Friday, 7 December 2012

The Drow of Xen'drik (part 4)

These posts are copies of the summary emails I write for our DnD group. The current mini-adventure is an Eberron tale, set in the jungles of Xen'drik, where the party are taking the roles of drow (and one dwarf). Whilst I take great effort to follow Eberron canon, there are undoubtedly bits where my story strays or contradicts stuff. I'm aware, this is my story, and we're not playing to create new canon, but to have fun. So, read on and enjoy!


The Ancient City

The ancient white dragon (it was still going nameless, not deeming the party as worthy of sharing its name with) flew the group across many miles of jungle, and deposited them on the outskirts of the city.  It refused to go nearer than the tree-line, haunted memories of their war with the giants keeping it at bay.  Still, it nodded to Ryltar, and bid them good fortune on their quest.  Then, it took to the air, and went to collect the Curra, Kami and the others.

D'Jhudi'it took the lead, as usual, as they moved into the ruined city.  The buildings, ranging from mud and stone huts to more extravagant structures, were all old and untouched for many years, if not centuries.  The jungle had slowly encroached on the land, but the giants' magic still held much of it at bay - as it held many of the structures in as good a condition as when they had been inhabited, 40,000 years ago.  The main structure - the Azure Tower, which rose 1,000 feet above the ground - was an example of their ability with magic.

But first, they had to travel through the outer huts, many of which were barely large enough to fit Ryltar within.  Many millennia ago, their ancestors may have lived in such dwellings.  As slaves, they would have been forced to dwell in them.  But at the moment, they were empty.  Apart, unfortunately, from the mind flayer, and his troops.

Shadows within Shadows

The first of the shadow-infused quicklings leapt forward and struck at Quayanorl and Ryltar.  The beasts were barely the size of goblins, but they seemed to meld with the shadows, darting forth to flank and bring great pain, before withdrawing again into cover.  Along with Ryltar's controlling presence, the combined elemental might of Quay, Brenna and Bel'Tarayne held back the tide.  That was, until the two assassins showed. 

Much like the party, the drow assassins had ebony skin, sharp eyes, and a tendency for clouds of darkness.  However, what they didn't have was a set of legs.  Where most of the others had two legs, they had a vaporous mass of smoke, which drifted and merged with the shadows about them.  They moved easily over the ground, barely bobbing as their torsos floated unnaturally towards their prey. 

Bel' and Quay had heard rumours of this before - Umbragen drow who had given themselves so deeply over to the shadowy presence they followed that parts of their body had actually become shadows.  Usually, such words were dismissed as folklore, but after seeing it themselves, they could no longer doubt.  Brenna especially found their foe to be a nasty enemy, as their poison spread and infected her very vision, causing her eyes themselves to go dark.  She eventually overcame the blindness, but not before Ryltar faced, and was temporarily dominated by, a mind flayer. 

Cleaning Crew and Observation Deck

Further search into the city brought mixed results.  The large canals cut through the streets proved a minor inconvenience, allowing Quay to reveal another of his abilities.  The ancient gelatinous cubes that were bred to clean the canals tried to collect the party, but they decided to leave them be, and continued on to the observation deck.

The platform hovered roughly 300 feet above the ground, supported purely by magic.  Three large metal discs reacted to weight, and rose from the ground to the platform.  However, not all the magic was still intact.  The platform slanted at almost 45 degrees, making movement most difficult.  Ryltar skittered about the area, but it was D'Jhudi'it who recognised the pattern of crystal stones in the floor as matching constellations in the sky above.  Sadly, the sights once given from the platform were no longer viewable, due to its deterioration and dangerous slope.

The Azure Tower

The Azure Tower itself was a mighty structure, with walls thicker than some of the mud huts, and rooms large enough to fit an entire house inside.  Four lifts sat in the eastern wall, though three had fallen, their magic waning over the years, and each in turn crashing to the basement below.  The final lift was till working, and was strangely cheerful.  Happy to have people to converse with after so long alone, the lift carried them through the various levels of the tower, pointing out the interesting locations, such as the observation deck and dining hall; the workshop; and the conservatory. 

The dining hall's security system was still active, so the party first needed to find a crystal card to allow them access past the enchantments.  The first guess was the workshop, but the only thing there, aside from a number of old rituals and giant books, was an angry Iron Golem sentry.  So to the conservatory they travelled!

There, overrunning the entire floor and creeping into those above and below, was an overly large intelligent vine - and it was hungry for meat.  D'Jhudi'it and Ryltar came close to being snacked upon, whilst Bel' and Quay fought off swarms of stirges who sought out their scrumptious skin.  Once the gardening was complete, the vines parted, and some back-burning performed, the ancient skeleton of one of the botanists was found.  His crystalline pass-card was retrieved, and the group finally made it into the top floor.

A View of the Finale

Aside from the ancient kitchen, and tables scattered to allow patrons to enjoy the impressive view, there were stands complete with far-seeing divination spells, allowing for intense scrutiny of distant locations.  Some were free to move and roam about the jungle or the eastern coast, others were set up to look at areas of the distant mountainside.  One of these was aimed at another tower, on a small plateau over halfway up a mountain.  The tower was a strange, twisting display of stone and earth, quite alien to the designs of both the drow and giants of old.  Unlike most of the other locations, there was activity here, a dozen or so individuals scurrying about and performing some sort of preparations.

When the site was shown to Curra, she gasped.  The seeker recognised the site only too well, for it was the tower of her dreams.  It was not an eladrin fey spire, as previously though, but rather, a thing of Quori origin.  This tower was left over from when the Quori had invaded Eberron so many millenia ago.  And it looked like someone intended to start that invasion over again...

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Drow of Xen'drik (part 3)

These posts are copies of the summary emails I write for our DnD group. The current mini-adventure is an Eberron tale, set in the jungles of Xen'drik, where the party are taking the roles of drow (and one dwarf). Whilst I take great effort to follow Eberron canon, there are undoubtedly bits where my story strays or contradicts stuff. I'm aware, this is my story, and we're not playing to create new canon, but to have fun. So, read on and enjoy!


The Downed Airship

The crashing, and subsequently burning, airship was of interest, but Curra was not eager to race ahead for it.  This area needed to be searched, and failing to do that was a failure of the mission.  Ultimately, it was decided that three of the party - Kami, who was not expected to be terribly helpful with their searching (and who was starting to grumble about not having any rum); along with Brenna, whose exact role in the team had not yet been decided, were both deemed 'expendable' to the current search parameters.  Though it made her feel uncomfortable, Curra agreed that Ryltar was the best option to head the side-trek.  His speed allowed for greater retreat should things go wrong, and his loyalty meant that the trio would return, should they still be alive.

The trek to the ship took another two days, but the trails of smoke (both from the burning ship and the surrounding trees) made it easy to navigate the unfamiliar forests.  When they arrived, the partially destroyed shipwreck was silent. There were bodies, some killed in the explosion, others dead from injuries suffered in the crash.  Some bodies were thrown clear, only to be impaled on trees, or broken against the ground...or savaged by wild animals.  Only later was it determined as to just what these animals were.

Kami noted that a number of the bodies wore clothes and jewellery familiar with her home province - the Lhazaar Principalities, though like all who hail from the far eastern coast of Khorvaire, they held no allegiance.  Others were clearly Valenar elves, vicious mercenaries for hire, who had annexed a large section of land from Cyre, the nation who had hired them during the Last War. 

The cargo instantly identified the ship as smugglers, even if Kami hadn't been there to offer the same information.  Various treasures, including tapestries, jewellery, and chests of rare (and quite old) coins sat alongside armour, weapons, and other trinkets.  Kami found a shield, whilst Brenna recovered three dragonshards, and pocketed them for further use.

Towards the back of the cargo area, two more disturbing crates of goods were found.  The first were dragon eggs, showing that the smugglers had little concern for their own lives (for stealing from dragons was always a foolish thing, but stealing their eggs was simple suicide).  The second were full suits of armour that, instead of being hollow and ready for wearing, had bodies within them made from wood, metal, stone, and leather.  Kami was again able to offer information the drow did not have - "warforged" was what they were called, a living construct created and used in the Last War.  These all were damaged, however, and none of them responded to anything...but for one. 

Whilst examining them, Kami touched, and felt the cold metal shudder.  It rose, and then seemed intent on following her.  It did not seem to have a mind of its own, like the ones used in the War, but instead was a much simpler construct, set to follow her orders and do as she commanded.  There was little time to test its capabilities out, as the owners of the stolen goods returned.

