Archive for January 2009

D&D XP Character Sheets

Cribbed from Hordlings, we finally get some screen caps of the Delve character sheets.

Astral Majesty grants you +1 to all defenses against bloodied foes.
Astral Resistance grants resistance against necrotic and radiant. Not sure if the secondary resistance is from a feat.
Memory of a Thousand Lifetimes lets you add 1d8 to a roll you make. Not sure if its increased by a feat (the deva has a feat called Auspicious Lineage).
The Radiant Power feat lets you take a -2 to hit for bonus damage with an implement.

Powerful Athlete lets you roll twice on all Athletics checks when jumping and take the better result.
Stone's Endurance grants you resist 5 against all damage until the end of your next turn as a minor action.

Two of the new powers are an at-will called devastating strike, whichdeals bonus damage but grants an attack bonus against you (like an at-will version of avalanche strike), and a level 2 utility called combat sprint that lets you move faster and gives you a bonus against opportunity attacks incurred while moving.

The gnome bard is packing a fochlucan bandore, which is a wondrous item that you can treat as an implement that grants a bonus to attack and damage rolls, as a weapon would. This is expected, so bards can still get mileage out of instruments.
It also had some kind of power that you could use while resting, probably healing as it affected all allies within 20 squares.

Stalker Spirit Boon grants your allies a damage bonus against bloodied enemies.
Summer growth is a magic item property that lets you treat squares around you as difficult terrain against enemies only until the end of your next turn.

There is a magic dagger called tooth of chaos that lets you treat your attack rolls as even or odd against one creature for the rest of the encounter. Neato!


Half-Orc Resilience makes you heal 5 hit points as soon as you are bloodied in an encounter.
Swift Charge grants +2 squares when charging.
Furious assault is an encounter power that lets you deal +1[W] damage with a weapon attack, or +1d8 (I think) if its not. Can be used as a free action.

On the front we have Armor of Faith, which grants +3 to AC when in light armor and no shield, so its probably like the swordmage ability.
Censure of Pursuit lets you deal +5 damage to a marked creature until the end of your next turn.

On the back, overwhelming strike appears to deal damage, let you shift, and slide the enemy into the square you were in.
Oath of enmity seems like its the striker extra damage mechanic. Its fucking huge and I cant really see what it says, but its a minor action to use and is a close burst 10.
Resonant escape lets you teleport 3 squares as an immediate reaction to getting hit.
Aspect of might is a daily that deals triple damage and grants a power bonus to Athletic checks, attack rolls, and damage rolls.
There is also whirlwind charge, sequestering strike, road of pursuit (I think), and a few Channel Divinity powers on the menu.
January 31, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

From DDXP 2009

You can get a podcast from Radio Free Hommlet that talks about D&D XP. In case you are lazy, here are the highlights (products are listed in the order of release...hopefully), cribbed from the Wizards forums.

Arcane Power will contain rules for familiars and support the swordmage and sorcerer, but not the artificer. Since it wont be officially released until Eberron Player's Guide, this makes sense.

Divine Power
will contain rules for customizing divine classes with domains.

Primal Power
apparently will explain how it differs from the arcane and divine power sources. I guess some people are having trouble wrapping their heads around that? Feh.

Plane Below
will be a companion to Manual of the Planes, but focus mostly on the Elemental Chaos. Cool beans!

Dungeon Master's Guide 2
will be mostly oriented for the paragon tier. Logically we can expect the third iteration to focus on the epic tier, and this is a great way for them to extend the longevity of this book.
The featured city is indeed Sigil, and will go into a similar amount of detail that you saw for Fallcrest in Dungeon Master's Guide.

Adventurer's Vault 2 will have item sets. Not really new, since they did the same thing in Magic Item Compendium at the LATEST. I was actually considering making a few of my own for homebrew campaigns. I probably still will, but its good to know they get core support. :-3
Also, its reported to have new item types (kind of like how the first one introduced mount and companion items, methinks).

Revenge of the Giants
is now going to be a hardcover book. This is extremely exciting to me, and hopefully its not as big a letdown as Shackled City was.
Monster Manual 2 will be "as big" as Monster Manual.
Speaking of adventures, you fight Doresain in E2. Since you fight Orucs in E3, this makes sense.

Dragon Magazine Annaul 2009: I'm glad I keep hearing about this, because I kept fearing that Wizards would pull the plug on it. Though I have a DDI subscription, I am still going to get this so I can have the good stuff in print. It will not have anything new, so if you are like Adrian and fucking print your articles, you probably wont get anything out of this.

Draconomicon 2: Metallic Dragons will feature, well, metallic dragons. Iron, adamantine, gold, and silver dragons were specifically mentioned, meaning they might not be in MM2. At any rate, ways to work them in as bad guys will be packed in there somewhere. Hooray.
January 30, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Seeking Other Pastures

Keith Baker is going to start traveling around the world soon, exchanging entertainment for hospitality. Basically, you let him shack up for 1-3 nights, he runs games for you. Actually, his preference is that he runs for you, and you run for him, as he wants to get to experience as many diverse groups as possible.
If this intrigues you, hit him up in the thread I linked, or just email him directly.
Posted by David Guyll

GameScience Dice

January 29, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

February's Dragon

This month's issue of Dragon brought us a few gems: the dhampyr, some class previews, and an article on undead stuff that to me is a good companion to Open Grave. Hestavar was alright. We're not epic level yet, and maybe further down the road I'll incorporate it into my own implied setting. At least it had a cool epic destiny.

