Archive for 2009

Story Rewards

In the past I used to toss some bonus XP to players who did particularly well in a session, be it good social role-playing, clever ideas, or just some form of sacrifice on the part of a PC or (better yet) a NPC. This didnt matter to most classes except non-artificers who could also make magic items. Hell, as a fighter I kept a log of "bonus XP" that I was given so that I could have the wizard scribe scrolls and make potions for me.

Though several DMs have done so in the past in games I've played in, I'm not exactly a fan of rewarding players for "role-playing" (as it is often mistakenly identified), but for role-playing of any type. I also like players who actually create a character history, especially if it gives me tender bits to chew on when writing adventures. It was mostly a problem of determining a viable reward that they would actually give a fuck about but doesnt mess with long-term balance.

See, extra XP in 4E isnt terribly useful since you no longer have to burn it in order to make magic items, and it would take quite awhile for it to accrue to the point where you are leveled temporarily higher than everyone else...assuming no one else is also hoarding bonus XP.

So, no, thats out. Some ideas that are in are as follows.
  • A bonus action point that never "decays", and can be used in the same encounter as another one.
  • Add +1d6, +1d8, or whatever to an attack roll or skill usage.
  • Recharge a spent encounter power.
  • Recharge a spent daily power.
  • Remove a spent magic item power usage.
  • Act as if you got a 20+ on a death save.
  • Typed bonus to attack rolls, damage rolls, defenses, etc.
  • Untyped bonus to attack rolls, damage rolls, defenses, etc.
  • Automatic critical hit if an attack hits at all.
I dont really have a name for these, yet, though boons seems like a fitting name (except that DMG2 added those, as well). I wouldnt create specific conditions to award these, but do so on a case-by-case basis to avoid "boon farming", or whatever. Mostly I'm doling these out when the plot would benefit most from having a mechanical representation.

For example, if a friend or loved one is being attack by a monster, I might grant a bonus on the attack and/or damage roll. If a player is on their last leg trying to defend someone or thing, I might give them a power bonus to defenses to represent their determination. A chaos sorcerer might get a variable bonus to an attack roll. Think any scene in any media where an adrenaline rush of sorts pushes the character to do something particularly badass, or just pick an anime where rage-bullshit kicks in to save the day.
December 31, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Familiar Power

Its like Wizards realized how shitty familiars used to be, and so is making up for lost time. There's more articles on familiars than most classes.


I've really enjoyed 4E's iteration of familiars in that they made them useful and cool. I've also enjoyed that Wizards has taken the time to further integrate them into arcane characters and make it a compelling choice beyond what they already do.

So, good job. ( ^_^)o自自o(^_^ )

Unlike past articles that toss out more familiars and feats to fuck with them, this article mixes things up a bit by providing a bunch of spells that either target your familiar, or get kickers from having your familiar touring addition to giving us more familiars and feats to go with them.

For example, there's a level 1 encounter spell that creates a cold zone that damages enemies that start within it (centered on one such poor bastard), but if your familiar is in the zone then creatures taking damage are also auto-prowned. Huuur.

My favorite one is the level 22 utility spell that makes your familiar get really big and start tossing enemies around automatically. Very cool. Along the same vein is a ritual that turns your familiar into a mount.

The new feats let you add more to your familiar by allowing to swap between passive and active mode for free, or grant it teleport as a movement ability.

A pair of magic items introduces the "familiar slot", which basically translates into, "your familiar can pack one familiar magic item." Not sure if this was something in a previous article, but I dont recall it. ┐('~`;)┌

Last but not least are a pair of elemental familiars, a specter, and a gelatinous cube.

December 17, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

"Advanced" Classes are Stupid

Okay, I don't know why some people think that having to master a system in order to play something is ever a good thing. One of the many reasons I enjoy 4E is because all classes, regardless of their narrative capabilities, all follow the same mechanics for task resolution. This allows a player to learn one system and then be able to play any concept she desires from the options presented to her, instead of being forced to learn additional rules to play, I dunno, "privileged" vs. "newbie ghetto" classes I guess.

For example, I like wizards. In any given game where a spell-slinging pushover is up for grabs, I'm most certainly going to give it a shot. I did this in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I did it in Shadowrun (street mage), I did the Jedi shit in Star Wars (WEG version-only), and when 3E came out the first character I rolled was a sorcerer (mostly because I wanted to see how spontaneous casting actually worked out in play).

In no instance did the extraneous rules add anything to the class except for additional work on my part. Having to use other rules to do the stuff my class is purported to do did not make it "feel" more like magic, or whatever. I think this is a mental hangup for many, in that by dealing damage with a separate subset of rules makes it feel different than how the other guy does it. In the end its just damage: the description is really what sets it apart.

The fact that D&D wizards used to be wizards for about one combat encounter a day didnt help matters, either. -.-;

To make matters worse, as Wizards released more classes they also made new rules for many of those classes. Want to try out a new class? Be prepared to memorize even more rules!. I remember taking a lot of time to learn how meldshaping worked in Magic of Incarnum, and boy did no one want to give any of them a whirl even after I gave an abridged explanation of how it all worked.

Honestly, were any of these classes made more fun because of the secondary systems I had to learn?

No. Fuck no.

One of the reasons many new players don't want to try those classes is because of the extra work and mechanics you have to figure out in order to play them. Like, you learn how skills and mundane combat works (and that was annoying enough what with opportunity attacks and grappling), but woe to the player who wanted to try something with scaling damage dice. They bellied up to the table to play, damnit, not do homework.
December 13, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: Invoker

This invoker Class Acts article allows invokers to strengthen the connection with their respective deity by picking up Awaken God Fragment, a nifty paragon feat that gives you a few constant benefits in addition to augmenting your encounter and daily prayers.

The constant benefits are about what I'd expect for a typical heroic feat: +2 to a pair of skills, allow allies to reroll saves against specific conditions, or even a single skill bonus plus something else (like resist cold temps as if you were always under an Endure Elements ritual). I think the shittiest one is fragment of Sehanine, which gives you a +2 feat bonus to Stealth. Yawn.

On the other hand, the encounter-based benefits can be kind of nice. Fragment of Corellon lets you or an adjacent ally teleport when you use an encounter/daily prayer, while fragment of Avandra lets an ally make a free save (two against certain conditions). I think one of the sweetest ones is fragment of Ioun, which lets you reroll any damage dice once.

There's one fragment per "core" deity, but none of the evil ones.
Posted by David Guyll

Supporting Cast: Owlbear Companion

Wyatt's got a thing where he makes sample companions, which got me for some reason thinking about the baby owlbear from The Whispering Cairn. Companions were "officially" introduced in Dungeon Master's Guide 2, and are mostly used to fill out empty party slots and/or as guest stars for an encounter or two. I think they would also be awesome for players that are dead, or if the party is split up. I know I had fun playing the dog in Dragon Age.

Anywho, if you decide to run Age of Worms (again?), here's a stat block for the lil' guy.

Notes: Removed double attack, though I could see that being added back in at a later level as an encounter attack. Reduced stunning screech so that it only dazes for a turn instead of save ends (though I could see it gradually scaling back up to that point).
December 12, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

The Flame Door & Adventuring Armies

The Flame Door i--OMG two pages and its Forgotten Realms?

Moving on!

I'm not going to post the preview art for Adventuring Armies since it looks so retarded. Its like a poorly drawn KoRn album just randomly walked into a room with an abandoned game table, and decided to just start ripping on the game.

But, I digress.

Adventuring Armies gives you tips and advice on managing large groups. Some of it is the same shit we've heard before, like rolling attack and damage dice at the same time. There is however some fresher advice to be found, such as changing the battle to a cinematic format once the outcome is clear and the players are just dice-grinding minions into blood spatters or simply exchanging at-wills with the last elite or solo in the mix.

