the_gneech: (Default)
A very simple Pathfinder encounter.
Pictured: A particularly simple and streamlined 1st level Pathfinder encounter.

So Paizo announced yesterday they're doing a new edition of Pathfinder, pretty close to the ten-year mark. For me, this is a shrug moment, as I am for the first time that I can recall perfectly happy with a ruleset, namely D&D 5E. (I like it even better than Star Wars Saga Edition, which is saying something.)

My big hope for it would be a turn to simplicity and general "shedding of baggage" in the Pathfinder line, because I find most of their adventure modules unusably bloated and byzantine– and adventure modules are what I want from Paizo more than anything. (Man, I miss the days of 32 page "drop this in your campaign" modules. Even more I miss Dungeon magazine.)

But looking at all this with the detached view of someone who isn't going to change game systems in any case, I wandered over to ENWorld and the Paizo forums and... ugh. I always forget how pessimistic and pointlessly cynical the online gaming community is, until I go wade in again. I mean, I know the term "grognard" is used for a reason, but the gamers I actually hang out with are overall pretty awesome and upbeat people just there to have fun.

At this stage, I mostly feel bad for the Erik Monas and Mike Mearlses of the world, who have to try to engage with their user base and are constantly beset by this crap. "It's just a cash grab!" "YOU'RE DESTROYING MY GAME!" "I'm sooooo disappointed..."

And yes, I engaged in it myself, back in the day, I won't bother trying to deny it. I regret that, but the damage is done and I'm not the person I was ten years ago. But also, the online gaming community is not what it was then, either.

Long story short? I miss the days before "Don't read the comments." Internet forums are all comment! And they used to be fun and useful, once. :P

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Default)
Pictured: Probably not challenging enough.

Pictured: Probably not challenging enough.

In terms of round-by-round, 5E is great. It doesn’t have the grind-grind-grind problem of 3.x/PF, nor the “everybody is a sorcerer” problem of 4E (which, I’m told, also gets ridiculously grindy in short order).

But structurally, in terms of encounter building and monster design (and how that ties in with rest and advancement), I feel like it still has problems.

The Resource Management Game Nobody Plays

The “15-minute workday” is still a thing in 5E. The game is balanced around the notion that every two encounters (or so) the characters will take a short rest, and that after their sixth encounter of the day they’ll take a long rest.

In order for that to work, most of the individual encounters need to not be that tough. The party uses a big spell in one, the fighter loses some hit points in the next, and so on, but they can soldier on through. Because no one encounter is likely to wreck the party, they can keep on going until they’re out of Adventure Fuel (i.e., hit points and spells), and then recharge with a long rest.

The problem there is that, narrative wise, this can get real boring. If the stakes are that low for almost every encounter, and you have limited game time, there is a strong desire to “skip to the encounter that actually matters.”

So there is a strong inclination to beef up individual encounters, so that each one feels more significant. Instead of six rooms with six orcs each, the party finds three rooms with twelve orcs each. (Of course, in a well-built dungeon, there’ll be more variety than that. But you get the idea.)

But! When confronted with tougher encounters, players inevitably go nuclear on them– the wizard opens every fight with a fireball, the fighter uses their action surges, etc.– and it makes perfect sense for them to do so. The players don’t know how tough the encounter is or isn’t, or what the GM might have up their sleeve. Better to blast the hell out of everything and be reasonably sure you got it all, than to get one-punched by something without ever getting a spell off.

And what do players do after they’ve gone nuclear? They want a long rest to recharge! If that means backing out of the entire dungeon and coming back the next day to take it one room at a time? That’s what they’ll do.

Fighters get the shaft in a situation like this– their strength relative to magic-users is they can keep fighting all day without expending resources. But if the wizard gets recharged every time, the endurance of martial classes is irrelevant. (This is why everyone was a sorcerer in 4E.) Action surges and stuff like that make fighters a little more bursty to compensate, and of course 5E rogues are OP no matter how you slice it, so it’s not as bad as it was in 3.x/PF, but it’s still a thing.

The NERF™ Monster Manual

My campaign currently has a very large party. Six PCs, plus 1-3 NPCs of varying power levels depending on the scenario. This utterly breaks the action economy as it is, but even moreso once Bounded Accuracy comes into play.

Far from making it so that “even goblins can stay viable threats,” with a party this size B.A. makes it so that “even dragons are never a viable threat.” ;P In my last session, the 5th level party went into a fight with three wights and six zombies, and didn’t break a sweat. They were a little annoyed at the way the zombies kept standing back up again… but it wasn’t scary, so much as a nuisance.

Dammit, I want wights to be scary. -.-

When you have an edition in which levels 1-2 are pretty much intended to be skipped, but 60% of the monsters are CR 3 or lower, you end up with things like this. When you then combine NERF™ monsters with beefed up encounters, you suddenly have 5th level parties facing beholders. Combat then becomes very, very swingy, a game of rocket tag in which the only roll that matters is “initiative.”

Not great for “heroic fantasy” style gameplay. Also not great when the players have six chances to roll higher initiative than the monsters. ;P (Savage Worlds, a game that deliberately has rocket tag combat, also makes you check initiative fresh at the beginning of each round to at least add a little more uncertainty to this.)

Encounter Inflation and XP

The other danger of beefed up encounters, using the default assumptions of XP and level advancement, is that characters get beefed up XP, which in turn makes them advance faster, and the whole thing just explodes geometrically.

This can be avoided by decoupling XP from monster CR (or at least minimizing it), which a lot of my favorite RPGs of the past did by default. The HERO System for instance gave a pretty flat “3 XP per session, +/- 1-2 points for dull/easy or awesome/tough sessions.” You could (and our group often did) go through whole sessions without anyone so much as throwing a punch– and as long as everyone had a good time, you didn’t feel like you’d been shafted in the XP department for it.

The most recent Unearthed Arcana column has an interesting take on this, proposing a “100 XP per level” model in which exploration, interaction, and combat all have 1-4 tiers of difficulty, and any given encounter would give (10 x tier) XP.

I think this is a neat idea, although the first thing I notice is that it flattens XP progression back out. 5E is famously designed so that you fast-forward through levels 1-2, slow down for 3-10, and then pick up a little from 11+. The XP for monsters might still need work tho– it basically boils down to “5 XP per normal monster, 2 XP per minion, 15 XP for something way out of your league.” In the case of my party vs. the not-terribly-scary wights, that would have been 22 base XP, halved for having more than 6 characters, or 11 XP. Was that encounter really worth 1/10 of a level?

The tiers for treasure and interactions are also sorta arbitrary. Tier 4 exploration (worth 40 XP) is the discovery/wresting from monsters a “location of cosmic importance,” for instance. If a campaign starts doing the whole plane-hopping thing later, you’ll be discovering cosmic locations all the time, won’t you?

But the key thing is, with this system, combat is no longer the benchmark for character growth. Like the original “1 GP = 1 XP” model, characters who like to talk, sneak, or otherwise do things besides fight all the things have an alternate progression track, and that makes for a more varied and potentially-interesting game.

So What Does It All Mean?

Based on all this, I think I would prefer:

  • Beef up monsters a bit. When 1st level lasts a while, a CR 3 monster (like a wight) is scary longer. When the game starts at 3rd level and goes up from there, a CR 3 monster becomes the new baseline. By that reckoning, a lowly goblin should be at least CR 1, while a wight should be something like CR 5. Almost everything in the Monster Manual needs at least +10 hit points and +2 to their attack rolls. 😛

  • Tweak rests. This post is hella long already, so I will have to save the “rest” issues for another day. Something that will allow for tougher individual encounters, without screwing over the fighter types and/or creating 15 minute workdays is a big challenge.

  • Non-Combat XP is Best XP. A tier-based system in which each encounter (whether it is a puzzle, a roleplaying moment, a fight, a treasure looted, whatever) gains about the same XP makes for a much more interesting game. Is talking to the shop-owner as much of a learning experience as fighting for your life? Well… maybe not. But if it’s a great moment in the game, it should be more rewarding than just tossing a fireball at 2d6 orcs.

What do you think, players?

-The Gneech

the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)
Pathfinder Ultimate Combat cover

I remember the moment I was done with Pathfinder. I was trying to get my sputtering Eberron game to fly and I'd picked up a PF module, and one of the foes– not even the "boss fight" at the end mind you, but just a normal encounter in the middle of the adventure– had a stat block that was more than a page and a half long. Three-plus columns of 10-point type. I don't remember what the creature was, other than a general feeling of it being something along the lines of "fiendish half-golem mutant dreamlands giant oracle 4/barbarian 3/inquistor 2".

I literally looked at the page and said, "Oh, shut up."

People who've known me for a long time know that I jumped on the Pathfinder bandwagon early on and stayed with them for years. Given the options at the time, there were a lot of good reasons for doing so. But near the end of my run as a Pathfinder GM, my games were floundering. I kept trying to co-opt Star Wars Saga Edition for everything, or if that failed, switching to things like Savage Worlds so that there wasn't so much overhead in game prep and to keep fights from lasting hours... with varying amounts of success.

