Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dear Wizards of the Coast...

Dear Wizards of the Coast,
You don't know me. You probably wouldn't want to know me. If I was at a meeting of your #DnDNext development team, I would probably be there to help you decide who to fire and who to keep. This is a job I've trained for, and I job I won't do. I'm not one of the venture capital guys, I'm one of the ‘problem solving people.’ I'm one of the "we are deadlocked and cannot fix it, please help us," people. I could show you the degrees, I could show you the résumé, I could give you recommendations from the top problem solving professionals in the country. They’d tell you I scare them and that if you could get me to work for you you’d be damned lucky. Of course, I’m busy dying right now (or not, depending on what the specialists say today) so I’m not working for anyone.
You don’t have any reason to believe any of the above. This is a public letter, in an open forum, and I’m not stupid enough to attach any of the documents above to it because I believe in a wall of separation between public and private spheres in life. Role playing games are my hobby, something that has kept me sane between stays in the hospital. When I have been too sick to eat, I have still cracked a gaming book and prepped for my Saturday session of Dungeons and Dragons. My 20 year old son plays with us, and it has brought us closer together. I, myself, am a second generation gamer. I don’t like mixing my pleasure of gaming with my business of problem solving. I like to keep things in neat little boxes that do not spill over into each other. I am many things: A niche publisher, a problem solver, a scientist, an ethicist, an author, a mother, a wife and also a DM. It is from most of these boxes that I’m bringing you this urgent plea:

Stop. Just…stop.

