What the-?!

  • Why the change from 8 miniatures to 5 miniatures per booster? When we set out to re-imagine the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures line, our goals included increasing the quality of the product, dealing with the rising costs associated with producing the line, and optimizing the product as a D&D Roleplaying Game accessory. To that end, we are providing fewer figures per Monster Manual-themed booster, but these figures are of a higher quality. In effect, each booster contains two rare-quality figures (the visible Large figure and the randomized rare figure).

Ok, I understand that Hasbro just killed off the Skirmish game entirely…it wasn’t making money, so take it out behind the barn and shoot it.  But what leaves me absolutely gobsmacked is having just eliminated the entire market for the collectible aspect, why do they still package the damn things as if they’re collectible?  Rare-quality, shmare-quality.  For a role-player rare = inconvenient. Nobody’s going to be impressed that the Beholder they’re facing is a rare.  They’re going to be even less impressed when it’s represented, as usual, by a rubber ball because nobody in their right mind is going to buy 6 packs at $15 each to come up with one.  They just about doubled the price and you still won’t be able to just buy the damned minis you need for the particular adventure you plan to run.

I admit that I’m not their target market*, as I have no plans of running 4e ever, but I read Scott Rouse’s explanation and I have to wonder whether they actually have a target market in mind?  Or do they really think they can just create one by carving the bits they liked out of the failing market (lust for rares and completism…each set is smaller so it’s easier to get them all!) and graft it onto their new customers?  What I’d really like to hear explained is why having considered just making them all visible, as the manufacturers of metal miniatures do, they elected to go with the semi-hidden plus bonus rules making all the old gibes about WotC breaking D&D into a collectible card-game of rules a la Magic finally come true.  Except I’m afraid I know the answer.

* though given how many little toys and things I buy to use as minis in our games, I actually could be…I’ve just never considered getting any D&D figures precisely because of the random aspect.

Fluid Combat Rounds Rules

  • Szilard posted an insanely complicated set of D&D 3.0 rules for a less turn-based approach to combat.

I can’t imagine actually using those rules (even if they weren’t D&D 3.0 oriented), but it did make me ponder whether there was some way to do the bookkeeping for them that would make it less cumbersome.  The answer is not that I could see (too many fiddly bits), but it gave me an idea so cunning you could put whiskers on it and call it a weasel…

Countless Moments

Each action is represented by a tile (a piece of cardboard or similar) that is 1 unit wide and a number of units long = how many moments the action takes up.  E.g.

  • Take a 5′ step forward or to the side: 1 unit.
  • Do nothing: 1 unit
  • Strike: 3 units
  • Cast a Spell: 5 units
  • Dive For Cover: 2 units
  • Step Back: 2 Units
  • Drop Prone: 1 unit
  • Stand from Prone: 1 unit
  • Run at double-pace: 5 units
  • Effects with duration (e.g. spells): N units (e.g. number of units determined by duration and scale, e.g.  a spell that lasted 3 turns would be 18 units if the scale was 6 moments to the turn).  These get their own tracks (one per effect), since they run in parallel with any other actions the characters take.
  • Bookkeeping (anything that the game rules require checking at the end of a “turn”, such as bleeding out, recovering endurance): N units, where N is the number of moments determined by the scale.  Again, this gets its own track (hopefully there’s only one…)

and so forth.  The GM would have a supply of 1 unit tiles to mark off moments.  Each player plays their intended actions by stacking their tiles one after another; they may be placed at any time at the end of the player’s current series of tiles.

Each moment the GM plays another 1 unit tile next to the players lines of tiles, and the actions that end in that moment are resolved.  Ties are resolved in initiative order (however that’s decided for the game…by Dex, by Init Bonus, by rolling). Past tiles are removed for recycling and the whole series can be slid backwards to make more room at the end.  There is no demarcation of turns, you just keep adding tiles to the end of the sequence and advancing until the combat is resolved.


