Archive for August 2009

Terrain Features: Magic Circles

This is one of those strange articles that doesnt really get into hard mechanics, but mostly whimsy player-driven-fun. I've been dealing a lot with magic circles, having read the entire Dresden Files series in the span of a month, and one of many good effects its had on me is an appreciation for circular magic.
First of all, drawing circles is easy. Its so easy that Harry is able to explain it to someone who has never used magic before, on-the-fly: draw a circular shape on the ground (doesnt have to be perfect), invest some will into it and booyah. Done. With that in mind, accepting lots and lots of circles drawn out seemingly willy-nilly became much easier to digest, to the point that its one of those, "damnit I wish I'd read this before I started running my games," moments. Fortunately, seeing as hindsight is 20:20 its something I can learn from and take it into future adventures and campaigns.

How does this pertaint to D&D? Well, I noticed really quickly with pre-published D&D adventures that a common terrain feature are magic circles that impart some minor benefit when you were standing inside it. In Keep on the Shadowfell, for example, there's one outside the kobold lair (+1 to attack rolls), one in the graveyard (source of the undead), and one when you fight Kalarel (+2 to defenses and regen 5 for enemies only). Out of the three, only the one in the graveyard can be subjected to skill checks in order to fuck with it. I figure, why stop there?
I like to use terrain in my encounters: difficult terrain, pillars, tables, whatever I can think of that the players can fiddle with. I prefer such fiddling to take a single action in order to garner results, as there's nothing like a Skill Challenge in the middle of combat to make on player engage Mindless-Dice-Rolling Mode, and I think that magic circles are great candidates for this sort of thing.

For instance, in my Inquisitives campaign, the players run into a couple magic circles in the first encounter of the first adventure, when they are ambushed by (of all Heroic-tier humanoids) goblins. A goblin hexer has drawn a basic circle using rat shit and placed insect husks along the border. The circle is used to boost its area of effect and maintain its vexing cloud power, so that he doesnt need to burn minor actions to maintain it. The only drawback is that it must be centered on the circle. Characters can take it out by using a single action to do one of two things: break the circle or safely disperse it.

I call these one-hit circles "minion circles" since they can be "resolved" with a single dice roll. Basically, a character can opt to take some damage to break it (representing a magical backlash) or make a single Arcana check to safely disperse the magic channeled into it. The option to just break it and take damage lets characters with shitty Arcana modifiers let hit points do the talking. Either way, the effect is gone. In the case of this vex-circle, once its out the vexing cloud is also disrupted, so its win-win for the party.
You might rule that circles with nice benefits take a bit more effort to disable. A circle that controls or sustains a summoned demon, for example, might take two or more skill checks since it can make a big difference in the battle. In this case I would not only have a success count for itself, but also impart some other benefit to help them feel like they are contributing more (attack penalty, dazed for a round, slowed for a round, some damage, etc).

Now, if players want they can get a bit more creative. Another option is to allow Arcana checks to allow a character to alter the effect of the circle. For example, lets say they run into a circle that grants an attack bonus. Using Arcana or Religion or whatever, they could change it from a +1 power bonus to damage to a +2 power bonus to damage. Perhaps a +1 power bonus to one or more defenses. The effect would apply to everyone, though I could see a player making one or more Arcana checks in order to impart their will into the circle, affecting only those she wants to.
Another thing that a player could take a crack at is disrupting the circle, damaging all the creatures inside it. I would base the damage largely on what you would expect them to do with an encounter power, and might even roll on a push/prone/daze condition depending on how spectacularly the circle goes out (ie, with a bang).

Its one of those on the fly rulings that I would be really open to player creativity and DM flexibility. There arent any "hard" rules for this sort of thing, but I dont think its really prone to abuse since you as the DM get to decide how/if the circle can be augmented, as well as the DC and requisite skill. In most cases I would demand Arcana, but not demand training in the skill (since again, its super-easy to do). You could use Nature for fairy rings or stone circles, and Religion could apply to circles that work with healing, undead, etc. Depending on how common magic is, you could demand training, I suppose.

Some common circle effects:
  • Power bonus to attack rolls.
  • Power bonus to damage rolls.
  • Power bonus to one Defense.
  • Change damage from one type to another (for example, all attacks deal fire damage).
  • Grant energy resistance.
  • Grant regeneration.
  • Grant regeneration only while bloodied.
  • Grant one of more effects to specific targets only (determined by circle drawer).
  • Sustain summoned monsters (likely undead, elementals, and/or immortals).
August 29, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Penny-Arcade/PVP Podcast

August 28, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Living Fireball

Here's a final draft.

August 27, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Forums Are Back

And...it looks like if Gleemax had sex with MySpace. Huh.

Addendum: Except that they look like crap and its a bitch to navigate. Oh well, I mostly stopped going there anyway.
Posted by David Guyll

Pathfinder Review

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

Okay, okay, its finally out, and its huge. Its a good thing that we're looking at a 3rd Edition re-hash, or I'd have a lot to learn, amirite? Content wise, its basically PH and DMG glued together. It starts out with race, classes, feats, skills, etc before moving on to building adventures and campaigns, dungeon settings, traps, and yadda yadda yadda. Same shit, different look.

I'm not going to pull a “Kurt Wiegel” and just say that Pathfinder is shit, and its not a role-playing game by a self-invented standard. I'm not even going to surmise this entire review by stating that, "I got tired of Pathfinder back when it was called 3rd Edition." No, oh no. I'm going to give you actual reasons from a game design standpoint as to why it sucks. Mostly, I'm curious as to see if Paizo fixed the flaws. Okay, I'm kidding: we already know by the previews that they didnt, but lets go through the motions anyway and start things out on a positive beat by checking out the good part.

Art! Its got some usually-okay art. The best stuff is whatever recycled Wayne Reynolds bits they threw on as chapter-splashes, and the rest runs from great to good. The downside is that as far as I can tell its all recycled (like the rules, har har). I'd have preferred it if they added more stuff that was more contextually appropriate for the chapters.
For example, Chapter 1: Races, has a picture of the adventurers running through a drow city...which pertains to race because I guess the characters are using races out of the book? Chapter 3 is the cover of "Hook Mountain Massacre", which makes sense because of...well...I got nothing. There's a fighter there, and a sorcerer! Those are classes, right?
Anyway, points for generally very good art, even if its as rehashed as the game. Otherwise, there isnt much to say about the physical quality of the book. Its big, its expensive, and its for a game that you already bought almost ten years ago.

Moving on to the bad stuff (and by that I mean the rest of it), starting with the races.

Paizo has elected to keep all of the traditional races, with "traditional" being defined as the ones that were in the initial launch circa 3E (and not OD&D, AD&D, 2E, etc). The races all now get a bonus to a second stat, but keep the penalty. Humans and half-races get to add a +2 to whatever the hell stat they want (so hey, half-orcs dont get an Int dive!). They're otherwise identical, except the half-orc who gets a few new racial abilities that make it a slightly more worthwhile racial option to play, but still not enough to make it an appealing choice.
This isn’t a problem unique to the half-orc, as many races lug around cumbersome features that are worthless if you play to type (such as an elf archer-type or half-orc melee warrior of any stripe), and if you play outside of the mold they still don’t amount to anything. Oh, I’m an elf wizard so I can use bows…not that I’m going to bother since my attack bonus is so abysmally shitty that I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if a giant threw it at me while I was paralyzed and enlarged.
Some benefits are so retardedly situational that I would be surprised if players bothered to write them down. Dwarves get a bonus on Appraise checks to identify the prices of non-magical items that also contain metals or gems. I…frankly cannot remember ever bothering to use Appraise. Its one of those strange skill that’s tries to add a layer of immersion to the game that just isn’t necessary, except to randomly allow the players to fuck themselves over by botching the list price of an art object (and forcing the DM to just add more shit to make up the difference).
On the other hand, some races gain features that are only useful to a specific class. Elves get a bonus against spell resistance, and with their Int bonus would make better-than-normal wizards, which is good since they were supposed to make good wizards all along, right? Well, kinda. I mean its handy if they play a class that uses caster levels (which is admittedly eventually most of them), but outside its completely, utterly worthless. Players who opt to make a fighter or similar character are going to end up parsing off a good chunk of the elf’s abilities (especially given that their familiarity is also pointless).

