Archive for 2012

D&D Next: Keep on the Shadowfell Update 3

I have updated my Keep on the Shadowfell conversion for use with D&D Next for the third time. Most of the changes involve adjusting custom monster stats, and removing custom monsters because they have been "officially" added to the Bestiary document.

I would also like to take this time to mention that I am working on Thunderspire Labyrinth (almost halfway done, now). After working on some demons, a beholder, and additional class features for the sorcerer and warlock (only to see them go), I figured that I would wait and see what would get added, changed, and removed before pressing foward.

December 29, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Mud Sorcerer's Tomb

First things first, if you are looking to run The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb, you might as well get the Dungeon magazine supplement from the 3rd Edition update: you get the maps, neater-looking handouts, and some art to go along with it.

Since Josh did not show up for our Dungeon World campaign, we tried giving this a shot with just two people: Melissa as a dwarf monk, and Kamon as a human rogue. Past editions seemed to require parties of 3-4, so it would be interesting to see how two fared (especially lacking the traditionally mandatory healer).

We had just under two hours to play, and in the interest of trying to gather something resembling playtest feedback I skipped the backstory, motivation, and initial contrived word puzzle, starting them inside the dungeon.

So it was a little irksome when, immediately after they walked into the first room and I wrapped up the read-aloud text, they got hung up on the fact that I guess green marble is not a thing that exists. I initially took it at face value, because in a world with wizard-based animal hybrids and fantastic extra-planar metal, the realistic colors of marble seem like a pretty inconsequential thing to argue about.

Of course, Wikipedia seems to disagree.

Fast forward 1d6 + 3 minutes and they are actually exploring the room. It consisted of four pillars, two 80-foot long pools, a small square pool at the eastern end, and an iron bell. They overlooked the pillars entirely (which had mud sorcerer runes on them or some such), instead asking about the long pools. I said that the water looked clear, but that they were filled with hundreds of bleached bones.

This marked the second time-sink of the session as a combination of skepticism and paranoia ran rampant. Were the pools filled with bleach? Acid? How was the water still clear after who knows how long? Oddly, none of these theories included what, from my experience, would be the more common concern of "animating and attacking", or approached anywhere close to the actual truth: they were merely "ritually prepared so as to prevent magical tampering".

Melissa threw in some hair to see what would happen, and when it neither turned blonde nor dissolved went over to punch the bell without hesitation. I found this strange, because normally percussion instruments are triggers for traps or monstrous reinforcements. No inspection, no skills, just violence. Fortunately for them it only caused the square pool to drain, which revealed a black key stuck at the bottom.

Personally I always assume that pits are harbors for traps, hazards (molds are a favorite), and/or monsters like oozes or undead that happened to fall in, so I was both surprised and concerned for their sense of self-preservation when Melissa lowered Kamon down to get the key with, again, nary a Search check in sight. Anywho, with key in hand it was off to the next room...

...which had acid-weeping, eye-covered walls. Oh, sure, there was also a hidden door but with the entry fee pegged at a DC 25 Intelligence check there was no way that they were going to find it unless Kamon rolled very, very well on both dice (he did not). This is about the time I wished that there were rules for taking 10 and 20. Not wanting to call the game on account of not being able to locate the single hidden door that would let them keep having fun, I just told them where it was and had them take the acid damage to open it. Truly I doth giveth and taketh away.

The fourth room contained four statues of humanoids with various animal heads, a black pillar, and three sealed iron doors. The very simple trick is that you rotate the elephant statue in the middle of the room so that it points at a door, which causes it to open (presumably accompanied by a Legend of Zelda chime). They figured this out pretty quickly, giving each door the finger in turn so that they could check out what was on the other side, before deciding where they would go.

Since the first two doors lead to small rooms, they investigated them first. Door number one had a stone face, beyond which they could see a passage through a 1-diameter opening. Unable to squeeze through or find any way to open it, they eventually left it alone. The second door had a patch of bare earth, which Melissa eagerly dug into. Her efforts were reward with a coffin, which contained a corpse clutching a letter that I read to them despite no one knowing Taalese, and some treasure that they would never get to spend because it was just a playtest run.

They were about to leave when I, in a fit of wanting to see how they fared against some actual monsters, reminded them about their black key and the black pillar. Melissa searched the statues, giving the cat-headed female the Indiana Jones treatment, while Kamon found a keyhole in the pillar and gave it a spin. This activated the statues, causing a moment of hilarity where, from Melissa's character's point of view, the statue lashed out at her seemingly due to her unwanted attention.

Even more laughable was that the battle took about four rounds. Only one golem managed to land a hit, but Melissa's Iron Root Defense softened the impact of this one-time victory. I guess in hindsight I should have used all three golems, but I erred on the side of caution because they lacked a healer (and a couple more characters to round things out).

After that non-event I was not about to pull any punches with the mummy crypt, because mummy-punches prevent you from healing and I, being on the other side of the screen, find it delightfully malevolent. They attacked as soon as the characters entered, but both characters made their Will saves against despair and proceeded to breezed through the encounter without taking any hits at all.

To be fair I stopped reading their resistances right after bludgeoning, satisfied that Melissa's punches would deal half damage. Had I kept going I would have seen that all of their attacks dealt half damage. Well, except for Melissa's ki-powered, double-damage-dealing fire-cones, which is what she ended up using when she realized that her unarmed attacks were not very effective.

The room lead to a short hallway that split both north and south, with another stone face at the intersection. This one had ear-alcoves, and in true Gygaxian fashion one contained something useful, the other a trap. Melissa guessed the ear with the green key, but then went ahead and triggered the trap anyway. She made her save, but Kamon got a face full of dagger-covered door. It was a bit depressing, for me, that the first and only time he got hurt was because of the actions of a fellow party member, and not because of golems or giant hit-point sapping mummies.

After Kamon recovered they spotted a green basalt pillar in a room to the south, which sparked a conversation about basalt and if it could be green. They happily suggested alternative substances that were both basalt-like and green, but I adamantly repeated the adventure's flavor text until they dropped the subject. Suspecting a theme with pillars, keys, and colors, they opened it up and looted a cursed necklace that they had no way of knowing was magical and treacherous, pocketing it like so much worthless treasure that they would never be able to later redeem because, again, one-shot.

The only other way to go was north, towards a pillar-filled hallway. To the west they could see a suit of armor with blades for hands guarding a door, so opted to head east. Given my track record so far, I was both not sure why they were afraid of it, or why I even bothered including it. This lead to a larger room with decidedly less harmful-looking rugs and tapestries, but only because neither had played older D&D editions or read up on the subject of carnivorous furniture. Kamon decided to cut down the tapestries, which were in fact harmless. Unfortunately this involved walking across the rug, which was not.

The rug forced a Wisdom save, and if you failed you got sucked in. On the plus side you can be saved by a handful of spells, including a few staples like dispel magic and fly. On the downside no one in the party had access to magic of any sort (though, I mean, who would think to cast fly on someone trapped inside a rug?). Melissa made the save thanks to a +5 modifier and advantage against magic, but Kamon did not. Eh, we were out of time anyway, so it was basically a wash.

As playtest adventures go I think the only thing that we learned was that the monsters are really easy to hit, and were really unlikely to do any hitting. Damage, when I got to roll it, was pretty high. Melissa's character had 116 hit points, and the giant mummy was more than capable of knocking almost half of it off with a single touch.

Speaking of the giant mummy, I think it was mostly fine. Its combination of a low AC and lots of hit points make it seem like you are hacking away hopelessly at a horrifying monster that lacks any internal organs to fret about. The rotting touch and fire vulnerability are likewise staples, and the despair ability is okay. The problem is that the despair is really the only thing it does before just pounding away at the characters. 4th Edition gave them curses and despair auras that penalized characters, which are both things that help differentiate them from the other heavy-hitters.

The stone golem on the other hand was pretty boring. It has a laundry list of abilities that they just ignored because Kamon had a magical sword and Melissa had a class feature. Since no one could cast spells they also did not have to worry about golem almost spell immunity, and its associated guessing game. This made the golem very similar to the giant mummy: both were Large creatures with a lot of hit points that try to hit you with their bare hands. The only major difference is that a stone golem can apparently cast slow on you for some reason.

4th Edition golems could randomly go berserk, knocking enemies aside as they rampaged about. They also exploded when they died, leaving a pile of rubble that hindered movement. I think that, especially in the case of the deathsplosion, both of those help separate them from the mummy, and more importantly other golems. Well, maybe not clay, but certainly the flesh and iron ones. I would also consider making them resistant to slashing weapons, magical or otherwise.

