Archive for May 2009

Dragon 376: Ampersand

Oh, Dragon, how you have failed me. Ampersand and Editorial articles have, ironically, usually been the greatest source of joy for me when it comes to Dragon. Sure, the other articles are nice and all, but they often put in a lot of cool shit into the monthly openers.

Until now.

Aside from a handful of things that are mentioned only briefly, I dont care about anything else on the list:
  • Revenant is a new race.
  • Assassin (and associated power source) will debut in September.
  • PH3 content will start getting posted in July. Feel free to start complaining that, "you're just paying for the same shit twice a dur dur duuuurrr."
  • Dragon Annual is in fact coming out, despite beliefs to the contrary.
Aaand thats a wrap. There is a list of panels at GenCon, but I dont go to GenCon, so I dont really care. Whelp, lets see how the Editorial fares...

...and survey says no. Its basically the author talking about how to play a character that does potentially annoying/bad things, without fucking over the party/pissing everyone off. Kind of like how I played a barbarian in Diablo 2: whirlwind attack through hordes of monsters to every evil urn I could find, and trigger them before we killed the rest of the monsters.
May 31, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Minotaur Warlord/Artificer

I tried tinkering with Character Builder a bit, but in the end I think that a minotaur serving as a front-line soldier during the Last War (I would totally play this guy in an Eberron campaign) made more sense than an artificer. I'm not saying it couldnt work, but I felt that it was cooler to have a minotaur charging into the fray instead of hanging back pegging creatures with a repeating crossbow.
The ability scores and racial features work with this a lot better, and I can always lump on artificer stuff through Multiclass feats or even using Hybrid rules. In the end this character works out well and is very functional, even when using artificer spells at later levels.

Tuska, level 1
Minotaur, Warlord
Commanding Presence: Tactical Presence

Str 18, Con 13, Dex 10, Int 16, Wis 8, Cha 13.

Str 16, Con 11, Dex 10, Int 16, Wis 8, Cha 13.

AC: 17 Fort: 15 Reflex: 14 Will: 12
HP: 25 Surges: 8 Surge Value: 6

Intimidate +6, Heal +4, Athletics +8, Endurance +7, Arcana +8

Acrobatics -1, Bluff +1, Diplomacy +1, Dungeoneering -1, History +3, Insight -1, Nature +1, Perception +1, Religion +3, Stealth -1, Streetwise +1, Thievery -1

Level 1: Student of Artifice

Warlord at-will 1: Inevitable Wave (swapped out for Magic Weapon as a houserule)
Warlord at-will 1: Opening Shove
Warlord encounter 1: Warlord's Favor
Warlord daily 1: Lead the Attack

Khopesh, Light Shield, Hide Armor, Adventurer's Kit
May 28, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Homebrew: Keeper of the Light

A basic elite monster that protects/talks to/wields an intelligent sunblade, complete with teleporting minions that popped in every round to harass ranged characters (ie, Greymalkin). This was the last encounter that the group ran into during the second session of The Hydra's Grave, and gave Grynn a chance to use some extended Arcana checks to try and interact with the intelligence bound to the sword. After some bad rolls and psychic damage, Grynn tucked it away to examine later.

Posted by David Guyll

June Editorial Calendar

June's calendar is up. Mondays and Fridays are Eberron Player's Guide excerpts, but I could give a fuck less about City of the Dead. However, couple those with Divine Power and Eberron Campaign Guide excerpts, and its a good month even for the non-subscribers.

I'm eager as usual to see what gets thrown into the Ampersand column, but there are a few other highlights to look foward to as well:
  • Ecology of the Rust Monster
  • Design & Development
  • Ruling Skill Challenges
  • Playing Revenants
  • Dungeoncraft
  • Class Acts: Bard
  • Playtest: MM3
Posted by David Guyll

Preview(s): Pathfinder RPG

There is a massive, 60+ page thread on RPGnet that talks about the previews Paizo has revealed about the "new look" of Pathfinder's equivalent to the fighter. Well, and the sorcerer. If you want to sum it up, fighter's still suck, spellcasters are still broken, and Paizo is still failing to correctly steal the good parts of Dungeons & Dragons to claim as their own.

According to Jason Bulmahn, the fighter isnt built as an optimized character, but to showcase...something. No one is really sure what, and they sure as hell arent impressed. Its a big-ass stat block of numbers that mean almost nothing to those who are not really, really into PRPGB. One poster compared Valeros to an ice devil, which while one CR point lower, can still kick the fighter's ass without breaking a sweat...literally.

Compared to Seoni, the preview sorcerer, she can beat the shit out of Valeros even though she is four levels lower. With her magic, she can be untouchable and annihilate him without taking any damage at all. Even if Valeros could somehow reach her, dispel magic fixes all that fiddly balance bullshit that Paizo isnt concerned about.

Valeros sucks ass. He is easy to hit, deals dick damage, cant make a Will save to save his life, and can only compensate for his tiny AC and damage by further crippling his already meager attack bonus. Does Pathfinder add anything interesting to the fighter? In a word, no. There are more feats all around, but since they dont necessarily grow with your level, they end up becoming a rigid feat tree that you need by necessity to still fail to be on par.
Paizo apparently removed a high-level feature that gave you Damage Resistance in heavy armor, which while cute was almost entirely worthless since its better to not get hit at all, than to shave off a measly five points of damage. It wont do a lick of good if that attack also carries on level/ability drain or poison. Whoop. De. DO.

Fighters are boring and repetitive, which is made worse since they do things that other melee-oriented classes can do, just without extra options like raging or useless 4th-level spells. Hell, they do a LOT of things non-melee oriented class can do, and with spells they can do it more reliably and better. Pile all the feats on that you want, but if the end result is allowing your fighter to make a bunch of mundane attacks that probably wont hit, then whats the point? You just wasted half of your career path to be mechanically inferior to the monk. For an encore, they should add in another feat tree that gradually turns you into a bard, which might ironically be more interesting than a fighter.

Pathfinder succeeds at adding many new--if inelegant and unecessarily convoluted--mechanics to an already inelegant and convoluted system. It fails to fix the parts of 3rd Edition that needed it most (ie, interesting options), and instead just scratches the surface of what Wizards of the Coast did for Dungeons & Dragons and pretending that it was their idea all along: increase in hit points, more feats, easier to sneak attack, at-will spells, the list goes on. They claim its backwards compatible with your 3rd Edition swag, but only if you add more features to the races and classes that they dont/cant/wont add in the game later. Sound familiar?

Yep. This is exactly what Wizards of the Coast did with 4th Edition, except they didnt try to pass it off as the same game with a new name. Pathfinder is not D&D. Its kinda-sorta close to 3E, but you cant make a thri-kreen psychic warrior without houseruling the 3E version of both to put them on par with how races and classes are built now. They might add them or something similar in later, which is exactly what Wizards of the Coast has been doing with 4E. The fucked up thing is that I dont hear people going to the Paizo boards and having a bitch-fest over, "those money-grubbing bastards."

Common theory holds that Erik Mona favores spellcasters, and if the preview iconics are an indication it certainly has merit given that the new sorcerer has a shitload of new stuff and some spells got a power kicker. Its bullshit to think that they couldnt make major changes to the system, since they wanted to cater to the played out copper mine that is the "old school" audience, considering that 3rd Edition released Book of Nine Swords. While still not sufficient to put melee combatants on par with spellcasters, it made a huge leap in progress to making them interesting and useful at levels above five. They could have easily made a similar system with a similar goal, and I have no idea why they didnt.

Spite, perhaps?

Another poster thinks that they are ignoring the best parts of 4E, "out of spite," and I'm inclined to agree since they blatantly stole the easiest things that anyone could houserule in, but ignored the really good mechanics that would require some actual design experience. Thats really what Pathfinder feels like: a very heavily houseruled version of 3E D&D. The problem is that if I wanted to play 3E, houserules and all, I dont need to pay another company to think up houserules for me. I did that myself over a year ago and I'm more than happy to be done with it.
May 27, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Delve Night: Silent7Seven vs. Goblins

This is my second stab at doing a delve run using playtest or otherwise new material. Andrew at Silent7Seven suggested I use a lot of their stuff this time around, and I was happy to jump at the opportunity since while I thought it looked interesting, wasnt sure how it would hold up to use. Since I'm cramming for finals, this isnt necessarily a more evocative delve, but it is longer.

