Friday, May 31, 2024

CiaraQ DND Polyhedral Dice Sets

The CiaraQ dice (on Amazon) are excellent deals; you get 14 dice for 10 dollars. They are sold under a few brands; I found a set labeled Civaner (but some of those have traditional d4s pictured).

You do NOT get a d14, which is required for a Dungeon Crawl Classics dice chain.

These have the cut-end d4 dice! I like the cut-end d4 dice, with the tips cut off and the number printed on the top of the pyramid. I do not like picking up a standard d4; it takes too much time. If I am going to play a game with the d4 dice, I will use cut-end dice every time or those Roman-numeral d12 four-sided dice.

I do not like standard d4 dice, and most of my caltrop-style ones are stored away.

You also get these hilariously giant "golf ball" d100 dice that never stop rolling. I do not use those, but I did not find it hard to read the results once they stopped moving. The number on top is easy to pick out, and the numbers around it form a circle highlighting the result. Use a tray, or that thing will end up on the floor.

You get d16, d24, d30, d60, and many other dice in the under ten-sided range (d3, d5, d7). All the standard polyhedral dice are here (d4, d6, d8, d10, d00, d12, and d20).

But what stands out the most to me are the designs of the d12 and d8 (pictured above, d12 top, d8 bottom). These are not what I am used to; the diamond d12s and the trapezoid d8 dice are very strange. At first, I could not find a d8 or a d12 until I got used to the shapes.

They roll fine, especially the d8s, which roll slightly more than a standard triangle d8. The d8 is almost regular; it is just that this is a normal d8 with the points cut off.

The d12 dice are very strange; they are not the standard shape. They look like a diamond yield sign. Usually, I can pick out a d12 from a d8; this is slightly harder, but I get used to them the more I use them.

I don't know why they chose these shapes. Do they use less plastic? They are very readable, roll well, and are balanced but strange. They cross that line of being "strange enough to make you want to play with them, " which is good. In a game like Call of Cthulhu, you want something to unnerve you and make you feel "Things are not right." Also, in Runequest, the slightly different dice shapes tell me, "This is not D&D."

The shapes of dice slightly throwing me off balance for a new game is not bad. I instantly fall out of my "D&D mode" and begin to see the game in a different light. I use these with Runequest, Basic Roleplaying, and Call of Cthulhu. The d12 is rarely used in those games, though the d8 is used regularly.

It's a good deal if you do not have a d14 requirement, like all the different shapes, and want dice slightly different from the normal D&D ones that change the visual look of your dice a little.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

I'm Switching to Linux

For the few creative apps I can't use elsewhere, I have a Mac, and this is where I will use them.

But I've had it with Microsoft like I have had it with a few companies. The entire operating system is turning into an advertisement, and I can't get any peace and quiet on this thing to think, write, and create. They shove another ad in every corner and every bit of blank space.

I get on a computer, and I am not allowed to think for myself.

Every blip, bleep, popup, reminder, notification, alarm, sales offer, and push notification stresses me more. After a while, it feels like being addicted to cable news. Every 5 minutes, the news breaks, and you rush to the television. I have to turn on music to distract me from all the other crap happening on this thing.

I am out of this hell.

I want my mind back.

I want my creative space.

I want my quiet.

It feels like trying to write a novel in a subway station on this thing. I get 10 minutes of quiet before a subway train rolls in, a loud crowd pushes by, and my flow is gone.

Sorry, I have to go. Another notification just popped up.

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 20

Play what you want to play.

ToV's PDFs dropping saved 5E from my sell boxes, but I am still removing the Wizard's version of the game from my library. The 2014 books are old and broken, and I am not interested in the 2024 revision. I also don't like the Wizards business model, which presents a minimal number of character options in a ton of filler I will never use.

I am supporting Community 5E from now on.

Tales of the Valiant is a fresh start, and it is fun to play as the game launches. I like this version of 5E, and my only fault with it now is that not as many options are included for character builds. This will improve as time goes on. ToV is heroic with fixed base monsters and a fresh experience.

Today, we are fortunate to have community-curated and fixed versions of 5E that invite us to participate and have fun. Level Up A5E is a testament to this, exceeding all expectations with its wealth of options and support. It's a nostalgic nod to 5E, incorporating the best of 4E and offering a plethora of character options (with third-party and official add-on books). Level Up is a 2014-like, tightly balanced version of 5E that caters to all play styles.

Why not just play D&D?

My choice to explore other game systems, such as OSR games, is driven by a sense of disillusionment with Wizards as a company. I believe they have veered off course, and this sentiment resonates with many in the gaming community.

There are communities of players enjoying these games, too. Groups of creators are excited about what they are building. Why shouldn't I take part in that? Why not? I love seeing new ideas and people being creative; this is good.

If people reject playing new games and "won't touch other games," they are probably players I don't want to play with. I like people who try new things and experiment and can look at things in new ways. People stuck in their ways should branch out and try new things. I am an old-school player; this is how it was when we grew up. We had so many games to try and play; it was like the videogame market is today, and we had so many choices and options.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 19

I like my Level Up books for maintaining and improving that tight, 2014-era, bounded accuracy matters, pre-2021, CR+0 compatibility for 5E.

My Tales of the Valiant books are perfect for 2021-2024 D&D since the playing field has shifted post-Tasha's. Wizard's shipping of power-gaming books raised the power level of the entire game to CR+1, and the general community followed along. Everyone tried to make a buck from pandemic-era D&D, and the game's balance changed.

Kobold Press monsters, now at CR+1, reflect where D&D 2024 stands. Rolling back the clock on current-book compatibility would undermine the game's strength. Instead, the best KP can do is elevate the 2014 monsters to the new power level they have successfully accomplished. The perception of ToV being 'too powerful because it is CR+1' is unfounded compared to current-day D&D.

Late-stage pandemic D&D? Clearly CR+1. Wizards broke bounded accuracy, and they handed out roll advantages like popcorn. Part of me loves Luck in ToV because Inspiration was getting to be overused. At least LU ties Inspiration to the Destiny system, pulling it back towards character motivations.

The math of the Level Up game is tight. I respect this. 5E is a game notorious for its loosely-goosey math screwing up an entire adventure. If I spend good money on a game, I expect the math and balance to be correct. I don't want designers coming in later and selling books by breaking the numbers.

I want the math to be challenging.

Missing matters. It is not an inconvenience. One of the core problems with 5E is they got rid of every modifier and used the "use a hammer for every problem" advantage and disadvantage system. There is no nuance in the modifiers anymore. Players have very little "English" they can put on a roll to improve their odds. Back in the day, if a player was clever and did some excellent RP during a fight, I would throw a +1 or a +2 for their ingenuity and creativity. 5E takes that tool away and turns the d20 into a dictator.

So in 5E, you game the advantage system hard to get it.

