Category Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

Hey, you heard of Dungeons & Dragons? I’ve heard of Dungeons & Dragons. So let’s talk about Dungeons & Dragons.

How To Be: Lalo Salamanca (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

There’s a real challenge in translating anime characters to other forms of media, and that’s why once again, we go back to the most successful anime of the last five years, which had its grand conclusion just last month. Yes, people love Better Call Saul, and Breaking Bad and then maybe they’ll mention El Camino and maaaybe they’ll mention Slippin’ Jimmy, but no matter how you enjoy it, we all know one of the greatest anime villains of all time stands tall, possibly while murmuring the name Werner… Ziegler…

It’s Lalo!

Spoilers but kinda? For Season 4 and onward of Better Call Saul.

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4e: Deploying Monster Types

Hey, have we already spoken about the monster system in 4th Ed D&D?

Back in 3rd edition, D&D used what we called the ‘challenge rating’ system, a system that treated each monster as a sort of amorphous blob with a generic personality and the option to pick its own feats and do a lot of possible things. It was a system that I’ve talked about somewhat negatively.

But people say that 4e D&D was ‘only good for tactical combat,’ which I don’t agree with, but I can understand the feeling when you consider it was the first time that it made the combat system kinda work (and obligatory ‘ew there were math problems in the first monster manual’ yep, and they found them and addressed it, thanks).

Part of how it worked was that rather than treat monsters as if they were all generic spots on a continuum, monsters were balanced based on general formulas of things they could do and ways they could be represented, and part of that was recognising that some types of monster were best suited to particular types of role.

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3.5: The Archivist

Hey kid, wanna read some dirty books?

Original Art by Julie Dillon

D&D is a game of nerds, and therefore there is always some degree to which it will reflect the vision of the kinds of nerds that made it. By default, there is an idea of power that lends itself towards the obvious, with mighty barbarians and fighty fighters plunging onwards into the fray, but it almost seems too obvious that a game that for thirty years was seen as the domain of the kind of dorks who boasted about their test scores just so happened to land the majority of the powerhouse play options in the lap of the characters visually represented by being physically unathletic and carrying a big book everywhere.

In a game full of busted stuff, it’s well known that in D&D 3.5 the most busted stuff comes from the host known as the ‘full spellcasters’ – characters whose power derives directly from their spellcasting as the primary thing they do, and who get nine levels of casting spread out over seventeen levels, eighteen if you suck and pick a sorcerer. And amongst those, the typical top tier are the Wizard, the Cleric, and the Druid.

The Archivist is the rare example of a character class presented in the 3.5 D&D expansions books that manages to not just exist alongside those three, but in a way, exceed them.

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Eberron and the Dawn of Magepunk

When you give a thing a name, you give it a life.

Eberron is a Dungeons and Dragons setting that first launched in July 2004, for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, and much ink has been spilled about it, not the least of which is in their official books. It’s a great setting, and it has a bunch of fun things put in it, including shapeshifting genderqueer cuties and mechanised robot people, and oh yeah, an entire country that’s got cursed fog rolling through it. Eberron is a fun setting and I like it.

Eberron is also the first time I ever encountered the word Magepunk.

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Bill Of Elf, Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the world building I have explaining the basic foundation of elves in the setting, and in the process, described a set of different ‘elves’ that players have access to for building their own characters. But that was more a sort of top-down cladistic vision of them. What are those elves like, what does it mean to be a member of those elven cultures? How do they view one another and what kind of characters do they allow?

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Bill Of Elf, Part 1

I’ve written about elves in Cobrin’Seil, but it was writing that was largely about addressing them as an origin. What I wanted to address is the question of why elves can make half-elves, when they’re not quite like half-orcs. I even established there that elves are less a heritage and more a group of heritages, all drawing from the same singular space.

Of course, the language around this is complicated. After all, I call these things elves, but one of those types of elf is called elves. And I’m not doing this in the vein of Moon Elves and Sun Elves and Sand Elves and Dust Elves and Song Elves and Wood Elves and Winged Elves and I only had to make up one of those. But the general fantasy of ‘elf’ is something players love, but also it means a lot of different things. The distribution of ‘elves’ is a whole question unto itself, and I kind of needed to decide what I wanted them to do and what character fantasies are enabled.

