Seven Steps to Good Role-Playing

By definition, role-playing is when players take on and direct the actions of their character or alter-ego in a game. Role-playing comes to the fore in Heroes Against Darkness when the players’ characters have role-playing encounters, which run the full gamut from the mundane to potentially deadly:
• Negotiate a price with a shopkeeper
• Gain information from a known criminal associate
• Befriend an influential game character
• Fast-talk out of (or in to) trouble
• Win a duel of wits in a high society setting
• Pretend to be someone of higher or lower status
• Find out the lore of a region, sect or family
• Gain admittance into a powerful guild
• Mount a defense against false criminal charges
• Bribe a low or high official
• Talk your way out of the lair of an ornery dragon
• Negotiate the return of a ransomed individual
• Seduce a busty wench or handsome rake
• Infiltrate a criminal organization

Role-Playing 101

Role-playing isn’t like combat, where player ability scores and powers are combined with dice rolls to determine the outcome. To role-play, the player’s task is to bring their character to life. Here are a few ideas to get started role-playing.

Tip 1: Role-Play Traits

The character creation steps in the full rules of Heroes Against Darkness include a list of character traits that can be applied to all characters. When in a role-playing encounter, try thinking about how a character with that trait would behave. Is the character:
• Boisterous in a serious situation?
• Devout amongst heathens?
• Profligate when celebrating?
• Foolhardy in the face of danger?
• Exaggerator when making promises?

Tip 2: Role-Play Vices and Virtues

In addition to Traits, a character’s Vices and Virtues offer a window into their behavior. For example, is the character:
• Proud or humble?
• Envious or kind?
• Lazy or diligent?
• Greedy or charitable?
• Gluttonous or temperate?
• Lustful or chaste?
• Wrathful or forgiving?

Tip 3: Role-Play Rights and Wrongs

Another aspect of a character is their rights and wrongs. These represent the character’s moral compass, how they would behave in the face of difficult situations.
Would the character:
• Take a job that endangers innocents?
• Distrust an authority figure?
• Seek revenge for a previous wrong?
• Ignore the plight of someone in distress?
• Steal from a rich merchant or a pauper?
• Kill someone of their own race?
• Go against the interests of their family or clan?
• Cheat at a game of chance?

Tip 4: Role-Play Background

The final element of the character details that the player can use to aid in role-playing is their background. All characters are born and raised differently, so each character’s background will give them a unique frame of reference in any situation. Does the character’s background make them:
• Distrustful of all authority?
• Unable to function properly in social situations?
• Scorned by people of higher caste?
• Fearful of magi?
• Avoid attention from officers of the law?

Tip 5: Role-Play Ability Scores

After mining the character’s background, morals and personality, the next aspect for role-playing is the character’s physical and mental capabilities. Is the character:
• Physically strong and imposing? (Strength)
• Dexterous and swift? (Dexterity)
• Fit, athletic and vigorous? (Constitution)
• Spiritual, centered and calming? (Wisdom)
• Intelligent, convincing and insightful? (Intelligence)

Tip 6: Role-Play Class

Along with the character’s ability scores, their class also offers strong role-playing opportunities:
• Noble and honorable (Warriors, Hunters, Hospiters)
• Fiery and temperamental (Berserkers and Warlocks)
• Sneaky and subtle (Rogues and Necromancers)
• Insightful and manipulative (Mystics)
• Pious and respectful (Canonates and Healers)
• Blunt and straightforward (Barbarians)

Tip 7: Role-Play Charisma

If all else fails, the character’s charisma ability score is a good indication of whether they perform well in role-playing situations or whether they’re more likely to alienate and infuriate others.

Check out the full rules for Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

Inconsistent Mechanics: D&D Essentials Magic Missile

If 4th Edition D&D went to all of the trouble of replacing saving throws with defenses on a consistent basis, then why the hell did they undermine this good work by making the Essentials Magic Missile auto-hit?

Furthermore, this is a double-bad move, because it totally undermines the point of minions. Minions only have 1 HP because there’s a chance that they’ll be missed (about) half of the time. When you introduce a power that hits all the time, then you break the underlying assumptions on which minions are built, and you break your own rules.