I like modifiers since they give me nuance and allow for more player input. Dim light? -2. The PC jumps on a table to fight goblins? Throw a +2 on there and another +1 if they shout, "But Anakin, I have the high ground!"

Seriously. Players love this stuff.

The people who designed 5E went way too hard getting rid of modifiers. The Pathfinder 2 team embraced them. 5E made combat brain-dead, tedious, and boring - you surrender to the d20. "It sucks missing" is felt because there is nothing players can do to try to influence their odds. This is why people play OSR games. Most of the fun in combat is roleplaying and getting creative for combat modifiers, along with trying to minimize the referee throwing them at you. I use them in my 5E games.

ToV brings them back with the Luck mechanic.

Because your math is tight, the game can handle a few modifiers occasionally.

The real story is that Level Up is compatible with the 2014-era 5E. The monsters are more like the 2014 versions, and if I were playing pre-Tasha's (2014-2021) books, I would use Level Up. When you convert in subclasses, you must redesign the subclass ToV slightly less than Level Up since LU has more new subsystems for exploration and social mechanics. Still, they work, and we do tweaking when we play 5E.

Seriously, while I love my electronic character creation tools - they suck and take most of the fun out of the game. I can't use any third-party books. Where is the fun in that? I like to see other people's creativity as a part of my game.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Level Up 5E: Dark Sun

The first thing you do when doing a Dark Sun conversion is ignore the second edition (revised) of the setting. The one after the books that every reboot of this setting ignores, since it takes Dark Sun, puts giant forests and oceans in the setting, goes science-fantasy, kills all the major villains of the setting, doesn't replace them, and makes peace and democracy break out everywhere.

TSR ruined Dark Sun in the 2nd revised edition, dropped support, and then went bankrupt. Stick to the core book and the first five modules (for information and inspiration; the plots of these wreck the world), and ignore everything else. You can get the first two books in PoD hardcovers, and I recommend doing so. Also, ignore the 4E update since the lore has been changed, the Dragonborn has been added, and we are trying to stick to the OG material without later revisionism.

The Dark Sun Rule Book will be the core reference work we will use for flavor and to guide us.

Of course, you will need the core Level Up Advanced 5E game. This is a given, all three core books.

The MOAR Complete expansion hardcover is highly recommended, as it features crucial elements such as half-giants and the elemental priest archetype, integral to the Dark Sun setting. There are no gods in Dark Sun, so the only cleric classes available are elemental clerics. So, as a result, do not use aasimars or tieflings in Dark Sun games. There are no gods so the elemental lords are the only source of divine magic.

Eliminate all fae and mechanical heritages, too. Beast kin is up to you, though I can see gnolls, stone forged, or desert cats as valid options. You can play an OG campaign or a more expanded game with more backgrounds; it won't matter. Everyone is under the dragon kings' claws.

Paranormal Power is another excellent A5E book if your Dark Sun game uses psionics.

You will have most of the heritages for Dark Sun, and if you want your game to be more 4E, you can include the Dragonborn. Gnomes are not in the original setting, nor are Orcs - include these if you want since your "view" of Dark Sun will be 100% canon only, or go wild. Me? I can see a place for Orcs in the setting, so they are in. Dragonborn may be seen as servants of the Dragon Kings, so they may have an "evil" Heritage as soldiers and enforcers of the scaled lords. Of course, outcasts and betrayals are always possible.

The Thri-Kreen will be your only missing heritage. You can always use the A5E Homebrew and Hacking Guide to create a new heritage for them or replace the Tabaxi from MOAR with this insect race instead of cats. Dense fur becomes an exoskeleton; you get a fury, a roar, a run power, and claws - it works.

Arcane classes are either defilers or preservers, and defilers use the Defiler Magical Destruction Table on page 60 of the Dark Sun rulebook (note this also causes a pain condition to all living things in the radius, even allies, save needed to avoid and throw off, use the poisoned condition in LU).

The preservers in AD&D 2E advanced slower but did not defile the land when they used arcane magic. Preserver classes should level half as slow as defilers, so double all XP awards to defilers (the things you ash and kill give you XP). Be evil, destroy nature, and advance faster; this is the world. I could halve XP for preservers, but that would create a situation where the arcane caster preservers would lag behind the non-casters.

All arcane caster classes must pick a defiler or preserver role, even bards. The two sides hate each other, so watch out. They do not "get along," and you can't have them in the same party. This insistence on "all ancestry and class options must get along" in today's games is beyond dumb, and it eliminates any source of conflict in the world. Can you imagine a modern "Game of Thrones" RPG where the designers insist that every house faction and background must get along?

Defilers are literally killing the world for power.

I always thought preservers were a weak option that kept the game in the "status quo" and "keep players happy" land; preservers should require sacrifice to have power, and you don't get something for nothing. Preserver power is this sort of TSR symmetry BS they put in their games, and it needs to have a personal cost instead of being the "default-free" option.

I would be happy to eliminate preservers and have all arcane classes be defilers. This is how we played Dark Sun back in the day. If you want power, be a defiler or a priest of an elemental force. Or use psionics.

Without preservers, it is a much easier choice, and it heightens the need for scouts, material classes, and clerics. Psionics replaces the "good mage" and forces players into that unfamiliar power system.

But TSR says, "Don't stigmatize players who want to play Gandalf in Dark Sun!"

And we are stuck with free-magic preservers.

If the entire concept of your world is "arcane magic is destroying the world," stick to your guns and make it that way. Don't give players an easy out, or it invalidates the entire world.

There is very little metal, so iron and bronze items are rare and not seen in most places. Use the LU materials chart (page 322), especially bone, stone/obsidian, and wood weapons. Your weapons and armor will be breaking and need repair constantly.

I would stick with Level-Up spells, powers, classes, and everything else. The rules for survival and terrain encounters will be fundamental. Heritages are as you see them; they say many of the orc-type races were wiped out, but I could see them surviving. I would add a Naga heritage, desert lizardfolk, and others.

Steer clear of the metaplot! Do not kill the dragon kings early, like in the modules, books, and official timeline. You likely want "no place to run" and the characters living under an iron fist in the few spots of civilization left in the world. If they want to change that, they must take land, clear it, settle it, and avoid being crushed by the dragon kings. Either that or level up to a point where they can try to kill an immortal dragon. This is not a thing to do by level 5, but a campaign goal that changes the world, and you play in that changed world with the next set of characters.

Other than those notes, you should be good to go.

Oh, and never let up on the players. This isn't a "happy adventure town" where an adventurer class is allowed to do whatever they want. There are guards, and all of them are greedy and sadistic; they will confiscate your gear, make up charges, and lock you away to be thrown in the next gladiatorial arena. Corruption and grift are at an all-time high, people lie, promises are made and broken, and people fear the dragon king and the elite ruling class (and their sycophant wannabe friends). The parts of the city the rich live in are walled off, and everyone else, plus the characters, live in squalor. Thieves will steal from the characters constantly. Thugs will beat them up just for having a bad day. You will be stopped and questioned and likely taxed for spurious reasons every other street. Thugs will pretend to be guards and try to tax you. Sandstorms will sweep in and turn the roads into choking, orange, hot, sandblasting winds.

