July 31, 2008

The War Drums of Change

There's been a lively debate going on over at The Fine Art of the TPK about 3.5E vs. 4E. It may very well be just another exchange of fire between the two camps, but the post is a solid one and provides some nice links to other bloggers discussing the same issue. While some may chalk this up as a silly flame war, and others may remember similar Old vs. New wars when 3.0 came out in 1999, it is nonetheless important to me to follow these discussion becuase as a fan of the game I want to know what other fans of the game are thinking; especially in the blogosphere.

I left one comment at TFAotTPK, then I was going to leave a second but have opted instead for cross posting a track back comment here on my own blog (since I'm getting a bit rambly).

For the record: After thinking about it for a couple of days since my origenal post on how awesome 4E multiclassing is, I've done a complete 180º turn. My cheers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons multiclass characters were based, sadly, on my own misconceptions of the rules. Fortunately, some of my readers have set me straight with regards to how the printed rules work, and now... multiclassing in 4th Edition is broken and largely blows.

So, while I agree that multiclassing is broke in 4E - I have to (respectfully) disagree with the general sentiment of TPK's post. 4th Edition is, yes, something new. But I feel that you all are going a bit to far when you say that balance is killing the game. My group is onto its sixth session - we started with 4 players, now we have 5. We have no cleric; and our warlord much prefers bashing heads than healing people. Our make up is Fighter, Warlord, Wizard, Warlock. The newest player to join us plays a Rogue. All in all, its been great fun - and the characters definately stand out as individuals. Sure - everyone "depends" on everyone else; but that was the same with 3.5 as well. I don't think any of my players feel like they have been pingeon holed into a role.

Plus -- did you ever play a viable long term campaign in 3.5 without any "healers" or with all ranged classes? In possibly one of the most crazy unbalanced campaigns in 3.5 I ever particpated in was an 'evil campaign' where we all played a bunch thugs. I was nearly impossible. The body count (ours) alone was enough to make you cry, let alone the ENDLESS AoA everytime someone cast a spell. Just my 2¢.

OK, on a SUPER final note: people interested in this sort of discussion have to do themselves the favor of reading an article in Wired "Killjoy Cooking With the Dungeons & Dragons Crowd".

Information Management for DMs: Should you use a Wiki?

At least, that's the question for eDMs. This morning I read a post over at DungeonMastering.com where Yax starts off a new series titled "Power Up Your Campaign With A Wiki - Part 1". The number of comments started pouring in, including my own, as readers started sounding off how they manage all the information needed to run a good campaign. From comments as simple as "jotting down a few notes and thirty second sketches" to as mind-boggling complex as using "a special scanner to transform them into an open adobe format ... [and using] Excel to create an instant access database with lots of hyperlink." Wow! Maybe he should have also included an AJAX-enabled mobile-web front end so he could access his data from his iPhone. But I digress...

I've been a DM for about 20 years. I've also been a Guild Master for a large guild in World of Warcraft for nearly 4 years (which I recently quit playing, THANK THE GODS!). If you add in the fact that I'm also a molecular biologist, home owner, and father of two kids - I have TONS of information to manage. I'm just about buried in it. And I'm just about 100% sure that I'm not alone in this: we all have tons of information to manage.

Information management is a major problem for some DM's who haven't figured it out yet. Personally, I lean toward the "jotting things down on paper" route because I just don't have time to devote to a full blown website. I did that once, for a particularly excellent campaign, but that was years ago before blogging and wiki's were even in the common vernacular of geekdom. For my most recent campaign, The Kingship Chronicles, I've created a wiki site - I figured, since I sit in front of a computer so much this is just as good as 'jotting things down on paper'.

My advice to DM's who are thinking about making a Wiki, or a website, for their campaign basically can be summed up with a few bullet points:
  1. Start small. Building a large, highly detailed website from the start is usually a massive waste of time, unless you like doing that sort of thing.
  2. Keep your focus on what aspects of your campaign world actually affect your players. For example: NPC's they have met, town/villages they have visited, house rules, history the characters may know about, etc.
  3. Make no promises. Let your players know that you are busy, and although you would love to do nothing else than update the website with oodles of information for their once-a-week 4 hour fantasy getaway, you simply can't.
  4. Let your players know when you have updated the site.
  5. (Optional) Inject clues into the website. Those who read the site will pick up on them, and this will encourage others in your gaming group to use the campaign website as well.
If you decide to go the wiki route, you can go for the semi-commercial route and use Obsidian Portal (its free; but you can upgrade to a paid premium service as well). I personally chose Google Sites for my current campaign because its' 100% free, and is fully integrated with Google's other web-aps like Documents, Piscasa, Pages, Blogger, etc. Plus, for a mere $10/year you can get your own domain name with Google and about 2 gigs of disk space.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to more posts from Yax on his series on using a Wiki for DM'ing. I'd like to see what he has to share - I'll no doubt learn something new in the process a well.

July 30, 2008

Why Have Classes At All?

There is a super ridiculously large amount of chatter in forums, blogs, and other websites about the over- or under- powered effects of multiclassing in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. So, given the way that Wizards of the Coast designed the new game: why have classes at all?

Think about it...

  • All the classes use the same progression table (p28 PHB I think).

  • The powers, at each given level, are comparable across classes. Level 1 powers are just as "powerful" no matter what class you choose. OK, sure, some people will no doubt argue this fact - but that's a topic for another day.

  • Removing the choice to multiclass from the game entirely eliminates the bitching associated with it.

