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: 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: 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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How To Be: Akane Tendo (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 know it’s not an intentional thing, but it seems that in the month of February, How To Be returns to the world of Ranma 1/2. Ah, what a wonderful world, the world where we have characters who fight with brooms or teleport or turn into gods and throw lightning bolts. Who are we going to visit here, in this mysterious world of creative martial arts?

Oh wait it’s in the subject you clicked on to go read this.

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Tales Of Love and Fire: Half-Orcs in Cobrin’Seil

Where do half-orcs come from?

Well that’s not a hard question, not really. The answer is they come from orcs, and humans. And that’s all the narrative requires for you to get a half orc. One or more orcs, one or more humans, and the whole thing sorts itself out. Orcs, and humans have worked out the systems for it and they’re largely self-regulating.

But that’s not really the question, not really. The question is where do half-orc characters come from, and subsequently, how do half-orc characters feel about the world they’re in?

Let’s talk about Half-Orcs, and about Orcs, and about Cobrin’Seil, and about the stories people tell one another about the things they don’t know.

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3e: Knowing What Love Is

Back in 3rd edition D&D part of the worldbuilding was done through Gods. Rather than give every single god a particular unique mechanic as was the trend in second edition (the rarely-spoken-of-on-this-blog 2e, for fear Lorraine Williams will sue me, on the internet), this was handled by creating a set of tools available for every god,and that god gave you a handful of them.

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3e: Challenge Ratings Are Hot Garbage

Sometimes an article is just a big tweet, and this is one of them. In this case, the bigness of the big tweet is however, beyond the boundaries of a mere tweet, so let’s go. The 3rd edition Challenge Rating system, which was replaced in 4th edition by the XP budget of each encounter, was hot garbage and nostalgia for it is at best rose-tinted glasses, and at worst a signal of complete mechanical illiteracy.

Let’s talk about the 3rd edition system for creating* balanced** combat*** encounters****, the Challenge Rating system.


* Sort of.
** Sort of.
*** Sometimes.
**** Sort of?

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How To Be: Some Jojo (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.

And now, it’s time to engage with something that is a challenge on two axes: First, the challenge presented by unpicking what it even means to make it, and second, the challenge of dealing with the standard memetic conversation that unrolls when you bring it up.

We’ve been a Touhou. We’ve been an Ukyou. And it’s time, now finally, it’s time, to be a Jojo.

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4e — Dwarfeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons is a game system built around giving players a useful, handleable group of tools to build a character. You have the simplest two lego pieces to snap together; what you do (your class), and how you were born (your heritage/race). A elf fighter is not the same as a half-elf fighter is not the same thing as an orc fighter, for example. These cultural groups then let you inform the world; after all, if there are elves and orcs in the world, there are probably places that those elves and orcs grow up. And thus the player options build the world, and the world building feeds into how the player options feel.

If you have crystal cities of a floating city state full of elves, the players will get ideas for that, and how they interact with the world, based on that. If the elves live in great green forest villages that hang from the branches, that’s going to give them different ideas. And if the elves, I don’t know, come from an elf mine, that’s going to give you a different perspective.

It’s a great system. I love it. I honestly think it’s one of the best things about the game, and the fact that it gives you a pair of dials to spin serves as an onramp that almost any player can get engaged with quickly, and that serves to anchor your decisions going forwards. Great system, I think it does a great job.

Anyway, I don’t like the the Dwarf and the Dragonborn in 4th edition D&D.

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First They Must Catch Us: Reconcepting Halflings

The fire crackled, sat in the centre of the group. Four sets of boots, three large, one small, glimmered orange as the campfire’s light licked over them in pinions of orange and gold, contrasting with the deep dark of the woods, and the deep, suffusing blue of the glass-dusted sky.

“So the story goes, the story goes,” the creaky-voiced half-elf said. “Shipwrecked, they say. A crew of fifty survivors, and food enough for twenty five. They drew lots, and half the number accepted their end – casting themselves from the rocks to save the survivors the cost of them.”

“We have a story like it.” The orc said. “The strongest half went into the jungle, without any supplies, to show they were strong, and to give the weaker half the best chance to survive.”

The human pushed a stick into the fire, and shook her head. “Grim stories.”

“Stupid stories.” The fourth said. They sat forwards, their hands waving animatedly. “I don’t know about the folk of yours, but for us? We’d all find a way to do with half as much.”

“You can say that,” the half-elf started.

“Yeah. I can. And then I live it. We live it.” The Halfling gave a grim smile. “We are the ones who always survive.

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The best of 2021, Part 1 – D&D

I wrote some bangers last year.

