Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm choking on Miniatures.

As I'm going over the character sheets (Tira, Kathra, Corrin et al.) I keep getting this vague sense of deja vu. Where had I seen these? Were they released in an earlier incomplete form? Did I see them in a dream?

Then it hit me. I had seen them before. In every Spotlight article about some new mini for the D&D Minis game.

Oh sure, they're a little more fleshed out now. A few more stat lines but that's about all the difference that I see. Squares. Defense scores. Features that depend on an ally (or allies) being so many squares away. Is this 4th Edition D&D or 2nd edition Minis?

Roles I can ignore (in fact I love the idea when applied to monsters and encounter design). Squares I can easily translate into feet (yes WotC. I can manage 4th grade math.) The redundant explanations I can just roll my eyes and move on from ("Your powers are called spells, since they are from the arcane power source." Ummm... duh.).

What I can't stand is having the Minis rulebook inflated and sold to me as the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

That said, I'm definitely buying the 4th edition PHB. I'll do my best to approach the game with an open mind and give it all a fair shake. I'll adapt to the new lingo (what the hell is a "slide"?), ignore roles as they pertain to characters, and convert squares to feet (yes WotC, I can manage 4th grade math).

Above all else I know better than to make too much of preview material and teasers. The game that comes out in June could be very different than what I'm picturing in my head.

Of course, if the first adventure module includes ready made characters on 2x4 cards, I'm outta here.

Am I the only one...

who sees the Dragonborn race as a rolling out of the red carpet for the return of the Dragonlance setting?

Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised.

I've also gotta say that as much as I dislike the tiefling, I like the Dragonborn.

First off, I love the artwork that I've seen. Makes for a very cool looking character. Of course, I liked the artwork for the tiefling too. So I'm not completely superficial.

The difference for me, and the thing I like best about the Dragonborn, is that they aren't just humans plus a sprinkle of something else. To me, the half-elf and even the half-orc always felt like a human character with different stat modifiers. I doubt I'll feel that way about the Dragonborn. This looks like a race with a new and unique feel.

If the Dragonborn means that the half-orc is out, well... let me get the door. (I just hope that they can't be rezzed.)

Warlord Crwth has a nice ring to it

I may have mentioned before, but the warlord role is one that appeals to be, just behind the role of healer. As a player, I'm definitely more interested in being there for the party, providing buffs, healing, morale bonuses and the like. I'm quite happy to let others dish out the hurt. Let's take a look at a couple of the powers that the 4th edition warlord will have available, at the almost two-week old post that I've been neglecting.

Pin The Foe. This is exactly what I'm talking about - a way to help the real bruisers (be it physical or magical) get the job done. If there was anything that stymied a party in 3rd edition, it was having to continually shift (as the five-foot step is now called) every round to try and maintain flanking around a tough foe. Now we not only have a nice new term for it, but a way to negate it. Very nice.

White Raven Onslaught. I'm not sure I get this one. I can see, perhaps, a need to slide an ally once in a while, but how often? I suppose this is a good counter to Pin The Foe. It doesn't mention that you may slide them, though; oversight, or do you just get too into your onslaught that you have no choice?

Iron Dragon Charge. Another interesting power, though it again exposes some of the wording that we've seen. This is a daily power, which means you can use it once, and it means, then, that you target one opponent with this Iron Dragon Charge. The Effect, however, says that "[u]ntil the end of the encounter" an ally can charge a target that you charge as an immediate action.

Now, I'm assuming that this means the target of this power, but really, players and rules lawyers are going to argue that even after the fact, if I just do a regular charge on a different opponent, I can enable that chosen ally to also charge this new foe. I'll beat my players with a DM's Guide if they try to argue that with me, of course, but I hope the wording for these new powers is getting a little more attention before being published, though they recently announced that the books have gone to the printers, so I guess I'm hoping that they've gotten that attention already. Getting errata the day the book comes out will be disappointing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

And then... the low notes.

