Professor Jimbles Presents!: D&D 5E Review

So while our esteemed host has been trying more esoteric systems like “East Texas University”, I was introduced (read: Dragged screaming away from WoD and Pathfinder) to 5th Edition D&D/”D&D Next”.

Note from the Editor: I wouldn’t exactly call Savage Worlds (the system that East Texas University uses) “esoteric”. It’s just a very solid generic RPG system that can be adapted to a variety of settings with a minimum of effort. I’ll write about it more later.

In short: It’s good. It’s really good. It pokes all my favourite happy buttons.

In long: It was the best of times, it was the worst of tim-   

Anyway – 5th Edition.

I read through the Player’s Handbook and I’m floored. I read it in a single day and was so pleased. The endless lists of modifiers? Gone. Alignment restrictions? Gone. Obvious bias to casters? Poof.

So, yeah. I’m excited. I’m also pretty sure this huge shift away from what is traditionally associated with D&D (Huge crunch, expansive rules and character options, little focus on roleplaying.) is:

  1. Good for D&D.
  2. Good for Pathfinder.
  3. Very controversial.

Pathfinder and D&D 3.5/4 have been holding the same niche in roleplaying for a little while now.  Mechanics heavy fantasy roleplaying with years of experience and a wide community to build tools. (Hero Lab; for example.)

This divergence into a simpler, more open ruleset REALLY helps D&D as the “Beginner’s game” reputation it owns as being the longest running and most visible in the media. The option to make it more complicated is available… By trying Pathfinder.

Pathfinder currently has 89 (At my super-rough count.) books available, not including campaign setting and adventure paths. 89 books worth of customization and additional rules are available for you if you love your mechanics. (Another Editor’s Note: It’s worth pointing out that many of these books are very short, highly focused Player Companions, not full sized splats)

But of course, this means 5E doesn’t look much like D&D anymore. It’s not like the punishing 2nd Ed Tomb of Horrors; the expansive 3.5 filled with ridiculous feats from a third party or even the tactical MMORPG style gameplay of 4th Ed.

And while it’s not Open Gaming Licence, additional crunch is added with each new book. Princes of the Apocolypse has added Elemental races like Genasi. At what point does the scale tip? When does 5E start looking like 3.5?

Professor Jimbles Presents: “I play to win, baby.” 

Okay, so this is over a year overdue. I’m terrible, I know.

But let’s see this as an example of time teaching you, and making a fool of your past self.

In this time, I attended another Phenomenon in Canberra (And took away their drama Triptytch award with a group of people I had never met before.) and even ran my first game for the greater Canberra roleplaying community. All in all, another fantastic year.

Why competitive roleplaying? This genre is built around making a story as a team! Guiding these semi-real entities through trials both emotional and physical! Wouldn’t adding a competitive edge ruin it? Wouldn’t the ever present thought of “Am I doing this well enough to get an award?” ruin your immersion?

Well, no. First of all, your GM is likely to be running multiple sessions of their game (Even I did, and it was my first year.) and with premade characters, there is bound to be a player or a group who has an interpretation that matches their inital designs. Us GMs do enjoy a bit of ego stroking; if a player can find interest in characters we created enough to perfectly encapsulate them in their performance then it is only natural to have a preference.

On the other hand, if someone takes a character in a completely new direction that surprises and excites the GM, this could also endear the player to them. Surprising someone who has run a particular scenario up to 11 times already is a feat worthy of recognition. Especially if this interpretation is better than what they initially envisioned.

Let’s get something clear, you are never competing against the people you’re weaving a story with. These competitive games at Phenomenon are collaborative, so you are building a story with the GM and the other players, usually-but-not-always using a rules light or no rules system. Unlike a more rigid game like Pathfinder, the ever present urge for optimization and survivability is absent. If you can’t fail because someone isn’t pulling their weight, then you’re without THAT form of competition against your fellow players.

Lastly; and most importantly comes the phrase I hear most often when describing the Perpetual games.

“But that’s rediculous, how do you score a “Winner” of rules-light or systemless games?”

Easy! These are drama or comedy games. You can use a very simple “Who made me feel/laugh the most?” metric. You could add points for anyone who has a highly quotable line, and remove them for anyone who keeps breaking character. As well as the interpretation idea I explored above.

This does mean that it comes down to more Romanticism than Enlightenment, but I’m okay with that. The kind of games that flourish under plot and characterization heavy settings don’t often come with a clear mathematical “Winner” anyway. You’re gonna have an emotional favourite anyway.

Picture of the winning team: Shiny Things and me, from Cardgames on Motorcycles. 


Photo made publically available. Please ask before reproduction. Names withheld on request.

Professor Jimbles Presents! How to make a backstory.

I said it was coming, and here it is. The three steps I follow to make a workable and vaguely interesting backstory that will work for any game that doesn’t require extensive and detailed character histories. I’d pop in a little more detail if you were going to play in a social LARP or Sandbox (GM creates a world and unleashes the players upon it. Plot hooks, no railroad.) game.

Generally you make a character while considering the others in your party, and choose a class first (in the tactical games, at least.) so I suggest grab the rough outlines of your mechanics, and build the backstory around that.

I’m going to be using one of my new favourite characters. His personality and powers are best shown in a rules-light, “make up your own damned abilities” game, but he’s a great example of how my three steps turned a basic idea into someone that can entertainingly work with the others in the party. If more questions arise while writing, run with them.

Enter Karas, the Herald of Death.

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Professor Jimbles Presents! Still dying a lot.

