Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls: 6d6 Max System

Thinking about the "lots of dice" issue with Tunnels and Trolls, especially in regards to MR and possibly rolling dozens of dice, I came up with this system:

If you roll 6d6 or less, roll that.
If you roll more than 6d6, use this chart:


Dice # White Dice White Damage # Red Dice Red Damage
7d6 5 x1 1 x2
8d6 4 x1 2 x2
9d6 3 x1 3 x2
10d6 2 x1 4 x2
11d6 1 x1 5 x2
12d6 6 x2 - -
13d6 5 x2 1 x3
14d6 4 x2 2 x3

You need two colors of dice here, six white and six red. You see the pattern, for every die above six, replace one of the dice with a doubled up die. When the number is divisible by six, replace them all with multiplied dice.

So a roll of 10d6 would be two white dice, counted as-is; and four red dice, counted double. Remember to double things like spite damage as well when applying a multiplier. So if you rolled:
white 3, white 6, red 1, red 6, red 2 and red 5 this would equal
3 + 6 + (1 x 2) + (6 x 2) + (2 x 2) + (5 x  2) = 37 damage, and 3 spite damage
If the total dice throw is divisible by 6, just throw white dice with a multiplier equal to the number of dice thrown divided by 6. For example:
60d6 = 6 white dice with a multiplier of x10
If you have a remainder after dividing by 6, roll that many red dice and take that many white dice away. Make the red multiplier one higher than the white multiplier:
62d6 = 4 white dice with a multiplier of x10, and two red dice with multipliers of x11

The 10d6 System

Now, I am using six dice, but if you wanted to roll a maximum of 10d6 this system works just as well, you will need ten dice of each color (red and white), and the number you divide by becomes 10 instead of 6. For example:
60d6 = 10 white dice with a multiplier of x6
67d6 = 3 white dice with a multiplier of x6, and seven red dice with a multiplier of x7.
The more dice you throw, the smoother your bell curve will be. The less dice, the steeper and more random the result. The system uses multiplication to make up for not rolling dice, but the numbers generated should fall roughly in the same range, and save you a lot of time counting and adding. If you don't have 60d6 this may also save you from rolling a lot of dice over and over again and adding them up.

I think 10d6 is easier math-wise, since the one's digit is the number of red dice and then you just fill to ten dice with leftover white dice. The white die multiplier is the tens digit, and the red die multiplier is the white die's multiplier plus one. If you have ten dice of two colors this may be the faster way to do the math, although you are adding 10d6 instead of 6d6. More dice is easier math, but more adding.

Everybody Must Agree!

As with all speed of play systems and changes, make sure your group knows you are using them and agrees to them before play. This is more of a house-rule on how many dice are thrown at the table than a real change to the rules, but it does have the potential to create more extreme results due to less dice being thrown.

The Martian: Sci-Fi That Speaks to Us

So I just watched The Martian, and I am getting the same feeling I did with Interstellar. This is sci-fi that speaks to us. Back in the 1960s we had a world growing closer together, so the "clash of cultures" type of sci-fi where space civilizations learn to get along was relevant then, and Star Trek spoke to that era. In the 1970s and 80s when escapist entertainment pleased the masses, so Star Wars filled the need of that time, and spoke to that era. Let's forget the 1990s because it was so confused with the end of the Cold War, it was a mix of escapist entertainment, geo-political drama and "personal" sci-fi stories that used science-fiction as window dressing for those times.

But we need sci-fi that speaks to us today. But to know that, we need to know what the world's problems are:

  • The world hates itself
  • People have given up
  • The problems we face are just too big

We hate each other and we are ruled by fear, plain and simple. Our world can do nothing great unless it learns to work together, and more-so, come together behind great things. Our society has also turned inward with a sickness of "me" and self-important posts on Facebook and Twitter. It's not about you, it's about us! We distract ourselves with online games and Pokemon Go when there are great and incredible discoveries out there in the universe waiting for us to get over ourselves and take the challenge on.

It is an odd feeling, but Star Wars, Star Trek, superhero movies like The Avengers, Firefly, and all of those other forms of sci-fi don't feel like they speak to me anymore. They all feel like window dressing sci-fi that puts a western, romance, or Earth-bound drama in spacy clothes, bug-eyed aliens, and car-like starships and presents it to us as "meaningful."

It is not meaningful because it does not reflect the problems we face. It feels tone-deaf today because it speaks to none of our problems. Sci-fi is about reflecting who we could be, and overcoming the human drama that is life to rise above and do great things. At least, that is what speaks to me today. In the 1960's when television made the world smaller and brought every corner of the world into our living room, yes, Star Trek would have spoke to me. In a way the crew sitting in front of that large TV and dealing with the problems it brought into their world, a bridge that was essentially an American living room, would make sense and speak to that era.

But now, no, it doesn't mean anything to me more than nostalgia. What means something to me is overcoming hate. Finding a way despite all of our "it's about me and my way of life, screw you" based differences to come together and solve impossible problems. It's about living in a bigger universe. It's about us, not me.

Star Wars ships that fly around like "space cars" speak to the 1950's and 60's when exploring the universe meant hopping in the family Chevy station wagon and cruising the open highways and interstates. Those don't mean that much to me anymore than just nostalgia, since they don't reflect the real problems we have in escaping the deathtrap that is Earth at this moment. We need to prepare the next generation for the great "Christopher Columbus" type difficulties and hardships of space travel and exploration, and it will never be as easy as hopping in the Millennium Falcon and tooling off to Mars for a few hours.
The spaceships in Interstellar and The Martian feel like things that our culture should be dealing with and preparing the future generation for. They speak to me. They speak to the challenges we have ahead of us. They speak to the math, science, and physics problems that will be the next generation's "dragon" to slay when we finally escape this world and move on to better things.

