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Archive for September, 2012

So I’ve mentioned  before that I’m not sold on the DnDNext’s Sorcerer, and that I was never really onboard with them in 3rd/4thedition. To me

Seoni - Pathfinder's iconic sorceress

Seoni – Pathfinder’s iconic sorceress

they’re simply a subclass or variant of the wizard. We need the wizard, yes, but not a sorcerer (or warlock for that mater, but that’s another conversation).

Having both a wizard and sorcerer as core classes, I think, makes spellcasters and magic too rigidly structured. Having core classes with near identical function (in play) opens up the game to too many rules and tweaks that can exploit balance and cause confusion for players during creation and the DM during play. I’d much rather approach the Sorcerer as a variant or subclass of the Wizard. I still want ways to tweak and optimize and create sorcerous flavor, but still stay true to the Wizard’s roots and core class rules.

So what could this look like in DnDNext?

As a homebrew – first I’d split up the actual sorcery, that is the spellcasting, with sorcerous/draconic origin. To me they are completely different things.

For DnDNext, sorcery could become a specialty, much like how necromancy in the beta works now, and it you wanted a spellcaster with a sorcerous mechanic (read – use cha for your spell prowess), you would choose that.

Sorcery as a Specialty in DnDNext could look like this:

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Magic is now part of your being; an untamed, wild power that surges and roils, constantly on the verge of breaking free. Your spells are not learned from books or granted by pacts or prayers. They come from within you…. (etc.)

Requirement – cast Wizardry spells

Level 1: Sorcerous Magic

The number of spells you can know decreases – At first level, you know two 1st-level spells. Each time you increase in level, you can learn one new spell. When you learn a new spell,  its level must be no higher than your maximum spell level. However, unlike a wizard, you know these spells innately, don’t require a spellbook, and don’t need to prepare them. Instead of using Int for your casting ability, you use Cha instead.

Casting a Spell: Instead of having spells per day, You must spend spell points to cast a sorcerer spell (other than a minor spell). A spell’s level determines the spell’s spell point cost. It costs 1 spell point to cast a 1st level spell, 2 spell points to cast a 2nd level spell, etc. If you don’t have enough spell points available, you cannot cast the spell. Spell points are determined by taking your normal wizards spells per day, halving them, and adding +1 (note: not sure how balanced this is – could use some other similar mechanism). You regain all of your expended willpower points at the end of a long rest. You cannot cast sorcerer spells while wearing armor.

Magical Attacks: When you make a magical attack using a sorcerer spell, you use your Charisma modifier for the attack roll, and add a bonus to that roll based on the Magic Attack column in the Wizard table. Saving Throw DCs: When a spell that you cast calls for a saving throw, the save DC equals 10 + your Charisma modifier. As you gain levels, the DC increases, as noted in the Wizard table.

Level 3

Sorcerous Power: Draconic Resistance

Depending on the source of your sorcerous powers, you gain a natural resistance against certain types of damage. Choose one of the following:

  • Acid
  • Lightning
  • Fire
  • Physical
  • etc

Requirement: You can use this power only as a reaction in response to taking damage. Effect: Before you take the damage, it is reduced by 10. The resistance lasts until the end of your next turn.

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The second thing would be to make Sorcerous Origin (and the playtest sample – Draconic Heritage) more of a racial ability. These powers would manifest when you chose Elf: Dragon Heritage, Dwarf: Dragon Heritage or Halfling: Dragon heritage (instead of the other sub-races that are available). Here’s an example of what that MIGHT look like, based on segregating out the existing draconic heritage abilities.

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Draconic heritage

Draconic heritage

Besides being a (Dwarf/elf/Halfling) somewhere in your ancestry, the blood of a dragon entered your lineage. Its effects do not manifest in every generation, and they do not always appear as full-fledged powers. But in you, the blood runs true.

Ability Adjustment – +1 to (str for dwarf, cha for elf and con for Halfling)

Dwarf Special ability: Dragon Strength – You channel the ancient strength of the dragon, causing you to deal heavy damage. Effect: The next time you hit a hostile creature with a melee attack during the next minute, that creature takes an extra 2d6 damage.

Elf Special ability: Draconic Physique: After you have spent 3 spell points, your hands become claw-like and your body grows more imposing. Until you complete a long rest, you gain a +2 bonus to the damage rolls of your melee attacks.

