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I don’t get bothered by many celebrity deaths because I don’t know the people. However, even I experience the sense of mortality that those deaths impose upon us. Christine McVie has died. As a member of Fleetwood Mac, Christine was an important part of one of my two favorite bands. The other is Rush, who lost who lost Neil Peart just under three years ago. Around that time, I googled all the members of those bands for their ages. It painted a grim picture, but despite some scares, everyone held on until this morning. Because I rarely go to concerts, I’ve never seen either band live, so I was excited to see Lindsey Buckingham had a concert scheduled for nearby Tysons Corner, Virginia. Unfortunately, he cancelled the show at the last minute. Stevie Nicks is on tour, but she isn’t scheduled to be anywhere near me. I may never get the chance to see any of them live, but I can live with that. I’m appreciative that as long as I’m still around, I get to hear their music anytime I want.
The fact that Fleetwood Mac stayed together was always a mystery to me. I understand the idea of being professional even in the midst of personal breakups, but the nature of their jobs was such that Lindsey and Stevie were constantly taking shots at each other through their music. Just looking at Rumors for the moment, you have Lindsey telling Stevie that loving her was a mistake because she had no sense of loyalty (Go Your Own Way), leading Stevie to respond that he was the one abandoning her (Dreams). One of my favorite songs of all time (Silver Springs), which almost made the album, and to which I have a mild, personal connection, was even more biting, as its musical composition drove as deeply as the lyrics did. Then you have the entire band coming together to write a song (The Chain) filled with the bitterness that accompanies a failed relationship. Lindsey and Stevie always had to sing these songs with and to each other as if they were just words.
As completely fucking brilliant as those songs are, too much of anything can grate on you. Christine provided the counterbalance. Despite being in one of the couples that was splitting at the time of writing those songs, she gave us the needed break from that anguish with the optimism (Don’t Stop) and gave us a sense that she was willing to move on (You Make Loving Fun). Even disregarding the lyrics, her compositions changed the tone at just the right times within the album, and it was just as brilliant as the rest of it.
I could go on with other albums, but I’m sure you get the jist. Instead, consider some music that might be new to you. If you get the chance, take a listen to her unheralded album with Lindsey Buckingham entitled, rather unimaginatively, Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie. It’s a nearly perfect album for Fleetwood Mac fans.
Here are some thoughts on how that one came together.
R.I.P. Christine McVie. Your musical legacy is on solid ground.
I know what music I’ll be listening to for the next week.
I recently discovered Masterplan by Andy Aiken, which is campaign planning, management, and execution software for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (“4e”). You can download it here. Just click on setup.msi and follow the prompts. If you’re not a 4e player, he’s created a similar online only tool for 5th Edition, Dojo, here. But enough about that. This post is about 4e. 🙂
This tool is fantastic, but it’s 4e-based, so adapting it to my 1st Edition game would be too time consuming without much benefit over what I’m doing now. Because I’ll be a player in my upcoming 4e campaign for the foreseeable future, my first step was to create libraries for my my synDCon Dungeon Delves(referred to as “synDClash” for the convention), my divine stat blocks (with corrections) for the Egyptian and Central American pantheons (which occasionally generate interest on my blog), and some other stat blocks I thought were pretty good.
I’ve finished every pre-existing element I planned to input into Masterplan except Monster Manual 3. That’s going to take a while. Because of WordPress restrictions, I can’t upload the library unless I change its extension to an allowed extension. So, for example, I’ve changed Central American Deities.library to Central American Deities.pdf. Likewise, Giant Problems.masterplan was renamed Giant Problems.pdf. You can download everything I’ve done to date using the links below, but you’ll need to change the extension back to .library or .masterplan. Libraries must be placed in your Masterplan/Libraries directory on your hard drive, but projects can go anywhere that’s convenient for you. They aren’t loaded automatically when the software boots up, so the system doesn’t need them to be in a particular place. Adobe Acrobat/Reader can’t read these files, so you won’t be able to view the material until you change that extension and load them into Masterplan. I’ll add more libraries as I create them, so expect hyperlinks to be added to this list. Well, that’s my master plan anyway.
