Monday, October 20, 2008

Show me something Warlord. Anything.

I've had the chance to see our party's Warlord in action over a handful of sessions now, and so far nothing has changed my original opinion of this new class.

In fact, it seems to have the same "flaws" that the 3.5 version of the Cleric had. In that the majority of the Warlord's rounds are spent bestowing things upon his fellow adventurers. The Cleric used to "waste" actions on healing (a "problem" fixed by healing surges) and now the Warlord "wastes" actions either moving other players, or giving them an extra attack.

Granted, an extra attack or move is always appreciated. But, do we really need a new class for this purpose? Just give powers to the individual classes to do it themselves, just like with Healing Surges.

Personally, I've never cared for playing a Cleric because of the burden of healing party members. I'll certainly never play a Warlord.

The thing that probably miffs me about this "class" is that I can't shake the feeling that they bumped the Sorcerer to make room for it in the PHB.


Powerless against all these Powers

The more I play 4E, the more I miss saving throws.

I know, the saving throw system in 3rd edition was far from perfect. In the higher levels the monster's saving throw bonuses made their saves against even the most boosted of spells almost trivial.

But still, saving throws added something to the game. They added a feeling of empowerment (admittedly illusionary since dice are either random or malicious) and some tension (the dreaded natural 1 lurked everywhere).

With 4E's powers, there are no saves. Beating the defense score is enough. After that you simply apply the effect. It's quick. It's simple. It's elegant in it's way. It's also boring and rather anti-climactic.

I get hit and... I fall down. I get hit... and I'm dazed.

It's not all bad however. I like that players can pick and choose their powers to attack a variety of defenses (ie. some vs AC, some vs Reflex etc...). I also like that there's no more frustration caused by a Daily Power (used a crucial moment) getting shrugged off because the DM rolled a high save.

Still, the more I play the more I miss those Saving Throws. Hell, I even miss the natural 1.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Playing Gnolls - Playtested?

Just finished the article on “Playing Gnolls” from Dragon #367, and it was a great read. (I'd provide a link and/or page numbers, but with WotC, it's almost pointless.)

The gnoll has always been one of my favorite monsters so I was glad to see it getting some special treatment. The article also reinforced a lot of what I love about 4e. Namely the way that monsters are given a flavor that becomes the basis of and is emphasized in their powers and tactics. It’s a wonderful touch and severely lacking in 3.5.

On the other hand, the feats at the end of the article are... disappointing.

Does anyone at WotC read these before they’re printed? Do they have any real editors? Are they playtested in any shape or form?

Case in point.

Swift Bite
Prerequisite: 11th level, gnoll
Benefit: When you bloody a foe, you can choose to deal an extra 1d6 + Strength modifier damage with a bite against the target.

Seems straight forward enough at first glance. But the benefit raised questions within seconds of reading it.

Does this extra bite automatically hit, doing the extra damage? Or is it a free attack, like a sudden interupt, that you have to roll to hit? I’m guessing it’s the former because there’s no mention of a Str vs AC or whatever.

My point is, I shouldn’t have to guess.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Shouldn't combat be fun?

Crwth’s last post got me to thinking. Namely his allusion to the onset of tedium in the official WotC module we’re going through.

I’m not privy to the details of the module, and as much as I’d love to, I can’t go and read through to see if we’re just in a combat heavy section, or if it opens up into more roleplay heavy section soon. I dunno.

I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to the module though. The storyline so far has been intriguing (although I’ve had to suspend reality a lot when it comes to the design of the keep. Just the physical layout as we’ve seen it strikes me as really stoopid for a defensive fort.) The recent plot twist of another group in the nearby mountains definitely grabbed my attention. The encounters have also been very interesting with terrain and monster powers being put to great use.

That aside, I’ve been feeling the slogging tedium of late. It's so bad that I almost dread combat now and find myself pushing for the group to ignore obvious XP and loot farming for avenues that I hope will lead to furthering the story.

I love XP and loot!

So what the hell is going on here!?

My current theory lays the blame on the powers. Especially the “At Will” ones. For me, they have just about sucked every ounce of fun from the game. There’s no more resource management or planning involved. It’s just a matter of looking at the grid, picking out a cluster of bad guys, and dropping a Scorching Burst. Next round? Same thing. Or maybe I’ll toss out an Encounter Power just for shits’n’giggles.

As much as I love the glut of feats our characters get, and the ritual system, I’m really missing the old 3.5 feats and spellcasting system. It was just, more fun. Fourth edition, for all it’s simplicity, and for all the huge improvements, isn’t as much fun for me.

I want to hold out and give 4e longer than the three months it’s had. I want to see the next round of books (and my glimpse at the Player’s Guide to FR was encouraging) but I don’t know if I’m gonna make it. Right now I’m almost to the point where I’m ready to push for a d20 Modern campaign. Or a return to 3.5.

Or, I guess I could blame the DM. ;-)

Is this all there is?

We had another gaming session on Friday night, and it went well enough; no one died, new creatures were encountered and their "special traits" were seen. The players (and characters) used some good tactics, but weren't taxed - it was a good night for experience gains.

But it was also a night of combat. And combat. Oh, and a little clue found there in that pile. But that's it, and that's what this module has started to feel like - just a dungeon crawl.

Not that there's anything wrong with a dungeon crawl; fighting monsters, especially ones that are new, or that challenge you to fight with some strategy, is definitely something core to 4e D&D. And, yes, the characters assume that there's a reason they're muscling through the area, seeking the right wrongs and such, as heroes often do.

And I know that previously, I've commented that these combats have been welcome, because we needed to learn the new combat system of 4e, to get a feel for moving from saving throws to defense attacks and for the plethora of powers we now have to manage.

But I want something more. Yes, this adventure has a story in it, and there are hooks that have the characters' motivations fueled, and they have a goal, and a name of some baddie out there, but it just feels very off-balanced towards combat combat combat. We had some roleplaying in earlier sessions, but there's only so much you can do with a mindless opponent, one that doesn't seem ready to parlay.

I know that, as the DM, I can add whatever I like - but I'm trying to follow this adventure as close to written as I can, just to leave it in someone else's hands to invent this time around as we all learn the new rules. I guess I had hoped that a published Wizards of the Coast module would be a little more balanced in such things, since they're the professionals. I like to think that my own adventures mix things up a bit. Perhaps the characters are just going the wrong way, the hack-and-slash way, instead of mixing it up the way the adventure expects.

That's right - always blame the players.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Not-so-Portable Document Format

It has been a bit quiet around here, because of time crunches (September heralds in a new semester), illness (children are germ factories) and a missed weekend of play. But with all of that, I should be able to comment on all of the good, new material coming out out Dragon magazine, right?

Yes, if I had time to read all of the tantalizing articles, but I find I've barely been able to keep up with the wizardlinks indexes. Still, it got me thinking about the fact that I've read very few of the articles that have appeared in Dragon since the magazine went online.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that I prefer to read away from the computer, in my armchair or in bed. Sure, I read my general RSS feeds online and that keeps me informed, and lead to the occasional full article being read on-screen. I read digital books for work purposes, when a hardcopy isn't at hand. But when I have spare time to read (and I do try to make that time), I realize that I'm reading OTHER content -- Scientific American, Wired, National Geographic, Dr. Dobbs -- instead of any D&D material. Dragon and Dungeon magazines used to be part of that pile of magazines, but no longer.

Do I need to train myself to read at the computer, to decide that "those magazines" are part of my regular circulation? That's difficult, as I usually go to read when I'm tired of sitting in front of the computer. Should I read them as they appear? That's also difficult, as I'm generally at work when the RSS feed informs me of a new article, and I make time to update my index and to pop the PDF up in a new tab -- but I don't have the time at work to sit there and read it, even if that tab sits open for a week or more (until my browser crashes or the machine gets rebooted).

Do I print it out? Possible, I suppose, though I don't know that I'd enjoy the printer-paper version nearly as much as I used to enjoy the glossy magazines. Also, do I just print out individual articles as they appear? Or do I wait until the whole issue is compiled into a single PDF, giving me one complete issue, but making me wait until the end of the month before I get a chance to comment on it?

Of course, at this rate, I'm not commenting on any of it, as I'm never getting to it.

I had mixed feelings about the move to online content before, and I still do. I like that the new content is going to be added to the Compendium, though that's not really something that the online version enables -- it could have been done with a paper issue as well. But I see how the push to a full digital layout drives this setup.

Perhaps the solution is a tablet PC.

Anyhow, I'm going to try to be more diligent in reading this material. If I succeed, don't be surprised if I post about material from a few months ago...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A not-so-brief summary (after 3 levels)

Having just hit 3rd level I figured it was time to sum up the things that I love and the things that I hate with 4e.

The Good:

Everything to do with Encounter design. I just love this. Everything from the mixing and matching of monsters, to their roles (as an aid for the DM only), to the use of terrain. It’s all just good shit. I mean it. WotC knocked this one out of the park.

The skills system. I was lukewarm on the untrained vs trained thing at first, but I’ve really grown to love it. It’s simple, elegant, and best of all dumping ranks in doesn’t outgrow the curve of the DCs, making what should be an incredibly difficult show of skill (ie, tumbling around a dozen ninja warriors without getting hit) into a can’t be failed exercise in boredom (ie. that DC 15 never goes up).

Racial abilities. They add a nice little kicker to choosing a specific race. Great idea.My only knock against them is that they just don’t go quite far enough. I’m putting this under a good thing, with the presumption that future books will push this great idea to the heights it deserves.

