Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Four Mary Sue Races

The Drow. Drizzt Do'Urden. Synonymous with Mary Sue.

But "Mary Sue" isn't actually quite exactly what I'm talking about, despite the title of this post.

I want to throw in the word "edgelord", but that only has aspects of what I'm talking about.

But between "Mary Sue" and "edgelord", we're about 78% of the way there, so maybe you'll be able to figure out what I mean.

The four races are Drow, Tiefling, Dragonborn, and Warforged.

I suppose "edgelord" applies mostly to Drow and Tiefling. But all four are... if you want to play a character for whom their race is the primary focus, you play one of these? (Or maybe a Half-Orc or a Dwarf, I guess.)

Newbies and noobs like to play these races and tell inferior stories with them -- but that's not right, that comes off as much more judgemental than I'm actually inclined to be here.

(I'm talking as someone who's currently playing one Drow and one Warforged, and not long ago played a Tiefling, so I'm not actually inclined to be very judgey at all here. Although the Tiefling-ness of Dr. Blelyj was secondary, Keyla the Paladin of Bahamut keeps being annoyed and infuriated when people keep bringing up her Drow-ness, and Tanner's Knife is attempting to craft himself into a more perfect organic meatbag through Fleshwarper levels, so the race isn't the primary focus of any of these characters like it is for the kind of characters I'm almost-but-not-quite-criticizing.)

"Fan favorite" may be a word to throw around in this context, too.

The point I'm gradually angling towards is this: in 3.5, none of these races were Player's Handbook races. Two (Tiefling and Drow) were Monster Manual, two were other splatbooks. Two came saddled with level adjustment (unless you consult yet more splatbooks for Lesser Planetouched and I think there was some sort of Lesser Drow variant floating around at one point).

In Pathfinder, Dragonborn and Warforged were not available for non-SRD reasons, and Tiefling and Drow were eventually made slightly more playable by virtue of being a bit more race points rather than having LA.

In 4e, Dragonborn and Tiefling were Player's Handbook, Warforged and Drow were Monster Manual. (These choices bumped previous PHb classics like Gnomes to later PHbs -- somebody in development said "which is more central to D&D, Dragonborn/Tiefling or Gnome?" and was answered "Dragonborn/Tiefling".)

In 5e, three were Player's Handbook and the last (Warforged) was recently Unearthed Arcana'd. At long last you can play a Drizzt clone right out of the box without pulling from any books other than PHb.

The point I'm making is this: Over the course of 3.5 to 5e, the design philosophy has shifted. Put deprecatingly, we're shifting towards being more fanservicey; put less deprecatingly, we're shifting towards letting players play what they want without restriction.

(Or it could just be that nobody publishing 3.5 yet realized just how popular these four races would eventually become. Although Drizzt first appeared in 1988 -- early 2e -- so there should have been some clue there.)

I'm not really making any deep point here, just pointing in the general direction of a vague observation.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Loot as Balance Solution

So it's well-known (by me) that 3.5e's biggest flaw is balance between classes. (This flaw is slightly lessened but not really entirely fixed by Pathfinder.) Monks are crap, druids are boss. It is known.

In my opinion, the best way to fix this is to go well beyond standard wealth by level guidelines.

You can just spam extra gold and it'll ameliorate the problem, because a fighter is more improved by doubling his WBL than a druid is.

But there's an even better way, and that's to drop extra loot tailored to the party. Specifically, loot that the underperforming characters can use and characters performing adequately can't.

Is the party's monk underperforming? (Yes of course he is, don't be silly.) Give the next encounter a Monk's Belt and a Necklace of Natural Attacks.

Warlock? Chasuble of Fell Power (Magic Item Compendium). MIC has a lot of these items, tailored to specific classes in this way. Vest that gives the rogue more sneak attack, boots that give the scout more skirmish, etc.

Got a fighter that's getting outperformed by a warblade? Give a Holy/Unholy/Anarchic/Axiomatic weapon opposed to the warblade's alignment. Or the Crown of White Ravens and its brethren from Tome of Battle (this is useful to a warblade, so you'll need to encourage the warblade to give it up to the fighter), which serves as an introduction to ToB and might encourage the fighter to multiclass to an initiator class (which, unlike multiclassing into a spellcaster and being forever behind, is a favorable choice, because your initiator level is half your non-initiator-class levels plus your level in initiator classes, and which maneuvers/stances you can pick depends only on your initiator level, so a fighter 4/warblade 1 has an IL of 3 instead of 1 and can pick 2nd-level maneuvers right off the bat).

Even a wizard or an archivist can underperform through being played by an unsavvy player, so you can drop scrolls of better spells for them to copy into their spellbooks to subtly encourage their use. E.g., archivist wasting all his time healing? Drop him some divine scrolls of entangle and hold person and stuff. Alternately, and this works for pretty much any caster, drop a wand of something useful that's on the underperforming caster's class list.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rust Monster Ecology



So it's a long-known problem that rust monsters, which eat metal, are difficult to justify in an ecosystem containing, say, locks, iron doors, and so on.

