A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer


David and Goliath

On Twitter somebody - I don't remember who - said that if a lone fighter went up against a lone goblin it would be "impossible" for a goblin to survive. But the mathematician in me has a hard time with the word "impossible", so I figured I'd actually do the math and figure out what a goblin's odds are.

DISCLAIMER: I have not checked all the math here, but it seems about right. If you find errors, please let me know.


Contestant 1:
A 1st level fighter, as presented in the DnD Next playtest materials
published on May 24th, 2012.

Contestant 2:
A common goblin, as presented in the same playtest materials
(DnD Next Bestiary, page 12)

Combat rules: Initiative modifiers are equal (+1), so we're disregarding them for sake of argument. Also assuming that neither party has availability to any sort of healing.

Also not counting the fighter's "Slayer" theme. We'll get to that later.

Round one, straight up fight between the two. No advantage or disadvantage:

Fighter: 65% chance (needs 8 or higher) to hit the goblin with his greataxe. Damage is sufficient to be lethal on any hit (average 14 damage).

Goblin: 40% chance (needs 13 or higher) to hit the fighter with his mace, and 45% chance (needs 12 or higher) to hit with his shortbow. Average damage without advantage is 4 (mace) and 5 (shortbow), which means the goblin would have to hit 4-5 times to kill the fighter. That means the goblin has a 1%-3% chance to kill the fighter in five turns. The fighter has a 98% chance to kill the goblin in five rounds or less.

Not impossible... but highly unlikely.

Round two, fighter has disadvantage:

Goblin: Percentages remain unchanged.

Fighter: Chance to hit drops to 42.25% each round. He still has about an 93% chance to hit the goblin in the next five rounds.

Goblin's chances are improving!

Round three, goblin has advantage:

Fighter: Original values remain unchanged.

Goblin: Now has advantage, which means his hit chance increases to 64% (almost identical to the fighter's) and he deals additional damage (dirty tricks trait), increasing his average damage to 7 (mace) and 8 (shortbow). He now has about a 26% chance to drop the fighter in three turns, but the fighter can drop the goblin in three turns or less 95% of the time.

Round four, goblin has advantage and fighter has disadvantage:

Using all the figures above, the goblin can drop the fighter in three rounds 26% of the time. The fighter has an 81% chance to drop the goblin in the same three rounds. Hardly "impossible"!

The Trump: The fighter's "Slayer" theme.

The fighter does have an ace up his sleeve, though: the "Slayer" theme. As documented, the fighter causes a minimum of 3 damage even on a miss, which means that it's impossible for a single goblin to survive beyond two rounds even if the fighter rolls a natural 1 on every attack. During those two rounds a goblin, assuming he hits twice (16% to 40% chance, depending on advantage), he will score on average between 7 and 13 damage (the latter is with advantage). The fighter will live to see another day... or will he?

But wait! Assume the goblin has advantage... If one of those hits is a critical hit, the goblin causes a flat 12 damage. If his second attack hits, if the damage is above average (average is 7) it *is* enough to drop the fighter! That could happen 2% of the time! And if the goblin scores two critical hits (0.25% chance), the fighter would be CRUSHED and dying at -4 HP!

Conclusion: If the goblin is a lucky bastard, he's hardly a pushover. Also keep in mind that it's one goblin, those are fairly decent odds.

But we're not asking the important question... how often do you come across just one goblin?



The Next Iteration, Part One

DISCLAIMER: Although I am signed up to the playtest and have the materials, due to lack of availability of a local group and the legal restrictions to playing it online I haven't actually put these rules in to practice. All I can do is analyze what is given and perhaps do some mathematical experimentation. Some of the comments below may play differently when put in to practice.

I guess this counts as my first official "DnD Next" (hereinafter referred to as "5E" for simplicity's sake) post!

Over the past several days I've been cautiously analyzing the materials. You see, I can't actually playtest it: I don't have a local group that is willing to take the step in to DnD Next, and since I'm restricted from playing it online like I do all my 4E games I have no way of actually testing the mechanics in a true playtest. So the only thing I can do is analyze the document and formulate my own opinions of the good and bad.