The monsters. Another homerun for WotC. From the foundation of their design being for one encounter (ie. no more abilities/spells that won’t be used during a fight) to the stat block layout, it’s all much improved. A special favorite of mine is the use of signature powers for every monster. The kobold’s free shift and the goblin’s shift after a miss etc... Just awesome.

Races. Love the new races. The Dragonborn are a perfect addition, and the split of the elves into Eladrin and Elf is beautiful. The Tiefling... well, three out of four is pretty damn good. And the re-tooling of the other core races are all very nicely done.

The Bad:

The multiclassing (or lack thereof). Part of the fun in DnD is mixing and matching existing classes to whip up my own perfectly tailored “class”. Was it powergaming and unbalancing? Sure. Was it potentially nerfing yourself if you took the wrong class or feat? You betcha! But it was fun and challenging and I loved it. (The added perception that they nerfed multi-classing solely to justify the creation of future books, as in “don’t make up your own class, buy this book which has a bunch of new classes that almost fit your concept instead”, well, that kinda pisses me off.)

Spellcasting is just boring. It’s all just different powers now and that, in some vague way, robs me a little. Okay, my wizard can drop “Scorching Bursts” every round, but whoop-dee-doo. It’s dulls-ville.

Action points. It took me a while but I’ve decided that I hate the way they implemented these. When they first appeared in the 3.5 Eberron world, I thought they were quite cool. A nice little 1d6 boost to any roll to change defeat into success strikes me as “heroic”, which was the intent. In 4e getting to do an extra action in a round might be heroic, if you fighter uses it to make an extra attack and topples two ogres at the same time. More often than not the result of the Action Point is pretty mundane. A healing surge gets burnt, or a bad guy gets hit for an extra 5 damage. Yawn. Worse yet, I’ve used an Action Point for the extra move to get away from danger. Yeah. That’s “heroic”.

The magic items. I know they felt that players were far too dependant on magic items. But so what if they are? At least it gave us something to aspire and save up for. Something to quest for even. Now they’re just lame.

Retraining. WotC should take this concept and shove it up their ass. I hate it. 'Nuff said.

The “yeah buts”:

The assortment of powers. I like them overall, and the fact that every class gets them is both a good and bad thing. It makes every class unique in way, which is good, but it also (in an admittedly weird way that I have trouble defining) makes every class feel the same. I wish I could elaborate on this but it’s just my subjective feeling.

The feats will surely fill many a book (while emptying many a wallet) and every character gets a shitload of them, which is good. I suppose. But I’ve yet to see anything that I want to aim towards. They’re just so watered down now. A piddly bonus to a pair of skils, or the ability to wear armor and such are just... blah. Where are the Whirlwind Attack type feats that required levels of planning and then provided an exciting in game payoff?

The overall streamlining of the game. This came really close to being up with the good, but for one thing. There are times where I get the feeling that “time wasters” of the past (ie. confirming critical hits etc...) have simply shifted to new time wasters. This could be simply because our play group hasn’t gotten a complete grasp on the rules and powers but everyone’s action starts with opening the PHB to check on the details of our char’s powers. I’d rather be rolling dice thanks.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Solo monsters

Last night the party faced its first solo monster, and I have to say that it fits the bill nicely.

Without giving anything away, in case readers are adventuring through the same quest as we are, this solo encounter also made good use of terrain, one of the directions that 4e is putting more attention to. I think the creature's early attacks let the party know quite quickly that this wasn't a trivial encounter, and the action points and daily powers got spent a little more freely. Additionally, the "benefit" of fighting a solo monster is that you're pretty sure that ANY time is the right time to use your encounter powers.

The party survived, though we had one member drop unconscious, and even with the complication of the terrain, I think the battle played out well. I also think that this was the most cohesive battle this party has executed, though again that might have been because there was only one target for everyone to concentrate on.

The party has just hit level three with this encounter, so we've certainly not done 4e full justice yet, but I'll admit that with each session, there's that one little thing that 4e does right that gets noticed. That's not to say that there aren't some 4e things that still irritate us, but as we play through, into higher levels, some of the design decisions we may have questioned or failed to comprehend are becoming clearer. Specifically, how to use powers to turn a creature into a Solo foe was revealed -- well, to the DM, anyway.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A little more on the FRCG

Right to it then.

I’ve gotta say that I like a lot of the remodeled cosmos and pantheon. For starters the exarchs are very cool and give my epic tier character something to shoot for (as 'godhood' has always struck me as a little unreal. I mean, how often does the apprentice blacksmith say to himself that someday he'd like to be a god?).

On the other hand I always liked the Mulhorandi pantheon and I’m saddened to see it go. Sure it was a little out of place, being nothing more than the Egyptian gods and goddesses. But it was one of my faves.

I suppose we have the Norse gods and their fans to thank for this. “If our gods aren’t in the Realms then why did those Egyptians get in?” Answer: because they’re cooler by far. All you Norsemen have are big beards and ravens. (Okay, Sif is kinda hot.)

Back to topic, my biggest peeve by far is the lack of a entire world map. I can’t tell you how much I hate that it’s been excluded from this book. Instead of flipping to a page to see where in Toril that Aglarond is, I’ve not gotta unfold that massive (albeit nice looking) map that was glued to the back of the book. If I don’t have the room or inclination to unfold that fucking thing, I’m left with a disjointed mental map of the Realms until I stumble across it later and have an “oh! So that’s where that place is!” moment.

The entries themselves are great so far (thru the A nations anyways). I’m a big fan of the Knowledge this or that checks sections at the start of each entry. Those are nothing short of awesome. The inclusion of the potential adventure hooks is another thing I really like, and I’m very glad to see it int the 4e FRCG.

Too bad about that map though.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dying for the first time

As Griff mentioned, my character was the first character to die in our 4e adventure, not for lack of trying to take that paladin down!

Even though I'm the DM, I'm playing a character for a few reasons: first, so I can get a feel for the player side of things as we all explore fourth edition; but also because the new standard party size is five characters, and when we started, it was me plus three, so I figured a fourth character would be helpful, especially because no one else seems to play a cleric. Now that we've added two other players, we've actually got a party of six.

I think it's a good demonstration of the new balance of 4e, that my character died. He had a little bit of damage, and was taken down with two high-damaging attacks from creatures that have a synergy-like damage bonus when fighting together, and these attacks came with no time between for Crwth to use one an encounter healing power, which he did have available. This goes to show that Leader is Leader, not Defender, and even when clad in armor and shield, you can't necessarily act as a meat shield.

4e definitely makes it easier to bring back lost party members, however; the cost is much lower than in 3rd edition, and the penalties aren't anywhere near as bad as they were. The fact that a second-level party could afford to bring back their party member is definitely good for the party and players, but it does change the idea of a "dangerous encounter" - excluding a Total Party Kill, the only danger is empty pockets. Had another party member died, we would have been strapped for cash; as it is, Crwth just owes some money to everyone.

The illusions begin to crack

Four encounters. Maybe five.

That seems to be the limit for a second level party. A party of six mind you. At that point we were utterly drained. No more daily or encounter powers and precious few healing surges.

It was the latter, or more precisely the inability of anyone in our party to allow anyone to use a healing surge (outside of a Second Wind), that had us arguing over whether to retreat or press on.

I was the one who most wanted to press on. In part for roleplay reasons. My dragonborn isn't one to back down from a challenge. Plus I didn't want to leave the keep and abandon all the progress we'd made (assuming the bad guys re-group and are ready to meet us at the gates, or worse, set up a bunch of traps).

Mainly however, I wanted to test the theory that 4E is supposed to encourage parties to adventure onwards without "resting" after every other encounter.

Sure, we were down to our At Will powers and one Second Wind per encounter, but in 4E that's supposed to be enough. I mean, isn't that the point behind all the At Will powers and HP we get?

Maybe not, as the death of our Cleric seems to prove.

Not that he wouldn't have fallen regardless. We might have been at full power and it still wouldn't have saved him. He took a lot of damage in just a couple of rounds. Then again, with the ability to use a healing surge or two, he might have stayed on his feet.

The point is, we all felt an urge to retreat and "rest" to regain our powers before moving deeper into the cultist's keep. Yet we'd only been through four or five encounters (with the sixth being decidedly deadly) and being only mid-morning in the game world.

Is this evidence of poor module design? Flawed game design? A bit of both?

More importantly, how was this different from 3rd edition? Instead of falling back on a crossbow or whatever, my wizard had his scorching blasts and thunderclaps. The others all had an array of "cool" things they could still do. But in the end, none of those "cool" things made a difference. We still ended up retreating to town to kill several hours before getting our six hours of sleep and our full array of powers back.

I suppose that's the difference right there. Instead of just the wizard crying over his lost spells, it was the entire party. Welcome to the club warriors and rogues. Welcome.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The politics of Dungeons & Dragons

It has been reported in various places that John McCain's aide Michael Goldfarb posted the following on his blog:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.

But it was pointed out that he's not completely against us, from an earlier post:

If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American.

Obviously he hasn't played 4e yet, or he'd know that ability scores have nowhere to go but up in this edition.

(Note: I'm Canadian, so don't try to read any political leanings into this post)

A first thoughts on the FRCG

I got my copy of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide last night. Haven't had a chance to really dive in yet, but I thought I'd throw out some very early impressions.

First off, why the name change from "Setting" to "Guide"? Is this just to differentiate it from the 3rd edition version? To emphasize that DMs are no longer tied to the canon of a setting, but get a generalized guide instead?

Secondly, the map in the back is gorgeous.

Finally, what the fuck is with the first chapter? A fucking intro adventure? Right at the start of the book? Seriously?

