Archive for the ‘4e D&D’ Category

RPGTable and GameTable Online Kickstarter!

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The company I used to work for, GameTable Online, launched a Kickstarter in May to fund new games and improvements to their site! Included in the reward levels are discounted premium subscriptions to GTO’s other website, RPGTable Online, which is an online virtual table for playing tabletop roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. So if you’re looking for a good virtual table for RPGs or you just like playing online versions of fun board games, such as Axis & Allies, Battle Cry, Guillotine, Robo Rally, 1960: The Making of the President, and Tigris & Euphrates, it’s definitely worth checking out and a good way to support both sites.

See GameTable Online’s Kickstarter page HERE.

Their Kickstarter is ending Sunday. They’ve already met their initial goal for an online version of Tsuro of the Seas, itself a Kickstarter, and some initial improvements to their site. Their first stretch goal is to fund an online version Conquest of the Empire, which is a fun classic war game by the designer of Axis & Allies, Larry Harris. Personally, I prefer it to Axis & Allies, and I feel it has interesting mechanics, particularly with regards to balancing short-gains from mobilizing a strong army versus the long-term benefits of building roads and citadels to connect and defend your empire. In fact, one of the cooler add-on rewards GTO is offering is copies of Conquest of the Empire autographed by Larry Harris!

If you aren’t familiar with, I’d definitely reccomend checking it out, as it’s a great tool for playing online tabletop rpgs. I’m a little biased because I helped design and test it while I worked at GTO :), but I do think it has a lot to offer:

  1. It’s free to play. All the core features, from a healthy set of tiles and tokens, to the dice roller, grid map, initiative tracker, built in voice, and all the other the tools for running a roleplaying game are totally free. As mentioned, there is a premium subscription for unlocking community sharing, cloud storage, and other useful features. There are also micropayments for unlocking additional content, such as new tokens and tiles. But from the start you get a lot of functionality without paying anything.
  2. It has a ton of D&D support (if that’s your bag). Specifically, it has a lot tools that are optimized for 4th edition, but it is quite well suited for running earlier editions of D&D and for Pathfinder as well. That isn’t to say you can’t use the more generic tools for any rpg, but it really shines when it comes to D&D. So it can allow you to track conditions, spend healing surges, tell you if your attack hits against an enemy’s AC, and deal automatic damage, along with a lot of other supported functionality to make your life easier when playing D&D.
  3. It’s easy. No big downloads. No uploading a bunch of mods or maps to get started. No hours of tutorials. Just register a free account at GameTable Online, log-on, and jump into a campaign. From there you can use a preloaded selection of tiles and tokens to build an adventure that your friends can jump into through the website as easily as you did.



revenant ankh, leveled

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series wondrous items, leveled

Last year I set out to create interesting variations on each of the thirteen Wondrous Items in the 4e Player’s Handbook. I wanted to add a little unpredictability to 4e magic treasure, which can sometimes feel dull because you often know exactly what you’re getting.

The Revenant Ankh is the last of the PHB’s Wondrous Items, and I’m converting it pretty much at the end if the 4e development cycle. From the recent Fifth Edition beta release, it looks like magic items will be more exciting in the new edition: the new “secrets” and “attunement” mechanics can provide the same sort of magic item improvement that I’ve tried to provide in these blog posts.

Let’s wrap up by providing three variations on the Revenant Ankh, a strange item that temporarily resurrects an ally for a few rounds. Some time after you obtain it, you could realize that your Revenant Ankh is actually one of these models.

Dark Revenant Ankh: If you die while clutching this revenant ankh, its powers operate on you. Your life is temporarily sustained by dark energy. If you manage to kill a humanoid creature (getting the killing shot) before you die, you absorb its life energy and you are freed of the effects of the ankh – you are now alive. However, you change faces with the slain creature until the next extended rest.

Revenant Ankh of Slavery: This ankh can be used on a defeated enemy instead of an ally. In this case, you control the creature: it is dominated. Elite or solo monsters and creatures with level higher than the user’s level get a saving throw at the end of each round: on a success, they die.

Revenant Ankh of Slow but Inevitable Revenge: Your risen ally rises with speed 4, +5 to all defenses, and +5 to hit against the creature that killed him.

here’s a two weapon fighting implementation

Monday, November 19th, 2012

The easiest way to balance two-weapon fighting is to model it on shield use: in other words, give it an almost negligible effect. Still, it should call enough attention to itself that it doesn’t totally disappear on the character sheet.

Here’s an implementation I just thought of:

You can dual-wield if you have a light weapon in your off hand. You make one attack roll.


You get a +1 to attack.


On a hit, you hit with your main-hand weapon if you rolled an even number, and with your offhand weapon if you rolled an odd number.


Let’s leave two-weapon fighting out of the analysis for a minute. Shield vs. two-handed weapon is an interesting trade-off: for (in most editions) +1 AC, you lose 2+ points of damage (going from a d12 to a d8 weapon; possible decrease in strength bonus). It’s really hard to analyze this balance, which changes from edition to edition and from low to high level. But let’s say that this is reasonably balanced, with maybe a slight advantage for the two-handed weapon.

Now let’s throw accuracy into the mix. How does +1 to-hit compare to +1 AC? They’re pretty symmetrical, but I’d say to-hit is a little better. A fighter makes an attack roll nearly every turn, but doesn’t use AC every turn: some enemies use attacks that target other defenses/saving throws.

With my two-weapon implementation, a character trades the +1 AC of a shield for +1 to hit, and pays a small cost in damage to balance it out. With a 50% chance of using your offhand weapon, you’re likely to do 4 damage (average of shortsword and longsword) instead of a shield-user’s 4.5 damage (with a longsword). That cost goes up if you have, say, a +2 longsword in one hand and an ordinary shortsword in the other.

With these three attack styles, you now have a pretty straight tradeoff between the three pieces of D&D combat: damage bonus (2H), AC bonus (shield use), and attack bonus (2WF).