Meet The Party

  • Garrison (human rune soldier)
  • Garrol (shifter bard)
  • Howl (warforged druid)
  • Xan'tchack (illithid sorcerer)
  • Thrystan (dwarf totemist)
Every character here relies on some fashion on content given to me by Silent7Seven. The rune soldier is a heroic playtest class that you can snag for free from Silent7Seven, Garrol is equipped with the Moonleader feat which lets him boost an ally's defenses when using a healing power once per encounter, Howl is using a wolf favored form feat, Xan uses the aberrant spell source, and finally Thrystan is a barebones class sent to me by Andrew.


This was problematic because I was, again, on my own in this endeavor and had to rely on several notepad documents, scratch paper, and pdf files on a continual basis. It took quite awhile to get through this delve run, and one thing that helped was that I wrote a primitive transcript so that I didnt boggle events, hopefully making it more organized this time around.

Encounter 1 & 2: Goblins! (500-1000 XP)
This encounter started as a single 500 XP wave with the potential to add in another 500 XP of monsters if the players made too much noise. I determined this by rolling a d20, with a 10 or higher signifying that the other group noticed something was going on and decided to investigate for...whatever reason.

Here's the opening shot of the forest before combat breaks out. I think at this point I was still trying to figure out where the party would enter, eventually deciding on the upper-left side. It was far enough away from the camp that it made it easier to justify how the hell the other goblins wouldnt immediately notice or hear combat breaking out.

So, the party universally rolls poorly on their Perception and Stealth checks, meaning that the goblins get a free surprise round. They spend their time basically diving for cover so that they are better protected the following round. This proves to be very good given that they also do really well on their Initiative rolls...

From a very safe distance, the goblins still manage to get in a few licks in before the party can retaliate, nailing Howl for 10 damage.

The only viable tactic I could come up with was to have everyone that had to enter melee to run (+2 Speed but grant combat advantage), but in the end Garrison still had to burn an Action Point in order to do anything useful. This was about the time I had to pause and quickly review how runes worked: Garrison used rune strike in order to deal damage and apply a rune of inferno, which also dealt ongoing 2 fire damage to the goblin (save ends).
Garrol botched prophesied strike, while Thrystan used generic totemist attack and designated it as his prey, giving Howl the prey bonus. The round was handily wrapped up by Xan's use of mists of disarray, which rolled out 12 damage to one of the archers and pused it away from cover.

The goblins in area 2 failed to notice anything amiss, so kept sleeping, eating, arguing, or whatever the fuck it is goblins do when they arent being harvested for XP. None of the goblins managed to hit anything, but the one taking ongoing fire damage made its save. To make matters subjectively worse, they also noticed the blackblade skulking about a tree. As a temporary DM, I had hoped to keep it hidden a bit longer so that it could spring out and backstab a party member that would ideally be hoofing it for one of the sharpshooters.

On the other hand, the party did pretty shittily as well. Howl and Garrison both missed, allowing the goblin to scamper away, though in the end Thrystan managed to take it down. Garrol continued his missing streak with jinx shot (or is that jinxed shot?). The MVP thus far was Xan, who used induce mutation to good effect despite rolling minimum damage.

The warrior and blackblade both together in order to try and take out Garrison, but neither is able to land a blow, but he still takes an arrow while distracted. One of the sharpshooters panics and tries to flee, its shot going wild and missing Xan.

Garrison reapplies rune of inferno with a well-placed rune strike. Howl uses darting strike to tap one of them and get his ass out of dodge for the time being. I completely forgot about warforged resolve, probably because I kept forgetting that Howl was a warforged. Oh well.
Thrystan continues to use generic totemist at-will, which is basically him tearing the poor goblin apart with his claw-like hands, and giving the bonus to Howl on the off chance that it will actually work. In an unexpected twist of fate, Garrol successfully uses jinx shot. Finally, Xan continues to be awesome and deals 13 damage with induce mutation.

The goblins finally notice whats going on and decide to get up (eventually) and assist. One sharpshooter nails Howl, while the blackblade manages to give Thrystan a spinal tap thanks to his flanking bonus.

Howl leaps into the fray, missing spectacularly. Garrison decides to use rune strike to draw mark of the mindhand so that the blackblade will be forced to focus his attention on someone with heavier armor. Garrol uses majestic word, which is nice since you really cant fuck it up. This not only helps out Thrystan a great deal but moves him into a flanking position against the warrior, and at the start of his turn tears the goblin in half while also using second wind. Xan actually manages to miss.

At the start of Turn Goblin, the ones in area 2 begin closing the distance, using ranged attacks to make themselves known. A sharpshooter manages to drop Howl, and Garrison is bloodied by the blackblade and other sharpshooter. Garrison responds by killing the blackblade (finally!) with revitalizing strike, which heals him as well. Thrystan, suffering from a string of Garrol's luck, misses. Garrol brings Howl back with majestic word while simultaneously taking out one of the minions, and Xan manages to take out one of the sharpshooters.

Thrystan takes a critical bolt to the face and Garrol finally knows pain. Howl manages to scramble to his feet and take out the other minion, Garrison slaps a rune of inferno on one of the warriors, Garrol responds with a very nice slash from war song strike, and Xan bloodies one of the warriors with a nice 20 damage shot.

Thrystan takes another crit, the minion misses, and the sharpshooter decides to try and leg it to the dungeon entrance. Howl's favored form feat comes into play, and he is able to trip the warrior thanks to Combat Advantage. Thrystan cant hit shit, while Garrison pursues one of the fleeing goblins and cuts his head off. Xan immediately brings the sharpshooter into bloodied condition with a single critical mutation.

The last round went quick: everyone gang-banged the warrior, and Garrol finished off the sharpshooter just before he got into the dungeon with jinx shot. This encounter took quite awhile since I was rolling pretty badly for the players. I ended up burning through most encounter powers and Action Points, knowing that I was going to award them another after the battle was over since it was technically two combined.

The rune soldier gave me the most headache due to all the runes and effects that each rune has. It wasnt made any easier seeing as I was controlling five party members, each with new stuff.
I found that Howl was pretty easy to utilize, since his feat provided a nifty, thematic passive benefit. On a similar note, Garrol was easy to use since Moonleader only works once per encounter and does something very, very simple.
Xan was fun, though I found myself relying on induce mutation for almost everything since it was better than chaos bolt (which basically did the same damage but without the benefit). I was bummed that I never got a chance to use mind blast.
Thrystan would have probably felt different had I remembered to use his growl power that imposes a penalty and grants a bonus. All in all he felt a bit leaderly, which I think is totally awesome given the themes behind the gray wolf pack thingy.

In the end this was a fun exercise, and each character contributed well despite their shitty rolls. The only weak character might have been Garrison, since he has to use a rune to mark enemies, and that requires an attack roll to successfully pull of (all other defenders can do so for free or automatically with a minor action). If there was a way to more consistently mark enemies, it would help make him a lot more sticky.

Thats it for the first two encounters, I'll post the last one later.
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon: Hybrid Characters, Take 2

Updated mechanics for hybrid characters is out, marking the end of May's issue of Dragon. It is complimented by a Design & Development article, giving you some insight into the designer's thought processes and methods.

The two big things that I noticed are that hit points and healing surges are now given in fractions, so you no longer round down and miss out, and the Hybrid Talent feat lets you pick from a list of options that are detailed in each hybrid class. Some of them work as explained in the class, while others are a bit different. You can also use it to become proficient with all armor and shields that the class might provide.

Note: Oh, you can also use paragon multiclassing to steal more shit from one of your hybrid classes, like how you can use paragon multiclassing to boost your multiclass-class.