When I first flipped to page one of Chapter one I saw "Loudwater" and thought, "awesome. They're gonna give us a microscopic look at a small town. Perfect for those starting a new campaign. Nice."

Then I saw the telltale encounter map and stats. At that point I had to stop reading, just in case Crwth weaves it into one of his campaigns.

So from there I'm flipping pages. And more pages. And finally I get to chapter two.

Thanks WotC. Thanks for an opening chapter that only one in five can (or should) read.

This sample adventure should be at the back of the book where it belongs. Where they've always been.

Math is hard!

This has absolutely nothing to do with DnD.

At all.


Feel free to skip this. I won't be hurt. Honest.

For those who are still with me, I saw a blurb on the news last night about the newest edition of Monopoly. If you're not hip on the latest and greatest in Monopoly (and really, who isn't?) then it has an international theme.

All well and good.

The thing that set me off is that they're doing away with the iconic "Monopoly money". Instead, the newest edition will use an electronic debit card for rent paying etc...

Maybe they have a good and valid reason for this. Maybe they felt that the classic Monopoly money looked too much like someones currency (most likely one of those weird European countries) and that would in turn upset someone (I'm looking at you France). Or maybe they're getting a kick back from the battery makers.

Or maybe, and this is my favorite guess, maybe they felt that counting out bills was just too hard. It was alienating players and making those who aren't really good at math feel bad about themselves. Sorry about that. Here's a nice little electronic gizmo that will do all that nasty math for you. Have a cookie.

I say that if being too stupid to count out the rent in a boardgame makes you feel bad, well good! You should feel bad! Because you're a fucking idiot.

I'm sorry that you can't total up $1180 in hundreds, fifties, and twenties. I'm sorry you can't figure out how much change to give on $86 from a $100 bill. I'm sorry you're such a freakin' dumbass. But I'm sick of the trend of bending over backwards to make sure stupid people aren't made to feel stupid. If you're stupid, you should know it, and accept it.

I mean, I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree by a long shot. There are plenty of times where math, among other things, makes me feel like an idiot. I'm okay with that. And if it ever really bothers me, I'll take a class or read a book.

Or I'll play International Monopoly because that'll make anyone feel good about themselves.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Speaking of rituals

The Ritually Speaking article in the current Dragon issue was nicely packed with usable information.

I really like the ideas of rituals, and was happy that they provided a whole bunch of them from the start. Getting another batch of them so soon was a pleasant surprise, as I expected to see only a few here and there until the Player's Handbook II came out.

The time taken to cast certain rituals, however, still seems a bit off. I understand (as mentioned by readers in their comments) that these are meant to be different from spells, that rituals are not encounter-based and not meant to be an off-the-cuff effect. The Battlefield Elocution ritual should be a bit quicker, I think - by the time you finish casting the ritual, you could have walked around the battlefield and talked to everyone personally. By the time you finish Preserve Flame, it might need to be renamed Preserve Embers for what's left of your campfire. And let's hope the enemy is patient while you cast Earthen Ramparts to defend against them.

But these are just nitpicks - it seems like 10 minutes is the minimum time we're going to see on any ritual, and I'll just have to accept that. Anything that really needs to be finished faster will have to be considered for the role of Power. Well, except that Signal of Pursuit breaks that rule, being a 1 minute ritual - it has that sense of immediacy that I'm referring to. Is there a reason why some of these other rituals can't have a shorter casting time? Would it be too powerful if I could preserve MANY flames quickly?

Some of my favorite new rituals include Explorer's Fire, which can confound many a random encounter by hiding the characters' camp; Memory Seal, which has a variety of uses against PCs and NPCs, cast by PCs or NPCs; Tenser's Binding obviates the need for the party to carry rope or shackles to bind foes, and Mordenkainen's Ascent removes the need for rope or a ladder for climbing.

And the silliest one: Fastidiousness. In the next installment: Hair Mussing Immunity!

DMG - The World

With the release of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, I've had to force myself to read the last two chapters of the Dungeon Master's Guide before moving on.

The World chapter is a big mishmash of stuff, seemingly a dumping ground for all the miscellany that didn't fit anywhere else.

The D&D World

The first section starts off explaining the general mood of the 4e world - fantastic, ancient, mysterious. The "points of light" were mentioned, of course. It is emphasized that the world is the DM's, and that many things aren't going to be spelled out, unlike previous editions. There's no default world, and only the gods and other powerful beings are spelled out. I feel this is good and bad; it means that there's very little canon for a DM to have to argue about with his or her players, but it places a bit more work on the shoulders of new DMs who aren't ready, willing or able to create that much.


I've always liked this section of the DM's Guide in past versions, where it mentions the different sizes of towns and cities, what kind of population figures to expect, and the range of economy to be found there, for purposes of buying and selling goods.

This edition is missing the gold figures, but otherwise provides the needed information to help DMs decide how big of a location they need for each purpose, and how to think about establishments they find in published works, if it isn't spelled out within. A bit of detail is given to areas such as government, defense and commerce, but I think all of these areas would be good for Dragon articles, to provide further ideas.

The section on Organizations, too, is one that I'm certain will get expanded upon in Dragon articles, as organizations tend to provide a lot of story ideas, whether they're evil cults or benevolent churches. So, too, do the Fantastic Settlements - who hasn't had to deal with a city being secretly run by a mind flayer?

The Wild

Not much to say about this section, except I found it a weird that here there were game rules, such as Endurance DCs, where the rest of the chapter contained flavor instead. This was the section that made the chapter feel like a bundle of leftover information.

The Planes

I've talked before about the reworking of the planes in D&D, and how I like how they've simplified quite a bit. Here we do have some specifics, some "geography" that's defined for the campaign, and some residents within that geography. It's nice to have this information, so a DM can create a world, a campaign, or a module within some guidelines, even if the planes or their residents are many levels away from where the party might be. Having a destination for future adventures, or a background of which the party's escapades can be a part, is useful.

The Gods

I've always liked the gods in D&D, whether in the standard campaign or in Forgotten Realms. The gods, with their machinations, churches and cults, always provide plot and intrigue for all sorts of adventure. The Time of Troubles in the Forgotten Realms history is one of my favorite storylines, bringing the gods down to Faerun where they had tangible effects on the land and the people, and provided a way for players to interact with the divine without having to be near-divine themselves.


This definitely feels out of place in this chapter. Agreed, they can be considered "part of the world's weave", but they've always been with the magic items in the past, and that's just where I expect them, even if they have a history tied to the specifics of the world.

I like the idea that artifacts are a temporary item in the lives of the characters - that these items have a destiny of their own, and being "owned" by one of the characters is only one part of that destiny. Players that acquired an artifact in earlier editions saw it as theirs, felt that they earned it (and probably did), and that it was theirs until the character died, or retired, or attained godhood. Now they might have to accept the fact that this item will serve their purposes once or twice and then continue its journey to the next adventuring party.

Again, this section has some actual game rules, including a few example artifacts, which makes it stand out in this chapter. It should have been elsewhere.


This section was more interesting than I expected it to be. It provides a reason why there are only ten languages, and how they came about. Our playing group has always paid attention to languages, with some players always choosing certain ones for their characters, and others trying to spread the knowledge out to make the party as versatile as possible. Already, language has played a role in the current adventure, and it's a great way to provide story events with such a simple mechanic.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A tale of two worlds

Obviously, with the release of 4e my beloved Forgotten Realms were going to experience some changes. I was ready for that. More importantly, I’m far from a rabid fanboi of the setting. I don’t read the novels (or haven’t since junior high) and I don’t know the ins and outs of the history (although I am really enjoying the 3e “Grand History” book).

Still, the whole “where there was once Abeir-Toril, a single world, there are now suddenly two worlds; the original Toril and it’s sister world, Abeir” thing is kinda sticking to my craw.

It’s not that this sudden split of one world into two is a terrible thing. On the contrary I think I like this method of tying in the new races and “points of light” theme into the Realms.

I just wonder why they didn’t go with something simpler, or at least less eyebrow raising.

For instance, there’s a continent on the world map called “Osse”. No one’s ever been there and nothing is known of it. In other words, it’s a blank canvas. So, why not use it as the place where the Dragonborn and Tiefling empires rose and warred?

Then the Spellplague could have picked up a big chunk of that continent and dropped it into Faerun. New races introduced. No cosmic now you see it now you don’t. No planetary shell game. Just a clean simple explanation.

Unless I’m missing something.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Wizards of the Coast is going to revise the Game System License (GSL) and System Reference Document (SRD) for d20 and 4e. I didn't look too closely when it was first announced, as any need I had for the license was a ways in the future, but I had read that there was a lot of unhappiness from the community regarding it. The one thing I do remember was that the license prevented a company from selling both 3e and 4e versions of the same product. While I'm no publisher, I do create quite a bit of material, and while it's mostly consumed internally, I do occasionally post snippets and might want to do more than that. With this upcoming change, I suppose I should pay a little more attention when it's released so I know what I have to deal with. "We have listened to the community and our valued colleagues and have taken their concerns and recommendations to heart" sounds promising. I hope they're what the community wanted.

This month's Dungeon editorial touched on one of my favorite changes to the 4e encounter system, which is the effect of terrain and environment. The Keep on the Shadowfell has already had some interesting uses of layout and terrain (no spoilers, sorry), and this trend has got me considering the environment for all of the encounters in the module I'm currently designing. While we've mentioned in these pages that some parts of combat have just shifted the repetition from one form to another, the use of terrain gives that extra dimension to any encounter.

