Thursday, June 20, 2013

D&D Next: A Revised Sorcerer

One of the early public playtest packets included the sorcerer class. On its face, it is an arcane class that uses a spell-point system rather than Vancian casting - nothing to get excited about. The packet presented only one sorcerous bloodline for use, though, and that revealed a great deal about where they might be going with these rules. The sorcerer might not be anything special, but the draconic sorcerer is more dynamic and rockstar than any other class WotC has yet released. It accomplishes this by having the class gradually spend one set of powers to build up another set of powers. As the character exhausts Willpower to cast spells (a daily resource), the character gains minor benefits to melee damage and durability that last for the rest of the day. My players were definitely excited about this implementation of a gish (fighter/arcane caster) concept, so I've taken it upon myself to write up an alternate model until WotC releases something new.

As with the revised warlock that I posted some months ago (and need to revise again, to bring it in line with the style of the current packet), this sorcerer is designed according to the style of other classes in the packet. It is a pretty weird class, though, with a little more attribute-management than current classes. (The Aurikesh players who have been interested in this class have been the kind of people who are comfortable with complexity, and I designed it with my guess as to their tastes in mind.)

The Sorcerer

Creating a Sorcerer: When you create a character whose first class is sorcerer, you gain these benefits.
  • Ability Adjustment: +1 to your Constitution or Charisma score.
  • Starting Hit Points: 8 + Constitution modifier.
  • Armor and Shield Proficiencies: Light armor (but see below; many types of sorcerers gain additional armor training)
  • Weapon Proficiencies: Simple weapons (but see below; many types of sorcerers gain additional weapon training)

Level Attack Bonus Spellcasting Bonus Power Spells Known Maximum Spell Level Class Features
1 +1 +1 2 2 1 Cantrips, Sorcery, Sorcerous Blood, First Transformation Power
2 +1 +1 3 3 1
3 +1 +2 5 4 2
4 +1 +2 7 5 2 Second Transformation Power
5 +2 +2 12 6 3 Deadly Strike (roll twice)
6 +2 +2 17 7 3
7 +2 +2 26 8 4
8 +2 +3 35 9 4 Third Transformation Power

You can make a sorcerer quickly by following these suggestions.

Background: Artisan
Specialty: Reaper (draconic sorcery) or Defender (royal sorcery)
Equipment (draconic sorcery): Chain mail, greatsword, dagger, adventurer's kit, healer's kit, and 4d6 gp
Equipment (royal sorcery): Studded leather, morningstar, dagger, adventurer's kit, light crossbow, 10 bolts, healer's kit, and 2d6 gp

Friday, June 14, 2013

D&D Next: Additional At-Will Weapon Attack

So I have been thinking about how I would rebuild the long-neglected sorcerer for the current D&D Next environment. Though this is not currently well-supported in D&D Next, one of the best design lessons of 4e is that characters should have two clear at-will options that are constantly available. (Actually, they should have three, at least one of which is ranged and at least one of which is melee.) This presents the question of what else to give weapon-wielding classes like fighters and sorcerers. I start with the assumption that I want to stay in that same theme of an attack driven by the same weapon in hand. Also, my campaign uses the Give Ground rule that I created some months ago, and some of the things that I like about the idea I'm going to discuss specifically come from interaction with the Give Ground rule.

The existing at-will weapon attack is the point from which I'm creating a variation. The 4e power format helps with its clarity here:

Weapon Attack
Standard Action, Melee, weapon's base reach
Target: One creature
Attack: Attribute + Class bonus + Magic vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + Attribute + Magic

Now, 4e released a huge number of at-will attacks over its lifespan, certainly, so there are any number of conceivable variations. I'd like to keep things pretty simple, though, because the core design aesthetic of D&D Next is that simplicity - one step of change or development from any given ability, which as often as possible is coded into the die roll itself rather than math following the die roll (cf. advantage/disadvantage, skill training mechanics, weapon mastery).