[Note from Tinkergoth: Sorry for the long silence. Jimbles has had this post and another one ready to go for almost two weeks now, just waiting for me to go over them before publishing. Unfortunately I’ve been letting things slide, haven’t been feeling great physically or otherwise, so it’s been a struggle to do anything other than curl up on the couch of an evening and binge on anime (on the plus side, I’ve been catching up on series I’ve owned for ages and hadn’t got around to watching), haven’t even really felt like gaming recently. Anyway, finally not feeling so ill anymore, and the other stuff will sort itself out sooner or later, so starting today I’m forcing myself back into the blog. I’ll publish this and Jimbles’ other post first, and then get back to work on my own stuff. I now return you to your scheduled ramblings from Professor Jimbles.]

I’m beginning to think it’s something personal, and maybe stacking resistances and AC would be better for me.

Now, where was I?

Learned the hard way that Black Puddings are not delicious.

Felled by the Orc Hireling in a single strike.

Crushed by a brainwashed dragon after a Sudden Maximized disintegrate missed.

Oh, right. I’m going to leave out the Elemental Plane of Fire, it’s pretty obvious, and has little in storytelling value, despite the gales of laughter from the table when it happened.

I’m playing in a World’s Largest Dungeon game specifically designed to let the players experience as much as possible from the tortuous place. We are on a 32 point buy gestalt (any, not base only) with all of 3.5 available subject to approval. I can imagine hundreds of monocles popping from outraged eyes, but in defense of the game I raise two points.

  1. Action Economy (Paizo Forums has information, but it’s not a perfect description.)
  2. I’m really bad at optimizing.

So I’ve got nearly countless options ahead of me. I make a fighter-ranger who wielded light maces in the lightning hammer style, giving me another attack whenever I threat. I planned to take adaptable scimitars eventually, and score additional attacks about a fifth of the time. His name was Parker. He was a part-time novelist. He made the decision to become a wererat once it became clear the party was trapped in the dungeon. His answer to fiendish troglodytes is to draw and charge. Technically, if the party leader didn’t tell him to hold off, his default reaction to anything threatening was to draw and charge. It lasted about 7 levels, until our crack team broke past a incredibly difficult lock on huge marble doors. Inside was a HUGE black pudding. It had scoured its prison for all life, and was desperately hungry for fighter/ranger flesh. Reasoning that dessert never hurt anyone, Parker charged with both maces drawn.

This was ill-advised.

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Professor Jimbles Presents! Weird Situations

Hi there, Jimbles here again with a few more tales, but with a preamble first.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been writing posts that are just fluff entertainment, leaving all of the crunch to Keegan. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think I can do a bit better. Due to my documented inability to keep characters alive (See Does anyone else die a lot?, Part two on those horrible deaths incoming.) I’ve gotten pretty good at creating new characters. I’m going to codify it and make it interesting; then show you my 5 step process for streamlining a backstory. It’s by no means perfect, but it works.

But today, I’ve got a particular subject on my mind.  A bunch of my friends and fellow players are known for coming up with twisted situations and bending the established lore in such a nefarious way that the players are left flat-footed. Once, I asked one of them how on earth they come up with their ideas. It may have been an outburst along the lines of “WHERE DO YOU COME UP WITH THIS STUFF!?”

The answer was interesting. She said “Well, for this game I thought “How can I make a player make a bad choice for the right reasons?”

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Professor Jimbles Presents! A Rant: Does anyone else die a lot?

Like, a real lot?

Hi! Jimbles here to ask a question of you: How often do you die in your games? All the time? Occasionally, but only because you make stupid decisions?

I can tell you that I die all the time in Pathfinder, but it’s generally my fault. Whenever I develop a high-concept character with tragic backstory and a good reason to set out adventuring, I often forget that ever so important stat keeping most of us alive… The armor class.

That, and I roll terribly when someone’s life depends on it.

Aside from the misadventures in the Crow (See earlier post for THAT particular embarrassing tale.) I’ve had characters die in the following ways:

  • Battle Toad (Boggard Barbarian Chieftain) exacted revenge with a warhammer for causing general chaos in the area and invading his shrine.
  • Lich fingered me to death in a oh-so-calm response to taking 38 damage from my surprise round greatsword attack.
  • Teleport mishap sent me to the Elemental Plane of PAIN. (Fire burns!)
  • Learned the hard way that Black Puddings are not delicious.
  • Felled by the Orc Hireling in a single strike.
  • Crushed by a brainwashed dragon after a Sudden Maximized disintegrate missed.

And that’s just in my Pathfinder and 3.5 games! Here, let me explain some of these stupid, stupid adventures…

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Reign of Winter – GM Perspective.

So, I fucked it.

Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but certainly, running a Pathfinder game was far more work than I expected, and it makes me appreciate the sheer amount of extra effort Keegan puts in above what the adventure path gives him.

Firstly, I haven’t run a rules heavy system since I was 14, where I mangled d20 Modern to represent school. It trainwrecked horribly, but it at least made some people laugh for a session. After that, I entered my WoD phase, being one of those oft-cursed eternal players demanding to be entertained. After some time I began writing Bard: The Crescendo (a WoD template, like Vampire, Geist and Changeling) with some friends. Eventually it fell to me to test the system. It went okay.

When Keegan wanted a turn playing Pathfinder, he thought I could do a decent job (uhh?) of running an adventure path, and gently pressured me into taking the job. What can I say, I can be an entitled jerk. He set me up with the core, our copy of Hero Lab and The Snows of Summer to bone up on.

Much like a Puritan high school, there was less boning up than would be healthy for everyone involved.

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