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2Aug/111

The Art of the Fumble – Alternate Critical Miss Rule for D&D

Dark Sun

Image via Wikipedia

DM's are always looking for new ways to spice up their game, and one of the most popular (and infamous) techniques is to introduce some sort of “critical miss” houserule. Normally, this is a bad idea, as the consequence of rolling a '1' is bad enough (ie, you miss no matter how skilled your character is), and anything else just adds insult to injury.

While going over the Dark Sun campaign guide, however, I was inspired by an optional rule in that book regarding weapon breakage (a common theme in a setting where weapons are not often made from metal).

So, without further ado, I present an optional rule you may wish to try out (or not)!

If, once per round, when making an attack roll, a player rolls a 1, they have the following option. They may simply accept the attack as an automatic miss, without further penalty. Alternately, they may re-roll the attack, but must accept the new roll, regardless of any ability or effect. Should the die come up as a 5 or less, however, once the attack is resolved, their character suffers a minor setback.

Fumble Results Table (roll 1d6):

  1. The character drops the weapon/implement that was used to make the attack, which falls in their space. They must use a minor action to retrieve the item. If the attack was not made with either a weapon or an implement, nothing happens.
  2. The character is slowed until the end of their next turn.
  3. The character grants combat advantage to the enemy they attacked until the end of the enemy's next turn.
  4. The character falls prone.
  5. If the character's next attack hits, it inflicts half damage. If the attack misses, it cannot deal damage or an effect that would occur on a miss.
  6. The character provokes an opportunity attack from the enemy they attacked.

The once per round limitation is there to keep characters who can attack multiple times per round from being unfairly punished by this optional rule. While it does penalize players, each player can decide to simply accept that they missed and be done, so it is completely optional. Allowing players a chance to recover from a bad roll, even if it can potentially disadvantage them, can make the characters feel more heroic.

Thought it may seem like a good idea to use this same rule for monsters, I personally advise against it- the PC's opponents may be quite powerful, but they aren't the stars of the show, and such feats as falling flat on your face while getting in a lucky hit should be reserved for the heroes.

Also, you should consider the fact that this rule can add additional time to an encounter, so you may not want to have the possibility of a fumble each turn! I tried to keep the penalties imposed reasonable, and it's entirely possible that a penalty may not apply to a character- if so, good for them!

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25May/110

D&D Character Themes – The Mighty Thor-Guy!

Thor (Marvel Comics)

Image via Wikipedia

So I went to see Thor Sunday, and while I was watching it, I started to think about how I could make everyone's favorite hammer-chucker in D&D. The key problem was that Thor is primarily a melee beast, but he also has an awesome ranged attack, and his fighting style alternates between the two rather seamlessly.

If it's in his face, he swings his hammer at it, if it's not, he hurls Mjolnir while he advances. I have seen a lot of melee classes acquire a secondary ranged weapon (Dwarven Thrower weapons are very popular), but in this case, it's really a gimmick- something to do when you can't reach an enemy.

I wanted to build a Thor-style character who uses the ranged attack as an integral part of what he does as a matter of course, allowing for that seamless switch in tactics. To date, only a few classes really pull this off:

The Ranger

The Ranger was designed to be able to use melee and ranged attacks equally. While you can (and many Rangers do) specialize in one tactic over another, it's not hard to build a Str/Dex Ranger who is equally at home in and out of melee, especially when Dwarven Thrower and Hungry Spear enchantments come into play.

But Thor is no Ranger- the Ranger's job is Striker, and while Thor is a damage-dealer, he seems a bit more “in-your-face” to me. He's a guy with a high AC who presents a problem to the Bad Guys, protecting his allies. That screams Defender to me.

The Slayer

This is a little more like it- the Slayer is plenty tough, and there are ways to make him a credible semi-Defender thanks to his Fighter chassis. He can be built to use Ranged attacks rather effectively as well. So this is a class I kept my eye on.

As an aside, the Slayer is actually better at switching between melee and ranged tactics than the Essentials Scout-Ranger, and a lot tougher as well.

