Archive for May 2012

D&D Next: Bladesinger Homebrew

Not sure how many times we are going to run the playtest before we get new materials, so I cobbled together a 1-3 bladesinger class using the 4th Edition one as a model.

Bladesinger Class Features
  • Arcane Aegis: While wearing no armor you gain a +2 bonus to Armor Class.
  • Arcane Arsenal: When wielding some kind of sword (ie, short sword, longsword, scimitar, khopesh, etc), you can use your Intelligence modifier in place of Strength for your attack and damage rolls.
  • Arcane Magic: You can cast one 1st-level spell per day.
  • Bladespells: You know the bladespells dancing flames and frost bite. Bladespells are essentially cantrips that can also be used as part of a melee attack.
  • Spellbook: You have a spellbook that contains the spells burning hands and shield.
Bladespells

  • Dancing Flames: You can make a ranged attack against a creature within 30 feet. If you hit, the target takes 1d4 + your Intelligence modifier fire damage and grants attack advantage against the next attack made against it. You can instead enchant your sword and make a melee attack; your attack deals fire damage and the target grants attack advantage against the next attack made against it.
  • Frost Bite: You can make a ranged attack against a creature within 30 feet. If you hit, the target takes 1d6 + Intelligence modifier cold damage and is slowed for a turn. You can instead enchant your sword and make a melee attack; your attack deals cold damage and slows the target for a turn.

More of these could be cribbed from Neverwinter Campaign Setting, but I figure this will do for now. I should probably require the bladesinger to handle a weapon for a bit, laying in minor enchantments before it can benefit from Intelligence, but, again, we'll see how it plays out.

2nd-Level

  • Increase your total Hit Dice to 2d6, and your maximum hit points by 3.
  • Add the spell grease to your spellbook.
  • Bladesong: 2/day you can cast a bladespell after making a melee attack.

3rd-Level

  • Increase your total Hit Dice to 3d6, and your maximum hit points by 3.
  • You gain another 1st-level spell slot and a +1 bonus to damage rolls with melee attacks.
Arcane gets a lot of usage, but the idea is that this class should be able to do some melee stuff without having to spread ability scores too thinly. Originally I had intended to let it add Dex and Int together for AC, but I think that it could easily give it a higher than expected AC at the start (and I am trying to avoid making it more durable than a fighter).

Otherwise I slowed down the spell progression from the wizard (would probably lump in a 2nd-level spell at level 4) and gave it a fighter's damage bonus because it is supposed to be a melee class. I might bump up the Hit Die to d8. Depends on what else we see and how well it fares during our games.


Spellsword Theme
Here is a kind of default theme I also kicked together. I thought that wizards had to make a Constitution check to cast a spell after being damage, but I could not find that rule anywhere so I'm just going to say that they have to make a DC 10 + spell level Con check to pull it off. I was kind of torn on the 3rd-level feat, going between allowing them to burn spells for a one-time melee damage bonus, sack Hit Dice to recharge a spell once per day, swap out one spell for another so long as it was an Abjuration or Evocation, etc.

  • Combat Casting: When you have to make a Constitution check to cast a spell because you took damage, you have advantage.
  • Evocation Specialization: When targets make saving throws against your Evocation spells, they have disadvantage.
May 30, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legend & Lore: First Round Overview

By now you have already downloaded the D&D Next playtest files, browsed through them, and probably even ran the adventure. For those curious as to how the playtest arrived in its initial state, this Legend & Lore article provides a behind-the-scenes glance, including some ideas on making the game more "old-school" or to try out things that they might implement later (like giving the fighter a second theme). There is also some clarification on things that at an initial glance might seem like an error, like why the damage die on for the dwarves' weapons are higher than normal.

I have not had a chance to run Caves of Chaos--which I plan on doing "by the book", such as it is--but my group is already working on a few houserules and some homebrew content for when I start running a converted Age of Worms campaign:
  • Advantage/Disadvantage: Given that the math behind advantage and disadvantage is something like +4 and -3, I am going to change each instance to a +/-1. I might boost it to +/-2. I would also allow players to swap it out for a damage bonus instead, just to see what they do. The reason for this is that I think that multiple advantages and disadvantages should have a greater effect instead of a binary on/off.
  • Equipment Costs: Overall I am changing costs largely to silver pieces and fiddling with them from there on out. I have no issue with adventurers coming back from dungeon crawls with "only" a crap-ton of silver instead of gold.
  • Minor Actions: Spells and abilities that read "you can do this and still attack etc", like healing word, are just going to be categorized as Minor or Free actions. Less repetitive verbiage.
  • Delay: You can delay your turn, which basically just reduces your Initiative count.
  • Resistance/Vulnerabilities: Subtracts or adds a set value instead of halving or doubling it. Basically how 4th Edition handled it.
  • Masterwork Weapons/Armor: There are scaling categories for masterwork items, making crafting skills and non-magical things more useful at later levels. Basically you can tack on attack and damage bonuses, as well as qualities like High Crit and Brutal from 4th Edition. Armor would get damage resistance, AC bonuses, etc. Some of these things might require special materials.
  • Weapon/Armor Materials: Adamantine and mithril are not individual armors, but materials that armor can be made of. Currently adamantine grants damage resistance while mithril alleviates speed and skill penalties. Also adding in darkwood, dragon hide (for energy resistances), Baatorian green steel, etc.
  • High Elf: Bonus against Charm effects instead of complete immunity. I think elves should have an edge, but not be able to ignore powerful fey that compel them (was not geas a charm-effect?).
  • Hill Dwarf: Poison resistance instead of immunity. As assassin should still be able to poison a dwarf.
  • Cleric Spells: This is almost exactly as I want it, save that clerics will have spell lists based on god or domain instead of having to set them. I might even make it more like a wizard, where they can learn new prayers.
  • Herbalism: You cannot make healing potions. Instead you can spend an amount of sp to make a healing balm, which causes Hit Dice used during a short rest to restore an additional 3 hit points. Healing potions are magic items and I do not like the idea of someone with no magical aptitude being able to craft them. Plus it makes the feat more useful in low- no-magic campaigns like Dark Sun.
  • Wizards: Still working on a spellcasting model that I like, but preparing spells is likely going away entirely. Just not sure if I want to do a recharging model, energy-gathering model, or a combination of both. Basically I want to not resort to a spell-point model unless I have to.
  • Potion of Strength: Grants a bonus to Strength checks, melee attacks, and damage rolls. This makes it useful to everyone.
  • Ray of Frost: Deals some cold damage and slows (half speed) instead of just dropping speed to 0. As is, it is too good against flying critters and it makes no sense that it can completely immobilize you, but you can still attack, and there is no physical trauma involved.
  • Non-Ability Scores: Skeletons and zombies will still have an Intelligence score, albeit 1. 
  • Save-or-Dies: Going to go with scaling severity, here. As in, characters with x hit points suffer less severe penalties from attacks. So a medusa's gaze might slow then petrify a target who fails to Constitution saves, while a creature with 10 or less hit points, or who is bloodied, might be petrified instantly. 

