Monthly Archives: May 2013

Ability Scores Between 18 and 19

ImageCouple months ago I joined a 2nd edition AD&D game run by a friend, and it is… well, it’s about as much fun as I remember 2nd ed. The people are great. The game is a dog’s breakfast here in the Year 2000. But everyone already knows how to play, so shut up and start pretending to be an elf.

I rolled up my fighter, and the dice delivered me an honest-to-God 18/00 Strength, rolled in front of three witnesses. I copied all the relevant numbers onto my character sheet and felt duly special.

Since then, I’ve been thinking over how goofy that system is. Only Strength gets an “exceptional” percentile addition, for who-knows-why (it first appeared in D&D Supplement 1: Greyhawk), but really because Strength is the king of AD&D ability scores.

I started to imagine a system where 18 in any ability score got you a percentile roll, and gave you extra abilities. Maybe an 18/00 Charisma could let the paladin just rule NPC reactions. An 18/00 Intelligence would let wizards practically walk off illusions.*

But I like that mechanical line between mortal and monstrous. In AD&D, the line falls between 18 and 19. In the Strength arena, the line is classically between humans and ogres. Ogres had 19 Strength. Humans (and demihumans) could not get above 18 without magical assistance. Then somehow, warriors crept into a gray area between 18 and 19.

That gray area is a fertile one. Rather than adapt the existing system, I’m more tempted to try to create an alternate one, losing percentile scores to maintain the purity of integers, swapping in a Storyteller/Fudge kind of trait system instead. Nothing outrageous–the usual list of adjectives that give you story-based boosts to argue over with your DM instead of strict numerical advantage (though there’s some of that too).

So here:

When you achieve an 18 in an ability score, choose a trait. Whenever you interact with something that involves the trait, you gain +2 or +10% to relevant die rolls. In roleplay, these traits are always beneficial, never detrimental.

  • Strength: brutal, mighty, two-handed sword master
  • Dexterity: scrambler, surefooted, twitchy
  • Constitution: fast metabolism, tenacious, won’t stay down
  • Intelligence: lingustic, riddle-solving, well-traveled
  • Wisdom: good humored, needs less sleep, observant, patient
  • Charisma: charming, dangerous, kind, magnetic

Or just make up your own.

Magic items can grant traits independent of ability scores. So you could have Dexterity of 9, but a magic item grants you “trap-averse”, the magical ability to sense and avoid traps.

*Hackmaster, a joke game that got promoted to real game, has every character roll percentiles for every attribute, regardless of value. You can have an 11/56 Wisdom. I’ve never played Hackmaster, but I like that someone took this to its ad absurdum conclusion.


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Circle Games May Recap

Some friends and I run a monthly game night at the place where our church meets. I call it “Circle Games” although I don’t know that we’ve, like, named it. We’ve been doing it for 4 months now, and it’s been uniformly awesome. Here’s the Meetup link if you’re local to Philly and want to join us.

Just a quick run-down on what I played last Saturday:

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May Linkdump

Stuff I found in May worth reading.

What the hell is a roguelike?
Penny Arcade Report tries to hash out a definition of what “roguelike” means. More questions than answers… it made me want to try my hand at a definition, but the Wikipedia entry on Roguelike works for me (whereas the definition of AAA game was not when I mused on that a few years ago).

Anyone ever tried to do an explicitly rogue-like board game? Single-player board games are an underappreciated audience. And they will pay well to have their itch scratched… I learned this helming Thunderstone. I expect that audience would devour a good roguelike board game without chewing.

In Polyhedron Newszine back in the late ’90s, I published an article about turning the 1st ed. AD&D DMG Appendix A into a functional tabletop roguelike. I wonder if that could be revisited?

F2P takeaways
In short, F2P game devs do some things very right even if many of their games are unloveable:

  • Track player retention
  • Pay careful attention to UI
  • Care about social aspects
  • Remove barriers to entry
  • Update content frequently and rigorously
  • Quantify everything
This site is sort of a Yahoo Answers for RPG topics. I appreciate that its up/downvote system and moderation keep unhelpful chatter out of the way. I almost never have rules questions because when I don’t know, I’m OK with making something up that keeps the game moving. But the questions are about more than rules, and it’s a fun 10-minute browse.

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D&D: The Moviening: Part II

Dramatic music swells!

Hasbro says nuh-uh they have the rights to make a D&D movie.

Courtney Solomon has the rights to make Dungeons & Dragons movies until he decides to give them up. This is an established legal precedent.

Hasbro cannot NOT know this. Hell, I know this.

