Archive for February 2010

Martial Power 2 Review

Martial Power 2 is the second expansion book for martial characters, and does basically the same damn thing that the first one did by adding class features, exploits, paragon paths, feats, etc for martial classes. This book just doesnt add more of the same, however: f
ighter players will be using grab a lot more often (or rather, at all), while warlords and rogues will be able to consistently and competently strike from a distance. Rangers are the only ones that dont seem change much, but I really like the slight modifications they can get.

Starting from the...start, fighters are able to now rely partially on their fists as melee weapons, thanks to Brawler Style. This class feature is a Fighter Weapon Talent that gives you some defense bonuses when you have a hand free as well as a scaling bonus to unarmed attacks. Its very precise in mentioning that you get the benefits, "while wielding a weapon in one hand and your other hand is free." You can wear a spiked gauntlet and still meet the requirements, you just have use the spiked gauntlets proficiency bonus (even if it sucks).
The only other feature for fighters is being able to exchange Combat Superiority for the at-will power combat agility, which lets you chase a baddie down and deck 'em. This just means that instead of smacking an enemy and stopping their movement, you can run after them. Since this is typically going to be moving, it has the advantage of proning a monster so that if they try to attack an ally you can also follow up with combat challenge. This seems to be well worth losing your Wis mod to opportunity attacks.

Rangers get three new class features: Hunter Fighting Style gives you Quick Draw and a hefty defense bonus against opportunity attacks, Running Shot grants an attack bonus when you move (kind of a throwback to the skirmish class feature from 3E), and Marauder Fighting Style gives you Two-Weapon Defense and a speed bonus when you arent packing a shield. The fighting styles just add to the existing ones and dont require you to forgo anything, but Running Shot takes the place of Prime Shot.
Frankly, its like Prime Shot but just requires that you move, and I predict that many rangers are going to pick that up.

Rogues get a couple new tricks. You can pick up Cunning Sneak as a Rogue Tactic, which negates Stealth penalties from moving and lets you make a Stealth check to hide if you've got concealment/cover of any sort and moved during your turn. The only caveat is that you cant hide behind allies. The Sharpshooter Weapon Talent also gives you an attack bonus with crossbows and slings in addition to giving you Far Shot. It replaces Rogue Weapon Talent, but if you wanna go for range then its certainly a worthwhile option.
Both of these new options support not only each other but also many of the new exploits, which grant bonuses for being hidden or let you make Stealth checks to hide after resolving the attack. Since in most cases you need cover or concealment to pull it off, being able to strike from a distance is going to help a lot. Plus, ya know, you need to be hidden to get combat advantage from ranged attacks.

Like rogues, warlords now get some options to become extremely competent at ranged combat, but also get support for the traditional melee type so classic warlords arent left out in the cold.
With the two new Commanding Presences, Wisdom gets maaaybe added to the list of key ability scores required for a warlord. Insightful Presence grants defense bonuses based on either Wisdom or Charisma when allies burn action points, while Skirmishing Presence lets them shift before or after the attack (distance based on Intelligence or Wisdom).
I like the flexible modifiers, but I particularly like how Wisdom lets you play well with some racial tropes: dwarves will make really good insightful warlords, and the defense modifier creates a logical concept. Elves on the other hand have at least one ability score that lends itself to skirmishing warlords, which again plays to the concept.
Warlords can also swap out Combat Leader for the Canny Leader or Battlefront Leader class feature. Canny Leader adds to Insight and Perception instead of Initiative, while the latter lets you use heavy shields and gives you the battlefront shift encounter power (you or target shifts after rolling initiative). Finally, you can also opt to lose proficiency with heavy armor and all shields for ranged weapons (and use Strength instead of Dexterity for basic ranged attacks).

Whew!

Currently the new exploits dont provide a lot of variety for archer warlords. Wizards had the foresight to create three at-wills for humans, but otherwise you get two options per level (and sometimes it works for either melee or ranged). I suspect DDI will expand on these, and people will bitch about it until then...and afterwards.

