Monday, June 30, 2014

Odds and Ends

Looks like the 5E Starter Set characters are built using options from the PHB. 

The Basic game will not be complete till close to the end of the year, but that is ok since it should still be playable somewhat when it becomes available for download on July 3rd.

Monsters have different types of hit dice. Some have D10, some have D8, and I suspect other dice come into play. 

Here's something you might find amusing: 101 Spells Not Worth Memorizing

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Eyes Have It!

Today WotC unveiled a few of the monsters that will be in the starter set. These included the Nothic, the Ogre, and the Ochre Jelly.
Guess which one this is.

I'm quite pleased by the simplicity of the monster stat blocks.  They have been kept neat, tidy, and give the info needed in an easy to read format, which is great when running a combat. The format reminds me of the 4e stat blocks which is one thing I did like about that edition.

Go take a peek at the info over at EN World.

The three creatures revealed are all Challenge 2 and 450xp. I am still baffled by what the 5e challenge ratings represent, though it won't be long before we all find out. Basic D&D will be free to download as soon as July 3rd. (just character creation, the other bits will be added as books are released)

Getting back to the Nothic . . . The flavor text in the description states that they were once wizards that "unlocked magical knowledge they could not fathom".  They also can learn knowledge from people they directly observe, even hidden knowledge. They also possess True Sight, so no fooling them with invisibility or illusions. Nothics are also above average intelligence, they easily could use their wits to smartly stalk and study intruders. I can really picture a Lich having a couple of these as "eyes" within or near the lair.

EDIT: I noticed something about all three of these monsters. Their to-hit in combat is equal to 1st level characters. The Ogre has +6 which is derived from its strength modifier of +4 and the proficiency modifier of +2. Both the Nothic and Ochre Jelly have strength modifiers of +2 and proficiency of +2 for +4 to hit.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Forgotten Gods

In the course of world building the decision for what, if any, gods to include in the design. Do you use the ones from a published setting? A mix from multiple sources? Do you create your own?

I have done a mix of all three, though the ones I enjoy are the ones created whole-cloth by myself or in collaboration with players. One such deity whose name is indeed long forgotten (did it begin with Ch?), represented the domains of Vice and Humility.

Vice and Humility may sound like an odd combination, however the common mantra spoken by 'experienced' members of the faith is "a person must fall before learning to pick one's self up", which seems to briefly sum up the idea.

Devoted adherents are typically those who have drank, gambled, and/or whored their way to their personal and financial downfall. A good many end up spending at least some time at the church monastery performing humbling labors, wearing garments of hand mended sack cloth, and eating the most basic of foods. Some remain, having found either the need for the security blanket of the monastery, or having heard the calling to aid the newly fallen or to tend to the 'fall' of those not yet at the bottom.

Those tending to the fall perform their duties visiting places of ill-repute and observing the patrons, looking for those nearing their point of breaking. While watching for these seekers, the brothers and sisters gather donations, offered to them without prodding by those trying to curry favor from the deity, hoping not to fall.

In cities that have not embraced the deity, Humble Elders, pose as homeless and misfortunate, never asking for money or food, though often receiving both from the generous or those who know who these faithful serve and seeking favor. While performing this mission, the Humble Elders watch and listen for the opportunity to quietly minister to the fallen and soon to fall, eventually gathering enough new faithful to begin a monastery.

The core tenets of the faith neither condemn or condone vices, merely acknowledging the role vices serve in enlightening the populous. There is a branch of the church which the orthodox refer to as the debased, filled with hubris. The debased have begun to involve themselves in the operation of taverns, gambling houses, and brothels, with the potential to garner great wealth, and sometimes leading them into conflict with criminal syndicates, and the authorities. Those who leave the church or have become debased, may fall again, and would be welcomed again as newly fallen.

The typical fallen or faithful is a human male, though females, and other races are not immune to vice or the need to find humility.

Different monasteries may have different holy symbols if any at all. The deity has no specific weapon and adherents forced into conflict use whatever comes to hand. Some may be considered proficient with an item they used in a profession if it is available, like a blacksmith with a hammer. No specific colors are associated with the deity, though brown, gray, and other motley are the most common.

The deity is often depicted in a ragged cloak with hood pulled up, face in shadow.

Monday, June 23, 2014

5E Character Sheet Part 2

Today the character sheet for the Cleric from the Starter Set was unveiled.

Some big differences between the Cleric and Fighter.

WHOA! Hold the phone! At 4th level the Cleric gets a Constitution boost to 18! I think I might create a Dwarf Cleric with a 3 CON to start so my other stats can be huge, and then try to survive till waking up as uber-dwarf at 4th level. So much for limiting power creep. (It looks like it might be Dwarf related.) The dwarf already starts with Dwarven Toughness which gives a bonus hitpoint each level.

