Monday, September 1, 2014

D&D 5E Rules: Foresight

Like a lot of D&D fans, I’m digging into the new 5th Edition to see what makes it tick. There is a lot that’s familiar, and my overall first impression is good, but it will take an actual playtest and a decent chunk of time to really find the new game’s merits and warts. One easy thing I can do is take a look at rules that I don’t care for in 3E and see if and how they’ve changed in the latest version.

To start things off, I’m going to look at a spell that has gotten quite a bit of derision from my
longtime 3E/Pathfinder players. That spell is Foresight, a 9th level arcane spell that seems rather underpowered. Read on for a brief summary of the spell’s effects in 3.5/Pathfinder and 5th Edition, followed by a brief discussion of the differences.

Level: 9
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Duration: 10/min per level

This spell grants you a powerful sixth sense in relation to yourself or another. Once foresight is cast, you receive instantaneous warnings of impending danger or harm to the subject of the spell.

For the duration of the spell, you are never surprised or flat-footed. In addition, the spell gives you a general idea of what action you might take to best protect yourself and gives you a +2 insight bonus to AC and Reflex saves. This insight bonus is lost whenever you would lose a Dexterity bonus to AC.

When another creature is the subject of the spell, you receive warnings about that creature. You must communicate what you learn to the other creature for the warning to be useful, and the creature can be caught unprepared in the absence of such a warning. Shouting a warning, yanking a person back, and even telepathically communicating (via an appropriate spell) can all be accomplished before some danger befalls the subject, provided you act on the warning without delay. The subject, however, does not gain the insight bonus to AC and Reflex saves.

What does that second part mean? Is the GM supposed to allow the subject a kind of “do-over” against a triggered trap or other avoidable danger? It seems like that's the intention, and it's certainly more powerful than a mere +2 AC / Save bonus, but it lacks any kind of game mechanic to support it.
Why is the lesser spell effect detailed while the (potentially) greater effect left totally to abstraction? I'd accept such a spell in a less detail-oriented game like Basic D&D, but in Pathfinder, this seems to imply the spell is very underpowered for it's level. It basically boils down to nothing more than a meager bonus to AC and Reflex saves.

Level: 9 Spell
Casting Time: 1 minute
Duration: 8 hours

While under the effect of this spell, the caster can never be surprised. He gains advantage on all attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws. In addition, other creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls against the target.

The 5th Edition version has a longer casting time (1 minute vs 1 standard action), but lasts effectively all day (8 hours vs about 3 hours). As to the effects, the meager bonus of +2 to attacks and reflex saves is replaced by advantage to attacks, ability checks, and saves and disadvantage on attacks against the target.

While the math behind advantage and disadvantage is a bit complicated (see here for more), it basically boils down to a +5 or -5 modifier. Thus, we could say that the spell gives a +5 bonus to attacks, ability checks, and saves and gives all enemies a -5 penalty to all attacks against the target for 8 hours. Perhaps not as obviously powerful as other 9th level spells (power word kill, for example), it has certainly been beefed up from 3E.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Petty God: Somnau

Here is the second of the two gods I designed for Petty Gods. I designed Somnau almost entirely while hanging out at the Fort Sam Houston Chapel while my oldest son attended Boy Scout meetings. As before, the stats are for Labyrinth Lord, as per the terms of the original book. Pathfinder version forthcoming. 

Name: Somnau
An iron rod, partially wrapped in white linen bandages.
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 0
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 77 hp (17 HD)
Attacks: 2 (rod and touch)
Damage: 1d6+1 / 1d6
Save: F16
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XV, XVII
XP: 7,250

Some wounds heal completely and leave no trace of scarring; but not to the eyes of Somnau, petty god of forgotten injuries. Somnau teaches that mortals should be thankful for those wounds that have left no lingering effects and should never forget the lessons of failure. Mortals who don't learn from their mistakes and forget the injuries they suffered in the past risk drawing Somnau's wrath.

