Archive for June 2012

D&D Next Blog: Modularity and Combat Subsystems

In 3rd Edition (and probably older editions) there were combat actions that anyone could try to do; disarm, trip, bull rush (ie, pushing), sunder, grapple, etc. Given that trying any of these things usually let your opponent make a free attack, you did so at a penalty, and the creature's size, number of legs, Strength, and Hit Dice (of which the latter two usually exceeded your own) could be a factor, the key word was try. Now, if a player chose to specialize in a particular maneuver (gattling chain trippers come to mind) you could pull these off fairly well until you started going up against big and/or mult-legged adversaries (giants and dragons).

Ultimately this resulted in my group basically never really bothering. The risk was too great, and both the chances and payoff were often pretty low. 4th Edition made grab and bull rush pretty easy--yet pretty pointless--to do, but largely got rid of the other maneuvers by restricting them for better or worse to specific powers; if you had a power that knocked a creature prone, or push/pull/slide, then it basically always worked even if you factored in size. Otherwise you "officially" could not do any of these things, even tripping, unless your DM was willing to houserule an exploit in (which from experience was actually pretty easy).

The current proposal is to create a 3rd Edition-style list of maneuvers that anyone can take a stab at, penalty and all. Want to knock someone down? Make an attack at -5, unless they have 3-4 legs, in which case it is -10, and it will not work at all if the target has more than 4 legs or is bigger than you. You can also take a -2 to hit in order to deal bonus damage, which is not nearly so punishing (and can be largely offset if you use the proposed +1 bonus from flanking). Tom mentions that the "fighter's actual maneuvers don't require a penalty to the attack", though I am not sure if this also applies to maneuvers that anyone can take via feats, if non-fighters get reduced penalties, or what (and I wonder how well this will hold up with those dissatisfied by 4th Edition's justification of martial-exploit narrative control).

On one hand I dislike this approach, because imposing an attack penalty goes back to 3rd Edition's risk/reward issues. -5 is pretty steep, even without giving the enemy a free attack for your troubles. In other words, it kind of gives you the illusion of choice; yeah, you can try these things, but why not just stick to the tried-and-true attack/spell/whatever you are actually good at? On the other hand I guess I kind of like it in that it discourages special-attack spamming for non-fighters, who can basically cash in attack advantage to negate the penalty (well, the -2 and -5 ones anyway). I could see such characters using opportune moments to do something cool.

Personally I would prefer a system that allowed characters with maneuvers to make an attack, and if the attack hits do something else by spending a resource (ie, Dragon Age's stamina), having feats from a tree (something like Fantasy Craft's weapon trees), or force a saving throw (potentially with a penalty if the weapon makes sense, like hammers for knockdown or spears for tripping). You could even combine one or more. Unfortunately as I mentioned above, I do not think this will sit well with the people who disliked martial-attacks-as-narrative-control.

As a side note, I find it odd that Tom seems excited about facing rules.
June 28, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Rule of Three: Tactical Combat, Maneuvers, and Vancian Magic

While two out of three is normally a pretty good ratio of success, the part that I did not like was the one that mattered the most to me:

Despite owning Players Option: Combat & Tactics for many years, I never used the rules on facing. Actually I never used most of the rules, though if I did facing would be a pretty low priority. It makes me think of combat in Final Fantasy Tactics, where you took turns with enemies running around each other like some kind of reverse-prison-rules-murder-dance. I like that the rules packages are presented more  "cafeteria style" as opposed to bundles; your group can decide to give tactical combat a whirl, but strip out things like facing. If you are feeling particularly perverse, you can instead just use facing.

Maneuvers sound a lot like a transition spot between 3rd and 4th Edition: there is a base group of things that anyone can try to do, like grab, trip, pushing, etc, in addition to options that anyone can pick up that let them do those things plus an attack (the example cited being tide of iron). People have voiced criticism in how the fighter can avoid sucking in games without feats (or when compared to classes that get their toys and more), but I guess somewhere Mearls specifically mentioned that fighters will get things besides maneuvers. I am curious as to how flexible maneuvers will actually be; will most anyone be able to buy and use them, or will the end up being trap-like options?

So far so good, but then we get to...vancian magic. Again with the pseudo-Vancian magic.

