20 October 2014

'Rogue Rules': Possible house rule to make martials suck less in Type PF D&D

The "rogue rule" is a term I think I might come up with yesterday, but there is also a chance I read it somewhere. It came up in a discussion with my wife about how much I think it sucks that in order to play a fighty class in PF you either have to just be content with full attacking to do the most damage you can, or paying the feat taxes to do cool things. And by do cool things I mean attempting to do cool things without provoking an attack of opportunity but probably failing because the major encounter has several more hit dice than you and therefore more feats or special abilities and higher Combat Maneuver Defense. Basically you can be really good at hitting things really hard really well, or doing nothing good, while paying for the honor of having a full base attack bonus progression with shitty skills per level.

Any ways.

Rogue Rule refers to a rogue, or any class that grants the Uncanny Dodge/ Improved Uncanny Dodge, being unflankable with Imp. Uncanny Dodge, unless by a rogue with 4 or more levels of rogue more than than the character being flanked.

Well what if, among other things, martial classes, that means classes with a the full BAB progression, had a similar rule with regards to combat maneuvers? Basically, any one can attempt a combat maneuver already in the rules, but they risk getting an axe in the face unless they have a the specific feat that allows them to do that specific maneuver without provoking. This makes just hitting the dude with your axe the safest course, you don't risk getting hit specifically because you tried attacking, and your attack will do damage. I propose that martials are able to execute combat maneuvers without provoking against non-martials, and against another martial 4 or more levels lower.

A level 10 fighter trying to disarm a level 10 paladin would provoke.
A level 14 fighter trying to disarm a level 10 paladin would not provoke.
A level 10 fighter trying to grapple a level 10 wizard would nor provoke.
A level 5 fighter trying to grapple a level 10 wizard would not provoke.

I'm torn between telling the monk to piss off and pay the feat the tax to be martial, or just giving the monk the full BAB so it can be what it's trying to being, an unarmed martial.

There is also the feat Defensive Combat Training in addition to its stated benefit also treats you as a martial with level equal to your hit dice.
All of the improved and greater maneuver feats are folded together. In other words, there are no greater versions of these feats. Instead the improved versions all increase effective martial level by 4, this also means a +4 bonus on CMB to attempt and +4 bonus to CMD defending against that maneuver.

A level 10 fighter with improved disarm trying to disarm a level 10 paladin would not provoke as the fighter's effective level is 14.
A level 14 fighter trying to disarm a level 10 paladin with improved disarm would provoke as the paladin's effective level is 14.
A level 5 fighter trying to disarm a level 10 wizard with improved disarm would provoke as the wizard's effective level is 4.
A level 5 fighter with improved disarm trying to disarm a level 10 wizard with improved disarm would not provoke as the fighter's effective level is 9 and the wizard's is 4. If the wizard also had Defensive Combat Training the poor fighter is very confused, and go home wizard you are drunk.

Other things I've been thinking about to make martials not suck:
Improved Grapple no longer requires Improved Unarmed Strike. The perquisite makes a certain amount of sense but fuck this is D&D and wizards can do all kinds of crazy shit with MAGIC so fuck logic.
The feint, disarm, and trip feats do not require Combat Expertise, also Combat Expertise no longer has that fucking 13 Int requirement. I mean you can learn how to fighter better in the hitting people regardless of how smart you are, but it requires you to have a slightly above average intelligence to be able to more adequently defend yourself with a weapon? Ditto on the disarming, feinting, and tripping. I mean fuck. Some classes allow you to take those feats ignoring those requirements any ways.
Point Blank Shot is no longer the prerequisite for all of the fucking archery feats that aren't about shooting people at point blank range.
Also fuck the idea that martials only get 2+int mod (minimum of 1) skill ranks per level. EVERYBODY GETS TWO EXTRA SKILL RANKS PER LEVEL!!!

15 October 2014

The Orcs of Shardheim

For lack of a better name, as 'A Mad God Rising' was really intended to be the pseudo title of a specific campaign, and I have yet to name the world, or the lands, so I have decided that Shardheim will sort of be the name for the setting. Even if various groups, because this setting is sort of where I have placed the Emerald Spire for my Pathfinder group, and is sort of where my ACKS campaign is also, never directly deal with Shardheim itself, I like the idea that it is enough of a thing that in the world people know of it, even if it's mythologized, or exaggerated.

On to the orcs.

