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Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery RC 1 Coming Very Soon

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I hoped to get the first "release candidate" version of Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery out by the end of July. The bad news is that this will not happen. The good news is the delay will only be a few days. Microllite74 Swords & Sorcery RC 1 should be out this next weekend.

This first release candidate will have the rules in what I hope will be their nearly final form -- ready for proofreading, math checking, and the like. The designers notes and such will not be ready, they will be in the second release candidate along with corrections to the rules from proofreaders. With luck, there will be no need for a third release candidate. I am still hoping for a final release sometime in September.

It's not an "I Win" Button, It's a "We Win" Button

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I notice a lot of people who do not like the fact that casters have spells that can end a combat encounter (or other encounter that matter) call these spells "I win" buttons/spells/etc. For example this statement from a thread on RPGnet:

A lot of fans of 4e lament the Vancian Wizard's access to "I Win" button spells. Regardless of how the exact spell loadout if "balanced" vs expected encounters per day (and whether or not there are adequate mechanisms in the system for enforcing those expectations), the very fact that the wizard has access to unique tools which can utterly trivialize encounters in a single round is problematic.

I simply do not understand this claim.

First, why is it called an "I win button"? The caster casts "Cloudkill" (or whatever) and all the opponents die or are injured so badly that they are out of action. The encounter ends, not with a "win" for the caster, but with a win for the entire party who do not have to risk their lives, use up magic items, etc. to fight it out. The party can gather the treasure and proceed on with out risking their lives or their resources in a potentially dangerous combat encounter. This does not sound like a "Caster wins, rest of party loses" situation to me -- it sounds like a "Party Win".

Second, isn't the point of most adventures to save the princess/get the treasure/kill the bad guys/whatever the adventure objective is? In real life, I'd sure consider it a good thing if my group could achieve such objectives with as little risk to our lives, limbs, and resources as possible. I don't see why any character having the ability to end a encounter in the party's favor in one action would be considered a bad thing.

If the average real world military unit or police swat team had a person with such an ability in their unit, I suspect that the unit would do their best to not have to go on a mission without this person and would go out of their way to see that he was protected on missions so he could use his ability in key situations. I can't see many complaining because his special ability allowed the team to achieve its objective with little risk to themselves.

In every D&D game I have ever ran, the players certainly never considered this a bad thing. In fact, they considered it a bad thing that the casters could not do this for every encounter. In D&D games, where the GM does not enforce limitations or casters or stupidly allows the so-called "15 minute adventuring day" or the like and thereby allows the casters to do this to 5 or 10 encounters in a row, I can see how other players might resent one character doing this all the time -- but even in such poorly GMed (or designed) games, the use of these powers is still a "We Win" button, not an "I win" button.

Quite frankly, the only reason I can see why players might find such powers truly always objectionable is if they see the primary purpose of the RPG part of the game as just a way link tactical combat encounters and the only fun the players really see in the game is playing out those tactical encounters in detail. To be fair, the author of the post I quote from above seems to be writing for people who do see it this way. That is, they don't just want to have a "party win" -- they want their character to be involved in a lengthy combat as part of that encounter win. I can understand this POV, but it really makes more sense in a set piece tactical battle game than it does in a roleplaying campaign (IMHO) and I see no real reason for the core rules of any major RPG to cater to this attitude. Optional rules catering to it, sure.

Help a Former TSR Editor Keep Her House! Update and Part 2

As readers of this blog probably remember, we had a short but effective fund-raiser for former TSR staffer Karen Boomgarden about six weeks ago. Karen and family were going to have their house foreclosed on them due to long term unemployment. They had a chance to qualify for unemployment foreberance but had to be current on their house payments to due so. (See these posts for more information: Help a Former TSR Editor Keep Her House!, Update: Help a Former TSR Editor Keep Her House!, Progress Report: Microlite74, RetroRoleplaying Forum, Real Life. etc.). For those who are not familiar with her work at TSR, she was a editor with editor credit on a large number of TSR products and was the designer for a few products like my favorite Amazing Engine game, For Faerie, Queen, and Country. Since her TSR days, she's remarried was doing well until the economy collapsed. She has been out of work for two years (and her husband for over a year). To make things worse, their daughter fell off a balcony and was injured pretty badly (although remarkably not as severely as she could have been) earlier this year.

The readers and friends of RetroRoleplaying raised almost $600 for Karen in mid-May while the folks on a non-gaming message board Karen and I are both on raised about $1500. By skipping some other bills, this allowed Karen and family to get current on their mortgage and so they apply for unemployment forbearance. They were supposed to hear back within 10 days. Right. Over a month later with no answer in sight, only promises that they were working on it and the foreclosure date approaching rapidly, her husband told them that if they did not get the promised answer immediately, they would turn the matter over to a lawyer. An official looking letter arrived within a couple of days. Karen's husband opened the letter with much trepidation....

