Each edition seems to have its own way of dealing with skills. While I haven’t had time to study each edition, I think I’ve had enough experience with each of the systems I discuss here to give general impressions about the system and some observations on how I react to each.
Before I talk about expressions of skills in each of these editions, I'd like to lay out two ways skills are often used in a D&D game.
Skills as Resources
For some, skills constitute a resource that players invest in or not. When used this way, the DM generally presents a more generic challenge to the PCs, such as traveling a long distance through the wilderness. If no one in the party chose skills to help with such a challenge, the hope is that the characters spent other resources, such as silver and gold, to obtain resources to help them through, such as a map, rations, camp equipment, hiring skilled allies, and the like. If they didn’t, then they often suffer the consequences of their choices by getting sick, starving, not resting well, and the like.
Skills as Adventure/World Building
For others, the skill choices serve as a menu, allowing the player to tell the DM what sort of world they expect. In this play style, if no characters took wilderness survival skills, it’s possible that the DM won’t ask the players to play through a survival scenario unless the scenario was very important. Why would a group of people untrained in the arts of the wilderness enter it when they could do x, y, or z instead. Likewise, if a player takes a skill such as blacksmithing, that’s a clear message that the player is interested in having that trade be part of the game. Additionally, this way of handling skill choices can make it easier to game with a smaller group without adding the complication of henchmen and other skilled NPC allies.
Not all games will be one or the other. Some skills lend themselves more one style over the other, for instance, a skill such as balance might be something we want to view as a resource a player either invested in or didn’t whereas sailing would be part of adventure or world building.
Expressions of Skills
In the Fellowship of the Tweet games I was in, we used OD&D (Rules Cyclopedia). In that game, the only defined skills I could remember were set by class, with the thief having the majority of them. For instance, when we wanted to climb, I believe just the player of the thief made the check for the entire group.
• When limiting skills to a particular class or character build decision, they can become more memorable. I didn’t read all of the rules and we only played a few sessions yet I remember this about our game.
• In a game where you combat should be a component but not the focus of the game, having characters that are poor in combat but useful outside of it helps spread the game’s emphasis since the DM must run non-combat scenarios to ensure the spotlight spreads around to all players.
• If the skills are only available to certain classes or character builds, the game may become too limited for many players. Furthermore, it may force a player in the group to play a character class he or she doesn’t want to because the group would be missing a crucial skill otherwise. The most frequently cited example is people feeling they had to play the healer.
• It may be difficult, if not impossible, to use skill choice as a world/adventure building engine in this system since other factors are much more likely to enter into the decision of which class to pick. The presence of particular skills has less bearing on whether or not the player is interested in playing out that skill.
• For new and casual players, the system may be easier for them to use. It’s also might help players who are used to more clearly delineated races and classes.
Another skill system I have experience with is the skill ranks system from 3.x. In this system, the skills are, for the most part, codified in one place instead of being mixed in with the various classes and other character build options. Every character has access to every skill. Classes favor certain skills, giving the player a bonus for taking them. Players start out with a certain number of skill ranks when they start the game and gain additional ones each level. Some skills can only be used while trained.
• This system supports both skills as a resource and skills as part of world/adventure building.
• The combinations are limitless. Players can go deep in a small set of skills or cast a wide net.
• World building skills are mixed in with necessary combat and other play skills, making it harder on both a DM and player since participating in world building might come at the expense of effectiveness within the party.
• Not all players want the depth of choices nor do they want to revisit skill selection at each level. Since the skill system touches so many different levels of the game, it serves as a barrier to entry for some players.
• The system needs to set limits on how much advancement in a particular skill a character can have compared to its level.
The system I’m most familiar with is the 4e system. In 4e, we have a stripped down skill list with many skills from earlier editions combined into one, such as Spot and Listen becoming Perception and many of the Knowledge checks becoming part of History, Arcana, Religion, and the like. During character creation, players decide which skills they want to train in and skill modifiers go up by ½ level throughout the character’s career. Generally, class choice decides which skills are available to a character, although that may be modified through themes and feats among others.
• The system is a simple yet flexible framework to help DMs adjudicate non-combat and even some combat actions.
• The training system and automatic leveling makes the game easier for new and casual players since a player makes the skills decision once instead of each time the character levels. The skill system is also tied into fewer other parts of the character so it’s easier for a new or casual player to make an informed choice.
• The system lacks depth for invested players and training in new skills requires a player to expend resources that might be used to produce a more effective character for combat.
• The skills available are spread across the classes, akin to the OD&D model but a few character build options open up other skills to characters.
