Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Eternal Darkness of Eberron, Part 2

Recently, the big talk in D&D Next land has been about Save or Die effects.  I could go on about my feelings on Save or Die, but I thought I would use this as an opportunity to talk about character death.  It's a thing that comes up and different people have different reactions.

Some people consider character death a part of the maturation process.  How often does one hear the old line, "I don't even name my characters until 3rd level."  On the other hand, sometimes death is just an obstacle.  The proliferation of Raise Dead and its ilk in 3rd Edition and 4E is a good example.  Also take a look at every D&D computer game ever made.  I can remember raising dead party members in the caverns underneath the Temple of Darkmoon (Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon).  You know, because in situ resurrections are a thing that happens in the Forgotten Realms.

There is a third group, people who see death as... well, death.  Characters die.  It is a tragedy that sometimes comes up in a story.  In my first 4E campaign, I had created a Tiefling Warlord in a campaign based on the fall of Bael Turath.  Gaius Valerius Oresteus, only son of pure-blooded Senator Marcus Valerius and his treacherous Tiefling wife, Gaia Valeria Tyrania.  When he unceremoniously died in a battle with a sub-boss, I talked to the DM about bringing him back a little different.  "We can rebuild him. We have the technology."  From that, Gaius Valerius Mechanus, Warforged Warlord was born.  A few sessions after his death, Gaius returned as a mechanical man.  His "soul" intact but now shaken, he had to cope with the idea of being less than man.  Thus, death was an opportunity to try something new.

Yesterday, I posted a character card for my Eberron character, Harlan Lagrasse.  Many adventures later, Harlan faced a group of monstrous warriors, remnants of an Emerald Claw invasion of northern Breland.  During the battle, most of the party was grievously wounded.  The party's leader, a dwarven leader named Borik Mroranon, was killed.  Harlan hovered at death's door.  Seeing this as a similar opportunity, I talked to the DM and decided that those brief moments while Harlan lay dying, something happened.  His soul found its way to a strange and uncomfortable place where he was offered a somewhat sinister deal.  From that, I created the new image of Harlan Lagrasse.

Harlan Lagrasse, now very much less than Human.
A Level 7 character all fits on one 5.5 x 8.5 card.
Harlan came back a little bit less than human.  Yet, he had discovered how to better wield the power of the Elder Gods in order to combat the coming invasion from Xoriat.  Seeing his near death as the ultimate failure, he decided that he must do what was necessary to combat the coming tide of darkness.
So, character death sometimes creates an interesting opportunity to change things up, assuming your DM is comfortable with those choices.  Granted, sometimes it is just death.  Borik Mroranon came back from death once but, dying a second time, did not come back again.  Of course, that player could very well have chosen any number of peculiar options (for example, Borik had previously been inflicted with vampirism while helping King Kaius III cure himself of the disease).  But, maybe that will come up in the future...

As an aside, I posted the character card here more as a proof of concept.  I had been asked if a higher level character would readily fit on a character card.  Granted, it starts to get tight (especially for difficult classes like the Wizard).  However, it is completely doable.  I have actually started thinking that the 8.5" x 5.5" character card is my favorite presentation of a D&D character I have seen yet.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Eternal Darkness of Eberron

About a year ago, I was asked by a friend if I would be interested in joining his Eberron campaign.  I had played in an Eberron game before and I thought it was a great setting in which to play D&D.  It had a little bit of everything you could want: intrigue, mystery, noir, and many shades of gray.  I jumped at the chance.  Besides, the Heroes of Shadow book had just been released and I felt that the Star Pact Binder, a class that controls and manipulates Lovecraftian powers to his own advantage, would fit in rather well.

I read up a bit on Eberron and where the "Far Realm" fit into it.  I learned about Xoriat, the mysterious realm that had been sealed generations ago.  Sealed.  Yet, nothing in Lovecraftian horror is ever really sealed.  Using the old Nintendo Gamecube game Eternal Darkness as a model, I began crafting a character who inadvertently found himself in the midst of a Xoriat resurgence.

