Archive for January 2013

Dungeon World: Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, Part 2

NOTE: Half the party was unavailable to play this time around, so I guess it was a good thing that most of that half were at the town square: it just meant that I had to run one character for a bit, until I could invent a convenient excuse to temporarily bench him.

  • Haepha (halfling barbarian)
  • Lakra (halfling cleric)
  • Zelikman (human wizard)
  • Vincent (human thief)
At the end of last week's session Luther, Hawke and Vincent were safe behind a number of sturdy, if not exactly wagon-proof barricades, while the two halflings and wizard—who, I should mention, lacks offensive magic—were trapped within a mist-shrouded, zombie-infested, unfamiliar cityscape.

When things are this unfair, who says games are not like real life?

Haepha, Lakra, and Zelikman were making their way towards the town square. Though the street provided a straight shot, the mist forced them to use light spells in order to navigate around bits of zombie and other debris that had collected in the street. Normally this only might have drawn unwelcome attention (especially the divinely-fueled holy light), but the wagon collision had already attracted a fair number of zombies. Thankfully they do not have a Subtle tag, so they heard them long before they saw them.

Initially five emerged, arms outreached (for the ones that still had them and were not crawling, anyway). Haepha, as she is wont to do, rushed into the fray, sword swinging. Unfortunately when it comes to zombies, organs are more of an accessory than a necessity. Her sword became lodged in one, giving the rest an ample opportunity to chow down on the fun-sized barbarian. Lakra stepped up to intervene with a hammer to the knee, and before anyone could think of a tired Skyrim meme, followed it up with a blow to the face.

Though dislodged it from Haepha—almost dislodging its head in the process—who, now freed, was able to disarm a few of them, literally, before she was overwhelmed by a fresh batch emerging from the mist. Lakra tried again to assist, but was pulled down by one of the crawlers. She managed to kick it off before it could bite her and, realizing that they were getting surrounded again, decided to turn undead. Frankly given how well it worked last time, I was wondering what was taking her so long to use the move with a result that can "cause mindless undead to flee".

Despite failing to cause them to scatter, she was at least able to keep them at bay. Haepha managed to escape from the throng, but lost her sword in the process, which still made her more immediately useful than Zelikman's combination low-Strength and Hit Die. As they regrouped and tried to think of a way out, Haepha's sword slid towards them. She picked it up as the zombies turned towards the source of the noise, giving Haepha an easy opportunity to fatally qualify them for the Small tag.

See, while Hawke and Luther remained behind to help the wounded and shore up defenses—you know, stuff that they could reasonably be expected to do, while keeping them behind the scenes—Vincent requisitioned something that while not exactly fashionable, still provided the same Armor rating as leather, and convinced someone to come with him as he ventured back out to try and rescue the rest of the party.

Thankfully he did not have to go far before he noticed the light from Lakra's holy symbol shimmering through the mist. The brief thought that this might be easier than he feared however, was cut short when he noticed many lurching silhouettes obscuring it. They did not seem to notice him, and as he busied himself picking off stragglers with well-placed (and rolled) Volleys, he spotted Haepha's sword on the ground. He kicked it to her, and the rest--like the zombies--was history.

Once they were safe behind the barricade—or, as safe as they could be in a game that encourages the GM to Reveal an Unwelcome Truth—they learned that the source of the zombies appeared several hours ago, and seemed to originate around the church. Thankfully one of the streets lead directly to it, making it an easy find despite all the mist. Lakra managed to heal up Haepha a bit, luckily without having her spells revoked, and Zelikman stayed behind (though not before happily volunteering his healing potions...sorry Josh).

En route they encountered yet another group of zombies. Third time is a charm, and they served no better than a speed bump as Lakra's turn undead utterly obliterated them (because I think that is cooler than having them run away), and they arrived at the church soon after. It was an ancient stone structure, and through the dead silence they could easily hear the low murmur of someone (or thing?) chanting. They gave a listen at the door, but were unable to make out what was being said. Still, the combination of chanting and zombies is never a good sign.

The tried the door, which of course was locked. Haepha tried to force it, but unsurprisingly failed to break something well over five times her height. They would have to find another way in and, at Vincent's insistence, decided to explore the church perimeter together, as he learned from his very, very recent experience the hazards of going alone. They found a stained glass window, through which they could see flickering lights and the hear the chanting somewhat more clearly.

Vincent pried out a piece of glass and scoped out the interior. From his vantage he could see a robed individual, praying in front of a badly scored alter of some sun god. Motionless bodies were slumped over on the pews, thought it was too dark to make out any fine details. The entire room reeked of rot, and despite the chanting he could still hear the sound of flies buzzing about. So, pretty much, all the trappings of a zombie-spawning, unholy ground.

Reasonably assuming the worse, they figured that they would give ambush a shot. With a boost from Vincent, the vertically-challenged Haepha was able to smash in a window, hop inside, and bellow out, "Your reign of terror is over!" The robed figure stood and turned to meet her, pulling back his hood to reveal...the wide-eyed face of a ragged, old man, whose expression rapidly shifted from fear, to confusion, then back to fear again as he saw that it was in fact trio of bloody, armed strangers climbing through his shattered window.

I am not sure why, but the characters stopped and exchanged confused looks. I guess they were expecting something more immediately and overtly...sinister? Even more confusing was when they asked him why he had not "done anything" about the zombies outside, or the dead bodies inside. The zombies were not exactly push overs, but they had also run into a mhorg, and who knows what else was lurking in the mists. Even the priest from Dead Alive got taken out by zombies, so I have no idea what they expected this guy to accomplish.

He explained that the vampire Strahd came to the village several days ago to meet with the burgomaster. No one was sure why, but before he left he killed the burgomaster and several villagers, his son included. Most of the village believed that Strahd was punishing them for the burgomaster's defiance, and that he would return again.

The next day after he had performed burial rites, and laid his son and the other slain villagers to rest, he found a leathery black book within the sacristy that he had not noticed before. The white pages were inked in red, and though he could not read the writing it whispered to him what he needed to do in order to gain command over the dead. The priest, in grief and desperation, forsook his gods in favor of this "darker power", which instructed him on how to return his son to life and protect the village from Strahd.

Understandably they decided that leaving a grieving, unstable man with a mysterious, death-secret whispering book just might be a bad idea. Unfortunately they openly voiced this while still standing some distance away from both the old man and death-secret whispering book.

This meant that when Haepha moved to try and take the book he had ample time to conjure shadowy, grasping arms from the floor to bind them in place. Numbing cold seeped into their legs as they attempted to futility tear free. Lakra raised her holy symbol and began to pray, figuring that at least she could keep the zombies away, and was surprised when the arms also dissolved. The priest was likewise surprised, at least partially because Haepha was charging him. She managed to hack off one of his arms, but not before he struck her with a lance of dark energy.

Lakra moved in to finish him off, but hesitated when she heard a hoarse, rattling voice utter something that sounded like "father" from a hole in the floor that had previously gone unnoticed due to the lack of light. A long, skeletal armed yanked her to the floor, dragging her down into the basement. Momentarily stunned by the fall, she recovered just in time to see a creature that looked like a vaguely humanoid skeleton stretched a bit too much, with a too-wide mouth filled with jagged teeth, leap from the ceiling at her.

As the zombies threatened to surround Vincent, he noticed that the priest was still conscious, his hand was crackling with black energy, and—perhaps most importatly—he was reaching towards Haepha. She had just bagged the book and was heading towards the hole in order to give Lakra, judging by her frantic screaming, a much needed hand. He threw a dagger, which fortunately met the priest's skull right between his eyes, killing him instantly. Unfortunately that was his last dagger, and, well, zombies.

Haepha now had to choose between helping Vincent or Lakra. Given that Vincent was facing off against a small zombie horde, she figured that Lakra had better odds (especially considering she could enchant her weapon and was wearing real armor), but when she went to help him fell through a rotting section of the floor (I did say it was ancient). So, Lakra it is. As she collected herself she saw the creature crouched atop Lakra, who was managing to barely keep it at bay with the haft of her hammer. Hefting her sword, she tells it that she just helped murder its father.

