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We’re Moving… to Tuesdays and Thursdays

posted Thursday, January 28th 2010 by Jonathan Drain
Site Announcements

Starting next week, D20 Source is moving to a Tuesday/Thursday update schedule. This should give readers a more reliable update schedule.

Tuesday’s updates will usually be written by Jonathan Drain, a web developer and sometimes RPG freelance writer. Jonathan plays Dungeons & Dragons third edition, fourth edition, and other D20 RPGs. His articles cover a variety of topics, including opinion pieces and new game rules for 3E and 4E. You can send feedback and article suggestions to jonathan@d20source.com.

Thursday’s updates will usually be written by Brandan Landgraff, a regular contributor from Canada. Brandan has been playing Dungeons & Dragons since the late 80s and is a dedicated student of the art of running roleplaying games. His articles frequently cover Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition, as well as edition-neutral advice on running campaigns. You can send feedback and article suggestions to brandan@d20source.com.

Important news will be posted throughout the week, and additional updates on some Saturdays. Please look forward to it.

World Building 101: A Primal Primer

posted Tuesday, January 26th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff

Over the past several weeks, I have been discussing how to integrate characters from different power sources into your campaign setting. The key is to ensure that your player characters feel as if they truly belong in your world, no matter from where they draw their power. Today we will be examining the Primal power source and how to fit primal characters into your campaign.

The primal power source, fortunately, is one that has a fairly simple common origin—the spirits. With this basis in mind it’s relatively easy to explain the acquisition of new abilities over time, even in the absence of formal training.

Of course, this is not to say that formal training is not a possibility when considering the primal classes. To a certain extent, it’s still quite reasonable to expect that between characters of primal origin, learning would be shared—but unlike the other power sources, academies or long-term arrangements seem unlikely. A couple of options are outlined below:

The Circle: A loose organization of primal characters within a given region or dedicated to a certain cause, a circle may share their wisdom with others who share their goals, or for a price, to any with the proper aptitude. The price may be monetary, but is more likely to involve favors or quests. Specific mechanics for a circle may be related to their cause, their patron spirit, or simply particular tricks that are employed by the particular organization.

The Mentor: One on one teaching and sharing is definitely possible for primal characters, though long apprenticeships are less in keeping with the methods employed by these characters. Knowledge of the ways of the spirits may be shared, but it must also be experienced, and there is only so much that can be done without the student doing for themselves what has been explained by the master. Another option is for an exchange between equals, with two full fledged primal characters exchanging information in an even trade, rather than a master-student relationship, even between those who began in just such a fashion. Consider what a given teacher might know when designing feats or powers for your campaign if you use this option.

The Journey: While a journey with no set destination or aim aside from honing and mastering a given craft can be appropriate for any class, it is especially so for primal classes like barbarians. The journey becomes the medium, and techniques may be gained from something as simple as trying a new maneuver to honing a given style to perfection. This is a difficult origin to include specific mechanics for ahead of time—you may have to play it by ear to determine what fits.

The Spirits: The spirits themselves, so central to the theme of the primal power source, can be used as an explanation for advancement of primal characters. Perhaps the character has a particular patron spirit that teaches new evocations; perhaps they must travel and contact specific spirits to learn from them, as part of a quest. Customized powers and feats could be tied to relationships with the spirits or the type of spirit in question.

Also important when considering primal characters is deciding how people in your world view the spirits and powers that call upon them. Are they commonplace and widely accepted, or mysterious and ancient, forgotten by most in the more civilized society? Do people make offerings to the spirits and the gods alike, or are the deities in your campaign world jealous enough to ban honoring powers other than themselves?

Another key consideration is the nature and identity of the important spirits in your world. You should come up with some of the commonly encountered types of spirits, and some of the oldest, most powerful spirits as well, in order to give your primal characters a sense of place in the world. Having several powerful spirits with tales told of their deeds and exploits will give your primal characters stories to relate around the campfires, and can lead to many potential story hooks for later on.

