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Friday Link Adventure – Nov 28

posted Friday, November 28th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Links and ResourcesNews, Reviews & Culture

Here’s what’s hot this week in the the D&D “blogosphere”.



Fourth Edition Coolness

Dungeon Mastering

A hot topic this week is non-traditional roleplaying – letting your players take narrative control, or abandoning combat rules entirely.

Three DMs this week are trialling an online D&D Java app called Gametable:

Morality is also a topic this week:

And as ever, discussion of age-old Dungeon Master problems:

Game Design

Playing the Game

And the Rest

Lou Zocchi and the Science of Dice

posted Wednesday, November 26th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

I’m co-opting this week’s Creatures of Genskoyo writeup to show you two videos of veteran dicemaker Lou Zocchi at Gencon 2008. You might know Zocchi as the inventor of hundred sided dice.

The Internet Tackles Dragon #369

posted Monday, November 24th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionNews, Reviews & Culture

Dragon #369 is out, but you’ll need a D&D Insider subscription to read it. If not, you can still enjoy the fantastic cover image which is available on the site. Over at 4chan’s Traditional Games board, however, they’re a little confused.

Dragon #369

Friday Links Round-up

posted Friday, November 21st 2008 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

There are, of course, other roleplaying game blogs out there. Here’s a round-up of this week’s news and events.

Design blog PSDTUTS gives us 54 Mind-Blowing Digital Paintings. Included in this utterly breathtaking selection are some incredible samples of fantasy and science fiction artwork.

Yax over at Dungeon Mastering reviews the D&D Insider character builder software.

Newbie DM announces that the Draconomicon will include rules for killing a god in fourth edition. Tiamat is listed as a level 35 solo brute, which is squarely in tarrasque-beating territory.

Especially interesting this week is Greywulf‘s speculative article, What if 4E came before 3E? In this alternate reality, a company named Sorcerers of the Coast buys TSR and releases fourth edition in 2000, and Greywulf gives a review as if third edition had been released in 2008. Amusing and insightful.

Critical Hits reviews Martial Power, the new fourth edition splatbook for fighter-type characters. Opinions are positive.

From ENWorld this week, BBC News reports on Dungeons & Dragons’ online features and their relationship to the traditional game. Paizo has an open call for Pathfinder writers, while ENWorld’s forums have a thread on the new 4E Draconomicon. Gnome Stew recommends twelve RPGs you should play at least once.

Finally, via 6d6 Fireball we have RPG Blog II with Zack’s Guide to Being Smart with RPG PDFs, and The Bone Scroll with Resurrecting Non-Violent Magic Items.

Please Don’t Assault the Furniture

posted Wednesday, November 19th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Fluff/InspirationThird Edition

A friend brought up the story of a campaign I ran where a fighter got more than he bargained for. This story contains a spoiler for Dungeon #126′s “The Clockwork Fortress”.

Our heroes were tasked with assaulting a mighty clockwork castle, where they made it across the drawbridge and into the forecourt unscathed. They encounter a massive wall with a huge door in the middle, covered with mechanics and pipes and parts. The fighter knocks on the door.

A voice booms from a brass pipe in the door, in Dwarven.

“Who are you?”

The party discusses. Whichever dwarf is behind this door, they surmise, is probably some low-level guard, and probably a warrior, so he should have low enough Sense Motive to be fooled by a well-crafted lie. The party’s rogue replies. “Let us in. We have important business.”

“Are you a Maker?”

The rogue thinks. “Yes. We are all ‘Makers’, and you must let us in.”

There’s a pause, and the voice booms again. “You are not a Maker.”

The fighter decides this isn’t going anywhere. Whoever’s behind this door is going to need convincing the hard way. No door in this campaign has ever withstood his might, and this party has left a trail of wood splinters and torn hinges in their wake.

“I punch the door.”

“Suddenly,” says the DM, “the massive brass door lifts itself off its hinges and launches an attack. It slams at you twice, dealing…”

The player’s eyes widen as I roll against his low AC. There never was a dwarf warrior. This door is an intelligent construct, its very own door guard, and after a campaign of “I force the door” and “what’s its hardness?” the doors are finally fighting back.

“…one regular hit and one critical hit, for… forty-nine damage.”

