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Hex Grid or Square?

posted Tuesday, October 28th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceFourth EditionThird Edition

Dungeons & Dragons nowadays is often played with some sort of grid, whether it’s a quick sketch on graph paper or a complete tabletop with miniatures. The game assumes a square grid, but there are other options with varying popularity.

You can print out graph and hex paper at Incompetech’s graph paper website.

Square Grid
Square is by the most popular grid layout, and is assumed in both third and fourth edition D&D rules. A point of contention between fans of these editions is diagonal movement – 3e charges two squares of movement for every second diagonal you move, whereas 4e takes the simpler and less realistic option of diagonal movement.

Square grids make it easy to draw rectangular rooms. It’s also a lot easier to draw your own grid on something like a whiteboard. Because it’s standard, most game books and products are made for square grid, and for this reason it’s my preference.

Hex Grid
The main advantage of the hexagonal grid is in diagonal movement – there isn’t any. Straight lines are extended as a shortest path, of which you can have multiple due to the nature of a hex grid. Area effects are also easily adjudicated.

Third edition’s Unearthed Arcana gives rules for using a hex grid, which demonstrate how easily area effects are handled. For a 20ft radius, one “origin” hex and any hex within four hexes of this is affected. For a cone, it’s the same but constrained to two sides of the hex. Facing is more complex.

In fourth edition, hexes have no official support but can work reasonably well. Bursts affect less squares overall as they go from cubes to something more spherical, but six sides instead of eight mean fewer attackers can swarm you. A two-man flank is just as easy to perform. This might be an option if you’re unhappy with 4e’s simpler diagonal movement.

No Grid
A method favoured by tactical wargames, this is the hardest to adjudicate. It requires the DM to measure the distances between units, decide whether or not opponents are “adjacent” or “in range”, and measure movement using measuring tapes or string. Flanking is likewise difficult to measure. This is the most flexible, but also the hardest to adjudicate.

The Invisible Dungeon, Revisited

posted Saturday, October 25th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Game Design

I don’t like to repost old content, but a reader recently recommended my 2006 essay, The Invisible Dungeon. It discusses the dungeon as a metaphor for adventure, and how this concept can apply even to adventures that take place outside of a physical dungeon.

The article is just as valid today as it was two years ago, so if you’re interested in Dungeons & Dragons adventures I encourage you to give it a read.

Play Dungeons & Dragons Online with Gametable

posted Wednesday, October 22nd 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Even in this age of massively multiplayer videogame RPGs, I have a lot of friends who enjoy traditional roleplaying games online in some form. I’ve seen play-by-email, message board games and real-time games on internet chat – in fact I’ve written a free dice handler to aid real-time text-based Dungeons & Dragons games.

As the game further develops the use of miniatures, however, you’re going to increasingly benefit from an online miniatures simulator, and WotC’s official table software isn’t here yet. That’s where Gametable comes in.

Gametable screenshot

Gametable is a free application you can use to simulate a tabletop grid online. It supports square grids, hex grids, and grid-free. You can draw on the ‘board’ like a dry-erase whiteboard, and place round graphic miniatures (called ‘pogs’) which players can move around the map.

The program has some features which impress me over other software of its kind. Gametable allows you to do a “colour erase”, rubbing out one colour of drawing without damaging the others. This is useful for drawing annotations such as spell areas, then erasing these quickly without rubbing out part of the map. You can also annotate pogs with names and attributes, signifying status effects or hit points.

Gametable also handles dice and text-based chat, although you’ll need to install a third-party program like Ventrilo for voice chat. The program doesn’t try to do everything, and won’t adjudicate game rules, which task is left to the DM as usual. You’ll also need a separate character sheet, which is something you can handle on paper as usual or a digital character sheet like my text-based character sheet, Yeoz’s text-based character sheet or Yeoz’s Excel character sheet.

Gametable’s not the only virtual tabletop software, but it’s certainly a good start. Other readers have recommended OpenRPG, MapTools, GlitterComm and Fantasy Grounds.

