Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Eight More 5e Halfling Subraces


Ability Score Increase: +1 Charisma
Stalwart: Allies within 15' of you share your advantage on saving throws against being frightened.
Stand Fast: You have advantage on saving throws against becoming prone.


Ability Score Increase: +1 Constitution
Ol' Fishin' Hole: Gain a swim speed 25'.
Outdoorsy: Gain a climb speed 25'.


Ability Score Increase: +1 Constitution
Harvester: You gain training in Animal Handling and Nature. You also gain proficiency with sickles and whips.


Ability Score Increase: +1 Constitution
Hardy Stock: You have Resistance to cold damage.


Ability Score Increase: +1 Constitution
Equinox: At any point you may spend a Hit Die to add the result to a death saving throw.
Renewal: At any point you may spend a Hit Die to gain advantage on a Charisma check.


Gift of Gab: You learn 2 languages of your choice and a variant form of Halfling called Jang, only known to other Vagabond Halflings.
Tool Proficiency: You gain training with a Cartographer's Tools.
Skill Proficiency: You gain training in Survival.


Ability Score Increase: +1 Wisdom
Soulful Eyes: You have advantage on saving throws against becoming blinded.
Sharp Ears: You have advantage on saving throws against becoming deafened.


Ability Score Bonus: +1 Charisma
Unrelenting: You ignore your first point of exhaustion, except from magically induced exhaustion.
Change the Game: Once per day, when you are called on to make either a Constitution or Wisdom save, you may choose to save using either Ability Score.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

5e Alternate Class- the Killer

With the Killer the idea is to trade a bit of VDND design philosophy where no one should be necessarily better than anything and basically everybody can have magic spells (wizards get a couple more! wow!) and the real treasure was friendship for, well, a bit of BX/LOTFP philosophy: the strength of the Fighter shouldn't be that he can get more feats than everyone or that he can stab and cast magic missile, the strength of the fighter as a core class concept is that he's the best at fighting.

Flash has to be faster than Superman otherwise there is fundamentally no reason for him to be there. Vibrating through shit, speedlending, come off it with that shit. Superman's right there, any trick like that you pull he can duplicate with some hitherto unexplored duper power or he has something back in his Ice Town that does, and it's the kryptonian equivalent of a drinking bird, the kind of garbage you give someone you actively dislike for dirty santa. "Oh a molecular de-syncher, thanks Jo-Ann, the one I got last year broke at the bottom of a space well somehow." Batman's there because he works harder, Green Lantern's there because he's practically a Jack Kirby character, Wonder Woman's there because she's perfect, the Martian's there because he has more powers than Superman, and Aquaman's there because in a very real sense all these other people are on his planet.

Likewise and cribbing from myself either you only need a Fighter or you have rangers and paladins and monks and barbarians and archers and almost every other class can take martial paths and pick up combat feats and you don't really need a Fighter at all. Time was the Fighter was best at fighting and if you wanted someone who was best at fighting and could do other stuff you had to level about 25% as fast overall, and/or get some frankly astounding rolls for 3d6 in order. The qualifiers have been sanded off and everything's even now, which makes things decidedly uneven.

At level 1 a Fighter is competitive but they're blown out of the water as early as levels 2-3 in terms of both versatility (said to be a part of the design philosophy of the 5e fighter) and regular damage output. Everyone also has to really work at getting any better at hitting anything, and all things being equal a level 20 fighter has a near identical chance of hitting Tiamat with his Doomsabre as a level 20 Druid has of hitting something with an ordinary rock.

Oh you can up the Fighter's usability, combat capabilities, lethality, sure, no problem, but it does involve a lot of toggling. I've DMd enough VDND at this point that I can tell you "not as flashy as a lot of other options unless you focus on flipping these switches and what did you have left and when does that reset and oh crap I forgot my feat can I reroll damage on that guy from my turn" loses out pretty much every time, especially (important point) for players who are either NEW or who simply DON'T IMMERSE THEMSELVES IN THESE BOOKS. The people who don't comb shit shit nearly as much as we do but still love playing. To them that's a lot of work for little reward.

So using only the rules and tools available to us, without rewriting the Fighter entirely, how can we make him better at Fighting as straightforwardly as possible...


All we're doing is presenting options, see. It starts with a Fighting Style option only the Fighter can take
On a round in which you miss all attacks against a target, you may deal a minimum damage to that target as a bonus action. This damage is equal to your Proficiency Bonus, plus any magical damage improvements from your weapon.

