Monday, October 17, 2016

OVA, The Anime Roleplaying Game: First Impression

I'm probably what you would call and 'oldtaku', that is, an anime fan that has been an anime fan for a very long time relatively speaking. I'm not so much of an anime fan nowadays. I'll pick up some manga or get into whatever good anime I hear about that's on one of the streaming channels that I subscribe to, but I'm not as avid of a consumer as I used to be. But I have attended a few conventions and delved deep into anime and manga to the point where it became a subculture for me and I'm pretty familiar with the tropes and trappings that come with it. That's not very important for this overview but I thought I should note where I am coming from when I got this product, OVA: The Anime Roleplaying Game.

So, I mostly play pathfinder and while there are many realms and genres that Pathfinder can simulate sometimes (often) jumping on that train is difficult or downright impractical, even when it's possible. So I've been opening up to some new games since I had a few games to run that needed something different and because of my background noted above some of those concepts are inspired by anime or are directly playing around with an anime setting. I wanted to toy around with modern settings and giant robots, magical girls, high school shoujo drama. All kinds of things that would make a fun game and an anime focused game seemed to be a good place to start.

Now this started with my wife wanting to run Sailor Moon after I discovered a copy of the Sailor Moon RPG from publisher Guardians of Order, so of course my first stop was Big Eye Small Mouth, a generic anime rpg from the same publishers. Actually sorting out what edition I wanted and getting a hard copy for a reasonable price proved more annoying than I wanted so I landed on something that usually came up whenever 'anime roleplaying' is discussed along with it being pretty rules lite. I came across it at my local game store and took a shot. But is it worth it?

Your Character

To make your character there is a list of Abilities and Disadvantages. Each of these have a rating ranging from +/-1 to +/-5. more often than not these add bonuses to your rolls but the numbers also represent different degrees of whatever the ability is. After that you write out the derived information for your attacks and get +40 Health and Endurance and you have a character. That's it!

Granted things are a bit more complicated than this, mostly because all the abilities are not strict bonuses and actually can do things. Your abilities are kind of your general stats and skills where you start off as a normal and untrained in your rolls and your abilities make you something above average in a category and your weaknesses make you worse. You can also add or subtract endurance costs using Perks and Flaws. There isn't a real base rule for how to dole these things out but it does offer several ways to go about it. You can make everything a sum zero situation where all your abilities are bought with equal amounts of weaknesses , you can give points and price each ability, you can set limits on how many abilities you can use. Its really more of a freeform flavor driven game and that's emphasized by two abilities, Gear and Transform. Gear is a zero cost ability that can have other abilities attached to it only it has the bonus of being able to be given to others and has the downside of it being able to be taken from you and you don't get it back. This isn't really an ability and more of an item and is in fact the only way to really get a new item since there isn't really a gear section or other way for gear to work. If you have players that find something like a magic sword in a treasure chest, there isn't a way to give them that item other than to grant them an ability that has the gear ability (or the weapon flaw). So the game is pretty abstract in what constitutes as an ability and the balance between them. Transform is less of an ability but an ability multiplier. You get to transform into some something that has a net total of abilities equal to twice the ability points you put into it. Its blatantly not equal to other abilities by that fact alone.

So for most contexts its a bad idea to hand over the book to players and just letting them use all the options build a character with whatever build limitation you choose because a number of them aren't balanced at all and are situationally appropriate. This is fine for the minimalistic approach but really I sure wish that these things were divided up a bit better. Gear, Vehicle and Weapon are really cornerstone concepts for the game that define any item that the players could come across that they didn't buy with an ability and its off balancing if you take it away or give out uneven prizes, and handing out items is fundamental in pretty much every game I know. It would have been nice to have more of a guide to it or at least have abilities like that scooted to a sidebar. Also Transform is one of those abilities where everyone has it or no one has it. But that's probably just me. I'm not often one for game rules that seem like nebulous blobs so I guess my only real beef is that these concepts aren't broken down enough in the book and they get passed over as another ability and even that is somewhat fair given the general lack of standard guidelines for even assigning abilities making the game made up of more suggestions than rules and being a generic system with this kind of framework means that you have to sort it out yourself anyways since we're trying to do Giant Robots and powerless schoolgirls in the same book.

 Playing the Game

Task resolution is 2d6 to do about anything. Only they aren't added up, you take the highest roll. If two dice are the same number then you can add them up and take that as the number you rolled. This is important because abilities you gain often add dice to this roll. For example; a + 2 adds two dice to the roll and you take the highest dice with like numbers combining. This takes a second to get used to but works out.  The bonuses you get are stackable when they cover the same subject but have a different source. For example if you be smart, and also have an encyclopedia that is also smart in a particular subject and combined they add a ton of dice to your roll.What you roll for what isn't always codified so this can be pretty abstract.

Combat works similarly. You roll initiative and get one action a turn. You add up everything that adds to your attack roll and roll off against the opponent's defense roll.  If you succeed then the difference subtracts from the opponent's HP. Some abilities multiplies this damage. If your HP goes down to nothing damage is dealt to your Endurance instead. If both go down to zero then you are incapacitated.  There's a bit more to it but its not very complicated. Where I do find things a bit complicated is the defense roll itself. How dice are rolled already involves some dice sorting and having two people people do that at every offensive action seems annoying. I really wish there was some kind of derived stat for defense. I'm sure it wouldn't' be too hard. The other issue I have is that if your initiative sucks you can reroll it to try to get a better position. That doesn't seem too bad but for me any time I run initiative I don't keep track of the original numbered rolled because that's annoying and usually useless to keep track of.


I'm usually not that big on games that are as abstract as this. I tend to get by on a bit more meat and crunch. At least a hard separation between items and innate abilities or how things equate to each other. But to some extent I do have to think a little differently to express my feelings for this game because although it is a generic system the range within the tropes it's trying to represent are really broad and goes from the mundane to the over-the-top. Its also not a game of strategy or even roleplaying, from the mechanical point of view. This can be seen as bad but I've never been a fan of game mechanics that tell me how to roleplay and the games I needed this to run aren't strategic fighting/war scenarios. OVA is somewhat roleplaying games at it's core. Its using limits and numbers to define what you can and can't do and from there you play pretend and its more of a skeleton of a game or a tool than a solid game itself.

