Archive for April 2009

Review: The Lunar Scrolls

The Lunar Scrolls a third-party supplement intended to provide you with a moon-themed package to both sides of the screen, written by Silent 7Seven. It runs 34 pages and a little over seven bucks. Admittingly I'd never heard of the company until a few days ago, but in a nutshell Silent 7Seven touts themselves as a company that tries to push the envelope as it were outside of the established boundaries on 4th Edition products.

With that out of the way, its time to check out the product to see if they deliver. The cover immediately put me off a bit. I think its a pretty poor piece, suited more for a novice Deviant Art(ist) than an actual product rendition. Likewise, the interior art where it exists is pretty low quality. That being said, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover (even though I often do), so I skipped past it and started browsing the pdf for delicious content.

This is a comparatively small supplement with a lot of big ambitions that will appeal to both players and DMs, and I applaud Silent 7Seven for their efforts. I havent bothered to check and see if the elements included are balanced against everything else: in general if something doesnt interest me I'm not going to use it, and the same can be said for my players. If they like it and it ends up being too much, its a fairly easy matter of pushing things back a notch.

Anyway.

For the players, you get four "paragon classes" that apply to the four class roles (defender, leader, striker, and controller), feats, equipment, and lunar rituals. For the DM, you get more monsters.

The paragon classes function like multiclassing, in which you burn up to three feats to gain new powers and abilities that replace existing powers in your arsenal. Personally, I dont think that its necessary to use the term "paragon" to refer to powers and abilities that can only be gained through feats: if anything people might become confused by the double-use of paragon.

The paragon classes run the gamut of okay to cool. The crescent striker conjures up immaterial blades that you can throw and daze creatures if you take a dive to your damage output, and as you progress through the feat tree can eventually do a totally badass leap attack that hits a Close burst 2, which reminds me of my barbarian days in Diablo 2.
Each paragon class also has a related paragon path obviously requires feats from the former and does its best to improve the powers you got from all those feats you spent. Sticking with the crescent striker, at level 11 you can burn an action point to activate the daze effect from your blades without suffering a penalty to damage, and enemies that damage your illusory duplicates take Wis modifier damage.

Since I almost exclusively play leaders (a combination of choice and paranoia), I also checked out the moonleader. The entry feat doesnt do much: you can use Lunar rituals and once per encounter can also grant an ally a +1 bonus to AC that you heal. The bonus is specified as a "moonshield" bonus, which rubs me the wrong way since it would be better/more consistently pegged as a power or untyped bonus. Adding new types just seems a bit excessive and uncessary, especially when they are so specific.
That, and the second feat grants you the ability to swap out two powers (level 3 or higher attack, and a level 6 or higher utility), flying in the face of all Multiclass feats that we've ever seen.
Is this something I would actually take? If I actually had a change to try out a shifter shaman, it would certainly be on the list. Its thematic, new, and adds a crapload of stuff to make a protecting spirit shaman even more durable. Of course, I tend to take things for thematic purposes in the stead of min/maxing or power gaming, so your mileage might vary.

The concepts, story, and much of the content are actually pretty good. I was very pleased with the opening bit about the lunar power source and it how it might relate to existing power sources: good stuff to get the gears turning.
My primary complaints concern the wording of some of the powers, feats and magic items, as well as the creation of new types of bonuses and terms when frankly they werent necessary at all. Understand that this isnt a mechanical issue, but more about product consistency with stuff Wizards pushes out.
On the whole, its a very decently written supplement and about what I would expect when you tread into unfamiliar territory. Good on its own, but I think it will appeal best to people who really dig the primal power source (like myself) and perhaps star-pact warlocks, and with a small amount of work/houseruling you can polish the content here to really make it shine.
April 29, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Scions of Punjar: Session 3

(Another short session) At the end of the last session the party was headed back to the city of Punjar. Armed with the knowledge that they would most likely be facing undead the group decided to hire, if possible, a cleric or paladin etc. They made their way through the streets of Punjar on a warm, humid and rainy afternoon, finally arriving at the Bazaar of the Gods - a small section of the city comprised of various tent shrines and ramshackle temples. Through the use of an urban skill challenge the party managed to find a small unassuming temple dedicated to the Raven Queen. The group was confronted by a scarred old man and and was able to hook up (skill challenge) with a shifter avenger who had been working and living at the temple who was more than interested in the idea of taking out undead.

They made their way to the mausoleum discovering that it was indeed the family crypt of the Dev'shir family. Upon entering the main room of the mausoleum, which served as a chapel, the party discovered two rooms on the east and west walls that each served as tombs. In these rooms they found about 16 undead each, standing in rows of 8 almost like an infantry, some skeletons and some recently dead - zombies. Much of the Dev'shir family ancestry had been risen as undead. After dispatching these undead tha party moved on to the double doors on the north wall of the chapel. It was here they noticed that the doors themselves had been craved like a gnarled trunk of a massive tree, with the branches extending out onto the walls. On the branches were bricks inlaid in the wall with the names of the members of the Dev'shir family - obviously a family tree. Upon closer inspection they found the branch noticed that belongs to Lady Dev'shir had 2 blank bricks underneath her name which looked out of place. The party figured out that this was a piece to what was becoming an interesting puzzle.

The party entered the double doors and found another tomb, noticing that one of the graves had been disturbed, spying a body lying in the corner of the room. While inspecting this an apparition, a young woman half-burned and wearing what appeared to be a dress made of flames, appeared behind them and began to attack, while screaming for them to stop disturbing her. Antioch's character, the tiefling bard Talibah, stepped up with a diplomacy check and rolled high. The group learned that she was Dugesia, the daughter of Lady Dev'shir, and that she had been burned alive but could not remember how. They also learned that she has heard many voices in the tomb, one a familiar female voice. Talibah convinced her that the group was hunting the people that had disturbed her and Dugesia begged the group to place her body back into the tomb properly. Once this was done the tormented ghost of Dugesia Dev'shir faded away.

Jester stated that he believed that it was Lady Dev'shir herself that was behind all of this mess and led the party back to the Dev'shir manner. In the middle of what was a rainy night the party stormed into the Dev'shir manner, knocking out a startled butler in the process. Lady Dev'shir, lantern in hand, dashes down the stairs in response to the noise and sees the party she had initially hired. Telling them to calm down she invites the group into the dining room and pours herself a drink, everyone else too cautious to drink anything.

Confronted with the evidence of the mismatching bricks in the family tree she seems surprised but explains to the party that she had 2 daughters, Lakaisha and Dugesia. The firstborn Dugesia being the smart well-behaved daughter and Lakaisha the, well you know, the typical black sheep. In a fit of rage one day after learning that a marriage to a very unlikable minor noble has been arranged for her and the fact that Dugesia was being groomed to take the reigns of the Dev'shir estate Lakaisha murdered her sister. One day while Dugesia was grooming her favorite horse in the family stables Lakaisha locked her in and set it ablaze. Enraged by this the family quietly has her committed in another city miles away. This was the last Lady Dev'shir has heard of her only remaining daughter.

Convinced of this and only one option remaining, the party decided to set out for the abandoned windmill in the morning.
April 28, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Scarrport, City of Secrets


Scarrport: City of Secrets (with two r's) is part of Reality Deviant Publishing's line of Campaign Cutout products, which are in a nutshell campaign-neutral plug-n-play elements that "anyone can use". These things are great in concept, but if the concept doesnt work then no one cares. What with me being very leery of 3rd-party products, I was hesitant when Red Jason threw it my way, but I was pleasantly surprised with the whole package.

Mostly, this is a big book detailing a big city. Its got a heavy emphasis on the swashbuckling and steampunk genre, which go together about as well as peanut butter and chocolate. I dont see a lot of products that cater to either style of play when it comes to fantasy games, and considering that 4th Edition is almost a year old it adds many desired elements to the game. For some reason while browsing through the pdf it evokes China Meville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar, which I think a lot of people would say is a very good thing.