What this means is that ultimately we still have quite a few n00b traps. This is where you present a player with a list of choices, but many are underpowered, useless, or so highly circumstantial that they might as well be useless. The best example that comes to mind for me is a halfling fighter. Halflings are a Small race, and in OGL games they have to use smaller weapons, often get a Strength penalty, and take another penalty on many Strength-based applications (grapple, bull rush, disarm, trip, etc). They also tend to move slower and can carry even less than their Strength score would indicate.
See, a fighter is supposed to be about melee combat and "tanking", where they defend their party from the onslaught of monsters. Aside from the complete lack of scaling and ability to prevent monsters from sidestepping them and mauling anyone they want to death, the halfling’s flaws culminate into a shitty character. They deal about 2 points of damage less overall, but the biggest problems (no pun intended) are realized when you consider that since she is Small and gets a Strength penalty that she takes an effective -5 penalty on her efforts to resist other critters from pushing her around, or just fucking picking her up and throwing her...wherever.
Since she moves slower and her Speed gets reduced even further by heavy armor, it takes her longer to maneuver around the battlefield (and if you are using physical skills, I'm sure that the reduced carrying capacity is going to mess with things even more so).
This is frankly, a trap character. A player might think it is a neat idea and give it a go, only to realize very quickly that you suck. You have no chance in hell of performing the duties that your class cant really do anyway, but even if it mechanically could, you'd still be fucked. Kind of like falling in a pit trap with spikes, only to have ceiling open up and dump acid filled with acid sharks on you: a double-trap! The only people that would get a kick out of this are the mechanic-masochists that think that its “cool” to play a crippled, underpowered character because its somehow more rewarding to succeed when the dice finally fall your way.

Moving on!

Next on the chopping block, classes. Most of the class stuff was picked apart months ago during the previews and tend to follow this trend: cut and paste the old class, add in a few features, and try to pretend the whole time that they dont still suck. For example barbarians can “rage climb/swim” and can pick up a bite attack that wont hit, which isnt that big of a deal since it only deals 1d4 damage anyway.
See, its stuff like that that sounds really badass, but c'mon: -5 to the attack? Half the Strength modifier? Are you fucking serious? I would have allowed the barbarian to make a useful bite attack as a minor swift action. Its not like she can do it all the damned time or its going to overpower her to the point where no one will play other melee classes. Be reasonable, no one plays fighters anyway.
Other classes, particularly spellcasters, get yet more powerful in the transition. You know, the guys that run the show since 5th-level? Yeah. Apparently Paizo thought that they still needed more freebies to further adorn their palanquin that the rest of the party was carrying them around on. Druids can opt to swap out their worthless animal companion to get access to more spells, and wizards and sorcerers get at-will powers and more magical flexibility. Since, you know, they obviously needed more shit to keep track of even if some of its pretty weak-sauce…*cough* hand of the apprentice *cough*.
The only good part I can see about classes is that Paizo made sure that every level has something to gain aside from hit/skill points. I assume that not all are interesting, but at least its there.

Some skills got condensed, just like in 4th Edition, but Paizo didn’t quite have the foresight to get rid of the useless “simulation” skills that don’t really do anything except make money on the off chance that the DM puts the game on hold long enough to make them worthwhile and let you justify to yourself that its “okay” to make the claim that your character is a farmer. I mean, its not like you could just say that that’s what your character did…right? Just like its not okay to say that your character had friends during her childhood without dumping enough points in the right skill.

Between the shitty races, classes, feats, and skills, what all of this does is cater to system mastery, where you play the game enough to realize what choices work, which ones dont, and leave the crap by the wayside. System mastery isn’t good, especially for new players or people wanted to try out classes that promise one thing and deliver nothing (example: halfling fighters, or just fighters in general).
On one hand, I don’t want to blame Paizo for this. They aren’t game designers, and they really want to peddle their wares to the desperate niche that got left behind when 4th Edition was announced. Pathfinder isn’t a new game, its just an old game with a new paint job.
In other words, its just 3E with a shitload of houserules. The problem is that groups that still want to play 3rd Edition have that. With Pathfinder, its now a matter of cross-referencing the original rules with the new rules and figuring out whats changed, whats different, and if the differences arent great enough its going to cause even more confusion. My group ran into this problem when Revised Edition was released, mostly with spells and feats but occasionally with mechanics and some class features. It was a massive pain in the ass, and since Pathfinder maintains much of the flaws of Yester-Year's Edition, it just compounds the issues I'd have with it. Its quite a bit late to just push out a slightly modified game, charge the full price, and not fix the stuff that needed it.

But hey, its Paizo, and they have their fans that will eat it up no matter what they produce, even if they follow the same business plan as the, "800-pound gorilla," that they desperately want to emulate (push out books that contain more of the same, just with the same system to boot). I used to be a fan, back when 3rd Edition was still in its heyday. I had a subscription to both of the dead-tree magazines, though I didnt use most of it. Hell, I mostly toughed it out for Dungeon since they were running Savage Tide and I thought it looked awesome.

Now?

Looking at Pathfinder gives me the same emotional conflict that I get when looking at World of WarCraft: the art is pretty, and...thats about it. It starts to draw me in, but I push myself away once I realize that thats the only thing it has going for it: eye candy. I'm not going to buy Pathfinder. Not the Big Book o' Houserules, not the modules, nothing. If they made an art book I could dig it, because thats the only thing about their stuff that I like. I'd easily pony up $50 or even more for such a collection. Looks good. Looks great. Its something I could easily use for inspiration. I mean, Wizards of the Coast has eye candy, too. The difference is that they have a game that backs it up.
Maybe thats where Paizo went wrong. When they did the open beta, I realized very quickly that they took a lot of the good ideas from 4th Edition and did their best to shoehorn them in and try to pass it off as their own: more hit points, more feats, rogues can SA more things, spellcasters get "at-wills". Lots of stuff like that.
I find it baffling that Paizo is making their own line of game products, and no one is calling them out on being a bunch of money-grubbing corporate wage-slaves. We got a $50 rulebook that everyone will need to have, since its for both players and DMs, a Bestiary coming out later, and a bunch of other shit specific to Pathfinder. I think that just makes it worse: its all specific to their own little homebrew campaign. It'd be like if Wizards just made nothing but Eberron books, which while super-cool, would cater to too narrow an audience.

Huh.

I guess Paizo is the RPG publisher equivalent of Nintendo. Well, not quite. To be fair, when Nintendo pushes out yet another Mario/Zelda/Metroid game, its usually a mostly different experience aside from the titular character. Not that different is necessarily good.

In closing, Pathfinder is just a 3rd Edition re-hash that tries to take an old, outdated system and shoehorn in some of the mechanics of 4th Edition in order to justify repurchasing a game that you’ve been playing, but not quite enough to make the mechanics work in an elegant manner. The book looks nice, its just too bad that I got tired of Pathfinder back when it was still called 3rd Edition (see, I waited til the end).
August 26, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Bahamut's Champions Review

Out of all the good aligned gods, Bahamut is certainly one of my favorites. One problem is that aside from clerics I dont really give two shits about divine characters, though that might change when Josh starts running Scales of War with plenty of houserules and extra bits tacked on to make it more presentable. The other problem is that I was gunning for tiefling avenger of Asmodeus, and this article throws a platinum holy symbol in the works. I'm thinking dragonborn paladin or maybe invoker.

Bahamut's Champions is similar to the old "Core Beliefs" articles that ran in the olden days of Dragon, when people read it off of pieces of paper (while possibly wiping their asses with other pieces of paper): you get seven character backgrounds, three "initiations", and then some paragraphs on beliefs and duties that takes up almost a column. Backgrounds come with an opening paragraph that tells you how they work (in case this is your First Time to the Rodeo), while initiations serve as a springboard for how you got into the adventuring gig. A simple-yet-elegant adventurer's algebraic equation.

With those whopping three pages out of the way, its on to crunch. You get a paragon path, some feats, and then an epic destiny.