Even more updates have been released for the 4e core books. This is the third set of errata. I haven't looked at them yet (I prefer to do it with books in-hand so I can pencil in the changes), but I wonder if they're as sweeping as the last ones. I like the fact that they're working hard to correct and update often, but it does make you wonder if things were a bit rushed to meet the June 6 deadline they had set for themselves.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Inside the Insider

The latest news from D&D Insider is about the content planned for it, how it's coming along, and how much it's going to cost us.

The online version of Dragon and Dungeon magazines have been discussed here before, and organization aside, the content is very good. That alone is why I will pay for D&D Insider.

The D&D Compendium is a nice bonus. With more keywords in the game design, being able to search for all of a type of power will be very handy. And not having to bring my books to work will also be convenient. Having a way to bookmark certain searches would be handy ("find all cleric powers"), and for that matter, having it just behave as a regular webpage instead of a little popup window of Javascript obfuscation. I like the fact that the Dragon and Dungeon content will be added to it as well. I would, however, like it to be working right now, instead of the "SERVER ERROR - Datastore unavailable A request to the datastore failed or was denied. We apologize for the inconvenience." I just got.

The little bonus tools are things that you can find a dime-a-dozen around the net, but I suppose it's handy to have them all in one place. The mention of a monster-building tool, however, got my attention. Let's see how they manage that.

The Character Builder, along with the Character Visualizer, are their current focus, and I'm keen to see how they turn out. I've worked on various systems for doing this, and if theirs can do the job, I can scratch one time-consumer from my list. Oh, and I suppose it'll be handy to use, too. The Visualizer sounds like a novelty unless you're using the Game Table, but I guess it might help some to immerse in the game if they have a picture of their character.

They mention that the Dungeon Builder is almost done. They then mention that it's not very useful without the Game Table, even though Buehler starts the article saying that it "allows you to construct maps to play with either on the kitchen table or ... Game Table". Let me construct them for the kitchen table then! Don't make me wait for the Game Table, which I won't use...

...and that's the last item on their list. Don't get me wrong, I'm curious to see how they do it, because I'm planning on creating something similar with the Metaplace platform. But unless we can convince our one ex-pat in Chicago to play online, we won't have any use for the Game Table in our group.

And then there's the price. This is their current pricing list:

Web-Content Only Subscription Package:
12 Months = $59.40 ($4.95 per month)
3 Months = $19.95 ($6.65 per month)
1 Month = $7.95 ($7.95 per month)

Note that this is the Web-Content Only package - it's for access to Dragon, Dungeon, the Compendium and the bonus tools. Since the magazines are my main reason to pay, I think $5 per month is reasonable for two magazines, even if I don't get a glossy copy. As for how much they might charge once the rest is available, we shall see if it's worth it. I do hope that they maintain two sets of subscriptions, though: one for the content as above, and another to get the whole thing. And if they price it right, they might get the suckers who don't really want the rest of it to buy it anyway, just in case. Suckers like me.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

I’m not totally sure but I think so. This Character Concepts gives me some hope.

For starters there are some very cool powers scattered around the PHB. Some of them enable a player to do things in 4e that 3rd edition or 3.5 couldn’t come close to emulating. There seems to be a nice assortment between damage dealing and attacking different defenses. Plus every class has something at higher levels that I can see producing that “wow” factor that’s been missing so far.

On the downside, it looks like the fun doesn’t really begin until the Paragon Tier. There are some nice things 10th level and lower but not much that I can get excited about. I mean, relative to my character’s level and the enemies we’ll be fighting, Fireball and Lightning Bolt are old standbyes for fun. But they’re a far cry from Elemental Maw or even Lightning Serpent (admittedly a 9th level Daily, so pre-Paragon. Still, 9th level before the first really cool power appears in the Wizard’s repetoire?).

I’m still disappointed in the watered down and restrictive multiclassing rules. As the author, Peter Shaefer writes “Paragon tier is when multiclassing comes into its own.” First off, I don’t want to wait 10 levels before that multiclassing feat I took starts to “come into its own.” Secondly, I really don’t see much of a payoff or a change in the character going all the way to the Epic Tier summary. The example characters still strike me as a basic warlock or fighter, with a smattering of powers pilfered from the second class(es).

I still intend to try out the multiclassing for myself, so my opinion of it might change in a year or two. For now I still feel like there’s no point in multiclassing, and that makes tailoring a character a distant dream.

Returning closer to the point of the article, I am heartened by the fact that thematic characters are easily done. Either of the two Schaefer gives as examples would be fun to play. Better yet, it makes me wonder what themes I’ll be able to come up with and experiment upon. Already I’m looking forward to developing my dragonborn wizard along the storm theme. With more books coming I eagerly await the new feats and powers.

What I’m not looking forward to, but might be forced into by the rules, is the whole swapping of powers thing. Again and again Schaefer has his examples swapping this power for that, and some times he switches back two levels later. Everytime I saw it I cringed. I mean, it makes no sense to me that one day my character can use Dread Star and the next she can’t. That’s like me suddenly forgetting how to drive but suddenly knowing how to fly a helicopter. To me, that stands out as the worst part of 4e. Unfortunately it’s clearly a fundamental basis of the whole set of rules.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gleemax gone

We made it no secret here that we thought little of Gleemax. It didn't come as a surprise then, when it was announced that they're closing it down.

This, to me, is a good thing, for exactly the reasons they cited: to focus on other digital initiatives. I complain daily (and spare you from it, at least daily) about the lack of attention that is given to the current Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and hopefully this will now change. And while I mourn the loss of my glossy subscriptions, I've always been supportive of the move to a full digital format, because the perks are there, in theory: instant delivery, automatic updates, indexing, archiving.

And this would include a digital community, which is what Gleemax was going for. But they never made it, and whether it was because of a lack of manpower, lack of focus, of lack of vision, I suppose it's too bad. I was never against the idea of Gleemax, just the version we ever got to see.

And that god-awful green.

Dragonborn Ecology

From the moment WotC revealed the new race, the Dragonborn, I was in love. It took me back to the old days of AD&D and the Dragonlance modules. Only this time, the Draconians are a playable race (and not a trademark infringement I’m sure).

It gets even better with the release of the Dragon article The Ecology of the Dragonborn from issue #365.

As an aside, I’ve always enjoyed the “Ecology of…” articles and consider them to be one of the few must reads.

Anyways, the Dragonborn ecology hit the bullseye with me. The race’s emphasis on ancestors and honor and action filled what I saw as a missing gap. For sure I could play a character of any race who reveres any or all of those things. It’s just nice that there’s a race to fill the space between the corruptible humans, flighty elves, dour dwarves, impish halflings, and brooding Tieflings. The Dragonborn certainly give me the perfect race for samurai character type I so love to play.

I’m not so sure why WotC felt the need to tie the history of the Dragonborn to the Tiefling. Some sort of validation for the latter? Or maybe it was just a simple “hey, here’s two new races with a connected history.”

More importantly, I’m not sure how they’ll drop this new core race into the Forgotten Realms. For those who don’t know FR is our play group’s defacto setting. While we don’t stick strictly to canon, we do take an interest in the history and grand events as well as the geography. So having an entirely new race suddenly appear in the streets of Waterdeep might be a bit tricky. I’ve guarded optimism that they’ll do it right and not fall back on the planar rift cliché.

History and personality archetypes aside, I’m honestly glad they didn’t overdo the draconic powers. The breath weapon adds some nice flavor (although my character has yet to use his) while staying far from being overpowered. At the same time I think a weak bite attack would have been fitting as well, (I mean, they have a maw full of sharp teeth) but that’s a small quibble..Personally I roleplay it out by thinking of my Dragonborn as having a low view on using such an animal like attack.

There are definitely tons of possibilities for racial feats (besides the lame ones in the PHB) so I’m excited about future releases. In fact, I’d love to see an entire splat book devoted to just the core races and feats and powers. As it stands, that’s probably what it will take to live up to WotC’s design goal of making race matter throughout a character’s adventuring career.

Anyways, the Dragonborn is a hit with me and gets a solid “good job mate”.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My stab at monster design

The Smothering Coastal Wizard.

I haven’t worked out the stats yet (not that the math is important), but it definitely has a very low Int.

The favored attack is a bludgeoning effect that leaves the target confused into buyng a Miniatures game with rpg elements layered on top.

The Smotherer then stifles as much creativity as it possibly can, starting with multiclassing and Prestige Classes. It then throws a myriad of bland boring feats at it’s hapless victiom. Further attacks leave the target stumbling into a blind alleyway where there’s no escape from vanilla classes with only two set builds that must be followed.

Want to play a gnome? Sorry says the Smotherer, but the Tiefling is core, try that. And next summer in the PHB2 you’ll be able to play our favorite race, the Drow. Fun!

Finally, with the targets lulled into a stupor of At-Will powers and close blasts and bursts the Smotherer brings out it’s finishing attack. A seriers of source books, each one as bland as the ones before. If the victim is lucky he or she can break free and move onto something where imagination and creativity still count.

Paint by numbers perhaps.

Monsters again

I just finished the Design & Development article from last week, and I'm here to be a broken record...

The article is broken up into different sections on the design and planning of monster creation. It's no secret what I think of it, so it was interesting to see the thoughts that the developers had regarding this.

Starting Points

Heinsoo mentions the "somewhat ad hoc approach to monster design" of 2nd edition, and explains that 3rd edition decided to take the rules and mechanics for player characters and applied them to monsters. So why does it feel that they've gone backwards with 4th edition?

