Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leveling speed in Dungeons & Dragons

In any level-based roleplaying game the people who run the game need to think about how fast they want the players to gain levels. There is clearly an optimum somewhere in the middle: Too fast and players get new abilities before they had time to try out the previous ones they got; too slow and players have the feeling their characters are stagnating. So while preparing my first D&D 4E campaign, I had to think about this.

My introductory adventure from level 0 to level 1 took just 2 play sessions. Or rather one-and-a-half sessions, with the second half of the second session spent "building" the level 1 characters. That was okay for the "tutorial", but I would consider this a bit too fast for the long run if my players leveled up every other session. On the other side we only play every 14 days, and even that is postponed sometimes when real life intervenes. So if I would say "lets gain a level every 6 sessions" that would mean only every 3 months, which is probably too slow.

The official 4E D&D rules help by giving good guidelines at least for the formalized parts of the game, e.g. combat. There are guidelines on how to design a "standard" combat encounter, and these are based on giving an xp "budget" and adding monsters to the encounter based on how much xp they give. The overall result is that a standard combat encounter gives 10% of the xp a player needs to level. Of course there are minor combats that give less xp and epic fights that give more. But as a fight that gives more xp also takes longer, I can do my xp math just on the standard fights. That works equally well for encounters like skill challenges or traps and hazards, which pretty much result in the same amount of xp per hour as a standard combat.

Where it gets a bit trickier is when it comes to roleplaying. On the one side you want players to roleplay, to interact with the NPCs, to discuss the situation among each other. But giving out xp directly for roleplaying is difficult, especially since naturally some players are more talkative than others. This is where quests come in in my campaign: If there is a murder mystery or similar situation, the players would get a quest which rewards them with xp for solving it. Thus the time spent roleplaying isn't perceived as "lost". And the leveling speed isn't slowing down just because the players spend a session with little or no combat.

The other use for quests is to give an added bonus to the "final boss fight" of the adventure. By handing out additional quest xp for having finished the adventure, the end stands out more. And as an added advantage there is a higher probability that with that added bonus the players level up, so you can handle the changes to the characters between adventures. To me that always made more sense than learning a new power in the middle of a dungeon during a rest period.

So, with the xp for roleplaying issue solved via quest xp, the different types of non-combat encounters give out as much experience as a combat encounter, that is about 10% of a level per encounter. A long adventure with 20 encounters gives 2 levels. And I think that my players will be able to do at least 2 encounters per play session, and at most 4 (Your mileage may vary, we are a bunch of middle-aged guys, not power gamers.) So my 20-encounter adventure should last around 7 play sessions, or about 3 months, for 2 levels gained. I think that is a good speed for us. I'd even say that the 10 encounters per level speed is good for D&D in general, although of course other groups will play more frequently, and/or get more encounters done per play session.

Is anyone playing the official D&D Encounters that WoTC organizes as weekly games in various game shops? I'd be interested to hear how fast you level in these. And of course if you have thoughts on leveling speed in D&D from your own campaign, feel free to comment.

How long is normal for playing a MMORPG?

Keen, who has a reputation for going through hype and disappointment cycles faster than the rest of us, is writing about hype and disappointment cycles. He says "I’m worried about those who DON’T follow the pattern at this point. They are the weird ones." And to some extent I agree. Anybody who starts a new MMORPG these days with the idea to play it nearly every day for the next 5 to 10 years is either deluding himself, or seriously weird. There might still be some nutters out there who confuse playing in a virtual world with some sort of pseudo-religious experience, but fortunately that isn't the norm any more.

Having said that, I was somewhat disappointed that SWTOR didn't last a bit longer than it did for me. I kind of lost interest just 6 weeks after release. I would have hoped for at least 3 months. If we start measuring how long a MMORPG keeps us interested in weeks instead of months, there is barely any more difference left between a MMORPG and an offline single-player game. And there simply aren't enough big MMORPGs coming out each year to keep playing MMORPGs all the time if you go through each game in less than 2 months.

So what is a "normal" time span for playing a MMORPG for you? What are your expectations how long you will play the upcoming MMORPGs of 2012? And how do those expectations fit with your history of the last few years?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Preparation vs. Planning

As I wrote before, I spend a lot of time lately to prepare my new Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition campaign. However I wouldn't go as far as saying that I am "planning" that campaign. The difference between the two is in how far I foresee what will happen. In my opinion, planning every detail of how the story will go is a bad idea, as it will only lead to clashes with the players once they inevitably stray from the planned path. It is far better to use an approach which is a lot less strict: Prepare the area, the NPCs (both allies and enemies), the history and interaction between those NPCs, and the locations. And then just let the story evolve by itself, depending on the decisions of the players.

That is especially important as most of the adventure I am planning is either outside or in a village, and I reduced the dungeon part of the adventure to not take up more than one third of it. For a dungeon preparing the next room and planning that the players will go there is practically the same thing. At best you can give the players the choice of whether to explore a room not on the "critical path" from entrance to final encounter. But in the wilderness or civilization players have a lot more choice. When presented with a new situation, how will the players react? If there is more than one simple and linear story thread, which thread will the players want to follow first?

Of course there is a danger in the other sort of extreme too: While a dungeon might be too linear, a completely open-ended story might give the players not enough direction to actually come to the end of it. And that is where the preparation comes in useful: If the DM knows how all of his NPCs are related to each of the story threads, every interaction the players have with the NPCs can be made to give some hints, even if that interaction comes from a player idea the DM didn't plan for.

In a pen & paper roleplaying game it is important that the players drive the story, and not the other way around. Nevertheless a DM can plan events that happen if the players *don't* do something. Thus the outcome of the story still depends on the players, but the adventure doesn't get stuck because the players for some reason didn't follow some particular story thread. The advantage is that such stories feel more alive than static dungeons, which appear frozen in time until the players open a door.

Thus my preparation consists of knowing what happened before the players even arrived, what each NPC knows and what he wants, what the players will find if they go to specific locations, and what would happen in the future if the players wouldn't intervene. I can't exactly plan that intervention by the players, but I must make sure that there are several ways in which they could get involved and can influence the story, so that the players never become passive spectators.

As I like writing (who would have guessed!) I do write down one possible sequence of events like a commercial adventure module. But that is all it is: One possible sequence, one that might happen if the players do what I would think is "obvious". Only that of course experience shows that what the DM thinks is "obvious" might be very much not so to the players, or that even if it is the players might decide to do something different. But with just a little preparation work on the background and motivation of my NPCs, it becomes easy to decide on the spot how they would react to some unforeseen idea of the players. And not knowing what exactly will happen until I actually play the adventure with the players ultimately is part of the fun.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Darkfall is going soft

I must protest against this outrageous decision by Aventurine to go carebear and completely dumb down Darkfall: They decided that in the next version of the game, new players can't be ganked by veterans during the tutorial phase an more. Darkfall with safe zones? Inconceivable!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The games of 2012

A reader sent me a request to write about what games I am looking forward to in 2012. He asked particularly for Diablo3, World of Warplanes, Mass Effect 3 and Guild Wars 2, so let's start with the one game I am *not* looking forward to: Mass Effect 3, coming out in March. Sorry, I never really go hooked on ME1, didn't even start ME2, and after having played SWTOR I feel no desire whatsoever to play another SciFi RPG with companions and dialogue wheels. Other than that my list looks like this:

Diablo 3 I plan on playing, although probably not months and months. I expect it for the second quarter of 2012, although with Blizzard you never know.

Also in the second quarter I'm waiting for Bioshock Infinite. While it might surprise you that there is a shooter on this list, Bioshock is "my kind of shooter": Not overly difficult, and heavy on story. So I'm looking forward to a new Bioshock outside Rapture.

In June the will be The Secret World from Funcom. I give Funcom credit for trying hard, even if their previous MMORPG attempts weren't unmitigated successes. I do like the idea of a MMORPG in a fresh setting, which has neither orcs & elves, nor space ships.

Somewhere in summer we should see Guild Wars 2, and I plan to play that. I would like to see whether all that hype is justified, or whether we will get just another coat of paint on a tired concept.

Second half of 2012 should bring us World of Warplanes. While instinctively planes interest me less than tanks or ships, I'll certainly check that one out. I love the idea of World of Tanks, Warplanes, and Battleships all sharing the same account, free xp, and virtual currency. And maybe the game is more fun than I imagine, even with a third dimension and clouds instead of terrain.

Somewhere towards the end of 2012, I expect Q4 rather than Q3, there will be World of Warcraft's Mists of Pandaria. Perfect opportunity to check into that game again after a long absence and see whether that expansion is any good.

Also towards the end of 2012 we might see both XCOM games, the "shooter" version of 2K, and the more classical turn-based version XCOM: Enemy Unknown from Firaxis. I'll play both.

And while it isn't confirmed, the end of 2012 might also bring Wildstar, another MMORPG I would like to have a look at, because it appears to be somewhat different.

