Turn Undead

Once again, there is chatter about how Turn Undead should work. The latest edition of your favorite fantasy gaming is vexed over what to do.

Zombies turning and fleeing? Seems impossible actually. Skeletons so scared that they turn around and face the wall? That’s fun and heroic. Mummies flailing their arms like they are doing the “monster mash”? That’s exactly the kind of fantasy I wanted to be playing.

[Assuming pandering tone.]

So. Why doesn’t turn undead just do damage and increase you AC in regards to undead?

Why is this so complicated?

I think I’ve written this in 3 different d20 books.

The truncated version is this:

Your Cleric Level in d6 dice against undead X times per day in a 15 foot radius. Paladins roll d4s. You can choose a Feat to increase the damage and another to increase the range. This ramps up fast, so you may need to temper the values to match the edition you are playing.

You Level is also added to your AC (for the purposes of undead) for 3 rounds. You can select a feat to increase the duration.

Can someone get a towel for my brow. I’m sweating here?

King for a Day : Interior Spread Sample

I am a long way from the finish line, but this spread is done. Thought I’d give you a taste of the “advice” portion of the adventure.

Note: I used Ringbearer as the header typeface, which is going against my own rules, but it really is that damn strong. The body is Chaparral Pro, which has so many extra glyphs, I just couldn’t go wrong with it. It’s very strong, as well.

Blah. Blah.

Learning to Fight in RPGs

If you’ve ever played an “adventure” based 3-D, third person, sword-swinging, monster slaying video game then you know game publishers and designers like to “teach” you the game slowly, as you master each move/weapon separately, before moving on. There’s something insulting about that logic, but I get it. If you have to learn too much at once you might give the game a bad review.

Ha.

Of course, as you finish each new monster type and churn your way through the game, you realize, “Damn. I’m going to have to fight those monsters on the final level again, only they’ll have more hit points then. And sure enough, the final level is nothing more than all those monsters, in some sequential order, as you climb your way to the final boss who is an amalgam of all the previous final bosses. Oh how you wish you’d mastered the pattern to fighting all of them before.

Sigh.

Imagine if tabletop GMs/PCs treated their RPGs with the same disrespect. I can see the GM outlining his campaign…

Level one. Learn to fight goblins and orcs. Boss: Gnoll.

Level two. Learn to fight armored orcs and tactical hobgoblins. Boss: Ogre.

Level three. Learn to fight spectral hobgolins and ghouls. Boss: Ogre Magi.

Level four. Learn to fight ghoul packs and dread ghosts. Boss: Spectre.

Level five. Learn to fight spectral armored hobgoblins and trolls. Boss: Frost Giant.

Level six. Learn to fight frost ogre troll. Boss: Two frost ogre trolls at once.

Level seven. Fight goblin pack and armored orcs together. Repear with Gnoll boss. Then spectral hobgoblins, ghouls, and dread ghosts all at once. Repeat with Ogre Magi. Then fight trolls, ogres, and a frost giant. Repeat with frost ogre troll. Finally, fight abomination monster that has nothing to do with anything, before facing final boss monster who has the savagery of a gnoll, the strength of a frost giant, mage of an ogre magi (x10), and can do spectral stuff every salvo. Boss gets away three times. Final fight takes place on lava. Comes back from dead one time to fight again.

I swear, if a GM tried that with his tabletop group, he would be lynched.

M***** F****** Character Sheets

I’m going to hurt some feelings here. I don’t mean to, but sometimes your big brother has to tell you you’re a nerd with girls and you suck at baseball. It hurts to hear it, but it’s true.

Okay.

So here it is.

Your character sheets suck.

All of them.

Okay. Maybe not all of them.

Most of them.

A lot of them.

For years, these character sheets have been the final thought in the graphic design process (even I’ve done this at times), and game publishers have failed to sit down and think out, “How is this Sheet going to be the easiest tool for the player to use?” Instead of going on and on about advice, I’m first going to give you an example. Bear in mind, this was just the easiest one to do. I really wanted to tear down the D&D character sheet, but here is Dogs in the Vineyard by Vincent Baker. You may or may not know the game. It is irrelevant. His initial character sheet is okay, but not great. Here’s an example.

If you’ve not played the game, your traits, stats, and relationships are all equally important to game play. The area to write them should be massive and well-framed. This sheet makes them tiny. In addition, the typeface weight is very thin. While I appreciate that it’s thematic, it needs to be bold. What’s important must stand out from what is secondary. This is a mess.

Later, a new sheet was made that sort of realigned the areas, and gave a little more space for traits and relationships, but it’s still not perfect. Let me illustrate…

The great part about this particular sheet is that important game rules are right on the sheet. And while this is a nice improvement, the sheet is still hard to read and is not very useful for beginners.