At some point today I'll build a hybrid character and compare it to a single-classed version to see how the math holds out (probably a druid-shaman). I like the theory of having a character that is a bit more evenly spread out, but I dont want to gimp myself for the sake of the concept. Only a handful of classes ever benefited from multiclassing in 3rd Edition, and those were the classes that werent getting anything useful anyway.

Multiclassing as it exists now lets me supplement myself and enforce the concept with the price of a single feat, and its cost I'm willing to pay since I know that despite everything else the rest of the character works fine (and I basically got Skill Training with something extra).
Posted by David Guyll

Excerpt: Self-Forged

This week we get a preview paragon path pertaining to artificers. The good news is that this means that between now and date, that if anyone is actually playing a non-houseruled single-classed artificer that there is finally an "official" paragon path to snag at 11th-level.

Self-forged are 4th Edition's renegade mastermakers, and are artificers that augment in order to crib all the warforged's racial features. You start out by replacing your arm with a battlefist (mine looks like Hellboy's arm), and then gradually work your way up the chart: you get a +2 against ongoing damage at 11th-level, and can both attach warforged components and take 10 on death saves at 16th-level.

The battlefist is a mace category weapon that deals 1d8 damage and gets a +3 proficiency bonus. You can use Enchant Item, Disenchant Item, and Transfer Enchantment on it, but cannot destroy it with any ritual (only remove whatever bonuses you gave it). Thats pretty much what I would expect, but I'm glad Wizards added in the non-destruction clause since it'll make things clearer for people that actually needed that degree of clarity.

As for powers, battlefist smash deals 3[W] and pushes the target equal to your Con modifier and also causes it to grant combat advantage. Not bad for an opener.
Self-repair is a standard-daily that heals you for your bloodied value. Very nice.
Finally, flailing gauntlet is your typical Hellboy-Nazi bad guy attack, where you launch your fist at an opponent. It says that its connected by a chain of force, but I think that a normal run-of-the-mill chain will do just fine, thank you. Its only got a range of 2, but targets Fort, deals 4[W] damage, and knocks the target prone. Oh, and for the rest of the encounter it gains reach 2 as an effect.

All in all I like it. Unlike the renegade mastermaker in 3rd Edition, the battlefist here is useful and the rest of the powers help compliment the entire theme. It gives me an idea for a minotaur artificer-tactical warlord when someone else runs an Eberron campaign...
Posted by David Guyll

Jaroo, Gnome Barbarian

Jaroo belongs to the Ghost-Stalker clan, which relies on their limited invisibility to hunt and kill. Since gnomes get a Charisma bonus, I decided to go with the thaneblood class feature with the intention to later multiclass into shaman, bard, or perhaps sorcerer (to bank on the magical aptitude that the race possesses). To this end I cranked up Charisma quite a bit higher than I expected, which synergizes extremely well with thaneblood.

In the beginning, I just had an image of a gnome with wild hair and a cracked, bone-white mask, packing a humongous sword. Initially my only concern was to just give him a Strength of 16 and call it good, figuring that everything else is gravy. However, in the end I thought more and more about it and the concept started to solidify into something more than just a random race and class combination.

This is a character that I would absolutely love to play. Its a gnome that plays like a gnome would, but not like gnomes I expect to see (and certainly not a gag character). At this stage he's up and running, but perhaps not as optimized as he could be. I dont expect to use complicated tactics, and in fact would possibly attempt to provoke an opportunity attack just to gain invisibility for an encounter or daily attack (assuming he hasnt gotten smacked already).

Jaroo, level 1
Gnome, Barbarian
Feral Might: Thaneborn Triumph

Str 16, Con 15, Dex 13, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 15.

Str 16, Con 16, Dex 13, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 11.

AC: 15 Fort: 15 Reflex: 12 Will: 11
HP: 31 Surges: 11 Surge Value: 7

Intimidate +6, Endurance +7, Athletics +7

Acrobatics, Arcana +3, Bluff +1, Diplomacy +1, Dungeoneering -1, Heal -1, History +1, Insight -1, Nature -1, Perception -1, Religion +1, Stealth +2, Streetwise +1, Thievery

Level 1: Weapon Proficiency (Bastard sword)

Barbarian at-will 1: Devastating Strike
Barbarian at-will 1: Howling Strike
Barbarian encounter 1: Vault the Fallen
Barbarian daily 1: Swift Panther Rage

Bastard sword, Hide Armor, Adventurer's Kit
May 26, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Songs of Erui: Session 3

Party Roster
  • Kegan (dwarf paladin 2)
  • Greymalkin (razorclaw shifter ranger 2)
  • Maev (elf druid 2)
  • Grynn (gnoll artificer 2)
As a quick recap, the campaign opened with the party tracking down a gang of goblins that had been harassing the village of Dorsen. I prefer to start my games with dice rolling, and gave them ample time in order to figure out why they were already teamed up and heading into the Bone Forest. Greymalkin (razorclaw shifter ranger) and Grynn (gnoll artificer) were able to track the goblins to an unknown ruin that they later determined to be a very, very old eladrin crypt.
Inside, they killed a shitload of goblins there were looting the place, and then decided that two-wrongs make a right and that they might as well loot it in their stead (perhaps to eliminate further temptation). The crypt is arranged with a central chamber and three linked, hidden crypts specific to three different eladrin houses. Amongst the minor items and silver that they found were an assortment of metallic icons that Grynn was able to use with his Arcana skill to open up portals within the central chamber, leading deeper into the dungeon.

The second session started with Kegan (dwarf paladin) arriving, having witnessed a figure stalking him in the forest. He claims to have received a vision from Miach (the Erui variant of Moradin) to seek out a strange symbol (triskelion), which lead him to the crypt without any sort of assistance. He didnt know what was in the woods, except that it started to get extremely cold, so he ran inside and found them.
Using the wolf-like icon, they encountered a bunch of frostblade skeletons and undead wizards before running into a searing suit of gold armor packing an intelligent sunblade. In a nutshell, they managed to strip the place of anything valuable, learn that some of the swordmages can sustain ice walls, and that teleporting minions are a bitch.
Oh, and Greymalkin had to put down Adrian's invoker (I cant remember his name, and he kept changing/adding more to it) since he thought it would be fun to attack party members that are unconcious and dangerous close to being actually dead. I can haz party dynamics?

Last session, the players managed to clear out one-third of the dungeon in its entirety. One of the frostblade swordmages managed to escape, but they encountered it as they tried to make it back to the crossroads, so its all good. He put up quite a fight, though Greymalkin did try to utilize diplomacy before arrows. In his defense, he couldnt understand what the fuck it was saying since as far as Maev (elf druid) and Grynn can figure, they are speaking an ancient root dialect of sylvan.
After putting it down, they decided to use the silver owl icon and check it out. There they discovered a mural depicting dwarves and eladrin allying themselves against fire archons, much to Kegan's consternation. They looted some dwarf sarcophagi under Kegan's tenuous rationales of, "they don't need it," before alerting an entire hive of kruthik to their presence. This was made worse since some of the walls were illusionary, which caused many of them to get swarmed by ravenous young and hatchlings. Just when they thought they had things under control, mommy showed up and basically ruined their day.

The last room they went into contained a massive ice shard, bound within a rune circle. Now, this changed a lot from my initial design. One thing that Josh (Greymalkin) has realized is that entering a room and tampering with shit causes the dead to get up and try to stop trespassers from trying to steal their shit. Most of the chambers and halls have either a mural, relief, or some depiction of eladrin history or a bunch of graves and vaults built into them. Once shit hits the fan, bones start pouring out, skeletons start crawling out, or undead just start teleporting into the chamber. Sometimes this triggers other chambers to "wake up" as well, which happened in the wolf-crypt where soldiers and spiritual hounds started charging from different hallways.

This time, Josh decided to have everyone kind of spread out before cracking a vault. He gave the rune circle a wide berth before giving one a shot, and was ready when a bunch of skeletons covered in frost and rime started spilling out. What he wasnt ready for was that most of them were going for the shard, using it as a powerful focus for a "cold-based Death Star beam attack". I decided initially to have it grant a +1 bonus to damage with cold attacks and resist 5 fire, but then decided that they could all channel their magic into it and use it to generate a more powerful beam based on the number of frostcasters touching it.