Martial Damage Dice needs a less specific name, especially when they can be used for things that are not damage. It also feels kind of clunky, especially when paired with the Martial Damage Bonus. I get that "mundane" classes need neat toys in order to keep up with wizard spells and monster hit points, but why not give damage bonuses on all attacks? Instead of getting both dice and a bonus that only works on one attack per turn, why not just have do something like 4th Edition's multiple weapon damage dice.

As it stands, by level 10 a fighter can reasonably be doing 28 damage with a longsword, 20 Strength, 5d6 of Martial Damage Dice, and a +5 Martial Damage Bonus. Change it do a short sword and it becomes 27 damage, and with a dagger it is still 26. If a fighter instead starts doing 2[W] with each attack and you strip out the flat Martial Damage Bonus, she instead starts dealing 31 on average with a longsword, 29 with a shortsword, or 27 with a dagger. It is not much, but creates a wider range of damage results while allowing a player to roll more dice.

Or, as another option, why not allow the fighter to roll multiple weapon damage dice and keep the highest? It helps ensure higher damage without adding too much swing to the results.

Not a fan of all skills scaling at the exact same rate. I like the randomness of the skill die, but think that skills should start at something like a d4 or d6, and players should have to pick ones to scale up. I also think that instead of going up to a 1d12, that players should start rolling multiple dice and picking the highest. So, 1d4 becomes 2d4, then 2d6, then 3d6, and so on. Something that helps reduce the swingyness of it.

So, yeah, not much playtest feedback. We will give this another shot sometime later in the week, hopefully with a larger window of time, definitely with a wizard and cleric in tow (maybe just with a wizard and cleric?). Or I might just toss them in a necropolis filled with dracoliches and Asmodeus just to see how it all goes down.
December 25, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

December Playtest Packet: A Closer Look

So I am rolling up a trio of 14th-level characters--a halfling fighter, human rogue, dwarf monk, and maybe an elf cleric--for the Mud Sorcerer's Tomb run that we will be doing over the weekend. Previous stress-tests managed to keep characters, even wizards, on one page, and I was surprised that so far each character still fits on one side of a sheet of paper. The cleric will need a two-column format, but will probably still bleed onto a second page because spells.

It is kind of jarring, especially after two editions with constantly scaling numbers, to see the javelin of storms-wielding halfling's attack bonus crawl from all of +4 to +9 over the course of fourteen levels. To put things into context, in 3rd Edition a fighter would have at least a 13-point difference (maybe more, depends on feats and magic items), while a 4th Edition fighter could expect to see something in the 8-11 range. Even better, he is competent.

I like the way weapons are being handled. Small characters can use so much more--so less size-based damage penalties--and can still use big weapons if they absolutely have to thanks to the Heavy property. The main drawback is what happens if a Medium character uses a weapon sized for a Large creature? It would probably be more elegant to just make a globally applicable disadvantage/attack penalty rule.

Other than that my only real complaint is that the Bull Rush maneuver is limited to pushing around creatures your size or smaller. I think that you should be able to burn Martial Damage Dice to beat back a bigger foe. At least one size category so halflings could get more mileage out of it (after all you can affect a bigger creature with Trip in this manner).

One the topic of maneuvers, I do not like that Volley and Whirlwind attack have you use the same attack roll for every target. That makes it pretty likely that you will end up getting and all-or-nothing result. I would stick with the 4th Edition model of multiple attacks and one damage roll, especially if you are trying to shave off time from dice-rolling. Oh, I would also allow Rapid Shot to be used with any ranged attack.

Shifting gears a bit, one of the complaints that I have heard is that fighters deal "way too much damage compared to wizards", which actually means that the fighter, monk and rogue deal way too much damage compared to wizards because they all have the same attack bonus, Martial Damage Dice, and Martial Damage Bonus progressions. It seems kind of odd that the fighter, a guy who is supposed to be very good with weapons, ends up being on par accuracy and damage-wise with half of the other classes.

Anyway, a 1st-level fighter packing Strength 16 and a longsword will end up dishing out 11 points of damage on average, and they can do this all day. A 1st-level wizard, on the other hand, can reliably zap enemies with 5.5 points of damage, whether from a distance (ray of frost) or up close and personal (chill touch or shocking grasp). The same wizard can also, twice per day, open up a thunderwave to the tune of 9 damage with a push effect, or 10.5 with burning hands.

So basically even the wizard's per-day guns end up dealing slightly less than what the fighter can do. Their only saving grace is that they can affect an area and will always deal damage, which despite being a ridiculously paltry amount of 4-5 is still sufficient to clean house on centipedes, goblins, commoners, kobolds, and similar level 1 fodder. So...maybe not so bad?

Well, at 7th-level the gap further increases between the two classes: a 7th-level fighter's average round-by-round damage becomes 26.5, while the wizard only manages to eke out a whopping 11, or 21 with the one daily spell she has available. Again, area of effect and it will always do something, which in this case means shaving off about half the maximum hit points of a lot of the available level 3 monsters I saw in the Bestiary.

At 11th-level things seem to change a bit. The fighter clocks in at 40.5, with the wizard falling further behind at 16.5. However with a thorough application of chain lightning (max targets, all failed saves) she can dish out 105 damage total, or 52.5 if they all make their saves. Given the range and the fact that do not have to worry about friendly fire, as long as you have at least two targets (each creature can be hit by up to two bolts), this should not be hard.

One problem is that the wizard only gets to do that once per day, or two if she took Scholarly Wizard. After that she ends up relying on lower and lower-level magic. The other is that I have no idea how heavily this will matter given that stat-scaling all around has been flattened out, so unlike 3rd Edition the wizard will have the exact same chance of hitting a monster with any given spell, and unlike either 3rd or 4th Edition lower-level monsters are intended to remain viable threats given sufficient numbers, which is precisely where area-effect spells can really shine.

One point in the wizard's favor is that she now has more flexible core-spellcasting than she has ever had before, so you do not need to choose how many of which offensive spell you want ahead of time. Of course, none of this factors in the usefulness of control magic (cause fear, charm person), utility magic (invisibility, fly), and save-or-screws (sleep, hold person). I plan on giving a few wizards a shot just to see fun and useful they are.

On a similar not I think that all wizards should be able to use detect magic at will, as being able to detect the presence of arcane energy seems like it should be the first thing they learn. On a similar note given a short period of time they should also have a chance to read magic that fits their style. So an evoker should be pretty good at determining if the magic surrounding a door will unleash a gout of fire if opened, while an enchanter might be good at discerning if someone is being magically compelled (and if they cannot, they should have another, perhaps better shot, given more time to properly research it).

I am a fan of recycling class features when they make sense. I think that martial maneuvers worked out great for the rogue, and could see them for the ranger and warlords. Similarly skill tricks seem like that they should be available to most classes, just on a restricted basis. So rogues get their Charisma-based stuff that lets them distract enemies, boost initiative, and fiddle with magic items, while fighters could quickly force open doors (as a call back to bend bars/lift gates). I mean, why cannot a fighter Climb Sheer Surfaces, Display Deadliness, or Great Fortitude?

Actually, skill tricks in general seem a little strange. You can use Strength to climb and you can gain training in Climb for a variable bonus. If you have Climb Sheer Surfaces, you can make a Climb check sans skill die to climb further. I think ability scores should have skill-like applications that anyone can try, skills should give you flat bonuses with more focused areas, and skill tricks let you break the limitations or try even stranger things.

For example Intelligence and/or Dexterity could be used by anyone to try and disable a trap. Like, Intelligence could allow a smart character to notice how the mechanics work, while Dexterity is used to actually deactivate it. Something like that. You could go further and say that Dexterity is needed for more sensitive tasks, while Strength works for more brute countermeasures like holding a gear back, smashing a rod, or breaking a chain.

Disable Device would represent training in this sort of thing, giving you a flat bonus on whatever ability score you use. You are just outright better than the typical person. Going back to the previous packet, at certain levels you can opt to boost one or more skills to represent that you are getting better at a skill (or increase your skill die if you wanted to keep using that mechanic). From there, you could take a Disarm Magical Device skill trick that lets you disarm magical traps (or even mess with magical constructs).

But ultimately it is one thing to just look at the rules and something else to play, so we will see how it all pans out this weekend when we take a jaunt into the Mud Sorcerer's tomb.

