As I write this entry, I just got back from the Essentials/Red Box Game Day. I would have recorded a segment, but honestly, I don’t think there’s much to say about it that hasn’t been said. I played the Rogue, it felt like a Rogue. As I sat there spamming melee basic attacks, I drfited back in my mind to earlier editions. I’ve played 4E enough now that I’m to the point where I miss a lot of the old tropes; spell lists, multiclass dips, not needing an 18 in a stat to be on the to-hit or damage curve, even THAC0. Maybe it’s time for me to go play Pathfinder, but I don’t think so just yet. I bet I could replicate more older edition feel in 4E without needing to change editions. Essentials does this to some extent with all the melee basic attacks, but that’s not the fun stuff really. In the next few episodes of Aberrant Rules, I’m going to begin disassembling some of the less fundamental assumptions of 4E to try to bring back more of that old-school flavor.
This week, I’m starting something easy, but kinda long, class, so start taking notes. Let’s talk spellcasting. When was the last time your wizard actually used his or her Spellbook feature, hunh? Your feats and powers are probably set up to complement each other so you don’t change them out often. The feature is just too small to be really flexible, so it tends to be forgotten. Rituals are supposed to step in and fill this gap for the Wizard (see also Cleric, Psion, Artificer, Bard and Druid), but again, how often do they get used? They’re too expensive and take up too much time. I never see my players use Rituals for anything and when I try to use them as a player, I get little to no support from the table. It’s really frustrating and needs to be changed – so here’s my fix.
If you get Ritual Casting as a bonus feat, you can spend 1 hour each morning to also prepare rituals for free to be used throughout the day as a standard action each. The total number of rituals prepared is equal to 4 + 1/2 of your level. Because rituals don’t inherently deal damage, there is no level spacing requirement. The only caveat is that if the ritual states that the subject must be present, willing and/or helpless for the duration of the casting, such as Imprisonment or Anthem of Unity, that must be true for the hour you spend preparing them. Furthermore, you can take a power twice in two different slots if you like. That is, if you have Shield as your level 2 Utility and you want to also have it as your level 6, so be it. Same goes for Encounter and Daily attack powers.
That takes care of your prepared casters, but how about spontaneous casters? I would place the Sorcerer, Swordmage, Invoker (minus Ritual Casting, of course) as a Favored Soul analog and maybe the Shaman here. For this group, I would allow a lower-level power to be recharged on the fly by sacrificing a higher-level power as a free action. Normally Encounters recharge Encounters, Dailies recharge Dailies, etc, though I might allow a Daily to recharge a Encounter if you really want.
What about metamagic? Take a look at Mongoose Publishing’s Quintessential Wizard and Svalin Games’ Power Alteration Feats; they’re pretty well balanced and absolutely useful. Thing is, my concept of arcane magic specifically is that it’s very malleable so metamagic shouldn’t be such a problem. I like how WotC dealt with this in the Enlarged Spell feat; -2 damage to each die to increase the size. Let’s mimic that with Arcana checks. How about a DC 35 Arcana check to extend a timed spell for another turn, but if you do, you’re dazed? Maybe a DC 25 to change the energy type on a spell, but you gain vulnerable 5 all until the end of your next turn? I miss the Spellcraft skill… a lot.. and this feels like stuff casters ought to be able to do.
Now this of course opens up a whole different can of worms for me which is the rigid power system in the first place. That’s a far more difficult nut to crack, though, and we’ll hold off on it… for now. I have plans. Give that a run, see if it adds a little bit more complexity and old-school fun to your casters. Next time, we’ll talk about how you don’t need to be 18 to be legal. An 18 hit stat, that is. And not like hitting that.. ya know, this metaphor’s REALLY going south fast. Alright people, I’m out.
September 19, 2010 No Comments
There’s been another upsurge of Solo talk on the blogosphere recently, probably given the products recently released and those about to be released. Quinn has his Worldbreaker Solos, which are frickin’ spectacular and he’s been getting flooded with submissions, but not all Solos lend themselves to such theatrics. Sometimes, you want a Solo that’s engaging and challenging, but you don’t have the time to build a Worldbreaker, you don’t want to deal with the plethora of available powers or the enemy doesn’t feel like it should be enforcing radical terrain modifications. A quicker, more efficient way to add spice to a otherwise boring Solo monster is to make it a multiple-part or multiple-initiative monster.