I like my escapist entertainment, but in the end it doesn't mean much to me. It provides a couple hours of distraction and something popcorn goes well with for a night out. It's fun, but it doesn't make me think. It doesn't make me want to do better for myself, to sacrifice for something greater, and "do the math." I know going against "what's popular" is fruitless and pointless, right? But there is something here, something greater than just a popcorn movie.

I find my tastes changing today, yet the world around me still seeks the safety of the blanket of nostalgia. We grow inward with our social media and online identities, and we lose what it is to be human - together. To accept the greater challenges. To explore. To understand each other in face of an impossible problem. To overcome.

Even supposed "hard science" games like Traveller still have that "space cars" influence in a way. They ignore the little challenges, they focus on the wrong things, it feels too much about "me" than "us". They are too easy, point and go. They take in a thousand ideas from a thousand random sources and say "hey, sci-fi!" They ignore the "grand challenge" of making it to a point of space that is infinitely small when we look up at the stars, yet when we are there is as large as a planet.

For sci-fi gaming, I am done with nostalgia and I want something that speaks to us. I want something that reflects the challenges ahead of us instead of the memories of the past. I want something hard, that forces my players to work together, think, and solve problems. It doesn't have to be hardcore trigonometry and math, but having a game that reflects what space travel will be like for our children and their children really means a lot more to me than laser swords or space battleships right now. It still has to be a game and fun, but what it speaks to will be different than the games and sci-fi serials of the past.

Something greater calls.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls: 7.5 versus 8.0 Warriors

Ah, warriors, the backbone of any good Tunnels and Trolls party and the heavy-hitters when it comes to dice and combat adds thrown into the turn's hit point total. Let's take two min-maxed warroirs from version 7.5 and 8 and put them beside each other.

But before we do that, we need a strategy for spending AP and determining priority on spending adventure points. I shall make the following assumptions for my test characters:

  • STR and CON will equal each other and be set to a tens level
  • DEX will be set to 80% of STR and CON
  • SPD and LK will be set to 60% of STR and CON
  • IQ will be 40% of STR and CON
  • WIZ will be set to 10
  • No ability score will go below 10
That is sort of how I may build my generic fighter when I play, so let's look at a sample 7.5 or 8.0 warrior at level 5:
Finnegan and Grimly (level 5)
STR: 50
CON: 50
DEX: 40
SPD: 30
LK: 30
IQ: 20
WIZ: 10
adds: +102
Let's call our 7.5 warrior Finnegan and our 8.0 warrior Grimly, just for fun. The scores look okay, a bit bland but balanced overall. Let's equip him with a 5d6 longsword (a similar weapon can be found in both versions) and 16 point (32 for warriors) plate armor (though in 7.5 it is 18/36 armor). Now, what am I getting at?

The Warrior Bonus

In 7.5, the warrior bonus is as follows from page 13 of the rules:
Simply put, the Warrior gets to increase his combat adds by his character level.
In 8.0, there is a drastic change here:
Warriors roll one extra d6 per character level on any melee weapon they are using.
Note that 8.0 applies to only melee weapons, where 7.5 applies to all weapons. So while our 7.5 warrior only adds 5 points to their adds, the 8.0 warrior adds 5d6. So our base attack totals for both sample warriors are as follows:
Finnegan the 5th level 7.5 Warrior: 5d6 + 107
Grimly the 5th level 8.0 Warrior: 5d6 + 5d6 + 102
The 7.5 warrior will average 125 points of damage (and 1 spite on average), and the 8.0 warrior will average 137 (and about 2 spite) - or about a 10% difference in power at level 5 between the games. I can see why they upped warrior damage, because a rogue in 7.5 at these levels has about the same adds plus magic. The only bonus a 7.5 warrior has over a rogue is the double-protection armor bonus.

At Level 10

Let's raise both of these warriors to level 10 and see what happens. We will need to recalculate our stats based on our formulas, as below:
Finnegan and Grimly (level 10)
STR: 100
CON: 100
DEX: 80
SPD: 60
LK: 60
IQ: 40
WIZ: 10
adds: +252
You can see where this is going. Let us take a look at their combat power now with weapons and warrior bonuses:
Finnegan the 10th level 7.5 Warrior: 5d6 + 262
Grimly the 10th level 8.0 Warrior: 5d6 + 10d6 + 252
While our 7.5 version warrior Finnegan will average 280 points of damage (and 1 spite), Grimly in version 8.0 will average 305 points of damage (and 3 spite) - and again, only about a 10% difference in combat power. So warriors received a 10% buff in power between 7.5 and 8.0 in combat strength, and I honestly expected a full +1d6 per level over +1 per level to be really, really unbalancing in overall terms of combat power.
15d6 vs. 5d6
But 15d6 is a lot to roll every turn, isn't it? I admit, the tighter feeling of 7.5 where players aren't rolling handfuls of dice seems appealing from a speed-of-play standpoint. Then again, you are level 10 and the player isn't rolling multiple attacks per turn, so who cares if they throw an extra 10d6 for that 5d6 longsword attack? DarkgarX is adamant that 15d6 is a lot to roll (and dead set against this) and I am on the fence.