Any time before the action a tile represents is resolved, you may remove that tile (and any following tiles) and replace it with a new one, but the new one begins no earlier than the current moment–not when the original tile began.  Fill with Do Nothing actions if needed to keep the sequence in sync.  Since the point of  continuous action resolution instead of turn-based is to allow the players to react to events as they unfold, the GM should generally let the players fiddle with their upcoming actions freely; still, if it threatens to bog down the game (particularly if the players start getting involved in lengthy discussions of optimal sequencing) the GM should feel free to move things along by playing new moment tiles and resolving actions–if they player doesn’t currently have an action in the sequence treat that as Do Nothing, representing the player dithering.  You might also experiment with allowing the players to play as many new tiles as they want at the start of combat and when one of their actions has just completed, but only play a single tile followed by a mandatory Do Nothing tile after an Abort to represent the cost of changing your mind all the time.


For converting durations, you have to pick a scale.  Generally you should make it so that a series of steps adds up to a normal move, e.g. 12 moments = 1 turn if characters can normally move 60′ a turn.  If you can usually move 1/2 move and attack, then an attack would be 6 units instead of 3, etc.

I don’t think I’m actually going to try this with any of our current games; it doesn’t really fit with Savage Worlds’ initiative and multi-action rules that well, and I don’t have any strong objections to the way turns play out in SW, but if anyone wants to give it a try I’d love to hear about it.

In Praise of Randomization

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action. – Ian Fleming

Here’s two things about human beings:

  1. They are incredibly bad at randomizing
  2. They are incredibly good at recognizing patterns

The implication of the combination of these facts is that if you’re GMing a game and you think you’re introducing something that has no correlation with what’s gone before you’re probably wrong, and your players will probably notice.  In fact, even if you’re right, your players may well think there’s a correlation.

There are times when you can take advantage of this, and bask in the appreciation of your players who think you planned something diabolically intricate sessions in advance when actually they just constructed the pattern on the fly, but a lot of the time it can be a problem.  For one thing, it can make the players suspicious and paranoid.  Since a significant part of the game world always is out to get them, there’s usually plenty of fodder for this.  Paranoid players can turtle, or turn away (or turn on) NPCs that would otherwise be able to offer them resources and support that they’re going to need against the real threats, and they can slow the game to a crawl (such as when they examine and re-examine every ten feet of a corridor).  Unintended or spurious patterns can also lead the players on wild goose chases, pursuing lines of enquiry that you know are a dead end but are hard to block off without going meta–especially since it can be impossible for the players to distinguish between the world not containing the clues they’re looking for and an in-game adversary covering his tracks.  Sometimes the dog doesn’t bark in the night because there is no dog.

That’s where using genuine sources of randomness such dice come in.  E.g., if you have and regularly use random encounter tables to make your world seem alive and bustling, then you have much less risk that the players will conclude they’re being spied on by beggars just because beggars are a bit of local color that always seems to pop into your mind when you’re improvising.  They might still be inclined that way because of a series of unfortunate dice rolls…but if the players know you’re rolling randomly on tables, they’re much more likely to take it the way a real inhabitant of the world would: coincidence, not enemy action.  The tables are important so that you’re just using the randomizer to pick from a distribution that makes sense for the setting; you’re not trying to thwart all pattern in the setting, you’re trying to emphasize the true patterns and mitigate the purely coincidental ones.  The key to remember is that the players have hardly any interactions with the world (including simple descriptions of what they perceive) compared to the characters, so they tend to grossly overestimate the representativeness of the interactions they do have.

Finally, no discussion of randomization in RPGs would be complete without touching on random character generation.  While it’s probably obvious that random character generation, just like randomizing on encounter tables, increases the representativeness of the characters as part of the population, it’s not as clear that’s desirable.  After all, a character picked at random from the population of the setting may not have a single adventure during his or her entire life (and probably likes it that way).  For a long time I was strongly against random character generation.  Not only should players be able to play what they want, but the very fact that they’re expected to go on an adventure (barring certain kinds of everyday-people-thrust-into-peril scenarios where I tended to hand out pregens anyway) ought to be a strong enough filter to justify deterministic character generation.