Now here's the thing. 3E was amazing in its day. Providing a framework to not only allow but to encourage all kinds of mixing and matching of creatures, classes, and templates threw open the gates for all kinds of new and interesting encounters D&D had rarely seen before. In 2E a vampire lizardfolk being the twist villain at the end of a module was enough to make it a "fresh and exciting classic." (I won't spoil it by saying which one, but grognards probably know already.) With 3E, you could do that all the time and feel relatively confident that the ruleset would support it.

So when Bruce Cordell tossed a vampiric gibbering mouther into Heart of Nightfang Spire (if I'm remembering correctly– it might have been Monte Cook's Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil?) it was kind of neat as gimmick, but also got snorts for being kind of silly. I myself used a similar trick when the players in my group destroyed a cursed magic item by feeding it to a gray ooze– only to have them attacked by a fiendish gray ooze for their trouble.

But that kind of thing is like cayenne pepper: a little bit gives the encounter a kick, but any more than that and you can't taste anything else.

Pathfinder, especially latter-day Pathfinder, is cayenne pepper soup with a side of cayenne pepper chips and a coffee with cayenne pepper cream. Most game systems tend towards inflation and bloat as they age, and 3.x was creaking under its own weight by the time Pathfinder rolled out. [1] PF cleaned up some of the clunkiest bits, which helped, but as the years rolled on and the pressure to keep adding new things carried on, it became this giant lumbering mess of a game, perfectly captured in visual form by the baroque and overwrought Wayne Reynolds art that is its hallmark.

What brings me to all this right now is that I've been invited to join an online Pathfinder game. Now I'm grateful to be a player in anything (and I promise not to kibitz about PF at the table!), so yesterday I pulled out Lachwen and statted up a 3rd level version. Thankfully, it's a "core" game, and I had Hero Labs to work with because I had forgotten (or blocked) so much of how 3.x/PF worked that it would have taken me hours to do it by hand. Using the "PC wealth by level" guidelines, she started with 3,000 gp and with that she bought... three numeric bonus items. Because that's how PF magic items work. I might go back and toss one of those out for a dozen spell scrolls or something that add a little more interest than a random +1.

It was the first time I'd looked at Pathfinder in any significant way in two years, and I was surprised at just how strong my reaction was to it, and what a difference 5E has made in how I look at the game. It also kinda makes me wonder what the gaming world would be like now if WotC had released 5E in 2008, instead of what we actually got. I have no doubt there would have still been edition wars, with nerds being the way we tend to be; but I don't think it would have torn the community so wildly apart.

-The Gneech

[1] This is one reason WotC is being very slow and deliberate with its 5E releases. They don't want to have to make a new edition and risk another 4E schism again any time soon. 5E's deliberate modularity is also a hedge against this– just because a given subsystem exists, doesn't mean that you're expected or required to use it. A third of the DMG is systems like Sanity that only a few outlier games will ever bother with.
the_gneech: (Lachwen Lightning Girl)
Lachwen blasts a troll, while Legolas ducks for cover
I hear a lot that people sometimes miss the character variety/options of 3.x/Pathfinder compared to 5E, but I've never really understood that. With very few exceptions, I haven't had any character ideas that I thought worked really well in 3.x/PF that couldn't be translated to 5E pretty easily, especially given a DM who was flexible about allowing homebrew or third party content. It's not always a 1-to-1 correlation, but it's usually "close enough" that the character feels pretty much the same.

So far, the biggest exception I've found to that, is Lachwen, my Badass Lightning Girl. Now keep in mind, she was originally a runekeeper in LotRO, so already a translation to tabletop is going to be a little wonky. (With the exception of bards, there pretty much aren't any D&D classes that can swap back forth between damage and healing the way RKs do. But in practice, I rarely played her as a healer, almost always going DPS. So when the time came to convert her, I simply dropped the healing all together.)

Now, I never got to play her on the tabletop, but I did stat her up for Pathfinder, and with the various splats (honestly I don't even remember which ones, but they are from Paizo books, I didn't use outside material), she worked really well. Affinity for the elemental plane of air gave her all the zappy-blasty she needed, especially with the ability to convert other elemental spells to lighting as desired. Fireball for instance, became lightning burst... waahahaaaa!

Alas, 5E doesn't really have a good "elemental sorcerer" setup– which I thought from day one was a strange omission. It has the draconic bloodline, which kinda-sorta does it, while also adding scales, wings, and a lot of other baggage. But my vision for Lachwen was always that she just bristled with elemental energy, kaboom!

The closest thing I've found, even from third party materials, is the storm sorcerer from The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, which in terms of fluff is exactly the same as her PF incarnation, right down to the tie to the plane of air. But the powers it gives are weird ones... randomly flying at 3rd level, for instance, and mostly-fluff minor weather control powers at 6th [1].

So that's how she's been built. I made her 6th level to be able to do an apples-to-apples comparison with her PF incarnation. I tweaked her a bit, making her half-elf instead the high elf she was in PF, partially for the CHA bump but also because Lachwen is not stately or refined in any way. If Obsidian is Rarity as a bard? Lachwen is Rainbow Dash as a sorcerer.

Lachwen Shimmerlight (CR 2; 450 XP)

Female humanoid (half-elf) sorcerer 6, chaotic good
AC 13*; hp 38 (6d6+12)
Speed 30 ft.

STR 10 (+0), DEX 15 (+2), CON 14 (+2), INT 12 (+1), WIS 8 (-1), CHA 17 (+3)

Feats Elemental Adept (Lightning)
Saving Throws Con +6, Cha +7*
Damage Resistances Lightning, Thunder
Skills Arcana +4, Athletics +3, Insight +2, Intimidation +6, Perception +2, Performance +6
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages Common, Draconic, Elvish, Primordial

Elemental Adept. Spells Lachwen casts ignore resistance to lightning damage. In addition, when she rolls lightning damage for one of her spells, she can treat a roll of 1 on a damage die as a 2.
Font of Magic. Lachwen can draw upon a wellspring of power, giving her 6 sorcery points which may be used to create spell slots or fuel her metamagic abilities.
Heart of the Storm. Lachwen is resistant to lightning and thunder damage.
Metamagic. Lachwen knows the Careful Spell and Distant Spell metamagic abilities.

Spellcasting. Lachwen is a 6th-level spellcaster. Her spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 14, +6 to hit with spell attacks). Lachwen knows the following spells:
Cantrips (at-will): dancing lights, fire bolt, lightning lure, prestidigitation, shocking grasp
1st level (4 slots): thunderwave, witch bolt
2nd level (3 slots): gust of wind, hold person, shatter
3rd level (3 slots): fireball, lightning bolt

Storm Guide. Lachwen may subtly control the weather around her.

Dagger +1. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20 ft./60 ft., one target. Hit: 1d4+3 piercing damage.

Bonus Actions
Tempestuous Magic. Immediately before or after Lachwen casts a spell on her turn, she may use a bonus action to fly 10' without provoking attacks of opportunity.
*Ring of Protection

Soooo, yeah. Not exactly the same, but she's a workable facsimile– although I really miss that ability to change other energy damage to lightning. This version is more physical (running, jumping, climbing) than the Pathfinder one and less social, although she still has Intimidate and Performance, to create scary (or awesome) Tesla-style lightning displays and firebreathing routines. I also gave her fewer magic items, just 'cause that "feels" more 5E. She could use some bracers of defense or the like, tho.

If I were going to make her closer to the LotRO version (and had a willing DM) I'd probably change her tempestuous magic's flying to some sort of shocking bolt that stunned [number up to Cha bonus] creatures within 5' until the beginning of their next turn if they failed a Con save, to give it that same "I can escape being swarmed!" thing without randomly turning her into Supergirl for short hops. (But really, do you even need that, with thunderwave on the spell list?) Of course, that would have the side-effect of setting up the party rogue for free sneak attacks on dazed opponents, but it would have the saving throw as a counter to that (and keep Lachwen's feet on the ground). (I picture her hold person being very similar to that, a magic taser, basically.) But she's already got one splatbook thing going on as it is, and her skill proficiencies came from a third-party background (Mercenary) because none of the official ones really fit, so I wouldn't be surprised if a DM said no.

(In a "core only" game, she'd be draconic with a blue dragon ancestor and the Entertainer background. But she'd also have scales and eventually sprout wings, which is even less like Lachwen should be than this version is.)

-The Gneech, bzzaaap, bzzaaap

[1] Not totally useless, but how often is "make it quite raining in a 20' radius" going to be useful in most D&D games? I can at least see the ability to cause and/or cancel wind having use for dousing/spreading fires and the like.
the_gneech: (Default)

One of my old Fiend Folio favorites, brought to the new edition. The flavor text is not mine, I just did the stat conversion. NOTES: Is it nuts that a CR 2 creature can have 55 hit points? That seems nuts to me. 5E, you have strange math.

Attack of the killer mustache!

Tentamort (CR 2; 450 XP)

Medium monstrosity, unaligned

Armor Class 12

Hit Points 55 (10d8+10)

Speed 10′, climb 10′

Str 15/+2, Dex 14/+2, Con 13/+2, Int 3/-4, Wis 14/+2, Cha 5/-3

Skills Stealth +4

Damage Resistances poison

Condition Immunities prone

Senses darkvision 60′, passive Perception 12


Retraction. The tentamort may compress itself and all of its tentacles into small crevasses in rocky, swampy, or otherwise suitable terrain. Doing this gives it AC 15 and advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks but renders it immoble.

