Archive for August 2012

D&D Next: Storm Origin Homebrew

Storm Heritage


You are descended from a storm deity, giant, or titan, or were exposed to magical phenomenon at birth.
Hit Dice: 1d6 per sorcerer level
Hit Points: 6 + your Constitution modifier at 1st level, and 1d6 (or 4) + your Constitution modifier per sorcerer level gained
Armor and Shield Proficiencies: You are not proficient with any forms of armor or shields.
Weapon Proficiencies: You gain proficiency with basic melee and simple ranged weapons.
Sorcerous Powers: At 1st level, you can spend 1 willpower to use the wind gust power.
Additionally, each day, after you have spent 3 willpower, you are surrounded by gusts of wind. Until you complete a long rest, non-magical attacks made against you suffer disadvantage.
Level 4: You can spend 2 willpower to use the shocking retaliation power.
Additionally, each day, after you have spent 10 willpower, currents of electricity dance across your skin. You gain resistance to electricity and thunder damage.

Sorcerer Spells


It is recommended that you take shocking grasp for thematic purposes. You can also nab light and shield and give them a “lightning” flavor.

Discharge
Minor evocation

You unleash a small electrical charge against a nearby creature.
Effect: Make a magical attack against a creature within 30 feet of you. On a hit, the target takes 1d6 + 4 lightning damage.

Lightning Strike
1st-level evocation

I like the idea of having generic spells that can be modified as opposed to a bunch of spells with similar effects, but slightly different names. But, until then, here is basically a 1st-level version of lightning bolt.
Effect: One creature within 60 feet takes 3d8 lightning damage, and is knocked prone. If the target makes a Dexterity save, it takes half damage and is not knocked prone.

Sorcerous Powers



Wind Gust
You unleash a powerful gust of wind, knocking nearby creatures back and allowing you to briefly take to the sky.
Effect: Each adjacent creature must make a Constitution save or take 1d6 thunder damage and be pushed 5 feet away from you. You can then fly your speed. If you do not land on solid ground at the end of your turn, you fall.

Shocking Retaliation 

Requirement: You can use this power only as a reaction in response to taking damage from a melee attack.
Effect: The target takes 5d6 lightning damage, and must make a Constitution save or be stunned until the end of your next turn.
August 28, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Houserules

Though I stick to the official rules for playtest sessions, here are some houserules that I am using in my D&D Next campaigns to make the game better for my group.

More Maneuvers 
Maneuvers are linked to weapon categories and secondary ability scores, providing a minimum Expertise die value. For example, when you use Deadly Strike with a hammer or axe, your Constitution score provides the minimum roll you can make, while Parry does the same with daggers, swords, and Dexterity. I am thinking of lumping this in as part of a "Weapon Mastery" option for fighters that want to avoid nabbing too many maneuvers.

Also, some warlord maneuvers:
  • Direct the Strike: As a reaction, one ally that hits an enemy with an attack and can hear you can spend your expertise dice for bonus damage.
  • Inspiring Word: On your turn, you can spend an expertise die to allow an ally that can hear you spend one Hit Die as a reaction. Roll the expertise die and add it to the target's Hit Die result, though the total cannot exceed the maximum value of the Hit Die.
  • Look Out: As a reaction, one ally that was hit by an attack and can hear you can spend your expertise dice to reduce the damage.
  • Partnered Assault: When you attack, you can spend two expertise dice to allow an ally that can hear you make an attack against the same target.
  • Scramble: On your turn, when you move you can spend an expertise die to allow an ally that can hear you to move half their speed.
Resistances/Vulnerabilities 
These are no longer half/double damage, but have set values like they did in 3rd and 4th Edition. This means that dwarves cannot just drink poison without any ill effects, while giving them room to grow (like a tiefling's fire resistance did in 4th Edition).

Silver Standard 
I price a lot of things in silver pieces, so that it is feasible for someone besides a player character to actually afford a simple weapon and some armor (and reduce overall treasure to non-economic shattering results to compensate). This gives things like gold, platinum and gems a bigger wow factor, as well as making things like scale armor something that does not require a small dragon hoard to acquire.

Simple Spell Points for Wizards 
Wizards start with 3 spell points per day, and it costs 1 spell point per level to cast a spell. (as with a sorcerer). When the wizard runs out, she is stunned until the end of her next turn.

Weapon Accuracy 
Everyone's Weapon Attack bonus is reduced by 2. Heavy, high-damage weapons like maces and axes give you a +1 to hit, while more graceful, elegant ones like daggers and swords give you a +2 to hit (similar to how it worked in 4th Edition, just with reduced bonuses). Basic weapons in general tend to have a +1 bonus.


August 27, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Keep on the Shadowfell, Part 1

Here is part one of my D&D Next conversion of Keep on the Shadowfell. It goes all the way up to the kobold lair, which has a new map to go with an expanded plot. The second part will wrap things up in Shadowfell Keep, and after that it is off to Thunderspire Labyrinth (and, uh, beyond).
August 24, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Playtest: Return to Blingdenstone, Take Two

I had initially planned to run the playtest using Ruins of Undermountain, but had a hard time finding a good map and we ended up being fairly cramped for space, anyway. I resigned myself to the playtest adventure again, this time with a better head for it after having blundered through a bit of it during the first playtest session. Since everyone also showed up late, we just plowed through barebones character generation as fast as possible (so fast, in fact, that I forgot to give the guy playing the rogue another background).

I gave them the plot's cliffnotes, saying that they were basically trying to help a bunch of deep gnomes clear out their ancestral home, which has been infested with orcs and such, and that they were having a hard time of it. They decided to try and enlist the aid of the pechs, and during the trip there ran into the ruined temple that Kamon went through the first time.

He encouraged everyone to investigate it, which was good for me because it made things easier given that it was familiar territory. Despite having four people, combat started and ended really quickly, and despite the low hit points only Kamon's fighter took a hit. Even the gray ooze was not able to nail anyone despite Kamon knowing about it and it making its Stealth check. They got all the way to the drow wight at the end, which had captured Melissa's character (she was able to play right as they got into the room, so I figured I would drop here there).