The orcs are like the moogles. Both are from someplace else in outer space. The difference is that moogles were long long long ago space refugees; their ancestors sort of planned to crash somewhere. The orcs are the descendants of purpose built soldiers. They were weaponized humans, or near enough to humans as this world is concerned. However, the vessel(s) that crash landed did not have a large enough gene pool, crashed in fairly isolated areas, sometimes deep fucking underground. Combine that with the weird engine radiation and you get orcs. Take a group of organisms engineered very specifically, with a largely homogeneous genetic makeup, never intended to breed in large numbers, or without supervision, with recessive genes that were never culled from the genome, and are large amount of mutagenic chemicals and radiation. Orcs weren't always the ravaging marauders of limited intellect. Even if their ancestors were essentially living weapons, they weren't stupid. Orcs today are to a large extend stupid, evil, and horribly inbred creatures. Well most of them.

Half-orcs are proof of how much variation between two human populations there can be and still result in fertile offspring, or orc dna is really really robust. Half-orcs greatly tend to favor their human side, baring the tusks, green-grayish skin, and almost supernatural resistance to being knocked the fuck out.

Some times there are ancient ruins where the walls are made of seamless metal or some soft waxy substance, and on the walls and doors are a language undecipherable without magic. If someone were to spend years comparing the characters to how orcish sounds, it would become clear that the language of the orcs is descended from the language that was spoken with these symbols.
In some of these ruins are deadly traps that slay all who enter except for orcs and half-orcs.
Some orc tribes still hold fast in these ruins, and may even have a few (mal)functioning weapons of ancient power that only those with the proper orc bloodlines can operate (the least amount of genetic variation from the original orcs, or at least the correct specific genes).
Despite both being green, orcs and goblins are not similar species. Goblins are faerie creatures, and won't poison you if you eat one. You might have a bad trip if you eat a goblin, but you probably won't die. Orc is for some reason or the other poisonous. Heavy metals, radiation, hyper-active immune system, nanites, pick one and that is probably how eating orc-flesh killed you.
While not related to pigs, despite the tusks, a great deal of orc tribes keep all manner of porcine beasts.
Orcs like large bladed axes, and hammers, and maces, and clubs, and spears, and rocks, and chainsaws.
Some orcs wear armor. Most just bolt it to their skin, or scarify their hides to toughen them.
Orc tribes that still mainly live underground hate light brighter than a quarter moon's and fight as if blinded. Sadly, most orc tribes live above ground and can probably see and smell better than most adventurers.

09 October 2014

Some shit about pollaxes, and then a cool idea about pollaxes.

First, some "real world" stuff and a continuation of a dialog with Spells and Steel.

Here is a generic pollaxe. Now for the boring terminology lesson you don't care about.I'm using some kind of French because the best text or some shit on fighting with a pollaxe against a dude with a pollaxe is written in 14th century French. Get it here. This is also the same weapon that is variously known as a bec de corbin, lucerne hammer, pole-axe, pole-hammer, occasionally battle-axe (which is one of the German words for this type of weapon). I blame the Victorians and the All-Father Gygax for the weird proliferation of names.
Taken from http://talhoffer.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-is-pollaxe.html
The French names are in black. The more descriptive names, that I so helpfully added are in red.

In the simplest of terms, a pollaxe is a spear with benefits. Or in other simple terms, it's great muckin' can opener that can smash, stab, thrust, hook, and block, used by dudes in full armor to fight each other in single combat or to kill peasants etc etc.

The dague and the queue are both used to thrust with, like a spear, into the bits of armor where there isn't armor, like the face, armpits, or groin. Thrusting and maneuvering with the queue is faster because there is less shit there. Simple right?

That spike labeled bec de fauchon? It's not used to hit things persay, but I really don't give a fuck if you want to say it is, or if you use it like that in your reenacting or when playing D&D. For purposes of this blog entry, YOU DO NOT USE THE BEC TO STRIKE. It is used to hook limbs and weapons, like the crook of the knee or the neck. This weapon is in addition to being a big ass impact weapon is a big ass lever used to trip and initiate a grapple, usually by tripping and throwing someone to the ground.

Sometimes the bec is replaced with a taillant which is French for axe blade or something. The French word for axe is hache, or so I have been lead to believe. Anyways, the taillant is used just like the bec when fighting another asshole in armor, hooking and the like. Like why would try to hit someone with your axe blade if you a perfectly good rough surfaced hammer head opposite.

This brings us to the mail, which is as I have been lead to believe, the French word for hammer. You use this part to hit people. It usually has a variety of short spikes, or even longerish spikes, to make it stick better when striking against armor. This means it's less likely to glance off of the armor and therefore makes it deliver more force into the dude's body, while battering their armor up. Good places to hit someone with armor their hands, the plates are thinner, the elbows, even if you don't really hurt them you might bend the plates up enough to hinder their movement more, and the head, because concussions.

