Archive for February, 2012

Pathfinder Chase Cards boardgame deluxe

Last week we left our heroes ignominiously retreating with rapidity from the Moathouse. A gunslinger’s last stand-off and a gnome wedged under a door were the circumstances that allowed most of the party to escape with most of the ogre’s prisoners (gnome and Calamity Jane being the exception.)

We will never know who the gnome was or how he happened to become a slave, but we quickly found out that the two men were weapon merchants contracted to deliver weapons to the dark priest Lareth. The two girls were gypsies, and one of them happened to be the grand-daughter of the hag who cursed the wizard Jon. His curse was to be a rover all his life and never settle down, but the young gypsy girl promised to break his curse for freeing her. The merchants for their part offered them all the gold they had stored in a lock-box in Homlett. But first they had to make it back to Homlett with an army of angry humanoids snapping at their heels. 9 gnolls strapped battle axes and bows to their backs, and descended to four legs to chase the party, while the ogre crashed through the swamp behind them.

So began The Chase – using new Pathfinder Chase Cards I got for my birthday (thanks babe.) The cards are incredibly cool. Each one depicts a scene in full color artwork that might happen in a chase, and offering two ways past – usually a choice between making a skill check or a saving throw. The cards were divided into forest/dungeon/urban with equal amounts for each, though many of them looked interchangeable; for example a pit trap was called out as a dungeon card but could be used in any of the three. However a pothole, or hanging laundry, would most likely be reserved for urban chases.

The game board was made to be a stylized path from the moathouse to Homlett, with about 25-30 squares of movement to get there. The players moved 3 squares as a group each turn, while the monsters only moved 2. Moving off the path reduced movement to 1 and required drawing a card every turn. Landing on a red square ended the turn for whoever landed on one. A monster ignored it after that, but when the players landed on a red square they pulled a card and had to make a group check after choosing one of the options. If 4 out of the 7 made the check, they could go on with their turn, moving three. If they failed their skill check they took their turn to overcome the challenge and the monsters moved two squares closer. If the monsters caught up with the players, they have a chance to fight or flee. A fight means we pull out the battlemat and go to town, fleeing means each character has a chance to be hit by an arrow.

It was very hard to balance the game. During playtests, either the monsters caught up early and often, or the players pulled away leaving no chance of interception. Playing with my youngest daughter, we tried different move rates, and other ways to balance the game, before settling on the rules outlined above. In the future, I will probably get rid of the red squares and have them draw a card each turn.
It was a fun chase, and when the party got almost instantly mired in some mud, the gnolls were quick to pepper their retreating forms with arrows. The players had another close call, when they (or their horses) were spooked by eyes peering out of the shadows, but upon navigating bear territory, they pulled away and the gnolls never even bothered to cross the little river at the edge of the swamp.

While on the chase, they questioned the merchants, and learned that it was Rannos and Gremag who set them up to deliver weapons to the Dark priest Lareth, and they were then supposed to go on to a town called Nulb, and from their contract with a dwarf named Darvo Deepmittens for another shipment of weapons. Things didn’t work out though, and they were captured and taken as slaves for the ogre to watch over. They described the priest as wearing flashing plate armor, and though he never showed his face, he had a melodic voice. A young woman was constantly twined about him, and upon the questioning of Birche, it was determined to be her sister, Beth, who had run off and now it appears, gotten herself involved with bad news.

All of this was explained to the lords Rufus and Burne the wizard, who knew the local businessmen were bad, but needed proof. The escaped slaves mentioned a letter of introduction written by Rannos for Lareth, and Burne decided they must have this proof to convict them. Another trip to the Moathouse was planned. The heroes also blustered that they had killed the dark priest, but had no proof of their deed.

Back at the Inn of the Welcome Wench, the escaped slave merchants had recovered their lock-box from the inn owner, and gave it to the party – 300 gold pieces! Meanwhile, the wizard Jon was best upon by his gypsy girl, who invfomed them that the only way he could escape his curse was to marry her, and could she have his share of the gold for a wedding dress? Her family was camped outside Nulb, not too far north of Homlett, and would throw the wedding party as soon as it could be arranged. Jon had no comment, but was searching for an escape from the delicate situation.

That night, Lareth and the gnolls raided a farmhouse on the edge of Homlett. Birche the elf was the only one to wake up, and she stood at the window and watched as a house was engulfed in flames. She heard a screaming woman, but the sounds quickly dwindled away as dark shadows flitted away in the night. Birche went back to bed. (She remembered the woman of that house recoiling from her… unusual looks, being an elf with a 7 charisma.)

The next morning, the party had some explaining to do, but they offered two opinions. Being a dark priest, Lareth most likely knew some necromancy, so it is possible he raised himself, or had a plan in place. Alternatively, it could be his assistant, taking over his master’s work. Rufus and Burne were unconvinced, but suggested they head back to the moathouse and bring back definitive proof of his demise.

And so that’s what the party did. They made it back to the moathouse to find it seemingly undisturbed. Descending into the dungeon, they quickly retraced their steps down the chute and into the ghoul crypt, which was thankfully empty of ghouls. They then proceeded along halls until they came to the angled hallway they bypassed the day before. This led to a long tunnel ending at a locked door. Strong Girl burst through the door and the hallway continued on, rising slowly, and with the scent of fresh air wafting on the breeze.

Another locked door was set into the north wall of the hallway, and Cady wasted no time, but picked up the dwarf fighter Derp, and launched him pointy-helmet first through the closed door. Derp sundered the door and his head came close to sundering the human guard who stood with his back to the door.