The Hexblade

Another Striker, the Hexblade has both a very nice melee weapon (in some cases, one of the best melee weapons in existence), as well as ranged powers. While one could describe the powers differently to achieve the same effect, again, this is a Striker class better suited to skirmishing than Thor's general disdain for personal safety.

The Rogue

The Rogue, and his twin brother, the Thief, are very good classes for switching between melee and ranged tactics. Unfortunately, the Rogue classes are a bit squishy and better suited for skirmishing than everyone's favorite Thunder-Guy.

The Seeker

The Spiritbond build powers are designed to allow you to use a heavy thrown weapon in either melee or ranged combat. There's some nice stuff here, and one could imagine Thor as a Spiritbond Seeker very easily. That having been said, being able to smack stuff in melee is an afterthought, and most Spiritbond Seekers would be much happier staying out of melee combat.

Ultimately, what I wanted as a tough, Defender-style character, who innately uses ranged powers as part of his arsenal without skipping a beat. This is what I ended up doing:

The Mighty Thor-Guy”

Human Knight
Knight Option: Shield Finesse
Human Power Selection Option: Bonus At-Will Power
Auspicious Birth (Auspicious Birth Benefit)

Str 16 (18), Con 10, Dex 13, Int 9, Wis 16, Cha 10

Trained Skills: Athletics, Diplomacy, Heal, Nature, Streetwise

Stances: Battle Wrath, Poised Assault

Bonus At-Will Power: Cleave

Feats: Shield Finesse (bonus), Deft Hurler Style, Primal Sharpshooter (Multiclass Seeker)

As you can see, I had to give up some aspects of the original character to make this work. As a God/Alien/Superhero, Thor himself has more character points to work with! The low Constitution is where this is really apparent, and I'm forced to rely on a Background to make up for the hit point deficit, which means I could only use this character in a game that allowed them (such as Living Forgotten Realms). The investment in Dexterity is required for Deft Hurler, one of the linchpins of the build, and the unusually high Wisdom is there to support his Multiclass.

Deft Hurler allows the character to, when using Cleave, replace the normal benefit (Strength damage to an adjacent enemy) with something truly awesome: you can make a ranged basic attack (that does not provoke opportunity attacks) against any enemy in range other than the one you just hit with Cleave!

Thus every turn, Thor-Guy can smack someone in melee, and simultaneously throw his mighty hammer at some other enemy who isn't necessarily anywhere near him! The Seeker multiclass makes this even better, allowing him to use Guardian Harrier once per encounter. Guardian Harrier is a ranged basic attack, so he can Cleave one enemy, and then Guardian Harrier in the same action!

So why Guardian Harrier? Mostly because it's special effect scales with Strength, an attribute Thor-Guy will have in spades. Specifically, it causes the target to take Strength damage if they don't move at least two squares away from their starting position on their turn. This is especially nasty if used on an enemy already in Thor-Guy's Defender aura, but it can also be used to force a brute to move away from one of your squishier comrades. Most enemies will suck up the bonus damage, but that's not a bad thing either.

The other benefit you get from Primal Sharpshooter is Inevitable Shot. Granted, it's only once per day, but it can be quite amusing to see. You Cleave, and make a ranged basic against another enemy. You miss, so you Inevitable Shot the missed attack...right back at the guy you just hit with Cleave!*

*This is legal as far as I can tell, but your DM may raise an eyebrow at such shenanigans, so, as always, YMMV.

At level 1, Thor-Guy probably won't be using his build to maximum advantage, since it involves disarming himself, not generally a good move. Plus, there aren't many good heavy thrown weapons that are also decent melee weapons. Thor-Guy may actually be forced to carry a Trident around, of all things (and more than one, at that!).

Still, the character remains a functional Knight- you can still use Cleave in it's normal configuration, dealing damage to an adjacent foe, so that's still a plus. Your stances were chosen because they work with both ranged and melee basic attacks, so you don't have the control of Defend The Line either. And there's the fact that you only have 9 healing surges, so you may have to take less risks.

