Archive for February 2013

Wandering Monsters: Changing Shape

Why is it that, despite lycanthrope supposedly being viewed as a curse, it was just oh-so awesome in 3rd Edition?

I am not saying that I or anyone I knew actively sought it out, but if a werewolf just happened to bite you, and that bite resulted in, among other things, a boost to your Hit Dice (which also boosted your attack bonus, saving throws, and skill points), a Wisdom and natural armor bonus, damage reduction, a bonus feat, and so on, is that really so bad?

Sure, afflicted lycanthropes transform during the full moon and perform actions dedicated by their animal's alignment, but half of them are Neutral, and werebears are even Lawful Good. I guess the only real drawback, in the case of the wererat and werewolf anyway, is that you can end up with the animal's alignment, which in both cases is Chaotic Evil. On that note, why does your alignment change at all? Why are werebears Chaotic Good? Eberron gave some interesting and conflicting history to lycanthropes, which would be a lot better than "because this is how it was in an older edition".

It is because of this that I liked how 4th Edition handled lycanthropes: if you got bit, you might contract moon frenzy. No animal form, no extensive stat boosts, just a penalty to Will and/or the chance of randomly attacking your allies (and it did specify allies, despite how silly this might seem). Sure, it did not keep in with the folklore by causing you to involuntarily transform and go on a murder-spree, but then Dungeons & Dragons has always selectively chosen which parts of which mythologies it adheres to, and more importantly there was no silver lining.

I also preferred how 3rd and 4th Edition handled harming them: the former gave them a combination of fast healing and damage resistance against non-silvered weapons, while the latter gave them regeneration, which could be shut down for a bit when they were hit with a silvered weapon. In both cases this made silver weapons useful, but not necessary, which is what I would prefer, especially since against the typical commoner they are still pretty potent.

I think that an animal should affect one physically and mentally, why do werebears tend to live in cabins in the woods? Why do they act as wardens for an area? I am all for defining some physical and personality traits, especially when they are thematic to the animal (like wererats being thin, wiry, and sly), but without a compelling story reason giving, for example, werebears a global preference for specific types of buildings and self-appointed roles does not make sense to me.

I am also confused as to how doppelgangers, broadly described as "parasitic shapechangers that live off the efforts of others," are Neutral. At the least adopting the identity of someone else in order to acquire wealth strikes me as Chaotic Neutral, if not outright Chaotic Evil, particularly for the ones that like to mentally plunder prisoners on a daily basis. Also, what is with immunity to sleep and charm effects? Likewise reading minds it is not really explained, but I guess that it is at least immediately useful to their agenda.

Legends & Lore: Druids And More Healing

The druid, as well as some unnamed classes (hopefully the warlord and a still-interesting sorcerer), might be available in the near future.

I only played a druid in 2nd Edition once, and for only a single session, so I cannot really comment on it except that I found the Neutral-only alignment (as well as 2nd Edition's interpretation of it) and limited number of druids of certain levels to be silly restrictions.

3rd Edition freed this up a bit, but the druid became a veritable power-house early on due to her ability to transform into a variety of animal forms that allowed her to outclass the fighter, while still casting spells.

4th Edition removed the druid's animal companion (which was restored in the sentinel, a druid sub-class), but let you wildshape at the start, whenever you felt like it. The class also had access to a mix of nature-oriented magic (which required you to be in human form), and some animal-form special attacks, making the class pretty flexible and complex.

My main criticism was that there were some odd limitations to what you could do in an animal form in the name of balance, namely not having to movement modes of the animal form (ie flying, climbing, and swimming), and, if I recall correctly, being unable to pick up objects even if you were, say, a monkey.

Despite this, the 4th Edition druid was my favorite incarnation because it felt unique and played very differently from the other classes, eventually got a swarm-druid in Primal Power, and I loved the druid seasons in the Essentials line.

While I am fully expecting a 3rd Edition clone, complete with per-day spells and wildshaping, alignment restrictions, and so on, what I would like to see is a druid that can adopt something like an animal totem, terrain type, or season (maybe find a way to mesh these all), with a focus on nature magic and wildshaping. Animal companions can be relegated to a rules module or feat tree (which I think is where they are going with this, anyway).

What I would like to avoid are certain global features like immunity to poison, timeless body, and other stuff that we got with the monk.

