Gaming Tonic
28Feb/141

Review-One Die Short: A Web Series About Life, Love, and Roleplaying Games

thelema6For several years now I have enjoyed the work of Matt Forcella on Ask the Dungeon Master and One Die Short.  Personally he has also helped me a lot with my endeavors on this site, with great advice, support, and camaraderie.  When I heard about his project for a new web series called One Die Short: A Web Series About Life, Love, and Roleplaying Games, a new web series about gamers and the hi-jinks and shenanigans that go on at the table and in their lives, I was hopeful but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  There are so many podcasts, webisodes, and blogs that I didn't see what another one could possibly offer.  Thankfully I was wrong.  I waited for the first couple episodes to write up what I thought of the show because although we are pals I wanted to be fair and honest.  Usually if somebody I like asks me to do a review or perhaps direct a little publicity towards their project and I am less than enthusiastic I will decline.  Truth is something that means something in a review in my opinion.  Fortunately with One Die Short: A Web Series About Life, Love, and Roleplaying Games it wasn't necessary.

The show is entertaining and while it may not reflect the goings on at your game table I think it has enough for every gamer to find something familiar to their group.  The story is told in to parts.  The first part is the group sitting around the table rolling dice, describing the actions of their characters, chastising the other players for the actions of their characters, and generally doing what a lot of gamers do when they get together.  There are also some hilarious moments in the life of the DM, not Dungeon Master that oddly mirror incidents in my own life and more than likely others who will watch.  The second part of the story is told in the game as the characters actions reflect the hilarity that the players are engaging in at the table.  The costumes and effects are decent and the acting is entertaining and not flat or wooden.  Which is something that can't be said of lots of web series out there.

One of the most entertaining parts of the show I thought was the soundtrack.  The opening theme and credits theme are great.  The tip of the hat to the old classic Batman series of the 60's is a great touch.  As a geek I enjoy looking at what other great geek paraphernalia people collect and although it really has nothing to do with the show, the observant eye will notice a lot of really cool stuff decorating the gaming space and apartment.  So keep an eye out for some of it.

Although there are only two episodes right now, each running in the ballpark of ten minutes, I can't wait until next Monday at 1:00 Mountain Time for the next one.  Rob is ridiculous and every table can use somebody with that sort of enthusiasm, at least once in awhile.  Do yourself a favor and stop and catch up on the show when you have a spare twenty minutes.  You won't regret it.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

19Jan/144

Is PC Death Enough Of A Death Tax?

6a010535ce1cf6970c0134899a9ee6970cCharacter death is a part of almost any role-playing game.  When you take on the forces of darkness, megalomaniacal globe crushing maniacs, or a group of stealthy assassins it just might happen to a character.  Recently it has struck me that character death if not handled properly can actually be a huge advantage when it comes to magic items and equipment as well as more advantageous builds from starting at higher levels.

Let me clarify what I meant when I said that death and the introduction of a new character might set up the new character with powers and abilities.  Some feats, talents, tricks, knacks, and such are much more useful at lower level than they are at higher level.  So players are much less likely to select those.  In games where you can retrain it isn’t much of an issue at all as players can dump the less useful feats for more useful ones at any time.  Now that I took the time to clear that up, back to PC death.

When I was a young gamer in the early 80’s and your character met an untimely demise your new character always started a couple of levels behind the other characters.  With the way experience points doubled in D&D from level to level you usually would catch back up to the other party members in an adventure or two.  You also received less starting wealth to outfit your character.  Those were disadvantages to dying and you avoided it at all costs.

Some players might say that dying is punishment alone as many of the role-playing opportunities, allies, favors, story elements, and goodwill that their character had acquired during the adventuring career of their deceased character was gone.  That is true for some players but there are some other players that don’t put as much focus on those things and play the game to roll dice, do damage, and crush their enemies.  It is those players that can benefit from PC death in a lot of games by dying, especially when it comes to equipment.

If you stick to the guidelines for D&D or Pathfinder and you have a PC death, the player who had their character die makes a new character of the appropriate level with a certain amount of starting wealth.  If that appropriate level is the same level as the rest of the group and the DM has been keeping PC wealth according to the guidelines, the new PC has the opportunity to outfit their new character with exactly what they want.  In a lower magic world or in a game where the DM runs a lot of published adventures and hands out the magic that is written into the adventure without changing it to fit the PCs this is a real issue.

If you run published adventures and hand out the magic as it is written up in the adventure and then allow the players to trade it for half the listed value then the characters will have even less level appropriate gold piece value of magic and equipment.  If you allow the characters to purchase the exact items they would like then the characters will gain a little bit of power back by outfitting their characters with the exact items they need, which typically means what will give the characters the biggest advantage and best chance for survival.  The player with a new character from character death still has an advantage if the new character starting wealth is level appropriate.  That player simply purchases the most advantageous gear for the new character without needing to trade items in for half value to acquire the desired magic and equipment.

I tend to give out magic items to the characters which are more powerful than they might get at a certain level if I stick strictly by the rules.   My homebrew world is a low magic world and having fewer magic items but making those items more powerful seemed like a great way to keep that low magic feel.  This method of magic item dispersal is also an excellent way to deal with a newly introduced character that is replacing a deceased character from having choice gear in comparison to the rest of the party.

Another area that a DM should consider when it comes to PC death, and new character introduction is that the new character doesn’t step all over the toes of another PC already in the party.  I will admit that this is a sore spot with me because I have seen many a campaign, especially in early editions of D&D, which nobody wanted to play a wizard in the beginning.  I don’t blame them as it was difficult to survive with low hit points, no armor, and a single first level spell a day.  Although if there was a character death and let’s say the party was 9th level, then playing a wizard was an excellent choice as they were much more powerful at the point.