I thought I was the only one doing this, but as it turns out Greg Bilsland, producer at WotC, and DM Tim of Radio Free Hommlet have also been pulling this trick. Great minds think alike, apparently! OK, a few creatures do something similar as written, like the Behir family of monsters. The basic premise is to split a Solo creature into two or three subsections, each of which get their own actions and initiative count. This doesn’t mean that the monster literally breaks into pieces – though you could certainly do that – but mechanically speaking, you assign actions to it as if it were several Elite creatures.
The easiest way to do this is to divide the monster into a head and body, or maybe a head, arms and legs depending on its general anatomy. The monster still uses all of its normal defenses and has a single pool of HP, a single move action and a single minor action. However, it gets a standard action and initiative count for every subsection. It can only use one standard action per count but can spend its move and minor on any count. Finally, split the powers among the subsections so that each subsection functionally has its own set of powers. You may want to add one or two powers overall to the creature so that each subsection has some variance, but for the most part, you can take a Solo as written, make this tweak and run with it.
As a multi-part Solo takes damage, it loses initiative counts and thus standard actions by proxy. A two-part creature loses its other subsection when bloodied, for example. At this point, allow the player who bloodied the creature to decide what section is ‘shut down.’ I’ll give you an example here in a second, but a few quick pointers I’ve found helpful when running these kinds of monsters:
1) Only roll initative once, then add and/or subtract 10 to get the other two counts. This gives the monster the ability to react to the PC’s better as it splits up their turns.
2) Multi-part solos have the opportunity and the actions to heal themselves, so make sure that your creature has at least one self-healing power, probably an encounter or a recharge 6. Allowing it to stand up as a minor is another simple but effective self-protection tweak.
3) Consider shunting the powers of ‘dead’ sections to ‘live’ sections, particularly if that section had a unique, gimmicky power like a grab or heal or an attack that hits several PCs all at once. Economy of actions is crucial for Solo monsters.
4) A two-part creature should have, at most, a universal +2 to saves. A three part creature should probably have no more than a +1.
5) Only slow, prone, forced movement and ongoing damage should apply to the creature as a whole. Marks, dazes and stuns, penalties to attack and defense and pretty much everything else should affect only one section at a time.
Now get out your Adventure Builder or Monster Manual and let’s build one of these real quick. From H3: Pyramid of Shadows, we have the Headless Corpse, a level 8 Solo Controller. This monster is a perfect candidate for the multi-part treatment. Give the body the Slam attacks as well as the two encounter powers – Winter’s Wrath and Razor Storm. The Head gets Ray of Ruin and Force Wave. Now each part has can deal damage and has the ability to hinder movement, either with a push or a prone effect. Drop the save bonus to +2, give it a save vs. prone trait and add 25 temporary HP to the Phantom Step power. Blow an AP on its first turn to drop Razor Storm, then just sit back and watch your players freak out!
September 14, 2010 1 Comment
It never previously occurred to me that God might care about what I talk about here on Aberrant Rules. Thing is, when Michael (pronounce Mee-Ka-Hell) Croitoriu (pronounce KreuWha-To-Ree-Yu) keeps writing to me about diceless skill challenges and then Quinn Murphy utterly independently proceeds to run something very similar in the Wave game I’m participating in, I kinda have to chuckle and reconsider.
As I mentioned when I was on the Power Source last, I have some deep-seated problems with diceless skill challenges. Dice provide a neutral arbiter between DM and players. When the DM doesn’t want the monster to get hit with a sword but the players do, the dice decide what happens. They also add drama and a level of randomness that forces everyone to stretch their imaginations from time to time. If you’re going to take that away from me, you better give me something just as interesting in its place. My other issue is that it creates a situation that relies almost completely on the skill of the DM. A good DM will in fact be able to run a “skill challenge” based on pure player ideas without dice by knowing what interests the players and having a good sense of dramatic tension, but that doesn’t equate to good game design. At that point, you’re sitting around roleplaying or maybe solving a puzzle, both of which are perfectly fine, it’s just no longer a skill challenge. The point of a skill challenge is to test the characters’ abilities as much if not more than the players’ ingenuity. Ultimately, I’m not sure if I’d ever use such a system. If the situation is obvious enough to just roleplay or is intended to challenge the players’ thinking, I’ll just do that. If on the other hand it’s complex or relies heavily on character ability, I want the dice so that everyone feels like they got a fair chance.