He claims that they felt they went "slightly too far", mentions the formulae that were used (the part that I liked), and how in the end, "the PCs deserve more attention than monsters." I don't disagree with this statement, but it feels that DMs have been put to the very bottom of the heap, if we don't have a mechanism to make monsters. And what of the players that want to play monstrous roles? Savage Species was a terrific book, and now, we're back to "no, you can only play what the Player's Handbook says you can play." Why should we have to wait for Wizards to release another book... oh, now I get it.

Schaefer pipes up and says that dropping the formulae is a "dream come true", because it was "too much work" to "check and double-check" the monster. Exceuse me, but aren't you developing an online presence? Aren't we having character sheets that automatically calculate themselves? Why not monster sheets? If it's because 3.5 had so many exceptions, then change THAT, but don't change the fact that things are actually calculated.

Streamlining While Expanding Favor

I can agree with part of this. Some of the larger, advanced, complex creatures in 3.5 had lists of abilities and spells that never got used. As has been mentioned, the typical lifespan of a monster once a party encounters it is quite short, and you only need to provide the abilities it has a reasonable chance of using in that time. And the Tactics sections in the new monster blocks are really good for helping the DM to know what the monster will do when, in what order, and with what strategy.

But what if this monster, or rather, NPC, becomes part of the party? Yes, we could roll up a character and treat it as an NPC, but what about the Ogre that I've convinced to help fight its brethren? Shouldn't he have a few more interesting things to do, if he's actually a party member for a while and thus might live longer than one encounter? What about the polymorphed silver dragon NPC? How do I roll that up? What if my campaign's nemesis is prone to escaping and fighting another day -- do I want it to just have a small set of abilities so even when the party catches up to him again, they still know what few tricks he has up his sleeve?

The fact that the monsters come from Miniatures is painfully obvious. Even the format of the statblock looks like a miniature card. And while I strongly agree with their comments about each race having their defining trait -- shiftiness for kobolds, bloodied orcs, etc. -- I don't really feel that this gives the individual enemy any sense of worth. Sure, the kobolds as a whole are a shifty race, but these five that just hopped out from behind that boulder might as well don some red shirts and be done with it.

Another comment caught my eye, where Schaefer points out that 'you won't see a stat block that includes "bugbear traits" that forces you to look elsewhere.' This is a good thing, as I found that to cause quite a bit of page-flipping. But I'd still rather have all of a bugbear's traits placed into a stat block, even if it makes it bigger. The later statblock format was a huge improvement over the earlier ones, and made for easy tracking of pertinent data - senses and such were up here, attacks were down here, skills way down here. Sort the attacks in order of likelihood, or use the little circled icons to indicate a favored attack, but to just reduce the number?

Monsters Now Appear In Context

I don't think I have any complaints about this section. The larger enemy groups work out really well, doing exactly what they say -- preventing a single target from getting locked down and the battle just turning into a bunch of die rolls. Instead, characters and enemies alike are shifting about, jockeying for position, and it feels like a much more involved combat.

And yes, I swear part of this article was written to me specifically: "only readers who appreciated strict adherence to known monster-creation formulas got any satisfaction out of a perfectly done stat block." And while I enjoyed be able to KNOW that some of the stat blocks in 3.5 were wrong, I didn't necessarily enjoy finding the problem -- I think I'd rather have correct ones, thank you.

Monster Stories

I like where they're going with the monster groups here -- that some monsters will usually accompany others because of a master/slave relationship, or what have you, but it's the "[w]hen you're making up new monsters" comment that gets me. True, I haven't blogged about the DM's Toolbox chapter in the Dungeon Master's Guide yet, but what tools do we have, really, for making up our own creatures and knowing that they make sense? We're not all professional game creators, and thus don't have an inherent feel for what is balanced and what is not.

Recharge Mechanics

I do like this change, moving a dragon's breath from a record-keeping chore to a every-round check. I had all sorts of little columns and pencil ticks on my combat sheets to keep track of breath recharges, poison effects, acid arrows and the like, and the move to remove those is something I've admitted to liking in 4e before.

I'm amused where Schaefer corrects Heinsoo in this section, regarding the conversion from "useable again in 1d4 rounds" to "Recharge 56", saying "I'm picking nits, but getting the math right is my job." Is that right? Then why won't you get the math right for monster creation BY USING SOME?

The best example of this recharge being a good mechanic took place this last weekend, where a leader type in an ambush surprised the whole party when he barked out a command and suddenly half of the characters were flanked. Not only that, but the commander did it AGAIN, and the players were all trying to figure out how he could have such a powerful power -- it was because he rolled nicely on his recharge. Having that kind of surprise from the players (and the characters, no doubt) is what is shaping up the 4e encounters to be better than 3.5 ones.

I'm still not happy with the monster creation, but their use in encounters so far has been positive. Can we find a happy compromise?

The Warlord Revisited

I know I had some doubts about the Warlord class and now that I’ve had a look at the class in play (thanks to the newest addition to our group), I should in all fairness provide an update. Here it is.

Right off the bat I’ve gotta say that the class is very good at what it’s designed for. It’s powers are centered around moving allies into the right spots to control a battlefield (or dungeon room or whatever) and the class does that very well. Played properly I think a Warlord could force even the most disfunctional group of players into acting like a well oiled fighting machine.

At the same time, in it’s purest “build” (I hate that term!) the Warlord doesn’t do a lot of damage. It strikes me as a true “leader” (yuck!) in that it’s contribution isn’t in damage dice but in hidden, or subtle adds. Once you factor in all the hits that would have been misses, and the extra sneak attack damage etc… the Warlord does pull it’s weight.

On the other hand, I still don’t see why it’s powers couldn’t have been split into the paladin and cleric classes. Tried and true classes that can easily fit the “leader role” (cringe). If nothing else, rolling the Warlord’s powers into those classes would have given players extra “builds” (fuck, I hate myself right now) for their clerics and paladins.

Plus, there were rounds where our warlord used his power to give our paladin an extra attack on an enemy. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t one of the design goals to give every player something cool to do on every turn? Hence the healing surges and second winds to free up of the cleric from casting cure spells every other round. Yet, the warlord on two separate rounds did, for all intents and purposes, nothing. Weird.

Most damning of all, in my mind at least, is that the Warlord’s roots clearly show. It’s a Mini through and through. If you need any evidence to prove that 4e is nothing but D&D Minis with some roleplaying elements thrown over top, look no further. I present Exhibit A. The Warlord. Case closed.

That aside, the warlord is overall an interesting class with some nice powers. Does it have a place in 4e? Sure. Does it deserve it’s spot in the PHB? Not in my opinion. Will I ever play one? Nope. Not my cup of tea.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DMG - Campaigns

Oops. Obviously I don't look ahead to see what the chapters are, as I talked about some of the ideas in the Campaigns chapter when I discussed the Adventures chapter.

Of course, a lot of the rules and ideas behind creating and running a module also apply to the campaign as a whole. Again, this chapter is meant, I feel, for newer Dungeon Masters who need some guidance in developing their world and the adventures within. In the same way as the Adventures chapter, it starts off talking about published campaigns, and how you can use or modify them to your needs. I think that using a published campaign setting is more recommended than a published module, because creating a whole campaign setting can be daunting and quite time-consuming. Taking a world created by others and adding your own twist into it is so much easier.
And, as this chapter reminds you, there's no reason that you have to stick with anything in the publish material -- if you don't like the name of this city, or where it is, or who rules it, change away. The only warning that needs to be given is that if your players are familiar with the campaign setting, perhaps too much, then they might argue fine points that you change and/or dislike the changes you make to their beloved world.

The various themes suggested are pretty standard fare, and I think I've used nearly all of them. World-Shaking Events, Divine Strife... these are what tell the characters that their role in the events will put then in the annals of history forever. The subgenres are a little more subtle, and while I've taken snippets of these here and there for a campaign, I myself stick to the Swords & Sorcery style of campaign for the most part. To me, many of these could last for a module or two, but a campaign dedicated to them seems a bit much. Perhaps my players don't agree?

The idea of the Super Adventure is interesting. It's not new, but putting a name to it is, I think. The campaign I'm currently designing could be classified as a super adventure. One thing that I find lacking in campaigns that I've made (and this is wholly my fault) is that the characters don't get much sense of a homebase. The story takes them from village to town to city, from kingdom to kingdom, from crypt to dungeon to demi-plane. There's no familiarity being built-up, apart from the occasional visit from recurring NPCs and the general flow of the plot. The super adventure, being focussed in one setting, helps to both personalize the events that are taking place in the characters' (possibly adopted) home, as well as to provide easier revelations of the effects that the party is having on its environs. If the characters see the city grow from ruins to a thriving metropolis, knowing they're the direct cause, that's as rewarding as the electrum pieces in their purses.

The next few parts are again for the newer Dungeon Master, talking about the story design and flow, and how to introduce the players and their characters to your schemes. The Starting at Higher Level section seems out of place here, being a rule-based section in an otherwise role-playing chapter. Isn't this discussed in the Player's Handbook?

The section on running a campaign gives guidance on tying together separate modules, either ones that are meant to be in a chain of events, or ones that might be completely separate ideas that the Dungeon Master wants to turn into an epic series of conflicts. When using store-bought adventures, such as the initial 8 from 3rd edition, you had a subtle theme in the background (the ancient dragon Ashardalon) that loosely related the modules together. But it was up to the Dungeon Master to give a reason why the party went from the Sunless Citadel to the Forge of Fury and onward to Brindinford. When making your own campaign and modules within, I tend to start with a grand scheme and parcel it out into smaller bits that make sense as self-contained stories, but stories that all tie together, progressing to the ultimate... demise of the party.