Do games need a death tax?  I have seen it used in a lot of campaigns by various DMs in the past and it is usually not a huge deal.  I will say that I think gamers of years gone by were a bit tougher and more likely to accept this.  Am I biased because I am one of those gamers?  Probably a little bit.  That doesn’t necessarily make it any less true.  I think lots of gamers at their home game table would balk at the idea of starting a new character a level or two behind the other PCs.  In organized play like Pathfinder Society or D&D Encounters you are much more likely to see PCs of mixed levels than in a home game and it is just accepted.

So do you think that a new character added to the group at higher levels has an advantage?  Do you think that some sort of death tax should be used to help minimize the new character advantage?  What do you do in the games you are playing now or have played in the past?  Use the comments section to tell me your stories, tell me I am wrong, or whatever else crosses your mind.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

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30Nov/130

Reflections on Pathfinder Advanced Class Guide Playtest

ACGPThe Advanced Class Guide Playtest for Pathfinder has been released by Paizo and I've now spent the last week pouring over every page.  I jumped into message boards to see what other players were feeling about the ten new hybrid classes as well as talked with my regular gaming group about their thoughts on the material.  Now that I've processed all that I thought I would break down what I saw and how I felt about each of the classes and perhaps point out a thing or two that you might not have thought of and open up some conversation.  Each entry has a link on the class name that links to the discussion thread on the Pathfinder message boards.

The Arcanist is the first class and apparently wasn’t the best received class by the fans because it appears to be headed for some sort of overhaul in short order.  Jason Bulmahn, Lead Designer commented on this here.  What the designers are proposing excites me a lot more than the current state of the arcanist, which is a mix between wizard and sorcerer that doesn’t seem to offer anything original and could become a problem with nobody ever playing either of those two classes again.  The fluff for this class in no way matched that crunch and it sounds like this will be changed shortly.

What these proposed changes will end up to look like is not known but I'd love to see something that was perhaps similar to the Incantrix.  Perhaps some ability to absorb a spell that is already in place, adding that power to their arcane reservoir to use in a variety of ways later like powering metamagic feats or storing the spell away for later use.  At higher levels the arcanist could even gain the ability to break down a spell directed at them.  Since this class appears to be in major flux we will move on and perhaps revisit it in a later article.

A class I don’t think is necessarily filling an archetypical role, but is interesting nonetheless is the Bloodrager.  This mix of barbarian and sorcerer has a lot of gamers excited about possible power builds and some potentially exciting options in and out of combat.  Bloodrager is multi-ability dependent because of the need for a decent Charisma as well as Strength and Wisdom.  Fortunately Charisma will not really need to be higher than 14 by the time the character is 13th level because I see them using a lot of buffs and touch attacks but not many other types of spells.  Some Dexterity would be nice as well to help with the low armor class and reflex save.

I think Uncanny Dodge is a little out of place for the Bloodrager but the Damage Reduction seems like a pretty solid fit since they will probably see a lot of melee combat.  The bloodline powers and feats allow for a lot of options as the character advances and will help to differentiate one Bloodrager from another.  There isn’t an alignment restriction like there is for a barbarian so you can have a lot of specific campaign flavor and versatility on how the class will be utilized in different campaigns.  A full Base Attack Bonus spell caster is not to be trifled with in the hands of a creative, clever, and brave player.

I have never been a fan of monks or brawling grappling type fighters in my fantasy games, so my thoughts on the Brawler are probably colored by that.  Weapons were invented for a reason and I've a hard time wrapping my mind around the usefulness of punching ooze or trying to grapple a gargantuan dragon.  That being said, the brawler is a competent combatant and the Martial Manuevers ability allows a player who is a student of the game to really shine in combat situations.  This ability also allows the character to use some of the more situational feats that might otherwise not appear in your game as they are too limited to be worth selecting with a feat.  I also like Manuever Training as this helps the character to have a certain style which mirrors many real world martial artists and boxers.

I know that for game balance purposes it had to be part of the class I guess, but I don't like Brawler Strike one bit.  Why the unarmed combatant eschewing the mysticism of the monk would begin having their hands and feet count as cold iron and admantine just doesn’t make any sense to me.  The class was actually an excellent bar brawler until I got to this power.  I also don’t understand although Oriental Adventures style weapon proficiencies.  Nunchaku and sai just don’t seem like the right type of weapon fit for a class that is described as not being that type of class.

One of the classes I was most excited about and something that I really thought filled a gap was the Hunter.  The beastmaster is a classic fantasy archetype and needed specific representation in the game.  The class stands as a competent combination of druid and ranger, giving up the shapechanging of the druid and the combat prowess of the ranger.  I would have liked to see something a bit more martial and even more focused on their animal companion.  Perhaps a full base attack bonus and no spells would work.  The Animal Focus ability is interesting and makes the Hunter a bit more capable in a variety of situations.  This class is close and in the thread notes several changes are proposed after receiving feedback.  Shouldn’t a true beastmaster be able to look through the eyes of their animal companion at will?  Something to consider instead of spells as well.

The Investigator looks like a fun class that could replace a rogue in a party or make a great fifth player character in an adventuring group.  It does skills well and Inspiration is a pretty interesting mechanic especially for players that love skill monkeys.  I like the Alchemy and Extracts because Sherlock Holmes and his chemistry set is something that I can really picture.  At low levels this class is going to have to really be careful in combats not to get flattened but at about 3rd level I think that will begin to subside a little.

The poison use ability doesn’t seem to fit the idea of the Investigator but Poison Resistance does.  I don’t picture a sleuth coating a blade with poison but I do picture the targets of their investigations using such nefarious tactics.  The sneak attack damage might want to come down a little bit or perhaps be replaced by something else altogether like a fixed damage bonus based on their Intelligence.  Perhaps a +1 every time they would get a die of sneak attack damage up to their Intelligence bonus.  This would reduce the Investigator’s damage potential at the high end but leave them with something that was more reliable and easier to use especially without the Evasion and Uncanny Dodge.