December 21, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Golems

I find it strange that in this week's Wandering Monsters article that all golems are cited as being Large, but in the Bestiary the flesh golem only weighs in at Medium. I actually kind of like that, and think that golems should by default have multiple size categories so that we could have an army of Medium-sized clay golems (or crank them up to Huge).

I did not like 3rd Edition golems because they initially had a high degree of damage reduction (30 I think for the iron variety), which coupled with an immunity to critical hitsand by extension, Sneak Attackdid in fact "shut down" the rogue. Given that the fighter had non-scaling damage, it also shut her down without a sufficiently plussed weapon.

Thankfully 3rd Edition Revised toned things down, so even if a fighter lacked a specific weapon the damage resistance only dragged things out instead of making it insurmountable (because, again, magic immunity). Rogues still got the short end of the stick, unless they took a feat that probably existed that let them critically hit Constructs. 4th Edition made things even easier by removing both damage and magic resistance, as well as allowing crits (so, yay for Sneak Attack).

So right away I do not like the pair of golems featured in the lastest playtest packet's Bestiary: they are both immune to nonmagical, non-adamantine weaponsthough that might change, as the article mentions that it only resists non-magical weaponsand can only be affected by either spells with specific energy types or all of three spells. Well, at least we still have critical hits.

I think that at the least the designers could go with 3rd Edition's damage-resisting model, so if the party finds themselves without magical or adamantine weapons that they are not good and screwed. Personally I would just give them advantage on saves against most magic as opposed to outright immunity. Why are they even immune to virtually every spell in the first place? Why does this not crop up on more constructs?

I would also like to see golems get a lengthy list of optional/alternate traits to better represent wizards and clerics experimenting with them; why should iron golems be the only ones with breath weapons? For that matter, why do they all have breath weapons? Also, it could be cool to have the animating spirit escape and attackor potentially reward thecharacters.
December 19, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

December Playtest Impressions

And the level cap goes up to 20, along with spells and monsters to support it. Other changes include more classes with martial damage dice (formerly expertise dice) and a passive damage bonus, rogues no longer have maneuvers (instead gaining skill tricks), cantrips are now always at-will (as opposed to situationally at-will), wizards no longer have signature spells, there are more spells, a lot of new monsters, and so on.

As far as I could tell nothing has changed mechanically, which is fine for me as the only thing I do not like is how resistance is treated in Next. I suppose humans could stand to have a more definitive trait than a boost to every ability score (I really liked the bonus skill and feat they got before).

Backgrounds & Skills
The skill list seems the same as before, but rather than have a static modifier skills now require you to roll a skill die. It starts at a d4 and eventually caps out at a d12. At first I thought this was interesting idea, because I assumed that you would have the option to boost a die at various levels like how you could add a +1 to any skill in the previous packet release. 

Not so. Everyone uses the same die at a given level, across the board, and for better or for worse if you spend a feat on Superior Skill Training they all use the skill die for whatever level you are at, despite just picking the skill up. Different, but I preferred having to make a choice when increasing a skill.

Specialties & Feats
First things first, I am glad to see that Specialist suffix go away. So instead of Ambush Specialist, you just have Ambusher. Maybe not as inspiring, but at least it rolls of the tongue more easily.

Some feats do not make a lot of sense name-wise, like Combat Superiority, which lets you hit a creature after protecting an ally with Shield Bash, which not only deals no damage but instead imposes disadvantage when an adjacent enemy attacks an ally. Also, I am kind of confused as to why there is a Superior Skill Training feat when there is no run-of-the-mill Skill Training feat.

Names aside they at least do more than just give you +1 to this or that. Even Improved Initiative gives you a bonus and lets you treat a 10 or less as a 10. There are also some new feats, like Called Shot, which lets you use the Disarm maneuver as a ranged attack and forego an attack to make an automatic crit on the following turn. Purge Magic is also kind of neat; you can cast dispel magic a number of times per day based on your Intelligence or Wisdom mod.

My overall impression of classes is that they all around look better to various degrees, but there are a lot of dead levels that could stand to be filled in.

The cleric is looking a lot better. There are three new deity archetypes--the Arcanist, Reaper, and Stormcaller--and I dig that each deity entry mentions gods from both Dungeons & Dragons and real-world mythology (examples are always handy).

Your deity choice, in addition to determining your starting at-wills/cantrips/orisons, also determines your starting proficiencies (as they now start with no armor proficiencies) and what Channel Divinity does. After so many editions of clerics touring about in heavy armor, I am going to take a stab at an Arcanist cleric who is shielded by mage armor instead of chainmail, and channels her divine might to boost the wizard spells that she also has access to.

Speaking of channeling divine might, Channel Divinity is more like 4th Edition now in that there are a variety of options to choose from. Instead of just being able to heal or hurt things with pulses of positive and negative energy, for example, the Warbringer lets you use it to Channel Strength (gain advantage on a melee attack or Strength check) and Channel Wrath (deal bonus damage).

The only thing I really do not like about it is that every cleric gets Combat Expertise at 6th-level. Aside from the fact that I find it odd that all clerics, regardless of combat prowess, get it at the same time (and it scales at the same rate), it needlessly references the Weapon Attack Bonus, Martial Damage Dice, and Martial Damage Bonus--the latter of the two I will touch on more in a bit--columns that you would already see if you actually looked at the table.

I know it would be a bit more complicated, but I think that the various deities should just give you these things at differing levels, because as its stands both the Arcanist and Warbringer cleric have the same chance of hitting a monster in melee. The only difference is that the Warbringer can use other weapons and burn Channel Divinity to occasionally be more reliable with it.

The fighter now gains Parry as a default class feature, and instead of Deadly Strike just has the default ability to spend Expertise Martial Damage Dice in order to boost damage. I am really not liking the change from Expertise Dice to Martial Damage Dice, as I both find it needlessly wordy and misleading because you can still spend them to do stuff like boost your attack result when you have disadvantage (or spend two dice to offset it entirely).

Besides the name change, the other major thing is that all MDD are d6's, and the fighter gets less of them (capping out at 6d6 at level 11). To offset this they also have a Martial Damage Bonus, which is a once-per-turn scaling bonus to damage. It starts out at +5 at 7th-level, eventually peaking at +20 at 17th-level.

There is a major shift in the class at 11th-level, where the fighter stops gaining maneuvers (the last one gained at 10th-level, for a total of 5) and instead gains Combat Surge, which is a per-day ability that lets them take another action.

On the upside, monks have four Monastic Traditions to choose from: the Path of Mercy, Pheonix, Four Storms, or Stone's Endurance. On the downside all these do is determine which ki-fueled powers you get, though granted many of them are pretty cool: Vengeful Flame lets you spend ki when you are dropped to deal 20 fire damage to up to three creatures within 40 feet of you, plus another 20 per use of ki you have left over, while Vortex Punch lets you conjure whirlwinds after you hit a creature, which follows a 50-foot line and knocks creatures out of the way unless they make Strength saves.

Barring an actually effective flurry of blows (despite a three-punch limit), the class has a lot of 3rd Edition stuff built in; Diamond Body, Abundant Step, Quivering Palm, etc. I am kind of disappointed with this, as I would have liked to see more diverse class features thematic to a particular tradition or playstyle. Well, except for maybe their level 20 ability, Perfect Self. Giving yourself a 20 in every stat is something most any monk could use. Hopefully we will see more of this stuff later on.

While rogues have Martial Damage Dice and a Martial Damage Bonus, they no longer gain maneuvers. Instead they have skill tricks, which let them do things like add skill dice to things that you normally would not (like saving throws), forego rolling a skill die when making a check for some other effect, or something else entirely.

For example, Feint lets you use an action to spend your skill die in order to make a Charisma contest against a creature's Wisdom. If you win, the  next attack against it has advantage. Gilded tongue simply lets you spend your skill die to reroll a Charisma check, while Quick Reflexes lets you add your skill die to an Initiative check, or spend it when surprised to negate the surprise.

Rogue schemes have been greatly expanded to include things like Acrobat, Assassin, and Scout. These can grant you rogue talents, like Artful Dodger, which lets you use a reaction impose disadvantage on a melee or ranged attack made against you, or Sneak Attack, which lets you sack your attack advantage to double your Martial Damage Dice results.

The assassin is unique in that it also grants you access to all martial weapons and shields. It also comes with Assassinate, which lets you make a max-damage attack against a target that is potentially doubled if it fails a Constitution save.

