Since Shieldhaven brought it up in the comments on this post, I should talk a little about what I do when it comes to dungeon-running.
I grew up playing my dad's AD&D games, which were always dungeons. I think I've only run one game that was not a dungeon, and that one was a one shot for a single player. Contrariwise, except for my dad's game, I don't think I've played another D&D game that has been primarily dungeon based. So I guess it is still a little odd that for me, when I am running a game, dungeon exploration is pretty much everything. Which isn't to say that the world above doesn't matter-- it certainly does. Just that the players won't typically be interacting with it directly; at least, not for some time.
The part that can be chalked up to laziness is where I like the constraints that dungeons put on the party's immediate actions, at game start. There's this map, see? There's only so many directions they can go. I don't suddenly have to gen up a bunch of stuff I'm not prepared for (unless I haven't read my notes in a while, which has certainly happened), or come up with a more artificial way to use something I'd planned. What's there is there.
That said, no one really wants to go through another boring hall after boring hall, fighting incongruous monsters and improbable traps that don't seem to have any reason to be there. Also, there's the problem where you find a bunch of loot that is difficult to impossible to spend, because there's not a ton of good shopping in the underground. Usually. So here's a list of things I think about when I'm preparing a dungeoncrawl campaign.
As of Sunday, I will be actually running a game again! My first time running some 5e, so it ought to be interesting. I am a huge fan of the megadungeon, so we'll see how that goes down, especially since it will be my first time running D&D for Shieldhaven at all. Not the first time I've run a game he's played in; the first (and only) such being my Nobilis One Shot of great antiquity (that I never actually posted about ><). Anyway.
My setting, which is called Liel, is the oh so original idea of taking a Sigil like crossroads and making it a whole world, rather than just a city. So pretty much all races and gods are available here. To reduce burden on myself (for some values of reduce), I re-wrote most of the PHB races to get rid of subraces, and broke some of the subrace options into a cultural bonus for being an immigrant (more recently come to this work) or being a colonist/native (originally from the world, or having immigrated so long ago it makes no difference). I also changed some things because the default races are different (humans are common, but not even a little default), and yeah. The important thing here is that the natives/colonists all have an option to take a feat at first level, and I know you're surprised that pretty much all of the PCs are doing that. Go figure!
The main thing this does is make it so that I feel better about starting at first level, rather than going with my 3e inclination and starting everyone at 3rd.
When I last ran this setting for 4e, I had a pantheon of gods that granted a background feat to their worshipers. Feats being tiny and fiddly, this was a lot of good fun to come up with. I wanted to do something similar for 5e, and funnily, it actually fits better. Because there are so many gods available in the world, the most common form of worship is called Giedame, where the worshiper selects six gods of their choice and focuses their piety upon them. Technically, a PC could choose gods not listed below (historically, Dragonlance gods are popular in the world :P), and I'd try to come up with something for that, but I've only actually written things for the gods I made up myself. So... below the cut I have:
1 new feat
a bunch of boons (about 1/3rd of a feat to mix & match)
3 new spells (2 1st level spells (one of which is a ritual), 1 cantrip)
Over the past... several months, I completely forget what I've been doing. So let's talk briefly about what I've been up to lately:
Dungeons and Dragons 5e -- I'm playing two games at the moment: Shieldhaven'sAurikesh game (as I was, and will be, amen), and also a game called Reborn- a mostly online game run by a friend that I will call Mr. AWESOME. In the former, I am continuing to play my Veytikka Fighter and Beruch Warlock, and have now added a Kagandi Parthé who is a Royal Sorcerer. My Warlock has been the subject of a lot of tinkering and fussing, but really, it was the addition of a couple of new cleric cantrips of Haven's that really helped me have fun in combat (I'm a tomelock, see). So it seems like a lot of the problem was that most of the cantrips at base just weren't interesting enough. Well, and the combination of a) needing to take Agonizing Blast (even though I didn't), and b) invocations being a little too much like build traps (see item a). But I digress. Hopefully, I'll also get to play a bit of Lost Mines of Phandelver fairly soon, so that will be cool.
