Archive for the ‘game design’ Category

what makes your decisions meaningful?

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Part of the fun of gaming is measuring yourself against challenges and seeing where you stand. In any game except, like, Pachinko, your wins and losses have to do with the choices you made.

Here are some speculations about what “meaningful choices” might mean to different people in D&D, and how it informs people’s choice of edition.

What makes your character-building choices meaningful? By “character-building” I mean choices about class, race, feats, powers, and maybe equipment: character-sheet stuff. Little variations in character power are best measured by pitting the characters against a standardized challenge. Therefore, versions of D&D with lots of character-building options (like 3e and 4e) are best served by having the characters frequently face opponents similar in power to the PCs. That maximizes the chance that small character-building adjustments will mean the difference between failure and success. And indeed, the 3e and 4e rules do expect that opponents will frequently be the right CR or level.

What makes your strategic choices meaningful? By “strategic” I mean high-level decisions made after seeing the opposition. Fight, run, or parley? Hoard resources or go nova with spells? These decisions are most meaningful when the PCs face challenges that can’t always be handled by the same strategy. If every encounter can be handled with a fight, there’s never a reason to run. Therefore, strategic choices are most meaningful when the characters frequently face opponents of varying power relative to the PCs (and the PCs can tell who’s too powerful to fight). Strategic choices are very important in OD&D, where there aren’t a lot of character-building choices, and randomly-encountered monsters have widely varying strengths (especially in the wilderness). Furthermore, in OD&D, there are a limited number of enemy types. You can’t make informed strategic decisions when you’re presented with a constant stream of enemies of unknown capabilities.

What makes your roleplaying choices meaningful? By “roleplaying” I mean making decisons based on your character’s goals, personality, backstory, and relationships with NPCs. These choices are meaningful when the PCs are able to influence the game’s story. If a conversation scene might legitimately make an important NPC a friend or enemy; if the adventure can take an unexpected turn because a PC decides to honor an obligation; if skipping an entire dungeon won’t make the DM mad, then role-playing decisions are meaningful. This happens in games where the characters frequently face NPCs. Apart from skill checks, there aren’t a lot of rules in D&D to handle this sort of thing. During a tense negotiation, a carefully-nuanced speech doesn’t give a mechanical benefit: it relies on the DM’s social sense, gained not from rules mastery but from the DM’s actual experience talking to humans. Roleplaying choices don’t have much to do with rules design and more to do with adventure design. Roleplaying choices can be more important in sandboxy adventures than in linear adventures, like Dragonlance and some of the less flexible adventure-path campaigns.

I’m going to take it as axiomatic that all three types of decision-making are worthwhile (they’re all fun for someone). Every edition of D&D presents character-building, strategic, and roleplaying choices. However, if you’re primarily interested in one of these, that might steer you towards (and away from) a specific system or adventure type.

If you love character-building the most, you should probably play 3e or 4e, and it probably explains why you don’t like the randomness of early D&D.

If you love high-level strategic decisions made during play, you should play early D&D editions or retroclones. You probably don’t like the balanced encounters of later editions.

If you love roleplaying, you can play any edition you want, but you hate DM railroading. Few adventure modules are flexible enough to handle this style well. Your best bet is to find a DM with good improv skills.

I think what’s most interesting about this analysis is how it shows the coherence of various D&D editions. Editions with a lot of character options should provide carefully balanced encounters (and 3e and 4e do). Editions without many character options should provide opponents of random but known strength (and early editions do).

What’s also interesting is what doesn’t cohere according to my analysis: 2e, post-Skills and Powers, has detailed character-building options but doesn’t, I think, have anything like a Challenge Rating system to test yourself against. Lamentations of the Flame Princess concentrates on strategic play, but presents unique monsters of unknown capacities so that you have difficulty making informed decisions.

combined weapons

Monday, December 10th, 2012

As a DM, I want to throw in cool magic weapons that people can actually use. On the other hand, I don’t want a formalized 4e-style wishlist. The big selection of D&D weapons actually makes my life difficult. If I want to include a magic sword, do I need to pay attention to who in the party uses a short sword, longsword, bastard sword, and greatsword?

As I was designing an adventure recently, I thought, “maybe I’ll describe this magic sword as an extra-long longsword, so it can be used as either a longsword or a greatsword, player’s choice.” (beat) “Hey, that’s what a bastard sword is supposed to be!”

The 1e bastard sword is kind of like that. It comes with a note: “Treat as a long sword if used one-handed.” Used two-handed, though, it’s its own thing. In later editions, the bastard sword is all over the map: for instance, in 3e, it has one set of stats one-handed or two-handed, but it requires a feat to use it one-handed.

As a DM, here’s how I wish the bastard sword worked: “The wielder can treat it either like a longsword or greatsword.”

What if this combination-weapon approach were expanded?

