren't generally you getting shot. They're near misses, attacks that your armor barely saved, impact wounds, bruises, small cuts, etc. Wounds are where you take a hit to the shoulder and start bleeding dramatically. Once you start introducing 20mm cannons designed to pop the night-sights on a tank or 23mm shotguns that blow out engine blocks, and explicitly add in rules about 'it just punches right through the PC and so doesn't transfer full force to them', that conceit gets a little tougher to keep up. Are you going to say it's safe to get shot with a .50 BMG round just because it probably blows through you on the way?

Modern Arms Guide also introduces a bunch of ways to solve problems it causes. In the normal book, outside of possibly higher Error ratings and definitely higher prices, higher caliber weapons were generally mechanically better. The high price and the lack of concealment was how you paid for bringing a big gun to a fight; you're spies, that's probably going to limit people outside of the Go Loud Soldier. Modern Arms Guide introduces Recoil, which reduces a weapon's to-hit if your Strength isn't high enough and you try to fire it on anything but single shot. This was done to try to make the Colt .45 no longer king of service pistols (at the same time as making the Colt .45 Error 0, Threat 19-20, and giving it 'Takedown' so it causes a 10+1/2 Damage Caused Fort Save or it knocks people over. What? .45 ACP definitely doesn't do that) by giving it Recoil 20, so you need a 20 Strength to fire a Colt .45 one-handed with Speed Trigger on to use a Burst or you suffer the difference between your Str and the Colt's Recoil as an attack penalty.

The issue with Recoil as written is twofold. One, it actually doesn't apply much! Only if you fire in Burst, Strafe, or Autofire (We'll get to those) RAW. My old GM made it much more important and made it so you suffered Recoil on extra shots if you made more than one attack, which is probably why the rule sticks out so to me (we actually had to worry about it a lot!). But as it stands, it introduces a big new parameter to guns, and later feats and such in later books will give bonuses to recoil control and such, while not really making it that important; most of the weapons you'll be autofiring actually don't have huge Recoil ratings. Two, it introduces a ton of rules for dealing with recoil (bracing, using bipods, modifications to the barrel, new feats, using both hands...) but like...you introduced a complication entirely so you could introduce a dozen ways to get rid of it. Also now Soldiers who are using a gun need huge Strength potentially. Sure, it was cool when my 20 Str Marine could handle an anti-vehicle shotgun with no worries about recoil, but that system was introduced entirely so I'd have to bypass it. By Core Book I could've done that anyway.

Which is really my issue with the entire Modern Arms Guide. Recoil sums it up perfectly: It introduces a new complication to combat, on the premise of 'greater realism' in a game where you're playing cinematic superspies, solely so it can fill page space with fiddly modifications and new rules to remove that complication from the equation.

The other issue with it is that when you start to directly mechanically define all these weapons, you end up with 'best' weapons. For instance, you have no mechanical reason to ever use a 9mm service pistol besides the Browning Hi Power if you can afford it. The Colt .45 is an amazing gun in the MAG because they decided it should have 0 chance of ever failing or malfunctioning. The FN Five-seveN is straight one of the best handguns in the game because it has inherent AP (penetrates 3 DR) and can be loaded with AP ammo on top of that (+2 more) while being cheap, having light recoil (It's rating is 0!), doing +1 damage over a 9mm, and not becoming 'Armor Defeating' and thus useless against soft targets after that. By mechanically defining all those pistols, instead of adding flavor you've now added situations where you just have a 'best' gun in each category. You actually had more options to be flavorful back when it was like 'I have a 9mm service pistol, model's whatever I think is cool'.

By trying to mechanically differentiate all these dozens of guns to justify its own gear porn in a system with relatively few mechanical levers they end up with the same issue 40kRP did: Every category has good guns and trash guns. And with how expensive all guns are, why would you ever buy a trash gun? Since guns are already the most expensive part of your kit, since other equipment is cheap and most PCs aren't wearing armor, why not get the good gun in a category when the difference in cost is usually only 6-10 BP? So instead of a wide range of cool guns, your agents just all end up carrying a Five-seveN if they're using a sidearm or a G3 for an assault rifle or whatever. There's a Good Gun and a Bad Gun because you mechanically differentiated the guns in a game system that doesn't have enough sidegrade potential to make multiple sorts of 'builds' of a weapon valuable; you want the weapon that does the most damage, with the best range, and the least error and best Threat.

