Saturday, November 6, 2010

question, progress report, plug, plug, game idea

-Here's a question for you, DMs...Monster stats in RPG products: Ok, you'll want special attacks, defenses and anything unique about a beast to be well-defined, but how much do you really need a product to give you the rest of the stats for new monsters? If it's new, then what's the disadvantage to just telling the DM what the thing is supposed to be about, and DMs can define AC, HP, and damage in whatever way fits his/her campaign?

I mean, if it's just some mook it might be nice to have all that already written out for you, but if a product is providing you with what's supposed to be a cool new monster then wouldn't you, as a DM, want to "custom-fit" it to your world?

Ok, maybe in an adventure module it's different, since the HD etc. tell you where in the adventure's toughness-hierarchy the monster's supposed to fit, but in (say) a sourcebook-type thing? Does me telling you the Orgulus Oozes of Vornheim have 2+2 HD mean anything or help, really?

Give me your pros and cons here.

-Finished almost all the pictures and maps for the city kit, just gotta do the big city map that we're planning to print on the inside of the dustcover. We're (hopefully) doing all kinds of cute format things with this book to maximize the bang for your buck.

-Here's the latest 'Axe' episode, with Bobbi Starr and company getting hurt by gnolls.
The Escapist took out some of the more explicit details of Bobbi and Kimberly's dungeon adventure, to see the uncensored version click that link. The censored version's here, because I can embed it...

-If you live in NYC, Tavis of The Mule Abides is hosting a...thingy (symposium maybe?) on D&D and its relation to contemporary art tonight featuring some excellent and funny and smart contemporary artists that I have personally played D&D with many times and also featuring a video letter from me since I couldn't be there.

-What with all this business I haven't had a proper game in weeks. I played a bunch of German board games brought over by Axe cameraman Darren to pass the time waiting for Mandy to get better: Small World, Samurai, Thunderstone, and Whatever-it-is of Catan.

Catan bored me almost to death. I almost died. Trading sheep? Really? Why people keep making and playing games involving farms I'll never know--so far as this rootless metropolitan Jew is concerned, the point of civilization is to get as far away from animal shit as possible. I'm with Luke Skywalker.

Also it kinda drove me nuts how the little wood pieces didn't really slot into the board, they just sorta sat on top like dry pasta on a cutting board, waiting to get knocked off every time Connie rolled her dice all over them. Which sucks because where the pieces are is really important.

Anyway what I actually want to talk about is how one of the games was really good and has some D&Dable elements.

Hold on, I have to go eat some cheese...

Ok (thank you all dairy farmers) now anyway...

Samurai is a simple sort of cross between Go and Risk where basically you play on a map and there are cities and you build up four types of influence--political, military, religious, and agricultural (yeah, yeah, I know). You have a limited amount of each (represented by cards) and the trick is distributing them around the board, turn-by-turn, in such a way that, when it ends, you've got the right stuff in the right place.

It's not like you have to rule the whole world, you just have to get more total influence than the enemy, so each game results in a distinctive patchwork of overlapping influences over various forces.

It strikes me that, with a little tweaking, this could make an excellent addendum to the D&D endgame or a plot generator for a campaign. Work it like this:

-Play a session of D&D.

-Get out Samurai. Rename the cities (alternately, you could decide the board represents a city rather than a continent, and the PCs are vying for control of neighborhoods). Each player represents a faction, a ruler, or a god (someone or thing that is roughly aligned with the PCs interests).

-Add or subtract cards from the players' hand(s) based on what happened in the D&D game (i.e. if they found the Ice Chalice of Eleth Sussar then they get an extra 2 religious influence or whatever).

-Play Samurai.

-Alter the D&D campaign to reflect the results of this contest of gods/kings/local mafiosos, etc.

-Say "6 months later..." then start playing D&D.



  1. Re: Critter stats

    Sure, many DMs will want to custom-fit a new monster to their own campaigns, but many don't actually want to take that much trouble. The ones who do want to will do it regardless of what stats are provided, while the vast mass of others will just take the stats as presented, say "Phew, thank goodness I didn't have to exert myself there" and run with it.

