Zombie Toast Check it out if you want to see some of my "professional" RPG work.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Worthy Kickstarter

I just backed my first Kickstarter project today, Devin Knight's Monster Tokens. The guy produces very high-quality top-down tokens that I found a lot of use for when running Pathfinder and Savage Worlds games with Maptools. So, I figured I'd support the kickstarter when I heard about it and snag a big-ass collection of tokens in the process and I should plug it here as well.

Friday, August 17, 2012

More D&DNext playtest review: Everything else

At this point I'm sure that I'm boring non-D&D gamers to tears with all of this, and we're getting into some minutiae at this point so I'll just lump all the other important playtest material into one post.

Specialities (formerly "themes")

This is the second lens that helps define your character, along with Background. While your background focuses on your skill-set and some role-play based advantages your specialty is the stand-in for Feats and focuses entirely on mechanical benefits. Some specialties are fighting styles (such as Archer or Two-Weapon Fighter), while others are more like enhancers or minor multi-class bonuses (for instance anyone can be a Magic-User, it grants non-wizards a small number of cantrips while it expands the wizard's spell repertoire a bit). Since we're only allowed to see the 1st and 3rd level feats in the playtest it's hard to see how they'll play out long-term but it's clear that a character's class is a lot more important than their specialty. The benefits a Sharpshooting Fighter gets are still much stronger than any other class with the Archer Specialty, although of course the Sharpshooter will certainly want to consider the Archer specialty.
   Specialty's are pretty decent, they're focused primarily on providing clear cut "paths" characters can take with their abilities rather than the endlessly branching feat trees of older editions. That way you don't have to spend time optimizing and synergizing and just pick a theme you like and go and limits the chance for newbie traps. That said, specialties are not nearly as universal as Backgrounds. For instance, if you're the above Sharpshooting Fighter then you're practically obligated to pick up the Archer specialty. Hopefully that loosens up a bit when more Specialties are introduced. The Necromancer specialty is especially neat, a new way to handle the specialist wizard (although it's 3rd level ability to animate a single skeletal servant will become quickly useless at higher levels, hopefully later feats help it out).

Spells
  The spells introduce us to how magic works in the new edition as well as a taste of how wizards will work. Most of the spells are pretty familiar and while they no longer seem to scale damage with level they're still all working more or less how you expect them to. Damage for "focused" spells is significantly higher (melf's acid arrow has a base damage of 4d8 for instance, the third level Inflict Serious Wounds does 8d8). There are two big changes however:
   The first is the inclusion of "ritual" versions of spells, basically longer and costlier (in terms of material components) versions of normal spell which can be cast without preparation. It's a neat idea, and one that makes it easier for spellcasters to prepare their spells without having to worry as much about things like keeping the campsite secure or being ready to remove disease or blindness.
  The other big change is that many spells have different effects based on the target's hit points, most notably enchantments and other mind affecting spells. For instance, Charm Person only allows a saving throw if the target has 25 hit points or more, creatures with more than 40 hit points are immune to Bane and so on. Now, I can definitely see why these changes were made, but it has some effects I don't think the creator's accounted for.
  For example, due to their low hp totals and the fact that this edition doesn't grant class-based saving throw bonuses it means that wizards are the most easily affected by mind-control and other magic, while fighters and clerics are about tied as "most resistant". For example, a 3rd level fighter with Con of 14 would have an average of 30 hit points, giving them a save against Charm Person...a 3rd level wizard would have an average of 15 or less and would have to make a save. And since arcane spellcasting doesn't demand Wisdom they don't have great odds. Ironically this means wizards will likely duel one another with mind control before anything else. It seems like basing this off Hit Dice rather than maximum hit points would be more logical and fair.

Equipment
  Equipment will also be fairly familiar to long-time D&D players. Armor works very similar to 2nd edition...all armor, no matter how light, prevents magic-use and characters basically become unplayable when strapped into any non-proficient armor. It's a dumb rule...but at the same time I can see why they wanted to ditch the fiddly stuff like arcane spell-failure chances. So in the end I guess I don't care. They seem to have dealt with the issue that meant heavy armor is functionally less useful than lighter armor, so that's good, but this is forcing some ridiculous pricing decisions. For example, scale mail being 6 times the cost of chainmail.
  Weapons are likewise similar but simplified. For instance range increments have been ditched, there's just a short range and a long range which is four times the short. However, they've definitely gone overboard with the weapon classes. The division between simple, finesse, martial and heavy, aside from over-complicating things, makes for some ridiculous situations. For example, a cleric can use a spear or mace (simple weapons) but not a staff (finesse) or morningstar (martial). In fact, the war domain gives clerics access to martial weapons so you have someone who knows how to fight with a longsword, flail, warhammer, battleaxe, trident, handaxe or war-pick...but not how to use a dagger. A rogue can use a katana or spiked chain but wouldn't know how to use a longsword. There's really no reason why Finesse weapons need to have their own category when they could simply be a Property of the weapon like being Two Handed or having Reach.

Monsters:
I've only skimmed monsters but I'm definitely seeing a move back towards 3rd edition style monsters and away from 2e (they behave more like PCs than a separate type of character) or 4e (lots of weird, unique situational abilities). I'm kind of sad to see some of the weirder abilities go and be replaced by class levels...but ultimately it's an easier way for people to build and balance their own critters so I'll accept it as a necessary evil. So far it really seems to be six of one, half a dozen of the other. Some monsters are clearly just PCs in weird suits...others are more unique. Too soon to say really.
   One 4e feature that is showing up is in the style of encounter building, creatures are given "elite" or "solo" classifications to give an idea of how they should be slotted into encounters. Whether this will do any good remains to be seen...there's a reason why the vast majority of non-d20 RPGs don't bother much with things like challenge ratings. Notably the hit points of monsters have been drastically cut for the tougher ones, probably a good idea.

So...
Well, I've more or less looked through the whole thing and I'd have to say I'm still feeling fairly positive towards the new editions. There are a lot of places I can see things that look wobbly or incomplete but it is a playtest so I'm willing to have faith that many of these issues will be corrected. The changes between the last playtest and now show that they're at least open to the idea of change...here's hoping it'll all be good changes. 


 




Thursday, August 16, 2012

D&D Next, more review: Races


Unlike classes I'm not going to go over the races individually, instead you get my general overview. In the first playtest packet I was pleased to see that they seemed to be ditching a lot of "cultural baggage" that races carried around with them. For instance the 3rd edition dwarves had their racial hatred bonuses, plus "special training" to deal with giants. These never really made a lot of sense as being universal traits in the first place, let alone racial features that would be possessed by the character regardless of where or how they were raised.

Well, I shouldn't say they've just now ditched it, 4th edition never had them either. However, considering how much D&D next is borrowing from 2nd and 3rd edition it's good to see that they aren't being readopted. The one exception is racial weapon preferences which seem like they're a feature for every non-human race, although it takes the form of a bonus to damage rather than an improved chance to hit.

