Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Character Optimization...

If there is anything that everyone sitting at the table does when they make a new character, it is definitely optimization. It doesn't matter whether you are a fighter or a wizard or a rogue. And it doesn't matter if your specialty is knives or bows, evocations or divinations. Each person, on some level, is trying to make their character better at what they are supposed to do. Optimizing is how we get closer and closer to the best we can be with what is available. Of course there is such a thing as going too far, but we will talk about that later.

*note: my examples reference D&D, but the principles should be applicable to most systems

There are some very basic ways to optimize a character for the job at hand. The very first step in doing this, is to decide what it is you want to do exactly. Decide on what is most important for your character and their role. Are they going to be dealing the highest damage of the group? Are they going to be able to manipulate the battlefield? Are you a tank, or perhaps a healer? Do you like versatility? These are the questions everyone should be asking themselves. Not everyone does though, coming up with a cool idea and getting it in their head that they know exactly how that will play out.

But part of optimization is knowing how you want to play, as much as knowing what you want to play. If you want to be the damage dealer but hate tracking spells, then sorcerer is definitely not for you. That is an obvious example, though. What if you do want to cast spells, but you want to be right up in melee combat? Sorcerer is still, probably, the wrong choice. An arcane trickster and an eldritch knight are both good choices. Don't stop there! Would you prefer being an unwavering wall of magical swordsmanship or a agile dealer of surprising magical attacks?

Differentiating between the role you want to fill and how you want to fill that role is just the start to optimization. It's the part that gets you into doing what you want in a way that you will enjoy. Or it may be a way of getting you into the role the party needs in a way you would enjoy filling that hole. Beyond that you have to go into the more common form of optimizing: the numbers.

Giving yourself the right stats and picking the right features are the most important part of optimizing your character mechanically. It doesn't matter how good your weapon is or how deep into assassin you are, if you didn't give yourself a dexterity score over 11, you are going to have a bad time. Now, that is an obvious example of just making the necessary choice for your character. But what about when you have to choose between giving one important stat the best score and another the second best? Should my tank have more strength or more constitution?

There is a very easy way to figure this out, at least when you are talking optimization. Is damage or survival more important to you? That's a good place to start. Then just look at other stats. Strength is actually involved in skills. It is also used for melee attacks, throwing things, grappling, and literal feats of strength. Constitution would give you more HP, better healing, survival of long term threats like poison or disease, and allow you to have good endurance for strenuous situations. Mechanically, in a game like D&D, strength is the better choice.

It may depend on racial bonuses as well. You might be able to get two good scores out of those, or you could get one decent score and one really good score. At that point it is up to preference and whether your intention is offensive or defensive. There are other choices to make as well to optimize aside the explicit numbers. Getting the best armor you can to boost your AC, making sure you pick the right fighting style, getting a shield to make up for putting extra into strength instead of constitution, and more can help you make your character the best it can be.

Optimization continues on throughout play as well. Choosing the right gear to buy or simply wearing the right items for the right situation will become regular choices to make. Whenever you level or spend XP, you will want to choose the right feature, spell, or ability. As you learn how you play the character and what you tend to do more often, pick the things that will enhance that. Take note of situations you have trouble with and find items or ways of negating those issues.

Beyond that, picking the race that will give you appropriate stat bonuses is a good idea. Or one that has some racial features that will compliment what you intend to do is also a good choice. Picking the right background or similar aspect to a character can boost the role-playing and skill-based aspects of the character as well. Soldier, for example, is a great choice for a tank and sage is perfect for spell casters.

Be careful though, there is a way to take optimization too far. I have known some people who would do it. As good as those ideas may be on paper and in the numbers, they tend to have problems. As helpful as optimization is, these games aren't video games and getting the best numbers and MOST optimal build is not going to make you "better" at D&D. When it comes down to it, there will be a time when you just need to throw optimization out the window, but we'll talk more on that next week.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hello everyone and happy Monday! Today is just a quick post because my list of things to talk about is still my list of things to look into. I can however tell you what is going on around here. A lot of work is getting done in my headspace (with the help of the fine folks on Twitter) about greater details of Luxarrah. Part of this is preparing for the world as a bigger work and D&D world for my group to play in. The other part is in preparation for the next session of Brave New Worlds, which honestly can't come soon enough.

Sadly its still going to be a little while before that happens. Those of you listening to Untamed Dice will just have to continue listening to our Star Wars adventure. I have said it before but I'll say it again. The coming episodes are part of the most fun session of the adventure so get excited! In terms of scheduling I don't have too much more for you, but we are playing Curse of Strahd Saturday and and work is actually beginning to slow. Summer ends soon and school begins. The season of gaming is almost upon us and we're hoping to have a ton for you.

