Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Fallacy Of A Balanced Adventuring Party.

Let's clear something up, right here and right now.

Are you ready?

Setting down? Don't worry, I'll wait...

Good? Okay. Brace yourself; cause these words you may not like hearing.

There is no such thing as a 'balanced party.' Not in the sense so many people think of them. Don't believe me? Well let's do a little example here to illustrate my point. Imagine if you would a 4 person party, and let's say this party is one with the simplest form of balance possible - 4 fighters. They're all the same level, same race, and we won't even consider feats/skills etc. Now, you could say that you have a party of 4 identical characters with zero chances of being unbalanced. But here is the curve ball of a point - each fighter has selected a different weapon as their only difference. One may have taken a longbow, one a greatsword, another a mace and shield, the last a pair of short swords.

Even with such a rudimentary group we already have a unbalanced or 'un-fair' element many would declare as foul play. For instance if the fighter with his long bow gets his turn first some foes might be eliminated before the others can get in close enough to fight. In contrast if the foe is too big or is already in too close he might feel not feel effective. Is this party unbalanced? No. Because no party should be gauged against each other, they aren't battling one another. Instead the party is a team and as a team their effectiveness is the sum total of all of the members and how they act in concert against a foe.

A wizard may be powerful in regards to his spells but that is a limited resource that once depleted leaves him vulnerable. The fighter may not be limited in regards to such a resource but it is him who can protect the wizard and enable him to work his magic. You don't bench part of your team because their skill is beyond the others. No, you try to place your players where they are strongest and allow them to maximize each other.

Think about it. And while your at it check out this article with more such points to consider. A game is about having a fun enjoyable experience. If everyone does end up with such an outcome then that is what matters. Isn't it? The only balance we should worry about is between the players and the opposing team(i.e. - monsters etc.), right?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Breaking News; Trolls No Longer Content With Bridges And Caves.

Passion, it has always been both powerful in it's motivation as it is terrifying in how it affects some of us. For example, with the valiant efforts being attempted towards #dndnext, it has also brought with it something terrible. Trolls. And unlike the creatures of folklore these seem less than content to remain under their bridges or caves. Granted, this is all to be expected, and if such individuals were to remain under their respective locales and only confront those miss-fortunate passerby's it could be written off as understandable. But instead, what we find is a collective of agitated trolls who have left their haunts to stalk about and stir up any form of confrontation possible.

Common sense might demand a simple placement of an adage much like one at any zoo or wildlife park; 'Don't feed the trolls.' With such advice we could just smile, nod, and go on our merry way. The problem with this is that the professed cause isn't the cause. Supposedly, most of these trolls are citing issues with the playtest material, claiming various design elements flawed or ill-suited to them. To be fair, this is a playtest and Wizards did ask for our feedback to help ensure the best possible game they could deliver. However, like agitated piranha these folks aren't simply content to provide legitimate feedback - not even fair criticism. Instead they seem driven to feverishly shred every possibly positive notion they come across.

I've been excitedly following the topic of #dndnext since the open playtest was released in hopes of seeing other people's thoughts and reactions. I've even tried to refrain as often as I could from being dragged into heated debates over the issue. But unfortunately, like a well known bridge I have found myself often facing a troll as I strive to move on to greener meadows. Even negative feedback can be helpful, I can appreciate that from a design standpoint. But actively going out of your way to attack and provoke aggressive verbal exchanges over a subject does little more than to poison the overall topic. Weather this is a goal for some or not I can't say. What I can say is that with each passing day the more floods of negative commentary that continues to tear down any attempt at working towards an improved version of the game only drives me to believe that some people can never be happy. And as such make me question weather or not any open discussion is even possible.

Even if you strive not to engage these trolls, or feed them as it were, you can't ignore them without fearing for the future of the game. Because these voices, these loud negative voices are speaking about a topic that is being shaped by everyone who chooses to talk about it. And no matter how one sided or flawed their arguments might be they are being heard as we all have a right to be. If you like what your seeing you have a right to say so, just as much as if you don't. But with that that said you must also remember you don't have the right to relentlessly assault every opinion anyone else has. Say your piece in the playtest feedback if you want to shape the game's future. But, please, don't discount the process and tear it down without taking part.