Still, level 1 Thor-Guy is a competent Defender, if not a top-tier one. Once he gets his hands on a magic Trident (or, by Odin, a Dwarven Thrower Warhammer!), he'll come into his own, hopefully by (or even before) level 2!

The only real issue with this build is that you cannot use Power Strike with any of your other abilities, meaning you won't get much use out of it until there's only a single enemy. And when fighting a solo, you won't be making many ranged attacks either (although remember that Guardian Harrier can be used in melee, if you happen to be wielding something with the Heavy Thrown property!).

While the real Thor scoffs at using a Shield, there's no reason for Thor-Guy not to use one. One of the big advantages of this build is the high defenses you can get. Let's take a look at Paragon Thor-Guy:

Human, Knight, Crimson Hunter
Knight Weapon Specialization Option: Staggering Hammer

Str 21, Con 11, Dex 14, Int 10, Wis 19, Cha 11

AC: 30 Fort: 30 Ref: 22 Will: 27
HP: 96 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 24

Powers: Battle Wrath, Poised Assault, Defend The Line, Inevitable Shot, Cleave, Guardian Harrier, Secrets of the City*, Healer's Gift*, Shield Block*, Fighter's Grit*, Ravaging Shot

Feats: Shield Finess (bonus), Deft Hurler Style, Primal Sharpshooter, Master at Arms, Superior Will, Superior Fortitude, Encouraging Shield, Stout Shield, Primal Eye

*The Utility Powers are personal preference, and you can switch them out for anything you like. I didn't take Intimidate, despite it having some very nice Defender Utilities, again, from personal preference. Secrets of the City is really only good for Skill Challenges, and Thor-Guy sadly doesn't have the kind of Charisma the real Thor possesses. Intimidate would probably be a better choice to get things like Glowering Threat.

I went with Crimson Hunter as my Paragon Path, to bolster Thor-Guy's ranged attacks. The Path grants, among other things, a +1 bonus to hit with ranged attacks, and another ranged basic Encounter Power in Ravaging Shot.

Equipment is fairly standard, using the quick-start rules, I was able to get the following with money to spare:

Eagle Eye Goggles (Heroic Tier)
Badge of the Berserker +2
Dwarven Throwers (Heroic Tier)
Heavy Shield of Deflection
Dwarven Thrower Warhammer +3*
Summoned Gith Plate Armor +3

*I could have spent a Feat for a Craghammer here, Brutal 2 is nothing to sneeze at, but I wanted to get all the Defense-boosting Feats out of the way to show what you could have by level 11.

Our Mighty Thor-Guy has, at this point, +18 to hit with Cleave, and +20 to hit with his ranged basic attack. He can increase this by +1 with Poised Assault, but most likely he'll be increasing his damage with basic attacks by +3 with Battle Wrath. His melee damage is only 1d10+11, but his ranged damage is much more considerable, at 1d10+16, and, of course, don't forget that he can attack twice per turn.

There's some room for improvement, but I really like the way this build turned out, and I think it has a lot of potential. Maybe I'll even get to try it out someday...

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8Apr/110

Heroes of Shadow Review Part 1 – The Blackguard

I like Paladins. No, let me rephrase that. I love Paladins. They've always been one of my favorite classes, imbued with Divine power to protect the innocent, and punch Evil in the mouth.

I could regale bore you with tales of my first Paladin, Valric Manfred the Shadowbrand for hours on end, and he was just one of many.

When I started playing the new Edition, however, well, I could see something was wrong with my favorite class. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Paladins who choose to Defend, it's certainly in theme. But where were the Paladins that ran around smiting Evil?

The only Divine Striker was the Avenger, who, while pretty cool, isn't a Paladin. More like a Vatican Assassin or something. And yes, I'm aware of the Ardent, which is certainly a step in the right direction, but there was something a bit off about that build as well.

Here we have a Paladin who chooses to be a bad Defender in order to kick ass. Why not just cut out the middleman?

