Archive for May 2011

Dragon 400's Table of Contents

June's issue of Dragon looks densely packed; scoundrel, hybrid, and multiclass playtests, shadow themes, shadow-themed Bazaar of the Bizarre, an article on the Iron Wolf barbarians (with their own theme), Strength-based cleric options, and a bunch of articles from past issues of Dragon, such as Dragonchess, kobolds, and the jester. Personally I'm looking forward to the article on the Iron Wolves, as I'd like to see WotC flesh out the implied setting some more to provide a better foundation for homebrew campaigns, though I'm curious if and how they are going to change up the past articles (namely the limb-loss table and jester).

Apparently in Dungeon they are going to start the arduous process of updating old monster from Monster Manual and "giving them the Monster Manual 3 treatment", starting with wights and ghosts. There's also a few Shadowfell adventures, Creature Incarnations, and a Dark Sun article that I hope will be relevant to my homebrew. On the topic of homebrews, I'm actually anxious for the Eye on Eberron article feating Zarash'ak, as that's where I left off my last campaign that I'll probably just start over with a new group.

Surprisingly people on the forums seem to be almost universally pleased by this, including posters that were just yesterday deriding the staff as--to put it kindly--stupid, willfully ignorant, and making changes just to "leave their mark on the game". I take an ironic sort of comfort in that they aren't apologizing for their hostility, and find it funny that some people apparently just assumed that the staff over at WotC either isn't listening, doesn't know what the fuck is going on, or makes changes just to piss people off.
May 31, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale Review

This image is misleading; your fighter won't
get armor for the first five or so levels.
Despite a very shaky and dubious launch, I managed to scrounge up a few copies at a GameStop that I didn't even know existed in my area, just two days after the purported release date. Thankfully one of them had a CD key in the manual, as opposed to a blank space. But hey, at least it only took two attempts to get the game installed, amirite? Anyway, once (if?) you get the game going you get to choose between four pre-fabbed characters: male human fighter, male dwarf cleric, male halfling wizard, or female elf ranger. I decided to give the human fighter a whirl because presumably having a lot of hit points and being the hardest to hit would probably make my solo experience that much more survivable.

If you were reasonably expecting this game based off of Dungeons & Dragons to utilize D&D mechanics and elements, you will be almost universally disappointed.

The game uses the ability scores that we all know and love, and even gets the modifiers right. However, you don't pick exploits as you know them, instead being able to make a melee attack, ranged attack, and choosing from one of three scalable abilities that you spend points on. The only one I bothered to go with was shield bash, which A) doesn't require a shield to use, and B) doesn't seem to even use a shield even when you have it equipped (thought sometimes I found myself with two shields equipped at the same time). You then get to pick feats, of which there aren't many but at least mostly seem to be true to the source material. And that's it. You don't get to allocate your ability scores, you don't get to pick your starting gear, and you don't get to customize your appearance in any way. I'm frankly surprised that you even get to name your character.

One you get past the brief and spartan character generation menus you are thrust into Daggerdale, which I guess is now a complex cave system populated by dwarfs, goblins, and human-proportioned skeletons. Now I haven't been in the Forgotten Realms loop since the third or fourth time the god/goddess of magic was killed, but I seem to recall the Dalelands being on the surface of Faerun. At any rate, I was actually more surprised by the fact that I had cloth armor, a light shield, a one-handed weapon (despite being specced for a two-hander), and 120 hit points (which in retrospect makes me wonder what Toughness did). Oh, and to hit level 2? I needed 10,000 XP.

What. The. Fuck?

I spent the first three or so hours running around in caves killing goblins, then talked to some dwarves with muffled sound effects for speech, then killed some more goblins trying to scavenge up the hundreds of gold pieces required to buy leather armor (because again, no armor to speak of). Granted it gave me resist fire all of one, but come on. On the topic of gear, the game also takes props from Diablo 2 by including cracked and worn versions of items (not to mention barrel-busting and color-coded items), which penalize you for using them. Hell, the damage range on weapons isn't even correct in most cases. The worst part is that any weapon or armor that offers an energy-based benefit lacks texturing, so expect to put up with a blue-and-white avatar until you find something better doesn't do anything.

With the right gear, you can actually see textures!
This game feels and plays like any other action-RPG out there, but I'm only reminded that I'm playing D&D because all the monsters have floating names cribbed from Monster Manual. Otherwise it could easily mistaken for Dragon Age or some other Diablo-clone, which would be fine, except that these games have been done plenty of times in the past. I honestly was expecting to have more customization and elements taken from D&D, such as actual class features, powers, healing surges, magic items, etc.