So in short, the Modern Arms Guide is actually a good metaphor for a lot of d20. It purports to be about giving you new options, but without enough things to mechanically differentiate those options, it just ends up adding a ton of extra complexity. Then, by mechanically defining everything, strictly, without enough to distinguish it all? It also gives you stark 'best/worst' choices for your highly limited character resources, which then makes you choose a binary 'flavor' or 'effectiveness' situation, which sucks for everyone involved. The way d20's design often ends up making it impossible to build to a 'concept' because so much of d20 is about trying to spend highly limited resources the best way you can to get mechanically effectiveness is part of why I dislike it so much. You'll see people lament 'minmaxing'. If you're not a wizard, because of the nebulous nature of what makes you Good At Thing in d20, you need to minmax to some degree or else you just end up having a bad time if you use the rules. A cool character concept doesn't stand up to simply never doing enough damage or constantly failing your critical skill checks, after all. d20 is a hugely mechanics focused game, and you're going to need to interact with those mechanics. A lot. The MAG just extends that to picking your sidearm as well as everything else about your PC, and I hate it. It's a waste of page space that only makes a persistent problem with the system even more omnipresent.

Next Time: When you take a life, do you know what you give?

Midjack
Dec 24, 2007





Halloween Jack posted:

I still don't understand Degenesis. It feels like a bundle of premises for low-budget post apoc movies, corny racist stereotypes, and honestly pretty good industrial metal album covers, in search of an actual setting.

The Cultures part became incomprehensible about halfway through though the Cults have been easier for me to follow. I still would never play in this terrible world full of awful societies and horrible people.

SirPhoebos
Dec 10, 2007

WELL THAT JUST HAPPENED!

Jerik posted:

Fourth edition, on the other hand, really did leave out almost everything except the stat blocks. There was a little flavor information buried in the brief "Lore" sections, but it wasn't much. As you say, 4E "scraped back all rules not directly associated with the combat system", and I guess that's mostly why it seemed to me less naturalistic. Yes, of course a DM could detail the larger world and make it seem like an active, living place, but I feel like that wasn't really supported by the rulebooks the way it was in earlier editions, and some of the advice in the Dungeon Master's Guide actively discouraged it. (Though as a Planescape fan the fact that 4E completely altered the D&D cosmology also bothered me.)

Although I liked the 4th edition cosmology, I did shake my head when Player's Handbook 2 tried to cram Sigil back in, with all the weird changes that imply (like turning Shemeska into a Rhakasha).

My favorite bit? After doing all the modifications to make the torus peg fit into the square hole, Sigil is still post-Faction War just like every appearance it's made since Planescape stopped getting supplement. Thanks.

EDIT: I know there's got to be official art of Rhys as a 4/5E Tiefling, and I'm going to hate it.

SirPhoebos fucked around with this message at 16:26 on Jun 26, 2019

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Something I should expand on quickly: The Modern Arms Guide is also a great example of one of the issues of the 90s/00s development cycle, especially in the d20 space: You had to be putting out new supplements. A lot. Which meant inventing things to put in to write supplements about, really.

Halloween Jack
Sep 11, 2003

Let your word be "Yes, Yes" or "No, No"; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Midjack posted:

The Cultures part became incomprehensible about halfway through though the Cults have been easier for me to follow. I still would never play in this terrible world full of awful societies and horrible people.
Since the rules and player options haven't been dealt with yet, I can't even suss out which factions are playable and which are not and how a party of PCs is supposed to get together and do things.

FMguru
Sep 10, 2003

peed on;
sexually

Night10194 posted:

Something I should expand on quickly: The Modern Arms Guide is also a great example of one of the issues of the 90s/00s development cycle, especially in the d20 space: You had to be putting out new supplements. A lot. Which meant inventing things to put in to write supplements about, really.
You saw that the White Wolf/Vampire Heartbreaker space, too - your setting had dozens of splats and factions, so you could write and sell dozens of splat and faction books.

One of the main drivers of big 1990s game settings being giant sprawling unfocused messes was the economic model that they were published under.

