Friday, December 21, 2007

Heals for everyone! Huzzah!

Just read over the free pdf on the 4e version of the cleric that was offered by WotC recently.

No real meat to it (ie, no stat blocks or tables, just vague essays) but it was enough to send Crwth and myself into panic mode. Maybe not "panic" mode, but some kind of mode for sure.

The one thing that struck me, and surprise surprise, ticked me off was that every class will get some limited self healing. The logic behind this new mechanic is apparently to free up the cleric to do other things.

Now, I've only really played one cleric and he was a reluctant healer at best, so for me "giving up a round" wasn't a big deal. I can however understand that players who run a cleric might resent doing nothing but cast healing spells round after round. It's the same thing with the Bard, where the first round or two is invariably "wasted" on casting buffs and singing.

Um, if you resent "wasting" actions on buffing and healing, then why the fuck are you playing a cleric or a bard? Are you fucking retarded?

In the PHB there are 11 core classes. The PHB2 has another half dozen or so. The Completes and other add on books throw even more classes into the pool. Surely amongst all that chum in the water players can find something that fits their play style and their idea of fun.

Personally, I'm in the "I hate wasting actions on healing chumps who shouldn't have gotten so badly hurt in the first place" boat. So I choose my classes accordingly. Luckily the others in our group seem to like being the support classes for my stealthy warriors and sorcerous blasters. Maybe I'm just lucky.

Still, if you're in a group where no one ever wants to play a cleric. A group full of Griffs for example (you lucky bastard, to be surrounded by such handsome and witty friends). Well, here's an idea. Play without one!

I know. I know. Years of MMORPGs and computer games have conditioned us into the false belief that no cleric = TPK. But guess what? DnD is not a MMO or video game.

At least it wasn't before 4th edition.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The disadvantage of disadvantages

The blog by Mike Mearls from Dec 12th worries me. (Sorry, I can't link to the Gleemax abomination. Partly out of unwillingness to go there, and partly to spare the innocent reader some pain.)

In it, he discusses at length the pros and cons of having Disadvantages in a point based game. For those who have never seen the Disadvantage mechanic in a game, basically you give your character certain disadvantages (such as night blindness, an arch-enemy, a phobia, vertigo etc...). In exchange your character gets points to spend on whatever. Extra skills, feats, or even Advantages.

I'll admit that it's an interesting game device in that it gives a little flavor to a character's background. Namely in things that I might never have thought of, but also in terms of things I'd kinda like to try, but don't because the drawbacks are too great. After all, a major point of the game is to have a viable character that'll survive the challenges of the adventure. While a blind monk might be cool on paper, being unable to hit the broad side of a drunken orc might not be so much fun.

Putting richer character backgrounds and concepts aside, the power gamer in me loves Disadvantages. That right there is a danger sign. More than anything else, the fact that I like it as a player but hate it as a DM says that Disadvantages are inherently broken.

Broken in that they are nearly impossible to balance. Any player with a shred of creativity can pick a few disadvantages for the points they give, and then fiddle them around so that they'll never really impact the character. ie, an ancient family enemy who is hunting the character might be worth 3 points, but what are the odds that this will ever come up in the game? If the DM really has his/her act together it might show up once in a while. However I think most DMs will either chose against changing the campaign or story arc or simply forget about it. Even phobias, in the heat of battle can be conveniently "forgotten". Talk about a free lunch.

So, my concern over Mike's blog is this. Is he he just testing the water to see how this mechanic might be accepted by the DnD community? Is he just doing the online equivalent of thinking out loud? Or is he bracing us all for the inclusion of Disadvantages in 4e?

My gut instinct is that it's one of the first two guesses. I might be reading too much into his tone, but his writing didn't strike me as overly committed to the idea. Then again, why bring it up at all if they aren't at least pondering the inclusion of it into 4e?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Warlord. Why play anything else?

This has been bothering me for a while now.

Every playtest we see has a Warlord and a Warlock in it.

Okay, this is playtesting and these are new classes (although the Warlock has been around for a while in 3.5) so obviously they need to playtest them a lot.

I get that. Still, the more I read the more it seems that the Warlord in particular is getting a lot of love. So much love that I'm wondering if it will beat out the cleric as the class every party has to have.

I mean, the Warlord boosts fighters. It gives casters extra uses of their spells. It slices. It dices. It never rusts and is guaranteed for as long as you avoid a TPK.

It certainly sounds pretty good on a 3:00 a.m. info-mercial, but will that be the case when it arrives in 6-8 weeks (or June 2008)? Well, that remains to be seen.

I'll cast Magic Missile on the darkness

Theft of my thunder aside, I do have a few opinions on Rodney's playtest report.

Get the fuck out! Griff has an opinion? Seriously?

For true! And I've even purged all of my venom and bile, so we should be good to go.

So, they tweaked magic missile. Um, what? WTF?!

How do you "tweak" magic missile? That spell hasn't changed since the red box edition. It's the go to spell. Whether it's the last ditch kitchen sink spell for your epic level wizard, or the only way your 1st level noob sorcerer can hit the broad side of a sleeping kobold, magic missile is the must have spell. I can't even imagine an arcane caster without it. The iconic Fireball I can, and have, skipped but never magic missile (and shield). It's so automatic that I write it on every character sheet whether it's a caster or not.

They've already leaked that fireball won't do d6 damage in 4e. Okay. Weird but I'm open minded. To a point. Now that they're fucking with my magic missile... well, that's a whole new ball game.

I mean, what kind of 'tweaks' are we talking about here? Did they change it's damage die too? Do you need to roll to hit? Is there a push/bull rush type effect due to the force? Is it even a force type spell? This is killing me!

Ask Wizards. Why bother?

Okay. This has nothing to do with 4e. I admit that right up front. I'm honest and make no excuses about that.

Which separates me from the Ask Wizards "article" that appears every other day on the dnd4 webpage.

My understanding is that Ask Wizards is supposed to be some kind of font of knowledge. It's to clarify rules and how the game mechanics apply to certain obscure or unusual circumstances. The questions answered don't always have to be eye opening jaw droppers. Sometimes the mundane needs a bit of explaining too.

For instance, "A natural 20 is 'always a hit' but can it be negated by concealment? Or does a natural 20 overrule the miss chance in concealment?"

Instead we get...

"Ask Wizards: 12/07/2007
from DnD 4e Home page by Mike
I was curious: on average, how many questions do you receive a day?"

You know what? I don't give a flying fuck how many questions they receive! In fact, I'd be surprised if they receive any.


Because for months that "article" (and I use the term very loosely) has denegrated into nothing more than a thinly veiled series of advertisements. Ads for their shitty minis game. Ads for their even shittier Inn-Fighting game.

I hope it's boosting their sales of those two offerings, because WotC is dangerously close to losing this customer. After all, 3.5 is pretty damn fun.

Footnote: I sent in the above question on concealment and the nat 20 last week. I also sent a letter to Santa Claus and to God. Guess which of the three I expect to get a reply from.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

More playtest hints

Rodney Thompson's latest blog post about their 4th edition playtest had a few things to pull out...

Ray of frost slows targets down. Is that figuratively (slowed down from killing you because they have to pause and heal), or is that a side-effect of the spell, after the cold damage? Interesting.

The eladrin short-range teleport we had seen before, and it sounds like a good tactical ability. I'm assuming it's an eladrin ability, anyway, but could be a wizard one too.

A copper dragon appears on the scene in the playtest, and gets attacked by the party. Aren't copper dragons Good? Is the party Evil? Has alignment gone by the wayside so much that none of this matters? Not to say that Good can't attack Good, but... well, I guess I expected a copper dragon to be a little more forgiving when Diplomacy was tried, but in the end they slew it...

...after some luck and an "instantaneous magic missile". Is "instantaneous" a new 4e phrase, similar to free/swift/immediate? This was "bestowed" by one of the warlord's abilities, and Thompson goes on to say "...letting me use magic missile at some unexpected times." Does that mean extra times per day/encounter, or just lets the wizard use the given amount at new and interesting times.

Oh, and just to steal Griff's thunder: tweaked magic missile?


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Smite for the camera

Twice in one week! The latest Design & Development article has yet more sneak-peeking into the 4th edition mechanics.

These info blocks that appear in the article give us an idea of the layout of special abilities that are available in 4th edition. The third line,
Encounter • Weapon
seems to say when the ability can be used (or perhaps the type of "per" power it is, per-day, per-encounter, etc.) and how the ability is used. I'm hoping that the format is still in transition - having just a dot between two words doesn't really lend itself to understanding to the casual player.

Melee weapon
line is reminiscent of the latest stat block (with their lack of colons). So Melee means it's a melee ability (and implies that it's an attack? Or that this is the range? Or some other use of "melee" as a term in 4e?) and that, err, it's still a weapon. An example where the Weapon in the third line and the weapon in the fifth line weren't the same might give some insight to each of their meanings.

Attack: Charisma vs. AC
(Oh look, the colon is back.) This is interesting, and grows from the idea of static saves, as discussed previously. Attack rolls have been merged in with saves and probably difficulty checks, to be all the same style of check. I'm assuming that the "Charisma attack" mentioned in the text block isn't just what 3rd edition would call a Charisma check, unless armor class calculations have changed; somehow the base attack needs to be added in there, unless of course that has gone by the wayside.

I don't know what I think of the Hit: and Miss: labels. I think I prefer the old succeed/fail nomenclature that you would see with skills and such. For abilities that aren't combat-specific, they're going to have other terms anyway, so why not share them? Especially if you've turned to-hit into a difficulty check.