A battle broke out between the party and the human guards who continued to pour southwards through the twisting halls. With the 3 fighters in the lead, the party chopped their way deeper into the lair of Lareth. A lieutenant stood outside a locked door, and when the party turned the tide against the guardsmen, he knocked a warning on lareth’s chamber, then rushed to engage. The lieutenant was in a suit of plate and was nearly impervious to the attacks of the heroes. The wizards hit him with magic missiles until Cady scored a good hit that finally sent him to the underworld.

By this time Lareth had come out of his chamber. He was smiling, sheathed in flashing plate armor, and a buxom wench was twisted around his arm, whispering encouragement. Birche recognized her younger sister Beth, and shook her head in disappointment. “Might as well kill her” she mumbled to herself. Lareth’s first act was to cast Hold Person on Strong Girl. His second, upon seeing his lieutenant cut down, was to offer gainful employment to the heroes, but they re-buffed his efforts and fought on.

The next round, he raised his fallen lieutenant and another guard as zombies, but they were hacked down by the enraged barbarian Strong Girl who finally shook off her paralysis, before they even had a chance to stand up and moan for brains. It was soon over for Lareth. From the far end of the hall a great explosion sounded and a small round hole appeared in the chest plate of the Dark priest, fired by the real Calamity Jane from her blunderbluss, using her dead-eye trick. An instant later, he was killed by the fighters, Beth was knocked out by an ear-ringing slap from her older sister, for hooking up with the wrong sort of guys, and then they proceeded to loot everything in sight. Good game.

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Little People Invade Hogwarts

Chapter 1: The Little People Invade Hogwarts

Through a rift between dimensions, Adolf Hitler has made contact with an evil dwarf Warlord, who calls himself Shadow Hitler and together they trade evil plots and more as they each conquer their respective dimensions. EVIL FREAKING DWARVES invade Hogwarts Wizard academy on a rainy night in the spring of 1941.

The characters begin as 0 level first year students at Hogwarts Magical School during the “London Blitz” era of World War 2, the fall semester of 1940. Across the channel, France has capitulated and for months German Guns have been bristling along the French coast, aimed directly at England, and Hogwarts stands between the cannons and London.

By night, the students fight the endless drones of planes sent to fire bomb the cities, and the students learn their magic in the heat of battle, flying brooms and spells against fighters and bombers. By day, the students weave between a classroom schedule meant to raise their skills and ability scores in the areas that matter to them.

This story takes place before any Tom Riddles or Voldemorts, and the school’s head master is none other than Merlin, raised from his slumber to defend England in her time of need. The houses are arcehtypal: Gryffindor is for fighting and good, Slytherin is sneaky and evil, Hufflepuff are steadfast and loyal, and Raven Claw are mysterious and weird. There are six classes each based on an ability score and the skills associated with that score. In addition, each character has access to cantrips, but must roll arcana checks to cast the spells correctly. Hijinks ensue.


Shadow Hitler the Eightht Dwarf

Chapter 2: Shadow Hitler the Eighth Dwarf

In another dimension dwarven submarines and dive bombers assault Neverwinter led by the dwarven warlord Shadow Hitler. The city falls quickly, and becomes the Fantasy version of Paris, and also Shadow Hitler’s new home base, where he erects an iron pyramid in one corner of the ruined city. It’s symbol is the “Bearded Swass”

The night of the invasion (during first year finals) in the middle of it the players are alternate-dimensionized into fantasy version of themselves, as first level class and race of their choice. (They retain use of one favorite cantrip.) They need to find a way back to their own world, and not get caught by the EVIL FREAKING DWARVES who have conquered the land led by Shadow Hitler the Dwarf Warlord.

The strangers to the world need some sort of cover or concealment. Hearing the sounds of battle ahead, they find a group of humans and orcs that fought to the death over a wagon. It is full of costumes and musical instruments, and a gold filigree scroll entitling the bearers of the scroll to compete in the bardic band olympics, to be held in Neverwinter jewel of the north and judged by Shadow Hitler himself.

Yes, the players become rock band double agents of the EVIL FREAKING DWARVES.

As Shadow Hitler prepares a cleansing war against the humanoid monsterland gathering under War Duke Stalin’s iron fist to the north and east of Neverwinter, he also looks longingly to the civilized southlands, ripe for the plucking.

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Chessex Pound o Dice

I had to break down and get a pound o’ Chessex dice. At least two other people in the group got a bag over he holiday season and my jealousy knew no bounds. Plus, I needed to replenish the barrel o’ dice I keep at the table for those unfortunates without dice of their own. This pound just about doubled my collection. It is a pretty nice set, mostly of multi-color solids. tons of D20s including a series of grey and yellow high rollers.

I also love the pair of huge blue six-siders, one translucent, the other solid. They will be our new initiative dice.

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A stranger rode into Homlett. Her wide-brimmed travelin’ hat was pulled low over blood-stained blue eyes. A strange bronze tube with flared end and a carved wooden stock rested over her saddle bow, and she rode directly to the Lords Burne and Rufus. With a nod, she introduced herself as Jane, Calamity Jane to some folks, mostly dead.

The girl wielded a blunderbuss, which could fire anything she dared load into its flared bronze tube, once she applied the proper amount of black powder. She had received it from a stranger who said she had the gift, and not long after, she was shot at from a distance, her morning cup of brew exploding in her hand. She has been on the run ever since.