Another fun application of this two-weapon-fighting system: it buffs unarmed fighting. Nearly all boxers fight with both fists, so they get +1 to hit. Based on the die roll, they’ll throw a left hook or a right cross, which, in most cases, won’t matter since both do the same amount of damage.

My 2010 Suggestions for Fifth Edition

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Looking through my old D&D notes, I found a few sentences I wrote in 2010 under the heading “Suggestions for Fifth Edition”. This was well before the D&D Next announcement: it was based on my reaction to Fourth Edition and how I’d like the developers to improve it in some hypothetical new edition.

How does the 5e playtest compare to my 2010 wishlist?

1) “Minor action” and “move action” are very descripive and easy to remember for new players. On the other hand, “Standard action” is almost meaningless. Change the name “standard action” to major action

2) “Combat Advantage” is clumsy. It’s a 5-syllable mouthful that you have to say a million times every session. It could be replaced with the term “on guard”. “Grants combat advantage” can be replaced with “off guard”.

My “Move/Minor/Major” suggestion was really just a gripe about the bizarre 3e name “Standard Action.” 5e uses the pared-down terms “Move” and “Action”, and ditches the minor action altogether. They extend the term “advantage” to a whole subsystem which goes way beyond my cute little nomenclature.

Either way, 5e is addressing my underlying problem here: it’s paring away some arbitrary and unnecessarily technical terms, and making things easier to explain to new players.

Did I get what I wanted? Yes!

3) Reduce analysis paralysis during combat and character creation. Feats and powers grouped in kits?

When I wrote this, I was imagining something like a “berserker” kit, which would be a bucket of feats and melee powers: Power Attack, for instance, might be a feat available only to berserker-themed characters. A single character might only have one or two kits. At character creation, rather than looking through, say, 200 feats, you’d instead have to look through 20 kits, and then 10 feats within your chosen kit (30 decisions instead of 200 decisions). Furthermore, this would reduce the number of bizarre corner-case combos that can lead to broken builds.

This is basically how the 5e “theme” or “specialty” system works, in essence and in detail. “Powers” are gone from 5e, but 5e feats are more like 4e powers anyway.

Did I get what I wanted? Yes!

4) Separation between combat and noncombat

I expanded this idea into a 2010 blog post. I didn’t like the fact that D&D throws combat feats, like Weapon Focus, into the same feat-choice slot as non-combat feats, like Improved Diplomacy. 4e made an attempt to separate direct-damage powers from “utility” powers, but it didn’t end up doing what I wanted, because most utility powers were combat powers anyway. I’d rather have more non-combat powers, siloed out from the combat powers. I’d like this division extended to feats as well.

5e is planning to address more attention to non-combat activities, “exploration and interaction,” but they’re not doing what I hoped, having the non-combat pieces of the game fed by different resources. My experience is that combat options are like kudzu that chokes out rival options, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.

Did I get what I wanted? No!

That’s all I wrote down in my notes, but I also have a few old blog posts with more pre-Next suggestions for 5e. Let’s see how they stack up:

Lose shift and opportunity attack

I suggested that fighters lose the Marked ability; the Shift action be removed; and opportunity attacks go away. Furthermore, the fighter class should be given opportunity attacks as a class feature.

The first 5e playtest packet actually met these goals (except giving fighters extra stickiness). In the second playtest packet, things moved backwards a little bit: opportunity attacks returned. I guess my ideas didn’t pass the playtest test.

Did I get what I wanted? For a while!

Let’s drop the 4e level bonus!

In this 2010 blog post, I pre-invented “bounded accuracy”. I suggested that AC, attacks, and other bonuses shouldn’t get 1 point every 2 levels. The reason monsters and characters should get tougher is because they get more HP and do more damage. Furthermore, I suggested that skills could now have fixed DCs.

This change is being made in 5e, and it’s one of the changes I’m most excited about.

Did I get what I wanted? Yes!

My “suggestions about 5e” are, more or less, gripes about 4e. My 2010 vision of 5e was a new, improved version of 4e.

It seems that we’re getting something a little different. I’m not quite sure what it is yet, but it’s making more ambitious changes than the ones I suggested. My guess was that 5e was going to be an overhaul of the 4e chassis (more like the change between 1st and 2nd edition), and instead it looks like it’s going to be a new machine (more like the change between 2nd and 3rd).

On the whole, it looks like I’m seeing more Yes than No on my 5e suggestions. I’m getting what I wished for. Let’s hope I like it.

ecology of the kobold

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

I mentioned that I have trouble playing kobolds and goblins differently. Two undifferentiated weak, trap-setting, underground cannon-fodder races is too many, so a while ago, I came up with some new quirks for goblins.

Here’s my take on kobolds.

Kobolds are scavengers

I decided that goblins were producers – they don’t need other races to survive.

Kobolds, on the other hand, don’t produce anything. They live on the edges of settlements and steal garbage, set up traps for travelers, and raid farms. Kobolds are the first thing you fight at level 1 because they’re right on the edge of town.

Therefore, kobold weapons are likely to be daggers, scythes, and shortbows created by other races. Their industry goes as far as weaving ropes into nets and turning leather into slings (but not making the rope or the leather).

When they’re unable to steal food, kobolds eat bugs and small animals, and set traps to catch large animals and humans.

Kobolds worship fear

I had a bit of a problem coming up with a kobold gimmick. Recent editions have them as dragon-worshippers, which is fine, I guess, but it’s limiting. For instance, you don’t want to design a system that has kobolds and dragons (a high and low level encounter) always sitting on top of each other. What level party will face them?

In the past, I’ve also experimented with kobolds as demonic minions suitable for level-1 parties to face. They’re scaly and have horns – all they need and pitchforks and the smell of brimstone to fill that role.

Kobolds’ defining characteristic is that they’re the weakest monster in the monster manual. Individually, they’re afraid of everything. I decided that was the key to their psychology. They worship fear. If a creature is strong enough to kill a lot of them, they will serve that creature. The more frightened they are of the creature, the more fanatically loyal they become.

