Tuesday, October 26, 2010

theme & character, part I

recently, i'd been involved in a number of discussions and i'd thought that i'd relate them here. essentially, they were about character concepts and themes. admittedly, D&D is a big game, but there are some areas or themes that it simply doesn't (or can't) cover. for instance, what if you're really enamoured with vampires or werewolves, but either have a DM that doesn't want a PC with that level of power, or far more likely, you simply don't want to have to eat a rather unpalatable LA that such characters can bring. sometimes however, it's merely a desire to play something from fantasy or literature that isn't exactly covered, but something similar already exists.

for example, let's say you wanted to play a mechanical-themed mage, a "tinker" or a "steampunk" character. you could try to pore through all of your books and files in hopes of finding something that is a) relative; and b) not stupidly designed or over or under-powered. you could do this, however, my suggestion would be to try a conjurer specialist wizard, except "tinker" with the spell thematics of the school, and magic. (sorry for the pun)

for instance, you could imagine - not a stretch, since the whole game is about imagining - that your wizard is a new and rare form of mage called a "tinker" because they summon semi-robotic, steampunk like constructs to do their bidding. also, during the 1 round casting time (which tinkers call "assembling"), the bits of iron, steel and wood that actually constitute the creature they're summoning whirl around and rapidly assemble themselves within moments, ready to do their creator's bidding; furthermore, he records his spells on extremely thin gears of metal, using a blocky, numerical-like script, etc. when he casts "mage armour" a slowly spinning gear phases in to guard him; when he casts "magic missile", the sound of sputtering steam-cannons belch and magically, searing bolts of iron hurl toward his foes; should he cast "identify", a rotating series of gears and magnifying glasses magically adorn his head like goggles, forever whirling and rotating, helping him see the underlying "blueprints" of other, more traditional magics; you get the idea.

mechanically, you're still a conjuror; thematically, you're something that will really impress people and stick out as new and unique. the DM really can't get too upset because you haven't really radically changed much mechanically, although he or she may get upset about the flavour of their world. realistically though, as long as you aren't intent on bringing their entire campaign down, they should be cool and let it slide. i mean, really, we can pretend that a dwarf wearing a magical corset can out-wrestle a three-story giant, wizards routinely cast spells that by their very nature radically alter the nature of the game, or that a charging paladin can, with the right spells and weapons, effectively one-shot the arch-nemesis of his deity, so really just because some new mage decides that his raison d'etre is gears, smoke and steam, people shouldn't get too upset. not that they still won't though, i mean, people are people.

another example? want to play the awesomeness of a vampire but a DM isn't keen on the powers and you're wincing over the +8 LA? i'd suggest looking to the Fiendish Codex I, as the "abyssal heritor" feats present an appopriate set of mechanics, and all that's needed to change is the name. after all, the feats cloak of the obyrith, demonic skin, eyes of the abyss, and otherworldly countenance all offer up vampire-like abilities, and have the added benefit of each gains more power, the more heritor feats you possess.

for instance, change "abyssal heritor feats" to "gravetouched soul" feats. cloak of the obyrith, which grants DR, could become ultra mortis; demonic skin, grants an AC bonus, could be called infernal protection; eyes of the abyss gives you dark vision and spot bonuses, could be called fiendish glare; finally, otherworldly countenance, which lets to "glamer" mortals like vampires do, could be deathless influence. and again, this is all simple thematics and really shouldn't upset anyone too much.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

the fighter

i know what you're thinking: fighter "fixes" are a dime a dozen. does anyone ever really wonder why? perhaps they do. it should be obvious though: most everyone can fight better than our poor fighter. i had plans to remove the fighter entirely and have him replaced with the NPC warrior class instead. my reasoning? what's so heroic about a dude in chain mail, swinging a sword? however, last minute compassion and this article from wizards.com made me give him a second chance. it worked out fairly well too.