I like the idea of the damage calculation:
Hit: 2x[W] + Cha
But not the notation. It works fine for geeks like me, but I'm hoping it's going to get reworded a little better. One interesting point is that that's the weapon's base damage, no strength, or other bonuses that might arise.

The Hit-or-Miss text says "an ally", which then gets amended to include the paladin itself, which is just a nitpick, but I don't think of myself as an ally.

Wow, all that from the first block.

Encounter • Healing, Weapon 
Okay, so everything after the dot is a ... subtype? And Encounter is the type? That might make sense, but I think I preferred the older bracketed method, and would want
Renewing Smite [Encounter • Healing, Weapon]
Nitpick? Perhaps, but what was broken with the old style?

Seeing Paladin 27 on the third smite made me pause for a second, having briefly forgotten about the 30-level base to 4th edition.

Here we see
Attack: Charisma vs. Will
which is like the old-style saving throws (many people, unless having done monster design, don't realize that the DC of effects is based on an attribute). With the static saves, the rolling is now done by the "attacker" instead of the defender in third edition. I'm starting to warm to this. Again, it's not clear whether there's a base attack that gets thrown in, because now you wouldn't expect it in a "saving throw" versus a "to-hit". Is there some base 10 that gets added into saves? Are the numbers completely different from what we've become accustomed? Are we going to feel disoriented as those coming from THAC0 did when going to d20?

"cannot gain line of effect". Does this mean just for targeted effects such as ranged attacks and rays? Or does this somehow prevent cones and area effects from affecting anyone but the paladin? And interesting ability regardless. Interesting that it's also until the end of your next turn, where in 3rd edition we got used to "the start of your next turn" as the usual mantra.

As usual, this glimmer of 4e has created more questions than answers, but it does show us that June is getting that much closer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A nod to Tweet

Okay. I have to admit that Jonathan Tweet's last blog was actually useful. In a way.

The link he posted to an essay written by Slanderpanic posted here was a good read.

It was well written, and I completely agreed with the author. I also have a big problem with these "at will" powers and never ending supply of anything. I see it as the dumbing down of the game I love. The MMOification (hate that term but it is appropriate) of DnD to give it more appeal to the masses.

By the way, what masses are they trying to appeal to? It seems to me that anyone over the age of ten (give or take) should be able to manage their resources. And if they go and unload every spell they have at the first kobold they see, then they deserve to roll up a new character later on. After a few character deaths maybe they'll begin to learn. I believe that's a tried and true process.

Anyway, thank you Johnathan for finally contributing something, in a weak second hand way.

More on the glimpse into feats

Originally started this as a comment to Crwth's "Odiferous Feats" post. But it got so long that it became a separate blog...

I chalked up the "Heroic" vs "Paragon" tiers as nothing more than terminology, but now that you mention it, I think it probably will be tied to character level. Which sucks!

I think the roles of "sniper", "controller" etc... are just loose descriptors and not an actual game mechanic. The only place I'd expect to see them is in the MMs.

I caught that Action Points will be core. No big surprise but I did forget to mention it in my blog (despite my mental note to do so).

At first glance I like the new version of Toughness. The current 3.5 version is blah, but this one gives a continuous benefit, which I like. I'll probably take it on most of my human casters.

I can't believe I missed the "squares" thing under the Golden Wyvern. Goddamn! I hate that! How about "omit a number of 5' gaps...". WotC can push their fucking "squares" on us all they want, I ain't buying their fucking minis. In fact I'm boycotting them just out of spite.

As for prerequisites, I can't see the Golden Wyvern feat having none. It must be part of a specific tree or path. In fact I'm sure I've seen that "Golden Wyvern" phrase somewhere else. Tome of Battle maybe? Another dev blog?

Anyways, it's looking more and more like everything is tied to level & class. In fact, I can see why character creation has been touted as much simpler in 4e. All you do is pick a race and a class then plug in the Lego blocks as you go. No decisions. No resource management. No strategy or tactics. No creativity. With the talent trees and feat design it's just plug'n'play.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Odoriferous feat(s)

While I agree with Griff about the feats losing some of their appeal by not being available to everyone, what really got me about this latest Design & Development article was the peek into some 4th edition design.

The four feats all have a Tier field. Now, I might be losing track of the few bits of information that they've let out, but aren't "heroic" and "paragon" similar to the terms they've been using when talking about the level ranges? Are these Tiers stating that this is a feat that can be (only) taken in the 1-10 range, or the 11-20 range?

Given that the description blocks don't have "leader", "sniper", "warlord" as any kind of field, does this mean that feats aren't going to be listed in one place, having their separation into classes defined in the text block, but rather they're going to exist under the class description, much like class abilities do now?

Toughness is missing the text that you can take it multiple times. I suppose this new version is better than the old one, but is this really the case?

"You don't grant enemies combat advantage in surprise rounds." Is this just flavor text, or is "combat advantage" a 4e term for "opponent is flat-footed"?

Perception checks -- we've merged Listen and Spot? I can't remember if we'd read that somewhere. (And Move Silently and Hide -- were those now a Stealth skill?)

A feat bonus. Nice to see that the bonus from feats isn't unnamed, but does that mean that feat bonuses don't stack? Or are they added to the list of stackable ones, like Dodge and (sometimes) Circumstance?

Action point. Okay, fine, I guess they're a core rule now.

"You can omit a number of squares...". A number of squares. A number of SQUARES. Fine, it'd be awkward to have "a number of 5'x5' areas...", but perhaps that means that it shouldn't be a feat. I've ranted about squares versus feet before, but I can't help it: creatures/players/NPCs do not have to stand in a grid. They can stand in a completely arbitrary space. They do not have to fit between some imaginary lines on the ground. THIS MECHANIC HAS NO ROOM IN A ROLEPLAYING GAME.

"...wizard powers. This number can't exceed your Wisdom modifier." Wisdom mattering for a Wizard? Is this a rare occurrence (a non-core ability score mattering to a class feat), or is this going to be typical, where you will have a primary ability, a secondary, and maybe a tertiary, much like Monks and Paladins seem to in 3rd edition?
Or, perhaps, based on the name of this feat, the Golden Wyvern "focus/path" is an Intelligence/Wisdom hybrid?

"...close wizard powers." Is this talking about range, as we think of it in 3rd edition? Or is this a category of wizard powers that may or may not have the same range (though, you'd figure they're "close")?

No prerequisites are listed. Is that because they're in some tree to which you must refer to find prerequisites? Is it based on the Tier alone? Can it be that none of these four have any?

No feat "type", such as [General] or [Fighter]. Perhaps omitted for clarity, or perhaps a sign that these definitions don't exist?

Okay, that's about all I could glean from 100 or so words. "Yay" for the snippet of info, but in general the article rated a "boo" for what it told us.

Just shut up already.

Dear Jonathan Tweet, please, I'm beggin' you, just stop already.

I realize that your boss is probably telling you that part of your job is to blog for the community. I understand that it's part of the marketing effort to be 'in touch' with the dnd fans and consumers of WotC's product.

That's all well and good. I applaud the effort and appreciate that the game designers have an open channel of communication with us, the fans.

But, seriously, stop blogging Jonathan. Just. Stop.

I don't care about your feelings on chocolate bars, or polls, or what animal you like to game with. Send those inane ramblings off to some other remote corner of the blog'o'sphere.

As Crwth said to me the other day, we want developer blogs, not blogs by developers.

Give us some insight into 4e, of which you must have tons to offer, or just go silent. Please. Pretty please.

You must be this class to take this ride.

After reading the latest Dev&Des article I am both encouraged and discouraged. Disencouraged? I dunno. Whatever.

The article gives some sweet insight into the role of feats in 4e. First of all, applause for keeping feats in the new edition. I love feats. I'm a whore for feats. I like to map them out. I like to use them. I think they add tons of versatility and uniqueness to a character. As far as game mechanics go, the feat system in 3.5 is probably my favorite.

So, while I'm glad to see that feats will be a part of 4e, I'm not so thrilled by the implementation. As per Andy Collins, a guy who probably knows, the majority of feats are being rolled into each class.

My reaction to this can be summed up in one cute little acronym. WTF?

This is exactly what I feared losing in 4e. The versatility and freedom to make any character I can imagine. No longer will I be able to mix up archetypes and concepts through choice of class, feats, skills, and spells.

Instead, if I want Spring Attack, I'll have to play a ranger or rogue. If I want Power Attack, well, that's under the Fighter and Barbarian class only. Think a sorcerer with a spiked chain and Improved Trip would be fun? Sorry. You'd need the Exotic Weapon feat and Combat Expertise, both of which are buried in the fighter type classes.

Maybe multi-classing will save the day. I'm certainly not above dipping into second or third classes for an extra feat or some proficiencies. However, I'm not willing to hamstring my character at later levels for a feat I should have been able to take at 3rd, 6th, or 9th level regardless of chosen class.

So I'm miffed.

Then there's this thing called "Tiers". As in...
Tier: Heroic
Benefit: When you take this feat, you gain additional hit points equal to your level + 3. You also gain 1 additional hit point every time you gain a level."

In the article Collins lists two kinds of tier. Heroic and Paragon. Interesting in that it's somewhat concrete proof of the whole talent tree concept. Cool, I guess. I'm just too pissed off about the feat thing to care.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wishlist, part 3

Continuing the series (and my train of thought)...

3. Get rid of Alignment.

At best it's a clumsy mechanic that serves no real purpose in game. At worst, it's a set of handcuffs we don't need.

