Friday, August 31, 2007

The light goes on

With all the little hints about roles and talent trees and per-encounter abilities, I have been quietly withholding judgement until I saw them in action. With today's Playtest Report, we got a little glimpse, and I think I finally see what they're doing.

The quick battle described in the article definitely describes an interesting flow of battle, with large actions and small. When writing up adventures in story form, I consciously try to blur the line where specific d20 actions are taking place and try to let it read as a battle that isn't under a regimented, turn-based system. From the way that Sims wrote this battle, it seems that the game system itself provides the smaller features that help round out the battle into a smoother event instead of a bunch of discrete actions.

I especially liked the "shout of encouragement" from one character to the others, what sounds like an immediate-action morale boost. This got me thinking to the bard, whose job that typically falls under, and how that would have taken a full standard action to get a song into play...

And then I moved onto today's Design & Development article, which talked about exactly that. Rob Heinsoo talked about how his bard would spend the first two rounds of a battle buffing up the rest of the party, and this is exactly what I see when our group has a bard. This is where the 4th edition idea of roles is finally sinking in with me, when he says "every Leader class in the new edition is designed to provide their ally-benefits and healing powers without having to use so many of their own actions in the group-caretaker mode".

Whenever I play in a party-based game, whether pen-and-paper D&D, D&D Online, or even back in Ultima Online, this is the role I would gravitate to. I enjoy being the one that heals the party, boosts the party, saves the party - while they're saving the rest of the world. I guess I enjoy being a Leader.

That's why I'm the DM.

Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting

Not in 4e baby.

The word (and by "word" I mean rumor and speculation) is that there will be no monk in the new 4th Edition of D&D. This belief seems to be based almost entirely on the conspicuous absence of the monk in anything the Devs have said/written/dreamed about.

For now, I'll assume that the rumors are true and the monk will no longer exist as a stand alone core class.

But, does this bother me?

Yes and no.

On the one hand, part of me is against the cutting of any core class. In some measure I believe that the class is the first thing that defines a character. It's an important part of their identity. When you tell someone about your latest kick ass character the first words are what class he or she is. Not what feats or skill ranks he has.

"My new character Drazz't is totally awesome! He's got Dodge, Two Weapon Fighting and 4 ranks in Survival."

I don't think so.

On the other hand, and this is a profound about face on an earlier blog, I think that the pruning of a few classes could be a good thing. Thanks to the talent tree.

Why have a seperate Monk class when you can take a Fighter and follow a "martial arts" or "unarmed combatant" talent tree? Same goes with the Paladin. Chose Cleric or Fighter and take a "holy defender" or "champion of the faith" or "Cavalier" tree. I'll even go so far as to eliminate the Sorcerer (a personal fave) and say, take a wizard with the "inate casting" or "dragonblooded" talent.

My paradigm on class has shifted. It's not about class anymore. To steal a line from Shakespeare, the play is the thing.

Speaking of "the Bard", I hear the Bard is another class that won't see 4e ink. Meh. Who cares?

Addendum: According to the latest Dev&Des Article the Bard will be in 4e. Meh. Who cares?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Another +5 Vorpal Blade of Vanquishing? Ho hum.

I've been noticing a bit of discussion on magic items in the DnD 4e forums, and it's got me to thinking. More than that, I've actually been re-evaluating my personal feelings on magic items and loot in general.

Now, I will admit, I am hopelessly addicted to multi-classing. I also have a tendency to continue re-hashing and refining the same character concept through several incarnations (thanks to untimely deaths) well past what would be considered sane by my fellow players. I just know that this time I'll get it right.

I am also a total loot whore.

When the bad guy has fallen one of the first things I want to do is search for valuables. Then it's the obligatory casting of detect magic (best cantrip ever!). I'm sure that Crwth can run the routine by rote with or without me in the room. And I hate myself for it.

Even back in the AD&D days of the 80s and early 90s, I was always on the hunt for bigger and better weapons, armor, rings, and cloaks. The more pluses or abilities the better. I loved it. Even as a DM, I had a strong Monty Haul leaning.

Then with 3rd edition we began playing our way through the official campaign series that was released along with the first books. Overall, a great series of modules but in my eyes it was burdened with one fatal flaw. The total and utter lack of magic items.

I don't know if they were written before magic items were added to the DMG but my 8th level ranger was running around in a masterwork chain shirt and wielding a +2 bastard sword. A masterwork chain shirt! For the love of jeebus! At 8th level! No wonder a couple of treants made short work of us.

Now the 4e developers are hinting/promising/threatening to return to those miserly roots. They want magic items to be less important, particularly at higher levels. They're going to dumb down the magic items in the game to the point where if we find a single magic item hidden amongst the loot, the entire party will still be pleased.

My first reaction was horror. Followed quickly by a sharp pain radiating from the left side of my chest. They should be adding more magic items to the game, not less. If first level characters now get to start with 30+ hit points then why not toss them a couple of +1 items? Maybe something with "vorpal" in it's name.