Jerik
Jun 24, 2019

I don't know what to write here.

Tuxedo Catfish posted:

Quick point of order -- the Epic Level Handbook wasn't unprecedented by any means. AD&D 2E had "Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns" which is almost a 1:1 model for the content in Epic Level Handbook.

OK, that's fair enough. I think I had that book (and if so, it's almost certainly currently in a box in a storage unit with the rest of my earlier-edition books), but I don't think I ever used it or even browsed it much, and I wasn't aware of the similarities.

ETA: I've now looked through the book, and I agree it's got some similarities and I probably should have mentioned it (and I may edit my post to insert your comment), but I wouldn't say it's "almost a 1:1 model". There are certainly some commonalities—extending class abilities beyond 20th level; high-level applications for skills; a special system for spells above 9th level. But there are some pretty significant differences, too, and I'd still argue the Epic Level Handbook goes significantly farther over the top. Most notably, Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns still insists on a hard level cap at level 30, which means it only lets characters exceed the levels in the Player's Handbook by a relatively modest 50%; the Epic Level Handbook imposes no upper limit on the levels a character can theoretically reach, and includes monsters with CRs as high as 66 (and some epic monsters from other, later official sources had even higher CRs!), implying that it's expected that PCs could conceivably reach those levels. I wonder how many actually did. I did run a long 3E campaign once where the PCs got up to epic levels before the campaign ended, but only barely; they were in the low 20s. I really don't think I'd want to try to run (or play in) a campaign for 50th- or 60th-level characters.

Also, looking over this book now, it's ringing enough bells that I'm sure now that yes, I did have it and did read through it before a long time ago; I'd just forgotten it. In fact, I used the rules for Magical Duels from Chapter 5 in a 2E campaign I ran years ago; I'd just forgotten they were in this book. (And am still not sure why they're in this book, actually, since they don't require the participants to be any particular level and they work just as well for relatively low-level characters.)

SirPhoebos posted:

Although I liked the 4th edition cosmology, I did shake my head when Player's Handbook 2 tried to cram Sigil back in, with all the weird changes that imply (like turning Shemeska into a Rhakasha).

She wasn't a rakshasa; she was a raavasta, which was the 4E replacement for arcanaloths, though I'm not sure why the 4E designers thought they needed replacing, when the other yugoloths were still there just changed into demons. Maybe they just didn't like the name.

I think there was even a book (or maybe an issue of Dragon or Dungeon?) that explicitly noted the connection and said that arcanaloths had turned into raavastas for some reason, though I can't find it now.

Ah, it's in the Lore for raavastas in the 4E Manual of the Planes:

4E Manual of the Planes posted:

Many planar scholars believe that raavastas were once demons known as arcanaloths. According to sages, the demon lords drove the arcanaloths out of the Abyss due to their conniving ways, and it is from these demons that raavastas and rakshasas descend. Their similar tendencies and greed supports this theory, though rakshasas are quick to dismiss such claims as evil slurs against their race’s honorable nature.

Hm... okay, so while it connected raavastas and arcanaloths, it also made rakshasas into arcanaloth descendants, which is... kind of weird. I'd forgotten that part. Anyway, though, raavastas were basically just arcanaloths in all but name, so making Shemeshka a raavasta wasn't much of a change. (There were plenty of big changes in 4E I didn't like, but that wasn't one of them.) A'kin was also a raavasta in 4E, according to the DMG2.

Jerik fucked around with this message at 17:42 on Jun 26, 2019

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


FMguru posted:

You saw that the White Wolf/Vampire Heartbreaker space, too - your setting had dozens of splats and factions, so you could write and sell dozens of splat and faction books.

One of the main drivers of big 1990s game settings being giant sprawling unfocused messes was the economic model that they were published under.

One reason I'm very sympathetic to Spycraft 1e especially, despite my issues with it, is because it's very much a product of its time and a good reflection of what the OGL did to game design even early on in the OGL. Which is what makes it interesting to go back and study.