Plus, that creates a question of how the world relates to the idea of the Elves, and well…

That’s a world building question.

Art by Randy Vargas
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How To Be: Bridget (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

You don’t have long on this earth. THE FASTEST SINNER WILL EDIT THE TEXT. MISSION ONE. WHATABURGER! A MIDNIGHT MEAL WITH THE DEVIL

THE CARBUNCLE ATE ITSELF! FIRST HOWDY!

LET’S GET THE MONEY. GODS PLAY DICE WITH THE UNIVERSE, WHY DON’T YOU GIVE HER A CALL. FIRST SHOWDOWN ATTACK, Crank it To 11! WORLD IS A FUCK

Round the first: Grind!

It’s Labor Day.

Let’s talk about Guilty Gear.

Content Warning: I’m going to have to put some disclaimers up for some political information around Bridget and trans identities before I get into the meat of things, so if you’re not interested in that and you’re already aware of this situation just jump three paragraphs.

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3.5 D&D: Use Magic Device

The most comically, hilariously, overpowered skill in 3.5 D&D was a skill that very few classes got, could only be used trained, couldn’t be used reliably and had a drawback if you ever rolled a natural 1. It was also something that wizards didn’t tend to care about having, clerics could almost never take advantage of, and if you had access to it, would take over your build because of what it let you do.

It had a stupid name too.

It was Use Magic Device.

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4e: The Yakuza Theme

There’s a chance if you played 4th edition, you never even knew Themes were a thing. They were introduced in a campaign sourcebook as a way to flesh out characters under level 10, to give more of that kind of granularity you might want if you say, belonged to a particular organisation, or had something that just made you a bit different to every other character in your class. Themes are great because what they often give you serves really well in offering a bit of a mechanical variety to builds without necessarily making things worryingly more powerful. The idea is very sound.

Art by Remy PAUL

The execution on the other hand, phew, the execution, well, let me tell you.

I have talked in the past about how themes are a problem because there are only a few of them that are as strong as one another; this creates a smaller pool of possible options. Melee combatants usually take the Guardian, which gives you a way to get a free extra basic attack and a bunch of other powers you’d never bother taking. If you follow my How To Be series you might have seen the commonality with which I bring up the Werebear and Werewolf as ways to open up a build’s options. Also, almost all builds that have no better reason to be anything else are going to benefit from the Fey Beast Tamer.

These themes are good because they give you something robust, consistent, and reliable in all situations. The greatest failing of themes are when they break these rules, and when they do it, it is often in service of 4th edition’s worst habit, which I’ll just shorthand as fiddly bookkeeping bullshit. As an example, let’s check out the Yakuza theme.

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Legal Systems in Cobrin’Seil

Let’s talk about the complicated way people in a D&D setting find justice.

Understand that a body of this thinking is a byproduct of watching this Burgerkreig video. I’m summarising some points and his overall structure, and I’m trying very hard to not just copy his metaphors and jokes. This kicked me into realising that I had, in fact, actually done this for part of my setting, which meant I had something useful, a default.

Having the Eresh Protectorate as a central setting component is very handy, because they help to standardise things across the entire vast continent of Bidestra. Not that they impose a singular standard per se, but because when there’s one cultural marker spread across a region, other cultures can point to it and say ‘we do it that way’ or ‘we don’t do it that way.’

Art by Santeri Soininen

What I like about it in this case specifically is that when we look at the legal system of the Eresh Protectorates, it is ridiculous and full of uneven, inadequately distributed systems for stupid reasons. But those reasons are all to some extent realistic and create points of tension for when I run the game, and give players a meaningful relationship to the systems in the world.

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How To Be: Scorpia

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

One of my favourite things about media is the way that just because I don’t like a work or a show or a plot or whatever it doesn’t have to mean I don’t like or won’t have a reason to be interested in something in that. Moments, scenes, characters, dialogue, all sorts of small things can be extracted from their source and appreciated for what they are and what they could be even if they wouldn’t be that way in the work they’re from. I don’t have to like Rent to think that Out Tonight is a banger, that kind of thing.