Meanwhile under the Moathouse, The band of misfits stood in a crypt deep beneath the earth’s surface, amongst the ruins of ghouls. The room was littered with gnawed and broken bones, and a few niches held splintered coffins. In the back of the chamber they found a hole which loed into a series of what the cleric Will identified as “ghoul tunnels.” He was ready to crawl in after more ghouls, but the group decided instead to follow the ten foot wide corridor heading to the southeast. wounded and out of healing and spells, they needed to find a safe haven to rest and recuperate.

the party of ne’er-do-well’s decided to plunge forward in search of a place to camp, rather than retreating up and out of this dank hole full of undead. They followed the southeastern passage which eventually led to a north-south t-intersection. The dwarves detected fresh water to the south, and so they headed in that direction, Strong Girl and Cady the Strong in the lead. THe hall ended at an arched opening, beyond which was a half finished chamber filled by a pool of fresh water. Strong Girl strode forward and peered into the depths. She saw the glint of shiny.

At that instant the rogue leapt foward and dove into the water in a graceful arc that resulted in very little splash. As he dove, both he and the barbarian saw a dark shadow cross over the clear pool’s bottom far below. As the rogue continued his dive he came face to face with what looked to be a gaint lobster or an even gienter shrimp. It was in fact a giant crayfsh, and intent upon reaching the surface, the crayfish and rogue passed each other like the other didn’t exist. The bottom was made up of mud, rocks, a few bones, and some gleaming coins.

Both fighters and the barbarian threw spears at the crayfish as it rose from the dark depths, but failed to hit it before it exploded out of the depths. One claw grabbed Brony Will the dwarven cleric about the neck and proceeded for squeeze. The other great flailing claw failed to grab ahold of Strong Girl,who heard the qeasy crunch of the dwarven neck next to her.

After having many of its chitinous armor sections destroyed by the swinging weapons of the delvers, the crayfish changed course, and with a sickening crunch it turned and dragged the dwarven cleric under. It charged the rogue who swam nimbly past, while scooping up coins and a metal tube from its lair. Both Strong Girl and the other dwarf Derp immediately jumped into the water to save Will. Cady cast her rope into the water for Derp to grab, and tied the other end around her waist. The wizards were busy detecting magic, and the human wizard J became quite interested in the tube the rogue had found, which at the edge of his range, glowed faintly.

Underneath the water, the crayfish fought desperately to extract the invaders of its lair, but it was a losing proposition, and the barbarian and dwarf peeled away its carapace until the rogue pierced it with his rapier. The claw let loose the cleric who was still conscious though almost out of breath. He was transported to the surface while Strong Girl and Kurasawa finished gathering the coins. Derp pulled a pendant from amongst the rocks while he was down there, and it was revealed to be one of the dozen “family jewels” had had vowed to recover at campaign’s start. The treasure amounted to a few dozen gold coins and a like amount of copper pennies. The tube was a scroll case, and within was a wizard scroll containing the spell Stinking Cloud. The party set up watch and prepared to camp.

Above ground, Calamity Jane had just negotiated a bag of 25 gold to scout out the moathouse and find out what happened to the posse the Lords hired to rustle up the “Dark Priest” with another 25 on her return. As she followed the path through the swamp, she heard the crack of a rifle for the first time in many weeks, and a branch exploded overhead, showering her with leaves. She couldn’t tell from which direction the shot came and hurried her steed forward.

Soon she came to the keep, dismounted with the party’s horses, and continued across the moat. She found the main hall and the battle with rats in the pantry which led to the secret staircase down. Below she found a gory scene of violence and the stench of corruption was srong in the air. The stone stairs were stained with the scorch marks of burning slime, and undead lay strewn about the cellar with wild abandon. The gunslinger stepped gently between the bodies, some of which were twice-looted, and followed the trail into the next room, a torture chamber. Under a recently shifted iron maiden, a narrow shaft lay revealed, desceneding deeper into the earth with iron rungs set into the stone. She descended into the depths beneath the moathouse.

Strong Girl stood first watch and paced impatiently as her two hour watch passed. She had guard of the hallway and was alert for any sound. Eventually she heard a sound. She strained to listen. Yes it was coming closer. Did she charge? No, continuing to listen, she could pick up footsteps, they were getting nearer, she head another sound, like weasing or heavy breathing. What did she do. She waited. She had a torch lit and soon a figure appeared. The barbarian was not spooked into reckless attack upon the gunslinger Calamity Jane, as she met and quickly joined the party, sharing a lust for wealth and violence.

The rest of the night passed nervously but uneventful. The party was ready to commence their journey deeper into the dungeons beneath the moathouse, and they continued back to the last intersection and this time continued north. THe passed an adjoining tunnel but continued north to a heavy wooden door. The rogue came forward to check if it was locked or trapped, which it wasn’t, but it was easy to hear the sounds of banging, booming, and growling and barking coming from the other side.

The rogue stepped aside while Derp kicked the door in. The room was revealed to contain up to a dozen hyena-men engaged in war or sport with one another. The gnolls each had longbow and battle axe, and were split into two groups, each wielding one or the other weapon type. When the door slammed open, all aqctivity stopped and every gnoll head turned toward the intruders. Stron Girl broke the tension by screaming wildly and charging into the room to hew the closest gnoll in twain. With a roar, the chaos of battle took over and the party hacked their way through the savage gnoll recruits in record time.

