Archive for June 2009

DDM: Arcane Heroes 3

The newest set of Arcane Heroes contains a human male swordmage, human female wizard, and warforged artificer. The swordmage looks good, while the wizard and artificer look kind flat when it comes to colors. Not much else to say except that its about time we got a dedicated swordmage.
June 30, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

July's Calendar

New pricing for DDI goes into effect on July 2nd, so if you want another year at a reduced cost get it in before then. July looks to be a tiny, tiny month, since the lack of Friday content means that there is a wide gulf between now and the psion debut (not a playtest), due for the first Monday.

Thats really all we have to look forward to that day, but since its supposed to be the finalized version I guess I'll live with it (and try it out). There is a mystery Class Acts article, Familiars of Eberron, a bestiary to shoehorn the Legendary Evils minis that arent actual monsters into the game, something called Airspur, and finally Disciples of Vengeance.

I can say that I'm looking forward to Familiars of Eberron and the psion, and since I'm still only paying $5/month its good enough for me considering that it'll be out in time for an Eberron campaign set in the Shadow Marches (which will demand a lot from the article on fell taints).
June 29, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Character Concepts: Half -Elf Bard (Jack of all trades)

This is a simple build for a half-elf bard, it has good all around stats, decent skill modifiers and both melee and range powers allowing the bard to lead from the front or the rear, or to switch back and forth… it may not be the best build but it holds out quite well

====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&DI Character Builder ======
Bart, level 1
Half-Elf, Bard
Build: Valorous Bard
Bardic Virtue: Virtue of Cunning

FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 10, Con 14, Dex 12, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 18.

STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 10, Con 12, Dex 12, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 16.


AC: 14 Fort: 12 Reflex: 13 Will: 15
HP: 26 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 6

TRAINED SKILLS
Arcana +7, Perception +6, Insight +8, Bluff +9, Diplomacy +13

UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +4, Dungeoneering +4, Endurance +5, Heal +4, History +5, Intimidate +7, Nature +4, Religion +5, Stealth +4, Streetwise +7, Thievery +4, Athletics +3

FEATS
Bard: Ritual Caster
Level 1: Jack of All Trades

POWERS
Bard at-will 1: Guiding Strike
Bard at-will 1: Vicious Mockery
Bard daily 1: Stirring Shout
Bard encounter 1: Blunder
Dilettante: Dragonfrost

ITEMS
Ritual Book, Adventurer's Kit, Crossbow Bolts (20), Flute, Leather Armor, Longsword, Climber's Kit, Flask (empty) (4), Candle (4)
====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&DI Character Builder ======
June 26, 2009
Posted by Victor Julio Hurtado

DDM: Martial Heroes 4

More martial characters make the cut for the next set of Player's Handbook Heroes. I'm glad to see a spear-wielding tiefling added to the roster. It'll work out great for Kobal, even if its a male. The female human warlord looks nifty, though its apparently a reskin. Looks alright, and the new at-will is awesome. The shifter ranger, on the other hand? Yeah...not so hot. Bleh. Oh well, cant win 'em all.
June 25, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Eberron Wallpaper Freebie

Dear Wizards of the Coast, please deliver all future wallpapers in the form of Wayne Reynolds. Thank you.

June 23, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Killing Other Sources And Taking Its Stuff

I want to thank CharlieAmra for recommending The Waterborn and Black God. I've only started on The Waterborn (almost halfway through), but its given me a LOT of ideas for Songs of Erui, especially the content on spirits and how they integrate themselves with humans, for good or ill.
I just wish that I'd been able to read it before I even started on the campaign, since I would have been able to emphasize those elements a lot sooner and in a much clearer way. Thankfully, the campaign has just started, so I can work to add it in more for future sessions.

That being said, I'm working on an Eberron campaign with lots of aberrant stuff, so if anyone has recommendations in that regard, lemme know as soon as possible!
Posted by David Guyll

Here's Your Genre

Awhile back I did a kind of mostly mock "review" of 3rd Edition, where I went through the ropes and described its numerous faults in a positive light. To be absolutely clear, I enjoyed playing 3rd Edition quite a bit, otherwise I wouldnt have played it for about eight-fucking-years. This does not mean that it didnt have its faults, which in turn doesnt mean that it wasnt a fun ride while it lasted. We had good times but in light of better games that fulfill the same genre, its not nearly as fun.

Really, my problem with 3rd Edition wasnt even necessarily the fact that the rules didnt support the genre but the rules themselves. In fact with the exception of some clunky subsystems like Craft and Profession, I think more or less did a pretty good job. All editions were action-adventure fantasy role-playing games at heart. Fantasy because they have magic and supernatural creatures as major elements, action games since they emphasize lots of physical challenges, but also adventure games because they contain puzzles and challenges that are not necessarily solved by brute force.

In my review, d7 made a comment that action-adventure is only one of many genres that Dungeons & Dragons inherently caters to, citing dark fantasy, exploration, and "sweeping politcal epics" as examples, all of which I disagree with. I dont think of either dark fantasy or exploration as true genres, but more like themes or styles, and I dont think that editions before 4th support political games very well at all because of how skills (if they even existed) worked.

Dark fantasy is really just fantasy with some horror typically added to the mix (most often high fantasy or swords and sorcery). We saw a lot of this in Elric and stuff by H.P. Lovecraft, and its really easy to do to the point where DMs might do it and not even realize it. Its very popular to the point where there is plenty of advice online on how to make your game scary, as well as more official support.

As for exploration? I'm not sure what the criteria is to categorize a game as "exploration," but that seems like it would inherently be a part of many games by definition, as often the party is touring around in some forgotten or unknown location, so...yeah. Its not listed under any genre, whether you check literature, film, or game.

A political game is one such theme that I dont think worked well at all before given the mechanics, but can be pulled off a lot more readily in 4th Edition thanks to skill challenges and the way skills function. It is because of this that more people can get involved with this process than they ever could before and provide actual assistance if not success, and with XP rewards built into the mechanics players can improve their characters without ever making an attack roll. You probably wont use many, if any powers (except for utilities), but if you absolutely must use this game in this fashion it would work out well enough.

The best games are those that pick a focus and work on emphasizing that. They dont try to spread themselves too thin or entertain everyone regardless of the games they like. A lot of people enjoyed God of War, but disliked the few spots where you had to pause the action and have Kratos manipulate what amounted to a tetris-puzzle in order to proceed. It made for a rather unsatisfying anti-climax, where Kratos rips the heads off a bunch of minotaurs, and then starts to reassemble wall-space in a slow and precise manner (this is why in the sequel they removed a lot of the ones that ground the game to a halt).

Note: This not to say that I'm opposed to intellectual puzzles, I just dont want them in a game where it seems shoehorned in.

So, yeah. In a nutshell: D&D is an action-adventure fantasy game. Always has, and likely always will be. Action-adventure games are incredibly popular, so it makes sense, but note that action and adventure often go hand-in-hand and are very open to including other genre elements. I think that D&D as written can shift perspectives to easily cater to either extreme, but the rules didnt lend themselves well to other genres that fall outside of the scope. This isnt a flaw, mind you. There are other fantasy games that cater to other genres and styles. My opinions in my review still stand, given that it wasnt even really about the genre. I mentioned it at the start, but the game falls flat because of mechanics and execution.
June 22, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