The last chapter starts out with four pages of rules-absent text that discusses the motivations and personalities of martial characters: what is the martial power source, weapons, seeking riches/fame/legacy, and martial destinies. There's also a side bar on regaining martial exploits, which talks about what your character might do during a rest to, "rewew his or her ability to perform mighty deeds of arms..."
Combat Styles are feats that can be taken by multiple classes and give a separate benefit to each. They are divided into lesser and greater styles: the lesser styles modify at-will attacks and provide a minor benefit (like +2 feat bonus to a skill), while the greater styles are all keyed to a specific class and do something different for each. I think these are much more viable and compelling than their predecessors, such as Precision Ambush Style, which often provided too little a benefit with too great a requirement.
Martial Practices are basically martial rituals: you need a feat to learn them, need to meet-or-beat the level, and also have to purchase each practice individually. A lot of them cost healing surges to trigger, which adds to the mundanity, though a few also demand some cash as well. A lot of them only last for 10 minutes or a randomized number of hours, so players wont be able to just spam practices and then rest up surges. Some of them, sure, but not most.
I know some people are going to bitch that Forge Armor/Weapon hinge on magical in nature, and I'd normally agree except that I recall a part of The Crystal Shard where Bruenor creates Aegis-Fang, and I dont recall magic being part of the process. It took a long time and exhausted the hell out of him, yes, but I dont remember spells being evoked at any point.
You could argue that the procedure uses magical reagents, such as parts of fantastic creatures like dragons (which accounts for the component cost), or maybe channeling ki or whatever. Since it takes an entire day and cannot make every magical item (like potions), I consider this to be within the boundaries of a martial feat.
I like 'em. I also like rituals. This is just another type of ritual that doesnt bleed so far into the magical fare that I wonder why the fuck we'd need both of them.

With the previous Martial Power book and the slew of shit on DDI, I was...concerned...that this was going to be a flop and a sign that Wizards was slipping. Having read the book (instead of going onto forums and bitching about something that I've not played or doesnt even fucking exist), I can say that its certainly not the case. This is a great book with a shitload of interesting, solid options for every martial character. It takes a lot of the existing concepts and shakes them up for a fresh take.

Now to read in-depth on the warlord for my character in Shazbot's Scales of War campaign.
February 21, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Winning Races: Gnomes

I usually envision gnomes as sneaky bastards who prefer to confound you with illusions, shoot you from a distance well outside your Reach, or perhaps sick a shitload of badgers on you (again, staying out of melee range). Hell, if you manage to close with one and slap it upside the head, they can turn invisible for a turn and leg it.

Which makes this Winning Races article very strange and refreshing since its all about pimping out gnome defenders while still maintaining that sneaky element.

There are two paragon paths, one for paladins and one for swordmages. The paladin one is called Gnome Nightcloak, and as a twist requires training in Stealth. Kind of odd for a heavily armored character to be skulking about, but since the level 11 feature lets you add your Cha mod to Stealth it helps alleviate the heavy armor penalty. The concept behind it evokes the image of a 3-foot tall Bat Man archetype...I cant decide if thats cool, creepy, or comical.
The other two class features let you grant resistances to allies when you use fade away, teleport when you spend an action point, and deal bonus damage against a marked target if they also grant you combat advantage (kind of like Sneak Attack by another name).
Shadowstrike rebuke is my favorite prayer in the mix, and as a plus its also your level 11 attack. It lets you teleport and smack a baddy that hits/misses an ally like a swordmage can, but also pushes and sanctions them.
Cover of night lets you render an ally invisible. Simple but useful, and its got good range to boot.
Tumultuous shadowflow deals a crapton of damage and imposes an attack penalty in addition to preventing a target from benefiting from concealment for the entire encounter.

I greatly prefer the Phantasm Guard, which lets you emphasize illusion magic with the standard swordmage fare to get the feel for a decidedly "gnome" approach: you gain concealment against marked targets, regain fade away with action points, and get a Will kicker when you hit things with the psychic keyword (meaning that I can see lots of multiclass swordmage/wizards with illusion attacks).
Wave of dread is a close blast attack that deals psychic damage and dazes, and only hits enemies.
Nightmare landscape makes an area difficult terrain for enemies and grants all allies concealment. It lasts for the whole encounter wihtout requiring a sustain, but you cant move it. Still pretty fucking cool.
Illusory host also creates a zone effect, causing enemies caught within to grant combat advantage and letting you hit enemies that shift or attack allies without hitting you as well. Kind of like a "mark zone".

There are four feats that let you ignore the Speed penalty from heavy armor (but not plate), cause targets affected by divine challenge damage to grant combat advantage, grant concealment to allies you use lay on hands or virtue's touch on, and the long overdue Gnome Weapon Training: you can use all light blades and picks, and get a damage bonus to top it off.
February 18, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

War of Horns Rough Map

Map rough for a new campaign I'm working on.

February 17, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Its People!

Wyatt: "We’ll open with a simple question. In your campaign, is a goblin a person or a monster? What about other intelligent, upright-walking human-like things?"

The short answer is that, well...that depends.

The (very) long answer is as follows.