But let’s say that you’re dead set on doing this anyway. You want to run a skill challenge in 4th edition without rolling dice or overly crazy houserules. How? Admittedly I haven’t playtested this yet – it’s more of a thought experiment – but here’s my idea. The crux of the system is figuring out what constitutes a success or a failure outside of ‘the DM thinks that will work’ because sometimes even the best ideas fail for bad execution and the worst ideas succeed due to circumstance. You need a ‘luck’ factor involved somewhere. How about we roll that in with some classic resource management to make a game of it? Choose your DCs and primary/secondary skills as normal or just decide what the effect of a primary or secondary skill check is and determine their status on the fly – I’m alright with that part because the character still gets something for their effort even if it’s not a full success. Next, add 10 to everyone’s skill modifiers so that you’re essentially working with passive skills. Finally, hand each player a number of poker chips or M&Ms or something equal to 1 plus the Complexity of the challenge. On his turn, a player may pay one of these tokens to add 2 to whatever skill roll is currently being evaluated. Now, proceed around the table comparing the passive skills plus tokens to the DCs as if you were running a normal skill challenge – but here’s the kicker. You as the DM also have three tokens that subtract 5 from the skill. Other players may take a -2 to their next skill to aid (+2) the current skill. Tokens the players pay simply disappear after use, but tokens you play then become player tokens for whomever you played them against. Over a long enough challenge, I think this will tip the odds in the PCs’ general favor but the first couple rounds should be pretty tense. It should also encourage the use of secondary skills for extra bonuses since the players can’t bank on high die rolls to cover their poorer skills. Again, I’ve yet to try this out so the numbers will likely need some tweaking, but if you’re looking for something halfway between a dice-based skill challenge and freeform roleplay, I think that’s where I’d start. If anyone tries it, let me know how it works.
September 14, 2010 No Comments
So I know I said last week I was going to review Necromancer-type material but stuff came up as if often does and it occurred to me that I had at least two more houserule segments lying around I’d never talked about. This week, I’d like to talk about money and currency in 4E.
Let me start out by saying I don’t like 4E’s economy at all. Do YOU go around carrying thousands of dollars in cash in your wallet? Does it make sense to have a less technologically advanced society than us minting vast quantities of standardized coinage? And seriously, what’s up with this 20% return rate? I buy and sell used clothes, books and whatever on eBay or craigslist. I held garage sales at my mom’s house and back when my wife and I were first married, we seriously considered pawning off some of her mother’s jewelry due to employment issues so I think I have a reasonable idea of how this sort of stuff generally works. It just doesn’t add up for me. I can see in the math how it works out, but it’s just so… contrived in a lot of ways.
This is one of the big worldbuilding issues I considered when preparing for the Power Source campaign and one day at the lab working on a nanosphere formulation for a well-known antidepressant, an idea struck me. It was so simple, elegant and complete (at least to me, y’all can judge it for yourself of course) that I can’t imagine running 4E without it ever again. I cut the PCs actual gold earnings to about 20% normal and then put the balance in a sort of virtual “bank” in two separate “accounts” – one called Fame and the other called Karma or Luck. PCs can call upon this bank to obtain needed goods and services. For example, rather than actually shilling out 100 gp for a Raise Dead ritual, 100 gp is subtracted from the character’s “bank” and the priest performs the ceremony because the characters “have done such good around here.” The “bank” also represents resources funneled to the characters through their various sponsors, benefactors or investments. In practice, there is little mechanical difference between this system and the default economy – it is simply flavor to further illuminate the game world and allows the PCs to throw around their status as famous adventurers in a measured, regimented way.
Karma or Luck is earned for performing actions that help restore the natural “correctness” of the world. Noble deeds, delivering justice, killing undead, pretty much anything stereotypically “Good” earns Karma. It can be spent like normal GP in stores representing the odds that the location actually has what the characters want. It can also be spent while adventuring to have certain events occur. For instance, spending 50 Luck in a dungeon can give you a Healing Potion as treasure in the next encounter or chest. Spending 20 Luck can ensure that a water source you find is pure (as the Clearwater Solution). As a general expectation, the cost of an event is equal to an item that causes the event.
Fame is earned for performing deeds that will be talked about by others. It can be spent like normal GP in stores representing the shopkeeper’s willingness to sell the characters rare or dangerous items. It can also be spent while adventuring to have certain events occur. For instance, you can use Fame to “bribe” someone into letting you into an area they shouldn’t. It can purchase room and board in foreign towns when you lack the on-hand gold. (“Hey, we’ve heard about you guys? Tell us about your travels! A place to stay? Sure, it’s on the house.”) PCs might also spend Fame to receive gifts and favors from NPCs that they meet. As a general expectation, the cost of an event is equal to an item that causes the event, though this isn’t quite as sturdy an expectation for Fame as it is Luck.