DDM: Legendary Evils

DDM Spoilers has the entire set of Legendary Evils up on their site. To be fair, I guess Maxminis had it first. You can check out the pictures on DDM Spoilers, but here's the list:
  • 1 DDM2 ADULT BROWN DRAGON (Large, Rare)
  • 2 DDM2 AIR ARCHON ZEPHYRHAUNT (Medium, Rare)
  • 3 DDM2 AURAK DRACONIAN (Medium, Rare)
  • 4 DDM2 BALOR (Huge, Visible)
  • 5 DDM2 BARGHEST SAVAGER (Medium, Rare)
  • 6 DDM2 BEHOLDER ULTIMATE TYRANT (Huge, Visible)
  • 7 DDM2 BOLRAZA, PRIESTESS OF BANE (Medium, Rare)
  • 8 DDM2 CHILLFIRE DESTROYER (Large, Rare)
  • 9 DDM2 CHUUL (Large, Rare)
  • 10 DDM2 DJINN STORMSWORD (Large, Rare)
  • 11 DDM2 DOOMDREAMER (Medium, Common)
  • 12 DDM2 DUERGAR CLERIC OF ASMODEUS (Medium, Rare)
  • 13 DDM2 DUERGAR GUARD (Medium, Common)
  • 14 DDM2 EARTH ARCHON RUMBLER (Medium, Rare)
  • 15 DDM2 ELDER GREEN DRAGON (Huge, Visible)
  • 16 DDM2 ELDER IRON DRAGON (Huge, Visible)
  • 17 DDM2 FOULSPAWN HULK (Large, Rare)
  • 18 DDM2 FOULSPAWN MANGLER (Medium, Rare)
  • 19 DDM2 FOULSPAWN SEER (Medium, Rare)
  • 20 DDM2 FROST TITAN (Huge, Visible)
  • 21 DDM2 GITHZERAI CENOBITE (Medium, Rare)
  • 22 DDM2 GITHZERAI MINDMAGE (Medium, Rare)
  • 23 DDM2 GOBLIN CUTTER (Small, Common)
  • 24 DDM2 GORISTRO (Huge, Visible)
  • 25 DDM2 HEZROU (Large, Rare)
  • 26 DDM2 HORRID SCARAB LARVA SWARM (Medium, Common)
  • 27 DDM2 HUMAN RABBLE (Medium, Common)
  • 28 DDM2 IRONTOOTH (Small, Rare)
  • 29 DDM2 MINOTAUR THUG (Medium, Common)
  • 30 DDM2 PSYCHIC SENTINEL (Large, Rare)
  • 31 DDM2 REMORHAZ (Huge, Visible)
  • 32 DDM2 RIMEFIRE GRIFFON (Large, Rare)
  • 33 DDM2 SALAMANDER FIRETAIL (Large, Rare)
  • 34 DDM2 SCARECROW STALKER (Medium, Common)
  • 35 DDM2 SIVAK DRACONIAN (Large, Rare)
  • 36 DDM2 SLAAD SPAWN (Small, Common)
  • 37 DDM2 STORM TITAN (Huge, Visible)
  • 38 DDM2 TALON SLAAD (Large, Rare)
  • 39 DDM2 WAR TROLL (Large, Rare)
  • 40 DDM2 YOCHLOL TEMPTER (Medium, Rare)
Peter Lee stated that each box has two rares (huge and a medium or small), so even though there are 24 rares, its not as bad as it seems. This set does well in rounding out more of what I would consider to be the "core" monsters, but adds a few stuff to that we havent seen in 4E, yet (such as draconians and the psychic sentinel; I hope this doesnt mean that Dragonlance is the next campaign setting ::le sigh::).

The balor looks good: I dont have one yet, and its a visible, so yay for that. Same goes for the barghest and elder green dragon (which will be out in time for Songs of Erui). I'm also really digging the hoard scarab larve swarm, which as far as I can tell looks like a pile of cash (and would make for an excellent treasure marker). Finally, while I think that Irontooth looks pretty badass, he's coming out quite a bit late...still, he'd be a great match for Josh's goblin barbarian.
Posted by David Guyll

Homebrew: Living Magic Missiles

I made mention that Khyber's Harvest includes a living darkness monster, and also mentioned a living magic missile. So, here are three of them. I made them all very low level since, well, magic missile is a 1st-level spell. Makes sense, and you can add them in with other low-level magic users as support (the salvo is good enough to support the level 4 human caster in Monster Manual). Quick note: I reduced the hit points of the living magic missile and living magic missile salvo by a bit, since I'm a fan of reducing hit points by a bit (and swarms really suck).

Motes are minions. They basically smash into you, and are good at zipping across the battlefield and battering into other creatures, which is what I wanted to emphasize: sentient bolts of arcane force launching themselves at targets.

Same thing as the mote, but with hit points and can knock you prone if they charge you.

This is something that I created after recalling how you could fire multiple missiles in 3rd Edition. You technically cannot in 4th Edition without the right stuff, but I still like it so whatever. Maybe I'll create a higher level wizard encounter power that lets you unleash a torrent of arcane missiles, so there.
Posted by David Guyll

A Balancing Act

Its very surprising, to me, when people complain about game balance as if its some sort of designer-indulgent sin. Its quite baffling, like they need to have character options that are deliberately designed to be as crippled and useless as possible. Why is this?

I recall a player that used to play medics all the time in Team Fortress because as an "enabler" if you fucked up generally it wasnt considered to be your fault. You were just doing what a medic does, right? Standing around healing people (kind of like a cleric). You dont win, per se, you make it so that others can win, and since you arent really in the spotlight people tend to forget you're there and instead congradulate the guy capturing points and landing a shitload of kills.

The other theory is that perhaps by providing options on both extremes of the functionality spectrum, it lends itself to mastery. This is where you get the veteran players who know what works and whats "best" by attrition, allowing them to feel superior to new players who are still learning the game. While older D&D editions didnt really have many choices to make, 3rd Edition had a lot of this especially when it came to feats. This wouldnt have been too bad if some books didnt release options that were like other things but better (the warblade in Tome of Battle), or functioned more or less like a game patch (Reserve feats in Complete Mage).

A lot of times people will just wave this off as a "role-playing" choice, where the word means whatever the fuck they think it means at the moment (and almost never what it actually means). Here's a thought, why have a fighter that is inferior to the rest of the classes? Why not just make a fighter that actually works throughout the entire course of the game, instead of only part-time? Mechanically viable characters do not hinder your ability to make an immersive character (or provide one with personality, motivation, and goals) in any way, unless you need that character to be largely ineffectual, and why you would want this in an action-adventure game is equally bizarre.

Fighters often get compared to wizards, in the sense that fighters start out okay before puttering of into a fighter retirement home at an early level, while wizards gradually get carried into god-hood by everyone else in the party. The typical excuse? Magic is powerful, or just "its magic." This is all well and good for, say, a book or single player game (or a game where everyone HAS to use magic), but not for D&D. Its not a novel, its not a movie, and its probably not a single player game. However, it is a game, and well designed games provide balanced choices. Since magic doesnt actually exist, no one is in any position to declare that it isnt powerful enough, so really that argument is moot.

Players like having a wide range of balanced choices. Mastery is often a bad thing, as the more difficult it is to play the game efficiently the less likely you will maintain player interest. A player should be able to crack open Player's Handbook, easily browse through the options presented, and be able to come to a meaningful conclusion about the character they want to play in as little time as possible. This is where the strength of roles is illustrated, as they at a glance allow a player to assess the general purpose of the decision of class.

A player should not be presented with inferior choices. New players to 3E, for example, might pick a fighter under the pretense that its a useful character option, only to find out that they quickly run out of steam. So, what then? Start over? Make another character of the same level? This is typically where apologists will begin to clamor that its a "role-playing" decision, which is true to a point since you yourself decided that you wanted to play a character that could swing melee weapons around and wear all forms of armor (and use tower shields). However it fails in the sense that I dont think the player got what they wanted, which is a character that can wear armor, swing weapons around, and quickly be overshadowed by the rest of the party and/or rely on everyone else in order to at best be on par.

Also, a player should be comfortable knowing that no matter what she picks, her character will be able to do what it is supposed to do as defined by her class. She shouldnt pick a fighter, figure out it sucks, and then have to start over from scratch if she wants to continue contributing in the game. Keeping with the fighter, 3rd Edition had a laundry list of weapons, many of which were widely considered to be very useless (and even some of those demanded a feat to use). They might look neat, but only players afraid of "reskinning" a weapon would use that as a rationale for burning a feat to get a weapon mechanically inferior to another weapon that doesnt need any special training at all (most of the weapons in Oriental Adventures fit the bill, here).

This lead many players to the conclusion that there were only a handful of useful weapons to choose from, and this same attitude gets carried into class/character builds. Balance helps avoid, "one build to rule them all." Balance does not necessarily mean uniformity, and in fact can help prevent that sort of mentality. In 4th Edition, for example, Josh has gotten away with using daggers very efficiently as a halfling fighter, and I've taken it upon myself to use a wider array of weapons for my own fighter characters (something I would not have done before).
Some combinations in D&D are better than others without making the rest obsolete, something that could not have been said in past editions. For example, dwarf fighters are better than human fighters when it comes to playing axe/hammer fighters. Its enough to notice the difference, but not by such a starggering degree as to make all players use dwarves when they want to give the fighter a shot.

