If you've been following this blog, you know that we have had our fair share of communication with the legal department over at Wizards of the Coast, and as a result we have not only learned a great deal of what we can and cannot do as far as licensing but we have been able to figure out exactly who the right person to talk to is in order to get the necessary licensing agreements in place
Several months ago, after a great deal of negotiations (most talks of which started with the words "now please don't sue us, but...") we have managed to talk to the right people and sign the proper agreements to do what we thought was impossible: secure a provisional license to use the Dungeons and Dragons brand name to create the next state of the art video game based on the "DnD Next" rule set. The official press release can be read below:
Since we are not authorized to be direct competitors to the upcoming MMORPG Neverwinter by Cryptic Studios, our product is a single player campaign that will be a traditional delve through a dungeon. While we have had a group of professional, well known writers working on the story - most of which you are familiar with, but we are not allowed to disclose names yet due to Non-Disclosure Agreements - I and a group of experienced software developers have been working on the engine.
Since we do not want to take funding away from Wizards of the Coast and would rather they spend the resources they have to get "DnD Next" developed and released, in a few weeks we intend to launch a Kickstarter project to fund the development of the final product. We did not want to launch a Kickstarter before we had a "proof of concept", and unlike some other companies we do not want to launch a Kickstarter to fund said "proof of concept". So we have been developing the engine on our own, on our personal time and at our personal expense, in the hopes that it can show the world what we're capable of and more easily reach our goals once the Kickstarter launches.
After further negotiations, and painstaking work over the past few months to get it in running condition, I have been authorized to release our first "proof of concept" (which we refer to internally as an "alpha" build) for The Caverns of Mayhem: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure (tentative title... we'll let the writers come up with something better) that you can download below!!!
The game engine is not exactly a direct port of the "DnD Next" ruleset simply because, as is the case in Neverwinter, a lot of the rules don't exactly port flawlessly from the tabletop to a video game. But it has everything you've come to love about D&D: it's got dungeons, it's got monsters, it's got treasure... and, heck, it's even got a dragon!
The "proof of concept" which you can download below has been developed for Microsoft Windows (we're investigating a Mac port, but none of us actually own a Mac so we'll probably have to wait for funding on that) and requires nothing more than the .NET Framework 2.0. It is not graphics intensive so it should run on pretty much any machine; in fact, for those of you with inferior machines our game will probably run significantly better than Neverwinter because the hardware requirements are much lower. And, thanks to proprietary compression technology, it uses a lot less drive space!
As we mention above, it is a very early "alpha" build and has some known issues. And, since it's an "alpha", I ask that you do not start reporting bugs in it; we pretty much know what most of them, and have tried to document them in the "readme" file included with the distribution. Please read that file prior to launching the game so you understand what to expect and are aware of the aspects of the game that have yet to be completed.
We here at Darklight Interactive are entering an interesting time, and we would like to thank everyone at Wizards of the Coast for giving us the opportunity to use your license. We hope that, after looking at our proof of concept below, you support us and await our upcoming Kickstarter launch.
Thank you all for your support.
Requires Microsoft Windows operating system and the Microsoft .NET Framework v2.0
(c) 2013, Darklight Interactive - All Rights Reserved
Dungeons & Dragons, D&D, Neverwinter, Wizards of the Coast, and their respective logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries, and are used with permission. Hasbro and its logo are trademarks of HASBRO, Inc.
Please don't sue us.
Ever since I conceived the idea for creating A Night in Seyvoth Manor, I've been debating whether to use fixed damage values for the monsters and traps or not.
The general consensus is that using fixed damage values speeds up the encounter, primarily because mathematics becomes simpler. You don't have to read a handful of dice, add the modifier and figure out the total; it's one nice round number. No more fistfuls of dice!
The problem with using that premise in 4E is that the number is pretty much always the same. First off, when converting a monster's damage roll to a fixed number you kind of have to use the average of the damage; using anything other than the average wouldn't make sense (this is not taking "difficulty" in to consideration... we'll get to that later). But an inherent aspect of 4E is that, for any given level, all the monsters average the same amount of damage. That's by design in 4th Edition.