In a way I'm glad that I read the Races & Classes book before Worlds & Monsters because the latter left me feeling pretty good about 4th edition. Not that W&M was all sunshine and lollipops. I have some reservations about how this "points of light in the darkness" theme will affect the Forgotten Realms setting.

That aside (and it really is a very minor worry) W&M went a long way towards rinsing the bad taste left behind by R&C.

Bad taste #1. The Tiefling as a core race.

I suppose the Drow isn't "l33t enuf" anymore. Or maybe they've been nerfed so badly in 4e that the kidz won't want to play their Drizz't clones anymore.


Only, instead of letting it fade away like THAC0, they give us a new "dark and brooding" race with questionable morals. Wheee!

Then there was Bad taste #2. The Warlock.

Just in case a dark brooding race with an evil streak isn't enough there is now a core class to play. Yahoo.

To be fair I need to wait to see the Sorcerer class before crapping all over the Warlock. Maybe those two classes can live along side one another without any reduncy. I mean, the Sorcerer and Wizard haven't spawned any debate. And with my weakness for infernal flavored characters it's only a matter of time before I'll end up playing a tiefling. So I can't be too hypocritical in my criticism.

I just see the Warlock and Tiefling as another step toward the cookie cutter character. Here's your sheet, already filled in with everything except the name. Plug that in, pick your talent tree and build (brooding arcane striker or apathetic rockstar) and you're off. Huzz...blah.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back on a high note

Back from a two month hiatus where all things DnD whizzed by completely under my radar. Just my luck that smack dab in the middle of this time there would come a flurry of information released. So much new stuff has come out that I hardly know where to begin.

But, in the spirit of what amounts to a "new beginning" I'm going to focus on the positives.

Although it's a tad late (only a few months!) there were several positives in the Worlds & Monsters book.

It's true. I really like everything they're doing with the cosmos in DnD.

Gone are the days of unwieldy planes tied to the "alignment wheel". No more bizarre rules and quirks that add nothing to the game session. Okay, the Astral plane was interesting but I always had a hard time picturing it in my head. A silvery ether that you will yourself to move through isn't exactly roleplay friendly. Certainly not to the extent of a haunted forest with it's crunch of dried leaves underfoot, or a musty tomb with cobwebs swaying on a mysterious breeze.

Then there are the planes with the "characters take x amount of damage every round unless they are protected by y" rules. Let's face it. If your character doesn't have that protection then going there is akin to a death trap. And if you do have the protection needed, then the rule becomes nothing but a minor annoyance.

So, I for one, welcome the arrival of the Feywilde and the Shadowfell and the Elemental Chaos. The remodeled Astral plane strikes me as much more accessable and easier to picture. I'm not even bothered by the loss of the Blood War between the demons and devils, with both sides being seperated to neutral corners, so to speak.

On the monster side, I'm thrilled to see that alignment is being pushed into the background. While the idea of a lawful good red dragon is still a little alien to me, it's a change that I welcome.

Monday, March 17, 2008

XP and you

I was reading an old blog from Dave Noonan, which mentioned the "XP budget" for designing encounters for a party of a given level, and was reminded of the statement that 4e is designed to allow much better mixing of opponents of varying levels in an encounter.

This is important to me, because when I design an adventure, or rather, a campaign, I start from the outside in. I take the story/plot/theme, determine where it's going to start and end (assuming no TPK), and figure out what the starting level will be for the characters and at what level they should be for that final battle.

It's the filling in that takes the most work, of course. If this storyline starts at 1st level, and ends at 20th -- nice and 3e -- then I know how things get started ("you're in a tavern...") and how it ends ("...the dragon eats you."), and I know the general story of the bits in-between, but now I have to come up with encounters that earn the party enough experience on their way. Sometimes this all works out -- the Fortress of the Orc Chieftain has enough traps and guards for a few levels -- but other times, I find myself struggling. I can't just throw in a half-dozen creatures with a Challenge Rating three or four levels higher than the party... they're going to get eaten for sure. But sticking with creatures of the party's level, +/- 1, means you're making up encounters just for the sake of boosting the XP earned, and sometimes I fear it's blatantly obvious, which is a point of failure as a DM. Story-based XP can only go so far...

