Tag Archives: commando

Commando actions and D&D

Regular readers (hi both!) will know I’ve been doodling around with a system for playing traditional WW2 games. I’ve monkeyed around with the 4e engine as a core, using Gamma World amongst many many others. I was waiting to see what the Next playtest added to the pot, but that’s still circling around itself so it’s not really helping me much.

I drove myself mad doing a system from scratch. Not doing that again.

And then it hit me. I’m a bit slow on the uptake so please forgive if this is patently obvious to you. The answer lies in original D&D.

Think about it. The original game is a cats whisker away from being a war game, albeit one with fantasy/medieval trappings. So, imagine what would have happened if Gygax, Arneson etc had been playing WW2 skirmish games instead of Chainmail, what would the first RPG have looked like? My feeling is, not actually very different.

All I have to do is grab the rtf file of Swords & Wizardry, and get busy stripping out the fantasy and adding sten guns. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but not a huge amount. What I’m going to do is cleave as closely to the original system as I can, in order to get it finished. Then playtest. Then go back. Playtest. Go back. Layout. Done.

To facilitate this, I’m going with what might look like a crazy idea. Bear with. So in OD&D the majority of characters ended up being Fighting Men. So, soldiers then. Depending on stats you might get a Cleric or MU, which I’m having as NCOs and Officers. Instead of spells, they’ll be getting Commands. The Sarge will be all about morale and getting a medic over, as well as wading in with his squad (see? Cleric). The Officer leads from the back, calling in artillery and co trolling the situation (see? Wizard). That leaves the thief, or as I like to call it Special Ops.

Things get really funky when you look at dwarf and elf characters. How about Sapper and Intelligence?

Honestly, I know I’m being naive, but I think there’s a decent game in this.




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Next, 13th Age and me

Things are in flux right now. My 4e campaign has been on hiatus over the summer due to real life commitments, though I’m certain it will be back soon. While that’s (not) been happening I’ve been happily devouring the Next playtest packages (two, as of time of typing) and the 13th Age escalation edition playtest. Of course, I’ve been mulling my own commando game at the same time.

There’s no shortage of opinions on Next, and I really can’t bring myself to do a blow by blow on it myself. Similarly with 13th Age. But I do want to pull out a few initial thoughts about the different approaches each game is currently taking, and what that might mean to my own efforts.

Next has surprised me. There’s a lot to like. I’ve played a session with the first packet and done group chargen with the second. It delivers some interesting characters without taking too long. The four pillars of race, class, background and specialty are fun. What’s incredible is how much impact this simple classification has. There’s almost nothing in this that we don’t already have in 3 and 4e already. It’s basically skills and feats in pre chosen packages. Yet, it feels fresh, and creative. Maybe it’s in the traits element of the background, all of which make the DM in me want to write it into the very next adventure. But there’s no mechanics in that part, so I could weld it straight into my extant game. Maybe I will.

That’s not quite the surprise though. What’s astonished me is just how little of the game WotC have actually gotten done by this point. I know Monte jumped ship, but only a couple of days prior to the release of package one. That leaves Messrs Schwalb and Cordell from the original three. Their FB updates lead me to believe they’re rarely in the same room as each other, and when they are it’s not at WotC HQ. it seems like a strictly part time gig, and a short handed one at that. There’s lots of other stuff going on around the game itself, the art, the blogs, the articles, but that seems to have eaten into the actual design time.

Compare with 13th Age. Written by two main designers, Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, who won’t have done this as their full time rent paying gig. The playtest word doc is at 300 pages plus. It’s got tonnes of art ready. It’s got the first expansion up on Kickstarter already. It’s been and is being playtested. We have a release date, sorta. As a game it has it’s issues sure, and large lacuna yet to be firmed up. Again, the majority of the new innovations are mechanically light and could be added to my 4e game with little effort or issue. But it has a confidence about it that I don’t see in Next.

Now, a lot of this is down to the differences between WotC and Pelgrane Press, and the vastly different sets of expectations from the gaming community. WotC is having to wrangle a huge fanbase with highly developed senses of entitlement. Pelgrane, on the other hand, can include lines like

The druid class will not be appearing in this book. We’ve attempted some ambitious stunts to make the druid fun and different. The stunts are too ambitious to be properly finished in the time we have. We’ll have to make the druid available some other way when we’ve had time to get the design right.

And have the fans just go “that’s cool. Let us know when it’s ready”. Can you imagine the response if WotC tried that?

Next has a cool core. It has very cool aspirations. I want it to succeed. But it’s early stumbles are so face palmingly foolish, and so easily avoidable that I can’t help but worry. And while I worry, here’s 13th Age, nearly done, just as full of cool and I can keep all my 4e goodness on hand.

Mike Mearls, I’m a fan, I’m patient, and will remain so. There’s room in my life for all kinds of D&D, I’d love for Next to take a big chunk of it. You need to get a move on.

What does this mean for my own game? Well, it raised a smile to see some of the ideas I’ve had crop up in Next. They’re not that original, so I’m not being arrogant here. I like the four pillared approach. Commando currently has three, based around the play expectations. That seems to be a path I will continue down. I love the way flavour has been packed into the two playtests, whether in the equipment lists, or the talents or wherever. I want to get that into Commando.

There’s specific rules that I love, like Icons in 13A, though I don’t know how to work them in. The escalation dice I can absolutely use though.

In summary, I wanted to wait to see what Next would offer me, as a D&D fan and as a nascent designer. It’s too early to tell, and I don’t think it should be. Then 13th Age came along. It’s inspirational and very steal able. I also want to play it and run it immediately, and it’s pretty much ready to let me.