That brings us to Shaman a very interesting class that one of the players in the regular Pathfinder game I run had already been trying to simulate with other classes.  Needless to say that character will be switched immediately.  With decent base attack bonus and armor available plus cleric spells a shaman can be a capable second tier combatant.  There are enough spirit options between Spirits, Spirit Magic, Hex, Wandering Spirit, and Wandering Hex to keep Shamans feeling fresh and offer a wide variety of types of characters that can be played.  I really like this class and can see it played a variety of ways from barbarian mystic to a young medium who is haunted and helped by the spirits that have attached to her.  I’m really excited to see this class in action.

Skald is the one class which appears to be really specific from the name.  It's also the one class that the rest of the players and party better be on board with.  It really isn't tough enough physically with access to light armor and a d8 hit die to fulfill it's fluff, nor does it provide enough advantage to the rest of the group to offset the disadvantages the Skald brings to the group.  The rest of the party can choose not to be affected by the raging song but if they don't isn't the Skald pretty much standing there singing karaoke?  Sure they can add on rage powers but not having the ability to do anything that requires concentration while under the effects of the rage song means many characters especially spell casters will probably pass.  It also doesn't stack with the raging abilities of the barbarian which is kind of ridiculous since you think you would find the character among a group of barbarians inspiring them throughout a battle.  The slow spell progression doesn't really inspire me to want to play one either.

One of the more solid builds that also lives up to the name and fluff is the Slayer.  The slayer is a more than competent killer of all things and has a lot of options when deciding how she is going to kill and what she kills best.  The skill points could probably use a boost up based on the two alternate classes listed, ranger and rogue.  The damage that this class can top out might be pretty tremendous and will make a great addition to a party either as the primary martial character or as a second one capable of great damage at range or in melee.  At first I thought it might step on the toes of the ranger and rogue, but after studying it I can see a lot of differences.  The skills being the most noticeable as several that a party might find useful are not on the skill list of the Slayer.  That’s a good thing.  I hope to see the Slayer in action soon.

I'm always excited when I see a Swashbuckler class in any system because I love to play the quick, mobile, sharp tongued swordsman.  With a little tinkering, this Swashbuckler will fit the bill perfectly.  Once the Weapon Finesse feat is either moved to first level or a line is added to the description of the power gained at 2nd level that allows you to take another feat if you already have Weapon Finesse, the class will be beyond excellent.  Since one of the alternate classes for this class is the gunslinger, I hope we will see an archetype soon that uses a clutch of pistols.  A really cool way to build a pirate is something that can fill a niche in Pathfinder and every pirate needs their flintlock.  We're going to have to wait and see what changes are made because the class is a little lacking in mobility.  Expanding out the deeds to allow for a bit more mobility and how the Swashbuckler can recover panache are areas where the class can grow over time.

Warpriest was a class that many argue could be somewhat accomplished by a fighter/cleric multiclass or a paladin with the right feats selected.  I think it fills a necessary role without the alignment restrictions of the paladin or the loss of spell casting power that comes from multiclassing.  The first rules revision caught the need for the Warpriest to be proficient with their deity’s favorite weapon and was quickly corrected.  That was the biggest flaw in the class.  The hit die is a little low for a character with a martial theme and perhaps the channel ability can be dropped to allow for a higher hit die and perhaps something else to help move the Warpriest to the front line a little easier.

Make sure to follow the Advanced Class Guide Playtest updates here until the playtest closes on December 17th.  You can see by reading through the first update that the designers are watching the message boards, really paying attention to the fan feedback, and continuously letting the players of Pathfinder know what changes they are looking at and making.  I'm excited by these new classes and in general and can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like.  Once the book comes out I'll have more to say, but really want to hear what all of you have to say so please leave a comment, and until next time, Roll Hard!

18Nov/130

Initiative, What Is It Good For? Absolutely Everything

pic1178028Lately I've been mentally consumed with initiative and the importance it can play to a group of PCs.  I thought I'd get all these thoughts out of my mind so I can move on to obsessing about something else.  In a game where your initiative isn't a set number like in D&D Next or Pathfinder, going first can make the party have a much greater chance for success.  Acting first can also mean that the party holds on to expendable resources and can cover more encounters before needing to rest.  Therefore almost every class can benefit from acting first for a variety of reasons that we will now discuss.

It was this thread over on the Paizo message boards that really got my mind stirring and how sometimes the classes and characters that could most benefit from winning initiative are the last to do anything to improve their initiative modifier.    Really getting to go before your opponent benefits anyone involved almost all the time.  If you go before the bad guys and kill them individually or by combining fire those are attacks and effects that may come with those attacks that the PCs never have to face.  Don’t take attacks and you don’t need to heal, restore, cure, or anything else.

Let us start with the glass cannon type characters like wizards and sorcerers.  I have player in my regular group that loves to play the damage dealing blaster capable of doing his job from a fair distance from the enemy.  He does it well stacking ability modifiers, feats, class options, etc., to really put a hurting on the bad guys.  The only problem is he will routinely select more damage over going first and often that means by the time his wizard-type character (we’ll just assume this includes sorcerer and other arcane types) gets his turn other party members are in the way.  These area of effect specialists will often suffer from this problem and outside of a plus or two from their Dexterity usually have nothing else to assist their initiative.  Then they might have to catch another PC in their blast to have maximum effect and that is a huge waste of resources, as doing damage to the enemy while harming PCs isn't very efficient.

On the flip side of damage a wizard who goes first can cast defensive spells, movement spells, or party enhancing spells before the bad guys get a chance to take any action.  A haste spell done early in a combat allows for more effect.  The other characters get more attacks earlier and the duration might expire during the combat instead of a round or two after the encounter has completed.  Shield, mage armor, fly, and others are great ways to protect yourself before your opponents get their turns.  So get your turn before they get theirs.  It is really that simple and to me makes perfect sense.  A feat spent getting to go first like Improved Initiative opens up a many more options than a Spell Focus feat which only helps when you cast one school of magic.  Am I in the minority here with my thinking?