Dropping Scarrport into an existing campaign is as easy as finding or drawing two rivers that intersect, so the entry bar is set very low. The city is very well fleshed out with a lot of NPCs, adventure hooks, and excellent-quality maps. The writing style fits the tone of the supplement, creating a vivid city. However at 116 pages you get quite a bit more than just a port city: it also comes with a new class, three races, more loot (including guns), and monsters (including steampunk robots).

The elementalist is a fully-fledged 30-level striker that keys off of the elemental power source. While they dont explicitely state what the power source does, its not hard to figure out: they command one of the four basic elements, similar to a geomancer in Final Fantasy Tactics. You attune yourself to an element, which can affect how your forces (elemental powers) work. For example, earth-based elementalists deal bonus damage if they dont move, and fire-elementalists deal bonus damage if there is a source of fire nearby.
For some reason, I would expect an elementalist to rely on Constitution, Dexterity, or even Charisma for their primary attack stat, but at least they use Con and Dex for their secondaries. I suppose it helps them not overlap with the sorcerer.
Add to the mix are some elementalist paragon paths and even a pair of epic destinies and you have a very complete package, here.

Of all the races I was surprised that I actually liked the otterkin at all. They're pretty much what you would expect (anthro-otters), and are really good at ganging up on people and literally slipping away. My first character would probably be an otterkin rogue unless Josh picked it up first (British accent and all).

My favorite of the monsters are by far the steampunk creatures, which are big robots that have a chance of malfunctioning if they roll nat 1's and 2's. Its interesting to see creatures with "flaws" that go beyond having vulnerability to various damage types. Is it balanced? I have no idea, but its evocative and cool.

The equipment section is a zany repetoire of various devices, many magic but also a hefty chunk that fall into a "steampunk" category. Gremlin armor increases your height if you are Small, while power armor gives you an attack bonus to Strength-based attacks (once per day). There's new stuff for each body slot, as well as mechanical mounts and watercraft vehicles.
There are guns, which are superior weapons with limited shots and not much else. I'm a bit underwhelmed by them and have no idea why anyone would take a gun considering the cost to buy and maintain one (they get attack penalties if you dont clean it every extended rest). Frankly I would give them the brutal and/or high crit properties as an easy-enough houserule, if for no other reason than to make them balanced. The two-handed guns each deal 1d12 damage, but dont have any properties aside from taking up precious actions to reload.

I only have two major criticisms. The first is that some of the art is bad, but on average its decent or really good. Of larger concern (and complaint) is that racial feats were lumped right after each respective race instead of in a consolidated feat section. This is mostly a nitpick, but a consistent format in Wizards of the Coast books.

That being said, neither of those are any reason to not get the book. On the contrary, it would serve as a very good source for running a thematic campaign. I would recommend it for, if nothing else, the new equipment and class. However, its got a lot of good stuff packed into it. Easily worth the money whether you go pdf or physical book.
April 27, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Wilden Playtest

And here I thought that the PH3 playtest would be the monk. Oh well, at least its interesting.

Wilden are based loosely on a race in Races of the Wild called the killoren. I had to actually look this up because I had no fucking clue that they ever existing in 3E and couldnt find any hard information on them via the interwebs. In a nutshell they seem similar to the wilden, but look like green cat-ish people (though they are described as looking like half-elves, I'd say the Grinch is more accurate). Anyway, I didnt read the entire racial entry because A) I'd overlooked them entirely when I did play 3E, and B) its 3E.

Wilden are plant/fey critters that have sprung from the Feywild to help protect nature, kick ass, and hug trees (depending on which racial power you activate) against incursions from the Far Realm. As such they are very ideal for primal classes, but also apparently work well with the invoker.
Their schtick is that they get one of three racial powers per encounter, but unlike the drow you have to set it up after each extended rest. So, its flexible, but not as flexible. Your appearance changes depending on which is set, which is an interesting feature. Their bodies also "move through the seasons" as they age, starting with spring and ending with winter, so that a young wilden is rich and green, while an old one is thin and withered-looking.

All in all, I like the concept and backstory for them. Its given me a good starting point for a sequal to Songs of Erui that will involve primal spirits and aberrants from the Far Realm. My main gripe is that none of my players had access to this before we started, so cannot give it a whirl and see how it works out in practice. I guess its a good excuse to run another delve so I can swap out my dwarf shaman for a wilden one.
Posted by David Guyll

DDI: May Issues

You can find next month's table of contents here. There's a bunch of free Monster Manual 2 excerpts up until the 18th, when they shift gears and start pitching us Eberron Campaign Guide goodies.

For Dragon, the article on Game Transparency sounds interesting, for a title, but I'm more interested in the monk playtest which will come out on the 11th. I'm pretty meh about the Celestian Order, but then I have no idea what it will actually entail. However, there is an Ampersand article on the same day, and they are usually packed with awesome. Oh well, even if I only like those two bits from Dragon, its still a good deal more than what I cared for in the past, so its easily worth the subscription (discounting the Character Builder). Aaaand then it wraps up with a playtest for Monster Manual 3.

On the other hand, Dungeon has a Penny Arcade adventure, which intrigues me. This surprises me because in general I dont really give a crap about the adventures in Dungeon. Not necessarily for lack of quality, but for lack of infinite time to run games. I'm curious if this something they (as in Gabe & Tycho) planned, or is it the game that they went through? I'm expecting the Cave of Tits, personally. We'll also see more stuff for Skill Challenges, which is always helpful.
Posted by David Guyll

People Actually Hate Familiars?

Clearly, some people are not satisfied with familiars. The OP on the thread doesnt like them because he thinks they are somehow too...weak? I'm sorry, but this is bullshit.

In 3rd Edition, familiars had half as many hit points as the master did, rounded down. A level 1 wizard probably had 4 hit points, meaning that the familiar had all of 2. If it was a toad, it then got 3 since they granted the Toughness feat (+3 hit points, flat rate). On average, its going to go down on the first hit, even on extremely low damage roll: your average goblin has a 66% chance of taking it out on any given hit, assuming it even wants to bother. I mean lets be honest: why would anyone want to attack your familiar? Its not like its doing anything except standing in as Skill Focus or Toughness.

Thats all well and good for single-target attacks, but lets take into account area-effect attacks. Familiars do not by default have any way of avoiding an attack, and while they have improved evasion, it will be harder and harder for them to successefully avoid area attacks as the party increases in level since their saves are based on the master (and wizards have shit for Reflex). If the monster has some kind of aura effect that just deals flat damage, then the familiar is screwed.

And for what? What does a familiar actually do? Not much.

You can share your spells with your familiar, so mage armor and shield can benefit the both of you with one casting. You can have your familiar deliver a touch spell, and while this might be handy in some cases its probably not a very intelligent move to try (especially if the monster has reach and/or can see it coming). Umm...it can speak with animals of its own type, and eventually can even speak to you.

You cant even argue that a familiar can be used as a role-playing foil since it cannot even talk to you until about midway through your career. Its also not very intelligent until that point, so its not like you can engage in conversations about the nuances of arcane theory or anything more complicated than eating or taking a dump.

Familiars in 4E each provide useful benefits for your character. Much of the time they grant bonuses to skills, or perhaps damage resistances. Sometimes they give you bonus languages. The point is that one feat gives you benefits that can add up beyond a feat. This isnt even counting the bonuses gained from active mode, which are certainly worth more than that. The caveat is that active mode carries risks, but not the kind that basically make you waste a feat for a year or so.