I liked the inclusion of roles in 4th Edition (or rather, the greater acknowledgement of them). I also liked that the roles were more accurate: a fighter could actually protect her allies. To me it provided an easy way, at a glance, to convey what the class was by default intended to be good at, greatly speeding up the process of finding a class that suited your play-style and/or filling a perceived gap in your party.

It is unfortunate that some players took this to mean that the game was enforcing a specific play-style, or "pigeon-holing" a class, despite many bleeding into one or more other roles (such as the fighter and striker, or the paladin and leader). I think that, ultimately, roles do more good than bad, as long as they accurately depict the class they are applied to.

I am not a fan of the proposed flat-rate healing, even if this is just the simplest standard. By having every character, regardless of Hit Dice or Constitution, heal at the exact same rate, you make weaker characters heal up faster than the tougher ones, which does not make a lot of sense. At the least, I think that making the rate depend on your Hit Dice and/or Constitution modifier would make more sense and still be pretty simple, but would settle for the current per-day Hit Dice rules because even there you have fighters with more staying power.

I also do not want to have to shift to another set of rules just because someone does not want to play a cleric. What about if there is none in a group, but someone rolls one later; do we just shift gears back and forth? I get that cleric as the primary, if not only, source of healing has been around for some three editions, but 4th Edition took a major step in the right direction by providing numerous other, different, viable options, without making it necessary.

4th Edition did a really good job of making it so that you did not need a healer, and that is the baseline that you should work with: make classes with access to healing useful, but not necessary.
February 25, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Traveling

So after reading the comments from my first take at revising the structure of the world and talking to Josh, we decided to just stick with the original, more "gonzo" vision of the setting and try to work out some of the issues that I identified. So, let us start again, this time with traveling.

In my original campaign the first two characters had to book passage on a small skiff to get to a tiny, forest-covered island where they ran into a clockwork horror. To give them more leeway, I gave Josh's character an astral vessel and a crew. This allowed them to go where they needed to, while instilling the impression that everyone would need one.

This does not need to be the case.

Inside the demiplanes (or pockets, dominions, sanctuaries...still thinking of a name for these) where the natural world (or Prime Material Plane, if you prefer) is the most dominant, physics are somewhat more of a thing. So if there is lots of water, you can row to get about. Since there is wind in the astral, there is wind in the demiplanes as well, which can be used to sail.

Outside there is nothing to really slow you down, and creatures can also travel via willing it (or just fly or swim if they could do that normally). So, I see now reason why mundane vessels cannot simply pick up speed before leaving a demiplane, a crew cannot just communally will their ship (perhaps the act of rowing with the belief that it should move the ship, does), or simply have swimming creatures tow the ship.

The benefit of this is that it allows characters who do not have to have access to an expensive magical vehicle to still get around, as well as something to look forward to (ie, an expensive magical vehicle that they can use to get around). Astral vessels still have use (probably higher speed and maneuverability), but to add some variety Josh and I have come up with some other options.

Anima Reactor
The denizens of Asmodeus, in keeping with their fiendish nature, delight in using black ships that are powered by the souls of the dead. An anima reactor emits an agonizing wail while in use, which can instill a sense of dread in mortals (especially in animals). Even worse, souls contained within a reactor's soulcage can be harnessed in an emergency to fuel magic, in particular necromancy.

Elemental Collider
Dwarves and humans have managed to invent a kind of magic device that, through the forced collision of incompatible elemental...well, elements, can easily hurtle a ship through the astral. They are fast and environmentally healthy, except when they explode: the insurgence of conflicting elements must be carefully regulated by an engineer to ensure safe operation.

The astral sea is vast, and despite the planar collapse it is still pretty empty. To help deal with the issues of navigation, many sailors rely on the stars or ley lines. Ley lines criss-crossed the world prior to the Sundering, and their energies register with those that can sense spirits. Sometimes they extend from one demiplane to another, but most commonly they are used to orient a sailor.

Angel Gates
Not all travel requires the use of a ship. Angel gates are magical constructs, similar in function to a teleportation circle, but rely on the Angel Roads that existed before the Sundering. Activating them requires a substantial amount of celestial essence, prayer, angel hearts, or powerful miracles.

Other forms of travel exist, such as astral whales and dragons (especially in the case of the githyanki), but hopefully this starting list is more inline with the fantastical nature of the setting that I initially conveyed. I will try to do an update of more stuff at least once a week as Josh and I hang out and kick ideas back and forth.

