Thursday, May 28, 2009

Second preview of Hybrid Multiclass rules is out!

Short review: This is going to work...

The Hybrid multiclass system, to be released in next year's Player's Handbook 3, is probably the most ambitious addition to 4E rules to date. A while ago, we saw an early playtest of the rules, which was very, very promising, even if it had a few significant glitches. Yesterday, a second iteration was released, addressing most concerns. These are the most important improvements:

  • Classes from PHB2 have been added, so every currently released class is now supported.
  • Hybrid class stats now have fractional hit points, so that hybrid characters no longer have lower total HP than normal. This was more of an annoyance than a real balance issue, but it's good to see it fixed, nevertheless.
  • The Hybrid Talent feat, arguably the most broken item in the previous version, has been overhauled. Rather than granting access to any class feature (a pretty nebulous concept, to start with), Hybrid Talent now allows to choose from a list of features specified in each hybrid class description. The strongest, more synergistic of these features are only available in weaker hybrid versions, to prevent obsoleting single-class characters. Still, some very powerful, maybe broken options remain, such as the Avenger's Armor of Faith, and Fighter Weapon Talents.
  • Armor proficiencies, another weak point of the early rules, can now be picked as a Hybrid Talent option. This is a huge cost, but definitely worth it for hybrid defenders, at least until their level is high enough to have spare feats for both conventional armor proficiency and a different Hybrid Talent.
  • Paragon Hybrid multiclass is a new option replacing the character's Paragon Path. Basically, this allows to get a second Hybrid Talent and new powers from either of their classes.
My overall evaluation is very, very positive. This material is good enough to be published as is, and it can still get even better before reaching print. If you have a subscription to DDI, be sure to try it out in a couple of weeks, when they release it for Character Builder. And, if you are not a subscriber but are intrigued by the idea, this is the kind of stuff that could actually be worth paying 10+ bucks to get a year early. It's that good.

Read More......

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eberron Self-Forged

Today's preview from Eberron Player's Guide features the Self-Forged, an artificer paragon path. It's about trying to become a Warforged by cutting pieces of yourself and replacing them with mechanic stuff. Thing is, the illustration (pretty cool, by the way) reminded me of something...
Just wait until you see his Warforged little brother...

So, anybody wants to build a Fullmetal Artificer? Read More......

Friday, May 22, 2009

Official change in Solo monster design

I just read today's DDI article about Demogorgon , and found something very interesting regarding Solo monsters:

"you might reconfigure Orcus closer to the newer solo monster design tenets: give him 20% fewer hit points, -2 defenses, but also increase his damage output by 50% when bloodied."

Since I still don't own a copy of Monster Manual 2, I didn't know about this change in design philosophy. I like the idea, and I'll apply this template on my next Solo encounter, as it should speed up things quite a bit. After all, fights with Solos do have some tendency to last a bit too much, and sometimes become monotonous. Read More......

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Player's Handbook 3 out on July, 2009?

Lots of news today, not all positive, but definitely surprising. First of all, Player's Handbook 3 will be available to play as early as next July. The catch? It will be only for subscribers of D&D Insider, which will see a very convenient price rise (up to $72 for a one-year subscription, from the current $60) that very month. The announcement promises "Complete sections of final, playable material", to be released each month until March, 2010. More importantly, this content will be included in both Character Builder and Compendium, which have become essential in my games. As if to prove that they really mean it, they are also showing the gorgeous cover for PHB3:

What does all of this mean for DDI? Here are my conclusions, including a few reasonable guesses.
  • WoTC thinks DDI is mature enough to start charging full price. Either that, or they can't afford the current subscription fees.
  • An ideal scenario would have the price increase concide with the next software release, recently announced to be a set of *Campaign Tools (since the virtual gaming table is indefinitely postponed). This will probably not be ready for July.
  • They need a new, major feature for DDI to justify the raise, and it MUST come out on July. Since a software release is too risky or unfeasible, this means gaming material. A new Player's Handbook is as major as it gets.
  • Nevertheless, I'd bet that the Campaign Tools, or a subset of them, will be finished sometime this summer. Fans won't be as forgiving for delays, with the new prices.

In addition, we now know the following tidbits about PHB3:
  • Cover art will be the best of any 4E book to date, by far.
  • Power sources will be psionic, divine, and primal. I was expecting another brand new power source in addition to psionic, like Shadow or Elemental. They have to reserve something original for PHB 4 and 5, I guess. It's not difficult to imagine a psionic class for every role (including monk), but I didn think there was so much design space left for Divine and Primal classes.
  • Races will include minotaurs, Gith-something and Gith-the-other, and the previewed Wilden.
  • Before the book comes out, we will have seen 102 of its pages, which should be a bit less than half the total. This averages a dozen pages each month. As a reference, the monk preview from this month is 11 pages and includes half the class. I'm almost certain that the chapter dedicated to hybrid classes will be among the first shown. There's room for 5-6 half classes, or maybe 3 full classes divided in a couple of months each, plus a feats issue and probably another one dedicated to races.
So, what do you think? Is this an improvised cover for their software blunders? I may be too soft on WoTC, but I love the idea, even if I would be willing to pay the increased price just for the current service.
Read More......