Kobolds will fear any creature that kills a lot of them, but the creatures they worship most slavishly are those with cause fear effects: typically dragons and demons have such powers. Conveniently, that preserves the lore of the dragon-worshipping kobold.

Kobolds like to cause fear

Kobolds try to inspire fear in others. They’re too weak to do so with force of arms, so they do so by exploiting traps, darkness, and trickery. They prefer traps that don’t kill instantly. Fiery logs rolling towards their target; poison that weakens over time; pit traps that hurt but don’t kill; those are their favorite. They also have a weakness for Scooby Doo style trickery, terrifying villagers with phosphorescent scarecrows and devil masks.

When Mike Mornard ran us through a kobold maze, he had a handful of kobolds, striking from the darkness, terrifying a well-armed band of stronger first-level characters. That’s part of a tradition going back to Gary Gygax’s brutal level 1 kobolds. Kobolds are most effective when they’re scary.

Kobolds mutate

Like goblins, kobolds have their own brand of magic. Kobold magic lets them take on the characteristics of the thing they fear most. Thus, kobolds enslaved by a white dragon might gain icy dragon breath (for 1d4 damage). Kobolds enslaved by an evil necromancer might gain wimpy little Emperor Palpatine lightning. Kobolds used by drow might gain the ability to create shadows.

Kobolds will also gain obsessions related to those of their masters. A dragon’s kobolds will hoard treasure. A vampire’s kobolds will drink blood. An evil knight’s kobolds might actually learn to march in step.

Independent kobolds

Some kobolds can’t find any evil creature to act as their master/protector. These tribes tend to gravitate to the edge of human settlements, where they steal from, and to some degree imitate, adventurers and city guards.

cantrips for PHB2 classes

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

A few weeks ago I posted rules for cantrips for all the 4e Players Handbook classes: I thought that every class should get the benefit of out-of-combat abilities that a) defined the class and b) spurred creativity.

Today I’ll do the same thing for the classes from the Player’s Handbook 2.

The PHB 2 is a challenge: half of its classes are old favorites with well-established conceptual niches (bard, barbarian, druid, and sorcerer), and half are experiments whose flavor provides varying levels of inspiration (invoker, shaman, avenger, and warden.) Some of the newer classes are difficult to design for because I don’t have an intuitive feeling about their out-of-combat activities. In some cases, I made up new flavor.

AVENGER: Avengers are scary dudes. Their deal is that they threaten people. Before they kill you, they let you know that they are GOING to kill you. The Oath of Enmity is a very flavorful class feature: all avenger cantrips need to do is tie some noncombat mechanics to the Oath of Enmity.

Reminder of Enmity: Just because you’ve survived a combat with an avenger doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Anyone who was ever subject to an Avenger’s Oath of Enmity, in combat or out, is subject to frequent reminders of the fact.

An Avenger may send a vision to anyone who was once subject to the Oath of Enmity. The vision is typically of a) the avenger, b) a bloody weapon, or c) the avenger killing the subject with a bloody weapon. If the subject is sleeping, the vision will be woven into a dream. Each day, the Avenger may send one vision per level, but no more than one per day to each subject.

BARBARIAN: People do not play barbarians because they want cantrips. They play a barbarian because they want to smash things. So I’ll stick to basics.

I Hit It With My Axe: In one action, an armed barbarian can automatically destroy any inanimate object that another character might destroy in a minute. This includes almost all furniture, wooden doors, art, and stone walls less than 6 inches thick. If a barbarian destroys a large item, its square becomes difficult terrain. This action is extraordinarily loud.

I Hit Them With My Axe In one action, a barbarian destroys any number of fragile items within weapon reach. This action is also extraordinarily loud.

BARD: Historically, why have people wanted to play bards? It’s not because of how awesome they are in combat. It’s because they sing and annoy everybody. Bards are all about performance, and while they have a few music-related attack powers, it is really out of combat that they get to fulfill the promise of their class.

Perform: As a standard action, the bard plays an instrument or sings. Until the end of the bard’s next turn, all willing listeners enjoy themselves. (There are no game statistics behind this, but NPCs tend to seek out enjoyment unless there is a reason not to.) During the performance, willing listeners suffer a -2 to perception checks.

Compose: The bard writes a song and Performs it for at least a dozen strangers. The song becomes a well-known standard in the nearest city. (At bard level 11, the song is known country-wide, and at level 21, continent-wide.) People tend to believe the message of the song unless they have a reason not to. Be careful with the slander – if anyone is offended by the song, they’ll be able to get a description of the original performer.

DRUID: The druid schtick is a defender of the wilderness. In my experience, druid players often want to behave like eco-terrorists, despite the fact that there is no real need to protect wilderness in a medieval or points-of-light setting.

Grow: As a standard action, the druid may make small plants spring up in an adjacent square. The druid may make a square difficult terrain, or cause climbable ivy to appear on a wall. Furthermore, by concentrating, a druid can cause ivy and roots to do 1 HP damage per minute to adjacent stone structures. The druid cannot grow cultivable plants like grain, and cannot grow plants in barren areas where they would not normally grow.

Command Animals: As a minor action, a druid can command a small natural creature, like a mouse or bird, in a burst 5, to do a simple task. Keeping the animal’s attention on the task requires a sustain minor. The animal cannot communicate with the druid except with very simple sign language, conveying “finished”, “impossible,” “I’m scared and need a pep talk” and similar messages.

INVOKER: The Invoker description suggests that Invokers know some purer form of divine magic than clerics do. Their cantrips should feel like sparks from the living steel of Creation itself. Invokers should also be able to do things that make clerics jealous.

Word of Creation: The gods can alter reality with a single word. Invokers have a shred of that power.

The Invoker can utter the name of a nonliving object small enough to be held or worn. It will appear in the character’s possession. Sustain minor. It disappears when the invoker speaks any other word at all (or casts a spell). The object can be up to 5 feet in its largest dimension (at level 11 it can be up to 10 feet; at level 21, 20 feet). The DM should be careful to make sure that the character doesn’t speak while the object is sustained, or the object will vanish. The Invoker can’t be too specific in his or her invocation: he or she can only utter a single noun, not describe an object. However, the DM should generally honor the player’s intent and not try to subvert the cantrip with wilful misinterpretation.