Spider Climb. The tentamort can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.

Tentacle Sever. The tentamort’s tentacles may be targeted in combat. Each one is AC 12, 15 hit points. Damage done to a tentacle counts against the creature’s total hit points. A severed tentacle is destroyed and cannot attack. It regenerates severed tentacles over the course of three days.


Multiattack. The tentamort makes two attacks, one with each tentacle, or two with its poison tentacle against a grappled target.

Grasping Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 15′, one creature. Hit: 11 (2d8+2) bludgeoning damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 12) if it is medium or smaller. While grappling the target, the tentamort has advantage on attack rolls against it and can’t use this attack on other targets. The tentamort may attempt to push or pull the target 5′ per turn as a bonus action if it defeats the target in a contested Strength check.

Poison Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 15′, one target. Hit: 11 (2d8+2) piercing damage and the target must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for ten minutes. While poisoned, the target takes 9 (2d8) damage at the beginning of each of their turns and cannot recover hit points. The target may make a new saving throw to overcome the poison at the end of each of their turns.

(Text from the Pathfinder PRD.)

Tentamorts are eerie ambush predators, preferring to let prey come to them rather than seeking food out, and relying on their excellent senses to warn them of approaching meals. A tentamort possesses several tentacles, most of which are used for locomotion but two of which have evolved for singular purposes in securing food. One of these longer tentacles is covered with tiny, sticky nodules and is capable of constricting prey, while the other ends in a long, thin stinger. The tentamort’s method of attack is to grab its prey with its constricting tentacle and sting the grappled target with the other. Tentamort poison is particularly horrific, as it swiftly liquefies the creature’s internal organs into a rancid slurry the monster can then drink with the same stinger, siphoning out the fluid with foul sucking sounds. Larger creatures often require multiple stings (and multiple failed saving throws against the venom) before they can be fully absorbed by a tentamort. Tentamorts are almost mindless, possessing just enough intellect to make crude animal judgments about peril and food. Once a tentamort has grabbed prey, it tends to focus entirely on that creature, ignoring attacks upon it from other sources as long as its current victim remains a source of nutrition. After a tentamort finishes consuming a creature, all that typically remains are the bones and skin.

A well-fed tentamort uses the hollow corpse of its meal as a sort of incubator for its eggs, injecting the body with a caviar-like mass of black eggs that mature in the rotting carcass for several weeks until a dozen or so hand-sized tentamorts hatch and crawl out of their host’s orifices. Depending upon the availability of other prey, anywhere from one to six of these may survive, feeding on rats and Tiny vermin, until they eventually grow to adulthood. Tentamort young look like dark blue starfish with a single red eye in the center—they do not possess their longer, specialized tentacles until they mature. A young tentamort often attaches itself to a larger predator, clinging to it much the same way a remora clings to a shark, dropping off to feed innocuously on its host’s kills while the creature sleeps.

Some tentamorts grow much larger than their human-sized kin. Known as greater tentamorts, these ogre-sized creatures have at least [18] Hit Dice and are Large sized. Their two specialized tentacles grow to 20 feet long, providing the creature with greater reach than a Large monster normally possesses. Greater tentamorts are never found in groups, for these creatures can only achieve such monstrous size through cannibalism, as if there were some key nutrient in another tentamort’s body that allows them to exceed their typical physical limitations. Some of these creatures have mutations giving them two tentacles and two stingers. Yet the most disturbing quality possessed by these monsters is their unexpected intellect—greater tentamorts are often as intelligent as humans, or more so. They cannot speak, but possess an eerie form of telepathy that works only upon creatures they are in physical contact with—a feature they often use to “chat” with their food as they eat.

the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)
When thinking about how the Silver Coast game has gone so far, I have been struck with the relative lack of danger your characters seem to have been in. Some of this has been smart play: when confronted with things that seem dangerous, you've mostly avoided it, and you've tricked your way out of some pretty sticky spots. But a lot of it seems to be that the monsters in 5E are just plain less dangerous than their CR equivalents in 3.x/PF (the room full of ghouls you just plowed right through was considered a "deadly" encounter going by the math), and with the super-fast 5E progression you have quickly out-leveled most of the encounters as written.

On the other hand, I can only think of one really nail-biting moment, and that was when [ profile] sirfox got sucker-punched by the owlbear. Other than that, you've mostly gone through the opposition like a hot knife through soft butter. In the case of the cultists in the most recent session, without them even so much as getting off a shot (although there is a plot-related reason for that particular instance).

So I'm curious, my players: how do you feel about it? Do you want tougher foes? Are you happy with how things have gone so far? Enquiring DMs want to know!

the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)

Coming Home to D&D

It’s no secret that I like D&D 5E. I mean, I really, really like it. I had stated at the time 4E came out that I wanted the new edition to be basically a D&D version of Star Wars Saga Edition, and while I would have liked that, I actually like 5E better in almost every way. It’s not perfect, probably no system can be, but it is still mighty good. Had 5E been what was released in 2008, I am pretty certain there would not have been the Edition Wars, and probably no Pathfinder Roleplaying Game either, for better or worse.

It’s also no secret that I disliked D&D 4e. I mean, I really, really disliked it. All of that said, mechanically and conceptually, there is a fair amount of “the good bits” of 4E still lurking in 5E, maybe more than some people would like to admit. Just as the doom of 4E was foretold in the latter days of 3.5, the doom of 5E was foretold in the latter days of 4E. The only difference is that in the latter days of 4E, a lot fewer people were paying attention, myself included.

I freely admit that I completely ignored the playtest. I am one of those people who felt they’d been “fired as a fan” by WotC, and as such, I simply let them go their own way while I went mine. I was, if not entirely happy with Pathfinder, at least comfortable enough to be getting on, and that worked. (My attempts to move to other systems such as Savage Worlds notwithstanding.) So I missed the “Essentials” phase of 4E, which is where the shifts that led to 5E began, and more importantly I missed the Neverwinter Campaign Guide, which seems to be where the real sea-change had finally appeared.

NCG is thoroughly a 4E book, make no mistake, with all the random disassociated powers and dubstep-colored explodey art you would expect from such a thing. But it also includes campaign-specific Character Themes (which would become 5E‘s Backgrounds) and a strong emphasis on long-term story and away from a long string of perfectly-balanced set piece encounters. In the entire book, there is not a single battle-map to be found. Really, with just a few cosmetic changes in art design and tone (and, y’know, tossing out the 4E mechanical artifacts), NCG is practically a 5E book already.

(Also, if you intend to run the Lost Mines of Phandelver from the 5E Starter Set, it makes a great long-term campaign sourcebook. I’m not using it straight for my own campaign, preferring my own homebrew to the thrice-exploded Forgotten Realms, but I am liberally raiding it for good bits.)

Looting the Body

So, now that 4E is a smoking crater safely behind us, what exactly did 5E take from it, and what is there still worth the taking?

Well, as mentioned, Backgrounds are an implementation of 4E‘s Character Themes, providing a small mechanical benefit for a character’s origin. They call it a “feature” instead of a “power,” which is a welcome name change in my opinion– one of the worst things about 4E was the whole “ADEU” (At-Will/Daily/Encounter/Utility Power) framework, which led to the whole “I’ve used up all my powers, I guess I’ll just attack” malaise that made 4E combat such a tedious grind. [1]

Of course, if you really look at it, the ADEU model is still there. Spell slots are “Daily Powers,” always have been. Any class feature that is expended and recovered after “a short or long rest” is an “Encounter Power” by a different name, and so forth. But it’s heavily buried and disguised, to keep people from staring at their power cards and thinking of them as “These are the things I can do.”

What I like about these things being called “features” instead of being called “powers” is that they blend in. They become part of your character’s background, an attribute they have just like their class or race, something they can go to if desired, but not their defining thing. “Power” implies that it’s something you do– an action you would take, probably in combat. “Feature” is just something you have that other people might not. And as a “feature,” there’s no minimum power level it has to have in order to feel justified. Rogues and Bards get to double their proficiency bonus for certain things, due to their Expertise. Calling that a “power” seems pretty grandiose, doesn’t it? But yes, it’s certainly a “feature.”

Here There Be Monsters

The one thing I really liked in 4E as presented, was the way it handled monsters. The math was forever being reshuffled, alas, but in principle at least there was a basic template for what the approximate stats of a monster should be for a given role at a given threat level, which you could then customize with certain signature abilities. A CR 1 kobold archer and a CR 1 goblin archer had almost the same stat block, except that kobolds where “shifty” (which enabled them to have extra movement) while goblins… uh… did something goblinish that I forget off the top of my head.

I used this to great effect in my one actual attempt to run 4E by having 1st level PCs attacked by a swarm of sea-devils (which were mechanically re-skinned kobolds with the blood frenzy racial feature) supported by harpies (the same kobolds with flight and luring song).

Does 5E share this flexibility? Well, the official verdict is still out until the DMG is released and its chapter on monster creation devoured by the masses. However, based just on what’s in the Monster Manual, I’m going to say “Yes.” For my Silver Coast game I have already created a goblin shaman by taking the Acolyte on p. 342, making him size Small and giving him the Nimble Escape racial feature, and created an undead barbarian king (spoiler, my players, there’s one of those floating around!) by adding some barbarian class features to a wight.

