Archive for April 2013

Wandering Monsters: Shadar-Kai

Whether 3rd or 4th Edition I have never been able to take shadar-kai seriously.

They just seem so comically grim, skulking in a realm of perpetual shadow that literally tugs at their soul, which they can only delay through constant pain (including, but not limited to, an armband that impales you while you wear it). Their high concept reads like the kind of angst-y poetry that a teenager would write.

I cannot decide which origin story is sillier, the one where I guess an entire race of fey is on board with a nebulous dark entity bargain that ultimately (and not-so-surprisingly) goes south, or the one where they beg the god of death to help them cope with death, who does so by promising to protect their souls after they die, except when she transforms them into undead soul-reapers.

Thanks Raven Queen, this is much better than eternal bliss.
Of course they are cool with this, moving into the Shadowfell where they build, and I am quoting the article here, "somber cities and grim fortresses". If this is the race that got the most traction from 3rd Edition, I would love to see the ones that lost. Seriously, trying to maintain a degree of inclusiveness is admirable, but I think that, along with many other D&D classics, that they should try pitching flavor that makes more sense. Or any sense.

For example, it does not make sense for an entire race of fey to bargain with a dark power. I could see a group of them doing it and being cursed, but not all of them. Similarly, why did the Raven Queen respond to a whole bunch of humans? Does she still do this, or was it a one-time deal? Why did she just do it for humans? Why would she not warn them against hanging around in the Shadowfell, especially when it is so much more hostile than the natural world? Why would they stick around?

The new story has similar problems.Why would they make a deal with a god of death or despair? What was so important that they would risk their souls (and, I guess the souls of their children)?

This is a part where I think a magical cataclysm would suffice: some necromancer was dabbling in forces beyond his understanding, crossed the streams, and now people are beginning to fade into the Plane of Shadow (where they might become shades). This could make it applicable to any race (or at least more than one), and it could be a kind of sub-race or feat tree that anyone could pick up.

I could also see a culture, or a region where the planes bleed over (like Eberron's manifest zones) where instead of aging the people are gradually pulled into the Plane of Shadow. Or maybe they do age, but when they die they are sucked there. There could have been a war or disaster, and the priests prayed to the god of death, and it "spared" them by drawing them there, marking their souls. What if a whole nation or city died before they were supposed to, and the god of death kept them alive, but they have no souls? What if they are an early, failed attempt at creating life that requires strong emotional stimulus to feel emotions, and/or they have no souls?
April 30, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Subclasses

The cleric deity and wizard tradition have about as much mechanical impact as, say, 3rd Edition's cleric domains or the bonus feats that monks and rangers got, so I guess I never really considered them to be representative of what I would call a "subclass threshold". No, these remind me more of picking an initial class feature in 4th Edition, like a fighter talent, a warlock's pact, or a wizard's implement.

To me a subclass was better distinguished when 4th Edition started releasing its Heroes line; for example the slayer--a subclass of the fighter--differed from her parent class in that you lost daily exploits, used stances instead of at-will exploits, and had plenty of hard-wired class
features and exploits.

Which, given that the article mentions not every subclass relying on the same mechanics, sounds closer to what it sounds like they are doing with the fighter and rogue, and something that I am mostly cool with. I like the idea of being able to determine the complexity of your class without sacrificing efficacy, something I would argue they did really well with the Essentials subclasses: you could go with the more straightforward slayer, or dial up the complexity by rolling a weaponmaster (the class formerly known as fighter).

One of the things I do not like about this approach are how some of them are geared around titles, like the knight and samurai. This is yet another area where I preferred 4th Edition, in this case themes. Sure, you could make logical combinations like the fighter and mercenary or the wizard and wizard's apprentice, but you could also tack alchemist on to a fighter, or samurai on to a cleric.

Another thing is whether or not you will be stuck with a subclass choice. Like, if I start out as a duelist, can I pick up a "warlord" type class feature down the road (though I think that the warlord is robust enough to be its own class)? I would prefer subclasses to be themed packages that you can stick with if you like the concept, but branch out later on if you feel like changing your focus. So, for example, you could start out as a gladiator, but then switch over to warlord powers after you break out of an arena and begin to rally a bunch of slaves to help you overthrow a sorcerer-king.

Again, I think this is what they should pretty much do with every class: give you lots of class features, themed or otherwise, and decision points so that you can better customize your character as you progress. I get that some decisions, namely gods and perhaps school specialization, should be locked in, but I think most "martial" stuff should allow for some deviation. At any rate I am still at the least interested to see what these changes entail (despite no one in my current campaign playing either a fighter or rogue), as well as how they will play with feats.
April 29, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Epiro Map

A map that Victor whipped up for my Epiro campaign. Nothing too elaborate, but definitely nicer than my sketches.

April 26, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Character Sheet Contest

Did you know that there is a character sheet contest? If you have not heard about it, there are still a couple days to get your submission in.

Personally I have never been a fan of the "official" sheets, as I find them to be cluttered with lots of unnecessary fields. My ideal sheet would take up a single side of a single sheet, unless spells entered the equation, which is why I whipped this up tonight:

This "bare-bones" style has pretty much everything you need. Even a low-level wizard could get away with abridged spell descriptions in the Class Features area. I even organized the Defense block so that you would be less likely to overlook any resistances (though I had planned on leaving a Notes field in case you used a healing rate/bloodied rules).

The second sheet/back side will have blocks for backgrounds/skills, feats/specialties, and a blank section that you can fill in for maneuvers, magic items, spells, etc: I think that giving players a blank slate that they can adapt for specific needs is better than cordoning off portions of the sheet for stuff that they might never use (spell section, I am looking at you).

A Sundered World: Bodil's Bounty

One of the problems I ran into during my first draft of A Sundered World, was figuring out where people got the basics like food and water. Since it was not immediately important in the greater scheme of things (like sailing around the Astral Sea to loot the ruined dominions of the gods), I made a mental note about spirits being able to provide food, or maybe that things could still somehow grow in astral space despite a lack of sunlight or water, and left it at that.

Bodil’s Bounty is a free realm located just at the edge of the Bhalen'lad Cluster, near a gulf of unclaimed space that divides it from the Platinum Span. Much of the realm is dominated by jagged mountains and thick forests, though there are enough open fields to support several villages of hard-working humans and dwarves, in no small part due to their patron spirit: Bodil, an old, powerful bear spirit that lays claim to much of the region, though she was not always so.