It's one thing to enter into a discussion with someone on a topic, to listen to their views and then politely explain your own. Quite another to discount everything others say and claim to be victimized/ignored. Nonstop negative barking isn't helping your case, even though I know it will continue to go on; if for no other reason than that it disrupts things and feeds some peoples need for any form of attention. The playtest is what it is, a playtest to test out how the early parts of the game are when played. To expect more than that or to assume anything beyond what is presented is ludicrous and pointless. If you'd like to approach the issue with respect and an open mind I'd be glad to hear what you have to say. But please, don't presume to expect me to set here any further and allow tolls to run a muck like a mob while they demand my attention.

You want respect? You want attention or to be taken seriously? Then please, try to approach the issue with at least some degree of maturity or decency. And if you cannot, if all you can do is spout forth an endless streaming rant of negativity then return beneath your bridge now and kindly await some other ears. Cause mine will be otherwise engaged.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hammer And The Blade By Paul S. Kemp.

Let's face it, some of us read - a lot. And often times we all collide with that old familiar foe; the wall we generally refer to as "What do I read now?" Weather we have particular authors or slightly different tastes then most mainstream/pop culture trends we seem to find ourselves butting heads with said wall as we puzzle over where to get our next literary fix. For myself, this has been an arduous struggle that all too often I find myself in. I have for years found myself at a loss upon finishing my stockpile of 'to-read' books that interested me only to discover nothing appealing awaited me. Our public library's limited selection and lack of any local books stores never quite helped matters either. Especially when you factor in my voracious appetite and a somewhat picky taste in authors. Once I find an author that I enjoy, I typically consume all their work I can only to lament the fact when I'm done.

To further complicate matters, I've just never had a whole lot of luck in regards to enjoying what the general masses raved about as well. For example; I've tried Stephen King, and while his stories are wonderful, I simply can't find pleasure in reading them. Some of my favorite authors I adore, while some I can only read parts of their works. So when I started seeing one author currently dominating my reading mention one of his peer's newest work I hesitantly decided to check it out. I mean, if Matt Forbeck was raving about this Paul S. Kemp, it was worth a look, right? Like apprehensively asking for that one more card in blackjack, I took the gamble and found myself starring at a 21.

The opening alone had me hooked, ensnared if you will and unable to remove myself from the main character's as if I was compelled to join them. Because, well - let's be fair here: how many adventure stories can you name where the heroes begin knee deep in a tomb only to stop and realize they've no idea what prompted the whole ordeal? Not content to leave a task half done however they decide to finish what they started(since they've already gone this far - of course). What unfolds is a hilariously fun story that is anything but your traditional fantasy romp.

Egil and Nix, our wonderful heroes of a sort are nothing short of brilliant. While they may not be the ideal pair you'd want to throw your lot in with they continual prove to be two whom I'd join in with anytime. Even if they often make less than ideal decisions, they do prove to enjoy every moment of what those choices bring. These characters shine as what I like to refer to as 'face value deep.' They establish themselves right off the bat as being what they seem, and as you grow to see more depth it only manages to reinforce just that. Perhaps not the most complex and enigmatic figures in literature but this only helps to cement the fun aspect of the book. In short, you don't waste large parts of time wondering about/getting lost in the characters themselves.

The plot itself, much like the protagonists is skillfully done. It has been delightfully interesting without becoming overly complicated. I must say, having never read anything by Kemp before this has got to be a strong suit of his. One clearly fascinating aspect of the book is how the primary antagonist is himself both villain and victim. Forced into desperate action by the heroes who themselves had no idea of their involvement. It is Rakon(said bad guy) who continually juggles the ambitions of a power mad practitioner of dark magic with not only the fear of reprisal from his dark deals failing but also of a pair of sisters he lives in terror of. You can't help but at once feel that while he is the villain and his sisters victims, the opposite is also equally true. It is just as much fun to see Egil and Nix face the situations that befall them as it is to witness Rakon deal with is own side of things. Even though you clearly detest him and root for Egil and Nix!