Your first goal may be to escape this hell.

And you will find out the wilds are no better.

You may have to establish a safehouse (that will likely not last long, or be a constant source of headaches), a secret camp out in the wilds (same), or join a criminal group for protection. You may sign on to caravans as guards, and that is a profession few survive long in. You will need survival and social skills, or you will end up stripped of your belongings and thrown in the gladiatorial fights again.

Dark Sun is very close to Cyberpunk in terms of dystopia and hopelessness. But there is no place to hide or social safety net.

To survive you will need to be worse than those trying to kill, steal, or use your life for cheap , bloody entertainment. You need to be harder than them all.

And when you are, you will begin to attract the attention of the true players. The rich, the servants of the dragon kings, and the high0level cartels. They have an endless need for enforcers and problem solvers, or problem creators. Getting more power is not a guarantee of safety, since notoriety can mean death, enslavement, or worse.

You may leave it all behind.

You may join them and stab them all in the back.

But there will be no where safe to go, ever, not in this dying world.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 18

The Orc in both Tales of the Valiant, the SRD, and Level Up Advanced 5E tells you where the designer's heads were. Level-Up Orcs have 10 hit points, so whoever made them felt the SRD Orcs were too strong. Also, Orc is a PC heritage, so it should be on par with dwarves, elves, and others as the "basic option" and not be artificially strong.

Orcs in Tales of the Valiant possess a captivating ability and unique hibernation mode. This feature sets them apart and sparks curiosity. It allows them to be buried alive and frozen, entering a state of suspended animation. They can survive in this state until they are dug up and thawed out, lending them a fantastical, somewhat planar, and timeless quality reminiscent of the Githyanki from D&D.

Orcs in LU are more like those in games like World of Warcraft. They can be acclimated to harsh environments, touched by divine magic, or come from more magically adept tribes.

In Level Up, the gameplay experience with Orcs is distinct. Unlike in Tales of the Valiant, the game does not emphasize granting incredible powers to characters. The power level is balanced, with the math based on the OG 5E core books, and tightened considerably for gameplay. Each class still offers unique abilities, but the game's feel is more akin to an old-school simulation than a 1980s action movie.

Orcs, if you use them as monsters and cast some as evil-worshipping, will be easier to take down than their SRD or ToV versions. This is clearly old-school inspired. Level Up retains alignment, but only as traits gained by destinies - and only the four extremes: law, chaos, evil, and good.

You can't compare ToV and Level Up. They are different games entirely.

You will sit there, look at one point, like how many hit points Orcs have, and say one game sucks or the other is better. Both these games have a design goal; ToV is the crowd-pleasing, bam-pow high-powered superhero game - a crowd-pleaser. LU is the old-school simulation with the original 5E math. I love the old-school "sim" aspect of LU.

LU still has many cool things to do, as fighters here are miles better than D&D fighters. Martial classes in LU rock, with access to different fighting styles, almost like fighting orders taught at military academies, thieves guilds, and monasteries. Level Up has some fantastic options, and with the expansions, it gives you a depth and level of customization that even D&D can't match.

LU does a lot that ToV doesn't do.

It is still worth investing in and playing, especially if you like lower-powered, simulation-style, old-school play. The death mechanics in LU are better than those in ToV. Exploration and social options are far better in LU as well. Everything matters, and even where you rest matters in terms of resources and health recovery. A lot of it can be mitigated by party composition and character design, but you must take along the right people on a long expedition to survive.

LU's terrain hand hazardous encounter game is fantastic and worth checking out. The world can be fantastical and dangerous. A sea of sand can swallow caravans and characters, and they may fall victim to places explorers should never go. The party may circumvent the hungry sands and stick to more dangerous rocky crags to avoid those dangers. The overland game and the world's dangers will open your eyes to exploration-based adventures and how amazing they can be.

You can discover unique and rare spells that improve the regular spell selection, giving casters things to search for, steal, and find.

Level Up has rules for bone weapons and armor, dangerous terrains, and that brutal level of realism a survival game needs - making a fantastic engine that opens your eyes to the true Dark Sun for 5E. Since LU is excellent, this would be the only way I play Dark Sun for 5E. Low Fantasy Gaming comes a distant second (lacking many genre support rules), but LU is how to experience this setting in 5E.

A ToV Dark Sun would be a fun game, but it would be missing a lot of the rules needed to make Dark Sun come alive. This would be more of an action-heavy game without the simulation aspects.

Level Up has them all, plus more. Level Up is the "Skyrim realism, survival, magic improvement, and combat options mod" applied to a 5E framework.

Level Up: Voidrunner's Codex & Captain's Manual, Part 2

The more I hear about the Voidrunner Codex for Level Up Advanced 5E, the more I like it. I have a soft spot for well-done sci-fi 5E, which seems perfect in tone and delivery. I like today's preview where sci-fi gobbledy-gook is an engineering power. Instead of trying to explain everything, they embrace the fun parts of the genre.

I will check this out when it is on Kickstarter next month.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 17

Tales of the Valiant has the 4E secret sauce. I remember interviews with the 4E design team, and they went through movies to create the "powers" for the game, like in a Batman film, they would see something cool, and the designers would make that move in the film a power for the class.

Let's delve into the fighter class in ToV, which features a truly exhilarating power known as Last Stand. Picture this: when you're on the brink of defeat, a blow that would reduce your hit points to less than half, you can unleash a reaction. This allows you to spend hit dice, typically used for healing during rests, up to the character's PB. The result? An instant heal, of dice plus CON modifier, that could potentially turn the tide of the battle in your favor.

What an incredible power. I could see using that on a stream and getting this amazing "second wind" moment in a fight, like something out of professional wrestling. My next thought was that the Kobold Press team gets what makes for incredible moments at the gaming table and specifically designed powers to make those moments happen. And this is through every class, every spell, every power, and every choice you can make on a combat turn.

ToV was designed to stream exciting games and make those moments happen.

This team has played enough 5E to know where the rusty spots are, and they know the unfun powers and abilities. They know the parts that suck, and they focused in like a laser to un-suck the broken parts of D&D and 5E.

If I play that fighter, that fighter will be all I want to play. I want to wait for the time I can activate Last Stand, and then yeet my favorite wrestling quote as my fighter wipes the blood from his lip, stands up, and proceeds to kick butt.

I can't go back to D&D after that.