My favorite section of this chapter was on the Tiers of Play, where they spell out the kinds of events that characters in each tier might expect to see, the foes they will face, and the range of the characters' adventures and fame. I'm still not sure what I think of the Epic Destinies, however. They have a note of finality to them, that this character has reached the end of their career, even while this chapter assures you that immortality doesn't mean retirement.

Now, if only one of our parties could make it that far.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

DMG - Updates

This isn't a chapter in the Dungeon Master's Guide, but a file that Wizards maintains and should be checked regularly.

Usually these update files correct small overlooked errors, such as the Warlord NPC getting martial ranged proficiency instead of simple ranged proficiency, or the [Healing] keyword being left off of The Invulnerable Coat of Arnd. Okay, no one is perfect, and these little errors being fixed ensure that they don't end up as stupid Ask Wizards questions. But this latest set of changes is more than that. It's much bigger than a missing word, or the wrong bonus type.

The DCs on actions and skill checks got completely changed. Now everything is easier to do, from 3 to 12 points easier. This is not a little change -- a change on one point here and there would represent a slight rebalancing at this level or this difficulty. But this is significant. This is ... I'm speechless.

Well, you wish. But really, this is almost absurd. If you have the Dungeon Master's Guide, follow along with me: turn to page 42. That chart at the bottom there, with all sorts of DCs for various difficulty types and various level ranges. See the DC10 for a level 1-3 Easy check? Change that to a 5. That's right, it's now "five easier" to do. That's not a fine-tuning, that's a complete rebalancing of the check system.

See the bottom of the chart, where it says "For skill checks: Increase DCs by 5"? That has been completely removed. So now that level 1-3 Easy skill check has gone from DC15 to DC5. In fact, if you go to page 61, where the skill check table is, you can see changes throughout that, too. Level 28-30 Easy check goes from DC30 to DC19. An eleven point drop. And diseases, also something that carries a DC, also got affected, usually by 6 or more.

The Player's Handbook also came out with some updates, that I haven't gone through yet (my PHB isn't at-hand), but paging through the update file doesn't spring any changes to the calculation of DC checks, so it's not like they've just lowered all of the values across the board -- you roll the same and add the same bonuses, and things have just become easier.

Now, I'm sure there are players rejoicing about this, and it could very well be that this is a required change -- we haven't done many checks in our campaign as of yet, having only dealt with conversation and combat so far. And if that's the case - if things were too hard - then I'm all for these changes. But how on earth did something like this not get caught in play-testing?

I could see a global lowering by 1 point as something that might slip out of play-testing, revealed once the masses got their hands on the rules. But five points? Ten? Twelve? I really wonder what happened here. They only playtested combat? They have really lucky dice? Perhaps they published some old pre-playtesting numbers?

Or maybe Wizards is really on the DM's side after all, and looking for a Total Party Kill.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

DMG - Rewards

I wasn't originally going to make a post solely for this chapter, since it's so short, but in the end I decided it was something worth commenting on.

Rewards, as the chapter points out, are what drive the characters, and the players, through the adventure. Whether your character loves every shiny coin and eye gem, or the player is the power-gamer who just needs that one extra level to realize her dreams, rewards represent your "score" in this game. Even for the most die-hard roleplayer, saving simple villages and negotiating with kobold chieftains can get a bit boring after a while; they want to advance to saving cities, nations and worlds, and dealing with giants, dragons, demons and deities. These are things that the lowly first-level character can't be expected to do - the only reason a dragon bothers to parley instead of attack is if the party either poses a threat, or can offer something in return. These require advanced levels, treasure, or both.

My favorite part of this chapter happens to be the change for the experience points from a variable scale to a static one. No longer do you compare each monster's Challenge Rating the the party's level to determine the experience earned; that orc is worth 200XP whether you're first level or fifth. How much that 200XP helps in your advancement is what changes. Why is this significant? It makes adventure-building a lot easier. In 3rd edition, the DM would have to look up the CR of each creature in an encounter and figure out the XP once the encounter ended - if the adventurers cleared the crypt before ridding the pass of the troll infestation, they might have gained a level and thus the trolls aren't worth as much. This prevented pre-calculation of experience points for each encounter, unless you knew for sure that the party was going to be 6th level here.

Now, adventure writers can provide the total XP for the encounter with the encounter, regardless of the size or average level of the party. Not only does this make for easier computation for the DM running the adventure, but it also allows single encounters or encounter sets (Side Treks, as Wizards is calling them) to be looked at and considered for inclusion into a module or campaign; if the DM wants to ensure the party is in the paragon tier before they get to the Dark Spire of Death, and knows the party needs another 11,000XP total to reach that level, he can flip through his collection of random encounters and pick out a couple that total to that amount.

Milestones and action points are still new ideas to me, so I'm not sure how much of a "reward" an action point is. Sure, there might be a reason to reward a party that has kept going without rest, and admittedly, an action point isn't too large of a reward, but it seems like there's more attention to this idea that it warrants. It's just an action point, one extra action. I agree it can be handy, perhaps the turning point of a tough combat (especially if you've been going non-stop through encounters), and they provide that extra surge to make the character that more heroic. I just don't know that I see them as the big deal that the rules make them out to be.

Treasure is what drives a lot of characters, whether the accumulation of wealth or the power of magic items. The figuring of loot has been greatly simplified as well. This might have taken a bit of fun out of it, with the new parcel system, but on the other hand, it does allow the adventure creator to better tell if the adventure is doling out a reasonable amount of loot. This is a system that the Wizards people themselves have needed, for they were always notoriously stingy in their published modules.

I was surprised, when I read the section on the treasure parcels, though. In the early days of 4e's announcement, there was talk about magic items being toned down, yet the suggested loot for a party of five, per level, includes five magic items (not including potions). Perhaps this will seem lower at the higher levels, where you'd expect every enemy to be wielding at least +1 weapons, and that's where the new powers system looks like it'll be useful - obviating the need for everything over 5th level to have at least +1 items. Also, with potions being all but gone, especially the ubiquitous Cure Light Wounds of old, I suppose the number of magic items is affected there.

It will be interesting to see how the treasure and loot system works out at higher levels. In 3rd edition, selling items gave you half the market value on average. Now you only get a fifth, so characters are going to be motivated to make do with what they find, or disenchant them for rituals, which I'm looking forward to trying out in the future. I also find it interesting that a first-level party is expected to find an item four levels higher than them during their first level (in fact, every level should expect magic items of +1, +2, +3 and +4 of the party level). Yes, levels are stretched from 20 to 30 now, but still, this feels significant. This means that a second-level party could potentially end up with a +2 enchanted item, or if not, a +1 with some impressive enhancements.

Of course, we're currently playing through the first module, a Wizards of the Coast production, so I'm very curious whether the loot matches the parcels at all, or if the party is going to once again be poor.

Friday, July 11, 2008

DMG - Adventures

This was a large chapter, full of pretty decent information for the starting Dungeon Master, but of somewhat limited use for those who have been doing this for over 20 years.

The section on using published adventures talks about how to introduce the players to the adventure, which is usually covered in the module itself, and also gives some hints on modifying them to adapt to your own campaign setting, or modifying the level to better fit the party.

The Fixing Problems section is a sampling of the articles found in the old and new Save My Game articles from Wizards, which have always been some of the better articles that they've put out (from a DM's point of view, anyway).

The next few sections cover the meat and bones of making an adventure, and can definitely be helpful to newer DMs. Because running an adventure is similar to telling a story, DMs need to have some storytelling knowledge, such as having a start and end, keeping the pace going (even when the players might drift from the intent), and of course the player characters are the star protagonists of the story, and thus must figure predominantly throughout the story. Different from normal storytelling, however, is that the players are expected to guide the story by their own decisions, yet in the end things are meant to go as the DM planned. Giving the players the freedom to choose, yet still end up where the DM intended requires a fine balance of hints, hooks, and subtle nudging that this chapter can help the DM refine.

More technical than storytelling is the short section on the encounter mix, ensuring that the story feels dynamic and non-formulaic. Because the adventure is a story, the encounters need to feel like events that would happen day-to-day -- that is, day-to-day for heroes of the land, anyway. As discussed in the Noncombat Encounters chapter, the story isn't just a series of fights, but can include encounters of skill, encounters of dialog and encounters of wits. These encounters could be with blatant enemies, obvious friends and neutral bystanders; but also involving villains with which the party might have common goals, or misguided heroes that must be stopped. This idea is continued later in the chapter in the Cast of Characters section.

The setting are an important part of any adventure, and this is given a good amount of attention here. Early Dungeons & Dragons was all about dungeons, its namesake, but now adventures can range far and wide through any number of environments. The dungeon is definitely the easiest setting for a Dungeon Master to help ensure the flow of the adventure -- there are only so many passages that the characters can follow, and they will eventually get to where you need them -- but these can lack the sense of freedom that the story should provide. Wilderness can provide the sense of the unknown from all directions and the feeling of being lost; urban settings can lead to paranoia and distrust, as there are so many NPCs around, and any of them could be friend or foe. Planar settings provide that extra bit of the fantastic to any adventure, when dungeons, wilderness and cities are starting to feel mundane, even when crawling with dragonborn, mind flayers and dragons. This, to me, is the most useful part of the chapter.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New content? Only if you try really hard!

Okay, I thought I could keep my ranting about Dragon magazine to one post, but it was getting pretty bad with me commenting on my own post.

To recap those comments: yay, a full PDF of issue #364. Boo that the table of contents isn't clickable. And hey, guess what? There's an article in there that I had no idea about!