The Sundering shattered the mountains that represented her corporeal form, wounding her greatly and forcing her into a state of hibernation while she recovered. Some centuries later while she slept dwarves tried to settle, building fortresses and riddling the mountains with tunnels in their search for metal and gems. This wracked her spirit form in pain, but not only was she still recovering from her previous wounds, their work was akin to slowly drilling holes into the flesh and bone of a living creature. She was powerless to stop them, and her pleas were ignored.

A massive horde of orcs arrived and slaughtered most of the dwarves, keeping a few on hand for slave work and other orcish amusements (both of which promised a painful demise). Bodil appeared to them again, offering to free them if they left her mountain forever untouched. The dwarves agreed to this, swearing blood oaths, and with her help were able to drive the orcs off. Though the dwarves could no longer mine the mountains, the rest of the region had plenty to offer in the way of farmland and lumber, so they established fortified villages to exploit those resources instead.

Eventually the orcs returned, and given that a fortress filled with dwarven warriors could not withstand them, neither could a handful of villages. The villagers fled to the ruined fortress within mountains, hoping that if they ran far enough that the orcs would be satisfied with easy spoils and leave. They were not: from the mountains the villagers could not only see the columns of dark smoke rise from the smoldering remains of their former homes, but also the black formations of orcs marching towards them.

The story of Bodil and how she saved the dwarves decades ago was a local legend: survivors of that night and relatives of avenged victims occasionally visited the mountains to give thanks to her, and she was the subject of many tales. They would need a miracle if they were to survive this, and so they begged and prayed to her. Her answer was destruction on a scale that neither side had seen before, nor expected: where before Bodil had merely freed the dwarves, giving them an edge, this time she summoned arctic winds to hold them in check, and unleashed thunderous roars to shatter their ranks. 

It has been many years since the Second Orcfall, and the villagers have long since rebuilt. They treat Bodil as something akin to a deity, making regular visits to her shrine within the mountains--now known as Bodil’s Teeth--so that they may pray and offer sacrifices. These acts of devotion empower her, granting her the strength to protect them from more powerful threats, as well as allowing the land to grow food more quickly and in greater abundance. It is for these reasons that Bodil lays claim to the region, something that the Bhalen’lad nobility only grudgingly accepted because they are a notable source of exported food.

However, Bodil is not the only spirit to inhabit the demiplane. Among potentially others the river Sindri also gets along with the villagers, providing fish and water in exchange for prayers, songs, and wine. Bodil enjoys his company well enough, especially since it means that the villagers can bring her fish as part of their offerings. On the other hand the Oak Sisters are an enigmatic pair that dwell within the Blood Forest. While their mother, a large oak tree, spends her time tending to the forest and crafting animals, they embody a more savage side of nature and hunt anything within the forest’s border, something that people have learned through harsh examples.

For Next and Dungeon World the druid and ranger make sense, though a barbarian could also work.

I envision Bodil occasionally appearing to the villagers, either in person or through an avatar of stone, to select one of them to teach druidic magic. The commoner and guide backgrounds (Next-only) are obvious choices, but a noble or knight might also be stationed there as a kind of ambassador for the Bhalen'lad Cluster.

For 4th Edition, I would round out the class choice with shaman (especially with guardian spirits), sentinel, berserke, hunter, and fey pact warlock/hexblade. Aside from humans and dwarves, there could be a satyr or wilden dwelling within the Blood Forest.

Adventure Hooks 
  • Before Bodil came into power, a darker force inhabited the land. It was almost roused during both orc invasions, but since she has come into power she has been able to keep it dormant. She has been been regularly training druids for the day when it finally re-awakens.
  • Dragonborn crusaders from the Platinum Span invade Bodil’s Bounty, attempting to establish a steady supply of food for their crusade against Tiamat’s Reach (or vice-versa).
  • A chunk of aberrant star, or perhaps a mass of land with its own dormant spirit, collides with the region. This could corrupt one or more spirits, or cause conflict between them.
  • Angels from the Golden Road and/or pilgrims that worship them arrive, hoping to convince them to worship "true" gods.

Bonus Featurette: Duergar 
Dwarves were crafted from stone by Moradin before the Sundering, and as they get older gradually "return" to stone. At first this starts out with skin becoming more rock-like, which can make them resilient to damage (including disease and poison, even more so) and allow them to benefit from rune magic by carving them directly into their skin, but eventually they start to move more slowly and sleep longer, sometimes for years at a time (which can make it difficult to determine when a dwarf has truly, fully returned).

Duergar are the result of devils abducting sleeping dwarves. They take them to the Iron Circle, where ritualists carve infernal signs into their flesh, transforming them into powerful, durable vessels: once possessed, the devil is able to access the dwarf's memories and skills, and dwarves that begin to slumber typically have several centuries of experience to draw from.
April 25, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Heirs of Gith

Though I have played a githzerai monk in 4th Edition and used gith in a low-level Dark Sun campaign (also 4th Edition), most of my exposure to things gith-related comes from Planescape: Torment's Dak'kon, and I am not even sure how much that--or even this--adheres to the "official" lore dispersed within a myriad of Planescape supplements.

While part of the reason I have yet to really use them is that not many games I run get to either the Astral Sea or Elemental Chaos, another major factor is that like so many other humanoid races they are incredibly underwhelming, confusing, and at times contradictory.

Taking it from the top, I guess they used to be a race of evil humans. I do not know why they were all universally evil, but this is apparently significant enough to note. Mind flayers conquered them somehow, for some reason, and bred them to be warriors and bodyguards. This caused them to gradually change physically, and they developed psionic powers that either the mind flayers did not notice, or figured that psychic warriors were underpowered anyway, so who cares. Eventually they freed themselves and split into two separate monster entries.

So, basically the mind flayers somehow conquered an entire race of humans, who were all evil, mind you, and then they bred the entire race into warriors? When your default Intelligence and Wisdom scores both clock in at the high teens, I guess I assumed that it granted you a considerable degree of reason and foresight, both things that this line of action seems to lack.

Moving on, the githzerai decided to move to Limbo/The Elemental Chaos, where they all live in fortress monasteries, again, for some reason. They also abide by rules and schedules strict enough to frustrate a modron. They hate githyanki and mind flayers so much that they build monasteries in the Prime Material/natural world to stage raids against both (the former of which also builds fortresses in the Prime Material/natural world).

Why? Why are they still fighting? What does either side have to gain from this? This is not a "rich" history. It just feels flat and forced, like they are constantly going well out of their to fight each other--I imagine interplanar portals are not cheap to make or maintain--just because. They are literally worlds apart, and they still cannot move past this? Do they not have better things to do or worry about?