I want to point out a great feature that mimics what I’m doing in my 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons game with Roll20. You can run your maps and minis online. If your computer has two monitors, you can hide one from the players, but a “player’s view” appears on the other monitor. This obviates the need for a battle map on your table. This isn’t exactly Earth-shattering to a 2022 audience, but this was implemented over a decade before the COVID pandemic accelerated the need for tools of this nature. As such, this doesn’t facilitate remote play over the internet, but as someone who runs my games in person but places maps on a computer screen, this works really well. It’s better than using Roll20 because it’s all self-contained. I can do this on a single computer within a single software application. With Roll20, I have to bring up a second browser, switch to player view, then always bounce back and forth between the two to make sure what’s on my screen matches what’s on the players’ screen. This isn’t a huge burden, but it’s technically a little more difficult. Masterplan makes it trivial. Of course, you may prefer the battle map to either solution for a game like 4e. Players may want to move their own minis around the board, but from the DM’s perspective, moving multiple minis is a lot easier on the screen than on a battle map.
Bug/Defect Report and Wishlist
I’m just getting started with Masterplan, but with what little I’ve done, I’ve already encountered some consistent defects. First off, some of the issues aren’t defects. The system doesn’t properly calculate suggested attack expressions because those depend on how many targets a power targets, but you often enter things like “one or two creatures in the burst” manually, so there’s no way for the system to calculate the proper attack bonus. For the record, an attack against multiple targets’ ACs suffers a -2 penalty in relation to an attack against one creature’s AC (-1 if the monster is a controller). So, you just have to watch your attack expressions.
That said, initiative isn’t even close to correct. According to page 184 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide (“DMG“), a soldier has an initiative bonus equal to its Dex bonus + 1/2 its level (rounded down) +2 because it’s a soldier. For Quetzacloatl, that’s 8 (27 Dex) + 17 (level 34) + 2 = 27, but Masterplan suggests 21. In some cases, Masterplan is off by as many as 9, but I haven’t yet figured out if there’s a pattern.
Defenses are also off. A soldier’s Fortitude should be 12 + level, which in the case of Quetzacoatl should be 12 + 34 = 46. This is exactly what Masterplan recommends. However, Masterplan doesn’t account for how ability scores change the default calculations. Specifically, each defense relies on the higher of two paired ability scores, which are Str and Con for Fortitude. The average ability score for a monster should be 13 + 1/2 level (rounding down), which is 30 at level 34. In the case of Quetzalcoatl, his Str is 36, and his Con is 30. So, take the higher of the two (Str 36), and compare that to the average (30). Accordingly, Quetzalcoatl has a Str 6 higher than average, so you should add half that (3) to his Fortitude, giving him a Fortitude of 46 + 3 = 49. As I said, Masterplan recommends 46, not 49.
I get that small differences in defenses may not matter too much, especially considering that one’s choice of ability scores is often based on flavor considerations or downright arbitrary. However, as the DMG suggests, sometimes you need to give monsters those bumps for game balance. Moreover, the pairing of ability scores facilitates making, for example, a low-intellect character whose Reflex defense can still be competitive due to a solid Dexterity score. Besides, for whatever reason, I’ve included the bumps, so I wish Masterplan factored in that aspect of the games’ rules.
Some of the math is solid. Hit points are good. Skill bonuses are good. Masterplan doesn’t provide damage expressions, so there’s nothing to check there. Also, I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet that performs all the correct calculations and helps me catch the errors, so where there are systemic issues, they’re easily corrected. If you find anything wrong with my calculations, please let me know, but I think I have it right for monsters. Just to make sure, I created and started populating the missing Monster Manual 3 library, started entering creatures, and found my Excel spreadsheet to match the WotC entries perfectly in most cases (exception: Silverback Ape), while the Masterplan recommendations still suffered from the same math errors. NPCs are treated a little differently than monsters (see DMG, page 186), so those aren’t relevant here.
Masterplan gives you the capability to copy an existing monster and paste it. That sounds like it makes things easier, but I find myself ignoring that feature. If the pasted stat block is of a different level or role (i.e., artillery, brute, etc.), when you adjust either, Masterplan will add miscellaneous bonuses to trained skill bonuses to keep them from changing. You’ll have to go through each one and delete the bonus. Moreover, you’ll inevitably have to change most of the attack expressions anyway, so why not do that from scratch? Still, there are some exceptions where it’s easier to make a copy, so YMMV.
