Free RPG Day Follow Up

Despite the relatively slim pickings for Free RPG Day, I had a hell of a time on Saturday.

I only picked up a couple of the Free RPG products, as there was very little that caught my eye.  The one offering I could muster any real excitement for was the new DCC Lankhmar product, which I hope I can convince my DM to run for our DCC characters.  I grabbed “The Dark Eye” because the art was pretty, but I haven’t had a chance to really read it.  I also grabbed a copy of “Faith”: a comic is a bad way to try to present quick-start rules, especially if you’re going to leave out character creation – somehow Burning Games released a rules-lite RPG in a format that took up around 20 pages and didn’t have enough rules or present them well enough to pick up and play; great job, there.  The art was neat, though.  Notably, there were no copies of Slugs out, so either everyone snatched them all up before I got there (which seems unlikely, considering how many copies of everything else they had) or my FLGS doesn’t put out any Lamentations of the Flame Princess material.  One of the other disappointments regarding Free RPG Day and its offerings was that there were no groups devoted to actually running any of it or even the products they were promoting; I would’ve loved to show up and get to actually play the Lankhmar game, but this year the FLGS had not even organized any games with signup sheets as they had last year, much less actively tried to promote the FRPGD games.  Luckily, there was a gargantuan game (18 players and 3 DMs) being run and I managed to make the sign-up and get in on it.

Saturday was my second time playing 5e, and I still remain unimpressed and thoroughly convinced that everyone who proclaims that it recaptures an oldschool feel and style of play is either lying or doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about.  Because we live in bizarro universe, someone actually thought that my issue with the system might have been that it didn’t have enough crunch and complexity!

-I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – 5e feels like a Supers game. Everyone does ridiculously high damage (by most D&D standards), but everything has obscenely high HP; 5e is for people who like rolling lots of dice and seeing big numbers come up; it feels inflationary.  Like, Superman crits an alien monster and throws him through 3 sky scrapers; the alien brushes off the rubble and renews the attack because he’s only down 20%.
-It’s not the Thief’s (the player’s) fault, and I know he was just playing how you’re supposed to play Thieves, but I kind of wanted to punch him; it was all, ‘I try to sneak, I try to hide in shadows, I run up, I attack, I use (some thing that lets him not take an attack of opportunity), I run away’ every freaking round.  It’s like “Dude, we’re in a well lit 15’ x 45’ room with nothing in it; what the hell are you trying to hide behind!?”  Even the DM was eventually like “Look, there are no shadows for you to hide behind.”  This was exactly like the Thief played in the other 5e game I was in; it was like bringing all the unfun tedium of cover-based shooters to your game table. This is also why B/X’s melee rules are important and good; if a monster is engaged with a fighter, the thief doesn’t have to go through the motions of half a dozen idiotic mechanics to attack without worrying about being hit.
-Rounds took a really long time for those of us playing non-fighty man characters, as everyone had to describe a lengthy sequence of movements spells, abilities, and actions every time their initiative came up.  I’m glad that there was still a Barbarian pre-gen left for me to use at the table I was seated at; my turn was usually “I am still raging; here are my 3 attacks ::rolls::; 15 damage, miss, 12 damage.”
-The bard class is frustratingly stupid.  How a musical taunt can damage undead is beyond me.  I’m glad that our bard was just some guy who got stuck with it because it was the last pre-gen and not someone who really likes bards; I don’t think I could’ve dealt with that.

I made a point of not expressing dissatisfaction with the system beyond my initial moment of deflation when I learned that 5e was the only thing that would be at the table on Saturday, and even though I still hate the system and would rather be playing dang near anything else (even 3e is less fiddly in the parts where you’re not twinking your character), I had a great time and was glad I played.

As much as I’m prepared to slag on 5e as a system, I would not dare insult what these guys pulled off.

The setup was a pretty basic one-off situation; evil necromancer has created a plague, turning people into corrupted undead, each of the three races (humans, elves, dwarves), and we were the champions of each race who’d been sent to his trans-dimensional magic fortress to kill him, find the macguffins and stop the plague.

