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The Challenge of Finding Epic Level Soap

posted Wednesday, February 22nd 2012 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Over at Critical Hits, Vanir (who you may remember from the blog Stupid Ranger) has written up a list of 10 epic level problems nobody thinks about. For instance, where do you get the epic level soap necessary to wash off epic level bacteria? And how do you speak to normal folk when your voice booms with deific thunder?

Then there’s this problem:

Woe betide the fool who ascends to godhood at a family reunion. Does your family worship you now?

“Please pass the green beans, Sun Lord.”

Awkwarrrd.

Link: 10 Epic-Level Problems Nobody Thinks About, via Critical Hits

You Want To Shoot How Far?

posted Saturday, February 18th 2012 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionGame Design

Commenters on my last article raised some very good points on the historical accuracy of archery in Dungeons & Dragons, or perhaps lack of it. This gave me cause to do some research on the difficulty of long-range archery.

According to various estimates, the mediaeval English longbow had an effective range of 180-250 yards (540-750 feet or 108-150 D&D squares). However, at this range archers would fire into enemy formations rather than individual targets. Only at shorter ranges would an archer be expected to hit a man reliably.

The modern day sport of clout archery shows that this kind of shooting is entirely possible. Men shoot toward a flag on the ground 180 yards (540 feet) away, with one point for landing within 12 feet and more points for landing closer. This suggests that even with mediaeval wooden bows and little training, a man could indeed shoot into a formation of men at 180 yards.

In shorter-range target shooting, archers are expected to hit a 40cm target at 18 metres (60 feet) or a 122cm target at 90 metres (295 feet or 98 yards). Traditional hunters typically shoot deer with a bow at a range of 25 yards (75 feet) or less.

D&D 4e’s shortbow has a range of 15 (75 feet) without penalty, 30 (150 feet) at -2, very close to what modern hunters describe. One says, “All my animals taken are between 7 and 25 yards [21 to 75 feet]. I practice beyond that but I can really see the arrow dropping off after 25 yards so I stay under that.”

That range increases to 20/40 (100/200 feet) for the longbow and 25/50 (125/250 feet) for the superior greatbow. Here we have a small problem: how do you simulate the mediaeval longbow, which by some estimates could fire 250 yards (750 feet) with an accuracy of perhaps five feet?

The only real difference between 3e and 4e’s archery is that 3e lets you fire very long distances at reduced accuracy. A 200 yard (600 feet) shot like a mediaeval archer or clout archer incurs a -12 penalty, so a trained archer can hit an unarmoured man some of the time. Unfortunately, D&D 3e doesn’t simulate mass combat well, so the massed archer effect isn’t directly equatable.

Although D&D 3e technically lets you shoot a longbow at 1,000 feet, in practice it’s not feasible. You take an impossible -20 penalty to the shot, giving an unarmoured man an equivalent AC of 30.

Does Anybody Walk or Run Any More?

posted Wednesday, February 15th 2012 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionGame Design

I’ve spotted an odd difference between D&D third and fourth edition, in how they handle moving and shooting over long ranges.

In my last D&D 4e session, the players made the ill-advised choice to split the party. Half went into the woods to look for the creature who was menacing the village, while the other half stayed in the village to look for clues.

When the scouting party finally encountered the creature, it was 500 yards away from the village. Combat began with two of the player characters 300 squares away from the creature.

This sort of long range is where 3e and 4e play very differently.

In third edition, you can run 4x your speed. If your base speed is 30 feet or 6 squares, you can run 120 feet or 24 squares in a round.

In fourth edition, running only increases your speed by +2. With a run-double-move, an unencumbered human’s top speed is only 16 squares, or two thirds of what it was in third edition.

Ranged weapons are similarly shortened from their third edition counterparts.

In 3e, a light crossbow has a range of 75 feet or 15 squares without penalty, with a -2 penalty for each full 80 feet or 16 squares. The maximum range is ten such increments, so you can technically hit a target at 800 feet or 160 squares if you’re lucky or talented.

In 4e, the crossbow has a similar range of 15 squares without penalty and a further 15 squares at a -2 penalty. However, you can’t shoot any further than two range increments, so your maximum range with a crossbow is 30 squares or 150 feet.

This short range of D&D4e is no problem inside dungeons, but a bother at long-range battlefield stuff.

It’s also lacking in realism and historical accuracy. A person can easily run 120 feet in six seconds, or a quarter-mile in a minute. Not only could the English longbow shoot further than D&D4e’s 200ft (40 square) limit, but King Henry VIII ordered that archery practice ranges be at least 220 yards or 660 feet (132 D&D squares).

My question of the day: Why do you suppose the D&D designers shortened ranges this way? Does it enhance the game, or hinder it?

Is This Dragon Encounter Too Deadly?

posted Sunday, February 12th 2012 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceThird Edition

A couple of years ago I came up with an idea for a particularly unfair combat encounter involving a dragon who takes every advantage of his terrain and abilities. I never inflicted it on my players, but other Dungeon Masters may not be so merciful.

Using the D&D 3.5 rules, take a young red dragon, CR7. Red dragons are described as preparing multiple strategies ahead of time, and taking great care to avoid damaging their enemy’s items so they can loot them later. This one is no exception.

The dragon lures his enemy to a chosen spot: a beach, at night. With +17 to Bluff, setting up a ruse like this is no problem. Bluff is a class skill for red dragons, and they have a lot of hit dice.