5E doesn’t have Minion rules per se, but it doesn’t really need them, either. To change the danger level of a given creature, the easiest way is to tweak its hit points. A grovelly swarm of kobold bootlickers might have only 2 hit points each, but their boss is a big (reptile) dog, having a whole 10. He’s still CR 1/8 just like the rest of them, but he’s a lot less likely to be one-punched, even by a PC. If you want a really tough kobold? Take the CR 5 Gladiator on p. 346, make him size Small, give him Sunlight Sensitivity and Pack Tactics. Even the party fighter will notice when a kobold spears him for 2d8+4 damage.

Certainly, any game system can do re-skinning and most of them do to at least some extent. But 5E, like 4E before it, has it “baked in” to the monster design ethos in a way that 3.x/Pathfinder didn’t, and it really does make the DM’s life much, much easier. There aren’t different types of hit dice based on what genus your monster comes from (undead get d12, fey get d6, or whatever the numbers were, I forget now), you don’t have to do a lot of agonizing about whether swapping a power will shoot the CR way out of your encounter budget, etc. [2]

What Say Ye?

What do you think? What was good about 4E that’s worth salvaging in 5E? How are the systems similar? Different? I’m very curious to hear with other gamers have to say on the topic.

-The Gneech

[1] It’s ironic, 4E actually had a brilliant set of mechanics for off-the-cuff stunts, in the form of the famous “Page 42,” but in practice it seems most people rarely used it, instead spending the whole combat trying to figure out which power to use this turn. But it’s all about presentation: players’ activities are molded by what the rules tell them. Thus, for maximum player creativity, you need to have minimum rules.

[2] With bounded accuracy, the impact of CR is greatly diminished anyway. Depending on the skill of the players and the whims of the dice, lower-level baddies can still be a problem, while higher-level baddies can unexpectedly be a pushover. A surprise round, a good initiative roll, and the number of foes you’re facing are much bigger factors in how any given fight will play out than the individual CR and stats of a single opponent, generally speaking.

the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)
I have run a lot of fantasy games over the years. Many of them have only had a few sessions before the group changed or something turned me off about them, while others have lasted for years. This has left a long string of half-realized settings, abandoned PCs and potentially interesting scenarios, cluttering up my hard drive (and my creative subconscious).

I have discovered, with the arrival of 5E, a strange urge to reclaim the pieces of this patchwork, and try to weave them together into something resembling a persistent and connected setting, which I can use going forward as background for diverse games without having to throw away everything and start from scratch over and over. This is part of a larger rekindled love for the game, which I have to admit had been struggling, and I am very happy to see returned. I imagine I'll explore the why and how of that aspect later, but for now, I'm looking at the campaign worlds and how they can work as a unified world.

The Ones Still Left Behind

Not all of my games can be united this way. Eberron is too distinctively itself to be put into another setting, and the fate of that particular campaign is still TBD. Fortress of Tears, likewise, cannot be simply transplanted. The cosmology and structure of that game was designed to be a cohesive whole with a very specific feel, and while I doubt I'll do anything with it any time soon, I think it deserves its own space on the shelf, so to speak. The tongue-in-cheek setting of "Mid-Evil" is not itself going to be integrated into the world, although bits of it that I liked might be imported. Finally, my Fantasy Hero setting was too far removed from the premises of a "D&D-land" style setting to really integrate, so it also remains its own thing.

Orbis Leonis

This is the setting as it currently stands. Racial/cultural notes are broad strokes and not intended as a straightjacket: it's a wide, colorful world and there are enclaves of different cultural groups in every major city. Demihumans and monstrous humanoids have been largely left out of the discussion because for the most part I don't have a whole lot of different cultures for them worked out and I don't want to put in any limits I don't have to. Assume the usual baseline for Dungeons & Dragons for such folk unless you have a reason to do otherwise. Campaign-specific races (such as the nephilim from Zan-Xadar or [ profile] sirfox's gnoll cleric in Red Hand of Doom) exist, but are local populations rather than world-defining ones.

The Silver Coast
Bringing the world together begins with The Silver Coast. Argent is on the northwest edge of a large continent which is bordered by several seas and island continents to the south. Not too far north of Argent the climate quickly becomes cold, and there is a large glacial "land mass" that expands and contracts with the seasons, connecting the main continent with an arctic continent for half the year (being a cold and stormy sea for the other half). Legends tell of a zone of permanent warm paradise in the center of this arctic zone, but you know what legends are.

South of Argent is the kingdom of Ertikan. North and northeast of Argent are various "barbarous" (by Argentile standards) peoples, the friendliest of which are the blonde- and red-haired Calladgangers, but most people of the northwestern part of the continent tend towards fair or ruddy skin and hair colors and curly or wavy locks. The religion of this area resembles the core religion of Faerun, unless specified otherwise, although the gods of Oerth are also known here.

Fellhollow/Rise of the Argent Lord
That game (all two sessions of it) took place 600 years ago; Argenti, "The Silver City," was later rebuilt as Avileigne... only to have Mt. Thunderdelve erupt and destroy it. That place can't catch a break. (The modern city of Argent takes its name from the older one, even though it is actually some thirty miles to the northwest. Sort of a "New Argent," as it were.) The town of Fellhollow was destroyed during the orcish invasion known as the Rise of the Argent Lord; the later town of Pelann was built near its ruins (and, like Avileigne, destroyed again by the eruption of Thunderdelve).

Red Hand of Doom/Revenge of the Giants
A wide, grassy plain on the eastern side of the Silver Ridge Mountains eventually connects to "The Endless Plain" in the northwest corner of the Elsir Vale map. Most of the plain is sparsely populated, but there are nomadic horse tribes related to the Calladganger peoples (think Rohirrim) and at least one large civilized city-state (as yet undefined) lies by a large freshwater lake or inland sea on the one major road between Argent and Elsir Vale. The events in the Silver Coast game are concurrent with the indefinitely-hiatused Revenge of the Giants game (thus, Elsir Vale is currently in the midst of a deep and unnatural winter), and it is conceivable that the two games could connect in the future, allowing characters to overlap. The people of Elsir Vale tend to be of fair complexion, with thick, dark hair, although much variation is common. The religion of this region resembles the core religion of Oerth.

The Greyhawk Campaign/Shadows of Thessalaine
The country of Thessalaine, which bears a remarkable resemblance to a similar country on the world of Oerth named 'Bissel', lies to the northeast of Elsir Vale, beyond the Giantshield Mountains (referred to in Thessalaine as The Barrier Peaks). Some years ago now, the infamous necromancer Evard the Black attempted to conquer Thessalaine, but was eventually defeated by "The Watchful Seven" (a group whose variable roster most reliably included Kyriela of Kithria, Jaer, Dragor, Angelina, and Verdhaven). Thessalaine has a very diverse population, being a sort of "crossroads of the world". The religion of this region generally also resembles the core religion of Oerth. To the east of Thessalaine is terra incognita for the moment.

Zan-Xadar, Jewel of the South, City of the Wicked
Zan-Xadar is on the southernmost tip of the continent, far southeast of the kingdom of Ertikan and south of Thessalaine across the Desert of Xadar, as is its neighbor/rival city-state of Khaldun. The island city-states of Kithria and Nellevar are in the warm Opal Sea, south of the continent, and the near-mythical (to the Silver Coast, anyway) nations of Alcairam and Setranophis are on the northern lip of a vast continent far to the south populated by nations largely unknown to the north. The one adventure we actually ran in Zan-Xadar ("The Fallen Fortress") can be assumed to have "just happened" if and when a future game takes us back there. The peoples of this region tend towards darker skin and hair colors, with dark brown or black skin dominating Alcairam particularly. The people of Setranophis are a distinct racial group with reddish-brown skin and very fine black hair. The religion of this area is a crazy hodge-podge of cults from around the world, although the worship of Bahamut, Tiamat, Methis/Erathis/Titania, Nergal/Garagos, Baaltis/Ioun, Fortuna, and Kelaeno (a.k.a. Mother Hydra, a.k.a. Umberlee) are prominent in the great glittering cities. Setranophis and Khaldun have sanctioned state religions, an ancestor cult and the Goddess of the Black Flame respectively, and the worship of other deities is strictly illegal in both places. The people of Zan-Xadar and its neighbors are cosmopolitan and sophisticated, and regard the people of the northern realms (with the possible exception of Thesselaine) largely as bumpkins. (Thessalaine replaces Beltharain from the original Zan-Xadar setting; heck, they even sound similar.)

Castle Strongstone, the "Tower of Power", and the Tomb of the Zodiac
These are places of myth and legend, associated with the tales of the great human wizard Mystic the Strange, the wily elf-rogue Fgyarbt, and the gnomish trickster Zarfbardafardwards. It is generally believed that their adventures took place in a lost country somewhere north of Thessalaine or Elsir Vale, although many lands claim to be "where it really happened." The objective truth of the matter has long been lost to the ravages of eons; who or what a "Slick Rick" might be, no man may say.

The Empty Spaces Between...

Assume that unless it is explicitly states otherwise, there are other nations in between the ones listed here which have simply "not become important yet," but will be added in around these as needed. These realms, though connected, are all distant lands, and travel between them is done via map montage. ;)

Thoughts/comments/suggestions, players...?