February looks about as promising: another class preview (shaman), Playing Shadar-Kai, Planar Epic Destinies, and Necromantic Rituals appeal to me the most. I'm curious about the preview for Primal Power, and I have no fucking clue what Returned Tarmalune is about.

I barely even remember shadar-kai in 3rd Edition. 4th Edition made them core, but to me they are still kinda by the wayside. I'm working on an undead-heavy adventure series with Red Jason and Adrian, so I'll finally be able to do something with them. Adrian was enjoying his playtest shadar-kai invoker that worshipped, of all deities, Pelor. I think there is potential in them, and we'll see how Wizards taps them next Friday.

I like Manual of the Planes, and I like how they managed to make planar-themed stuff for players that doesnt require you to be situated within them, a dimensional squatter. You can get some mileage out of all of them even in the world. I'm also a fan of Planescape, so hell, the more planar love, the better.

I'm hoping that Necromantic Rituals contains some neat way to create undead servitors or whatnot. The one in Open Grave was pretty tame: you get a deader that really doesnt do anything except serve as a liability.

Whelp, back to homework!
Posted by David Guyll
Tag :

Dawn of War II

Played the Dawn of War II beta today, and its been a pretty shitty ride. I really enjoyed the first one, and I dont know where Relic went wrong. First of all, it doesnt play anything like the other one: you dont really build anything except for units. Unlike the tabletop game, you get an extremely limited amount of Requisition to build with, so you end up taking quite awhile to get anything that might be considered a sizable force.

Part of the problem is that there is no tutorial to be found. You are basically thrust into this game and must navigate your own way through this grim and dark future. There are no tech buildings, resources trickle in incredibly slowly, and there is almost no way to actually try and hold onto territory that you acquire.
The hours I've spent trying to figure out this game and actually play it were universally frustrating. I start out by capturing points, only to have the computer run up and take them the moment I go somewhere else. If I leave a squad there, then I just end up losing another point. If I can manage to wrestle with my anger long enough to get a whole of three squads, generally the computer just bypasses everything I have out and fucks up my base instead. That, or they just send in a fucking dreadnaut that is immune to damage from anything but my hive tyrant (which gets killed incredibly quickly anyway).

Coming in from Dawn of War, this sequal only bests it in the graphics department. It looks great, plays like shit. I've only managed to actually successfully complete one game so far. Every other time I end up quitting after about half an hour of playing "run around the map and try to reclaim my points and watch my guys get killed very quickly by a trio of space marines". Generally the matches just didnt go anywhere: it was just a fucking game of hide and seek until I my squads started to dwindle into oblivion.
I'm canceling my pre-order. Perhaps in two months Relic will make some fixes to make the game actually,

Edit: Oh yeah...

I actually ended up going to the forums to see what others thought about it. I guess the "right" way to play tyranids is to get tyranid warriors and get the right synapse upgrade. The problem is that if you get the first upgrade for them, you cant get another one. Also, they take a LOT of time to make, so at best you can expect to maybe have a squad of warriors and the starting squad of termagants. Assuming they are still alive by the time you manage to get enough power points to build them.

This is a problem because it seems to contain a lot of "game mastery" involved. Basically, if you dont play it the "right" way, you will lose. You cant build the units you want, you have to build the right ones and do the right things to make them effective. This is bullshit, especially without any kind of tutorial that tells you "Hey, your shit sucks if you dont do this-or-that!"
January 27, 2009
Posted by David Guyll


Concept of one of my character's in Adrian's game: we're currently plowing through Pyramid of Shadows. She is a level 7 tiefling resourceful warlord.
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Scales of War, Part 1

We've almost finished the first two adventures for Scales of War. I mostly like it thus far, in that it provides a complete barebones setup to entertain my group. I dislike that its difficult to capture the "bigger picture" of the adventure. For example, in Siege on Bordrin's Watch, you basically go into the Stonehome Mountains to the Monastery of the Sundered Chain and kill a bunch of orcs. Easy, right?

Well, there is a party where you go underground and head down a massive flight of stairs. Somehow, this leads to a kind of forge in the next encounter. My question is how does the party get there? I guess with a more in-depth reading that I found out the stairs merely lead into a deep chasm. I thought they were underground the entire time. I mean, there's no door there to stop wandering monsters from just barging into their sleeping quarters and killing them all in their sleep (and with those random encounter tables, this could be anything from a trio of griffons to a bunch of wights just wandering in).

I just went with that they were underground because I overlooked the part that said its actually outside, and had the ranger make a Perception check to notice tracks that lead some several hundred feet to the Chamber of Works. Nothing says that you can see it, and there is no indication of direction. Its like they just figure you'll make it up, and hopefully your improvisations doesnt force you do have to backpedal later or make additional rewrites.

I feel that in these first two adventures Wizards did the exact opposite of Paizo: they realized that yes, too much pointless backstory and insight into a monster's deepest desires is wasted text, but they went a bit too far and basically stripped it all away. Now there is no information given as to the rhyme or reason for virtually anything you find here. The Nexus is a super elaborate boiler room death trap. Is that all they built it for? I mean, they could have given a single sentence as to its original function (in-door heated plumbing comes to mind as opposed to a massive super-trap).

I'm going to move on and read the third installment and see how it reads out.
Posted by David Guyll

There's One in Every Group

Or rather, there used to be. See, I was formerly the guy that had all the books, accessories, and miniatures. I had all that shit. Just me. Since we only gamed once a week during the era of 3rd Edition, my friends only bought a handful of books, waiting until they came over to peruse my massive archive of gaming supplements. Since they only played here, they didnt get Dungeon Tiles, and I think that only Red Jason ever got any minis (and to be fair, Bat Jew did buy one from me since he liked it so much).

