Tuesday, October 30, 2012

D&D Next: Off the Cuff, Round 4

Hey, awesome, so there's a new playtest packet from Wizards of the Coast, and like usual I'll be commenting on it as I go. I have a slightly different context this time, as I have to figure out which rules my new Aurikesh game will be adopting, or if there are areas where I preferred the old rule.

Classes

The BIG news here is that the documents now cover levels 1-10. The rate of progression on a lot of things, like physical and magic attack bonuses, is much clearer now - many classes hadn't seen their first improvement in an ability by fifth level, but by tenth they've improved twice. It's also clearer that the fighter doesn't exactly advance faster in attack bonus, just earlier - that is, a fighter stays 1-2 points better than a rogue with weapon attacks, rather than widening the gulf. (But a wizard's weapon attacks have not improved by even one point, as of 10th level.) Perhaps more surprisingly, the cleric shows only slight advancement on weapon or magic attacks - though over ten levels, they've only fallen behind a comparable fighter or wizard, respectively, by two points (also two points behind on save DCs). Not the world's biggest deal, except that they also probably want both Strength and Wisdom, rather than expecting to get all of their accuracy from one stat.

The sorcerer and warlock have been completely removed from this packet. My players who are planning to play sorcerers or warlocks will be relieved to know that Aurikesh will be using the previous playtest's rules for these classes, with the exception of the warlock's eldritch blast - I'll be nerfing that slightly, probably from 3d6 to 1d10+4 (similar to, but an average of one point better than, lance of faith).

Only the fighter is still near-identical to its previous incarnation. The cleric has received three new domains, and to my great pleasure several of these map nicely to Aurikesh deities. Looking back to my previous commentary about how they might make clerics into another class's playstyle plus healing capacity, I wouldn't say that this represents a clear trend in that direction, though a trickster priest can be an awfully good substitute for some areas of rogue functionality. With a rogue-friendly Background, a trickster priest can cover all of the non-combat-focused bases of a rogue.

Huh. Clerical healing is now all ranged - there's no longer a split between cure spells being touch-range and healing word having a longer range. This makes me sad - I was hoping there would be two distinct paths of healing spells. Even healing word's "minor action" utility has been folded into the cure spells. I may see more changes later, but at this point their "fix" to healing is to give clerics even less of it in a day (but make the Lifegiver clerics, only, slightly better at it), since Channel Divinity has been changed to a damn useless Turn Undead, which is also surprisingly complicated to parse. I am strongly inclined to ignore this change and continue forward with Channel Divinity.

Okay, so I'm nonplussed with the cleric so far. As I've said so many times before about this edition, though, the architecture is good even where I don't think they have the numbers right. Moving on: the fighter and the rogue are now kind of two sides of the same coin: they share a progression in Expertise dice, but gain different Maneuvers, and fighters gain maneuvers slightly more often. The oddity here is that Deadly Strike, which all fighters receive, is as good as Sneak Attack, but requires no maneuvering or preparation to apply. I get that they want fighters to still be the best in weapon combat, but I'm not sure this is cutting it. Anyway, there's a lot I'd like to nitpick in the Maneuvers for both fighters and rogues, but I approve on the whole of getting rogues in on the act with Expertise. I do want to point out, though, that giving rogues Skill Mastery (which now uses Expertise dice) and scaling those dice up to 3d10 means that rogues are in a completely different weight class when it comes to skill checks - checks that challenge a rogue annihilate any other class.  This is, as much as anything, a scaling issue on Expertise dice. The problem is that situations where the rogue will roll Skill Mastery (or the fighter will roll Mighty Exertion) are usually situations where nothing else is immediately threatening, and the player doesn't have to save a die or two for later in the round. Likewise, there's a widening skilled/unskilled gulf here, and that's another problem I've commented on before at great length.

There's one change to rogues that really pisses me off, though. Rogues are now "proficient" in the use of thieves' tools, and a quick glance at the Equipment chapter shows that thieves' tools are the only way to disarm traps, and can only be used by those proficient with them. See, I loved the fact that there were other ways a party could handle traps (such as a Background) if no one decided to play a rogue. Two of the fighters in my Aurikesh party are deeply rogue-oriented, and if we adopted this rule (obviously, we're not) at least one of those players would be going back to the drawing board.

Friday, October 26, 2012

More Free Content for D&D Next

On suggestions from Stands-in-Fire, we worked out two more new healing-based Specialties. During character creation, one player wasn't quite satisfied with the Artisan to cover being a full-time physicker, so I created the Physician Background as well. The mechanics probably have some rough edges that need sanding off, but I think the core concept is all right. (For example, I'm concerned that the Channeler may be too powerful.)

Channeler

Channelers focus on the interplay and resonance of radiant and necrotic energies, as well as their internal balance of belligerent and benign emotions.. By deliberately engaging their own dual natures, they find that healing the wounded inspires them to vengeance, just as causing mortal harm inspires them to absolution.

In Aurikesh, Ychirra or Talend grant the powers of vengeance, while Tura Keshik or Talend grant the power of absolution. It may be possible to gain such powers from other sources as well.

Level 1: Divine Vengeance
As you mend your allies' wounds, or your own, you deplete your benevolent nature - only by avenging your allies will you return to equilibrium.
Prerequisite: Able to cast at least one spell that heals hit point damage
Benefit: When you cast a healing spell, gain a Vengeance token, up to a limit of 4. These tokens last until spent or you take a short rest. When rolling damage for any attack, you may spend one or more Vengeance tokens to deal an additional 1d6 damage per token.

Level 3: Divine Absolution
The fire of battle within you can be turned to a powerful force for personal absolution and restoration.
Prerequisite: Able to cast at least one spell that causes hit point damage
Benefit: When you cast a spell that deals damage to an enemy and hit with that spell, but no more than once per round, you gain an Absolution token, up to a limit of 4. These tokens last until spent or you take a short rest. When rolling the healing effect for any healing spell, you may spend one or more Absolution tokens to heal an additional 1d4 damage per token.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

D&D Next: The Healer Specialty

One of the Specialties available in D&D Next is the Healer. Now, a Specialty is a pre-packaged path of feats, and these feats primarily deal in expanding or improving a character's combat functionality. This might be an improvement on your class's existing functions, such as a wizard that takes the Magic-User Specialty to gain more minor spells and a familiar, or it might be a way of dabbling in another class's functionality, such as a rogue taking that same Specialty. In the long term of gameplay, I suspect that most characters will choose to improve their existing class functionality rather than dabble in another archetype's functions. Having the option on the table is very cool, at absolute worst.

Anyway, many of the Specialties released in playtest documents so far modify melee combat. A few modify spellcasting other than healing (Acolyte, Magic-User, Necromancer). Only the Healer modifies healing functions in any way. Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with the support for an archetype being incomplete at this stage of playtesting. I am simply dissatisfied with the Healer Specialty, just as I am about to begin what I hope will be a long-term campaign, for two reasons.

Its first-level ability opens up something that could be mistaken for a crafting system. This does one thing very right (crafting time is reduced to a span of time that doesn't disrupt the flow of play) and one thing not so well (it's a vending machine, not a crafting system). On the latter, I have the very basics of an idea for a crafting system that might be workable, but it still needs a lot of work. I do like the fact that starting play with this ability adds a bit to your starting gear.

The third-level ability is the other problem: all healing effects that the Healer creates, distributes, or causes others to receive during short rests are maximized. This is a problem for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's so good that it feels like a non-choice. I haven't done enough math on this, but depending on whether the healing effect has a flat bonus attached to the dice or not, I think it's anywhere from about a 40-70% increase. Nothing else offered to a cleric is anywhere near as good as this, and I just about feel like a cleric would be selfish not to take it. At the same time, it's boring - just as magic missile as a minor spell and a rogue's Skill Mastery are boring. It isn't like the die roll adds much tension, but we've been thoroughly programmed to find dice resolution interesting - even when it's just working out the variable to determine how many healing spells it takes to fix up the fighter. The other problem with this ability is the fact that it's granted at third level. Once you've taken die rolls for healing effects out of the game, what else do you do to improve that specialty? I would hope that later improvements (which I am assuming fall around 6th level, 9th level, and so on) were not as powerful as this one, but I'm not really even sure what else you give the Healer after this point.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

D&D Next: Character Sheet

Sooo I have no idea if Wizards of the Coast will yell at me for this. If they do, I'll take it down with most sincere apologies. However, until then I have created a (very crude, but sufficient to my purposes) Word file (.docx format) and PDF for character sheets, so that we can save our characters and print them out from session to session, without having to type them up or write them out by hand each time we need a fresh character sheet.

Please don't sue me. I am doing this because I love your game and want to make it easy for my playtest group to enjoy it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

D&D Next Playtest: Further Commentary

Wizards of the Coast has posted a new update on what to expect in the upcoming D&D Next playtest packet. Naturally, I want to comment on them! Some bullet points:

  • Levels 1-10. Happy about this - though I'll have to give some serious thought to whether or not Aurikesh continues to play with a hard-cap of 5th level, as I've been vaguely planning
  • Significant developments on wizards and clerics. Interesting stuff on both fronts.
  • Rogues are losing some of their automatic-success class features, while staying focused on skills. There's no commentary on this in the article, but I expect rogues to also get a bit of a shakeup on the function and/or scaling of Sneak Attack, based on other posts. Happy about this.
  • Backgrounds are gaining a fourth skill, and it sounds like 
  • Passing reference to an Investigation specialty - I am very dubious of this.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Experimental Mechanics for a D&D Next Campaign

Sometime within the next month or two, I plan to start up a new campaign, now that my Mage chronicle of a year and a half has ended. There are a few other short-run games that we'll play first, which means I have a bit more time to plan both rules and setting. I was proud of myself for not throwing too much time at Aurikesh while the DtD event was looming - which is why the notes below are mostly in wishlist or early-draft form. Any number of these rules and good intentions might get changed between now and the start of play.

Early-stage Rules Ideas

I'm currently expecting to run this game with a total of ten or so players, no more than five of whom are at the table at any one time. Ideally, the party roster will change from adventure to adventure, as players return to town. The game has a hardcap for XP that starts at the minimum amount necessary for second level, and gradually rises; players who take part in every adventure will exceed this cap and lose any extra XP. The idea here is that they'll either play alts or skip a session so that another person can take their place in the party lineup. I'm looking for a low-commitment game to appeal to people who can't necessarily be there all the time; also, something that might allow pickup games with unusual team rosters. This is also necessary because a significant percentage of my playerbase might move to another state without much warning, and I would like this to not automatically end the campaign.

To play with this idea a bit further, I want to create rules for Friendly Rivals, Sidekicks, and maybe other types of connections between characters. When two characters are declared Friendly Rivals, the person with the lower XP total receives a percentage (5-15%) extra XP, and the person in the lead receives (TBD). A Sidekick designates an Exemplar that they work with. The two characters can transfer Hit Dice for purposes of healing one another, and further gain some kind of benefit (TBD). Other relationship structures are okay as well. It's conceivable that these relationships would be mechanically handled as Specialties instead of free abilities.

The basic structure of the game is that all characters belong to an adventuring company or something like it that works for the same patron. This patron is a frequent, though not exclusive, source for adventure hooks and funds. The patron is intended to be largely trustworthy and likable, because I want the motivation for the players to go on adventures to be as quick and painless as possible, rather than players needing to agonize over whether or not they trust this guy. The continent of Balioth has not been thoroughly explored, and a great deal of gameplay may involve wilderness exploration. Ideally, I will also write personal storylines for each player, so that they might talk the rest of their party into helping them pursue those quests (for when they want to do something different for awhile). Unlike the West Marches style of campaign that this whole plan draws from, though, there absolutely can be adventures in the main city - it's just that the players will probably always have that city as their home base, unless they all agree to relocate.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

D&D Next: Off the Cuff, Round 3

So hey, there's a new D&D Next Playtest packet that arrived last night. Neat! According to the playtest summary, they've updated monsters and experience points, added a chapter on magic items, and updated the Caves of Chaos adventure. Obviously, I would have liked a new class update also, blah blah whinycakes, but I'm excited about magic items, so I'll jump right in.

Within the first three paragraphs, they're saying things that I like, as they talk about magic items having secrets and history. This is exactly how I think things should work - though I don't expect that their published material will work in my campaign all that often, as long as there are hooks for magic items to have story presence and a sense of objective reality beyond the way it changes the numbers on my sheet, I can work with it. My feelings on "magic items are almost never available for purchase" are more complex - because what are the players going to buy with the cash they pile up, if not magic items? But the rules do provide a broad guideline for magic item values, so there's definitely room for multiple approaches even within these playtest rules. I'm also pretty much fine with players not selling their magic items to optimize their loadout, but instead wielding whatever the game brings their way. As a particular anecdote, in the AE game I play, I've enjoyed the fact that my greathammer-wielding warmain switches to a longsword whenever we come up against incorporeal creatures, rather than having a weapon for all seasons. It is another small thing to help those fights feel different in my memory.

Around the time they were first pushing Essentials 4e, WotC also started talking a lot about magic item rarity classes as a rules mechanic. They've brought those terms back to the table here, but with a completely different mechanical meaning. This time around, rarity is more like an in-character term to describe power and value. Obviously it has some issues with connotation vs. denotation; if, for example, there are actually only six sets of drums of panic in the world, their denotative "rarity" is extremely high, completely out of proportion with their actual power. It's interesting to me, though, that they go on to provide magic item tables such that players really will keep getting relatively large numbers of low-level items throughout the campaign - but let's face it, I haven't the faintest intention of randomly rolling treasure and obeying the roll throughout the course of the campaign. I never have before, and I'm not going to start now.

The magic item identification rules are well and good. Nothing special here; let's move on. Oh, wait. Attunement, you say? Now that's interesting... I'm curious to see where this goes. It looks like it might be a limiter to how much "specialness" a single PC can wield, if attunement is restricted to items that you wouldn't want a PC to have in large numbers. It's not exactly the most innovative mechanic, but I'm happy to see D&D add a few more hooks to its magic item scripting, if you follow me. They don't get into magic item secrets in this section, but it's another of those little hooks to make an item more interesting.

I wasn't really expecting magic item creation rules yet, so I'm not too fussed about their absence. I would like them to be cool, obviously - I hope they'll take their time and blow me away.