If you are at a table and every player is responsible for their own dice and adding, I am fine with it. If I have to run statted NPCs in a party alongside one player, this is a non-starter (I'd rather just give them MRs, but the large number of dice problem is there too). If we are verbally roleplaying a combat, forget all of this, I am noting your averages and using that.

Warrior Bonus +4 Per Level?

If I was playing 8.0 and wanted a 7.5 style "dice reduction" effect, I would set the warrior bonus to 4 points per level and do that, so an 8.0 version of Finnegan would be:
Finnegan the 10th level 7.5 Warrior: 5d6 + 292 (+4 per level)
That puts him at an average of 310 damage and into the same range as Grimly. Yes, I know I should be doing 3.5 per level, but losing 10d6 will make us lose about 2 spite damage, so I am rounding up (308 total with spite for 8.0 and 311 total for this mod).

The main rulebook suggest adding +2 per level if you feel 1d6 per level is overpowered, but I don't think the math adds up to have an equal balance, especially when you want to keep that 10% buff over 7.5 in order to make warriors appealing again.
Finnegan the 10th level 7.5 Warrior: 5d6 + 272 (+2 per level) = 290 damage on average

House Rule #2

Warrior Bonus: The Warrior gets to increase his combat adds by 4 per level.
I would also extend the warrior bonus to all weapons, like 7.5, since missile weapons in our game will be a 7.5-like straight to HPT affair instead of 5/5.5 single target strikes separate from total party hits. This will make archery-based warriors viable builds and be able to keep up with the melee warriors in the group.

So this is our second houserule to T&T Deluxe, and it helps reduce the dice thrown at the table while keeping the warrior bonus in-line with the 8.0 power level used in the game. DarkgarX shouldn't complain now, and you know what? I like this rule a lot since it makes my job easier as well.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls Deluxe: Missile Weapons

From the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls Rulebook, page 78:
If the character aims for a particular target and makes the (to-hit) saving roll, then that damage will automatically take effect against the target when damage is assessed at the end of that combat round (even if the party loses the round). 
If your character misses the saving roll to hit, you still count the weapon damage toward the party’s overall HPT regardless of whether the PC party wins or loses overall.
Okay, so let's say my archer had +6 personal adds, and is using a 4d6 damage standard bow. I am fighting a MR 16 gremlin who rolls 2d6+8.

In a "party" of one. This applies to a party of two as well, but I am using a one-person "party" to highlight this rule.

So if I miss, my 4d6+6 attack is still counted in the my party's turn damage total (HPT)? Also, the word "still" implies if you hit, the damage applies to HPT on a successful to-hit.

Which means the damage applies, even on a failed to-hit SR.

Again, I use a one-person party to highlight the contradiction, but for two people this is an equally valid point because 4d6+6 is a lot of HPT contribution for a pair of adventurers.

Chaos Equals HPT?

There feels like a disconnect here for a rule intended for a 4-6 person party where the archer's contributions feel like they should be accounted for in the chaos of a large battle, hit or miss. With smaller parties or single archers, this rule feels like it short-circuits the missile weapons to-hit system. For solo adventures with a single archer (or even two people), this matters a lot.

Let's say in my fight with the gremlin that he rolls 3 + 1 + 8 = 12 and I roll 5 + 6 + 6 + 5 + 6 = 28 and I miss the to-hit SR. I beat him by 28 - 12 = 16 and the MR 16 gremlin dies, even though I missed? That can't just happen from the chaos of combat unless the little bugger got confused and ran off a cliff.

The Original 7/7.5 Rules

This is one place where I can say I am confused a little on this rule (and would love a clarification), and our group will likely be house-ruling this back to the 7/7.5 version where the following is said on page 97 of the rulebook:
Make a DEX SR (or perhaps a similar roll using your “Marksmanship” Talent or the like) to see if the missile hit. If you miss the SR, you get no points toward the melee total. If you make it, your points count no matter what.
Note there is no "single target damage" rule mentioned in 7/7.5 where missile damage (in combat against an active foe) goes straight to MR/CON and is reduced by armor, as it seems all missile damage goes straight to a side's HPT. In Deluxe, this rule is re-introduced as a benefit of making the to-hit SR (and aiming at a particular target), and it also means a successful hit also adds to the side's HPT (and is handled as a unique missile hit during step #9, not counting double because total melee damage is counted separately from missile and magic damage).

This is a key difference between the versions, in 7.5 the game is more focused on the HPT and not individual attacks. In 5.5 missile weapons are separate attacks apart from the HPT. In 8.0/Deluxe they try to go back to the 5.5 "single attack" feeling, but still want to keep the "missile weapons add to HPT" rule of 7.5, and I feel the game ends up a bit confused in this regard.

Consequences

There always is a consequence for a house-rule, isn't there? With the deluxe rules, I make my to-hit SR and roll damage. The gremlin rolls melee damage. These are compared. If I make my to-hit, magic and missile damage is applied first, and the gremlin dies as this is ruled as a "single target" hit - damage goes straight to MR and armor reduces.

In Deluxe, if I do not make my to-hit and miss, we go into HPT vs. HPT mode in step #10 (page 86). My total is higher anyways, and the gremlin jumps in front of the arrow and dies.

With the 7/7.5 rule, missiles must make the to-hit roll to contribute towards HPT. If I miss, the gremlin takes no damage, I take 2d6+8, and we go on to the next round of combat. If I hit, this goes into HPT versus HPT mode (with no single-target hit rule), and with my original rolls above, the gremlin dies.