When a PC goes to buy something, he or she is only required to have 20-40% of the cost in currency. The rest is paid in Luck or Fame. Thus when he or she tries to resell it, only the currency is returned and the 20% number makes more sense in-game. It also eliminates the problem of a single +2 weapon costing as much gold as a small army. The army only needs gold. The weapon requires Fame and Luck, which most NPCs do not have. I’ve found, as a side effect, that the system additionally tends to (though not completely) keep the party moving on the straight and narrow since they know the sorts of things that will earn them full wealth – big, heroic deeds. It would be just as simple to change Fame to Infamy if I was running an Evil campaign or Karma to Honor if the players were of a culture where that sort of thing is important. Having intangible wealth in a quantified, measurable way can really set the tone for the game. You could even use this system as a sort of compromise between the ‘wish list’ and ‘whatever the DM puts there’ methods of treasure placement. I like mechanics that facilitate bargaining between the DM and players on the meta level in an agreed-upon manner that also have a believable in-game expression; Fame and Luck banks totally do this for me in a way that nothing else does.
September 10, 2010 No Comments
Note: This is one of the few times I will not be including either the podcast or the transcript thereof, mostly because the original article is already on this site. Just go read it.
September 10, 2010 No Comments
One Bad Egg publishing closed its doors on September 11, 2009. Their product line showed a lot of variance, running the full gamut of classes, races, adventures and DM tools, including the famous Hard-Boiled Armies which was an attempt to run mass combat using 4E rules. Though their products were spoken about often on ENWorld, apparently the sales were less than stellar. According to their website, “our best selling products never managed to break the 300 copies sold mark, and many of our catalog didn’t even hit 100. We’d have had to see significantly higher numbers for the sales themselves to make a strong argument for continuing the work. They didn’t happen.” That’s a real shame because despite the company’s absolutely tiny scale, they had a ton of publicity. OBE’s products were even featured on the Tome Show and put for ENnies. It goes to show just how rough it is trying to get third party material out there for this edition.
As to races and classes, One Bad Egg had two class contributions – the Shroudborn multi-class and the full Witch Doctor class– and two race, the Half-Dead race and the Apelord race. The Shroudborn and Half-Dead are intimately tied together so we’ll tackle those first.
The Shroud is a staple feature of the One Bad Egg D&D mythos – a sort of necrotic volcano that destroys the Frozen North and leaks Evil into the world. Those who die and are infected by the Shroud become Half-Dead, an alternative to the Revenant for all you zombie lovers. They have +2 Strength and Con, resist necrotic, get a bonus to death saves, stand as a minor and, like the Revenant, have a racial power that adds necrotic damage on an attack. While not outstanding in any way, it’s a solid race that’s absolutely impossible to kill with a couple of feats. I’d allow it in my game any day. Those who were born after the Shroud arrived or are in close contact to it may undergo some subtle changes and then take on the Shroudborn multiclass. And can I just say I freaking LOVE the Shroudborn multiclass. How could you not love a class with powers like Howling Abyss Strike, Unreal Vortex Strike and Ethereal Evasion? The Shroudborn does crazy stuff like rip an enemy’s blood from its body or cleaves its soul in half. It’s over-the-top, dark, brutal and made of awesome. The class is sort of a controller/defender and has powers that hit off of every stat, though classes that hit off of the mental stats will find it most useful. Go buy this. Now.
I can’t recommend the Apelord, unfortunately unless you want to mix it.. oh.. wait, no, can’t say anymore. I just figured out how to win Jeff Greiner’s copy of Amethyst. ::laughter:: But anyway, yeah, this class has many of the same problems as the Linotaur. Speed 7 with a climb speed of 5, Strength and Dex, bonuses to Athletics and Acrobatics, 1d6 unarmed damage, reduce falling damage by 10 feet and a racial encounter power that lets you do Twin Strike in melee? And I don’t even want to get into the feats. Can you imagine one of these as a Monk? Nope, not doing it. Great idea, awesome flavor – not happening at my table, thank you.