Like the fighter the rogue sees a noticeable shift at 11th-level, capping out on skill tricks and instead only gaining uses of Ace in the Hole. This per-day ability lets you turn a miss into a hit, or a failed skill check or saving throw into an unnatural 20.

Wizards get a pretty big shake-up, what with their more flexible "cleric-ized" magic system. You prepare a number of spells equal to 1 + your wizard level, and can cast them in any combination up to a level-based cap. It is more forgiving because you are much less likely to prep the "wrong" spells, or not prepare enough of the "right" ones, but ultimately still makes no sense.

What is a spell slot? Is it representative of your mind's spells-storing capacity? A measure of the amount of mental stress you can endure? The amount of mana you possess (or some other form of magical energy)? Why can you use higher level slots to cast a lower-level spell, but no amount of low-level slots can be used to fuel a higher level one?

There are still three traditions, though one is a generic wizard and the other two are school-based. Scholarly Wizardry is really nice: you get any four cantrips you want (other traditions force you to pick one from a specific school), start with more 1st-level spells, can prep more, and gain twice as many with each level up. It mentions Ritual Caster on the list, but by default wizards in general can do that anyway so I am not sure why it is there.

School of Evocation lets you ignore creatures in an area-effect attack based on the spell's level, grants energy resistance, and 1's on damage dice get treated as 2's. The downside, in addition to the sheer lack of spells that Scholarly Wizards get, is that you have to pick an Evocation cantrip. School of Illusion gives you better save DC's, advantage against illusions, and lets you detect invisible critters. Similar to Evocation, you have to take an illusion cantrip.

I like that spells are more flexible and the traditions seem better than before, but the class is still held back by a lack of interesting and explainable magic.

There are some new armor types, most notably mithral armors for each category. They basically serve as a category capstone, either eking out another bit of AC bonus, or removing either Stealth disadvantage or a Speed penalty. I still think that Light armor and a good Dexterity is still too easy to achieve, and that both Medium and Heavy armor needs some sort of incentive like damage resistances.

Weapons now come in Simple, Martial, and Special flavors. Finesse is a property rather than a sub-category. There is also a Heavy property, which Small creatures can use but take disadvantage with. Versatile is back, but only for the bastard sword; the weapon has two damage values depending on how many hands you are using.

Special weapons are like exotic weapons from 3rd Edition, in that they require special training (read: feats) to use properly and are pretty underwhelming. I mean, who would not want to spend a feat in order to gain a Reach weapon that deals a flat 1d4 damage? I do not understand why they do not go with the 4th Edition treatment, when they were actually worth the feat.

Oh, double weapons are back. Love them or hate them, at least they do not cost feats.

As I have already mentioned, rogues no longer have their own list of maneuvers, though Bull Rush and Trip have been moved into a General Maneuvers category (along with Precise Shot and Rapid Shot). These exist to allow non-fighters and monks to spend their MDD to do other things besides boost damage. In a surprising twist, both Bull Rush and Trip are easy to resolve; each die you spend on a Bull Rush just pushes the target back 5 feet, and you can spend a MDD after hitting the target to just knock it prone (you can spend more dice to knock a bigger creature prone, too).

Obviously there are a lot more spells to choose from, including classics like gate, meteor swarm, true resurrection, and wish. The damage from cantrips now automatically scales with level, making them more useful later on. Actually most if not all damaging spells scale if you prep them using higher-level spell slots. A lot more spells can be used as rituals, and though while specific components are mentioned there are not any hard gp costs.

Other than that the spells are typical D&D fare, divvied up over the course of nine levels (though as I asked before what a spell level means is anyone's guess), with some of the higher-level stuff being just improved versions of the lower-level stuff (some of which have a Greater prefix). On that note, why do only damaging spells have an increased effect when cast with a higher level slot? This would be a perfect opportunity to give us, say, a dispel magic spell that can dispel spells based on the slot you cast it with instead of giving us dispel magic and greater dispel magic. 

Another point of contention is gem-dust. Why does it matter how much a diamond was worth if all you are going to do is crush it up, anyway? Does magic really care how pretty it is? If not, then why not just specify a weight? Why does gate require diamond dust, anyway? What if the caster wants to open up a portal to the Nine Hells? Would not ground up rubies make more sense (or rubies and like, iron filings)? Why is not gate a ritual? Opening a portal between planes seems like something that would take more time than six seconds to do.

Finally, while I like that true names are being included to a point, it seems like a shallow implementation and I think it is silly that you can only use a truename once before you have to learn it all over again. I guess it kind of made sense in The Dresden Files, where mortals reinvent themselves constantly, but not so much for extraplanar beings.

All in all I think the magic system technically works as is, purely as a game mechanic. It is still, after all these playtest iterations, not particularly imaginative, engaging, or sensible.

The stat block is still unchanged. Some monster sizes seemed to have been changed at random; rocs are now Gargantuan, flesh golems are Medium, giants are Huge. Given the minis that I and many others have accumulated over the years, this seems like a bad idea (especially for DMs wanting to run adventures with lots of giants).

None of the monsters have descriptions, which is problematic given that I only know the amphisbaena snake has because its Hardened Corpse trait--which actually sounds kind of cool--makes mention of more than one head. Similarly though an automaton makes four scythe attacks, I have no idea what it is supposed to look like. Does it attack really fast with two scythes? Does it have four? Does it look humanoid, or does it look like the insect-like slaughterstone behemoth?

On the plus side there are a lot of new monsters, including a lich, rakshasa, vampire, high-level dragons, demons, and devils, more giants, some golems, and more. Basically the solid foundation of the roster you would expect from a Monster Manual. Also, according to the Read First pdf stats and XP has been changed, though I will need to read through the Bestiary more thoroughly.

December 18, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Prestige Classes

On one hand, the last playtest packet of the year comes out today (or it might already be out). On the other hand...prestige classes.

Prestige classes, as I knew them anyway, were alternate classes in 3rd Edition that you had to meet certain prerequisites in order to take. For example, if you wanted to take levels in assassin, you first had to be evil, have 4 ranks in Disguise, 8 ranks in both Hide and Move Silently, and kill someone for no other reason than to join "the assassins".

They tended to evoke concepts both broad and narrow (spellsword and halfling outrider), some existed to make you better at something (weapon master), while others expanded on something you could do (force missile adept) or let you do something completely different. Sometimes the requirements made sense, but sometimes they seemed to conflict or exist only to force you to wait until a certain point to take it.

Paragon paths in 4th Edition were nothing like this. All of the ones that I remember required a certain class of power source to be sure, and some might have needed a certain race or alignment, but that is it. Hit 11th-level? Okay, pick one. Do not like them? Then you can still opt for paragon multiclassing. You do not stop growth in your class, and you do not sacrifice anything for them.

The goal of having them represent "interesting" bits of the game world is nice, but I recall that being the initial goal of prestige classes and, well...that did not work out so well. There were prestige classes tied to organizations to be sure, but most seemed to be there to fill in gaps that a core class should have been able to do. Things like a fighter that could take hits for her teammates, a fighter/wizard combo, or even a pyromancer.

Honestly I kind of like how Dungeon World does things. If you meet certain requirements--none of which involve taxing your level-based decisions--you can start taking moves from another class. This works because Dungeon World does not have scaling like, at all, so you are not going to be a 10th-level fighter taking her 1st-level in wizard, only to realize that popping a monster for 1d4 + 1 force damage does not mean anything. In 4th Edition this would be like burning a feat to multiclass, but letting players take powers however they please (instead of spending more feats, and only getting one power per feat).

Fortunately D&D Next seems to have toned down the scaling quite a bit (though we still need to see multiclass rules to determine how well things mix and match). All they need to do now is avoid taxing character needlessly, and try to ensure that the "prestige" bit is more interesting than making you better at attacking while mounted or letting you change your psychic blade into a bow. Personally, if that is all the prestige class brings to the table, that it could be folded into the core class.

The saving grace is at the end where Mearls states that they will both take a modular approach and build them from a comprehensive list of mechanical options (as well as show you how to break them down and rebuild them). Giving Dungeon Masters very clear, concise tools to do their own thing sounds much better than just sticking to the books, or hoping that Class Splatbook 7 has an appealing option for you. I also like this approach because then maybe you could more easily swap out class features as part of a reward system, or even allow a player to better customize an existing class.
December 17, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next Q&A: Racial Mods, Clerics, & Monsters

Rodney talks racial ability score penalties (specifically, the lack thereof), unarmored clerics, and the creative and balancing process behind monsters.