I've also been interested to see how the game currently handles Two-Weapon Fighting, a much saner and cleaner rule than seen in earlier packets: the character makes one attack with each weapon, but applies the attribute bonus to damage only to the main-hand attack. This gives the two-weapon fighter a very small damage advantage over the course of a round, as compared to the d12 of a greatsword, but there are enough other good and bad sides to this that we can pretty well call it a wash. Frankly, I'm impressed that they managed this.

What I'm suggesting, then, is an at-will attack that reflects a sweeping two-target attack. The targets have to be adjacent to each other and to the attacker (grid rules) or "close enough that this makes sense" (theater of the mind rules). Instead of getting the full damage die to each attack, though, the damage steps down by one die size for one-handed weapons and two die sizes for two-handed weapons: d12, d10, d8, d6, d4, d3.

Sweeping Attack
Standard Action, Melee, weapon's base reach
Target: Two creatures adjacent to one another and within your reach
Attack: Attribute + Class bonus + Magic vs. AC to each target
Hit: 1[W-1 or W-2] + Magic; apply Attribute bonus only once

Some Mathy Stuff Follows

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

D&D Next: Off the Cuff, Round 7

The new D&D Next playtest packet came out just as I was leaving town for the weekend, but better late than never, right? Three major areas have changed in this packet, along with a few smaller changes that (for whatever reason) they declined to document in the Read This First pdf. So you get to hear me kvetch about races again (balance? what balance? fuck balance), go through the Spells document in as much detail as I can stand, and poke at the basic function changes of the How to Play document. From running Aurikesh, though, I've learned that changes to the How to Play document are the least important to me - when I'm making an on-the-spot call in the middle of a session, there is no chance whatsoever that I'll remember the new tweak to the Prone condition or whatever. Which is why it's good that my players don't know the rules either - no arguments!

New Races

So it's totally cool and all that there are rules for gnomes, half-elves, and half-orcs now. I mean, they're not good rules, but they certainly exist! Keep in mind that elves are still immune to charm and sleep effects, and their subraces either gain speed and stealth or an extra at-will attack. Dwarven subraces grant either more hit points or better AC - combat functions that come up every single time someone makes an attack against the dwarf. Halfling luck is... different from what I remembered, because now they only get a re-roll whenever they roll a 1, but they aren't limited to any number of times per day. I suspect that will play oddly with some future class mechanic, though; I'm sure something in the theme of Wild Mage or Chaos Sorcerer is just a few months down the line.

Gnomes get remarkable resistance to mental magic (any magic that forces an Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma saving throw). I take from this that the Bestiary will clarify whether any given monster's effect is magical or not, though I hope this won't take the form of Extraordinary/Supernatural/Spell-Like as we saw in 3.x. Recalling the rules effects of each of those types has never been easy for me, but when they matter, they matter a lot. Anyway, the gnome subrace abilities (side note: changing "subrace" to "ethnicity" or something would make me happy) support trickster-style gameplay, but it would be a stretch to say they come up often in most campaigns. I applaud DMs who make Speak with Small Beasts useful, while minor illusion and the Tinker ability are both primarily for entertaining others or creating distractions. Interesting, at least, if not powerful by any means.

Half-elves and half-orcs are the real problem children. I'm pretty sure 4e is the only edition where half-elf and half-orc are reasonably balanced against both of their parent races, because 4e followed a rigid template for race creation. Half-elves have slightly more freedom in their stat bonuses than elves, but they have resistance where elves gain immunity, and the same Keen Senses - but no subrace abilities. Half-orcs gain three points of ability scores, which is great, but beyond that they have only Darkvision and advantage on rolls to intimidate a target. At this point, I think I'd prefer to see half-elf and half-orc implemented as subraces of human, alongside other human subraces that are differentiated based on culture of origin.
Let's be honest with ourselves: Forgotten Realms for D&D Next will definitely have some kind of rules differentiating Chondathan humans from Waterdhavian humans from Halruaan humans. If the core rules don't implement something along those lines, FR's rule will be nothing but power creep.
Anyway, let's hope the new races are in draft form, and the designers either improve them to match the earlier races or tone down the egregious power of the elves and dwarves to match these new races. It should be obvious enough which way I prefer!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Monsters of Aurikesh: Thralls of Mask and Orb

It's been rather a while since I've posted any Aurikesh content. Admittedly, they're of interest to a narrower group than some of my other subjects, but much like I said the last time I wrote a Monsters of Aurikesh post, I want to get better at creature design. Also I apparently have some surrealist horror in my hindbrain that is... mimsy, like unto a borogrove.