For one thing, the fifty polearms in D&D are basically different combinations and permutations of spears, axes, picks, hammers, and hooks. The very existence of the glaive, the glaive-guisarme, and the guisarme imply that there’s a use for a “combination-weapon” category.

Here are some weapons that could be turned into combination things:

Battleaxe: A battleaxe can be used either as a hand axe or a greataxe.
Bastard sword: A bastard sword can be used as either a longsword or a greatsword.
Glaive: A glaive can be used as either a greatsword or a spear.
Halberd: A halberd can be used as either a spear, battleaxe, or hook.
Morning Star: A morning star can be used either as a flail or a mace.
Rapier: A rapier can be used either as a shortsword or as a longsword.
Spiked Chain: A spiked chain can be used either as a whip or as bondage gear.

By reducing the number of unique weapons, you’re taking away the need to come up with a million slightly-different dice expressions to justify each weapon. You’re also replacing various solutions for “weapon groups”, where special rules are needed to give people proficiency with a large number of similar weapons. With my rule, a guy with longsword specialization can always use whatever rapier, longsword, or bastard sword he picks up (although only as a longsword).

Side note: You know what I’ve under-appreciated about 4e? How few weapons there are. 33 weapons in the 4e Players Handbook, as opposed to 50 in the 1e PHB, 63 in the 2e PHB, and 72 in the 3e PHB.

combat, exploration, interaction, logistics

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

The D&D Next designers say that the “three pillars” of D&D are combat, exploration, and interaction.

In Playing At the World, Jon Peterson seems to have independently developed three very similar play modes: combat, exploration, and logistics. “Another key ingredient in Dungeons & Dragons is dramatic pacing, achieved by transitioning between three different game modes: a mode of exploration, a mode of combat and a mode of logistics. Time flows differently in each of these modes.”

Comparing the D&D Next developers’ and Jon Peterson’s analyses is comparing apples and oranges, so it’s strange that the fruit look so similar. The D&D next pillars are, I think, intended to remind the developers that each character should have something to do in different scenes of the game. Peterson is analyzing the flow of game time in a session, which varies between turns, rounds, and days.

Now that we know that it’s a bad idea, let’s try merging the two models.

In Peterson’s model, combat has a game speed that might be significantly slower than real time (depending on whether your rounds are a minute or six seconds long). Even if each round takes a minute of game time, you’re unlikely to get through all the PCs and monsters in that much real time. Exploration is faster than real time, but the scale varies: “we go north for 120 feet” and “we go north for 10 miles” might take the same amount of real time. Logistics is even more variable: shopping for new plate mail and spending a month healing up might both take, say, thirty seconds each.

Interaction (i. e. conversation, mostly with NPCs) is unique in D&D modes in that it takes roughly the same amount of time in real and game time. There might be variations: a player might consult his notes to remember his character’s wife’s name, and a DM might pause to roll reaction dice, but in general, during interaction, the player and the character are doing roughly the same thing. It doesn’t hurt to throw an interaction mode into a discussion of pacing: I’ve definitely run sessions where the pace suffered from too much or too little interaction.

Logistics is interesting because I’ve never heard it mentioned as a positive part of a game. If it’s mentioned, it’s as something to be gotten through as quickly as possible. Still, it’s always been a big part of D&D. Gaining levels, or researching spells, or replacing spent arrows, or collecting tax income takes up table (or between-session) time. Peterson convincingly argues that “by rationing the modes carefully a referee guides the players through satisfying cycles of tension, catharsis and banality that mimic the ebb and flow of powerful events.”

The logistics portion of D&D can be fun in itself. Sometimes you want to be fighting a monster, and sometimes you want to be updating your character sheet. The Adventurer Conqueror King fief-management rules are fun because they embrace logistics as something to be relished.

How would a “logistics pillar” inform D&D Next development? It seems a little strange to say that each class should have its fair share of bookkeeping, but maybe there’s some truth to that. The wizard class comes with plenty of bookkeeping, with its ever-increasing spell menu to be tweaked each day, along with the most complex spell- and item-creation rules in the game. In 1e, a fighter eventually gets a castle to manage. In 3e, a fighter gets a feat to choose every two levels. Maybe it needs a little more logistics in Next.

confirming crits

Friday, November 30th, 2012

One of the first D&D houserules I encountered was the “crit to kill” rule: if you roll a natural 20 on an attack, roll another d20. On a second 20, the guy dies.

In Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World, I found a reference to a 1975 ancestor of that houserule, published in 1975 by Gary Switzer, the guy who wrote the first version of the Thief class. Peterson says, “On each melee swing, the attacker rolls an additional d20, which if it scores a ‘0’ (bearing in mind that early d20s had two 0’s), results in a critical. It is the main attack die which determines whether this is a critical hit or a trip—if the attack roll succeeds, then a hit has occurred, otherwise it is a trip.”