The last time I voiced my opinion of this, someone posted a link with a decent explanation of actual Vancian magic from one of the Dying Earth books (I assume). While I liked what I read, Dungeons & Dragons does not convey that kind of flavor. Rather than making them seem like living entities with a hard limit that wizards can retain (like, four), it just kind of glosses over it and sums things up magic as a fire-and-forget per-day resource (oh, and depending on what edition wizards cannot wear armor for some reason...unless they can). I guess it is a difference of how Yoda explained the force in Episode V and how it was chalked up as micro-organisms in Episode I.

Currently the wizard sounds like it is set to pseudo-Vance, though I am hoping that the final result has wizards that have better explained mechanics (ideally with no more spell levels), or a variant magic system to satisfy those with different cravings.

Rule-of-Three: Clerics, Advantage, and Tactics

Full article can be found here.

Clerics & Domains
Though I liked how 3rd Edition made it easier for clerics to be the heal-bot by swapping out spells for healing magic on a whim, I did not like how being Good required you to channel positive energy, while evil required negative energy (which made it harder to be an Evil cleric yet function "normally" in a group). In a similar vein, while I liked how 4th Edition made it easier to play a cleric that did more than funnel hit points into the fighter so that she could stay propped up, I did not like that all clerics could heal as a default choice.

Domains are pretty cool, though. Ideally I would like to see spell lists set entirely by gods and/or domains, so that not every cleric can necessarily heal, have ready access to healing, or heal in the same way; for example, clerics serving a god of war or protection might not be able to heal, but simply avoid or ignore damage (kind of like how some creatures can fight at negative hit points), while a cleric of death might be able to devour souls to heal herself and/or allies.

I do like that a cleric of war "gains proficiency in heavy armor and shields". I had been hoping that they would go the route of doling out other features on a case-by-case basis.

Advantage/Disadvantage
Now this I do not like. Basically if you have advantage from a bunch of sources, it still only takes one disadvantage to render them all obsolete. With a lack of conditional modifiers, I would prefer to have it where you stack them all up and whichever has the most "wins".

Tactical Combat Module
Predictably this sounds like a cluster of rules that adds 4th Edition's level of grid-oriented combat back into the game, though the mention of facing makes me think of 2nd Edition's Combat & Tactics book (I wonder if they will include rules for dueling and/or called-shots?). I am hoping that the rules make it very easy to turn this on and off, so that I can run free-form encounters and then switch over to a grid for something that I feel "deserves" it. I also hope that some of the individual portions are easy to strip out, so that I can disregard facing (or other rules) if it bogs down things too much.
June 19, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legend & Lore; Monster Design in D&D Next, Part 2

Nothing mechanical, but it sounds like they are still using quite a bit of monster design from 4th Edition.

Strength in Numbers
In 3rd Edition an orc was CR 1/2, which meant that you would want to throw like, two of them at a 1st-level party as part of their balanced encounter. Given the unreliable nature of Challenge Ratings, depending on your party this number could vary quite a bit. Case in point when I ran Burnt Offerings for three players, they got creamed by a trio of goblins (otherwise known as the first encounter).  4th Edition upped the character-to-monster ratio to a 1:1 basis, with the rule of thumb being that you could swap out one monster for four minions (though I have heard five works better). In this way you could end up throwing a small horde of monsters, better approaching what I felt was a realistic amount.

There are a few critics opposed to the notion of just throwing more monsters at a party to account for their level. I think that this solution is just as good--if not better--than simply leveling up a monster; I would rather my group take on a larger warband of goblins, then just a handful that are inexplicably harder to hit and deal way more damage. I also do not mind the notion that a town can provide some measure of support without having to bump their level up to that of the party's. Besides being able to lead an army or rally a militia that will not instantly die (or just be a pointless exercise in d20 rolling) would be awesome for charismatic characters.

Shepherding Complexity
4th Edition gave us the leader role for both characters and monsters, which basically let you know that this thing was good at giving out bonuses/healing/actions/etc to her allies, and I loved it for adding a tactical layer for both sides of the screen: DM's got the ability to buff their monsters and let them do other things, while players got an important target to go after. It also introduced "monster schticks", in that goblins could scramble away if you missed them, gnolls did more damage when you were surrounded, and orcs got in free hits before they died.

