Category Archives: RPG Ravings

[RR] D&D 5E: Proficiencies and An Economy of Actions

Two more general notes on simple changes that are likely to have widespread effects on the game.

First, one new mechanic replacing many is “proficiency bonus.” This takes the place of what has been many tables across the editions: THAC0, to hit bonuses, saving throw tables, spell DCs, proficiencies, and more. Those were all separate tables, sometimes separate tables by class, sometimes separate table by effect. For example, saving throws in second edition were divided by class, level, and what you are saving against; combine those three factors, look up the right cell on a chart, and there you have your base number to which to apply other modifiers. The same edition introduced THAC0, which simplified several tables into one odd number, the number you needed to hit an enemy (modified by all these things), and it meant “To Hit Armor Class 0,” where 0 is not “no armor” but rather “pretty good armor,” as armor classes ranged from +10 to -10. In third edition, your number of attacks per round was a factor of your attack bonus, and each class worked from one of three attack bonus tables (another simplification over time).

Anyway, sweep all of that away for something simpler. If you are proficient in a weapon, you get a bonus. That applies to spellcasters’ focuses to, say a wizard’s want or a bard’s harp. The same bonus also applies to a rogue’s lockpicking tools and a ranger’s tracking. If you are proficient in a type of saving throw, you get the bonus. No separate tables for similar things, just the same bonus for every class, ranging from +2 at the start to +6 at the level cap. And then you apply all those modifiers.

Simplicity is a virtue. I’m concerned that giving spellcasters the same bonus as the fighters only helps them more, but I think they got nerfed on the other end to balance it out. Multiple attacks are now handled through a separate system. You can now have proficiency is just about anything, since that term has become a catch-all for “gets a level-based bonus.”

Second, the economy of actions has again been revised, or at least renamed. You get a move, an action, and potentially a bonus action. That is pretty close to fourth edition, and similar to third if you remove the possibility of a “whole round action.” What has been variously called a minor or swift action is now a “bonus” action, and you get one a turn from whatever menu you can acquire from your class, equipment, whatever. Maybe you are a two-weapon fighter and use the bonus action for off-hand attacks. Maybe you are a rogue and use the bonus action to pick a lock mid-combat, you cunning halfling.

A great merit here is the ability to give someone more cool options without surrendering too much to min-max. The limitations of action + bonus action is a balancer; while someone can acquire many great abilities, there is a built-in speed limit, so you get diversity rather than a master of all trades. Well, maybe you can master all trades, but you can only use so much at once. Preferably with a proficiency bonus and advantage on your side.

: Zubon

[RR] D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook

Bits of 5th have been online for a while, and it officially launched at Gen Con. I have my PHB (and nothing else yet) and was thinking of gradually walking through the book, a review in parts. Let’s start with some general notes.

First, while I understand some of the business reasons for not dropping $200 worth of books on people at the same time, the staggered release still feels odd. If nothing else, Wizards of the Coast is training players to play without the official books, although I presume someone in their business office has run the numbers on that.

As has been noted widely, 5th is a throwback after the new direction 4th Edition took. It looks a lot more like 2nd Edition, so one hopes it contains enough new and interesting to justify using it instead of just going back to 2nd Edition. I have a lot of 2nd Edition books. Continue reading

PvP & D&D

Today’s post from Tobold is about Dungeonmasters in Dungeons and Dragons, but the essential argument is the same as the one for PvP MMOs like EVE Online and for multiplayer content over single-player content. CRPGs and single-player games are consistent and sometimes mediocre. Multi-player content can be really horrible, but it can also be really great. If you are playing for the best times, which may or may not correlate with the best average times, you play with other people.

: Zubon

[RR] Shameless Conjecture

One of the big consumers of my writer’s juice has been a project I’ve been working on the for the past few months that is finally moving towards the light. I’ve been creating a line of tabletop RPG supplements mainly aimed at solo players or GM’s that need a bit more guidance.

The first release is UNE – The Universal NPC Emulator – which aims to create, color, and guide the use of NPC’s, non-player characters, in RPG’s. I released it back in 2007 on a whim, but now I’m trying to do things a tad more professionally. UNE has been cleaned up, and is now  heavily supported on the other thing that has been sapping my time. – this puppy has tons of examples, tutorials, and even previews for upcoming products. For example, it shows how to use UNE to create an adventure or create a villain with weaknesses.

Anyway, all the Conjecture Games products will be pay-what-you-want, and I am perfectly happy with the payment of $0.00. I just hope that they are useful to somebody in this niche hobby. BOLD is the next product, and is hopefully slated for September. It is the Book of Legend and Deeds and aims to create player histories, define downtime events, and even create a dramatic skeleton-frame for adventures.