Then  we give them an option for a Martial Archetype


At 3rd level you gain +1 to hit for all attacks. Any time you would gain a Martial Archetype feature (7, 10, 15, 18) this improves by +1, to a total of +5 at level 18.

This is nowhere near as competitive in terms of versatility or magic but it gives consistent bonuses without having to mess with Maneuver Dice and at the high end covers the spread to give an effect close to Advantage on each attack without actually offering that since the potential spread there is much much larger.

Finally we give them another option. Now a lot of DMs, in fact most I think, give players the option of either Ability Score Improvement at certain levels or choosing a Feat. Certainly in this respect the Fighter seems designed around this option, looking a lot like a 3e/Pathfinder Fighter from that perspective. A Battle Master Fighter fully decked out with Feats sounds like an incredibly fiddly bunch of moving parts and I may indeed have to do that one day if I ever miss playing 4e.

We keep Feats as an option, explicitly so, but offer an additional option: at each level you can take an Ability Score Improvement you may also elect, instead, to gain +1 to your damage for all attacks.

We're talking about a cumulative +5 to hit, +7 to damage, and 6 damage per target on a miss by level 20. We have not added anything to the sheet, we just increased the numbers in a couple places and used one number differently from its intent. Again short of going back to BX or LOTFP this is going to be as straightforward as it gets.

What does this look like over time? Let's assume a respective 20 Strength or Dex and calculate using an existing +5 to hit and +5 damage. All else being equal the Fighter still never attains the max damage output of other fighter-plus classes but all those require other features which need to be managed and refreshed. If those resources go to other areas or are unrefreshed, the Killer does stand above the rest in a straight fight in terms of accuracy but not so far above the rest that it's a case of "we'll let the Fighter handle this," especially since all VDND guys have big hit point buckets. Their max damage output is still never the highest possible but it's the higher than other class' naked combat scores.

You can get higher bonuses than this with other class features from other classes and even the potential for a higher bonus within the Battle Master but those all require exhaustible resources and management of the same. A naked fight is usually in the Killer's favor because we altered naked values, and the tradeoff is being less good at yelling and jumping and shit. Importantly thanks to the Backslice Fighting Style option the Killer Fighter becomes very valuable on a team getting its ass handed to them by bad rolls all night.

Friday, January 15, 2016

REVIEW: Queenwood Gambol, by Duggan Guapo

The Adder Entertainment Tattoo Society were out in force at this year's GenCon, as usual, bringing multiple hotels to a screeching halt with their elevator revenge schemes. You wouldn't know it to hear what is laughably called the gaming press; however, Raven got caught in a stairwell during the siege and saw some of the responders from the fire station. If only he hadn't been sidelined because one of the arrests this year was someone I was pretty sure had washed his hands of Æ altogether: two time (and sole male, and sole individual) holder of the women's tag team belt from the Continental Wrestling Association and once hailed apocalypse messiah Duggan "Guapo" Esperanza.

To say that the Satanic Panic in all respects in the American 70s and early 80s was overblown nonsense would be both accurate and yet inaccurate in the scope of how fucking accurate it would be. To say that there was a lot of hand-wringing and panic as the millennium dawned (for people who suck at math), be it from the doom of our own technology destroying us or God on high smoting us aflame would, again, be correct but woefully insufficient to convey the madness. These panics had a bit of synergy with the doomsday cult that rose when Adder Entertainment reincorporated on the eve of the destruction of all things. Surely this was the heralding message of end times and must be heeded as hosannas on high. That was the theory amongst a lot of poor crazies and bridesmaids to Columbine, and nowhere did this take hold stronger than the Tattoo Society. For like three years there, until Gemma Fatale took over, the Society was synonymous with "dangerous laughing stock," a description which covers Guapo pretty well now that I think about it.

The idea with the birth of the second age was to find people who not only never had made game content before but never would unless...coerced. Riverboat smuggler and the People's Comptroller after his star fell in the ring (after chewing tobacco took his jaw and throat he wasn't much of a "face" and certainly less Guapo, so WCW decided to pass on his bid), Guapo was the child of an Argentinian Nazi and a Colombian coca girl. Æ pinged him on their radar thanks to an unintelligible but moving speech he delivered at a Wrigley Field flag retirement ceremony. The event did not specify from which side of the war they were seeking sons of veterans...

