Funny Things

Saturday, June 2, 2012

[Games Anatomy] - the d20 system

The d20 System is, in essence, the gribbly innards of third edition Dungeons and Dragons; the basic mechanics, shorn of all the setting elements. This means it has most of the classical trappings of the RPG - the idea that your character has statistics (which express how good they are at doing stuff), is a member of a class (which determines what skills they have easiest access to, i.e. what stuff they're best at), and has that many levels of experience (which make them better at doing stuff), and so many hit points (which are what they lose when something does stuff to them) and so on and so forth.

What it doesn't have, in and of itself, is much else. It's basically a series of mechanics, which are quite bare-bones but also quite granular, offering a detailed representation of exactly what your character is good at, and an attempt to customise the classes so that your twelfth level wizard is mechanically distinct from my twelfth level wizard.

The whole system turns around the rolling of a twenty-sided die to determine the success of a character's action - hence the name. Damn near everything in the game uses the same core mechanic; you roll a d20, add modifiers based on your character's statistics and skills, and compare that to a target number. That might be a Difficulty Check set by the GM (for those moments where you're doing stuff to the environment) or the Armour Class or opposed roll of a monster, character, other player character (for when you're doing stuff to things that don't want stuff done to them).

At its heart, it's consistent in that high numbers are always good, it's elegant in that everything runs off the same basic rule, and it's not terribly hard to grasp. The devil with d20 is in the details. So. Many. Details.

Something beautiful and elegant is about to be ruined.

See, your character has skills, and access to those skills is governed by the class your character belongs to. But someone pointed out that it's not strictly fair to say that their twelfth level wizard can't be good at swimming just because that's not a class skill for him. If he wants to make the effort, he should be able to do that. So there are cross-class skills, and rules restricting the rate of growth in them to keep the class skills attractive.

And then there are feats. Insofar as I can work out why feats exist, it goes something like this. At the start of yr. average D&D game, wizards are a bit poo. They're basically four squashy hit points in a dress with only two magic missiles per day and a big stick to defend themselves with. Fighters, meanwhile, have twice or thrice the hit points, bogart all the armour, and can use pretty much any weapon they like. So, wouldn't it be cool if my first level wizard could, I don't know, use a better weapon, like a crossbow or something, or maybe if he could wear armour and still cast spells, just to make things a bit more... what's the word... balanced, in those early stages? So I can pick a 'feat' for my wizard, when I first create him, and another one every few levels.

Hang on, though. After a certain point, fighters get really boring. The expression is 'linear fighter, quadratic wizard'. Fighters get better at fighting, to be sure, but wizards get to the point where they can call down a choking fog that kills pretty much everything in the room before the fighter's finished getting his sword out. So fighters get more feats than wizards do, essentially giving them some wild and crazy combat options like running through the room whacking EVERYONE with their sword at the speed of evil. Except... that puts us back into the 'fighters are cooler than wizards at low levels' corner... so what we do is, we make all the good fighter feats dependent on taking X, Y and Z boring fighter feats at low level, so that they can't get access to the good stuff until they've got to the levels where they need it.

All in the name of balance, of course. And all this stuff needs rules. Well... it sort of does. See, in a system without hard and fast rules for how you run through a room hitting everyone in it with a sword while trying not to get hit back, and do it all at the speed of evil, it's down to the GM to work out how that should be done (myself, I'd say a -1 hit penalty for every opponent after the first, and as soon as you miss one, you get hit, but that's me). And you can't always rely on the GM to do that, because some GMs are cruel and some are inexperienced and some just like having rules for things so that they don't have to do the developer's job for them. The d20 system is brilliant for that sort of GM. It basically insulates the players and GM from bad decisions, whether malicious or rooted in inexperience, because chances are, whatever it is you're trying to do, the system has a rule for it.


The downside, of course, is that it's a rules lawyer's dream. There's a rule for everything, and those rules exist to protect the GM from having to call everything and the players from bad GM calls, so why not insist on them being followed to the letter?

The other downside is that it's a pain in the ass to make character choices. Let me give you an example. I'm playing a Fighter, and as I've levelled this Fighter up, I've not rolled very well for his hit points, so he's looking a bit weedy for a supposed frontline combatant. So I decide to take the Toughness feat, which hands out three extra hit points per level, and beefs my Fighter up a bit. Fair enough. Except I only get so many feats to choose from, and I want to be contributing something at level 12, and I need to take these three boring filler feats to get that interesting one there, and can I afford to interrupt that just to get Toughness, or should I take Dodge and just soldier on? I'm sitting here fretting when I could just add another die's worth of hit points, another pip on my attack bonus, and trust the GM to come up with a ruling for whacking everyone in the room if I really want to.

To be fair, some versions of the d20 system are better for this than others. d20 Cthulhu's moderately restrained, for instance - the classes in that one only govern access to skills, and so there's no need for the elaborate system of checks, balances and filler in the feats system, so that's stripped down as well. Star Wars d20, meanwhile, is a bit of a bugger, with different creation mechanics for droid and organic characters, and all the paraphenalia of the Force to keep track of, and the added twist that you have a class that's basically a fighter and a wizard and so is basically cooler than everyone and so needs to be kept in check somehow so everyone else feels like they're useful... Oh, and if I didn't mention it before, the d20 system tended to attract writers with a serious case of logorrhea, and so everything has descriptive text sitting around it, of a quite long-winded nature.

The result is a system with a lot of stuff in it and a lot of words describing that stuff, and a basically elegant mechanic which is occluded by all this... bumpf. That said, if you like your RPGs to be balanced, and have consistent rules for everything, or if you like build optimisation and loophole-hunting, go to it and good luck - it's not the worst game out there and its heart is in the right place. If you'd rather make it up as you go along and get on with the story, and not be penalised in ten levels' time because you took Toughness instead of Dodge, try Swords and Wizardry instead.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Weekly Top X- Holy Hobby!