Despite being light on the rules the game is pretty flexible and it does cover quite a bit of tropes that I wanted to play around with from anime. Its abstract to a degree but has a solid list of codified abilities that aren't so codified that ab-libbing and or guessing isn't a norm. Its useful for what I want to do but I don't see using this for very long campaigns because mechanically it isn't very interesting or have places to really explore and grow. For throwing together a one shot or a short campaign of anime-like subgenre like school romance, magical girl, sentai or mecha, this works out fine enough to hammer something out that you can quickly play and I find it useful for being really flexible in that regard so I expect to use it quite a bit, especially since it can go from slice of life mundane to extreme and overpowered. That and its the most adequate backbone for a pokemon game I've seen and I think I prefer it for specific weird subgenres compared to Savage Worlds or FATE because unlike Savage Worlds it has worthwhile social Abilities and Drawbacks that become really interesting and relevant and interesting and powerful things aren't stuck behind a wall of reality, and unlike FATE what exists and what works are abstracted but still has some definition and structure (and a way to make up stuff), instead of leaving you to your own devices. You're also allowed to get a bit more cartoony here with silly things like Gag Damage existing.

So if you want to do a lot of games a bit niche and are short to medium campaigns, I would highly recommend OVA. If you're going for something a bit more complicated and long but want to deal with these tropes I think you're better off with a more narrow game or system that deals with the subgenre you want specifically. Otherwise this is a useful tool that will save you a boatload of money due to how flexible it can be in very few words while still being stable enough to really get a handle on things.

The only obstacle is that the sample NPCs aren't entirely useful and there aren't any examples of equipment that is agnostic from the player. I wish there was a creature and item book or something.  The NPCs and example characters are more useful for understanding how you're supposed to build characters and how the rules replicate what you want and really I think that more time spent on elaborating things would have worked better because the system is way more useful than it initially appears once you figure out how to make things work. I think of it less as a system and more as a system builder like FATE only with less guesswork and making things up and that's probably because I'm not used to or am somewhat biased towards the newer age gaming systems that are more abstract and freeform. 

Of course I want to talk about this game a bit more but there isn't really any published support so the next I talk about it will be in the realm of play reports or things that I've found. Maybe at some point I'll make my own weapon list and NPC stat blocks that are more useful to GMs.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ryuutama: First Impression

Lets talk about Ryuutama: Natural Fantasy Roleplay

I'm not sure where to start with this one. Have you ever seen pictures of the Japanese translation of early Dungeons and Dragons and thought "Wow! this....

... makes regular D&D look outright grimdark.". Thats the kind of feeling I got reading this book. Its kind of adventury but also adorable anime-ish.

At first glance this looks like an adorable pseudo D&D but its really not. First of all, although there is a combat system in place and a full on bestiary at the end, the game doesn't really stress it. For the most part the game emphasizes environmental and traveling rules and the GM mechanics seem to lean the game towards teaching that table how to play roleplaying games in general than anything else.

Your Character

Four ability scores, Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Spirit, that are defined by dice scaling from a d4 to a d12. For most interaction you're going to roll two of any of these to do anything. For example; Attacking with a heavy weapon is Strength + Strength, Attacking with a medium weapon is Dexterity + Strength, perception checks are Dexterity + Intelligence and so on. Often there will be some number to boost this from other character choices. Double the max number is a critical success. Double 1s is a fumble which gives you fumble dice, a kind of luck mechanic to compensate for failure.

You choose a class which is less like classes in typical fantasy RPGs and more like backgrounds and proffessions. These are things like merchants, farmers and artisans. these front load you a few abilities that often function as skills but also are just abilities that happen. almost none of them have any combat relevancy. Where you get something that's more like typical classes are when you choose a type out of Attack, Technical and Magic. Even then roughly half the abilities matter in combat. The Magic type lets you get spells each level which is split into low, middle and high magic. The magic itself has very few options and makes you less of a wizard and more of a magical housewife, with almighty spells like making someone mopey. Okay, sure there's some curing and a mystical bolt in there along with a few other combat relevant spells but you get the picture with this game. Not only are the images adorable but the general tone of most of the options add up to cutesy-wutesy adventures of traveling for miles to return the one puppy to it's mommy in Mount Cuddles and along the way you fight goblins that are also catgirls.

There are ten levels which net you some dice increases, extra types and extra classes. Not much else to say really.

Playing the game.

The item section has some abstractions but is surprisingly robust for the nature of the game. About the only part that's disappointing is that animals have no mechanics other than being an item that carries stuff and eats your food, and magic weapons aren't really elaborated on. Carrying capacity is a thing which means that your skills for traveling and strategy in doing so is actually pretty crucial since tracking food and water is important. Each morning you make a check to see how you feel so you better keep yourself healthy too. In fact where the game gets really hardcore in terms of how much foresight you need is the traveling rules. They're simple and obvious but you have to be careful about traveling in the wrong terrain without enough resources. If you just grab a few tents and potions you're going to die fast.

Combat exists but in a relatively minimalistic way. Its a little kinda almost exactly like a JRPG. You get initiative and gets one action a turn. The battlefield is enemies on one side and players on the other side. Each side has a back row, that can't be hit with melee attacks, and a front row that can. When there are no enemies on the front row, the back row becomes the front row. And that's basically it. Combat is actually a little discouraged and pretty lethal if you mess around with the wrong thing so it isn't that important so I can forgive it for being weird. Personally I think a simple closed/near/far combat distancing would go better and will probably be my house rule. But as I said, there's a pretty functional bestiary in there so you have something to work with.

The GM

The GM gets its own DMPC here. The Gamemaster controls a dragon that's basically some kind of guardian spirit that is overseeing the player's adventure for whatever reason. You get two sets of abilities that are blessings or dues ex machina for to help them out a bit, even being able to reveal the fact that you exist to them to help them. You have a limit on how often you do this because it drains your HP and really you're just as likely to remain a voyeur towards the party if they are getting along fine on their own.


I actually like this game. But I have to say that it is very limited. Travel is the name of the game here and you go from point A to point B with low key adventures and a few battles. Not much to it past that. The game feels like a slice of life fantasy anime than a grand adventure and I want to emphasize that I'm okay with that, its just kind of one note. That said, the rules are pretty solid. Some of the mechanics are actually pretty clever in how they handle the scaling dice. If you want to do anything that is at all complex with combat you have to put a bit of thought into it since it is beyond abstract. But that's the kind of game it is. Its minimal and does its job of having heartwarming adventures with very mundane fantasy humans and I'm just upset because I have a really difficult time finding anything to do in an RPG where something isn't getting punched in the face on a regular basis. Worse yet is that at it's skeleton its a pretty decent system that could use some more content to really get off the ground as more than just a kiddie romp adventure where you can easily die of dysentery.