This is an attempt at an intervention. One of the things I am supposed to do when I problem solve is give you unconditional positive regard towards all the ideas you are generating. I’m supposed to encourage you towards divergent thinking…you need to have a quantity of ideas, not a quality of ideas. Quality comes later, through refinement. Right now you are running your playtest and gathering all sorts of data, you should be trucking along just trying out new things…you should be in the idea generation phase. (Technically, back into that phase.) A good facilitator doesn’t intervene unless the idea generation goes off the rails…some of the things we’re trained to recognize as ‘going off the rails,’ are things like when a development team starts blaming an employee (current or former) for all of their problems, when the team starts to get cynical (or even nasty) about their target audience, when the team gets defensive about criticism from other teams, even things like racism and mental illness are things a facilitator needs to keep an eye out for. I’m not going to tell you what message some of your employees sent out that was like a “help me, Obi-Wan,” to the Jedi masters of problem solving because my job isn’t to assign blame. My job is to get you guys to work together. That’s why this letter is addressed to the whole company, not to the development team, or even the one who screamed out for help.
I’m going to break almost every rule of problem solving in this letter except for the one about letting any one of you assign blame for the situation you’ve gotten yourselves in. In part it’s because I honestly believe some of you can’t see what you are doing, and some of you say you’re doing one thing and are doing another. It’s not a good thing however you shake it. Your messages, either intentionally or not, are projecting a type of desperation and dissention that makes your company look bad to people in the know and makes your company look like you’re indiscriminately trying to offend people to that segment of people who want to be offended. I don’t think you can see this. I think you are so deep into consensus-building that you’ve lost your heads. When problem solvers are drinking at their conventions after having saved companies like yours, they call the phase of product development (or more accurately, product destruction) you’re entering right now ‘having your head up your ass.’ Since we are paid to not be profane, we use more acceptable phrase “consensus building for the sake of consensus.”
It doesn’t sound like a big deal, consensus building for the sake of consensus, but when it’s called by its third name people realize it’s a big deal. Its other name is groupthink, and when it happens in medical product development, or in engineering, it gets people killed. You don’t have to worry about exploding o-rings on your Player’s Handbook, or that the hidden side effects of your Dungeon Master’s Guide will cause a ten-fold increase in heart attacks, but you still have a potential here to still commit brand suicide, and people like me don’t want that. People like me are invested in the Dungeons and Dragons brand. We’re actually more emotionally invested in the brand than other brands that have had these problems because some of us have literally been ostracized for our commitment to the brand. I know people who had their books burned by their parents because of Jack Chick’s malfeasance, for example, and one of my close friends briefly chose homelessness as a teen rather than give up gaming as his fundamentalist parents demanded. Most long-term gamers know at least one such story personally. You have people who fought battles for women’s equality and civil rights within the microcosm of their gaming community. You have three generations, maybe four, of people whose identity was defined as “gamer” at a time when they had some (real or imagined) personal risk in gaming.
That kind of brand loyalty is stuff you can’t buy, and, in fact, the so-called “edition wars,” have actually led to a group of people with their own emotional interactions with the Dungeons and Dragons brand, albeit with less risk than the earlier cohorts, and some of the unfair criticisms of #DnDNext are based on that brand loyalty. I cannot tell you, and hopefully someone has told you, how valuable that brand loyalty is. To give an example, there is actually a huge and apparently successful ad buy from Miracle Whip based on people feeling ostracism over mayonnaise right now, an ad buy that’s resulted in social media buzz…over people’s emotional relationship and group identification with mayonnaise.  I challenge you to find someone whose parents burned their mayonnaise, but people are still willing to sort themselves into mayonnaise and Miracle Whip tribes gladly, and post their tribal status to social media, often with the company preferred hashtags and links. Miracle Whip and the second most popular mayonnaise are, of course, both made by Kraft foods, which get the money either way. I want you to keep that thought in your heads for a little while as I continue this letter. Kraft gets the money even if their Miracle Whip campaign increases mayonnaise sales, because brand loyalty within condiments is very consistent and Kraft Mayonnaise users aren’t going to switch brands as long as the product stays the same.
Your product development is stuck in the consensus-building for the sake of building consensus phase because you are problem solving the wrong problem.  Remember when I said I was going to break the rules of problem solving for you? This is another example. A lot of the time, professionals who are helping a company solve their problems have to finesse and guide their group to an understanding that they are solving the wrong problem. Identifying the problem is step one of problem solving, but if a team comes in obsessed upon a problem (real or perceived) they are going to focus upon that problem until they make the realization that they are solving the wrong problem, no matter what the outside voice says. My own emotional interaction with the Dungeons and Dragons brand tells me that it’s too valuable a commodity to allow to be further damaged (at least without trying to do something), so I am willing to bend the rules of problem solving to get you to see you’re going the wrong way. You’re going to have to take my word for it, however, because I don’t have the time or physical presence required to allow you to keep problem solving the wrong problem until you realize that for yourself.
Currently, you’re faced with two major obstacles. One is the availability of your materials on file sharing networks, which is a problem for everyone who is in publishing of any kind–my own company included. The other is the fact that you’ve got nearly 40 years of materials out there and you want people to buy new things.  One model for getting people to buy new things when old things are out there is planned obsolescence, which is the current model you are using for Dungeons and Dragons, whether you intended to use this model or not. The problem with planned obsolescence is that it can create huge feelings of ill-will towards a company. Probably the most famous long-term examples of planned obsolescence backlash have been in the automotive and kitchen gadget industries, and companies have profited from selling themselves to consumers as the ‘lasts forever,’ alternative to the brands using planned obsolescence. Volkswagen, Subaru, Kitchen-aid and Maytag have each sold themselves as alternatives to planned obsolescence with great results.
