Tagged: D&D

How To Be: Goliath from Gargoyles (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 authoritive 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, we’re going to look at a challenging build; we’re going to be looking at a powerhouse of muscle and stone, in the form of Goliath from the Disney series Gargoyles.

3.5 Memories: The Struggles Of The Hexblade

We’ve spoken before about how the wizard and sorcerer presented a sort of top-and-bottom of the top tier of D&D 3.5’s utterly unbalanced nonsense space, and it’s something of a storied matter of lore that the Fighter represents a most obvious terrible class. It creates a pretty simple narrative that spellcasters are great and melee damage dealers are ass. This isn’t totally right – after all, the Truenamer, the worst D&D class, period, is a spellcaster, and there are classes that are primarily melee damage dealers that aren’t underpowered compared to standard enemy content.

But it does hold, generally.

The core rules brought with it a set of three arcane casters and four divine spellcasters. Of those divine spellcasters, two were what we call ‘full’ spellcasters – they cast spells at level 1, and every level their spells get better – and were the Druid and the Cleric, two of the most stupidly powerful classes in the game. The other two were the Paladin and the Ranger, who had a pretty interesting structure; both were full-base attack bonus classes, with special abilities that made them better in melee combat, and after level 4, they started to get a small number of spells that gave them a lot of potential options. And honestly, the Ranger and Paladin were pretty damn good. They weren’t the worldshakers that the primary spellcasters could be, but if you wanted to hang in their parties, you were at least going to get interesting choices and could do some cool things.

But what if there was an arcane class that was templated off the Paladin and the Ranger?

What if there was a melee-capable class that got arcane magic and special powers to round out their flavour space?

Well, there was.

Presented in the Complete Warrior, we got our Arcane Paladin-Ranger-type.

It was the Hexblade.

And it suuucked.

 

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4e: The Swallowers

There are tales told, in the deep and dark places of the world, about vast, floating multi-eyed magical monsters, their minds full of hate, seeing a world of imperfection and foulness that they refuse to abide, wanting to reshape and destroy it all at once. There are tales told about their variations and mutations, things that they see as vulgar but necessary – smaller versions of themselves, foul mutations and permutations.

But there are other variations, ones they don’t mean to make.

Swallowers are chaotic, anarchic creatures, who look like the famously powerful tyrants of the underdark, but sharing none of their ambition and hate. Instead, what they have is curiosity, bubbling up from within as they bounce and float around the world, exploring the world.

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How To Be: Daryun (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 authoritive 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.

We have a bit of a special one this month: Not a character I know, or am familiar with, but who has been in my life and around me for some time. We’re going to look at the character Daryun from The Heroic Legend of Arslan, a novel series some thirty-five years old, which was reimagined and reinvigorated through the heroic work of Hiromu Arakawa. So, imagine a deep, long-running heroic fantasy war epic, which then had one of the greatest living manga-ka come through and give it a bit of a brush up.

We’re going to talk about a hot prince’s best friend, who he loves so much he was buried with him (but, in a not gay way, if you believe the fandom wiki): Daryun.

5 Dual Wielding 4e Characters

You know what’s cool?

Dual Wielding!

No doubt your favourite professional full-time know it alls have told you that dual wielding is unrealistic and bad and sucks and deprives you of a shield, but my counterpoint is shut up nerd. And when I’m thinking about extremely cool things where the realism doesn’t matter, I think about Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition

Which is the best edition.

Here then are five different ways you can wield it both ways:

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How To Be: Illidan Stormrage (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 authoritive 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.

Now, are you prepared?

No.

No, you are not prepared.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Illidan Stormrage.

 

4e: Mind Control

Content Warning: I’m going to discuss some mind control stuff in ways that violates consent. Not any specific outcomes from that, but if you find the whole vibe icky, that’s what this is about.

Also, other, I guess, content warning: This isn’t about the horny topic of mind control, so if that’s the vibe you’re hoping for, sorry?

Rather what I want to talk about here is the way Dungeons & Dragons uses Mind Control across its multiple iterations and how, as tends to happen when I talk about it, 4th Edition did it in the best way.

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4e: The Ardent

I write a fair bit about 4th edition D&D. There’s at least one article a month, with the How To Be series, and I think they’re lots of fun. They’re exercises in character construction, working from a character aesthetic and trying to find a way to make that fit in the power boundaries and existing options of 4th edition D&D. Part of why I like to do this is to attack the idea that character creation in 4e was boring.