    It's important to provide a useful description of the critter conception, but I think it's also a good idea to provide concrete stats that can be ignored (or not).

  2. Re: Monster Stats

    I prefer just the unique stuff.

    HD etc.. doesn't really do it for me.

    Plus the leaves more room for far cooler stuff!


  3. The most recent adventure I wrote for public consumption didn't have any stats in it. As an example, I described some monsters as being "similar to zombies" then gave the special rules for their sneak attack, and that was only "they use the mist as cover and achieve surprise 50% of the time".

    My aim with that adventure was to give GMs something they could drop into any game, so I wanted to be as system-neutral as possible.

    For my Call of Cthulhu adventures, I've given full statistics for the new monsters, but I think that might be a special case, because CoC doesn't have generic monsters that you can point at and say "make it like that, but add X, Y and Z" like you can with, say, D&D.

    In general, I think I've moved to an approach of reskinning over creating from whole cloth.

    I hope that helps.

  4. Well, don't tell my players, but bah, I barely have stats for monsters any more. I ONLY have broad mechanics in mind-- "oh, this monster pushes you around & has high defenses. This one puts penalties on you & has tons of hit points"-- & then I sort of bluff it from there. The times when I really "nail it down" are when there is a fight I plan on STICKING IT TO THEM. Like-- for a threat I expect them to overcome, whatever, but for the big boss, where I'd kill one of them if it came to it, then I put stats together.

    That being said, isn't the point of a pregenerated monster that it is all there?

    I like Fourth Edition DnD's system of themes-- if you wanted to have a bunch of monsters that played a certain way, but didn't care about the nuts & bolts, you could make up some kind of template or power ("VornGobblers swallow whole" or "VomitDudes summon monsters by puking them up") & then give suggestions on what framework to add them to ("VornGobbler is a good addition to the goblin or orc monsters for low level parties OR ogre or stone giants for medium level parties") & then just say to describe them as the VornGobbler no matter what rule template they use?

    I dunno, since I'm unlikely to use the rule mechanics PERSONALLY, I am not so invested-- the neato mechanic is what I'd pay attention to.

  5. Zak, first of all, best of luck with the sales on your forthcoming book. I hope they all sell on pre-order!

    For monsters new to a product, I prefer them to be fully statted (AC, HD, special abilities, etc.).

    But for monsters that are found in a standard monster book (the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, etc.) I prefer NO stats, just: "3 trolls" (though it's OK to have hp totals). Anything more for already published monsters is a waste of space, IMO. It's almost like padding the page count.

  6. What's the size of the book going to be, by the way? Letter? Digest? A4? A5?

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  8. On monster stats: This is one of the sweet spots of Tunnels & Trolls, that ancient alternate reality of the dungeons and the dragons. Here's why: In T&T, there's no big Monster Apendix or Monster Volume; it has a very simple method of assigning a monster's vital stats painlessly: the Monster Rating (MR). A Monster Rating is any number ranging from one up, that determines a monster's hit points and attack power. Special abilities or other elements based on the fiction can be thrown in as needed, without fuss.

    Because of this, Tunnels & Trolls lends itself to free-wheeling seat-of-the-pants fun more than any other gamist role-playing game I've ever encountered, which makes it an excellent bridge between challenge-oriented play and narrative-oriented play, without going all White Wolf on your ass. And it's thoroughly old-school in its origin.

    Who needs a great big book of monster stats when you have an imagination and a MR?

    Props to Ken St. Andre, Flying Buffalo, and the Trollbridge for supporting this awesome game!

  9. Sorry to get all T&T, but more to the point: the in-fiction color and special stuff is way more important and usable for me than a combat stat block. I can assign "stats" (AKA Monster Rating) as appropriate to my campaign, so what I care about is how to portray the monster: what does it look like, smell like, how does it move, what are its tactics? And for the gusto, what are its goals, personality, and fixations?

