Archive for March 2009
It looks like that the Penny Arcade podcast wraps up at the 8th, that being the 8th episode. Its been a good run so far, and I'm hoping that they give it a third go in the future.
There's a PH3 preview on the list, followed by a dual class-playtest. I was never a fan of dual-classing in the past, since it caused you to drag really far behind the rest of the gang, but then 4E has made a lot of crappy things awesome.
Finally, we get an article on familiars (glee!), ecology of the deva, and an orc creature incarnation. Looks to be yet another entertaining month.
The new sorcerer fills in a different role from the wizard (striker), and commands raw magic within her blood. This was always implied in 3rd Edition, but didnt get touched on until later supplements. I'm happy to see that its gotten a better treatment, which saw two spell sources: dragon and chaos. Each relies on a different secondary ability (Strength and Dexterity respectively), but in case those arent enough Wizards has added a third in Arcane Power.
The cosmic spell source is tied to the sun, moon, and stars. Its tied to Strength, so dragonborn again get some love with the sorcerer. What differentiates it from the dragon spell source is that you choose a "phase" during a short/extended rest, each granting you a different benefits. The sun phase deals fire and radiant damage to adjacent enemies at the start of your turn and grants resist 5 cold, the moon phase boosts your AC by the number of adjacent enemies and grants resist 5 psychic, and the star phase lets you teleport when an enemy misses you and grants resist 5 radiant.
Here's the rub, however: when you first become bloodied in an encounter or use a daily power, your phase goes up to the next phase before starting over at star.
This works well with the concept of cosmic magic: your abilites are in a constant state of flux. This reminds me of the vestige pact, which had a similar degree of complexity since the benefits of your at-will was different depending on the vestige you had active. I think that the sorcerer at its core is a really fun class by itself, but the cosmic spell source will be attractive to more dedicated players since your abilities jump around.
First off, as you probably already know we've finally got Arcane Power coming out, plus Death's Reach, the first epic level adventure. In May we get Monster Manual 2, and coming up here in April we get the first round of Player's Handbook Heroes miniatures. I'm sure there's more, however besides the WotC stuff Goodman Games has just updated their Coming Soon page to include some really appetite whetting stuff.
In April, aside from a couple awesome looking new DCC's that I WILL be running for my group, we have the first issue of Level Up, which means we finally have a magazine devoted completely to 4th Edition. I am really looking forward to this as it will feature "adventures, character options, new monsters, Azagar’s Advice for Adventurers, and the endearing wisdom of Dear Archmage Abby. All for only $1.99! Look for the first issue at your local store in April."
In May Goodman Games is dropping Hero's Handbook: Eladrin, the second of the Hero's Handbook series, which will give you lots of more crunch and fluff options for your Eladrin pc's. (Click here to check out Antioch's review of Hero's Handbook: Dragonborn.) Also to be released is the PDF for the Amethyst Campaign Setting. This setting is built upon the idea of "What would happen if a fantasy world of dragons, elves, and fairies suddenly appeared in our real world?" It sounds and looks pretty cool and I'll most likely be grabbing this to check it out. The print edition is being released later in the year at Gen Con.
Also in May we have the second installments for both the Forgotten Heroes and Points of Light series. Forgotten Heroes: Scythe and Shroud will feature death as a new 4E power source - that's right, death as a power source - and will feature Goodman Games' versions of the the assassin, deathwarden, necromancer, and spiritsworn. While I have always been a huge fan of modules, and especially GG's modules, I have never been a big fan of 3pp's versions of races and classes, but the theme is so cool these will definitely be getting at the very least a playtest at our gaming table. Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea is a systems-nuetral accessory that hooks you up with four new settings, each extensively detailed and mapped for your D&D games, all in Wilderlands style goodness.
And arriving in June, the month I think I am looking forward to most, will be the Adventures of Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer: Shadows of Mirahan. I can't begin to describe how freaking cool this looks. Anyone who appreciates Frazetta's rich history of art and cover work will dig this, especially those who have read the Death Dealer comic. This will include setting details, rules variants, and pre-generated characters. I am already itching to run this for my group.
From Here to There is going to be a collection of "nine travelling adventures" to get you out of the dungeon and on the road. Not much more is revealed in the review but this looks pretty alluring. There are a couple players in our group, myself included, who tire quickly of dungeon crawling when that's all you're doing. That is why when we finished Keep on The Shadowfell I recommended we put up a vote to either continue with Thunderspire Labrynth or start Scales of War. So far Scales of War has been a lot of fun. ;) Though our friend Adrian has been running the WotC adventures (Antioch is one of the players) and they are finishing up Pyramid of Shadows. When they start up King of the Trollhaunt Warrens I will be bringing back my Wizard Kendric whom I played in KotS. Blood Mage paragon path - sweet.
This year has been really good so far regarding D&D and our gaming group. Now, armed with the PH2 and looking ahead to all the goodies coming out for 4th Edition just in the next few months, this year is gonna kick ass!
What this meant for small characters was that you couldnt use a greatsword, but you could use a longsword in two hands. Since damage dice scaled with size, it basically amounted to the same thing: a longsword dealt the same damage as a "small greatsword". Where this didnt make a lot of sense is that it implied that small races just didnt make two-handed weapons at all, but instead made their weapons to a Medium standard. You could argue that a human might very well use a gnome's greatsword as a longsword, but the weapon proportions would be off and you still didnt have some things like a Small spiked chain.
