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Requesting Your Feedback!

posted Tuesday, May 29th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Site Announcements

Hey, readers. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you for some feedback about D20 Source. Have you any ideas about what you might like to see more of on the site? I’d be grateful if you could hit the comment link there and let me know.

Further, if you run a blog or an RPG website, how about passing a link to this site? A little improved readership would be much appreciated!

Dragon #356

posted Saturday, May 26th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Dragon #356 is here! The June 2007 issue is available and as usual for the magazine this time of year it’s choc-full of dragon themed material. It’s a shame that the magazine’s going out of print.

This month’s feature is Top 10 Most Wanted Dragons in D&D, and I’m pleased to find that three out of my four suggestions have made it in. Thauglor the Black from the novel Cormyr was notable absent. (It’s all a popularity contest!) Utreshimon, who you’ll know as the blue dragon in the moathouse, makes it to #9 on the list. Ashardalon is surprisingly only #6, despite being such an utterly legendary challenge. The #1 most infamous dragon in the game is Dragotha, the first ever dracolich and the creature who Age of Worms players should spend the majority of the adventure path in fear of.

Again introducing new and interesting dragon types, Ferrous Dragons presents a rare group of lawfully-aligned true dragons. Iron, chromium, cobalt, tungsten and nickel dragons are now added to the game’s standard five good-aligned metallic dragons, the five evil-aligned chromatic dragons, the more obscure neutral gem dragons, and the rarer shadow dragon, steel dragon and fang dragon. Well worth a look.

Core Beliefs: Hextor makes me wish the magazine was planning on running long enough to cover all the major Greyhawk deities. Hextor’s always an interesting deity, mainly because his servants make realistic villains. They’re neither mad like Vecna’s clerics, nor are they purely evil for evil’s sake. Being lawful, I imagine Hextor’s most devout worshippers to always keep their word, which makes it quite feasible to accept their surrender without expecting to be betrayed.

I’ve never liked Dragon’s short fiction segments, so I don’t have anything to pass on Paul S. Kemp’s work in this issue.

Likewise, I’m not a huge fan of the Ecology articles. I’ve always been a little suspicious of of them. It’s always presenting creatures from a monster splatbook I don’t own, and telling my players all about them in case I do. I never felt comfortable attempting to write my own Ecology, since many D&D creatures have long-standing histories that Ecology authors tended to be blankly ignorant of. Still, I like the beefed-up CR21 gargantuan sea snake presented in this month’s Ecology of the Linnorm enough to put it somewhere anonymous in the seas of my game world.

Even if you’re not following the last Dungeon adventure path, this month’s Savage Tidings presents ten moderately expensive magic items you can bug your Dungeon Master to let you buy.

I’m more a Greyhawk fan than Forgotten Realms, but if you’re into all that Faerun flavour you could do worse than this issue’s Volo’s Guide, presenting three named dragons. Eberron fans find that his month’s Dragonmarks by Tim Hitchcock details Darguun’s Gathering Stone, so now you will have some idea just what that one dot on the Darguun map is for.

Class Acts is a little bland this issue, starting with the unfortunately necessary “Bard Guide” by Amber E. Scott. (Does anyone really play bards?) Jon Hodgson’s “Occult Mutations” offers some interesting new Traits, although I’m not so sure about the one that gives you black eyes that grant darkvision in exchange for a mere -2 Spot/Search penalty (and with a “roleplaying idea” that “characters with this trait might squint a lot or pretend to be blind or extremely near-sighted”). In case you’re playing a game based on real-world history we have “Aztec Mythos III” and the old Scottish/German themed “Mercenary Companies”.

A decent issue, all things considered, although with a distinct lack of ioun stones and dwarven sorcerers.

Sleeping in Dungeons: Solved

posted Wednesday, May 23rd 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Looks like we’ve got a solution to those players who won’t sleeping in dungeons to get back spells on-demand. I’ve done some research and it seems there’s a solution in sight!

While the rules don’t say you can’t sleep to regain spells more than once daily, the wizard’s casting capacity is called “spells per day” for a reason. This should be enough for you to make a solid ruling. Roughly track the passage of time in-game and ensure that around sixteen hours must pass before you can regain spells by resting – resting before then can restore hit points, but not spells.