Angered Dragons

A thunderous earthquake dragon, along with a unit of savage Argonnessen-tribe-barbarians, approached the ship from the forest.  Without waiting, Brenna moved to the top of the ship, and sent gouts of flame to consume some of the barbarians, and the battle was on.  A second dragon, green in colour, circled around overhead with a dragonborn sorcerer on its back.  The two caused great destruction, almost collapsing the ship, and taking down Brenna whilst Ryltar and the brown dragon struggled with each other outside.  Their match ended with the scorrow strangling the dragon, crushing the creature's scaled neck enough to knock it out.  It would have died, too, had not the colossal form of a white dragon brought a swift end to the battle.  Demanding that everyone stop fighting, it berated the drow for their attack on the dragons, it reminded them that it was they, the dragons, that saved the drow civilisation.  Back when the giants were going to quell the slave uprising, when they were going to turn the terrible magics that had stopped the Dal Quor invaders, it was the dragons of Argonnessen who had swept in and ended things, and so saved Eberron from being ripped apart.

There were more pressing matters, too.  The ancient white dragon brought with it news of two more airships searching for their missing vessel, and they were closing in.  The dragon could take down one, but asked for the drow's help (along with the remnants of the Green and Brown dragon's tribesmen) to handle the second.  Agreeing to this, an uneasy truce was formed, and the group waited as the ships rolled in over the trees from the east. 

The Elves Attack

It was only a matter of time before the ancient white dragon defeated the third airship.  The green, along with its rider, flew to the second, leaving the rest to take on the ground troops.  A small skiff detached from the side of the vessel as it moved closer, depositing six Valenar soldiers on the ground.  Outnumbered 2-1, the elves moved in without fear, and set to work on evening those odds.

The remaining barbarians fell before the swift double-scimitars favoured by the Aerenal elven fighting style, and had it not been for Ryltar's fierce control of the battlefield, Kami and Brenna would surely have followed.  But the elves were not expecting fierce and powerful warriors - dragons, or tribesmen, they could have handled.  The drow, and Kami with her restocked rum bottles, proved far more ferocious.

As a second ship fell, its crew being picked off by the hungry dragons, the third tried to escape its inevitable fate and fled to the coast.  It would not get far - it had been badly damaged, and would not last another day in the air, let alone the week-long journey back to Khorvaire.

To the Tower

Once they had seen to their wounds, the party was ready to head out once again.  The white dragon had promised to take them towards a city that had a "tall tower", matching descriptions of the one they were searching, and the green dragon was going to find Curra and the others, and point them in the right direction.

Could their quest be nearing an end?  Had their searching finally brought them to the tower of Curra's dreams?

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Drow of Xen'drik (part 2)

These posts are copies of the summary emails I write for our DnD group. The current mini-adventure is an Eberron tale, set in the jungles of Xen'drik, where the party are taking the roles of drow (and one dwarf). Whilst I take great effort to follow Eberron canon, there are undoubtedly bits where my story strays or contradicts stuff. I'm aware, this is my story, and we're not playing to create new canon, but to have fun. So, read on and enjoy!


Woodland Ambush

After the giant ruins that had claimed so much of Quayanorl and Bel'Tarayne's team, the group had not come across anything else of the lost civilisation for almost a week.  That in itself was rare - though the giant civilisation fell roughly 40,000 years ago when they repelled the Dal Quar invasion, they had been around for many thousands of years beforehand.

The first ruin D'Jhudi'it found was not even of giant origin.  Instead, it was an old statue dedicated to the now largely unknown gods of the feykind.  That in itself was enough to put most drow on edge - though they shared a common ancestry with other fey folk, the drow no longer see themselves that way.  Other elves are weaker, and the fey folk are simple creatures.  The animosity is mutual, and so when the large treant sighted the drow, it was quick to attack.

The two nymphs were not enough to guard the treant; even when an ancient satyr protector was called to help, it only succeeded in withdrawing Kami from the rest of the group.  Ultimately, with those who had called it now dead, the Satyr retreated and left.   Its parting words, later translated from its native tongue, spoke of others that it hoped would provide some sort of "mutual annihilation".  This wish was only half fulfilled.

The Dolgrim Slaughter

Within the marshlands, D'Jhudi'it found two all-but-ruined huts, with an alarming number of voices coming from them.  The voices were mostly from a tribe of Dolgrim warriors (with each of the mutant beasts having two mouths, they accounted for quite a bit of noise!).  Lead by a bugbear, and accompanied by a troll, they would have been quite deadly without the addition of the Sulatar drow, whose fire and lightning kept the critters at bay whilst Ryltar joined D'Jhidi'it, and helped take down the troll.

Curra watched the battle with concern.  When the last of the Khyber-beasts was certain to be dead, she moved in for a closer look.  That spawn had crept out from the realm below was bad enough, but these foulspawn had more than just Khyber magic about them.  As each had died, it had gifted a shadow-like barrier around its brethren, making them more sturdy.  Sure, it had not changed the course of the battle, but the implications were disturbing.  Could there be an active daelkyr in the vicinity?  Was there another plague of foulspawn preparing to rise and ravage their homeland?  The daelkyr had arrived approximately nine thousand years ago, breaking through from Xoriat, the Realm of Madness.  They brought about the destruction of the Dhakaani Empire on the Khorvaire continent, allowing for humans and other humanoid races to take over.  But they had left Xen'drik mostly alone.

Her concerns only briefly shared, Curra retreated to study one of the dead more, to read through her notes on Xoriat, and to send messages to others she thought could help.  There were fouler forces at play than just mutated goblins and other monstrous humanoids.  For now, they simply continued their search.

A Giant Defeat

As the sun began to rise, and their night-vision advantage lessened, the dull thumping of running giants was heard behind them.  Curra stiffened, feeling a presence focusing on her, and then through the trees came four giants, wreathed in flames.  A fifth figure, larger than the others, but bearing no solid form, was attached to the giants by lashes of flame, and through these, guided their stampeding actions.  The fire elemental, now sure its prey was near, caused the giants to howl (in rage, or in pain?) and charge forward.  Kami was quick, drawing the others nearby to envelope them in her protective roots, but the protection was not enough to withstand the area of intense flames that leapt about them.  Four individuals in such close proximity was too tempting an opportunity to look past, and so it was that explosion after explosion erupted about them, as the forgecallers distracted the drow, and the flamedancers moved in for the kill.

At first, the elemental seemed all but invulnerable, but as the giants linked to it fell, so did its resistance.  With Bel becoming immune to the flames himself, the creature was subdued...and as the flames died down, Brenna was found within.  Her body now crumpled on the ground, the thick golden collar she wore clicked open, and released her body from the curse she took upon herself.

The drow rested, dealing with burns and cuts as Brenna was stabilised and cared for.  After the busy night they had experienced, they hoped for a quiet day of rest and recuperation.  They continued to hope, right up until the airship crashed.

Signs in the Sky

Kami was the first to recognise it - after all, she was the only one who had experience with the flying vessels used by House Lyrandar.  The tell-tale fire elemental ring glowed brightly in the dawn sky, but Kami instantly knew there was something wrong.  If that ship had been in the sea, instead of floating through the air, it would be taking on a whole lot  of water.  Before she had time to attempt any explanation, there was an explosion, and the ship dropped behind the distant treetops.  Moments later, a second explosion issued forth through the jungle, as fire leapt high, and smoke poured into the morning sky.  Flocks of birds swarmed and cried out as they flew to escape the noise, but for now, nothing further was seen or heard.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Drow of Xen'drik (part 1)

These posts are copies of the summary emails I write for our DnD group. The current mini-adventure is an Eberron tale, set in the jungles of Xen'drik, where the party are taking the roles of drow (and one dwarf). Whilst I take great effort to follow Eberron canon, there are undoubtedly bits where my story strays or contradicts stuff. I'm aware, this is my story, and we're not playing to create new canon, but to have fun. So, read on and enjoy!

Two Years Ago

A dream came to the minds of three prominent figures in three different tribes of the drow of Xen'drik: Xen'kar Gen'thac of the Sulatar drow; Ek'ann Torkak from the Umbragen; and, Curra Xar'cha who led the Vulkoori. Each dream showed a tower, through which a great threat to the drow would arrive. The three who shared the dream - known as "seekers" by the wise ones, priests, and other leaders of each tribe - quickly convinced their tribes to search out this threat, and deal with it before it became too great.

The City of Silver and Bone

It was believed that the dreams referenced Shae Tirias Tolai, an ancient and long-ruined fey-spyre lost deep within the jungles. The fey-spire had been the home of the drow's distant relatives, the eladrin. The spires would flutter between the feywild and the material planes, allowing the eladrin soldiers within to break forth and take what they needed, before vanishing for many years more. However, back in the Age of Giants, the spire had its last jaunt - besieged by the powerful forces of the giant nation at its peak, the spire fell, and all the eladrin were killed or taken captive. Since then, it has stood, empty and forgotten; a hollow shell, testimony to the power of the giants of old.
It was decided that the eladrin spire should be found once more. Now known as the "City of Silver and Bone", the mysterious location was sought after by many parties from each of the three main tribes, each wanting to win favour and renown for their families by making the discovery. But as often happens when folk wandered too long in the Xen'drik jungles, the parties slowly died off, or became too weak to continue alone. Some groups merged with other surviving hunters they came across, others vanished without a trace. Yet others dared return without success, and their humility will remain with their clans for generations to come.

