Archive for April 2012

Legend & Lore: Fighter Design Goals

In case anyone is still not in the know, Monte Cook is out of the game, and the open playtest starts on May 24th. Though Mearls states that they will "roll out the fighter, cleric, wizard, and rogue, along with the human, elf, dwarf, and halfling", we are getting pregens instead of the rules necessary to build your own characters. I wonder what the level cap will be, and if we will get enough rules to choose our own stuff beyond a simple pregen. There is also the question of monster variety, environmental hazards, and magic items. I really hope that they do not skimp on that, instead relegating us to a pregen adventure, too.

As an added bonus we get the fighter's design goals, which I felt were better defined and sensible than the cleric's. The quick summary is that the fighter is intended to be the best at fighting without needing to rely on magic items or spells--even to the point of surpassing those who try to use magic to bolster their own capabilities--yet ultimately being able to perform seemingly supernatural feats in the vein of Beowulf or Roland. As an added bonus, they will also purportedly be the toughest, remain on par with wizards at all levels, and also have more flexibility with weapons (ie, archers can be explicitly called fighters without having to "settle" with a ranger by another name).

No mechanics, but it is good that they are sticking with 4th Edition in terms of overall efficacy and weapon mastery (they were the only class that comes to mind that had exploits with bonuses for using specific weapon categories), especially without having to resort to magic in order to make it work. Do not get me wrong, I loved the warblade and swordsage out of Book of Nine Swords, but it is refreshing to see a mundane swordsman hold his own post level 5. What does surprise me is that the fighter is going to be the toughest class. Really? Even more than the barbarian? If the fighter can out-fight and outlast their more savage brethren, then what does that leave them?


April 29, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

DDN: Tone & Edition

I find Rob's proposal and reasons for adding race frequency to the game very...odd, to say the least, especially with 5th Edition's purported goal of unifying all the editions. Tagging races as common, uncommon, rare, or whatever does nothing to inform the DM how these might fit into her campaign. It just sets a bar. A bar whose only purpose seems to be passive-aggressively enforcing someone's idea of what races we "should" be using.

What makes this proposed mechanic even more bizarre is that 2nd Edition saw the introduction of numerous campaign settings that included more exotic races, such as: half-devils, half-angels, half-elementals, half-organic walking shapes, bug-people, half-dragons, bird people, hippo-men, and more. This begs the question, if tieflings are rare, but I am running Planescape, do I tell players that the common and uncommons are okay, plus tieflings? I guess I could just say common, uncommon, and rares are all good...but then what about warforged? Kalashtar?

And then there are the DMs that create their own campaigns. What if I create a world where tieflings and dragonborn are the most common races to be found, doing that whole war between Bael Turath and Arkhosia bit? What about a campaign that is largely restricted to mountains, with dwarves, minotaurs, genasi, and the odd warforged here and there (built by dwarf artificers I guess)?

I get that Rob grew up being exposed to certain media, and so prefers his game one way. Other players did not, or do not like the same things. Arbitrarily labeling races that he was "shocked" to see as being in 4th Edition's first Player's Handbook--while still ignoring the gnome write up in Monster Manual, I might add--as rare seems like he is both pushing an agenda and making assumptions about the game world, as opposed to the 5th Edition mantra of giving us the tools and then getting out of the way.

Ultimately this rule has no purpose or benefit. At best it is harmless; good DMs are just going to ignore it and give their players footnotes on what they can and cannot play in a homebrew campaign, and if issues arrive then hopefully they will come to a mutually fulfilling conclusion. Even in published campaigns DMs might still just ignore racial restrictions, such as if a player provides a compelling reason or the group comes to the realization that it is their game and they can do what they want. At worst it is hazardous for new groups, whose DMs might needlessly enforce it in a misguided attempt to "play by the rules".

I think the only thing that needs to be done is to add a footnote somewhere in the rules, that gives DMs that for some reason need it the "go-ahead" to ban/create content for their table.
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Blog: Resilient Heroes

It's good to see that the vast majority are in favor to at least some form of limited self-healing. Personally I had grown tired of relying on the casters to keep the game going last edition, and 4th Edition made it easier--I would daresay possible--to manage without a healer at all, or at least without having to burn through cash stocking up on healing potions and wands (the latter of which required characters to spend ranks on Use Magic Device).

The thing is that if hit points do not--and never did--simulate physical trauma, then there is no reason to severely cripple their "natural" recovery rate. 2nd Edition did this at 1 point per day, though 3rd Edition allowed you to get away with 1 per level, so long as you got a full day's rest. A Heal check might have been involved, as well.

Healing surges provide a nice, solid mechanic for giving players an idea of how much more punishment they can endure, as well as providing a resource that could feasibly be used for other things, such as fueling rituals and/or abilities. For example, what if sorcerers got at-will spells, but no encounter or daily magic, and instead had to spend healing surges. This could work for other spellcasters, representing them becoming exhausted. It would also work for martial types.

