Monday, August 27, 2012

Resources for Reclaiming Blingdenstone

I'm getting ready to run Reclaiming Blingdenstone as a PbP for a bit.  Below, I've collected some resources from around the web that can help in running the adventure.  I'll expand as I find new materials.

Trackers and quick reference sheets for Reclaiming Blingdenstone:

Digital versions of the two main maps, plus some more options for chapter three:

A replacement for the Drow antagonist from Appendix 3- The Cult of Urlden

More electronic maps- this time for the Dungeon Mapp program:

What is the last group of maps for?

Several of these are from Jeremy Murphy blog, Over the Misty Mountains.  Well worth checking out his other posts on adapting the D&D Next rules and creating some enhancements to the adventure.

My exploration, time, and vision rules and quick reference tables:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Goblin PCs for Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition

As I've mentioned a number of times, I really enjoy Goblins as a PC race.  For fans of old school gaming, James Maliszewski at Grognardia created these Dwimmermount Goblin PC rules for his Dwimmermount setting using the Labyrinth Lord rules.  James uses a mix of regular LL, LL Original Characters, and Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition for his games, but his race rules for the Goblin lean strongly towards the original edition rules- split advancement, limited class selection, racial prime requisites, etc.

I'm currently working on putting together some OSR-style dungeon crawl adventures that I want to run via PbP.  I'd like to offer Goblins as a PC race (since I expect players will be running multiple different PCs over the course of things, death being a frequent possibility) but wanted to adapt the Goblin rules to be a little closer to the rule system I had in mind- essentially a simplified LL Advanced Edition that keeps the notion of race and class being separate, but focuses on the core four classes of Fighter, Magic-user, Cleric, and Thief.  With that goal in mind, I pulled together the following rules for Goblin PCs in Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When Good PC Races Go Bad: Dwarves

What makes a Dwarf turn to the diabolic arts?  What makes Elves evil?  In this series of posts, I'll inexplicably examine what might motivate an evil member of one of the normally good PC races- and how they might behave once they've gone over to the Dark Side.

Why, you ask?  Mostly idle hands and idle curiosity.  I also think it may provide some story ideas for people, or provide some more realistic motivations for in-game villains.  Keep in mind here I am describing evil individuals from the non-evil races- Duerger, Drow, and the like are another matter entirely.

Today we'll be dealing with the stalwart and reliable Dwarves.  How might a Dwarf- normally the embodiment of Lawfullness, Goodness, quality craftsmanship, and gruff-but-loveable-ness wind up as an antagonist for the player characters?  How would an evil Hill or Mountain Dwarf go about carrying out his evil schemes?  Read on for some suggestions.

Monday, August 20, 2012

5e Character Creation Redux

After last nights exhaustive (and exhausting) walk through, I tried my hand at creating another D&D Next character.  While Foobar Testface was a pretty straightforward concept and execution, I decided for my next candidate to be a bit more creative.  To that end, I went full Willow on the character creation rules, creating a Neutral Evil Hafling Wizard Spy Necromancer, who I've yet to name but am currently referring to as 'Bad Hobbit'.

This time, I played with the standard stat array (8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15) rather than going for random rolls.  I also ignored the RAW for play test character creation and assigned my attributes right from the get-go, rather than waiting until after my Racial and Class abilities were ready to plug in.