The Hunting Parties

One of the Vulkoori parties was doubly blessed in their number - not only did they have one of the three seekers herself (Curra), but they also had a divine avatar of Vulkoor - the scorrow Ryltar. Membership into this party was sought after, but Curra and Ryltar had the last say, bringing in those they knew and had worked with before, such as the druid scout, D'Jhudi'it. After working together to scour the eastern coast of the continent, they picked up their strange dwarven companion, Kami (a long way removed from her home amongst the Lhazaar Principalities), on their way to the Marsh of Desolation. Their numbers were seven now, with the inclusion of the dwarf, almost half of what they had started with when they had set out from home three moons ago.

The Sulatar seeker, Xen'kar, did not join a search party, and instead ran the structured grid by grid search of the surrounding jungles from his library. He connected to each of his students elected to run the teams via camp fires. Through his powerful magic, he could reach out and give instructions to dozens of such teams throughout the jungle at once. The same ritual allowed him to hear reports and check on the progress of all those who would be his eyes and ears. And being hard-working, eager to please drow, they all wanted to fall into line. Because of this, when a campfire was missing, he knew something was wrong.

The night before the two parties met, Curra and her followers had seen great gouts of fire pouring into the night sky, threatening to take over the surrounding forests, and burn everything in their paths. Fearing another Argonnessen raiding party (it was the season for dragons to scour the forests), they watched and waited, everyone ready for attack or flight, depending on the outcome. But the forest didn't burn, and the silhouettes of dragons against the starry sky were not seen. What was seen were three drow bodies, their skin singed and cut, their clothing bloodied from battle. One did not live to see the rising sun, so great were her wounds, but the other two, who gave their names as Quayanorl and Bel'Tarayne, were able to tell of their deadly encounter.

The First Defeat

They were ten in number: four who were trying to win leadership; five who followed, well aware of their powers; and one who outclassed them all. Not enough to truly be feared, but just enough to be the clear leader...until he was taken down a peg. They had come across some ruins - giant in origin, as most ruins in Xen'drik were. Kas'asar declared that they should be searched, and led the exploration into their depths. She claimed to feel the power hidden within, power of the giants of old, power that would aid them on their mission, or at least give rise to their status in the tribe. What they found, however, was an enclave of giants. They, like all other giants throughout the land, lacked the power and magical abilities of their ancestors, but they had numbers on their side. Over two dozen of the creatures flooded out of the ruins, and half the drow were killed within minutes. The remainder fought back hard, but quickly realised that this was not a fight they could win - not this time, anyway. Thoughts turned to retreat, and another of their number, Brenna, held off three giants with her magical flames whilst allowing the few survivors to escape. Only three did, and now, they were only two.

That meeting was almost a week ago, and though Quayanorl and Bel'Tarayne had hoped to find remnants of their former group elsewhere in the forest, none of them had been seen since. The giants still moved around the ruins, making the search for survivors or captives most dangerous. There were mutterings within the group of the need to move on, and though 'Tarayne felt his heart twinge at the thought of leaving any trace of Brenna behind, he realised that by himself, he would not be able to avenge her, let alone have any hope of finding her again.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Our First Foray into Gamma World

The Game

It started a month ago. A robot rolled down from the foothills to the village edge. The Ancient device buzzed and blinked, then blew up. The same thing happened the next day, and the next, and almost every day since. However, on at least four occasions, a robot succeeded in reaching the village periphery, buzzed, blinked, and fired a rocket at the wall - though, the rocket blast had little effect. The whole village was wondering: What the heck is going on up in the foothills
- Intro to "Steading of the Iron King",  found in the Gamma World Rulebook, p139.

And so it was that four unusual folk came together: Penniflotation, the fungoid hawkoid; his partner-in-many-conman-affairs, Fairult, the exploding hyper-cognitive; Fairult's uncle, Polecat the magnetic felinoid; and José, the gelatinous cockroach, who knew Polecat throguh a secret society.  Funnily enough, José and Penniflotation had fought together in the war.

Together, they ventured into the hills, following the tracks of the robots back until they found a steading in the hills.  Approaching the guards (a couple of badders and two porker marauders), it quickly became apparent that they were not going to let them past.  Not without a fight, anyway.  José had already crept part of the way up, making the most of his invisibility, whilst the flying mushroom hovered above the battlefield.  The porkers were roasted quickly - not surprisingly, for hired mercenaries seldom perform their tasks well. 

The remaining badder saw he was done for, and quickly burrowed deep into the ground, as the doors to he steading opened, and out came two more of the guards, prodding a fearsome yexil mauler in front of them!  With no snappy garments to distract the laser-eyed lion-beast, the party was quickly defeated, and all answers as to the strange robots seemed to die with them...

Fortunately, there was one other band of apparent misfits.  Krawler, the plant rat swarm, and his old friend Oakroad (a reanimated nightmare bounty hunter) teamed up with Oakroad's old (and failed) mark, Mentos, a shape-shifter mind-breaker.  Mentos brought with him Heavy Thought, a mind coercer gravity controller, with whom he had been fighting (mentally, of course) over a particular lass in the village.  Mentos had won.

The new team arrived on the scene only moments after the yexil had finished consuming the last party, and with decisive action (and a well-placed hand grenade), quelled the beast and its guards.  Finally, they made it inside the steading.  The immediate entry had little more than a large, noisy machine, set up to recognise and heal the badder guards.  Not wanting that to happen, Oakroad took it upon himself to slowly break it (for his body healed up any injuries he might have otherwise sustained). 

Pushing further into the complex, the team came across a rather nasty nest - amidst a patch of glowing purple-blue moss, two blaashes (radioactive moths the size of a large dog) and three blood birds had set up home.  Krawler was the first in, and had not his latest alpha mutation cruelly backfired, may have lasted more than mere seconds.  Instead, he fell quickly, as the blood birds swarmed him and sucked each individual part of his swarm dry.  Behind him, the others managed to fell a few of the birds, but the moths radioactive beams were too strong; before long, it was only Heavy Thought left standing, and like many folks do when the tables are so badly turned against them, he turned and ran.

The gamma moths made short work of the unconscious would-be heroes, and despite his dash for safety, Heavy Thought never managed to pry the blood bird from his shoulder.  Before he had made it back to the front door, it had clipped his jugular, and managed to have a hearty feed. 


Our group had a change of campaigns, and since I had all three Gamma World sets sitting on my shelf, unplayed, since they were released, I put forth the option to run a one-shot game.  After a few folks were busy or sick, we had four players and myself, and I ran through the first half of the adventure in the Gamma World rulebook.  None of us had played Gama World (in any of its iterations) before, but were all familiar with DnD 4e, and so only had to remember the few differences in the game (second winds as minor actions, the lack of surges, and the craziness of character creation).  We used the character half-sheet origins found here, and found them great.  Instead of having to roll between three books, work out who was using what book, and worrying about getting doubles, I printed off each of the sheets, cut them up, and shuffled them into one large deck.  We also used the great Junkulator to give the characters some amusing (though ultimately, not used) starting gear, and ideas from Fiasco: The Fallout to build relationships.  

The combat was fast and hectic...and lethal, as you would have read above.  The lethality was partly due to our own unfamiliarity with the game (a number of alpha mutations were used that backfired spectacularly), and partly because we went in one man down.  But it was still a fun event, and something that I'd be willing to visit again.


Things were definitely learned on both sides of the DM screen: I discovered that the monsters were definitely up to par as far as damage output goes.  There was no need to modify them further, which is always a nice thing.  The players learnt that just because you can attempt an overcharge, it doesn't mean that you should attempt it.  I found out that, although fun, random items (that is, the junkulator, not Omega cards) didn't really add much.  In a proper campaign, I would ensure that at least some of them had further purpose, or a larger role to play.  And I'd encourage the players to think up further uses for them.  The players discovered that character creation doesn't take too long, once you know what you are doing.  And we all quickly agreed that the official sheets are not quite as nice as others.  We ended up using this, but it is only for level 1.  Still, there are many more out there, should you wish to search for them!

Long Term Play?

One concern raised was how would a Gamma World campaign work.  Would we ever be able to build proper relationships if our characters died roughly twice a night?  Well, I don't think that a campaign would run with that sort of death rate, but if we were playing a campaign, not only would we learn to understand our characters better, but the DM would be more keen to pull some punches for the story's sake, and players would be more careful with their characters.  I think that, with some preliminary work (creating the setting and better fleshing out the characters), the game could run for a short campaign.  The randomness of Alpha mutations and Omega gear might be a bit problematic, but could still be made to work.  I'd like to see how characters and monsters ran at higher levels, and if the simplified 4e-power-structure gave enough opportunities, whilst keeping the game simple.