That got its attention. Its frenzied, murderous attention. It leaped at her, but she stepped aside and sliced it in half (hooray for a damage bonus, and the Messy and Forceful tags). By the time its upper half managed to recover from its collision with a support beam, both Haepha and Lakra were upon it, hacking and tenderizing the remains until it was reduced to a black paste. The destruction of the priest's "son", aside from stopping it from tearing them apart, also had the pleasant side effect of turning the zombies back into lifeless corpses before they could tear Vincent apart.

So, this session ended on a much less chaotic note. The party was separated and the village was still shrouded in mist, but at least there were not any zombies...for now. I mean, they did have a whispering black book, after all.

After Game Commentary
I think I am getting the hang of the "no" and "yes, but" results. I actually took the time to write up a lengthy list of examples to reference during the game:
  • Use a Monster, Danger, or Location Move: Zombies overwhelm, appear when it is least convenient, and attract more (as well as other, worse undead denizens). 
  • Reveal an Unwelcome Truth: Zombie bites can transmit disease, ghouls can paralyze, a building might have trapped survivors, both directions of a street have zombies, rescued survivors might try to sacrifice the characters in order to escape, or a civilian turns out to be a ghoul in disguise. 
  • Show Signs of an Approaching Threat: Loud noises, combat, magic (especially divine magic), and more could attract zombies: their moaning and wet sounds of their footsteps are all sure signs that they are en route. 
  • Deal Damage: Zombies and ghouls claw and bite. 
  • Use up Their Resources: Zombies can tear apart armor, weapons could get stuck in an undead creature (especially if you get overwhelmed in a fight), and you might lose other gear in the chaos. Characters might also use up supplies trying to barricade a door (hammer and spikes), climb up a building (rope and grappling hook), providing illumination, etc. 
  • Turn Their Move Back on Them: Scouting characters might get detected, they might find a building that seems safe but discover that it is locked or inhabited by an inhospitable survivor, after barricading themselves in a building they might discover that there is a zombie (or worse) trapped in there with them (or just a crazed survivor). 
  • Separate Them: An oncoming horde could easily divide characters, especially if they take different escape paths. 
  • Point to a Looming Threat: Partially eaten corpses, moaning in the different, bloody foot- or handprints, scratching from behind doors, shambling silhouettes in the distance. 
  • Introduce a New Type of Creature: Zombies are commonplace, but there are also ghouls skulking about preying on survivors and stray zombies. You could also introduce ghosts, skeletons, devourers, mhorgs, and other forms of undead. 
  • Make Them Backtrack: A street could be clogged with numerous zombies, ghouls might stalk the rooftops. 
  • Present Riches at a Price: Dead soldiers or merchants might be carrying weapons, armor, or jewelry. Fleeing victims might still have bags containing food, water, rope, and so on. 
  • Present a Challenge to one of the Characters: Clerics can obviously turn undead, paladins can use their detect evil to help avoid throngs of zombies, fighters can try to break open doors to escape (or thieves could just pick the locks).
This is just for the village section. I wrote up other thematically appropriate move-reference sheets for other areas as well so I can be better prepared. Some, like the Svalich Woods, did not take much, but others, like Castle Ravenloft, will need quite a few.

After so many years of Dungeons & Dragons, I am also getting used to the idea of waiving rolls for certain things. For example, when Melissa had Haepha attack the zombies after they turned around, I just let her kill them. When they had killed off most of the zombies, I just told them that they were able to pretty easily take out the last few, because spending a lot of time watching them bumble around like the Three Stooges was getting pretty stale.

On the topic of zombies I think that at 11 hit points they are a bit much, especially for horde monsters. I reduced them to 7, making it feasible that melee-oriented classes have a chance of taking them down in 1-2 hits, instead of 2-3.

Wandering Monsters: Hellenic Horrors

It is Greek Week over at Wandering Monsters, where James gives us the early draft of the sphinx, chimera, and hydra.

Despite my love for Greek mythology, the number of times I have used all of these monsters could be counted on one hand, mostly because it was pretty difficult in 4th Edition to get characters high enough level to tackle them (as they were each level 10 or higher). Hopefully with 5th Edition's flat-math I can throw them at my players much sooner.

I almost got an Ecology of the Sphinx article published in the last issue of Dragon that was released under Paizo's tenure, which unfortunately--or perhaps fortunately depending on who you are--got hedged out for an ecology article on the tarrasque (I also wrote up a gynosphinx monstrous class that I used for 12 levels in the last 3rd Edition campaign that I played in).

I remember describing them as mortal creatures created specifically to function as the stewards of the gods, which was a kind of way of explaining why some, like Egyptian gods, had animal heads. That may be why I prefer the idea of them being mortal spirits caught in the middle of a divine transformation. To me it provides a more engaging explanation for why they enjoy hanging out about temples, tombs, sacred sites, and the like.

Also, animal heads.

When it comes to spells I am mostly fine with androsphinxes casting as clerics due to their divine association, though I am not a fan of massive spell lists (especially when they feature spells too low level to be useful). As for the roar, I would prefer to it as a recharging ability that does more as the androsphinx is wounded.

I like the idea of giving gynosphinxes special divination traits as opposed to pretty much every divination spell out there, as powers that are not easily replicated by magic will make it more likely that characters--even fairly powerful ones--might have a reason to seek one out instead of just dropping a bunch of cash on a spell scroll.

The chimera is one of the few monsters that I am totally cool with being manufactured by someone (or thing) else, which makes me wonder why they must all have a fire-breathing dragon, goat, and lion head. Think about it, the chimera is the perfect monster that lets Dungeon Masters mix and match other monsters to create something entirely new to throw at their players, and it makes sense in the game's fiction because a wizard did it.

Limiting it to just one kind of dragon and two animals is a huge missed opportunity, and it does not make sense unless for whatever reason in the game's fiction it is the only viable three-way combination. What if druids made a chimera out of a green dragon, stag, and wolf? A blasted wasteland might be inhabited by a chimera made up of a blue dragon, elephant, and...I dunno, some form of desert-dwelling hunting cat.

The most dangerous weapon of a sand cat is its cuteness.
3rd Edition had a chimera template, but you do not really need to go that far. Just make a Customization Options sidebar with some guidelines on adding/replacing abilities with some damage benchmarks, because, after all, does it matter if a chimera has two bite attacks instead of a bite and gore?

Oddly there is no flavor text attached to these. Were they created by the gods long ago, perhaps for use as a weapon during some ancient war (after all, in Greek mythology Hera raised it to slay Heracles)? Did they spring from the wounds of a primordial? Given that they have at least five heads, maybe they are related in some way to Tiamat?

Mechanically hydras have operated pretty similarly throughout the editions:

  • In 2nd Edition hydras lost heads automatically as they took damage. They had maximum hit points per Hit Die, so once each head was severed then the hydra was slain. Its body was immune to attacks unless it dealt damage equal to its original hit points, making it possible to obliterate one with a single, powerful attack. Your standard hydra model did not grow extra heads; that was specific to the Lernaean hydra variant, which could have up to twelve and whose body was completely immune to attacks.
  • 3rd Edition required that you declare that you were trying to sever a head using the sunder action (and could ready an action to attack it as it tried to bite you). If you dealt enough damage to sever a head, two more would grow in 1-4 rounds unless you used fire or acid on the stump and inflicted 5 points of damage. Unlike 2nd Edition you could attack the body, but its scaling fast healing made this fairly difficult.
  • 4th Edition kind of combined the approach from previous editions: heads were automatically destroyed through hit point damage, but would grow two heads on the following round unless it took any amount of acid or fire damage. This meant that while it eventually die, the fight could get progressively harder if you lacked the ability to deal acid or fire damage. At least it did not have regeneration.
If I had to choose I would pick 4th Edition's take on hydras, as the fact that it automatically loses heads while taking damage escalates the danger (unless someone applies fire or acid before its turn comes about, which adds a tactical element to things). It is also easier to juggle at the table than in 3rd Edition.

