5e Character Generation pt II

Welcome back for part two of the character generation process. If you haven’t read part 1, hop back to the previous post. This series of posts are developed in conjunction with Ryndaria.com. So jump over there to see the different

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Character Generation – A Look at the New D&D Player’s Handbook

I’m doing a parallel character generation post with my buddy over at Ryndaria.com, make sure you watch for his posts. You can read my new post over at Redraggedfiend.com, sub, kick me on Google+ and Twitter.

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See Spot Passively Perceive

One of the things I noted when looking over materials from the shiny new edition of Dungeons and Dragons is the return of the Passive Perception box on the character sheet. I’ve always thought this was a strange character sheet inclusion for a game known for basic math skills and character information overflowing onto 2, 3, 4+ sheets of paper. It seems adding 10 to the skill bonus shouldn’t be THAT difficult to remember, freeing the space for more important information.

What struck me as interesting about D&D’s newest incarnation is the return of passive perception, but the omission of passive insight.

But really are passive checks necessary? I’ll save you some time by plainly stating no. The reverse of course being you can easily argue perception is always a passive check. Given the perception skill as we know it is an extension of the old spot check. You might argue as soon as you start looking for something you are no longer noticing a difference but actively searching for one, which could easily fall under the investigation skill.

But let’s assume we play with passive perception. Passive perception is a tool, and tools are useful so long as they have a use. So what is passive perception’s use? First let’s look at how it’s commonly applied:

Ex.

The party walks down a hallway, there are traps in the hallway, no one actively checks for traps. The DM calls for/secretly checks passive perception versus the traps’ spot DC. On a success the DM informs the players of the trap in one of those stopped just before walking into the tripwire moments. On a failure the DM stops the party once someone triggers the trap and informs them of the traps’ effects.

The use of passive perception is to protect players from their own ignorance. Is that Roll Play vs. Role Play, a situation of your character being more knowledgeable than you, the player? Maybe, but I assume the design choice was to obviate player stupidity from getting the PC killed. It’s insurance, a safety net.

But it’s more than a simple safety net in the above example. It’s go beyond insurance and into advocacy. The passive check does what the player wouldn’t do for himself. It’s the same when Google auto searches for something it believes (rightly so in my case) you misspelled.

So let’s roll it back to its original intent, the safety net. A successful passive perception is not equal to a successful active check, instead it offers the helpful hint: you should make a perception check now.

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Passive perception is spidey sense. It’s the gut feeling something isn’t right: “it’s TOO quiet,” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” “there’s something but I just can’t put my finger on it.

The nice thing about doing this is the party can still screw the pooch. Let’s return to the original example this this idea in mind.

 

Ex.

The party walks down a hallway, there are traps in the hallway, no one actively checks for traps. The DM calls for/secretly checks passive perception versus the traps’ spot DC. On a success the DM informs the players they feel a sense of trepidation about the hallway. On a failure the DM stops the party once someone triggers the trap and informs them of the traps’ effects.

As any DM/GM knows, the moment you state a PC is getting a feeling or sense people will ask to make checks. Congratulations, they party will now make active perception checks against the trapped hallway! Now they can screw it up of their own accord. On a success they find the traps, on a failure you get a brand new situation rife with role playing opportunity as the party stares down a hallway no one feels comfortable walking down.

Just remember to make players tell you explicitly what they are looking for, no general use ‘can I make a perception check.‘ If they want to check the floor for pressure plates make them say so.

This idea of a safety net can transfer easily to passive insight. Passive insight is getting bad vibes from someone, active insight will be checks such as ‘do I believe he is lying about X?‘ or ‘do I feel like I can negotiate more money out of him?

Follow this simple principle and you’ll never have to worry about passive skill checks getting in the way of your game.

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10 Degrees of Helpful NPCs

If you’re running a game occasionally a PC may stop and speak with an NPC (insert pause for audience reactions of shock and laughter). You may have one of those players who wants to talk with NPCs rather than immediately cutting their throats and rolling their dead bodies. People as a broadcloth statement are generally helpful. If you stop to ask a random person for directions they are generally going to at least attempt to help.

Players, being exploitative, bourgeoishireling-major-817x1024 pig-dogs, will take a poor NPC for all he’s worth. So I developed a little guideline for running helpful PCs. When the party asks for some sort of aid roll a d10.