One thing that this game does seem to excel at without snark from the carebear-hating violent psychopath side of my brain is that its a pretty good gateway to other fantasy games. The game is simple to understand without being totally dumb, the GM mechanic teaches you how to run a game, basic concepts like items, spells, travel and adventure are pretty hardcoded in there along with foresight and monsters. As a 'My first D&D' the game works pretty well and that's probably why I really like it. Plus you get to slow down and really have a slice of life cutesy adventure where you can just have fun and explore without the game getting so abstract that exploration doesn't really seem worth it.

Ryuutama doesn't exactly have support in the sense that there aren't any published adventures or settings or anything like that so It'll be rare that I talk about it from this point on. But its on my play list so when I find fan material I like I'll talk about it and I'll eventually talk about what I wind up doing with it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

5e Racial Options: Aasimar

One thing I wasn't all that keen on when it comes to D&D is that Tieflings have been front and center for two editions and Aasimar just feel like an afterthought or, in the case of 4th edition, replaced entirely. I don't exactly hate tieflings but I get enough players that choose them to be 'edgy' but also Mary Sues to have a bias against them without Aasimar representation, especially when they're tucked away in the DMG as an example. At this point they're my table's Drizzt. So I am happy that my first foray into third party 5th edition material is Fat Goblin Game's Aasimar book.

We get a page of flavor and tips on how to fluff up your Aasimar so we have a good idea as to what they are, before moving into the hard crunch. We start off with the list of what to put in for your size and speed and ect. You get darkvision, resistance to radiant damage, you get extra healing when you heal and/or get healed more when you can't heal (?). There are three subtypes for Aasimar. Each gives a different +1 to an ability score and a once per long rest spell. they also get an different physical damage (bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing) resistance but it's partial resistance. I wasn't too sure about what it was since 5e is a lot newer to me but there's a sidebar that explains it. Apparently this means they get old school resistance at a rate of 1 per character level, so at level 5 a Solar subrace would take 5 damage off of all slashing damage. You also get Lineage options which lets you trade off some of the base Aasimar racial traits for something new.

Lastly you have some new equipment. One is a super holy water that deals more damage to undead, and also gives an extra use of radiant racial abilities for aasimar. There's a weapon that has a few abilities that seem kind of redundant. It grants +1 to attack and damage but also grants advantage and an extra d6 damage. It only works for divine classes and aasimar though.  There's a ring that gives celestial derived creatures a once per long rest daylight and some extra darkvision. There's also a new spell that gives you necrotic resistance and can deal damage to attackers.

I hate to say it but despite a few of these options being really cool and flavorful there are multiple points where I think it goes too far. Looking at the weapon inside it grants a +1 bonus to attack and damage, a huge deal in 5e, but also improves accuracy and deals extra damage. Its redundant and does too much. I know I haven't been playing 5e for as long and deep as I have Pathfinder but I know that getting a weapon that gains advantage AND bonuses to attack and damage is an uber weapon even if it's restricted to aasimar, clerics and paladins. Not to mention that the abilities aren't in of themselves aren't very interesting. Its just boosting accuracy and damage. The partial resistance seems more troublesome than regular resistance since damage happens at a smaller scale. I know Dragonborn get an elemental resistance that's just normal resistance and it works out fine, but this kind of resistance starts off small and eventually becomes something hugely powerful, especially since any of the three physical damages are pretty common and usually come in attack by attack chunks. The spell does something defensive and offensive with a decent duration and doesn't require concentration means that it can stack with other defensive spells which in the context of 5e can easily lead to really overpowered defenses. Some of the abilities reek of 'Pathfinderisms' like introducing trade out racial options, old school resistance, and no-brainer benefits from magic items. Things that work out in Pathfinder but seem unnecessary or overpowered in Dungeons and Dragons.  The rest is fine but with a short pdf this is a significant downside.

I'm just not terribly thrilled with this entry into 5th edition Aasimar. Added to the gripes above there are some minor typos, particularly in the sidebar to explain partial resistance, and the ability to heal and get healed more is kind of wonky in that if you have healing abilities you can add your prof bonus but if you don't have healing abilities then you add it when you get healed. Nice to have a non-biased option but this raises questions, like where the line is for this since this is an either/or thing. Does Second Wind count? If I heal myself with my healing ability does this work?. I'm left with a document that I'm reluctant to use and I'm certainly reluctant to just hand it to players for them to sort out. For this I'm giving it a 2 out of 5 stars.

You can find this over on DriveThruRPG here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Dungeons and Dragons: First Impressions

A long while ago I got my hands on the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I picked up all three of the primary books and have since been in three campaigns so this is less of a first impressions and more of a general overview after cutting my teeth a bit. You can take this as a review but I'm reluctant to give it an actual score because hard scores on systems can be pretty subjective and this is mostly a jumping point to talk about third party material and with some context. If you are curious and are looking for opinions to decide whether or not to buy it then there's no need to read my ramblings. I'll tell you right now how you'll likely feel.  - If you got burned out by Pathfinder or the 4th edition, or you liked those but it became a bloated mess for you, this game is a godsend. If you don't like the 'D&D'-ish trapping of roleplaying like medieval fantasy, and fighting being about 80% of anything you do then you should play something else. I would call this rules-medium but if you played Pathfinder, this might as well be rules-lite.

Now before I begin I want to note that throughout this I'll make a lot of comparisons to Pathfinder. While Pathfinder isn't my first roleplaying game, it is the bulk of my experience and my favorite so its kind of my baseline for comparing any roleplaying game. Also this edition of Dungeons and Dragons has a lot of points to compare due to the nature of Pathfinder being derived from a previous edition of Dungeons and Dragons. In fact it is more comparable to Pathfinder than 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons.