Sometimes there are unholy abominations that have an axe blade and a bec de fauchon. I don't really know what is going on there. Axe blade and hammer make sense because you might only have one axe and you want to be able to do some friendly foot combat or even lethal foot combat with another knight, so you need the hammer head to injure him and the axe blade to hook shit, while still having the axe blade to chop of lesser armored troops when you in an actual battle because that's what knights do, sometimes.

I could go into depth about all the gajillion techniques you can use while fighting with an axe, but to be honest, there are books on that subject, books on those books, and books explaining how to use those books. There are also people who will be more than willing to teach those things face to face. I can't currently because I am not allower to do high impact activities until I decide to get surgery on the ankle the Army helped destroy.

But really, unless you want to get really nitty gritty about fighting with weapons in your RPGing, just knowing roughly how they work is more than enough. It hits people, you can stab with it, and you can trip people or disarm them with it.

Second, look at this fucking thing, and some gamable shit from it.
This is a pollaxe. A modular pollaxe. And it looks cool. Even in the bolts look cool. While a magical sword being magical because its blade is magical for whatever reason makes sense in that swords were, and still are in many cases, peened and riveted and other wise (semi)permanently assembled. Here is a weapon of multiple parts that can be assembled and disassembled. Each piece could magical in its own right. The dague or the queue could be ancestral bronze daggers that once accompanied heroes into battle or on adventure against great beasts. The bolts could be custom made from thunderbolts, or scavanged from a giant knight's armor, or even from an ancient golem. Each piece could be given a history, which could be done for any weapon, but the potential to have more than one mail, dague, queue, or even bolts, brings to my mind an idea of knights and kings with collections of pieces that they select from to make their axe ready for a specific event, tourny, list, battle, or siege.
This could easily give rise to another variation of the "golf bag" syndrome, by which certain characters end up lugging around multiple specialized weapons of a same or similar type. But who cares. Maybe you have a player whose character loves his hafted weapon, the party finds a magical dagger of dubious enchantment that the player whose character uses daggers doesn't want. Maybe the pollaxe wielder decides to search for a smith capable of making it a part of their pollaxe. Or maybe the party finds, or kills a knight with, a pollaxe with one or more magical weapon components. Well shit, find a smith capable of taking it apart. The wizard gets staff suitable for making into a WIZARD STAFF. The thiefy person gets one or more stabby daggers of stabbing. Get a new shorter handle and the cleric gets a new warhammer, or the fighter gets a new battle axe.

Alright, let's try to make some fucking tables and shit for this.
Looking at the illustration, let's say there are 6 pieces that would standard pieces: the hammer head/axe blade/crow beak, the dague(top stabby thing), the queue(the bottom stabby thing), the haft, and two different bolt and nut pairs.

Roll 1d6 times. Reroll on douplicates, or don't. Or flip a coin. Or make up your own table.
  1. Dague
  2. Head ( 1-2 hammer and spike, 3-4 axe and hammer, 5-6 axe and spike)
  3. Haft
  4. Queue
  5. Dague bolt
  6. Queue bolt
I recommend that both spikes be generated as magical daggers unless you roll up a dague and haft or queue and haft combintation, then 50% chance that it's a magical spear, with the other 50% being the haft and stabby bits are magical items separately. You could even decide that 75% of dagues or queues are as magic daggers and 25% are as magic swords.

I also recommend that hammer and spike be rolled as a magic warhammer, the axe and spike as a battle-axe, and 50% of axe and hammer combinations are magical axes with the other 50% warhammers.

I don't even know for the haft. 80-90% magical quarterstaffs with the remainder magical staves of the spell casting type. (FUCK YEAH!!! WIZARD KNIGHT BLASTING FIREBALLS FROM HER POLLAXE!!!!)

Use miscellaneous/wondrous items for the two bolts, or maybe rings.

Using the table...

I rolled a 5

My five rolls are 1,2,3,4,6. I rolled a 2 for the head so it's of the hammer and spike variety.

I'm going to be a bit boring and use DCC sword magic for the queue, the AD&D DMG for the rest of the parts except for the dague.  Which I will be pull from Spells and Steel's magical items idea, the sword that is impossibly thin and seems to fade to nothing that makes the wielder impossible to hit by only one opponent, but only as long as the wielder does not attack. I will top it off using Hack and Slash's magic weapon table 1, and table 2 to provide some flavor for the various bits, either separately or as a whole.

So first the queue...
Ignoring the roll for type even though it would be hillarious to have some weird ass pollaxe that has a two-handed sword as the queue...53 longsword, because the idea of this being giant's pollaxe is kind of fucking cool.
Alignment...22 chaotic. Probably a giant/demon knight's weapon now.
Alas 04, so it is only a +1 weapon with 4 Intelligence, with one special purpose, but it does have a special power.
It's special purpose to is free all prisoners. But it's special power is the extremely useful reading any non-magical map at will. Awesome, except the queue can't communicate at all. Maybe it's intelligent but has gone mad being unable to talk and wishes to free everything from life eventually destroying itself.