The way I see it, 3rd Edition D&D (and 3.5) was already heading towards a super-hybrid play style already. Every character had dozens of choices for so-called prestige classes; there was no limit to the number of multi-classes you could choose; and everyone chose Rogue for first level (for the skill bonus) and had 2 levels of Fighter (for the free feats and BAB, right?). By eliminating classes completely, then the game system would be wide open for people to make whatever kind of character they want.

Now, from a game designers point of view (not that I am one, but...) I could see the need to keep the whole notion of classes in D&D

  1. It's just the way things should be. Without classes, the game would not be D&D anymore.

  2. It provides easy, self-contained choices for new players to choose from. This facilitates people learning the game, and wanting to play. Too many options at the start can be daunting and will scare people off.

  3. An open, class-free game system would be too hard for a DM to keep track of and the level of player to DM abuse would skyrocket. Munchkins and PowerGamers would be roaming the streets, frothing at the mouth - and that is something we just can't have.

No, but seriously.. why not? Another way to look at it is to examine the Monster Manual. Each monster presented therein is, in many respects, a new class. Obviously, the secrete-cabal-of-game-designers must have used some sort of system for assigning powers and abilities to each monster. You think Rob Heinsoo ever said to James Wyatt, "Hey man... you can't make Goblins have that power, they first need to take the [Acolyte of Doom] feat so that can qualify for it!" No, not likely. They just made them; and they made them using a class-free system that was balanced and scalable.

The way WoTC has encapsulated each class's abilities into fixed powers, at nearly every level of the game makes me scratch my head and think: Why the hell do we even need classes anymore? If my player wants to make a fireball throwing, healing, rogue who wears plate mail -- FINE! I mean, you could do that in 3.5, right?

The biggest obstacle I would see about a class-free system would be how to allocate Class Features, starting skills, etc. You know, all the stuff you get at 1st level. But - beyond that - if you make the prerequisites for some power or feat or something; take it!

Let me know what you think. I'm going to be thinking about this hard for a while I think - the idea just seems so "OMFG, of course!" I can't ignore it.

OCTOBER 2008 POST EDIT: This topic was also later addressed by Avaril over at DireKraken.com.

July 28, 2008

Where's all the 4E Community Software?

Using google to find software, even webware, for 4E produces few useful results. Most of the hits for the searches I did were for reviews for 4E itself or for the upcoming D&D Insider. This worries me somewhat, because it seems like there used to be dozens of software projects on the net for 3rd edition at any given time. Sure, many of them failed - but out of these projects came some very usefull and long lived icons of the community. To name a few: PCGen, Jamis Buck's Generators, Crystal Ball, and many more (too many to list). I even got into the fray myself, and developed an NPC Equipment Generator (first in Perl/TK, then later in Java).

But now, 4E has been out for almost 2months and I am not hearing or reading anything about new, groundbreaking software tools for the game. It seems like everyone has taken the same old bait from Wizards of the Coast again, and is waiting for D&D Insider (which is likely to be vaporware) to be released. Even if it does get released, do we really think it will have all the functionality and flexibility of a mature product like PCGen? I'm no doubt playing the skeptic here, but I'm just surprised that there hasn't been a noteworthy effort by the players community to develop a set of online tools to make playing easier on the table-top. Fer fucks sake: even a Tablesmith style encounter generator would be good.

[POST PUBLISH EDIT] : I did find Asmor.com to have some decent tools for 4E DM'ing. But, other than that it seems pretty sparse.

The Yahtzee Moment

I run my own weekly 4E campaign, The Kingship Chronicles, with my neighbors, my sister, and my wife at the game table. It's a low-key, fun time where there's just the right mix of power-gaming goodness and genuine interest in the storyline. Some nights, of course, are better than others. Some nights its all hack 'n slash. Other nights, there's not a single weapon drawn as we work through important "non-combat" encounters. Most nights, I try to shoot for a mix of both.

(On a side note: Contrary to what some people think, you CAN play 4E and actually role play your characters; its not a miniatures game).

Last night was awesome, mainly because everyone was thinking outside the box on how to solve problems and we had one of those "Yahtzee!!! Moments". If you don't know what the heck I'm talking about, then you're either too young to know wtf Yahtzee is (was) or you're not thinking hard enough. It's one of those moments at the game table where someone makes some ridiculously, critically important roll that changes the direction of the rest of the evening's events. In this case, the roll may very well have changed the course of our whole campaign; at least in the short term. Have you had any Yahtzee Moments lately? What any about memorable non-combat encounters since you've been playing 4E?

For the more interested: Using the most generic terms possible, here's a quick summary of the setup: Our trusty heroes were approaching an old abandoned dormitory that some bandits had been using as a hideout. Their goal was to rescue a young boy who had been kidnapped, but the problem was there were dozens of bandits, far too many for our group of five heroes to take alone. Meanwhile, as they surveyed the complex from a safe hiding spot, a huge demonic bear and its zombiefied buddy show up and start terrorizing the bandits. The heroes, confused by this, watch and wait as this massive bear terror munches on dozens of these bandits, seemly set on breaking into the dormitory itself. Eventually it does, and then the players are like "Holy Hot Cakes Batman! We don't know who this demon bear and its zombie friend are, but they're going into the same building where the kid is. Maybe they are after him too! Let's try to rescue the kid while the battle rages on!"
I was stoked, they took the bait. Everything was going as planned.
The heroes circle around to the rear of the dormitory, and with a creative use of Fey Step, unlock a door and are ready to head inside. Only, the house is filled with the screams and agonizing cries for help of the poor bandits. The air is filling with smoke; someone has lit the building on fire. To make matters worse, in the very next room from the rear entry foyer, the Terror Bear is chowing down on no less than ten of these bandits. A few minutes later, Mr. Terror Chomper seems to head to the upper floors to root out any remaining bandits.