I also won't go too much into the Monster Manual or the Dungeonmaster's Guide. Mainly because the bulk of the actual game rules are in the Player's Handbook and opinions on the MM and DMG can be distilled into a paragraph. Heck I'll try to hammer it out in a few sentences; The Monster Manual has no real ryhme or reason to how the monsters work or a realistic way to make your own but they are simple enough where a pallet swap will extend the life of the book. Still I'd like templates and stray monster abilities to just slap on to them to make variants and stuff. The Dungeonmaster's Guide is less rules and more teaching you how to run a game. There are optional rules in there that I think should have gone in the Player's Handbook or should be a default part of the game instead of optional. Otherwise they are both pretty essential to running the game but I feel like I get along fine not bringing that DMG to the table.

The Basics

For the uninitiated, Dungeons and Dragons works with a d20 in most interactions since it's third edition. What this means is that you roll a twenty sided dice and add a number. If the number is bigger than the target number you succeed. The exception to this is when things cause damage, heal or give some kind of boost. The numbers generally have two sources, your ability scores and your proficiency bonus.

You have six ability scores that define your Strength, Dexterity, Constitution. Charisma, Intelligence and Wisdom with a new number derived from it that gives a bonus to related abilities and defenses. These bonuses apply to all your skills and are defined as a 'save' which is your resistance to effects to things that target it. They also affect how much health you have, how strong your magic and attacks are, and define how well you are at dodging normal attacks.

Your proficiency bonus is  number that starts at +2 and grows as you level. this number is added to whatever you're 'proficient' at. Basically if you're particularly good at something you add proficiency in addition to whatever ability bonus you're using.

All of this is pretty normal D&D stuff but there are some pretty heavy duty changes. Each ability score getting a save is new and it makes sense enough, plus it simplifies things but for the most part I don't think that the rest of the game got the memo. Sure some spells will target Int or Cha but most of the time the game behaves as if Reflex, Fortitude and Will is the norm. Still it does kind of lay the groundwork for future abilities and guessing saves for interactions that aren't in the game or house rules.

The proficiency bonus is also new. Its like a little brother to BAB but applies to everything. I have mixed feelings about it. It definitley lowers and evens out the numbers of a lot of things and the fact that it maxes out at +6 means that a lot of numbers are bound to that range which makes everything way easier to math out than Pathfinder. I do have a bit of a beef with it though. Its pretty binary so you are either really good at something or really bad at something, no in between. This means that if you take a feat to gain a new skill proficiency you get a sudden high boost out of nowhere without the option of gradually growing. And with the numbers so low and the d20 being a very swingy dice,. success and failure are still pretty much in your grasp if you have it or not. This has good and bad consequences. You can extend the life out of your goblin minis because they can threaten a player for way more levels. But you can also get murked by a mob of goblins at levels where you can pretty much one-shot them. That part can be chalked up as a win in the end because ease of use is the primary benefit of this over Pathfinder.


You wind up making a character and then as the game progresses you advance by gaining levels. Usually you go up in level by gaining experience which you get by doing things like completing quests, killing monsters, foiling traps and whatever else the game master thinks gives experience.

Making a character comes in three packages. You get a race, a class and a background. Your race is something like humans, elves, dwarves and whatnot. Your background adds proficiency and some minor abilities based on what kind of history your character has.

Classes are the more complex package. They give you some abilities to start and give you more as you gain levels.  They also have sub-packages that differentiate people in the same class and each class gives a rate of ability score boosts that can be optionally spent on feats, another set of packages that give new abilities.

The classes are your typical D&D things. You got your wizards, monks, fighters, paladins, druids, ect. They mostly have their iconic abilities. I think the only outlier in the classes are Ranger and Warlock/Sorcerer. Ranger because they had to erratta to make it more unique. The printed version just doesn't have much going for it. My problem Warlock and Sorcerer is more subjective. Really both classes could have been merged to form one class called The Sorcerer. Sorcerer is more thematically interesting and the Warlock is more mechanically interesting and I really feel like their flavors could easily overlap. But this leads to one point that probably won't be popular or shared but the weird fact that the classes are more traditional and present a few paradigms that aren't consistent. In this edition you have a few sub-classes that used to be Prestige Classes, like the Arcane Trickster, Eldritch Knight and Dragon Disciple. In the case of the arcane trickster and eldritch knight, they're basically a wizard/rogue and a wizard/fighter respectively. So why not go the extra mile and eliminate the Ranger, Paladin, and Bard. The bard is trickier and can probably stay as it's own class in the end but a ranger is at it's core a fightdruid with favored enemy and a paladin is a fightcleric with smite. A bard can easily be a distilled into a rogue/sorcerer with perform.

If you're a spellcaster you also get to choose spells. Mostly this works by spell slots per level of spells but traditional vancian casting is replaced with memorizing x amount of spells and you can cast the spells you know based on the slots you have left. Even though this is better I've grown to hate codified spells and spell slots as I picked up more third party Pathfinder stuff.  Spells typically attack using charisma, intelligence or wisdom and apply these numbers when attacking a save. Classes are generally locked to a specific spell list that defines their casting. The iconic ones are there but I personally found each list lacking in terms of being able to be the kind the caster I want. This is a problem inherent with a slot based/specific spell system so your mileage may vary.

Optimizing is possible but it doesn't get you very far. The floor and ceiling of  badly and well made characters is close enough where they can adventure together without someone feeling left out or useless. One beef I have with the game is that it has such a fear of complexity that it does go through some hoops and makes some interactions weird, like the inability to stack advantages even if in some cases it's really weird that it doesn't. So while Optimization isn't that great the game feels like it encourages min-maxing. Spells use the casting ability score for attacks and other effects instead of using dex or strength for when a spell consists of an attack, dexterity to damage with light weapons is a given, and every ability is a save. This reduces the amount of ability scores that players are depending on but every game I've been ability scores get dumped like crazy because they don't need them at all if another member of the party is covering for them. Some people like this better but its been bothering me because you aren't very rewarded for having a more well rounded character.

Playing the Game

Like I said earlier, the standard is simple. Roll a d20 and add an ability score bonus. If you are good at that action then you add your proficiency bonus. Most non-combat actions are governed by skills or tools. They aren't as codified as much as Pathfinder but they're described enough to make a guess as to what to do for interactions that aren't defined. Since the numbers are generally bound to a range there's a handy list of how difficult each target number is to allow for some guesswork. To avoid the more granular modifications that come with boosts to rolls for the most part anything that would have previously been a numerical bonus is replaced by 'advantage' which means you roll two d20s and take the best. This is mirrored by 'disadvantage' which is rolling two d20s and taking the worst.