Stil, there are some things that are just… very much from D&D. They’re just things that fit within the universe of D&D as it is, and don’t really translate well to other sources. One such class is the Ardent. The Ardent is a psionic leader; it does team support, healing and buffing and positioning, but powered by the power of the mind.

Psionics in D&D has a weird place, because for some people (like me) it feels like a clear intrusion of science fiction into the fantasy landscape of D&D and therefore makes all the arcane and divine importance of magic as a discipline less important, and for some people (like me, now) that’s 100% correct and rules. Complaints about psionics from back in the day tend to be about how the system was broken not about how the system broke the fiction of the universe after all. Psionics has come to be a favourite system because it tends to be contained in a way that magic isn’t. Magic gets expanded constantly, while there’s an understanding that the psionic system is going to get a limited amount of space, and the psionic classes tend to get a small number of tools they need to make hte most out of. That creates a depth of mastery, where you want to make choices that give you a toolkit you then have to maximise, rather than the disappointing feeling of a wizard’s infinitely wide toolkit, or a sorcerer’s maximally efficient one. It strikes a middle space – and it stands apart from the wizard.

The Ardent takes this idea space and looks at psionics as a way to express the self. It is literally a romantic class (though no Ardent I’ve played has ever had a successful romance) – a class who can use their feelings, their love, their rage, their will to succeed, their excitement at avoiding an attack, and turn that into a tangible force where they can use it to punch an enemy in the face. I love this stuff – I love the idea of a literal avatar of your own feelings. It’s like the thrill of a cleric, where your ideology drives your actions, but you don’t have to have a Dad who is also a Cop on hand.

Ardents use weapons; Ardents wear armour. I like that. These are both things that will cost your character somewhat, but they get you to have a big physical expression of what kind of person they are in their aesthetic. Robes tend to be robes – but armour can look like a lot of different things. Using an axe or a hammer or a polearm or a sword – they also express different ideas. Plus, weapons have a big space of fun synergies that you can pick up if you want to find something interesting to do with your feats, but also don’t demand it.

Ardents are a Charisma-first class. That is, you make attack and damage rolls with your charisma. I wrote about them a while back, about how you can be hot and hit people with your hotness, which I still find fun. Charisma as a way to express a driven character who, whether or not they have social anxiety or stress out over public interactions, can use the force of how they feel to change the world. That’s cool!

Also, it’s a leader. I like playing defenders, because they get to be tough and I can make a big, tangible showing of what good I am contributing. I like protecting my friends. I get some of the same with the leader’s job – making people better at what they do, contributing to their wellbeing, and, with the right build, absolutely wielding the strikers in the group like a bloody blunt instrument.

They get this power? Forward thinking cut. You can fire it off in three versions:

  • Hit someone. Your ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls. You can do this when you charge.
  • Shift 1, charge, then you can hit someone, and an ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls.
  • One or two Allies you can see can each charge creatures other than the target as a free action, with a bonus to damage equal to your con mod.

Now that, that escalated quickly.

Being able to charge in quick for free, as an at will power? that’s grand. The boost being until your next turn means you can charge next to a tank, stand in their defensive space, and watch as the bonus applies to all their attacks of opportunity or mark punishment. That power, on its own, is fine. The second version lets you shift away from someone holding you in place, and then charge off away from them, to join another ally. That’s also great, a tool you want in the toybox.

The third version is fucking nova gas.

It can be hard to concentrate these attacks – you may notice this means you, the Ardent, charge at a minion or buddy next to the villain, and you throw two of your allies at the villain as a free action so they start their turns mixing it up with them. You can use this to deploy a defender into the middle of a bunch of enemies.

Oh and did I mention that you give pepole a bonus to damage rolls based on how many attacks of opportunity they provoke?

And that this is one power?

And that you have other stuff you can do, including a conga line power where you pinball an enemy around between all your allies and let them all get an attack in?

I think about this a lot when I think about this class. It’s very D&D, but it’s also this very beautifully Tactics Game at the same time. It’s a game that lets you play out the fantasy of being a battlefield commander, inspiring and invigorating your allies. It’s so perfect for a lot of things I want out of characters I play.

Oh, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to find some builds in the future that use the Ardent. I like it a lot, and there are some characters who can probably be represented by a physically violent but emotionaly driven, armoured weapon wielder. I mean if she didn’t have such a loud ‘hit it harder’ theme, Chandra Nalaar could have done it.