Enter the Blackguard, the Anti-Paladin Cavalier. Where the Cavalier has Virtues, he has Vices. He sure ain't Lawful, and he's probably not Good. But more importantly, he's a Striker. No Auras here, the Blackguard is here to take names and kick butt!

Which begs the question. Is he any good at it?

The Good

The Blackguard is a Strength-based melee class. That means he already has a strong melee basic attack, so he can charge and make opportunity attacks if need be. He can also use heavy thrown weapons, if you want to be like The Mighty Thor.

While he does use Charisma to power his special abilities, it doesn't need to be super-high. A 16 should do nicely, which means just about any race that has a bonus to Strength or Charisma can be a fine Blackguard.

Granted, there are two races that grant a bonus to both, the Dragonborn and the Vyrkola, but there are reasons those may not be the best choices. I'll get to them in a bit.

So unless you really want to poach some Charisma-based powers from the core Paladin (bah, puny Implement Powers), there are many fine choices for your Blackguard's race.

Secondly, the Blackguard is a Paladin, and he's built on the same chassis. Which means that I can officially award the Blackguard the title of World's Toughest Striker. 15+Constitution hit points, 10 starting healing surges, +1 to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will, as well as proficiency with Plate and Heavy Shields make the Blackguard a menace on the battlefield. If you want endurance, the Blackguard is your guy. Where other Strikers may quickly fall flat after a few Encounters, this guy keeps on going, and that's a good thing, because...

The Bad

The Blackguard is a mediocre Striker. He does have a damage-boosting mechanic, adding Charisma to his damage rolls...provided he has Combat Advantage. Unlike the Thief, the base Blackguard doesn't really have any way to guarantee Combat Advantage either, which will be an issue.

The Blackguard is capable of some ridiculous damage, but you're not going to see it every round, let alone every combat! Both Vices have a different method of delivering the big hits, and I'll discuss them in turn.

First, Domination.

Domination has a familiar-sounding method of increasing their damage output. If the Blackguard has temporary hit points, they can, as a free action, take damage equal to their Charisma-modifier. They then add a bonus to their damage roll equal to the damage they took.

Domination comes with an At-Will attack that grants them temporary hit points, just to give them a good chance to actually start their turn with at least one temp h.p.. I should also note that the class as a whole has several other ways to get temporary hit points, but that's the easiest method.

All Blackguards have an At-Will attack that inflicts 2 bonus damage per enemy adjacent to them (maximum of +8), and an Encounter power that works a little like the Cavalier's Holy Smite- when they target an enemy with an At-Will attack, they can use their Dread Smite to automatically inflict cold/necrotic damage, and if the attack hits, toss on ongoing 5 cold/necrotic.

So, if the following conditions are met:

  • Blackguard has temporary hit points on their turn.
  • Blackguard has combat advantage against an enemy.
  • Blackguard is adjacent to four or more enemies.
  • Blackguard attacks with Vengeance Strike, uses Dread Smite, and hits.

(Assuming Str 18, Cha 16): 1 [W] +15 damage, plus 5 cold/necrotic, plus 5 ongoing cold/necrotic.

That's a really nice hit, and it doesn't even consider other bonuses, just raw Strength and Charisma! At the same time, however, there are going to be many turns where you can't combo like that, and likely turns where you're doing 1 [W] + Strength damage!

This makes the Blackguard a very swingy Striker, even more so than the Rogue.

As for Fury Blackguards, they have a little easier time inflicting their damage. They get a +2 bonus to damage when they have Combat Advantage (on top of the existing bonus), which rises to +4 if the enemy is bloodied. They also have an At-Will attack that gives them Combat Advantage on their next attack. This makes them a little less swingy, and possibly somewhat more accurate as well.

It's still far from guaranteed, and in most battles, their damage output will seem less spectacular than other Strikers.

The Ugly

As the Blackguard rises in level, he gains access to other methods to increase his damage, but many of them are Encounter-based or equally situational. This means that a Blackguard player needs to be patient, and wait for the right moment to get synergy with his various damage boosting techniques.