Physical Prowess

Starting at 1st level, a fighter gets a bonus to some aspect of his ability checks that makes him a better warrior. The fighter gains an additional bonus at 3rd level and every two fighter levels thereafter (5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th, and 19th). The bonus must be drawn from the following list.
  • Applied Force (Ex): A fighter can administer force to the weakest points of inanimate objects effectively, giving the character a +1 bonus on Strength checks to break or burst items. Rules for breaking objects are here.
  • Combat Bearing (Ex): A fighter can steady himself to fight in precarious situations, giving the character a +1 bonus on Dexterity checks to avoid falling when damaged while balancing or moving quickly across difficult surfaces. Rules for balancing are here.
  • Stamina Reserve (Ex): A fighter can push his body more than normal, giving the character a +1 bonus on Constitution checks to continue running. Rules for marching are here.
  • Weapon Aptitude (Ex): At 3rd level, a fighter has become proficient enough to adjust his weapon training. Each morning, you can spend 1 hour in weapon practice to change the designated weapon of any feat that has a designated weapon (such as Weapon Focus or Weapon Specialization). You must have the weapon to practice with.
  • Martial Expertise (Ex): At 6th level, a fighter (and only a fighter) may use a swift action in order to turn a full-attack into a standard action, rather than a full-round action.
  • The Fighter’s 6th level bonus feat is now given at 5th level, as normal feat progression already gives a feat at 6th level, causing this level to be somewhat over-weighted.
I found that, once all was said and done - especially in light of the new martial expertise ability - people were really, really excited to roll up a fighter. they were more door-bashy, and more sword-swingy. dare i suggest more fight-y? let me know how the changes worked in your neck of the woods.

*  *  *

p.s. ah yes, knew i forgot something! one last thing, i made the following change to my game and everyone readily agreed that it was a solid - if not inventive - rule, greatly benefiting the fighter:

Improved Toughness (Fighter): This feat now works as follows - for every feat of the fighter-type that a character possesses, he gains 2 additional hit points. This works in a very similar manner to the psionic body feat.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    the shadowcaster

    you know, for as thematic and flavourful as these guys appeared to be, i never actually used one. i first saw them in the tome of magic and yes, their rather unique mechanism did make my head spin. give it a few reads - it's not bad, but it's trying to reinvent the wheel when frankly, i doubt such a thing needed to be done. shame too, because after a lot of the changes were made to them, by its original designer Mousferatu from enworld.com, it seemed like it'd be really viable. at any rate, please accept what minor tinkerings i've assembled below:

    There is a fundamental difference between shadow magic and Shadow Weave magic. Shadow Weave magic users derive their power from a source of magic created by the goddess Shar that occupies the negative space between the Weave. Shadowcasters typically use the Weave to channel their magic directly from the plane of shadows. In this way, shadow magic has more in common with conjuration spells of the Weave than it does with spells cast via the Shadow Weave.
    • Grant bonus mysteries per day based on Charisma. These would work just like bonus spells. For instance, if your Cha is 14, you can cast one extra mystery of 1st-level equivalent and one of 2nd-level equivalent per day. (Note that each mystery does give an equivalent level, even though you don’t learn them by level.)
    • Eliminate the rule that says you have to take mysteries in a given Path in order. If you want to jump around, so as to broaden your versatility, you can.
    • Eliminate the rule that says you get a bonus feat equal to half the number of paths you have access to. Instead, you get a bonus feat equal to the total number of Paths you complete. Thus, while you are no longer required to take the entirety of a given Path, there’s still encouragement to do so.
    • You may “swap out” mysteries, just as a sorcerer does spells known. If you “un-complete” a Path in this way, however, you lose access to the bonus feat you gained from completing that Path. (You can regain access by re-completing the Path, completing a different Path and choosing that feat as your new bonus, or selecting that feat as a normal feat at your next opportunity.)
    • Once your Apprentice Mysteries become supernatural abilities, change the save DC from 10 + equivalent spell level + Cha to 10 + 1/2 caster level + Cha. This makes them useful even against high-HD opponents, and follows the pattern for other supernatural abilities.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    the paladin

    for the most part, i can't complain too much about these guys. they do their job and do it fairly well. however my one criticism is that they have to be lawful good. seriously? only the most law-abiding and pious of individuals may become zealous champions of faith? seems a tad shaky to me, which is why i almost always allow people to use the variant paladins of freedom (chaotic good), slaughter (chaotic evil), and tyranny (lawful evil). by and large, it really makes a lot more sense to have these iconic champions of alignments and faiths *other* than just lawful good. this way, when you're trying to make a truly black-hearted bad guy, the warrior-champion of a completely vile and abhorrent cult, you don't have to turn to...a fairly bad-tempered fighter, or hexblade.