All of this is why designers strive for balance. Good games give every player a level playing field from which to work with. This is why you see a lot of RTS maps with equal resource distribution, and sometimes a (mostly) mirrored layout. Players dont want to get stuck with the shitty side of the map, and frankly most players dont want to get told by the DM that they get to build with 15 points, while another player who got lucky gets 28 and a free magic item.
Posted by David Guyll

Excerpts: Karrnath & Travel in Eberron

Its pretty small, but today's Eberron Campaign Guide excerpt gives us a detailed map of Karnnath, some very brief information on traveling (with no mention of price points), and a sample magebred animal, the magebred destrier. Its basically a horse with a second mount encounter power that grants it temp hp equal to your surge value when you use a healing surge.

So, not much to see. I mean, if you're new to Eberron then the stuff on Karnnath might interest you.

June 21, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Playtest: Monster Manual 3

I'm just a bit vexed because I'd been working on stat blocks for volcanic dragons for...personal reasons, lets say. They briefly mentioned these in Monster Manual, or was it Draconomicon? Anyway, once I heard about these "catastrophe" dragons I started kicking some mechanics around because I wanted to have a solid foundation setup for when I would need them at the epic tier of my campaign. That being said I'm not really upset because, well, they did the work for me and probably a deal better that I did. Of course, I could also pitch them my ideas since it is a playtest.

Volcanic dragons work on removing fire resistance/applying fire vulnerability. Their aura and basic attacks all work on eliminating this, obviously because they can setup a devastating burst attack. You see, while their aura starts out pretty tame, they can expand it twice and then unleash a very wide area burst attack that deals ongoing fire damage, but thankfully reverts the aura back to normal. However, there is no limit to this so they can built it up again and again. The only silver lining is that its a standard action to expand it.
Now, they dont have a breath weapon. Their expanding-exploding aura fills in that niche. However, they can also create lava vents as a minor action. They can only do this once per round, and it recharges on a 6, so...yay? They dont have a duration, so if the DM rolls well you can count on a good chunk of the battlefield becoming hazardous terrain.

And thats just the little guys. Older categories dont really change much. The ongoing damage/vulnerability scales up for the elder volcanic dragon, but otherwise nothing new gets thrown at you. Until you hit the ancient category, at which point it can also create fissures of lava (kind of like a wall of lava) and their aura over doubles in size.

I look forward to playtesting this tomorrow. They are only elites, so I can add in some fire-themed allies into the mix and see how well that messes with things. They are really good at negating fire resistance and dealing ongoing damage at the same time, so I'm concerned that it might be very overwhelming when paired up with other monsters that have fire attacks. But, thats what a playtest is for!
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: The Bard

This is a sweet-and-short article that describes four paragon paths that work for bards who like to heavily invest in multiclass feats from a specific power source. You get one for divine, martial, primal, and arcane.

The blessed psalmist learns songs of the Astral Sea, such as angelic choruses and demonic chants. Features let you gain the Channel Divinity power specific to the class you multiclassed into, can use a bardic instrument in place of another implement for those powers, regain uses of majestic word when you burn action points, and you can expend words of friendship in order to deal radiant damage and apply radiant vulnerability.
The powers deal bonus radiant damage, create a zone that grants necrotic resistance anda saving throw bonus against ongoing damage, and a close burst 10 effect that forces an enemy to choose to become dominated or stunned (save ends). Allies caught in the burst gain temp hp.
I like that this paragon path lets you use your other implements in place of whichever divine class you happen to be using. It really lets you work music into the mix.

Daring blades blend song and sword, using dance as a medium for their powers. Their powers are martial, so its not technically magic, I suppose. I dunno. Anywho, the features let you use Charisma in place of whatever else you would use when making basic attacks, mark nearby enemies by spending an action point (and gaining temp hp to boot), and Bluff as a minor action to gain combat advantage (except that it can persist for quite a bit longer than normal).
The powers let you make an attack with combat advantage and causing the target to likewise grant combat advantage to your allies, gain a power bonus to AC and Reflex in addition to granting your allies a power bonus to attack, and shift your speed, gain an Intimidate bonus, deal quad damage, and slide the target next to another ally, who gains a free attack. Whew.
This class has a very solid feel of a bard/rogue, allowing for a dashing swashbuckler concept. Since the bard already has plenty of weapon spells, its pretty easy to pull off. The accompanying sidebar adds a magic item property for heavy/light blades that lets you use it in place of an implement for bard and daring blade powers. Neat!

Next on the list is the mythic skald. This is a concept that I've often considered in the past to use with orcs, dwarves, and "viking"-esque cultures, but never did since bards sucked ass. This paragon path lets you take that concept and really roll with it. The features let you give another ally a bonus to attack/damage when another ally bloodies a target, burn an action point to grant allies temp hp, and grant an attack bonus when you use majestic word on an ally. Primal virtue indeed.
The powers let you grant another ally a free attack with a hefty bonus (and push effect, jebus), keep an ally walking even at negative hp (you make death saves still, and can die if you fail three), and finally grant an ally a free attack with quite a few bonuses that last until the end of the encounter.
I really like this paragon path. Its my favorite out of all four, and would fit really well in Songs of Erui. Great if you want to play a bard from a "primitive" race, or whatnot.

Finally, the resourceful magician. This is the most complicated of the four, since the 11th-level class feature gives you a benefit based on a specific arcane multiclass feat that you had to take to qualify. You could gain some wizard cantrips, a sorcerers variable resistance, swordbond (yawn), or eldritch blast as an at-will (glee). The other features let you make another attack against something else if your attack(s) miss, and you can choose a power from either your bard class or your multiclassed-class at any point in time that you gain a power. Any time. No limits.
The powers let you recall and immediately recast an encounter power that you just used, grant yourself and an ally a move action as a minor action, and a range 20 daily that hits two targets and one of four effects that you pick each time you cast it. Nifty.
This one seems to be the most conceptually flexible of the four, since Greater Study focuses on whatever you took as your multiclass instead of giving a static benefit. That, and Diverse Study lets you do a LOT of multiclassing, so...yeah.

I like this article only because I actually play bards now. If this were 3rd Edition, I wouldnt give a crap. Now? I have a level 6 bard, and wouldnt mind giving another one a shot. I am thinking half-orc bard/mythic skald, which would be the first half-orc I've ever played. Hell, I could go for a kenku bard that works with dark pact warlock. Time to fire up Character Builder. Again.
Posted by David Guyll

Free RPG Day: Khyber's Harvest

It took me about two hours to finally manage to get to a game store that was not only participating in Free RPG Day, but also not requiring a randomized roll to get the game product you wanted. In hindsight I suppose I should have given the d20 a shot, but honestly I didnt really give a shit what most companies were desperately trying to pitch. It would have been one of many other things to rot on my bookshelf that I would, "get around to," eventually.

By eventually, I of course mean never.

I wanst terribly thrilled with Treasure of Talon Pass, though it was alright since I also managed to get the dungeon tile and mini (instead of just one of the above), but this year would be different. We get something that is introductory level, for Eberron, and by Keith Baker. I mean, it cannot possibly fail, can it?

Khyber's Harvest is a level 2 adventure that is intended to be something that you could use to introduce your players to Eberron. It takes place in the Shadow Marches, and centers around yet another ploy by aberrant agents bent on doing in general not-nice things. As a fan of Eberron, the Shadow Marches, and H.P. Lovecraft I heartily endorse this setup.

The gist of the adventure is that the party shows up in Blackroot looking for someone, and discover that she's been kidnapped. They then go off on a wonderful journey of discovery as they plow through a cavern filled with living words, mouths-in-the-floor, dolgaunts, and other frankly bizarre shit.

I think that this is a very good adventure. I mean yeah, its free, but in this instance the price does not reflect the quality: I think its got a lot of good content and other stuff that make it worth the...time, I guess? I really didnt sacrifice anything else, though I did buy a new battle mat just so I didnt seem like that I just showed up to get free swag.

I plan on running it tomorrow for a 4th Edition newbie and another guy that is new to our group, just so one can learn the ropes and the other can see how his character plays out.