One thing that is making a comeback from 2nd edition is subraces. Each race has two subraces that provide their own specific bonuses to a set of "core" racial traits. Dwarves have Hill Dwarves (the tough ones) and Mountain Dwarves (the wise, stoic ones) while elves have High Elves (the prancy magical ones) and Wood Elves (the sneaky, arrow-happy ones). I have no particular reaction to this. I never felt particularly strongly one way or the other about subraces and I can take or leave them. I do appreciate that they're more than just the same race with a new hat or a different place to live, each of the subraces are different enough to justify being worth mentioning.

The races also all get a pretty impressive write-up as far as culture and nature goes, all of them have about two pages of text in the playtesting document and there might be more by the time D&DNext is finished. On the one hand it's good to see the dedication to fleshing things out and making them interesting...on the other it seems somewhat pointless considering how different things can be for different settings. Perhaps Wizards is pushing to revive Oerth or create a new "standard" D&D setting rather than the sort of generic, wispy setting that they've had in the past few editions which gets tossed out as soon as they start releasing more popular campaigns. Either way I honestly haven't read this. I've played D&D for 15 years now, I know what dwarves, elves and halflings are.

Stat-wise things tend towards 4e's "advantages only" philosophy. There are no racial disadvantages (unless you count the halfling's Small size), only bonuses and there are a lot of them. Each race gets very significant bonuses such as immunity to poison, permanent advantage on certain rolls, AC bonuses or other significant advantages. The design philosophy seems to focus on "big" advantages that will be useful throughout an adventurer's whole career. By levels 15+ a +2 bonus to Spot and Listen don't mean much...but Advantage on any sense-based roll is a bonus that will be helpful for anyone levels 1-20. Likewise things like poison immunity or the ability to reroll any attack, save or check twice a day will always be useful.

So...if all the races are impressive how are humans handled? Basically they're proto-supermen. You know how normally humans are the "average" while all the other races are exceptional in some sense (and often weaker in another)? Well in D&DNext apparently humans are exceptional at everything and the other races are only equal to humans in one area...so long as the human isn't already trying to be great. Humans get +2 to one ability score of their choice (other races get +1 to a set ability score based on subrace) and then they get +1 to every other ability score. Taking away human's "everyman/underdog" status compared to the other races is new for D&D...but it does make a lot of settings make more sense. Humans are always the dominant race in any given setting and it sure isn't just because of high birth rates. Now there's a reason...dwarves might be tougher than the average human but on average the human will be stronger, faster, smarter and more charming.

So it's an interesting tactic, and it makes me think that half-elves might actually have a shot at being useful (no details on them in the playtest doc) since now both their parents have an impressive ability set.

So races get a thumbs up from me. The design philosophy here is good and none of them scream "broken" or unbalanced.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

D&DNext continuing playtest review: classes pt 2


This one won't be quite as long-winded as yesterday's, so let's jump right in.

Rogue

Remember how I was going over backgrounds last time and I talked about how they seemed to serve as "lenses"that allowed you to interpret the very basic classes in new ways? Well the rogue doesn't seem to want to have any of that. If you're a rogue then you're some kind of unlawful scoundrel and you'll damn well like it. Which is an odd step considering 3rd edition steered them away from that (switching from "thief" to the more generic "rogue" and providing lots of prestige classes and options to try and make the distinction) and 4e basically turned rogues into agility-based front line fighters with a couple of skills thrown in.

You see rogue's get a "Scheme" which basically means that you've got two backgrounds, one of which must be Thief or Thug. Now, I'm sure there are alternate schemes planned (Charlatan and Spy would seem obvious) but at the moment the rogue is very limited in terms of theme. The fact that they've brought back Thieves Cant from 2e and earlier doesn't help the situation.

Now, I know why they're doing this...the Rogue is meant to be a skill-focused classes and your skills come from your background, but your background only gives you 3 skills. That's not much for a skill-monkey to work with, and the two backgrounds double this while also ensuring that the rogue has skills from the appropriate "theme" (i.e. breaking and entering, sneaking around, etc).

However, this still makes the rogue's interaction with the Backgrounds very unusual compared to the other classes and comes off as an inelegant solution to the issue. It's exacerbated by the fact that Rogues seem to have a very different relationship with the Backgrounds than other classes, notably a Rogue Thief is far more "thiefy" than any other Thief and the thug is far more thuggish. They get a collection of progressive bonuses related to the background, which makes you wonder why a Soldier Fighter isn't somehow more Soldiery than others, or a Priest Cleric. Etc.

It seems like if they want to avoid this thematic confusion rogue schemes could easily be divorced from Backgrounds. Each scheme allows you to pick 3 extra skills from an appropriate set and gives you extra bonuses as you level up. Give them names unrelated to the backgrounds like Sneak or Brute. Sure, the difference is almost entirely cosmetic but it doesn't screw with the way the reader perceives things like Backgrounds and Specialties. In fact, this whole thing makes me wonder how things are meant to work if your GM isn't using backgrounds, they're listed as optional after all. Would a rogue be required to get a background while no one else does? Would they just lose their background-related abilities?

Well, issues of theme and coherency aside the Rogue has some potential. They're clearly returning to their roots as the premiere skill-using class and damn are they good at skills. Right from level 1 they are guaranteed to never roll lower than a 10 on a skill check and they have a minimum ability modifier of +3. That means that they're rolling at least 13 for any skill rolls at all and the minimum roll increases as they level up.

That's before you even get to their Knack which allows them to arbitrarily give themselves Advantage on a roll, which will probably be mostly used to take advantage of their impressive Sneak Attack damage. While Fighters are unmatched in general damage output and absorption the rogue's sneak attack packs a buttload of dice into their damage whenever they can take advantage of it.

Wizard

Oddly, I've got very little to say about the Wizards at the moment. That's mostly because I have yet to get to the spells and frankly there is absolutely nothing else here. Not even familiars or bonus "feats". They get a bonus knowledge skill, they get low hp and no armor and a spell list and that's about it.

The only thing worth mentioning at this time is that wizards are very squarely back in the camp of Vancian magic, good old "fire and forget" (literally) spells. I'm not much of a fan of that style of magic, but it does do a decent job of supporting the wizard's "crazy prepared" focus so it has its place in the game.

I'm assuming that the final version of D&D will include other classes, because frankly having only Vancian magic would be a little bit unbearable. So I'm betting at some point Sorcerers will make a reappearance but for now it's just that guy with robes and a spellbook. I'll return to these guys once the spells come around.


Final Thoughts

So, so far I'd say the classes are certainly more encouraging than the backgrounds. I'm a fan of what they're doing with fighters and the cleric and rogues are at least so far fairly inoffensive. Nothing shooting flames or leaking odd fluids.

The one thing this all makes me curious about is multi-classing. I'm a big fan of the ability to multiclass characters to create your own unique set of abilities. Specialties provide some small taste of it...but a couple of spells tacked onto a Fighter doesn't make a sword-mage. It looks like it'll be harder to multiclass effectively as well...each class has features that scale heavily with levels so coming in on a class at the ground floor is a great way to be worthless while also crippling your progression in your previous class.