As Greymalkin and Maev started picking them off, more frostblade skeletons showed up, as well as an ettercap husk packing four longswords and wearing eladrin armor. This was certainly not what anyone was suspecting. Kegan was able to hold off all three frostblades while Greymalkin and Grynn had to hold off the ettercap husk. Once they took out all the frostcasters, Grynn took control of the ice shard and started using it to blast apart the frostblades and spiderhusk swarm that erupted out of the ettercap when it was destroyed.

And thats where the session ended.
Posted by David Guyll

Kalashtar and Telepathy

Khyber's Harvest is one of many things you can get on Free RPG Day, which is a Dungeon & Dragons adventure written by Keith Baker, and it includes a kalashtar invoker as one of several pregen characters. While the poster wouldnt go into many specifics, he did reveal that one of the racial abilities is telepathy 5 as a language, they get +2 to Wisdom and "something else" (probably Intelligence or Charisma), and have a racial power that buffs their allies' Will defense.
This sparked some complaining debate about the overall power of telepathy and how it might invalidate languages and the Linguist feat. Keith Baker himself showed up and made many clarifications, alleviating the bitching concerns about its abuse.

Oh, and he also dropped some vague information on dragonmarks.

Thinking Outside the Box

What started out as a thread on why druids using wild shape cannot pick up or otherwise manipulate has...expanded, to include all manner of other ideas, like using Conjurations to grab things that arent creatures and changing into various animal forms to breath underwater. Case in point, in one session a party member fell in a pit, and was trying to clamber out. Josh hit on the idea to have the druid use thorn whip to grab the character and lift her out. I mean, you can use it to pull a monster 2 squares each round, so why not use it to move a player?
I'm all for performing nonstandard actions so long as they never make another, similar action obsolete. Actually, I might allow this if the player burned an Action Point, but I wouldnt allow a player to do something routinely that did everything that a basic attack could do and more, since thats the point of having at-will powers.

There are a couple ways that I could resolve this. The first is to allow the druid to just make an attack, deal damage, and pull the target up 2 squares. The attack roll would be the easy part since the character isnt trying to dodge: I'd just have the player beat a defense of 10 since its the same thing you need to do in order to assist. The damage would stem from the fact that its a vine covered in thorns, so would do some harm.
I dont think that forced movement was meant to allow you to tug a creature up, but in this case I have no problem with it. The character would need to make an immediate Athletics check tocrab onto the wall, if the druid wasnt going to "sustain" the vines on her next turn, but otherwise its all good.
I could also allow the druid to declare her intent and roll Nature to determine success, treating it as an impromptu Athletics roll made to climb. Of course, the difficulty would scale up to a hard DC since thats not the direct purpose of the skill. The other way I figured to help resolve this is to use either of the above methods, but only have it grant a bonus to the creature's Athletics check to climb (likely equal to the druid's Wisdom bonus since it would be lame to force all that in order to amount to an Aid Another bonus).

The idea has merit, but I dont want to invalidate the use of Athletics checks, meaning I'd probably stick with the latter just to be safe. If one player wants to basically do nothing while the other player spends her turn lifting them 2 squares per standard action, thats their decision. Frankly its a bit better to make the Athletics check to get 3 squares of height, and they can combine it to expedite the process if they are able to. I dont think its overpowered or going to break the game, and I'm glad to see them using powers in unorthodox ways.

This lead me to consider other druid evocations on the list. For example, twisting vines is a level 1 encounter evocation that makes the area difficult terrain from all the vegetation busting out of the ground. I would totally allow the druid to burn this power, make a Nature check, and instead have an area grant a bonus on climb checks for her allies (causing plants to erupt out of the area in such a way as to make stable handholds). Is it balanced? I have no fucking clue. Do I care? Not really. If it becomes something that the players constantly abuse, then I wont let them do it anymore, and the narrative be damned.
"But Antioch," you say, "players might do this all the time in skill challenges and make them too easy!" This is true. In this situation, were I a druid, I would try to pull this as often as I could. So, assuming we get stuck in a "climbing puzzle", and I happened to have it available, I'd do it if I thought it would get us past the bullshit wall. Now, I'm not a fan of making other players and abilities obsolete. Were I to allow this, I'd require the druid to make a difficult Nature check to pull it off, and probably a Hard DC at that. What this means is that unlike a player using the pertinent skill normally, its both harder to do and expends resources. I might not even allow it to count as a success, but instead grant a bonus to everyone else.
This wouldnt be bad! It would let a druid act very thematic to make Nature checks in order to manipulate the terrain to the party's advantage, and there are plenty of ways you can work this into the narrative. Growing shade to assist on an Endurance check when its too hot, calming a wild animal, navigating through a forest, or talking to plants to help track something down.

On the other hand, I'm concerned about martial characters, who cannot necessarily use their powers to perform similar feats, and I dont want to leave them out in the cold while spellcasting classes get to do more flexible things with their stuff. This is one reason why I'm against the whole idea: I dont want a repeat of 3E where some classes were very static in what they could do, while spellcasters got a better deal.
I'm at a loss as to how a fighter might use his encounter attacks to a similar effect. Perhaps as part of an Intimidate check? I could see a fighter burning unstoppable to gain a bonus on a physical skill or Endurance (especially Endurance), but many of them are weapon attacks and frankly it seems much more limited.

Anyway, in the end I trust my players. The oft-unspoken clause I give them is that I'll allow it until I see it being abused, and they are completely comfortable with that degree of trust and mutual respect.
May 25, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Second Opinion on Dangerous Delves

As a disclaimer, this isnt me changing my opinion about Dangerous Delves so much as its me continuing my last review, since a case of eight packs got delivered about 20 minutes ago. I'm curious to see if my expectations hold up from yesterday. I guess if you order the 8-pack, they make sure to pitch you one booster with a different visible, meaning that I'm now the proud owner of like, three fucking slime magi. I'll have to keep that in mind for future reference...

Anyway, here's what I got:
  • 1 Skalmad, the troll king
  • 1 cyclops crusher
  • 2 grimlock minions
  • 1 yaun-ti fangblade
  • 1 aboleth slime mage
  • 1 clay golem
  • 1 unicorn
  • 1 rust monster
  • 1 feygrove choker
  • 1 war devil
  • 1 hippogriff
  • 1 hellstinger scorpion
  • 1 bonechill chimera
  • 1 frost giant
  • 1 foulspawn grue
  • 1 orc eye of Gruumsh
  • 1 Xen'drik drow stingblade
  • 2 blood scarabs
  • 1 berbalang
  • 1 goblin delver
  • 1 kobold wyrmpriest
  • 2 goblin sharpshooter
  • 2 kruthik young
  • 2 snake swarms
  • 1 harpy
  • 2 bloodseeker drakes
  • 1 aspect of Vecna
  • 1 bladerager troll
  • 2 orc terrorblades
  • 1 arbalest
  • 1 gnoll huntmaster
  • 1 githzerai zerth
Which combined with the 16 I got yesterday, means that I am six short of the entire set. I'm still pleased with the price-to-quality ratio. I shelled out about $3 per mini, and considering that I would fully expect to pay ten or more for the Large ones, I think its a steal. Didnt have to do shit except pay far less than I would have to just get the minis unpainted and unassembled, and they are way more durable than the do-it-yourself fare. If I drop my clay golem, no harm done. If I drop my soul grinder? Well...fuck.

The best part is that I dont have to get minis from Reaper or wherever that look "close enough', get them all setup, an then remind the players what they are. I mean, I already have to do that in some cases, but I didnt pay way more just to get a proxy. I can count on the fact that in most cases, what I need has a mini that is at least of the same monster type. I might not have a cyclops that matches perfectly, but I do have a few on hand.