I started work on this idea with scribbling down names, most of which were nonsense syllables of calamitous intent, not all of which passed the playground test, much less the cool-enough-for-use test. I liked "orb spawn" for awhile, but kept fiddling with it until I got to "orb thrall." Turning it around and adding in a second, related idea (thralls of the mask) helps it to feel less like a straight lift of Brust's work... not that I'm shy about stealing from my favorite authors when the time is right, but with some of the other things already in the setting, this wasn't that time.

Stats are below the cut, so that my players can preserve their fear and ignorance if they want. (If you want to read the stats, though, I don't mind.)

Thralls of the Orb

In the eastern domains of the continent of Balioth - Gallmonte, Kaldeshar, and Tyrema - people have begun to encounter creatures very similar to beruch, but distinctly wrong. Instead of reddish, their skin is gray, like dead flesh, and where the beruch have cloudy white crystalline growths, these creatures have smooth black stone, like marble. More rarely, these creatures have no eyes, only a single orb of green stone like the eye of a cyclops. When they are aggressive, the eyeless ones are the leaders (or perhaps shamans?) of their squads; some kind of connection through the stone of the leaders and the thralls increases the power of the leaders' attacks against the opponents the thralls strike in combat.

The goals of these "thralls of the Orb" (a name revealed in a telepathic conversation) are not yet widely known, but violence is their primary means to that end. When the legates of the Orb win a battle, they focus their "gaze" on the bodies of their captured or dead enemies. A beam of grayish light emerges from the legate's eye and constructs a copy of that person as an Orb thrall. If the target is a beruch, the newly-constructed being is a legate of the Orb instead. The legates are known to negotiate terms for the return of their captives, revealing their need for the same food and drink that most non-veytikka favor.

Thralls of the Mask

  • 1561 KR: The first performance of the new opera Aquiline Transcendent in Merrionbard (a province of Ferradona) sets off two days of rioting. Count Orichell Greenwater closes all theaters in Merrionbard for eight months and arrests several of the actors for treason, though they are later released under the condition that they never return to Merrionbard.
  • 1564 KR: The revelers of a Gallmontese courtly masquerade vanish overnight, without any sign of struggle. Wherever they went, they took their masks along with them. Their families have offered extraordinary rewards for their safe return, but they have received no response.
  • 1565 KR: A series of high-profile thefts take place in Grevanda, Grand Terrace, and Adeschon, apparently committed by violent thugs wearing papier-mâché masks and wearing tattered finery. None of them were apprehended alive; they fought to the death rather than face capture. The Prince of Grevanda and the Reeve of Adeschon have attempted to hush the whole thing up, apparently to avoid a panic... or a diplomatic incident.

Thralls of the Mask are another new threat across the breadth of Balioth. Newly-made Mask thralls look like normal people wearing expensive, beautiful masks and (typically) fine garb. They lose all care for the maintenance of their clothing, however, and over time their finery becomes ragged and torn, even as their flesh hardens into grotesquely corded muscle. A band of Mask thralls is led by a grace-of-the-Mask, and there are reports of still more outlandish individuals bound to the Mask... whatever it is.

Mask thralls seem reluctant to attack normal people who are wearing masks, and on some occasions a grace-of-the-Mask is even willing to converse with such people. Beware, however, for the grace-of-the-Mask will surely demand a contest of some kind - of wit, of dueling, of pure will - and defeat in such an encounter snuffs out one's individual will. From that point forward, the person is a Mask thrall, body and soul. If one could defeat a grace-of-the-Mask in such a contest, though, it might be possible to end the Mask's control over not only that person, but the whole band of thralls.

Stats below the cut. I am struck by how... un-badass monsters are in D&D Next.