Plus, I'm always fascinated by the 90s/00s era because that's when I was making my own attempts at making whole game systems and settings for my friends and I; I've written a 'man I really liked Eternal Darkness and Gabriel Knight' urban fantasy game, and a big silly RPG parody game that had crazy rocket tag and semi-incoherent rules. I've made like every 90s/00s mistake myself, organically, when trying to make those systems. So it's interesting to study the things that went wrong or that drove that era of game design.

juggalo baby coffin
Dec 2, 2007

How would the dog wear goggles and even more than that, who makes the goggles?




Jerik posted:

Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 2: Gods and Monsters


The first thing we see when we open the book (assuming we open it at the beginning) is another piece of art by Erol Otus:


I kind of like to think the entities on the left are good, and the ones on the right are evil, just to play against type. Or maybe both sides are good and it's a dispute of law vs. chaos. Just a friendly disagreement. They're not really trying to hurt each other.



i think you're right. the guys on the left have much more friendly and/or determined faces than the cruel expressions of the human guys on the right.

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003

Number 1 Nerd Tear Farmer 2022.

Keep it up, champ.

Also you're a skeleton warrior now. Kree.


Unlockable Ben

Let's continue our theme, with..



Now, I'm going to sigh at the moment. Because I'm getting hacked off. See, I've gone through a bunch of other books that are not Robin's Laws: and all of them have a bunch of problems which I'll summarise below.

Unnecessary padding. The amount of verbiage in many of these books is just insane. There are entire unnecessary chapters, and explanations of simple concepts multiple times. Several standard GMing books are actually collections of essays and the authors apparently didn't talk to each other, so there's a ton of repetition. Hey, do you know what an "offer" is in improv? Unframed will tell you.. four times. But that ties into..

Not knowing the level. For any teaching book you really want to know the background of your reader, and many of these books either don't consider that or don't allow for it at all. This especially applies to the essay collections, where an essay on your first session can be back-to-back with one on the merits of adding narrative contradiction to a plot. And finally,

Not knowing how to teach. A GMing book can't be a technical reference or walkthrough book like an RPG book can be. It has to be actually written to teach, and that's not easy. There's a reason there's a flood of god-awful self-published textbooks.

So, Never Unprepared - one of a series of three books by Engine Publishing, the others being Odyssey and Focal Point - tries to be a tutorial on how to prepare for sessions. And good grief, it's a slog. I don't like copying and pasting text, but seriously, just look at this stuff from the first two chapters.

quote:

When you say “session prep” to most GMs, they imagine a pile of handwritten notes spread across a table; a kudzu of loose-leaf and ink attempting to consume any free space it can find. They have blood-chilling visions of sitting at a desk like a monk penning a copy of the Bible, writing endlessly in silence. They have flashbacks of high school and college term papers, pulling all-nighters to get them finished in time, and the fatigue and the low-level self-loathing that comes from making yourself stay up all night for nothing more than homework.

Wordcount padding technique one: unnecessary examples or metaphors for things that the reader already understands. Pretty much nobody is buying a pure GM advice book before GMing their first session. If the reader doesn't understand this, what's the point of teaching them a negative image of prep that allegedly other GMs have, just to try to tell them it's wrong?

quote:

Session preparation is the act of preparing oneself as the GM for an upcoming session where you will run a game for your players. Session preparation (which I will call prep from now on) is related to campaign preparation, which is the act of organizing information for a campaign, or series of sessions. This book addresses session prep, but some of the concepts presented are applicable to campaign prep as well.

Thank you for telling us that preparation is the act of preparing; that being a GM involved running a game for players; and that prep is short for preparation, and for taking 71 words to do it.

We do take a brief moment to say something useful, in terms of the benefits of prep in terms of types of stories that have problems when run improvisationally, such as mysteries; and the fact that many GMs do not like prep but this may be because they are doing it wrong.

quote:

Every GM, experienced or new, has been in this situation: on the spot, facing your players, when something unexpected has
happened in the game and you are searching for what to do next. It could be that the players have attacked the king, or the party has decided to explore the hex to the west and not the one to the north, or the mage attempted to bluff the villain into revealing his master plan and succeeded.