Some of it is kind of...confusing. There is a section on Brownie Points where it suggests lumping minor quest XP into a pool that can be doled out to a player that does something nifty or recalls important campaign info. While this might have been useful in 3E since XP was used to charge magic item construction, here its pretty fucking pointless. Really its kind of like putting the XP you earned aside until Oi. (@_@)

I think a better system is to award awesome players a special action point that they can use even if they used one before, +1d6 to a die roll, or recharge a spend daily (or encounter power if in the middle of an encounter). Its flexible, its nifty, but its not game-breaking.

At any rate, its kind of useful, largely so for new DMs or those that find themselves swamped with a shit-ton of players.
December 09, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Ecology of the Mithral Dragon

You can finally view Ecology of the Mithral Dragon. It expands on the information in Draconomicon 2 in addition to a page of monster-theme power swaps (page 9) and a sample lair. Personally the theme powers is the best part. The rest ranges from "meh" to "somewhat interesting".

Nothing more to say... ¯\(°_0)/¯
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: Warlock

The Daughters of the Blackest Night focuses on powers and feats appropriate for infernal warlocks that form a pact with Glasya. The story content is short and somewhat entertaining. The sidebars are also of interest in that they mention optional restrictions that you could apply to the spells and feats to make players roleplay/work a bit harder for, in addition to a sample description reskin for Warlock's Curse and Shadow Walk.

I like the idea of warlock spells having variable descriptions depending on your pact, and even the sort of entity you hang with. Now only if anyone in my group would play a warlock... T.T

The spells themselves have a lot of strange quirks built in. For example, a lot of the daily attacks let you take damage to recall them, with a bonus on the next attack. My favorite however is hellsworn blessing, which lets you tag an ally to transform them into a devil of some sort in addition to granting them some hefty bonuses.

The feats let you do a lot of cool shit. While almost all require the infernal pact, they arent all particularly thematic to the Daughters (really, only three are). Allegiance to the Daughter causes every cursed creature you kill to erupt in a column of hellfire that damages things passing through, while Sickening Shadows inflicts automatic necrotic damage on any creature that misses you with melee attack while Shadow Walk is up.

Great article for any infernal warlock.
Posted by David Guyll

The Tainted Spiral

You know what? Fuck it. Just rename this adventure path to, "Blackdirge's Most Excellent Adventure Path," since he's responsible for the only two adventures that I'd bother to run (counting this one).

I like The Tainted Spiral because its got a simple, strong theme thats consistent and logical. Its short enough to entertain for an entire gaming night, which is a major selling point for me. The most important aspect, however, is that it uses lots and lots of aberrants (but no tentacles :-( ).

Lets talk about the bad. There...isnt a whole lot that I want to complain about with the exception of the last encounter. It weighs in at almost 800 XP, with a level 4 controller and level 3 elite soldier. Yeesh. Mister Soldier has an at will that does a variable effect which can deal ongoing damage, make targets vulnerable to basically anything it does, or even the dreaded daze condition. To make matters worse it has a recharging ability that lets it do this twice per round. Pretty extreme, but the real shitter is its minor-action pulse that slaps on a save ends daze just to put a damper on your day. It can only do this twice throughout the encounter, but thats quite a bit of action control.

All that dazing seems like a bit much considering a level 1 party and a finale at that. If the party does badly on any encounter before this it could easily end as a total-party wipe.

That being said, I'm still going to run this and see how it turns about because despite this concern the rest of the adventure looks bad-ass. For starters, I like the hooks.
  • One isnt really a hook so much as a kind of skill check that reveals some info about the nature of the meteor. The downer isnt that it isnt worth shit. I would grant a very small XP award for a successful Dungeoneering/Arcana check for Hook 1 as a kind of "exploration bonus". Nothing major, mebbe like 50 XP or something. Kind of like how you get bonus XP in World of WarCraft when you find new areas. Just a minor nitpick.
  • The second hook is worth a variable amount of XP in addition to a permanent discount on items purchased from the quest-herald. I like this because its a reward that isnt flat money, but definitely worth it.
  • The last one is a fetch-quest. Go in, bring something back to the NPC. The best part is that you can keep fetching more shit for a smaller return, but its kinda cool. Like treasure parcels of a different color.
After that its a string of four-five encounters (including a skill challenge) in a series of tunnels. To make things clear, you start with encounter T2 and go from there. After that you kick off a navigational skill challenge to determine if the party advances to the next encounter. If you fail the DM can opt to run another combat challenge, and then have them start it all over again. Lucky for the party they only have to deal with T1 once no matter how many times they fuck up.

This is a similar approach to how I'm running the start of the third Songs of Erui adventure path, where the party has to navigate a jungle. If they fail the challenge, they advance anyway but start combat encounters with a penalty such as ongoing poison damage, or near a lot of dangerous terrain like bloodthorns or whatnot. You could do a similar thing here, where monsters start in more advantageous positions or get a surprise round against the gang. That way you can avoid having them grind skills until they eventually succeed in the unlikely situation that they suck so bad that the adventure enables Easy mode for them.

I dont want to reveal too much, but I'm going to talk a bit about two things that I enjoyed the most the encounters.
First, I like the warp crystals. They fuck with the players and boost the baddies, but they arent just another magic circle. Its a simple-yet-effective reskin of what I've found to be an overused terrain feature.
I was also morbidly pleased with the corpses in T4: you can use them to gain cover as well as a bonus to Athletics checks to stay afloat in the water. Thats just awesome on a disturbing level.

Honestly if you are considering running Chaos Scar I recommend this and Stick in the Mud. Thats really it. Use those two back to back and hopefully by then Aeryn will roll out something for level 2 characters (hint hint).
December 08, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Pathfinder: Summoner Playtest

I'm going to open up that Wayne Reynolds rocks, and needs to compile a D&D art book.

Its been awhile since I've looked at anything 3rd Edition, but I was curious to see how Paizo would attempt a summoner class, for better or for worse. At a glance, the paragraphs upon paragraphs that only explain individual functions is a harsh reminder of but one reason I got out of 3E.

For example, Spells alone goes through five paragraphs to explain how many spells a summoner gets and how she trades them out at specific levels. The fucked up thing is that this doesnt actually tell you what spells you can choose from, or how magic even works in 3E. Even worse? Cantrips gets its own section, but at least wraps itself up in a single paragraph.

The main schtick of a summoner is its pet, referred to as an Eidolon. The eidolon class feature ate up four paragraphs, but to sum it up they can be summoned once per day and if they die you lose them for the entire day...which is fucking redundant since you can only use it once per day anyway... >_>

Moving on!

They can look like whatever you want, has stats based on your level like a druid/ranger's pet, and can be modified via "evolution points"...

So far, pretty ho-hum. Cribbing the pet mechanics from the druid is about what I'd expected, and this doesnt disappoint insofar as I was expecting to be disappointed in this way.

Life Link
allows summoners to toss hps at their pet in order to stop it from going back to wherever the hell it lives, which is handy assuming the summoner isnt within reach of something particularly nasty to beat it to death. What I really hate about this class feature is the massive paragraph devoted to telling you how much weaker the pet gets depending on how far away from you it is. You get distances of 100+ feet, 1000+ feet, and 10,000+ feet. Oi.

The rest of the shit can be abridged fairly easily:
  • Bond Senses lets you share senses for a limited number of rounds.
  • Shield Ally gives you a defense bonus when the pet is close by. Greater Shield Ally lets the pet grant all allies a defense bonus, and the summoner a better defense bonus.
  • Maker's Call lets you use dimension door to recall the pet if its within range. Presumably, you check the range from yourself to your pet, and if you could normally teleport to it, then it appears next to you.
  • Transposition lets you swap places with the pet.
  • Aspect lets you spend Evo Points on yourself. Greater Aspect lets you spend more Evo Points.
  • Life Bond lets you transfer excess damage from yourself to your pet when you would normally be dropped. The paragraph points out that shit like flesh to stone still kills you (a-duuuuh).
  • Merge Forms lets you use fusion with your pet, which I guess keeps you safe and still lets you cast spells and stuff. Its three paragraphs long...fuck it.
  • Twin Eidolon lets you transform into your eidolon. You get all the shit it does.
So far we've got five pages and no stats for the pet, that finally rears its ugly head on page six, and boy its a doozy. See, at this point we've seen a lot of stuff for your character. Granted you still dont know what spells you can select yet, but you've got your own collection of stats, feats, skills, etc, right?