You can download Gametable here.

Update (26th July 2012): There’s a new tabletop tool in the works that looks interesting. It’s called Tabletop Forge and it runs over Google+.

Where Have All The Players Gone?

posted Sunday, October 19th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth Edition

The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons has been out for four months now. A significant number of of players have taken up the new edition, but it still seems that a lot of the existing userbase is sticking to third ed, switching to Pathfinder or “graduating” to other RPGs. I think there’s reason behind this other than the inevitable miasma of new edition hate.

Third edition was very “D&D” – arcane, detailed, pages upon pages of rules, lore and obscura. That’s what appealed to me about the game before I ever played. Just reading the books was like poring over an ancient tome, discovering secrets and magic.

Fourth edition loses that for a more gamesy appeal. The target demographic barely reads fantasy novels any more; we watch action movies and play MMOs, and the game has moved to tap that potentially huge market.

I see a big issue with this: D&D 4th ed is still very complex, moreso than any casual board game you will play. It’s still too low-tech for many World of Warcraft players, and still not approachable enough for most casual players. Now, it’s also too dumb for many serious players, and too new for the hardcore players.

Wizards of the Coast has made a game that’s more popular with the modern crowd, but my concern is that they may not have given enough thought to how to attract the modern gamer to a very different sort of game than most of them are used to. Ultimately, I think the game’s success will be the best benchmark.

Dungeons & Dragons Writers Given Non-Compete Clauses

posted Thursday, October 16th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

In what seems a bid to monopolize the industry’s top talent, Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast has prohibited several freelance writers from working for the company’s competitors.

This isn’t a new policy – according to my contacts in the Dungeons & Dragons writing community, this has been happening for at least a year and a half. Some writers have been offered a guarantee of a certain amount of continuous work, but not all. The clause seems to be an effort to keep the industry’s best writers out of the hands of competitors like Paizo, who like most RPG publishers rely on the services of freelance contributors.

Wizards of the Coast has always been top dog for RPG writers, paying two to three times the rate of most other publishers and commanding some of the best names in the business as a result. Still, writing in this field is usually a work-for-hire gig, and most full-time writers manage it by writing for third party companies at the same time. With this latest move, writers are being told, “You work for us exclusively, or not at all.”

The company drew criticism earlier this year by by adopting a much more aggressive policy toward third party publishers than they have in the past. First the publication rights to Dragon and Dungeon magazines were withdrawn, then the third party game license was delayed until after the game launch, effectively locking many publishers out of producing fourth edition game supplements until October.

Mach Dice Version 2 for Apple iPhone

posted Monday, October 13th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Matt Kobayashi, author of one dollar iPhone dice application Mach Dice, has announced the release of a version 2. New features include multiple boards, new dice colours and a roll history. Here’s the video.

Free D&D from Kobold Quarterly

posted Monday, October 13th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Links and ResourcesNews, Reviews & Culture

I’ve recommended D&D magazine Kobold Quarterly before, but did you know that they also provide free content on their website?

Here’s a list of the last ten articles for you.

Plundering History For Your Game

posted Friday, October 10th 2008 by Jonathan Drain

I’ve been reading history and mythology lately, especially of my native Ireland. It’s full of ideas that fit well into a mediaeval fantasy setting, much of which is long out of copyright. I found the following quite interesting:

Irish Fairy Tales, by James Stephens
A mythology of Ireland, chronicling from the island’s colonisation by Noah’s great great great grandson until its Christianization in the sixth century. Don’t be dissuaded by the title “fairy tales” – if this collection is anything to go by, Irish mythology is largely about bands of strong and incredibly brave men beating the crap out of wizards. 66,112 words.

A Popular History of Ireland: from the Earliest Period to the Emancipation of the Catholics
A lengthy book that reveals just how little most of us know of the history of Ireland. Pre-Christian Ireland had warrior and peasant castes, permitted the taking of foreign slaves who were generally employed as shepherds and weavers, had druids who wielded considerable political power, and bards who claimed a de facto right to make any demand of a chieftain. More than a thousand years before the United States of America was founded, Ireland had a formal constitution and elected its high king by democratic vote. 300,000 words – that someone sat down and wrote as much might inspire you in itself.