As a final quick note we have something fun coming to you soon. I may have mentioned it here, but in case I have not, the tales of our Pathfinder campaign are coming to you starting September 1st. Part 1 is already out to Patrons but you all will see it from Untamed Scribe on the 1st of each month, just a few weeks after Patrons get it. It is already turning out to be a great read and I can't wait to see what you guys think!

Next week I will have a lot more here for you so stay tuned!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Latest Episode of Brave New Worlds!

Here it is after a long day of work and lack of decent internet at Panera! The 17th episode of Brave New Worlds picks up with our heroes after facing the unwanted allies they discovered last time. Is there anything safe on Luxarrah, or is danger at every turn??

Friday, August 19, 2016

Resources For Every GM: Internet Part 6

Hey everyone! I hadn't planned on doing another set of internet resources, but when I was perusing the internet the other day I managed to find a couple of things that I needed to share. So, without much preamble, are three more cool resources I found just this week!

The Same Page Tool (Deeper In The Game): This is a tool which good help out a lot of groups and concerns a topic that comes up pretty regularly within the community. The problem many groups run into is the type of game they are playing versus what they want to play and who is ok with what. What it comes down to, is everyone on the same page.  To a point things are flexible, especially long term groups, but even those can get mired down in unfulfilled expectations. The tool is much more of a guideline questionnaire. It is not something that everyone should fill out, nor is it something that the GM should decide upon himself. The tool seems best use as a group and addressing what a campaign is going to be like. Or, more appropriately, what the game / system is going to expect from you, as some of them are made for certain styles of play. All in all, this tool directly addresses questions about what will be happening that don't usually get asked so explicitly. Given the article itself, I will be absolutely sure to check out more of the site!

Learn Tabletop RPGs: I have only started diving into what is available on this site, but I already love it. From what I have seen, I think I can share enough to get you to check it out yourselves. First off is a page similar to the article from Deeper in the Game called Level Up. Where the goal of the former was to address the expectations of the game system or campaign style, this page focused on making a great game by balancing the desires of everyone at the table. In many ways, this is the opposite of what the last article about, but it is just the other side of the coin. In fact, they link you to the tool to get started and make sure everyone knows what the game is before players get involved. It goes further to discuss player agendas, rules complexities, and provide a great number of useful links. If that isn't enough to get you to visit, they also have a list that currently sits at 54 table top RPGs. Each one includes a brief overview, some reasons it stands out, and links to communities and places to buy them. The site is fantastic for exploring new games, if nothing else!

Who The Fuck Is My Character: Someone linked this on Twitter recently and I instantly fell in love. A simple random generator, that provides you with an idea for making a character. Load the page and you get a random character with race, class, and history. It is obvious this is designed for D&D, but the potential inspiration is endless. Here is just an example of what you may see: I'm going to roll the stats for a fucking...frank half-orc fighter from a sheltered upbringing who just wants their money back.  Go on, give it a try!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mel Gibson, Necrotic Spells, Space Trinkets, And Cypher Dungeons

OK, so has I was hoping to do today I have a post for you about the various projects I have been working on. Let's start with the one that I never quite finished on time: Spells of Old Volume III. This project is still in the works. Realistically, a small version of this is mostly done, but I did mention before that I wanted to make its release larger. I still plan on that. Finalizing this and getting the work in on it is a bit time consuming, and that is something I have had to be careful distributing lately.  I won't get into it anymore than I have, but I will talk about the other projects that have developed themselves from my use of time.

First off, I did an article earlier this month for the RPGA Blog Carnival. It involved 10 sci-fi related trinkets for your games. As items for sci-fi touched D&D games I would love to use this list and expand upon it. From that article I am keeping that as a slowly building list that, once I have a good number, I will format nicely and through as a PWYW on the DM's Guild.

Second, I have been toying with the idea of trying my hand at writing an adventure. I need the practice and have found the one-shot we played last week a could place for me to work from. It is the first one I have properly designed as a short, self contained adventure. Granted, 3 hours was not enough to explore everything, but that's OK and it would be written with that in mind. This project is on the back-burner until my time frees up towards winter, though.

As for other projects there are two major ones that won't be on the DMs Guild. First will be our first go at a supplement getting published on familiar online retailer(s). This will be a class build from the ground up and there is a hint about it in the title, though it doesn't tell you much. As we design and begin testing the class, we will be looking for more testing help to really make sure it works and stands on its own.

Outside the realm of D&D, I am working on an even bigger, long term project with a friend.  Currently that project is working to fit into the Cypher System and there is a very convenient portal for publishing that setting since their Worlds of Cypher kickstarter.  And that's right, it will be a large setting book. We have put a lot of thought and effort in so far, but it is a slow process, and yes it takes from some of the effort I'm putting into smaller stuff.

