Let’s Take 10

Okay, so I was on the interwebs yesterday, surfing about when I saw a discussion about what taking 10 and taking 20 actually means in roleplaying games.

For those of you unsure what I’m talking about when I say that, Taking 10 or 20 is the term in a game for when, rather than rolling a D20 to resolve a situation, you simply take either 10 or 20 as the result on that dice. Now obviously, this has some downsides compared to simply rolling the bones, as I’ll discuss in a second.

Now for me, what Taking 20 means is fairly simple; it is essentially as if you stood there rolling your dice over and over again until you rolled a 20, which basically means it takes 20 times as long as it normally would. More importantly, it also means that any negative results that would come about from failing the check automatically happen. Fail your jump check and fall into a chasm? Yup, that just happened. Trigger a trap and explode it in your face? Yup, bang.

So obviously Taking 20 isn’t always useful, and I think it falls to the DM to say when a character can take 20 and when they can’t.

Taking 10 is a bit more of a contested issue it seems. I saw someone suggest that for them, taking 10 was like a watered down version of taking 20. You try your luck 10 times rather than 20, so it takes 10 times as long, but still carries the risk of exploding yourself. To me that seems wrong; how can you try every possible solution, but only half? I mean, you either try it every which way with no concern for turning yourself into a magically-spattered lump of dust or you decide to be careful about it.

For me, taking 10 is your character only trying to do something once, but taking his time and being careful about it. Now it’s needless to say that neither Taking 10 or 20 can be done under pressure, so you can’t take 10 or 20 on opening a lock when there’s an ogre trying to smash your head in. You haven’t got all the time in the world and probably aren’t thinking particularly clearly. But you could take 10 on the aforementioned jumping a chasm. You know you need to be careful about doing it, but you’re not being chased at the moment and you’ve got half a minute to look at the jump, pick your spot, psyche yourself up and then go for it.

TL;DR – Taking 20 is trying every possible option, taking 10 is making sure you don’t mess it up.

Super interesting post, I know, but I just wanted to talk about it!

World Building: The Creeping Doom

I’ve recently started thinking about building a world for a potential D&D game. In considering the other day, I was trying to think of some kind of conflict that hasn’t already, to my knowledge, been played out in a game or setting, and then I hit upon the idea that anti-magic has good potential for a danger, especially in such a high-magic world as most D&D settings.

The world, which for the moment I’m calling “The Creeping Doom” is a high magic world, where people are used to living their lives surrounded by magic items, used to having mighty wizards perform great and terrible works and are comfortable in expecting that if they suffer any undue hazards divine magic can whip them back to life and full health at a reasonable outlay. I figured that in this kind of setting the most palpable force that could really be a threat to people isn’t a villainous sorcerer or necromancer king or anything like that, but is in fact something that diametrically opposes the magic that so influences the setting.

The idea is that, perhaps from the bowels of the earth or from some particular region, a growing area of anti magic has begun to expand. Called by some the True Death, this isn’t a force of necromantic magic sapping the life from the world, it’s the real cessation of magical influence. As such, it would be opposed by all factions in the world, both mighty elven druid kings and terrible undead liches. I want the Creeping Doom to be something already established in the setting; not some new force, but something people have been aware of for many years, centuries perhaps, but that has had some kind of resurgence in recent years. I like the idea of a world where magic pervades almost every part of civilisation, but can only really exist inside cities and towns, walled and warded against the ever growing True Death. Obviously, the idea that magical wards can repel and antimagical field is a little off, so perhaps some kind of physical barriers are called for. I’ll have to consider that aspect further.

The world would obviously also have its own politics that exist aside from this antimagic field, and have to deal with each other as well as try and halt the encroachment of this effect. I quite like the idea of there being at least one nation ruled by a probably Lawful Evil necromancer king, just because I quite like the juxtaposition that’s created when you have a life sapping antimagic field that is probably feared by the undead more than most. After all, most of them are magically animated; it’s quite likely they would suffer more than anyone else from the effects of the True Death.

At the moment this is all just kind of off the top of my head. I’ll think about it more over the next few weeks and keep posting up more stuff and crystallising it into a more usable setting as we go.

