Off the Grid: 4e Tactical Pool Expanded

Tactical retreat’ my arse.

Previously I’ve written about how we’re playing without a map or grid in our 4e Dark Sun game, very successfully as a matter of fact, by translating the normal slides, pushes, shoves etc that take place on the combat map into a ‘combat pool’ that acts as free-floating bonuses for either side to use to boost their attacks or defences. It’s an abstract representation of the kind of positional advantage that a group with high tactical skill and mobility can have over a slower or less populous group.

This works great for one-on-one and small unit tactics as is, so I don’t really need to expand on it as that’s where 4e D&D sits, at the skirmish level. Now that I’ve introduced this change though my brain starts to think on how I might encourage and expand the use of the existing rules I’ve created at the existing level of combat.

So, how else can we use this combat pool without needlessly complicating matters? After all, simplicity was one of the main reasons we decided to get rid of the board in the first place (and boy does it speed combat up). We also need to keep in mind that these bonuses are also available to the bad guys, should they manage to outmanoeuvre the characters. So, I think we’re really looking at other ways that this tactical pool can be spent:

  • Moving further: Spend points 1/1 to move further, up to your normal movement again.
  • Passing on your turn: 5 points to give your go to someone else on your side, your action becoming a distraction to the enemy that allows your ally to go again. Someone can only get one extra turn this way.
  • Taking an extra turn: 10 points to get an extra turn with your character as you outmanoeuvre your enemies. You can only get one extra turn this way.
  • An automatic critical: 20 points to automatically strike an enemy for a critical hit. A sort of advanced backstab, available to anyone who’s managed to so completely control the battlefield.

Gamma World, GSL, Cease & Desist Letters, oh my!

Not that kind of atomic.

Fire From the Sky & Gamma World GSL Issues

Many of us were overjoyed to discover that Gamma World was covered by the GSL but there’s been some confusion since then, especially since the withdrawl of the Fire From the Sky adventure for the game, produced under the GSL by DarkLight Interactive.

Getting straight answers out of Wizards of the Coast customer service is like finding hen’s teeth, then forcibly removing those teeth from the hen, which turns out to be a giant, killer chicken with lots of friends, while from the sidelines someone shouts at you that you shouldn’t be attacking the hen at all, but rather contacting the legal departent. So, having slain the hen you quest forth seeking The Legal Department only to discover that they live in a cave up an unclimbable mountain, only speak an ancient dialect (Haad’Copi) and even then don’t deign to speak to most people anyway.

In short, getting any contact or clarity from these people OTHER than a C&D order from Hasbro’s attack lawyers is an exercise in excrutiating masochism and, personally, as a regular GM I’m much more of a sadist.

Still, I’m passing familiar with these legalese nonsense and I managed to get a hold of a copy of FFtS, I also have my handy copies of all the Gamma World books and the GSL to hand and so, I think, I can discern what went wrong and how people might go about producing saleable Gamma World material in the future.

Where God Went Wrong

The first thing that leaps out and nobbles you the moment you look at FFtS is that it openly advertises itself as a Gamma World product and announces its compatibility, complete with a self-designed compatibility logo. You can’t do this, yet. The GSL has no references to Gamma World and only references D&D. While it talks about ‘forthcoming’ GSL information for SF/Modern materials I think we can probably all safely bet since the layoffs and the reluctance to have the GSL and modify it beforehand that we ain’t going to see this in a while, if at all.

Without explicit permission you cannot and should not advertise your product as compatible with Gamma World in much the same way as you cannot advertise your product as being compatible with Dark Sun, Eberron or Forgotten Realms. You can only advertise your product as being compatible with D&D. Even though Gamma World is more of a separate game than a setting per se this makes no odds as far as this problem is concerned.

Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes

Trade Dress: A clear attempt has been made to make FFtS look like the official GW material. This is laudable n’all but companies tend to be pretty protective about this. While it’s (probably) fine for the powers, attacks and monster stat blocks, not so much for the main body text. Best to play it safe.

Monsters/Powers Etc: Not a mistake here, but something to be wary of. You can’t reproduce the monsters in the Gamma World books AT ALL. You can’t use the base stats and fiddle them a bit to create a ‘deadly nightshade vegepygmy’ though you could create a ‘deadly nightshade plant-midget’. Equally you can’t reproduce power/attack text or damage or anything else direct from the book, like hazards.

Omega Tech/Alpha Mutations: Nope, can’t mention these or make up your own. You can of course create your own NAMED loot and maybe ‘evolutions’ but you can’t redefine or work it into the existing system. You’ll have to leave people to do that themselves maybe with vague suggestions like ‘There might be a couple of high tech devices in this bunker for the characters to loot’ or ‘the reality flux in this area may cause random genetic and other changes in a character from turn to turn’.

Healing Rules: Specific mention/reference to Gamma World healing rules. Can’t do that. You could refer to D&D healing rules, but not to the GW healing rules. You can only refer to the books covered in the GSL.

Who is this God Person Anyway?

OK, so, what CAN and CAN’T you do for Gamma World under the GSL?

