The Rat Hole for December 10

Heya, folks! Every Monday (almost) I post over at The Rat Hole, and so I thought I would link to those posts here so you don’t have bookmark two sites if you want to stay on top of my bullshit.

This week over at The Rat Hole I talk a little bit more about Everything is Dolphins, an indie game from the Eighties, and the scenario I worked up for our local TTRPG convention, IntrigueCon. I hope you like it! We’ll see you Wednesday for regular Renaissance Gamer shenanigans.

Summertime, and the Gaming is Easy

Another hot day on the Canadian Prairies, so it seemed the perfect time to sit inside with the AC and give a quick update on goings on in my life, gaming, and the site.

Big news right off the top: I put my name in the running to become an ENnies judge! It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but because I was repping one TTRPG company or another over the last several years I wasn’t eligible. This was actually the first year in a decade I could sign up, so I made the plunge. I’ll make a longer post on the day voting opens (Wednesday, July 11, so limber up your clicking fingers) to talk about why I’m invested in becoming a judge and how you can help (the hint was “voting”), but if I succeed in getting a spot you can expect to see a metric tonne of product reviews and discussions here. Plus you should just go vote in the ENnies because there is a lot of really great stuff nominated this year, and these awards are one way (besides buying the product) we can show some love to the designers.

Whether I become a judge or not, though, you can expect to see some changes around the site leading up to the fall. I took a step forward and upgraded to a paid site here on Worpress, complete with the shiny new domain renaissancegamer.ca. You can update your links as you please, but I am assured both the new and old URLs will get you here so it isn’t a panic. A paid site gives me some more options for layout and design, as well as e-commerce options which may become handy in the future. Plus it allows me to lock in the Renaissance Gamer domain name. I could have gone for .com, but I’m Canadian so .ca seemed appropriate. Plus it allows that person focusing on Renaissance era dice and card games to have their shot at a site.

I’m still posting once a week over at The Rat Hole, every Monday. Ish. Okay, sometimes Tuesday because both Dave and I are busy dudes and it may take a little while to post the articles I submit totally on time and never late ever. Between The Rat Hole and here, my goal is to post three times a week minimum, with more content if I have more to say.

Work on the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games proceeds apace. I’m exploring database options while the collection is relatively small, so I don’t find myself 10,000 books deep in a database I realize doesn’t do what I want. I’m also building out a website so I can move the Library’s main presence off Facebook, as I’m in the process of minimizing my connection with that site. And of course I’m expanding the collection, hitting book sales when I can and following up on leads from friends who know what I’m up to. I’m also developing contacts with as many small publishers I can so I can pick up and add their work to the library. As much as I enjoy collecting the old gaming material I also want to be proactive and add new material to the collection so I stay on top of new games.

Somewhere in all that I’m also finding time to play and run games. Never as much as I like, but that is the bane of anyone who’s interests in the hobby also extend outside just the playing. I’m happy with the games I’m in and my players seem to be happy with the games I’m running, so I’m content.

That’s it for now. You’ll see a post on Monday over at The Rat Hole, and I’ll have a post here on Wednesday, with another one on the Friday/the weekend. Until then stay cool or hot, as your local weather dictates.

RG House Rules: Dump Everything but Stats!

Today’s post is actually a supplement to my weekly post over at The Rat Hole. If you check out over there, I talked about a possible house rule to deal with what I consider useless Ability Scores in D&D 5e. Here I’m going to talk about a second way of making ability scores useful again.

As I noted in my other article, I love rolling up ability scores for D&D characters. Those scores are the foundation upon which I build the rest of my character. But in 5e, once you’ve generated those scores they don’t do anything. The bonuses that derive from them do a lot of work, bumping up skill checks and saving throws. But the ability scores themselves are static, with no purpose. That’s why, when I saw them sitting lifeless on the page I knew I needed to restore them to usefulness.

My plan to put ability scores back to work is actually pretty simple, just three steps. First, get rid of saving throws and skills. Second, in their place, switch to a “roll under” method of determining success, using the character’s ability scores. If the character has proficiency in that ability, they add the proficiency bonus to the ability score before rolling, and must roll under that number. Sounds a little crazy? Let me explain.

Let’s look at Grognard the Barbarian, who has to make a Constitution saving throw of DC 13. Grognard has a 16 Constitution score, because barbarian.  He’s only first level so he has a proficiency bonus of +2 and an ability bonus of +3, for a +5 to his Constitution saves. That’s pretty good, especially at first level, but there is still a decent chance that Grognard will get knocked flat on his butt; frankly annoying when playing a big, tough character. Using roll under, however, Grognard would need to roll under 18 (Constitution score of 16, plus his proficiency bonus of +2) on a d20. So most of the time, Grognard is going to shrug off any Constitution-based attacks, which for a barbarian is as it should be.

This extends to skill checks as well. You would retain any Skill proficiencies from character creation or other sources, and add that as a bonus to the relevant ability score when making a Skill check that relates to that proficiency. As in the example above, this will allow a character proficient in a particular skill to succeed more often than not. Which, as the hero of your particular story, they should be doing anyway. But it also allows some flexibility in what ability scores to use when making a skill check. Yes, most of the time you’ll use the score commonly associated with that skill, but sometimes your player might make a good case for another ability score to be used. Or you as the DM might switch things up and decide that another ability score better fits the challenge the character is facing.