Then came the introspection. And some hard questions. I pride myself on being a sound tactician and a creative min/maxer when it comes to character generation. But am I too dependent on having magic items to get past tough encounters? Is banking on having that Ring of Freedom becoming a crutch to get around flaws in my own designs?

It sickens me.

So now I see this new 4e approach to magic items as a breath of fresh air. I look forward to the day where getting that first +1 weapon, or a +1 ring of resistance, or a bag of holding is a joyous rarity. Even for my 8th level ranger.

In fact I'm gonna turn over this new leaf right away. I'm gonna ask my DM to start cutting back on the loot right now. I won't whine or groan with disgust the next time a monster has nothing but a couple of coppers and some toe nail clippings. I won't jump all over the next thing that radiates a magical aura. I'm going cold turkey baby!

I feel better already.

Who's really in control?

Dave Noonan talked about the issue of an absent player, and as a DM, this is always an issue that needs to be dealt with.

In our group, I'd say that more than half the time it just means a skipped session, especially if I -- I mean, the NPCs -- slaughtered the last party last session, and thus this is a new party, or more likely, a new campaign. I refuse to start a new campaign with someone missing.

If we do decide to play with someone absent, we've tried the various solutions, from Noonan's "in the background" character, to another player taking control, to the DM taking control, to leaving the character in the tavern with their ogre slaying knife. We've had a character die while the player was absent, and I've sometimes written up the night's adventure for the missing player to let them know what they missed, though not necessarily as descriptive as this each time.

As we get older and more responsible, and our social wives and social lives start demanding more of our precious spare time, it becomes harder and harder to skip a weekly session, though, for risk of not seeing a campaign through before we lose our eyesight. I think as a group, we're going to have to decide what does happen in future sessions, and just try to play through -- provided it's just one player missing that week.

What does this have to do with 4th edition? Well, err, Noonan did say that this was something 4th edition couldn't fix... so, yeah! Damn this 4.0 system, if it can't handle sucks...not gonna play...bring back THAC0...


No, your mom's a devil, not a demon

It was nice to start reading Rich Baker's most recent post about the story aspect of the monsters in the upcoming Monster Manual, as a nice background is useful to the DM, and relationships between monsters can help flesh out or even create an adventure.

Giving the devils some background as to their origins was nice to see, using a somewhat biblical storyline, but I raised an eyebrow when I saw "re-sorted demons and devils a bit." Merging to erinyes and succubus? Making the result, the succubus, a devil? What's going on here?

I can understand that 4th edition wants to change rules, to change the game system, all in the name of better, smoother gameplay. I can see monsters having to go through changes to adapt to the new system, whether it's to fit into the new CR/EL scheme, or to refocus their roles in combat. But to change a creature's type, especially one that some might consider iconic?

To some, the difference between a demon and a devil might not seem like much. One's chaotic, one's lawful, right? They're both from bad places, both evil, and all need to be slain for the greater good. But for those who put some thought and care into their game, like players designing characters around demonic or devilish paths or DMs using one or the other as more than a single encounter in a campaign, the difference is night and day.

The succubus has been with many 3rd edition players since Idalla appeared in the Forge of Fury. Of all of the encounters in that WotC adventure chain, that has to be in the top ten that stands out in my mind. To then decide that this creature is not what it was, to about-face with alignment, just seems anathema to me. What's next? Meepo will become more gnoll-like, and Ashardalon will start playing for the blue team?

Edit: I just noticed that Rich Baker was the author of Forge of Fury. How could you, Richard?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Just stand in the back and don't get hurt

But... I don't wanna. It's boring back there.

Sure, I'm just a lowly sorcerer with d4 HD and no armor and the worst BAB in the game... but, I still like to get in there and mix it up a little. I have mage armor and shield cast, and this sickle ain't just for reaping crops.


Defender, Leader, Controller, Striker.

Great in terms of monster design, but I worry that it'll spill over into the realm of character classes. There's nothing I hate more than the thought of being pigeon holed into some designated cookie cutter role.

I suppose I'm lucky in that my gaming group has an unspoken "play whatever will be fun for you" rule. We talk about having a balanced party but in the end we always seem to end up with anything but. One party will be heavy on casting but light on melee. Another will have tons of melee power but no healer. Yet, somehow the game is still fun. Gasp!

I also have a lot of fun with taking "unusual" character concepts (ie. nerfed, gimped, broken) and trying to make it work. The best example that comes to mind was a dwarven sorcerer with a few fighter levels. He overcame his racial charisma penalty, overcame the arcane failure chance from wearing armor, and waded into battle with his greatsword. He was challenging. He was fun. But would I have made him with the idea of "roles" rattling around in my head?

Actually, to be honest, yes. But that's just because I'm a selfish jerk and my fellow players understand, nay, expect that of me. Plus, the optimist in me wants to believe that DM Crwth adjusts his campaign to make it easier on our unbalanced party.