The only problem is that it begs the question as to why characters can chop off hydra heads, but not an ettin's, or any other part of any other creature for that matter.
January 29, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Barbarian

Clarifications are all well and good, changes to spell durations perhaps less so, and conversion notes for a D&D Encounters adventure are nice if you happen to have it (though personally I feel that I put way more effort into my adventure conversion), but really the big thing about this playtest packet is the barbarian class.

A reliance on Strength and Constitution, d12 Hit Die, and some kind of rage mechanic are to be expected. Like the fighter (and the rogue and monk), the barbarian is great with weapons, starting with a bonus to attack rolls and Martial Damage Dice right from the get-go (and, obviously, it scales at the same rate).

The other starting features let you add your Constitution modifier to Armor Class when you are not wearing armor, and when you are not raging you can make an attack with advantage at the cost of granting everyone else attacks with advantage against you for a turn.

The most complex class feature is rage. You can rage twice per day at the start, which grants you advantage on Strength-based attacks, checks, and saves, a scaling bonus to damage rolls, and resistance to non-magical damage. The downside is that you cannot rake reactions, and if you do not attack the rage ends.

As you level up you gain fast movement, roll twice for initiative and take the best result, have essentially zombie durability (make Constitution saves to stay at 1 hit point regardless of damage, though the save DC increases each time), negate surprise, regenerate hit points when you are at less than half, and more.

Like the 3rd Edition barbarian there are no decision points, which is fine because as Mearls said this would be a kind of early draft; customization--such as modifying how rage works and some awesome-sounding shapechanging stuff--would come later.

My initial reaction is that while the barbarian is tough and powerful, it does not deliver anything we have not already seen. Actually thanks to 4th Edition's barbarian and berserker it would have to deliver quite a bit in order to meet or exceed my expectations. Again, it is an early draft, so this might change depending on what options eventually crop upLack of options aside, another reason for my reaction is rage, specifically everything about it.

It is not that I am not surprised by the decision to make a rage a limited-duration, daily resource, as it makes it easy to manage, but that also makes it unexciting for me: you activate it, get a bonus for an encounter, and that is it. Diablo III's barbarian had a mechanic where you build up "rage" through successive attacks. The more you hit, the higher it got and the better special attacks you could trigger. Out of combat it gradually depleted, so you had an incentive to stay in the thick of it hewing through enemies as fast as you can.

Iron Heroes had a token system that operated in a similar manner: a berserker would build up fury tokens by killing enemies, getting hit, and spending actions to basically psyche yourself up, and spend them to trigger your abilities. If they want to stick with dice, you could give the barbarian a dice cap, and require her to skill enemies to get hit in order to build them up, spending them to deal bonus damage, make extra attacks, inflict an automatic critical hit, absorb damage, and so on. To me this seems a lot more dynamic and interesting .

A concern that I have seen is if the barbarian is better than the fighter. It has more hit points, and since it can combine Dexterity and Constitution to determine Armor Class it is a pretty simple feat to match even a fully-armored fighter at the start, and you do not have to spend anything to get it. Rage provides a massive combat bonus for basically the entire encounter if you can keep attacking, which may end up contributing to the 15-minute workday (especially since wizards also get only two spells per day).

At any rate I plan on giving it a gauntlet-style run sometime this week in order to see how it plays, as well as compare it to a fighter. Maybe several fighter builds, just to see how sword and board, two-handers, and dual-wielders match up.

January 28, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: D&D Next Goals, Part 4

Over the past few weeks Mearls has talked about the two key goals for D&D Next, as well as what the basic and standard rules might offer. This week we get an idea of what to expect from the advanced rules. Before I get into that, here is a quick recap:

The basic rules, basically, have you roll stats, pick a race, and pick a class. Feat-like benefits will be baked into the class reflecting an iconic archetype, and they might let you roll skill dice for ability score checks related to your class. This reminds me of a slightly less complicated 2nd Edition, as you could pick out proficiencies, so maybe it is more like 1st? Basic?

Going from basic to standard seems like a pretty small step. As I said last week, it reminds me of 3rd Edition's degree of complexity in that you get to pick skills, feats (or a specialty), and actual class features. So while you might like a mace-wielding cleric, you can break out of that mold. I am guessing that wizards will get to pick traditions, rogues schemes, and so on.

Advanced rules on the other hand open up a floodgate of possibilities, from ways to awarding XP, to hirelings and animal companions, to alternate magic systems, and more. He likens it to 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana, which is great because that is one of my favorite 3rd Edition books, stating that the game is designed from the ground up to encourage rules hacking.

I also liked that the rules are categorized according to how complicated they are to implement and use. Dials are fairly easy to implement (but can still impact a game quite a bit). The two examples were removing all magical healing, and awarding XP for stuff completing quests or the more nebulous "doing things related to your class". Modules do not change existing things, but just add more stuff to the game like henchmen and animal companions, as well as the oft-mentioned "tactical combat".

The more dials you spin and modules you add makes the game more complex, and will likely slow things down, but Mearls assures that you can go crazy with them without breaking your game. This is all well and good, but what about the third category?

These rules did not have a label, but unlike dials and modules changes the core of the game so deeply that perhaps they were never meant to be named. Unlike dials and modules, which play well together, Mearls warns that employing more than one "core" change requires some careful consideration, as they are designing them with the assumption that you are using one at a time. To delve further is to invite madness, or dig up a balrog. Something like that.

In all seriousness I am glad that Mearls is being open about this, and hope that like in Unearthed Arcana the final product includes sidebars that explain to you the potential ramifications that these changes can bring about (bonus points if they mention other sets of rules that work well/not at all with them).

The focus list at the end is full of awesome. With the exception of facing and hit locations I like all of it, in particular per-encounter resources, mechanical benefits for character motivation, action points, variant XP rules, fast-combat rules for hordes, magic item crafting, armor with damage reduction, variant magic systems, and horror/sanity.

D&D Next Q&A: Weapon Dice, Sorcerer, Warlock, & Feats

NOTE: Phaezen and Sky Roy cleared up a huge misconception on my part. I had assumed that two-weapon fighting reduced the damage dice on both weapons and removed any ability score bonuses, to boot. It turns out that while both attacks take an attack penalty, only the light weapon loses out on the damage bonus, so it is not as bad as I had originally thought. In that case my only criticism is that I think that the attack penalty could be reduced a bit (maybe -1/-1), or at least removed for the primary attack. Seems like a good stress-test opportunity.

Two-weapon fighting in Dungeons & Dragons has almost always been a bad idea. I do not think it was even possible in Basic (barring houserules), but according to 2nd Edition's Combat & Tactics you could try attack with two weapons, you just took a -2 to the first attack and a -4 to the second. 3rd Edition kind of kept this model, starting you out at a whopping -6 and -10 to attack, which could be reduced to -2 and -2 through the use of lighter weapons and feats.

4th Edition made it more universally applicable through the use of feats and its power system. The Two-Weapon Fighting feat gave you a +1 bonus to damage when you made attacks while wielding two weapons, I guess assuming that you worked the other one in there at some point. Simple, to the point, and stacked with Weapon Focus, though understandably too simple for some, which is why it was nice that several classes--namely barbarians, fighters, and rangers--had access to at-will multi-attack powers (though many higher level attack powers let you hit multiple things, too).

The current take on it in Next is that you have to be wielding a light weapon, you take a -2 penalty to both attack rolls, and you have to use the light weapon's damage die for both attacks. Oh, you also do not get to add any bonuses. So, as an example, let us say that a fighter with a Strength of 16 wants to hit an orc with a longsword and short sword: she makes both attacks at a net +2, and if she hits both times will deal an average of 7 damage.