Three doors to the south and a hallway to the north led from the gnolls chamber, which was empty of treasure except for the gold in the gnolls pockets, a princely sum of 130 gold between them. They opened each door to the south, and the first one turned out to be fake, and a gong sounded from the north, followed by the sound of a slamming grate.

At this point the party hurried north, feeling somewhat trapped, and came to a three way intersction. To the northeast the hallway was blocked by a portcullis, and it was to hear the party came, with the strongest members of the party coming forward to lift the obstacle from their path. The strong girls achieved their aim, and with much grunting, raied it wait high. At this point, the wizard heard a scrambling, scraping sound behind them. Derp was holding a gnoll claw in his pocket, and he recognized the sond as thescrape of many gnoll feet against the stone floor. Just then another army of gnolls exploded from the unexplored hallway behind them.

Surprised, the wizard and Derp were slashed by the battle axes of the invading force, but these inept gnoll recruits sufffered from inexperience, and miraculously the wizard was able to dodge and weave between the wild axe swings as he ran forward and under the portcullis and onward. The rest of the party was right behind them, except for the two brute beauties, who used their mighty strength to push the portcullis down behind them before the gnolls reached them. They stood up relieved and pointed at the gnolls, separated by iron bars. Their smiles faltered when they saw the front rank for gnolls switch from battle axe to long bow.

The fighters turned and ran, arrows skipping along the stones behind them. Around a corner the hallway ended at a steep staircase rising into darkness and eventually ending at a solid wall. The wizard, who was in the lead during the retreat wasted no time but raised his staff and struck the wall, casting Detect Secret Doors spontaneously through the power of his staff. A door was thus revealed, and through it the party emerged.

Into the chamber of a fat, lazy ogre, who eyed the ogue and wizard with suspicion as they burst unwanted into his room from a quite unexpecrted direction. He stood ponderously, using his bardiche as a cane, and said “You show sign to pass or you slave of Lubash the Ogre!” They heard mewling sounds through one of the two doors leading from the chamber. Strong Girl heard the gnolls raising the portcullis behind them, and rushed into the chamber.

The rogue Kurasawa was trying to bluff the ogre into letting them pass, when the ogre responded “no crossed arms no pass” which they realized was a clue, and trong Girl was the first to pass. She opened the door from which no mewling sounds came, which was a small room with two human slaves leaning against the back wall. She threw them battle axes from the dead gnolls, and Cady ran froward to open the other set of doors. It was Lubash’s bed chamber, and to human female slaves huddled in one corner. They were gypsies, and From the other side of the room, the human wizard made eye contact with the gypsy who had cursed him 9to forever be a rover, and never settle down.)

She screamed “Save me and I will tell you how to break the curse!” And so he did. Another door led from the bedchamber, and he gypsies said it wa sthe route to escape. But the door was locked. The rogue wanted to unlock it, but the ogre was about to charge him and push him with his pole arm into the slave pens. He smooth talked the ogre out of the charge, ad was just slinking around the corner into the bedchamber of the gypsy slaves, when another round of chaos came exploding out of the not-so-secret door.

Someow Calamity Jane and Brony Will the Dwarven cleric had become separated from the group, and returned with the gnolls literally on their heels. One step in front of another squad of gnoll recruits, the two burst into the chamber and Lubash the ogre lost his patience and charged the cleric, as he hated dwarves especially due to their stringy toughness. The dwarf nimbly dodged the lumbering oaf, and continued on into the bed chamber. Behind him 9 gnolls howled out of the secret door with battle axes in their paws. Calamity Jane ignored the ogre and turned, raised her blunderbuss, and prepared to fire upon the encroaching hoard.

The rogue, freed from the dull dialogue of the ogre, tore into the chamber and picked the lock one handed in record time. Sprung, the door, creaked open, and exposed the first chamber beneath the Moathouse. The cellar was much as they left it, other then three shabby zombies with out-turned pockets of the twice- looted. They quickly became the twice slain as the rage of the strong girls exploded into them.

The three slaves followed the rogue from the slave pen into the bed chamber, and the gnome pushed the door closed with the last of his strength. The ogre noticed his slaves escaping and in a rage he slammed into his bedroom door. Only the body of the gnome saved the party from the wrath of the ogre, as it was wedged solidly under the crack of the door. Thus wedged, the gnome offered the party the few seconds it needed to escape the cellar upstairs into the Moathouse.

The wedged gnome also meant that the first blast of Calamity Jane’s blunderbuss would be her last. Escape impossible, Clamity Jane made her last stand. She angled her gun so she could maximize damage and with a blast tore through the first rank of gnolls, and even hit the ogre with shrapnel. Wounded and sent into a rage by the explosion, the gnolls descended on the wild gunslinger and it was all over fast. Clearing the gnome from the doorjamb took little time and soon the ad hoc monster warband was pounding up the stairs after the fleeing party.

The raving pack of humanoids reached the moat just as the party, now mounted, fled down the path towards Homlett.

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House Rules

Everyone knows of the legendary dwarven greed. Some say that it is the greed of dwarves that gives rise to such great works of beauty and construction for they are ever at work expanding their wealth, whether it be by digging ever deeper beneath the mountains of their birth, or by building vast bridges over the great river canyons of the world to foster trade for those items of treasure outside their domains. Even a reasonable, rational dwarf, when presented with a pot of glowing gold, will go to extreme measures to ensure the treasure does not escape incorporation into his hoard.