My Preferences for D&D Next
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week or so thinking about these. They each seem to be on a continuum of complexity. For new players or those who don’t want to invest a lot of time into skills, do something more akin to the OD&D model. For each class and race, provide some skills that they would be trained in. No decisions need to be made by the players. For other players, do the trained/untrained model with auto-advancement. Finally, for those players who really enjoy the complexity, let them move around the points as they wish, still keeping some limits on the highest some skills can get in relation to level.
I’d also love a discussion of the two ways to use skills and a vocabulary to help the DM and the players communicate the sort of game they want or expect. I suggest that some skills might only be made available on an adventure or setting basis. If an adventure or setting is likely to call for a sailing skill then it will be present, but if the game is in the middle of a desert, then it’s not listed. In addition to class, I'd love skills to be tied to the character's background and culture.
Finally, I’d love to see tools for the DM to use to make skill use more important in the game. In a resource management scenario, such as a survival game, rolls regarding food finding might be pretty important since lack of food might trigger starvation or other effects. On the other hand, I’ve been in plenty of games where no one wanted to play that out, and instead wanted to concentrate on other areas of tension and story.
So that’s where I’m at with skills. How about you?
Recently I came across a story about a decently well-known illustrator finding a comic cover depicting a woman breastfeeding offensive and calling it "adult content." Here's the cover:
The person goes on a bit of a long rant about the cover, some of it due to his belief that the comic is for all ages although a simple Google search shows that it's rated mature. Easy mistake, sure, but it didn't explain this paragraph.
It seems that in today’s desperate-for-sales comic book market, nothing is sacred. In the midst of world-saving adventures, today’s modern heroine breast feeds her child with zero modesty. Talk about work-life balance! It hearkens back to those Enjoli fragrance TV ads of the ’70s — I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man…” I’m just so impressed with this I-can-have-it-all super heroine. I had to wonder, did La Leche League (or as my wife took to calling them after she delivered our son, ”The Breast Milk Mafia”) pay big-time sponsorship money for this cover? What a wholesome, family-friendly image!
I'm surprised that he came away from the picture assuming this was a tale of a woman who had it all: baby, significant other, and she's a hero. I mean, he didn't come across the picture without any context. From the USA Today article about Brian Vaughan that he referenced:
Admittedly a "big Star Wars nerd," Vaughan has channeled his inner George Lucas to create a sci-fi/fantasy epic. It follows two soldiers — a ram-horned man named Marko and a winged female warrior named Alana — from different sides of an intergalactic war who fall in love and decide to have a baby.
That's when the real adventure begins, as the new family is pursued by everyone in the universe, Vaughan says. "You'll get a nice mixture of some bounty hunters, monsters and all sorts of lovely threats."
So it's about a new family, pursued by everyone in the universe. So much so, from the cover, that they can't even find a moment's respite to feed their baby without having their weapons in hand or at least in easy reach. And the sneak peek offered through the USA Today article shows that this is exactly what is going on. In that section, Alana is breastfeeding her baby when the coalition forces arrive to arrest her for "abandoning her post and aiding the enemy." Given that background, I find it a bit strange that he decided that the depiction of breast feeding was gratuitous.
And if having it all is so bad, where is his anger at the father? Where's the anger when Superman gets to save the city and Lois Lane? Why is there a glass ceiling for mothers that even heroines can't break through?
I also am at a loss as to where he came up with "zero modesty." Very little of the woman's breast is shown. Her jacket covers the other breast completely and her midriff isn't showing so there's a good chance she has a shirt or part of a dress covering most of her upper half.
So, the question at this point might be what in the world this might have to do with gaming. Well, in my opinion, a few things:
- The person who made this comment has illustrated for a number of companies including Wizards of the Coast. While a person's private opinions shouldn't keep them from working, it does make me wonder if they seep into his work, limiting how far a female character in the work can go, especially since he is willing to attack another artist on this matter.
- I've heard this sort of latent dismissal of women from other people in the community (and to be honest, in society in general). When combined with the assumption that the mother chose to put her child in harms way, it frustrates me. The assumption that a mother can't decide what's best for her own child points to an underlying belief that women can't reason for themselves. It's wrong and it really needs to stop. I hope we get to the point where the first thought when viewing a picture like this one is "Wow, what is going on such that that family can't even have a calm moment to feed their child" rather than "How could a mother allow her child to be in such a dangerous situation?"
