Category Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

DND Next Open Playtest Launches

This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi, and will soon see the end of the Rebellion. No wait, that’s not right. Today is a pretty big day in the world of RPGs, though. It marks the release of the open playtest rules for the next edition of arguably the most famous and most important RPG in the history of the genre – Dungeons and Dragons.

DND Next as Wizards of the Coast has termed it has been in “family and friends” testing for some time now, but today marks the availability of the playtest rules to the general public. The emails for those that signed up for it went out earlier today, but don’t fret. You are still able to get your hands on the materials. Just head over the Dungeons and Dragons main webpage and you’ll see a big splash page to sign up to get the materials. 

Fair warning: their page is crawling right now. Just be patient, and they will soon be in your hands. I’m still waiting on mine in the time it took to write this post.

Keep your eyes peeled here.. We’ll be bringing you all of the latest news on the open playtest for DND Next. Until then, keep those d20s warmed up, and good adventuring.

Originally posted on Word of the Nerd Online.

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Essentially Speaking…

After Christmas, I finally decided to take the plunge and order the books out of the DND Essentials line that I had been looking at and thinking about picking up for some time. I’d be lying if I said that the 33% off post holiday sale on Amazon didn’t have something to do with it. I got the books after the New Year and have been slowly but surely making my way through the new class options and some of the monsters, and I have to say, I like what I see.

A little bit of background to give this post context. I played in the first DND game day before 4th Edition even launched. I had a buddy working at one of the FLGSs in the area who told me about it a while in advance, and so me and a few other buddies decided to check it out. I liked what I saw, ordered copies of the books for myself and my wife, and poured through them when they got in. I planned on putting together a 4th Edition game, but just wasn’t able to find the time. By the time I looked at it again, there was so much system bloat and rewrites on the rules that the books I had were nearly invalidated. I kept trying to get my head around it, but I was just soured on the whole concept.

Now that I’ve read through the Essentials stuff, I have to say, if this is the way 4th Edition was released right from the beginning, there might not have been the divide there was at its release. It really is a nice marriage between the 4th Edition rules set and the concepts of third edition.

The most complex of the classes are the spellcasters, which is as it should. However, they aren’t as complicated as they have been in previous editions. They look like they’ll play almost exactly as the base Cleric and Wizard does in 4th Edition with some minor tweaks. For example, the Warpriest, the Cleric build presented, draws a lot of its options based on its Domain choice selected at character creation. The two presented in the book are the Storm Domain, making your offense more potent, and the Sun Domain, making your healing magic more powerful and making you the bane of undead creatures.

The Mage, the wizard build draws some of his options based on a school of magic, and is able to draw upon more spell options from his spellbook, making him more mutable than even the base Wizard was in 4th Edition. It’s really a nice marriage between the old Vancian magic system and the current power system. In the base book are the Evocation, Enchantment, and Illusion schools, each of them catering to certain casting styles based on the older edition’s definitions of the schools.

The Sentinel, the new Druid build switches the classes role to a Primal Leader, and regains the animal companion that it lost in the switch from 3rd Edition. However, instead of getting a natural animal companion, the Sentinel summons one out of primal energy and can call it back, even if it is destroyed in combat by spending some of his own vitality. The Sentinel gains it’s companion, and draws its unique powers based on the season they associate with, Spring getting a wolf and Summer getting a bear. They are also able to pick up a number of Wilderness Knacks, affording them certain abilities outside of combat based on where they are and what they’re doing.

The two new Fighter builds changed dramatically. No more is the fighter presented with At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers that let you hit an opponent different ways. Instead, you have several stances that you can switch between that modify your basic attacks, such as inflicting the enemy with the “slow” condition with a successful attack, or allowing you to shift as a free action or push or pull an opponent when you successfully hit. Additionally, we see a role split between the two builds. The Knight is the classic Defender, while the Slayer is a Striker, focusing on giving up defense to deal as much damage as possible with bigger, two handed weapons.