If I ever break my own rules, please let me know.

The Sundered Tower Solo Adventure

The alpha version of the first solo adventure for Heroes Against Darkness, The Sundered Tower, is now up on the rules page (which I probably should rename to the Downloads page).

The solo adventure has pregen characters, a gamebook section, five combat encounters (each with their own maps) and a bunch of ability tests. It’s still alpha at the moment as it’ll go through a bit of playtesting before we call released.

As ever, drop me an email or comment with any feedback.

You can find The Sundered Tower and the full rules over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

Comparison of Death in Various d20 Systems

Here’s an interesting off-site article that compares the various death and dying mechanics in a bunch of d20 derived systems:

Untimately: The Varieties of Fatal Experience.

For the record, Heroes Against Darkness has these pretty straightforward death and dying rules:
• Unconscious at 0 HP
• Dying from -1 HP
• No single attack can take a character to less than -5 HP
• Dying character loses 1HP/round
• Death occurs immediately at -10 HP

The -5 HP clamp for a single attack is because character and enemy damage in Heroes Against Darkness scales at higher levels, so characters can end up taking enough damage to take them from quite alive to dead-dead without this rule.

Gameplay Tuning for Solo Adventures…

It’s been a quiet week here on the blog, not because I’ve been slack, but because I’ve been working on the solo adventure for Heroes Against Darkness.

The adventure itself is adapted from a location that I used with my players at the start of our current campaign. The players were washed up on an island, having escaped from enslavement on a trade galley. While exporing the island, they can across an abandoned tower that was said to be the original home of a powerful sorcerer.

So I’ve taken the tower map and adapted that adventure for just one character, which is proving tricky.

I was up late last night running through the first encounter with the pregen Warrior character that comes packaged with the adventure. The first time I ran it, there were three monsters in the encounter. Without using any healing, my character survived the encounter 65% of the time (after 20 runs). This isn’t great for the first encounter of an introductory adventure, so I removed one of the monsters and reduced the stats of the two that remained. When I ran through the encounter again, I survived the encounter 85% of the time (again after 20 runs). In the three runs where I died, it was mainly down to lots of bad rolls by me combined with critical hits from the baddies.

I think that 85% survival is a much more realistic and desirable rate, but it will be interesting to see whether that’s too hard when combined with the rest of the module. The adventure itself has five full encounters, two against single monsters, two against groups of weaker monsters, and one final fight against a strong boss monster with some weaker minions.

Here’s a preview of one of the encounter maps.  As you can see, I’ve tried to keep the style of a hand-drawn map you’d get from your GM:

As it stands, the solo adventure portion is finished, the encounter maps are done and the pregen characters are done. All I need now is an image for the front of the adventure (a sundered tower) and to tune the rest of the fights.

Wish me luck.

Head over to the game rules download page to check out the system: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

Heroes Against Darkness: Alpha rules updated to v0.200

I’ve updated the downloadable Heroes Against Darkness Alpha rules to v0.200.

The major changes are:
• Switched page format to US Letter (reluctantly)
• Removed the damage section from monsters (was redundant and didn’t reflect their different attacks)
• Fixed some minor issues in the example character creation maths
• Clarified that the relevant Attack Bonus is added to damage rolls, subject to the details of the power (Melee Bonus for melee attacks, Ranged Bonus for ranged attacks and Magic Bonus for Magic attacks)
• Added Dragons to the Beasts and Bastards section as examples of Boss monsters
• Added grid image to clarify movement rules in combat (when using a grid)
• Added guidelines for creating viable boss monsters
• Reduced HP gain from healing powers from 10, 20, 30, 40 to 10, 15, 20, 25, but also changed these to add Constitution Bonus instead of Modifier
• Split cover and invisibility in the combat rules
• Clarified difficulty of dying Stabilization ability tests
• Clarified use of Healing Powers between encounters
• Allowed Bastard Swords to be used one or two-handed, dealing either d10 or d12 damage (dedicated two-handed weapons deal 2d6 damage)
• Adjusted encumberance to only affect characters at their weight limit or one item from their weight limit (used to be two items from the limit)
• Expanded power glossary
• Consolidated higher level martial powers into their base power, with details of changes to the power at higher levels
• Moved some spells so that none are higher than Level 10
• Adjusted some spell costs to reflect rule that the caster can spend no more than the Level + 1 Anima on a single spell
• Added Reflex Strike, Takedown, Reflex Trip and Quick Strike powers which are similar to Attacks of Opportunity
• Expanded martial power list for Warriors and Barbarians (these are now complete up to Level 10)
• Clarified how to adjust Party Level for combat encounters when there is a discrepancy between the player character levels and the monster levels at high levels
• Started section on Pre-Built Encounters
• Expanded Tuning and Modding section with more tweaks to give the game an ‘old-school’ feel
• Added an appendix of useful tables that can be printed to be used as a DM screen