Then comes along a demo edition character sheet by my friend John, which is posted at story-games. It’s below as well. The organization is so much cleaner than the ones above. In addition to being a very good character sheet, it’s also an example of how to do demo materials for your game. [More on Handouts in a week.]

That said, for all it’s successes, it too has issues. Let me address step by step, everything that bothers me about this design and what I would do to improve it.

a. Trade Dress. It’s great when a game publisher puts style into a character sheet. But there is no reason to tell me it’s a character sheet and no reason to give up so much real estate to the name of the game… I already know I’m playing Dogs in the Vineyard. I don’t need all this extra stuff cluttering up the design. You may disagree on some of this, but the logo is way too big.

b. This information and questionnaire is a brilliant addition to a demo character sheet. In fact, more character sheets should consider this, instead of filling dead-space with textured swords and page edges. However, a lot of space is going to waste. I don’t need an area for my gender. Ever. If I don’t know the gender of my character, I need to be hit in the head with a mallet. Second, too much space is lost with sample names. This is great for a demo sheet, but useless for a game you’re playing each week.

c. Stats, Traits, and Relationships are all tied together with the same game mechanic. They should all be together. Either on the bottom of the sheet, or all right-aligned. More importantly, the information regarding the FOUR types of conflicts needs to be easier to find and read. Instead of a paragraph format, this information needs to be in a list.

d. Since these sections are slightly-flavor oriented, they lack the weight and importance of items (c). My recommendation is to re-organize things a little differently.

This version of the character sheet puts all the flavor in the left-hand column, all the conflict-related statistics on the right-hand side (most people are right-handed). And the bottom-quarter of the sheet is a short-hand of the rules you might need/want to know during play. They are extremely simplified, but easy to read and find. Finally, it removes all the clutter and focuses on what you need, at a moment’s glance, while playing.

And to fully express my point, here is my take on a Fantasy-Craft character sheet (very simple to illustrate the point).

The top half is for combat, and the bottom half is everything else. If you don’t have the math of D&D, have someone fill this form out for you. But this is everything you need in one place, facing the player. No page turning and no hunting down dice.

You want it even faster and simpler… it all fits on an index card and you can dummy up the data for people who don’t like paging through 6-page character sheets.

Scrumbrawl Board Game Review

Let me be very clear. I want to love this game. I really do. The theme is right up my alley and the cards and art are gorgeous. Very dark and hard to read, but gorgeous.

But. I can’t.

This game plays like a 1980s board game where every arrow is tracked and Charisma has been split into two traits to recognize the difference between charming people and pretty people.

Sigh.

First off. The game feels like an unfinished prototype. It’s close, but not finished. More on this later.

Second. The game has too many stats. There are four card types and monsters (being the most important) have SEVEN things to track on each one. Passing, Catching, Range, Movement, # of Attacks, Attack Value, Defense Value. Not only is that a ridiculous delineation of values that do not matter, it’s just not fun.

Third. We felt like playtesters and not players. We were so busy fixing the broken parts of the game that we didn’t get to enjoy it’s soul. And it has a soul…. but….

Four. It’s buried under a need to control things that don’t need to be controlled. The sheer volume of rules (printed in a small typeface of course, because all gamers are 12 years old with 20/15 vision) indicated that the designer was more interested in stricture than fun. It’s a smash-up variant of the old “smear the queer” game we played as kids. Why do I need so many rules for how and when

Five. The turn order system made no sense. If I can’t move or fight with a monster on the turn he is summoned, then why am I allowed to summon him before the movement phase? Amateur mistake.

Six. The monsters are not balanced against one another. And in a game like this, they don’t need to be. But when everything is getting in the way of the fun, these issues of balance are glaring. Make your game fast and furious… make it feel like a real scrum… and no one will notice your game cards aren’t balanced.

Seven. Draw cards at the beginning of your turn? Okay. Guys. This is huge. People haven’t done this for 20 years. Players who are slow to read cards or who suffer AP (analysis paralysis) should never draw cards at the beginning of their turn. You draw at the end of your turn, so you have something to read on other people’s turns. One of the most glaring issues.

Eight. Dead cards. Most of the deck is monsters. But the monsters cards are useless in my hand once I have a full complement of three monsters in play. These cards needed to have numeric values at the bottom, so I could spent them like “alter reality” cards. See the new edition of Wiz-War on how to bring this to life.

Nine. Which brings me to my final comment. Wiz-War does nearly everything this does, but better. There is really nothing new here and it’s a shame, because it has so much potential.

