Monday, September 23, 2013

Homebrewed D&D Next: A New Warlock

I've been running a campaign throughout the playtests to date, and like any other campaign I've ever run, creating my own rules content is just part of how things go. When D&D Next stopped supporting the warlock (quite a long while back), I decided to make my own, based on the evolving design of the playtest packets. Since we've now gotten the last of the public playtest packets, it's a platform that we'll have for... however long the rest of the design and playtesting takes - it's as sturdy a foundation as I can get, for now.

For those who have read the packet in depth, it will be immediately obvious that I have chosen a reskin of the Bard as the core of this design. I did this primarily because I felt that the once-per-encounter Performance mechanic fit reasonably well with what I wanted from warlock pact favors, and their partial-casting mechanic made for an interesting "magical dabbler" that let me add some Vancian magic to the warlock without a full nine-level progression of spells. As it is, their spell list is cribbed from mages, with each pact granting additional spell options.

I have vague thoughts for at least three more pact options, but I haven't written them yet. Most of the class is only written up to 10th level, but I went ahead and stretched the spell list up to 5th-level spells (that is, character level 17).

Warlock

Warlocks enter into compacts with Greater Powers that are, nevertheless, not deities. This pact grants them both pact boons and a limited mastery of spellcasting, though as they often lack the formalized training of clergy or true wizards, the spells at their command can be quite unusual. In the past, warlocks have entered into pacts with the High Lords of the Fey, the Powers of Hell, the Abominations (archmages driven mad and warped to horror by traveling to the five planets), and the dead powers of the Ghostlands.

Creating a Warlock
Background: Charlatan
Equipment: Leather armor, light crossbow, dagger, rod, adventurer's kit, and 90 gp

THE WARLOCK
Level Proficiency Bonus Spells Known Features
1 +1 -- Forbidden Knowledge, Pact, Eldritch Force
2 +1 2 Spellcasting
3 +2 3 Pact Boon, Pact Spell
4 +2 3 Ability Score Improvement
5 +2 4 Pact Spell
6 +2 4 Pact Boon
7 +3 5 Counter Curse
8 +3 5 Improved Eldritch Force
9 +3 6
10 +3 6 Ability Score Improvement

Sunday, September 22, 2013

D&D Next: Off-the-Cuff, Final (?) Round

Wow, crazy - this might be the last of my reviews of a new playtest packet. Or not; there are a number of notes in this packet that suggest that it isn't quite as final as they've claimed, such as the reference to additional paladin paths coming out... eventually. Anyway, the change log for this packet is freakin' massive (though uncommonly detailed), with extensive changes to most classes, a new class, a lot of new races, a total overhaul of the whole approach to skills... look, it's a big deal, okay? The single biggest thing is that the math is overhauled - I'm pretty sure this is the math overhaul they've been on about for, what, six months or more? There's an inherent scaling bonus, based on character level, that applies to anything where you can claim "proficiency" - weapon attacks, saving throw DC, skills, saving throws (if your class is proficient), I don't even know what else. Anyway, let's start this up.

Races

There are five new races, but the important thing as far as I'm concerned is that they removed elven immunity to charm (knocked down to advantage on saving throws) and non-magical sleep effects. Actually, I'm curious: how many sources of magical sleep are there in the game, to which the elf is immune? The Bestiary turns up araneas, beholders, green hags, and rakshasas, along with a huge number of sleep-immune creatures, while the Spell List turns up only the sleep spell itself and the Magic Item list has nothing at all. So it can matter in the game's long-term, since most of the people and things that cast it have the option of casting with a higher-level slot to affect more hit points' worth of creatures.

Dwarven stonecunning is cut way down in its function, going from being kind of interesting but rarely applicable to less interesting and even more rarely applicable. At least it retains the immunity to getting lost underground. The rest of the long-standing races saw little change, but we have five new races - kender (fuckin' kender... kleptomania does not make for a satisfying group experience), dragonborn (thumbs up), tieflings (thumbs up; I wish there were aasimar too), drow (sure, whatever... I'm interested enough in reworking the drow racial backstory that I like having rules I didn't have to write), and warforged (more like 4e warforged than 3e).