Final Thoughts: 7/7.5 is Very Clear and Playable

I like the 7/7.5 missile weapon rules enough to house-rule these in as my preferred way of handling missile combat, over the structured and more-complex rules in Deluxe. Also, the single-target rule's reintroduction in 8.0 seems to have made the entire combat sequence less clear to me, and is apt to confuse players at my table. We like the 7.5 rules:

If you hit, you hit, and the missile damage goes towards the party's damage total.

If you miss, it doesn't.

There is no splitting magic, missile, and melee damage afterwards with single-target rules - all damage done (melee, missile, and magic) by one side adds to total party damage counted in the turn.

Simple.

The only drawback is you lose the "single-target damage" deadly (and almost simulation-like) effect with an archer supporting a melee, but then again, if I shoot an unaware monster it should go straight to MR anyways, so that effect is still in the game. Still, in melee, I can see adding to HPT and losing "single target damage" as a more realistic rule since the opposing HPT roll (reducing damage) simulates the monster "on defense" and trying to avoid getting shot. Out of melee when sniping, the "straight to MR" thing applies since there is no active defense, and the "single target" rule is not "lost" - it just doesn't apply in a melee with creatures aware of the archer.

Final-Final Thoughts: TrollBridge Thread

After I wrote this, I found this thread on the TrollBridge e-zine forum site:

http://trollbridge.proboards.com/thread/3352/missile-weapon-damage-deluxe

So yes, hit or miss, they add to HPT, and that seems to be the consensus there. It feels odd to disagree with the official ruling, but I can't wrap my head around "missing a shot" and still doing damage.

House Rule #1: Missile Weapons

On a successful to-hit SR, missile damage is added to the party's total. If the SR is missed, no points are added to the party's total. If the monster is unaware, out of combat, or defenseless, the damage goes straight to MR (or armor/CON) as normal.
The 7.5 era "hit for HPT, miss for nothing" missile weapon house-rule stands in our 8.0/Deluxe games, at least for our group and for my sanity. Damage-based magic is treated the same way, adding to HPT and not being considered separately.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls: What is an Average Character?

The question of, "what is an average character for T&T?" comes up in my mind because I need it to balance encounters. Remember, the formula for monster rating is:
MR Attack Roll = (MR/10)d6 + (MR/2) adds
So a MR of 50 nets a 5d6 + 25 combat roll (at full strength). Now the question is, what is an even fight? The answer is a character with an attack roll of 5d6 + 25. That would be a character with a 5d6 longsword with the following attributes:
STR: 20
CON: 20
DEX: 19
SPD: 16
LK: 18
IQ: 10
WIZ: 10
adds: +25
But wait, if this is an version 8.0 warrior, they will get an extra 2d6 for their warrior bonus (at level 2), but for a rogue this would work. For a level 2 warrior, we would need to knock an average of 7 points off STR, DEX, SPD, and LK to get that magic +25 to adds with that 2d6, so I would say something like this:
STR: 20
CON: 20
DEX: 16
SPD: 16
LK: 14
IQ: 10
WIZ: 10
adds: +18 (+2d6 warrior bonus)
So this is a "good build" for a level 2 character. You may have noticed I kept the warrior's STR and CON the same, and the other attributes that contribute to personal adds are 60-80% of the character's highest score, let's say 75%. Stats that aren't important for the character, in this case WIZ and INT, are left at a value of 10.

Parties

Now for parties, you will be totaling up the entire damage output for the group and pitting that against a monster with a significantly higher MR. Let's say your party was five of the above characters, three warriors, a rogue, and a mage. Even though rogues and mages don't have the warrior's bonus dice, you could use the warrior's numbers because mages and rogues have magic that is a significant adder to damage per turn. So let's say our party comes out to about this:
25d6 + 125 or an average of 213 points of damage

RPG Algebra!

So now what? Algebra, that's what. We need a formula that tells us, given a party's average damage output, what is an MR that gives them an equal challenge?
213 = (MR/10 + 1) * 3.5) + (MR/2)
213 = ((MR * 0.35) + 3.5) + (MR/2)
213 - 3.5 = (MR * 0.35) + (MR * 0.5) - 3.5
209.5 = (MR * 0.85)
209.5 / 0.85 = (MR * 0.85) / 0.85
246.47 = MR
And, a MR of 246 is 25d6 + 123 (average damage 211), so bingo, we have our formula! Let's 1/x this "minus 3.5 and divide by 0.85" thing and get something we can multiply by, okay? Who ever said you wouldn't use algebra in real life? Seriously, you can solve a lot of your life's problems with a little math. So we have this magical formula:
50-50 challenge MR = (average party damage - 3.5) x 1.174
Let's test this! A party that does 15d6 + 25? Average damage is 78, so the MR would be 78 x 1.174 = 88. A MR of 88 does 9d6 + 44 damage, or an average of...76. It comes out very close. Let's try a party that does 30d6 + 400, or 505 points of damage on average. MR is 590, or 60d6 + 295, or an average of 505 points of damage from the monster's side.

This is a formula you can use on the fly while the party is inside the dungeon. Simply throw some easy fights at the group, secretly write down some of the total damage outputs during the combat, and multiply up to get a good 50-50 fight for the next room. You can modify the MR up or down 10-20% to make it a little harder or easier, but remember a 50-50 fight means the players will lose the battle 50% of the time just given straight dice rolls - so this will be a tough fight.