The Cleric is also wearing chain mail, and happens to have a shield. His AC is 18 vs the Fighter's AC of 17. I thought their -1 DEX mod was factored into AC, but that doesn't appear to be the case, and now it looks like chain mail might be AC +6 instead of +7.

Here's something interesting - this cleric cannot turn undead until second level. The skeletons and zombies are applauding that decision. Now they can be scary again. Sadly each undead has to save against the turning instead of a determination of how many are affected by a single roll. That will make a battle against large numbers take more time. Now they're scaring the DM.

Alternately, the cleric can heal people within 30 feet for small amounts.

These uses of Channel Divinity are not both usable in the same time frame so there is a choice to be made, do I turn the undead or heal my buddies by a couple points. This can only be used again after a short or long rest. (Since the Fighter can heal himself this means more possible healing for everyone else.)

I find challenge ratings annoying, and this character sheet mentions them when it talks about 5th level clerics being able to destroy undead.

Again, much of the oddball stuff has to be optional.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What to do with all those skills?

Back during the 3.0/3.5E days I was trying to figure out how to get my adventure design juices going, and one sure way to do that is to find a challenge to write toward.

While staring at a character sheet of one of the campaigns' PCs it dawned on me that there were a lot of skills that rarely make it into adventures in any meaningful way. Sure they might get used during play, but they are an afterthought when designing challenges and features of an adventure. This seems to be true not just of my own work, but of published adventures as well.

Here I have to admit that while I did come up with an idea to try, I haven't actually done anything with the idea. The big reason is that I have done very little adventure writing over the last decade, a fact I am actually sad to realize. So what is this idea you ask (or not)?

If your game uses a list of skills, get random on yourself. Roll dice to give you a handful of skills that you have to feature in your adventure at some point. Focus a story element around the skill in some prominent way.

Sure, you could get the usual suspects, however over the course of several adventures you are bound to get skills to design for that will challenge your creativity.

For example: Animal Handling. Could this require a sort of cattle drive? Why would that be important?

How about Profession Sailor? Does the party have the task of stealing a ship from port and getting away with it? Would they have to be competent enough to convince onlookers they are the real crew?

Maybe the first two fit together somehow and they not only have to drive the cattle or whatever it is, they need to steal the ship to get the critters across a sea or down river. Are these things both for the same client or different clients?

Once I get back to writing adventures this is what I plan to experiment with.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fifth Edition Character Sheet

Having viewed the 5E character sheet over at EN World, I am slightly concerned. It is from the starter set, but nothing tells me whether the character info is basic or using options from the PHB. I sincerely hope this sheet shows use of optional rules in all of these areas.

Stuff that sticks out to me as questionable or negative:

Endless Second Winds as long as the fighter takes a complete short or long rest before using it again. If it were limited to a couple times a day and had the note that it requires someone to bandage your wounds, then it would be closer to the method I like.

Humans appear to start with Plus 1 to all Ability Scores. This means that other races that should stand out in some particular way are instead inferior in all but one measure. For example, Elves which are reputed to be graceful, agile, etc, are only a match for humans in that category instead of being renowned for these things.

An Ability score increase of +2 every 4 levels in one Ability. I disliked the plus 1 every 4 levels from the introduction of it in earlier editions and now it is plus 2. Why do crazy things like this when you're trying to make use of bounded accuracy?  It seems to me to be another version of power creep.

The XP table appears whacked. Maybe this is just one done for the sake of the starter set adventure so that it quickly gives people new to D&D a rapid taste of different levels. If not, then a fighter needing only 300 xp means to me that either the monsters and treasure are worth very little xp, or the game may go through multiple levels in a single 4 hour session. Also, the progression changes so that it becomes quicker to go from 4th to 5th than the character would if the math followed the pattern set in the first few levels. Using this xp table, I wonder if it is possible to play from level 1 to level 20 in a single day of play.

Action surges and bonus actions. Wow, someone suddenly became Quicksilver.

Under the fighter's proficiencies it lists some armor and weapons, and playing cards. Did they mean gambling with cards or cards used as weapons? Is the character now both Quicksilver and Bullseye combined?

If those and some other items are part of the basic game then I'll have some serious editing and house ruling to do.

The meh stuff:

Saving throws based on Ability scores (modifier plus proficiency bonus for two of them, modifier alone for the rest. I'm only slightly annoyed with this since it means reworking my rules for Wizards Identifying items instead of using a spell.

Chainmail seems to have a base armor value of plus 7. That is different from the plus 5 in recent editions. It also appears to mean an escalation in defense. Characters have always been able to get outrageous armor classes with a little finagling so why boost the base values? This one is more a curiosity than a concern.

On the positive side:

Maximum hit points for the character's hit die type, plus the character's CON modifier at first level. My groups have done that from way back in 1E.

The character sheet design is excellent. It is easy to find things like the modifiers and skills, something some players have a heck of a time with in the Castles and Crusades campaign I play in. Even with redesigned sheets, two of the players can't seem to locate things quickly enough. Part of the blame lays squarely on those players for not paying attention. Hopefully a sheet designed like the 5E sheet will even help them find most of the important stuff.