How To Be: Rock Howard (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 authoritive 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 April, it’s Talen Month, and that means we’re going to talk about a character I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time, and a character who I have a deep appreciation for. There’s not a lot of characters that fit in that mould and work well with 4th Edition’s heightened adventure reality, but when I had the idea to tackle this character, I did so with full and wholehearted knowledge that damnit, I wanted to take care of this character in my month.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Rock Howard.

3.5 Memories: The Complete Adventurer

Before I go on to bang about something big and complicated in this book, I want to note, up front, that this book has Wraithstrike, one of my favourite 3.5 D&D spells, and which introduced the idea of spellcasters spending spell slots for short-term, immediate impact in combat, something I love and which always thrilled me when I got to play with it. If I only got this book for that one category of spell, I’d be pretty okay with it.

Just some uncritical, unvarnished, un-preambled praise.

Going back through my old 3.5 books is sometimes an exercise in wondering, in hindsight, just what exactly justified the book’s cost. At the time I was actively playing 3.5 D&D, the books were purchaseable research tools, things to leaf through and read and cross-reference. It was like getting a complex box of lego, and you could share your creations with other people.

Most of these books, I look at the spines and I have a warm thought or two. It tends to be something like oh yeah, remember how this lets you do that or that. Most any given book has an absolute dogshit class, one really embarrassingly weak thing, and one really busted thing in it. There’s always some stuff that’s, you know, decent, or stuff that becomes decent when you know what you’re doing. Basically, these books were themselves, even if never used to build a character, fun to play with.

Sometimes you’d find a book that had in it something that resisted play. Something with an obvious allure to it, but something that was hard to see how to make it work. These were often a bit like Finger Traps, kind of like Rubiks Cubes – puzzles where the impracticality of solving them was the point. Character options that asked an interesting question.

For the Complete Adventurer, the question was the Fochlucan Lyrist.

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Gods of Cobrin’Seil: Faces Of War

I spoke earlier in the year about ways to view gods in Cobrin’Seil, and the story mechanisms I used to consider them. I said, at the time, that I wasn’t planning on talking more about the gods in my setting, unless there was interest. Then there was interest.

This involved digging up the text I had on these gods – the historical information for comparison. Obviously, looking back on your old writing is going to come with some problems. In this case, some of it just basic assumptions, some if it is awkward phrasing, some of it is indelicate language, and uh,

also,

I cut a title from this text for Adeblen. The original title was unremarkably edgy, and I would normally leave it in, but it uses a Content Warningy word, and there’s nothing really, like… related to it. I would normally leave the text as is and use it as a teaching moment? But like: Don’t give characters titles that include words you’re not comfortable saying at the gaming table any more. Seems pretty easy teaching.

Now, with that, here’s the old text presented for the gods Palescai and Adeblen. This text is presented as is and I’ll workshop it on the other end.

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How To Be: Edelgard von Hresvelg (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 authoritive 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.

Now this month, we’re going to return to How To Be’s roots, and once more we’re looking at a character from Fire Emblem: Some Number Of Houses. Yes, it’s the gal who’s Horny For Priest Murder (And For Other Reasons), the Look Up Other Reasons People Like Her, the One, the Only: Edelgard von Not Pronouncing That!

4e: The Hindren

Hindren are a type of cervitaur (‘part deer, part-humanoid, with four legs and two arms’) people you can meet in the indie videogame Caves of Qud. They’re originally a fan creation by indie bespoke curio crafter Caelyn Sandel, before they were implemented in the game proper in part thanks to the efforts of new Caves of Qud writer Caelyn Sandel, which meant they were present in the game to be streamed by Grahu-Rubufo, the Caves of Qud vtuber (voice acted by Caelyn Sandel).

Here, in this article here, is a version of the Hindren that you can bring to the table in your D&D games, as long as you’re playing 4th edition and have a DM that’s understanding about gay deers. Why now? Why am I doing this? Because it’s someone‘s birthday soon, and she’s lovely, and I like what she does.

Art Source: Phineas Klier. Don’t like the watermark? Go check out his work, it’s clean and big there!

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Making Gods in Cobrin`Seil

I have my own D&D setting; I’ve talked about it before, not because it necessarily is a thing you should want to play in, or I’m going to make you pay for, but because the process of building a world is itself full of interesting insights. Particularly, I find that the surest way to know what you like in world building is to look at other world building and see what about it makes you mad.