Finally, I want to address some of the work for the DM's Guild. Obviously, previously mentioned supplements are on hold. Paths to Power Volume II has some more patrons, but their full ideas are not worked out yet. That is something I plan to have out around November. By then Spells of Old Volume III will be done and out, with Volume IV getting its start. DM's Field Guide series is on indefinate hold. It didn't do too well, and the effort I put into it is the most time significant. While enjoyable, other projects are where more people are getting something out of. As for my personal campaign worlds and their future as potentially published well, there is always work being done on those even if I don't mention it. One step at a time and all that!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Re-skinning: Changing A Recipe's Flavor

Have you every seen yourself as the group's healer and enjoying the cleric class, but wanting to be more of a druid-like character? Or perhaps you see yourself as the group's tank but loathe the idea of being just another sword and board in plate. Well, perhaps you can play by the rules without playing by the rules. In fact I am here to tell you that is exactly what you can do. That is the whole point of D&D, after all. To exist in a world where anything is possible and there are no programming restrictions on the choices you make. All subject to DM approval and nerf-hammers, of course.

Today I want to talk about re-skinning the things that sit within a rule book to make them work for you. Such things find themselves to be problems only in mechanics heavy games like Dungeons & Dragons. Other games may have a rule for literally anything, being even more mechanically heavy like earlier forms of D&D. Or they may be universal systems where you get better at something and can skin how that works virtually any way you want.

For 5th Edition, Wizards cut back the fat on the rules in some ways. In 3rd Edition there were so many rules, feats, bonus, penalties, spells, builds, tacked on mechanics, and situational circumstances it was hard to build the character you envisioned without doing a thesis on the idea first. Then came 4th Edition and we got streamlined set of rules that worked similarly across the board (for most of the edition's life anyway). Now all you had to do was decide to build your defender with the defense feats and defensive abilities. Don't want a shield, just make sure not to pick those ones. Want to dual-wield? Grab a couple of those powers to beef that aspect up.

Now, to be fair 4th Edition became as laden with options as 3rd, though they we more easily indexed. And you were limited in the number of "cool moves" you could have at any one time, since leveling had you replace one with another eventually. This was especially true as they released regular supplements, some of which entirely focused on one set of characters (such as martial or divine). In some ways, all of these options are great and many powers are super cool. Hell fighters became a more easily enjoyable option (you can do a lot with 3E feats but, boy, is that some planning and bonus/penalty paperwork). But, when it comes down to it, 5th Edition has become a nice blend of streamlined and unique mechanics. Only certain classes/archetypes get extra attack for example.

And now, two years later, we are still working off of the core books. There have been adventures, one Sword Coast supplement, and Unearthed Arcana articles, but all in all we are working from the Player's Handbook. That doesn't have to limit us and I will use my two original examples as to why.

First off, who says playing a druid has to mean you actually have to take levels in druid? I mean mechanically at their core is shape-shifting and certain spells. But thematically, a druid is a protector of nature. Perhaps you would like the opportunity to expunge shape-shifting for more spell-related abilities. My suggestion to you is to play a cleric of nature (or even life or tempest). Already you are themed toward being druidic. Next, simply forgo claiming any god to worship or call to and refer to yourself as a druid. The final step is, perhaps the most important, and needs to be approved by your DM. In my opinion, however, it is pretty non-issue. Simply use the druid spell list instead of the cleric one. Simple as that. That means no saying, "but I am technically a cleric so can I prepare this just once." And no swapping out cleric spells you don't mind losing for the druid spells you hate to lose. Just do the full switch.

Of course, you may have other problems with this like how do the cleric abilities mesh with a "druid". Let's start with turning undead. That is fairly easy since undead are, often, anathema to druids. Fits right in. Choosing the right domain is another key factor, of course. But perhaps it is divine intervention which you have trouble getting around. Well, why does it have to be divine? Perhaps the druid uses that ability and pulls a Moses parting a sea for refugees to get across. Or, maybe a powerful spirit of nature or ancient fey answers the call of such a powerful druid. Even better the druid may have such command of the elements in that brief moment that nature itself listens to her need. Don't let ability names limit you!

How about for my second example though? A shield-less defender. We actually did this in a recent game. I built my friend the crusader type character he wanted. A wall at the front line, forward defense if you will. He used a polearm. I allowed him the defender fighting style, simply replacing the requirement of shield with polearm. As long as he had that he could still utilize that class feature, but would be unable to do it should he choose or need to take up a shield instead.

Everything else about a paladin works out for the way he wanted to play his character. And none of it really affected that one swap. To make him even more polearm mastered, though, we gave him the feat. Being able to threaten at reach was imperative. Because this feat is a commitment of "build resources" I also allowed it to synergize with that defensive tactic ability. There's no real reason not to. Is it going to break the game to give him that defensive ground? Probably not, since he takes a hit to his AC from not wielding a shield as a tank instead. And frankly, that was the crux of his character idea and having fun is the most important part of the game.