Immediately upon hearing rumors of #DnDNext, a significant number of fans of the current edition began to get confrontational and disheartened in social media. They feel abandoned despite repeated assurances by the WOTC social networking team and even some uninvolved third parties that continued new releases will happen. Their general view seems to be that there is limited point in investment in further books and materials when it’s going to be rendered useless so rapidly. As social buzz for #DnDNext increases, these voices continue to get louder.  This is a classical planned obsolescence backlash reaction. As I said, whether you intended to use planned obsolescence as your prior model for dealing with decades of older material existing in garages, attics and lovingly kept collections or not, it’s the model you are using, and it is getting what should’ve been an expected reaction to planned obsolescence–the same backlash we’ve seen with everything from cars to shoes.
Remember as well that when the economy is doing poorly or is in recovery, planned obsolescence backlash increases dramatically. This is not going to affect young buyers, but it is going to affect the collectors and long-term gamers who are willing to give a new version of their old system a shot. If the social media reactions of the current edition crowd is any indication, your sales of the current edition have already peaked and if you didn’t anticipate that you need to hire better people. I don’t know how much more honestly I could put that. If no one saw a planned obsolescence backlash coming as editions have lasted less and less time, someone needs to lose their job.
According to your company’s buzz, the ‘goal’ of #DnDNext is to provide a comprehensive ‘Edition of Editions,’ to bring the people playing multiple old systems of the game into the fold of the new edition. This is the obvious solution to the problem of a glut of old material and the fact that almost all of it is available online for free, but it creates ill-will that not only makes some people less likely to purchase anything at all, but also makes a subset of people who would never usually post to file-sharing services angry enough to do so as a form of corporate vandalism. They feel you are screwing them, so why not screw you right back?
It’s possible it was never your intention to make an edition of editions. If that is true, I have to question the logic of the way it’s being currently sold to the public. Many people are aware of the corporate ‘failure’ that was “New Coke” in 1985.  Coke made a change in formulation, people didn’t like it, and then the reformulated “Coke Classic” went on to outsell the pre-1985 Coke–this second effect has often been called the ‘real’ purpose of the Coke formula change, and there are entire websites dedicated to the theory that Coca-Cola intentionally took the hit in the pocket book of “New Coke” in order to get the end result. Executives for Coca-Cola have always aggressively denied this, and no company has ever replicated the result of changing from an old to a new to a “classic” product. If this is your intention, it’s boneheaded. Coke was able to scrap their product and get a new ‘old’ one in less than 80 days. Putting out a terrible edition to get love for a classic one intentionally is a very dangerous gamble. Your more furious critics would argue it’s already been tried with Dungeons and Dragons anyways.
Coke Classic is actually a good thing to keep in mind as I lead you to the real problem you should be solving. Rather than trying to bring players into the fold of a single edition of editions, you need to be cognizant of the fact that a chunk of players have resisted this exact action this three times now, with more falling off each time and a significant chunk ending up infuriated and giving up on the Dungeons and Dragons brand altogether. While these players are replaced by new players, you’re always going to have that happening generationally, as the people who go through phase-gaming (those who game for generally less than 5 years) come in and go out and while the lifetime gamers either stick to their idealized editions or slowly switch. Ideally, you can make money off of both groups, and that should be the problem you are solving:
How do we keep as many gamers as possible buying as many of our products as possible?
The old publishing model was based on having a high inventory of products and selling the same product to as wide an audience as possible. This may be hard for you to realize, but this publishing model is dying. In college textbook publishing, for example, a University may order only enough of a particular edition of a particular textbook to cover one class, and as Publish on Demand (POD) technology has improved, this is what we use to fulfill these small orders. [For example, my own company is able to make 45 copies of one POD book for a teacher with a change he wants for his class. It takes about 10 minutes to make his customized edition, which we get an extra $5 for per copy, and only costs the company a few cents more and 10 minutes of an employee's time...we end up with a very happy customer and a profit and a reputation for going the extra mile. In addition, we now have that edition in the machine if he wants to order more.] POD allows publishers, especially small publishers, to retain huge back catalogs that never go out of stock and never have to be retired. Entire back catalogs can be released and re-released, in hardcovers or soft,  either by purchasing a POD machine or by contracting with a publisher/distributor that offers POD. 
   Once the POD files are created, when a customer orders a book it is created and shipped. For customers ordering through places like amazon.com, which our distributor has a deal with, there is no difference between ordering one of ours and ordering something from someone else, although in theory if 500 people ordered the same back catalog book at once we might end up having to add a day to their shipping. Using POD technology, you can create comprehensive versions of each previously existing Dungeons and Dragons rules system. Collect them into 4 or 5 different subsystems. If you're obsessed with using the old and dying publishing model, make the last subsystem the one you're going to market to game stores and hobby shops via old fashioned warehousing and keep all previous editions in print in POD. While you're at it, get them on people's kindles and ipads while you still have a chance to control that content. If you refuse to have them be available this way, players will always get them the way they are getting them now, illegally.