“Help! I’m at -7!”

Two campaigns later, the player is still afraid of doors.

Creatures of Gensokyo I: Lake of Fog

posted Monday, November 17th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Creatures & NPCsFourth EditionGame Material

Today I’m presenting a series of fourth edition D&D monsters from the mystical land of Gensokyo. This realm forms the setting to the Touhou Project, a series of shoot-em-ups by Japanese amateur developers Team Shanghai Alice. The series has drawn a cult following both in Japan and internationally, and the gameplay can best be described as “Ikaruga, except with witches”.

The Gensokyo setting is full of great mythology ready to inspire Dungeons & Dragons game material. Part of Touhou’s appeal is its massive list of characters, a cast which includes fairies, vampires, poltergeists, ghosts, half-ghosts, vampires, witches, magicians, healers, oni and Shinto shrine maidens.

Lake of Fog

Visitors to Gensokyo’s Lake of Fog are in constant danger of losing their way. Although its fey residents are normally peaceful, the snowflake-winged ice fairies who populate the lake during the winter are not always friendly to uninvited guests.

Of the lake’s delicate ice fairies, one named Cirno claims to be the strongest. An innocent, whimsical creature, Cirno is prone to mischief and is easily roused to anger by visitors who don’t respect her self-claimed strength. She possesses several formidable methods of ice magic.


Cirno — Level 5 Solo Artillery
Small fey humanoid (cold) — XP 1,000

Initiative +6 Senses Perception +6
Snowflake wind aura 2; any creature that begins its turn in the aura takes 5 cold damage and is pushed 2 squares.
HP 252; Bloodied 126; see also Diamond Blizzard
AC 19; Fortitude 19, Reflex 20, Will 17
Immune cold
Saving Throws +5
Speed 4, fly 6 (hover)
Action Points 2

Basic Melee Freezing Touch (standard; at-will) ♦ Cold
+12 vs AC; 1d10+4 cold damage

Basic Ranged Icy Barrage (standard; at-will) ♦ Cold
Ranged 20; +12 vs AC; 1d10+4 cold damage

Area Icicle Fall (standard; at will) ♦ Cold
Area blast 3 within 20; +10 vs Reflex; 1d6 damage and 1d6 cold damage. Squares adjacent to Cirno cannot be targeted.

Area Perfect Freeze (standard; recharge 5,6; recharges when first bloodied) ♦ Cold
Area blast 4 within 20; +10 vs Reflex; 1d10+9 cold damage, and target is slowed (save ends).

Area Diamond Blizzard (standard; usable only when Cirno is bloodied; at will) ♦ Cold
Cirno may make an Icicle Fall attack and an Icy Barrage. The same creature cannot be targeted by both.

Alignment Unaligned Languages Common, Elven
Skills Arcana +9, Endurance +7, Nature +9
Str 11 (+2) Dex 18 (+6) Wis 7 (+0)
Con 15 (+4) Int 9 (+1) Cha 15 (+4)

The Lake of Fog is inhabited in the winter by a great number of lesser ice fairies. Although individually timid, these creatures are dangerous in numbers.

Snowflight ice fairy — Level 1 Minion
Small fey humanoid (cold) — XP 25

Initiative +3 Senses Perception +2
HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion.
AC 15; Fortitude 13, Reflex 14, Will 13
Resist cold 10
Speed 4, fly 6 (hover)

Basic Melee Freezing Touch (standard; at-will) ♦ Cold
+6 vs AC; 4 cold damage

Basic Ranged Icicle (standard; at-will) ♦ Cold
Ranged 10; +6 vs AC; 4 cold damage

Alignment Unaligned Languages Elven
Skills Nature +4
Str 10 (+0) Dex 16 (+3) Wis 11 (+0)
Con 13 (+1) Int 11 (+0) Cha 13 (+1)

Historical Analogues in RPG Design

posted Saturday, November 15th 2008 by Jonathan Drain

Fellow RPG writer Lou Agresta updates recently about realism in D&D writing:

“For anyone reading their first one, these noodles are just a little stream of consciousness musing on a topic. This time around its the way specific RPGs (and most other fiction) ground themselves in specific historical time periods or cleave to historical elements to achieve verisimilitude. My wonderings include things like how necessary is it? When to draw the line between historicity and fantasy?”