Overall, I'm actually quite pleased with it. It's very well put together, simplistic (at least for now), and focuses on the participant's ability to improvise and effectively do whatever the hell they want. As a result, the DM has much more power and authority than he did in 4E; in 4E, the rules were so detailed that the DM was pretty much bound to follow them (some could argue that he wasn't obligated, but players would probably protest in those cases), whereas in 5E the DM can interpret things as needed. Granted, since the rules are limited on purpose for the sake of the playtest there's no guarantee they will stay that way, but I'm optimistic to a point.

So here are my views on the whole thing:

  • There are a few wording issues that could be expected from a document that's still a long ways away from being finalized. For example, skeletons have necrotic resistance *and* necrotic immunity... Although these issues aren't "showstoppers", they should be pointed out just to be thorough.
  • Maybe it's me, but at 3rd level the PCs seem awfully powerful, but in the Mearls/Crawford chat on 5/29 they specified that this is on purpose. From a design standpoint it makes sense; it's easier to start big and reduce things than the other way around.
  • I really can't find a reason as to why electrum pieces were included in the document. If anything, their presence only fortifies everyone's opinion that this document was designed with the "old school" grognards in mind, and it's irrelevant to the core rules. Personally, I'd leave things like electrum as part of a campaign setting, not part of the core rules.
  • Of all the things we need to be worried about in the playtest, I think figuring out how long it takes to put on armor is the least of our worries.
  • I like the concept of advantage and disadvantage, but as someone else has pointed out it has a much more significant impact than the old +2; this is one of those things that I definitely have to see in practice, above and beyond just looking at the math. It also isn't quite clear if advantages stack; some people on Twitter went as far to think that 2 advantages + 1 disadvantage = 1 advantage, but I'm of the opinion that advantage/disadvantage is an on or off thing. You either have it or you don't, and I think that has to be clear in the rules.
  • The rules on being "hidden" need work, in my opinion. They attempted to simplify it, but it's just one of those things that can't be easily simplified.
  • I'm not going to start railing about the equipment list because they themselves stated it's "in the works", but there are some serious issues there. Everyone's pointed out the ladder/pole issue, or that adventurers' kits cost more than their contents. The 100gp magnifying glass better be the size of a dinner plate and the 1,000gp spyglass better be made of platinum for those prices. Mearls and Crawford said this is getting revamped anyway, so I'm not putting much thought in to what's currently there.
  • I think the Alarm spell should be called Eye of Alarm to add more flavor to the effect, especially considering it's a sphere that requires line of sight from the origin. Describing it as a big, floating, all-seeing magical eyeball is well worth the name change, don't you think?
  • Detect Magic stating that it "does not reveal magic that is designed to be hidden" needs more to it. Based on that, a 1st level mage can create something hidden that an epic tier spellcaster can't find, which is somewhat absurd. If anything, magical effects that are designed to be hidden should have some sort of DC.
  • Mage Hand disappears after one minute, but there's no sustain; you have to cast it again. That means that, even if it's for a fraction of a second, when Mage Hand disappears it'll drop whatever it's carrying. Since it's an at will, I imagine the mage can sustain it forever; it should be written that way.
  • What happens when a Ray of Frost hits a flying creature?
  • Sunburst allows a save on the initial attack but not on the ongoing damage at the start of its turn. Why allow an initial one time save when the rest of the damage is unavoidable?
  • Is a natural 20 *always" a critical hit? What if the 20 + modifiers is still a miss?
  • I really don't see the Sleep spell as a "room nuke" like others describe it, but in the wording of the spell having the mage throw sand a distance of 100 feet is quite an impressive feat.
  • Intoxicated is a serious issue in my book. As many have mentioned, it's almost beneficial that the mage be constantly drunk; he could fire Magic Missile all day without caring about constant disadvantage, and the 1d6 DR he gets could be a life saver for a squishy mage. I think that it should require some sort of concentration check for spellcasting, similar in form to the Silence spell for instance. I also think that there should be multiple levels of intoxication (from "tipsy" to "plastered"), but perhaps that is more complexity than we need. And, quite honestly, if we're getting serious about racial roles... Dwarves should get a bonus to the intoxication DCs.

Beyond the above, I've tried to make some sense of the monster math... and I just can't. I can't be sure if there's concrete math there in the first place or if the numbers were chosen arbitrarily for the sake of the playtest. I'm really hoping the character and monster creation guidelines come sooner than later.