So to with She-Ra and the Princess of Power. I didn’t like the show that much and I stopped watching it and that’s entirely okay, but while I watched it I did meet a character I liked, and it seems that lots of other people like. Let’s examine then how we’d go about making the good-natured princess himbo, Scorpia.

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Nations, States and Countries in Cobrin’Seil

To build a country is hard.

I’m not just referring to making maps, where I’m garbage. I have been writing Cobrin’Seil as a setting for twenty years and I have drawn three maps. There are some of y’all gifted with an ability to craft a visual representation of all the different things you could want to visit. Me, I get in a weird space where I worry if I don’t put things down on the map right, when I need to come up with a location for things, my players may go ‘well it wasn’t on the map.’

Which is dumb.

Anyway, I also don’t mean the way that it’s a very challenging thing to invent countries – which is part of what I’m doing, to fill out my world. That’s going through stages, which I’m not sure about yet. Mostly it’s things like ‘would this be a cool place?’ based on a picture, then struggle to come up with names.

What I’m thinking about right now is how, in universe, it must be challenging for countries to even get to exist.

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4e: Class Variance

Alright, so yeah, I may have talked about how terrible a bunch of the 3.5 D&D classes were, but that’s a little bit unfair, right? Rubbishing on bad design in a system I don’t play, that’s ammunition in the edition wars, what about the bad classes in 4th edition?

I have thought about that, about writing that, but part of the problem is that ‘the bad classes’ needs some asterisks and caveats. Because there are a lot of classes in 4e D&D, but not nearly as many as there were in 3rd edition, and what’s more, a lot of the ones in 4e… weren’t… different classes to one another.

Let me explain.

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3.5: The Misfit Children Of The Complete Books

Dungeons & Dragons is a beast of structures. One of those structures is a class, which gives you a collection of mechanical abilities to express how you operate in the world. One of the other structures is a book release schedule, which gives you a sequence of products that Wizards would be very happy to sell you, and would make your game better, no really, check it out, this will totally address problems you’ve mentioned and noticed. Back in 3.5, the first wave of these was the Complete books, the Complete Warrior, Complete Adventurer, Complete Arcane and Complete Divine, which I will note, did not in fact, complete those options. Blatant false advertising in my imho.

Each of these books had three classes in them, meaning that after the initial release of the Player’s Handbook, we were presented within the first six months with twelve more classes to select from, which makes sense. Binches love classes. I have a long-standing opinion that every Complete book that presents new classes presents one legitimately interesting class and at least one complete turkey. What you almost never got was a powerful class out of a Complete book.

Of these classes, I actually think I have to revise my assessment. Like, some books didn’t really have an option that managed to reach the high water mark of fine.

But that’s a list! We can look at a list!

Presented then, in an itemised list, are the twelve classes of the Complete Books, 3.5 edition’s misbegotten I Guess player options. We’re going to look at the worst book to the best book, in terms of whether or not the classes are powerful. This is non-scientific and you’re reading along because I’m charming, so don’t get too het up about it.

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Bad Maps And The Vast Forests of Corrindale

North of Dal Raeda, the first landmark most obviously seen is the vast, sprawling city of Eresh, the centre and capital of the Eresh Protectorates. The heart of the highway system that crisscrosses the continent of Bidestra, it serves as a gateway towards the dragon ruins of Amenti in the west and the dread realms of mist to the east. No highway leads directly north though –

For north of Eresh lies the forest of Corrindale.

The vast, spreading, deep and uncharted woods of Corrindale, reaching far enough north to encircle ancient mountain cities, to taste the snowy skies and paying host to its own mysterious community of druids and kobolds, host to cities of Orc and Elf and uh

and uh

stuff.

There’s lots of stuff in that there Corrindale forest. And it’s uh

It’s real big.

Right like just the top part of that map?

Yeah it’s all Corrindale Forest.

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4e: Dodge Roll Or Die

If you’ve read my How To Be Series you may have noticed the way that lightly or unarmoured characters present a potential contention for the project. In some cases it’s that characters don’t obviously have much armour on and there’s the counterpoint of characters who definitely don’t have much armour on.

What’s the problem? Just put the character in armour, right? Or just don’t wear armour and use something else instead?