I think that the most important step is to determine the function of a monster (monster here being defined as anything that has a stat block). As I've said in the past, I only design what I need to. If I need a village, I create the barebones structure that will see realization during the course of play. Extraneous bits that will never see the light of day? Fuck it. I'm all for creating story and history, but I dont sweat the small stuff unless I am very sure that the players will interact with it in some way.

So if I need a monster to function as a combat challenge, then thats what it is: monster! It is there to kill the players because the story calls for it, and thats-fucking-that. I dont sit and wonder about the why's or whatever for the same reason that I dont wonder if my wizard would actually have learned scorching burst back in the academy. I fucking want that spell, and so I have it.
Generally speaking these guys arent going to get a lot of screen time, so I dont flesh them out very much (if at all). I may be tempted to make a kind of personality structure that I can apply freely to, say, a gnoll on the off chance that the party might interact with it, but I'm not going to spend a lot of work on the stuff that the players are going to just kill and forget about later.

If I intend for it to be interacted with, then I prepare a name, basic personality and goals, and perhaps some sort of a vague history depending (again) on whats required. If I dont think its past will crop up, then I'm likely to just wing it. Overplanning can both end up being a considerable waste of time when spread over the course of a shit-ton of NPCs, and it can also lend a sort of rigidity to how you arbitrate player interactions (ie, get you married to a concept or course). Again, if I spend a lot of work on a NPC and the party just plows through it without so much as a glance, I can just lift the story from that monster and apply it to another one later: I'm a believer of recycling more than just statblocks.

So, I think that monsters can be treated like people. Its not an either/or scenario. I'm certainly not against elaborating on their culture and histories, if they are going to be key players. Eberron is kind of a broad example in that there are two nations of monsters (one is mostly goblins, though). It would be ignorant for players to assume that they are just monsters to be killed. Well...they can be, but they are also much more likely to be willing to talk (or be used as player characters).

On a somewhat related note, I think it is important for players to know that A) there are cases where they can talk their way out of a fight, and B) that it can actually be just as good for them to do so. See, here's the thing. If I confront the players with a gang of goblin bandits that want to loot them, they probably arent going to stand for it. Now, the players could try and bribe them at the cost of some gear/money (resource lost), but they are likely going to prefer the direct approach of slaughtering them, keeping their shit, taking potential useful shit, and garnering some XP for their troubles (several resources gained).

Oh, and maybe even C) not everything in the Monster Manual exists to be implicitly fought.
February 09, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: The Ruthless Reach

Blackdirge did a fine job in the past writing the only Chaos Scar adventures that I give two shits about, so I'm eager to see how he handles mechanics.

The Ruthless Reach Barbarian presents an array of evocations that only work with reach weaponry (because, you know, they all have a Requirement line demanding as such). However its not enough to just say, "you need to be packing a polearm," though. Well designed powers will have mechanics that back it up, and most of them do.

I'm just really fucking confused why the article is about polearm barbarians, and we get a picture of some crazy dwarf with a sword. *shrugs*

There are nine powers, including a new at-will called savage reach. Its not a reach attack, and it doesnt increase your reach in some bizarre way. Its more or less a simple evocation that deals base weapon damage in addition to a slide kicker. I find it similar in power to pressing attack, you just dont get to shift and slide instead of pushing. So, its good and also maintains the polearm theme of being able to knock opponents around.

About half the new powers follow this easy-to-remember theme: do something nifty and add in some forced movement. I'm not surprised by this and actually come to expect it for manners of consistency. It allows me to assess the kind of weapon that I want to use on the faith that the exploits, prayers, or whatever will back up my choice. Spears push. Its what they do. Make sure if you are making powers with that in mind that you stick to those tenants kplzthx.

Some however do things a biiit differently but still remind you that you're packing a spear in terms of mechanics. For example, room for carnage is a level 1 encounter attack with an effect that autopushes adjacent creatures and then lets you follow up with an attack. Slashing tornado rage hits every enemy within 2 squares, and also auto-damages enemies within 2 squares whenever you act. That "2 square" range thing? Yeah. That helps. I like that. Still feels like a polearm, just via different rules.

The trio of feats only work when you are using a reach weapon (obviously), and are really badass. One makes all your attacks brutal while raging, while the other two let you deal bonus damage against creatures at least 2 squares away when you use either rage strike or Rampage.

Well done. Fits a narrow niche, but at least does it extremely well. Unfortunately while I enjoy barbarians I dont particularly care for spears/polearms for aesthetic reasons. I think that he should do an article that makes warlord/infernal pact warlocks much more enticing. >_>
February 05, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

The Essentials

This month's Ampersand article discusses a ten-product lineup referred to as Essentials, italics and all. Its designed to be a kind of stepping-stone path that allows players completely new to D&D to gradually transition from barebones rules to a more comprehensive structure. My understanding is that it kind of worked like this for OD&D, which had like, four different rulesets. Does it work well? I'm not sure since I started out with 2nd Edition.