Now I think that the battle is supposed to feature the wight and three skeletons, but they were having no trouble hacking their way through. The rogue took a pretty nasty hit, but was able to free the dwarf, allowing her to roll off a healing word and searing light combo (eating up all of her daily spells in the process). Though the spell missed, half of a 3d12 roll is still pretty potent, burning off almost half of the wight's hit points.

In the end I got one hit in before the wight was nailed with a sneak attack and polished off with a magic missile. He only lasted as long as he did because I saw how easy the fight was and had him animate about a dozen corpses on the room's floor (half of which were vaporized by the sorcerer's burning hands before they could even do anything).

Feedback
The players liked most everything about what they saw--especially the sorcerer, warlock, combat speed, and checks--with the exception of wizard spells (of course), hit points, and armor. Though two of them also play 3rd Edition (as well as 4th), none of them like pseudo-Vancian magic. They also felt that hit points were a bit on the low side. Personally I think that given most monsters have attack bonuses of +0 to +2, that despite a lucky hit having a decent chance of taking someone down they are fine.

As for armor, the fact that the rogue had a better AC than the fighter irked even the rogue player. 500 gp for scale armor is pretty steep (again, silver standard?), and I think that there should be more granularity to armor (like, more shields), as well as a system for resisting damage on the heavier stuff. This would require revamping resistances, which I also think they should do. At the least give the fighter benefits for having it, as well as put other options in the starting price range.

Anyway, with the exception of the wizard we are largely still enjoying the playtest. Here is hoping that we do not have to wait three months for the next packet.


Dragon's-Eye View: Lizardfolk

I am not fond of either (and I will tell you why, just not in the comments section). As with the goblin, some of the sketches look better. Actually, with the exception of the one on the left I would rather see any those in the final product.


The lizardfolk just looks too shiny, and not scaly enough. It also has this odd, kinda-sorta 3dish style going on, like they were going go that route before switching artists and ran out of time. The sailfin and bright-green color makes it look more like an eel person. Even the face looks somewhat eel-like. The bottles and stuff on the belt look like they were shopped in after (even the spear looks messed up).

I would scrap the sailfin and go with spines and/or ridges, or even nothing at all. If the sailfin has to stay, go with something that does not run down the entire back and is not so pronounced (like here or here). I find it odd that at the end he says that they should not be reminiscent of dragons, despite gold and silver dragons having the whole sailfin bit but, whatever. Give us thicker scales with a more pronounced texture, like crocodile hide. This makes sense if they dwell in swamps (why not give them webbed hands and feet, while we are at it?). Also consider giving them a more upright stance to further differentiate them from trogs (and play up the healthy aspect).

When I read the bullet point on natural weapons and armor, I was not sure if it meant claw attacks and a natural armor bonus, or things made from wood, stone, and bone. Given that lizardfolk have always used weapons and armor, I will assume the latter. I would make their gear look competently made. Like, yeah, they have to use stone axes and turtle shell shields, but they are pretty functional. I would also add decorations to imply some sort of artistic culture (such as etching, shells, symbols painting on shields, etc). Of course some might trade with other races, so there could always be the odd warrior with metal weapons and armor (though probably still decorated).

The troglodyte also looks off, but not in the "degenerate" way they are going for. The skin on its back has more texture going on, which is good, but the rest is the same kind-of-3d-but-not shiny look. The knife--like the lizardfolk's belt trinkets--looks tacked on, as if the artist thought after the fact that it should be holding something, but did not know what (same goes with its ankle bracelet and rope-pouch). It does not look like something I would expect to see underground, nor does it look like it "lives to eat".

The hunched appearance is good for a start; I think that they should look more savage and primitive than lizardfolk, and the stance helps imply that. However the loincloth seems out of place (is it concerned about people scoping out its lizard junk?) and bracelet looks to polished (even if it was taken from something else). I would use 3rd Edition's troglodytes as a basis--with their big eyes, kind of stupid-looking grin, stone weapons, and lots of scavenged gear, but no real clothing to speak of--but maybe go a more savage route. More teeth would be a plus.
August 23, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: The Scaly Things

As with the article on goblins, this one gives us a brief overview on three monsters: the kobold, lizardfolk, and troglodytes. Likewise the overviews we get match up with what I expect; kobolds are reptilian, set traps, and have an affinity for dragons, lizardfolk live in swamps, use blowguns, clubs, and turtle-shell shields, and troglodytes live underground and smell bad.

It even has the scaly skin.
Though I got into D&D back when kobolds looked like this, I prefer their latest incarnation, which has all the benefits of the previous one, but with dragons.

I like that lizardfolk are not inherently evil, especially considering that there are plenty of evil humanoids out there.  While I remember Semuanya--as he/she/it was featured several times in 3rd Edition--I had to look up Sess'Innek, which I guess was a tanar'ri lord originally from 2nd Edition's Monster Mythology (getting an update in 3rd Edition's Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss).

The article also mentions half-demonic lizard kings, which could make for a solid adventure hook when raiders start abducting humanoids for sacrifices and/or giant fiendish snakes start slithering about. No mention of khaasta or hermaphrodites (which I recall being a big deal).

As for troglodytes, well...I vaguely recall maybe running into one in a published adventure, but mostly I remember them throwing stuff at me in the D&D arcade game.

Probably poop.
In all seriousness, I prefer the 2nd and 3rd Edition looks to 4th's.

As for the aquatic fare, though I have only really used sahuagin in Eberron campaigns I am not opposed to locathah and merfolk appearing in the initial run (in fact, I have plans for merfolk and the Court of Coral in an upcoming campaign). I guess this is largely because they never got a lot of, ahem, depth. In 3rd Edition I recall a monster entry and...that is it. In Eberron sahuagin were a bigger part, often serving as guides for ships heading to Xen'drik.