Eidolons have their own class table and stats for you to track! Yaaaaay...

Eidolons come in three flavors: four legs, two legs, or snakes. Each type gives you a collection of base stats, and from there you get to blow Evo Points to change shit up. Evolutions cost from 1-4 points, and there's a little over four pages worth. I'm sure many vary considerably in usefulness and power, and frankly I dont give a fuck enough to run through the list.

Have fun with this super-complex character that wont do much except make routine melee attacks over and over again. -.-

Finally, actual spells. The summoner doesnt get a lot, they cap out at six, and can cast summon monster whatever a shitload of times per day. The real kicker is that the duration is measured in minutes instead of rounds, so I suspect that this will grind the game to a halt as the summoner basically gets to play his own goddamned party.

This class is a mechanical nightmare. You need at least two character sheets, and you will want to carefully plan out what summons you will use so that you can have abridged stats on hand (even though they only really exist to make melee attacks and serve as meat shields). I have no idea if Pathfinder has feats that modify summoned monsters, which is only going to make things worse.

I would pity the group that lets a player roll one of these on the fly, but thats 3E for ya: phenomenal, cosmic book-keeping...itty bitty payoff.
December 05, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Winning Races: Dusk Elf

So...yeah. I hope that this isnt going to be a trend. I didnt care for the 30+ elf subraces in 3rd Edition, and I somehow dont think that 4E will make it any better.

Dusk elves are elves that have the Dusk Elf Stealth feat. Apparently this makes you pale, emo, and wear clothing that you pillaged from a Ye Olde Hot Topic. You also grant allies (and only allies) a bonus on Stealth, but its mostly a gateway feat for the rest of the Dusk Elf feats and paragon path that makeup the article.

I dont much care for this article as it stands because I think its stupid that a bunch of elves that run away from a big battle undergo radical physical changes and gain chronic depression. Its like vulcans gone sad, except that when alone or with a "trusted few" they give in and I dunno, smile.

It doesnt make much sense from a narrative stance, and honestly I would prefer to think of it as a more clan- or family-oriented feat tree. Some elves are just really good at hiding, I guess. Perhaps its a result of a connection or exposure to the Shadowfell? Shit, they worship Sehanine: just say its a boon that she provided them with. Sounds better than, "they ran away and got super-emo powers."

Anyway, there are six feats that do stuff like give proficiency and damage bonus with all light blades, make you invisible when you have concealment and use total defense, and add your Wis mod as extra hit points when you burn a healing surge while hidden. Interesting, and works well with an assassin or rogue concept.
December 04, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Tenmei: Part 1

[[Random thoughts ahead.]]

Though I enjoy Eberron quite a bit, I also like the idea of gradually biulding my own campaign setting, one point at a time. The first such area was Erui, a land infused with spirits and severed from the rest of the world by the World Serpent after the Dawn War as a kind of safe haven for said spirits and fey creatures.

Watching a lot of anime, Kung Fu Panda, and wuxia films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has gotten me really stoked about running an asian-themed campaign, and so I've begun working on the second area in my homebrew setting, Tenmei.

Unlike Oriental Adventures, I didnt want it to feel like Japan-in-Dungeons & Dragons. Rather, I wanted to stick to D&D's guns and incorporate some flavor since I like players being able to play whatever the hell they want. In that regard I'm not going to inherently disallow any races or classes, so paladins, druids, dwarves, etc are all in. They might end up having appearances and/or themes changed, but you can still play, say, a dwarf paladin with no trouble at all.

For equipment, I'm going to just do reskins. I hate the idea of oriental weapons being inherently exotic for no real reason, especially when so many sucked ass in 3rd Edition. I figure that characters native to Tenmei will likely use weapons from there, while characters that arent wont use them anyway. If they do, oh well, I dont require characters to be proficient with dwarven-crafted waraxes, or elven-crafted longswords. Some might be superior, but obviously by virtue of having something awesome that it can do.

To me this evokes a similar feel to Planescape, where adventurers might have varied equipment: some asian, some western, and even a few pieces made by differing races. Like Planescape, I want Tenmei to feel like it has a history and have a "lived-in" feel. Its not isolated from the rest of the world. This also helps justify having all the races and classes possible. Even if the entire party is made up of characters from other parts of the world, oh well: they're adventurers. They stand out.

In Scales of War our party looks like (as Josh puts it), "a goddamn random encounter table." Thats fiiine by me. ^_^

That being said, I'll need to dust off Oriental Adventures and find that chart in the back that has all the weapon comparisons. That way if players want a katana, tanto, no-dachi, or tetsumo, they'll know the best fit for it (and in some cases they might be superior, but at least the feat will be worth it).

So at this point I'm going to have to write up some character creation guidelines to make sure everyone is on the same page: what fits best, what needs work and some examples, etc. This way they can make the character that they want with minimal book-reading/referencing/fuss.

Of course, this also means that I'll need to get around to writing a few thematic races like nezumi, spirits, maybe some other random shit I come across, and of course actual adventures. Thankfully the term is almost over. @_@

I dont like to plan shit that I'm not going to use. I dont world-built for fun, but for practical purposes. I write stuff that has a purpose in the campaign world, and if there isnt a need for it I'm not going to bother with it as I have a busy life and stuff to write that needs to be in the game for it to run properly. What I'm getting at is that Tenmei only exists insofar as I want to write another adventure path and want it to have an asian flair. What is this adventure path about? Well...

My general method for planning an adventure path is to just work with some concepts and then build the setting around that. I feel that by having a map in the first place limits your imagination (which is why I get torn in running Eberron, though in its defense its veeery open and vague), though sometimes a map also inspires ideas or locations that I didnt think about before. In the end I prefer to plan as much as I can without a map, draw the map to cater to my plans, and then let it influence me after the fact. Eliminster loves to map, and so drew one up before I had any concrete plans in mind. Here's the first draft. its onto working on adventure ideas, a campaign outline (at least for the Heroic tier), a home-base, and some original content. Yay. :-3
December 03, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Guilds & Groups: Moon Catchers

First of all, this is one of the few Dragon articles with art that I like. Its also the only article about an organization that I bothered to read instead of just skimming it for magic items, feats, or whatever could be most easily pilfered. I think its because the history and function of the organization is brief and open-ended. No roster of NPCs, no massive exposition of this guy or that dude.

Basically, a long time ago a moon showed up in the sky and it had a big-ass message written on its backside that portended bad...portents. Then it exploded and this group is trying to assemble it so that it can safeguard the world against an atomic dragon.

The lion's share of magic items are consumables that are formed from pieces of the moon that have been collected. While this is logically counter conducive to the organization's goal, the article states that they are, "an insignificant amount of Iltani, so they dont worry about them." Err...every little bit helps? I guess they dont need all of the moon to get it working again, but that doesnt make much sense. Myeh, easily changed.

Most of the slivers negate conditions that might effect you (like immobilization or blind), but one grants you all the knowledge of the organization instantly, and another gives you a save bonus. The sliver of knowledge would be handy to avoid lengthy exposition, just give one to each character and have the players read it on their own damned time.

The other two items are much cooler: one gives you a bonus to Diplomacy and Insight checks (better against catastrophic dragons), and the other one is a melee weapon enchantment that prones and restrains a stricken creature (but you have to nail them with a melee basic attack, first).

Yay, an article that I might end up using for purposes other than just magic item mining!
December 02, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Power Play: Arcane's Gloaming Path

Two backgrounds, six spells, and four familiars. The spell distribution favors the wizard and warlock with two, doling out only one for swordmages and sorcerers. I would have figured that the bard would have gotten on there somehow, but better luck next time. Anywho I dont give a shit about the backgrounds, so I'll start with new spells.