My point is, that roles applied to characters will undoubtably change the way in which others play the game.

How many out there will crack open the new 4e PHB, filled with limitless potential (or so we're promised), and instead of trying some diverse and unique combination of race, class, and talents will opt for some bland cookie cutter character just to fill his or her assigned role?

In my opinion, one is too many. So please WotC. Keep your roles to monster design and leave the roleplaying to us.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The 4.0 tightrope

The blog postings continue about monster design, so the developers certainly have my attention.

Matt Sernett's latest post talks again about the formulas that attempted to make balanced monsters in the 3rd edition system. He mentions that advancing monsters by HD was a good example of where it may or may not work, and this is why I always avoided the advancement system. If I was going to improve a monster, I always added class levels or a template, as I found them a little more balanced. But, as he goes on to say, sometimes the CR wasn't always right to begin with.

The one that comes to mind is the Lhosk in Monster Manual III. I had just picked the book up, and a forest-dwelling foe of CR4 is exactly what I needed. It was meant to look like a random encounter, but was there only to keep the party on their toes on a long journey. Did you read that, players? It was not a random encounter! Needless to say, the lhosk wiped out the party. I never did go back to look at the creature's stats to figure out whether my rolls were just lucky, if the party's rolls were bad, or if the creature is unbalanced, but I had always suspected the last one.

Sernett's mention of level "ranges" sounds like something that will help in this regard. They seem to be putting a lot of effort into the roles that opponents play in encounters, and having their effective challenge rating reflect this. This rings clear with me, because more than one spellcasting lieutenant has been dispatched too easily simply because he couldn't get out of range from the melee fighters in the party. Sure, I could have given him a balcony from which he stood, safe but from missile weapons, but sometimes the terrain dictates the encounter, regardless of how omnipotent you are as the DM. This role idea is something I'm looking forward to.

James Wyatt's latest talks about the dragons that will appear in the first Monster Manual, and my feelings are mixed.

The idea of an out-of-the-box dragon, all figured out and ready to be thrown at the pitiful party, is going to be welcome for many. Not having to figure out age, or size, or spells, or whatever else is going to save some people some time.

But the dragon is iconic, and I don't think there should be anything rushed about introducing one, whether a wyrmling or an ancient wyrm. Any encounter with a dragon should be something memorable, never something rolled up on a random encounter table. And this is why I disagree with the idea of having a ready-made dragon. Make the system a little easier to make the unique, majestic creature you need, but don't lump them into the same class of beast as a goblin or demon.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monsters, monsters, monsters

The most recent Design & Development article was about dungeon design, or more specifically, encounter design.

The limitations with the 3rd edition system with Challenge Ratings and Encounter Levels is something that I, too, have found as a DM. Trying to make an encounter that is balanced, according to the formulae in the book, felt at times like a mathematics class: 2 CR3 creatures are an EL5, so those two with this CR5 makes a EL7... add in a CR8, and we have a... EL9? But where does this cleric fit in?? And of course, after all that figuring, the party made such short work of this encounter that you should have doubled the numbers...

As a DM, then, I have to adapt to allow for more than the straightforward numbers to decide how the encounter plays out. The encounter in our last play session was greatly unbalanced in favor of the NPCs, but because the party wisely waited for the NPCs' return in their own stronghold, the element of surprise was on their side, as was the terrain to keep the enemy manageable -- until the enemy took advantage of their knowledge of their own stronghold to attempt to surround the party.

This is why I enjoyed reading Mike Mearls' article about exactly this -- having an encounter not just a static group, waiting for the PCs to arrive, but might hear the commotion from down the hall, or might be summoned in by the first group. Granted, most of the adventures released by Wizards of the Coast had at least one encounter where it was stated that after X rounds, so-and-so from the next room would hear and join the battle, so this isn't new, but it sounds like the group-up design of encounters is going to take into account terrain, distance, and less definitive lines on where one encounter starts and another ends.

But what does this have to do with 4.0? Isn't this really just a strategy for DMs to use when designing modules and campaigns? The only 4.0-related difference is in the vague discussion about the CR of the monsters in 4.0, and how the difference in levels isn't so great as it used to be. To me, it's not clear how this is going to help. Regardless of the actual number, there is going to be some level of monster that is challenging one-on-one with a player (or a party), some lower number where two-to-one is challenging, four-to-one, six-to-one, etc. Just because the numbers are different, or in a wider range, I don't see how that makes the 4.0 encounter any different from the 3.0 encounter where I have to use either 16 kobolds or a single 4th-level barbarian ogre to get the same challenge.

You have me interested, Mearls, but not convinced. Leak a little more about these encounters so I can believe.

Friday, August 24, 2007

From Indifferent to Friendly

Dave Noonan's latest post about "social challenges" hit home with me as a DM. In many of my encounters, I try to provide an alternative to sword-swinging and spell-slinging, though I'm not bothered either way if the party decides to talk or fight.