As a balancing factor, we come to the third step in my “cunning” plan: subtract 10 from the DCs of any skill checks or saving throws, and apply the result as a negative modifier on the character’s ability score for the roll. So in our example above, Grognard may have an effective 18 Constitution because he is a big, tough barbarian. But the poison gas (let’s say) he is trying to resist is a particularly noxious kobold blend, so he takes a -3 penalty (DC 13 – 10 = 3), making his effective Con score a 15. Still a decent chance of success, but enough harder that it will make Grognard think twice about rushing into the cloud if he doesn’t have to.

While the house rule I’m suggesting is for skill checks and saving throws, it could be extended to combat. Simply subtract 10 from the opponent’s AC and apply the result as a negative modifier to the relevant ability check. So an AC of 14 is a -4 modifier, AC 21 is -11, and so on. Positive modifiers would be proficiency bonuses, plus any magical or situational modifiers. So if Grognard is attacking with his mighty 18 Strength, using his new +1 greataxe Helmcleaver, against an opponent with an AC of 15, he’ll roll under 16 in order to hit (18 + 2 + 1 = 21 – 5 = 16). Grognard has a pretty good shot at turning his opponent to mush, but it isn’t guaranteed.

So that’s my suggested house rule in a nutshell. Obviously I would want to play test this before implementing it on a regular basis, because I’m sure there are situations and corner cases where it might need some tweaking. But altogether I think it’s an effective way of making ability scores useful again, and also serves to make the characters a bit more heroic in stature.

But what do you think? Am I crazy? Is it a workable solution, or am I tampering with things nerdkind was not meant to explore? Let me know what you think below. And check out my article over at The Rat Hole for a house rule idea pretty much the opposite of this one.

D&December Postings, and News!

Between work and getting into the swing of things with my seasonal depression, I’ve been away for a bit. That’s all about to change, as I’m taking part in the D&December Art Prompts (seen left) and I’ll be posting every day this month. As is tradition I discovered this just after the beginning of December, so today is catching up.

But first a few pieces of Renaissance Gamer news. First up, if you just can’t get enough of me here, I’m a new weekly contributor over at The Rat Hole, a gaming news and reviews site newly minted by my buddy Dave Chapman. He’s been at the game reviewing biz for a while, and I am shamelessly riding his coat-tails as he begins this new venture. I’ll be posting an article every Monday on topics relating to the role-playing game hobby, starting with a series on getting into the hobby. And even if you’re a RPG veteran, these articles will discuss ways to make our space welcoming to new gamers. And you should go there anyway to read Dave’s reviews and news, because he’s got some good things to say.

Second piece of news: in January I’ll be hosting the RPG Blog Carnival. Started by Johnn Four over at Roleplaying Tips, the carnival invites one blogger to host each month and provide a topic. Other bloggers then post their own takes on that topic, and comment back on the host site so the links are all in one place. It’s a great way to get myriad perspectives on a subject, as well as being highly entertaining. My January topic, fitting after the holidays have lightened our collective wallets, will be “Roleplaying Games on a Budget”. I know a few things I plan to write and I can’t wait to see what other folks come up with.

But now the main event: D&December!

Day 1: Favourite Race

My favourite race to play in D&D is a plain old vanilla human. I know, I know, all those wonderful races to choose from, I go with the “round ears”. I’ve played other races and enjoyed them. But if I’m going to settle into a character I plan to play a while, I’ll go with human every time. Versatility is certainly one of the reasons, but it isn’t the main one for me. As a player, I want the DM to reveal a world of wonders and terrors, and I want the feeling of exploring that world and discovering those wonders and surviving those terrors. And so I will tend to pick a character which is, well, me. Playing human lets me focus on that experience without also having to juggle the lense of another race. I’m happy to explore that in other games, but for D&D human is how I roll.

Day 2: Favourite Class

I’ve long been a fan of the wizard class, and that hasn’t gone away in D&D 5e. I like the way the school specializations have been handled, and I don’t think there is a “weak” school to choose from, depending on the campaign. My ideal build for my wizard is the “adventuring scholar”; always on the lookout for new spells, spellbooks, scrolls, and other magical gewgaws to enhance his art. The strength of the wizard, for me, comes from the sheer number of spells he can know, and the fact that he can store more situationally useful spells on scrolls while memorizing the more broadly useful ones. For instance, you may not need knock every session, but having it on a scroll gives you an option for when the rogue is all thumbs that day. And once the wizard can lay hands on a Handy Haversack, his scroll game become fierce.

Day 3: Favourite NPC

I wasn’t sure if this meant my favourite type of NPC, or a specific NPC from Dungeons & Dragons. So I’ll touch on both.

My favourite type of NPC is what I call the “web spinner”. This is an NPC which the players, through no fault of their own and possibly without realizing, end up opposing. They work behind a sometimes shifting screen of lieutenants and flunkies, maybe even working as the power behind a fairly Big Baddie to further hide their efforts. I love using them, because done well the big reveal when the party realizes who or what they’ve actually been opposing all along is delicious. Especially if they’ve been interacting with that NPC the entire campaign.

My favourite specific NPC in D&D is Strahd, which should come as no surprise (see above). Strahd is the master manipulator, working behind the scenes to choreograph a monstrous dance, delighting in watching the player struggle to learn the steps. And not because he’s afraid to confront the characters, but because the eventual confrontation will be all the more delightful when they realize to whose tune they’ve been dancing.