But for now the whole thing looks fairly serviceable. We'll see where it goes from here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

D&D Next, continuing playtest review: Classes part 1


As I mentioned last time, I'm kind of reviewing each piece of the D&D Next packet separately as I come to them. So for all I know they could come together in some kind of glorious whole or some retching mass for all I know...I won't find out for sure until I finish reading. But for now here are my impressions of the classes, organized individually.

Clerics

This will sound weird, but reading through the cleric abilities made me realize exactly what I don't like about the standard D&D cleric...that sounds way more negative than I actually feel because the D&DNext cleric is perfectly serviceable so far and is strongly reminiscent of the 3.5 version.

The cleric is perhaps the class that suffers the most from being "generic". It's basically a class with a few abilities that reverse, or rotate 90 degrees, depending on the cleric's alignment. Their channel divinity ability is the perfect expression of this in many ways. The good cleric can channel divinity to heal his allies and harm undead...an evil cleric has the mirror image of that power. They can harm the living or heal undead. Now, there's a lot of problems with that if you think about, but first and foremost is why do evil clerics automatically have to hate being healthy and love undead? Why wouldn't an evil cleric want to heal his minions or allies from time to time and who says just because they're evil they have anything to do with undead. Sure clerics of necromantic or death-based gods might be all about having a bunch of skeletal friends...but what about all the other evil gods who could take or leave shambling corpses for all they care.

And why must good and evil be perfect mirror images of one another anyway? So a good cleric can heal his allies and cause unclean zombies to burst into flame. Fair enough. Why can't have the evil cleric do something along the same lines rather than just reversing. Clerics are classic support classes and making an evil cleric into a half-assed magical damage dealer just because they're wicked isn't very "support" and not every evil cleric has a bunch of undead minions around to keep alive. They should both be support classes but with different themes. Good can be about healing and protection and granting the tools to smite evil...the evil cleric should be about making their allies nastier and deadlier. Instead of healing them, give them damage boosters or berserk fury or something. 

I'm spending way too much mental energy ranting about why evil clerics (a class very few PCs ever pursue) are lame, but my point is that it helps to illustrate how clerics feel like the same guy in different colored robes shooting differently colored bolts of god-power around. Cleric X feels far too much like Cleric Y when in fact they should be the most unique, considering the massive diversity of gods in D&D. As it is they feel like a fairly generic support-based spellcaster with a few thematic tricks. Clerics shouldn't cast spells, clerics should call on miracles

And despite this rant I think so far D&D Next is actually the version of clerics that get closest to this ideal. At least based on what small amount of info we have from the Domains. The sun domain is a good example, They get a powerful set of static bonuses (fire and radiant resistance) and at second level they can call upon an impressive (for 2nd level) sunburst ability with their Channel Divinity. In fact, they make the War domain clerics look positively lame in comparison.

So if I had my way that's more what clerics would focus on. Powerful, dramatic abilities fueled by their Channel Divinity power and themed around their god's domain. Ditch spells and focus on these powers and give them some good inspiration/defensive abilities say a non-magical ability to grant bonuses to allies similar to a bard. Or perhaps they get impressive bonuses to saves sort of like a 3.5 Paladin.

EDIT: I just noticed that the cleric is actually quite terrible at fighting. They've still got decent hp and okay armor (based on domain)...but their attack bonus is just as bad as the wizard's...in fact it's bad for both their weapon and magic attacks. It makes one wonder what the War Domain cleric is supposed to do with himself...especially considering his subpar domain abilities. 

Fighter

I don't know about the rest of you but more information on the Fighter is something I've definitely been curious about. The fighter's had kind of a rough history with D&D. In early editions they were incredibly dull classes. A big sack of hp with a few extra attacks, hardly impressive. 3rd edition gave them sackloads of feats which certainly made them more useful but their utility was based on the feats (most of which were available to anyone), not the class itself and unfortunately 3.5 made the barbarian, ranger and paladin much more interesting warrior alternatives. 4th edition certainly gave them loads and loads of tricks, some of which were very cool, but they did that for everyone and everyone's tricks basically worked the same way. Fighters still didn't feel very unique. Even worse, they were loaded down with many abilities that I personally found the most repulsive (namely the ability to move enemies around the battlefield through some kind of martial mind control). Still the 4th edition fighter was by far the best and they finally managed to make it cool and effective to swing a sword. 

So, how does D&DNext handle this most generic of classes? They're obviously moving back towards third edition's design philosophy but does that mean that fighters become just another sack of feats? 

Thankfully if this playtest document is anything to go by then the answer is no. The fighter is actually the most unique and mechanically intriguing of all the four playtestable classes. It's hard to say too much for sure until I see what options fighters get at higher level and how quickly their powers advance but even with the abilities they get in the first couple of levels they get terrifying pretty quick. Even their most basic abilities "Parry" and "Deadly Blow" are very impressive and look to make the fighter the undisputed king of the battlefield. No one is going to be able to dish out or absorb as much damage as the fighter. In fact, it would be impressively hard for anything other than a fighter (or a sneak attacking rogue) to even seriously harm a high level fighter. Fighters seem like they'll also make very effective defenders. They may not be able to protect every single party member at once, but there's going to be plenty of characters who will be very grateful for their fighter bodyguard. Fans of 3.5's Book of Nine Swords will be pleased to see some of that influence in the new edition's fighters.

Rather than getting a sack of feats to do with as they wish each fighter is given a fighting style which grants them new ways to use their special "expertise dice" as they level up. While this means you have less choice in your progression I feel like it's a good compromise. After all, fighters in earlier editions were only really effective if they focused on a specific style anyway...so why provide players the opportunity to accidentally screw over their character with poor feat synergy or lack of focus? Just give them a list of fighter archetypes and say "pick the one you like. He'll do fine!" 

The biggest concern I have for fighters is that at the moment they may actually be the class with the most choices and I see a lot of opportunity for bloat from splatbooks and the like. I'm hoping the designers resist the desire to create tons of minor variations "this guy is a defender, but at level 3 and 9 he gets slightly different abilities!" 

So, while clerics make me a bit exasperated with how generic they are, fighters on the other hand are an impressive breath of creativity and unique design. I look forward to see what they'll do with them.


So far, 1 out of 2 for classes. The Rogue and the Wizard will follow tomorrow.

Monday, August 13, 2012

D&D Next Playtest Review...THE SEQUEL...Part 1: Backgrounds


So, earlier today the next playtest packet dropped and I've been going over it. I'll provide my thoughts on it piecemeal. I'll just start with the very first thing I pulled up:

Backgrounds

So, I mentioned in the last review that D&D Next was doing something interesting beyond the usual class/race combo. Basically they're providing a set of generic "lenses" to adjust your character. Backgrounds were one and they're basically a set of semi-generic "pasts" that you can tack onto your character which is what determines their starting skills and grants some secondary ability or trait. Basically ways to show that a "Sage" Wizard is different from a "Charlatan" or a "Noble" Wizard and backgrounds are in no way class-restricted so you could easily have a "Sage" Fighter or a "Bounty Hunter" cleric.