Next week, I think we will talk about a city where the dead go to celebrate before finally passing on.
February 21, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Turned to Stone

Petrification is one of several iconic save-or-die effects that have persisted throughout many Dungeons & Dragons editions, whether forcing a save versus petrification or making a Fortitude save, your survival boiled down to a single die roll.

One of 4th Edition's controversial changes was reducing the immediate impact of save-or-die effects: if you got his with a medusa's gaze attack and it beat your Fortitude defense, you would be initially slowed. On subsequent rounds you got to make more saving throws, with additional failures immobilizing you, then finally turning you to stone after strike three.

I liked this because I felt that it added more tension to the game, especially if you or other characters had access to powers that granted saving throw bonuses. I also liked that some monsters had ways to restore a petrified character, such as by creating a poultice from a cockatrice's feathers and blood. To me this helped mitigate the former game-stopping impact of a few bad rolls, which would have been nice in 3rd Edition, where a party of seven was wiped out in the first random encounter against a pair of cockatrices.

I like the idea of basilisks as an ambush predator, as it helps separate them from the rest of the petrifying participants. I kind of wish that they would have borrowed the bit about how the mythological basilisk's presence could kill plant-life and crack stone. This could make for good foreshadowing, as well as an adventure hook where one or more basilisk's are intruding into a region and gradually destroying it. I also liked a lot of the 4th Edition variants, such as the venom-eye.

Though small, these guys come in flocks and can fly, which already contrasts greatly against the largely solitary basilisk, gorgon, and medusa, but they also have a fairly unique petrifying bite attack. I really have no complaints about them, though I never did understand why they could see ethereal creatures. I guess being able to stun ethereal creatures is different.

Large size, a petrifying breath weapon, and presumably some kind of goring attack gave been the gorgon's staples throughout the editions, and I have no real complaints about them now. The gorgon sets itself apart by being much more durable than the cockatrice, more mobile than the basilisk, and having an area-affect breath weapon, so you cannot simply avert your eyes or rely on heavy armor to keep it at bay.

As with the cockatrice, I am confused by their ability to see ethereal creatures, as well as their ability to turn them to stone, and as with the basilisk I hope that they throw some variant gorgons at us, too.

Up until now I had no real problems with any of the monsters, but I have no idea why, in a game where the gorgon is a metallic bull instead of a trio of snake-haired sisters, and the basilisk is an multi-legged, lizard-like beast instead of a snake, that they want to stick with the medusa--which was the name of one of the aforementioned gorgons--as a unique creature.

Personally I think that if a DM wants a medusa to be a unique creature, that it is easier to increase its overall power, than to potentially have to decrease it in order to accommodate a race of medusas. One of the Planescape monster books had some legendary monster entry, and I recall a few templates in 3rd Edition that let you really ramp up a monster's power.

This means that the default medusa might gradually petrify her victims, while the "medusa of legend/paragon medusa" might have an instantaneous gaze. This could also extend to other monsters, giving us, among other things, a much tougher minotaur, hydra with no head-cap, and a lion that must either be strangled to death or cut with its own claws.

This does not mean that I think that they need to be a true-breeding race with maedars and all: they could still be the results of curses, spontaneously arise from the blood of other monsters, or created through dark rituals. I just think that the default assumption should be that there is more than one.
February 19, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Clerics And Healing

"Our goal has been to remove cleric as a necessary element of adventuring. Does that approach make sense given our modular design?"

Yes. Absolutely yes. 

Not everyone likes playing a cleric, and not very group likes feeling like that they have to have one. I always felt that this was especially true in 3rd Edition, where the only two classes with easy access to healing magic were the cleric and favored soul, but then fell that I was lucky in that one of my players was pretty much always willing to play one.

Some people claim that you do not technically need a cleric, that potions and wands of cure light wounds, along with a healthy mass of ranks in Use Magic Device, are a suitable workaround, but I have to wonder where they are getting all of the money to pay for this: a minimum level wand of cure light wounds costs 750 gp, which according to the wealth-by-level guidelines in Dungeon Master's Guide, eats up three-quarters of a characters expected gains for 1st-level.