Some players claim that healing surges can strip out the drama of a situation, since players can crawl out of a pile of rubble and "magically full-heal", but this does not seem much different from just having a cleric spam cure whatever wounds until the character is topped off (or drinking a bunch of potions). Heck, give her a few levels and she can just conjure up free food and water, and also instantaneously alleviate ability score damage and level drain (assuming the characters did not burn cash on items that can do all that, anyway).

Things that might help is preventing characters from using all the surges that they want. After a battle characters might be able to spend just one, or could only spend enough to get to a certain percentage (say, bloodied value or 3/4s or something). An extended rest would allow them to exceed this amount, but to avoid a lengthy nap resetting all their stats to full, you could also cap the recovery rate. So, fighters might get 4 + Con modifier back, wizards 2 + Con modifier, or characters might only get back their Con modifier (so tough characters still recover faster). This way characters would still want to be stingy with their hit points and not just blow through surges willy nilly.

There could also be rules for extended injuries, so characters could suffer penalties for taking critical hits (perhaps in lieu of extra damage, similar to that mechanic in Dresden Files that lets you keep going, but at a cost). Things that healing surges cannot fix. I think this would work for grittier games, even going so far as specifying what sort of injuries that curing spells can fix (something I remember from 2nd Edition). The balancing act would be making it so that an injury is cumbersome, but not adventure-stopping. I would also like to avoid the whole ability damage fiasco of 3rd Edition; just give me flat penalties so I do not have to go back and re-factor my attacks, damage, skills, etc.
April 27, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Rule-of-Three 04/24/2012

Looks like the action economy might tank harder than America's, which apparently is being reduced to "do one thing, and you can also move if you want". I know that fighter bonus attacks were being pitched as free actions, so that characters multiclassing into fighter could still benefit from them, but I wonder how they will handle that if other classes can use them.

For example, what if rangers can use free actions for extra arrow attacks, wizards being able to unleash a salvo of magic missiles, druids making extra attacks with their animal companions/summoned minions, monks making their flurries, and so one and so forth.

I barely even remember how actions worked in 2nd Edition. I guess you could move and do something, because I recall moving up to a monster and then whacking it. 3rd Edition seemed to have a better handle on how to deal with things, with multiple types of actions that made it easier for a player to know what it would take to do something. There were some corner cases, such as drawing a weapon; normally it took a move action, but a foot note states that you can combine it with a move action if your Base Attack Bonus is +1 or higher. Later the game added in swift and immediate actions, which were both kind of like once-per-turn free actions.

4th Edition continued the idea that not all actions are equal, which made it easy to balance abilities and also prevented having to repeatedly write in exceptions for actions that can be used when you do one thing, do not take up your turn, or can be done once per turn, but not when you do something else, etc. Given that 3rd Edition eventually added in more action types--which retroactively changed plenty of previous content, such as Quickened spells--and I am guessing that this will likewise change during the public playtest (if it does not beforehand).
April 25, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Side Trek: Death & Taxes

As a side trek, most of this is going to be spoilers.

Ever since 5th Edition was announced I have not paid much attention to Dragon or Dungeon, largely because the sparse offerings really have not interested me until now. I'm a pretty big fan of Aeryn's work, so figured I would give it a shout out.

Death and Taxes is basically an extended encounter--part social interaction and part combat challenge--in which the characters need to avoid being tricked by a treacherous knight, using the tried and true method of "pretend you need help with your wagon, and then ambush the shit out of would-be helpers".

The social role-playing part, while not a skill challenge, gives the characters a chance to figure out that something is amiss and avoid being surprised (which also affects creature placement on the map). Characters with any emphasis on History, Insight, and Perception will really shine here, and while there is not any advice on using other skills I would highly recommend allowing players to creatively use skills to figure stuff out.

The rest of the encounter is a pretty tough fight, partially because its 2-3 levels higher than the recommended adventure level, but also because the enemies have the terrain advantage. On the bright side, if Sir Tyros is taken down then there is a chance that some of his allies will flee (though the non-minions try to leg it anyway when bloodied).

The haul at the end is pretty nice, totaling about half the total treasure that a level 5 party is expected to get, and as an added bonus there are three hooks for expanding the adventure.

Not bad for a "side trek".
Posted by David Guyll

Legend & Lore: Cleric Design Goals

More good than bad, this time around. The bullet list I can get behind, although some people are contending the part about relating to "archetypal characters, stories, legends, and myths". What is more interesting to me is the second list; A cleric's abilities being reflected by her god? I like that. I also like the idea of subtle, indirect magic. Fits the mantra god(s) working in "mysterious ways" and what-have-you (though summoning monsters, animating the dead, and calling down divine fire do not particularly sound subtle).

What I am more iffy on is the parts about being an armored warrior and healer.