Okay. It defines things for clerics. Gives the paladin class a prerequisite and something to detect. And adds all those nice Protection from Evil type spells or effects.

None of that is reason enough to carry on with the alignment system. Not when it could be so easily dropped or replaced.

Think about it. How often do you stop and wonder if your Neutral Good rogue would really be okay with stealing? Never? Yeah. Same here.

In fact the only time I ever pause to consider alignment is at character creation, and even then only if it's applicable to the class I want or a Prestige that's down the road. Once in a while I even try to match up with a god's alignment. Otherwise it's only use in game is to rationalize my selfishness and greed. "Sorry I left you guys to die to that dragon while I ran in, grabbed that badass sword, bag full of jewels, and fled. But my character is chaotic neutral."

Besides being a handy tool for rationalization, every other redeeming quality for alignment can easily be replaced.

That sword of good that gives a +2 to hit and extra damage vs evil? Um. Have you heard of Bane weapons?

The Protection from Evil spell? Change it to Protection from Outsiders. Or undead. Or giants. Etc...

The paladin and monk? Make 'em stick to a code or philosophy instead. Chivalry or Buddhism or whatever.

Detect Evil? That spell/ability is a thorn in the side of any DM. Think they'll miss it? Guess again. Better yet, use roleplaying to figure out if something or someone is evil. "So Mr. Ogre. Would you rather help build an orphanage or eat the orphans?"

Easy peasy. No more alignment. No major changes to the game. We can even keep the cosmology as it is with Lawful vs Chaotic being just a concept as opposed to a hard and fast set of rules. As an added bonus it also eliminates one of the hardest concepts for new players to grasp. And best of all, it makes a certain dual wielding ranger Drow almost believable.

Aligning the Unaligned.

Rich Baker's recent blog (from Nov 17th) has the following quote. "We'd like to see most fey move from Good to unaligned and somewhat perilous."

The reasoning behind that is to give DMs the option of throwing the occassional Fey type creature at the players. With most characters being of good alignment (or at least neutral) the typical Fey encounter is roleplay only. A Smokey the Bear type thing or an encounter with that give a hoot and don't pollute owl.

So, I'm all for opening up the Fey so that the traditional good aligned party can dust it up with an evil Fey. As it stands now the best thing about the Fey are the sexy pictures of the nymph and dryad (hubba hubba!). So let's make all the monsters in the Manual useful and/or fightable.

The part that struck me however, is the "unaligned" thing.

For the same reason as above I'm okay with monsters in the MM being "unaligned". I'm just curious about where they'll draw the line.

As I see it, about 99% percent of the monsters could easily be tagged as "unaligned". A few like the demons, devils, DMs, and slaad are unequivically chaotic and/or evil. But the rest? Dragons maybe, depending on whether they are metallic or chromatic. Still, if you can have a chaotic evil pixie, why not a tainted and lawful evil silver dragon? Or a fallen Solar who's lawful evil? Maybe even a good aligned Drow ranger who dual wields scimitars.

Nah. That last one is just too stupid to be believable.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Crafting dilemma

Phew! Finally finished making this uber magic item of sheer awesomeness! Now I'm gonna kick some serious ass. What? Whaddya mean I lost a level?

That's the crafting dilemma. You buy all those feats. You gather up the gold pieces. You might even do a few side quests to collect the materials you'll need. All so you can have that dream magic item. The one that'll make your character truly l33t.

But then you get the bill. As in the cost in experience points. It's a price that makes any gamer turn a ghastly pale. We work so hard for those xp, losing them for any reason... seems, well... blasphemous.

To be honest, I do see some merits behind having an xp cost for crafting magic items. Besides the time (either of which can easily be glossed over with the DM's magic wand of instant time advancement) and the money, crafting a magic item should involve some sacrifice. No more waiting for the capricious treasure tables to spit up what you want. For a bit of xp you can have that magic item you really need for a fraction of the market price. I'd even suggest that it's a little more realistic in that there's a visible drain on your power.

On the other hand, I think that the downside is pretty severe. Casters, and the wizard in particular, don't really shine until the upper levels. To handicap that advancement so that they can craft items is borderline cruel. If the party wizard churns out custom items for all his buddies he could easily fall a level behind. Or more. Sure, everyone has shiny armor and protections and vorpal blades, but the poor wizard is still two levels away from Power Word: Kill.

Now, 4e promises to make magic items far less important than they currently are in 3.5. So this whole crafting issue might be totally irrelevant. However, I'm hoping that they do something other than just adding nifty new materials you can use, or tinkering with the math.

Specifically, I think that with the talent trees there's a real possibility of having something pretty cool and light on mechanics. Basically make a crafting tree available to certain classes. Then as the character advances up the tree he can make bigger and better items, or add powers to existing items. Make the character hunt down certain materials (might make for some fun side quests) and gather up a bunch of cash, but let him keep that hard earned xp.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Teh warlock is teh suxx!

When the warlock first appeared as a class I barely noticed. As a dedicated player of spellcasters it caught my eye but only as a novel new twist. I didn't even give it much of a read as I was much more interested in Pact Magic and Dragon Magic which Crwth had also added to the library around that time.

So for a long time the Warlock simply flew below my radar.

Recently however, I returned to gaming at the play-by-post boards over at WotC (Real_Adventures if you're curious). As such I'm seeing a lot of warlocks being put forth as player characters. That and the fact that every playtest party seems to have at least one warlock (usually a tielfing I might add). So, okay, the class has my grudging attention now.

If for not other reason than the possibility that the warlock is as preview of the magic system we might see in 4e. The invocations thing, the uses per day thing, the whole 90 degree departure from the spellcasting system used for sorcerors and wizards.

All in all, I think that the warlock is a viable and interesting class, for 3.5 edition.

I say again... for 3.5.

What I don't see is how it'll fit in 4th edition. If the 4e magic system is more or less like the current warlock, then the one thing that seperates it from the sorcerer is suddenly gone. The warlock becomes a sorcerer with a darker background. A Goth version and nothing more.

It seems to me that the warlock could be better used if rolled into the sorcerer. Give sorcerers the option of the traditional draconic heritage, or a warlocky devilish background.

Better yet, make it a middle ground between the sorcerer and druid. The DMG has the witch (aka warlock) as an example of how to make your own prestige class (can't recall the page but it's at the start of the PrC chapter). That's the warlock I think of. That's the kind of class I can picture in 4e. Save the heavy eyeliner, black lipstick, and white face paint for some other game.

If you kick a vampire in the junk, does it really care?

Critical hits versus undead.

I'm still wrapping my head around this one.

Critical hits with spells, even area of effect ones, I can picture and accept. Maybe that fireball is especially well placed so it burns a little hotter. I'm not thrilled with it, but I can at least rationalize it to some extent.

The undead being affected by critical hits though. That's a proverbial burr under the saddle for yours truly.

Not that I'm complaining. The undead have always been my most feared of monsters. No chance of getting a lucky critical. No sneak attack. Immune or highly resistant to most of my favorite spells. They definitely rank among the things I least like to face.

I guess my problem is that I have a set idea of what a critical hit looks like. In my mind, when my character scores a critical, I see the blade hitting that sweet spot (the spleen for instance, or perhaps the groin). At the same time the undead aren't using their spleens anymore and probably don't worry about wearing a cup while playing hoops at the local Y.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Hints about the nth-level wizard

Griff and I had a brief discussion about the latest Rodney Thompson blog (I'm still refusing to link to the Gleemax horror), where he talks about his wizard in a new 4th edition playtest.

He didn't mention the level of his character, but we started guessing based on the few hints given. The start-up seemed to hint that they were newer characters, but I guess introductions among the characters need to take place even in higher-level campaigns.

The "short teleport" is what made Griff think that this wasn't a first-level character, but then the wizard stuck to casting Sleep and Magic Missile, which reeks of low-level arcane blustering.

The critical hit that this wizard takes, though, doesn't kill him outright, so this made me suspect that either his attacker criticalled with minimum damage, or the party's not first level after all.

My take on the "short teleport" is that it's a fine power for a first-level wizard to have, perhaps as a 1/day ability, but maybe even more often than that; if it's only a 30' jot, and perhaps line-of-sight, then it's not going to be too powerful for the sake of getting around traps and such, but lets the wizard avoid melee combat, which is what they're likely looking for.

So in the end, we couldn't really decide what level this wizard was. Just tell us, Thompson! Then we can take these little bits of info you've given and know something about the nth-level wizard.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Baker's does'n' disappoint

I just finished reading Rich Baker's latest blog (to which I don't think I'm ready to link, for fear of alienating readers of this blog with the putrescent green of Gleemax), and while it doesn't give any facts, it does let us wonder about a few things.

Baker mentions that he considers moving his 3.5 character to a fighter instead of a warlord, because the fighter is a "defender", as his old 3.5 warblade would be. Again with the roles. What was the role of a warlord? I don't remember, but roles still get my hackles up.

It's good to see that heavy armor still affects the usefulness of Dexterity. Not that we had heard anything to the contrary, but this is a new version, and who knows what will change. I always liked this balance of AC-from-armor and AC-from-Dexterity, because it helped define the type of character you were creating, whether a tank, a sneak... hrm. These sound like roles.

The Toughness feat has changed. That's good, because while my first 3rd edition character had taken it, it was never taken again unless required by another feat or a prestige class. Dungeons & Dragons Online have made it useful, both with progressive benefits as well as from their enhancement system. Perhaps 4th edition is doing something similar?