Even the summoning type caster can benefit by going first.  The summoned creatures can attack immediately, block off the battlefield, take opportunity attacks if the bad guys do get move before the rest of the party and attempt to move toward the PCs, and provide flanking for other characters.  If the rogue rolls poorly on initiative then she still has the opportunity to bring the damage because the wizard provided her with the necessary tools to do so already.

Clerics and the party buff style casters are the next type of characters we will take a look at and what winning initiative means for them and the rest of their party.  If the PCs are still grouped together then the buffing style caster can more than likely enhance the damage, armor class, chances to hit, etc., of more of them.  This is a big deal because the buffing caster is getting maximum effect of there spells.  This is especially true if the buffing caster is getting to cast before the fighters, rogues, barbarians, paladins, rangers, etc., have yet to take their first turns because that is more enhancements earlier in the combat.  This helps to ensure a quicker success which helps to have less resource expenditure after or during the combat, like healing, restoring, and curing.

If the cleric has the ability to turn or command the enemies of their party then take advantage of this before most of the party has a chance to act.  It may eliminate some opponents immediately or do some damage and allow other characters to remove opponents on their turns with damage that might not have otherwise destroyed the opponents.  The ability to hit multiple opponents with these types of attacks is a great advantage and damaged opponents are more quickly and easily dead opponents when other characters get their chance to take their turns.

That kind of brings us to the heavily armored, hit point heavy, or heavy hitting martial types like fighters, paladins, and barbarians.  One of the best things these characters can do is close the distance with their enemies so that the characters are determining where the battle happens and protecting the squishier characters.  Sure the DM can choose to have the enemies ignore them and move toward softer targets, but that allows opportunity attacks and if the heavy hitters already got an attack then the opponent might just find themselves dead for their efforts of avoidance.  4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons did a great job of defining the defender for many of these types of characters and regardless of what game you are playing that holds true.  These tough characters getting in position to damage the enemy and protect the party is what they do better than most any other characters.

Rogues have abilities that need certain circumstances to be effective, like sneak attack.  That really doesn't mean that they need to go first.  It can help but a handful of summoned creatures or some heavy hitting hammer type characters can provide flanking if they go first and allow the rogue to position themselves to use their sneak attack without going first in the initiative order.  Needing a high Dexterity score will mean that the rogue will more than likely have a decent bonus to their initiative by the very nature of an effective build.  In Pathfinder rogue talents like Assault Leader are only effective if other characters are in a position to take advantage of them.

Once a party has beaten their opponents in initiative they can delay their actions to get into the best position possible.  If the ranger wins initiative perhaps he delays until the sorcerer hits the opponents with a fireball and then she picks off already seriously damaged enemies who might have survived making their saves.  Once the party wins initiative they dictate the pace of the combat and gain a significant advantage over the baddies.

There are some games that handle initiative in a variety of ways that are different from rolling a die and adding a modifier and then working through from highest to lowest, Star Wars Edge of the Empire by Fantasy Flight Games and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game by Margaret Weis Productions spring to mind.  None of this applies to games like that obviously.  Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, 13th Age, and Dungeon Crawl Classics use a more traditional form of setting the encounter order and these thoughts work best when applied to those games.  What sort of importance do you place on initiative with your characters or wish that other players placed with their characters?  I know their are some strong opinions out their in the rpg community on this and would love to hear what you think so leave a comment, and until next time, Roll Hard!

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4Nov/130

The Undead Shall Rise Again and Again

640x912_3296_Undead_2d_fantasy_guild_wars_undead_picture_image_digital_artHalloween time has come and gone unfortunately because it’s my favorite time of year.  I love the crisp autumn air, pumpkins set out on porches soon to become jack-o-lanterns, and the chance that something terrifying could be lurking around the next hedge or fence.  So it shouldn't be much of a surprise that I like to use undead in my rpgs.  Whether I'm playing D&D Next or Pathfinder, or perhaps something like a supers game like Champions or Mutants & Masterminds, it is almost a guarantee at some point the forces of darkness will rise from their graves to challenge my hopefully terrified players.  So in the spirit of keeping All Hallows Eve time alive, I thought I would share some thoughts on the undead, and why and how I use them in my games.

Durability and sustainability are probably the biggest reasons I like to include the walking dead in my adventures.  The undead require no air, water, food, shelter, clothing, or companionship so they can exist where many other challenges just don’t make sense.  If my players open a tomb that hasn't been opened in a millennium and inside find a tribe of orcs, goblins, and kobolds that haven’t had access to food or water they will question this instead of enjoying the adventure.  This is the beauty of the dead, they need nothing, save for the consumption of flesh and souls of the living.  You can use them anywhere.

Strange environments such as underwater and deep space are excellent environments for the undead as well.  Not needing air allows skeletons to be guarding the submerged entrance to a long forgotten pirate’s cove for any amount of time.  The characters needing air are disadvantaged by time usually in these situations, and that allows for a little bit of extra scare.  Drowning is a horrible way to go out.  A pit with several zombies or festrogs down at the bottom ready to tear into an unlucky adventurer is not only a tougher challenge but fear of death will make your players afraid.  Scaring the players can be hard to do so take the chance when it is there.

Incorporeal undead are much more challenging than their corporeal cousins in pretty much any type of game they materialize in.  The ability to walk through walls allows them to invade secret headquarters with ease and negates many powers a character might use to defeat them.  The ability to exist just inside a wall or object and still be aware of what is going on outside can make them excellent spies.  Having the ability to hit and run a group of PCs by using the terrain to escape into is an excellent way to hamper a party and keep them on the alert.

The big baddies of the undead world are excellent leaders, terrifyingly tough opponents, and whether mixed with a horde of underlings or all alone can make for a memorable encounter.  In almost any campaign there is a place for Dracula or a Strahd type villain.  In a modern game a powerful vampire, mummy lord unleashed from a museum exhibit, or a vengeful ghost can bring the terror to investigators, troubleshooters, or agents.  In a fantasy game they can lead armies, terrorizing cities, and form nations that strike fear into whole continents.  However you use a powerful, leader type undead remember that they are rarely just vicious, savage, rampaging opponents.  Most truly memorable villains believe that what they are doing is the right thing for whatever reason.