This lead to a problem where they would pitch in weapon's like a halfling's kama and a korobokuru's lajatang, to account for how a smaller race might go about using an iconic weapon. They were basically just standard weapons reduced by size, but with a longer name.
Revised Edition fixed this to a point by just making one weapon and allowing you to size it however you wanted to. Weapons were categorized by light, one-handed, and two-handed, so if you found a Small greatsword you knew that a gnome would use it in two hands, since it was pegged at two-handed. I liked this change because it made a lot more sense, though it did add in a complication of what size the weapon was in a treasure find. I suppose it made more sense in that you could sort treasure by where the party found it: in a dwarf fortress, most of its probably Medium.
4th Edition handles things a bit differently. There are no more weapon sizes anymore. They come in one-handed or two-handed, and some have the Off Hand or Versatile property. Versatile is important because for Medium characters, you get a +1 damage bonus when using it in two hands. If you are Small, you have to use the weapon in two-hands, but get no damage bonus. Kind of like the whole 3rd Edition weapon-scaling-by-size thing. This isnt a big deal, except when it comes to powers that require you to use a two-handed weapon.
Versatile weapons are lumped into the one-handed category, since you can use them in one hand. By definition, Small characters can take but not actually use those powers since they cannot qualify for using a two-handed weapon, except for the shortbow.
This has lead some to believe that you cannot play an effective barbarian, since most of the at-wills demand a two-handed weapon. An oversight on the part of Wizards? Well, I recall that people were complaining that the barbarian at-wills were too good since they all offer constant bonus damage dice. A rogue with barbarian training could really mess things up with those. Wizards said that they would find a fix, and so they did: rogues cannot use two-handed weapons and benefit from Sneak Attack. The downside? Well, they evidently overlooked the little guys in the process.
The solution to this is simple: just suck it up and let Small characters use those powers in your game. A houserule? Certainly, but I've houseruled a lot more and a lot more extensively in other games (I had a houserule document that I would email players before starting new campaigns). This is really a no-brainer, and if you're going to wait for Wizards to make it all shiny and official, then I feel for you and your group. You can get all up in arms about it, or you can stop making such a big deal out of it and actually go play.
Infected victims start out by gaining only half the normal healing before taking persistent necrotic damage each time they don't improve (it cannot be healed). If you die from the disease, you rise as an infected zombie of your level.
It takes a minor action to summon a spirit companion, which appears within 20 squares of you. It lasts until you are dropped, or dismiss it as a minor action. As a conjuration effect, enemies cannot pass through it.
If you take a move action, it can also move up to your Speed. I have houseruled this to allow it to make a shift if you want, as a ranger can with animal companions.
It can only be targeted by melee or ranged attacks. This seems very specific, discounting area bursts and close blast attacks (a ranged attack is not the same as an area burst despite both being ranged). This means that your spirit is effectively immune to a dragon's breath weapon.
If it takes damage equal to 10 + one-half your level it disappears, but you can summon it again on your next turn. You also take damage equal to 5 + one-half your level. It is otherwise unaffected by the attack. As a conjuration, the spirit uses your Defenses and is not affected by conditions or ongoing damage.
Also if you do not have line of sight to it at the end of your turn, the effect ends.
Unlike most attacks with a conjuration, if you use a power with the Spirit keyword, you draw both line of effect and line of sight from the spirit, not yourself. This is an exception to the normal rule in that you must have line of sight from yourself.
The world in the setting, Nuera, is described as "a world beset by magic, wars, and mystery," and the free kingdom in which the pc's hail from is Dardarrick, can you give us the basic backdrop of the setting...
Dardarrick is the strongest and most influential kingdom on a world that was forged as kind of a god "experiment", and it was the favoured son so to speak of the father of all the gods. It was the place where mortals waged the most wars and such over its fertile and central territory. Over the centuries Dardarrick suffered a great deal under the yokke of others, only becoming free once they discovered a powerful artefact that gives them magical superiority over their foes. By the time of the written supplements, Dardarrick has risen to the top of the main Nueraen continent's power structure and is threatened from all sides and within by all manner of enemies.
So where did the initial idea to have a group of player characters as a recon unit stem from?
Well, to tell you the truth, Wraith Recon was born in the mind of the Master Mongoose himself, Matthew Sprange. He sat me down in Las Vegas last year and we started talking about what we wanted out of the project. In less than an hour and a few more emails later, Wraith Recon took shape and the strike teams were formed.
What are the different roles within a Wraith Recon unit? Are they similar to a typical 4th Edition adventuring party?
Absolutely. The game was designed to be perfect for 4th Edition and we wanted anyone familiar with 4E to be able to jump right in.
So if a player has already made a 4E character, she can just drop it into the game?
It takes a little adjustment to make a normal character "Nueraen", but the main rulebook has a section in it that talks about how to make that happen...so, yes.
How do these roles work as far as executing the various tasks, such as assassinations, reconnaissance, hostage rescue, etc.?
Well, the Wraith Recon Strike Teams are trained and equipped by Spellcaster Command, their resource management headquarters of sorts. SpellCom sets them up with their targets, drops them in using teleportation and the like, and the Wraiths get the job done. Whatever that needs to be.
Now, the units start out armed with a basic package of resources given to them by Dardarrick, one of these items being the Omnilens, can you tell us what that is?
The SpellCom Omnilens is a magical item designed by the master archmages of Dardarrick that allows the arcanists at Spellcaster Command to watch over, communicate and send aid to the teams in the field. It is also how the Wraiths keep in touch with one another and get a few special bonuses along the way.