He isn't very good at front-loading damage, and his nova takes some setup. With the right party, his job gets a lot easier, but most Strikers prefer to be able to function alone, without depending on others.

This isn't to say that the Blackguard is bad- he's not. But if your (or your fellow player's) idea of a good Striker is someone who can front-load massive damage and kill enemies within the first few turns of combat, then you should stick to Rangers or Rogues.

The Blackguard is good in games like Encounters, where you have to conserve resources over the course of a month, and you can afford to be patient, waiting for that moment when the stars align just so, and you deal so much damage your DM will faint dead away!

In something like LFR, however, where there are generally less combats (due to time constraints), the Ardent will be vastly superior to the Blackguard, as they can afford to spam their abilities.

In summation, the Blackguard is a rewarding class, but the rewards are somewhat different than other Striker classes. If you like the idea of being a darkly divine hero who smites his enemies in close combat, and can take any amount of punishment the game can dish out, then you should definitely check out the Blackguard!

Races

Dragonborn seem to be a natural fit for Paladins of all stripes, and the Blackguard is no exception. However, the main problem with them is that their Dragonbreath power's damage is based on Constitution, and that may be an attribute you'll have a problem raising high enough to be relevant. If you're not playing pure Essentials, there exist Feats to mitigate this, but be careful not to spend too many Feats on a single Encounter ability!

Vyrkolas, with their noble bearing and dark ancestry, make excellent Blackguards. However, when bloodied, they do take a minor penalty to their healing surge value. It's not much, and at higher levels, it is quite probably academic, but it is a small hit to their overall toughness, which is a big selling point of the class.

There are few bad choices, but Dwarves are a pretty solid choice. The +2 to Con won't go to waste, and the minor action Second Wind will only increase your overall toughness. Further, if your game allows for non-Essential Feats, Dwarves have a lot of nice ones to choose from, including the excellent -to-slightly overpowered Dwarven Weapon Training.

That's all for now, I hope you've found this review to be informative. See you next time for more D&D Heroes of Shadow reviews!

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9Feb/110

D&D 4E Rules in Review: Is it my turn yet?

So here we are again, talking about those wacky 4e rules. This time, I'm going to go over rules that confuse even veteran gamers, 'readying an action' and 'delaying'.

So what's the problem?

D&D is not a very accurate simulation of real life. If, for example, a massive brawl breaks out in real life, you don't have people standing around, patiently waiting to take their turn in battle. It's every man for himself (and women...and warforged. And shardminds!), acting all at once in a big confusing mess.

D&D wants to attempt to give you the feel of a big, chaotic combat scene, while still making it easy to figure out who's doing what, and when. So we have the nice orderly combat sequence. The guy with the highest initiative goes first, and we take it from there.

Thanks to immediate actions, immediate interrupts, and opportunity actions, you can also act during someone else's turn, which further helps immerse yourself in the combat experience. So far, so good.

Inevitably, however, someone will want to wait for an opportune moment to act. I remember way back in the day (2e), the Blink spell would cause the caster to randomly phase in and out of the material world, making them hard to attack. A canny player would ask if they could just wait for the Wizard to materialize before smiting him on his pointy hat.

Regardless of how the rules worked, the player would insist on being allowed to do just that, simply because you can do it in real life. Never mind that casting spells or swinging swords the size of Rhode Island aren't possible in real life!

So rules were written to allow this sort of thing to happen, to try and not deprive players of actions they could reasonably take. The theory is sound, really. A player with higher initiative has a choice. Act now, before anyone can react, or set yourself up to react to the tactics of those who aren't quite as quick on the uptake. In practice, things get a little screwy.

Readying an Action

You hear this one a lot. “I want to shoot at the first enemy I see when the door is opened!” It sound reasonable enough, doesn't it? Rather than attack now, you want to attack at an opportune moment. So let's go over the rules in more detail.

