Deutschland is happy and gay

We did it!

After the German chancelor and leader of the ruling conservative party declared on monday that their members of parliament would be free to vote on matter of marriage equality according to their personal views instead of folliwing the official party line a vote was called in parliament on very short notice within the same week.

The vote passed with support of one third of the conservative party MPs and virtually everyone else, finally putting an end to this violation of basic human right. The new law is expected to come into effect some time this year.

We’re gonna need a bigger mule

In a discussion about henchmen and retainers I mentioned that oldschool D&D characters at higher levels would need to bring pack animals with them to get all their treasure back to civilization and gain XP from it, which means also people to care for and guard them while the PCs are going into dungeons. Not having played higher level games with XP for treasure myself yet, I got curious how many animals you’d actually should plan for.

In B/X, a mule can carry up to 4,000 coins of weight. Assuming that’s mostly gold and the rest is 1 platinum coin for every 10 silver coins, this is worth 4,000 XP. Which isn’t bad, but given the amounts of XP needed to advance at higher levels it’s actually not that much. People always say that that characters at higher levels advance really slowly, which I would take as perhaps something like 10 extended expeditions to a distant dungeon far out in the wilderness. To me, 30 sessions to level up would qualify as a snail’s pace. On average, characters from 8th level onward need 120,000 XP to reach the next level. Divided by 10 that’d be 12,000 XP per adventure or 3 mules. For every PC in the party!

Send mules!

What about bags of holding? While certainly useful inside a dungeon and to carry home treasure at lower levels, these no longer make any real difference at higher levels. 10,000 coins for the weight of 600 sounds really nice, but at these levels you’d need a dozen or so of them to stash all your loot from a single adventure. For every bag of holding you can reduce the needed number of mules by two, but whether you travel with 10 or 20 of them hardly makes any difference for the logistics involved.

I also calculated the average dragon hoard and came up with enough coins to load 15 mules. But potentially (and statistically almost impossible) it could be as much as 60 mule loads.

Then there’s also the interesting matter of food. Mentzer Expert gives us a weight of 70 coins for 1 week of rations. Which is virtually nothing compared to mail armor having a weight of 200 coins. One of the PCs can carry all the food needed by a 10 head party for a one week return trip all by himself and barely experience any encumbrance at all. Though you have to consider that this is the weight of 100 daggers. Perhaps it’s not the weights that are too low but the carrying capacity of characters that’s too high. But that’s another topic.

Let’s do the same calculations for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which uses a much simpler encumbrance system that I find highly preferable. It makes the common mistake of assuming that mounts walk twice as fast as people, while really they just can carry a lot more stuff at the same speed, but I’ll let this slide for now and go with severely encumbred mules traveling 12 miles per day: Under these conditions the animal can have an encumbrance rating of up to 25, which is 125 items. When packed by a professional animal handler this increases to 150 items. (As nice as the system is, the distinction between encumbrance rating and items carried is an unnecessary nuisance.) 100 coins are one item, which gives us a total of 15,000 coins or 15,000 XP. That is a lot more than in B/X, almost four times as much. But with 10 adventures to reach the next level, that’s still one mule for each party member.

It looks very different when you look at food. To feed 10 people for 7 days you’d need to carry 70 items and the maximum number for an armored character is 20 items. You’d really want to bring a pack animal for that and not haul it around yourself. Letting a mount carry 8 times as much stuff as a person at the same walking speed seems a bit much to me. I don’t think a group of heavily loaded soldiers will be moving much faster if they all put their backpacks on a single mule.  I think for my own campaign I rather go with the average common pack goat carrying twice as much as a Strength 10 character, a riding deer three times as much, and a small hadrosaur ten times as much. Yes, you wouldn’t need a lot of these giant lizards to haul your loot, but on the other hand you can ride into town on a dinosaur.

But as you see, adventuring without retainers at higher levels is not just impractical but close to impossible. To gain meaningful amounts of XP from adventures, you have to approach them as large scale expeditions. In addition to animal handlers you’re also going to need guards and loyal henchmen who keep watch over them while the PCs are away from the camp. And once you have that whole gang together, there’s no need to not travel in sstyle. Get a bunch of servants and cooks as well.

Is OSR still about D&D?