- Too often, even in the world of science fiction and fantasy, what is possible or allowable is different for a woman compared to a man. Even in a world we make up, we have to somehow limit ourselves due to gender. Fathers can be anyone, do just about anything, but a mother is a mother and has just one aspect to her. That's not equality.
- This is also what happens when the female perspective is deemed inappropriate and removed from society. Something as natural as a woman feeding her child becomes a trigger for an attack against mothers (and women) who dare to defy society's expectations and limits on their potential. True equality will mean that some men (and women) will have to deal with things that make them uncomfortable, just like I often have to deal with things in current society that make me uncomfortable. The only way to combat this is to get more women (and men) into the public discourse and to give equal consideration and time to their outlooks and points of view.
As for me, I'm looking forward to reading a story about a couple where the child is part of their life experience, where we get to deal with the ramifications of having a child unlike in the mystical pregnancy, where real issues many mothers (and fathers) deal with are explored and potentially even celebrated in a world that might expand our imagination of what is possible. But most of all, in the aftermath of the DC relaunch, it's nice to see a story line where the woman owns her own sexuality, where her body is not something being exploited. I hope it catches on.
By the way, another awesome sneak peek can be found here.
In case you haven't already heard, today Wizards of the Coast announced that they are developing the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. The announcement has been covered on a number of sites, including CNN, EN World, NY Times, and Forbes. In fact, Forbes has a nice roundup of links if you are interested in reading even more.
While there are a lot more questions than answers at this point, one of the big things to note about this new iteration is that the goal is to provide an experience that all fans of D&D, regardless of when they started, will find familiar and comfortable. Now, I realize this is a lofty goal, but, to be honest, I don't think it's insurmountable.
As discussed in a variety of Legends & Lore columns (commonly abbreviated to L&L), a modular game system is key to this. This causes fear in some people, how can one game system cover so many game styles and preferences. But currently, don't we already have that with all the various editions of the game as it is? Don't people who like particular play styles tend to prefer particular editions over others? I know people who play 0e, others who play 2e, and many who play 3x and 4e. Currently, the edition is often the shorthand for the play style desired. But why keep it that way? Why not create language to help people communicate their preferences and provide tools to achieve those goals? As an added bonus, if most of this shares a common base, this means players, DMs, and designers don't have to remember 4+ different rules system when moving between play styles.
And if that is where Wizards of the Coast is going with this, I couldn't be happier. While I love 4e, I've often felt sad that many of my D&D playing friends didn't feel like they had a home in my edition. Hell, I've been mad on a number of occasions over the whole concept of the walls between editions. We have so much more in common than those differences would have us believe.
What I love even more than this new, inclusive vision of D&D is that they are gathering the thoughts and opinions of the fans through play tests, the Legends & Lore column, and other venues. This is relatively new ground for them and I'm really excited to see them try it out. Will there be some speed bumps along the way? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I think we'll both get a better product out of it as well as an informed and supportive community.
Beyond that, why am I so excited? Well part of it is that I was fortunate enough to do a play test session of it in early December. I can't talk about specifics for a number of reasons, but even in that incredibly early play test I saw a lot in there that people had been asking for. So right away that told me that they are listening to their fans and trying to provide a game that will make as many people as possible happy while still being D&D.
If you are interested in working with Wizards of the Coast in creating something we can all call our D&D, add your name to the play test group. They also created a community group for D&D Next. If you are on twitter, many people are using the #dndnext hash tag to continue the discussion there.
So, without a ton of detail about the new game to talk about, that's where I'm at. How do you feel? What excites you about D&D Next? What do you want to see?
One of the awesome gifts my husband gave me for Christmas is Heroica: Fortaan. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but I wanted to share my thoughts thus far.
What is Heroica?
The easiest way to think about it is as a board game built out of Legos with many of the trappings of a fantasy role-playing game. At least in the Fortaan set, you get to play one of four heroes: Barbarian, Wizard, Druid, and Knight (Rogue and Ranger are available in other sets). Each hero gets a special skill that is triggered during certain die rolls. The goal of the game is to be the first player to move from the start area to the end area, often by defeating monsters, finding keys to locked doors, and searching for treasure. For some videos on how to play, check out the Heroica website. (warning, it has music that automatically comes on)
What I love
One roll represents multiple creatures
In D&D and the D&D-inspired board games, both the heroes and the monsters get a turn. It makes sense, D&D tries to more fully simulate "real" combat, especially the fog of war and the interaction of both sides. In the base play experience of Heroica, only the heroes do things. When I roll my attack die, it determines between 4 outcomes: Shield (1), Sword (2), Skull (2), Sword & Skull (1).