One of the beautiful things about this formula is that no matter what house rules you are using, no matter what level the party is or how many people they have, it adapts as long as the dice and adds formula for MR is not changed. If you give your warriors more or less adds, your party doesn't use a lot of damaging magic, or you have custom spells that do special damages - all you need to know is average party DPS (which you can get in the first few turns of battle) and the formula works.

It is also simpler and more exact than D&D's CR system, since this is real math and hardcore statistics. Subsequently, this system is also a lot more harsh and unforgiving.

Don't Adjust Too Far!

Also remember the bell curve. You don't want to push encounters too far away from the midpoint, because let's say you set MR to 50% of the calculated value for a simple fight. For our example, that is a MR of 46 for 4d6 + 23, or an average of 37 points of damage. If the party is doing 78 points a turn, that is a difference of 78 - 37 = 41 points, and there is no way 4d6 will ever let that monster to roll higher than the party. You might as well forget about this fight unless it is a one-on-one with a single person.

Let's lower the MR by 10% to 83. That is 8d6 + 43 for an average of 71 points of damage. A 71 to 78 fight with 8d6 damage is good, it gives the players an edge while still letting the monsters possibly getting a hit or two in.

If I were to err, I would err on the side of 10 or 20% higher MR, because remember as a monster takes damage, the monster's adds from their MR drops (but not their dice). After a few hits, those adds will drop our critter below the party's average damage and change the tide of battle. You may want the fight to start off with the party taking damage, the party begin clever through a spell or stunt, and then the party gaining the advantage after the monster takes a couple hits.

Have Armor? Increase MR!

If the party has a lot of armor you may want to go 30% or 40% above the rated MR just so the monster's damage output can blow through that armor and get some hits in. Do A 50-50 combat encounter once and then decide if the party took it on the chin or they took it on the helmet, and then decide from there.

The 50-50 number only applies on the first combat turn, and it says who will take damage first. As the battle goes on, one side will fall. But sometimes, the side that gets damage in gets an immediate advantage, and you may want that to be the monsters to put the party back on their heels a step in order to get some crafty play going.

Craftiness is a Player's Right

It is an important point, since this formula does not take into account crafty players who will make stunt SRs, use spells to take foes out of the fight, and use other clever tactics to weaken the enemy. But that is the players' right and part of the fun of the game. In a first-turn 50-50 fight they will need to be clever to win, and this fight may drain a good amount of their resources, so this is a good tool to use to judge encounter difficulty during play.

If a party wins an unfair fight through wits and cool stunts, that is a very good thing, and a memorable moment. If it is too unfair, it is un-fun. If it is too easy, it is also un-fun. So you want to be able to find that middle spot for MR, and know if your players can defeat that with ease, or they have trouble with that battle. Your players may be so good you may multiple party damage by a higher factor, such as 1.3, in order to determine a challenging MR for them.

It depends on the party, the players, the house-rules, the gear, and a lot of other stuff - but it all ends up in a number you can write down and use to build the next challenge for them. If MR 92 was a blow out and these players are good, maybe behind that next door is a MR 122 ogre, and the party finds itself knuckling down and getting clever to push this brute over and grab that sack full of silver coins.

EDIT: Slight math fix to the formula to account for MR 10-19 = 2d6 instead of 1d6 (MR/10+1 = dice).

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls: 5/5.5 vs. 7/7.5 vs. 8.0 Deluxe

Five versions of Tunnels and Trolls game and how do you make sense of them all? All of these were created by the same core creative team, with the only difference being publisher for the 7.5 version.

5 and 5.5 - The Classics (Flying Buffalo 1979 and 2005)

Probably the best known versions of the game, the 5th edition was printed in 1979 and the 5.5 edition in 2005 with extra material added (but still mechanically the same in terms of design and balance). Most all the solo adventures printed in the last thirty or so years were written for this version of the game, which for many players is a huge deal. Through D&D glasses, this is the original, old-school, red-box version of the game before AD&D came out. This version is also about the easiest for new players to understand. A PDF is not currently available for this version (at this time), but you can probably pick up a used copy of the rules somewhere since this version has been around a long time.

7 and 7.5 - 30th Anniversary (Fiery Dragon Games 2005)

2005 is also where more big changes happened, and the game got mechanically tighter. To me, this version feels like it wants to reduce the big numbers of dice being thrown and add lots of individual weapon statistics and modifications to combat, so this feels very crunchy and numerically interlocked and tight in terms of character optimization and creation. 7.5 was a cleaned up version of 7.0, with faster advancement and a couple fixes. The options for character builds are also very broad here, with more than just the basic three character types being viable.

This version feels to me less compatible with the solo adventures than other versions since the math feels like it has changed considerably, but is still very compelling due to a tighter dice range (warriors add their level to personal adds for attacks), crunchiness, and build options. Through D&D glasses, this is more like a Pathfinder where everything changes and becomes crunchy and character-optimized. A lot of simplification went into this version and many of the rules have been streamlined (but are not some of the best presented in terms of editing and presentation). A PDF of this version is available, and likely your best option since the boxed copies are now collector's items.

8.0 Deluxe - Kickstarter (Flying Buffalo 2015)

The latest and greatest with the mechanical improvements of 7/7.5 rolled in with a more classic 5.5 style feeling. The numbers of dice being thrown in this version are higher, especially warriors, and we focus back on the classic three classes for character creation. This one feels more like a streamlined revision of the game, focusing on a higher power level with more super-heroic characters. A PDF version is available, and both hard and soft-cover versions of the book are currently in print. Through D&D glasses, this feels like D&D 5th Edition, a reboot that focuses back on the original source material, but streamlined in terms of play and greater in terms of power level (warriors add +1d6 per level to their personal adds for attacks).