Ability Score Penalties
I was really happy that 4th Edition did away with pointless racial penalties, which resulted in a lot of interesting and--perhaps more importantly--effective race and class combinations. I always cite the halfling fighter as a prime example of something that just did not work in 3rd Edition due to both her penalty to Strength, and a hefty collection of other penalties based on size; smaller weapons, a penalty to Speed (made worse when compounded with heavier armor), and a penalty to lots of checks that tended to come up when fighting brutish monsters like ogres and dragons.

4th Edition made it possible to have a readily effective and thematic halfling fighter without any optimization involved, because while you did not get a bonus to Strength, you did not get a penalty (though you did get a bonus to Dexterity, which made you better off with light and heavy blades). This change predictably did not result in a slew of halfling fighters (or dwarf bards, half-orc wizards, elf barbarians, etc). What Rodney says makes sense; races with the right bonuses and features are more likely to get picked for certain classes, so why bother penalizing a race so that it is bad at others?

In other words, just because a halfling makes a competent--and, depending on how you make it, thematic--fighter does not mean that it becomes my default choice, or even one of my top five or whatever. There are still humans, dwarves, goliaths, half-orcs, warforged, minotaurs, and more that have modifiers and features way better suited for the job.

The "White Mage" Cleric
I was one of the people disappointed by all the universal armor and weapon proficiencies, and am all for a clerics god playing a greater role in what she can do; war clerics should (probably?) be better at fighting than clerics who worship gods of healing, trickery, and love. Turn Undead also needs to go. I cannot see a god of trickery giving two coppers about what happens to undead critters.

Monster Design
The current process basically sounds like what I always assumed they did, at least in 4th Edition: try to give monsters a noteworthy shtick to help differentiate them from the rest. In 3rd Edition fighting goblins was basically the same as kobolds. There were both Small-sized and either threw things at you or tried to stab you. That was basically it.

In 4th Edition goblins could scramble out of the way when you missed them, and kobolds could easily scamper about. It might not sound like much, but what it translated into was goblins breaking out of tight spots when it was not even their turn, while kobolds could easily get flanking and escape.

Speaking of 4th Edition, I greatly preferred its stat blocks. Easy to navigate, and I never needed to reference another book in order to make it work. I also liked that a lot of similar monsters had powers with synergy. Made them a lot of fun to play.

Internal stress-tests are always good. Hopefully they are looking into shambles of zombies taking forever to kill by low-level characters.

December 14, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered Dungeon World

Almost a year ago I decided to run a Dungeons & Dragons campaign using a setting and approach that I was not familiar with. The setting was 4th Edition's "implied setting" with a twist: rocks fell, everyone died. In other words the gods and primordials, each desperate to come out of the Dawn War victorious, ended up destroying what they had created. The result was countless islands, some dead gods and primordials, decaying dominions, dead stars, and worse scattered throughout the Astral Sea.

A Sundered World.

I did not put a lot of thought into how exactly the mortal races survived. Like, were they created before the war ended? Were they born from the blood shed by the gods (or primordials in the case of genasi)? A little of column A and B? I also did not fret much on where they got their food and water from, though I did entertain ideas like clerics grasping at the lingering divine power from dead gods, powerful spirits that survived the cataclysm, and "mining" water from the fringes of the Elemental Chaos (or icy shores surrounding the corpse of Crynoax).

Initially I wanted to flesh out the world as I normally do, then start working on adventure seeds, and finally, after I felt I had enough content thoroughly prepared, actually play. There were only two people available, so I guess I was hoping that by the time I was ready we might have one or two more. Ultimately, and I forget why, I said "screw it" and decided to just play. Kamon and Kiara rolled up their characters--a goliath shaman with a snake theme and an eladrin bladesinger--we hashed out some quick backgrounds and character motivations, and just made it up as we went along.

This first session of A Sundered World marked the start of one of, if not the best, campaign I have ever run (and according to Kamon and Kiara, the best they had ever played). Throughout its entire run we did not use minis or a battle mat, instead abstracting forced movement powers to something like zones, I guess similar to how it works in The Dresden Files. I made up monster starts largely on the fly, ignoring the whole level + X defenses and attack bonus formula, instead going with a rule of thumb that monsters should die in 1-5 "hits" depending on what and how big they were.

I did not stop at monsters, also creating magic items, powers, and feats without any regard to "balance", mostly because I did not have time to compare them with existing stuff. They found a suit of magical leather armor that granted Damage Resistance and allow you to reflect any type of ranged attack every encounter. Josh and Kiara found a pair of magical longswords that let them fire lightning bolts, and if they both waited and used them at the same time could combine the attack for an even bigger punch. I gave Kamon a bonus feat at one point that let him use his Wisdom for basic attacks.

I also sometimes changed the core rules, the most noteworthy deviation being when I would have them make ability checks to avoid effects, similar to saving throws in past editions. This proved to work out really well narratively speaking when Josh and Kia dueled shortly after they met, as they could narrate how they responded to things and make a check. For example, Kia could roll Intelligence to bring up a field of arcane force to deflect an attack, or use fey step to dodge one (and potentially get the drop on Josh). I used this approach in a few other instances, the most memorable being when they fought some star cultists on Acamar.

Sure there were hiccups, and in hindsight there are a lot of things that I would change if I could. Eventually after 15 or so levels things kind of petered out, which sucks because despite my lack of extensive planning there were a lot of things (NPCs, locations, plots, etc) that I wanted to resolve, and many more that could have been revealed.

I say all of this because looking back at how I was planning things and how we played, it reminds me an awful lot like how things are "supposed" to work in Dungeon World.

Rather than have a big map with lots of locations, I had a few cities and points of interest with just a few words attached. Rather than fully fleshing the story out, I had a small list of potential villains with goals that would trigger depending on what the characters did (as fate would have it, they released a primordial's weapon). When I asked Kia how she was going to dodge a star cultist's blade-covered, telescoping arms, she was Defying Danger (and when she failed to hit him with a blast of fire, that would have been a Miss followed by a special move).

In between various D&D Next playtests Dungeon World has become our current game of choice (not for a lack of enjoying D&D Next, mind you). Part of it is that it seems fresh and new, but another part is that it strongly caters to the playstyle that we were enjoying even as we shoehorned 4th Edition into it. I am strongly considering starting the game over with a new cast of characters, though if we could get Kia back (stupid school schedule) picking up where we left off would also work.

Another thing I want to do is publish the setting as a kind of Dungeon World campaign playbook, which would consist of both campaign and adventure fronts, steadings, NPCs, monsters, and more. Not a fully fleshed out campaign setting that you would expect from Dungeons & Dragons, but, in the spirit of Dungeon World's agendas and principles, lots of building blocks to play with. What do you think? Does the setting seem interesting enough? Would you still duwant prefabbed adventures? Maps? Compendium Classes? Something else?
December 13, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Elementals & Genies

Next stop, the elemental plane(s). Personally I prefer the Elemental Chaos--it just makes for a better adventure site without a bunch of necessary protective magic--but I can live with cosmological ambiguity.

First off, I like the idea of short-term summonings requiring constant concentration to keep the elemental in line. Makes me think of how 4th Edition maintained the action economy by preventing you from summoning a small army of creatures, thereby allowing you to control your own party. This could also make for an interesting turn of events where the party disrupts the bad guy's concentration, causing his former minion to turn on him (though, this could also apply to the good guys).

Hopefully the mention of a "lasting binding spell" means that we will get rituals where you can summon elementals (and other things), and force them into prolonged servitude. In this case I am more in favor of allowing it to act independently, though ultimately it will depend on how frequently it can be used and how long it lasts.

I guess needing a magical weapon to hurt them normally is okay. I can better understand it for air and fire ones. I would prefer them to go 3rd Edition's route, with the weakest ones vulnerable to anything and the larger/older ones being gradually more resilient.

I am not a fan of the air and earth elementals' look (and to a lesser degree, the fire elemental). Why does the air elemental have eyes and a mouth? Does it need to eat? How come it is the only elemental with eyes (and two, at that)? Why does the earth elemental need to walk on legs and have two arms? Why does the fire elemental have a vaguely humanoid shape?

This is the same problem I had with angels. Elementals do not need a humanoid shape, and barring a compelling story reason, probably should not have one. Even if you do not count genies it sounds like we will still have "elemental" archons, which are also elemental-humanoids. Do we really need sometimes-humanoidish elementals, too?

