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posted Monday, January 21st 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Site Announcements

Once again, I’d like to request your honest feedback on D20 Source. What articles and content would you like to see more or less of? What sites should be linked to? Do you want to see more or less discussion of 4th edition? Is the site design good, or could it use an overhaul again?

I’d be most appreciative if you could leave a comment and voice your opinion.

Alternatively, if you’d like to leave some non-public feedback, you can send e-mail at feedback@jonnydigital.com.

Flawed House Rule: 3.0 Power Attack

posted Friday, January 18th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Game DesignThird Edition

Many DMs institute a set of “house rules”, custom game rules intended to enhance the game, which can occasionally go wrong. Previously I’ve discussed why double-rolling hit dice and “realistic” sneak attack are bad ideas. My topic today is Power Attack, where a DM I spoke to denies two-handed weapon users the double Power Attack damage that they gained in the 3.5 revision. Good change, or bad?

Lets take a sample character, Stush the Manticore Hunter. He’s a level 5 fighter, with a Strength of 18 and an attack bonus (including equipment) of +11. Stush deals 1d8+5 damage with a longsword and 2d6+7 with a greatsword. He’s also a big fan of Power Attack.

Stush fights a manticore, AC17, a 75% chance to hit. First, consider the longsword. Our hero deals an average of 7.125 damage per round, which raises to 7.5 if we Power Attack for 3, the optimal amount. With the greatsword our average per round is 10.5. Without the double damage, Power Attack actually lowers the average slightly, dropping to 9.5 with full Power Attack of 5. Including the double, however, we see a peak of 12.1 average damage at Power Attack 4.

The reason for the 3.5 double-handed Power Attack rule is that Power Attack isn’t simply free damage. When you increase your chance of missing altogether, you risk losing all of your damage. The result is that Power Attack actually becomes weaker when you use a two-handed weapon, because you’re throwing away more damage than normal. This is why the double is necessary, especially since two-handed weapon users are the ones who should be using Power Attack the most.

If you’d like to read more about damage, check out the article “Optimizing Power Attack” in the current issue of Kobold Quarterly.

Balance of Team Fortress 2

posted Tuesday, January 15th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Game Design

Game balance is something you hear a lot about on D&D message boards – unbalanced prestige classes or overpowered magic items are a big issue for RPG writers. The essence of balance is that no one game element should completely dominate over another. Thus, the same principle of good balance can be found in any multiplayer game, including video games. I’ve previously discussed the game balance of Battlefield 2, and today I’m making a brief excursion into Team Fortress 2.

Team Fortress is a class-based first-person shooter series dating back to 1996; Counterstrike’s older and less well known brother. When the new Team Fortress 2 was released to much applause in October of 2007, players began to notice some significant gameplay changes over the previous edition. I definitely get the sense that game balance has been improved in numerous ways, many of which can be applied to D&D.

One such way is balance between different classes. In the earlier Team Fortress Classic, the sniper was so powerful that many servers limited the number of snipers allowed on each team, while the pyro was so weak that it was rarely played. We see a similar situation in D&D’s third edition, where the cleric at high level can be incredibly powerful, at the cost of the mediocre fighter and ill-defined monk. In TF2, the sniper is less deadly while the pyro is much more powerful. A satisfactory fix.

Another difference is the balance between new players and old. Giving too much of an advantage to experienced players makes things un-fun for the newbies, something. TF2 removed bonuses for headshots, removed grenades at the last minute (they’re tricky to use well), and added critical hits to increase randomness. New versus old isn’t so big an issue in D&D, which isn’t player-versus-player. Still, it illustrates the point of careful game balance.

My final thought is a word of caution against meddling with the game without considering results. In TF2, killed players must wait up to fifteen seconds to respawn, but in an effort to make the game more exciting, many servers make respawning instant. However, in doing so they unwittingly give the defenders an advantage, as reinforcements arrive quickly enough to provide and constant stream of troops. This bogs down the game by making the objectives more difficult, and ironically makes the game less exciting rather than more so. Always consider the effects of your game changes!

The Launch: Fourth Edition vs Third Edition

posted Saturday, January 12th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionNone of the Above

Someone recently asked on a forum if the fourth edition is anything like the launch of third edition in 2000. It seems that second edition players objected a lot less to buying the new edition in 2000 than the current edition players do now.

I think there are two major differences.

First, that the delay between 2ed and 3ed was exceptionally long, in RPG terms. When I first read 2ed AD&D it was 1995, and that was the revised printing released six years after the 1989 original. AD&D’s flaws had been picked and beaten for over a decade, and so a new edition was a godsend. It had been long enough for people to get bored of the game, then nostalgic for how it used to be. Players were hungry for a new, fresh Dungeons & Dragons, and third edition was a smash hit.

On the other hand, 3.5 was pretty much a disaster. It was too soon, like an early dinner after a late lunch – you could have stomached it, but it was too much too soon. The head chefs at Wizards of the coast impatiently pushed on to the second course, leaving everyone dissatisfied with the result: a rushed, undercooked serving that was far more than anyone really wanted.

Now they’re making a big deal out of doing a proper job with fourth edition, but after 3.5 everyone’s a little distrusting of Wizards. To a lot of people, it feels like yet another money-grabbing rushed edition. “We want more money, so hand in your old books. Surrender everything you like about third edition, and pay us for the privilege!”

The second difference between 3e and 4e is the internet. Disgruntled voices carry a lot further here, and everyone is confirming each other’s paranoia. Look at how little has been said of the new rules, and already the masses are declaring that this edition will be awful, they’ll never buy these new books. Players are coming together on the internet, and the mass of like-minded people has them feeling like they can fight this thing together. (Although not as violent in its result, I strongly suspect this is the same vein of thinking that is how riots start.)

Fourth Edition Available Now!

posted Wednesday, January 9th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionNews, Reviews & Culture

Fourth edition might not be out until the summer, but according to a news post by WotC you can already buy a pre-release copy. However, there’s a catch: it costs $5,000, and it’s only open to developers.

Here’s the jist: Wizards of the Coast are to release the 4th edition SRD under a new Open Gaming License in June 2009, one year from now. If you want to publish 4e material before then, there’s a hefty license fee.

This actually makes a lot of sense, and for the most part I think it’s largely a good thing. Third edition’s third party material was characterized by a flood of products which were often mediocre and poorly balanced, and worse yet for Wizards of the cost, competed directly with their own releases. It was bad news for Wizards, and I was very surprised in August when it was announced that the OGL was to be continued, having expected myself that Wizards would instead sell licenses to the major publishers only. As it turns out, both were correct!

Ultimately, this announcement has the biggest effect on small third-party publishers, including the PDF market and Kobold Quarterly. Except for the more established companies (Wizards, Mongoose et al) and online Dragon submissions, small freelancers are limited to 3.5e material for the forthcoming year. The writing community is thus in the interesting situation of writing 3e stuff or nothing at all, even for several months after the launch of 4e. It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out.

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