Key mechanical changes from 7.5 were kept and rolled forward, and some of the rulsey-crunchy options were dropped or streamlined. Compatibility with the solo adventures feels like it should be more in line with version 5/5.5, but to me this version feels the most dice-heavy and higher-powered than the other versions of the game.

What Version Should I Play?

If you are a "latest and greatest" type, play 8.0/Deluxe if you do not mind the high power level and larger number of dice being thrown (especially for warriors). There are still many people impressed enough with the 7.5 revamp that this version remains a popular alternative; and if you like crunch, tighter builds, and a wealth of  options this is a good version to check out. The 7.5 version is closest mechanically with 8.0/Deluxe, so house-rules and material written for 7.5 can be used as options for 8.0/Deluxe easily.

If you are old-school and don't mind the lack of a PDF, play 5/5.5, especially if you are into the solo adventures. A lot of people still play 5/5.5 just out of nostalgia, so there is a huge community of players there.

Me? Torn between the crunchy and content-rich 7.5 and the newer 8.0/Deluxe version. I will probably work up a house-ruled version of 8.0 with house-rules pulled from 7.5 and try the balance of 8.0, but something about the tighter dice range in 7.5 calls to my gamist side. Version 7.5 made some great additions and improvements, and 8.0 seems to refine those and balance those for a higher-level of play. There is a reason why they make you throw a lot more dice in 8.0/Deluxe, and I suspect it has something to do with speeding up combat at high levels, increasing spite damage, and making the 7.5 style game work smoothly when you run into the occasional stalemate.

All of them are worth checking out and great parts of gaming history, so you really can't go wrong with any choice you make.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mail Room: Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls

Look what came in the mail today, the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls Rulebook. First impressions? 363 pages of awesomeness, especially if you if are a long-time fan. This is the 8th edition, and I have probably been collecting editions of this game since the early 1980's when I fell in love with the system.

The original creators are at the helm for this one, and it is one of the few RPGs that has maintainted the same creative team for over 40 years of print. Liz Danforth takes the editing role this time, and she also contributes art, which is noteworthy since she is also a well-known artist for Magic the Gathering. Ken St. Andre from the original game is the primary author, and the two together again deliver some incredible streamlining and game design. There are even notes on design decisions sprinkled throughout the book, and these alone are a fascinating look into the evolution of the game.

Overpowered but Balanced

What strikes me about this game is that is it unafraid to make warriors real masters of war, wizards truly powerful, and rogues a master of trickery. The base classes are almost overpowered in their specializations when compared to each other, and completely over the top when compared to the "everybody is roughly equal" of the D&D world view. Warriors add 1d6 per level to their attacks. Wizards are second to none at casting destructive spells and repeatedly flinging destruction from their hands. Rogues can both fight and cast magic in the same turn, but do not get the mana-reducing benefits of a mage or the extra dice of a fighter - but are still incredibly fun, flexible, and deadly all the same. Every character class feels like it flagrantly breaks the rules and feels overpowered, but in the grand scheme of things they feel balanced in power levels between each other and I want to play them all.

No Ability Score Limits

T&T uses an open-ended attribute system with a point-buy system for raising attributes. You get "adventure points" for defeating foes, saving rolls, spell-casting, and special events and you use those points to increase your attributes. While they start at the 3d6 norms you may be used to, they can ramp up past 20...30...40...and even up into to the hundreds. You want to be Thor with a STR of 100? You can do that here, play that, and still be challenged in fights while playing alongside rogues with a DEX of 100 and wizards with INT scores past the century mark. Everyone is hilariously overpowered, but it all works together well. The monsters are also hilariously overpowered at times, but again, you need that Thor to beat back the alien-intelligence infused dinosaur wielding a steampunk auto-cannon and a serrated long-sword the size of a telephone pole.

No Level Chart

There is no level chart. Your "level" is calculated by your highest attribute divided by ten. You have a CON of 33? You are a third level character now. You get no "hit points per level", since your CON is your hit points. You want more hit points? Raise your CON. You want more mana? Raise your WIZ score. You want to do more damage in combat there are a couple scores which feed into your combat adds, like STR or DEX. I like this system, and it removes the silly and balance-oriented limits other games use because high ability scores break the rules. The rules here handle high ability scores, and in fact, expect them at higher levels for characters to survive.

Make Your Own Monsters

Monsters are DIY and their abilities are mostly GM fiat. Every monster is rated by a "monster rating" which is a dice-plus-adds calculation, and their attack is a bulk dice total against thew party's dice total. If I want laser-eyed floating eye-pods to swarm out of the yawning dungeon chasm, I assign the group a MR and have those "laser eyes" be the attack which the MR represents. I don't need long stat blocks for them, nor do I need carefully provisioned differences between ranged attacks and melee attacks and how this all works out on a grid. If I want a monster's damage to weaken instead of kill, I will say the damage goes to STR instead of CON. If the party gets covered by sewage I will reduce their CHR ten or twenty points, fine, but some of them may still look better than the average peasant because they are so damn charismatic. That is this game.