So, that's it, my list of games for 2012. What games are you waiting for?

WoW Ironman Challenge

Leveling a character in World of Warcraft is normally not very challenging. Unless you make up your own rules that MAKE it challenging: Like the WoW Ironman Challenge, in which you not only have to reach the level cap without dying, but have to do it using only grey or white items, no talents, no external buffs, no nothing. Of course the disadvantage of self-made rules is that they are often not very balanced, and in the case of the WoW Ironman challenge it turns out that the challenge is only possible to do for hunters. Nevertheless the idea is a nice one.

World of Warcraft supports such alternative rulesets indirectly, by having the armory in which rules compliance can be checked. It would be a lot harder to run such a challenge in another game, where you would have to trust people's word that they never died or never used forbidden boosts.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Preparation is everything

Can you imagine a stand-up comedian having to look up his witty repartee in a book before giving his response? He would quickly be booed of the stage. While being a Dungeon Master (DM) in a game of Dungeons & Dragons isn't quite the same as stand-up comedy, some of the same principles apply: The game is best when there is a good flow of interactions between the players and the DM, with the minimum amount of time lost in between. Having to look up rules for 10 minutes is bad, and so is losing time to set up maps. There is a reason why I spend so much time printing maps instead of drawing them during the game on a dry-erase map. Not only are the maps prettier, but I also gain a lot of time during the play session.

Gaining time during the session by spending that time in preparation is especially important if you don't play all that often. My D&D group only meets one evening every two weeks. I don't really want to spend a significant portion of that time drawing dungeons, setting up fights, or looking up rules. The rules you can sometimes make up on the spot, but for a decent combat encounter everybody needs to know exactly where everybody is on a battle map. If you lose too much time creating the maps as you go, you also break immersion, and tend to distract the players from the game. I am not a fast drawer.

And of course preparing my adventures is fun to me, not work. It is how I spend my weekends these days, instead of playing MMORPGs. I have a certain pride in running a game which is enjoyable for the players, and running smoothly without unnecessary delays. If that means spending some hours reading rule-books, and designing and printing maps and handouts, I don't mind.

A gap I won't close

Having played both MMORPGs and pen & paper RPGs, it would be only obvious if I tried virtual tabletop RPGs. These are games that play with a Dungeon Master and standard D&D (or other systems) rules, but the players are each in their own home at their own computer. They talk via Skype, or Google+ hangout, or Teamspeak, or some similar voice or video chat program. And they use software like MapTools, or Fantasy Grounds, or WotC's Virtual Table to handle the maps and the characters and monsters fighting on it. Tipa from West Karana plays D&D that way, there is an Online Dungeon Master blog, and at first the whole thing looks as if it would offer the best of two very different worlds of role-playing.

But I don't think this is for me. Pen & paper roleplaying for me isn't just about the game. It is also about having a perfect excuse for hanging out with friends, eating junk food, drinking soda, and talking about lots of other things than just the game. Even if it is obviously harder to organize, I'd rather sit with them around a real table than chatting with them over a headset. I can see how a virtual tabletop campaign would be useful if I absolutely wanted to play with people living far away from me. But right now that isn't the case. So I'll rather stick to the two extremes of pen & paper on a real table and MMORPGs than going for the middle ground.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Printing cost

About a year ago I needed a new printer and noticed that color laser printers had become quite affordable, around €500. So I got a HP Color LaserJet CP1515n that I am quite happy with. I don't usually print a lot, so I didn't worry much about the toner. This year I started dungeon master this D&D campaign, and suddenly I am printing a lot: Character sheets, battle maps, handouts, self-written adventures, the lot. So unsurprisingly at one point my toner was heading for empty. So I went and bought a complete set of original toner cartridges, and was surprised that this cost we two thirds of the price of the printer!

Closer examination revealed that this wasn't quite the "buy a new printer when the toner is empty" deal I feared. The CP1515n has a nice function where you can print out a page with a lot of detail on the status of the toner directly from the printer's front panel menu. And once I put a new cartridge in it showed up as being 100% full with an estimate of this being enough for 1400 pages. The cartridges that came with the printer could only do 700 pages when 100% full, so those were half-sized.

If I wanted to save money, I could always buy "rebuilt" toner cartridges which only cost half of what the original cost. But I did that for my previous black & white laser printer, with the result that once on unpacking the rebuilt toner cartridge I had black toner spilled all over my office.

Anyway, if I take original toner and it really gives me 1400 pages per set of toner, my total cost of printing in full color will be under 25 cents per page. I tried to do some research with Google whether that was a typical cost, but quickly found out that printing cost per page is extremely hard to measure. It depends too much on what you print. A printout of a web page with mostly text and just a bit of colored graphics costs a lot less toner than printing a photo or one of my battle maps, where the toner completely covers the page. During my last play session somebody spilled some of his drink on one of my maps, and it turned out that the coat of toner was dense enough to make the paper water-repelling. I'm afraid the "1400 pages" estimate is more for some standardized color page with 20% coverage than my 100% coverage battle maps, which could drive my cost per map to over €1 per page.

Well, I'm a bit of a map-fanatic, so I don't mind the cost. But I had previously assumed that playing pen & paper would be much cheaper than playing a MMORPG, and now I'm not so sure any more. I do think that a pen & paper campaign gains a lot by having lots of maps and printed handouts, but I might well end up paying more for those than $15 a month for a MMORPG. Well, still either hobby is a lot cheaper than the hobbies other middle-aged men waste their money on. ;)

Random numbers in D&D

As I told before, the last combat of my last Dungeons & Dragons session was rather dramatic, with the fighter reduced to 0 hitpoints at one point, and the group struggling to kill the 10 rats I had put in their path. One major contributing factor was how random numbers work in D&D, as opposed to MMORPGs. In Dungeons & Dragons generally anything to do with a chance of success is determined with a 20-sided die. You add a modifier and have to be higher than a target number, meaning that you can have anything between a 5% and a 95% chance of succeeding, in 5% steps.

Now statistics tells us that if you throw a 20-sided die often enough, the average will be 10.5. You have a 50% chance to roll 11 or higher, and a 50% chance to roll 10 or lower. In the combat I had, the players had a base +4 attack modifier, and had to hit an armor class of 15 of the giant rats, meaning they had a 50% chance to hit. As the giant rats were minions, which are eliminated with one hit, that should have gone fast enough. So what went wrong?

The thing is that real random numbers in small batches have a tendency to cluster. Thus if you have a fight of 6 rounds, and roll your 20-sided die 6 times, you can't count on having 3 hits and 3 misses. In this case one of my players had 6 misses and no hit at all, while another had 5 misses and 1 hit. That was "bad luck", but not statistically outrageously so. But the rats actually had a better chance to hit than the players, and even if they only did 3 points of damage per hit, that quickly added up to some serious damage when they weren't dispatched as quickly as foreseen.

In addition one of the rats was a "standard" monster, a dire rat with 38 hitpoints, dealing 1d10+5 damage. I was rolling for the monsters out in the open to show that I don't fudge dice, and promptly rolled a natural 20, which in the D&D 4E system means a critical hit for maximum damage. These 15 points of damage was what felled the fighter. Again "bad luck" for the players, but well within statistical likelihood.

In the end the players won the fight and everybody survived, so I didn't have to intervene. And the last fight of an adventure being highly dramatic and dangerous isn't a bad thing. But the event was a warning to me how difficult it is to plan combat encounters as a DM. You do want them to be neither trivial nor impossibly deadly, but with the clustering of random numbers and a bit of bad luck, things can quickly go wrong. In a pen & paper game, total party kills (aka "wipes" in MMO speak) are not something you want to have, unless the players are doing something stupid and reckless.

MMORPGs avoid that by making random number mostly irrelevant. A typical hit chance against a monster of your level is 90% or more, not 50%. And your damage is more likely to be something like "330-360", giving you only a small variation between minimum and maximum damage. There are also more "turns" in a MMO fight than in a D&D fight. Thus basically if you have a streak of bad luck in a MMORPG, you don't even notice. There simply is no way to end up like in my D&D game, missing your opponent with every hit for the whole fight. And that is before even discussing the quality of the random number generator, which if not properly done is likely to be less clustered than real random numbers.

Having said that, 4th edition D&D has less problems with random numbers than previous editions. Hitpoints are generally higher, and one-shot kills a lot less likely. A first edition AD&D mage had between 1 and 4 hitpoints, plus maybe a few more from the constitution modifier. In 4th edition a wizard has 10 hitpoints plus his constitution SCORE (not modifier), so probably more than 20 points. And 4E characters gain a fixed amount of hitpoints per level, not a random number between 1 and something. Overall the result is that fights last a bit longer; the longer the battle, the lower the probability that you fail all your rolls. As an added advantage, the longer battles make maneuvering and tactics more important, which adds to the fun. Still, one better be aware that clustering of random numbers and bad luck can happen.