...to find good news. They qualify for unemployment forbearance. From August 1, 2012 through July 1, 2013, their mortgage payments will be $1 a month (and Citibank will make their escrow payments, which amount will apparently be added onto the mortgage). They are both back on extended unemployment, so this should make things work out -- provided the economy picks up enough that at least one of them has a job by July 2013. Of course with no unemployment coming in for a couple of months (as it expired) while having to come up with three months worth of mortgage payments, they are behind with their car payments and with some utility bills.

It would be nice if they could start August clean and able to just worry about their daughter's recovery, so we are renewing the fund drive for a few days. We don't have nearly as much to raise these time and it is probably not as critical (losing a car is not nearly as bad as losing a house), but they really need to current on utility, insurance, and other payments by the end of this month.

For the next 3 days or so -- say until 9pm CDT Saturday evening -- any money donated to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund will be split 50/50 (after Paypal fees, if any) between Karen and the cancer fund, with the following proviso, after a $315 lab bill is paid by the cancer fund, I'll donate 100% of the money raised thereafter to Karen. For example, if $400 is raised, I'll split it with Karen ($200 for her bills, $200 for our cancer bill); but if we raise $900, I'll donate everything over the $315 to Karen ($585 in this example). Unlike in May, I'm not in the middle of a donation drive so I do not have a lot of donor goodies to offer beyond access to the usual donor downloads. However, I do have a copy of the AD&D Rogue's Gallery supplement autographed by Erol Otus that I will give to a lucky donor via a drawing, one chance per $10 donated. Note: I bought this supplement used and its condition is "good to very good", but it is signed by the cover artist. The drawing will be held during my Sunday game this weekend.

BTW, someone asked about taxes, as in would Karen have to pay US income tax on the money she has received from these donation drives. The answer, according to one of my accountant clients, is that this money is a gift and as such is not considered "taxable income" by the US government. So all money you donate going to help real people not to feed the federal government.

So here's another chance to help two decent causes with one donation. If you can spare a ten or a twenty, or even more, it will help so much. Karen and family can keep their house and start with a clean slate bill-wise in August. To donate and help both Karen and myself, send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- via Paypal before 9pm CDT Saturday evening (July 7th). If you can't donate, good thoughts and prayers for Karen and her family are more than welcome. Feel free to spread the good news on the house front.

Teamwork and Tactics Baked in to the System -- Why?

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In a post on RPGnet in a thread he started entitled D&D Next - Making 4th Edition players consider 5th Edition, neonchameleon says the following about an aspect of 4e he thinks 5e/Next lacks (and needs):

Teamwork and Tactics baked in to the system

In 4e the team is stronger than the group as individuals. Defenders can do much more damage if they have allies. Leaders, especially Warlords, revolve around teamwork, and controllers are masters of setting people up for someone else to bash - but can rarely win a fight on their own. The combat portion of the game is one of teamwork; the only people who don’t directly both empower and rely on others are strikers. And the skill challenge rules when used narratively encourage teamwork in a way simple skill checks don’t - each member should be working out how to bring what they are best at to assist in the task.

In D&D Next, there seems to be precisely one ability made explicitely to assist your allies - the Guardian’s Shield Block. Also there is one spell in the preview (Battle Psalm) that buffs the whole party. Beyond that, literally every other ability a character has is ‘selfish’. Teamwork, especially focus fire, may happen. But you aren’t encouraged to play a group of people who can bring more out of each other than they would bring to the party themselves. The fighter does his thing (bashing) as the wizard does his. And so far there’s no group skill challenge mechanic to encourage players to work together that way.

I've seen this "required teamwork" touted as a plus by 4e fans for a couple of years and I confess to not understanding it. PCs who work as a team were always more successful in TSR D&D (and in non-charoped 3.x -- I can't say one way or the other about characters played by extreme charop players as I would never play with such a player) than those who did not do things as a team. Teamwork has paid off well since 0e D&D was published, even though it was not baked into the rules.

What I don't understand is what is actually gained by baking teamwork into the rules to the extent that 4e does. All I can see is that it limits the styles of play available to groups of players -- by forcing teamwork in the rules one eliminates styles of play that stress individual action. Without teamwork baked into the rules as to the extent 4e does, teamwork is still encouraged (simply because players who work as a team will normally be much more successful) but groups who aren't into that style of play aren't hampered by rules that almost require a specific type of teamwork.

I'd love to hear from 4e fans why they feel that "required by the rules teamwork" is so much better for D&D than simply having teamwork make parties more successful "organically" as teamwork did before 4e (and as it does in the normal world we live in). I see it as eliminating play style options that had been in D&D since the beginning -- and I never see that as a good thing.

