Tuesday, December 26, 2017

D&D 2018: How I Wish I Could Roll

I finally have a bit of vacation between semesters.  No work and no school between Christmas and New Years, and it's glorious.  I'm sure once it sinks in, I'll find myself pulled in five different directions trying to decide which writing projects I want to catch up on.  But for the moment, I find myself just thinking about D&D.

Not Engines & Empires or Retro Phaze, none of my own clones or OSR games or adventures that I have in the works.  Just D&D.  I haven't properly run a role-playing campaign of any sort in several months now, and I'm seriously missing it.  I also know that for at least the next four or five months, I probably won't have the time to start up a new campaign, not with both a comp exam and a GRE on the horizon.

So all I can do is dream, and I keep on dreaming of running a more-or-less plain vanilla, straight-up, by-the-book D&D campaign, with no steampunk or other sci-fi weirdness added in.  None of my own alterations to the lore or any of my usual peccadilloes and affectations.  Something classic: knights, castles, dragons, all that jazz.  Something that leans into the traditional mix of Tolkien, Gygax, and proper medieval fantasy.

…Of course, for me, "by-the-book" would never be quite that.  I'm now so used to handling attack rolls and saving throws with a "roll low to succeed" mechanic that I don't think I could do it any other way.  And I sure as hell have no desire to go back to three or five saving throw categories when just the one will do.

But this insatiable yearning that I'm feeling (which still, after a number of days, has not abated) has gotten me wondering: what is the bare minimum I would need to do to run something quite close to recognizable, rules-as-written D&D?  Something that the groggiest grognard would have no quibble with if he were to sit down at my table and roll up a character, no questions asked?

In other words, what about D&D can I simply no longer abide, and what can I still stomach?  And this is what I came up with: I call it Dungeons & Dragons 2018, the absolute minimum set of changes I have to make to OD&D to make the game playable in accordance with my present-day sensibilities.  Take a look, and comment below!

And, hey, since I've got three weeks to wait until my copy of Barrowmaze Complete arrives in the mail (hey, it was on sale, and now I have Christmas money!), maybe-just-maybe I'll get to take these rules for a test-drive in the near future after all…

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"The Last Jedi" Teeters on the Edge of Pointlessness

I saw Star Wars VIII last night (words that I never in a million years imagined that I would have to string together), and at the end of it I didn't know to feel.  It's taken a full night's sleep and most of a day to process my reaction.  Eventually, I decided that I would have to see the movie again to decide how I really felt, and in that moment I found that I didn't care to bother.

That's my ultimate verdict on The Last Jedi: aggressive apathy.

I'll put the rest of this post below the fold, along with an implicit spoiler warning.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

1d6 + 1d8 + 1d20: The Universal Dice Roll

Sometimes I have these moods or kicks where I decide that I want pure minimalism at the game table: one rulebook (or no rulebook), no screen, no mat, no miniatures, and the smallest possible number of dice.

Right now, I seem to be in one of those moods.  It occurs to me that I could probably get away with running a game of D&D with just a d6, a d8, and a d20, and still feel pretty comfortable—and moreover, rolling all three dice at once, you can get a result for any common die size except for the d%.

I'll give you an example: I've just dug up some dice and rolled them, and I've turned up a 3 on d6, a 5 on the d8, and a 16 on the d20.  This is actually every die roll from d2 through d20!

d2: Read the d6; if it's low (1–3), 1; if it's high (4–6), 2.  I rolled a 1.
d3: Read the d6; some folks like the 1–2 = 1, 3–4 = 2, 5–6 = 3 method, and this "halve and round up" method does indeed seem to be the popular standard; but I find it easier to read the low range as it lies and subtract 3 from the high range—so in my case, I'd say I've rolled a 3 on the d3.
d4: Same as above, but for the d8: read it as it lies in the low range, subtract 4 in the high range.  I got a 1 on the d4 (5 − 4 = 1).
d5: Read the ones digit off the d20 and subtract 5 if it's in the high (6–10) range: I got a 1 on the d5 (16 is read as 6, and 6 − 5 = 1).
d6: Read as it lies, 3.
d8: Read as it lies, 5.
d10: Read the ones digit as it lies, counting zero as ten: I got a 6.
d12: Read the d6 and count the d8 as a control die (1–4 means +0, 5–8 means +6); I rolled a 9.
d16: Read the d8 and count the d6 as a control die (1–3 means +0, 4–6 means +8): I rolled a 5.
d20: Read as it lies, 16.

This could be extended to a d24 using the d8 as the base roll and the d6 as a three-way control die, and similarly to a d30 with the d20 (read as d10) for the base roll and again d6 for a three-way control die; but d% requires rolling the d20 twice.

Anyway, just a bit of fun.  I might have to try this out at my next game session!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Quick Note on Attributes

I've been thinking about attribute scores again.

When it comes to the way that character abilities are handled in D&D, there's some redundancy and misapplication that always bothered me.  It's why, in both Retro Phaze and now Engines & Empires, I've folded the six scores down to four, letting Strength subsume Constitution and having only two mental stats, one for Intelligence and one for Charisma/Willpower.

Losing out on Constitution does mean that there's no way to represent a character who's strong but fragile, or weak but tough; but (hobbits excluded) that's never really a thing that comes up.  With four scores representing, roughly, muscle/toughness, quickness/finesse, smarts/learning, and will/charm, you can still have the strong but slow guy, the skinny but fast guy, the absent-minded or socially awkward genius, and the vapid fast-talker.  Classic (if stereotypical) character types.

It's great for fiction, but it's hardly realistic.  After all, as others have pointed out, "dexterity" as it's portrayed in role-playing games (meaning bodily agility, acrobatic talent, and so forth) isn't really a thing separate from what we'd consider strength or athleticism; and we know from modern psychology that general intelligence (or "IQ") is bullshit, and that insight, perception, creativity, and charm actually tend to correlate strongly with reasoning ability, memory, and whatever ill-defined thing it is that people are talking about when they say "book smarts as opposed to street smarts".