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?