We still have the issue of the party barricading itself into a room after only one or two fights to wait until it can sleep. Nothing says they can’t do this, but when the players can take on every fight at full strength, the game becomes unchallenging and boring. Allowing a game to become boring violates a basic tenet of dungeon mastering! Here are a few challenges the over-cautious party might face:

  • Wandering monsters, a well established D&D hazard. Resting characters who used their resources up too quickly will have trouble, and sleeping characters won’t have their armour on.
  • Opponents have time to prepare for your attack. You’ll have no chance to catch them asleep or unprepared.
  • Monsters can team up to ambush the common threat. If this happens, the enemy fights you en masse and on their own terms.
  • Opponents can send a messenger for reinforcements.
  • Strong or magically-inclined enemies might barricade you into the room with a heavy boulder or magical lock.
  • Even if you’re stealthy, there’s always a chance that guards will find you or notice the signs of fights you’ve undertaken, such as blood on the floor or bodies of guards lying around. (For good examples of this, try the PC game Thief.)
  • Time limits, while not always applicable, can force players to keep going without rest in spite of low resources.

Feel free to suggest your own; you know where the comment link is.

Stop Sleeping In Dungeons

posted Monday, May 21st 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Let me share one of my Dungeon Master peeves with you.

When players are new to the game they take it at face value that you can only rest and regain spells once per day. Unfortunately for us DMs, experienced players know that this isn’t entirely true. Arcane casters can recover spells at any time just by sleeping for eight hours, and there’s no rule saying you can only sleep once per day. A well-guarded midday power-nap lets any wizard cast twice his usual amount.

Even more daring players will try to barricade themselves into a room (or camp outside the dungeon) and wait until nightfall in order to regain their spells and hit points after only one or two minor battles, taking the dungeon so slowly and carefully as to be utterly boring. Wandering monsters only add an hour to the wizard’s sleep time, and you can’t give every dungeon a time limit.

Players who manage to rest at will are my Dungeon Mastering peeve of the week. What are you supposed to do when there’s no real rule against it, and any house rule would be arbitrary DM fiat?

Running D&D For Kids

posted Thursday, May 17th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

I’ve just been having some thoughts on how you might adapt the D&D game for younger players. As-is, it might be considered much too complicated and violent. Here are some tips on modifying the game for a younger audience. Some of this might also apply to a rules-lite game for audiences who would be overwhelmed by complex rules.

Simplify combat. The grappling rules are complicated enough, even for adult players! Remove things like grapple, disarm and charge. The only attack options are which weapon you use, if you have more than one; in either case it’s not an action to switch or draw weapons. You only get one attack per round. Spell selection is limited.

Generate the characters in advance. This is good advice for anyone running a game with new players. However, your sheets may represent simplified more rules.

Simplify magic items. Adding multiple bonuses can be too complicated, so instead of magical weapons granting bonuses, consider granting only special effects.

No gore. Monsters reduced to 0 HP are knocked out, not killed. Swords don’t decapitate or maim; they clash off each other or bash monsters over the head. They probably wake up the next day. (Incidentally, this provides incentive not to rest at will.)

Assume well-defined morality. Teaching kids that it’s okay to beat up anyone for their money is a no-no. Opponents are always monsters, and they are always evil. Defeating the bad guys and taking their loot is always the right thing to do, because they’re always objectively the bad guys.

Join me tomorrow when I complain that I can never find anyone to run a game of Paranoia for me.

Ninjas Are Dumb

posted Sunday, May 13th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
None of the AboveThird Edition

Dragon assistant editor Mike McArtor really likes ninjas in D&D. I don’t. Here’s why.

The class system of D&D has long worked on a basis of four classes – the fighter, the wizard, the cleric and the rogue. There’s some leeway for change, but the basic four archetypes must always be filled:

  • The warrior, who presents opponents with tough opposition and specializes solely in combat
  • The mage, who is physically weak but defeats challenges using powerful offensive magic
  • The priest, who is of middling toughness but supports the group with mostly defensive and restorative magic
  • The thief, who is quite weak but overcomes challenges in clever, skilful ways like sneaking, backstabbing and trapfinding

There’s some leeway here, and room for mix-and-matching abilities. You can see, for example, that the paladin is a warrior with some priest ability, while the new duskblade class is a warrior with some arcane. Neither of these lose their class focus, and both fit into one of the four main roles.

This isn’t the case with the ninja classes that edge their way into the D&D game. The problem is that ninjas don’t fit perfectly into the game’s class system. Initially they seem to fit as a thief, but the usual implementation is a kind of rogue-monk combination who relies on arcane abilities. Essentially, it’s shifting the thief archetype from Intelligence based to Wisdom, and therein lies the problem. What we end up with is a ‘dumb’ rogue.