Warlords are healers? Oh, right, there we go - warlords are "leaders", and I vaguely remember writing about that, and what we know of that role. It sounds like the powers from which you choose (the talent-trees or whatever we end up with) have a good range to let you customize your class, as he mentions he went with "mostly offensive powers" because their party had a cleric.

This Warlord also multiclasses as a Wizard. Wait, doesn't he wear heavy armor? Does that mean that arcane spell failure is gone? Is different? Or perhaps he chooses spells that don't have semantic components, to avoid the problem?

Okay, I'm wrong, there is an actual here-is-something-concrete-from-4e tidbit of information, about one of the Warlord powers, this Hammer and Anvil. I'm not sure I see the "logic" behind such a power; it grants an ally an immediate attack against the same target, but... why? Is it basically providing an attack of opportunity (if that still exists in 4e), by putting the foe off-guard? Is this something that the ally has to know the Warlord can do, to be ready for the sucker-punch? Being a "power", is it a spell-like/supernatural effect that "possesses" the ally and allows/forces them to attack, or at least magically lets them know that now is the time to attack? There was a feat in a splat book that I can't recall, that if TWO characters had the feat, they could use them in combination to do whatever-it-is the feat did, but that made sense, because both had that training, and knew how to work together on that maneuver. I just hope there's a game mechanic that explains how one character's power enables another character like this, such as the attack of opportunity explanation.

At the end of the post, he muses about whether he should have multiclassed the Wizard first, instead of the Warlord. 3rd edition has this dilemma when talking about the first level, since you get that extra boost of skill points -- and thus any multiclassed Rogue is remiss to not take their first level as Rogue -- but other than that, the order in which you take a level really just affects the character level to level, but not in the end (when you're a 5th-level X/5th-level Y). Since this playtest character of Baker's is 10th level, I wonder if he's saying that the end result would have worked out (noticeably) different if he had reversed the order, or if it was just the playability that might have been affected on the way to 10th level.

Lots of questions, but this is one of the few blog posts in a while that gave us something to think about, apart from how to filter out miniature blog posts automatically. Oh, and I guess I'll apologize for the blog's title.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Static saves revisited

While I'm thinking about saving throws, I need to revisit the whole issue of static saves.

Back in September I was miffed about static saves being in 4e. As I wrote here, I felt that having static saving throws took away some of the tension and randomness that is inherently fun.

I still feel that if saving throws are reduced to a simple comparison between two static numbers then the game loses a huge fun factor. For example, there is a trap that requires a reflex save DC 15. A character with a reflex save of 12 blunders into it. DM compares and starts rolling damage. Sorry chump.

However, if the DC of the trap or the spell is dynamic (and in the case of traps Noonan hinted that would be the case), then the static save might not be so bad.

Using the same trap example, this time the reflex save is determined by 1d20+5. The character still has a static Reflex save of 12, but the DM now informs him that he's blundered into a trap and rolls d20 to see if it affects the character. There's a moment of tension built in, and tension is good.

Of course, a good DM will pause for effect and milk the tension whether it's dynamic vs static or static vs static. The crucial difference from the player's perspective is the knowledge that he had a chance of escaping unharmed vs the pre-determined static vs static.

Yes, the player is losing a die roll and therefore a sense of control over one's destiny. As stupid as it is, we players all feel deep down that if we're the one rolling the die the outcome will be better. If I follow my little ritual, recite the proper prayers, and pick the die that "feels hot" then everything will be okay. If I leave it up to the capricious and malicious DM, well, my poor character is screwed.

I am willing to trade that superstitious nonsense for one thing. Give me the player the die roll to determine the DC for anything I do that provokes a target to save.

The first thing that pops to mind is the DC to save against spells.

Right now in 3.5 the save DC is 10+level of the spell+stat modifier+any feats etc... This static number is what the target rolls against. It currently works pretty well. I cast a spell and tension builds as I wait to see if the target makes or fails it's saving throw. In reverse I'm told to attempt a save and tension builds as I roll and await the outcome.

However, I'll trade that for rolling to set the DC of my spells or special abilities. Allow me to cast a spell, roll d20 and add the spell level, the stat modifier, and whatever else then see if that's enough to beat the bad guy's Reflex or Will or Fort save. Not only is this more in line with the process for any other attack (ie. d20+mods vs AC or Save) it gives the player that same sense of control. Maybe even more control.

But what about the dreaded Natural 1?

Okay, casting a crucial Finger of Death and getting a 1 will suck (I say "will" because I just know it'll happen eventually). It'll suck even more than a 1 on an attack roll. With the latter, it's just a miss and possibly a fumble. Next round, swing and try again. The former means a wasted spell. Next round, no more Finger of Death, try something else and a different d20.

This downside is most likely going to be countered by the replacement of the Vancian spellcasting system. With spells being one of "at will", or "per encounter", or "per day" having a natural 1 isn't quite so crushing. And the flip side of a natural 20 adds extra sweetness to spellcasting.

The puzzle pieces are starting to fall into place and I'm beginning to form a pretty good idea of what 4e is gonna look like. If I'm not too far off, then I've got reason for optimism. Weird.

Wishlist, part 2

In continuation of my ongoing wishlist for 4e, I bring you...

2. Keep saving throws on par with spell DCs

It's no secret. I love to play arcane spellcasters. The chapter on spells in the PHB and the Spell Compendium have replaced the Sears catalog of my youth. I can spend hours pouring over those pages, dreaming up which spells my caster will take and when. I'll soak in every detail from the school to the components required. For the higher level spells (4th and up) I'm particularly interested in two things. Is it affected by SR and what kind of save the target gets?

Anything that ignores SR (the bane of every high level caster) always grabs my attention. Also as my casters are almost exclusively sorcerers, my characters don't have a Swiss Army Knife (aka, spellbook) and they don't get mulligans when it comes to spell selection. So I also strive to pick a good balance of spells based upon what kind of save the target gets.

In other words, I try to make sure that I'll always have a decent spell regardless of what the target's best save is. If it's a big brute with tons of Fort Save bonuses, I'll hit it with spells that require Reflex or Will saves. If it's fast and agile, I use Fort save spells. Cerebral monsters are notoriously feeble so skip the Will save spells and use Fort or Reflex based ones. It's not a perfect system but my high level casters are rarely left without anything to throw at an enemy.

However, no matter how high I think the DC on my spell is, chances are still good that Crwth will roll a d20 and poof. He doesn't even need to say the words. The smug grin says it all. My spell had no effect.

Obviously I don't expect every spell I cast to get through the target's defenses every time. It's a game of chance and that randomness is what makes it great. For every time that a critical spell failed to get through due to a saving throw, there's one-shot-in-the-dark, hail Mary, final prayer spell that unbelievably succeeded. I'm talking about that Finger of Death that somehow struck down a Red Dragon Wyrm with one shot (thanks to a series of 1s on the d20). It's that kind of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat that I love.

However, I do feel that the saving throws for monsters advance at a faster pace than the DCs of my caster's spells. Crwth has a much greater head for the mathematics behind it than I do, so I'm admittedly low on statistical proof and long on subjective observation. Still, it seems to me that higher the CR of the monster, the more "spell proof" they are.

Take, as an example, a look at Graz'zt's saves from this article. "Fort +36, Ref +31, Will +27". Granted, he's a demon lord but I don't think his saves are all that unusual for a CR 32 encounter.

Now take a 32nd level Sorcerer with maxed out Charisma. Start with 18, put every point into it, buy the best +8 item, and read a +5 Tome. Cha 39 by my math. That's a very respectable +14 bonus. This means his 9th level spells (his biggest guns) have a DC of 33 (10+9+14). Throw in some specialization/focus and you can get that up to 35. I'm sure some min/maxer out there could bump that up another point or two.

Still, that gives the sorcerer a 50/50 chance of getting a Will based spell to affect Graz'zt. And that's picking on his weakest save. And that's only if he gets past that SR 45. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how this battle would go.

That's an extreme example to be sure, but my base argument is that high level casters shouldn't feel useless against foes that are their equals.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

RSSment of the situation

With an RSS feed to a tolerable version of the Gleemax postings (on the right, there, in the Related Links section), I've been able to catch up on what the devs have been saying. For what it's worth.

Now, I will be the first to fillet, saute and flambe a fanboi that starts spouting off about how a developer is posting in this forum thread, but not that (read: their) forum thread -- these guys are busy, and they don't have time to sit in front of the forums all day, reading the nonsense that everyone spits out. I wager that they have dedicated forum moderators that let them know when something interesting comes along, and all the devs pop on the read the one-in-a-million morsel of useful opinion.

So perhaps I'm a hypocrite, then, to comment on the waste of time the last so-many dev posts have been. Is there any requirement that their posts have any valuable 4.0 material (that's right, I said 4.0 instead of "4th edition" or "4e", because I'm angry)? No, but why get our hopes up? The first posts from nearly every developer was useful, insightful, or at least relevant. And while I enjoy a good boardgame like the next guy (love Twilight Imperium, by the way), I really couldn't care less about that when I'm looking for D&D tidbits.

So will I continue to read the blogs? Of course I will -- I can't miss something! But I figured I should apologize to those that use the link on the right, under the "Related Links", when they find out that most of the content in one of them is not-so-related.

Yawn of the Dead - no more

I, too, am glad to see that zombies are getting a re-working, and will be something that is added to an adventure as a challenge instead of just as expected flavor -- no one ever stopped delving into the Lost City of Somedarkplace because a few zombies were shambling around...

