Archive for August 2011

Lair Assault

I got a Lair Assault kit yesterday, and after looking through the 16-page, digest sized booklet have this to say: good luck.

Size matters not. Judge it by its size, do you?
The entire scenario is comprised of one mega-encounter that you have to wrap up in 20 rounds. In addition to a hard time limit, you also roll initiative once, can not take a short rest, and the DM can mix up the monsters and terrain to fuck with repeat groups. The levels of the monsters also range from level 4-10, with the BBEG statted as a level 8 elite. As if that was not enough there are also factors in effect to fuck with what would normally be some pretty damned useful abilities, as well as a few timed events that can turn up the heat (hint: the map has two sides).

The tips I will give are that fire resistance will be helpful, and to keep an eye out for an easter egg--its on the cover, actually--and some situational benefits scattered here and there. Also, be aware of the time; I would be impressed by a group that manages to take out every monster in the dungeon, especially on Nightmare difficulty. In fact, I think that glory hounds are going to have to make quite a few playthroughs to get all the awards (especially since two require you to die). Speaking of glory awards, here is the entire list sans secret ones:

GENERAL AWARDS

  • Epic Win (20): Defeat the challenge on Nightmare mode.
  • I'll Be Back (10): Get a 20 or higher on a death save.
  • It's Critmas (5): Score a crit.
  • Monster Slayer (20): Kill every enemy in the dungeon.
  • Commando (20): Do not use magic items or consumables.
  • One Shot (10): Drop a non-minion enemy from full hit points to zero in one hit.
  • Racy Group (10): Win with every character as the same race.
  • Tough As Nails (20): Win without spending a healing surge.
  • TPK (5): Everyone dies.
  • It's a Trap! (5): Disable a trap/hazard.
CHALLENGE AWARDS

  • Dungeon Mapper (10): Open every door in the dungeon.
  • Give My Regards (5): Knock an enemy of a ledge/into lava.
  • I Regret Nothing (5): Fall off a ledge/into lava.
  • Lava Nice Day (10): Die from lava.
  • Speed Demon (10): Win in five rounds or less.
  • Treasure Hunter (5): ???
  • Vell's Foil (10): Win the challenge.

SECRET AWARDS
There are three of these, one with 10 points and the other two worth 5.

I'll be running this at Knightfall Games as time and attendance warrants; it can be ran any day of the week, so fire off an email if you want to give it a shot.
August 31, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeons, Dragons, and Aspects

Disclaimer: I have never actually played Dresden Files, or even a Fate game. I have read through parts of the book, a wiki article, and listened to an "actual play" podcast. In other words, I might have interpreted aspects grossly incorrectly.

Building a D&D character goes beyond choosing a race, class, feats, skills, and gear. Regardless of what detractors might think there are about six and a half pages--starting on page 18--devoted to role-playing, with a few pages telling you to go through the motions of choosing some personality traits, mannerisms, describing your character, and if possible answering a few questions about your background and motivations. In past editions DMs I played with would award--or penalize--you with "role-playing" experience depending on how well you played your character and adhered to your alignment. Nowadays this practice has fallen out of use in my gaming circle, which is fine because some players do not want to engage in extensive social role-play (or are just really bad at it and/or derive fun from other sources).

While I encourage my players to think up flavor material for their character--especially anything I can use as an adventure hook--I most often find them missing from characters, particularly those of the casual members. On the other hand some players take a few sessions to figure out their character's identity, while others are just happy to give me a rough motivation and leave it at that. I had entertained the idea of starting to award players with bonus XP, but depending on the level it might not make any difference at all, and even then probably for only a session. It was much more effective in older editions when classes advanced at different rates and had various means of gaining it; thieves from getting cold, wizards from casting spells, etc. It was even kind of useful in 3rd Edition, because as a wizard I could set it aside as my item creation fund.

With that in mind one possibility I had considered would be to give the entire group bonus XP for socially role-playing their characters well, but then you could have a few talented players pulling the weight of everyone else, in a similar vein to the theoretical party with a player's theoretical farmboy-who-picked-up-a-sword-to-fight-orcs.

A better idea is one that I found in another game entirely: Dresden Files RPG. This game uses the Fate system, which puts a much, much larger emphasis on a character's personality, background, and motivations to the effect that you are supposed to sit down and basically have a "collaboration session" with the other players.

In D&D your personality does not have any mechanical bearing on what your character does, instead providing a benchmark for stuff your character is likely--or unlikely--to do. If a character acts within these parameters, then great. If not, then it falls to the DM to correct the course of action (or get into a debate until everyone comes to an acceptable conclusion).

In Fate you have character elements called aspects. These constitute a diverse array of character elements--personality, physical traits, motivations, even items--that make up the character as a whole. Examples could be silver-tongued, greedy, reckless, or an item like a family sword. Aspects are not limited to the characters; non-player characters, objects, or even areas can have aspects; for example a cutpurse could be desperate, while a cliff could be slippery from rain, or a crate could be highly flammable.

Aspects have a double-edged purpose. First, you can "tag" them in a situation or challenge in order to gain a bonus. A greedy dwarf, for example, might be driven to succeed where there is money involved. On the other hand, the Gamemaster can also "compel" an aspect, essentially forcing you to do something. The same greedy dwarf might be compelled to betray one or more friends in exchange for a sizable bribe. Now, players can refuse a compel by giving up a Fate point, but if they go along then they gain a Fate point. In this way Fate points could be seen as a kind of story-directing currency.