Adventures: Monsters and encounters appear to be no problem, just watch your terminology. There’s nothing that says you have to use a standard monster template in your material, so as far as baddies go you should be golden.

Rules: You can only mention rules that are in the main 4e D&D books and covered by the existing GSL. You can’t refer to the GW peculiarities, you can’t redefine terms but you CAN expand them or add new ones.

Mutations: So you can’t create new Alpha Mutations, but you could produce ‘Evolutions’ as a mutation mechanic to bolt onto 4e D&D that works in somewhat the same way, maybe a table instead of cards, maybe permanent instead of temporary mutations.

Omega Tech: You can’t produce Omega Tech cards or a field guide, but you could produce books or tables of ‘high tech weapons’ that work much the same way, though, again, you can’t use specific GW terminology that doesn’t appear in the GSL.

Cards: So you can’t have items with ‘expended’ and ‘salvaged’ rules specifically. With mutations you can’t have ‘overcharged’ and you can’t talk about tap, refresh and other card handling.

Character Origins: Nope. Can’t do these. Too many non GSL terms and references. It’s just not going to work. Nothing to stop you putting them out as fan material, but that’s a different samovar of piscines altogether.

PreGens: Nope. If you want to include pregenerated characters with your adventures you’re shit out of luck. You could always put them out for free as ‘fan material’ as with origins, but that’s inconvenient really.

Weapons & Equipment: Gamma World is pretty vague, so long as you don’t use the same names you should have no problem here coming up with your own stuff.

Cryptic Alliances: You can’t call them that or make cards, but you can come up with secretive groups all you like.

Vocations: Nope, these aren’t allowed. They’re not covered in the GSL. You could create some things that are analagous to them in some way, but again you’d have to be careful.

Feats: You could make up Feats all you wanted, but since they can only – normally – be gained via vocations in Gamma World you’d need to work out some other rationale and why someone might want to take them in place of their vocational one, while still not mentioning vocations.

Don’t Panic

None of this constitutes legal advice, it just represents what I’ve been able to discern are the probable issues with FFtS and the likely reasoning behind the C&D order. I have taken a rather conservative and paranoid outlook on what may and may not be allowed for material produced for Gamma World and your mileage may vary, as may your tolerance for risk. If you’ve NOT signed up to the GSL and want to produce Gamma World material you’re probably better off confirming to normal copyright and compatibility legalities, but I’m not going to get into those here. Look it up for D&D on Google and you should find some articles explaining it nicely.

Ultimately the only way we’re going to know exactly what’s going on is as and when Wizards legal offer some sort of explanation or cure opportunity to DarkLight Interactive.

I do not consider Brainclouds to be a ‘n00b’ or to have done much wrong in this instance. It’s a messy area and Wizards are providing conflicting messages on the issues that have been raised. If anything we’ve been done a favour by having this pushed out into the open. Since the dropping of the OGL and the confusion around the GSL the whole issue has been a mess for 3PP which is a large part of the reason you haven’t seen a great deal of 4e support and why so many more 3PP have embraced Pathfinder (feeding its success).

Hell, just the sheer amount of acronyms used above should be a warning to anyone.

Hopefully this helps some people get their head around the issues and, if in doubt, crosscheck with the existing GSL.

4E: Off the Grid

This is a problem I’ve poked at before, how to play 4E ‘off’ the battle map. I’ve sort of given in on our 6-Pack release – and upcoming releases – for 4E adventures but when it comes to my own games there’s simply not going to be any way I can use a board.

Where I play we don’t have a table and with six or so players getting up and down, ordering takeout etc, any map would get stopped, spilled, burned or mangled in some way in short order. Even if not that, it’d get knocked and you’d lose track.

We’ve never really used a board in our gaming. I think I used a board when I first started playing MERP (the hex maps from the box were pretty useful in all sorts of different circumstances). We’ve always tended to rely on our imaginations. I’ve done some bodge-job fixes in the past but with a Dark Sun game coming up in the near to mid future it’s necessary to re-address the problem. Maps and position being so bloody, annoyingly, important in 4E.

This is basically the same solution that I have come up with before, but a little extended and formalised.

Multiply by 5ft and use that as a vague gauge and you’re golden.

Short of outright running away, movement doesn’t make that much of a huge difference in boardless combat. In the tactical game it provides significant advantage by opening enemies up to flanking attacks or moving them into danger. In place of this slide/push points will go into a tactical ‘pool’ that can be tapped into by anyone on your side, allowing you to set things up for others in your team.

Each space of Push/Pull/Slide is translated into a +1 bonus that can be applied to combat skill checks, to hit rolls, armour class/saves during combat and to damage, all representing the combat advantages to be gained from controlling the field of battle. What you earn is taken away from the enemy pool until it’s gone and then added to your own pool. This also allows groups of characters some compensation against singular big-bad enemies who will be more powerful, but less manoeuverable, allowing the characters to build up tactical advantage and then press home for the killing blow. This is similar to a system I am working on for a couple of my upcoming games that are based around group tactics.

