Monday, August 25, 2014

The Metamorphosis of Magic: The Gathering

Since its no secret that I love card games, it should come as no surprise that I'm a Magic: The Gathering fan (at least, a casual one). While I don't enter tournaments or keep up with the game as vigorously as some people I know, I enjoying building different decks and playing matches with friends & family. 

Wizards of the Coast made an announcement about the game today, an announcement that promises some big changes to the game and its release structure. Due to some problems associated with the current release format, Wizards plans to change the three-set block format to a two-set block one, be doing away with the Core blocks, and modifying how long a block is available for Standard play. While these changes won't affect casual players like myself, it will probably have major ramifications for those who regularly participate in competitions. 

If you'd like to read the full article, click HERE. Although this is just an opinion, and things could change after this new direction comes into play, I feel like this will be good for the brand. It should be much easier to manage blocks containing two different sets, allow them to explore new ideas and worlds more often, and keep the game feeling fresh.

What about you? How do you feel about this major change to Magic? Are you excited, or nervous? Leave your answers in the comments below. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pathfinder House Rules: Minions

Art by Ralph Horsely
It's no secret that I'm not the biggest fan of 4th Edition. While the system is alright and I wouldn't object to playing it, 4e just isn't my cup of tea. With that being said, there are a few ideas introduced with this edition that I genuinely like.

For example, I love the concept of minions. For those of you unfamiliar with 4e, I'll elaborate. Minions are a type of creature that die after one successful attack. While they aren't much on their own, they can be a real bitch in numbers and offer a good way to recreate those iconic scenes of a ragtag group of heroes battling a horde of creatures without slaughtering the PCs. 

Since I think the concept is a good one, I figured I should make a version for my fantasy game of choice: Pathfinder. There are a few ways you could handle a port of this mechanic, which the most obvious being the reduction of certain creature's HP to 1 and calling it a day. However, I'd like to take a different route that's a little more creative than that. 

With that in mind, I created the following template that Game Masters can add to existing NPC stat blocks, hopefully keeping the rules simple and keeping the spirit of the original mechanic alive. Keep in mind this just a rough draft that still needs to be playtested. However, feel free to give it a try at your gaming table and leave some feedback in the comments below.

"Minion" is an inherited template that can be added to any living, corporeal humanoid with an Intelligence score of 4 or more. A minion creature retains the base creature's statistics and special abilities except as noted below. 

CR: Same as the base creature's, but -2. 

Type: The creature's type remains the same, gaining the Minion sub-type. Do not recalculate HD, BAB, or saves. 

Hit Dice: While the creature retains the same number of HD, they only receive a single hit point per HD, ignoring the creature's Constitution modifier. 

Defenses: The creature gains the following defensive ability. 

Evasive (Ex): If the creature makes a successful Reflex saving throw against an attack that normally deals half damage on a successful save, the creature takes no damage instead. A helpless minion does not gain the benefits of this ability. 

Skills: A minion receives no skills. 

Feats: A minion receives no feats. 

Goblin Minion (CR 1/6)
XP 65
Goblin Minion Warrior 1 
NE Small Humanoid (Goblinoid) 
Init +2; Senses Darkvision 60 ft.; Perception -1
AC 16, Touch 13, Flat-Footed 14 (+2 Armor, +2 Dex, +1 Shield, +1 Size)
HP 1 (1d10)
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will -1
Defensive Abilities Evasive 
Speed 30 ft. 
Melee Short Sword +2 (1d4/19-20)
Ranged Short Bow +4 (1d4/x3) 
Str 11, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 9, Cha 6
Base Atk +1; CMB +0; CMD 12 
Feats -
Skills Ride +6, Stealth +10; Racial Modifiers +4 Ride, +4 Stealth
Languages Goblin
Gear Leather Armor, Light Wooden Shield, Short Sword, Short Bow with 20 Arrows, Other Treasure

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

5e Musings: Inspiration

Like every edition before it, 5e introduces a few new mechanics to the game. One of those mechanics is Inspiration. For those of you who haven't read the Basic Rules or the recently released Player's Handbook, I'll do my best to explain how the rule works.

Inspiration, at its most fundamental level, is just the latest iteration of "action points" (except extremely simplified). When a character has Inspiration, they may expend it while making an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. By doing so, they receive advantage on that particular roll. A character gains Inspiration by playing out their personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. A character cannot have multiple "Inspirations". They either have it, or they don't. 

While I like the mechanic, I feel like it could be taken a step further. Although there are a few different paths one could take Inspiration down, I just want to entertain one specific idea for the moment. When designing new house rules, I sometimes like to take influence from other games. While reading Inspiration and thinking about different ways to handle it, my mind constantly drifted back to FATE and how it handles aspects. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with FATE, aspects are simple words or phrases that represent a key feature of your character, something that can either help or hinder you depending on the situation. During the game, you can spend fate points to "invoke" an aspect, gaining a benefit in a situation tied to it. Alternatively, the Game Master may "compel" an aspect, rewarding you a fate point if you take a penalty in a situation tied to it. 