Link: Lou’s Noodle #2: Historical Analogues in RPG Design

What’s New in Pathfinder RPG?

posted Thursday, November 13th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & CultureOther SystemsThird Edition

With the D&D fourth edition licensing rules in question, Paizo is hoping players will latch onto Pathfinder RPG, their revised version of D&D 3.5 which is planned to become the standard rules set for for future issues of the similarly-named Pathfinder adventure module series. Pathfinder RPG is currently in open beta, and a Pathfinder RPG beta release PDF is available. Here’s a brief overview.

Character generation: No real differences from normal D&D. There are a few extra options for rolling ability scores, such as 3d6, 4d6 drop lowest, 2d6+6, and various levels of points-buy.

Races: Although the core races are the same as usual – dwarf, halfing, elf, human, gnome, half-orc and half-elf – many racial abilities have been shaken up. All races now gain +2 to an extra ability score, such as the dwarf who now has +2 to both Constitution and Wisdom, and -2 to Charisma. A few gain bonus racial traits, such as the half-orc who can fight on for one round if brought below zero hit points. Each race can now pick from between two favoured classes.

Classes: Significant changes here. The barbarian gains powers usable while raging, such as knockback or a bonus attack. The bard uses d8 hit dice and gains knowledge skill bonuses. Fighters gain gradual bonuses to armour and weapon types, and bonuses to saves versus fear. The paladin gains new aura abilities, such as allowing allies to smite. Rangers gain d10 hit dice amd specialties in chosen terrain. Rogues can sneak attack against constructs and undead, and gain new rogue special abilities from level 2. Sorcerers gain bloodline abilities much like cleric domains. The wizard can trade his familiar for an object, like an amulet or staff.

Skills: Skills are handled slightly differently in Pathfinder RPG. Instead of 4x skill points at level 1, you gain a +3 bonus to all class skills that you have ranks in. Cross-class skills now cost one point per rank instead of two, although you’re still three points behind. A few skills have been consolidated, such as Decipher Script, Forgery and Speak language into Linguistics. There are now 36 skills including ten Knowledge skills, whereas D&D 3.5 had 44. Use Rope is gone, and winged or otherwise flight-capable characters can use a new skill called Fly.

Feats: Feats are gained at every two levels, instead of every three. Magic item creation no longer costs XP. New feats are introduced – I count 140 in the Pathfinder core book, compared to 110 in the D20 SRD. Several existing feats have different effects. Alertness now grants +2 to Perception (Spot/Listen) and Sense Motive, raising to +4 if the character has 10 or more ranks in one of those skills. Cleave, perhaps unpopularly, requires a full-round action to attempt, meaning it’s not as ubiquitous a choice as in D&D 3.5.

Equipment: Very little difference here, bar the occasional new weapon. Weapon damage and armour types are unchanged.

Description: Very little difference. The alignment system is unchanged.

Combat: A major new experimental rule is chanelling energy, formerly known as the cleric’s Turn Undead ability. Chanelling positive energy now additionally deals damage to undead, while healing allies in the same area. Negative energy bursts deal damage to living creatures. The other major change is that combat maneuvers like grapple and disarm use a unified “Combat Maneuver Bonus”, and are made against a flat DC rather than opposed roll (1d20 + your bonus, versus DC15 + opponent’s bonus).

Magic: Very little difference. However, there’s a notice in this chapter that Polymorph has been substantially changed, very important considering the problems with polymorph throughout D&D third edition. Paizo’s solution is similar to Rich Burlew’s polymorph variant in that there are separate spells for each creature type (such as low level animal form spells and higher level dragon form spells), although you gain a fixed and limited set of benefits. For example, form of the dragon iii lets you assume the form of any Huge metallic or chromatic dragon, but grants a fixed +10 bonus to your character’s normal Strength (amongst other abilities) regardless of the Strength score of a typical dragon of that type.

Spells: Clerics now gain special domain abilities at 1st and 8th level, and domain spells at 2nd, 4th, 12th, 16th and 20th level. A druid can trade his animal companion for one nature-related domain (air, water, etc). For example, the war domain grants an ability at level 8 to temporarily use any combat feat. Specialist wizards similarly gain special abilities at 1st, 8th and 20th level. Spells with XP costs are replaced with tgold piece costs at 5 gp per XP.