At this point, we have spent a little bit of time exploring how to integrate four power sources into your campaign: arcane, divine, martial, and primal. While other power sources exist, and more will be released soon, hopefully the ideas shared so far give a sufficient idea of how you can integrate each of them into your own campaign setting. For now, then, we shall move on to other discussions—next week, we will look at how to base an entire campaign world around a particular power source.

Buy D&D PDFs, Help Haiti Disaster Relief

posted Friday, January 22nd 2010 by Jonathan Drain
Links and ResourcesThird Edition

For the rest of January, Monte Cook is donating 100% of the proceeds from sales of Book of Experimental Might I and II to the Haiti relief fund. These books are packed with interesting house rules for D&D third edition, from one of the original authors. If you’ve got these on your wish list, or you’re interested in third edition D&D rules, now’s the time to buy.

If charity doesn’t appeal to you, Book of Experimental Might I made #1 on RPG Countdown’s Best of 2008, ahead of the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook at #2, followed by Book of Experimental Might II at #3. What’s more, both are available in PDF from RPG Now at $9 each, reduced from $20 and $16 respectively.

In addition, RPG Now is offering a coupon for $20 which entitles the bearer to 100% off a massive selection of PDF titles, worth over $1,000. The proceeds of the coupon go to Doctors with Borders. The pack includes Kobold Quarterly #11 and 173 other PDFs. RPG Now is requesting that users wait a few days before downloading the products after their purchase, as the server is struggling to cope with all the donations.

Purchase links:

World Building 101: ABCs of the Arcane

posted Wednesday, January 20th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff

Of all the existing power sources that are likely to be included in a campaign, the arcane is easily the one with the most dramatic variation in tone and flavor. Sorcerers, warlocks, wizards, artificers, and bards not only have different methods of harnessing the arcane from one another, but they have a great deal of difference possible even within each class. Determining how the arcane fits into the background of your world can therefore be an involved process, with different needs based on class and individual characters. Here are some options to get the ball rolling:

The Apprenticeship: Plenty of precedent exists for learning magic as an apprentice to an established master. From wizards in dilapidated towers to witches in isolated huts in the marshes, this is one of the more traditional methods for magic users to learn their craft. This method works well for just about any arcane tradition, as well, depending on the nature of the teacher. A wizard’s tower may not be the most suitable place for a young bard to study their craft, for example, and a swordmage would almost certainly be unable to improve their techniques studying under an old village wisewoman. This option fits in just about any campaign, but it may be especially suitable if you are seeking to create a campaign setting where magic isn’t quite as ubiquitous. Old masters are also excellent sources of story hooks, as they may call upon their students to assist with some sort of research, or even from beyond the grave if they leave their belongings to a PC, or have one last dying request. Feats or powers may include special training or techniques perfected by the particular master to suit their individual styles or research—or magical items created specifically for them or their students.

The Academy: On the other end of the spectrum, you might decide to have an academy for budding students of the arcane. Some classes fit quite handily into this mold—artificers, wizards, and bards all work quite well as learning their craft in such an environment—while others, like sorcerers and warlocks, might be less well suited to the teaching methods employed. Arcane academies can be complicated to include, however—just what kind of students are permitted to study? How much is tuition? Who is in charge of the place? How does the non-magical local population feel about the possibility of a magical mishap? What kind of political pressures exist, within and without? There may even be enough for an entire arc of your campaign to take place at one such academy, provided your players feel sufficiently interested. The inclusion of an academy tends to indicate that magic is common and at least somewhat organized in your campaign setting. Feats and powers may include specific techniques taught by the school as a whole, or arcane “styles” that are identifiable by other students of the same or rival schools.

Self-Taught: Whether by stumbling upon a hidden scroll detailing an arcane pact as a warlock, being naturally adept at harnessing arcane energy as a sorcerer, or even finding a magical tome of spells and learning the rudiments of wizard’s craft, the self-taught prodigy can be interesting to play. A self-taught arcane character has built-in reasons to adventure—to seek out new sources of knowledge and training, or to develop their own new talents. Mechanical options for the self-taught prodigy are harder to plan for; you might need to design them based on how the character is played, or in contrast to other options available in your setting.