Each table was running simultaneously in one dimensional layer of the dungeon.  Certain checkpoints would result in a dimensional shift of one of the characters (a player would be dumped into another party and switch tables).  This first part had some hack and slash and was mostly to find clues as to what the end-game would entail; the human party didn’t spend any time doing thorough searching and just made a bee-line for the heart of the dungeon.  Luckily, our players who had been in the elf and dwarf parties told us all of the stuff we missed.

The session ended in a HUGE battle – each of the three parties was squared up against an undead squadron, with two reserve undead squadrons raining arrows on us, and as the battle progressed, three more squadrons, an undead war mammoth and a 150 HP necromancer showed up.  For the first few rounds, each table would run through the round, fighting the squadron they were facing; dead were marked off the giant white-board, troop positions were updated, and the master DM called out who was being hit by ranged fire.  After a few rounds and a few undead squadrons routed, things were getting too mixed up to do it by table (and by this time, the first two waves of undead reinforcements had shown up), so we ended up all gathering around the big table and did stuff war-game style, running through all 18 players and all hostile NPCs.

It’s the sort of tabletop experience that one doesn’t get a chance to have very often, in no small part because it takes a lot of people to pull it off and make the execution work.  I can’t imagine running a battle this size with this many people without multiple DMs, so the organization and time-commitment required to do something like this is tremendous.  Even using a clunker of a system like 5e, I’d leap at the chance to participate in anything like this again.

Later, I will maybe try to muster the courage to talk about Black God’s Kiss.  I need to write up my impressions of Panzer Leader, post pictures of issue 2 with Jabari Weathers’ cover, rattle the coins in my change jar to remind folks that the Kickstarter is half over, and if I am not completely drained write an article for an SFF magazine from scratch because my initial premise was rejected. Geez, I almost forgot that I need to talk about how prophetic The Zanti Misfits was (alien criminals dumped into the US with a complicit Federal government acquiescing to threats of “do what we ask or suffer the consequences”)!

Good work is being done by Misha Burnett and the other writers in his Eldritch Earth Society group.  If you think you can write a good Burroughsian adventure story in a pre-historic Lovecraftian setting without resorting to Cthululz, you should ask to join and maybe you’ll end up in issue 5 of Cirsova.


Free RPG Day – HALLS


Are the first couple levels the best levels?  Spend even more time as low-level characters constantly in peril of dying in the High Adventure for Low Levels System!

There is some grumbling that there aren’t many free OSR-friendly offerings for Free RPG Day.

So, I’m reposting a slightly updated version of HALLS.

I seem to have lost the source files, so the main change is that I fixed a few references to silver from back when it was an SP based system.

It’s not very good or fleshed out, but you’ll find a few things that might raise an eyebrow:

-“wild” elven magic
-item enchantment and magic attunement
-terms like “diocese” as they pertain to clerics
-quasi-compatibility with the B/X Bestiary


Why Did Everyone Oversell 5e’s Old School Appeal?

I don’t actually answer this question, but if someone wants to speculate below, go ahead!  I mean, it stood to benefit Wizards to try to bring in the OSR community and convince those folks to drop coin on yet another D&D edition, but I don’t really see why anyone else would make this claim.  What am I missing here?

Saturday was Free RPG day. The actual free RPG offerings were somewhat scant in terms of things that grabbed my interest. Or anyone else’s, for that matter, given just how much stuff was left unclaimed by days end despite the crowd. I ended up picking up a Dungeon Crawl Classics screen and something called Hellas. The former will probably be cut up and stuffed into my binders if my friend who actually has some DCC stuff doesn’t want it. The latter I grabbed because it looked pretty and had nice art, but I doubt I’ll play it.

There was some Pathfinder stuff, Shadowrun, a 3rd party 5e adventure for absurdly high level characters and a bunch of other stuff that didn’t really interest me.