Githyanki are not any better. They moved to the Astral Plane/Astral Sea again, which might be more inhospitable than Limbo/The Elemental Chaos, somehow made a deal with Tiamat on red dragons, and are still evil because. The bit about silver swords I can actually get behind, maybe, if only because of their association with the Astral Plane/Astral Sea. Mind you, I think it is silly to exclude them from githzerai due to an emphasis on "martial arts", given that in 4th Edition at least monks got a lot of mileage out of weapons.

Really this article just served to bring to the forefront everything wrong with both...races? Should they be separate races? I do not think so. At best I would go with subraces, but I think that they are different enough culturally to make do. Of course, I would also not shunt the majority into alternate dimensions and make them keep fighting each other for no discernible reason. If I really wanted to go that route, I would plop them both on the same plane and give them something to fight for, which should not be hard given that there are plenty of instances in our history where two ideals clash.
April 23, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Feats AND Skills

This is a pretty lengthy article, so I am going to start out by condensing the already condensed list of the current design goals featured at the end:
  • Every class gets ability score increases, though the frequency may vary by class, and you can swap them out for feats (which are optional).
  • Skills are also optional (which means that I have to adjust the character sheet I am making for the contest again).
  • Backgrounds now give various benefits--of which one category is called benefits--instead of skills.
I mentioned last week that I was not a fan of feats being able to increase your ability scores because it is already incredibly easy to hit the cap: the druid in my playtest campaign already has a Wisdom of 20, and pretty much everyone else has a key ability score in the 18-19 range. If characters no longer gain both ability score bonuses and feats that can also be ability score bonuses, well, that changes things somewhat.

As I also mentioned last week I am not opposed to simplicity (I am definitely a player that prefers lots of complexity), except where the simplest options are also the best. Previous editions saw feats that granted the equivalent of a focused +2 to an ability score, plus something extra. By shifting them so that it takes two to gain a similar bonus to a wider spread, I think it will be easier to balance feats with that are more complex, maybe more focused, but provide more immediate benefits.

Which is a concern: can they design feats that can coexist, without either side of the complexity camp becoming the "correct" choice? I know they intend to design the game so that it is not assumed you are taking ability score boosts, but then players might pile them on anyway to help guarantee success. Technically you might not need another +1 to your attack rolls to hit that dragon, but that still improves your odds by 5%, and your investment provides even greater returns when it is also linked to your ability to climb, jump, and break things.

Another concern is how many feats characters will get; 3rd Edition had many trees, but few opportunities to see any of them grow to fruition, while 4th Edition gave you many more feats, shorter trees, and built-in retraining from the start, which made it a legally safer edition to dabble in. Currently 5th Edition tops you off at four (about half of what you got in 3rd Edition), but I expect that to change since in addition to ability score bonuses, they are also going to be prestige class/paragon path currency.

While the opener on feats got me interested, even a bit excited, the followup on skills did not. When it comes to skills I am a fan of the skill die, because it provides a variable bonus that helps make the d20 roll remain relevant. In 3rd Edition the static bonus could gradually eclipse the by-the-book DCs around mid-level, while in 4th Edition it was incredibly easy to start out with a +12 to +14 to a skill. When the 1st-level DCs run the range from 5 to 15, is there even really a reason to bother rolling?

When you couple this with the goal to rein in the bonus, it makes their reason to step back to a static-bonus model both confusing and a bit disappointing (though I am fully aware that this can change in the future, maybe even before the next packet is released). What I also found confusing was that despite people being really happy with skills that they are making them optional, and if you want to use them you will need to keep in mind how it can affect the DC's (ideally they will tell you straight up).

What was more silly than confusing was that one of the "challenges" is apparently players incorrectly calling for skills, with the example being Spot instead of Perception. A lot of us have been through two editions of the game at this point, one of which condensed and renamed skills at the midway point, and some of us play more than one edition. I think some initial confusion is to be expected and should not be a factor in determining if/how you implement a skill system.

So that maybe sucks, but the section on backgrounds sounds probably good. Instead of skills and a trait, they will now provide up to three categories of features, though I am not sure if they will provide just one, one of each, or some combination of them.

Areas of knowledge are something that I kind of used in 3rd and 4th Edition, where I always assumed that characters with a Knowledge skill knew everything with a DC equal to 10 + their skill bonus (in essence "taking 10" on the check). It made things go a lot faster and helped avoid player speculation based off of what skill check I might ask for (similar to how players might go on guard if you ask them for a Listen/Spot/Perception check).

I am not sure how to feel about proficiencies. From the sounds of it they will serve as prerequisites to doing things using ability checks that you otherwise could not. The examples include forging a sword or sailing a ship, but I think that these could easily extend to things like crafting magic items or access to things like 4th Edition's rituals, Martial Practices from Martial Power 2, and expanded capabilities with weapons, implements, etc.

Benefits sound like background traits by another name, which I have liked from the start, and I am looking forward to seeing how they change and grow.

Finally, I am so, so happy to hear that classes are being designed with the assumption that you are not using feats and skills, especially where the fighter and rogue are concerned. Though Mearls again mentions them getting the lion's share of feats, I am hoping that with this in mind the classes will still be evocative and flexible enough without them.
April 22, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Epiro: Episode 103


  • Yllian Faraday (high elf wizard 2)
  • Randy's As Of Yet Still Unamed Druid (wood elf druid 2)
  • Iola Talmiel (wood elf monk 2)
  • Perseus Eurymedon (human paladin 2)

Since Kamon was unable to play (and we did not have access to his character sheet), we decided that despite a newly uncovered hidden passage leading away from a false tomb, his character would just head back to the surface to make sure that Perseus's horse, I dunno, did not run off with the cart full of precious, precious bounty-heads.

Paranoid, probably due to recent events involving ambush-ghouls and greed-curses, Randy's druid, now able to wildshape into rats ferrets, took the opportunity to discreetly and adorably scout ahead. Without a source of light he was only able to determine that after the passage turned north, that there were two leading east; one around the middle of the hall, and the other at the far end.

They decided to tackle the furthest passage first. Randy’s druid took point, scampering ahead while everyone else followed close behind. I was kind of confused why Perseus stuck so close to the ferret, as a heavily armored man shadowing a Tiny elf-turned-mustela kind of defeats the purpose, but since the only immediate threat was a trap, it was kind of a moot point.

The ceiling collapsed, which dealt a bit of damage to Perseus, pinned Iola under some blocks of hewn stone and dirt (because she failed the Dexterity save), and separated them from Randy-the-ferret, as he was not heavy enough to trigger the trap (and fortunately was outside of its area of effect when it was triggered). It would take a bit to dig Iola out, which would be only slightly inconvenient if the noise had not attracted the attention of a carrion crawler.

