Friday, February 3, 2012

To Draw or Not To Draw

Today I want to address a pet peeve of mine from both sides of the screen. In just about every group I have played or DM'ed with is the one player that always thinks their character walks about with naked steel, wand or great axe at the ready. This player never expects any adverse effects like fatigue, accidental damage or npc reaction to come into play. In fact if any of these are mentioned they seem surprised. However, once combat starts they never declare the action to draw down. The action economy of their first turn always includes a minor power and they can't be bothered to invest/waste a feat in quick draw due to their absent minded playstyle. As a player it breaks immersion for me, either because the DM has to remind them or because they get that little extra boost. As a DM I find it unfair for those who do declare their intent and spend the actions. Not drawing shows a lack of commitment to a course of action, especially in the type of situation below. I realize this playstyle may not fit everyone's expectations but it does serve to illustrate my point.


Two forces approach each other. One group is hunting. They are armed with spears and bows and actively pursuing the quarry. The second group is traveling along a cobblestone road. The scout is in a forward position moving stealthily and silently thru the underbrush between the party and the hunters. Those on the road are not being quiet but are alert. Neither force would immediately be enemies on sight but violence is not out of the question.

At this point the DM makes a judgement call. A few questions run thru my mind in this moment.

1. Are the hunters moving at speed, if so what penalty do they get for passive perception? Are they making a lot of noise? Is the quarry making a lot of noise?

Yes, they are elves moving in haste to catch a fleeing boar so -2 circumstance. Hearing the boar is a DC 2 check. Hearing the level 4 npc party of elves moving is a DC 18. (level 14 mod dc +2 for greater than 100 ft) the elves are xenophobic and will not like to stumble across armed "brigands"

2. How far is the scout ahead of the party? What is the scout's passive perception or active? What instincts do my party have listed? Is any one in the party paying particular attention to the scout's location, if not are they aware thru passive perception or any other talents? Does anyone have the Alertness feat?

50 feet, 18 percept, none that apply, one member is actively keeping an eye on the scout, yes. The level 2 party has a combined passive stealth of 11 (clanking fighter and paladin), the scout gets the roll of 21.

Now to determine awareness. Everyone is aware of the boar's position. The elves are unaware of the party and the only the scout is aware of the elves, but only in as far as that there are more things in the forest moving quickly behind the loud noise.

Now the scout gets a single action for a surprise round and the one party member keeping an eye on the scout gets an insight check or perception check based on the scouts action.

Read aloud text

Fifty feet ahead something shakes the underbrush as it rushes at you. A half dozen creatures follow in its wake moving with stealth thru the foliage. You're confident that your current position affords you a measure of concealment. Those on the road are out in the open. What do you do?

The scout has a few options here and this decision sets the tone for the entire encounter

  • Free action shout a warning and give away position (in this case make the other side aware)

  • Minor draw a weapon (this is where feats like quick draw come in handy to delay the decision on what your facing)

  • Move back and maybe lose the advantage of concealment

  • Standard ready an attack or make a ranged attack (again quick draw is handy)

  • The watcher is going to take a cue from the scout.

    Initiative is now rolled. If there is no boar things could be more complicated...

    Everyone on the road who hasn't acted has had no chance to draw yet. The watcher may or may not have drawn. As could have the scout.

    A boar bursts from the tree line it crosses the road mere feet from your scout. Six tall slender humanoids with spears and bows raised follow. The first two rush across the road. The other four slide to a halt on the road. Roll For Init!

    In this situation the actions of the scout and watcher dictate the starting attitude of the elves from startled to hostile. The ensuing skill challenge will be heavily weighted by this attitude. Failure could result in a fight and more importantly take away the opportunity for the party to find out valuable information on the goblins they are tracking.

    Now imagine this scenario where everyone has QuickDraw without expending any feats. No one has to roleplay their expectations on what is crashing thru the woods. They can delay indefinitely until one side attacks. It's like having a party with every member having a +30 bluff score and they are all sitting down to play poker. There is a decided advantage. What of staff wielders and glaive masters?

    I see house rules out on the web for adding weapon speed penalties to initiative rolls. I have played in games where DM's ignore drawing. What do you do in your own games?

    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    Race, Weapons and Culture in RPG's

    Lot of hoopla around the inter webs about Monte's blog. Really I can't understand what all the fuss is about. The crux of the argument seems to be about wether the bonus a dwarf gets for the use of an axe is a physical distinction or cultural one. The other aspect of the discussion centers around if the use of an axe should be supported, forced or ignored by the mechanical rules. Are the days of the race driven weapon proficiencies over?

    4e held onto these tropes for only three races dwarves, elves and high elves (or eladrin if you prefer). But what are these proficiencies? Do they limit what your character can use? Nope they open up choices for them. Support check. Do they force your dwarven rogue to use an axe? Nope. Do they allow your cleric or wizard to tote around an axe yep. So what is the issue? On the surface it seems to hinge on a portion of the community telling another part of the community how to play at your table. It's as sad as the edition wars. "The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules."* Why people need permission from a book to employ fun baffles me.

    I can't figure it out. At my table I have had a Minotaur make a case for being a dwarven defender. Raised in the dwarven mines by his adopted father, he developed a lower center of gravity yada yada. Alah Corporal Carot of Discworld+ he finds out he is an orphaned heir to the throne and sets off to win back his throne from his treacherous uncle and finds his two brothers in the process. King Kordek has shaped the world and left a lasting mark on our campaign setting. Did the mechanics force any of that... No really good role playing and commitment to a character concept did.

    Like wise the draegarian race is a direct cause of the above. Not the Stephen Brust usage but a re-envisioning. The race is the offshoot of a dragonborn and minotaur union. The exact mating requirements aren't important but the result is a scaled minotaur with horns. Players select stats from one race, and racial benfits from another. Is it balanced? Seems to be working so far. Had Kordek never been, the dragon born, dwarf, Minotaur alliance would not have been formed to fight the aberrant threat and draegarians wouldn't exist. Also helps that a drawing in an old Gurps supplement sparked my imagination many, many moons ago. 240 of them and counting.

    Point is half-races are more than just elves, orcs and humans. At least they are at my table. Inspired by Darksun¥'s Muls, Flanaess€'s gnome titans and players with a flare for asking what would happen if I wanted to play a half bladeling half tiefling. By the way, is that a halfling? What if a halfling mates with a tiefling is that a three quarterling.

    Anyway, outside of organized play dm's should say yes. As for the rules I leave that to calmer minds, because I can't see the issue. Even broken combos supported by strong story can change the campaign world in ways a DM can never envision and for fun there ain't nothing better. Till next time, "Game On!"

    *Attributed to Gary Gygax by Allan Varney in a sidebar to a review of the Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game: "AMBER DICELESS ROLEPLAYING: Thoughts at Non-Random" in Dragon Magazine #182 (June 1992)

    + Terry Pratchett's Discworld is a series that uses a fantasy setting to satire the modern world.

    €Flanaess is the world of BA's campaign setting in Knight's Of The Dinner Table written by Jolly Blackburn. Gnome Titans are also a playable race in Hackmaster Fourth Edition. Both published by Kenzer Co. Gnome+Dwarf= Gnome Titans

    ¥ Darksun is a campaign setting published by Wizards of the Coast, a division of Hasbro. Dwarf+Human=Mul

    Yes I realize both of the examples I know off the top my head are the union of dwarves with some other race. I did mention I was a dwarf lover didn't I?

    Coming soon:
    half and half = ? More mixed races.
    Timing Weapons Sheathed or Drawn