This time, I’d like to talk a little bit about Gods, in my setting. No, this isn’t going to be a specific list of those gods (though, you know, maybe). It’s about what gods are and what they mean.

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How To Be: Ukyou Kuonji (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 authoritive 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.

Well, we’ve done some odd stuff with this section, some big ideas about maximising specific character quirks and hitting particularly niche interests like a transforming robot dinosaur, but what if your wants are more hey, what can I do with this simple basis? And, it seems that this month is full of references to Ranma 1/2 and twitter voted on it, and so, here we go, a return to Ranma 1/2 as an option: Ukyou Kuonji.

4e: The Passionguard (And A Kickstarter Promo!)

In 4th Edition D&D, a starting character has three large layered choices for making a character more conveniently.  You have their Ancestry (“race”), you have the toolset for solving problems they have for their basic skills (“class”), and then you have the little third layer, the layer where you get to refine those two things with extra stuff that isn’t worth a lot, but does bring with it some inherent difference: the theme.

For me, themes are a secret sauce component of 4th edition D&D. They’re a place that you can fill out things a character should be able to do, small bonuses that aren’t necessarily as uniformly available. If you have a striker who you think of as needing to be able to shield someone, one person in particular, the Guardian theme is there for you. If you want to add some sneaky stabbiness to a straightforward fighter, there’s a Yakuza. I’ve used the Werewolf and Werebear for a lot of stuff, and there are sometimes whole themes that carry a concept that are more important than the other two choices to make sure you can hit a specific feel.

But also themes aren’t ironclad, either. Some are very specific, like membership in a specific organisation and some are very general. Themes feel to me like seasonings: The biggest problem we have with Themes right now is not enough of them and not varied enough. Themes are there to do the job of helping you cement some element of your character design that needs to grow, but also can’t be done with the slow progress of feats.

And while working on this, I found this.

Art by Floh Pitot

This artwork rules. I have this problem when I see art and because I create in game spaces, I immediately think ‘hey that’s rad, I’d love to make a game that looks like that.’ And you can’t, that’s a thing, you can’t just take art you like and use it, even though people can just take rules they like and use them. Seems a bit rude on me, I guess. But anyway, point is, I saw this and went: Damn, that gives me ideas.

Thing is, this art is for something. It’s art from 2018 for a Zine called Dames. And that zine has an iteration, currently on Kickstarter, right now. With that in mind, here’s a link to this Kickstarter, and I recommend you check it out and see if you like it. It’s a zine full of knightly ladies. That looks cool!

And now, inspired by this bangin’ artwork, I’d like to present you with The Passionguard.

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3.5 Memories – The Smoochless Book Of Exalted Deeds

Back in D&D 3.5’s hey-day, which was, it seems to look at these printing dates, 2003, they were so convinced of their infinite expandability and the depth of their market that they made themselves a special label warning that this book was of the Mature Line of products. In the time of this line’s existence, as best I can tell, there were a total of two books Wizards of the Coast published on it, with the first being the perhaps obvious Book of Vile Darkness.

The most obvious joke, ‘vile dorkness,’ writes itself, and is 100% justified.

The other book in this line, though, is the Book of Exalted Deeds. This book got to be Mature because… of… reasons, most of which seemed to be to add a few dollars to its sticker price and, I suppose, to let it reference the Book of Vile Darkness, which it felt a need to do. Now, there’s a lot to be said about the difficulty of composing a book whose entire foyer has to be a treatise on how to not only ‘be good’ but also be really good in these proactive ways that translate to good game mechanics and engaging character beats for an ongoing story. You can really feel the front end of this book trying to park a bus in a bike spot, as it seeks to bring up things that are good things for a character to do, in a proactive and engaging way, while still buying into the slightly mangled moral framework of D&D as she is written.

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How To Be: ME GRIMLOCK (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 authoritive 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, last year we did a bunch of characters who could be seen as fitting the genre of a combative adventurer reasonably well, and maybe it’s time to try some stuff that’s a bit more weird. With that in mind, let us reach wide, with our tiny, tiny arms, and look at ME GRIMLOCK!

 

4e: The Paladin’s Plight

Pacing is important in games. It’s a lesson that can be difficult to learn without trial and error, and when your game is big and playtesting sessions are slow and about lots of varied choices it’s entirely possible that you have a pacing problem that only a small number of people are ever going to notice.

In 4e D&D, the Paladin was one of those characters with a rough pacing problem. If you build one, now, using any of the major building tools available, you’re going to see that when you hit level 2, you have to pick one of the utility powers available at that level and

Woo.