4e sounds like it has solved this problem, or at least provided a lot more help. Mismatched levels will be much more easily supported, allowing for small minions and large henchman alike to help contribute to the experience earned. If this means that my encounters can feel more natural, in their make-up and occurrence, then I've found my favorite thing about 4e.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Character sheet peek

Wow, it must be D&D day, with all of these posts.

A handful of character sheets. were issued, I believe for use at the D&D Experience event that went on last weekend.

I'm starting with the wizard, Skamos Redmoon.

The first thing I noticed is that the ability scores seem to be like they always were, not like what the Pit Fiend entry seemed to be showing.

Squares... squares... you know, if they had just kept things at feet, then they wouldn't need the word "squares" everywhere. Speed could be 30', range could be 25' normal/50' max, etc.

Dagger is +3 vs. AC. Where does the +3 come from? The last podcast talks about a "prof" bonus, perhaps proficiency - does the dagger have any such value? And who's not proficient with a dagger? Do wizards use Dex bonus to hit? Or is that maybe a function of light weapons? Even so, the +3 is a mystery.

Magic Missile looks formidable. Versus Reflex tells us two things - it doesn't always hit (boo), but it's going to be easier to hit large and/or bulky things (yay). The damage starts off better (yay), but doesn't compare to higher level MMs (unless it does increase in 4e as well). Boo, no multiple targets. Our old standby Magic Missile has all grown up.

The Passive Insight and Passive Perception are handy -- basically they're take-10s precalculated for you. The wizard sure seems to get a lot of ranks at first level... interesting. Some must be racial, but still...

Bloodhunt is a nice little racial feature, and I wonder if "attacks vs bloodied foes" include all types -- spells as well as by weapon. I don't see why not, but "attack" has a different meaning in 3e.

"Your powers are called spells, since they are from the arcane power source." Perhaps I just haven't been paying attention, but is that really saying that wizards get "arcane powers" and not "spells" on top of some other wizardy powers? Perhaps I'm not qualified to be writing a blog about 4e...

Looking further at Magic Missile on the other side, we see "Special: This power counts as a ranged basic attack. When a power allows you to make a ragned basic attack, you can use this power." Okay, besides the redundancy, I wonder if this is just not a common enough idea that they didn't come up with a "subtype" for it. It should emphasizes that MM is going to be a core spell for the wizard!

The Light spell -- sorry, power -- no, it's a spell -- says "[p]utting it out is a free action." Again, I'm surprised this isn't an entry on its own (like the (D) that 3e used to show that a spell was dismissable).

Light doesn't have a "type", like Illusion or Conjuration. Oversight, perhaps?

Mage Hand has

Sustain Minor: You can sustain the hand indefinitely

Does this mean it takes up my minor action each round, though? Not that I'd mind - it's a good balance of not getting it for free, but not being too expensive to maintain.

Both Light and Mage Hand have now had "Special: You can create only one hand at a time". I'm going to guess there will be many cantrips of this form, so again, why not have a special term, "single", that says you can only have one going at once?

Ah, right, because they've done away with Duration, feeling that keeping track of such things is too difficult. Therefore there's nowhere to put (D) markers and such.

Scorching Burst is the second spell to have "implement". Is this tied to the Arcane Implement Mastery on the first page, which I conveniently ignored?

"Area burst 1 within 10 squares." Shouldn't that be "Area burst 1 square within 10 squares"? Okay, I'll stop ragging on the squares thing.

For the this post, anyway.

Does that mean just the square itself, or does "burst 1" mean "1 square beyond the targetted square", giving you an effective area-of-effect of 9 squares?

The Force Orb is interesting, in that it has a Secondary Target and Secondary Attack. I'm guessing the second Hit: line should say "Secondary Hit". The inconsistency of the naming rankles the computer nerd in me.

Infernal Wrath gives a "+1 power bonus." Does that mean just what's described in the next sentence - the +1 damage? Is it named to prevent stacking, if such a concept still exists in 4e? It's not much of an encounter power, but I guess it's free with your race.