13th Age -- we started a game of 13th age, run by another friend I will call Batgirl, and I'm hoping we'll get to play more of that. I am playing something completely ridiculous, but it's been long enough I can't recall a lot of specifics.
Life is Strange -- a Square Enix story game. I bought the season pass, and am on my second playthrough of episode 3, having completely fucked up the second episode in one playthrough. Or, well, allowed something bad enough to happen that I had to have a second one to see the other primary outcomes. There's 5 episodes total, and it's interesting to see how they handle the branching consequences. So I'm liking that.
Also, I am working on a Twine game about books that change based on the order you read them in. I need to brush up on my JS skills so that I can possibly write some macros around more robust array functionality, because a lot depends on whether I can make conditional content around whether one item has a higher or lower array index than another. On the subject of a lot of fiddly, branching consequences. Anyway, when I have a playable demo, I will doubtless post it here-ish.
I have not been working on either of the tabletop game ideas I have; the one about psions, temporarily called The Red Ones, and the one about cities, working title: A City of Dolls and Monsters.
It's been a while since I've done one of these, and as context is everything, let's talk about the Games I'm Playing Now.
D&D Next: Run by Shieldhaven. This is pretty much it for tabletop right now. We're still playing with the last playtest packet rules, which was a serious de-powering in a lot of ways, largely because this was always meant to be a level capped game, and D&D Next introduced the "Apprentice Tier" of levels 1-3. While I'm kind of glad they just come out and say that you should start the game at level 3 if you want to have established, functional characters, it's still a little vexing. On the other hand, I guess it's all right to have the option to play helpless noobs if that's your thing, but it really, really isn't mine. Also, the introduction of Feats, and changes to two weapon fighting which have had the damage add to the off-hand weapon appear and disappear a few times in execution. Y'know, I am very tempted to remove the flat +1 AC bonus of two weapon fighting and replace it with an optional reaction (so the same slot as Attacks of Opportunity or, in our game, Give Ground) that allowed you to impose disadvantage when an enemy attacks you. Now, there's some quibbling to make whether you should have to make that decision before or after you know if the attack hit, but that's a lot more cool and interesting to me than a flat AC add.
Either way, my Veytikka Fighter's claw damage is likely about to go down to 1d4, because of some other tweaks to the damage numbers. And as much as it pains me, it's likely the correct decision, because 1d6 on a weapon that can't be disarmed is boss as fuck. But I have a magic rapier now, so... yeah.
I have not played my Warlock in some time, pending either a rebuild or the formal re-release of the Warlock from Wizards. And I should talk about my reactions to Haven's proposed Warlock rebuild in another post.
Either way, the last session was incredibly great for character decisions and actual, fun play, and did a great job of reminding me what I like about D&D in the first place.
Hearthstone-- currently on hiatus because, while fun, one kind of has to cool down from high rage points every season.
From Failbetter games; a companion to Fallen London. I want to do a post just on this, because I really love it, but it has the growing pains of something that really wants to be overt horror, and punitive, but also wants to reward exploration. This is an incredibly tough balance to strike, and I feel they're moving ever closer to actually hitting it.
Doki Doki Universe--
A pretty fun, extremely well written, and adorable game for the PS3; I spent about a week on this before hitting the end of the basic content. Haven't decided whether I want to pay for more... perhaps eventually.
Flight Rising-- a dragon breeding game, and another fascinating example of player-driven economy. The game presents objects of varying values that it sets, which are mostly irrelevant to the player prices except to set a floor... when you can get a thing by breeding or gathering, you have to sell it for a price that exceeds the vendor sale price, or in the case of dragons, the exalt (essentially, turn into game for money) price. It does some interesting things when the floor drops-- usually self-correcting. Anyway, it's another subject that really deserves its own post.
