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Jul. 3rd, 2015 @ 10:36 am DnD 5E and FATE Accelerated
DnD 5e

A while back I bought the 5e DnD ("DnD Next" or "DnD") player's handbook and just now have been reading through it. I actually really like it.

It reminds me of 3.5 but streamlined, with a few of the good aspects of earlier editions and 4e. That's about what I wanted out of DnD!

Many of the combat rules are simplified a bit, but look about equally balanced. Progression is simplified -- feats are more powerful, but optional, you can take them instead of a stat increase. Thus they do more to define your character and less to "here's a feat-tree you have to take".

There's no separate saves, you make a "dex save" or "con save". Your character has a single proficiency bonus which scales with level from +2 to about +5, which is added to everything you character is good at (weapons they're proficient with, skills they're trained with, etc).

They've added some fluff to the front page of the character sheet (personality trait, ideal, bond, flaw) and a suggesting for getting temporary mechanical advantage when your flaw comes into play. I have ideas for those bits up, to focus people further on the bits that actually come up in play (whether they matter mechanically or not).

The classes and races are similar to 3e -- there's the classic races (human, elf, dwarf, halfling) and further races (tiefling, dragonborn, gnome, half-orc) which don't automatically exist in all settings.

Like 4e, all spellcasters have a few infinite use cantrips which function as their standard attack options. I like that all characters have something specific to do in combat. And like 4e, fighter has some abilities beyond "hit it with my axe" to bring into play in combat -- although not many, I think that could be beefed up.

It reverts to generally winging the exact physical layout rather than using a battlemap. Which I like because combat is simpler and faster. Although I admit, it does remove some of the good effects in 4e, that there were many more tactical options for the party to work together, other than "we all hit it repeatedly".

The general power level is flatter between 1st level and 20th level, even more so than 4e. I think this is probably good, since it's almost impossible to balance things at both ends, but it does potentially mean less variation. But it has good effects that a character a few level higher than you" feels like "an adventurer like you, but more experienced" not "a demigod". And that there's less artificial scaling where every PC gets regular stat boosts to increase to-hit and damage-per-second and armour-class -- as does every monster.

It seems like, 1st level is really a tutorial level (although actually, I'd like an EVEN SIMPLER introduction for some newbies) where characters all have stuff they can do, but some of the key class features kick in at second level (eg. rogue has backstab damage at first level, but gets a free disengage/hide action from second which is nearly as class-defining). 4th or 5th feels like a typical point for experienced 3.5e players.

In addition to flattening the power level, the magic-item economy is gone. The classes are designed to be balanced mostly as-is, with a minimum amount of gold and almost no magic items. So you can run a low-magic campaign where the only magic is PC and NPC spellcasters, and add a magic sword for effect when it seems dramatic, not assume that everyone is carting around cartloads of +1 stuff else they're unplayable.

I think it could sensibly by used to run either an old-school "kick in the door and take as much treasure as you can before you die" session or a "mostly about roleplaying with some combat" session which are the sorts I enjoy the most.

4e is probably better for tactical combat -- I like that in theory, but never find it works well for me in practice.

Has anyone actually tried 5e?

FATE core and FATE accelerated

I've also been following a couple of people's suggestions and reading about FATE. IIUC it's based on ideas from FUDGE, based on a very freeform mechanics-light structure. Ideal for "here's a wacky idea about X" or "here's an existing setting (Dresden Files) with clear flavour but vague on specifics, can we adapt that to a game" and producing setting and character sheets with minimal write-up and no need to spend ages trying to balance PC activities.

Basically it sounds really fun if you want an adventure without tactical combat at all (there's still some tactics, but not based primarily on characters specific abilities).

Although some people apparently flounder if they're used to DnD -- there's definitely a "everyone should choose things that are appropriate, not always what would be most effective for the character". (Like Dogs-in-the-Vineyard, it seems it's more fun to pick character traits which come up about half the time -- but some people find it hard to resist arguing that they ALWAYS apply.)

Has anyone actually tried any of the editions of FATE?

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Jul. 2nd, 2015 @ 08:13 pm More book: Fifteen Lives and Will Supervillains be on the Final
Will Supervillains be on the Final?

Manga-style comic written by Naomi Novik and draw by Yishan Li, about a girl who goes to superhero school, has more natural power than most people, but has difficulty fitting in, and is affected by the ongoing fallout of ex-superhero and ex-supervillain politics.

I love this genre, and it's a pleasant example of it, I really enjoyed it, though it doesn't add a lot I haven't seen before. It's fairly short, and I was sad to see promised follow-up volumes haven't appeared.

First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

This is exactly the sort of book I like, about someone living their life over several times, getting tangled up in the plots of other people in the similar situation, someone screwing up the timeline and causing future cataclysm, and fight between time travellers.

It touches on themes I find interesting in this sort of thing -- how much you meddle with time, and what happens? do you care about the lives of people you know are going to just come alive again? And it uses its premises on what does and doesn't allow an immortal to return well in crafting the overall plot. I would have liked more "now lets try a do over with more information" a la Groundhog Day/All You Need is Kill, rather than descending into standard-ish thriller territory, but it's still good.

SpoilersCollapse )

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Jul. 2nd, 2015 @ 09:58 am Character design checklist
Tags: ,
I wrote up a checklist for a quick-and-dirty way to design an interesting character, something like:

* A code/belief/trait you live by even if it's inconvenient (by choice or inability to resist)
* An aspiration, a dream you want to eventually achieve
* A connection to at least one person in your party
* A connection to at least one person in the world
* Something you've learned how to do well

And then I thought "I shouldn't be applying this to a roleplaying game, I should be applying it to myself" :)

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Jun. 30th, 2015 @ 07:59 pm Fixed gate!
I fixed our side gate! Well, sort of. I'd always been annoyed the latch didn't quite close, so you had to close the bolt to keep it from blowing open, which made it hard to open from the garden side. And I just couldn't bend it back into place.

