Archive for October 2012

D&D Next: Thunderspire Labyrinth, Part 1

Here is the first part of my Thunderspire Labyrinth conversion for D&D Next. It took awhile, but I wanted to wait for the next playtest update, take some time to read through it, and try make sure that things were more accurate, and see what kind of rules and content additions we would get (I am pretty happy with how close my iterations of spiders, lizard, and troglodytes were with the "official" stats).

Unfortunately, the removal of the sorcerer and warlock meant that I stopped working on my demon origin and infernal pact (Baphomet), though the duergar race and racial levels are still in (and I am working on a demon-binder arcane tradition). Victor (aka The Planeswalker) has not finished the final draft of the Seven-Pillared Hall, but most of the locations I mention are in the middle. It is not terribly important, anyway.

Anyway, let me know what you think. I changed a lot of the plot, hopefully for the better. If you notice any mistakes or have any criticisms, feel free to comment on it.

October 31, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: The Restless Dead

The undead discussion wraps up (for now) with some more ghost-talk.

It is not much, but I think it helps provide some much needed distinction between ghosts and specters: ghosts haunt areas and have unfinished business that can still be resolved, while specters are free roaming, their tasks incapable of being completed.

In addition to a greater emphasis on fetters, I also really dig the idea of ghosts being able to have a weakness. The idea of a tortured ghost taking full damage from torture implements can add another layer of mystery to an adventure (as well as an alternative for adventurers that get bored trying to figure out how to put a ghost to rest, and instead want to just beat it up).

As for specters, I like that they do not really employ complex tactics. It is a small thing, but I wish monsters would have more recommendations for combat tactics. Now let us hope for some better artwork next time around.
October 30, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Another October Packet

Looks like we get another treat this month, and it is not even Halloween yet. You can download the packet here, as well as read up on some of the changes (and reasons for them) in a Legends & Lore column here. There is a lot going on in this packet; classes go up to level 10 (though the sorcerer and warlock got pulled), we get another adventure, wizard traditions, cleric deities, lots of changes (and additions) to spells, way more monsters, adjusted XP, and more.

My overall impression is even more positive than the previous packet, though keep in mind I have not done an in-depth reading. I feel like that despite being two classes down that there are enough options, levels, rewards, and monsters to start developing mini-campaigns without heaving to heavily resort to homebrewed content (not that I will not). The third adventure, Isle of Dread, also looks very fun and promising.

Minor changes, here. I like that dwarves have advantage on saves against poison and poison resistance instead of immunity (despite not liking the current rules for resistance). Stonecunning now grants Knowledge (dungeoneering) for free (more on skills in a bit), and in a similar vein elves gain training in Listen and Spot instead of having advantage. Normally skill training would bother me because of the inevitable situation where you gain it from two sources, but since classes no longer have set skills it means that you can just pick something else.

Skills & Backgrounds
We have known this for awhile, but backgrounds now dole out four skills instead of three. Not only that, but skills are no longer tied to specific ability scores. The downside is that skills are narrower than before, up to 36 from 25 without counting all the Professions. For example instead of Perception, we get Listen and Spot, and instead of Athletics we get Climb and Swim (but oddly, no Jump). Some interesting additions are Drive and Track, Diplomacy has been changed to Persuade, and Streetwise becomes Gather Rumors.

One baffling change is the addition of Use Rope. Seriously, was that a thing that anyone wanted?

For those that disliked all the Lore skills, we get 3rd Edition's naming convention of Knowledge (something-or-other). Personally I preferred 4th Edition's model of Arcana and Religion, if for nothing else than the sake of brevity. On that note I wonder how people will react to Knowledge (sciences), which covers astronomy, physics, math, and chemistry "insofar as knowledge of these sciences exists in the quasi-medieval world".

Aside from the obvious addition of a fourth skill and adjusted skill list, the traits have also changed. For example Commoner no longer gives you a free home, but instead allows you to "find a place to hide, rest, or recuperate among commoners". Eh...personally I preferred the free house. There are also some new backgrounds, like Jester and Minstrel. Maybe I will try making a lute-bearing character that is not a bard.

Given the ten level spread, each specialty now mostly features four feats (the Skill Specialist is the odd man out, gaining Superior Skill Training twice). Speaking of Specialist, each specialty has been renamed to something-or-other Specialist; Ambush Specialist, Divine Magic Specialist, etc. While they better convey the idea behind specialties--certainly more than themes--they do not exactly roll off the tongue (Investigation Specialist?).

Some feat names and effects have changed, too; Arcane Dabbler becomes Arcane Initiate, and rather than grant you a couple of cantrips lets you cast detect magic, light, or mage hand once per day. Similarly, Initiative of the Faith lets you cast cure minor wounds, light, or resistance once per day. The change for this is that there are no longer core at-will spells (some classes can make 0-level stuff into at-wills, though).

There are plenty of new feats, as well. We get 3rd Edition's Sudden Metamagic feats (Maximize Spell and Quicken Spell), Iron Hide (damage resistance 1 against bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage), Restore Life (burn two uses of a healer's kit to resuscitate someone only "mostly" dead), Keen Intuition (treat 9 and below as a 10 when rolling to find a creature or detect a lie), and more.

Aside from the names I like a lot of what I see here. There are plenty of feats now, along with rules for choosing your own feats (and an optional rule for retraining them). I am curious to see the combinations that people come up with despite the limited class options.

Clerics are now proficient with all forms of armor and shields. Likewise, Turn Undead is also a global class feature. Given all the talk about domains determining proficiencies and other special abilities--which could have resulted in a lightly armored sneaky cleric--I am disappointed with this decision. They also do not have to make Constitution saves when taking damage while concentrating on a spell (something that would have more more sense for melee-oriented clerics, or part of a specialty).

