Thursday, February 16, 2017

On Critical Fumbles

The internet hates critical fumbles. Home games tends to love them.

There are various rules of thumb for telling you that your critical fumble rule sucks, such as: if ten trained warriors spar with inanimate dummies, if any of them are dead at the end of an hour, your critical fumble rule sucks.

The "correct" way to play is without critical fumbles at all. A natural 1 is an automatic miss, that's all. The problem with this is that it is of course boring. Spice up your life a little! That's what critical fumbles are for.

The worst way to play is that a natural 1 is an automatic critical fumble. Nobody is going to hit an ally or whatever 1/20th of attacks they make, especially if they're highly trained. And if you're a high-level fighter, you're making 3 or 4 or more attacks a round, so you're going to fumble every few rounds.

A better way to play is that a natural 1 is a threat for a critical fumble. It works just like critical hit threats: you roll again at the same bonus, and if the confirmation would miss your target's AC, then you fumble. This is better because it makes it difficult to fumble against softer targets and easier to fumble against targets that are actively trying to foul you up, and it partially ameliorates the "high level warriors fumble more than low level ones" problem in that a high attack bonus makes you fumble less and a more skilled opponent makes you fumble more. Still, a level 16+ fighter is rolling at -15 on his fourth attack. So it's not perfect.

A much better way to play is that a total roll of 0 or less is an automatic critical fumble. This way, if you have any positive modifier to your attack -- or even no modifier at all -- you will never fumble. Skilled warriors never fumble, unless they're stacking massive penalties. You only fumble if you suck at life -- which some low-level PCs and monsters do (especially low-level monsters with secondary natural attacks).

Even then, you should have some variety in critical fumbles. A fumble is always just a provocation for attacks of opportunity is fine, but a little dull. I recommend the Paizo critical fumble deck.

While you're at it, you might as well throw in the critical hit deck, too -- but only for PCs and major (e.g., named) NPCs, because it makes critical hits a bit more lethal.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Thoughts on 3.5e vs 4e

Originally posted on my other blog on this day (August 14th) in 2010, early in the 3.5e v 4e edition war.


A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to play in a 4th edition game of Dungeons & Dragons for the first time. There are some things that are clear improvements, some things that are not improvements but I can see why they did it, and some things that are just bafflingly ill-conceived. What follows is not a complete list of my thoughts on 4e, that would take much too long, but it is a brief catalogue of the sorts of thoughts I'm having.

An Example Of A Thing That Is A Clear Improvement
It may just be that my fighter was built for battlefield control, and everything I picked has some effect to move people around, but combat in 4e is much more dynamic and interesting than in 3.5e, where most fights were just slugging matches, standing in one place and beating on each other until one participant goes down. There are creatures designed specifically to move about and keep the battlefield dynamic, but only if the DM picks those creatures and only if he chooses to use them as designed (rarer than you might think). There are similar creatures in 4e (we fought some frogs that kept grabbing us with their tongues from halfway across the battlefield and pulling us to them), and there are still lots of creatures that do no such thing, but now the power of effective battlefield movement abilities is in the hands of the players, too. This does a lot to make fights refreshingly dynamic.

An Example Of A Thing That Is Not An Improvement But I Can See Why They Did It
In 3.5e, defenses worked like this: You had three kinds of Armor Class (AC), and three kinds of save.
Your regular AC was basically 10 + your armor + your dexterity, and to hit you with a regular physical attack, a foe had to roll a 20-sided die (1d20) + base attack bonus from class + bonus from his weapon + his strength or dexterity. If his attack roll beat your AC, he hit you and proceeded to roll for damage.
Your Touch AC was 10 + your dexterity, for things like spells which bypass armor entirely (and spellcasters correspondingly didn't get weapon boni, so they would roll only 1d20 + base attack bonus from class + strength or dexterity).
The third kind of AC was Flat-Footed, which happens if you're unprepared to defend yourself or duck out of the way, and is only 10 + your armor
The three kinds of save were Will (d20 + your base save from class + wisdom), Reflex (d20 + base save + dexterity), and Fortitude (d20 + base save + constitution). There are some spells and effects you don't even have to hit with, such as gaseous clouds or mind-control, so they called for a save instead. In a save, the attacker's stats determine the difficulty, and the defender rolls. If the defender succeeds, he has resisted or dodged and can avoid some or all of the effect. (This is the source of the old "Jesus Saves. Everyone Else Takes Full Damage." shirt that's been floating around for awhile.)

In 4e, they've changed all that. Now, they've eliminated saves, and you simply have four kinds of defenses: AC (10 + armor), Will (10 + wisdom), Reflex (10 + dexterity), and Fortitude (10 + constitution). An attacker has to roll d20 + some stat + any other boni, and if he succeeds, you take the effect or the damage, and if he misses, you don't. Much simpler. Also makes much less sense.

Consider, as an example, a creature with venomous fangs. In a world that makes sense, this creature needs to hit you, puncture your armor, and then overcome your body's natural resistance. In 3.5e, this was perfectly represented: it had to successfully bite you (overcome your AC, which includes your dexterity and your armor), and then you got a fortitude save. In 4e, it only has to beat your fortitude (in which case it has ignored your armor and your dexterity), your reflexes (and ignore your armor and your constitution), or your AC (and ignore your dexterity and your constitution).

Effectively, they've gone from a very strong simulationist design ethic to a strong gamist one, which is movement in exactly the wrong direction. The rules are disassociated from in-character reasoning. This may be what people mean when they say 4e is more like an MMORPG than like real D&D. I can see why they did this particular thing, insofar as they've streamlined the process, reduced the number of rolls you need to make and numbers you need to keep track of, and generally made it more newbie-friendly. That doesn't make it a good change.

An Example Of A Thing That Is Bafflingly Ill-Conceived
One criticism I come across whenever people who are used to playing 4e switch to 3.5e is that there are a number of effects where, if you get hit and you fail your save, you're just out of the fight for several rounds with no recourse. This is definitely an obstacle to fun, but 4e's attempt at a "solution" is even worse.