In other words, none of the poll choices work for me. I do not think that they all belong in a supplement, though if they are best served there then go for it. If they can be delivered with some compelling flavor and adventure hooks (or even an adventure) in the initial run, all the better. Just do not give us a merfolk stat block and call it good.

Legends & Lore: Sorcerers and Warlocks

I know that I already talked about the sorcerer and warlock, but today's Legend & Lore goes a bit more in depth, so I figure I could talk about that (and reiterate some previous points).

As I said before the 3rd Edition version of the sorcerer did not go into much detail, even when a Dragon article added heritages and one of the many spellcaster books added more feats and prestige classes (some that sucked pretty hardcore by all accounts). There was also a lack of spells that made it easy to stick to a theme. 4th Edition was a major improvement in that it added in spell sources from the start (with meaningful benefits), but also lacked enough thematic spells.

The new sorcerer maintains this trend, giving you origin-specific powers that you can use in addition to spells, but introduces a new mechanic in which you gain additional bonuses the more spells you cast in a single day (though, understandably, not many choices).


As I said before much prefer the idea of the sorcerer tapping into her magic just changing her, as opposed to a second soul trying to break free. Do not get me wrong, I do not think that the flavor is bad, just...it could be better. I liken it to Howl from Howl's Moving Castle (and, to a lesser extend, Nue from Karas); the more he used his magic, the more it would change his shape into a weird-looking bird-thing.

I do like the idea of soul-riven as sorcerers that went too far and can no longer turn back (which sounds like what almost happened to Howl, actually), as well as the adventure hook of an evil wizard tapping sorcerers for arcane energy. Makes me think of Final Fantasy VI (and, again, Nue near the end of Karas).

Minor flavor gripe aside, again I think that the sorcerer should physically drain themselves. If the soul-trying-to-break-free is a bad thing, I would also like to see some drawbacks to over casting magic. What about using a recharge timer, and if the sorcerer uses magic again before the time has elapsed, is penalized in some way (potentially becoming a threat to her allies)? What about taking a penalty when you use up half or all of your Willpower, so that it is a kind of double-edged sword? As it stands the sorcerer only benefits, which kind of contrasts with the flavor (though I will say that I would like to see a kind of soul-riven theme that represents partial, permanent transformations).

Having recently referenced Complete Arcane in order to add in an infernal bloodline, warlocks have gone through a bit more change. Initially the 3rd Edition version were conceptually pretty similar to sorcerers in that they sought to harness magical power that suffused themselves. They differed mechanically in that they basically had even less variety in spells, infinite usage, and built-in class features.

4th Edition borrowed 3rd Edition’s binder, changing them so that they were arcanists that short-cutted the whole learning curve by bargaining power from a powerful entity. This gave them a better identity, and some awesome flavor material to boot (even if it was not really expanded upon).

I like that the flavor focuses more on how the warlock gets to where she is, which was mostly glossed over in 4th Edition, as well as--for now anyway--giving names to the patrons and what they are getting out of the deal. This is the kind, or perhaps depth, of flavor material that was missing, and helps a player understand the concept and better realize the character.

My only real flavor gripe is that the warlock has a spellbook for rituals that are granted to her by the patron. That seems kind of odd. If the patron instills the warlock with the power to perform these feats, why have a spellbook at all? Otherwise I would still like to see a system/guidelines/advice for relationship with the patron, kind of like how artifacts had a Concordance rating. I am interested to see how they handle other invocations, as well as how they scale.

D&D Next: Tiefling Homebrew

Ever since I got Planescape Campaign Setting back in high school, tieflings have been one of my favorite races.

In 2nd Edition they were supposed to be the half-breeds of a human and some other fiendish critter, though they initially had a standard set of racial traits. The Planewalker's Handbook let you swap those out for multiple rolls on a Tiefling Abilities table (it also had a table with random physical traits), and if you were into the whole Skills & Powers thing there was an issue of Dragon that would let you spend character points to start with things like wings.

3rd Edition kept the flavor and standard tiefling traits of energy resistances and darkness 1/day. I did not like it very much, partially because it had a level adjustment, which meant that you could not play one unless you started at a certain level (in this case 2). It was a really poor way of dealing with races with more/better racial features than the norm, especially considering that they did not scale and gradually became worthless.

The other reason was that it lost a lot of the variety from 2nd Edition. I am not even sure if the devils, demons, and yugoloth could even all cast darkness. It made more sense to throw in a variety of spell-like abilities and resistances, to help you mechanically justify the lineage of your choice. I get that it would have given the race a lot of real estate, but there is no reason why this could not have appeared in Unearthed Arcana (which had a lot of variant races), or a Dragon article.

4th Edition changed the flavor, making tieflings the ancestors of a bunch of power hungry nobles that were cursed as part of making a literal deal with the devil. I actually liked this origin, and it explained why tieflings in the art all looked the same and had the same racial features. They even published some racial powers and feats that let you shake things up.

At any rate, I am not sure what origin story they will go for in D&D Next, but I do not see a reason why being the offspring of a fiendish creature or being cursed for making a deal need to be mutually exclusive, or need different racial features. The idea with this tiefling homebrew is that you get a basic set of generic features, and pick a heritage to give you some variety (at this point it is just ability bonuses and spells, though an ice devil lineage would change up the resistance).

Since we are doing another playtest on Weds, I am going to see if someone will give this a shot with my infernal pact. If you use either of them, lemme know what you think.




Tiefling

Traits
As a tiefling, you have all the following racial traits.
      Size: Medium.
      Speed: 30 feet.
      Low-Light Vision: If there is no light within 30 feet of you, you treat shadows in that radius as normal light, and you treat darkness in that radius as shadows.
      Deceitful: You have advantage on checks made to lie or deceive another creature.
      Language: You can speak, read, and write Common and Infernal.
      Infernal Heritage: Choose an infernal heritage. Two heritages are described here: horned devil and succubus.

Horned Devil
      Ability Score Adjustment: Your starting Constitution increases by 1.
      Fire Resistance: You have resistance to fire damage.
      Cause Fear: Once per day you can cast cause fear.  The save DC is Charisma-based.