The Thief, the new Rogue build gets neat movement tricks that let him stay mobile on the battlefield and get into position to do the most damage. One such “Trick” gives the Thief a climb speed that they can use during their movement, literally letting them run along the walls in exchange for moving 2 fewer squares that turn. They also get a power bonus to damage rolls made with an attack that turn. The only image in my mind is the Thief turning from the enemy, running up the wall, vaulting off of it with an Athletics check to flip over the bad guy and then stabbing him on the way down. The movement tricks are simply too cool.

The Ranger gets “Aspects of the Wild” similar to fighter stances in that they modify the Ranger’s basic attacks, but they’re modeled after various and sundry animals, such as the “Lurking Spider” or the “Pack Wolf” or the “Regal Lion” each of them giving the Ranger some new ability based on that creature. For example, the Regal Lion gets a bonus to attack and defense rolls against larger opponents. The Lurking Spider gives a bonus to Stealth and Athletics checks as well as giving a bonus to damage rolls against opponents you have CA against. The Ranger is also able to grab some of the Wilderness Knacks that the Druid is capable of taking. We also see a role split here, with the Hunter (a bow ranger) acting as a Controller, and the Scout (a dual weapon “suicide ranger”) as a Striker.

The Cavalier, a new Paladin build acts as the basic idea of a Defender, even going so far as to have an At-Will called “Defender Aura.” I also believe they are the only Essentials build to include marking as a general conceit of the build. The Cavalier is less like the Fighter in that they deal with Daily Powers instead of At-Will stances, but there’s some really cool ideas in this build. They draw their unique abilities from a specific “virtue” they choose. The two presented in the book are Sacrifice and Valor, the former letting your protect your allies at the sake of your own safety and the second pumping your offense.

Finally, the Hexblade is the new Warlock build. They’re still a Striker, and they’re a little bit wierd… but in a really, really cool way. They still gain their power from pacts they make, but they gain a “pact weapon” right out of the gate that they can manifest and channel attack powers through it. As they progress in level, they can also summon allies based on their pact to help them in combat. The two pacts in the book are the Fey Pact and the Infernal Pact, both classic archetypes for the Warlock from 4th Edition.

Every class still gets Utility powers, and there is a very nice mix of powers good both in combat situations as well as in other situations. Even those without Daily attack powers still get an Encounter power or two to their name. Usually in these cases though, they get one signature one that they can begin using multiple times in an encounter as they progress in level, such as the Thief’s Backstab or the Fighters Power Strike ability.

Finally, all classes get certain concrete abilities based on their class, such at the fighter getting bonuses to hit and damage, and the Mage doing various things based on their magical school specialization, making the class progressions look similar to the 3rd Edition progressions (though still easily identifiable as 4th Edition). It gives each class a nice solid feeling to what they’re supposed to be doing aside from a role name (Striker, Leader, Defender, etc), yet still allows for each class to feel different thanks to power and basic option selections.

Lots of other things have been codified, including various feats grouped into similar categories. Most of the feats that give bonuses also tend to scale with your tier, getting better as you go on. For example, a weapon focus feat may provide a +1 bonus to attack rolls at Heroic tier. This bonus will increase to +2 at Paragon tier and +3 at Epic tier.

On the GM side, monster design seems to have taken a minor turn, making Solo monsters more threatening by giving many of them abilities to shake off status conditions without needing to making a Saving Throw. This is something that the more savvy DMs and DND bloggers out there have been doing for a while mind you, but it’s nice to WotC acknowledging that there was a problem there and taking steps to fix it beyond the MM3.

Magic item distribution has also been overhauled. The magic items themselves are still presented as they always have been, but they are assigned Rarities (similar to that of a CCG), Common, Uncommon, and Rare, affording the DM a little more control in the magic item economy at the table. Still I would have liked to see a couple of examples of Rare items in the books. As it stands, I don’t believe we have any of them in the books (though there are published adventures and DDI stuff I suppose).