In 3.5e, if you get hit by, say, a ghoul, it does damage, and you also make a fortitude save to resist its paralyzing touch. If you fail the save, you are paralyzed (unable to do anything) for 2-5 rounds. The ghoul immediately rolls 1d4 + 1, and then you're just out of the action for that many rounds. This is obviously no fun if it happens to you, you're just sitting out of the action and might as well go make yourself a sammich for several rounds. Undesirable.

In 4e, if you get hit by an attack that paralyzes (if it beats whichever kind of defenses the game deems most relevant), you're similarly paralyzed. Except instead of being for a number of turns determined when you get paralyzed, you roll 1d20 on your turn each round (this is what 4e calls a "save"). If you roll better than a 10, the paralysis ends and you can act on your next turn. If you roll lower than a 10, you try again on your next turn. So the paralysis winds up lasting anywhere from 1 round to until after the combat has ended, depending solely on your d20 and not having anything to do with your character's qualities. The most hale fighter is just as likely to successfully cease to be paralyzed as the sickliest bard. Okay, sure, how long an effect lasts has nothing to do with your character's stats in 3.5e, either, but 4e's "solution" is still a poor excuse for "keeping the player involved".

Several rounds of "Roll to save with no effect on the outcome other than providing the die. Okay, you failed. Next person's turn." is no better than "Okay, go eat a sammich for a number of rounds with no effect on how many", and I don't know why people seem to think it is. It may even be worse, because you don't even get a sammich. It's definitely more frustrating, because at least in 3.5e you know there's a hard cap on how long you're out of the fight, and you know in advance exactly how long you'll be out.

I remembered a better example of a bafflingly ill-conceived change. To wit: in all previous editions of D&D that I'm aware of, there was a two-axis morality/alignment system: one axis was good/neutral/evil, the other was lawful/neutral/chaotic. This allows for nine possibilities (lawful good, good, chaotic good, lawful, neutral, chaotic, lawful evil, evil, chaotic evil). It also has the benefit of being immediately intuitive to almost anyone who encounters it.

4e "simplified" this by reducing it to lawful good, good, unaligned, evil, chaotic evil. But this is one of those instances where more options, because they were arrayed in that sensible grid, is actually easier to deal with and easier to fit a character to. Moreover, they deleted both my favourite alignments (chaotic good and lawful evil), leaving only boring choices. Yes, you can still play a chaotic good or lawful evil character and just call him good, unaligned, or evil, but that just doesn't have the same force to me.

An Example Of A Thing I'm Not Sure Is Good Or Bad
In 3.5e, dedicated spellcasters had a long list of spells to keep track of which were replenished once a day, most melee combatants got to do exactly the same thing every round (with some per-day powers such as, say, the paladin's Smite Evil, or the barbarian's Rage).

In 4e, everybody gets a list of At Will powers (usable as many times as you want), a list of Encounter powers (usable once per fight), and a list of Daily powers (usable once per day). I'm not clear on how spellcasters work now, but it seems to be basically the same story.

In 3.5e, everybody had basically the same role - doing damage to the enemy. They did this in various ways (beating on them with a stick, spells, sneak attack, whatever), and once in a long while you got somebody whose job it was to heal or buff his buddies or debuff the foes, but basically it was all the same task.

In 4e, they've explicitly separated the roles out into Striker, Defender, Controller, et cetera. One guy's job is only to do damage, the next guy's job is only to put the foes where they need to be and keep them from attacking his allies, the third guy's job is to heal, and so on.

So they changed it from everybody doing the same thing in different ways to everybody doing different things the same way. This is a change, but it seems to balance out to neither a positive nor a negative direction.

An Example Of A Thing Where I'm Not Sure Who To Blame
The creatures in this adventure were hard. Particularly some ghouls that clustered way too close in tight quarters that made it nearly impossible to deal with them, although the DM did admit they were supposed to stun one party member at a time and drag them off, which probably would have made the fight oddly easier. We also accidentally skipped over most of the roleplaying component of the adventure and straight to the combat, and it may have been designed with us having some NPC backup in mind, so my experience may not have been working as intended.

So I'm not sure to what extent we experienced this adventure as designed, and I'm not sure how closely this adventure adhered to Wizards of the Coast's design philosophy in the first place. But if we did and it does, then it means WOTC has really embraced the bad encounter philosophy that was rampant in 3.5e but never officially endorsed until now.

In 3.5e, you were supposed to be able to get through something like four or more encounters before you'd expended all your daily resources (such as the wizard's spells) and had to rest for the night. Many DMs wound up, in the interest of providing a "challenge", making all encounters of the sort where you have to use 100% of your daily resources and take an 8-hour rest after each one. This slows down the game to an interminable crawl, among other problems. If WOTC has now embraced this all-insane-challenges-all-the-time idea, that's a bad thing. But I don't have enough information to know whether they have or not.

All in all, the more I think about 4e, the more I think it's a marked step down in quality. All the same, when I consider the idea of playing more, on a visceral level, the prospect of more 3.5e sounds a little daunting and the prospect of more 4e sounds a little fun. So I guess they're doing something right. Unless it's just that I've not yet been exposed to enough 4e to be sick of it and I've played enough 3.5e that it's starting to wear on me, which is plausible.

EDIT: It turned out yes, I simply hadn't been exposed to enough 4e to get sick of it. It only took a couple more sessions to get sick of it; give me 3.5e or nothing henceforth!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Variety of Suggested Class Tweaks

Half caster level (Ranger, Paladin, etc) is no longer a thing. Such classes have a caster level equal to their class level. Their class level minus 3 is also acceptable, but such classes need nice things.

Does not gain a Constitution bonus when raging. Instead, gains +2 Fortitude, +2 to Constitution checks, and temporary hit points equal to 2 per hit die, which go away when the rage ends. These bonuses go up to 3 with Greater Rage and 4 with Mighty Rage. This eliminates "oops, my rage ended, now I'm dead" syndrome, and as a side-effect allows undead barbarians to be more effective.