Until now. The last two Des&Dev articles have been about the zombie and their reawakening. But the second post has me wondering how they're making these variant versions.

I've mentioned before that I like the mathematics and the formulaic approach to creating monsters, "computational monstrionics" (a horrible phrase I just made up from my Computer Science and Linguistics backgrounds -- sorry Disciplines). Templates were the best addition to monsters, allowing all sorts of combinations that still followed a set of rules.

So are these variant zombies -- the chillborn zombie, the corruption zombie and the gravehound zombie -- created from templates, or are the developers actually regressing and making these three separate, distinct types of monsters? I've griped before that they're not making the production of monsters an accurate calculation -- that there will be a bit of fudging, which I don't like. But does this preclude the use of templates for their hand-waving and wishy-washiness?

I see myself taking the new 4th edition Monster Manual (June!) and going through it, finding all of the "errors" in the monsters, and reverse-engineering the template out of things like these zombies. Am I just thinking 3rd edition? Perhaps... but the Monster Manual, more than the PHB or DMG, will have its work cut out for it, to convince me that 4th edition is an improvement.

My (ongoing) Wishlist

As you can probably guess, this is my wish list for what I'd like to see in 4e. Sort of a Dear Santa thing, if Santa worked at WotC.

Actually, now that I think of it, that's a pretty apt analogy. I'll have about as much chance of WotC delivering on my wish list as I have of Santa finally coughing up that Millenium Falcon I asked for (that's right you sonofabitch! I remember! I asked for just that one thing that year, and did you deliver? No! You gave me a Tie Fighter! I already had a Tie Fighter you bastard!)

Ahem. On to the list.

1. Make the Half-elf relevant.

I don't know about anyone else but I love the concept of the half-elf, hate the delivery. They get +1 to spot, listen, and search checks. A bonus to diplomacy (I think). And pointy ears. That's about it.

Boring. Boring. Boring.

Mom gets an extra feat, a bonus skill point every level, and can treat any class of her choosing as her favored. Dad gets +2 on his spot/listen/search, can detect secret doors just by walking around, and free proficiency with a couple of nice weapons. Sonny boy gets... pointy ears.

Talk about getting short changed in that genetic mingling.

I'm not saying that the half-elf should get the bonus feat. That would be stepping too much on the human's toes. But, how about giving them the extra skill rank every level? Or the longsword/longbow proficiency? Better yet, tie it to where the character was raised. More elven influence and he gets the latter. More human and the skill rank kicks in. Player decisions equals goodness.

While I'm at it, I'd be tempted to give the half-elf a +2 to Charisma. They're supposed to be naturally good at getting along with everyone, so give them some love in a stat that's a dump for any class other than sorceror, paladin, or cleric. If that's too much then at least make all the Charisma based skills "class skills" for the half-elf.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Oh joy! The zombie will be relevant once again!

As far as I was concerned the 3.5 Monster Manual went from A to Y. From the get go the zombie simply wasn't scary. The first one we faced in game was probably fun but I don't think it took more than a few rounds to realize that we could simply out walk it. *Yawn*

Now with this Des&Dev article by Chris Sims I have reason to believe that the good old zombie will return to it's glory (or gory) days. Huzzah!

I don't know about the rest of you but zombies freak me out. I can't watch zombie movies because those shambling, non-stopping, brain eaters scare the crap outta me. They swarm, rip apart, and devour. They might even break dance a little. *shudder*

Unfortunately in 3.5 the zombie comes at your low level party in small numbers, or else the CR goes too high. At medium or high levels the DM can throw a mob of them at you, but by then a couple of simple spells or a decent turn undead and they're forgotten.

Either way, that's a far cry from the terror inducing, pants wetting, horror that zombies should inspire. I love the image of my character swinging away in desperation as dozens of undead hands reach out, clamoring for his brains (assuming we've already sacrificed the party wizard and rogue with their big juice high Int score brains). Think of the tension that would create as I pray the dice won't fail me and that my poor character will keep his brains intact.

In 4e it seems like the changes to the entire encounter design rules is going to shine, and the zombie will shine right along with.

My spellplague theory

In other news, I do have a theory on the spellplague and what it'll mean for the Realms. Shall I expound? "Please do Unca Griffy!"

I agree with Crwth that the spellplague is going to be a brilliant solution. But what, dear friends, is it solving?

Well, I think that it's major purpose is to align the FR setting with 4e's emphasis on "points of light in the dark" theme. Currently the Realms are pretty much fully explored and mapped. Every forest is named. Cities are connected by huge roads with numerous towns in between. Even the Underdark has everything but road signs. Not exactly a lot of "darkness" in there.

So, along comes the spellplague. Emphasis on the plague part. For ten years mages have been dropping like kobolds, entire nations that relied upon magic have collapsed, the civilized races have been forced to withdraw in to tighter bunches. The rest of the world has since opened up for monsters and the dark. Ta da! Done deal. And all in a nice little nutshell.

The sound of silence

At the risk of whipping the dead horse named Gleemax, I just can't say enough about how frustrating and disappointing it is.

Aesthetics aside, I simply don't have time to hunt through the list of vague names, click on the one I think might be informative, click on the "more" in the blog, and find out it's the wrong guy or it's nothing but info on minis.

That alone is enough to keep me away from Gleemax, and unfortunately, woefully in the dark. Thanks to Crwth for his blog stripper which is coming along nicely.

Full of Glee? Full of something...

I know that Griff already griped about Gleemax, but that doesn't mean I can't, too.

It's because of Gleemax, and the developers' move, in part, to that environment, that I've been quiet here on the blog. While I can still find some information in the old, readable forum-blogs, the disappointment with the Gleemax setup has put quite a damper on my enthusiasm to follow the latest-and-greatest news about 4th edition. To get around that, I've been working on putting together a webpage that collects all of the Gleemax cruft into a single, readable place -- you know, kinda like the Wizard Staff Blogs webpage that we used to have. If I get it to a state that I like, I'll perhaps post a link to it on the right, there.

But enough griping. The last thing I remember reading that I felt was interesting (and remember, I've been slow on reading because of all of this glee), was about the Spellplague, the device being used to introduce the 4th edition changes to the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.

I think it's brilliant, and I really don't know anything about it. Obviously it's going to affect magic in Faerun, which will help to usher in any magic system changes. And the aftermath of the Spellplague, as hinted at in the end of the Grand History of the Realms sure sounds like a good way of changing around the planes and the deities, all in one go. I don't know what the fans' responses have been to this, but it sounds like the devs have found a nice, concise solution to introduce the changes, and have provided some good story material for the novel writers and content writers.

As a side-effect of the 4th edition changes, I'm more likely to start buying the Forgotten Realms novels as they come out (instead of reading years-old books playing catch-up), so I have a basis for the here-and-now when we start playing 4th edition. I know that the Campaign Guide is going to have material I can use to know about the recent events, but I was surprised at how much reading the Avatar trilogy-plus-two helped cement the recent history of the Realms. It's one thing to read a timeline and get some names and ideas, but another to experience the events with the characters, and then bring that to affect your own campaign, however perfunctorily.

A shame Drizzt is still around, though. Perhaps dual-scimitar-wielding characters aren't permitted in 4th edition.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The end of a good thing?

Been to Gleemax yet?

I have, and it ain't pretty. In fact, it's an eye straining wasteland of frustration and confusion that is utterly devoid of aesthetic appeal.

In short, it's fugly. Butt-fugly.

It's also the site where WotC devs and designers will be doing all their blogging. Can you feel the glee?

While the Des&Dev articles and Playtest write ups at DDI are all interesting and provide good insights into what will be 4e, I like the developer blogs the best. They don't often give as much detail but they do give a first person peek at the thinking that's going into 4e. It's a peek behind the curtain and really vital to me as a fan and as a member of the dnd community.

Unfortunately that curtain has now turned into a gawd-awful black and green velvet thing that's beyond 70s tacky. Honestly, I don't know if I can bring myself to look again.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Note to the FR fanbois.

Okay. Relax. Take a deep breath. Okay, now let it out nice and slowly. Ahhh. Feel better?

Good, because the Forgotten Realms are changing to sync with 4e.

Whoa there! Ease up a bit. Another deep breath. Put down the mouse and step away from the computer. Everything is gonna be okay.

I just finished reading Chris Perkin's latest blog (from Oct 10, 2007) and I was honestly dumbstruck by some of the news he dropped. Up until this point I had expected some minor tweaking and a little something to explain the change in cosmology. I certainly didn't expect that they'd advance the timeline by ten years.

*cue Jeremy Piven* TEN YEARS! Ten years man. TEN! YEARS!

Even more shocking to me at least have been the hints of Pivenesque outrage in the dnd community. Most of which is apparently (mis)aimed at Rich Baker. In fact, Chris's plea for leniency wasn't the first I've read.

But I'm not here to defend Rich Baker, or any of the other writers/designers at WotC. They are public figures and working on a game that inspires rabid fandom. They are also big boys and I'm sure they can handle criticism.

Instead, I'm going to focus on the diehard fans of FR, because frankly, this outrage and venom over something so trivial is truly perplexing to me.

Are there gamers out there who set their campaigns in the Forgotten Realms and rigidly adhere to every word ever written about FR? Is every line of every novel so sacred? Are they so lacking in imagination that they cannot compensate for any tweak or change in their beloved setting?

Now, I'll admit that I'm a fan of the Realms. As Crwth pointed out earlier I was the driving force behind our group adopting the Realms as our setting. I like the history. I like the maps. I like some of the iconic characters. I've read the FR Campaign Setting book from cover to cover several times. I've read many of the WotC setting books such as The Unapproachable East and The Shining South. I love that shit.

