Archive for January 2012

A Sundered World: The Feywild

Seeing as how in my improv session my players ended up on the moon (or back, in the case of Lothelle), I guess I should flesh it out some more. This is how things have been going for my latest campaigns: I have a vague idea of what is going on, get the dirt on the characters, and start weaving a story based on a combination of what they tell me I want to do and what I want to do with it.

Kind of reminds me of my high school days, when a bunch of friends and I would be crashing at someone's house, and someone would be like, "I have an idea, roll up some characters!" In a sense it is liberating because I do not have to think of an involved plot right away, but it is also frightening because I worry that my spontaneous ideas and direction will fall flat. If my college habits are an indicator of anything, I guess that it is I tend to work well under pressure.

So...the moon.

During the Sundering the archfey implored the spirit of the moon to save them. It agreed to help, and the archfey used their magic to "unravel" the Feywild from the natural world before too much of it was destroyed, and then "wove" the planar fabric to the moon. So the moon is a vast, gray waste spotted with thick forests, frozen mountains, and wild rivers. The Unraveling and Weaving were not perfect, so the orientation of fey cities and regions are not where they were (not that time and space had much meaning). Some things were also badly ravaged, so forests of spindly white, tree-like shapes and pools of silvery fluid are not uncommon.

The courts still wage their political wars, and the Winter Court's efforts hinder Summer's attempts to spread life across the moon. Due to limited space and resources (and sometimes ideologies), tribes of were-creatures and centaurs clash with the eladrin. The werewolves of Brokenstone Vale are especially violent, believing the moon to be their patron god and that it rightfully belongs to them.

To make matters worse not only did the Feydark get carried along for the ride, but it was also not put back in the right spot, so there is now a region of the moon riddled with jagged mountains and fissures that descend into the Feydark (not sure whether I will call this the dark lands, shadowlands, or something else). Mithrendain is a temporary fixture here, much as it was before, and helps prevent fomorian armies and clans of rampaging lycanthropes from spreading. The Feydark is a hollow space within the moon that is slowly growing as the fomorians expand, which has the side effect of damaging the moon's spirit.

Reaching the Feywild can be done if one manages to spot the moon as it swiftly orbits the Elemental Chaos, though its path carries it through both the Inner Sea and the dark reaches beyond, so the best bet is to find a fey city within the Astral that has a gate.
January 28, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

5th Edition: Jack is Back

First things first, I got a shout out, made even cooler by the fact that I did not actively do anything to get it. While I had been aware of the RPG Carnival, seeing it here and there, though I am going to make a greater effort to follow it (as well as get featured).

Anywhoo according to the transcript from the Class Design seminar wizards are, at least currently, like 3rd Edition wizards near the end-run; they rely heavily on "Vancian" magic, but can take spell feats that give them at-wills, which remind me largely of Reserve feats from Complete Mage. While I am not a fan of daily resource management, at least rituals seem to still be intact. Rituals are great because it allows me to drop scrolls in adventures that anyone could use (which I did in the first A Sundered World session), as well as provide some flexibility to anyone that wanted to invest a feat.

One upside is that there is supposed to be a kind of "trade-in" mechanic, though I am not sure if it will allow wizards to cash in lower level spells for a higher one on the fly or as they level up. I know that somewhere it was said that fireball would deal a set 5d6 damage, and if you want to make it better you would slot it into a higher level. I like this idea because it would help greatly reduce the "power bloat". Some 4E powers did this, but not all, and I think that would allow a player to keep an iconic ability around without having to find another that works "close enough".

At least Bruce is on record for saying that they want classes to feel and play differently. In 3rd Edition wizards and sorcerers were too similar, what with sharing the same spell list. Though they tried to play up the bloodline angle later on with feat trees, it was not enough to diversify them. I feel that even 4th Edition did not go far enough, and I found it very difficult to properly evoke some sorcerer spell sources (especially dragon, which was the concept I theoretically should have enjoyed the most).

January 27, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Episode 101

After a brief foray In Search of the Unknown, we decided to start running A Sundered World a few players short. Initially intended to be a delve run, it ended up turning into the "pilot" episode. What happened was entirely improvised, and it was a lot of fun.


  • Danh (goliath serpent shaman)
  • Lothelle (eladrin bladesinger)

Lothelle travels from the moon in search of something that could help her defeat the fomorians. She ends up hopping a few gates to Hammerfast, and learns that while cold iron is highly effective against magic, it is only found in the bones of corpse stars. That, and it is extremely lethal to fey (ie, her). She heads to the archive, where a mimir informs her of a ruined eladrin city several days away. While not exactly unknown, it is the best lead she has so far.

At the same time, Danh arrives on an Ironhand vessel bringing in a shipment of metal from Thunderspire. He is searching for fragments of the World Serpent's spirit form, and so is traveling to as many islands as possible. He also learns about the ruins, and figures that hey, if the fey lived there then he might learn something. They both team up to split the charter fee and, well, safety in numbers.