Now, I'll start off by saying that going into this I very much wanted to like Backgrounds, they're great ideas. I also can totally see where Wizards is going with them and it's a truly laudable thing they're attempting. You see, aside from providing some starting skills each Background also has a Trait representing some special benefit associated with the background. Traits are not like your traditional Feats or Kits or anything, they aren't a set of bonuses to X skill or ability to ignore Y penalty or whatever. They're abilities that are meant to aid in roleplaying a character and encourage it, rather than being strict mechanical bonuses. It's a very cool idea and it's something that's very refreshing to see after the...let's say heavily systemized...4th edition. So definite karma points for good intentions. 

Sadly Backgrounds fall short in execution...the biggest problem is that they're ignoring what the word "background" implies...that is something from your character's past, how they were raised or trained or shaped by their past. Most backgrounds want to remain firmly in the present and that's a problem when they're still technically mechanical abilities in a living, breathing narrative like D&D or any other roleplaying game. 

So what exactly is wrong, well the "starting skills" work fine. They make perfect sense. A "Bounty Hunter" gets  Spot and Stealth and so on. Works fine. It's the Traits where the pooch starts to get nervous about it's prospects. For example, the Knight background means you get recognition for your rank and station and free lodging and food from nobility and the like. Okay, well that's all well and good but...what happens if you stop being a Knight? You commit a crime or you're framed or you just decide you don't like the direction your king is taking the country and decide to set off on your own (like some sort of ...adventurer or something.) Then you end up with one less ability than your friends have. Likewise...what happens if a Soldier acquits himself exceptionally well and is raised to the station of a Knight or a Noble...well shouldn't he logically get their Background abilities? After all, they're based on your place in society not your upbringing...so what does that mean? Do you lose your current background? do you now have two? What about your skills?

The Commoner is probably the worst offender in this regard. Their special Trait is...they have a house. Basically they get a house and a small amount of land and the service of an NPC apprentice or servant to tend it while they're away. So...what happens if you go wandering and never return (how many adventurers do you know who are likely to stick in one place for that long)...what if it gets burned down when a vengeful dragon shows up or you piss off the wizard next door? What if you just don't want to live in the little podunk village you grew up in anymore and say "screw it, I'm going to be an adventurer!". And it's pretty sad too...because a Background like commoner has a lot of potential...a simple farmer who is forced into a dangerous life or who is called upon by king, god or fate to go forth into the dangerous world. Frodo and Bilbo, Rand Al'Thor, Richard Rahl, Shea Ohmsford. I could go on naming fantasy protagonists pretty much all day. And what does that mean for everyone else if the Commoner needs a Trait to have a house...is the craftsman homeless? What about the Noble?

And that brings me to the second problem with Traits is that they are wildly unequal. There are some that have abilities that are damn useful for the entire lifetime of their character. A Sage's ability is a great Trait it not only is extremely useful it's basically an endless plot-hook generator. But others don't age nearly as well. For example, the Noble gets a collection of three minor, non-combat servants with no discernible skills or abilities. Now sure, an extra pair of hands and eyes could be helpful and having someone to deliver messages is moderately useful for the lazy adventurer...but really when you've got 10 or 15 levels under your belt it's not very impressive. The Commoner may be lording his oh-so-fancy cottage over the heads of his homeless Knight and Noble friends but after a few adventures I'm pretty sure any PC worth their salt can afford to buy themselves a house.

 The very worst is the Thug. You know what their special ability is? A bad reputation. First off, even ignore the problem that A) a reputation is meaningless outside of the area it's established in and D&D characters are often wide-ranging folks and B) a reputation for being "a bit of a dick" is rather easily supplanted by a reputation for "killing dragons" or "saving kingdoms" it's still terrible. The Trait basically boils down to this "you can commit minor crimes and get away with them...because people are frightened of you". Sure, at level 1 maybe you can afford some extra healing potions because you bullied some free meals out of the local inn or broke into someone's barn to nap...but even in the most lean and frugal D&D campaigns I can't imagine characters above level 3 or so needing to save the extra half-gold piece by dicking over a shopkeeper on 50 foot rope.

Here's a quick summary of the good vs. the bad. 

The Good: Sage (probably the best), Spy, Soldier, Thief and Priest.

The Bad: Artisan, Knight, Bounty Hunt, Charlatan, Noble. 

The Worst: Thug, Commoner

Obviously I doubt anyone from Wizards is going to be reading this, let alone heeding my words, but nevertheless these are my opinions:

1) The ideas of backgrounds as both a means of making a character unique and providing plot and roleplaying opportunities is a great idea. HOWEVER

2) Backgrounds should not restrict the GM or players. The GM shouldn't have to worry that plot events are going to actually remove a character's abilities (by burning his house, taking his title or even giving them a new one) and players shouldn't feel like they're now tied permanently to "who they were". A 1st level fighter who was a brute and a bastard and is defined by his "Thug" background is fine...but as that fighter's story moves on he should be able to move past that and change as a person. 

3) Traits should definitely not be something that any other PC can duplicate with nothing but a fistful of cash. anyone can buy a house. Only someone who has spent years in study could be considered a sage. 

That is all. I see a lot of potential in D&D Next, but here's hoping the rest of the game works better than Backgrounds do, especially the other "lense": your Specialty.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

PDQ Week Wrap-Up

So, I thought I covered just about every PDQ product out there, but it turns out I missed one: Adventure Into Darkness. It's a sourcebook for "Lovecraftian Comic Books" using the Truth and Justice system. Unfortunately I'm not able to give my usual summary/pitch for it because I only found out it existed yesterday!

Who knows maybe there's more PDQ products out there that I've missed, I'll look forward to finding out and possibly having a PDQ Week 2 sometime. In the meanwhile I'm working on my own PDQ books, not just Battle Royale but also a set of rules for playing horror games in PDQ. I'll keep you updated as they progress. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

PDQ Week pt 6: The rest of the gang

So we're getting near the end of the week (I may take day 7 as a break, we'll see) and I've still got a fair collection of various PDQ games. So I'll go ahead and bunch the rest of them up together here.

Vox

Vox is...its...a bit tough to describe.

Vox is a bit like dead inside, a surreal mix of bizarre pseudo-philosophy mixed with horror, with a bit more on the "horror" side of things. The main gimmick (for lack of a better term) of the game is that each player has voices in their head. These voices have their own Qualities and are each role-played by another player (who also has their own character with their own voices controlled by another player). The exact nature of the voices is left to the GM to determine, or more likely not determine. If there's one common thread throughout Vox it's a pervasive, vaguely creepy ambiguity. The truth may be out there, but it is not necessarily something that can be known, only guessed at. Unfortunately this can make it very difficult to easily run, as there's no "default" mode of play or easy answer to the question "what should we do next"? However, if you do gather enough inspiration to put together a plot it creates an interesting and bizarre style of play.


While the Voice mechanic is interesting the real gold I found in Vox was the settings. The game comes with 4 settings....a modern conspiracy setting, a Victorian alternate history setting, a 1920's cosmic horror and a futuristic (maybe?) place called the Facility. The Facility was my personal favorite and one of my biggest regrets as a GM is that I have yet to be able to successfully manage to play a game set in it.