Drink for wordy, unnecessary examples.

quote:

GMing is in many ways like radio, where silence is death. When I was in college I was a DJ at the college station, rocking out metal at 10:00 in the morning. The first lesson they teach you is that having dead air is the worst thing that you can do. If someone is listening to your station and the song ends, and another song does not start right away, people reach for the dial and move to the next station. You’re taught to do anything to avoid that silence, from timing your songs so that one flows into the next, to jumping on the mic and jabbering away until you can get the next song going.

GMing is no different: Silence is death. When a session is in full swing and you are narrating the scene, judging the players’ actions, and playing the roles of the NPCs, your players are hopefully following you. When this is running at its best, there are moments when the walls of the gaming space melt away, when you see your players as their characters and they see your narrative as the world around them. In those moments you have reached true immersion, the zone of RPGs. When you reach that zone, you want to stay there as long as possible; those are the moments that we all—players and GMs alike—remember for years to come.

The last thing you want to do in one of those moments is to fall silent because you’re unprepared.

Silence is bad. Got it. Now seriously, let me rewrite this in like 5 minutes:

Every GM, experienced or new, has been in this situation: something unexpected has happened in the game, they have to search for what to do next, and while they are doing so the table goes silent. During that silence, immersion breaks and the table slowly devolves into building dice towers and sidebar conversation. The longer the silence goes on, the harder it will be to recover that immersed state. The more prepared you are, the less often those moments of silence will occur in your game, and the better your chances are of reaching that immersive state.

That is 97 words. This book? Takes 502 to say the same thing.

We now get to a more useful statement: that ideally, prep should be accessible, organized, effective, and reliable. While true, this means that the author has now switched to using "prep" to mean the result of prep, not the activity, which would be more forgivable if he hadn't defined it like 3 times by now.

quote:

What I just described are the high-level requirements for any database system from a recipe app on your smart phone to the most complex banking servers.

Another unnecessarily comparison. Anyone who knows about database design knows this. Anyone who doesn't will get nothing from the metaphor.

quote:

The First Rule of Prep Is: We Do Not Talk about Prep

Which is the header of a section on how we absolutely should talk about prep rather than leaving it as the elephant in the room, which is a drat good point, but hey. Who cares if we have a header that means the exact opposite of the underlying text, if we can work in a Fight Club reference?

quote:

My own style of prep was conceived largely without input from other GMs. Some of the tools I use were suggested by friends, but the contents of my notes, and the system I use to plan the time to write them each week, were discovered by trial and error—a lot of errors. Over the years I evolved a style of prep that I became comfortable with, but I never really understood why it worked. I just stuck to it because it did.

When I became a father, something wonderful happened: Being a dad is insanely awesome. Something terrible happened as well: My free time vanished. Suddenly my tried-and-true approach to prep was falling victim to a massive time crunch. With no real resources to draw upon, I started to work at my prep and find ways to make it fit into my new, much tighter, schedule. Along the way I learned some valuable lessons.

You are great. Now tell us stuff.

The next section attempts to address the common errors that GMs make when preparing. The first one of these is writing too much. The irony is palpable.

quote:

This is the most common reason that GMs dislike prep: They are simply writing too many notes. They often do this because when they first learned to play, they took copious notes to make sure they were well-prepared for their sessions. Over the years they have grown as GMs and their skill at handling the game on the fly has improved, but they are still writing volumes of notes.

A common question that I’m asked when I am on GMing panels at conventions is “How long should my notes be for a session?” My answer for this is always the same: As long as you need them to be to comfortably run your game. Less experienced GMs often need more (and more detailed) notes because it makes them feel comfortable GMing. More experienced GMs often require fewer notes because they fill in the gaps with their improvisational skills. What GMs often fail to do is to review their skills and attempt to trim down their notes as they grow in experience.

Gaaaaaah! Ok, not only is this wordy (why does it matter where the author gets asked that question?) but it's a fundamental error in any tutorial. Obviously, if the reader is writing too many notes, then their belief about how long they need them to be is incorrect. Telling them to fall back on that belief is not teaching them anything. The final sentence, about reviewing skills, has a point. Ok. So, how do we do this review? Dunno. There's nothing about it in the book. There are skill reviews, but they're to do with the prep skills the book presents, not the underlying GM.