  10. Most of my friends and I have always gone with a loose interpretation of the rules, so those stats can give me something to glance over and get an idea of how a creature is designed, but then I always throw in the old rule of thumb "Well, you could have one with exceptional strength/speed/dex". I think I probably apply that more to "number appearing" than anything else, since I try to gauge how many of a certain creature I realistically would expect to find, which doesn't always match the amount listed in the rules.
    Pity about the presentation Tavis is doing, I'd love to check that out. Unfortunately, even though I'll be down there, I'm going to be at the anniversary show for Wasabasco burlesque.
    BTW, I'm not sure if the video hosting site attaches random commercials to the beginnings of clips, but the commercial I got was a Slim-Jim ad that started with "What kind of man does it take to give us this BIG MEAT??" Considering this is the uncensored version, I found it rather apropos and had a good laugh about it.

  11. I'd include the info for new monsters. The DM can do whatever he wills, regardless, but some might find it useful.

  12. If it's a game module, I would want everything in a stat block. If I'm running a module, I don't want to have to refer to any other source unless someone starts rules-lawyering. I want all the maps, monsters, traps, etc. fully explained and stat-blocked, preferably where I'll need it to prevent flipping back and forth. It's a waste of paper and space, but it's also a time saver. And that's the only reason I'd ever use a module: To save my own time from making it all up myself.

    That said, if it's not a game module, just some sort of, "Awesome RPG stuff" book, I would actually be opposed to having things fully stat-blocked. If something's cool, I don't want to have to go through a whole rigmarole to scale it either up or down to fit into my campaign, I just want the basics of it: Tough to hit (PC needs to roll 15+ to hit) or easy to hit (7+ to hit), whether it has a lot of hitpoints or not, special attacks, how accurate its attacks are and how damaging, special defenses, tactics, weaknesses etc. All in fairly broad strokes, because as DM I have a far better idea of what will be challenging to my party than the person writing the monster does. What's challenging to one party can be a cakewalk for another. I want to know about the monster, but I want to have it adaptable to my own needs, which is easier to do when everything's done in broad strokes instead of in fine detail.

  13. Late to the party again, I'm afraid. But... it depends. For very structured products ("modules") I want to have every numerical attribute listed, including individual hp for monsters that are keyed into the map. The appeal of these types of things is being able to take them out with minimal prep, so I think that's part and parcel of the territory.

    The other end of the continuum is stuff I like to mine for ideas to add into my own world. There, I'd say the important things are 1) a good picture, 2) a rundown of how it will operate mechanics-wise in encounters (what are its attacks, special abilities, intelligence level), and 3) because I'm a geographer at heart, I want to know how it fits into its ecosystem. I don't need a encyclopedia worth of information, but I do want enough to be able to situate it into a specific place.

    The xortoise you posted is a really fantastic example of the latter sort of thing, I'd just want to know whether it settles for semiprecious stones like agate or garnet, or only precious stones.

  14. Give enough stats that they let the DM run the monster on autopilot. Not everybody has 'I can make up everything on the spot right now' nights.

  15. I like to have complete stats for monsters. The way I see it, most of the work of being a DM is making decisions. Sure, I can decide for myself what the Orgulus Ooze's hit dice are, but it's not a very interesting decision, and it's necessary information, so somebody has to decide. Having pre-determined stats gives me more time and brain power to make more interesting decisions like where the ooze lives and exactly what kind of horrible squelching noise it makes when it eats the thief. I understand the appeal of keeping descriptions minimal to allow for more material, and I think a good compromise is to say "It has the stats of a gelatinous cube, but it has this weird power." That way the boring decisions are still made for me but without a lot of redundant information.

  16. For what it is worth, I'm very disappointed that you announced the panel discussion _the day of_ the panel discussion.

    Did you not want anyone to know about this?

  17. @joe

    Sorry joe, i was kinda busy in the days leading up to it--as the light posting up til that day suggests.

  18. You're probably not even paying attention to comments on month-old posts anyway, but, for what it's worth, I'd be more interested in flavor text and special powers than too much in the way of specific mechanics. I'm extremely unlikely to be using the system those mechanics are designed for anyway, so I'd just have to redo them as it is. I presume any stats you'd be providing would be D&D-oriented, and I don't run D&D if I can help it. I am, however, very interested in tools to make for a more interesting fantasy city campaign, as that's exactly what I'm running at the moment.