Given Mustela-Man's size and Stealth bonus (something like +8, I think), I decided that even though he technically had no cover that the carrion crawler failed to notice him as it moved towards the pile of rubble. Unable to get through, it retraced its steps and went through a southern entrance, where a burial vault linked to the other side of the collapse. As it, well, crawled by this time, Randy changed into a bear to try and grab it.

At the time I was not aware if grapple rules were in the game (they are, page 13 of the How to Play document), but since our d20 results were eight apart in my favor I felt safe in the assumption that he failed.

Even so he still got its attention, which meant numerous paralyzing tentacles and teeth. At this point Yllian's light spell, coupled with whatever noise a bear wrestling a monstrous, tentacled scavenger-worm makes, made it very easy to determine where they were (about 15 feet around a corner, as it turned out), and Perseus went to Randy-Bear's aid while Yllian helped dig Iola out of the mess. It took only a few rounds of clawing, stabbing, and punching before the crawler fled through one of several tunnels riddled throughout the vault.

Their short exploration of the vault turned up a handful of silver pieces, so they headed north before the crawler returned or skeletons started popping out of the walls (a reasonable assumption, in my games). The way was blocked by another stone door, with another boar crest. They tried their hand at checking for traps, a habit which players will temporarily develop after just stumbling into one, but came up empty.

Randy, in a fit of boredom, maybe acceptance, eventually just bear-punched the door open, revealing a grant hall. Unlike the rest of the tomb, torches brilliantly lit piles of shimmering gold and jewelry that were heaped against the southern walls of the room. A dining table, almost as wide as the room, bent under the weight of a seemingly endless array of food and drink. Before it all sat an obese man wearing a golden crown studded with jewels, which contrasted sharply against his robes, which were studded with chunks of old food.

The characters approached, and between noisy bites and gulps the man motioned for them to sit and eat. Yllian introduced himself as a member of the fey courts, Perseus and Iola as his concubines, and Randy as his dancing bear. Being an illusionist and all, he asked if he could try disbelieving, well, everything. I had him make a Wisdom save, and an 18 or so result later told him that if he concentrated he could start to peel it away, but that it continued to reassert itself. In other words, he knew that there was powerful illusion magic at work, but even he could not reliably see through it.

Presuming the man to be King Orsos, he told him that he knew about the curse, and that they were there to help him break it. Of course Yllian had no idea how, or even if he could, but he guessed that performing an act of charity would do the trick, and told the king as such. Orsos stopped eating, if only for a moment, to clearly state that he could not. Yllian told him that he could, and they went back and forth like this several times before Orsos finally started moving for his sword.

It was then that Yllian realized that he was being magically compelled to sit in this tomb, rotting, yet always eating, and that they would need to kill him before he could rest. Iola lobbed a vial of holy water, which despite only dealing a paltry 2 points of damage causing the illusion to falter: Orsos's, stomach had exploded long ago, and everything he ate simply spilled onto the floor beneath his chair, the food was rotten and infested with vermin, the drinks covered in carpets of mold, and the piles of gold were just rubble.

Well, rubble and four skeletons.

Orsos leapt up onto the table while the skeletons closed in. He slashed at Yllian, cutting him badly and forcing him back. Yllian blasted a pair of skeletons with a color spray, causing one of them to attack Orsos. It nailed him with a critical hit, severing his sword arm, which landed next to Iola, who picked up the sword and lobbed it at one of the skeletons, shattering it. As for the other two, Randy changed back into his human form so that he could crush them with an entangle spell.

Which just left Orsos. His rotten flesh peeled apart as tusks grew from his skull, and his feet fused into hooves. He charged at Yllian, knocking him across the room (and at least unconscious). This was pretty much the highlight of the fight, as Perseus proceed to polish him off like he did with most of the undead in this dungeon with a cure wounds spell.

After the fight they gathered up all the loot together so that Yllian could cast detect magic on it, and discovered that only the sword--the Boar King's Tusk--was magical (of course, the coins and gems were not, but you cannot blame him for trying...maybe at some point I will make a magic coin just to throw them off). Since we could not identify any sort of identify spell, I just gave Josh the mechanics of it: if you move at least 10 feet before attacking, roll a d10 instead of a d8 for damage.

Thoroughly drained, they eventually voted on resting outside, which was good because it allowed me to leave the game on a cliffhanger. When they got into the fortress level, they could hear the sound of someone softly piping coming from outside. They go to check, because that is where they left the aforementioned horse and bounty-heads, to find Corvus unconscious and bound. Sitting above him, nonchalantly feeding Perseus's horse an apple, is a satyr.

He spots the characters, tucks his pipes away, and stands up. After a few moments of everyone staring at each other, he finally speaks up.

"So, you killed the Boar King."

Behind the Scenes
Not much to report, here. I mean, I made a magic item and a wereboar skeleton, but to use Josh's words "I am having fun, but not necessarily due to anything inherent in the system or mechanics." It is pretty much isolated to hanging out with friends and creating a story on the fly, which are unfortunately things that I can do in a lot of games.

April 21, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Modrons & Slaadi

Modrons and slaads represent the most extreme cases of the Law and Chaos spectrum, so it is surprising to see them sharing an article together.

What was even more surprising and refreshing is that after so many Wandering Monsters columns asking if a fairly cut and dry monster was “iconically D&D enough”, Wyatt pitches some tougher questions in the poll, like if modrons are too silly and/or make sense, and in the case of the slaad even goes so far to suggest a fairly drastic change to their identity.

As a long-time Planescape and Tony DiTerlizzi fan, I am all too familiar with modrons despite never using them: they look weird--which is saying something in a campaign setting where, for starters, the most iconic city is built within a hollowed out, vertical floating torus--live in a heavily regulated world made up of gears, lack individuality (at least for the base ones), have a set population (creating and advancing as necessary), and, well, that is about it.

I have always felt that they are pretty boring and forgettable, which might explain why they seemed to slide into later editions near the end of their run as a Dragon article (which I would read then promptly shelve). 2nd Edition made note that they trade with other races, but for what? What do modrons need that they could not make or get themselves? Given all their rules and regulations, would anyone want to deal with them? I guess you can also maybe hire one to do clerical work, but I have no idea what you could possibly offer, or why any such request would even be approved.

Even if you ignored that, one of the few plot hooks that I could think to run with would be to have them try to continually expand across the multiverse in an attempt to bring order to everything, but even that would not work since there is always a set population and--according to 2nd Edition, anyway--they lack the resources to do so.

It is because of this that I am fine with giving them more personality, even for the base ones, and making rogues more commonplace. Anything to shake things up, making it so that their rigid concept of paradise is not so perfect, and in fact something that they must constantly strive to maintain. I would also change it so that they freely trade with other races (which could include hiring them), and even invite them into their cities, if only to show them the benefits of their particular brand of order.

