Friday, June 26, 2015

Running Call of Cthulhu for New Players

I am a horror junkie and a voracious reader, and for my dollar no RPG horror game does it quite as well as CoC. Some of the scenarios are so well written that I can read them as literature. The scholarship and creativity that goes into many of them is incredible. I also find it to be a great game for new RPGers. The roll-under d100 mechanics are pretty simple to grasp, and the real-world setting (at least in the core game) is easy for new players to relate to and operate in. I have introduced a lot of new players to roleplaying through this game, and I thought I would share my tips on how to do so in a fun and effective way. I am not a fan of 7th edition, so this post really deals with prior editions. I also just play classic era (20's and 30's) so keep that in mind as well.

Let me preface this by saying these tips are really more for face to face or online games. In a convention setting I would use pregens for time's sake. But I think for new players it is much more satisfying to play their own character. That is the feedback I get. I actually think more experienced RPGers do better with pregens, but I digress.

New players want to do just that: play. The more you explain the rules, the more their eyes glaze over. I suggest just telling them to let the game come to them, and focus on picking an occupation that sounds fun to rp. You may have some optimizer types that have played other games and have a preconceived notion of how much individual stats affect their characters. In Cthulhu, the difference between a 12 and 14 in a stat in negligible. I don't even really bother to go into detail explaining stats, I just lead them through rolling.

Keep it simple: occupations afford you a certain set of skills. You add points in skills, the higher the better. I recommend hand-waiving starting wealth. Use what feels realistic or is common sense. A doctor will likely make more than a private investigator. Most importantly, do not get bogged down buying equipment. CoC has some of the most extensive equipment lists of any game I have ever played. You can buy toothpicks if you like. The way I handle starting equipment is this: you have whatever makes sense for you to have. Thus, a biologist has access to a microscope if he needs it. A doctor has some medical equipment, at least a first aid kit. And only occupations that make SENSE to start with weapons do so. A police detective will have a revolver, but to start an antiquarian with a small arsenal makes no sense. After all, they are new characters. They are just starting out exploring these mysteries (more on that later). I typically wait until occupations have been chosen to explain this to players, and I have never had a complaint yet. If later in a scenario they realize that they need to go buy something idiosyncratic or atypical, let them. Handling equipment this way saves a ton of time and lets you get right into the game much faster.

The best tips you can give new players have nothing to do with mechanics. Investigators investigate. The game would be over if investigators just decided to go home and not follow clues. The only real information a player needs starting out is to do what their character would do. You have skills that you are good at, but that doesn't limit you from trying anything else that makes sense. Focus on your character and let the Keeper call for rolls when needed.

I have written before about CoC combat and my houserules for it (some of which have been amended as follows). I recommend these even for experienced tables. I find it overly complicated and fiddly to have three mini-rounds possible within one combat round. Again, I stress keeping it simple. You can move and take an action of some sort on your turn. If you don't move, you can fire your weapon at its full rate of fire. If you move, you only get one shot (an exception being something like trying a long range shot with a rifle, in which case movement would be impossible). If you are able, you can parry once per round. You can also dodge once per round but this takes away your movement for the following round. A new round for a player starts over on their turn. That is as far as you need to go; anything further can come out during play. I don't get too detailed with firearms to begin with; I usually just give detectives and PIs a .38 revolver. Soldiers might own rifles but do not typically carry them up and down Broad Street.

Treat luck, know, and idea rolls as passive skills. Write down your players' stats and roll for them yourself if they get stuck or really get into trouble.

Finally, pick a scenario that makes sense for new investigators. I like starting without them knowing each other. Sure, if you have two Miskatonic professors at your table they may have heard of each other, but they don't have to be buddies. The scenario also shouldn't give away any Cthulhu Mythos information in its setup. Characters go into the first scenario blissfully unaware that they are "investigators" (this reinforces their relative lack of preparedness/weapons). Start with something innocuous. A dinner party, an event at a public place, etc. One of the best introductory scenarios in my opinion is The Sanatorium, the players all being invited by the doctor for a visit. Mister Corbitt starts with a dinner party, something that can conceivably be tweaked to include people that do not know each other. If you think you will be playing long-term, Masks of Nyarlathotep has a wonderful beginning, just have Jackson Elias telegraph them all. Similarly, Shadows of Yog-Sothoth can begin with the characters individually being invited to join the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight. Female characters can be members of the auxiliary group that have become curious and go in disguise, or if you do not care too much about historical accuracy, allow them to be invited along with the male PCs.

Using these tips puts you right into the action as quickly as possible. It is wonderful to behold players getting into it for the first time. The simpler you keep it, the less you will see them looking at their sheets, and the more time you will hear them in character having a blast.