The fact that familiars do not permanently die has lead to the bizarre conclusion that these are World of WarCraft pets (because apparently association with WoW is a hell-worthy sin). First of all, if you want to argue about familiars being WoW pets you should be complaining about the beastmaster ranger class feature, especially given that you even have to use your own actions to command the thing (although to be fair you could set pet behaviors in WoW).
I frankly do not understand why some people see a mechanic, and clamor that it sucks because this-or-that game already did it. Part of good game design is playing other games and discovering what makes them work. If you see a good design element, why not use it for your own game? Halo had their own regenerating shield gimmick that was later cribbed for Resistance and Uncharted to great effect.

However...familiars are nothing like WoW pets, they just operate in a different manner than what you're used to. First of all, they arent magically enhanced animals, but arcane energy given shape. Who are you to say how magic operates in a fantasy world? Why cant wizards have functionally useful magical companions that they can reshape given a sufficient amount of breathing room? Because its "not how it used to work", or "because I dont like it"? If you want people to burn a feat that they will randomly lose access to for however long you feel like, then houserule it. Make them have to wait a year, or 1001 days, or whatever floats your boat, to get it back.

There's no reason why you cant use familiars now and not have them fulfill the same function as they did before, except that now they're smart enough to actually interact with you instead of playing the part of Lassy and forcing to figure out what the fuck they want.

Its a fucking game, and the designers want us to have fun with it. Its not fun to have your class feature killed off by accident, take a XP dive, and then have to wait around for a year or so before you can get it back. I'm glad they changed them. I want to use them, and I feel that its worth the feat. If anything I feel sorry for beastmaster rangers because they cant just pull another beast companion out of their ass if they lose one in the middle of combat.

What it all boils down to is that they're still companions in every sense, they're just useful companions. They can actually help you out and can provide entertaiment, especially if you give one a personality and play out some of the many recommended quirks. Sorry, there's no possible way I can agree with either stance.
April 23, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Arcane Power


Arcane Power is the latest power source-specific supplement released by Wizards of the Coast, adding new options for the bard, sorcerer, swordmage, warlock, and wizard. Like its predecessor Martial Power, each class gets their own individual chapter, which adds new class features, powers, and paragon paths to each class. There's a section on feats, and in touting the new tome implement a magic item section that offers a small selection of magic tomes. Its a great book with a lot of great stuff to offer any arcane character (except the artificer, who gets to wait for Eberron Player's Guide).

Before I dive into the classes, I want to mention the sidebars. This book is laden with sidebars in each chapter, most of them talking about what races would commonly pick whatever class you find yourself in, and why. I think these are useful resources for new players or players looking to try out a new class (or just want to try an unconventional race). However, some also explain some of the new stuff, and I found the ones on illusion and summoning magic to be particularly interesting. I'm sure a lot of people hate them for taking up valuable page space, but not myself.

Bards are one of the new kids on the block, receiving a new virtue that lets them boost an allies defense by 5 against an attack. Its an interrupt, which makes it similarp-but-better than the wizard's shield utility since it can apply to any defense and grants a slightly better bonus. Otherwise its a big chapter with more bard spells. What makes it interesting is that many of them require ranged weapons, making an archery-themed bard viable at this point, and the euphonic bow paragon path further emphasizes this build by letting you use a bow as an implement.

Sorcerers get two new spell sources: cosmic and storm. Cosmic sorcerers gain benefits that change with each rest you take, which represent reoccuring cosmic cycles. Some powers let you change it to one of your choice, or set it to a specific one. I already pegged sorcerer to be a class that appeals more to the "dedicated" crowd, and this just further reinforces the fact that if you are a casual gamer the sorcerer is probably not for you.
Storm sorcerers gain lightning and thunder resistance, and can push enemies when they crit them. Its easier to manage that the cosmic sorcerer, so if you are itching to try one but want to avoid bookkeeping you could certainly do worse.
The new powers obviously cater to the new spell sources, but they supplement chaos and dragon sorcerers as well. My favorite goes to wyrm form, which is a level 29 spell that lets you take the form of a dragon, granting you three new attack forms while the spell lasts. The reason why I like it is because you take the form of a Huge dragon. So...yeah. Oh, dragon sorcerers get an attack bonus with all the attack forms granted by the spell, to boot.

Swordmages get a new aegis that lets you teleport a monster and also disorient it so that it grants combat advantage. The swordmage saw some expansion in Dragon, but otherwise not much. The new class feature is interesting, and it gets a bunch of powers and paragon paths, but not much else. I'd say this is the most lackluster of all the class chapters, but probably because I dont play a lot of defenders anymore, instead getting shoehorned into the leader role.

Warlocks get a new pact (vestige), but not much else aside from powers. Its not surprising since they already got a lot of love so far in the form of Class Acts articles and the dark pact in Forgotten Realms Player's Guide. Even so, they get a lot of new powers in this book that are tied to all five pacts that they can now pick from. Likewise they get some very interesting paragon paths that work with each pact as well as some generic ones.

Wizards, I think, see the most improvement across the board. I felt that wizards were playable originally but seemed a bit pruned when compared to bygone editions. In 2E and 3E you had a bunch of spells that did a lot of (often useless) things, existing mostly to justify how a NPC might conjure a magical disk to carry luggage, or an invisible butler to serve drinks. The most common archetype was the blaster-mage, capable of dealing high damage to a high concentration of targets. This is the one that 4E emphasized the most, though to be fair there were plenty of utility spells and rituals to give the wizard some wide coverage.

Dragon articles expanded them a bit, providing some thematic illusion and necromancy powers, but Arcane Power ironically blows the doors wide open by providing a heap of new illusion and summoning powers. There're three, count 'em three, new forms of implement mastery to compliment this expanded selection to boot.
Orb of deception is ideal for tieflings, since its keyed to Charisma. Once per encounter if you miss an enemy with an illusion attack, you can redirect it to another creature instead, adding in your Cha bonus to the attack.
The tome is a new implement, and they give you two options to play with. Once gives your summoned monsters bonus damage, and the other lets you drop an encounter attack spell into it that you can cast by burning an encounter attack of an equal or higher level. You only get to change it when you level up, but it adds a bigger degree of flexibility to wizards when you consider their spellbook class feature.

The best thing is that they're globally fucking useful. Determining how effective an illusion was could fall to DM fiat, assuming that the monster could even be affected by it in the first place (I'm looking at you, Undead type). Also, if you specialized on illusions you probably wanted to go about problem solving a "different" way, which is another way of saying that you wanted to trick a monster with some trite illusion and hog the spotlight. Kind of like how only rogues got to tackle locks and traps, except that its more like playing Metal Gear Solid 4 where everyone shows up hoping to play but has to watch and illusionary movie.

Illusionists now actively participate in the challenges instead of (maybe?) soloing them through a convoluted scheme that has to get bantered back and forth until the DM finally caves. They mostly focus on psychic damage and their utilities do what you expect by allowing them to conjure up illusionary terrain and obstacles. All in all a major step forward over prior editions and its become a very attractive choice for my players.

Summons are likewise spells that you would want to take, since you can summon things that arent several levels weaker than the weakest crap you'd fight for your own level. If you didnt play 3E summons worked like this: you took an entire round casting the spell, and at the start of your next turn a creature would appear and you could make it attack. Now, imagine that you're a level 3 wizard, which means you can only summon stuff that is level 1. Now imagine how in the hell this thing is going to achieve any purpose aside from provoking opportunity attacks or just trying to get in the way. Dont get me wrong, I really like summoners and the concept behind them, I just rarely tried to play one because I didnt want to be about as useless as the bard.
I'm sure Red Jason would love to tell you about how he summoned a shitload of devil spiders only to have them all die in one hit. In the same round. Using his highest level summon spell.

Since summons have stats based on your own, they can actually survive and contribute more reliably. I've got a fire-base tiefling summoner in Adrian's Scales of War game, and it was fun to be able to finally summon a monster that landed a hit. Several times. In the same battle.