In 4th edition, the system is built around some general math that in general makes it so that the DM can rely on players being able to handle the things the game expects them to handle. There is some tolerance — characters have a real floor of 10+half your level, there’s only so bad you can be at it — but there are archetypes like the Paladin where the game positions you by default to be good at defending yourself with shields and blocks and heavy armour.

What if you don’t want to do that?

Is there an option for you?

original screenshot from Topless Robot, if you’re curious
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3.5: Sex Is Bad

The Satanic Panic did things to the culture. We can pretend it wasn’t really a thing (because it was a thing about a thing that wasn’t a thing), but undeniably, a bunch of angry parent-types bellowing about the way their kids were being exploited until the exploitation changed colour did pervert the course of business interests. It was largely, just not worth the fuss to do things that could annoy that vocal body, and you could just change the decals on some of the stuff you did. I mean, having a bunch of weird outsider kids who liked playing D&D doing things like ‘being friends’ could be super upsetting for the parents of those kids, especially if those kids were having fun with their friends and not wanting to have fun with their family. Maybe the family sucked? Anyway, point is, that the Satanic Panic had a direct and meaningful impact on the big business juggernaut that was Wizards of the Coast. Famously, they stopped using demonic imagery on Magic: The Gathering for seven years.

Was that why 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons and its followup edition 3.5 thought sex was bad?

Nah probably not, this was probably just further building on the game’s pre-existing protestant ideology that thought Sex Was Bad. Let’s talk about the Ace Rights prestige class.

Content Warning: Acephobia! And uh… amazingly, just general talk about sexual assault? THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A FUN ONE.

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How To Be: Sheik (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

It’s June, it’s Fox’s birthday month, and it’s pride month, which means I have to find a character who’s some variety of queer, and also one of Fox’s favourite characters. The good news is that every single one of Fox’s favourite characters is queer, because they’re her favourite characters, and that’s how that works. I’m a media studies scholar.

Let’s talk about a contentious argument from 2001, which we’re all over now. Let’s talk about Sheik, from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

beautiful Sheik art here by Vashperado
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How To Be: Kyo Kusanagi (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

Buckle up Dweebenheimer it’s time to KING THE FIGHTERS!

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3.5: The Adherent

The 3.5 D&D Paladin has problems. It may be one of the better melee classes in the book out of the box but that doesn’t mean a hell of a lot and there are a number of levels where the Paladin just increases a few numbers and nothing else changes for them. These are known as ‘dead levels,’ and honestly, in 3rd edition D&D, for the melee characters, you could do worse than that. A couple of classes got worse when they levelled up.

I therefore tried to solve this problem in the fashion that to me looked the most sensible, straightforward, and functional way. That is, I decided to make a single class that addressed the Paladin’s balance problems, integrated Domains as a design element, and let players play a whle bunch of different characters that were only united by being primarily combatants and empowered by something beyond the self.

I made the Adherent.

the least horny Legend of Cryptids art I could find
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4e: The Misbegotten Identity of ‘Ki.’

The origin system in 4th edition D&D was one of the subtler bits of design tech they had. The basic idea was that if you made an overarching term to explain how a bunch of mechanics ‘felt’ you could then reference that term. If something worked one way because of how divine spellcasters worked, by making all the spellcasters that worked that way ‘divine’ you could tidy up feat payloads and make the game work a lot more fluidly.

This system got broke up into:

  • Martial, where you stab and bash and use weapons and armour and you get a bunch of mechanics based on movement, pushing and pulling things
  • Arcane, where you do wizard stuff, magic about thinking, and you get a bunch of mechanics based on making zones, summoning things and long-term effects
  • Divine, where you do cleric stuff, magic about getting an invisible friend to help you out, and you get a bunch of mechanics based on on healing, radiant damage, and ongoing rules-setting
  • Primal, where you do naturey stuff, connected to animals, plants and so on, and you get mechanics based on Just Having More Hitpoints.
  • Shadow, Sir Not Appearing In This Conversation
  • Psionic, where you get to do mind-warpy stuff, and the mechanics were linked with the power points mechanic*.