Second reason: prep can be found boring because you are using the wrong tools. Now, drat, I'd love it if there was a sufficiently inspiring semantic system to make prep for every system fun. I've even just found it fun to transcribe bits of the Spire setting into Realm Works and that's by no means an ideal tool. But unfortunately, you don't always get to choose. Although hey, if anyone wants to try to write a prep tool together, I'm up for that.

Third reason: you either don't leave enough prep time, or try to prep at times when your creativity isn't great. Again, it's a fair point, but you don't always get to choose, given that preparing an RPG is not going to be a high priority compared to most other activities for an adult.

Now we move on to "The Phases Of Prep".

quote:

A common misconception is that prep is the thing you do when you write your notes or draw the maps for your upcoming game.

Actually, that's exactly what you just did when you referred to prep as a database.

There's then a section called "How This Came About", which describes how the author wrote the chapter. Nobody cares. The only time this stuff is useful in teaching is if it gives a concrete example of the teacher's experience in doing the thing being taught, and this book isn't about how to write GMing books. Moving on.

What this chapter eventually gets to is to break the prep process down into five steps: Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualization, Documentation and Review. We then have an overview of these five, before a chapter covering each. Technically this overview shouldn't be necessary, but anything to add to the page count, I guess.

Brainstorming is having ideas. The section reminds us that ideas are incomplete and that it can happen almost anywhere. We spend 35 words on how important the ability to have ideas is in the advertising industry.

Selection is choosing which of them are good ideas in terms of quality and fitting into the tone and world of the game. This makes sense. Ok.

Conceptualization is actually fitting the idea into the game in terms of the world, the need to make sense, and the game mechanics. That makes sense too. Cool.

Documentation is writing up the results, which is commonly thought to be the whole of prep. We spend 78 words explaining different ways in which to write and store your documentation, because we needed to know that it's possible to hand write documentation and put it in a binder.

And finally Review, which is reading through the documentation to make sure that it passes muster, and getting into the mindset of being ready to run the material.

There's then a bit of reassurance that this is just a summary of a natural process, and that it doesn't represent a ton more preparation work (which, you will recall from the last chapter, we are doing too much of and do not enjoy).

Next time, we'll get into the actual chapters, but I hope this has shown some of the issues I have with this and many other such books I've slated to review in this theme. It might mean that things get decidedly shorter later on.

hyphz fucked around with this message at 01:47 on Jun 27, 2019

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!


Jerik posted:

Hm... okay, so while it connected raavastas and arcanaloths, it also made rakshasas into arcanaloth descendants, which is... kind of weird. I'd forgotten that part. Anyway, though, raavastas were basically just arcanaloths in all but name, so making Shemeshka a raavasta wasn't much of a change. (There were plenty of big changes in 4E I didn't like, but that wasn't one of them.) A'kin was also a raavasta in 4E, according to the DMG2.

I really don't understand why there has to be continuity here, it's so odd. If you care about the way things were, you'll probably revert it anyway. If you don't, you don't.

"The entire planar setup is different, but it's important we call back two whole editions to explain this minutae!"

Tibalt
May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee


Fantasy Craft
Supplemental: Tordek



So before I digging into classes, I wanted to discuss Tordek, the iconic Dwarf Fighter from Dungeons and Dragons. Originally, I wasn't planning to actually make any characters in either Fantasy Craft or Pathfinder, but I realized that I really did need to show an example to illustrate some of my points.

In 3.5, Tordek is a Dwarf Fighter. He sinks all his feats into his Dwarvish Waraxe, carries a shield, and wears the heaviest armor he can afford. He showed up once during a game in high school, where the DM played him as a Fantasy worf whose really into being as Dwarfy as he can be. That's the concept we'll working towards with both systems. I won't be following the 3.5 version, because... well, he's kind of terribly built.

Anyway, Fantasy Craft immediately takes the lead by having the default character generation method being Point Buy, while Pathfinder recommends 4d6 Drop Lowest. I'm not going to spend any more words debating random character generation. The game just works better mechanically if a character isn't randomly better or worse than the baseline character. Anyway, I got 17, 14, 13, 9, 8, 8. No, really, that's actually what I rolled, I'm not just saying that to illustrate my point. They're fine enough though, so we'll go with it.

With the race already decided by our concept, the only real decision I needed to make for Fantasy Craft was the Specialty. Shield Bearer seems like a good choice - Tordek getting started as a hoplite shoulder to shoulder with his fellow dwarves seems to work.