Not having read enough about Eberron, I felt that artifacts from Xen'drik, the continent of mystery, would be a great way to introduce a sort of Ancient One subplot into the game.  This new character, a professor at Morgrave University in Sharn, came across a crate full of curiosities from the dark continent.  Among those artifacts, he found the Tome.  The Tome opened his mind to a world of madness that lay just beyond the reach of mortal men.  This young professor, realizing that everything he knew did not matter anymore in the face of such horrors, chose to use that very power as a tool.  Using the powers of madness, he would save Eberron from the Eternal Darkness.  I present to you Harlan Lagrasse, Professor of Morgrave University and Binder of the Madness.

The Mad Professor from Morgrave University
With great power comes ... great madness?
The character presented here is actually a little different than the one I first entered the world of Eberron with.  Originally, I had given him the Multiclass Bard feat that gave him Ritual Casting.  We thought it would be interesting to have him conducting rituals and whatnot.  That didn't last long.  By the time I got to replacing the feat, though, Heroes of the Feywild had been released.  "Master of Stories" seemed like a great feat to add to the character.  So, I retrained it.  The version presented here includes the Master of Stories feat instead.
Of course, a few other things changed as I played the character.  Originally, I had chosen one of the Eldritch Blasts as his bonus at-will power.  Later, realizing that Harlan Lagrasse had no effective melee attacks, I swapped it out for the Sorcerer King warlock attack power, Hand of Blight.

A few notes I should include.  Although my Eberron game does not run with Inherent Bonuses, this character was constructed *with* Inherent Bonuses.  Furthermore, I use the Master of Stories feat as it was written in Heroes of the Feywild, pre-eratta.  I have always felt that the multi-class feats that grant healing abilities should be once per encounter; it has always frustrated me that they tend to be once per day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Lost Hydromancer of Neverwinter

I play in a number of D&D games.  I currently act as a player in two games while serving as Dungeon Master in two other games.  The two games I run as DM are actually interconnected: one game follows the story of a group of ne'er-do-wells in Neverwinter (or, perhaps, Ne'erwinter?) while the other game involves a sort of mercenary company operating out of Waterdeep, the Waterdeep Adventurer's Guild.  I will admit that I have big plans, including at least one absurd cross-over episode.  I have never had the opportunity to have two groups play off of each other and, as it goes, this has been working out reasonably well.

The Neverwinter group recently completed their first big "adventure," the Lost Crown of Neverwinter, written by Erik Scott de Bie.  As a D&D Encounters DM, I have access to all of this pre-generated content.  One of the characters written into the adventure was a genasi hydromancer: Len-Jes, Minister of Trade.  The party first meets Len-Jes at the Beached Leviathan, where she keeps her residence.  Although their involvement with her was minimal, she was an interesting enough character to keep around.  I must really thank Erik for filling that Encounters season with a number of characters that have the opportunity to really stand out in the story.

After the Encounters adventure concluded, the party had another opportunity to meet Len-Jes at a formal party thrown in their honor (for the Heroes of Neverwinter!).  An invasion by undead monsters quickly erupted and the group ran off to find the source.  Due to some schedule conflicts, the fellow playing the party's wizard (a swamp Dryad trained in the art of necromancy who had developed a flirtatious relationship with Len-Jes) would not be available for a few months.  I decided it would be an interesting opportunity to get a friend who had been really interested in playing a chance to play for a few sessions.  To that end, I decided to craft Len-Jes as a player character:

Len-Jes, Master of Trade of Neverwinter.
Wizards have busy character cards.
Now, when Lost Crown of Neverwinter came out, I read the description of Len-Jes and assumed that "hydromancer" was something that would come out in time, much like the pyromancer had via Dragon articles.  I never worried much about it.  Maybe it would be in Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, I figured.  Nearly a year later, with no hydromancer in sight, I found myself somewhat befuddled as I tried to create a hydromancer that fit with what had already been established.

I worked with a friend to try and determine what would best fit as "hydromancer."  The elementalist was a bit too limited in scope; I wanted something with more than just two attacks.  In addition, I was bound by the character being a watersoul genasi.  Len-Jes was an established character in the campaign and I would not feel right having her accidentally become a Deva or something similar.  This meant that I would likely have to use an Intelligence based class to build this character effectively.  Unfortunately, although wizard powers were chalk-full of fire powers, water (or, rather, cold) powers were somewhat less developed.