Regarding the resource package, how complex does it get when starting out at higher level?
There is a table based on level and class that goes from level 1 to level 20. It is pretty easy to follow, and can be adjusted by some favours earned by the team's leader or given by the mission's inherent bonuses.
What was the biggest challenge for you when fleshing all of this out?
Trying to mesh everything together with the new 4E rules was likely the biggest task. Wraith Recon was deisgned for it, but it was still a new rules system to try and surmount while coming up with a flavourful and interesting world that people could play in.
What was your favorite part, or moment, when writing Wraith Recon?
It has to be the creation and fleshing out of the Nueraen Pantheon. They are the real movers and shakers in the back story, and a great deal of it is revealed in Enemies Within, the first rule supplement that should be hitting stores soon.
The party consisted of a minotaur warden, dwarf shaman, dragonborn sorcerer, elf druid, and goblin barbarian. We didnt try to do much social role-playing, as the notion of a village hiring up such an unlikely and bizarre band of heroes didnt do much in the way of immersion.
The first encounter was kind of confusing with the way Adrian mapped it out. This makes sense since he didnt map it out in accordance with the actual map, so various terrain features ended up perplexing the lot of us. In hindsight Dungeon Tiles would have made things a lot clearer with a minimum of setup time. Even still, we prevailed without much difficult and with all of our daily powers, something I use as a barometer for when its time to leg it.
Encounter two was far more frustrating, especially since Adrian let the kobolds drop a statue on us as a minor action. I cant blame him: the first encounter went by pretty easily, and I think he just wanted to make us sweat...a lot. He also misinterpreted the save ends effect to include both prone and immobilization, which would have been really bad if my warden wasnt able to make a save at the start of his turn.
The last encounter went by a lot quicker despite the overflow of minions, throwing an extra slyblade into the mix, and an elite dragon: Josh burned his daily, action-pointed an encounter, and wrapped things up with dragon breath to bloody the wyrmling on the second round. On the flipside, it recharged the dragon's breath weapon, but that only really affected the goblin barbarian.
In the end we succeeded despite Adrian adding more things to the mix. Knowing that it was only three encounters long I hoarded my action points and daily powers, rolling them out on the wyrmling. I had a lot of fun with the shaman, and had more fun with the warden that I thought I would have.
The shaman, as I'd expected, plays a lot like a Final Fantasy XI summoner in that you mostly move it around and trigger attacks with it. You can use a few ranged attacks, but you're a soft target (I had an AC of 13 I think). The leader-benefits doled out by the spirit companion are very nice, and I found myself teleporting the spirit about and using it as a kind of "ground zero" for formations and setups.
I dont think that the warden is a better defender than the fighter, despite the free marking ability. I never actually got to make any attacks with it, and I didnt get to mark a whole lot of monsters since they didnt try to clump around him. His attacks are thematic and useful: I used one to effectively prevent a kobold from running away, but otherwise was able to ramp up my AC to 20 with the other one. The daily-form power is also really cool, similar to a barbarian rage but still different mechanically and thematically.
We all had a lot of fun tonight, and it makes me feel a lot better about purchasing Dungeon Delve. Adrian and myself are strongly considering pitching this as a monthly event at Knightfall Games, once we are sure we can make even that commitment. I think its an excellent way to introduce new people to the mechanics and get a feel for new characters.
I've lauded the usage of archetypes before, and I think that they really help to strengthen the game by allowing new and veteran players make what they want to make with a minimal of fuss and/or rules-mastery. If you want to play a sword-swinging armored-guy, its right there for you and it works. Wanna cast spells? Pick your style, because we have wizards, warlocks, sorcerers, and bards, now.
Sure, I've had fun with "sandbox" style creation systems in the past, but often I would just pick a few key skills and crank them up to absurd levels. This made it hard for the GM to challenge us properly since it was often way too easy for me to, say, shoot something. If the GM made it hard for me to shoot, then it fell into the range of impossible for the rest of the team to achieve any result.
With archetypes, or classes, I think its much easier to get what you want and have your asses covered in the process.
Decisions are key to making a fun game, and all versions of D&D had plenty: race, class, how you distributed your ability scores (and later ability points), skills (no matter what they were called), weapon if you used one, spells if you could cast, etc. 3rd Edition added feats, and 4th Edition has every class making a choice at every level--sometimes more than one. Its not that D&D is about choices, but that choices make a fun game and the desigjners understand this. This is one reason I didnt agree at all with the "review" for 5th Edition in which there is only one choice: the character pack you pick. I dont think for a second that they are going to start stripping away the freedom and flexibility that 4th Edition offers.
Vestiges were originally introduced in Tome of Magic (3E), where they were associated with the binder class. Binders were one of three new spellcasting classes that Wizards created to try out different spellcasting mechanics. Binders selected vestiges that they could make deals with and bind to themselves in exchange for power. This gave them quite a bit of flexibility, but most of their powers were under par. On the other hand, many of the abilities granted by vestiges refreshed every 3-5 rounds, so they saw more use.
The vestige pact draws on the same theme as the binder did, having the warlock make a bargain with similarly displaced entities and what-have-you. What sets the vestige pact apart from other pacts is complexity: your vestige pact power is eyes of the vestige, and it gets augmented depending on which vestige you have active. Also, your pact boon can get switched about depending on your active vestige.
For example, if you make Ugar the Unforviging active, eyes of the vestige deals fire damage, disables concealment on the target, and lets you move the vestige of Ugar zone effect 3 squares whenever you drop a cursed target.
