Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My thoughts on Experience

Over the past few years, I have seen a lot of debate and discussion about experience in D&D, particularly about what earns a character points.

One of the main traditional thoughts has always been that you get XP based on the monster you kill. There are various methodologies applied to that principle (like having the party split the XP, versus each member getting that set amount), but the basic notion remains the same. This is how I have always played, and until recently, I would never have even considered second-guessing that.

However, there are large swaths of gamers who contend that this sort of system promotes needless, and meta-gamey violence. Their thought is, with this logic, why would you not attack that random wild beast and thereby leave potential XP laying around? So, basically, they disregard or heavily modify a major rule of the game, based solely on the potential for abuse. I hate that. It’s a pet-peeve of mine.

Sure, there are always going to be those gamers who will attack anything with an XP value. These power-gamers (min-maxers, munchkins, etc.) are focused on “winning” D&D by getting to the highest level possible, as fast as possible. And of course, there will always be DMs who pander to that style of play (did I ever tell you about the DM who had us fight a brontosaurus, simply because it had a huge XP value? Needless to say, I never played with him beyond that one session). And if they enjoy that style, great for them! But, I would wager that these types of players are the exception rather than the rule. Most gamers I know only attack monsters/NPCs that their characters would logically attack.

However, another traditional view is getting XP based on the value of treasure found. This one I actually disagree with. And it has to do with how I define “Experience points.”

In my mind, Experience Points represent what your character learns through…wait for it…experience! When you fight and defeat a monster, your character learns a little bit from the encounter. He gains a bit in fighting ability simply by using it, and perhaps a bit of knowledge about his foe. And these bits of learning add up, thus you level when you gain enough “experience.” What does a character “learn” from finding a pile of gold?

The argument is always that he had to get past some obstacle to get to the treasure. Fair enough. But, why not give experience for bypassing the obstacle instead? If I have to kill a dragon to get his hoard, I should get XP for the dragon, not the gold. What if I walk into his lair, and he has left and gotten killed by a crusading knight leagues away? What have I learned from walking into a cave filled with treasure? What experience do I have to reflect on, making me a more seasoned adventurer?

My solution is Encounter-Based XP. The character gets experience by surviving to the end of an encounter. Whether that end comes at the tip of a sword, or at the end of a fine oration (or skill check), is irrelevant. Either way, the character did something worth reflecting on, and they learned something from the encounter. Thus, they get experience. Any treasure found is its own reward.

That’s just my thoughts. Obviously, many will probably disagree. But, if and when I run a D&D game, this is how I will do it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

5b Character

This guy!
Yesterday I rolled up my first character for 5b (Basic Rules) from scratch. Rather than use a printed character sheet, I decided to go all old-school and use a blank sheet of notebook paper. This was mainly in response to some complaints I have seen about 5e in general. The complaints arise from the "wall of text" that is the pregens and sample characters that come with the Starter Set, and the various previews.

I based my character on a miniature that I have had for a few years that was supposed to be my character for a 4e game that never came to pass. The character is wearing a hooded cloak, some kind of plated armor, and carrying a maul. So, I decided to make him a cleric, since I wanted to take another step away from the typical "fighter-type" that I usually play.

In short, the process was very simple and intuitive, and really, nothing seemed odd or particular complex to me. Well, I did have one quibble: The maul is a Martial weapon, so my cleric doesn't have proficiency with it. Still, with a 17 STR (he's human) he has a +3 to hit. Not bad for a 1st level character. Anyways, once I was done, I compared my resultant sheet to an old 2e character I had laying around from years and years ago, and the 5b sheet was more or less the same in complexity. The pregen sheets are obviously misleading to some people.

I think I'm really going to like playing 5e. That's a far cry from where I stood on it a couple of months ago. Now I just want the PHB to come out so I can see what the other races and classes look like.

Monday, July 21, 2014


As of this morning, I have already sold more copies of Mutants & Marvels than I expected. That is very cool! Hopefully some of those who buy it will have nice to things to say, and will actually say them at RPGNow (reviews!). I would love to hear what people actually think of it (good or bad).

In related news, I set up the game to print at Lulu.com, just so I could print a physical copy for myself without resorting to flimsy copy paper covers. And now I have decided to make that public. So, if you want a physical copy, you can order it through Lulu for the low price of $9.99 (see the link to the right).

Just be aware that the physical copy is 6"x9". I did a test print at that size and it looks fine. Making it bigger threatened to triple the costs.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It is finished.

Ok, after a lot of advice and encouragement, I stuck Mutants & Marvels out there. You can get your copy at RPGNow, for the low-low price of $4.99.

I'm both excited and nervous. This is my first stand-alone product.

Questioning my efforts

Probably one of my biggest faults as a game-designer is that I don’t think I am terribly original. And this makes me second-guess almost all of my efforts. Case in point, Mutants & Marvels.

As you no doubt know, M&M is a mash-up of TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes and the d20 mechanic. In order to create it, I basically took MSH, filed off any references to Marvel Comics and characters, and tore out the old, percentile-based mechanic, replacing it with a basic, d20 mechanic. In a nutshell, that’s it.