Is it worth the fifteen bucks? I'd say almost. There are some bugs that need to be patched, like the mapping errors with certain types of gear, and some monsters get stuck in the ground. I'd also heard that the game can fuck up your saves and cause you to lose your character or gear. As an action-RPG it provides a decent enough slash-fest given the price, but I think Atari could have done better in some regards. Apparently this is one of three games in a series, so hopefully Atari learns from their mistakes and sales in the next installment.

What changes would I like to see? Well for starters...

  • Being able to choose starting gear at all. Picking feats for a two-handed weapon but not being able to get ahold of one for awhile really fucking sucks, as does not having actual armor. I literally did not get scale armor until I was 6th-level.
  • On a similar note, choosing powers. It would be very easy to make encounter powers that only recharge after an encounter ends, and daily powers that only recharge after you wrap up an adventure. Optionally, some dungeon zones might have "campsites" where you could take an extended rest.
  • Action points could be something that lets you attack and/or move faster for a small period of time.
  • A healing surge mechanic would be great for not having to lug around over one-hundred potions.
  • The inclusion of opportunity attacks as an automatic reaction would be great, especially for helping fighters seem, well, more like fighters. As it stands, I don't see anything stopping them from swamping a wizard or ranger in the back.
  • Ditch the Diablo 2 item conventions. D&D has never been a game where cheap, vendor-trash magic trinkets rain off of monsters. Generally speaking in 4th Edition most characters could expect to see one magic item per level, and combined with a greater variety in character advancement this would be fine.
  • Use the actual XP table. Demanding 10,000 XP to gain a level takes a long, long time. If characters leveled up a bit faster, you wouldn't need so many magic items in order to keep things fresh.
May 28, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Character Themes 3: Heroes of Virtue

I'd apparently overlooked this installment of Character Themes, which gives us chevalier, guardian, hospitaler, and noble.

These guys get a chivalrous code sidebar, allowing you to add irritating classic paladin-like limitations to any character.



Actually the sidebar specifically mentions that the code varies from culture to culture, just that "most" would agree on the list as a good start, at least. I actually like this theme because it lets any character gain benefits with a mount beyond what you could get by picking up Mounted Combat. Really nice for characters that want to play a mounted fighter, paladin, ranger, cavalier with summon steed, or whatever and get a bit more out of it.

For starters you gain a power bonus to Athletics and Acrobatics checks while mounted to jump, swim, or "hop down". The bonus applies to you and your mount, and you can use whichever modifier is better, so that's cool. You can gain an encounter attack that lets you immobilize a creature that you hit with a charge attack. At 5th-level you get a power bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate checks, and at 10th-level you gain a power bonus to all saving throws, though none of these abilities are contingent to you being mounted.

  • Battle riding: An encounter-immediate interrupt that halves the damage your mount takes from an attack, and lets it shift a square. You have to be mounted for this to work, however.
  • Indefatigable: A daily-minor action that lets you gain hit points equal to your surge value without having to spend a surge, and you gain make a save.
  • Loyal stand: An encounter-minor action that creates an aura 1 effect that grants you and all allies a bonus to AC, as well as reducing forced movement effects by 1.

This starting feature is great for defenders, or a character that wants to add a bit of defender to their character; if an ally within 2 squares is hit by an attack, you can shift next to your ally and swap positions as an interrupt, causing the attack to hit you instead. As an added bonus you get to make a basic attack against the attacker. At 5th-level you gain a power bonus to Insight and Perception, which is pretty nice. 10th-level lets you designate a character as your "bonded charge"; you can sense your charge so long as he/she is within danger and a mile, as well as the general direction and distance. Finally, if an enemy hits your charge, you gain an untyped attack bonus against it for a turn.

The feature does mention that your charge must be someone you are sworn to protect, and that you generally cannot designate someone who is better at combat than you are. Most of the time, I'm guessing that this means you can't use it on other party members, but I could see it working without balance issues.

  • Guardian's defense: An encounter-minor that grants you and one adjacent ally a power bonus to all defenses, as well as preventing anyone from gaining combat advantage against either of you.
  • Ready for anything: A daily-no action that "unsurprises" you if you start combat surprised.
  • Watch out!: An encounter-immediate interrupt that causes an attack against an adjacent ally to hit you instead, and you get to burn a healing surge if you want.

Your starting feature lets you heal a creature that takes damage as an immediate reaction, but since it is based on your Wisdom modifier it kind of limits which classes will get any mileage out of it. As an added benefit, you gain a power bonus to attack rolls against the enemy that triggered the power. At 5th-level you can freely requisition food and lodging from temples affiliated with you. Eh...not so hot, especially since most heroes could get that shit for the price of a favor quest (and all the XP and loot that that implies). At 10th-level you can use your starting feature twice.

