Wednesday, 28 October 2015

How I Sandbox

I call my multiple-choice campaigns "sandboxy" rather than "sandbox". I have one like this currently, an episodic Classic D&D Karameikos campaign.
My 'actual sandbox' Wilderlands campaign does not have 'adventures'; it does have 'sites' - locations such as dungeons where adventure is particularly likely. But the PCs aren't required to investigate all or any of these. It's also notable for the ability of the PCs to go anywhere & do anything adventurous and it will run smoothly, there's never an adventure of the week that the PCs must do - not even a choice of two or three. Sandboxy games are choice matrices; genuine sandbox games are completely open. Both are distinct from linear games like the Pathfinder AP I just finished, but they're quite distinct I think.

There was an old White Dwarf article that discussed "Scenario Design" vs "Environment Design". Sandboxing involves "Environment Design" - you create an environment for PCs to explore, not scenarios for them to play. This is why my Karameikos game is not a true sandbox - the PCs are presented with adventures & adventure options each week. Whereas in my Wilderlands sandbox there is the environment, in which exist such locations such as the Halls of Tizun Thane and the Caverns of Thracia, but the campaign is not 'adventure driven' - NPC quest givers don't, as a rule, come over to the PCs and ask them to do X. Rather the PCs roam the world encountering interesting stuff, and there are dynamic NPCs doing likewise. A lot of my sandbox effort goes into detailing tons of motivated NPCs whose behaviour interacts with the PCs and with each other. The world is a web of interaction; more detailed in the immediate campaign area, but thanks to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy Box I can look anywhere in the world, see who's there, and have an idea what they're up to.

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Sunday, 25 October 2015

Checking morale


The 2d6-roll-over-morale  (Classic D&D) system is what I use in every edition of D&D. I occasionally make more than 2 checks though - fighting to the death should be rare IMO, though it does happen. Checking before combat begins is a good idea - unless monsters appear to have an overwhelming advantage, it makes very good sense to check if they're willing to initiate combat. I rarely check morale on first monster death, unless it's an opponent who expects to win without losses - predator pack animals or brigands, maybe. I usually check if the monsters are taking significant casualties without inflicting any, or if the ratio of losses is going badly against them. I usually check twice per battle, occasionally three times. If the enemy are not really 'fight to the death' types they may auto-flee if the battle is clearly lost and they're not defending something important.

Generally opponents should be reluctant to initiate combat vs a well-armed and aware enemy, but once committed the longer the battle goes on the *less* likely they are to flee, unless clearly overmatched - and they may not realise they're overmatched. Eg in the police station massacre in The Terminator, the police kept attacking the T-101 because they thought he was just a human who could be felled by one shot. If they'd known he was an armoured cyborg I'd have had them rolling lots of Morale checks.  Likewise with monsters vs PCs.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Adjusting Monster HP in 4e D&D

I halve Elite and Solo hp and this works very well. I used to halve Standard monster hp but I found some died too fast, giants especially should not be so squishy. So for Standard monsters I reduce hp as follows:

Low (eg Artillery) 4/Level+4+CON
Medium (eg Soldier, Skirmisher) 5/Level+5+CON
High (Brute) 6/Level+6+CON

This can be done to listed stats as follows, deduct:
Low: 2/Level+2
Medium: 3/Level+3
High: 4/Level+4

This matches closely to PC hit points and I find it works best.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

5e D&D - Scaling Challenges for More Players...

I don't actually 'build' encounters myself, but this is how it works...

The DMG says a lot about this. Check the paragraph on Party Size, DMG pg 82. If a party has 6+ PCs then you multiply monster XP by 0.5 to set the budget. If you want a Medium challenge for 8 level 6 PCs then your budget is 600x8=4800 xp; with single monster's XPV multiplied by 0.5, ie you need a monster worth at least 9600 XP. Per DMG page 275 you need a single CR 13 monster (XPV 10,000) to provide a Medium challenge to the group.

Note that a Medium challenge is one that the group is expected to do 6-8 of between long rests, not something that will feel like a big fight. A Hard challenge for eight level 6 PCs has a budget of 900x8=7200 xp, single monster x0.5 so need 14400 xp. Per DMG page 275 you need a single CR 16 monster!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Monster CR in 5e

A lot of monsters are much lower CR than previously - eg I was surprised Manticores are only CR 3 now - which works ok if you run it like 4e with PCs normally fighting groups of monsters. Also, higher level monsters are much more fightable than in 3e; they may get lucky and kill PCs, but they are definitely beatable. Conversely, bounded accuracy means hordes of low level monsters are much more dangerous than in 3e.