Succubus
Ability Score Adjustment: Your starting Charisma increases by 1.
Fire Resistance: You have resistance to fire damage.
      Charm Person: Once per day you can cast charm person. The save DC is Charisma-based.
August 19, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Playtest Report

Since Kia was not up for a two-hour commute in 100 degree weather, we decided to give that whole playtest thing a run. The last time we gave it a shot opinions were pretty mixed: rogues only getting Sneak Attack damage every other turn, fighters were boring, severely limited healing, and fire-and-forget magic. On the other hand being able to get through an entire fight in about a minute was a plus.

Character generation took about an hour. This is not as bad it sounds given that we only had one laptop to scope out the pdfs, and I was the only person who had really looked at the content beforehand. We also had a new person in the mix.

We decided to roll ability scores--4d6 and dropping the lowest--which resulted in everyone but Melissa having an 18 (Josh actually had two). Wanting a low stat, he traded Melissa for one of her 9's.

Kamon went with a wood elf bounty hunter rogue (spy scheme), Josh with a human charlatan sorcerer, and Melissa with a human acolyte fighter (slayer). Seeing as they lacked healing, I let her trade in the two orisons for healing word. In the end everyone had a 20 in the main stat, which was fine because it was only the three of them. The best reaction during character generation was from Josh while reading the charlatan's gear package; he really dug the flavor and the fact that at no point did I say "adventuring kit".

Once we started the adventure I ran into some hiccups. It was not very easy to navigate, and kind of confusing. In the end I just winged things and let them explore the cavern, having them run into some orcs--which downed Josh's sorcerer in one hit--before finding the ruined temple.

Here it transitioned into a more traditional dungeon crawl, which was good for me since I was used to describing narrow, branching hallways. It was bad for them because they were not used to having to navigate narrow, branching hallways by description, and I was both surprised and happy when Kamon suggested that they start mapping the place out.

They managed to explore a few rooms, avoid a pit trap, kill some skeletons, almost lose the fighter to a gray ooze--you know, the usual--before we had to wrap things up. Despite being "just a dungeon crawl", they actually enjoyed themselves quite a bit, particularly the fact that stealthing worked, combat started and ended quickly, the fighter was extremely potent, and though Josh never got to see the sorcerer's "Hulk out" mechanic in action, thought it was a really cool direction to go with it.

There was more added danger than what they were expecting, about as much as I would anticipate from 3rd Edition, but the Hit Die mechanic helps alleviate this (even by just a bit). Fighters with the parry maneuver can also help mitigate damage on a round-by-round basis, so long as they are the ones getting hit. I really dislike the cost of equipment; I had to just give Melissa a weapon and armor, because she could not afford anything. Most ended up with studded leather, given that scale armor is 500 gold pieces.

We are planning to give it another shot later this week, with more people and characters ready to go. I might roll out minis along with my Dwarven Forge sets. Maybe and try to find a more direct dungeon crawl-type adventure. In the interest of trying out everything, I might just make a series of connected rooms with random monsters (so, maybe Kamon can use Rapid Shot against things that are not orcs or skeletons).


Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Infernal Pact Homebrew

Seeing as the official warlock class was released a few days ago, I figured it would be more constructive to create an infernal pact to go along with it, rather than keep up with my homebrew version. Seeing as Levistus really liked the rapier, my alternative feature for level 3 would be to burn a favor in order to get bonuses with it.



Infernal Pact: Levistus
You have forged a pact with Levistus, the archduke of Stygia. Cunning and ruthlessly ambitious, Levistus grants you a measure of his power in exchange for the use of your senses and knowledge as he seeks a way to escape his icy prison.
      Level 1: When you gain this boon, your eyes turn black, as Levistus uses your eyes to view the outside world.
      Benefit: When you make an Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma check or saving throw, you can spend a favor in order to have advantage.
      Level 3: All of your teeth become a bit sharper.
      Benefit: As a reaction, you can impose disadvantage on a melee attack made against you by a living creature.
      Level 5: Your skin becomes paler, as if you were constantly freezing cold.
      Benefit: As an action, you can spend a favor to gain cold resistance for 1 minute.

Warlock Invocations


Blade of Annihilation
Minor invocation

You conjure a sword of black metal, forged in the Nine Hells.
      Effect: As an action, you conjure a longsword. You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls when attacking with it, and it uses your Charisma instead of Strength for determining the damage bonus. You can then cast a spell or make an attack.

Hellrime Blast
Lesser invocation

You draw upon the freezing cold of Levistus’s prison, unleashing a torrent of black ice at your foe.
      As a consequence of knowing this invocation, your touch is unnaturally cold.
      Effect: Make amagical attack against a creature within 50 feet of you. If you hit, the target takes 3d8 cold damage, and must make a Fortitude save or have disadvantage on Dexterity checks and saves for 1 minute.
      When you reach level 3, the damage increases to 4d8.
August 18, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Future of D&D Keynote Speech

For those of you that missed it (which is likely no one), you can watch the entire thing here (skip ahead eight minutes).

There was a bit on art that I liked, and the statement "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" got used, which hopefully will not mean "we are not going to change things, even if we find a better way of illustrating/doing it". Peter Adkinson--a pretty funny guy--also pitched his web series The First Paladin. Oh yeah, and Ed Greenwood's voice is pretty bad ass. Like, Morgan Freeman quality. Mearls mentioned that some 75,000 people have participated in the playtest, and provided some examples of how feedback has shaped the playtest thus far (and also said that they go through forums, reddit, and blogs for ideas and additional feedback).

 It was a good watch, but I wanted to write at length on how they were going to handle supported settings, and the pdf backlog.

Since the backlog is the quickest to explain, I will just get it out of the way: In early 2013, WotC is going to re-release the entire backlog of D&D products. All of it, from every edition. Given that Next is not slated for release until sometime in 2014, this could be a nice revenue stream. Not sure if this will a subscription model, of if you will have to buy them individually. I would like to see something like Steam or Barnes & Noble, where you buy them and they become linked to your account. It will not circumvent piracy, but it is low-hassle, which helps.