At the same time, our group does not use the setting as canon. It's not the be all, end all of our game. For Crwth I think it's just a framework or skeleton for his story, the foundation on which is campaign sits. It gives him some background and a timeline to work with but it doesn't force his hand in any way.

As a player I like the Realms for the history and the background it provides my characters. I might have a rogue who hails from Thesk, and while I know she hates the Thayans, Crwth doesn't need to worry about that (unless I treat his Thayan npc like dirt for reasons he may not understand). Honestly that sort of thing rarely comes up and if it did I know enough to play along. Others in our group know very little about FR history and the various enmities. And that's fine. I take what I need out of FR and we're all happy.

I also have practical reasons for supporting the FR setting. Those aforementioned books all have dozens of prestige classes, spells, feats, and magic items. Oh the options and possibilities they open up. To be honest, if Eberron had that kind of written support and gave those kinds of options, I'd be just as happy playing in that setting. Because, bottom line, it's the play that makes the setting, and not the other way around.

So for all you hardcore fanbois. Ease up. Relax a little. It's not the end of the world. It's just ten years and a little "Spellplague".

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Dungeons & Dragons: The Gathering

The latest post by Schaefer has me a little worried.

Before 3rd edition was released, most of our group used to play Magic: The Gathering. When we switched to D&D, I saw a few things that definitely reminded me that the same company made both games, the best example being the Sorcery/Instant/Interrupt of Magic being similar to the full-round action/standard action/free action (and now immediate action/swift action) of D&D. I wasn't against it, since the Deckmaster game system was a good one, and if there are good points that can be moved over, why not?

But now Schaefer mentions something that Radney-MacFarland brought up in a meeting, something called an "aftereffect". Of course, there's no full explanation of what it is, but it immediately made me think of Magic. I haven't played Magic for a few years now, and certainly don't know the latest abilities, but it reminded me about something called Feedback or ... well, some idea of a repeating effect -- in essence, something you have to keep track of which happens next round.

I thought the idea was to make 4th edition easier, more streamlined. To me, having to remember that an effect is going to happen next round (or maybe a few rounds later) just seems to complicate it. Yes, it sounds like an interesting mechanic, and I'm sure it works great in a game like Magic, where there are all sorts of things to keep track of, but the rules and the cards are the game in Magic, but in D&D, role-playing and conversation make up a larger part of it. This sounds like something that is better suited to miniatures, where the game is what's in front of you, the cards of the miniatures and the figures themselves on the gamegrid.

It's perhaps wrong to jump to any conclusion based on a word, but that's the point of this blog, isn't it? With the inundation of miniatures articles on the Wizards site, I find I have to convince myself a few times a day that the developers know that this is a role-playing game first, that miniatures are a convenience for the role-players, and that DDM is a different game entirely.

But if I ever have to tap my character sheet, I quit.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Time flies 4ward

I haven't bothered to go read about the uproar about the Eberron campaign setting being moved ahead a few years, and then the uproar about that being reversed; nor did I bother to go see all the hubbub about the Forgotten Realms setting being moved a few years ahead, hinted at in the Grand History of the Realms discussions and in Wyatt's latest post.

Eberron, as I've said before, has yet to draw me in, even though Dungeons & Dragons Online is the sole computer game I play, and it takes place in Eberron. It wouldn't matter to me one way or the other if a few years got skipped for plot purposes, because I haven't a clue about the history there - I could probably name a half-dozen of the Houses, and I know there was a Great War.

But even though Faerun is my home-away-from-home, I don't care what the other fans think about this leap in time, because frankly, TSR and then Wizards have done one helluva job with this campaign setting, and ... I trust them. It's their world, and we play in it. Sure, as a DM, I, too, make Faerun what I want it to be, and my campaigns may or may not collide with canon about the Forgotten Realms. If I don't like something, I don't have to use it, which is why I don't have any tolerance for the zealous fanposts where they feel that because they've been given a voice, everyone ought to listen.

I avoid forums for a reason, is it obvious?

So please, guys, change my Realms! Add a god, remove a god, just tell me a story about why. Wizards can't cast this spell all-of-a-sudden? That's okay! Rogues are now running around using axes? Great. But I do have one request.

When I write a Forgotten Realms campaign, I do remain conscious of the date in Faerun, making sure I know what Year Of it is, the Dalereckoning year, both to add flavor as well as to allow for background canon events to be happening nearby or faraway, but still happening nonetheless. However, it's hard to know what the date is in Faerun now -- I would hope that a company going heavily into an online presence, with a webpage specific to the Forgotten Realms, might have something a little in-context by having today's date reckoned in Daletime, just so we know where in the timeline we are. As it is, I have to go to the most recent Forgotten Realms sourcebook I can find and find a date reference in there to get a sense for when we are in the universe.

Oh, and maybe the Eberron fans would like a clock, too.


Podcast 16 had a few interesting things about my favorite topic, monsters.

I liked the discussion about the humanoid monsters, such as goblins, gnolls and hobgoblins, which differed mainly in their hit dice and challenge rating, and really just filled a role as "the humanoid monster at this level". Instead, more focus is going into their tactics and abilities, so the players don't just gloss over what kind of humanoid monster they're fighting. Pack mentality, flanking, stealth, etc. should do a good job or keeping these different creatures useful as individual monster concepts, instead of as filler.

The final part of the podcast was even more interesting, however, when James Wyatt was given a test on the spot to create encounters from some of the new monsters. This gave quite a bit of insight into the game design... not only did we get to find out the names of some of the monsters (rune-carved aidelon, quickling runner, eye of flame), but we got a sense of what the monster entries are like: when designing the encounters, he was looking at their roles, throwing around terms like "elite soldier" for the human fighter death knight, "controller" for the goblin hexer, and "artillery" for the eye of flame.

I can certainly see the benefit from these role names, to help DMs balance out an encounter, and I assume there will be tables sorted by these roles to help a DM find them easily, but a part of me cringes at the explicit nature of the roles. These "simplistic" terms such as "brute" and "soldier" remind me of the thing I disliked most about d20 Modern, which were the "Smart Hero"/"Fast Hero" names of classes.

Perhaps I just need to get used to the role concept for 4th edition. I can't quite put my finger on it... it's almost like I want these roles to exist in a table somewhere, listing those monsters that qualify as "artillery", but don't want that actual word associated with the monster. I know that as the DM, I can do anything with the monsters that I damned well please, but it still feels restricting to have these roles given, instead of helpful.

Damn you Heinsoo!

Maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Or maybe I'm still seething from last night's frustrating battle with putting up a frickin' shelf (Damn you Ikea!). Whatever it is I've gotta vent.

Rob Heinsoo drives me freakin' nuts!

When he bothers to blog at all it's always utterly inane chatter. The man is a featured brain on the new 4e PHB. His name is on the goddamn cover. But, does he offer any insights? Drop any tantalizing hints? Teasers?


He describes in painstakingly boring detail the minis that are arrayed across his desk.

News flash Rob. Nobody cares about the minis on your desk. Or the pens in your drawer. Or the pictures of your wife and kids (although I'm sure they're lovely).

There is however one thing on your desk that we do want to hear about. The new PHB. Is that too much to ask for?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

d%'d dude

Once again, Noonan has been reading my thoughts... his "monkeys without blinders" is how I've been doing treasure generation for some time now.

Okay, perhaps my method is not as in-depth as his -- we'll have to wait and see -- but for years now, when determining random treasure, I've always given bonuses and (as Didier Monin would put it) maluses to the subsequent rolls, depending on how the previous roll came out. Did they get very little coin? Add 10 to the gem roll. Did that end up getting them the maximum gem return? Perhaps -5 for the art and jewelery.

Perhaps, though, they're going to take it a little further (and a little more exacting -- my plusses and minuses are pretty much determined by mood), and actually have loot that makes sense together? So no Quaal's feather token in the same chest as a +3 longsword and set of +2 full plate; no fireball wand stored with the repeating crossbow. A drow with an SR11 ring and darkvision goggles??

Of course, I'm a little disappointed that such a system change didn't get put into the Magic Item Compendium. A new treasure generation system doesn't have to come with a new ruleset like 4th edition, and the new system will now have to get retrofitted into the dozens of tables that the Compendium provides.

How long after the release of the new treasure generation system until someone has made an online system that contains the full Compendium? Time me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

4th edition - a novel approach

Bilsland's blog today didn't upset me as much as his previous one did, so he's off the hook for now.

But he did talk about R.A. Salvatore's latest novel, The Orc King, which Bilsland believes is a "bridge" from the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms to the 4th. This made me pause and wonder, "what are they doing to the realms that they need to consciously change them to fit the new rules?"

There was mention that the Grand History of the Realms ends with some hints about the changes that are coming about, and if Griff doesn't hurry up and buy it... Griff did have a point, though, that with the change in the cosmology, they might need to introduce the new lay of the planes to explain why the universe has changed so drastically.

With my growing interest in the Forgotten Realms, I've been wanting to read more of the novels, but find I'm too busy keeping up with 4th edition rumors to do so. Perhaps once winter sets in, I'll be snowed in and will have to finish the Icewind Dale trilogy, and buy, borrow or steal any other Realmslore I can find. But I'll admit, just this little mention of The Orc King having a lead-in to 4th edition -- even if so slight -- has pushed it up the list of to-be-read books.