I would have the base set of elementals have largely undefined shapes. For humanoid and animals, those could have been made by the primordials (or whatever elemental lords you go with) as a way to emulate what the gods made (or, again, whoever made mortals and the like). If you go with mirror planes like the Feywild, then many those are elemental echoes of the natural world/Prime Material plane.

I think that genies should have to cross between the planes at set focal points. Past editions made mention of elemental vortices--areas where the planar barrier or whatnot between the Prime Material and various elemental planes was thin--which makes more sense than simply popping in and out wherever/whenever they please. I think it also makes for better stories if, for example, they have to find a specific place to meet a genie, or if one is helping them escape from its native plane. (or maybe they are trying to escape to its native plane).

The bit about being summoned and bound into service makes me think of The Dying Earth...I think. I know the genie in the lamp is a common trope, but I thought there was mention of wizards using bound genies in order to get around their otherwise severely limited magic. So, anyway, that sounds cool so long as characters have the option of doing that at some point (including all the inherent risks).

As for genie specifics a lot of their magic I can get behind, but some of it confuses me. All genies can fly? Even the dao (earth genies) and marid (water genies)? Why can djinni create objects--even metal ones, albeit temporarily--from nothing, but none of the rest can? I am similarly confused about the whole genie society. They are all apparently "cunning merchants", which makes me think of elementally-themed Ferengi, but also raises the question of where they get their money and goods to stock up all their bazaars.

This is the kind of stuff that I would love to see elaboration on, if not in their Monster Manual entry, then at the least in a sourcebook. Some kind of origin story that might explain their sometimes universal access to magic and wishes would be nice.

Lesser Genies
I think that jann should have a bit of everything when it comes to magical powers. Creating food and water I can kind of get behind as something linked to earth and water, and turning invisible works for air, but changing size and going ethereal? The mention of gen is nice. I never got a chance to play Al-Qadim, but I liked the sha'ir from Heroes of the Elemental Chaos. If nothing else I felt that the story aspects of it provided an interesting way to learn magic.

It is also nice to see genasi get a shout out, though I prefer something more in the direction of 4th Edition. Perhaps without the crystalline hair, especially if they are based on genies that have hair.

This works, though I could stand for more overt.

December 11, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Chaotic Magical

Today's Legends & Lore post is a cornucopia of awesome concerning alignment and spells.

Alignment as an option? Yes, please. Alignment as an option, that if entirely cut out, does not break a class/require lots of houseruling to make it work/negates one or more meaningful class features? Hell yes.

Interesting direction to take the detect and protection from series of spells. At the least it sounds like that DM's will not have to rely on contrived spells and magic items--such as undetectable alignment and a
ring of nondetection--to prevent the characters from just randomly
locating the villain.

Even the paladin, its early incarnations famous for adherenece to both the Lawful Good alignment and a code of conduct, is going to be built to focus on what alignment represents. The example of a Chaotic Good paladin translating into a paladin of freedom reminds me of 3rd Edition's variant paladins from Unearthed Arcana (the paladins of freedom, slaughter, and tyranny). As before when Mearls mentioned paladins having alignment-based class features, this sounds like a solid, interesting way to differentiate them from clerics.

Finally, Lawful monks will likely end up being an option that DM's can invoke. In Mearls's own words, alignment will be in the default rules, but it will not be the rule.


Their campaign to keep spellcasters from easily taking down an enemy involves--so far at the least--two things. The first is requiring a spellcaster to maintain concentration, preventing a single spellcaster from just piling on debuffs (as well as buffs, meaning that we likely will not see spellcasters transforming into better fighters than an actual fighter).

The second part requires making damage spells actually useful--and maintaining this usefulness--and having hit point-ignoring spells allow multiple saves before they take effect. I have mentioned direct-damage spells multiple times, and that they rapidly become useless without some form of scaling. Thankfully, according to Mearls, this is being addressed.

As for save-or-dies, I really dig the idea of a wizard having to actually work to maintain a spell in order for it to have its full effect. 4th Edition was an excellent start in diminishing the anti-climax of save-or-die spells, but once they kicked in generally a wizard could keep heaping on other spells while the monster tried to shrug it off (occasionally having to funnel Minor actions to keep it going).

Having to concentrate and keep weaving magic on a round-by-round basis sounds awesome, and if you couple this with the bad guys being able to disrupt it could make for some tense situations. Of course, I may be biased because this is similar to a spellcasting mechanic I thought of quite awhile ago, where a wizard would have to take time gathering energy to cast more powerful spells.

As with wizards being able to cast more like clerics, this sounds like another big step in the right direction. The only bad part about this article is where Mearls closes with the statement that DMs can just opt to not use save-or-die monsters, and that they should be confident that players will build characters without making things wildly unbalanced.

Personally I think it would be a small feat to include variant attacks that allow multiple saves, and balance character options--ie, spells--to the point where it would be very hard to make unbalanced characters.
December 10, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Celestials

3rd Edition's angels were summed up as a "race of celestials, beings who live on the good-aligned Outer Planes". They could be of any good alignment, hailing from similarly aligned planes. It was said that they were blessed with comely looks, though their appearances "vary widely" (which was odd considering that they all basically looked like winged people).

The standard rollout of angel traits included darkvision and low-light vision, immunity to acid, cold and petrification, resistance to electricity and fire, a bonus on poison saves, an aura that--among other things--helped shield both themselves and allies in the form of an AC and save bonus, and an always active tongues effect. Individual angels stacked on additional abilities, which included a laundry list of spell-like abilities.

4th Edition angels were not much different appearance-wise--having a wispy trail instead of feet and almost no facial features--but looked pretty similar to each other. Each embodied a characteristic, I guess, resulting in entries like the angel of valor, angel of protection, and angel of battle. A major difference was that they served any god, good or evil, thereby making them easier to drop into encounters.

Maybe that is why the angels that Wyatt describes bore me; they have already been done twice, and are basically a collection of winged humanoids with different skin colors. I would much prefer the bizarre (and terrifying) variety found in the Christian angelic hierarchy, in particular the cherubim and throne. I am not saying that they should cut and paste directly--they certainly did not with other mythologies--but at the least use it for inspiration and go nuts because, after all, D&D already has some bizarre and confusing contestants.

I both like and dislike angels being unable to be summoned. On one hand it makes sense--especially if they want to avoid angels being conjured and bossed around; kind of downplays the whole awe-inspiring bit--but on the other I really like playing summoners in games where it does not suck. Maybe some kind of ritual that lets you petition a god (or servant of a god) for aid? On a related note, I dig that rather than summon reinforcements, good-aligned critters are drawn to them.

I do not mind angels having abilities that mimic spells (or are spells mimicking them?), so long as they do not have to constantly cast and re-cast them. Rather than have tongues at will, the angel should just be able to inherently understand other creatures, even in an anti-magic field. I think in this regard--and many others--4th Edition handled it better with its Supernal language.

I am not sure how I feel about all the energy resistances and immunities. Are they necessary? I think I would almost prefer them just having flat-out resistance to most anything that was not specifically made to harm an angel; magic, weapons, you name it. It would not only be easier to remember, but would help hammer home that these things are not of the mortal world (and you should probably not be trying to fight them). Maybe not all, but certainly the higher level ones.

Evil angels should not be hard, especially if you go the route of the corrupted or fallen angel. You could even try to have good angels embody virtues, while evil angels embrace sins (or vices). It could link up in some way with paladins. Of course, you could just say that devils are evil angels and be done with it. Personally I like the idea of evil clerics being able to call in celestial support.

Though I rarely saw anyone in my group play a deva, conceptually it was a pretty awesome race and I am happy to see it stick around (though I am iffy on the whole bound/incarnate prefix).

As for archons and guardinals, I think that they need to be consolidated along with angels (though guardinals might work better with other fey). Just how many varieties of celestial good-guys do we need, especially when one archon looks like an angel, and another looks like it could be a guardinal? Parsing archons into two different categories seems kind of cheap; I would just rename one or the other to something else (or just shift archons to angels and call it good).

4th Edition's eladrin race really does not provide any conflicts with prior material; just slot them at the bottom of the hierarchy and call it a day (which, as Wyatt says, was kind of the idea at the time). The greater issue is the lack of depth concerning the fey and their society, such as it is. As I mentioned the last time I wrote about the fey, I think WotC could stand to elaborate a great deal more about them.
December 05, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Class Design Concepts

Mearls gives us another update on survey results and class direction.