  • Moonstride is a level 2 wizard encounter that changes you into moonlight if an enemy gets too close, by which I mean you become insubstantial and shift. Good contender for shield.
  • Charm of hearts is a level 2 warlock daily that prevents a creature from making opportunity attacks against you, in addition to boosting your defenses. It can be sustained, to boot.
  • Fate's frayed threads is a level 6 warlock encounter that does quite a bit if an enemy botches an attack roll against you: they get cursed, take a -2 to attacks against you, and grant combat advantage to you.
  • Stride of the gallant is a level 6 swordmage encounter stance that gives you teleport, but only if said teleportation would drop you next to a baddie.
  • Witch's reversal is a level 10 wizard daily that lets you reroll missed attacks if you fuck up at least two rolls.
  • Maiden's waking is a level 10 sorcerer daily that lets you act normally even if you are hit with a condition that reduces your actions (such as unconscious). Obviously, it requires no action to activate.
And then we wrap things up with a quartet of familiars.
  • The muse sprite gives you a Diplomacy bonus, radiates dim-light, deliver mail, and let you make two checks for a few skills. Kinda like Tinkerbell and owls from Harry Potter rolled into one.
  • White-eyed crows prevent you from being surprised and lets you reroll a missed attack if the creature is next to the crow.
  • Gallant hawks grant a Perception bonus, increases the attack penalty from marks, and it has a very limited ability to save-ends mark all creatures next to it. Very cool.
  • Moon wisps give an Arcana and Nature bonus, radiate light (with a built in dimmer option), and has a limited ability to negate concealment against creatures that are close to it.
All in all good stuff. I think it does a good job of adding primal flavor to arcane classes, meaning that it should get some use in Songs of Erui. :-3
Posted by David Guyll

Know Your Role: Controllers

A three page article with six Heroic feats, each of which kind of remind me of Metamagic feats from 3rd Edition: five give you access to feat powers that you can pick up instead of the normal array of utilities. The article provides some advice on controllers and what the role stands for, but otherwise the crunch is pretty damned tame. Since there's so little to discuss I'll go over all of the feats.

Clever Control is the only one that just gives you a benefit without trading, and its fairly interesting in that it lets you deal bonus damage if you only nail one creature with an area attack (can be close burst or area attack).

Destructive Power is a level 6 daily that essentially gives an attack brutal 2, though it only seems to affect one damage die...meh. I expect more out of a 6th-level daily. Make all the damage dice brutal and we'll talk.

Explosive Power is also a level 6 daily that pushes all creatures out of the area of effect (up to 5 squares). Also seems like weaksauce.

Forceful Power is another level 6 daily that lets you prone every creature hit by an area attack. See, thats something that I would consider picking up. At least I feel like I'm getting something at the expense of a feat and another potentially useful utility.

Penetrating Power is a level 9 encounter that lets you ignore all resistances against every creature you hit. Again: ALL resistances, ALL targets. Now we're talking.

Seeking Power is a level 6 encounter that lets you ignore concealment/cover with a ranged attack, and if you still miss you dont burn it. Honestly, why the fuck would I want the dailies when the encounter one is better?
Posted by David Guyll

At the Mines of Madness: Map of Shardpit

Here is a draft map of Shardpit for At the Mines of Madness.

Roughly half the village is located within the quarry. Housing consists of simple, single room structures that are often shared by two or more miners. The most prominent building is a House Tharashk enclave. Now that I've got at least a rough I can start planning out encounter hotspots and planar tears, so I'll update the adventure with more consistency, now.
November 27, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Draconomicon 2 Lite Review

Draconomicon II: Metallic Dragons is basically Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons, except that its about metallic dragons. This is the only difference. Hell, even the chapter layout and titles are identical: dragon lore, DM's guide, sample lairs, new monsters, and a hall of fame for kinda-sorta non-dick-move dragons. The art is mostly alright, but the page-count is about 20+ pages the short review is basically that if you liked the first one and want more dragons then pick it up. However since I like to prattle on about shit I'm going to do just that, starting with the chapter I read first, New Monsters.

The real reason you're going to pick this book is is for moar stats, and Draconomnomcon: Metal Dragons has a crapton of them. Not only are there seven "new" dragon metals/alloys, but you get a wyrmling stat block for every fucking dragon printed thus far, draconians, something called a hollow dragon, coutls, drakes, kobolds, etc. Taking it from the top I'm going to tackle "true" dragons. The new flavors are brass, bronze, cobalt, mercury, mithril, orium, and steel.

Brass dragons are violent bi-polar mercenaries that are just as likely to maul the hell out of anything that wanders into their line-of-sight and loot it as they are to agree to contracted services. Talk about your Reverse Dungeon. Though they are artillery, they only have one ranged attack which has a short range and also automatically pegs every adjacent critter if it hits, which seems more like a controller to me. It otherwise can make multiple attacks and has a couple of close blast attacks that either push things or let it shift, which is good if you're supposed to emphasize ranged attacks.

Bronze dragons live by the ocean and demand tribute from merchant vessels, which has got to fuck with the local economy since I dont think they are too keen on actually spending any of it. On the plus side they really hate blue dragons and ruin their shit whenever they show up, which is kind of like buying a rock that is purported to keep tigers away. Not that I've ever seen tigers on a random encounter chart. Anyway...its attacks are fucking murder. The bite lets it roll out 20+ damage on average while the claws average 30 damage. The breath weapon deals a shit-ton of lightning damage, but if it hits anyone it can arc lightning onto another creature further away for 2d8 + 4 damage (with a push effect). Finally, it can dive underwater to heal itself and gain an attack bonus, which is really bad for a brute. I could see the DM having a pool of water for this fucker to use, and the players scrambling to keep it away.

Emo Cobalt dragons mope about in gloomy regions, like MySpace or the D&D Out of Print forum. The happier ones dwell in places with strong ties to the Shadowfell. They like to subjugate whatever local critter is handy and like high-school bullies pick fights to prove how "tough" they are. Sometimes if they kick your ass they'll let you go if you give them money, though if they can beat you up they might as well have a shakedown power that causes all your money to rain off of you. As controllers they are able to mix up their basic attacks quite a bit (bite-shift-claw twice), and the rest of their shit is a bunch of close blasts that pushes or restrains.

Mercury dragons function as draconic assassins (for...someone?), which is a bigger word for "lurker". As expected they deal more damage when they have combat advantage, and they can make a free attack against creatures that deals damage and applies combat advantage for a turn. Their breath weapon deals poison damage and renders the dragon invisible. Frightful presence stuns an assload of creatures so they have a couple ways to get that extra damage out one way or another. Finally, they have a per-encounter move that lets them turn into quicksilver, which prevents opportunity attacks, lets them squeeze through Tiny spaces, and if they return to their normal form? They get combat advantage against you.

Mithril dragons are crazy motherfuckers that can see into the future and teleport when they attack. Twice. Their prescience basically gives them a constant defense bonus, and they can also do an explodey 'port as an encounter power ala Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Since they tend to devote themselves to causes and gods, they get radiant resistance and most of their shit has the Radiant keyword.

Orium dragons--and I'm not making this up--skulk about ancient ruins and literally command other creatures to, "rebuild the glories of yesteryear." Yesteryear. Why? Why not say ancient times, or something less...I dunno, silly. For that matter, why try and rebuild old ruins at all? I guess I wouldnt complain since of all the metallic dragons they seem like the nicest out of the bunch since they dont randomly maul and/or extort things that are not dragons. All sillyness aside, their breath weapon is pretty cool, generating minion brutes each time they use it. Otherwise they're pretty basic with a predictable bite/claw routine while they wait for dragon breath to recharge.

Steel dragons seem to enjoy touring around in humanoid form and try to undermine authority for some reason...perhaps because they're the only dragon that can use change shape by default? I dunno. I guess if I could do that and was really bored I might do random shit like that. Otherwise they have a wing attack and can implact a suggestion as a minor action that slides, causes the target to grant combat advantage, and lets the dragon shift a square. Elder steel dragons are more interesting in that they can shape their breath weapon into a force cage and trap creatures.