Head over to the game rules download page to grab yourself a copy of this bad-boy: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

D&D 5th Edition: Another DDXP report with MECHANICS! UPDATED

The previous reports from DDXP have been big on the generalities but the players have been barred from talking about specific mechanics, until now:

Considering the D&D Next Playtest in Light of the WotC Seminars.

“Stat wise, my character sheet featured the big six ability scores, as well as HP and AC. Saving throws and other defenses were gone. As Monte explained in the Skills and Abilities seminar, saves are now rolled based on your ability scores.”

Okay, here’s the big one. Saving Throws and Defenses (apart from AC) look to be gone.

“Skills provided situational bonuses to checks that were also based on ability scores. As Bruce Cordell and Monte discussed in the same seminar, the D&D Next skill system is currently open-ended. Rolling to use any skill is always resolved as an ability check. The skill itself simply provides a bonus to that particular ability check in a specific situation.”

The free-form skill system is pretty much like what I’ve got in Heroes Against Darkness, where they depend on the sorts of things a character would be good at and the DM has the discretion to apply bonuses as appropriate.

The big takeaway here is that if the DC of the ability check is lower than your Ability Score, it’s an automatic success.

“I felt the mechanic of the attacker (our wizard) setting the DC for the defender added tension to the fight, and differentiated her attacks nicely from standard melee or ranged attacks.”


Another interesting aspect here. Basically, a magical attacker must add their appropriate number to a base, which then becomes the DC that the target needs to beat with their ability test (remember that defenses and saves are gone).

Speculating here, but my first guess is that it goes like this:

• DC = 10 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

Then the target must beat 14 (10 + 4) on an Ability Test.

However, this means that a caster targeting a caster of the same level will always fail (because the target’s ability score is always going to be higher than the caster’s DC).

So, maybe the DC calculation is higher:

• DC = 15 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

This resolves the problem with casters attacking casters, but it makes the saving throw/ability test much too hard for non-casters (DC 19 or so).

So, maybe saving throws/ability tests in combat are resolved differently to skill checks. Maybe you don’t automatically succeed if your ability score is high enough. This would allow the first formula to work:

• DC = 10 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

Again the DC is 14, so a caster who has a +4 modifier in the appropriate ability score would have a 50% chance of saving against the spell. A normal monster or player character would probably only have a 25% chance of saving. Alternatively, if the game wanted to skew more towards avoiding the spells, the base for the DCs could be even:

• DC = 5 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

This could give a DC of 5-10 (depending on the ability score of the caster), giving similar casters a 75% chance of ‘saving’ and normal monsters and player characters about a 50% chance.

This is based on the assumption that the modifier range is -4 to +4 for starting characters. There’s also talk of a much flatter progression curve, which means that +1 per level is GONE too.

In various discussions it looks like the magic attacks may actually involve two rolls, one for the caster to determine the DC and then another ‘saving throw’ roll for the target. Ultimately, there are three viable options (four if no one rolls a dice):

• Caster rolls d20 + mods for DC, Target rolls d20 + mods to beat Caster’s DC
• Caster calculates DC (e.g. 10 + mods), Target rolls d20 + mods to beat Caster’s DC
• Caster rolls d20 + mods, compares to Target’s ability score

Personally, this seems somewhat redundant to have both the caster and the target roll.