With all this in mind I wanted to create a mechanic by which a player could receive an immediate benefit by doing stuff that their character should be doing anyway. An incentive to get into the social aspect of the game, as it were. I thought about a rule where characters could tag their aspects for a small benefit, or require them to spend action points to get the benefit, potentially making it a variable bonus like how action points worked in 3rd Edition, or just giving a re-roll. The more I thought about it, the more it started to sound like the potential changes to skills that Mearls was talking about last week (which I would be interested to see an Unearthed Arcana article for).

Anyway, if you want to use aspects and fate points in your games, then I would first have each player create a list of at least three aspects, but probably no more than five. Aspects that can be both beneficial and detrimental are best. There is a pretty sizable list here. These can be derived from your character's personality traits, racial tropes, mannerisms, motivations, goals, connections, etc, or be generated in place of all those things.

For fate points, I would work them as follows:

  • Action points pull double-duty as fate points. They still give normally give you an extra action.
  • A player can tag one of her own aspects and spend an action point to gain either a 1d6 bonus to the check, attack, or defense. Alternatively you could re-roll the check entirely/force a re-roll (for example, if you are attacked or a creature is making an opposed check).
  • A player can spend an action point to gain a measure of control over the direction of the story based on the aspect of a creature, object, or environment. The DM can grant the invoking player an action point to waive the compel.
  • The DM can compel a character to do something based on one of her aspects, or cause something to happen based on the aspect of a creature, object, or environment. If the player allows this to happen, she gains an action point. She can instead pay an action point to waive the compel.
There is probably a lot that I am missing, but if you are interested in collaborative storytelling and world-building I would recommend checking out the Fate system in addition to reading up on the chapter in Dungeon Master's Guide 2. I am going to try this route for my next campaign, making sure that each player gives me something good to work with, and allowing for their input on the campaign's foundation and direction.

Making Race Count

The first in hopefully many articles brings power support for dwarves, half-elves, halflings, and humans. In 4th Edition race became a much more meaningful choice due to the feat support and race-specific paragon paths, and adding powers to the mix (especially in light of the vryloka and shade) is a natural progression. Each race gets a utility from levels 2-16, and there is no "cost" to take them except that if you have a spellbook and take a racial utility, you do not get an extra wizard one.

Dwarf

  • Avalanche Rush (level 2 encounter): When you bull rush a target, you can push them farther based on your Con modifier.
  • Dwarven Pride (level 6 encounter): When you are subjected to most forms of forced movement, you gain a damage bonus for a turn based on the number of squares you were moved.
  • Stone Stubborn (level 10 encounter): When you are dominated or stunned, you are instead dazed until the effect ends.
  • Mountainborn Tenacity (level 16 daily): When you are dropped, you can spend a healing surge and gain damage resistance for a turn based on your Con modifier.
Half-Elf

  • Help Is Here (level 2 encounter): You automatically use aid another on an adjacent ally.
  • Sudden Switch (level 6 encounter): You swap spaces with a creature and gain combat advantage for a turn against all adjacent enemies.
  • Lockstep (level 10 encounter): You and an adjacent ally shift 6 squares, and must end the movement next to each other.
  • Persuasive Words (level 16 daily): You gain a bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Insight, and Intimidate for the rest of the encounter.
Halfling

  • Happy Feed (level 2 encounter): When a creature starts its turn, you can shift.
  • Minor Threat (level 6 encounter): A stance that you can trigger while bloodied, granting you a bonus to defenses and Stealth.
  • Pay Your Debts (level 10 at-will): If a flanked enemy moves, an ally flanking it still has combat advantage for a turn.
  • Underfoot Hustle (level 16 encounter): You shift your speed with a bonus, can move through enemy squares, and they grant combat advantage to you for a turn.
Human

  • Extra Effort (level 2 encounter): You can reroll a save with a bonus, but the next save takes a penalty.
  • Rapid Move (level 6 daily): As a minor action you can take a move action.
  • Flush With Success (level 10 encounter): If you hit with an attack, you gain scaling temp hps and can shift a short distance.
  • Courageous Determination (level 16 daily): If a en enemy bloodies you, or hits you while you are bloodied, you can burn a healing surge, shift your speed, and gain a defense bonus for a turn.
Holy crap a lot of these are really awesome. Sure, avalanche rush is best suited for characters built around forced movement and charging, but I could see a lot of halflings taking minor threat (which is also very thematic for them). The human spread is really nice all around. I am really impressed by how much I like this article despite playing almost none of the featured races. Now to wait and see when/if tieflings get any power love.
August 27, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Gearing up for Lair Assault

In less than a week DMs will be able to start running Lair Assault at their local stores, starting with Forge of the Dawn Titan. On the off chance you are not familiar with it, a Lair Assault event is like a sessionf of D&D Encounters cranked up to 11; a mega-encounter that does not allow for short rests, takes about 2 hours to wrap up assuming you do not die...and the mortality rate is pegged at about 80% on your first try. To make matters worse, even if you go in for another shot the DM has options to change things up, making it more dynamic and difficult to plan for. This is not for the casual crowd, but for all the power gamers/optimizers/players that love the tactical elements of combat.

Though we do not know what is in the scenario (yet), there is a lot of speculation and planning going on a few forums, mostly to expect creatures with lots of fire-based attacks and lava since, well, one of the achievements glory awards requires that you die in lava.