Now just having undead in your game is not truly terrifying, you have to make sure to set the scene so that they instill fear in your characters.  When a player makes a Perception check to listen at a door, perhaps their character hears the clickety-clack of bones on the other side as skeletal warriors shuffle about waiting for an intruder.  Do zombies make a sickening sound of a pumpkin being hit with a baseball bat when the cleric crushes their skull with his mace?  The stench of a ghast should be more than a roll against Fortitude; it should be a sickening odor that nearly brings the hearty dwarf fighter to her knees.

In most fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons undead have become a lot less frightening in each edition than they were in the previous one.  This is especially true of the undead that have level drain.  When the touch of a vampire would just cause you to lose two levels that was a terrifying fate.  That is just a massive loss of experience points, especially at higher levels.  Now we are not going back to that as it was very unpopular and caused the need for a lot of in-game math.  So if designers are going to scale back the horror of fighting the walking dead you as the DM really need to find ways to step up their horror factor.

Remember that in almost all cases the undead are without souls, devoid of remorse, and that should be reflected by their actions and motivations in your games.  Zombies and ghouls will eat pets and children.  Skeletons will attack anything unlucky enough to come near them.  A necromancer lich will raise anything from the dead to bolster their undead armies, including children and grandmothers.  In my Pathfinder session this week I plan to make my players angry and the characters thirst for vengeance.  Their will be zombie children and parents involved.

You can use undead in your game as extra guards, soldiers, minions, or to fill out the ranks of a raiding party.  Animals, humanoids, giants, and more all make excellent choices to rise from their final resting spots to bolster enemy forces.  Happy Halloween, and let us know how you use the undead in your game.  I'll be rotting to hear from you.  If you want to check out another pretty good article about the way undead can be used in a game I suggest this one at Dungeon's Master.com.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

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18Oct/131

D&D Next Final Open Playtest Packet Reflections Pt. 2

FifthEditionCoverThe public has received the last D&D Next Open Playtest packet barring an adjustment to a class or two like druid or paladin.  I talked a few days ago about some of the things that I was less than satisfied with so I wanted to share with you the many things that I'm extremely pleased about.  This 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has many elements that represent all the previous editions as well as some new mechanics that represent the change in role-playing tastes that have occurred over the last four decades.

The first thing I would like to point out is that the designers have delivered a lot of different classes and races.  Enough that for an open playtest there is a lot of variety for players to choose from.  They didn't have to do this but it was stated at the D&D Summit that I attended way back in December of 2011 that the designer’s hopes were to include everything that had appeared in a player’s handbook of every edition.  While some of that might not come to bear in the manner we expected, a lot of effort has obviously went into conquering as much of that task as possible.  Now for some specific likes.

Advantage and disadvantage are biggest mechanical changes to the game and I'm a huge fan.  Lots of newer games have moved towards building a dice pool and advantage/disadvantage allows players a bit of that without fundamentally changing how D&D has always been played.  Advantage allows for races, classes, and spells to simulate a variety of powers mechanically without the need for remembering more +1 and +2 bonuses.  Those plus bonuses are still a viable option as well though, so you get a little bit more variety.

Disadvantage is an excellent way for the DM to represent a particularly challenging task.  As long as the disadvantage is kept out of the hands of the players for the most part then it is a great device.  If the characters get too much access to granting disadvantage then we will run into a reaction fiasco similar to what would happen in 4th Edition.  I never found it interesting as a DM in 4E to attack and set off four or five player reactions.  Dungeon Masters should have some fun too.

The bard has always been a great idea but never really struck me as implemented well or that useful to a party.  The bard is now a fully realized class that can define the role it plays in a group.  Call to battle is a great power because it is easy to imagine and implement.  Allowing for an extra die to be rolled for damage allows other players to build a little dice pool for the characters and is easier to remember than a plus to either hit or damage.  Battle Magic is a power that really lets the bard hold their own as the higher levels are attained.  The bard colleges will allow for a lot of variation between different bards and for expansion later on in the edition.  No two bards should ever be the same or second tier to other PCs, and they no longer will be.

The barbarian can be played as the bare chest wild warrior again.  Rage is nothing to be trifled with but also doesn't put them at such a disadvantage that another character has to be ready to pull their fat out of the fire.  The Barbarian Path that are in the playtest are interesting, useful, and open to enough options to allow replay with various combinations.  Path of the Berserker is perfect for the classic can’t be stopped smashing warrior and Path of the Totem Warrior accurately simulates the more primal character.  These are great distinction between types of barbarians and how players may envision their barbarian.  The paths are also perfect for allowing for expansion material at a later date.  Brutal Critical is another power which not only builds upon how a barbarian should play and feel in combat but allows for a little dice pool to build from time to time.  Players like to roll dice.

The one piece of the playtest that seems to be the most constant at this point is Backgrounds.  They allow for another layer of variation in the PCs, and for a quick way to figure out who you character was or was supposed to become before they took up the way of the sword or spell.  I like the way skills are dished out using this method and the way skills are now used in general.  I like tool proficiencies although I'm a little leery of the usefulness of the gaming sets tool proficiency that the noble receives in most campaigns.  Each of the backgrounds having a non-mechanic reflected ability allows for an increase in role-playing and creative opportunities.

The power of the feats will make just raising your ability scores much less attractive.  Some of the feats raise an ability score by a single point and then grant a smaller bonus.  Feats in previous editions have never really excited me because while a few were great most of them were not balanced or desirable by almost any PC.  They just gave you an “option”, but if nobody was ever going to select it, was it really an option?  The current feat list makes you a master at your selected area and there is no feat tree involved.  Want to be able to be a competent agile sword fighter, than take Fencing Master. Done!  Want to really be smart and a well educated cleric, than Loremaster is for you.