  • Human attribute bonuses seem even more OP after running through the character creation process with a non-human.  +1 to every single attribute AND +2 to your primary attribute seems like a bonanza, particularly if you're someone who likes well-rounded characters.  With attributes getting more attention than ever with D&D Next (thanks to the apparent decline in importance of skills & skill ranks), this really feels like an obligatory feature if you are at all interested in optimizing a character.
  • Halfling racial abilities all seemed to fit the theme of the race quite well.  I'm pleased to see the return of some mechanical benefits for sub-races, but the Halfling race bonuses do seem to push them solidly in the direction of Rogue being their best class, and them being the best Rogues.  That's OK, as long as the playing field is relatively level for everyone else, and they aren't head-and-shoulders above the rest of the gang.
  • Halfling weapon dice scaling salves the bitter wounds left by weapon shrinkage in 3.5e.  Hoping that other Small races (like my beloved Gnomes and Goblins) get comparable qualities to keep them competent at hand-to-hand, but not holding my breath.
  • Creating a Wizard gave me some much harder choices to make compared with the Warlock I built yesterday.  While the Warlock Invocations were fairly easy to pick (and there weren't many of them), I spent a fair bit of time thinking about situational uses for my spells and minor spells.  I quite missed having a larger range of cantrips to choose from that I could plug into 0-level slots instead of a fixed pool of at-will spells.  I've often found uses for Mage Hands over the years, but felt like Light and Detect Magic were obligatory utility spells and that I needed an offensive at-will (like Magic Missile) to round out the selection instead of relying on my sling skills (though the sling does have a nice +6 to hit and 1d6 damage).  I kind of hope Detect Magic eventually gets baked into something like a Magical Lore check- it's such a universally used spell that requiring every character to have it starts to feel like a spell tax, or like you have fewer spells than you are told.
  • Building on the above- the Magic-User specialty feels even more useful when faced with having to pick cantrips that you will presumably have with you forever.  Doesn't seem like (so far) there is a way to gain more later.  Again, I'd prefer the 0-level spell slots option to having this choice be permanent.
  • The level 1 Necromancer benefits seem a bit weak in comparison to the other prime-time spell caster specialty, Magic-User.  At first level you have a choice of two necromantic spells (Cause Fear and Ray of Enfeeblement), which means you aren't going to often have the chance to kill something and then cast a spell within one minute.  On the other hand, it likely will scale better with higher levels than having extra cantrips- being able to blast a minion with Magic Missile in round 1 and then cast a high-level necromantic spell with advantage in round 3 could be a pretty nice combo.  Feels a bit like the nub of a 'combo point wizard' build- wonder if they will build that out further at some point.
  • My Warlock from yesterday's post feels like a much bigger combat threat than my Wizard.  Getting off a Ray of Enfeeblement or a Burning Hands or two, followed by lots of Magic Missiles or sling stones seems pretty paltry compared with the Warlock's at-will 3d6 Eldritch Blast, to say nothing of his higher Hit Points and armor class and better weapon selection (again, still don't know why a Warlock would ever use a weapon).
  • Regarding balance- a number of posters on the forums have noted that the Sorcerer and Warlock feel a lot more powerful than the Core 4.  Not sure whether we will see a boost to the Core 4 or a nerf to the new guys, but one of the two is bound to happen quite soon.  The disparity between the combat potential of the Warlock and the Wizard (at least at low levels) makes me wonder if WotC is trying to push the Wizard a little more into the controller role that it held in 4e, while giving the Warlock the blasting/Striker crown.  Maybe it's just a transient effect of the two classes being in different stages of review, though.
Overall, I'm quite pleased with my Bad Hobbit.  I've never played a Halfling spell caster before, and created him mostly as a laugh, but now I'm quite looking forward to the opportunity to play him for a bit.  Anyone looking for a player ;)

D&D Next Character Creation Walkthrough

As the new D&D Next play test packet is out, I thought I would walk through character creation and see what the experience was like, approaching it from a fairly newbie-ish perspective- just to see what was there, and what was left out.

Character Concept
As my character concept, I decided to play a dark but charismatic arcane type- I've previously created a similar character in Pathfinder as a Infernal bloodline Sorcerer; since Greatsword-wielding Dragonblood is the only Sorcerer archetype available in the current play test, I decided to create him as a Warlock.  In keeping with the spirit of the experiment, I named him Foobar Testface.

Attribute Generation
In honesty, its been a while since I did anything other than point-buy or standard-array a character, so I rolled for variety.  The default method recommended (4d6 drop lowest x 6, arrange to taste) produced the following array: 13, 15, 8, 14, 9, 17

Not bad.  Four above average rolls, and two below average.  I was already eyeing making that 17 my Int (since it's primary for Warlocks) and the 15 my Cha, to provide some face-like interaction potential.

Race Selection
I'd settled on Human at the concept state, so this was a non-decision.  Nevertheless, it lead to a couple of observations.