Beyond that, I like that they're departed from the "XP budget" guidelines of 4E. I was happy to see rooms with 40+ creatures in them just asking to be fireballed to death, and even a single orc could be quite a nuisance to a 1st level party. I also questioned how things would work without a tactical map, but if the DM is capable of keeping track of things it seems like it might not be much a problem.

Finally, I really can't wait to see how they plan to license the ruleset. I want to start writing for it already, even though I haven't a clue about the "monster math". I hope that we're given more info on that in the near future.

Anyway, let's see how things progress. I'll keep developing the basics to my first DnD Next campaign so that I can be ready to publish it once the licensing guidelines are in place and the game system is released. I also intend to do a detailed mathematical/statistical analysis at some point, hoping that WotC will benefit from it... I can only assume they've done the same thing internally, but that won't prevent me from doing it.

Filed under: 5E, DnD, Mechanics, RPG 2 Comments

May of the Dead: Death’s Edge

As part of the May of the Dead blog carnival, I decided to do something similar to what I did with the Winter is Coming carnival: create yet another adventure module!

This adventure is significantly smaller in scope than my earlier publications, but it's just getting started. It's a very short (5 scenes) level 0 adventure for Dungeon and Dragons 4th Edition, using the rules for creating level 0 characters published n Dragon #403, and is intended to be the first part in a three part series I am calling The Dark Mistress Saga.

The summary of the adventure:

DM1: The Dark Mistress Saga, Part One: Death's Edge

     The village of Nerasi has been at war for as long as you can remember. Hordes of undead, led by a powerful necromancer named Draya (also known as "The Dark Mistress"), have descended in to the valley countless times over the last century. But this time something is different: they seem more organized, more coordinated, more bloodthirsty... and the village is in jeopardy more than ever. With the safety of the village on the line, every man and woman that was capable of swinging a blade was sent to battle. Even though the village was nowhere near the front line it was left undefended, presumed safe due to its distance from the conflict.

     Now, while the battle continues in an area known as The Fields of Bone, a small group of undead creatures have found their way in to the village. With no heroes to defend the common folk, it is now up to you - the above average commoner - to drop the shovel or take off the apron, pick up the nearest weapon and defend yourself and your loved ones from the approaching invaders.

     Death's Edge is an short module for a group of level 0 characters, using the character creation guidelines provided in Dragon magazine, issue #403.

The adventure, the first chapter of the saga, is available right here absolutely free! And I also provided a PDF of all the tactical maps in printable, 1" x 1" grid format.

Enjoy! And do let me know if there are any major problems with it.

The Dark Mistress Saga, Part One: Death's Edge
Adventure Module (PDF, 4.5Mb)

The Dark Mistress Saga, Part One: Death's Edge
Tactical Maps (PDF, 21.2Mb)

In the meantime, I'm actually considering starting a real Kickstarter to fund the other two parts of the campaign, starting with DM2: The Fields of Bone. Still haven't officially decided on that... Let's see what the response is on this one.


May of the Dead: The Reanimated

My big surprise, if you will, for the May of the Dead blog carnival is scheduled to be published in about a week, but I figured I'd do something unscheduled and show off a bit of a teaser that's still appropriate for the event.

The following is an excerpt from a campaign currently in development. I give you The Reanimated...

     A powerful necromancer’s greatest asset is that he is never alone; he is constantly surrounded by bodies of creatures that have died and can be easily raised to do his bidding.

     But bringing a creature back from the dead has its problems. Sometimes, depending on how they died, they may not have sufficient mental capacity to follow instructions or obey the necromancer’s commands. In those cases, there must be something more in place to control these creatures more effectively.

     An animus wraith is just such a creation. Under direct command of the necromancer, they enter the body of the fallen and effectively take control of it. With their spirits merged with the dead, the creature now becomes a “reanimated” creature that is under the complete control of the necromancer and the animus wraiths that manipulate it from inside.

     The following is a template that can be used on any non-elite creature in order to create a “reanimated”. Usually the best targets of such an infusion of necromantic energy are big creatures, creatures that are meant to do the heavy lifting and grunt work while the real soldiers fight the hard battles. Necromancers have been known to reanimate war elephants as mounts, ogres to serve as defenders of their lairs and even larger creatures to plow across the battlefield.