Aggregated Combat is Freedom

It is a aggregated combat system that simplifies, but in that it gives both characters and the GM an incredible freedom from having to follow a strict combat checklist every turn. Back in the day, the system was created as a simplification in comparison to the more structured old D&D rules, and while D&D has gotten more structured over the years (only recently making a move back towards simplicity), T&T has remained its simple and original brilliantly aggregated self.

It doesn't matter that off-hand dagger use is a at a -4 or whatever, and that the flanking bonus of being here versus there is a +2 - none of those little, trivial things matter. You are all fighting together as a team, the monsters are doing the same, and every ounce of magic, sword swing, or ranged fire contributes to the total effort on each side, and helps push over that grand total of power against the opposing side. In a sense, this is more realistic than micro-managing every tiny modifier and situation by some classic war-gaming rule, and better simulates a cinematic action scene where a group is all using their powers together in a climactic battle scene like something out of an Avengers movie.

More Soon...

I also have the PDF from Drive Thru RPG (on sale for $20 right now), and I have the basic rules sections printed out for play - a must for group play since I can staple together the spellbook and character creation parts separately and pass those around the table. I do not like "passing the book around" the table during play since it slows down everything, and can easily waste the first two hours of play as everyone likes to read and consider options - while the others wait for their turn. Plus, if a printout gets ripped, scribbled on, or destroyed by Cheetos hands I can just print out another.

Plus the PDF can live on my phone where I will always have it for reference. T&T is simple enough I could play from my phone with a dice rolling app and some scrap paper or napkins for character sheets.

It is great to see a classic system come back as a part of Kickstarter, and have the deluxe, definitive version of the game (though the 5th edition is still very popular (with no PDF for this version), and there is even a simple free version available as well, along with a PDF of the 7.5 version for $15). It is worth saying that all the versions are still very much compatible with each other, and all the old single and multi-player adventures still "work" together well. For me, the Deluxe version is where it is at, incorporating the best-of parts of newer versions, while simplifying the too-many-options parts of everything since the tent-pole 5.5 version of the game.

This is a game I loved and it is great to see it back again.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Savage Worlds: World of Warcraft, part 2

Let's get back to our Savage Worlds: World of Warcraft conversion, shall we? We last left off with out core source-book, here:
It is a good start, and a dangerous book since it is going to set you up focusing on the MMO as the world. You need to think bigger than that, since the MMO's land mass only covers a 9 mile by 9 mile area - less than a city - so a "real" world of World of Warcraft would cover an Earth-sized planet (or a good part of it), check here for a map and scale comparison. You could easily multiply the entire MMO world map by 100 times in each direction and still have a small area in relation to a full-sized planet. Which is why last time we suggested:
The lore book as a good reference guide as well, because it is less MMO based and more lore-based. We want to expand the land mass and fill it in with hundreds of miles of smaller kingdoms, unexplored areas, and interesting locations - while still keeping the familiar, in-game areas as tent-pole locations that tie your new material back into the world.

That scale problem will be your largest problem in this game. Granted, you could avoid creating anything new and just fill in everything with "unexplored wilderness" and leave the game locations as-is, but you will be missing out on a huge opportunity to make the world your own. Ideally, this will be a world much like a early settlement USA, with huge tracts of unexplored wilderness, cities being built, trade happening, wilderness expeditions being launched, places of mystery being avoided, and all sorts of "kingdom activity" happening in the established cities and smaller places you will fill in. Conquoring that "sense of scale" and making the world larger than the game will ultimately make your game stronger, and keep players from going back to the MMO because there isn't much different between what you are doing and what the game is doing.

The next huge problem you will need to deal with is the power level of the MMO, and frankly, the game world itself. As a veteran MMO and WoW player, I am going to expect a full upgrade path for gear, and be able to deliver a 90,000 damage crit from my high-level mage. This game is not going to be like that at all. This will be a flatter progression, and all the magic items in the game will stay within the Fantasy Companion's suggested guidelines.
This is critical, since you will be doing a lot of "coloring" items presented in the Fantasy Companion as the items, creatures, and spells familiar to the World of Warcraft universe. You could go all-out and write a conversion guide, and I am sure there are some who are trying, but the goal here is to get a simple, WoW-like experience up and running without having to write a conversion guide or spend a lot of time translating everything over, item by item, class by class, and power by power. 90% of what is in the base Savage Worlds game and the Fantasy Companion will cover what you need for this type of a game.

Simply recolor items, apply a trapping to a spell, create classes by picking powers that class would have in the game, and don't try to replicate the videogame perfectly. A paladin can heal, so let them heal with a healing power with a "holy" trapping. Done. Create a druid out of a moonfire like attack spell, a root, some heals, a thorns spell, and some shapeshifting. Done. Maybe you pick powers as you go, and every class isn't so tied to a strict progression chart that says "this power must come at this level, before this one, and after that one." A paladin is a collection of fighting ability and holy powers, and maybe every paladin in the world isn't trained the same way.

Think of the World of Warcraft game as the "videogame adaptation" of a real world. It's obvious the game's creators had to cut a lot of the "real world" out, simplify all of the classes and professions the "real world" actually has, and create an artificially high "power curve" for the magic items in the game. The "real world" that you are playing in is much larger, much more complex, the professions much less clearly defined, and the magic of this world is much more evenly powered and within a normal range of power and capability. Epic items can still feel epic with the best levels of power found in the Fantasy Companion, but not to the point where they are doing an unrealistic ten-thousand times damage of a normal weapon.