As for supported settings, they are going to start with Forgotten Realms, as they always do, but are going to put a lot of energy and focus into it so we get something fully fleshed out. Likewise, it will yet again see another big change that Ed assures us will not be another Time of Troubles or Spellplague. It is called the Sundering, which Ed states will "right the realms". Judging by the name and symbol I take it to mean that they will split Abeir and Toril, which will allow them to fix whatever it is they feel needs fixing. They are also going to launch a six-part novel series starring Drizzt, Elminster, and some others that takes place during this time, though the actual setting will be set in the era that takes place after the event. The idea is that, while Drizzt and Elminster will continue to do their thing, it will be their thing.

They are going to avoid issues of numerous high-powered NPCs and second-fiddle PCs. As part of this philosophy, in 2013 Ed and Salvatore are going to help write two adventures that, depending on the majority feedback, will affect the final product. Some possibilities mentioned were toppling a kingdom, burning Zhentil Keep to the ground, and unleash a horde of demons.

I have not been a fan of the Forgotten Realms since early 3rd Edition, and did not really care about the whole Spellplague controversy. My issues were the massive amount of established history. When planning an adventure, I felt like I had to do a lot of homework to avoid stepping on the "canon". It is not that I dislike the Realm's style as a kind of pretty vanilla setting with a lot of renamed real-world cultures. That it fine. My problem is that there is so, so much "official" lore to muddle through, and it creates a pretty high bar of entry.

I loved how Eberron approached things. There are not high-level NPCs, except for a few high-level threats (which tended to cap out at level 16 in 3rd Edition), as well as lots of vague adventure hooks that the writer himself left open to the individual DM to hammer out (like the Dragon Prophecy, the layout of Xen'drik, what caused The Mourning, etc). If the writers give us a word with some history and themes, but largely leave the rest open to the DM to decide, I will be happy.

Regardless, it was stated several times that other settings will get support, including past stuff. While I am also not a Greyhawk fan (having like, never played it), I take it to mean that Planescape, Ravenloft, and Eberron will get support. Heck, might even see some Spelljammer in the mix, which I also never played but always wanted to.
August 17, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Warlock and Sorcerer Update

There were some things I definately was not expecting during the keynote speech, least of all another playtest update that adds two new classes--the sorcerer and warlock--and an adventure. The good part is that it allows us to fiddle around with two alternative magic systems, on top of having something else to do besides select random caves filled with random humanoid types. The bad part, for me anyway, is that I was just about to post a heavily modified conversion of the first part of Keep on the Shadowfell, as well as update my homebrew warlock to level 5.

Sorcerers
In 3rd Edition it was mentioned that sorcerers have magic in their blood, hinting at exotic ancestry like dragons (back when dragons could bone basically everything). As a bit of an anticlimax, this was just a way to introduce a variant spellcasting system that otherwise directly mimicked wizard spells, from blasting enemies with a handful of magic missiles a day, to summoning unseen servants. Really, there was not a lot of thematic synergies going on, here.

4th Edition gave every class its own list of things to do, and emphasized the bloodline aspect a bit more by giving us spell sources that not only provided unique bonuses, but also boosted specific spells (so a dragon sorcerer turning into a dragon was a bit better at it, and storm sorcerers were a bit better off with lightning/thunder spells). The problem was that, again, it was difficult to maintain a theme.

A did a blog post back in March (there might be more, but this is the big one I could find), where I went over how I would handle various arcane classes were I in charge. For the sorcerer, I mentioned how I would make them heavily defined by their bloodline, giving them limited magic that would not run out, and allowing them to boost it by exhausting themselves. I went on to describe a dragon sorcerer transforming her hands into claws to make melee attacks, use a breath weapon, and hardening her skin into scales.

Which, it seems, is kind of what we have so far.

Sorcerers have limited spells (2 at first level) and an origin that grants you specific powers (in this case dragon strength, breath weapon, and dragon scales). The spellcasting mechanic is basically what it was in 3rd Edition, just renamed. Instead of giving you slots per day, you get Willpower. Willpower is expended on a one-point-per-spell-level basis, and you get it back after a long rest. When you spend enough Willpower in a day, you start to transform, gaining a bonus to damage rolls at first, and eventually gaining damage resistance that varies on your heritage.

While I like that WotC is really trying to emphasize a theme here, I find it a bit odd that sorcerers become mentally exhausted the more they use their magic. Given that it is in their blood, I figured that it would be physically exhausted. I would have also like them to have the option to do the claw/scale bit as needed, though it is pretty fun to have an uncontrollable transformation happen as a result of using too much magic (though I would flavor it more as your heritage manifesting rather than overpowering you).

I also do not like the sorcerer spell list. I can get behind a dragon sorcerer using detect magic in a way that is explained as “smelling” magic, but magic missile and ghoul touch do not really evoke the whole draconic theme. This was a similar issue in 4th Edition, where I would want to make a dragon sorcerer and have to reskin powers with the preferred damage types, invent my own that I felt made more sense, or pick something else whether or not it made sense to me.

So, I would expand upon the sorcerer’s spell list so that there are a number of thematically appropriate options. Sorcerers with black dragon heritage should have some acid stuff, as well as the ability to breath underwater. Blue dragons could have the ability to dehydrate creatures, burrow, and lots of lightning. Green dragons could have some charm effects.

I would also move the Willpower mechanic over to the wizard (at least as a rules module), and give the sorcerer options to cast spells/boost magic by physically exhausting herself, getting nailed with conditions like stunned, or taking a variable amount of damage.

Warlock
I do not remember much about how warlocks were explained in 3rd Edition, but I liked the flavor in 4th Edition, which seems to have been maintained. My issues with 4th Edition were that while you basically got power from something else, there was nothing that even really encouraged you to interact with it, which is a shame. There was also no cost, despite the flavor material kind of hinting at some kind of trade off.