They arrive at the island after avoiding a psychic storm and bladeling warship. As they explore the island they find the rusted remains of an insect-like golem, and are attacked by twig blights while examining it. After destroying the twig blights a treant helps them find the ruined city. Danh tries to communicate with nearby spirits, but find that the entire area around the ruins is completely devoid of them.

In the rubble they find another golem, which activates and attacks them while they try to find a way through a door. Unable to harm the construct, Lothelle teleports through the door thanks to a tiny hole in the center, and opens it from the other side. The machine almost kills Danh with powerful blasts of lightning, and they barely manage to get the door closed, trapping them inside an ancient laboratory.

They find a pair of trees, which Danh realizes only grow in moonlight. Both trees house weakened spirit-forms, who are barely able to speak. The machine starts wearing down the door's wards, and Lothelle finds a ritual that opens a portal using the trees as a kind of frame. They search for ritual components, and find an enchanted robe with a silver key inside. The key is a focus for the ritual, but still needs energy to activate. The spirit-forms sacrifice themselves to activate the ritual, begging Danh to "stop them" as the trees crumble into dust.

The session ended with the characters stranded in an unknown wasteland on the moon.

The combat against the twig blights was ran without minis, and was very easy to handle even with the conditions and forced movement. I will probably not use minis for inconsequential encounters in the future, especially because not having to take the time to draw a map helps prevent the tension from ebbing.

Kiara, playing Lothelle, kept burning through her daily spells to restore the wards on the door, buying them additional time. I just had her make Arcana checks with a big bonus to secretly see how many extra minutes they got to ransack the place. It was an improvised way for her to use her magic not explicitly by the rules, and hopefully it will compel her to try doing it more in the future.

Again everything was made up on the spot, including the twig blights' stats, the robe's abilities, the key, ritual scroll, "moon trees", everything. I also had them roll for loot while searching the lab. Basically I was like fuck formulas, fuck existing magic items. I'm going to have them roll for shit and just see what happens.
January 24, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Back to Basics

In light of a looming edition, others are giving older editions a shot, so I figured I might as well subject mine to them as well. Partially because I wanted to see if there really was anything about them that I actually liked, partially because the only edition that some had played before was 3rd. So scraping from the bottom barrel, we started with OD&D, including the adventure In Search of the Unknown.

They managed to get through the first hall, swing a left, and run into an auditorium where they were gang-raped by six kobolds. The game ran roughly a half hour, and most of that was me rummaging through pdfs trying to figure out descriptions and rules (I guess I had heard that doors had a variable chance of being stuck or some shit).

Ultimately, their final opinion was that they "fucking hated it", though I found elements of the play style to have some positive aspects. Let me break it down.

The Bad
My complaints have largely not changed in execution: the classes are very cookie-cutter and "samey", and the premise of going through bizarre dungeons to loot the place for gold because it somehow gives you XP seems very "video-gamey". The rules were not really complete, and I found myself having to keep a copy of Swords & Wizardry on hand to compare and contrast rulings. Basically, it was a fucking hassle and I felt like that I could have done a much better job if I had just made up rules the game myself (which for all I knew I was).

The players were likewise displeased that their characters had changed from competent heroes to paranoid murder-hobos. When you are able to take a few hits before going down, the game is not as swingy; you can get hit by something and usually have a chance to react to it, as opposed to instantly dying. With the characters having between 2-3 hit points each, the odds were better than half that they were going to die in one hit (and almost certainly the first encounter).

The other downside was the rolled attributes. Having complete control of your character, being able to play what you want and how you want is appealing. Personally I would rather use the Gamma World system (rolling for not directly-important stats), or at least have rolled stats be an option rather than the standard.

The Good
For the first time since I ran D&D, one of the players used a mirror to peek around corners. He also used a 10-foot pole, a practice which largely well out of use at some point in 3rd Edition. I think it was more of a nostalgic kick than anything. The player didn't particularly care for it, stating that he only did it because he was afraid of getting randomly killed by...well, anything. To be fair that mind-set made things seem more immersive, I guess, as I would imagine people going to plunder their first trap- and monster-infested tomb being pretty damned paranoid.

The other perk was how quickly combat could start; you just roll a d6, highest goes first. Since everyone can really only make what amounts to a "basic melee attack" it is more of a factor of if the monster you want to hit is within hitting range. They largely did not care for this, as they felt it stripped away any variety and tactical decisions that could tip the odds in their favor; getting bonuses to hit, keeping the kobolds away from the magic-user, etc.

Something that was kind of a plus was the kind of a lack of minis. With no real tactical decisions to be made, terrain to be utilized, or opportunity attacks I could basically just describe the room, let them tell me what they want to do, and have them roll. The real plus was that if a monster popped in the room there was no delay between rolling initiative and setting things up, which in practice kind of drains the suspense.

Would I Play Again?
Heeell no. Not enough variety when making a character, not a lot of note in in terms of advancement. In its favor the lack of hit points helps lay on the paranoia really thick, but honestly I want players to make characters with backgrounds and personalities and go through a story. While I could tack on houserules to make it easier for them to survive, the end result would look more like 3rd Edition without feats, at which point I might as well be playing at least 2nd Edition. Hell, why cannot they re-release 2nd Edition instead of 1st?