– 1, 2, 3, 4: The NPC is willing to provide minor aid in the way of instructions, a bit of gear, borrowed item/manpower, or a map. (Superior)

– 5, 6, 7: The NPC is willing to guide the party or supervise an expedition. (Manager/Specialist)

– 8, 9: The NPC is willing to share the trials and troubles of the task equally with the party in a partner role. (Partner)

– 10: The NPC is willing to do minor tasks and errands on the party’s behalf or place himself between the party and danger. (Subservient)

This table even works for NPCs who are hiring the party for a task. Now use some common sense, if the king hires the party and you roll a 6, the king is not going to hop off his throne and go chasing around the countryside in mortal peril. But he will likely send a representative such as a captain, trusted nobleman, cousin, or non-heir son to oversee the task as an agent of the crown.

Likewise an NPC in the Partner role expects to be treated as such. This NPC is not going to be OK with being a human shield or sacrificial lamb. This NPC may also expect a partner share in any reward for the task.

Using NPCs that have their own values and sense of self-preservation help enrich your games. These are also great characters to have recurring roles in the party’s travels. Grooming a rapport between the PCs and NPCs really helps to enmesh the players’ characters into the world. Some of the most rewarding RP experiences are the exchanging of favors, deals, and insights between the PCs and recurring NPCs.

Transitioning from Action Points to Augmented Fate Points

Excellent For Counting Points During Play!

Excellent For Counting Points During Play!

For a reminder, if you didn’t read the last blog I suggest you read the previous post as this is a continuation.

Last time I spent a little bit talking about Fate Points and how they operate as a mechanical boon by offering up some specific leeway to the GM for one’s PC. Slacken the reigns a bit on your PC and you get yourself a point to be traded in later to make a challenge a little easier. So first let’s a take a more in-depth look at Action Points, Fate Points, and how they function.

Action Points

If you’re not familiar with Fourth Edition you can probably gloss over this section as it doesn’t pertain to you. Alternatively I suggest picking up a 4e PHB and reading up on Action Points. If you’re looking for just a little extra something to add to a different system’s game action points are a good place to start. Back on point, what’s the deal with Action Points? Action Points in the most basic of terms gives a creature the ability on its turn to take an additional standard action. In most circumstances it’s the opportunity to make two attacks in one round, which is pretty nice by itself; couple the idea with a PC that can utilize two Daily Attack Powers in a round and it is a super powerful boon. While not the only example you can probably see some hints as to why Solo monsters can be difficult to run in 4e. Each PC in the first round with APs can drop 5[W] or more damage on a creature with serious persistent effects. This is a problem is you’re running a Solo Artillery or Controller type with low HP. Get caught in the open early in the fight and a set piece finale battle can turn into 1-2 rounds of very ugly evisceration. The second big bonus to APs is it allows you to do multiple actions when you otherwise would not be able. The Dazed condition is a little more manageable, and an AP can give a PC 3 chances to escape a grab in one turn. The latter is crucial when fighting a creature that gets big bonuses on attack and damage against grabbed creatures or does automatic damage to them.

Action Points do come with limitations. Assuming general adventuring wear and tear most PCs will only have use of 2-4 Action Points per adventuring day. There is also no active way to gain APs. Outside of simply continuing to adventure and thus gain milestones there is no In-Character action a player can take to gain more. Additionally, taking an extended rest resets action points to one so there is a serious problem with wasting APs. This problem can be compounded as players can only use one AP per encounter and APs are practically useless as written for use in any situation other than combat.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty for Action Points comes for the DM/GM. The use is exactly the same for those behind the screen as those in front of it. Only two types of monsters have AP for the DM to play with, Elites and Solos. With the latter these AP are almost always used when the monster is under the Dazed condition defensively rather than offensively.

In Summary, Action Points are powerful but they’re limited in quantity and relegated only to use in combat situations. As written they are not particularly useful for a DM.

Fate Points

Fate Points operate in a different manner than the traditional Action Point. The first difference is FPs are more abundant. As characters advance they have a higher refresh rate. The refresh rate tells the player how many FP a character will start a play session with at a minimum. And, unlike APs, Fate Points are carried over to the next session. A PC with Refresh 3 ends the session with 4 FPs, he begins the next session of play with 4 FPs. If the PC ends the session with 1 FP he would begin the next session with 3 FP, i.e. his Refresh Rate.