Next the head...
Ok, the AD&D DMG just has misc weapons...
+1 hammer, +2 hammer, +3 hammer of dwarven throwing, and hammer of thunderbolts.
1d4 roll later....+1 hammer...sigh
Ok..let's see if it's intelligent too...25...so no.

Lets see what the haft is...91...oh no time to roll Rods, Staves, and Wands...
36...wand of enemy detection...that somehow still has 99 charges.

For the final component, the magical queue bolt, I will just roll from DMG table III and see where it takes me.
67 Armor and Shields.
74 Studded Leather +1. Ok so maybe the bolt was once part of a magical suit of studded leather and now contains all that protective magic, thereby improving the Armor Class of the wield by 4 points, 3 from the studded leather and 1 from the magic.

I've decided to roll for the appearance of the dague, queue, and head separately.

The dague is simply a shard of straight bladed glass that fades to nothingness.
The head of made of mundane steel.
The queue is crystal grown into an wavy shape that when seen out of the corner of the eye appears to undulate and rotate.
The haft is straight shaft of coral.
The bolts are both polished bronze.

I am torn between making this pollaxe the pollaxe of a titanic knight, or ignoring that part so it is merely a weird weapon that some knight of faerie might be wielding.

Overall this is an intelligent, in part, weapon with two of the business ends being +1 weapons, that can be used to detect enemies, provides an additional 4 points of AC (which is nice since it's a two-handed weapon), and if the wielder wishes a single opponent will not be able hit them, provided they do nothing but defend with it.

I close with some weird pollaxes and some bloody shankings.

08 October 2014

Miscellaneous thoughts

While some people are saying D&D isn't an RPG, I'll smacking be gods around with other gods and sailing away in my sweet spelljamming ship made from the skull of a dead god with my crew of merry and loyal skeleton privateers while I stride about looking like an anthropomorphized Iron Throne wearing a pirate hat.

In two months I'll be playing a magitek robot sniper killing the undead.

I still haven't started running my no longer mythic Emerald Spire dungeon crawl campaign in Pathfinder for my Pathfinder group. Partially due what I think is the group GM being tired of getting burned by the last two people he let run Pathfinder. It is now 2 months after I said I would be ready to run, and that was because I was converting things to mythic and running straight from the book. I have been asked since to not run it mythic, but that I still have run it Pathfinder, which despite me not enjoying the running of PF is because "I know you know the rules very well." This is true, and I actually know PF rules better our GM. It's very frustrating to be able to run the game you want with the rules you want because one of the prior GMs thought it would be a good idea to homebrew someone else's homebrew class when he had ZERO experience with D&D and wanted to run GURPS. The other guy is the guy who vetoed me and my wife's romantic suptext between a dwarf and an elf and gave us insulting ways to make it plausible to him that made it clear he had no idea why we were doing it, without telling us the specifics of his precious version of the Forgotten Realms.

I find myself wanting to return to running my ACKS game, which needs to be restarted because my group for it collapsed. But I now finally figured out why the whole attack throw vs THAC0 or Attack Bonus is used in ACKS and how it actually works at the tabletop.

I recently picked up the shiny new hardcover LotFP Rules and Magic book. I like it. Nice art. Nice paper quality. Nice binding that doesn't feel like the full color plates are going escape. The compilation of tables on the end papers is great.

Last night bought the Rifts Conversion Guide and Rifts: Dimension Book One: Wormwood. I may not ever want to run Rifts using the Palladium Megaversal system, but damn did Wormwood give me some idea. I now want to run a Robotech/Macross lost in space campaign that visits Wormwood for an extended period of time.

I've been thinking about what system(s) I should use to actually run said Robotech game. I already have BRP Mecha and several important mecha stated up. I could try using actual Palladium rules as I have both the original rules and more recent Shadow Chronicles rules. I've also thought about using Stars Without Number since it does have mecha rules. Or using d20 Future or the d20 Mecha rules in d20 BESM, OR DragonMech. I've even got some notes on how to kludge Traveller and BattleTech together. In case you can't tell, I really really really want to run/play a game with GIANT STOMPY ROBOTS with or without magic or psionics.

I also asked my PF group about me running Expedition to Castle Ravenloft with pregens. I got some vague interest from my group, but not really enough for me to want to actually want to make level 8-9 pregens in PF. I might just be lazy and use NPCs from the NPC Codex with PC level loot.

