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Continuation of part 1 here, our best and worst of 2012 in RPG stuff. Enjoy and a have a happy New Year!

Computer Games

Best RPG Computer Game: The Walking Dead

Here we have IP done right. Using Telltale as a studio was a risk for the franchise in and of itself, and then they took several risks with the game (episodic releases, point and click, storytelling over-all-else) but managed to pull off a wonderful, poignant and emotional experience that shines brightly over all the other first person shooting crud that seems to dominate the market.

telltales-the-walking-dead-on-disc-december-4

Worst RPG Computer Game: The Game of Thrones RPG

Fantasy is finally cool again, but Martin’s books, and the terrific HBO series, deserve better than this mediocre effort. Shoddy gameplay, unpolished presentation, and meh graphics at best.

Biggest RPG Game Disappointment: Diablo III

On the one hand, Diablo III was a decent, fun to play action-RPG, but DRM and over-design drained the joy out of it, and even with a decade of polish it’s half the game Torchlight 2 is.

Honorable Mention: Knights of Pen&Paper

An indie turn-based retro style pixel-art RPG where you control the playing characters and the dungeon master in a simulation of a traditional pen and paper RPG.

Knights_of_pen_&_paper

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Best Fantasy Book: Throne of the Crescent Moon (Saladin Ahmed)

Detail, humor, and one thousand and one nights inspired – the book is simply great storytelling in that classic swashbuckling sense as you follow a charismatic thief that leads a revolt in a magical and political city.

Best Sci-fi Book: Pirate Cinema (Cory Doctorow)

Still not tired of brilliant, passionate kids taking on the oppressive system in a dystopian near future. Keep these coming, Doctorow.

cory_doctorow_pirate_cinema

Best debut: vN (Madeline Ashby)

Some love and hate from critics but this is a great first novel and a wonderfully dark story about a rogue artificial woman becoming dangerous.

Biggest Sci-Fi Loss: Ray Bradbury

We lost some great storytellers (Harry Harrison) and story makers (Neil Armstrong) but the passing of Ray Bradbury (Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked this Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451) is one of the year’s biggest blows. A muse for Steven Spielberg, Neil Gaiman, and Steven King, Ray’s storytelling gift has expanded minds for nearly a century now, and although he resisted the label of science fiction writer he is credited as the one most responsible for bringing sci-fi into the literary mainstream.

Stupidest Comic Book Death: Spider man #700.

In an obviously not-permanent brain mind meld switch the body of Spider Man is now housing Dr. Octopus, Peter Parker has died in Dr. Octopi’s body and fans everywhere sigh their collective sighs.

Amazing-e1356793834433

Best Sci-Fiction Becomes Reality: NASA’s Faster-Than-Light Warp Drive

What can be cooler than FTL made possible by donuts?

300px-Star_Trek_Warp_Field

Most Amazing Robot Monster: DARPA’s Running Cheetah

DARPA’s Maximum Mobility Program revved up their Cheetah Robot this year. The previous iteration ran at a speed of 18 mph, but the new version clocked upwards of 28.8 mph. Finally, what we’ve always needed – robots that can outrun humans.

Movies

Biggest Movie Winner: Decent Geek Movies

Great geek movies are everywhere nowadays. Go Avengers! Go Hobbit! Go Batman!

Biggest Movie Loser: Nostalgic Franchise Reboots

Promethius (Ugh), Dark Shadows (Huh?), Men in Black III (Really?) and Total Recall (Yawn)

Best CGI Character: The Hulk

Puny God. ‘Nuff said.

Most disappointing CGI Character: The Hobbit’s Goblin King

The very definition of CGI overacting.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Best CGI actor in a CGI Scene: The Hobbit’s Golum

The Riddle Me This interchange was perhaps the best CGI scene ever produced in film (don’t see it in 48p though)

Golum

Golum is basically amazing

Movie Weapon of the Year: Bows

Let’s get Hawkeye, Katniss and Merida together in a hunting super hero party. Really. With these guys.

