Tag Archives: playtest

Happiness Jar #9 for 2017-05-19

I’ve been fighting a cold for the past several weeks (finally getting over it is the first thing going in the jar this week) so I haven’t been posting, but I haven’t been completely idle, either. I have invented two new games this week. One of them is for Looney Pyramids, and I’ll be starting a second round of playtesting for the latest version at the FLGS tomorrow.

The other game is more complicated (imagine if you could design your own tournament-legal figures for a game like HeroClix), and it was while using our Pyramid Arcade to test out ideas for it that I came up with the other game. I’ll go into more detail when I release the Pyramid version as a free game – next week if I can get enough playtesters tomorrow.

Several years ago we sold the vast majority of our Yu-Gi-Oh! collection to our favorite FLGS, reserving only our favorite two or three decks each. But on Saturday we realized that we haven’t even used those few decks since then, so Wednesday afternoon we used the FLGS’ nice big tables to sift through the remainder to find any cards that had art we particularly liked or might be useful as tokens for Magic. We sorted the rest by rarity, ready to sell tomorrow, and were pleasantly surprised by how much some of them are worth.

While at the FLGS I even got to do some playtesting with the store’s resident master of board games, who gave me a great idea for the game. Before I got inspired to make the game I had been working on adapting Final Fantasy Tactics‘ Samurai job to GURPS. I had hoped to have it ready for Thursday is GURPS Day yesterday, but mysteriously hurt my hand either Tuesday night or while we were running errands on Wednesday.

So a pretty great week overall despite the injury.


D&D Next Character Creation

When I first read through the new playtest materials I started getting excited. It looked like I was finally going to be able to make Brianna Sheàri, the female protagonist of the series of short stories I’ve been working on over the past several years.

She started life as a Wood Elf Ranger in Champions of Norrath years and years ago. I later used her name for an elf ranger in a HackMaster 4e campaign. After that I started writing her story.

She has largely kept the ranger theme: her skills are primarily focused on archery and wood lore, and she has some access to both elemental (mostly by enchanting arrows on the fly) and healing magic (infusing into healing poultices after applying them). The details of those skills have changed as my world has developed (for instance, elves, orcs, and humans are all different types of humans instead of distinct races), but that’s enough to be getting on with.

Naturally, I can only truly make her in GURPS, and have done so, but I’m forever trying to shoehorn her into various class-based games just to see how close I can get. So far I have only managed it by focusing on one aspect of her character and ignoring others. In D&D Encounters she is a Hunter Ranger. That gives her the forest survival and hunting skills, as well as the marksmanship, but complete ignores her magic side.

Then came the new playtest and it looked like I might finally be able to make Brianna in a class-based game. I started with High Elf since it gives her a free wizard cantrip, and made her a Fighter with the Sharpshooter Fighting Style. To gain her herbalism and healing magic I added the Healer Specialization. It gives her the ability to make healing potions and healer’s kits. I can easily flavor those as using the combination of herbalism and healing magic she uses in my book.

That left me with two unsolved issues: neither of her cantrip choices were reasonably re-flavored into her ability to ignite arrows as they leave her bow, and she didn’t yet have any skills beyond the ability to shoot and heal. Looking at the skill list, she needs Natural Lore, Survival, Spot, and Stealth for her ranger skills, and Magical Lore to finish her off.

The first problem I can solve by simply adapting Ray of Frost into a fire attack, or devising a new spell that lets her spend her action to add extra fire damage to her next bow attack.

The second problem is harder. As in the first playtest, skills are gained via Backgrounds, but unlike before all backgrounds now yield exactly three skills, no more, no less. Each also includes a Trait that gives things like owning a house and plot of land somewhere, knowing where to find a piece of information you can’t call to mind, or having contacts in various places and organizations.

Not surprisingly, the included list of backgrounds is short so it can’t possibly cover every possible combination of skills, but I can’t find one that’s remotely suitable for Brianna. For one thing, the only background that includes Survival is Soldier (which bundles in Intimidate and Spot) and the trait gives you a military rank, which is likely not at all useful to the majority of characters that want that combination of skills.

In 4e, included backgrounds were suggestions to give you an idea of the things they can do, with the assumption that you would make up your own (which I do with nearly every character). The playtest likewise calls them “Sample Backgrounds” so I expect there will be guidelines for making your own eventually, but if they’re all “Pick three skills and make up a fluff Trait” then I’ll pass.

As far as I can tell, the only way to have more than three skills is to take the specialty that gives you the Skill Training feat at first and third levels, but that prevents you from taking far more interesting specialties instead.

At that point my balloon of excitement popped. Adding further to my disappointment is that skills are now tied to attributes again. Their separation was brilliant and one of the things I loved best  about the original playtest.

It makes me wonder why they don’t adapt D&D 3.x’s skill points instead of being so restrictive with skills. Even better would be following HackMaster’s example and go full-on hybrid point-buy – but I’m not holding my breath.

So here’s the short version: I’m loving D&D 5e so far, except for backgrounds and skills. Those two things are very in the way of me enjoying the system.

Feelings on D&D Next

Naturally, what I details I can share about the game is limited by a fairly standard NDA, but I’m actually pretty excited about the release of the game – something I’ve never before said about any version of D&D, and only once about any class- and level-based game (HackMaster 5e).