It is a spicy one.

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3.5 Memories – The Cleric Archer

It’s by no means a secret that 3.5 D&D’s balance was off in some ways that made ‘good’ and ‘best’ categories of things a little unintuitive, like how the best stealth-based character was a wizard, or the best speed-based character was the wizard, or the best big, strong melee character who smacked things with a sword was a wizard.

Hm.

If you ever got asked, houwever, about ‘best’ builds, there were always a handful of builds that stood apart because they had unique combination of effects. There was the Supermount, for example, or the Wildshape Ranger, builds that were renowned for having access to something that set them apart from things of their type. And, especially since Legolas was in the popular media at the time, there was often a question about how to make the best archer. There were plenty of archery feats, and it seemed for once, this was a challenge the fighter was perfectly suited to address – the excessive strength of the Barbarian’s rages wouldn’t necessarily apply, and sneak attack for a rogue was harder to get, so perhaps, perhaps, with a host of feats available, surely the best character to take them would finally be the Fighter?

Nope.

It was the cleric.

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How To Be: The Covers Of 2020

It has now been a full year of How To Be. These articles are fun to make, they’re interesting to play around with, and I have more of them ready to go, so I fully expect to keep doing them. What I do think, though, from all of those articles I’ve made this year, I was frustrated to find that Twitter and Jetpack, two of the ways I promote this blog, don’t present my hilarious book covers in the thumbnails consistently. That means it’s possible that you might not see these book covers and may not have gone looking for them.

Also, since it’s December, and I am tired and you are tired and everyone is tired, how about I show off this year’s How To Be covers, and let you check them out now, as some long-form throwback reading of the rest of the blog.

Yeah?

Yeah.

Yeah.

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How To Be: Wolf Queen Nailah (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 authoritive 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 this month, before we talk about our subject, though I mean she’s in the subject of the blog post that you just clicked on so I mean what are we going to cover, suddenly a swerve and it’s going to be about trotting out pairs of characters that can be Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. But see, this marks our twelfth How To Be, and it also marks the first year of this feature. It’s fun! I’ve enjoyed doing that!

And because variety is important to me, we’re going back to Fire Emblem. And maybe, being you’re one of my friends, you might be thinking that yes! I’m going to bring up ya girl Edelgard, who is… very, very similar to Hilda.

No, we’re talking about Nailah, from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. And we’re talking about her because she’s cool, and she can do interesting things, and most importantly, because Fox likes her. I started with one of Fox’s favourite franchises, and then with a character she kinda didn’t like one way or the other? Terrible form on my part.

Let’s look at a Wolf Queen.

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3.5 Memories: GAY RAINBOW SNAKE

Eff it, sometimes I need one that’s a walk.

The way these posts tend to happen is I go into the garage where my physical D&D books are kept and I reach into the shelf and pull out a book I haven’t read lately, flip it open and see if what I see on the page reminds me of anything and this month we got the Complete Divine and the page I flipped to was the Rainbow Servant.

Good news, this class can do some beautiful bullshit, and it can do it while looking really gay.

What we’re going to deal with her is a lovely overlap of unintended consequence. See, D&D creation was ultimately fractal; when you made a new class or a new race, you could test it against other stuff but as more stuff happened, you would always find combinations of stuff interacting in ways you maybe didn’t intend. Sometimes this meant you could find two different spells in different supplements did identical things, but one was much stronger, and sometimes this meant that a character could take two identical feats for double the effect. The copy editors at Wizards of the Coast could keep on top of this most of the time, but not always.

What mostly happened, then, was things were tested against a core of ‘what was in the player’s handbook’ and the more sources you added, the more wild things could get. That was one of the ways the game got weird, too – the more of the exciting and interesting stuff you started to include, the more weird byproducts you got.

This time around, what we have is the collision between the Complete Divine and The Miniatures Handbook and repeated in the Complete Arcane. The two parts at work here are the Warmage (a class) and the Rainbow Servant (a Prestige Class).

Rainbow Servants are spellcasters that learn from and benefit from a relationship with couatls, a type of sorta-kinda-Aztec-y divine monster creatures that are snakes, that relate to rainbows, and yet, suspiciously, aren’t shown in rainbows in their default art. Must seem gay. Anyway, these couatls grant special gifts to arcane spellcasters, and those casters get to be Rainbow Servants.