We have also cobbled together a bladesinger class (since I decided that a theme would not deliver enough, quickly enough to make it playable from the start), tieflings, changlings, and Wild Talent theme using existing things as a basis.
May 29, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next Playtest: Initial Impressions

After reading through the documents I am, short of a handful of issues, fairly hopeful and enthused with this initial iteration. There is a larger emphasis on non-combat abilities, such as stonecunning (dwarves know depth, can retrace path, and identify age and culture responsible for stonework), the researcher background perk (when you try to make a lore check and fail, you still know a person or place where you can figure it out), and the skill mechanics (you get a bonus to certain things, and can link it to whatever ability score makes sense at the time). For 4th Edition fans, there are some holdovers that have been snuck in, such as healing surges and at-will spells, both by other names, and the Reaper feat basically changes your attacks to reaping strike.

Mind you I have not had a chance to run the adventure (though I did read the treasure appendix in the back), but here is a list of things that I like/dislike based entirely on my cursory read-through:

Likes

  • Hit Points: Your Constitution score plus a randomized die roll, which was how I was doing it in my 4th Edition hack. It is a nice middle ground between 3rd and 4th Edition; characters are tougher, but not "invincible". Though the pregens have flat hit point progressions, the section on Constitution states that you roll hit points, taking your Con mod if it is higher than what you roll.
  • Dying: You die at negative your Con score. When dying you make DC 10 Con saves, and if you fail you take 1d6 damage instead of taking a strike. If you make three saves at all you stabilize, but unless you get healing somehow then you do not wake up for 2d6 hours.
  • Healing: Short rests take 10 minutes and require the use of healer's kits in order to spend Hit Dice, which are like randomized healing surges. You get one per level, and the amount is based on your class, so a 1st-level fighter has 1d10, while a wizard has 1d4. I like it because you really cannot be sure how many hit points you have left, but I do not like it because I think that it is not sufficient at the start of the game to get around without a cleric.
  • Intoxicated: This condition causes you to take 1d6 less damage, but have disadvantage on all attacks and checks.
  • Selling Loot: Back up to half of its value, with an exception for gems and art objects. Magic loot is emphasized as something that only really the wealthy could afford, but that "the value of magic is far beyond simple gold and should always be treated as such".
  • Finesse Weapons: You can auto-sub Dexterity for Strength when using these, no feats or class features required.
  • Tomes: These have DCs pertaining to one subject, that allow out you to auto-succeed on related lore checks with the same DC or less if you spend an hour studying it.
  • Fighters: The fighter is pretty straightfoward, dealing a lot of damage and being pretty tough, but thanks to the way skills and feats work will hopefully not be nearly as boring as in 3rd Edition. I like that her 2nd-level class feature allows for multiple attacks without penalty, even if it is only twice per day (which I wonder how it will be accepted by those that disliked non-magical daily abilities).
  • Divine Magic: This also kind of reminds me of how I was going to change up divine magic in my hack, in that they have a list of spells based on domain, and can cast from it x number of times per day. This kind of makes them like favored souls (3rd Edition), and I greatly prefer it to phoning in your "miracles" ahead of time.
  • Themes: I really dig the idea of themes, mostly because of what the feats do: one lets you pick up two cantrips, another lets you make healing items, and another lets you make it harder for monsters to go after your allies. Sure, the themes do well enough in making it simple to pick an idea and run with it, the fact that I can start out as a fighter with Reaper (deal damage on a miss with a melee weapon), and then at level 3 take Arcane Dabbler for the two cantrips makes character progression a lot more organic.
  • Skills: Also way awesome. They remind me of how it works in Exalted, in which you can apply skills to more than one ability score if it makes sense. People will hopefully stop complaining about whether intimidating someone should use Strength or Charisma, and some have proposed using Wisdom to notice handholds while climbing, and Forbidden Lore with Intelligence to intimidate a demon by threatening it with its true name.
  • Cantrips: These are at-will spells, and thankfully wizards do not have to spend feats to get them (though Arcane Dabbler gives you more).
  • Rituals: The only one I saw was alarm. Rituals in this game are an add-on to spells, allowing you to cast a spell by memorizing it or as a ritual. You spend ritual components each time, so there is a ritual component pouch that basically lets you track how many times you can use it. 
  • Monster Flavor: Like in Essentials and other editions, monsters have much more flavor content than during 4th Edition's initial launch.
  • Monster Hit Points: A lot of these are about where I would like, give or take a few. Orcs will probably be dropped in one hit, while larger things like owlbears will take around 7-8. Faster than 4th Edition, and basically what I would expect.
  • Monster Parts: You can pick up glow glands from fire beetles, which are like freebie torches, and a medusa's head can be used to make a single petrification attack before it turns into snakes.
  • Implements: Wands at the least are still in, though they are a hybrid of 3rd and 4th Edition wands. They grant you a +1 to magic attacks, but also have charges that let you use other magic. I think that a better solution is to have wands allow you to expend a spell of x level or higher into something else. 

Dislikes

  • Advantage/Disadvantage: Some people are complaining about this, because they are afraid of players fishing for this whenever they can get it due to the effective bonus it provides. When I originally heard about this, I was under the impression that players would be able to swap out attack bonuses for accuracy bonuses. You now just roll 2d20 and take the highest or lowest, and they do not stack so you do not get an additional bonus or penalty regardless of how well things are working for or against you. I really dug the idea of people being able to swap out a flanking bonus for more damage, so I hope that this changes.
  • No Minor Actions: The healing word spell has a clause at the end that says you can take another action to attack or something after using it. Seriously, just give us a free or minor action category. At least then we can avoid having to reprint that clause over and over again, which players might overlook.
  • Equipment Costs: I thought we were using a silver standard, but costs are still in gold pieces? Leather armor costs 10 gp, and if we still operate under the presumption that the typical laborer banks 1 sp a day, that means that they would have to work for 100 days without having to pay for anything else just to afford it. Crossbows, things that I expect even commoners to have access to, cost 35 gp. 
  • Masterwork Weapons: These only give a +1 to damage. I would like to see rules that allow for a range of bonuses and potential benefits (like 4th Edition's High Crit and Brutal properties). It would also help low- and no-magic campaigns
  • Spell Components: I do not like that spells all require somatic components. I think that some spells should just require verbal, which lends itself to the concept of words and names containing magic (especially things like the power word series of spells, but also truenames).
  • Wizards: Wizards seem to have been dragged back into the "fire-and-forget" paradigm of magic. I hate this because I cannot imagine how it works in the game world's narrative, especially if they include at-will magic and rituals; some spells can be cast whenever, others are forgotten and have to be re-memorized, and still others can be cast as often as the wizard wants given enough time? Why can a wizard only memorize magic at certain points, but cast other complex spell as often as she wants? At least go back to the "prep most of the spell ahead of time" explanation. Even better, make a magic system that makes sense instead of adhering to tradition.
  • Save-or-Dies: The medusa has one, and it works full bore no matter how many hit points you have. I thought they were going to change this up so that the effects were worse depending your hit point total, making save-or-die more like finishing moves than openers.
  • Monsters With Unexplained Spells: Going back to 3rd Edition's model, monsters have lists of spells that will require you reference another document to figure out what they do.
  • Implements: I hate that wands have charges. This is silly. I also hate how staffs are not implements, despite there being plenty of examples out there. I would like to see other things like rings and orbs as implements as well.
Again I mostly like what I see, based on this very tiny snapshot. I understand that this is basically a pre-alpha release, and will change quite a bit over time. My group is already working on rules for other races like tieflings and changlings, and classes like the bladesinger and psions. We are going to play through Caves of Chaos this week, and if we still like it in practice I am going to start converting Age of Worms with some houserules (like my own wizard spell system and making item costs more silver-based).