Now that we're done with the classes its time to get to the feats. Chapter 6 rolls out new feats for all classes, for all tiers. They each do their part in modifying/improving the way class features work or by tying racial characteristics into classes (such as drow gaining combat advantage against cursed targets), but best addition by far are familiars. Yes, familiars. I've really never liked familiars until now. Sure, they sounded neat in concept, and rarely could provide some form of comfort in social roleplaying, but they were mostly just worthless mobile XP sinks.

It takes some time and money to get one, and if it ties its sure to be remembered not for the fond memories but for the assload of XP (or perhaps a Constitution point) that it takes to the grave. Oh, and in case you are feeling particularly risky, you have to wait 100 days or so to snag another one.

Any arcane class can snag a familiar with a feat, and there's no charge. They are formed out of arcane energy and actually give you benefits since they cost a feat and all, though the better ones require that you keep your famliar active. Active mode lets your familiar run around and get attacked. If you are feeling protective or just dont want/need the active benefits, you can shift it to passive in order to render it invulnerable from harm. Best of all if it dies, it reforms after the encounter without any lingering penalty.
Every familiar has something to offer, and the problem with me is that its hard to pick which one I want.

There's a section on customizing your familiar's appearance (within reason) and to determine how it enters passive and active modes. Good stuff, as it adds a lot to a formerly underwhelming class feature. Finally, there is a small section on feats that let you boost your attacks, protect yourself from harm, or communicate telepathically with it.

Next, we get to epic destinies. Almost all of them are for generic arcane classes, though there is one for the swordmage, fey warlock or fey character, and wizard. The parable is a master of illusions that considers existence to be merely a story that she has learned to write and rewrite for herself. You get to avoid difficult terrain, ignore damage from missed attacks, and appear elsewhere when a monster tries to hit you, but its the base concept that makes it so appealing.

And then we arrive at the end of the book. Magic tomes, new rituals (of course), and some arcane backgrounds round out the last part. This is an excellent supplment. Almost everyone in my group bought a copy (except Jen, but she's poor), even the guys that dont seem to arcane characters. I think it shows a major increase in quality from Martial Power, which makes sense since it was the first of the power source books. I'm already using a good deal of it for my bard and wizard, and given the chance would jump at playing a starlock or sorcerer (probably cosmic, since it amuses me the most).

I'm not exactly a fan of rating systems, but I think that they really help you determine at a glance if something is generally good. For now, my recommendation is to get this book if you like arcane characters on the whole. If you like only one specific arcane class, I'd still recommend it unless you are only into swordmages. That section is pretty spartan and you might not get your money's worth out of it. That being said, its got a decent chunk of content, I just think it got the short stick. Hell, get it for the familiars alone.
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Player's Handbook Heroes, Set 1

Got a case of each set in the mail today and just cracked them out. Most of them look really good, with the exception of the male human fighter and male human barbarian: fighter's sword looks to tiny and flimsy (plus the color scheme just sucks), and the colors on the barbarian look too solid and flat.
A simple ink wash would have done a lot to bring out some details without adding too much work to the paint job, in my opinion. Its easy enough to do that I'm just going to do it myself, but frankly the other stuff in the pack makes up for it.
The only other figure that gets any complaints from me is the male human wizard since I think that the yellow scheme likewise looks really bad.

I havent gone through the power cards yet. They're a nice addition but I dont think for a second that you "need" them at all. The ones I could see through the packaging looked interesting, a few tempting, but I dont feel like that my character would be gimped without them: chilling cloud is a wizard at-will that imposes an attack penalty to creatures caught in the area, knockdown assault is a fighter at-will that lets you prone a creature you hit, and cutting words is a bard at-will that deals psychic damage and pulls a creature.
As you know, each set gets three, and while a lot of them seem to be new level 1 at-wills, there's supposed to other types and frequencies as well.

Otherwise, its a solid deal. I'm happy with my purchase, and even some of the ones that I thought looked bad came out a lot better (male dwarf paladin, for one). Hopefully we see a tiefling with a polearm in the next set so I have something remotely similar to Kobal. For now, I got a good one for my tiefling fire-based wizard, and the half-elf warlock fighter might make a good swordmage.
April 22, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Ecology of the Deva


The deva was, until very recently, my most disliked race from Player's Handbook 2. I never really got into the whole aasimar bit in 3rd Edition, preferring tieflings for my gimped planetouched of choice. The art for devas seemed pretty meh, and likewise their racial features didnt do much to improve their image. To sum it up, while I think the race is mechanically sound it just didnt grok for me.

Then I read this.

This article is great. I was a bit disappointed by a few of the past race ecologies (namely the genasi one), but this sells the race to me. After reading it I had quite a few new ideas relating to Adrian's deva in Songs of Erui. I already knew that they could reincarnate as rakshasas if they fucked up too much, but there's some other interesting story content mixed in as well concerning primal spirits (which works out perfectly for me since my campaign is heavy in the primal theme).

It also adds some new crunch in the form of feats and new "bad deva" monsters. The feats are only for Heroic and Paragon tiers, but they add in the deva bloodline that gives you a daily utility stance that makes it harder for enemies to hit you and also causes you to glow. There are a couple feats that grant you temporary hit points if you get hit by attacks with the fire, cold, or radiant keywords. One lets you target allies with channel divinity powers instead of yourself. My absolute favorite is the paragon one that lets you stand up and immediately fly at your speed if you get revived during combat.

This is the kind of ecology article I like to see. Its stuff I want to read and use, and I whipped up a deva cleric with Heavenly Heritage for the next available game I can hop into. Considering that I've already got two leaders and I'm running a homebrew campaign, I suspect that will fall between never and not-happening. Oh well.
April 19, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Report: Songs of Erui, Session 1

Party Roster
Grynn: gnoll artificer, played by Jennifer
Vimak: deva invoker, played by Adrian
Other-Vimak: goliath fighter, played by Matt as a stand-in for Red Jason.
Josh is played a razorclaw shifter ranger, but I cannot remember his name

Loot List
70 gp, 75 sp
Tarnished electrum necklace with a star sapphire (50 gp)

What started out as a simple test-delve to see how well the concepts worked gradually changed into the first session of my Songs of Erui adventure path that I've been working on for the past few months now. I was mostly concerned for Jennifer's character because it was A) very unorthodox (gnoll artificer), and B) it was a role she had never played before (leader). However, many players were using new races and classes from PH2, so I felt it would be good to see if they actually liked them before cementing their choices.

While I was planning Songs of Erui, I emailed each player a guide on the home base village, Dorsen. Its a sizable farming village that is nestled within a ring of big-ass menhirs that depict various animal spirits. I wanted to know if the lived there, and if not, why they were there. They also knew that they would be hunting goblins in the first adventure, so had to figure out why they would help (ideally because they had a stake in the village for some reason). Red Jason didnt make the game, which left me with Jennifer as the only player that actually did her damned homework.

Undaunted, I proceeded the adventure as planned with a round of Perception checks that were followed by Stealth checks. Everyone but Vimak succeeded, and as such got the drop on a band of goblins that were busy chowing down on roasted humans within the forest that they had tracked them into. This quickly became a running joke as Adrian determined that Vimak's failures were due to him wanting to give the monsters a fair chance, and in tradional bad-paladin fare would announce the arrival of the "Brink of Corruption", or some other random title that he claimed his deva had "just recalled".

The first battle went okay despite me not downgrading it at all: I had planned the adventure for a party of five, but even with Red Jason's dwarf absent they did an amazing job holding off about 650 xP worth of goblins (including a goblin hexer). Now not counting Jennifer, each player is a veteran of 4th Edition as well as past editions, so I was pleased with how well she pulled off a leader role considering she exclusively played defenders prior to this adventure. I could only imagine how difficult this might have been in 3rd Edition if she had to figure out which spells to pray for, when to convert, and all the other minor nuances of playing a spellcaster. Point to 4E for accessible design.