Damage, By the Numbers
Minion: 7 damage
Low: 10 damage
Medium: 14 damage
High: 17 damage
Limited High: 21 damage
Hardcore: 28 damage
Based on that, the first problem I have with using fixed damage would be that every monster would cause 14 damage, so for argument's sake let's make it a nice round number like 15.
Everything becomes 15 damage. Again, that's by design in 4th Edition; doing anything contrary to that risks unbalancing things. Sure there might be some exceptions to the rule - some things might do 10, some things might do 20 - but all in all it's the same average damage, over and over again. While creating my monsters for A Night in Seyvoth Manor, I actually got sick of writing "15 damage" in almost every stat block.
One issue is how to handle critical hits. Gone are the days of the "ghetto crit" that could happen now; statistically speaking, a player is over three times more likely to roll maximum damage on a d6 (16.7%) than rolling a natural 20 (5%), so at low levels and players who may not have magical items a critical hit borders on being meaningless. So what do you do with critical hits and fixed damage? Double it? Add a die?
I thought about doubling the damage, but is that really "special"? With fixed damage, that's not much different than hitting twice. I tried to mitigate it by adding critical hit effects to monster powers, but sometimes it feels like a lot of excess work.
Characters, By the Numbers
To figure out the effectiveness of fixed damage I decided to compare the above values to two different characters that would be playing such an adventure. Considering that it's a 6th level adventure, I created the weakest character I could think of (level 6 human wizard w/ 12 Constitution = 42 HP) and the toughest I could muster (level 6 dwarf battlemind w/ 21 Constitution and Toughness feat = 71 HP).
Using 15 as the base damage, it would take three shots to knock the wizard unconscious and five hits to drop the dwarf. That's arguably acceptable, but the problem becomes apparent when you realize that the wizard doesn't need a 12 Constitution... He could have a ONE as his Constitution (31 HP) and it would have the very same effect: he'd be at 1 HP after the 2nd attack and drop on the 3rd.
This means that the Constitution value - unless it's your primary stat - isn't as important. In the above case, if I knew the end result would be the same I'd consider leaving my Constitution as an 8 and boosting all my other attributes. After all, what's the point? It's not like a "lucky" damage roll might hurt... Spending the points to up my CON by 4 could be considered a waste.
I also compared the damage to the players Fourthcore game I'm currently participating in, who happen to be 6th level: we all have 60, 48, 51, 50 and 63 HP (average 54.5 HP). Using the 15 damage base rule, four out of five of us would get dropped in 4 hits. Despite the disparity in HP (12 points between the highest and lowest of the four that would be dr0pped), it all boils down to AC and not HP.
Time, By the Numbers
So, strictly from a mathematical perspective, I'm starting to not like fix damaged. But the question is: does it really improve play speed? With fixed damage do encounters blow by so quickly that it's worth the lack of randomness?
Many have pointed out that fixed damage improves combat speed considerably in epic tier, where you can expect pretty much any attack to use no less than 4 dice. And god help you if you crit, 'cause then you might be wheeling out five more dice. Oh and Sneak Attack, so there's four more. Or Hunter's Quarry. Or Warlock's Curse. Or assassin shrouds. Or this... or that... Bonuses galore. The days of throwing a bucketful of dice to determine damage are not forgotten. And it's not like past editions where the mage might have to roll 40d6s worth of damage every now and then... that's pretty much on every attack.
But we're not talking about epic tier here; we're talking about level 6. For the most part, all damage rolls end up bring at most two dice, maybe three. If everyone does what I do and rolls damage at the same time as the attack, does the math really take that long to do? I'm a mathematics and computer science major, so that math is pretty easy for me, but I can't speak for everyone else at any given gaming table. Help me out here... How long does it take you?
So I've been trying to think of how to quantify this. Let's try to figure this out; please let me know if my logic is horribly , horribly wrong:
- I assume the average combat takes four full rounds, and there are five players against three DM controlled monsters. That's, on average, eight attacks going on in any single round (I'm balancing lack of attacks - such as for Second Wind or other support duties - to compensate for opportunity attacks, granted attacks and minor action attacks from monsters). That's 32 possible attacks.