May 27, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Blog: Sword +1, Flame Tongue

I spent yesterday reading through the playtest documents for D&D Next, and will post my initial impressions sometime this weekend. For now though I am trying to play catch up with some previous blog entries, starting with this one (for the record, the earliest magic item I can recall nabbing was a two-handed sword +1, +2 versus undead).

I do not get where Schwalb is coming from. He opens up by stating that acquiring a sword +1, flame tongue felt unique and important, and was like owning a piece of D&D. Is he saying that because it was a hard-coded item in the game, like a maul of the titans, something that the authors invented? Is he saying that magic items have become somehow less important or evocative because a DM in 3rd and 4th Edition could simply append the flaming trait to any melee weapon they want, instead of just a longsword?

I prefer the game to provide the DM with the parts necessary to build their own magic items, rather than rely on what the publishers give us, so option 1 holds absolutely no appeal to me at all. Good DMs will just invent their own things anyway, so by not informing us of what being fire does for a weapon just makes us have to work harder to disassemble and apply it to something else. Providing us with examples and guidelines will both help prevent doling out over-powered creations, while at the same time allow DMs to do this if they want.

I also want item creation rules, as I think that crafting magic items should be something that the characters can aspire to do. It does not have to be something easy to come by or assumed. It can be more complicated than using magic dust or shelling out gold; the characters might have to adventure far and wide to figure out how to make something, gather the materials, and possibly even find the right conditions. I want characters to be able to forge their own legends if the story allows or even demands it, not just hope to stumble upon an existing one.

The short of it is to give both DMs and players the parts to play with, without assuming that everyone must play with them.
May 25, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Hit Points, Our Old Friend

Huh...so, healing surges by another name?

The only difference that I can see is that you regain randomized amounts of hit points instead of a flat value. Actually, I guess it is based on your level so they increase faster? It kind of reminds me of Dragon Age, where you regain a random amount of hit points after every encounter, though I get the idea that you only get X amount of rolls per day since you regain Hit Dice by resting. Eh, seems like a nice middle ground, and since it is variable it adds in an element of uncertainty and risk.

Trying to explain how hit points translate into the game world is a debate that has existed since hit points were created, despite multiple attempts from one of the game's creators, game designers of other editions, and community members. For the most part the bullet points again reiterate things that we (should) know: a character's physical endurance, ability to turn lethal blows into something non-lethal, and plot relevancy.

What is more interesting is how the following section breaks up damage interpretation based on a characters hit points, which range from superficial to serious. It kind of models how I had been doing it in 4th Edition, in which characters take meaningful injuries when they become bloodied or are reduced to 0 or less (and just recently I started using persistent injuries for characters that get dropped).

Now back to Diablo 3. I plan on beating Hell difficulty before the playtest opens up, so I can focus my attention on converting Age of Worms to 5th Edition.
May 21, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Blog: Paladin Design Goals

Between playing an unhealthy amount of Diablo 3, spending the weekends out of the house, and a more recent article on hit points and healing surges, I had almost forgotten about paladins.

I am glad to see that paladins will follow codes that reflect on their deity. Having a singular code regardless of god was kind of silly, and I would love to see codes for paladins of a gnome god (Garl, I think?). I like that paladins of neutral and evil gods will still stick around, too. My only complaint is that I would also like to see paladins that champion causes, though given that gods tend to have portfolios it would probably be an easy thing to re-skin and flavor.

I loathed detect evil in past editions for its ability to simultaneously overcome and be overcome by the plot magic items/spells. The new direction seems to be a vague, strange disturbance in the force, as opposed to a distinct radar ping (or aura). I like this. The paladin gets the notion that something is afoot, but does not know the precise source. As someone on RPG.net put it, "the paladin gets to hear the background music". The bit on smiting implies that a paladin will not be wasting smites, which is also nifty.

Paladins have always major access to weapons and armor, as well as immunity to fear, so the third point is nothing new. I liked how 4th Edition paladins could shield and take hits for allies, which also seems to be sticking around for the good guys at least.

And last but not least, they still seem to be getting lay on hands, divine magic, and have the option to summon a horse. The spells diverge from what a cleric gets, which was how it worked in 3rd and 4th Edition, and summoned mounts might grant kicker effects to other mounts. I guess boosting the stamina and speed of other horses is good for traveling. The bit on turning demons along with undead is nice, though I think clerics should get that, too.
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: The Making of an Owlbear

It has been hard keeping up with a homebrew campaign, a homebrew ruleset, blogging, and...well...Diablo III, so I will try to keep this brief:

I prefer the first owlbear he pitches, as it looks more bear than...gorilla, I guess? Do not get me wrong, the second one certainly looks menacing, even if it seems to be cribbing the krenshar's shtick. It just does not look like either what I have come to expect, or what I would expect.

Of course, assuming I am correct with the whole "made by a wizard" origin, there is always room for an owl-gorilla hybrid. I wonder what it would be called, though? Owlape? Owlilla? Holy-crap-I-soiled-myself? The art on both is great. More than a few steps up from what I have seen, and I hope that that quality persists.
May 16, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next Chat

Here are some tidbits from the chat that I enjoyed:

  • Mearls: Hmmm... let's see. I've been DMing mostly, and the rules have changed a lot over the past few days. Probably the funniest thing was guest starring as a librarian in a playtest game at DDXP. Also, I got to test the DR rules when the players had to cut open a dead wererat's stomach to find a gem it had swallowed. That was not how I expected to test those rules.
  • The packet will have five pregen characters, Caves of Chaos adventure, bestiary for the adventure, and rules for DMs and players. The pregens are the "core four" races and classes, plus an extra cleric to test out the armored and mystic types. They also have backgrounds and themes. "When you pick a race, such as dwarf, you also pick what kind of dwarf."
  • The fighter is "relatively" straightforward, while the wizard is implied to be the most complex. There will not be initially any customization, though they say that we should have that before the end of the Summer.
  • The current document will look fairly different from what people saw at PAX; it incorporates feedback and design adjustments.
  • Spellcasters have at-wills without having to spend anything to get them.
  • Mearls is not a fan of giving people extra turns. Wants to focus on terrain and things to move to and around, instead of flanking and positioning. Mentions that a character might need to take a feat to gain opportunity attacks, while a rogue might get an ability that lets her move out of turn, but she cannot move on her next turn (so, hey, looks like Cook's idea of one action per turn is thankfully out).
  • Bestiary will have short blocks. Longer ones will come. Includes both mechanics and lore.
  • Conditions will probably have a slimmer list. Prone, intoxicated, invisible, paralyzed, and ethereal are in. Paralyzed stops you from casting spells because "Spellcasting specifies that you need to move your arms to cast a spell".
  • Rogue schemes and cleric domains mentioned.
  • Mearls: Yes, cantrips that you use to attack are basically utility cantrips that have a way you can use them against creatures. The ignite cantrip lets you start fires, whether its lighting a torch or a goblin's butt.
  • Mearls: The biggest thing is making it OK for one character to own a particularly encounter. If the wizard casts sleep and KOs a group of six kobolds, that's OK. In the next encounter, the rogue might sneak up on the kobold shaman and gank him, or the fighter blocks a doorway and takes down a wave of attackers. Same goes for characters with good social abilities, and so on.
  • Mearls: It also means that "unbalanced" options are more viable. For instance, in one adventure the characters fought a gang of hobgoblins. One of the hobgobs was a beast master who used a whip and a prod to drive a pair of giant scorpions forward. The rogue sniped the beast master, so the scorpions turned around and had their revenge on the tribe.
  • Mention of 2-3 different magic systems, including spell slots, points, and powers.
  • Fighters can spend a single feat to unlock a bunch of maneuvers. The main reason for giving wizards at-wills and not fighters is that feedback was "overwhelmingly in favor of, and not edition dependent". Not so much for fighters, I guess...
  • Tanking I guess is built into a theme instead of class. Creatures can also grant cover, so "cowering behind people is a good idea". The idea is to let anyone choose to be a tank regardless of class.
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Blog: Skills and Task Resolution

"Characters get four things--skills or traits." 

This model kind of reminds me of a combination of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and Exalted, in that skills grant a flat bonus to a variety of related things, but you can opt to nab other things if you want. A workshop was specifically mentioned, but I could also see something like influence, followers, a familiar, and more. Not sure about languages. They would have to be pretty darned useful, or other things less so, to make them a compelling choice. This--along with wizards getting at-will spells without having to burn a feat, themes granting at-will spells, and the potential for a variety of magic systems (daily, power- and point-based, etc)--has been one of the few rare things to get my psyched for 5th Edition.

I like that they are not super specific like 3rd Edition (Climb, Jump, Swim, Knowledge skills, and Use Rope come to mind), but instead somewhat vague like in 4th Edition, allowing for more player input and creativity. Given that the DC's for many things at 1st-level was very low (like, 12-13), I often did not have the issue of players checking their sheets for the best modifier and trying to rationalize an application. I think that, if anything, it was that players were used to seeing massive bonuses of potentially +11 and assuming that it was the norm. Hopefully with skills only conferring a +2, at least initially, will help break that habit.

I think that I would like to have seen things like what Rob calls active and passive skills divvied up, which is something I recall happening in 3rd Edition Shadowrun; players had two pools of skills. Or maybe one was knowledges? I do not remember, really. Basically everyone got to spend things on both sets. Regardless, I really dig this movement of making characters more dependent on their ability scores instead of skill modifier. I think it will help encourage players to at least try things that they normally would not.

We will see what happens next week when the playtest finally starts.

Legend & Lore: Balancing Wizards in D&D

Fiiinally.

Stating that the wizard "casts spells" is basically a 30-year old mission statement. We got that figured out. What I want to know is how, and I would preferably like that how to make sense from a narrative perspective.

In 2nd Edition wizards had to study their spellbooks to "memorize" their spells. When they cast it, the spell was wiped from their minds and they had to go through the whole process again, and again, and again, because no matter how many times they memorized a spell they could never actually remember it. There was also the bit about not being able to wear armor for vague reasons that ranged from the metal content (which ignored non-metal armors) to it disrupting hand motions (whether or not the spell even had somatic components).

3rd Edition wizards still had to study their spellbooks, but this was rationalized that the wizard had to prepare her magic, casting all but the very last part of the spell ahead of time. So spells were basically stored in the wizard's head, waiting for the last word and gesture to wrap it up. They even provided a feat, Spell Mastery, as an option for players that wanted to represent wizards who knew how to prepare a spell from memory.  Given that the number of spells was low and everyone was pretty much feat-starved, it was considered a pretty crappy feat. At least they were not illogically hampered by armor; each suit of armor had a spell failure percentage that only affected spells with somatic components.

4th Edition wizards largely did not need their spellbooks for their day-to-day magic: at-will spells could be cast as often as they pleased, and encounter spells recharged automatically. I think even daily ones did, too. The only reason you even had a spellbook was to swap out daily magic and to cast rituals. Unfortunately there was really not enough flavor material to explain how this all worked. Did encounter spells recharge because a wizard gathered up magical energies to unleash it again? If so, why could a wizard not just continue to gather up energy for the same encounter spell? Why could a wizard not prepare multiple daily spells of the same thing?

Basically each edition had problems, some more than most.

Currently 5th Edition wizards will continue to have at-will spells, which will be called cantrips, but unlike traditional cantrips will be a "bit more powerful". So...basically 4th Edition at-wills by another name. I have heard at least one cry of "oh noes everyone will be awesome all the time", but given that they will not be explicitly called at-wills and Paizo copied it already, I wonder if it will be better accepted this time around.

They are also looking at keeping spells under control, with the example being how wonky skill bonuses, Difficulty Classes, and scaling can really screw up your game. I had a similar problem when running Age of Worms, where 12th-level characters had Will saves ranged from +5 to +15. Initially I felt that this disparity seemed absurd, until they came across a trap that required a DC 30 Will save to avoid being instantly killed by.

Then it became extremely absurd.

As for reducing spell slots, I am curious as to what edition is being used for their barometer. Over a lengthy period of time 3rd Edition wizards got quite a bit, and while 4th Edition had very few daily spells they had at-will and encounter spells, and rituals to top it off. I am guessing that we will see something like 4th Edition wizards sans encounter spells, which I am totally fine with.

We already knew that spells will have better effects depending on what level you slot them. I really like this, because it helps avoid having spells that are just higher level variations of the same thing, which 3rd Edition literally did with the orb series of spells: you had least, standard, and greater, and one of each energy type. So that is like, what, 15 different spells that all did largely the same thing? 4th Edition practiced this model already with powers that scaled depending on what level you chose them at, which was better than having a bunch of multi-leveled whirlwind/trip/knockback exploits (though to be fair, it also had a bunch of multi-leveled whirlwind/trip/knockback exploits).

Unpredictable magic can be a tricky thing, and I would hope that they would provide several different optional mechanics for us to work with. Personally I would like to see disrupted spells doing something random instead of just not working, with the option to try again later. Kind of makes it feel less dangerous and more unreliable. They could better mirror past editions by giving spells with a casting time of longer than one action, and/or the option to spend multiple rounds charging up the spell; it would add in a more controlled risk, similar to weapon breakage in Dark Sun.