  • Hospitaler's prayer: A daily-minor that allows one ally to make a saving throw, as well as granting a small power bonus to defenses for a turn. If the save fails, the bonus gets doubled.
  • Radiant stride: An encounter-move that lets you shift your Speed, assuming you can get to an unconscious or bloodied ally, granting you and everyone next to you partial concealment for a turn.
  • Fight on, friend: A daily-minor that lets a bloodied or unconscious ally regain hit points equal to two healing surges, and end one save-ends effect.

The starting feature is pretty nice: as a move action you cause one or two allies to shift 2 squares and grant them a defense bonus for a turn. At 5th-level you gain a level 6 armor, weapon, or neck item (you know, one of the essentials), and at 10th-level you get a power bonus to Diplomacy and Insight. Frankly, I'd rather have a stacking feature as opposed to a magic item, especially since it is just a common one.

  • Noble influence: As a free action you gain a power bonus to the next Intimidate check you make, and can also use Intimidate in place of Bluff or Diplomacy.
  • Inspiring recovery: As a free action you can allow one ally to make a save with a bonus after you succeed on a save.
  • Urge to action: Yet another free action encounter, this one allows you to boost an allies initiative result up to yours. Obviously, they have to have rolled lower than you.
Hospitaler seems the most "eh" to me, even in terms of concept. My favorites are a tie between gaurdian and noble. There are a lot of characters that could benefit from either set of mechanics.
May 27, 2011
Posted by David Guyll
Tag :

Character Themes 4: Heroes for Hire

This week on Character Themes we get explorer, guttersnipe, mercenary, and outlaw.

You automatically tell which way is north, gain a hefty bonus to any skill check you make to avoid getting lost, and gain an encounter power that lets you ignore difficult terrain as a move action, in addition to gaining a bonus to AC and Reflex for a turn while in difficult terrain. As another bonus, you gain combat advantage against enemies that are in difficult terrain, too. At 5th-level you gain a power bonus to Endurance, gain a Speed bonus while determining overland movement, and grant all your allies a power bonus to Endurance. Finally at 10th-level, you gain a power bonus to Fortitude and an untyped bonus on saves against ongoing poison damage.

Eeeh, that's not so bad. Granted a power bonus to skills and defenses means that they won't always stack with leader-type powers, but would probably be really useful in wilderness adventures (or Dark Sun). 
  • Stag's bound: Move action encounter that lets you move your Speed with a bonus, and grants you a massive power bonus to Athletics and Acrobatics checks when jumping, balancing, or trying to reduce falling damage. Also, any jump you make is checked as if you were running.
  • Eagle's eye: Minor action encounter that gives you combat advantage against anything you target with a ranged attack and/or area attack power, and you don't take penalties for long-range attacks. As an added bonus you also gain a power bonus to Perception when looking for hidden things.
  • Lynx's reflexes: Immediate interrupt encounter that lets you basically auto-dodge a trap attack by shifting a short distance and gaining a power bonus to AC and Reflex against the trap's attack. I actually like this a lot because even though traps are meant to be combat set-pieces, I find a lot of DMs still use them as hallway nut-punchers.
No starting features, here. Instead you gain an attack power that lets you move your Speed and make an attack against a critter's Reflex that deals damage and slows for a turn. The best part of this attack is that the modifier and damage are based on your highest ability score. The 5th-level feature lets you buy and sell anything for 10% less and more respectively. Normally I allow Diplomacy, Bluff, or Intimidate checks to pull this off, so it isn't necessarily as good in my games (not that a slight wealth shift is terribly unbalancing anyway). At 10th-level you gain a power bonus to Streetwise, and can make a Streetwise check of any sort as a free action once per day while in a town or city.
  • Infuriating taunt: An encounter-immediate reaction that causes a creature that misses you with an attack to take an attack roll penalty when making attacks you until it actually hits you with an attack.
  • Fool's dance: An encounter-minor action that gives you a defense bonus against attacks based on the number of enemies adjacent to you--as well as shift whenever an attack misses--for a turn.
  • Unlikely escape: An encounter-move action that lets you end slowed, immobilized, or restrained and shift a short distance (it also works if you are flanked).
Once per encounter--without using an action--you can add on bonus damage and prone when you hit an enemy with an attack, based on the ability score used to make the attack. At 5th-level you get a power bonus to Intimidate and Streetwise, and at 10th-level you gain a power bonus to all defenses while bloodied. This is a really nice addition to any defender, though it has benefits for any melee character.
  • Sellsword's ploy: A daily-immediate interrupt that grants you a small amount of temporary hit points if an enemy hits you while you are bloodied. Additionally you basically shift the combat advantage from yourself to the enemy for a turn.
  • I'm right here: An encounter-immediate reaction that lets you shift a few squares after an enemy that moves away from you.
  • Brutal survivor: A daily-minor action that grants you temporary hit points every time you kill an enemy, and it lasts for the entire encounter.
Another no-action encounter that lets you daze a target if you hit it with a basic attack or at-will and have combat advantage. That's...really fucking good. It is a good thing that the attack has to be a weapon attack, or it would be an optimizer's dream. That aside in terms of theme and power, it is still really good for a lot of classes. At 5th-level you pick a terrain type that you can never be tracked in and also ignore difficult terrain for. Okay, that's not so good, and 10th-level wraps things up with a small power bonus on Intimidate and Streetwise checks.
  • Burst of speed: An encounter-minor action that gives you a Speed bonus for a turn, as well as ignoring combat advantage for running.
  • Out of sight: An encounter-move action that lets you shift a square, them move your Speed. If you stop in cover or concealment you can make a Stealth check to hide.
  • Improvise ambush: A daily-free action that grants everyone an Initiative bonus so long as you aren't surprised.
Overall it is a good selection of concepts that are very applicable to most character concepts. Of course, you could also mine these powers for monsters (like bandits and street urchins).
Posted by David Guyll
Tag :