Sadly Vox is no longer available. The author has decided to bow out of the RPG industry and there's no current way to get ahold of the game. Who knows, this may change some day and hopefully it might eventually be available at least in pdf form.

Ninja Burger

Ninja Burger is an RPG by the same author as Vox, but fortunately it is still available through e23. Which is good because never has there been a game more suited to PDQ, I recall one of the first things I thought when I saw that ninja burger was being released for PDQ was "damn, that's just what I wanted to do!"

I'd explain Ninja Burger but the name really says it all. You're ninjas who deliver fast food. No delivery is too remote, no call is too dangerous. Occasionally you also battle pirates, samurai and other competitors in the fast food racket. It kind of epitomizes PDQ's "beer and pretzels" roots in that it's designed for fast pick-up-and-play games with minimal fuss and a concept that allows you to simply say "okay, everyone your manager gives you tonight's delivery address, get to work".

As a side benefit, the Ninja Burger default setting is San Francisco and the game provides and incredibly detailed write-up of the city.

Pirate, Monkey, Ninja, Robot: The RPG

Along with Dead Inside PMNR: The RPG is a PDQ elder but while Dead Inside is fairly serious PMNR is definitely beer-and-pretzels all the way through. It's a wacky game to pick up and play whenever you're too tired, burned out or frustrated to come up with any sort of coherent plot and just want to play something crazy and fun. Needless to say the game's pretty simple (it's adapted from a boardless board-game) and while it's fun there's not much there that you'd find that you'll be "missing" at this point in PDQ's history. You could easily play the game with just knowledge of the concept and most any other PDQ product in hand. But it's fun and if you're a PDQ completionist it's just 6 bucks to pick up the pdf.


Temple of the Lost Gods

There's not exactly a lot to bring up here...it's not a setting or even a full set of PDQ rules. However this little demo of PDQ written up by Chad way back when is a great way to show just how flexible PDQ can be and it provides a very compact and useful magic system. Really this is all you need to play an interesting, if perhaps a bit basic, PDQ fantasy game and it's a good way to get started (along with the free core rules) for those who aren't familiar with PDQ but are interested in trying it out.





Friday, August 10, 2012

PDQ Week Pt 5: Dead Inside



Those who are more familiar with PDQ from humorous games like Questers of the Middle Realms and Ninja Burger or whimsical rpgs like the Zorcerer of Zo or Truth and Justice may be a little surprised at the cover to the right and the rather bleak title here. Well, Dead Inside isn't your average PDQ game or your average RPG in general. 

The game has a very unique concept tied to a twisted sort of urban fantasy and horror setting. Essentially the players are all characters who have lost their soul...perhaps they sold it, perhaps they were "broken" by some kind of horrific event or perhaps something simply cracked their soul like an egg and drained them dry. Souls insulate normal humans from the agonizing coldness of the Real World and those without this protection are left in constant, numbing pain. However, your soul also blinds you and limits you to your half-blind mundane senses and with that shroud lifted you can now see an entire world of horror, magic, madness and mystery. 

The game is essentially a quest to restore your soul and end your torment. The expanded perception of the Dead Inside allows them to explore the Spirit World, interact with the Imagos (sort of weird, Jungian spirit-guides) and other supernatural beings such as ghosts and pure spirits. Dead Inside can trade soul-stuff and may restore themselves by making deals or even stealing soul-energy from others. However, the stated goal of the game is to reverse the standard RPG cliche of "kill things and take their stuff", because one of the ways you can restore your soul is by doing good deeds, helping others and "cultivating" your soul energy. Likewise acts of selfishness and viciousness are a good way to cause soul decay and stunt your growth. 

In addition to your expanded perception the Dead Inside gain access to supernatural abilities that allow them to create changes in themselves or the world around them or create portals to the Spirit World. Of course these powers come at a price. They are fueled by Soul Energy...the resource that you're desperately trying to husband to make yourself whole. 

The setting of Dead Inside is very evocative and imaginative while being drawn out namely in broad strokes. The main focus is on the Spirit World (although there is also the Cold Hard World sourcebook which provides extra information on the Real World) and it's a place that can be full of beauty, surrealism and subtle (or not-so-subtle) horrors. It's like a mixture of Wonderland, Labyrinth and Neil Gaimen's Mirrormask. The game doesn't end if you restore your soul either, as once you've fixed yourself you become a Sensitive, a fully-souled individual who can still perceive the supernatural and if you continue to develop your spiritual muscles then you can eventually evolve into a Magi, a much more powerful spiritualist capable of warping reality and others and creating new spirits from pieces of their own soul. 

Now, I've spent most of this week fanboying-out over these games but for Dead Inside I think it's worth bringing up a few "cons". Dead Inside is a great setting and it's supported by the tough little PDQ system so it's still definitely worth the 13 bucks for the PDF but it is pretty much the first serious game for PDQ and it shows it. There's a variety of mechanics that are interesting but don't quite work. Far too much of the system is reliant on the Soul Point mechanic. The primary drive of the Dead Inside is restoring their soul and making themselves whole. However, Soul Points are also the primary form of currency in the Spirit World and the fuel for any supernatural tricks you might try. That means to really get involved with most of the really neat, weird and surreal aspects of the setting you've got to slow down your growth, which is hard to justify in-character. Likewise your Type Quality (Dead Inside for most PCs) is by far the most important Quality and it's impossible to improve other Qualities without actually reducing your Dead Inside Quality. At the same time it's actually quite easy to restore your soul, in fact you could probably do it in a handful of sessions, rendering the primary motivation and source of dread and angst slightly toothless. 

However, despite those gripes you've got a truly inspiring setting with some neat, original mechanics that is well worth getting.

Bonus Material: Dead Inside House Rules

So as I mentioned, Dead Inside has some mechanics that work against it, it was made at a time when the PDQ system was just finding its legs and hadn't really hit its stride with things like Truth and Justice. So here's some suggestions on systems that could be spliced from other PDQ games to make things run smoother.

Soul Points (Truth and Justice): The biggest problem with Soul Points is the fact that they are simultaneously your only form of currency, the fuel for your supernatural tricks, your "luck" points and, against some supernatural beings, a form of hit points. On top of that you've got to try and accumulate as much as possible if you want to restore your soul. The best solution to this issue is to use the Truth and Justice Hero Point system in place of Soul Points. The standard Hero Point pool can be spent to power your supernatural abilities or engage in soul-point barter, while character progression is handled by the MAX. That way a Dead Inside doesn't have to worry about crippling their progression if he heal a friend or ward away a hungry spirit predator.

It also helps to explain one of the odd little paradoxes of the setting. A common object is a Soul Egg, a device made to hold Soul Points as a kind of storage device. However, there's little justification to actually create one of these or use them. There's no normal limit to the number of soul points you can hold and the soul egg itself actually can make you vulnerable (by acting as an arcane line to someone else who holds one of your Soul Eggs). However, having a Maximum pool of Soul Points means that Soul Eggs are a necessity for those who trade heavily in Soul Points or steal them from others.