I really do not like the current idea for scrolls. You write a spell down, and then expend another spell to make the scroll work? I could see it if the spell had to belong to the same school or something (perhaps allowing a wizard to be able to convert a variety of spell schools instead of just anything at all), but the idea of dropping any spell to charge up a scroll just seems odd. Ultimately it is a nice investment that avoids wizards drastically cranking up the number of spells they get, but it does not make much sense to me.

As for wands, I preferred 4th Edition's implements. Makes more sense and better captures the feel of magic that I am used to. I do not mind if they can store spells, but I do not want them to go back to fire-and-forget devices. I would be okay with implements having an affinity for various types of magic.

Finally, it is good to see that buff spells will not allow classes to outperform another class at what it is supposed to be good at.

After reading up on even more RPGs and talking it over with my group, my ideal wizard goalposts have been moved to include the following:

  • Wizards pick several schools that they know how to use. Specialists would instead pick one, or sacrifice one to be better in another.
  • Wizards start out knowing cantrips. They can cast these at-will.
  • Daily spells instead represent a wizard's growing aptitude with their at-will magic. As they level up, they get to choose how to improve their magic (improving damage, targets, area of effect, effects, etc). A good comparison would be how skills improve in Mass Effect 3.
  • When you cast a spell, you can choose to focus energy and cast an improved version of it. This takes time, and the spell can be countered (disrupted the spell or delaying you) or interrupted (potentially causing a mishap).
  • After casting a spell, it takes awhile before you can start casting another spell (kind of like the recharge mechanic from 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana). You can choose to do so anyway, becoming fatigued for a number of rounds equal to the amount you were supposed to wait. If you cast a spell again, you instead become exhausted and can barely do anything at all. Wizards might also be able to suffer hit point damage by exerting themselves too much.
For example, a pyromancer might know firebolt. Lets say that it deals 1d6 fire damage to one target within 30 feet. At level 2 she can choose to improve its damage (say, up to 2d6), its range (increasing to 50 feet), its area of effect (hitting two targets, or making it a close blast 3), or something else (say, dealing Int fire damage to creatures next to the primary target).

So she can cast firebolt as a standard action, or spend the entire round casting the level 2 version of it, lumping on the benefit that she chose. Alternatively, spells might just have their own levels. So firebolt level 1 might do one thing, while firebolt level 2 might do more damage, and firebolt level 3 might hit multiple targets. This, I think, helps emphasize in the game's narrative that the wizard is studying an improving her magic.

If the pyromancer is trying to cast a level 3 version, which has, say, a casting time of 3 rounds, and she gets hit, the spell might explode (dealing Int fire damage to herself and nearby targets). Another wizard that knows evocation might try to disrupt her spell, making an Arcana check or something to extend the casting time by another round.

This helps make counterspelling something viable (you do not need to ready an action and have a specific spell), while also adding tension when the necromancer is gathering dark energies to conjure up a bunch of wraiths.

Rituals would remain, possibly costing healing surges or hit points or the like, as well as specific components. Implements would also stick around as they were.
May 14, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Ultramodern4 Review

Ultramodern4--or U4 for short--is a rules supplement that reminds me of D20 Modern in that it provides rules for a modern-to-futuristic game without an implied setting

Since it lacks rules on character building and advancement, skills, and combat it is really more of an attachment to the core Dungeons & Dragons rules instead of a stand-alone game, though at almost 240 pages it is quite a massive attachment.

Chapter 1: What is Ultramodern4 
This short introductory chapter prepares you by explaining some deviations from the "normal" rules (such as no magic and non-combat powers), compatibility with Dungeons & Dragons content (which ironically could include wizards), the lack of an official setting, mention of the setting that was supposed to be here (NeuroSpasta), the purpose of this book, new rules and keywords, and a brief rundown of the ladders and classes.

Chapter 2: Ladders 
Unlike Dungeons & Dragons and Amethyst, classes are not your only means of features and powers. Currently there are seven ladders, including the juggernaut, runner, veteran, and warrior. I guess the best comparison is that ladders are like bulkier themes in that they not only give you benefits at 1st-level, but continue to do so throughout your career more frequently and flexibly. To top if off you still get to choose between ladder and class powers, though ladders also feature attack powers (including level 1 at-wills).

For example at 1st-level the born leader ladder sans class lets you generate an aura effect that grants bonuses to attack rolls, hit points, defenses, and more, use Charisma or Intelligence in place of Wisdom for powers, and gain a bonus to three Charisma- or Intelligence-based skills. At 3rd-level you gain a +1 to attack and damage rolls, a +1 bonus to Will, and gain other What a Guy (healing surge as a minor action to extend aura effects based on your Charisma or Intelligence modifier) or gain a bunch of cash.

All of that before you even pick a class. Speaking of which...

Chapter 3: Classes
There are eleven classes, which in addition to coming with all the usual trimmings and being compatible with any ladder, also come with standard equipment packages that include weapons, armor, vehicles, contacts, and other more. You can also opt out of any of those things in exchange for cold, hard cash. The only part where classes skimp on is power choices; you only ever get 1-2 choices, instead relying on your ladder for additional options.

The faceman is interesting in that none of the attack exploits deal damage, but instead impose status effects and/or grant allies bonuses. Biting taunt, a level 1 at-will, marks a target, grants you an AC bonus against its attacks while it is marked by you, and it is considered weakened when making attacks that do not include you. Oh, and it is also dazed if you crit with this "attack". On the other hand commanding presence, a level 29 daily, dominates two creatures (save ends).

Chapter 4: Paths & Destinies 
There are 22 paths and 5 epic destinies.

The paths remind me of advanced classes from D20 Modern in that they represent a character becoming better at a given thing; driving, sniping, talking, etc. None of them have ladder or class prereqs. Instead when they require anything at all, it is training in specific skills, feats, or proficiency with weapons. The paths seem somehow slimmer than their Dungeons & Dragons counterparts, offering the same amount of content but taking up about a half-page each.

Rather than representing an ascension to god-like power, epic destinies just mean that you are part of the "top 0.01% of the world's population specialized in your field". These are are things like master (being the best on the planet at a given subject) or respected (the highest military rank, or someone like Commander Shepherd I guess). The team destiny is odd in that its benefits only affect others that also have the team destiny, so your mileage may vary.

Chapter 5: Skills & Feats 
Though the game assumes the skills from Dungeons & Dragons, the only ones featured are five new skills that one would expect in a modern game--Computer Use, Demolitions, Engineer, Sciences, and Vehicle Operation--with the expected uses of hacking devices, finding information, setting/disabling explosives, fixing things, sabotaging things, etc.

Vehicle Use gets a lot of real estate, with rules for sliding, crashing, accelerating, decelerating, evasive driving, flying, jumping, drifting...basically every stunt you could expect to see in an action flick. Thankfully it comes with a table.

As for feats, though it says you can nab them from Player's Handbook, I figure anything is free game (especially for players that want the better Expertise stuff), though there are plenty of new feats here that you probably will not bother, especially given that they pertain to modern armor and weapons. For example, Deck Fire lets you waive the penalty for making ranged attacks with small arms while prone, while Deflecting Shot lets you reduce the penalty for firing ranged weapons against an enemy in cover by 1.