I would also run with the idea of them gradually expanding. In uninhabited areas they simply claim, constructing foundries and stripping away necessary resources to reshape the land. For inhabited areas, they offer to improve their lives and give the inhabitants new roles and functions, kind of like Warhammer 40,000's Tau, or the Alliance from Firefly, conquering those that refuse. Since modrons have a set unit cap, you could take a darker route by having them convert other races into things like Mass Effect's husks, or the Cybermen from Doctor Who. Maybe Exalted's alchemicals?

(Note: Jot all this down for my treatment for them in A Sundered World.)

Actually, on that note, I would re-flavor their magic to operate something like the alchemicals' Protocols. It would make them more interesting, and could even pave the way for another school of wizardry.

(Note: This, too.)

As for their appearance, I actually do not mind it all that much, though I prefer 4th Edition's more machine look. Their odd shapes seem to keep with the idea that simple modrons are capable of only simple thought processes; as they become more human in shape, they become more capable of complex thought and individuality. I think the only thing I would like to see less of are the steam whistles.

My opinion of slaads is a bit more succinct. I have never used them, but am always for more aberrations, especially if they can corrupt others. One of my main problems with them is that despite being chaotic outsiders they are still nicely, consistently color-coded. Even their creator described them as his "independent exploration of Lovecraftiana", which not only makes it easier to accept their color scheme (which makes me think of the xenomorphs from Aliens), but also the existence of slaad lords (which I would compare to Lovecraft's elder gods).

As for the psionic angle, I can take it or leave it. Though I do love psionics, I think that if insanity-inducing magic is good enough for the rest of the Cthulhu mythos, that it is good enough for slaads. This could work out great for a warlock pact, though I guess if they had psionics you could end up with a kind of crazy-psion discipline, too...

Ultimately, if you want to keep slaads as creatures of chaos, I would do away with colors and just give us lots of optional powers to tack on as we see fit, in a similar manner to Planescape's hordlings.
April 16, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Feats

I remember first reading about feats during the 3rd Edition previews that ran in Dragon magazine, where they were touted as another layer of character customization. Having come from 2nd Edition, where unless you were a spellcaster there was not much in the way of mechanical deviation, I found this to be a welcome addition.

When we actually sat down to play however, I noticed that most of my players tended to stick to feats that just boosted your numbers, like Improved Initiative, Skill Focus, Weapon Focus, Iron Will, etc. This really came as no surprise, as they were simple-yet-solid choices that you just add to your other numbers and forget about.

Which is why I considered many of them to be pretty boring.

This is just one reason why I consider 3rd Edition's treatment of feats largely to be a mess; you only got a handful over twenty levels, many were severely under-powered (Weapon Specialization) if not outright traps (Cooperative Casting), and by the time you wrapped up a feat tree the capstone benefit was likely not worth it. 4th Edition was not nearly as bad, providing plenty of interesting feats that shook up what your race and/or class could do, but it still had its share of static number-boosters even before Essentials introduced the auto-scaling revamps.

When it comes to 5th Edition I like what it has to offer, or rather I like what I think it is trying to offer, which are more interesting options. As an example Arcane Dabbler lets you pick two cantrips at 1st-level. Granted it is a small list, and I do not think it needs to be, but it is still meatier than a lot of the initial offerings that we saw from past editions. This complexity is understandably not something that everyone wants, and is something that the designers are aiming to address along with a few other changes.

While simplicity is not necessarily bad, I am not a fan of feats boosting ability scores. Already I find it incredibly easy for at least one character in the bunch to hit the cap, oftentimes before they get around to purchasing equipment. Given that some feats are also going to have level requirements--which is nothing new, as a minimum level was kind of passive-aggressively enforced even in 3rd Edition--depending on what the rest do I think that a lot of players are just going to ignore the low-level stuff until they either max out their key stats, or something down the road catches their eye.

I am also not a fan of classes gaining access to feats at different rates, especially when the rationale is that rogues and fighters "will gain more feats than other classes to reflect their versatility". Why are they more versatile than other classes? Why do their features need to be delivered via feats? Why not take a page from Star Wars: Saga Edition or Dungeon World by giving each class a batch of talents/moves to pick from at set levels, and then adding in feats that lets you pick up a feature/talent/move from another class?

This way every class--all of them, but particularly the barbarian, druid, monk, paladin, and ranger--gets some much need flexibility, but you can also expand on them later by simply adding new features, instead of having to introduce entirely new classes. Kind of like 4th Edition, but without having each and every new decision adding yet one more card to the deck. Well, unless a player wants to.

Ultimately the more I think about feats, the more I am starting to feel like this is just what they should be doing (and may be slowly driving towards): make a list of general feats that allow characters to bend or break the rules, or to just gain access to an entirely new option--which 5th Edition already has, with feats like Superior Footwork and Seize the Advantage--then make focused lists that you gain access to by virtue of taking enough class levels.

April 15, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Epiro: Episode 102

  • Yllian Faraday (high elf wizard 1)
  • Randy's As Of Yet Still Unamed Druid (wood elf druid 1)
  • Corvus Artmi (human ranger 1)
  • Iola Talmiel (wood elf monk 1)
  • Perseus Eurymedon (human paladin 1)
Last time the characters had discovered an old ruin infested with a nasty case of the bandits, made worse by the fact that they were being lead by a particularly skilled hobgoblin. Despite the odds--and how 5th Edition does hit points--they managed to dispatch all of them without losing anyone, collecting their heads so that they could later collect on the bounty once they got back to Sidon. But, before that, there was the matter of a few unexplored rooms and a basement level intentionally buried under rubble.

One of the rooms was used to store whatever they stole from caravans: there were plenty of marked crates filled with weapons, armor, food, water, booze, clothing, rope, lamp oil, medicine, and so on. All told they could probably fetch about a hundred gold pieces if they tried to pawn it off themselves, though the original owners might not appreciate that if they found out. 

The other room was apparently the quarters for the hobgoblin commander and her bugbear consort. The braved the scattered clothing, sweaty odor that permeated the room, and other unmentionables to haul out a branded trunk filled with the equivalent of over one-hundred fifty gold pieces in assorted coins; not every danger inflicts hit point damage, and not all wounds heal with a long rest.

They wisely decided to rest for the night, figuring that anything capable of scaring a large group of well-armed and organized bandits into just covering it up warranted a fresh start. Nothing showed up during the night, which is probably due to the fact that there are not more severe random encounter rules in the packet. The next day it took about a half an hour of hard work to clear all the unheeded rubble from the doors, and were ready to delve in further.