On another note, this adventure is chock full of stuff that you can take away into any game. The first thing I noticed was living darkness, a type of living spell. Living spells were introduced in Eberron, and the name says it all: they are magical effects that function much like oozes do, but also carry the effect of their spell. A living flaming sphere, for example, can surround you and deal fire damage. Living darkness basically sits on you, blinds you, and deals necrotic damage.

This is a good benchmark for DMs wanting to make their own living spells: pick an effect, and model it like an ooze. This one is a level 6 elite, so I expect most to also be elites. Except for a living magic missile...that would be a neat small ooze minion that deals force damage on a charge. Fuck yeah.

Another cool thing? Symbionts. They are slotted magic items that use healing surges in order to activate their powers. Also, if you roll a nat 1 then they do something negative to you (aberrants are immune to this critical failure). Interesting and cool.

I'm really glad I put up with the frustrating of burning ALL my free time this morning to hunt this sucker down. Well worth the effort and bullshit, even if I had to wait til I got off work to actually read it.
June 20, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Turaglas, the Ebon Maw

Holy crap thats a long title, but since Turaglas can get as big as (and I quote), "as big as the DM fucking wants," I suppose its fitting. I'd never heard of Turaglas before, which isnt surprising since he originally appeared in Dragon 312 and was otherwise resigned to a few obscure references in Fiendish Codex 1.

The article is eleven pages long, written by Ari Marmell. It opens with the history of Turaglas, the Feeders, his imprisonment by Orcus and Demogorgon, and how he slowly stirs in his prison (as all incarcerated evils are want to do). With all the backstory out of the way, that brings us to Turaglas himself. Turaglas gets a very, very meaty statblock, consuming almost 2/3 of the page. Digesting his mechanics is no small course, as he brings quite a few new ideas to the table and good God I need to stop with the food puns.

For starters, he's a level 30 solo brute of such power that it apparently took both Orcus and Demogorgon to imprison him, which tells me that maybe being shacked up for countless eons has taken a toll on his health. At Gargantuan size, Turaglas can best be described twenty-foot diameter carpet of mouths and eyes, which means that he is 5 squares on a side (with a recommended cap of 10 squares). I was thinking of a neat way to model him since unlike most monsters, characters can and will enter his personal space, and decided on a square tile with rings that could be added around it for each time expand is used.

His attacks revolve around biting, puking, or just sitting on you. Seriously.

His basic bite has no range at all (so you have to be on top of him), he can shoot acid up to 20 squares at up to two targets, he has a Reach 3 bite that pulls you into his space, he can bite you if you try to leave (more on that in a bit), he can use a Close burst 3 (thankfully recharging) attack that pulls everyone it hits into his space, he has a Close blast 6 at-will acid attack, he has a recharging ability that lets him grow bigger (with no cap other than when the DM gets tired of doing it), can reduce his size (and pull creatures closer to his center), expands twice when bloodied, can digest slain characters for either hit points of action points, aaand finally get teleport 12 squares as a minor action.

Oh yeah, and almost everything he does causes slow (save ends) and his area is difficult terrain, so good luck getting out once you're in.

Whew!

At least he is normally pretty slow (Speed 4), but has spider climb, so its a lot like the blob...if the blob was a manifestation of the Abyss's all-consuming hunger. I like the powers a lot. They are creative, evocative, and new.

Good stuff, and we're only three pages in. The remainder of the article stats out the aspect of Turaglas (level 24 elite soldier), his exarch Gargmanethka (a level 27 elite controller big-ass otyugh), and bizarre green humanoids with venus fly traps-for-heads called turagathshnee (level 17 skirmisher) before wrapping things up with the Feeders of the Ebon Maw.

Not surprisingly, the Feeders spend their time feeding Turaglas souls so that when the time comes that he doesnt eat them. The most efficient method is by using one of the "fangs of Turaglas", which are also referred to as the Feeder's utensils. They are a collection of 13 lifebane weapons, which is a new magic item property described in the article that weakens creatures on a crit and has a daily property that weakens a target and gives you temporary hit points.

Good article, and I think I found my big-bad for the Eberron campaign that I'm planning.
June 19, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Divine Power: Rituals

Looks like there will be eight new rituals in Divine Power. The one that interests me the most is Create Holy Water. Its only level 1 and probably will do wonders against undead and likely evil-aligned immortals. Not much of note, though they do preview one of the rituals.

Adjure

Filled with righteous authority, you order an immortal entity to serve you.

Level: 16
Category: Binding
Time: 1 hour
Duration: 8 hours or until discharged
Component Cost: 3,000 gp
Market Price: 7,500 gp
Key Skill: Religion

You command an immortal creature whose level does not exceed yours. The subject of this ritual must be able to see and hear you and must remain within 5 squares of you for the entire time necessary to perform the ritual. Because most creatures do not willingly submit to this ritual, you must usually make the creature helpless or restrain the creature by means of a Magic Circle ritual. Unless it is prevented from doing so, the creature can leave at any time. Finally, you must be able to communicate with the creature, or the ritual automatically fails.

To determine the extent of your authority over the subject, you engage in a special skill challenge during the time it takes to perform the ritual. The DCs for the checks in this challenge are equal to the subject's level + 10. Religion is the primary skill; each time you or an ally succeeds on a Religion check in the challenge, you or an ally can use Diplomacy, History, Arcana, or Intimidate for one subsequent check. Once you have amassed 3 failures or achieved 10 successes, the skill challenge ends. Consult the following table and apply the effect associated with the number of successes you achieved.

Number of Successes Effect
0 or 1 The creature has authority over you and can issue one command that you must obey, a task that requires up to a day of effort.
2 or 3 You have immediate authority over the creature. You can command the creature to perform one task that takes no more than 5 minutes.
4 or 5 You have moderate authority over the creature. You can command the creature to perform a task that requires up to a day of effort.
6 or 7 You have significant authority over the creature. You can command the creature to perform a task that requires up to a week of effort.
8 or 9 You have great authority over the creature. You can command the creature to perform a task that requires up to a month of effort.
10 You have ultimate authority over the creature. You can command the creature to perform a task that requires up to a year and a day of effort.

When the specified task is completed, the ritual is discharged, and the creature (or you) is released from service. You can request any kind of service that does not compel the subject to obey multiple commands, force the subject to engage in combat, or ensure the subject's death. (The subject can engage in combat to achieve a task if it wishes, but combat cannot be required.) If the task is impossible, such as commanding a creature that cannot fly to soar into the sky, the creature can ignore the command.

June 18, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

DDM: Divine Heroes 2

The first sneak peak at the second set of Divine Heroes is up, giving us a warforged cleric, male human paladin, and female human avenger (complete with the power card for her new at-will, focused fury).
  • At a glance, the warforged cleric looks rather plain. Looks like he is thematically tied to a deity of the forge, but...meh. Too much flat color for my taste.
  • The male human paladin looks to evil, with his red and black armor and shield bearing some kind of draconic skull. Not sure at this point what it most likely is. Looks okay, but again the colors look a bit flat.
  • Finally, the female human avenger is a reskin of the kalashtar bodyguard from Night Below. I didnt really like her then, and I dont particularly care for her now.
This set garners an apathetic meh, but I'll see what it looks like in person before making a call. I was surprised with a lot of the stuff in the first run of Player's Handbook Heroes, after all.
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeoncraft: Songs of Erui, Part 1

Songs of Erui is the first long-term homebrew campaign that I've tried to run in a long time. It was largely inspired by the works of Robert E. Holdstock (Lavondyss, Mythago Wood, and The Hollowing), Hellboy, Princess Mononoke, and reading the chapter on The Feywild in Manual of the Planes. I decided that I wanted to do a campaign with lots of heavy celtic influences, and with Player's Handbook 2 rolling out the primal power source it seemed like a sign.

Using Wikipedia I brushed up on celtic mythology to mine for ideas, changing what I needed to best make it all fit within the "points of light" concept and default D&D assumptions (such as monster origins, history, and cosmology). I wanted to emphasize the existance of primal races and classes, but not discount anything. It was an interesting exercise, and helped a lot in providing me with a rough framework for levels 1-20 (at this point, Epic tier is still being a bitch).

The basic idea is that Erui is the original birthplace of many primal spirits (might be all, I havent fully mapped out my homebrew world). Its a wild cradle of life that is isolated from the rest of the world, located far north of Nerath. It is separated by a massive mountain range that is said to be so tall that if you climbed to the top of its peaks that you would reach the Astral Sea. A ruined bridge called the Dragon Road cuts directly through the mountains, but those that walk this ancient path are never heard from again, and no one knows why.