D&D balance also says that whatever abilities a class grants must balance with other, similar classes. We give monk abilities and magical enhancements to the rogue to create the ninja, so what does he lose? Frequently, he trades in his skills and a big part his sneak attack, and there’s where a problem lies. Your ninja, in exchange for improved combat and magical ability to remain unseen, ends up the weaker spy and assassin for his level. Even on a practical level, you’re replacing the party’s thief with a skill-light sneak attacker who can’t pick locks or disarm traps. The rogue’s clever intelligence and skill is vital to the party!

What, then, is the correct way to implement the ninja in third edition? One way might be as a rogue/monk synergy prestige class representing a certain secretive assassin order. Another might be a series of variants, trading rogue abilities for magic and techniques. Even more simply, the best ninja is frequently just a combat-specialist rogue outfitted with a few cheap alchemical and magic items, dipping perhaps a level into monk and taking a feat to use Int in place of Wis. Sometimes the simple approach is best.

Don’t Let Players Answer Stumpers

posted Saturday, May 5th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
None of the AboveThird Edition

Remember a month ago when I wrote about Wizard’s April un-answerable ‘stumpers’? It seems that not only have fans submitted their own answers, but they’ve made it onto the website.

As my irate friend explains, they’re also very frequently wrong, making mistakes ranging from the technical mistakes to utter inaccuracy. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that their answers sound official. As an unabashed pedant, I feel the need to take time out from my busy schedule of time-wasting to submit corrections to the article. Read it, see how many mistakes you can spot, and return here for the answers.

Scott, on vorpal longbows:

It seems to me this would make an interesting weapon, if all you did was rename the property from “Vorpal” to something akin to “Heart Rending”, and allowed any arrow fired from the longbow to automatically pierce the heart for a killing shot when the proper critical roll was made (assuming the creature had a heart, of course).

This is a terrible, terrible idea. This makes it possible for an archer to sit back and fire off a hail of low-damage arrows, knowing that one in twenty will instantly kill. Melee swords have a certain element of personal risk and have a strictly limited number of per-sword attacks each round; removing this cheapens the ability. He’s also half an edition behind; vorpal works on a natural 20 only, not a critical hit (which can have a wider range).

Robert thinks that more or less than two eyes should probably give you a penalty or bonus to saves against gaze attacks – apparently, having only one eye means you can shut it faster. “I’d draw the line at multiple eyes, but there’s no reason an ettin shouldn’t be forced to make two checks.” Somehow a single creature is supposed to make two saves, rather than treating it as a creature with four eyes. Forcing double saves is almost unprecedented; at worst, a penalty to the saves is implied.

“How far below my party’s usual CR should they be if they’re stripped of all their gear?” (The questioner means to ask the party’s effective level for basing the difficulty of challenges; but we know what he means, unless he plans somehow to have the PCs face their own doppelgangers.) Robert, in reply, seems to think that dropping enemy CRs by two is well enough if your cleric has no holy symbol, your wizard can’t prepare spells and your fighter is reduced to wielding a club while armourless. He suggests that CR minus one is well enough for a fifteenth level party given level 1 nonmagical equipment, and if a party is stripped of all their equipment by the DM it’s their own fault. I’m glad I’m not in his game!

Now, do illusiory opponents grant flanking bonuses? In my opinion they should; it’s +2 to hit for a wizard spell that’s either fifth level or requires round-to-round concentration – not exactly overpowered! Sam agrees with me with one stipulationL “I’d give the opponent a save. If they believe it’s there, it probably produces a flanking bonus.” He’s very much ignoring here that illusions do not allow a save until interacted with. If the opponent attacks your illusion or vice versa, or (realistically) the opponent has good reason to believe that you cast an illusion rather than something like a summoning spell, he gets his save to disbelieve.

“Billy” thinks invisible stalkers have no physical body, mumbling something about the astral plane. Invisible Stalkers do have a physical body; it’s just made of air, being as they are from the elemental plane thereof. A technicality, of course; Robert is correct in that invisible stalkers have no reason to be able to see through their own race’s invisibility.

Three people feel the need to seriously answer the gag about vampires making elementals cross. I suspect these are the kind of people who edit Wikipedia. However, as a level 1 spell I see no major balance problem with bless water granting a water elemental a small amount of bonus damage against undead, perhaps +2 or 1d6. However, the spell takes a full ten rounds to cast, the elemental would get a Will save if unwilling, and a “one round per caster level” duration may be in order.