Sniping in France, by Major H. Hesketh-Prichard
A British officer during World War I documents his efforts to introduce dedicated snipers into the front lines. He contends with superiors who tell him sniping will never catch on, deadly German snipers and incompetent handling of equipment and supplies. 49,687 words.

The Strategemata, by Frontinus
A massive collection of Roman military strategy anecdotes. We have numerous short tales involving tactics, plots, betrayals, bravery and superstitions. In one case the crew of a Roman warship is spooked by a lightning bolt across their bow, but the general reassures them with the words “Jupiter himself has entered battle on our side”; in another, a general quells the panic by explaining thunder and lightning to his men in basic scientific terms. A general kills a messenger to avoid the orders he’s delivered, feigning the messenger’s capture; a general orders two units of auxilliaries to march over the hill at a fixed time to give the illusion of reinforcements, then loudly boasts that more units are on their way to panic the enemy and bolster his own men’s courage. 52,355 words.

Flawed House Rule: Weapon Fumbling

posted Monday, October 6th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionGame DesignThird Edition

I’ve talked about house rules before and why some are worse than they seem: double-rolling hit dice, realistic sneak attack and 3.0 power attack are some examples. Today’s crap house rule is weapon fumbles on natural 1.

Dropping your weapon on an attack roll of natural 1 is so common a house rule that many players assume it to be official. Rules as written, a roll of 1 is simply a miss. Some DMs like the added risk of a fumble, but there are a number of reasons why it might not be a good idea.

First, it adds in a greater element of random chance, which usually favours the opponents. Your opponents are often weaker, and more numerous, so one of them dropping a weapon is less significant. They are also more likely than you to use natural weapons (bite, claw, etc), which cannot be fumbled.

Second, it’s annoying. In third edition D&D, you waste the rest of your full attack and have to spend a move action to pick it back up, which provokes an attack of opportunity. In fourth it’s a minor action to recover the weapon so you only really lose one attack, but it’s still annoying. In addition, unattended weapons are vulnerable to being taken or damaged.

Third, it strains believability. It makes sense that a legendary warrior might still fail to make the occasional attack, but not that he drops his sword at least once in every battle. You can soften it with something like a Reflex save, but fighters have the lowest Reflex, and if you feel the need to soften fumbles there’s a good chance you don’t really want to use them.

History’s Real-World Adventurers

posted Thursday, October 2nd 2008 by Jonathan Drain

Forget Drizzt and Mordenkainen. I discovered a really interesting article over at ENWorld on real-world epic heroes and villains:

As someone who enjoys history, I wanted to point out that there are rather quite a few remarkable real people from history who had adventures seldom matched in any Fantasy Novel, DnD game, or all the WoW games ever played, and they were a long way from Dilbert. In fact, many of the people on this list were IMO greater warriors than Conan, wiser than King Arthur, and more ruthless and intrepid than Elric.

A few examples:

  • Miyamoto Musashi, Japanese swordsman. Fought and won over sixty life-or-death duels, his first at age thirteen. Developed the two-sword fighting style and founded a fencing school.
  • Jeanne de Clisson, French pirate. After her husband was executed, she took revenge by selling her land to buy three warships, which she painted black with red sails and used to raid the king’s ships.
  • Egill Skallagr√ɬ≠msson, Icelandic Viking. Said to have fought as many as twenty men single-handedly and defeated a fierce berserker.

Further, the author writes on Historical European Martial Arts, a modern movement to reconstruct mediaeval fencing and combat techniques. It turns out that swordfighting techniques were actually pretty advanced, which is something you don’t see represented in Dungeons & Dragons. There are several videos, including grappling and full-contact sparring with swords.

The thread’s titled Mundane vs. Fantastical: give it a read.

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