There are also wyrmling versions of each metallic dragon, including the ones that were in MM2, so hopefully you werent like me and sold all your Small-and-Medium sized dragon minis when you heard that the (at the time) youngest dragons in 4E were gonna be Large.

Hollow dragons are the leftover dragon skin empowered by the dragon's inherent elemental energy, soul-type essence. So...kind of like a maybe-less-morbid version of the dracolich. They arent all good (as metallic dragons likewise are not), they rupture essence when hit, and larger versions can swallow you and trap you inside their animate flesh and cook you. Nifty.

There are a pair of couatl blocks, one evil and the other unaligned. They have ongoing poison bites, deal more radiant damage when hit by radiant attacks, and can make extra saves against immobilize and restrain conditions.

Eight draconian types get represented, meaning that a few corrupted metallics get left out (mithril, orium, steel, and mercury I think). They still have their various death effects, and there is a fair spread on levels and roles so I could see it being very easy to do lots of mid-to-high heroic tier using draconians as primary threats. At least I have a use for those old draconian minis that I couldnt pawn, and I didnt have to buy a craptastic Dragonlance book for the stats!

Drakkensteeds are mount-types that have an impressive overland flight speed of 15 and a dazing roar. When you burn an action point they auto-recharge it and use it for free. Nifty, but 16th-level. The epic-undead version also grants necrotic and poison resistance. Too bad they look fucking stupid, as I am a shallow player and aesthetics play a big part in the decisions I make.

As before there is a section on swapping out alternative powers, and a template that actually downgrades dragons to Elites for better use in level-appropriate group fights.

After that I decided to take it from the top and browse the chapters to see if anything caught my attention. The first chapter--Dragon Lore--goes over how dragons were created before moving on to a brief recap on their physiology, with a few paragraphs devoted to shapechanging. A sidebar refers you back to Draconomicon I for better coverage since they didnt wanna reprint a bunch of content again.

What I find most interesting about this chapter is that it puts a spin on how metallic dragons used to be represented: instead of being Good they're now Jackass Unaligned. Many believe that they are superior to mortal races aside from just level and Solo category, and while some might wish to help us they tend do look at mortal races as primitive creatures that need their assistance and expect gratitude in exchange for the privilege of receiving it. This perspective makes it easier to utilize them as villians without sacrificing consistency and case you needed the books to encourage or even "allow" you to do so.

The rest of the book follows the format I've come to expect for the other "monster" books. You get a chapter with stuff on sample lairs, organizations, traps, some new artifacts, and ways to use dragons for the long-term in your campaigns.

I enjoyed Draconic Encounters, as it provides ways to properly manage dragons with your XP budget and I've had plenty of DMs use dragons with minions in a way that has hosed many a character. So, hopefully budding DMs can be bothered to read this short section on how to do a job proper (or at least less lethally).

Otherwise...not much else comes to mind. Thats it. Book o' dragons. Get it if you want/need more, or want to see some various methods to build solo monsters. You might get some mileage out of the lairs and traps.
November 25, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Da Vinci Arts Middle School Presents: Burnt Offerings

I would like to preface this by saying that this is not a review...this is an unrelenting geyser of sycophantic praise.

So a while ago, I was pouring over various gaming message boards, looking for a good place to toss a rant grenade, when I came across a thread announcing that the Da Vinci Arts Middle School would be producing a stageplay based on "Burnt Offerings" the first adventure in Paizo Publishing's hugely popular "Rise of the Runelords" adventure path for Dungeons & Dragons.

A middle school play. Based on Dungeons & Dragons.

That idea is awesome enough, but when I saw this would be happening in the Portland, Oregon area, I immediately resolved myself to go see it. Okay...that's something of an understatement. My actual reaction was to immediately begin frothing at the mouth, dive headlong out of my bedroom window and then brain some hapless, random jogger with my laptop while bellowing a berserker cry of "HOLY CHRIST BALLS! I MUST SEE THIS!" in a voice that was somewhere between a shrill, girlish squeal of delight and a rhinoceros orgasm.

I know that when one thinks of middle school theater, they probably get the image of awkward adolescents staring at the audience like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming semi-truck while wearing an ill-fitting fedora and sports coat, and desperately trying to remember Willy Loman's lines...and to be honest there is a bit of that going on here...but it's a middle school play, not "Waiting For Godot" at the fucking Gershwin...what do you want?

Anyway, to my pleasant surprise, everyone involved in Burnt Offerings put in a lot of effort, attention and yes, LOVE, into this production. The sets were very well done, the costuming was just awesome, the kids went through months of fight training for their roles. This project is obviously very close to the heart of director Tom Beckett and it really comes out on stage. Both the cast and the audience (full of gushing parents and gamer geeks alike) had an absolute blast.

Of particular note, were the performances of Miles Shepard, who played the Vesnian Cleric Father Abstalar Zantus, Aja Wald, who played the villainous Nualia, Priestess of Lamashtu, Jared Berrien, who played the treacherous Half-Elf Tsuto Kaijitsu, and Kobel Weaverly, who played the young wizard-in-training Finn.

However, the high point for me was the goblin attack on the village of Sandpoint in the first scene, which was staged with smoke billowing from off stage, while adorable kids in goblin costumes chased actors across the stage, behind props and even through the audience. Really, the adorable yet thoroughly convincing goblin kids were a treat all throughout the production.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a film geek through and through, my love of DiPalma is the stuff of epics, but celluloid can never match the intimacy that happens between the audience and the story...and that is the greatest strength of Burnt Offerings. On screen, the story might view like any generic bildungsroman fantasy adventure, but on stage what comes across is Tom Beckett's love letter to Dungeons & Dragons...a love that he is passing along to a new generation of kids, all with the talent to put our best roleplaying efforts to shame. I was pleased to see that Beckett, who also penned the stageplay, was respectful of both the source material as well as the cast and audience. The result is a story that is at turns light-hearted, dark and compelling all around. Really, what this entire production felt like was a voyeuristic glimpse into someone's D&D game...which might have been what they were going for in the first bravo on that front.

Anyone who reads this blog, probably has at least a cursory interest in Dungeons & Dragons and so I thoroughly recommend that you all go and see Burnt Offerings. Not only because it's an entertaining yarn featuring a charming cast, or because it reminds us why we all love this silly game Dungeons & Dragons so much, or even because it's cheaper than a movie. Mostly, we should see it because these are very talented kids who obviously love what they are doing and they need to have outlets like this for their talent and creativity. Now get off your asses and go support the arts, for fuck sake.

There are two more showings of Burnt Offerings on November 20th and 21st, at the Da Vinci Arts Middle School, 2508 NE Everett in Portland, Oregon. Tickets are $5 at the door.

I'm also planning on attending their next production, a rock opera based on the videogame, Fable. My girlfriend practically had a fangasm when she saw that.
November 18, 2009
Posted by Shazbot

Winning Races: Tieflings

Tieflings have been my favorite race (followed closely by gnomes) since I played Planescape back in the days of 2nd Edition, a trend which has endured through each edition to this day. Mostly its the look, though I dont really mind their racial stuff (I havent found infernal wrath to be useless no matter which class I've played).

Winning Races: Tieflings provides three pages of Heroic feats that are mostly useful for paladins, warlocks, and wizards. There are some general feats that I think I might pick up if I ever get to play Kobal again, but the offerings in this article make me want to kick my minotaur tactical warlord/artificer to the curb and roll up a fire-based wizard. A lot.

For highlights, I'm going to have to cite Wrath of the Crimson Legion, which lets you use Charisma for basic attacks and swaps out infernal wrath with a close burst 5 auto-sanction. Diabolic Soul also swaps out infernal wrath with a polymorph daily that changes you into a demonic brute with regen, improved fire resistance and bloodhunt, and a damage bonus. For wizards, we get Wizard's Wrath, which creates a zone that causes any creature to grant you combat advantage and lose all resistances and immunities. Holy shit.