Thankfully it looks like they are retaining both of these concepts to some degree, which will hopefully be an indication to 4th Edition fans that they are not just throwing everything out. From what Mearls is saying, DMs will still have a lot of control over how complicated they want their encounters to be, by choosing if you want to include leaders/champions. I am also pleased to see that they are "likely" to add in a rule for breaking away from melee (hopefully also for running by monsters), as well as grouping monsters into units (which makes things go faster and also helps avoid just running through monsters to get to the BBEG at the back).

Nonhumanoid Monsters
Not all monsters will be simple, especially those that tend to operate alone. Sound advice, though I hope that "elites" and "solos" will not take a billion rounds to whittle into the ground. I am glad to see that rather than build in hard-wired special attacks to an individual monster, that they are at least considering general maneuvers that a monster can try. This is what I wish they had done with 4th Edition's powers, and hopefully this time around we will not see slight variations on "make two attacks" or "make an attack and knock a target prone".

Presentation
I really hope that they stick with something like 4th Edition's stat block, as it made things very easy to navigate and read, even for complex things like dragons, primordials, and gods. Go ahead and and include all the "lore" content that you want (personally I dug a lot of those Ecology articles), but do not force DMs to dig through a huge wall of text that then forces them to reference another book to figure out what this or that monster ability means.
June 18, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Season Finale

A bolt of lightning many times larger than it should be hammers into Autochthon, sending it careening down the mountain, over the cliffs, and into the now-tranquil seas. A dragon, specifically the blue dragon that they saw before going into Moradin's fortress. Thankfully its attention is focused on Autocthon, and it does not notice them.

It does smell them.

It looks at Iron Jack, then at the axe, then back at Iron Jack again in disbelief. "The axe has chosen you?" Before Jack can answer, Autocthon rises from the water, so the dragon scoops them up and takes to the sky, narrowly avoiding an energy lance fired from Autocthon's extended arm. They take shelter on the other side of the mountain, where the dragon grills them on who they are, how they got here, what they are doing here, what is that giant metallic creature...you know, the usual things adventurers get asked.

Iron Jack mentions the golden pillar of light, that he absorbed it, and that they just "kind of found the axe underground". Before they can get into it too mcuh the top of Celestia explodes. With more pressing matters at hand, the dragon says that he will occupy Autocthon while they go inside and destroy him Unicron style. As they fly towards the mountain-obliterating god-like construct, they see that it now has four arms, and that those four arms had combined into one massive cannon.

The arms separate, four cylinders that look like wagon-sized versions of the cores used to power the energy lance that they had before shoot out of its back, and it fires again. The dragon manages to evade each of the lances and throws the slaughterstone behemoth at Autocthon's mouth and then grapples it. Blades jut out of Autocthon's body, and the dragon suffers numerous tiny cuts as its mouth seals and the behemoth collides with it.

Danh activates the behemoth's blade array and the adamantine swords easily tear through the material and they get inside. As they try to find there way to something expensive-looking that they can destroy, they end up facing off against numerous clockwork horrors, made worse by the dragon wrestling Autocthon about.

Eventually they find what they think is its heart: a glass-like container filled with raw Astral energy. They start blasting it with magic and beating it with the Axe of the Dwarven Lords, eventually damaging it enough where it starts to leak and melt through Autocthon's torso. They flee and run out of the mouth, assuming that the dragon would be there to catch them and that they would  not be hundreds of feet in the air.

Well...at least the dragon was there to catch them.

Or rather, try.

Autocthon explodes into two halves, but as a construct is still able to use its energy lances. The dragon swoops towards them, but just before it can grab them an energy lance slices off its hand, and another clips it. Everyone goes crashing into the water, and Danh is almost dragged to the bottom by the behemoth. They make it to shore, battered, barely alive, and both behemoth- and dragon-less. They decide to make camp.

During Iron Jack's watch the behemoth surges from the water, mindlessly walking along. He stops it and collapses it back into a cube. Everyone is pretty happy that at least they still have one toy. Then an arm, followed by the upper half of Autocthon, comes out of the water. This makes everyone's day considerably worse.

He tries to blast them with his last good arm and Iron Jack throws the Axe at his hand. This time the entire arm explodes off. They rejoice until they realize that Autocthon's mouth is also an energy lance. They figure, what the hell, and just charge him. The lance misses and they leap on its head. Using the behemoth's swords they carve it open, and Iron Jack proceeds to axe the rune-core inside, destroying it. What remains of Autocthon collapses in a heap.