This is why ToV raised the power level. To give you those movie moments and extraordinary powers. This is also why the monsters are more formidable, hit harder, and have more hit points. You use fewer of them; they are larger-than-life bad guys to take down. Those 25-hit-point orcs? I need less of them, but taking each down is a movie moment.

You get D&D with weak 15-hit-point orcs, and you need to put a six in a room to have a challenge. In ToV, I would put four. This is six initiative rolls and combat turns versus four, plus the party. The combat will go faster even though the monsters are more brutal and down slower.

Even the luck mechanic plays into that "built for streaming" design. You know what sucks when you watch a streaming show? Watching someone roll two under the number they need to do something extraordinary. The Kobold team fixed that, provided the player has luck to spend.

Instead of "not happening," that moment "is happening."

The old Inspiration mechanic sucks compared to this.

And your luck ticks up a point each time you miss or fail a roll. You will make that roll sooner rather than later. The game forces you to spend luck: use it, or lose it.

Combine that mechanic with an arsenal of "cool moment" powers, and put the characters against the odds with toughened-up monsters?

You have a game designed for fun.

Friday, May 24, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 16

I live in a world where the 2024 D&D books are not a part of my discussion or thoughts about the system.

It is also a fun place, free from the AAA gaming monetization schemes that Wall Street pushes on the community. I can buy physical books, have the PDFs to own, and not have to pay someone a monthly fee to play a game (I choose to support Hero Lab, but I have been using that for 10+ years for more games than just this).

I'm thrilled that Level Up Advanced 5E is an exceptional game offering a unique and engaging gaming experience. Tales of the Valiant is the next one.

Having both to choose from or playing both is amazing. All my expansion books and adventures work with either, for the most part. Some work better than others; some feel like one system supports them better, while others feel like the other. I am free to mod them both.

Better death saves and fatigue rules? Those are part of Level Up, and I can add them to ToV.

Both have their own design goals and design teams. They are well-supported, and communities are forming around them. Part of me worries so many have walked away from 5E that ToV will have an uphill battle to find fans. Level Up was established very early, years ago, by people who were unsatisfied with D&D, and the group of fans there is a solid one with some excellent support for a game many have never heard about or considered an option.

The 2024 books I am not getting, nor do I engage with clickbait on them daily. The cover reveal was an exception since that was such horrible cover art that did not have a message.

But I do worry about the entrenched communities. We have also had the best players for my play style (old-school fans) leave the game in mass. Is there anyone left in this game that likes the things I do? Despite a few bright spots, the community buzz on ToV is very low, given what I expect. I am not seeing a lot of activity on Facebook. YouTube is mostly silent. The algorithms are working against the game, or the advertisers don't want the game to succeed.

I enjoy both ToV and Level Up.

For me, they are guilt-free 5E.

One feels like 4E.

The other feels old-school.

But so many have walked away from 5E, and I wonder if players like me are the exception. Castles & Crusades is going strong, many OSR games are getting a post-OGL bump, and many are still loving Pathfinder 2. A lot left in the 5E community are the hardcore Wizards supporters, with years of buy-in on D&D Beyond. They are not going; any game that threatens their digital content (which they don't own, will be invalidated, and need to be repurchased someday) is the enemy.

Just "losing players to ToV" threatens their "investments."

For me, the only way to win in a scenario like that is not to play. I support Hero Lab since it supports many games, and my investments are leveraged across a few games and companies. It does not support Wizards D&D (officially), and ToV allows me to use my 5E books.

And I am still doing Level Up sheets by hand. That is the most freedom.

But we have lost so much in the 5E world. While it is still the largest, it is not what it used to be, and people are becoming entrenched in their game choices.

And many of the best players have moved on.

There are communities out here around alternate 5E that are unique and fun places.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 15

D&D 4E was like crack to those who played with dungeon tiles and figures. We did not see it as "D&D"—to us, it was an enjoyable dungeon tile and figure battle chess game.

Pathfinder 2 is a testament to the influence of D&D 4, a game that gamers have embraced. I still have my original PF2 books and may get back to them someday.

MCDM is relying on the D&D 4E feeling. I got my survey, and it is supposed to ship in December.

Level Up Advanced 5E includes a lot of the 4E secret sauce.

And those who know what made the game unique: We keep seeing these things come up repeatedly in the new 5E (and other game) implementations, and we smile because we know it is us they are speaking to. They are tapping into the feelings of the 2010s battle tabletop crowd.

The tough monsters, the warlord class, tactical movement, ritual spells, and the larger-than-life attitude with rule-of-cool art and panache.

4E was it.

Pathfinder 1e was D&D 3.5 and honored that legacy, so we played both.

We have Tales of the Valiant, and it feels very close to the 4E DNA, especially when I look at some of the creatures and how over-the-top and deadly they are. The ToV Orc has 25 hit points. In no world is that a thing unless you are talking about 4E.

Orcs in 4E were the monsters you stepped up to from levels 3 to 5. They were not level 1 monsters. Orcs were monsters you fought after you survived the lower levels, starting around level 5. You reached a point where you knew you could take on Orcs, and it was a good feeling.

While Level Up A5E is a good game, the orcs are more of the traditional old-school type with 10 hit points and feel like low-level enemies. The one thing 4E did right was try to "scale" enemy types up, the MMO influence, and this made Orcs cool mid-level bad guys and Goblins the starter enemies.

This is why Level Up Advanced 5E is still fun. This branch of 5E is more inspired by old-school ideas, while ToV is more modern and inspired by 4E, and maintains subclass and lineage compatibility the best. I have room for both, and they do things a little differently. LU is the more mod-heavy version with extra systems, while ToV is more mainstream with tweaks. Both are like "Skyrim mod total conversions," they share the same gameplay loop, so it is not that hard getting used to both of them.

ToV is the clean, streamlined, focused total conversion, LU is the 400+ mod install of 5E based on the "old school" mod. Once you buy the gazetteers and option books for Level Up, it is an excellent, huge, and expansive experience with many character options and ways those interact with the game's systems. While its compatibility is less than ToV's, it is still a fantastic game. Once you are bought in, you don't need too much else. You can convert in, but it takes more thought and work.

Both are excellent alternatives.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Tomorrow's Truths, Today's Text

The strangest part of writing a blog is getting scraped by every AI database known to humankind, and knowing what I write will be the answers this spits out.

And my influence, because I write text, will be far more long-reaching and impactful than any YouTube video. It is a strange feeling my words will be given out as answers to people now and 500+ years from now, and most YouTube videos will be long gone and deleted.

Unless "Video AI" takes off, they all get scraped, too.

But in the early days, when the truth is established, the written word will be the bible, in which tomorrow's truths will be written.

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 14

The Nerrath campaign from D&D 4E is something of my Holy Grail campaign to play again. I initially felt Level Up Advanced 5E was the game to play with, and it would work well since it has all the 4E "toys" and concepts.

Then Tales of the Valiant came along.