The biggest change is the Deity class feature. There are five deities presented, each with generic titles; Lifegiver, Lightbringer, Protector, Trickster, and Warbringer. Each has several paragraphs of flavor text, recommended alignments, Domain spells (spells that are always prepared, as in the last playtest packet), a special ability, and at-will spells.

For example in addition to domain spells, the Trickster gives you training in Bluff, Disguise, or Sneak, lets you turn invisible once every 10 minutes, and lets you cast minor illusion at-will. The Warbringer gives you access to martial and heavy weapons, and both cure minor wounds and resistance as at-wills.

Finally, Turn Undead. As with 3rd Edition if you can keep them at bay or destroy them if good, dominate them if evil. You roll 1d10 per cleric level, which determines how many hit points worth of undead can be affected. If their hit points are equal to or less than a third of what you rolled, then they are destroyed utterly. Otherwise you start with the weakest undead, subtracting its hit points from your total. Turned creatures are affected for a minute, and have to keep 30 feet away.

So better in some ways, worse in others. I really wish that heavy armor was not an assumption. You could give them automatic profiency with light armor (or even medium), reserving heavier stuff for the melee types. I also think Channel Divinity was a nice way to represent deity-specific powers; Turn Undead should be reserved for thematically appropriate deities.

Expertise now start at a d4 and scale a bit slower (hitting 2d6 at level 5 instead of 2d8), but they can now make two attacks at level 6. It follows Super Dungeon Explore rules, meaning that you can move between attacks. Maneuvers are also gained every even level (well, except at level 6).

Some new fighter-specific maneuvers include boosting saving throws and Strength checks, as well as Whirlwind Attack; spend Expertise Dice to attack additional creatures, rolling the dice to determine damage if you hit (sans bonuses). There is criticism about fighters basically getting to use their dice for skill checks all the time, but given that they choose between other things like boosting and reducing damage, I think it is fair (and supports the whole pillar concept).

Rogues getting Expertise Dice was something that I suspected would happen shortly after the mechanic was created for the fighter. I am very happy to see WotC re-using mechanics when it makes sense, and I suspect that we will see this applied to the ranger and warlord as well. While rogues gain the same type and number of dice as a fighter, they gain maneuvers more slowly (every three levels after 1).

Another major change is that rogues lose Knack, Skill Mastery, and Sneak Attack (the latter two of which are folded into maneuvers). This means that if you want to be a skill-monkey, you need to actively pick Skill Mastery (roll as many Expertise Dice as you want, but only the best applies). If you want to be good at stabbing people in the back? Take Sneak Attack. Other applications let you add Expertise Dice to saving throws, boosting your Armor Class against opportunity attacks, and reduce damage from a fall.

Finally, schemes no longer give you another background. Instead they give you four more skills and a maneuver. Don't like them? A sidebar tells you to just pick any four skills and maneuver you want, which is great because it helps avoid double-downing on the same skill. All in all I am way, way happier with this rogue iteration. It is much more flexible and there is more tension what with the lack of being able to auto-hit most DCs.

Wizards, wizards, wizards...I have never been really satisfied with the wizard in any edition of D&D, mostly due to them being grounded in the nonsensical pseudo-Vancian mechanics. Even so I was pleased with the notion of traditions that could provide encounter-based magic and other spellcasting systems. Before I get into traditions, I want to talk about the other changes.

The wizard's Hit Die gets increased to a d6. They can also cast while wearing armor, so long as the spell specifies that it does not require somatic components. 1st-level spells and up cap out at 2 per day, and there are no more core at-will spells; a wizard's tradition can set certain spells as "at-will", but otherwise they operate like all the rest (so, think 3rd Edition).

There are three traditions in this packet; the Academic, Battle Magic, and Illusion. Illusion gives you the cantrips mage hand, minor illusion, and shocking grasp, and color spray as a signature spell. Signature spells are like 4th Edition encounter spells, except that you need 10 minutes instead of 5 between uses. You  gain the class feature Arcane Deception, which lets you pick two options instead of one when casting minor illusion. Finally, the save DCs for your spells increase by 2.

There is also a sidebar on spellbooks, which includes rules on copying spells out of other spellbooks and replacing a spellbook (or making a copy), and flavor content on what your spellbook looks like.

While I like the steps that the design team is taking, I think that ultimately they need to work out the idea of magic first, instead of building mechanics and maybe attaching flavor to it later.

I apparently overlooked the addition of disarm (as well as knock down and push). You basically make a Strength check opposed by the target's Strength or Dexterity check. There are some situational penalties, like having disadvantage if disarming an armed target without a weapon, or pushing a creature larger than you. However given that anyone can try this without incurring an automatic penalty or opportunity attack (or in some cases requiring a specific power), I imagine people will try this stuff a lot more often.

The How to Play pdf has two additional experimental rule for healing. One allows you to regain hit points on an hourly basis, while the other is a slight change on 4th Edition's bloodied condition, healing surges, and second wind. The main difference is that you heal to full if you are not at your bloodied value, otherwise you can only heal up to your bloodied value.

To me this makes a distinction between the "luck/skill/scrape" portion of your hit points, and the "actually wounded" part. I am curious how people, particularly those that disliked 4th Edition's hit point system, will react to this take.

The XP for encounter-building has been adjusted. Rather than a total it is geared more like 4th Edition in that each level has three difficulty-based values, which you multiply by the number of characters in the party.

Leveling up is also quite a bit faster; you only need 160 to hit 2nd-level (as opposed to the 650 from before), while level 3 only needs 640 (formerly 1,825). As a note, monster XP seems steady from the previous packet. I kind of like the idea of characters hitting their second level fairly quickly, especially since ability inflation seems much less drastic than in 4th Edition, though I would not mind seeing variable XP rules modules.