Is this bad? Perhaps. If you have players that have a hard time tracking their at-wills, this is certainly a road to madness. However with a normal amount of prep time I dont think it will overwhelm them despite augmentations. The vestige pact looks interesting, and I'm looking forward to using it when the book comes out next month.
In 3rd Edition I didnt much care for party composition outside of "someone needs to play a cleric". Depending on the players and raw numbers, we could occasionally get by with a favored soul or even a druid if we absolutely had to. This was because while prior editions utilized parties of adventurers, each character was largely self-contained and didnt interact much beyond the cleric spamming cure whatever wounds spells to keep the rest of the gang propped up.
4th Edition relies on teamwork far more than it ever did before. My group preference is that someone plays a leader, and everyone else can just do whatever. We really like having a defender around, but its not always necessary depending on the overall fire-power of the group: we just like being able to burn through healing surges with minor actions is all.
The article itself runs ten pages. You get a basic rundown on the party building approach, which can be divided into two methods: they either build the party in a vacuum or they dont. I personally prefer my group to actually communicate at this stage to avoid lumping up too many roles, but more importantly I find that they can stimulate eachother and come up with better characters than they might have in isolation.
Then there's a brief recap on the four roles, which expands the definitions we got in Player's Handbook by a lot. Its mostly stuff we already know, but for newer players it might prove useful to explain things in more detail.
There're a couple tables on multiclassing combinations and which races do best and crappy in which classes, which again is great for newer players.
My favorite section is Party Themes. This is a rundown of various role and power source combinations, which reminds me of that old Final Fantasy challenge where you were supposed to beat the game with four white mages.
One example is called Tanking, which is a party of one controller, leader, striker, and two defenders. I'd like to see how well a party does with one or two leaders, and the rest as strikers.
Power source themes are just parties where everyone has the same power source, which also has a lot of appeal to me from a challenge perspective (whether the author wanted it to be one or not).
Its an interesting, short read. I think most of it is great for new players, but even for me I got something out of it.
This one is a basic controller that controls plants.
This one is a bit trickier. It was inspired in part by the hunter in Left 4 Dead, and also because I liked the idea of a more murderous dryad that springs out from a tree and starts tearing you apart. It can teleport into plants like normal, but can also conceal itself party within the plant (hence the AC/Ref bonus). Stupid MS Office and stupid grammar errors...
I got two sets of these yesterday: warlord because I play a warlord, and warlock because one of the two players in Adrian's game plays a warlock and I wanted to see how another player handled them. Then I kicked myself because as a resourceful warlord, all my shit was in Martial Power, and those wont be out for awhile. I kicked myself again later when I realized that Corinne was a dark-pact warlock, and I just should have broken down and got a paladin set for Jennifer because she's the only one using stuff from Player's Handbook.
The power cards are as you would expect: they take the entire power block from whatever set you have and format it to fit a card. They are more durable than the paper you might print a sheet on from the Character Builder, but obviously dont have all the values entered in ahead of time. You could probably do this, but then it would mess them up right-quick.
They are sorted alphabetically by level, so its easy to skim through them to find what you want, and there are quite a few blanks in the back that you could use to enter in values for powers you have, create your own, or to just jot down the ones that arent on cards yet.
I think mostly these will be useful for players that dont have the Character Builder, but want something that looks nice. Its generally not hard to figure out what your attack bonus is, and they make an easy way to track power usage by flipping them or something so that players dont "forget" what they've used. Doubly important between games if your group likes to take an extended rest whenever the session winds down (*cough cough* Corinne and Jennifer *cough cough*).
So to surmise, they're durable, look nice, and are easy to navigate. You can also opt to not print out the card section of your sheet and save up on ink.
The downside is that if you've rememberd all your stats or pick anything out of Player's Handbook you're screwed until the Power-Souce-Name Power set comes out...unless you write on the blank ones.
My experiences with Rainy Day Games have in general run from tolerable to not-good. One of the employees is somewhat confrontational and reminds me of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. I could go into specific examples, but a more entertaining approach is to just watch episodes of The Simpsons that feature him in it at all. Its both annoying and a bit unnerving.
First impressions are important, and Knightfall Games made a very big impression before I'd entirely stepped through the door. Chris Slovick, the owner, immediately set upon Adrian and myself with greetings and an extremely helpful tone. This I cannot stress enough: this guy defines the term friendly. He wanted to know if we were looking for anything in particular, showed us all the display cases with D&D minis, where the D&D swag was, if we'd already gotten PH2, tables loaded with terrain, and offered to let us set up a game any night we pleased (including allowing us to use hand-made tiles that looked similar to Dwarven Forge).
He was friendly, helpful, and offered discounts. I'd suspected this was because we were first-timers there, but when we went back to play our game I overheard him offering other people discounts on paints, brushes, whatever. He also participated actively in games being played, which bridged the gap at other game stores where the guys "just work there".
The store isnt terribly large, but has three game tables with modular terrain for Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 setups, as well as smaller tables for card games and the one we used for D&D. Though there were a lot of people there, I didnt feel crowded. Jennifer seemed put off because of all the people, but thats natural in a new surrounding with a shitload of strangers in their own worlds playing their own games.
This is the kind of store that makes me want to go back for the environment. I feel like I could meet a lot of interesting, nice people there, and most importantly I feel like I'm wanted there for more than just my patronage. If you're in the Portland area this is defintely the place to go.