4th Edition has stolen that title from me. I'm no longer that guy, since most of the players are buying all the books now. Red Jason has almost all of them, Adrian does, and the newest guy Josh picked up Player's Guide to Forgotten Realms just for the swordmage class. That says something to me, that the game is so damned fun that players who would sit on their thumbs until game day to check out the new stuff are building their own gaming libraries. These are people who dont exactly have a lot of cash, and get them anyway (not to the exlucison of necessities, mind you).
Before, even if they had cash they wouldnt buy anything. Red Jason picked up Complete Divine because he likes paladins, but thats about it.

I'm really happy things turned out this way: it was getting annoying having the entire group waiting in line to go through Spell Compendium and Magic Item Compendium for their shit.
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Character Builder

Okay, after at least an hour of toiling, I finally got this fucker to install AND run properly. This actually took me longer to fix than the Beta did, and the error was similar (it for some reason cannot create folders in My Documents, whether or not they already exist). Unlike last time, it wasnt a simple matter of moving the folder that it couldnt make out and making a new one, I had to change the location of the Documents folder so that it could make a new one from scratch. After that, it was just a matter of waiting as my computer moved 115 Gb of data back where it belonged. Yargh.

So, the Character Builder.

I played with the Beta version and really had no complaints except for the fact that all of my characters were already past level 3. This builder goes up to 30. With every class, including the artificer and barbarian. It includes other preview classes, but they only go up to 3. That being said, if you want to start a new campaign, you can indeed build a druid, invoker, or bard. No news on the warden or sorcerer, yet.
Other than that, the only things that have changed are some of the previously locked options such as Houserules, and the layout. The layout actually got me, because after I leveled up my warlord in Adrian's game to 7, it took me a couple minutes to figure out how to navigate about and see what I chose. The answer is that everything about your character is located under the Build tab. There are smaller sections that I overlooked that let you go to specific parts of your character (Class, Background, Ability Scores, etc).
This seems way more organized than the other one is, but it might confuse you for just a bit. No biggie.

I can see myself mostly using this to build a character in concept. I dont think that people are going to constantly print out updated characters, and I certainly woudlnt. If you have a laptop, this is great for managing a character digitally since you dont have to be online to use it. Myself, I prefer to use a PSP with an uploaded pdf file of my character and a small scratch pad for managing information that changes often (namely hit points and healing surges). Once a week I can update it, print it as a pdf, and then upload the new file. If I'm at my house, I can also just have it displayed on one monitor and still use a scratch pad. Saves myself costs on paper and ink, and looks great.

Otherwise, I havent encounterd any bugs. I know others have, and also that apparently it wont print journal entries yet (listed as part of the known bugs during startup). That being said, I really like this. Its much better than E-Tools ever was (meaning, that we actually use this). A few of the players in my group dont have DDI subscriptions, but are going to get them now because of this update. So, good job Wizards.
Posted by David Guyll

Character Builder is Live

I am installing it now. More to come when I make a bunch of level 30 characters.
January 26, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Meet the Sorcerer

I've always been a fan of the concept of sorcerers. Shitty skill points, lack of class features, and limited ability to efficiently use Metamagic feats kind of ruined it for me. 4th Edition did a lot in the way of change, pretty much all of which was for the better, and I dont see any of those limitations here.

The role is actually a striker, which is somewhat different from the controller role that basically everywhere thought it was going to be. Instead of comparing this guy to the wizard, I'll be looking at the warlock as well as what I know about the stiker role (ie, mechanic to deal bonus damage).
Most of everything else about this class is what I expected, except for Strength as a key ability. Apparently it affects the dragon Spell Source, which I'll talk about in just a moment. Sorcerers only get one class feature that we know about so far, and thats Spell Source. Spell Source is the new term for bloodline, ifin you played 3rd Edition. Out of the gate we only get two--dragon and chaos--though I'm sure Arcane Powers will add one or more to the melting pot (and I'm guessing there are more than a few of you who have your own ideas, recycled or not).

The article goes into more detail than the old class did about the origins of your powers, going so far as to provide a few examples about how you might have "acquired" them. For example, you might have been bathed in dragon's blood, or born in a place where energies from the Elemental Chaos converged.
The common theme here is that both Spell Sources provide a flat damage bonus equal to another ability score (Strength or Dexterity), and it increases as you level up. This is their striker mechanic, much different than the extra d6 or d8 damage die that we are used to seeing. Thats where the similarities end, however.
Dragon Magic is very defensive in nature. You can get a bonus to your AC, energy resistance, and add your Strength mod to your AC instead of Dex or Int. Wild Magic gives you randomized benefits at the start of each round and short/extended rest, in addition to pushing creatures around when you get a natural 20 or 1.

Sorcerers can use daggers as implements. Since they dont have any kind of Implement Mastery, this is basically cosmetic in nature. It is, however, cool.

After that, its on to powers. Acid orb is like an acid-damage variant of magic missile, except that strictly speaking the average damage is 0.5 higher, and I'm sure one or more people are already on the forums bitching about how the sorcerer is overpowered. There are a total of five at-wills mentioned, and they all seem to be about on par with what I would expect from the warlock. Storm walk is neat in that you can shift before or after the attack (which is similar to one of the ranger at-wills).
One major theme I see with the Wild Magic powers are that it grants you an extra benefit if you roll a even number on your attack rolls. You can slide instead of push, make a secondary attack, target takes an attack penalty, etc.