Quite a few feats give you new powers (including at-will stuff), such as Curb Stomp (deal Strength modifier damage to a prone enemy automatically with a move action) and Duct Tape (you never run out of duct tape, and as a standard action can use it for a variety of purposes, including Engineering and Heal bonuses, attach flashlights to guns, create rope, etc). Two of the feats, Explosive Specialty and Checkered Past, can be taken multiple times, giving you a new power with explosives and vehicles each time respectively.

Though neither feats nor skills, the chapter wraps up with a small section on contacts. Contacts are basically a wild card NPC that becomes defined when you use them for a bonus on a skill check or to help locate a black market item; once you use them for a skill, they get a name and can only ever be used for that skill in the future. Classes can offer contacts as starting resources, and you can buy and upgrade them later.

Chapter 6: Equipment 
In keeping with the idea of a generic modern RPG, this game has Tech Levels. If you played Alternity (and probably a bunch of other games I have not played), then you are familiar with Tech Levels, though these start at a "modern" level--stated to be the familiar technology of modern day--before scaling up to magnetic vehicles, nano-technology, antigravity technology, plasma weapons, and complete body reconstruction.

For weapons you get a bunch of new weapon groups (heavy weapons, one- and two-handed small arms, super heavy weapons, etc) and properties (augment, auto, conceal, gauss, guided, laser...nuclear), which serve only to prepare you for the tables upon tables of actual weapons that include pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and flamethrowers for the "lowliest" of tech levels, ranging up to lasers, particle beams, plasma cannons, and more at the other end of the spectrum.

While it mentions that you can utilize "archaic" weapons, pointing you to Player's Handbook, personally I would advice against bringing even a fullblade to a minigun/pulse rifle/particle beam/plasma cannon fight (though magical weapons gain Armor Piercing, which is kind of nice).

Armor adds in rules for Hardness (ie, non-elemental damage reduction) and Threshold (damage that the armor's hit points can absorb from a given attack). Some armor requires power, using an abstract mechanic of six-encounters-per-energy-cell.

Light and heavy "modern" armors include synthetic weave, nanotech armor, tactical body armor, dragon-mail, and similar things that are largely comparable with what we have now (some of the best light stuff is Tech Level 1-2, such as that nanotech). The advanced powered armors are all not only limited to Tech Levels 2 and up, but are only suited to mid-paragon tier and higher.

The rest of the chapter is a pretty extensive list of gear, including your typical run of supplies and tools that you would expect to find; gas masks, binoculars, computers, a laser sight, pillows, kits that boost skill bonuses, and more. There are also drugs, musical instruments, a pretty impressive list of land and air vehicles that include mecha, and equipment modifications.

Chapter 7: New Age of Warfare
More in-depth rules on using loadout for games in which the characters belong to an organization and tend to rent-rather-than-own, more information on advanced armor, explosives, and vehicles (including simplified vehicle rules), and optional rules for emulating grittier movies or being more compatible with Dungeons & Dragons.

Chapter 8: Antagonists & Enemies
Power armor, cyborgs, and robots I had expected. I even figured that there would be more mundane types like gang members, trained soldiers, and the like.

I did not expect the names: Bell-Tower Bastard (a sniper type), Man With Pipe Wrench (a man with a pipe wrench), Ammo Waster (who, ironically, does not waste ammo), and Out of Place Kung-Fu Guy (a minion version of the level 14 solo Misplaced Martial Arts Master). There are even some somewhat silly attacks, such as the Seriously, Katana's katana, seriously attack, as well as some pop culture references like the Big Boss's groovy gauntlet attack.

Personally I think it lends it a campy, sarcastic style that you see in action flicks. Given that my preferences for a "modern" game would generally fall more into the vein of sci-fi, urban fantasy, or survival horror I probably would have never thought to run a kind of Evil Dead and/or Metal Gear Solid campaign until I saw Big Boss.

Chapter 9: Adventuring
Alternative methods on handling rewards instead of just looting the place (though you can still do that if you wanted to do a post-apocalyptic setting like Fallout), sample encounters, and set pieces to go along with them. Not a very big chapter, but the samples maps might come in handy.

Chapter 10 & 11: Adventure Time
The last two chapters, Biohazard and Invasion Proxy, are level 4 and 14 adventure modules that allow you to build characters and just try it out.

This book feels like a good spiritual successor to 3rd Edition's D20 Modern. The lack of an implied setting or time period, coupled with the fact that you can mix and match content from either book makes it easy to do an Urban Arcana game, and I could see rolling in Gamma World to get something a lot meatier if that is your thing. Heck, why not lump it all together and have your very own 2nd Edition of Rifts, if even by name only?

Ultimately I can see people that actually played D20 Modern and preferring 4th Edition really enjoying this game. If you like Gamma World, then you might like it depending on if it is for the setting and flavor, or perhaps the simplicity: this game is even more complex than Dungeons & Dragons is, so if you were already feeling strained by the tracking of conditions, hit points, and out-of-turn actions, then this might not be the game for you.

Of course, you could try porting over some of the gear and add robots and high-tech weapons to your Dungeons & Dragons games, or even try developing your own fantasy ladders.

DDN Blog: Goblins Only Care About Your Axe

As I said in a previous blog post, sometimes a fight is just not worth the effort of stopping the game to draw out a tactical map. I cannot imagine the amount of time I have spend drawing maps and juggling Dungeon Tiles, whether it was for a hunting party of kobolds in the forest south of Winterhaven, a handful of undead lurking within the catacombs under Shadowfell Keep, or for the final confrontation against Kalarel, his undead guardians, and a life-sapping portal.

Out of those, the only time a map really made things cooler was the showdown with Kalarel, and given my experiences running A Sundered Worldfighting clockwork horrors in Shom, fleeing from a gith-mounted red dragon and bladeling raiding party, and taking on a possessed Autocthon while riding an ancient blue dragonI am fairly certain it would have still been really awesome without it.

I am not sure how I buy into the player mentality of "its on the map, kill it". When running Age of Worms in 3rd Edition, this was not a problem, even though I would draw the map as they explored the dungeon. Really if there was a map, I used it, and they never complained. Maybe it is because there were not a lot of things to interact with, and the fights were over a lot quicker? Most of what I recall from the first was just walls and maybe some furniture. Occasionally there was difficult terrain or something that they did not want to step in, like brown mold.

The point is that drawing maps "back in the day" seemed to have been a lot easier than it is now, and given that they never really went off the map it probably did not feel like an investment that they were passing up. I keep mentioning to them that I would like to run the through Age of Worms using 3rd Edition, just to see what they like and do not like. I would be curious to see how they handle exploration-based mapping.

Anyway I have hundreds of minis and a lot of Dungeon Tiles, and given that my issues were more centered around the expenditure of time (how much have I wasted drawing maps and pondering terrain features and effects for trivial things?), I am glad that they are considering methods to reduce the time shifting between both "modes", as well as defining abilities to work with either.
May 12, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon Survival Handbook Review

Dungeon Survival Handbook is a 160-page supplement—counting the ad in the back—that gives players specialized character options for dungeon-delving, and Dungeon Master's the dungeon-centric resources to kill them anyway.