I have never ran D&D as a competitive game--I normally fudge stuff either way if I think it will add to the overall excitement, or to just keep things moving--so it will be interesting to see how I DM Lair Assault. My plan is to just roll all the dice in the open to "let them fall as they may", as it were. I am curious to see what parties (and Fortune Cards, if any) people are going to bring to the table, especially for groups going for the "one race" glory award. This is definitely something I am going to cover in depth, so expect to see at least a few play reports sometime in September.
Posted by David Guyll

Excerpt: Item Curses

In past editions I never used cursed items unless a pre-published adventure specifically mentioned them because in most cases they were a minor nuisance; any party with a cleric could basically get rid of it after taking a nap, assuming that no one had a remove curse spell prepared/scroll on hand (if the item even required it). Of course if your campaigns ever cranked it up to 11, then analyze dweomer became an option and cursed items stopped being a liability (which was just keeping in theme with older-edition magic's ability to just side-step problems entirely).

4th Edition's model for curses is making them category specific item properties that can never be detected, and remain dormant until the curses's trigger is met. For example a periapt of foul rotting acts normal until you take a specific amount of damage, at which point it infects you with a disease. So, pretty similar to how 3rd Edtion operated, but easier to apply to items. The key difference is that once you figure out that an item is bad, you can try to strip away the curse and "fix" them with the same Arcana check, making them much easier to deal with than in past editions.

I have only just started including cursed items in my Heirs of Ruin campaign, partially because I feel that it fits with Dark Sun's concept of magic as a flawed art, but also because I wanted to try and make my players make some hard choices; yeah, those iron armbands give you a damage bonus, but when you are bloodied they give you a damage penalty. I had intended to give players opportunities to restore them to normal, but with a bit more effor than a simple, low-risk skill check.

Really this is only issue I have with item curses as I currently understand them, and and will rule in most cases that must have access to Enchant Item and/or need to go on quests in order to change some cursed items back to normal. At the least, they are going to have to choose between living with the curse or burning ritual components.
August 26, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

The Gauntlgrym Gambit Review


Adventures that I actually like in Dungeon are few and far between, and I honestly was not expecting anything good this month. Thankfully Daniel Marthalar stepped up to the plate with The Gauntylgrym Gambita low-level adventure in which the heroes discover that the Ashmadai--a cult that worships Asmodeus--have potentially found a way into Gauntlgrym, which I am told is a legendary dwarf city that has been lost for thousands of years. It follows hot on the heels of the release of Neverwinter Campaign Setting, which along with Lost Crown of Neverwinter should not only keep your group occupied for about half of their heroic career, but should provide a solid foundation for wrapping the rest of it up as well.

The basic backstory is that duergar, drow, and aberrants were fighting for control of Gauntlgrym, one thing lead to another, and the duergar found themselves with a nasty case of "oozes and slimes". Rather than go through the presumably lengthy and laborious process of safe removal, they decided to cut their losses by literally blowing up the tunnels where the oozes had spread to. This in turn had the unintended effect of giving the oozes easy access to the surface, making it Neverwinter's problem, who dispatched scouts to figure out where the problem was coming from; a big-ass hole in the ground that with the proper political spin became both a "potential road to Gauntlgrym" and Ashmadai camp ground.

The STD's of dungeons.
Despite the odd hiccup of only the Ashmadai setting up kip near a monster-spewing pit, this adventure has a good deal of variety in terms of monsters and terrain; cultists, devils, spiders, duergar, and slimes are confronted in rickety lifts over a great pit, on top of a toppled dwarf statue, a hall of web-strewn statues, and more. I like that despite the focus on the Ashmadai and oozes that the author managed to squeeze in alternative entries without it seeming like they were shoehorned in just to spice things up. Finally as with Evard's Shadow, I was also very pleased with how skill challenges were plotted and handled; the skill explanations make them easier to work into the narrative, and group checks prevent only specific characters from attempting specific skills, but reduce the chance of an almost immediate failure by unskilled party members.

This shit wouldn't happen if the rogue
could just spam Stealth rolls.
All things considered this is an excellent adventure for DMs looking to run content out of Neverwinter Campaign Setting, especially if your campaign is centered around the Ashmadai, Abolethic Sovereignty, and/or Gauntlgrym. It gives you enough direction to get the party into the lost city, but leaves it up to you where you want to go, greatly expanding its usability beyond the factions mentioned. If you are not running in Forgotten Realms? Well, it works well enough as a template for an adventure with a focus on duergar, oozes, or dwarf cities.
Posted by David Guyll

The Heirs of Ruin Play Report 5

After looting the necromancer's lair they returned to Barunus's ghost, gathered up his bones, and made their way to the surface. Almost immediately there were spotted by a patrol, which could have easily overwhelmed them had a pair of newfound friends not shown up; a dwarf named Braynor Stoneblood that knew Maximus from awhile back on one of his tours, and a bizarre crystalline entity that could manipulate objects whose named escapes me. After defeating the guards and stealing their uniforms, they decided that the best way to safely get out of Balic would be to get in touch with House Wavir due to Jiga's connections.

Unfortunately, they had to cross the Market Precinct to get there.

I ran the same skill challenge as before, asking the group to tell me how their characters would try to get there, and got some different--but still impressive--results; Maximus wanted to try the backstreets, Jiga and Braynor tried to mingle with the crowd, and Sardis, well...he got spotted pretty damned quickly by guards on the lookout for "anyone with a mysterious halo". He legged it, I prompted him for an Endurance check, and he managed to get some distance between them. They split up, trying to surround him, and so he made an Athletics to get on the roof. Maximus tripped one of them, but a botched Athletics roll caused both the guard and him to fall. The guard recognized him pretty quickly, but was silenced by a dagger in the throat (though Maximus lost a healing surge during the scuffle). With Sardis on the roof, Braynor and Jiga rallied the mob against the guards by tricking them into thinking that they'd killed their baby while chasing Sardis. As Sardis moved from rooftop to rooftop, Braynor managed to take the handful left out with a well thrown rock while they were scaling a wall after him.