Then, of course, the dragon shows up. Having no ship, the dragon agrees to take them to Hammerfast so they can see if they can find Jack's crew.

At Hammerfast they find hundreds of refugees from neighboring islands, including the githzerai they ran into on the way to Moradin's Forge. It seems that Autocthon had been busy expanding while they were away. They are reunited with Jack's crew, but the reunion is short-lived as they are taken to the dwarven council, who could apparently sense the Axe. The council consists of dwarves so ancient that they are barely recognizable stone pillars. Jack gives them the Axe, and agrees to let them study the behemoth so that they can produce more of them for an imminent attack.

Jack decides that in order to have any chance of beating back the clockwork horrors that they need more allies. He is told that Asmodeus and Nerath are either unwilling or unable to send reinforcements, so determines that their best course of action is to seek out an old friend of his, and they set a course for Horizon.

BEHIND THE SCENES
I do not even remember when these sessions happened, as it was quite awhile ago. People had things going on, Diablo 3 came out, and the D&D Next playtest finally went public, so we have missed quite a few weeks. That, and since the party is now 11th-level they get to, for the first time ever, choose a paragon path. Given that Jack has absorbed a god's power, I told him to think of some divine things to give his character. I am curious as to what everyone else came up with.

The fight inside Autocthon was fun to run. I randomly determined which way Autocthon was facing and falling every round, which caused them and the monsters to tumble about, sometimes into hazards like the Astral heart and fire cores. It was also fun trying to envision what might be inside Autocthon (thankfully I head read some of Exalted: The Alchemicals and played God of War 3).

Josh did some more unexpected things, like offering shares of his money to the crew if they did not want to come along for the suicide mission (which reminded me of a scene near the end of Serenity), and went out of his way to make a deal with a local tavern for profits in selling his divine booze. He even wanted to find a way to get rid of his divinity, which the dragon told him he could do by investing it into a dominion (as well as that worshipers could empower him).

I think the biggest--and most pleasant--surprise was that he just kind of mention his "old friend the astral pirate", as if it was an official part of the world (though they first debated going back to Acamar, the Feywild, a god-corpse, or even hitting up Asmodues to talk with the devils). I like Josh keeping me on my toes, so I have no problem throwing it back on him when I ask him the name, personality, history, etc of the NPCs he is looking for.
June 14, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legend & Lore: Monster Design in D&D Next

My preference in creating monsters is often close to what Mearls describes here; I start out with flavor material and then design mechanics that serve what I envision the monster doing. Rarely I think of a neat mechanic and work backwards to create something to serve that, though I guess it could make sense for things like constructs, angels, and creatures of a conceptual origin. I believe that a lot of people operate this way, thinking of things and then modeling mechanics around them, and I have no problem with that.


What I do have a problem with is the final result, and not because it kind of reminds me of 2nd Edition.
To be fair, I do not dislike everything about 2nd Edition.
A lot of people are complaining that the hook horror is a sign that we are going to go back to "boring" monsters. That is, many of the things we saw in 3rd Edition, where goblins, orcs, gnolls, and so on simply walked up to you and tried to hit you with a weapon. Aside from Size and damage rolls, mechanically the creatures were basically the same. 4th Edition changed this by adding a kind of racial schtick to help differentiate them: goblins would scramble out of the way if you missed them, orcs would get in one last swing, and gnolls did more damage when they ganged up on you.

Largely the hook horror deals damage and is really hard to hide from. If you are hit then you get impaled, which lets it deal a lot of automatic damage against you (like, 20 on average). Now, you can spend your turn to escape, but since the hook horror's only real thing to do is hit you it could create an endless circle where it just hooks you, so you try to escape, but if you do it just hooks you again, and so on and so forth. I recall that there were many complaints about "stun-locking" in 4th Edition, where a character or monster could use some power or combination to just continuously reduce or negate a creature's turn.