Call of the beast doesnt deal any damage unless the target goes after the closest of your allies. I can see in a lot of cases how it would have done this anyhow, but with a bit of setup you could potentially hamstring it. Is this better than scorching burst? I dont think so, even with the flat damage of 5 + Wisdom modifier. It also affects allies as well, so...
Chill wind is another druid at-will that deals minor cold damage with a slide 1 effect. It hits all creatures, but you do not add your Wisdom modifier to damage: its just 1d6 damage. I think that this is pretty balanced with scorching burst, since you are sacrificing damage for a very minor slide effect.
Grasping shards is an invoker at-will that deals flat Wisdom damage and slows affected targets. Again, it effects all creatures. Not to bad, I suppose, but not inherently superior since the damage is going to be pretty tame.
Vanguard's lightning is honestly the only new ranged 10, burst 1 at-will that trumps scorching burst, since it does the exact same thing but also has the potential to deal extra damage if the target takes an opportunity attack before the end of your next turn. The bonus damage is equal to your Int mod, which is a secondary stat to invokers, so I expect it to be very small (a couple of points) until much later in the game.
However, I do not think that its so much more powerful that it blows scorching burst out of the water, or that the wizard is now in need of a major overhaul. The damage is very small and highly situational. I think other things need to be factored into the equation, namely feats and magic items. A master's wand of scorching burst kicks things up a notch by adding another d6 to the poor bastard in the center of your blast, and thats a property. There might be others, but I'm going to come out and say that I dont think it needs changing, or that items and/or feats are now necessary to make the wizard playable.
If you think that scorching burst is in dire need of a kicker effect, my suggestion is to have the target take additional fire damage equal to your Dexterity or Wisdom (whichever one you think makes the most sense) modifier if it moves more than one square before the end of your next turn. Forced movement should not trigger the bonus damage.
My thoughts on this issue are that first of all, we didnt get divine feats right out of the gate. I think the earliest we got divine feats was in Complete Warrior, published three years after 3rd Edition was released. Three years. Of course, we got all manner of evil stuff in Book of Vile Darkness, but that didnt hit until the second year of the game.
The other thing that occured to me is that he's not even complaining about the cleric in general, but that he specifically wants to play an evil cleric and have it make a mechanical impact.
See, in 3E if you were evil you had the ability to spontaneously channel negative energy and cause undead to just stand there and gawk at you. From a team perspective, this was often bad because clerics were basically the best healings in 3E. Playing an evil cleric meant that you had to start prepping healing spells instead of just converting them on the fly, and rebuke undead was only nifty if you got a really good roll so that you could command them: generally it was better to just make them run away or back the fuck off until you finished the threats that werent going to turn tail.
His example is extremely specific and brings to mind people complaining about the inability to play an unarmored or light-armored fighter in 3E: you cant jump to the conclusion that the game has no versatility just because an extremely specific concept doesnt exist in the offical rules. Likewise, its also not grounds to declare the game as unfinished or non-functional.
The poster moves on to cite how wizards arent as flexible because of fewer feats and spells. Now, there werent a lot of good feats in 3E, either. Sure, there were a slew of Metamagic feats, but a lot of them took a long time to get around to using since they increased the effective spell's level, or sucked. I dont consider a crapton of feats to be a good thing when people arent going to use most of them. To me thats just text padding in disguise.
Officially, you can play an evil cleric. On the upside, you arent screwing over the rest of the party in doing so, since clerics can always heal their allies, now. I dont see this is a problem since, as others have said, if an evil cleric is hanging around in a group he probably wants them alive for some reason. That I do not expect to change. As for commanding undead, thats an option I could see in an issue of Dragon or Divine Power. Of course, you could take a pro-active step and try to create a variant class feature yourself. On the other hand, rebuke undead basically made them stand there, and thats what turn undead does now so if you just describe it differently you have the same result, but whatever.
As for the rest of it, you can argue that if you want to play an evil cleric and have it make a mechanical impact that he could houserule energy keywords, change names and descriptions, and maybe create a few simple houserules, but I think the real solution is to just be patient. Make houserules if you want, but stop pretending that the game has no flexibility because it doesnt contain the specific rules you want, especially rules that we didnt see for years in a previous game edition. 3rd Edition had a lot of problems with rules bloat, power creep, and useless crunch.
Customization (along with accessibility and playability) is one of 4E's strong points. You can take any race and attach it to any class end up with a functional character, which I certainly couldnt say for 3E. Fighters can use many more weapons and not suck, there are less newbie-trap feats, and I havent found a power that sucked. I think I've said before here that you would have to go out of your way to make a crippled character, but that doesnt mean you have cookie cutter characters, either.
In Red Jason's Scions on Punjar, Josh is playing a halfling fighter that dual-wield kukris. Try achieving a similar concept without a lot of min/maxing and likely rogue multiclassing and its a recipie for disaster. He didnt have to fret about any of that, simply placing his Strength at 16, taking Weapon Proficiency, and then worrying about the personality and background.
Now, its my turn.
The basic rundown is that Player's Handbook 2 is a huge content expansion to D&D, providing five full race write-ups that include some that were occasionally missed (like the half-orc and gnome), and eight classes that have a 50:50 ratio of revamp and new. The theme of this PH is primal, with most of the races falling into place along with half the classes, but it also rounds out the divine and arcane sources by pitching us two classes for each.
As the name implies, this book is almost exclusively intended for players. I say almost because it has a lot of new magic items and rituals, which if the players want then your DM will want to know what they do, but also because as a DM you might actually want to use class templates for monsters and in that case you'll need to know what a class does.