Looting the goblins, as desperate neophyte adventurers are want to do, they discovered a pair of tattered parchment that pointed to a specific location within the Bone Forest and a triskelion symbol. Josh managed to squeeze out a natural 20 on a History check, and having been raised by elves I gave him another +1 to top it off. Somehow, against all odds, he recognized it to be an eladrin rune that meant "hydra", which refers to three eladrin noble houses that were closely allied together over a millenia ago.

He also noticed more goblin tracks moving away from the campsite.

The party tracked them to an old crypt hidden in the forest and spotted a goblin digging through shallow tombs in the walls from quite a distance. Adrian took the opportunity to bellow out a challenge while Josh just rolled his eyes and plugged him with a few arrows. Entering the crypt, they were surprised by a few goblins that were cowering out of sight to the left of the door, and were easily dispatched.

What made the crypt encounter interesting was that there were several links rooms from which the goblins could prepare and ambush or dynamically reinforce eachother. I used a lot of minions in addition to the standard fare, which in total amounted to about 1,000 XP of monsters that they were able to tackle in rapid succession without having to stop. This impressed me as I was used to parties stopping after roughly two encounters in our earliest 4th Edition sessions.

All in all they only took one extended rest, which was after a particularly difficult fight against eladrin undead that they encounter further into the crypt: they werent expecting them to retain fey step, you see. They somehow least expected to fight undead eladrin swordmages, complete with teleporting-mark-goodnes. Narrow corridors dont do much when they can blink past your defenses and start stabbifying your soft-casters. I wanted to use minions to test how dangerous this could be, but also because it gave Jennifer and Adrian a chance to shine with area-effect attacks.

Once the dust had settled, they were able to activate a fey crossroad that would let them explore further and each ended up almost 700 XP (about 2,800 XP in total) richer for their troubles. They didnt find much treasure, and to be honest I had forgotten to double up on item parcels since the first adventure is supposed to push them all to level 3. However, I didnt plan on putting much of anything on the top level and have since added a lot more loot to the rest of the dungeon complex.

The next session will include Red Jason's character, a dwarf paladin that is on a kind of vision quest by Moradin. Hopefully it'll go smoother than having the casual-new-guy play meatshield.
Posted by David Guyll

Gamer's Library: Mistshore

One of the best things about reading a fantasy novel is being able to take the best parts of a book, whatever they may be, from imaginative plot ideas to fascinating locations, and introducing them into your own D&D games. Mistshore, written by Jaleigh Johnson, is the second installment of the new Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series, each book detailing a different part of 1479 DR Waterdeep. Mistshore provides us with not only a great story but an excellent and most interesting locale.

Mistshore itself is basically an entire ward of the city of Waterdeep, completely comprised of rotting, half-sunken ships rigged together, more and more over time, within which is home to "the monstrous, the lawless, and the violent." The sort of place normal folk never see. The sort of place one would go if you wanted to disappear for a while, surviving only through wit and cunning. While reading this book I thought of over a dozen great ideas I'd use if I ever incorporated Mistshore into one of my games. If not playing in Forgotten Realms it's the prefect type of setting you could easily add to any city of your own to make it much more interesting - there are a lot of adventures to be had in a place like this, obviously. Ed Greenwood describes it as a corner of Waterdeep "much whispered about by the fearful, who believe all manner of sinister half sea-monsters , half humans lurk in its sagging riggings and rotten cabins. Creatures with webbed fingers, gills hidden under high-collared robes, and sly, stealthy tentacles waiting to throttle or snatch. Welcome to Mistshore."

The plot of the book revolves around Icelin, a beautiful young sorceress and street urchin with a haunted past, some of which she cannot remember and some of which she can. Icelin has been touched with the Spellplaugue, one of it's symptoms causing her spells to go wild - once causing a boarding house to catch fire, killing many people. Something Icelin has had to live with, and since then she has avoided using magic as much as it is possible for her to do so.

Part of Icelins unrecollected past catches up with her in the form of a scar faced eladrin named Cerest in a chance meeting. Figuring out who he has just stumbled upon Cerest takes it upon himself to abduct Icelin at any cost, including the murdering of Icelin's great-uncle and caretaker. Not knowing why she is being pursued by Cerest and now wanted by the Watch for the murder of her great-uncle Icelin flees to the shadows of Mistshore, with the help of a few allies along the way.

Ever worried about revealing too much in these posts, I don't want to give away too much about this book but the bulk of this novel follows the hunted Icelin and her few companions through the darkest corners of Mistshore, all the while dealing with her cloudy past and dealing with her spellscar. There are plenty of unexpected twists and plenty of action. One of the strengths of this book, and Jaleigh Johnson's writing in general, is most definitely bringing the characters to life. The personalities, the dialogue and the development of characters over the course of the book is done very well, to a point that other writers in the game should take note.

This one is definitely a recommended read.
April 17, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Kobold Quarterly

Okay, I bit.

I initially picked up the first issue of Kobold Quarterly over two years ago, just to see what it was all about. Erik Mona refers to it as the "spiritual successor" to Dragon, which is true: both provide basically the same type of information and cater to the 3rd Edition crowd.

That being said, it suffered from the same problem that I had with Dragon: both had plenty of content that would likely never see use at your table. I basically got a subscription to Dragon because I didnt play D&D a whole lot at the time, and it felt like a cheap way to cope. At less than $40 a year it was a good deal.

I found myself severely underwhelmed by the quality and content in the first Kobold Quarterly. Chalking it up to a slow start, I skipped an issue and waited for the third even though I thought the cover was cheesecake of the worst variety, and I honestly should have trusted my instinct.

The only reason I bothered to get KQ9 is because I heard there was an interview with Dave Arneson, and an actual 4E article on kitsune. I was a fan of Oriental Adventures, and Red Jason figured that the interview would be a great read. Well, at least he was right. I found it to be the only entertaining feature of the entire issue, though I guess I'd give an honorary mention to whoever wrote the kitsune for effort.

Skimming the magazine, I quickly ran into a really nice picture by Wayne Reynolds blemished with the caption that "3.5 Thrives". I find this very strange since Pathfinder is pretty divorced from the "core" 3rd Edition rules to the point where you cannot use most things from actual 3rd Edition without houseruling it yourself. By houseruling I mean piling on a crapton of class features to put it on par with everything else and adding in bonus racial features to balance them out with the rest since Paizo did a good job of stealing all the changes to 4E and claiming that they are "keeping it real". To me this stance just seems like Paizo is trying to appear as heroes to diehards for yester-year's edition, who apparently dont realilze that no, you cannot use stuff like Expanded Psionics Handbook as-written.

Skipping to the actual content, there are yet more options for bards. Yay. Its got a bunch of feats that you wont use since there are blatantly superior ones, a couple spells you might use assuming that pre-existing options arent already available (Requiem lets you affect undead with bardic music, which makes song of Orpheus pretty pointless), and some variant class features if you were actually playing a bard at all.
I'm all for more crunch and options, but the bard is a pretty piss-poor class in the first place. You dont get a lot of feats in 3E, bards dont get a lot of spells, and they're inferior in all regards except when it comes to Diplomacy (and there are other classes that can easily match even that).

Camazotz is "the bat god of the underworld", which I'm sure will never see use by anyone, ever, for any reason.