No really meaningful changes. I hate the severely limited armors and the prices for items in general. Again, what happened to the silver standard? The idea of shelling out 50 gp for leather armor blows my mind. I would also like a more elaborate masterwork system, so that players can spend loads of money to get even better mundane weapons, especially in lieu of magic loot.

There are a lot of changes that go above and beyond the inclusion of 4th- and 5th-level spells.

0-level spells are not longer at-will spells. You have to prepare them like any other, and you can only cast them a certain number of times per day. The exception is that certain class features (deities for clerics and traditions for wizards) can allow you to cast them as often as you want.

One of the new mechanics is the "words of power" keyword(s), which provides an alternative to repeating the whole "you can make an attack/cast a spell after using this" clause. Faster, but again I think that they should just reuse Swift/Immediate actions from 3rd Edition, where some things used them, but they were not assumed to be part of your action economy.

Another addition is concentration. Similar to 3rd Edition, if a spell requires concentration to keep it going, you have to make a Constitution save if you take damage or get distracted. If you fall unconscious you automatically lose it, and you cannot sustain two spells that require concentration at once (which sounds like a good benefit for a class feature or feat).

Some spells get their levels shuffled; burning hands is now a cantrip, while magic missile gets bumped up to 1st-level. Speaking of magic missile, it still autohits, but deals 2d4 + 5 force damage. The really interesting bit is that you you can prep it at a higher level slot, firing a number of missiles equal to the slot you prep it in. While I like this concept, the only other spell that gets benefits from being slotted into a higher level slot is thunderwave, which gets a damage and push bonus.

Additions include stuff like color spray, cone of cold, haste, fly, polymorph, raise dead, and more. Obviously not all of these function as they did in the past. Color spray for example has you choose one of three colors, each of which has a different effect. It reminds me of a low-level prismatic spray. Who knows, maybe if you prep it with a high level slot it has more effects?

Polymorph lets you turn another creature with 150 or less hit points into anything of an equal or lesser Hit Die value, which means that unless the designers are careful that it could be easily prone to abuse (though it only lasts a minute, which is nice); you get all the creature's abilities, but lose your own (though you get to keep any gear on hand that would reasonably work with the new shape).

I cannot help but think that we might be better served with late-3rd and 4th Edition's form-specific shapechanging spells. At least then you could better adjust a spell so that you can help prevent (if not outright avoid) abuse.

Finally, monsters. There are a lot more in this packet, including classics like the ankheg, aranea, basilisk, and carrion crawler. Given the 10-level spread we also get elementals, dragons, and demons. The black and green dragon remind me of 4th Edition dragons, being able to create darkness and charm creatures respectively.

4th Edition's recharge mechanic in back in play, applying to breath weapons, spells, and "martial" attacks, and some monsters have sidebars for optional traits like spellcasting for the aranea and hag, but also the dance of ruin for the vrock.

Posted by David Guyll

Thunderspire Labyrinth: Seven-Pillared Hall Rough

Here is my take on the Seven-Pillared Hall from H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth. As with H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, I am redoing almost all of this adventure for a D&D Next conversion.

October 27, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dragons-Eye View: Dragons. Dragons. Dragons.

A Dragon's-Eye View on dragons? While we saw the concept art in one of the GenCon keynote videos (or in person if you were lucky enough to go), it is nice to finally get a discussion on the look of dragons. Well the red dragon anyway, which is fine since it is both an iconic dragon--appearing on plenty of product covers--and is my favorite.

Personally I like both, though lean a bit more towards the style of Lockwood's. While I can kind of see the "brute" as representative of a young red dragon (or, at least very angry), I tend to view the white dragon as the more simple, brutish types (and not just because that was their role in 4th Edition). Personality-wise, reds have always come across as more arrogant and confident, which is better exemplified by Lockwood's rendition.

I find it interesting that he talks about making the smallest size category essentially Large, which is the approach 4th Edition took until they got around to releasing wyrmlings in the Draconomicon books. In 2nd Edition they could range from 4 feet, to just over 350 at their oldest (or 70 squares from head to tail if you wanted to try conveying this on a battle map). 3rd Edition had a similar ranges of sizes, from Small to Colossal (I think there was even a Colossal+).

In this case, size matters. If nothing else keeping the smallest size as Large certainly implies a sense of danger that you do not get from human or halfling sized dragons, which always seemed more appropriate for dragon-like creatures such as drakes. I think trying to determine the size range is a very important question, and was surprised that it was not a poll choice.

I think that one of my pet peeves is dragons having inherent spellcasting levels. Not spell-like abilities, but effectively having wizard/sorcerer levels; the idea of a dragon conjuring a Tenser's floating disc or pew-pewing adventurers with scorching rays just rubs me the wrong way. Access to thematically appropriate magic or spell-like abilities is fine.

A good idea of what I am thinking are the dragonshouts from Skyrim (ironically probably the very game he mentions disliking for its ease of dragon-slaying). I recall something to the effect that a lot of magical writing was in Draconic, which meshes well with the idea of the dragon language being inherently magical (kind of like truenames).
October 25, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Energy Drain

Wights & wraiths, eh? Sounds like a White Wolf dungeon crawler in the making. Specifically Wyatt talks more about energy drain than the undead themselves, trying to determine what it should be capable of.

Before I get into energy drain, I want to say that I like the flavor material for the wight. It seems to rely heavily on 2nd Edition's Habitat/Society and Ecology entries, specifically the bit about animals fleeing from it and plant-life dying around its lair (both of which are absent from later editions). These could be used to provide clues, as well as just add some description.

I am also a fan of the wight being someone who was cursed (or blessed, depending on who you ask), as well as wights being able to potentially retain abilities that they previously had while alive. It makes more sense and adds more variety (why it was not a template in 3rd Edition, I have no idea), which can allow for more compelling victims.