What if the fighter just ditches the short sword for a shield? She makes her one attack at a +4, deals an average of 7.5 damage, and has a slightly improved Armor Class. Even if she goes with the short sword her damage is only reduced by a half-point, but she is still way more accurate. If she decides to on a full-offensive and pulls out a greatsword? Her attack bonus still stays at +4, but damage improves to 9.5.

Of course none of this assumes feats, of which three out of the Two-Weapon Fighter specialty are directly applicable:
  • Dual Wielding lets you use any one-handed weapon when making your double-attack, which can improve the average damage from 7 to 9 (assuming two longswords, here). You still have the penalty though, so you are spending a feat to make less accurate, slightly less damaging attacks.
  • Two-Weapon Defense gives you a slight Armor Class boost, which means that with Dual Wielding you are now doing better-than-longsword damage, with the same Armor Class, but are still less accurate.
  • Eventually you can get Two-Weapon Strike, which lets you make one attack with advantage. This is a pretty good payoff because you are also making the attack at your full bonus, and you get to add damage bonuses. The drawback is that you have to spend a feat on Dual Wielding and wait until 9th-level.
I was not a fan of having to plan towards a concept in 3rd Edition, and it is because of this that in my last playtest packet feedback that I voiced by dissatisfaction that a player wanting to wield two weapons is worse off in every way--accuracy, damage, and defense--unless she spends feats. Eventually being able to make a very accurate attack is nice, but that is at least eight levels down the road; in the mean time you will be much better off using a sword and shield, or a two-handed weapon.

My proposal was to allow a character with two weapons that attacks the same target to roll both damage dice, keep the highest result, and add her damage bonus. This makes it so that you get more reliable damage, without exceeding what a character with one weapon can do (or doing more than a character with a two-hander). You could do this as part of a single attack roll, or require that both attacks hit in order to gain the benefit (which has the advantage that the dual-wielder gets another chance at landing an attack, though she will not always get to roll extra dice).

The problem is that this only works against a single target. What about hitting multiple targets? In this case I was thinking of a mechanic where the character can divvy up damage to two or more targets, which would again prevent the dual-wielder from out-damaging the two-hander. This could also require the use of Martial Damage Dice, like the monk's Flurry of Blows, as the benefit is that the fighter gets to make extra attacks to stack damage, instead of rolling multiple dice and taking the best result.

As for the sorcerer and warlock, I still see no reason why the dragon-sorcerer cannot be a heavy-hitting melee-ish spellcaster type. I really dug the sorcerer mechanic, and hope that future iterations retain the "manifest traits as you cast more spells" shtick. Frankly if they are going to make a warrior mage, why not make a warmage tradition?

Dragon's-Eye View: Hippogriffon?

Where do you stand on the visual design of the hippogriff? For me it depends on their origin, as the mythological griffin is described as equal parts lion and eagle, with the hippogriff being the rare offspring of a horse and griffin, because, as in Dungeons & Dragons, griffins really like to eat horses (which sucked because they were easier to deal with than griffins).

Dungeons & Dragons, on the other hand, divides them into two similar-but-separate critters. I say, why not stick with a theme? Lions and eagles are griffons, horses and eagles are hippogriffs, and I am totally cool with them having a horse's arse with a full-on eagle's head (I think that the 3rd Edition hippogriff looked kind of odd with the beaked-mouthed horse, though the hoofish-talons were kind of neat).

I think the image above is perfectly serviceable (though it was odd that it was the only hippogriff I could find in all of Magic: The Gathering). Similarly, the hippogryph from World of WarCraft is another solid example, albeit with antlers. Actually, why not go further and mash other things with eagles? It is not like animal-plus-animal monsters are exactly an innovation in the game, after all.

You could even try to tie the entire griffo-sphere together with a similar origin, whether it is crazy wizard, nature spirit, or eagle god. Maybe a couple of wizards/spirits/god decided to have a bet on who could make the best eagle-combo.

January 23, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Flying in Style

Where past weeks grouped up monsters by type—fey, goblinoids, dragons, angels, etc—this week's theme is flying critters, specifically griffons, hippogriffs, pegasi, wyverns, and rocs.

Regular flight is a rare occurrence in most of my games (actually, mounted anything is a rare occurrence). When I ran Age of Worms for the first time back in...2006, maybe 2007, the players eventually bought a hippogriff during one of their brief stays in Sharn (which the bard quickly made into an Improved Familiar).

It was pretty cool despite being able to only carry one person at a time, as everyone was loaded down in heavy armor, but the novelty wore off when the human warblade picked  up a Siberys dragonmark that let him use greater teleport once per day. Also, I think the cleric could cast fly on everyone. Maybe they will rein that sort of stuff in this time around, thereby making flying creatures and magic items a greater incentive?

Griffons and hippogriffs—both carnivorous quadrapeds—do not see much change. I guess griffons are native to mountains, so that is something else to differentiate them besides the Hit Dice and levels of previous editions. I found the bit about griffons enjoying the flesh of hippogriffs and unicorns to be an interesting addition: if nothing else it could add some conflict.

The pegasus sees a pretty drastic change, becoming a celestial spirit fused with mortal flesh. It also mentions them being gifts of good-aligned deities or, very rarely, appearing to serve good characters on their own. I can get behind this exalted origin, especially because it makes the answer to the evil-mount question obvious: nightmares.

I think that having the default wyvern weigh in at Huge is a bit much. If you are going with the "bargain-basement dragon" comparison, then why not give them size categories, too? Most wyverns run the range of Medium to Large, with truly ancient ones eventually growing to Huge. This is an instance where you could look to 3rd Edition's monster advancement, where at a certain point the monster's size increases. This would make it easier to handle multiple wyverns (or wyverns as part of larger encounters) and, well, some of us have wyvern minis.

Rocs rollback to their 3rd Edition size of Gargantuan. This I can get more behind, even though it sucks for my roc mini, as I do not expect to see many encounters featuring more than one (though one being ridden by a storm giant does sound awesome).

D&D Next: Legends & Lore, Part 3

This week Mearls gives us a glimpse at what we could expect from the "standard" rules. Before I get into that,  I want to point out (in case you somehow missed the news) that Wizards of the Coast has apparently begun offering pdfs from every edition on DriveThruRPG. There are currently some freebies, like B1: In Search of the Unknown and H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, though I do not know if those are temporary or not.

So, rules.

As a quick refresher on the character basics, players build them by rolling stats, picking a race and class, and...that is it. The standard rules, on the other hand, ratchet up the complexity to something more akin to 3rd Edition: skills and feats are a thing, and you can break out of the more traditional concepts. He uses the cleric as an example, stating that a basic cleric would use a mace and turn undead, while a standard one might worship Thor, wield a warhammer, and blast foes with lightning.

This sounds great in theory, as in my group some players prefer something simple and straightforward, while others enjoy trying to break the mold or even "power-game". Tastes can change over time as a player becomes more familiar with the rules, or sometimes you are doing a one-shot and putting a lot of effort into construction a character is just not worth it. One issue that comes to mind is the standard characters being more powerful than their basic incarnations (and, by extension, advanced being better than the rest). While I am not assuming that it will not generally be the case, I think that over time optimizers will find potent combinations.

3rd Edition style multiclassing and prestige classes are back in. While I like the system because of its flexibility, there were plenty of issues with it, specifically with class-dipping (where you take one or two levels of a class for the front-loaded features), spontaneous feature explosion (where you suddenly learn a bunch of stuff, like every 0-level spell and a bunch of 1st-level spells over night), underpowered or non-viable character combinations (fighter/wizards), or classes that only exist as vehicles for better classes (fighter, sorcerer, wizard, etc).

I think they are at least aware of the first issue, what with the "When you create a character whose first class is [name], you gain these benefits" clause in the Classes document. Maybe picking up a new class gives you a different or reduced starting suite? Maybe you gradually pick up everything over a slightly more lengthy period of time? Maybe a specialty allows you to nab more or everything, similar to 4th Edition's hybrid classes and the Hybrid Talent feat?