Lair Assault (And Haters)

There has been some very selective and deliberate misinterpretation about a new Organized Play even that will take place in September, Lair Assault. As I hear it, Lair Assault hearkens back to when D&D games were ran at conventions as a sort of tournament, where players competed to see who could get the farthest before randomly dying to an ambiguous DM ruling. Just to be clear, this event does not eclipse Encounters, and stores don't even have to have specific dates; they can run it at their leisure, and participation is optional.

Par for the course, haters are going to hate.

Apparently this information is being levied as--to put it loosely--evidence that 4th Edition is for min-maxers. Weren't haters already proclaiming this before 4th Edition was even released? In his favor, he does fall back on the MMO comparison, which is to say he brings nothing new to the table that wasn't already argued to death three years ago. I guess it was alright to build a character with little to no thought given to character development "back in the day", but later editions are expected to enforce this otherwise traditionally optional and vague creation step. I would point out that there are pages to developing a character's personality and motivations in Player's Handbook (and other books and articles), but he wraps up the post by stating that he is not willing to entertain anyone's comments that disagrees with him. That's fine, he sounds like the kind of guy that would just run off with the goalposts anyway.

I did find it funny that he "predicted" that content from the cancelled line of D&D books would be used in Fortune Cards. The fact that he can actually sit there and congratulate himself tells me that he has both never used (or even looked at Fortune Cards), and that his predictions are as accurate as Harold Camping's. Seriously, nothing on any of the cards I own features material that looks like it came from a class or magic item, and none of them have advice or instructions on character-building. This is not exactly rocket science; glancing over a few cards would suffice.

Classic grognard trolling. He does not like the new game, and so irrationally jumps on everything he can and tries to shove it in your face as "proof" that the new game is a board game/skirmish game/MMO-on-paper, and that whatever edition he happens to play is the real deal. I remember reading the OD&D books a year or two ago; there wasn't any rules for towns or social interaction of any kind, and you just kind of started in front of the dungeon. Presumably if you died, you rolled up a new character and ran in again. Sounds like digital game re-spawnage to me.

Edit: The best analogy that I can find for their bat-shit logic is that because WotC creates an optional, minor program to cater to a crowd that may want to engage in hardcore character optimization from time to time, that D&D is now a game for people that want to engage in hardcore character optimization. If they add in optional cards that you can choose to use, or not, it is now a card game? WotC has not changed the rules or removed any content. It is not unreasonable to think that people who play D&D play other games, and might enjoy varying styles of play.

Going off this (bat-shit) logic, why wasn't 2nd Edition labeled a card game when they made the Blood War card game, or Spellfire?
May 22, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Heroic-Tier Red Dragon

In line of the vampire class from Heroes of Shadow, here is a pdf for a heroic-tier red dragon race-class combo. Lemme know what you think about the powers, layout, progression, etc. If people like it, I'll wrap up the paragon and epic tiers, too.

Meet the Templar

I really can not remember the last time I saw the vocal minority so united, this time against the Essentialized writeup of the cleric. To put it mildly, you got people wondering what is wrong with R&D and/or if anyone at Wizards of the Coast has ever played a cleric before. Some claim that the warlord was already a superior leader and that it "escaped" the writeup unscathed. I think the funniest complaints are a tie between Mearl's hatred of clerics, and variations of "my character(s) are forever ruined". Again, this is the cliffnotes of forum-rage.

So, what has actually changed?

Well, when you take cleric powers from Heroes of the Fallen Lands out of the equation, basically 30ish of around 250 features (or less than 20%) and prayers got nerfed. I can see where people are coming from: they had a character that could do something, and that something no longer operates as well as it did before, whether having the ranged reduced by a square or two, or having the damage scaled back a die. Fortunately (perhaps unfortunately for some), I do not think that the designers decided to purposely set out to fuck you over, or just fuck over clerics through some bizarre personal vendetta.