Here are some proposed changes:

  • The designers should at least take one step back towards 4th Edition's action economy, and allow characters to spend only their move action to try and escape. This way they can spend both actions to try and escape twice, or better model the description of someone desperately attacking the hook horror as they try to break free.
  • I also think that the impale action should only work on a character that is bloodied. This would better fit the way hit points are being modeled, where the hook horror initially grazes or scratches a character up, until it finally sticks them on its hooks and begins to chow down. This goes back to the scaling save-or-die effects that we had heard about awhile backI would also change twist and bite to deal a smaller amount of damage (say, Strength modifier) and give the hook horror advantage with its bite attack. 
  • Move things that will likely be commonly referred to, such as echolocation into a glossary. I am all for putting things in a stat block, but what "blindsight" does should be in one place, while its range should be in the monster's stat block. No need to needlessly repeat verbiage.
  • Finally I liked the hook horror's fling attack. Throwing characters into crevices and stalagmites can be fun depending which side of the screen you are on.

Otherwise I was happy to read that they are going with two types of blocks, including non-combat abilities for a "complete" writeup, using the 4th Edition system as a baseline, both for making monsters--which I hope is still going to use that theme system they mentioned--and encounters, and random encounter tables. Normally I would say no to tables, but given the whole flat-math bit (and my playtest party being able to feasibly take out the ogre at level 1) I feel a lot more comfortable with it.
June 11, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Blog: Ranger Design Goals

With what we have seen of backgrounds and themes the more I read about these design goals, the more I wonder if D&D would just be better served as a point buy-like system in the vein of Dresden Files, Exalted, Shadowrun, etc, where you accrue XP and spend it on things or increase existing things.

Plenty of people have stated that the paladin could work as a theme, or some combination of cleric and fighter, as otherwise unique features like detecting/smiting evil could be picked up via feats, and to a point I am inclined to agree.

The ranger seems to be in a similar spot, as a lightly-armored warrior and/or rogue with lots of nature-oriented skills could fit the bill fairly well. This is still the area of the game that concerns me: just how different are all these classes going to be? What will a ranger bring to the table that cannot be picked up via another class?

Well...here is what we got so far:

The ranger is a wildnerness hunter and tracker.
This was kind of a big deal in 3rd Edition, because there was a Tracking feat that you had to take for some reason. I think it was that it allowed you to make Spot/Wildnerness Lore checks to find tracks, but it might have just been to notice ones over a specific DC (kind of like how only rogues could find traps with Spot DCs over 20). 4th Edition made no such restriction, allowing anyone to use Nature/Perception to notice tracks.

I am hoping that no one is barred from trying to track things, and instead rangers just gain a bonus instead of being part of an exclusive club. I am happy that it sounds like they are going to use 4th Edition's bonus damage mechanics instead of prior ones.

The ranger is a warrior.
Rangers have pretty much always stuck with light armor for the Dexterity bonus, so no surprises there. They had less hit points than fighters, so I wonder if they will have more than usual or some way to reduce/ignore damage. I do not care for the whole two-weapon/archery bit, but at least it sounds like a theme and not a class feature; trying to qualify for two-weapon fighting was a pain in 3rd Edition, and while 4th Edition made it actually feasible and worthwhile, it still required making a new class feature over and over.

The ranger is a protector.
Huh. I have never known rangers to be the tanking type, so I wonder if this means that they can interrupt attacks or actually get in the way of them. If the latter, I wonder how it will differ (or improve) from the Defender theme. I am guessing that at least they will have some benefit against poisons, foraging, making shelters, and so on.

Rangers are friends with wild creatures.
Good with animals, but animal companions are not assumed. It also sounds like that they can have more than one, and they are better off for it.

These are good goals for evoking the ranger archetype as we know it in D&D, with the sort-of exception of access to druidic magic. I would prefer to see this as a class feature choice, but would also be fine having it be something that can be gained through multiclassing or a feat.

On the surface though I am not seeing much to differentiate it from a fighter with an Archery/Two-Weapon theme and some nature skills, except for the Hunter's Quarry-like class feature. Yeah they get pets, but that sounds like it could (and should) be a background benefit or feat option.
June 10, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: Making of an Owlbear, Part 2

Another encounter with owlbears? At least, to a point, it indicates that they are paying attention.

I never really liked the whole "a wizard did it" treatment. Not just because I have no seen magic that let a wizard fuse two things together--which could be pretty awesome--but because it also seems lazy. Even so I like Oldgrump and his sasquatch-like gait, while the beak on Longbeak does not make me think of owl (even though it matches what we have seen), and Tallgrizz's action-hero pose seems kind of out of place.