The class looks very solid. I like that its different from all other arcane classes we've seen thus far. People had an identity crisis about the warden and druid, and I was afraid that even I would do the same when I read the sorcerer. Its definitely not a wizard, or even a warlock. Its got its own theme going on, and I just wish that we had more Spell Sources to pick from. If I had a complaint, it would be that I was really hoping for the "bleeding magic" sorcerer that we read about in Wizards Presents: Races and Classes, in that you would get some lingering aura effect after casting spells. Thats not to say that I dislike this class: I think this is going to be the class I first play when Player's Handbook II comes out (instead of the druid).
Posted by David Guyll
Tag :

The first 3 levels of the 4E Sorcerer are up now on DDI

4E Sorcerer article (click here)


Role: Striker. You channel powerful magical energy through your body, exerting control over wild arcane magic to blast foes. You lean toward controller as a secondary role.
Power Source: Arcane. Arcane magic is in your blood, as a touch of either ancient draconic power or untamed chaos energy, and you unleash it through sheer force of will and physical discipline.
Key Abilities: Charisma, Dexterity, Strength

Armor Proficiencies: Cloth
Weapon Proficiencies: Simple melee, simple ranged
Implements: Daggers, staffs
Bonus to Defense: +2 Will

Hit Points at 1st Level: 12 +Constitution score
Hit Points per Level Gained: 5
Healing Surges per Day: 6 +Constitution modifier

Trained Skills: Arcana. From the class skills list below, choose three more trained skills at 1st level.
Class Skills: Arcana (Int), Athletics (Str), Bluff (Cha), Diplomacy (Cha), Dungeoneering (Wis), Endurance (Con), History (Int), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Nature (Wis)

Class Features: Spell Source

Also just posted, the latest podcast features Richard Baker, Forgotten Realms author, reading a select passage from his most recent novel.

Check it out here: Author Reading 1 (January 2009)
01/26/2009 - D&D Podcast

January 25, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

I Like The New Planes

I was really into Planescape back in 2nd Edition, and owned the 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes. I knew a lot about the planes and their layout, but basically if I wasnt running Planescape then I never bothered to use them. Technically, I didnt use them a whole lot in Planescape campaigns either, preferring to stick mostly with urban campaigns set squarely in Sigil. If the players went to another plane, they were relegated to "other worlds that were mostly like the prime material plane", especially at low-levels when going to another plane meant instantaneous death.

I greatly prefer the new planar cosmology, both in terms of layout and accessibility. It is not possible to create adventures on other planes easily without a shitload of planning. Players can venture into even a hostile place like the Elemental Chaos without excessive amounts of situational protection (read: spells that translate into "let you go into X plane without dying"). They can go there, explore, and not worry about micromanaging tiny things that let them do those things.

The new layout entices me, mostly because it seems much less symetrical and more...natural, I suppose is the word. Before, everything seemed laid out in a very formulaic manner. Very predictable. The new layout seems more fantastic and, well, mythical. Anyway, I know a lot of people are pissed that Wizards changed the "official" cosmology, constantly ignoring the fact that they can just make up whatever they want (assuming anyone still used the classic Great Wheel format). I really could care less if someone hates it for that "reason".

I've already created several adventures with the Shadowfell in mind, and am kicking around an adventure path in which the Feywild is pretty central. These are things that I really wouldnt have done in prior editions, as the Negative Energy Plane is extremely lethal, and the rules for plane-hopping made things fairly difficult without houseruling.

Other than that, Manual of the Planes has new monsters, rituals, and paragon paths. I know a few people are pissed that it included stuff for the players, but unlike the prestige classes that were included in the 3rd Edition iteration, these are useful even if you arent in the planes. A good book for DMs and players, but DMs will get far, far more utility out of it.
January 23, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Manual of the Planes Podcast

The brand new Manual of the Planes is reviewed and discussed in the latest podcast from The Tome Show.

Check it out here:

The Tome Ep 95: Manual of the Planes
Posted by David Guyll

New 4E Releases Now In Stores

Goodman Games has just released 2 new products for your 4th Edition games:

Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens

Tired of facing the same old kobolds? Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens take the very best original monsters from the pages of over 55 Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures, converts them to 4th edition, and compiles them in one volume. Here you’ll find unique monstrous foes from levels 1 to 30, plus a few old classics updated for the newest edition of the world’s most popular role-playing game.

144 pages, hardcover, $24.99

In Search Of Adventure

A Collection of Six Level 1 Adventures

Whether you are looking for a quick one-shot game, or are in searching for the perfect adventure to kick off your new 4E campaign, In Search of Adventure delivers. Collected for the first time: six all new adventures by some of the brightest writers of the new edition! From the ancient temples of a forgotten snake god, to the maddening maze of an exiled fey, this collection will test even the most cunning and courageous of heroes.

If you're looking for great adventures, deadly foes and cunning puzzles, look no further. The Search Is Over!

112 pages, $19.99

Download this PDF preview now to check out the look and feel of the adventures!
January 21, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Open Grave & Hero's Handbook: Dragonborn

Got both today. I'll post my thoughts when I get a chance to read them.
January 20, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Character Codex

I recently got a copy of the Character Codex (Goodman Games), seeing as they finally had one at our FLGS. The price tag isnt too bad, only $6, and its got more than a few pages of stuff inside. Actually, I think it has too much room for information.
The first few pages are most of what you expect from a typical character sheet. You get spaces for your hit points, defenses, skills, etc. No area to record your race. Actually, there isnt even a spot for gender. There is, however, a sizable Description area that I suppose you could use to call out those important facts (its also right next to a portrait space, so you can draw your character).