I love the idea of receiving less feats and allowing class ability with options within them to be where the bulk of character design comes from.  You can have a fighter who knows a little spell ability like a simple knack, and not have to give up a level to simulate it.  This leaves less desire to seek game exploitation as well, but that's a byproduct I'm sure and not the designers intent.

The spell lists are pretty extensive and you can always count on it filling out, getting a bit more fleshed out, and old favorites being reproduced either with the release of the next edition or near the release.  The ranger and paladin spell lists are something that I look forward to seeing more of in action, and something that I really missed in 4E.  I always thought that a couple extra cleverly used spells allowed those two classes a little bit of style that separated them from the fighter.  I know some aren't fans of spells for these classes but that isn't me.

The bestiary has enough to get you going until the final release comes out.  The customization options for some of the monsters will give you a little more variety and if you throw in the occasional baddie built from a PC class then you should be good to go for awhile.  Some pictures would have been nice for some of the monsters but if you have any older edition Monster Manuals or Google at your disposal this really shouldn't be much of an issue.  It's an open playtest after all and you can’t expect everything to be all pretty and polished.

My overall impression of what I've seen of the future of my most beloved hobby is very enthusiastic and filled with great hope.  While some areas still need polishing, the game as a whole seems to be coming together and the final open playtest packet is a fully playable game with a lot of options.  There are a lot of areas that can be expanded upon in the future.  The races, classes, feats, and mechanics all seem to work together and have balance.  The multiclass might need some work but that is a very complicated area that I am sure will be given a lot more attention before the final product is released.  Check out some also home brew rules here at easydamus.com/CustomCharacters.  What you feel about the new playtest packet and the future of D&D is much more interesting to me than my own opinion and I would really like to read what you have to say, so use the comments section at your leisure.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

5Oct/134

D&D Next Final Open Playtest Packet Reflections Pt. 1

D&D Next RPGdotOrgThe final D&D Next open playtest packet was released a little over a week ago and I poured over it and made some notes.  Then I took to the message boards at EN World and Wizards of the Coast and a few others and read the communities thoughts on the material.  Knee jerk reaction is always kind of amusing for me and you get to see a lot of it on forums.  It's almost as funny as a review of a new gaming system the evening it came out.  Now that I had some time to absorb the open playtest packet, compare it to what I've seen before, read reactions from the internet, and get some feedback from my players, I feel like I can accurately weigh in with my thoughts and impressions.  This post is about what I didn't like in the final packet, next week will be all things I did like.  The likes definitely outweigh the dislikes and I think a lot of what I have to say about what I didn't like is based on my personal tastes and gaming style.

First I'd like to say that this packet feels more like a game that is ready to play, respecting previous editions of D&D while at the same time being its own game.  With that said there are a few things that didn’t sit well with me either.  The biggest issue I have would be with multiclassing and the spell levels for casters of multiple classes.  A cleric wizard seems to have the ability to cast spells of a higher level than they would know.  The document says you don’t know any spells of a higher level but in the Classes document the mage says you might gain higher level spells to add to your spell book from adventuring.  Now you know higher level spells.

Sure the DM could make sure you don’t find any spells of higher level until you are the appropriate level to cast them but does the DM really need the extra work?  This also requires a lot of timing with leveling to ensure that a mage can get an extra spell or two in their book when they reach the appropriate level to cast them.  It's not an overwhelming thing but just doesn’t seem to work perfectly as it now stands.

To a lesser degree but also in multiclassing, I don’t really like the way the extra attack is calculated for certain classes.  Barbarian, paladin, and ranger all receive an extra attack at fifth level but if you combine any two of these classes you must wait until eighthlevel for your character to receive their extra attack.  Bard and druid receive their extra attack at eight level but if you multiclass one or both of them they add in the same as the barbarian, paladin, and ranger for receiving the extra attack.  I understand that this is probably done for balance but the ability prerequisites are there to establish balance so I don’t think this is the way to go.  Levels in barbarian, paladin, and ranger should weigh heavier in the equation than levels of bard and druid.

Before I continue I would like to say that I'm not a fan of the quick dip into another class so I'm probably too sensitive to the problems of multiclass.  It drove me crazy in 3E/3.5 when I was running a game.  Part of the allure of the quick dip is obviously the power game.  The other part is that a lot of the classic fantasy archetypes are not well represented in the basic classes.  The lightly armored fighter, the spell slinging bladesinger, the devotee of the god of magic who can access a variety of spells from different magical sources.  Sometimes it is a better deal for the fighter to take a level of rogue to get stealth, backstab, and a whole bunch of skills, than it is to spend a feat on a single skill to be stealthy.

Racial weapon training has never really sat right with me in any edition.  It does not provide any benefit to a martial class in most cases and doesn’t get used by spell casting classes most of the time.  The backgrounds and skills document allows for a player to select a different skill proficiency if their character would receive the same skill from two different sources.  Instead of receiving nothing for receiving proficiency from two different sources perhaps they could select a different proficiency, perhaps tool proficiency instead.  I hate to see a player receive less for playing an iconic character like a dwarf fighter than the rarer dwarf bard.

A few of the new, Unusual races do not seem as well thought out as the already established based races.  That's to be expected though, because they have had less playtest, although some are right on.  The dragonborn is solid, although I find some of the breath weapons a bit boring.  There was no DC’s included for the breath weapons either.  I think the white dragon and silver dragon cold could have perhaps slowed those caught up in the cone.  This would simulate freezing a little better than just damage like all the other breath weapons.  I am sure we will see options like this develop over the course of time, it is excellent crunch material.  It is a minor thing.  Drow, gnome, half-elf, and half-orc were pretty solid.

Kender was right in line with what I would expect, although the Kender Pockets power was lacking an extra sentence or two to bring it in check.  The way it currently reads a kinder could pull barding, plate mail, a ballista, or any amount of nonsense out of the pack.  I know that the realm of common sense says whatever they pull out of their pack would have to fit in the pack, but the racial power should have clearly stated that limitation.  This is one of those things that is an easy fix but should have been caught and clarified before the document was released.