As much as I like the Essentials line, there’s one thing that keeps me from being completely in love, and that’s the dearth of material for it. About half of the Essentials products released were tile sets and introductory boxed sets, with only three standalone books (the Rules Compendium, and two Players Guides), not including the Monster Vault, which was included in a boxed set. At first, I was disappointed, but then, the game designer inside of me realized that this was nothing but a major opportunity to create some of my own material and get it out there and help to make 4th Edition what I want it to be. So, there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing some more Dungeons and Dragons material on this blog (specifically some Domains and Magic Schools to start with), and I’m definitely going to be putting an Essentials only DND game on the table here at some point.

Bottom line, Essentials IS 4th Edition. It’s not 4.5. It’s not 3.75. It’s 4th Edition, and if you like the basic ideas presented in the other releases you’ll like the Essentials line. If you were reticent about the 4th Edition changes, Essentials might be the style of 4th Edition for you. It doesn’t offer a wildly different play experience, but it does give a slightly different flavor to the taste of the game, and one that might make it easier for the early and virulent detractors of the game to swallow. Give it a shot. You never know. You may just find you like it.

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Threat Assessment: The Night Hag

It’s certainly been a while since I’ve done one of these. I’m back with a new installment of Threat Assessment, Gamer Nation, and with a slightly different focus on this one. I’m going to talk about how to use an existing monster in a new and interesting way to get the most out of them. And I’m switching gaming systems this time around. That’s right; I’m not working within the constraints of Star Wars Saga Edition this time. I’m throwing a bone to Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, which is something that I haven’t done nearly enough on this blog (among lots of other great systems). So, since I’ve already rambled on for 100 words or so, I’ll cut off the rest of this preamble and get to the meat:

The Night Hag

When looking at the Night Hag, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the level. At a level 14, and with some nasty abilities, this may seem like a monster that you can’t drop into a low-level game without some severe level and power reduction, but I’m going to show you how this monster can be used effectively, even at 1st level – all the while putting the PCs in no direct harm (well, at least from the Night Hag). Take a look at the following scenario if you don’t believe me:

People in the major city of your campaign world have been winding up dead. At first, people don’t pay this much mind – though the whisperings and rumors are still there – as the people dying are those that aren’t much missed, beggars and others living in the poorest areas of the city. However, as the PCs increase in power and status, so too does the status of the murder victims, starting to include skilled tradesmen, merchants, and small politicians and city officials. Eventually, as the PCs hit Paragon, they are contacted by an official who is afraid for his life and hires the PCs as night time security detail. As the PCs watch the manor over the night, they encounter and unmask a Night Hag, killing her in battle. It turns out the Night Hag has been using her ability to disguise herself to hide in the slums of the city as just another beggar woman, honing her skills on the people there and slowly working her way towards the city leadership. She sneaks into their dwellings at night, coupling her ability to cause unconsciousness in people and then slip into their minds to kill them. Unfortunately, the motives are still unknown at this point, though the official believes the threat now ended.

However, the murders don’t stop. This launches an investigation for the PCs where they are able uncover the Hag’s coven, finding out their motives for killing the high ranking city officials and then stepping into the power vacuum to rule the city with several other forces.

As you can see, this is a fairly versatile scenario, that you can use as either a backdrop and an aside to the main plot, or you can weave this into the main plot and introduce other elements of the Hag’s coven and a much larger threat to the city. Either way, this is best started slowly, with the PCs just getting vague whisperings about the murders going on at low levels until they can handle themselves against the coven. If they decide to become virtuous vigilantes and strike out at this hook right away, it isn’t hard to keep them out of the city. After all, the life of an adventurer isn’t complete unless he’s out slaying monsters and looting dungeons, and there’s lots of places they can be sent, through red herrings placed by the coven or otherwise. For the other beasts involved in the coven take a look at other monsters that can change their shape, or ones that could eke out an existence in a large city (or underneath said city).

There you go, Gamer Nation. Have at it. Have fun with this one, and if you decide to use it in your game, let me know how it works out for you. We’ll see you next time.