When it comes to armor clerics have always been able to wear the heavy stuff, whether it was up to plate (OD&D and 3rd Edition, maybe 2nd?), or stuck with chainmail (4th Edition). While the article just mentions them wearing armor and packing shields, it seems to be, ahem, "heavily" implied that it will be up to plate again. My question is...why does the cleric need to wear heavy armor? Clerics of Moradin, Heironeous, or Bane I can see, but what about Melora, Obad-Hai, Sehanine, and other gods of natural forces? How about Ioun, Yondalla, or Vecna? Do you envision clerics of Olidammara (god of rogues, yo) running around in heavy armor and smacking things with maces?

I think that what a cleric can use should be defined by her god. Nature-based clerics probably wear leather and hide armor, perhaps something a bit heavier, and generally use spears, bows, sickles, etc. Clerics of knowledge and/or magic might wear no armor at all, perhaps having something like armor of faith to bolster their AC, or just be plain easy to hit. Clerics of shadows or rogues would stick to light armor and weapons. Inspiration can be drawn from the invoker and avenger, but I think that the nature- and shadow-clerics might tread on the toes of the druid and assassin...

...which makes me wonder how much his sample bow-using, leather armor-wearing, stealthing cleric of Apollo differs from the ranger (especially after buffs). They have made it clear that clerics and wizards will no longer be able to buff themselves up and outclass the fighter, so hopefully the ranger is likewise not left out in the cold. I am also wondering if said cleric was able to trade out her heavy armor proficiencies for something else, or if it is just "wasted" class features.

For similar reasons about heavy armor, while I know that clerics are "supposed" to have access to healing, but I do not think that they all need it by default. 3rd Edition clerics could opt to spontaneously cast inflict wounds spells, and did not have to take healing at all. I do not mind this so long as clerics who want to heal can get away without dumping cure spells on the fighter, which quickly stopped healing enough to make it worthwhile.
April 24, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Blog: Backgrounds and Themes

Backgrounds in 4th Edition were introduced in the Scales of War adventure path, as an option that gave characters a dash of flavor material as well as a small bonus (usually +2 to a skill or something similar...usually). Themes came about much later with Dark Sun Campaign Setting, and were also much more complicated; you got a bonus encounter power, and the option to swap out powers for theme powers and also nab theme-only feats. Later themes not only gave you the free power, but also minor bonuses at level 5 and 10. Basically they gave you variable mechanical benefits at no cost, with the side effect of potential flavor material if you wanted to bother with it.

5th Edition backgrounds and themes on the other hand, well...they sound like prepackaged skills and feats. Like, you pick soldier and theoretically gain skill training in four skills related to doing whatever it means to be a soldier (Athletics, Endurance, something knowledge of military hierarchy and tactics?), and a slayer theme and theoretically gain a damage-boosting feat (perhaps an encounter- or daily-based maneuver?). 

While I can kind of get behind the idea of grouping things together to speed up character creation/ease new players in, the fact that you can just ignore them anyway and pick whatever you want makes them feel kind of pointless. I mean I can already do the skill part by just letting my current players pick whatever skills they want, and the second would require lots of combing through feats looking for thematic packages (or just making up whatever I want).

The flexibility of any skills is nice. Certainly it will help players better make the characters they are looking for (though 4th Edition's multiclassing and Skill Training mechanic made it stupid easy for minimal cost). I am wondering if the themes really will just be lists of feats, or if they will add in unique class features. If the former then I am pretty meh on the whole thing, and hope that books do not waste too much page space on them. I really enjoyed paragon paths and epic destinies as no-charge perks for focusing your character and mechanically justifying what you do, so hopefully they turn out more like that.

Edit: I just realized that these sound like more heavily encouraged "builds" from 3rd and 4th Edition. Again nice for players scoping out a class or looking for iconic styles, but unless there is something more to them I hope we don't get too many pages devoted to them.
April 22, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

DDN Blog: Paladin Versus Cleric

As I said the last time paladins and clerics were brought up, on the concept level they are both very similar. A previous blog post stated that the paladin feels more martially inclined than the cleric, and that they are "exploring" the creative and mechanical space between the cleric and fighter.

A good idea, but only if the end result is not something that can be cobbled together by building your own cleric/fighter. Reading this post it seems like they are trying to ensure that it is not so easy, but I do not think that highly situational benefits are the way to go.

In 3rd Edition paladins got few alignment based class features--sensing and smiting evil--but also Charisma-based save bonuses and healing, the ability to summon a magical horse, remove diseases, a reduced ability to turn undead, and low-level divine magic. Personally I do not think that alignment-based bonuses are the way to go, and I am surprised to see that they are considering giving the paladin more, as well as still emphasizing the special mount.

I am guessing that with lots of evil-thwarting goodness that the paladin is intended to be "better" than normal when fighting them. Does that mean she will have the expected output against Neutral, or even Good opposition? In other words, will it make her outclass the rest when it comes to fighting evil? Will she still be able to meaningfully contribute otherwise?