[UPDATED AGAIN: 30th May, 2012]
Now that we’ve seen the first open playtest rules, it turns out that I was right the first time. The DC for spells is automatically set by the Caster’s magic ability score mod + 10:

• DC = 10 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

And the automatic pass mechanic has been adjusted so that your ability score has to beat the DC by 5 before it’s an auto success.

Here’s the mechanic:

• Caster calculates DC (e.g. 10 + mods), Target rolls d20 + mods to beat Caster’s DC

Solo Adventure Character Pregen Preview

I’ve just finished putting together one of the pregen characters for the Heroes Against Darkness Solo Adventure, so I thought I’d post it here for you guys to check out ahead of time.

The pregen contains a simplified version of the full character sheet (without all of the Ability Mod + ½ Level sections), a quick description of each of the sections of the sheet, and then a list of the character’s relevant Level 1 Powers and Spells.

I think I’ll base all of the pregens on the example character builds that are included in the Player’s Guide.

The current stable version of the rules can always be found here: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

More D&D 5th Edition reports from DDXP

Another two reports from the guys over at Critical Hits of their experiences playing D&D 5th Edition:

DDXP 2012 Recap: Running the New D&D and Playing Games.
Initial Impressions of the New D&D.

This comment has me slightly worried, because I don’t like slow healing:
“That same Paladin had previously charged a room full of stirges, and become close to death by blood loss, necessitating a several week recovery time back at the Keep.”

Of course, this might be a DM choice in the game, so let’s wait and see.

“As discussed in the skills and abilities seminar, ability scores now act as a sort-of passive skill check. If you want to open a barred door and that door’s DC is 13. If you have a strength ability score of 15, you don’t even have to roll.”

This concept might be worth a whole blog post on its own:
“In earlier editions of D&D, and particularly in D&D 4e, character power progression scaled linearly. In 4e, between feats, magic items, and level bonuses, you gained roughly +1 to attacks, defenses, and skills. Since this bonus modifies a d20, you can say that every level you gain roughly equates to a 5% greater chance to succeed at something. In 4e, when you’re fighting a creature five levels higher than you, it becomes 25% harder to hit and hits you 25% more often.

As described in the charting the course seminar, D&D’s new math is flatter. This means that these 5% bonuses might be farther and fewer across levels. Now lower level monsters can still hit you and you might miss them. It means that skill checks no longer seem impossible at lower levels and stupid easy at higher levels.”

Every edition has followed the +1/Level progression dynamic for fighters, so reducing this (and removing magic items from the progression) will mean a fundamental change to the system. Here’s a quick blog post where I break down how the progression works across all the editions of D&D:

Mechanics of Attack Bonus progression in D&D and Heroes Against Darkness.

Here’s a Quick Summary of how the progression is achieved in each edition:

– Basic: Character To Hit table progression (magic weapons outside of progression)
– AD&D: Character To Hit table progression (magic weapons outside of progression)
– 2nd Edition: THAC0 table progression (magic weapons outside of progression)
– 3rd Edition: BAB progression (Magic items and Feats outside of progression)
– 4th Edition: 1/2 Level + Ability Score Increases + Feats + Magic Items

The advantage of 4th Edition’s method is that it works for spellcasters, melee fighters and ranged fighters.

So, coming from 4th to 5th edition, if they’re implementing slower attack bonus progression then one way to do it is to remove the 1/2 Level bonus and compensate by offering more frequent Ability Score increases, such as +1 to two ability scores every two levels), which would increase the character’s attack bonus by +1 every 4th level. The problem with this is that it doesn’t also scale your armor class, but that could be achieved through the game’s underlying economy (e.g. you can only afford types of armor at certain levels).

Removing magic weapons from the expected progression can lead to over-powered characters, but that could possibly be balanced by the DM by bumping monster levels to compensate (and/or reducing XP rewards).