I’m curious if this cantrip is too powerful: I’d like to see it in play. People don’t play invokers that often, though, so I might never get to playtest it.

SHAMAN: Out of combat, the shaman schtick is that they talk to spirits. In combat, the shaman is the guy who summons a giant bear to eat enemies. The giant-bear part generally overshadows the talks-to-spirits part, which is a shame because there is room in the D&D world for a shaman who is attuned to the messages of the spirit world. No NPC wilderness tribe should be without one. I tried to come up with cantrips that would let NPC shamen do the things you’d expect them to do: mutter to invisible creatures, pronounce taboos, and give mystical, yet maddengly nonspecific, guidance to PCs.

Commune with Spirits: As a standard action, the shaman talks to the weak spirits in the area. They can unerringly answer any of the following questions:
-What is the last creature or group to have passed, and what did they do? Spirits have no sense of time, and no sense of of the purpose behind any activity.
-Is there currently anything that disrupts the natural order around, and in what direction? Aberrant, undead, and extraplanar creatures disrupt the natural order. A town doesn’t necessarily disrupt the natural order, but a sanctified temple does, because it is blessed with astral energy. A cleric doesnt, but a zone from a clerical spell does. Most arcane magic does not, but eladrin teleportation might, because it connects the world with the feywild. Spirits do not distinguish between good and evil, but they do give an indication of the strength of the disruption.
-How may I end a magical effect? As a healer in touch with the spirit realm, the shaman can gain unique knowledge about ending curses and other magical effects. Any temporary or permanent magical effect may be banished, even those associated with magic items, curses, and magical diseases. The DM should come up with an appropriate rite to end the effect. To banish a magical zone in combat, it might take a round or two of ritual dancing and the expenditure of some ritual ingredients. To end a magical curse or destroy a magic object, it might require a quest of varying difficulty. The way to accomplish the quest might be clear or unclear (ranging from “fetch mountain moss to put on the wound” to “sacrifice 50 cattle” to “fly through a keyhole at the western corner of the world”.)

Materialize: The shaman makes a local spirit visible to all, in glowing form, with the luminosity of a candle. Sustain minor. The shaman can also make invisible or ethereal monsters visible to all.

SORCERER: A sorcerer is like a wizard who wields raw, barely contained magic. I thought it would be fun to use the same cantrips as wizards, but in undisciplined, destructive forms.

The player is in control of the cantrip. It’s up to the player if the character is in control too; the cantrip’s effects might be latent expressions of the sorcerer’s unconscious power.

Ghost Scream: Like Ghost Sound, but it can only produce the kinds of unsettling noises that would freak you out in the dark.

Lightning Flash:
Like the Light cantrip but it provides light in irregular bursts of lightning (accompanied by thunder if the player wishes). It provides strobe light in an 8 square radius. Everyone in strobe light has partial concealment (-2 to attacks), and Hide attempts may be made.

Mage Slap: Someone feels a pinch, slap, or tug from an unseen hand.

Polterdigitation: Something fragile is destroyed in a flashy way. Glass might shatter, or papers might be thrown around the room. Light objects might be thrown harmlessly. An object might be stained with blood. Special: three effects may happen per turn.

WARDEN: The warden is very difficult for me to get a handle on. As far as I can tell, a warden is like a druid who fights with a melee weapon: or maybe more like a magical ranger. (Of course, in some editions, rangers can already cast spells.) There’s not enough of a niche for me to hang much conceptual baggage on. I decided to do my best to add some class flavor with the Sentry Tree power.

Sentry Tree: As a standard action, the warden turns into a tree (it’s the same tree each time). This can only be done in an environment where trees may grow. It takes a standard action to change back. As a tree, the warden is able to see in all directions, and 6 hours as a tree counts as an extended rest. As wardens get older, they often spend more and more time as a tree, and they age as a tree ages; many old oaks and willows are wardens of ancient days who might, in times of need, return to their original forms. (If you want, you can add 1-100 years to your character’s starting age).

The last warden cantrip is interesting mainly in that I wrote it on a laptop on which the F key didn’t work, and it is thus extremely hard to read.

eed: cause any nurturing plant to put orth ruit. the ood lasts or ive minutes. I eaten in that time, the ruit will provide sustenance or the ull day.

the wight land

Friday, July 20th, 2012

“The Ill-Made Mute” by Cecilia Dart-Thornton is somewhat of an odd novel. It’s sort of the counterpart of “The Night Land”, which I described as a better Shadowfell sourcebook than it is a work of fiction. The Ill-Made Mute is practically a Feywild sourcebook. It suffers some of the problems that you might expect if you tried to express a D&D sourcebook entirely as flavor text: it’s a bit of a world tour, and there are enough monster encounters to fill a bestiary. The upside is that there’s a lot of D&D inspiration to be mined.

You really could construct very full Fey monster encounter tables just from the encounters in the book. Fey creatures are called “wights” (confusing to my D&D-trained ear), and each plays by its own rules. It works very well with the rules I offered for giving every Fey creature its own ritual.

Here’s an essay in the novel that expresses the fundamental rule-bound nature of fey creatures:

Wights, he had told Imrhien, had to obey their own natural laws. Just as men could not become invisible or shift their shape in the manner native to wights, so wights–save, perhaps, for the most powerful–could not move against mortals unless certain conditions were fulfilled, certain actions taken or words spoken. If fear was shown, or if a mortal should be foolish enough to let his senses be tricked, or should he break certain silences or reveal his true name or answer questions ignorantly, or if he should transgress against wights by trespass or other means, then the creatures of eldritch could strike. Then the unfortunate man might be torn apart, drained of blood, crushed, hung, or slain by any manner or means, or he might simply die of fright. Yet even then, there was a chance he might still be saved by fleetness of foot, quick-wittedness, valor, intervention from others, or pure luck.