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The Living World

In lieu of all the interest from people at DragonFest and Gamers Club meetings about the upcoming game, I’ve opted to try a different approach to the game. I’m going to take a page from the Living Forgotten Realms campaign through the RPGA, and run it with a “Living” feeling to it. It won’t be a traditional “living” game, just because the logistics are just not there right now. I’ve got the world more or less fleshed out, and what I’ll be doing is writing a set of modules taking place at different points with different goals. Some may be traditional dungeon crawls looking for a magic item to help the besieged forces of the living beings to fighting a battle at the mountain pass against the undead hordes, to exploring the island of Godshead to find out if there’s anything there that can help, to infiltrating the Empire as members of the Inquisition and taking the fight to the Undying King. There won’t be any real cohesion at this poitn and I’ll be creating sets of pregens for each adventure, which will take place at different levels. This allows me to run games when I have the interest and the time and keep the time of each adventure down to a reasonable time so I can get to work and let everyone else enjoy the rest of game night.

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A World At Their Fingertips

After a short drafting session, I have a preliminary map of the game world for the 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game. It is a large, single continent with a small island off of the northeast coast. The Empire of Bassidia sits in the middle of the continent, their reach and influence stretching out over almost the whole continent. I decided that by making the last few stretches of free land separated from each other by ocean travel or through the Empire itself, I would make the plight of humanity all the more dire. A mountain range runs across the northern part of the land, underneath a major isthmus dividing the top part of the continent after a great event years ago known as “the wounding.” Two small passes in the mountain ranges on the extreme edges of the two peninsulas formed by the isthmus mark the only thing between the undead hordes of the Bassidian Empire and the holdings of free men on the peninsulas.

The island of Godshead sits a few miles off the coast of the northeastern peninsula. Still not much is known about this island to this day. Only a few formal expeditions have been sent, and those back when living beings still ruled the Empire. None of those expeditions ever returned. A few brave (or foolhardy, the line seems to blur a lot around that point) explorers have gone there to see if they could find something to help them in their fight against the Undying King, but no one has seen, or heard back from any of them.

A small peninsula on the eastern part of the continent holds another small group of the living, and marks the the home of the Radiant Church. The small pass is protected by the strongly fortified Radiant Towers on either side of the land bridge.

The last bastion of humanity sits on the southwest, past what is known as the Forest of the Primeval, which sits mostly inside the lands of the Empire, but were never quite tamed while living beings still held the throne. Now, who knows what breed of monster and undead make the forest their home?

The only river on the continent has it’s source, now a few miles underwater. It used to sit high in the mountains, which thanks to the active volcano in the middle, were a great source of natural hot springs. Now the river flows from the southern point of the isthmus. It runs in a southeasterly direction, through the Forest of the Primeval, and out into the sea off the eastern coast of the bottom peninsula. A natural tributary branches off about midway through the river’s run, flowing into the sea off the southern coast of the continent. A man-made tributary runs off the main river a few miles before it spills out into the eastern seafront. This tributary leads to a man-made lake, dubbed the Well of Humanity, which is one of the only sources of fresh water that is traded at great risk to between the humans. So far the undead have contented themselves with attacking the ships carrying the water supplies instead of damming up the river, wanting to wipe humanity out by direct means.

That is a basic description of the major geological and geographical features of the land.

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Dungeons and Dragons Online

I just thought I would do the community a service and mention to those of you who may not know (though the target audience of this material probably already does), that Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited, recently went live with unlimited free play. This is the same game that was released by in 2006 through Turbine, now with free account options.

If, however, you decide to subscribe (I’m looking at tossing some money at them myself), you get access to 10 character slots per realm (instead of the 2 slots on a free account), and you gain access to the Warforged race and the Monk class, which you have to unlock through “Turbine Points” which you get by doing various quests in the game that earn you favor with the various Houses of Eberron. There is also the Drow race and the Favored Soul class which even paid subscribers have to purchase through their turbine points.

I decided to download the client and give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. The game runs very nicely, and there were no “kill 10 of this monster and come back to me” quests for the first few hours of gameplay. I was quickly thrown into the defense of Korthos Island from a group of Sahuagin and their cult of human followers, the tutorial area ending with the climactic climb up Misery’s Peak to destroy an artifact through which a Mindflayer was controlling a White Dragon and therefore, the rest of the island

The game still holds up a few years after it’s initial release, looking fairly graphically impressive. Characters are fully rendered, and there isn’t the “cartoony” approach that they seem to have taken with WoW (of which I have seen many players coming over to just “check it out” lately).