Actually with the exception of all feat cost, I mostly preferred how 4th Edition handled multiclassing: you spent a feat to gain just a bit of another class, and could gain more bits over time if you spend more feats. It handled the second issue, where a fighter with no magical background or training just suddenly got a spellbook with every cantrip and a bunch of 1st-level spells (or, conversely, a wizard was able to suddenly use most weapons and every form of armor).

It is nice, at the least, to see Mearls admitting to the third issue that can arise from all of this (the first of many challenges listed further down), so maybe this time around public playtesting will help weed it out, or at least mitigate it. I do think that it is important to note that not just power-gamers like breaking down a character into component parts: players interesting in a very specific concept or the narrative will almost certainly get some enjoyment out of building a character bit by bit.

For Dungeon Masters, the standard set of rules lets you create monsters 4th Edition style, using a set of damage, hit points, defenses, etc benchmarks. Given my past experience with 3rd Edition, this is great news as I found that 4th Edition made it very easy to create monsters on the fly. There will also more detailed rules added to the core for stuff like wrestling, swimming, etc. The breakdown is that the basic rules are for DM's who prefer to improvise, while the standard set is for DM's that like to tinker.

This could work out really well for people that want to start DMing, as several players in my group have tried but can get bogged down with too many rules and numbers. Even better is that you will apparently be able to mix and match rules complexity, so newer DMs (or those that prefer a looser game) can stick with the basics, while players can customize every facet of their characters, and vice versa.

Finally, Mearls lists a bunch of challenges that include the aforementioned multiclassing balance, as well as trying to ensure relative balance between options (including casters and non-casters), permitting some degree of optimization without allowing a massive gap, and allowing players to create characters based on a concept or story without making them too weak, as opposed to picking what you are "supposed" to. The only really odd "challenge" on the list was expanding the roster beyond four races...that sounds like it should be pretty easy, so hopefully we will see new stuff with the next packet.

Speaking of new stuff in the new packet, it looks like that the mystery class is the barbarian. Not much is mentioned, but apparently it differentiate itself from the fighter with a power-boosting rage and a more reckless fighting style. All things to be expected, but I am curious to see how it is conveyed in the mechanics. Personally I felt that the 3rd Edition barbarian was fairly similar to the fighter, while 4th Edition's take had clear mechanics that made them act and play much, much differently. I especially liked the berserker subclass, which could act like a fighter sometimes, but then go into a frenzy as the situation demanded.

The bit at the end about customizing your rage really excites me: the idea of being able to choose whether to stick with more mundane brute strength effects, or change your shape sounds awesome (especially since both a bear and earth elemental are mentioned). Absorbing the warden into a barbarian type works for me.
January 22, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Concept Art

I noticed this thread on today, which linked to a DeviantArt account brimming with D&D Next concept art (looks like the artist's actual site can be found here). A lot of it is stuff that we have already seen, but there are plenty of new things in there, too (like the yaun-ti, ogre mage, and kuo-toa).

I think a lot of it looks good, particularly the humans, elves, dwarves, and aboleth: the armor and clothing look a lot more functional, and aside from the female dwarf and maybe one of the halflings there was nary a boob-window in sight (at least on the women that looked like they were supposed to be adventuring; the sun elf gets a pass, because she is wearing a bright yellow dress).

I am disappointed that the goblin, fire giant, and halflings have not seen any changes: the goblin still looks too much like an orc for my taste, the fire giant looks bland with its flat, shiny armor, and I am still not sold on the halfling's big head and tiny feet.

Also, I think the hell hound and spectre are both pretty uninspiring, and the mind flayer looks very much unpolished. Still, these are concepts and the game is still yet a ways away, so maybe we will get some interesting, polished art down the road.

January 21, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, Part 1

Strahd is an iconic Dungeons & Dragons villain, that is a member of an iconic monster (vampire), and part of one of the more iconic campaign settings.

Despite most of my Ravenloft knowledge coming from the Swords & Sorcery 3rd Edition revamp, I bought Expedition to Castle Ravenloft as soon as it came out, as I heard that it would have notes to drop Castle Ravenloft in Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or even a d20 Modern campaign.

I never got a chance to try to run it until about two years ago, as a slapdash 4th Edition conversion. This resulted in a single four hour long pair of zombie-strewn encounters, in which zombie-bits were strewn about.  Though we did not pick it up again, I still kept the book--among a handful of other choice 3rd Edition materials--which was good because recently I decided to give it another shot.

Using Dungeon World.

Given that my last, probably most successful campaign, involved just a hint of planning along with a heaping pile of  me making things up as I went along, the way Dungeon World plays seemed like a good fit. Thankfully I had kept up on reading it, as I had always hoped to run the mini campaign at some point, so I had the plot and most of the encounters outside the castle--which, to be fair, is a big place--fairly well committed.

After about an hour of working out bonds and backstory, I started the adventure with the party--Hawke (human fighter), Luther (human paladin), Zelikman (human wizard), Vincent (human thief), Lakra (halfling cleric), and Haepha (halfling barbarian, hooray for playtest docs)--riding towards Barovia. I decided to be nice and give them a wagon and pair of horses for free, partly to speed up travel time, partly because a lot of them were in it for the money and it would make it easier to clean the castle out (again, it is a big place).

They rode through the gates, which slammed closed as they passed. After about fifty or so feet of muddy track flanked by imposing, werewolf haunted wilderness they beheld the rolling hills of Barovia. Well, they would have were it not for the oppressive mist. What they could see, far in the distance, were some flickering lights that they correctly pegged for a village. With no other direction they headed towards it.

They arrived without any incident, and quickly noticed that there was not only no one around to greet, ominously warn, or chase them away, but they also could not hear anything. Haepha went to the nearest house and started pounding on the door, because nothing breaks the ice more than a group of heavily armed and armored mercenaries banging on your door in the middle of the night (especially when vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of the night are a thing).

Luther sensed a powerful concentration of evil in the north-western area of the village, which combined with plenty of lesser evil presences skulking about the village overwhelmed him, causing him to vomit. With everyone's attention turned to him, only Vincent and Lakra noticed the door opening. Lakra pulled Haepha out of arms-reach of the arm reaching for her, followed by the rest of a rotting female corpse. Vincent tried to stick her with a dagger, but missed, losing it somewhere inside the house.

Luther recovered and engaged the zombie, running it through with his sword. This did not seem to inconvenience it much, though to be fair its teeth fared equally well against scale armor, too. While Hawke and Haepha tried to assist, another zombie appeared--a little girl, this time--and bit Haepha from behind. Hawke tore the larger zombie off of Luther with his...spiked...chain? Really, a whip? Well, this slipped into Castlevania territory faster than I would have guessed.

Anyway, he was able to use it to yank the zombie off of Luther, giving everyone a chance to hack it to pieces. Even though Zelikman lacked offensive spells of any kind, Josh put himself to use using his quarterstaff to keep them at bay. Haepha, not afraid to fight someone her own size, reached behind her and lobbed the zombie-child over her shoulder. It collided with Luther, impaling itself on his sword and knocking him over. It seemed to take awhile, but eventually the combined efforts of six armed adults were able to put it down for good.

Zelikman investigated the remains, but was only able to ascertain that the culprit was in fact not conventional necromancy. Vincent, on the other hand, got a better payoff when he investigated the house and found both his dagger and some 30-odd coins for his efforts. Haepha decided to scout ahead a bit, but after hearing the sounds of both scratching from behind a door and something slurping and crunching bones in the mists ahead, quickly made her way back to the rest of the party.

Wanting to catch a live specimen for study, Zelikman proposed cracking open another house and tying one up. Luther was opposed to this, because paladin, but eventually settled on the possibility that studying them might help prevent it in the future and/or make it easier to stop. In an act that would make a blonde, scantily clad horror cliche decry as foolhardy, Vincent decided to creep around the house, alone, to find a back door.