Logically it makes sense. Start new people out small. Very small. The "Red Box" will have limited options and only get you to 2nd-level. Aside from rules, its got a lot of other shit like dice, an adventure, tokens, and power cards. I might pick it up for the tokens alone, which will prolly look a lot better than coins. >_> After that, players can pick up additional rules as they go, adding more and more until they shell out for a core set.

I think that this lineup is good for getting players in that are completely new to the scene and dont know a guy (who might know a guy) that can guide them through the process. While initially cheaper to get in the game, players will end up spending more to get the core rules, and in the end spend more than if they just splurged on the core books in the first place. That being said, there's something attractive about spending a fraction of the money to get into a game you arent sure about...so I can see where they are coming from.

Mostly I'm looking forward to the Dungeon Tile sets, since I hear they're gonna go 3D (meaning that I can stop buying Dwarven Forge and save a couple hundred dollars).
February 03, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Battlemind Debut

Long post, because I like to go in-depth on debuts.

We can finally see a preview of the battlemind, a Con-based psionic defender. They remind of psychic warriors: you get to tour around in heavy armor (up to scale), use shields, and get a nice spread of weapons. Is the name better or worse? Eh...thats up to you. I personally didnt mind it much when they used the name in D20 Modern. Naming conventions aside, this class looks fucking awesome. I think that it will do very nicely in letting me play something close to a fury-crafting knight from the Codex Alera series...

Like psions, they get power points and can burn them to crank it up to 11 when they feel the need to. This means that what would normally be their encounter disciplines are weaker than usual, and hit that "balanced-or-better" mark only a set number of times per encounter depending on how you manage your power points. This adds a layer to resource management in a way that doesnt drastically add to bookkeeping or changing the way powers work at the core. I much prefer this to learning numerous subsystems, as in the past.

I mentioned their mark mechanic in a previous post, but I'll explain it again. They have three at-wills that come into the equation. First, you use battlemind's demand to mark anything within 3 squares as a minor action, and it lasts until the end of the encounter or you use it again (basically how swordmages do it).
Now, if a marked enemy tries to shift to get away, you can use blurred step to shift after them. So, unless they can shift at least 2 squares its not going to do much good.
Finally, if the enemy attacks an enemy and you're within melee range you can trigger mind spike as an immediate reaction that deals automatic damage equal to the amount your ally took. Just to make things clear: there is no roll on this. You deal this damage no matter what. The enemy just has to be within melee range.

The battlemind class feature that determines your "style" is Psionic Study, but the only one in the debut is Speed of Thought (Battle Resilience will be included in Player's Handbook 3). Speed of Thought grants you the speed of thought (surprised?) encounter discipline. It lets you move for free whenever you roll initiative. Its quite a distance, and you can even do this during a surprise round. For a defender this is insanely awesome.

Battlemind disciplines are keyed to Constitution and depending on what class feature you took, you can get some more out of Wisdom or Charisma (Wis for Battlefield Resilience and Cha for Speed of Thought). As the article only features the Speed of Thought class feature, if you are going for optimization then ramp up Con and Cha to get the most out of it (hobgoblins and half-elves ftw!).

There are waaay too many disciplines to go into, so I'll just go over the basics, by which I mean the level 1 stuff.
Demon dance deals psychic damage and imposes a penalty to opportunity attacks. You can augment it to also negate threatening reach, as well as boost the damage and completely negate the ability to make opportunity attacks, period.
Twisted eye damages a target and imposes an attack penalty based on the number of allies nearby. You can augment it to have it fire as an opportunity attack or cause it to just fucking blind the target for a turn.
Whirling defense damages a target and lets you mark them. You can augment it to grant bonus damage to mind spike, or target every enemy around you. Bad ass.

Daily disciplines dont get augments. They just do what dailies tend to do, which is to say that they do something on a hit or miss (if they even require attacks at all). Battlemind daily attacks come in an even mix of the normal fare and stances. The stance attacks remind me of warden daily evocations because they open up a new at-will attack that you can use for the duration of the stance., each granting you the ability to make a special attack until the stance ends. They're all opportunity action attacks, so really its just a way of giving you an alternative to using mind spike.

