Thursday, January 8, 2015

There are Dragons in the Dungeon...

  Before there was the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, there was the 23rd century and Captain Picard.  Before that, there was Thacolus, my first ever DnD character.  If games were girls, I lost my innocence to the cheerleader known as the PHB.  My entire gaming mojo started here, and now it's restarting too.

All the 5th edition books, released in 2014

  I started my career as a gamer nerd way back in the late '80s, with the first release of the 2nd edition Players Handbook.  Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had just finished its first run and was rebooted that year, giving all the 'old guys' a more simple version and all us 'new guys' the breakout hit that was the precursor to RPG dominance.  Although the game had been huge in the late '70s and early '80s, it was with the release of the AD&D 2nd edition that the popularity made the game 'mainstream'.  At this point, it was what nerds did in their off time, and I wasn't one to turn down a good time.

  It was our babysitter who introduced me to it and gave me my first PHB from his extensive collection.  I played a ranger, and my first race was a Voadkyn (wood giant).  It may have been a terrible way to start, but it was a blast.  For a decade, we played and I started up some groups, one culminating in a relationship with a girl!  (girls, playing DnD?  No way!  Yep, it happens sometimes.)  I went off and played soldier and went to college for a while and I forgot all about the game.  And then I went to work in the Emprah's service...

  I won't go into those times (3rd edition until now), but I will say that I was very excited to get this new edition.  I am an old gamer that still understands THAC0 and believes that the game is more fun when there's role-playing involved (weird, right?), and this edition seems to have brought some of that back.  What I really want to do right now is go into what I think of this PHB.

What do I think of Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition?

  Let me think about it...

I love it!  I have actually been seeking problems that I had with the game and there are a couple, but I can honestly say that I really enjoy this edition.  First, let's start with the things I don't like about this PHB and this edition:

-I still don't like the inclusion of the Dragonborn and the Teifling.  I said that last edition and it holds even more true now that we're trying to have a real edition of DnD.  I'm not going to argue that these races are overpowered (that actually defeats the entire point of the game- it's an RPG!), but I am going to argue that we had enough fantasy with elves and dwarves and gnomes and such.  Now we have half-dragons and half-demons?  C'mon.  Save that crap for the Complete Book of Humanoids (where did my Voadkyn come from again?).
-I'm not sure that I'm a fan of the Sorcerer AND the Warlock AND the Wizard in the same book.  For the same reason that I'm not a fan of the Teiflings, I don't think that a Warlock is necessary.  I like the easy division between the other two, but three different wizards just so we can include some deals with the devil doesn't seem very efficient.  Good DMing could have done that and saved a few pages in the PHB.
-This is going to seem weird, but I HATE the spells being in alphabetical order.  Although it's obviously easy for me to find spells when I need them, it makes it impossible for me to divide the spell section by class.  I want to be able to make a copy of the druid spells and give the packet to the druid player in the group, but I can't!  That's very inconvenient, forcing everyone to really have their own PHB.

That's really all I have for the disappointments.  As for the things I love about this PHB and this edition of the game so far, well, that can be a really long list.  Let me talk about a couple below.

-It has the same artistic presentation that began with the 2.5 edition (skills and powers edition).  That means that the text is not broken up by charts and pictures, while there are many full page spreads to divide the sections.  It also includes the 3rd edition presentation style with pictures on the pages not including borders and sometimes bleeding behind the text, but not to the same extent that those books did.  And unlike 3rd edition, there aren't pages upon pages of charts.  Simple is actually better here.  Most importantly, it didn't take the artistic style of 4th edition, where everything was 'epic scale' and unrealistic.  We all understand that 4th edition was a paper-and-pencil MMO, but that visual presentation needs to stay on the monitor and out of my fantasy books, as far as I'm concerned.
-Although I disagree with the "d20" system being the go-to when it comes to RPGs now, I will have to say that I've always enjoyed the elegance of the system.  5th edition definitely stays true to this mechanic, taking it even a step further by making every single test based off some attribute somewhere.  Combat modifiers are the same as they've always been, but even saving throws and any skill check (including feats) are based off the d20 and some modifier based on an attribute and other variables.  Let's explore this part a little deeper for just a moment:

I am one of those few people that actually liked 4th edition.  As a DM, I'm always looking for the easiest way to avoid dice-rolling and get to the role-playing part of the game.  I want my players to really focus on telling me what's going on and to spend less time staring at dice and counting modifiers on fingers and toes.  In 2nd and 3rd, there was 4 different mechanics for actions (spells, attacks, actions, and other actions), requiring me to pay special attention to each person and for each player to have to think about what they were doing.  But in 4th edition, it was always the same.  I didn't care if a cleric was casting a Cure Light Wounds or a fighter was swinging his battleaxe, I told everyone to "roll a d20".  It made my job easier and kept us focused on actually doing what we were supposed to in an RPG.  5th edition doesn't stray far from that idea.
-Gone are the feats of the 3rd edition days.  In 2nd, we had the 'Complete Book of...' series, detailing class kits, esoteric races, and unorthodox gaming universes (the brown-, blue-, and green-back books!), which had quickly gotten out of hand.  It inevitably turned into 'combo-building' for combat and too many players lost track of the point of the game.  Then 3rd edition turned that concept to overdrive and soured me deeply.  4th was a different beast, so there's no need to bring it in there, but I was worried that we were going to see that again.  I was pleasantly surprised that this PHB has very few feats and even reduces the proficiency lists from that all-time-highs of yesteryear!  The idea is that 'combo-building' is something that's not really a thing in this edition is very near the top of my list of why I love this book.
-Has anyone else noticed that there are no negative attribute modifiers for any of the races?  That's right!  No more are Dwarves +1 Constitution and -1 Dexterity (or whatever it was).  Elves used to be +1 Dex and -1 Con, making them the opposite.  Now, it's a straight positive modifier.  Why penalize players for rolling poor dice and then choosing a specific race?  And a great carryover from recent editions is the Human boosts.  In this edition, they get +1 to EVERY ability score AND some other light stuff (extra language, etc).  That has made humans a downright outstanding choice and the reason my first campaign is 'human-only' (much to the chagrin of my more creative players).
-But here's my favorite part about this 5th edition of DnD- Page 120 starts the Personality and Background chapter.  In it, the book describes how to determine the gender, appearance, and alignment of your character.  But, and this is the part that I LOVE, it also gives you the opportunity to choose a background/profession and roll on some charts to describe your personality.  Choosing a Sailor, for example, may result in your character being an honorable military man with a proud background trying to protect his friends.  Or you could end up a secret criminal that swashbuckles out of trouble and simply played the part of the selfless sailor.  There's four personality sections- Personality (how you act), Bond (what are you attached to), Ideal (what motivates you), and Flaw (what is yours?).  For those players that can't act, this is a perfect guide.  And for players like myself, who find the need to overact everything, this is a unique challenge and a great exercise as well!  Role-playing is now a mechanic in a role-playing game!  Brilliant!!!

  That last point is by far my favorite.  I don't want my players to be concerned with combat (we have Warhammer for that), and I don't want my bookkeeping to stop the storytelling.  DnD 5th edition is a great hearkening back to the 'old days' with that level of flexibility while also capturing the elegance of the d20 system.  I feel like I'm 7 all over again!

  Stay tuned for my rants on the other two core books and let me know what you love or hate about the new PHB.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Deck building in the DC Universe

  You guys have seen me mention this game before, Cryptozoic's "DC Deck-Building Game".  It's based on playing as one of the superheroes from the Justice League, gathering power through equipment, recruiting heroes/defeating villains, and locations, and winning the game by having the most 'victory points' at the end, when all of the supervillains have been defeated. 

  In the original game, the concept above was what it was all about.  You started with your Superhero and 7 punches and 3 weaknesses for your hand.  Using 5 cards at a time, you put out power (punches are 1, kicks are 2, and other cards vary) and purchase cards from the line-up (those other cards) to go into the discard pile.  Every turn you do this, and eventually you shuffle the discard pile and use the cards that you bought.  Supervillains are defeated by simply playing enough power to 'purchase' them, and the last supervillain purchase will end the game.  At the end, players add up the 'victory points' found on their cards and the highest total wins!  Simple and really fun.

  Then came the second set, "Heroes Unite", which featured the members of the DC universe outside the JL.  That being said, there's definitely some connection from the 'originals' and these guys, such as half of them belonging to the Justice Society or Young Justice.  But onto the game- the basic rules are the same.  But the cards add some more effects and are really more about 'combo-building'.  A good deal of time is spent by each player searching decks and pulling cards as that seems to be a rather common effect in this version.  In addition, there's a good deal of trading and drawing cards in this version, again adding a 'little bit more' to the system.

  Recently came the third set, "Forever Evil".  This set literally flips the universe and system on its head.  In this version, you actually play as one of the Supervillains and must defeat the Superheroes to end the game.  The cards in the set are the same, but the artwork is different on the commons like 'Kick' and 'Punch'.  The craziest change to the mechanic, though, is the idea of discarding and destroying cards.  There are a number of Supervillains that gain effects by discarding and destroying cards from their hand.  Their are tons of 'attack' effects on the cards that force players to discard, trade away, or destroy cards in their hands.  On top of this, there are many many times that weaknesses are gained this way, so the ability to destroy cards actually becomes important!  This set is much more complex than the basic set, and departs from the 'combo-building' of the second.  This version requires some tactical thinking in trying to balance victory points and getting rid of cards.  Of all the sets, this one can be the most irritating to the less serious gamer and very rewarding to the strategic card-tossers out there.  It's really cool.  

  I gotta give all credit to Cryptozoic for getting these games right so far.  I know the universe isn't the most appealing to people out there, but remember that you don't need to know anything about comics to play this game.  The rules are simple (well, not the first edition's book- it was horrible!) and it can be used as a time-filler game or a serious game.  Any of the gamers can enjoy this as it can appeal to a variety of play style.  Best yet, the third box comes with awesome rules for combining sets and even team games!

  Go pick them up (each set is only $40 and they are COMPLETELY SELF-CONTAINED games, meaning you don't need the other sets to play) and give them a play or three.  Then, let me know what you think!  I know I enjoy these games- it's what my wargamer buddies and I play after we're all done pushing mans and throwing dice...

  Happy Gaming!