Combat is typical for D&D. You get an action and a move. You also get a bonus action and a reaction. There's a few fiddly bits in there but its a few degrees less intricate than Savage Worlds in that regard. Combat rarely gets more complex than 'disable or attack that thing'. There is a bit of complication as to how extra attacks and bonus actions play out but its a solvable problem with a bit of thinking.

Gear is pretty basic too. Compared to Pathfinder the magical equipment is less intricate with individual items being more special and specific. There are +1 weapons and armor but since plus one bonuses are pretty powerful they aren't a huge part of the game. One bit of awkwardness is that things that would give a straight boost to an ability score instead have a set number which means that a belt of giant's strength doesn't guarantee that you get stronger or even get as strong as a giant. This is mostly so that some equipment doesn't become expected staples to gameplay. The mundane gear isn't very complicated but to me still feels like a missed chance to streamline things. For example; I think the Longsword shouldn't have been called a longsword but a 'medium slashing weapon'. I just think that it would have gone a long ways to making flavoring it however you want more of a thing.

Hazards are a bit codified but with some blank spaces for interpretation and guesses.

One thing that's new that's sort of a symptom of modern gaming is 'inspiration' and a group of character descriptors that define your personality. These character descriptors when expressed in play gives you inspiration points which for the most part you spend to gain advantage on rolls. So they're basically Fate Points/Bennies/roleplaying points. As far as I can tell nothing else really interacts with them so they're there just to be roleplaying bait.


So to get real personal, I don't like 5th edition D&D very much. It feels like Pathfinder only simplified and lower scale but I feel like it takes a lot of half-measures to do this which makes it first and foremost less gonzo than Pathfinder and more strict than other games that play out medievel stasis high fantasy. You're stuck into this predetermined feel that's strictly 'D&D' so its hard to come up with a crazy concept and be able to play it out. Sure you could file off some serial numbers and pretend an ability is something else or has some other flavor but it renders the choice meaningless and I might as well play a more flexible game where nebulous flavor is inherent in the system. I'm also stuck with some options particularly because almost every option is a large package than a minor option. These packages also mean that the game is a bit too easy. After a few decisions the game pretty much makes the character for you making things feel baby simple.

However as a game and baseline system it is a better game than Pathfinder in a number of ways and can be a solid reason to jump ship. Its much more difficult to make a character that is flat out useless. the lower numbers make predicting players much easier for the GM. The monsters are simple enough where a simple pallet swap will increase the lifespan of your monster manual for a long time. Its much easier to pick up and make a character. Even my first character with the system took all of ten minutes, and once I fully knew what I was doing it takes me longer to write my character's information down than it was to make the character in the first place. This means that you don't have to spend a whole session just hammering out the front-loaded options among dozens of books.

Although I think that the very best thing about Dungeons and Dragons is that it has strong similarities to Pathfinder but is much simpler so all it takes is monster swapping to play most of the Pathfinder Adventure Paths. I'm sure people are having fun with the ones that Wizards of the Coast has put out but the adventures I've played were so boring. Meanwhile the 5th edition Kingmaker game was spectacular and almost every other 5e game I know about in my area is running a Pathfinder Adventure Path.

Although I do think that the simplicity could have gone further and still be the same game the fact that there is a bit of complexity compared to similar games that are basically simplified D&D means that there is more of a reason to go forward and a feeling of progression that gives it a bit of the kind of appeal that more complex games have. It also lacks a huge degree of abstraction while at the same time dipping into modern roleplaying by mechanically rewarding roleplaying which gives it a life longer than one-shots and short campaigns.

Overall I would recommend Dungeons and Dragons if you really want to play Pathfinder but don't want to deal with the complications that come with Pathfinder which is actually a really huge group. If you want to go for low fantasy, this doesn't do it quite as well as other games because you still get a ton of unrealistic weirdness from abstractions like HP and AC and the general superheroic fantasy angle. Its till heroic superpowered fantasy, just less so than Pathfinder. If you want to play a fantasy game with a heavy roleplaying focus, then again, other games do it better. Its not even that rules lite. Heck even the superpowered heroic fantasy angle is done better elsewhere. But it's advantage is being what D&D has always been which is, for a lack of better terms, Dungeons and Dragons, which other games can't replicates because they get too abstract or too steeped into telling you how to run your own character. It just feels like D&D and lets you play it without too many complications.

Since Dungeons and Dragons has a lot of third party support and I do still enjoy it enough to run when I have Pathfinder games to run but not enough people into the fiddlyness of Pathfinder, (In some cases I don't even want to run or play Pathfinder when it comes to short modules or campaigns that don't have a lot of complex things going on because it's so front-loaded.) I'll be talking about 5th edition D&D on my blog from now on, including third party material. In fact making this overview is specifically a precursor to talking about a few items given to me by Fat Goblin Games.

Monday, October 10, 2016

I'm done with Pathfinder

Sorry for the clickbaity title but this post came from really strong feelings that occured due to a breaking point. But really its not as bad as it sounds.

What do I mean when I say that I'm 'done' with Pathfinder? Well here's what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean that I'll stop talking about Pathfinder on this blog. It doesn't mean that I'll stop writing reviews of third party material or ignoring news about it. It doesn't mean that I am angry at Paizo or Pathfinder. It doesn't mean that I'll stop playing Pathfinder.

What it does mean is that I won't be going out of my way to buy new Pathfinder material whether its third part stuff or Paizo stuff. I'll pick up some things that I wanted to pick up for a long time and things that are too good to pass up but I'm not thrilled with getting more stuff and will soon eliminate my Pathfinder budget. The Villain Codex will be my last hardcover purchase. The hardcover Curse of the Crimson Throne will be my last Adventure Path purchase. I do not intend to get new Player Companions or Campaign Settings. I have some third party things I intend to get to round out what I have, such as the remaining Spheres of Power supplements and maybe additions to the corruptions from Horror Adventures. But that's it.


1) I have enough stuff.