That extra die roll never made it into D&D canon, but 3e introduced the idea of “confirming crits:” rolling to see if your natural 20 was really a crit or not. (I think it introduced it. As I’ve mentioned before, my weakness is 2nd edition rules.)

I don’t like any of these rules very much in actual play, but not for game balance reasons. Sure, an insta-kill on 1 in 400 attacks adds wackiness and mitigates against PC survivability, and confirming crits only helps in bizarre corner cases where goblins crit on 100% of hits against dragons. The reason I don’t like them, though, is because they add anticlimax rolls.

In the “crit to kill” variant: You crit! Roll another d20. On a 1-19: Oh well, at least I got a crit. With the confirming a crit rule: I rolled a 20, but failed on the confirmation roll! Oh well, my crit didn’t happen.

4e’s solution was to have a crit always do max damage, and then throw some extra damage dice into the mix. That was not a bad solution: the extra dice always felt like bonus damage, even if you rolled poorly.

I COULD imagine bringing back the “crit to kill” rule in a modified form.

Recently, I’ve experimented with rolling d20s (and even d100s!) for special-effect damage. It’s fun! In my proposed variant, when you roll a crit, you don’t double or max your damage; you throw in a d20 along with all your other damage dice. If that die rolls a 20, you insta-kill. Otherwise, it just adds its damage to your hit (an average of 10 extra damage).

If the 1-in-400 chance of an insta-kill is too silly for you, you could instead make it an exploding d20 roll: on a crit-die roll of 20, you add 20 damage and roll again. Against all but high-level opponents, it will come to the same thing. However, this tweak gives 20th-level fighters some protection against 400 goblin archers.

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.

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.

D&D Next Idea: Cast Any Spell in 10 Minutes

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Mike Mearls talks about plans for the Wizard in his latest D&D Next article, Balancing Wizards in D&D.

One of his ideas is that using a scoll would require expending a spell of that level to use; so the idea is that scrolls wouldn’t increase overall power, but they would allow for more versatality. This sounds like a great solution for allowing a wizard to get some use out of those corner-case spells that have utility only in specific situations, while still maintaining overall power balance.

This implementation reminds me of an idea Paul and I discussed a couple weeks ago for how to handle the same problem. It could be used in addition or in place of the above system for handling scrolls:

A wizard can cast ANY spell they know by expending a spell slot of that level and increasing the casting time to 10 minutes. 

Thus, when you memorize your spells for the day, you can focus more on spells you know are going to be useful, such as offensive or powerful utility spells, since you can always cast the more situational spells, such as Stone to Mud or Disguise Self, out of combat if they are needed.

Of course, there are still going to be some situational spells that you may want to memorize since you’ll be able to cast them in a single round, so it is not necessarily just a matter of loading up on your most obviously powerful spells, especially if you have reason to believe (such as by advance scouting or information gathering) that a certain spell will be useful.

The main advantage of this approach (or of the new approach for scrolls) is that it allows more of those fun wacky spells that rarely see use to come into the forefront when they will really be needed out of combat. When I am playing a wizard in 3.5 or previous editions, there are certain spells I never touch until higher levels (when I have enough lower level spell slots to diversify); it would be fun to see those spells coming into play earlier on.

What the 2e PR can tell us about 5e

Monday, May 14th, 2012

When I got that giant box of D&D stuff in the mail, one of the first things I did (after reading the original owner’s game notebook and the In Search of The Unknown module) was settle down with a random Dragon issue I’d never read before: Issue #121, from 1987.

There’s a hilarious article by David “Zeb” Cook, trying to allay people’s fears about the coming Second Edition. It’s hilarious because, as an avid consumer of Fifth Edition previews, I find it so familiar.

Really, I do want to avoid having to do a Third Edition -— at least having to repeat what I’’m going through on Second Edition! The only way to do this is to build a set of core rules that can accommodate the inevitable changes and additions that will come. Just as the First Edition was not perfect, I know that new and better ideas will surface after Second Edition is done.

Our current plan is that we haven’’t got a plan. We are still looking at a lot of different ideas. Currently, all of them revolve around building a core set of rules that can be used by all players. One thought is that there would be two hardbound rule books — the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Masters Handbook (note the title change). These would present the core rules for the game, what everyone needs to know.

This sounds a lot like the marketing for D&D Next: the base 5e game will be very modular. We’ll have core rules, and a bunch of room to add optional rules. That way, we can avoid having to do a sixth edition.

(Also, what happened to the proposed name change to Dungeon Master’s Handbook? Was there public outcry against it?)