Further Thoughts

The only other thing to say after the experience is that it is a shame this isn't where "DnD Next", or 5e, went.  There is a great simplicity in taking a class and race and meshing them together (and plenty of possibility to add in the third leg of backgrounds / themes there), simplicity in how actions are made, what items really are, and how powers work.  But even with all that simplicity, there is plenty of room to make things more complex, yet still balanced.  It is also interesting to see that where it is not needed, the rules allow even more simplicity: items are not overly specified, but instead have general stats for various types, allowing the player to describe what exactly they are.  What has been shown in Gamma World confirms that a "simpler" base edition of DnD could have been made, whilst still carrying forward all the advancements of 4e.  It is a shame that WotC did not go this way.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p5)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 5: New Classes

In part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character.  In part 2, I discussed the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities). In part 3, I looked in more general terms over other aspects of play, largely following the "How to Play" document.  In part 4, I was focusing on a general look at the equipment and spells presented.  This time, I am briefly looking over the two new classes they have recently released: the Sorcerer and the Warlock.

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(-ve) Sorcerer

I have always enjoyed the sorcerer.  The 3e version was a way to branch out from the Vancian magic, and the 4e version had a lot of pure elemental fun tied into it.  However, the 3e version still had the problem of being the ugly step child, the second string super hero, or whatever classification you wish to use.  It simply was not as powerful as the Wizard.  It had more flexibility, but gained spells slower, and had none of the Wizard's perks.  So what did they do for 5e?

The first thing to note is that they are again under-performing in the "using magic" area.  Their magic attack score starts out lower, and drops to half of the wizard's at level 4.  Their spell DCs are likewise lower, being two behind at level 4.  They have no spellbook, of course, so lack the large array of spells a wizard will gather over his life, and are stuck with the few they learn.  They only get two cantrips, whereas the wizard gains three.

So, clearly, they are going to get some good, powerful benefits in their spell casting to make up for it, right?

Sadly, no.  Their "Will-Power" allows them to cast exactly the same number of spells that a wizard would cast...except that (as in 3e), they lag a level behind the wizard.  When the wizard gains 3rd level spells, the sorcerer is still getting used to 2nd level spells.  This does mean that they can cast more lower level spells a day, but at the hefty cost of not being able to reach those more powerful, more relevant higher level spells.  (As an aside - this is yet another thing wrong with divorcing "spell level" from "character level".  4e, in giving powers at set levels, removed the need to make some classes lag behind others.  Everyone gained a level 3 power at level 3.)

Sorcerers do get a "Heritage" option (only one is shown in the playtest documents: Draconic).  This gives them stronger hit points and more proficiencies than the wizard, but as the new ability options given encourage the Sorcerer to wade into melee, I'm not sure if it is a true benefit or not.  Surely, if a player decides to keep their sorcerer to the back, they will be sturdier than the wizard, but they will also be ignoring a whole lot of benefits.  Ultimately, though bits of the Sorcerer seem quite powerful, other bits are lacking.  On the whole, I have no real interest in playing this class.

(-ve) Warlock

My favourite character I played in 3e was a halfling warlock known as Marcan.  So much did I enjoy him that I have played a 4e variant in 4 different games, at levels ranging from 1st to 17th.  But not even the first level version could be covered by the rules presented here.

Warlocks in 3e had fewer spells than the wizard or sorcerer, but could use them all at will.  That might have been a good spot to start, but instead, they grabbed the idea of the 4e pacts, and warped them into a poor mechanic for 5e.  Instead of gaining boons from killing enemies, they are now an encounter resource (yes - finally something that is encounter!...even though it should have been far more frequent).  The worst pact boon would be the "fey step" equivalent: teleporting 30ft as an action.  And it uses up one of your two favours! (You also have to use these favours to power your non-minor invocations).

In short, what should have been an array of at-will powers is really only one (Eldritch Blast).  There is a second at-will (Shadow Veil), but spending an action to allow your single move that turn to be slightly less hindered does not sound wise at all.  Yes, you are as accurate as the Wizard, and a little tougher, but unless you want to be a one trick pony, I'd suggest everyone steer clear of this class.  If you really want to play a 3e-ish warlock, go and play the actual 3e warlock.  It was far more interesting (but still not as exciting or fun as the 4e builds).

Monday, 20 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p4)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 4: Miscellaneous

In part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character.  In part 2, I discussed the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities). In part 3, I looked in more general terms over other aspects of play, largely following the "How to Play" document.  This time, I am focusing on a general look at the equipment and spells presented.

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(neutral) Equipment

Keeping wealth to a solid starting figure is something I appreciate.  Not changing the exchange rates between coin types is also a blessing, though I don't know why they added in an "electrum piece" (half a gold piece), and don't know if it will really be that useful.

Armour has been expanded back into three categories, with eleven types of armour overall.  However, there is now only one shield.  I'm not sure why no love was given to the shield choice, but maybe too many folk were working on new armours, and there was no one left to design options for both a light and heavy shield? Non-proficiency now only gives disadvantage, which means it may have no effect whatsoever (if you already have disadvantage, they do not stack; and any advantage cancels the disadvantage). 

Weapons feel overly complex.  Previous editions all had similar lists, but it usually filled up over time - it would have been refreshing to see a very basic list of weapons, or fewer categories.  Weapons again deal typed damage (slashing, bludgeoning or piercing), which I like.  I am still unsure if the simplified resistances / vulnerabilities will work, but do look forward to seeing the interaction.  Bows have once again become really long ranged weapons, with the longbow reaching well across the tabletop of any table I have played at.  However, long range only gives disadvantage, which as mentioned, doesn't stack.  A blind archer, shooting a longbow at a target 600ft away, whilst wearing full plate and being surrounded by enemies takes the same penalties as someone who shoots the same bow at a target 155ft away, without any of the other distractions.

(-ve) Spells (general)

Not only have they moved away from the great resource of encounter powers, but they have also changed the time measurement back to minutes.  A spell that lasts a minute is a nuisance to measure.   You have to note when it is cast, count out the rounds, and remember when it should run out.  Even with whiteboards (which we used for 3e), thus sort of limit is annoying.  4e did many things right with spell duration.  Instead of minutes, it was "an encounter" (or 5 minutes outside of battle).  It was cast, it lasted for the rest of the battle.  Shorter things might apply, lasting a round or until a save was made (both very easy to keep track of), and longer ones might last the entire day.  But having spells (especially multiple spells) on a one-minute tracker make tracking them annoying and will slow things down.

Again, I want to reiterate my dislike for the 3e-style saving throws. (I quite like the idea of 4e saves!)  It would have been much simpler to have all spells as attack rolls that target different defences, rather than the wizard's player having to ask the DM for a number of rolls.

The other annoyance with spells in the playtest is that they are off in their own section. The 3e PHB made non-casters feel quite left out with the large chunk of the book devoted to spells.  It also made looking up such spells another time sink during games, especially at higher levels.  Having powers (and powers for each class) within the classes write-up means that each class gets the same level of love, of spotlight, and of options.  And having spells written in neater formats allows for easy access, such as the power cards often used in 4e. 

(-ve) Spells (specific)

I'm not going to comment on all the spells, and will instead just reference a few of the more stand-out ones.

Aid allows you to mitigate 0-24 damage from some allies. Considering that the same level Cure spell heals 8-36 hit points, and doesn't have to be gambled with (that is, you use it when it is needed, not in the hopes that it will be needed), I am not sure why it would be used.

Burning Hands is a good example of low-damage (4-16 for a daily resource) spell that has little interest as you gain levels.  It's saving grace is that it is an area (an awkward "cone"), but that will not mean much when you gain a level or two, and that much damage is being dished out regularly by the rest of the party at will.  

Divine Favour is an annoying spell because of the above issues with tracking it.  However, it is also one of the spells that shows the problem with removing the 'minor' action.  Instead of keeping the Standard / Move / Minor array, they have gone for a renamed Standard / Move, where some spells sneakily treat themselves an a semi-Minor action.  It feels messy, and I have to wonder how many new players will be caught up on this?

Fireball also has no scaling (at least, not in the 5-level playtest).  The damage is quite open to fluctuation, as it is without a base bonus (this is the case with most spells, only some of the healing and a few minor spells have static bonuses).  It will once again be the bane of a DM, who will be forced to roll multiple dice in response to the player's action. 

Magic Missile is back to one missile, with no expansion with the rising levels.  Auto damage is a plus, but it is just small enough to still require rolling, even vs a 3 HP goblin. 