Diablo 3's 83% regressive tax system

Blizzard is still fiddling with their Diablo 3 real-money auction house, and recently introduced some major changes. And as Azuriel remarks on his blog, these changes amount to Blizzard taking an 83% cut from any auction posted a minimum price. The minimum amount you can sell anything for is $1.50, and while you don't pay anything if that sell fails, you'll pay $1.25 if the sale succeeds.

For me that is just further proof that the only one that will get rich from the real-money auction house in Diablo 3 is Blizzard. If you want to "flip" something, buying low and selling high, your sales price needs to be at least $2.75 for an item you bought at minimum price. Selling your average loot drop for real money will either fail because nobody wants to pay $1.50 for a minor item, or end you with just 25 cents. As people can only have 10 simultaneous auctions, they will rather sell only expensive stuff and not even bother with the cheap things. And the buyers will ask themselves why it is called a "micro-transaction" if most things on the AH cost $10 or more.

This is a stupid regressive tax system, where cheap stuff is taxed at 83%, and expensive stuff is taxed at a much lower rate. The real-money AH will resemble Tiffany's more than Walmart, with relative low numbers of items posted at relatively high prices. For once Blizzard should have copied CCP and hire an economist before making changes like this.

I want more poster maps!

While the official retail price of a D&D 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Kit is $39.99, you can get it from Amazon for under $30, and that is good value for money. You get a big box with a paperback which basically corresponds to a Dungeon Master's Guide, plus 2 booklets with an excellent adventure in 2 parts, 2 poster maps, and 3 sheets of tokens for monsters and players. As an "play right out of the box" experience after having started with the Red Box, this is pretty much spot on.

The only problem I have with the Dungeon Master's Kit is that 2 poster maps isn't enough, although they are printed on both sides. The provided adventures simply have more locations than that. And that leads to strange results, like you having a poster map for one half of a keep, but not for the other half. You can then hand-draw the other half on a dry-erase battle map, but the contrast will be jarring. Or you need to make your own battle maps. I found one source for .pdf maps for this adventure, I just need to find out how to print a pdf file enlarged over several sheets of paper. I would like to have something looking like this, but besides not being skilled enough for such a build, I have the impression that it takes ten times as long to build such a keep than you spend playing the adventure in it. I'm not even sure the 3D build is the most practical to play D&D on.

I am currently preparing a different adventure, but the fundamental problem remains the same: The adventure has far more locations than provided on poster maps. I want more poster maps! In the adventure I'm preparing, the general map of the dungeon is only provided in small in the adventure booklet. I tried using Dungeon Tiles for the corridors of the dungeon, but found that this doesn't work all that well. You spend too much time looking for the next tile, there is a strong risk of the dungeon coming undone during play, and if you want to stop the play session and continue another day it becomes tedious. The only advantage is that you can show the players just the part of the dungeon they can see, while a printed map risks showing more. I ended up designing and printing two battle maps for the same part of the dungeon, one showing the view when first entered, then other once fully explored.

Right now my best solution is still drawing simple dungeon corridors on a dry erase blank square map, and making battle maps for the fights on my computer using Campaign Cartographer 3 / Dungeon Designer 3. Those battle maps I then print out on regular paper and tape it together to form larger maps. That isn't quite as pretty as the poster maps, and for some maps I need to reduce the scale a bit from 1" squares to 2 cm squares to fit on a reasonable number of sheets. But unless WotC provides more poster maps with their adventures, that is the best I can do.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Beta

Yesterday I received a mail inviting me to sign up for the Guild Wars 2 Beta. Hmmm, with so many games and so long development times I can't even remember whether I signed up for such an e-mail alert. So when I click the link and am asked to download and run Scannertron.exe to scan my system, I am naturally suspicious. But going manually to the Guild Wars 2 website I end up with the same request. And googling for Scannertron.exe doesn't give any special virus warnings. So I decided the thing must be legit and signed up for the beta.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Imagine DPS classes had responsibility

It has been discussed a hundred times on this blog and at many other places that the raid design of World of Warcraft puts a lot of responsibility on the tanks and healers, and much less of it on the damage dealing classes. With the predictable result that people tend to shout at the tanks and healers after a wipe, and then tanks and healers are increasingly hard to find. So what if a game came and reversed that? What if tanking and healing was relatively easy, and fails were predominantly caused by the damage dealers not dealing enough damage per second? Well, what would happen would be that damage dealers would be extremely unhappy, and even the monkeys would be screaming how bad a game design that was.

I must say that even as a healer I didn't enjoy WoW raids like Malygos where an enrage timer meant that we wiped when the damage dealers collectively failed to deal enough damage. There is something inherently frustrating about going from being proud to have kept the whole raid alive, to the raid wiping 2 seconds later due to the enrage timer. But then this was WoW, and damage dealers weren't supposed to have any responsibility. People who didn't want to take responsibility chose to play damage dealers in World of Warcraft.

If Star Wars: The Old Republic has enrage timers on all hardmode flashpoints, maybe that attitude will change. It might take some time for the people who were looking for the easy job in the raid to realize that they should have taken a tank or healer instead of a damage dealer, and vice versa. And there will be a lot of hand-wringing about the fact that SWTOR doesn't have damage meters, so you can only say with certitude that your damage dealers collectively failed, without being able to point the finger at an individual. But for the long-term social health of the game, I think this is just the ticket. The very fact that you can't blame a single guy could should make raiding a better experience for everybody. And by the responsibility being distributed among all the damage dealers, there is more room for variations in performance, without one player having a bad day causing a major guild drama.

So while I do agree that enrage timers are a somewhat lazy design tool, I do very much like the consequences of this shift in responsibility. It should allow some players to rethink why exactly they chose a specific role in the holy trinity. And in the long term it should solve the eternal tank and healer shortage most other MMORPGs have.

2012 - The year of queue solutions

During prime time on an average day in an average subscription MMORPG between 10% and 20% of active subscribers are logged on, as an industry rule of thumb. During prime time on release day, the number is much closer to 100%, and only slowly declining from there over the first few weeks. Thus MMORPG servers are usually overcrowded at launch. When this phenomenon was first observed, it took some game companies by surprise. Anarchy Online tried to get everybody who wanted onto the server, leading to the worst launch in MMORPG history, because servers just completely lagged out. Other games had their login server crash. Once game companies realized they had a problem, they invented the login queue, a solution that has been used for many years in many games now. Some companies tried to quickly open more servers, but that inevitably leads to server mergers once the first rush subsides, with a lot of bad press on how the game is failing. So up to SWTOR no game has come up with a better solution than queues.

But it seems that 2012 is the year where developers are rethinking that approach. TERA announced handing out xp bonuses to you while you are waiting in the queue. And now Guild Wars 2 announced overflow servers. Meaning that you get the option to play on a temporary server while there is a queue on your main server. Obviously that limits your options of guild / friend interactions as well as server vs. server warfare, but to level up your character this should work well enough. I'm looking forward to trying this. To me this appears a much better solution than to ask people money for waiting in a queue.

Comparative advantage in role-playing

David Ricardo certainly was no role-player, but his theory of comparative advantage can be applied to role-playing systems. The general idea of this theory is that everybody should do whatever he is *relatively* better at. So how does this apply to role-playing games? Well, if you want to play a RPG, you have a lot of very different choices, from pen & paper to MMORPGs. And if you want to create a fun pen & paper campaign, as I am currently trying, you need to ask yourself at what pen & paper is relatively better than a computer RPG.

If you haven't played any pen & paper adventures yet, or at least no good ones, you might think that computer games are better in all respects. Pen & paper games have lousy graphics, are difficult to set up, and are generally extremely slow. A fight of a full party of players against an even number of orcs of the same level in a computer RPG would take not more than a minute, while in a pen & paper RPG it can take half an hour.

But combat is what a computer RPG is comparatively good at. In a pen & paper game a player might need to look up a rule or description of a power, move over the battlefield while counting squares, roll a die to determine success, roll another die for damage, keep various bonuses to his roll in mind, and keep score. Combat in a computer game is a lot easier, because the player just needs to hit the button of the ability he wants to use, and all the calculations and score-keeping are done by the computer. Of course computer RPG combat has often been simplified, with no zones of control or other effects of positioning, and players in many games even being able to run right through a monster.

The comparative advantage of pen & paper RPGs is more on the non-combat side. Dialogue between a player and a non-player character (NPC) is extremely limited, ranging from a simple option to either accept a quest or not, to a still rather canned choice between 3 to 5 responses. And even a dialogue with 5 steps of 5 dialogue choices each usually ends up having only one or two possible outcomes, not 25. In a pen & paper game the Dungeon Master (DM) who controls all NPCs is a real human being, and thus has a much better "parser". I once was in a group sneaking into a warehouse to investigate its owner, and we were caught by the guard. And one of the players in the group came up with a fantastic bluff, pretending to be a security inspector sent by the owner to test how good the guard was, and even chiding him for taking so long to find us. The DM went along, and we ended up with lots of information and a bribe from the guard to keep mum about his "failing". Unless that particular event is scripted into a computer game, it simply cannot happen there.