In the same blog post I mentioned above, and in my warlock homebrew, I talked about making the patron a bigger part of the warlock. You would contact it for new spells, and could also ask for aid, a temporary power boost, and other favors. It would also provide a vehicle for adventure hooks, which had the added bonus of social roleplaying opportunities (especially if its interests or demands conflicted with yours, or someone in the party).

So, again, I am glad to see that they are going in a direction that I wanted.

Though there is only one pact and patron to choose from, it at least has a name. You get pact boons from your patron at specific levels, which also cause you to manifest physical signs of your allegiance (which is how I envisioned the Signs class feature to work). You also have invocations (which you might remember from the 3rd Edition warlock), and have access to spells (which are limited to those with ritual versions).

The warlock resource is Favors. You start with two, and they are used to power your lesser invocations and pact boons. Unlike the sorcerer’s Willpower, you regain them during a short or long rest by using a rite to contact your patron. Again, this is something I specifically wanted, and am kind of glad that there is no associated cost (in my version you had to spend like, 5 gp I think).
Basically the warlock has a flexible, encounter-based resource, which I like. I also like that each lesser invocation has a kind of social roleplaying cost associated with it. No hard mechanics, but something to add to your character, though I could see DMs enforcing things from time to time.  The problem is that some of them, like eldritch blast and visage of the summer court, are pretty potent. Eldritch blast deals 3d6 damage from the start, while visage lets you charm everything within 30 feet.

Visage might not be so bad given that creatures that save against it cannot be affected again for 24 hours (another 3rd Edition thing) and costs a Favor, but eldritch blast has no restrictions or limitations. It also scales up to 4d6 at level 3.

Anywho the warlock looks pretty good, though as with the sorcerer I would move away from using wizard spells and just create warlock-specific rituals. I would also remove the spellbook, representing them as things that the warlock just knows how to do. Finally, make enough pact-thematic invocations so we will not have to “settle” on a choice.



D&D Next: Second Update

You can download the updated materials here. There is a lot more content this time around, including rules for creating your own character. There are no new classes or races, but there are individual documents that let you see what makes them tick. Same goes for backgrounds and specialties (formerly themes), and there are more to choose from. Also, it now goes up to 5. While there is no new adventure, I am working on converting my modified Keep on the Shadowfell notes so we can run something with a more solidified story.

The short of it is that I am liking the direction WotC is taking this. It looks like it is going to be more than just an older-edition rehash. The fighter in particular looks like it will be a lot of fun, and I could see the Combat Expertise mechanic being applied to other things (including wizards). Read on for the super-long version. Sorry if I miss/misinterpret something, but there is a lot of material to wade through (and to try and differentiate mentally from the first playtest release).

HOW TO PLAY

Advantage/Disadvantage still needs to be fixed or expanded upon. The idea that any number of advantages or disadvantages provides the same penalty, or that no matter how many advantages you have a single disadvantage cancels them all out (and vice versa) makes no sense.

I find the ability score cap of 20, no matter what level, kind of odd. A very lucky character could feasibly start with a 20 (I guess a human could have hit a 21), meaning that throughout their career it will never, ever change. At the least I think that there should be a gradually scaling cap; like, 21 at 5th-level, 22 at 10th, and so on until 24 at level 20.

Jumping is a lot easier to calculate, so that is something. On the other hand, the movement rates for climb and speed are needlessly wordy. Just say half speed. Standing up from prone only costs 5 feet of movement, and not your entire action. Not sure how I feel about that.

Still not a fan of resistances and vulnerability. Something more granular, like in 3rd and 4th Edition, would give some room for things to grow, as well as to help differentiate things (like racial traits, armors that provide DR, spells of different levels, magic items, etc).

Intoxicated now requires a check in order to even cast a spell. They really need to add in a Slow condition, and I could also see a case for Dazed (only take an action on your turn).

The optional rules on recovery are nice, and what I have been doing in 4th Edition for awhile; rather than regain all hit points, surges, and powers after a long rest, players gradually regain them. This prevents just plowing through everything, and being completely fine the next day. I also made it so that being dropped to 0 imposes a lingering penalty, like how it worked in Dragon Age.

I do not like the spell disruption rule. There is no true consequence of failure; you can just try again the next round. Also the DC is way to easy and does not scale depending on the threat or condition. The spellcaster should suffer a free attack (even if it costs a reaction) and/or lose the spell. Ideally I would like to see spell misfire brought into play, here.


RACES

Races have around a page or so of traditional flavor content that you expect (ie, dwarves are short, slow to trust, dislike boats, etc), and a number of general racial traits (like low-light vision, poison immunity, stonecunning, etc). In addition, each demihuman has two racial sub-types (ie, hill and mountain dwarf) that confers a +1 bonus to an ability score as well as one other trait. Humans are the odd man out, getting a +2 to one stat, and +1 to all the rest (so, no more bonus skill/feat).

I am curious as to why hill dwarves are much more resilient than mountain dwarves. A minor nitpick, but it seems like it would be the other way around. On another note, I am not too keen on flat out immunity to certain things (dwarves to poison, elves to charms). Seems too absolute. I do like that in addition to weapon proficiencies, races deal more damage with them to boot. Provides an actual incentive to use them, as it did in 4th Edition.

As a side note, it is good to see that high elves actually have mechanical backup as to why they are good at wizards, as opposed to 3rd Edition's model of "they just are despite having no bonuses to support that statement".

BACKGROUNDS

Backgrounds now specifically give you three skills and a trait. You can increase any skill by 1 at every even level (with a cap of +7). Perhaps as an option, I would like to see a ranking system that allows you to nab skill powers if your skill bonus is high enough. I do like that backgrounds have interesting role-playing and adventure opportunities, such as the thug’s Bad Reputation or the bounty hunter’s Bounty Board.

While there are more skills (23, I think), it is thankfully not as granular as 3rd Edition. Spot is back, and it strangely has the functions of Listen (what was wrong with Perception?). There are also a lot of Lore skills. Personally I preferred how 4th Edition handled naming conventions, with Arcana and History instead of Magical Lore and Historical Lore respectively. At the least I would group all the Lore skills together to make them easier to find.