What I notice about the new races is that they have a smaller number of more significant traits. This is both good and bad - good because it's easier to both remember and focus on the smaller number of traits, bad because I had gotten interested in the idea of marking some racial traits as "natural" and others as "cultural." (Obviously, this doesn't work with humans, who have only one thing to take away, but I've always disliked D&D Next's rules for humans.) You could potentially sub out the Warforged AC bonus for some other kind of chassis modification (as happened with Warforged variants in 3.x), though I'd need to put some thought into exactly what +1 AC is worth in the bounded-accuracy environment. There's nothing in the dragonborn or tiefling that really suggests itself as culture rather than physiognomy. Anyway, that's my notion, not theirs - I can't fairly knock WotC for not meeting a goal they weren't pursuing.

Classes

The class changes aren't a massive new vision. This is an iteration on the last packet's classes, plus an overhaul to every kind of skill. Let me start, though, with the growing problem of D&D Next class design: a hardline approach to simplicity and ease of use for new players is in tension with the common desire among experienced players for a new character choice of some kind upon leveling. With multi-classing in the game now (on which more later), you can choose to another class, so there's that level of customization. As long as you're staying within a class, though, you make some skill choices at first level, a Path choice at third level, and unless you're a bard, mage, or monk, all of your choices from there on out are ability score or feat choices. This highlights the problem with giving classes a different number of ability score/feat choices; some classes get to make an interesting decision more often. The best I can hope for in class design at this point is that a later rules module offers a radical new approach to classes and customization.

I have touched on proficiency bonuses already, but let me go back to that. I have read a lot of comments in D&D Next discussions, and 4e discussions for that matter, that people don't like how a rogue or a cleric often has the same hit chance with an attack as a fighter does. These viewpoints interpret attack bonus as skill with weapons, which is a misunderstanding of what the game is asserting by setting these numbers to be equal. Yes, attack bonus signified skill with weapons in 3.x and earlier editions, but we've left every part of that dynamic behind. Attack bonus is the gatekeeper, if you will, for ability to contribute to an encounter; since missing usually means you make no progress, it's maddening to think of a rogue or cleric just being 25% less likely to have a useful round of action. 4e and D&D Next carry the thematic concept of superior skill with weapons in the number of extra attacks a fighter gets, extra feats (regrettably), and a wide variety of weapon-based tricks (Weaponmaster path) or passive bonuses (Warrior). It all comes back to making melee attacks a valid use of cleric's turn, not a distant fallback option that has no particular hope of success. The other thing they want to avoid is situations where an encounter either challenges the combat monster and rolls over the rest of the party, or bores the combat monster and challenges the rest of the party. Bounded accuracy is their solution.

Another weird thing about proficiency - because of this rule, saving throw DCs for spells add upward from 8 rather than 10. That is, all classes' spell DCs are 8 + relevant ability score bonus + proficiency bonus (unless you're a paladin or ranger, in which case you have no way to apply your proficiency bonus).

Proficiency with tools is conceptually weird, in that I'm not sure how I'd list that information on a character sheet to make any sense. I've been looking around in the documents, and while I know how I would handle this, but I can't actually tell if it's correct by the rules. Can I use a healer's kit as part of a Wisdom/Medicine check that I am otherwise proficient in, and if so, do I apply my proficiency bonus twice? (The rules for the healer's kit in the Equipment chapter only make this more confusing - apparently I have to be proficient in the healer's kit to gain my proficiency bonus from Medicine to Wisdom/Medicine checks?) What is the general process for resolving a trap or locked door? The explanation is buried in the Equipment chapter, under the description of thieves' tools. They're deliberately altering the paradigm of what they call a "skill" (tossing out 20+ years of how every roleplaying game works), but they've done about as bad of a job of presenting that information as one could imagine. I think there's a functional idea under all of this, but they need to take it from the top on explaining it.

Barbarians are first in alphabetical order, so let's start there. Barbarians derive one skill, out of three, from their class (and honestly I'm shocked that humans don't choose one extra class skill...), and gain their proficiency bonus on Strength and Constitution saving throws - you know, the components of Fortitude. They also have proficiency in mounts as tools, which is a roundabout way of saying that barbarians are able riders. Raging no longer grants advantage on Strength-based attacks - I love this change, because it means the barbarian's player still needs to look for ways to gain advantage even if the character has turned off his brain. Oh wait, that's not true... they just wait until second level, when Reckless Attack is basically always-on if they're raging. Reckless Attack is now written to punish you for not raging. Bleah.