The paragon path is chromatic bane, a guy who really hates chromatic dragons, except she also hates metallic dragons. And planar dragons. Basically any dragon at all that serves Tiamat. Another name for this would be the bane of dragon's who associate in some manner with Tiamat, but thats understandably waaay too fucking long. The path features grant you energy resistance when you burn an action point, allow an ally to make a fear save at the end of your turns (all the time), and gives you the Channel Divinity power platinum mantle, which gives out a defense bonus to you and all allies when you are hit by a close/area attack. Nifty.
Rolling stab lets you shift 5 squares and make an attack after you get hit, giving you a defense bonus and also dealing extra damage against dragons.
Rousing cry automatically removes the dazed/stunned condition from an ally and lets them move for freeeeeeeeee.
Heartstrike deals quad-weapon damage, slides the target, lets you shift after it, and marks it for the entire encounter. You can also use it with a charge.

There's a dozen new feats, with almost half belonging to Heroic tier. Every single feat requires a divine class of some sort, except for Radiant Breath which also demands that you are dragonborn. Each tier presents something for every divine class, with the exception of Epic (that only has something for invokers and paladins). Here are some previews:
  • Radiant Breath adds radiant to the damage of dragon breath, so dragonborn Chaladins are even more badass and exploding undead than they already were.
  • Shielding Word adds a defense bonus to allies that you peg with healing word.
  • Dragonbane lets powers that normally target undead also work on dragons.
  • Forceful Challenge lets you slide a target that takes damage from divine challenge.
  • Weakening Challenge is an epic-feat that weakens a target every time it is affected by divine challenge.
There's also multiclass feats! Its two separate trees that start off with either Noble Indoctrination or Platinum Revelation, depending on if you like ranged/implement or melee attacks respectively. Since its multiclassing, you can only take on path, so stick to whatever the hell you're competent at. They all rely on your "highest ability vs. Will", so they really work for anyone I guess.
All of the powers that deal damage have a level swap entry that lets you deal more and more damage if you swap it out with higher level powers than whats normally required, so they can remain useful even at high levels.

Finally the epic destiny, Bahamut's vessel. You get "touched" by Bahamut and he invests you with divine essence. Mostly this just makes you a total badass and gives you features and "epic powah", but also functions as a deus ex machina in case Bahamut bites the big one: you can use it to reboot him, at the low-low cost of being utterly consumed by divine fire in order to give it a jump start. Sure you die, but you live on forever in the percentage of his brain that he actually accesses from time to time.

In all seriousness, its actually pretty damned cool. You get to increase Str, Wis, or Cha by 2 points for an opener, so it works great for any and all divine classes. However, each time you burn an action point you regain hit points as if you'd spend a healing surge in addition to a defense boost. Each time. At level 24 every ally within 5 squares gets a bonus on saves, and if they get healed get a bonus to attacks and defenses. Finally, when you get dropped you immediately regain all your hit points and turn into a Large platinum dragon. Sure, its not as cool as the sorcerer's wyrmform power at level 29, but its still pretty sweet.

First, you get darkvision, some resistances, can fly and hover, and all enemies within 5 squares take an attack penalty. You can bite whenever you want, which deals 3d12 + 12 damage and slides the target, and you get a breath weapon attack that affects a close blast 5 and does some okay damage that pushes and immobilizes targets. The downside is that if you use that it ends your dragon form. On the plus side, you can still use any other powers that you want and the only gear you lose access to are wondrous items and weapons that you were holding.

I enjoyed this article, even though I dont play divine characters. I've wanted to give them a shot, but with all the playtest materials trickling in I've been investing free time to giving those a shot. This has ironically tempted me to give divine classes a closer look: even if I dont want to look up to Bahamut, it works well as a foundation for other deities (as well as consider giving those Core Beliefs articles another looksie). My only complaint is that I was expecting a bit more out of the story content.
August 23, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon Magazine Annual Review

As many have heard, for some reason its out an entire month early. Dont know why, dont care why. All that matters is that I got one before the clerical error(?) got resolved. Dragon Magazine Annual is a compilation of 14 articles considered to be the, "best of the best," published out of Dragon from June 2008 to March of 2009. It runs 159 pages and thirty-fucking-dollars. Yeesh. Thats quite a hefty price tag for a book that barely meets the weight class of Adventurer's Vault 2. Actually I just checked, and they're both identical in size. Huh. I mean, yeah, it was also $30, but at least it had all new content.

In case you're wondering, the articles re-printed in DMA are:
  • Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Yeenoghu
  • Creature Incarnations: Kobolds
  • Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild
  • Wish Upon a Star
  • The Bloodghost Syndicate
  • Intelligent Items: Smart Swords
  • Fight!
  • We Who Are About To Die...
  • The Longest Night
  • Playing Dhampyr
  • Masters of the Planes
  • Playing Shadar-Kai
  • Art of the Kill
If you have a subscription to Dragon as-is, you will only want this if you really, really like the articles listed. If you only like a couple of them, you should/could probably pass on this. For example, if you enjoyed Wish Upon a Star that this gives you the powers in hardback form, but then you'd also have an updated Character Builder that already has the powers built-in.
So, I guess its a pretty hard sell. I myself liked Creature Incarnations, Wish Upon a Star, Playing Dhampyr/Shadar-Kai, and some of the stuff from some of the rest of the articles, but frankly after I bought it and started reading it on the walk to work I thought, "What the fuck am I doing? I've already read all this shit," and promptly went back and brought Small Favor instead. Why did I buy it? I think at the time I was focusing on, "Shit yeah, Dragon in paper format," completely ignoring the fact that I'd already read and re-read it all months ago.

I...really cant think of an ideal target audience for it. Hardcore D&D collectors, I suppose. I mean, some of its good for players, some of its good for DMs, but all of its stuff that you probably already read. Heck, some of the articles are still up for free. I guess if you dont have/want a subscription to DDI at all and like to play and DM in about a 50:50 ratio, it might be handy to a point, thought $30 is on the steep side considering you can get it all for a one-time $7 fee for a month of DDI (and access to all back issues and a complete Character Builder...for that month, anyway).

I think that Wizards should focus mostly on player or DM content, not both. I cant say that I would parse out the monster stuff since Dragon has catered to both sides of the screen in the past, but I suppose I would try to help out the players mostly. Check out what Paizo did for their Dragon compilation in the past (which I think was pretty damned cool). Lower the damned price tag, while you're at it (or make it bigger). Its not like you're paying for anything new.
August 22, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Player's Strategy Guide Cover

Straight from the Penny-Arcade site, Gabe has posted up a very clear image of the cover for Player' Strategy Guide.

Gabe has said as such that its, "supposed to help you build a solid character." I can tell you how to do that, easy: put a 16 in the ability score you use to make attacks, then do whatever the fuck else you want. Done. :-P
August 21, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

DMG2 Eye Candy

Looks like Dungeon Master's Guide 2 has some badass pictures in store. Here are a few that you can find in the previews.






This one is my favorite. Its totally fucking epic-win.

Posted by David Guyll

Living Lightning Bolt

Here's the living lightning bolt, Josh. Tis neither a brute NOR skirmisher! I kept it the same level as the fireball since they are both level 5 dailies.


Note: HA! The Teleportation keyword has a typo...better let the devs know that.
August 19, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Du'lora Quori Dark Fury

An upgraded, elite version of Mr Du'lora.


To clarify something ahead of time, raging mind "encourages" ranged characters to hang back (5+ squares away) and target defenses that are not Will. The downside? Will is one of its lower defenses (the other being Reflex). To me, this creates a tactical dilemma: do you target Will to get a better chance at landing a hit, risking the chance for it to have an easier time slamming you with incite fury (or grab you and trigger burning rage), or play it safe and go after Fort or Reflex?
Posted by David Guyll

Legendary Evils Review

I got a case in today, right before I had to bounce off for work. Sometimes Usually Almost always, I hates me my job. -.-

I know its common practice to hate on WotC for the quality and distribution model for D&D minis, and while sometimes the quality is absolute crap I almost always feel quite content with my purchases. So, I got a lot of shit, and since a case is eight boxes I got all the Huges. I like all the huges. A lot. They are fucking...huge. The only one that I dont like some of the time is the balor. If you stare at his face long enough, and at just the right angle he looks...happy? Goofy? Like a retarded puppy dog, I just wanna pet him. Not that I sit there and stare longingly into his eyes or anything. That'd just be weird.