Readying is a Standard Action. Sort of. Actually, you're setting aside your Standard Action to use later on in the turn. Of course, it doesn't need to be a Standard Action- Move and Minor Actions are also fair game. When you Ready, you select the type of action you want to use, and the intended target, if any.

Next, you select a trigger for when the Readied action will occur. When the trigger occurs, your action occurs, as if it were an Immediate Reaction (and thus using up your Immediate Action for the round). If it doesn't occur, or you elect not to use it for some reason, you simply take your next turn as normal.

Some DM's may wish you to be very specific with your triggers, in order to prevent abuse. Here are some examples:

“The first enemy that comes within range, I'll blast with Magic Missile!”

“When a kobold moves adjacent to me, I want to Bull Rush it!”

“If Hugo, the brigand leader, attacks Tusk, our Warden, I'll use Healing Word on Tusk.”

It's important for your DM to be both fair and consistent with how permissive he is on setting Readied Action triggers. If he's too strict, then this action will be primarily reserved for corner cases, and not used often- which may suit him (or her) just fine! On the other hand, if too permissive, everyone will ready actions all the time, making a shambles of turn sequence.

Just remember, however, that the monsters can Ready actions as well, and it may be to their benefit to do so! So the same rules will apply and be (ab)used equally.

If you use your Readied Action, your Initiative is reset so that now you act just before the creature or event that triggered it. So, for example, if your Initiative is 20, and you use your Readied Action during another creature's turn (let's say, a Hobgoblin who has a 14 Initiative), next turn you won't act until just before the Hobgoblin's turn.

Now things get a little more complicated.

Opportunity Attacks

Let's say that you want to Ready a ranged attack. Ranged attacks normally provoke Opportunity Attacks. There's an enemy standing next to you, so you don't want to attack on your turn. You might think that Readying with a trigger of “as soon as the enemy is no longer adjacent to me” might be a good idea.

Sadly, you'd be wrong! Readying an Action that provokes is the same as making the action. So our hapless archer would be struck immediately. Oops!

In addition, performing a Readied Action that provokes also provokes. This may sound a bit unfair, but there is some logic behind it. Even if an Action provokes, you cannot make Opportunity Actions on your own turn. Since a Readied Action usually occurs on someone else's turn, they might not be allowed to react to it the way they normally would. Many enemies have triggered abilities they can employ when attacked, so while Readying is a good tactic to use against them, it's not without it's weaknesses.

Interrupting

A Readied Action is an Immediate Reaction, which means it occurs after it's trigger. This may make it seem impossible to attack before your enemy does when your Action triggers. However, you can set your trigger to be dependent on an enemy's movement. For example:

“If the Orc swings his axe at the Wizard, I'll shoot him with my bow!”

“If the Orc moves adjacent to the Wizard, I'll shoot him with my bow!”

This just goes to show it pays to think about what will trigger your Action!

Another thing that often comes up with Readied Actions is when “beginning” and “ending” of turn effects occur. The answer, actually, is when they normally do! You make a Readied Action during your turn, but your turn doesn't stop there. So if you are suffering from Ongoing 5 damage, you take it, you Ready, you make whatever other actions you like, then you save.

If your trigger goes off, your Initiative changes, but you will take the damage again at the beginning of your next turn as normal. Some canny players will think to use a Readied Action to change their Initiative order to go after an ally who can grant them a saving throw or heal them. It's perfectly legal to do so, although your DM may quirk an eyebrow in your direction at such tactics.

Just remember, however, that this works both ways. For example, if you are “vulnerable 5 to all damage (save ends)”, changing your Initiative could give monsters more opportunities to take advantage of you than they would have ordinarily! Alternately, your DM may look at the rules for Delaying, which are very clear for how Start and End of Turn effects are applied.

Delay

As a free action, you may wish to wait to take your turn until later in the combat round. There are several reasons to do this. For example, Striker classes often have excellent Initiative, and Defender classes often...don't. If you are a melee Striker, you might not want to run into combat before your Defender, so Delay becomes a good option for you.