Then, as if to test our mettle, I encountered the 25-hp Orc in the Monster Vault. Its presence reminded me of the challenging and thrilling encounters that awaited us in the game, sparking a renewed sense of excitement and anticipation.

Back in 4E, the monsters were tough, and this is why we played. Goblins were not pushovers anymore, and Orcs were more level 3-5 monsters who showed up like the main forces of the Red Army when the demon lords were so angry they sent in front-line troops to clean up, kill everything good-aligned, and corrupt the land for Hell.

The ToV Orcs are those Orcs.

While doing a fully supported 4E Nerrath campaign with ToV is possible, a few things will be missing. Dragonkin is a race in Midgard, so having "official support" for those may be a while. But they can be simulated with our choices, or if you do your character sheets by hand, you can just port them in and use the 5E versions.

Remember, ToV does not do racial ability score modifiers - drop ALL of them! Your scores start higher, so you need not modify them for lineage choices.

In Level Up, ability score modifiers are dropped, too. They are a part of a character's background, and you only get 2 points. Personally, I like ToV's higher starting stats and no modifications after character generation better than D&D's race-based modifiers, or LU's background-based modifiers.

Simplify it! And the newer way in D&D (add 2 points to anything, because of any reason) is just as dumb. Why am I adding ability score points after generation? Factor them out, and add them at generation. Otherwise people may need to go back and adjust modifiers and other derived stats.

Using Hero Lab or other tools without custom lineage choices, you can simulate the missing 4E lineages. Now, this is only for Hero Lab. If you are doing sheets by hand, you have everything at your fingertips and can import anything except for the ability score modifiers (and most of the dark-vision).

Dragonborn, until we get the Midgard Dragonkin, can be the Beastkin (sturdy) lineage. This "good enough" substitution will work until ToV and Hero Lab do the official Midgard support.

Drow can be an Elf lineage with a stone heritage.

Even some Midgard races can be simulated, as the Ravenfolk in Midgard is really the Beastfolk(avian) lineage. The Gearforged in Midgard (and the Warforged out of 4E) will be a problem, and another Beastkin replacement will serve as a placeholder, or maybe a Human with that extra talent serving as a specialization.

The ToV Orcs can substitute for Gnolls, Trolls, Ogres, Bugbears, and others. It is "close enough" until more choices appear.

The ToV Humans, with the extra talent choice, can simulate a lot of races, from shadow kin to elemental lineages and many others - once you get creative. You can even override the lineage name in Hero Lab so everything appears correctly. Above is my "Orc as Gnoll" character, even though Gnolls are unavailable in ToV Hero Lab.

With ToV taking that +2 ability score modifier out of races and factoring it into ability score selection, whatever shape you become, it is a matter of selecting a race that is close enough or gives you a talent that sort of matches your lineage concept.

This is how we did it in the old ways.

Are you playing a ghost? Use the Human lineage with a necromancy focus. We will make you resistant to physical damage during play; put a note on your sheet.

Close enough is good enough.

You do not need perfect or an official paid-for selection in an online tool. If I were doing this by hand (which in ToV is easy enough to do), I would have anything I want. With online tools that don't have all the options, just get it close enough and say, "It works."

Hack it, make it work, and get playing ASAP.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Classic Car Wars: Cepheus Atom & Other Games

Suppose you are doing a Car Wars campaign with the Cepheus Light set of rules. Another great book to accompany your game is the excellent post-apocalyptic Cepheus Atom rule book, a rules-light version of a science-fantasy Gamma World or Mutant Crawl Classics setting.

Suppose your game leans heavily into post-apocalyptic themes, such as scavenging wastelands, survival, and barter with groups of survivors. In that case, this is a perfect digest-sized book to add to your library. This game also has Gamma World-style mutations, mutant monsters, and exposure to mutation-causing contaminants.

Our game was a mix of magic, superheroes, war themes, sci-fi, and gonzo post-apocalyptic maniac insanity. Different areas of the world were almost like classic post-ruin theme parks; some were super science, some were superheroes, some were like Mad Max, others Gamma World, some Death Race, primitive areas, some like Rambo vs. the Soviets, and some mutated animals. Our game was this wonderful mix of crazy but loosely related 1980s after-the-bomb-style insanity and action-movie tropes.

In our world, Detroit, Fort Wayne, and Toledo were the triangle of destroyed, barbaric, mutant-filled mayhem that was impossible for everyone to traverse, and they just did their own thing. Grand Rapids and Toronto, along with most of Michigan, were also in this destroyed, ruin-filled, toxic blast zone area of savage mutants and ruined cities.

The more Car Was area was Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Pittsburgh. Along with Midvale because we loved that place. Between Midvale and Pittsburgh are oil wells; if I start this game again, those will be a major focus.

The "Car Wars" part of the world was just a few areas left with roads and civilization. There were also destroyed parts, uncivilized areas, mutants-and-mayhem, Mad Max, and 1950s sci-fi enclaves worldwide. There were Land of the Lost-style areas with barbarians and dinosaurs, much like the Savage Land-style superhero theme comics, and there is also another excellent game in the 2d6 sphere called Barbaric 2E.

If areas of the world were sufficiently barbaric and isolated, they may have degenerated into violent tribes. This is more like a "Thundarr the Barbarian" feeling and has a magic power source. Parts of the world can be different, and the people there accept that and see their way of life as the proper reality. If there is a savage area of Michigan where people ride dinosaurs, that is how it is. One of the problems with the OG Car Wars was assuming "everything will be like normal America," which was a significant theme problem with the AADA Road Atlases.

In our world, there were areas where everything was turned on its head, and it wasn't this modernist, 20th-century American throwback. Like the new Planet of the Apes movies, there were parts of the world that were not the same, nor would they ever be.

Also worthy of mention (but not digest-sized) is the entire Sword of Cepheus game, or as a more traditional fantasy game based on the 2d6 system, the Westlands game.

Westlands is highly underrated. I would not use this as a Car Wars resource but more as a parallel fantasy reality to Car Wars. Where Sword of Cepheus is more dark magic and talismans, Westlands is more traditional fantasy. Westlands is an awesome 2d6 fantasy game, complete and more like a full OSR implementation.

Cepheus Deluxe deserves mention as another game to pull from, especially talents. Where Barbaric 2E and Sword of Cepheus are digest-sized games, the others are full-size books and do not have that "small book" feeling I want for Car Wars. If it is a digest-sized game, it is in my Car Wars world. Big-book games are their own worlds.

This also includes the 1950s-based Solar Sagas game for retro-1950s style space adventures, based on the sci-fi digest game Quantum Starfarer. This makes my high-tech enclaves (like NASA, non-oil Houston, Vandenburg, and a few other isolated space enclave futurist cities) a more Fallout-style pre-ruin enclave that shuns the regular Car Wars world and explores near space to try to leave Earth's madness behind. These places existed in our world, and they were highly isolated since they focused on off-Earth activities and did not share much with anyone.