The heroes then note that some of the bandits are now fleeing out the front of the building. Inside, the horror continues - well the sounds of it at least. The heroes decide to run back into the woods. They see a few bandits flying out of 2nd story windows, or parts of them. They continue to wait. Flames can be seen in several windows of the dorm. Then all is silent. And the heroes wait. The fire worsens.
This is the part where, as a DM, I can see things are not going as planned. What are they waiting for? Crap...
And they keep waiting till "Something happens". So, eventually, the terrorizing bear and the zombie emerge from the flaming building with a burlap sack which seems to contain large moving thing. "They've got him! Crap... what the hell are we going to do? We can't take down this bear!"
Even though the encounter was not going as planned, its always fun to watch players fear for their characters. Mwhahaha...
I tell them that the zombie throws the sack over its shoulders and mounts up on the bear and the two of them begin to ride off at a running pace. The players decide to follow them, running after them through the woods. After a few hundred yards, the zombie rider / bear terror stop and turn towards the party. The bear issues forth a massive, echoing roar. The zombie follows with something shouted in a strange tongue, Abyssal.

Then JerseyGirl (my wife) says "Wait, strange tongue? I speak Abyssal, does that count?" Nice, someone understood the zombie's threat. "Yes it does."

Now, the bear and zombie were indeed scary. In fact, they are downright dangerous for the heroes. But, they were not overpowered. I wanted to give the heroes a small chance of seeing through the veil of fear that these two nasties seemed to be shrouded under. So, i decided that the zombie's threat to the players would essentially be an Intimidate check against JerseyGirls' Will defense (since she was the only one who could understand him) with a +10 bonus (hostile target, Intimidate skill, p.186 PHB). The zombie was given a huge bonus though, because of the fear factor. I rolled a 2; and the check failed. "The zombie threatens you, but for some reason you don't seem particular frightened anymore."

Somewhat unsure of herself, JerseyGirl responds, "Maybe we could bluff, and try to intimidate them?" Then, BigR is like "Yeah, lets do it!" I'm like "Um, OK! Whatever you guy say!"

And then it happened. The Yahtzee Moment.

JerseyGirl rolls a natural 20. This, coupled with her trained Intimidate skill, the use of her Beguiling Tongue utility power, and an assist from BigR, she ends up with a 36! The Will defense of the elite superbaddass zombie was 23, coupled with the same "Hostile Target" bonus, the DC was 33. She crushed it...

Everyone was so freakin' stoked that people jumped up from the table shouting. Like I said: it was a Yahtzee Moment.

What followed was a tricky-to-play role playing of the zombie being intimidated by the heroes and leaving the burlap sack (with the kidnapped kid inside) on the road side and then fleeing the seen.

Not a single blade was drawn. But, in the two months we've been playing 4E - it was one of the evenings we've had gaming.

What kind of Yahtzee Moments have you had lately? Moreover, what sort of memorable 'non-combat' encounters have you had since you've switched to 4th Edition? Let us know your story and leave a comment.

July 25, 2008

4E Multiclassing : A Fighter / Cleric Example

Yesterday I posted a brief "How-to" for multiclassing in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. In short, it rocks. In my opinion, it blows away any previous system of multiclassing for D&D. If you're not sure what the heck I'm talking about, check out yesterday's post let me know what you think about it.

Today, as promised, I'm presenting the first in a series of case-studies where I walk through the progression of an example character destined to multiclass. In this first example our trusty human fighter, Crushington Stonesplitter, is having a sort of religious awakening. The back story for this character is that his father, an ex-militia man, is the only stone mason in the region where Crush grew up. On top of that, Crush is the only son of four children. His father, a shining example of super machismo gone haywire, expects Crush to 1) carry on the family profession, and 2) spend a few years doing nothing short of kicking-ass to prove his manhood. Little does his father know, however, that Crush secrete pays homage to the Dwarven God of Stone Moradin (yes, a human cleric of Moradin is possible).

Still in the Bubble Wrap
Not unexpectedly, Crush starts the campaign at 1st level as a Human Fighter. Without going into a step-by-step stat block (I will produce one later), I'll simply outline the progression chronologically by character level. Multiclass (in this case, Cleric) related skills, powers, and feature will be in italics. Each bulleted item corresponds to his character level.
  1. At first level, Crush ends up already be well on his way towards being a true healing defender type. He gets the following feats: Improved Initiative and Initiate of the Faith. As a results, he starts with four class features (three from being a fighter, one from the cleric class): Combat Challenge, Combat Superiority, Fighter Weapon Talent (1H), and Healing Word (as a daily). He also starts out with three at-will powers (Cleave, Sure Strike, and Tide of Iron) as well as Covering Attack (encounter) and Brute Strike (daily). Finally, Crush begins the game with five trained skills: Atheltics, Endurance, Heal, Intimidate, and Religeon.
  2. Gains the daily utility power Boundless Endurance and the feat Shield Push.
  3. Gains the encounter power Crushing Blow.
  4. Gains the multiclass feat Novice Power, which allows him to immediately swap his Covering Attack for the cleric encounter power Healing Strike.
  5. Gains the fighter 5th level daily power Rain of Steel.
  6. Gains the feat Ritual Caster, this allows Crush to start collecting ritual spells that he can use via his Heal and Religion skills. He also gains the fighter utility power Unbreakable.
  7. Gains the encounter power Iron Bulwark.
  8. Gains the multiclass feat Acolyte Power, and immediately swaps the fighter utility power Unbreakable for the cleric utility power Cure Serious Wounds.
  9. Gains the fighter daily power Victorious Surge.
  10. Gains the multiclass feat Adept Power, and immediately swaps Thicket of Blades for the cleric daily power Blade Barrier. In addition, he gains the fighter utility power Stalwart Guard.
  11. Once Crush reaches 11th level, he chooses not to take a class-specific paragon path and instead chooses the Multiclass Paragon Path.
OK, I'm going to stop here. I think you get the idea. I also want to point out that, while I was writing this post up as a draft (over 2 days), the Official D&D website released a new column, Character Concepts, for DRAGON. I was surprised very much like this post (although better and more refined), and in it they cover a teleporting Fey Pact Warlock and a Fighter-Mage (wizard) as they progress from 1st level through to 30th level. So, between their example and my example above, you should have a pretty good idea of how multiclassing works in 4E. Until next time, GAME ON!