Again, things flowed really well and seemed much more cinematic. The players didn't just spam whatever skill had the best bonus, and they seemed to enjoy it a lot more than usual.

At the Wavir estate, they made a deal to help retrieve a prisoner from a minor noble in exchange for safe passage out of the city. Supplied with fresh clothes and an actually balanced party, they staked out the estate for a good while--during which Sardis detected a steady pulse of evocation magic underground--before just storming the walls, which was still pretty effective. It was a fairly lengthy melee briefly made worse when someone got knocked onto the ground and a pair of jhakaars showed up, but ultimately no one got hurt that a few healing surges couldn't fix. We had to wrap things up there, but next session will be actually getting into the house and figuring out what is going on.
August 24, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Excerpt: New Armor

I just got around to posting about the weapon excerpt today, and we are already at new armor. You will need to actually scope out the pdf preview to get any hard mechanics, which includes full stats for all the suits of armor that were still "missing" (well, except for the chain shirt). Aside from filling in the gabs, new armors are further differentiated from the old by having either the tough, durable, or barbed property.

Tough lets you turn the first crit you suffer in combat to a normal hit, durable reduces damage you take from the first attack in an encounter (and has to be repaired afterwards to regain the property), and barbed causes a creature to take damage based on your level when you escape a grab, or that creature escapes your grab.

So, that is pretty cool. I also really dig the robe of the archmage (level 20 rare); it gives you a bonus to Fort and Will, lets you prep a utility spell of your level or lower for free, and lets you lose half your hit points in order to max out your damage on the next arcane attack you make. 
August 18, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

The Heirs of Ruin: Going to Ground Skill Challenge

I started running The Heirs of Ruin for two different groups, one of which already managed to get out of the sewers, after which they had to try and lay low for awhile. I had intended to use the skill challenge Going to Ground out of Dark Sun Campaign Setting as a guideline, but ended up just saying fuck all and asked the group how they were going to avoid the attention of the guards and citizens that might sell them out for the reward on their heads.

I was pretty happy with the results.

I not only did not tell the players that they were "in" a skill challenge, I likewise did not mention that they would be rolling skills. I got answers that ranged from "I try to hide" to "I just fucking try to outrun them", after which I prompted for ability or skill checks. The player that was just trying to hoof it as fast as possible was spotted and surrounded, so I asked them how they might try and help him out. One player declared that he was going to knock some barrels onto them, while another wanted to sneak up behind and backstab one. Again, prompted for dice rolls, got a bunch of successes, and ruled that the one who got surrounded managed to get away with a few scratches (ie, lose a healing surge).

Things went on like this until they got to Balic's slums, which ended up being some odd 3-4 series of dice rolls. I think I found my skill challenge "method"; I never really declared that a skill challenge was starting, but often called for skill checks. I think I am going to take a more "Dresden Files" approach and just ask them how their characters would try to resovle a situation or do something. I am hoping that players will try making attack rolls or using powers. Also, I think that I am going to ignore the skill challenge success/failure system and just keep things rolling in whatever way makes the most sense.

Posted by David Guyll

Excerpt: New Weapons

In addition to magic items it looks like feats are also on the menu at Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium. Though we get a dozen names, only two of the "strike specialization" feats are actually shown, which let you reduce bonus damage from power strike in order to lump on some other benefit like dazing or attacking Fortitude instead of Armor Class. Considering books that I would assume were intended for DMs have had paragon paths in the past, this does not come across as too odd to me, though I am curious as to whether or not people are going to label this book as an "essentials" book by virtue of it having content for Essentials classes.

Another juicy bit previewed is a flame tongue weapon, which is a level 10 rare item with some badass stuff; the crit damage is slightly higher than usual at a d8, it grants fire resistance, once per encounter after you down an enemy, each adjacent enemy takes automatic damage (great for minion cleaning), and it has an encounter attack that deals fire damage plus ongoing fire damage to a close blast. As an added bonus the fire resistance and damaging features scale with the weapon's enhancement bonus. The only real drawback is that you cannot turn off the fire damage part (though despite the flavor content stating that they glow brightly, it neither provides illumination nor penalizes your Stealth).

The Heirs of Ruin Play Report 4

After the party destroyed all the undead, the ghost of a dwarf appeared and asked them to avenge his death (as well as the deaths of all the other victims in the pile of bones). He explained that a dragonborn defiler had killed him, bound his soul, and questioned him about a lost city. After it was clear that he had no worthwhile information, the dragonborn discarded his remains. The party agreed, and shortly after setting out to find the dragonborn's lair hit a hurdle in the form of an insanely complex tile puzzle.

I am generally not a huge fan of puzzles, especially riddles, because I find that they tend to grind the game to a halt as the players spend too long before finally resigning themselves to a score of Intelligence/History checks, or DM mercy. The tile puzzle was 7 x 7 squares and required that a magical circuit pass through four elemental tiles in a specific order before a door would open. Taking a page from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, I allowed them to make Intelligence checks to "solve" one or more tiles, as well as allowing them to bypass the puzzle entirely by foregoing all XP. This would allow them to work at it for the reward, or just say fuck all and keep the adventure going.

After about half an hour, they solve it they did, to the tune of 300 well-deserved XP.