Sleep is now pretty useless.  Part of me wonders if they meant to make it "3d8 hit dice", but the option of casting one of my daily spells and only putting a single goblin to sleep is beyond boring. Inflict Light Wounds has the same 3d8 mechanic, but does real damage, and half on a miss.  Sure, it's only against a single creature, but it will effect any target! (Well...not undead :) )

Stinking Cloud is similar to Fireball, dealing lightly less damage (2-20 instead of 5-30), but deals the damage every round, for ten minutes (unless dispersed).

Thunderwave is now a beefed-up version of Burning Hands.  For a slight drop in damage (2-12 over 4-16), you can push them 15 feet. 

In general, the spells seem to be all over the place; within each level, they do not feel balanced, and whilst some feel like their older daily examples, others feel little better than what encounter powers were like.  Perhaps, the weaker powers should have an "encounter" marker, and each magic user allowed to decide when preparing their spells whether they filled their slots with dailies, encounters, or a mix of each?

What spells (or equipments) do you see problems with?  Which ones do you feel are good, and should be a marker to measure the others against?

Friday, 17 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p3)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 3: The General Bits

In part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character.  In part 2, I discussed the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities). This time, I will be looking in more general terms over other aspects of play, largely following the "How to Play" document.

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(-ve) Basic Rules

I have already spoken of my dislike of the single defence and rolling saves against attacks, as well as the "save  for every defence" that all are part of 5e, and thus will not dwell on them long here. In short, I feel there should be only ever one roll for an effect or attack to take place.  If the wizard makes their 'attack roll', then also having a 'save' against the spell adds in extra time, but it makes the power less likely to work, and more annoying for the player using it.  3e's Phantasmal Killer was particularly poor; the player usually had to roll a spell resistance check; then the target had to fail two saves to suffer the full effects.  (This is not advocating save-or-die, but rather, one roll maximum to get an effect across.  The effect may well worsen in time, from future saves, but in the instance of casting it, keep it to one roll!)  The other thing is that it is much easier for the attacker to do all the rolling.  They have the power, they know what it targets and what is required: if they roll one thing, and tell the DM the value, he can check it against the monster's stats.  With both parties rolling, more time is wasted confirming what is required to roll, what the DC should be, and so on.

I don't really have much of an opinion on Advantage and Disadvantage.  The mechanics (of rolling 2d20) were fun with the 4e's Avenger, or the Goliath's markings, when they were rare and kept to either once an encounter, or one class at the table.  I don't know how much the novelty will wear off after a few months, let alone years, of continuous use by everyone around the table. 

(neutral) Ability Scores

I don't think there's a lot they can do wrong here, though it is interesting that they have chosen to go back to each ability having it's niche. Strength for melee fighting (and with no jump/climb/swim skills, for those activities too), Dexterity for AC, ranged, and initiative, and so forth.  Now that your Constitution modifier is added to your hit points each level (as in 3e), a solid Constitution score is suddenly a whole lot more important.  The difference between an 11 and a 14 was only three HP in 4e, but in 5e it will be two hit points every level, a difference of 40 HP by level 20.  Wizards, in particular, are going to have to be more careful with their Constitution, leading to a whole lot of solid, tough mages!

(-ve) Exploration

Jumping now has no random element, unlike hiding oneself, or picking a pocket.  Every person with 15 strength can jump 15 feet without risk, and not an inch further.  Stealth, on the other hand, is a constant back-and-forth of d20 rolls.  (Note: the playtest states "dexterity check" and "wisdom check", but I assume this hasn't been updated to the new "stealth skill" and "spot skill").

4e brought in the fantastic mechanic of "passive" skills, the most useful one being perception.  Not only did it allow the DM to keep surprises (or the noticing of surprises) secret, by not asking for rolls when the players didn't know of the danger, but it made stealth a whole lot easier.  Roll vs their passive perception, beat it to be hidden.  One roll, no matter how many enemies there were.  But now, a rogue hiding from ten goblins requires the DM to not only roll ten checks, but record and remember which goblins passed and which failed.  It also isn't clear if someone trying to spot a hidden individual calls for another stealth check, or uses their previous result to roll against.

(-ve) Combat

I am Australian.  We use the Metric system, and though I know not everyone does, I personally preferred the use of 'squares' for distance in 4e.  It allowed me to cut out the extra step of calculating distances in my head, which I now have to do.  "20 feet" means a whole lot less to me than "4 squares".

I understand the idea of wanting to simplify battle.  I don't agree with it - I liked the complexity allowed by 4e - but I can understand the idea of wanting to cut back to a simpler round structure.  "A move and an action", however, is too simple.  The most obvious area is with the spells that say "you cast this, but you can also have an action to attack".  That is, the spell is a minor action, but worded in such a way as to confuse folk far more than  standard / move / minor action base would.

Some of the actions are also rather expensive.  "Disengage" is an extended 5ft step (3e), or shift (4e), but it costs your action.  No longer can an archer step back and attack; they now have to stand and fire, or simply retreat.  Hiding in combat, instead of being part of a move, is now an action in itself.  Using items also takes the place of an attack, though pulling out a potion or drawing your weapon are now considered 'free'.

Another simplification of the combat system is to practically remove opportunity attacks.  Ranged attackers simply have disadvantage, and magic users have a 3e-feeling Dexterity check that has a small chance of wasting their action.  Opportunity attacks are only provoked by moving, and by the way it is currently worded, only by moving out of their reach (not within their reach).  The attack is a reaction, which means only one per character per round.  The two clear problems are someone provoking to allow everyone else to run past; and someone freely moving around an enemy, but remaining within their reach.  Interestingly, this means that having a larger reach can be a disadvantage, as it allows more freedom to your enemies.

With the importance of Constitution, I predict that it will be the favoured stat, on average, across all classes.  The death save will become increasingly easy to pass, and the whole unconscious process becomes a whole lot less scary.  Though, with healing still being as insignificant as it is, maybe death saves need to be easy to pass.  (I will not go further into healing - it has been stated that they are working on this currently, so it will be changed.)

(-ve) Magic

Let me be blunt.  I don't like the Vancian system.  I didn't like how 3e magic was presented, and I don't like how they have gone back to the 3e way, after what was shown in 4e.  The inclusion of some minor at-will spells does not cover the fact that almost all a character's spells will be a daily resource, and the player will have to decide between being useful now, and calling for a 5-minute work day, or being less than effective now, and hoping the party last long enough to pull out the spells later.

 I don't like the take on Spell Disruption.  The DC's not scaling is part of the problem (an increase relative to the spell's level would have been a good start), but OA's would have worked far better, and given more incentive to simply not cast whilst threatened. 

The stated Casting Time is too long, not that it matters mechanically.  But if an entire round is 6 seconds, and it takes 6 seconds to cast a typical spell, then how does the magic user have time for anything else?

The area of effects feel messy after the simple (if initially strange) square areas used in 4e.  Maybe they will cover this in their 'grid play module', but a square is clearly defined, and cuts out all the time wasted trying to position your sphere / cone so it maximises its targets.

I'm not going to go into each spell, but in short - I don't like how the magic system works.  There is a lack of 'average' level powers (such as the encounter powers in 4e), and the classes have gone for the all-or-nothing approach.  Alongside the lack of healing, these are the two biggest causes of the 5-minute work day, and I think, the two weakest points of 5e at the moment.

With today's (17/8/12 Australia) announcement that  playtest notes for Sorcerers and Warlocks will be released shortly, I have (a little) hope that they may do something good with magic.  But there's also a whole lot of fear, based upon how they have treated Sorcerers in 4e and 3e, that this will be more disappointment.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p2)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 2: Classes

In part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character.  This time, I will be looking at the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities).  I have previously talked about how the initial version of these classes played, and will try not to cover the same ground.

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(-ve) In General

Hit Points across all classes have been dropped back to 3e levels.  A single, solid hit from a greataxe could drop a cleric.  Even one who put the highest score from his starting array into Constitution, and chose it for his racial and class modifier.  Now, this is very subjective - some people may like the gritty, dangerous low levels of play.  Personally, I enjoy 4e's 'heroic' starting sturdiness of characters, and not having a character die in the first combat purely to a lucky die roll.

I am also not a fan of Vancian magic.  The At-Will / Encounter / Daily structure of  4e allowed for a trailing of Vancian with a fresh recharging nature across all classes.  It allowed people to spend lots of powers, but still have ~80% of their options available in the next encounter.  It allowed for a variation in the scale of damage and flashiness, whilst keeping those big dailies for special moments.  And it was a good step in the direction of removing the 5-minute workday.  I understand that this is also subjective, but in all groups I have been part of, the underlying truth is: Vancian magic leads to shorter adventuring days, and/or wizards who have to sit out and do nothing.

The "Spells Per Day" table does suggest that characters will go up to level 20 (gaining a new level of spells every second level, and the spell levels capping at 10).  I hope this doesn't bring in the clunky 3e-era "Epic Levels" add-on. 