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A bunch of feats for the Monk playtest

The playtest article for the Player's Handbook 3 Monk class came out this week, and it's as good as you could expect. I'll post a detailed review soon (the short review is: I love it, but find it slightly weak) for those who haven't read it yet. Today's article, however, is for those who have.

The Monk Playtest, like all previous playtests, has the frustrating limitation of lacking feats. I guess you can call it an improvement, though, as it features a brand new feat, which happens to be a mix of Weapon and Implement Expertise. Since that's hardly enough for me, I've made a bunch of my own, which you can see below. Most of them are basic, almost obvious ideas that I wouldn't be surprised to find in PHB 3. A few (like Unarmored Mobility) include mechanics that I'd like to see in the base class. Enjoy!

Monastic training (Monk Multiclass)
Requisites: Dex 13, Wis 13
Benefit: You gain training in one skill from the monk's class skill list.
Choose one monastic tradition. Once per encounter, you can use the flurry of blows power associated with that tradition as an encounter power.
In addition, you gain the Unarmed Combatant class feature.

Monastic defense (Monk Multiclass)
Requisites: Dex 13
Benefit: You gain training in one skill from the monk's class skill list.
You gain the Unarmored Defense class feature.

Unarmored mobility
Requisites: Monk, Unarmored Defense class feature
Benefit: While you are wearing cloth armor or no armor and aren't using a shield, you gain a +1 bonus to AC against opportunity attacks, and have resist against those attacks equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Improved Flurry of blows
Requisites: Monk, Flurry of Blows class feature
Benefit: When you use a Flurry of Blows power, you deal 1 extra damage. Increase this extra damage to +2 at 11th level, and +3 at 21st level.

Improved Unarmored Defense
Requisites: Monk, Unarmored Defense class feature
Benefit: Increase the bonus to AC from your Unarmored Defense by 1.

Centered Breath mastery
Requisites: Monk, Centered Breath tradition
Benefit: When you slide an enemy with your Centered Flurry of Blows power, increase the distance of the slide by 2. You can't move the target into squares not adjacent to you this way.

Fierce Unarmed Strike
Requisites: Monk, Unarmed Combatant class feature
Benefit: You become proficient with the Fierce Unarmed Strike, which is a weapon with the attributes shown below. You must have both hands free to use your Fierce Unarmed Strike.
Special: Each time you make an unarmed attack, choose one type of Unarmed Strike that you can use.
Special: Any enhancenment bonus or magic ability affecting your Monk Unarmed Strike also applies to your Fierce Unarmed Strike.

Fierce Unarmed Strike+21d12---Unarmed-
Read More......

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tempus, the mightiest god of the Realms.

I tend to forget about the Realms. I don't own any of the Campaign Setting books, and haven't played a game in that setting since 3rd Edition. Still, thanks to the magic of DDI, parts of the Realms trascend their plane of existance, and turn up in our setting-agnostic, Points of Light games. That is how I came to know the Swordmage, of which I discussed recently. Today we'll talk about other piece of the Realms that is quickly becoming universal, one god with countless followers, whose might is unmatched. Bow before Tempus, god of Critical Hits!

For those not versed in religion, Tempus is a god of war who knows REALLY well what his worshippers need. And he gives it to them: his Channel Divinity feat (Righteous Rage of Tempus, or just RRoT) turns your next melee attack into a critical hit, provided it hits. There have been plenty of teological debates on whether this is a fair reward or the most overpowered feat ever. I tend to sympathize with the latter - I'm tempted to convert to Tempus, and I don't even play a divine character!
I proposed a house rule to fix this in the WotC forums, which Ill shamelessly quote:

How about keeping the auto-crit effect, but somehow restricting its use? There's plenty of precedent - we have CD feats that trigger on killing foes, fighting undead or even rolling natural 20s on saving throws.

The following change still allows you to have an extra critical hit almost every encounter, but you will have no choice in when or where to use it. Change range to "Close burst 5", and add the line:

"Target: An enemy that has critically hit you or one ally since your last turn".

Now you get a random chance at a guaranteed critical hit, if that makes any sense. It's kind of karmic, and compares favorably with Armor of Bahamut (which I always thought of as a decent feat), so it shouldn't be too bad. The most abusive uses, like one-shotting someone on the surprise round or always using it with encounter or daily powers, should become unlikely, if not impossible.

Read More......

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Divine domains: A Divine Power Preview

This is hardly breaking news, since it appeared on last month's Ampersand article in DDI. Nevertheless, the material is interesting enough to comment, even if late: Divine Power will introduce Domains for divine classes in 4E. They will grant new feat choices to worshippers of appropiate gods - each god has 2 or 3 associated domains, out of more than 30. For each domain, there will be Divinity Feats (granting new Channel Divinity powers, just like other divine feats we already have) and Domain Feats, which provide a small skill bonus and modify specific at-will powers.