D&D 5e Playtest Issues: Hit Points & Healing

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The is the first post in a occasional series on the issues my group had with D&D Next (which I will call 5e as I think the D&D Next name is stupid). However, before I start a series on the problems with the initial 5e playtest draft I want to say that even with all the issues we had with 5e, it still felt more like the type of D&D I enjoy than 3.x with many splats or 4e did ever did. The fact that the game rules do not assume that a grid and minis will be used is a huge improvement as is the much faster combat that results. My overall reaction to 5e is "meh"; it's not bad, but there is nothing there that would get me to choose it over OD&D (or M74), B/X, 1e, or BECMI/RC. I do not see any reason I'd choose to play 5e over any of those games. The players in my group agreed. They voted to continue to use Microlite74 over 5e, to the point that we will probably not even try future playtest versions unless a lot of the issues we had with 5e go away.

The first major issue we had with 5e was Hits and Healing.

First, both PCs and monsters had far too many hit points. The large monsters listed in the playtest rules had about four times the hit points of the 1e version of the same monster. While damage was slightly higher, we did not see any reason for the hit point inflation and we definitely did not like it. The higher hit points often made combat "grindy". It was still fairly fast but many of the combats we had took much longer than they would have if hits points were closer to 1e levels. An ogre, for example, has 88 hit points in the 5e playtest bestiary. A 1e ogre has 4d8+1 hit points -- ranging from 5 hit points to 33 hit points, but an average ogre would only have 19 hit points.

This brings up our second problem with 5e hit points: they don't vary. An ogre always has 88 hit points. One never happens across a weaker than normal ogre or a stronger than normal ogre. All ogres have 88 point points. As the hit points never vary, players can easily track the hit points of the monster(s) they are fighting. This makes it easy to min-max one's spells or limited use magic items. A player will never "waste" a spell or ability that average 20 points of damage if they know the monster only has 6 hit points left. When monster hit points are determine by rolling dice as they were every edition of D&D prior to 4e, players actually hat to take risks in combat. Those 5 ogres might be 5 hit point push-overs or 33 hit point badasses (or more likely somewhere in between those extremes), but the players would never know for sure how many hit points each ogre had until that ogre keeled over.

Our third issue was with "Hit Dice". Hit Dice are no longer the dice one rolls to find out how many hits points a monster has. Instead they are dice you roll to recover hit points. When you look at the effect of "hit dice" in the game their effects are a lot like 4e "healing surges" -- and healing surges were a show-stopper for many players who did not convert to 4e. 5e Hit Dice, like 4e healing surges, are a way to get rid of long term combat consequences in the game -- a way to make sure PCs are at "full power" at the start of almost every encounter. Some 5e playtesters have said that it would be easy to drop Hit Dice healing from 5e if one wanted to. It does look easy to ignore. However, when you look at the 88 hit ogre (and other hit point inflated monsters), you realize that the 5e monster hit points are designed around that assumption that Hit Dice healing will be used so that PCs will be at full or near full hp when the average encounter starts. The monsters aren't designed for play in games where combat tends to have consequences that do not end with the end of the encounter.

Our fourth issue is an extension of the third issue, it is hard to have consequences that last more than a day. In most cases a good night's rest restores all your hit points and all your healing Hit Dice. Hit point Recovery is far too fast for any type of old school play -- where "old school" in this case means "pre-4e D&D."

My group classified these Hit Point/Healing issues as "edition killers", meaning that if rules like these from the first playtest make it into the core rules of the final 5e game (without optional/"gray boxed" rules to easily remove them), our group will have no interest in using 5e to run our games.

Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery Progress Report

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I haven't had much to say about Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery in the last month because my Sunday group ran a three week playtest of the D&D 5e rules. After three weeks, no one in the group liked this initial version of 5e enough to believe that they would want to ever convert our Microlite74 Wilderlands campaign to 5e when 5e comes out. While this opinion might change by the time 5e is released, if WOTC continues in the direction they seem to be headed with 5e I don't expect it to change.

We are back to running our Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery playtest. I expect to wind this up over the next couple of weeks (so we can return to our suspended M74 Wilderlands campaign. This means that the draft rules for Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery are nearly complete. If all goes well -- and real life does not bite me in the rear -- "release candidate 1" should be available around the end of the month.

We will be testing some new combat rules over the next couple of weeks.

First, improved critical chances for 5th and 6th level adventurers. We will be testing 5th level adventures scoring a critical hit on a natural roll of 19 or 20 (that would otherwise hit) and 6th level Adventurers scoring a critical hit on a natural roll of 18, 19 or 20 (that would otherwise hit). I hope this will help high level Adventurers feel a bit more "Conan" or "Kane" live.

Second, we will be continuing to test some new "special effect" hit rules. These rules give Adventurers who select a Active or Full Attack combat stance the opportunity to do a special effect (like push their opponent back) when they critical hit in melee combat. Adventurers who select a Active of Full Defense combat stance likewise have opportunity to do a special effect (like make their opponent drop their weapon) when their opponent rolls an attack roll of 1 in melee combat. These options are intended to make using combat stances more interesting and make combat itself more interesting. We tried them today, but the jury is still out on them. More testing is needed.

Anyhow, progress on M74 Swords and Sorcery is being made, even if real life has cut into my available time to post about it.