In all, there is a fun little game under all this mess, but you have to do work to find it. If I was the developer on this game, I would have given a lot of notes back to the designers on how to streamline everything. We already decided to use d12s instead of d20s, cutting off 40% of the board, thus increasing the chances of fights and what-not. Since the game lacks rising tension, inherent in the design, a shorter game is necessary. Which is accomplished with more scoring and more deaths on a smaller board. You could ever play to 5 points, and on a 40% smaller board, you’d be playing shorter games. Cut down the stats from 7 to 3. Skills, Movement, and Combat. That’s all you need. The rest is just splitting hairs. Flying needs to be more interesting too and on a smaller board it just might be.

We have some ideas for incorporating diagonals as well. A lot of work for a game I paid full price for.

Sorry. I don’t have a good ending to this post. It’s nearly 4am.

How Game Conventions Reflect the Worries of D&D Next

Regardless of who you are, you probably know that “extra-special” gamer fellow who needs a little bit of help with his math while playing Pathfinder or who wears shirts too small for himself in mixed company, or who waits until his turn round the table to get his dice from his bag. Maybe he thinks “are you a werewolf?” is a good game. Or perhaps he’s into every new miniatures game that gets released and spends his life savings on figs, paints, and cases to store it all in. Maybe he has trouble remembering the simple eurogames scoring algorithm that is identical across 88% of that arm of the hobby. Or he’s the extra special player who always wants diagonal to be adjacent, even though it never is. Maybe he brings a dump-truck full of terrain bits to the FLGS every saturday morning and spends 6 hours prepping for a 4 hour game of Warhammer.

If you are anything like me, your special friend is 50% of the local game convention, people you instantly can see from the looks of them have “special gamer needs.” And while there is nothing that can be done for these players, we all endure them. As gamers, we have a special knack for accepting nearly every proclivity known to man. Now, maybe the convention isn’t a perfect sample of the gaming community at large. Perhaps only 25% of the gaming community is special needs. Perhaps if I went to my local FLGS (a horrible den called the War House that I will never visit again) I could assume that 105% of the gaming industry has a knack for some kind of brain damaged behavior.

But I’m not here to make fun of gamers who are different than me. And I’m not here to use my site as a soap box for the high levels of aspergers that exists in our hobby while we all look away and just shrug. “Meh.”

30 Years ago, the industry was an homogeny of white, midwestern, pasty faced math nerd males who went from doing science during the day to rolling up 1st-level wizards by night. By the late 70s, there were some 20 games (of value) to choose from and everyone knew the names of all of them. As the hobby grew, so did diversity of choice and the people making those choices. Video games drove a lot of the anti-social gamers out of the hobby, so they could play mudds, diablo, and bejeweled 7 in the privacy of their gamer cocoons. And the hobby grew more diverse. Vampire came along, bringing hot girls into the hobby. Shortly thereafter, CCGs came along and now rich college students could win at games when before they would roleplay and not win anything. And the hobby grew more diverse. But then RPGs died for a little bit, until 3rd edition came along. But the hobby didn’t grow more diverse then. D&D became cool again. Collectible minis were cool. Board games were cool. All of a sudden, there was a resurgence of interest, but in order to love Euro Games or D&D or Mage Knights, you have to start from scratch. You threw out all your old books. Or your started investing time and money into something new.

The hobby was becoming homogenous again. As best as it could. Women started being a bigger part of the hobby. The golden age had arrived.

And then everything changed. In the last five years, the industry has splintered again. Some would say for the better. There are more choices now then ever. Nerds made nerd babies and now those kids are finding D&D and “Are you a werewolf?” and every other kind of old guard contrivance, hip… or retro… or whatever. The fracture continues.

When I look around my game convention, a place I’ve been going for over 20 years, I see a landscape that is very different than it was in 1991. I have two friends from that age who still attend. Everyone else is new to me. Every group a subset of some other group that I would never socialize with, let alone game with. Those guys over there are showing butt crack and playing some spaceship building game that is nothing more than Colonia with different names. Those guys at that table haven’t bathed in several days and refuse to buy a new copy of Nuclear War, because this soda stained one is “just fine.” That group playing Basari seem obsessed with a game that fourteen people have heard of, and they are five of them. To my left is a large group arguing about AOO and instantaneous actions. It’s 1am and the 21st century. Isn’t it time we moved passed AOO.

The industry is fractured because we are fractured. We’ve been promised 24/7 fun from a media mindset that suggests happiness is unending. And when we find out it’s not, we search everyone for the next fix. Perennial gaming formats such as card games and board games have become fads and carrying D&D books is now hip. If you want to know why 5th Edition is going to have its work cut out for it, working to make everyone happy, it’s because you can’t make everyone happy. We can’t even make ourselves happy. Gaming is finally having to obey the laws of economics. Demographics and focus groups determine who makes what product for what part of the world. Mr. Pibb isn’t available in bottles or cans west of Texas. Don’t ask me why. It just isn’t.

Some games just aren’t for everyone.

And that’s okay.

Move along. There is nothing to see here.