So my spider sense says something else is going on here. This competing claim is leverage toward some other end. I look forward to learning more on this topic.

UPDATE 5/15: Hasbro sues Sweetpea Entertainment over rights to make a Dungeons & Dragons movie.

Best quote: “Classic Hollywood shenanigans.”

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D&D: The Moviening

We’re going to get another D&D movie. Here’s the story.

D&D movies have a tortured history.

The story I’ve always heard is that a gentleman named Courtney Solomon tied up perpetual rights from Lorraine Williams during her period of ownership in the ’90s.

I’ve never met Mr. Solomon, and have only third-hand information to draw on. But the Dungeons & Dragons feature film he directed can do the talking. I will tell my own story.

In 2000, Wizards of the Coast did something awesome for employees for the movie’s pre-release: they rented out a movie theater and took us all to see the Dungeons & Dragons movie in the middle of the day. Hundreds of alpha geeks crowded into the theater to watch.

When the lights came up after, there was no applause. There was a murmur. Then we all went back to work.

The appropriate people inside the company continued to be positive about it, but I was surprised that no one seemed to give it the thrashing it so evoked. I’m sure it happened in private. But no overturned desks or broken windows followed. No one set a flaming effigy. We all just understood that something we loved had been treated poorly. Scorn couldn’t change that.

IMDB says that Mr. Solomon was an executive producer on the sequel (Wrath of the Dragon God)  but doesn’t indicate any involvement in the other two D&D-related movies that occurred since then, The Book of Vile Darkness and the Dragonlance animated release.

None of these movies have been particularly well received, so it’s hard to pile an abundance of blame at Mr. Solomon’s feet. But he still should be waist-deep in it just for fruitlessly tying up the rights for so many years.

And yet. D&D screams for movie treatment.

I think the reasons that this might be a good idea are apparent. Why might it be a bad idea?

1) D&D is about imagining your own adventure. The allure of D&D is your own ideas. I can groove on a Warcraft movie, because I share the characters and the story beats with millions of other people. D&D is shared though, in groups of 2-6 people.

2) D&D is a giant hodge podge. You can’t fit everything that should be a D&D movie into a D&D movie. So everybody leaves a little disappointed. It’s like the legislative process: lawmakers try disappointing everyone the least. Woo.

3) This is being adapted from a pre-written script. It is not the product of a love affair. It is the product of someone at WB looking at all the zeroes following LotR and Harry Potter and wanting to do more of that sort of thing, and hey, Hollywood scriptwriter, you’ve got a fantasy script cooling on your hard drive, right? That is seldom the backstory of a well-made artistic endeavor.

After being a diehard comics and games fan for pretty much my entire life, I’ve been frankly shocked at my behavior in the last decade. My own rank ambivalence around all the comic book- and game-related movies stuttering out each year seems heretical.  To me!

It’s just… I love quality even more than I love comics and games. I understand that not everyone makes that choice, and I think going the other way has its own benefits. But no D&D movie yet has erred toward quality, and this one doesn’t seem to be making different choices.

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Gen Con Guest of Honor

Gen Con logoI am honored to be an Industry Insider Guest of Honor at Gen Con in August. I proposed three panels in my application, and we’ll see if they feel any of them are worth putting my name on.

The one that I most hope will make the cut is “Religion and D&D–Where We At?”. There’s nothing new under that particular sun, but American Christianity has a long memory and a death grip on anything that has ever been considered a threat. Prohibition is still an issue in some circles. A 30-year-old scare is practically current events. (As recently as a month ago, Pat Robertson was still telling his followers to steer clear just to be on the safe side.)

Thing is, these are my brothers and sisters. And ridicule is not how you treat your brothers and sisters, even if their words and behaviors are ridiculous.

And even more than that, several OTHER of my brothers and sisters have been deeply hurt by the ridiculous ones. And those are often the people who show up to these things and want someone to give a shit.

Mike Stackpole has made real inroads on this topic, consolidating facts and data to refute fear and misinformation. Other professionals probably also have interesting, worthwhile opinions on the topic. I would love to listen to them. I’d also be fascinated to hear whether other major religions have had similar dust-ups. Is there a Muslim version of this, for instance?

Primarily though, I want to do a little field work. Find some people who have been smacked down by well-intentioned, but deeply dumbass Christian leaders, and talk to them about other ways to think about their loves. G.K. Chesterton will probably make an appearance.

Or maybe you just want to talk about Thunderstone. That’d be cool too. If you’re at Gen Con, I’d love to meet you!

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