I have a shelf dedicated to holding all my Pathfinder hardcovers and the player companions/campaign settings. I have another shelf that holds all my print third party stuff. I have another shelf that's half full holding my adventure paths and modules. I haven't gotten the chance to even use all of it. I've only completed less than half the adventures I have, I have used bits and pieces of most of the other material but I haven't really used much of the options and classes and alternate rules that are on these shelves. The same goes for the gigabytes of pdfs on my computer. I'm pretty sure that I have enough Pathfinder material to last me a long while before I get bored, and better yet I have enough material to handle most concepts, settings, and styles that I can think of as long as they have some magic in it. I have material for outer space, cyberpunk, Ebberon-like dungeonpunk, and almost 200 different classes to work with. I'm good. I don't need any more. I can already do whatever I want now. For christsake, I have Ponyfinder, Thunderscape, and Aethera coming soon. I can throw ponies in space with magitech arms coming out of their backs that shoot lasers and they all fly through Stargates in a TARDIS to fight Galactus (LPJ's Crisis of the World Eater). What else do I really need at this point? Even the additions to the stuff I like are getting kind of unappealing because I'm not bored with what I have already. I have third party things that are expansive enough to represent things that will keep me busy for years but still have new things coming out of it. I was not actually ready for a Path of War 2. I wasn't ready for anything psionic past Ultimate Psionics. I already have so many things to do with that material.

2) Starfinder is coming.

I dedicated a lot of effort to collecting material to bring Pathfinder into outer space and making scifi or sci-fantasy adventures. Now Paizo is putting out an entire game where it's on a silver platter, and given the space Pathfinder game I'm currently running it'll probably go smoother than what I'm doing right now because I'll tell you right now that it is difficult to manage even with all the scifi crap that's out. Depending on what it winds up looking like I'm either going to discard or convert the scifi material I have because I know that Starfinder is going to wind up becoming my go-to Sci-fantasy game leaving Pathfinder to handle the straight fantasy stuff. That's an entire realm to be explored now that there is going to be a dedicated corner of Paizo working on it. And that's when we already have a shrinking new idea pool in Pathfinder itself that we take a huge chunk of territory to handle and just shoot it over to a new game. Plus its a new game to learn that's probably less crunchy than Pathfinder but likely more crunchy than Dungeons and Dragons. Either way given my enthusiasm for Space stuff in Pathfinder I'm all but guaranteed to buy Starfinder and Starfinder is pretty much going to talk over quite a few grounds that I use Pathfinder to cover because of it's nature. And its not just Starfinder.

3) I've been playing other games lately. 

So here is the list of games that I've been getting into lately and will probably talk about more on this blog. Ryuutama, Savage Worlds, Dungeons and Dragons, OVA, Golden Sky Stories, and Fate. Now I have assorted feelings about each of these but most of them have a place and a mode of play that Pathfinder doesn't really reach or does not reach easily. I think that if I want to run a module or one-shot from Pathfinder, I'd much rather do Dungeons and Dragons than Pathfinder because its faster to make a character and conversion is very easy. Pathfinder doesn't do low fantasy very well and I suspect Starfinder won't do 'hard' scifi very well so I've been getting into Savage Worlds. Same goes for anyone who is fairly mundane like college students  and stuff like that is hard to do with Pathfinder because even 'mundane' classes get super sturdy quickly. Some games I really need to represent something obscure or deal with entire campaigns where fighting just isn't a thing so I have the other stuff.  Its not that I'm tired of medieval fantasy or whatever Golarion is, I just have some other stuff to play too and in some cases they are absorbing some aspects that I was using Pathfinder for due to campaign length or complexity. And really once that happens the more I don't need new Pathfinder stuff. I already have what I need to represent medieval fantasy to renaissance steampunk with airships, but I also want to play around with contemporary settings with normal people or a high school drama, or fighting Nazis on a land of the lost. I just have some other stuff to play and I don't want to deal with Pathfinder to do it because Pathfinder is kind of complicated. Which leads to my next point.

4)  Pathfinder is kind of huge, bloated and unbalanced. 

Over the course of collecting third party material I think I've found ways to handle pretty much any general balance issue that exists in the game. If magic in general is overpowered, just replace it with something more far reaching and more balanced. If martial options are too week there's stuff out there to make them better from just better options or entire rewrites or replaces the weaker classes. Skill distribution is unbalanced? Just introduce rules from Pathfinder Unchained. But that's the way that Pathfinder is 'unbalanced'.  Pathfinder is unbalanced starting from its very premise just by the fact that it is very possible to have a badly made character and very possible to make a very well made character and the gap between that is huge. that the Strategy Guide exists is somewhat proof of this and that it starts with the core rulebook. Because of this as the game releases more and more options this gap gets wider. Now it is entirely possible to restrict books so that things aren't overwhelming but that kind of makes it seem like the complexity, the glut of options and the growth you experience by being able to make a 'good' character is a bad thing when that's one of the best parts about the game. It gives choices meaning, it makes you think about your character and it makes just the process of making a character an exciting experience. Not only that but having to look up stuff, crunch numbers or make builds just adds to the amount of hours being involved with the game and if that is fun for you, then its just more hours of having fun and the fun extends past the table. However there's a consequence to this and that is that new players that don't want to or can't look deeper into the rules because they don't want to spend the time or don't have the time or don't find it fun just kind of fall behind. It is possible to come to a table and your character just sucks and the rest of the party has to carry you or ignore you whenever combat happens, or even worse, the other players have to reign it in because one or more player can't hack it and start to resent not being able to do anything because its overpowered by comparison or use interesting options because it's restricted to another book.  When everyone is on the same page Pathfinder works beautifully even if everyone is a new player just learning the game but I personally am starting to resent everyone when they aren't on the same page. I have to tell some players to tone it down because other players aren't up to speed and the gap is so huge that they need to basically break a leg to get in line. I have to spend an entire session to teach players how to make a character, even though they have played the game before, while the players that know what they're doing either have to twiddle their thumbs or just not attend session zero. I have to check character sheets so that players aren't running around with vanilla Rangers with 10 wisdom (which has happened before) or that they aren't geared towards making an army of summons or clones. I have to adjust the difficulty of NPCs so that they have to be able to handle the guy with a million AC but not be capable of immediately killing the guy that still doesn't know how Power Attack works. Its actually less work when everyone is overpowered because I can throw whatever I want at them and I don't have to check character sheets or explain things. Its also easier when everyone sucks because I don't need to look at stat blocks that look like essays because NPCs don't do anything more complicated than run up and attack, plus everyone is learning and growing together and getting into more and more advanced options and ways of thinking. But for now, since I actually like perusing and using the huge list of options I perfer to play or run Pathfinder when everyone knows what they're doing and leave everyone else to Dungeons and Dragons.