The stairs lead to a cellar, but aside from some thick wooden pillars there was nothing else to be seen, not even a skeleton-stuffed barrel. As they slowly crept about they noticed some passages leading to the north and east, the latter of which Iola saw a silhouette just beyond the range of Yllian's light spell. As everyone stood around arguing about what to do, a ghoul came darting out of the shadows and leapt onto Iola, hunter style. It wounded her a bit, but as an elf she was inexplicably immune to its paralysis.

Yllian, of all people, was the first to go to her aid. He had picked up a sword from the storage room, as Josh was curious to see how 5th Edition's flat-math was going to hash out in actual play. Unfortunately he was not able to make the entire distance before running out of speed, cursing 5th Edition's lack of a charge action that anyone could do. And then the followup attack came, not from the front, but from the side, by a ghoul that he did not even know was there.

It slashed at him with a bite/claw/claw routine, and as with Iola was not only able to land just the claw, but barely did anything because elf. At that point everyone else actually joined the fray, and they did not last long between Perseus's cure wounds and sword combo, and Corvus's arrow-crit. They examined the ghouls, and now that they were not trying to claw their faces off realized that they were dressed like the rest of the bandits, in red leather armor.


They explored the rest of the cellar, and found a small side room filled with the dead bodies of other bandits, stripped to the bone. The southern section revealed a passage that had been excavated. Yllian noticed that the wall was deliberately built to conceal the passage, and suggested that the bandits must have known to look here. A short way into the passage, they found a stone door with a bas relief  depicting a pair crossed spears, above which stood a boar and a crown that twisted into branches, etched with the word Orsos.

Yllian had heard of an old story, more of a cautionary tale, about a human king that was cursed for his greed hundreds of years ago, probably by some fey entity. His name had been long forgotten, and so he was referred to simply as the Boar King. A king whose crypt it would seem they just discovered. Sure, it was likely cursed, what with the bandits-turned-ghouls, but the only loot they found also likely had living parties that were still legally entitled to it. 

As kings go, the dead, forgotten ones are almost as ideal for adventurers as living, wealthy, generous ones.

They opened the door, which revealed a crypt with a lone sarcophagus. When nothing jumped out to immediately curse them, rather than count their blessings they decided to intrude further and crack open the sarcophagus, which contained a trio of expensive-looking articles of clothing: a pair of copper bracers, a cloak made of some scaly hide, and a belt with a golden boar crest. Not much, but at least nothing was hiding inside, waiting to deliver a curse.

The undead creature lurking behind a hidden passage? That might do the trick.

Iola and Randy's druid had noticed the passage, but elected to wait on opening it until Yllian was finished desecrating the tomb. They were right next to it when the wight decided to strike, which was good in that they noticed the passage opening--unlike the rest of the party--but unfortunately also meant that they were within its reach. Yllian gave diplomacy a shot, extending his hand and stating, "Hail King Orsos." The wight clasped his hand, replying with something along the lines of "long live the king" and an enervating touch. 

Word to the wise, never shake hands with monsters capable of touch attacks.

Even with its resistance to non-magical weapons, when the characters open up with a salvo of mundane weaponry coupled with divine healing magic, things do not last long. Especially when you also go last on the initiative count. At the least, I am proud that the False King lasts up until Perseus slammed with him cure wounds and a Divine Smite.

We left off with the characters staring down a dark, formerly hidden passage. What will they find next week?

(Hint: Probably the Boar King.)

Behind the Scenes 
As with A Sundered World I am having lots of fun making things up as the characters go along. We are still using miniatures, but again more for preventing confusion than tactical positioning. Combat speeds along way more quickly, but I am still trying to get used to using fewer monsters.

Having to rest after all of two encounters is murder for story pacing, and given the nature of the dungeon they can feasibly just stew around as long as they please to ensure that they can tackle it bit-by-bit at full strength (or nearly so). I preferred 4th Edition, where I could worry less about pacing, including having to resort to various tricks to "force" the party to press on or what-have-you.

Melissa is not satisfied with the monk. She misses Flurry of Blows, and I miss how dynamic and interesting the monk used to be in 4th Edition. No more jump kicks or punching monsters into other monsters. 

We also dislike how, at level 2, they all get Undaunted Strike. I think that all of the classes would be better served by allowing you to choose from a list of options as you level up, or increase the ones you already have (similar to how it works in Dragon Age or Mass Effect 2 and 3). Even divvying them up between things, like how the ranger does favored enemy benefits, but for druid circles, monk traditions, and paladin oaths would be pretty cool. Certainly way better than giving every barbarian, monk, paladin, etc the exact same thing at the exact same levels.

April 14, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Defining Our Terms

No monsters today, but some of the building blocks that help make them up. I do not really have any issues with the levels (well, except for the apprentice-range), and though the environments might be a bit too granular--waterborne and farmland, really?--it is ultimately harmless. Types, on the other hand, presents some problems.

Despite "only" having six origins, four types, and a keyword library, 4th Edition seemed to have all the based covered. Next looks like it is ranging somewhere in 3rd Edition's ballbark at a whopping fourteen types, complete with its arbitrary classifications, particularly where the monstrosity type is concerned.

For example, carrion crawlers griffons are beasts, but owlbears and minotaurs are monstrosities? Worgs, which are basically smarter dire wolves, are also monstrosities, but ettins, despite having two heads, are giants. Why is there even a dragon type? What about giants with strong elemental ties,  or undead dryads? What about extraplanar creatures that do not come from an upper or lower plane, like slaadi, modrons, rilmani, or astral dreadnaughts?

I guess that even if they are not going to stick with 4th Edition's concise selection, I can be thankful that they are not tying statistics to things like Hit Dice.

Now, one thing I am digging from the article is the bit on treasure. Treasure is something that has always bothered me regardless of edition as I felt that you got too much, too fast, particularly in 3rd Edition, where magic items were an assumed part of your progression. I also felt that it would have been nice to see some treasure haul and art object examples, especially for monstrous races.

The proposed treasure tables give you the option of awarding treasure based on the monster, as opposed to an abstraction like level or Challenge Rating. Kind of makes me think of Dungeon World, just with a lot more depth, which sounds kind of cool. This is basically how I have been doing it already, doling out treasure that makes sense for the monster, and is one of the more interesting things about Next that I am looking forward to seeing.