Observation 1: The Human ability score bump feels overpowered: Right off the bat, Foobar Testface went from above-average to superstar.  His starting array now stood at 14, 16, 9, 16, 10, 18.  Rather than jump straight to 19 for my primary attribute, I decided to share the love a bit and gave myself a second score of 16 for an extra bit of bonus.
Observation 2: Humans are mechanically great, but their race features are boring: Yeah, the attribute bumps are great, but once you've assigned your +2 you're done with the interesting bits.  In previous editions, Humans had fairly generic bonuses, but at least got some choice in terms of extra feats, At-will powers, or other features.  The flavor of humanity is more flavorless than ever.
Observation 3: You actually need to assign attributes before picking a class or race: The provided character creation document gets it wrong on this one, in my book.  What's the first thing you see upon looking at your class description?  An ability modifier.  But I haven't assigned my abilities yet.  For that matter, if I hadn't already kinda-sorta pre-selected which numbers went with which abilities, I couldn't really have picked where to assign my +2 attribute bonus when I picked my race.  Rather than making attribute assignment come after Race and Class selection, WotC needs to provide a little primer on how to pick attributes (for example, a table of primary attributes for each class) and take care of that before we get to the race stage.  Otherwise, character creation happens in a weird order where you pick a race, but can't apply the ability adjustments for that race until later in the game.  Character creation should be a progression, not a process of flipping back and forth between chapters and hoping you haven't forgotten anything.

Class Selection
I'd decided to make Testface a Warlock from the outset, so I flipped to the Warlock chapter of the demo files to take a look at my Warlock abilities.  As I describe in Observation 3 above, I hit a snag here in that I was given the option of boosting an attribute by my class abilities, but hadn't put numbers to attributes yet.  I decided to ignore WotC's instructions at this point, and select abilities in order to facilitate writing down my class abilities.

Here's Foobar Testface's attributes, after class adjustment: Str 9, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 19, Wis 10, Cha 16

Observation 4: Class ability adjustment + race ability adjustment = superman: I chose to create a more well-rounded character, but at this point I could have had a starting Int of 20 if I wanted.  Using the starting array rather than random rolls, I would have been guaranteed an 18 in my primary attribute as a Human.  The max roll possible is now the default for Human members of that class.  Not sure what the implications of that are yet, but it implies a certain amount of built-in min-max-i- ness.  I'm not so naive as to think that a lot of (if not most) PC's were starting out with that 18 in their prime attribute before, but it does reflect a change.
Observation 5: Order of operations: The Character Creation document doesn't have me figuring up my starting HP and other combat numbers until later, but if you look at your Class description you get hit with formulas for this sort of thing immediately, which you need to then flip back for when you finalize your numbers and calculate your bonuses.  Which are on a chart several chapters back.  The order of events and sequence of pages and chapters you move through really needs to be streamlined, and maybe re-thought.  Why are starting HP calculations with each individual class, rather than at the end of the chapter when you are calculating HP?  We've always done this with starting money, but not HP.  Why not put the attribute bonus table at the end of the Class/Character Creation chapter, if your attributes are not going to get their final values until after you've picked your class?  Things get particularly lost when you get to the Class phase of character creation.  As a Warlock, when do I need to pick my invocations?  How do I record my boons- 2 per whatever unit time?  There is a whole ton of stuff to record, and it isn't clear where to put it, or, from a new players perspective, how much of it needs to be recorded at once.
Observation 6: Pact Benefits Need Names:  They just do.  I need to be able to reference an ability rather than writing the whole thing down.
Observation 7: Character sheet weirdness:  In general, I found the process of adding my class abilities to Foobar Testface needlessly complicated.  It wasn't clear where to record things on the character sheet, and how much detail was needed.  Things didn't have names.  There is a whole big huge chunk of text on my sheet for 'Race' and 'Class', and I'm not sure how it is meant to be different from the Racial Benefits and the Class Benefits section.  I don't have any Race benefits as a human worth noting, anyway, since they are all recorded elsewhere, so I would rather just have a big blank 'Class and Race Abilities' section that I could use for whatever I wanted.
Observation 8: Warlock balance:  Eldritch blast feels overpowered to me, in comparison to things like Sneak Attack or Magic Missile.  Automatic 3d6 from 50' away, uses the Warlock's Magic Base Attack Bonus (which is equal to the Melee Attack Bonus of a Fighter), doesn't require advantage, and never runs out of ammo.  At level 1, I ended up with a +7 attack that does 3d6 at-will.  Seems a little bit much.  Meanwhile, Breath of Night seems under powered as an expenditure of one of your two daily (or interval-ly) boons, particularly compared with something like Shadow Veil that can be used without spending a boon.

I left the class section feeling like I would need to come back again later and finish filling things in, and make sure I hadn't forgotten anything.