I also do not think that paladins should be automatically good at mounted combat, as mounts can be tricky to work into a campaign (as well as maintain). I would rather have a class feature option, or a feat or talent tree. With a retraining mechanic players could even test it out and go another route if they do not like it. In any case having variant and/or scaling mounts (Defenders of the Faith and 4th Edition cavalier summon mount feats) would be great. 

What I would like to see is a continued focus on melee combat and defensive abilities that we have seen in 4th Edition, including smiting powers that do not require an alignment to work. Perhaps a reduced effect on Neutral/Good guys, like the extra damage might always be non-lethal or otherwise penalize them, so that they can be subdued instead of slain.

I am also curious if paladins will champion gods or causes (kind of like an inverse of 4th Edition blackguards). Regardless, I would like to see alternate class features instead of lay on hands and curing diseases; a blessing of war that gives out a damage bonus, the ability to inflict contagions, extra saves against magic for God of Magic-serving paladins, etc. Having angels (or devils?) pop in to help out as a higher-level option also sounds cool.

I guess we will have to see what souvenirs they get from Crazytown.

A Sundered World: Episode 109

Scale reference.

  • Iron Jack (male human Joshian warlord)
  • Lothelle (female moon elf bladesinger)
  • Danh (male goliath serpent shaman)

The characters make their way toward the glowing beacon, located in the center of a crater. They experiment with it using Arcana and the litmus test of "throwing things at it"; Lothelle is temporarily blinded by massive amounts of condensed magic, but it does not respond to their salvo of rocks. Jack touches it, causing an explosion. Lothelle and Danh are thrown back, but after the dust clears Jack is standing in the crater, his broken leg healed and glowing with a golden light under magical scrutiny. The rain stops and the clouds begin to part, revealing a blood red sky.

As they continue exploring the ruins, Jack feels himself being compelled towards a dwarven castle. They find a passage underground, and as they prepare to enter an ancient blue dragon flies overhead, apparently heading towards where the golden light used to be. The underground sections, formerly flooded, drain out as they explore. They find a cache of what Jack describes as "liquid sex", and deeper down the Axe of the Dwarven Lords. Deciding to wait for the dragon to go somewhere else, they continue to explore and eventually find a golden skeleton, orichalcum scale armor, and around 5,000 gp worth of ancient dwarven coins.

Unsure where the dragon is and loaded down with treasure, they figure that their only chance is to make a run for it. They load up the slaughterstone behemoth and make a run for the nearest edge, and see a 60-foot tall, metallic humanoid drifting towards the mountain crest. Its head has one glowing red eye, its mouth is a circular portal, and dozens of metallic, insect-like constructs flit about.

It was Autocthon.

Sprinting down the cliff in the vain hope of finding the ship, they are continuously intercepted by clockwork horrors that blast them with searing rays before trying to crash into them. They manage to dodge the brunt of the attack, but eventually find themselves surrounded. Danh activates the behemoth's blade array, causing it to grow six limbs armed with adamantine fullblades, and charging the line. Lothelle's fire shield deflects much of the damage, and the behemoth manages to break the line.

Then Autocthon lands.

It asks them to vacate the machine, as it would prefer to examine it for mass fabrication. They refuse, and it attempts to smash them. Jack throws the Axe, destroying part of its hand. It hesitates to examine the damage, and then proceeds to try and smash them again...

Behind the Scenes
The skill challenge of running down the mountain was epic. Lothelle kept her actions ready to dampen the searing rays, while Danh had to operate the controls. Jack gave bonuses to skill checks, as well as axed the horrors that got too close. They were really surprised to see what the blade array did, though I did borrow a page from Asura's Wrath.

The session ended with me saying something like, "Autocthon looks at its damage hand, and says Well that happened, and then continues to bring its fist down...aaand we'll call it for the night". They have no idea what is going to happen, but are all pretty sure that they are dead despite me telling them that they are level 9.
April 21, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next Blog: Monstrous Musings

Clearly defined mechanics and flavor text is a good thing, but does it have to come at the cost of 3rd Edition monster creation? 4th Edition made the process quick and simple, providing clear guidelines on what a monster should do at what level. Of course the "official" books did not always cleave to the formulas, and you could tweak them how you wanted, it was just easier to do so without accidentally wiping out the party and building monsters on the fly.

3rd Edition monsters were basically player characters. You chose the monster's type and subtype, which determined Hit Dice and how various stats like Base Attack Bonus and saving throws scaled. You had to also determine ability scores (which affected everything else), spend skill points, and buy feats. The drawback--aside from all the book keeping--was that if you wanted a monster to challenge a party of a certain level, that it require various degrees of tweaking.

For example fey had a wizard's attack bonus (ie, the worst). So if you want to make a fey critter good with a melee attack, you had to ramp up its Strength and/or Hit Dice. The problem with this is that spells and spell-like abilities--among other things--are derived from Hit Dice, which could make them harder to resist than its Challenge Rating would suggest. That and their own saving throws could make it easy for them to shrug off most effects.