Allies to enemies deals double weapon damage and causes an enemy to attack an ally of your choice. Nothing too complicated, and depending on the monster it could be really awesome.
But...Steal unity strike, on the other hand, deals triple weapon damage in addition to allowing you to make opportunity attacks against marked targets that deal double damage on a hit. They're also keyed to Constitution, so they are much more effective than normal.

The balancing factor is that you can only do these stance attacks as opportunity attacks against marked monsters that dont shift to get away from you. Otherwise you kind of have to stick with mind spike. I know a lot of players complain that their DMs never have monsters provoke attacks from the defenders (which is kind of the point), and if thats true these will end up being super awesome abilities that likely will never see application. Still, one can dream.

There are two paragon paths, steel ego and zephyr blade. Both are suited for the Speed of Thought build but play very much differently.
Steel egos can use mind spike more frequently on an action point, AoE it for automatic damage whenever, and regain power points on a crit. Their encounter attack lets them basically hit what the fuck ever they want with mind spike for a turn (and also making it usable as a free action once, so you could theoretically do it twice). I'm particularly fond of fear and loathing, which deals a lot of psychic damage and makes the target provoke opportunity attacks whenever it makes a melee attack (save ends). As an added bonus, you can slide it whenever it gets nailed by an opportunity attack.
Zephyr blades are fast mother fuckers. You add your Cha mod to attacks against targets suffering from a few conditions, and gain a passive bonus to Speed. A few of the powers grant you insubstantial and phasing, which adds to your mobility options. Knifing wind isnt terribly interesting, dealing damage with a daze kicker (you can augment for more damage). Storm dance strike, however, is a stance attack that lets you attack up to two creatures and teleport at some point. The granted opportunity attack slows the target and lets you both teleport away. Excellent for positioning!

Now, there are only five feats, and the shitter here is that two are Heroic, two are Paragon, and one is Epic. Not a lot of variety. :-/ This in the addition to a lack of supporting magic items is my main dislike for actually playing debut classes. I dont mind giving them a shot in one-shots and delves, but in actually long-term play? Fucking forget it. Not enough to maintain interest...but still cool to see whats up and get some ideas brewing.

This looks like it will be my class of choice from PH3 (with the monk right on its tail).

Winning Races: Winterkin Eladrin

This is the third Winning Races article that introduces a kind of "race specialization" that I like. The one on elves was kind of meh, but then I'm not exactly an elf fan, so take that for what its worth. I like the tiefling and dwarf one just fine.

Winterkin Eladrin introduces mechanics that help justify a connection to the Winter Court in the form of a racial path and series of bloodline feats. I feel that game mechanics are important in these situations because it helps the dice rolls and rules reinforce your character and the decisions you've made.

Anyone can say that they work for those guys, but having cold resistance and the ability to summon wintry gales to conceal their presence just has a lot more...clout, I guess. The path and feats do a fine job, but you dont need to take both and instead opt to spend either a single feat or dive in head first if the path appeals to you.

If you're really fucking hardcore, do both.

The bralani wintersoul path plays up the concepts of, well, winter. And wind to a point. When you get hit by cold attacks you deal extra cold damage for a turn, and if you burn an action point it creates a zone of flurrying snow with a pretty hefty range. At level 16 you auto-slow any enemy that gets too close. The racial powers are somewhat predictable, dealing cold damage with a slow/immobilizing kicker effect.

Winter's kiss is a level 11 attack that only hits one critter, while blizzard blast is a level 20 blast 5 attack blinds and immobilizes. You also get to teleport afterwards, which is pretty damned cool. Snowfall is the level 12 reaction utility that creates a zone that obscures the area and makes you insubstantial. All in all these attacks are pretty useful over a broad range of classes, especially given that they use your highest ability mod. I'd certainly pick it up as a feylock, but would also be tempted to do so as even a fighter since it would give me a nifty ranged attack and close blast (the auto-slow effect would also rule).

There arent a lot of feats, and they all focus on Winterkin Hertiage, which is a bloodline/gateway feat to the rest of them. By itself it gives you cold resistance in addition to winter's shroud, which lets you teleport and gain concealment when hit as a reaction. It doesnt fuck with fey step, so thats two potential teleports per encounter. Since cold damage is fairly common, this is a really awesome feat.

The rest either modify winter's shroud or just do something else. For example, Winter's Reach increases the teleport range of winter's shroud, while Winter's Heart slows enemies that hit you when you arent bloodied (its a paragon feat, though).

Good for eladrin players, particularly those that have a reason to be tied to Winter Court fey. This is a lot better than making up a bunch of lame-ass subraces like they did in the past. At any rate, I can reskin these feats and present them as additional options for the players in my Songs of Erui game that actually do work for the Winter Court.

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