Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Just got my D&D 5e Player's Handbook!

Yesterday evening, my 5e PHB arrived from Amazon. Here are a few very brief impressions.

I haven't had a chance to really dig into it, but scanning over the book gives me warm fuzzies. The artwork is a bit less "Wayne Reynolds" than I like (I'm one of the few people who like the kind of Anime-style of Pathfinder) but it's very attractive. The book's production overall is very nice as well. I like their whimsical touches as well. It hearkens back to AD&D a little, which I'm sure is the point.

I was happy to see so many classes represented in the book. It's not just the standard "Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Wizard" by any stretch. I was a bit confused why there were only two bloodlines for Sorcerers, but I guess the authors wanted to leave some room for future expansion.

The spells list seems to be a smaller percentage of the book than it was in previous editions, though I haven't actually done the page count to verify that. I really like this edition's take on Cantrips, Spells and Rituals. It matches ideas I've been using in my own games. The "Spell Slots" system is interesting, though it doesn't mesh with my "spells are like grenades - you prepare them and then throw them" explanation of D&D magic. That's ok, the 5e system might not make as much sense, but it looks like it will be more fun to play.

I may have more impressions once I've read the thing, but honestly everyone's doing 5e blogs these days, so I don't know that I'd have much to add to the discussion. I'll stick with more obscure topics, I think.

DBA Army Upgrades

I tried to think up a fun title for this one, but failed. Sigh.

So DBA3.0 has a few surprises up its sleeves for those of us with existing armies. This post is going to get technical, so my apologies in advance for this deep dive.

First a few definitions, in case non-DBA players have decided to push on anyway:

In DBA, each army is composed of 12 "elements", where an element is a rectangular base with figures mounted on it. The size of the base and number of figures varies by what type of troop and what size figures you're using, but for my case of 15mm figures, they're 40mm across and have varying depthts from 15mm to 40mm, with 20mm being the most common for foot and 30mm being the most common for mounted.

Elements are specified in a sort of code. "3Sp" means a base with 3 spear men on it. "4Bd" would be a base with 4 blades (think Romans or Vikings) on it. 6x4Bd means 6 elements of blades with 4 blades per stand. In previous DBA incarnations, the number of figures was more of a suggestion. In 3.0 though, it helps determine if a foot element is "Fast" (usually 3 figures) or "Solid" (usually 4 figures), so it does matter.

Also, DBA uses some idiosyncratic terms for element types.

"Psiloi" (Ps) is used for all skirmishers. Originally, the Psiloi was the word ancient Greeks used for their unarmored, unshielded warriors who often fought with nothing more than a sling, bow or some javelins. But in DBA, they're any skirmisher troop.

"Auxilia" (Ax) was originally what the Romans called their native allies. They didn't have very good equipment or discipline by Roman standards, but fought in an organized way, and were pretty reliable if you didn't ask too much of them. In DBA, Ax troops are pretty much any troops with a shield but no body armor, and who are comfortable fighting in the rough.

Enough DBA history for now, let's get back to how my armies have changed.

The Hittite Empire army used to have a core of 6x3Sp but since Sp can't have only 3 figures in 3.0, they've separated that group into two - one group of 4x3Pk elements, and another of 2x3Ax elements. "Pk" means "Pike", and like other descriptors, DBA doesn't seem to literally mean "fighting with a 15 foot pole", but rather "fights in a close, deep block". And more mechanically it means, "fights about as good as Auxilia, but can double-up to take on just about anyone".

So my existing 3Sp figures are good enough for the new 3Pk, but I need 2x3Ax to round things out. The solution I've come up with is based on history somewhat. Hittites Auxilia are most probably Syrio-Canaanites, but the Hurrians were still around during the Hittite Empire days, and given their sometimes close political, cultural and dynastic ties, I've decided to raid my Hurrian army bag for some light infantry. They're mostly just wearing a Canaanite-style "kilt" with a bare chest and small shield, so they look the part. So I'll save myself $5 and just use them.

Last night, I got all 6 of those guys primed and painted with the exception of their kilts. I'm going to go for "Canaanite chiq", which will be white with solid colored borders. It' been a while since I've painted 15mm figures, and my eyes aren't up for the task without a magnifier. I hope tonight to get their kilt borders painted in and their faces touched up so I can base them.