In 2nd Edition energy drain was very dangerous, as far as I can remember involving level loss on a per-hit basis. This meant that if you went toe to toe with a wight, wraith, or many other forms of undead (and probably other living monsters) you could find yourself in a death spiral as you became easier and easier to kill, while they became harder to hit. If you were a spellcaster, this could involve losing access to your best spells.

Thankfully, these lost levels  could be restored through some forms of magic...if you or someone you knew had access to it. The one time I remember running into a wraith, the DM was kind enough to at least provide a restoration scroll in a prior treasure hoard, so it was fortunate that only one of us--the cleric, of all people--got hit before we were able to drive it off.

3rd Edition made things a bit easier by instead having each attack pile on negative levels, which you could make a saving throw--against each--to shrug off after the fact. If you failed, they could still be removed via magic. Not much, but it was a free chance at least, and because it was always a Fortitude save you could slap on a buff or two in order to hedge the odds in your favor.

4th Edition did away with level loss entirely, instead using temporary conditions like weakened (half damage) and loss of healing surges to represent your life force being sapped away. Some people liked this, others...not so much.

Another common theme of level draining monsters was creating spawn; if the monster killed you, you came back as an identical, or at least somewhat similar version of it depending on your edition of choice. Each edition has retained this in some fashion, though oddly 4th Edition's wight lacks it.

The major problem with creating spawn is the simplicity and speed of the process. If a wight or wraith can create another wight or wraith by killing someone, and they are driven to kill, then what is stopping them from amassing an army? Though the duration varies by edition it is not a lengthy process, and it is not like the original has to give it instructions on how to be an undead monstrosity that hungers for the souls of the living. It would be like eating a sandwich, only to poop out a fully trained, loyal soldier (that can also eat sandwiches and poop soldiers).

Though given how fast it works, maybe this
analogy is better served by another kind of "food".
I actually really like the wight's energy drain in D&D Next. Reducing the victim's maximum hit points nicely models the wight sapping someone's life force, though I think it could be a bit harder to recover them; divine magic, a longer period of rest, or ritual magic/specific spells (such as remove curse). Maybe a better idea is a cursed wound, like what the ringwraith inflicted on Frodo in Lord of the Rings.

I do not think that just killing a creature should create spawn. This is where Wyatt's idea of having to actually use a kind of soul-draining ability on a creature that was just dropped (or dying). It takes time, heals the wight  and since it devours the creatures soul allows it to control the corpse. So, something like a zombie, but not "just" a zombie. Something with a semblance of intelligence, like the geth from Mass Effect or the immortial legion from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Killing the wight could free the souls, with the added effect of stopping these spawned undead (making killing a wight a nice plot hook).

This makes it a bit harder to give wraiths their own schtick, unless you want to stick with wraiths being wights turned up to 11 (or the leftovers). The description Wyatt provides clashes with the origin presented last week; rather than ghosts bound to a spot, they are "pure evil concentrated into a single incorporeal form", which sounds better to me.

Of course, do we need to give every energy-draining critter its own mechanic? Maybe wraiths also cap hit points, but some other method is needed to restore them? Maybe you have to use magic, or destroy the wraith that "claimed" them? I do not see wraiths as the type to have dreams of conquest, but more like ambush predators that lie in wait for living creatures to intrude on their territory. Like ghosts, they cannot really leave the area where their remains are interred (and so cannot freely roam the country murder-poking everyone).

Of course this does not mean that a wraith cannot plot to rule over the living or be encountered anywhere not a tomb/catacomb/crypt/graveyard/cliche-evil-location; the original person might have died in the city limits, had their remains transferred, a city might have been built atop a ruin, or it might be attached to an object stolen from it.

As for spawn? I am thinking not. If a wraith is consuming bits of someone's life force, I can see it empowering them, perhaps with an attack bonus, damage bonus, hit points, healing, etc. For a more complicated wraith, what about being able to draw upon that persons skills and memories? A wraith that strips away a wizard's soul might be able to cast some of the spells she knows (or knew).

October 23, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Class Design

There is a lot on Mearls's class design guidelines that I like.

Using what previously exists is an obvious start, and this is how I went about making my own class homebrews. What I really like about this is where they actually challenge their bullet list by determining what is absolutely critical about the class's identity. Trying to find common ground between editions is a good start, but as lengthy ranger threads have shown, what makes a class for one person might not work--and might even break it--for someone else.

I also like that they are willing to move former class features into more generally available options. In the example of two-weapon fighting 3rd Edition required a feat tree, and while rangers could get the feats for free it was only arguably effective thanks to massive attack penalties. 4th Edition made two-weapon fighting the venue of specific classes, building powers that let you benefit from it (as well as ensuring that it worked).  While I originally praised this approach, I think that a middle-ground where characters can take it if they want, and it works, is best as it avoids having to build in exceptions to classes later on.

Even better is the fact that they are willing to try entirely new things. Bards have had daily spells since 2nd Edition at the least, but that does not mean that it is the best (or even ideal) method to represent how they access and use magic. Frankly a bard whose magic is more closely tied to music, and not limited to x times per day sounds a lot more interesting. I am eager to see other classes that deviate from "tradition", not just wizards.

My only experience with animal companions (or companions in general), was in 3rd and 4th Edition. In 3rd Edition they tended to be virtually worthless...unless a player conjured something with a spell list, such as a cleric summoning an archon that has access to more cleric spells than she does. To be fair some class features and feats could lead to easily abusive results, such as dread necromancers and the Corpse Crafter tree. It also dragged the game down by giving one or more players the potential to take several turns at once.

4th Edition fixed all of these issues by giving companions continually scaling stats based on your level, and sustaining the action economy. This helped ensure that summons/companions were always useful, but you still were only taking one character worth of actions. Later they added in instinctive actions that kind of allowed a character to break this, but it was not always optimal (or beneficial, especially when it made a creature attack an ally).