There are wight-encounter set-pieces of all kinds in the novel, but here’s a throwaway detail of some fairy creatures that can be used for some by-the-way fey flavor:

Here, where fantastic dragonflies and glittering midges played, more of the little wide-mouthed toads with bat-wings were skipping over the water’s surface, making free among tall rushes growing along the shore. They were quite lovely in a loathsome way, their froggy hides spangled gold and green, their tails long and thin, barbed at the tips. The veined vanes of their wings were so translucent that light shone through them. Their eyes were great, glowing, amber jewels, their teeth were many, tiny, and pointed.

Possibly this is a sight that can be seen on the way to the Temple of the Frog.

Here’s a set-piece to be found in one of the book’s underground dungeon environments:

Driven by an engine of rusted cogs forced into action, the portcullis began to descend, squeaking and clamoring with the reluctance of old age. It was halfway to biting the floor when, like an outrageous firework, a force came roaring around the bend and slammed into it. A current surged. Sparks exploded in a blistering snarl, and Diarmid was flung backward up the passage, where he lay motionless. Rent and twisted, metal screamed.

The “wight” here is a being made of lightning. It could be expressed as a pretty cool D&D monster. It does electrical damage, obviously, and it’s incredibly fast. Its weakness is that it can’t pass close to metal without being diverted into it – and then it bounces the way it came. Therefore, a portcullis, even a half-open one, is an impassable barrier: it will try to pass through the gap but will be diverted to bounce off the bars (electrocuting anyone touching the portcullis).

Another interesting combat effect of this power is that, if a wizard and a mail-clad fighter are standing next to each other, the electrical being can’t possibly attack the wizard: it’s, perforce, attracted to the fighter.

I’d like such a fight to offer lots of possibilities for trapping and channeling the monster.

Also handy: there’s an appendix describing the author’s sources for all the fairyland monsters, so you can skip the novel and go right for the folklore.

flying carpet, leveled

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
This entry is part 12 of 13 in the series wondrous items, leveled

Intelligent flying carpet: PCs who solve a runic puzzle woven into their carpet might discover that it can not only obey voice commands, it can be trusted on independent missions. While it can’t communicate with the user (beyond “fly up for yes, fly down for no,”) it will happily follow orders to rendezvous at certain places at certain times. Furthermore, when its owner whistles, the carpet will speed to his or her side.

My old houserules for leveling magic items mean that every piece of magical treasure has the potential to gain power in ways that the players can’t predict. Furthermore, WOTC recently invented the concept of the “rare magic item,” but we don’t yet have lots of examples.

While some items may get mechanically better (for instance, a +1 sword becomes a +2 sword), it’s more challenging to improve items that don’t have numeric bonuses. I thought I’d go through the Wondrous Items in the 4e Player’s Handbook and give examples of how each could gain powers that reflect their history.

Roll 1d6 for personality quirk:

1: The carpet hates one person in the party. It will tip upside down if that person ever boards the carpet first.
2: It has knowledge of some ancient secret, knowledge which it can’t communicate verbally. It will occasionally disoebey orders and take the PCs to the site of important clues.
3: It’s feisty and protective of one of the PCs. It will butt attackers in the knees. It has a small chance of tripping opponents.
4: It has a bad sense of direction. Every time it travels independently, it has a 20% chance of getting lost.
5: It was once a war carpet. It quivers with excitement when it scents battle. It can charge, in which case you do an extra die of damage with lance and spear hits.
6: It is old and threadbare. It wants nothing more than to lie on a floor in a nice study. It rises from the ground grudgingly, often pretending not to hear its command word the first time.

Caravan carpet: The problem with most flying carpets is that they’re not practical transportation for a family. They can only hold 1 person, or at most 1 person and a princess plus monkey.

This carpet can be modified to hold up to 8 people in comfort on overstuffed chairs.

Sports carpet: If properly tuned by an expert weaver, this stylish red carpet’s speed permanently increases from 6′ to 12’+1d4. Every time the carpet is tuned up, reroll the 1d4. When the carpet travels at a speed over 6′, the swooshing note of its passage is audible within 100 feet.

cantrips for every class

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

4th edition classes have been accused of feeling a little “samey” in combat, but there’s more to classes than combat. Or there should be.

Take the 4e wizard. This is an example of a well-designed out-of-combat class. In noncombat scenes, they generally feel like wizards. A huge part of the credit goes to cantrips. When you’re using Prestidigitation to make something disappear and Mage Hand to drop it into your pocket, all without making a single die roll, you feel like an all-powerful wizard. The class design complements the flavor nicely.

Compare that to the Ardent class from PHB 3. I tried an Ardent; I was reasonably interested by the premise of an emotionally explosive brain-warper who clouds men’s minds. The class flavor promised that, but outside of combat, the mechanics didn’t deliver. The only relevant class feature I got was a +2 to allies’ social skill checks. Now, I played that up as much as I could: instead of saying, “Remember that I give you +2 to Diplomacy” I said, “Richard Ink waves his hands and feelings of wellbeing fill the room. You get a +2 to diplomacy.” That can only go so far: that’s me working to support the flavor, not the mechanics of the class working to support the flavor as they do with the wizard. The Ardent badly needs a cantrip-like ability or two to give it an emotional niche besides “cleric who uses the Psionic power source”.

Really, every class could benefit from archetype-defining non-combat abilities. They’re a little hard to imagine for melee classes, but every magic-using class (arcane and divine definitely, and possibly primal) should get the noncombat fun that the wizard gets from cantrips.

You know what else is cool about wizard cantrips? There is no die rolling. They always work. The wizard doesn’t have to depend on the DM: the DM doesn’t get to set DCs or say whether something worked or not. Cantrips are small ways that the wizard has mastery over the DM’s game world.

