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.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Like pulling teeth

I should know better than to trust the Wizards website to give me easy access to information (that's why wizardslinks was born), so I suppose it's my fault that I relied on their RSS feed to inform me when the developers' blogs changed, and thus I retract the curses I put upon them for not having anything new over the last few days.

Let's see... where to start.

Perkins had a nice set of official answers to official questions, or something like that...

I'm not really sure where I stand on the 30 base levels. It feels a bit like DDO's "rank" system to elongate the levels from the start to the end, but we'll see how they feel during play.

The answer about Greyhawk no longer being the standard setting was revealing -- specifically, the gods used in the base system were the gods from the realm of Greyhawk, were they not? Are they going to avoid the specifics of the gods entirely then?

And already players are asking for video-game friendly? I haven't played Neverwinter Nights 2 yet -- I certainly don't want NWN3 to come out any time soon.

I want James Wyatt's job. It's not numbers, or game mechanics, but it sure sounds fun. What does this have to do with 4th edition? Well he's working on it, isn't he? Sheesh.

I missed three or four blogs from Noonan... and that guy's prolific, so I should have known better.

It sounds like the work being done on the Dungeon Master's Guide is worthwhile. I have to admit that I'd be hard-pressed to describe half of what's in the 3.5 version. I've read it front-to-back once, but the stuff that I refer back to tends to be a very select part of the book -- magic items, XP and treasure tables. The extra detail given to encounters sounds interesting, not that I feel I need it, but to see their take on expanding the "typical encounter."

That they're organizing the book by "DM tasks" does look good, though. Noonan's list of DM tasks that he gives looks like a good start to a table of contents.

His playtest commentary was too much of a tease to get anything 4e out of it, but it reinforced the fact that Noonan and I have similar DMing styles.

And his Mood on that same post is very apropos.

Rich Baker lets out some information on the swordmage class. While Griff's first response was "just multiclass!", I think the idea is that their abilities are geared solely to defense, whereas a multiclass wizard/fighter would have a more versatile set of spells available, but probably nothing specific to being the "arcane defender" that they were going for.

My biggest complaint with the swordmage, and warlord, and, frankly, any other new class, is exactly that -- that they're new classes. Sure, a lot of the 3.5 splat books had some interesting ideas, but to me, there is a core set of classes for D&D, which includes a cleric, a fighter, a magic-user (which I always called a "mage" back then, but I'll allow wizard and sorcerer), a rogue, etc.

Rangers, druids and monks feel like new kids, but have been around long enough to be "standard" to D&D. But when you start having terms like "warlord" and "swordmage", these even sound like prestige classes. Prestige classes, to me, are the way to focus a character down a certain path, or role as 4th edition calls it. Baker ever talks about the idea of making a grid of power-source versus role to come up with the "slots" that might need filling, and that's exactly what the swordmage feels like to me. Perhaps it's the old 3.5 player in me, but actual classes like warlock, ninja, etc. just don't feel "right".

Mearls talks about the work on the Player's Handbook, and the organization of the specialty attacks like bull's rush and the like. I've been playing this game for how long? I still don't remember the rules, and I still flip like a maniac trying to find them. Let's see if this re-organization works.

Like the comment above about the DMG, this isn't really specific to 4th edition, I know, but it's something to look forward to, regardless of what rules are being put out.

Well, now that I've caught up on blog posts, and know now to just keep refreshing the webpage instead of relying on their RSS feed, am I allowed to say that I hope this D&D Insider thing gets better really soon, really fast? You're not getting my expectations up with hard-to-find archives and broken RSS feeds.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Static boredom vs Dynamic excitement

Crwth just pointed out to me that there is a rumor of 4e having "static saves".

In theory these "static saves" would replace the 3.5 method of saving throws as a modifier. You'd no longer roll 1d20 and add your Will save, but you'd simply compare the DC of the attack/effect against your static Will.

Has there been some epidemic of gamers with strained wrists? Are the hospital wards and emergency rooms filling up with dnd players with their wrists and hands bound in slings and casts after excessive die rolling?

Or, is this part of WotC's goal of speeding up game play while dumbing down the rules?

I can respect that but... a saving throw is probably the simplest roll in the game. It's rolling 1d20 and adding one number. One number plus one number. An average third grader can do it. Hell, I can do it.