This is why I try to put a good amount of role-playing and similar non-combat encounters into my Dungeons & Dragons campaign, at least getting the players to spend half of their time out of combat. Now I think that D&D 4E has quite a good combat system for a pen & paper game, very nicely tactical and all. But the comparative advantage is in the role-playing, in having meaningful choices and consequences to your actions, in puzzles and challenges the players can't look up on YouTube, and in my flexibility as a human DM. If my players just wanted combat, they probably could find a good computer game to serve them faster and better. But in presenting an open world and endless options, not even Skyrim can beat a real human DM.

WoW RealID premade HK farming

One of the universal truths of MMORPG PvP is that an organized group will always beat a random group. Now that Blizzard enabled people to form groups using their RealID, a good number of players are using this feature together with the addon "Preform AV Enabler" to run 10-man premades for WSG and other battlegrounds, with the goal of getting the 250,000 honor kill achievement. The power difference between such a premade and a random group is such that the premade group can often simply farm honor kills while camping the enemy graveyard.

Needless to say that takes the fun out of the game for those players who just wanted a fun random vs. random PvP battle. But requests to Blizzard to change things so as to prevent premade groups from spawn camping and HK farming on random groups on the official forums always degenerate into shouting matches. Which then get deleted by the moderators, giving the impression to the affected players that Blizzard doesn't hear them or doesn't care.

I think that while WoW isn't the best of PvP games to start with, it would at least be a better PvP game if it did a better job of matching groups of equal strength against each other. And that very much requires to let RealID premade groups fight ONLY against other premade groups, and random groups only against other random groups. That of course would provoke protests from the HK farmers, but frankly, people who are bored enough to want to farm 250,000 honor kills are likely to quit the game soon anyway.

The Favorites of Selune campaign - Level 0

My D&D group last night finished their first adventure, the level 0 introduction to the game I prepared. The idea was to play some D&D 4th edition with characters that were not fully formed, so as to give the players a better idea about game mechanics, helping them choose their level 1 powers and skills. The adventure took one-and-a-half game sessions, with the other half of last night being spent “leveling up” to level 1. This post is a journal of this first adventure. If the adventure appears very much directed and on rails to you that is because it was designed to be so on purpose. Future adventures will have somewhat more freedom.

The adventure started with the kind of story hook I would only ever use at the start of a campaign, with the players being helpless and pushed into a situation. In this case the players started at orphans in Waterdeep, leading a hard life in which the guardian of the orphanage is exploiting them by having them work for various merchants. It is an orphanage for children of adventurers, and having received donations from adventurers is supposed to give the children basic adventuring training. As this is somewhat neglected, the players are “level 0”, with just one at-will power each. All their stats are 10, plus racial bonuses, and they had the choice of race and what power source (martial, divine, arcane) their first power would be based on.

When the players come of age, the guardian of the orphanage realizes that he won’t be able to exploit their workforce much longer, and decides to drug them and sell them into slavery. The action starts with the players chained to the wall in the hold of a pirate / slaver ship in the middle of a storm. (See? I told you this was heavy-handed.) While the players realize that there is not much they can do, the storm gets heavier, many of the pirates are washed overboard, and the ship runs aground on a beach.

The shipwreck causes heavy damage to the ship, including weakening the fastening of the chain the players are attached to. This leads to the first “encounter” in D&D rules-speak, a skill challenge in which the players work to free themselves. They arm themselves with chair legs as clubs and fight the remaining two pirates on board of the ship, their first combat encounter. Now normally in D&D a pirate would work on somewhat simplified “monster” combat rules, as you usually don’t want to go through all the work of making a full character sheet for them. But in this case I decided that the pirates would be using some of the combat moves a player might use, for example the second wind self-healing, or a bluff to give a combat advantage. That not only ended in making the combat a bit more balanced, but also taught the players some possible moves for their later career.

After having killed the pirates, the players realize that they aren’t safe yet. They are still stranded on an unknown beach, more or less exposed to the elements, and the ship is too damaged to float. Thus they decide to explore and seek shelter. On this exploration they stumble upon 2 orcs having made camp behind some boulders near the beach, holding a human prisoner. When the players arrive, the orcs are being ambushed by a dozen goblins. By the time the players are in combat range, the orcs are dead, and there are half a dozen goblins left, a leader and 5 minions. This turned out to be somewhat too easy a fight, most of the minions were dead before they could do anything, and a single level 1 goblin was no match for 6 level 0 characters. The only unexpected thing that happened in this fight was one of the dwarves charging straight through the campfire, so I had to come up on the spot with rules on how to handle this. I let him make an acrobatics check to jump over the fire (athletics might have been a better choice), and failing that he burned his trousers and got some very minor fire damage, and scattered and extinguished the fire.

The players freed the prisoner, and old man named Keestake. He explains to the players that they are on Goddess Island, a tiny isle which served as the base of Viledel, the Sea King. Viledel was a mighty pirate captain, but died 30 years ago, and was buried on this island in a tomb under his manor. Keestake was Viledel’s servant, and the only one to remain behind on the island to guard the manor and the tomb. Keestake speaks some orcish and learned from his captors that some weeks ago a bard sung a ballad in a tavern in a pirate hideout, singing of the treasure of Viledel that was never found. This prompted two rivaling bands of pirates, one orc and one goblin, to seek out the island and search for the treasure. The orcs, being stronger, took control of the Sea King’s manor, while the goblins can’t do much more than hiding and ambushing the orcs. The only other building on the island is an old temple of Selune, which Keestake suggests would make the best shelter for the night.

At the temple the players find that the orcs and goblins searched and ransacked the temple, and even got into a fight in there, leaving some goblin corpses. But the orcs and goblins couldn’t open the door to the inner sanctum, a big stone door with no visible opening mechanism, and circular indentation about 1 inch deep and a foot in diameter. The players find they can’t open that door either, but they can barricade the outer door and find shelter for the night. On the last watch Selune herself appears to the players. She is angry about the desecration of her temple, and reveals that it was her who summoned the storm. The storm will swallow the whole island by nightfall. As Selune recognizes the players as being innocent in the desecration, she not only warns them, but also helps them by granting them an improved toughness feat (+6 hitpoints instead of the normal +5, but this replaces the feat the players would normally be able to choose at level 1). The goddess says that there is a way to escape from the island, and that the players would be able to find this way if they are worthy. This gives the players a quest to escape the island, of which the reward is the experience to reach level 1. And yeah, we are still in heavy-handed territory, as the players don’t really get the option to not do that quest.

Keestake, who heard the goddess too and is eager to escape from the island alive with the players, reveals that Viledel was buried in his small boat, which should be able to carry up to 10 people. Thus the players decide to try to find that boat as a means of escape from the island. Guided by Keestake they sneak their way into the manor and a cellar with a mosaic on the wall hiding a secret door. Keestake claims to know how to open that door, but is killed by a poison dart trap when trying to do so. The players open the door with a skill challenge without making too much noise and alerting the orcs.

Behind the secret door is a cave, upon entering which the players are attacked by 10 rats. (Hey, if D&D 4E adopted game mechanics from MMORPGs, it definitely needs a “kill 10 rats” combat!) That combat turned out to be rather tough, with 1 dire rat and 9 giant rat minions dealing some serious damage to the players. One critical hit by the dire rat brought the fighter to 0 hitpoints. Two other players had a series of very low dice rolls, one of them not landing a single hit in 6+ rounds of combat, although he had a 50% or better chance to hit. The ranger and the mage pelted the dire rat from behind, although attacking the minions first might have been the better tactic. But the priest was able to revive the fighter, and ultimately the party prevailed. Then I messed up and forgot to tell the players that had been damaged by the dire rat to make saving throws against disease. Well, stuff happens, it wasn’t actually important as this was the last fight of the adventure.

Behind the rats the players found a second cave, open to the sea, and with Viledel buried in his boat as promised. Unfortunately the orcs had been uncharacteristically clever, and had found that cave before the players, by rappelling down the cliff with ropes. Thus the treasure was gone, the boat had a big hole in the bottom where the orcs had searched for hidden treasure, and the only thing remaining was the skeleton of Viledel holding a marble disc, an inch thick and a foot in diameter, with the engraving of the head of Selune on it. The players figure out that this must be the key to the inner sanctum, and go back to the temple.

In the inner sanctum there is a magic portal, which can be invoked by a ritual engraved on marble tablets on the wall. The players perform the ritual, open the portal and thus escape safely from the island and the storm, landing in the temple of Selune in Fallcrest, in the Nentir Vale. There they are greeted by the high priest of Selune, who was told by the goddess to assist the players and offer them training. Thus the adventure ends with the players reaching level 1, getting their stats boosted to the standard array, and choosing their powers and skills.