Out of track 2 I actually kind of like Screecher. I could see it as an owlbear-variant, but I think I would actually prefer it as another monster entirely. While I do not particularly care for the Gorillowl, to me it looks more like result of a wizard's experimentations or bizarre magical mutations. Again I would prefer something else for the "core owlbear", but could see room for both.


The "Grizzowl" is basically exactly what I want: it looks bear-like, dangerous, and seems to walk mostly on all four legs. My only problems are that it looks too expressive (like, sinister), and I guess the beak could be a bit bigger, though I can still easily imagine it mauling adventurers to death with just its claws, chowing down, and then barfing up massive pellets later.
June 07, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Bounded Accuracy

In a nutshell I basically agree with everything that Rodney says, here.

A few players in my group, including myself, were already negatively criticizing the pointless number-scaling in 4th Edition for quite awhile. After all if the characters gain bonuses at a set rate, and the monsters and skill DC's get increased at a set rate, then why have increases at all? Granted, it was not as bad as 3rd Edition, what with its various Base Attack Bonus and saving throw progressions, not to mention bucket-loads of bonus types, synergies, and potential for feat and/or magic item abuse, but I am still glad to see it all go.

It is because of this that I do not mind the game sort of going back to 3rd Edition's monster model, where ability scores and gear better informs what it can do; things like goblins and kobolds can remain a threat without having to tack on Hit Dice, class levels, or just ramping up the level, while things like ogres and owlbears can be encountered, tested, and run from without killing a character with a single lucky attack (the ogre in the playtest "only" dealt like, 2d4 + 4 damage). It will also be nice to be able to see what a monster is packing and make an accurate assessment as to what it can do.

The same thing goes for static skill DCs. 3rd Edition used this, but it was pretty easy to hit some DCs earlier than was expected (looking at you half-elf bard with a Diplomacy of 20+ at level 2). 4th Edition used a difficulty guideline to help you peg easy, medium, and hard challenges, but again it was pretty easy to get some insane numbers early on (most characters could get a +12 to +14 in a skill that they wanted to use with little effort). Next looks like a combination of 4th Edition's flat bonus and flexible application, and 3rd's static list. Curious to see how it all hashes out.

After two editions where magic items are assumed, skill bonuses tend to start at the +7 range or better, and everything automatically scaled in some fashion, I think that this is something that my players will need to take some getting used to. Overall I like this direction: ability scores have a greater impact overall, skills can be flexibly applied to more things, magic items will (ideally) feel more special, and NPCs can be useful without having absurd amounts of hit points, defenses, attack bonuses, and damage output.
June 04, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next Playtest Report

For everyone arriving through reddit, here is a more up to date playtest report.

We started late while waiting for Randy so I did not do much to inject any kind of plot, and we treated it like a delve night: they arrived at the ravine, I described the area, drew out the cave entrances that they could see, and told them to do whatever they wanted to.

They initially investigated the area for signs of the local fauna, but due to universally low rolls—except Randy and his character’s skill mastery—could only deduce that the region saw heavy traffic, and settled on the cave with goblins.

Randy’s halfling decided to scout out the area. Since it was getting dark and he lacked low-light vision, I told him that he could not see much of anything beyond the first 10 or so feet. Despite a lack of sight he still tried to venture in, using the wall to guide him. He got about 30 feet before he heard a goblin patrol approaching (thank you adventure notes). Though he could not see anything I let him roll to hide anyway (in retrospect I should have used disadvantage), but he was able to avoid detection and make it back out okay.

Knowing that there were goblins inside they figured that this was probably going to be the “ newbie easy” cave, so Kiara lit up a light cantrip and they started exploring. They went right, hoping to avoid the goblins that went the other way, and quickly heard goblins talking in a nearby room. Then backtracked and took the tunnel going forward from the entrance. It only ran 30 feet and seemed to be a nice place for goblins to crap and leave bones.

So of course they decided to light it on fire, for...reasons?

Their juvenile prank in progress, I think that they were hoping to see a geriatric goblin barking in his native tongue about "darned adventures in his cave" as it tried to stomp out the fire, but when they tried to leave they instead ran into a goblin patrol (again, thank you adventure notes). The combat did not take long, like...maybe a round or two. I do not think I even hit anyone except Kamon, whose cleric was on the frontline with Josh’s dwarf.