Nothing being perfect, I have a few more nitpicks to add to the list from yesterday.
  • War devil looks a bit...cartoony and flat. More colors or an ink wash would help out, but overall I think its a below-average sculpt. It is a visible, however, so its easy to just not buy it.
  • The bladerager troll could have used some drybrushed metal on the armor plating. Not a full layer, which would look to clean. Drybrushing it would give it a metallic-yet-dirty look, which I think would great.
  • I can see more detail on the yaun-ti fangblade that I got this time. Since I only have two, I cant be sure which is the accident.
  • I dont particularly care for the beetles humping rocks, but at least there is a common medium beetle that I can use.
  • There are some slight paint splashes on the commons (again, grimlock minion). This is what I'd expect from anyone trying to hurredly paint a shitload of mooks, however.
Other than that, looks good. They're very cheap to buy, and very functional.
May 21, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Sacred 2

Sacred 2 is actually a prequel to Sacred, taking place 2,000 years prior. The only way I figured this out was with a cursory perusal of its Wikipedia entry, as I wanted to get a quick rundown of the game's background and plot before diving in. In a nutshell, there is a magical force known as T-Energy--which sounds like a virus--is going out of control and its up to you to heal the land or just wreak more havoc. Which method you use depends on whether you pick the Light or Shadow path, which also determines how you handle various events in the game that crop up.

I'd heard that the game tries to use a moral compass mechanic, with (of course) two very distant extremes. I'm not a fan of a game that includes good/evil decisions when there isn't any kind of middle ground. You can't be someone who is mostly bad or sort of good, you have to fully embrace either perspective. That being said, I'm sure that if the game took my own actions into account I'd have been wholesomely evil seeing as I spent a couple of hours rampaging across the country side blasting bandits with my high-tech (?) laser cannon for really no reason other than boredom, and a lack of direction.

In addition to choosing your side, you also get to choose from one of six gender-specific classes. Too often this can be the make-or-break part of a game. If the models look too crappy or fashionably challenged, I just cant bring myself to look at my avatar or care about their problems. I'm not really a fan of female characters looking as if they were going to the beach or preparing to actually get dressed, which immediately served to cut my options in half.
The hammy opening dialogue for each character really didn't cut it for me and reminded me of playing the original Resident Evil. I hurriedly picked the temple guardian because it was the least visually offensive option and also because I couldn't stand listening to them go on and on about their dark and/or mysterious histories, but realized quickly that it wasn't going to stop there because the in-game NPC dialogue was just as bad.

The graphics are alright considering that its a port from a PC game about half a year old, and the sound is decent enough if you turn down the dialogue volume. Hot-keying your attack and item options is a bit tricky and the game doesn't stop for any reason, so you might find yourself being assaulted by bandits allied with boars while you are trying to figure your shit out. There were a couple things that I was totally clueless about, namely special attacks and skills. This is something that I expect a game to make very clear from the get-go, but it ended up being a non-issue since I was able to get by just fine for several hours using only my normal attack and the occasional potion-that-also-heals-robots.
The game itself doesn't bring anything new to the table. It follows the basic formula of running around killing random monsters that drop random loot as you gradually hoof your way to a conclusive story arc, just without the story. This otherwise simple three-step process is only complicated with the obligatory quest provided by people that you just don't care about.
There are a lot of visual bugs in the game, especially since the camera starts panning before the area is fully loaded. When I started the game there were a few floating barrels as well as NPCs and bits of scenery popping in, who proceeded to quickly run through a sitting animation as if they were actors that just noticed that they were on film. Add in some lag to the mix and you have a game that does a good job of reminding you that you're in a game.

If you enjoyed games like Diablo 2 then this should provide good-if-glitchy entertainment. The control scheme is pretty simple, as I was able to play for almost two hours straight with only the X button taped down and running in random directions while performing random tasks for NPCs that occasionally garnered rewards. The main thing that detracts from the whole experience is the fact that there isnt a plot that I can identify. I feel like choosing an ancient canine cyborg carries about as much purpose as picking a specific pair of socks: no one seems to notice that I'm a robot and everyone seems to have gear perfectly suited for my character.
Personally there just isn't enough going on here to keep me gripped. It feels like I'm playing World of WarCraft, just with a lot less flexibility and clarity on the tedious charity that I'm performing for completely aloof strangers that are just to lazy to do themselves. I'm sorry, but delivering worms isn't exactly a hero's quest: its a chore.
In the end Sacred 2 is adequate. You dont find anything terribly innovative here, but if you are looking for a game with that old-school feel then it will likely suffice until Diablo 3 is released.
May 20, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Blog Archive Update

Okay, so I managed to basically recover everything except for the posts with the second and third encounters of my monk playtest. Other than that, the only thing I am missing are the comments since the export doesnt save those. Damn shame, since I really enjoyed the comment trees on some of them.
Posted by David Guyll

Monk Playtest: Encounter 1

My intrepid party as they venture into the cave-like catacombs. I couldnt find my giant frog mini for Frog's frog, so I used a bluespawn burrower instead. I just used stats for a boar animal companion and called it good.

Basically I laid out a shitload of tiles from a single set of Caverns of Dread, or whatever, and then picked three spots that I figured would make for ideal encounters. As I said before, each of the kruthik began the encounter burrowed underground, so I just rolled Stealth checks and any party member whose Passive Perception beat it got to act in the surprise round. This generally meant that Sir Frog was the only guy able to do anything.

Because his Passive Perception was so high, this also meant that Sir Frog was the man on point. And by man on point I mean the damage bitch since I generally just had kruthik charge the nearest character. The above pic is how the first surprise round of encounter 1 looked.

And this is the end of round one, I think. It was a pain in the ass to try and keep as many characters as possible away from their Aura, and I figured my best bet was to have the monk and ranger tank when they could.

This should be the end of round 2. I dont know if the kruthik hatchlings (represented by a rot scarab swarm) were prone or actually dead. I'm pretty sure they are dead, since I recall having Fyst use dragon's tail to knock the young prone and then roll his striker damage onto the hatchlings. I think all in all Snake ended up taking 2 damage, but dealt the most out of everyone since his Strength and Charisma were both 18.

And thats that. This battle took all of three rounds to resolve, and no one had to use Second Wind or down a healing potion. I think everyone except Snake used their encounters, but really after the hatchling and young were taken out it was a simple matter of just ganging up on the last one, and between four strikers? Shyeah.

One thing I didnt mention about the monk was how well the descriptions of the powers and their effects fit the narrative very well. Crane's wings deals damage and a push, but makes for some awesome visuals as you imagine Fyst leaping over his companions, smashing his fist into the head of a kruthik, and then whirling around to splatter the hatchling on the cavern wall as it lunges at him. In the third encounter (which I will post once I finish altering the size of the images and exporting them) with the kruthik adult, I'd envisioned him using drunken monkey to cause the adult to go spinning out of control, scything apart the young nearby or just landing on top of them.
Posted by David Guyll

Using Power Sources

Josh, and perhaps someone else, have asked me a couple of times as to what is the point to having power sources. What function to they perform? Whats the fucking point? Power sources seem to just mostly illustrate the starting point entirely from a "fluff" standpoint.
If a power is based on arcane, you know its magic-that-doesnt-come-from-the-gods. If its martial, you know that its just sheer physical awesome...or steroids. On the other hand if its ki then you know its dead (har).

I say mostly since it also technically achieves a mechanical purpose, as some items and artifacts specify a power if you use another power from a specific source (arcane, divine, just not asian ki). The quickest example I could find is the orb of indefatigable concentration (AV, pg 94), which is an orb with a long fucking name that also has a property that triggers when you use an arcane power.

That being said, I have no issues with power sources not providing a larger mechanical disparity than that much. They did absolutely nothing in older editions, anyway. Sure, you knew that a wizard used arcane magic in 3rd Edition, but that just meant that his overall usage was more restricted than his weapon proficiencies and that he had to deal with shitty sub-systems and mechanics like spell resistance.