Is it possible that they did it because some cleric prayers were just too damned good? I have seen turn undead single-handedly destroy an encounter with a good number of undead (and/or elementals and demons, if you've got the feat for it), which make for pretty iconic encounters. Worse, the damage and range scale faster than normal (ie, not just at each tier or once per tier), making it an extremely potent ability that you didn't even lose anything to pick up. Not to mention that some of those nerfs simply switch off the friendly-fire mode of some prayers, making you only just as good at area-effect attacks as wizards.

Some people complain that they should have just ramped up everything else in order to compensate, which tells me that yeah, they did have it too good. Frankly it makes a lot more sense to pare one class down instead of giving everyone else a booster shot: less errata and less cries of power creep all-around, and I don't foresee any shortage of clerics in the future. Clerics have had tons of support since 4th Edition was released, and if their errata amounts to a small chunk of their powers--again, before we count the Essentials stuff that they can also use--then I'm alright with that.
May 17, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Vampire Play Report

Last week Randy ran The Wayward Wyrmling, an adventure that I reviewed in the past and enjoyed. The adventure is basically three encounters with kobolds, including traps, difficult terrain, and a dragon (in that order), culminating with the possibility that you walk away with a pet dragon. Since we were having a few new people play, Randy prepared a bunch of Essentials-pregens...including a halfling vampire. Since the vocal minority was positive that it was too weak and couldn't deal enough damage to keep up, I was eager to give it a shot and see how it would play out.

It did not disappoint.

The first encounter was kind of annoying due to all of the save-ends immobilizing traps, but one the cleric "found them" we were able to skirt around pretty easily. By skirt around, I mean that I was able to charge-slam kobolds for 13 or so damage with an at-will. I did one-shot a kobold when I lumped blood drain (because I wanted to play it safe). I think I got hit once, but since I didn't roll a surge into my encounter attack, once we wrapped things up I just full-healed anyway.

The second encounter was a bit different in that we could see the disabling terrain feature this time. Running around would have taken too long, so I just sat there and spammed whatever at-will pulls the target, dealing a lot of damage and causing them to take a dive. I never got hit once or used any encounters, not for lack of the kobolds trying mind you (AC of 20 and second chance).

The last encounter allowed us some freedom in that we only had to worry about a wyrmpriest and dragon, though the river did give us pause until we realized that it didn't do anything. As with the last encounter, I never got hit, though I did nab a surge from the kobold before polishing him off with an action point. Eventually the dragon just left, and we didn't bother wrapping anything up because it was a one-shot introductory play-test session.

At least up until 3rd level, the vampire is pretty fucking badass. Pretty hard to hit, which meant that I wasn't able to see how well regeneration would have helped. Had I got hit more than once, I would have started using the at-will that gives you temp hps at all  in order to give me a buffer. I am disappointed that I never had a worthwhile opportunity to take the daily for a spin. Would I play a vampire in a full campaign? Probably. There are other characters that have a high appeal, but to me it demonstrates that with the right monster you can have a viable, entertaining experience. I hope WotC puts out more in future books or Dragon articles.
May 14, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Character Themes: Heroes of Tome and Temple

This trio of themes focuses on arcane and divine characters, giving us the ordained priest, scholar, and seer. As with the first four, they function similar to Dark Sun themes, except you also get bonus features at levels 5 and 10.

Ordained priest is a bit different from the norm, in that you get to pick from two encounter prayers; one is for weapons, and the other is for implements, which is good because it works for both "styles" of divine characters--as well as for characters that don't use implements. Smiting symbol lets you make a melee attack, and giving an ally a defense bonus along with some temp hps. Shining symbol is a friendly-fire close blast that deals radiant damage and imposes a defense penalty. Not to shabby for a freebie encounter. At level 5 you get a Religion bonus, and at level 10 you grant adjacent allies a constant untyped bonus to saving throws.

The level 2 daily utility affects a close burst, and lets each ally make a free save and regain some hit points (more if they are bloodied at the time). The level 6 daily is a slightly larger close burst that grants a hefty defense bonus that you can sustain as a standard action (bleh), though if anyone attacks it goes away for everyone. Finally, the level 10 daily (again) utility creates a small zone that gives a small defense bonus, boosts everyone's surge value, and deals automatic damage to undead. The best part is that you can sustain it as a minor action.

Scholar gives you a free language from a small assortment and use vulnerability--which you can use for free after you make a Hard DC knowledge check against a monster--giving you a nice defense bonus and damage based off of your Intelligence modifier for a turn, so long as the monster isn't resistant to it. The bad part is that if you didn't beat the Hard DC, then you instead deal half damage to it for a turn. So, it is kind of a gamble, but I gather that players fighting the same type of monster for awhile will quickly pick up on what DC is sufficient (as well as take items and feats to boost their "knowledge" skill). At level 5 you get free skill training (or a +2 untyped if you already have the skill) and another language, and at level 10 you just gain every language in the Rules Compendium or Player's Handbook. You can also make Arcana checks to try and decipher messages written in code or disguised magically.