Out of the entire set, the only mini that I really dislike no matter which way I swing it is that stupid goddamn scarecrow stalker. It looks like they were working on a commoner figure, partially melted it, and thought, "well fuck it, lets just make it a monster and wrap up the set." I mean, come on. Look at it! My only regret is that I got saddled with two of them, and I doubt anyone is going to want/use them. Ever. I guess I could double them as zombies or some shit...
What else what else what else...umm...ah! Bolraza looks flat and super-lame considering the fact that I guess she's some kind of NPC, what with the name and all. The barghest looks better than she does. Hell, those goblin cutters look better.
Oh, and the chuul I got wasnt quite attached to its base, but a careful application of super glue will fix that. Not really an issue on the sculpt or color, thats fine. Dunno if its a persistent issue. Dont care, I finally got a chuul and will promptly plop it down in my Eberron campaign where the party kills aberrants in the Shadow Marches.

Otherwise this is a pretty decent set. Sure, the human rabble paint job sucks, but I'm used to common figures that I want to employ enmasse to have simple, flat jobs like that. They're unimportant mooks that show up to die in droves, and if I had to physically paint those fuckers you can bet I'm not going to invest time with shading and drybrushing techniques. No. Fucking. Way. Actually, the goblin cutters look pretty good for being minion commons, but again I'm way more likely to throw those at the party than human wankers w/ clubs.
I like the githzerai figs, mostly because I have a couple 'zerai characters in often-weekly games. Didnt know they were in the set, so I was pleasantly surprised when a mindmage tumbled out. I did a double take with sound effects and immediately started making whoosh sound effects (its what happens when my monk does master spiral stance).
On the other hand, I got another minotaur, and when my minotaur minis outnumber dragonborn I think there's a problem. Or not. I've played more minotaurs than I have most of the PH races (exception being tieflings). Hmm...maybe its just me.

Lots of good stuff. I like that it has stuff for all the tiers, so it has merit for people starting out their games, as well as groups that have been on the bandwagon since last year. Just, for the love of god, try more ink-washing. The rimefire griffon is alright, but some wash would have picked out details a bit better. Now, its off to Ebay to pick up a brown dragon, some more rabble, and maybe Irontooth.

August 18, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Adventurer's Vault 2 Review

Book two of the "MOAR lootz" series, Adventurer's Vault 2 is a more comprehensive-yet-thinner version of AV1. Still, even at $30 its a good buy, as it rounds out the selection of magic items that were missing from many PH2 classes...namely anything that relied on a totem, swordmage, and bard. There arent any new mount or companion slot items, but it makes up for that with some new item types: ammunition, lair items, tattoos, immurements (a sub-category of consumables), and item sets. For the story-nuts, many magic items have a sidebar that goes into a bit of history about that particular item. By now you should know what the old slots do, so I'm really only going to talk about the new things since this book adds more than a few new things to the mix, and really you dont want to buy a book if the new stuff is crap.

First up, ammo. Ammunition items require that you use its enhancement bonus, even if worse, if you want to benefit from its property. You can opt to fire it without activating it, in which case have fun launching 50+ gp arrows for no particular reason. Even though you cannot stack the enhancement bonuses, its still handy since you get both the weapon and ammunition crit benefits and can still trigger weapon powers if you want. The downside? Its like, 30 fucking gp a pop for the cheapest of arrows.
Which is really the reason why they make you use the ammunition bonuses: so players cant just buy the cheapest stuff and still garner nifty bonuses like, "if you hit an enemy with an attack, end one conjuration or zone that enemy has created." Daaayam. I never bothered with magical arrows in 3rd Edition, but I might now. Josh plays a ranger, so I'll just start dropping stuff like this and see how he handles it.

Lair items were the cause of much consternation on the forums. I know, its the forums, and everything causes consternation there given enough people and time. Wondrous lair items are wondrous items that are not portable. You have to leave them in your "lair" for them to function, which means that in most traditional D&D games they arent going to see a lot of mileage. I can see how these would be handy in an urban campaign, or a more specialized one where the DM gives the players a homebase (hell, Age of Worms had one). I can also see why people decry them as useless or worthless, but frankly its a whopping two-and-a-half fucking pages. Most of the books from Revised Edition had TEN TIMES as much wasted space, so I'm willing to make a concession here.

Lets see...tattoos are next. You get one by having the ink done through various means (it makes mention of eladrin altering the skin with magic), and then using Enchant Item to make it do whatever the hell you want it to do. You can find tattoos and then apply them to your skin in a similar fashion as those lame-ass temporary ones that you might have gotten as a child due to a lapse in judgement, but hey, it worked in Planescape: Torment so who am I to judge. Unlike past editions, they're un-slotted wondrous items with no apparent count limitation, so go nuts if you got the cash.

Immurements were formerly orb implements that let you create pocket dimensions to fight monsters. Now, they are extremely expensive fire-and-forget terrain deformers that alter the battlefield for a short period of time (end of the encounter), though one of them has a daily power that lets you fly a short distance before falling back to the ground. The concept seems cool, but I'm going to have to drop one as a treasure parcel in order to get my players to use one. Hmm, what about an "immurement of Cyre's echo"? Yeeeeeee...........

And that leaves us with item sets. The item sets are one of those things that I'm sure people are going to see and ignorantly tout it as proof that D&D is, "just a vidjya game", considering that A) Diablo 2 did it first, and B) so did 3rd Edition. Anywho, item sets are a collection of thematic items (dur) that function like normal items, but if you or the party have 2+ items from the set they each get an additional benefit. Now, I say you or the party because there are sets that function if one person gets them all, and then there are "party sets" that work if multiple people carry different items from the set. Still with me? Good. Usually the granted benefit is something fairly minor like a skill bonus (which can be a flat bonus or equal to the number of items you are packing) or improves a class feature thematic to the set, but sometimes its an actual full-blown power.

Example: Zy Tormtor's Trinkets
Since I like warlocks a lot, I'll just use this as an example. Its got four items to the set, a wondrous item, hand item, weapon, and neck item. The blackleaf gloves let you teleport once per encounter when you trigger your pact boon. The pact blade does what its always done, and the specific weapon depends on whatever the DM wants, though its cited as, "usually a dagger or sickle". The prison of Salzacas is a wondrous item that lets you conjure up a spirit that can move around, pick up shit, and drop it. Kind of like a more reliable R.O.B. Finally, the spidersilk mantle gives you a climb speed once per encounter.
So, by themselves they're decent enough. If you get 2-3, you get a bonus on Thievery checks and always act like you have thieves' tools. If you get all four, then you can use as a daily power, which lets you originate any warlock power from the prison of Salcazas instead of you.

In The End
If you have the patience and DDI, you can pretty much just ignore this book and wait for Character Builder to update. It (probably) wont have the story content for many of the magic items, but otherwise you'll be getting the entirety of the book that most people will rely on in an easy to navigate and reference format. On the other hand, if you despise DDI (because you are a fool, fool I say!) then yeah, you're going to want this, especially if you play classes out of PH2. Even if you dont use PH2 at all, there is plenty of new stuff to make it worth your while.
Posted by David Guyll

Chupacabra

Because Josh hates it so.


Posted by David Guyll

WotC Downtime

Apparently the Wizards.com forums are down, "until at least August 26," but potentially could be through the end of the month. Holy sheet. Well, they swear up and down that there will be new features, so here's hoping that they actually work! 6.6
Posted by David Guyll

Songs of Erui: Concerning Dwarves

Dwarves have been around since before Erui was established, way-back-when during the Dawn War. They helped the gods tackle the primordial's less-less-lesser lackeys, and when all was said and done they set up kip in castles that formerly belong to giants and titans, renovating them to better suit their size (except for stuff like big-ass halls: dwarves love them their big-ass halls). This means that dwarves didnt have to deal with any spirits living in their houses, but they did have to contend with them in the mountains, which usually meant they just beat the shit out of them in traditional dwarfy fashion. To be sure, they placated the major ones that they couldnt smash back into the ground, but that doesnt mean that they have to like it (happiness isnt what being a dwarf is all about).