Leveling is very interesting. As in the tabletop, you have 20 levels you can advance through. However, each of these levels is broken down into 4 “ranks.” At each rank you receive an “Action Point” (which, as a side note, were a mechanic introduced by Eberron creator Keith Baker specifically for this setting. These action points can then be spent to augment y0ur class and racial abilities, such as allowing Dwarves to do more damage with axes or more damage against goblinoids, or giving Paladins extra uses of Smite Evil or Lay on Hands, or even some activated abilities such as granting bonuses to Defenses, Attacks, or Saves for 20 seconds. You gain access to more of these as you level up, and the beautiful thing about them is, that if you decide you don’t want to keep something, you can reset your abilities once every so often for a small fee (as in your characters gold pieces, not your charge card). Once you have progressed through all four ranks, you can level up to the next level, either advancing in the same class or multiclassing to diversify your character.

Grouping is fairly simple, and makes certain quests much easier (and is essentially the spirit of the game anyway), allowing for a maximum party size of 6. However, even if you don’t have a group of friends online at the time, you can always buy a hireling from one of the vendors in town to help you through a dungeon, giving you a fighter or barbarian to help with combat if your a physically weaker class, a cleric to help you with healing if you’re lacking it, or a wizard to provide arcane support if you’re lacking it.

To make a long story short, definitely give this game a chance if you’re even remotely interested. It’s a fun play experience and a wonderful way to get into MMOs. I have never played one before, and all this has done is gotten me truly excited for the forthcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO coming out later next year.

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Shadows of Bassidia

Well, since I realized the other day that it’s been weeks since I got off my butt and made a blog post, I decided that I should probably get back on it.

A while back, I decided that in order to properly write and create classes and powers for Chrono d20, I would need to finally run a 4th Edition game in order to try and get my head around some of the math. So, I decided that, at least this semester, possibly next, I would be running a 4th Edition game for a few hours each Tuesday or Wednesday. Despite that fact that this is going to be a test bed campaign, I really also wanted it to be interesting, so my mind began working to come up with an interesting campaign hook.

I finally settled on tweaking the idea of the “holy inquisition,’ which I think everyone is familiar with: a powerful Empire has a small, highly militaristic and oftentimes highly religious group in place in order to root out potential enemies to their power and keep the rest of the society in line. Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars had the Imperial Inquisitorious and the ISB in place in order to deal with Jedi that survived the Clone Wars as well as to keep the rest of the galaxy in line through fear tactics. Real world examples include groups as diverse as the Spanish Inquisition to the Brownshirts and Blackshirts from the facist regimes of the late thirties and early forties.

I decided to take that idea and twist it slightly. Instead of the inquisition being the bad guys working for the Empire, let’s make them the good guys working against an evil and corrupt Empire? Okay, there’s hook one. Now let’s decide just why this Empire is evil. I could go with the whole corrupt regime ruled by a mad man, but that just doesn’t strike me at this current point. Well, then I started thinking about famous villains in DND history, past or present. One of the major villains that most people (well, those that played back when Ravenloft was still big) is Count Strahd, a vampire lord. I started looking through the Monster Manual and at some of the products available to me, and noticed a good deal of love for the undead, especially with the Open Grave monster compendium in print. That got my brain working.

Interlligent undead ruling over an Empire they took over, using powerful undead beasts and ghosts as soldiers in an army that mortal men just can’t destroy. Living beings are decimated and fractious, living in small, mobile communities outside of the ever expanding area of rule of the ancient Empire of Bassidia that has now become a perversion of what it once was. This undead Empire also gives a likely enemy for an Inquisition, especially one religious nature, working to keep hope alive in the hearts of the remaining living races.

Anyway, that’s the general overview of the campaign setting. I’m looking to fill out some more things here in the next few days.

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