July 23, 2008

4E Multiclassing : How To

There's been a ton of talk (and flaming) over on the official D&D Forums about the new 4E system for multiclassing. Personally, I love it - but admittedly it takes a couple of brains cells to figure out how it works. In my case, it took a couple of brain cells AND a few lengthy discussions a friend of mine. Suffice it to say that 4E multiclassing is the best version ever to be written in the pages of D&D. Its just simply awesome. So, how do you do it? As I mentioned above, the effects of choosing to multiclass in 4E may seem underpowered and confusing - until you look closer.

I should first say that you should have a copy of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook (PHB) readily available. I do not want to have to copy/paste large sections of text from the PDF version I own and possibly violate some sort of copyright. This is the PYA part of this post. I should also suggest that you read the two page section on Multiclassing in the PHB (pages 208-209), and let it sink in. Then read it again.

I assume that your character's concept is well developed, or at least developed enough so that you have said something like "Hmmm, maybe I should have her multiclass as a...". If so, good, you are on the right track IMHO. Your character's concept should be the main motivation for you to choose to multiclass. Of course there are plenty of munchkins our there who are going to LOVE the new multiclassing, especially once it sinks in that there are power combinations that are completely unavailable to single-classed Paragon Path'ed characters.

Multiclassing can start as early as 1st level, and it is generally a good idea to do so. Thinking about whether or not you multiclass should happen early in your character's development, ideally before you even start rolling dice. This is not to say you couldn't start choosing the feats to multiclass later on, of course, but the cost deepens are your character progresses and starting later just makes the multiclasseyness progress more slowly.

So, assuming you are going to choose to multiclass at 1st or 2nd level, the first choice you have to make is to choose which class will be your '2nd Class'. This is done by choosing one of the class-specific multiclass feats on p.208 in the PHB. Each of the feats allows you to take one additional trained skill and gives you a somewhat restricted version of a class feature. The coolest thing about this feat is the following:
A character who has taken a class-specific multiclass feat counts as a member of that class for the purpose of meeting prerequisites for taking other feats and qualifying for paragon paths.
The last part, about the paragon paths, makes it all worth it. You could choose to stop right there and never take another multiclass feat, but still take a paragon path from your 2nd class once you reach 11th level.

Starting at 4th level, then again at 8th and 10th levels, characters can take up to three additional power-swap feats that allow them to exchange one class power between their two classes (p.209, PHB). This is the way in which multiclass characters actually gain access to powers from their second class, while maintaining the universal limit on the number of powers available to any character at a specific level (p.29, PHB). If you choose all three of the power-swap feats, you will have the option to swap any one class power of each type (with the exception of at-will powers) between the two classes. An unanswered question I have is whether or not you can take these feats more than once (two swap two daily powers, for example). I'll have to look into this further.

Finally, the last step in multiclassing in 4E (also optional) is to choose the Multiclass Paragon path, instead of taking a class specific paragon path. The PHB briefly outlines how the multiclass paragon path works, and the benefits it bestows (p.209). At first, you might think that the multiclass paragon path is definitely weaker than choosing a class specific paragon path from one of your two classes. I think this depends on your choices, because if you look closely at the powers gained by the class-specific paragon paths versus the option to gain additional lower level powers from your second class, it is not clear that this would necessarily be a "weaker" choice. If i were to make a house rule to supplement the choice of taking the Multiclass Paragon Path, I might consider allowing characters the ability to retrain across the two classes, with any power, every time you level, as if they had access to both power lists.

In summary, 4E multiclassing is awesome! It offers a balanced, completely rethought avenue for hybrid-characters while maintaining the importance of game-balance. Multiclassing will not be something everyone will choose, but it opens up thousands of possibilities for those that do.

In my next post, I'll go more into detail about multiclassing and walk through the progression of two characters who chose to multiclass. Until then, let me know what you think?

July 22, 2008

Statblocks : They're just numbers on a page.