Alternately, because Barbarian is a common dip for Con-focused builds that benefit in other ways from Con boosts, Barbarian keeps the Constitution bonus, all temporary Constitution bonuses that have durations (so Barbarian's Rage and Bear's Endurance but not Amulets of Health) grant temporary hit points (which expire when the Con bonus does) instead of real hit points.

Dragonfire Adept
Qualifies for metabreath feats without requiring Power Surge or other shenanigans to acquire a breath weapon with a timer.

Dragon Shaman
Add Knowledge(arcana) to class skills. It just makes sense for a class that worships dragons to have knowledge about dragons.

Add Knowledge(geography) to class skills. Makes sense for a druid to understand the lay of the land.

This, the most powerful class, also asks for a nerf. There are two decent (but probably mutually exclusive) nerfs you can try:

The less extreme nerf is to give Druid animal companion progression as a Ranger.

The more extreme nerf is to say "Spellcasting; Animal Companion; Wild Shape: Pick any two."

Favored Soul
Add Knowledge(religion) to class skills. On the one hand, you wouldn't necessarily expect a Favored Soul, granted power by a deity without asking for it, to actually know anything about deities. On the other hand, such Favored Souls can simply not put ranks in Knowledge(religion).

Gains a fighter bonus feat every level, instead of 1st and every even level. This doesn't bump Fighter up a tier or anything, but at least now you don't have any dead levels on your way to Dungeoncrasher, and it's a "however many feats you want"-level dip instead of a 2-level dip.

Knows their entire spell list and casts spontaneously, like a Warmage or Beguiler. (I rejigger Healer a little more completely than this, but this is a solid start.)

Hexblade's Curse usable per encounter rather than per day.

Add Knowledge(history) to class skills.

I personally nerf Leadership for everybody else, and then un-nerf it for Marshal. You could also consider giving Leadership to Marshal as a bonus feat.

Full BAB. Literally the least you can do for this sad, sad class.

Smite Evil per encounter rather than per day. Consider giving this to everything with a Smite ability, such as Soulborn (see below) and Fiendish/Celestial creatures.

Remove Disease per day rather than per week.

When a character uses Smite Evil, the attack also counts as Good for the purpose of bypassing DR/Good. The same applies to all aligned Smites, e.g. Smite Good bypasses DR/Evil.

Animal Companion progression at first level, progressing as druid, not as one-half druid.

Gestalt the Samurai from Oriental Adventures with the one from Complete Warrior.

Gain Eschew Materials as a bonus feat at level 1.

Wizards and Sorcerers may begin play with a familiar without having to pay the 100gp cost. Acquiring a familiar after play begins, replacing a familiar, or acquiring a familiar through the Obtain Familiar feat still costs 100gp. Many people don't realize this is a house rule, that Wizards and Sorcerers are supposed to either pony up 100gp when play begins or start without a familiar.

Any prestige class level that advances Wizard or Sorcerer spellcasting also advances familiar abilities as if it were a level of Wizard or Sorcerer. (This is as if all Wizards and Sorcerers took the Forlorn flaw and the Obtain Familiar feat.)

Smite Opposition per encounter rather than per day.

Proficient with bucklers. IT'S RIGHT THERE IN THE NAME, DAGNABIT.

Skill points: the usual x4 at 1st level, not x6. Obvious typo is obviously a typo.

A Wizard specializing in Divination must choose two banned schools, as with every other school specialization, instead of one. Splatbooks give enough Divination options, and "Scry and Die" so favored a tactic, that it's no longer a trash school like it was thought to be in the early days of 3.5.

Also, see familiar stuff under Sorcerer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Do Familiars or Psicrystals Get Feats?

Druid/ranger animal companions and paladin special mounts gain hit dice as their master levels, and so gain all the benefits of hit dice, including feats at first and every third level and ability score increases at every fourth level. This did not occur to me until a player asked if this was so, and the answer turned out to be yes, obviously it is so.

The question is fuzzier when it comes to psicrystals and familiars. The consensus on the Rules As Written is that psicrystals do and familiars do not -- but this is naturally absurd, in the same vein as such other strict RAW weirdnesses as drown healing, death not preventing you from taking actions, and tower shields turning themselves (and their wielder) invisible when hidden behind.

Psicrystals and familiars are both treated as having their masters' hit dice and half their masters' hit points, so it should be obvious to anyone with eyes to see that the intention was that they are the same when it comes to hit dice and the benefits thereof. Where the confusion arises is a slight discrepancy in language between the two:

A familiar's hit dice are defined on the sorcerer/wizard entry as "For the purpose of effects related to number of Hit Dice, use the master’s character level or the familiar’s normal HD total, whichever is higher."

The corresponding psion entry makes no mention of a psicrystal's hit dice, so a psicrystal's hit dice are instead defined on the psicrystal creature entry as "Its Hit Dice are equal to its master’s Hit Dice (counting only levels in psion or wilder)".

This is taken by the masses to mean that psicrystals have hit dice, and therefore all the benefits that accrue with hit dice, and familiars are merely treated as having hit dice, and therefore gain no benefits of having hit dice. Despite being baldly preposterous, this interpretation is held by so many people that I feel like I've stepped through a portal into an alternate dimension where nothing makes sense and they spell it "Berenstain Bears" instead of "Berenstein Bears". (I jest.)

Are there any (other) creatures in the game that entirely lack hit dice? I can't think of any. Even animated objects gain hit dice when animated. As far as I know, the game features no creatures that don't have hit dice; everything with hit points and no hit dice is an object.

Hit points are obviously not to be treated as an effect of hit dice here, because HP is defined separately as half the master's HP in the same sections that define familiar and psicrystal HD as equal to the master's HD. Similarly, BAB, saves, and skills are treated separately in separate sections, and are thus probably not treated as effects of hit dice. However, it is perfectly plausible to argue that feats and ability score increases are "effects related to number of Hit Dice", and thus accrue to familiars even if you somehow maintain that familiars really don't actually have hit dice.