So, yeah. Dwarves still live in the mountains, and they have to deal with goliaths, orcs, ogres, giants, and other typical dwarfy-enemies that live in mountains. Oh, and earth elementals. Yep, them's a bitch. Aside from being one of the few races in Erui that regularly makes lots of metal arms and armaments, they also have a mastery of rune magic, having been taught 27 runes by Moradin before he went back to his beer-and-gold laden Astral Dominion, leaving his sons and daughters to fend for themselves in a land where beer-and-gold just arent happening. Well, beer is...but not gold. Actually, spirits like the smell of booze as well, so...sigh. Being a dwarf is hard.

Since only one player is actually playing a dwarf, I didnt really bother to work out many kinks with rune magic as it exists in Erui. Magic (arcane and divine) utilized by a dwarf will use a lot of runes (even in visual spell effects), and runes are used to mark and ward places that dwarves dont want you going into. Also, dwarf-magic items are also drowning in runes. They love that shit. This way, I get consistency and individuality between dwarf stuff and other stuff. I think that races come into and use magic in their own ways, so being able to differentiate between them adds a layer of immersion to the campaign. For dwarves, its runes. Other races might use runes, but they got a monopoly on it.

Anyway, thats what I did with dwarves, which is to say I didnt do much to change them from their default incarnation, so even in other areas of my PoL campaign they'd probably be very similar. Frankly, I didnt need to once I'd written them into Erui. It might have gone different, but a player wanted to make a dwarf paladin, and in the end it made sense. There are some rune-themed paragon paths, and I was considering making some rune-centric feats that modify magic that they can do (like Reaper's Touch). Actually, I think a rune-magic multiclass tree would be cool. Yeah...
Posted by David Guyll

Songs of Erui: An Overview

Songs of Erui is my first stab at a D&D adventure path. I created it after I hit a snag running Scales of War and was really digging the story content for primal classes. I hit up Wikipedia for a crash course on celtic mythology, and quickly laid out a rough outline for a campaign that would ideally run my players from 1-30 over the course of 12+ adventures (extra encounters added to taste). The adventure path heavily emphasizes primal classes and races, and aside from whatever I could find on celtic myths borrows quite a bit from The Hallowing, Mythago Wood, and Lavondyss. CharlieAmra got me hooked on The Waterborn and Black God, which I began liberally applying as fast as I could after the fact: I'd done a lot of planning before I read the books, but its been extremely valuable stuff.

Songs of Erui takes place in a remote location in my implied world, called Erui. I'm really not sure where it is precisely located in relation to other areas (Arkhosia, Bael Turath, etc), as its the only part I've managed to flesh out so far (though in the story bible I keep mentioning that its somewhere north of the remains of Nerath, likely the northern-most part). During the rise and fall of the old kingdoms, Erui was kept isolated from discovery and conflict by a massive range of mountains, the Serpent Mountains. The mountains are so high, that it is said to climb them would allow you to reach the Astral Sea (havent decided if this is true or not).
Aside from their size, the other distinguishing feature is an old stone highway that passes through it, called the Dragon's Road. People who travel its length are never heard from again, and it is rumored to be inhabited by monsters or some form of old guardian.

Since no one actually knew what to expect, they created a bunch of random theories, the most popular of which that its a "forbidden paradise" of some sort, maybe like Eden or Nod. Really, I got this idea from Shadows of the Colossus, which also served as a very nice visual reference.

The real reason why people who travel through the mountains is that Erui resists mortal races, which I cribbed from Mythago Wood. You can try to go there, and you will be misdirected, probably suffer lots of terrible accidents like rockslides, and be met by extreme weather even when you shouldnt. If you can survive through it all, you might eventually find yourself in Erui (or just crapped back out into the northern regions of Nerath). The current inhabitants of Erui are mortals who made a pilgrimage there hundreds of years ago, or were there from the start (like dwarves, goliaths, and many fey creatures).

Even when you get there? It still sucks. The land itself is made up of hundreds of thousands of spirits that range in size and scope. Some inhabit a tree, while others are a large stretch of land. What they all have in common is that they do not take kindly to someone walking up and carving them apart. So, there's a long history of conflict between the spirits and mortals, especially the ones who try to build too much or tame the land. Sometimes minor spirits will kill a handful of humans, sometimes animals will overrun a farm, and sometimes a seemingly natural disaster will strike. Sometimes? A massive animal god shows up and just proceeds to ruin everyone's shit. It is because of this that shamans are valued: they can see and talk to spirits, making bargains and ensuring that they do not anger them.

Some humans take a more direct approach and just kill them, or find ways to weaken them with rituals before making the attempt (a necessity with many). Others make bargains with them, as some spirits dont mind if you kill the tree spirits that live on them, for example (they can be territorial). Hell, some dont mind being changed from one form to another, and many houses have very minor spirits living within them, providing protection in exchange for gifts of food and/or wine (they like the smell), and songs (each spirit has their own song).
The starting village, Dorsen, is a place that lives in harmony with spirits. The village is built within a circle of stone menhirs, and it is surrounded by groves of trees and farmland. They are very careful to take only what is needed, and gifts for spirits on specific holy days.

Songs play an important part in the campaign, and bards and shamans have default access. Singing a song specific to a spirit works in a similar fashion to a Diplomacy check, but is often used as part of a skill challenge to reduce the DCs, remove a failure, and other stuff that depends on the spirit, situation, and character. Its a pretty loose system that I like, and its prompted Josh to pick up shaman multiclassing so that he can call out the spirit in his sunblade, see into the spirit world, and better communicate with them. On the other hand, its also prompted Dave to start asking around for as many songs as he can in order to give himself an edge when it comes to dealing with them.

Heroic Tier

Here are the three Heroic tier adventures that I've planned. As written they can boost a party of five characters up to 11th-level. They are designed to introduce characters gradually to some of the key concepts that surround Erui in addition to giving them a sense of direction and purpose in the bigger picture of the campaign.

The Hydra's Grave (level 1)
The first adventure, this has the players tracking a band of goblins that are messing with farmers and shepherds around Dorsen (the starting village). Following the goblins, the party stumbles upon an old eladrin crupt on the outskirts of the Bone Forest. Mostly, this was a traditional dungeon crawl that allowed the party to get a few levels under their belts, learn a bit of Erui's forgotten history (namely the bard Morrigan and her three songs), and also start dealing with spirits (especially the Bear god).

The Hounds of Ulster (level 4)
After retrieving the remains of Morrigan, the party heads to Ulster in order to find a bone-speaker (ie, someone who can cast Speak With Dead) in order to ask Morrigan a few questions. Along the way they get attacked by undead in the river, as well as werewolves that are following them for some reason. Things dont go smoothly even when the party gets to Ulster, as the city is overlooked by an ancient castle and its ghostly king who ventures forth on full moons to hunt the populace. Unfortunately, timing is everything and the moon is almost full by the time they get there.

The Bone Forest (level 8)
With a new heading providing by the tormented ghost of Morrigan, the party mounts an expedition into the Bone Forest, a deadly realm that is haunted by fickle fey spirits and the mortal creatures that they've hunted and killed. The treasure they seek is one of Morrigan's three songs, rumored to have the power to force gods into an eternal slumber, which probably explains why someone buried it deep within a druid pyramid.
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon: Playing Githzerai

Githzerai were in Monster Manual initially, but I ignored them since conceptually it was very difficult for me to envision such a character existing in the implied setting. These are a race of people that live in the Elemental Chaos and live in monasteries, right? Pretty narrow niche to inhabit, and since they really like beating on mind flayers (paragon tier monsters), they just never grokked with me.

Since then, 'zerai have made a re-debut in Dragon, appearing in Player's Handbook 3 as a fully realized racial option along with some thematic psionic classes like the monk. The monk has been released as a playtest, and along with the psion debut its made things a bit easier for me to create a logical githzerai character. The only problem? There place in the narrative.