When using Hero Points a character's Type Quality can be improved at a MAX cost equal to it's new MOD +2 (so 4 points to go from Average [0] to Good [+2], 6 to go from Good [+2] to Expert [+4], etc).

Qualities, Damage and Recovery (PDQ#) One thing that may strike you when reading the Dead Inside character creation rules if you're used to other PDQ games is how few Qualities they get. The core PDQ rules (especially back then) tended to assume a very small collection of Qualities for quick, pick-up-and-play style games. However, it's pretty easy to see that the number of Qualities (and thus the durability and competence of most characters) has usually increased since then.

So for character creation I suggest looking to PDQ# and it's Core Qualities. Each Dead Inside character should have a Good [+2] Past Quality, a Good [+2] Defining Quality and a Good [+2] Personality Quality (I dropped Motivation, since all Dead Inside share a single, driving Motivation to begin with) and a Quirk (same as PDQ#'s Foibles). Then each character receives 4 additional Quality Ranks to buy new Qualities or to increase one of their Core Qualities.

I would also suggest using PDQ#'s rules for damage (being taken out only once all Qualities are Zeroed Out) and recovery (including the rules for being Mostly Dead).


Thursday, August 9, 2012

PDQ Week Pt 4: PDQ# and Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies

Now we come to the latest PDQ offering. Technically speaking both of these are really the same game but I'm splitting the info up for reasons that should become apparent. 


PDQ# is the newest "edition" of PDQ. It's not a 2nd edition or a revised edition so much as it's an...alternate edition. Basically when working on Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies Chad incorporated a lot of ideas introduced in various other PDQ books along with several new concepts and by the end of it the final result was something different enough to be considered a new version of PDQ. He made the results of this new "core" system available on his website as PDQ# (or PDQ "Sharp").

Why doesn't this count as a 2nd edition of PDQ? Mostly because PDQ# is very focused on the genre of swashbucklers (of the Seven Skies). Swashes and the buckling thereof are threaded throughout the system. The system introduce a different form of Conflicts called Duels designed to be played out as one-on-one contests between characters as well as Techniques, special tricks or conditions that grant a bonus when using a Quality in a specific manner. 

However, despite the swashbuckling focus PDQ# introduces a ton of ideas that fit perfectly in other PDQ games, so perfectly that it's common for PDQ gamers to incorporate many of these new ideas when playing games designed for the original PDQ. Techniques especially are an incredibly flexible and useful tool to give PDQ characters a few more interesting tricks without really increasing their complexity. 

In addition to swashbuckling PDQ# likes to play around with new ways to get players involved in the action and storytelling. For example, the results of dice rolls (whether success or failure) are normally narrated by the player (although they can always pass the narration off to the GM or another player if they're out of ideas). The other major innovation of PDQ# is Style Dice. Fate/Fortune/Karma points are a very common thing to see in PDQ games, but Style Dice are a new breed, namely because of how they are spent and earned. GMs have two sources of Style Dice to hand out to players. The Bowl is the first and it's for rewarding creativity, flair and coolness but it is also limited by quantity. The Box is the second and it's unlimited, but only used for "mechanical" rewards such as being affected by your Weakness (called Quirks now) or similar misfortunes. However, any dice spent go back into the bowl, encouraging players to spend freely to ensure that the Style Dice economy flows smoothly. 

So even if you're not necessarily interested in running a swashbuckling game, PDQ# is practically required reading (fortunately it's free) for PDQ GMs so they can mine it for new ideas and mechanics. 


That's a cool cover right there. Now I talked about PDQ# earlier partially because if you want you can check it out separate from Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies (what is with PDQ games and the long names?) but also so I could get the mechanical stuff out of the way and jumping into the setting here. Because the setting deserves a lot of attention. 

It's not the first "complete" setting for PDQ (that honor probably goes to Dead Inside) but it's certainly the most fleshed out and robust. Since PDQ games are so player-driven and DIY-oriented mechanically it's no surprise that they have a lot of DIY when it comes to the setting. Most PDQ books are more like toolkits geared towards a certain genre sometimes with a light setting draped around to give things context and provide inspiration. That's not a criticism, it gives a lot of opportunity for freedom and inspiration in a light, compact form. However, at the same time a great setting can be a draw regardless of the system (just look at games like Exalted).

S7S is definitely an interesting and very well-thought-out setting. The magic, the history and the "geography" (areography?) are all well detailed and thorough without being just a massive fantasy atlas. So if you're looking for an original and well-written swashbuckling fantasy setting then I strongly suggest S7S. 

And while most of the game's system innovations can be found in the PDQ# document there are a few original ideas that you can only get in the full version. The most remarkable is the rules for ship-to-ship conflicts. It's a really great mechanic for teamwork and works equally well when taken into different settings (whether it's commanding a starfleet or soldiers on a battlefield). 

My only regret is that I don't currently have much in the way to offer with house rules (so sadly no bonus material today) because I frankly haven't actually had a chance to play a full game, this being the most recent addition to the PDQ family. However, I've made extensive use of the PDQ# rules already by incorporating them into other PDQ games. 

Battle Royale Preview

Since I don't have anything strictly new to add today I'll instead take the opportunity to talk a bit about my own upcoming PDQ game, Battle Royale. It's a game of the "toolkit" variety designed for playing martial arts themed games at a wide range of power levels. 

So with the addition of PDQ# there are now two primary forms of PDQ combat. You've got the traditional Conflicts from regular PDQ and the new Dueling rules from PDQ#. Now the Duel rules are great for adding extra tactical flair to PDQ but they suffer from one major problem...they're designed almost exclusively for one-on-one conflicts (or one PC against a group of Minions) and they aren't nearly as elegant when used in a situation where a larger group gangs up on one or two powerful foes (such as the classic "boss fight" scenario). 

So, while I wanted to keep the new ideas and strategy introduced by Dueling but I didn't want to limit how the players might want to engage their opponents. So I went with the simplest and most obvious solution: use both. Battle Royale will feature both standard PDQ Conflicts but also Bouts, one-on-one battles based on PDQ#'s Dueling rules.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

PDQ Week, Pt 3: Zorcerer of Zo

Phew, keeping up a post-a-day is rough. Especially the long-winded posts I've been chugging out. So tonight's may be a bit shorter.


Next up we have The (Zantabulous) Zorcerer of Zo. The Zorcerer of Zo is certainly a unique book, even when compared to other PDQ games. In a lot of my previous commentaries I talked about how the product showed you new ways to use the PDQ system and serve as a sort of "toolbox" for the system. Zo is a little bit different. 

Zo uses a version of PDQ known as "the good bits", a trimmed down version of an already impressively compact system. It's designed for maximum ease of play and making sure that the rules fade quietly into the background whenever possible. Instead of playing around with the system Zo is much more concerned with setting and story. 

The setting of the Land of Zo is interesting, drawing upon a variety of pre-existing fairytale ideas and characters and creating new ones by fusing them together. For example you've got the Blue Hood, a conceptual hybrid of Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. Timothy, a noble talking cat who is a fusion of Puss in Boots and the Marquis De Carabas from Neverwhere. Then you've got the setting's ultimate Big Bad...wolf of course: Shaykosch, the Deathless Wolf. A combination of the obvious Big Bad Wolf and the mythic Koschei the Deathless. The Land of Zo is a great fairytale setting right out of the box which provides enough familiarity to tug at childhood memories but enough novelty to avoid being predictable. 