As in Noonan's group, some in our group might roleplay their discussion with the NPC, rolling dice when they felt they really needed the game system to step in and do some persuading; others would roll and either roleplay their speech accordingly, or take a third-person approach to what their character would have said. A third option, not mentioned in Noonan's group, is where the player roleplays their character's speech until I decide that a diplomacy check is necessary.

I disagree with his point 4) about the playstyle that hates social interaction with a die roll. While I have no problem with my players taking on their role and speaking for their characters (this is a role-playing game, after all), there are going to be times where a player just can't roleplay well enough (that is, if as the DM I have to judge their speech from the NPC's point-of-view), or too much (our overly-eloquent player should not be able to wile the prince with his 6 Charisma half-orc.) The role-played speech lets the game flow better and keeps immersion, but I feel the dice are a required part of any conversation that could be considered a "turning point" -- something that branches the flow of the game in one way or another.

Not mentioned in Noonan's post were other social interactions, such as the intimidate skill, which I feel is underutilized, or the bluff skill; and the whole Attitude system always seemed a bit too rigid for use. Perhaps there aren't enough levels, or it shouldn't be so cut-and-dry with Hostile, Unfriendly, etc. I hope we get to see some insight into other aspects of social influence in 4.0 as the months pass.

I didn't think I'd care for these Playtest Reports columns, but they do give insight into the game, and into the playstyles of the developers; I'm liking Noonan's DMing style already -- quite like my own.

Barking up the wrong tree

Admittedly, I'm not very familiar with "Talent Trees" and such. I've never played the Star Wars RPG, and never will. However I'm hearing again and again how DnD 4e will have this concept as a core part of character creation. One poster in the WotC forums (search for SavageCheater's remarks here ) offers what I feel is a damn fine guess.

It is a little lacking in exactly what skills or feats might make up each tree, but that can be forgiven considering there's no certainty that feats and/or skills will even be included in 4e. I've seen devs refer to feats and skill checks so it's almost a sure thing but I wouldn't cement anything into place just yet.

I suppose my initial qualms with talent trees is that they seem to remove some of the variety and versatility of 3.5.

I know what you are thinking right now. That Griff is a total R-tard! I'm gonna flame his posts so harshly that his house, his car, his entire world will actually catch on fire.

Whoa there boys and girls! Allow me to explain.

In 3.5 my fighter can be radically different from another fighter in the same party simply by taking different feats. Throw in choices in weapon specialization, dodge, mobility, combat expertise, power attack, cleave etc... and you have a ton of variety.

The 3.5 skills system allows two rogues to be completely different as well. One could specialize in the traditional rogue skills of disarm and open lock. Another could be the sneaky scout with lots of hide and move silently. A third could load up the social skills like bluff, diplomacy, and gather information.

The 3.5 magic system offers not only metamagic feats but school specialization, focus, and a ton of prestige classes. My shadowcasting sorcerer is completely different from my abjuration focused sorcerer.

It's been over seven years and I still haven't come close to trying all the character concepts rattling around in my head. Every new book with it's pages of new feats, classes, and magic types has provided even more selection and idea.

Talent trees on the other hand strike me as very cookie cutter. Want a stealthy ranger with a focus on archery? Take the ranger, apply this talent tree which says take this feat here, put these ranks into these skills, and voila!

Road map. Recipe. Pick your analogy. Either way you follow the directions and you have an instant character. Instant and bland, like a microwave burrito.

The way I figger it...

The latest post in Matt Sernett's blog has me bummed. He talks about the process of creating a monster using the old 3rd edition system, and then the 4th edition system, and says that even though they had a tool for 3rd edition for figuring out the CR and the like, they had to jump "through dozens of hoops" to get the monster to fit within the rules.

I liked the fact that the monsters played by the rules. Perhaps it's the rules lawyer in me, the programmer in me, the wannabe game designer in me, but I felt it "right" that a player's foes were cut from the same cloth as themselves, but that heroic providence led the player to victory over them.

While working on xmld20, and figuring out monster classes for those that weren't supplied in Savage Species, I got to know the system well, even making a list of all of the errors I found on the way, to perhaps someday send to Wizards for the next version.

Of course, that's all for naught, now, and from the sound of it, trying to reverse-engineer the monsters of 4.0 might not be possible. It makes me feel that they should just have a book of ideas, concepts for monsters and such, and just let the DM wing it during play, if there's no system to it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I just finished going through all of the blogs that are accessible from here, which had a bunch of teasers to ruminate over.

James Wyatt talks about the "rule" about an encounter using up party resources, and thus a party can only face so many encounters before they need to rest -- but what if the big encounter happens first? As a DM, this is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed, and they claim to have done so. Huzzah, but how?

He also talks about his work on the demons in the 4.0 Monster Manual, and while he doesn't give anything away about them, it caught my eye because the monster books are my favorite ones, so I'll be watching what he says closely.