So here’s what I want to do. Every class will get at least one little cantrip-like trick. Wizards are among the most magical classes, and have three cantrips. Most classes will probably have two. Martial classes might only get one. The cantrips will have the following characteristics:

  • They will have primarily out-of-combat effects. Their effects should be, on the whole, minor; but characters may be able to use them cleverly to good effect.
  • They will not require a d20 roll. A character should be able to predictably succeed when using a cantrip.
  • Using a cantrip should support the reason that people play the class.

Most people play the cleric because the group needs a healer. Putting that aside, though, people who actually enjoy playing the cleric tend to like giving out buffs and talking about their deity. A cleric’s cantrips should enable these behaviors.
-SYMBOL As a minor action, the cleric may make their god’s symbol glow from their palm or holy symbol. It disappears at the end of the cleric’s next turn. Sustain minor. Only a true cleric of a god can make the god’s symbol perfectly. It can be faked by illusion, but such fakery can be automatically discovered by anyone trained in Religion.
-BLESS The cleric touches an object or or a willing ally with their Symbol cantrip. The mark of the god will appear on the object or creature. If an intelligent creature sees the mark and knowingly kills the creature or destroys the object, they take 5 radiant damage (10 at cleric level 11 and 15 at level 21).

A cleric may maintain one simultaneous Blessing per level. The cleric can end any Blessing at any time. All of a cleric’s Blessings end when he or she falls unconscious or takes an extended rest.

People who play the Paladin usually want to be virtuous – sometimes obnoxiously so. A paladin will be happy if his cantrips support the paladin’s code while causing potential inconvenience to his party.
-VOW The paladin makes a promise. The hearer has total confidence that the the paladin is bound to his word. If the paladin willingly or unwillingly breaks his word, he suffers Shaken Faith, which gives the effects of resurrection sickness, until he has reached 2 milestones. While in Shaken Faith, the paladin may not make Vows and is generally broody.
-TAME As a standard action, a paladin may tame any adjacent creature with the Mount keyword of the paladin’s level or lower. The creature cannot be currently ridden by another rider. Such a creature instantly becomes a rideable ally of the paladin. As a minor action, the paladin may command it telepathically while it is within one mile. The paladin may only Tame one creature at a time. If a new creature is Tamed, a previously Tamed creature is released from the effect.

People play the warlock because they want to act creepy and slightly evil. A warlock’s cantrips should make everyone nervous.
-SUMMON As a standard action, the warlock may summon a Tiny lesser creature belonging to their patron, as appropriate for pact – devil, fairie, alien. Sustain minor. The creature can make no attacks and has defenses equal to the caster’s. If the creature is hit, the caster loses a surge and the creature disappears. The creature has a fly speed of 5, and skills equal to the summoner. The creature may travel up to 10 squares away from the caster. The creature can communicate telepathically with the caster.
-BURN As a minor action, the warlock may ignite any unattended flammable object within 5 squares. Nonflammable objects become uncomfortably hot.
-EVIL EYE As a standard action, a warlock may fix a malignant stare upon any creature within 20 squares within line of sight. That creature will be under the Evil Eye until the end of the caster’s next turn or until the creature gets out of line of sight of the warlock. A creature under the Evil Eye feels physically uncomfortable and takes a -2 penalty to all skill checks. On a natural 1 on any check, a creature under the Evil Eye fails spectacularly: the DM should make up a critical failure penalty. Minor persists. At eleventh level, a warlock may have two subjects under this effect – one with each eye. This creeps everyone out.

People play the fighter because a) they want to be a skilled, canny, defensive warrior or b) they want to do a lot of damage and don’t know about the barbarian class. Slayers are a little different, but it doesn’t hurt to give them the same abilities.
-SIZE UP: A fighter can tell what level enemies are, and whether they are minions, elite, or solo. In combat, it takes a standard action. If opponents are specifically trying to hide their true abilities, they must make a Bluff check. Fighters get a +5 on their Insight vs. this bluff.

The deal with rangers is that they can track. Although the Ranger class description mentions their tracking abilities, they have no tracking class features to back it up. Furthermore, the Nature skill doesn’t even mention tracking. Perhaps WOTC was intentionally divorcing the ranger class from its “Aragorn” history: but what wotc has put asunder, let us join together.
-TRACK: The Ranger can determine the number and kind of creatures who have passed in the last day, and follow their trail. If the targets are hiding their trail, they make an opposed Nature check: otherwise, the ranger automatically succeeds, regardless of weather and conditions. At level 11, the ranger can track trails up to a week old; at level 21, a month old.

The Warlord desperately needs some abilities that let them lead an army.
-DRILLING: By putting allies through a course of martial lessons, a Warlord can permanently increase their combat abilities. Able-bodied creatures capable of bearing arms, of less than the Warlord’s level, may be drilled. Untrained but able-bodied civilians become level 1 monsters. Other creatures gain a level, up to the Warlord’s level. Once a creature has been given a level by a warlord once, it cannot gain a second in this way.

Unless otherwise specified, gaining a level grants extra HP (typically 8, but dependent on role), and +1 to defenses, attack, and damage.

The Warlord can train five beings a week at level 1, 50 a week at level 11, and 500 a week at level 21.

The player of a rogue wants his character to be a movie star.
-IMPLAUSIBLE ESCAPE: Whenever a rogue dies off-screen (not witnessed by any intelligent creature), he is not really dead. He can rejoin the party at a suitably dramatic moment, at half his hit points, as soon as he comes up with an unlikely explanation for how he survived.

One of the effects of this is that rogues who scout far enough ahead can’t be killed (permanently) by traps. They are, however, still vulnerable to most monsters. Furthermore, a rogue who’s close to death is best served by jumping into a dark pit.

new 5e info from mike mearls’ q&a

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Mike Mearls answered D&D questions on Reddit last week. He answered over 100 questions. In this post, I’m not providing a full transcript: we already know that Next is going to be modular, that they want our feedback, and that Mike has a charming personality. Here, I’m just including the Qs and As that reveal new game rules information about D&D Next.