After that, well, you get some new things.

There is a place to note your Comrades-in-Arms. With spaces for two small stat blocks that list their ability scores, race, hit points, etc. I dont know if this is supposed to be used for NPCs, or if its just so you can remember what your allies can do, or what. You get a spot for your character history, with blank slots for the year an event happened and what exactly happened. There's a page for Allies, Enemies, even a Clan History.
This small book goes on and on, allowing you to map out your domain, towns, important NPCs, legends, two pages for an adventure journal so you can write down the adventures you've completed, villians bested, treasure, location, and so on and so forth. It even has a page reserved for you to note what houserules you are operating under, if any.

This isnt a book I would recommend for the casual gamer. Heck, if you're the player that likes to make lots of characters or has trouble deciding on something, I wouldnt touch this with a 10-foot pole. However, if you've had the fortune of making a character you really, really, like and have little trouble going from level 1-30, and want to record your character in an epic format, this is an excellent way to immortalize them in exacting detail.
Actually, they have this sucker in fillable pdf, so you can buy it once and just type all this shit out. I know I would use more of it if I had thought to buy that.

Anyway, my main gripe about it is that there werent any blank power cards. That would have been awesome.
Posted by David Guyll


There was errata updated today for each D&D book with the exception of Open Grave. As usual, opinions run both ways about what was changed, whether it was necessary, and how many groups actually think to check the errata at all. Personally, I think that most problems are handled by each group in whichever fashion works best.

They completely removed the power from veteran's armor. On one hand, I thought it was pretty damned good, to the point where it was the armor I wanted to use the most. To me, thats a sign that something is too good, but I think that maybe they could have put a cap on it. Say, you can only regain an encounter power thats equal to the armor's level or lower? I dont know.

What I do know is that now I dont feel too bad about taking screaming hide armor instead. I was kind of kicking myself after discovering veteran's armor during our last session.
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Playing Dhampyr

A fairly recent article in Dragon 371, it (re)introduces Bloodline feats to D&D. While this opens the floodgates for making other bloodlines, thats a topic for a separate blog.

The dhampyr is not, as many predicted, a new race. Rather, any humanoid can take a feat at any point to emphasize their heritage and gain some minor skills bonuses in addition to an encounter power that lets you bite something and heal damage. After that, you can pick from numerous other feats that range from gaining low-light vision (yawn) to netting a +1 to Speed. At heroic tier.
Otherwise, the article features two paragon paths for dhampyrs, and some backstory on the whole package.

Since attack bonuses scale at a set rate for everyone, its pretty easy to pick a class that synergizes with a dhampyr. Blood drain is Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution, so that covers over half the classes. The other ability that you can pick up much later is keyed to Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisa, which again covers over half the classes, so the end result is that anyone can get some mileage out of the powers.

I'm really pleased with how this turned out, and Jason immediately took the feat with his half-elf cleric of the Raven Queen (another player, Adrian, tried to do the same damned thing). Some people are probably disappointed at the limitations of blood drain (have to grab first), but I think they dont understand how easy it is to grab someone. I really blame 3rd Edition's convoluted grapple mechanics that often just didnt fucking work...ever.

Grabbing is a pretty viable tactic, and its pretty easy to pull off (simple Strength vs. Reflex). How often will you do this? Well, it depends on how often you get hurt enough to demand the use of a healing surge. The damage is pretty crummy, so the main appeal is getting a surge. I think its a pretty good tactic if you want to pin down an elite monster as part of a setup for the following round, but I dont think people are just going to run around trying to use it for damage alone.

Time will tell just how effective those powers are, but for the cost of a feat I say its a really good bargain (considering you get untyped skill bonuses as part of the package deal). I understand that its more like a multiclass feat, so that the encounter power has to be about as good as an at-will power, but I think you should be able to use it on any target that cannot take actions or is under certain conditions (perhaps dazed and stunned).
January 19, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Druid vs. Warden

The druid and warden are really not the same thing. Sure, they share the power source, but thats about it. I can cite roles, seeing as one is a defender and the other is a controller, but I think the issue here is that somehow, there are those that think they apparently have the same origins and...story, or something. How this misconception crops up is beyond me, as the preview articles spell it out pretty clearly. If that doesnt do it for you, browsing the crunch should bring you towards the same conclusion.

The druid is more like a shaman that communicates with spirits and can control nature. She can blast you with lightning and then change into a tiger and maul you to death. As a controller, many of the druid powers move you around or hamper you in some way. She is able to do it ranged in human form, but as an animal she can achieve similar effects in melee. I think its a great way to make this class diverse without gimping it.

The warden, on the other hand, is someone who draws power directly from the earth. She doesnt talk to or command nature. She is just a deliberate mountain that pounds you into the ground and shrugs off injury. Oh, she can also change form somewhat into a kind of nature aspect. Those are dailies, so its not the same as the druid who can do it whenever she feels like it.
Posted by David Guyll

Class Power Disparity

Are the classes in 4th Edition too similar? Its something I've seen crop on a couple occasions, but I dont think its a fair assessment if you look at the previous editions. Basically, I guess people are pissed of that a lot of the primary powers of a given class amount to roll, and roll damage if you hit. Often, there is a kicker effect or secondary attack added to the mix.

Going over all the at-will powers from the eight classes, this is technically a pretty fair analysis. If a fighter uses cleave, he rolls to hit, rolls damage if he hits, and can deal automatic damage to an adjacent opponent. With magic missile, the wizard rolls to hit, and rolls damage if she hits. There is nothing special about this attack except that it deals force damage and has a shitload of range (20 squares).