Lore Sjöberg: Speaks With Monsters
Possible partial solution: rust monsters don't actually eat rusted metal; that's an assumption that in-character scholars make which is not entirely accurate. Instead, the rust monster's antennae deliver a catalyst that induces rapid oxidization (i.e., rusting), and the rust monster actually feeds on the energy released by this oxidization reaction. (Mumbo-jumbo about the catalyst is magical and that's why it can rust kinds of metals that normally don't rust.)

So if a door or a lock is already rusted all to heck, it's no good for the rust monster to feed on, unlike, say, combat-ready weapons and armor. (Allowing for metal objects in the dungeon to exist at a very specific level of rusted, not fresh enough for the rust monster to eat but not rusted enough to be inoperable.)

This in turn suggests the possibility of a related, perhaps more powerful species of monster, one that induces oxidization not in iron, but in carbon-based (i.e., flammable) materials. Which is to say, it sets you on fire and eats the resulting heat.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Some Math on Removed Iterative Attacks

Recently, a Pathfinder DM I play with instituted the Removing Iterative Attacks rule from Pathfinder Unchained. A player immediately objected on the basis of a perceived negative effect on critical hits. (I don't have a dog in this fight because I'm playing a sorcerer who won't get iteratives until level 12 and won't use them even then.) Let us now analyze its actual objective effect on critical hits (and fumbles), using the power of math!

(I'm not super-great at probability these days, as high school algebra was a long time ago, so feel free to correct my math.)

I don't know if we're using the "half minimum damage if you miss by 5 or less" rule, it didn't come up, and seems an unnecessary complication, but it shouldn't really affect critical hits or fumbles. We definitely don't seem to be using the part of the rules regarding natural attacks.

We're using a fumble rule where a natural 1 is a critical fumble threat, which you need to confirm like any critical threat: if the confirmation roll would hit, it's only a miss; if the confirmation roll would miss, it's a critical fumble.

In this setting, where critical hits and critical fumbles are precisely mirrors of one another, our first and most obvious conclusion will be that any effect the Removed Iterative Attacks rule has on critical hits, it will have pretty much the same effect on critical fumbles. (Human psychology is such that we will tend to want to avoid risk, so anything that reduces both critical hits and critical fumbles should ultimately be considered more desirable than something that increases both. But that's not math, that's psychology.)

Now, let us consider the variant's actual critical hit rule:
When you threaten a critical hit, roll to confirm at your full bonus and apply the effects of the critical hit to any one of your hits. If your original attack roll scored multiple hits and the critical confirmation roll also falls within your weapon’s critical threat range, you score two critical hits and can apply them to any two hits.
 Jeez, that actually makes the math way complicated. This will be harder than I thought.

Okay, so: under normal rules, you can potentially score up to n critical hits, where n is the number of attacks you make. Under the variant rule, you can potentially score up to 2 critical hits, if you are making at least two attacks. It's starting to not look good for the variant rule, at least in situations where you have more than 2 attacks.

---

Okay, to make it as simple as possible, let's imagine a situation where you're getting two iterative attacks (so you're a 6th-level fighter or the equivalent) and your opponent's AC stacks up against your total tohit such that you hit (or confirm) on an 11-20 on the die, and your weapon is a 20/x2 crit range. (Increased critical multiplier, such as  a scythe's 20/x4, won't have much effect on the numbers, though it makes critical hits more desirable; increased critical threat range, such as a rapier's 18-20/x2, may have significant effect on the numbers and will be scrutinized second.)

Under the regular rules, you have a 5% chance -- 1/20 -- per die roll to threaten a critical hit. On two dice, therefore, you have a 9.75% chance -- 39/400 -- to threaten at least one critical hit, and 1/400 -- 0.25% -- of threatening two. But since you only confirm 50% (10/20) of the threats, that's a 4.87% chance of confirming one critical hit and 0.12% chance of confirming two.

Under the removed iterative rules, you have a 5% chance -- 1/20 -- to threaten one critical hit. Of those 5% of rolls that will be critical threats, you will confirm 50% and confirm an additional critical hit on 5%. So that's a 2.5% chance of confirming one critical hit and a 0.25% chance of confirming two (the case where you roll a 20 and then roll a 20 to confirm -- 1/400).

So, in this situation, you're a bit better than half as likely to confirm one critical hit but twice as likely to confirm two.

---

Consider two attacks (as a 6th-level fighter or equivalent) with a rapier, with its 18-20/x2 crit range.

Under the regular rules, you now have an impressive 27.75% -- 111/400 -- chance of threatening at least one critical hit (getting at least an 18 on at least one die), and a 2.25% -- 9/400 -- chance of threatening two (getting at least an 18 on two dice). Again, halved for the 50% chance of confirming the critical hit, that's 13.87% chance of one confirmed critical hit and 1.12% chance of two.