Leader classes are also often “initiative-deprived”. This normally works to their advantage, as their powers are often reactive in nature. A Leader who gets a good Initiative roll, however, may want to Delay until an ally is wounded, or the battle shifts.

Once you Delay, you can return to the Initiative order after any turn has been completed. Your Initiative changes to this new position in the order.

If you don't take your Delayed turn, for some reason, when your original Initiative comes back up in the order, you lose the Delayed turn and take your turn then.

Start and End of Turn

Effects that are triggered by your turn starting happen when you opt to Delay- you can't Delay to avoid ongoing damage, for example. Any effect you are sustaining ends, and effects that last until the end of your turn now end if they are beneficial to you and your allies! This prevents you from extending the duration of a beneficial effect.

After you take your Delayed turn, you make the saving throws you normally do at the end of your turn, and the durations of baneful effects that expire at the end of your turn now do so.

Since you can lose a Delayed turn if you do not take it, if you are suffering from a baneful effect, such as ongoing damage, be careful with this option!

With as much confusion as these rules tend to cause at gaming tables, you'd expect them to be more complicated than this, but it really boils down to the fact that, most of the time, you don't have much reason to Ready or Delay. Properly used, these tactics can make your character very effective. Improperly used, and you're literally wasting time.

DM's need to be careful as well. While it may seem like a good idea to use Ready and Delay to foil your player's tactics, doing so will no doubt frustrate and annoy them needlessly. For example, let's say you know that the party Leader can grant saving throws.

You have an enemy who can place “stupidly annoying effect (save ends)” on players. Delaying your enemy's turn until after the Leader's will ensure a whole round of bad stuff...and make the Leader less effective. Until the Leader starts Delaying. Which could end with both your enemy and the Leader simply losing turns!

Since you probably don't want each encounter turning into a glorified game of 'chicken', it's best to use such tactics sparingly. Let the players open the door when it comes to more advanced options; if they want to use the rules to their advantage, that's fine- show them that it works both ways!

You just don't want to force your players into having to master areas of the rules they aren't comfortable with yet.

With all that in mind, I hope this article has given you new insight into how to make the rules work for you, instead of against you!

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26Jan/110

Mistvale D&D Campaign: Technical Difficulties!

Define irony. Not long ago, I wrote an article about my first 4e adventure, sharing insights into my design process. So what happens when I get a chance to run it for my friends? Four dead PC's, only avoiding a TPK by pure chance!

So what went wrong?

The party had progressed into the final stages of the adventure, which consisted of three encounters. The first encounter had the party face a pair of animated ice statues, with a small gang of artillery minions spawning behind them.

24Jan/110

Creating Worlds: My First Campaign

Yes, I know, I promised to talk about rules stuff next. Sue me. I'll get around to it, since I've noticed actions that change initiative, not to mention exactly how immediate actions work, tend to confuse even 4e veterans.

Well, to be fair, I've never seen a system where readied actions didn't confuse everyone! I'll expand on that more later. You may have noticed I haven't been as prolific in my writing of late, and the reason is- I didn't have much new to say!

I keep touching on the same points in my editorials, and often, I come off as way too critical- something else I've talked about before. It may seem paradoxical that someone who claims to enjoy gaming nitpicks about it so damn much!

11Jan/114

Total Insanity- D&D 4E Rules in Review

I'm something of a 'mechanics guy'. The 'crunchy bits' of how a game functions intrigues me, both from a simulationist (how well the mechanic matches reality) and a gamist (how well-balanced the mechanic is within the framework of the game) perspective.

Often, mechanics that try and match reality tend to be somewhat over-complicated and even broken- simply put, the universe has a lot more variables running at any given time than anyone can keep track of.

So the best, and most balanced mechanics, are the simplest ones. And usually, the mechanics most divorced from 'reality'.

At both ends of the scale you get a lot of arguments. One of the features of 4e design is that the rules are made as simply as possible, using something that has been defined as “exception-based” design. There is a set of basic rules, which regulate the game. Unless a game element goes out of it's way to say it changes these rules, you always default to the basic rules.