From later in time, my Carthaginian Army (Hannibal's era) got the work-over too, essentially making me choose between Iberians or Gauls. But to make matters worse, DBA now classes almost all Gauls as SOLID Warbands instead of FAST. So all those 3Wb need to get rebased as 4Wb.

I actually did that rebasing work last night, and it went better than I was afraid it would. By the rules, 4Wb should be on a 15mm deep base, but since the army lists allows them to be 4Wb or 4Ax, and 4Ax is a 20mm deep base, I went for 20mm. DBA3 allows a 20mm deep 4Wb, so it's not technically wrong, it just looks odd to me.

Finally, my Ancient Nubians swapped one of their-bow Psiloi for a javelin Psiloi. No game function change, but I happened to have two left-over javelin & shield armed Nubians from a pack of 8 that was used for 2x3Wb, so now the Nubians have a new Psiloi element.

There are plenty more upgrades to go. My Thracians got savaged, and my Republican Romans need some proper Auxilia (2x4Ax), but those are projects for when I want to do some REAL painting.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Time of New Editions?

Everyone is probably already aware that Dungeons & Dragons has recently released their 5th Edition of the game, and it seems to be a hit with most "old school" gamers. Or at least those who, like me, were playing OSR games out of a combination of nostalgia and a dissatisfaction with the gamey-ness of D&D 4th Edition and the munchkin friendly often hilariously rules-heavy 3rd Edition series of games.

But another, equally revolutionary game has also had a new edition published in the recent year - the historical miniatures wargame "De Bellis Antiquitatis", or "DBA" to its friends. DBA was first introduced in 1990, but gained much popularity in the mid-90's with it's 1.1 edition. The 2.0 edition released in 2001 greatly expanded the army lists (which range from the dawn of history in Sumer and Egypt up until the Renaissance.), and culminated in 2.2, which was sort of the "D&D3.5" to 2.0's "D&D3.0" - a clean up and minor enhancement, but still pretty much the same game.

The primary innovations of DBA over the rules that existed at the time were twofold.

First, the cumbersome command and control rules common to games at the time, often involving a myriad of carefully written orders (yes, written orders) and pro-rated movement, were replaced by a simple, abstract D6 roll. That roll gives you points to spend ordering your troops however you see fit. There is no simulation of HOW the army is commanded, only the overall difficulty of controlling the army.

Second, the size of the game itself was revolutionary - each army consists of 12 "elements", where an element is a single game piece with between 2-4 miniatures on it. That means a whole army can be built with only 24-48 miniatures, usually averaging around 32 miniatures. Also, the game board itself is only a 2 foot square for 15mm figures, or 3 foot square for 25mm figures. Just about anyone can find a table to throw down a 2x2 piece of cloth and some simple pieces of terrain, and DBA introduced the idea of being able to play miniatures as a "pickup game".

DBA's third edition comes after a 10 year break. The game is superficially the same as it was before, though a number of very controversial changes were made. Here is a good overview of the changes, but in short, the rules seem to even better reflect how ancient battles were pitched and fought, and the "game" aspect of DBA has been tightened up as well. In short, it brings the 90's-era game more into the modern mindset, which is a bit ironic, since DBA originally killed off the 90's era wargaming mentality.

Now, I haven't played DBA much since 2.2 came out. I haven't played at all in the last 6-8 years. But this new edition has me excited. I've dug out my old armies and the heaps of lead I'd collected. I have almost as many armies still in their boxes as I do painted.

Amusingly, since DBA3.0 has some significant changes over the 2.x games, many gamers are refusing to switch, and a "DBA2.2+" movement ("Pathfinder", anyone?) has started.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Treasonous Thoughts

I'm very seriously considering ditching Pathfinder for 5e.

There, I said it.

I could never bring myself to sell my PF rulebook though. And it's unlikely I'll sell my Swords&Wizardry books. There are only two of them, and frankly, they're good enough that I'm still likely to run S&W for an even more casual game.

I only have a few non-primary PF rule books, though I do have a few full adventure paths worth of modules.

The only wrinkle is that I'm currently in love with the Midgard setting, and at the moment, that's only spelled out for Pathfinder. I suspect that until WOTC makes their licensing scheme known, we won't see any 5e Midgard stuff, which would be a shame.

Hopefully the rumored "3e to 5e conversion guide" will help.

Honestly, I'm probably not going to be playing much D&D over the next few months, since our "Supers!" game is going well. I'll blog about our latest session in the near future.