After reading Stephen Radney-MacFarland's column "Saying Yes is a Skill", the following paragraph stood out:
...Consider this case in point. The cifal, also known as the Colonial Insect-Formed Artificial Life (I'm not joking), was a critter from the original Fiend Folio that featured a back story and a name I thought was absolutely stupid. And I was not alone; in 2000 the cifal was voted the stupidest Fiend Folio monster by the readers of Polyhedron magazine. Still, this critter showed up a number of times in my game as a swarm-of-flies devil that served Baalzebul. What did I change about the monster? Not much, just the name and alignment. It was that easy. My players were scared to death of the poor, stupid cifal, which they knew as bzazels (heck, not even a vast of an improvement on the name front, come to think of it)...
Then it occurred to me that I had been doing something for years that maybe other DMs don't do, or maybe don't do often enough. I'm talking about Stat Block Masking (SBM). SBM is one of the oldest tricks in a DMs toolbox. It's easy to do, saves hours of prep time, and keeps the players on their toes. The muchkins at your game table hate SBM techniques, the role players love it. So, what is it?

SBM is where the DM uses the stat blocks for one creature, item, trap, spell, class, etc. to replace the stat block of another similar thing. The decription of the thing stays the same, but the stats are VERY different. Two examples should be enough to illustrate my point:

Example 1: The Beegguns Goblins
Goblins are easy to kill and the player characters blow through dozens of them in an evening of gaming. After a whole evening of slaughtering scores of them, complete with spell casters, traps, interesting terrain combinations, and the like, you realize that the players need a bigger challenge. But, the problem is that they are in a goblin den. To maintain internal consistency, there's a somewhat limited number of assailants you might throw at them. What can you throw at a group of Level 2 heroes that might scare them out of their wits. Then, you have an idea...

As the PCs turn the corner and see a four 'bigger', foul looking goblins coming down the hall towards them. "These 4 huge goblins come lumbering around the corner, groaning. Their bodies are covered in some kind of black oil, as are their large spiked clubs. They don't seem too happy in general, and are probably going to take it all out on you."

One of the players at the table says flatly "Oh no, these goblins look (sarcasm) scary! I charge them."

Another player metagames a bit and says, "What, they have twice the health or something? My wizard begins casting Ray of Frost."

You simply just chuckle and the battle begins. After 4 rounds of combat, the party has blown all their encounter powers, and nearly everyone has used their dailies. Action points? HAH... those are all gone. These goblins are stunning people with some sort of sap that's on their clubs, and seem like to beat on the same, stunned (panicing) heroes until they are clobbered. Plus, these guys are taking huge ammounts of damage.

Its at this point that the players realize that these are not simply "tougher" goblins; they are something else entirely.

In fact, they are Ghouls. Well... at least their stats are Ghoul stats. But, instead of claws, they use big clubs covered in somekind of toxic (to everyone but goblins) sap. Instead of being vulnerable to radiant damage, you make them vulnerable to fire damage (the sap burns quite well). In the end the PCs are fine, they mostly survive. But, they are all left wondering "WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT?"

Example 2: The Ring of Blades
Your heroes have worked hard pushing through the goblin den. Most of the goblins have either been killed or have fled to find greener pastures. In a final, last ditch effort for "survival" the goblin chieftain surrenders and offers the heroes a 'secrete treasure that will remain buried forever' unless they let the remaining tribe go free. The heroes, always filled to the brim with a lust for more lewt, agree. The chief tells the heroes where he keeps a secrete cache of coins and a few items of value. The heroes find the treasure and among they find a magic ring and a magic axe. They let the chieftain go (these heroes are real goodguys), and begin investigating the items. They seem harmless enough. The axe is a something magical, but harmless.

The ring, however, is something different. "Your skill checks are successful, and you determine it is a Ring of Invisilibility". They PCs actually failed in identifying the ring correctly and on an earlier Passive Perception check, but the game table is filled with a series of 'holy crap!" "wow!" "OMFG!" etc.

Then, one of your players adds "Wait... a Ring of Invisibility is a Level 18 item. We're a bunch of Level 2 stooges..."

"You know Mr. Metagamer, you are right! And, just as your character realizes this existential fact and holds up the ring to inspect it, it seems to unfold. Slowly at first, then faster still until the whole party are enveloped in a whirlwind of flying blades."

The ring is actually a Whirling Blades trap (p.89 DMG), and appropriate but difficult challenge for the party. You might also rule that, if they fail in disabling the trap the ring is destroy. If they succeed, they might just walk out of there with a nifty little gadget to take with them...

I've think I've illustrated my point. Statblocks can be stripped of their descriptions and applied to anything in a variety of settings, assuming you keep challenge at an appropriate level for the heroes. The trick is just to think outside the box a little and be creative. Using this technique, DMs out there will never be stuck needing a 'better' challenge in the middle of a gaming session. Players out there will also have to stay on their toes since you'll never know what to expect next...

"What the heck is that?"
"What? His mount? Oh... that's his armored heavy warhorse that was raised in the marshlands of Xuntargak. It was trained for war, and has been subject of many foul rituals by his arcanists. Good luck..." It's a heavy warhorse, but I'm using the Basilisk statblock.

Random Discoveries...

Here's a random collection of some things I've come across on the net for 4E in the last couple of days:
That's about it for today; traffic has been light and I've been working on my other blogs last couple of days.

July 20, 2008

3E Rules Lawyers Are Back In the Fight

I love lurking in forums. Occasionally, I'll post something too - making myself something else I suppose. One of the forums I've been a lurker in for year is the official D&D forums; now run by "GleeMax" (dumbest name for a company, ever). In particular I've always enjoyed (as in laughing out loud) the long drawn out discussions / flame wars between various muchkins, rules lawyers, and power gamers about some small isolated rule applied to some particular situation. Sometimes these arguements in 3rd Edition were seemingly endless. It was exhausting to read them.