I’m much less dogmatic about it now, in part because I’ve been a player for the past seven years in a campaign where the GM insists on rolling the six D&D stats in order 3d6 each, no swapping or adjusting (not even racial adjustments or 2-for-1 prime requisite adjustments, so actually more strict than Basic D&D), and I’ve come to appreciate two features of random chargen even without the fun and complication of a lifepath system.  First of all, it really does make you play characters that you wouldn’t consider otherwise and that can make things fresher and present an added challenge.  You might not want to get too attached to that 5 Dex fighter, but while he lasts it really can be fun trying to make the most of him.  Second, it makes being particularly good at something rare, worth treasuring, and a genuine stand-out in the setting.  Mechanically, an 18 STR is the same in a 3d6 in order as in a 4d6 drop low and arrange, but in one you really are the strongest person you are likely to meet in the campaign, in the other you’re maybe one-in-ten Fighters (unless they’ve gone the Dex route), one-in-three who’s 17+.  Random chargen is still not my default preference, but it definitely has its plusses.

Hasbro Announces Will Stop Selling Pigs in a Poke; Customers Pathetically Grateful

    • Yesterday, Wizards has made an announcement that in Spring 2009, they will be releasing two new lines of miniatures; D&D Heroes and Dangerous Delves.

      D&D Heroes will be a non-randomized miniature set featuring miniatures for the classes and races from the PHB and PHB II. The first of the series will have 6 packs (2 for Martial & Arcane heroes and 1 for Divine & Primal).

I mean, I’m glad for the D&D 4e players that they actually have some hope of getting at least the minis that they need to represent the PCs, but coupling the end of an evil policy with a price increase is hardly grounds for the hosannas echoing across the RPG blogosphere.  Of course, as Art Asylum’s Minimates prove, just because you always know what’s in the pack doesn’t mean you won’t end up with a bunch of figures you don’t want just to get the one that you do.  Take it from someone who has more versions of Wolverine than he could possibly want.

What no Rambling Bumbler can resist

What’s the worst that could happen?

My players are congenitally unable to resist this kind of thing.  After one campaign where they destroyed the universe by shooting the doomsday machine before the villain could finish explaining that shooting it would doom them all, I’ve taken the precaution of removing all self-destruct mechanisms and other single points of failure from every subsequent setting.  And they still go searching for them…

Special Purpose Wikis

I’m a fan of wikis for organizing and letting you search for game information. I’ve got the main Haunted Realm campaign wiki running on my website using MediaWiki, but that’s for public consumption; I still need a place for working on all my campaign notes that the players aren’t supposed to see.  I’ve mentioned TiddlyWiki before, a lovely little all-in-one-page portable wiki suitable for sticking on a thumb drive, but now Uncle Bear has two nice enhanced versions specifically for campaign notes and world design: TenFootWiki and WorldBuilding 101. Quite spiffy.

The Mythic Game Master Emulator

The Mythic Game Master Emulator is pretty good for solitaire play; it’s actually more ambitious than just random dungeon stuff, it’s meant to allow you to use charts to randomly determine much more open-ended adventures. There’s a demo pdf that lacks the main chart, so you can’t actually take it for a test drive, but it does give enough explanation (I think) to get a sense of how it all fits together. Basically it gives a structure for asking yes/no questions and resolving whether it’s a strong no, no, yes, strong yes depending on the odds and how “chaotic” the scenario has become and whether a random event has occurred and if so what sort and whether it interrupts the logical flow of the scenario. A random event isn’t just a wandering monster but something like: Move toward a plot thread, Action: Expose, Subject: Jealousy, and then the player has to interpret what that means in the context of the adventure so far. If nothing suggests itself, it’s just dropped.

It’s surprisingly easy and satisfying, particularly for strongly structured stories like exploring a dungeon (possibly supplemented with random monster and treasure charts for determining things like what precisely is lurking in the cavern that the Orcs won’t enter) or perhaps a manor-house murder mystery…it takes a bit more practice and comfort with taking a “director stance” approach to at least some of the play for a really open-ended story, but it’s really good at keeping you from knowing everything that’s going to happen in advance on the one hand and having the adventure feel completely random and undirected on the other. Even though once you grasp the system, it really boils down to about 2 pages of charts (out of 54 pages), besides explaining the system the remaining pages do have a lot of helpful examples and advice about how to use it and how not to “cheat”… I found it well worth the $7.

I haven’t yet tried to use it for play with other players, and I’m not sure I will…though I can imagine keeping the chart around as a source of inspiration if the players hare off in a direction I wasn’t expecting and nothing immediate comes to mind.