Oh look, Acid Arrow! I was just asking about that the other day. Looks nasty. Ongoing damage, no limit, until they save. If spells such as Bane, Doom, Curse, etc. still exist, these are going to be much more powerful, if they allow you to attack someone's saving throws. I have a feeling it'll be against their defenses now, however.

Acid Arrow also gets a Secondary Attack. Very nice. If that wasn't a staple of a wizard before, it sure will be now. Daily is kind-of a bummer, though.

Sleep is interesting, since it has a slowing effect. The save against the actual sleep happens not immediately as the spell is cast, but on the targets' turns, to see if the slowness turns into a nap. That's interesting, because it means a target's companions might try and remove the effect before the fall down, drop weapon, provoke untold attacks, etc.

Wow, that was longer than I expected -- I think I'll look at the other character sheets tomorrow!

Podcast hints

I'm listening to the latest podcast to get a few more 4e hints.

The first thing that caught my ... err ... ear, was that multiclassing won't be as free as it used to. That means that Jack will be no more! Nooo!

I do agree, though, that multiclassing does require certain abilities to be offered in later levels, just to avoid the powergamers from taking 1 level in a class to get some abilities.

The XP change is a good thing. They mention that in 3e, you couldn't really go up or down a few levels in either direction for monster selection, and as a DM, I certainly found that. The static XP per creature, regardless of the player level, is a long-time coming. 3e XP was a big mistake.

Nothing else really struck me as that interesting. I'm not sure if that say something about me, about Noonan and Mearls, or about the player questions. Oh, wait, these are the same players that Ask Wizards about liches.

Conditions look favorable

The Save My Game article from a few days ago had a few tidbits in it.

Bloodied. We've seen this term before, but I always assumed that it was something that, when a creature has at half of its hitpoints, it got some special ability like a rage, or a penalty like slower speed. It looks like there's a flipside, though, where some creatures get a bonus against you if you're bloodied. That's definitely interesting! I can see a character getting a particularly nasty beating, and then all-of-a-sudden it's the target for all of the foes -- some bloodscent that drives them crazy. The whole party scrambles to help defend that poor bloodied character!

Marked. This is also interesting. I can just picture a paladin, in all of her majestic shiny glory, pointing at the goblin chieftain in the middle of the battlefield, and the whole battle hushes, as both sides slowly back off to allow the two champions to fight it out, one-on-one. Or maybe I've seen too many movies. This is probably the first time that the roles have shown any value to me - apparently the ability to mark an opponent belongs to the "defender" role.

Combat Advantage. I like how they're streamlining some of the concepts into a single term, so the rogue's numerous conditions that allowed a sneak attack in 3rd edition are now summarized into one condition (though the various ways to reach that condition still need to be known).

One thing I didn't like, however, is how Radney-Macfarland uses tokens, markers and cards to help manage all of the conditions and powers of 4e. For a game that is intended to help simplify and streamline play, we're now requiring more and more aids to keep track of the simpler rules. What have we really gained?

Rogue sneak-peak

The latest Ampersand column has a sneak peak at the rogue class traits. Let's take a look.

Role... check. (See how I didn't go on and on and on about how they're forcing roles upon us, and taking away the creativity and role-playing aspect, and how... oh, right.)

Power Source. This makes me wonder what happens if you multiclass. You'll have multiple power sources, right? So ... how does it matter what we put here? Really, does it matter what the power source is called? Don't we just use our powers, regardless of what the source is called?

Key Abilities. Strength? Interesting... sure, everyone likes Strength for extra damage (unless they've changed that!) but it doesn't seem to fit with the archetypal rogue.

Armor Training. Why isn't this "proficiency" anymore?

Weapon proficiencies... same as 3.5? I'm not sure - I never memorized those special-case lists.

Bonus to Defense. Okay, I'll give them that; by putting saves and AC into the same "class" of statistic, it allows an easier way to state the bonuses in one place.