Anyway, next week we are going to give 1st Edition and Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun a run. They will be 5th-level, so we'll see if we can eke out another 10 minutes of game time with this one. :-P
January 23, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Inspiring Images

While re-playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow last night, I reached Necromancer's Abyss. Simply put, this level is awesome. Actually a lot of the stuff in this game is awesome, but the floating rocks and drifting pieces of broken titans was inspiring. It could give me something to show my players to give them a better feel for what things looked like, as well as help describe things.

And then there is also stuff from Magic: The Gathering.

January 22, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: +1 or Better to Hit?

Robert Schwalb talks about the dated "+1 or better to hit" mechanic. This was something I saw in 2nd Edition, might have been in 1st Edition, existed kind of in 3rd Edition, and surprise sur-fucking-prise...I hated it.

On one hand, having a monster that can only be harmed by magic sounds like it could make for some interesting challenges. If the fighter lacks a magic sword, or his plus is not big enough, then it is up to the wizard or cleric to save the day (which given how fighters do not scale sounds less interesting and more like foreshadowing)! On the other hand having a monster that can only be harmed by magic sounds really fucking frustrating.

The thing is, some monsters in older editions used to be immune to all damage from non-magical weapons, meaning that you needed a +1 or better weapon to hurt them. What if you group does not have a wizard or cleric? What if the wizard or cleric died or ran out of spells on the way? What if the cleric or wizard used up their offensive spells, or even the utilitarian ones that could just lock them down via save-or-screw? What was even lamer was that if the monster needed a +2, but you only had a +1? Fuck you. No benefit, period.

3rd Edition made things a bit easier by making it so that a fighter could hammer away at a golem, but you have to shave away damage from each attack to the tune of like, 20+ points of damage. The problem was that, oh yeah, fighters do not scale, so that basically meant that you were not going to do shit. Yeah, the wizard or cleric could buff you (and to be fair against golems they basically had to given the magic immunity), but in cases not involving golems it was probably better to just attack it with spells that A) were not affected by resistances, and B) scaled.

Revised Edition made things much, much better. Fey required cold iron to overcome, lycanthropes required silver, skeletons took full damage only from blunt weapons, zombies from slashing, and all the plusses were simply rolled into "magic". Oh yeah, and the amount was dropped into the 5-30 range (as opposed to topping out around 50 or more). So it sucked for the melee classes, who were already floundering in it, but did not render them obsolete.

That is basically how I would like it: make it have an impact, but not so much impact that classes have to pack it in and go home. Earth elementals I guess could be resistant to non-magical weapons, but do not make it so that the fighters just shrug and watch the spellcasters win the game. On a similar note, I don't want to see monsters outright immune to magic, or even item-eating monsters. I guess, ultimately, one could include both systems. Use damage resistance with an option for a DM to flip it to damage immunity or just ignore it.
January 19, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Acamar, The Corpse Star

In a Sundered World most of the aberrant stars drift in the Deep Astral, having escaped the Far Realm since the Living Gate was destroyed. Where they go they herald destruction and insanity, warping reality and birthing nightmarish horrors that can strip one's sanity with a mere glance. Though many were destroyed before, during, and even after the Dawn War their shattered corpses are still dangerous; aberrants cling to them like parasites, and deranged cultists flock to them in hopes of rousing any lingering vestiges of intelligence or finding some way to restore them to what passes for life.

Since I plan on having my players go here at some point, I don't want to reveal too much about the corpse star Acamar. Suffice to say, it is hollow, surrounded by a ring of debris from when it was slain, and has a massive city constructed on part of it:

Oh yeah, astral sharks.
January 17, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

5th Edition Musings: Playing With Powers

Note: There is no official information about 5th Edition, here. This is merely some thoughts on the direction I would like to see WotC take. I guess think of it like me throwing ideas around to see if any stick (or if anyone else has a better idea).

Powers are a really nice 4th Edition addition, especially for classes previously that did not get many options, were rapidly eclipsed by spellcasters, and/or lacked the "scalability" to remain viable for more than a handful of levels (coughfightercough). It was nice being able to make a fighter, rogue, or ranger and have interesting things to do that helped separate you thematically and mechanically from each other instead of spamming a routine melee attack over and over. My problem with the power system was that for all the powers that exist, there are still occasions where I cannot create the character I want without having to invent my own powers. This is fine for me and mine, but I know that groups that only allow "official" content (and not even all of it) are legion.

What would really fix this whole power bloat issue, while helping ensure that players still get what they want, would be for WotC to just give us a formula or system that would help us create our own content. Like, recommended damage, conditions, ranges, effects, etc. It could be a point system, where you just buy everything with a power budget based on the level and power frequency. Keywords could be used to restrict effects based on power source, so that martial cannot get their grubby hands on teleportation. Also, a shitload of examples with components would be handy (and allow for drag-and-dropping other elements) would be handy.