I'm also really really really considering just giving up trying to run for my group and try out this google plus hangout shit. Even when I was running ACKS no one in that group wanted to tryout the cool shit I made specifically because FUCKING MUTANT ROBOTS and CUTE LITTLE MOOGLES WITH POMPOMS AND MUSKETS.

I totally gave up my "Real World Weapons" series because well who really gives a fuck about how some people think some other people fought centuries ago, especially if there is no gameable stuff being vomited out.

And I just looked at some of the tags I've used and rememberd that I will never get around making Gurrenvangelion: Dance Dance Revelations: The Musical: The RPG, the game about being teen popstars that defend cities from space mimes using music and dance in giant mecha.

Abstract content post of little real value

DnD is a game about gaining experience.
Pendragon is a game about glory.
CoC is a game about losing your sanity.
Kobolds Ate My Baby is a game about dying horrible deaths and kobold death speeches.
Golden Sky Stories is a game about FEELINGS.
Rifts/Palladiums see DnD.

02 October 2014

Chess is not an RPG: The Illusion of Game Balance? Or, you know, Stop Playing Games Wrong: the RPG

This is a long winded rant/rebuttal/piss-taking about John Wick's screed against people liking heavy combat rules or "game balance" in their games. Also I seem to remember reading something about D&D and chess years ago.

Hi there. My name is John and I design games. Lots of them. Over twenty years, I’ve designed over twenty roleplaying games. I’ve had a hand in card games and board games, too, but the thing I’m best known for is roleplaying game design.

Hi John. My name is Ian and I don’t design games. But I do play them. And I do run them. And I do on occasion change the rules.

Now, this isn’t an article about game design, but rather, an article about being a game master. But, in order to get to that advice, I need to spend a little bit of time talking about game design. Trust me, it matters.

This is exactly about game design by way of you pontificating from the soap box you own from being such a prodigious game designer.

So, I’d like to begin by asking you a question. You’re playing a science fiction roleplaying game and your character is about to face Vin Diesel’s character, Riddick, in a fight and you get to choose which weapon he uses.

Do you pick sword, gun, hammer…

How about “tea cup?”

You are only giving out part of the situation as well as prejudicing the reader to both pick the tea cup and to side on the part of Riddick, who is of course the protagonist of his story.  You aren’t defining the distance of the fight, the condition of either character, nor of the area they are fighting in. Is my character a space wizard? A space marine? Is my character smaller, bigger, stronger, weaker, more or less skilled than Riddick? Does my character posses more or less body armor than Riddick does in this moment?

Therefore your question is lacking in meaning, especially since by the 2nd movie we know he is not just physically powerful and skilled, but is cunning enough to lower the guard’s guard to make that much easier to shove the jagged edges of the metal cup into that guy’s chest.

So, let’s expand on this. I chose for Riddick to have the teacup, and I am the guard, only I have a healthy respect for Riddick. I shoot him in the knees and elbows, since we are obviously playing a CINEMATIC science-fiction game. Or since I am playing a prison guard, I unload an entire magazine of stun rounds into him while backing away.

Riddick won because he is the protagonist, and because he has been built up to be cunning and deadly person, with and without weapons. The guard dies because he is supposed to, and because he underestimated Riddick. In terms of playing a game, Riddick is the PC and the guard an NPC, possibly a mook NPC. But when the tables are flipped, Riddick is now the NPC, and I am the playing the PC, as I am genre savvy, and evidently playing with a GM who thinks that running a game in which we are prison wardens that torment our prisoners on some rock is a good time, I am invariably going to win this fight, or die a semi-heroic death keeping the dangerous criminal at bay long enough for my compatriots to appear to subdue him.

A follow up question. Same situation. Except this time, you’re facing Sean Connery’s character from The Presidio, Lieutenant Colonel Alan Caldwell. You get to choose which weapon he uses, but he says, “I don’t need a weapon, I’m only going to use my thumb…”

How much damage does Sean Connery’s thumb do? What’s the save vs. Sean Connery’s thumb? Does it have an initiative bonus? Can it block or parry? Does it do Megadamage?

I don’t even care, because why am I picking fights with some old Infantry cat in a dinner? Are we playing Dumbasses picking fights they can’t win against GMPCs: the RPG?

When I first started designing roleplaying games, they appealed to me because they were kind of like writing a philosophy: “this is how I think the world works.” Games like Call of Cthulhu and Pendragon were great examples of this. The systems were tailored for the setting. And in the world of Riddick and Lieutenant Colonel Alan Caldwell, a tea cup and a thumb can do a whole helluva lot of damage.

Against low level mooks sure.

One of the most common features of roleplaying games are weapon lists. Especially guns. You could tell a gun porn enthusiast just by looking at his stats for guns. Different damages for different calibers, range variants, range modifiers, rate of fire, burst fire, on and on and on.


