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Before 4e: Iron Heroes

posted Friday, January 25th 2013 by Jonathan Drain
None of the Above

Mike Mearls is well known as one of the developers of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition and various expansions. But less well known is his 2005 work Iron Heroes, which removes the spellcasting classes and magic items from D&D and expands the rest to fill the space. The result is an all-martial version of D&D 3.5 with several innovations I still think are really cool.

Iron Heroes class abilities cost power points to use (like 3e psionics or spell points). These power points are called Tokens, and can be accumulated during an encounter by taking tactical actions which vary by class. For example, an Archer can spend a move action to aim at his target and gain 1 point.

I like IH’s token pools far better than 4e’s encounter powers, because they make narrative sense. It’s hard to explain why the fighter can only trip once per combat, but if he can only trip an opponent after taking some action that sets him up for the trip, it makes more sense. The tokens system is also more versatile, because you can use the same encounter power twice.

IH’s system neatly solves another problem in 4e: the grind of weak at-will powers when you run out of encounter powers. Most IH classes gain tokens during combat, so special attack use scales with combat length.

It’s like 4e in some ways, though. IH heavily uses per-encounter resources rather than per-day. It also uses the reserve points, an early precursor to 4e’s healing surges, which lets you recover hit points between combat without a cleric. This is down to IH’s lack of magical healing, I think, as opposed to 4e’s design to remove reliance on a cleric PC as a healing battery.

I also like that like 3.5, IH supports miniatures but isn’t reliant on them. Distances are in both squares and feet. You can flank on your own by moving around an opponent and attacking in the same round, at the cost of your move action (i.e. no full attack this round) and an attack of opportunity.

You can buy the 2007 revised PDF edition Iron Heroes at RPGNow now for £9.43 or whatever that is in your currency. There’s also a complete Iron Heroes bundle for £22.07. If you’re looking for a low-magic setting or a change from your current D&D, Iron Heroes is still as good as it was in 2007.

Mike Mearls’ Combat Maneuvers

posted Thursday, January 24th 2013 by Jonathan Drain
None of the AboveThird Edition

Yesterday I mentioned the manoever system from Book of Iron Might. Mike Mearls, who later went on to design Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, wrote this mechanically interesting expansion for D&D 3.5 in 2004.

The maneuver system (I’ll use the American spelling to stay consistent with the book, as it’s a game term) allows you to perform a wide range of combat techniques without taking a feat, but at the cost of a large attack penalty of -10 or greater. This penalty can be offset by taking drawbacks.

Lets say you wish to knock an opponent prone. You can do so, at the impossibly high penalty of -20 to attack. However, you can reduce that penalty by 10 if the maneuver provokes an attack of opportunity, by a further 5 if your opponent gets a saving throw or opposed check, and another 5 if the attack only knocks prone and doesn’t deal damage.

Other possible maneuver perks include disarm, bonus damage, ability score damage (2 points), blindness (1d4 rounds), speed reduction, daze, stun, and disabling a natural attack or special ability such as the beholder’s antimagic eye.

This deconstruction of the 3e combat system is what got me to first take note of Mike Mearls and his grasp on mechanics. His later work, the similarly titled Book of Iron Heroes, formed a lot of the groundwork for D&D 4th edition. I’ll write more about Iron Heroes in my next post.

If you’re interested, you can buy Book of Iron Might at RPGNow for £4.41 in PDF, £7.25 in print, or whatever that is in your currency, which looks like Monopoly money to me.

One Weird Feat Discovered By A Sean

posted Wednesday, January 23rd 2013 by Jonathan Drain
None of the AboveThird Edition

For some reason today, a strange feat came to mind. It’s called Reciprocal Slaying, and it appeared on D&D writer Sean K Reynolds’ personal website in 2003.

The benefit is this: As a full attack action, you can allow an opponent to make an attack against you as if you were helpless. If it hits, it counts as a coup de grace – for reference, this means he automatically deals a critical hit, and you make a Fort save or die (DC 10 + damage taken). However, if it hits and you survive, you then get to make a coup de grace attack against your opponent in the same way.

Thinking back on it, this is a really terrible feat. It’s something you might use in an emergency, but not often enough to warrant a feat. It’s more of a “Book of Iron Might” manoever: a special attack with benefits and drawbacks that balance out but don’t require a feat to learn. I’ll blog more on those later, they’re interesting.

Imagine it in the hands of monsters, too. A kobold insta-kills your high level character. Or an undead uses it, because he’s immune to coup de grace.

Dicecards: Polyhedral Dice in Deck Form

posted Thursday, January 17th 2013 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Occasionally, something really cool shows up on Kickstarter. Dicecards is one such project.

Dicecards is a deck of Poker cards with varying pictures of thirty types of dice, allowing you to simulate any dice roll by drawing a card from the deck. Each card depicts several dice including polyhedral (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20), Fudge, average (used in wargaming), directional (Warhammmer 40k), Craps and HeroQuest, plus other objects like a coin, a Scrabble tile, and a compass direction.

The Kickstarter has already hit its funding goal of £5,500 with two weeks to go, but you can still get in and pre-order a deck for £8.

The Art of Chase Stone

posted Wednesday, January 16th 2013 by Jonathan Drain

Chase Stone is a digital artist who draws some incredible photorealistic fantasy and sci-fi art. It’s a wonderful source of new ideas for roleplaying game material.

You can find more at Chase Stone’s Deviantart page.

Running a Convention Game? Don’t Be That Guy

posted Tuesday, January 15th 2013 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

A really good article this week at Critical Hits. Chatty DM goes over The Top Ten Things That Can Make Convention Games Suck.

Pathfinder Kickstarter Funded With Hours to Go

posted Monday, January 14th 2013 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Goblinworks’ Kickstarter for Pathfinder Online has just hit its funding target of 1 million dollars, with mere hours to spare.

Yesterday, the crowdfunded project was more than $125,000 away from its target, with a daily average of only around $20,000. In the past 24 hours, 1,328 people have donated $163,308, putting Pathfinder Online at 103% of its budget with 3 hours still to go.

You can still back Pathfinder Online Kickstarter for the next three hours.

What Pokémon Does Right

posted Tuesday, January 8th 2013 by Jonathan Drain
Game Design

Nintendo today announced the next installment in the Pokémon game series. Whether or not you’re a fan, Pokémon has a lot in common with Dungeons & Dragons.

It’s an RPG with a history of over fifteen years, now entering its sixth “edition”. RPG designers can learn a lot from the ways Pokémon has changed since its first version, and the ways it’s remained the same.

1. The core story remains unchanged.

Pokémon is always the tale of a boy from a small village who leaves home to collect, train and battle wild creatures in the hopes of winning the regional championship. Nintendo knows this is a successful story, but do they know why? Either way, they don’t change it. D&D, similarly, has always been about heroes who explore and loot dungeons for treasure.

2. Sacred cows are never slaughtered.

Pokémon games have a lot of features that don’t change. The starting Pokémon are always Grass, Fire and Water type. You always have a friend or rival that you battle along the way. You always fight eight gym leaders, battle through Victory Road, and take on the Elite Four. These things are iconic to Pokémon. Whether people like these because they’re good design, or because they just feel like Pokémon, Nintendo is clever enough not to change them in their main series games.

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