Moreover, the line under Familiar Basics that qualifies "For each skill in which either the master or the familiar has ranks" clearly indicates that familiars have skill ranks, which they couldn't have if they don't have hit dice. It goes on to say "use either the normal skill ranks for an animal of that type or the master’s skill ranks, whichever are better", which seems to indicate that a familiar doesn't gain skill ranks beyond what they start with, but it clearly still has them, which means a familiar must have at least its starting hit dice.

In any event, the Rules As Written and the Rules as Intended should always be subservient to what makes sense and what makes fun. The RAW, being vague on what an "effect related to number of Hit Dice" is, are not as clear as everybody thinks they are, the RAI are clearly in conflict with the common interpretation, and, though what makes more fun is unclear (casters don't really need nice things; much of the familiar section seems intended to simplify the familiar for ease of play but actually has quite the opposite effect), what makes sense is that the things that are the same should be the same. Either both psicrystals and familiars have feats, or neither does.

This steadfast adherence among the GITP forums (at least, every member of the GITP forums I've talked to about it) to this particular interpretation of RAW, in defiance of other interpretations of RAW and all the considerations that should be more important than any interpretation of RAW, is a prime example of their fetishization of the consensus interpretation of RAW, however nonsensical, above all the considerations that should be more important in actual play. (Which is why I'm posting this here, in this space safe from RAW fetishization, and not there.) Don't get me wrong, the GITP forums are a great place full of great people, but they can get pretty dogmatic about their assumptions sometimes.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Being a Steampunk Magitek Cyborg

I have written a brief handbook for the Renegade Mastermaker, a 3.5 Eberron prestige class that allows you to become a steampunk magitek cyborg. If that sounds like your cup of tea, or you just want to read something I've written, consider reading it over on the Giant in the Playground forums: Being a Steampunk Magitek Cyborg: A Renegade Mastermaker Handbook.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

48 More Things To Populate Your Dungeon

1 magic mirror lies to men but not to women
2 A goblin key which will lock (but not unlock) any door
3 a forgotten account of dwarven history. Anyone familiar with dwarven history who studies this text will find references to a king who has apparently been excised from the modern records
4 A statue of a gargoyle with an open mouth with a switch at the very back of the mouth, just within reach of a Medium creature reaching his arm all the way in. the switch closes the mouth, severing the arm (reflex DC15 reduces to elbow, 20 reduces to hand, 25 pulls completely out in time)
5 Partial and crappy dungeon map (To simulate it, any player is allowed to look at the DM's map for a number of seconds equal to their PC's intelligence divided by 2)
6 mosaic sacred to the god of trickery, figures attempt to steal gold (sleight of hand +10) from anyone who comes within 5'
7 valuable but obscene tapestries
8 safe room: Glowing orb, Monsters will not enter (DC20 Will save negates)
9 A tiny figurine of the goddess of fertility, carved from a rare, fist-sized pearl. For two weeks after it is picked up any woman touching the figurine will become pregnant with a half-celestial child. After the two week period has expired, the figurine will never work again
10 Rotating wall bisects a round room (rotates 45 degrees each round; if it moves you, Balance DC10 or fall prone)
11 Small altar to god of ocean depths. If any [darkness] spell is cast on the altar, the spell energy is absorbed (the effect of the spell doesn't happen) and the caster gains darkvision 60' (or their existing darkvision increases by 60') for a number of days equal to the spell's level. If any [water] spell is cast on the altar, the caster gains the amphibious quality for a number of days equal to the spell's level. If any [evil] or [lawful] spell is cast on the altar, the caster is protected by protection from good or protection from chaos (respectively) for a number of days equal to the spell level
12 a shirt of the leech (MIC) which also attracts 1d4 leech swarms (stormwrack) every time the wearer enters water
13 You feel like you're being watched
14 1d12 human eyeballs in a jar
15 North wall strong magnet, attracts all metals
16 Ring of Extra Ring (magic ring allows you to wear one more ring than normal)
17 barrel, rolling endlessly around the perimeter of the room
18 greater helm of opposite alignment (as helm of opposite alignment but functions 1d10 times before running out of charges and save DC is 17)
19 automagic broom (starts sweeping the area automatically when stood upright)
20 Staff which, when stood on end, balances indefinitely
21 Seeking dagger (Stab it into one of your own body parts and the next time you throw it it will unerringly seek the corresponding body part of the enemy. Works once for each user. Runes on it explain it fairly well in Abyssal.)
22 like a butterfly collection, but not of butterflies
23 +1 dwarven waraxe (2330 gp) which, once drawn, can't be dropped, put away, or exchanged for another item until it has scored a hit
24 A belt of growth (MIC) that makes you grow, but none of your items grow with you. Any armor and clothes worn (except magic items) are destroyed, and your weapon still does its original damage
25 brazier of endless fire that yells obscenities and insults (FOR ME TO POOP ON) at all passersby
26 Huge sphere of sandstone (which is slightly magnetic, having a magnetic core)
27 long-dead humanoid corpse contorted in agony
28 Oak tree which teleports to the surface during the day and remains in the safety of the cave at night or when danger threatens
29 statues of the PCs
30 Little bell and a hammer and a sign that says "Please do not ring this bell"; If bell is rung a huge fire elemental appears and attacks (works 1/day)
31 Insane beholder runs underground trade post with success
32 Ceiling collapses (as cave-in) when anyone steps in the middle of the room. Ceiling is restored (and will do it again) if doors are closed when nobody is inside
33 A loose stone (search DC23), when pushed, reveals a small obsidian altar to the deity of secrets. Sealed to the altar is a book of thousands of secrets, most of which are useless to the reader. However, at the end of the secrets are blank lines. If a characer writes a secret (known only to them and up to 100 other people) into the book, the secret is permanently removed from their mind and replaced with a useful secret (treat as a Commune spell). A character can use the book as many times as they wish, losing a secret and gaining a new one each time.
34 a small granite pebble which registers faintly to detect magic and similar spells but which is otherwise wholly unremarkable
35 Ring of Eyes (when worn, user sees what the ring sees)
36 A tablet of pure gold, inscribed with the core rites and beliefs of the church of the deity of the sun. Careful study of this tablet, however, will reveal subtle – but important – differences between these ancient practices and the current practices of the church
37 a black pudding sealed in a Large stone urn
38 Fountain that permanently swaps the gender of anyone who drinks from it (but only once), DC20 Fort negates
39 Room with three pedestals made from the same rock as the room: on the extreme right an orchid in a small pot; in the center a goblet containing red wine; on the left cake
40 everything spoken in this room comes out backwards
41 1'-tall bronze idol of the god of death that ages anyone who touches it by 1d10 years (fort DC15 negates)
42 succubus (with Mindsight instead of Mobility) takes human form, sets up a trap by summoning a vrock and telling it to eat her. when the PCs rescue her, she befriends them, then tries to seduce them the next night.
43 Speaking stone statue of the god of secrets. Answers questions. All lies.
44 complete set of 7 dice
45 A large signet ring of gold, worked with a unicorn crest. Any commoner who dons the ring will suddenly discover its metal heated to unbearable levels – causing one hit point of damage per round. However, anyone with noble blood (however slight) who does the same will suffer only a momentary flash of pain (with an accompanying 1 hp of damage): They will find that the unicorn crest has reshaped itself to their own heraldry, which has also been branded in miniature form upon the back of their finger. From this point forward, they can put on or remove the ring at will without any further ill effects
46 pile of severed ears
47 pile of severed hands
48 You know what? Just pick a body part. Pile of severed that body part. Skulls? Feet? Intestines? Spleens? Go nuts.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