(-ve) The Cleric

Here we have the poor-man's option.  Not as high HP or attack bonus as the fighter; not as many skills or extra damage as the rogue; not as many spells or as high magic attack bonus as the wizard.  With the paltry amount of healing a cleric can do, it is almost as if they were trying to sneak a bard in under a different name. It simply doesn't do anything well.

Continuing on their "refresh per day, not per encounter", the channel divinity benefit is stretched out to another daily resource.  Twice per day after level 4.  This can be a small anti-undead attack, or a bit of extra healing.  As a standard action, it feels like another kick to the cleric's already bruised ribs.

The domains lack anything really interesting.  Sun comes with an unfriendly large burst attack that will annoy your allies, and War makes the channel divinity almost reasonable.

(neutral) The Fighter

When I first read about the new "combat superiority" feature, I was quite sceptical.  Dealing extra damage was the rogue's shtick, and it felt poorly tacked on.  Plus, it sounded as if the die was yet another daily resource.  So, in reading that it actaully recharges each turn, I have to say I am a lot happier with the idea.  Not so much the extra damage aspect, but the fighting styles offer a little back.

The rules seem to suggest that the Fighting Style choice happens at level 1, and the extra  Combat Manoeuvres are added in at levels 3 and 5.  The class progression chart could be read that at levels 3 and 5, you get to choose another Fighting Style.  The former reading means that after level 1, there are really no new options for the fighter; the latter means they have a reasonable amount of choices (though still no where near that of the cleric or wizard).

The Combat Manoeuvres allow the otherwise simple and boring "hit with sword" fighter to become a little bit more engaging and adaptable, but it still pales in comparison to those with spells.  It also lacks the excitement that was the 4e fighter, who had melee basic attacks, at-wills, and then rechargeable encounter powers (as well as impressive daily manoeuvres to pull out when the going was particularly tough).  The lack of turn-by-turn options doesn't make the current Fighter class bad, but it is still a while away from good.

(-ve) The Rogue

Sneak Attack damage has sky-rocketed, beyond that of both 4e (2d6 until level 11; didn't reach 5d6 until level 21) and  3e (only 3d6 at 5th level; waited until 9th level for 5d6).  This is particularly strange when one of the big goals was for simple, quick combat - dice explosions (that is, one player rolling many, many dice for a single attack) slow the game down.  Sure, it might not take that long to count up your 10d6 power, but when you have to do that every attack, the time adds up.  Ask the other players, if you don't agree.

The other strange part about the damage is that hit points are all being lowered.  I assume that covers monsters as well, but having more sneak attack damage than your own hit dice does not make for happy scenarios if the rogue ever gets turned against the party!

Skill Mastery is an interesting choice.  No longer do rogues need to have great stats all around, so they can be watchful without being wise.  But they also can take ten, after they have rolled, which seems to be quite powerful.  I am hoping that other classes can at least take ten outside of combat, and that passive perceptions will also make a comeback. 

The Schemes are an interesting way to give the rogue many extra skills, but do seem a little over the place in terms of power.  The thief can hide if merely 1/4 of his body is covered by something (so, a 4ft tall halfling behind a 1ft tall railing).  Night Vision is useless to dwarves and elves, and has even stricter requirements than the annoying Low-Light Vision.

To offset the added benefits of an extra background, the rogue has another daily resource - Knack.  But where the Fighter's Combat Manoeuvres opened up possible optional extras to change what they did each round, the Rogue is entirely lacking in this area, and seems to be focused on "hide, stab, hide again" as its only real play option.

(-ve) The Wizard

I don't know why the Wizard's magical attack is twice as good as the Cleric's at level 4.  Aside from my suspicion that the Cleric is really a Bard, that is.  For some reason, their Spell DC is also higher, and continues to become even higher as they gain levels.  Once again, WotC is making the Wizard as the "Star Class".  Human Wizards FTW?

This was the class I spoke most about last time, and I really don't see much change - if any.  Vancian magic ties the class down, the 'at-will' spells are underwhelming compared to the at-will abilities of other classes or the 4e at-will spells, and the requirement for spell DCs (instead of rolling against defences) brings multiple opportunities for failure, and more work for the DM. 

(neutral) Backgrounds and Skills

5th edition takes 4e's "Backgrounds" and "Themes", merges them together, gives it all a stir, and separates them into "Backgrounds" (what your character was), and "Specialities" (how your character does what they do).  "Classes" is meant to cover what your character is.

Backgrounds give you some skill training, another optional starting gear set, and some trait which is not usually combat-related.  In general, the ideas here are reasonable, and fit with filling in character details.

Improving skills (+1 to one, every even level) is a call back to 3e's skill points, but at a far slower progression.  With the slow progression, they are keeping most skills around the same level (much like the intent in 4e), so that you will not have some PCs auto-passing, whilst others cannot pass.  How well it actaully works will have to be determined when we have more levels to play around with.

One thing that surprised me was that if your class and background overlap with a skill, you can choose any other skill to replace it.  This could lead to some purposefully-chosen clashes, to grab some other much wanted skill that couldn't otherwise be taken. Though, the skills themselves may not be that interesting.

Contrary to how they played earlier, each skill (a total of twenty five!!) is now tied to a single ability score.  I am someone who thought the 17 presented in 4e was a good cut-down from the 36+ in 3e.  I enjoyed the even-more-condensed Gamma World take, in which there are only ten.  Considering thirteen of the 5e skills are "Lore", the expansion might not be terribly obese, but I still feel cautious over so many skills.

The skill choices are also a little strange.  You can 'improve' your stealth (over just Dexterity), and your force of personality (intimidate / bluff / diplomacy / streetwise over just charisma).  But there is no athletic option, to jump, run or swim more than your strength.  There is no acrobatic option, to balance, dodge or jump more than your dexterity.  Why can different people excel in some areas, whilst in others, anyone with an ability of 14 is exactly the same?

(-ve) Specialities and Feats

It seems that Feats now reside totally within Specialities.  I hope this is not the case, but there do not appear to be other ways to acquire feats in the playtest material other than by choosing a speciality.  Note that this does not guarantee you each of the selected feat - you still have to meet any requirements listed for each feat.  The lack of choice in this system (if I have understood it correctly) is quickly apparent.  You take a speciality at level 1, and it governs the four feats you get up to level 9.    As it stands, that sounds really poor.  The freedom to choose feats as you wish (instead of in pre-set packages) means you can create a character as you want, not one that will look like everyone else.

Whilst the Specialities sound interesting, their only benefit is the feat they provide at set levels.  And the feat seem to need a lot of work.  Two particularly poor ones are "Rapid Shot" and "Two-Weapon Fighting", which have long been used to sacrifice a little accuracy (or just the feat costs) for the promise of extra damage.  Now, they provide two attacks, each dealing half damage.  A rapid-shot archer, or two-weapon fighting ranger have absolutely no benefit when facing a single target, and are half as effective when covering multiple targets.  If minions were not removed, I could see some use against them; that is, until the wizard comes along and shows what a real minion-killer looks like.

On the higher end of power comes 5e's version of toughness.  3e offered 3 Hit points  for the feat; 4e offered 5 HP per tier for the feat.  5e is offering an entire extra hit die, which will be at least 5 HP (but comes with additional healing properties).  With the reduction in everyone's HP across the board, this feat seems to be very powerful, offering not only a substantial percentage increase in HP, but double the starting number of personal healing (via the hit dice).

I would like to see more feat, and know if you can take feat that aren't part of the strict Speciality groupings, but with what I see here, I do not like the restrictions, or the mechanics behind them.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p1)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 1: Character Creation

Character Creation seems to be the logical place to start.  Round 1 of the playtest only had pre-gens, so this gives us an opportunity to see a bit more of the mechanics of characters.  And what do we have?

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(-ve) Ability scores

They have only provided two options in the playtest material: either roll (4d6, drop one), or one single array.  That's a pretty poor start, and I hope it is purely because they are still working out their point buy system, or calculating further arrays.  I personally do not like rolling stats - it might be great in a chaotic game such as Gamma World, but even there, they gave you good starting scores for your one or two main abilities.  In other games, having such a fundamental part of your character determined purely on luck leads to one of two main results: having to reroll (and thus removing the whole purpose of rolling in the first place); or having badly unbalanced characters.  The latter can lead to players resenting other characters, or dropping out of the game altogether.

Point buy (which was brought in with 3e and altered slightly for 4e) allows more customisation than the basic array (which is worth 17 points in a 4e build). The given array has the highest score as 15.  It allowed each player to start on roughly the same ground, whilst also allowing for them to choose between a high score and many lows, or a more even approach.  I know others like the rolling method, but ultimately, Point Buy needs to be a core option; I would feel more comfortable if it (or even the array) were the default, and rolling was an add-on extra. Either way, all three should be present.