Warforged are pretty solid although they have the same trance ability of drow and elves, instead of sleeping, but lack the ability to not be put to sleep by any type of magic.  It's a small thing that of course could potentially be explained away, but seems a bit inconsistent.

I'm disappointed that spells saving against a variety of abilities in the earlier packets seems to have just went back to Wisdom, Dexterity, and Constitution.  This takes away from needing an ability array and will probably end up with most fighters being absolutely stupid and uncharismatic, and mages not just being average strength but weak and uncharismatic.  Essentially full dump stats in any non-relevant ability unless the character plans on multiclassing.  Thunderwave and perhaps Ray of Enfeeblement should save against Strength since that's what it's attempting to affect.  Charm Person should save against Charisma since that ability represents your force of personality.  Those are just a couple of examples but there are many more.  This is a huge step backwards.

Well as you can see except for the multiclassing a lot of what I didn't like is really cosmetic and easy enough to adjust in my own game to what my players and I prefer.  There is really nothing that is broken or not easily tweaked.  That's one of the great things about not having a rule to define every little thing in the game is that it is easy enough to interrupt and adjust.  Advantage and Disadvantage work well to deal with situations that come up, but we'll talk about all of that soon enough.  I'm pleased that Mike Mearls and the rest of the design team have obviously made great efforts to include the fans in the design process, and I thank them for that.  D&D Next has a lot of promise and I'm excited to hear what you think and have to say about what you see.  Use that comments section to tell me what you think about the last playtest packet, or if you think my dislikes are way off, and until next time, Roll Hard!

15Sep/130

Pathfinder/3.5 Spell: Allelorn’s Intermittent Duration

young wizardA few years back I came up with this spell to allow a wizard or sorcerer to turn off low-level spells and restart them at a later point.  This would save the unused duration and keep those characters from having to memorize low-level protection spells multiple times.  This spell also eliminated the wizard or sorcerer taking several rounds at the beginning of combat to layer up several protection spells before joining in the fight.

Allelorn is a wizard that one of my friend's played in a game I ran and that player provided extensive feedback about this spell.  So in classic Gygaxian fashion I chose to name the spell for him.  Allelorn was also tough, smart, and memorable so the naming is not without in game merit.

Allelorn’s Intermittent Duration

School: Transmutation   Level: sorcerer/wizard 4

Casting Time: 1 minute

Components: V, S, M (a tiny hourglass filled with silver dust worth 5 gp)

Range: Personal

Target: You

Duration: 1 day

By exercising your control over your personal arcane power, you interrupt the duration of any 1st thru 3rd level spell you cast where you are one of targets.  You can only affect the duration of the spell on your character, not any other characters that may also be targets of the spell.  You can interrupt the duration of a spell you cast as a standard action and restart it at any time of your choosing within 24 hours as a swift action.  You can interrupt and restart the duration of the affected spell as often as you like until the duration of the spell expires.  This spell does not change the duration of any spell affected by it, it only allows you to choose when to expend the duration.  Any spell affected by this must have duration of at least one round.

The caster can affect one spell level for every two caster levels total during the duration of this spell.  This spell only affects sorcerer/wizard spells that you cast and has no affect on spells you can cast from any other class.  Nor does it have any affect on any spell you cast from a magic item or by using Use Magic Device.  The Extend Spell feat has no effect on this spell and this spell does not affect any spell augmented by the Extend Spell feat.  After casting this spell, the caster may select any spell that meets the requirements at any time during the duration of this spell.  Once selected to be affected by this spell that selection cannot be changed and will be counted against the total spell level limit.

This spell has had some playtesting but I'm curious to hear what you think.  Would you use it in your game?  Would you allow it to be used in your game?  What would you change about the spell?  The comments section is at your disposal and I can't wait to read what you have to say about Allelorn's Intermittent Duration, and until next time, Roll Hard!

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8Sep/130

Make A Suggestion

dont_annoy_me_poster-r25942a4227274a6ca263c5f68bd6eacc_45u_8byvr_512I was playing in the Reign of Winter Adventure Path for Pathfinder awhile ago and an encounter got really rough.  Our party was wounded, half of them were down, our resources were depleted, and we're still facing overwhelming odds.  The few of us who were still on our feet didn't give up, nor did we run and abandon our incapacitated allies to be eaten by zombies.  Instead, we ratcheted up our courage, started really thinking, making suggestions to help each other, rescued the downed party members, as well as the noble we were sent to rescue all without a single casualty.  Well the grandson of the elf rogue died, but he was a low-life dirty bandit who was originally helping the bad guys and changed sides to save his own life.  That is not a loss in the opinion of my character.

Many times making suggestions can be frowned upon by other players or even the player the suggestion is aimed at.  That is kind of sad as not everybody has the same grasp of the rules as everybody else.  Not every player is as capable of visualizing the action as well as some other players.  Sometimes you just had a lot of stuff going on that week and you just might not be on your game and some things might just slip your mind.  I hope a player makes a suggestion to help me out.  There are just a few things to keep in mind when doing so.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that if you can make the suggestion in character it will go over a lot better most of the time.  For example, saying “Julie use your wand of fireballs” is kind of boring, but having your barbarian say, “methinks this would be a glorious time to unleash the wand you took from the corpse of the evoker Blastoris” can spice up the game a lot.  The suggestion will probably be better received.  This is also one of the ways you can make combat more about role-playing and not just about rolling dice.  Something I think gets forgotten all too often.

The way you present something has a lot to do with how it's received.  Keep in mind that just because you suggest it doesn't mean that it will always be heeded.  Sometimes a player might think that their character would do something different in a particular situation.  Other times a player might think that they have a better idea in mind.  Who knows what the correct answer is.  If you only offer a suggestion that will benefit your character or save your character’s hide, then other players will not be as receptive.  If you offer a suggestion on what a player should be doing every time another player is taking their turn, don’t be surprised if nobody listens to your suggestions after a short time.