Inside they found what I described as the poor-pharaoh's tomb; a sarcophagus surrounded by a treasure trove with more similarities to a yard-sale than treasure; wooden masks, primitive weapons, clay jars and tablets, tattered rugs, etc. Sardis's nigh-30 Arcana check allowed him to notice an enchanted bone dagger with a scorpion spirit bound to it (+1 poisoned dagger). Once Maximus picked it up however, a skeleton composed of numerous different creatures (bone golem) animated and attacked them, along with a sand golem hidden in the sarcophagus that Jiga easily spotted (and denying me a surprise attack, boo).

After a fairly quick fight, they found a hidden passage behind the sarcophagus. Taking the right passage first, they discovering a cluttered bed chamber with a glass shard that contained a faint glimmer of intelligence, but at least had the capacity to store magic (obsidian spellshard). The final tunnel lead to one-part arcane lab and one-part operating room, complete with the dead body of a dragonborn. Once they approached it, the dragonborn's ghost appeared and started hurling shadowy bolts. They beat it down easily enough (especially considering that the obsidian spellshard granted necrotic resistance), causing it to take refuge in its corpse which animated as a zombie until they destroyed it, forcing the ghost to reappear for a final showdown.

I gotta say that I am so glad that I read Ghost Story before running this fight, as Jim Butcher provided some great description on ghosts becoming damaged and destroyed. Anyway, once the ghost was destroyed they relived its final memories, in which the dragonborn informed a genasi with festering green markings of the location of something in the Giant's Rib Mountains, before promptly being murdered. Unfortunately we stopped here, but at least the characters are now privvy to something larger afoot. Hopefully all this talk of a lost city will usher them in the right direction once they get their asses out of Balic.

Bladesinger Review

I have had the chance to take an in-depth look at the bladesinger, as well as get some player feedback from my group's optimizer (who also got to see it in play on a Virtual Table game), and our consensus is that the class is fucking awesome. The fighter/wizard--aka character that could stab things, cast spells, and be effective--was a pretty difficult concept to realize with either multiclassing (even with 4th Edition) or hybrid builds. I suppose with enough work you could get something functional, but the bladesinger makes it a very easy and straightforward process, delivering an arcane controller that is both effective and unique.

Here is a rundown of each class feature the class gets, along with the sorcerous sword paragon path.

Level 1: Bladesinger Features
Instinctive Attack and Blade Magic all combine to avoid multiple ability and implement dependency allowing you to rely largely on Intelligence and a one-handed heavy blade for attacks and spellcasting. Guarded Flourish lets you get away with casting spells in melee without getting the shit smacked out of you, in addition to giving you a shield bonus with a free hand and light armor (giving you a starting AC on par with greatweapon fighters).

Level 1: Bladesong
This encounter power gives you two turns of insanely souped-up awesomeness; you get a bonus to defenses, attacks, and damage...for starters. At higher levels you can make basic melee attacks as an opportunity action when hit, shift your speed as a move action, and use bladespells even if you miss while its up. The only (understandable) drawback is that you never gain the ability to use it more than once per encounter.

Level 1: Bladespells
There are six in total, but you only get three. The way these work is that if you hit an enemy with a basic melee attack you can followup with one of these. These is no action necessary (meaning you can use it while dazed), but can only use one once per round--so no burning action points to toss a bunch of these out.

  • Dancing Fire: Fire damage and causes the creature to grant combat advantage for a turn.
  • Dazzling Sunray: Radiant damage and an attack penalty for a turn.
  • Frost Bite: Cold damage and slow for a turn.
  • Lightning Damage: Lightning damage, and if the creature moves it takes the damage again.
  • Shadow Sever: Necrotic damage and the creature is knocked prone.
  • Unseen Hand: Force damage and slide 3.
Somewhat related, you also get magic missile for free, giving you something to do in case you get a basic ranged from someone, or just want to auto-kill a minion insanely far away.

Level 1: Bladesinger Cantrips
This is basically the same selection that the wizard gets; you pick three out of five from ghost sound, light, mage hand, prestidigitation, and suggestion.

Level 3: Arcane Strike
When you use a daily bladesinger attack you get to make a single basic melee attack as a minor action. Nice way to combo up a bunch of damage and conditions without having to resort to action points.

Level 7: Steely Retort
When an adjacent enemy hits you while bladesong is going, you can make a basic melee attack as an opportunity action (meaning you could benefit from this multiple times).

Level 13: Unerring Bladespell
If you miss with a basic melee attack while bladesong is up, you can use a bladespell anyway. Yeah it is a limited window, but every bit helps.

Level 23: Bladespell Burst
Once per day when you use a bladespell against an adjacent enemy, you can use it against each adjacent enemy. I am really glad this is a daily, because it makes it much easier to apply it where needed.

Bladesinger Daily Powers
I am not going to go into thorough detail on each spells at each level, but suffice to say you have a spellbook like a wizard, but you treat a wizard's encounter attacks as daily spells (utilities work as normal). This means that at 1st-level you pick two encounter attacks, prepare one after each extended rest, and use it once per day. The only exception is a level 20 paragon path feature that lets you add an actual daily to your repertoire.  In addition to being able to essentially double-tap monsters each round, these provide an additional layer of control.

Sorcerous Sword Paragon Path

Level 11: Choir of Swords
While bladesong is active, you can burn an action point to attack each adjacent enemy with basic melee attacks. This is not as bad as it seems, because you can always trigger bladesong while surrounded in order to benefit from it (along with Bladespell Burst if you want).