Epiro: Episode 101

Up until recently my experiences with D&D Next have been relegated to sporadic one-shots, which was fine when there was really not a lot of content or levels going on (at least, not enough to maintain the interest of my players). As of a few packets ago this has mostly changed, what with some additional classes and refinement, but while I have wanted to start up something resembling a campaign I had been busy running other things like Dungeon World (of which I finally saw the book for at Rainy Day Games when I was going there to pick up the latest Super Dungeon Explore expansion).

Since my group lost interest in Dungeon World--Strahd gets away, again, due to apathy--I now have a clean weekend slate that, by popular demand, is to be filled with Dungeons & Dragons. Since everyone enjoyed A Sundered World, I decided to take a similar approach to planning and running (ie, minimalist and on-the-fly), but set it in a more...traditional sandbox setting, since I A) wanted to give the playtest content a chance to speak for itself, and B) have never run that sort of thing before.

The campaign starts in Epiro, a kingdom with a slight mythical Greek tone and a lot of problems: bandits are waylaying caravans and travelers, the forests are infested with giant vermin, armies are threatening to invade from the north and south, gnoll packs and orcish hordes are gathering, and more. Basically, plenty of varied opportunities for adventurers to step in and fix. Speaking of adventurers, here is the cast thus far:
  • Yllian Faraday (high elf wizard 1)
  • Randy's Druid To Be Named Later (wood elf druid 1)
  • Corvus Artmi (human ranger 1)
  • Iola Talmiel the, uh, "well-fisted" (wood elf monk 1)
  • Perseus Eurymedon (human paladin 1)
The mayor of Sidon, a farming village near the center of Epiro (just east of the Hydra River), was killed by a group of the aforementioned bandits on his return from Argos, the capitol city. Eleni, his daughter and newly appointed mayor by birthright, placed a bounty on them to the tune of 10 gold pieces per head. Good money, but the bandits are assumed to be operating out of the Tunnelwood, a forest north of Sidon that is inhabited at the least by ankhegs and giant spiders.

Thankfully both Corvus and Randy have some experience in the Tunnelwood, so the party starts by following the Hydra River, figuring that the bandits would at least want to stay relatively close to water. After several hours of following the river (and several rolls on the random encounter table as per the new Exploration rules), they find the crumbled remains of a bridge. Corvus checks the ground around the bridge, and easily finds signs of the bandits' passage. Randy, thinking that something is amiss, has his familiar scope the bridge out, and finds an ogre sleeping underneath it.

After much arguing, including Kamon's protests of wanting to try out his favored enemy class feature, they eventually decide to ignore the ogre and continue on, figuring that they will cross the bridge further north if need be. After several more hours they come across a ruined fort cresting the river, thankfully on their side. Since it is getting dark they take the time to scout out the fort, but are only able to see a few bandits patrolling the ruined walls.

They wait until nightfall to give ambush a shot. Randy opens up with a fog cloud, and they try to skirt around to the eastern wall while the bandits try and figure out what is going on. Iola and Corvus make it up the crumbling walls, but Randy and Perseus are spotted by a bandit as he stumbles out of the fog cloud's area of effect. Randy pelts him with some fire seeds, and his screams of agony are more than sufficient to draw the attention of the rest of the bandits, giving Iola and Corvus ample time to hole up in a tower before striking.

Corvus hangs back, sniping them with arrows, while Iola pummels anyone that gets too close. By the time the bandits are able to coordinate their attack, Randy and Perseus had already made it up the walls to help reinforce their position. After about a dozen or so bandits the ruins are quiet, and they are able to gather the bodies and explore the courtyard, where they find a forge with some tools and over a couple hundred pounds of copper (as well as a wagon to carry it and the bodies). They also find a locked door leading into the keep, which they try their hands at opening.

By which I mean violence.

After about half a minute of kicking and punching the door, it opens. Not from brute force, despite a +3 modifier and the Break Object skill, but from one of the bandits inside. At the same time, Randy spots something hiding just around the corner of the building, but he barely gets a warning out before one of the bandits tries to impale Perseus with a spear. Fortunately he manages to deflect it with his shield and hack him down, but unfortunately at least four more have taken up positions with crossbows behind wooden pillars.

None of the crossbow bolts hit, and both Perseus and Randy wade into the hall, hacking and mauling the bandits. Iola decides to check out whatever it was that Randy saw, and runs into a naked bugbear brandishing a club. Like, a club-club, not natural weaponry. While they duke it out, the bandits ditch their crossbows in favor of spears, while a heavily armored hobgoblin enters the fray, shouting orders in Goblin (which would be the Commander bonus). A handful of bandits close in on Perseus, but an explosion of dazzling light frightens one of them off, giving Perseus an easy opportunity to cut him down.

Enter Josh's character, Yllian Faraday, illusionist extraordinaire with a save DC of 16.

Despite Josh's character making a timely arrival, the rest of the battle was still kind of a close call, which will teach me to adhere more closely to the Dungeon Master guidelines on encounter-building: Yllian got taken out of the fight on several occasions even with the Hit Die boost to wizards, and Iola got dropped once by the bugbear. It was nice that Iola fell nearby, as it allowed Beth to heal both her and Perseus with the same action, and in the end everyone except Randy was tapped for healing magic.

Once everyone was done cleaning up, Yllian informed them that he had been captured on his way to Argos several days ago, and they had been planning on ransoming him or selling him into slavery, since magic-using elves are not exactly anyone's major export. He mentioned that while he was imprisoned, he overheard them talking about finding something dangerous sealed in the cellar beneath the keep while they were excavating it, so of course they are going to dig it up themselves to check it out.

Next time.

Behind the Scenes
If you are a fan of my play reports for A Sundered World, for the first few sessions this is probably going to be pretty boring by comparison, or at the least less fantastical. Basically I wanted to see how Next holds up in prolonged play when using what we have, without having to spend a lot of time planning and homebrewing content. Plus, I have always wanted to run a hexcrawl.

We actually used minis for this session. It was fun to break them out again, and they were handy more for positioning than tactics. Case in point, it made it very easy to determine how many bandits Yllian could affect with color spray.

My first noteworthy on-the-fly ruling that was not a result of just not knowing the rules, was to let Josh use light to impose disadvantage on the hobgoblin's next attack. I gave her a Constitution save at a bonus, since light is not supposed to be used that way, but she still botched it so good for him.

I do not like how any of the healing magic works. I really think that the game would benefit from a wound/vitality split and less reliance on a cleric/druid. That being said, a paladin and a druid seems to hold up really well.

The druid was kind of fun to watch, though I wish the bear form had some other attack than just a claw (though 2d6 + 2 is quite a punch). I double-claw routine or some kind of grapple ability would make it more interesting.

I hate how much art objects are worth, and think that the game could benefit from more extensive art object examples and a "silver standard".