Going into this post, I was planning to draw comparisons between the number of abilites you need to keep track of in Fantasy Craft compared to Pathfinder... but they're not actually as far apart as I thought, 7 vs 10. I forgot about all the incredibly niche racial abilities Dwarves get. I honestly can't remember any time they came up besides the AC bonus against Giants, the attack bonus against Orcs, and Darkvision.

Anyway, Fantasy Craft Dwarves have more racial abilities that you'll want to track. Thick Hide 3 isn't as helpful as it looks as Tordek will be wearing armor, but the +4 to CON makes him innately durable. From Shield Bearer, Agile Defense gives a +1 to base Defense and Practiced Resolved gives you back your action die if you boost a Resolve check and still fail. Melee Combat Expert means Tordek is considered to have 2 additional Melee Combat feats for abilities, which I'll talk about when we get to feats. Since Tordek will using a shield, the free feat is nice as well.

Overall Tordek is already noticeably more competent in Fantasy Craft, but Crafty Games had to include a lot of complexity to get to that point. While I take exception to Pathfinder recommending 4d6 Drop Lowest, it's admittedly presented as an array of options alongside Classic (3d6), Heroic (2d6+6) and Point Buy.

pre:
Pathfinder
Race: Dwarf
STR	17	+3		INT	8	-1
DEX	13	+1		WIS	9(+2)	+0
CON	14(+2)	+3		CHA	8(-2)	-2

Abilities:
Darkvision		Defensive Training
Greed			Hatred(Orcs, Goblinoids)
Hardy			Stability
Stonecunning		
pre:
Fantasy Craft
Race: Dwarf Shield Bearer
STR	16 	+3		INT	11	+0
DEX	12(-2) 	+0		WIS	12	+1
CON	14(+4) 	+4		CHA	10	+0

Abilities:
Enlightened Skill(TBD)	Iron Gut
Improved Stability	Low-Light Vision
Thick Hide 3		Agile Defense
Shield Block Trick	Melee Combat Expert
Practiced Resolve	

Feats:
Shield Basics
Next time, Classes for real

megane
Jun 20, 2008





Ah, the good old college technique of stretching 300 words' worth of ideas into a 1000-word-minimum essay.

Self-helpy sort of books like these love telling you what not to do. "Beginner [GM]s often do [obviously stupid thing]! haha that's obviously stupid, don't do that lol" gets you a nice juicy lump of wordcount with minimal effort. It's much more difficult to give hard, definitive advice on what you should do, so that's often waved off with an airy "do it the way that works!" sort of spiel.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


I'm gonna guess Shield Basics is a small package of abilities because as soon as they realized that worked okay on Martial Arts they used that as the template for goddamn everything in the supplemental books in Spycraft.

They did this because it's a better idea than the way 3e did its Feats. "Hey, I got Machine Gun Basics, I can use Machine Guns even if I'm not normally proficient, I can do some cool tricks with Machine Guns, and only a single extra feat will make me a Machine Gun Master." compared to needing 8 feat deep feat trees was the way to go.

Maxwell Lord
Dec 12, 2008

I am drowning.
There is no sign of land.
You are coming down with me, hand in unlovable hand.

And I hope you die.

I hope we both die.


:smith:



Grimey Drawer

Finally caught up with this thread! ARB, you did a bang-up job.

Fantasy Craft kinda escaped my notice when it came out, it'll be interesting to see what it's like.

Tibalt
May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee


Night10194 posted:

I'm gonna guess Shield Basics is a small package of abilities because as soon as they realized that worked okay on Martial Arts they used that as the template for goddamn everything in the supplemental books in Spycraft.

They did this because it's a better idea than the way 3e did its Feats. "Hey, I got Machine Gun Basics, I can use Machine Guns even if I'm not normally proficient, I can do some cool tricks with Machine Guns, and only a single extra feat will make me a Machine Gun Master." compared to needing 8 feat deep feat trees was the way to go.
"Benefit: You gain a +4 gear bonus when Bull Rushing with an armed shield. Also, you gain a stance.
Phalanx Fighting (Stance): Each adjacent ally gains a +1 bonus to Defense and Reflex saves. This bonus increases to +2 when you wield a weapon with guard +2 or higher. The maximum bonus a character may gain from allies in this stance is +4."