This is a big book so I'm just going to tackle it in order.
The first thing I noticed upon opening the book was the art. This was a comment I heard last night--between Red Jason paying attention to Adrian killing us, people shouting for heals, and flipping through the book--was about the art. The art quality seems to have gotten a lot better, in particular the race art. However, while eye candy is nice it wont do anyone any good if the new crunch
Overall I like all of the new races. I played gnomes purely for aesthetics in 3rd Edition, but couldnt care less about the goliath and half-orc. The half-orc's only real ability was that it could use items that were limited to orcs, which at the time I think amounted to two magic items, one of which was an epic-level item. Big deal, especially considering that for your troubles you got a -2 net penalty to your ability scores.
I liked the idea of a shifter, but always felt that they were fairly underpowered (about as badly as the half-orc). Each race now has something that it brings to the table that helps differentiate it and also makes it more desirable to play: I'm strongly considering trying out a goliath, and already have a shifter up and running.
Another very cool thing are the racial paragon paths, which as the name implies are paragon paths that have only a specific race as a requirement (makes sense). By far the coolest of these is scion of Arkhosia, which lets you grow wings that grant an at-will fly utility at level 12 and overland flight at level 16. Most of them have a lot of appeal to a race, and I expect to see a lot of players picking these up.
Here is the meat of the book. PH2 brings eight classes to the table, half of which are entirely new, while the other half are revamps of classes that existed in 3rd Edition but didn't make the cut for the initial launch. The best part is that in reading through each class none of them seem noticeably better than the other classes at what they are supposed to do: the barbarian doesnt seem to be superior to other strikers, for example. Also, none of the classes seem to suck, which was a fear of mine after playing a few of them back in 3rd Edition, specifically the bard.
The bard. Oh, what to say about the bard? Me and the bard go waaay back, since the release of 3rd Edition when I played in my first campaign. One of the players, Bat Jew, decided to make a gnome bard as a kind of foil for my gnome fighter. I went with the concept because it was funny, and thats mostly why I played a gnome: the laughs. Anyway, we played for almost seven levels before the DM had to move, and I have to say that I was severely unimpressed with the character's performance. He was bad in and out of combat, and I think the only shining moment of the character for the duration of the short-lived campaign was when we had to rescue a baby and he cast invisibility on both of us so that we could run away.
Of course, that was the 3rd Edition bard, not the Revised Edition version. Well, that got a pretty thorough playtest when I was running Age of Worms, up until level 14 in fact. Throughout much of the campaign, the player didnt enjoy the combat part of the game at all since she basically just sat there singing and repeatedly missing with most of her ranged attacks. She derived some enjoyment from the character concept, background, and various decisions he made building the character (including having a hippogriff improved familiar with all the durability of cracked glass), but that's all very ancillory when you compare it to the core D&D experience.
My most recent experience with bards was actually last week, when I made a tiefling bard for Red Jason's Scions of Punjar adventure, and I have to say that I already enjoy it a lot more. The basic premise of a bard is no more a "jack-of-all-trades", but as an artist, and this emphasis helps define the class and make it work. In combat, my powers are useful. I'm not carefully treading about failing to hit one monster after another, or expending both 0-level spells to heal a grand total of two hit points. Quite the opposite, I felt useful and functional. In combat I could contribute in a meaningful manner, just as I could outside of combat (and with skills other than Diplomacy, to boot).
Part and parcel of the fear of suck is the fear of power creep. Many people bitched about the druid (amongst other things) on the Wizards.com forums, mostly with highly circumstantial evidence, about how it was better than basically any other class due to wildshaping into specific animal forms and self-buffing. Having seen the preview material and read through the class, I'm happy with the final result. Its a flexible controller that relies on wildshape to determine if you are going to blast things from a distance or close the gap and rend creatures apart in melee. With the way the class is made, you always have the opportunity to do both, and I think thats going to make it a lot of fun.
The class that has the most appeal to me is the shaman. I've found out that I have a secret love of leaders, but what really sells it for me is the fact that you get to control a spirit. Shamans themselves are ranged characters, but throw their spirit into melee and buff allies that are close to the spirit. This is like me playing a summoner in Final Fantasy all over again, but without all the tedious work that often resulted in three wasted hours.
The final chapter contains the rules for backgrounds, feats, rituals, and new gear. Backgrounds arent necessarily a new mechanic, but the presentation in PH2 is. Backgrounds are divided into sections like society, occupation, geography, etc. You can pick as many as you want, but they dont do anything by themselves. Once you figure out your background you are allowed to add a +2 bonus to a skill, a bonus language, and an extra skill that you can choose to be trained in. Its simple, its not a huge bonus, and most importantly I think it will be very handy for newer players to help flesh out their character.
I'm playing with a few new people in one campaign, and I think this is something that will help them both out. I've heard that the benefits arent as big as the ones in Forgotten Realms, but the easy fix is to just not use those ones (if you even have the book), or to just increase the bonus slightly.
Many of the feats are intended for the new races and classes, but some can be used with the rest as well, and one is specific for the half-elf. I think that in most cases players will use feats from the same book they pick their race and class out of, though there are a couple that improve upon older feats (like Epic Fortitude) as well as some arguable necessities (such as Weapon Expertise).
I'm not going to get deep into the value of Implement/Weapon Expertise again, I will say that I dont think its necessary but handy for players that took a low proficiency weapon or went with a suboptimal route.
I find Coordinated Explosion to be funny and wish that I knew about it before my eladrin wizard got killed, since I liked to drop Fire attacks on my tiefling warlord because she had fire resistance. This would have been an entertaining way to get a +1 bonus to hit.