I sat down at first to give a sort of top ten articles of my own last year, that weren’t covered by specifically the header of How To Be, Game Pile or Story Pile. I tried it, and found that I had run out of slots for ‘absolute banger of an article’ in two months of summarising posts. Then I realised there were whole trends of things to write about and then I realised, hell, this is my blog, you’re here for my content, and unless you’re Vincent or Tab or Kate (hi, you three), odds are good you miss an article or three I write.

We’re going to do three of these this week. A whole bunch of bangers, divided up by the type of writing it is, and why I might want you to go reread it. First we’re going to talk about general content – stuff that I think you should link to other people outside the blog, posts that explain some complex concept in a way I’m proud, but also which doesn’t necessarily fit the other stuff.

And so here, I’m just going to bring your attention to a big pile of things I’d already written that are really good and which I know have escaped your attention, yes you, and today, it’s going to be about the Dungeons & Dragons, DMing and Worldbuilding articles.

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How To Be: Kipo (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.

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a Netflix TV series created by Radford Sechrist that started its life as a webcomic. The series is something I’ve praised in the past as being uncomplicatedly excellent. Set in a post-apocalyptic far future populated with anthropomorphic animals, it’s a story of a journey of adventure, beset on all sides by a dangerous villain with superpowers who, if he catches our heroes, may destroy their ability to ever defy him. It’s a great adventure structure, and one you should feel free to steal, and central to it all is the character of Kipo, a girl with pink skin whose position in the story is at the intersection of multiple sequences of events, set in motion before she was even born.

And like, I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to put a spoiler warning here. If you read these articles idly, and think you’d like to watch Kipo at some point, you should go do that before reading this article, because I’m going to talk about some stuff Kipo can do that isn’t obvious from the start of the story. I mean, oh okay, shock and horror, Kipo is special, obviously, you know that and I know that just looking at the fact the series is named after her, but nonetheless, I just want you to know, going on, that there be spoilers.

Good?

Good.

Okay, onwards.

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3.5 Memories: Worse Than The Fighter

In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5th Edition, a thing that’s not at all un-awkward to say, there was a set of hardbound expansion books released as a group to satisfy groupings of characters as an archetype. The first set of these, released around 2003, were The Complete Divine, The Complete Arcane and The Complete Warrior, a trio of books that kind of told you what they were about in the name. You had arcane spellcasters, divine spellcasters, and uh, everyone else, I guess.

The Complete Warrior had to bear up as the space for all the classes that weren’t divine spellcasters (but the ranger and paladin can play here too, sure) and all the characters who weren’t arcane spellcasters (but there’s stuff in here for melee spellcasters). Barbarians and Rogues and Monks all got to cram in on this book, but based on the name and the style, and of course, the preponderance of feats in this book, this is the book that’s for fighters.

It’s also a pretty cool book, if you’re looking at the good stuff in it that you want to use and make sure people can use. LIke this book has tactical feats, a category of feat that kind of roll together a small number of ‘not enough for a full feat’ advantages into a single grouping, and that’s a really good way to expand expertise on fighters. Prestige classes in this book include the Actually Good Frenzied Berserker, the kinda decent Tattooed Monk, the sorta-maybe-why-not War Chanter, the busted as hell Warshaper and that’s four classes worth having access to in most campaigns. The excellent Combat Brute tactical feat is in here, and uh

Anyway, the point is this book is one of the books I think of pretty positively.

It’s also a book that features the rare examples of a class actively worse than the Fighter.

The ‘Samurai.’

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Kobolds As Convergent Design

I’ve spoken about the role of the Goblin on Cobrin’Seil, but what about the kobold? I did bring up the question of hey why are these two so alike? And the followup question of where do they come from? The answer to both is ‘authors are weird,’ but I’m looking at it more in terms of how I can build and shape the world I’m putting players into, and I want the kobolds there to be both interesting enough as a player option without depriving people of the opportunity to use easy content where kobolds are happy to try and stick spears in players.

I am a fan of thinking about cultures in terms of their places in the world. That often requires answering the question ‘why are they here?’

Why then, are kobolds here?

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The Goblin As Fracturing Culture

I’ve spent some time considering the role of goblins and kobolds in D&D worlds, but stopped short of making decisions as they pertain to my own setting of Cobrin’Seil. It’s interesting that the idea of dispensing with both cultures was never really on the table, and I think part of that is because they do serve such a rudimentary purpose that dropping them wastes a lot of pre-existing material. It’s not like ignoring Duergar with their awful name, which drops maybe five instances of useful monster design across all editions; goblins are used in a lot of spaces and just the presence of them is a useful, handy thing for a lot of encounter designs. If you need a low-level threat, goblins are great.

What I want to do is address what they are. It’s not enough to just go ‘they’re a monster race,’ because that… doesn’t make any sense at all when you look at Cobrin’Seil and its approach to the world. I jettisoned the dwarves entirely because they don’t do anything (did I ever write about that?), so what are goblins as a culture.