Here's what happens with each:
- Shield - I defeat the monster or I get to use a special melee power that is attached either to my Hero or to my weapon. So, if I'm a Barbarian, I get to defeat all adjacent monsters and move a space.
- Sword - I defeat the monster.
- Skull - I take damage equal to the monster's strength and move away 1 space. Heroes have 4 Health (hit points). Most monsters have strength of 1, underbosses have 2, bosses have 3.
- Sword and Skull Both things occur. I defeat the enemy but not before it gets a good pop in at me.
What this means is that both my turn and the monster's turn is represented in that one die roll, making the game run a little faster although a bit more abstractly. It also deals with a problem I've commonly had in D&D, where the players all have great initiative bonuses and get to wipe out the enemies before the latter has a chance of doing any damage.
The chart is printed on the die
Since Heroica doesn't try to simulate everything, the die is effectively it's own chart. The skull and sword pictures on the die only take up half of the face. The other half has pips 1-3. That makes the die usable in the attack phase and in determining how many spaces the Hero may move during his move phase, but it's also useful when determining the outcome of a treasure chest. In the game, all treasure chests are trapped. You roll the die to find the outcome. A Shield gives you 2 gold pieces, a Sword gives you 1, a Skull does damage of 1 Health, and a Sword and Skull gives you a gold piece and reduces your Health by one.
You can hack the die
If you have more than one set, it's possible to hack the die. As it is, Heroes have a 2 in 3 chance of defeating the monster, 1 in 2 of taking damage, and 1 in 6 of triggering a special ability. But, if you want to change that up, it's just a matter of changing the faces.
You can hack the adventure
The instruction booklet has you build a number of rooms and hallways that can be connected in different ways. So you build the rooms first and then follow a dungeon map to put them together to form the dungeon. I'm not sure about the other sets, but Fortaan comes with 3 scenarios. The game encourages you to also create your own and to mix and match the various elements to create your own dungeons. I just wish they had named the various sub-sections so it would be easier to share new dungeon creations with others.
You can hack the game
Well, of course you can hack any game that isn't a black box, but the rules even say it.
Try building your own missions, thinking up exciting stories about the adventures of your Heroes, or even changing the rules! The secret to changing a game is to only change one thing at a time.
They go on to give 2 different play experiences, Epic Heroica, where you play in one mission right after another (meat grinder!) and Battle Heroica, where one player controls all the monsters (so close to DMing!). In addition, there's a magic item in this set, the Helmet of Protection, that can be kept by the Hero between missions. Now if it just had a sheet to log your missions on....
So that's what has me excited about Heroica. I think rolling the die to move makes sense in the original intent of the game, where we're competing to be the first to accomplish a particular task, but it would probably be one of the first things I fiddled with in the game.
I'm also tempted to use the Heroica sets as my terrain in D&D. Sometimes minis annoy me because they are too realistic, it's hard to remember that the kobolds carrying spears are really supposed to be skeletons with axes but my DM didn't have enough of the latter.
I also think this game is great at teaching the fundamentals of playing tabletop RPGs. Many of the basics are here: tracking Health or hit points, buying and selling gear, how classes and weapons offer different advantages, magic potions, locked doors, and trapped treasure chests. And most importantly, how to make the game your own. What do you think?
Yesterday, I came across this, in my opinion, awesome video, "Gamer Girl Manifesto."
Do I 100% agree with everything about or in the video? No. I'm not a big fan of pwning newbies and I find the frequent use of the word girl instead of women a bit annoying at times, but overall, it's a message I can agree with. In short form, their manifesto is this:
Don't be racist. Don't be homophobic. Don't be sexist. Follow that code and everybody will have a good time. And when someone breaks that code, CALL THEM OUT. Don't just let it ride.
In my mind, this is a longer form of Wil Wheaton's "Don't be a Dick."
Apparently, some people can't grasp the longer form either. Two people left inappropriate comments on my G+ post within hours of me sharing it. The first left these gems.
I agree with the "Don't be a Perv", but as for everything else these chicks need to just grow some skin and put up or shut up.
I deleted the comment and left a comment that the G+ post was my space and that I will police it. Which lead to this:
Because you haven't got the guts to face reality.
Men shouldn't be perv's. But woman need to learn their are things they just can't do. Just like I can't carry a baby to term, no woman has a place on the battle field.
If you don't want to hear the truth, then don't post on the internet.