Granted Powers: Warlocks are the obvious choice for having their powers granted by an external source, but depending on the flavor of your campaign world any of the arcane classes may fit in quite well with this option. The various warlock pacts offer some ideas for patrons that might offer power to a mortal, but there are of course many other possibilities. When a player character chooses this option, it’s important to make an effort to include their patron in the campaign, and not simply ignore them—ask the player for details on the patron, what they promised in exchange for their power, and what the patron’s expectations of them are. Mechanical options could include special powers granted by the patron specifically to their followers, or feats to indicate marks of a patron’s favor.

No matter what you decide to include or exclude from your game in terms of background options, the nature of the arcane and how the common folk of your setting view it can add a lot of flavor to your world; it behooves you to consider these things when you are designing a setting. Do people accept magic as common, or fear it as the unknown? Are spellcasters an everyday sight, or a rare occurrence? Is magic considered natural or is it a blasphemous affront to the order of the world? The more thought you give to these questions, the more readily you will be able to color the reactions your player characters receive from the common folk of your setting.

Read These Articles

posted Friday, January 15th 2010 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

I’m linking a few interesting posts today from Twitter.

The first game, from Daddy Dungeon Master, describes a simplified D&D game that the author ran for his young son. The rules are based on RPG Kids, from A system for playing D&D with my kid by Newbie DM.

The Simple Way to Run a Story Game, from Dungeon Mastering, advises on how to run a game that’s more than just combat.

Did the DMG2 give back Spell Research to 4E?, a forum thread at EN World, on how 3E “Tome and Blood” style spell research might work in fourth edition using an existing DMG2 mechanic.

PH series 3 definitly cancelled…DDM going back to blind? from forum DDM Spoilers, shares the news that Wizards has cancelled the release of the Player’s Handbook Heroes Series 3 miniatures. Players who want an official mini for their psion will now have to make do with a wizard figure (or, if you’re like me, whatever dwarf/orc/d4/coin/9v battery is going spare). Wizards of the Coast’s site has galleries for Series 1 and Series 2.

World Building 101: Martial Laws

posted Wednesday, January 13th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Continuing the series of articles discussing various campaign elements, today we will take a look at the martial power source and associated considerations. The martial power source is seemingly the easiest to dismiss, as it is the simplest, most “realistic” option—in that it is difficult to find historical examples of people calling on gods, primal spirits, or eldritch and arcane secrets in battle, but there are plentiful examples of men hitting other men with sharpened objects. However, to do so does a disservice to your campaign world and any of your players who chooses to play a martial hero. Instead, take a little time and consider the ways in which you can develop the martial traditions of your campaign setting to make it more flavourful. Continue reading this article »

Rituals for Martial Classes

posted Friday, January 8th 2010 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionGame Design

Last year I noticed that fighters have few out-of-combat abilities, and wanted to add more versatility to the class without using the powers system. It struck me that 4E already has a mechanic for non-combat powers: the rituals system, normally used for spellcasters’ out-of-combat spells. D&D blogger Wyatt recently had a similar idea, so I thought I’d share some more of my ideas on the topic.

A ritual as we know is a non-combat spell, characterized by long casting time, a level requirement, a cost to acquire, a cost per use, and usually a skill check, with higher results sometimes granting greater successes. We can apply that to the martial classes, creating what Wyatt calls an Endeavour. Broadly speaking, a ritual or endeavour lets a character perform actions not covered by normal skill use or combat powers. Wyatt recommends giving all characters one Endeavour for free at level 1.

Dragon #379 also introduced something called Martial Practices, very similar to a ritual but you typically pay the component cost in healing surges. Below are some new examples of whatever you want to call rituals for martial classes.

This ritual brings third edition’s Craft (weaponsmithing) back into play.
Level: 1
Component Cost: Special
Category: Creation
Market Price: 50gp training, 20gp tools
Time: Special
Key Skill: Endurance. Working hard for long hours at a hot forge requires good stamina.
Duration: Instantaneous

You turn raw materials into weapons, armour or other metal objects. You pay half the item’s purchase price in raw materials and must spend one day working per 25gp in the item’s price. Your skill check determines the item’s quality and production time.