Level 11: Boon Spell
You get a new attack spell of 7th-level or lower, and can prepare another spell of any level you can normally prepare (but not the same one twice, which sucks). Hey, free spell.


Level 12: Bladesong Ballet
While bladesong is active, you can shift your speed as a move action. Being linked to bladesong means that at best you will get two rounds of insane mobility.


Level 20: Signature Spell
You can finally prepare a real wizard daily spell, of 19th-level no less. Very nice.
August 12, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Skills in D&D

My response was "somewhere in the middle", because it seems like a good part of what Mike Mearls is musing about already exists in the game--just written in a different way and/or in a different spot--and the other stuff seems fairly situational (likely making it harder to remember, especially if you get a lot of "talents"). I do like the idea of making it more explicit as to what abilities can do; 4th Edition kind of glosses over them and sticks to direct benefits, such as telling you what defense or skill(s) it affects as opposed to giving a broader explanation.

As it stands you can play Dungeons & Dragons without skills at all and just default to ability scores (for example instead of Athletics, just use Strength), and characters can already at least try any skill application except for detect magic (Arcana) or reduce falling damage (Acrobatics). Aside from that being trained in a skill just drastically increases the odds that you will succeed. With the proposed system you still get small bonuses, but you also get some sort of passive benefit.

I like the concept that Mearls is going for. Groups that want a skill-less game can do so, while groups that want skills can choose their complexity (skills as bonuses, skills with benefits, etc). Even better groups can dial the complexity up and down as they want without having to switch between editions. The problem is that groups can already do something very similar with relative ease by removing skills from the game (modifying DCs, of course), sticking with skills, or using skill powers.

My final verdict would depend on whatever edition of the game this ruleset is actually intended for; in 4th Edition I would not like it because players already have to deal with a lot on their plate, and adding skill talents to feats and powers would just bog down things even further. I recall something similar near the end of 3rd Edition, though I never used it and I do not think it was particularly popular. In a theoretical 5th Edition though, who knows?
August 10, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

GenCon 2011 Summary

Here is some stuff that I managed to cull from forums that have been heard at GenCon that was not already dropped elsewhere:

Dragon Content

  • September and October: Oriental-flavored articles. Specifics mentioned were oriental themes, a ninja-assassin and kanji runepriest build, and an optional honor system in Unearthed Arcana.
  • November and December: Support for Heroes of the Feywild. Specifics were fey themes, an article on the Moonshaes, an adventure with Baba Yaga's dancing hut, and an Unearthed Arcana article on arcane duels.
  • January and February: More Forgotten Realms stuff, such as Cormyr, Channel Divinity articles on Forgotten Realms deities, elemental themes, and monsters from Fiend Folio.

Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium

  • Older items are supposed to be tagged as per the rarity system.
  • No new rituals.

Madness at Gardmore Abbey

  • Many encounters are purported to have non-combat options, and it is supposed to have sandbox elements. It was also mentioned that they are moving away from linear adventures. 

Heroes of the Feywild

  • Wandering skald, an Essentials-style bard build.
  • New druid build.
  • Barbarian build that is both a defender and a striker; you start out in defender mode, but when you rage transition to striker.
  • Character themes mentioned were agent of the unseelie fey and fey lord, the latter of which gives you a permanent companion character.
  • Races mention were dryad, satyr, and pixie (which can fly at 1st-level).
  • Supported with D&D Encounters season Beyond the Crystal Cave (supposed to have lots of social roleplaying) and Fortune Card set Fury of the Feywild.

Power of the Plane Below

  • Essentials sorcerer build.
  • Shaiir build.
  • Supported by D&D Encounters season Elder Elemental Eye (focus on exploration) and Fortune Card set Spiral of Tharizdun.

Miscellaneous

  • September's Lair Assault is called Forge of the Dawn Titan. The DM will have a menu of monsters to choose from, and it is supposed to be highly adversarial. The next adventure is pirate themed, and in the third you defend and island from dinosaurs.
  • Lords of Waterdeep boardgame in March, which will involve sending adventurers on quests to try and rule the city.
  • New Dungeon Tiles sets: Shadowgast Manor (haunted house theme) and Cathedral of Chaos (with diagonal corridors).
  • A new map pack product was announced, and will be priced the same as Dungeon Tiles.
  • Book of Vile Darkness is supposed to "allow" for evil campaigns, but not be as "bad" as the 3rd Edition one.
  • In April there will be an Undermountain dungeon crawl adventure with 80 encounter areas, a dungeon generator, plot hooks, and a big-ass poster map.
  • The seeker was mentioned as not being played very much at all, so they are thinking of changing it up to make it better. 
  • Pdf book releases are being considered (working on pricing).
  • Eberron themes planned.
  • Themed minis sets will be announced next year, along with a minis boardgame that uses them.
August 06, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Neverwinter Game Day Report

Gates of Neverdeath is a two-encounter, potentially two-skill challenge mini-adventure ran as part of Neverwinter Game Day. As best I can figure the event is a way for players to pick up some cheap swag--promo Fortune Cards, theme card, map, etc--and roll up the characters that they actually want to play in the upcoming D&D Encounters season, Lost Crown of Neverwinter, instead of having to largely rely on pregens. Oddly everyone at my table ended up using pregens, even the players that initially already had characters.


The adventure starts out with the characters being hired to protect a woman named Seldra as she travels from Waterdeep to Neverwinter via ship, to the tune of 300 gp and free passage. The only catch is that they need to keep her mysterious box from getting stolen...which happens as soon as the ship docks in Neverwinter: while the players are distracting trying to fight off skeletons, zombies, and a Thayan archer with an ability that literally takes Selda out of the fight as an effect, a necromancer named Tolivast teleports in, nabs it, and legs it.