He did find a back door, but it was ripped off its hinges. Literally. The hinges were still attached to the house. The realization that this might not have been a good idea finally dawning on him, he started to make his way back, when something got his back. He managed to crawl away, losing his armor and half of his shirt  in the process.

Despite his cries for help everyone just kind of waited for him to make it back, expecting him to come barreling out of the mist, followed by a single creature. However, what came out was not some spry, snarling monster with rending claws, but a large...what do you call a group of zombies? A pack? A shamble? Anyway, there were ten or so of them. The fact that Vincent was only three-quarters clothed might have been funny if it were not for that.

Since Jeannie is pretty new to this whole thing I tipped her off that her character can Turn Undead, so Lakra help up her symbol and invoked the name of her god, which radiated a holy light that kept the zombies at bay. Everyone huddled close, and after a very lengthy argument on what to do next, Zelikman took the initiative, running towards their wagon that had been left some 20-feet away. He cast Cause Fear on the horses, which in retrospect should not have been necessary, because zombies.

The horses bolted towards the zombies, which was good because over a ton and a half of horse and wagon is pretty ideal for turning zombies into hamburger. What was bad was that that combination is also pretty ideal for turning humans and halflings into hamburger, especially when they are both in the way and huddled close together (though on the plus side live people make for fresher meat-stuffs).

Everyone dived out of the way and tried to grab onto the wagon. On the bright side, not only did almost everyone make it into the wagon but most of the zombies were also crushed. On the downside the horses could not be stopped (because, zombies and Cause Fear), and the two abandoned characters were the healer and one of the heavy-hitters. On the other downside, the mist reduced visibility by a considerable amount and the wagon crashed into a barricade. On the other other downside, the barricade was used by the surviving townsfolk to keep the zombies out of the town square.

The characters picked themselves up, some a little worse for wear, some cushioned by others, and took stock of the situation: about six decidedly not-zombified villagers were standing about in various degrees of shock and confusion, armed with makeshift polearms. Lanterns hung from various buildings, providing some much-needed light. Oh, and zombies were dragging themselves over the recently demolished barricade.

Luther and Vincent tried to convince the villagers to help. Half stayed, but the rest called them fools, proclaimed their imminent demise, and ran into a large building. The door slam was followed by the unmistakable sound of the door being barred, which was then followed by whatever sound furniture makes as it is being stacked against a barred door. Probably heavy dragging and lots of thuds.

Vincent and Hawke went about shoving their wagon into the breach, forcing some of the zombies back and effectively sealing it for the moment. They followed up respectively with thrown daggers and spiked chain, while Luther scanned the area for his sword. He found it, but it was behind a zombie that was shambling towards him. A quick shield bash sent the zombie sprawling, allowing him easily pick up his sword, properly join the fray, and destroy them.

Zelikman managed to escape the town square before the breach was sealed, easily slipping past the zombies in search of Lakra and Haepha, who were following what they hoped was the same direction that the wagon went. They heard something running towards them, and after Haepha asked who it was got an answer in the form of a ghoul leaping out of the mists at her. It knocked her to the ground, but she was able to easily kick it off, back out of sight. A quick, brief scrabbling of claws on stone was followed by silence.

Shortly after they saw light approaching: Zelikman. He told them what had happened, and as they turned about to head towards the town square were confronted by a skeleton with a sac of grotesque organs suspended in its rib cage. A cord of tooth-capped intestine snapped at Haepha. She grabbed it, but dropped her sword. Zelikman tried to hack at it with her sword, but could barely lift it. He tried to toss it to her, but she failed to grab it, smacking Lakra in the head.

Lakra quickly recovered and smashed one of its legs with her hammer. In a frenzy, it bit into Haepha. She braced her legs against its ribs and pulled, shredding the organs against ribs and teeth and destroying the monster...aaand that is where we stopped: split party in a mist-shrouded, undead-infested village.

After-Session Commentary
Even after running a few sessions on the side I feel like I do not have a good grasp of how things work in Dungeon World, especially when it comes to those "no" and "yes, but" results in combat. There were plenty of times where they rolled a six or less, and I was not sure how to proceed. Even 7-9 results were tricky, especially when there were only two zombies about. I guess I could have added more, but I did not want to bog the game down with a never-ending zombie grind.

A few of the players were new to the scene, and the idea that I could just hurt them or do other nasty things without "needing" to roll was completely alien to them. Oh, you missed? Zombie bite. You threw the zombie and rolled a 7-9? You get it off your back, but knock someone else over in the process. These things kind of tripped me up, because I was not sure if I was "supposed" to allow a Defy Danger, or what. I think a big book of moves and responses would be great.

Eh, I prefer to learn by doing anyway, so we will see how it goes next week.

D&D Next: The Horned Hold Map

And here is the final map for the Horned Hold, from my D&D Next conversion of Thunderspire Labyrinth.

January 16, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Chosen of Bahamut

And now, metallic dragons (guest-starring the shadow dragon and dragon turtle).

Last week's treatise on dragons opened up with several paragraphs on universal traits and tendencies between them all--high everything except for Dexterity, frightful presence, breath weapons, hoarding treasure, etc--before going into specifics. This week gives us a bullet list of alignments and environments, before just jumping into what differentiates the good guys from each other (and, again, the shadow dragon and dragon turtle).

And, well, basically everything I said last time still holds up: stats and powers are what you would expect, I do not think that the smallest size should start at Huge, and I like that they can gain access to a variety of powers that are not laundry lists of spells and/or spell-like abilities.

I do have some other issues, though.

For starters why do metallic dragons get two breath weapons, and why are the secondary ones so wierd? For example, the brass dragon can scorch you with "desert heat" or breathe a cone of sleeping gas. Bronze dragons can zap you with lightning, like blue dragons, but can also breathe gas that just makes you move away from them.Is there a reason for this other than that is how it was in older editions? At the least if chromatic dragons can learn to use their breath weapons in a different way, why not make the secondary effects something that they may have access to, as well (though I would personally go with things that make more sense)?

Also, why are metallic dragons stronger than their chromatic counterparts by default? Brass dragons are the weakest out of the bunch, but are comparable to black dragons, who are themselves second on the chromatic totem pole. I think it would be much more interesting to have them at best be on par, which would make it more likely that one or both dragons would seek outside assistance to help tip the scales.

What of the iron dragon? I think these were in 3rd Edition, but I distinctly remember them as 4th Edition's metallic answer to the white dragon: they were stealthy opportunists that could block your attacks with their wings, and had a neat magnetic lightning breath weapon.

I think that shadow dragons could stand to have a bit more interesting origin. They basically seem like dragon-wraiths, so why not make them the ghost or left over "soul-stuff" of a dragon? Why not dark reflections of normal dragons? Depending on how the flavor for 5th Edition's Plane of Shadow goes, they could even be dragons who exchanged part of whatever amounts to their soul for shadow magic (as with various Shadow-powered classes from 4th Edition).

As for their energy-draining breath weapon, I will be cool with it, so long as it does not inflict permanent ability/level loss. The wraith's mechanic of capping hit points for a day would work just fine, as would removing Hit Dice (similar to how you lost healing surges in 4th Edition).

I am not sure where I stand with dragon turtles. The poll options lacked a "No, but that does not mean that they cannot live for thousands of years, be powerful and intelligent, and have a breath weapon" response, which is what I would have chosen. I mean, do they need to be in the same draconic category as the rest? Does relegating them to their own monster entry somehow strip away any sense of power and majesty? What about other dragon-like creatures, such as wyverns, drakes, lung dragons, and the like?
January 15, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: D&D Next Goals, Part 2

Last week Mearls touched briefly on two goals for D&D Next: create an edition that embraces enduring/core elements of the game, and allow the rules to shift from simple to complex as desired. This week he elaborates on the latter, starting with the basic rules.

You roll stats, pick a race, and pick a class. Classes will reflect iconic archetypes, so clerics will use blunt weapons and turn undead, fighters get all the weapons and armor, rogues will deal with traps, etc.He mentions allowing a class to add a skill die when making checks that pertain to your main stat (Strength for fighters, Intelligence for wizards, etc), and baking a default specialty into your class features.