I think that power sources are useful for informing you at a glance where a class is coming from. Couple this with the roles and its a very informative pairing of words: you know that an arcane defender is going to use magic in some fashion to make you very difficult to hurt, and good at protecting your allies. As a player if you are attracted to specific character archetypes or concepts, this is great. Red Jason likes the divine classes, and it helps him easily identify which classes are going around supplicating themselves to flying spaghetti monsters.

Like roles, its not like they in any way restrict your character.
Posted by David Guyll

Excerpt: Eberron Player's Guide

The first of an eight-part series can be found here, for free. Nothing new to report if you played Eberron before, although it has some bitchin' cover art. I'm very anxious to see how they are doing dragonshards and dragonmarks, as well as more artificer content.

The other excerpts, in order of presentation, are alchemy, self-forged prestige class, religion, warforged juggernaut prestige class, rituals, champion of prophecy epic destiny, and the heroic feats table.

Its not a typo: it actually states "prestige class". Is it something new? Are they renaming paragon paths this late in the game? Is it really just a mistake? I dont know!

Okay, they fixed it.
Posted by David Guyll

This Aint Your Daddy's Paladin

NOTE: This was written by Josh, and I didnt have it in the blog backup that I made before Red Jason deleted it. Fortunately, Nemo was able to locate a cache on Google that had some of the latter posts that I had written. Until Josh gets back on, I'm going to repost it for him and give him the credit.

Since it's debut in the original 1975 Greyhawk Dungeons & Dragons supplement, the Paladin has become one of the most iconic tropes in fantasy gaming. A fearless holy knight in gleaming armor, her sword, the Holy Avenger, grasped in her gauntleted fist and wreathed in white fire, charging forth to offer battle to the forces of darkness upon her celestial warhorse. This is the classic image of the Paladin, a concept originally based around the historical Knights Templar, and the stories of Charlemagne and the Twelve Peers from such works as the "Carolingian Cycle."

Initially, the Paladin class had a high bar of entry, requiring that the character have a Charisma score of at least 17 (no meager feat when using the original Dungeons & Dragons method of ability score generation) and a minimum Strength of 12. Also, it was required that the character be a Human of Lawful alignment and that they follow a very strict code of honor for fear of losing their divine powers. Over the course of the game's evolution, the restrictions of the class have slowly been lifted to offer players a broader range of concepts for their Paladin characters. In 3rd edition D&D, the racial restriction was lifted so that members of all the races could take up the sword in the name of their god. Also the introduction of feats allowed for more customization and nuance in PC's. Now in 4th Edition, the alignment restriction has been lifted, making the Paladin class a holy soldier that all of the gods employ to promote their interests on the material plane.

It has been the criticism among many players that the Paladin class can tend to be a bit generic, offering little in the way of variety. The stereotype over the years has been either a a goody two-shoes boy scout, or a fanatical inquisitor. So how can one take the overall concept of Dungeons & Dragon's Holy Knight and create a unique and workable character concept?

The potential is limited only by the imagination of the Players, but here I have cobbled together some sample concepts for Paladin characters based around some common archetypes. For the sake of universality, I've used the core pantheon from the implied Points of Light setting.

The Pursuer: A righteous warrior and relentless bloodhound who pursues her divine mission with singleminded, almost mad determination, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

Ironside is a Paladin of Erathis who has taken it upon himself to hunt down fugitives who have fled beyond the reach of the law, and deliver them to the authorities to answer for their crimes.

Vargas is an agent of Vecna, who's mission is to protect the god's secrets and silence those who have learned them either by accident or by design.

Black Magda is a Paladin of the Raven Queen who seeks to eradicate all undead wherever they lurk and punish those who would dabble in such blasphemous power.

Stavros is a Paladin risen among a cult of the mad god Tharizdun. He travels the land seeking to find seven ancient keys, artifacts that will unlock the chains binding his God from the world.

The Ronin: A Paladin who does not act under the auspices of the church, but rather acts as a wandering free sword, spreading the will of their god where they feel it is needed most.

Sigurd is a Paladin of Kord who believes that he can hone his spirit through constant battle, and so acts as a wandering gladiator, offering challenge to any formidable enough to make a worthy foe.

Anjell is a faithful of Corellon, who wanders the untamed lands in an esoteric philosophical journey of discovery. It is a perilous but potentially rewarding path, and the divine power of her god drives her inexorably forward.

The Nameless Swordsman wields his blade in the name of Bahamut, roaming the wildlands wherever the wind guides him and offering protection and justice to people who would otherwise have no one to turn to.

Eloin is a scholar and Paladin of Ioun who travels to the sites of long lost empires, or into the depths of long forgotten dungeons, seeking lore long thought lost to the ages.

The Protector: This is a Paladin who dedicates themselves to a defense of a person, place or cause. They could be an agent of the church, or they could be a commoner who's spirit is recognized by the gods.

Shiris is a Paladin of Lolth, and an indentured vassal to a high priestess of the Goddess of Spiders, defending her against the murderous machinations of her rivals, at least until she finds the right time to avenge herself against the abuses of her retainer and usurp her power.

Edvar, the Green Knight is a Paladin of Melora who is charged with defending a sacred grove hidden deep within a dense and ancient forest from all intruders.

When a raiding party of gnolls attacked his small farming community, a boy named Brannen valiantly took up arms in defense of his home. Recognizing his noble spirit and courage, Moradin granted him the divine powers of a Paladin so he could continue to defend the village.

Ragnar grew up amidst the terror and savagery of the Underdark, becoming a shrewd and formidable warrior. He is now charged by the god Torog to act as gaoler to the prisons that guard some of the more terrifying creatures held captive there.

The Reluctant Hero: This is not one who had chosen the path of the Paladin willfully, but rather someone who has had the mantle thrust upon them by fate.

Jessalyn was a simple farmgirl who dreamt of a quiet country life until destiny calls her to become a beacon of hope in the darkness to come in the name of Pelor.

Stone is a former criminal and back alley brigand is charged by the god Bahamut to become a defender of justice as penance for his black deeds.

is a minor prince who aspires to create a great empire to push back the tides of darkness that encroach upon civilization...Azmodeus offers him the power to do so, but at a terrible price.

Fawkes was a rake and a gambler who's spirit caught the attention of the goddess Avandra. Now he acts on her behalf as a masked vigilante, a foil against the tyranny and oppression of corrupt regimes.

These are just a few of the limitless possibilities for the class, possibilities that will be expand exponentially with the coming release of Divine Power and the Player's Handbook 3 from Wizards of the Coast. But these are just my ideas...I have the utmost confidence that you gamer's out there have even more interesting ideas clamoring about in your heads...

so let's hear 'em.
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Dangerous Delves

Impatient as I am, I journeyed out into the sun yet again in order to procure several sets of Dangerous Delves in order to see for myself what the fuss was about. I shelled out $60 and walked away with the following:
  • 2 aboleth slime mages
  • 1 unicorn (which are totally cool)
  • 1 hippogriff
  • 1 clay golem
  • 1 berbalang
  • 1 hellstinger scorpion
  • 2 goblin sharpshooters
  • 1 kruthik young (where the fuck were you a week ago?)
  • 3 serpent swarms
  • 1 githyanki warrior
  • 1 foulspawn grue
  • 1 arbalest
  • 1 orc eye of gruumsh
  • 1 grimlock minion
  • 1 gnoll huntmaster
  • 1 yaun-ti fangblade
Aaand I'm content with what I got. Granted, the paint schemes arent all the best, but then I can paint things extremely well. What I was expecting was something that would be acceptable and work at the game table, and I think I got a great deal for what I paid for considering that I saved myself an assload of time and money on supplies.

Getting into specifics, the aboleth slime mage doesnt look bad. It looks alright, especially considering that its a visible and runs for about a quarter of the price of the entire box on Ebay, and thats not even taking the shipping and handling into account. I dont know why people are bitching about the paint job, as whatever they did gives it a dirty, mottled look, which is what I'd expect from an ancient fish monster that spends most of its time covered in slime, living in dark caves, and bossing fungus people around.