While each use also requires that you make a skill check, your run-of-the-mill rogue making a Use Magic Device check with a Charisma of 12 has a 75% chance of making it, and an 85% chance after the first use. The major downside is that if you roll a natural 1, you cannot use it again for 24 hours (which can put a major damper in your adventuring schedule). Potions are exempt from a skill check, but cost 50 gp a pop, which is just over three times what a wand-charge costs, and cap out at 3rd-level spells.

All of these are reasons that I love 4th Edition so much: you do not need a cleric (or really any leader/healing character at all), or have to carefully budget your adventuring allowance on specific items. Everyone is pretty much free to build the character they want, pick the powers they want, buy the items that they want, and the game gets along just fine. Another thing is that I loved how 4th Edition provided a variety of perfectly valid healing classes (such as the oh-so popular warlord), each with their own feel and style, so that even if you preferred leaders there was more than just two fairly similar choices.

I think 4th Edition had the right of it by not requiring certain abilities of certain classes to heal, but instead having certain classes enhance existing healing resources, as well as giving you the option for additional healing on the side. This not only avoids the issue of the party having to stop because the cleric ran out of healing magic, or the issue of needing a cleric at all, but also the issue of clerics worshiping trickster or knowledge gods but still having access to healing magic.

Another issue is how clerics and healing will play with alternate hit point/healing modules. If a cleric can magically heal wounds, does it downplay or even negate the impact of prolonged injuries? How much harder is it in a game with slower natural healing and no cleric at all?

What I would do is to design the game with the assumption that no one is playing the cleric or has access to specific items. The Hit Dice mechanic is a good start, but might be too limited as you only get one per day at 1st-level (though we did pretty well in my roomie's Skyrim playtest campaign). I actually liked the second experimental rule, where you gradually regain hit points up to your cap unless you are bloodied, in which case you only fill up halfway. I think it reinforced an early idea about how the first half of your hit points is mostly minor nicks and scratches (if any), while the second half was more noteworthy wounds.

Dragon Age had a mechanic where a healing kit restored a random amount of hit points, but you could only do it once per fight. might have just been a thing where you rolled your healing amount after each fight automatically. Anyway, maybe allow healing kits to restore a small amount of hit points, which you can increase by spending Hit Dice on top of it?

Of course, I might be misreading the whole thing. Maybe Mearls is just saying that they want to make cleric-esque healing the standard, as in magical and/or on a per-day basis. In that case I still contest that it creates issues of pacing and necessity, but at the least might mean that we will see a variety of viable healing classes (such as, again, warlord). I mean, when the only really viable healer option is cleric, saying that people "rolled with it" in the past is not exactly a helpful observation.
February 18, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Thunderspire Labyrinth: The Horned Hold Map, Take 2

Here is yet another updated map of the Horned Hold, for my two-thirds complete 5th Edition Thunderspire Labyrinth conversion, courtesy of Victor.

February 17, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: Halflings, Part 2

"What do you think of the halfling, now?"

For me it is a Small step in the right direction, proportion-wise anyway. While I found the first pass at halflings to be just a bit too cartoony for my taste—which, at the time I described as "very", but they kinda grew on me—the greater issue was the proportions: their heads seemed too large, and their feet too small, especially for a race that comes packaged with a Dexterity bonus.

This second draft looks like an in-between of the first halfling draft, and the ones presented in 3rd and 4th Edition: the proportions are still off, but just enough that I think that I think I could pick them out of a lineup without a scale reference, and without seeming too off. In particular I like the ears of the first, and the generally rustic, pastoral look also helps with this association.
February 13, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: They Might Be Giants

Giants again, though this time it is the more exotic cyclops, titan, and ettin.

I find it odd that despite having one eye that the cyclops, for me at least, is pretty forgettable. In 2nd Edition they were basically Huge humanoids that lived in isolation, herding sheep, and if they saw you would try to hit you with things. This was standard fare for virtually every other giant race, except that they did not have randomized spellcasting to shake things up.

I could not even remember anything about them for 3rd Edition, and had to look up a Wikipedia article to see that they were confined to Deities & Demigods and Shining South, both books that I barely ever touched (especially Shining South, because Forgotten Realms). Of course they were still Large-to-Huge giants that throw rocks and hit things, which at the same time makes sense as to why I could not remember, but also why I should have been able to. The bit about loving to eat brains was a nice touch, though.