Manual monsters

As Stephen Schubert's latest post mentions, they're all still hard at work on the Monster Manual, which as my last bunch of posts might indicate, has my feelings all mixed.

Shoe teased about what the highest-level monster was going to be. I didn't expect the tarrasque to be it, since we've seen higher level monsters since the 3rd edition Monster Manual. Still, I do hope they include the tarrasque in the new book, since it's quite an iconic monster for those who play. And I hope that it follows a formula when created... *grumble*

The slaadi, though. I always seem to forget about these menaces, but I really like them. I never think to use them in my own campaigns, and I think the last time they appeared in our group was in the Lord of the Iron Fortress module. This got me thinking about why I don't use them, and I think the problem is that I think of the environment of a campaign first, and populate it later -- and in the case of the slaadi, they just never occur to me as "applicable" to the quest.

As an experiment, I should grab the Monster Manuals and flip through them, and see if I can come up with a campaign idea based on the foes, putting story and plot around them, instead of the other way around. In fact, this would be a good exercise for coming up with submissions for the Side Treks; as well, this would make a good web enhancement for the Monster Manual... it would be quite fun to come up with a different encounter for each monster.

Or perhaps just the underutilized monsters -- who needs help sticking an orc into a module?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Math isn't that hard!

I've mentioned in previous posts how I enjoy the calculations that go into a monster's stat block, and have had fun reverse-engineering the monsters to fit them into racial and class progressions. That's why I'm a bit disappointed that Greg Bilsland has said that "the construction of monsters still appears to be a science, but is no longer an exact science."

I guess I just don't see the argument for this. If you're advancing a monster, through some size advancement, template or class levels, why wouldn't you apply them with a rule-based system? If class levels and templates aren't going to be provided in a way that allows us to apply them in a calculable way, then how will they be provided, just as concepts? And if they are calculable, is the process just too difficult?

Bilsland says

The math and science are so finite that often repairing stat blocks becomes not a case of creating a flawless, pristine creature, but rather, a creature with a minimal amount of mistakes... [w]hen you’re dealing with a combination of advancement, templates, class levels, and monstrous races in a limited amount of time, some mistakes are bound to slip by...

Fair enough, but aren't we getting digital tools with D&D Insider? Is this not a perfect fit for a digital tool, both for the designers at Wizards as well as the players? I had hoped that tools like xmld20 and HeroForge were no longer going to be needed, not because I don't enjoy working on them, but because the promise of online D&D applications seemed to confirm that this game does have that mathematic component which could be eased for players and DMs alike. This addresses his concern about the "inane attention to detail" that he has mistakenly assumed isn't fun for some of us. And there's no reason that a DM can't fudge numbers whenever he wants to, if it is becoming tedious -- that has always been within the rubric of the DM -- but I don't know why this means there can't be a formulaic way at all.

Of course, as with most current 4th edition discussion, we're working with only snippets of information, so I have no idea how the monsters, the classes and the templates are going to be implemented. But I, for one, am likely to take these advanced creatures, reverse engineer them as Bilsland is doing now, and will come up with errata for what I will probably see as an incorrect stat block.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A barbarian by any other name.

While I'm thinking about it, why does the Barbarian class exist in 3rd edition? What's it's reason for being? It's raison d'etre?

I remember when the class first appeared in Unearthed Arcana in AD&D. It was with the Cavalier and a couple other classes I don't remember. In those heady days of the eighties, it was a fun class. A twist for those who were tired of the fighter, ranger, and paladin.

That was then. Now however, I think the barbarian has no place in the 21st century, or 4e for that matter.

As I understand the class, the barbarian is a savage from the wildlands. A brute with a big axe and terrible table manners. Superstitions instead of enlightened education. A sore thumb in the polite fist of civilization.

Give the class some trap sense and some DR and the rage ability and okay, I'm with you. I even like the d12 HD, if for no other reason than to finally give me a reason to roll the most ignored die in the set.

However, when you add in the ability to multi-class the barbarian becomes a WTF class.

I mean, add a level of rogue or fighter or wizard and suddenly the barbarian is reading at a high school level. Not unless he's been questing through dungeons sponsored by Hooked on Phonics.

I say, roll those barbarian abilities into a talent tree and dump this lame class into the fighter barrel. Instead of being a seperate class the superstitious, illiterate, axe swinging beserker with terrible hygene and anger management issues can be roleplayed, as it should be.

At the very least rename the class. Call it a Beserker and free it from all the baggage our civilized snobbery attaches to the word "barbarian".

Multi-classing monks. Why not?

Apparently Dave Noonan is not only reading our blog, but he's also monitoring our Google chat. That sly devil. ;-)

Just the other day Crwth and I briefly discussed monks and multi-classing which brought to light that my current character is pretty blatantly illegal. Oops. We are using the Unearthed Arcana's variant rules on gestalt characters, so that's my loophole. Yeah. That's it.

Anyways, in Dave's latest blog he discusses how the multi-classing restrictions applied to the monk and paladin classes were regrettably left in 3.0/3.5. I curse those playtesters who advised keeping that insane and pointless restriction in the game. I wish I could smack them around a little.

As Dave says, "The path of the paladin "requires a constant heart," but a cleric or a druid can multiclass freely? The dedication and study of a monk exceeds that of a wizard? Baloney."

I whole heartedly agree. It just doesn't make sense on any level. In fact, it's the main reason I've never played a 3.0/3.5 monk or paladin. Even when I've felt the urge to play a lawful character, I just can't get over the multi-class restrictions. Too bad because I had a really fun idea for a cowardly paladin/rogue. And a monk/rogue would be damn cool too.

Oh well. Maybe in 4e.

Damn playtesters.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Plane talking

After all of the teases in yesterday's blogs about the new cosmology, the latest Design & Development article was finally posted. And I like it.

As Griff just said to me, it's simpler and more intuitive. The Feywild reminds me of a series of novels from about 20 years ago, where some teens found a bridge between our world and a faerie land where the Tuatha De Denann traipsed. I can't for the life of me remember the names of the books, and Amazon wasn't much help. Perhaps I'll edit this post when I get home and find them.

When reading the description of the Feywild, it reminded me about the Shadow Plane, and how it mirrored things from the Material Plane, but not quite. And then the Shadowfell was next described, with more of a bent on the dead than just shadow.

The merge of the elemental planes makes things a little easier, cutting down on their number, as well as having a plane on which multiple types of environs can appear. And sticking the demons in this plane of chaos helps remove one of the Outer Planes that we're used to.

The Astral Sea leaves the good old astral plane around, a useful environment for any DM, and absorbs the rest of the Outer Planes, as well as providing a new home for the devils.

But a few things are missing. Where's the ethereal plane? Are we missing all of our ethereal spells? Is the Shadowfell also going to take the place of the Shadow Plane, for all of our darkness spells? Will it also provide the role of the Negative Energy Plane? Regardless, where's the Positive Energy Plane?

And perhaps most importantly: is this new cosmology going to leak over into the Forgotten Realms (and other settings)? Although I just talked about how much I enjoy the Forgotten Realms, I must admit that the names of the planes there never stuck with me, having been used to the "main" ones in the Dungeon Master's Guide. A nice compromise would be to stick all of the Realms planes inside the Astral Sea with the other Outer Planes ones.

The planes have been quite underutilized by me as a DM, not because of a lack of desire, but because the Material Plane can be such a good source of adventure that I forget to expand my scope until I need some heavyweight challenges. The Feywild sounds like it might be a good place where lower-level characters can adventure without having to be decked out with specialized equipment just to survive the weather, not to mention the denizens, of a foreign plane.

People skills and people's kills

Noonan teased about "skill challenges", "extended challenges" and "complex challenges." He also said that I can probably suss where they're going, but maybe I'm just thick.

What I'm hoping for is an expansion of what skills are used for, and how often. As a DM, I consciously try to add opportunities for characters with seldomly-used skills to shine: Move Silently, Hide and Tumble all see regular use; Concentration, Spellcraft and Knowledge: ____ all see some time as well; and the rogue's Disable Device and Open Lock are appreciated when the time is right. But there are some skills that just never get used, and I feel it a shame if a player caves to the reality of typical gameplay by avoiding the skill that their character should have taken, to fit their personality. Giving opportunities for these "lesser" skills to be used, especially when they allow the party to avoid a long trip, an awkward encounter, or certain death, is what makes me feel good as a DM, even if the characters never utilize it. Something about assuaging my guilt, for what's coming next.

If 4th edition provides more examples of alternate use or more opportunities to use them in combat -- because, let's face it, that's the meat-and-potatoes of D&D -- then they'll be greatly welcomed. I, for one, loved the synergy bonuses in 3rd edition, especially the Knowledge synergies in 3.5, so I hope they keep these around, and perhaps add more. I want to see my players get upset because there are so many useful skills to choose from.

However, no longer how much my players might wish it, the Diplomacy, Bluff and Sense Motive skills will never cross the meta-boundary and work on the DM.

Not quite Forgotten

When I played D&D when I was young, as a lad, I never got into the Forgotten Realms. I'm not sure why, but I think I was just a Greyhawk snob, and really wanted nothing to do with it. Time passed, I stopped playing, but when 3rd edition came out, we all got back into it, but still I resisted the call of Faerun.

Luckily, Griff set me straight, and now it's by far my favorite campaign setting -- goodbye, Greyhawk, and sorry new-kid Eberron. Now nearly all of our campaigns take place in Faerun: we've had an Eberron one in the last year, an ongoing Rokugan one, and last visited Greyhawk when we Returned to the Temple of Elemental Evil.