They could also try moving away from the power system as-is. I would not mind seeing something along the vein of Essentials, where martial characters can choose effects or kickers that they could add to their attacks like power strike. They could adopt a power-point like system, so that martial characters utilize "stamina" or something to boost their attacks. This would make things more flexible and help avoid the whole "argument" of why you can't hit something really hard more than once (not that I paid any heed to the latter). While I wouldn't use it for every class, I could also see this being applied to wizards using a magic point system, and there could possibly be a mechanic for burning healing surges to give you a stamina/magic boost (kind of like 3rd Edition's Body Fuel feat).

Someone also suggested using pre-reqs for various powers, which sounds similar to how Exalted works. Some powers might require a combination of ability scores, so fighters would need a good Strength and Dexterity for heavy blade powers, or good Strength and Constitution for hammer and axe powers. Hell, you could just make a huge-ass list of martial exploits and let rogues snatch up exploits thematic for them, while allowing characters with good Intelligence or Charisma nab leader-like exploits. Want to take it a step further? Skill training could open up more stuff, or if you want skill ranks (whether numbers or descriptors).

What do you think?
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Thunderspire

One of my players wants to play a goliath shaman, while the other wants to try a human warlord channeling Malcolm Reynolds.While two leaders is not normally a problem, a shaman with a snake spirit that is also carrying a fragment of the World Serpent's shattered form and seeking to be joined with the other fragments is, especially when there really are not enough evocations around to emphasize the concept.

So...I let him whip up some new evocations that did.

  • Strangling Serpent: This is a nifty melee attack that originates from the spirit companion, which wraps around a target and makes it hard for them to properly defend themselves. In game mechanics the target grants combat advantage from the next attack made against it.
  • Snake Swarm: A swarm of spirit snakes writhe and bite enemies within an area 1 burst. It is friendly-fire, does not do a lot of poison damage (Wisdom modifier-only), but gives allies a power bonus to damage rolls against them.
  • Tail Sweep: The player likes the idea of the snake being able to trip someone up, so this encounter attack deals damage, knocks the target prone, and for a turn any enemies that start next to the spirit are immobilized. More of a controller-type thing, but he wanted some of these powers to be kind of controller-y anyway.
  • Spirit Cascade: This is his daily, and we wanted it to be a doozy. Basically the character calls upon his World Serpent fragment, causing it to manifest briefly and rushing through enemies, poisoning them. Enemies take poison damage and ongoing poison damage, while allies get a defense boost based on his Constitution. 

Are they balanced? Dunno. We used existing shaman and controller powers as benchmarks. The better question is if I give a shit, and I don't, because this is for a homebrew game and I want my players to be able to do shit that they expect their characters to do.

On the topic of inventing things we also created his "home base", as I had not considered the origins surrounding goliaths. Honestly I was hoping that people would play the more fantastical races like gith (zerai or yanki), bladelings, shardminds, and devas. I even wanted to reskin kalashtar to be humans infected with intelligences encountered from corpse stars or sailing along the edges of the Far Realm. What we came up with was this:

Welcome to Thunderspire. This island is presided over by a blue dragon, who permits a guild to mine the mountains in exchange for tribute. The island is also inhabited by a goliath tribe, and possibly orcs and ogres. I often needlessly fret over the ecology of this sort of thing, so I initially designed it to be quite large in order to support some manner of life. Ultimately it is not important. What is important is that Kamon's character hates the dragon for devouring his mother, and will ultimately go back to slay it and claim all the accumulated treasure.

Really the only problem I ran into was trying to justify the forests and rivers. Rivers I am going to say are either due to elemental vortices created during The Sundering, or are spirits (so are forests, mountains, some islands, etc). Astral stuff, I have decided, it is mutable through conscious effort, and how the gods crafted their dominions and how the gith create their silver swords. It can also be channeled into living things via worship, granting them power. So spirits need the prayer of mortals, as it causes astral-stuff to empower them, allowing them to perform miracles and thrive. Theoretically if enough mortals worshiped another mortal they could ascend to godhood given enough time, but they do not yet fully understand how the Astral works.
January 14, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

5th Edition Musings: From Concept to Character

Note: There is no official information about 5th Edition, here. This is merely some thoughts on the direction I would like to see WotC take.

With a new edition of D&D coming out, one of the things I am largely concerned about is what characters will ultimately end up looking like. While I am not worried that they will be reduced to the handful of cookie-cutter classes that were introduced in OD&D, I am legitimately worried that we will see character diversity and class flexibility shored up to be more inline with 3rd Edition's often rigid class structure.

I sometimes wonder if D&D should get rid of levels. On one hand, I like classes and levels because they make it very quick and easy for a player to figure out what the class is good at, as well as generally how tough they are. As a DM this makes things extremely easy to design and challenge my players. However, the level and class systems as executed lack the granularity of other games, namely Dresden Files and Exalted. As a player it makes it easier to figure out if my bonuses or whatever are average, good, or the best of the best.