The land is sentient to a degree. Excessive damage to Erui can cause it to conjure up massive animal spirits that defend it (like the animal gods in Princess Mononoke). The forests can cause you to get lost or transport you great distances through time and space (Mythago Wood). Wierd stuff like that thats not really covered at all in the rules. Of course, its also defended by more tangible threats like malicious fey.

Natives of Erui include primal and/or savage races such as gnomes, elves, eladrin, goliaths, gnolls, and (of all things) devas. Devas have a special place in Erui that coincidentally ended up being almost identical to what was described in Ecology of the Deva.
However, since I wanted to allow every race I had it so that several hundred years ago many other races migrated north for whatever reason: pilgrims seeking a "holy land", explorers, or refugees trying to escape the war that was consuming Nerath.
Whatever was necessary to get them up there, and in the end dragonborn and dwarves became some pretty major players.
June 16, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Game Review: Realms of Peril!

"Realms of Peril!" is a much hyped new fantasy adventure roleplaying game from Torchbearer Press, who are notable for releasing other small press success stories as "Space Madness!" and "Nuclear Apocalypse Now!" and also using exclamation points a lot. They've managed to build a name for themselves in the tabletop gaming industry by penning games that are evocative of such old school favorites as "Traveler," "Gamma World" and with the release of RoP, good old sword and sorcery classics like "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons," "Rolemaster" and "Runequest." Fans of classic RPG's have been clamoring for Torchbearer's answer to the fantasy genre for years and now they have something to sink their Cheeto stained teeth into.

Even the game's introduction, as written by founder Max Beard, is reminiscent of the florid and prosaic style of Papa Gygax himself.

"Welcome ye' travelers, to a world wrought with magic, mystery and danger, where around every dark, forgotten corner lies fantastical works of magic and antiquity, and unspeakable horrors of twisted sorcery and wickedness most foul. The tome you now hold in your trembling hands will be your guide to the mythical realm of Avangratianea. Herein lies all the information you few intrepid and adventurous souls need to pit sword and spell against the darkness that lurks in the dark, forgotten places of the world, oh ye' archaeologists of the unknown."

As with their previous releases, Torchbearer Press makes no bones about who the game is intended for. The target demographic of "Realms of Peril" is old school gamers who want to recapture the feel of the classic RPG's of yore, and in this endeavor the succeed admirably. The game mechanics, story and common tropes reflect the "golden years" of gaming perfectly while still offering innovation in many areas. The introduction further states:

"Adventures in this perilous realm are not for the faint of heart or weak of constitution, for it will be a long, trying road to true legendary stature and one to be undertaken only by those of ardent dedication and cunning intellect, who have honed their skills over a lifetime of adventure in similar worlds of fantasy and adventure. So leave ye' behind your strange picture boxes and games of flashing lights and sounds, leave ye' behind the fanciful child's play of brightly colored comic adventures and high-flying Oriental cartoons and embark now upon a grand adventure in the manner it was always meant to be told."

Like many systems, "Realms of Peril" comes with it's own default lore and setting built directly into the game mechanics, meaning that those looking for a more generic system may want to look elsewhere, but the game does offer some interesting story ideas that directly inform the design precepts. The game itself is contained all in one book, with the front half dedicated to character creation and progression, including spells and other abilities, and the latter half is dedicated to the actual running of the system by game masters (referred to as "Magistrates" by the rules) all of which clocks in at just under 300 pages, due to the more freeform style of the rules.

Similar to Dungeons & Dragons, they game features a class/level based progression for characters (in the game referred to as "Job" and "Tier" respectively) and ranges from Tiers 1 through 20, with the character tier itself acting as a modifier for Wound Levels, Physical Defense, Magic Defense, Attack Bonus, etc. Players can choose a "Species" (known as "Race" in other games...even though Species is technically a more accurate term) ranging from Human, Gypsy, Dwarf, Elf, Spriggan, and Troll. This choice informs what Jobs they will be able to select as certain races are barred from certain Jobs. They are as follows: Warrior, Magician, Cutpurse, Acolyte and Factotum. There is also a 6th specialized job for roleplaying novices called "Henchman," which they can move out of only after they've proven themselves, according to the game text.

The core mechanic of the game revolves around rolling d10's and only d10's for challenge resolution. That means that you can leave your Crown Royal bag full of polyhedrons at home, because a handful of 10-sided dice is all you'll need.

Challenge resolution comes in two distinct formats: Combat Challenges (CC's in the game's nomenclature) and Out of Combat Challenges (OCC's).

Combat Challenges are based around opposed rolls between the player and foe. To successfully hit a target, the player rolls a d10 (or 2d10 at tiers above 10th) and adds tier + combat modifiers, while the target rolls against this number adding it's defense bonus. If the player's roll is greater than the target's, the attack succeeds, if the roll is less than the target's roll then the attack fails and the target may make a counter attack, if the roll is a tie, then their weapons lock, and they re-roll until one of them is successful. This is all detailed in the combat charts printed in the Magister's section of the book. This system is designed to keep melee combat lively, engaging and suspenseful while leaving the combat open to narrative interpretation.

After success or failure is determined, the player then rolls a percentage to determine their actual degree of success, comparing the result to a chart detailing hit locations and relevant damage modifiers. Critical hit chance is of course scalable by level.

Unlike melee combat based jobs like Warrior, Cutpurse and Factotum, Magicians and Acolytes with spell casting abilities simply bypass the opposed roll and make a percentage check adding relevant modifiers minus the targets Magic Defense score to determine degree of success since magic in the game is all powerful and thus always succeeds, even if only to a minor degree. This is balanced by the fact that they need to remain in a meditative state for up to an hour to regain their spells whereas melee classes can fight all day long.

The magic system is quite different than we are used to seeing in other games. Spellcasters still have a resource management system based on time based intervals (ala' the classic Vancian system) but there are no "spell levels" to speak of. Instead, Magicians choose one of six different casting "schools" (Conjuration, Transmutation, Elemental, Trickery, Divination and Necromancy) at 1st tier and can only cast spells of that school, however all spells are available to them at any tier. They can only cast a number of times a day as derived from their relevant attribute scores. At later tiers they may select additional schools from which to cast. Spell descriptions are intentionally kept vague to promote a more free form magic system and most relevant details are determined by the aforementioned success roll.

Acolytes, Realms of Peril's answer to the classic healing/buffing class only have access to the "Thaumaturgy" school, which comprised entirely of benign spells for protection, recovery and bolstering of allies. After 10th tier they may select one additional casting school from the Magician's list.

Factotums, who serve as the games "jack-of-all-trades" class can choose one school to cast spells from at 10th tier, including Thaumaturgy.

In keeping with tradition, Warriors and Cutpurses do not gain access to any spells.

Character Health in Realms of Peril is expressed in intervals referred to as "Wound Levels" which are derived from Attributes, Tier and Job. We've seen this mechanic in countless other systems and is a favorite of gamers who prefer realistic battle damage in play. Herein, penalties incurred from taking wounds are expressed in percentage penalties applied to attribute scores, which effect both OCC's and Combat Abilities. So in this game they are a big deal, but luckily this is mitigated by armor, which in another more realistic turn, allow a character to absorb damage rather than avoid hits. Lighter armor absorbs less damage but imposes less of a penalty on their defensive modifier allowing them to still dodge blows, whereas heavy armor absorbs more damage, but makes the wearer more clumsy and less able to move out of the way of danger. One of the stranger design decisions is the fact that wearing armor in the game imposes penalties on the mental attributes of the characters in a severity proportionate to the heaviness of the armor, presumably to keep spellcasters from donning full plate and thus balance the game (though one of the Elves features allows them to cast in full plate without penalty).

Out of Combat Challenges are one of the more innovative approaches the game has to offer, in my opinion. Realms of Peril completely eschews static skill lists and instead allows players to take backgrounds which inform what they can do out of combat for roleplay purposes. For instance, if a player chooses the "Forestry" background for their character, they can roll a check against whatever attribute the Magistrate deems appropriate to the situation (Attributes in RoP being expressed as percentages) for skills pertaining to a forest setting, such as building a shelter of tree branches, or foraging for food, or calming an angry bear. There are similar backgrounds for Seacraft, Magery, Diplomacy, Mercantile, Warfare and many others. I like this system because it gives game masters enough to credit to assume they can figure these things out for themselves, without needing a hard-coded system of rules and numbers to lead them by the hand and also because it is open ended enough to offer a wealth of possibilities.