[RR] Advantage and Disadvantage Calculations

At Origins, I played in a couple of D&D 5th Edition playtest sessions, for a module and for the online tools. Two mechanics stuck out for me: the new system for preparing spells and advantage/disadvantage.

Advantage and disadvantage are simple to describe and powerful in their implications. If you have advantage, make the roll twice and take the higher number; if you have disadvantage, make the roll twice and take the lower number. Done.

3rd Edition had a similar intent with its “+/-2″ default rule. If the DM was not sure what sort of bonus or penalty something imposed, just go with “2.” That is a 10% difference on a 20-sided die. How does “advantage” differ?

Quite a bit. Several people have run the numbers (I think “enumerate the 400 possibilities” is a better method than running a simulation). As noted, the effect of advantage is small at the extremes and huge in the middle. If you are nearly certain to succeed or fail, advantage is +1 or +2. If you have a 50/50 chance, it is +5. Out of 20, that is really, really big.

Players will also feel advantage and disadvantage very strongly because of the perceived gain/loss of the second die roll. If you roll two 18s, “eh,” you say, “advantage didn’t matter.” If you roll an 18 and a 2, that’s a success with advantage and a failure wit disadvantage, and you can see fate hanging in the balance of that mechanic. It’s a psychologically powerful factor.

: Zubon

[RR] Atomic Robo RPG Review

Atomic Robo is a great comic, and it has become a great tabletop RPG, Atomic Robo RPG (“ARRPG”). While the book has been in digital form for a few months, the book is just coming off the dead-tree presses. Early reviews seem to point that not only is it a perfect embodiment of the Atomic Robo setting, but it also is one of the best versions of the FATE system.

Drawn to Rules

One of the highlights to owning this book is how much time was taking in using the Atomic Robo comic to explain RPG rules. I’ll let the book itself do the talking:

ARRPG rules sample

There are lots of ways to learn, and adding a slightly more visual style by using the source material was just a fantastic move. I’m a FATE veteran, and even I appreciated all the comics that crossed the line in to RPG mechanics. Continue reading

[RR] Ficklejuice

I came back from vacation to my two play-by-post campaigns I was at the time playing before I left. I gave fair notice to all participants I would be gone, of course. When I came back only one was still running. The one that didn’t need a gamemaster (“GM”). The other one, well the GM decided he’d got in over his head, and he just wasn’t going to be producing a quality game. So the plug was pulled.

I am incredibly jealous of those gaming group that have had decades long campaigns. I’ve found in my gaming groups that was rarely the case. The current top games, Pathfinder and I guess Dungeons and Dragons, are swinging the pendulum further away by having drop-in type campaigns run at the local game shops. It’s a great idea to get people playing together, but I think it’s also indicative of the fickleness I’ve found in this hobby. Continue reading

[RR] Player Character Antagonism and Interaction

Your mileage may vary, but as a GM I find a unified front of players pretty boring. “Why, yes” they all seem to say although only one player is talking, “we all agree and do this.” In real life even something simple like choosing where to go to eat on a group dinner can become a balancing act. Bob’s on a diet, and Fi wants a steak, or at least something from a cow. Throw a vegan in to the mix and the difficulty increases exponentially. No one presses “X” to move along.

The more I play role-playing games, the more I get the feeling that the story isn’t that big of a deal. Sure, a cohesive metaplot would be nice. However, it’s the situations that really seem to stick. Those situations are especially good if players become invested in the outcome. Go for a full boat, when the players want different paths or outcomes.

I just started playing two play-by-post games at, and already we’re hitting some great player vs. player or PC vs. PC situations. Continue reading

[RR] Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine Review

This review is based on the ePub version (i.e., Kindle), which is currently available for $10 at DriveThruRPG. A PDF version with art and print layout will be out later this year.

This is a roleplaying game. It is possibly the roleplaying game. It is genius. It is horrifying. It is a beautiful balance of everything that would drive a story forward. It is diceless. It is filled with meta-game moments. It is quite a task to understand. If you are on a path to better understanding how to grow as a gamemaster (GM) or as a player with a player character(PC) in tabletop RPG’s, I’d tell you to buy it. If you are on Pathfinder this RPG might as well be in ancient Martian.

This game was to play Studio Ghibli films. Perhaps not as adventurous as Princess Mononoke, which would easily fall under a standard RPG system. This system was designed to play Ponyo or Spirited Away. There’s one scene in Ponyo, where the boy takes Ponyo out in a boat to explore the submerged world. It’s such an interesting slice of adventure, but without much purpose. How would you create a game like that where the player is involved? Continue reading