    although, those could be cool too. indeed, one of my favorite combinations is to give one of the evil paladins a few levels of hexblade - mostly so one can obtain arcane resistance - meaning that you get to add your charisma modifier to saves twice. that's pretty sweet-ass considering that the paladin already has solid saves. oh, and if i may be so bold, be sure to check out the compete champion, because it's got some fairly sweet paladin-themed feats. there's one called battlecaster, and to be frank, i think that anyone who doesn't take it is a right fool. yes, it literally reorganizes the way that paladins act and behave in battle. well, not that monumentally, but it actually gives a second life to their admittedly meager spell ability.

    also, in my games, much like the cleric, paladins lose their turn undead ability, as it is now replaced with channel energy. this may be partially problematic, since most paladin-themed feats rely on turn undead attempts, but i find that if they now run on channel energy attempts, it works fairly smoothly. oh, also, a paladin channels energy as a cleric of three levels lower would. to learn more about channeling energy, just click here.

    you'll note that, similar to my post on monks, i organized the paladin orders along the traditional forgotten realms divisions. as i've said before, you don't need to do the same, and yes, they're forgotten realms (trademark and copyright NOT mine), but i sifted through the appropriate materials to uncover the following. it is interesting to note that, in the forgotten realms, you must chose a knightly order, from which your character belongs, but as i said there's a fair deal of flexibility with this:

    Arvoreen’s Marchers

    An order founded in the lands south of Tethyr and recognized by the crown, they are highly respected by local humans and halflings alike. Their unique lifestyle affords them the ability to multi-class as clerics, fighters or rogues.

    Companions of the Noble Heart

    The Companions are the aggressive counterparts to the passive clerics of Illmater, deity of suffering. They are tasked with protecting their clerical counterparts, but also eliminating the cruel and those who are known to enjoy the torture and suffering of others. The church of Loviatar is their greatest enemy. They may multi-class as fighters.

    Hammers of Moradin

    These stout and stalwart dwarves are tasked by Moradin with protecting the vast dwarven realms from all manner of terror and underdark horror. Due to the danger involved, they may multi-class as clerics or fighters.

    Knights of the Eternal Order

    This is a recently-created order, founded by the newly-ascended god of death, Kelemvor. They are tasked to seek out all undead, but especially loathe powerful undead that tax balance between life and death, but also exist as a mockery of natural death. They may multi-class as clerics.

    Knights of Merciful Judgment

    This order focuses on the heart of Tyr’s philosophy, punishing criminals and law-breakers, but also being mindful of the compassionate nature of justice. They have a zeal for battling evil, extra-planar outsiders, such as devils and demons. Paladins of this order may freely multi-class as fighters, knights and clerics.

    Order of the Aster

    The paladins of the Morninglord are amongst the most well-known paladins across Faerun. Their tireless deeds in the service of the poor or downtrodden has made them particularly well-respected and loved across the realms. They may multi-class as clerics without penalty.

    Order of the Golden Lion

    Paladins within this Order may freely multi-class in a single other class, but this cannot overtake their paladin training. They are widely seen as paragons of loyalty and truth, in the service of the god of duty, Torm.

    Order of the Most Radiant Heart

    This paladin order is in the service of the ever-vigilant god Helm, who allows his paladins to freely multi-class as fighters, knights and clerics.

    Order of the Red Falcon

    A fledgling order of paladins who old the goddess of tactics, the Red Knight, as their patron. This small order has a history of triumphing in the face of overwhelming odds. They train officers and others in tactics and military history. They may multi-class as fighters or knights.