Background Selection
I didn't really have a clear idea of a background for Foobar, so I looked through the various packages available.  I ended up selecting Charlatan, as I felt like that tied in well with his social skills.
Observation 8: Here a skill, there a skill:  More of a knock on the character sheet, I guess, but there is no single place on the provided sheet to note all of your skill training.  Mr. Testface has three skills from his background, plus another skill from his class.  I'm guessing Races could also provide skill training.  That's three different places to look for your skill modifiers.  Make a 'Skills' section in a future character sheet, please.
Observation 9: Unskilled: It feels like D&D Next characters are trained in fewer skills, or more narrow skills, than in earlier editions.  3e characters had a number of different skills (assuming they weren't Fighters), and 4e skills covered a lot of territory.  Play test characters feel like they have a very narrow range of skill competency- maybe higher ability scores are meant to compensate?  Feels like there are fewer ways to customize a character and reflect their specific skill focuses compared to 3e or Pathfinder, and that the skills that they do have just aren't as valuable as they were in 4e.

Specialty Selection
Specialties are currently Feat-bags of sorts, pending the release of a full Feat system.  Some of the Specialties look great, because they can apply to a lot of different classes- Archer and Dual Wielder, for instance, could work for a Fighter, a Rogue, a Ranger, a Paladin, etc., depending on your focus.  The suggested Specialty for Warlock is Magic User, which adds the ability to cast a couple minor Wizard spells at level 1, and then adds the Find Familiar ability at level 3.  Necromancer was intriguing to me, since I've always loved the idea of having undead minions, but the level 1 ability is entirely useless for a Warlock; since there are no Necromantic Warlock spells for Foobar Testface to cast at level 1, I can either select something useless to me right now and for the foreseeable future in the hope of eventually getting a cool skeleton buddy, or take something useful right now and give up being able to progress towards having an undead minion.  I decided to suck it up and take Magic User.
Observation 10: Limited Specialties:  We really need more specialties available in order to judge how useful they are going to be.  There are really limited options right now that are of use to multiple classes.  While being a Rogue who can cast two minor Wizard spells may be kind of cool, I see most people just taking the Specialty package that 'matches' their class.  Some Specialty features- like familiars and having a fighting style- feel like they should be 'baked in' to classes like Wizard or Fighter or Ranger.

Assigning Attributes
If you hadn't already assigned attributes by now, you would need to go back and pick up your racial adjustments and class adjustments.  Don't see anyone who has played the game before doing that- the order of events needs to be revised.

Combat Numbers
Lots of flipping back to earlier sections here.  Also, though you're prompted to calculate your Armor Class here, you're not choosing equipment until later in the process.

Other Observations:

  • Healer's kits are dead cheap.  Why wouldn't everyone have one, making the Herbalist level 1 benefit kind of redundant?
  • Formatting on the character sheet is screwy- I got a lot of E's that look like 'F's because they are too low on the line.
  • Why would a Warlock bother carrying weapons?  'Eldritch Blast' seems to be the answer to every question.
  • Really liking the idea of making spells into rituals and using the Ritual Component Pouch.  Strikes a nice balance in terms of not needing to prepare as many 'what if' spells for Vancian casters, and adds some point to spell components without needing to count pinches of bat guano individually.
  • Non-savable PDF forms suck.  A lot.  Make the form savable if you're going to make it fillable.
  • No good place on the character sheet to note your melee attack bonus independent of what weapon you are using.  Might be handy if your character picks up a weapon at random- most of what I've equipped in the 'Attack' section so far were finesse weapons that used my Dex bonus + melee attack.
  • Lot of empty space on my character sheet right now.  On the sample characters, the writers wrote out a lot of description for each ability.  I'm not going to do that.  I'm going to write down some bare bones facts (uses per day/rest, range, damage, attack bonus, etc.) and a page number reference.
  • Can't fill out the name field on the character sheet PDF.
  • Seems to be some inconsistency between calling cantrips cantrips and calling them 'minor spells'.  I guess because of orisons.  It would be nice to just standardize things- call them 'minor arcane' and 'minor divine' spells.  Whenever I see 'orison', I have to mentally change it to 'cleric cantrip'.
  • Changing abilities from 'per day' to 'and then they are restored when you take a long rest' is really verbose.  We need a shorter way to say that.
  • Hard to really make too many judgement about the Warlock or Sorcerer classes without more Bloodlines/Pacts available.  Ideally that should end up as a really important choice for your PC, but right now every member of that class looks the same.
  • Some of the Specialties feel like they ought to be class options- Lurker jumps out as one that feels more comparable to Thief and Thug than to anything else.