Mock-up. Not an actual logo. Provided as an example ONLY.
You can use a simple consolidated logo to distinguish them. Your players will not be confused by this. AD&D rule books get branded green (or red, or blue, whatever), Rules Cyclopedia (including basic, expert, etc.) get branded purple (or yellow, or whatever.) New materials can be created either for a system or for a comprehensive system. A module can be labeled with the blue, green, whatever logo or it can be comprehensive, working for all the different versions. Create rules for swapping between the systems and make books of how to go back and forth. Then....

Get the hell out of the "making a new system" business. Stick with one of them (or all of them) and instead become a content provider for that system. Create modules, gadgets, computer programs, games, worlds. Sell monster supplements, new editions of old books with fixed-up artwork, modules, pre-generated characters, maps, rulers, minis, grids, movies, notebooks and lunch boxes. Stop trying to tell the people what they want and instead, give them what they want. If people are currently playing four different systems of D&D (and they are: Rules Cyclopedia (including Basic, etc.), AD&D (both editions), 3/3.5 and 4) then obviously what they want is four different systems.

You can do it. The same public that's making some of you so angry by not all going down the path you want them to can help....just ask them. If you ask them, they will help. We will help. 


Monday, May 28, 2012

On the #DnDNext Playtest, Part 4 worldbuilding and logical questions....

This is probably the most obscure of the set of problems we had with the play test on Saturday. Most of these aren't going to matter to most people, and they are worldbuilding and continuity issues. Part of me is 'this far' from getting out our copy of Master of the Game and putting in quotes to support my points below, but I think it would be dickish, and another part of me is 'this far' from creating a post that has to use Rhetorics of  Fantasy to be understood. Instead, I will endeavor to behave.

Let's agree upon this, at the least: In order to have fun in a fantasy setting, there has to be some logic and order. That seems completely contrary to how 'fantasy,' should work, but without a set of rules, even a loose set of rules, things just aren't as much fun. When we stop having things make internal sense, sense with reference to itself, things break down and it's not like participating in a shared game, it's more like you're participating in a shared hallucination, with no rhyme or reason, which can be fun, but isn't something you need "rules" for.

This can get very philosophical and hard to understand, but let's work with that consensus, to start with, that even with "magic," things need to at least make sense.

To clarify what I mean more, let me use an example from the previous section of the playtest critique:

I object to the idea that the cleric can "defend" two or more people (giving their enemies disadvantage), simultaneously, by "interposing your shield." I object to the idea that you can defend all allies, specifically, by interposing your shield, within what is effectively a 15ft diameter sphere (giving a dwarf an arbitrary shape as a 5ft diameter sphere, which is sort of my shape, now that I think of it.) I have no problem, however, with the idea that you can "cast a holy aura" that gives your enemies disadvantage for the exact same amount of space. Giving off a holy light: That makes sense, even if it is impossible in our world. Having your shield be in four or more places simultaneously, while you have one shield, and defending people in all directions, that's 'broken,' to me. [I allowed it, because 'play as written,' I just tried to not think about it.] If you can't see how this ability can be described as a holy light and be fine, but as interposing a shield and not being fine, STOP READING NOW, because this is going to go into deeper worldbuilding than that.

[First, a second caveat. I play (and DM) in a magic heavy world, and the characters in it are "heroic." That means while everyone else uses 3d6 for their ability scores, players use 4d6 and drop the lowest, and are required to have at least one stat above 9. They aren't average Joes- they are a little smarter, or stronger, or both. Some people found the scores of the pregens objectionable, I did not. This is, however, flavored by that fact.]

So...Let's talk about the wizard. I find the wizard hopelessly and completely broken. Broke to the power of n. I am certain any smart player could solo the entire adventure with the wizard, using any of the large boxes in the dungeon as resting points. Unless the game is meant to be soloed, this is a problem.

This isn't about Sleep and the fact that if you read the saving throws one way, it's almost impossible to not put vast swaths of creatures to sleep, or even about the fact that the wizard's at-wills make you a fighter with an ever-full quiver and a bow that never tires out (you can throw damage constantly, all the time, without tiring from it or running out.) This is about how you got those at-wills.

You are a first level character. You have a minimum of training.You're an elf, so you're a little older, but a human mage would have the same abilities. Starting age for a human character in D&D has historically been between 13 and 20 years old.  You would have these same abilities if you were a 16 year old human from a dirt farm in the back woods.

You acquired these at-wills without money, without a high social class, and without years of training. They were so easy that you and the guy who smashes things with a hammer have the same number of years of training. You're so good at these things you can do them constantly, almost without thinking about it...

So...Why can't the bad guys?
If it takes a modicum of intelligence to be able to do these things, you can argue goblins, hobgoblins and kobolds are not smart enough, but if magic abilities are so easy some kid can pick them up in a couple of months and utterly master them, shouldn't they least be throwing around lesser forms? Maybe only 10% of goblins can do unlimited magic missile. Maybe they can all do it once a day.

You have stumbled upon a phenomenon called "the magical arms race."

 If magical abilities have no cost and require no training, then everybody gets them. Literally, everybody. There is no reason for anyone to not have them. The fighter should spend a month at that magical internship the wizard got, then one at the cleric's temple, then one with the thieves, then he can do all of them, right?

But this is not the only "arms race."

You live in a world where a good long nap will heal you even if you're almost dead from your injuries. So do the monsters. Every organized group of monsters is going to have healer's kits and know how to use them. You can just stabilize a guy, put him in a box, and he'll come back all better in the morning. EVERY MONSTER with an above animal intelligence will know this.

Both of these ideas will radically change how a world works...if they work for players, they work for everyone.