GokaiCant: I loved the advantage mechanic at first glance, looked like a really elegant way of handling attack bonuses and penalties. Until I had to make 36 rolls a turn for some mice. What approach, if any, will D&D 5e take to make Advantage/Disadvantage bearable with large encounters?

mikemearls: Ah yes, the rats. Sometimes, playtests reveal subtle issues. Other times, they hit you over the head.

This is a pretty big issue, because the monster design is aiming to keep hordes of orcs/goblins/etc a viable threat at high levels. So, at level 1 it might be 18 rats, but at level 10 it might be 18 orcs.
I’d like to incorporate a core “swarm” rule into the game, an easy way for DMs to group up monsters into single attacks. For instance, something that lets you combine X attacks into one die roll, with some small amount of damage even on a miss to make that an appealing option.

Hopefully, that solves the rat issue and also the humanoid horde issue at higher levels.

themanwhowas: Are you actually going to include modules for 4E fans who want flexible, intelligent, veteran fighters? With maneuvers, combinations and techniques like real swordsmen? Powers that are designed by game designers to be balanced as well as fun? That give consistency across tables, sessions and DMs? Or are we going to be forced to settle for dumb-as-brick fighters because that’s what the old guard want for nostalgia’s sake?

Question 2: On a similar note, encounter powers can make a lot of sense in-game. Tricks you can only pull once before enemies become prepared for it, like sand in the eye, trips, taunts, unexpected maneuvers and so on. Is there going to be a module that includes these, not just for fighters but for other classes as well? And don’t say I can improvise them already, I want mechanics that I can rely on.

mikemearls: Fighters – We have a maneuver system in design that we’re playtesting here in the office. In my Monday game, Chris Perkins’ fighter could choose between an inaccurate but high damage attack, a defensive attack that force an enemy to pay attention to him, and a second defensive option that boosted his AC. That’s just the surface of what we have going on in there.

I’d also like to extend the maneuver idea to other areas of the game – social maneuvers, rogue tricks, things like that. Our goal is to make a wide variety of characters possible, rather than stick each class into a limited box. Just as we’re moving roles out of class, we’re also moving complexity limits out of class as much as we can.

Encounter Powers – We’re looking at a mechanic that draws on the idea of pushing yourself beyond your limits between rests, basically a stamina-based mechanic. This is precisely the kind of more complex option that we place in the game for players who want to take on that sort of approach.

How does D&DNext plan to balance magical and non-magical classes and avoid caster-supremacy?
Also, on another note, I’ve heard that skills are almost non-existant as of the current builds and might just be a module that comes out. I know that skills is the hardest point to do because it lacks any consistency across editions, but the taking away of skills seems to put a huge focus on combat, which can be a bad thing. Though you probably don’t want to speak too concretely, I’d like to know what the current plan for skills actually is.

mikemearls: For caster supremacy, the key lies in attacking it from both ends. We can do a lot by reining in the most abusive spells and making it harder for casters to chain things together in abusive combos. The other end is making sure that we make an honest comparison of the casters to the non-casters.

For instance, if a wizard can turn invisible we have to be cool with rogues having an almost entirely assured chance of success to hide or sneak up on people. It’s unbalanced if the guy who is supposed to be stealthy has a real chance of failure, while the wizard’s magic has 100% chance of success of turning someone invisible.

For skills, we definitely will have them in some form to give people pointers to the non-combat stuff they are good at. Right now, classes give skills as appropriate but most of your skills come form your background. Backgrounds are not linked to class, so a fighter can choose the criminal background to become stealthy or good at picking locks.

The key discussion we’re having right now with skills boils down to this – does a skill make you better than you otherwise would be at something, or does it make you strictly good at it?

Making you better would be a +3 bonus, which is then stacked on top of an ability modifier. So, a Wis 9 rogue (ahem) would be better at finding traps, but still only at +2.

The second path removes abilities from the equation. The rogue would just have +5 to find traps. You’d use either an ability mod or your skill, rather than stacking them.

We’ve been arguing back and forth on which path works better. Neither has emerged as a clear front runner.

beckermt: With the return of Vancian casting are you planning on giving non-magical characters some sort of “pull out the stops” type of abilties?

I know the fighter has twice per day do 2 actions, but that’s not… you know, exciting, per se. The magic stuff allows casters to perform new and different abilities, even at a limited level.

Second Question: Is there any intention to add a Attacks of Opportunity system or somesuch to give players a more effective way to control the battlefield?

mikemearls: Yes, we’re looking at a set of maneuvers that characters can dip into to gain more concrete options in fights, along with options that you can use to push yourself beyond your limits for an action or two per encounter.

We’re strongly considering adding a free attack if someone breaks away from a melee. The playtest feedback has been a little soured on letting people move around without consequence. However, the rule would be much simpler than attacks of opportunity – likely it’ll be that if you start your turn in someone’s reach, they get an attack on you if you try to leave their reach using an action to withdraw.

Keep in mind that our goal for adding a mechanic like this would be to keep it very, very simple. We are 100% NOT going to give you a long list of things that provoke. It would be moving away from an enemy and nothing else.

SergioSF: Can you give us just a tid bit about bards?

mikemearls: The first pass on bards is going back to their Celtic roots while also looking at making a jack of all trades mechanic that doesn’t make the bard second best at everything. It’s still early, and the final design might be much different, but I really want to give the bard something unique that really speaks to their roots.

HighTechnocrat: With the limited numerical advantages gained by advancing in level, how will high level characters still feel the difference in power when they face foes which were a challenge at previous levels?

mikemearls: We’re working on higher level play in concert with our monster design, but you can expect that each class will have some built-in abilities that help them deal with greater numbers of foes and single, more powerful enemies.

For instance, fighters might have a mechanic that lets them hit several weak enemies at once at the cost of reduced damage. That doesn’t work so well against giants, but it lets a higher level fighter take down numerous, lower-level foes.

OTOH, a rogue might just get better at backstabbing or dueling one guy. It depends on the class’s identity and how we see it interacting with hordes of weaker enemies.