It sounds like that this time around they are going to make companions a rules module that combines 3rd Edition's complexity with 4th Edition's efficacy; they basically act as a second character, being able to gain XP and everything, which helps make sure that they do not become obsolete after a few levels. Given that this is not ideal (or even enjoyable) for every group, they are designing classes without companions as a default option. Good for someone like me, who has always wanted to be able to play a wizard with a bound something-or-other, bad for groups that wanted something more simple to play with.

This modular approach is going to be worked into a number of classes on a number of levels, and I am excited to see classes further develop with these design methods in mind. Hopefully this will prevent class bloat, where we have a class that is like a wizard with one or two differences, but make it easier to apply campaign setting-specific mechanics without simply adding on to a class to evoke flavor material (such as 4th Edition's Dark Sun Campaign Setting and Arcane Defiling).

October 22, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: Undead

Jon talks undead, specifically ghosts and the ghost-like specter and wraith. He first asks about the visual differences between the three. No mechanics, just that if you described them to a player if they could tell them apart. Based on his descriptions and art, I could say that save for the ghost and spectre yeah, they are pretty easy to tell apart. The problem is that I do not like any of the art (and disagree on the flavor material concerning the wraith).

The ghost has an exaggerated pose, like she got shoved, and I guess the sample specter's manner of violent death was by being skinned? The wraith just looks silly, with its contorted arms and massive right hand. Like the lizardfolk and troglodyte none of this art looks like that anyone was trying very hard, and I hope it all gets scrapped. Also if wraiths are spirits that have been bound to a location, why must they be depicted in armor?  They could just as easily retain their appearance from previous editions, skulking about the place they must guard and ambush intruders.

In 2nd Edition the images of the ghost and spectre looked like the same old lady, just in different colored clothing. 3rd Edition the descriptions were basically the same, except the ghost entry mentioned that "in some cases the spiritual form is somewhat altered" (though provides no examples or limitations), while spectres often displayed the evidence of a violent death. 4th Edition deviated from this model by having ghosts look humanoid (or whatever creature it is a ghost of), with specters looking more like amorphous, vaguely humanoid masses of spirit-stuff.

The wraith is really the odd man out, here. The 2nd Edition picture shows a shadowy shape with roiling smoke for feet, whose skeletal face glows with an internal light. The 3rd Edition wraith looks more like tattered, black cloth with a vaguely humanoid shape. 4th Edition kind of mixed the two, giving us something that looks like a humanoid figure shrouded in black clothing, with glowing eyes and mouth.

So how would I describe them?

I am not entirely opposed to ghosts having the largely traditional "ghost" form that we have come to expect: semi-transparent, blue, white, green, etc color, and perhaps the feet are wispy trails. They could also radiate a soft glow, and I imagine that when they move their form dissipates briefly, solidifying once they stop. In most cases they would appear as they did at their time of death, so if they were injured, mutilated, or executed it would be readily apparent.

Spectres/specters are a bit more difficult to differentiate. If they were victims of violent deaths, I would want to emphasize this more. I like the direction that 4th Edition took, making them appear less composed and more chaotic. If they are so wrapped in rage and hatred, it would make sense to have their spirit forms reflect this. Maybe their eyes glow, too?

While I like the appearance of wraiths (from previous editions, that is), the idea of them being spirits bound to complete or guard something does not really convey that idea. Why not represent this angle with bracers, shackles (that either trail off or drag on the ground), runes circling their heads, or searing writing on their skin indicative of their contract?

October 19, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: The Ancient Dead

Wandering Monsters continues its undead theme, this time with mummies and liches.

Right off the bat I am not liking that they serve as guardians of eeevil. What if someone volunteers? What if an entire culture is actually okay with this? What if being turned into a mummy to protect something (or someone) is considered an honor? Does undead really need to be automatically evil (until I guess Eberron brings back good-aligned, positive energy-charged undead)? I do like the curse aspect. I do not recall if 2nd Edition mummies rolled like that, but this provides some easy adventure hooks.

I like everything about the mummy lord-especially being able to mummify those that they kill--except for the 9th-level cleric prereq. Why even have a prereq at all? In 3rd Edition the mummy lord was simply a mummy with 10 cleric levels, but I do not see why we need to stick to that. Just make the mummy a template and let us give them as many levels as we want, from whatever we want. This way we could have super tough guardian mummies with fighter levels, or specially trained mummy assassins (for those that served Zehir).

What about a mummy wizard whose linen is a bunch of scrolls?

As with the mummy lord, I do not like the minimum wizard level to get the ball rolling. It works out fine for a sample lich or recommendation, but not as a hard prereq. Again, this would work better as a kind of template, preferably with a variety of powers so we can avoid supplements with alternative liches (or make them easier to incorporate).

While I am fine with the classic stuff regarding the phylactery, I do like the ability to possess over creatures and the flavor on memories (especially the bit on using them against it). Both have the potential to add in some good adventure hooks and interesting twists. 

In both cases the good outweighs the bad, I would just prefer to see templates and the level restriction removed.

October 16, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Thunderspire Labyrinth: Chamber of Eyes

Victor and I rebuilt the Chamber of Eyes from H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth. All in all, I think he helped me convey the tone really well.

It is not a happy place.
I did this once before, largely using the original map. I figured I would try and think what an actual temple dedicated to Torog might look like. There are rooms for torturing and/or binding victims--as well as alcoves to chaining up the survivors until they die--pits for sacrificing some, and a big stone table for eating the rest.
October 15, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: This Week in D&D

Mearls sheds some light on things that they are working on, namely classes, backgrounds, and specialties.