Overall the adventure went very well. Everybody appeared to have fun, which is the main thing. But the players also learned how 4E D&D works, and now have level 1 characters with powers based on informed decisions. As an added advantage the players start their “regular” career at level 1 with a common background and some good opportunities for future story hooks. Of course they also have the possibility to make up their own backgrounds, like who were their parents and how did the characters end up as orphans? But at least the campaign doesn’t have players with backgrounds which would make it unlikely for them to cooperate.

So the party composition at level 1 is one dwarven fighter (more a damage dealer than a tank though), one dwarven warlord, one halfling ranger, one human priest, one elven rogue, and one elven magician (with a mix of control and damage powers). So the group is heavy on dps and support (what 4E calls the “leader” role, from the warlord and the priest), and light on crowd control and tanking. Not a completely classical composition, but I think this will work, especially since 6 players is at the upper range of D&D group sizes. I’ll chronicle their campaign at the end of each adventure, so as to not give away spoilers too early.

Those of you with way too much D&D experience might have recognized this adventure being based on the first official level 0 adventure TSR released back in 1986, Treasure Hunt by Aaron Allston. The rules for level 0 characters I used were modified “A Hero’s First Steps” level 0 rules from Dragon Magazine #403. Most places in the adventure I created maps and battle maps for myself, using Campaign Cartographer 3 / Dungeon Designer 3. Feel free to comment whether you liked this adventure and would be interested in reading more as the campaign progresses.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wolves and sheep

Gevlon started playing EVE, promptly got ganked, and is loving it. Now here is a good fit between the character of a game and the character of the player. I do think Gevlon will do very well in EVE. Although I also believe that there are a lot of people who are a lot better at what Gevlon does in EVE. I wonder if he'll still be reporting so honestly once he makes a REAL mistake in this game, like trusting the wrong people. Or when he will get stuck and unable to progress because he trusts no-one.

I do agree with his premise that whether you like EVE or not depends on whether you like games where "good" players can hurt "bad" players. Where he is completely wrong, of course, is making the connection between that preference and real-life intelligence. In many ways EVE is a lot closer to real life than a game like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic is. WoW and SWTOR are full of guaranteed wins, and protection for the weaker players. It is a lot harder to ruin another player's day in WoW or SWTOR than it is in EVE. Not impossible, but much harder. And I can understand the attraction of a game like EVE to a person like Gevlon, who already thinks of the world as a place of wolves and sheep, and enjoys the opportunity to demonstrate that he is on the wolves side of things.

But do we really want games that work like real life? You don't have to be a sheep to think that it would be nicer if people wouldn't constantly try to hurt each other. In fact the very concept of civilization is based on the premise that we get further if we cooperate instead of bashing each other's head in with a stone club. And the benefits of civilization accrue to the wolves as well as the sheep. And even if you live your life as a wolf, having a day job that constantly puts you in cut-throat competition with others, do you want to continue the same activity in a virtual world in the evening?

On this blog I have repeatedly gotten into trouble with my commenters when I stated that I would prefer to be a winner in real life and a loser in games rather than the other way around. I am not saying that these are the only two possibilities, but I'm pretty certain that there is no correlation between success in games and success in real life. A solid majority of people in the society at large tend to concentrate their efforts on doing well in real life. That is due to Maslow's hierarchy of needs which says that we need to get our basic needs fulfilled before we start worrying about stuff like feeling good about ourselves. If your washing machine breaking down counts as a major financial disaster to you, your success in a video game can at best be escapism.

Once you are doing good in real life, virtual life is full of options. And trying to do well there, to "win", is just one of these options. Playing is about exploring alternatives with consequences that are significantly less serious than in real life. A game is attractive *because* it is not real life, *because* you can try out being a different person, having different goals than in real life. Playing a game differently than you "play" real life broadens your horizon, and is more relaxing than reproducing the same patterns of behavior you already follow in real life. After a long day full of various challenges, I don't blame people for preferring games that are full of easy wins, or where you don't constantly have too look over your shoulder to guard against the wolves. Not everybody who plays a sheep is one in real life too.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Site-based vs. event-based adventures

Instead of playing games I now spend a good part of my weekends creating them. Or rather creating encounters, adventures, and a campaign for my Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition players. Of course it is a lot easier to create adventures for 6 players than for hundreds of thousands or even millions. But some basic principles remain the same, whatever the number of players, and whether you are creating encounters for a pen & paper game or for a MMORPG.

One principal problem is how the players find the adventure. Realistically, if you walk into the middle of the forest, chances are that nothing happens, even in a fantasy world. If there is a clearing where druids holding a secret ritual, the players would first need to hear about that. And then they'd still need to find it. And realistically speaking, 99 times out of 100 the clearing would be empty once found, unless the players also know the time of the secret ritual.

MMORPGs and pen & paper games have similar solutions for this problem. In a MMORPG the druids will simply ALWAYS be on that clearing. And the "speak with the druids at the clearing" quest will have that clearing marked on the player's map, so finding it is no problem. In a pen & paper game the players don't need to know the exact location of the clearing, as "space" and "time" are more flexible here. If the players say "we search the forest for the clearing", the DM can roll some dice and declare that it took them 3 hours to find it, but those 3 hours just last seconds in reality. If the players then wait for the secret ritual to start, that again only takes a few seconds of "fast forward" time acceleration.

One trick both MMORPGs and pen & paper games use is scripting: The moment the players meet the caravan just HAPPENS to be the moment that caravan is attacked by goblins. In a MMORPG the script can be launched by the players turning up at the location, or, more frequently, by talking to a quest giver at the caravan. Pen & paper games use two different triggers: Site-based and event-based. Site-based scripts start when players turn up at a location. The classic example is opening a door in a dungeon, which starts the combat against its inhabitants. One of the classic D&D adventures, I think it was the Temple of Elemental Evil, had a 3 x 3 squares room with 15 orcs in it, but no mention of furniture or what the 15 orcs were doing in this small room all the time while waiting for the players to open the door. Dungeons in MMORPGs haven't really evolved much beyond that, monsters are mostly fixed at one location, with the exception of a few patrols. Unless the players do something extremely stupid, the monsters of one location don't interact with the monsters next door.

Where pen & paper games offer somewhat more than MMORPGs is with event-based adventures: Scripts that are triggered by time passing or situations evolving in a logical manner. The players arrive in town 3 days before the town fair, and certain events will happen during that fair. That works well in pen & paper, because if the players don't need time to do something before the fair, they can always declare that they wait 3 days and thus quickly advance time. The only equivalent in a MMORPG would be a holiday event, but these are never essential to the story. MMORPG players can't advance time as in a pen & paper game, so "something important happens in 3 days" doesn't work well in MMORPGs. Furthermore pen & paper games freeze in time while the players aren't playing, while MMORPGs continue, so what if the player isn't logged on in 3 days and misses the event?

A further advantage of pen & paper event-based scripts is that they allow players real decisions, or real consequences of their actions. In a MMORPG most battles you'll see are frozen in time and will never change, or just through a major content patch. In a pen & paper game the players can influence which side wins a battle or even a war. They could even have a diplomacy adventure that starts or ends a war. If they expose the major of a city as a secret demon-worshiper, that will change how the citizens of the city react to them. These are all things that MMORPGs have great difficulties with.

As Dungeon Master the main difficulty is how to create a good adventure with a mix of site-based and event-based encounters. I'm currently "redecorating" a dungeon which is completely site-based, because I don't like the "door-monster-treasure" structure. So I'm removing many encounters that don't really add to the story, and make sure that there are more events, dialogues, and decisions for the players. Fantasy adventures are never completely logical, but I'll try my best to keep up the suspension of disbelief by having the various encounters link up by a logical story, and not just a corridor and a door.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Emoticons Chat Facebook

Tunjukkan ke teman Anda bagaimana perasaan Anda Dengan Emoticons Chat Facebook ini Anda dapat membuat percakapan Anda menjadi lebih hidup sekaligus menunjukkan perasaan Anda ke teman-teman. Pilih Emoticons Chat Facebook ini  ketik kode shortcutnya langsung di dalam Chat Facebook Anda. Silahkan di coba ..!!