Armored-Saint: A common complaint on the discussion boards is that heavy armor isn’t effective enough when compared to light armor + Dexterity modifier. What plans, if any, are in the works to address this concern?

mikemearls: We’re completely re-working armor. We’re bulking up heavy armor, giving medium armor a better definition, and slightly pulling back on light armor.
Heavy armor allows no Dex bonus but has a high base value. Heavy armor always gives disad on attempts to be stealthy.

Medium armor has +2 Dex max or no Dex allowed. It sits below heavy armor. Classes like the ranger and barbarian are proficient with it. Some medium armors give disad on checks to hide or move silently. Basically, if you play a ranger or barbarian, you can either junk Dex and take a “heavier” medium armor or take a lighter one that lets you be stealthy.

Light armor allows full Dex and has no stealth drawbacks.

Rajion: 1) How much will coins weigh in the next edition? Or will the weight of coins be ignored, like sheets of paper?
2) If they will have weight, will the different varieties of coins have different weights, or will they have the same weight?
3) Will Platinum coins go back to a worth of 10 gold coins like in 3.5, or will they remain equal to 100 gold coins like in 4.0?

mikemearls: 1. Coin weight will likely be X coins/pound.
2. Likely they will all be the same.
3. I believe they are at 10 gold per platinum right now. You can expect a flatter wealth level for characters in 5e.

liblarva 1. Is there any other way to handle humans than the apparent +1 to all stats? It seems rather OP considering the new focus on abilities.
2. Will martial maneuvers be open to all, or limited to fighters? I ask because making subsystems for one or a handful of classes seems like a waste when the fighter can be given a simple bonus to these maneuvers rather than a unique subsystem. Similar to how classes shared spells in prior editions.

mikemearls: 1. Classes also give ability bonuses, so the ideas is that a human is more balanced than other races and that the other races are a little more focused vs. the generalist human.
2. Anyone can take maneuvers.

CastleCrasher Hey, I played the playtest with a couple friends of mine last weekend and we had a blast! My one question regards healing. I liked most of the mechanics, but I felt like the human cleric couldn’t quite heal enough. I was wondering what your thought process behind the healing kit was, and why you decided to make it an item instead of a class ability.

mikemearls: The idea behind making it an item was to make it something anyone could take. One direction we’re thinking of taking is making a cleric’s healing a separate ability from spells, so that we can give more healing without also having to give more spells in total.

cr0m: Hi Mike,
I’m one of the founders of Red Box Vancouver and a big fan of Basic D&D, so I’m loving the playtest rules–especially the choice of adventure!
Are there any plans for adding monster reaction tables or morale? They’re one of my favorite parts of the old school games. The first one really helps with sandbox play/improv and the second really speeds up combat.

mikemearls: Yup, you can expect both in rules modules. I wrote a set of morale rules for tactical play, and I expect we’ll include reaction tables for our interaction mechanics.

clue_bat: If most of a class’s cool abilities are in the first 3 levels (Rule of Three), might we see a return of 3.5’s level dipping? I’m sure we all remember characters that looked like this:
Fighter 4 / Ranger 2 / PsyWar 3 / Monk 2 / PrcA 2 / PrcB 3

mikemearls: We want to go back to 3e multiclassing, but I think we learned some very valuable things from the hybrid system in 4e.

deathdonut: 1. How do you plan to balance magic item stacking?
2. Will it be possible to permanently increase a stat?
3. Will magic users have items that directly increase their abilities in a way that corresponds to magic weapons for melee?
4. Is there thought given to the “budget” that different class styles will need to spend on equipment to keep up with the balance curve?

mikemearls: 1. We’re hoping to avoid +X items outside of armor, weapons, and shields.
2. Yes.
3. We’re looking to keep implements as items that increase spell accuracy/save DCs.
4. We’re actually looking at making buying equipment optional. Instead, you are given a starting package based on background and class.

shimmertook: How many levels is the current playtest model giving for a character’s entire career?

mikemearls: We’re looking at capping at level 20, but giving a set of options for uncapped advancement beyond that.

PrinceAuryn: How are magic items handled in DnDNext? Will we see a return to awesome extra damage, or will they say “super balanced” and +1 to hit.

mikemearls: We want magic items to feel awesome. I want the +1 or +2 to be something that you might even gloss over, and part of me wants to try designing the game without them.
I’d much rather have a hurricane flail that generates buffeting winds, knocks arrows out of the sky, and summons an air elemental than a +1 weapon. Key is – how many people agree with that? Are +X weapons/armor/etc iconic to D&D?

That said, I think we can have both. We’ll likely limit the maximum plus you can get, and we can then simply start with interesting/cool items and add pluses to those.

MindWandererB: 1. Any comments on Perception and the blind rogue/radar cleric issue? The wisdom=perception still has some bizarre side effects, like the fact that the characters who used to have Listen At Doors as a class feature are now among the deafest characters in the game, and that it’s considered a good choice to spec a cleric, not traditionally known as scouts, for high Perception. (And of course there’s the OotS joke that your hearing and eyesight get better with age, but that’s rarely relevant at the table.)
2) Any second thoughts on Intoxication and the fact that it’s a viable decision at low levels?
3) Any ideas yet about how to balance rogue damage?
4) Please comment on random HP and the decreased, irregular value of a Con bonus on HP.

mikemearls: 1) We’re looking at skills right now and trying to determine if skills make you better than you are (a flat bonus that adds to your ability check) or strictly make you good (a flat bonus that takes the place of your ability modiifer). So, the 8 Wis rogue with perception training might just be at, say, +5, rather than at +3 added to a -1 Wis check.
2) We definitely want to avoid making it abusive, but I think it’s kind of funny that getting drunk and charging into a dungeon might be a good idea.
3) Definitely taking a long look at this one. I’d like to give a rogue a nice but not overpowering bonus that he can get every round, and a BIG bonus (like AD&D backstab) for those once an adventure ambushes or set ups.
4) Random HP will be an option alongside fixed HP. The key to Con is that adding the bonus at each level can overwhelm class contribution to total HP. We need to find a middle ground.

The rest of Mike’s answers are worth reading too: check them out.