4th Edition is supposed to make the game "faster, stronger, better" by sacrificing realism for playability and fun. Combats run smoother, rules are adjudicated by the DM more swiftly, the players are (supposed to be) more easy going about judgements, and in general the game is aimed at being more cinematic.

I recently came across a LONG post where the author makes the argument that the new 4E rule system plays like a tactical board game. I threw my comments into the thread and argued that the new 4E rules play combat more straight forward and swiftly so that you can get back to the ROLE PLAYING part of D&D: yunno - the part where there's a story to develop, a mystery to solve, or some other interesting aspect of fiction that that the players are helping create. The thread raged on to end with it being LOCKED after 52 posts of people bitching that 4E > 3.5 or vice versa.

Then today I read a very long and drawn out discussion about the rules of being prone. Yes. You read that right. A long and drawn out, hotly debated, point - counter point, debate on being prone. As in laying down. And, more specifically, how laying on the ground affects game play and what you can and can not do while laying down. I thought this was real funny for some reason, so had to chime in. Basically - here's a copy of my post (full thread is here):
So... to summarize? You get knocked prone, adjacent enemies get CA against you. Once prone, you can
  1. crawl away (using your move action, and provoking an OA from adjacent enemies)
  2. stand up (no OAs, no more CA, but it uses up a move action)
  3. attack (at a penalty)
  4. do something else...
It seems that, in the spirit of 4E, things should be more 'cinematic'. I generally rule that characters can use their Acrobatic skill to perform a Acrobatic Stunt (as a move action; PHB p.180) to move/shift and remain prone. Moreover, I may even allow for a character to use this same skill to jump to their feat as a free action. This, of course, all with a level appropriate DC for it to be 'hard' (like a DC20 for L1 characters; DMG p.42).

I find that players LOVE IT when they can do cool stuff in combat. It makes the battles more memorable, and everyone has _fun_. Imagine the coolness when Ripsaw the Sabermaster gets knocked prone by some silly wolf, then jumps to his feet like Jet Li and slices the dog into bits.

I was a huge fan of 3E and 3.5E -- but i think the rules of the game started overshadowing the fun -- rules lawyers and munchkins and power gamers would all gather in secrete cabals and figure out how the rules would make them SUPER heroes -- as a DM/GM, it made running the game sometimes a pain because I was constantly working to out think my players on the rules front instead of the game front. The main point of 4E is that things are not supposed to be 'super realistic' - they are supposed to be cinematic and fun. I'm not saying it is unimportant to understand the rules; of course it is... i'm just saying the 4E is a breath of fresh air IMHO.

Ok.. i'm shifting out of here before someone OA's my behind...
How are these two topics (tactical board game like play styles and arguements about being prone) alike? Well... it just seems like the CORE MECHANICS of the new 4E rule system is designed to bring the outcomes of dice rolling back into the storyline faster. I keep using the term "cinematic" becuase a Patent Lawyer Friend of Mine used the same term about the Star Wars Saga rule system (of which 4E is based), and once I played 4E I immediately could see what he meant.

So... understanding the rules is of course important; but it comes to a point where you need to keep the spirit of the game in mind. Think big, think creative, and then make a skill check to see if you actually DID slide down the stairs using your sheild as a sled to knockdown a host of orcs that had you cornered on the second floor.


July 19, 2008

Backdrop: Cormyr - A New Feature of DRAGON.

Dragon Magazine is no longer in print; but it lives on as a monthly eZine published via D&D Insider. While I miss the in-hand tactile feel of the old, high gloss printed magazine, what I'm enjoying about the new DRAGON is the new features they've added. In this month's issue, they've rolled out Backdrops, the first of which is a preview of the 'new' Cormyr as detailed in the upcoming 4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. As a long time player of Dungeons & Dragons, I'm looking forward to giving the new FRCS a good look once it is release.

Plain and simple, the Backdrop: Cormyr article is excellent. It includes a detailed update on the events and history of Cormyr between 1372 D.R. and 1385 D.R. (when the 4th Edition Campaign takes place), a beautiful new map for the region (see inset), a review of the geography, the ruling families, the military, society in general and how 'adventurers' fit into the Cormyr of 1385.

The article also includes some gamespeak related additions, including two new Paragon Paths (the Draeven Marauder for Fighters and The Luckbringer of Tymora for Clerics), a new Heroic Feat (Favor of Tymora), and a new magic ring (Purple Dragon Commander's Ring). So, there's a little bit of something for everyone, and while the number of new game features provided by this article may seem slim - I think that's the point. They are well designed examples of what will come, and we are left wanting more of them. In the full FRCS release next month, we'll get them. In the meantime, you can grab the PDF of this DRAGON article for free here.

You can pre-order the new Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, 4th Edition here; and help support The Core Mechanic as well! (/wink)

Let me know what your opinions are of this new Dragon feature or about the new FRCS campaign setting in general. Are you looking forward to it? Or, if you already game in FRCS, will your campaign stay in a 3.5 time frame using the updated rules?

July 18, 2008

4E Conversions: The Talontar Blightlord Template

OK... and here's the template I promised for the Talontar Blightlord. This template is based on the prestige class of the same name, featured in the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons accessory The Unapproachable East. Enjoy! and please leave some comments and let me know what you think.

Talontar Blightlord
Prerequisite: Humanoid, Level 10.