Emoticon Chat Facebook 1
Emoticon Chat Facebook
[[171108522930776]]   - Troll face
[[211782832186415]]   - Me Gusta
[[143220739082110]]   - ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME
[[1680408465586189]] - Feel like a sir
[[169919399735055]]  - Not bad Obama
[[142670085793927]]  - Mother of God
[[170815706323196]]  - Cereal Guy
[[168456309878025]]  - LOL Face
[[167359756658519]]  - NO Guy
[[14933336846417]]    - Yao Ming
[[224812970902314]]  - Derp
[[192644604154319]]  - Derpina
[[177903015598419]]  - Forever Alone
[[148578318584679]]  - It's Okay!
[[219611504753863]]  - ALL the y
Emoticon Chat Facebook 2

Emoticon Chat Facebook
[[305710872791586]]  - Impossibruh
[[145768898802324]]  - Rage Face
[[309795212383816]]  - Watch out, badass
[[129627277060203]]  - Poker face
[[67253243887]]          - Justin Bieber
[[ladygaga]]                   - Lady GaGa
[[eminem]]                     - Eminem
[[zuck]]                         -  Mark Zuckerberg
[[105387672833401]]  - FUCK YEAH
[[161751797197606]]  - CHUCK NORRIS
[[129627277060203]]  - POKER FACE
[[100002727365206]]  - CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
[[139407806171115]]  - Dislike Icon
[[333181686710881]]  - Like Icon
[[180601488705317]]  - Inverted Like Icon
Emoticon Chat Facebook 3 ( Cartoon Characters )
Emoticon Chat Facebook  
[[249199828481201]] - Konata Izumi
[[250128751720149]] - Domo Kun
[[223328504409723]] - Gintoki Sakata
[[236147243124900]] - Pokeball
[[326134990738733]] - Pikachu
[[155393057897143]] - Doraemon
[[224502284290679]] - Nobita
[[144685078974802]] - Mojacko
[[334954663181745]] - Spongebob
[[196431117116365]] - Shin chan
[[148935948523684]] - Pedo Bear
[[269153023141273]] - Poring
[[332936966718584]] - Hello Kitty
[[252497564817075]] - Kerokeroppi
[[297354436976262]] - Santa Claus
[[157680577671754]] - Angry Bird
 Emoticon Chat Facebook 4
Facebook chat emoticons
[[345533462139449]]  - bete
[[308300382542918]]  - calm
[[309626999060642]]  - dan2
[[263022747090798]]  - hai
[[200102950080196]]  - hwa
[[158227984284324]]  - mad
[[114550798664378]]  - mo
[[299734090065127]]  - omg
[[350421394973827]]  - shy
[[208296672587372]]  - doa
[[157844747656241]]  - etc
[[158207970952008]]  - groa
[[241721525896214]]  - grr
[[113519815433465]]  - hepi
[[239939099411255]]  - joke
[[346508562029170]]  - kdip
[[185298018232820]]  - mbok
Emoticon Chat Facebook 5
Facebook chat emoticons
[[239249926147852]]  - phew
[[332418196786941]]  - shok
[[328430820514942]]  - tear
[[222287944513884]]  - we
[[164481350318329]]  - win
[[330544910308348]]  - zzz
[[267658843290223]]  - hoeh
[[180154485416003]] -  ;:)
[[221390677938174]]  - swet
[[269394746450013]]  - TT
[[222023621206273]]  - uhuk
[[346372985378735]]  - luph
[[187322684697844]]  - tida
[[208533842565519]]  - cuih
[[266659030060927]]  - down
===================================================================================Emoticon Chat Facebook

[[196920740401785]] - A
[[113544575430999]] - B
[[294715893904555]] - C
[[294660140569858]] - D
[[328415510520892]] - E
[[270221906368791]] - F
[[212614922155016]] - G
[[205633882856736]] - H
[[256255337773105]] - I
[[288138264570038]] - J
[[296999947008863]] - K
[[216672855078917]] - L
[[278786215503631]] - M
 Emoticon Chat Facebook 7 ( Emoticon Huruf  N - Z )

Emoticon Chat Facebook
[[241341589270741]] - N
[[312524205448755]] - O
[[200138403410055]] - P
[[165410113558613]] - Q
[[203403609746433]] - R
[[334427926570136]] - S
[[250632158335643]] - T
[[285985351447161]] - U
[[343627398996642]] - V
[[315740851791114]] - W
[[136342506479536]] - X
[[224173507657194]] - Y
[[317710424919150]] - Z
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Emoticon Chat Facebook 9 ( Emoticon icon website )
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Emoticon Chat Facebook 10 ( Emoticon icon BROWSER )
Semoga bermanfaat dan selamat mencoba!!
Rating: 5
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Friday, February 17, 2012

Buying new rules

As I mentioned yesterday, the core rule books of Dungeons & Dragons are the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual. You could always get all three of them together for under $100, and that was enough to get a full group playing for years. Nice for poor students, but not really a recipe for a huge financial success of the game company. TSR was nearly broke in 1997 when they got bought by Wizards of the Coast. And while I don't have details, I always thought about that purchase as being a case of "I liked the product so much, I bought the company". I am pretty certain that WotC made a lot more money with Magic the Gathering and Pokemon trading cards than with Dungeons & Dragons.

But of course the fact that you *can* play Dungeons & Dragons very cheaply doesn't mean everybody does it. In some ways D&D resembles a Free2Play game, where especially the Dungeon Master can buy all sorts of nice convenience items. In my enthusiasm of getting back to D&D (and having foolishly thrown away most of my old stuff years ago), I bought quite a lot of rule books and rule supplements, adventures, and especially everything having maps and monster tokens. The stuff hasn't become any cheaper since I was a poor student, but my financial means have improved over the last quarter of a century.

Much of what is on sale is targeted at the Dungeon Master. There are campaign settings, adventures, and monsters galore. The players aren't supposed to buy those, except possibly for the "Player's Guide to" the campaign settings. Buying adventures at best spoils a player's fun, and at worst leads him completely astray because he thinks he knows what will happen while the DM often enough changes the story and only uses the parts of an adventure he likes.

But what I noticed especially with the 4th edition is that there are now more and more books printed for players. There is now a second and a third player's handbook, plus several "player's option" books. All of these books contain new character classes with new powers. I've counted 26 character classes just in the Wikipedia entry on 4E classes, and I think the character builder on the Dungeons & Dragons Insider website has even more. There are also lots of races added to the game this way.

I must say I am not a big fan of buying new rules to increase the number of character classes. So many classes mostly end up being confusing and it becomes difficult to roleplay the differences between them. The deluge of player's books seems more designed to increase WotC's revenues than to make Dungeons & Dragons a better game. And as it is difficult to see how strong a new character class is on paper, I would be cautious to allow a player something very exotic that then turns out to have been min-maxed for power rather than chosen for being interesting. I rather support Wizards of the Coast by paying for a subscription to Dungeons & Dragons Insider, which has a lot of useful tools for Dungeon Masters.

Gratis Vector Tempat Pulpen Cantik

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Rating: 5
 ( Baca Juga : Free Vector Pulpen | Ballpoint )

Free Vector Pulpen | Ballpoint

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Rating: 4.5
( Baca Juga : Dua varian sepeda motor Honda berbasis PGM-FI )

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Rating: 4.5

Thursday, February 16, 2012

D&D Essentials

I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons since the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. That first edition came in 3 hardcover books, the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual. And these 3 core books have been how AD&D (renamed D&D since the third edition) was released in every edition up to and including the 4th edition of 2008. That changed in 2010 where a new line of products was released called D&D Essentials. While D&D Essentials are still 4th edition rules, the books are now smaller sized paperbacks, there are more of them, and they aren't called Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual any more.

The easiest case is the Monster Manual, which has been replaced by the Monster Vault. While the Monster Vault book is a small paperback, what you buy is actually a big box which contains that paperback and lots cardboard sheets with tokens for all of these monsters. Plus there is an adventure and poster maps. As Amazon sells the box for under $20, that is quite good value for money. The only downside is that there are less monsters in the Monster Vault than in the Monster Manual.

The Dungeon Master's Guide also comes in a box with a thin paperback book on how to be a DM, a DM screen, an adventure in two parts, a monster booklet, monster token sheets, and battle maps. As you can see, there is already some overlap with the Monster Vault. Again the idea is more to have the whole game in a box than to offer exactly what was contained in the Dungeon Master's Guides before.

An interesting addition to all that is the Rules Compendium, a 320 pages paperback which contains all the 4th edition rules as a reference. As since 2008 the 4E rules have had errata and addendum, this comes in handy. And I actually like the small paperback format better for a rules reference book.

All these D&D Essential products mentioned up to now are completely compatible with the 2008 Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual. There has been some rebalancing of monster stats and things like difficulty checks, but essentially (pun intended) this is still 4th edition D&D.

Where D&D Essentials differs a lot from the 2008 4th edition is in what used to be the Player's Handbook. This now comes in two small but thick paperbacks: Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. Each book has only 4 character classes, and different races. Thus you would need to buy both to get the 8 classes of the Player's Handbook, and you'd pay more for that, and get a lot of rules explanations twice.