Unfamiliar Familiars introduces even more familiars. After Tome & Blood, Complete Arcane, Complete Mage, and various issues of Dragon you'd think we beat that horse to death enough times to hit epic level.
It opens up with a wall of text that makes a number of erroneous claims, such that familiars always assist their masters and that they can apparently make a case in a posthumous trial. Familiars cannot even communicate with their master until level 5, and they dont get average Intelligence until level 9.
Plus, PH makes it clear that a familiar could perceive things in a different manner, even once it possesses human intelligence. This makes it a pretty unreliable source of information.

Living with Dinosaurs just has more dinosaur stat blocks in case you couldnt invent your own or they werent covered in an issue of Dragon before. Several times. I started reading the 4E conversion for the maenad before concluding that the racial abilities were a bit excessive. I'll wait for the Wizards version, thank you.

Basically, I'm going to hold off (again) of Kobold Quarterly for (hopefully) ever. I dont understand why diehards of 3rd Edition laude it so: even if I still played 3E I'd still consider it lackluster at best. Much of the content seems to further saturate things that were already oversaturated with yet more feats, spells, magic items, etc etc et-fucking-cetera. It was already difficult in 3E to track all the feats, much less getting your DM to let you use one of the million others that you dug up in a periodical that they probably dont own.

I'm enjoying Dragon a lot more than I used to now that its gone back to Wizards. There is a lot of useful content to the point where players either than myself have a DDI subscription (four of them, at this point). This is very important to me because it shows that its actually interesting enough to grip players that were more than happy to just come over and flip through my books every week. Even the new girl has one, and she just started playing. There's no way I could convince anyone to subscribe in the past. Now, they already have before I could even open my mouth.
April 15, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

My Experiences With Skill Challenges

Warning: I had to go through my blog archive to make sure I didnt already talk about skill challenges, but I might have missed it anyway. If I did, sorry in advance.

Skill challenges, and to an extent traps, are a mechanic that I dont use very often in 4th Edition because the former is new, and the latter had a lot of flaws. I've used skill challenges before when I ran Keep on the Shadowfell and it didnt seem to take. Mostly I think it was the presentation: I announced to them what was going on (a skill challenge, yee!) and how the whole thing worked. Treating it like combat, they just rolled the skills they were best at until the required number of successes was reached.

Awhile back when I was running Age of Worms in 3rd Edition, I did something very similar. The players had rescued a NPC in The Hall of Harsh Reflections and were invited to dinner at the Cloudy Dragon in Skyway (oh yeah, this was in Eberron). I mapped out ten things that the NPC liked, and ten things she didnt like, based on stuff that I knew about the characters and players. If something wasnt on the list, I'd wing it. The idea was for each player to interact with her with extensive social role-playing, and at the end I'd tally up her resulting attitude to each player.

There wasnt a list of primary skills that they were aware of. The players didnt declare that they were going to use a Diplomacy roll, but would say or do something and then I'd call for a check. Sense Motive would let them realize if they were saying something that was offensive or that she really liked, Bluff let them remove a bad tally if they realized that what they just said/did was bad, and most of it was Diplomacy, Perform, and various Knowledge rolls.

My group liked this a lot, and I think it was because they didnt really know all the details behind it. In a skill challenge any player that has read one, or even the DMG, knows that three failures ends the whole affair. They also would know that you have to get at least four to win. With that in mind, its easy to see how competitive players can look at it as just a grind: use your best skills over and over again regardless of the situation or context until you rack up enough "hits" to "defeat" the skill challenge.

I went through Mike Mearl's skill challenge archive last night while helping Red Jason out on another skill challenge. I had created a basic skeleton for a few in Songs of Erui, but felt that a better crash course would be extremely helpful since he wanted it to look very official. Some things that I liked about it are that he likes to make sure there are a lot of skills to use. In the DMG, many have 3-4. For Mearls, four seems to be the bare minimum. Now, if you dont want to "just do the bare minimum", a better target number is five. His advice is for there to be as many useful skills as there are party members + 2.

Another trend that I noticed is that a failed skill challenge shouldnt grind the campaign to a halt. If your skill challenge absolutely must be bypassed to continue, then you need to rethink it. In The Forest of Bones, the party will have to navigate a forest while looking for a ruin. Its going to be a skill challenge, to be sure, but it will be broken up by combat encounters. The results of skills used during its progression will determine if they get ambushed or injured prior to the combat encounter (such as by losing a healing surge or taking ongoing poison damage from contacting toxic plants).

Skill challenges can and often take up more than a few rounds. The above example would likely take hours for them to complete, and as you can see wont all happen in sequence. It breaks up the typical skill challenge template since I'm shifting gears between skill rolls and combat, but in a (hopefully) good way.

I'm also going to approach things differently next time by not even telling the players that they fell into a skill challenge. Even if they figure it out, I'm not going to tell them which are key skills. Instead, I think I'll play it as I did before by calling for skills that make sense in the context of the situation and their actions. Running from guards and want to try and hide? I'd probably call for an Athletics or Endurance to get some speed, and then a Stealth to hide. I think that this approach might stop players from not participating just because they dont have a primary skill, but would also encourage prompting from them instead of me asking for a skill roll.

This is something that Mearls mentioned in his articles: the players should be the aggressors. When I ran that social encounter a long time ago, the players were the ones taking the initiative by talking. I just called for rolls after the fact. I think that it does make a difference instead of you calling for a skill roll and just having them roll to start chalking up successes. I'll just give this a shot and see how it goes. If not, its back to the drawing board. My group had fun with this sort of thing in the past, so its just a matter of adapting them to suit their tastes.
Posted by David Guyll

Skill checks and immersion in modern D&D

Another *heads up* post. A couple of weeks ago Mike Mearls posted up an article discussing the differences between old school and modern D&D regarding skill resolution and immersion in the game. Mearls discussed how in old school D&D players had to be more interactive in the game world when searching etc., whereas in modern D&D what's needed is a simple Perception check, or so it seems. He offers up some insight on how to make skill checks in 4E more interesting and immersive ala old school D&D.
April 14, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

PDF Recovery

Apparently Wizards of the Coast is allowing you to download purchased pdfs from DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. Not sure if this is also for other places.
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon: Get Familiar


This. Is. Awesome.

Before Arcane Power is even out, we get a slew of new familiars for all tiers: 13 for Heroic, 14 for Paragon, and 4 for Epic. There's a section on choosing a familiar based on your personality, class, or spell style, personalities and quirks given for each individual familiar, a paragon path that enhances it, and four new feats.

This is an excellent article, filled with crunch that everyone can use if you like familiars at all. There's a lot of cool stuff packed here that I'm looking forward to using with my tiefling bard and fire-based wizard. Hell, I'm tempted to take Arcane Familiar with basically every arcane character I play, now.
April 12, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Homebrew: Carrion Sprites

I didn't want to post this because I wanted to surprise Red Jason these little freaks when I started running The Hydra's Grave, but I figure this is a good way to get the kinks out.

April 10, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Archlich Is (Not) Fail?

Apparently the archlich is broken. Or its too powerful? I know a lot of people are clamoring from both sides of the fence, but I think I'll just stick to the fence and actually, you know, try it before picking a side.

I actually didnt notice when I read the excerpt, but I guess that purely as written the archlich immediately crumbles to dust at 0 hit points. Immediately. You dont get any death saves, you dont get any chance to get a healing surge in, nothing. Add to the mix that Mastery over Death only triggers when you actually die, which occurs at negative hit points equal to half your total. Basically, unless a monster deals a retarded amount of damage, there is just no way this is ever going to happen.

I mean, Orcus cant even do this with his attack that deals half your total hit point damage to you, even if you were at 1 hit point.