Talontar Blightlord
Elite Controller (Leader)
XP Elite
Senses Low-light
+2 AC; +2 Fortitude; +2 Will
Saving Throws
Hit Points
+8 per level + Constitution score
The Talontar Blightlord is immune to all diseases and Blightspawned creatures completely ignore them, unless commanded to do otherwise (see below).
Unnatural Command (standard; at-will) Necrotic, Disease
Close burst 5 (8 at 21st level) ; level + 5 vs. Will; The Talontar Blightlord's commands are obeyed by all affected Blightspawn and evil nature creatures (save ends).
Blight Touch (standard; recharge 6) Necrotic, Disease, Weapon
Level + 5 vs. Reflex; On a successful hit, the Talontar Blightlord infects the target with level 16 Blight Disease (level 26 Blight Disease if the Talontar Blightlord is level 26 or higher).
Black Glaive (standard; at-will) Necrotic, Weapon
Any glaive wielded by the Talontar Blightlord gains Lvl 13 Frostburst Weapon (see below). The level of the Frostburst Weapon scales such that it increases, but is never greater than Talontar Blightlord's level. The Talontar Blightlord can also deliver Blight Touch as a free-action from Black Glaive attacks.
Trained Skills Arcana, Nature, Heal, Perception.
Feats Toughness.

Frostburst Weapon functions similar to Fireburst Weapon (page 234, 4th Edition Player's Handbook) except that targets of the Frostburst receive 1d8 additional damage and are slowed until the end of the their next turn. Damage increases at level 12 and level 18 to 2d8 and 3d8 respectively.

July 17, 2008

4E Conversions: The Talontar Blightlord Template coming soon

I suppose since I contributed a conversion for the Blightspawn of Rawlingswood yesterday, I should also provide my conversion for the Talontar Blightlord, a prestige class found in the Unapproachable East accessory for the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. The problem is that, at least for now, there's no such thing as a 'prestige class' in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (thank the gods!). So, my implementation of prestige classes will essentially be templates that are applied to any monster or NPC the Dungeon Master chooses. I'll also provide heroic, paragon, and epic level templates so that the template will scale as the characters level. This will be my first attempt at making such a conversion - so please leave any suggestions you might have! I'll bring you my first draft of the Talontar Blightlord Template tomorrow. Until then, good luck!

July 15, 2008

4E Conversions: The Blightspawn of Rawlings Wood Part 2

Yesterday, I mentioned that I had made my own 4E conversion of the template I am using for The Blightspawn of Rawlings Woods. So, I'm including it here for completeness (my apologies!). The original Blightspawn template can be found on page 60 of the Unapproachable East, an accessory book for the 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. The main difference, aside from the new rules, from my converted Blightspawn and the one originally featured in the UE is that everyone who dies from the disease rises again as Blightspawn (instead of just a handful of the victims). Also, please note the subtle differences from the Level 6 Blight Disease and the Level 16 and Level 26 versions. I thought it would make things a tad more interesting to include the increase in virulence of the disease, coupled with the shorter 'rise again' times.

aberrant fey (plant)
Elite Soldier
XP Elite
Senses Low-light
+2 AC; +2 Fortitude; -1 Will
Immune to disease, poison, sleep, paralysis, stun
fire (a blightspawned takes ongoing 5 fire damage [save ends] when damaged by fire)
Saving Throws
Hit Points +8 per level + Constitution score
Blight Touch (standard, at-will) * Disease, Necrotic

Level + 5 vs. AC; 1d10 + 5 necrotic damage, and the target contracts level 6 Blight Disease (see below). Increase the damage to 2d6 + 7 at 11th level, and to 3d6 + 10 at 21st level. Similarly, increase the disease to level 16 and level 26 respectively.

Blight Disease
(Level 6 Disease)
Attack +6 vs. Fortitude
Endurance stable DC 20, improve DC 24
Initial Effect. The target looses one healing surge that it cannot regain until cured.
Diseased Progression. Each time the target is exposed to sunlight, it takes ongoing 1 necrotic damage (save ends). If this damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, it dies and rises again as a Blightspawned in 1d4 days.
Final State. At the moment of the failed endurance check, the target takes ongoing 5 necrotic damage (save ends). If this damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, it dies and rises again as a Blightspawned in 1d4 days.

Blight Disease (Level 16 Disease)
Attack +16 vs. Fortitude
Endurance stable DC 26, improve DC 31
Initial Effect. The target looses two healing surges that it cannot regain until cured.
Diseased Progression. Each time the target is exposed to sunlight, it takes ongoing 5 necrotic damage (save ends). If this damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, it dies and rises again as a Blightspawned in 1d4 hours.
Final State. At the moment of the failed endurance check, the target takes ongoing 10 necrotic damage (save ends). If this damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, it dies and rises again as a Blightspawned in 1d4 hours.

Blight Disease (Level 26 Disease)
Attack +26 vs. Fortitude
Endurance stable DC 30, improve DC 36
Initial Effect. The target looses three healing surges that it cannot regain until cured.
Diseased Progression. Each time the target is exposed to sunlight, it takes ongoing 10 necrotic damage (save ends). If this damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, it dies and rises again as a Blightspawned in 1d4 minutes
Final State. At the moment of the failed endurance check, the target takes ongoing 20 necrotic damage (save ends). If this damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, it dies and rises again as a Blightspawned in 1d4 minutes

Let me know what you think. In the meantime... enjoy!