This is probably about the least complicated I would want a game to get. We are playing Dungeon World more frequently now, and my main complaint is a lack of choice: you pick a class, then pick a race, and then pick from a short list of gear (which, as I mentioned before, there is not a lot of). All classes start with the same moves, with the occasional bit of customization--such as the fighter's signature weapon and ranger's animal companion--though clerics and wizards get some added complexity by virtue of spells, but as with gear there is not much there, either.

So easy to build, learn, and play, but through repeated use you will eventually be going through the motions again. This is what I hope D&D Next's promise of scaling complexity alleviates, as I would love to be able to have additional character options--skills, perks/feats/talents, weapons, and armor--without having to result to houserules. I guess next week we will see how this process works?

I am glad that he thinks that Martial Damage Dice and Martial Damage Bonus is too fiddly. In play it felt weird that one attack would get a huge bonus to damage while the rest did not. I mentioned in feedback (or it might have been a blog post) that I would prefer fighters just rolling multiple damage dice for each attack, so it is also nice to see them moving in this direction (because as it stands, using a two-hander basically translates into an extra point of damage).

I am also a fan of concentration, as it adds some tension when a spellcaster on either side of the screen is trying to keep something going and you have to keep baddies off her back. I am interested to see how "focus", or whatever it ends up being called, plays into it.
January 14, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: Celestials, Angels, Devas

It looks like angels are regressing just a bit back to a collection of winged humanoids with varying skin tones, though I guess to be fair the solar mixes it up by having two pairs of wings. I mentioned last time angels were brought up that I find the whole winged humanoid look boring. Not only do so many look very similar, but it does little to evoke an unearthly quality--because, winged elves and a winged template--and unless they are wearing their stat blocks on their sleeve, certainly does not inspire any awe.

Unfortunate--for me anyway--but not exactly unexpected.

The latter half of the article asks questions about whether they should have genders, faces, legs, how big their weapons should be, and the overall appearance of the deva. My feedback, again, would be that I think that they should not have distinctly humanoid forms. Genders, mouths, and legs are all fine depending on the rest of the angel's form, but making them so human downplays their nature.

I think that, if they must have humanoid angels, that the lowest tier could have a largely humanoid shape (and thereby by the ones most likely to communicate with mortals), while the upper echelon would have more alien and abstract shapes.

January 09, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Thunderspire Labyrinth, Part 2

I have updated my D&D Next conversion of H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth. It now runs up to the end of the Horned Hold (map here). I am not sure if there were magic items before, but there are now. The duergar race and racial class is still in, but I did pull monsters that were introduced in the latest playtest packet (like the giant spider and wolf).

As before post any mistakes and suggestions in the comments, as this is mostly a one-man operation and I am sure there are a lot. I am working on some more D&D Next stuff, as well as compiling/adding to A Sundered World (both for 4th Edition, Next, and Dungeon World), and reviewing some submissions for the Dungeon World fanzine, Grim Portents, so while I promise that I will read them, I cannot promise to respond to them.

Thanks to those that have been waiting patiently for an update. I plan on finishing it up and moving on to Pyramid of Shadows, though given that Next only has 20 levels am not sure how I could possibly do all of the adventures...maybe it can be consolidated? At any rate, hopefully you have fun with it.
January 08, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Spawn of Tiamat

Well now, it is about time...for chromatics anyway, though metallics do get a line or two in there somewhere.

Immediately I notice that their range of size categories start a Huge, because in previous editions they started Small (though initially the smallest dragons 4th Edition offered were Large). A couple paragraphs in the article elaborate that the "youngest and weakest" dragons are commonly encountered are Huge (50 feet from nose to tail), and at level 8 work great for 5th-level parties.

It mentions eggs and hatchlings, but states that they are exceptionally rare because "dragons hide their eggs and rear their young in the most remote and inaccessible locations possible". Good parenting, but bad design: 4th Edition only omitted the youngest pair of dragon age categories and took a lot of flak for that. This sounds like they are going to leave out about half of them, and if history is any indication they will just end up putting them in a future release anyway, so I do not know why they are bothering to wait. Just include them all and let DMs sort it out. After all there are some good adventures that have young dragons, not to mention some of our mini-collections.

Stat-wise there is nothing new: with the exception of Dexterity they have high stats all around. They are also resistant to magic, immune to specific energy types, cannot be put to sleep/paralyzed, and have keen senses. Personally I wish 5th Edition would implement some kind of more granular damage reduction system to reflect their scales (and give characters in heavy armor a much-needed edge). Lots of games do it without slowing things down. I also think that rather than making them outright immune to sleep and paralysis, that they should instead reduce the severity and duration of the effect (kind of like how 4th Edition had it do something, but let them end it after a turn).

Power-wise is where things get really cool. Of course they have recharging breath weapons, and given that they start at Huge they also frightful presence as part of their default rollout. The first line of the third paragraph did catch my eye, though:

Every dragon is a unique individual with its own specific abilities.

That. Is. Awesome.

I never liked 2nd and 3rd Edition dragons, especially 3rd Edition ones, because when they got older they all started to get massive lists of spell-like abilities. Because of the issues pertaining to older-edition spell scaling, this meant that in addition to a dragon's attack routine, special attacks, special abilities, breath weapon, feats, and skills, that you also had a bunch of spells to juggle (a lot of them too low level to be much use). Of course some people liked this, and I even recall complaints about the xorvintaal (sp?) template from Monster Manual V, which let you strip out the spells and give a dragon other abilities to compensate.

This model, if done properly, ideally lets everyone get what they want, while at the same time keeping players on their toes. Dragons will still have some core elements that pertain to their color, so blue dragons will have a lightning-based breath weapon, but its area-of-effect and other factors might vary from blue to blue. They might also be able to do something else entirely, like employ thematic and evocative mirage-like illusions. I love it. It makes me think of 4th Edition's alternate powers, which were much more interesting than having a dragon with a lot of random spells.

For the most part I liked this article. The Huge and up bit bugs me, but I really dig the idea of highly customizable dragons, so hopefully it gets done right.

Legends & Lore: D&D Next Goals, Part 1

In the first Legends & Lore article of the year Mearls sheds some light on a couple of guiding principles behind Dungeons & Dragons. Well...kind of.

There is not a lot of concrete information here, though this is just the first of who knows how many related articles, and he promise that next week we will delve more deeply into them.

So, with that said, let us look at what he does have to say about the pair of guiding goals for D&D Next.

Create a version of D&D that embraces the enduring, core elements of the game.

Beyond "the rules have changed over time", I am not sure what he is trying to get across, here. What ability scores impart to your character (and even their number), the number and type of alignments (as well as their meaning), hit points, monster stat block format and complexity, skills, how often initiative is rolled (as well as which die and if high or low is good), weapons and weapon complexity, and more have meant has changed quite a bit over the editions.

For example Armor Class used to be descending. You started at 10 and wanted to get as low as possible, going into a negative value (I forgot if it went to below -5). Now it starts at 10 and goes up, which seems more logical given that you want to roll as high as you can on your 20-sider. On a similar note, your class and level determined your THAC0, which you used to eventually figure out what you had to roll in order to hit a monster. Now? You roll, add bonuses, and if that meets-or-beats the monsters Armor Class you hit.

Given that Iand many othershave had the frustrating experience of trying to explain how Armor Class and THAC0 work to new players, I was happy with both changes. The idea of rolling a d20 with somelarge precalculatedbonuses on top and comparing the total against anagain, largely pre-calculatednumber made so much sense that I was surprised it took so long. However AC as it was has been around for, what, twice as long?

So which is more enduring? Which is seen as a stronger element?

I like to think that what Mearls means is that they are taking a good, close look at each iteration of each rules element of past editions to find out which one works the best for what they are trying to do, and ideally scrapping the stuff that does not. I also hope that in addition they are considering alternatives for things that are not good for the game, even if they are enduring or the best out of what we have seen thus far.