Character creation in Realms of Peril is similarly streamlined, and begins with the random rolling of attributes, which will be further modified by Job and Species selections.

Character attributes are divided into 4 general attributes (Body, Mind, Spirit, Virtue) referred to as GA's, which are then divided into "specific attributes" (Body={Strength and Agility}; Mind={Intellect and Perception}; Spirit={Willpower and Charisma}; Virtue={Good and Evil}) referred to in game as "SA's". Specific Attributes are further divided into "Sub-specific Attributes" (SSA's) and they are broken down as follows: (Body={Strength [Power and Stamina] and Agility [Dexterity and Speed]}; Mind={Intellect [Memory and Reason] and Perception [Sense and Search]}; Spirit= {Willpower [Focus and Resistance] and Charisma [Personality and Comeliness]}; Virtue= {Good [Valor and Compassion] and Evil [Avarice and Ruthlessness]}.

General attributes range from 1 to 100 and are determined by rolling percentage on two 10-sided dice three times and distributing as they wish, then further distributing these scores among Specific Attributes and then Sub-Specific Attributes. For example, if a player rolls a 50% for their Body score, they can then split that number between their Strength and Agility scores as they like (STR 20/AGL 30) and then split those among their Sub-Specific Attributes as they like, so their final scores might look like Body 50% (STR 20% {POW 10% / STA10%} AGL 30% {DEX 20% / SPD 10%})

At each level, the player receives a 10% bonus to add to which ever General Attribute he or she wishes, and then redistribute among all of the pertinent sub-categories. The exception to this rule is the players Virtue score, which starts at 0, before Job and Species Bonuses are applied. This score is altered for the player by the Magistrate according to how he/she plays their character, offering different penalties and bonuses based on their level of righteousness or wickedness. This is one of the better innovations of the game, as it not only encourages roleplay, but enforces it with actual hard-coded mechanical effects rather than a loosely defined and largely implied alignment system. The one problem here is that the game can be unforgiving to lower tier characters, especially if they role poorly, but the game itself states that it embraces the randomness of old school RPG's and the penalites/bonuses aren't that extreme to begin with, ranging from -2 to +3 (+6 for attribute scores above 100%).

The gameplay and character generation of Realms of Peril offers some pretty fresh ideas, but in my mind the true innovation of the game comes from the Magistrate's side of the screen in the form of encounter design. Realms of Peril has no actual bestiary to speak of, though there are stats in the Magistrate's section for common races and creatures, but actual monsters are designed randomly by rolling percentages and picking results from a series of appendixes and tables to build completely unique and chilling challenges for your players to face. Every thing about encounters is randomized from creature level and type, to number of monsters, to size and special attacks. This is where RoP's lore informs the game design, as one of the major setting tropes is that the world of Avangratianea is covered in fissures of wild, chaotic magic called "ley lines" that cause strange mutations in surrounding wildlife and people.

Furthermore it isn't just monsters that are determined randomly, but other strange phenomena such as space/time fluxuations, wild magic zomes, elemental hazards, etc.

This can of course lead to a low level party encountering something far beyond their capabilities as the party's tier does not factor into encounter creation, but the game's text acknowledges this reiterates that the game: "Is not for the casual hobbyist and these are but a few of the many hazards that all true adventurers must face." On the plus side, this does make every encounter unique and really helps to lessen metagaming and encourage more immersive roleplay, but on the other hand...I mean goddamn...are you fucking kidding me?

My group and I tried to get a feel for this game in play...I mean really tried...and I will admit that the roleplay portions worked out well, mostly because I could just hand wave it all from behind the screen (the game doesn't actually have a screen) But everytime we got into an encounter it was a TPK. They'd role up new characters, I'd roll up another encounter...TPK. I even let them start with 100% in all their General Attributes...TPK. Finally I decided to let them roll up new characters and pit them against a bunch of human rabble...TPK! For peasants they had some pretty fucking formidable stats.

My conclusion is that though this game is marketed and packaged as a fantasy adventure roleplaying game, in actual play it turns out to be a survival horror game. Seriously, what is the fucking point of having a 20 tier progression? It's not like characters are going to last past the first couple of adventures. These mechanics offer some very innovative ideas, but they are applied to the wrong goddamn genre. I can't help but think that the rules system behind Realms of Peril would work much better in a game of Lovecraftian horror than a game of action fantasy.
Posted by Shazbot

Beasthide Shifting

Has this been done, yet? While trying to go to sleep and failing due to retarded-heat, I was thinking about how to make the cast from The Dragon Below trilogy into 4E, and thought about how to do beasthide shifting for Geth.

The result I came to was like, regen 2 while bloodied, +1 to AC and Fort defenses for the encounter. I had also considered doing temp hp instead of regen, and briefly considered finding a way to work in resist all instead of that, if at all possible.
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Eberron Player's Guide

Aside from Planescape, Eberron was really the only other campaign setting that ever clicked with me. Maybe it was the lack of established history, but I think it was mostly its unique tone and style. Eberron isnt like other campaign settings that have come before, meshing a pulp noir feel with swashbuckling action and magic-as-technology. I'm a huge fan of China Mieville's stuff, and Eberron is a very natural fit.

I'm going to avoid talking about the mechanical aspects of this book where I can, since thats been done to death in many places (including here).

Eberron Player's Guide is divided into five chapters. Life in Eberron is an overview of the world with a tiny map that details a single-page map of the Khorvaire (the starting continent) and the rest of the world. A poster map will be included in Eberron Campaign Setting, as it was in Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, so no need to fret about this.

Life across Khorvaire
does a great job of setting the stage for the players. It describes everyday life, the popular perceptions of adventurers, and what to expect.

Movers and shakers
briefs players on the Draconic Prophesy in more detail than what we initially saw, and I think this is an important concept for players to grasp right away. I'm also pleased that it touches on types of adventures, locations, and travel modes. This information is great to help players create characters consistent with the setting and provide excellent springboards for DMs.

Races presents us with slightly modified (again) warforged, heavily modified changlings, and (for the first time...again) kalashtar. Strangely, there arent any new shifter traits, which sucks because 3rd Edition provided a good number in Eberron Campaign Setting, and many more in Races of Eberron. Oh well, cant have it all.

Races from Player's Handbook, Player's Handbook 2, genasi, and orcs get some treatment/placement. Ironically, drow do not despite them being major players in Xen'drik. Anyway, most of these I found satisfying in the sense that its where I was going anyway (such as dragonborn "always being in Argonessen"), but there are a few origins that I am more than happy to work in in addition to the "official" descriptions (such as some tiefling families being the result of pacts with rakshasas).

Classes gives us the artificer in all her glory. Its been a long-time coming, and I am extremely pleased with the completed work after over a year. Good things take time, and this is a very awesome class that better captures the feel than 3rd Edition ever could.
I never really dug the original artificer since it felt like you had to burn your action points in order to use your abilities in a timely fashion. Sure, with enough prep time you could do some interesting shit, but in a lot of cases? Kiss your action points goodbye. The craft reserve and bonus Item Creation feats just made making magic items reasonable.
Even if you playtested it out of Dragon, this is a whole new animal. It has a lot of the original powers and class features, but most are renamed and/or changed in some way, and the list has more than doubled in size. Players out there with artificers can rejoice...a lot.

There are 22 paragon paths, 13 pertaining to Dragonmarked Houses, and the rest for races, classes, or other concepts specific to Eberron. The Dragonmarked paragon paths seem to fill in the niche left by the absense of the dragonmarked heir (ECS, pg X) in that they require a specific dragonmark and expand upon it in very cool ways.
I like that the Vadalis griffonmaster lets you swap out your beast companion for a griffon. Fucking rad.

Conversely, there are only four epic destinies. However, this is all forgiven thanks to the mourning savior, which is all about discovering the source of the Day of Mourning and reverse the process. It is hard to think of a cooler way to put a capper at the end of a epic-tier campaign.

Character Options has Dragonmark feats, which are now available to any race. The idea is that in the campaign world, only specific races have a certain Dragonmark, but PCs being special as they are can be recognized by the Draconic Prophecy regardless. At first I had reservations about this, but on the other hand the Draconic Prophecy can choose whoever the fuck it wants, and who am I to disagree?