At level 2 you can pick up a daily that gives you a power bonus to one skill for an entire encounter. Level 6 is an encounter power that lets you change untyped damage to a specific type for a turn, affect you and any adjacent allies at the time. The level 10 daily creates a sustainable zone that imposes an attack and defense penalty to all creatures of a specific type.

Finally, the seer only gives you an encounter power at the start, cast fortune. It lets you roll three d20s, the results of which are used, in order, in place of the target's next d20 rolls. You can only use it once per day on a given creature, meaning that it is good for one combat or skill challenge per other party member. At level 5 you get a Bluff and Insight bonus, and at level 10 you can roll twice on Perception checks and take either result.

The level 2 daily is a sustain standard that grants you darkvision, choose to see things from both your position and a space within 20 squares, and make Perception checks to "notice small details". Level 6 is an encounter that grants you a defense bonus as an immediate interrupt, shifting after the attack is resolved. The level 10 daily is a sustain minor that lets you see invisible critters and objects, and grants you a bonus to Insight and Perception.

I like all of the themes, but my favorite out of the bunch is the scholar (because wizard is my favored class); a well-executed concept that uses knowledge to point out monster weaknesses, though they can make mistakes. This could give a player a lot of social role-playing possibilities. I also like that all the extra languages and ability to eventually be able to just make skill rolls to decipher script.
Posted by David Guyll

Legend & Lore: Death And Dying

Note: Blogger has been down for awhile (at least mine was), so this is later than usual going up.

Unless you don't like your character and your DM won't let you roll up something new, death sucks. In 2nd you lost a point of Constitution, while 3rd Edition taxed you a level, only gouging your Constitution if you were 1st-level. Losing an ability score point didn't amount to much in 2nd Edition and in 3rd Edition it depended on if your score was an even or odd number (since for example 10 and 11 meant the same thing), and if you need to keep boosting it for some reason.

Now a level? That was a much bigger deal, and basically meant you were easier to kill the next time around. I remember a 3rd Edition campaign where one guy got killed by falling off of a particularly high cliff, then by spiders (stacking poison sucks ass), then lost a bunch of levels because of undead (though he got lucky and shook some of them off). At the end of the campaign's fairly short lifespan he ended up three levels beneath us, which was made worse by the fact that he'd multiclassed into sorcerer.

4th Edition is more lax, giving you a temporary penalty to most of your rolls until you hit three milestones. The penalty isn't much, which is good because it makes death undesirable without making it much more likely to be a repeat offense. Plus, if you are really afraid that a player is going to die, you could always add a Raise Dead scroll to a treasure parcel (or allow a NPC to cast it since NPC abilities are no longer restricted by level). That being said just because it isn't nearly as harsh as it used to be, doesn't mean it is anything to laugh at, especially because of a few extra side effects.

First, it takes you out of the game. How long death puts you in timeout depends on when and where it happens. If you're mid-to-high level, you can generally get a raise and be on your long as someone has the Raise Dead ritual and components to cast it. At lower levels this can be very difficult (especially since you need to be 8th-level to cast Raise Dead), while at higher levels (21+) most characters have some sort of auto-raise ability. If no one can raise you, then you might have to roll up a new character if having someone join the party is feasible. If worse comes to worse, you could take control of a NPC if any are around.

Second, it can damage the storyline. How much depends on how well invested your character is. I know that I've planned adventures and adventure arcs around events or elements of a character's history and goals. If that character goes away then you risk having potentially wasted time and materials. Though it could be possible to salvage the materials, it could be a manner of timing. Perhaps you wanted to introduce a NPC, whose entrance would have made a greater emotional impact if the character you'd planned this meeting around wasn't dead. Perhaps the dead character was supposed to discover or recognize something important?

Despite all of the above, I don't want death as a consequence of failure to go away. It is one of those globally inclusive things that makes an easy and logical trigger for most any character's fight or flight response. It is interesting to see how death and resurrection has changed over time, and I'm happy with the equilibrium that has been reached: it's still bad, and it is a lot easier for a DM to tackle.
May 13, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Winning Races: Dromite

Victor (aka The Planeswalker) has created a four-page article featuring the dromite, racial feats, and elocator paragon path. Criticism is welcome, as this is the first race article he's posted; let him know what you like or don't like.
Posted by David Guyll

Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond Review

Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond is a boxed set that expands upon information from Manual of the Planes and some choice e-zine articles, giving us a deeper look into the Shadowfell--particularly the city of Gloomwrought and surrounding environs. The box contains a campaign guide, encounter book, poster map, two token sheets, and a deck of cards. The books are soft-cover and the box is pretty thin (think Gamma World expansions), but otherwise I'm a lot happier overall with production, especially the art and cartography.