A pair of surviving goblins fled to area 17, grabbed some more goblins off camera, and came rushing back just as the party finished looting coins and 21 “bags of food”. We rolled initiative again, I went last (again), and by the time the goblins got a chance to do anything their numbers had been cut down (again) and they fled (AGAIN).

Things continued like this until they had cleaned out three or four rooms and ran into a second goblin patrol with a quartet of hobgoblins (I recall that there were hobgoblins in area 23). Wise to the goblin’s ancient tactics of legging it when things go south, they managed to kill them faster than they could flee. At this point Josh was pretty beat up and they decided to take a long rest, having spend about a half hour on the murder-hobo clock.

When they tried to go back in the entrance was blocked by the ogre. I determined that the goblins, not wanting to keep throwing their numbers into a psychotic meat-grinder, bribed the ogre to put a stop to whoever was invading their home and massacring them. The party picked a fight with it using ranged attacks, and despite its low Intelligence I figured that it was smart enough to not just towards people that could shoot and outrun it, so it just went to go tell the goblins what was up.

Rather than follow it into the cave, they went into the other cave that was also the ogre’s home, took its bag full of treasure (and cheese), and lit fire to the dried leaves that amounted to a bed. After adding arson to their laundry list of crimes (does using a goblin as a puppet to intimidate other goblins count?) they figured that they would go harass other indigenous humanoids, possibly still with the goblin subtype.

At this point I was kind of curious about how well they would hold up against a group of 20 or so goblins, a goblin king, and an ogre, so before they began their ascent told them that 20 or so goblins, their king, and the ogre had mobilized against them. They used the cave to funnel their numbers, but Randy ran off to go steal treasure instead, and in the end they got sandwiched between goblins, a rock, and the ogre when it came in through the back door.
They say that in D&D there are no winners, but I think Randy proved that addage wrong seeing as he got away with 20d10 cp, 20d6 sp, and I do not even know how many bags of goblin food.

CHARACTERS




Dwarf Fighter
Despite having really only one thing to do in combat, Josh enjoyed that he could basically grab anything handy—including a dead goblin—and use it as a weapon. His damage bonus alone meant that he would instantly kill a goblin, and he only relied on his axe when up against hobgoblins and the ogre, because damage actually mattered then. Otherwise it was chairs, crossbow, headbutts, etc. Reaper synergized quite well with the wizard; if he missed a target then she would be guaranteed to kill it on her next turn, and vice versa.

Despite it being only twice a day, I like Fighter Surge. It is a simple way to give a fighter (or anyone else that has multiclassed into fighter) extra attacks at no penalty, though I wonder if anyone will complain about the fighter still having "dailies". I also like the scaling damage.

Halfling Rogue
Randy disliked having to be able to setup sneak attack by having to hide, effectively making him attack every other turn. I pointed out that the monsters only had 5 hit points each, so even with a dagger his odds of downing a goblin in one hit were pretty good. The only thing that it would have really helped on were the hobgoblins, which at 11 hit points he could still kill in one shot if he got lucky.

I think that the issues here were with expectations. Rogues in 3rd Edition had a fairly easy time qualifying for Sneak Attack. Really the hard part was making sure that the target was not immune to Sneak Attack (constructs, elementals, plants, undead, etc) or flanking (beholders). 4th Edition made it even easier, to the point where a rogue could gain combat advantage from basically any point with the right exploits.

Here? Since there is no rule for flanking, the rogue has to rely on getting advantage through other means, which is basically limited to hiding, and it is ridiculously easy to hide thanks to Thief Hiding and Naturally Stealthy.

Personally I prefer the rogue not being up in melee all the time, but having to skulk about and prepare for a massive damage spike. While not much at 1st-level it rapidly scales, and a rogue could reasonably hang back and pepper monsters with sling bullets for a hefty amount of damage every other round. Given that it would also have advantage on these attacks, it more than makes up for having to wait a turn.
Josh did not like the rogue's "skill insurance". I forget why, exactly. Not being able to roll less than a 10 on skill checks, but still being able to make two re-rolls a day certainly helped ensure that Randy was able to keep out of sight. I did not have any problems with it, and if the goal here was to make the classes do different things well then I think they are on the right track.
High Elf Wizard
None of us are fans of, as Randy puts it, "magical Alzheimer's". I have mentioned plenty of times why, and still hope that they give us a better system, even as an option (even if it is the option).