To compare, in Dungeons & Dragons if you make a fighter, then you can wear heavy armor, use most weapons (and use them pretty fucking well), and are pretty damned tough. 4th Edition even went so far as to provide mechanics that made weapon categories matter more and give them a way to actually keep monsters from mauling her allies to death. In Exalted you do not have classes. You choose a caste, which basically just lets you know which things are easier to learn and improve. For example, the Dawn caste are your archetypal melee warriors, and can learn skills like Melee and War faster than castes.

The drawback as I see it is that it is more difficult to accurately peg challenges for your party, and probably even harder to make challenges in which everyone can meaningfully contribute. I ran into this problem in 3rd Edition when designing monsters; things that were hard for the warblade to hit were basically impossible for the cleric, bard, and rogue, and if I made stuff that they could hit about half the time, the warblade was basically guaranteed to fuck it up. Same with monster attacks and saves; the cleric and warblade's Will saves were so far apart that the warblade could not hope to make without rolling a nat 20.

The benefit is that if you want a fighter to have a knack for magic that you can have greater control over how much. In 4th Edition you could multiclass into wizard and pick up a spell--which makes more sense than spontanously blossoming into every cantrip and a bushel of 1st-level spells--or find some way to hybrid a fighter and wizard into a functional character (especially with an understanding DM). A system similar to Exalted would let you adjust the dial and probably very easily make a fighter/wizard that requires less houseruling and optimization just to "make work".

Even better, as your character advances you could advance the character in a direction that makes sense, picking up a bit more magic or improving her martial skills organically. Hell, you might even find yourself branching into something else entirely. Mind you, I do not want to return to 3rd Edition's wonky multiclassing that unfairly hinders spellcasting classes, but I think a more flexible system is in order. I don't want it to be FATE or Exalted, because then I might as well just play those games. Ideally I would like it to be some kind of modular class system where you could, I dunno, drag and drop a power source, role, and shuffle some other bits around to basically build your own class that best evokes a concept you have in mind.

Of course, I have no fucking clue how, or if, this system would work. I think that done properly we could avoid having classes like the swordmage, which by the way I am not knocking: I just think that it kind of sucks for people who want to play a fighter/wizard and have to end up waiting for WotC to invent a class that lets them do that from the start. That will be one of my barometers for 5E: can I play a fighter/wizard type at the start of the game, which having to fallback to houserules or stretch my character too thin.
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: The City by the Sun

As I mentioned in my draft post, during the Dawn War almost all of the gods and primordials destroyed each other, before the world was in turn destroyed. One of these gods was Pelor, and the remains of his body--a massive, brilliant sphere of divine energy--is now the location of a multi-tiered theological city that for now I am just calling Horizon (until a worse cliche or something actually inspiring hits me).

The primary purpose of this city so far is to largely serve as a home base for the campaign. It is seen as a light in the darkness, as a shield against evil forces such as the gith, rampant demons, disassociated angels, astral storms, and other hazards of the Astral Sea. This makes it ideal as a trading post where travelers from other cities visit to trade, re-supply, and even hire adventurers for voyages seeking lost dominions, remnants of the primordials, or realms from beyond the Astral's edge.

The priests worship his remains, which they can draw from to perform miracles, enchant items, and even attract the services of angels. They are interested in holy relics--whether magical or not--especially those tied to Pelor, giving adventurers an easy way to cash in art items and the like that they find while venturing in the Astral. Other organizations seek to use the energy as a weapon, absorb it to attain godhood, or restore Pelor to his former form.

Here is a rough, unfinished sketch.

January 11, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

5th Edition: Keepers, Wants, Don't Wants (Part 1?)

The D&D Next group is purportedly the place to be for the latest information (despite other sites already offering up more information), but is also home to almost thirty pages of comments consisting of things people want to see, don't want to see, and those oh so fucking tired MMO declarations still being made almost four years after 4th Edition was released (despite being made and disproved before the game was even launched). I figured I would pitch in my 2-cents here, where they can be immortalized in such a fashion as only the internet can instead of being drowned in the page count.

I will probably do another one of these as I think of them, though for now I think this is lengthy enough.

Racial ability score modifiers, but only the way 4th Edition did them. 
One commenter in his ignorance wants these to go away because by making a race slightly good at specific classes that it killed a promise of "any race, any class". Racial bonuses were not required to maintain the curve, making them attractive but not required; I have seen players try goliath bards and halfling fighters to great effect, so his claim of "of you want to play an illusionist have fun with a gnome" are very misleading. No, racial bonuses are fine, so long as they do not come with penalties, which was the real class-shoehorn.

Point buy should remain standard.
The only game that I have read recently that makes you roll for stats is Death Watch and Black Crusade, though Gamma World has you roll for stats that do not directly impact what your origins use for attacks. A player should not have to cross her fingers in the hopes that she can “finally get to play a paladin”. I find this particularly odd that old timers selectively espouse this, yet think it is find to not force players to roll their gender, race, skin/hair/eye color, and by extension a bunch of background events.

Fighters should have shit to do at all levels.
I do not want to go back to Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards. I do not care if in some fantasy media that magic is better; D&D is a game, not a novel or movie. I also do not want the Pathfinder solution where I need to spend feats on the “right” ones in order to deal bonus damage that frankly should have been packaged into the class. The class should provide you with the things you need, while feats should make you better at things/change the way they work.