4th Edition shook them up by allying them with the fomorians, giving them a variety of eye powers, and making them really good at crafting magic items, because not all cyclops sat around on islands waiting to be duped, instead taking up hobbies like, I dunno, crafting weapons for the gods. Not only did 4th Edition give them a unique shtick among giant-kind, but made them more proactive villains, so at the least I am glad that they are sustaining that as a potential bit of flavor. Frankly though, even if I did not want to use the Feywild, the eye-powers and crafting make them so much more interesting and compelling for me.

In a similar vein I preferred 4th Edition's titans, finding them to be more varied and interesting than 3rd Edition's giant list of almost universal spell-like abilities (give or take some alignment-based additions). Oddly, though the article states that they are trying to let both camps have their way, the example titans seem varied and interesting, too. My only gripes are weapon immunity and possibly the spell-like abilities, depending on how many there are and how much referencing I will need to do (personally, I loved how 4th Edition kept it all in one block).

Like the cyclops, ettins have an iconic feature (two heads),  but unlike the cyclops their two heads make them harder to stun/charm/etc, as well as make them better at making multiple attacks. It is a start, but I really liked 4th Edition's creation myth about them arising from the blood of a primordial defeated by Demogorgon. It helps explain why they have two heads and are chaotic, and a demon-worshipping/mutated ettin could add a lot to an adventure, especially if he is aided by like-minded cultists.

Or, maybe a demon-worshipping ettin is trying to stop cultists from awakening their primordial patron, and hire the adventures to stop him.

February 12, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: This Week in D&D

The newly focused Legends & Lore debut topics include Weather & Warriors, with a few paragraphs at the end about rules complexity and future packet updates.

If and how I use the weather can vary quite a bit from adventure to adventure. Usually it functions as window dressing, but sometimes I throw in rain or snow to limit visibility (which can work in the characters' favor), or make it difficult to climb (or even move, in the case of ice).

I tend to emphasize it more in Dark Sun, what with its focus on survival due to the inhospital everything and lack of food and water. I am a fan of tables, and have used random weather before, I just prefer that its mechanical impact does not require too much bookkeeping.

Of greater interest is the plan to change fighter maneuvers so that they are an additive to damage, instead of forcing you to choose between dealing damage--generally considered the more optimal option, as it tends to be the fastest track towards the dead condition--or doing something interesting. The small paragraph on how this works reminds me of the warblade from 3rd Edition's Book of Nine Swords, where you had a list of maneuvers that you could use once, but you could use a standard action to make a normal, run-of-the-mill melee attack to refresh them all.

The summary here is that you get a pool of dice that represents skill and energy, which you to perform maneuvers, and can use an action to take a break and regain some of it. I am curious that if scaling damage is going to become its own thing, why they have to use dice at all? I do like the mention of spending an action just to regain some of it, as opposed to all, as it forces the player to choose how much energy she wants to use at a given time. I am curious if the fighter will still get to make an attack (like the warblade), if you get a defense bonus, or what.

I wonder if there will be any class features or feats that let you regain expertise, such as by defeating a monster, parrying an attack, landing a critical hit, etc.

As for the bit on spending feats to open up maneuvers, I am not sure what to think: most 3rd Edition feats that I remember were pretty meh, often giving you a small numerical boost to something (Weapon/Spell Focus), or giving you access to a highly situational ability (Cometary Collision), though some, like the Reserve feats from Complete Mage, were pretty cool.

To be fair 4th Edition had its share of boring, arguably mandatory math-boosters (such as anything Expertise), but there were also many more that shook up both your race and class features (such as Agile Superiority and Defensive Bluff for fighters and halflings respectively), as well as let you combine certain races and classes in thematic ways (such as Distracting Challenge for gnome paladins).

At the least 5th Edition has more hits than misses for me (I wish Arcane Dabbler let you choose your cantrips). Granted there are not many to choose from, and it is still in its playtesting phase, so hopefully we will avoid an insurgence of +x to y feats, and whatever maneuvers you end up being able to purchase are worth the cost (or trap choices).

The last part mentions rules, rules complexity, DM styles, stuff that we have already heard about plenty of times by now. As I have said before I like the idea of being able to set the bar on rules complexity, but am still waiting for an actual example to see how they are implementing it. Hopefully when we get the exploration rules that they come with a "dial' for people to mess with.
February 11, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Cosmology-ish

It has been a little over a year since I started working on  A Sundered World, which provided about six months of adventures before one of the key players could no longer play, and we had to pretty much drop it.