When it comes down to it, both of these examples are simple things that require nothing but a single mechanical swap and a lot of flavoring. There are many ways this could be done and very little reason not to. If it won't break your game and will give someone the opportunity to play the character they want with building a whole new class or looking for one online, just do it!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kickstarters, New Games, And Incoming Tales

Hey everyone! Once again there is plenty to cover from the last week. Today I have a couple of Kickstarter campaigns that I have my eye on, some new stuff coming out to add to your collections, and some more updates for things around here.

Kickstarters You Need To Check Out!

The first campaign you may want to take a look at is the new Worldographer. I have mentioned Hexographer as a mapping program for your RPG needs, and the good people over at Inkwell Ideas have decided to kick it up a notch. Head over here to check out the Kickstarter. After 7 years with Hexographer, they are trying to improve upon the program and create an even more useful tool. The new Worldographer will be able to integrate more details into your map, as well as multiple levels of mapping integrated together. On top of that there will be mini-generators for details on things like cities and ruins. If you are interested there are a few backer levels, some of which even include a download of the current Hexographer. And, if that doesn't sell you, they have a ling to a demo on the campaign's page!

The next campaign that I want to talk about is the type of thing I was hoping would show up. Last week, I mentioned Kobold Press' new Tome of Beasts for 5th Edition. This week, Nord Games has far exceeded their goal for releasing their own 5th addition monster supplement. Called Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde, you can check it out over here. What makes this an awesome project worth backing is not the horde of new monsters you will get out of it. Instead, you will be getting a horde of details, stat blocks, and ideas for classic enemies. From goblins to gnolls, you will get a host adversaries for you PCs to tackle. Added on top of this are a number of stretch goals, some of which have already been unlocked. Among those are beasts of the horde and tribe details for the different races. The next goal is racial stats to play these monsters, so be sure to head of and pledge your support!

Yet Another World To Play In

In case all the worlds created for D&D over the years weren't enough, or the worlds now being released with the OGL still aren't quite enough, Green Ronin has announced that Matthew Mercer's world from Critical Role, Exandria, is coming to 5th Edition source books near you. If you haven't been watching Critical Role, than you should understand that the world Mercer has created for his players over the last few years is an incredibly rich one. If you have been watching you know just how awesome this is going to be. You can find the press release here, but the key point is the Tal'Dorei book is already in the works and slated for a Spring 2017 release.

Death Isn't The End

This game caught my eye when it showed up over and over on my Twitter feed during GenCon.  Phoenix Dawn Command is a new RPG from Twogether Studios. What caught my eye about it, specifically was the giant, tarot sized deck of cards that comes with it. Apparently the RPG is deck-based, requiring sets of cards to be played in order to overcome the difficulty and complete a task. The artwork looks fantastic and there appears to be a rich world to dive into.  When you die, you're not dead forever. Instead, you come back and become stronger learning from your mistakes and adding more cards to your deck. There is a catch though, well two catches. First off, missions are often time sensitive. Die and you could fail. You don't just rise instantly from the place you were killed of course. Additionally, you only have the opportunity to come back 7 times before the end is final. The result is that you can be reckless to get things done, but how reckless is to reckless and is it worth the risk? Check out the game's site and learn more here.

Stories Need Telling....And Scheduling

This week, we have some fun stuff to talk about here at Notes of the Wandering Alchemist. First off, today marked the official beginning of a novelized rendition of the story of the campaign that we spent two years playing and will be continuing (hopefully soon). We played it in the Pathfinder RPG system, in a world of, mostly, my own design. Initially this was going to be written as minor journal entries, but the tale has taken a life of its own in Untamed Scribes hands. The result is that our first entry is around 5 pages long. If you are a patron at the preview level, you can go check that out and download the PDF right now. If you are not, it will be posted up here on the 1st of September. Given the length of the entries, you can expect to see a new one each month.  Preview patrons will see it on the 15th and the public will get it on the 1st of the following month.

In addition to that we have ever-more updates on Untamed Dice. If you have been following along on Twitter then you know why things have been late this bast few days. Games and time spent with visiting friends (one Aikos Lord of Cakes & Pastries, God of the Harvest and Brew).  Expect Brave New Worlds to come this week instead and D&Donuts shortly.  Also watch for that poll I mentioned as it will finally be going up tomorrow at some point.

Tomorrow I will also have a re-skinning article with some suggestions on re-flavoring things to make something unique. Wednesday i am going to try and squeeze in a new update as to my progress on the various projects I am working on and why some of those are taking longer than they should. Thursday will feature the regular Resources article. Friday will get you an update on the state of Untamed Dice games and our plans for recording, while Saturday will actually get you the episode (finally!).

Until next time!