Chris Perkins also mentions the Monster Manual, and how one of my favorites won't be there, because he has been promoted to god status. This makes my mind race about how they're going to handle the gods in 4e -- there's nothing like a statblock for a god to make a DM feel powerful, and a player feel puny. How long am I going to have to wait for that!

Stephen Schubert reveals himself as the math geek at Wizards, mentioning negative binomial distribution; as someone who has been picking apart the structure of the game from a programmer's point-of-view, it's nice to hear them come right out and state that there is something mathematical behind their decisions. Until we see some progression charts or combat rules, we'll have to wait and see where this comes into play.

The programmer in me really perked up at Mike Mearls' blog post, where he discussed "intended use" of game elements. Specifically,

If we also want to make it a playable character race, we'll design a separate racial write up for it. We won't try to shoehorn a monster stat block into becoming a PC stat block.

Considering the amount of work I've done for xmld20 in this area, tearing apart the monster entries into races and monster classes, this comes as mixed news: will I still be able to figure out this breakdown if they don't supply it? Will every monster be provided in a class-based way? Or am I stuck with what they give me? Their discussion of race levels fuels my hopes a bit, since they're thinking more ... mechanical, I guess you'd call it.

Didier Monin discussed D&D Insider, which I'm excited about, for the most part. The part I'm not interested in, as I've mentioned before, is the set of applications they're providing, and that's what he focused on. Sure, character generators might be nice, but as a third-party developer, I have these hope that they're not that good so I have something to work on. And even if Griff thinks there might be times where we'd want to use the Game Table, I think we'll just play DDO instead.

Two things by Rodney Thompson caught my eye: he discussed the idea of magic items as "immediate reward" (versus XP as a "delayed reward"), which is a good way of thinking of it. But then he states that you

...don't have to actually get a new magic item for the potential for reward to be there, and in many cases you'll feel as though you've been rewarded when someone else gets an item. In 4E, I think there is going to be a very interesting dynamic between magic items and players. I believe it was mentioned that some traditional things about magic items were going the way of the dodo...

I like the first part, but... what things are going the way of the dodo? As Griff mentioned in an earlier post, there's no more XP cost to crafting, but that doesn't seem to cover what Thompson is talking about here. Next to the monsters themselves, the magic items are my favorite bits to the game.

Thompson finished by dropping a bomb: 25th-level spells. This took a second reading for it to sink in. Is this just a high-end spell, using everything the wizard has, with metamagic and such? We're not talking about a 49th-level wizard I assume...

Finally, Logan Bonner got my jaw dropping when he stated

...[w]ell, that assumes that there will be monks, that they have ki strike, and that DR exists. Now, at least one of those is true...

Everybody loves a monk, don't they? You can't get rid of them, can you?? Not when we've been waiting patiently for them to appear in DDO all this time...

I hope that the Gleemax setup gets finished sooner rather than later, so following these blogs is a little easier. An RSS feed, perhaps, folks?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

With this 4th Edition, I thee wed?

Rumor has it that certain classes will be merged in an attempt to whittle down the number of core classes.

Okay. I guess I'm all right with that. In some cases.

One such merger I saw ( suggests the Ranger and the Scout. Fine. I always thought the Scout as a class was just a multiclassed rogue/ranger. As a Prestige Class, sure it would work. But as a separate class?

The other merger (same site) has the sorcerer and the wizard.

Gasp! Say it ain't so!

Yes, I'll agree that the two classes are somewhat redundant. They certainly overlap. I can even understand the argument against having two types of arcane casters in the core classes. I never embraced the Warlock for that same reason. But come on!

Going back to having just the wizard as the only arcane caster available is like going from a sexy sports car to a minivan (there's a better analogy out there but I'm currently car shopping).

Personally, the sorcerer made spell casting fun for me. I love it's minimal book keeping and the challenge of picking just the right combination of spells without any safety net or mulligans. It even made the Charisma score relevant.

From a roleplaying point of view (and last time I checked 4e is still being touted as a RPG) the sorcerer and wizard are night and day. One is a bookish nerd rarely seen outside his tower. The other is a pompous loudmouth jerk really seen outside a tavern. One wants to study odd phenomena. The other just blasts it with a couple of scorching rays and moves on.

In short, the sorcerer is the swashbuckler of spell casting. I think the game will be sadly lacking without it as a core class.

Exciting new opportunity! Work from home!

Good news!

If the rumors are true, my casters no longer have to go out and risk their necks to acquire wealth. It sounds crazy but they can sit in the comfort of their own home churning out magic items (admittedly low level ones) doing nothing more dangerous than hefting their bags of gold coins around.

No more battling hordes of orcs. No more beholders, dragons, or poison tipped traps.

Simply sell potions of cure light wounds to other adventurers. At 50 gold a pop a 1st level cleric will be relatively wealthy in no time at all. My wizard will have it even better, making a fortune off enchanting swords and pieces of armor or scribing out scrolls.

No fuss, no muss, no xp cost. Why bother?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The myth of party balance.