Tokens, tokens...what more can be said? You get all the new monsters, some older stuff, and you already know if you like tokens by now; I like them well enough because they're cheaper than buying a shitload of minis, are easier to store and transport, and work out really well for massive battles or to represent minions. I don't like them because minis just add a greater weight (figuratively and literally) to the table in terms of presentation.

I know what a handful of people are thinking: ZOMG MOAR CARDZ RAGE! This is the second time Wizards of the Coast has attempted to add a card mechanic to Dungeons & Dragons (three if you count Gamma World). For what it is worth the Despair Deck is not randomized and there are no boosters: you get all of them with the box. What they do is allow DMs to apply penalties to players that spend the night in the Shadowfell become subjected to something terrifying, unnatural, or what have you.

Despair effects range from minor stuff like falling prone when you roll a natural 1, to more serious effects like taking a -5 to death saves and dying after two failures or not being able to use Action Points. You overcome despair effects by making saves every time you reach a milestone (with a bonus if you have the right skills), or taking an extended rest (which generally means you are just swapping it out for another). As punishing as they are, they give you some really nice boons if you manage to overcome them, giving you incentive to hit those milestones: re-rolling one nat 1 per encounter, +4 bonus to Initiative, using two Action Points per encounter, and more.

I liked the idea of having players keep the card and effects secret, trying to convey it through social role-playing. I really wish I would have had these back when I was running Tendrils of Fate, and I fully intend to use these things even when the players aren't mucking about the Shadowfell.

The poster-map features the city of Gloomwrought on one side, and an encounter-style urban layout on the other, giving it a smidgen of usability to those who want nothing to do with Gloomwrought. However Gloomwrought is actually a pretty cool place, which brings me to the next part...

This 127-page book is divided into four chapters, with almost half of it eclipsed by the chapter concerning one of the Shadowfell's most infamous cities. Whether or not you actually want to use Gloomwrought in your campaigns or adventures, the rest of the book still carries varying degrees of usability.

Chapter 1: The Shadowfell 
This short chapter has one or two pages each on how the Shadowfell interacts with the natural world, getting there, major power-players, and ideas for running adventures. This chapter is very useful for any DM that wants to include the Shadowfell in their campaigns and adventures. In particular I liked the nod towards Ravenloft on the bit about Shadowmist, which "claims heroes and deposits them into the Shadowfell", presumably to combat dark forces before (more mercifully then in past editions) returning them to their home.

Chapter 2: The City of Midnight 
As a dark reflection of a "worldy city", it is no surprise that Gloomwrought is just as dangerous--if not more so--than the gloomy wilderness just outside its walls. The chapter opens up with "Gloomwrought at a glance", scratching the surface about how the city works, its citizenry (such as it is), the districts, and factions before providing a close examination of each ward in detail, complete with plenty of adventure ideas and sites to get you started. There's a lot of stuff to do here, and it would not surprise me if you could plan an entire 1-30 campaign just within the city's limits.

The maps are really nice, and the artwork is of mostly great quality that does an excellent job of conveying the bleak, gloomy atmosphere and architecture (page 53 and 59 come to mind). I also like how the city's layout changes over time. It is an interesting trait that adds to the uncertainty and menace of the city, which--along with keepers and labeled wards--fondly reminded me of Sigil.

Chapter 3: Beyond the Walls 
The chapter art is awesome. As for game content, this chapter runs about twenty-five pages and provides content for six specific locations in the Shadowfell, such as a dead man nailed to a cross that answers your questions via pointing and the Raven Queen's home in Letherna. As with Chapter 2 there's plenty of adventure hook ideas--as well as encounter advice and new magic items--to work with, some of which references the encounter book.

Chapter 4: Dark Threats 
The last chapter is mostly about stat blocks, flavor information, and role-playing tips for the numerous factions and major NPCs in Gloomwrought. While almost all of them are clearly intended for use in Gloomwrought or the Shadowfell, it is possible to crib powers and traits for homebrew monsters. 

This thin booklet contains four skill challenges and eleven combat encounters that range from level 4 to 24. A lot of the maps rely on Dungeon Tile sets, giving you ample chance to use them if you're like me and generally rely on wet-erase mats or fold-out maps (despite owning 2+ of each set ever made). The encounter settings have a good variety, featuring urban streets, swamps, houses, and even a bridge. Additionally, many of them feature ways to customize the difficulty, development, and/or goals, giving them varying degrees of flexibility. 