While I like the idea of clerics having a flexible reserve of energy to use for healing and repelling undead, I hate the idea of all clerics having a reserve of energy to use for healing and repelling undead.

I think it would be more interesting to have channel divinity allow clerics to activate deity-related powers, but conceptually it just all sounds like divine magic by another name. It is like having both spell slots and power points, just without the trouble of multiclassing.

I guess the only real difference besides a point-based resource is that channel divinity stuff would not be things that the cleric can just swap out, unlike prepped spells. Anyway, I really hope that they end up adding armor proficiencies to deities. It makes way more sense than giving everyone default access to chainmail. I also dig giving each deity multiple facets. Kind of reminds me of 3rd Edition's domains and 2nd Edition's spheres.

I agree that fighters are pretty badass, and like that people are not complaining that they have nice things. I disagree that they all need some kind of parry mechanic baked in, as I think it kind of clashes with people wanting to do an archer build, though this is a minor nitpick.

I never felt that the rogue was a "lame" fighter, not that I felt that fighting--fairly, at least--was supposed to be its strong suit. I suppose if I wanted to try and do what the fighter does that I would play a fighter or take Sneak Attack. Depending on how things unfold, down the line I might just multiclass into fighter or take whatever weapon feats invariably manifest (Weapon Specialist?).

In Kamon's Skyrim mini-campaign the party right now consists of a fighter and a rogue, and while I feel more useful in combat Melissa's character has access to twice as many skills and can add in a variable bonus to them. So while I am good at hitting things with an axe (and getting hit by them), she is good at scouting, picking locks, fast-talking her way past the bad guys, and more.

Non-magical effects that allow her to trick or distract enemies sounds an awful lot like exploits by another name, though it sounds like there will not be a cooldown on them. Maybe this will be easier for people to understand or accept. Hopefully they are not just restricted to rogues. I am fine with them having an edge while doing it, but being able to trick an enemy should be something anyone can try, with a reasonable return for their action investment.

Using bonus dice for skills sounds different, and more importantly (to me, anyway) interesting.

Spell damage and slots, and tradition choices are going up. I am surprised to see that they will be acting more like clerics, prepping spells and burning slots to cast them. In that regard it sounds like a cross between Vancian magic and spell points. For me that is a big step in the right direction, as it makes it more likely that the wizard will have a useful spell on hand, instead of potentially having to setup camp so that they can memorize the "right" one, and might make a bit more sense.

I am more than happy to exchange my signature spell for scaling at-wills. Having actually useful magic all the time is better than having a spell that is only really useful for the first few levels.

As for creating separate categories, why not make at-will and daily versions of spells? Back when we used to play a lot of 4th Edition, Josh proposed a system where you could prepare a spell and cast at-will and encounter versions of it, losing access to them if you cast the "daily" version. I could also go for something like Reserve feats from 3rd Edition, where having fireball prepped lets you toss around bolts of fire.

I still do not like spell levels, partially because they are not needed, but mostly because they make no sense. If my wizard has a 5th-level slot and I cast a 1st-level spell it uses the last of my magical brain space, or what?

On another note, hooray for spellcasting in armor. It was nice in 4th Edition to play a fighter that dabbles in arcane magic without having to wait a bunch of levels and/or spend a bunch of feats.
December 03, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: First Crawl

My group's background is basically a crapload of Dungeons & Dragons (mostly 3rd and 4th Edition), a smattering of Gamma World and Dresden Files, a session or two of Exalted, andfor Josh and me at leastreading lots and lots of other RPGs that we never have time to actually play; Dragon Age, Dark Heresy, Mouse Guard, and Numenera to name a few.

We are largely of the opinion that D&D Next looks really good for the most part. However since it is still in the playtest stage, rather than try to build campaigns around itas opposed to short dungeon crawly rompswe have decided to take the time to finally give some other RPGs a shot (which might give us some feedback ideas for Next, anyways). First on the roster? Dungeon World.

Dungeon World kind of reminds me of The Dresden Files, in that the characters are tied together from the startthereby avoiding the whole "you meet in a tavern" tropeand players help contribute to the world, so the burden is not entirely shouldered by the DM/GM/Storyteller. It also reminds me of 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, what with the more traditional race and class selection (including the thief instead of rogue), as well as race-limiting classes (hello human-only paladin) and (optional) 3d6 stat generation.

Melissa decided to roll with an elf druid, while Kamon went with a human rogue. I was surprised to see halfling as a possible race option for the fighter, and decided to go with that because A) it was not exactly a "traditional" combination (unlike Melissa and Kamon's choices), B) I was curious as to how well fighters stacked up, and C) I was even more curious as to how fighters would stack up when they were powered by a Small humanoid.

After a few questions the game started with us heading to a mining town along with a caravan delivering supplies. We were apparently helping Kamon's character deliver a package, though we did not know what was inside. When we made camp a bunch of gnolls attacked, I suspect because in my backstory the village where my character came from was wiped out by gnolls. He managed to hunt them down and slay their leader, taking a jagged, bleeding sword that was possessed by the souls of its previous owners (almost exclusively murderous, savage pack leaders).

Combat in Dungeon World is strange because there is no initiative or turns: the GM describes what is going on, and the players respond. They also always roll the dice2d6 + stat modand dice results are interpreted as basically success (10+), partial success (7-9), and failure (6 or less), also known as yes, yes but, and no.

For example if an orc charges you, you might try to block their weapon with your shield, parry the attack, roll out of the way, or whatever makes sense for your character (which probably amounts to a Defy Danger roll). If you roll well then you evade the attack entirely (and maybe gain an advantage), if you do not then you might take some damage and/or get put in a bad spot; maybe he knocks your weapon away, breaks your shield, forces you into some nasty terrain, etc. The GM will probably give you a choice, which makes the "yes, but" results really interesting and fun.

So when Josh described gnolls rushing into camp, leaping on unfortunate guards and tearing out their throats, I figured that what with my healthy hatred of gnolls (which some might consider a survival instinct) the best course of action was to charge into them and deliver a heavy dosage of Hack & Slash (ie, the most basic and straightforward damage dealing move). I rolled well, hacking apart a gnoll and sending his limbs flying into his pack mates. Did I mention that my signature weaponformerly the aforementioned gnoll murder-bladehad the Huge trait? It adds the messy and forceful tags, which lets you deal damage in particularly gruesome ways and shove the target around if it happens to still be alive.

Josh went around the table, giving everyone a chance to react; Kamon grabbed the package and tried to hide, while Melissa tried to shapechange into a wolf. Tried was the figurative word, here; she ended up as a bizarre hybrid of various animals when her fight and flight wires got crossed. Kamon got spotted and managed a partial success on a Defy Danger, opting to take damage so that he could hang on to the box. Melissa spent her hold (shapechanging gives you 1 or 3 points of "hold" to spend on special attacks) in order to call a pack of wolves to help even the odds.

We eventually beat them back, deducing that they were in fact after the box after finding a strange tattoo of an evil god on their skin (Torog, because Josh was using an amalgamation of Greyhawk and 4th Edition gods). Despite Melissa's protests Kamon had a policy against opening boxes, even if the cargo attracted gnolls. My character did not mind; when it came to gnolls the more the merrier.

We made it to the town without any further hitches, delivering the box to a seemingly innocuous NPC that paid us almost enough to get +1 on a Carouse roll, though I spent most of it on healing potions and halfling weed. We had another hook involving a wizard in a tower somewhere in the woods anyway, probably because of Kamon's character.

We decided to rest for the night so that we could heal and tally XP (after learning how to heal and tally XP, of course). XP works by discovering new things, defeating noteworthy monsters, and doing things involving character bonds and alignment. Generally I guess this means that you can reasonably get about 3-6 XP per session. I am not sure if you can count things multiple times, but since you only need your level + 1 to level up, it is not so bad. It is certainly a lot better than having to plow through 10+ encounters.

On a lark my character decided to explore the town after sunset, as in a place called Devil's Reach it seemed like the best time to do it, especially when looking around for signs of evil-god-worshipping cults. I did find one, urinated on the spot where I found it, and went to fetch the gang so we could kick in the doors, kill whoever was inside, and loot the place. It took awhile to convince them that this course of action was probably legal because, hey, they are evil anyway, but once they were in it was easy to find the place again because the druid shapechanged into a dog so that she could smell my pee more easily.