Instead of resistance to weapon damage, raging grants temporary hit points - I'm fine with this, as it means the barbarian can mitigate all kinds of damage, not just weapon damage. They don't need armor as gear again; since they only get proficiency in Light and Medium armor, I expect that most barbarians will start play with medium armor (since their Dex bonus will be +2 or less, while their Con bonus will be +3 or less) and pile on enough ability score improvements (after boosting Strength to 20) that they shed the armor. This is okay, I guess, but getting that kind of benefit out of having three very good ability scores means that feats are less appealing for the barbarian and the monk than for most characters.

Barbarians also gain their Extra Attack at fifth level like fighters, but do not get a second Extra Attack later. I think they forgot to consider this change when writing the multi-classing rules, because it makes some odd things happen in the rules around when you gain a second attack: a barbarian 4/fighter 3 technically gains only one attack, even though a 5/2 or 2/5 split would have a second attack. A particularly narrow reading of the rules suggests that a rogue 1/barbarian 7 would not gain a second attack, but this is obnoxious and no rational person should entertain such an interpretation.

Friday, September 20, 2013

LARP Design: Fear Mechanics

Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
 --"The Waste Land," T.S. Eliot

Now that another DtD event has been put to bed, I can get back to writing here - and today I want to talk about one of the most divisive mechanics in LARP design, at least where I'm from. As always when I'm talking about something contentious, I hope to lay out all of the major perspectives in a empathetic way and analyze them fairly. In some cases I'm going to draw conclusions about why people feel the way they do about things - let's hope that people can be okay with me being wrong some of the time, and understand that even when I disagree, I would never maliciously misrepresent someone's views.

On one hand, you have the arguments of those who dislike Fear effects for what they physically require the player to do. This comes from a long background of Fear effects causing players to flee long distances ("keep running for 15 minutes") or just stay out of the battle ("break line of sight for 15 minutes"). It's generally balanced as "crowd control" rather than "kill spell," too, and being CC'ed without much hope of escape for 15 minutes isn't great. There certainly are fights that last for more than 15 minutes - a field battle of less than an hour feels rushed, once the PCs have developed a certain level of resilience, and God only knows how long the battle at Raven's Sleep went on, but I would be shocked if it weren't closer to four hours than three.

The point here is that this specific implementation of Fear is the problem for some portion of the larger set of people who say they don't like Fear effects. I can honestly say that I have never heard anyone defend that implementation, but "100% of the people I've talked to about this" is still a trivial portion of the overall population of American LARPers, much less LARPers worldwide. The received wisdom for awhile there - I first heard this idea in 2001 - was that Fear effects should act as a Repel/Shun. That is to say, while under this effect, the target is compelled by fear to stay at least 10 feet away from the caster and not attacking the caster. The good side of this is that you stay in the action - you don't get to fight that one guy, but there are other people to fight. (If there aren't other people to fight, the battle will probably be over very soon and you won't have to worry about it.)

The other common implementation-side fix has been to use Decree: Flee as a stand-in for Fear. Decree: Flee forces the target to flee for ten seconds. It's a way to crowd-control a target for twenty seconds, and as far as that goes it has a lot in common with a warlock's fear effects in World of Warcraft. (There's nothing wrong with that.) More recently, we've seen some use of Voice Effect - Decree: Flee, again standing in for fear, while also accomplishing the goal of breaking up a dogpile on a field battle boss and getting the boss some breathing room again (often so that the boss's minions can interpose themselves again). We've also seen Knockdown and Knockback used in about the same manner, without any implication of fear-effect in the theme. This is very useful mechanistic stuff, if used with care and forethought.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Gamer Effect is Having a Contest!

So, a week or so ago, I asked my pals in G+ to talk up my blog in the Comments section of The Gamer Effect's post about their $50 Gamer Giveaway.

A Brief and Tragicomic Digression

I don't know enough about the market value of a gamer to guess whether a $50 gamer is bargain-bin or the bee's-knees, but there's a contest, so I guess it's good? (Actually, that's not what's going on at all. It's really two different $25 prizes. Yes, I can read, for really reals, not for play-play.)

Back On Topic

Anyway, the point of my posting here was that I finally read the post in sufficient detail to realize that I needed to post a link to their contest here, and now I have done so. Twice!

Apropos of Nothing

Because of an upcoming Dust to Dust event, and another following close on its heels, this blog will probably remain pretty content-light until the beginning of November or thereabouts. I miss you too, blog! To say nothing of my charming and discerning readers, who show their good taste by following this blog.