     Once a reanimated creature dies, the animus wraiths that empowered it are released. Given an opportunity they will seek out other creatures that have fallen and immediately bond with them in a similar manner, or they may attempt to bolster another reanimated creature currently involved in the same battle.

The Dark Mistress Saga, Supplemental:
The Reanimated (PDF, approx 1.8Mb)


Status Update

It's been almost three weeks since my last post, so I figured it was time to give everyone a status update.

If you're not aware, on April 27th my mother passed away. I can't say it was unexpected - she had been dealing with a fair share of health issues and she hadn't been the same in the last few months - but even so it's been somewhat of a shock and a trying time as I deal with her loss. For a while there I lost my creative spark and desire to do anything from a design and development standpoint, but I've been slowly working my way to getting back to "business as usual" in that regard. Even so, we've still been dealing with issues as it relates to her passing, so it's still occupying a large part of my daily life. But I'm OK... pressing on day by day.

I'm now back in the creative swing, if you will. The Heart of Fire is doing as well as can be expected (the 4E market has dwindled, it seems), and I have several other projects currently in the works:

  • On May 28th (I think), I will be releasing my contribution to the May of the Dead blog carnival: another level 0 adventure called Death's Edge, which involves the players defending their homes against an invading horde of undead. It's part one of a three part series I am calling The Dark Mistress Saga (I have my doubts of that name, but still), and will be available for free on this site. It's already completed, so I'm struggling with the fact that I want to get it published and am normally too impatient to wait the week and a half before its intended release date.
  • I have already started work on part two of the three part series, a level 1 module that doesn't actually have a name yet. The second part is more warfare oriented, where the players are now "heroes" and are now on the front line of a war against a powerful necromancer and her vast undead army. For this second part I'm taking a lot of inspiration from the Heroes of Battle supplement for D&D 3.5E, and am debating to what extent to include some of the mechanics presented there (such as victory points, reputation points, morale, etc...).
  • I was working on a Fouthcore adventure, but now I'm not sure if it's worth completing at this point. To be honest, there are many other people out there that can do Fourthcore much better than I can, and with DnD Next looming over the horizon it doesn't quite seem worth the effort at this point. So what I will probably do is release some of the areas of the campaign I've already done on this blog for anyone to use, similar in what I've done so far with the Gamma World Remnants.
  • The Coming Dark is still the 700lb gorilla hiding in my closet. Once the DnD Next playtest materials hit (exactly one week from today), I am going to start planning the conversion. Granted, there might not be a whole lot I can do or would even want to do (I don't want to spent too much time creating mechanics that might change), but I can at least make some basic progress. My goal is to have one or more first level adventures available as soon as DnD Next launches (licensing limitations not withstanding), so we'll see how that goes.
  • I have one adventure idea I pitched to Wizards of the Coast as part of the DDI submission window, and I have yet to hear a response regarding that. It's a really fun and somewhat wacky idea, and quite honestly I'm not expecting a positive response because of the nature of it, but whether they accept it or not it's going to get written sooner or later. It's actually about half done as it is, so once I hear "yay" or "nay" I'll complete the rest of it and publish through them or on my own.
  • I have one DDI article that is slated to be published (in Dungeon, I assume)... eventually. I have no idea when, and for obvious reasons I can't say much more about it until it appears in the calendar. It is my first and, all things considered, it's pretty simple compared to my other stuff, but I'm really excited waiting for the day it's actually in print.
  • As I said above, in one week the first wave of the DnD Next playtest will commence. I don't know how much I'll be able to actually play it, but I'll definitely be picking it apart with tweezers to figure out what it's all about.

Finally, there was a time I was considering a Kickstarter to fund the physical printing of The Heart of Fire, but after crunching the numbers it didn't seem all that practical to do. But now I'm seriously considering a Kickstarter to fund the development of parts two and three of The Dark Mistress Saga to help fund the creative needs of the project (cover art, maps, etc.) and to see if there's actually a demand for it. I have to run the numbers and give that some more thought.

Anyway, just wanted to let everyone know what I've been up to.