Steamforged for 3.5 D&D

Originally put together for when I was trying to make a Warforged Artificer for my friend’s D&D game in a custom setting, Steamforged are a take on Warforged (originally from Eberron) with less wood and more billowing clouds of steam! I’ve always thought that Warforged are instantly made less awesome when you realise they’re some armour strapped to a load of magic timber, and I really wanted a steampunk, clockwork variant, especially because it fit in better with the world I was playing in. With the help of the wonderful guys from RPG.net, I put together the following:

In all respects apart from as mentioned below, Steamforged would operate like Warforged.

– Required to drink the same amount of water as a medium sized humanoid, daily, as well as ingest an amount of coal, firewood, or other suitable flammable material in the same quantity as a medium sized humanoid would food, daily. They can have all of this intake at once (they are not required to eat 3 meals a day, or stop for water once they’ve taken the required amount). This is necessary to keep their inner workings correctly operating to produce Steam Points.

– A Steamforged produces Steam Points, to represent the steam-power in his inner workings. Providing he has taken in the proper amount of fuel and water for the day, his boiler produces 1 Steam Point an hour. Steamforged can store a number of Steam Points equal to their hit dice. Any additional Steam Points is bled off through vents, as if the Steamforged had used the Steam Blast power (see below). In addition, the Steamforged loses 1 Steam Point a day through standard operation.

– Providing a Steamforged still has a single Steam Point left in his system, he operates normally, suffering no penalties. If at any point he has 0 Steam Points left, he is put into an inactive state, and can only perform a single action: Stoking the Furnace.

– Stoking the Furnace is a full round action that requires a DC 15 Fortitude save; a failure indicates that no Steam Points are gained, a success garners 1 Steam Point. After Stoking the Furnace succesfully, a Steamforged suffers the penalties for Fatigue (even though he is normally immune), until he intakes at least 1/3 of his required daily amount of fuel and water. If a character proceeds to Stoke the Furnace multiple times without refueling, he suffers cumulative penalties, until he cannot move from lack of fuel (being reduced to 0 Strength or Dex). Then only an ally can revive him by refueling him. Intaking 1/3 of his required fuel and water will remove all penalties for Furnace Fatigue.

– Steam Points can be spent in any of the following ways. If any of these effects require a caster-level, the caster level is the amount of steam points spent to fuel the action.

  1. Light of the Forge: A Steamforged can spend a single Steam Point (or more), to produce the burning light of the forge from their eyes. This is spell like ability which functions as the Light spell, with a caster level (and likewise duration) equal to the Steam Points spent to power it.
  2. Burst of Steam: A Steamforged can forcibly expel steam from his body to assail an opponent. This burst is a conflagration of superheated steam, heat and flame from the Steamforged’s furnace, and is a spell-like ability that operates as the Burning Hands spell, with a caster level equal to the Steam Points spent to fuel it.

– Due to the steam-powered inner workings of Steamforged, and the small blasts of smoke/steam and pressurised air they intermittently let off, Steamforged suffer a -4 penalty to all move silently and hide checks.

– Unlike traditional Warforged, Steamforged are not susceptible to Warp Wood, or any other effects that would normally damage the wood in a Warforged. Their inner workings are entirely steel and steam.

So, there we go! The Steamforged I ended up playing was a really good laugh, although I’ll admit that perhaps I did go a little too much Marvin the Paranoid Android. Anyways, just a little bit of crunch to fill the time, enjoy!

Grids!

Okay, so let’s start with an oldie, but a goodie. Grids! Now, this issue only came up in my gaming circle a year or so ago, when Dungeons and Dragons 4e started to roll out. Before, even when we’d played 3.5 or another system that generally recommended using a grid, we’d just ignored it. I’d even been given a set of pregen maps in my D&D 3.5 Starter Kit, but mostly just thought that they’d get in the way of the game. The most we ever really used was abstract maps so people could get an idea of the lay of the land, never anything with regimented distances involved.

Then of course, 4e! You can’t play that game without grids, maps and figures, never mind all of the other stuff they try and press on you, like Power Cards and Map Kits, etc… So, when we first played it, we begrudgingly brought out the grid and dry-wipe markers, following the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure for level 1 characters. I wasn’t really sure what to think about it at first; it was very different to any other game I’d tried before (I cut my teeth on Exalted 1st Edition at the ripe young age of 13, try and imagine that!), and to be entirely honest, I was never a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons at the time, although that’s all changed in recent years. In any case, I was all set up to hate 4e, and, contrary to all logic, I loved it.