Eventually, I tweaked around with various builds of the Wizard (mage) and Wizard (arcanist).  Strangely enough, there were some interesting discrepancies between power selection which I found strange; certain things just did not appear on both classes.  I also had never noticed that the Mage had a more versatile spellbook than the Arcanist (as the Mage can trade out Encounter powers as well as Daily and Utility powers).  So, the Len-Jes presented here is an Arcanist, although she does have the benefit of the Blackstaff Apprentice theme (for those wondering why she has too many At-Will powers).  It was a bit of a toss-up but I felt like Arcanist just fit a bit better.

So, I present to you Len-Jes, the third level genasi hydromancer and Master of Trade of Neverwinter.  This character is not necessarily an Encounters friendly character (as she is level 3), but is ready for whatever level 3 adventures you have available for her.  Due to the limitations of the character card format, she has lost the versatility of her spellbook.  She was also made using the "Inherent Bonuses" option, as I would prefer to play no other way.  However, she is a convenient, pre-made level 3 character ready for whatever dungeon nonsense awaits her.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

D&D: The Clone Wars (Part 6.5)

So, after thinking about it, I decided it would be appropriate to post the alternate version of C-3PO.  In this case, it is the "alternative" of leaving his melee basic attack off of the power list.  In this way, he technically has no attack power whatsoever.  Instead, all he has are directive powers, support powers, and utility powers.
Not a single attack power...
Some Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition purists may be upset by this but I will just consider this one of those times that I exercise designer discretion.  Of course, I am leaving the original up as well but I wanted to provide this for people who wanted something that felt very much like C-3PO (insomuch that C-3PO never attacks anybody).

Of course, this raises interesting questions about what to do with Jar Jar Binks...

D&D: The Clone Wars (Part 6)

Having made a few Jedi and a few Clone Troopers, I realized that I had been missing a few of the more iconic characters from the Star Wars universe.  Not wanting to leave anybody out, I started thinking about who else I could make and fit within the 4E mechanics.  Taking a tip from one of my players, I started thinking about the droids and how they would fit.

I had already decided that droids in this Star Wars universe would be best captured by using undead.  Necrotic damage would be some sort of toxic gas, something that would naturally not affect a droid.  Radiant damage would be something like an ion blaster, making undead vulnerability to it make sense.  From that, I realized that any droid character I would make would have to have those characteristics.  Luckily, this became easy to accomplish through the simple use of a feat.

I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations.
I only put an attack on their for AoO purposes...
First to come from this crazy bit of thinking was the iconic Star Wars character C-3PO.  I used the model proposed by a good friend: the Ultimate Lazy Warlord.  C-3PO has no attack abilities (other than his basic melee attack, which I considered leaving off).  All of his abilities either direct allies to attack, heal allies, or otherwise provide support.  Let me restate that: C-3PO has no attack abilities.

It is an interesting thing building a Warlord who does not need Strength.  All of the Character Builder recommendations kind of go out the window when you decide to go down this route.  However, it ends up working surprisingly well.  C-3PO spends most of his turns flailing about, crying out for help or giving his allies support.  This is a character for a very particular kind of player, I imagine, but I like it because it is another one of these builds that goes directly against the character model provided.

One thing worth mentioning, though.  His daily power (Point Out Its Weakness) is a bit peculiar because it gives an ally the opportunity to make an attack.  Unfortunately, that player will have to determine what bonuses apply in figuring that out.  I suspect that using the bonuses for the appropriate at-will weapon attack (ranged or melee) is probably a reasonable way to figure it out.

Edit:  As a follow-up, I posted the backside of the character card without the attack power for those who want a more ... realistic C-3PO.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

D&D: The Clone Wars (Part 5)

For those of you may have thought that I had been slacking on Star Wars character cards... You are right. I have been.  However, I went back into the Jedi foundry to see what I could dig up.  This time, I decided I needed a defender in the mix since I had not made one yet for my Star Wars: Clone Wars set of characters.  I was not fond of repeating myself using the Swordmage since lightning powers do not really feel right and I did not have the patience to navigate the other Swordmage powers.  Instead, I tried something different.