Then there’s the Witch Doctor – one of the first original third party classes. For reference, I’m not counting Ari Marmell’s Advanced Player’s Handbook since he just covered classes that would be released in PHB2. If you like the idea of playing a Shaman without the spirit companion, consider the Witch Doctor. It’s a controller though, not a leader, so you have to be OK with that. Its class feature lets you force enemies to reroll saving throws, making it a real thorn in the side of Solos and Elites. It uses a medicine stick as an implement and the vast majority of its powers are Close bursts, blasts or walls so it’s sort of a mid-range controller like the… actually, like the Jester. There’s not much in 4E core that looks like this except for maybe a couple of uncommon Sorcerer or Invoker builds. There are three sub-builds based on masks and a multiclass feat, but no hybrid option. Bottom line, Druids and Shamans who don’t want to change forms or run around with a second token on the board should look carefully at the Witch Doctor.
One Bad Egg also released a line of books about poisoncraft, including the Codex Venenorum – a bunch of new poisons and poison creation rules – as well as the Syrallax. I’m not all that interested in poisons, so I don’t have much else to say about that, but go check it out if you’re interested. Hard-Boiled Cultures is almost entirely flavor text, so while it’s good, I don’t have much to say about it. Finally, Hard-Boiled Armies does an excellent job scaling up the 4E class/race/power system to large-scale army maneuvers and is well worth the price if you’re interested in including mass combat in your campaign. You can find all of these products at RPGNow, DriveThruRPG and the OneBadEgg website.
I’m talking with Elderac on Twitter as I finish this recording and it looks like the demand for my own material is rising so next week we’ll skip back into houserules as I unveil a new death mechanic I wrote as part of a blog carnival – Under the Raven’s Wing.
September 10, 2010 No Comments
So I feel pretty stupid. I said last week that we were on Aberrant Rules #20, but then I realized my numbering system had no 11, so this is actually #20. Just wanted to clear that up.
This week, we’re blitzing through Alluria Publishing, home to Jared’s five classes, the Explorer, Jester, (laser, jawharp) and (foghorn)*! Oh.. wait, he gets this recording first so.. I bet he just edited out the last three, didn’t he? While I can’t say much about them right now, I’ll cryptically comment that I think any 4E D&D player will like at least two of the five though not everyone will like the same two. The rest, well, you’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, Alluria has many more products to discuss and is one of the more prolific third-party sources for 4E. I can find 15 entries in the Remarkable Races line, five of which are featured in Jared’s upcoming Game Day since WotC prohibited the use of any of their races. Jerks. Yeah, you heard me, WotC, that was a (beep) move. Oh… uh, sorry about that.. I’ll catch that in post-production.. but you get the idea.
Now I’ll be honest. A lot of these races are mediocre at best. Many of them are just kinda generic humanoid variants. The Oakling are tree-people, Obitu are skeleton people, Magogol are frog people, Boggles are a goblin variant, Entobians are humanoid insects, Zif are snailfolk and the Anumus, despite having a better backstory than I expected, are thinly-veiled furry fanservice. Of the seven, I like the Entobians best for their Spiderman-like qualities, but there are much better options available.
First, there’s the Taddol – a cross between eladrin and ettins, if you can believe it. That’s right, you can play feyborn Siamese twins in 4th edition. The rules for running them are more than a little complex and like the Linotaur, I like the race better as an NPC. Still, it’s unique and I appreciate that. On the other side of the spectrum are the Kval, who might as well be made of cheese. They’re Tiny – and yes I do mean actually Tiny – imps with gigantic hands who can wield weapons as if they were Small. They get bonuses to Athletics and Acrobatics (also Stealth by sort of an underhanded route), can flank from within an opponent’s square and are immortal, like Devas. They also deal autodamage when bloodied as if that all weren’t enough already. Despite being less than a foot tall, they weight over 100 lbs so are apparently composed of whatever it is that makes black holes and have deep sinister, James Earl Jones type voices. I want to play one desperately but would have to go to confession afterward, I’m sure. You also have the Relluks which are sort of a conceptual mix of a warforged, a goliath and a shardmind. They have really juicy flavor text and an amusingly bizarre armor mechanic that would be great for Eberron or Planescape, but will be entirely out of place in the Realms, Dragonlance or most generic D&D settings.
This brings us to my Top 5 – the five races I would suggest are most mechanically balanced and have a tight, meaningful background. The Mahrog are a pre-human race, like the real-world Neanderthal. They have feats that work especially well with Primal and Martial classes, are utterly perfect for Dark Sun and even get access to the occasional human feat. If anything they’re a bit mechanically underpowered, so I might allow them a 3rd At-Will but otherwise well-designed. The Xax are humanoid-loving aberrant creatures, so obviously I like them, and to represent their chaotic nature they roll an elemental resistance and another race’s racial power at the beginning of each encounter like a sorcerer. You would think this overpowers the race but as it turns out, you can never plan for which power you’ll have and so you can’t take feats to improve it. The Xax also pick up superior weapon proficiency as a bonus feat, so this race excels at exactly what you think it should – bizarre class builds.
Next up, the Numistians who take up much of the tinkering and mercantile space left open by the gnomes. Their only real quirk is that they eat and bleed coins and have no internal organs. If you can get past that, the Numistian race is ideal for urban adventuring and social interactions as well as social commentary on rampant consumerism if you’re into that sort of thing. The Squole may have been designed by Ted as they are oozes from the Elemental Planes who decided to take on humanoid shapes and live in the natural world. They are functionally blind, though they have blindsight 8, but their senses of sound, taste and smell are exceptional. Squole take no penalties to squeezing, gain a small damage bonus to melee basic attacks based on their elemental type, and like their mindless kin are excellent grapplers. There’s just a ton of roleplaying and fiddly mechanical potential here and if it weren’t for the last race here, the Squole would be my top pick. That honor, however, goes to the Muse – a race I would use a picture of Selma Hayek as a token for. The Muse look like Zora from the Legend of Zelda series, but with wings and hail from the realm of dreams. They have two of my favorite class features – granting a +1 skill bonus to all allies within 10 in which the Muse is trained and the ability, as an encounter power, to recharge another character’s second wind or racial encounter power. Obvious the Muse make great bards or any other leader for that matter and are probably the simplest and most intuitive to integrate into any setting as inspiring dream creatures are common across many real-world stories and mythologies.
Alluria has since produced a supplement covering the vast majority of their races and a campaign guide for their particular multi-planar setting. All in all, Alluria’s races are pretty solid and offer many opportunities to make your home campaign setting feel unique with the addition of a race or two, though I wouldn’t recommend throwing in all of them together. Next week, the now defunct One Bad Egg publishing.
*Now that the Game Day is over, the classes are Vigilante, Truenamer and Knight. Go here.
September 10, 2010 No Comments
So by my reckoning, this is Aberrant Rules #20 and would you believe I’m out of ideas? (Note: This should be obvious from the title. I correct it next post.) Well, don’t, ’cause I’m not! It’s just that the mechanic I had planned for this week isn’t exactly ready yet. Needs some more tweaking and more honest-to-goodness playtesting so I’ve gotta create or dig up something else for y’all this go ’round. Also, since I’m preparing for the Power Source Campaign, Jared’s Game Day, Jeff Griener’s home campaign and another one shot for a surprise friend from high school back in Ohio on top of all that – I’m a little out of creative steam. What I’m going to do for the next few weeks to take a little break and also celebrate the upcoming Alluria Game Day is do a quick review of some other 3rd party material. Each week, I’ll talk about a different publisher and what they have to offer in terms of races, classes and other rule-based material. I may mention adventures, but I want to hit the other stuff harder. This week, we’re looking at Adamant Entertainment.
Early in 4E’s lifecycle, Adamant produced a line of alternate pacts for the Warlock class, including the Vermin Lords, Dragon Lords, Blood, Ghosts and Angelic Choirs. Each pact has at most 2 powers per level, meaning all you hardcore mechanical types are going to be a bit underwhelmed, but the concepts behind them are fairly ingenious. The Vermin Lord pact is a controller – it has a lot of poison damage, ongoing damage, slow and an interesting mechanic that punishes enemies for taking multiple actions per turn. There’s also a weird class feature that lets you communicate with vermin that’s interesting but not terribly useful. The Pact of the Angelic Choirs is highly reminiscent of the Invoker even though that class had not been introduced at this point. If you’ve ever thought of multiclassing or hybridizing Warlock and Invoker, see if your DM will let you use this pact instead and save yourself the effort. A Warlock using the Pact of the Dragon Lords is all striker, focusing on dealing lots of damage and is the only pact I’ve seen so far that has an at-will close blast. It also treads a little into the Star Pact’s territory but who doesn’t want a couple extra to hit, eh? The Pact of Blood is really bizzare and includes a lot of self-mutilation. The powers sound like those from WoTC’s Dark Pact but FAR too many of them have Hit, Effect, Special AND Pact lines, putting this pact clearly in the realms of cheese in my estimation. It’s going to take a special kind of DM to allow this pact and I’m not sure I’d even want to play in that game for both story and mechanical reasons. Finally, the Pact of Ghosts which is my ‘if you can only get one’ recommendation. It’s a build clearly focused on disruption and ‘screw you’ effects, my personal favorite, and fills a niche in the world still missing in the core game – mainly that of necromancy. You won’t be raising undead minions with this pact, but the powers you do get are solid and match the Warlock’s general role. RPGNow has each of these 10-15 page pdfs available for a mere $2 a pop so if you love Warlocks, grab a couple.
Later, Adamant produced a playable PC race, the Linotaur and while I liked their Warlock Pacts a lot in general, I can’t recommend this race. Admittedly, the idea is unusual and quirky. Linotaurs are like centaurs in general build but are feline, so imagine taking a normal lion, stretching its upper torso and having it held upright. It’s a little Napoleon Dynamite, but I’ve certainly seen stranger ideas. Heck, my wife might even want to play this just for the cat-people angle. But it has many problems mechanically. First, it occupies a 1×2 square area which makes it technically Large and has a Speed of 7. It’s also packing racial bonuses to Reflex, initative, a d6 unarmed melee basic and a racial power that gives it extra damage on a charge. It’s not a terrible product, but clunky and while I try not to be a slave to balance, this is just a little bit outside my comfort zone as a designed and DM. It would make a heck of an NPC and might not be bad for a new player who needs a little extra help to keep up with more advanced players, but I wouldn’t necessarily make it an open option all the time. Adamant also has a few published adventures and a couple supplements like a Monster Maker (obsolete as of DMG2 and MM2) and a random fantasy adventure generator but I don’t know much else about them.
So that’s it for Adamant. Next week, we visit a familiar face – Alluria Publishing!
September 10, 2010 No Comments
Can’t believe I missed a show. Ah well. Let’s see some hands – how many of you all have played FASERIP Marvel? Hunh? Put up ‘em up! ten… twenty… thirty…. so less than a third, but still enough. Cool. Hands down. For those of you who haven’t, it’s an older TSR superheroes game set in the Marvel universe – so old in fact that the licensing has expired on it and you can legally pick up pdfs of the game for free. I’ll post the link in the forums when this show hits, so you can look it up. I really enjoyed Marvel in all its table-y glory, particularly for its use of Karma points and power stunts. I’m not going to cover karma points here, so go read about them in the books if you’re interested, but I do want to discuss power stunts here for a couple minutes.
Power Stunts are exactly what they sound like – unorthodox uses of a superpower in order to do something the power didn’t necessarily intend. Superman flying around the world backward to reverse time for instance, is a power stunt. The Flash phasing himself through solid objects by altering the vibrations of his molecules is another. Classic Silver Age stuff right there. Earlier editions of D&D had their own form of power stunts – metamagic feats but even moreso, the creative interpretations of spell effects based on their flavor text. Can you look like a small treant if someone casts Barkskin on you? How about shooting an arrow out of the sky with your own Magic Missile? And can you get a paladin out of his armor by polymorphing him into a snake and then using Animal Control to force him to shed his skin? These are the sort of creative solutions that players love to come up with and DMs either ignore completely or tremble in fear of. It’s important to notice though, that classic power stunts rarely deal damage and if they do, the point of the stunt is not actually the damage but some kind of utility effect – terrain modification, movement, etc.
4E has a weird way of discouraging this sort of thing. I don’t believe it was any intention of the design staff, but something about the way powers are written keeps a lot of people well within a precision-tuned box. But you know what? I’m an Instigator dangit; I like to see crazy stuff happen in my games and the best way I know to promote that sort of thing is to give it its own economy, in this case the FATE point.
I need to dip briefly into system design here for a second. The other uses of a FATE point were pretty tame. A +2 to a d20 roll is the standard “DM’s best friend” circumstance bonus. A reroll with a +3 bonus to skill checks sounds awesome – and can be! – but think for a minute. You’re only supposed to make right around half of your attack rolls according to proper game balance but you need to make two-thirds or better of your skill checks (4 successes out of 6 rolls for a complexity 1 skill challenge) so even a hefty reroll bonus isn’t too “out there”. Player narration, though it may mess with the plot in unexpected ways, has no mechanical effect on the game and so is safe as well. Using an attack power as a utility power – which is what we’re going to do here – does have mechanical impact on the game, and so we have to keep some kind of limit on it. Also, applying an artifical, arbitrary limitation on doing something triggers the natural human rebellion instinct, so in limiting usage, you’re also encouraging usage.
All that talk leads up to this idea. By spending a FATE point, the player may use an attack power in a predetermined utility way until the end of the encounter. Example – let’s say you have an underage kawaii pyromaniac tiefling assassin who does incredibly well with her relatively modest 20 AC at level 5. She wants to use her Executioner’s Noose to go all Spiderman and stuff. It’s an at-will power, so you want to limit the movement to standard speed or less but you think that a standard action to fly 5 is probably fair. She hands over the FATE point and until her next short rest, she can swing on branches, stalactites, clotheslines, whatever happens to be handy. What about using Dire Radiance to light up a room? It’s radiance, right? Another at-will power, so let’s use it like the Wizard cantrip Light except again as a standard action to not step on the Wizard’s toes too much. If you can find an already written utility power for what you want to do of the same usage and approximate level, that’s your best bet. I’d love to see some of your ideas, so please! Post them on the forums.
As a parting note, this will up your characters’ overall power levels a little bit, so to compensate I as a DM would raise all encounter levels by 1 and award Action Points only after milestones to keep roughly the same challenge. Depending on the way your PCs play, your mileage may vary.
September 10, 2010 No Comments
Except for my Wave Dogs in the Vineyard game, I don’t get to play enough RPGs that aren’t D&D. Wait, Ryven, this is a 4E podcast. Yeah, yeah, I know, just run with me on this for a second. There are some mechanics I really want to play from other systems that I’m probably just not going to be able to play, so I’ll just have to port them into 4E, conveniently enough in the next few segments! Power Source folks be warned – some things will be changed after the end of the first arc here in about 6 weeks so pay attention! This week, the FATE point.
Actually, think of this more like Bonus Tokens Part II – Beyond Thunderdome. My original Bonus Token concept was specifically for skill challenges and while I like that option there, I want to expand it. A couple shows back, Jared and I briefly tossed around the idea of a roleplay build for 4E characters and FATE points and so this is really just the result of that discussion. Imagine – after you create your character at level 1, you have 5 Aspects – words or phrases that you use to describe your character. The first two are your race and class. The next three, you create on your own. You get more as you increase in level, but don’t worry about that right now.
At the end of each extended rest, you gain 2 FATE points + 1 per tier. You gain another after each milestone. A Bonus Token is then just sort of a temporary FATE point. You can use a FATE point to do one of four things. First, you can play it to gain a +2 to any d20 roll you’ve already made. Not a bad use, but as we’ll see, there are better. Second, if you spend it on a non-attack roll that goes along with one of your Aspects, you may reroll the d20 with a +3 bonus. Finally, you may spend a FATE point to declare a fact about the game world, again in accordance with one of your Aspects. The declaration can’t directly contradict something the DM has already said, but you can twist it. The DM may also Compel your Aspects, making an event occur because of your character’s habits and such. You may pay a FATE point to deny that event, but if you can’t the event happens and you get another FATE point for your trouble. Need some examples to sort this all out? No problem.
Mircolis is a half-elf star pact warlock. (this guy should be familiar to some of you). He’s level 8 and has 6 Aspects: Half-Elf, Star Pact, Evil-Looking Goatee, Ritual Master, Street Hustler and Love of Comfort. In this situation, he’s trying to pry some information about a cave from a hunter in town. The DM has already specified that the hunter doesn’t trust Mircolis enough to give him the information. Mircolis could try to roll Diplomacy to improve his mood and get a +2 bonus by spending a FATE point. However Street Hustler is one of his Aspects, so instead if he tries to Bluff to gain that trust, he can reroll with a +3 bonus if he doesn’t like the first roll by spending that same FATE point. Even better, though, I can plop down that FATE point and say “Mircolis reads the man’s fortune using his connections to the Far Realms and finds a mistress. Will he tell me if I threaten to expose him to his wife?” The twist opens up all kinds of fun options – maybe the hunter now gives Mircolis false information out of spite, or feels compelled to redeem himself by leading Mircolis to the cave personally. On the other hand, the DM could Compel the Evil-Looking Goatee Aspect to outright deny the information and force Mircolis to go some other route, but I still at least get another FATE point out of it. It’s a quick but robust system and after a couple playtests, I hope to implement it permanently.
Now astute listeners may have noticed that earlier I said four things to do with a FATE point, but I only gave the player three – the Compel is a DM option. That’s because next week we’ll talk about the fourth option for your FATE point purchases – the power stunt.
September 10, 2010 No Comments