Now, these are two classes that are arguably very different in concept. A fighter hits you with an object, while a wizard channels arcane power. This is noted with their respective power sources (martial for the fighter and arcane for the wizard). My point is, is this really that much different from how it used to work?

A fighter in 3rd Edition would roll to attack, and roll damage if he hits. This attack did absolutely nothing but straight damage. With the millions of feats, its possible that one of them did something extra if you managed to crawl up the massive tree, but in virtually every case it was pretty straightforward. You could use feats like Power Attack to shuffle your attack and damage bonus, but in the end it was roll to hit, roll damage if you hit. Sound familiar?
Lets look at like, most of the classes in 3rd Edition. Over half of the ones in the Player's Handbook center around this basic theme: roll to hit, and roll damage if you hit. The rogue, the ranger, the paladin, the barbarian, the bard, the cleric: everyone had this capability, but for many classes it was what they spend almost all of their time doing in a given round. Roll to hit, roll damage. If you compare the fighter and rogue, you'll find that they basically do identical things, and thats hit things in melee. Their attacks dont feel different at all, because mechanically they arent.

There are quite a few wizard spells that follow this same basic two-step model, such as melf's acid arrow. Roll to hit, roll damage. The only difference is really the description of the effect, which is largely how 4th Edition does it.

Sure, every class rolls to hit, but thats not necessarily a bad thing. They just got rid of the spellcasters reverse-rolling all their shit, which might have lead some to think that it somehow made them "unique". The reality is that it doesnt. Its just a backwards method of making an attack roll to see if you, wait for it, deal damage.

Despite this unified attack resolution mechanic, I think that 4th Edition succeeds in making classes feel and play differently. Fighters dont feel like rogues in heavy armor. A rogue is capable of zipping around the battlefield, making fast attacks and darting out of danger, while a fighter can get into a monster's face and keep his allies safe from harm. Even the barbarian feels way different from the fighter, and the only thing that used to separate them was armor selection and an extremely limited rage ability.
So, do the classes all feel the same? Not nearly as much as they used to. Yeah, everyone rolls to hit, but classes have their own unique style that sets them apart in actual play.
Posted by David Guyll

Gamist is Great

This is another old post that also went up on Gleemax. I learned a lot during my 10-weeks in my Introduction to Game Design class. A LOT. As the weeks in the class pressed on and I set about designing my own original game, it has really shaped how I view games in general and helped refine my thoughts that I post here.

WARNING: This is an opinionated essay. Therefore, I will try to avoid saying "in my opinion" when at all possible. You have been warned.

In GNS Theory, D&D is largely considered a "gamist" game, which in a nutshell means that when you are confronted with a challenge, you generally consider whats the most effective action as opposed to whats the most realistic option. I think that D&D also meshes well however, with the simulationist category. For example, a character may go on an adventure for vengeance, because her higher-ups demand it, or because a friend (possibly another PC) requests it.

Stopping to question character motives and decisions all the time leads to a waste of time. If you are playing D&D, chances are that you are playing it because its a fantasy RPG that mostly involves exploring dungeons, killing monsters, and amassing treasure and experience rewards. This is, at its heart, the core concept of the game. It isnt hard to branch out and expand upon the primitive concepts (why are you exploring this dungeon), and I'm sure most players at least try to at least weave some sort of tattered plot to conceal these basic notions. Generally its not very hard at all, and I myself enjoy it a lot as it helps make sense of it and provide some player immersion, which ventures into simulationist territory.

As I said in another article, I tend not to stop and question everything my characters do. They fight evil because its what I want them to, and if I really wanted to I could give an actual reason why. I chalk this up to implied-roleplaying . Its not so much that the game my characters lack depth, its just that its often not really necessary to provide large amounts of character detail. I prefer to do that type of thing when the DM requests it: does my character have a family? Maybe. Is it directly pertinent to the game right now? Probably not, but if it does the DM can tell me say, a week in advance and I'll get back to him on it.
Of course, this doesnt stop me from inventing character quirks on the fly. Would my character really only drink herbal tea made from plants native to the arid wastes of Sarlona? Of course she does: cause thats what shes doing! Do I need to stop and question this motive or action? Nope. Its my character, and I can always say something like, "she just really likes it."

I often say that D&D is not a reality simulator, which isnt saying that D&D isnt a simulationist game. Its a simple mantra that is effective when people gripe about various D&D mechanics and elements: its not even trying to be a simulationist game, yet still has simulationist elements to it (which vary from group to group, and even by player to player in the same group). There are other games that do that better, because they were designed that way. D&D has never tried to be a reality simulator and for that I'm actually glad, but I dont think that games only adhere to one style of play: D&D fits mostly into gamist, but also fits really well into simulationist.

I want combat to proceed in an expedious manner without having to make rolls to determine how I hit, where I hit, and what that effect means for the guy whose going to die in a few rounds anyway. Maybe in a game where you duel another NPC one-on-one this would be a great system to use, but not in a D&D game. At least, not the D&D game that we've grown up on, anyhow.
This same form of efficiency translates into many rules mechanics: tracking hit points and skill checks are made much easier thanks to it. This leads to a form of abstraction that I also enjoy, as the results are entirely up to interpretation by the DM and/or the players involved. You probably wont get your eye cut out due to a bad succession of rolls (which while more simulationist, isnt fun). Of course, I'm also willing to argue that all the rolling typical simulationist games enforce actually serves to make the game seem less realistic because of all the die rolling. I think that by reducing many things to as few rolls as possible, leaving the exacting details open to interpretation helps to in fact "keep it real, dawg".