So El Jeffe (Lauby to those who are not in the know) decided he needed a break. Maybe he is off paying attention to SpecialLadyFriend, or maybe he took a road trip to get himself a bottle (or ten) of Thomas Tew rum. Maybe, just maybe, he's off doing some HOBBY stuff.

I know he loves him some hobby. So do I.

Despite Von's accusations that I "like writing about RPGs", I have other interests.

I figured cheesecake shots of dudes would not go over well here. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

HoP Idol II- Send us your Audition.... Tapes?

Greetings HoPateers!  As you'll no doubt recall, we're deep into week one of accepting audition articles for the 2nd Annual (maybe it is, who knows?) HoP Idol contest. 

We've seen a smattering of submissions so far and are excited about the candidates who are in the running to date.  BUUUUTTT..... we want more.  You've got another week to meet our submission deadline, so don't delay.  We know you're all holding off to the last possible second to send in your article, crafting it so that each of those 500 words or less is absolutely perfect, but don't miss the deadline.  Lauby and I might cry if you do.  Plus you'll be kicking yourself if you did.  You'll have a blast in the contest.

Don't believe me?  See what last year's winner, Von, had to say about the contest: "I had a blast and dethtron totally didn't make this quote up without my permission.  I heartily endorse this product or service."

Here's a recap of the rules.  The winner of this multi-week (length TBD) contest wins a permanent weekly on the HoP Blog.  Hurry while supplies last!

  1. Write an article of up to 500 words that you think clearly represents your style and viewpoint.  There are no restrictions on topic, so feel free to send us a news report, battle report, tactics article, painting/modeling tutorial, or whatevs.  All we care about is that it is about tabletop gaming/ roleplaying and that it's short enough that we can quickly read them and potentially publish them quickly.
  2. Do not publish the article created for step 1 on your own blog.  All content for the HoP Idol contest is to be considered exclusive to the HoP without written permission.  We will link every article back to your blog (if you have one) every time we publish and you're welcome to link to the articles on the HoP, so you will see a traffic increase just for participating.
  3. Send your article to .  Make sure that the subject line includes "HoP Idol entry."
  4. The article may be attached as a word or text document in html format or embedded into the body of an e-mail.  You may include up to one picture in your article which must be either attached to your e-mail or otherwise embedded in your article.  
  5. The deadline for submitting your article is Thursday June 7.  We will beginning announcing contestants shortly thereafter.
  6. Questions can be sent to

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Talkin' GW, Talkin' 6th Edition, Part One- Now and Then.

Hey folks, SinSynn here.

So...6th Edition 40k, huh? Like next week, apparently, or sumpthin.'
Or if not next week, soon, cuz the rumors were that they were pulling 5th Edition off the shelves, and they have. I'm unsure of the exact scheduling, but I'm sure I'll hear rumors soon.

So...rumors, huh?
Rumors, speculation, hopes and wishes. The 500 pound gorilla of the mini gaming scene is returning, but what shape will the beloved, venerable beast be in when it arrives?
Yes, I said beloved, because I'd be lying if I said I didn't love the Grimdark.

*The one pointing is like, 'I hope that's not a Grey Knight!'*

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Discussion Tuesday - Conversions and Privateer Press

Hello everyone and welcome to another Tuesday discussion.  If you remember correctly, we've lost GMort to the vortex of real life - hopefully temporarily.  So, in place of the his usual brand of take-no-prisoners blogging, we're gonna have these little discussion threads while we romp through another HoP Idol.  Incidentally, where the hell is your entry?  For shame.

I'm new to this whole "write basic premise and then get people to comment thing' so bear with me.  Today's topic, for those of you who didn't read the title of this post, is all about Privateer Press and their tournament rules concerning conversions.

Monday, May 28, 2012

New Member Monday - Explosivo

Howdy, ya'll!  Just thought I'd open the post with a little American Idiom action to lull you into a false sense of relaxation before I get on to the business of blowing your minds.  Which will be a 3 step process.

Hitchcock needed 36 more steps to do what we about to.
1) The Return of Rip Steakface Von:  After some time off that involved a brief stint as a mixed martial artist (I'm assuming), Von is back on the HoP roster and ready to fill our our brain holes with more of his well missed brand of RPG erudition.  The first post on his new topic (as chosen by our intrepid readership) hit the news stand yesterday.  You should read it, by the way.  Future Von posts will resume on his regular Saturdays.

2) HoP Idol 2:  With the sudden departure of our old comrade in blogging, GMort, we've decided to move up our 2nd annual writing contest up a month.  For the time being it's called HoP Idol 2 and the details can be found here.  And don't feel bad if you didn't have the time to click on that link, you'll be reminded incessantly about this for days to come.

3) Blogs.  We had a ton of them this week and this last step is a 6 parter.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

[Games Anatomy] - Guess Who's Back?

As you walk south, the buildings appear more closely packed. Rows of high, narrow houses loom to either side of you. You can hear birdsong, somewhere, and there is a heavy smell in the air - either curry, industrial pollution on an unimagined scale, or dirty laundry. Possibly all three.

You come to a green space, bounded on all sides by a narrow road, with a knot of trees in the middle. Among the trees is a large cube, the colour of bone; a six-sided die, dropped perhaps from some celestial game and lost amidst the foliage. Atop the die sits a man with a beard. At your approach, he yawns, looks down from his perch, and intones in tones of remarkable smugness "Ah. There you are. I've got something to tell you."

Do you:
- turn back, certain you'll gain nothing of use from this oddball?
- press on, and see what he has to say?

art by Trampier