Fate Points have different mechanics. While APs provide additional actions, FPs improve the chance for success or failure for actions. Fate Points can be used to gain a flat +2 bonus to rolls, give a player the opportunity to reroll an attempt, give enemies a -2 on their attempts, and in some cases they can be used to auto succeed at attempts.

In my opinion, the most novel idea about FPs is the way they are bargained back and forth between the GM and the players. Each PC is an amalgam of stats and aspects. Aspects are short, descriptive phrases that explain who the character is. Fate Points are used to engage aspects, for PCs this is usually to be better at something. For the GM, he can use these same aspects against the PC. Tapping the aspect costs a FP. PCs tapping an aspect hand over a FP to the GM. A GM only hands over a FP when he taps a PC’s aspect. If a GM taps one of his bad guy’s aspects the FP goes back to the FP bank/pool. Players can also tap detrimental aspects of their PCs to gain FP from the bank/pool. I’ll give an example of how this works.

In a recent game session I played a half-orc touched by the fire element, which he worships as a zealot (this serves no mechanical benefit). The party has been engaged with a boat trip across a massive lake, all the while being harried by an ice witch. Upon meeting the ice witch in combat my PC launches himself from the boat to charge down the ice witch, howling hateful, fury all the way. This is the sort of action that really reflects the concept of my character and is likely to earn me a Fate Point from the bank.

Fate Points are far more useful for a GM than AP are for DMs. Fate Points can be used to boost bad guys, hamper good guys, entice players to play up their PC’s drawbacks in exchange for FPs, or compel the detrimental effects of their aspects if they have no FPs.

New Points

So what about new points for 4e D&D or any d20 system? Drafting Fate Points directly over to d20 is ill-advised given Fate is a system that uses Fudge dice. But I’ve put together a pretty simple system for new points.

–        Each Player and GM/DM resets to 1 point per day session

–        +1d6 to Attack, Skill, Save Attempt

–        Reroll Attack, Skill, Save Attempt

–        Gain Points by going above and beyond by playing PC’s personality (GM discretion)

–        Gain Points by accepting GM advisement over PC’s personality

There are two major differences to implementing these points over the standard AP. First, there are some abilities and powers which function off of APs. Warlords especially give out bonuses to PCs when they use an AP. In such a case you may find it necessary to limit each PC to gaining these boons once per encounter. The other is that Elite and Solo monsters should still gain their built-in points. While this hinders solo monsters in their reduced ability to function under the Dazed condition it is offset by allowing them a greater bonus when attempting to save from conditions and a better chance of hitting with the limited, more powerful, attacks.

One point of clarification is using points to boost or reroll attacks. This is done for one attack roll. Therefore a monster using a close burst power that misses four PCs cannot spend a point to reroll all the attacks included in the power, but only a singular attack roll.

And that’s it. So read it over, try it out and let me know if you think it’s a better option than standard action points in 4e or a nice addition to 3.X or other favorite d20 system.

Gotta Give Him Upside!

One of the most difficult things to do when running a campaign is getting your players to ‘buy-in’, leap the invisible gap that separates a player’s character as dictated by its character sheet and the creator’s bubble of imagination to one that is somehow tied to the campaign setting and the places and people that comprise it.
So one question that comes to mind is why does this disconnect, this gap, exist between player and his/her PC and the setting. I think it’s a surprisingly deep question with a lot layers of answers that form the reality. I think there are psychological, sociological, creative parties at silent war in that gap. But, I’m not really here to get into what the gap really is or why, and I’m nothing of an expert on the why persons and people do the things they do.
So instead I would examine my own experience. If you run a game there’s a very high chance you also enjoy RPGs as a player. When I think about a new campaign and adding a new character there is some hesitation. For one the character generation process has become a far more intensive and personal effort as RPGs have evolved. You can roll up an early D&D character in a few minutes, at the table, after Olaf the VII died. In a few rooms the party is likely to find Olaf the VIII. Compare something like 4e, a rules set that is generally regarded as being streamlined. Drafting a new PC in 4e can easily take the better part of an hour, and certainly longer if you’re really tweaking a power gamer build. Time = investment, it’s really that simple. If you’ve played RPGs for any amount of time you have problem had a character die a random, meaningless death from the odd trap or wandering monster.
What else? That’s only one facet another is trust between a player and the game master. If you decide to throw in your lot with the GM and help him tell his story you don’t want to be rewarded with only negative benefits. But the same goes for the other way, I don’t want a GM to heap rewards on my PC simply for playing along, to be made a continuous example to the rest of the group why they should play along.
Playing along also comes to the division point of where the GM thinks your PC should act one way because of some in-game relationship/reason and you feel differently. This can be either because the former is so obviously flawed that you can’t help but metagame or because you know, it’s your PC and you think you should be able to dictate Olaf the VIII’s beliefs and actions all by yourself.
So what to do?
This is one of the things I think the Fate System really nails. Offer the player something tangible and immediate for playing along. Fate Points, they let players do extra special things or mitigate potentially dreadful disasters. You can offer one of these Points to a player in exchange for activating one of their PC’s characteristics. Better yet the player can decline the offer unless they have no fate points in his possession. An empty-handed PC is basically at the mercy of the GM to compel them to act on the PC’s character aspects. But as soon as you fork over a Point to the player they are able to decline as necessary. Fate Points in this way are a fluid currency used in the struggle between player and GM for how characters act and react.
There are a lot of people out there who have toyed with the concept of adding Fate Points to other systems. Next time I’ll chart out my own mod but until then I encourage you to scour the web looking for the many numerous fate point modifications.