Wizards should feel like wizards.
Except for the part where the game becomes Wizards & Those Other Guys. I like being able to cast spells all the time without being relegated to an ineffectual crossbow- or sling-wielding liability. At the same time I do not want wizards to have abilities that let them completely ignore hit points, skill resolution, or shape reality on a whim. Rituals were a big step in the right direction, though some refinement would be great. Again, I do not care what book series Gary cribbed the idea from, as D&D is a game and not a novel.

Variable resource management.
I like that 4th Edition classes had a variety of balanced ways to track resources. Initially every class had at-will, encounter, and daily powers, but eventually martial classes got classes with only at-will and encounter exploits. This was great for players that wanted to set their own degree of complexity, but what made it even better was that despite that they will still useful across all levels. I think that they could do something similar to power points, but call it stamina or mana for martial and arcane classes respectively.

NPC’s play by their own rules.
NPCs should not needlessly utilize the same mechanics as a player character, especially not stock monsters. Keep it simple. A blacksmith does not need to "have" blacksmithing just to justify that he can make swords. I mean, fuck, the only time I recall having some pointlessly complex NPCs was when 3rd Edition came out. I want to be able to come up with a monster’s stats on the fly, not pore over books for an hour or so methodically—and, again, needlessly—ensuring that all the formulas add up proper.

Every class should get some tangible improvement at each level.
I do not care if it is a feat, perk, talent, power, ability score boost, or whatever, but it needs to be more than just some hit points and/or skill points.

No save-or-die effects.
These arbitrarily up the difficulty level by largely removing skill from the game and turning your longevity into a crap-shoot. I do not care if in mythology looking at a cockatrice or medusa was an immediate death sentence as, again, D&D is a game. Neither I nor my players want to play a game where your character and her backstory are cast aside (regardless of what impact it has or might have had in the bigger picture) due to one shitty die roll. Am I saying that characters should be unkillable? No, even though people will claim that. What I am saying is that life or death should not hinge on one die roll regardless of circumstances.

Holy fucking shit, I like multiclassing almost exactly as is! I always felt it made no fucking sense how a fighter could clobber some orcs and then spontaneously master all cantrips, a shit load of 1st-level spells, and conjure up a familiar. Screw spending years studying in a tower, you can go from 0 to magic missile over the weekend. Apparently? No thanks. That makes no sense in context of the game, even if you go with the contrived "I have been studying another wizard" line.
In 4th Edition you burn a feat and get skill training and basically a feature of another class. It makes sooo much more sense for a fighter to pick up scorching burst over a weekend, especially usable only once per encounter. Makes a lot more sense, though I could go without having to spend feats to swap out encounter and dailies later on (which I do).

More elaborate rules on crafting. 
Particularly special materials and magic items. Older editions allowed you to have adamantine and cold iron weapons and armor, which could in turn could still be enchanted. Metals and materials should have inherent functions, and if possible there should be rules or guidelines on using parts from monsters in place of costs when making magic items. For example, a red dragon’s blood might be useful in making a flaming weapon.

More elaborate rules on minions.
I am a huge fan of summoners and necromancers, and would like "offiical" rules on being able to boss around my own minion(s), whether conjured or cobbled.

Skill challenges need a closer look.
I am not a fan of arbitrarily ending a skill challenge after a pre-set number of successes or failures. A chase and exploration skill challenge should end when appropriate in context for the narrative. Hell, for all I care there could be different methods depending on the type of skill challenge.

Even more flexible characters.
When it comes to making a character 4th Edition offers up the most flexibility while making it very difficult to fuck yourself over (I am looking at you, 3rd Edition multiclassing). I would like to make it easier to make functional hybrids, or fuck, just make classes as modular as possible, allowing a player to drag and drop class features to build almost precisely what you want. I guess, something like Exalted (though "not" Exalted), but also with archetype "loadouts" that tell you what you should pick in order to make a fighter, wizard, cleric, etc.

First and foremost, I do not want to “go back” to an earlier edition.
The faults of yester-year's editions were much, much worse than anything 4th Edition might have done. I am all for taking a look at what made those games fun, but try to avoid relying on nostalgia for your judgment. Games and game design have become more informed, and there is nothing wrong at looking at current role-playing games (digital and analog) and seeing what makes them fun as well. I would rather D&D result with unfamiliar-yet-superior mechanics than going back to a lapsed edition.

Rolling for stats.
I know I mentioned point-buy in the keepers section, but this is just so, so fucking retarded. The only time I recall players actually enjoying this was when they rolled really well. I think this only survived as long as it did because in 2nd Edition stats did not tend to do a whole lot until they got to 15 or higher. In 3rd Edition when they really started to matter the DM let my fighter reroll his Strength because it was so low that I could barely hit anything. Players should be in control of their character. I do not give a fuck if it is not like “real life”. By that logic, you should have to roll for gender, weight, height, race, and probably on a laundry list of character generation tables to see how you were brought up.