On the #DnDNext playtest: Part three, everyone else.

I realized, after I read the extensive notes on the wizard, that the hopelessly broken wizard is only hopelessly broken if you have a player with any skill whatsoever. Any skill. In fact, using sleep as a room nuke, the elf's ability to walk around in light and darkness, and using any of the many empty boxes in the store room for a long rest, the wizard, alone, could VERY EASILY solo the entire adventure.

Have you ever backed up in Diablo when there were too many critters? There you go.

So, other problems:

My fighter's only "problem," was that he was kind of boring. I Hit. I Hit. I Hit. I Hit. I fell asleep just now thinking about it.

The clerics had a combination of silly at-wills, a defender thing that made no logical sense at all (you can defend [give advantage to] two people, for example, from different attacks, because you have a shield, even though those people are each <5ft from you, even though they may be >10feet apart (because YOU, the cleric, actually have width, in reality, you're not a point. So if you're taking up 1/2 of a 10ft square, that's 3/2 squares from side to side you are "defending" with your shield, magically, without magic.

You know, the DM thinks, I don't know, you turn your shield to defend the guy on your right flank, you are not defending the guy in front of you, right?

Apparently, this is the "old school" way of thinking, which apparently involves hard math. The idea that defending someone to your right that you need to MOVE to defend leaves the guy ON YOUR LEFT undefended. People have written entire novels on their problems with the clerics, so I will let it go at that.

I seriously, seriously, think the only purpose in "advantage" in rolling two dice is A. To sell more dice. And B. To sell every DM who has to do disadvantage on more than one or two monsters at a time a die roller. Maybe it's a die-roller ap. Whatever.

The rogue's comments were largely about feeling a lack of special abilities, which could be fixed with "thieving skills and non-weapon proficiencies." His words, NOT MINE. Technically, there is nothing saying a fighter can't sneak just as effectively in the right scenario.

OVERALL, the problems with the characters are summed up thusly:
My group plays as a group. When they are coming up with characters for a campaign, they talk to each other. They plan to use their unique abilities based on what they want to play, what they want to do in the group. Having a system where all players can each do all things defeats the 'serving a unique role' purpose. Since a long rest restores all hp, even the cleric's healing ability is replicated BY HIDING IN A BOX.

The next installment is about logic, worldbuilding, and the broader problems, and will not be interesting to non-DMs, I think.

On the #DnDNext Playtest: Part Two: The Wizard: Magic as a problem, not a solution.

First, here are the notes from our player with the wizard  (except the ones I've covered already):
  • Hit Dice-Have no apparent purpose
  • No called shots? Grapple? Critical Hits? 
  • Baby Goblins have full HP?
  • No way to identify magic items.
  • "We have enough problems with innumeracy in this world for you to make the math in the game stupid or to make numbers not count."
I've already addressed lack of ability to identify magic items in the first part. Called shots and critical hits were always optional rules, so since we did "play as written," which meant a natural 20 is "maxed damage" and a 1 is a miss. Since I did "play as written" a natural 20 meant the players rolled the damage and I "treated it" (and I am quoting the how-to-play, here) as doing the max damage. (This, btw, is VERY STUPID. "natural 20 you did max." Not "roll the damage and treat it as max," which is what the How-To-Play states. BUT we were "playing as written.")
 As a DM, I have a problem with this. We use an elegant critical hit and fumble table for our campaign, there is about a 1% chance of injuring the party and a <1% chance of automatically killing. The player rolls the percentiles, knows high is better (or worse for fumbles) and the DM modifies the result as needed for the situation. This critical hit and fumble chart is older than 80% of the players at the table, btw.

Grapple, however, is very important. It could be resolved using non-lethal damage, but, frankly, grappling someone and knocking them out are different. We use them for different things. I appreciate that the rules for #DnDNext seem to be about the players succeeding as much as possible, but frankly, a non-lethal attack, especially with a weapon, should always be dangerous for the victim. Yes, there is a possibility you kill the guy you're trying to knock out!

Baby Goblins have full HP: Because we were "playing as written," the immature goblins had 5 hp. Because all goblins in the universe do, unless they are chieftains or specially declared goblins. Did I mention that I, as a DM, found this a dumb thing? Because if you have a herd of antelope, some of them are sickly, and if you are the lion, you go for the sickly one.... but, anyways, those are for a different installment.

