Tuesday, June 19, 2012

D&D Next Annotations: DM Guidelines

Hey there! So I probably owe you folks an explanation as to why I've been falling behind on stuff. Obviously I've been trying hard to not miss even a single day of Midsummer Songaday, which means I've been around, so I don't really have a great excuse for why I don't have anything else. Here's my explanations:
Art of the Pantheon: While I'm in the midst of Midsummer Songaday right now I haven't been doing much AotP. Now that I'm out of school, I've had much less downtime where just doodling works, plus I've hit the point where further developing things is getting harder. I have a couple ideas, but this project may stay slow for a little longer.
Movie Reviews: I admit, I've seen both Men in Black III and Snow White and the Huntsman in the past couple weeks and have just neglected to write them up. I'll probably not do as in-depth reviews as I usually do, but I'll try to get something up soon.
Game Reviews: I've had Wrath of the Lamb for a bit now and have been thoroughly enjoying it and want to talk about it, but it's been hard to compile my thoughts. I'll keep trying and give them to you. In addition, I've just recently beaten Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, which was outstanding. That review will come soon too.
Actual Play: So there's been movement on this front. Since my last RPG post, I've played Fiasco twice and not written up AP for either, and they were really good sessions and I want to write them up. I'll probably put them together. Despite several attempts, I've not yet played D&D Next - starting is an issue with us, I'm simply not overly intrigued by the Caves of Chaos and I'm not given the tools to build an adventure myself. More on that in its post.
D&D Next: The annotations are on the move again! This post is, of course, the DM Guidelines, and I'm nearly done the Bestiary ones. Character sheets are nearly done too.
Stars Without Number: Hit the bottom of this post and you'll see my announcement about this!