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4E: The Hadalan

… And there, in the deepest and darkest of spaces, far from the prying eyes of those who would judge their work, or steal their designs, a god whose name is lost, did render the form of what it had seen, and sought to make its own.

It made what it thought it saw, when it saw humans.

And when it saw what it had done, it was revolted, and fled.

The Hadalan are a rare culture from the deep oceans of Cobrin’Seil. There are people of the seas – not like the cultures of merfolk and triton, that live up near the continents, building cities at the edges of the shelf where the land falls away into dark ocean. The Hadalan are from deep in the ocean; from places where vents in the earth belch bubbles and plumes of smoke into an uncaring darkness, where great bugs sift the sands, and where the dead bones of ship and whale alike lay in the muck, too cold and dark and barren to rot.

There are stories of the Hadalan. It’s said they are people who do not have souls. When seen from a distance, their shapes are hazy and indistinct, sailors say; they change shape and morph into strange and inhuman forms. Some say they eat souls, feasting on life to life to extend their own.

And there are the stories they tell of themselves.

The Hadalan, when asked, tell stories about how they were created without souls. About how they were abandoned by a god, who was horrifed at having made them. About the way they refused to die, and made their home in the deep oceans, with the deeper secrets. About glowing libraries and columns of fire that burn in the darkness of nowhere. About how they built a civilisation; how they learned to create their own souls; how they learned the ways to call upon gods.

How they called for their god, grown, whole, and a culture to be proud of.

How their god came to them.

And they tore them apart.

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How To Be: Kuchiki Rukia (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 Bleach, one of the most central characters to the early narrative is one Rukia Kuchiki. Introduced in the first episode, she is the bridge of our previous point-of-view character into the spirit world as an outsider. She is a character from another world, deprived of powers in our world, who has to guide Ichigo, a seemingly ordinary dude who can see ghosts, into seeing the immensely complicated reality that spiderwebs about him about societies full of special rules and seemingly arbitary boundaries. Rukia is this sort of mix of gremlin energy, doing things like building a micro room in Ichigo’s closet, ostentatious self-importance due to her noble heritage, and very legitimate expertise in spiritual matters. It’s the sudden loss of Rukia that marks the transition between the first two major arcs of Bleach, where all the fun we’ve had up until now is suddenly framed as something you have to pay for. The society, the life, the world that is waiting outside of the fun of highschool appears and demands that all that fun is over and now there is a duty.

I assume at some point after that she gets super powers and reunites with Ichigo and they have cool adventures and the story doesn’t run in place for nine years.

Anyway!

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How To Be: May (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 may remember that we’ve looked, earlier in the year, at the character Rock Howard, from Garou: Mark Of The Wolves. Fight games are rich fodder for this kind of exercise because they so often about what a character is and less about what the character does. Simply put, fight games don’t make much sense.

There’s a scale at work, of course. Some games make more sense, with a deliberate intention to ground the storytelling in something serious. Some games, on other hand, are pretty silly, and don’t really care about how silly they get.

Anyway, Guilty Gear.

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Game Brief: The Many Complications of Fogge’s Barrow

I’m running a D&D game right now. Uh, unless something’s gone very wrong, I’ve been running it for some time by the time this guide goes up. But when I make a game I start out by giving people a document, called a Game Brief, that gives them guidance on building characters, and what’s expected of them.

For this game, I knew I had a small party (only three players), because we’d be playing this when our fourth friend was absent from the game. I also knew I didn’t want a huge stake, and wanted it to be much more about something local without big potential impact, so I put it in the mid levels of Heroic. Enough room that players could play experienced characters, but not that they had a veritable tale to them yet.

I’m going to present the brief, as I started on it… and then talk about the complication that followed.

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3e D&D: SONIC FIREBALLS

In the pantheon of D&D spells, there’s nothing, it seems, more iconically important to the identity of the game than ‘fireball,’ a spell that apparently nobody ever anywhere would come up with without D&D bringing it to their attention. Hm. Bit sarky there, I should come back at that again. Anyway, Fireball! What a great spell! A classic, a powerhouse, a spell that always comes quickly to the fingertips and that players love to hear when the wizard is about to start some shit with a fireball.

Anyway, you’d never bother casting it in 3rd edition D&D.

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How To Be: Disney’s Robin Hood (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.

This month, I felt it was time to approach the challenge from a different angle, of taking something with an obvious, easy, simple solution and then exploring around that. And for that, we’re going to look at a classic character, a character who’s so well known we don’t even remember we’re referencing him when we reference him. A folk hero, a hero who defined a generation and set thousands of people on their path that would determine the kind of person they’d be.

We’re going to look at Robin Hood.

Specifically, the 1973 Disney’s Robin Hood.

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