4E : 4 Rests

As you may have noticed by now I’m a fan of 4th Edition D&D. Seriously, if you haven’t picked up on this you should not consider a career as a detective. It’s an edition that is much maligned by both ends. The OSR crowd says it is pen & paper WoW pandering. Those people entrenched in 3.X and Pathfinder guffaw at its lack of depth and minutiae. Others just stayed with the MMOs, Diablo clones and other, faster digital offerings in RPGs. It suffered plenty of setbacks, mismanagement, non-existent long-term support, and is riddled with power creep issues. Despite its flaws there is a good, solid system at its core and it’s still my number one choice if I want to run a game with a heavy emphasis on tactical combat.

One of the major difficulties I’ve read and spoken with other people about concerning RPGs, especially 4e, is the weathering of resources. Because 4e’s strength is in its ability to build and run balanced combat encounters there was/is a need for PCs to be relatively the same strength whether it’s the first fight of the day or the fifth. But I empathize; you don’t want to be forced to run 4-5 extensive, time-consuming pitched battle encounters just to exhaust an adventuring party. It’s especially so when they’re only 6 hours of sleep away from being completely refreshed and ready to do it again. A lot of DMs throw in the towel here, get frustrated, and go on the search again for the unicorn rules system, that one perfect storm of RPG that does all aspects of RPG perfect, every time, right out of the box.

It doesn’t exist, have a good cry and get over it. The sooner you do the sooner you’ll be happier with your games. I may sound like a broken record but it’s always worth repeating, choose a rules system that complements the type of game you want to play. If I want to run an intrigue at the royal court cloak and dagger game 4e D&D is going to make that very difficult. I don’t go for a jog in flip-flops; different activity, different shoe.

Now that you’ve had your pity party we can get to work. Game masters are the analog equivalent of a video game’s modding community. If the system works for almost everything you need but one or two minor bits, rewrite the mechanics. Assuming you’ve run games from behind the screen for a while you should be intimate enough with game mechanics to get under the hood and make some changes. One piece of advice? Use the KISS method, Keep It Simple Stupid. If it seems to simple and easy it probably is, but until someone proves it to be otherwise don’t go out of your way to make things more difficult than they already are.

Let’s get practical.

Don’t want to make every fight a set piece, epic battle worthy of “O Fortuna” as BGM? Well let’s whittle down 4e’s health system. First of all WoTC went out of its way to screw this up by injecting the toxic waste of surge-less healing into the system via Divine Power. The healing surge system worked adequately in the beginning, Divine Power’s new ability to get back free HP (Something 4e was explicitly designed not to do, just look up the original Cure Wounds power in PHB as proof) set a dumb, OP precedent for leaders. Fourth Edition’s healing is already screwed up so you don’t have to worry about breaking a perfectly good mechanic! Hooray?

I think most people who criticize this aspect of 4e have hit it right on the nose. The problem with 4e, is its rest system. A group of PCs fight off some orcs, take a 15 minute rest and they’re effectively the same as if the fight never happened. Unless you’re throwing things at a party so multiple PCs are blowing multiple dailies between extended rests the adventuring party’s power is the same at the beginning and end of the day.