Hit points at 1st level. Wow! If the rogue gets 12+Con, what do others get? This feels like Dungeons and Dragons Online with the extra 20hp you get just to make sure you stay alive long enough to pay your subscription. This change makes me sad, because I'm sure even the wizard is going to have 8- or 10-plus-Con, which really breaks a tradition of a wizard with 4hp to start.

Hit points per level gained. Static gains. Static gains?? Yuck. Why not just give me a chart on a piece of paper, where I can look up my adventure: "Let's see... we're a 5th-level party, we're going to face 11 goblins, a kobold chieftain with some croneys numbering less than 20, and an ogre. Yep, it looks like we'll win. Okay, shall we play some Uno?" Rolling for hp was useful for adding suspense to levelling up, instead of having everything pre-arranged. I bet this gets house-ruled in a lot of campaigns, back to a die roll.

Healing Surges. Yeah, we know what I think about those.

Trained skills. Oo, what's that. Starting ranks, some of which are required? These new skill names are going to confuse me for a bit, but I think even now I get 3.0 and 3.5 ones mixed up (survival? wilderness lore?)

Build Options. Oh. Good. I have two options. Heaven forbid I actually get more choices. Why don't we all just take one of the characters from the back of the adventure -- I'll be Mialee! -- and have the DM write scripts for us on what our characters say and do? And don't let me see the dice, which I think only the DM can use now!

(Sorry, I'm grumpy... someone just walked by my office stinking of eau de toilet (no, I didn't spell that wrong - figure it out.)) It looks like these build options are similar to the packages that 3.0/3.5 had for getting started, with suggestions.

Class Features. Are these just 1st level ones, and more are on the way? Or are these what are all available as class features, and they improve through advancement?
It seems that some do. Wow, and it looks like sneak attack got neutered. I hope some of the other rogue abilities make up for it.

Oo, and some Rogue Powers:

Deft Strike. It's not clear whether the "move 2 squares before the attack" avoid attacks of opportunity; perhaps this is meant to work in conjunction with the First Strike of the rogue, catching everyone flat-footed. "Dexterity vs. AC"? Does this mean that the rogue gets a Weapon Finesse-like feat for free? Very nice. 21st level for a damage increase, though... what an optimistic player that must be.

Piercing Strike. Attack versus Reflex. Very nice. To hell with you armored beasts!

Positioning Strike. Very handy for setting up flanking and such. Wow, two in a row!

Torturous Strike. Now I'm starting to see what they mean by not using basic attacks that often.

These last few have all had "Rogue Attack 1". What does the "attack" signify? A class of powers? Why classify them? Are there things that boost attack powers (versus utility ones)? Allow them to use them when normally unuseable? Are you only allowed to choose them at certain times? One of each?

Tumble. Is it a skill no longer? It *is* conspicuously absent from the class skill list. Does this mean youcan't have a tumbling fighter any longer (since this power says Rogue Utility 2)? Or is there a fighter's equivalent?

Crimson Edge. Dexterity vs. Fortitude. Very interesting. Here's a good example of that continuous-effect-until-they-save instead of lasting-X-rounds which they eluded to, obviating the need to keep track of repetitive things. I like that a miss still does damage.

Over all, the powers look very interesting. I was suspect before about the idea that all a character does is "special moves", and that the old-fashioned swing-a-sword idea was dead. But from this list, it looks like the attacks aren't overly powerful or overly flashy, but rather just better suited to the style in which that class would fight.

Ugh... am I starting to warm to 4e?

Monday, March 3, 2008

13 tips - feeling unlucky

Wow, only one post in February... short month or not, that's pretty bad.

But it looks like this past weekend has supplied a few tidbits to comment on. One is a two-page PDF for the D&D Experience 2008 event. It has a bunch of numbered points, so let's take a look.

1. Character roles are more clearly defined.

Yeah, we knew about the roles already, and I don't think there has been any more love fostered here on this blog about them. But, they're here to stay, so why waste any more breath, right? Okay, one more time: *grumble* stupid roles...