9 or lower: Crude. Item takes 50% longer to produce and suffers a -1 penalty (to attack rolls for weapons, to AC for armour)
10-19: Sturdy.
20-34: Superior. Item is produced in 75% of the time and worth 50% more than usual.
35 or higher: Masterwork. Item is produced in 50% of the time, and is worth double.

An item can be crafted Hastily, in which case it takes only one day but the blacksmith must spend one healing surge for each day he saves. For each surge he doesn’t spend, the skill check suffers a -5 penalty. At the DM’s discretion, certain objects may be especially challenging to craft, and impose a penalty. Players should note that by rules as written, mundane gear isn’t worth anything to sell.

Grisly Trophy
Level: 5
Component Cost: 1 healing surge
Category: Abjuration
Market Price: 80gp
Time: One hour
Key Skill: Intimidate
Duration: One day

By choosing body parts and pieces of armour from fallen enemies, you construct a terrifying scarecrow-like monument to your own prowess. When an enemy sees the grisly trophy for the first time, make an Intimidate check vs Will as an immediate reaction. On success, the enemy is frightened and takes -2 to attack rolls until the end of the encounter. You gain +2 to the check if the trophy is made of the target’s allies, or +5 if the trophy is made of the target’s leader or boss.

You can’t move the grisly trophy or carry it into battle. It can be destroyed if it takes damage; an average trophy has AC 10, Fortitude 10, Reflex 10 and 25 hit points.

Legendary Blacksmithing
Your weapon and armour crafting talents surpass those of most mortal craftsmen.
Level: 15
Component Cost: Special
Category: Creation
Market price: 1,000gp training, 20gp tools
Time: Special
Key Skill: Arcana, Endurance or Religion
Duration: Instantaneous

As Blacksmithing, but the works you create are imbued with expert enhancements. You can imbue an item with the following properties:

Indestructible (any item): Item adds resist 10 to damage (item only, not wielder)
Blood Channel (weapon): Once per day, expend a healing surge to score a critical hit on a roll of 19
Featherlight (armour): Penalty to skill checks in armour is reduced by one
Fearsome (any item): Wearer gains a +1 bonus to Intimidate checks
Fop’s Blade (armour, weapon): Ability score required to wield or wear this reduced by two; owner can take the requisite proficiency feat
Serrated: (weapon): Deal +1 damage on a critical hit

The number of properties you can imbue depend on your skill check result:

14 or less: None, and item cannot be made magical (see below)
15 to 24: None
25-29: One enhancement
30-39: Two enhancements
40 or higher: Three enhancements

In addition, you can use residuum to craft a weapon or armour into a magic item, as per the Enchant Magic Item ritual.

Penny Arcade’s D&D Sandbox

posted Thursday, January 7th 2010 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Gabe from webcomic Penny Arcade chronicled his DMing yesterday in a post that reveals some interesting custom rules.

The group uses “Resolve Tokens” to track how quickly you can traverse the wilderness map. One token allows one hex of movement, and tokens can also be spent to evade random encounters or regain action points or encounter powers. This adds a tactical aspect to overworld movement: you can move more quickly at the expense of combat resources, or get bogged down in combat and end up losing journey time. Gabe suggests that it also encourages discussion and choice, which encourages roleplaying over combat.

Gabe also uses a slideshow on a large screen to display treasure, an innovative use of technology at the gaming table. He also uses a set of stickers to track status effects on miniatures.

World Building 101: You Shall Be As Gods

posted Wednesday, January 6th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Last week, I discussed some of the issues to be considered when deciding what to include or exclude from your campaign setting. One of the most critical elements of any campaign—mechanically and flavorfully—is the nature of divinity and belief in the setting.

Your world’s gods, and their followers, can help lend a distinctive feel to the campaign setting. Whether the deities you create are unique or drawn from pantheons found in Earth’s history, the names, stories, and faithful will create atmosphere and mood that can permeate your entire campaign.

More than that, though—the deities of your campaign affect the options your players have when creating characters. Every divine class requires being faithful to at least one deity, and characters from other power sources may believe in and follow them as well. That is why it is so vital to give due consideration to the deities of your world. Continue reading this article »

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