Overall, the heroes are easy to identify with, the story is fun and fast enough to be incredibly enjoyable. All the while without the plot becoming overly complicated or the characters themselves taking on Tolkien-esque tomes of detailed history that could of gotten in the way. [I should point out, I am a huge Tolkien fan, there is no intended slight here. Just using his well known capacity for detailing every aspect to try and make a point.]

Confession time; I still like about 55 pages in completing this book, but couldn't resist going ahead and sharing my praise for it. Not only would I(even without yet reading the ending) not hesitate in picking up on future novels featuring Egil and Nix, but I would wager it a safe bet I'll be trying to take a look into any other work done by Paul S. Kemp. I'd gladly take part in any adventure those two set out on, and treasure every blessed moment.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Kobold Ramsey Meets Balfur The Blessed Bandageer - A Punventure.

Last night I had the great joy to get to take part in a little playtest of #dndnext with some good friends. @Steamboat28 took charge of DM duties and did nothing short of his usual to ensure an amazingly fun time. What follows is a pseudo log/transcript of the experience that I think will speak enough for it's self without me having to butcher the attempted recapture of what was nothing less than magnificent fun.

@Steamboat28: So, you saunter into an inn, on a cold, dark night.
 @Irvanovitch: Bar fight.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: Hmmm before I even look back at this sheet... can we name 'em? I wanna be Balfur the Blessed Bandageer
@Steamboat28: LOL.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: Yay!
 @Irvanovitch: Let's go you frothing neckbeard
 @Steamboat28: So, Balfur and company enter an inn, searching for ale.
  and wenches. gotta have wenches.
  but, the place is deserted
  it's dark.
  in fact, it's pitch black.
  (you're likely to be eaten by a grue)
 @Irvanovitch: Casting light
 @Steamboat28: the place is illuminated.
there's no one there.
  except, (roll a wis check)
Meatshield: 18
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: insight 16...
 @Steamboat28: ok.
 @Irvanovitch: 17
 @Steamboat28: everyone hears singing in the back room.
lots...of singing.
  what do you do?
(Meatshield says he's heading for the back room)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Healin', healin' get yer healin right here... we got a special on burned bottoms!" I will follow Meatshield
 @Steamboat28: (and since he's the meatshield, you're all safe for now)
@Irvanovitch: following behind the meatshield, with a spell ready to throw
 @Steamboat28: Meatshield opens the door,
  and you all see, dressed in chef's hats and frilly pink lacy aprons,
Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: So, can we take an action, are they surprised or what? cause I'd love to activate searing light
@Steamboat28: Initiative time!
 Meatshield: 15
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: I got a 14
 @Irvanovitch: ....Um...er...
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: so, it's cleaver reaver first
 @Steamboat28: yes.
 you'll notice one thing, though--
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: ginsu ho!
 @Steamboat28: one of the kobolds is dressed like Gordon Ramsey.
  he's decorating the cake.
 @Irvanovitch: * facepalm *
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: are you smoking kobold crack?
 @Steamboat28: Meatshield drew his crossbow upon entering (i forgot to type it),
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: I will light his candle...
 @Steamboat28: and he's gonna shoot Gordon Kobold in the leg.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: do eet
where is an orchestra when you need one... kill da kobold
 @Irvanovitch: Is the cake shaped like Stephan?
 @Steamboat28: LOL. YES.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: the cake has permanent disadvantage vs kobolds
 @Steamboat28: He shoots the crossbow, and it tears through Gordon's leg (23 atk)
 @Irvanovitch: ((LOL))
 @Steamboat28: (snerk)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: so are we down one iron kobold?
 @Steamboat28: He is hurting, and the other kobolds throw over tables for cover.
 @Irvanovitch: (question: what is this building made of?)
 @Steamboat28: (stone foundations, wooden structure)
  (the kitchen is mostly stone, due to the hearth fires)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: searing light on kobold ramsey, 21 atk
 @Steamboat28: the light blinds Gordon, as it strikes him in the face!
  (does it deal damage?)
  (i forget, and i'm too lazy to look it up)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: 19 dmg
 @Steamboat28: ...his head asplode.