Awesome, the price for me just being who I am is that I have to subject myself and everyone else to these comments. Except, no, it doesn't. I can delete, which is what I did. And that led to this awesome nugget. I'm editing out a bit about women in the military and clotting factors because, well, it has absolutely nothing to do with the video.
First off, this is [woman's name], [man's name]'s wife, posting. My man has a job, and takes good care of his family so that I don't have to work outside the home.
So now I ask. Why do you hate women? Why do you want to place the curse of men upon our shoulders? Why do you want to take away our grace and genialness, only to replace it with labor and strife?
Delete this post again, And I will just repost it again and again.
So, yeah, awesome. Not only do I have to subject myself to those types of comments, this person has a right to harass me. I of course deleted that post and then blocked the account, because, well, I made it clear those comments were unwelcome and it's my space. Continuing to post those comments after I set my boundaries is a clear lack of respect for me as a person.
Besides, whether or not it's the guy or his wife (every online profile lists him as single), they clearly have a G+ account of their own where they can say whatever they want. And after I deleted the last comment and blocked the account, a message similar to this one showed up on that account. I'm not a government. I am under no obligations to give them a stage.
I have to admit, the second person bothered me a bit more even though so far it wasn't an ongoing process. The comment? A single word:
Now, you might ask why I wrote about this. I mean, I dealt with it on G+; no one would have to know their message beyond the small group who may have seen it there. The problem is that I often run into people who say that they never see any sort of sexism in the hobby or industry. Well, the person with the G+ account in the first comment calls himself a game designer and has at least 2 gaming companies (neither of which I had heard of before) listed in his various online profiles, including one with products on DriveThruRPG. A third, seemingly new company, has him on their list of game developers. At least 4 of my friends in the industry have him as a friend on Facebook.
If I were newer or didn't have as many friends in the industry side of things as I do, I might have thought he was representative of the rest of the industry. When you have those friendships, it's easy to dismiss these as people who aren't quite right or have an axe to grind. There's comfort in knowing your friends and how awesome they are. However, letting these comments exist and not taking a stand about it means that people who don't have that comfort often suffer and are turned away.
I have some great news to share with all of you and a huge favor to ask.
The short version:
Good News: Wizards of the Coast is starting a new column on their website to highlight the contributions of the D&D community.
Better News: I get to write it!
Best News: You get to take part!
Every two weeks, half of my column will be about a topic, like modern fairy tales or gamer resolutions, that touches on our community and game, directly or indirectly. The other half will be links to articles, resources, videos, etc, often from community members just like you.
I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait to share the articles I’ve been working on. But there’s just one catch. I have no idea what to name it.
That’s where you come in. I’d love to hear your suggestions because at the end of the day, this column is about you and the hard work you put into making the game awesome. Feel free to leave a comment, send a tweet to @sarahdarkmagic, or write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Just get them to me by Sunday, November 20th. If I get too many ideas and can’t choose between them, I’ll create a quick poll and post it here.
Trigger warning: I talk about harassment and abuse aimed at women online.
Recently, a number of articles have pointed to one of the hard parts of being a woman online; there are a number of people who will say terrible, abusive things to you solely because you are a woman and have an opinion. I recently was interviewed by G*M*S Magazine before the latest round of articles about this phenomena. One of the questions asked was how to get more women into RPG blogging and podcasting and I raised this issue. Please give it a listen when it comes out. For now, this paragraph from another article (written from the male perspective) sums up the situation for me:
I’m a guy who also gets a fair number of abusive emails — I even have a hobby of posting some of them now and then on the web — but there’s a qualitative difference to what I see. I get death threats regularly, but they’re usually of the form “you should get [violent fate] for [hating god, violating crackers, being liberal]“; I don’t get threats of the form, “[Man], I need to [crude sexual assault] you”. As a man, I can get threats for speaking against some cherished dogma, which I can sort of halfway understand, but I don’t get the threats for just being of my sex and speaking out, period. -- Pharyngula
This distinction is usually lost in discussions of the topic. Often the threats come not because the woman says something that threatens the status quo, but because her mere presence, the fact that she has a voice at all, threatens some people. For instance, take this incident of a boy threatening to rape Kat Armstrong's daughter merely because she appeared in a video with her mom.
The video offers further proof of the worry women face by just being active online. The reason her daughter is in the video is because Kat, then community manager at Lockergnome, was loathe to do a video by herself. I empathize with her. During my first GenCon, Trevor Kidd was kind enough to run a few D&D bloggers, including me, through a game of the then-unreleased Castle Ravenloft. At the end, he asked to take a video with our thoughts on the game. I declined because I was so scared that the video would go on YouTube and I would have to deal with the comments. I completely froze up and then apologized profusely. I self-censored myself due to an intense fear of what would be said.