(-ve) Races

They have only given four races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human) in the playtest materials.  Each has a lot of fluff, with a few mechanical changes at the end.  Sadly, they still seem to be losing the 4e idea of making race more important, and are instead having it as a passing attribute quickly forgotten.  There looks to be little to differentiate a higher level elven fighter from a higher level dwarven fighter.  Maybe the equivalent of paragon paths or higher level feats will help differentiate this...

Ability bonuses are now only +1 (to one stat), and the stat in question is determined by your subrace.  Low-light vision is still a dreadful mess and most likely useless in most adventuring situations (unless the whole party has low-light vision, or you are ok with splitting up the group). 

Another thing to note is that whilst most of the die increases (Dwarven Weapon Training & Toughness) give +1 average damage and +2 maximum damage, the d12 => 2d6 jump gives +0.5 average damage, and +0 max damage. If you compare the based on percentage increases to damage, it is even less exciting.

There is more death for the encounter powers (one of the most helpful things to stop the five-minute workday), with the halfling now having two rerolls a day, instead of one reroll an encounter.  Sure, it now applies to his rolls (kind of like Elven Accuracy in 4e), but only recharges at the end of a day.  Again - this encourages the player to use them often and early (as does a wizard with his spells, or anyone with their hit dice of healing), and then call for camp to be set up to get said powers back. The 5-minute workday was something they were claiming to work against.

Finally, the Humans.  I cannot work out if they want everyone to play them (they get +1 to every ability, and +2 to one), or only those who cannot cope with a few extra rules (they get nothing bonus skills, powers or feats).  Mechanically, they outshine all other races with their abilities, but they are so incredibly boring, it is like comparing a 4e fighter to what has been offered for a fighter in 5e.

I cannot rate what they have offered for races as anything but a negative.  They lack the interest and importance of 4e, they include the painful "low-light" mechanics, and they don't feel balanced.

(-ve) Combat Numbers

Yes, I know that "Classes" should come next, but there's enough in there to talk about that I will save it for its own post.  For now, I will skip over it and talk about the rest of character creation in general.

Hit Points have lessened.  They have gone from the sturdy-heroic 4e level, and dropped back to the slain-by-a-stray-arrow 3e level.  This choice will clearly appeal to people differently, but I have much preferred the low-level 4e battles, where a critical hit didn't mean instant-death for any PC involved. 

Likewise, I disagree with Mike Mearls' idea that the way to answer "there isn't enough healing!" is to reduce hit points.  Yay, our healing does a larger percentage of our total HP, but we have less to spare, and will go down more easily.  For a level 1 character, being able to heal once a day does not "take the pressure off the cleric".  This lack of healing helps cause the 5-minute-workday.

Armour Class is pretty straight forward.  My feelings here are more linked to it being the only defence.  I want to attack enemies' fortitude reflex, or will.  Not make an attack, then have them save.  Initiative and attacks are, at least, pretty straight forward.  So that's a whole lot of neutral, with a splash of negative.

(+ve) Finishing Touches

For equipment, they have stuck with a set amount of gold (or the option of grabbing packages), instead of 3e's rolling for starting gold.  This is a good choice, as rolling could mean another level of messing around with a character for their first level.  It is simple and straightforward, and allows creation to continue smoothly. If only that was done for ability scores: the comparison works between starting gold and abilities.  Starting gold is like point buy: everyone has the same, and can choose how it is spent.  Packages are like arrays: pre-chosen values balanced with the basic starting gold / point buy.  And rolling for gold might as well be rolling for stats - it might prove most beneficial, or terribly hamper your character. 

Descriptions are a good thing to work on, though they lack any real in-depth questions (as most editions of DnD do).  Height, weight, hair colour, and name are as far as most characters will be described.  It would be good to see more probing suggestions or questions, and ideas on how to develop some real character to go along with the rest of the mechanics.  A good fleshing out of motivations and personality in the core of Character Creation would do wonders to get players thinking more about who their characters are, and not just what they can do on a round-to-round basis.

Alignments are back in the 3x3 array, after 4e's poorly thought out 'straight line' idea.  They have kept 4e's "Unaligned" position, which has become a favourite with players who don't care to think too hard.  Overall, nothing too painful, and plenty of room for a finished product to expand to fill.

(neutral) The Future: Advancement

There is nothing talking about multiclassing options here, despite all the classes looking distinctively 3e-ish.  The XP progression looks rather messy.  What would have been wrong with 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 8,000?  Easier for all to remember, and for a DM to set up encounters around.

Over the five levels, only two feat are given: one at level 1, and another at level 3.  Level 4 has 4e's "+1 to two abilities" idea, which is a great way around the need for having "+strength" items.  But what happens at level 5? Nothing?  4e made sure that every level had something fun you gained, but there seems to be a distinct hole in the chart here.

Some ups, some downs.  Plus, they only have the first five levels.  They could be doing something good with this, or it could go places that do not work.

So there are my thoughts on character creation (minus the classes...which still has a significant bit of reading and writing coming!).  Do you agree or disagree? What are you looking forward to? What do you have concerns over?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #1

I've been silent a while. Partially, this is due to not wanting to rant or rave about the 5e news before there's enough out there to build a solid opinion on. Partially, I have heard had very little to like, and didn't want to come across as too negative. And partly, Real Life has been kicking me around rather roughly. But now that some of that has changed, here are my initial views on what has been offered for DnD Next! If you haven't already done so, I strongly encourage everyone to head over and join the playtest. Plus, look out for other blogs about the playtest - what follows is simply my opinion, and clearly cannot cover every player's reaction! Also note that these responses were written for the WotC survey on the playtest, and are thus written specifically for WotC to read, in response to their questions, and edited to be quite brief (as there was a word limit to responses). I have not (and will most likely continue to not) re-written them, so simply present them as-is. As such, if you haven't read the playtest material, you might be left a little confused! Feel free to ask for clarifications, if you want.

General Comments

Short rests did not provide enough healing. At level 1, with only one HD available, the wizard and cleric needed to rest whilst the fighter wasn't injured; after that, the wounded ones didn't want to go back in, whilst the fighter was ready to continue.

It was hard to change information into grids. (25ft, 20ft radius, etc). People use the metric system now, and for games, squares are much more useful..

Whilst the starting HP was good, the healing was not. One short rest each, with minimal healing (wizard gets d4+2 once a day, and only if they use a kit?) makes the short rest practically useless, and greatly increases the 5-minute workday. It feels like the heroes are meant to be tough like 4e, but after that first fight, are weaker than 3e.

As a DM

Simple things such as monster initiative wasn't included in the book. The module was written with a "do whatever you want" feel, which left myself and the players very clueless as to what exactly they should be doing.

Having only one map, at the end of the book, was also hard. Constant flicking between the main map and the locations was hard, as was working out where creatures were (eg 22 + 6 goblins in one room!). The scale of the map was also overlooked by us until after the first session, so we had way too little space to play on.

Trying to find out rulings on simple things (what effect does 'shadowy light' have? can you flank? what is a coup de grace? and other things we know from previous editions) was hard, and there was always the fear of choosing something unfair / contrary to the rules. Am I not finding something, or has it not been added in yet? If characters are told they treat darkness as shadowy light, where is the information as to what shadowy light is?

I found nothing on passive skills, so are we to expect everyone is not searching unless they specifically call for it? I do not want to have to call for search checks again, that would be yet another step backwards from 4e.

The monsters were also both too simple (in the adventure book), and too complex (bestiary, when it makes you refer to other locations for spells! I already have the module open to the map, to the encounter area, then i have the bestiary open to the monster, and now also the rule book to the spell??) 4e had this right with their module format: two page spread, everything you needed (map, text, rules, monsters). This is what all modules should have. For sure, have further bits about NPCs, story, etc, but when you write an encounter, keep it all in the one spot. Everything revolving around the encounter, right there for you.

As a Player

There was little feel and no real options with my character (dwarf fighter). Having played many fighters in 4e, where they were both interesting and involved, moving to this fighter was worse than stepping back to 3e. You can make an array of fighters in 4e that have different feels to them, different and varied options available, and all can refrain from becoming boring; this guy had nothing. Move, hit, move hit, move, hit. Only healing once a day (for d12+2, so 8 HP on average) is not enough. 8 HP is not even half his total HP, so if he gets beaten down in one encounter, he is out for the rest of the day? That is not heroic at all. Sure, have the HD as a bonus to healing, but allow more healing, more often!

Our group initially mistook the rules to be "HD + Con Score", and thought that was low...when we realised it was Con Modifier, we were horrified.

Plus, our group had no healing kits, so after our first scuffle with goblins, we had to take all the spears (60+ of them) back to "civilisation", sell them, and grab ourselves a healers kit. The kits should aid in short rests, not be required for them!

Ultimately, if a short rest has not healed the characters close to full HP, there is little chance they want to go on. Sure, limit the number of rests per day, but 4e had it right - after a rest, they should be pretty much back on their toes.

I was also confused as to where his damage came from: 2d6+7. +3 str, +2 weapon focus, +2?