It sucks that the sorcerer and warlock are getting pulled back, as they were far more interesting than the pseduo-Vancian, fire-and-forget wizard (at-wills or no), though  I am hopeful that wizard traditions will close the least somewhat, anyway. While I like the added oomph of signature spells (aka 4th Edition encounter spells), they muddy the waters in terms of explaining how magic works.

The sorcerer tied with the warlock as my favorite class, and it sucks that they might rename the class and recycle it for a fighter/wizard archetype. I like the concept and mechanics quite a bit, as well as the ability to have a capable, interesting melee-spellcaster. Eh, I am least willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

I am a bit iffier about the whole "magic-user" blanket class, mostly because I am not sure what it implies. Will the classes be packages of mechanics? Will each class have a variety of mechanics, or still have unique mechanics? I really liked where they were going with the sorcerer and warlock. I had heard that they were going to make various management systems that you could apply as desired, which sounds nice so long as classes still retain unique features.

Turn undead has been moved to a class feature (again), and channel divinity has been removed in favor of "special abilities based on your god" (which basically sounds like channel divinity by another name). The idea is that there will be generic deities that can be applied to archetypal gods. The given example is using the Trickster for Loki or Olidammara, which grants invisibility (and other illusion-based magic), training in Sneak, some ranged and Dexterity-based melee weapons. I love this because for the first time clerics will be able to more readily "act" like their gods--especially right out of the gate--instead of almost universally being heavily armed and armored melee-warriors.

Fighters went over well, but they are looking into making the fighter even more simple than simply stating that you add your Expertise Dice to damage rolls. Given how boring people thought the initial fighter was, I wonder if they can find a middle ground in there.

I am glad to hear that while rogues will get more skills, that they will be dialing down the chances of automatic success; they should be able to fail at least rarely.

Speaking of skills, backgrounds will now give four skills instead of three, and they are going back to the original floating bonus method; instead of linking skills to specific ability scores, you can add them to any relevant check. Personally I think that this encourages more clever thinking on the part of players. No mention of whether traits will remain, and the skill list might expand. Given how many Lore skills they are, I am not sure if this is a good thing.

Specialties are being more clearly defined as "something that your character has focused on and developed", ideally something that is easy for other players to understand. No word on if/when other specialties come into play.

And now to wait for the next packet, which is thankfully coming soon.

D&D Next: Updated Keep on the Shadowfell

In light of the most recent playtest packet, I have updated the adventure file with the new XP values and stat blocks of the monsters (as well as the magic items).

October 12, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: Goblinoids, Take Two

Aside from a few nitpicks, I actually like the look of these goblins quite a bit.

I like the bugbear's feet. They look a bit bearish, which is a nice touch. It could stand to look bit bulkier, with a less cat-like face. Also I think its gear should look a bit more scavenged. Well...I guess that depends on if they are working for someone else that can provide quality weapons and armor (like hobgoblins).

With the exception of the muttonchops I dig the hobgoblin, but then not much has changed from previous iterations. They look more civilized than their cousins, and the equipment has its own distinct look.

The goblin looks a bit wilier, and more distinct from what I envision an orc looking like than the first one. Like the bugbear I think the gear could stand to look more scavenged, though I would go a bit further and make it look somewhat cobbled.
October 11, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: The Walking Dead

Undead make great dungeon fodder; they are easy to justify in the dungeon setting, and there are lots of low-level choices to work with. While a lot are unintelligent, even the smart ones tend to be evil so as an added plus you do not have to feel guilty for hacking them apart (though you still might for the looting part).

The only bone I have to pick with the skeleton is its Charisma score (though Intelligence could stand to take a dive, too). The article states that since it lacks any sense of self, it has a Charisma of 3. This is the lowest that an actual character can roll, and while there are a variety of interpretations the lack of any sense of self is not one of them. I would drop it down to 1, the same as it was in 3rd Edition.

Zombies get a clean break on this one. Though I enjoyed the Zombie Weakness trait from 4th Edition (they die on a crit, which is representative of a "head shot"), it does not make sense given that they are not alive.

One thing that is absent from the article is the default alignment of skeletons and zombies (as well as other mindless undead). In 2nd Edition they were just slated as neutral, which made sense given the inability to make an informed choice. I mean, is a golem commanded to kill everyone evil? Is an animated object? 3rd Edition changed this up by making them neutral evil despite a complete lack of intelligence, which caused several extensive threads on the WotC forums back in the day (though 4th Edition brought them back to unaligned).

I remember in 2nd and 3rd Edition how you would turn into a ghoul if you were killed by one. This was changed in Revised, so that they would instead infect you with a disease (ghoul fever), meaning that survivors of ghoul attacks might die anyway and transform into one (which was more inline with zombie movies). This made more sense to me, as ghoul victims were more than likely going to be eaten anyway.

Checking past editions I could not find anything mentioning how the original Dungeons & Dragons ghouls came to be, and while ghouls begetting ghouls is a classic, I find the idea of ghouls-as-cursed-humans to be more interesting (and fresh). I would even go so far as to suggest some ghouls being able to take the shape of the last person they ate (as in both Arabian folklore and The Dresden Files).

Conceptually the vampire hits all the right points for me, which given their treatment in recent editions was to be expected.  Hopefully I will get to run Expedition to Castle Ravenloft this edition. Eh, maybe I will convert it when we the level cap hits 10.

D&D Next: October Playtest Packet

The new playtest packet went up yesterday, along with a Legend & Lore article on the same topic. Most of it concerns magic items, though some monster traits have been changed and XP values reduced. I guess the Caves of Chaos adventure got updated to reflect these changes, too.

When I say that the XP values have been reduced, I mean by 100 or more points. Goblins go from 120 to 10, bugbears from 480 to 140...the orc leader goes from a lofty 670 to 290. Admittedly I have not actually looked at the XP chart until now (well, since the first playtest release anyway), and it is nice to see that players will no longer level up after killing a gaggle of highly ineffectual of zombies (which are now worth a 10th as much).