July 14, 2008

4E Conversions: The Blightspawn of Rawlings Woods, Part 1

The new campaign I am currently running is for 4th Edition, but set in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. It is a well developed, albeit a bit cheesy, campaign setting that is well suited for games where the players want depth but the DM doesn't have time to develop an internally consistent world from scratch. As a 20+ year veteran of the game, I know that I could develop my own campaign setting from scratch, but with my WKHJ*, I barely have time to blog; let alone game like I was 18. The problem is that, while FRCS has a far reaching back story, the new edition of the game makes much of it incompatible and definitely outdated. So, today is the first post of a new series aimed at helping solve this problem: 4E Community Converts. The basic idea is that I'll pick something from 3E that needs to be updated to 4th Edition rules and, hopefully, the few readers of this blog will provide me with some ideas or (even better) full fledged conversions. One last thing before we get started: while I know that a 4E version of FRCS is due out next month (with more coming in following months), this series is for all the folks that do not want to fast forward their version of Faerûn about 100 years (more of that internal consistency thing i mentioned earlier). OK, enough prologue - more content.

My campaign setting is set in The Great Dale, an area featured in the main FRCS book, as well as The Unapproachable East (UE). Within the UE book, there's a detailed template for Blightspawn that fits into the campaign arc dealing with the rise of The Rotting Man and his Army of Blight. I've decided to use the Blightspawn as a template for my 4E FRCS campaign as well, with a few modifications to the way the disease is transmitted. How would you covert this template? Have you used Blightspawn in any of your games, and if so how? Leave a comment with your conversion ideas or how you might adapt The Blightspawn to a 4E campaign setting.

* note: WKHJ is short for wife, kids, house, job

July 12, 2008

The Treasures of Ashardalan: New Magic Gear to Add to Your Campaign

Dragon #365 featured a collection of magic arms and armor (and other gear) entitled "The Treasures of Ashardalan". The article is part of the new column "Bazaar of the Bizarre" that, hopefully, will be a regular addition to Dragon Magazine especially given that there is somewhat of a dearth of magic gear present in the 4th Edition Player's Handbook. I'm looking forward to soaking up each of these articles and adding to my own collection. You can pick up this article from the Dragon page, part of D&D Insider.
In my opinion, the available items in the 4the Edition Player's Handbook just don't quite cut it.

Where are you getting your gear from to add to your campaigns? Is it all custom made, or are you relying on Official sources much like I am (at least at this point)? By the end of 3rd Edition, there were literally thousands of pre-made items from hundreds of sources.

July 10, 2008

D&D Insider Leaks

It's intentional, but Wizards of the Coast website thas released some previews of DDI. If you dig around - you'll find that the DDI Compendium is actually live . It includes pretty much everything from the new 4th Edition Player's Handbook, all free online from the official source. Seems like they forgot to tell the developers to 'wait'! If the above link is not working, all you need to do is sign up for DDI (currently free, see the link in the upper right on the D&D homepage) and then visit the DDI Compendium page and click "launch". Have fun!

Let us know what you think of the upcoming DDI; will it be worth the $15/month? will it be vaporware, like a much touted previous software bungle (eTools) from WotC?

July 8, 2008

'Sage Advice' Website Blows...

OK, this post is not so much a discussion of rules as a comment on the discussion of rules. For years, no decades, Dungeon Magazine has had a monthly column called 'Sage Advice'. It was basically a letter to the editor that usually asked about some rule and how it be handled in some specific, rare situation. The response was usually a crystal clear clarification of the rule in question coupled with an imaginative example it in play. 'Sage Advice' has been a go-to resource for anyone confused about some aspect of the game (usually the DMs). Well, I've just discovered that the new Sage Advice has been pulled from Dragon Magazine (now an online part of D&D Insider). Instead, the wunder-genius's at Hasbro have outsourced the Sage Advice column to a drab, bare bones online 'help desk' website run by custhelp.com. WTF??! You would think they would at the very least include Sage Advice as part of the main D&D website. I'm sure (sarcasm) the same content will be there - but there is something different about player's questions being answered by customer service reps versus a real game designer or content author. Check it out at this link and let me know what you think in the comments: "D&D SAGE ADVICE".

Up next... we'll dive into Saving Throws and how they play out at the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game table.

The Core Mechanic: The 'New' Mainstay of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

No, not this blog (but that would be cool). Since the blog is titled "The Core Mechanic", i figured our first post should be about this very topic. What is it? How does it work? And how could it be misused or misunderstood?

The Player's Handbook says basically the following:
The Core Mechanic
  1. Role a d20.
  2. Add all relevant modifiers.
  3. Compare the total to the target number.
Yes, simple right? And usually it is. The questions start when players start figuring out what the 'relevant modifiers' are. A wide array of things can be relevant, including the standard '1/2 your character level' bonus and any other bonuses or penalties from feats, class abilities, class powers, racial abilities, situational modifiers, environmental modifiers, etc. etc. Luckily, the 'new' mainstay is really an old-standby for anyone who has played the previous editions of D&D. What i find somewhat interesting is that game designers are trying to use the The Core Mechanic for nearly everything in the game; even when it is not really necessary. Are there any situtations where The Core Mechanic is not working for your 4E game? Or are their any improvements you have made in your home-brewed campaign that is not seen in the standard rules? If so, let us know! Leave and comment and tell us about it.

Well Met...

Hello! Welcome to The Core Mechanic, a new blog focused on the rules of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. While there are probably thousands of blogs related to this beloved game; this one is going to focus strictly on the implementation of the rules of the game, how they play out in reality at the gaming table, and (from time to time) we may introduce a few new house rules or other new feature additions to the game. Check back often! We hope to to have a new post about something that has come up during the course of game play daily, if not every couple of days. Click the RSS links on the right to subscribe to the website's updates.