CLASSES

Classes give you a floating ability score bonus (also +1), but only for the first level (so you cannot nab multiple modifiers for multiclassing). For example, clerics let you boost either Wisdom, Strength, or Constitution. I guess the idea is that you combine this with the racial bonus to get a meaningful stat boost. You also get maximum hit points at level one, and it looks like you get your Con modifier each level.

Cleric
I like how domains are being implemented. They are kind of like a mix of 3rd and 4th Edition (particularly the warpriest), setting your armor proficiencies, expanding on your spell list, give you additional ways to use the Channel Divinity class feature, and potentially other things like weapon proficiencies.

I like that a cleric’s armor proficiencies are set by domain, partially because it is what I wanted, but also because it makes more sense than giving clerics global proficiency (which lead to things like heavy armored clerics of a thief or magic god). I also like that they kept the spellcasting mechanics from the first playtest release; makes it feel more miraculous (and flexible).

Giving a cleric one orison at 1st-level seems about right. They can already do other things as-is.

I do not like how evil clerics can only use Channel Divinity to channel unholy energy, even if the evil god is not necessarily all about that. I think what it does at its core should also be set by domain, rather than just making it so that a character worshipping Bane cannot heal his allies (which he totally should be able to do).

The domain system looks good, so far; war clerics are good at fighting, while sun clerics fire lasers. Given how much time passed between the first and second playtest releases, I--and many more I am sure--will likely end up creating our own.

Fighter
The Expertise-Maneuver system looks great. Players that want a simple fighter can just opt to keep dealing bonus damage, or reducing damage to themselves. For players like me, I think it is flexible and dynamic enough to maintain interest throughout a campaign.  The point is that it has some form of scaling damage, thereby reducing the chance of it being eclipsed by spellcasters at higher levels (depending on what spells that entirely ignore hit points are capable of doing).

On one hand I like that thematic maneuvers are delivered via fighting styles, but I would like players to be able to pick what they want (which I assume is how it will be in the end).  For example, I could make an archer type, but take Jab so that I could stab an orc with an arrow before using it to shoot another one.

I wonder if they will open this up to other classes like rogues (Tumble), ranger (Snap Shot), and monks (Jab)? It could even suffice for warlords, allowing you to give other characters your dice bonus (or just burn them as part of reactions to give them advantage on attacks/saves/checks/etc)...actually, that sounds like a job for homebrew! Something else to consider is allowing fighters to commit Expertise dice for ongoing benefits (4th Edition stances, anyone?), like how you can reduce your Stamina cap in Dragon Age.

Rogue
I am a bit concerned about how good the rogue was with skills due to Skill Mastery; being able to always "roll" at least a 13 means that she is hitting the Moderate DC every time. Around level 5 it is feasible that her Dexterity will get bumped into the +4 range, and combined with Skill Mastery 11+ she will then be hitting Hard DC's all the time, too. I get that it is with trained skills only, but between two backgrounds you are getting six skills (assuming that building your own background does not let you trade in a trait for another skill). I will have to see how it works out in actual play.

I would pare down Sneak Attack back to 1d6 damage at 1st-level, and even go so far as to reduce how fast it advances...unless the rogue at its core is intended to have really high damage output? I think it should be one of several options, or make it scale a bit slower, as I do not think that high damage should be the default rogue’s thing. Why not make assassin as a specialty--thereby making it a scheme option--if a player wants to go that route (I thought that people were going to be able to trade advantage for extra dice?).

Finally, Knack (3/day) should be mentioned on the actual class table.

Wizards
I like that wizards are now able to add spells to their spellbook that they find (which may require an Intelligence check at the DM's discretion, another throwback to 3rd Edition). They also get to add more spells automatically at each level, with the number based on Intelligence. I like that they are going more back to the model of wizards having access to lots of spells, but I am still not liking the psuedo-Vancian magic.

Again, I would prefer spell points, spell recharge, and/or going even closer to Vancian, where they have a set number of spell slots and can prep a spell only once. You could even do it so that when they have a spell prepped that they also gain access to a cantrip. So force hammer might let them use magic missile. What about mixing it up with something like the fighter's Expertise dice? They could get a set number of dice per day to modify their magic, or spend actions to build them up (representing them gathering energy/focusing will). What if they gained a magic die by casting a cantrip, requiring them to use lesser spells so that they can build up to a better version?

In short, I am not opposed to a spells-per-day system, I just want the magic system to make sense if someone was trying to explain it in character.

I do like the universal spell DCs. I do not think it will eliminate a wizard having loads of low-level useless spells, but it should help mitigate it to a point.

On Dead Levels
I know that technically the rogue gets something at each level (an extra Hit Die if nothing else), but I think that the class features could be better spread out. Like, maybe drop Knack to a once per day thing, but then give an extra use at level 4? The fighter also has a few of these.

On Weapon/Magic Attack
Rather than bake in a flat bonus to weapon and magic attacks, why not link an accuracy bonus to weapons and implements? So clerics would get that bonus when brandishing a holy symbol, while fighter's would get a bonus depending on weapon (so swords are more accurate than axes), but get a class feature bonus that gives them a +1 to hit with everything at level 4.

SPECIALTIES

I like that feats basically always do interesting things. 4th Edition had its share of passive bonuses, but it also had lots of race and/or class specific feats that shook things up. Feats here are not class or race specific, but still change up how things work. Like, anyone with a Wisdom of 11+ can take Acolyte. At 1st-level you get two minor cleric spells, but at 3rd level you can sanctify your weapon, making it deal holy damage. There is no duration on it, but if you miss you can end the effect in order to reroll the attack. That is pretty damned cool.