Create a set of rules that allows a smooth transition from a simple game to a complex one.

This I can get behind in theory. Having played every edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I have to say that I really like the extra widgets that let me tweak a character in an interesting direction (and mechanically back it up). This has given rise to thematic-yet-functional characters that we had not seen before in our D&D games, like halfling fighters, goliath bards, minotaur rogues, and more (though, part of what made them work was the lack of racial penalties).

We have recently started playing Dungeon World, and I can see where a simple set of core rules has its appeal, especially for newer players or groups that want to get the ball rolling faster. If this is executed properly I think it will be great for players that want to get into the game without having to learn a lot of rules, discovering their own "sweet spot" over time.

The downside is the unused pages. If groups just want a simple game, then who knows how many pages of rules that they will not be using (which would theoretically grow over time as more supplements come out). I do not think that it will affect me much, especially given that in past editions I cannot count how many feats, monsters, prestige classes, spells, and magic items I never used, but I know that many will complain about that sort of thing.

One thing that would be nice is an intro product, like what we got with Star Wars: Edge of the Empire: it could gradually introduce new rules, but also give you instructions or tips on how to handle situations without having to utilize more complex rules. For example, if you do not want to use skills, then it could explain how to make ability checks with DCs that account for no skill dice.

January 07, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

I am going to say upfront that I am not, and have never been what I would call a Star Wars fan.

I watched the original trilogy and liked them well enough, though I never got around to watching them after they were "re-mastered" (or whichever ones had all the added CGI). I do not think I have ever owned a single toy, except maybe by accident. I tried playing the original NES game, but failed to get past the asteroid belt. I have started Knights of the Old Republic twice, but ended up stopping shortly after getting off of the exploding spaceship both times. I gave one of the novels a shot, but lost interest about a third of the way in.

No, most of my exposure to Star Wars came from the old WEG version that relied entirely on d6's. We played it quite a bit, almost as much as Dungeons & Dragons and Rifts, though from what I recall the only parts of the Star Wars license we really levied were Tatooine and wookies. After that the only time we played it was after the first d20 version came out, which ended up being a one-time fling probably starring a human jedi of some sort, and definitely featured an idiotic trandoshan soldier and hutt noble.

I got Saga Edition pretty much because I had heard that it had some precursor mechanics to 4th Edition, and I had been hoping to get some kind of sneak-peak at what to expect (which, in hindsight, was virtually nothing). I also had a considerable chunk of cash, and started buying the supplements on the promises that we would play it eventually (which we did not...really the most thought I have put into running a Star Wars game involved taking the core plot of the original trilogy and transplanting it into Gamma World).

As for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, that I pretty much got on a whim while in the market for the first Dresden Files RPG book (again). Given my previous track record I am not sure why, but I think at the time my flawed reasoning was leaning towards, "Hey, Kamon knows a lot about Star Wars, maybe he could run it!"

It is because of this that I was surprised that I ended up running it.

This was not exactly a premeditated event, mind you. I read something on Penny Arcade where Tycho touched on the custom dice. From there I found another article--somewhere--that mentioned that the game was intended to be learned as you played. I decided to take the game up on this challenge, partly because I would not have to put in an initial time investment of learning the rules and planning a game, partly because my lack of Star Wars lore could be chalked up to a third-party, and partly because I wanted to see how close the game could come to meeting that expectation.

The plot of the adventure is that the characters have upset a hutt for various reasons, and are trying to escape from a town, I guess, on Tatooine. It is broken up into encounters that gradually teach you the rules, so in the first encounter when you are trying to hide from some gammoreans, you get to learn how skills and--very shortly thereafter--combat works. As the encounters progress you dig deeper into the rules, learning about advantages and threats, critical hits, minion groups, and so on.

We ended up getting to the part where they got on the ship before we quit--and so did not get a chance to try out vehicular combat--but decided that it was a pretty fun romp and that we would not mind playing it again, ideally with someone more informed at the reins.

The first thing I noticed was the distinct lack of anything jedi. The pregens were basically a couple of soldier-types, a scoundrel, and a droid. I imagine that a later expansion will add at least force powers to the list, but for now it was nice to see a Star Wars game where jedi was not an immediate option or assumed progression.

Some people were turned off by the prospect of custom dice, but I really liked them. You roll dice based on how good you are at something, along with a number of difficulty dice based on how hard it is. So if, say, Oskara the twi'lek bounty hunter tries to hide from someone, she would roll Stealth. Checking her sheet, we see that she has three green--or ability--dice in Stealth. I figure that it is pretty easy to hide from some gammoreans, and add a purple--or difficulty--die to the pool.

The player rolls, canceling out her successes with any failures. If there is at least one success left over, she succeeds. That part is simple enough, but you can also get advantage and threats, which not only cancel each other out but can impart positive or negative effects whether or not you succeed. For example, you can spend advantage to regain strain (a kind of temporary hit point pool), activate critical effects, or gain a boost die/impose a setback die on someone else.

This can add all sorts of narrative effects to the game. You might miss a gammorean (no successes), but keep him pinned down so that an ally can get a better shot (spending two advantage to dole out a boost die).  On the other hand since the GM can spend your threat, you might hit a bad guy but suffer strain in the process, or even break your weapon.

Finally, I liked the advice at the back of the Adventure Book, which encourages you to not stop the game on a failed check, and to say "yes" and "yes, but".

One thing I did not like was the lack of setting information. Sure I know of Tatooine and hutts, but not much else. The two-thirds of a page of flavor material provides a few ideas, and attempts--and fails--to paint an entire galaxy with very, very broad strokes, meaning that running this game is going to require some hardcore and/or very forgiving players. For a game with the tagline of Edge of the Empire, I guess I had hoped that there would be at least a setting booklet detailing this part of the galactic sandbox.

I also did not see any rules for generating your own characters. Normally this is not a problem, but I could not find any ETA on a more complete version of the game coming out anytime soon. I guess that, at the least, there is a freely available adventure and a pair of extra pregens to play with.

January 06, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: Re-imagining Kobolds

The new year kicks off with a monster that low-level parties everywhere love kicking, kobolds. There seems to be two camps on kobolds: one wants them to have a dog/rat-like look, while the other prefers the more recent draconic association. I guess it largely depends on whichever kobold you saw first (which for me, if you are not counting D&D, would have been the red blobs from Hydlide).

I have no idea.
Though I owned the Basic set most of my earliest D&D memories stem from 2nd Edition, which mentions them having scaly skin, small horns, and a rat-like tail, but that is about it. No mention of an otherwise rat- or dog-like appearance, though if it were not for Tony DiTerlizzi's drawing—which I feel were the best in the book—I would have probably assumed a tiny, reptilian creature (especially because, yapping-language or no, not all animals make the noises you assume they would).

Maybe that is why I did not mind the change to their appearance in 3rd Edition, and in fact felt that it made them more visually interesting. I also enjoyed their new-found association with dragons, and have used this on numerous occasions to add young dragons to kobold lairs, flavor their spellcasters, and create champions and variants with more draconic properties, like breath weapons and wings.

Given all of this it is probably no surprise that I have almost no issues with Jon's mission statement. Almost.

First, I do not see why the eyes need to be particularly large. Does that mean that drow are going to have larger-than-normal eyes? Duergar? Darkvision is not a "real-world" thing, so unless the look fits the theme they are going for I would not bother adhering too closely.

While I like that they are sticking with the draconic essence, I think that WotC should go a step further and give them the same scale colors, horns, and crests that dragons have, something that I wished that they would have done this with the dragonborn (which, had they made dragonborn metallic-only could have made for a nice dichotomy...hint hint).

Some people are against the idea of prehensile tails, but I actually dig them, if for no other reason than it is not something I have really seen in D&D. I mean, tieflings could take the Clever Tail feat to nab items and make Thievery checks with them, so why not kobolds?

January 02, 2013
Posted by David Guyll


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