Basically a lot of 3rd Edition monsters where pretty swingy, and building your own could require a lot of tweaking (and bullshitting racial, natural, and circumstance bonuses) to get them where you wanted. Oh, you could also add templates and classes to them, which often resulted in an even bigger mess. I would prefer to retain 4th Edition's simplicity, coupled with monster themes and the degree of flavor we got out of both Monster Vaults.

April 18, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's Eye View: Dat Hat

What makes a wizard a wizard? Is it the pointy hat? Is it the robe? Wizards touring around crumbling, monster infested ruins wearing pointy hats and long, flowing robes is about as reasonable as female warriors wearing armor that ensures that their toned, supple vital spots are barely covered.

Your mileage may vary.
As I mentioned before when armor was brought up, I think that what a wizard wears depends on the situation; what are they doing, and where?

I can see wizards in an academy setting wearing robes, probably to help identify their station. Even pointy hats could have their place, given that there are plenty of silly hats out there. Should they be the norm? Of course not. Do not get me wrong I want to avoid a return to Mialee's pouch-robe and Hennet's belt-suit as much as possible, but wizards on the field should be dressed for the occasion. This probably means that they will look as little like a "traditional" wizard as possible, and more like, well...any other explorer or traveler. Given that intelligent monsters would probably treat them as a priority target, this is a good thing.

Really the only common feature that in my mind unifies wizards are their spellbooks, as implements such a wands and staffs have changed in their purpose over the editions, from fire-and-forget tools to actual arcane focuses. Not that all spellbooks need be made of bound leather and paper, or even be books. I think it was Complete Arcane that had rules for making your spellbook out of other things to make it more durable, and I also recall rules for tattooing spells on yourself and carving them into sticks (so a staff might hold a spell, for example).

Posted by David Guyll

5th Edition Blog: Morale is Coming Back

Given all the retro stuff being bandied about, I am not surprised that morale will likely be making a comeback.

I vaguely recall the Morale entry in 2nd Edition's Monster Manual--probably because I think it was right above XP--but I cannot remember ever using the rule, and certainly not how it worked. When it vanished in 3rd Edition I was only alerted to the fact either when I flipped through a Planescape book looking to convert non-updated monsters, read a Design & Development article that brought it up, or someone else mentioned it. What I am trying to say is that I just never knew it was there, so I did not miss it when it was gone.

I get the idea of morale; it helps the DM make a non-arbitrary decision as to whether a monster toughs it out, runs, or at least surrenders. Kind of like a "willingness to fight" save, which is how I do it most of the time in my games; roll when bloodied, when reduced to half-or-fewer allies, when a leader is slain, etc, with a modifier depending on how cowardly/brave/fanatical the monster is. This has the added benefits of speeding up combat and potentially providing a resource for the characters, giving them some information that can be potentially used as an edge (as well as reinforcing the idea that not all monsters are mindless trail mix bags of hit points, loot, and XP).

A potential pitfall I guess could be encounter balance. Players go into a cave, find some orcs, kill their chieftain, some orcs fail morale and run, possibly triggering another morale check and causing more to run, leaving quite a few less orcs that was previously anticipated. Players might just focus fire on leaders or whatever morale-triggering events they can in order to breeze through a fight, especially if they just get the same XP anyway (working smarter, not harder). I think that this might be better tempered by adding in more of a sliding scale, where monsters that fail are shaken, then rout. Perhaps even making a three-step plan that a lot of 4E save-or-dies had.

The main issue I see there is possibly a lot of book keeping, unless monsters check in groups? The article makes it sound like that henchmen and followers will be in the bag, optional or otherwise, which would add even more to the pot (though, hopefully for players to manage). My preference in this case is a morale system that is simple, but not so binary.
April 17, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Episode 108

  • Iron Jack (male human warlord)
  • Lothelle (female moon elf bladesinger)
  • Danh (male goliath serpent shaman)
Surrounded by a legion of dwarven skeletons, backs to the wall. Literally. Iron Jack opened his mouth to speak, but was immediately drowned out by shouts of, "Death to the intruders! Glory for Moradin!" The usual dwarven fare of battle cries. With diplomacy down, up the wall they went. Despite Lothelle's light spell visibility was considerably hampered by the rain, so all they could see was that they were next to a trebuchet and a single path that they figured lead into the dwarven keep. With some of the skeletons trying to scale the wall, and others heading into the keep to cut them off, Iron Jack figured that the trebuchet was ironically the least suicidal plan.

The trebuchet loaded with party members he aimed it at the mountain, used something that would be insulting to label as guesswork to determine a trajectory, and fired. They launched through the air for well over a thousand feet, colliding with the mountain just after a hundred foot descent. Luckily trees, mud, and the occasional hard rock broke their fall. An arm, a leg, and some ribs broken between them, they set some splints and began searching for shelter. Danh managed to quickly locate a carved passage into the mountain, which they neglected to explore until they got some rest. They ate the last of the boar meat, which healed Lothelle and Danh's wounds, and thankfully managed to get what they assumed to be a full night's rest.