Other feats provide expected benefits by boosting race/class features from the new races and classes, though there are a ton of Channel Divinity feats for Eberron's own Sovereign Host and a feat that works for shifter rangers. Feats from Playing Warforged are reprinted here, which will draw nerd-rage from some but an apathetic shrug from myself.

World of Eberron wraps things up by providing information about the Five Nations, Khorvaire at large, and finally the areas beyond. Each area gets some description, adventurer concepts, and associated background skills. There is also a section on Dragonmarked House backgrounds if you want to go that route.

I've read a couple criticisms about the book. One is that you "need" Player's Handbook 2 to get full use out of this book, which isnt necessarily true. There are a few things in here that cater to primal classes, but then druids are pretty major players in Eberron so this was unavoidable.

Having read every other Eberron supplement ever released by Wizards of the Coast, I can say that while EPG isnt nearly as comprehensive as its numerous forebears (for very obvious reasons), I enjoy it a lot more as it crams the most important information relevant to players in a single book. I dont need to reference Eberron Campaign Setting, Races of Eberron, Explorer's Handbook, and Player's Guide to Eberron in order to feel like I've covered all the bases.

If you are an Eberron fan, then you probably already have this book, are waiting til tomorrow, or your pre-order is on the way (and if not you are probably broke). If you are not an Eberron fan, then I'd say that its still a great buy if you are a DM/player-with-a-DM who doesnt mind stealing ideas from other campaigns to use (the races, class, and feats are great).
Otherwise, you can easily afford to pass this up. Its not very large and runs $30, so...yeah.
June 15, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Fiction: Word of Traitors

Don Bassingthwaite just posted up the cover for his latest book, Word of Traitors. I remember picking up The Binding Stone on a whim at a point in time where I was fairly confident that almost all D&D fiction was crap, and being incredibly surprised. I immediately got the rest of the trilogy and read it all back-to-back. For the first time in a long while, I was so gripped by a book that I literally had trouble putting it down until I was finished.

I was very excited when The Doom of Kings was released, and pleased with the consistent quality of his writing. He's like, Valve for fiction: I'm going to get it purely because his name is on the cover.
Posted by David Guyll

Excerpt: Favored Soul

You can finally download the article. The favored soul is an avenger paragon path that basically turns you into an angel as you level up. You gain wings at level 16, which is the highlight of the class and starts to set the benchmark for a static flight speed.

You can burn an action point to do something and let an ally burn a healing surge and you gain a bonus to defenses when your hp is maxed out. Radiant rush works on your enmity target, dealing damage with a push and daze, and you can use it while charging. Celestial skirmish (level 20 daily) is pretty brutal, boosting your fly speed by 2, giving you +6 against opportunity attacks, and allowing you to make three attacks against separate targets with increasing returns the more you successfully land a hit.

The only issue I noticed from a purely mechanical standpoint was that you gain flight at level 16, but wings of angels (level 12 utility) increases your flight speed by 4. Since you technically dont even have a fly speed listed at all, I'm inclined to think that this by the rules shouldnt work. Oh well, if players cannot get a power that grants flight before then, I'll just let them walk with a Speed of 4.

Aside from that minor molehill (that I'm sure has been made into several mountain ranges on the forums), looks good. Its one of those "duuuh" things that I didnt think about, having a divine character gain the qualities of an angel. Its like they took the angelic avenger (PH, pg 73) and cranked it up to 11.
Posted by David Guyll

Disclaimer

I want to point out that Josh (Shazbot) and myself did not coordinate the reviews and sample characters: it was apparently SO cool that we did both of our own volition (about the same time, to boot).
Posted by David Guyll

Character Concepts: Revenant Warlock

Rough concept using a tiefling infernal warlock as a basis. Simple and iconic. I suppose the concept here is a tiefling warlock that died, but is sent back by a devil in order to finish a job or just wreak more havoc. I envision her mask-like face having small horn-like growths to illustrate her tiefling soul. Hell, might even give her a tail for added emphasis.
Next level I'd end up taking Hellfire Soul so that darkreaping would deal fire damage to boot, since I would as a DM allow Hellfire Blood to apply to it as well.

====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&DI Character Builder ======
Talon, level 1
Revenant (tiefling), Warlock
Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast Constitution
Eldritch Pact: Infernal Pact

FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 8, Con 18, Dex 13, Int 15, Wis 10, Cha 14.

STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 8, Con 16, Dex 11, Int 15, Wis 10, Cha 14.

AC: 14 Fort: 14 Reflex: 13 Will: 13
HP: 30 Surges: 10 Surge Value: 7

TRAINED SKILLS
Bluff +7, Streetwise +7, Arcana +9, Religion +7

UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +1, Diplomacy +2, Dungeoneering, Endurance +6, Heal, History +2, Insight, Intimidate +4, Nature, Perception, Stealth +1, Thievery +1, Athletics -1

FEATS
Hellfire Blood

POWERS
Warlock at-will 1: Eldritch Blast
Warlock at-will 1: Hellish Rebuke
Warlock daily 1: Tyranny of Flame
Warlock encounter 1: Diabolic Grasp

ITEMS
Adventurer's Kit, Leather Armor, Spiked gauntlet, Dagger, Implement, Rod
====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&DI Character Builder ======

Character Concept: The Executioner; Revenant Fighter

The inspiration for this character came as I was reviewing the "Playing Revenants" article from Dragon Magazine on D&Di for Antioch's blog.

The basic concept is a Battlerager Fighter (formerly a Dwarf) who was killed while defending a sorcerous ally to whom he was tirelessly devoted, and crawled his way out of the grave in order to continue doing so. I envision this character as an implacable wall of destruction with an unwavering, single-minded determination, wearing a black executioner's hood to hide his ashen, sunken features, and wielding a huge ax.

Unfortunately as the Revenant is not yet available in the D&Di character builder, I had to build this guy the old fashioned way. Will revisit this post when the CB updates.

Executioner
Level 1 Revenant (nee' Dwarf) Fighter
Fighter Talent: Battlerage Vigor

FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 16, Con 16, Dex 12, Int 8, Wis 14, Cha 13

STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 16, Con, 14, Dex 10, Int 8, Wis 14, Cha 13

AC: 16; Fort: 15; Ref: 11; Will: 12
HP: 31; Surges: 12; Surge Value: 7

TRAINED SKILLS
Athletics +7; Endurance +9; Intimidate +10 (Executioner background)

UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics 0; Arcana -1; Bluff +1; Diplomacy +1; Dungeoneering +2; Heal +2; History -1; Insight +2; Nature +2; Perception +2; Religion -1; Stealth 0; Thievery 0

FEATS
Level 1: Dwarf Soul

POWERS
Fighter At-Will: Crushing Surge
Fighter At-Will: Cleave
Fighter Encounter: Bell Ringer
Fighter Daily: Villain's Menace

ITEMS
Adventurer's Kit
Great Ax
Chainmail

This character is built for one thing...sheer durability. The Unnatural Vitality racial features for the Revenant and Battlerage Vigor class features synergize nicely toward this end, as does the Dwarven Soul feat, which will grant the executioner access to the Dwarven Resilience and allow him to use his Second Wind as a minor action. In other words, this guy can take a licking and keep on ticking.

The Executioner's damage output is okay, with the high strength and constitution scores and the great ax (eventually he will take Dwarven Weapon Training to give him +2 to damge roles with axes, and Weapon Proficiency Executioner's Ax, because it's just plain perfect for him)

Defenses are pretty abysmal, which is okay since this character isn't about avoiding hits as much as he is about ignoring them. However, I would take feats down the line to bolster his Will Defense as I see this guy as not being one to be easily dominated.

The Revenant And Other Strangeness

The new and much anticipated Revenant was released on D&DI tonight, in an article written by Dragon Magazine EIC Matthew Sernett, and as previously speculated on the Wizards of the Coast forums, it is indeed a full player race rather than a feat chain like we saw with the Dhampyr, and along with the Tiefling, Shadar-Kai, Drow and aforementioned Dhampyr, provides plenty of roleplay fodder for more ghoulish minded players.