I play games to have fun, and I'm sure most people here do as well, even if "fun" means trying to come out on top in competitive games (like Magic: The Gathering). A simulationist game not only takes much longer to resolve scenarios, but you also run the chance of running into a lot of "unfun" results such as scarification, loss of body parts or items, character death, and other realistic variables that bog down play as you attempt to figure it out (or remember them all). I know that the chance of having your face eaten off by an alligator could happen in real-life, but that doesnt add to the challenge or anything, and it didnt really happen to me, so what? Am I supposed to feel bad about my character, or RP how upset I am that half my face is gone? Or speaking in terms of simulationism, just head on down to the local temple and have them grow it back for me (assuming I care at all about my pretend-character's face that no one is going to visually see).
If nothing else, people arent really condusive to the loss of limbs not only because it could be seen as ugly, but that it could also impose a permanent penalty or utterly ruin your character. A one-armed ranger that, until now, emphasized dual-wielding? My choices at low-level play would be to retire and just make a new ranger (with two arms), and jump back in the game, or to "tough it out", which in other words translates to, "suck at your class, but deal with it because it makes the game more real."

Micromanaging equipment doesnt really do it for me, as thats not what the game is about. I have no problem assuming that characters go do the bathroom, maintain their gear, and even buy stupid little trinkets (like halfling bone carvings) from time to time. I could have the players make sure they tell me these things, and punish them if they dont, but is that really going to suspend your disbelief anymore than in a movie where you dont notice the characters taking a dump from time to time? Now, if the character doesnt have rope, and they need it, well they'll have to go get it. Thats after all a pretty hefty piece of gear. If they have a spell component pouch, I'm just going to assume that they have enough spider legs and frog's butt to work their magic (I only really have them track the actually valuable things like 250 gp of diamond dust because I guess its a balancing mechanic).
Generally if there is no direct mechanical impact I'm fine, and I dont need a mechanic to allow it to feel more realistic or important, and more mechanics will more often than not simply bog down play with unecessary modifiers that are forgotten after the goblin who got a -2 to hit because of blood loss, had his speed reduced by 1 because of a leg injury, and a -5 to Perception checks due to head trauma is dead (not that the Perception penalty was actually important in the middle of combat anyway).

Especially when it comes to role-playing games, gamist gets a lot of flak from the narrative or simulationist because for some reason people think that a lot of depth makes you automatically superior. I remember back in the day when a "real role-player" was a guy who didnt play a powerful character. There were a lot of Rifts jokes about how real RPers played the vagabond, or the rogue scientist, while powergamers played classes like the headhunter that were for some reason seen as combat-only classes and therefore "inferior". I think there is something to be said about gamist games that makes them in fact superior: you get the most fun for your time. You dont have to memorize lots of small rules that have little-to-no impact, or come into play very rarely. You dont have to make a bunch of rolls that amount to one conclusion and can keep doing what you want to be doing the whole time: having fun. Whether exploring, slaying monsters, or saving the day, gamist games help keep you rolling towards your enjoyable destination.
Posted by David Guyll

The Danse Macabre

Note: This was something I wrote last year in August. It was posted on Gleemax before it went belly up, so I'll throw it up here.

The Fearless article has generated a lot of controversy. As usual, it has been read and by many interepreted in the worst possible manner. Evidently, this is all just proof that Wizards of the Coast is trying to cater the stupid and young crowd of the coming generation. Without trying to disassemble the already fragile arguments swaying about, I can explain why what was mentioned in the Fearless article is a good thing.

First of all, the article mentions nothing mechanical at all. Its basically Chris telling us all about the fun he had that sessions. He's not telling us that his game is the best, and that we're all morons for playing a game that they worked hard on eight years ago. Its no more than any other friend of mine telling me how cool this or that game was. The rest of this post isnt really about that, but I just wanted to get that out of the way for those that think that Chris and the rest of Wizards are laughing at us for playing "yester-years edition".

D&D is, first and foremost, a game. A bad element of game design is random punishment. If you are playing any game in which you can randomly be killed regardless of your tactics or skill, you arent going to have fun because the game isnt really challenging. There is a difference between challenging and frustration, and thats that one of them can be overcome by making the right decisions. This becomes a tricky balance because if there are only a few "correct" decisions to overcome a challenge, then the game is still frustrating, especially if the player has no way to learn the solutions.

Lets say you encounter an orc warrior in a dungeon room. Now, if you are a fighter, chances are you might charge it and try to hack it to pieces. That is a viable solution to this otherwise simple problem. Other characters might try different methods: a wizard might use an offensive spell or put it to sleep, while a bard or other charismatic character might try to talk her way out of the situation. All are methods that might work, and players can make pretty informed guesses about what to do about the orc, especially if the orc is visibly hostile.

Now, lets take other situations. Say you encounter a door. Its got some bloody graffiti on it. You as the DM know that the door is both locked and warded by a very deadly trap. Now, new players might not know that often, bloody doors are probably a bad thing. Seasoned players might try to check it for traps beforehand...unless they dont have a rogue. Now, if they do have a rogue, the character can do a thorough search of the door. If they find a trap, she can then try to disable it. If the party fails to notice it, or lacks a rogue, then they have a choice to make: open the door, or leave it. Higher level characters might have more creative ways to bypass it (teleport, stone shape, etc). If the party must go that route, they will probably try to open it, meaning that whichever poor sap tries to go in first gets pegged for whatever effects you built into the door (lots of damage, poisons, perhaps death, even).