5) I have far too many adventures to run. 

I like making adventures that are interesting or quirky or play around with genre. I also have a lot of published adventures. And really I find it difficult to get through them all and part of that is because I primarily focus on Pathfinder. One thing you'll notice is that the list earlier of RPGs I'm getting into is full of non fussy and easy systems. These aren't the only RPGs I own or that I like,  but I only have room in my heart for one really crunchy system and the list is full of simpler games for expediency and price. I want to be able to run more concepts as one shots or short campaigns and I'm tired of doing that with Pathfinder because it is option heavy and front-loaded. If you bother to make a character in Pathfinder using a bunch of options and stuff I imagine that you're in for the long haul. At least 12 levels of campaigning that can take about a year. Because that character took work and investment compared to the 5 minutes it takes to make a character in Savage Worlds, Dungeons and Dragons, or FATE. So those adventures that take a few levels or five sessions to complete seems like a waste of time. Worse yet, I have trouble keeping a Pathfinder game going for long before somebody has a baby, or gets a new job or some other obligation and nobody can agree on a new time. The only adventure path I personally saw from start to finish had 12 different players go in and out, and only two of us (not including the GM) were there from the start. I have several Pathfinder Adventure Paths and actually got to play about half of them due to this. And again, I love having an invested character built from a ton of options in a long game but sometimes I can't do that or I only have a certain range or a certain power level of ideas. Sometimes I just shorten them out so we can get something done that has an actual conclusion. This is why the primary new games I'm getting into is FATE, OVA, and particularly, Savage Worlds. For a low price I can get a lot done really quick and the range is wide. Heck, I don't even like FATE all that much but its a game that builds other games instead of a game that has a very narrow focus so I'm good with it enough to need it for obscure concepts rather than having to pick up a whole new game that can only handle it's own specific type of play. And despite the difficulty to maintain group long enough to complete an adventure path apparently I have a lot of people in my area that want to play and like my campaigns so I just have a lot on my hands and Pathfinder doesn't go through it fast enough.

So that's why I'm done with getting new Pathfinder stuff. As I said before this doesn't mean that I will stop posting new reviews of third party stuff. I have enough of a backlog to go on with that for a long time. I also won't stop playing and running Pathfinder because I do really like the system. Some would say 'with it's warts and all' but in my case I really like the warts. I'm like a troll from Elfquest, that stuff just gets me off. I just have had my fill of it in the sense that I have more than enough to do quite a bit and lately I've been getting into things that can handle whatever Pathfinder can't handle without getting too much in the way. I just hit a wall where new Pathfinder stuff isn't really useful to me anymore so I'm just going to stop.

As it stands now, here is my RPG list and what I use for what.

Pathfinder: Heroic Fantasy and Dungeonpunk for long campaigns.
Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition: Heroic fantasy for short Pathfinder modules or string of modules.
Starfinder: Mostly speculation but, heroic sci-fantasy for long campaigns.
Savage Worlds: Contemporary fantasy/horror, gritty fantasy and dungeonpunk, hard sci-fi, superheroes, and anachronistic pulp for long or short campaigns.
Ryuutama/Golden Sky Stories: For their intended purposes (they have very narrow modes of play). Particularly for young players.
OVA/FATE: the remaining weird stuff that needs abstract or very narrow sets of mechanics like high school romance or replicating a linear subgenre. Particularly non-action or non violent subjects.

FATE, D&D and Savage Worlds has the most support so I'm going to talk about those on this blog the most after Pathfinder and maybe Starfinder when it comes out. Of course this is pending my overview of each of those games as a whole.

Tides of War: Volley Fire Redux

A while ago, Flying Pincushion released an addition to their Tides of War line covering volley fire teamwork feats. I had uses for it but really the language made the feats difficult to understand and in some ways the rules as written didn't quite work. But they have since released a revision so here is a retrospective for the new product.

Like the mounted combat feats before it, this Tides of War is very short, with about two pages of usable feats but the pictures reduce it to about one and a half.

The first feat, Group Fire, is simple. Declare that you are making the special attack (A full round action) and anyone close to you with the same feat can make a shot as an immediate action at the same target. This gives everyone a plus one to attack and damage for each attacker at the cost of the participant (aside from the initiator) being staggered the next round. Its easy enough to follow and worthwhile for a gang of enemies or even a single cohort since it nets you at least a +2. There's a bit of weirdness where technically with the wording you don't need an ally to get at least a +1 bonus but given that its one shot for a full round action its not that bad since anyone in their right mind will just make multiple attacks. In fact at least it's something to do with the feat when you don't have allies which is nice I guess.

The rest of the feats require Group Fire and interact with it. Some are obvious, like the clustered shot one, and some seem to be there to compensate for situations where you only have one participant for your group fire. This is nice to have if you're an Inquisitor, or at least I assume so. I question whether or not for the purposes of Solo Tactics the participating ally gets to make an attack, gets the bonus and so on. Given the wording the I assume that the Inquisitor would be the 'source' of the ability and thus starts granting actions but not bonuses. I'm not sure how this works when she would have an ability that calls out granting a bonus to someone or even the clustered shot one. I'm guessing this is why Volley Fire and other teamwork feats function by things happening to you or you doing something than granting actions to allies. Bottom line is that I'm not sure if this is overtly useful for an Inquisitor.

For everyone else this is fine. With enough participants you can increase the threat range of weaker enemies, cluster your shots, get other ranged abilities a chance to participate, and hamper flying creatures among other things.

Everything is clear and easy to understand, which is a huge improvement from the product's previous iteration, but I do think that the inherent nature of how group fire works mucks up any ability that assumes that Teamwork feats don't grant actions or directly affects allies. Being initiated by an action as opposed to the feat enhancing an action does this as well. Case point is how Volley Fire works. As far as I can tell, only Solo Tactics gets confusing with it as it only calls out that participants don't receive bonuses but I don't think the rules intend for it to be able to grant immediate actions. Other than that I would take a hard look at any class feature that interacts with teamwork feats just to make sure.