Ki-Adi-Mundi is a strange choice, I admit.  He looks kind of funny and he does not get a lot of screen time in any Star Wars.  He does have the dignity of being one of the few Jedi to present a relatively stalwart front against his clones when Order 66 is issued.  He also was in charge of the most ridiculous group of clones I have seen to date in the Clone Wars series (flamethrower troops!).  Somehow, I felt he needed representation.

Ki-Adi-Mundi.  That guy with the funny head.
Ki-Adi-Mundi, sporting Jedi forms and a Guardian aura!
I wanted to make an Essentials defender for some time.  From my experience, they appear simple yet they have a lot of interesting options.  Throw up an aura, defend your friends, but get bonuses with your basic attack (that you can use against enemies in your aura).  The jury is still out as to whether they are necessarily overpowered or not.

My experience is that they are good at what they are supposed to do.  They draw attacks away from allies and towards them.  They do not have fidgety elements like the Warden or Swordmage.  They capture what the Fighter should probably have done from the first day of 4E and did it in a way that was easy to explain.

I still work on making other types of defenders.  I still have trouble with the classic Fighter, but I hope I can get there soon.  Until then, Ki-Adi-Mundi can provide the defending you need in your Star Wars D&D campaign.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Design Thoughts: Beyond Good and Evil

It's a good tonic, altruism.  Nothing
helps one put problems in perspective
like allegiance to a higher cause.
First, I would like to preface this by saying this does not intend to be nearly as big-headed as the title may suggest.  It is not my intent to rewrite the works of Friedrich Nietzsche or even discuss them.  This is centered completely on the place of good and evil within the context of Dungeons & Dragons.  It comes up a lot in the discussions of the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons and also in a lot of classic D&D debates.

It has been made public that the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons will see a return to the nine-point alignment system.  Most importantly, the spectrum of good and evil first introduced in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977) would see a return.  This has left me somewhat frustrated, mostly because I have never been able to rationalize how an objective conceptualization of good and evil could ever fit into the framework of a fantasy world like Dungeons & Dragons.

Who else would kick a man for
eating ice cream?
I want to focus this on the place of the gods within the construction of objective good and evil.  There are many gods within any D&D pantheon that are labeled as some sort of Good.  In fact, most settings have a host of good gods, whether they be Lawful Good, Neutral Good, or Chaotic Good.  Yet every good god has some different folio, some different set of goals and interests.  When people talk about what it means to be good within the setting, I cannot help but wonder where that definition is supposed to come from.  Normally, I would expect the gods to aid in the definition of good and evil, but D&D deities have taught me to think otherwise.

At the end of the day, it is quite easy to end up with two gods of good conflicting over some major issue.  So often, it seems that two definitionally good gods disagree over some sort of major issue with ethical ramifications.  My question, then, is: Which choice is the good?  Which good god do I follow to assure that I am following the good choice?  If I support Tyr's pursuit of justice, am I acting in conflict with Ilmater's pursuit of mercy?  Is there no "good" option, or does that fall under a different god's folio?  How do I know, as a character in the fantasy world, what good really is?
I think I'm starting to sound more like
Moriarty than Sherlock Holmes.

I do not want to sound like the guy that is trying to shut down on everybody's notion of good in the fantasy world.  I feel like objective good has a place within a monotheism if the one god is a god of good.  But when gods have folios composed of arts, crafts, or abstract ideas like vengeance and strategy, it is difficult to see where good falls.  Honestly, it is the same issue I have when popular video games try to integrate notions of good and evil into the narrative.  Sometimes, I do something that seems pretty good and I get an evil point.  Or, in the reverse, I do something that feels pretty evil but get good credit for it.  Very rarely do these games go out of their way to tell you what is meant by good.  It is only by guessing can you intuit what the scenario developer really meant when he or she used the word "good" within the game.

(Note:  All of the images on this post were taken from the Batman Alignment Chart)