Melee Training will be great for classes like the paladin, ranger, and rogue since they can opt to use Dex or Cha or whatever for their attacks. Jennifer's Charisma-paladin works out great until she needs to make a basic attack, at which point her Strength of 12 means she cannot damage the broad side of a paper sack.
There's not much to see in the mundane gear section. We get totems and a handful of musical instruments, but thats it, so we're off to magic loot. There are over 30 types of new armors, only seven weapons, and a smattering of new implements. I would have liked to see more implements, but likely there are enough in Adventurer's Vault to tide everyone over until the next one comes out.
For the bard, they added a bunch of magical instruments which are wondrous items that can act as implements, but also grant a benefit if you play it while taking a rest. This ranges from bonus hit points to bonus damage until the next time you take a nap.
There are new rituals, a little over a third being stamped as bard-only. Some are classic spells that werent put in as powers, such as control weather, lullaby, and animal friendship.
Thankfully not very long, the appendix is mostly devoted to explaining powers and keywords, and it does an excellent job defining them and lumping them all up in one spot. It wraps up with new rules for Bluff and Stealth.
Put simply, this is an excellent book. The best by far. The crunch and the art are both great, and its worth it for the classes alone. If you hate gnomes, or think that goliaths are boring, I still highly recommend this book since its mostly a huge-ass book of classes-and-stuff-that-goes-with-them. A few people are bitching about the price tag, but Martial Power was only five bucks less: I'm more than happy to shell out a bit more to get a lot more.
Now, I am going to be be comparing it directly to Goodman Game's Character Codex, because I have been using that for my character in Antioch's Scales of War campaign for a few months now, and I've gotten pretty familiar with it.
The first thing I noticed when cracking it open was that both inside covers have handy folder pockets for storing whatever else you'll need to bring with you. I like this because I've been using power cards (the ones you fill out that came with the 4E character sheets) and even though I paper clip them to my Character Codex I've often found them strewn all over the place inside my messenger bag. With the pocket folder I wouldn't really have to worry about that.
The first three and a half pages of the Character Codex has a very nicely organized character sheet, one that I like much better than the official character sheet, however the 'Power Index' section, where you list all of your powers along with their attributes is too small, too small to me in the same way the official sheet is laid out, which is why I use the power cards in the first place. But I don't really mind, I actually like using the cards. However if you don't, the Character Record Folio has about four pages sectioned off very similar to power cards for everything from at-wills to magic items to having one for your racial feature. And they are numbered to match exactly the number of utilities, encounters etc. that you get according to the Character Advancement table in the Player's Handbook. Nice.
Another cool thing about it is that it has a 'Companions' page with sections for the stats of a total six other players, whereas in the Codex it has a 'Comardes-In-Arms' section with room for only two other players. Something I would have used if it had room for everyone in my party.
Both contain a page dedicated to character advancement, and are pretty similar to each other, having a small section for starting ability scores. This is really great for tracking the powers you gain, as well as increases in ability scores and feats gained. I do like the Goodman Games version better because it is organized in a Microsoft Excel style table, making the whole thing neat and easy whereas the Folio has you fill everything out above dotted lines (like the rest of the Folio) and the dragon art piece in the background is a little too dark for my taste, and if your as nitpicky as me this could start getting on your nerves. Overall neatness makes for easier bookkeeping.
Both contain an adventure journal/campaign log, but again I like the Goodman Games version better because it is just more neat and easier to keep track of, with more room for writing.
Another thing I really dig is there is a page dedicated to Rituals. It includes everything you need to keep you from having to go back to the books when you want to use one, including type, time, duration, component cost etc., etc. The Codex only has a very small section for listing the names of your Rituals. I'm definitely going to be transferring my 8th level wizard I'm using in our Pyramid of Shadows game to the Folio just because of this factor.
One thing the Folio is missing that the Codex does have, that might matter to some Points of Light readers, is a section for drawing your pc. I always hated the old character sheets that didn't have a small section for that. However the Folio does have a pretty large section for drawing you characters coat of arms, and assuming most of you 4E'ers aren't playing in a converted Greyhawk campaign, you could just as easily throw at least a facial profile of your pc here. I will be.
I feel as though I'm skipping over basic structure, so I'll point out that the Character Record Folio does not have anything resembling a traditional character sheet. Everything is sort of expanded a bit and laid out in very simple sections. One thing it doesn't have that I think is pretty cool about the Character Codex is a section for you to make a copy of and fill in your ability scores and prop up on the game table for your DM to see, with a section on the back for reminders. I haven't had need to use it, but for a group playing with a new DM, and maybe new players, this could be a really useful tool.
Another thing to note is that the Character Codex from Goodman Games has a page for mapping out a dominion, as well as a page for mapping out a stronghold or hideout. Though there is more that could be discussed, this sort of brings me to my conclusion. If you are more into an old school look and feel and are playing in old school style 4E games, and can either memorize details about things like rituals, or don't mind hitting the books often, the Character Codex is pretty cool, and I've been happy with using it over the last few months - just for the fact that the character sheet is better than the WotC one. It does seem as though it is marketed for people looking for a nostalgic addition to their games. However if you want something to track your character with that has a new look and feel, one that really matches the new feel of 4th Edition, the Character Record Folio is more than worth the $4.95 price tag. I dig both, and will be keeping the Codex for my cleric in Scales of War, and will be using the Folio for my wizard.