They delved into the mountain and found a chamber that split two ways; one path was partially collapsed, and despite the rain, thunder, and wind could hear a kind of rhytmic rumbling, and the other seemed reasonably clear of debris...until they started traveling down it and found countless remains of crushed and diced orc skeletons. What they assumed was the handiwork of clockwork horrors was merely a ridiculously trapped corridor that even Acererak could appreciate, complete with scything blades, spike-filled bits, and crushing ceilings. They managed to get few with only a few scratches despite Iron Jack's broken leg, and were rewarded for their curiosity and lack of caution with an untiring, armed and armored stone vehicle which they used to scale the rest of the mountain in just a few days.

Their journey to the top complete, the session ended as they surveyed the destruction of a ruined city, crushed under the corpses of many primordials, with a pillar of light emanating from somewhere within the ruins.

Behind the Scenes
I am not sure why Josh pitched the trebuchet plan. I guess he assumed that the dwarves were going to murder them to death no matter what. I had intended for a NPC to show up and stop things, but...hey, rule of cool.  They ended up taking 50 damage and lost a bunch of healing surges. I also had them roll for body location to determine what sort of lingering injury each would suffer. I had intended to run it like a disease track seeing as Kamon's character had access to magical healing, but I had forgotten about the magical super-healing boar meat they stocked up.

Good thinking on their part.

The slaughterstone behemoth was because I do have a couple directions for this particular leg of the adventure to go, but also because I figured they were getting bored climbing a big-ass mountain for the past few sessions. This allowed them to just take a vertical route and get onto something more interesting.
April 14, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

5th Edition: Imagination, the Grid, and Points Between

While I am a huge minis fan, I think whether you use them and a grid should depend entirely on if the encounter actually benefits from them. Back when I ran a celtic-themed campaign there were plenty of times when the characters were wandering through a forest, and I would roll for random encounters. If something did happen, I would have to stop the game, draw out a section of forest (trees included), have them place their characters, then monsters, then roll for initiative, then finally get to the actual encounter.

Frankly the whole setup process was anticlimactic and a bit tedious. Knowing where trees, hills, rocks, etc were located was good for forced movement powers, positioning, cover from ranged attacks, and more...but in hindsight I could have just as easily told them that ranged attacks are at a -2 and that their speed is halved due to all the brush and other obstacles, in essence "tagging" the environment as you would in FATE. Avoiding the map would also maintain momentum by telling them that they have just been ambushed by cockatrices, and that they should really roll for initiative.

Another instance where I can see avoiding the map would be handy is when you are trying to freak out your players and/or run sequential combat challenges. When I tried to run Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, there were too many instances where the players would move, get into a fight, move, get into a fight, etc, so I spent a lot of time wiping down the map, drawing new terrain, and rolling new initiatives. Again, it got tedious, and the map gave them a good indication of where everything was.

Had I avoided using the map I felt that I could have immersed them more in the horror, not only because I would not have had to stop to draw things out, but the lack of map would have made them unsure of their surroundings (as well as allowing me to "cheat" if they tried to flee). Also not using exact minis meant that I could have described a monster and allowed them to mentally fill in the details on their own.

Where I think minis and maps can be really shine is for battles with varied terrain and things to manipulate. For example most of Keep on the Shadowfell did not really need a map. You could easily used abstracted movement to allow players to take a move action to close the distance with the kobolds, hide behind terrain, or just get really far away, and then just gone from there. Now the last battle with Kalarel? You had a blood pool, portal, stairs, pillars, etc to fiddle with, as well as a variety of monsters, so I think it was more worth it to use a map.

I have been using this approach in my current campaign to great effect, so am hoping that based on the poll results that WotC creates some decent rules for abstracting gridless combat.
April 11, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Halls of Undermountain Review

Halls of Undermountain is a hardcover supplement that presents just under a hundred pages of pre-made dungeon, and oddly still sets you back just under thirty bucks.

For those not in the know Undermountain is a dungeon built underneath Waterdeep, which is a city in Forgotten Realms. It originally started a dwarven mine before an insane wizard moved in and stockpiled the place with monsters and straps...kind of like a meta-Dungeon Master. While personally not a fan of Forgotten Realms (though a huge fan of Neverwinter Campaign Setting), the dungeon is exceedingly easy to drag and drop basically anywhere.

The first 13 pages are dedicated to the dungeon's history and various entrances that include the Yawning Portal, an inn built on top of a well that leads directly into the dungeon. Again even if you do not run in the Realms you can use or lose the inn backdrop, NPCs and all. The rest of the book features three adventures, but there are also tips on running, pacing, and making your own adventures, as well as tables for random room generation/encounters.