Same thing with sword porn. Reach modifiers and different die types based on the target’s size and bashing or slashing or piercing and… gulp… speed factor.


And yet, here’s Riddick killing guys with a tea cup.

Gotcha. People shouldn’t want more details for their games than you think are appropriate.

And so, again, I ask you, what weapon do you choose for Riddick?

It’s a trick question, of course. It doesn’t matter what weapon you give Riddick, he’s going to kick your ass with it.

Says who? Are you the GM? Is he your special GMPC that we are supposed to support in his grand quest and be impressed by his mightiness?

Does the tea cup have a speed factor? How about Sean Connery’s thumb?

More important question. In fact, perhaps the most important question: how do any of those things–range modifiers, rate of fire, rburst fire, slashing, piercing, etc.–help you tell stories?

Yes, but….

Just a moment ago, I called weapon lists one of the most common features in roleplaying games. These things are not features. They’re bugs. And it’s time to get rid of them.

I’ll get to it….

Why? Because they’re screwing up your game. They’re distracting you from the focus of the game.

But first this asinine statement.. They might be screwing up your games.

Because the focus of an RPG is to tell stories. Let me explain.

No. But I’ll let you continue.

Chess is not a roleplaying game. Yes, you can turn it into a roleplaying game, but it was not designed to be a roleplaying game. If you give your King, Queen, Rooks, Knights and even your pawns names and make decisions based on their motivations–instead of the best strategic move possible–you’ve turned chess into a roleplaying game.

Strange point that really….

You can successfully play chess without roleplaying. In fact, roleplaying can sabotage the game. Now, the definition of a roleplaying game is fuzzy at best, but I think you can I can at least agree that if you can successfully play a game without roleplaying, it can’t be a roleplaying game.

But is it more or less fun?

Video games like World of Warcraft call themselves roleplaying games, but are they? Can you successfully play WoW without roleplaying? In fact, you can. Can roleplaying sabotage your enjoyment of the game? In fact, it can. My friend Jessie tells the story of being kicked off a roleplaying server because he was talking in character. Another friend of mine tells the story of how she was wearing “substandard” armor and equipment because “my character liked it.”

Choices such as “How do I level up my fighter?” do not make a game a roleplaying game. In that case, games such as Dungeon and Descent are roleplaying games, and even their designers would probably tell you, these are board games.

World of Warcraft is a very sophisticated board game. The goal of WoW is not to tell stories but to level up your character.

Have you actually played WoW?

Remember the Three Questions:

    What is your game about? Leveling up your character.
    How does your game do that? Loot drops for killing monsters and completing quests.
    What behaviors does my game reward? Bigger loot to kill bigger monsters and complete more difficult quests.

Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro asked their community, “If you’ve stopped playing D&D and switched to WoW, why?” Their answer? “Because I get the same experience from WoW I got from D&D.”

Listen to that answer again. “I get the same experience from WoW I get from D&D.”

You know why they get the same experience? Because World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons have the same design goals.

Well sure they do. Start from a point. Low level with shit gear doing shit quests and exploring shit dungeons. Eventually you get to explore cool shit, that has more cool shit because cool shit is cool. All while doing a large portion of this game play with a social group. Sure you can play WoW like a solo game, but even then you are probably on one or more of the chat channels also socializing. WoW and D&D, and a lot of a games, are about doing the thing with some people. WoW can very easily be played while drunk, even to a high level of play. Shit are you going to say the Kobolds Ate My Baby is also a board game?

When 4th Edition came out, there was an almost universal negative reaction. Why? Because the designers had given up the ghost. D&D was not a roleplaying game. It was a very sophisticated, intricate and complicated combat simulation board game.

A very sophisticated, intricate and complicated combat simulation board game that people were turning into a roleplaying game. Just like giving your rook a motive, players used a board game to play a roleplaying game.

Can you successfully play D&D 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th edition without roleplaying? Yes, you can. Notice I didn’t mention 5th edition. That’s a different kettle of fish that I’ll have to talk about at another time.

The first four editions of D&D are not roleplaying games. You can successfully play them without roleplaying. Call of Cthulhu, on the other hand, is a game you cannot successfully play without roleplaying. If you try it, you get… well, you actually violate the basic tenant of the game: to make yourself scared through your character’s choices.

Explain to me how you must absolutely role play in CoC. Because I could easily make the same statement regarding D&D. You aren’t terrified or at least wary of the shit in the dark beyond your torch, or at the very least looking at the game world as if you are actually your character you are missing out on just as much as if you neglect “to make yourself scare through your character’s choices.” Which by the way is a really shitty thing to say. I might play CoC. I might roleplay my character getting pants shittingly terrified by horrors from beyond, but I sure as hell am not going to making myself scared doing this. I’ll probably laughing, or cracking jokes at the stupid shit the other characters are doing, or even mine. It’s kind of like there are multiple ways to play the same game, and you could even do them at the same time.