Beyond XP most monsters seem to have something new, even if that new thing is an altered trait. For example orcs get to stick around for another turn before dying, gnolls get reaction attacks when something dies nearby, goblins get advantage for a turn if they go first, Mob Tactics caps at +5, Bruiser (formerly Armor Piercing) now triggers on a 5+, etc.

Some things are a lot more dangerous in spite of reduced XP; the wight takes half damage from non-magical weapons (oh, and its attacks reduce your max hit points for a day), the troll has Skill Mastery for sensing hidden creatures, and the minotaur can take disadvantage on an attack to deal +10 damage...even the ogre loses its Dense trait (disadvantage on Intelligence saves.

Magic Items
The real treasure this time around is the magic item document, which runs a hefty 27 pages (beating out any other doc by about 10 pages).

The default assumption is that magic items are not assumed to be part of character advancement (so you do not need to include them) and that they are exceedingly rare (so there is no real market for them). Like 4th Edition there is a rarity system involved, but unlike 4E there are six categories: common, uncommon, rare, very rare, legendary, and artifact. Each category has a gold piece range instead of a fixed value, and there are random tables that vary by encounter difficulty (easy, average, or tough).

So far, so good.

Hrmm...identifying items, you say? Here is where I can see some disparity between players. In 2nd Edition I remember having to use an identify spell to get things done. 3rd Edition let you get away with detect magic and an educated some cases, at least. 4th Edition made things even easier by allowing a simple Arcana check (or skipping the middle man and just telling them what it was).

Next takes a more varied approach. You can require divination magic, trial and error, examination, allow certain skill checks, or whatever combination you want (to the point where in some cases the item might just reveal its properties). Basically all the bases are covered, so even if you do not like having characters doing the whole taste-test and jump routine, you have other options. Personally I like that more than a singular spell/skill being called out as being an option for analyzing magic items. 

Magic item attunement is a new thing. Some items require that you be attuned to them, which takes 10 minutes, and you can only be attuned to a set amount (either three or your Charisma modifier, depending on how the DM wants to play things). In particular I like the Test of Wills experimental rule

I really like the four tables of magic item details, which help you determine who made it, its nature, and minor properties and quirks. While some results are purely cosmetic--especially on the Creator and Nature tables--most provide some sort of mechanical impact; Draconic items grow warm when a dragon is within 100 feet, elven (and drow and air elemental) items weigh half as much, and slothful items impose a -2 to Initiative.

The next 19 pages are devoted to sample magic items. Nineteen pages. While there is a random table for the generic +1 fare, almost all of them are specific types. For example, efreeti chain is a rare suit of chainmail that gives you a +2 bonus to AC, fire resistance, allows you to walk on molten rock as if it were solid, and let you speak, read, and write Draconic and Primordial (oh hi 4E shout out).

Items with charges seem like a mix of 3rd and 4th Edition; most items have set charges by default, regain a variable amount each day, and have a 1 in d20 chance of crumbling if you use them all up. Personally I loved focus items from 4th Edition and would like to see them return, but this is a nice concession from the wand/staff-as-gun trope from 3rd Edition.

What else...oh, there is a potion miscibility optional rule for 2nd Edition fans, rings that grant small AC and save bonuses, scrolls (and a scroll mishap optional rule), gauntlets of ogre power that set your Strength to a set value (19 in this case), ioun stones that increase your stats, and more stuff from past editions. I was never a fan of stat-boosters in 3rd Edition given the reliance and assumptions about stats, but seeing as treasure is not assumed and just cannot be purchased I do not think it will bother me as much this time around.

There currently are no rules for creating magic items. I would not mind seeing something similar to 3rd Edition, which provided more flexibility and allowed you to lump item properties and powers together. Even some guidelines on general power levels so that I can have some sort of eyeballing foundation to work with. Yeah, it was prone to abuse, but I actually liked it more than 4th's largely stripped down items (which was kind of fixed by the later run of books introducing Rare items).

Whelp, now to go update Keep on the Shadowfell...again.

October 09, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Next: Duergar Race

Note: Sorry if this has been cropping up a lot. I have had a very difficult time getting this article mostly formatted.

Since I completed my conversion of Keep on the Shadowfell, I have been working on Thunderspire Labyrinth. It has gone somewhat smoothly considering that I was about halfway done recreating it for 4th Edition. Really the hard part is going through those notes and restructuring encounters to better fit 5th Edition's model (which is similar to 3rd Edition's, so it is more like getting back on a bicycle).

A big theme in Thunderspire Labyrinth, besides minotaurs (well...not so much in the original version) are duergar. 4th Edition duergar are, well, kind of silly. During my remake I provided some traits that swapped out their beard quills for more infernal traits. Classic duergar lacked either of these things, instead being able to turn invisible and increase their size. So as a nod to previous editions--and a kind of sneak peak at the conversion--here are duergar as a dwarf subrace:

Ability Score Adjustment: Your starting Constitution score increases by 1.
Spell Resistance: You gain advantage on saving throws made against spells.

Simple, kind of close, but lacks their supernatural powers (and one immunity). Given that this is about as much as one could expect from a 5th Edition race, and that I guess feats are going another direction, I decided to use another mechanic I recall from 3rd Edition: racial levels. You can opt to pick up a level of duergar instead of another class at level 2 and up. Each time you do, you get the following:

Racial Features
A duergar gains the following racial features.
Hit Dice: 1d10 per duergar level
Hit Points: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per duergar level gained.

Weapon Attack
Power Points
Racial Features


Immunity to Paralysis


Level 1: You gain the chameleon power.
Level 2: You are immune to the paralysis condition.
Level 3: You gain the expansion power.

1st-level psychometabolism

Your skin changes appearance to blend in with your surroundings.
Effect: For 1 minute you have advantage on checks made to hide.