But then after some thought, I decided when it was first fitted it must have worked, and I couldn't see how it could have changed much, and realised the answer was: the gate sticks a little, but give it a hard shove when it was closed, it closes completely against the jam, and the latch falls into place perfectly.

Oops :) But progress :)

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Jun. 25th, 2015 @ 09:18 pm Advice: gardener
We inherited quite a nice garden from the previous owners of our house, which we don't really know much about upkeep. I think it's _fairly_ low maintenance, but we need to trim back the roses, bushes, etc, etc and don't know exactly what. At least once, and maybe semi-regularly. We can probably find friends to advice us on how to do it, but we're also really pushed for time so would be very happy to hire someone -- but I don't know exactly what scale we need. Ideally someone who can see what's obviously necessary, but neither bimble about with no initiative, nor want a massive project. And maybe also someone who can come in weekly over the summer to mow the grass and chop off any brambles -- I don't know if that's the same person or not.

Does anyone recommend anyone? Or otherwise know where to start looking?

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Jun. 25th, 2015 @ 09:16 pm Advice, new computer
My laptop is getting flakier and I think I need a replacement. Anything fairly modern will probably do, I want to use it primarily as a home machine, but that I can easily move it around the sitting room when I need. I'd like to be able to run games from the last few years occasionally, but probably not the latest releases.

Has anyone (cjwatson?) bought a new computer recently, what did you get?

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Jun. 23rd, 2015 @ 03:02 pm Magic from "Among Others"
Minor spoilers for among othersCollapse )

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Jun. 21st, 2015 @ 01:21 pm Swimming this afternoon?
Not great weather, but there's bits of sun. If it doesn't start raining shortly I may risk trying jesus green swimming pool this afternoon, let me know if you want to join me.

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Jun. 18th, 2015 @ 05:49 pm Recent life things
Returned from Leipzig WGT music festival

Returned from Leipzig, travelling there on ferry and train and back on train and eurostar, with Liv and ceb and other cambridge friends (who were super helpful in booking accommodation and transport and so on).

I didn't get as into goth music as I hoped, but I enjoyed the experience a lot and I'm glad I went.

Qntal were very fun -- they had a theramin!

New sofa

At the weekend, Liv and I were productive and went to Emmaus and found a new sofa (lots more room and a bit deeper), with a beautiful green and gold fabric. We've kept the old sofa but want to replace it with an armchair or something.

And also a set of four dining chairs. We'd hoped to find a set of six, but we liked the four so we got them anyway.


Work's been going fairly well -- I'm feeling on top of things again, although I need to transition to "making active progress" not just "clearing backlog".

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Jun. 18th, 2015 @ 01:40 pm Recent fiction and films

Seanan McGuire's superheroine short stories, feely available online although the format is a little inconvenient. These are really fun, if you like that sort of thing at all they're well worth reading. Thanks to ghoti-on-lj for reminding me they exist and I should read them!

They're short and a bit tongue in cheek which suits SM's style well. Being a superhero has been branded, standardised, commodified and marketed by some firms, one of which now has an near-universal monopoly. The heroine, with her "animating stuffed animal powers" flees from her old employers, and doesn't find a quiet life.

There's a little bit of what I especially like, of exploring powers.

As with most of McGuire's stories, something about the consistency or worldbuilding just aggravated me, but much less so in these funny, human, and short stories.

Pendragon Protocol

These urban fantasy books reminds me a little of rivers of london, London-based procedurals about an organisation affiliated with the british state but not technically police or intelligence services, who are modelled after reincarnations (sort of) of the knights of the round table.

The main character is an established knight who gets in over his head when internal politics starts happening.

There's lots of "exploring the basic concept and how it turns out to be more complicated than people think", which is done well. It's a bit more complicated than "reincarnation of", it's a bond that can change, but that's enough to sell the idea.

Again, it's quite British based. Mentions of oxbridge colleges, non-white britons, class warfare, uneasy tensions between idealism and the establisment status-quo which are not handled perfectly, but better than many books.

Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Squeee! This is really good, I'm glad she tried writing something after Temeraire. Definitely read it.

Agneieszka, a young village girl, is unexpectedly chosen to serve the wizard called The Dragon who is lord of the valley, the greatest wizard in the country but retreated to this rural seat to take responsibility for holding back the ominous encroachings of the wood.

Lots of different sorts of magic, well world-built. Focus on Agneieszka rather than soldiers and experienced wizards, without idolising her. Realistic tensions between people with generally well-meaning goals but selfish or short-sighted or otherwise naturally imperfect. Peels back the world to slowly to reveal where the wood came from, etc, etc, in a way that most books save for the tenth sequel.

I like the way there's a distinction between an informal, intuitive sort of magic and a rigid formalised academic sort of magic, but unlike many books, it's not massively gender-essentialised.


A film about a british muslim man who finds out he was adopted and born to a jewish family. It could have been excruciating, but Liv recommended that it was surprisingly touching. And captures a feel of british jewish society and british muslim society imperfectly but better than most films. It is embarrassing, but more towards the Evelyn Waugh/Monty Python end of the spectrum than the Adam Sandler/Reality TV end of the spectrum -- I found that a bit difficult, but it was clearly sympathetic to all the characters even when they were acting out badly. And it was really funny in places.

It fits my heretofore unmentioned heuristic "watch every film which features Leo Rosen's Joys of Yiddish" :)

(As usual I own most of the books but rented the film.)

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