Car Wars was the glue that loosely held the world together. Savage fantasy mutant areas existed in the wilds, and superheroes lived in fortress cities. Oh, and there is also a 2d6 Cepheus digest game for that, and out superheroes were often accused of ignoring the outside world (which they did). Fallout-style enclaves were more interested in living their own way and leaving the planet. it all worked together wonderfully as a gonzo post-apoc game with Mad Max cars, mutants, sci-fi, and superheroes. The evil Soviets kept trying to destroy the world like classic Cold War enemies. The world was factionalized, and people believed in their way of life.

This wasn't the AADA Road Atlas world at all. It was closer to the Umerican setting in a wasteland future with strongly themed factions with their own outlooks, lands, goals, beliefs, and even technologies. Parts of the world were mutant strongholds, while others had savage magic. Parts were isolationist retro-future enclaves, while others seemed like superhero comics. The glue holding our setting together wasn't DCC; it was Car Wars and a 2d6 Traveller-like role-playing game.

There are many fun 2d6 games out there, and they are just as good as many d20 games. They mesh well with both Car Wars and Battletech, and they are a unique alternate reality in the gaming sphere worth checking out.

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 13

Pay close attention to the symbolism in these newer games. For instance, the 2024 D&D Player's Handbook prominently features a gold dragon on its cover. This choice of imagery is not arbitrary. Could the gold dragon be not merely an adversary but a symbol of something more profound? Interestingly, the classic enemy, the red dragon, is subtly concealed behind the text, hinting at a shift in the narrative.

Uncover the subliminal message these newer games appear to convey: 'Good is bad,' or more precisely, 'good is always watching and won't allow you to act freely.' The gold dragon, a symbol of power and authority, embodies this ever-vigilant, potentially malevolent force, challenging the conventional perception of good.

The gold dragon on the cover of the 2024 PHB symbolizes Wall Street and the forces of monetization.

While the classic enemy, the red dragon, is hidden away behind some text, it is not essential, not a threat. Don't worry about the red dragon. Again, this is likely a change to appease political concerns since some may equate a red dragon with a particular nation and say, "Oh, we can't upset them."

Please hide the red dragon behind the text.

In Tales of the Valiant, the red dragon's symbolism is striking. It appears, killing a hero, a clear representation of evil running amok. The red dragon's actions, such as killing the wizard, underscore the classic battle between good and evil, a theme that resonates throughout the game.

Let the red dragon live, and Gandalf dies.

But still, ToV ditches alignment. This opens the door to better storytelling, with my forces of good being even more of a positive force and evil being even eviler. Red dragons will team up with demons and devils, orcs and trolls. It is all chaos, baby. Red dragons symbolize "might makes it right": hate, violence, power, destruction, the death of innocents, colonial wars, invasions for greed, dictatorships, and war.

The dragons are symbols of history and more significant concepts.

But I have these concepts ingrained into my mind.

I would hate for gold dragons to become "Just another monster."

But this is what the 2024 D&D PHB does. ToV also steps into these dangerous waters, going along with the crowd during the current game design de-jour. However, ToV retains the theme and concepts of evil, and even the art reflects that. The sections in the ToV Monster Vault eliminate alignment but replace it with more significant categories of "creature types" - explicitly saying all fiends are evil, and all dragons are apex predators and see themselves as "above" lesser beings.

The concept of alignment is still there in ToV, it has just moved to creature types.

There is evil in this world.

Don't let your games erase it.

Also, don't let these games tell you good is actually evil. The gold dragon should have a good heart. They aren't to be used as 'evil monsters.'

Monday, May 20, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 12

The more I read, the more I feel the CR+1 assumption about Tales of the Valiant is false in a few ways and true in others. Yes, characters feel more fun and powerful—but are they, really?

Especially when considering Kobold Press' monster design theories that feel like optimizations and speed-ups for gameplay.

Modern D&D has evolved significantly, surpassing the original 2014 PHB classes and powers. As of 2024, D&D is a CR+1 game, especially considering the vast expansions from Wizards themselves and third-party content. The power level of 2024 D&D is far higher than the 2014 core books.

So saying ToV is CR+1 and holding it against the 2014 CR+0 standard is a bit of a false argument, and if you were to do that, you would force ToV to be a "weak" version of the game that "doesn't compare to modern D&D."

ToV can play side-by-side with any D&D content. It is mostly parity with the current 5E; add 30% hit points to balance and a similar damage. The monsters in the Kobold books may feel like CR+1, but people want a challenge, which is what sells.

The original 2015 Monster Manual and 5E SRD monsters seem weak because they were designed for a 10-year-old game before all the power gaming splat books came out. Most of the monsters in the 2014 Monster Manual are pushovers these days, with their original CR ratings blown out.

The one clear difference is in monster toughness. Even the ToV conversion guide mentions this. You look at the SRD Orc (15 hp, +5 attack, damage by weapon +3) versus a ToV Orc (25 hp, +5 attack, damage by weapon +3), and you can see a difference. ToV hit points are closer to 4E's, and even the Goblin is 12 hp in ToV versus 9 in the SRD. The damage output of the low-level monsters is on par, but the hit points are higher to keep them competitive.

I like the harder-to-kill orcs. This is how they were in 4E to us. When the Orcs showed up, it was like the Red Army arriving compared to the Goblin partisans and locals. They were evil's main-line forces, and they felt like it.

Also, with more hit points, fewer monsters are needed, which speeds up play. There are changes made to improve play versus ones that increase power. The monsters in ToV feel like they have more hit points, but they have the same to-hits and damages. So the overall power of the monsters is about the same, with only staying power as the difference.

So, a blanket statement like "ToV is a CR+1 game" is true in some ways and false in others. Enough that I want to be careful about repeating it without a qualifier now that I know more. ToV is tuned for more challenging encounters, but that is where the market's sweet spot is, and it also lends itself to a faster-playing game.

100 hit points of Orcs is six in 5E versus four in ToV. Granted, no one rates an encounter on hit points, but this is how much damage you must do to "clear this room." So I need four initiative rolls and actions per turn versus six or seven, which speeds play. Fewer, more challenging monsters make a faster-playing game.

Level Up's Goblins are 10 hp, while Orcs are a player race and follow the class rules (hit points as class level, so 10-ish again). So, Level Up is closer to the original 2014 5E rules than ToV, and more of the CR+0 game in this comparison. Level Up does a good job sticking to 2014 power levels, so they can do that low-end, low-hit-point, balanced game much better than what modern D&D and 5E have become.

Still, Level Up does that "you can one-shot a goblin" well, and orcs, too, if you rate them as lower-level fighters. With ToV, fighting one orc will be a 4E-like battle with a few rounds of trading blows. You will need less of them, so the combat will be faster.