81 Things To Populate Your Dungeon

Since I've benefited from many such lists in the past, I figured I'd pay it forward and provide a list culled from my personal Big List Of Stuff. Some of these things are stolen from others, I don't remember which.

1 exposed vein of [pick a mineral];
2 room hates a certain group (such as elves or divine casters) so they need to make a Reflex save or Strength check or be forcibly ejected from the room
3 coin-operated door that opens to a donation of at least a certain value
4 a potted fern
5 Potion of Grow Facial Hair (The imbiber grows a random style of facial hair)
6 Illusion of broken bridge. Actually fine to cross.
7 metal cabinet full of bottles of every emotion, carefully labeled
8 Nice rug, it really ties the room together.
9 graffiti
10 steam emitting from vents in the ground
11 Blindfold of Sight (allows you to see like you normally would)
12 +1 Undead-Bane Outsider(evil)-Bane Heavy Mace (glows blue in the presence of evil outsiders, red in the presence of undead, purple in the presence of both)
13 something smells like
14 chasm spanned by an illusory bridge. The first ten feet of the bridge are real.
15 Approximately bed-sized altar to the deity of fertility. If carnal acts are willingly performed on the altar, everyone involved gains a permanent +1 morale bonus to all charisma-based checks. If at least 10gp worth of fine alcoholic beverages are poured on the altar, it immediately sprouts a heroes' feast.
16 gravity is altered in this room -- down is some direction other than down
17 A field where flowers grow to the size of small trees.  Watch out for the giant bees.
18 19 zombies perpetually headbutting floor.  Mostly oblivious.
19 Chute trap that empties into a higher location in the dungeon
20 portal that leaves the user behind but teleports their clothes and items to a specific location for a local greedy monster to collect at their leisure
21 +1 Dragon-Bane Throwing Axe (glows in the presence of dragons with the dragon's colour)
22 Aggressive door approaches you.  Desires to be opened.
23 horn of chickens: a large spiral goat's horn: if you blow into the horn (as a standard action) a chicken appears
24 Huge stone hand projecting from the ground. If somebody puts an item on the hand, it sinks into the ground, then reëmerges 1d6 days later with an enchantment on the item
25 Grandfather Plaque (Dragon Compendium p207) whom the local creatures revere as a god: cr7 offerings in treasure lie in a heap nearby
26 ancient Flesh To Stone'd princess on a bier
27 A locked chest containing nothing but its own key
28 hobnail. Pound into goblin's head to produce hobgoblin
29 magic circle which removes one subtype (such as [evil]) and adds the opposing subtype (such as [good])
30 Magic Coin (When targeted by the spell Detect Magic or similar effect, this coin detects as magical. That is its magical property.)
31 Amulet of anti-gravity (As soon as you put it on it (and only it) immediately falls upward off your neck)
32 Evil greataxe that hungers for souls. Whenever you kill someone with it it traps their soul and gains a +1 attack/damage bonus for 24 hours (max +5). After 24 hours, the soul is digested and you need wish/miracle/truerez to rez them.
33 A complex clockwork mechanism which close inspection reveals to be an altar to the god of machines. If you lay a construct or machine on the altar, then place at least ten pounds of metal into a receptacle, the altar begins complex apparatusing, taking 1d10 minutes to complete its work. Some of the metal is used to repair the construct, bringing it to full HP. The rest is used to upgrade or decorate the construct, with effects depending on the metal and the construct involved (e.g., cold iron grants the Cold Iron Tracery feat). The altar works 1/day
34 garment that always fits perfectly no matter who wears it but has no other magical properties
35 Ring of Friendship (if you wear one, you know there's another in the world. If you wear both, you know where both of them are)
36 special magic weapon or armor that has sockets for more than one augment crystal (Magic Item Compendium)
37 a splendiferous garment of gorgeous many-colored silk, visible only to people with INT or WIS scores higher than 16
38 It's a hose- You put one end on a magic item and the other end against another, and it swaps their effects.
39 tube that makes change between one kind of coin and another (e.g., put one platinum in, get 10 gold out)
40 Door that reverses the gravity for anybody who passes through it in either direction
41 nest of monster eggs
42 Staff of Rings (permanently sacrifice one finger and the ability to wear rings on your hands; can wear and benefit from up to 10 rings on the staff as long as you're holding it)
43 Machete "Untetherer" (+1 Undead-Bane short sword. If it hits any controlled undead, the controller must make a DC18 Will save or the undead is no longer controlled. If wielded by a character who can turn undead, the machete grants 1 extra turn attempt per day.)
44 you feel like you're being watched
45 wonderfully attractive many-colored garment turns invisible out of shame if anyone with a CHA of 14 or lower wears it
46 a Huge iron magical idol of the deity of secrets. those who are faithful to this deity can ask one question and receive a true yet cryptic answer, once in a lifetime
47 wand of identify that works fine, but any item it's used on turns permanently bright pink
48 divine scroll of Planar Ally, keyed to a specific deity -- DC20 UMD check to cast it to a different deity
49 Indestructible Ring (the ring is indestructable. it does not bestow this property on the wearer)
50 whispering plant -- an ancient king whispered an earth-shattering secret into a hole in the ground. From this hole grew a plant which has muttered the secret ever since
51 door that opens on someplace completely different in the dungeon