Seriously, how much would I expect to pay for a metal mini of the same thing? If GW has anything to say about it, anywhere from 15-25 bucks, and thats for an unassembled, unpainted, metal miniature. Reaper charges you around $5 a pop for a normal, unpainted humanoid, which is around double what the slime mage goes for. Now if you want them painted, you can tack on around twenty-or-so dollars to the price just so you can sit down and get painting.
Of course, you're end results will be far superior since apparently blind children can paint better than anything you get from Wizards.

A few of them have very questionable paint jobs, but then this is what I would expect for Common mook minis like the grimlock minion: its passable if you compare it the "bare minimum" by Games Workshop, and really I'd rather shell out the buck myself if it allows me to side skip the entire sweat-shop operation.

A few nitpicks to make:
  • The githyanki warrior has flash/sculpt lines. Not a big deal from a distance, but still there.
  • I would have liked to see a fur furrier texture on the gnoll huntmaster.
  • The pose on the foulspawn grue looks kind of lame and distorted: I think it should have had a more hunched over pose instead of having one arm jutting to the side like its surfing.
  • The yaun-ti fangblade details look a bit undefined, but it might be a case of too much paint applied.
All things considered, many of them are alright or even daresay good (such as the orc eye of gruumsh). Maybe I'll have something more negative to say when the case I ordered shows up tomorrow, but for now I think its at the least a good deal for your money.
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Monster Manual 2

I got tired of waiting for the mail to arrive, so decided to go for a walk and hit up Powells and Borders to see if they had Monster Manual 2 in, already. Powells didnt despite the site listing three copies in the store, which isnt surprising since I dont think its ever been accurate, but fortunately Borders isnt very far (as in, across the street). They had it, but not Dangerous Delves, and I wasnt about to run over to Knightfall since they are a good deal farther away.
So, I placated my minis cravings with a couple of Demonweb boosters. Its not like they're going to get rid of them any other way. /merch whore

The cover is nice but honestly after seeing Demongorgon through the eyes of Wayne Reynolds it seems a bit...lacking. I dunno, something about him beating the shit out of an overstaffed party is just too fucking cool.
On the topic of art, it really runs across the board, which is something I would expect. Some of its good (winter wolf, pg 210), much of it is alright, but some is downright crap (weretiger, pg 159). Overall, I'm very satisfied with the art presentation, despite some of it being recycled from 3rd Edition: at least they had the decency to mostly reuse the good stuff (ie, darkmantle).

As a big book of monsters, most of the appeal here is going to be crunch and how well it supports your game. MM2 fills in some gaps left in MM while adding a shitload of new monsters to the mix. Not much that you havent seen in previous editions, but then the game isnt even a year old, yet. In particular I am happy to see monsters that I missed in the first MM: cockatrice, krenshar, lizardfolk, and centaurs come to mind, and I'm sure there are many more.

Some people have complained about a lack of cohesion. I think this approach has some merit, and while I wouldnt go far as to give the entire book a solid theme I think that its a good idea to support the various monsters with other related monsters. For example, MM had efreet, fire archons, azers, and fire giants, which are a group of thematic monsters that work very well together.

Its not a book for players, though there are three new races that you can use if your DM is so inclined to allow them: the bullywug, duergar, and kenku. The bullywug racial ability is very lame, especially when you consider that almost no monsters spend healing surges, but the other two have merit: I've already completed a kenku palaind of the Raven Queen.

Aside from some nitpicky art issues I cant find any flaws in this book, not that its hard to throw a shitload of monsters together and call it good. In a nutshell, if you want a big-fucking book of official monsters, pick it up. If you're satisfied with the critter count thus far, then you should still pick it up since it has Demogorgon and Dagon, goddamn it.
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Insider Announcement

If you already have a DDI account, this probably isnt news to you assuming that you check your email. If not, then you might have missed this. Basically, starting in July they are going to start posting up complete and playable portions of Player's Handbook 3, up until its eventual release in March. In the end what this means is that you'll end up with over 100 pages of content before the book even hits the shelves.

Of course, part of this major shift in content is that they'll also be jacking up the price by I think two bucks a month (less if you go with longer packages).

In the long run, this means that if you like to go with the year subscription that you'll be shelling out around another $10 in total, since I believe that now it costs around $60 and the new one is just over $70. Anyway, its not that big of a deal, but I know people are going to get severely pissed at the fact that they will be, "paying for shit that they will have to pay for next year again." I dont mind too much. I like me some preview content, and I'm glad that I'm actually using the shit that I'm paying for, unlike with other gaming periodicals.

Shifting tangents, I'm excited about PH3 to a point. Its going to have psionic classes, which are always good, but have some more divine classes, which I dont much care for. That is not to say that they are bad, per se, just that divine is the least appealing power source for me. Oh well, at least primal gets a booster shot of content, so thats a plus.
Posted by David Guyll
Tag : ,

The Blog Formerly Known as Points of Light

Red Jason has deleted Points of Light, but luckily I was able to back it up and port it here, which I normally reserve for digital game reviews. Unfortunately I lost a few of the more recent posts, in particular a very good one by Josh. On the plus side, I consider this a minor set back and will continue posting stuff as it comes up.

Sorry if there was something useful that was lost.
Posted by David Guyll

Review: Castles & Crusades

I have a theory that if you take the worst elements from both the 2nd and 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons games and mash it together, that you'd end up with Castles & Crusades. I already blasted original D&D something fierce, and its a safe bet that I could just recycle all the points about terrible game design there and copy them here, but that would be too easy and there's a remote possibility that they didn't rehash all the bad parts.

Then again, maybe not.

A brief overview of C&C is that it is probably best for people that have trouble dealing with even simplistic rules. Like OD&D, there aren't a lot of rules here, and many elements and mechanics just seem like they were randomly thrown in there without any rhyme or reason. For example, wizards cannot disarm an opponent, and some spells take 2+ rounds to cast even though they don't do anything appreciable. Its like the writers took all the fun out of 3E, and then liberally applied 2E and older mechanics to fill in the gaps.

The end result isn't very pretty or manageable, relying largely on the DM to just make shit up, which lends to my theory that maybe I'm just reading a kind of Beta release? Considering how many typos its laden with, it wouldn't take much effort to convince me.

C&C uses the exact same ability scores as D&D, except that the "average" range for a stat is 9-12 instead of 10-11, making it more likely that you will not receive a bonus at all considering that you roll 3d6 for ability score generation. Yes you heard correct, they make you roll your stats, and with a statistical average of only 10.5 its a safe bet that you'll probably get to play a character that falls (at best) somewhere close to what you actually wanted to play.

Rolling your stats only serves to detract from the fun factor of the game, arbitrarily screwing players who did nothing wrong except...roll poorly? Is that even a crime?

Seriously, the only way that this could be worse is if they made you assign your stats in the order you rolled them, which would all but ensure that what you wanted is nowhere near what you will get, and you can be sure that if two players are looking for the same thing that one of them is going to get hosed from inferior stats (potentially not even by the same class).

As if rolling for stats wasn't bad enough, you also roll for hit points, and unlike in 3rd Edition its not even kind enough to throw you a hail Mary and max them out at 1st-level. This is the kind of swingy bullshit that we were growing out of almost a decade ago, and achieves no purpose except for crippling unlucky players. I have no idea why you would take a good thing and just roll it back, but then C&C is all about that shit.

Classes rely on the very much old school mechanic that stronger classes require more XP to level up, so its okay if this one does better than that one. There is a reason that that method was discarded a long, long time ago in an edition far, far away. Its a terrible mechanic to front-load one class with abilities and features under the misconception that you are balancing it all out by enforcing a slightly longer time to level up. This does nothing for games where the players start at a higher level, or for one-shot games where the XP doesn't even fucking matter.

Like OD&D, there is not much in the way of customization. You basically pick a class and get whatever the hell they want you to have, and what you get is not much. For example, fighters get three class features over the entire course of their career, while rogues get the same skills that everyone else would get in 3rd and 4th Edition D&D. Frankly, rogues get the same shit that almost everyone gets in any other somewhat current RPG on the market (Shadowrun, anything by White Wolf, Rifts, etc).