Given enough time and/or players I would not mind running my players through this. While on the surface you can run it simply as a theoretically never-ending dungeon crawl, the DM advice and adventures make it clear that there is room for an overarching story and social interaction. I consider it a good buy despite the page-count to price tag ratio. If nothing else in the interim I am sooo going to use the random tables.
April 10, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Critical Failure: Insight

So Lair Assault happened last Monday. I had been prepared to continue The Elder Elemental Eye, but for the  first time in a long while new players showed up and they wanted to throw down against the Tyrantclaw, so against my better judgement I caved and decided to try my hand at murdering my players with a horde of orc-mounted dinosaurs.

It sucked.

First, I had not really read the booklet ahead of time. The owner at Knightfall is good at hooking me up with stuff, but I was not on the roster for running Lair Assault. Still it was just one hard could it be? (Hint: I forgot to flip the map over on round five and to add an additional dinosaur to each wave.)

Second, a least a few of the players were cheating. A lot. In the spirit of the event I was trying to roll out in the open so that they could see what I was doing, but two were--among other things--using their dice bags and soda cans to conceal attack and damage rolls. I am not sure how a level 6 fighter frequently rolls mid-30's on an attack roll, but after crunching the numbers all I could surmise was that he was using imaginary numbers, a weighted die, or both.

I guess that if there was a highlight, it came about when Kamon asked about the pair of huts on the map, mainly if they could shield him from a theoretical t-rex assault (we had kind of played the scenario before). I flipped the book open to the part on terrain features, and matter-of-factly read the description as follows:

"Characters in the hut gain a +5 power bonus to all defenses and have fast-healing 10. The huts are indestructible and are too small for the t-rex to enter."

Now I have been told that I can muster up a really good dead-pan expression, even while making the most absurd of statements. Thankfully Kamon had known me long enough to pick up when I was making a bullshit statement solely off of what I was saying. He still asked, "Really?" I replied no, and that they conferred no bonuses whatsoever but were pretty darned comfy, what with the firepit and all at the center.

The battle trudged on until eventually the person they were trying to protect turned into a t-rex and started chowing down. The dinosaurs fled, they dropped the last of the orcs, and...then they started booking it for the huts, even at the cost of taking opportunity attacks. I figured that they were hoping to gain some sort of concealment bonus, or perhaps delay it for a bit while it presumably would stop to use an action or two to smash the hut open.

Until they asked me for those "bonuses" again.

On one hand, they had never played with me before. On the other I had assumed that by citing utterly absurd benefits with absolutely no pretense that they would have caught on. That and the fact that I clarified that they did nothing after Kamon asked. Oh well, after two hours of dealing with players who did not know the rules or accurately track their resources, at least I was able to walk away with a story to tell.
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next News from PAX East

You can watch the video here, but someone on RPGnet posted a bullet list on some highlights.

Campaign settings as modules that can alter core rules.

Given that Eberron in 3rd Edition and Dark Sun in 4th Edition made it clear which rules they changed (for example, clerics and alignments and weapon breakage rules respectively), I am kind of curious how this is going to play out. Will we still see campaign setting-specific books, or will they be footnotes with recommended rules modules?

Grids and minis optional in the core.

This was already said like, awhile ago. I love me my minis collection something fierce, but in the past few months I have begun running combat miniless without any problems. I've been feeling the itch though, and will probably start using minis again for major battles, so hopefully this module is easy to toggle on/off.

Will not let the wizard overpower martial classes.

4th Edition has shown that D&D (and D&D-like games) can have fighters that remain viable throughout the entire level spread, so if nothing else D&D Next has a solid foundation to work with. In the video they admitted to the linear fighters, quadratic wizard trope and that spells that allow them to just shut down monsters were harder to balance than just the direct damage ones. Somewhat related, I was glad to hear that decoupling complexity from power is a design goal.

About 20% done and on 4th iteration of DND Next.

In the video they made it clear that they were nowhere near finished, and that our feedback has and will continue to shape the final results.

Perception will be an ability check.

Er...was it not already? I guess what they are trying to say is that there will not be modifiers, or maybe that you will always have to roll it? I like Passive Perception, which even existed in 3rd Edition in the form of taking 10, as it sped things up and avoided players guessing what they were rolling for (or why I was rolling).

Focus on non-combat roles and abilities returning.

To clarify they are trying to make sure that all classes have things to do outside of combat, not classes that are only good outside of combat. Unfortunately, the example given was him using his wizard to just prep non-combat magic like illusions and charms to "beguile" targets instead of blowing them up. It will be interesting to see how fighters and rogues will fare.

Giving more power back to the DM.

My kneejerk reaction to this statement is that the DM has--and always had--complete authority over her game. What they mention in the video is that they are making a "slight correction", because they feel that because of how the rules are codified that some DMs feel less empowered. I guess I am not clear on what they are talking about, as the rules in 3rd Edition were also pretty clear cut, but hopefully they are not talking about making some rules vague and dependent on DM fiat.

Unusual classes may be better as option for core classes.