Here are the magic problems we had:

Instead of being hit-dice based, sleep is now an area effect. A 20ft radius circle area effect. Here is your circle on a map showing 10ft squares. To make it even clearer, I've drawn a radius. To make it clear even to people who are dumb, I've also drawn a diameter.
Now, I want you to picture something, for a moment.
You have a room full of goblins. There are, in fact, about 30 of them, depending on how many have run in from other rooms at the thought of their offspring being killed and knowing the party is around. Thirty small-sized beasties. If you are being parsimonious, you may decide that each size small creature takes up 1/4 of a square. The general rule in the past with such things is that a critter as small as a goblin, rushing you, crowding in, can be as high as 8 in a square, but let's allow the game to be fairer, and let's say the goblins space themselves about equidistant on the map, and in the 6 squares that are mostly in the map, either 3 or 4 goblins fit, and in the 6 squares that are mostly off of the map, you only hit one. This, again, is being overly parsimonious, in that the sand from the wizard's spell doesn't need to cover you to affect you (again, playing as written) you just need to get hit with it, which includes everyone in this circle. So, what does our wizard do with the 30 goblins?
The same thing she'd do with 48-50:
That's right. A FIRST LEVEL WIZARD just took out a room containing a HORDE of monsters. A room that should require planning. In order to avoid sleep, and take the lesser effect, goblins need to beat a roll of 13 on their WISDOM, because while "Sleep" requires a WISDOM roll, you have a special line on your sheet that says that when YOU cast a spell, the saving throw DC is 10+ your whopping +3 from your INT. Since Goblins have a WIS of 10, it's pretty much auto-fail, but DM is mean and decides 20% of the goblins save. Those 6 goblins are SLOWED, so the party finishes them off before the rogue is done slitting the throats of the sleeping ones.

But that's just your sleep! You also have six at-will spells. And that's why, when the party discovers it can take on just about any horde and goes after a boss with no planning and no healing left, allowing boss to get the jump on them, YOU and the rogue are the last two characters standing.

CONGRATULATIONS, WIZARD! You are now a tank. You will have no trouble soloing act one of Diablo...oh, wait, this isn't Diablo, this is a group game, and you've been upgraded to the point where you are impossible to kill and as long as you keep backing up, never out of ammo. It's like having a bow and an ever-full quiver, only your arm never gets tired, and you don't need to aim.

On the #DnDNext Playtest: Part One: Technical Problems

I'm going to try to constrain this to specific problems with the #DnDNext playtest which are not about the problems with the edition, but with the playtest materials itself.

There are people in this world who are so defensive that the mere pointing out of problems during a test makes them sad and angry. The module and other documents were copies of copies of copies of copies, so things get left out or added in. This doesn't make anyone a bad person.

#1. How does the party know WTF this is? [Identification and Appraisal]
We went with the (rather stupid) assumption that the rogue just knew the value of monetary items, and the wizard knew the magical ones, but this takes away from the game experience for me as a DM. The fact is, there were no indications in the game packet materials of how to run either identify or appraisal. The party should at least have to find someone who knows stuff and 'Stay a while, and listen.'

#2. How do I know WTF this is? [Items that aren't described in the materials.]
The Wand of Binding was the first item we discovered in the module that no one knew WTF it was. It wasn't described anywhere but in an appendix in the module, but you couldn't find that with "Search" in the .pdf...REALLY? As a DM coming from AD&D (because both 1st and 2nd edition AD&D are the same game) I'd never heard of this. The assumption that I would know you'd changed the name of the wand of paralyzation and I'd be able to make up how it worked was a bit much since this is supposed to be a sort of 'one edition to rule them all.' BTW: On the how to play document, you created status conditions, and it's "Paralyzed" not "Bound." So, you know, it would be a wand of... oh, nevermind!  Put equipment with equipment and effects with effects and MATCH EQUIPMENT NAMES TO EFFECT NAMES.

#3. Map in Module is too low of a resolution. See also here. Dude, I could've fixed that in Paint.NET. You guys knew about this problem from the first playtest of #DnDNext. It was a frequent bitch.

#4. Um. No home base. I didn't give the players a KEEP nearby, maybe something on, I don't know, some LANDS, near the BORDER, but I did build an inn a brisk walk away. Players need this, especially since the module mentions ranging bad guys in the demesne of the caves.