Its easy for me to take githzerai and attach it to a class. The mechanics are fine. Its the where and fucking why that throws me for a loop. We've run a few delves and one-shot adventures, and in most cases I've rolled monk or psion to give it a whirl. In every instance I just picked a background that gave me a skill bonus I wanted, since none of them seemed to make much sense (for example in Eberron, I would often pick Breland since Sharn was supposed to be a cosmopolitan city, so it made as much sense as any other place). In the end it just felt like the fucking banana in Helm's Deep, just kind of...there. No rhyme or reason to it.

So, this article? Shit yes. This is one of the rare race-articles that has fluff that I actually care to read. Granted, the best part was the "Githzerai in Eberron" sidebar, but the rest has useful material that just needs a few name-changes for any campaign. It really helps put into perspective where they might exist in the natural world, and why they would worship deities at all. I think I got caught up in the notion that they exist on another plane (most of the time). There's even a lot of good content in there on connecting them to primal spirits, and along with a couple of feats you have some good incentive to build a githzerai druid or beastmaster ranger.

Speaking of feats, there are ten Heroic, six Paragon, and two Epic feats.

For a few freebies, I think that the one that will see a lot of use (mostly because I favor big-ass swords) is Githzerai Blade Master, which gives you proficiency in all military heavy blades, bastard sword, and fullblade, in addition to a +2 feat bonus to damage (and it increases up to +4 at epic tier).
Defenders can pick up Marked Fortunes (auto-mark every adjacent bad guy after using Shifting Fortunes to shift) and/or Marked With Iron (marking attack penalty is boosted by your Wis mod) to further add to their "stickyness".
Even shamans gets some love, as Shifting Spirit lets your spirit companion shift the same distance you do whenver you shift. Period.

Most of the paragon tier feats focus on more vanilla racial tropes, but Githzerai Healer lets targets of your healing powers make saves against certain conditions.
On the other hand, Tempered Iron Mind lets you activate iron mind as a free action, even if the attack misses.
Zuoken's Centering lets you use Wis instead of Con to determine healing surges per day, Wis mod for Strength checks and Athletics. Umm...I need to update my monk (zoom!).

The two epic tier feats are both based on iron mind, allowing you to change the damage type you deal to one that hit you, or letting you add your Dex mod to damage against an oath of enmity target after triggering it.

Aaand, we wrap things up with the storvakal paragon path. Whoo boy.

When you burn an action point, you get to make a save against every effect on you. At 11th-level you reduce penalties to attacks, skill checks, and ability checks. Finally, at level 16 you get a defense bonus against charm, fear, and psychic attacks.
Probability travel is a level 11 encounter that uses your highest ability modifier on the attack roll and affects a close blast 5 that only targets enemies. It deals psychic damage and teleports affected enemies, but also lets you teleport allies in the area of effect.
Wind of reprisal is a level 12 daily utility that forces an enemy to attack an ally if it misses you with a ranged attack, and lets you teleport. I think by its trigger (an enemy misses you with a ranged attack) that it should be an Immediate Reaction, instead.
Excoriating strands is a level 20 daily attackthat affects a close burst 2, only targets enemies, and also relies on whatever your highest ability score is for the attack. It sheers off all resistances and immunities that a target might have (save ends), and the attack always does full damage (it isnt affected by psychic resistance or insubstantial targets). It also has an aftereffect that does the same damn thing. So, great against elites and solos.

Damnit, I need to go update my psion, too...
August 16, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Obligatory Dark Sun Posting

As everyone knows by now, next years campaign setting is Dark Sun. I bought the original campaign setting a looong ass time ago, and promptly never used it. Ever. Really, the only two campaign settings that I claim to have played with any frequency are Eberron and Planescape. I owned Forgotten Realms, to be sure, but I think we only really used it as a kind of proxy for "Fantasy World Default" whenever we ran games that were not Planescape (which was basically whatever campaign that Bat Jew was running at the time).

Dark Sun was one of those things that I kinda-sorta wanted to run, but due to the style just didnt. It has art by Brom, which is a plus, and it had a lot of interesting and/or bizarre elements that made it really stand out from what I at the time perceived to be "traditional" fantasy. It strayed about as far from the norm as you could get, while somehow still labeling itself as Dungeons & Dragons. Things that I liked was the overall setting (a kind of desert post-apocalyptic world), magic draining the life from things, thri-kreen, psionics (most of all), and the bone/stone/wood equipment.

Was this good? I dont know: never used it, but I certainly did try.

At the time, I think I kept trying to shoehorn adventures that didnt really play to the setting. Nowadays, I've grown quite a bit and learned a lot, and I think I can properly handle it this time. My setting of choice is still Eberron, and I dont see that changing much, but Wizards did make Forgotten Realms a bit more palatable (even if I still havent used the books for anything except for drow, genasi, and swordmage). Frankly, Wizards have made a lot of things great in 4th Edition, setting a winning streak for everything they've released thus far. I see no reason why they wont succeed with this. It doesnt have to stand up to Eberron to be a winner, it just has to get me to use it once.
August 15, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Races With Bennies

There are many reasons why I prefer 4th Edition over any other edition, one of which is the fact that you can literally combine any race with any class and it will amount to something functional. While some might disagree, the fact of the matter is that you can play outside of the expected type and not be punished for it. There are numerous optimal race/class combinations, and each race even goes so far as to tell you three classes that get along well with it. That doesnt mean that the game assumes that you are using said combos.

Generally speaking, I assume that any character is totally viable so long as your attacks have at least a 55% chance of hitting the targeted defense. Everything else is gravy. I mean, I like gravy, but its not mandatory to be useful to the group (which is often part and parcel to having fun).

Take a human fighter. Assuming you slap your +2 in Strength, buy it up to 16, and use a sword of some sort, you're going to have a +7 to hit (not counting which particular fighter class feature you pick, but the weapon talents can boost it up to +8). Without considering other factors like Weapon Expertise, you have a 60% chance of landing your attacks on basically any level 1 monster out there. Good odds.

Compare to a halfling fighter. If we do it exactly the same, you end up with a +6 to hit, which is still 55% (better than half the time). Perfect. Fine. The human hits slightly more often and does a bit more damage, but the gap isnt like it used to be, where halflings took a -4 to grapple, used smaller weapons, got a Strength penalty, moved slower, etc etc et-fucking-cetera.

I think that having greatly differing racial modifiers and features encourages creativity and an identity between races and classes. I expect elf fighters to rely more on spears and swords, while dwarves to stick to hammers and axes. Fits the fantasy trope in a way that I find logical and consistent.

In the end, I dont think for a second that D&D forces you to play within expected concepts, but nudges in certain directions that more or less make sense. The concepts are there, to be sure, and to me they (usually) make a lot of sense, but I'm better able to break away from them and not suffer for my creativity.

Minotaur tactical warlord with artificer multiclass? Hell yes, and it works.
August 13, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Character Builder: Not Just For Characters

While planning my Eberron Inquisitives campaign, I've found that Character Builder is pretty damned useful as a way to populate teasure parcels, since you can easily browse every magic item and ritual ever made. Also? It has mundane items, artifacts, and mounts. Since it gives entire stat blocks, its even better than the magic item index in Magic Item Compendium, which didnt contain stuff from Dragon or Dungeon.
Posted by David Guyll

I'll Play What I Want

Ronak decided this week to run In the Depths of Avarice, because Josh was away and we didnt want him to miss out on Songs of Erui. Ronak's a relatively new DM, and most of the group are likewise new to RPGs or D&D in general. So, I was a bit worried when he said to roll some level 13 characters. Paragon tier? Holy shit.
I'd played a barbarian "legally" up to level 7, and just leveled her up to 13 and picked up frenzied berserker for my troubles. The rest of the party consisted of a druid and psion/uncarnate, which worried me quite a bit but we figured we'd wait until David showed up to see what he was doing before having someone else swap out for a leader or defender. Suffice to say, David didnt show and we all died in an encounter with a pair of elites.