Have you introduced the game to new players? What tips would you pass on to keepers?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Froth's 5e Healing Houserules

I thought I would share my houserules for healing in 5e. Healing in the core game is just way too much for my tastes. While the DMG does provide some other options, they aren't exactly what I am looking for. I don't want an ultra-gritty game, nor do I want 4e's absurd amounts of healing. Anyhoo, here are my ideas:

-Eliminate healer feat
-Overnight healing only heals 1 hp (I'm a sucker for tradition, sue me)
-You can spend HD during short or long rest. You regain half of your current HD rounded down (minimum 1) overnight. So if you are a 6th level fighter but take a long rest with only 3 HD left, you only regain 1 HD the following day. If you take a long rest with no remaining HD, you start the next day with 1.
-Healer's kits work as written, they're just no longer able to be buffed by the healer feat
-Healing potions are not typically found for sale

This gives me the balance I am looking for. You still have ability to recuperate at a reasonable rate, but resource management comes more into play and the traditional healing roles are reinforced.

Do you houserule 5e healing? What is your system?

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Last Word on Edition Warring

Man, if there is one thing I can't stand it is edition warring. I get if you don't like a game, but to go on and on and try to belittle and insult someone else for liking something you don't is just lame. The other day I saw legendary Frank Mentzer step into an edition war and just shut the whole thing down. I thought I would reprint what he said, bc I consider it to be the last word on edition warring. A definite mic drop moment.

"In the 1970s, wargamers bashed the new 'roleplayers'.

In the 1980s, my D&D RedBox sold more than 40 million copies in 20+ languages. 1e and 2e rose to ascendance in English languages countries, and RedBox ruled everywhere else. Estimates put the total players at more than 100 million.

In the 1990s, roleplayers bashed the new CCG players. RPG use was dropping like a rock (possibly as low as 1% of the peak number), and TSR died. The new owners of D&D tried to find out what the remaining players wanted, and heard only noise & chaos. Each group -- 0e, 1e, 2e, Moldvay, BECM -- seemed to be fixated on their own edition, and bashed the others.

Since the gaming public was full of opposing factions, the new owner (Wizards) wrote v3 based on their own ideas. It proved so full of holes that the errata came out en masse. (The heavily amended result is what we call v3.5, which took 3 years of error-checking and corrections.)

In the 2000s, the 'edition wars' focused more on newschool (rules-heavy style) vs oldschool (rules-light), and were still rampant.

In 2008, again following their own ideas by necessity (faced with a disorganized and warring hobby), WotC produced 4e. It was wonderfully written, well-organized, played much faster than 3.5... and missed the hobby market almost entirely, being aimed at young folks who grew up on computer games. Almost simultaneously another wiser company created their own version of 3.5 (Paizo's Pathfinder), which continues to dominate the market.

But in the 2000s, many realized that the Edition Wars were self-defeating. The hobby had become disjointed, no longer able to express a concrete preference. Some of us started working HARD to wipe out Edition Wars, self-censoring our negative personal opinions and promoting the entire hobby, not just our preferences. We actively tried -- and are still trying -- to minimize the useless conflict that has so severely damaged both the game and the industry.

In part due to this change in the hobby (less conflict), WotC reached out for input on what "D&D Next" (v5) should be. They got better input than they expected, and changed the design many times to reflect the preferences of the potential customers.

I'm proud of the role so many played in redirecting the energy put into Edition Wars into more productive ideas and avenues for gaming. The list of industry celebs pushing for harmony is very long and distinguished.

But we in the hobby industry still regularly deal with those who cannot or will not see the big picture. Some claim "free speech" as a means to tear down the hobby and/or its parts. Some claim "honest difference of opinion" (often while hurling hateful epithets and accusations). Whatever the claims, the results are clear: the more conflict you promote, the more the hobby fractures, and no one who create new games will be able to hear what you want.

We in the hobby who are trying to make better games see and hear your refusal to cooperate, refusal to contribute, refusal to be positive. All you do is destroy. We do not listen to you. You have no voice.

I have 35 years of experience in the hobby gaming industry, and I wrote the best-selling version of any RPG ever made. But ignore all claims of Authority and make up your own minds, based on the Facts. Break free of your prejudices and broaden your view; see the direct effect that negativity and conflict has on the hobby. And then try to be more positive, accepting that all versions of all RPGs can co-exist peacefully, and make your voices heard in positively advocating the types of games you want. People will listen; your voice can make a difference.

But If you remain hateful and negative about games, that message will also be heard, and you'll only get what others think they can sell you -- regardless of what you want."-Frank Mentzer

Thursday, April 30, 2015

One Page Dungeon: Swamp Cabin of the Child-Eater

Made the One Page Dungeon contest by the skin of my teeth! I know what you're thinking-"Froth, how much can I pay you to do the cartography for my next project?" Sorry ya'll, I'm all booked up. Haha but seriously, I don't have any pretenses of winning (I mean, have you seen some of the amazing submissions this year?). Still, I wanted to participate just bc its awesome. This should be a fun little grimy adventure for 4th to 5th level PCs of classic editions and OSR games.

Download the PDF HERE!