Friday, August 12, 2011

4e Bar Brawling, Part 5: Sulimo

I've come to the last of the Bar Brawl power lists I created back in 2009. This set shows the beginning of some thinking about terrain powers; in this case, though, I was reskinning the character's core powers to interact with terrain that I could know for certain would be present. In a similar vein, it would be much easier to come up with terrain powers if I already had a team of PCs in mind, with their own personal style, much as I was talking about yesterday.

Sulimo, in any case, was an eladrin wizard. The player initially built the character to be all about single-target control and use orbs, but shortly after the bar brawl session he rebuilt the character to be an area-damage blaster using wands. I made a point of writing his attacks to target things other than people, and deal damage to the actual enemy as collateral damage, for the same reasons that the rest of the characters weren't using swords and axes in their attacks. Once a wizard is actually hurling damaging spells at someone, it's a lot harder for me to accept that the fight is intended to be nonlethal.

A point I want to make about the way I created the powers as a whole is that I repeated a number of powers between characters, such as Deceptive Move being available to both Dendric and Sulimo. In retrospect, I feel like this is a good thing, though it's hard to verbalize why. In a sense, I feel giving characters something in common links them together in the game's conceptual level of powers. It's a lot like the skill powers that WotC published in the PH3, although those powers ran into odd balance issues from the differing strengths of classes. That suggests to me a series of "Deed of Strength," "Deed of Dexterity," etc., kinds of powers that would be available to all characters meeting stat minimums. This could be good if it gave characters more reason to care about stats other than their class's primary and secondary stats, but there are obvious problems as well.

At some point, I may go back and create bar brawl powers for Kiel, Hane, and Dominik, both as a design exercise and to amuse those players, even now that the campaign is long since ended.


Ray of Frost Wizard Attack 1
A blisteringly cold ray of white frost streaks to the floor beneath your target, causing him to slip.
At-Will ✦ Arcane, Cold, Implement
Standard Action Ranged 10
Target: One creature
Attack: Int vs. Fortitude
Hit: 1d4 + Int cold damage, and the target is knocked down.

Target The Architecture Wizard Attack 1
You hurl bolts of force, splintering the wood near your enemies and injuring them indirectly.
Standard Action               Ranged 10
Target: Int vs Fortitude
Hit: 1d6 + Int damage, and one square adjacent to the target is difficult terrain until the end of the encounter.


Fey Step Eladrin Racial Power
With a step, you vanish from one place and appear in another.
Encounter ✦ Teleportation
Move Action Personal
Effect: Teleport up to 5 squares.

Deceptive Move Wizard Attack 1
When attacked by two at once, you meet superior strength with superior wit.
Immediate Interrupt                            Personal
Trigger: An enemy makes a melee attack against you while contributing to flanking you.
Effect: The target of the attack is changed from you to the attacker’s flanking partner, even if reach would not normally permit this attack. Resolve the attack normally.

Splintering Force Wizard Attack 1
You invest force into a piece of furniture, and it explodes into splinters.
Standard Action               Ranged 10
Target: Creatures adjacent to one table
Attack: Int vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d6 + Int modifier damage, and the squares where the table used to be are difficult terrain until the end of the encounter.


Sleep Wizard Attack 1
You exert your will against your foes, seeking to overwhelm them with a tide of magical weariness.
Daily ✦ Arcane, Implement, Sleep
Standard Action Area burst 2 within 20 squares
Target: Each creature in burst
Attack: Int vs. Will
Hit: The target is slowed (save ends). If the target fails its first saving throw against this power, the target becomes unconscious (save ends).
Miss: The target is slowed (save ends).


I Thought Elves Liked Wine
Alcohol: cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.
Minor Action
Effect: Upon finishing your beer, you gain +2 Reflex until the end of the encounter.
Special: If the beer you just finished was Demogorgon Pale Ale, gain a +2 AC also.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

4e Bar Brawling, Part 4: Dendric

Many of Dendric's powers didn't work as well as intended or weren't as appealing as intended due to the DM being sort of a moron. Allies in the Crowd didn't work because I forgot that I needed to place all of the uninvolved NPCs. Silvershield Soldier shouldn't have been Wisdom-based - I should have gone with Charisma or (once Dendric was rebuilt to use the PH2 bard rather than the preview) Constitution. Oh well, live and learn.

You'd think that bards would be some of the best in the game at bar fights, what with spending most of their careers in taverns. I just had some shortcomings of imagination in writing these powers, as well as trying to theming the powers around a Cunning rather than Valorous bard (i.e., misremembering Dendric's actual character). I think Dendric's bar brawl powers would have been an ideal chance to push him temporarily into a different combat role; a fight banter mechanic that turned him into a marking defender would have been a good time. The other part of my problem at the time was that Dendric joined the campaign in the fifth session, and the bar brawl was in the eighth session; we hadn't yet gotten as much characterization with that character as with others.


Allies in the Crowd Bard Attack 1
A talented bard can get a crowd on his side with a word and a glance.
Standard               Special
Target: One creature adjacent to an uninvolved creature
Attack: Cha +2 vs. AC
Hit: 1d4 + Int + Cha damage.

Vicious Mockery  Bard Attack 1
You unleash a string of insults at your foe, weaving them with bardic magic to send the creature into a blind rage.
At-Will – Arcane, Charm, Implement, Psychic
Standard Action               Ranged 10
Target: One creature
Attack: Cha vs. Will
Hit: 1d6 + Cha psychic damage, and the target takes a –2 penalty to attack rolls until the end of your next turn.


Blunder  Bard Attack 1
You fog your foe’s mind, causing it to stumble past your allies.
Encounter – Arcane, Charm, Implement
Standard Action               Ranged 5
Target: One creature
Attack: +8 vs. Will
Hit: 1d6 + 6 damage, and you slide the target 2 squares. During the slide, you or one of your allies can make a melee basic attack against the target as a free action, with a +4 power bonus to the attack roll.

Deceptive Move Bard Attack 1
When attacked by two at once, you meet superior strength with superior wit.
Immediate Interrupt                            Personal
Trigger: An enemy makes a melee attack against you while contributing to flanking you.
Effect: The target of the attack is changed from you to the attacker’s flanking partner, even if reach would not normally permit this attack. Resolve the attack normally.


Silvershield Soldier Bard Attack 1
You conjure a ghostly guardian, indistinct except for a glowing shield. A burst of radiance erupts from it to sear foes that move next to it.
Daily ✦ Conjuration
Standard Action Ranged 5
Effect: You conjure a spirit of vengeance that occupies 1 square within range. Every round, you can move the guardian 3 squares as a move action. The guardian lasts until the end of the encounter. Any Magmarn that ends its turn next to the conjured guardian is subject to a Wisdom vs. Fortitude attack. On a hit, the attack deals 1d8 + Cha modifier psychic damage.


Invoke Pride Bard Utility 2
A man will do for pride what he would not do for love or money.
Minor Action                    Close burst 5
Target: One bloodied ally in burst
Effect: The target regains use of second wind and gains a power bonus to his or her next attack roll equal to your Charisma modifier.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

4e Bar Brawling, Part 3: Terrence Wilhelm

Terrence is one of the key examples of how I adapted a character's existing combat style to brawling. In this case, obviously, I added elemental stuff (we'll call them "particle effects") to the normal things you'd do in a bar brawl - punching and throwing beer. Also, since Terrence was very much about beer and beer distribution, I made sure that he had powers that varied by beer type. At some point, this could be tweaked into a fun PvP drinking game, in which real-world beers are "relabeled" as the beers listed in the powers. You want the bonus? Bottoms up!

The flavor text for several of the powers is based off of Terrence's outrageous German accent. That player is very fond of outrageous accents, and (as others have noted) one or two players at the table with distinct accents or manners of speaking go a long way toward getting other people to think and speak in-character. For my part, I can't usually maintain a consistent accent all that long, but my current Mage game is distinctly improved by the same player's outrageous Boston accent and Samhaine's outrageous Russian accent.

One thing that I wanted to try with the bar brawl rules, but never quite completed, was to hand out powers that shifted characters over into different combat roles. I felt like my players enjoyed their normal combat roles, but none of them were so attached to those roles that they wouldn't enjoy a one-encounter shift into another role. Variety is the spice of life, as I'm told.

Improvised Attack Swordmage Attack 1
In a pinch, just about anything is a weapon.
Standard Action               Melee 1
Target: One creature
Attack: Int + 2 vs AC
Hit: 1d8 + Str + Int damage.

Greenflame Fist Swordmage Attack 1
Each blow ignites your fists in deadly green fire.
At-Will ✦ Arcane, Fire, Weapon
Standard Action                Melee 1
Target: One creature
Attack: Int vs. AC
Hit: 1d4 + Int fire damage, and you deal 3 fire damage to all enemies adjacent to the target.

Lightning Throw Swordmage Attack 1
Using a tiny burst of your lightning lure, you grab an enemy, twist, and throw him to the ground.
Standard Action               Melee 2
Target: One creature
Attack: Int vs Fortitude
Hit: 1d4 + Int lightning damage, and you move the enemy to any square adjacent to you.


Extra Stout, Extra Cold Swordmage 1
You grab ze tankard, chill its contents, and throw ze whole sing at zer enemy.
Standard Action               Melee or Ranged 5
Target: One creature
Attack: Int vs Reflex
Hit: 2d6 + Int cold damage, and the enemy is marked and weakened until the end of your next turn.

Cascading Assault Swordmage Attack 3
You punch the nearest enemy, and force cascades off of him to strike other nearby enemies.
Standard Action               Melee 1
Target: One creature
Attack: Str + 2 vs AC
Hit: 1d4 + Int damage. Make a secondary attack against a target within 5.
Secondary Attack: Int + 2 vs AC
Hit: 2d6 + Int damage.


Down to the Bitters Swordmage Attack 1
You hurl ze beer in ze faces of enemies crowded around you. Apparently, it wasn’t so good anymore, ya?
Standard Action               Close burst 1
Target: All enemies in burst
Attack: Int vs Fortitude
Hit: 2d6 + Int poison damage, and ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).


Drink the Pain Away
Alcohol: cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.
Minor Action
Effect: Upon finishing your beer, you gain +2 Fortitude until the end of the encounter.
Special: If the beer you just finished is Orcus Imperial Stout, gain Resist 5 Damage until the end of your next turn.
If the beer you just finished is Baphomet Witbeir, you give a savage howl. You and all allies within 5 squares gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls until the end of your next turn.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

4e Bar Brawling, Part 2: Azamon Fyori

Azamon Fyori was (in this campaign) a tiefling resourceful warlord. He was much less of a sociopath than some of that player's previous characters! He normally fought with sword and shield, and (like all tieflings before the rework of their racial power) was all about the fire damage.

As you can see from comparing these powers to Norman's, I was inconsistent in applying keywords to attacks, and in this case sometimes outright incorrect (since, in essence, nothing granted a Weapon keyword here). Varying up his attack stat to use Int was not a significant hindrance. Azamon also preserved a few more of his normal abilities than other characters did, simply because it made sense to me at the time, and because they weren't tuned off of his weapon damage (that's Warlords for you). I didn't give him any beer-themed powers because he was not played as being the drunkard that some of the other characters were.

Finally, I'd like to comment on some of what's going on with Tail Slap. Even though 4e tieflings are drawn with thick, powerful-looking tails, there's no real reference to this anywhere else in the race's powers and abilities. I'm fine with the reasoning that a tail slap shouldn't do enough damage to matter in lethal combat, but in a bar brawl? A tail slap should totally matter. As to the reference to resetting, my campaign had a long-running but eventually discarded house rule that gave each player dice to reset their encounter and daily powers. At some other point, I'll discuss this rule and its effects on the game. The rules for Tail Slap make it much easier to reset than other powers. I had figured that it was comparatively weak enough that I'd be okay with the player using that attack every time it triggered if he felt like spending dice for it. At this point, I don't remember whether or not he used it at all.

At-will Attacks

Commander’s Strike Warlord Attack 1
With a shout, you command an ally to attack.
At-Will ✦ Martial, Weapon
Standard Action -- Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: An ally of your choice makes a melee basic attack against the target
Hit: Ally’s basic attack damage + 3.

Improvised Attack Warlord Attack 1
In a pinch, just about anything is a weapon.
Standard Action               Melee
Target: One creature
Attack: Int + 2 vs AC
Hit: 1d8 + Str + Int damage

Encounter Attacks

Ettin-Killing Gambit Warlord Attack 1
One enemy’s skull is hard enough to be a weapon against another enemy.
Standard Action               Melee 1
Target: Two creatures
Attack: Str vs Fortitude, two attacks
Hit: 1d6 + Str damage, and the target is stunned until the end of your next turn.

Infernal Wrath Tiefling Racial Power
You call upon your furious nature to improve your odds of harming your foe.
Minor Action -- Personal
Effect: You can channel your fury to gain a +1 power bonus to your next attack roll against an enemy that hit you since your last turn. If your attack hits and deals damage, add 3 extra damage.

Tail Slap Warlord Attack 3
People tend to forget your tail is even there until they’re stepping on it or you’re slapping them around with it.
Immediate Reaction
Trigger: An enemy misses you with a melee attack
Attack: Str vs AC
Hit: 1d4 + Str damage.
Special: Reset this ability on a roll of 1 or better on a reset die. Reset this ability when you take your second wind. Reset this ability when you first become bloodied.

Daily Attacks

Loose Plank Warlord Attack 1
You stomp on one part of a loose floorboard, and the other end flies up to strike an enemy’s jaw.Daily
Standard Action               Melee 3, special
Target: One creature
Attack: Str vs Reflex
Hit: 3d6 + Str damage, and the target is dazed (save ends).
Special: Only use this attack if there are no other creatures between you and your target.

Utility Powers

Adaptive Stratagem Warlord Utility 2
Your companion has the ability and the will. You provide the plan and the motivation.
Encounter ✦ Martial
Minor Action Close burst 10
Target: One ally in burst
Effect: Until the end of your next turn, the ally gains a +3 power bonus to damage rolls and a +3 power bonus to saving throws.

Monday, August 8, 2011

4e Bar Brawling

Early on in my 4e campaign, I wanted to experiment with odd powers and temporary change-ups in character stats. I was a little more adventurous in the general area of kitbashing in the first year of the campaign's run, when only one or two players were using DDI heavily. As DDI usage increased, it became a real headache to remember to modify character sheets each time they were printed, so I focused more of my writing time on exciting encounters with interesting terrain features, and on creative re-skins.

One of those temporary change-ups was a bar brawl. Obviously it doesn't make sense to use swords and big fire spells in a bar brawl - it would be just totally out of theme. I wanted the PCs to beat on their enemies, not murder them. So the PCs were going along in the scene, the dwarf got in a good dig on the dwarves of the enemy clan, and they started a brawl. The PCs were not expecting me to whip out replacement power sheets that I had created some time earlier, and the whole effort was worth it for the surprise. They seemed to really like the fact that I'd written up new pages of powers themed on their characters, with a strong emphasis on the zany and on terrain interaction.

The first of these is Norman Flynn, a dwarf barbarian of Clan Silvershield. Clan Magmarn was his hated enemy. The party's early purpose was to travel from place to place selling Wilhelm family beer, and Stands-in-Fire had named several different brews that the family produced (this comes up in the powers). Norman was the bodyguard and porter for the party's nobleman, and he usually had a pony keg strapped to his back.

Damage on these powers was deliberately tuned to be lower-than-normal for 5th level PCs, though I did include striker-style damage kickers for the party's strikers. NPCs also did less damage than normal, and also had larger-than-normal hit point pools. The fight never really got grindy because the PCs had all-new powers and a sense of play in the whole scene. If I had it to do over again, I'd add in probably one more at-will, encounter, and utility per character. Because the PCs would lose the power sheets completely at the end of this fight, I only gave them one Daily power each.

Without further ado, Norman Flynn. I'll post the rest of the characters over the next few days. (Yes, this is filler while I try to keep up with DtD writing.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Design Theory: Secret Rules

In working on Dust to Dust, one of the significant areas of design theory discussion has been which rules to reveal and which to keep secret from the publicly-posted rules. That secret rules exist should be no surprise to most gamers; in one form or another, it's a practice as old as the roleplaying hobby. I've been trying to think of an example of secret rules outside of roleplaying games or roleplaying-derived games, and I eventually came to a Wikipedia page dedicated to that very idea.

Let me get one thing out of the way. There is most assuredly a wrong way to design secret rules. You do not want your game's rules to feel like this or this.

Tabletop Games

What am I talking about with secret rules in roleplaying games? Well, going all the way back to original D&D, there was a concept that only the DM should read the DMG. Up until 4e's publication, the rules for magic items had always been published entirely in the DMG, and moving those rules to the Player's Handbook was a controversial decision among the fans. The DMG also has all of the rules for NPC morale, building strongholds, monster abilities, traps, and so on. These rules are kept secret from the players on the principle that discovery and exploration are key emotional rewards of player fun. It also preserves the DM's right to do anything he damn well pleases, and (if secrecy has been maintained) the players won't be able to say much about it. Of course, this becomes a complete fiction as soon as another player in the group steps up to run a game. In my experience of DMing 3.x, the only truly secret rules were things I wrote myself. Otherwise, players might be unfamiliar with a rule published in a book they didn't own (The Really Definitely Complete This Time Warrior), but I would not have considered refusing to hand over that book on request, so it was more "lightly obscured" than secret.

Setting-specific material (such as, say, regional sourcebooks for Forgotten Realms) presented themselves as having actual secrets for the DM, and much less in the way of rules that players would ever need to reference. These for the most part stayed secretive by group consent, though this too fell away over time. Other game systems made a stronger case for secrecy in their early release - Deadlands comes to mind, as the book was split into "what people think is going on" and "what's actually going on." I'm not sure how much of this really came down to secret rules, though; perhaps one of my readers will chime in.


Which brings me, circuitously, to LARP design and secret rules. LARPs publish a rulebook that generally tells players what their characters can learn to do and how to react to the various awful things that monsters do to them. The pace and flow of LARPing means that designers need to reduce as much as possible the number of taglines players have never heard of before, so that every fight doesn't start with a briefing on tagline rules. I say this advisedly; Dust to Dust has a sort of famously large Effect List, but we really did try to include every tagline we intended to use, knowing that the rarer ones would require pregame reminders as to their effects. LARPs may not tell you how a monster will use an effect, but they do have to be transparent about what the effect is in ways that tabletop games don't. Even monster stats often can't stay secret for long, as many games require players to spend a few hours of each event playing monsters or other NPCs. Sportsmanship and confidentiality are key, but the surprise is ruined for at least some portion of the playerbase.

And now, I conceal the rest of the discussion from you. 

(No, not really.)