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Boromir battle)
I don't know if my Eberron game is savable, given how much resistance I felt to running it the past few times I tried, even with an adventure already prepped. However, [ profile] hantamouse and [ profile] sirfox have both expressed interest in it, so if I can figure out just what it is that was bugging me and fix it, there might be hope for it yet. I have pretty much decided to jump from Pathfinder to 5E, tho, which means conversions would be required.

The game had a very offbeat mish-mash of races and classes. The races are not a problem, I can do those easily. The classes are more of an issue, as PF operates on a whole different scale and set of assumptions about class complexity, spell availability, and so on. So today I'm looking at Summoners.

In 5E, the "Summon X" spells have all been replaced by "Conjure X" spells instead, and have all had their levels severely bumped. Conjure Animals, the lowest level summoning spell, is 3rd level, and allows you to summon critters of CR 2 or lower (as a 5th level caster).

Given 5E's "bounded accuracy" model, this is understandable: being outnumbered is much worse than being outgunned, and every creature summoned effectively doubles the summoner's ability to impact the fight. The "action economy" was already important in 3.x/PF, but in 5E it's a major deciding factor. This is why, for instance, beastmaster rangers effectively have the choice of taking an action themselves, or having their animal companion take one instead. 5E wizards are conjuring critters at around the levels where fighters are attacking two or three times in a round. Wizards can cast find familiar at 1st level, but familiars are specifically forbidden from attacking in combat.

So, how to build a 5E summoner class? It depends on if we want to match the Pathfinder class or just build something off the summoner archetype. Most of the summoners that have appeared in games I've seen seem to be tapping their own innate magic rather than studied wizards, so "Summoner" becomes a Sorcerous Origin (basically sorcerer subclass). At 1st level, they automatically know the conjure eidolon spell (1st level, ritual), which can be cast at various levels for various effects:

  • First Level: Essentially as find familiar. Although obviously an otherworldly creature, the eidolon has the stats of a Tiny beast of CR 0 (such as a bat or weasel). The eidolon has either the celestial, fiendish, or fey subtype. The eidolon has all of the characteristics of a familiar, including the ability to be temporarily dismissed, the telepathic link with the summoner, and the ability to deliver touch spells.

  • Second Level: The eidolon acts as a ranger's animal companion. It has the stats of a Medium or smaller beast of CR 1/4 or lower, but adds your proficiency bonus to its AC, attack rolls, damage rolls, and any skills and saving throws it is proficient in. Its hp maximum equals its normal hp maximum or four times your sorcerer level, whichever is higher. It can attack foes as directed by the summoner, as a ranger's companion.

  • Third Level: As second level, but the eidolon has the stats of a Large or smaller beast or monstrosity of CR 2 or lower.

  • Fourth Level: As third level, but the eidolon has the stats of a Large or smaller beast or monstrosity of CR 3 or lower.

  • Fifth Level: As fourth level, but the eidolon has the stats of a Huge or smaller beast or monstrosity of CR 4 or lower.

  • Sixth Level: As fifth level, but the eidolon has the stats of a Huge or smaller beast, monstrosity, or elemental of CR 4 or lower.

  • Seventh Level: As sixth level, but the eidolon has the stats of a Huge or smaller beast, monstrosity, or elemental of CR 5 or lower.

  • Eighth Level: As seventh level, but the eidolon has the stats of a Huge or smaller beast, monstrosity, or elemental of CR 6 or lower.

  • Ninth Level: As eighth level, but the eidolon has the stats of a Huge or smaller beast, monstrosity, or elemental of CR 7 or lower.

Conjure eidolon does not count against the sorcerer's limit of spells known, and in all other ways acts as find familiar. All of the "Conjure [creature]" spells are considered to be on the Sorcerer Spell List for summoners, even though they are not normally on the Sorcerer Spell List. These spells cannot be cast while the summoner's eidolon is present, but they may be cast if the summoner temporarily dismisses the eidolon (as the find familiar spell).

At 6th level summoners gain Summoner's Call, the ability to instantly summon their eidolon to their side or swap places with their eidolon as if they had cast dimension door. (They cannot move themselves to their eidolon's side, they must either summon it, or switch places.) This can be done as a bonus action. Once this ability is used, it cannot be used again until the summoner completes a short or long rest.

At 14th level summoners gain a Life Bond with their eidolon. As long as the eidolon has at least 1 hit point, damage in excess of that which would reduce the summoner to fewer than 0 hit points is instead transferred to the eidolon. This damage is transferred 1 point at a time, meaning that as soon as the eidolon is reduced to 0 hp, all excess damage remains with the summoner.

At 18th level summoners gain the ability to Merge with their eidolon. This transformation includes all of the summoner’s gear. While merged in this way, the summoner is protected from harm and cannot be the target of spells or effects. All effects and spells currently targeting the summoner are suspended until the summoner emerges from the eidolon (although durations continue to expire).

The summoner can cast spells while inside the eidolon by taking control of the eidolon for the duration of the casting. Any material components used for these spells are taken from the summoner’s gear, even though they are otherwise inaccessible. The summoner can direct all of the eidolon’s actions while merged, can perceive through its senses, and can speak through its voice.

Once the summoner uses this ability, it is expended until they complete a short or long rest. The can end this effect at will, emerging adjacent to the eidolon if able. If the eidolon is returned to its home plane while the summoner is merged with it, the summoner is immediately ejected, taking 4d6 points of damage, and is stunned for 1 round.

...Whattya think, sirs?

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Obsidian)
Done as an exercise in system mastery.

Medium humanoid (drow) bard 5, neutral

Proficiency Bonus +3
Armor Class 15 (bracers of defense)
Hit Points 33 (5d8+5)
Speed 30'

STR 8/-1, DEX 14/+2, CON 12/+1, INT 17/+3, WIS 10/+0, CHA 17/+3
Saving Throws Dexterity +5, Charisma +6
Skills Acrobatics +5, Arcana +6, Deception +6, Insight +3, Intimidation +6, Investigation +6, Perception +3, Performance +9, Persuasion +9; +1 to all ability checks that do not already include her proficiency bonus
Proficiencies light armor, rapier, shortsword, hand crossbow, whip, jeweler's tools, dulcimer, flute, viol
Senses darkvision 120'
Languages Common, Elvish, Undercommon
Challenge (don't have DMG guidelines yet; best guess CR 3, 700 XP)

Background Guild Artisan
Personality Traits "Your appearance is everything– to be capable is expected, but to be capable and look good while you're doing it, takes true talent. While no longer among the drow aristocracy I was raised in, I still tend to view others around me as either underlings, rivals... or customers."
Ideals "Community. Polite society has its hazards, ranging from a knife in the back to poison at the table, but it is still far more comfortable and less dangerous than wrestling owlbears to put food on the table."
Bond "My art is all that truly matters, whether it's the beautiful jewelry I craft, or the beautiful music I make. Everything else, from tromping through squalid dungeons to sleeping in the wilderness with a tree root in my back, is in support of this."
Flaw "I am arrogant. I know this. And impatient. I know this too. But I know what I want– and I shall have it."

Fey Ancestry Obsidian has advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can't put her to sleep.
Trance Obsidian doesn't need to sleep. Instead she meditates deeply for 4 hours a day, gaining the same benefit a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
Sunlight Sensivity Obsidian has disadvantage on attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight when she or the target are in direct sunlight.
Innate Spellcasting Obsidian can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
  • At will: dancing lights

  • 1/day each: darkness, faerie fire (save DC 14)

Guild Membership Obsidian is a member of the Artisans Guild in Khojar, gaining the benefits of guild membership, as described in the Players Handbook.
Spellcasting Obsidian is a 5th-level spellcaster that uses Charisma as her spellcasting ability (spell save DC 14; +6 to hit with spell attacks). Obsidian can also cast any spell she knows as a ritual if that spell has the ritual tag. Obsidian knows the following spells from the bard spell list:
  • Cantrips (at will): mage hand, prestidigitation, vicious mockery

  • 1st level (4* slots): cure wounds, detect magic, dissonant whispers, thunderwave

  • 2nd level (3 slots): hold person, see invisibility, shatter

  • 3rd level (2 slots): dispel magic

*+1 slot with pearl of power.
Bardic Inspiration (d8) Obsidian can use a bonus action on her turn to choose one creature other than herself within 60' who can hear her. That creature gains one Bardic Inspiration die, a d8. Once within the next 10 minutes, the creature can roll the die and add the number to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw it makes. A creature can only have one Bardic Inspiration die at a time. Obsidian can use this ability 3 times per day, and regains any expended uses when she finishes a short or long rest. (Improved by Font of Inspiration.)
Expertise Obsidian adds double her proficiency bonus to Performance and Persuasion checks.
Jack of All Trades Obsidian may add half her proficiency bonus (rounded down), to any ability check that doesn't already include her proficiency bonus.
Mistress of the Lash Obsidian has studied the whip techniques of drow nobility. As an attack action, she may use a whip to attempt to trip a creature of up to one size larger than she is if the creature is within the range of the whip. This uses the same mechanics as Shoving a Creature, except that Obsidian uses her whip attack roll in place of the Strength (Athletics) check, and it can only be used to knock the target prone. She can also use a whip to attempt to disarm a foe, by making a melee attack roll with the whip, opposed by the Dexterity save of the creature she's attempting to disarm. If she is successful, the target drops a weapon or small object they are holding in one hand. Using the whip in either of these ways does not inflict any hit point damage.
Song of Rest Obsidian may use soothing music or oration to revitalize her allies during a short rest. If she or any friendly creatures who can hear her regain hit points at the end of a short rest, each of them regain an extra 1d6 hit points.