I want to give this 5 out of 5 stars because the feats do grant new things to do and get creative with teamwork feats while being easy enough to implement, but the very premise is on shaky ground because I'm going to have to check for how it interacts with things. Perhaps Solo Tactics is the only outlier and I just have to rank all of this as mostly useless to it, but with the Inquisitor being one of the main classes that actually uses teamwork feats I'd like to not be confused as to how these feats interact with it. I also can't shake the feeling that this is inherent to teamwork feats not granting allies actions or new things to do specifically because of stuff like this. If we ignore those issues then these work fine whether you're dealing with a cohort or have a group of kobolds that you want to be a bit more dangerous.  In the end I'll give this a 'high' 4 out of 5 stars. There's a glaring issue but I don't think you'll encounter the issue in most circumstances that you'll use these feats.

You can find this over on DrivethruRPG here.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

New Rule: Revised Action Economy

Pathfinder Unchained has been out for a while now and while the unchained classes get a lot of talk, the most facilitating part of the book for me was the Revised Action Economy. Pathfinder is not a perfect game, and the way that in combat actions work is often seen as the root of plenty of it's problems. It favors casters, its very complicated and it makes combat messier as you rise in levels. Despite the RAE claiming to clean up quite a bit I've seen it be very divisive as to whether or not its better to use. Even in my own groups its hard to get people to convert unless you force it at the beginning of the campaign and if it is explicitly an option even the players who would greatly benefit from it don't even try to use it so I have way less experience with it than I would actually like. Now there are several reasons for this. There are plenty of things that the RAE does not account for to make you be able to do everything that you could previously do. The change of Swift actions to be one action means that one turn swift action effects like arcane strike are basically dead in the water.

It is a drastic turn but I have a few defenses of it. The more I see it in action the more I think that it is easier to convert to than the normal action economy is to execute. So here are my reasons why I think you should use the Revised Action Economy.

1. Initiative Order Doesn't Change

This one is rather subtle but it makes a big impact when in play. In the normal action economy you can ready an action or delay which allows you to interrupt and act out of turn. This moves your initiative order to occur before the person that you are interrupting. And this is a huge pain in the butt for anyone keeping track of this. Sure you can take one of those magnetic initiative trackers or even an electronic one to keep things clean but when you get to the point where you peripherals just to keep track its still a pain in the butt even if it's a small one. You still have to make adjustments to shuffle that character around in the initiative order. With the RAE your readied action eats up your reaction instead of moving you around in the initiative order so doing so does not come with the added bonus of having to complicate combat more than it needs to. This sounds really minor but the difference is astounding. You don't need a shuffleboard of magnets to keep track of who's where in initiative and where they go when they do something like readying or holding or interrupting. You just go top to bottom and leave it alone.

2. You Can Move More

The RAE breaks up most instances of full attacks so something had to be done with options like two weapon fighting and flurry of blows. What winds up happening is that they add extra attacks to your first, second and then third attacks as you advance in that option. This is absolutely huge for any combatant that wants to move more while using these options. Lets take a look at the numbers here: If you are using TWF (Full BAB at lvl 20, two light weapons)with the normal action economy if you do nothing but attack you get seven attacks at +18/+18/+13/+13/+8/+8/+3. If you make a move action you get one attack at +20. With the Revised Action Economy under the same circumstances if you do nothing but attack you get six attacks at +18/+18/+13/+13/+8/+8, but if you make a move action you get four attacks at +18/+18/+13/+13. So with the normal action economy moving once makes you lose over 80% of your attacks while with the RAE you lose a little over 33%. This is true even for regular iterative attacks where you lose 75% of your attacks normally but with the RAE you only lose a little over 33%. And this is just for moving more than a 5ft step.

3. There Are Way Less Actions.

RAE is three actions and a reaction and that's it. The sheer amount that needed to be converted makes this seem a bit daunting but it all amounts to everything having a cost. Most things have similar costs with the normal action economy but not with the same currencies. You have full round actions that cost a move and and standard action, a 5ft step that will cost you your move action but not any part of a full round action, an attack of opportunity that does not encompass your immediate action, but your immediate action does take your swift action, that is a short action but only has a currency of one per round without move or standard actions being able to pay for them. And because of all these staggered currencies we can take advantage with classes that have a reason to benefit from a swift action, full round action, and 5ft step but if you miss out on the swift/immediate action and 5ft step you can't use those actions to pay for anything else. This is too many categories and too many false equivalencies and it just mucks up combat. With the RAE you do three points worth of stuff and you're done. The only reason why you need a dozen pages to define them in Pathfinder Unchained is because of the damage already done by the normal action economy which goes all over the place.

4. Fighter and Rogue Start Looking Good

This is a disputed point but its a popular opinion that spellcasters have a leg up on classes without spells with Rogues and Fighters being at the bottom of the barrel. And part of that is because of how the normal action economy works. With movement taking away attacks the Fighter suffers because that's the main thing that he does and Rogues because movement will kill sneak attack potential, meanwhile a caster can move and cast a powerful spell, basically losing nothing. But with the RAE Fighters can chase down casters and actually do something crippling and Rogues can move and get off more than one sneak attack. Add to that, both classes have relatively fewer opportunities to use all the actions from my third point. A typical fighter doesn't have too many ways to use a swift action but in the hands of other classes a swift action can be insanely powerful.

5. Converting is easier than it looks.

Pathfinder Unchained divides the RAE actions into Simple and Complex actions, then to what number of acts it takes with a couple of subtypes and most of the things in the game redefined. This doesn't encompass third party material or really weird splat book options but the logic is clear. 3 acts are full round actions. 2 acts are standard actions, and 1 act are move or swift actions. Reactions are immediate actions and attacks of opportunity, and the only awkward position is the new status of full attack which is still easy to understand or capable of just re-entering the new action economy as 3 acts. I think the only thing that gets awkward to convert is that the conversion guide states that Standard action attack actions would be 1 act. This makes martial characters go from better to insane really fast as that can include the likes of Vital Strike. Imagine doing that three times in a row. It also kind of flies in the face of the logic behind how combat maneuvers work where if they can sub an attack in a full attack then it's 1 act and if not it's 2 acts, which is drastically more sane and more in line with what the game normally does. But that all boils down to whether or not the attack action equates to 1 or 2 acts because both action economies don't equate attacks and the attack actions, something that is confusing and insane about the normal action economy that is often the source of confusion.

And there you have it. Those are my main arguments in favor of Pathfinder Unchained's revised action economy. Its not perfect, not by a long shot, but I do think that it is way better than the complex monstrocity that the normal action economy is.