    Shields of the Golden Hills

    Under the guidance of their gnome patron, Gaerdal Ironhand, this order is dedicated to defending gnome communities against any attackers and serving as officers and champions of larger gnome military assemblies. They may multi-class as clerics or fighters

    Note that paladin-themed prestige classes do not count towards a paladin’s multi-classing limitations. If an Order lists Cleric as a choice for multi-classing, the faith of the cleric has to be the same as that of the Paladin’s Deity. Finally, any Order that lists Cleric as an acceptable multi-class may also allows a Favored Soul instead.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    the soulknife

    ok, i'll expand on this novel later. but, for the time being:

    The following changes have been made to the Soulknife. The text below should be considered as an update to preexisting texts, but if something is mentioned and not actually here, check the original soulknife text. These numbers represent the changes to the individual Soulknife levels.

    1. Mind blade, Weapon Focus (mind blade), Hidden Talent
    2. Throw mind blade, Bonus Feat
    3. Psychic strike +1d8
    4. +1 mind blade
    5. Free draw, shape mind blade
    6. +2 mind blade, Bonus Feat
    7. Psychic strike +2d8
    8. +3 mind blade
    9. Bladewind, Greater Weapon Focus (mind blade)
    10. +4 mind blade, Bonus Feat
    11. Psychic strike +3d8
    12. +5 mind blade
    13. Knife to the soul
    14. +6 mind blade, Bonus Feat
    15. Psychic strike +4d8
    16. +7 mind blade
    17. Multiple throw
    18. +8 mind blade, Bonus Feat
    19. Psychic strike +5d8
    20. +9 mind blade, Last Strike

    Hidden Talent (Su): You gain the Hidden Talent feat instead of the Wild Talent feat at 1st level (see Expanded Psionic Handbook, page 67). This is to give the soulknife some very minor manifestation ability. Note that, should a soulknife use up all of their power points, they merely lose psionic focus, but can still manifest their mind blade; although, some of the abilities of the blade are dependant upon having a focus.

    Mind Blade (Su): At 4th level and every other level thereafter, the mind blade gains a cumulative +1 enhancement bonus on attack rolls and damage rolls (+2 at 6th level, +3 at 8th level, +4 at 10th level, +5 at 12th level, and so on). Note that the enhancement bonus of the mind blade cannot exceed +5. The Soulknife may (and must, after the enhancement bonus exceeds +6) apply a special ability from the table below instead of an enhancement bonus. A soulknife can choose any combination of weapon special abilities and/or enhancement bonus that does not exceed the total allowed by the soulknife’s level.

    The weapon ability or abilities remain the same every time the soulknife materializes his mind blade (unless he decides to reassign its abilities; see below). The ability or abilities apply to any form the mind blade takes, including the use of the shape mind blade or bladewind class abilities.

    Weapon Special Ability Enhancements:

    * Bane +1
    * Defending +1
    * Distance +1
    * Flaming +1
    * Frost +1
    * Ghost Touch +1
    * Keen +1
    * Lucky +1
    * Merciful +1
    * Mighty cleaving +1
    * Psychokinetic +1
    * Shock +1
    * Sundering +1
    * Vicious +1
    * Anarchic +2
    * Axiomatic +2
    * Collision +2
    * Flaming Burst +2
    * Frost Burst +2
    * Mindcrusher +2
    * Psychokinetic burst +2
    * Shocking Burst +2
    * Suppression +2
    * Wounding +2
    * Bodyfeeder +3
    * Mindfeeder +3
    * Soulbreaker +3
    * Brilliant Energy +4
    * Coup de Grace +5

    Note that abilities cannot be taken more than once. For example, you may not have a keen keen keen mindblade, instead of a +3 mindblade.

    Bonus Feat: At 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter (6th, 10th, 14th, and so one), the soulknife gains a bonus Psionic Feat.

    Last Strike (Su): At 20th level, the soulknife’s mindblade can retain the energy needed for a psychic strike longer. When the soulknife makes a successful psychic strike with his mindblade, the next attack he makes will also do psychic strike damage, as long as it is made within 1 round of the first strike (before the beginning of his next turn). Once this second psychic strike is made, the mindblade’s extra energy is used up and it will not do extra psychic strike damage unless imbued again. This supernatural ability is compatible with ability damage from Knife to the Soul.

    The original source of the changes