52 This area appears to be rather neat and tidy, almost as if somebody has been sweeping
53 Decanter of Endless Slaughter (as Decanter of Endless Water, but blood instead of water)
54 you thought the dungeon continued on here, but it's simply a clever painting on the wall
55 garment that automatically mends itself
56 Giant stone nose sniffs passersby.
57 A room full of corpses frozen in prayer position -- some have treasure, but one is a very patient wight
58 Tapestry depicts party members murdering one another horribly.
59 A plain mirror with a frame of pale ashwood. Whenever someone looks in the mirror, however, they perceive an elven face in place of their own.
60 perfectly healthy rosebush - plucked roses instantly wilt
61 unexplained sound of
62 Lair of a gynosphinx, who says "You've intruded upon my territory. But I will give you the choice of how you are to die: If the next words one of you speaks are true, I will simply maul you to death. If your words are false, I will activate the Symbol of Death hidden somewhere in this room". If they utter a sentence with no truth value (such as "you will activate the Symbol of Death"), she chortles and lets the PCs go
63 a gargantuan faintly glowing millstone, sacred to the deity of agriculture. the hole in the middle is Small; any individual who passes through the hole feels unusually vigorous and gains a +4 divine bonus on saving throws vs disease for the rest of their life
64 Bag of Holding Type III containing 1d4 Shadows for safekeeping
65 Cloak of Gray Tomorrow (1/day invisibility for up to an hour, but once you turn it off you're blind for exactly as long as you were invisible for)
66 A locked chest (DC25) containing nothing but its own key
67 Bag of Infinite Chalk
68 Small, bloodstained, ash-covered altar to the deity of anger. A burnt offering of a sapient creature (intelligence score of at least 3) grants everyone in the room the ability to rage as a level 1 barbarian 1/day (or increases their effective barbarian level by 1 for rage-related purposes if they already have the ability to rage) for a year and a day
69 Summoning circle, brimstone smell, dead wizard.
70 Bag of Infinite Muffins
71 monster, spread open and staked to wall, partially vivisected. Knows secrets.
72 Small altar to the deity of the sun, hallowed with a daylight effect. If a devoted worshipper of the deity or any creature with good dragon heritage touches the altar, they are immediately blessed with cure disease, remove curse, break enchantment, remove paralysis, neutralize poison, and lesser restoration. If a cleric of the deity casts atonement within radius of the altar, the altar pays the XP cost for the spell.
73 you have a good (or bad) feeling when you enter the room
74 Beheadad elves branded with fae rune for "boring"
75 Bag of Holding Type II containing a Noble Djinn who already gave two wishes to the bag's last owner (thus owing only one more to whomever next owns the bag)
76 a shrine to the pantheon, littered with gold and gem offerings. If the PCs present an offering, something good happens; if the PCs steal the offerings, something bad happens
77 door with a face of the deity of trickery with a knocker through their nose -- if you use the knocker, or knock with your hands, or cast Knock, or manifest Psionic Knock, or say "Knock, Knock", the door asks, "Who's there?" If you give it any knock-knock joke, even a terribly unfunny one, it lets you through. If  you fail to give it a knock-knock joke, it hits you with a ray of shimmering light (ranged touch +7 tohit, 5d6 untyped damage))
78 A sealed door which can only be unsealed by simultaneously casting Knock and manifesting Psionic Knock -- "Knock Twice To Enter" is written in Draconic and Gith on the door
79 Small altar to the deity of the sea. If seawater is poured on the altar, everyone in the room immediately feels refreshed, as if they had gotten a good night's sleep, and all movement speeds they already have are increased by 5 feet for 24 hours.
80 A small altar to the deity of nature. If at least a pound of fresh dirt is sprinkled on the altar, a small basket full of 1d100 random seeds (wild plants, bushes, and trees) appears. This works 1/day
81 A single random card from the Deck of Many Things

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Non-Human Animals in D&D 3.5e

This post is aimed primarily at a lay audience, and therefore I'll be defining a lot of terms that many of my readers will already be familiar with and take for granted.

In this post, I will default to the style of capitalizing in-game terms with defined meanings. This is most relevant example is the difference between animals (the normal scientific real-world definition of "members of the animal kingdom") and Animals (the D&D 3.5e definition of "members of the Animal Type").

--- Introduction

In Dungeons and Dragons, one rarely encounters actual living animals, except when a local cat elects to leap up on the table to play with the dice and miniatures. However, the game's treatment of fictional animals reflects our thoughts about real animals, and is thus worth contemplating.

--- Animals and Types

In D&D 3.5, all nouns are either Creatures, Objects, or Conditions. (There's some debate as to which category some things fall into and whether a thing can be both -- for example, it's not entirely clear whether a corpse is an Object or simply a Creature with the Dead condition. While it is clear that Intelligent Items are Creatures, it's not clear whether or not they are also Objects.) Note that the Creature/Object dichotomy is not the same as the Living/Nonliving dichotomy -- there are nonliving Creatures (such as zombies and golems), and there are living Objects (such as trees and bushes). A Creature is defined as anything with a Wisdom and Charisma score. A Condition is something that affects a Creature or Object, such as Paralysis or Disease.