Anyway, to the annotations! The same procedure as the How to Play; I go through, reading essentially in order through the text, making notes in a Notepad file as I go. I reference Sage Latorra's blog a couple times - it's the only other review of the game I've read, since I'm generally trying to sequester myself until I've made my initial impressions. The link to his blog is in the How to Play annotations. All of the annotations are in the same Notepad file, so I hope it doesn't seem too disjointed by putting them in separate posts. To the content!
"So I guess it's time to start the DM Guidelines, huh? For your reference, the document is 9 pages long to the How to Play's 31 pages.
DM Guidelines Annotations:
* ...I'm already in a good mood from these first paragraphs. Fun before Rules, failures and poor luck should be used to make interesting complications (I want to mention something about this in a moment), be fair and impartial, do NOT railroad, but give them a dangerous world to challenge them, don't be a pushover but killer DMs suck. That said, I disagree with much of the first paragraph, that the DM builds the world and akes adventures and is the only one to describe what the players percieve of their world, but I'm heavy on the collaboration thing.
* Just wanted to mention that we basically had a watershed moment while playing Fiasco last session (AP either already came or is coming very soon) with regard to failure being interesting. Basically, each member had their own point where they basically said "You know what? Go ahead and screw over my character, it makes the story even better that way." It really clicked for all three of us that failure is just as cool as success, especially when death isn't the consequence. I had already known this intellectually from discussion, but it really fits in my head now.
* Back to D&D Next, the next section is DM Basics, with the first subsection being When to Use the Dice. While a lot of this is common sense ("A character doesn't hnormally need to make a Dexterity check to walk across an empty room"), but some of this is really good to reinforce. This is where I see the largest vestige of Monte Cook's skill system from Legends & Lore, and something that really should be standard all the time for every game. If it's REALLY EASY, no check. If it's LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE, no check. And the important bit - what is too easy or impossible is dependent upon your ability scores. A Str 18 guy can do an awful lot of strength stuff without a check, while the Str 9 guy is gonna need a check for something much smaller. Remembering that stuff will remove a LOT of superfluous rolls. My threshold for needing a check is pretty high though. I also usually use a concept stolen from Dread - you can elect to make a check for something in order to find something extra or get a bit more success than the default, but bad things can happen if you fail.
* I kinda want to see an alternate approach to saving throws where monster attacks are handled by saves, essentially taking the dice rolling out of the DM's hands. It means the players are a bit more engaged, and a monster's attack would just have a DC or something. This isn't exactly a new idea and I sure as hell don't think it's something that NEEDS to be in the game in any form, but I'm just musing about it as a possibility. Meh. Hell, maybe I could even use these DC setting rules to make it easy.
* Actually, I didn't notice it until now but it seems that the Proficiency bonuses attached to weapons are gone again. Huh. Makes everything simpler I guess. Seems like Monster AC is already pretty much just a DC since Attacks are just Strength (or Dex) checks with a damage roll attached.
* On a similar note, without skills at the moment DCs are easier to set than ever. I'm feeling like setting them on the fly will be remarkably easy, which I'm pleased about since I improvise my adventures.
* Options for Checks. Um... all three of these are great things that should always be on. As I mentioned last time, Sage Latorra talked on his blog about his impressions of Next and how one of the big missed opportunities is the lack of consequences for rolls, how a lower result than the DC is simply nothing rather than a consequence as it is in many indie games (and it's especially hardcoded into Apocalypse World and its variations). Hazards are a step in the right direction, basically assigning a consequence if they failed by a lot.
* Ability thresholds and requirements are essentially both just specific wordings to the two questions under When To Use The Dice. NOT having them on seems ridiculous (I'm not gonna allow a player to just do alchemy without any materials unless they can BS how it could work, and I'm not gonna make them roll to walk 5 feet out of combat - if you DON'T use these ability threshold ideas or requirements, please remind me that I am unlikely to enjoy a game run by you).
* Engaging the Players, or How I Learned To Stop Upholding the Rules at the Expense of Everyone's Fun. Thank you very much for including this Wizards (as too many folks DON'T do this in my opinion), but it's not of too much use to me - I discovered these ideas years ago. Though I must say that your example for Disadvantage involves punishing a player for not knowing the prince is an avowed pacifist even though you never told him. I wouldn't make the prince happy with them, but wouldn't give Disadvantage, since they're gonna call you on punishing them for unknown information. A more natural approach to this situation would probably be to simply have 2 DCs for winning the prince's favor: A high one for winning through displays/tales of violence, a low one for peaceful ideas.
* Ignoring the Dice. I actually have some thoughts on this one. More than anything, I feel conflicted. I used to think as this suggests as a possibility: if a lame dice roll impedes the fun, ignore it. However, I've since had my eyes opened to a truth: we have the system for a reason. If we start ignoring bad dice rolls, we might as well just tell a story and not be randomizing things. True, every now and then there seems like a really sweet ending one way or the other, and you might want to just do that way. Really, I think the key is in understanding and embracing the concept that failure is fun too. I could talk or a while about this, but for now, I say let the dice fall. When a bad roll comes up, bad things happen - but not just bad things. They need to be INTERESTING bad things. Even character death means interesting bad things (though it's often good practice to avoid death for lame things, leave it for climaxes).
* Multiple Checks...well, sure. For the full, final document, please round this out with reasons to allow or disallow rechecks. Also, maybe rename the section - I see Multiple Checks and I think about several subsequent checks (skill challenge style). Maybe call it Re-Checking or something.
* So, incidental actions sounded cooler than "free actions" or what? No matter though, I agree with the concept. Micromanaging actions is lame.
* Ew, always round down? My players are going to want to round up, I just know it. Oh well, it really doesn't matter one way or another really.
* Creature size: I suppose this is necessary for gridded play. Doesn't matter much to me though.
* I physically twitched at illumination, but on actually looking at it it's simple and easy. I hate drawing it (when everything's done in pencil on graph paper it makes all that really annoying), but doing it gridless should be fine.
* And this section is called Common Tasks! It's split into Exploration and Interaction. Let's see...Exploration has Balance, Climb, Escape Bonds, Find and Disarm Traps, Notice a Hiding Creature, Open a Door, Pick a Lock, Recall Lore, Search, Swim, and Track. Interaction has Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Gather Information. So basically this is where they talk about skills without calling them skills.There's lots of precise DC guidelines for everything and I'm likely going to ignore them to go with my gut.
* A bit that I'm conflicted about is that every "common task" has a hazard written for it already. I prefer to come up with these as very situational things, but I guess some guidance is nice.
* Okay, Escape Bonds's hazard says: "It is rare that escaping bonds involves a hazard beyond failing and remaining trapped." BULL. SHIT. That's just poor creativity. Hell, just watch some movies where the heroes get tied up! The easiest escalation of danger when escaping bonds is to have that chair they're tied to fall over! Every movie does that, it's an easy thing to shove them in further trouble. Need a little more interesting danger? Maybe you've seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If so, you probably saw Indy and his dad tied up in a castle. You may recall a series of simple events, all of which make sense, that culminated in the FLOOR being on FIRE. If that's not a hazard, I don't know what is. My point is that it's not rare, it's just not as amazingly simple to come up with as "you fall" for stuff like balance.
* Recall Lore is definitely inspired by Spout Lore. Hell, you even changed the name off the classic Knowledge check language.
* Ick, simulation rules for holding your breath and drowning. Not for me.
* The guidelines for the individual social interactions are fine (drawing the attention of the thieves' guild by screwing up Gather Info? Sweet, that's actually really interesting). However, the determining DCs section could definitely use some expansion - in particular, it really needs a discussion about talking out a conversation as opposed to resolving a conversation almost all with rolls. Neither should a "better" approach, and you should talk about how to treat the situation when players say clever things that would obviously succceed yet you don't want to just give them a free ride because of being a good speaker. In particular, the "Good Speaker with 8 Charisma" and "Poor Speaking with 18 Charisma" are cases that need to be discussed. No need to embrace a particular solution, but talk out their merits.