The article goes on to describe the “core” and “optional” rules in ways almost identical to the descriptions of the current new edition, except with the addition of a middle “tournament” rules tier:

TSR’’s attitude about “official” rules has changed. You know and I know that people create variants and house rules for use with the AD&D game. Trying to demand that they play only the “official” rules is pointless. That’s why we’’re planning on marking rules in the core set as “Standard,” “Tournament,” and “Optional.” Standard rules are the absolute minimum you need to play something that is passably identifiable as the AD&D game – the races, character classes, attack rolls, etc. Tournament rules add the rules that will be normally used in any TSR-sponsored tournament. After all, in a tournament, you should be reasonably certain that you will be playing the same game as your neighbor, a useful thing to ensure fairness at a convention! Best of all, for all you tinkerers out there, the Optional rules allow you to make the game yours, filling your game with as much richness and detail as you want – weapon-based armor-class modifiers, create-your-own character classes, spell-casting times, proficiencies, casting components, and more. Optional rules are just that; if you don’t like ’em, you don’t use ’em.

Compare that to this Rule of Three article from 2012:

We want to put as many tools as possible in the hands of DMs and their players so they can tailor the game to their preferences. Part of this process involves providing a number of what you’ve heard us refer to as “rules modules”—that is, packages of optional or alternative rules that we have designed, developed, and playtested that help create a certain game play experience, either for a single player or the entire game table.

The second half of that process is one that should also make it easier for homemade rules modules: creating a streamlined base to the game that rules modules can be added to easily. With a clean, lean, and dependable core to the game, we hope to be able to communicate to players and Dungeon Masters what the basics of the game are, and then provide advice for designing your own material to work with that.

It actually seems like the spirit of the fifth-edition revision has more in common with the second edition than I realized.

I don’t know if we can make any predictions about 5e based on the optional and tournament rules of 2e, but, for fun, I flipped open my new Second Edition PHB and found the items in the Table of Contents listed as Optional and Tournament:

Proficiencies (Optional)
Encumbrance (optional rule)
Basic Encumbrance (Tournament rule)
Specific Encumbrance (Optional Rule)
Encumbrance and Mounts (Tournament Rule)
Spell Components (Optional Rule)
Weapon Type vs Attack Modifiers (Optional Rule)
Group Initiative (Optional Rule)
Individual Initiative (Optional Rule)
Weapon Speed and Initiative (Optional Rule)
Parrying (Optional Rule)
Jogging and Running (Optional Rule)

What do you think? Will 5e’s “clean, lean and dependable core” be leaner and meaner than 2e’s “absolute minimum you need to play something that is passably identifiable as the AD&D game” (which core, presumably, included every rule except the ones mentioned above)?

There were a couple of other quotes in the article that I found interesting, not in relation to D&D Next, but to 2e’s eventual replacement, Third Edition:

Now, 100% compatibility is just not possible. There are things that must be fixed. There are inevitable improvements and new ideas. These things are going to prevent Second Edition from being 100% compatible. Just what percent compatibility we wind up with, I can’’t say. Indeed, the need to keep things compatible results in us not making some changes that would only confuse the issue. Take the armor class numbering system. To many players, it does not make sense that the worst armor classes have higher numbers, and it would seem simple to change it. However, reversing the order of the armor class numbers would invalidate every AD&D game campaign and product in existence. For compatibility’’s sake, it is better to make no change, since this change is not worth the trouble it will cause.

Ascending AC was something that was done in the bolder rules changes of 3e. It’s interesting that they were already thinking about it in 1987.


Ultimately, there will be people out there who will be playing Version 1.0, Version 1.5, Version 2.0, and probably even Version 2.3 of the AD&D game. Perhaps we should figure out some type of numbering system like that used on computer programs!

It would take this prediction 16 years to come true, with the publication of D&D 3.5.

kickstarter posters shipping this week! In the meantime, run a barony!

Monday, May 7th, 2012

GameSalute has been busy. They’re doing shipping and fulfillment for my project as well as the Dwimmermount, Sunrise City and Empires of the Void kickstarters, as well as some others. Still, Dan at GameSalute says he’ll begin shipping the posters this week. Thank you all for your patience!

Around the time that posters are shipped, everyone will get a URL where you can download PDFs of the posters and, eventually, the other rewards as they become available. Most of the other PDFs (all-star adventure book, board game, etc) aren’t ready yet, but one reward that WILL be ready for $22+ backers (and $15 backers) is a PDF version of Paul’s DM Notebook!

I’ve been working on the DM notebook for a lot of hours over the past month, and it’s just about done: I just need to do one or two more illustrations. It weighs in at 64 pages. This will be a beta version of the book. I’d love it if you guys each tested something from the notebook in your next game and sent me some feedback. Next month or so, I’ll update the notebook and make the final version available as a PDF and on lulu.

In the meantime, here’s a big chunk of Chapter 7, which includes prices for big-ticket items like castles and armies, and gives rules for running a barony of your own.

(Download chapter)

Also, here’s a picture I drew yesterday, for the Epic Adventures section of the book.