Under the removed iterative rules, you have a 15% chance -- 3/20 -- of threatening one critical hit. This has a 50% chance of confirming (7.5% chance of one confirmed critical hit), and a 15% chance of confirming a second critical hit (2.25% chance of two confirmed critical hits).

Again, you've got a bit better than half the chance of one confirmed critical, and twice the chance of two confirmed criticals.

---

Now a harder one: a 16th-level fighter (or equivalent) getting 4 iteratives with a 20/x2 weapon.

I don't know that I understand probability enough to do this, but... there are 130321/160000 ways to not get any 20s on a die roll of 4d20. That's an 81.45% chance of no critical threats, meaning an 18.55% chance of at least one. If one of your dice is a 20, there's 6859/8000 -- 85.73% -- ways for the other three to turn up no 20s, so of the 18.55% of the time you get one critical threat, 14.26% of the time you'll get a second -- so 2.64% of total rolls, you'll get at least 2 critical threats. Of those times, there are 361/400 -- 90.25% -- ways to not have any 20s, so 9.75% of the times you get two 20s, you'll get a third -- 0.26% of the time you'll get 3 20s. And there are of course 19/20 -- 95% -- ways for the remaining die to not be 20, 5% chance of 20, for a total of 0.0129% chance for 4 20s. And then halve all the numbers for the 50% chance of not confirming.

The math is the same as the first example for the variant rule, because you can only get at most two critical hits. 2.5% chance of confirming one critical hit, 0.25% chance of confirming two, 0% chance of more than two.

  • Chance of one confirmed critical hit: 9.27% vs 2.5%
  • Chance of two confirmed critical hits: 1.32% vs 0.25%
  • Chance of three confirmed critical hits: 0.13% vs 0%
  • Chance of four confirmed critical hits: negligible vs 0%
Now the player who objected is right, it's looking much more in favor of the old way.

---

However, as mentioned above, everything that applies to critical hits also applies to critical fumbles.

---

An additional concern: consider how you do damage for a critical hit. Some DMs want you to roll once and multiply, other DMs want you to roll multiple times. Rolling once sucks because you could get a 1 (woo, my critical hit did 2 damage!) or you could get max (woo, pretty much instant kill!) -- it's way too swingy. Rolling multiple dice gives you a nice bell curve, and bell curves are always more pleasant than straight lines.

The same applies here: if you roll a 20 under the removed iteratives rule, you've hit four times; if you roll a 1, you've missed four times. If you're using the base rules, you're much more likely to hit some of the time and miss some of the time, which is much better.

---

So for that last reason, not the critical hit/fumble reason, I ultimately side with using the base rule instead of the variant rule.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ettin Genders

Have you ever encountered or used an ettin that was anything other than two male heads and an implicit penis (or two)? I don't think I have (I don't think I've ever actually encountered or used an ettin at all, though I once used an ubue, which is a giant with three heads, three arms, and three legs -- this one was basically the Three Stooges sharing a body).



But never let it be said that I passed up an opportunity to slip some genderfuckery into my setting, as I have decided that in this setting, ettins (of which there are probably rather fewer than a hundred in the world, so this may never actually come up) can have differing genders between the two heads, either of which can be the same or different from their genitalia (of which they have one set per ettin, Lore Sjöberg notwithstanding). Which of course leads to eight different possible combinations (though if you count "male right head, female left head" as the same as "female right head, male left head", then it's only six).

  • male left head, male right head, donger
  • male left head, male right head, verguba
  • male left head, female right head, donger
  • male left head, female right head, verguba
  • female left head, male right head, donger
  • female left head, male right head, verguba
  • female left head, female right head, donger
  • female left head, female right head, verguba

Naturally, any given ettin is willing to bang whatever (even more than the usual "90% of NPCs in Gus are bi"), because trying to navigate the murky waters of only being attracted to some set of specific combinations would be far too difficult for the feeble ettin brain to handle and would probably result in the extinction of the ettin race.

But I suppose we must now think of mammaries, as ettins seem to be mammals. Simplest solution: no ettins have enlarged mammaries like humans do (leading to the assumption among adventurers that all ettins encountered are male), but all ettins are capable of giving milk (or else the half of ettins with female genitalia can give milk). Less simple solution: each ettin either has or does not have breasts, regardless of other characteristics, doubling the number of combinations. Least simple solution: each ettin has zero, one, or two enlarged breasts, quadrupling the number of combinations. I think I'm going to go with the simplest solution.

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.

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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.

EDIT
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.
/EDIT

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.

Summary
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.

Barbarian
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.

Druid
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).

Fighter
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.

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

Knight
Add Knowledge(history) to class skills.

Marshal
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.

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

Paladin
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.

EDIT 7/26/2017: Player picks either Charisma or Wisdom. Spellcasting and all defaultly Charisma-based abilities all key off whichever they pick. Make the paladin slightly less MAD.

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

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

Sorcerer
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.)

Soulborn
Smite Opposition per encounter rather than per day.

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

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

Wizard
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.