A trial internship blossomed into Guapo's position as the Æ forums' first SYSOP. The animal musk between he and the Tattoo Society was immediate and obvious.

Working alongside Odell Jefferson, Guapo was tapped to help fill out the third wave quartet for Æ's new catalog. Queenwood Gambol is basically the kind of gift that the Corvette Stingray or Plan 9 From Outer Space are: so of its time that whether it's good or bad is almost immaterial. It's a completely closed system, a short story about mountain lions screamed through graph paper from the distance of a 20-year-old concussion. The thing is a dissertation against Guapo's own origin story and the spheres of influence exerted by the Dancer castigate, in turn, white supremacy, banana republics, action movie style 80s corporate excess, religious persecution, and some Captain Planet shit around the corners.

The Dancer has been seen for three nights. With him has come the usual tokens of demonic influence - black-blighted crops, less animals, MORE animals, a foetid stink, a blush of ruinous lasciviousness. Hunt and end him. But within the wood there are a dozen glamour traps and weird nihilistic whorls of Titania and Escobar.

This is the kind of entire adventure that the current creative collective would reproduce in, say, 20 or so hexes as part of a much larger crawl. That's not itself a knock on the content of the adventure, just to say that the framing context to kick off the adventure is minimal enough that even plonking it down and luring your players to it is an odd bet. More likely this was a "I bought this so we're playing this" kind of purchase. There's not an investment to be had beyond what so many video game RPGs are guilty of: look boy, content, go grind through it, go get it, good boy, sic em. I don't even think it would be improved as something of a random encounter sort of setup...this thing cries out to be part of a larger work but as one of the venerated Æ tradition of One Hit Wonders that would never be.

The Okenlady is divided into "spheres of influence" laid out loosely over a grid. Most of these circles are laid out as subsets of one another, with three large circles intersecting the others. If you are in an undisturbed diamond you'll roll for a result for that space like normal. If you are in a sphere which the Dancer has just left, you roll on a different table. Same for if you are in a sphere that overlaps with one the Dancer is in, or if the Dancer moves into your sphere on its round. Only by moving deliberately to the sphere in which the Dancer currently operates do you face it head on.

The Dancer moves spheres of influence three times in the night and then he's gone. It's up to the person running whether the Dancer is avoiding the party, crashing after them, or whether its movements are random or unconcerned with the party's place. The longer it takes to defeat him the lower his defenses are, so the easier it is to defeat him in theory. In practice there are usually still a lot of forest hazards and monstrous coterie to contend with each night, so it has a gradual cheese grater effect on a group unable to fully rest up before night falls again and the dance begins anew.

There are a lot of bog standard enemy types here, approaching gonzo-random-dungeon levels, but they aren't collected here for an archplot reason or united in this cam-pak by their unique-to-this-setting abilities. Instead they are unique in their experiences. See whatever "phase" of the dance you're in affects now just what you encounter but what that creature has been through. Eyes in the dark. Starving and lurching from fires. The mass graves. This stuff hangs on them like armor, in that you're meant to read this stuff out during the players' rounds, overloading them with atmospheric information and being signal noise for their actions and plans. Sometimes getting sympathy. Then they either strike boldly to a beast or just...wander off and suffer more in the night.

This is how it's meant to work. In practice, no it doesn't. Everyone politely waits for you to stop speaking and then they try to backstab it.

There is also the DELIGHTFUL mechanic that betrays Guapo's CV, collecting the faces of all the creatures in Okenlady after you defeat them in order to display your power.

After the apocalypse didn't happen a lot of wind went out of the doomsday cult, and after 11/9 happened a lot of the dark side of the hobby expatriated along with Guapo. I understand he's in a military prison after the GenCon arrest so that''s nnnnneat. Thank fuck Gemma Fatale came along when she did...Guapo himself seems to have had quite the underwhelming interim, serving as of all things a chiropractic therapist (unlicensed: those fools called him mad, MAD). It remains to be seen what else will come to light, how this story will end.