If you are interested in running games that feature the Shadowfell, this is a very excellent product to have. It compliments Manual of the Planes (and Open Grave and Heroes of Shadow) very well, giving you tons of new information and adventure ideas to keep your players occupied for a very, very long time. Hell, the Despair Deck could be handy for adventures on any plane, so even when you're done skulking about the cold, gloomy reflection of the natural world, you'll still have a new toy to play with.
May 07, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Heroes of Nature and Lore

Despite a fairly sparse offering of only four themes, this is a nice article. For heathens who do not play Dark Sun, themes are a way to provide mechanical support for your character's background. To take a quote from the article, a theme can readily answer what you were immediately before you started adventuring. More so than simply taking a rank or two in a Craft or Profession, themes could be used to provide a way for your history to meaningfully affect your character. Mind you, none of them involve bookbinding, basketweaving, or farming, but you never know what future articles or third-party support will bring.

This theme grants you the Alchemist feat (including a complete description of what the feat does), one free formula, and lets you create an item after each short rest for free. The only recipe featured is alchemist's fire, but then if you're reading the article then you should have access to the Compendium anyway. The level 5 and 10 features let you learn more recipes for free, as well as granting you an attack bonus with alchemy items that you made.

All of the powers are utilities which can grant an ally a bonus to damage objects, create a zone of smoke while legging it, and creating a zone of difficult terrain that burns creatures knocked prone in it.

I like this because it lets you make an arcanist that also knows alchemy without having to spend a feat on it. The free recipes and free items will also likely encourage their use at the table. 

Animal Master
This nifty theme gives you an animal minion that you can boss around. You get to choose from a cat, dog, hawk, monkey, raven, or a close-enough approximation to your liking. Regardless of which you choose, they act more like familiars than animal companions, having no attacks, a unique trait, and some skills to help you out. You do start with distracting attack, which requires your minion to be within 5 squares and lets you gain combat advantage against a target within 5 squares.

As the name implies these guys are minions, and while most monsters will "normally" ignore them they can be killed, and you don't have Raise Beast Companion or the ability to reform them out of arcane runoff. If they did, they stay dead, and it takes either a month or an adventure wrap-up to get it back, except at level 5 when you can get a new one every extended rest at the DM's discretion. 

The theme powers let you command your animal to do various tricks that it wouldn't otherwise do, grant you a defense bonus and let you ignore flanking, and eventually share senses with it. 

The other two themes are the order adept and wizard's apprentice. I won't got into detail here, as I've already spoiled half the article. Suffice to say, this is some pretty cool stuff and I look forward to cooking up my own and seeing what other people come up with. Yeah, it adds some more power creep, but not a whole lot (certainly not enough to make me reconsider how I balance my XP budgets).

Edit: Apparently there's a list of all the themes that will come out this month.

  • Chevalier
  • Explorer
  • Guardian
  • Guttersnipe
  • Hospitaler
  • Mercenary
  • Noble
  • Ordained priest
  • Outlaw
  • Seer
  • Scholar
May 06, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Legend & Lore: The Problem Of Clerics

Back when we used to play 3rd Edition we had a player that loved to play clerics for reasons other than theoretical abusive use of self-buffing, nightsticks, and Divine Metamagic. I think that he just liked to play--for lack of a better term--the enabler; while everyone else ran around gutting and blowing up monsters, he would just follow them around, applying healing and buffing when necessary. While I understand that he's not the only guy to enjoy that sort of thing (god knows Team Fortress 2 has no shortage of medics), the players I've gamed with prefer to bask in their own glory as opposed to lingering in the shadows of another player.

Is relying on a "healing" class for survival bad? In past editions I would have said yes, because it basically forced one player to be the guy that just spends all of his time casting spells so that other characters can do cool things (as well as a slew of sub-par at best "healers"). Now? Not so much and for this reason I don't think that clerics have a problem anymore: you get to run around and actually kill monsters, often with an action or two left over to keep people on their feet. All in all it's not a bad deal. Don't like the cleric (or divine classes in general)? There's a diverse array of other equally qualified classes out there, so odds are that at least one of them will suit your play style.

Are leaders still necessary? Yes. I've ran players through games sans leader, and things usually went okay, though I did pull punches in particularly nasty boss because their hit points couldn't keep up the pace. Healing items can mitigate this need to a point, but lumping up on potions of healing is temporary at best. I mean, even at first level the odds are that a single healing word will outshine a potion (average of 6.5 extra hit points on top of what you normally get), and those are free. Players simply won't always have the cash or opportunity to stock up, and soon into the heroic tier a measly 10 hit points isn't going to cut it.

In short, 4th Edition made "healers" more accessible and fun. I've never enjoyed playing a cleric before 4E, and I've never had so many players rolling up a leader because they specifically wanted to. To me, that's plenty of steps in the right direction.
May 04, 2011
Posted by David Guyll


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