Sure there are modifiers and special effects that can modify the saving throw modifier. Sometimes these modifiers on modifiers can be tricky. But it's no different than rolling an attack. Or a skill check. Why aren't they dumbing those rolls down as well?

Hey! Let's have everything static!

We can boil down an entire combat down to a quick excercise in mathematics that can be worked out in less than a minute. Fighter A with a static attack will hit Goblin A with a static AC enough times to do enough static damage against the goblin's static hit points to drop him in 5 rounds. Goblin A to do the same to Fighter A will take 7 rounds. Fighter A wins. Pass the Doritos.

I'm sure that's an extreme example but I'm just trying to make a point. And that point is, that the rolling of dice is one of the three pillars that DnD is based on. It's that randomness that makes the game exciting. From the elation of that natural 20 to the horror of that dreaded 1, it's all about the tension, the hope, the optimism dashed to pieces.

If anything I want more die rolls. I'd like to see the spell DCs determined by a d20+caster level (or hit die or stat modifier) vs the 1d20+Reflex save (or whatever). For sure it's a bit more math, but let's streamline the math that makes up the modifiers. Going static ain't the answer.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A few thoughts on multi-classing and mob combat

The playtest reports are quickly becoming my favorite source of 4e info. This one by Rich Baker was especially good.

The first thing that caught my attention was the way Rich converted his 3e character to 4e. It was an unusual character to begin with and came out looking very different on paper, but still played the same way. That's a key distinction. I'll definitely be keeping that in mind when/if we convert our current party to the 4e ruleset next summer.

Then there's the bit on multi-classing. For starters, they've enabled multi-classing. Yay! Not that I was too worried about it being removed. But with talent trees as I understand them, I suspected multi-classing as it exists now might go the way of the bard. Still useful if done correctly or in small doses but with better or easier ways to get the same result.

And then there was this quote. "...then using our multiclass system to dip into some wizardly bits." (emphasis added by me)

Is it just the cherry picker in me that finds this to be an interesting choice of words? To be fair, the character is human, a race that in 3.5 has no problem with "dipping" into a second or even a third class. Still, it gives me hope that I'll be able to "dip into" other classes besides the core.

On the opposite end of the spectrum I dislike his talk of the "Swordmage" class. Maybe it's the addicted multi-classer, or because of the multi-classer in me, but I hate having two or more core classes melded into a ready to play, straight out of the cookie cutter class. I'd prefer a variety of core classes, each one with a unique angle or ability set, combined with a simple and easy to use multi-classing system. Don't melt classes together because all you get is a watered down "class" that steps on the toes of others. I'm looking at the Scout and any incarnation of the Swordmage/Bladedancer etc....

I just think that those melted classes take too much of the fun from multi-classing. Why play a complex mix of fighter/wizard when the Swordmage is all laid out for you? Don't muck around with min/maxing that Ranger/Rogue, just play a Scout. It's multi-classing for dummies. Fun!

No not really. At least it's no fun for me.

Rich's rollercoaster then climbs back up as the party encounters the room full of vampire minions and mummies. My first thought was that without a dedicated cleric they were doomed. In fact I fully expected the next paragraph to detail a full party wipe.

Instead I was elated to read how every character in the party managed to lay out some damage with area of effect abilities. Nice! Even the psion (Gawd I hate that psionic crap!) contributed.

Better yet, we were given a juicy look at the 'per encounter' and 'per day' abilities. I was worried that the 'per day' things would be the utility type of stuff. Well, Rich dispelled that concern with one very cool use of a scorching ray type of thing. Looked like a mix Scorching Ray with the line of effect of a lightning bolt. Awesome!

Finally, I thought that the entire encounter with a room full of undead was great. I love going toe to toe with one big high CR 'boss', but nothing beats a mob for hectic action. This playtest once again affirmed that 4e is going to streamline combat rules and encourage the DM to throw waves of baddies at the party. I just hope that Cleave and Whirlwind Attack will be among the feat choices.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Oh dnd. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I started working on a "wish list" for what I'd like to see in 4e. I started with things like more metamagic feats, simpler combat rules, better handling of the Diplomacy skill. Flying monkey ninjas. And from there the list went downhill.