Rolling for anything, really.
For the same reason, rolling for hit points is also a really stupid idea and can result in gimped characters.

Rewarding lucky players.
On a similar vein I do not want to see classes have prereqs, especially if that class is superior to the rest (2nd Edition paladin, if I recall correctly). That is basically rewarding the lucky player with yet another advantage, and I have no idea why anyone with any game design experience would go along with that. While I am on the tangent of rewarding lucky players, no bonus XP for having a high stat (and likewise no penalty, either). I mean, really?

Charging for background skills.
Craft/Profession/Perform skills should not require a skill or feat expenditure, especially if all they do is help justify a character’s background prior to actually adventuring.

Here is a handful of comments that stood out. I might do more of these as I blog more about 5th Edition; there is plenty of material.

"Go back to the 2nd Edition proficiency system; it allowed for better character customization."

Umm...what? Are you fucking shitting me? I remember having a fighter that knew how to ride a horse and build fires. I also burned a slot at later levels so that I could reroll my miss percentage against targets that I could not see. So, I guess what I want to know is how being able to automatically ride a horse, build a fire at no cost, and have a reasonable chance of doing any number of other things is less flexible.

"I miss the heroes that aren't a carbon copy of each other if they go with the same builds. I miss the diversity that [an] older edition was able to give [us]. Sure if we got down to the grit a lot of characters were carbon cutouts but not every player got theirs the same way."

I am really confused how on one hand, playing a fighter in 2nd Edition or even 3rd Edition made it less of a "carbon cutout", especially given that 4th Edition further divides characters from each other thanks to class features and exploits. Like, if two people play human fighters in 3rd Edition the main difference is your weapon and skills.
Most weapons are basically just damage with little mechanical differentiation beyond damage. 4th Edition fighters on the other hand get to pick class features and exploits, so even two human fighters packing longswords could end up doing very different things.

"How about for arcane characters you can choose a class, and that determines how you learn spells and how many. You could have one that is Vancian, one that is AEDU, one that is more like a 3rd Edition sorcerer. Each caster chooses a school and the school determines the spell list, and the spell lists are the big determinant of what spells do."

First, fuck Vancian spellcasting. It was a terrible idea and served to grossly shift a player's usability, for good or ill, too far and too easily. This is what resulted in groups blowing through spells and then resting up to repeat it all over again. Second, arcane casters already work like that in 4th Edition: how wizard's learn magic is not how warlocks learn magic is not how sorcerers learn magic, even if they all use the same resolution mechanic.
No, how they did it in 4th Edition was mostly alright. My gripe with some classes like the sorcerer was that there were not enough spells to make an appropriate thematic character. Like, there are only two at-will spells for a sorcerer that seem to work for the storm spell source, and not nearly enough for the dragon spell source. My complaints can--and in my games at least are--resolved with the simple inclusion of some new spells.
January 10, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Charting your Course for D&D

Also known as "zOMG 5E!"

Before I get into it, you can check the announcement here (as well as sign up for the open playtest when it comes out), check out a 60+ page on here, and read an article on The Escapist here.

So, yeah, 5E (or whatever, that is not the real name, but for sake of ease I guess that is what we are going with).

When 4th Edition was announced I was apprehensive that I would hate it. As more of it was revealed the apprehension turned to excitement as I realized that I was really liking what I was seeing; classes besides spellcasters had shit to do and did not become obsolete, and monsters were much easier to create on the fly and deal with. In actual play I was surprised at the flexibility of classes that previously had rigid progressions and options, such as the monk, ranger, and paladin, the ease of which it was to realize concepts like dual-wielding fighters and fighter/wizards, and how different classes felt despite being non-magical melee archetypes.

Basically it was dropped like a bomb without any build up (thread upon thread of random forum speculation does not count).

This time there was build up in the form of Monte Cook (of system mastery fame) being rehired, along with a slew of ill-received columns where he pitched existing concepts, posted polls with loaded choices, and seemed to do his best to illustrate that he did not actually read the 4th Edition rules. So with him as one of the heads of the chimera that is the 5th Edition team--the design one no less!--and the popular theory being that his Legend & Lore columns were his attempts to try and sell us on his ideas that, regardless of poll results, were going to be effected anyway...well, let us just say that I am again apprehensive.

Really all I have heard so far is that the rule set will be modular--allowing groups to set complexity to taste--and also be an edition that will somehow cater to fans of every edition. Just going off of my years of experience on the forums over the past few editions, to put it mildly this sounds like an impossible order to fill. After seeing how well it worked for Paizo and Pathfinder, even the prospect of an "open playtest" does not fill me with much hope (though I signed up anyway). 