Even worse, the characters you can produce with the D&D Essentials books for players differ significantly from the characters you could produce with the Player's Handbook. Basically the D&D Essentials books offer you a lot less choice. Take for example a fighter / knight: In the PH a fighter would have daily powers, which got removed in D&D Essentials. A PH figher would get the choice of 1 out of 4 possible encounter powers at level 1, and another choice of 1 out of 6 possible encounter powers at level 3. In D&D Essentials he gets Power Strike at level 1 instead, no choice, and a second Power Strike per Encounter at level 3, again no choice. Only with the utility powers the choice is similar. But even then the powers are not exactly the same. The D&D Essentials characters are not weaker, and could theoretically play in the same campaign as the original ones. But you try to explain your players then why some of them have choices when they level up, and others don't.

Fortunately for my particular campaign the question whether players can use D&D Essentials characters doesn't pose itself. The D&D Essentials haven't been translated into French, and some of my players don't speak English. So my campaign is based on the French versions of the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide. And even those had limited availability, apparently D&D isn't doing so great in France.

Overall I love the Monster Vault and the Rules Compendium, and I also ordered the Dungeon Master's Kit. I'll stay away from the "Heroes" books of the D&D Essentials, as I don't like the simplified character creation. I recognize the efforts to make the game "more accessible" (where have I heard that before?), but I think WoTC went too far here. Choosing powers on character creation and leveling is fun, and reducing that fun and the choices is not a good idea.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Quests in Dungeons & Dragons

DM: "The stranger in the tavern tells you of a ruin full of treasures to the north of town. What do you do?"
Players: "We go south!"

One of the developments in modern MMORPGs was the idea that the player should always be on a quest, or several, so he would never be lost for ideas on where to go next. Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition introduced that idea into D&D rules, but most of the official adventures I've seem don't actually use the concept. That is probably because those adventures are very linear already, and if you have a dungeon full of monsters you don't really need a quest to tell players what to do.

DM: "You found the sword Excalibur that King Arthur asked you to retrieve. He is waiting for you in Camelot, north of here. What do you do?"
Players: "We go south!"

A completely scripted and linear D&D adventure is a bad adventure. Much of the interest of pen & paper roleplaying is that the story is not completely predetermined, but evolves from the interaction between the players and the dungeon master. If the players come up with a great solution on how to infiltrate the keep instead of attacking it, great! But of course that leaves the risk of the players derailing whatever the dungeon master has prepared. And quests are a great way for the DM to let the players know where they are supposed to go, without actually forcing them.

Most likely your game world is full of interesting places, monsters, and treasures. Thus the mere existence of a dungeon full of treasures isn't motivation enough for the players to go there. Of course you can railroad the players to end up at the dungeon entrance regardless of whether they go north or south. But your players probably won't appreciate. Thus it is better to not only deliver them some story hook of why they should go to that dungeon and retrieve some item, but at the same time give them a piece of paper with a big heading: QUEST, a short description of what they should do, and an xp reward. Formulate item retrieval quests as "bring back" rather than "find", and the players might actually turn in the item they were supposed to look for instead of just keeping it.

Not all quests have to be solved. Some might even end up being impossible to finish, or two quests might contradict each other. Or the players might decide that even with a quest reward they aren't interested in that particular story line. But in general a quest gives both a clear enough signal, and a good motivation to players to not completely mess up whatever the DM has prepared. If your players constantly refuse all your stories and quests, it is probably time for "rock falls, everyone dies" anyway.

One other reason I like quests for is that they provide a convenient game mechanic for giving xp for non-combat activities. Next play session the characters in my group will finish the level 0 adventure, and build their level 1 characters. So I'm in the process of writing an adventure for level 1 for them, using a mix of pre-made adventures and own ideas. And unlike the official adventures I don't want them to be in combat all the time, but have a 50:50 mix of combat and non-combat encounters. Quests that give xp for let's say solving a murder mystery put the roleplaying encounters on the same reward level as the combat encounters, so players don't just simply go for combat all the time because it gives the best rewards. In the part of the adventure I've written up to now, which should get the players from level 1 to level 2, half of the xp are from combat, and the other half from quests, one major and two minor ones. That is more than the xp for quests foreseen in the Dungeon Masters Guide, but according to the DMG a minor quest gives less xp than a minor combat, and a major quest less xp than a major combat, and that is not how I want to run my campaign.

Designing an impossible game

Although I just renamed the blog to remove "MMORPG" from the title, I will still talk about MMORPGs whenever the mood strikes me. There was some interesting discussion in yesterday's thread about how the people who hate all current MMORPGs are all clamoring for the ultimate sandbox game which totally revolutionizes the genre and is totally different from all successful current game design. My proposal that successful game design is more likely to come from evolutionary changes was dismissed as lack of ideas. So in this post I would like to list my revolutionary ideas, although I am convinced that it is impossible to turn them into a successful game at the current time. At best MMORPGs could slowly evolve in that direction.

The main design problem of MMORPGs in my opinion is repetition. I understand the cost reasons behind it, but I also see the negative effect on gameplay. For comparison, look at a pen & paper roleplaying game: Every single encounter is unique and new to the players. Thus a series of unique encounters makes for an exciting adventure. In a MMORPG there is much less of that uniqueness: Most monsters react in extremely similar ways, quests have similar structures, and dungeons resemble each other in functionality as well. Furthermore if you "fail" at some content, you have the opportunity to try again, and again, until you succeed.

This repeating structure has as consequence that MMORPGs are not games of discovery, adventure, and exploration. Instead they become games of execution. You learn what happens when you pull a mob, what buttons to press, what special abilities the boss mobs have, and so on. Your success is not based on being able to manage a unknown situation, like it would be in a pen & paper game, but on how well you know what will happen, know what the best predefined solution is, and know how to execute it.

My impossible MMORPG would be very different: Monster spawns would not be static, thus just because there are wolves in this part of the forest today, it doesn't mean they will still be there tomorrow. Monster locations would in part change randomly, and in part in response to player actions. And yes, I know that Ultima Online tried that and failed, but they obviously just underestimated the speed with which players can kill mobs. A better system would increase respawn rates in response to player overkill, and make more dangerous monsters appear if the players empty a zone of monsters.

Secondly in my impossible MMORPG the monsters would be far more different from each other. Players would not be able to rely on "knowing" their "aggro radius", because not all mobs would even use that game mechanic. There should be mobs which attack if they "see" you, not just stare right through you if you stand one step outside the aggro radius. Vision-based aggro would also mean that it matters from which direction you come. Classic aggro radii could be smell- or sound-based. And there should be some random chance of unusual behavior, a mob running away at first sight, or running for help, and not a predictable attack that is always the same.

Mobs should have a wider range of attacks, and there should be some randomness in those as well, especially for boss mobs. It should not be possible to "learn" how to beat a boss with predefined moves. Instead boss abilities should be animated to give players an idea what might be coming, and players would be forced to react to what the mob does.

My impossible MMORPG would still have quests, but the tasks given to players would not involve specific monsters. Instead they would for example be asked to retrieve an item from the end of a cave, without knowing what lives in this cave. And the inhabitants of the cave could change from one day to the next, so there would be no strategy to look up in some database.

Besides a far more dynamic world with changing monsters, dynamic spawns, and full of the unknown and unknowable, my impossible MMORPG would also have a more dynamic system of powers for the players. Instead of always having the same buttons to press on, every available power would disappear once used, and replaced by a random other power. But that new power would not be totally random, but just randomly selected from a set which is predetermined by the players. Thus just like deck building in a tradable card game, players would have to select a set of powers they believe will be able to overcome the challenge they face. And that includes the possibility of finding yourself in an unexpected situation with the wrong set of powers, and having to retreat and change your set of powers to better fit the challenge.

My impossible MMORPG would not have levels. Instead it would start with a very low degree of complexity in the powers on offer, simple attacks that work moderately well against everything. Over time players would learn more specialized powers, which are stronger against certain kinds of enemies or in certain situations, but weaker in others.

Overall this would result in a virtual world full of dangers and adventure, and constantly changing. Certain points would be permanently safe, others permanently dangerous, and large areas would be dynamic and changing in response to the actions of the players. And it would be in these dynamic areas that players could build houses or guild structures. Leave such a structure unattended too long while no other players are keeping the area pacified, and you'll find your house occupied by orcs or worse. Clever algorithms would match mob activity with player activity on the server, so that less populated servers would not be unable to keep the monsters at bay, while overcrowded server would not run out of mobs to kill.

I don't think we even have the technology to make all this possible, and the money even less. But at one point in the future I would like to see a virtual fantasy world which is dynamic, and uncertain, full of adventure instead full of checklists of things to do to "finish" a zone.

Monday, February 13, 2012

GameMastery Flip-Mats

I love maps. Especially I like the kind of maps you can play on, and the combat system which very much supports that sort of maps is a strength of the D&D system in my opinion. I love maps. And that is my excuse for the fact that I probably wasted too much money on buying half a dozen GameMastery Flip-Mats from Amazon. I got them in the mail yesterday, and on unpacking found them less useful than I would have thought them to be.