The main reason I am so excited about it is that it uses an idea I considered for one of the games I’m designing (the one I’ve referred to previously as my “magnum opus” since I expect it will be). Since WotC has publicly discussed 5e’s skill system, I can actually go into some detail here. In short, there is no fixed skill list, but skills still add to checks. But now, unlike in the past, those skills aren’t tied to any particular attributes. Instead, whenever you want to do anything, the GM tells you what attribute to use and chooses an appropriate DC if it’s not an attack. Then you roll a d20 and add that attribute’s modifier (which are the same as in 4e, and probably 3.x/Pathfinder), and any skill that applies.

So why does that excite me? For several years now I’ve been working on designing what will hopefully become out go-to system, replacing the near-perfect awesomeness that is GURPS. The main reason I haven’t finished it yet is that I keep running into limitations in some or all of my core mechanic and have to start over.

One of those rejected mechanics was to do what WotC has done but while still associating each skill with an attribute, but I ran into two problems with it:

  1. Just as in GURPS, once  you get enough skills that are based on the same attribute, it became cheaper to increase the attribute instead, and that encouraged players to min/max instead of sticking to what necessarily fits the character.
  2. I couldn’t figure out how to do it without GM-determined target numbers. (Long story short, I only like static target numbers when the players choose their owns. Overall, I much prefer opposed rolls.)

WotC brilliantly solved #1 by simply separating skills from attributes. That just shows the difference between having a team of designers versus a team of one. Thankfully, thinking about it inspired me about how to solve #2 as well, so I may get to use this idea after all, and maybe even finish my game in time for Christmas.

Things got even better with Rodney Thompson’s recent article, Bounded Accuracy, which discussed the fact that while 4e showed increased PC power largely by increasing attack and defense bonuses, 5e will focus on increased HP, damage, and character options, primarily in the form of new or improved class features instead of new powers like in 4e. In other words, no more half-level bonus!

I feel so vindicated now. I’ve said all along that adding the half-level bonus and then scaling target numbers to match was just a pointless waste of players’ time, and now it seems like D&D’s designers finally agree. That is excellent news indeed.

The third thing I like is that, much like both editions of HackMaster, classes are highly customizable. As referenced in the Rule of Three for 06/05/2012, backgrounds and themes will allow players to easily adapt their characters’ classes to suit their personalities. A good example is the playtest’s cleric pre-gen discussed in the aforementioned Rule of Three.

Like a 4e knight (one of my top 3 favorite classes), he wears heavy armor, including a heavy shield, soundly bashes things with his warhammer, and has a class feature (granted by his theme), that allows him to protect nearby allies. Of course, being a cleric, he also gains access to diving magic. He actually reminds me very much of clerics in HackMaster 4e (aka D&D 2.5), who were second only to fighters when it came to attack rolls, and who could wear heavy armor and cast spells… and that’s a good thing, because I love HM4e clerics.

A large part of why I speak so fondly of HM is because it is a hybrid point-buy and class-/level-based system. You choose a race and class as usual, but you also get Build Points which you use to buy skills, talents, and proficiencies, as well as adjust your attributes if needed. So it looks like WotC has decided to follow Kenzer and Company’s lead and allow players to more fully customize their classes to suit their characters’ needs – the next best thing to the freedom of true point-buy.

If they later announce that they’re taking even more cues from HackMaster 5e and using real-time combat instead of rounds, I may just explode with happiness. That said, since HM uses opposed roles and player-determined target numbers instead of just GM-determined target numbers (which I loathe), and doesn’t hate odd attributes (why is that, anyway?), it’s always going to win out as my favorite class- and level-based fantasy trpg since I don’t see Wizards going that route any time soon. But it would be really great if they offered rules for both DCs and opposed rolls so those of us who wanted to play that way could do so without needing houserules.

For now, since AC and DCs all basically Take 10 (which is why you add 10 to all of your defenses in 4e), I think I may try the following for all or part of one playtest session:

  • For attacks the defender rolls a d20+AC-10. (I just realized I wrote that backwards when I originally wrote large chunks of the above as a comment on Bounded Accuracy; I put “10-AC” instead of “AC-10”. Oops.)
  • For DCs the GM simply rolls 1d20+DC-10 since the lowest DC worth rolling is 11. Unlike in 4e, DCs below that are too trivial to bother rolling, thus my comment about Take 10 above.

Whether it works out or not, I will say as much in my playtest report in hopes that the idea will eventually make it into the game.

So to sum up: I’m really excited about D&D Next (other than the completely absurd name) because they seem to be pulling in some of the best ideas from other games on the market (which is always a good idea) and making them their own, but without losing their own identity. All in all, I am impressed – surprisedly so, since I’ve never like an edition of D&D before.

D&D Next Playtest

I, like everyone else who signed up, received my playtest info today so now I’m doubly excited. Hopefully we can get a playtest game going at Hillside soon. Maybe Saturday before Pokémon League, or Wednesday before Encounters…

I’d love to do some playtesting on Roll20, but playing digitally is expressly forbidden by the terms of the playtest. 8o(