Of the fifteen Types in D&D (Aberration, Animal, Construct, Dragon, Elemental, Fey, Giant, Humanoid, Magical Beast, Monstrous Humanoid, Ooze, Outsider, Plant, Undead, and Vermin), all real-world animals, past and present, are distributed between three: Animal, Humanoid, and Vermin.

The only real-world animals with the Humanoid Type are humans and neanderthals (Neanderthals are treated as somewhat of an afterthought in the D&D canon, mentioned only in one of many supplements, so I will mostly treat them as an afterthought as well). Other Humanoids include elves, orcs, dwarves (which are distinct from dwarfs), gnomes, halflings, and so on.

Vermin comprise, more or less, invertebrates. Most Vermin species are fictional, including such varieties as spiders, centipedes, and scorpions ranging from Tiny (the size of cats, just this side of realistic for some examples) to Colossal (the size of a smallish house). Vermin are often Mindless, which means they have no Intelligence score. More on that later.

The Animal type comprises, more or less, all real-world non-human animals, past or present. There are a few fictional species in the Animal type, mostly limited to the Dire Animal category (Dire Animals being creatures that are larger and stronger than their regular counterparts, but which still have the traits and features of Animals). From cats, dogs, and horses to apes, sharks, elephants, squids, and so on, the Animal type is what I will mostly be concentrating on today.

There are some animals that might not be considered Creatures at all. Tapeworms, for example, are not (to the best of my knowledge) given statistics or game effects anywhere in published materials, but if they were, I would lay at least even odds that it would be treated as a Disease (i.e., a Condition) and not a Creature.

The most salient trait of the Animal type is "Intelligence score of 1 or 2 (no Creature with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher can be an Animal)." (I could also run with "Alignment: Always Neutral", but that would make for a much more ethics-heavy post.)

--- Animals and Intelligence

In D&D 3.5, every creature has six Ability Scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. The most morally salient of these scores is Intelligence (and, to a lesser extent, Wisdom), so this is what I will be concentrating on.

"Intelligence determines how well your character learns and reasons." It also determines how many languages you know (a Creature with an Intelligence of 2 or lower knows no languages; most Creatures with an Intelligence of 12 or higher knows more than one language.)

"Wisdom describes a character’s willpower, common sense, perception, and intuition. While Intelligence represents one’s ability to analyze information, Wisdom represents being in tune with and aware of one’s surroundings. [...] If you want your character to have acute senses, put a high score in Wisdom. Every creature has a Wisdom score."

Humans have ability scores ranging in a bell curve from 3 (abysmal) to 18 (just this side of superhuman), with the mode, median, and and mean being 10. The most common method for generating ability scores for normal humans is to roll 3d6 -- which is to say, roll three 6-sided dice and add the results together. This approximates the given range and average. (Exceptional humans -- such as most player characters -- use other methods. Non-humans use the above method and then add Racial Modifiers to some Abilities and subract Racial Modifiers from others. For example, an elf adds 2 to their Dexterity but subtracts 2 from their Constitution, so an elf would have 5-20 Dexterity but 1-16 Constitution.) (Intelligence, being a range with a bell curve, can be mapped to IQ, but doing so is beyond the scope of this post.)

A Creature can have a Nonability in some score, which is usually indicated by "--" or "Ø". A Creature that cannot move, for example, has a nonability in Dexterity and Strength. A Creature that is not alive (such as a zombie) has no Constitution. A Creature that cannot think and is as an automaton has an Intelligence nonability. (Note that this is distinct from having 0 in an Ability. A Creature never naturally has 0 in an Ability, but it can have its Abilities reduced to 0 through Ability Damage or Ability Drain -- in which case it is paralyzed, unconscious, or dead, depending on the Ability affected.)

Which brings me back to "Intelligence score of 1 or 2 (no Creature with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher can be an Animal)." If an Animal should gain Intelligence of 3 or higher by any means (usually magic), it ceases to be an Animal (the rules are unclear on what it becomes, but many players hold the interpretation that it becomes a Magical Beast). Similarly, Vermin are usually Mindless (they techniacally can have Intelligence scores, and can even have Intelligence in excess of 2, but all published Vermin have a nonability in Intelligence), meaning they are no better than automatons.

This means two things with which I intend to take issue: First, that the most intelligent Animal is considered less intelligent than the least intelligent human; second, that the wide range of animal intellects is confined to the range of --, 1, and 2, whereas the (perhaps relatively narrow) range of human intellects is given the broader numerical range of 3-18.

Dogs, octopuses, corvids, parrots, monkeys and apes, elephants, dolphins, and rats are all widely considered very intelligent, capable of tool use, complex communication, and problem solving -- quite probably more intelligent than many very young or severely handicapped humans. And yet these creatures are all considered to have the absurdly low Intelligence score of 2.

Bees are hardly automatons, being capable of complex "dance" to communicate the precise location of desirable food sources. Other eusocial insects, such as ants, termites, and some wasps, are similarly gifted in organization. Some spiders are capable of weaving complex webs in unlikely places, or of lying in ambush. A defense of the "Vermin are Mindless" school of thought might be to observe that these behaviors are instinctual, preprogrammed into these animals by evolution, and not learned -- which is probably fair, and I don't know that I have a strong position on the subject one way or the other.

The numerical range of --, 1, and 2 is much narrower than the numerical range of 3-18. The game's focus is, naturally, on playable characters, so it makes sense that the range of human experience would be given finer degrees of distinction than the range of animal experience, but I would argue that the difference between the least intelligent human and the most intelligent human is less great than the difference in intellect between, say, a leech and an elephant.

The Wisdom of published animals, on the other hand, ranges from 8 to 17 (with an average of just over 13), so the general consensus at Wizards of the Coast appears to be that the average Animal is wiser than the average Human (though the wisest human is slightly wiser than the wisest Animal). This undoubtedly has something to do with Wisdom's connection to the senses -- many animals certainly have a variety of keener senses than humans do. It likely also reflects the perception that animals are more "in tune" with nature than most humans are (Wisdom is the primary ability score for Druids and Rangers, the two classes designed around being in tune with nature).