You're just looking for it
Sometimes I get accused of looking for these stories. The problem is, I don't have to look for them. They appear, several times per month, in newspapers and friend's feeds. The people who hurl these abuses often search out women and make themselves known. Take these DMs I received after I asked why someone had a problem with me and then why he followed me if he disliked me so much:
Well, I feel you are just a pretentious bitch. I don't like your feminismistic views and well, I just never liked you.
For the same reason i follow dazedsaveends. Sometimes you guys say shit that makes me angry, and someone has to read it and respond.
If all your followers just kissed your ass all day, it wouldn't be much fun.
How many of these would you have to receive before you questioned if it was all worth it? 5? 10? 20? 100? And then remember that a woman may receive multiples of these when she posts, often more than her male counterparts. Are we really surprised then that women leave the public sphere so often?
The number of women who have come forward, across topics and genres, is also important to note. This isn't just an issue in the geek community but yet it affects the community just the same. If we want to get more women to participate, we need to know this happens and form ways to combat it. Here are some of my suggestions:
- When women, or well anyone, complain about these behaviors, please stop telling them that if they want to blog or podcast, they'll just have to learn how to deal with it. Abuse should not be the price we pay for simply expressing ourselves. If it is, then don't be surprised if people self-censor themselves.
- Learn the facts of rape, sexual assault, and crime in general so you can see the bigger picture. Stop perpetuating old myths that you need to dress modestly in order to lessen your chances of being raped. You aren't doing anything other than making yourself feel better and you make women even more paranoid and hyper-conscious of what they do. It's near impossible to write or be in public, when a woman has to analyze every outfit, every word choice, for fear that this will be the time she somehow invites unwanted attention. Plus the price of admission to the public sphere should not be the hiding of one's sex or gender, just like we should never ask someone to change his skin tone.
- Speak up. If you see someone bashing someone due to their sex or gender, say something. This is not white knighting. This is caring about your community and taking ownership over what happens in your presence. If you feel uncomfortable speaking up, at least find a way to let the victim know that you support him or her.
This doesn't mean that men don't face some of the same issues; that threats of violence or rape aren't used against men or that, in some areas, just being a man isn't seen as a threat to the status quo. For instance, I know a number of men who feel the same way when they enter zones of traditional female power such as child care websites. This, too, is wrong but outside the scope of this discussion.
- Harassment aimed at "Skud" in the Open Source Software community
- Geek Feminism Wiki's timeline of sexist incidents in the geek community
- Tweets of women's experiences with sexism using the #mencallmethings hashtag.
- Reports of a man who made a number of women uncomfortable at World Fantasy Con. Looks like they now are working on a anti-harassment policy for future events
In my last post, I wrote a bit about what's in the new Pathfinder Beginner Box for players. However, my favorite part of the box has to be the GM stuff, especially the Game Master's book. While I love anything that helps new players try out the game, I'm especially interested in products to help new game masters. We need new players in the hobby for sure, but to be honest, it's rare to find someone who wants to play a tabletop RPG who hasn't played a video or computer RPG in the past. Sure, there are differences between the types of RPGs, but if you've played a video or computer RPG, you can probably pick up the basics of a game like Pathfinder pretty easily, especially if you're given a pregenerated character. However, the game master position is unique to tabletop games. There's rarely an analog in the digital world; the computer generally acts as the game master.
The adventure starts on page 3. I love this because it makes the adventure feel more approachable. I happen to love GMing and I spend a fair amount of time convincing others to give it a try. One of the most common excuses I hear is that they don't know the rules well enough. As with the Hero's book, the rules are given as needed. So, in the first encounter they describe how initiative works and the parts of a turn and round in combat. The next three encounters focus on exploration, with instructions on how skill checks, traps, and the like all work. In many ways, the adventure provided works like the intro quest of many video game RPGs. Each introduces a new concept or two and then they build on each other so the GM and players learn the basics of the game.
In addition to providing a great beginner adventure full of what I consider to be iconic beginner monsters (all it's missing are some rats), the included flip mat is wonderful. One side of the mat has a dungeon complex, the same one used in the adventure. However, not all of the features in the adventure are on the map, so the GM gets some practice adding things to a map on the fly. The other side is a basic tan mat, ready for whatever the GM thinks up next.
Speaking of what's next, the adventure ends on page 15 with a list of ideas for future adventures. The adventures themselves are an exercise left to the reader.