There is actually precedent for this in the videogames, if you pull in the original Warcraft RTS games. Those were much flatter power levels, where the "epic heroes" and items of the world could still take damage and be defeated by normal monsters and units in the game. The power level of the Warcraft universe has been blown out of proportion because of the MMO, and in the "real world" it is probably closer to the power level - start to end - of a traditional RPG, such as Savage Worlds.

For our game, this is a good thing, because we don't need to break our role playing game and simulate a 90,000 damage crit with the rules and scale our items all the way up to impossible levels. We are playing on the pen-and-paper "real world" power level, and that is how this world works. Although it looks and acts like the World of Warcraft world in every other way. We are keeping the number ranges down for play-ability, yet still allowing for powerful magic items in the game to capture that "epic feel."

So what do you do about "epic level" items that are better than your last "epic level" item? say you get your hands on a legendary sword, like Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker, and you stat that out to the maximum level of power a magic item can have in the Fantasy Companion. Then, you find a new sword that blows that out (like most any green item from an expansion past Cata, or even some gray vendor swords in high-level areas). How do you make something "more epic" without blowing out your rules?

First, those "high level gray items" in the game world do not exist, a shortsword sold in Northrend is the same as a shortsword sold in Elwynn. The power level of all basic items is the same, and there is no "videogame" progression to normal gear - normal gear is normal gear. All "epic items" max out at a certain level, and that Thunderfury is just as epic as a Maul of Tyranny. Seriously, Excalibur is Excalibur, in real-world power level, and those high-level purple items should be just as epic as each other. That makes Thunfderfury desirable again, and flattens out the power curve of all of these expansion items (and any others that may come and destroy your game).

Also, items do not have "levels" or "requirements" - they are all just green, blue, purple and so on (in relative levels of power), and can be used by everyone. There is no such thing in this world as a "level 60 green item blowing out a level 10 green item." Green items are all "low magic" items but still magical, and they are all around the same power level ( a +1 here or there).

I would never in-game refer to an item as a "green Item" so I use this only for rating the items found out here in "real" World of Warcraft - before the videogame designers messed everything up and built this insane power curve for the game.

There is a point where you can go overboard, and too much is too much. You want to limit "real world" item power to the best the pen-and-paper game has, and leave it there. A "green item" at any level may just be a +1 to hit or a +1 to damage, and leave it there. It is good, worthwhile, and is an advantage to have. Scale up the higher-level greens and blues, and all the way to purples and oranges along the power curve you see in the Fantasy Companion and you will save yourself a lot of conversion, power-level headaches, and a lot of wasted time building a World of Warcraft simulator in another game.

Next time I want to focus more on classes and powers, so stay tuned for that.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Savage Worlds Play and Character Tutorials

This is a great tutorial video for playing Savage Worlds:

And a companion one for creating a character is here:

I love how straightforward these videos are, and they are great introductions to the system. There are some concepts here about dice being atomic for skill rolls, where the dice are not added and they "ace" and add up repeatedly. One die is one roll, so your wild die is a second skill roll alongside the primary, not something that adds to your primary die.

There are also some great pointers in here about raises and combat in the play tutorial (only one raise applies for an attack roll, but you can have multiple raises for damage rolls). It is things like that which tripped us up when we tried the system, so the video does a great job of slowing down, explaining, and showing through examples at the end of the video (although the video has a couple mistakes at the end, but those are nicely noted in overlays and corrected nicely).

This is highly worth your time if you are interested in the system, and they also set you up nicely if you find yourself attending a game and want to get up to speed on this game quickly.

I love the combination of talking, writing, and examples here - it is like attending a college class in Savage Worlds 101, and I took a lot away from this video. It also in a way makes me excited to play, so seeing someone interested and working through the system gets me interested and thinking about things in the rules system.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Great Article: Why it took me eight years...

The goal of this new mindset was accessibility, but the result was apathy and entitlement. If the early days in WoW are best summarized as "only the elite deserve medals" then the golden age was most certainly "everyone deserves a chance to earn a medal" — a design edict I will go to my grave vehemently defending. 
But that isn't how things ended. 
By my guild's final days, the message had morphed once more: "everyone deserves a medal." I like to think I did everything I could to keep the guild from hemorrhaging players, but the thrill of competition was gone. My own ideals now worked against me. I'd cultivated a mindset of skill mastery in a game that no longer valued elbow grease. It was no surprise, then, when players simply stopped showing up for medals.
http://www.polygon.com/2016/7/1/12078500/world-of-warcraft-eight-years-blizzard-raids

A great article on what happens when you take challenge out of a game. Apathy. Entitlement. Infighting. Looking down on skill and achievement.

Your best players leaving.

Great gamer players like challenge, and I feel a lot of people like to call themselves "great players" when all they want to do is spend time with something with no real challenge.

A great player loses more often than he or she wins. There is no "everybody wins" with a Michael Jordan, he had to rise above dozens of other teams, injuries, schedules, and life itself to become a "great player." Nowadays, everybody is told they are a "great player" with little more skill than "show up."

And oh yeah, pay the subscription fee every month. Trust me, you are a great player!

Just keep that credit card info current, your greatness.

The first players of World of Warcraft had that, The best drops were incredibly hard to get. Whole raids sometimes produced nothing. But yet, they tried, and they built great raiding teams, piece by piece, and skill by skill, until they earned the right to say they were the best.

A worthy read, and one worthy of reflecting upon the current state of pen-and-paper games, for sure.

Are 'easy' games, intended to attract casual players, really causing players to leave?