One of the players tried to throw a monkey wrench into the adventure's script by trying to chase the necromancer through the city, but the archer just kept shooting her until she ran back in order to get healed by the warlord. Another potential problem could have been the cavalier using his shielding ability to take a hit for Seldra, so if you happen to read this before running and have a cavalier I would try beating the shit out of her with zombies until the power gets used. I really think the whole thing could have been handled more elegantly (such as by making Seldra a minion or something, but whatever).

The skill challenge went well because I did not tell them that they were "in" one. I just had the guards talk to them and allowed them to question the captured archer, having them make skill checks until they reached a logical point where they could move on. They actually managed to pass the harder skill checks, picking up the trail of necrotic energy and beating information out of the archer, surprising Tolivast in Neverdeath graveyard just as he wrapped up his fell ritual.

This last battle was fucking hard. Beset from all sides by ash zombies and gravehounds, things just got worse when Tolivast cluster-fucked them with grasping claws from below, a power that I had been giving to my necromantically inclined villains since 4th Edition was released. Since the warlord went down pretty quick I threw them a bone by having Tolivast and his gravehounds bunch of next to the cavalier, making them ideal targets for the hunter's rapid shot exploit and the mage's fountain of flame spell. Despite handicapping myself, by the encounter's end almost everyone's hit points were in the single digits (except for the mage, who had one).

At that point people needed to leave, so we skipped the last skill challenge and wrapped things up by having Seldra limp into the graveyard, give them their money, and leave. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and a few of the players are planning on coming back regularly for Encounters, so hopefully I will see them next week. Despite the Thayan archer's "railroad" power I liked the adventure, and might use it for a side-game along with Lost Crown of Neverwinter for a foundation to a larger, long term Neverwinter campaign.

Neverwinter Campaign Setting Review

Do not worry: that dracolich is
only a Heroic-tier threat.
Neverwinter Campaign Setting is a 222-page hardcover that takes a close look at Neverwinter--which I guess is one of the more noteworthy regions in the Forgotten Realms--providing you with a heap of information with a focus on Heroic-tier campaigns.

Before I get into the chapter-by-chapter overview, I want to open up by (re)stating that I stopped being a fan of Forgotten Realms well before the god/goddess of magic was killed for the umpteen-millionth time in order to lay the chaotic foundation for 4th Edition's iteration; basically I felt that there was too much damned history and supplements to muck through, in order to find a small plot of land that did not already have its own three-part book series. Sure, Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide fixed a lot of these problems by blowing the place up and advancing the timeline by a century, but by then I had already moved on to Eberron/my own homebrew words.

With that being said I actually kind of dig this book. While it features all the stuff that I griped about in previous editions--extensive information on Neverwinter, the surrounding regions, and factions actively pursuing their own goals--the information provided and the way it is delivered makes it more conducive to planning adventures and campaigns. It is smaller than Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, which along with its tight focus probably makes it less intimidating for new DMs, DMs new to the Realms, or DMs like me that just did not like all the historical baggage. With that out of the way, here's what you can expect from the book at a glance:

  • Chapter 1: Jewel of the North glosses over Neverwinter and the surrounding locales such as Neverwinter Wood, the Dread Ring, and Old Owl Well (along with a map), a two page history of Neverwinter, and tips and tropes on running a campaign in Neverwinter (or just using the book in general).
  • Chapter 2: Character Options features a ton of flexible content: themes, racial variants, warpriest domains, and the bladesinger class. Even though a lot of the flavor material is tailored for Forgotten Realms, all of it could be easily be ported out for Eberron, Dark Sun, or homebrews (yeah, even the spellscarred harbinger). I will go into more detail on this stuff in a bit, because I know people looove crunchy content.
  • Chapter 3: Factions and Foes details the various factions--such as the Abolethic Sovereingty and Thay--that players can interact with. I like this chapter because it makes it very easy to assess what the faction is all about, and build adventures around them without having to do a lot of research or deal with a lot of history. Even better, each faction has a section where it tells you where they stand with other factions and provides tie-ins for character themes, which makes it easier to work character backgrounds in. Oh yeah, and some factions have ways of granting characters powers in a similar vein to divine boons.
  • Chapter 4: Gazetter is the last and longest chapter it is similar to Chapter 3, except that it takes a closer look at six areas in the Neverwinter region, providing you with sample adventure sites, more adventure hooks, tips on using different sites (or what might happen depending on how the characters deal with the inhabitants, such as taking out the mythallar in Kolthunral), more theme tie-ins, advice on leveling/de-leveling threats (including adding some traits to an ogre to get a level-appropriate fire giant), monsters (more nothics and werewolves, a heroic-tier grell, illithid, elder brain, and more), monster themes, sample encounter tables, and more. A very meaty, very useful chapter. 

I hear these guys are big names in the Realms.
Before I go into more depth on the crunchy content, I want to say that if you are a Forgotten Realms fan I would definitely pick it up. If not, depending on your reasons you might still like it; if you do not like the tone and feel of the setting, this is not likely to change anything, and the same goes if you did not like it being "blown up". Otherwise, give it a flip through and see if anything grabs you (especially if you do not have/cannot get DDI and want more crunch).

I really like the way the information is laid out and dispensed, and think that not only should Wizards of the Coast make similar books for Eberron, Dark Sun, and the implied setting, but that they could get away with making several books for each setting. It is kind of like a middle-ground between a full-blown campaign setting and an adventure path; a lot of the foundation is done for you, but it is not so expansive as to overwhelm you.