Speaking of skills, wasn't it annoying enough that 2E only allowed rogues to, you know, climb and try not to get seen? Yeeep, makes perfect sense. Also, rogues have one of the shittiest attack bonuses in the game and have no ability to deal any kind of meaningful damage output since back attack and sneak attack are again relegated to being useless, so if you missed the jack-shit rogues you can feel elated that they are back with a vengeance. Only not.

Races come into play after the classes get listed, which while not necessarily a good format is not nearly as bad as the fact that races only get +1/-1 to ability scores. Statistically these can mean absolutely nothing in terms of character building, which was why they changed it in 3rd Edition. I cannot believe that people got paid to design this game, and that other people pay for it. This is shit I learned from browsing the Wizards forums years ago; it is not exactly rocket science.

The section on armor is, to put it in a word, fucked. Cloth and padded armor both provide the same AC bonus (+1), except that cloth is less than half the price. I cannot find any reason to actually take padded armor, and there is not a description of cloth to let you know what it entails. I mean, there is not any incentive to take any of the more expensive armors: you get the same benefit by taking the cheaper ones, so you can save a few bucks and walk away with the same rating. What is the point?

There are a few odd abbreviations stuck in here and there that remind me of Rifts: EPP and BH come to mind. Apparently EP or XP for Experience Points isnt enough, they have to extend the term to Experience Point Progression, just in case you forgot what they were for.

The really annoying bit is that they go out of their way to maintain almost identical terms, with only slight variations to remind you that you are playing a stripped down, poorly designed variant of what could be a more fulfilling D&D game: Castle Keeper instead of Dungeon Master and challenge class instead of difficulty class are immediate offenders.

Saving throws are legion and do not make sense, with each ability score resisting it's own type of attack. For example, Dexterity is used against breath weapons, which is all well and good for stuff like fire and lightning, but what about breath weapons that are also poisonous? C&C has cribbed so much from D&D that I'm assuming its going to include gas-breathing dragons, but maybe not?

It uses save-or-die effects. Again with the fucking SoDs. The evidence against SoDs is overwhelming, so I suspect that these were maintained on a dare.

Spells can get disrupted, though no mention on how this actually happens unless some effect somehow acts in the middle of your round, and there is no way to stop this from happening when it does.

Resolving ability checks is very arbitrary and vague. You start with a value of 12 or 18 depending on whether its something relevant to your character, and the DM scales it up from there by using whatever he pulls out of his ass. Very little advice is provided.

You can get an XP bonus or penalty depending on how well you "roleplay", though since no definition is given as to what C&C considers to be roleplaying, I'm going to assume that its the elitist style where its all about talking in character. If players are not very good at talking in character, they're fucked, while the players that are naturally good at it get additional rewards.

For me the term "old school" is starting to become synonymous with "bad design". Games and their design has come a long way since the '70s, and it seems that any game labeled as old school is just an excuse to exhume ancient, long-since discarded mechanics and revive them much to our horror. I've heard that C&C is intended to be a game where the DM can and should houserule it at their leisure. This doesnt excuse how poorly designed and laid out it is, nevermind the fact that DMs will houserule plenty of shit in any game. We do not need permission, and if the game itself heavily implies that you should be doing this, that to me is a major red flag that something is wrong.

Sure, I could give characters maximum hit points at 1st-level. I could invent a skill system so that classes besides the rogue and climb. I could invent a rule so that wizards can resist losing a spell if they get interrupted. I could do a lot of things to make the tenuous rules function properly, but then I can just as easily play a version of D&D that already has rules built into it. Less work for me, and I get a better output of fun.

If you want to have as little character flexibility and customization is possible, you could technically do worse by playing OD&D, but not by much. Essentially, you pick a class, a race, and thats it. Sure, there is a bit of equipment but the only difference between your rogue and the other rogue is what you happened to randomly roll for ability scores and hit points. You are otherwise identical across the sheet in every way.
This is the kind of game to play if you want to have a slightly greater amount of social interaction than, say, Warhammer Fantasy (the wargame, not the RPG). If you like swingy, arbitrary mechanics that punish you at random (sometimes before the game even starts), or if you prefer to make uninformed decisions with unpredictable results, this is an excellent game.

However, if you prefer to play the exact same style of games with roughly the same amount of rules complexity, while maintaining a greater measure of creativity, flexibility, and the ability to act and react to decisions in a logical manner, I'd stick with a more complete and cohesive edition of D&D.
May 14, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Monk Playtest

I decided to whip up a basic three-encounter delve to play through myself, just to see how well the monk holds up. Initially, it was just going to be a dwarf monk with a couple of healing potions. The name of the game wasnt survival so much as seeing how well he performed. Then, I decided that maybe I should pair him up with a kenku rogue and attach a kind of tenuous plot to the mix.

What I ended up with was that a hive of kruthik had tunneled into a dwarf monastery, or something. I just cracked open a Caves of Carnage tileset that I apparently forgot about and just made something at random. Anywho, here's the party rundown:

Fyst Ironfist (dwarf monk)
Snake (fire snake sorcerer)
Sir Frog (bullywug ranger)
Darkwing (kenku rogue)

To keep things simple I gave Frog and Darkwing feats to boost their striker damage, while Fyst and Snake got a +1 to attack. This allowed for very minor character management since I had to control four characters at once. I'm positive that I forgot to include some kicker effects on many attacks, but in the end I dont think it mattered much. I wanted to do a fire serpent writeup, but said fuck-all and just reskinned a dragonborn.

So, yeeep. All strikers. Each is armed with 2 potions of healing so that in a pinch they can heal themselves (except for Snake). How do they know eachother? Well, I assume that Snake is some kind of forge spirit that shows up when shit hits the fan, and that maybe there is a flock of kenku also living there? And, the bullywug--

You know what? Fuck it. It doesnt have to make sense!

I planned out three encounters geared mostly for a party of four. I made the first encounter a little easy just to test the waters. I was sad that I didnt get to properly use the deathcap mushrooms: I had intended to set them up as terrain hazards that players could push kruthik into to cause them to explode (which might harm allies as well), but unfortunately things didnt go according to plan.

Encounter 1: 2 Kruthik Young, 1 Kruthik Hatchling
Encounter 2: 3 Kruthik Young, 2 Kruthik Hatchlings
Encounter 3: 1 Kruthik Adult, 2 Kruthik Young

Each encounter had kruthik burrowed beneath some rubble, and only Frog had a high enough Perception to act in the surprise rounds when they occured. Frog ended up being the bitch of the party, and I just kept mauling him since it always seemed to make the most sense, though at most he was one point shy of bloodied. None of the encounters ever made it past three rounds, and Darkwing never used his encounter attack since sly flourish did a shitload of damage every time.

In defense of the monsters, they tended to roll fairly badly and were all brutes, so they had a hard enough time hitting as-is. The kenku and fire snake were very ideal for their classes, having +4 to their attacks and +4 for secondary stats (which worked great for the sorcerer striker damage and Darkwing's sly flourish attack). In retrospect I'm sure I could have added at least another kruthik young to each encounter. Hell, I might have been able to get away with another kruthik hatchling on top of it.

Mostly this was done to playtest the monk, and it worked out extremely well. In any instance that there was a kruthik hatchling nearby Fyst was able to drunken monkey a young into the hatchling, taking it out of the fight. If there was more than one young next to an ally, then a crane's wings was great for kicking them away. Against the kruthik adult I used a combination of dragon's tail to prone it, followed up by a drunken monkey to knock its ass into a young for some added damage.

The last battle was a major letdown. I forgot to use action points until then, so each character got to unload their daily and encounter in sequence. You didnt get to see it, but at one point Frog and Darkwing used driving the prey and trick strike to paddle a young back and forth between eachother for a shitload of damage. Couple this with Snake's AoEs and encounter attack, and basically by the end of round one everything was bloodied. I plan to upload pics that I took on an almost entirely round-by-round basis, so you can see how fast things went.

In the end, I learned that not only is the monk a blast, but that a bunch of strikers is bloody-fucking-murder.
Posted by David Guyll


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