Thats really not the point of this post, however. As we waited for Dave and lamented about our party composition, Randy and myself debated about whether to control a second character or just make something that can heal/soak up damage. We could have literally picked any class we wanted, paired it with any race, and it would have worked...we just really wanted to play what we'd picked out. This is a measure of control and flexibility that you never had in older D&D editions or even other games in general (Traveler, Stormbringer, WFRP, and elements of older D&D editions come to mind).
Older D&D editions are more my forte, as I've played them all except for OD&D (and thank god for that). The last campaign I was in I rolled up a fighter with some pretty shitty ability scores, and even though the DM allowed us to place them wherever we damned well pleased the cleric was a bit better than I was at melee for the first few levels or so. Boy was that lame. Eventually I puttered ahead, until we transisted to 3rd Edition and ability scores started to actually matter more. At that point, the DM let me roll my Strength score again, just so I could potentially qualify for feats like Power Attack.
Most of the time it was roll your stats and apply it as-is. This sucked because if you really wanted to play a wizard, then tough shit. Get a 9+ on Intelligence. While not exactly difficult, there was a spell-level cap that depended on your Int score, so...yeah. This generation method all but ensured that the character you wanted to play wasnt what you were going to get, which isnt fun or particulary challenging.
I'd actually tried to play Stormbringer and Elric! (I cannot recall how/why/if they were different), and fucking hated it. Use a skill, and roll to see if it improves at all. Some players will get lucky and advance pretty quickly. Me? I got a lot of shitty rolls and was trapped eternally in stasis. Thankfully we didnt play the game long, but man did it remind me of playing Final Fantasy XI for a few hours, dying, and losing all of the XP I'd just gotten. You get more character satisfaction out of playing Pac-Man.

Adrian tried to get me to play Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, something that I will probably never play simply because of the randomized character creation process. I am not a fan of completely, utterly random character creation. I look at a game, at the options available, and make something that appeals to me. As a player, I shouldnt have to roll a bunch of dice and pray that I get something that hits anywhere close to home.
If I were to play WFRP, I'd want to make a chaos sorcerer or something since they are just too damned cool in the wargames. Problem? I'd have to roll that shit. Thats not a very fun game mechanic. I'm sorry, but there are better games that fulfill the action-adventure fantasy genre, and I'll just stick with them, thank you very much.
Some players like specific concepts. Forcing them to play outside of their type isnt always going to be a fun experience. Players who like randomized crap are always free to roll, but demanding that each player suck it up and deal? "What do you think this is, a game?" Hell, what if the player wants to try something new? Too fucking bad, roll that shit.

I've heard some excuses for this generation process, such as having a random character means that you arent attached to it and you're more likely to take risks. Umm...no. Having a character that likes to take risks means you'll take risks. Having a shitty character that you couldnt give two shits about means you'll probably just kill them off out of boredom and roll up a new character. Repeat until you manage to get something that remotely interests you.
The other major excuse is that it makes the game more challenging, or (and I shit you not), that it makes your successes all the more rewarding. Wow. Just...wow. I'm sorry, but winning a game on the hardest difficulty possible because of sheer luck and not skill is not rewarding: its just fucking luck. I prefer to earn my victories, not have them handed to me because fate was feeling nice, or the party carried my ass through whatever trials were laid before me.

I like being able to play what I want. I like having complete control over every element of the character creation process. I like the fact that I can think up a concept that pleases me, and translate it directly into the game without having to fret about whether the rolls will let me.
It doesnt cheapen the experience, or make the game easier: it makes the game fun.
August 11, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Fighter Essentials

More support for martial characters, this time in the form of a tutorial that goes over the (currently) four fighter builds that you can choose from between Player's Handbook and Martial Power. The article really tries to pimp the Martial Power builds, barely giving the great-weapon build an honorable mention (but recommends that you check out War College: Secrets of the Great Weapons, whenever the fuck that comes out).
Basically, if you dont play tempest or battlerager then this article wont do much for you with the exception of the "Basics" opener, which goes over stuff like Combat Challenge, when to mark, and Combat Superiority.

Is the information presented useful? That depends on if you've played fighters before. I'm sure most of the people out there touring the battlefield drenched in blood and guts already have a pretty damned good mastery of evisceration.
For example of what to expect, in the section on Battlerager Vigor it makes sure to emphasize the new rulings on the class feature (link included), and goes over the damage boost and "hidden cost" of the class feature. It then recommends mixing up your exploit selection with powers that have and do-not-have the Invigorating keyword (since most of the ones that do deal dick damage but impose conditions). On the surface its sound logic: the Invigorating powers that I've seen basically impose conditions-and-thats-it.
Well...they also inflict a paltry amount of damage, and I've seen players unload their entire suite of encounter attacks that while great for crippling the enemy for a round, really dont have any lasting effect except for a few points of damage. To me they were always more of a way to push a fighter into controller territory than anything else (which isnt necessarily bad, so long as their is another striker or three that can pick up the extra damage output).

There's a page with a table that has sample ability score spreads for each class feature, and a table listing races with their ideal build. Not much for me, since I prefer my fighters to use big-ass weapons in preference t--ooh! Feats! Exploits! Cruuunch! *nom nom*

This is more like it: you get almost a dozen Heroic feats and four Paragon feats. Heroic tier has a some nice options that let you use Dex instead of Wis for Combat Superiority, add Con to opportunity attack damage, let Small characters act like they are using heavy shields when they wield a versatile weapon in both hands, and add your shield's bonus to your Fort defense as well. Remember, this isnt even half of the Heroic tier.
There a slew of new daily exploits to boot, ranging from level 1 to 29, and all of them focus on two-weapon fighters. Finally, there's a pair of paragon paths suited for the (you guessed it) tempest (bladestorm duelist) and battlerager (wrathbearer) builds. Well...shit, I guess I'll have to roll up a battlerager warforged fighter. Or, maybe a valenar elf tempest fighter...or a halfling dagger fighter...or, well, you get it. -.-;

All things said, its a great article for beginning fighters, but even veteran fighters might learn a thing or two. Experience always help, but it does a good job of explaining in detail the basic functions of all fighters. Also? I think it will encourage people who havent tried out the new fighter class features (or purchased Martial Power). Finally, it also succeeds on giving the people already using the content even more to chew on.
August 09, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

WotC "Fansite Kit"

I downloaded the fansite kit yesterday to see what it was all about, and was disappointed by a paltry handful of images. Seriously, what the fuck am I supposed to do with this? Is this what qualifies nowadays for a fansite kit? Er...no. No, no, noooooooooooo.

Blizzard Entertainment has a fansite kit for World of WarCraft. Go ahead and check it out. There's no licensing agreement first and foremost, and its got a shit-ton of content that you'll find conducive to building a fansite: actual artwork, logos, avatars, screenshots, wallpapers, renders, psd files for a header, texture, and buttons (allowing you to easily make snazzy rollovers with whatever text you want).
The best part? You are not ready for this: they actually give you html, javascript, and cascading style sheet files so that you can just make whatever tweaks you want or throw it up in Dreamweaver and mess with it that way. They freely do a hefty chunk of the legwork FOR YOU!

Thats how you make a fansite kit. Its got a ton of useful data that not only helps you make a site that looks the part, but greatly speeds up the process as if, I dunno, Blizzard wants to see fansites pimping their game left and right. Wizards, just download it yourself and take a look. Giving us even half of what they did would make for a greatly improved kit. As it stands, you've just given us images that anyone could have pulled from a cursory Google image search. Thats...not really useful to anyone.
August 07, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Domain of Dread: Monadhan

During the war between Bael Turath and Arkhosia, a plucky daddy-dragon named Arantor decides to take his daughter (Imrissa) on a raid. What better way for a father to bond with his only child: slaughter! They'd learned about a fairly remote Turathi outpost in the jungle, and being magical-flying-lizards figure that it should pose little hindrance to themselves. As their strafing away, flash-freezing hapless tieflings left and right, they're surprised to find out that its not an outpost, but a refugee camp.
Realizing their cockup, they fall back into the clouds to decide what should they do: report their mistake, or just cover it up. Well, they didnt agree, got into a fight, and eventually Arantor was put down and woke up in the Shadowfell as the new owner of a bleak and gloomy domain...which reflected the fortress and camp that he initially destroyed mostly be accident.
The best part? His body rots away over the years in his domain until all thats left is a dracolich-like form, except his daugher's skeleton is stuck inside his rib-cage and it whispers the names of the innocent people he'd killed oh-so-long ago.