Finally, Monster of the Year goes to: Giant Spiders

Not only have spiders been effective hunters for over 100 million years but new, undiscovered species keep propping up (like this one that builds web dopplegangers). This year giant spiders were sighted both in Germany and in Seattle under the Space Needle – hats off and a happy new year to our giant, hairy, eight legged brethren.

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So the latest DnDNext playtest is out, and it’s all about Magic Items – There are revamped versions of classic items and artifacts (vorpal sword, rod of lordly might, necklace of firebolts, etc) and the playtest has new magic item rules, and there is also a re-balancing of adventures to be more in-line with the latest round of rules.

Mearls talks about magic items and the design in the latest Legends and Lore. Key Objectives

  • Magic should not feel mundane or dull
  • Should be Interesting to discover
    Classic from the original Dungeon Masters Guide

Have to agree that the game’s progression has really killed the joy out of magic items. First came the floods of item supplements that created overwhelming item variety, and instilled a need for Monty Haul like games (is that term even used anymore)? As the variety grows, so to must the cannon that can support the variety, and over time magic items become commonplace.

The Second thing is the overabundance of super-hero like powers that have shifted to classes (especially 4th ed). When your class has a hundred cool magic like abilities available to it, magic items lose their luster.

The new playtest addresses the first, but not the second. Here are the main ideas:

  • The system no longer assumes that characters pick up items along the way (assuming every 5th level fighter has a +2 weapon, for example)
  • Unless you decide your campaign works otherwise, magic items are, by and large, so rare that no market exists for them (common scrolls and parchments may be acquired from special NPCs)
  • Attunement is now a mechanic that represents magic items and the wielder bonding, and needs to be used to activate some of a magic item’s potential
  • Secrets are now a mechanic (used for curses or special abilities that an item has that only come out in specific circumstances)
  • Players can wear items as it makes sense (you can wear more than one necklace, or a magic headband and a magic hat, but not two pairs of magic boots).

There are some great ideas in the new system. I like Secrets and the narrative implications of having attunement in the game. I also like the list of minor powers (although some are silly )- abilities like:

Tyrant: When the bearer contemplates or undertakes a benevolent act, the item grows icy cold. Clearly it was created for an evil purpose.

Blisssful: While in possession of the item, the bearer feels fortunate and optimistic about what the future holds. Butterflies and other harmless creatures might frolic in the item’s presence.

Attunement isn’t a new thing, it’s been used by Rolemaster, Runequest, Earthdawn, etc. I like the idea of attunement, but I’m not impressed with the attumenent mechanic, and believe it needs tuning. The way it works now:

  • You are limited to attuning three items (this seems arbitrary to me – and should be based on a stat or skill or class ability – thankfully there is an option to have this based on Charisma)
  • The attunement process requires you to grasp or wear the item and spend 10 minutes concentrating on it.
  • An item cannot be attuned to more than one creature at a time.
  • There is the idea of a Test of Wills for intelligent items to control attunement results

That’s it. For me, there are a few things that need changing:

  • The system seems designed to stop item swapping during a tactical situation – this seems like the wrong motivation – I’d be less concerned about this and more concerned about the objectives (making them interesting to discover)
  • Limiting attuning to three items seems arbitrary to me – and should be based on a stat or skill or class ability – thankfully there is an option to have this based on Charisma
  • There’s no concept of the past thief/rogues ability to use magic items/use device – I think this is a missed opportunity

Finally I’d make attunement a skill or ability (much like Rolemaster or other systems that have used it). The skill/ability would make attunement easier/harder by class, make it a faster or a slower process andiIncrease or decrease the chance of success. It would also allow for spectacular failure (total possession by a magic item, wand of wonder type crazy, that sort of thing)

I’ll be iterating on this while running my next couple of playtests

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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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