Two other efforts have done almost the exact same thing. And arguably, done it better.

Four Color (4C) is a direct clone of MSH. They also filed off any Marvel references, and re-skinned it into a generic supers RPG that works just like old one did (with very few modifications, as far as I can see). 4C is available for free, and has nice art and good production values.

Icons is a bit more ambitious. They recently published a comprehensive version, that is credited to one of the creators of Mutants & Masterminds. Now, they substituted a d6-based mechanic for the original. It’s a pretty complete game, and sells for about $10 on RPGNow, also with good art and production values.

One thing that both 4C and Icons did was to change the names of the Abilities and the descriptive words associated with the Ranks. In both, the Ability names used are simply synonyms for FASERIP. And in both, rather than using the scale of Feeble up through Unearthly (or beyond), they make the “words” secondary to the numeric values, and then list possible words to use if you like the descriptive feel of MSH (though in both, the original words are still listed as choices).

In Mutants & Marvels I kept both the FASERIP ability names, and the descriptive ranks from MSH. I noted them as Open Gaming Content on the OGL, but they are still there. And this has me questioning things. Did the writers of the other games change the names and words simply to differentiate their games from MSH? Or did they do so for legal reasons? It’s this second question that makes me sweat.

I have read and re-read the OGL, and I think the way I did it is perfectly legal, since the OGL is actually not designed specifically with any single game in mind. True, it is most often used for D&D and other d20 derivative works, but that is not specifically listed as a stipulation of the License. However, I’m not a lawyer.

As of right now, M&M is ready to go. I have done all the edits, made my final decisions on art and other original content, formatted the PDF, and am ready to just upload it to RPGNow. And here is where I falter. Because I’m afraid people will see it, and laugh at me for being a hack. Or worse yet, someone will file a Cease & Desist against me, forcing me to take it down.

I just don’t know what to do.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

More and more!

Here is the cover.
I had planned to publish Mutants & Marvels yesterday, but this week I have been adding a bunch of stuff, doing some overlooked edits, and writing a short, sample adventure to include.  Some of the edits shortened the page-count a bit, but then I added more stuff, and after the adventure is inserted, the whole thing might actually be closer to 45 pages.  Not too shabby, I say.

I also played around with Lulu yesterday, and I think I can get it published in print for pretty cheap.  So, while the PDF will be available through RPGNow for about $3.99 (though I might bump that a bit, since it is a stand-alone rather than a supplement like my other stuff), I may have the print version available through Lulu for just a bit more.

Speaking of Lulu, I set up my PDF of Stars Without Number as a hardback print, and it came out fairly cheap.  I used that as a way to learn how Lulu works, and it came out pretty nice.  So, I will probably be having that printed soon.

Has anyone played SWN?  I love the whole idea, and it looks pretty well-done.  I've been itching for some Sci-Fi gaming, but the only game I own is Star Frontiers.  Not that SF isn't made of awesome, but I would like some options.  You know, just in case I manage to get anyone else interested in playing...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Mutants & Marvels are coming!

I sent out a copy of my final product to a few people for some feedback the other day. Still waiting to hear back from a couple before I publish it. In the meantime, I re-wrote the Introduction page, removing all of the first-person nostalgia story, and making it a bit more like a real game intro. This freed up some space.

I decided to insert a concise description of the core mechanic. It occurred to me the other day that I never fully explained exactly how it worked. Granted, it's a pretty simple mechanic that has been used since the OGL came out in the early 2000's. But, it never hurts to spell it out so there is no confusion.

Graphically, I fixed some problems. I have also fixed the "vanishing leg" problem that D-Man was having in the colored image I posted last time. And lastly, I re-used that image inside for the "team" picture I mentioned before. I struggled for a long while over that picture, and it was getting too frustrating to deal with.

I think my only regret about this whole thing is that the picture of Diana on the cover is the only picture of a female hero in the entire thing. I'm considering working on some more art, and maybe getting some from outside sources. I'm also considering fleshing out the setting into an actual setting, rather than just the "framework" version I included. And maybe even writing a sample adventure. Then combining all of this into a Deluxe Edition of the game to be sold separately. Anyone who buys this edition will probably get a code to redeem for a discount on a Deluxe Edition.

Right now it weighs in at a slim 40 pages from cover to cover, with a price point of $3.99 most likely. I'm going to look into how much a printed copy from Lulu would cost at that page count. If nothing else, I'll probably get one made for myself.

Exciting times!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Got a cover image!

As of today, Mutants & Marvels has a cover with an original image.  That's a colored version of a commission I had done for my original character, Dynamo-Man, and my wife's character, Diana Cutthroat.  They were an item in the City of Heroes MMO.

Now all I need is an interior piece that illustrates something to do with a supergroup or team. I think I have an idea. I'll get to work on that ASAP. So, I would imagine that the final product will be up on RPGNow by the end of the week! YAY!