--- Animals as Trade Goods and Carrying Capacity

Animals also appear in the section Wealth and Money, under Trade Goods. In the same chart as "one pound of wheat", "one square yard of linen" and "one pound of platinum" are entries such as "one chicken", "one pig", and "one ox". This serves to emphasize the use of animals as objects, rather than subjects.

Similarly, it is possible to buy a mule to carry your loot. With a carrying capacity of up to 690 pounds and a cost of only 8 gold pieces (less than a pound of saffron or a flask of acid), mules are among the best methods to carry stuff around (until you start picking up extradimensional storage space like Bags of Holding and Portable Holes). This reflects their use for this purpose in the real world, but barely acknowledges their status as living beings, much less their status as beings of moral concern.

--- Animal Companions, Special Mounts, and Familiars

Some Classes gain a companion animal as a class feature. Druids and Rangers gain Animal Companions, Paladins gain Special Mounts, and Sorcerers and Wizards gain Familiars. These all begin as regular Animals but gain features as the character with which they are associated levels up.

Animal Companions are drawn from a list of Animals including wolves, owls, badgers, snakes, and so on, and never gain intelligence, though they gain strength in other ways.

Special Mounts begin as warhorses or warponies, but they are treated as Magical Beasts instead of Animals.

Familiars begin as animals such as bats, cats, owls, ravens, and weasels, but they become Magical Beasts when they become Familiars, and they gain, in addition to other abilities, Intelligence. This means that, at very high level, the Wizard's or Sorcerer's Familiar might wind up being among the most intelligent creatures in the party. And yet, despite being the most intelligent creature in the party, the Familiar still tends to be sidelined in favor of the main player characters.

--- Handle Animal and Wild Empathy

There are two main ways of interacting with Animals.

Most characters use the Handle Animal skill, which deals primarily with training animals to do Tricks (such as "Attack", "Heel", or "Track") and "pushing" them to do Tricks they don't know.

Druids and Rangers, on the other hand, can use their Wild Empathy class feature, which allows them to improve the disposition of Animals towards them, for example to make a Hostile Animal Friendly. This functions in the same way as the Diplomacy skill works on creatures with an Intelligence of 3 or higher.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

XP in Pathfinder

I'm on the record (more than once) as thinking that D&D 3.5e's experience system is "a work of sublime genius", and I stand by that. But I don't think that this carries over to Pathfinder.

You see, the main genius about experience is that it catches people up when they fall behind. 3.5e provides many ways to fall behind: death (and being resurrected by any means other than true resurrection), spending XP on crafting magic items, casting powerful spells with an XP component, being level drained, and the obvious missing a session.

But in Pathfinder, only one of those applies. They changed level drain so you just keep a permanent negative level instead of ever losing a level. They changed death so that it just gives you permanent negative levels instead of taking away a level. They changed crafting and spells so they cost more gold and never cost XP. The only one that applies is missing a session (and I'm lucky enough to be in a group where people hardly ever miss sessions, and if one person is going to miss a session, we don't play Pathfinder, though sometimes we'll play something else).

This is why, when called upon to run a Pathfinder game some time ago, I decided -- blasphemously! -- not to use the experience system at all. Which happened to be what the group was used to -- we'd just played through Rise of the Runelords without experience, leveling up only when the adventure path said we should, and it worked out fine.

How, then, do I determine when the players ought to level up? Well, I take as my baseline the line from 3.5e's Dungeon Master's Guide (page 41, Behind the Curtain: Experience Points sidebar) that experience "is based on the concept that 13.33 encounters of an EL equal to the player characters' level allow them to gain a level". So if I'm stripping out XP, I can just go straight back to that baseline. (I don't know what Pathfinder's experience guidelines are based on, especially because there's three different experience tracks to muddy the issue, is why I go back to 3.5.) To wit: players should level up once every 13.33 encounters.

Except I round up to 14, which more readily divides in two. It's become my habit to prepare 7 encounters at a time, which the party generally gets through in one or two sessions, leading them to level up once every 2 or 3 sessions. You can, of course, use a higher or lower number than 14 if you want your players to level up more or less frequently.

You can get fancy -- a particularly easy encounter counts as 1/2 an encounter, a particularly difficult encounter as two. You can choose to count encounters that the party bypasses entirely, or not count them, or count them as half. What matters is you pick an "every X encounters, the party levels up" and then mostly give them encounters appropriate to their level.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Leveling Up Without A Rest

So most tables I've played at use the house/variant rule that you can't level up in the middle of a dungeon; you only level up if you get a proper 8-hour rest. This is so common at tables I've played with that I don't think people realize it isn't the standard rule. And it just sort of makes intuitive sense, at least to me (perhaps because it's how I first learned to play).

But I've come to the position that there's not really any reason to use this rule after all.

Realism? Is it really so much more realistic to be suddenly better at whatever it is you're doing after an 8-hour rest than in the middle of doing it?

It's a holdover from the way some video games work? One can probably name as many video games where you level up immediately when you have enough XP (e.g. Angband) as games where you need to return to town to do so (e.g. Mordor/Demise). (And some, like City of Heroes, where you immediately get some benefits of leveling up but have to visit a trainer to get the rest of them.)

Confusion over whether you have your new hit points and prepared spells? That's easy enough to answer: yes, you immediately gain your new hit points. Your new spell slots can be filled if you take the requisite 15-minute downtime for filling empty slots if you're a prepared caster wizard; you immediately get your new spells per day if you're a spontaneous caster. (Your existing depleted HP and used spells aren't restored.)

Don't want to spend half the gaming session leveling up characters? Especially in the middle of a fight? That's fine, just hold off on delivering XP until the end of the session, and certainly never deliver XP in the middle of a fight. (I've still got some players who, in their own words, "can't be assed" to level up in the week between sessions, and spend the first few minutes of some sessions leveling up, but that's fine, I like to give plenty of time at the beginning of a session for players to settle down and settle in anyway.)

Further discussion can be found here.