Queenwood Gambol is a lesser effort from Adder Entertainment and it's hard to judge it outside of its own spectrum. Archaic and often even offensive by today's standards, it was still forward thinking in both ethos and design by the standards of Guapo's generation. If it's a sinner it's only of omission, and if it's a saint it's only for the virtue of being impossible to describe as "mediocre."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie Died

Saturday night the party finds themselves fairly surrounded and boxed in and, thanks to their clever thinking, effectively blinded with something like 20 boars, 8 giant boars, and a wereboar type guy breathing down their necks. Their solution is to use the scroll of demon summoning they got from the DO NOT USE THESE ITEMS closet. They elect to summon a 30HD demon, but botch the roll and summon a 36HD demon. I don't want to break flow to generate that so here's two not-even-reskinned-really 5e mariliths. They control ONE of these. The wereboar summons the mass of boars to his side to save him from a burning building and the party forces the mariliths to fight, nearly get killed yet again, and then good marilith teleports uncontrolled marilith and herself into the house fire. The party hauls ass and very inexpertly makes their way out of the rocky coastline, nearly sinking their vessel in the process.

Later some other stuff happens. Sunday I play a video game. I'm halfway through a climactic robot battle when I get a message. I'm selling my house right now and squatting in a mostly-finished apartment on some swampland my parents bought some years back. Seller's agent will not let the seller close until I remove the paint, tile, garage door parts, and other items that are not mine. They predate me at the house and are there for repairs and touch-ups. They want everything beige though so now I have a problem: I'd left myself a window driving in Monday (6hr drive) to swing by and get my shit but the items that I intended to pick up Monday will have to be thrown away so I can instead fill my car with paint and chemicals and stuff I can't conventionally dispose of at the curb, unless I'm able to get to the dump. I haven't left time for either. Time to grab 2 shirts and my deodorant and hop in the car.

If I drive an hour and a half out of my way I can essentially get a place to stay for $20 in gas, thanks to my family's proximity to my old place. Lot of final errands to run and things to bring with me, but not my wife because she has an important appointment on Monday. I can get to their place at midnight, get up at 6, and give myself a 3 hr window before closing to clean my garage, get to the dump, get my other crap, then swing by the comic shop for my W2, all before meeting at the attorney's office for closing.

I've got The Martian audiobook and we become very good friends. Saw the movie already but always intended to do the audiobook, since I thought it would be more enjoyable than reading it. I've got a very strict schedule to keep, it's dark, I'm alone, I've got to keep moving, I've got to check in regularly with multiple parties to report my progress, and it's cold. If I miss any of my windows it'll be a disaster. I am the martian tonight.

I've carefully planned ahead for supplies, plenty of caffeine, lots of water to keep my body balanced, just a little sugar, plenty of protein. On a stop for refueling I pick up one of the most disgusting things I've ever put into my mouth. Peanut butter and cheese crackers from the dawn of time. There's about five little rants I could go on about this but it's fine, least of my problems. I'm at the door by midnight exactly. Shower. Asleep by 1. Up at 6:30. Late already. Thank you, goodbye, on the road, it's gonna be a bad day but at least it's all in front of me. I'm in the car for like 15 minutes when I get a call.

David Bowie died. Bad beginning to a bad day.

In my CD player is the 1990 CD rerelease of David Bowie/Space Oddity. On my phone is The Next Day and Hunky Dory, but since iTunes is a rutting goat that refuses to let me download Andy Warhol after paying for the same album twice I also have a copy of Hunky Dory in the seat next to me, purchased only a couple weeks ago. Somehow the case is already covered in something. For obvious reasons Bowie was already on my mind a lot during The Martian and is even name checked a couple times. I haven't been able to afford Blackstar yet.

Shitty breakfast. They shorted me everything and gave me dressing for pancakes, so now I'm out food but I have more garbage. It is super cold. Not like Fargo cold but it's quite cold and my hands hurt and I can't run them under warm water because the water is off. It turns out to be an hour and a half process just clearing the garage and loading up the car for take-off stuff. Maybe I can make it to the dump but priorities: gotta get that W2. I'm still in martian mode, and every time that occurs to me David Bowie died.