Regarding rules: Duh, of course it is. But beyond the use of the mechanical framework of OD&D, B/X, and AD&D, does the common reference frame of the D&D fantasy family still play any meaningful role within the OSR sphere? When was the last time you’ve seen someone talk about beholders, mind flayers, or displacer beast? It still happens, but when I see it, it tends to be regarding campaigns specifically set in Grayhawk or Forgotten Realms. What I don’t see is people describing their own creations which feel recognizably as D&D. Oldschool D&D seems to have very much become a style of playing, but has mostly disappeared as a style of fantasy.

Old School Basic – A new forum for everything Basic D&D

I have long been looking for a forum dedicated to the B/X, BECMI, and Rules Cyclopedia editions of Dungeons & Dragons and the retroclones based on them, but apprently such a thing didn’t exist.

So I made one: Old School Basic

I guess the chance of this one really taking off are pretty slim, but I already have the webspace and database support and know how these things work, so it is costing me nothing.

But if a forum for OD&D can make it, then the potential for a Basic community is certainly there as well. There are some D&D forums that have small Basic sections tucked into back corners and of course the forums of the various retroclones. But it’s all very scattered around and with few visitors there’s little activity that makes it worthwhile to just browse around to see if there are any interesting current discussions. Yet most questions and ideas are not really specific to any single version of the rules and of potential relevance to all players and GMs of any Basic based game. So maybe this might actually work out.

We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime I am inviting anyone interested in Basic D&D and its descendants to visit and contributing a little to make it a place worth visiting for a broad audience.

A Basic D&D Forum?

There’s a forum for AD&D 1st edition, a forum for OD&D, and kind of a forum for 3rd edition, but even though Basic has become pretty much the standard for OSR games these days, there doesn’t seem to be any forum specifically dedicated to that. Sometimes I look at the forums of specific retroclones or the Basic sections at Dragonsfoot or Giant in the Playground, but all of these have pretty much negligible activity.

I could set up one myself. I’ve been forum admin before and was able to set up this site and mediawiki, so from the technical side it shouldn’t be a problem. But would anyone care?

xkcd

So I was looking at Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

And it actually doesn’t look bad at all. I played 3rd edition and Pathfinder for 12 years or so until I started looking at other fantasy RPGs and quickly got fed up with the excessive complexity, option creep, and power curve of d20 games. I’ve been toying and playing around with various AD&D and B/X clones since then and quickly lost interest in 5th edition after about the second playtest version. I’ve not even been looking at it with my butt since then.

dungeons-and-dragons-players-handbook-5th-edition-cover_largeBut recently I notices that several people writing about RPGs, who describe a play style very similar to my own, seem to be running 5th Edition as their system of choice and I got a bit curious when seeing forum threads about how people are feeling about the game after two years of playing. And the things that were praised by people who like it sounded quite intriguing, so I finally gave the finished game a first actual look.

My first impression was that the character classes once again have way too many class features, but when I actually read through the descriptions it turned out to actually be not nearly as bad as in Pathfinder for example. Most classes get something at each level, but mostly it seems to be pretty minor things that don’t look like they’d introduce a lot of option creep. There are some things about the races that I used to find aesthetically unpleasing, like giving characters lots of ability scrore bonuses with no penalties to counter them, but since then I’ve moved away from the idea of 1st level characters being perfectly average people. Now I think even first level characters should already be heroic individuals in a completely different league than the common rabble.

A similar thing is going on with hit points. 5th Edition characters get a lot of hit points. Hit points per level have been bumped up again, but more importantly the ability to heal damage during short rests by rolling your amount of hit dice pretty much doubles the amount of damage characters can take every day. And if I got this right, all damage is healed during a long rest. Perhaps, calling it damage isn’t really that accurate anymore. Getting hit certainly doesn’t represent a significant injury if the points can return completely within an hour without any magic.

Overall, my impression is that low-level characters in 5th Edition are much more like what used to be mid-level characters in previous editions. No more zero to hero. You start as heroes right from the beginning.

What quite impressed me is the combat rules and skill system. Having played 3rd Edition for over a decade almost certainly helped a lot, but I think I got a pretty good grasp on the complete 5th Edition combat, exploration, and interaction rules within just half an hour of reading.