I'm hoping that 4e will finally put to rest the mindset that a party has to be "balanced" in order to survive. By balanced, I mean the traditional Fighter/Rogue/Wizard/Cleric group.

Yes, another class can fill in for one of those roles. A paladin, barbarian, or even a monk can take the fighter spot. A druid can fill in for a cleric.

But, in essence, for a party to be called "balanced" you need to have a damage dealer, a damage healer, a caster, and a trap disarmer.

I say bollocks to that. A group of good players can overcome or find their way around any obstacle with enough time, ingenuity, and skill. A bit of luck never hurts either.

We've had parties of characters that didn't have a cleric or a true rogue, but we did just fine thank you very much. We've also had parties that were the definition of balanced, and were wiped out. It always comes down the player smarts and the roll of the dice. The dreaded natural 1 on a saving throw is the case in point.

I'm optimistic that 4e is going to emphasize versatility and variation within each class. If my wizard uses some of his book smarts to learn how to disarm traps or pick locks, then why do we need a rogue? If my barbarian learns to set bones and bandage wounds then we can do without a cleric.

So, I'm hoping that with rumors of talent trees and race abilities that grow in level, that the idea of needing party balance will go the way of THAC0.

Battery-powered ... fighter?

I'm not sure what I think of this "power source" idea. It might make sense for the spellcasters, as a way for them to remain viable as spellcasters (contrary to what Griff wants to see), but I don't see the need for the fighter types.

The draw of the fighter classes over the spellcasting classes has always been that they don't run out. They may not have the fanciest attacks (though grappling, tripping, stunning, tripping, disarming, etc. are all interesting at times), but they keep on going. The spellcasters got to zap whole groups at a time, a few chosen times, and then let the "meat shields" step in and clean up. Is there a need to have either extra abilities that are available from this power source, or to limit their existing abilities down to a power source? To me, this sounds like the fighters are going to have more abilities than before, and so we should now expect even more from the spellcasters, or their older "infinite" set of abilities are being limited, which means their power-sourced abilities better be impressive indeed to make these classes at all desirable.

The other interpretation is that the power source would be used for feat-like abilities -- in which case, what are feats for? Or if they're used for skill-like actions, what are skills for? Unfortunately, these last two Design & Development articles have been complete teasers, giving us nothing but tidbits to rant or rave about. I'm wary, but until we seen a hands-on example of these power sources, I won't rule it out quite yet.

Phew! Can we rest now?

"With that the last kobold falls and you have gained access to the mysterious Temple of Ickiness."

"Huzzah! Good battle boys."

"Especially for our first fight ever. This new party has good balance."

"Okay. Let's go back to town and rest."

Are there really players that do this? And DMs that let them get away with it?

I get that impression from the discussion on allowing groups to have more encounters between rests and keeping spell casters useful. It's the latter part regarding spell casters that has my dander up.

Personally, I love playing the sorcerer class. I like to pick a few money spells and cast them repetively as I need to. Minimal book keeping, tons of fun, and a challenge in picking that perfect combo of spells. Joy!

Another part of that challenge is resisting the urge to blast away with everything my character has in the first encounter. Pick the right spot and that Phantasmal Killer I've been saving can save the entire party. Knowing where a Magic Missile will do the trick instead of casting the more aggressive Scorching Ray. And when my character does run out of spells there is the added tension of finding a way to safety. That's where the joy of playing a spell caster comes in.

Even if I thought for a moment that our DM (that insidious malicious fiend) would let us get away with running back to town after every encounter, I still wouldn't do it. I'd feel like I was robbing myself of something that makes this game great. The risk. The danger. The feeling of pushing the envelope and walking that fine line between saving the day and total party wipe.

So I don't like the idea of "making casters useful throughout" because that sounds to me like one thing. Spell points.

I hate spell points. I hate the concept. I hate it on ethics, on moral high ground, and on grounds of laziness. I don't want to waste time keeping track of spell points. Most of all, I think they diminish diversity.

With spell points all casting classes are the same. Some might get more spell points than others, and some get to pray or prepare different spells every day, but strip that away and it's pure cookie cutter. That's fine in a video game or MMO but not around the table.

Bah! Now I need to go rest.

Hearsay and conjecture. Two of the four horsemen?

The cat is out of the bag. Not that I was aware of that cat or the bag, blissfully immersed in 3.5 as I was. But there it is. DnD 4th Edition.

Admittedly my first reaction was outrage. Another blatant cash grab by a heartless corporation. I pictured the library of books and gaming material we (ie. Crwth for at least 90% of it) have accumulated over the last seven years. Some of which we've never had a chance to use in game. A couple thousand dollars would be a conservative estimate. Now WotC is telling us that as of May 2008 that could be a couple grand wasted.

Do they really expect us (I mean Crwth mainly) to sink even more hard earned (I use that term loosely since he is in IT) cash into 4e? Can we (he) police ourselves (himself)? Can we resist the tantalizing allure, that siren song, of a new version?