I think as a houserule I wouldnt replace infernal wrath, but instead let you choose between the racial powers each encounter. If its a daily, then you lose them until you take an extended rest. I can see instances where infernal wrath could be handy, you see, and drow get away with it just fine.
Posted by David Guyll

Anime Review: Book of Bantorra

As anyone who knows me is aware, I'm not really all that much into anime.

Oh sure, I have a nostalgic fondness for the Guyver, Fist of the Northstar, Vampire Hunter D, Akira, 3x3 Eyes, Area 88...all of those classics that I watched before Hayao Miyazaki started winning academy awards and anime became the subject of fanatical teen leg humping...but mostly I think the stuff that Japan is pumping out these days is garbage. Most I said...there are a few rare gems like Full Metal Alchemist, Kurokami, Canaan, or Chevalier D'Eon that keep me sloughing through a mire of kiddy dross in search of new material.

One such gem that I've found is a recent series called Tatakau Shisho: Book of Bantorra. The story takes place in a world that resembles a fantasy version of the industrialized west, circa 1900 or so, where souls are stored on stone tablets called "books" when people die. These books are then stored in a vast and cavernous underground "library."

The protagonists are an X-men-like ensemble of superpowered beings called "Armed Librarians," who guard the Library, maintain the books and seek out new stone encased souls. The Library itself is a vast subterranean dungeon comprised of several different levels inhabited by pucker inducing monstrosities that grow exponentially in power the deeper one goes (gee...wonder what that reminds me of) hence the "armed" part. And the librarians themselves are pretty kick ass...with wild kung fu powers, gunslinging and swordswinging, and one bare midriff Annie Oakley type who telekinetically fires an armada of six shooters at one time.

The leader of this gang of ass kicking librarians is a foxy and inscrutable femme fatale named "Hamyutz Meseda." (some very strange naming conventions here) Now one would expect, this being anime and all, that she would be a bubbly teenaged girl with technicolor hair (because for some reason teenagers are the ones you really want to trust with things like the fate of the world)but not so! In a refreshing change of pace, most of the cast are adults, and Hamyutz in particular is something of an antihero, being a bloodthirsty, manipulative sociopath whom the rest of the librarians barely tolerate because she can produce results and also because she could easily kill all of them. Plus, she makes using a sling look awesome...which hasn't happened since David slew Goliath.

In addition to the monsters roaming the underdark...err...Library...there is also the "Church of Living in God's Grace," a rival gand of superpowered crowley-esque dilletantes and hedonists who seek certain books to help further their ambitions. Sort of like an issue of Marvel's "What If: Ayn Rand Had Kick Ass Magic Powers?"

The inaugural story arc, comprised of the first four episodes, centers around a young man who was brainwashed by the Church of Living in God's Grace into beleiving that he is not a human being, but rather a bomb (complete with explosive device implanted in his chest cavity) who exists for the sole purpose of killing Hamyutz Meseda. During the course of his living bomb misadventures, he comes across the fragments of a book detailing the life of a young woman who had the gift of seeing the future, and as a result was labeled a witch by the superstitious and used as pawn by the ambitious and greedy. Hapless mister 'splodey-chest eventually falls in love with this long dead vixen inbetween being sucked into the power struggle between the Armed Librarians and the Church. other stuff happens too, but I can't tell you everything, or else you'll have no incentive to watch it.

For the most part, the animation here is top notch, with a lot of creative visuals and interesting design (check the girl with the spider-rapier on her right arm!) and some nice action sequences. Best of all, 6 episodes into the series and I have yet to see a character spazzing out across the screen super-deformed style, which immediately lowers the credibility for any anime series in my eyes.

I don't speak japanese, so I have no educated basis upon which to draw reasoned criticism on the quality of voice acting, but unlike most anime series, this one doesn't make me want to hammer large drill bits into my ear drums to avoid shrill, squeaky Tokyo schoolgirl take that for what it's worth. Oh...and the subtitles use some nice fonts.

All in all, Book of Bantorra is shaping up to be a top notch fantasy series (that is, if you can stretch your boundaries of fantasy to include things like cargo freighters, trains and gunslingers)and one that I will watch with interest. I suggest you do as well.
Posted by Shazbot

Songs of Erui: Designing Dorsen

Dorsen is the "homebase" for my Songs of Erui campaign. Its a farming community with strong spiritual ties, since I wanted to emphasize the influence and importance of spirits in the campaign early on. Dorsen surrounded by a ring of menhirs that have been carved with crude depictions of various animal gods, and they have been integrated into a wooden wall for defense. The wall contains a particularly powerful spirit named Corann that can defend the folk of Dorsen. The wall and menhirs give the village a circular shape, and I kind of divided it into "tracks": farmland is on the outside (closest to the wall), while houses are closer to the center.

In the middle I dropped a hundred-foot deep pit for some reason that I figured I'd expand upon later (and I eventually did). Currently no one is aware who/what made the menhirs or pit, or what purpose they serve. At the time I just wanted some interesting features that might see usage later in the campaign, and to add some mystery since Erui existed long before humans and other mortal races showed up. The village also incorporates a lot of natural flora, providing a stronger link to the spirits. I didnt draw in all the trees, but they are basically located between all the housing (you can kinda see where they were gonna go).

I dont didnt really intend for any major adventures to occur in Dorsen, but I like to have village maps because it helps players get a sense of scale and location. Plus, its a great visual reminder when it comes to maintaining consistency. As with any good starting village, it provides the party with basic necessities for adventuring/plot-advancement: they can buy equipment, set up kip if they need to, and give various NPCs a shot at making skill checks that they botched. This is really an easy list of requirements to meet, you just make a list of shit that the party might need to do, then make one or more NPCs that can meet the need.
  • Buy weapons
  • Buy armor
  • Buy adventuring gear that isnt weapons or armor
  • Buy magical variants of the aforementioned (optional)
  • Tavern/Inn
Weapons: For weapons, I just tossed out a male human named Koun for a start. He gets his metal from dwarf caravans that make the rounds out of the Red Hills. While his specialty is making metal farming tools, he can also turn out functional Simple and Military weapons. Superior weapons need to come straight out of Cindervault or Carbost. If looks matter, its about an even mix of human, dwarf, and eladrin make.

Armor: Armor...well, yeah. Most armor falls into the light category, with heavier stuff necessitating an order from Cindervault or Carbost. As such, I didnt actually put anyone in the village that specializes in that: most anyone knows how to make/mend leatherworks. Just costs money to get the supplies and do it yourself if need be. Thus, virtually all metal armor in Dorsen is decidedly dwarfy in style when it can be found at all.

Mundane Gear: Adventuring gear isnt sold out of any one store, but brought in from merchants or traded with the locals who might have what the players are looking for. Merchants set up shop in the Bear Market, which is an open bazarre reserved for transients. For ease of play, players can pick up anything for the list price out of Player's Handbook.

Magic Loots: Magical gear is a lot harder to get your mitts on, obviously. Aside from low-level potions and a handful of rituals, its almost impossible to find anything magical in Dorsen that anyone would reasonably want to part with. Frankly, most characters end up finding their own magic loot anyway so its a pretty moot point. Really I just need for them to be able to pawn the shit they dont want, and thats easy enough in the Bear Market or perhaps via "sage" NPCs.

Tavern: There's only one tavern/inn-type place in Dorsen, the Red Hall. Its also the only stone building, constructed by Dorsen's dwarven neighbors a decade ago after a particularly devastating spat with gnolls that decided to stop by. Its a sturdy, defensible structure with an extensive underground section for folk to hole up that doubles as an inn for dwarf visitors. As such, it only serves dwarf spirits and food.

[Note: I decided to work gnolls into Erui after a player decided to make a gnoll artificer. Gnolls seem like a good fit for a primal campaign, and this bit of bad history made for some interesting roleplaying opportunities after the party went back to Dorsen to gather information and do some shopping (even though her character didnt participate in the carnage: it was another tribe of gnolls). This was one of many examples where player input shaped the campaign, in a good way methinks.]