Though I initially wrote it for 4th Edition, Josh and I have been going over the notes and trying to create a largely system-neutral world bible, as I want it to be usable by people using 4th Edition, Dungeon World, D&D Next, and probably other fantasy role-playing games that we do not play.

During this process we have been revamping the world, such as it is, quite a bit. At least part of the premise--that the gods and primordials fought, but no one won--is still there. The other part, which could be summed up as, "Dungeons & Dragons, but in the Astral Sea", is where we diverged: we felt that sticking everything in the Astral Sea, though visually awesome, was limiting, and made it difficult to rationalize where people obtained things like food and materials.

Also you needed a very expensive, magical ship to get around.

The world now is the result of every plane collapsing into each other after the Sundering. A lot of it is covered in ocean (mostly because of the Elemental Chaos/Inner Planes grossly upsetting the balance of everything), but now it is easier to explain how people grow food, get water, and find materials to make things, though there are still crazier elements, such as the shattered trunk of the World Tree in the center of existence, flying islands and celestial dominions, god-corpses, and so on.

Elements from other planes get mixed in, too, so where the dark influence of the Shadowfell settled, it created Shadowlands that draw in undead and restless spirits. Undead kings, which could be death knights or liches, rule kingdoms of undead vassals, occasionally sending forth black ships to claim lingering souls and bodies to expand their ranks. On the other hand, the verdant light of the Feywild causes plants to flourish where none should, animals and plants to possess uncanny intelligence (and sometimes speech), and in some cases time to flow differently.

Other planes get used more overtly.  The Astral Sea, or whatever you want to call the heavens, is a silvery, starry expanse that extends beyond the clouds. Here, above even the castles of the storm giants, are the remains of the celestial dominions and corpses of dead gods. Some are still inhabited by angels that try to make do, upholding the dogma of their former masters (though some tend to go by the letter and not the spirit), and providing at least some kind of mostly-eternal reward for the souls of the dead.

Some choose to remain on the world, protecting worshippers both alive and dead from the many threats that abound, not least of which are devils, because the Nine Hells is a place on a Sundered World: a massive iron sphere, it floats above twisted spires of iron that jut from the ocean like black, jagged teeth. A lattice of iron bridges connect the sphere to the towers, which teem with slaves, infernal citizens, and souls of the damned (or unlucky enough to get picked up by fiendish or undead raiding parties before the angels found them, though how unlucky that is depends on the angels).

And at the furthest edges of reality is the Far Realm. Creatures that venture too close often attract the attention of eldritch horrors, though even those that escape are often driven insane or mutated.

So, that is one part of the bigger picture. There really are not other planes, which might be a feature or a bug depending on how you look at it (I remember there being a huge uproar at 4th Edition's cosmology). I think that by moving the setting from the Astral Sea to something a bit more normalish makes it a lot more accessible; when I first ran  A Sundered World I just gave Josh's character an astral vessel, because if I did not then it would have made things a lot harder for them to get around and adventure.

The only part that I am a bit fuzzy on is how the days and nights work. Originally there was no day or night because the Astral Sea just kind of had a default luminescence, but I am thinking that maybe it could lighten or darken regularly, giving some semblance of night and day. Some regions could also just be lighter or darker (having bits of Feywild or Shadowfell layered on, but not too much), or even go with something a bit crazier like having angels that formerly served the sun god keep towing it across the sky.

What do you think?

Wandering Monsters: Hellenic Half-Humans

More Greek monsters, this time the centaur, satyr, harpy, and minotaur.

Unlike last week's selection I have actually used the harpy a couple times, minotaurs quite a bit, and in an old 3rd Edition campaign two players rolled up a pair of satyr drunken master monks.

The physical description is fine--not that I assumed it would not be--but given both their mythological and fey roots, I am surprised that their personality is described as "generally mild-tempered", and that they "enjoy the studies of philosophy and arts".

The only example that I could find of a particularly wise centaur was Chiron, who was not even directly related to other centaurs. They are otherwise described as a fairly chaotic bunch, on par with satyrs, which I think better fits their fey origin anyway. It is not that I am opposed to the idea of benevolent centaur teachers (which could make for an interesting NPC), but I think it does not suit their race as a whole.

Also, why do they not attack with their hooves? Not only has the hoof attack been part of them since at least 2nd Edition, but I can easily imagine one pinning a creature under its hoof and then, assuming it is not dead already, finishing the job with a sword or arrow to the face.