CR+0 and CR+1 are terrible choices for power-level descriptions.

When you begin to look at it, is the version of 5E you are looking at closer to the 2014 numbers or the 2024 ones? I suspect you could pick up a 3rd party book, look at the publication date, and be able to put that on a scale between these two dates and rate power accurately. Monsters from 2019 are likely more potent than in 2014 but less than in 2024.

Tales of the Valiant encounters are balanced against 2024 numbers (triple B/X).

Level Up Advanced 5E is balanced against the 2014 numbers (double B/X).

I see this in the math of both games, and it is one of the cleanest ways to describe their differences.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Level Up: Voidrunner's Codex & Captain's Manual

Interestingly, the A5E team is making a sci-fi version of their Level Up 5E-compatible game.

Color me interested, we don't have too many great 5E sci-fi games, and I like the design team. I put the info link and Kickstarter notification page up top.

Mail Room: Harnworld Hardcovers

My Harnworld hardcovers arrived yesterday, and they're a breath of fresh air. Unlike the modern fantasy settings we often encounter, Harnworld offers an authentic medieval fantasy experience. It's a welcome departure from the faux Instagram, copy pop culture festivals, modern hairstyles, and smirky attitudes we've grown accustomed to. There are no Steampunk excuses for cellphones and mass transit, no triggering elements, no extra-planar or faux-modern settings. It's a world made for those who truly appreciate the genre, not just everyone.

The game worlds of any of these big companies do not resonate with anyone or keep people in the hobby. At worst, they drive people away when they are changed. Part of the downer when Pathfinder 2 launched was the recap of all the "solved adventures," and the world felt too safe and "played out." Pathfinder 2 should have started a new world and put Golarion into a legacy support model. D&D defaults to a multiverse, Wall Street's way of telling consumers, "We don't care about storytelling, maintaining a setting, hiring good writers, or consistency."

No wonder 80% of players make their own worlds.

People want their own worlds to make logical sense and reflect them. They want immersion, the classic experience, history, and culture. They don't want to be undercut by official releases or have their worlds ruined by planar intrusions. They want conflicts, logical consistency, strife, danger, and the freedom to include mature subjects that may offend some.

Harnworld has been around for a long time. The publisher is rebuilding the world as a series of hardcovers, each new one a Kickstarter that lets you get the previous hardcovers and keep moving forward with the world remaster. Each year is a year in ours, so time and history are consistent. The art is fantastic, the maps are masterpieces, and the world is one of the best campaign settings ever created.

They are now on their seventh hardcover in the world and have a Kickstarter for this that ends in 10 days.

Harnworld is a world shaped by the default fantasy experience of humans, elves, and dwarves. Some may see this as a negative since where are the other fantasy backgrounds? Well, since most games ship with a million fantasy races of every randomized shape, size, and animal characteristic, that is all left up to you. If you want a vampire count castle up in the mountains, put it there. If you wish to have a forest filled with anthropomorphic animal people, make it happen. If you want Tieflings on the fringes of society, untrusted by the churches and common folk, put them there.

I like this freedom. It allows me to introduce a new background to how I want them to be like Dragonborn trying to mix and integrate with society or the first appearance of the Drow happening in my game. If a character wants to be a particular background, like a talking puppet, it will be unique since there won't be a few million of them wandering around the campaign world already. Players want to feel unique and special, and what better way than a world that you can paint and alter to be your own?

The Harnworld marketing reminds us that these are "5th Edition Ready," which is true. You can "paint in" any ancestries you want, change the races of significant figures, and add and remove things as you see fit. I like the world being a more traditional Human-Elf-Dwarf base, with special ancestries like Dragonborn and Tieflings being the exception. There is one more open kingdom that allows evil worship and feels more cosmopolitan, so this would be a place where you could see Tieflings and their communities.

The human parts of the world are primarily human, but there is room for changing things, adding new areas, or making a city home of a specific ancestry. This setting is enormous but isn't world-spanning, so your focus will be tighter on history, people, and places. There is a Viking-like area to the north, and certain "north kin," like wolf people, could live among them. You may not find wolf-people anywhere but where they feel the most welcome.

Ancestries will likely be tightly tied to the area's cultures, with unique backgrounds supporting the kingdom's ideology and makeup. All of this is up to you, which is cool and gives me plenty of blank canvas to fill in when I play this world.

Someone playing an orc may be a tough sell in most areas of this world. But in middle-age settings like this, xenophobia is more the norm, and roleplaying will be needed to gain acceptance. Some players love this "fish out of water" sort of roleplay, and there is plenty of that here.

Nothing stops you from playing this with a more realistic system, too; this would fit any simulation-style system from Dungeon Fantasy to Rolemaster. This world feels very old-school, and a system that offers realism would fit perfectly.

But 5E here would be a fun alternative, an old-school style of world that feels "down" and more realistic. Much is left up to you, like how much magic is in the world. By its nature, this is a world where magic has not shaped society since the world is based on a lower-magic assumption. Again, a lower-magic world will make casters feel special.

If I were using 5E, I would likely use Level Up Advanced 5E for gaming here. While I like Tales of the Valiant, at this point, Level Up has far more support, options, and old-school charm to do this world right.

The only background I may find hard to integrate here is Steampunk and tinkering. This is a lower-tech setting; none would feel too appropriate for this world. They may find a home in the dwarf kingdom, like something out of World of Warcraft, but not to an extent where the entire civilization is industrialized.

Cepheus Light: Classic Car Wars

This topic was discussed in the previous article. This article attempts to recreate our hybrid Traveller Classic and OG Car Wars role-playing game, which lasted 30 years. The two systems complement each other well, and we were surprised at how well they all worked together.

Let's start with the SJ Games Car Wars Bundles, which get you started with Classic Car Wars. This is not the new version with all the 3D figures and cards; this is the OG design system and phased movement, where 20 seconds of combat took you four hours. Horribly inefficient? Trying to do what a computer does better by hand? Full of math and engineering?


And fun.

Oh, this is so much fun.

Wait until you solve an engineering problem of "other players trying to kill your character." This isn't some DVD player DM reading the text boxes in an adventure; you should rather just read through them than play because it is all predetermined anyway.

This PvP game killed AD&D and left it on the asphalt as roadkill. BattleTech killed this game later, but that game was nothing like the gas-fueled rage of the open highways and death arenas. BattleTech was also not a great multiplayer game where four to a dozen or more players could all play together in teams or a free-for-all. 

BattleTech and MtG were primarily two-player games. Car Wars was multiplayer gang warfare on wheels.

You have a budget, a crew, and one car.

Now, build one to win.

Every other car on the table will be gunning for you.