Besides low blood sugar and too much coffee my list suffered because I really can't find many flaws in 3.5 DnD. There are a few things that can use some tweaking, or even a major overhaul (Grappling rules, I'm looking at you), but overall the game play is smooth and fun.

But why is it so fun? What is it about DnD that makes it my game of choice over Monopoly, Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Settlers of Cattan?

In no particular order:

1. the social aspect. Solitaire not withstanding all games have some sort of social aspect, but in what other game can you deride a fellow player for casting Finger of Death on a vampire, or huzzah at an attempt to ride a beholder?

Plus, there's the added element of cooperation that sets DnD apart. We're a party, a team, with a more or less shared goal. More importantly, it's us against that guy sitting behind the DM screens with an evil grin on his face. Oh, how we all hate him so much!

2. the die rolls. I don't know of any other game where the single roll of a die can cause so much tension. Just thinking of the words "roll a fortitude save" instantly fills me with fear. In fact, I just peed a little bit.

That said, too many die rolls can be a bad thing. There are only two things that slow down a game more than watching a fellow player insist on finding and counting out 15 seperate six-sided dice. Those are, 1. looking up the rules on counterspells, and 2. Jessica Alba.

3. character generation. I love everything about creating new characters. From the initial concept to rolling or picking stats to feats, spells, and equipment. I love it all. Then there's the cherry picking levels of other classes or coming up with some odd mixture of race and classes to make something viable. If I announce my latest character and my fellow players look at me with a mix of horror and confusion, I know I'm on the right track. Then it's just a matter of seeing if I can actually pull it off in game and get a few levels.

4. roleplaying. Doy Griff! It's a roleplaying game. You twit.

I know that this should go without saying but I love the roleplaying involved in DnD. We could hack'n'slash our way through, and sometimes do, but the most memorable moments are when we've used guile and roleplaying. Sometimes it's sweet talking a guard into running down the hall where the party's barbarian tanarruk waits with greatsword at the ready. Other times it's simply losing myself in the moment and honestly stepping into the shoes of my character. This kind of gameplay is transcendent for me.

5. the feeling of accomplishment. I'm talking about experience points. XP. The two sweetest letters in the English language. I know that it's all delayed gratification, but I love it more than all the loot in the DMG combined. I love seeing my carefully laid plans for feat progressions, spell selections, and abilities all coming together with each and every level up.

I'm sure I could come up with more but enough is enough already.

In short, I hope that DnD 4e continues the spirit of 3.5 with some simplifications, some clarifications, and even greater variety in character choices. More choice, less dice. Can WotC deliver on that in 4e? I sure hope so.

ps. Keep the look of the books. I love all the sidebars, the text boxes, and the background illustrations. If the Eberron books, with their blase text book appearance are a taste of what's to come... yuck!

Losing steam

While there have been many new blogs, there haven't been a lot of new 4th edition tidbits being dropped, which is disappointing. How am I supposed to have an opinion?

Noonan's discussion about "silos" for spells got us talking a bit, though. The indication is that a wizard won't suffer from the bad luck of having prepared the wrong spell for the wrong situation. With the further hint in the later blog entry, referring to 1st edition D&D and their "1 offensive spell", etc., it makes me wonder if the new wizard is going to have so many spells of a certain school available, or if they'll have a special spell slot, much like the cleric's current domain slot, for specific spells. Griff's theory is that the silos might represent the talk about the per-day/per-encounter spells and abilities, and thus a spell like the phantom steed would be a per-day spell, whereas fireball is a per-encounter spell. It sounds better than my theory, but who gets to decide which spell goes where? What if I somehow use phantom steed all the time in battle?

No more metaphors for Noonan, though. Clouds in the sky? Get your head out of the clouds and start leaking more 4th edition material. We get it that it's our choice if we switch, that we can (and should) continue to play 3.5 while we wait, and that it's going to happen with or without us.

And come on... tell us what +14 awesome is! How better to drive a numbers-guy crazy than to drop one without an explanation. It's like getting struck by lightning without a cloud in the sk--oh great, now I'm doing it.

And guys... stop using the word "conceit". I'm happy that you've learned a new word, but it seems like this is the new meme in the office, and it's a bit obvious.