  ruining his cake.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: radiant and the description speaks of it as a ray of the sun so... yeah
 @Steamboat28: oh wow.
  His head turns into a momentary halo of brilliance before it asplodes.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Can I intrest anyone in todays special?"
  go mirv go
 @Steamboat28: The other four kobolds are peeking out from behind their tables, two on each side of the room
PM @Irvanovitch: I'm stepping up beside the meatshield, and casting Burning Hands, targeting the two on the left.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: oh, do we have any oil perchance, in the adv kit? I forget
@Steamboat28: Dex saving throws: 16, 18. The table bursts into flames, and one kobold ducks, quickly
  (10 dmg, 5 dmg)
  He isn't quick enough; both burn to a crisp.
 You hear Draconic.
  The smell of rotting meat comes from a crate in the corner.
 It bursts open,
  the rotting meat inside spilling out,
  writhing with the Draconic chanting,
 into a massive Minotaur. [*Credit goes out to WotC own Chris Perkins for the idea]
 @Irvanovitch: blink
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: what?1? "I don't bandage livestock!"
 @Steamboat28: A great undead Minotaur, reconstituted from beef,
  growls into your faces.
  This ain't no soy, children. Your turns.
 Meatshield attacks the Minotaur with his greataxe, swinging at Chuck Roast, Jr.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Rancid beef be gone" I'm getting my holy symbol out...
 @Steamboat28: He cleaves the "beefcake,"deeply scoring the searmarks. (17 dmg)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: I will move to face the vile venison and cast turn undead
 @Steamboat28: The mystery meat flinches from Pelor's might!
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Get the to a grazery in the sky!"
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer:  what you got ray? I mean mirv
 @Steamboat28:Turn is different, I hope they beef it up later. har har
Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: oh we'll pun-pulverize this beefcake
 @Steamboat28: LOL
  We're so "cheesey."
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: we could be dead and horny like him
 @Irvanovitch: moving so that I can avoid burning my meatshield's ass, and torching the other two kobolds
  (ye gods, I cast magic missile at my brain to make the puns stop)
@Steamboat28: (so...at the darkness? ;) )
 @Irvanovitch: (...well played, sir)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: I don't think it can effect programming
 @Irvanovitch: 10 dmg again
 @Steamboat28: You sear the kobolds, but not the hamburger barbarian.
  They burn, along with their scroll, to a crisp.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Kobold-a-la-mage anyone?"
 @Irvanovitch: "I like mine....extra crispy"
 @Steamboat28: lol
  The (now literal) meatshield takes a swing at the only foe left.
 It slices into the rotten flesh, taking another wound (15 hp)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: shield us from mad cow disease most valiant meatshield
 still standing I take it?
 @Steamboat28: Oh yes
  Oh very yes.
  But, the spell was incomplete (and this battle is taking longer than some of our players have), so it didn't start at full health.
  Balfur, it's your turn.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: alright well then I'll radiant lance him 20 atk
 @Steamboat28: Your shining spear strikes at the heart of this foul creature!
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: 12 dmg
 @Steamboat28: The abomination writhes in agony, as Pelor's cleansing fire eats away at part of his flesh.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: oh magic mirv...
 @Irvanovitch: Magic mirv uses magic missile!
  It's not very effective (3 dmg)
 @Steamboat28: "Ow. Horseflies."
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: holy hamburger...
 @Steamboat28: The beast smashes at Meatshield, (attack 12)
  missing him.
 Meatshield swings back, striking the creature,
  tenderizing him back into a pile of dead meat.
 Congratulations--you've survived your first #dndnext encounter
equipment vs on the sheet

After this little playtest of the #dndnext material I have to say I am still really happy with the way things are handled thus far. I did find turn undead to be a little surprisingly underwhelming. But for someone who hasn't ever played a cleric, much less actually played in ages(I have been on the other side of the screen for years) I loved it. Spell casting was so satisfying and made me feel like more than just 'the healer.' Wasn't the one running it(thanks again @Steamboat28) but as a player it was very easy to handle everything. Only had to reference a couple of things during play and not a single chart or table was required.

My verdict overall is two-fold: 1.) Must playtest more. 2.) Need more material to consume.