Believe you me, the concept of my fighter specializing in a single weapon type is very tasty. Whether it's implemented as a DDO type enhancement or some sort of Talent Tree, it makes my imagination race. I'm picturing special moves that only a character trained in the use of the quarterstaff can do. Trips, ripostes, parries, disarms, sunders. Oh my!

I'm also intrigued by the tidbit about race progression and having special abilities tied to it. Yum!

Is that enough to make me purchase the 4.0 PHB when it comes out next spring? Not quite. But it has piqued my interest.

So, I will follow all the teasers that WotC drops to the public over the next several months. Those breadcrumbs of marketing that lead the consumer along by the nose all the way to the ginger bread house. I just hope that the witch inside isn't all that nasty and evil.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Role-playing game or computer game?

I don't know what I think about this Game Table that they're offering as part of their online content. To me, it just takes the game that much closer to a computer game, and not a role-playing game. There are times where even using miniatures seems to take away from the real spirit of the game, but as mentioned before, they seem to be necessary for the current rules to keep track of the more complex encounters.

I can see the benefits of this system, of course. For those that play long-distance games, this allows a much better interface than the current method, which seems to be ASCII-drawn maps, as seen in forum games and email games. What I worry about is our game group ending up sitting around a table with a laptop on every lap, and all staring forward at the pretty miniatures as they move around, all mumbling over the screen about what we're going to do next. Or worse, that the social aspect of the game gets lost as we all stay home to do the same thing.

D&D certainly has its place on the computer, as the multitude of CRPGs over the years have shown, from the earliest SSI games to Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. DDO is currently the only game I play. But if I want to play a computerized version of D&D Miniatures, well... I'd program one (and don't think I haven't thought about it.)

I'm pretty sure that this is one online offering from Wizards of the Coast that will not see use by our group. Let's hope the rest of the content justifies the subscription fee, whatever it turns out to be.

Dragon & Dungeon

I definitely will miss these two magazines. With the original announcement of their demise, I hadn't a clue that it was a hint towards the upcoming announcement of 4.0. Wizards of the Coast mentioned that they would be producing a lot more online content, which immediately made me cringe, not because I dislike online content -- far from it -- but because of the difficulty I always had trying to find anything on their site, which led to the wizardslinks site.

The YouTube interview about the online versions of these magazines claimed that using the old print versions of these magazines didn't reach the scope of players that they wanted it to, and I have to admit that the online distribution will certainly improved that. It was also nice to hear that, as the print versions were, the online content is considered "official" material, for both the 3.5 material that will be published in September, through to May when 4.0 content will appear.

It hasn't be made clear to me yet whether or not this content is free through the Dungeons & Dragons Insider site, or if it is part of their pay portion. Regardless, I can see myself paying for it as I did the print copies, and if that fee is part of the general subscription to their online services, that's all the better. I just hope that the idea of a fee doesn't prevent players out there from accessing information that used to be free, such as all of the content currently linked to at wizardlinks.

Gen Con hints

I've gone and watched all of the video on YouTube posted by GamerZer0, where they're interviewing members of the D&D development team and getting a few bits of information from them before it's posted on the Wizard's website.

One issue mentioned was that 3.0/3.5 currently has a "sweet spot" in a character's development, somewhere in the levels 7-14 range, where gameplay is the most exciting -- before that, it's hard to stay alive, and after that, an encounter gets too cumbersome. I can see what they're saying, though I still find that the low levels are where the biggest challenges lie -- staying alive -- and nothing shows the better than the numerous young corpses we've left scattered around Faerûn. The claim by Andy Collins (the interviewee) was that they're looking for what makes these sweet-spot levels the best, and will try to distribute those features throughout the 30 levels which make up the base range.

Continuous playability was mentioned briefly, specifically the sad tale of the spellcaster that uses up all of his or her spells early on, and is resigned to drawing crossbow or dagger to try and stay helpful. They want to ensure that this isn't necessary -- that a wizard can be a wizard -- which makes me wonder if some spells are going to be considered spell-like abilities, much like the Warlock class in the Complete Arcane. I must admit, this is what appealed to me about the Warlock.

Conversions from 3.5 to 4.0 were briefly discussed, and it was mentioned that attempts to provide conversions from 2.0 to 3.0 failed, and that this time they're just encouraging players to watch the new 4.0 unfold and consider how their character can be created in 4.0. This tells me that the 4.0 rules are going to be quite different, which isn't good to hear for those of us that have a whole library of 3.0/3.5 material. On the other hand, it might just imply that there are so many options available in 4.0 that you'd just rather recreate your character than move it across.

It was pretty much admitted that many of the variant books that have been released lately were beta tests for different design ideas, ones that may or may not be moved into 4.0. At least they admit it, but it feels kind of cheap. Granted, it was always our choice as the players and consumers to buy or not buy a book. I know that some in our group just hated all of the variant types of magic that kept getting introduced (pact magic, etc.) and some feel that psionics should be banished completely. The Book of Nine Swords was mentioned as being "early 4.0" content, which is interesting for those that have read it, to get a feel for the direction of the designers.