Monadhan is unfriendlier than most domains, which I suppose doesnt say much. As the name implies its where traitors go: generals who lead troops off to die, or greedy people who sacrificed others for personal gain. Basically the more of a backstabbing asshole you are, the more likely you'll end up here.
Of course, its not just the citizens you got to watch out for (though the fact that Kas lives here doesnt help matters much), as the mists surrounding Monadhan sometimes crap out random encounters, and the river is filled with "parasitic fish", primordial hydras, and chuul juggernauts. This is some fucking lethal beachfront property. The jungle isnt much safer, as its filled with massive insects, snakes, and toxic plantlife.
Arantor himself is a level 25 solo brute that gets a static initiative roll of 30 and 20, for Arantor's and Imrissa's actions respectively. They each have their own nifty things that they can do, though Imrissa is stuck inside and uses influental whispers to deal psychic damage with a domination effect or dead dragon's stride to give Arantor a free teleport. I think its really cool that when you kill Arantor that he busts open and Imrissa escapes to keep up the good fight.

Getting into Moradhan is half the fun (the other half being to get the fuck out). A sidebar on page 15 gives you four examples to entrap a party within the mists, and the article also provides two specific ways to escape Moradhan. One is easy once you figure out how, but there's also a way to dissolve the domain entirely in case your party likes to be thorough.
I actually like that they arent keeping the whole thing secret from everyone-including-the-DM. I dont recall ant Ravenloft products spilling the beans on much, requiring the DM to determine how/if one could escape the Domains of Dread or remove an individual domain. Obviously you dont have to use either method, but its great for the DM on a time budget (which is why I, in part, subscribed to Dragon in the first place). Its certainly a step up from the, "figure it out yourself," department.

I found the backstory interesting enough to maintain interest throughout most of the article. A good way to tie in a dragon fight without making it too cliche. Its a lot like a self-contained adventure without the formatting and a more mutable structure: you get a village to start things, hooks to draw them out, and a way to resolve the whole thing.
I didnt find a level recommendation, but judging from the skill challenge and Arantor's own level, I would say that no party below level 22 should try taking this place down.
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon: Githzerai

Unlike the psion's debut article, this one makes sure that you know about all the new content without having to cross-reference the Compendium and/or Character Builder to figure out what the hell it all does. Kudos, Wizards. The article looks exactly like a PH entry: you get the racial stat block, some backstory on them, and then the short-list about why you would want to play one. The only deviation is that there're also a couple of backgrounds to help spark your imagination.

As I said in my other post on the githzerai debut, not much has changed about the race itself except that they get a bonus against daze, dominate, and stun conditions, and can also shift a short distance when they trigger their second wind (Shifting Fortunes). Like other monster-to-player races, there are changes to ramp their power up a bit but not much.
Thankfully, I only managed to dig up half the new feats that are offered. There are a dozen in total, and only Iron Resolve of Zerthadlun is explicitly psionic-related, demanding a power point in order to function. Almost everything else keys off of iron mind or Shifting Fortunes, meaning that any githzerai of virtually any class combination can get some mileage out of it. If you're looking to optimization as a design goal, I'd say that all in all it plays best for defenders and strikers.

The article does a great job of pushing the race's psionic nature, as well as playing up their history as former slaves: they can deal bonus psychic damage, ramp up their defenses/durability by expending iron mind for various reasons, and are extremely difficult to pin down since they can shift quite a distance as well as even teleport at epic tier.

Part and parcel to the debut articles is the sweet, succulent commentary. Its James, Mike, Robert, and Chris yakking about certain parts of the race and why they did whatever the hell they did. For example, they figured that since many players would play a psionic class with a githzerai, that they wanted their feats to emphasize that, which is why Iron Resolve of Zerthadlun requires a power point in reserve, and also why Miryath's First Strike deals bonus psychic damage. I'm a total fucking nerd for this shit. If this all they did for Dragon, I'd probably still buy it.

One thing I discovered is that the githyanki are not going to appear in PH3. Why not? In a nutshell it can be interesting and/or fun to "play gainst type" and do a villianous race as a hero, but it can get old pretty fast (ie, drow). There's more on the topic, and I agree with much of what is written. Luckily, my players are not the types to want to make monstrous characters just to go against the grain. Thats mostly just me and my desire to play an illithid or blink dog (which I did get to do in 3rd Edition, but it sucked due to Level Adjustment).
August 05, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Deva Chaladin

Its a bit late, but the Divine Power update had some key things that I wanted. I went with as many fire/radiant themed powers as I could muster.

====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&D Character Builder ======
Deva Chaladin, level 11
Deva, Paladin, Scion of Sacrifice
Background: Thrane (+2 to Religion)

FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 16, Con 14, Dex 9, Int 13, Wis 18, Cha 19.

STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 13, Con 13, Dex 8, Int 10, Wis 15, Cha 16.


AC: 28 Fort: 21 Reflex: 19 Will: 22
HP: 89 Surges: 12 Surge Value: 22

TRAINED SKILLS
Religion +15, Heal +14, Diplomacy +14, Intimidate +14

UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +2, Arcana +6, Bluff +9, Dungeoneering +9, Endurance +5, History +8, Insight +11, Nature +9, Perception +9, Stealth +2, Streetwise +9, Thievery +2, Athletics +6

FEATS
Level 1: Battle Intuition
Level 2: Majestic Presence
Level 4: Solar Enemy
Level 6: Power of the Sun
Level 8: Weapon Expertise (Heavy Blade)
Level 10: Auspicious Lineage
Level 11: Weapon Proficiency (Bastard sword)

POWERS
Lay on Hands: Ardent Vow
Paladin at-will 1: Ardent Strike
Paladin at-will 1: Virtuous Strike
Paladin encounter 1: Glorious Charge
Paladin daily 1: Majestic Halo
Paladin utility 2: Bless Weapon
Paladin encounter 3: Righteous Smite
Paladin daily 5: Unyielding Faith
Paladin utility 6: Shield of Discipline
Paladin encounter 7: Blade of Light
Paladin daily 9: Shackles of Justice
Paladin utility 10: Benediction

ITEMS
Periapt of Cascading Health +2, Summoned Gith Plate Armor +3, Retribution Bastard sword +3, Shielding Girdle (heroic tier)
====== Copy to Clipboard and Press the Import Button on the Summary Tab ======
Posted by David Guyll

Githzerai Debut

The racial changes are fairly minor. All I noticed is that the githzerai now gains a racial bonus on saves against specific conditions (stunning, dazing, and the like), and also gets to shift whenever she uses second wind.

The feats I could pull up while building a monk were:
  • Alhahn's Mindful Relocation: Shift further when using second wind.
  • Dakshai's Body-Mind Union: Burn iron mind in order to make an immediate save with a +5 bonus.
  • Iron Resolve of Zerthadlun: Saving throw bonus when you have power points.
  • Miryath's First Strike: Deal bonus psychic damage when you first hit a creature that hasnt acted, yet. Scales by tier.
  • Zuwoth's Enlightened Step: You dont provoke opportunity attacks from enemies that have not already acted.
  • Githzerai Planewalker: You can master Linked Portal, Planar Portal, and True Portal without having Ritual Caster, can do it faster, and with a bonus.
There's a new paragon path, rrathmal, which is a racial path that grants psychic resistance, end slow/immobilize when you burn an action point, and roll initiative twice and keep whichever roll you want.
Trace chance is a ranged encounter attack that grants a bonus to hit a creature on your next at-will attack, and changes it to an auto-crit if it hits.
Inescapable fate is an immediate reaction at-will utility that lets you shift your speed towards an adjacent enemy that shifts away from you.
Vengeance shroud is a close burst attack 2 that deals psychic damage in addition to dealing more psychic damage whenever the affected targets miss on their turn (save ends). It creates a zone effect that lets your allies take 10 on attack rolls. This attack is a Dex + 6 or Wis + 6 for the attack, and is an encounter power.

Couldnt find an epic destiny in the mix. Thats basically all I could find so far. Considering doing a githzerai psion or monk for the next delve night, especially if we can make paragon characters.
August 04, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

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