Some of them, namely the Archer and Duel-Wielder, are kind of iffy. I like that your attacks are not penalized, but dealing half damage? I can see this being handy early on (especially against 2-hit-point-kobolds), but once you are squaring off against monsters with 20+ hit points...not so much. The Sniper feat also seems situational; you spend an action to aim, then on your next turn attack with advantage and can ignore cover. Good, I guess, if you are having a hard time hitting things behind cover. I think they should entertain the notion of being able to sacrifice your move action to get in an extra, albeit less damaging attack.

Necromancy theme is cool. I like being able to get a minion early on without having to jump through a lot of hoops.

The Toughness feat seems really powerful, especially for low Hit Die classes. It gives you a d8 each time you take it, meaning extra hit points and dice to burn during short rests.

EQUIPMENT

I am still not liking the costs of things, especially when we were told that the game would operate using a silver standard.

Barring class/specialty features heavy armor does not look too good, especially if you have a high Dexterity. In this case I am not opposed to borrowing a page from 3rd Edition, giving armors variable Dexterity caps and Speed penalties. It might be too fiddly for some, but giving armors--especially the heavy stuff--forms of damage resistance would provide a greater incentive to save up and actually wear the stuff, though I think this would work a lot better if damage resistance was more dynamic than "half damage against x".

More shields would be nice.

I like the greater variety of weapons, but would like to see properties--or something similar--from 4th Edition to help differentiate them. The table could use organization to help better identify categories. I like that finesse weapons let you use Dexterity without having to buy a feat/pick a class with the necessary class feature. I hope that they expand upon the notion of masterwork weapons and armor, especially if they want to reduce the emphasis on magic items.

SPELLS

There are more ritual options, as well as some spells that do more if the target's maximum hit points are not higher than a specific threshold. I think it would be more interesting if the threshold was the target's current hit points, because then you could have it so that the party whittles a monster down before unleashing a powerful spell. So, for example, you fight a demon and then banish it, instead of the just trying and ending the fight in one action or just flat out being unable to do anything with it.

I think it is odd that ability modifier no longer applies to spell damage, especially considering that it applies to the save DC for a spell and weapon damage.

Rope trick would probably work a lot better as a ritual. The duration makes it ill-suited for taking a long rest, which is what I guess everyone used it for before, but still good for a short rest and evading detection while doing other things.

Otherwise not much to say. The spells are kind of boring in comparison to the new toys that a fighter gets. Not sure about the overall power. I would be curious to see actual play reports on how well a level 5 fighter and wizard match up.

BESTIARY

This is the document with the most issues. The flavor content is gone, and while I do not take this to mean that it will be largely absent (as per 4th Edition), I see no reason to not include it. It is not like it cost more money. The stat block is looking like an inverted mashup for 4th Edition, with the traits, actions, and XP value on the bottom. I guess this is better than the original one, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Attacks
Instead of citing the reach on each attack, monsters should just have their space/reach cited in the block. Attacks that exceed this can have it called out. Also, why is the range and number of creatures in parenthesis? Why not separate it all by semi-colons, or do what 4th Edition did to make it easier to navigate?

Skills
Rather than list a skill in the traits section, followed by a bonus, followed by an explanation of what it means, just put skills on a line in the actual stat block. An example is the bugbear, which has “Stealthy +5: The bugbear gains a bonus to all checks made to avoid detection”.


Equipment 
Monsters should have an equipment line if they normally use equipment. This could even serve double duty as a treasure line, especially if you want to use random tables.

Experience
What is with the XP on some of these things? An owlbear is worth 540, while an orog is 580 despite the owlbear having multiattack, over twice as many hit points, a better AC, and higher Speed. A kobold dragonshield is worth 90 points more than a trap lord, even though the trap lord has 10 more hit points, moves faster, has a more accurate/damaging attack, and has some pretty damned useful alchemical bombs. A gnoll is worth 450 and a goblin leader is worth 210, even though the goblin has a better AC and more hit points. Is a zombie really supposed to be worth 200? They do crap damage, will basically always go last, and move really slowly.


Armor Piercing
I like this, but if it always triggers on a 10+, then put that in the glossary and just cite AP X next to the monster’s attack(s). It is better than repeating it over and over again, and makes it easier to put different AP values on different attacks. The same thing goes for Rage.


Mob Tactics

This just sounds like Aid Another by another name. I would make it a general action, and just include it as part of the creature’s tactics. Kind of like those guidelines we got before on using actions to give other characters advantage or what not.

Monsters

  • Bugbear Picking on the bugbear again, why is it pegged as level 6? Seems a bit high, especially when compared to the medusa (level 4) or the minotaur (level 5). I would think that level 4 would be perfectly fine.
  • Kobold I do not think that kobolds should necessarily have low Constitution and Wisdom scores, as I do not think that they are particularly less hardy than humans. I guess their Wisdom could be in the 8-9 range.
  • Kobold Dragonshield I would change Protector to be a reaction, like the feat.
  • Kobold Trap Lord A minor nitpick, but I would change the name to Alchemist or Trapsmith.
  • Hobgoblin I would change Steadfast so that the hobgoblin has advantage on saves to avoid being frightened.
  • Medusa Not a fan of save-or-dies, even with the easy workaround. As is basically no one would ever get petrified by one unless they were stupid enough to take the risk. All you really need to do is try to get advantage to cancel it out. If there was a scaling penalty, or it worked against creatures of x hit points or lower, or something like that, there would be more tension and risk, I think.

August 15, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: More Goblins

Like the article on the gnoll, there is not much to say here. Unlike the gnoll however, what I have to say about the goblin is not positive.


I prefer the goblin in the lower-left hand corner despite it being just a sketch, and from the comments I see that I am not alone (though others seem to like the third one from the left on the bottom row). The largest take looks like a kind of scrawny orc.

I guess I was expecting something more...spindly, I guess, akin to the works of Tony DiTerlizzi or something out of a Guillermo del Toro flick, though even Mike Mignola or Wayne Reynold's treatment from Magic: The Gathering would suffice.

I also like the bottom-left goblin because his gear looks a bit more cobbled, which is something that I expect from goblins (and to a point, bugbears, though not hobgoblins).
August 08, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

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