#5. "It came without packages, boxes or bags." DUDE, do not put "the room is full of boxes" without giving the DM what is in the boxes. Compare: "Crates, sacks, boxes, barrels and piles of items are stacked with little regard for organization/The room contains clothing, food, stale beer and sour wine." with "Many bales, boxes, crates, barrels, and sacks are stacked and heaped in the large chamber. They contain cloth, food, beer, and wine - all of no special worth." Instead I dealt with "What kind of clothing, what is the clothing for, who is the clothing for, what are the goblins dressed like?" AND THIS WAS ONE OF THE BETTER rooms with "boxes." Room 16 has "barrels, boxes and sacks" that are apparently empty. Compare with, again, in Gygaxian: "barrels and boxes and sacks -extra supplies for the tribe. (One small wine barrel, 400 coins in weight, contains a good quality wine worth 55 gold pieces.)" 

#6 Pick one. The monsters either have a set amount of treasure or they carry 1d6 ep, 1d10cp and 1d6 bags of edible food. By the way, players go "What kind of food? Why is it in bags?" If all goblins in the universe have 5 hp, then they all carry 5 gp...or whatever. You can't 'make it easier' by giving everything a set amount of hp then throw random loot in there. If you have a set piece, you can also go "the goblins carry a total of 25 cp, 8ep and 10 bags of food between them."

#7. Lighting conditions. We had a character in the pre-gens without low-light vision, then rooms described with lighting conditions, then places without lighting conditions...sometimes he could not see. I ended up making up lighting conditions. My lighting conditions became a plot point. (There were goblins that were unable to see well, the rogue thumped one with a rock, others failed WIS checks (badly) and they thought Ogruh, their friend, had died spontaneously. They then failed two more WIS checks, with modifiers, as the halfling took out another, then a third. Lastly, he slit the throat of the 4th, who fell to his knees to pray to the goblin god to not strike him down, too.  One of the best moments for my players...but not others in the test, because I had to add the lighting conditions!)

#8. Smells. Yes, I know how the smells got in the module, but the party wants to know how they got in the room. If a room has a fetid stench, tell the DM why.

Most of these problems could've been fixed by an intern who can use word.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Armor Class and THAC0-without numbers.

The frequent argument that is made against the system of THAC0 (or to-hit charts) in AD&D by people who either rarely played it or remember the math being onerous when they were 8 years old is that the math is somehow mystifying or even difficult. The fact that AC went DOWN was very hard for some people.

As hard as this is for me to say it, who fought actual real math anxiety in school, this view is a silly one, based not on reality, but on math anxiety, and I'm going to try to show you way, without numbers...or, more accurate, with only half the numbers.

To begin with, we're going to completely dismantle how Armor Class works. It's not going to go from -10 to 10,  or from 1-30, or anything like that. It is going to be represented by letters.

A-type armor, the best armoring you can get, is so good only the best dragons, a few demons and angels have class-A armoring. It never gets any better than this.

B-Type armor is less good, but still awesome.

It continues on down to K, which is some fairly decent human quality armoring. K is like full plate and shield, maybe a protective item tossed in.
After K it gets worse to U, or Unarmored, which is the worst armoring can get. It's people like you and me, wearing lightweight clothes or nothing at all (well, I am wearing clothes, but this is the internet, and to each their own.)

You buy armor, and it tells you your armor grade. You add a shield, it goes up a grade, you add magical protection, it goes up a few more.

The player's handbook has a chart like this:

Your character sheet has a chart like this:
Your character is brand spanking new, so he has a pretty crappy chance to hit most things. At level one, he can hit an UNARMORED opponent 50% of the time (10/20), so his Chance of Hitting Unarmored Beings, or CHUB, with most weapons, is 10.

However, he's good at hitting with longbows, because he's an archer by trade, so his CHUB with a longbow is 8.This means he can hit an UNARMORED opponent on an 8 or higher.

So he fills out his chart for both dagger and longbows, because those are his only two weapons, like so:
 As you can see, he just counts from his CHUB.  He has a diddly's chance of squat to hit that angelic, perfect armor grade of A, but if you WANT you can keep going past 20 to your heart's content. Since a 20 hits automatically, he can fill those boxes in with 20s, or he can keep adding numbers up. It's his call...he's not going to be attacking anyone with Grade-A armor at first level!

When it's his turn to attack, his DM tells him his opponent has an Armor Grade of P, and he knows he needs to roll a 15 or higher to hit with his dagger, or a 13 or higher to hit with his longbow.

Can you tell what he'd need to roll to hit a L-grade opponent with his bow? An O-grade opponent with his dagger?