Running the game: Like Arcana Evolved and Iron Heroes, Pathfinder RPG uses its own experience points scale. Story XP bonuses are officially encouraged. Charts and tables are provided for calculating appropriate challenge rating of encounters, including adjustments for high-magic and low-magic campaigns. Pathfinder also expands on the guidelines for creating new monsters.

The rest: Very little difference in the additional rules and magic items, although some cool art. However, the glossary notes that permanent level drain has been replaced by negative levels, essentially -1 to all rolls and -5 hit points.

Still to come: The final release of Pathfinder RPG in 2009 promises to revisit prestige classes, cursed and intellgent items, and new disease, poison and environment rules.

What Does Alignment Mean To You?

posted Sunday, November 9th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceThird Edition

Alignment in Dungeons & Dragons is a confusing topic at the best of times. Can a thief be Lawful? Should an Evil character be killed if they haven’t done anything yet? What alignment is Batman?

A lot of people have some really weird ideas about what alignment means. I once DMed for a cleric who argued that that it’s not evil to use negative energy (raising undead) if you use an equal amount of positive energy (cure spells, cast on yourself). Another great argument was the paladin who found a way to do any evil act as long as it was in the “common good”, loosely defined as anything that furthers the quest.

Here’s what alignment seems to mean, at least according to my players.

What I call it    What the player calls it    What it means   
Playing a paladin Lawful Good Plays for XP
Model player Lawful Evil Plays for XP
Unaligned Chaotic Good Looks for treasure to get more plusses to things
Asshole Chaotic Neutral Steals party treasure and acts snooty
Get out of my game    Chaotic Evil As above, but more disruptive

Powder Burn: Firearms in Dungeons & Dragons

posted Thursday, November 6th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceThird Edition

Wolfgang Baur was kind enough to treat me to an advance copy of Kobold Quarterly Issue 7 in October, and one article in particular caught my eye. John Flemming’s “Powder Burn: Spells of the Gun” covers magic for using firearms in your third edition D&D game. It’s a topic I’ve given some thought to in the past, so I’m happy to see that I’m not alone in this.

First, a quick primer on firearms. The Dungeon Master’s Guide gives us statistics on renaissance guns, which require the Exotic Weapon Proficiency (firearms) feat to use without penalty:

Pistol, one-handed exotic ranged weapon. Cost 250 gp, damage 1d10 (1d8 Small), critical x3, range increment 50ft., weight 3lbs, damage type piercing. Standard action to reload.
Musket, one-handed exotic ranged weapon. Cost 500 gp, damage 1d12 (1d10 Small), critical x3, range increment 150ft., weight 10lbs, damage type piercing. Standard action to reload.

Any setting with firearms is likely to develop firearm enhancements and protections against firearms, and that’s where this article is of interest. The first spell listed is barrier cloth, which converts piercing damage to nonlethal. Next, blunderbuss burst targets an opponent’s firearm and sabotages it to explode when fired. Similarly defensive is misfire, which fouls your opponents’ weapons and makes them useless until reloaded.

In the offensive spells we have deadeye, halfing range penalties for all ranged weapons and Spot checks the caster makes, a level 1 bard/cleric/ranger spell with a duration of one minute per level. Higher level is heart seeker, in which a bullet drills its way to your opponent’s heart for an instant kill, musket brigade, which conjures a deadly firing squad, and wall of powder, a thick barrier of black powder.

You can find Powder Burn and twelve more D&D articles for third and fourth edition in Kobold Quarterly #7, available at the Kobold Quarterly Store.

Edit: A few more have chimed in with their reviews on KQ7:

300 RPG Text-Files

posted Sunday, November 2nd 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Links and ResourcesNews, Reviews & Culture

Textfiles.com now has exactly 300 role-playing games articles, dating from the 1980s and 1990s. Textfiles.com, which recently celebrated its tenth birthday, is a repository of various material from bulletin-board systems or BBSs, the modem-based dial-in systems that existed before the World Wide Web.

Most or all of these articles predate Dungeons & Dragons third edition. Still, a lot of it is useful for inspiration, or just interesting for historical purposes. Leave a comment and let me know if you find anything particularly good.

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