The Flip-Mats are 24" x 30" maps with 1" squares and glossy print on both sides of not too thin cardstock. So far so good. There is a "Basic" map, which only has grey or light brown texture under the square grid, to be used with wet or dry erase markers. There are even instructions on how you can use a dry erase marker to erase a drawing with a permanent marker, but I'm not sure why I should want to use a permanent marker in the first place. The material appears to be good quality, although that results in the mat not being easy to flatten after unfolding it. And depending on the lighting, the glossy print can cause annoying reflections.

I bought two Flip-Mats with buildings: A keep, and a country inn. These to me appear to be quite useful, as they can be used for any generic keep or inn the players stop at. The country inn map shows the same inn on both sides, one side with roof and the other without. I'm not totally happy about the roof side, as I don't see my group playing on that. Easier to play on the side which shows the interior of the rooms too, and just imagine the roofs if necessary. At best I could show the roof side to the players as outside view before they enter, but how long is that going to be? The keep map fortunately did better: One side shows the keep, the other side a winding path you could imagine leading up to the keep. Just hope you don't want to play an assault on the keep, because then you would need two of those flip-mats to show both sides at the same time.

Besides the buildings I bought three wilderness Flip-Mats: Pirate Island, Forest, and Mountain Pass. I don't know what I expected the Pirate Island map to be, but it is rather useless. One side shows a beach, with half the map taken over by water. Maybe useful for playing an encounter where the players defend that beach against pirates in rowing boats, but that is about the only idea I have for it, as it doesn't have many features besides sand and water. The other side of the map shows a complete island. But as the usual scale has a 1-inch square representing a 5-feet square in the real world, the whole 30" x 24" map ends up representing an island less than 150 feet x 120 feet big. Complete with 2 x 3 square pirate hut and 8 square diameter volcano. What self-respecting pirates live on such a ridiculously small island? I'm also not happy with so much of the island being covered by vegetation, leaving very little free room for a combat.

One side of the forest map also suffers from excessive vegetation, in my opinion. There are paths through a forest, but they form several circles, which doesn't make much sense. The other side is a lot more useful, showing a clearing in a forest. That is one of the generic encounter settings likely to happen often enough in a typical campaign. The mountain pass map has one side which suffers from the opposite problem: Lack of features. Two thirds of it are just white, and the last third shows the approach to the pass, with walls rising left and right. The other side then is in the pass, and that side looks more interesting. Two towers, some rocks, and a good amount of space for some encounter where the players either ambush or are ambushed, or either blockade or try to break through a blockade. Lots of possibilities for a good combat.

At $12.99 from the official site the flip-mats aren't outrageously priced. I'd rather have the print version for $12.99 than the pdf version for $8.99, especially since I am not sure how well those ones print out over several sheets of paper.

But then of course there are alternatives. It isn't all that evident that a map that already has everything printed on it still needs the ability to draw on it with a wet or dry erase marker, unless you want to mark things like spell effects. So in many cases a double-sided poster-map is just as good, and usually cheaper. You can get packs of 2 or 3 poster maps of the same size for the same price as the Flip-Mats, and in some packs (e.g. the Fantastic Locations) series you'll get a small booklet with encounters with that. Or you could buy an official D&D adventure, which have 1 to 3 double-sided poster maps and two adventure booklets for $24.95 to $29.95 (official price).

I love maps. Which is why I spent far too much money on Campaign Cartographer 3 and Dungeons Designer 3 with which I can make my own battle maps. But that is a different story.

Time to stop blogging about MMORPGs?

Today I read a post by Wolfshead about SWTOR, and I agreed with most of what he said. I think that is a sure sign that I should stop blogging about MMORPGs.

While I am still far away from the burning hate that Wolfshead feels about every single commercial MMORPG out there, I agree that a AAA+ MMORPG of 2011/2012 plays pretty much exactly as one 5 years ago, and that most of the changes in the last 5 years have been cosmetic. And thus I am increasingly losing interest.

This weekend I spent 80% of my free time writing an adventure for pen & paper Dungeons & Dragons, and the remaining 20% were spent mostly with a single-player game, Jagged Alliance: Back to Action, and a bit of Facebook. Although I have an active SWTOR subscription, I had no desire whatsoever to play this or any other MMORPG.

Unlike Wolfshead and others, I don't put all the blame on the games. Game companies produce the kind of games that sell, and that is how it should be. If I could wipe my memory from a decade of MMORPG experience, I would probably love WoW and SWTOR right now. As it is I probably have around 10,000 hours of MMORPG played overall (of which 6,000 hours are WoW), and now I got bored of the same old, same old. If there is anything surprising about that, it is how long it took me to get bored.

A blog is driven by enthusiasm of its author. You can make a blog because you are enthusiastic about games, or (like Wolfshead) because you hate them with a passion. You can't make a good blog about a subject matter you are bored of. I want to write about the things that interest me, not get constrained by the subject matter in the title of the blog. Maybe I should just change that title to "Tobold's Blog" and move on. What do you think?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who said TERA has no innovation?

I am not in the TERA beta, although I might have a look at that game when it goes into open beta. The game seems to be pretty enough, but otherwise rather standard. And the "Asian MMORPG" look isn't for everybody, upskirt screenshots notwithstanding. But now I've actually found some interesting news about the game: Their login waiting queue gives you an xp bonus!

Now that is a good idea. You might say that bonus xp stop to be interesting once you reach the endgame, but by that time the queue problem usually has solved itself in any MMORPG. Login queues are a typical first-week problem, when all the buyers want to play at once. And assuming that those most eager to get in are those who consider MMORPGs as a weird kind of race, giving them xp bonus for queuing makes total sense. Why has nobody thought of this before?

Dua varian sepeda motor Honda berbasis PGM-FI

Sepeda Motor Injeksi Irit Harga Terbaik Cuma Honda
Permintaan dua varian sepeda motor Honda berbasis teknologi program fuel injection (PGM-FI) yakni Honda Supra X-125 dan Honda Spacy di Jawa Barat cukup tinggi yang terindikasi dari penjualan selama awal tahun ini sebanyak 4.000 unit.

Armand G. Ismanto, GM Sales & Marketing PT Daya Adira Mustika (PT DAM)-diler utama Honda di Jawa Barat, mengatakan, dua varian yang menggunakan teknologi injeksi itu sejak diluncurkan tahun lalu mendapat respon besar dari konsumen. ( Baca Juga : Sepeda Motor Injeksi Irit Harga Terbaik Cuma Honda )

“Dua varian ini penjualannya luar biasa, antusiasme pasar tinggi. Awal Februari ini saja sudah menjual 1.500 sampai 2.000 unit Supra X-125. Sedangkan, penjualan kedua varian berteknologi injeksi ini mencapai 4.000 unit selama tahun ini,” katanya kepada Bisnis hari ini.

Armand menilai tingginya minat masyarakat itu memang didorong oleh teknologi baru yang ditanamkan agar lebih hemat bahan bakar dan ramah lingkungan.

Kedua varian tersebut memakai teknologi PGM-FI yang merupakan sistem suplai bahan bakar dengan teknologi kontrol elektronik yang mampu memasok bahan bakar dan oksigen secara optimum sesuai dengan kebutuhan mesin di setiap keadaan.

Teknologi itu, dibuat agar mampu menyumbangkan emisi yang bersih. Perpaduan sensor cerdas dan catalytic converter mampu menekan emisi gas buang. “Jadi kesadaran konsumen pada teknologi ramah lingkungan sudah sangat baik sekali,” lanjutnya.

Selain itu, lanjutnya, harga motor yang menggunakan teknologi injeksi dengan varian yang memakai karburator tidak terpaut jauh. “Dulu rentang harganya bisa mencapai Rp1 juta, sekarang perbedaannya hanya Rp250.000,” katanya.

Dia menuturkan pihaknya juga telah menyiapkan volume pasokan sebanyak 2.000-3.000 unit motor sesuai dengan permintaan.

Meski penjualannya tinggi, pihak PT.DAM belum bisa memastikan berapa target penjualan dua varian tersebut sampai akhir tahun. Menurut Armand, pihaknya masih memonitor kemampuan pasokan dari PT AHM untuk Jawa Barat.

Hingga awal Februari 2012, varian matik masih memimpin penjualan Honda di Jabar a.l Honda Beat sebanyak 20.000 unit dan Vario Techno terjual 15.000 unit .

Pasar skuter matik memang jadi primadona baru mengalahkan varian bebek. Data PT DAM menyebutkan, penjualan skutik di Indonesia mencapai 4.150.614 unit pada tahun lalu atau tumbuh 22,9% dibandingkan dengan penjualan 2010 sebanyak 3.376.541 unit.

Beat menyumbangkan kontribusi terbesar pada penjualan matik. Selama 2011, penjualannya mencapai 1.033.928 unit. Dari angka itu berarti Beat meraih 43,4% total penjualan Honda selama 2011

Rating: 5
Nirwana Sitoeking | Sumber: