Thursday, March 21, 2013

D&D Next: Off the Cuff, Round 6

Welcome back for another round of off-the-cuff review of the newest D&D Next public playtest packet. Tonight the review is particularly powered by insomnia derived from coughing, which I do not care for at all. They've been talking up this packet for awhile - as advertised, it changes things up a whole lot. The Big Deal is the three new classes, of course, but that's just the beginning. I've also spent a bunch of time listening to Mearls and company talk about this playtest packet in their podcasts. Listening to them talk always gives me the strong impression that they know where the game needs to go and what it needs to do, so I can only assume that the problems I'm going to point out are things they have themselves already noticed and addressed. Not that I'm going to let that stop me from writing about it.

To lend some kind of order to this, I'll follow the Read First document's general order.

General Rules

They changed a few things here. Some of the changes are things I don't recall clearly. Grappling is still a total waste of time without some kind of additional enhancement through feats or the like, unless the defender's party is down to pretty much just the one defender. If not, grappling makes the attacker so vulnerable that I don't know why you'd bother. 4e is the only edition worth mentioning for grappling rules that are at all enjoyable, and there only because the Brawler build for fighters is so cinematic. I'm certainly disappointed that Push and Disarm are now gated behind martial feats. Let's try to remember that this is a game in which most classes are going to get four feats, ever, so they won't get to play with more than a tiny number of toys in the Feats list over the lifetime of the character. The design of 3e is bleeding in here, in a worse form than in 3e: look at all these neat toys! No, you can't have any of them, screw off.

The whole approach to feats here (yes, I'm skipping around, that's what "off-the-cuff" is meant to warn you about) loses something I really, really liked about the early parts of their design. Specialties are great as package deals, because they give you a unifying way (I'd call it a theme if it didn't make me so sad that WotC dropped that term) of thinking and talking about the character. Specialties are great if you look at them as a kind of secondary class.

Moving on. I did think that the previous packet's model of having all trained skills improve simultaneously was lacking. It also didn't give the player a chance to learn new skills without spending one of those rare-as-hen's-teeth feat slots. They've gone to the other extreme here. The base skill die is a d6 again. Three times in your career, you can increase one skill by one die size. The design is now much too stingy on skill competence. The good news is that it's easy to buy things outside of your class. Looking at the list of DCs in the DMing chapter of the packet, though... is a total mess. Track is not an independent skill, but it is a function of Wisdom that you have to spend a feat to use. Since it isn't a skill, I guess you can't get skill training in it? So... how were you ever going to hit DC 30? You can't fool me - your Wisdom bonus can't go above +5. Worse than that, the sample cases for low Tracking DCs are things that I could reasonably accomplish better than 50% of the time, and I assure you that I have no special training in tracking.

This is another case of something they talked about as the reason they got rid of rogue skill tricks. They have said that they don't want players to feel like the only way to accomplish some particular action is to buy the feat, maneuver, skill trick, or whatever that grants access to it. Yet that's exactly what these rules hammer home again and again. They want to "sell" interesting abilities to characters in various packaged ways, but there's no available rules concept for an interesting ability being both purchase-gated and not (presumably the latter might involve increased difficulty or paying a temporary resource).

Two-weapon fighting rules (prior to spending feats) have changed again, and greatly increased in power. At this point, if you can pull together any kind of flat add to damage that applies to both hands (such as a +1 weapon in each hand), two-weapon fighting is better than great weapon fighting, by a very small margin. I know they want to not design around this presumption of magic items, but this is one of those cases where you want to at least examine what happens once magic items are on the table. On the other hand, particular feats and class features probably upend every part of this balance, so who knows.

Oh, good, players can still benefit from long rests that are interrupted by a middle-of-the-night encounter. Extensive rules on all the beauty rest that spellcasters need in order to function the next day have no place in the kind of D&D that I want to play or run. (Extensive rules on how elves go into a trance so that they never truly sleep are entirely deserving of this apology. Fortunately, as Kainenchen has pointed out, this same guy went on to work on That Thing I Like. Seriously, his CV is rockin'.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Homebrewed D&D Next: The Outlander

When Torchlight II first came out, I meant to pick it up, but I was in the middle of something or other and it slipped my mind. A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned in G+ how much she and her whole family were enjoying the game, so Kainenchen and I hopped onto Steam and bought copies. We've been enjoying it pretty well since then; we're a short way into Act II now. In particular, I think the character classes are interesting, and the Outlander is a concept I haven't seen all that widely before. It's basically an Arcane Archer, but with any kind of ranged weapon (including guns, which makes it great for Aurikesh), some interesting defensive tricks, and creepy flavor. I guess it's kind of like a ranger that traded in the vaguely druidic bits for wizard or warlock bits. I think they might have had this guy in mind, but who knows?

In fact, I liked it so much that I wrote up the first eight levels of progression for an Outlander class. It uses the basic design principles and format of the current D&D Next playtest packet. There are things that I've included here, such as the fundamental structure of Combat Expertise, that are probably going away as soon as the next packet drops, but that's fine - I'll probably update it on Shieldhaven wiki and post a link, or something. Please pardon any formatting issues.


An outlander is a warrior who has developed a mystical connection with bows or starlock weapons. Most outlanders are drifters, either righting wrongs, creating havoc, or both wherever their travels take them. They tend to remain lightly armored, and they place their greatest trust in their preferred weapons. (Think "arcane ranger.")

While all alignment systems connected to class mechanics suck, if you really care about the Gygaxian nine-alignment model, most outlanders are some variety of chaotic, but these generalizations are stupid anyway.

Creating an Outlander
When you create a character whose first class is outlander, you gain these benefits.
  • Ability Adjustment: +1 to your Dexterity, Intelligence, or Constitution score. Yes, this class really wants you to have two good stats. We'll see if this works.
  • Starting Hit Points: 8 + your Constitution modifier
  • Armor and Shield Proficiencies: Light and medium armor
  • Weapon Proficiencies: Simple weapons, light crossbow, heavy crossbow, longbow, starlock pistol, starlock musket, starlock rifle, blowgun, bolas
You can make an outlander quickly by following these suggestions.
  • Suggested Background: Bounty Hunter
  • Suggested Specialty: Sharpshooter
  • Suggested Equipment: Starlock musket, dagger, 40 bullets, adventurer's kit, 92 gp

Monday, March 4, 2013

D&D Next: A Revised Warlock

This is another of those things that I am not entirely sure it's okay to post, so if someone from Wizards of the Coast comes across this and tells me to take it down, I will do so, with apologies. (That said, I suspect a lot more than this has been posted on forums somewhere.) I've posted additional content for warlocks before, of course.

This is my attempt to update the warlock class from the 8/17/12 playtest packet to the 1/28/13 playtest packet. I have also proposed some new content and made changes that I think are badly-needed fixes, such as the altered mechanics of Verenestra's first pact boon; I note that WotC has trended more and more away from hit point thresholds for effects as the playtest has proceeded. Other than that, I have reiterated as little of the text from the playtest packet as possible and expanded the warlock class only as far as 7th level, a point I've chosen completely arbitrarily. It was necessary to alter the ritual list to match the revised Spells playtest document. The ritual list is still quite bare, and I hope to see that addressed in the future.

Well, okay, there's one other big change. I've overhauled almost every aspect of eldritch blast, because I think that it offers an excellent at-will attack, but 4e shows us that at-will attacks of all kinds are far more interesting if you're choosing between two or three different options that are distinguished by something more than range and damage. To that end, warlocks automatically receive eldritch blast (or its new variant, eldritch blade) and a second at-will attack that does less damage but carries an alternate effect of some kind. It's a shaped force effect, so I thought it would be cool to offer a few other shapes the warlock can assign it. I assume that warlocks would be able to pick up more primary and secondary forces by spending Invocations Known slots. The one other thing that I think warlocks need in a big way is an option internal to the class that supports allies in some way, but I haven't come up with a good idea for that yet.

Likewise, why not let warlocks have a melee option? One of my few deep regrets from my time PCing 4e is that I didn't get to play with the hexblade warlock. Since I'm taking it for granted that WotC would eventually get around to re-releasing such a class or class option, I've posited one form of it here.

Because I'm treating the eldritch attack options as shaped mystical weaponry, it makes sense to me to grant the warlock an expertise progression identical to the cleric's, but restrict that expertise to eldritch blade and eldritch blast attacks, as well as related secondary forces.

Finally, a plotline in Aurikesh has put me in need of powers for infernal warlocks, so I've sketched out what a pact with Graz'zt might look like. This pact is built more on Aurikesh's idiosyncratic interpretation of Hell than on a pure interpretation of Graz'zt in D&D canon, but then my knowledge of same is limited to the linked Wikipedia article.