Themes
Themes in this book also come with backgrounds, allowing you to gain a bonus or other background benefit along with theme benefits if you want. There is some advice on themes during character creation, how different themes might interact those other party members choose, and making fun choices. All in all, some pretty staple social role-playing advice. Of the thirteen themes I am going to mention the Dead Rat deserter and devil's pawn, because of the vocal minority bitching about the lack of a vampire theme and my preference of the warlock's infernal pact respectively.

The deserter starts out being able to change into a Tiny rat whenever she wants, gains a bonus to Bluff and Stealth at level 5, and an at-will bite at level 10. The three utilities include an encounter that lets you hiss when you score a critical hit, imposing an attack penalty for a turn, a daily that gives you an encounter-long skill bonus to Stealth and lets you reroll in exchange for losing the bonus, and another daily that gives you an initiative bonus as well as standing up or moving your speed. While I like it, I cannot see a all the benefits of the vampire class being shoehorned into this and still evoking the same feel. As a side note, the pack outcast is a similar theme that lets you have werewolf stuff instead of wererat.

The devil's pawn starts out by giving you an encounter minor-action attack that creates a zone that deals automatic fire damage and imposes a penalty to both attacks and defenses. The only downside is that it targets creatures. The level 5 benefit is just a Diplomacy bonus against devils and creatures that consort with them, but if you are playing in Neverwinter those odds can go up quite a bit. At level 10 you get fire resistance or a bonus if you already have it. The utilities are all dailies, and let you deal automatic fire damage against a creature that hits you (similar to infernal wrath), enter a stance that gives you a Stealth and fire resistance bonus (as well as damage bonus if you are an infernal wrath warlock), and turn into a devil for a turn with an AC bonus, fly speed, and more fire resistance. The drawback is that you have to attack or take damage. The upside is that you can sustain the form, and if you are an infernal warlock gain temporary hit points each time you do.

Racial Variants
There are only dwarves, eladrin, and elves, so no ghostwise halflings or odd-gnomes-out. As seen in a preview, these just let you swap out some racial traits with others, which while not overpowered might upset people who did not like having subraces serve as just another means for optimization. Since dwarves were covered before, I'll just mention some stuff on eladrin:

  • Moon elves--aka eladrin--can swap their skill bonuses to Insight and Streetwise, and also replace Eladrin Education for bow proficiencies.
  • Sun elves--again, eladrin--can change their skills to Bluff and Insight, swap Eladrin Weapon Proficiency for all the basic wizard implements, and also lose Eladrin Education for bows.
Warpriest Domains
There are four new domains--Corellon, Oghma, Selune, and Torm--each with their own set of at-wills, utilities, prayers, and class features. I am not about to type out the benefits of even one in its entirety, but I will give a small preview of Selune at 1st-level:

  • You gain necrotic and radiant resistance.
  • Blessing of light is Wisdom vs. AC at-will that deals weapon plus Wisdom modifier radiant damage, and deals radiant damage if the target hits you or any ally before the end of your next turn.
  • Brand of the moon is similar in terms of attack and damage, but deals cold and radiant as well as granting you and all allies a saving throw bonus.
  • Moon weapon is a daily utility that cause a weapon to shed light, act as a silvered weapon, and deal radiant damage for an encounter.
  • Illuminating blow is a level 1 encounter attack that deals 2[W] radiant damage and grants you or an ally a damage bonus for a turn.
  • Life and light is a channel divinity power that grants you and all allies necrotic resistance, and enemies radiant vulnerability. A nice followup for all the radiant damage you can deal.
Bladesinger

I will go into this class in more detail in another post, but for now I'll post up the two Heroic-tier class features: Arcane Strike (level 3) lets you make a basic melee attack as a minor action after using a daily power, while Steely Retort (level 7) lets you make a basic melee attack as an opportunity action when an adjacent enemy hits you while bladesong is active.

But feel free to mull over the
paragon tier table until then.
August 04, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

August and Beyond

Only one month down the road?

Despite my vehement apathy towards Forgotten Realms, I am ironically kind of looking forward to Neverwinter Campaign Setting, as I could see myself doing a short heroic tier campaign arc there depending on how accessible it is. I find it interesting that while the red wizard theme is intended for mages, the level 5 feature could be easily houseruled to apply to specific spells that the DM and player agree on, or even spells with a certain keyword (effectively mimicking what it already does). The rest of the stuff just swaps out Apprentice Mage and Expert Mage features, so it is not like they lose anything, there. If nothing else there is always the bladesinger class, which if replaced with swordmage is my attitude towards Forgotten Realms Player's Guide.

Though Madness at Gardmore Abbey looks fun--especially considering how it is centered around the Deck of Many Things--my weekday group is not normally up for starting mid-tier for short-term adventure arcs, so this might be something I run with my weekend group, but will probably end up collecting dust next to Tomb of Horrors. Of course I recently tried running Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, so maybe in five years I'll get around to it.

Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium is the leading contender for Product I Am Mostly Likely To Actually Use. More magic items are always nice, I suppose, but this book purports to add more superior weapons, mundane gear, henchmen, hirelings, and cursed items, the last of which most of this preview is actually devoted to. Cursed items function normally until the curse is triggered, can have the curse removed by fulfilling some sort of requirement, or can be disenchanted for half price. I do not really like being able to make a simple Arcana check to strip a curse, but could see a ritual being used to fix it (though I prefer the quest/task method).

August 01, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

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