At conception a dwarf character chooses gold, gems, or both, as his most precious treasure type. The dwarf should thereafter make every attempt to gain at least a double share (but preferably all) of every helping of this type of treasure, as best he can manage. His reasoning is that he is a collector and caretaker of such items, and the most suited to their ownership.

It will be mine, oh yes...

If two or more dwarves exist in the same party, they must eventually come to some sort of agreement as to who gets what amount of treasure, and must forever be trying to increase their percentage. Multiple dwarves in the same party would be wise to always maintain a close eye on all treasure division.

Indeed, even fetishist dwarves are known to exist, who choose an alternate treasure type, which can be anything as general as “magic items” to a specific type of creature skull. These fetishes are in addition of the gold/gem/both choice that every dwarf makes.

Some dms may want to set gold piece attainment levels for the dwarves to reach in their favored class of treasure, with commensurate rewards for their achievement.

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This goes out to everyone who loves the game for its limitless potential.

We play for the stories, the fun and jokes, for war, for sport, and for the hurling of dice.

Or sometimes other reasons. One reason I play is for the books, the beautiful books.

Like the ones on my bookshelf here.

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D&D Next Caves of Chaos

Last weekend, Wizards of the Coast hosted a Dungeons and Dragons Experience convention in Indiana, as they have for the past few years. This year was special because they announced a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons was in the works – and it was being designed as “one edition to rule them all” by taking the best aspects of all editions and building the game from the ground back up

There were four major conferences during the convention, one each day starting on January 26, 2011, and extending until Sunday the 29th. For those attending, there were also four hour slots each day to play test the first version of this new d&d. At least one of the adventures played was the classic “Caves of Chaos” from the seminal adventure “Keep on the Borderlands.” The play-testers were all had to sign Non-disclosure waivers, and so far little has leaked.

For now, we will ignore the play-testers out of jealousy and envy, and instead focus on the transcripts of the conferences, which were thankfully not held by NDA waivers. The conferences are as follows:

Class Design, from Assassins to Wizards
Charting the Course: An Edition for all Editions
2012 D&D Products
Reimagining Skills and Ability Scores

So, from the four talks, I have pulled out the most interesting quotes, to which I must thank all those people involved in tweeting and live-blogging the event. It made it possible to be there without actually being there. I am pulling the quotes from all four with no particular order. This series will be broken down into broad categories. Under the quotes I give a brief reaction or analysis, depending on my quixotic whim.

On Magic, Items, Spells, System:

Monte: It’s my firm belief that Vancian magic, for the core classes, is D&D. There are other options for other classes, but for Wizard, Cleric (core), Vancian is the way to go. There’s something to be said for picking spells that match what you think is coming. Rewarding.

You will get no argument from me about this statement, which brings back traditional memorization of spells for the main spellcasters. It is true, this is a core characteristic of the games long and storied history. The question about wizards will be how spellbooks are handled, and for clerics, the question remains how to handle healing, by memorization, by allowing a healing spell to replace any other spell, or by 4e mechanics of a healing word type of encounter power, possibly used as a free action to trigger a nearby ally.

Bruce: I feel we’re brining Vancian magic back to the place it began, keeping the story intact and making it important to the story of the world.

Vancian magic, and the idea of daily preparation of spells is a core characteristic.

Rob: Monte started running with the ball and wanted to make rituals there for the really big spells that are super awesome, but might take a bit longer to cast. I ran with that and really wanted to make them all very interesting and complex, and really invest the player/character in what they’re doing. We could bring back a lot of the big, neat spells from previous editions, and rituals can be the spells that do that.

Rituals were a great idea with bad implementation and even worse support. The cost structure was completely off, sometimes they made no sense, and the rituals were allowed by anyone willing to spend a feat, rather than just spellcasters, which allowed strong, iconic spells in the hands of anyone. Another case of mixed roles and gestalt gaming.

Rituals have the ability to be great, but it must be remembered that they are still spells, and if that is the case, they should maybe be listed right alongside combat spells, where they were in all previous editions. I am not sure what is the fascination with rituals, but I am dubious of their worth as a separate branch of magic. Also, working scrolls back into the game needs to happen, maybe in conjunction with these rituals.

Monte: Magic is taking a broader turn than just spells. In the past we got to the point where everything you encountered in the game had some kind of spell attached to it or that replicated the effect. I really want to go back to the idea that magic is mysterious and weird and not always entirely definable. I think it’s good for the story of the game when the DM can use it to help to define and area or maybe a unique magic item. Things like rituals help us accomplish that – makes things more open ended and more interesting and also takes away some of the focus from the wizard and puts it on other things in the world.

Here rituals are being described as a kind of mysterious, unknown or unlearnable type of magic, so certain spells, or what were once considered spells, are now rituals, and are different. To me this reminds me of the way monsters are built differently than characters – ritual magic is built differently than spells, or artifacts are different than magic items. This could work, and keep amazing, miraculous spells, like Amaze and Miracle, or Wish, or Resurrection to name a few.

Bruce: Magic items have always been a part of the game, but with 4th it became part of a player’s natural progression so that you would have to pick up items from stores or other places to keep up. One of the negative things that brought up was that it eliminated some of the exploration that was so integral in earlier editions. You no longer had to go questing or searching for that magic item. We want to decouple magic items from character progression so they’re not needed, and return that exploration and excitement of finding magic items.