I guess when I read the article that my brain just interpreted everything in the way it was intended: if you die-die, you crumble to dust, but at level 24 you can instead just empower yourself once per day. Obviously it was not the intent of the designer to create an epic destiny that could not in fact use one or more of its features. This is a pretty simple and obvious "fix" that I'm more than happy to use, since thats the way I was going to use it.
Posted by David Guyll

The Archlich Excerpt and PC Death

Another Arcane Power excerpt is out, something that wasnt covered on RPGnet because they didnt want to waste the poster's time. The archlich is an arcane epic destiny that does what the cover advertises: you become a lich. Becoming a lich in past editions was never this easy or cheap, and I'm kind of on the fence about it. On one hand, its a simple matter of making the decision at level 21. On the other hand, it used to take a long time and a lot of cash to seal the deal...

I guess my feelings to this are "at least it'll get used". I mean, I've always wanted to make a necromancer-type character that did become a lich, but since it took much longer to level up in 3rd Edition it was always felt like Duke Nukem Forver: I'll get to it when I get to it.

Also, its really badass. See, when 4th Edition came out I always felt that the archmage was the best possible epic destiny for wizards, since you could cast a daily spell twice per day, recall any one spell you want with shape magic, and change a daily spell into an encounter spell.

This one ramps up your Int by 2, makes it so that you cannot die if you have your phylactery, deal necrotic or radiant damage to enemies that get too close, and grants necrotic and poison resistance. As an opener. Once you hit 24th level you can opt to empower yourself instead of dying, which heals you halfway and also inflicts 20 necrotic damage on any creature that damages you at all. At level 30 you can regain spent encounter powers whenever an enemy dies too close to you.

I dont think that their utility power is as good as the archmage's, as it only works on necrotic or fear powers. Sure, you get resist all 20 for the rest of the encounter, but...eh. Its still very useful.

Moving things back a bit, there are a few concerns about the fact that you cannot die as an archlich. Everytime you die, you reform one day later next to your phylactery. Now, if you have it on your person, then you would just reappear in the same spot. If you hide it, well...then you'll end up wherever the hell you dropped it. There is no limit on this, just that it takes a day for it to kick in and reconstruct you. It can be destroyed, in which case you have to dump 10 days and 50,000 gp (kind of like a Raise Dead).

Is this a problem?

Well...maybe? In my games, I've yet to actually fully kill a player. Sure, they get knocked out plenty, but I've never killed anyone. Not that slaughtering the party is my aim: I'm an entertainer, damn it. If I had to call this an issue, I'd actually say that the placement of the phylactery is the problem, not its function.
If you die, you dont reform for an entire day, so you have to play the waiting game. Or rather, the rest of the party gets to do stuff (assuming they survived) until they take an extended rest. You also appear adjacent to it, so if the party is really really far away...well, that could cause a problem. I'm not a fan of splitting the party up and running little solo sessions, and that causes the rest of the party to have to stop playing while I figure out other things.
Of course, True Portal can get you where you need to go in most cases, and as long as you're level 28 (and not, say, 21). It also costs 50,000 gp per shot, which isnt cheap (accounting for roughly one treasure parcel at that level, unless you're level 21 when it accounts for basically all your treasure for that level).

You might call it DM fiat, but I think that having a phylactery could be an interesting element to add in the game for social and immersion purposes. Its very valuable, obviously, and it gives the archlich something to worry about. At epic tier you probably made a lot of enemies as you crawled your way to the top, so it makes a very obvious (perhaps heavy-handed) adventure hook to play with.

The archlich looks really cool. Is it a no-brainer epic destiny? I guess if your DM is really good at killing you off, then assuming you can make it to level 21, then it might be handy for you and you alone. I can see the merits of other epic destinies, however, so its not an automatic choice for myself. If I was going for sheer firepower, I'd still go with the archmage.
Posted by David Guyll

Arcane Power "Prerelease", Part 2

SpringsBoundlessThorns has posted like, all of the familiars on RPGnet. If you like these, then look forward to this Monday when Dragon introduces even more familiars to the mix.

FEATS

First, feats. You need to take Arcane Familiar to get one, and you can apparently take the feat more than once to give it a defense bonus.

Bonded Familiar allows you to communicate via telepathy.

Shielding Familiar grants you a Reflex bonus while your familiar is passive, and you can destroy your familiar to reduce the damage from an attack that hits you.

Spellseer Familiar grants you a bonus to attacks against creatures next to your familiar and lets you reroll a missed arcane attack once per day.

I like these because these are feats I'd actually want to take. 3rd Edition had some minor feat trees for familiars, but were generally far too underpowered to make it worth your while. I can see many arcanists picking up at least Spellseer Familiar just for the reroll. I mean, I'd even consider Shielding Familiar for the Reflex boost and ability to take half damage from an attack. Those are pretty cool.

FAMILIAR LIST

Bats have blindsight, can fly, grant you +2 on Perception and Stealth, and can remove concealment from enemies adjacent to them.

The book imp flies, grants a bonus to Arcana and History, helps you understand Infernal, grants fire resistance, and it can turn invisible until the end of your next turn. I really wanted a bat familiar just to irk Adrian, but this seems perfect for a fire-based tiefling. Le sigh...

Cats can have vestigial wings as a quick (see below).

A craft homunculus not only turns enemies into statues, but also imposes a penalty to use alchemical items and is itself immune to them.

Dragonlings can fly, give you Draconic, grant bonus hit points with a healing surge usage, and it can use a breath attack.

Falcons can fly, grant a bonus to Perception and against opportunity attacks, let you determine range from their position once per encounter, and can go twice as far from you as normal.

Owls have low-light vision, fly, add a variable bonus to Insight checks, and you can see through its eyes as a standard action.

Rats grant a bonus to Stealth, can carry objects up to 2 lbs., and can make Thievery checks with a +2 bonus! Thats fucking rad. Also, they get a +5 to Stealth.

Serpents grant a bonus to Bluff, let you ignore a difficult terrain space for shifting, and they can stop all adjacent creatures from making opportunity attacks for a turn.

Spiders can climb, grant a bonus to Athetics for climbing purposes, impose a penalty to saves against immobilize and slow conditions, and can slide an object within 5 squares 2 squares as long as it doesnt weigh more than 5 lbs.

Ravens can fly, grant a big Perception bonus to find hidden stuff, and can speak any language you know. They can converse with other creatures, and you can hear everything it says and also dictate what it says. Interesting.

Now, these are much, much better than their 3rd Edition counterparts, which were almost entirely character dressing that didnt do much except perform as a Tiny-sized XP writeoff. They couldnt really do much of anything because they were too stupid until you hit a certain level, and honestly you were probably better off just not taking one until higher level because they instantly got all the cool shit. That is, assuming you didnt prestige-out into something actually useful, like elemental savant or mage of the arcane order, of course.

I have a couple arcane characters right now, and I'm going to give a bat to my tiefling cunning bard, and probably a book imp to my tiefling summoner wizard.

Quirks are suggestions for various familiars to make them more interesting, I suppose. SpringsBoundlessThorns didnt really go into detail on this. There is apparently a section on how your familiar changes from passive to active mode (appearing in a puff of smoke, changing from a stone statue to flesh, etc).

Familiars cannot be attacked unless they are in active mode. This makes it a lot easier to manage them in 3E where it was possible for t hem to randomly die due to an area attack unless your DM was kind and/or forgot that they were even there.
They only got 1 hit point, basically functioning as a minion. If they die, they dont hurt you in any way, and reform after a short/extended rest. They arent magically treated animals: they are "mystic energy given form", which sounds a lot more thematic and interesting than before.
April 09, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

The origins of D&D's class roles

Back in March Dave Noonan (on his blog) posted three articles on the origins of 4th Edition's class roles, i.e. defender/leader/striker/controller. We are all more than familiar with the "4E is the pen & paper version of World of Warcraft" jargon, but how did WoW develop their roles? Where did it all originate?