As written, the Rainbow Servant is a prestige class for arcane spellcasters that want to add a bit of divine vibe to what they’re doing, in exchange for eating some spellcasting levels. Most of the time, this tradeoff isn’t worth it: spellcasters that give up spellcasting levels need to get something truly immense in exchange. The stuff you get out of the Rainbow Servant is domains (which add spells to your potential repertoire), beautiful rainbow wings, and then, eventually, the entire cleric spell list added to your spell list.

For a sorcerer or wizard, this represents more options, but not more choices. These classes still have to spend resources to know those spells. Wizards adding the entire cleric spell list to their spellbook is a lot of power, but you had to give up four levels of spells to get there, and that’s typically not a worthwhile tradeoff. Sorcerers need to spend their very limited spells known to get those spells, but you already don’t have enough spells.

So, Rainbow Servant is a bit weak, and you might pick it up if you really really wanted the rainbow wings, for example, or you had a strong concept for a divine-arcane mixed up spellcasters.

But then, let’s introduce to the conversation the Warmage.

The Warmage is a class designed for a kind of different form of D&D. It was originally made to be a boomspell platform for the miniatures game, which used D&D combat rules to resolve a tactical miniatures wargame. Noticing that for fast combat, choosing spell preparation is a pain in the ass but choosing the right spell for the job on the spot is hard enough, they created a spellcaster who just always had access to all their spells, and made that spell list limited.

So.

If a warmage adds spells to their spell list – like with a domain – then suddenly, they can cast, spontaneously, every spell on the domain list that’s of a level they have access to. That’s pretty good. Then when they hit level 10, they have all the spells in the cleric list, available to cast spontaneously, and the existing warmage blast spells.

That’s really cool!

This build is also not especially strong, at least, not most of the time. You need to hit around level 16 before this happens, and at that point, you have a character who’s casting lots of different level 6 spells. You’ll never get access to 9th level spells (without some nonsense), but you’ll have enormous flexibility all the way up there – the best cleric spell for the job, all those lower level slots able to turn into useful buffs, and a bunch of handy special abilities to go with it.

Now.

This is clearly unintended consequence. The Rainbow Servant was not made to be a route to ‘late-game megacleric wizard.’ The Warmage was not created to turn into a support machine with the right level choices. These two elements were not created to interact with each other. One can argue that this interaction, being unintended, should be excluded. After all, if it wasn’t tested, it might have unforseen consequences. This is how a lot of MMOs behave: even things that are designed to replicate one another are often designed to not stack or interact, so as to prevent players from having too much of an effect. Check out how for a time, World of Warcraft had a standard list of ‘raid buffs’ (and may still have but I don’t care to check).

However, this is where TTRPGs have a freedom. You can look at how players engage with the game, and make those choices on the fly. You can decide if a player doing this stuff is eating up time. Hypothetically, you can even decide how in your game it’s okay for things to work out unfairly in one player’s favour, because that player may be less strategically minded, or not inclined to take advantage of the power, or bad at managing the information load. You might decide that it’s okay, because you can see other ways other things can be just as powerful that you are okay with. You can even decide to adjust this as the game goes on.

But don’t forget that sometimes, there are cool, odd interactions that some players may pick up just because they like the gay rainbow wings.

How To Be: The Castlevania Gang (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 authoritive 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, we’re going to examine overlapping skillsets as we look at not creating a character but creating a group of characters: The trio of monster hunters from the Fang-Em-Up Netflix anime, Castlevania.


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5 Ways To Be Cosmically Horrifying in 4E D&D

It is easy perhaps to forget that TTRPGs are a fundamentally creative space. In some games, especially the more modern indie style of TTRPG, characters are often handed a role that really paints the way they should feel, a characterisation that is in some cases extremely specific, like you’ll see in PBTA games. In D&D, there’s a lot of ways in recent days that flavour has swung towards specificity, which can limit the kinds of creativity you can express.

4e D&D is a game system that deliberately tries to leave a lot of your flavour up to you. Last year I talked about some character options that let you be horrifying heroes. This year, we’re going to do that again, but instead of gothic horror, we’re going to look at ways to do cosmic horror with your character that swings a big axe and saves the day.

Cosmic horror in this case refers to the horror felt at the boundaries between human agency and universal indifference. Cosmic horror can be felt in a very mundane, normal moment of life when you look up at the sky and realise that there is more that exists that you’ll never see, that the universe is old in a scale that you will never understand and will live on longer than you will ever be able to conceive, and that these two details make you a nothing of a blip between nothing blips. When we talk about cosmic horror as she is shown in media, it’s often about trying to show you those points of interface: Of the horror that Lovecraft himself said,

“Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large.”