EG: The group is engaged with a dragon, unable to take it on directly they spend several turns working on manoeuvring it into position and getting their fighter into position to attack. When he does so he can spend their accumulated bonuses in a devastating blow, representing the accumulation of their tactical advantage.

4th Edition Surprise

I have been massively surprised by the success of our 4th Edition product Sickness in Springdale by the incomparable Tracy Hurley. My earlier 4e product Living Constructs didn’t do remotely as well and the comparison between the two and what I’ve seen elsewhere in the, frankly small and unsuccessful third party 4e market suggests to me that it’s a very different market and target audience to 3.5/Pathfinder. This is surprising, because you would think it would be the same people, the same audience essentially and that they would want the same thing.

The GSL is, clearly, bollocks. It’s far too restrictive and guts the capability of third party publishers to produce broader product or riff off the 4e system. On the other hand it apparently applies to all D&D4e derived games, so we’re free to do stuff for Gamma World as well, something I fully intend to do. DDI, along with the relative tightness of control over 4e means that creating things like new character classes, feats, powers etc is pretty much a lost cause, something that was the meat and potatoes of 3.x 3PP.

When it comes to 4e product is seems cheap and simple is the way to go if you want to produce anything with any crunch. That pretty much limits you to monsters and adventures. If you’re after fluff you could create game worlds but there’s little point producing a lot of crunch to go with it. However, if you do something cheap, accessible and useful, it seems that you’re OK, even do pretty well.

Certainly it’s changed my mind about doing a little more with 4e, more 6-Pack adventures, some monster guides and some shiny things for Gamma World – though possibly not face-raping mecha gibbons due to the rules about adult content…

Living Constructs Released!

Golems make excellent servants, tireless, tough and obedient, but they lack that spark of life and adaptability that free thinking people have. Some have tried to instil their creations with some imitation of the free though, the soul, that ‘real’ people have with varying degrees of success and sometimes spectacular failure. When a slave has the ability to recognise that it is a slave it chafes against that control and seeks to free itself from it. Some of those constructs have managed to win their freedom through violence, labour, the death of their creator or their largesse and these constructs have gained true freedom, true self determination and true souls, becoming complete. Now these freed slaves form an ever growing community of liberated beings and they are learning to make more of themselves.

Living Constructs provides the opportunity to play self-determining devices, golems and constructs in D&D4E campaigns and game worlds.

Purchase it HERE.

The All New GSL

Like I did last time for the GSL here’s a quick run down of what you can and can’t do under the revised version. The short-short version is that you CAN now republish old OGL material for 4th Edition without stopping selling the other material, the whole of section 6 has been torn out and shat upon. Worldbooks still seem to be a little bit of a problem since you can’t redefine races etc to suit your world, though you could use them as templates to create your own with a few tweaks. The subtle emphasis seems, still, to me to be ‘we want you to create adventures’ but there’s room for a little more flexibility in this version.

Can Do
1. Reference material from the core rulebooks plus Player’s Handbook 2, Monster Mantual 2 and Adventurer’s Vault.
2. Produce RPG books and accessories in print or PDF provided they’re not specifically barred.
3. You MAY reprint reference terms, tables and templates provided that they’re referenced in the SRD.
4. You may come up with new terms, tables and templates of your own.
5. May use the style and content of the material covered by the SRD to create derivative works (EG Illustrations of 4th Ed material that’s opened up).
6. May continue to sell under the GSL for 6 months after it is terminated, as and when this happens.
7. You MAY now convert OGL materials to 4th edition and there doesn’t seem to be any restriction on publishing under both now.

Can’t Do
1. May not directly copy material, unchanged, from the allowed reference books.
2. You may not define, redefine or change any of the referenced material.
3. You can’t leave off the GSL logo and you can’t change the size or positioning.
4. Can’t leave out the block of legal text required which must appear in the first three pages.
5. Can’t leave out the separate legal text from advertising.
6. No:

  •     Websites.
  •     Computer games/interactive projects.
  •     Miniatures.
  •     Character creators.
  •     Character creation rules or experience rules.
  •     Describing a book as a core book.
  •     Refer to or use artwork or imagery from a Wiz Core book
  •     Reprint any material from a core book other than already allowed.
  •     Publishing material in a magazine or compilation that isn’t licensed.

7. Can’t reprint or republish the SRD.
8. Can’t reprint definitions of 4E references from the SRD to get around this.
9. Can’t reprint or reuse Wizards imagery or create derivative copies of key creatures listed in the license (EG: Illithids & Beholders).
10. Can’t contain ‘excessive’ violence or gore.
11. Can’t contain ‘sexual situations’,sexual abuse, pornography, gratuitous nudity, genitals or sexual activity.
12. No depicting RL groups as inferior (no bigotry or prejudice of real world groups in other words).
13. No harassment or abuse, basically no illegal content.
14. Can’t refuse Wizards a copy for review, if they want one.
15. Can’t directly reference page numbers.
16. Can’t redefine ‘fluff’ – EG: rewriting a race to fit into your world background.