Yes, yes, I can hear your outraged gasps now, but from my point of view 4e is a very different beast to pretty much any other roleplaying game (except perhaps Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3e, which can go take a long run off of a short pier…). It’s more of a boardgame and a casual but enjoyable activity than a true roleplaying game, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less fun. In my opinion, 3.5 was always a compromise between roleplaying and mechanics, with overly crunchy rules often just getting in the way of doing what you wanted to do, and 4e took a sensible step by just taking it all the way over to the crunch side. Sure, if you want to do some deep roleplaying, maybe you should look elsewhere, but then again, there’s plenty of room for that outside of the grids and initiative rolling.

Okay, now I’m getting off topic. The real reason this has come to a head for me recently is that I’m currently playing in a D&D 3.5 game, harkening back to spells-per-day with nostalgia a plenty. We’re high adventuring our asses off trying to save the gods, or somesuch roleplaying staple, but an issue that often comes up is that of grids. Whenever we break out into combat in any but the most simple arenas, I often feel the experience would be greatly enhanced by a grid/layout of some kind. Sure, it doesn’t let you build up as much of an image in your head as perhaps you’d like, but on the other hand, at least no-one is going to go running off in the opposite direction to the enemy because “Oooooh! I thought he was over by the jaguar obelisk!”. My friends (and DM) vehemently disagree with me, but I’m just wondering what anyone else thinks?

Do you avoid grids at all costs in the hopes of a true imaginarium, or do you sacrifice some of the freedom of the mind in exchange for a little more ease of use in your games?

Experience; a currency or a benchmark?

Okay, so since I’ve been looking a lot at D&D lately, I’ve recently started considering the nature of experience as a system. Now, my background in games originated with the White Wolf systems like Exalted and World of Darkness; it wasn’t until I came to university that I actually played Dungeons and Dragons at all, and to be honest, the way the system worked was fairly alien to me. One of the things that always differentiated it from the games I’d played previously was the idea of experience. Now most games have an experience system of one kind of another, whether they call it that or “advances”, “power points” or whatever, there’s some way in which characters progress, generally from the events that happen in game, but it’s the method by which the experience is gathered that I was thinking of.

Now in most White Wolf games experience is a set amount per session and is handed out at the end to all the players equally. Some GMs will keep a single tally for the group, some might deduct XP for people who’ve missed sessions, whatever, but what I’m really focusing on is that the XP isn’t a kind of loot you get from monster or per encounter or what have you. It’s a means of progression for your character as the game goes on, recognising that a session spent discussing the party’s morals in a bar is just as important for the roleplaying experience as is slaying a group of evil vampires.

D&D, in most of its iterations as far as I’m aware, follows a different system. You get XP for defeating foes and beating encounters, for overcoming challenges and completing objectives; on the surface perhaps a system which encourages players to take more action in games, and to want to fight monsters and save princesses, etc… However, I think it does lead to some of the bad behaviours that I don’t particularly love about roleplaying; the idea that its more worthy for character progression to be conquering goals than it is to simply have a good time and enjoy the roleplaying experience. It also eggs on a situation where only players who were at a certain session benefit from the XP gathered there. While I can understand that rationale, I don’t think anyone has ever quit a game on the basis that the other players who only show up occasionally get equal XP to the normal players, wheras I’ve certainly been in situations in the past where I’ve wanted to leave a game because a GM insisted on docking people XP for not showing up or given less/0xp for characters who start a game late.

I think that XP is definitely a necessary part of roleplaying, as it allows for character progression. Without it, in long term games, your characters would never learn to do new things, progress their ability, go from young farmboy to king of the universe, etc… We need some ability to progress our character’s stats. But I think to use it as a stick to make sure players show up, and then again as another form of loot taken from completing encounters, just encourages games where no-one really cares about their characters and just want to kill the dragon to reach the next level.

Opinions? Which way do you prefer to hand out/receive XP? Do you think late starters/people who miss sessions should lose XP?