The horror of the Cosmic is not the threat of Gothic horror. It is the immense indifference of an uncaring, infinite emptiness.

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3.5 Memories: Okay, Fine, Let’s Talk About Zceryll

Back during August, I looked at the Tome of Magic, a 3.5 D&D book, which involved looking at the the Binder. The Binder was one of the classes presented in that book, where the basic idea was that the binder had these things, called Vestiges, that you could sort of cold-swap between to get different abilities based on your different needs; the task of swapping character mode was fast enough that you could do it between encounters, or on the far side of a dungeon door, or hurriedly while the guards are on their way, but it wasn’t something you could hot-plug in between combats. The Binder was a weak character class by default that could, with its variety of options, hot-swap into a form that was usually about as good as a rogue with most of the gear they want.

Note those italics.

When it comes to D&D content, Wizards put things in the books, but they also made a thing of web expansions – pdfs and website content that you could add to your game, stuff that came from the Official Source and was generally made to be safe enough to include in any game, and that is where we got the Vestige that on its own takes the Binder from ‘incredibly fair, even a bit weak’ to the upper tiers of power, brushing in the shadow of the wizard and cleric.

And bonus, that Vestige is spooky.

The actual text of the Vestige of Zceryll, from Wizards’ own web expansion, is pretty simple:

Zceryll was a mortal sorceress who communed with alien powers from the far realm. She became obsessed with immortality, seeking out the alien beings in the hopes of learning their eternal secrets. When she died, she became a hideously twisted vestige, forever seeking to re-enter the Realms via numerous artifacts she dispersed across the world. Zceryll grants you the ability to transform your body and mind into an alien form, granting you telepathy, resistance to effects related to insanity, the ability to summon pseudonatural creatures, and the power to unleash bolts of pure madness.

Okay, how is it broken? What’s it do that’s so good, power-wise? Normally when you talk about character power, you can usually point to something as a general rule – like you can point to the wizards’ spell list and that’ll explain itself. In Zceryll’s case, what you get when you channel this Vestige is:

Summon Alien: You can summon any creature from the summon monster list that a sorcerer of your level could summon. Any creature you summon with this ability gains the pseudonatural template. Thus, at 10th level you could summon any creature from the summon monster I-V list. When you reach 14th level, you can summon any creature from the summon monster I-VII list. You can only summon creatures that can be affected by the pseudonatural template. Once you have used this ability, you cannot do so again for 5 rounds.

Let’s simplify that: You can use Summon Monster (Half Your Level) every five turns at will. DMs may make you spend the action to do it, in out-of-combat ways, but at will summons is incredibly strong, not because you can flood the battlefield, but because summons are combat capable creatures that in many cases can cast spells. So every utility power available to any monster on the summon list is available to you, but in a spooky way. Need something big moved? Summon something big and stronk. Need to get out of a cage? Summon something that can move through walls. Need to wreck shop on the battlefield? Well at every tier, there’s a piece of cannonfodder you can dump on the battlefield and then not have to spend actions commanding. If your summon runs out of healing magic, you can just summon another one and get it to do the healing magic. If your summon is beat up, you can summon another one and get that to replace the other. It is one of the most startlingly effective spell families to have at-will access to, and the only real drawback for the Binder is that it’s a bit slow.

The actual theme of Zceryll is a weird one, and it bums me out a little that the Binder is a class ostensibly built around this variety of flavour choices, when every powerful Binder is going to be hard on Zceryll and the skills required to be good at managing Zceryll. It’s also frustrating because the name Zceryll is a person’s name first; the odd, hard to express mangled language of the name isn’t a language from outside reality – it’s someone’s name, a weird name, but it’s just… a weird name. It speaks of a culture that’s not common to you now, but Zceryll is still just a person, it’s not an extrusion of a reality where they don’t have vowel sounds.

I feel this is a dropped ball with Zceryll. At its root, it wants to be Lovecraftian; the powers are from the far realms, it’s about a refugee of our reality trying hard to get back in, it’s got this sort of lurking threat to it, and it shows you tearing reality open and letting in things that look like stuff you already know but which are definitely not, while you cast literal bolts of madness from your hand... and then disappointingly, it’s just… a wizard, like you, who drank of the outside.

My advice, if you’re going to use Zceryll in your game worlds? Soak in the eerie. Don’t say it was a wizard who started out researching the far realm. Make Zceryll something not someone.