Simple so far, but that only covers gear. Sometimes the party fucks up an important skill check, or just cant piece together a puzzle. When that happens I like to be able to have a good narrative method for helping them solve a problem and not get hung up. For example, if the party needs to consult someone about an item, a glyph they found, or research a topic. Sooo lets expand the list for skills!
  • Arcana
  • History
  • Nature
  • Religion
Now, I'm not a fan of having the players just defer to NPCs to solve their problems, but it certainly helps to have them around if they get stuck on something. If anything, they're kind of like party-life lines. I'm using these skills as a check list, as its possible that a NPC might specialize in two or more skills (such as a sage being really fucking good at Arcana and History). Since the players will be interacting on a more personal level with these guys, its important to have more details about a name, personality, and other details.

Talibah: She's the spiritual leader of Dorsen. She can see and communicate with spirits, and the village runs to her when they need advice on handling spirits. She also knows a lot of songs, and can potentially teach players some of them if they need them. So, her specialties would be Nature and Perception (since she is a dreamsight shifter and is surrounded by ass-tons of spirits). At the start of the campaign she played the role of herald, gathering the party up and sending them on their merry to go butcher goblins and dig up secrets.

Karad: To try and mix things up, the sage-figure in Dorsen is actually a dwarf who emphasizes the use of runes, so he makes sense thematically. If the party cant make heads or tails of magic stuff, they can let him give it a shot. He also sometimes has magic items and rituals for sale, or is at least willing to take them off the party's hands. He's a bit scatterbrained and unorganized after too many awry magical experiments, and relies on eladrin assistant to keep his stuff in order (of which years of work has made him versed in History for purposes of locating relevant information).

Belanus: A priest that maintains shrines to Melora and Bahamut (whom is depicted as a green dragon in Erui), he's also pretty good at Nature shit. I guess you could say he focuses more on natural critters and plants, while Talibah is more spiritual. Anyway, who the players go to is personal preference: I play this guy as very serious, stern motherfucker who doesnt talk much except when giving sermons. He's got a lot of scars and wields a fullblade.

That takes care of the skills that I think will need the most handling in the game. I would drop in a NPC with Streetwise if it was more urban in nature, but since its not and I dont expect that to be used ever, I'm not going to bother. The main thing I could see Streetwise being used for is locating rare items, but since merchants stick to a small location I'd rather just let them know on a case-by-case basis.

Now obviously settlements can have a lot more going on than just this, but I prefer to only generate content that I'm going to use. I have a list of male/female names in case I need to pull a NPC out of my ass, but I'm not going to write up a bunch of extraneous information that has no purpose. I think that by keeping it simple its easier to adapt to unexpected events or circumstances, anyway, but that might just be my style.
November 12, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Channel Divinity: Melora

A whopping two page article that details seven thematic magic items centric to Melora: two weapons, a consumable, one foot-slot, one symbol, and two wondrous items. Just...just ignore the stupid picture.
  • The weapon properties basically let you use some ranged and all melee weapons underwater with a problem, and the activated powers let you either push a target or generate a swirling vortex that sucks creatures towards you.
  • Flamebane bombs do quite a bit for level 3+ alchemy items. They dont deal damage but could be a fucking godsend (see what I did there?) against anything that uses fire, at all: save against ongoing fire damage, deactivates fire auras for a tick, and it can also disrupt fire zones. It does all of these things in a small area of effect. All of them.
  • Surfsurge shoes are kinda goofy: you can opt to slide when you are subjected to forced movement, and can create a wave of rushing water to move you as a daily property. I guess its a new take on an old concept.
  • The symbol of the deep is basically any other symbol, but the daily effect imposes a bucket-full of conditions with a save-ends clause.
  • Battle standard of the tides constantly pushes non-aquatic enemies away, and all baddies treat it as difficult terrain. Its an automatic effect so could be quite handy in keeping monsters away from casters and ranged characters.
  • Now, the jade sea snake is only level 10 and basically serves as a feasible and reasonable plot device to get characters under the sea. It can carry up to six Medium or smaller critters, allowing the party to bring along a guide or whatever in addition to letting you breathe and speak normally. If you have Mounted Combat you dont provoke opportunity attacks...even the snake. Ride the snake.
Its short and crunchy. Good for a casual read and some useful stuff whether or not you worship Melora.
November 11, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: The Duelist Rogue

I'm of the mind that the rogue already heavily supported the concept of a dashing swordsman (especially since Artful Dodger let you add your Charisma mod to a lot of shit), but today's class acts article delivers some more swashbuckling goodness to the game in the form of a few pages of exploits and feats. I dont even play rogues and I think this article kicks ass.

The new at-will targets AC, deals just Dex mod damage, but not only lets you move the target around but also roll SA damage if you didnt have combat advantage with this attack. At 21st level you deal 5 damage on top of everything else. Good, but I think that the shining exploit for any good Charisma-based rogue is still sly flourish: getting to add Dex and Cha to damage is too fucking sweet.

There are eleven other powers in total, most of them encounter attacks that center around mobility or boosting your defense. If you have Artful Dodger, these bonuses get a hefty boost and rely on your Charisma. The two utilities either let you shift when an enemy gets too close or boosts your defense and causes the attacker to grant CA for a turn. The level 1 daily is a stance that lets you make an attack (against Reflex) as a free action whenever an enemy hits or misses you. The level 5 daily lets you lock down a target so long as you dont move.

The feat selection is sparse but really cool. A couple of them boost the efficacy of packing a buckler around, but the best one is Versatile Duelist: it gives you proficiency with all one-handed military heavy blades, and you can use them with rogue powers that normally call for a light blade. Fucking yes. The rest does some other nifty shit that relies on Charisma, like adding Cha to your Acrobatics and Athletics checks or letting you deal SA damage to a target even if you dont have combat advantage.

Great addition to the rogue class. I like crunchy bundles of powers that support a class concept. Feats are just gravy, but I really like gravy. >_>
November 06, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Power Play: Martial

One of the new mechanics from Player's Handbook 3 is powers that have skills as prerequisites. I think this is a great idea, since it helps encourage certain skill choices while also making them useful to a class that might not get much mileage out of it. Power Play: Martial takes this a step further, but perhaps in the wrong direction. The article provides a small assortment of exploits for each martial class and by small I mean like, three each...and not anywhere near the same level range. But hey, its a somewhat new concept, and you gotta start somewhere, right? At least they're kinda working with a theme: the fighter exploits require Endurance, and the warlord ones require Intimidate.

At a glance it seems like an okay thing to do. I mean, since they require skills to take they must be better, riiiiight? I guess, except that the fighter ones require...Endurace? Yeah...I'm sure there arent a lot of fighters out there with Endurance... It seems more like making slightly better powers at frankly no cost.

But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. How much better can they be? Lets compare.

One of the new fighter exploits is called brazen assault. Its a level 5 reliable daily that targets AC, deals 3[W] damage, lets you add your Str and Con modifier to damage, and pushes 2 squares. It also has an effect built into it that gives you resist 5 all in exchange for granting combat advantage, which lasts until either the end of the encounter or until you decide to end it yourself.

Lets compare this to, say, agonizing assault. It also targets AC, only deals 2[W] damage (plus Dex mod with a flail), but causes the daze and immobilize conditions (save ends). If you miss it only deals half damage without any conditions.

Okay...not too sure which is mechanically superior. One does quite a bit more damage than the other, and you can resist damage but are easier to hit. Mostly I'm curious as to how balanced that is. Is it worth it by itself, or does the extra damage factor into that? Agonizing assault lets you pin down a monster for at least a round, but against elites and solos the odds are against you. Not sure how much that is worth in terms of damage. I think I'd prefer to stick with brazen assault for the sheer damage output, but I can see how being able to lock down a monster (and strip it of most actions to boot) can be extremely useful.

I'm going to try another: threatening presence and phalanx assault. The former is a Strength vs. Will attack that deals 2[W] damage and prevents the target from marking your allies, and also removes a mark from an ally that is targeted by it. The latter requires a shield, deals the same damage, and also grants both an AC and Reflex bonus until the end of your next turn (Resourceful warlords grant this bonus even if they miss). So, same damage (though threatening presence is easier to hit with), different kickers.