Dave makes the delve into the history of the game and does an excellent job of showing the evolution of class roles in D&D and how we got to where we are today with 4th Edition. If you haven't checked them out yet I highly recommend giving these a read:

So where did these roles come from, anyway: An Intro

So where did these roles come from, anyway: Part 2

So where did these roles come from, anyway: Part 3

Posted by David Guyll

Arcane Power "Prerelease"

The new bard virtue is prescience, and allows her to grant an ally hit by an attack a bonus to a defense once per encounter. Apparently its good for a "ranged" bard build.

Sorcerers get two new spell sources: storm and cosmic. We've already seen cosmic on a preview, and storm magic lets you shear away defenses and gain flight if you crit with an arcane power. There are a lot of new powers for all four spell sources.

We already knew about the aegis of ensnarement, for swordmages, and there are new powers for all three aegis types. Aegis of ensnarement is linked to Constitution.

Likewise, we also already got the vestige pact preview. Some of the new powers function for two pacts, giving you a different kicker effect depending on which pact you have.

Wizards get the tome implement, but there is also a new implement feature for the other implements (Orb of Deception being cited). Lots of illusion and summoning powers, including globe of invulnerability, prismatic wall, and "spells that summon abyssal hordes and living mountains that occupy a 3 x 3 square space".
The new wizard at-wills are illusory ambush, phantom bolt, and storm pillar (a one-turn summon that deals damage if creatures get too close).
This is good to know, as I'm going to rebuild Ignus in Adrian's game completely to a summoner (I was just cobbling together the stuff I had based on previews).

There is also a listing of paragon paths for each class, but nothing mentioned about any of them so far.

The current list of familiars is bat, book imp, bound demon, cat, crafter homunculus, dragonling, falcon, owl, rat, raven, serpent, and spider. The homunculus apparently turns every creature it kills into a statue.
Posted by David Guyll

More Arcane Heroes

Out of this set, the female eladrin wizard and male half-elf bard look alright. The male tiefling wizard, on the other hand, looks kind of stiff and goofy. Well, there's on in every set...
April 08, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Squishy Shamans

I've made a couple shamans already, and noticed that both of them had a fairly abysmal Armor Class of about 12-13. At first I thought I was doing something wrong, since I dont recall even wizards having an AC that low, but I realized that its about on par once I stopped and "did the math". If you assume a 16 Intelligence then your wizard will end up with a starting AC of 13 since cloth armor provides absolutely no AC bonus and you cannot add both Dexterity and Intelligence to the equation.

While this is all well and good for wizards, shaman powers cap out at a paltry range of 5, so they end up being too close for comfort...unless you bring spirit powers into the equation.

A spirit companion can be conjured within 20 squares of the shaman, so long as you have line of sight. This is very, very far. In fact, I have yet to see any single room that extends past 10 squares in any given direction. What this basically means for almost any encounter you can think of is that a shaman is free to drop her spirit anywhere she pleases. There is no range limit on using a power with the Spirit keyword: it just originates from the spirit's location, fundamentally giving the shaman a range of 20.

Shamans generally come in two flavors: the tough and the smart. Protective shamans are keyed off of Constitution, which gives them quite a leg up on the hit point and Fortitude department. Conversely if you decide to go with a stalker spirit then you'll want to be smarter than the average bear, which means that your AC actually ends up being not nearly as bad as you thought (I'd say just below Warlord McSmarty-Pants if you dont want to purchase hide armor proficiency).

This sounds bad for a protector shaman, since her AC is going to be in the pits. However a lot of thematic powers grant temporary hit points/regeneration, damage resistance, or AC bonuses if you just hunker down next to your spirit. Spirit's shield lets you actually heal an ally within 5 squares if a monster tries to run away without shifting, thunder bear's warding grants resist all (and temp hit points), and spring renewal strike lets an ally burn a healing surge (add your Con modifier).
Many require that allies be adjacent to the spirit, but thats fine since one of the at-wills rolls out a +1 power bonus to AC, and the protector spirit feat gives a passive bonus to defenses, so there is a LOT of incentive to spearhead attacks with this thing.This makes this class feature particularly thematic, since you can envision the spirit shielding you and your allies from harm.

In play, I didnt really notice the AC disparity. I mean, I noticed it on my sheet, but never got hit as the DM was focusing too much on my spirit and the rest of the party to bother trying to get someone to try and tackle my character. Mind you, this was only at level 1, but we'll be doing more delve runs on Saturdays and I intend to keep up with a shaman and see how it plays out in the long run.

Homebrew: Stormsinger

I needed a lower-level elemental to hang back behind bear spirits and blast the shit out of the party, and so here it is.
April 07, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

The Hue And Cry Over Pdfs

According to various sources, I guess that today Wizards of the Coast forced everyone else that sells Dungeons & Dragons pdfs to stop. This means that you cant get digital copies of books from sites like Paizo and, well, others. They claim that they want to reduce piracy, while others are labeling them as (still) an evil corporation out to sell you shit and steal your money...

...or rather exchange it, since that's the whole point of a business and capitalism in general. One theory is that Wizards wants to roll out their own digital store so that you would have to get your pdfs from them. This isnt a bad thing, as it doesnt really matter where you get them from, so long as you get them. I think that the crapper is that people dont want to wait and see when/if Wizards will make them available.

This doesn't affect me, at all, since I buy my books through Amazon, Buy.com, or Knightfall Games (depending on who will get it to me the fastest). Given that the price for a pdf is basically the same as the real deal, I'm going to opt out for a hardcover any day of the week. I never understood the attraction to owning digital versions of the books, but I can appreciate the fact that you can transport them much more easily on a laptop or flash drive. Of course, having actually tried to use a laptop at the table, I think that going paper is a more elegant alternative.

I really have no issues with this. I dont play older Editions of D&D. I mean, I used to, but I've found each new edition far more rewarding to play than the last. If I cant pay for digital books of an old game that I'd likely never browse anyway, well...I just dont care. I dont think that Wizards is doing anything inherently wrong or evil, here. I play the game because I think its extremely well designed and a lot of fun, not because I'm friends with them or agree with all of their policies.
Posted by David Guyll

Previews for April and Beyond

Like, next week Arcane Power is coming out, but that wont stop Wizards from dropping a preview for a pair of magical tomes to get me even more worked up to the point where I want to abandon my dwarf shaman in favor of anything-that-is-a-wizard. I already like the new summoning rules, and it looks like a tome wizard is going to be the build of choice: tome of binding lets you add your Con modifier to damage when the summoned creature attacks.
Plus, magic tomes let you augment your summons even further. The tome of forty steps auto-boosts your summon's Speed, but you can also burn an item daily to get an extra move action. This is likely the tip of the iceberg, and I'm eager to see whatever nifty bonuses tomes can roll onto summons.

Tomes arent just for summoners, however. Tome of readiness lets you store a wizard attack power that you can swap out once per encounter, and the book of undeniable fire looks great for fire-using wizards (as if they dont get enough love with Hellfire Blood and Irresistible Flame). Its logical since last time I saw fire ranked up at the top for "monsters that resist/or are immune to me". The book reduces fire resistance by 10, up to 30, and contains extra fire-themed wizard spells that you can to your existing spellbook. The main benefit of this, however, is that you can burn an item daily to swap out one of your prepared wizard spells for whatever one is in the book of an equal or lower level. Its even more versatility on-the-fly.

Other than that there are a couple of epic-tier adventures that I dont care about since I'm not high enough level to use them, and a few previews for Arcane Heroes and Monster Manual 2. I dont care for the bonded summoner reprint, mostly cause I dont like yellow, but the other two look alright to me. I like the "normal" green slime (as in, not an elite or solo), and I plan to drop a couple of those into my first few heroic adventures for my group when I start Songs of Erui, mostly because most of my group will have no fucking clue what they are.
April 06, 2009
Posted by David Guyll
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