What I am hoping is both that Cook can be kept in check, and that things do not go back to the days of Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards. The guy on The Escapist mentioned that we would "be surprised" which rules make a comeback, and I am hoping that those are good surprises. Ultimately I do not think that I will hate what comes next, though this is the first time where the thought of skipping an edition has crossed my mind. Eh...if that is the case I still have my books.
January 09, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Thunderspire Labyrinth, Episode 3


  • Amne (female dragonborn)
  • Kariok
  • Riven
  • Shen
  • Stirling
After resting the characters learned that the Bloodreavers competed against the duergar at the Grimmerzhul Trading Post for the slave trade. They made a deal with the duergar to help "take care" of the Bloodreavers while Riven--who was watching the prisoner--ended up dealing with some Bloodreavers who noticed that he was guarding one of their wagons with their members. They gave them some money while trying to cart the cart off after some heated exchange and met up with Amne, a dragonborn ranger whose sister was taken by the Bloodreavers.

Thanks to the duergar's map they were able to find the Chamber of Eyes with no difficulty, and after killing the guards realized that the slavers were being run by a beholder. They made a deal with the Bloodreavers to take care of the beholder in exchange for Amne's sister and to stop preying on Winterhaven's villagers. The killed the beholder and made it back to the Hall with the Bloodreaver's word and Amne's sister in tow. The session ended with them running into a robed figure in a gold mask flanked by a pair of bronze minotaur golems.

Next Episode: The Mage's Request

DM Notes
This was a short session that marked the introduction of a new player, unfortunately via Skype since the player giving the ride didn't make it. Despite the slow pace things went unexpected as the characters decided to deal with the Bloodreavers to help them with their beholder problem instead of just slaughtering them all. True to their unaligned nature, they were content to make a verbal agreement with the Bloodreavers and just walk away with one slave. In addition to adding the beholder I also had the hobgoblins mention that the duergar had captured one of the mages, and were planning on forming an alliance with the Bloodreavers to help take the Hall.
January 08, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Drafting a Sundered World

Like a lot of DMs I keep a document of ideas for settings, adventures, NPCs, characters, monsters, etc handy "just in case". It is something I learned in my Writing 121 class: keep a notepad handy to write shit down when you think of it, partly because you never know if you will come back to it later, but more than likely because you will probably just forget. Of all of them there was one that was such an out of there concept, that I never thought would begin to see anything remotely approaching fruition until yesterday (as of this writing, anyway, more than likely when I get around to publishing this it will have been last week).

Some of my weekend group wants to try getting together on Fridays to get some more game on. Of course yours truly will be DMing because fuck me. I rattled off a few ideas I had kicking around in my head; a Dark Sun sandbox (no pun intended), playing Firefly in Eberron (including an airship at 1st-level), running Gamma World using the theme of Star Wars, Knights of Cydonia, or Prince of Mars, trying to stop Khyber from waking up, and a bunch of others. They have always wanted to play in a pirate-themed campaign, which is probably why they settled on what could easily be described as Mass Effect meets Spelljammer. 

A Sundered World
In the implied setting the primordials made the world, the gods wanted it, and so in human fashion they waged a huge war for the rights to it and ended up on top. In this setting the Dawn War resulted in mutual destruction: the gods, primordials, and world were destroyed (though a few gods might be hiding, I haven't decided yet). For purposes of having an actually playable setting they thankfully had created life before everything went to shit, and the mortal races have largely managed to make do on the remnants of creation that drift through the Astral Sea, along with the occasional corpse of an aberrant star, god, or primordial.

While I have not sat down to map out the world--such as it is--I am envisioning it roughly in the shape of a galaxy that blatantly ignores the laws of physics (so I guess how a lot of sci-fi operates). In the center is the Abyss, created on accident when Tharizdun tried to destroy the Elemental Chaos using a shard of evil, which now surrounds it. From there countless fragments of creation's remains spiral off into the endless Astral Sea. The moon is one of the more powerful surviving spirits that is responsible for creating changlings and lycanthropes, and I am waffling on making it the physical manifestation of the Feywild (including having eladrin cities built on it). The Far Realm exists deep in the outer reaches of Astral "space".

Various races, mostly Player's Handbook stock, have managed to form their own kingdoms, baronies, and what have you on collections of landmasses. Initally things were survival of the fittest, so the tieflings ended up draining the shattered vestige of Asmodeus to give themselves an edge. Other humans build a city around what is left of Pelor, which is kind of like a star (he exploded on death, so think something like a small-scale Dyson sphere). Dragonborn might live on the corpse of Bahamut, if for no other reason than to protect it from desecration because their bodies contain admantite and other astral stuff useful for divine-type things. I'll probably end up making the Red Hand into a league of evil-aligned dragonborn that followed Tiamat. Even better the locale makes it easier to work in extraplanar races like gith and bladelings, and in my opinion shardminds make more sense as well.

Currently I am fleshing this out using personal wiki software and plan on running it next Friday (possibly the week after), but if following the creative progress is something that is of interest let me know in the comments.

January 07, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Rebuilding Thunderspire Labyrinth: Demonic Minotaurs

Continuing with the whole "minotaurs can eat hearts and gain strength" theme, I wrote up a couple other minotaurs to include in the Well of Demons bit near the end of Thunderspire Labyrinth; respectively they are the results of eating the heart of a vrock or canoloth.

Thinking of making a soldier variant of the demonlasher that uses the tongue seize power to drag marked enemies back or trip them if they violate the mark.
January 01, 2012
Posted by David Guyll


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