Threatening presence seems awfully situational. I cant think of a lot of monsters that mark, and if they do mark odds are they've marked the defenders who are presently beating the shit out of them anyway. Phalanx assault seems like it would be more consistently useful, especially if you combine it with defenders on the front lines (ideally they would prevent monsters from hitting you, while benefiting from increased defenses). It could also help give softer allies a temporary boost if something tries to go after them.

Hmm. Not as bad as I thought. Brazen assault seemed a bit better, but threatening presence seemed par for the course (I'd consider it for my tiefling warlord). I'm not going to check and compare them all, but I think these are pretty cool for concepts and themes. Sure, some demand skills that you were already taking, but as long as they dont consistently blow other powers out of the water then I really dont give a shit.
November 05, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon Age: Origins Review

I've never been a fan of Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Oblivion, or Fallout 3, so I was surprised that I actually enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins. I was fully expecting it to suck judging by the screenshots and trailers depicting scantily clad women clambering up mountains, faces frozen in perpetual sneers. So...color me surprised when I sat down to play the game and realized twelves hours later that I had yet to eat.

A major factor on whether or not I'm going to play a game is character design. A badly designed character is a killjoy for me and I could give a shit less what the game is about: I dont want to look at a ridiculous outfit or jumbled mass of polygons that is trying to pass as a human/humanoid/what-the-fuck-ever for hours on end. This is partially what tanked my interest in other BioWare games, and I was
very pleased that they finally got something right as while building my character(s) I was not possessed with the irresistible urge to find a close-faced helmet and wear it 24/7 regardless of class (which I had to do in Neverwinter Nights 2).
Despite this however, there is still the typical issues with female characters: armor sometimes doesnt cover parts that need it the most, and you can disguise yourself as a clown via the eyeshadow and blush options during character creation...seriously. I cannot reconcile with the thought of female characters "freshening up" between gory battles. I dont know
why the hell thats even an option. They look as though they'd be more at home on a street corner, trying to grind quests of a more carnal nature. Thankfully you can turn that shit off.

So they mostly got the looks right, lets talk
mechanics as many games manage to leap the first hurdle just to stumble face first into the next. On this Dragon Age mostly delivers, as your options are very limited, especially at the start. I know people say that if you put up with it long enough that they (can) expand, but thats only partially true (and I'll hit on that in a moment). Character creation operates par for the course for fantasy RPGs: pick a race, a class, and then its time to venture forth into the world and rescue it from whatever "a doings that are a transpirin'."

You get three races. Thats right,
three. Human, elf, or dwarf ( assortment of humanoids of varying heights and not much else). You also get three classes, and in case that's not limiting enough, humans and elves can choose from all of three classes while dwarves only get two. Sure, there are "in-game" reasons, but I dont give a fuck: players like being able to make decisions and that's just one more dwarf combination I wasnt going to play.
There are six origin stories in the game, but humans have to start in a human city, dwarves in a dwarf city, and elves can pick either the woods
or aforementioned human city. There is technically an extra background for humans and elves, but you only deal with that if you play a mage.
Each class provides you with several categories of thematic talents like sword and board, two-weapon fighting, and two-handed weapons for warriors. There is a bit of bleedover for the warrior and rogue on the subject of duel-wielding, but otherwise each class is mostly a unique snowflake or...whatever. At levels 7 and 14 you can pick up a specialization which gives you a few few stat kickers and four more things to blow your talent points on. The downer is that specializations require specific events to unlock (like getting/talking to certain NPCs when they are at a high enough affection rating), or you can just hit the books at around 20+ gp a pop.
Umm...there are also skills, but you'll only end up using half of them and most of those dont even require activation like Coercion and Combat Training (for rogues and warriors-only). The others can be handy for triggering quests, but from what I could tell only having the first rank in the skill was necessary. *shrugs* I
am pissed that there isn't an option to try and break locked doors and chests that you cannot open. Also, its kind of redundant to get a message that says, "you need a key." No shit? I thought that's why I was trying to pick the fucking thing!
And thats about it for characters. All of the staples of your typical RPG, just not enough variety for my taste.

On the topic of sparse features, I'm also going to bring up loot, by which I mean there isnt any. I didnt change robes until about level 7, and thats because I stole them from Wynne when she was forced into my party. I think I also stole her staff. I didnt change out gear again until around level 12. Partially because almost nothing for a mage ever dropped, and mostly because what did was fucking worthless. I figured it was a mage thing, but the same thing happened when I rolled a rogue: magical gear is few and far between, and you'll stick with that Borrowed Longsword for a good long while. It took me until level 15 to afford a dragonbone dagger, and I'm still using the longsword in my other hand! I'm saying have Diablo-levels of loot shooting out of the severed neckstumps of rats, but for fuck's sake throw a little variety in there.

Combat is often a mixed bag of joy and frustration. You can pause the game at any time to issue orders, which is a nice feature since the AI has only a tenuous understanding of the word tactics. Its also handy for digging through your packs for healing items since you'll be knocking them back at a frenetic pace.
The worse cases occur when you have to deal with one or more mages behind a phalanx of guards and archers. This has been the source of many a reload as I try to find a way to fuck with the AI and lure out a few enemies at a time to thin them down before making a bum rush at the goddamn wizard that's throwing out chain lightning or fireballs. Blood mages are even worse, and there's a part in the game where you get to plow through an entire dungeon full of the bastards. I eventually just left, leveled up elsewhere, and came back later with magic-stopping arrows and weapons plated in magic-resistance runes. bullshit. I shouldn't have to go through
that much preparation just to barely survive, and I've been touring Ferelden on easy.
The highlight of combat is when you throw down with ogres, as sometimes you'll perform a badass finishing kill where you leap up and bury your sword in its chest. Its a visceral treat that doesnt get old since you rarely fight ogres, which is a damn shame. I'd prefer to have some for each monster, but I'll take what I can get.

"But Antioch", you say, "if both the character options and combat are lackluster, then why exactly are you wasting your valuable time playing this game?" Short answer: the NPCs. Thats right. Not the quests, loot, or grinding, but the people that you team up with to do all that shit.

Most of them are optional, but you invariably blunder your way into all of them throughout the course of the game. You can get by without using any of them, and they level up regardless so if one of them pisses you off you can leave him/her/it at camp and not fret about being forced to rely on a grossly underpowered nancy later on. Hell, you can even kick them out of the party at any time for any reason. If you dont give two shits about the narrative or interacting with pretend people, they still do their part in filling in gaps when it comes to party composition: you got bitchy young wizard, old wizard, ditsy red-headed archer, duel-wielding elf, typical whiny fighter, dog-thats-better-than-the-fighter, typical non-whiny fighter, and optional golem (in that you have to buy him).
For me, I actually got a kick out of talking with them and learning more about their personalities and pasts (some of which comes back to bite you in the ass). Each character has an affection rating that is relatively easy to grind if you know what to say and give them the right gifts, which lets you learn more about their personality and histories (some of which come back to bite you in the ass), but also grants bonuses to attributes. So, something for both camps I guess. I also enjoyed the fact that depending on who you have in your party, they will automatically engage eachother in dialogue, which adds a nice immersive quality to it all.
As an aside, yes you can screw up to three members of the party (since one of them plays the straight man/woman) and yes they have their clothes on the entire time, which I suppose makes it equal parts intriguing (that they can do it with clothes on) and boring.

I wouldnt say that any specific elements of it are especially intuitive or mold-breaking, but the visuals and characters are interesting enough to maintain interest while engaging you in a standard fantasy RPG experience. Much of the designs make sense and look cool, and cleavage bearing outfits arent too common. I cant say that Dragon Age is a true spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate since I didnt like those games at all, and to me that might give a bad impression or turn away others who likewise didnt care for it: its much,
much which I mean its above average, which in turn means its well worth your time if your into fantasy CRPG fare.
November 04, 2009
Posted by David Guyll


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