In addition you've got copious notes from the author on the nature of fairytales, storytelling and happy endings. You've even got about 50 pages devoted to notes on Chad's nearly year-long Zorcer of Zo campaign and notes on his preparation for the games. I cannot recommend the book enough as a great "starter" for anyone new to RPGs, it's got a simple system, a nearly universally appreciated theme and tons of inspirational material. 

And while the book's focus is certainly on setting and style it still manages to slip in some neat new ideas to the PDQ arsenal. It's magic system is unique and simple, although strongly tied to the fairytale theme. I quite like the idea that whenever a character attempts to do magic then magic will happen...it's just a question of whether it does what you wish it to. It also introduces Learning Points (a concept also used in Jaws of the Six Serpents and later in Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies) which are a great form of character development. Learning Points are earned when you fail a Challenge or suffer a setback in a Conflict. This means that characters are rewarded for trying difficult and seemingly impossible tasks, taking on great odds and tackling things outside of their normal skill set. 

Bonus Material: Dark Fairy Tales

Zorcerer of Zo is a refreshingly straightforward and innocent take on the fairytale genre (yes I know that most original fairtales are not nearly so innocent, I don't care). It's a nice dose of nostalgia and sweetness when placed alongside so many other games which twist or deconstruct these stories into darker forms. It's good to see a game that doesn't turn Red Riding Hood into an axe-murderer or wicked fairies into walking fetish fuel. 

So, all that said, I still like some good twisted fairytales from time to time. So here's a few things from a short-lived dark fairytale campaign I ran a few years ago. 

The Characters: These guys might be suitable as monsters or foes in your fairytale campaign...in mine they were the PCs. 
Lump, Ogre Baker

Lump is a huge, ugly brute of an ogre who wears a tiny little chef's hat atop his head. Although he mostly just wants to settle down and be left alone to bake and sell his bread he is often hounded out of towns he comes to because of his hideous appearance and the "secret ingredient" of his bread. This character is sort of a fusion of Shrek, the "grind your bones" giant from Jack and the Beanstalk and a bit of the incredible hulk.

Qualities: Expert [+4] Big and Burly, Expert [+4] Muscles Like Boulders, Good [+2] Baking, Good [+2] Keen Nose, Poor [-2] Dumb Lump

Special Move: Good [+2] Me Stomp! (Big and Burly)

Vort, The Living Poppet
 
Vort is a living doll...but he doesn't exactly fit in at the Island of Forgotten Toys. Vort is in fact a living voodoo doll. Fortunately he doesn't let his lot in life get him down and he's full of pluck and cheer. He also carries around some huge (compared to him) knitting needles. He's a bit of a combination of Pinocchio and the Scarecrow from Oz. 

Qualities:Expert [+4] I do Voodoo, Good [+2] Clever, Expert [+4] Small, Good [+2] Needle-Fencing, Poor [-2] Little Fellow

Special Move: Good [+2] Right in the Eye! (Needle Fencing)

I Do Voodoo is a Gift Quality that allows Vort to suffer a Damage Rank by stabbing himself to make an attack against a target he couldn't normally reach using the Quality. If he has a bit of hair or similar then he could even attack without them being present!

Mad Jack
 
This is a combination of the classic "Jack" of fairytales and the Mad Hatter, he is meant to be the Jack in fact...his many professions and personalities caused by his insanity. He normally appears as a spry, handsome young man who always wears a hat (it doesn't matter what hat, but he'll always insist that it's his and he's had it his whole life). 

Qualities: Good [+2] Handsome, Good [+2] Nimble and Quick, Good [+2] Unusually Persuasive, Good [+2] Fair Hand With a Blade, Expert [+4] Multiple Personalities

Special Move: Good [+2] Lucky Hat (Nimble and Quick)

Multiple Personalities is a Gift that allows Jack to dictate a new, personality-type Quality to replace it at the start of each session. During a session Jack may spend a Fortune Point to swap out for a new personality. So one day he might be Expert [+4] Brave and Bold while another he might be Vicious or Cowardly. 

Mister Boogey

The classic boogeyman (although perhaps mixed a bit with the one from Nightmare Before Christmas). Mister Boogey is a dapper, somberly dressed gentleman who is rail-thin and dark-eyed. He dislikes the light and prefers to lurk somewhere out of the way. He's a merchant and travels from town to town in his rickety cart full of odd and disturbing knick-knacks.

Qualities: Expert [+4] Invisible To Adults, Good [+2] Bug Magic*, Good [+2] Wiry But Strong, Good [+2] Merchant

Special Move: Good [+2] Snatching (Wiry But Strong)

Invisible to Adults is a Gift that means Mister Boogey fades out of the perception of anyone over the age of 14 or so (personality is more important than age though) and is normally unseen unless he draws attention to himself. Bug Magic is a Magic Star Quality that covers numerous magic tricks involving insects...summoning them, talking to them, seeing through their eyes, controlling them and possibly even becoming one. 

Dark Learning Points

This is a concept from Jaws of the Six Serpents that fits dark fairytales very well. Basically Dark Learning points are gained by succeeding at a roll rather than failing...but succeeding at a task that is disturbing or wicked. This works exceptionally well for stories that start more pure and become darker with time. Innocent protagonists might gain Dark Learning Points from stealing or breaking the rules or reading the wrong book...straying off the path. Later they're getting them for shoving witches into ovens. 
Dark Learning Points can either be spent to purchase "tainted" Qualities or abilities with a darker tone (perhaps wicked magic or just unpleasant personality Qualities). Alternatively they could be traded for Fortune Points that can only be used in a wicked way (which often means they'll come back...). 




Tuesday, August 7, 2012

PDQ Week, Pt 2: Silver Branch Games


Chad Underkoffler is the creator and dark lord (just kidding Chad) of PDQ but he's not the only author producing great PDQ material (which is good considering I'm trying to create one myself). The second most prolific member of the PDQ family is Tim Gray of Silver Branch Games. Tim has produced several PDQ games and supplements and I'll give a quick overview here. 