Halfling Special Ability: Draconic Toughness – just like the Hill Dwarf’s Dwarven Toughness ability

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Conceptually this just makes more sense to me. Sorcery becomes a discipline, something that can be learned, be nurtured.  Sorcerous origin becomes nature, something you are born with.

There are still a few big issues to this approach I haven’t reconciled yet

  • Sorcery still veers too far away from the core class of Wizard, and I want to look at simplifying their basic abilities even further, or at least making the mechanics as similar to Wizard as possible yet still keeping the “feel” of a sorcerer
  • My tweaking pushes Specialties into becoming a little too overbalancing/powerful – with specialties like this one, why would someone choose a specialty like healer or Survivor?
  • There’s no Draconic Heritage Human, because Humans don’t have sub-races (at least not yet, something else I’d change and may write about in a future post).
  • The above examples need to be further balanced (meant as examples, only)
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I was shocked this morning when I found out that Boware’s Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk both announced their retirement from game development. I’ve always romanticized the whole story around them being in medical school together in Edmonton before leaving the medical practice to pursue their true passion: games.

It’s an even better story since they then turned out such wonderful RPG franchises (Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect and Dragon Age) – they’ve always been, well, role models. Its painful to hear that now, when so many great RPGs are coming out (some based on games these guys brought so successfully to market) that they seem to have lost their passion for the genre.

From Ray: ” I’ve largely personally achieved what I wanted in videogames…”

From Greg: “I’ve reached an unexpected point in my life where I no longer have the passion that I once did for the company, for the games, and for the challenge of creation.”
Ray is apparently moving on to champion social impact investing, and Greg is moving on to… beer

The cynic in me wonders what EA has done to push these two out, but honestly I wish them and Bioware the best. I’ve been a loyal fan since the company was founded in 95 and will continue to be a loyal fan.

Most telling, I think, of how great these two were as leaders, and what a loss this is for the industry, is the twitter and blog commentary from Bioware employees:

“Love of games, respect for the players, teamwork and integrity – those are the hallmarks of a culture built by Ray and Greg. “ – Aaryn Flynn

“That was the most emotional meeting ever. Nearly cried like…8 times.”- Michael Gamble

“I will say I’m very excited to be a part of BioWare in the Montréal office and continue the legacy of quality that Ray & Greg helped set up.” – Manveer Heir

“Thank you, @doktorzee and @RayMuzyka for giving me the best opportunity of my life. We’ll make you proud.” -John Epler

“@DoktorZee @RayMuzyka Thank you. Thank you because I love my job, thanks to what you two have helped build. Thank you” – Chris Priestly

“No! Say it is not so! We will no longer fight evil together? Boo will miss you, . Forever shall we hang our heads in sadness in remembrance of our great butt-kicking friend” – Minsc
Thanks to both Ray and Greg for nearly 20 years of adventuring goodness.

 

 

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First Baldur’s Gate Enhanced edition coming to tablets, then Black Isle’s resurrection – now it’s Project Eternity by Obsidian Entertainment — Kickstarter – it’s the Return of the classic RPGs.

“Project Eternity (working title) pays homage to the great Infinity Engine games of years past: Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment.”Project Eternity (working title)

Sounds good – and Obsidian has the talent to pull off a decent tactical, mature, isometric rpg-style game, but a million seems like a tiny budget for the project (I’m sure its a fraction of what their games usually cost to develop) – maybe if they focused the money solely on the in-house content and not tech at all…I’m still looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

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There’s a lot of innovation happening in RPGs, but it doesn’t seem to be led by Wizards.

DnD was an innovation itself (of the miniature tactical war gaming scene), and in its lifetime TSR has come up with so many new concepts that have become mainstream, from the Underdark and Drow, to dungeon deathtraps like Tomb of Horrors, to DragonLance and Kender, to Ravenloft. Wizards has created also added quite a bit, from Dragon born, Tieflings and Aasimir, Sorcerers, etc.

But decades of innovation has made DnD very involved. This is a problem with 4th edition, where the rules are too overwhelming. Unlike early editions that were fairly easy to pick up the game is no longer intuitive for new players, and there are so many class skills and special abilities that play requires hours of rulebook thumbing and magic items have lost their sense of power and wonder. It’s also all so very, very polished, almost to the point of feeling like it has lost its soul (aka Diablo III).