For example:

7Jan/110

A New Year of Gaming

Wow, 2011 already. That's one thing that always amazes me as I get older- how much faster the years go by! Well, so far, the new year is definitely better than the old in at least two respects. One, my health is a lot better, even though I still have a good 50-100 pounds of encumbrance I could stand to lose. Definitely need to work on that while there are still chairs that can support my weight!

And two, I've reconnected with an old flame. No, Cupid hasn't managed to hit me with an arrow lately- much like a dragon, my defenses only increase with time. I imagine he'll need a nat 20 to hitch me up with a girl at this point!

But I digress. Dungeons and Dragons remains my first true love. We've been through a lot, the game and I, ever since I discovered it back in Junior High. And despite the occasional break-ups and betrayals, we always get back together in the end.

As I've mentioned before, 4e felt like a betrayal to me. I'd spent a lot of time mastering the 3.5 ruleset, and purchasing many products. I was comfortable with the game, and I felt that it could only get better. Unfortunately, Hasbro/WotC had other plans.

4Jan/110

Thoughts on Gamma World

What is Gamma World?

It's a fair question, I think. We're told it's a variation of the D&D game, and it uses very similar rules. But it's not really compatible either- Gamma World PC's scale up much more quickly, adding their full level to just about everything, even damage. Sometimes they even add a multiplier of their level to a game element!

The various origins aren't really balanced- most do seem balanced against each other, but occasionally you see things that are obviously better or worse than the baseline. Given the random nature of the game, however, this does tend to work out fairly well- if your character is weak, you probably won't make it, and it doesn't take long to generate their replacement.

The characters also level quickly- the adventures in the first set will get you to level 3, and I'm told that Famine in Far-Go's encounters will get you to level 6, should you survive.

And that's the real test of this game. Your characters seem pretty tough and powerful at first. But the game doesn't kid around, and chances are, you're going to die. A lot.

The game really feels like a throwback to Gygaxian-style design. You never know how awesome (or not) your character will be, and the challenges are nasty enough that you shouldn't get too attached to your character. As you put character after character through the meat grinder, however, you're guaranteed to eventually get a good character, or learn how to step up your game and play smarter.

Or both.

30Nov/100

Dipping into the Red – A Red Box Holiday Story

So I got a text message the other night. I am thinking of braving the hordes and picking up the red box for Kara. It was my friend Brandon. We had been talking the other week about how Kara really wanted to play some more of the table top World of Warcraft game that we did some time ago. I told Brandon that I had started to get ideas on how to convert WoW class abilities into the new DnD Essentials format. he thought the idea was good, but he kind of wanted to disassociate WoW with other gaming. So I told him about the Red Box.

Before I continue, let me talk about Kara. Kara is Brandon's 9 year old daughter. And gaming is in her blood. Her father has been a gamer since grade school, as well as her mother, Kate. Kate has been playing D&D as well for some time, and is an active LARPer. Kate's husband, Garret  is also a heavy gamer and LARPer. Kara has been raised around gaming since she was crawling still. She loves Gromlock from Transformers: The Movie. (Yes the 1980s movie). She bleeds d4s, while her mother insists that she only bleeds d2s.

She loves playing hunters on WoW because of the pets. I ran a WoW based adventure for Kara, Brandon, and my roommate Joel one night. Kara played a hunter who's pet was a Pegasus (yeah a little much, but you have to keep kids interested somehow). They started out in Northshire and they had to take care of a kobold problem in a cave nearby. I even had the kobalds saying their trademark fighting words, " You no take candle!" They only made it through only half of the adventure, but for the past few months its always been on something on Kara's mind. Every time Kara would be staying with Brandon at his house she would ask him when I was going to run that WoW game with the miniatures again. Each time with an eager grin on her face, full of that childish excitement.

It was black Friday when I texted Brandon back, Do you want me to head over to Barnes and Nobles now to pick it up for you? I'm already here in town.

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