In the first adventuring day Kiara used two spells, burning hands and sleep, to varying degrees of effect (roughly half the goblins saving each time). Both times she tried cleaning out a bunch of goblins with fire a lot of them made the save, which was still nice because it made it easier for everyone to clean up (especially since her and the dwarf could deal damage no matter what). Nice, but certainly not the spiking effect that I was expecting.
Was her wizard “as good” as the fighter or rogue in combat? I’m not sure. Magic missile helped polish off goblins that Josh missed (or prep them for clean up), and detect magic allowed her to identify the handful of magic items that they picked up before dying. She was definitely useful, but not more so than anyone else, which I find to be a good thing.
Human Cleric
Kamon did not like having to spend his entire turn healing, especially because on the following round the monsters could knock off most if not all of the hit points restored. He greatly preferred the old action economy of Standard, Move, Minor, and given that they are including actions that let you do other things, so do I.

The cleric was pretty durable, the lance of faith evocative, spells made more sense, but the healing low. On dungeon-crawls where players can largely control what they do, and when, I do not expect this to be an issue. I think it also makes it more difficult to run games where you want to have a faster pace or impose time constraints.
I hope that they expand divine spells to a larger list instead of prepping a smaller number from a list, and give the cleric benefits based on a god or domains. Both clerics work, so I hope that they do not limit the cleric to one type. In fact, I would like to see more for some more unusual gods.
BESTIARY


Right now I would really, really like some kind of indicator as to what level a given monster is an “appropriate” challenge for. Even a vague idea would be fine.
I like that they are using 3rd Edition-style mechanics, in which a monster’s ability scores help inform other things. Normally I would not say this, but that was back in the day when the game also used 3rd Edition’s bonkers scaling.
I was pretty surprised to see that a 400-something XP dark cultist “only” has a +4 to hit. In 3rd Edition his attack bonus—as well as spell-casting capabilities—were based on Hit Dice and/or class levels, which supplied other things as well like saving throw modifiers, feats, skill points, spell save DC’s etc. Often this resulted in a monster that was too weak in some areas and/or too strong in others. Sometimes the monster would be a challenge for some characters, but could be steamrolled by others.
4th Edition helped manners by giving everything levels and using largely unified math. Some did not like it because they felt that monsters were too balanced, but I think that it helped make things even easier and let DMs generate swingy encounters when they wanted to instead of on accident.
The flaw in both methods is that it creates a redundant numbers game. Characters get numbers so that they can fight numbers, and so on and so forth. If characters get numbers by leveling, and the monsters get numbers to account for that, then why even have them in the first place?
I like the trend that I am seeing. Monsters have bonuses and ability scores that make sense for their size and skill, instead of what is "expected" due to their CR or level (though the hit points on some things like the goblin king seemed like a bit much). Combat was able to start and stop quickly, and there was no grind that I felt in early 4th Edition: goblins and hobgoblins went down in a couple hits, though the ogre could take quite a pounding (and they could have feasibly killed it by being smart and keeping their distance, which I liked).
I liked a lot of the flavor text and special abilities, especially the dark cultist's writhing darkness ability, which was contingent on an alter being around. I am also glad to see that otherwise samey monsters like goblins and gnolls retain features besides description that help differentiate them.
OVERALL


I am looking to Next to provide character archetypes that emulate what we see and read in fiction. Rogues waiting for an opportune moment and fighters hewing their foes apart are big steps in the right direction. Clerics with a more flexible spell-casting system better evoke divine intervention instead of dialing in their “miracles” ahead of time. Wizards are really the problem child here, and WotC has taken a big step back by largely moving back to a deprecated magic system grounded more in tradition than sense.
The difficulty is dialed up a bit more in that healing is less widely available, hit points are a bit lower, and in general there are more monsters all around. Though I personally never witnessed this trend, hopefully people who complained about 4th Edition characters being "invincible" will be pleased by this.

Having actually seen skills not tied to ability scores in action, I really liked it, though my players still tried shoehorning uses into scenarios when they could. I think they are still too used to scaling skill DCs and bonuses of +10 and up being the norm.

To me it is a good start, and I am waiting to see how the game is shaped over time.




June 03, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

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