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Now I have a machine gun

Quick question about modern firearms in your (d20) gaming. How have you seen automatic fire handled? I want an option that is reasonably balanced against single shot, or a grenade, or any other standard action. I’m guessing it should represent a decreased chance to hit (?) but increased damage. The balance could be in the ammo usage, which again I want a nice elegant mechanic for.

First thought, reskin the rangers twin strike exploit. Second thought, go with a triple strike idea but have it cost a standard and a move action? Third thought, have Auto as a keyword on equipment.

What have past d20 based games done to pull it off?


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Everyone’s a designer now

My decision to write my own game has come at a time when the game I’m basing it on, 4e, is being chopped up and put into the DnDNext cooking pot. Which makes for interesting times. It means I’m having the same thoughts as every fan out there with an Internet connection and an axe to grind. I haven’t made any pronouncements on my hopes and fears for the Next project, because I haven’t entirely figured them out yet. Instead I thought it more fruitful to pour my ideas into Commando instead.

Where it gets weird is when my notes mesh so completely with some of the playtest reports coming out of the XP seminars. For instance, I decided today to strip out the skills list and go back to abilities at the core. I still want to provide bonuses, but that will be done through circumstance and discreet powers (feats for example). Seems the Next crew think exactly the same.

I’m also working at expanding combat advantage. For my game it will work in both directions, you can grant it to opponents, and you can gain it from them too. Also, I want to use it in the other pillars of the game, social encounters, infiltration, exploration, etc. I want to use the term Advantage to mean a lot, both mechanically and literally. Seems WotC are going down the same lines from the skills and abilities seminar released today.

Of course, this could just mean I’m gonna love the new edition. Happy days. Trouble is, it’s throwing me (literally) off my game as every fan posts comments in the pros and cons of very utterance. I wonder if the WotC guys will leave XP with their heads spinning like mine is? It’s hard to stay true to a vision when everyone wants to chip away at it when it’s barely started.

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Cross class

I spent a happy couple of hours transferring all the 4e Essentials martial classes into a spreadsheet. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. It’s amazing how many similarities they share. Maybe that’s obvious, what with them all being the same power source, but they do all have different roles. I’m not going to add in some of the newer classes like berserker and skald from Heroes of the Feywild, and see what they bring to the party. (Skald seems to be the closest we’re going to get to an essentials warlord now, shame.)

I did also get stuck into the original martial classes. I tell you what, the PHB looks really strange after 4 years. I don’t think I’ve opened it up that much in the intervening years. I was actually surprised at how cool that book still is. For the anti 4e brigade this has been an object of derision, but I think it still stands up as a great one book DnD. The fighter, ranger, rogue and warlord all have their own flavour, despite the same underlying structure. Putting them next to the Essentials classes shows up a few differences, but they still have a bunch in common. (the essentials ranger is way more magical than its classic brethren).

I’m now getting really close to a class structure for my Commando martial only game. I think the ranger will be the spine, and from there it will be free multi classing into fighter, rogue and/or warlord (tough, quick and command in Commando parlance).

There’s a bunch of reskinning to do, but not quite as much as I first thought. There’s a lot of overlap with powers, and I don’t see any mileage in that much differentiation. I’m likely to plunder the two Martial Power books for more inspiration too. There’s a lot in there to like, martial practices for one.

Now, how am I going to do grenades?

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Commando skills

Here’s my first draft of a skills list for Commando

Athletics str
Camaraderie cha
Command cha
Endurance con
Education int
Interrogate cha/str
Insight wis
Gymnastics dex
Larceny dex
Mechanics int
Medic wis
Fieldcraft wis
Perception wis
Scrounge cha
Stealth dex

Update: the more I think about it, the more I want to jettison the skill list. Instead I’m thinking about going old school and playing off the abilities first with extra kickers provided by powers.

Eg. Dexterity 16 (+3) acrobat training +2

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Current Commando thinking

The announcement of dnd next has kind of overtaken everyone’s thoughts in the community. It’s difficult to see beyond it, and increasingly difficult to look back at the current game without wondering what will become of it. I’m not going to speculate on that right now. Instead I’m using this as a great opportunity to get people’s opinions on hacking the base 4e engine, and taking those ideas to my nascent game, Commando.

I’ve been back and forth on a central issue about characters. Class? Or not class? I doubt very much that dnd will ever NOT have classes, they’re legacy, and they work. For that reason alone, I think I want them in my game.

Given that I’m only using the martial part of 4e, it’s interesting what that leaves me class wise. It’s fighter, rogue, ranger and warlord. Four classes, just like the old school! I find that pleasing. Perhaps the easiest thing to do is simply reskin everything in the PHB and be done with it, but I think I want to do something a bit different.

It seems to me that your class should really only be the flesh of your character rather than the spine. It’s important story defining stuff, but it isn’t necessarily character defining. Ie it tells you what you do, and (broadly) how you do it, but not why you do it. I think what I’m interested in is a big old pool of generic martial powers (exploits). As you level, you pick from here, but you also get a class specific pick. It’s like themes from 4e, but in reverse. That is, you’re all soldiers (a single class) but as you progress you pick from themes, like a fighter theme, or warlord, or rogue.

Here’s my starting suggestion: everyone plays a ranger from the off.

The ranger is really the ranged soldier, and in Commando everyone needs to have those core abilities. It’s basic training. After that, you could specialise in close combat (fighter), infiltration (rogue) or command (warlord). It’s a nod to 3e free multiclassing really.

So that’s where I’m at right now. It’s subject to change, but I really like the idea of generic martial power pools that eventually lead to more specialised characters over time.


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