Introduction to Game Mastering
After the adventure is a great introduction to game mastering. It defines common terms, outlines the duties of the GM, and discusses how to adjust a prewritten adventure for your group. After that, it explains the details of creating your own adventures, everything from drawing maps (common map symbols are on the inside back cover), types of encounters, types of adventures, and simple world building advice. Then it provides an adventure seed for an adventure of your own design, based in the same area as the included adventure and using the town of Sandpoint as the basis. Sandpoint itself is detailed in the back of the book. Finishing that section is information on the types of environments for an adventure, such as dungeons, forests, cities, and the like, along with traps, terrain, and other tips for each.
After the introduction, the book gives a few more tools for new GMs. Magic items, a mini bestiary with 45 monsters, and a write up of the town of Sandpoint along with some more adventure seeds, are all included. The magic item section details some of the intricacies of potion, scroll, staff and wand use as well as how a character identifies a magic item. in the monster section, the book provides a guide to reading the monster stat block, pictures for each monster, and tables for building random encounters by environment type along with instructions on how to create them. An easy to read conditions table can be found inside the book with the more common conditions on the back cover. With all of these tools and the reusable map, I think new GMs will find a lot to love in the Beginner Box.
Overall, I really love the Pathfinder Beginner Box. I think they did a great job taking a complicated and complex game and boiling it down to something a new player will find more approachable. They also sprinkled lots of advice throughout the book, which is particularly helpful to those of us who don't have an older sibling or cousin to teach us the game.
One thing I hope they do is produce some instructions for the next step, helping new players transition from the beginner box model of the game to the full version. Obviously, with just 64 pages for the Hero's Handbook and 96 for the Game Master's Guide, not everything in the core rulebook made the jump. Existing players and game masters welcoming in players who learned the game through the Beginner Box should have an idea of what parts of the game rules they might not know. But, overall, that's a relatively small matter.
While I was out in Seattle after Geek Girl Con, I stopped by the Paizo offices. Somehow I was able to talk my way into some sweet loot, the Pathfinder beginner's Box. I haven't had the chance to do a full review yet, in part because I'm fairly new to Pathfinder and 3.5 but I want to share some of my initial thoughts.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The box includes a choose your own adventure to introduce new players to the game and its conceits about the world. One of the interesting effects of the depth of the rules is that even relatively small choices, such as the type of weapon one uses against a creature, can matter. For someone unfamiliar with that style of play, the first time she faces a skeleton with a sword can be a frustrating experience. The included adventure highlights that the game includes concepts such as this one in a safe environment.
In addition to introducing the player to a number of specific game concepts, the choose your own adventure does a great job in introducing the player to roleplaying games in general. I really enjoyed that it followed up the solo adventure with an example of play, showing how the story in the solo adventure gets translated to play at the table and how a group works together.
Concise Directions for Building a Character
After a brief introduction to the game rules and an explanation of the dice, the book continues with directions on how to build a character. They did a great job on this. The character sheets provided in the box are coded with letters that correspond to the instructions to make it easy for players to identify where on the character sheet they should put their information. This is something I've struggled with since I started playing D&D. They added these letters not only to the blank character sheets, but also to the pregens. So if a new player is confused about something, he can reference the pregens as an example.
Suggestions for the Finishing Touches
Not only does the book provide a simplified list of skills, feats, and equipment for new players, it provides class-specific suggestions for each of those sections. For a new player who isn't quite sure and is worried that her group will tease her if she makes a poor decision, the suggestions are wonderful. I was nervous about that when I created my first character. Like the rest of the book, these sections have a lot of graphics. Each equipment item has a picture next to it. For some established players or people who grew up looking everything up, this might seem silly. But for a new players and especially younger kids, anything keeps them in the book and not distracted sounds great to me. Plus, sometimes seeing the physical representation right there can fuel the imagination or provide words to a nervous player.
Just What You Need
After that the book has a section on more game rules. At 14 pages, it includes enough information to get a good feel for the game and to play, without being overwhelming. It even includes information for leveling up. One thing I love about this boxed set is that it covers levels 1-5 for the basic classes.
I didn't go over everything, but I hope this gives a good idea of what's in the Beginner's Box for players. I'll write about the DM side of the equation soon. In the meantime, if you'd like to see how they handled character classes, see what the pregens look like, or look at the extra player and DM content they provide (including a beginner's version of the barbarian) check out the Beginner's Box page on their website.