The entrance lead to a tavern cellar (hooray for Bend Bars, Lift Gates). Inside we found a hatch in the floor, and after a jaunt down a 100-foot long, cavernous passage found an alter with dried blood and a secret compartment full of coins and an ornate dagger. We had resealed the hatch on the way down, and decided to have Melissa listen before we re-opened it. Sure enough, a couple of people were arguing. We tried waiting to see if they would leave, but one of them opened the hatch and this is where things really started to go south.

As the hatch opened I rolled Hack & Slash, figuring that we had surprise and I was not going to waste it on probably evil cultists that may be able to use magic. I stabbed him in the head, and using the forceful tag heaved him at his friend, which turned out to be the tavern owner. We interrogated the guy, finding out that he actually was part of an evil cult. Assuming we would get some kind of reward, Kamon went to the sheriff's office to see what the difference was between the reward for finding and killing a cultist, as opposed to finding and turning one in.

Unfortunately it turned out that while worshipping evil gods in Devil's Reach was frowned upon, it was not exactly illegal. Who knew? Since Melissa's character was generally against the wanton murder of strangers, even if they were evil cultists who sacrificed people (which he totally admitted to), we convinced her to head back to the tavern ahead of us. When she left I knifed the guy, and as we dragged him back in were spotted by a tavern wench. Kamon and I doused the cellar in lamp oil and lit it on fire, hoping to remove witnesses (there are rolls for Outstanding Warrants, after all) and distract law enforcement while we fled town.

Melissa's character was both confused and rightly suspicious as to why we were suddenly leaving in the middle of the night, right after the tavern we were just at burst into flames. We told her that arson was probably an common issue in a place called Devil's Reach, and that if taverns were just going to spontaneously combust that we were safer off in gnoll-infested woods. Besides, the next adventure hook was out there, anyway.

We quit soon after we got to an alchemist's tower, snooped around, found some zombies, and made a deal to deliver mostly-intact bodies in exchange for money. It was not until about a week later that I realized that Josh was cribbing some material from the adventure Within the Devil's Reach, which in turn cribbed a lot more from the first Age of Worms adventure, The Whispering Cairn.

Mechanically the game is pretty fun, though there are not a lot of choices for, well, basically anything. Want to play a paladin? Human is your only race. Cleric? Well you can be a human or a dwarf. There are only fourteen weapon typesincluding the ragged, fine, and hunter's bowand three types of armor (and here I was complaining about D&D Next's lack of choices).  Spells are similarly spartan, and without creating a bunch of custom moves I hope you were not hoping to play a pyromancer or summoner wizard.

The lack of turns and wildly varying interpretations of move results can be very confusing, especially if you come from a background of games that have a turn order and well-defined results for attack/skill rolls; even after playing it a couple times I am still not sure if we are "doing it right". For example, a miss is a miss in Dungeons & Dragons. In Dungeon World, a miss might mean you end up taking damage, lose something valuable, get put in a bad spot, or something else. Thankfully, someone wrote up a beginner's guide on the Dungeon World forum.

Again, the collaborative nature of the game is something that I first experienced with The Dresden Files, and the campaign and adventure fronts also remind me a lot of troubles (which is not a bad thing). Both of these could work really well in Dungeons & Dragons (and many other games, I am sure) as a way to help get players more heavily invested, and help create a flexible, evolving campaign framework. I think that it is worth your time and money (all of $10), if for no other reason to steal these ideas.
December 02, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: The Fair Folk

I have always felt that the fey needed more page-space devoted to them. Several years ago, I think right after Player's Handbook 2 came out, I tried to run a campaign that took place in a land that was tied closely to the Feywild.

There was not a lot of solid Feywild flavor in Manual of the Planes, so I ended up having to make stuff up/crib ideas from The Dresden Files, stuff by Robert Holdstock, some HellboyThe Waterborn, and its sequel The Black God (the latter two mostly just for ideas on spirits and animism).

Heroes of the Feywild expanded on it quite a bit, and remains one of my favorite 4th Edition books of all time, so--to me, at least--it would be a shame to not at least see it as a strongly-presented option (especially given that it already has a strong foundation).

As for its inhabitants, I think that the description--inherently magical beings with strong ties to nature--is apt enough, so long as it also includes animals as well as plants; dryads and hags are all well and good, but it is a wyld world out there that includes the pooka, cait sith, selkie, and more. In addition to the whole shapeshifting shtick, I would not also mind seeing vulnerabilities (such as cold iron and various herbs), access to thematic magic (glamour, cold, fire, etc), magic resistances, and  fey rules (such as being bound by bargains, unable to lie, cannot cross over certain materials, etc).

Oh, I almost forgot spirits. Animal spirits and spirits of the land--basically, the stuff that made it into Primal Power--can make for compelling stories (as well as challenges).

On the topic of stories, I disagree that it is hard to come up with adventure plots concerning the fey. If you have never read the The Dresden Files, several books focus on the fey courts, and many that do not include them to some capacity (he does, after all, have a fairy godmother). Granted a lot of them stray from the "traditional" dungeon crawling formula, instead focusing on courtly intrigues, or using them as quest heralds or sources of information, but there are also plenty of instances where they end up having to throw down.

Even discounting the fey, the Feywild itself--or Faerie or whatever--can make for an interesting backdrop.

The descriptions and flavor for the various examples are not anything new; dryads are bonded to trees, hags are evil deal-making old women that spend their time hunched over cauldrons, nymphs can blind or kill you, and so on.

What I want to see is how the flavor extends itself to mechanics. Will dryads just end up with charm person and tree stride 3/day? Will hags just have a lengthy spell list and/or the option to lump on spellcaster levels to get them to do what you want or need them to do? How will a quickling's speed work if they can allegedly "move faster than the eye can follow"?

A lot of this will probably depend on how spells themselves work. Personally I think it is silly for a dryad to have limited charms and treeportation, especially when each ability has its own cap. I mean, how do you explain that sort of magic? A hags magic could be based around how wizards work, and in that sense I could see them having more limited magic. I think an interesting and flexible ritual system, as well as a mechanic for making and breaking bargains, would go a long way to properly evoking their powers.

This would be a good chance to explore some experimental rules (hint hint).
November 29, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Class Design Concepts

Martial damage bonus dice? Really?

First of all, that label is pretty long-winded. Second--and more importantly--it does not make their role clearer when you can spend your martial damage bonus dice to activate things that are not tied to a martial damage bonus, like reducing damage from an attack (Parry), shielding someone else from harm (Protect), or gaining an initiative bonus (Danger Sense).

Expertise dice fit the description perfectly; bonus to damage, Armor Class, saving throws, skill checks, whatever. I guess if the name must be changed, something like stunt dice or exploit dice would make a lot more sense.

It will suck to see the rogue lose maneuvers in favor of another dice-based mechanic that also...grants...special...abilities? Huh. Anyway, maneuvers made them more flexible, interesting, and provided a cohesive system for martial classes (or, at least, classes with noteworthy, non-magical exploits). It also fulfilled the goal of making Sneak Attack a rogue option, as opposed to a universal class feature.

I think that whatever other system they cook up will achieve similar--if not the same--results, I just wonder why they would go through all the trouble. Maybe it will better fit the rogue?

While maneuver-granting feats sound all well and good, I am skeptical as to how useful and applicable they will be, especially with multiclassing and the reduced number of feats overall. Maybe with two editions under their belts and vocal playtesters, the designers will be able to avoid giving us options that sound good but end up having performance issues.

Good to hear that the spellcasting system will still support other options, as it means that--for me at least--that there is a chance that I will actually like one of them. Power points and encounter-refreshing are obvious candidates, but maybe will we see stuff like fatigue, damage, sacrifices, and more.

In a similar vein I am interested to see what kind of experimental rules they roll out for skills. A rank system, or something like 4th Edition's skill powers could be cool. Just throw it in there as an optional rule. Actually just throw in a lot of experimental rules for a lot of things; who knows what will stick?

I like the idea of a paladin being charged with alignment-based powers, especially if each alignment component does its own thing (or rather, has access to a menu of things), allowing for a bunch of combinations. It reminds me of the champion from Arcana Unearthed--I think...I might be thinking of something else, if not mis-remembering it entirely--and helps differentiate them from clerics.

On the topic of alignments, forcing paladins-as-alignment-champions to have certain alignments makes sense. Forcing all monks to be Lawful when there are non-Lawful archetypes does not.
November 26, 2012
Posted by David Guyll


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