What does this have to do with 4th edition? The fact that the Forgotten Realms will be the first campaign setting with material released for it in 4th edition. Rich Baker's latest blog also mentions that the Father of Faerun, the real-life Ao, Ed Greenwood, is going to be contributing a good amount of text to it. This all on the heels of the Grand History of Faerun, released this month, just makes for happiness for all of us FR diehards and converts.

And Griff, if you don't pick up the Grand History soon, I'm gonna do it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Can a demon balance a checkbook?

The latest Dev&Des article has sparked an interesting conversation between myself and Crwth on the "new" nature of demons.

Demons and devils within the DnD setting is one of my favorite topics, so be warned. This'll probably be a long one.

A few times in various campaigns we've wandered across a demon trapped in the classic circle of protection against evil. Every time we talk to the creature and usually try to strike some kind of bargain. Two out of the three times that I can think if my character had Knowledge: Planes and recognized that the creature was a demon. Naturally I knew exactly what would happen when we released it. True to form it always attacked us making for a fun battle.

That in a nutshell is the demon. Unlike the scheming bargain making devil, the demon has always been in my mind the force of primal chaos that Chris Sims describes. So I have no problem with the demon being a force of destruction. A being that exists solely to unravel the fabric of the universe even if it means destroying iteself in the process. However that's the part which seems to be giving Crwth reason for worry.

He argued that the demon of 4e, at least as Chris Sims described, is going to be incapable of being a long running protagonist. An evil wizard might summon one and set it loose but any way you shake it, the demon is looking like a random encounter at best. It'll be a "there it is on a mindless killing spree let's get it" sort of monster.

It's a valid point. How can a demon be the nemesis to the party of heroes if it's very nature will eventually undermine it's limited plans? How can it lay out a carefully planned trap for the players when there's a killing spree waiting in that village over there? How is it going to scheme to end the world when it can't even balance a checkbook?

I suppose that the only answer to that is pick something else to play the role of evil mastermind, nemesis, foil. A devil, rakshasa, vampire, beholder, or lich will all nicely fill the "role" of protagonist.

Of course, that is exactly the kind of answer that I hate. It's my biggest fear in 4e that instead of options, choices, and tweaking we'll have cookie cutter roles, talents, classes. If Crwth wants to have a demon as the arch-enemy in his campaign, then who is Chris Sims to say no.

So, when Crwth suggests that maybe there's that one demon in a billion who has a shred of lawfulness, who bucks the chaotic trend, lays out a plan and then follows it through, I'm inclined to say go for it. If Drizz't can do it, then so can that Kyton.

Now, to play the Devil's advocate for a moment.

Drizz't can be good because the Drow aren't really evil by nature. I'd argue that they are more a product of their environment and society. In short, the Drow are evil because their mommies tried to kill them and they had spiders as pets. Ewwww!

Demons on the other hand are evil because they are literally made of evil and chaos. It's not just something they learned in grade school. They really are pure evil right to the very core of their being. They are born of chaos and have no choice but to do everything in their power to foster more chaos. Law and order are anathema to the demon. Destruction and pain are it's wine and cheese. Yum!

For a demon to be anything other than a chaotic machine of destruction would be akin to a great white shark climbing out of the ocean and becoming a vegan.

That said, I have to believe that there is some hope for demons filling the nemesis mastermind role. The existence of the the arch-demons like Demogorgon and Graz'zt seem to be proof of that. Sure, they might be at the top of the Abyssal food chain only because they happen to be the biggest, baddest bullies in the playground, but I doubt it. I think it would take brains as well as brawn, and at least some ability to scheme around one's enemies.

So while the devil will probably fill the protagonist role much more easily than the demon, I think/hope that the latter can at least be shoe horned in. In fact I'm sure that it'll make for a respectable and believable foe. It'll just have to get a minion to balance it's checkbook.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Math is hard!

Having only now gotten to the latest Design & Development article, I figure I should jot down my thoughts on it before I go tackle the dozen or more blog entries I've missed over the last four or five days.

I've mentioned before my love for the math behind the CR and EL from 3rd edition D&D. While the Monster Manuals are my favorite books, a close "second" would be the Savage Species book. It attempted to provide you with the formulas needed to make a class out of a monster, which was the deepest insight to design that the developers provided to us geeks that enjoy that kind of thing.

Along the lines of finding a class progression and calculating level adjustments is how to calculate the challenge rating of a monster, and it sounds like they've made that much more formulaic than it used to be. I spent a good amount of time and energy trying to deduce the formula for a creature's CR, and concluded in the end what Mearls admits in the article -- that it was up to the designer's "best guess."

With the introduction of roles helping to make encounters, and the inclusion of traps and hazards into the encounter calculations, I can only hope that they divulge their formulae for level or challenge rating or encounter level or whatever they end up calling it. While perhaps they might want to keep this "intellectual property" secret, this game is all about imagination in the end, and if a DM wants to imagine this foe with extra arms or that foe ten feet taller, then they would only be helping out the players and the game as a whole if they provide these calculations right up front.

Tiers of Joy

I'm beginning to sense a theme in the development and design of 4e. Bear with me. I'm a little slow.

That theme, ladies and gentlemen, is tiers.

Everywhere from developer blogs to playtests to dev&des articles the idea of tiers is everywhere. There's the tiers in spellcasting that will replace the "Vancian" fire-and-forget method of previous editions. The whole "at will vs per encounter vs per day" thing. There's the set-up of the DMG with the first part of the book being at low, medium, and high "altitude" (to borrow the term used by David Noonan here). Finally, David Noonan (in the same blog thread) announces that he's working on what he says are ""skill challenges," "extended challenges," and "complex challenges.""

While I'm of mixed opinion on what I've seen/read/heard about 4e, but I have to say that I like this viewpoint. I like that they are coming at the design of 4e from different heights/tiers/altitudes. Break the game down and organize it into the various levels. Group the things that we as players or DM will use all the time in one neat and tidy section. If nothing else speeds up play and minimizes page flipping, this will.

Although I do love flipping past those sexy pictures of Mialee...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hi Dave

I'm certain that Dave Noonan reads this blog, since he seems to address the questions and concerns I bring up here in his next blog. So on that note, this post will be about me being a playtester.

Just kidding.

Noonan cleared up a few things about the wizard implements which had me concerned. Specifically, they don't define your wizard, just enhance your wizard, which was my biggest issue. His analogy with the fighter and her weapon choice made a lot of sense, and is what I was hoping for.

Perhaps I'm becoming too much of a doomsday player, expecting the worst of 4th edition. So far, though, the little tidbits that we've gleaned have been more positive than negative, so I should probably try switching to "assuming they're doing it right" instead of "assuming they're doing it wrong."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tome flies when you're designing a game...

Since Bart Carroll can change his mind about things, I get to post twice about the same Design & Development article.

Orbs for the Iron Sigil and Serpent Eye? Staves for the Hidden Flame and the Golden Wyvern? Wands for Emerald Frost and Stormwalker? And not a tome to be seen?

Are these names - Iron Sigil, Stormwalker - the names of talent trees? If that's the case, does that mean I can't be a wizard that uses both an orb and a staff, as the need arises? This would solve my earlier concern about having to change implements, but also seems to be removing some choice from the player.

I have yet to look into how Star Wars Saga does these talent trees, which is where, I believe, they've been saying they appeared. My assumption is that you can either take a broad approach to the tree, dabbling in this or that but being expert at nothing; or that you can go fully down one branch of the tree to be very focused.

Assuming that these wizard "types" mentioned above are branches of the wizard talent tree, does this mean that I can be an Iron Sigil and a Golden Wyvern at the same time? Will the "cost" be prohibitively high, as multiclassing can be? Or are they mutually exclusive groups, more like a membership than a training path, in which I've restricted myself to one discipline only. Perhaps "restrict" is the pessimistic word -- "optimized" is the optimistic one.

Or perhaps these terms are just NPC guilds that will be used as flavor in the 4th edition material, and they don't have any bearing, or at least restriction, on the player wizard.

Wow, my mood about this article went from "happy that they gave us something concrete" to "resigned that we're getting nothing concrete."


Today's Design & Development article felt like the first real piece of new content released for 4th edition. No vague mentions of talent trees and per-day and per-encounter abilities, but what felt like a concrete idea that exists in the upcoming version of the game, specifically focused on the wizard.

3rd edition caused internecine wars about which was better -- the wizard or the sorcerer -- and as with most wars, there was never a clear winner. More spells to choose from versus more spells per-day. Free metamagic feats versus ... more spells per-day. Yeah, sorcerers sucked.

But now it seems we've got something that really sets the wizard apart from his cousin, which are these implements. From the way they're mentioned, I don't get the feeling that these are the rodstaffwands we are used to having, but specific focuses that a wizard uses to enhance his spells.

Depending on the rules governing wielding these new implements, I can see players designing their wizards with a specific focus so as to obviate the need to swap their orb for their tome every round, which might be the idea. Instead of being the Swiss Army Knife spell caster, the wizard, too, might have a theme. Of course, this might fly in the face of what other players expect from their wizard.

And can a wizard have a single orb, say, that can focus more than one ability, as a magic item can be crafted that has more than one (possibly similar, possibly disparate) ability? Or will wizards who wish to augment their abilities with these implements be stuck with the choice of limited versatility versus wasted standard actions as they're swapped in and out?

Regardless of their exact implementation, it sounds like the sorcerer is going to have to fight even harder for this player to see their worth compared to the venerable wizard.