- Let's assume 70% of those attacks hit. Given the attack bonuses, that seems like a reasonable expectation. Rounding up, that gives us 23 attacks that require a damage roll.
So time to do a little testing.
For testing purposes, I'm assuming the attack and damage rolls are made separately. And here's what I did:
Time Spent Finding Dice: If your weapon always deals the same die's worth of damage, that die should not be far away. So I'm estimating the time to reach over and grab one or more of these dice, separate from getting the necessary d20, at about 5 seconds.
That, in my opinion, is high - I spend that amount of time looking for the dice inside of my bag, so I can only assume you don't have an idiot player that stows his dice after every roll - but we'll roll with it.
Rolling Dice and Adding: I grabbed my box of dice and picked some test subjects; I chose d4s because they are the hardest to read when thrown (they can't technically be read from directly above), and to compensate for the low number I got six of them. I also got one d20 that I will roll prior to starting the clock to determine the modifier I would be adding to the die roll; for example, if I roll an 11 on the d20 my damage roll will be 6d4+11.
After twenty rolls using this style, I averaged 8 seconds per roll. Because, let's be honest, math comes easy for me I'll double that number for the purposes of this test. So let's leave it at 16 seconds.
Applying Damage: The time spent to apply the damage does not change whether the damage itself is fixed or not, so it has no bearing on this test.
So let's round things off and say that for each damage roll the player spends 20 seconds. Let's add 50% and make it an even 30 seconds. Multiplied by the 23 attacks that hit you're looking at 460 seconds, or just under 8 minutes in every encounter.
Eight minutes an encounter, and that's a high estimate in my opinion... Is that really such a big deal, especially considering how long 4th Edition encounters take now?
Personally, I don't see that as enough time to justify it, but that's just me. I'd love to hear if anyone out there has had different experiences.
In the end, I'm still not sure. I'll continue to use fixed damage simply because I started that way, but it's not all that hard to change at this point.
What do you think? How do you feel about it, good or bad? Do you use it? Is it simply a matter that combat just feels quicker when there are less dice, even though it might not actually be significantly faster?
There is one part of A Night in Seyvoth Manor that I've been having problems designing for a while: a hedge maze.
You see, this maze is intended to be huge with changing walls and paths, so that aspect alone makes it virtually impossible to represent on a tactical map. Not to mention that navigating such a thing on a physical map is somewhat of a time consuming process and this module's designed to be lean and run in a single day, so I've been looking for a means to make it fairly quick and painless.
After thinking about it and throwing the question to the Twitter collective, I decided to make it a sort of card game. There will be some progress cards (+1 point), neutral cards (no points or failure), threat cards (+1 failure), a few treasure cards and one "bonus" card. The DM would go around the table, asking each player to draw a card; the player can do so or try a skill check (hard difficulty) for a peek at several cards and pick the one of them, returning the rest to the deck. The objective: get "X" points before "Y" failures.
That all sounds well and good, but there's a problem: how do you determine "X" and "Y", and how do you determine what the deck consists of? How "rich" should the deck be on either side to ensure the party isn't drawing cards until the end of time or drawing every card in the deck? Although there are a certain amount of assumptions that can be made - for example, there *must* be at least "X-1" progress cards (the bonus cards counts as 2 points) and "Y" threat cards - but beyond that there's a whole lot of variables that makes it difficult to gauge the difficulty of the challenge.
My solution was to write a program in C# (.NET 4.0) which, given certain criteria for deck building (number of cards of each type) will perform random draws and determine the success/fail rate. This allows me to run several thousand iterations of the challenge and tweak the numbers as need be. It's the closes I'll get to actual playtesting, and one could argue it's even better because it's doing thousands of iterations.
So, for example, given the following guidelines...
- The "main" deck contains 6 progress cards, 2 neutral cards and 4 threat cards.
- The "secondary" deck contains 2 progress, 4 neutral, 3 threat, 2 treasure and 1 bonus card. Every time a card is drawn from the main deck, a card is taken from the secondary deck to replace it and the deck is reshuffled.
...I currently get about a 34-38% chance of success (across 10,000 iterations). The average number of card draws is a little over 9, which means two full passes around the table in a group of 5. To compare, chance of success in a complexity 2 skill challenge is lower than that.
