Monday, October 17, 2011

What IS a Healing Surge?

This post: really got me thinking about the subject of 4th edition's Healing Surges. I was fortunate enough to run two games with Clerics in them, so I never truly had to answer this question. It's easy enough to say "The cleric uses your healing surges outside of battle to cast heal magic on you." I, more or less, hand-waved the entire concept of Second Winds to be an abstraction referring to Morale and Ignoring Pain(for a great example of this, check out the Batmaninatrix's fourth animated short.)

I'm currently running AD&D as I originally ran it when I was younger, a hodgepodge of 1st edition feel and 2nd edition clarity with the crunchier bits removed for ease of play. Yet, I enjoy the tactical combat boardgamey elements of 4th edition for their own sake, in much the same way that I enjoy Stratego and Dominion. Still, even if I decide to run the game for its tactical combat system, I couldn't bring myself to run a game calling itself Dungeons & Dragons without immersive roleplaying and stories that build off of the character's decisions and actions. In order to truly do this, I need to do two things first and foremost. One: Ditch the woefully short and simple equipment list in favor of something more elaborate(easy enough, I only need pull out any older edition's equipment list and give THAT to the players.) and Two: Determine what a healing surge means.

Something I greatly enjoyed about that blog post, was the suggestion that healing surges could be used to determine wounds, and that a second wind might represent some dirty field first aid. Similarly, the "spend as many healing surges as you want during a short rest" could represent more intensive first aid even. One thing's for certain, if I run another 4th edition game, players will not get all their healing surges back at the end of every day!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Middle School Monster Use

I was perusing the AD&D Monster Manual and realized some of the monsters I remember from my middle school games were missing! Lo and beholder, I found them in the Monster Manual II. While many of the monsters in this book are just downright ridiculous, I did love it for such features as Quasi-elementals, Sirines, Alu-Demons, and of course, Glasya. This evil looking lady got quite a bit of use in my 'first campaign ever' which expanded out from the Yellow Box Starter Set town of Freedale in the Forgotten Realms. Being a neophyte DM at such a tender young age, it was not uncommon for overpowered beings to drop in on the party in a flash of light and just start messing with them(Personally, I blame Star Trek: The Next Generation, haha!) Aside from the obvious Elminster, who was played pretty much exactly like Q, we also saw much of Glasya, the Princess of Hell in these games. She fell in love with the party's Werewolf Assassin played by Jonathan and he did everything in his power to make her stop pursuing him, especially after Mammon and Asmodeus made it very clear that they didn't approve of the relationship!

I imagine this kind of zaniness is pretty common for DMs when they first start out, and I know many who never stop, haha! I remember talking to a friend's father once and he described a wizard who regularly popped in and turned members of the party into toadstools, or the session he ran where everyone was crawling through a dungeon starving, days from the surface, and they found strange mushrooms that looked edible. I think it's easy to figure out where THAT went! It's a wonder with such silly old DMs teaching me the game that my games aren't even sillier than they already are... which is still pretty silly!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

AD&D DMG Cover-to-Cover

I'm reading the AD&D DMG from cover to cover again. I love the Gygaxian prose, and this read-through, I'm really noticing the bluntness a bit more! From what I know of Gary Gygax, I assume most of these statements are tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time, I think they offer great insight into the type of DM he was at the time!

From the Preface:
As this book is the exclusive precinct of the DM, you must view any non-DM players possessing it as something less than worthy of honorable death. Peeping players there will undoubtedly be, but they are simply lessening their own enjoyment of the game by taking away some of the sense of wonder that otherwise arises from a game which has rules hidden from the participants. It is in your interests, and in theirs, to discourage possession of this book by players. If any of your participants do read herein, it is suggested that you assess them a heavy fee for consulting "sages" and other sources of information not normally attainable by the inhabitants of your milieu. If they express knowledge which could only be garnered by consulting these pages, a magic item or two can be taken as payment---Insufficient, but perhaps it will tend to discourage such actions.

We already get acquainted with 'milieu', a word that is used countless times throughout the book, but I've always adored this particular "old school" sentiment of the DM as the possessor of the rules. I've seen well thought out arguments favoring both sides of this debate, and generally agree that the game goes faster when players understand the rules and notice that people have more fun when they know what their options translate to in-game. The biggest danger, however, is that the players might feel need to tell the DM when he remembers a rule improperly or worse, suggest that the DM is doing something the game system "won't allow him to," as if such a thing could exist in ANY roleplaying game! I generally try to keep my players from doing that at the table, with the notable exception of spell descriptions. I'm always mixing those up and misremembering those because they get pretty exhaustive, especially when you consider all the extra spells added in by modules, magazines and supplement books. I'm totally fine with the players keeping track of and reminding me of the rules of spells(and powers in 4E!) On the other hand, if I make up a spell or power for the situation, I would be very distressed if a player tried to tell me that such a spell didn't exist and I couldn't use it, haha! On the occasion where I run for new players, it's always exciting to see them just 'say what they want to do', and let me handle the rest as the DM. Some players never lose this 'magic', but for the ones who do, the game ceases to be a simulation and becomes an abstract numbers game that at best can only be enjoyed for its own sake.