This, like the role system, was excellent for giving identity to unify mechanical identity, gave players a way to understand their characters, didn’t get in the way doing it, and I’ve written about it in the past. It’s great.

Wait, what’s that *?

What’s that about?

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How To Be: Minfilia Warde (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

In deference to this being Final Fantasy 14 Week, a sub-theme in Talen Month, I figured it was time for us to give the fan, singular, what she wanted, and finally write an article about her favourite character, and how I’d go about playing her in a game that she doesn’t play and has no reason to care about.

It’s also an opportunity to talk about negative space and harmonisation.

Let’s talk about Minfilia Warde.

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4e: The Elan

Look, don’t let the way I talk about 4e D&D (which is the best edition of D&D) leave you thinking that I think the game is flawless. It’s just much better than 3e and good enough that I don’t care to look at 5e. That excellence however doesn’t mean that the design within it is flawless, especially in those surprising incidents where I could find something I could do in 3rd edition that was more satisfying than when I tried to do it in 4th edition. Some ideas translated across really well, like making werewolf, werebear, and wererat characters into themes, allowing players to add that element to their character without it being an overwhelming drawback but also designed so that it was a meaningful cost.

There’s a place where I really miss the way 3rd edition handled things, or at least, I feel that 3rd edition did a better job than 4th did, and it was with the eerie little niche culture of The Elan.

(Art Source)
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Buried Gods: Reconcepting Dragonborn

I have spoken already about the challenge of integrating the Dragonborn and Dwarves into the setting of Cobrin’Seil. These two extremely strong, heavily supported character heritages, so I don’t want to take them away from players, but they’re also hard to integrate into the world the way I want it to be. For dwarves, the problem is that they didn’t bring anything to the world that humans didn’t, and I solved that problem by reconcepting them as what I’ve called a ‘pocket heritage’ – small communities whose biological oddness is explained by a feywild origin.

Dragonborn’s problem is a little more tricky. They provide some things I do want (mechanically robust heritage that can be used for a variety of classes in interesting and distinct ways) and some things I don’t care about (fuckable dragon people). They also bring with it some worldbuilding questions, which the default setting answers with a shrug of ‘a God Did It,’ and what’s more that god is Bahamut, against whom I will never not have a grudge. I know these days he’s changed his names and now he’s a monk, no, really, he was always a cool guy, but Bahamut is still always going to be a Lawful Good God who’s meant to be Super Powerful but Doesn’t Fix Things because That Would Be Hard.

He’s also very much defined by his Faerunian depiction, and that world’s gods are awful.

Dragonborn can’t just be transplanted wholesale into another species group, or remade as like, bear people, because their mechanics have all been very good about reinforcing the flavour of being ‘a dragon that’s like, a guy.’   That means they have wings, breath weapons, bites, specific references to elemental energies through their scales, and relationships to other species based on ‘being a dragon.’ Whatever I choose for the dragonborn still has to be possible for any given player to grab their existing dragonborn character art and, more or less, plonk it into the world without feeling like they can’t ‘be’ the way they want to be in the world.

Also, there’s an added problem: Kobolds. Kobolds are an extant heritage in Cobrin’Seil, and they’re popular, and they’re useful for showing something about dragons and the world as it is. I like Kobolds a lot, and when looking at the world as a whole I had to answer the question: Why Aren’t Dragonborn Just Big Kobolds?

That was a thought, for a while there. I did seriously consider Dragonborn as like, Kobolds who had been selected to be defenders or guardians and were changed somehow, but that process seemed something I didn’t want in the world as something common enough entire heritages got it. Plus, it did open a balance door, of like, well, why can’t dragonborn and kobolds share feats? That seems strange, and lords I didn’t want to give dragonborns more options.

Here then are the parameters for defining the Dragonborn of Cobrin’Seil:

  • Allow players to feel like existing Dragonborn work,
  • Open up to more options that are more appropriate to the world
  • Don’t make Bahamut a requirement
  • Have a new, clear hook as to why a player might want to play one
  • Not Just Big Kobolds

Let me tell you about an empire of the sun.

Let me tell you about the children of the scale.

Let me tell you about the Dragonborn of Cobrin’Seil.

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Celestial Fury

A long time ago, on the Baldur’s Gate 2 newsgroup, one Westley Weimer remarked about the weapon Celestial Fury something to the effect of:

If Demogorgon dropped Celestial Fury when he died, I’d pick it up and go ‘oh, that seems about right.

— My fuzzy memory, sometime around 2002

Demogorgon is one of the most powerful monsters in that game. Demogorgon is an optional boss optionally fought at the bottom of an optional dungeon which has two rewarding optional alternate defeats and gives you a huge pile of experience and no loot. Demogorgon is one of the hardest fights in the game, and he gives you, in return for that difficulty, dick nothing.

But if he’d given you Celestial Fury, that would be a pretty reasonable drop.

So what the heckadilly is Celestial Fury?

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3.5 Memories: Fighting Backwards

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition was an interesting system with a lot of good ideas. In a big, top-level mechanistic way, it had some good ideas, like making standardised rules for how categories of things worked. Some abilities were spells, some were spell-like abilities, some were supernatural, some were extraordinary, and if it didn’t fit that category, it was generally unique, but by making these categories meaningful there were a lot of rules that just got tidied up. Things were complicated, and the rules system wanted to cover very complicated things. 2ed had some very complex monster abilities, and 3ed wanted to be able to run things that looked a lot like them. Not quite compatibility, but certainly to carry some of that same ‘oh, this can fight like this OR it can be a spellcaster OR it can teleport at will,’ kind of design.

Thing is, this kind of top-down design idea was done as a half measure, and also didn’t preclude the system from bringing in some real problems of its own, like the way that all the melee classes were garbage and the wizard and druid were overpowered. There had to be a big balance enema, and that enema was called 3.5. It was an opportunity to get you to buy all the books again, but also a chance to do some really comprehensive, holistic errata, onboard new players with the better rules. This could address those balance problems, too, by reigning in the wizard and druid and maybe the cleric as well, and then giving a good shot of power to those weakest classes, Everyone Else.

How’d that work out?

Uh.

Well, the Druid got Natural Spell in the core books, so it became even more powerful. The cleric didn’t get the slightest bit of reigning in. Wizards lost one of the most powerful spells they had and were still otherwise completely as busted as before. The bard, ranger, barbarian and Paladin all received improvements that didn’t really address the categorical problem of how they worked, but certainly made them less boring. What about the fighter…?

Well, and this is going to sound unbelievable, they made the fighter worse.

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How To Be: Zelgadis (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

There’s always going to be a challenge when you translate a character from a game into a different medium. These How To Be articles are about the process of taking a character represented in a fictional form and move them across into the game so that you can connect with their concept in a mechanical space. What, though, if the character started as a mechanical expression and then became part of a fiction?

What is it like to make a D&D character out of a character who is, in a lot of ways, just someone else’s D&D character?

Let’s talk about Zelgadis, from Slayers.

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3e: ‘The Exotic’ Weapon

Dungeons & Dragons is a game about creating a shared, temporary, fictional, consensus reality with your friends and ceding authority to manage the apersonal elements of that reality with one of your friends who can be trusted to use that trust in order to direct a narrative that provides satisfying engagement for the whole of the group, as I’ve always said. Part of that consensus reality is therefore the idea of managing what is and what constitutes normal, which is, overwhelmingly often, done with literal no rules or insight into how reality functions on an intrinsic level. You do not need rules for gravity (check flying rules, p56), you do not need rules for what dying means (check the head-in-a-bucket rager, p114), you do not need rules for why a culture wants a rightful king in power (check bend-at-the-knee p1312). The fictional reality does not have a different set of mathematic rules underpinning their reality (though you can make a case that that’s what a D20 is if you’re very meta and boring), light and vision do not behave differently, planets whirl and matter can be touched.

Rather, the reality of D&D is a collection of signifiers of the very small set of differences between our reality and theirs, and that is, in part, established with rules that recognise the conventional vision of what is or is not normal, most often represented by the tools that are of interest to adventurer player characters. It is in this regard that the weapon proficiency system tells you what is normal and what is other.

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Too Much Fun: Reconcepting Dwarves

I wrote earlier this year about how I don’t like the ‘dwarf’ as conventionally presented by 4e D&D. I don’t like the implication it has in the world, I don’t like the space for human culture it eats, I don’t like the baggage from Tolkein and World of Warcraft and I really don’t like the way dwarves are so bloody good if what you want is the mechanical portfolio to build a tough hard to move character in 4th edition D&D.

The Dio Baragh, Baragh for short, are the Cobrin’Seil replacement for the Dwarf. Mechanically, they are exactly the same, but they’re not the same fortress-building, ancient-artifact-having, Jewish-stereotyping squat Scottish humanoids. Instead, the Dio Baragh (from a Scots term meaning ‘The Outcasts’) stand apart from the dwarf, on their magnificent goaty legs.

Let me tell you about a culture that was born in magic, and made itself real.

Let me tell you about people who were kicked out of the Feywild for partying too hard.

Let me tell you about people of hammer and oak and axe and thorn.

Let me tell you about the Baragh.

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4e: Harmonising Mount Rules

When you ask people about the tropes of the fantasy adventure narrative, there’s a genre of those tropes that 4th edition D&D — which is the best D&D, by the way — handles badly. Well, not badly. Well, badly. Well, some of it is bad. Well, some of it is unreliable. Well, look, it’s complicated.

I refer to the idea of a character on a mount.

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4e: Knightly Order Themes

Obviously, writing on this blog is not really fair. Some days you get 500 words about me being sad and sometimes you get 3000 words about Violet Evergarden. These things are fungible. Typically speaking, any given blog post is ‘what I could write, on that day,’ and where it fits into the schedule.

What I want you to appreciate is that this article is absolutely beastly by these standards, and I fully expect you to not read it. I would normally have split an article this big up over several days and maybe gone in depth over it, but I know the score: I know that this is going to include a giant chunk of rules and text that people are going to skim and formatting it so it looked good took several days. What’s more, it’s about a game system you don’t necessarily even play. Giving you four days of The Knights Week (even though I like this stuff a lot) would be four blank days. Instead I’m giving the small number of you into this a bumper presentation, and here are my bullet point pieces of advice:

  • 4e Themes are right now are either very weak or very boring
  • These themes are made to enable different kinds of characters in the same organisation
  • Make your designs bold and minimise piles of clauses
  • Make them so they encourage players to make situations where those abilities are useful happens

I’ve talked in the past about the four Church Knights of the Eresh Protectorates in Cobrin’Seil, which are really knightly orders connected to one set of city-states with a shared cultural ideology, and their related religious orders. They’re tied together by highways, and those highways allow the flow of a language and a trade and that’s how the continent of Bidestra even has a language of ‘common’ – it’s the language of traders on the Highway.

These knightly orders are organisations players can belong to. They also are not singular in their purpose; as with most military-social infrastructure, they do a lot of things. Lethenites might be bookish knights on horseback serving as a sort of hospitaler, but they might also just be combat-capable battle librarians roaming around trying to find a book to SCP-style contain. I want players to have options when they try to integrate into the world.

Image from Eorzea Collection

When presenting players with a player option, it’s important to make it so that theme increases options, rather than decreases them. If you present a mechanical choice that’s too good, you’ve made every alternative bad; if you present a choice that’s too weak, you’ve made it so you might as well never have presented it.

When I made the knightly orders, then, I didn’t want to tie them to a particular class, but I did want them to represent a decently large chunk of mechanical investment and improve over time. The best option I could think of here was a combination of a background (to represent just having done any work with them) and a theme. There’s a long-form article on the problems in themes in me somewhere, but for now: there are basically five decent themes and two really good ones.

My aim was to add themes to the game that gave player interesting heroic-tier advantages, didn’t clog the game with lots of specific conditionals, and enabled you to play ‘knightly’ characters with abilities that felt appropriate to the characters of their orders. To achieve this, I gave each of the four knightly orders two diferent themes, which were all meant to enable different kinds of characters.


Bear in mind, under this fold there is an enormous chunk (around seven thousand words) of game lore and rules text and it’s presented not as a popular blog article, but rather, as game rule information. This is also going to include some potentially challenging formatting as I learn tables. If you want to see it broken up into sections, or in a easy searchable databse, it should be going up on Square Fireballs at some point.

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