Now, I suppose I'm the one that could be blamed for this oversight, since there's a page maintained for each issue, such as this one. And I could always go there daily, and scroll through and make sure I haven't missed a new article, or perhaps just read them all again each day, just to be sure.

Why don't I just look at the Dragon features archive list, which my software reads to update wizardslinks? Because the article isn't there!

Why don't I subscribe to the RSS feed? Oh, I do, I do -- that's how I keep abreast of everything. So I thought. Because the article isn't there!

Which article am I talking about? How about Class Acts: Wizard. It's an article I would have loved to know about back on, you know, JUNE SIXTEENTH, when it was apparently posted.

There's the once-in-a-while feeling I get that maybe I'm too hard on Wizards and their online presence, whenever I'm updating wizardslinks, that maybe their stuff isn't that hard to find after all. But then...

Tell me, did any of you also miss this article? Or a better question would be: did anyone actually see it?

A rant on class

I seem to have touched on something based on the comments on my last post, so I’m gonna use it to pad my post count.

For starters, I’ll be the first to admit that my opinions are colored by the 3.5 past. I will not however apologize for that.

When I got a new car I did the same thing. The new one has more horsepower and a better air conditioner, but the old one had a better dashboard layout and cornered better. Comparing old to new and apples to oranges is just human nature. Still, point taken Adam,.

As for being patient and giving WoTC time to put out more material, well, I’ll concede that one too. I have no doubts that over the next few years we’ll be swamped with numerous offerings (or depending on how you look at it, schemes to pry our cash from our hands and pad their corporate bottom line). I’m also sure that the upcoming FRCS and certainly the PHB2 will be chock full of new powers (whether martial or arcane or divine). That’s all well and good. In the meantime while I wait for the main entrée I’ll make due with the bland soup of the day.

My bottom line point is that 4e classes all “feel” the same to me. No one has anything that really makes them stand out anymore. I’ve yet to see anyone in our party do something that made me do a double take. There has been no “oh wow, that was cool” moment.

The rogue has a ‘piercing strike’ that does some extra damage coupled with a move. The paladin has some kind of ‘smite’ thing. The cleric a ‘radiant strike’. My wizard the ‘scorching blast’. At first they were each on their own an intteresting effect to see in combat. Done every other round they lose their edge and become just another attack.

In 3.5 every class, every character, felt unique. They had their special flavors, their quirks, their strengths and weaknesses. Maybe it’s just me but I thought that was a beautiful thing.

Each class had it’s role in 3.5, only they were subtle and unspoken. They weren’t slapped down in stone and used like chains to lock us into a certain playstyle. It was understood that sorcerers and wizards stayed in the back while the fighters and paladins stood up front. Clerics and bards laid out the buffs and healing. Rangers and rogues crept around the edges and got in their damage when an opportunity opened up.

However, if you wanted to push a class into a different role, it was possible. A few feats or some multiclassing and my sorcerer could wear a chainshirt and step up to melee with the best of them. For sure it cost me a level of spellcasting and that arcane failute check bit me a few times, but that was part of the fun. I could get creative and experiment and revel in the failures.

True. The old multiclassing rules opened up some abuses. But when did “powergaming” become a bad word? If I want to take a level of fighter for the free weapon and armor proficiencies, or start as a rogue at 1st level solely for the skill ranks, well… where’s the harm? Who am I hurting? Some chump who’s playing the game in Yakima? No. I’m just having some fun. Last time I checked that’s the whole point of any game.

As another example the 3.5 ranger fought with two weapons or mastered the bow and could track. That was his thing, his role. For sure any other 3.5 class could do that with the proper feat selections. Same goes in 4e where a feat or two will do it. The difference was that in 3.5 feats were a precious commodity. Did your paladin really want to ‘waste’ a feat to track? Not bloody likely.

In 4e however nothing is off limits. Wanna learn to raise the dead? Spend some of the plethora of feats and learn the ritual. For all intents and purposes class no longer matters. In their mad quest to make every class equal to every other at every level (no more fighters outshining the wizard at low levels, only to have the tables turned in the high levels) they've given us vanilla throughout. Might as well just have "Adventurer type A" and "Adventurer type B" and get it over with.

Strategy seems to be a thing of the past as well. Sure, positioning your mini on the grid is more vital than ever, but past that there’s very little to think about. It’s a simple case of MMO style button mashing. Pick your at-will and your target and role a d20. No longer do you need to worry about meting out those special abilities or spells for a crucial moment. Fire away my friends! Plenty more where that came from!

Personally, I liked the angst over every decision. Especially when it came to spellcasting. I loved the whole “do I cast this or save it?”, or “do I try a spell that has a Will save because that giant seemed to slough off my Fort save based spell last round?” Those were the tactics and strategy that I really enjoyed. And when I ran out of spells, I loved to have my sorcerer grab her sickle and jump into melee. Puny hitpoints be damned! She wore that magic mithral chainshirt for a reason dammit!

That’s a thing of the past it seems. Now my dragonborn wizard is going to take the feats needed to wear chainmail only because there’s nothing else to spend them on. He’ll continue to grab his bastard sword and hack away at the bad guys despite having scorching blasts at his beck and call. He’ll keep on breaking out of his role because that’s the way I play. That’s called fun.

Ps. Despite my tone, I really am having fun with my new character. It is still DnD after all.

Pps. I am going to try out the multiclassing feats, just to try them. I’m also keeping an open mind. I can’t stress this enough. My opinions six months from now might be a total 180 from today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Electronic Dragons

No, this isn't about some new elemental dragon in 4e, but about the move of Dragon magazine to electronic format. I used to subscribe to both Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and had mixed feelings about the move to an all-digital format. Still, it meant better access to the articles through a search-engine, so I accepted it.

Now, I know that D&D Insider is new, and free, and so I should not complain, or understand, or something, but it's feeling like a half-baked idea right now. This is from the same group that also gave us Gleemax, so I'm not sure why I'm surprised -- but I guess I hoped that the face of Dungeons & Dragons would be done correctly (Okay, I don't know how related the Gleemax system is to D&D Insider, but they're the same company...)

If you've browsed around this blog, you'll notice that on the right, there's a link to wizardslinks, which is a collation of all of the articles on The D&D site, since I've never found the site amenable to finding articles that I know exist. Part of maintaining wizardlinks is also maintaining lists of the articles on a per-issue basis, instead of by column. And this is my rant for today.

Take a look at the Dragon page. I know, I know, it's absolutely ugly -- I've never professed to have an artistic bone in my body. Look at issue #364 first, ignoring the first half of the articles, focusing more on the ones that have page numbers -- these are PDFs that have page numbers on the pages, presumably representing their location in a final collated PDF for the whole issue (you'll notice the only full issue they've released is right at the bottom, issue #360 -- I have an outstanding request to customer support about whether we'll ever get any others).

Note how the page numbers overlap? No, it's not because the articles share pages. They're just not in-sync. Yes, the last half of the articles line up nicely, but those first ones are all just doing their own thing. And as new articles appeared, I went back to see if maybe the older PDF had its pages renumbered -- nope, not yet.

I was willing to forgive this at first, since this is their first issue where they are releasing the articles as PDFs, whereas the previous four digital issues were all webpages (except for, of course, issue #360 which we have as a complete PDF, even if it's lacking a bit of the flash that you expect from Dragon magazine). But then came the first article for issue #365.

Or is it? Yes, the filename of the PDF starts with 365_, and they said in the description that "July's issue launches with a bang!" And sure, the first page of the Artificers article (page 5 of the issue, apparently), does say

July 2008 | DRAGON 365

at the bottom. Of the first page, anyway, because as soon as you advance, you see

June 2008 | DRAGON 364

on every other page. It's like they took the Demonomicon article from the previous issue and just filled stuff in, accidentally remembering to change the front page to the correct issue number. "Oh, good, I found a previous article that's also 11 pages long -- I won't have to learn to count!" Yeah, that was a bit churlish, but you have to agree it seems quite unprofessional. Don't you?

On the other hand, the articles are as great as they've always been, perhaps more so because they have 4e content, and thus nothing feels tired and overdone. Since 4e is so new, there's a dearth of content and so any article is welcome. The layout is professional and easy-to-use, the stat blocks are readable and full of good new content, and the artwork, even those that are only sketches, add that extra bit of professionalism that some web page I might write about a new class or power could ever have.

And perhaps it's the fact that the content is so well-done that it irks me so much that this little thing, this last bit of presentation, is so poorly considered. If this is how they're approaching the new Dragon and Dungeon magazines, then I will regret that the Wizards content didn't just stay as webpages with the print magazines being extra, additional, professionally presented content.

For those who read this blog for opinions about 4e specifically, you'll have to forgive me this little aside about this, but to me, the switch to D&D Insider goes hand-in-hand with the release of 4e, and thus this is an appropriate venue. 'Sides, it's my blog!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

DMG - Noncombat Encounters

The latest Design & Development article reminded me that I should really finish reading the Dungeon Master's Guide, now that I've finished the Player's Handbook (the last chapter of the PHB, Adventuring, wasn't worth commenting on).

Skill Challenges

I've mentioned my thoughts before on them, and this chapter starts off with a good description of them, both the steps on creating them as well as some good example skill encounters. If you're a DM, you must use these, and if you're the player, be sure to anticipate them! Ranks may be gone from the skill system, but I can see players taking extra training to be prepared for the skill challenges that are ahead; or at least planning these things as a party to make sure you have all of your bases covered.