You can play board games such as Rex and Battlestar Galactica and even Settlers of Catan without roleplaying… but roleplaying seems to make them more enjoyable. Talking in character, making (apparent) choices based on character motives… but if you go too far in that direction, you’ll lose. And the goal of those games is to win. Roleplaying, in the end, sabotages the goal of the game.

I thought the goal of all games was to have fun? I mean I generally play board games to win. I generally play a lot of games to win. But how exactly do you win at D&D since it such a board game?

But if you try playing games such as Vampire or Pendragon or Our Last Best Hope or World of Dew or Deadlands without roleplaying, you’re missing the entire point of the game. In fact, I can’t even imagine what those games would look like without roleplaying.

Well I know what V:tM and KAP look like without roleplaying, but fuck if I actually care because either the people not roleplaying don’t want to be playing that game in the first place, or they are magically having fun without roleplaying.

I’ve been trying for many years to come up with a satisfactory definition for “roleplaying game” and while I’m not entirely happy with it, this is what I’ve got so far:


roleplaying game: a game in which the players are rewarded for making choices
that are consistent with the character’s motivations or further the plot of the story.

How about a game that you play a role in? Shit that is just too damn obvious. Next you are going to expect my real life motivations to be as internally consistent you expect the fictional game entities that a group of people gathered together to collaboratively play are supposed to be.

Like I said, I’m not entirely happy with it. It’s a working definition and far from complete, but I think it’s a good working definition.

I would say don’t quit your day job…

Now, with all of that said, you’re probably wondering, “John, what does this have to do with game mastering?”


My friend, it has everything to do with game mastering.

No. really nothing.

Because if the most important part of your game is balancing the damage, rate-of-fire, range modifiers, damage dice, ablative armor, dodge modifiers and speed factors, you aren’t playing a roleplaying game. You’re playing a board game.

Because having those things what? If you got a stupidly detailed game system, and seriously is this the 80s, then obviously your group of players must want to play the kinds of games in which differences in rof, armor penetration, ablative vs deflective armor, are all meaningful choices. These are choices that matter to them. You are telling these people that they are wrong and stupid because they don’t know they are wrong. And that is just plain fucked up.

And you need to stop it. Because all that crap is getting in the way of telling a good story.

How do all these details get in the way of telling a good story? Because your street sam’s roomsweeper ran out of ammo because it ran out of ammo not because it was dramatically appropriate as far as you the all wise and knowing demagogue of storytelling are concerned? I mean to me, that shit sounds kind of cool in the “oh fuck I am out of ammo. Fucking cover me chummer so I can close with my combat knife and gut their machine gunner” way.

As a GM, your job is to help the players tell the stories of their characters. “Game balance” has nothing at all to do with telling good stories. It’s an archaic hold over from a time when RPGs were little more than just really sophisticated board games. Or, as someone once told me, “An RPG is a strategy game in which you play one hero rather than a unit of heroes.”

You started off yammering about “game balance.” I don’t think it means what you think it means.

If that’s the case, HeroClix is a roleplaying game. And I think that all of us can agree that HeroClix is not a roleplaying game. Why?
Because I can play it successfully without roleplaying.
“Game balance” is important in board games. It means one player does not have an advantage over another.
In a roleplaying game, game balance does not matter.
Let me say that again:
In a roleplaying game,
game balance does not matter.

Ok. I’ll bite. Because I don’t give a fig about “game balance” either, but think you are yammering about player group parity or something. See, that’s something I don’t much care for. The discounting of “game balance” when it means that any group of players of roughly same experience can end up playing characters that wildly differing in power or utility or usefulness to any given in game situation, unless everyone at the table doesn’t care about that. Then fuck everything.

What matters is spotlight. Making sure each player feels their character had a significant role in the story. They had their moment in the spotlight. Or, they helped someone else have their significant moment in the spotlight.

I just said that.

Whether the fighter is balanced with the wizard is balanced with the thief is balanced with the cleric demonstrates a mentality that still thinks roleplaying games are tactical combat simulators with Monty Python jokes thrown in for fun.

Um. No dude. Dude, no. If the wizard can do everything the fighter can do as well as or better than the fighter while doing what wizards do, the wizard will steal or hog the spot light. And fuck the idea that combat utility doesn’t matter. If someone plays a fighter, they probably want to FIGHT and be good at FIGHTING, and if they can’t FIGHT better than the Wizard can then why even bother.