Somnau appears as a gaunt old man in a wide-brimmed hat. He is scarecrow-thin and marked with hundreds of small lacerations and bruises. In his left hand, Somnau carries an iron rod, which he wields with deadly effect despite his frail appearance. He can also attack by magically transferring some of his own injuries onto his opponent's body with a touch. Armor is little help against this attack (treat the target as unarmored, although magical armor still adds its “+” bonus). Each successful touch inflicts 1d6 damage to the target and heals an equal amount to Somnau’s hit points. Alternately, Somnau can use his touch to heal others. Up to 4 times a day, he can touch a single target to heal all but 1d4 damage and end all adverse conditions (this functions exactly like a heal spell).

Any damage Somnau inflicts leaves lasting wounds that heal much slower than normal. It takes three full days of rest to restore 1 hp damage caused by Somnau's hand or rod; magical healing is only half as effective as normal.

REACTION TABLE (Use Wisdom instead of Charisma for Modifier) 
Friendly: Provides a “healing touch” for up to 1d4 targets.
Indifferent: Lectures targets about forgotten wounds and the importance of not repeating past mistakes.
Neutral: Questions targets about past injuries and the lessons they learned.
Unfriendly: Demands targets accept a damaging touch as a “penance,” reacts with hostility to those who refuse.
Hostile: Attacks to wound but not kill, intending to inflict grievous injuries that serve as lessons to the victims.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Petty God: Kwunndle

Here is the first (and my favorite) of the two gods I designed for Petty Gods. I'm not sure if this one was ever illustrated because it doesn't appear in the Original Petty Gods PDF over on Gorgonmilk. These stats are for Labyrinth Lord, as per the terms of the original book. Pathfinder version forthcoming.

Kwunndle (God of Misplaced Objects)
Name: Kwunndle
Symbol: A dozen wavy vertical lines represent the reaching fingers of Kwunndle
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 2
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 50 (12)
Attacks: 2 (hands)
Damage: 1d6
Save: T12
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XVII
XP: 2,800

Obsessive Kwunndle is the god of misplaced items. His beady eyes can peer from the corners of far-away rooms, where he snatches unattended objects with his impossibly long fingers. Kwunndle cannot just snatch whatever he wants; only things that have slipped from their owners' conscious thoughts are his for the taking. Kwunndle appears as a squat blue humanoid with countless unnaturally long and bendable fingers. He is completely invisible when looked at directly and must be viewed out of the corner of the eye to be seen (which is reflected in his armor class).

Kwunndle is naturally cowardly and avoids contact with others. He is very covetous, however, and his greed will sometime drive him to seek out mortals to barter for their possessions. More often, others come to Kwunndle and try to convince him to return some precious lost trinket. In any case, the god will only accept lost or stolen goods in exchange for his acquired "treasures."

Kwunndle possesses the abilities of a 13th level thief. When forced to fight, he strikes from the shadows and uses his near-invisibly to flee if things go against him. He attacks with his long, pliable fingers, wrenching and choking his enemies. If Kwunndle hits with both attacks in a round, he can automatically strangle his opponent for 2d6 additional damage. This damage is ongoing unless Kwunndle releases his grip or the target breaks free.

Kwunndle Reaction Table (Not modified by any ability score, see below)*
Roll      Result
2-3       Very Interested: Will attempt to bargain for one of the characters' possessions.
4-6       Interested: Will attempt to steal one of the characters' possessions.
7-9       Neutral: Will ignore nearby creatures.
10-11   Unfriendly: Will hide in shadows from nearby creatures.
12        Hostile: Will hide in shadows and possibly attack.

* Modify the reaction roll based on the amount of jewelry, gear, and finery the character is wearing, from -2 for opulent wealth to +2 for obvious poverty.

Petty Gods

Petty Gods is the lesser-remembered victim of Grognardia’s closure, a really cool idea for a book that remains unfinished, 4 years after its inception. Inspired by the old Judges Guild product The Unknown Gods, the book was meant to be a collection of fan-created deities for use with the Labyrinth Lord D&D clone. Unlike books such as Deities and Demigods, Petty Gods would detail gods who each controlled a very small and often eccentric sphere of influence. Since they were so limited in power, most of these gods could be defeated by a party of swords-and-sorcery heroes, meaning that Petty Gods could double as a monster manual of sorts.

What’s particularly frustrating about this book is that, for all intents and purposes, it’s done. Hundreds of gods were submitted and approved. Volunteers stepped forward and provided art for each submission and a nice piece for the cover. One of the authors of Unknown Gods even wrote an intro for the book. According to one of the final posts on the subject, Petty Gods needed nothing more than some layout work. Whatever kept it from completion, it seemed dead when Grognardia closed its virtual doors.