He begins the battle by reading a scroll of resist energy for cold resistance 10, which he can do since he casts spells as a first level sorcerer. It costs 150 gp, but 7th level characters have about 19,000 gp worth of equipment each, so it’s a sound investment. The dragon uses his own spellcasting ability to cast mage armor and resistance, for +4 to AC and a brief +1 to saves before swooping in for the attack.

This is where the beach terrain is important. The dragon swoops in from 150 feet away (30 squares) and uses the Hover feat to make a whirlwind of sand. The sandstorm extinguishes all torches, gives the dragon full concealment if he’s 25 feet away or more, and forces casters to make a Concentration check (DC 16) to cast a spell. The dragon can hover at a height of up to twenty feet, out of the range of melee attackers.

The PCs will have to move into 10 feet range of the dragon to attack without penalty. This means archers can’t make a full attack and spellcasters must move into melee range. A PC at the very edge of the dust cloud must move 45 feet to attack without penalty. Area spells work normally, but the red dragon is immune to the usual fireball and resists the first 10 of a cold based attack before its cold weakness is applied.

Now, lets say we scale this encounter up to a young adult red dragon, CR13. We have even more frustrating tactic to use here. Remember that we’re on a beach.

At Huge size, the dragon qualifies for the Snatch feat, giving him the ability to pick up anyone he hits with a bite or claw, provided he can succeed at a grapple (at a whopping +37). He then flies over the ocean at full fly speed of 150ft and drops the grabbed character into the ocean.

To get back, the dropped character must swim 150 feet. Assuming he passes a Swim check each around (DC 10), the character moves at one-quarter speed: half speed for swimming (even as a full round action), and half that again due to the little-known effect that you move half speed in darkness. The average character will be out of combat for twenty rounds.

This snatch attack assumes the dragon hits with his bite attack and flies off in the same round. If it misses, the dragon continues his full attack (two claws, one tail slap), choosing to grapple with the claws at a -20 penalty to hold without penalty to himself (still grappling at +17). If the target fails to escape, he begins the next round by dropping the target in the ocean as usual.

Once there’s only one character left on the beach, the dragon can do even worse. Hovering at 10 feet, he snatches the target with his bite and flies up diagonally at a 45 degree angle at half speed (the maximum allowed by his fly movement category), moving 35 feet forward and 35 feet up. If the target breaks free on its turn, it falls 45 feet. If not, the dragon flies another 35 feet diagonally up, blasts the target with his breath weapon allowing no save for 10d10 fire damage, then drops him 80 feet for 8d6 falling damage. On average, this is 83 damage in one round.

What do you think? Too much?

Japan 3DS Game to Recreate Tabletop Experience

posted Thursday, February 9th 2012 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Japanese publisher Level-5 has announced Crimson Shroud, a Nintendo 3DS game that actually simulates the features of pen and paper RPGs: rolling dice, moving miniatures, and paper maps.

“Now, the die is cast,” reads the Japanese website. “Experience a new sort of roleplaying in a tabletop-style RPG.”

Screenshots and concept art show dungeons built out of Dwarven Forge style terrain pieces. Characters can be seen standing on pedestals like tabletop miniatures. We also see a map in a hand-drawn style.

“As illustrated here, dice will be an essential key item,” reads the caption to a screenshot showing the polyhedral dice familiar to any D&D player: 20, 12, 10, 8, 6 and 4-sided dice. For many Japanese roleplayers, this will be their first encounter with polyhedral dice, which are less common in Japan’s tabletop RPGs (Sword World RPG and Maid RPG both use only six-sided dice, for example). It seems inspired quite directly from modern Dungeons & Dragons, which did see a Japanese release.

Crimson Shroud’s creator is Yasumi Matsuno, famous for his work on video game RPGs including Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre and Vagrant Story. Matsuno says he’s influenced by western games, and joined publisher Level-5 to work on a small-scale project like this where he is able to have complete control over the finished product.

(Thanks to Nintendo DS blog TinyCartridge for the story.)

French Adventurers Restore Priceless Works of Art

posted Monday, February 6th 2012 by Jonathan Drain
Fluff/Inspiration

From Wired: The New French Hacker-Artist Underground:

UX’s most sensational caper (to be revealed so far, at least) was completed in 2006. A cadre spent months infiltrating the Pantheon, the grand structure in Paris that houses the remains of France’s most cherished citizens. Eight restorers built their own secret workshop in a storeroom, which they wired for electricity and Internet access and outfitted with armchairs, tools, a fridge, and a hot plate. During the course of a year, they painstakingly restored the Pantheon’s 19th- century clock, which had not chimed since the 1960s.

It reads like something out of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. Small groups of brave young men explore the tunnels underneath the city and break into museums to steal valuable works of art. The only difference is that instead of selling the artworks for gold coins, these real-world rogues restore artworks that museums have forgotten.

UX is a kind of adventurers’ guild who specialize in restoring objects of cultural importance. The monsters they fight are incompetent museum security and lazy officials who don’t care about the artworks they protect.

The story provides real-world tested answers to questions of realism in D&D that are normally fobbed off with mundane gameplay-based reasons. Why isn’t every dungeon door locked for security? The game designer says “because lockpicking can be boring”, but now the French urban explorer can tell you “because whoever owns the site now doesn’t expect anyone to penetrate their first layer of security.”

Photo: Machu Picchu Temple of the Sun

posted Thursday, February 2nd 2012 by Jonathan Drain
Fluff/Inspiration

The Machu Picchu Temple of the Sun, an Inca ruin from the 1400s. Its dry stone construction still stands to this day. Photograph released into the public domain by Fabricio Guzmán.

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