Congratulations, you just used AD&D style THAC0, and declining AC.
Here's the chart with the AC filled in:
A CHUB (Chance of Hitting Unarmed Beings) is just an arbitrarily decided number from which to fill in this chart. Your CHUB of 10 is a THAC0 of 20. It's also a THAC4 of 16, and a THAC8 of 12. Earlier editions of AD&D gave you this chart. THAC0 was always just shorthand for this chart.

OKAY, but why does this matter?
There are 21 spaces on the above chart. There are 20 numbers on a d20. For any d20 based system of combat, you are arbitrarily selecting where the number you're going to 'value' is going to be. For the chart above, we use the AC of 0 (Armor grade K!)

The BEST way of adding a permanent bonus (for example, having a +2 with all longbows, ever) is to adjust your THAC0 (or your CHUB, THAC4, whatever!) downward for every bit of bonus you have. On the character sheets my players use, there are 9 slots on the THAC0 chart, above, each with a space for the weapon and the numbers, and I've never had a player fill them all in (but I've had one use 8.) I give enough room for the person with the sword +2, +4 versus evil to use one line for "+2" and another for +4."

This allows you to only be adding to the roll on the actual die for temporary and status effects. Temporary and status effects (Bless, Blinded, Bard singing) tend to effect more than one person, so when "everyone has a +1" and you roll an 18, the DM understands when you say "I roll a 19." (My players, bless them, are more likely to say "I rolled an 18, with the bard that's a 19!")

Allowing you to add all the pluses you might have to your base die roll creates a ridiculous scenario where you are rolling a "23" on a 1d20. WORSE, it can create the scenario just full of cognitive junk in which a 20 doesn't, technically, hit. Well, see, a natural 20 hits, but a regular 20 (say 15 plus five points of permanent bonuses) does not hit. This kind of stuff insults me as a scientist. Numbers have meaning....either a 20 hits or it doesn't hit. If we're going to just arbitrarily pretend the die numbers themselves are valueless, lets have THEM be labeled A, B, C, D, etc.

The big problem with counting up, not counting down (a rant):

Most of my players through most of my life as a DM haven't fudged many rolls. I've seen a couple points here or there, and I've let it stand, and I've been a hard-ass and demanded to know how the hell something hit just to make sure that everyone at the table knew I was taking rolls for an encounter extra seriously. I created a combat calculator page with a table where a player could write down each of his pluses for a weapon (one side for to-hit, one for to-damage) and that made it easier to keep track of things. [For example, the "to-hit" side of the calculator (chart) asks if the player has a plus to hit from: "Weapon being magical or masterwork/ bonus from race or class/ + to hit from specialization/ + to hit from DEX/STR/, + to hit from Other./" then adds them up. Most characters are going to have maybe one or two of these. There is a paladin I have who literally has a plus in every box when using a particular longbow (which is an enchanted masterwork artifact which behaves differently for a paladin). It comes out to something like +12. (She's high level, so that's part of it.)]

Watching other gamers, I find players are more likely to cheat (and some of it is not intentional) when they are being told to add, and add, and add, to a die. If they have a permanent +3, and a floating +2, and a just right now +1, telling the DM you rolled a 20 when you rolled a 14 is correct. However, it's also easy to get confused and say you rolled a 20 when you rolled a 13... maybe you forgot to add your higher ground this time, or some such, maybe you added it twice. When the size of the numbers being added to the die are high enough, both the players and the DM can lose track of what's going on. That's why I like the THAC0 chart- because it only gets changed when you level or change weapons.

I honestly think, and this may sound dumb, that looking at a 15 on a die and telling the DM you "rolled a 20," makes a cognitive shift in your brain. It doesn't matter that you have a +5. I honestly believe that it tells your brain that the number on the die is unimportant, and you're more likely to lie, or even get confused. I think hard numbers, on the paper, saying you need to have a 6 to hit a specific AC , and saying you hit that AC or not, is better for the brain.

I also am giving my players information about their opponent. When they are hitting other people in armor, I'll usually give them an AC, and just ask if they hit it or not. If they have something they've never encountered, I'm more likely to ask them "what AC do you hit?" The party learns pretty quickly. When the party tank hits an AC of "-4" and is successful, they start looking for ways to hit that hard of an opponent. I don't see that in the adding up and up and up systems. I just don't.

Another thing I think encourages cheating, and I've said this time and time again, is high scores always being good. In uAD&D, skills and non-combat thinks usually take a low roll on a d20. If you have a die that always rolls high, you're screwed. I like the "higher better in combat, lower better other times." for that reason.

Then again, as many of you know, if I had my druthers, it'd almost always be percentiles.