And that's the DM Guidelines! Overall. they talk about some things that definitely needed addressing in the How to Play, and talked about some things that definitely put my mind a bit to ease that they were at least THINKING about some various things. My biggest worry is that these guidelines end up falling further and further down the path of the last section: a bunch of rules statistics that are only here instead of the PHB because for some reason players aren't supposed to know DCs (which I have always rebelled against - tangentially, I've never kept a monster's AC secret realy either). These are Guidelines. They should be more suggestions/advice/etc. as opposed to a pile of statistics.
A note after reading Sage Latorra's blog again: Sage talks about his hope that the DM booklet was going to be actual rules for the GM, like rules he is suppsoed to be following, not rules he can use on the players. I've never played a game where the GM is explicitly forced into doing something by his own rules, but if he means more along the lines of the Principles from the AW/DW(/I assume Monsterhearts and others) as things that the DM should always do, I wholeheartedly support THAT idea, I simply don't want a DMG that reads like the 3.5e one, full of statistics that don't really do anything to help GUIDE the DM.

So, that's the DM Guide!"

So there you have it, part two of the D&D Next Annotations.

Well, at the top I said I would talk about Stars Without Number. If you don't know it, it's a hard sci-fi RPG written by Kevin Crawford and published by Sine Nomine Publishing. It's strongly inspired by things like Traveller, and is a retroclone member of the OSR (Old School Revolution) movement that's appeared in RPGs in the last several years. No more on the system right now, but the RPG has captivated me with its exceptionally well-made random creation rules that trump pretty much any other random world creation I've seen in any sci-fi game. It easily creates interesting universes. I'm fascinated by it and have been working to create a fully fleshed out sector just for the hell of it. It is crazy fun and I want to share it with you so once I'm caught up on stuff and Midsummer Songaday is over I'll be posting it alongside Art of the Pantheon.
 It won't be daily like Songaday, but I'm gonna try to be regular with it.
Anyway, have a good day, enjoy the annotations, and I'll see you around midnight with the next Songaday!

No comments :

Post a Comment