After Geek Girl Con, I spent a week hanging out with my friends in Seattle and was able to get in 3 games while out there, The One Ring, 4e, and Pathfinder. Both The One Ring and Pathfinder games had a higher danger threshold than the 4e game and most of the 4e games I've been in in general. In particular, both had their share of save rolls. I know this is something that used to be a bigger part of D&D but my experiences over the week left me feeling a bit mixed on them.
The One Ring
In The One Ring, I played a wood elf. We were chasing down some dwarves and the trail led to a pool's edge where the tracks mysteriously stopped. A bell began to ring and my character fell victim to its enchantments. Down into the pool she went.
This is the first time I've played a character that was compelled to do something. Since this was a one shot for me and I trust the GM completely (Hi Chris!), it really wasn't a big deal. Out into the hallway we went and he quickly described what was happening. I had a few choices to make, do I wait for my party (not knowing if they would come rescue me, I was a new character after all)? Do I try to swim out of there the way I came in? Or do I open the dark door I found down there? None of these choices are an obvious "right" choice but at least the one I chose, wait for the rest of the party, wasn't an instant death sentence, although some of the players in the room thought my character might be dead already.
Now, if my failed save had led to instant character death, I'm not sure how happy I would have been. I mean, there are times where I wouldn't really care and sometimes games with instant death can be fun. A fair number of video games have that type of behavior, where the fun of the game is more in mastering it than playing through an awesome story. But in this case, there wasn't anything that was obvious to me about what I should do. It would have felt arbitrary and unfulfilling. I guess what I mean is that the setback was nice, but being able to recover from it, even if it meant fighting more monsters, was even better.
My host Stephen was nice enough to run a Pathfinder dungeon crawl/delve for me during my stay at his house. While I hadn't played Pathfinder before, I had been in a few sessions of a 3/3.5 house-ruled game. However, my character really hadn't had to deal with many save situations and definitely none that involved conditions like paralysis or blindness. The Fellowship of the Tweet had dealt with paralysis (and my cleric's inability to Turn Undead versus some ghouls) but I'm still a little scarred by that encounter.
If I'm being honest, I found the save situations in that game a bit more frustrating. Our barbarian became blinded for an hour after he failed his saving throw versus the blindheim and another character got sucked into a gelatinous cube at one point. While I think I can see what the mechanics were trying to model/accomplish and there is nothing inherently wrong about them, they just aren't my preferred way of doing it.
That said, I did see how they encouraged more creative play (although it's not the first time I've noticed it). Particularly in the case of the blindheim, where you have some options to overcome its gaze attack (which in 4e terms can be used both as an aura and as a ranged at-will). Although the dice weren't in my favor, Stephen said yes to my idea of trying to cover the blindheim's eyes with my cloak, which would have helped my party kill it faster.
I wouldn't mind making it clearer in 4e that DMs could allow creative solutions like that in their games, perhaps even in the monster's statblock. We already have this to a degree. For instance, the wraith loses its insubstantial trait until the start of its next turn whenever it takes radiant damage. This might encourage a divine character to choose a less powerful attack with the radiant keyword to give the party a better chance of hitting and killing the creature. However, we could expand this even more and make it more like a trap or hazard where the PCs can take countermeasures to avoid a particularly damaging attack or stop a buff. Spend a standard action and one part of the monster's special powers goes away for a turn.
This might also give space for the people who like to play helper characters. Instead of making certain classes be helpers, individual players can decide how to play out those classes. And while not everyone can necessarily help with every monster, helping isn't limited to a particular class type. This might be more fun and rewarding than the existing aid another rules.
So how would this work? Let's take the blindheim as an example. In 4e, I would make its gaze attack into an aura. Entering or starting your turn in the aura causes you to grant combat advantage and provides a -2 to attack rolls since the creature's gaze is so distracting. If you end the turn in the aura, you have to make a saving throw against becoming blind. (Alternatively, we could do this when you start or enter, with a successful saving throw meaning you grant CA and have the -2 penalty instead of being blinded.)
Since Gaze attacks can't be done while the creature is blinded, players could find ways to blind the creature. Perhaps they have a power that causes blindness or they decide to put a cloth over the creature's eyes. The type of action required (standard or minor) should be determined by the benefit they gain from the action. In the terms of this aura, I'd say they were gaining a pretty big benefit on success, and would require a standard action, since not only would they as an individual benefit but the whole party as well.
What Do You Think?
So, let's say you were faced with a creature like the blindheim. How would you overcome its special powers? How far can we push this while still keeping the rules fairly light? Would you allow someone to spend their standard action, no check, to try to blind the blindheim?