Gygax on monsters as player characters:
Having established the why of the humanocentric basis of the game, you will certainly see the impossibility of any lasting success for a monster player character. The environment for adventuring will be built around humans and demi-humans for the most part. Similarly, the majority of participants in the campaign will be human. So unless the player desires a character which will lurk alone somewhere and be hunted by adventurers, there are only a few options open to him or her...The considered opinion of this writer is that such characters are not beneficial to the game and should be excluded. Note that the exclusion is best handled by restriction and not refusal. Enumeration of the limits and drawbacks which are attendant upon the monster character will always be sufficient to steer the intelligent player away from the monster approach, for in most cases it was only thought of as a likely manner of game domination.

While I dislike the comparison of "intelligent players" with power gamers seeking game domination, I've DMed enough to understand exactly what he's talking about! Further down, he gets really harsh, however!

The less intelligent players who demand to play monster characters regardless of obvious consequences will soon remove themselves from play in any event, for their own ineptness will serve to have players or monsters or traps finish them off.

Jason and I started playing AD&D with these books, for the most part. I imagine we must have never read this section, since it pretty much denounces Jason as an inept player who will quit in frustration when he realizes he's terrible at the game due to lack of intellect... which I wouldn't necessarily say is the truth although I do think he chooses monster PCs for all the wrong reasons! That might put Jason more in the category or the player seeking 'game domination', but I don't believe that's the case either. Gygax does talk about letting an 'experimental player' play one for a short while to satisfy curiosity before relegating it to NPC status. I think that's probably the best way to handle such things, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between an experimental player and a power gamer at first glance, and I always have erred on the side of caution by just refusing the option. However, after reading this, I think I'll try the 'restriction' path in the future. I've definitely learned over the years that a player willing to play with some pretty harsh restrictions is usually someone who has a great character concept, and restrictions can always be lessened or removed later as the monster's natural advantages become less noticeable compared to higher level characters if I so desired!

Gygax on the placement of magic items:
...the placement of magic items is a serious matter. Thoughtless placement of powerful magic items has been the ruination of many a campaign. Not only does this cheapen what should be rare and precious, it gives player characters undeserved advancement and empowers them to become virtual rulers of all they survey. This is in part the fault of the writer, who deeply regrets not taking the time and space in D&D to stress repeatedly the importance of moderation...The sad fact is, however, that this was not done, so many campaigns are little more than a joke, something that better DMs jape and ridicule--rightly so on the surface--become of the foolishness of player characters with astronomically high levels of experience and no real playing skill...The rules of the game do not provide anything for such play--no reasonable opponents, no rewards, nothing! The creative DM can, of course, develop a game which extrapolates from the original to allow such play, but this is a monumental task to accomplish with even passable results, and those attempts I have seen have been uniformly dismal.

Yes to this. Yes, yes, YES. I definitely read this when I was younger, and it has greatly influenced my opinions on the matter! I feel a certain kinship with Gary Gygax here, since even in 1978 and earlier, he was talking to people, much the same way I talk to people in game stores, who spoke of ludicrously overpowered games with players that never learned how to actually play the game. In 2005, I ran a pick-up game for some people at MCC, and they brought characters they already had from another game. One of them was(this is 3rd edition mind you), a level 21 fighter. He had two ridiculously crazy swords of immense magical power that could end any enemy that he wished, but his only protective item was a +1 chain shirt. His armor class, if I recall, was 18 total. If you compare that to the enemies appropriately challenging to a level 21 character, his survivability was best categorized as "Not for long." He was a pretty exaggerated example of overpowered items and fast levels on a character played by someone for whom "level one" was probably either something never allowed to him, or something he willfully declined the opportunity to play. I mostly felt bad for him when he was essentially insta-killed in the first round of combat by a challenge that should have been appropriate for a party with an average level of 16. On the other hand, the arcane trickster with a combined level of 14, won the day, but I'm not here to discuss the virtues of 3.5 as an edition and how overpowered spellcasters can be in it! As for his final point there, it reminds me of speaking with my friend and former-player-turned-DM-of-his-own-group Matt. He described running games with massive amounts of treasure, super fast leveling and would go into great detail about how the party had killed most of the gods and were trying to set themselves up as deities of the setting, but they had to deal with the oldest most powerful gods first. I think that what he was playing could not be called D&D anymore, and truly embodied "a game which extrapolates from the original" in every way.