2. Powers give you more combat options.

We knew about the per-day/per-encounter/at-will powers, too, but the tip they give at the end -- that your at-will powers will frequently do more than a basic attack -- is interesting. It sounds like every action in combat has to be heroic now, and that you get shunned if you just swing a sword like some peasant child.

3. Attacker rolls against a static defense.

We've talked about this one, too, and I still think that saving throws represent something that a character is resisting, and thus it should be something that the player rolls when defending against the effect.

4. Standard, move, and minor actions.

I like the free actions being done out-of-turn; it makes sense that you can drop an item at any time, and that conversation can happen out-of-turn. We tried the strict interpretation of the 3.5 rules where you can only talk (bluster, threaten, surrender) on your turn, which led to some halted conversations.

5. Healing gets an overhaul.

I'm still against this. If I can only use "second wind" once per encounter, then just give me extra hitpoints or better AC out of the box, or something. I'm sure the NPCs never get second wind - is this supposed to represent the heroic nature of the PCs? Because they don't have enough advantages? Healing surges? I just don't get it. But I'm not going to go down the tough-shit-you're-the-cleric-now-do-your-job road again. Nope, not gonna do it.

6. Short and extended rests.

Finally, something I can accept! Well, except for the healing surges. Here's your definition of when an encounter has ended in terms of getting back the per-encounter powers. It's not clear what happens if you don't take the short rest -- does five minutes of walking not count as long enough between encounters to get them back? Is an hour long enough? Or if you're always on the move, is your whole day considered one long encounter?

7. Attack!

Nothing new here, except that they re-iterate that you'll likely use "basic attacks" only when you aren't allowed anything else, such as charging, attacks of opportunity, etc. Every other time you're likely to use at-will or per-encounter powers. Still sounds a bit overly heroic, but I'll give it a chance.

8. Action points give you an extra action.

I'm a bit back and forth about action points. We never used them as a variant in any of our games, but games that had them (d20 Modern, Eberron) we'd leave them (and forget to use them. These new ones are a little more powerful (an extra action instead of +1d6). II'm not sure I like the distribution of them, with these "milestones". It seems too plentiful. However, the fact that an extended rest resets them to 1 is good, so they don't accumulate, and this does give them a sense of a bonus if you soldier on in your quest -- perhaps "perseverance point" would be a better name. But these are still more plentiful than in other settings, and again are likely restricted to PCs -- more hero bonuses that I'm not sure are needed.

9. Movement is quick and easy.

Yeah, if you like squares. Since I'm pretty sure I've previously said I was going to stop bitching about the squares-not-feet thing, I'll just address the fact that it looks like a 5-foot adjustment (oops, 1-square adjustment) is now a move action. While you could never move and do a 5-foot (unless you're a dirty cheater), this doesn't seem like a change, but in 3.5, a move was a move-equivalent, and you could do your 5-foot and still do one of these equivalent actions. Perhaps the equivalents have all been moved to minor actions?

10. Saving throws are straightforward.

This goes back to #3 above, where I liked the old saving throw system. I see why they did it -- to simplify the math, and the system in general, but it still doesn't feel quite right.

11. Durations are easy to manage.

I like this. It makes me wonder about Acid Arrow, though ... has it become more or less powerful because of this?

12. Reach (usually) isn't as threatening.

My first thought was "boo", but then I saw that creatures can have "threatening reach". "Yay". You can't take away the idea that traipsing up to a giant or dragon should be folly! I guess we'll have to see who gets the threatening reach and who doesn't.

13. A trio of "c" rules you might want to know.

It's nice to see they pooled everything into "combat advantage". It makes a lot of the conditions in 3.5 (which always required flipping through the rulebooks) a lot easier.

It sounds like they simplified cover. It makes the game faster, I suppose, but I'm not sure about the loss of that touch of realism.

I've never liked the charging rule about having to go to the nearest square (even ignoring the "square" terminology - it's just too Miniatures-like). And now a charge is only +1? And only a basic attack? I'll have to see why you'd want to do it at all. Sure, it's a move and attack in one action, but... why only +1??

Overall, not too much to get excited about, except that they're finally spelling out some of the changes in nice, succinct lists.