However I've come to terms that when most people mention role-playing, they are emphasizing character interaction over anything else, if they even consider the other elements to be role-playing at all. I think a more focused term for that is social role-playing, and while some think that using skills and dice to determine the outcome is bad, I think that it adds consistency and immersive play since the mechanics of a character are supposed to reflect what she is good and bad at.
My preferred method of utilizing social skills, such as Bluff and Diplomacy, is to have the player roll first and then interact based on the results of the roll. This is because I prefer the actions of the character to succeed or fail based on the merits of the character, but also because it makes things fair for all the players regardless of their personal talents and skills. If your character is stupid, don't expect to do a lot of intelligent things. Conversely, just because you are socially inept does not mean that you cannot play a character with a high Charisma.
If I allow the player to come up with a really good plan, then it feels like I'm short-changing them when they roll and the plan fails. I used to give out bonuses in those situations, but I felt that it was a pretty one-sided benefit that could end up "breaking" character depending on the character, player, and suggestion. Also, it only favored mental and social skills, not physical ones like Acrobatics or Endurance.
I don't think this method penalizes players who are really intelligent or silver-tongued, as if they want to play a character that is smart or great at talking, they are more than free to. Heck, D&D makes it pretty easy to break the mold with Multiclass and Skill Training feats: I played a barbarian that I wanted to be an excellent leader, so took Student of Battle and picked up Diplomacy. One feat and I got some great benefits out of it that reflected the character's personality and experience.
Anyway, I'm not about to penalize a strong character that is being played by a physically weak player. I'm likewise not about to give a player a bonus to Athletics because they describe a really good way to lift something.
Click for a larger, legible, view.
Note: Thanks to Dominic for the addition of force and thunder vulnerability.
I used to own every D&D book from 3rd Edition, up until several months after the announcement of 4th Edition. One of these books was Libris Mortis, which was a book that went into extensive detail about undead. Personalities, diets, physiology, etc. Like all 3E books, it had a lot of crunchy material, from feats to prestige classes to spells that were thematically died to undeath. It even had several iconic monsters as classes if you wanted to all out. Going back I have to say that I liked the book in theory, but only ended up using it for the Corpsecrafter feat tree to make completely overpowered undead servitors.
Open Grave is a successor to that in that it’s another book on undead, though it doesn’t follow the same format: this book-of-ze-dead is intended for DMs only. Its divided into four chapters (with four being almost half the damned book) organized into undead lore, DM information, premade lairs, and (of course) new monsters.
The first chapter is a fairly interesting read, going into the origins of undead as they function in 4th Edition. My favorite thing about 4th Edition undead is how the body, soul, and animus relate to each other. I remember reading up on this in the Wizards Presents preview books and really digging this concept, especially since 3rd Edition had a lot of arguments about undead, negative energy, and evil (despite negative energy being completely neutral). While I don’t think the arguments will stop, I think that this new take on undead helps a lot of things make more sense.
There's a brief overview of decomposition and the how it works with undead, as well as how some undead like vampires can suppress it (vampires by drinking blood, ghouls by eating flesh). How their eyes work even if they don’t have physical eyes. Whether they can smell, why they eat, the morality of necromancy. I could go on, but Chapter 1 is a pretty big chapter.
Chapter 2 has a couple of new Skill Challenges that involve trying not to piss undead off, rules on hauntings, centering adventures or entire campaign arcs around undead, new artifacts and rituals, and undead grafts.
Hauntings are those parts in horror flicks where the ghost freaks out the main character for no real reason other than to be a jerk, or where they experience some kind of vision of a past event. You can use them purely for visual effect, but if you want to take it a step further the section provides rules on using them as reflavored-traps, hindering terrain, or even as part of a Skill Challenge (going so far as to add yet another Skill Challenge example for this purpose).
Artifacts has eight new artifacts, which include the sword of Kas, a murderous ioun stone, and an orb that really, really doesn’t like undead.
The new rituals include a method for creating an undead minion, which doesn’t do much except take up space and probably lift heavy things since it’s got a Strength of 16. Another highlight is Last Sight Vision, which allows you to see what a creature did moments before dying and would come in handy for an Eberron inquisition-themed adventure.
Undead grafts are very similar to the variant dragon traits in Draconomicon, but just let you add a new ability to a creature instead of exchanging it. Kind of like a template-but-not-really. You can give your big-bad a mummy's eye that allows him to use eye of despair, or an eladrin wizard a lich's brain so that he can recharge one of his spent powers during a fight. It’s simple, elegant, and (most importantly) effective.
Chapter 3 contains a grand total of nine undead lairs, which range from graveyards to the corpse of a dead god. They're all pretty small and could be handy for some map inspiration or just directly dropped into an existing adventure.
Saving the best for last, Chapter 4 is brimming with hordes of new undead to play with, old and new. The crawling claw, several beholders, and the brain in a jar are a few very cool things that make a comeback. There are also new ghosts, ghouls, a golem made out of tombstones, mummies, liches, a creepy kid's skeleton—the list just goes on.
There are also more than a few templates, such as Ascetic of Vecna and Infected Zombie, which brings me to one of the main complaints about the book: the Infected Zombie template lets you infect targets with a disease called zombie plague, but it’s not mentioned in the book anywhere. It’s been a few months since the book’s release, and we’re still waiting for that little tidbit.
This book is very solid. My only nitpick is the quality of some of the art, particularly Kas and Vecna, but the rest of the book more than makes up for it. This is a must-have for all DMs, if just for the new monsters alone.