The bonus to Bull Rushing is meh, but the basically free +2 Defense and Reflex bonus to the other front-line combatant is very nice. Shield Mastery and Shield Supremacy are also pretty nice - the former protects you against Armor-Piercing attacks and lets you use Shield Bash to potentially stun someone, while the latter gives you an extra +2 to defense from shields and gives you a trick that stops enemies from moving past you. It's not an incredibly exciting feat tree, but it's short, each feat is nice, and they boost other feats in the Melee Feats category.

edit: I should mention that Shields are a type of weapon that passively boost your Defense and can be used to attack.

Tibalt fucked around with this message at 04:35 on Jun 27, 2019

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!


Night10194 posted:

I'm gonna guess Shield Basics is a small package of abilities because as soon as they realized that worked okay on Martial Arts they used that as the template for goddamn everything in the supplemental books in Spycraft.

Yeah, almost all the weapon feats and fighting style feats are "passive bonus X, active maneuver Y". They generally only have one maneuver ("trick"), unlike the Spycraft 2.0 feats that seemed modeled on the tactical feats from D&D 3.5's Complete Warrior. (Which, balancing aside, was probably the coolest thing in Complete Warrior.)

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Meinberg
Oct 9, 2011


A lot of new material is coming out, on a daily basis, on the itch.io storefront. A lot of this material is relatively obscure because the creators are super independent and don’t really have much in the way of marketing departments. Some of these games are very interesting and cool, some of these games are (probably) trash. We’ll be covering what I turn up here on


itch.io Roundup

Honey Heist
https://gshowitt.itch.io/honey-heist
Grant Howitt
https://gshowitt.itch.io/

I’m starting off with the big name in the indie itch scene, Honey Heist. Honey Heist tops the charts on itch’s physical games page time and time again, and it’s easy to see why. Honey Heist is a very stripped down game and one with a light sense of humor. Grant Howitt might be better known these days for the comparatively grim Spire, but he cut his teeth with more humorous games and it definitely shows in Honey Heist.

The gist of Honey Heist is that the players take on the role of a team of bear criminals. Not anthropomorphic bears, not talking bears, just bears out on a heist for some incredibly valuable honey. Each bear has some demographic stats that are generated randomly, including the bear’s species and role on the team, and their main mechanical stats, Bear and Criminal, both of which start at 3. Rolling under the appropriate stat is a success. Bear gets a point from Criminal when things go poorly, and Criminal gets a point from Criminal when things go well.

In addition, players can manually adjust these stats by either eating honey to raise Bear or by having a flashback to the planning scene to raise Criminal. If either stat reaches 6 at any point, then that character is removed from the game.

Following this are a series of scenario generation tables to fill out the details for the heist (which always occurs at HoneyCon 2017). Randomly rolling, I get a convention that is run by someone who is a bit too obsessed with honey, set in a dangerous truck convoy, that is advertising Black Orchid Honey, which turns anyone who eats it into a goth, as the prize for the convention, but the prize is a fake, with security measures of armed guards and an “impenetrable” vault. This table helps to push things towards the comedy and maintain the desired tone of the game.

Additionally, there are some rules to cover bear disguises, which also include bear outlines that said disguises can be drawn onto.

What Honey Heist succeeds on is delivering its tone well and having a light and accessible system (that can be conveyed on one or two pieces of paper) to allow for the creation of interesting and fun games with little effort on people’s part. Indeed, Honey Heist has become an alternate model to Lasers and Feelings for presenting these incredibly light games. Interestingly, though, Grant does not credit Lasers and Feelings as an inspiration. Instead, he lists All Out of Bubblegum, 3:16, and Polaris as the games that he is drawing. Not being too familiar with those first two, I can’t say how well they fit, but Polaris is definitely an odd one.

Still, Honey Heist is good fun and has certainly earned its position at the top.

Not every game will get a review as intensive as Honey Heist’s, and those smaller games are likely to be condensed into multiple per post. The next review will… not be that.

Next time: The real horror of space is 44 pages of charts.

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