Chapter 1: Dungeon Delvers is the meatiest, featuring seven themes, racial writups for the goblin, long-awaited kobold, and svirfneblin, and seven organizations (complete with their own powers).

The Character Themes include the bloodsworn, a grim-dark mega-brooder that is dedicated to wiping out a specific type of monster or an organization, kind of like the 3rd Edition ranger's Favored Enemy class feature, and the trapsmith, which can be either the Sherlock Holmes or Iron Man version of  Robert Downey Jr., with the ability to quickly create traps, as well as notice and disarm them.

Each of the races gets either an Essentials-style writeup, complete with physical qualities, attitudes and beliefs, communities, adventurers, role-playing tips, racial feats, and racial utilities.

  • The goblin is pretty much unchanged from the Monster Manual version, except that they can opt between Wisdom or Charisma for a bonus and Thievery gets swapped out for Bluff.
  • Kobolds have already been previewed, but can opt between Dexterity or Charisma, gain darkvision, and lose shifty for shifty maneuver, which lets them and allies within 2 squares shift.
  • Svirfneblin—aka deep gnomes—gain a bonus to Wisdom and either Strength or Constitution, can ignore difficult terrain that is stone, can always pick Dungeoneering as a trained skill, and can gain concealment and some temp hps as a racial encounter.

The chapter then wraps up with Dungeon-Themed Powers. These are grouped by organization, each of which have a page or so of flavor content, thematically appropriate themes and classes, and both class-based and skill-based powers.

Chapter 2: Strive to Survive is basically an adventurer's guide to dungeons and the monsters that likely were legitimately squatting there, before you and yours kicked in the door to rob them. It starts out with the five rules of dungeon delving, as well as delving tactics that pertain to climbing, darkness, secret doors, sneaking, clearing rooms, resting, and more.

Dungeon Types focuses on the potential dangers presented by common dungeon settings like caves, crypts, mazes, and mines, as well as some more unconventional backdrops like an ice palace and floating castle. Each type has a section on variations, exploring dangers, inhabitants and rewards.

Where the previous section emphasizes the place, Dungeon Denizens is about the "people", from ankhegs to umber hulks. Each monster gets a paragraph of dialogue from a NPC, followed by a couple paragraphs of flavor text.

Veterans of past editions might get a kick out of Infamous Dungeons, which provides a page or two of information on eight dungeons from past editions, including Castle Ravenloft, The Lost City, and White Plume Mountain. While there is not nearly enough to run the adventures, the information, sidebars, associated backgrounds, quests, and feats might be enough to coerce DM's to pick up the originals to convert (or at least inspiration to make your own).

Almost three-quarters of the way through, Chapter 3: Master of the Dungeon changes gears to the other side of the screen. It starts out giving some pointers on how to run the dungeon. Cold, ruthless, let the dice fall where they may? Cheat in order to help the players win? It is more of the stuff that we have been getting for basically the entire time we have been getting advice on running dungeon crawls, but at least its a solid-and-short repetition.

Like Neverwinter Campaign Setting, this book also has a section on Involving the Characters. It goes beyond simply hooking them by the theme, also providing ideas on how to give the players a "tough choice", drop clues to lead them on, introduce new characters that oppose them, and more. I really like this format, and hope that it continues beyond the edition. There is also just over a page of advice on exploration, choices, mazes, and puzzles.

If you are up for Creating an Underdark Adventure, there is a six-page primer with an overview, the Underdark's "role", ways to get the feel right, developing a plot, building encounters that use cavernous terrain features, a small glossary of underground terms, and "An Underdark Trek" skill challenge. It is kind of like the poor man's Underdark supplement, but it fits and does not take up too much space.

Dungeon Makers goes over a combination of eleven races and organizations that commonly dwell in dungeons, from cultists to kuo-toa to cliche'd wizards. It talks about key locations within the lairs they might build, as well as what they might look like. I particularly like the sidebar on cultists: Ten Trappings of a Cult's Dungeon.

The Power Word Kill and Wish Special Rewards were previewed already, and unfortunately there are only two other scrolls: Mass Heal and Polymorph. Mass Heal restores all hit points, healing surges, grants temp hps equal to your bloodied value, cures all diseases, and renders everyone immune to fear. Polymorph transforms the target into an Elite monster of its level + 2, but only for the encounter. Still kind of neat, though I would have liked to see a ritual or something that lets the player change her race.

First you get the dragon, then you get the money.
Dungeon Companions features four example companion characters (Dungeon Master's Guide 2), including Meepo of 3rd Edition (I think) fame.

Appendix 1: Build Your Own Dungeon is four and a half pages of dungeon-building advice. Again, standard stuff; figure out the dungeon's purpose, theme, and location, consider changing up the way "known" monsters look and act, etc.

Appendix 2: Random Dungeons is a collection of sixteen tables that help you determine the maker, dungeon type, location, the reason why the dungeon was built, its defenses and weakness, motifs, and more. If the characters are using the themes from this book, there are a pair of tables to randomly determine how you hook them in.

Even though I enjoyed most of this book, it is kind of a hard sell. Players get the lion's share of content, but have no use for the content on adventure- and dungeon-designing. At only about 40 pages, I can understand DMs not wanting to shell out thirty bucks—or whatever the Amazon discounted price is—for basically a quarter of a book. If you dug Halls of Undermountain, this makes a great companion book, though.
May 08, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legend & Lore: Rogue Design Goals

I guess according to Twitter it was supposed to be the wizard's turn to show off her design goals, but the rogue *ahem* stole the spotlight.

Ultimately the design goals can be condensed into two key points: rogues do not fight fair, and they are skilled. So, very, very skilled.

The first part I have no problem with, and has basically always been there from the start. In older editions I guess thieves had to work a bit more in order to get their backstab off, but it was probably relatively cooler given that ability scores did not do much to affect melee attack and damage output.

In other words, landing one big attack without much of a risk of getting caught was better than trying to go toe-to-claw with a big monster.

This was made easier to pull of in 3rd and 4th Edition, as all you really needed was to flank a monster. 3rd Edition made it a bit riskier, partly because there were plenty of monster types that were immune to critical hits (and therefore sneak attacks), but mostly because there was no way for a fighter to actually defend you from a monster should it decide to turn its attention to you.

4th Edition reduced the damage quite a bit, but opened up the floodgate on what was fair game, and with fighter-types being actually able to keep monsters off of you, it was easier to get into the fray without much fear of retribution...not that rogues did not have tricks of their own to get away when that happened.

From the sounds of things it looks like rogues are somewhat receding back to 3rd Edition, with a more rapidly scaling sneak attack an emphasis on waiting for an opportune moment. I would like to see 4th Edition's flexibility maintained, so that players can make a thief-type, swashbuckler-type, or even a street thug-type depending on their tastes.

As for skills, they will apparently be able to reach a higher degree of mastery than other classes in a given skill. Since the statement lacks a qualifier for either skills or classes, I take this to mean that if they want to be better at Arcana than a wizard, or know more about Religion than a cleric, they can.