Having just read PMS’s rather scathing assessment of Apocalypse World, I politely declined the opportunity to join a session of that, but I did get a chance to try out Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, which I’ll admit, I have been curious about.

My curiosity has been sated.

A lot of people have written about 5e has somehow brought OSR into the fold, there’s a lot there for fans of the oldschool and it’s going to bring everyone back together. I have no idea what those people are talking about. 5e is 3.5 with the 4e skill list and an incredibly wonky XP scale. It played exactly like 3/3.5 and nothing like 1eAD&D/B/X.

I was loaned a “guest” character (a 4th level Half-Orc fighter) and was joined by a thief, a ranger and a monk. The 3+ hour session consisted of 2 encounters on the way to some place in a shared Greyhawk(?) setting they had a few games in. The first was against a Stonemelder and the second was against a druid, his body guard and some mephits he summoned.

A few things I observed:
-Despite the DM’s remarks about the simplicity of low-level play, everyone had pretty substantial combat packages at level 4.
-5e is such a high HP game that combat is kind of cartoonish. At 37 HP, my orc was tougher than most B/X dragons. He survived a combination of being punched by a mephit, stepping on a stone rose, getting burned up by a wall of fire, parched, and even then, because of some feat, he was able to stand back up and bash the hell out of the evil druid with his warhammer. The druid, on the other hand, had several arrows and a javelin sticking out of him and got brained several times for full damage with the orc’s warhammer before finally going down; he had to have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 HP.
-The mechanics of the Thief’s combat package struck me as fiddly and annoying. Move attack move roll for hide and cover, move attack move roll for hide and cover. All the tedium of a cover-based shooter, but with dice!
-I don’t think I like the save vs. death mechanic. While I’m admittedly not a fan of death at 0, I think AD&D’s negative HP is a fair compromise. I almost think it was wrong that my orc was magically desiccate by an amount that should’ve put me at -17 and then, because of a feat, I was able to stand back up at 1HP, attack the druid, get an AoO when the druid ran away, and then stand back up after a potion is poured down my throat after I’m knocked down again and make my saves vs. death. If bad guys get the same opportunity, it would be a wonder if anyone could die in 5e.

The XP curve for low level characters seems to exist to shove characters to mid-level as quickly as possible; then again, 5e is not a GP for XP system. Not having played in an extended game, I can’t really assess how well or poorly this works out. The notion of characters having such high HP doesn’t sit well with me, especially when weapon damage is kept relatively close to the same except for crits. Quadrupling HP averages but only increasing weapon damage by about 50% results in some really long combats with some strangely resilient opponents. And very long encounters. I think the only time I’ve had encounters as long as these were the boss-fight against the corrupted elf and that absolutely nutso encounter at the zombie farm.

I can’t remember who said it about which edition (it was either 3.5 or 4), but someone had once joked about “Dungeons & Dragons: My Precious Encounter” in reference to how the later editions are so heavily focused on players using their combat packages as a means of encounter-related problem solving (of course with a note of snark in regards to the twee-ness of a lot of high powered systems). That was very much the impression I got of 5e. While there was some fun roleplaying stuff we did among ourselves, the game itself seems more of a case where a group of variously powered individuals are thrown against a puzzle in the form of an elaborate encounter drawn from the monster manual. Players must figure out how to use their powers effectively against the monster to solve the puzzle of beating it (the riddle of steel? Nah) before time(HP) runs out. It feels like a supers game dressed up as a heroic fantasy. It is maybe the right system for the wrong genre, but it doesn’t feel like the Dungeons & Dragons I enjoy.

This is not a criticism of the group or the guy running things. They were great, and I would enjoy playing with them again. Hell, I’d even play 5e with them again. I’m just saying that if the pacing and simplicity of Old School D&D are things about OSR that appeals to you, 5e isn’t what you’re looking for. If someone tells you that if you like Old School D&D you’ll love 5e, you don’t have to take my word for it; check it out for yourself and see why they’re wrong.