Old vs new

Old vs New

That’s why I loved DnDnext – picking up the original playtest harkened back to the days when rules where simple (if unbalanced) – at least up until the latest class updates. Listening in on the online rounds of complaints (mine in included) with the addition of the sorcerer and warlock classes, already the game is seemingly veering away from that hardcore whitebox feel that us veterans were drawn to.

Can you imagine DnDNext without a sorcerer? Without Dragonborn? I can. I happen to agree with Mxyzplk; we don’t need a wizard and a sorcerer and a warlock in the core rules, and I was never really onboard when these were brought into the game originally. But a whole generation was, so somewhere out there I suppose there is a hardcore sorcerer fanbase that would be up in arms if the class wasn’t a primary choice in DnDNext, even though I’m still having a hard time seeing how the class is anything other than a mage with a slightly altered casting mechanic.

But this is Wizard’s crutch. Their goal can’t really be to innovate, it has to be sustaining the current system, which means being stuck trying to appeal to their giant, existing, grumpy fanbase, which includes a generation who somehow think the sorcerer belongs, and others like me who somehow expect them to re-systemize a multiple-decades long stream of rules additions. To innovate, they would need to somehow crib their market and fanbase.

I still have hope – At GenCon Mike Mearls spoke to making the rules modular, having it look more like a classic version of DnD, and focusing on simplified rules and stripping down the mechanics to make way for adventure, exploration, and storytelling.

And of course there’s also all this other innovation to keep us fanboys happy. Paizo is doing an amazing job of wowing their customers (they don’t seem afraid to put out material that appeals to only small segments of their customers). Open Design has spawned a whole new type of sponsorship and Kobold. Shockingly, despite the downed economy, other custom rulesets continue to show up in the online/non-print space and other Kickstarter RPG products that target niches keep popping up left and right (see Aleph, or Homicidal Transients, or The Dwarven Adventurers Project, or the Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map). In many ways, RPG design and innovation has never been as strong, diverse and as pervasive as it is today – even though retail appears to be dying.

So what am I trying to say? Not sure, exactly.

Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the Whitebox – maybe I’m mis-interpreting my youthful days when everything seemed sunnier, simpler, and cheaper.

Maybe I also want new rules that “play fast, that disdain minutiae, that are easy for the GM and players to mutate on the fly, and that punish character mistakes with sudden death.”

Maybe what I want is a true fork, with a revised simple Whitebox hardcore DnD, separate from the evolving editions (coke vs coke classic, maybe)? Would that free up Wizards enough to keep core profits yet have innovation? Maybe they need to spin-off another Paizo for DnDnext?

Maybe what I want is something totally different, like a completely online / electronic version of the game built from sharing advancement in technology and standardized MMO parts, or a diceless version that uses cards only.

Steve Jackson Games is relaunching Ogre (Designer’s Edition) on Kickstarter – maybe I want to see Wizards do a similar Kickstarter edition vamp with Whitebox.

Maybe I should just stop whining and tackle some of the above projects myself.

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I recently picked this up and not only enjoyed the read but thought this was a great idea. This is a well written comic that also includes typical tabletop module sections like character sheets for the main characters, a map and detail on the town in the story (Sandpoint), adventure hooks for DMs, and encounters.

There are several cover variants with the interior art by freelancer Andrew Huerta who somehow manages to keep the art within the Pathfinder style (every character is carrying multiple unnecessary trinkets and weapons) and keeps the action panels crisp.

It’s written by Jim Zub who is a great choice for this sort of endeavor – if you haven’t read Skull Kickers you should pick it up (I found SkullKickers to a bit shallow and overly bloody in places but it’s probably the funnest fantasy themed type comic of the past few years).

The story isn’t anything you haven’t experienced before in RPG/Fantasy (at least so far) but the characterization and dialogue is off to a good start with this first issue and there’s promise of more characters to come. We’re introduced primarily in the beginning to a trio: Valeros (fighter + overly indulgent), Seoni (Sorcerer + overly mysterious) and Merisiel (Rogue + overly chaotic). Others (like a dwarf ranger) I expect will help round out the party but enter into the story a little late to get to know this issue.

What I like best about the title, however, is how Paizo is innovating in this space with a new product type. This is a mashup of comic and tabletop module. It likely only appeals to a sub-niche of their customers but they seem willing to build products for those smaller segments. Kudos to both Paizo and Dynamite for taking this risk.

I’m looking forward to following this series. Pick it up yourself from Paizo here or see some of the art (like the page below) on Dynamite’s site here.

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