The section on puzzles is a good start for those who don't find making them easy. The various common types are mentioned with a few examples, but I think that, for those who need this chapter, a book such as the 3e Book of Challenges is needed. It is good, however, that they mention that "[t]he basic nature of puzzles--that they rely on player ability--is the reason that some people love puzzles in the game and some people dislike them." This is something a DM needs to deduce about the players, to decide whether it's worthwhile even making puzzles with the intention of players to solve them, or to just turn them into a skill challenge and let the characters solve it. The sidebar about the Get A Clue check helps to bridge that gap for those players that like to try, but would like to rely a bit on their character's abilities too. This is the approach our group takes, when I decide to add a puzzle.

Traps and Hazards

I didn't expect much from this section, but wow have they done some work on turning traps and hazards into obstacles and encounters with a solid ruleset.

Not that there was anything wrong with the older system of traps - they had a DC, you might be able to disarm them, and you probably got a saving throw against them. Now they have a full statblock, with Perception check DCs (or alternate skills if applicable); the Trigger that sets the hazard or trap off; the Attack information, sometimes including both Hit and Miss effects for those that that would apply to. Countermeasures is a great block to help the DM know what the disable/disarm DCs are, the appropriate skill(s), and anything else that an enterprising player will think of. Finally, the Upgrade section is useful when the trap sounds perfectly suited, but just a bit too easy.

I'm not sure, however, about the idea of extending the roles to traps and hazards. Sure, different traps might be groupable in different ways, but a Lurker trap? A bit of a stretch. Square peg, round hole and all that. Still, the roles are only there to give you a feel for what kind of situation they belong in, and don't restrict you in any way, so they can be ignored. My favorite? The Treacherous Ice Sheet. Nothing fancy, but it's something that 3e would have just made tricky terrain to get across, with perhaps a Balance check or something. Now it has its own stat block! There are 23 sample traps/hazards in this chapter, which is a great number -- they could have been stingy here.

All in all, this has been my favorite Dungeon Master's Guide chapter so far - non-combat encounters are probably needed in all but the most strict role-playing groups.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Where's the magic?

I just don't feel it any more. Maybe that "new car smell" has worn off of 4th ed, but I'm becoming increasingly disenchanted (pun intended) with the magic system. This past level up has been the most boring level up ever. It was just one ho-hum after another.

Now, I'm hoping that later levels will get better. The addition of the big hitter spells, err, sorry "powers" should help. But so far at least I've got very little to look forward to.

Sure, it’s nice that my wizard never runs out of his at-will powers, so he can reliably drop Scorching Bursts on bunched up enemies. Or Thunderwave them away if they get too close.

Next round? More of the same. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I understand that their game design called for giving the melee classes something “cool” to do each round. As opposed to simply picking your target and rolling a couple of dice. Maybe, once in a while, a feat would come into play. Or some special ability from a magic item. I guess that the designers felt this was boring, for some reason.

Well, congratulations WoTC. Fourth edition has given the melee classes a bunch of powers to use every round. Now instead of just “attacking orc ‘A’ with my sword” you “attack the orc skulker ‘a’ with my at-will ‘Powerful Strike’”.

But seriously, is this really any different?

Worse yet, they’ve reduced spellcasting to the same wash-rinse-repeat cycle. Instead of carefully planning my spells and choosing just the right moment to use them, I now blast away with the same one over and over. Someone wake me when combat is over.

Oh! We leveled up? Woot. I guess. I get what? A utility power? Woopdeedoo.

The magic is gone.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Adventures in 4e

We finished our third session of 4th edition last night.

So far, this campaign has been very combat heavy, partly by the design of the module, but also based on the choices the players are making. This means we've been putting the combat system through the loops, and so far, I'd say it's standing up.

The issue of level one characters and their meager hit points in earlier editions (such as the ever-vulnerable wizards and sorcerers) is long gone, and good riddance. With the new starting hit points, everyone can take a smack or two. Granted, with the new role idea, the controllers such as the wizard really shouldn't be taking too many smacks anyway, with the defender supposed to be, well, defending, but everyone has their own play style, and it hasn't turned out dismally for that.

We've had a lot of close calls, a few characters on their way to dying, and I think all in all the level 1 encounters have been very balanced for how involved they have been. This last encounter had many more foes than you could ever shove into a 3rd edition encounter, no matter how small you made the enemies. This gives a very nice realism and flexibility that I've mentioned before -- early encounters are not limited to four or five maximum.

The healing issue is still a sticky point with me. It was nice that each character could use a second wind during the encounter, and Crwth the cleric expended every bit of healing magic he could muster -- which isn't much at first level. I suppose I need to remind myself that even in 3e, I wouldn't have that many Cure Light Wounds spells at my disposal either, so given the amount of damage being dealt to the party, I don't know that we would have fared any differently. Still, for a cleric, the iconic healer, to be able to do nothing for his party members except stabilize with a skill check that anyone might have made, it felt disappointing. Some sort of at-will gain-one-hitpoint power or something would be nice. As it is, the paladin is just going to rest there for a bit as she recoups.

I think action points have become welcome to everyone. In this last back-to-back set of battles, every character used an action point to persevere, which helped demonstrate the heroic nature of the party, beating all odds by tapping every resource they have. And tap they did -- I think every Daily and Encounter power was used up as well.

Some of the new combat rules were used effectively by both the enemy and the party. Using party members as cover for the strikers worked well, and the ability to knock a target unconscious with the final blow, instead of killing them outright, was also used -- perhaps a bit oversimplified, but definitely less of a hassle than trying to do subdual damage to accomplish the same thing in third edition.

The party also had their first skill challenge last night, which was barely successful. I can safely admit now that it was an impromptu one, not anticipated by the module, but which played out well, until someGriff who shall remain nameless got a bit greedy.

The talk of combat being faster, though, I do not agree with. There are still tactics to be decided, things to look up (even once it's a familiar ruleset, that won't fully go away), and other tricks (on the enemies' side) that prolong things just when the party thinks they're done. Even with a late start, the back-to-back combats lasted until after 2:00am.

All in all, a very accomplished night. The party has reached second level, which isn't as exciting as it was in older editions; no class-choosing, rank-ascribing, hit-point-rolling... everything is very simple -- too simple, in my opinion -- and quick. I planned the next 20 levels of Crwth in a few minutes, which does take a bit of fun out of it. One feat, one utility power, add some static hit points, and increasing a handful of values up by one. That's it!

Friday, June 20, 2008

PHB - Equipment

This was a large chapter, and I'm slow, and busy, and ... well, anyway, here are my opinions.

1pp = 100gp? Why. The. Hell. Why on earth would you change such an iconic part of D&D? If, as Griff suggested, money is more prevalent (to adventurers, anyway), then add more units, such as the astral diamond. But why change the platinum piece? Changing magic in an ongoing world is one thing -- some cataclysmic event, yadda yadda; but what, hyperinflation hit Faerun, and the Waterdahvian rupee and Cormyr peso got revalued? Just bring back electrum pieces and shoot me.

That being said, the things I can spend with my gold pieces and over-valued platinum pieces is interesting. With armor specialization being broken up more than in other versions, the various types of armor are more appealing, or at least considered. I like that the higher-end materials needed for Paragon and Epic armors innately provide more protection.

Most of the weapon specialness has been taken away, moved into powers that focus on weapon groups. I think that's okay, because I always forgot which weapons could trip, which could disarm, which had reach, etc... The weapon sizes have been simplified a bit from the player's point-of-view, even if halflings are getting screwed for their size. We still haven't figured out the advantage to being Small in 4e.

I think we universally agreed that the Standard Adventurer's Kit is a good idea, easing the purchasing of a character's starting kit. The "gear" list is still too long for me -- I never know what I might need, and find I either fill up on useless stuff, or run out of money trying. Still, it's there for those who have the foresight to buy that rope.

It's nice that the price of magic items is directly tied to the level of the item, making that easy to figure out. But, this means that items are restricted to exactly their 30 levels, whereas the older 3e rules could have some static values added in when you add a little ability here or there. And this is what I'm finding lacking in the magic items of 4e.

I know that they wanted to reduce the reliance on magic items, and boy have they ever. The armor and weapon selection is arguably decent, but the other equippable items are meager. Nine rings? Four potions? What game are we playing here?

I definitely liked the consistency of "theme" across items. Armor always gives a plus-bonus to AC, of course, and weapons to attack rolls and damage rolls. But now, ever neck item gives a Fortitude/Reflex/Will bonus. And the idea of the kind of power that an item can give you seems to be a little more enforced than it was in 3rd edition, where it was more of a suggestion.

The Daily powers on many of the items, whether armor, weapon or other, are what took me a while to get my head around. You look at these Daily powers, and almost every one of them seems to be better suited as an encounter power. But what I had to realize was that the primary ability of the armor is the AC bonus, or to the weapon the attack bonus, and that these Daily powers were just something to spice it up and increase the price a little. If you subtract the base price of that +1 Curseforged Armor, you can see how much you're paying for that Daily power, and if it's worth it. And I think in most cases, it is. But when you first look at the Angelsteel Armor and see that it has a Daily power, albeit an until-end-of-encounter one, it's still 105,000gp (sorry, 1050pp) and hard to justify -- until you see that it's also at least +4 armor, which is 450pp of it.

Over all, I'm disappointed with the magic item section, with both its paucity and its lack of instructions on creating your own. There are no hints on figuring out the relative value of abilities you might want to create, nor instructions on how to stack abilities onto an item if you so chose. What if I want a ring of true seeing that gives a +3 item bonus to Perception? What's that worth?