To make a change to a part of stat block (e.g., a power), you open a dialog box, make your changes, then hit OK to save it. It returns you to the main stat block but jumps to the top. I’d rather the position of the view not change so that it returns me to where I need to be to continue making changes.
I’ve learned (far too late) that if you’re creating a monster, and you leave the “range” entry blank for a power, the next time you open the software and bring up the monster, whatever you entered in “power details” will be moved to range. To avoid this issue, I’ve started to enter “self,” “melee 1 (see below),” or something similar. You may find yourself having to modify my stat blocks accordingly. This isn’t a fatal flaw. It’s just a bit annoying to see “Range:” before the power details because they’ve been moved into the wrong field.
I’m not permitted to add a trap/hazard to an encounter map even if the trap/hazard has a stat block and is added to the encounter. I’d like to be able to add the trap, but then make it invisible on the “player view” screen.
In the aura dialog box, the tab order for the keywords field is off.
But seriously, this software is amazing. These are nitpicks, and as long as we all help each other identify these problems, we can work with them even if the software is never patched.
Many stat blocks crash the system!!! I did a significant amount of testing, and here’s a strange error I discovered. If your monster (or one that comes with the system) has the word, “hobgoblin” in its name, and if the NPC isn’t of a certain level, the software crashes whether you’re creating the stat block or just trying to view it. A hobgoblin of 5th or 6th level seems to work, and bugbears and goblins aren’t affected. I initially got around the problem by calling my Hobgoblin Warcaster a “Hobo Warcaster” instead. The presence of “hobgoblin” within the powers doesn’t create the problem. I hope Andy has the time and desire to fix this, but I think he moved past this project a long time ago.
Also of note: If the system crashes, you lose all your work since you last opened the program. So, if you’ve made significant changes, exit the library, then exit the software so that it will properly save. You wouldn’t think this was necessary considering that the libraries are separate data files, but it is. Nothing is saved until you exit the program. I’ve lost a good bit of work after unwittingly attempting to open a corrupt stat block entry.
Below is the list of monsters that are confirmed to crash the system. You should expect this list to grow as I continued to plow through the program. I’m replacing them with renamed creatures I built from scratch. “Hobgoblin” is now “Hob Goblin,” “Mezzodemon” is now “Mezzo Demon,” “Nycademon” is now “Nyca Demon,” and “Wereboar” is now “Were Boar.” That seems to solve the problem no matter what else is in the name of the creature.
I also made changes to the Monster Manual 2 library. I added all the stat blocks that were missing (there were about a dozen IIRC), replaced the malfunctioning one listed above, and categorized all of them. What that last one means is that, for example, Blizzard dragons fall in the section labeled, “Dragon.” There’s a field for that in the database labeled “Category,” but it’s not an indicator of the type of creature. Keywords handle that. Category refers to the section in which the monster is found. Blizzard dragons are in the Dragon section, so Dragon should be its category. An elder brain is not a mind flayer, but it’s written up in the mind flayer section because it’s part of their culture. Thoon hulks are mind flayers, so they have the mind flayer keyword, but they also need to have the mind flayer category. If category is empty, the creature is placed in “Miscellaneous Creatures.” Most of the monsters were missing that piece of data, so I went through each stat block and added the category to the stat block. In other words, the creatures are now better organized and easier to navigate. That process didn’t change the underlying data (other than replacing malfunctioning stat blocks of course).