The Proficiency Bonus doesn't increase until 5th level, and this bodes well for bounded accuracy.

The more I look at the sheet, the more it seems that there have to be a bunch of optional rules at work here. If not then WotC have failed the test of trying to be all inclusive.

I'm certainly not opposed to creating house rules or including some of the optional rules, so having a cleaner basic game would be an excellent starting point. Hopefully we'll know more details in the coming weeks, and the basic game will be downloadable for free in July.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Project Morningstar - The 5E online tools

At Origins, Wizards revealed the online tool set for 5th edition D&D.

Called Project Morningstar for now, it appears to be quite well along in development, nearly ready for the release of the new game. Unlike the debacle of the 4E tools, this thing looks like WotC learned some important lessons. At no time do I recall hearing a promise for a grand set of online tools well before such a thing was in hand.

I'll spare repeating a lot of the details here since there is a pretty detailed batch of information and pictures over at ENWorld where I learned about it.

From the info and pictures it can obviously be used on various tablets so the old issue of Silverlight enabled only computers has been pushed into the dustbin.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Gygax Magazine issue #4 - follow-up and brief review

Gygax Magazine issue 4 in hard copy is at least another month away. Apparently they ran into difficulties with printing and had to change printing companies. However, they did release the pdf copies to subscribers.

Having gone through some, but not all of issue 4, I can honestly say I will be renewing my subscription. This issue contains plenty of useful material.

Men and Monsters of Polynesia provides plenty of critters to populate encounters should you decide to have your PCs island hop their way to X1 - Isle of Dread.

Jinn takes a pretty decent look at the various types of genie and their hierarchy.

The Necromancer's Cookbook introduces a source for unusual enhanced skeletons and zombies to spice up the lower ranks of the undead. Since I already do things like this occasionally I welcomed seeing the thoughts of another DM.

Having played some Top Secret back in my early rpg days, it was good to see a Merle M. Rasmussen written adventure for that game system.

Leonard Lakofka gets granular with ranged weapon modifiers in his Leomunds Secure Shelter article.

Other articles I need to take time to read include Randomize Your Realm which looks promising for flavoring the economics and other attributes of the campaign world; Adventuring Without the Magic; Psionics Without the Points, which makes psionics another branch of spellcaster; an article by Ed Greenwood; Melee Masters; and the comics.

This one has me interested in reading everything in it, unlike the previous three issues. Issue 3 saw improvement over 1 & 2, and #4 seems to have hit the mark for me.

Almost forgot to mention the awesome cover by Den Beauvais, who way back in issues 83, 86, 89, and again later in issue 118, gave us 4 other chess themed covers. So here is the cover to Gygax Magazine #4:
And the others:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

D&D Reviews Video Blog

A life-long friend of mine has a video blog discussing and reviewing different D&D related things.

I highly recommend checking it out. Let him know where you found out about his vlog.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dave Trampier 1ePHB cover art

In March of this year Dave Trampier passed away. He is best noted to D&D players as the person responsible for the awesome cover of the 1st edition Players Handbook cover art.

This cover is incredibly evocative and inspiring. The activities and scene capture the sense of mystery, excitement, and exploration the game is designed around. None of the later edition covers have grabbed and held my imagination like this one still does.

Just what is going on in the illustration? The dead lizardmen and the guy cleaning his sword indicate a recent battle. Two figures in the foreground appear to be consulting what may be a map. Two people have climbed the huge demon idol and are attempting to pry loose an enormous ruby from one of the eye sockets so there are riches here to be had. The presence of a chest also seems to indicate treasure. The robed figure to the right seems to be either enlightening the warrior on the history of the evil temple or instructing hirelings on some course of action, perhaps to pile the dead lizards on the altar for a ritual or just to get them out of the way.

Since the cover wraps around to the back of the book there is more happening than first seems apparent. There are more people present and one is dragging a dead lizardman from outside the room into it. Are they trying to cover their tracks in case more enemies happen by or could more bodies be needed for the aforementioned ritual?

Did the lizardmen worship the demon of the idol or are they servants of somebody that does? Will prying the great ruby eyes from the idol result in a curse or other mishap?  Did the map lead them here or is it leading to even greater danger and riches?

Below is a reproduction of front and back covers as a single piece. If you know who it is that produced this reproduction please let me know so I can edit this post to give them credit.
This illustration also shows something that in my experience few groups do these days. They have hirelings to carry chests and other loot, as well as doing grunt work so they remain mostly free to defend everyone and to fight enemies.

Thanks Dave, your art still inspires the types of questions that get the minds of DMs churning out dungeons and players excited to explore them. Rest in Peace.

EDIT: Thanks to Restless in the comments we have a link that gets us to more recreations by the artist responsible for the above rendering.