2nd-level psychometabolism

Your body grows to the size of an ogre.
Effect: For 1 minute your size increases to Large, your reach increases by 5 ft., you gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls, and you have advantage on Strength checks.

NOTE: Power points refresh after a long rest (like a sorcerer's Willpower). Each power costs one power point per level.

I went with psionics because A) I really like psionics, and B) this way they can synch with other psionic classes (so long as they use power points, I guess). I figure that deep underground with all those mind flayers that it makes sense to a point, but if you do not like it you can just change them into 1/day powers. The upside is that you can opt to snag all of the duergar's racial abilities at the cost of another class, the downside is that the race is best suited for melee classes (though I could see rogues going in for a stealth boost).

What do you think? Do you like the racial class and psionics model of 3rd Edition? Do you prefer the infernal origin of 4th Edition?

October 05, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: What Do You Think?

James Wyatt goes over previous Wandering Monsters columns to compare monster flavor and crunch (for those that have both), and there is also a poll at the end to see how well you think it all matches up. What do I think? Well...

Strong, tough, and high damage output--with the ability to boost that with a wild swing--the orc entry hits all the major bullet points. Given that most playtest characters I have seen tend to have Armor Classes above 14, it will not be doing much hitting with all of a +2 to attack rolls (made worse with the aforementioned damage-boosting trait).

Ability-score wise gnolls measure up alright, though I think they should be a bit weaker than orcs and could stand to be a bit faster (as it stands they cannot really run down humans). The main problem I have with gnolls is the Savage trait, which gives them a +4 damage bonus when two other creatures with Savage are within 30 feet. I get that they are trying to evoke the idea that gnolls work better in packs, but 4th Edition implemented this a lot better by requiring gnolls to gang up on a creature in melee.

I was among those that disliked the goblin art, feeling it to be too “orcish”. I also disagreed with the low Constitution, so I like that they ultimately went with an average score. The rest is fine; they are Small, weak, prefer to fight in numbers, etc. I do find it odd that for all their hatred of sunlight, that they do not suffer any penalty (especially when they have a mechanic for that, just check out drow and kobolds).

I find it odd that your typical hobgoblin warrior--or really a hobgoblin in general--has an above-average Charisma; to me their organization and discipline speaks better to Wisdom, though I am not sure if their stats are based on racial modifiers, an array, or what. 3rd Edition statted out many humanoid creatures as 1st-level warrior types using an array, so they were typically stronger and tougher than the everyday fare.

I am not a fan of Steadfast, which is one of the many absolutes in Next that I cannot stand; if a friendly creature that also has Steadfast is within 30 feet, it is completely immune to fear. Completely. Nothing can scare either of them. It is like how dwarves are utterly immune to poison. I think it--and other absolutes--would be better represented as having advantage (or just, you know, a bonus) on saves against fear.

I also dislike Disciplined, which lets a hobgoblin grant another ally advantage on an attack against a creature within its reach. There is a Help action in the How to Play pdf on page 10, but it looks like it is only good for checks. I think that characters should be able to help each other out with checks, attacks, and even saving throws depending on the situation; hobgoblins can just be better with the whole attack bit.

I think Dexterity could stand to be lowered a bit, and maybe up Constitution, but those are both nitpicks. Otherwise I have no problem with them.

I like the idea of kobolds as dragon-like descendants. I feel that it gives them more character and lends itself as an easy explanation for urds. Stat-wise they are mostly fine (I would put Constitution at 10).

While I still do not agree with the art, I do agree that the default lizardfolk society should be fairly primitive, with a handful being much more advanced to keep players on their toes (or to just break the mold). Likewise I have no problem with demon-worshipping lizard kings, though I would go further than just making them super-intelligent (though a reptilian James Bond-esque villian could work...).

Again, did not agree with the art. I actually think it was the worst out of the whole bunch (just shy of lizardfolk). I will concede that aside from living underground and a rancid odor, giving them a non-demonic bad guy to worship is a good way to differentiate the two.

Ultimately I think that most of the monsters could stand for a tweak or two--which apparently we will be getting in the next packet--and so could formatting. I would also like to see rules for creating monsters (though having played 3rd Edition for almost a decade I am used to eyeballing things). The game is still over a year off, and given WotC's prior work on Monster Manual 3 and both Monster Vaults I am not particularly concerned over these issues.

October 04, 2012
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Magic Systems

I was kind of disappointed quite awhile back when I read that the wizard class in D&D Next would use the pseudo-Vancian system from previous D&D editions. Not enough to call it a wash, as I figured that it would be close enough to 3rd Edition that I could crib the optional rules out of Unearthed Arcana to make something closer to what I wanted. When the sorcerer and warlock were released in a playtest update, some considered having several spellcasting classes--each with their own spellcasting mechanic--to be a sort of olive branch to those who do not like pseudo-Vancian magic. 

Whether you wanted that, or spell points, or encounter-based resources, you could just pick your class and be done with it. The problem with this approach is not just a matter of mechanics, but the class’s concept: there is more to wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers than how they manage magic. In other words, what if I want to play a spellcaster who learned magic by attending an academy, but would prefer spell points or spells that refresh without requiring a good night’s sleep?

Arcane traditions seem to be a way to address this. Rather that divvy up mechanics into separate classes, they can provide packages of mechanics and let you choose the one you want. I do not mind classes sharing mechanics, so long as the mechanics back up the flavor. Mearls states that they will provide world background and flavor for each system, and I am hoping that they take the time to make the explanations make sense in context of the game world (something that pseudo-Vancian magic has always failed to do).

Unfortunately arcane traditions will not make an appearance in the upcoming packet. On a related note, I wonder what this will mean for the sorcerer and warlock?

October 01, 2012
Posted by David Guyll


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