In an amazing feat of failing to read the question, both Sam and Robert refute the possibility of taking anything but an animal as your familiar with the Improved Familiar feat. You know, the feat that lets you take something other than an animal as a familiar. Still, they’re right for the wrong reasons; this came up several years ago with awakened animals, and I vaguely recall that a familiar who becomes independent enough to take class levels themselves is no longer a familiar.

Answering the hilarious epic question of the break DC of a planet leads to perhaps the most ridiculous answer of the entire article. Robert replies: “The planet is not an object that can be targeted, but even if you managed to shatter it, it would just pull back into the same place because of the sun’s gravitational pull.” Sam corrects this ridiculous statement:

“The sun’s gravitational pull is not what keeps planets in one piece, the sun’s gravitational pull does nothing but pull the mass of the planet toward the sun, the planet’s own gravitational force would pull it back together. Sundering a planet is like putting a bit crack in a solid ball. The ball doesn’t explode, it simply has a crack in it now.”

If you put a crack in a planet and it survives, then you haven’t broken it. The correct answer is that there is a break DC for a planet, but no genuine player character ever made has a Strength score high enough to reach it.

Tarrasque versus Tarrasque led to some ridiculously ill-considered rulings. Sam reckons quite indistinctly that “They’d fight to a stalemate, as they have no abilities to counterract their own, except maybe DR.” Brrt – the tarrasque can penetrate its own epic damage reduction, not to mention hit itself quite easily dealing enough damage to overcome its own fast healing. Still, neither one can Wish the other to stay down. Robert says it’s irrelevant because you can’t time travel – technically, you can, just not with regular magic. I should be more specific: Vecna did it, once.

Continuing the tarrasque questions, my irate friend informs me that you can, technically, create a tarrasque permanently using polymorph any object on something like a bulette. You’re welcome to try wishing genders onto each tarrasque and wishing a ninth level compulsion that they would mate, but they get a save against each one. No sane DM will allow you to get as far as the first step.

Finally, a few words of unwisdom from our friend Robert, who presents a wholly illogical and rules-unworthy reasons for the tarrasque to be vulnerable to the almighty sphere of annihilation:

  • “Although it doesn’t list every single thing it’s immune to, it’s quite clear that it’s immune to effects that immediately cause death, or permanent injuries.” It does, and it’s not. The tarrasque is immune only to fire, poison, disease, energy drain, and ability damage, and its carapace reflects all rays, lines, cones, and magic missile spells. It is vulnerable to all else; it merely cannot be reduced below -10, and regenerates from all damage including death effects.
  • “The tarrasque is a legendary unkillable monster, fought throughout time, and there are relatively low level spells, and much easier monsters, that cause suffocation upon targets. If suffocation could drop the tarrasque to unconsciousness then it would have done so, and the same goes for starvation, and even powerful magic effects.” The tarrasque can easily resist such magic and kill such monsters. That the tarrasque lives today proves only that it has not yet been killed, not that it has never been knocked unconscious. At any rate, with 45 Strength and 35 Con, the tarrasque can both swim and hold his beath for incredibly long, and I doubt he will hold still long enough for anyone to do something like box him in with four walls of force.
  • “The tarrasque is immune to all death effects, and anything that causes death for any reason besides damage is a death effect.” Citation required! I seem to recall the term “death effect” having a very specific usage and an FAQ entry ruling that only spells with the Death descriptor were Death Effects even if they killed instantly, controversially ruling out the assassin’s Death Attack.

Finishing on a positive note, however, I suspect that he’s right – by the rules, “The tarrasque can be slain only by raising its nonlethal damage total to its full normal hit points +10 (or 868 hit points) and using a wish or miracle spell to keep it dead.” In other words, the sphere will work if you follow it up with a quick miracle spell, but not even an artifact can destroy the tarrasque permanently on its own. Then again, it’s an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object – can we really be sure which? Definitely a DM’s call on this tone.

As an aside, my own method of tarrasque combat dates back to the time we decided to put the great gold wyrm against the tarrasque. The tarrasque had a higher pure damage output and was immune to the dragon’s breath weapon, and the tarrasque could regnerate against a nickel-and-diming in fly-by attacks. The way the wyrm succeeded was by getting lucky with a repeated polymorph any object to emulate a stone to flesh, followed by a wish to keep him that way and an extended session of chewing the resulting statue into dust just to be sure. Really not an easy creature to finish off.

Monte Cook

posted Wednesday, May 2nd 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Links and ResourcesNews, Reviews & Culture

In lieu of a real update, please enjoy this selection of recent RPG themed updates from the blog of Monte Cook, who it goes without saying is a significantly more published fellow than myself.

And two more from Monte’s design diary:

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