Character roles were discussed, where they focused on designing the core classes to specific tasks in a part. One part that struck home was when they said that if someone wanted to play a druid, say, the party had to be such-and-such size, so it had the required roles already filled. We've seen this many times when starting a new campaign -- players will say "if you're not making a rogue, then I will, but then we still need a cleric..." Of course, they're talking about making these lines more defined, which might be contrary to this problem -- will multiclassing be a requirement, now, or vanish?

While discussing designing encounters, they mentioned how monsters will also have roles, such as the upfront fighter against the party, the hide-in-the-shadows foe, etc. They started introducing this in 3.5 with the later books, with the idea of a Tactics section. It sounds like they're focusing on this more to help out the DM in designing encounters, which I think could work well. Of course, it doesn't stop the DM from doing whatever they want with monster, but helps those that might just have everyone charge forward, even when they shouldn't.

One worry from many fans, myself included, was that D&D was becoming more and more miniature-based -- the fact that the books have "feet" as well as "squares" as units of movement started to worry me a bit. We're assured in one interview that the miniatures will be no more needed in 4.0 than they are in 3.5, and that the changes in 4.0 that streamline the rules have a "ripple effect" that means that representing your party with miniatures is less necessary to follow what's going on and determining if you can use this or that ability. I felt this was good news indeed.

That's it for the time being, but it might give a bit of hope... time to go hear about the electronic versions of Dragon and Dungeon magazines, the demise of which really struck a blow with me.

(Over?)simplifying rules

One of the parts of the 4th Edition teaser that really hit home was when they all had to go their books to look up the rules on grappling. Our group has done exactly that, on grappling and various other rules.

There are certainly rules that need to be simplified, or easier to commit to memory. We really enjoy that various combat options that are provided with 3.0/3.5, such as tripping, grappling, disarming, etc. but when they're not used often, they do cause a delay in play. The upcoming Rules Compendium sounds like it will at least provide all of these esoteric rules in one nice, convenient place, but one must wonder why they're releasing such a thing so close to the release of a new set of rules.

My worry, of course, is that they're going to make the game too simple. But where's the fine balance? Let's hope that Wizards of the Coast, being professional game designers, can find that balance.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The end of the race?

One of the first new ideas they've added to 4.0 is the idea of a levelled race. That is, your race doesn't just decide some starting features, and have no increased functionality as your character progresses. They state that they "wanted race to matter all the way up through a character's career", and I think they've got a really good idea there.

While we were working on xmld20, one of the things we did was to take monsters and separate the racial abilities from what should be considered class abilities; we took our cue from the Savage Species book, and we believed strongly in the idea that all monsters should be considered as having monster classes, with a small portion of their make-up being from their actual race. Of course, we never did much consideration into whether the portion we separated into the monster race was balanced with the rest of the player races. Having the race have levels as well as the class just seems to extend, or perhaps reform this idea for monsters, and it seems will apply to the new 4.0 PCs as well.

The few things hinted at here, such as the dwarven resilience and elven evasion, almost sound like ideas that were used in Dungeons & Dragons Online, for their enhancements, which could be race and/or class oriented. While these enhancements were first frowned upon as a lame way to increase the perceived levels available in the game, I think they add a versatility to a game where your party make-up can be with anyone else in the world, not just your buddies around a table, so it makes quite the difference to have your human fighter significantly different than the next guy's.

We'll have to wait and see how they handle these racial progressions, how often the options occur, and how balanced they are -- this being something to fuel the forums for years to come.

Like a bowl of petunias...

I'm impressed with the ability of Wizards of the Coast to keep such an announcement quiet for so long. Either that, or impressed with my disconnectedness with the Dungeons and Dragons scene that I hadn't heard anything.

When I first heard about it, it was on a third-party site, and I didn't believe it, but the teaser splashpage on the Wizards site was pretty much a giveaway. Before the official announcement at Gen Con, I went through the same emotions that most of the other fans did -- Wizards is just doing it for a money grab; there's no way I'm going to replace all of my books; I refuse to move on, and I'm sticking with the 3.5 rules.

Having taken a hiatus from D&D pretty much through the 2.0 days, I hadn't gone through this experience when 3.0 (and then 3.5) came out, but I read about it, and sympathized. But it didn't take long for me to simmer down and realize that the game has always been in flux, with new rules and ideas added over the years since we got back into it with the release of 3.0.

My resignation on the fact that 4.0 is coming complete, I decided I'd start up this blog as a place to voice my opinion on the 4.0 content as it's leaked out before its official release, and likely beyond.

I still haven't forgotten what this change might mean, though, for the current investment that I and my playgroup have in 3.5, and thus have nervous trepidation while I sit here and think:

Oh no, not again.