Now, this isnt challenging. There was no tactical thinking or skill involved with the trap. Either the party had no way to locate the trap in the first place, or by pure luck they failed to. If you artificially build your Search DC at the absolute max that the rogue could find, then you reward that character's skill if they take 20 (which I personally always do if I have the time), but since they must roll to disarm the trap, that element of the game rewards only luck. It would be one thing if there were several rolls to be made, as that could reward more skill than luck, but to have it all ride on ONE roll? Thats neither fun nor challenging.

Of course, not all traps are built into obvious features. We've all run into pressure plates in the floor, placed at random by the fickle DM. Those are much harder to find because you have to actively be using Search to find them, only the rogue can do that, and if you dont see it then one or more of the party gets introduced to MORE random punishment, seemingly for no reason.

Lets look at other things like save-or-die effects. A problem with 3rd Edition and all prior editions of D&D has always been SoD. Enemy makes an attack, you make a roll, and if you dont roll good enough, your character is out of the game. This aspect rewards ONLY luck, but is made worse because it can happen no matter how good your defenses are, as a 1 always fails. You can argue that there are some items or effects that can negate some SoD effects, but that only works if the players know what they are going to fight, and that the characters know what the monster can do, AND prepare properly for it. If the party knows that this dungeon contains a death slaad, AND happen to roll high enough on a Knowledge (the planes) roll to know that it can use implosion, they can defend against it...probably. They have to either already have magic or items that can stop that, or have to be able to afford such things (I know many people think that high-level characters are rich, but most of that wealth is dumped on passive buffs, NOT stowed away in a savings account).
Even then, they have to know when they will run into the monster in the first place, especially if the blocking effect has a limited duration. Not to mention that EVERYONE needs to have it up, otherwise any character might be randomly killed by it.

How does all of this affect you as a player? You probably begin to become paranoid. You dont want to touch the idol, and not because you are afraid of what it might do, but because you have no way of knowing what it can do, or how you might defend against it. Will it kill you? Will it drain ability points? Will it just deal a bit of hit point damage? How can you find out? How can you STOP it? Maybe a Knowledge check can help, but maybe the results arent helpful, or arent complete (such as what might happen on a very low check, or if the DCs are set high, or if the DM has decided that false knowledge has been spread about the item).
What about the treasure chest? What might happen if you open it? A trap, a monster, maybe it teleports you into a room where you get eaten by oozes. How can you know?
This even extends to monsters, especially original ones that your DM makes, or that come out of a new book.

The best way to deal with this currently is to simply not use them, or if the adventure says, "wail of the banshee", you make it something more managable. But then, why have them at all? Why have things that can randomly punish or kill your players. After all, the point of the GAME is to have FUN, right? Its not about the DM trying to prove he can kill the players, but about having challenging adventures where the heroes (probably) triumph in the end (how well they do that is completely relative).

Character death isnt fun, and not because "losing is teh suxxor". When a character dies, the player is pretty much relegated to sit on the wayside while everyone else has fun. The game goes on, but what does the other player do? There are some ways to remediate this, but not all (or any) are viable for an individual group. Personally, my methods involve letting the dead player control monsters or something (I also do this if the group splits up as well) until they are back in the game.
The other sucky part is that raising spells cost money. This will either cut into that characters earnings for the adventure, or the entire party, meaning that they wall behind in overall wealth. Also, the character loses either a level or a Constitution point. Permanently. This means that the character will be weaker overall than everyone else, meaning that they are going to be less effective in participating, and also more likely to die again.
Some people also get attached to a character, much in the way you might get attached to a character in any other game, movie, or novel. Its perfectly okay for this to happen, and having that character die can suck (its a problem if you become overtly depressed about the whole thing). So, emotions can also contribute to this "sucktitude".
For those of you that think that death sucks, just cause, there is more to it than just "losing".

There are also greater spectrums than complete victory and total loss. A combat can still be fun, challenging, and exciting without killing anyone. You dont need to have instant-death powers to make people fear death, and therefore make the game "fun". If the players decide that they dont need to fight the dragon and just stand there because, "Lolz u cant die in 4e", then you either have really bad players, or you havent been trying. I mean, if they do just stand there and the dragon keeps attacking normally every round, they can obviously see that they can die.

How is 4th Edition successfully handling this dance of death? Well, traps seem to be geared in a way where everyone can participate in them. Not that "everyone can do everything, so you can solo the game!" More like, the rogue can try to disarm it, but if you dont have a rogue or the rogue fails, the fighter can still bash it. If THAT doesnt work, maybe the wizard can dispel it (if its magical). This is good because it allows for more tactical and flexible actions for everyone. Traps are no longer randomly punishing or killing you, and everyone can work on it.
Instant-death powers are going away, meaning that now you actually have time to decide if you should attack or run (or attack, find out that its harder than it looks, THEN run). This means that you dont have to find out which defensive power will keep you totally safe from (again) some of the instant death spells out there, but that you can potentially find ways to remove it, or at the least get your licks in before you croak.
With the new negative hit point rules, characters are less likely to have a "total party kill spiral". By this I mean that if the fighter goes down, then the cleric probably goes to heal him. So the fighter gets back up with, say, 20-or so hit points. The monster just attacks the fighter again, or maybe divides up some attacks on the fighter AND cleric (or maybe just uses a massive AoE attack), taking them both out (probably killing the fighter since he was already low anyway), and then just moving on to the rest of the party.
Posted by David Guyll


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