Overall I like the change - the paucity of monsters above CR 10 was initially surprising, but the intent seems to be that high level PCs fight lots of mid-CR monsters, hordes of low-CR monsters, or the occasional high-CR solo monster.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Finished an Adventure Path! Paizo's Curse of the Crimson Throne.!-Curse-of-the-Crimson-Throne

Yesterday my Sunday group successfully completed Curse of the Crimson Throne after 34 sessions, levels 2-14, and almost 2 years of real time. The game blog is here -
Completing the AP feels rather like scaling Mount Everest - satisfying, but partly because of the sheer effort involved. Compared to running a 'normal' campaign, this felt vastly more arduous, reading all the books, trying to understand the intent of the series and the individual authors, working out what could be changed or avoided, what was the necessary backbone of each volume and of the AP as a whole. The backbone of a volume was sometimes hidden - eg in Book 5, the steps the PCs actually needed to take to complete the steps towards gaining the sword Serithtiel was buried deep in the text. In the case of Book 4 and its endless fetch-quests the whole thing proved unnecessary and I ended up not using most of it, making it a wasted purchase - but no way to know that in advance.

One conclusion I took away was that 3e/PF and its progression rate seems extremely unsuited to linear play with the scope of this sort of AP.

1. From the player end, PCs level up too fast and increase in power too fast, easily exceeding the credible scope - by the end of the campaign the godlike 14th level PCs felt like they should have been invading the Abyss, not merely saving a city. This would have been even more pronounced with the level 1-16 scope of the AP as originally written.

2. From the GM end, 3e/PF stat monster and NPC stat blocks go from reasonable at levels 1-5 to nightmarish levels 11+. Just reading stat blocks, looking up spells and powers, trying to grok authors' intent re battle tactics, took much more time than I normally need to prep a session, and this is just one part of running an AP.

The advantage of the AP was that it gave a satisfying, close-ended campaign experience, like completing a well made video game. I do plan to run APs again in the future, though next time I'll have a clearer idea what I'm getting into. I don't think I'll use 3e/Pathfinder again though. 5e D&D looks well suited to most Paizo APs, with 4e D&D also a possibility given plenty of editing to remove 'trash fights' - run as-is 4e would be much too slow. I'll need to be prepared for the extreme effort involved though; compared to running a more open or sandbox game, successful prepping and GMing of an AP takes far more work - which feels like the opposite of the common stereotype. Partly this is the time spent reading the text, partly it is the need to ensure it doesn't feel constricting and railroady.

Progression Rates

Obvious caveat here is that 4E is built on a level 1-30 scale rather than a 1-20 scale, but even so it's quite clear that once you hit level 5, 4E actually ends up with a much slower level progression than any previous Wizards of the Coast edition of D&D.

With 3e xp has no platonic value, 1 xp means more the higher level you get.
My experience is that 3e & Pathfinder progression rate is quite similar to 5e after the first couple levels, but the power increase per level is much more so it feels much faster. My Pathfinder campaign started at level 2 and wrapped up yesterday at level 14 after 34 tabletop sessions; 12 level-ups so 2.8 sessions/level, but in the single digit levels it was generally 2 sessions/level. Similar to 5e, BUT 3e/PF PCs double in power every 2 levels, they start feeling like demigods around level 11. 5e PCs feel much much more grounded, I'd say they double in power more like every 4 levels (faster 1-5) so it doesn't feel nearly so weird.

4e PCs double in power about every 4 levels, much like 5e PCs. XP awards look similar - it's designed around 10 standard awards to level - but the fights are much much slower than in 5e and this keeps the actual speed of progression down. My 4e campaign started at level 1 and is level 25 after 92 sessions, 24 level ups so 3.8 sessions/level. It was 2-3 sessions at low level and has been very consistently averaging 4 sessions/level for most of the campaign.

My experience is that in practice 3e/PF levels fastest and has the fastest power progression, 5e next, and 4e is the slowest.

I'm also running a Classic D&D campaign, PCs currently around level 6. It seems to be around 3-5 sessions to level (the recommended rate in the Rules Cyclopedia as I recall), and actual PC power increases more slowly than 3e/PF but similar to 5e and 4e, maybe a bit faster.