Actually, that isn't exactly fair. The Dragon article offers a wealth of information, flavor and player options for Revenant characters including Racial Feats, a Paragon Path and even an Epic Destiny. It's enough to make anyone want to play one. In fact, I reckon that all across the world, players are plotting to murder their own characters so they can be resurrected as undead PC's. I know I am...the Dark Reaping racial power and Reaper's Quarry Feat are just too tasty for my Ranger to ignore.

In Western European mythologies, a Revenant is a corpse returned from the grave, similar to vampires, sometimes for a specific purpose such as avenging their own murder, sometimes just to pester one's friends and neighbors...presumably for shits and giggles.

The Dungeons & Dragons design team has mined this concept for ideas and run with it, the result is the Revenant player race, who are the souls of a deceased individuals brought back to a sort of half-life by the Raven Queen (in the default D&D mythos) or whatever relevant cosmic entity you think is appropriate for your campaign, to accomplish a destiny not yet satisfied in life. It may also shock you to hear that, true to form for undead characters, they are sufficiently dark and brooding as they are constantly haunted by the fading apparitions of memories from their former life.

Revenants are described by the article as not looking like rotting husks of human corpses, but rather as frail yet preternaturally sturdy and quick humanoids with ashen and sunken features of a mask-like countenance and eyes that are pools of black with the burning ember of fiery red pupils in the center. Their hair is whispy and ranges from black to white and all shades inbetween, and their extremities terminate in scaly black talons like those of a raven.

Mechanically, Revenants receive a bonus to their Dexterity and Constitution scores, to reflect their graveborn agility and durability, and a racial bonus to Endurance and Intimidate skills because they don't tire easy, and folks tend to feel ill at ease around people who know what death looks like. They are considered by the game to be (technically) living creatures, with the undead keyword attached (HUH!?) for the purpose of effects relating to said keyword. I guess that means they are subject to turning and rebuking. In addition to this, racial features include "Past Life" which allows you to take racial feats associated with your former self as well as Revenant specific feats (Imagine a Half-Elf Revenant...featastic!) There is also the "Unnatural Vitality" feature which allows a Revenant character to remain conscious and take a standard action even after being dropped to 0 hit points and the "Dark Reaping" racial power that allows them to add necrotic damage to one of their attacks after an enemy is dropped within their immediate vicinity.

In addition to their pretty freaking sweet racial features, Revenants also have a number of racial feats, most bolster their Dark Reaping power and Unnatural Vitality feature, and add a bit of undead flavor (stale saltines) to class features while others reconcile Revenants with their former selves, granting access to racial powers from whatever race they were in a previous life.

The Revenant Paragon Path is called the "Avenging Haunt" which is a path for those Revenants who are seeking revenge against those that wronged them in life. I don't know if conceptually the desire for revenge has enough narrative depth to carry a character through Heroic and Paragon tiers, but meh...the PP has some pretty nifty features, including one where spending an action point makes characters gain insubstantial and phasing, a feature that grants you a bonus to hit and damage anyone who knocks you to 0 hp, and one that makes Revenant characters even harder to kill (psst...it's called "Unkillable") Powers include a per encounter attack called "Deathly Retort" that allows the character to revisit damage on someone who hits them within a wide range as an immediate reaction. Also, there is a daily utility called "Haunting Form" which is sustainable and grants the user Insubstantiality, Phasing, and Flight for a short time. Finally, there is a daily area attack that hits for a good portion of damage, and allows you to revisit damage on any of the targets that manages to strike you afterward, it's called "Death Locus" So yeah...I'd be willing to hate on someone quite a while for that kind of coolness.

"Free Soul" is the racial Epic Destiny for the Revenant, which in an interesting turn, is all about being free of the shackles of predetermined destiny, and the idea is a Revenant who is free to chart the course of their own fate, no longer beholden to man or god. Sort of like the Mary Tyler Moore of unlife. The Free Soul offers players a number of interesting features, all flavored with the spice of freedom, such as "Destiny Claimed" which makes it so the character cannot be forced to re-roll (yay for exception based game design!) Other features allow Revenants to make savings throws as a free action, and reflect it back on the malicious bastard who attacked you. The Free Soul's daily utility allows it to re-roll failed saves. All in all pretty tasty stuff.

I think that the most interesting part of the Revenant race is that it allows for a number of interesting narrative hooks for your character, being that their story really starts after they die. The lone, dark figure on a mission of revenge or atonement is a popular archetype in fantasy and other genres of literature, and the Revenant fits this mold perfectly.

Also, if your DM ever TPK's the players, it will be easy for him to say "Whoops! Mulligan! You're all Revenants now!"

Review: Playing Revenants

Playing Revenants touts itself as DDI exclusive content, which describes virtually everything else that gets put into both Dragon and Dungeon. It predictably introduces the revenant race, which are souls that have returned from death to enact vengeance, perform a fetch-quest for a powerful god, or just sheer emo-powah. The default assumption is that the Raven Queen wants you to do something, but the article drops suggestions that a devil might use your soul, or that you might come back to right a wrong.
They get a bonus to Con and Dex, can pick another race to crib race-specific options from, can take a standard action before dropping from having 0-or-less hit points, and their racial encounter lets them deal bonus damage by harnessing the soul of a creature that died nearby. Very cool, and I have a couple ideas brewing for a few characters already. The stat block also cites that they are ideal for warlocks, rogues, and assassins but since we wont see the assassin until September (I think), I'm just going to have to take their word for it.

Revenants look like slender MySpace bloggers: pale skin, sunken eyes, often black or white hair, and a rough, scaly texture near the ends of their limbs. Well...not the last part in most cases. This is all supposed to mark them as an agent of the Raven Queen, and despite my sarcasm I actually like all of these aesthetic touches as it makes them thematic to their origins and default purposes. I think that the designers handled this is a very elegant, logical way to a point where it makes sense even if you are playing a minotaur-turned-revenant (which is one of my character concepts).
In 3rd Edition this would likely be handled with a Level Adjustment and a template, which means that in most cases results in a ham-stringed character that might sound cool on the surface but ultimately drown in his own incompetence. I was wondering how they would pull this off, and I couldnt be happier with the results.

Revenants are designed to be a complete race, and Matt certainly doesnt skimp on the details. You get a complete set of feats for every tier (taking up almost five pages), a paragon path, and an epic destiny. First, lets talk feats.
There is one feat for basically every damned race in the game, and since the prerequisites are both the original race and revenant, you can only take the one that matches up with the race that you were before coming back from the dead.
Each racial feat gives the revenant the other race's racial power, so an elf-revenant can use elven accuracy, while a dwarf-revenant can use second wind as a minor action. This is all balanced by the fact that usually you can only opt to use either the original race's power or the revenant's own darkreaping power.
For example, the minotaur one lets you make a basic attack before dropping without any limitation of frequency. These double-racial feats encompass almost all of Heroic tier, though a fair number apply to classes and modify your racial features (as to be expected), allowing you to avoid having to make Endurance checks due to starvation, thirst, or suffocation, or grant you temp hp when you trigger darkreaping.
The paragon feats let you extend the range of darkreaping, do it to more than one creature, gain poison resistance, and stay around kicking until you fail two death saves.
Epic wraps things up with four feats, one of which lets you take a full suite of actions while at 0 or less and also become insubstantial, while another gives you a bonus on death saves and if you roll a nat 20 lets you burn two surges and stand as a free action.

The only paragon path is avenging haunt, and if I had to complain it would be about the fact that we only get one, but since revenants were originally of another race this is more nit-picky than anything else.
The avenging haunt is fantastic at ramping up all of your racial features, making you insubstantial when you burn an action point, and staying unconscious until you are dead-dead (ie, negative half-hit points). The granted powers let you make a counterattack against anything that hits you within 20 squares, turn insubstantial, and a very powerful area-effect attack at level 20 that deals more damage if any affected creature hits you. It all comes together to really play up that "avenging" theme.
Finally, the free soul epic destiny lets you negate rerolls, make an immediate save, impose said saved condition against the creature that caused it, and you get a daily power that lets you reroll a failed save and reroll a save for the entire encounter therafter.

This article does a great job of reminding me why DDI is an excellent investment beyond just the Character Builder. This right here would be worth five bucks, so I consider my money well spent several times over. I'm going to work on a few revenant concepts and see what I can do, and if my players want to off themselves to give it a whirl, I dont blame them.
June 14, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

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