You also want a copy of Cepheus Light; anything more is overkill and distracting. There are a lot of fantastic advanced and expanded editions out there, and they say this version is depreciated, but it is well worth picking up as a rules-light 2d6 RPG core. The skills are directly mapped to Car Wars skills, and there is an ability score and advancement system for extra fun.

For personal combat, skill rolls, hazards, and roleplaying, use Cepheus Light (CL).

For car combat, use Car Wars.

The skills and ability DRMs work on both sides. Yes, add the CL ability DRMs to appropriate Car Wars to-hit rolls and the skills that apply.

In Cepheus Light, ability modifiers are capped at +3 (human maximums), and skills are capped at +5. The Car Wars Compendium (CWC) has no upper skill limit; even a +9 is mentioned. So, the caps and skill levels are comparable, and Cepheus has a lower overall cap. I would allow a DEX DRM modifier to both gunnery and driving skills, so lower-level Cepheus characters with DEX 9 or higher will be more capable than a 30-point starting Car Wars Compendium character. Driving skills do not affect Handling Class in CWC, only crash rolls (by subtracting from the crash roll).

For mixed combat, use Car Wars with the Cepheus skills. Keep people in the Car Wars at the standard 3 hits (plus body armor) when vehicle weapons fire at them; it won't matter in too many cases. The rough damage conversion is 1d6 Cepheus hits to 1 hit of Car Wars damage. If body armor gets destroyed in Car Wars, it is destroyed in Cepheus.

Convert in Car Wars hand weapons and map them to Cepheus hand weapons. Most of them can be swapped one for one.

Character generation will be random, and you can be creative in freely swapping out career types. The pirate in CL is a "raider" in Car Wars. The army in CL could be a mercenary. The belter is an oil worker. A colonist is a townsperson. An agent is a law enforcement officer. The merchant is a trucker. The rogue is a criminal. The scout is a scout. A scholar could be a doctor, engineer, oil survey geologist, or professional. Marine (paratrooper) and navy (air force) careers could be airborne forces for corporate and government factions if you have the Car Wars Compendium and want that level of government power in your game with the helicopters. If you have boats, leave Navy and Marine as-is, or use them for both.

If you want to expand your game, pick up a PDF copy of the Car Wars Compendium. This has a more complete skill system, but there are too many skills for what the game is trying to do. It also lacks ability scores and sticks to the 3 hit system of the main game. I like the more "zoomed-in" feeling of Cepheus Light, especially in combat, abilities, and the standard 8+ checks modified by DRM and skill.

A word of warning here, this expands the game considerably. It is easy to get overwhelmed with over 100 pages of special rules for a pocket box game and tons of options like gas engines, metal armor, helicopters, boats, hovercraft, and many new weapons and pieces of gear - this is worth it if you want to immerse yourself in the Classic world, but complete overkill for a simple road warrior style game using the essential pocket boxes.

The biggest thing you would want this for is Road Warrior-style games where the cars use gas engines, metal armor, and those cool cupola turrets with a gunner in them and a weapon they manually point and fire. Get this book if you want to be less "plastic armor and electric engines" and more "steel and gasoline."

Also note that many vehicle designs are of the "electric and plastic" type, though those can be easily converted to metal armor. The power plants need to be swapped out, and you will dive into vehicle design to customize them.

There is an alternate expansion path with Cepheus Deluxe Expanded Edition, which adds a talent system and ways to buy talents and increase ability scores with XP. The rest of this book is overkill for a Car Wars game, and soon, you will be off exploring space.

Cepheus Light has just enough and not much more, which keeps it focused on the 2d6 mechanics without too much extra supporting cruft. While CD is a fantastic game, stick to the lighter system for Car Wars and let the books fill out the rest.

Is Classic Car Wars slow? Yes. You will play a battle for hours if you are not strict about time. A 30-second 8-car battle took us 6 hours. We played car battles with over 200 vehicles, which took days, but this was before computers, pre-NES, and post-Atari 2600. It was summer, so we had the time, and it was fun. You will not sit there and ponder your move. At most, a 30-second sand timer should be set in a phase when a decision must be made. Otherwise, you move forward and do nothing.

The drama of these battles is like nothing you have experienced. I have not tried the new game, but the old game blew BattleTech away for us, and even Warhammer. Those games seem slow, overly methodical, and plodding compared to simulating a car flying around the board at 60 mph, and you want to keep going since you will make yourself an easy target. And after a few hours with a car that is barely holding itself together, to win is a fantastic feeling.

Adding a role-playing element opens the world up and makes you feel like more is happening from a story perspective. The 2d6 RPG and Car Wars combination killed AD&D and our Aftermath game for us, and we never returned. It was this or Star Frontiers, and that is all we played.

Those were the days.

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 11

Is Tales of the Valiant a CR+1 game?

Now that I am reading it more, yes, at low levels, but not really at higher levels. You start out with a little more power, but things feel well-built and balanced, and they don't get as out-of-control and loose as they do in 5E at higher levels.

Unlike in 5E, where certain classes can feel underwhelming at higher levels due to their damage not scaling, Tales of the Valiant has addressed this issue. The game's mechanics have been meticulously refined, resulting in a more balanced and engaging experience across all classes and levels.

ToV was designed to play well at higher levels. It may start as a CR+1 game, but as you level, it feels like it goes back to CR+0 and stays there. The underpowered, squishy nature of low-level 5E characters looks like it was fixed.

D&D was the problem here.

Also, since Kobold Press tends to design CR+1 monsters, it is easy to paint the system as a CR+1 system, but I need to take a step back. The builds in 5E were so out of control that character power was becoming exponential in nature. A hyper-optimized 5E character, built by the rules, is a CR+2 to CR+4 build. Some classes suck so hard they are like a CR-1.

Once everyone's class works and is a viable option, the party suddenly becomes more powerful.

D&D 5E has balanced itself around optimized characters, which may already be a CR+1 system. Thus, KP had to create and sell monster books around CR+1. This is why they sold so well; the challenge level suited the average group with optimized characters. Only when you roll back to the original book does everything suddenly appear to be CR+1 and a bit powerful?

Since the KP monster books sold so well, the community chose and supported that power level. By the end of D&D 2014, the game was generally played at a CR+1 power level, just due to power creep. You can't roll back from that to some 2014 power level since you are choosing to make your game and characters underpowered. You are breaking current compatibility.

The answer is complicated, more like a yes and no.

Yes, at low levels, everything balances out at an even CR+1 across all levels.

With D&D, you are weak at low levels and then very broken as you level those CR+2 to CR+4 power levels of exploit builds. Most classes fall behind and look like poor choices unless you are multiclassing to break the game. The swingy nature of power and unbalanced builds make rating D&D's actual power levels nearly impossible, but infinite damage and broken builds exist.

ToV may just be the better, tighter-tuned, and balanced game, so it appears to be CR+1, but in actuality, it matches the current power level of most standard games and stays within that power level to level 20.