Whip +5, 1d4+2 slashing, reach, finesse
Hand Crossbow +5, range 30/120, 1d6+2 piercing, ammunition, light, loading
Rapier +5, 1d8+2 piercing, finesse

College of Lore: Cutting Words Obsidian can use her wit to distract, confuse, and otherwise sap the confidence and competence of others. When a creature that she can see within 60' makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a damage roll, she can use her reaction to expend one of her uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling the Bardic Inspiration die and subtracting it from the creature's roll. The creature is immune if it can't hear her or it's immune to being charmed.

Gear weapons, bracers of defense, pearl of power, a small collection of scrolls and potions

The Pathfinder version of Obsidian is optimized for two things: social scenes, and Use Magic Device. 5E has curtailed UMD, making it explicitly a rogue ability, but it's also made it much easier for everyone to access most magic items generally, so it doesn't matter so much. The College of Lore will allow Obsidian to learn spells from other classes at 6th level, allowing her to still have some of that "dipping into wizard blastiness" feel.

For some reason, whips are classified as martial weapons, which bards do not get proficiency with unless they take up the College of Valor, and if even if they did, whips as presented have lost all of their utility and just become a reach weapon. In order to get around both of these problems, I created a custom feat which Obsidian took at 4th level instead of an ability score increase:

Master/Mistress of the Lash (Custom Feat) You have studied the whip techniques of drow nobility. You gain proficiency with the whip if you do not already have it. Furthermore, as an attack action, you may use a whip to attempt to trip a creature of up to one size larger than you if the creature is within the range of the whip. This uses the same mechanics as Shoving a Creature, except that you use your whip attack roll in place of the Strength (Athletics) check, and it can only be used to knock the target prone. You can also use a whip to attempt to disarm a foe, by making a melee attack roll with the whip, opposed by the Dexterity save of the creature you're attempting to disarm. If you are successful, the target drops a weapon or small object they are holding in one hand. Using the whip in either of these ways does not inflict any hit point damage.

Compared to other 5E feats it's actually fairly weak, but I couldn't really think of anything to add that wasn't superfluous. I thought about adding some kind of language about using the whip as a rope or a grapnel, a la Indiana Jones, but I don't actually think that's necessary. 5E is loose enough to allow that sort of thing as a Dexterity check, allowing her proficiency bonus.

Also, 5E has a much lower baseline of magical items, and 5E Obsidian would be lit up like a Christmas tree if she was carrying all the stuff Pathfinder Obsidian is carrying. So I discarded everything but the pearl of power and the bracers of defense, giving her "a handful of potions and scrolls" to have wiggle room.

It's interesting to see a more complex 5E character than the ones I've been dealing with, and PCs are deliberately more detailed than NPCs and monsters, but even at 5th level she's still quite manageable in terms of the size and complexity of her stat block.

As for actually playing this version, that's up to [ profile] jamesbarrett, who right now is not committing himself either way until he's had more time to play with the new system. Given that [ profile] sirfox's character is a gunslinger, which is a Pathfinder-specific class, it might be well to wait for the Dungeon Master's Guide before attempting to convert that anyhow.

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Obsidian)
Another session of [ profile] jamesbarrett's Pathfinder game tonight, featuring my Rarity-as-drow-bard Obsidian. She is starting to wonder if maybe she's safer down in dungeons, considering that while she was in town her jewelry store was broken into three times over the course of four days.

Still, it was a fun session of skullduggery, in which she drove off some would-be thieves, had a courteous "keep your rabble away from my shop if they don't want to be killed, also let's do business" meeting with someone of importance in the thieves' guild, and slew a would-be assassin and hung his corpse on a streetlamp with a sign reading "My boss is _____ and I am a terrible assassin" in the style of an internet pet-shaming post in order to give a metaphorical middle finger to both the assassins' society (guild? union?) and the shadowy figure who hired them. She rounded off the evening by receiving an anonymous death threat from someone whom she apparently let survive when she shouldn't have, but could only guess at which of her myriad enemies it might be.

([ profile] hantamouse: "How many enemies do you HAVE?" Obsidian: "Er..." *starts thinking* [ profile] hantamouse: "Would it be faster to just list who ISN'T your enemy?" Obsidian: "Well you haven't tried to kill me yet.")

There were also intrigues involving [ profile] lythandra's cleric and the would-be-successor to the high priesthood, and an orc-chauvanist cult attempting to recruit [ profile] hantamouse, so all in all it was a rousing, RP-heavy time, which is of course my favorite kind. :)

Obsidian, though raised in drow society, is actually true neutral in alignment; she is not exactly amoral so much as "always calculating." "Is it better in the long term to capture this foe? Let them escape? Slaughter them all? Rob them blind? Deal fairly?" etc. She is inclined to mercy and prefers negotiation over violence, which made her a softy in her homeland but she's still fairly ruthless among the surface folk. Her working philosophy of "don't poison the wine in your own house" makes her actually a very good neighbor and business associate, and even a remarkably considerate boss. Her jewelry apprentice is well-trained and even pampered; her orc bodyguard is probably the highest-paid meatshield in Khojar.

Tonight I added to her backstory with a tale of her first shop in surface society, which had contact poison on all the wares and customers were invited to run their fingertips in the anti-toxin before they were shown any merchandise-- all of which is par for the course in drow society.[1] "That didn't work out so well."

When interacting with the personage from the thieves' guild this evening, she definitely played the role of iron fist in a velvet glove. The guild rep was happy to negotiate some form of protection if she was "willing to hold her end up." Her response was that her shop had been broken into twice, and that both times she had let the would-be thief escape with their lives, but that would no longer be the case-- and used the slain and publicly-shamed assassin as an example of what the thieves' guild had to look forward to should her shop be bothered again.

However, by means of her +13 Diplomacy, a graciously-purchased drink, and a few batted eyelids, she expressed all of this in the most delightfully charming way possible and hopes to have made a valuable business contact for later, either buying or selling. At the end of the session the team got whiff of a slightly-shady job in another corner of the town's underworld, although Obsidian may have to do some finagling to sell the lawful good cleric on the idea.

Obsidian is also working on winding her way into high society and has started the ball rolling on opening a theater in the city (although it's purely in the "I want to do this thing..." stages right now). Besides creating a venue for herself (she's a bard after all, and that Perform [Sing] +14 is good for more than just +2 to-hit and damage), she is also investing in her adopted home and community, and also just plain pursuing culture for its own sake.

She's a fun character. ;)

-The Gneech

[1] Obsidian's background, as much as I've expanded on it, is that she fled drow society when her House was wiped out in the usual factional politics. She occasionally brings up things like her attempts to murder (and avoid being murdered by) her sister, the role of servants in drow society ("Their ultimate job is to get killed first...") and how that colors her relationship with [ profile] hantamouse's orc ftr/rog, her bodyguard, and so on.
the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)
Last night was a great night for Obsidian, my very stylish, whip-wielding drow bard. Confronted with a bound demon, whose millennia-old binding spells were coming unraveled, the group found themselves in a very tight spot.

The room was too small to maneuver effectively, leaving our very squishy pseudo-tank to stand in place and take the brunt of the demon's full attack every round. On the other hand, the tank had the demon more-or-less bottlenecked, so the gunslinger could stand outside the room and shoot in, and the cleric could lurk in the small amount of open space in the room and sling spells and heals as necessary. That left Obsidian, standing in the doorway behind the tank, doing her best to buff, pocket-heal the tank, and direct the flow of combat as best she could. Fortunately, the demon's soul-sucking power didn't work on the tank right off of the bat due to a plot point that had occurred earlier, giving the tank script immunity. That didn't mean it couldn't still chew us up and spit us out, of course.

For the first several rounds, it was quite worrisome, as the demon was doing way more damage to the tank than we were doing to it, and its various powers and resistances were reactivating on a round-by-round basis as the wards fell. Obsidian cast a grease spell under the demon, but it made its saving throw and kept standing ("Blast it!"), so Obsidian stuck with pouring hit points back into the tank, returning them at just slightly less than the rate the demon was chewing them up.

At this point, the cleric used her healing burst to mostly-restore the tank, and Obsidian used another of her big heals to top him off-- suddenly we were all at full health again and swimming in buffs, which made the demon begin to think that maybe the combat was not going to go the way it had hoped. It cast a crushing despair on us, which negated Obsidian's buffs (but not the cleric's, leaving us still in a net positive), but with a free round where she didn't have to pocket-heal the tank, Obsidian pulled out her whip and, with no small amount of sass, attempted to trip the demon.