Questers of the Middle Realms is the "lighter side of fantasy gaming". Now, classic high fantasy adventure RPGs are a dime a dozen and D&D parodies are hardly less common but I still feel like Questers is something special. First and foremost it doesn't fall into the most common trap parody games suffer from: making everything a joke. A game with a sense of humor is great but it gets tiresome when every monster is a walking pun and every sword swaps your gender and hair color or makes a farting noise when you smack someone with it. Questers has a sense of humor but it's more than just a bare-bones RPG thinly wrapped in a lame joke book. If you felt like it you could ditch a few of the goofier monsters, slightly change a few locations and you'll find yourself with perfectly serviceable and interesting fantasy setting. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is the unusual take it has on the standard D&D fantasy races. Elves for instance are not simply long lived or ageless, they're actually highlander-esque immortals. Only complete dismemberment or destruction of their bodies will permanently put them down. As a result of their immortality they suffered from a massive population explosion, leading to the gods creating Orcs as ideal elven predators to hunt down and eat the pointy-eared bastards. Quester's contractually required "tiny folk", Hoblings, also have the best racial disadvantage ever. Forget stat penalties or reduced damage...they're delicious

The second great thing about the book is that Tim is not afraid to play around with the PDQ system and really see what it can do. While Truth and Justice is how I got started with PDQ it was Questers that actually made everything really "click" for me and showed me just how much this little system could do. Questers has all kinds of interesting and intriguing mechanics that can be used not only for Questers but just about any PDQ game. It has special rules for Racial Qualities, rules for the use of Props that are basically "free-floating" Qualities not tied directly to a character which can represent everything from magic swords to loyal mounts to sacks of cash. Questers and it's Book of Bewildering Beasts supplement provide the largest collection of pre-statted PDQ critters out there. Obviously it's easy enough to whip up your own but Questers still provides a great set of tools or templates to make the process even faster.

For me the shining jewel of QMR is the magic system. Even though it was released back in 2006 it still remains my favorite choice for PDQ magic. It's simple and supremely flexible without overwhelming non-magical characters. You've got Thaumaturgy, your classic wand-and-robes wizardry which can be powerful but potentially unreliable. There's also Mysticism which is a more limited but more reliable set of powers wielded by psychics or zen martial artists. Finally you've got Divine Aid which is not only my favorite god-based magic in PDQ, it's my favorite form of divine magic in any system. It's a system that makes using miracles more than just casting spells using a different mental stat (although amusingly the Qualities that influence miracles are those related to persuasion, fast talking and/or butt kissing) and allows just about anyone to call on a little bit of divine intervention here and there.

Monday, August 6, 2012

PDQ Week, Part 1: Truth and Justice


So it's been a while since I've managed to make regular posts here. I moved last month and with the amount of junk me and my wife have we've needed a month just to get mostly unpacked. There's still lots of work to do before things are actually done but we've also reached the point where we're fine just shoving lots of things into our spare room and dealing with them when we need to. So, I'm looking to get back into a pattern of regular postings here. That brings me to the PDQ system, readers of the blog know I'm a fan of the system and a recent thread over at RPG.net made me realize that I haven't given it much attention recently, certainly not as much as it deserves. 

Attentive readers may also remember that I'm working on an RPG of my own: Battle Royale. Well...I'm working on several actually (DICE and the Drive System are still alive somewhere in the back of my brain) but Battle Royale is going to be my first, serious publication. It's also going to be a PDQ-licensed product, using my own special blend of various PDQ versions to create something that will hopefully be quite a lot of fun. I haven't actually talked much about Battle Royale here in the past mostly because it's been quite hard to find the time to actually give the project the attention it deserves so it's moved on and off the backburner for a couple of years now. 

This has changed recently though. A combination of a new job and a fresh dose of inspiration has spurred things forward significantly in the past several months and now the game is well and truly approaching completion. Well...approaching the final stages of completion at least. We've still got some editing phases to go and we'll see how much reworking it needs. Here's hoping it's not too riddled with flaws. 

So, in the interest of picking up the posting pace here at Zombie Toast, showing some love to the PDQ system and providing some extra info on my upcoming book Battle Royale I'm declaring it PDQ Week here at Zombie Toast. I'm going to provide some info on the different PDQ games out there and help share what the system has to offer. These aren't exactly reviews, you can go ahead and assume that I'm recommending all of these products, they're more just info dumps to help pimp a relatively obscure system (on an extremely obscure blog...but that's a different issue). In addition I'm going to provide some of my own house rules, tweaks and concepts for each of the system. 

So, for our first entry in PDQ week.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A self-defense arsenal clearly designed for PCs

If there's one thing every RPG player knows it's that the more exotic and interesting a weapon is the better it is. In RPGs deadly assassins duel-wield Desert Eagles and vampires carry around a brace of katanas under their ubiquitous trench coats. So, here's some real-world weaponry that you'll almost certainly have some player try and fob off on you.

Knife: The Wasp Knife

So, what's the most ridiculous, over-powered knife out there? Are we talking some kind of grotesquely oversized bowie sort of thing? Or one of those insane Bud-k contraptions that has a dozen spikes, half of which will try and carve you to bits the moment you use it?

Nope, the Wasp knife is a fairly small, unassuming little thing. However, notice those three cartridges? Those are compressed air cylinders which are loaded into the knife and released through a vent that runs along the blade and out of the tip. The knife was apparently originally designed to defend against underwater predators like sharks...but it's equally effective against it's natural prey: the watermelon. Now, who can watch that without imagining the potential...especially with a bit of creativity (imagine a Wasp spear!).

And of course since the compressed gas instantly cools to below-freezing when released the knife obviously inflicts additional Cold damage as well. Of course, on the downside you've invested in the only knife you need to reload.



Handguns: The Pfeifer Zeliska .600

No, that picture isn't photoshopped. That's the Pfeifer Zeliska .600 Nitro Express. It's a handgun that's as hard to lift as it is to pronounce. The gun is 16 lbs and is pretty much the most powerful handgun in the world...it probably makes a pretty effective blunt instrument too.

Now, if the sheer size and weight don't indicate just how utterly ridiculous this weapon is then check out the picture to the right. That's the bullet. This is a handgun that fires elephant gun rounds.

Now ask yourself. Who in the world needs enough firepower to take down an enraged pachyderm in a package that fits (theoretically) under a jacket? Monster hunters and vampire assassins of course.  For when you absolutely, positively have to make the guy with the desert eagle feel inadequate. Of course if your PCs come up to you begging to be allowed to stat out this weapon...just remind them that it costs over $16,000 and $45 a bullet. At that price, just buy a used SUV and run over the eldritch horror.

Taser: The Bodyguard

 When it comes to taking down opponents there's very few PCs who look for a "non-lethal" solution. All too often the standard player's idea of "minimum force" is "don't double-tap them after they're down."

But come on! Look at that thing! It's an electric gauntlet. We've apparently started to live in the world of Shadowrun and I never even realized. Because who would settle for punching something...when you can punch it with lightning!




All-In-One: The OSA
If there's one thing everyone hates about monster hunting it's how damned resistant or immune they can be to just about anything. Sure, you'd love to solve all your problems with a flamethrower, but one day you're going to run into a critter that's just going to shrug it off and proceed to rip your face off. For the modern day adventurer who isn't sure what the hell they're going to fight next, we've got the OSA multipurpose pistol.

The thing can be chambered with four types of ammunition: mini flash-bang grenades (great for creatures with sensitive hearing or a vulnerability to bright light), flares (i.e. bonus fire damage), electric stun bullets (i.e. electric damage), tear gas cartridges (for those critters resistant to physical damage but vulnerable to poison) and rubber bullets (boring but good for taking down cultists without a murder charge).

The only drawback is its unintimidating size. Creative players should easily find a way to upgrade it to a 4-barreled shotgun-sized version however.