Petty Gods was ideal for someone to just step up, tie a bow on this thing, and put it out there for the world, which is (kind of) what the guy behind the Gorgonmilk blog did in 2013 (three years after the original project began). Alas, the Gorgonmilk version of the project is vaporware at this point. Greg Gorgonmilk had big goals for Petty Gods, adding sections on knights and foods and other things, and attracting submissions from the likes of Michael Moorcock and James Ward. My best guess is that the project just got too unwieldy for one person’s volunteer efforts.

Greg did put out a mostly-finished version called Original Petty Gods, which is supposedly the original Grognardia version, but I know that it doesn’t contain one of my two deity submissions. It seems unlikely that I’m the only one to have a god vanish from this version of the book, leading me to believe that it’s not a truly finished product.

However, I still have the stats for both of my “petty gods,” as well as the art for one of them. I’m not artistic at all, so I really treasure this piece, drawn by a stranger who took my brief words and drew a very nice illustration. Seriously, I’ve written a lot of homebrew RPG junk over the years, and only VERY rarely has any of it gotten illustrated, so a special thanks to Mark Allen (whoever you are).

Since Petty Gods and everything associated with it was meant to be open content and since at least one of my gods somehow vanished from the one version of the game that is available, I’m going to repost them both here on my blog. The gods in question are stated out for Labyrinth Lord, but I plan to convert their stats to Pathfinder and eventually post both versions. I might even do a version that’s compatible with 5E, but we’ll have to see.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Video Link: A Brief History of Dungeons and Dragons

Perhaps a bit of an over simplification, but a nicely done short piece overall.

My Wife Made Me Do This

I’m getting out of the Army in a couple of months. Right now, I’m on transition leave, which used to be called terminal leave. In the simplest terms, it means that I’m on a three-month vacation. I’ve got a lot of time on my hands. I’ll be starting school in a few months, but until then I’ve got a little time on my hands.

“You should really write your own blog,” my wife said to me this morning.

“I don’t have anything to write about that a bunch of other people haven’t already said a thousand times. Does the world really need another stupid gaming blog?”

“Does it matter? Who would you be writing for? Other people, or just for yourself? I would give you something to do, give you some practice writing before you start college, and give you a place to get things off your mind.”
I really can’t argue with any of that. Plus, I already have a blog, I just don’t update it.

So…I’m back…I guess. Since no one reads this, I'm talking to myself. If I don't post real content on here today, I'll eat a bug.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Am I Back? Maybe...

This is one part gaming blog, one part life blog. Granted, I haven't posted in a good long while. I'm not going to speak to that, because what is the point? Saying I'm going to post more is just blowing warm air into the aether. Only posting real content counts.

I've been busy the past three weeks or so with the fine (and sometimes overwhelming) details of getting my wife and kids settled here in South Korea. Let me say that, after a year living here without them, I cannot overstate how happy I am to finally have them join me here. However, there is a lot to do just to get things put together here. There is already a pretty strong support system in place but one must often puzzle out how to use it. They are otherwise happy to just let a person flounder on his own. Couple in the fact that our vehicle has yet to arrive from the States and you have a recipe for long walks and real tests of one's planning and efficiency.

From a D&D standpoint, I feel like I've had first-hand appreciation for the size and scope of the pseudo-medievel fantasy urban setting. Granted, I have lived here (and had to walk everywhere) for over a year, but adding the family has complicated the process. Walking places with kids is a drag. Self-sufficiency means storing up staples and taking planned trips. It also means that areas of large populations tend to require access to basic supplies and provisions. There is no 15 minute drive to WalMart here; now it's a three hour walk to the grocery store.

The lesson, I think, is that D&D towns should be designed as a series of microcosms and self-contained areas. Even more wide-open settled regions should be dotted with villages. Every farm should probably be within walking distance or (at most) a wagon ride away from the nearest moderate settlement. Walking is pleasant and walking has certainly kept me in shape, but the fun fades quickly when your other transportation options are limited. Take away the buses and taxis that I DO have access to here, and I imagine the world would get even more compact and even smaller than it already is here.

A loose D&D connection? Perhaps, but it is a post, dammit.