I’ve seen a number of different people tackle this problem in a dozen different fashions, many making it more cumbersome than needed. The simplest and probably easiest is solution is do away with PCs being able to heal willy nilly by expending surges whenever they want during a rest. This has some underlying, long term obstacles but as a short term fix it’s probably the easiest and simplest way to cover it. Ta da, you’re done. Good for you!

Or…

I want something a little meatier, a lot of 4e mechanic stuff deals with the resource management aspect of healing surges. So I want to keep them around because A) I think HP surges are a cool and useful mechanic B) they are seriously important to some race/class/disease/ritual/item/etc. mechanics.

So of course I need to see where we’ve been to know where to go. So take some time and review what actually happens during those pesky short and extended rests.

Short Rest (~15 Minutes): characters can spend healing surges freely to regain HP up to their max, they recharge all encounter powers, and they gain an action point if it’s a milestone.

Extended Rest (~4/6 Hours): characters heal their HP to max, they regain all their surges, their action points reset to one, they recharge all their encounter powers, and they recharge all their daily powers.

That’s not a lot of variety in resting bonuses. So I took some time to review the individual bits of each rest and then applied some of my own knowledge from extended backpacking trips. I may not have had the misfortune of skirmishing with orcs on a regular basis but I do have a general understanding of travel by foot. Putting these bits together I developed a four rest dynamic for 4e. Ha, 4E: 4Rests, got the title anyhow. The types of rests from least beneficial to most are as follows: Short Break, Long Break, Camp, and Room & Board.

Short Break

A short break lasts around five minutes. It allows time to get a drink of water, lets a PC catch his breath, and that’s about it. This is a standing break, the PCs do not drop their equipment, sit down, or try to find a piece of gear in the bottom of their pack.

–        PCs can spend one healing surge

–        PCs recharge one encounter power

–        PCs gain an action point if this constitutes a milestone

Long Break

A long break is approximately half an hour. A long break allows the group to slough their gear, sit, and take food and water. Essentially it’s a meal break while traveling. It also affords enough time for the group make adjustments to gear, check their path, and discuss plans.

–        PCs can spend up to two healing surges

–        PCs recharge all encounter powers

–        PCs gain an action point if this constitutes a milestone

Camp

Camping is a rest that takes a considerable amount of time. Temporary living arrangements are made including pitching tents, laying out bedrolls, making fires, cooking meals, mending gear, and other activities that require focus, time, and cannot be completed while walking. Camping requires at least enough time for all characters to gain a full night’s rest (4 – 8 hours depending on race).

–        PCs regain HP as if they spent 3 healing surges, up to max HP

–        PCs regain one healing surge

–        PCs recharge all encounter powers

–        PCs recharge one daily power

–        PCs’ action points reset to one

Room & Board

There’s nothing quite like the luxuries of civilization, even if those luxuries only include a moldy straw mattress and yesterday’s room temperature gruel. Room & Board requires characters gain a full night’s rest (4 – 8 hours depending on race) with the comforts of civilization including a permanent shelter, basic amenities, and at least one meal.

–        PCs regain HP up to max HP

–        PCs regain all healing surges

–        PCs recharge all encounter powers

–        PCs recharge all daily powers

–        PCs’ action points reset to one

With the ways characters recover broken down into four different types of rest you can have more dynamic in your travels. If PCs encounter rigors while traveling in the wilderness they recuperate HP as they rest in Camp mode but only regain some of their HP surge reserves. In this way any travel difficulties costing a character more than one surge per day will inexorably wear them down. In 4e the average PC has roughly 8 surges. A full week of travel on the road with some interspersed fights and no inn stays will show the PCs mechanically weathered by the events.

Concerning Long Breaks you should use DM Fiat if the group decides they are going to take a Long Breaks multiple times per day. In general a party should have breakfast before striking camp and dinner once they set camp. The only substantial break they will take while traveling is to take food, lunch. At most a group will only take a Long Break twice a day. If your group decides they want to take copious long breaks in rapid succession you can decide either to add extra time to the journey, chew through their rations, or they receive no benefit greater than a Short Break.

Well, that’s about the thick of it. Try it out in your games and see if it helps you roll back some of the need for constant combat in 4e. If you like it let me know, if you have a question or would like to get my opinion about another topic drop it in the comments. You can also find me on Twitter and G+ if you feel the need to pretend we’re BFFs.