For that reason Mike is watching Bowie's SNL appearance and it's a gorgeous episode for a lot of reasons. Fuck it's good to be back at the shop and see Mike but fuck it's hard. I wanted this so much and I was so proud of the work we did here but I know in my heart that even if I could go back I couldn't. David Bowie died. I left for reasons that haven't changed, personal ones, and they've moved forward. I don't even joke about the place being much improved without me because I look around and...fuck, it is. Well, it looks better at least. Can't find my W2 so he prints me off a halfass W2 and we wait to see if Katie picks up about where my real one is. I wait around. See a couple of old customers. Only one of them acknowledges/recognizes me. Mike tries to introduce me to one of my replacements for the third time. I was going to help with tabs if I had time but she has them finished. I'm not needed here. I've got to leave to make closing on time so no proper W2, instead I give them the address the post office doesn't think exists. Fingers crossed haha. No time to swing by dump much less back by the house so if anybody wants a free rug, a shovel, a gas can, or Castle Greyskull, to name a few, they're up for grabs now. My beloved shovel. I was proud to buy that stupid thing, it was a real tool that real homeowners used and I had already used it a bunch. Much like the whole "buying a home" adventure the shovel turns out to be something I thought I could have but turns out not yet, not quite yet.

David Bowie died.

Closing turns out to be signing and initialing about 30 forms and then it's over, maybe six minutes. Our realtor is someone we tried to become good friends with after we bought the house and that just didn't pan out. She feels bad but I won't let her lower her commission. That means all told we're leaving this adventure at least 2500 in the hole, not counting the money from the initial downpayment we didn't see a return on at all....It's a shit deal but it's the best we could get, sitting on the house for longer means coming up with an extra 1200 a month out of our No Income and really means even a potential jackpot offer would have been diminishing returns by then. I eat a bowl of protein and stop for gas. Speaking of jackpots, fuck it, I have two dollars...And before I leave Atlanta for the last time for a long time (months? years?) I whip through Del Taco because we don't have one near us. I'm stocking up on that one burrito she likes. I'd get my burrito but well it won't travel or reheat well because of potatoes in it. I am listening to The Martian. David Bowie died.

Now everything's done. I have nothing to do but think. The deeper into The Martian it gets and the more he wants to play with time and perspective the more dramatic the shift in the writing, and sometimes it approaches a Weird Fantasy level of overwroughtness or a Whedonlike In A Bad Way clippy and referential familiarity. I'm on my own descent trip now and fuck I guess David Bowie's on his. So while I'm working out how I feel about this book let's see how I feel about David Bowie dying. People are talking like this was an utter shock, and it was surprising, true, but like him having cancer was a thing, right? I thought that was common knowledge. And while this sucks a lot he was going to die before too long anyway really, being at the far end of the Studio 54 life expectancy. No one thought he'd live forever

but it's shocking that he's dead because it means he's never going to move forward any more, he's never going to reinvent himself or recontextualize a musical movement or elevate some protoge or unjustly obscure talent again, never going to challenge notions of sex or gender or beauty or fairness or even comedy again. It is far less startling to realize that David Bowie died in the cosmic sense because nobody thought he'd just keep on living. Far more startling is the realization that David Bowie won't continue being David Bowie. I...don't think any of us ever considered that as a concrete consequence.

Fuck. David Bowie died. Monday night is for drinking some Cutty Sark I can't afford and some alcoholic root beers left over from a couple weeks ago and eating leftovers and deliberately not watching football because that will just feel like Christmas part 7. Instead we're fast-forwarding through the Golden Globes and god what a miserable looking time, even the people winning awards seem pissed to be here. Tom Hanks starts to make a point and then stops at one point and it's just enough of a point about pioneering and excellence and consistency and change to remind me David Bowie died.

When it's over I realize how sleepy I am, how sore I am, and how drunk I am. Time to nod off for some crazy sex dreams and then go to work at my construction warehouse job over and over with nothing to show for it before waking up and realizing, shit, I don't even have that any more. Morning is dishes, preparing to make chili, and reading articles/watching videos from people remembering David Bowie. (I'm reminded of when Terry Pratchett died because I'd like to know where were all these other people saying Hunky Dory is their favorite Bowie album before he died, because I have felt very alone in that for a lot of conversations.)

Apparently people are very excited about the 5e OGL and Dungeon Masters Guild adventures. Instead I look at all the unfinished drafts and notes on my dashboard and all the Santicore waiting on me and....man that all seems heavy. So heavy. I can't imagine going to all the effort of lifting that weight but for Wales, Richard? We all have bullshit. We all keep going. What are we keeping going for? To be the selves we were? To be a self passable for another at a distance? To stay the selves we are, or even to be the selves we can become which is reasonably attainable? Man that's a waste of struggle.

David Bowie died. Have you I??