Some people have been reading this as "unusual classes will be better than the standard ones", but my take from this is that things like the seeker or runepriest will work better as options for the ranger and cleric respectively. Personally I do not care so long as the mechanics deliver a working concept.

Bringing back step-by-step adventure creation instructions.

Watching the video I am really digging this process. Though I have never used the random adventure hook tables, the idea of an adventure creation walkthrough has a lot of appeal, especially for new players wanting to actually run a game. I would like to see a good amount of vanilla maps for villages, houses, castles, etc to just steal or work off of.

Focus on shorter games.

Being able to complete a major plot objective in one setting would be nice, as in my experience my group often ends up calling sessions in the middle of a fight and/or adventure. Outside of delves it is very hard to go from start to finish.

Skill challenges not in core.

Hopefully they have something else to reward players for completing non-combat challenges. Personally I would like to see D&D move entirely away from encounter-based XP, and just level up characters after succeeding at plot-relevant events, such as by slaying the dragon or stopping Kalarel from opening a portal to the Shadowfell for...some reason. Maybe it could be an optional module.

No info on public playtest date.

At least they did not say "soon".

Other things that stood out:

Apparently at-will spells have a pretty huge following. Hopefully it will persist without having to burn feats. Fireball is intended to be one of the "best" spells, like, better than charm person and other stuff. The quote was something like, "Some guy with an abacus could crunch the numbers and go a-ha! Fireball is the best spell!"

Skills have been a huge problem, because unlike other subsystems they have been different throughout all the editions. I would like to see something that is kind of between 3rd Edition's skill ranks and 4th Edition's skill training, as well as retaining skill powers.

Clerics have turn undead at 1st-level, when they had at one point pushed it back as a higher level option. The reason for the change is because players were confused as to where it went. I hope that it is not an assumed option for all clerics, despite god and/or focus.

Buffing magic will allegedly prevent clerics from becoming better fighters than fighters. For example, while a cleric buffing herself to get more damage and extra attacks would not be better than a fighter (or monk) "flurrying".

The paladin might end up being like a type of hybrid that can nab divine spells from the cleric list and martial maneuvers from the fighter's list. Personally I do not like this, and would like to see the paladin have its own focus and unique features and powers; smite evil, summoning a magical mount, and immunity to diseases and the like are more indicative of a "classic" paladin than simply making a prefabbed multiclass build.

They are describing an "indie games" type module, where you can make it more narrative or what-not. Reminds me of how games are planned in Dresden Files.

April 08, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

5th Edition: Beyond Class and Race

From the sounds of this post it looks like backgrounds are what themes were in 4th Edition, while themes are more like class features (especially when compared to Essentials subclasses); backgrounds determine what skills and assets you "ought to have", while themes describe how you "do the things you do".

One of the example backgrounds was a soldier, which grants you Endurance, Intimidate, Survival, and a bonus language, though no word on if it is a bonus, unlocks uses of the skill, skills powers, or what. I am curious if there will be ways to boost existing skills or add new ones. I liked the idea of a ranking system, especially if it synchs up with skill powers and opens up other uses of the skill (or makes some applications easier or eliminates some penalties).

Themes on the other hand apparently dole out feats, and only feats. You get one at 1st-level, and more as you level up. The post doesn't specify bonus feats, so it makes me wonder if feats will solely be the purview of themes, and if you get a choice at certain levels like the monk and ranger from 3rd Edition, of if you just get set ones (again, like the monk and ranger in 3rd Edition).

The claim is that by bundling concepts into neat little packages that it should help speed up character creation, though if you don't like it--despite Schwalb's claims of how "evocative and flavorful" they will be--you can just screw the rules and pick your own skills, assets, and feats. Vagueness aside I am glad that they are at least retaining a good chunk of 4th Edition's level of customization, and the idea of being able to play a fighter with a familiar (and no multiclassing required) sounds long as it works in execution.
April 07, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Rule-of-Three: 04/03/2012

On one hand, I think it is good to see that many of the best parts of 4th Edition are at least being considered for inclusion in 5th Edition; themes, exploits, at-will magic, rituals (though I recall that being in 3rd Edition in some form or other), non-magical healing, etc.

On the other hand, I would love to know which version of 3rd Edition Rodney is talking about when he mentions that druids and--of all things--bards were "capable" healers.

Oh yeah, it was nice that our bard was able to heal all of 2 hit points per day at 1st-level. We really needed that. I guess the druid would have done alright if that's all she prepared, but come on; clerics could swap out any spell for a healing spell, were harder to hit, and could turn undead. Maybe he means 2nd Edition? Having not played that in a very long time maybe they were just as good.

So ignoring that I really hope that they still include forms of non-magical healing, even if an optional rule (or "dial" on the Grit-o-meter). Moving resources from an encounter-basis to an adventure basis has some appeal; most players in my campaigns tended to hoard daily powers for use on the presumed "boss" battle, or instances where it is basically life or death.
April 04, 2012
Posted by David Guyll


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