It was also unclear if the weapon focus applied to the reaper feature, and what use exactly their low-light vision was (only works if there's no light around? Does a torch count? Does the sun count? Does a fire count? What if any of those things only gives shadowy light (poor torch, cloud cover, embers of a fire)? If you are going to give races abilities, make sure they are easily noted and understandable.


The cleric
Healing was too little (D6??). If you rolled a 1, you might as well not helped out at all. Also - healing when the target is unconscious, does it merely reduce the negative HP, or revive them immediately?

Whilst using the 3e sorcerer style of spells was better than what was done for the wizard, it would still have been better to have some encounter powers (such as the pathetic d6 healing), so they could have more options each encounter.

The fighter
The fighter was boring. After the great, exciting things we have played in 4e, going back to a simple "move, hit, repeat" format was not enjoyable. There was not even any option in the one, single power he had.

Fighter's surge is pretty much a poor attempt at action points; they were much more enjoyable in 4e, where everyone had them. We hourse-ruled them to an encounter resource (easier book-keeping) , and never looked back.

The wizard
Not having the spells before you was a real pain. Having a character sheet that was already twice as involved as the fighter, *before* spells were added, was also not good. Again, 4e had this right, where spells / attacks were equal across classes, and one player didn't have to wade through multiple books whilst others could write everything on a business card.

Having your powers as mostly daily powers was not good, either. Vancian magic really should stay in Vancian novels. At the most, have a few, rare daily powers, but leave enough encounter powers to keep options alive, instead of the “oh well, spells spent, I’m out for the day now". Magic Missile does not help; it’s as bad as the 2e "wizard's crossbow”.

Spell descriptions had too much fluff. Once you read someone's interpretation of the burning hands spell, do you really ever want to read it again? It’s ok to have that fluff, but when it is in the body of the spells, it takes up space; the cards for 4e worked well. Everything mechanical you needed to know to cast the spell, whilst the fluff stuff was easily accessible if you wanted it. But don't have them in a separate location-it takes too much time looking up spells!
Plus, the radius/cone things really are not good. Using grids (which I have done since 2e) means that "20ft radius“ is harder to calculate, harder to adjudicate, harder to place "Burst2" is simple, there are no arguments, & it is quick.

Saving throws are also bad From the DM's side (having to look up creatures stats in yet another book, then roll them all), it adds more time to the one person who has the least time From the player's side, why not roll to hit each creature, as everyone else does? The fighter gets to roll his dice to attack, why can't the wizard roll to see how accurate his spell is?

The races

The races didn't seem interesting, and there was no easily discoverable information as to the real effect of low-light vision. Maybe, had we seen the racial mechanics, there might be more feedback on them, but as it was, they seemed simple and boring. 4e racial powers let you know different races were interesting.

Overall Comments

This game felt like a giant leap backwards. 3rd edition brought with it many improvements on 2e (classes made more even, skills and feats, options available to classes, stats made even). but 4e made many improvements to 3e (classes made more balanced in game, as well as at the meta-table level, fighter and wizard both being interesting options, rolls made by the attacker limited excess DM work, characters healed in battle and out, clerics could do things aside from heal, and still heal, saves were simple d20 rolls, distance was in squares, monsters stat blocks were elegant and simple, and didn't force the DM to look elsewhere, every player could play without referencing books, just their character sheets/cards).

This feels like a step back to 3e, with overflow into 2e. Honestly, if this was the option right now, I would have no issue sticking with 4e. And though I don't want to play 3e any more, if 4e wasn't an option I would choose Pathfinder. It's free, open, and better than the playtest we have now.

Whilst some areas are overly simplified (which we expect), the sheer number of rolls (eg d6sp+d10cp per goblin) and equipment/spells makes it feel too simulationalist. If you want a simple system, go for that - but cut out rolling silver & copper pieces in treasure!

Overall Questions

Why were spells put back into the game in such a 3e way? Getting them out from the "spell section" of the book was a great thing 4e did, and made non-spellcasters feel better (since they didn't access that chapter). Having monsters with daily spells (when they will only last an encounter) is also painful - forcing the DM to look them up, moreso. For the next playtest, it would be a great improvement if every single class had two, and only two pages of information. Print those pages out, and that is absolutely everything they are required to use for the session.

Likewise, why make so much more work for the DM? Give him the module, and that should contain everything. No flipping through the bestiary for further info before the encounter even starts (eg initiative), or flipping through a third book for spells! Help him out by having everything there for him from the get go.

Why do fighters have to be so boring, and wizards so complicated?

Why have we gone back to feet? Is DnD not a worldwide game? Use squares, and make it simpler for everyone.

How do you get advantage / disadvantage? Give a list of common causes for both, and let the DM add to it; don't make the DM decide all of them.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Heroica: First Steps towards Roleplay

I recently purchased the smaller of the Heroica sets, Draida Bay.  Whilst I do enjoy collecting LEGO (Star Wars specifically), the reason I purchased this set was to introduce Ali, my daughter, to games.  That is, actual board games, with rules and dice! (and not just snakes and ladders)

Heroica Mechanics

The Heroica game is simple enough - roll a special LEGO die, move your micro-fig that many squares, and if you land adjacent to a monster, you roll again.  The die's sides show numbers (in pips) and either a sword, skull, or both.  These refer to you defeating the monster, or taking damage yourself.  Being a kids game, there is no chance of losing - should you run out of hit points, you simply miss a few rounds, whilst rolling the die and regaining hit points until you reach the maximum amount, and continue your quest.

The monsters (goblins, in this set) do not move or act aside from the result of the hero's roll; they simply stand and wait to be confronted.  This means the game is played cooperatively against the static environment. You could play to race to the end, but so far in our gaming, my daughter seems to be just happy to defeat the goblin general.

Playing the Game

Our first play-through naturally involved building the map itself, and this was something Ali most definitely enjoyed.  Being only three, the instructions were a bit beyond her (not surprisingly, since it is recommended for ages 7+), but with my guidance and help, she managed to get most of the game set up.  She has her own blocks (Duplo, Mega Blocks, and Kid K'NEX), and is always eager to play with, or help build, other more advanced sets, so this was not her time with regular LEGO blocks.

Understanding the rules was a little more of a hindrance.  Being young, she was thrilled with rolling the die (which, with its rubber frame, bounces away all too easily!); even using the recommended lid as a rolling tray didn't stop the die escaping from the table on numerous occasions.  Counting the pips was easy enough, though Ali often struggled with translating the count to the squares moved.  More often than not, her piece was simply moved to a random square.

The "capture" of the goblin microfigs became a fun experience, and they quickly lost any fearful attitude they might have had, and were refined to another treasure to be collected.  Interestingly, the one treasure in the game (a healing potion) was not allowed to be moved.  Ali refused to take it, if she was allowed; and I was told to put it back, if I ever dared remove it.

Losing a combat was also a favourite: Ali still exclaims loudly "ow!" whenever she rolls a skull, and takes great care removing her hit point marker.  For some reason, they always have to be stored in the same location (the corner of the general's square), and if they are ever left lying around on the table, I am quickly told "no, daddy, put them here!"


Aside from the cries of mock pain as she rolls the skulls, there is little story that goes along with the game.  The die is the main draw, and the LEGO pieces a close second.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing - even a good old Mr Men story is often beyond Ali's attention span or understanding.  Still, as a starting point, I think it is valid.  Eventually, when she is learning more about addition, and can handle more game mechanics, games in DnD's "Adventure System" (Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, and the like) will be adequate.  (At the moment, she enjoys the miniatures, but wouldn't follow the game or the rolls...or be able to read the d20).

Slowly, stories could be made about the adventurers.  After all, Ali already makes stories with her dolls (which include pirates invading the princess' dollhouse); stretching them to the adventuring Barbarian and Wizard shouldn't be too much of a stretch. So, I see potential for stories to develop and be able to be played out, and will be testing the water as Ali grows.


The game is a success - Ali often wants to play "the dice game", and is eager to proceed if I suggest a second run.  She still does not understand the finer points of the game - each character has a 'special attack', but as they are still referred to as "the yellow one" and "the red one", those finer points can wait.  Exactly what happens to the goblins when they are captured is not clear - they seem to be more trophies to be won, as opposed to any actual killing being done (and I am ok with that! She already likes shooting with non-gun things too much).  And, the counting of positions is still a little rough.  Counting dots is one thing - they are there, and have a definite number.  Counting out how many places she is to move proves to be a little more difficult - often she will find herself ahead one or two squares.  The miscounting doesn't matter in our games, but continued play could help her develop her counting least, to four.

Since the sets are relatively cheap, and are clearly fun and enjoyable, I will look into getting further ones over time, and add them to the current set as she grows in understanding and ability.  I still don't know if they will be as fun when Ali is seven, but for now they are a quite worthwhile hobby.