When magic items become an integral part of the progression math they lose value as a special, bonus, or let’s be honest they lose their “magic.” Coupled with the deliberate attempt to make sure no magic item power could outshine a character power, this led to the lame-ification of 4e magic items. Those who claim inherent bonuses fix this problem, I ask ye, why add even more bonus bloat into the game? What does it represent? As it is, any paragon level character worth his salt will find a way to hit on a 5 or better. But that is a rant, Monte is focusing on the idea of taking them out of the combat arena and placing them squarely into the explorations side of the game, which I hope includes some sort of elaborate scheme for identifying magic items, rather than the rather lame detect magic item also identifying the item.

Bruce: Right out the gate, since magic item acquisition isn’t part of the level progression a DM can say that you’re going to have to work really hard for your magic. Also, the thing that Monte was talking about with your xp progression being modifiable, you could really stretch out those levels to have a low fantasy or lower power kind of game.

The idea that the dm can have a “high magic” or “low magic” type of game is an essential part of bringing all gamers back into the fold, and it is heartening to see this recognized. I like the idea of slow progression, and love the danger and swingy randomness of low level adventuring.

Monte: I want the ritual system to be expressed in some way. I love the idea of magic existing in a lot of different forms in some way. Part of D&D is those really classic magic items that we all know, the flame tongue, the holy avenger, the wand of wonder. All of that has to be in the game for it to really feel like D&D to me. The Ritual system expressed in some way (magic in many different forms), and iconic magic items.

Monte seems to be expressing a desire for a return to epic magic. I agree magic should be epic, weird different,powerful ,and maybe a little scary sometimes. If rituals can do it then sure, let’s try them out, but the 4e mechanics for rituals are half-baked at best. Much more time needs to be spent contemplating the cost, access, components, casting time, requirements, and how often they can be used.

Monte: There will always be room for stat-boosting items. But they might play a different role. Maybe a hard cap on non-magically augmented ability scores. Mortal limits. Can boost with magic. I think there’s definitely room for a things like the gauntlets of ogre power and have items that could affect stats, but we’re looking at having caps on what those items could raise your stats to.

Having hard caps on stats is a great method to prevent modifier-bloat, an unfortunate side affect of recent editions. This is great news, and coupled with the idea that stats might have a smaller range of modifiers, say a max of +2 or +3 instead of the +4 and higher as it is now. I really have grown to hate bonuses, and believe they add nothing to the game. The pluses themselves are nice, but they add up too fast. I would like to see a game where the averages pluses are +0 to +3 — REGARDLESS OF LEVEL — and that rarely if ever exceed +10 or so. Same with AC and all the numbers. The developers seem to share some of this desire, and have talked about “flattening the modifiers” and reducing the level advancement of bonuses, so we will see. I hope this spills into ability scores and if it is done with just the right of balance, players will feel free to use untrained skills or non-proficient weapons when the circumstances demand it. Bonus bloat blows.

Bruce: As we’re looking at it right now, rituals are the only thing that really have magic components. We think they have a place in the world that’s archetypical but rituals might be the best place for that.

Ok, I always liked the old system of spoken words, hand gestures, and material components for spells. Some spells required all or none of the three components, and thus a wizard was still dangerous even when stripped, bound, and gagged. That is a dose of simulationinsm into wizardry,and I hope 5e supports it.

Monte: One of the great things we can do with a ritual system, is that we can have the components for some crazy ritual to be actually a quest – go find this rare component so that you can use this ritual. It opens it up to be important to the story.

This is interesting, having certain spells cost “100 gp pearl” or a “hippogriff feather” making them adventures (or shopping trips) unto themselves. That sounds like a good idea, with lots of value to be hand-waved or used to build a quest, ‘pon the whim of the dm.

Rob: We assume that when a Wizard is casting, there are gestures and components, but they’re not explicit.

So I guess they are not bringing back the verbal, somatic, and material components of each spell description? Too bad. Flavor is flavorful. It is interesting to know that a fireball is cast by rolling a ball of bat guano and brimstone in the hands then flicking it up to 300 yards. Lose the stat block for mat for spells and add another paragraph of description, please.

Spells need to not only retain the innate “magical-ness” of previous editions, but in all truth they need a dose more of magic. There eeds to be real mystery, real unexpected results, chance of failure, or of extreme success. Teleport needs a chance to fail, maybe not to instantly embed the party into the side of a mountain,but perhaps to strand them on the other side of the world?

I would love to see wizard duel system that actually works – and would be a first in D&D. I would like more exploration into the idea of living spells. Spellcasters should have the tools to craft their own spells. We did this much oftener in 1e than craft items. The wizards were always trying to come up with new spells – at great expense – and with great results if they could get it past the dubious dm (me.)

On Weapons, Items, etc.:

Monte: Mundane equipment is important and we’re trying some different things there. For example, at this point nobody starts with the ability to have plate armor.

It is funny, but just a few weeks ago on this blog I was lamenting about the price of plate armor in 4e. I like that there are mundane equipment items that can be hard to obtain, so it creates a separate path to aquisition of loot. make 2-hand swords cost 20 times as much as a long sword. Make long bows 100 gold, but short bows only 25 gold, and slings a copper. Make money and mundane items matter please. I want a knight to choose the beat up old battered full plate over a suit of elven chain+1 9 times out of 10

Bruce: One of the things we’re doing is moving things more to a silver standard instead of a gold standard. We also have mundane implements for some caster classes that are their equivalent of a fighters sword or their slightly better armor. This opens up space for some interesting magic items that help you in rituals. but if you have a magic item, maybe it’s a totem that has a little creature in it that is summoned to help you and do other cool things. A mundane wand might be 100sp, like the fighter’s scale mail.