This mastery extends to them performing feats that while not technically magical, certainly seem so. The only magical-ish think mentioned was slipping through shadows, the idea that a rogue could spin a lie so complex that even magic would be hard-pressed to unravel is pretty appealing. To top it off, the article states that they will be able to do so without "much exertion", and that "luck and chance play no role in determining success".

On one hand I can kind of see where they are coming from, as back when rogues were called thieves they were one of two classes that had more than a handful of skills. As editions progressed they became one of the classes that got the most skill points or trained skill choices. In order words there is a reason why they are commonly labeled the "skill-monkey".

On the other hand--if the article is to be believed--I do not particularly like the idea of a rogue being able to transcend any class in any skill they choose. Lots of stuff I do not have a problem with, but I think that wizards should be head of the class at wizard-type skills like Arcana, extraplanar knowledge, alchemy, etc, and that rangers and druids should be the best at nature and what-have-you.

Ultimately I am curious to see how both goals play out, though I am a bit wary of the latter. But, hey, that is what a playtest is for.

DDN Blog: Wizards with a License to Kill


A previous blog post on background and themes made it pretty clear that backgrounds and themes are just going to be respective packages of skills and feats, though other information drops hinted--or could at least be interpreted--that they might confer other benefits as well.

This post states that themes and backgrounds "also give a character class access to the feel that's traditionally been in the keeping of another class". It then explains that in prior editions if someone wanted to play a spy that they would probably start as a rogue, or at least multiclass into rogue as soon as possible.

I can agree with this statement--though not with the one about a wizard of any edition acting like a spy, especially "to great and wonderful effect"--because rogues get a lot of skill points/trained skills that make them ideal at sneaking, lying, and information gathering. So, yeah, if any class can pick any skills then it opens up a lot of concepts that you might be unable to easily and/or reliably realize. It also clarifies that classes must have a core identity and mechanics that are fundamental to that class.

In other words this sounds like "classes give you class features". I wonder if feat choices will let you pick up class features from another class, like in 4th Edition, or boost logical/thematic/iconic combinations of two or more other classes, like fighter/wizards, rogue/assassins, druid/barbarians, ranger/druid/paladins, etc.

Ultimately what I take away from this short post is still that backgrounds and themes largely exist to speed a player through character creation. What I do not know for sure is the order of operations; you can pair of any background and class, but what about themes? From the sounds of the slayer theme I guess that classes will at least have specific theme options, which I liken to sample character builds from 3rd and 4th Edition, though I could also see them having generic or broad themes that are largely applicable to multiple classes.

What I am curious about is if backgrounds will do more than just dole out skill bonuses. For example, will the spy background provide a network of contacts? Will themes only determine your feats, or will they also provide other benefits like they did in 4th Edition? Does a wizard with the farmer background still have access to Arcana, or whatever a wizard uses to deal with magic stuff? Can a fighter start with the slayer theme, but then move more into the realm of archery if the campaign direction warrants it?
May 06, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Blog: Avoiding Choice Traps

My first thought of reading this blog post is, "Huh...I really should rerun finish Age of Worms!" I got my 3rd Edition group up to Shadows of the Spire (I think that is what ti is called), and it just feels like a darned shame to just leave them stranded in the jungle. The horrible, worm-infested jungle... Maybe after I wrap up A Sundered World I can get them to go back and try 3rd Edition, if for no other reason than to houserule it up and see what we like/hate about it.

Anywho, feats.

Feats are basically a game currency that you can spend to increase increase your numbers (ie, Weapon Focus or Toughness), add additional things to something (that warlord feat that lets you add your Charisma modifier to you inspiring word, and another I think lets allies make a save, too), or give you an entirely new thing to do, or eat least another way of doing something else (that eladrin feat that lets you fey step to dodge something).

My question is that if each class is supported by different pillar ratios, then why would each feat need to be applicable to all of them? Presumably if I play the game without feats it will work out just fine (if a bit harder), so why not continue making feats that cater to different pillars? Lets say that a player starts out with a fighter with the slayer theme. She is all about combat, but a few sessions in discovers that the game is more exploration- or "roleplaying"-oriented. Given that the math is purported to also be flattened, why can she simply not grab a level in an "exploration" type class (ranger, rogue, druid, etc) and/or retrain a feat?

Additionally it is not like feats have to be limited to one-or-all pillars; you could have feats that provide a benefit to one, all three, or just two on a case-by-case basis. This avoids the designers having to uniformly shoehorn a set number of benefits into a feat. Players who want something complex can take a feat that gives them an entirely new thing to do (like a skill power), while players that want to keep things simple can just nab a "+2 to two things" feat.

I guess that makes my answer "something else"; have feats do what you want, or even need, them to do. You do not need to set restrictions on them. I do not know how feats will differentiate themselves from class features (especially given that in some instances they sound very much like class features), but I liked what they did in past editions. I just think there should be less of them, and that the designers should think very carefully before giving us stuff like 3rd Edition's Toughness (one-time hit point bonus of three) or Cometary Collision (ready an action to charge a monster that also charges).
May 04, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: Sexism in Fantasy

Rather than get into the topic of sexism in fantasy art, I am going to focus on what I would do if I were in charge of the visual guidelines for Dungeons & Dragons, starting with what I said about wizards awhile back; have characters that are dressed for the occasion. Like, no female wizards scantily clad in skirts while going dungeon crawling, or warriors with "boob" windows, breast-molded armor, or shoulder pads with little-to-nothing else. I guess a simple rule of thumb would be for artists to think about what a male character would wear, and then have them change it into a woman (pose and all).

In a similar vein outside of profile images intended to show off what races and gear look like, I would not want characters--men or women--to be drawn as if they knew they were posing for an art piece in a role-playing game book. Along with fighting monsters, I also want to see characters preparing to go into a dungeon, telling stories and keeping watch around a campfire, searching a room for traps and loot, kicking back in a tavern after cleaning up a dungeon, and doing other things that are not adventuring. To me these are much more interesting to me then a party standing around posing and staring at me with their meta-glares.

I would also like for the art to imply an actual world: 
  • Give me a diverse array of adventurers; young and old, men and women, a variety of skin tones, tall and short, thin and fat, and varying degrees of attractiveness. I am not saying that the entire spectrum needs equal treatment, but I want there to be visual evidence that there is more to the world than heavily muscled men and painfully contorted women. 
  • Adventurers are probably not going to have clean, polished weapons, armor, and...nothing else. Warriors are probably packing more than one weapon, wizards should be carting around actual spellbooks and pouches for components, almost everyone should be carrying their own backpack, bedroll, waterskin, rope, and more.
  • The appearance of various cultures should also be indicative in the architecture, as well as their clothing and gear. I guess kind of like how 4th Edition did it with the jagged weaponry of tieflings and the geometric armor of a dwarf, just...maybe not so uniform. For example, not all dwarves need to have "dwarfy" armor or wield "dwarfy" weapons. Why not have a human wearing chainmail with a blocky-looking axe, or a halfling with a jagged dagger?

That it is for now. There is probably more, and you can see what other people think in the comments section at the bottom of the article.
May 02, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

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