Those are the main things I've been playing; in short, pretty much all of which I should post about more in-depth.
This is a common question that's come up over and over: Are Video Games Art? If so, what makes them thus? And so on, and so forth. Typically, the argument is divided by people who don't care for games saying, "No! They're silly kids' entertainment, and cannot be Art!" and people who like games saying something that sounds a lot like, "well, I like them, so they must be Art!" and people who like games, but want to be snooty about it saying, "well, what is Art anyway? And some are Art, and some are not," et al.
But what we're actually talking about here, at a fundamental level is legitimacy: should games be taken seriously as a medium and a format, or not?
And yes, I am using Art with a capital A, because it _is_ to be high-falutin' here. Or some junk. And because I am unable to avoid pretension or fulmination, because I am not as awesome as Shieldhaven. But I digress.
First, we have to separate Art from value judgement. That is to say: whether or not you like something has nothing to do with it's status as Art. There's plenty of bad Art. But the fact remains that movies, books, music, and visual art are all Art, and video games combine these elements with interactivity... thus, Art. But there's another reason too... the economics, the production, and the marketing of video games are all consistent with those for Art of various media.
Whee! I've been tapped to head up a stretch goal for Iron Edda:War of Metal and Bone; implementing it in the WaRP system, which I lerve from playing Over the Edge, as those who have read this blog for any length of time may know. There's some interesting possibilities here, and the Kickstarter begins in January, so there will be some time before we know if this will actually happen, but if so, I'll be posting my thoughts and progress here.
Many thanks to Tracy Barnett of Sand and Steam for the awesome that is this project, which is set in the world of the extremely cool novel he kickstarted previous, Iron Edda: Sveidsdottir. Coz yeah!
Also, check out the other extremely cool system options for this setting, throughout the Sand and Steam blog.
When I was a kid, I fell in love with my dad's collection of Dungeons and Dragon's handbooks, and most especially the lists of spells and things. Sure, they were presented kind of prosaically and weren't laid out in a way that was especially useful, but as little scraps of interest, they were incredibly cool to me, and hinted at the neatness of being a wizard... keeping a prop spellbook, and questing for arcane knowledge to grow in awesomeness and power.
When I was first able to roll up a character, then, I was extremely disappointed to learn that what I actually got was a tiny list of what was more-or-less available, with some obvious Best Choices, and of those, I could only cast a very few times a day, and had to decide how many times I thought I might cast a given thing. Which made the Best Choices at the beginning even more important.
What I thought I wanted, at the time, was a removal of the limits on how many spells I could know/keep in spellbook, and a different way of approaching how many spells I could cast in a given day. And to some extent, I am still in favor of some slotted spells, some at-will cantrips, and prepping the spells themselves, rather than individual castings of the spells. That said, having automatic access to everything in the spell-book at level still wasn't, and isn't, to my mind, especially interesting. The problem, at bottom, was that the way one typically gains the spells is hugely uninteresting: to wit, you level up, and then you (most of the time, some DMs vary) just get access to the spells for your level, within the bounds of your int.
I have two basic issues with these things: one which has to do with the way spells are handed out, and the other which has to do with the way one advances at all. We'll address the first to begin with, since it's actually applicable in D&D, and, some might argue, is the way the game ought to be run in the first place.
It boils down to, "treat spells as treasure." Fully, entrench the spells in the story, as items and artifacts that are a part of the world beyond their utility/combat effectiveness. Sure, it is important that a starting mage have spells they can use and have fun with, but couching that in story about how they learned said spells, and creating the expectation that yes, the players will and can uncover new spells over the course of play that can be added to said spell book (whether or not the user can cast them right at that moment) is kind of nifty. I'd like to remove the idea of gaining spells from the idea of "gaining a level," which also brings me to my second point.