Remember that grease spell? [ profile] jamesbarrett had ruled that the grease spell lowered the demon's combat maneuver defense by three points-- which was exactly what Obsidian hit. Suddenly, the demon was on its butt and wondering what the heck was going on. It tried to get up and blew the reflex save (Obsidian's charisma is currently 22), and panic set in. The cleric moved in and flanked the demon, enabling the tank to apply his sneak attack damage, and Bam! One less demon in the mortal world, beat by having been tripped by a bard.

Well done, team! Medals all around.

Unfortunately, the wizard who hired us to come down and investigate this demon got portalled-off to who-knows-where before we could stop him... so we didn't get the second half of our payment. ¬.¬ On the other hand, we found some Kewl Lootz in the complex which made up for it. And of course we whipped some demon butt, which is its own reward. As I tweeted last night, "Obsidian doesn't just defeat her foes, she breaks them. With style."

Getting back to town involved a bit of unexpected skullduggery, as the city gates were locked due to catastrophic plot activity. We had to sneak in through the sewers, which of course made Obsidian quite snippy: a running gag through the whole campaign has been Obsidian's outfits getting ruined through the course of adventuring, whether mauled by bears, burned to a crisp, or being spewed with zombie guts, and after managing to defeat a powerful demon without having her outfit harmed in any way, she wasn't about to go swimming in a sewer wearing it.

The net result was she went swimming in the sewer in her skimpy drow underwear, which was not exactly fun either, but kept her outfit from getting ruined. Appropriately enough, their trip through the sewers brought them up into town in the basement of the local bordello, where Obsidian's lack-of-outfit made her fit right in. She did put her clothes on before leaving, tho; fortunately, nobody offered her a job.

All in all, it was a fun session. :) Obsidian's ego, already quite dangerous, is probably going to inflate to all-new highs after having humiliated an ancient demon. It's a drow thing. I also enjoyed the brief bit of sneakery, and actually would have liked a little more of that. Obsidian has an outrageous Bluff skill which she almost never gets to use. They found some evidence of smuggling going on down in the sewers which Obsidian intends to keep in her back pocket in case she needs it for something later.

Someday, this gal is going to sneak herself into a general's camp wrapped up in a rug. I just know it.

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Bilbo Gandalf Ring)
Working on the next session of my Eberron game. I brought up to the players the fact that their party was short a cleric, and added a "Second Wind" mechanic to cover for it, which got three different and interesting responses.

From the muscle: Cool, that's all I need. Let's rock!

From the summoner: I have a Use Magic Device of +17 and a wand of cure spells. We're good.

From the alchemist: Pouring all of our party loot into healing items is a waste of money. How about we hire/wheedle/enslave an impressionable young cleric NPC to come along?

This amuses me. :) However, attempting to be a dutiful GM, I have therefore prepared for all three eventualities.

Eberron being what it is, there's an entire Dragonmarked House dedicated purely to healing in the cause of the almighty dollar, so I wrote up a healer of House Jurasco in case the party decided to hire one. However, my mentioning of this option didn't seem to appeal, so I started rooting around my miniatures looking for ideas for a cleric NPC.

Hoo boy, did I get one. Impressionable? No. Young? Not particularly. Potentially interesting and entertaining? Yes.

So tomorrow's session will begin with any of the PCs who are interested in looking for a healer (except the muscle, who's already established that his character will be absent at first) at the Deathsgate Adventurer's Guild, where they will get their choice between these two NPCs (or of course, doing without either). Should make for a fun scene. :)

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Bilbo Gandalf Ring)
I have, over the past few months, been endeavoring to reclaim my hobbies again. With all the "stuff you just have to deal with" going on, things that I actually enjoyed were one by one falling off the plate leaving me in a "just existing, not really living" state. This was at its worst in the early and middle parts of last year, but it took me a while to get into that state, it's taking me another while to get back out.

In the case of gaming, I've never felt like I got enough to begin with, although there was a while when our group had three (three!) different gamemasters in it. The concept is mind-boggling. Alas, that's no longer true, and while I very much enjoy [ profile] jamesbarrett's campaign in which I play "Rarity the drow bard", I have this whole folder full of characters I would dearly love to play someday.

I was thinking about this in relation to my different flavors of D&D post the other day. Many of the characters I come up with assume a particular kind of world, and/or a particular type of "campaign story" they're going to be involved in. Some of them require a whole campaign structure almost built around them to work as intended. At least one character is doing that whole "deposed royalty needs to build up forces and return to defeat the usurper" thing, which would require the GM to buy into all that and not get annoyed that I am ignoring their whole overarching plot to defeat the Temple of Elemental Evil because I'm too busy trying to follow my own character's destiny. Some GMs love that kind of thing, 'cos it makes their job easy. Others not so much, 'cos they have their thing they want to do and don't want the players interfering with the plan.

As a GM, my desire is to be one of the former; my unfortunate tendency, unless I catch myself, is to be more like the latter. It's a habit I'd like to break.

Anyhow, I kinda forgot where I was going with this post now, oops. :) Other than to say, I want more gaming! I love Obsidian and want to keep playing her, but there are other characters who want playing, too. I guess I'll just have to be patient, something I'm never good at.

the_gneech: (Legolas silhouette)
For all its clichés and tropes and repeating the same plot over and over again, D&D and its derivatives can be reskinned in a lot of varied ways-- sorta the same way a Philly cheesesteak, a hamburger, and a roast beef sandwich are all reasonably different experiences despite all being mangled cow on a piece of bread.

You can have sword-and-sandal tales of scantily-clad barbarians versus crypt-lurking sorcerers, you can have willowy elves and furry-toed hobbits contending with goblins and trolls, you can have Klunk the Gnome flinging alchemist's fire from the deck of his steampunky airship... heck with a little tweaking you could conceivably run a fairly realistic historical game of Napoleonic warfare if that's your bag.

Most D&D worlds are set up to allow any or all of these things to happen, sometimes all at once, which makes for a completely nonsensical setting, but does at least cast the widest net for player preferences. Rare is the group where everyone wants to play Sharpe's Rifles, but give that one player the Pathfinder Gunslinger class and a natty uniform, and he'll probably be content trotting along next to Bonk the Barbarian and the catfolk cleric.

This is a good thing, when it comes to pleasing a group of players. And heck, sometimes that sort of an "anything goes" world can actually be very entertaining. But my problem as a GM is that I am a compulsive worldbuilder and tend towards fantasy snobbery if I don't catch myself, so I start geeking out on all the fiddly bits of the world and trying to make it all work in context and make sense and not come falling down like a house of cards when you start thinking about the ramifications of cure disease spells and wondering why there are castles when a single wizard is way more dangerous than an army and and and...

To get around this, I often try to pick a strong, well-established "theme" for any given game I run, so even if the tropes don't make sense, they are at least a package deal that's known to "work" together. Thus it is I've run the "Middle-earth clone" game and the "Greyhawk dungeon-crawly" game and so on. Right now I'm in the midst of an Eberron game, which is "extrapolate a setting from the artifacts of D&D rather than impose D&D on a setting."

But my other problem is that I get impatient and fickle. Yesterday I downloaded a demo of a game called Loren Amazon Princess, which is just about the most fanservicey, fan-ficcey, generic fantasy cliché game you could ever find. Seriously, this game is like it's 1995 and I'm playing Quest For Glory again, except with a PG-13 rating. I enjoyed it quite a bit, even while wincing at it (I suppose it's a strong example of a "guilty pleasure"), but it also made me miss my very first D&D game, back in high school. (Strictly speaking, that game was not D&D, it was a more-or-less nonsensical homebrew system, but it might as well have been.)

That game was full of all kinds of dorky stuff like you might expect from a high school D&D game-- "red smurfs" as monsters, warrior princesses hanging around in dungeons waiting to be found by adventuring parties so they could join the group, player characters with names like "Slick Rick" and "Zarfbardafardwards." I don't know if I could maintain a game like that, I suspect I couldn't, but dang if it wouldn't be fun to play a session or two. (I don't think I could stand doing it with Pathfinder, either. The system has too much overhead, too many rules, too many moving pieces of math that need to work together. Savage Worlds might be able to make it work.)

But this is what I mean when I say impatient and fickle. There's no reason I couldn't toss some of that stuff into the Eberron game if I really wanted to, other than that it's been pretty "iz srs bzness" so far. Maybe I should throw some nonsensical stuff into the next dungeon just to break myself out of the habit of thinking too much. I did want Eberron to be freewheeling and fun after all.

the_gneech: (Default)

Spiritwolf Commission: Alaion by ~the-gneech on deviantART

Spiritwolf’s elven monk Alaion, equipped with bracers of defense and ready to lay some smackdown.

Thanks, Lanny!

-The Gneech

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

the_gneech: (Default)

Spiritwolf Commission– Shade the Magus by ~the-gneech on deviantART

October commish (1/2) for Spiritwolf — his swashbuckling warrior-mage Shade, adding a bit of kick to his sword for this attack.

-The Gneech

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

the_gneech: (Conan Civilization Sucks)

So Laughing Ogre Comics, my local pulp paper distributor of choice, had a small shelf of d20 game stuff that pretty much stopped moving some time around 2007 or so. One of the things on it was an almost-complete set of the 3.x Eberron books, which I’d always been kinda-sorta interested in but never had a compelling reason to get until my recent campaign started.

