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Why Timmy Can Only Stab Once A Day

posted Monday, March 23rd 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceFourth Edition

I may have mentioned my fourth edition players before. Four sessions in, the players are learning more about the game rules but still have questions.

“Why does the fighter have abilities they can only use once per day?”

In fourth edition, most “powers” – a catch-all term for spells, special attacks and combat techniques – are broken down into At-Will, Encounter, and Daily abilities. Wizards, for example, can use ghost sound or magic missile at will, once every round if they like, but ray of enfeeblement is an Encounter power and can be used once per combat, while flaming sphere can be used once per day.

This makes plenty of sense for the wizard, whose spells adhere to consistent rules of magic. The same goes for the cleric, paladin and warlock, whose abilities draw from deities or powerful entities and are rationed out as those beings wish. The warlord may have rousing shouts that lose their impact if used too frequently. The rogue may have sneaky combat tricks that only work when they’re unexpected and likewise mustn’t be overused, and something similar might be said about the ranger.

But where do the fighter’s combat techniques fit into this? What does it mean that the fighter can only trip once per combat or deal a triply powerful hit only once per day?

There are a few common explanations, but none really fit. It makes no sense that an exploit requires just the right “once in a combat” opportunity, because the fighter can use any ability at any time. If encounter exploits tire a fighter that he can’t use it again without resting, they certainly tire him out in a very specific way that doesn’t affect other tiring exploits. It’s not magic of any sort. There’s little reason for a class dedicated to perfecting combat arts to hold back on his most powerful abilities unless he he has to.

There’s a better explanation, I think, and it’s this. The fighter, eager to perfect the art of combat, trains himself in new and exceptionally difficult techniques of extreme deadliness. However, an earnest battle is never as predictable as the training field, and actually using these new manoevers is a wholly different experience. Once the fighter chooses the moment and commits to the deadly technique, instinct and training take over. So, even though the fighter can choose when to use his attack, he still can’t use it with great frequency – in the heat of battle, he cannot quite remember how he managed to do it.

A related topic is the fighter’s Combat Challenge ability, which lets him pull one enemy’s attention and is criticized by some as unrealistic. The theory is that unlike the paladin whose similar ability is explained by divine magic, there’s no sense in the fighter pulling more attention when he deals less damage than someone else.

I don’t agree. In the real world, consider how a boxer manipulates his opponent with feints, feigned weaknesses and so forth. Similarly, the fighter can feign an opening to entice an opponent to attack, or by intimidating battlefield presence create the impression that he is more dangerous than he really is. Don’t forget that although the fighter expects to use his most powerful attacks only once per combat, his opponent may not know that. As a master of melee combat it’s his job to watch the responses of his opponent and how to use them to his advantage, and “marking” an opponent represents that well.

Awesome Traps: Drawn and Quartered

posted Monday, March 16th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Drawn and Quartered Trap

The players enter this room from either direction, passing through a set of double doors. A heavy portcullis bars both entrances, but each of these is easily raised using a mechanical winch just outside the room (not pictured). Thus, anyone who enters the room must find a way to raise the other portcullis to leave via the other side.

This large square room has a domed ceiling. The floor is crossed with deep grooves one foot thick which divide the chamber into four equal parts. The grooves continue up the walls and across the domed ceiling. The chamber is decorated throughout with patterns drawn with strange and ancient text. Each corner has a decorative pillar, carved with the appearance of a fierce demon, and embedded with a lever.

Pulling any one lever causes both portcullis winches to release, trapping the player characters inside. Pulling all four at once raises both winches, if each character speaks a password in the demonic tongue. If all four are pulled at once but the password is not spoken, a double trap is triggered. First, a wall of blades trap springs from the floor along the groove, dividing the room into four equal parts, most likely with one character in each. Second, the runes drawn on the ground glow and one demon is summoned into each quarter.

Both effects last for one minute, after which they vanish as quickly as they appeared and the portcullis rises on each side. Player characters can pass through the wall of blades, but doing so incurs damage.

Three Neat D&D 3rd Edition Resources

posted Tuesday, March 10th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Links and ResourcesNews, Reviews & Culture

If you’re one of many people who still enjoys Dungeons & Dragons third edition, you maybe running short of game material now that many publishers have switched to producing fourth edition books. Thankfully, there are there online sources for third edition game material.

The first is The Grand OGL Wiki, a site collecting third edition open game content from contributing publishers. The wiki currently contains material from Paizo’s Rise of the Runelords adventure path and Mongoose’s massive Quintessential series, amongst others. All material is available for free, so if you missed out on these the first time around you can enjoy a supply of fresh 3E content.

The second is Dungeon a Day, a new project by Dungeons & Dragons third edition co-creator Monte Cook. Dungeon a Day is a service offering daily game content that builds to a complete D&D campaign. There’s a subscription fee, but if you’re looking for official-quality material it’s hard to go wrong with the guy who made the game.

Finally, it’s nothing new but the The Hypertext D20 SRD includes an invaluable set official open content. In addition to the core rules, d20srd.org has added the Epic level rules, Psionics rules from the Expanded Psionics Handbook, the Divine rank rules from Deities & Demigods, and the variant rules from Unearthed Arcana including bloodlines, racial paragon classes, flaws, traits, armour as damage reduction, comabt facing, action points and spell points. The site also includes tools for rolling dice, calculating encounters and searching for monsters and spells.

Awesome Traps: Perpendicular Gravity Corridor

posted Thursday, March 5th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

If your players are as paranoid as mine, they’ll defeat this trap. Otherwise, expect this to be quite deadly.

Perpendicular Gravity Trap

Room 1: The player characters enter from the single door to the north. The walls are lined with spikes. Suspicious players may search for traps, fearing a “crushing wall” trigger. There is none. The double doors in the southeast wall open inward, and beyond is a long corridor.

Room 2: The walls of this corridor are smooth, polished marble. At the end of this corridor is a floor plate marked on the map with a T. Stepping on the plate triggers a magical effect which rotates gravity ninety degrees, such that Room 1 is now “down”. The doors to Room 1 fall open and everyone in both rooms falls down along the corridor and onto the spikes in Room 1.

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