Changing to a silver standard is mind blowing. I am trying to process this, and the best way I can think of is online MMOs, which often have 100 to 1,000 silver equal a gold. I thought it was cool for a couple reasons. First, getting that first gold (or its equivalent in silver) really felt like an accomplishment. Second, it was cool to say “Im rich I have over 10 gold!” sounds way cooler than having 10 astral diamonds, or even 10 million gold, for that matter. Never mind it isnt a part of classic d&d,its a good idea. Gold should matter, as it glints in the players eyes as bright or brighter than the fictional characters they play.

The idea of implements acting as spellcasters weapons has been growing since 4e, and I can see its merit – just watch a Harry Potter movie and the importance of the wands. Now add to that the staff, rod, orb, holy symbol, tome, and various ki focus and totems, and you can see what it has grown into. I see no fundamental problem going this direction, and I like equipment, so I am for it, with a big but. There are iconinc magic items in the game from its conception that are these same objects, wands, staves, etc. so there needs to be a link between these mundane implements and their iconic magic ancestors.

Monte: Something I’d like to see is characters that are good with weapons become more broad with a number of different weapons or maybe any weapon he comes across. We’re defining weapons not by specific names, but their categories. So you wouldn’t say I’m really good with a battle axe, you’d say I’m really good with axes. So you could be good with axes, swords, and bows for example. If a fighter is good with swords, and they find a really good axe in a dragon’s horde for example, I’d love for him to be able to just pick that axe up and be good with it – not have to worry about ignoring it because you didn’t make the choice to be an axe guy.

Classifying weapons by sub-type seems reasonable. I was never satisfied with the way 3 and 4e handled weapons by simple, martial and exotic. Many pole arms, for example, are made of modified farm implements, shouldn’t they be classified as simple? (Not the Bohemian Ear Spoon, it was a specialized weapon requiring years of survival and slaughter to master.)

Rob: We’re looking at accuracy and damage expression right now. In addition to the damage type, we’re also looking at damage types like slashing, piercing, etc. In addition the plan right now is that we’re going to have some weapon specialization benefits. So if you’re specialized in a certain weapon type, it opens up all sorts of neat little benefits, some of which are the at-will kind of attacks we’ve seen in 4E.

The last thing Rob said was the most interesting in this information bomb of a quote. Weapon specialization may open up different attacks rther than ascending bonuses to hit and damage. Maybe a knockdown or stun attack, or even cooler would be called shots. We need to bring back called shots, with a -10 to -20 to hit and double to quadruple damage, including blinding, weapon dropping, limb severing good fun.

Weapon damage types, like bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing, is a good thing, as it allows us to differentiate between weapons. Equipment needs tobe diverse and meaningful, and the weaopns adn armor most of all. If the equipment can be made important without resorting to the oft-reached for crutch of bonuses,then the developers are going in a direction with great possible rewards. But what does it all mean for…

On the Poor over-worked DM:

Jeremy: The DM should be able to create the experience that their group wants. The players should be able to choose their level of complexity, and have it work no matter the options chosen.

I have in my later years taken a much more hands-off approach with the player side of the game, namely characters. I make sure there is balance, but I am much more open to optional, alternate, or even custom-made class and race options. I have allowed psuedo dragons as characters, and in 4e, the door was wide open, resulting in vampires, shifters, avengers, and even githyanki sword-locks. This one sentence summery seems to coincide with exactly what I have been aiming to achieve in my own games, and that included D&D Encounters where some players never graduate from the pre-gen cards, not even when given the option to level up.

The balance is the key here, between character power levels. Basic characters must not be left to feel powerless, while custom characters cannot be left to feel all their choices did not matter. Good dm’s can make up for this by carefully planning the challenges in the game, but balanced characters, or more specifically, a lack of over-powered characters make this much more easy and enjoyable. Druids in 3e I am looking at you.

Jeremy: The Monsters are in the design teams hands now and we’ll be moving to development in the next few weeks. What I can say about this goal that Monte is talking about is that we’re working to provide the DM with really good world building tools. And it’s important to provide information about the orcs place in D&D while making sure that a Monster remains relevant as the characters level up. There might be an orc shaman, an orc champion or whatever for higher levels, but we also want the basic orc to be relevant at higher levels. We want it to be really easy for the DM to open the Monster Manual and drop an orc or iconic monsters into the game.

The monsters of 4e are what I instantly fell in love with. Everything about them was awesome – from the all inclusive stat block, to the special attack powers, to the different varieties of the same monster type. Minions, and bosses, they had monsters figured out in 4e. The more I played the more I liked the monsters who each had their signature moves. It made battles very dramatic and dynamic. Monsters are the heart of the game to the dm, and I sometimes plan a campaign by the monsters I want to use. Undead, city of thieves, or orc invasion, deciding on what the party is going to have to deal with defines many games, and many memorable stories. One need only think of the dragons they have fought (or thrown, like a sacrifice, for a pointy-edged party to devour) to realize how important ar ethe monsters, and giving them “signature moves” is a great way to define them. Loved it! And minions, ya!

Some have voiced the idea of taking the dm tools of 4e and couple them with the character tools of 3e to reate the perfect game. I think what Next D&D is trying to do is even better. Lets keep those 4e monster rules, though, I love making new monsters (or variations of old) and it was never better than in 4e. In fact, regardless of the edition’s official monster rules, I will be adding special attack powers and signature moves to all monsters.

Jeremy: We have talked about having adventures that cater to very particular tastes – political intrigue or classic dungeon crawl. You can also have the sandbox adventure that is an environment with hooks, fleshed out NPCs, evocative locations, And it really becomes a canvas for players and DMs to paint on. Sometimes, I think that’s the best approach for people who want to choose their own way, but sometimes it’s better to give a more directed approach for people who need that.

Delving into adventure design philosophy, Jeremy discusses that it is important to cater to two types of groups, those who play in a sandbox style, and those who play through a scripted adventure. I would also like to add a third, me, as a DM who takes the sandbox locations, like Hammerfast and Vor Rukoth to name a few recent examples, and builds my own adventures into the open-ended region provided. Sandboxes allow the group to make their own stories, but it is good to provide direction in case of a lack of inspiration, or to provide direction and clues to a dm trying to forge his own path.

Monte: While having options in the rules is great, we want to open things up so players can get creative and ask to do things that are [NOT] specifically covered by the rules. We want to empower DMs to with information in the DM guide and others resources to be able to handle those out of the box situations. So basically better gaming through better DM tools and DMing.

Sometimes I will just start describing stuff and continue on painting a fantasy world until something happens to interrupt. I have been known to lovingly describe as a shifter druid pounces on and chews through a zombies rotting torso, not stopping until its spine crumbles in her jaws. It just happens, and when the players get into this too, we can just start telling the story for awhile, until another die roll comes up.

“It is up to the DM how he or she wants to handle this.” is a fine ting to put in the rules,when needed. Adding a few ideas or options is also a good thing, but keeping it flowing is the most important.

Monte: There are a few different groups that most DMs fall into, and one of those groups wants to have randomness or at least an easy way to drop something into the game. I do want to make sure that we have those random tables for support for those kinds of DMs.

I never realized ow much I missed random tables until they were gone. I guess there was a reason random was always one of my favorite words. Randomness is like spice to the story. They can in the smallest way totally change everything.

Mike: I think D&D needs to have elements of chaos in it. Sometimes that can be funny, or weird or off the wall. I think that’s one of the places where the randomness of the d20 can come into play. I think that some of the recent history of the game has the designer buttoning down and eliminating some of that chaos, and we want to get away from that. It’s the interactions between the DM, the players and the game that make it was it is, so we shouldn’t stifle that.

When the bonuses outweigh the d20, randomness has fled the building. On the other hand, wackiness is something altogether different. Mike understands however,the fundamental idea that we need the random, oddball stuff to happen, as it propels the game in new and unexpected ways, and also it happens to give rise to the funniest stories.

Monte: We were just talking about throwing in some extra abilities to monsters. So you might have a normal orc, or you might decide to make him a vicious orc that would add an attack that to a nearby creature when the monster dies. That kind of thing could be added in by a DM on the fly because it doesn’t really change the challenge too much or make you rewrite anything. It might give you a little bit of an experience bonus if/when you defeat it too.

I love the idea of having a pool of abilities that could be swapped into monsters by the dm to create monsters, or variations of monsters on the spot. Generic abilities like fly-by attack, or maul, could have attributes and affects that transcend specific creatures and can be overlaid (in place of a regular attack or whatever) to give them new awesome powers. I like it. This would be a true advancement and improvement over 4e’s excellent monster system.

Monte: We want to work hard to provide actual meaningful guidance on how to be a good DM. We want to embrace the 4E idea of quick prep time. New monster, 5 mins. High level NPCs in 10 minutes. Lots of 4E ideas. Decoupling the idea that NPCs have to advance or be built in the same way as PCs.

Monte is apologizing to us here, and wishes they hadn’t created the frankensteinian monster mayhem of 3e. It was cool at first – every monster in the MM was built up just like a character, until the dms realized how much work that was, and that it never added up right anyway. 4e had a beautiful, elegant monster method, and they should build upon that system, as I outlined above, perhaps.

Bruce: By giving power to the DM and a very robust rule set we can make it easier for the DM to make a calling and not feel like he’s lost at sea. This will keep the game going and improve things for everyone.

“When in doubt, flip a coin and move on.” I like it. A new Rule 0.1

Rob: We want to provide a bunch of different options for how DMs can reward the players for doing different things. So yeah, we’ll have an experience table for the monsters, but we’ll also have information for doing things like giving XP for quests, or giving XP for exploring a whole area, or give experience for finding the hidden treasure. There are things we’re doing so that you can reward your players for what you or they are trying to accomplish in the game.

So far everything we have heard about the game has been couched in terms of how it will garner a broad appeal, and truly that is the direction the game needs to take to bring all players under one tent. One game to bind them all, indeed.

Thank you for reading this six part series where I opine and wax philosophocal on various quotes pulled from a convention which I did not attend. It was sure fun to do, in a mystery science theatre 3,000 sort of way, and I many take up the proverbial quill again at the Next” opportunity, heh heh, get it? Next?

Anyhow, here are the six articles in the series, a first look at D&D Next:

The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 1 – on Character Classes

The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 2 – on Ability Scores and Themes
The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 3 – on Character Generation, Multi-classing, Feats and other Abilities
The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 4 – on Advancement and Gameplay
The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 5 – on Modularity, Core Mechanics, and Art
Wrapping up the Developers Talk about Next D&D Part 6 – on Magic, Items and the Poor Overworked DM

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