3.5 Memories: Rokugan

Hold up.

I’m going to say some nice things about this book. I’m even going to praise some things this book does. I’m going to recommend you look to this book for examples of how to do a thing and I’m even going to talk about ways this game book set itself apart from an existing, flawed paradigm of D20 design for its period.

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How To Be: Tier Halibel (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 authoritive 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, we’re going to dive into the world of the dead and look to the Queen of Hueco Mundo by the most powerful shounen anime right, the right of default, the underboob to Matsumoto’s cleavage well, Tier Harribel.


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4e D&D: Marks Are Great

A common criticism of 4th Edition D&D is that at its root, it was good at combat, and therefore, everything in the game, is in service of those combat rules. One example given, is that in 4th edition D&D, there’s the mark system, which turns any kind of player choices manipulating enemy behaviour is turned into a simple reliable mechanic and the player doesn’t need to think about it to engage it, and that this is bad.

This is of course, a stupid position because I introduced it up front so I could get you on my side with a comical twist. Of course I think marks are good, and that’s in part because I think the first half of that argument is kinda a bad faith argument. If you think 4th edition D&D is only combat mechanics, it tends to suggest you haven’t really cracked the books. I could talk about how the nature of the game is that good guides for the creation of narrative don’t need lots of space, and convenient reference text for combat entities does, and we’re back at talking about rainbow tables and storage versus process, but whatever.

The mark system in 4th edition D&D is a blatantly tactical gameplay mechanic.

And I love it.

If you’re not familiar, marks are a system that all the characters with the classification ‘defender’ – you might know it as ‘tank’ or ‘blocker’ or ‘guardian’ – get some ability or other that lets them impose the status of marked on enemies. Marks have a few standard rules; specifically, when you have the marked status, the person who did mark you matters. When you’re marked, you suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls on attacks that do not include the thing marking you. That’s it, at base.

This system is implemented in a lot of different ways; Wardens can mark everyone around them as a free action, but they have to choose when in their turn they do it, which can make for some tactical choices about where and how you position yourself. Fighters mark everyone they attack, whether or not they hit, which means they care about doing lots of incidental attacks, and view area effect or multi-target attacks as a form of control. Paladins have two different marks – one which happens on specific attacks, and one which requires them to remain near the subject. There are more of course, but just these three examples present the mark as a tool where the player can treat the battlefield in terms of their impact on it; monsters have a reason to want to avoid them, and they have a way of controlling monster behaviour. Marks don’t stack – the most recent mark over-writes the other ones.

It’s not just the defenders who can use marks themselves – because it’s a standard mechanic, you can then have other characters use them. For example, you can make a fragile character get a risky power that marks an enemy, which means that suddenly, you’re a high priority target and it makes it harder for the tank to keep that enemy on them. Another option is a support character who can make another character mark something – so you could play a psion, that says ‘hey, enemy, you are now marked by the tank.’ These are interesting options. And you can even use it on enemies – Sometimes a skeleton warrior may have the rules text ‘Deals 1d8+5 damage, and the target is marked.’ And that right there is a simple mechanic that suggests that the enemy is doing what it can to try and force you to focus on it.

Now why are they considered bad?

The idea seems to be that if marks just work, players don’t have to work to roleplay their characters being visibly fearsome or expressing themselves in the world around them so the DM will make monsters behave in a way players want to manipulate. That’s something that sounds compelling if you are, like me, an amazing roleplayer who’s great at commanding attention and capable of convincing DMs. But there are lots of players who want to play a showy, ostentatious asshole of a tank who isn’t actually that great at one-liners or showy, ostentatious violence in description.

This is a false idea, in my opinion. The whole point of Marks as a system is that it’s designed to make something in the game that should work work reliably, rather than make it prone to the whims of the player. It’s not as interesting if your character can or can’t maintain enemy attention based on your ability to say something rude or shocking or clever in another language, but it is interesting if you’re able to make choices about where you stand and what targets you care about.

It’s also something about being in fights. If you’ve never been in a fight, it might surprise you to know that there are ways to fight that make ‘disengaging’ from the fight actually hard, and it’s not because you can make fun of people, it’s because of stances and reach and position.

I think Marks are great, and part of why they’re great is because they reduce the friction of what the game play is directing to not determine whether or not a thing can happen, but rather the game rules dictate what will happen, and it’s up to you, the player, to explain how it happens.