I can't say I care much for the new Channel Divinity options, as the concept of CD has always been a bit flawed to me. You have zillions of powers fighting for the same space - the single Channel use per encounter. In this respect, Clerics and Paladins at least had the upside (I guess) of crappy baseline CD powers, so they had some incentive to grab at least one feat to gain access to a better one. But Avengers and Invokers actually do cool things with this feature, even in encounters without undead! It's a bit sad that so many feats are wasted on Channel Divinity, when no sane PC would ever take more than one. Unless, of course, Divine Power introduces some way to recharge CD. If they did that (and I can't think of a reason they wouldn't), I could start looking forward to this kind of feats.

On the other hand, at-will power tweaking is something I really enjoy, as readers of this blog (the two of them!) should already know. The method used here should be familiar to Dragon magazine readers, as some of its best recent articles (the ones on Gladiators and Assassins) did the same: A series of feats, each granting one single benefit to an at-will from each class of the power source. As an example, the Civilization Domain (for worshippers of Erathis, Asmoedus, or Sid Meier) gives extra damage to characters surrounded by enemies. Creation Domain temporarily improves your armor, whereas Justice domain improves the attack of nearby, bloodied allies. The effects seem to be simple, but effective, and the choice of powers to improve looks well thought.

An added perk of this kind of previews is that half the referenced at-will powers are unknown to us, as they appear in Divine Power themselves. This way, rumor addicts like me can enjoy speculating about names and context, trying to guess their effects. At the very least, we will know the minimum number of at-wills that some classes will get. Here are the names I could take from the article:

  • Avenger: Leading strike, Bond of Censure
  • Invoker: Mantle of the Infidel
  • Paladin: Virtuous Strike

Unfortunately, this is terribly short on speculative material. The avenger and paladin powers could be about anything, really. We have nothing new on clerics (though I hope they, as well as paladins, get 3-4 new, decent at-wills, to compensate for their double ability score problem). The only interesting tidbit is that the Invoker one, Mantle of the Infidel, is supposed to work when several enemies are in melee, so it should be either melee or close. With that name, I'd bet it's something like Close Burst 1, which would be rather nice with the Civilization bonus. We'll see in a few months.

Read More......

Monday, May 4, 2009

How much should a Shielding Swormage shield?

While playing a Dungeon Delve last weekend, I had the chance to experience in practice what I already suspected: that a Shielding Swordmage is the best one there is at what he does, and what he does isn't completely fair.

What a Shielding Swordmage does, is preventing a good chunk of damage from marked enemies attacking someone else. So much damage, in fact, that attacks from average monsters are effectively negated. Today, I'll explain why I think this is a bad mechanic, and how I'd try to improve it.

First, though, I should explain my view on the defender role. The unique purpose of a defender is to reduce the total damage taken by the party. They use two types of mechanics to achieve this: personal defense, and attack redirection. The first one is rather simple - defenders havethe best armor, highest hit points, and defensive powers, so attacks against them will be less efective than against other members of the party. Since this would be pointless if enemies were allowed to ignore them in favor of softer targets, defenders also have means to attract attention from their opponents. These means consist in marking enemies and penalizing or punishing attacks against other allies. The option to damage those allies will still exist, but it will be more difficult and usually not worth it.

The previous paragraph roughly describes the behaviour of all defenders in the game, except Shielding Swordmages. The effect of Aegis of Shielding is so powerful, that not attacking the swordmage becomes pointless. The table below shows Avg. dmg., the average monster damage by level (taken from this post), compared to AoS damage absorption, for Swordmages with an average Constitution value, 14. The fourth column expresses the percentage of average damage absorbed by AoS. Note that these numbers are so good, that there is little incentive for investing in higher Con. The effect wouldn't be half bad for a Con of 10, for that matter.

As we can see, AoS usually protects from 80-90% of an average attack, with the lowest point being about 60%, and the highest more than 100%. This goes beyond encouraging marked enemies to focus on you - it's almost impossible to damage anyone else! For any other defender, this would already be too good. Considering that a Swordmage's mark has no 'engagement clause' (like Divine Challenge, for example), and that Swordmages are by far the defender class with the best mobility and ranged attacks, running away from the marked enemy and leaving him unable to do any harm becomes the default choice.

What would be a reasonable power level for Aegis of Shielding? I think a shield that cut damage dealt in half would be good enough as a deterrent - attacking other targets will rarely be the first option, but it will no longer be a completely wasted action. Since we want the effect to scale with Constitution, we are looking for a range between 30% mitigation (for Con values as low as 10) and 70% (for starting values of 18, or even 20).

We can get these numbers by changing the damage reduction to Con+2, and +1 for every 5 levels above the first. I suggest using the following, revised version:

For reference, the table below shows mitigation values for average monster damage of each level, and different starting Constitution values.

Read More......