The bugbear was naked because I wanted to make it easier for them to hit, and nudity reduced its AC by 4 points.

April 07, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Fish- And Frog-Men

As a fan of Lovecraftian things the basic premise of ancient fish-people living underground, surfacing only to kidnap people for sacrifice, makes me feel that I should like kuo-toa more than I do, but as with last's weeks batch of assorted evil humanoids they--along with the rest--just come across as confusing and boring.

Let us go down the list:
  • They are evil, but "only" neutral evil, which actually seems odd given that they hate discipline and are largely insane. 
  • They worship a naked, female, half-lobster, half-human deity. At least with drow their iconic god can look like a drow, spider, or some mix thereof.
  • Their bodies are coated in a slippery substance that makes it difficult to pin them down, but they coat their shields in a sticky substance so that weapons stick to them.
  • They are immune to poison and paralysis, resistant to lightning, and some can join their hands to create lightning bolts.
Like drow and their spell-like abilities, there is no underlying theme going on, and this is without even taking the monks into consideration. Do they get all the monk things? If so I am so going to set them up with the Path of Four Storms so I can have schools of flying fish(people). Also, why are they medium level? What about kuo-toa makes them so much tougher than the other humanoids?

I like the idea of kuo-toa as an ancient race, because it helps tie them together with aboleths and/or Dagon, which is always a plus in my book. I do not think that they need to have lived on the surface, certainly not in any kind of great or advanced civilization, but I guess if you really wanted to go with them as former surface-dwellers, why not have some sort of disaster drive them underground, instead of having humans show up and take their land? Maybe they were forced underground when the sun was created/born/whatever, or the oceans receded?

As for their alignment, this is where I could see a divide. The crazy, inbred kuo-toa would be Chaotic Neutral (including some of the nobles, which gives me a kind of Charles II vibe), while the rest that follow Blibdoolpoolp would range from Neutral to Neutral Evil, depending on how they perceive her doctrine and follow through with it. This could add to social role-playing, where not all kuo-toa want to eat and sacrifice humans just because.

While I am not a fan of Blibdoolpoolp's name (while writing this I kept writing poop), I otherwise think she is actually fine as an object of crazy fishman-worship. I imagine clerics not choosing their path, but instead being born into it: they are more eel-like, with jaws filled with jagged teeth and elongated heads. They wear headdresses made of layered plates that give them a somewhat lobster-like appearance, and they can channel lightning.

Sahuagins are not as confusing, but still have their share of problems. Why are they lawful evil? Essentially as humanoid sharks I would have pegged them for neutral or even chaotic. I guess they could also be evil, but I do not see why that is necessary. Maybe some just think of everything not-sahuagin as prey?

How do they even maintain crossbows? If their jaws and claws work well enough, why do they even use weapons at all? Why are they vulnerable to fire? Is that going to be a thing that aquatic creatures have, now? Having them go into a frenzy when wounded is fine, but I preferred it in 4th Edition when they gained bonuses against wounded creatures. You know, like a shark smelling blood.

I have only used bullywugs twice: once in the first encounter of the first adventure of an Eberron campaign, pretty much because they were in the Shadow Marches and I had never used them before, and the other when I ran Stick in the Mud.

In 3rd Edition there was not much to differentiate them from other 1 HD evil humanoids. They were not hampered by marshes and mud, instead gaining a bonus to Hide checks, and I guess their clerics had a random chance to summon an extra monster?

4th Edition mixed this up by penalizing you if you used a healing surge while standing too close, and regain hit points if you critically hit one. Interesting if limited, and certainly different from other monsters, but the best additions were the various leap-attacks--especially the ones that could hurt them if they missed--and ability to belch poison gas at you.

It sounds like they are cribbing a bit from each edition, which is nice, but I would give them optional powers that let them add various poison effects to their attacks. Given that only one kind of frog seems to have claws at all, I would remove them (or make it another optional power, which could include a multiattack).

Another thing that I recall from their 4th Edition lore, which might have been in Stick in the Mud, was about how they could corrupt or warp reality when they gathered in an area for too long. I dunno, something to consider.

Legends & Lore: Tiers of Play

While 4th Edition explicitly spelled out tiers and the levels at which you crossed the threshold, as well as the assumed style of play, none of it was really enforced: though the denizens might change and the locations become more fantastic, you could be crawling around in dungeons in some form for all 30 levels.

In other words, you might stave off an invasion in the mid-Paragon, but you could just as easily do that in mid-Heroic or even Epic. The only constant that I observed is that each tier's entry level provided a power spike above and beyond what you normally get, namely a feat or power.

In the second-longest 3rd Edition campaign I played in we made it almost to 13th-level before having to call it quits, and in terms of scope nothing we did seemed intrinsically tied to our level. At 1st-level we were hired to find a magical axe in an undead-haunted swamp, and at 12th-level we had to find a (maybe the) medusa's head, which was part of a white dragon's treasure hoard.

The first time I ran Age of Worms the party got all the way up to The Spire of Long Shadows (level 14), which basically saw them exploring an ancient city to learn the origins of Kyuss. Up until that point they had explored an ancient cairn, then an underground temple, then a lizardfolk den, then a mind flayer's lair, participated in an arena to shake things up, and then went back to the original ancient cairn to explore more of it.

In both cases, it was more of the same, but the monsters were bigger and the spellcasters had more spells with increasingly game-breaking results.

For D&D Next, Mearls proposes a 20-level spread where you spend the first three levels as an apprentice, which culminates into what we have come to expect from a 1st-level character, the next dozen or so adventuring as usual, with the final handful devoted to realm-management and determining what kind of mark you leave on the world, similar to 4th Edition's epic destiny.

Ultimately I do not see the point of tiers. 3rd Edition did not have them at all, and in 4th Edition you were free to ignore them because they were not tied to any assumed scope or rules. For example, I imagine that you will be able to become king of a nation in Next prior to 16th-level, as well as rally armies to help defend said nation. I guess I am curious how this will be enforced/encouraged, and think that they should just give us the rules to use if and when we see fit.

Now, I do like the idea of making a "tutorial" level, or level even level range. It could be great for teaching new or younger players, or for players that want to explore their character's origin in greater depth (though I also like the bit about random story tables). I think a better approach would to take a page from Dungeon Crawl Classics and allow characters to start out at 0-level, or have characters that pick up enough "apprentice" levels transition into a standard level 1 "adventurer".

Maybe they could add in an optional module with a more granular level system, where whenever you gain a chunk of XP you get to pick a new level-based benefit (more hit points, skill boost, feat, class feature, etc), and transition to the next level once you purchase each benefit once.
April 01, 2013
Posted by David Guyll


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