I am still not a fan of the spell slot system, but it’s much less annoying than it used to, with spells not disappearing after they are cast. Have not looked at all the classes yet, but they all seem to work much more like the sorcerer from 3rd Edition. And the DMG also has an option to convert them all to spell points, which looks quite decent. There also is only a single cure wounds spell whose power depends on what spell slot you use for it, similar to how most psionic powers worked in the Expanded Psionic Handbook. This is something I really like as it reduces the amount of pretty much duplicate spells and makes magic more flexible.

Also very nice are the new monster stat blocks. The main stats are almost as short as in the old TSR editions but also have all special attacks and abilities written right below them in a way that makes them very easy to look up in the middle of fights. 3.5e and Pathfinder already put all special abilities into the stat blocks, but with the game being so complex you often had huge paragraphs that can take some considerable time to read and fully grasp. 5th Edition monster stats are much neater and tidier.

The main oddity that I noticed is the distribution of monsters in the Monster Manual. So far the only Monster Manual. Not sure if the Challenge Rating system is any better or worse than it was in 3rd Edition, but a very large portion of monsters seem to have been rated down by 2 points and now the vast majority of monsters is of CR 4 or lower. There’s a few CR 5 and 6, but beyond that point there’s really pretty much only dragons, demons, giant, and golems. Which is not necessarily bad. One big annoyance of 3rd Edition is that many cool monsters are so powerful that it takes a very long time until the party is strong enough to be able to fight them, and in pretty much all the games I ran and played, the group never reached a level where fighting giants, beholders, or larger dragons could be considered. Reducing the spread is certainly welcome. However, at the same time it raises the question why it would be worthwhile to have a 20 level game at all? I would have to see the game in action for a long time, but the first very basic impression I get is that there’s not really a whole lot new to come after passing 10th level. Though this isn’t exactly new or unique to 5th Edition. The very first Dungeon & Dragons game was conceptualized as basically a 10 level game, with characters who passed 9th level no longer really improving much in power and being expected to settle down as rulers and generals. The story how 6th level and higher spells ended up in the game is somewhat murky, but I’ve seen claims that they weren’t really part of the original concept and only thrown in without much thought.

All in all, I am quite intrigued by this game and I’m seriously considering to use it for my next campaign instead of going with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Though maybe I’ll feel different about it in a week or two. But still, I have to say that 5th Edition looks much more interesting and better than I assumed. It’s indeed pretty lightweight compared to 3rd Edition but also avoids the high fragility of low level characters in OSR games.

We need to use more links!

The number of RPG related websites and the frequency of post has gone down a lot over the last few years (though there’s a good case to be made that the overall quality went up as well). I would really love to read much more than I do now, but the way things work I only ever find new sites when they are linked to on pages I am already reading. There are a good number of relatively new sites around that are very much worth reading, but they are always so difficult to find. It’s almost impossible to find anything on the internet if you don’t know it exists, especially when it’s a site with few links that search engines don’t pay attention to.

Most sites have a list of links to others, but when I look at them I mostly see the same names who have been around for 5 years or longer. As more and more of these are discontinued new ones are springing up, but it’s almost impossible to get noticed if you’re not already known. My site had been up for two years before I got linked by anyone and just a few weeks back I discovered two new sites I really enjoy reading now and which have also been around for a year.

What we all need is more links. Not just when it’s necessary but any time you have some kind of reasonable excuse. When you read something that makes you think about writing a new post, include a link to it even if the connection might seem flimsy. It inspired you to write,so it might also interest people who are reading your post. If you have a list of links, as almost everybody does, don’t just include sites of which you are a huge fan. Also include those you somewhat regularly check because you occasionally find something interesting there. Also, write comments. I think everyone loves to see comments on posts, even if it’s a trivial “I liked that”, and it also puts another link to your own site on the internet. When you comment, other people will also be more likely to comment on your posts.

Links aren’t just the currency of the internet,they are also it’s fuel. I think there are a lot more people writing about RPGs now than it seems to anyone individually because everything is so fractured. When old contributors fall away new ones need to replace them. And there are plenty of people who are up for it, but they can only succeed at this if we keep supporting them by sending them our own visitors through links.