The more I play games, the more I think I'm over the idea of levels as the primary form of advancement. Stands-In-Fire, at one point, suggested a system where you could learn one new skill/ability each session, and the more I think about it, the more I like that idea. I get, and I can pretty much be convinced that, for mages, it's important to limit capacity (ability to cast more powerful spells, and/or number of spells one can cast) in the early game and have that expand, just as I don't necessarily disagree with the argument that a fighter should get better at accuracy and damage as the game progresses. Doing something like that, however, would be antithetical enough to D&D that you might as well start building a new game system around that idea. Which is certainly fine by me. The main idea here, for mages in specific (though I really love the too-underutilized idea of training/specialties as treasure from 4e), is that what advances is now much and at what power you can cast, so the level that matters is the level of the spell. You get new spells through play/research, and pretty specifically through play/research, so it's not grubbing through the boring Player's Handbook pick lists. Importantly to me, though maybe not so interesting to other people, this also removes the desire to plan ahead with spells, because you don't actually know what you're going to find in the course of play, but must think of cool ways to use the spells you earn/learn/find as you go along. Personally, I am not a fan of playing the build game, and I would very much like advancement to be tied directly to what happens in the course of play, rather than planned out in advance based on what is in a rulebook.
But like I said, that could very well just be me.
Since I touched on training treasure above, I want to take a moment to talk about Feat Systems, and why I don't care for the ones I've seen from 3.x to the current iteration in Next (yes, this includes 4e). Largely, I think they encourage optimal combo combo building, which encourages deep system mastery at the expense of newcomers, less devoted to build-play players, and in some cases, the balance of the game itself. The habit of stacking customization in feats, and then handing those feats out at regular level intervals has the effect (once again, to me), of making non-feat levels basically boring stops on one's way to grind to get to the next set of feats.
I don't know what you like to play, but any tabletop game where it seems like a good and worthwhile use of time to grind high-xp monsters over and over to get closer to leveling has missed out on the thing I enjoy about playing a role-playing game: the figuring out of what one needs to go to achieve each individual goal. The goal in these situations is meta (more XP to get to the next level) and it's obvious what one needs to do (grind difficult monsters to get there). And yes, I'm not just talking about 4e-- this happened in 3.x games too. I prefer if the goal is less meta (one of the only times you'll see me say 'less meta' is desirable), more concrete, and more story oriented, for example, "we are seeking the monk who lives atop Forsaken Mountain that she might teach us the Awesome Ways of Awesome." Still, we're talking about advancement, but we're talking about something that's in the story.
And now, I admit that it isn't the feats themselves I mind, it's the way they're handed out, and how they're presented to the players as, essentially, a shopping list to handle at level. I would have no objection to treating them, once again, as treasure, earned through acts and adventuring on the part of the players... you could have tomes of Dwarven Lumberjacking (as a tropetastic example) which teach superior skill in axes, or a cool ability that allows one to do a nifty maneuver while wielding an axe. Or enchantments/blessings that one can temporarily add to weapons, or meditations that allow one to focus one's energy on repelling blows, and improve AC for a time. And these items could pretty easily map to feats as they're written in any of the aforementioned editions, tying their distribution to and through play, rather than to something so arbitrary as level.
To be completely fair, Arcana Evolved _did_ try to do this some with their spellcasting feats, by requiring ceremonies involving certain kinds of beings or creatures in order to obtain them, though the way they were presented was pretty much entirely though the rulebook, rather than being knowledge I think it would ever occur to anyone to organically acquire in play.
Anyway, I also get that, for the most part, this can be handled through the GM's style of game running, rather than needing to be ensconced in rules, unless one is modifying how advancement works, of course. And I imagine that there are already systems in place that do the things I'm talking about more naturally.
But huh, I'd also be open to running a gladiator/arena kind of game where the point was to build an optimal character from the beginning, and swap out pieces/choices between each session to tweak for effectiveness, as something of a crunchy 180 from my play-style, here. Hrm.