The reason roleplaying games are a unique art form is because they are the only literary genre where we walk in the hero’s shoes. We are not following the hero, we are not watching her from afar, we are not being told the story. As Robin Laws now famously said, “A roleplaying game is the only genre where the audience and the author are the same person.”

Wait, this is a literary genre? I thought this was about games that people play roles in.

I think it’s even more than that. In his classic game, Runequest, Greg Stafford created a world where mortals go on vision quests into the spirit realm where heroes and gods live, become one with the hero, and live out one of that hero’s stories. He comes back to the mortal realm transformed by the experience.
That’s the genius of Greg Stafford. He made the very act of playing a roleplaying game a mechanic in his roleplaying game. You step into the hero realm as your character who then steps into the hero realm to become transformed by the experience of becoming a hero and by doing so, you are transformed by the experience of becoming a hero.

Um. Because Pendragon has mechanics that to some extent will remove control of the character from the player due their traits and passions. Because he is a directly emulating Arthurian romances where this a thing. And even then, it really isn’t hard to keep your traits and passions from controlling your character. There is the pull between mechanical benefits, Religious bonuses, Armor of Chivalry, and bonus Glory earned, and the downside of having your characters vices and virtues work against their best interests. Also, everyone is a knight, and the old KAP magic system is terrible.

And what exactly does speed factor have to do with this? Or ablative armor? Or rate of fire? None of it.

A lot, if you are playing a game in which these things matter to the player.

These days, as a GM, as I’m reading through a game or as a game designer, making my own games, whenever I encounter a new mechanic, I ask myself, “How does this help me tell stories?”
If it doesn’t, I throw it out.
When I run Vampire, I keep the Humanity rules and throw out the initiative rules.

Well, that is certainly something.

When I run Call of Cthulhu, I keep the Sanity rules and throw out the gun chart.

Do you at least have GUN as an option?

I don’t want you to think I just get rid of combat mechanics. On the contrary, for Vampire, I usually get rid of that whole Social trait thing entirely. Why? Because this is a roleplaying game, and that means you roleplay. You don’t get to say, “I have a high charisma because I’m not very good at roleplaying.”

My response to that is, “Then, you should get better at it. And you won’t get any better by just rolling dice. You’ll only get better by roleplaying.”

So fuck that player who sucks at roleplaying as a charismatic or manipulative person who is skilled in seduction, fast talk, or whatever the social attributes and skills are called?

If you want to get good at playing chess, you play chess.
If you want to get good at first-person-shooters, you play first-person-shooters.
If you want to get good at roleplaying, guess what?, you roleplay.
And if that’s too much of me to ask, you can go right across the room to the RPGA where they let you make as many charisma rolls as you want because the game they’re playing is not a roleplaying game.

No, fuck you. That kind of thinking is the same kind of thinking that removes the penalty of using social characteristics as dump stats. Why bother having any social skills on your character when you fast talk your way using your personal social skills? I mean it leaves more dots or numbers or skill ranks for TEACUP skill so you can shank random people with your jagged metal teacup.

So, GM’s… I now ask you… I urge you… I beg you… go through your favorite game. Right now. Get it off your shelf, pull it out of your back pack, and open it up. Get yourself a big, fat sharpie. And go through each page and ask yourself this question.
“How does this rule help me tell stories?”
If you can’t get an answer in ten seconds or less, get rid of it. Because all it’s doing is getting in your way. It’s another hurdle you have to overcome. It’s another minute of wasted time while you or another player look it up to make sure you got the rule right because that’s what’s important… getting the rules right. Game balance. We must make sure our game is balanced.
No. You are not playing a board game. You’re playing a roleplaying game.
Start acting like it.

So, the funny thing is you say a lot of things that I agree with, on a personal this is how I like to run and play basis. However, I think your attitude is shitty. It reeks of One True Wayism. I don’t think any of the gun or sword details are important. I even think they are a hinderance to playing the game. I think that because I think trying to get really nitty gritty with combat mechanics is pointless. If I want that I’ll play a computer game, or volunteer to be deployed, or pick bar fights with infantry LTCs, or travel to Russia and engage in super underground cage battles with swords, or whatever. All I know is that for me, I hate extra details because real life is much more complex and detailed, and that is why there are dice, and I would rather combats be resolved quickly so we as a group can get to the next exciting fight, or get paid, or start a bar fight with the captain of the guard after saying his thumbs are weak.

The difference is, I am perfectly content with people playing games I don’t particularly care for, or playing games I like in ways I don’t much like.

But then again, I’m not trying to sell you a product.

But then again, I won’t be buying any of yours after your storygames and “game balance” doesn’t matter so play games my way blog post. Pity that. I had been eyeballing some of your work for a few months.