Complete Rework of the Libraries
I’m just now adding this section almost a week after initial publication of this post. I’m annoyed by the crashing stat blocks, but the other things that bugs me are 1) the “Miscellaneous Creatures” mentioned above; and 2) the fact that some of this data entry was performed before WotC changed how they write the stat blocks. For example, the range entry (e.g., “Melee 1 (one creature)”) didn’t exist until Monster Manual 3. Sometimes, this resulted in strangely expressed stat blocks (e.g., the Solamith from Manual of the Planes, page 123). So, I’m going through all of the libraries and cleaning up the old data. I wouldn’t have expected Andy to do that and am glad he didn’t. I’m glad he spent his time polishing the functionality. Leave data entry to the community (i.e., me). I’ll provide all of the libraries when I’m finished with them. In the meantime, here’s an updated Monster Manual 2 library (also posted above) placing all of the creatures into their appropriate “section,” replacing the corrupted stat blocks, and adding the missing stat blocks. I haven’t yet updated the stat blocks to the new format yet. I won’t do that until I’m finished with Monster Manual 3, though Manual of the Planes is finished, so download that one now. I’ve also provided updates to Draconomicon Metallic Dragons (I replaced the crashing draconian stat blocks) and Underdark (I properly categorized a few stat blocks), and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (I replaced crashing stat blocks, corrected errors, added missing monsters, and updated the terminology to the later format). Again, they have *.pdf extensions, which must be changed to a *.library extensions and placed in the libraries folder.
If you want to complete your 4e downloads with the offline Character Builder, then use one of these three videos for instructions.
I provided three videos because at least one of them didn’t work, and one of them I never tried. I’ve forgotten which is which. However, whatever I installed doesn’t include later material, and it appears there’s a newer version of the CBLoader here. This one may include the missing material, but I have no idea how well it works. Caveat emptor. (It’s free.)
As the holiday season continues, I give you yet another god that embodies the season’s spirit. Depending on who you ask, Baldr represented a lot of different things. The only commonality among these interpretations is that he was clearly the most beloved god. Everyone liked him.
Here’s a video on his tragic end.
Don’t feel sad, though. Baldr “returned” when Christianity spread through Scandanavia.
I hope Baldr’s joy reaches you during this holiday season.
A few years ago, David posted this stat block, which he recirculated recently.
Oddly, he received criticism for the stat block along the lines of, among other things, “wild turkeys can’t fly!” This is a stupid criticism because 1) dire turkeys are works of fiction in which magic may be involved, so they can be whatever the creator wants; and 2) even if you disregard #1, regardless of its biological cousins, even birds as large as an ostriches or cassowaries can’t fly because their just too damn big. Personally, I think my response (on Facebook) was the best he received.
If only Mr. Carlson had had access to this stat block in 1978….
But what would the holidays be without a little Star Trek thrown in?
Last week, I signed an online petition. There’s very little I could do that’s dumber than signing and online petition.
There’s no guarantee that each signature comes from a unique individual. I alone have a seemingly infinite number of email addresses through which I could have voted. In the case of political petitions, there’s no guarantee that the signors are from the relevant jurisdiction, but that’s no relevant here. The petition at issue here is requesting that Wizards of the Coast (“WotC”) complete and release four cancelled books from the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (“4e“) era: Player’s Handbook Races: Humans, Gazetteer: The Nentir Vale, Player’s Option: Champions of the Heroic Tier, and Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
We have no idea how many people actually want that, but that number has to be far too small to justify a release of books. Also of note, even if we know Fred Snerd signed the petition, how many of those books would he buy? These aren’t core sourcebooks; they’re supplements. Supplements never sell as well as sourcebooks because only the core sourcebooks are necessary for the game. Supplements don’t necessarily appeal to everyone that plays. If Fred never plays humans, he’s not going to buy Player’s Handbook Races: Humans.
Besides, the timing couldn’t be worse. Earlier this month, WotC removed the last remaining 4e content they had from their site. I think the remaining material was their Dragon and Dungeon magazines archive. There’s simply no way they’re going to reverse course so quickly. You can still buy existing content via the DMs Guild, so the material is out there. Hell, I recently bought a ton of 1st Edition material, and I now having everything that was every lost, stolen, or destroyed. It’s a bit much to expect WotC to create new content for that edition. The legacy communities have to rely on each other to create and publish material for those editions. Of course, that’s made difficult by the fact that WotC legal have stifled such creativity with horrible mischaracterizations of intellectual property law, but do you really want me beating that dead horse again?
I love 4e and am currently in discussions to host a new campaign, but WotC has moved on, they have no reason to complete new material for it, and they have no reason to believe it would be worth their while financially speaking.
But it felt damn good signing that petition. I can’t wait to play again.