The description for satyrs is almost spot on (despite more accurately depicting fauns, which 2nd Edition mentions as an alternate name for them).

My only criticism is that I would make them capable of weaving magic into music without the need for enchanted pipes, giving them a natural knack for whatever amounts to bardic magic. Keep magical pipes, just as an interesting item and not a necessity. Like angels, I would also prefer that their magic is not directly mimicked by spells (though a set of thematic spells could also be cool).

As for female satyrs, well, in Roman myth the gods Faunus and Fauna were male and female goat-people respectively, and satyresses were also apparently a thing, but it is not like I expect Dungeons & Dragons--which has stuck with male-only satyrs with the appearance and pan pipes of a faun for quite some time--to adhere closely to real-world mythology.

I want them to come up with interesting, hopefully compelling flavor material, and I can see an argument for both sides.

I am curious as to why, given that originally harpies seemed to have the bodies of beautiful woman, that Dungeons & Dragon's makes them ugly. From what I gathered harpies do not even have a luring song; that feature belongs to another bird-woman hybrid, the siren (also the basis for the Russian sirin), which came in a variety of depictions depending on the bird-to-woman ratio, but was still described as beautiful.

As with the satyr, I am not expecting Dungeons & Dragons to stick to the mythology, but instead use it as a basis for creating awesome stuff. Personally I think that the appearance of the original siren is more interesting, though the more divinely oriented sirins, which had bodies of owls and sung songs of future joys to saints, could make for an interesting counterpart to the "classic" evil and hideous harpy.

Why not have minotaurs be a race created by Baphomet, with the really big ones those he has specially blessed/cursed? Why not have ogres be the Large, savage ones, with humans accounting for the Medium-sized, more civilized crowd? It sounds better than them size-dropping like Mario just because they got smarter.
February 05, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: A Change in Format

It looks like Legends & Lore is switching focus from the overall bigger picture to a weekly progress update, so we will see what that entails next week. Hopefully this includes flavor and crunch previews.

While we did not get the exploration rules in the latest packet--which, I was not aware we were supposed to get--Mearls states that they will be in the next one. The brief overview he does provide sounds similar to how it works in Dungeon World: when you are traveling, each character gets a job, either trailblazer, scout, or quartermaster. You then make a Wisdom check (roll+WIS), with success or failure affecting what happens during the trip.

The exploration rules in Next will provide more structure while exploring. Turns are a thing, and there will be sets of actions that characters can perform such as making a map, checking for traps, and watching for monsters. I remember having to actually draw out maps based on DM instructions in 2nd Edition, but I am curious as to how making a map will be handled, what benefits it will provide, and how this will all be abstracted (if need be). There are also guidelines for pace and random encounters. He mentions that they were handy when he ran Isle of Dread, so I will probably give that another shot when the next packet is released.

The few reactions I have seen towards the barbarian unanimously agree that it is a bigger, better fighter, which is why it looks like they are going to rein it in, while making the fighter more flexible.

My in-play observations are that most of the time it is just a bit tougher at the start (something like 2 hit points), and more straight-forward due to a lack of maneuvers. Reckless Attack has some situational use depending on a lot of factors, including the number, type, offensive/defensive capabilities, and position of enemies. Rage changes this up, making the barbarian much tougher, more accurate, with just a bit of extra damage output.

How much better, I think ultimately depends on how many encounters you throw at your party in a day. If they run into one random encounter each day while traveling well, then the barbarian is probably going to easily outshine the fighter. The same goes if they are freely exploring a dungeon with largely static threats and no time constraints; if they can come and go as they please, then there is little incentive to keep going when their rages run out.

In other words, it can create the same problem some groups have with clerics/wizards, per-day spells, and the 15-minute workday, except now there is a third class lobbying in their corner.

I have said before that I would prefer the barbarian to have some mechanic that lets her accumulate dice/tokens/points on a round-by-round basis, that let her deal bonus damage, shrug off damage, activate more supernatural powers (like 4th Edition barbarians). Couple this with terrain-based features from 4th Edition's berserker and I think you have a very solid, very unique class from the fighter.

As a final note, those massive battle rules sound pretty interesting. I have never run a war campaign, but getting to test new rules sounds like a great opportunity to try that out.

February 04, 2013
Posted by David Guyll


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