Having resolved to go in and ask if they’d give me a package deal, I was very surprised when on the very day I attempted to do so, they’d reorganized the store and the gaming shelf was gone. O.o Luckily, the stuff had all been just shipped off to a warehouse, so when I asked the manager if it was too late to buy them en masse, it was just a matter of logistics. He was more than pleased to get them off the books, too. Expecting something like a 10% discount, I ended up getting all of them for $5 each. Aww, yeah! I now have a big ol’ “Box of Eberron,” which should keep me in reading material during the long winter months.

In the meantime, now that [ profile] sirfox has safely landed in California, and we’re hopefully just a week out from being able to game again, I need to turn my attention to cleaning up some of the mess made of the campaign in the last session.

I knew going into the last session that there was a bit of a plot problem. “Mark of Prophecy” (the intro scenario from the 4e Eberron Campaign Guide) basically consists of “a great opening, a solid middle act, and then a ball dropped.” After figuring out that Aric Blacktree was menacing them by proxy, of course the PCs are going to want to go after him– but the scenario as written didn’t account for that. It just had him come attack them while they were flying on an airship… somewhere. Because airship fights. The scenario as written didn’t even say where they were supposed to be going. (Ahh, 4e. So unrestricted by things like story structure.)

The airship fight encounter, as nifty as it was, also wasn’t enough to sustain a whole game session. So to fix both of these things, I stitched the beginning of the next scenario on and turned the “you can’t find Blacktree, but he can find you” thing into a plot point.

Looked good on paper. Didn’t work so well in practice. :-`

Basically, that removed all of the agency from the players. They were given a very obvious “Here’s the next plot hook, go get it!” at the beginning, but were understandably reluctant to start a new one before the previous one was resolved. And instead of enabling them to cleverly seek out and confront the villain like a bunch of Big Damn Heroes, I instead found myself giving them a series of “No, that didn’t work. No, that didn’t work either…” responses until they gave up and stepped into the airship fight encounter as presented in the scenario.

Not my best moment as a GM, sadly. I really should have foreseen that the players would have wanted to chase Blacktree down and had something ready for that. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, some cool “scouring the underbelly of Sharn” encounters leading to the eventual airship fight could have filled in the gap, felt a lot less forced, and not robbed the PCs of their roles as the ones driving the story.

Oh well, lesson learned, hopefully. Meanwhile, they’re already off and into the next scenario anyhow, but I’m not giving up on the whole “that’s actually a plot point” thing. There are wheels within wheels of competing factions who are all trying to manipulate the Draconic Prophecy to their own ends and the PCs are currently pawns in the middle of all this with only a vague idea of what’s actually happening. That part is working as intended– Eberron’s all about the intrigue. But I have to keep my focus on making sure that the story is about the players, not about the plots going on around them.

Part of that means remembering to throw out the plot-as-outlined when it doesn’t make sense or isn’t any fun. And having the PCs pound the pavement all day, get nothing, and then be ambushed by the badguy they’ve been searching for the whole time? Not so much fun.

-The Gneech

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

the_gneech: (Lachwen Lightning Girl)
I should really be working, but for some reason today I'm obsessing on Obsidian, my drow bard, and all the cool stuff I'd like to be doing with her. This started last night when a story featuring her popped unbidden into my head, and that's been poking at me to write it all day (NO, brain! NO WRITING TODAY! CODING TODAY!). That has segued into various thoughts about her development moving forward.

Obsidian is an interesting character to play: although of little direct value in combat, she is the major "face" for the party (and indeed, she tends to think of the rest of the party as "her staff," regardless of how they may feel about that). Of course, as all good bards are, she's ready with buffs and backup healing. But interestingly enough, she's also the party wizard.

This is where she starts to actually get quite interesting. Obsidian has her Use Magic Device skill cranked way up (currently at +15, IIRC), which means she's got a 75% chance of using just about any wand, and certainly well over 50% of using any scroll or other interesting widget they might happen to come across. Which means that now, besides being the group's swiss army knife, she can also start getting blasty.

Blasty, blasty, blasty! ;)

She's never gonna outdo the single-target damage of [ profile] sirfox's gunslinger or [ profile] hantamouse's brute of a fighter/rogue, but hopefully she'll start being able to take out some of these clouds of mooks we find ourselves fighting from time to time. She's also going to start work on collecting a scrollcase full of useful oddball spells ("I've always wanted to use reckless infatuation!"), making her even more swiss army knifier.

This is going to be an expensive proposition at the start of things (wands cost hella money), but on the other hand she doesn't have much else to spend her money on. Magic weapons? What would be the point? Magic armor? Same deal. Her Str is 8-- anything heavier than her silky gossamer gown of mauve and she can't walk anyway. Her priciest pieces of adventuring gear are likely to be bracers of protection and some mnemonic vestments.

While thinking about all this, I happened upon Why Bards are Awesome by [ profile] rpg_crank, which echoed quite a few things I'd already figured out, but also pointed out some interesting new ideas for me, such as the whole bard-with-a-whip thing. [1] (Interesting tidbit: whips can be finessed. She's looking at a level with no feat predetermined yet. Hmmmmm.)

My favorite bit from that post, and the part that sums up Obsidian best:

Remember, you are the one who tells everyone the tales of adventure. You figure prominently in every tale. Your name is the one that comes up the most in the songs. When people from far away hear about your party, they say "Aren't you 'Bard and Company'", not "Aren't you that adventuring group who contains a number of important people?" When you write the songs, THEY ARE YOUR LACKEYS.

Alas, I'm not going to get to play Obsidian again for weeks at the earliest, because this is the August From Heck. But I can at least have some fun thinking about her and, in a few stolen moments of off-time, maybe even write that story.

-The Gneech

[1] So, yeah. She's a high charisma drow bard with a whip. How did I end up in this cliché of all things? O.o [2]

[2] Actually, I chose drow for her partially because I had some neat ideas about playing with her morally-ambiguous background, but mostly because she was based on Rarity from MLPFIM and I wanted her to have purple hair. Mechanically, she's a normal elf.
the_gneech: (Conan Civilization Sucks)

I didn’t talk about it much on Friday because I wanted it to sink in a little first; but on Friday I was informed that my job in its current form would cease to exist at the end of September.

So, yeah. Not a surprise, if you’ve been following the saga of my transition to pro writer, but still A Thing. I had hoped to have a nice, easy transition period where we sold the current house and bought a new one on our own schedule, after which time I gave my notice and all was well with the world. And certainly, “the end of September” is about when I was projecting for that to happen, so Congratulations, me! The universe’s plans and my own are more-or-less in synch!

Aheheheheheh. *flail*

So what changes? Fairly little, actually. I will probably talk to some folks in the graphics department about taking some part-time or freelance graphic design work as a fallback, but we were on target to have the house on the market by the end of the month anyway, and certainly if we’re actually moving or moved by the time the job goes Pfft! I’ll be just as well off to say my goodbyes and throw myself into the new life.

Good news is, staying through the end of September entitles me to get my yearly bonus. ;)

But Enough of That Pain! Let’s Talk About Gaming!

Ran the third session of my Eberron Pathfinder game on Saturday. The characters had an epic battle in the skies over Sharn as their new would-be menace, Aric Blacktree, tried to kill them all for reasons still unknown (at least to them). For those who don’t know psionics, a word of advice: a 4th level Wilder can do horrifying amounts of single-target burst damage. Beware. By taking a wild surge, Blacktree’s “energy ray” power did 6d6+6 damage as a touch attack. The downside was that he kept suffering enervation (which left him dazed and ate an additional 4 power points), so could only get that shot off twice, and the first one missed. Still… dayum. The second shot incinerated the NPC skycoach pilot on the spot. Fortunately, when the skycoach crashed into a tower, the PCs managed to abandon ship without getting killed in the process.

The second half of the session was basically segueing into another scenario, this time going into the “goth deco” ruined district of Fallen in search of a mysterious statue for an even more mysterious NPC patron. This brought the party’s lack of a cleric into sharp relief, as an exactly on-level encounter with a pack of barbarian ravers (think the inmates from Escape From New York, that kind of thing) dropped two of the characters and severely injured most of the rest. (1st level barbarian, raging, two-handed greatclub power attack: +6 to hit, d10+9 damage. Ouchie.) A healer in the group would have made all the difference. I suspect there will be an investment in potions/wands soon.

And Then There Was WoW

Last night, after working on the whole “pack up and move” thing for a while, I broke down and bought the full updated version of Mists of Pandaria for World of Warcraft, mainly ‘cos I wanted to make a tanky pandaren and the warrior class was just too darn dull. So now I’ve got an up and running pandaren windwalker monk named Akiji (somewhere in the low teens) and a draenei ice mage named Duskgem (somewhere in the high teens), both on the Moon Guard server, both members of the Fortune guild. Look me up sometime. :)

I don’t honestly know how much time I will spend in WoW, given that I will soon be unemployed and might not have money to blow on a monthly rent-to-pwn fee, and given that I’ve always had a begrudingly-enjoy/hate relationship with MMOs, but for the time being it’s serving fairly well for my “Braindead, me go kill monsters until sleeptime…” needs. I’m also a bit uncomfortable about the “racial conflict is in the world’s DNA” nature of the setting, but honestly that’s a common thread in almost all contemporary fantasy– it’s usually just less blatant about it.

-The Gneech

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

April 2019

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