If it's a rule thing then remember to be patient and use a decent tone.  Sneers, whining, and exasperated breathing will not endear you to anyone at the table.  Remember how you like people to suggest things to you and do the same.  Even though geek culture is the new hot thing there is still not enough players to chase the new and experienced away from the table.  This is something that I see a lot and it really isn't good for growing the popularity of the hobby.  It is a cooperative storytelling game and as an experienced player you are an ambassador of the hobby and should conduct yourself as such.

Keep in mind that from time to time you might be the one who forgets a rule or misinterprets a rule.  The way you act when another player points it out will be reflected when you are the one offering a suggestion or advice.  Even the most experienced player can sometimes not see every angle and if you build a great rapport with the people you play with than your games will benefit from it, and be a lot more fun for everyone.

I have never really had a problem with table talk as a DM or a player as long as it is about what is happening in the game, and is kept to what a character would or should actually know.  I don’t want any character dying or looking ridiculous because somebody was unaware of a rule.  I like the characters in a game I'm running to look heroic and awesome.  It makes the players enjoy the game more.  I also like a character I'm playing to look like an action hero, so I don’t mind somebody making a suggestion to me.  Sometimes I don't see every angle, even after playing for more than thirty years.

My last thought on players giving other players suggestions is the most important.  Do not talk over the DM.  This is bad form and slows the game down.  Inevitably it will be the player giving combat suggestions that says they were unaware of something that the DM had already explained.  It's  a tough job being a DM and players should silence themselves until the Dungeon Master has stopped talking.  A simple thing but unfortunately it seems to elude some players.  Your character may be a savage barbarian but that doesn't mean you as a player shouldn't have any manners.  I want to hear what you think about some table talk and players making suggestions to other players.  Do you have a great story about when this was really helpful, or even better really ridiculous?  Use the comments section to speak your mind, and until next time, Roll Hard!

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1Aug/130

Character Advancement: Pre-planned vs. Organic

imagesThere are two ways to advance a character and no right answer.  You can have your character planned out levels in advance selecting the options that will suit your tastes and more often than not maximize your power.  The other option is to select new feats, skills, powers, etc., based on what you character has experienced in their adventuring career so far.  I'm a fan of the latter but I believe that many gamers subscribe to the former.  Either way I wanted to talk a little bit about the pros and cons of each.  In the Pathfinder Reign of Winter game I'm currently playing in, and the Pathfinder game I am running in my homebrew world there are both types of players.  It does keep things interesting.

The player who loves to plot his character out 20 or 30 levels, selecting combinations of abilities, feats, and powers that work well together can become a force to be reckoned with in time.  I never see a player who builds their character this way select new options which don’t follow an established pattern building to maximize their power base.  I'm sure they exist but I don’t cross paths with them.  The benefit is that they will typically be extremely powerful.  Nothing wrong with that because if a party is going to survive in any role-playing game they usually need to have the ability to kick some butt.

Another benefit to building like this whether in a level based rpg or a point buy is that this player tends to do their homework.  They will be knowledgeable of the rules and options available to choose from.  If that player shares that information with less experienced players than you will reduce the learning curve and all the players will have the ability to keep pace with each other in the power that their characters wield.  If the player who builds like this and learns the options and tricks of the system in and out and doesn’t share suggestions with other players so their character is the toughest, then they probably aren’t much fun to play with.  It is after all a cooperative story-telling game.

One of the drawbacks to planning your character out far in advance is that sometimes in rpgs characters die.  It's kind of what creates the thrill of playing the game.  Often the player that crafts his character this way will want to see the culmination of their planning and thought and if their character happens to die they will be severely disappointed.  Much more disappointed then the player that builds their character based on what is experienced during the campaign.

Sometimes the player who plans their character out will bring nearly the exact same character to the game if their current character dies.  Sure they will change a thing or two in their background, but it is for the most part the same character.  The new character is the twin brother of the deceased character who has come to seek vengeance for the death of their sibling.  It has been awhile but I have actually seen this.  While it may be acceptable, too much of this can make a game teeter on comical and if that is not the tone of the game it can distract from the fun and immersion of the other players and DM.  This is just something to keep in mind if you want to be a good player because it is important to be a good player.

The other type of player likes to build their character a bit more organically based on what their character may experience during the course of the campaign.  Characters created like this will usually have a wider range of abilities and options that they can use in the game.  This versatility can be a great thing to help out the party and keep them involved in a variety of situations.  Although if the situations, monsters, and challenges change drastically over the course of the campaign you might be prepared for what has already happened, and not for what is to come.  For example, if the first five levels dealt with a host of orcs and goblins raiding the vale where the characters live but the next five levels deal with vanquishing the necromancer and the undead horde that pushed the raiders from their home, then a character built this way may feel woefully unprepared.

A character built out of in-game experience can feel like a wonderful reflection on the campaign itself.  You can look over a character sheet and be drawn back in your memory to how a feat was acquired or why a skill was selected.  You can feel a great connection to the campaign from building your character that way.  If you're not careful you can also end up shotgunned out in so many directions that you aren’t as tough as some of the other characters in the party.

Although if you are happy playing a character that may be less powerful and the rest of the party doesn’t mind you possibly ending up underpowered compared to them, then you should enjoy the experience.  Not having a plan that extends twenty or thirty levels will also mean you probably won’t be as upset as a player who constructed their character that way when your character gets smashed to bits.

Like I said earlier, I have always enjoyed building my characters based on what happens to them in the game.  Sitting down and writing out the pros and cons of each build type and talking with some of my friends has led me to reconsider always doing that a bit.  My characters always seem to be able to pull their own weight but perhaps I'm doing a disservice to my party and myself but not building a character with a grand scheme, which more than likely means maximum effect, once in awhile.  Which of the two methods of character advancement do you use, and which do you see get used more often?  What are the pros and cons of each in your opinion?  We create better gamers and better games by discussion and exchange of ideas, so use the comment section to make the gaming world better for all of us.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

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