In addition to that, players will average 1.5 threats per challenge, will get at least one treasure about 30% of the time and will get the bonus card about 13% of the time. That sound acceptable. but the convenient thing about this little application is that I can tweak the numbers and see how they impact the percentages. Heck, I even simulated a skill check to see how much of an impact it has (one skill check increases the chance of success by almost 10%).
The only concern right now is the lack of player skill being a determining factor. I am going to allow skill checks so that PCs can draw two cards from the main deck and decide which of the two they want to keep, but that's all I can think of right now. The challenge ends up being more about luck than anything, which I guess isn't such a bad thing but I'm trying to think of a better way to actively engage the players.
Do you have any ideas on how to approach something like this?
Disclaimer: I've been told that there is a labyrinth in the Fane of the Heresiarch from SVD Press. I'm currently an active player in a play-by-post version of that at Grind 4E, so I have purposely avoided reading that module and do not intend to spoil myself until the adventure is over. Those are the sacrifices we must make...
Note: One A Night in Seyvoth Manor is released, I will probably also release the source code for the above application. Just in case you're curious or could use it for something similar.
I've mentioned this "challenge" adventure I've been working on before, but now it's time to be official about it.
I haven't officially chosen a title for it (I'm not fond of the above title), but this adventure is similar in concept of the traditional Lair Assault adventures by Wizards of the Coast. But there is one small twist: the players are all kobolds, and the enemies are PCs.
Here is the tentative introduction:
For as long as you can remember, you have been victims. Even after reducing the senseless attacks on nearby villages and trying to lead a peaceful, isolated life they still came. Every few weeks another group of "heroes" would barge in to your lair just because it was there, and they would not hesitate to try and kill everyone in sight and take all the precious things you've struggled to collect. Sometimes your clan was able to beat them back, but other times you simply weren't so lucky. When your clan's going on their ninth chieftain in the last six months, you know you have a problem.
Most of the time you and your group of warriors were there to try and fight them, and sometimes you managed to kill one or two of them before having to inevitably retreat, but now it's different. It's as if they waited for you - the clan's latest and most highly trained protectors - to leave on a routine scouting trip so they can waltz in and ravage your lair. The ninth chieftain and the remainder of your clan didn't stand a chance this time.
Enough is enough! Your clan may have been decimated (again) and your latest leader may be dead, but there is no way you are going to let these paltry "heroes" get away with it this time. It's time to go in there to take your lair back, and show these gutless intruders what a proud, fearless kobold is truly capable of!
This challenge adventure is somewhat complex in its design and execution, so I'm somewhat concerned about whether the mechanics will work. So I'm looking for a few people that would be willing to review the mechanics. For that matter, I'm also looking for ideas on a title and certain achievements that the players can gain. And it needs a few editing passes.
I can't guarantee I'll send it to you if you offer because I do want to limit distribution, but if you'd like to know more please contact me at email@example.com.
I've recently been working a bit on some tools I us to make my life easier, so I thought I'd share them.
Both of the following apps are for Microsoft Windows and require the .NET Framework (as I write this I don't remember if it's 2.0 or 3.5). They are standalone EXEs that are fairly portable and have a small footprint.
1) Damage Calculator
A while back I posted an offline 4E damage calculator that used formulas based on Sly Flouish's calculations. I modified the application to support adjustments due to ongoing damage and automatic percent increase for brutes (25%).
You can download the new version HERE.
2) Dice Pool Graph
While kicking around ideas for an RPG I'm thinking of doing, I needed an easy way to visualize bell curves for dice pools of varying sizes and for multiple different dice combinations. Thanks to followers on Twitter I was directed to AnyDice.com, but I needed something a little more portable.
The application shows you the distribution for any dice equation you put in, from the basic (3d10) to the complex (3d6 +1d8 +9). It will show you the mathematical probability but also has options to make 100, 1000 and 10000 die rolls to be a little more convincing.
You can download the app HERE.
And there ya go... If you have any issues or requests with the above, please let me know.
Unless I think of something else to make my life easier, my next application will most probably be a Monster Builder. The 4E one I was working on is actually farther along than I would have thought, so I might make that one available after all. Stay tuned!