Hopefully, you can see where I'm going with this. 

What if someone decided to adapt FATE's method of handling aspects to 5e, incorporating Inspiration into the mix? During play, characters can invoke Inspiration to receive advantage in a situation where on of their personality traits, ideals, or bonds would be helpful. However, the Game Master may reward Inspiration to compel a character's personality traits, ideals, bonds, or flaws during situations where they'd be a hindrance, giving the character disadvantage. Furthermore, characters can now have up to three Inspiration points at one time. When being compelled, they can choose to spend an Inspiration to deny it. 

While this change does add a little more complexity and I admit it's not for everyone, I feel like it makes Inspiration a much more interesting rule and gives personality traits, ideals, bonds, & flaws more mechanical weight. I thought about adding alignment into the mix as well, but I'm not sure I want to travel down that rabbit hole (at least, not yet). 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Playing Older Adventurers

I've always loved the concept of the old adventurer, the veteran explorer who's been traveling the land for years, experiencing numerous different quests and refusing to retire. However, it's a concept that can be somewhat difficult to pull off mechanically.

The biggest difficulty for representing this concept within the rules is an obvious one: why is this character 1st level? If this character's been on all these adventures and quests, why isn't she a much higher level? Isn't that a little weird?

Now, you could simply ignore the mechanical side of things and just accept that little wrinkle, but where's the fun in that? After some brainstorming, I've worked out two easy ways to somewhat reconcile the character's backstory with their mechanics. While I'm sure there are other ways to do this, these are my personal favorite and I feel they work the best.

Yes, your character has experienced these different adventures and has numerous stories to tell. However, the reason they're a 1st level character is they've decided to follow a new path for some reason, starting over with a different class. For example, let's say you've decided to create a grizzled veteran of numerous battles that happened to find religion and decided to take up the cloth. She sets aside her sword and spends a few years learning these new divine rites. It would make sense for the character to be 1st level because she's starting from the beginning with something else. 

This concept takes things down a different road. While this character used to be a great adventurer, something caused her to retire. She's spent years living a regular life, her skills waning due to not using them as often as she did before. However, something drags her back into the life. Although she still has that knowledge and skill buried inside her, she's out of practice and it's going to take her awhile to get back to her previous level of power. 

I'll admit, these are not perfect fixes. Mostly, they're ways to help you suspend your disbelief. If you want to take things further, you could rework your ability scores to better represent the character's age. Maybe the warrior has a lower Dexterity score, representing her age's effect on her reflexes and joints. Maybe she has a higher Wisdom as well, representing her different experiences and how they've affected her. 

You can make almost any concept work as long as you sit back, take some time, and really think about it. There's always a twist or an alteration you can make, you just have to look for it. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pathfinder House Rules: Learning New Languages

There are a number of minor rules that I've never liked about Pathfinder. One such rule is the method for learning new languages. For those unfamiliar with Pathfinder, I'll explain how this rule works.

Within the game, there is a skill that characters can select called "Linguistics". As the name implies, this skill allows characters to decipher different forms of writing, create & detect forgeries, and learn new languages. Whenever a player puts a rank into the Linguistics skill, that third feature takes effect and the character learns a new language. 

That means if a player were to place 20 ranks into Linguistics over the course of their character's entire adventuring career, they'd learn 20 different languages. I don't know about you, but I feel like that's a little excessive. With that in mind, I've been toying with some house rules to fix the problem. Right now, I've created two different solutions that I feel will improve this rule; One tries to model the idea of slowly learning a new language, while the other is much more simplistic and straight forward. 

The first rule allows you to select a new language each time you put 2 ranks into the Linguistics skill. However, unlike the previous rule, you aren't completely fluent in the language (at least, not at first). When you first select a language, you are simply "literate". This means you can read the language, but you don't know it well enough to actually speak it and hold a conversation with someone who is fluent with that language. When you select the language again, you finally become fluent with the language. 

The second rule doesn't possess the levels of fluency that the first one does. Instead, you simply learn the language each time you put 5 ranks into the Linguistics skill. This version of the rule is much closer to the original, but offers a slower progression and limits you to four new languages over the course of your character's adventuring career.

While my Pathfinder campaigns have currently use the second rule due to its simplicity, I've contemplated switching to the first one to see how it might work at the table. Feel free to use either of these rules in your games.

((Also, I'd like to thank my friend Corbin. He's offered to take on editor duties for this blog, which takes a load off my shoulders. Thanks buddy!)) 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Paladins & Alignment

I'm probably not going to win any fans with this post. However, with the release of 5e's Player's Handbook and the latest iteration of this class, I feel like this is the best time to tackle this topic.

Let's talk about paladins and their alignment. 

While this wasn't always true, the Paladin is one of my favorite classes within D&D and Pathfinder. Although I understand why some people fine the class frustrating because they experienced a bad player giving into the "Lawful Stupid" stereotype that haunts these characters, I love playing a paragon of chivalry and virtue. Some of my favorite characters have been Paladins, I like including Paladin NPCs within my campaigns, I enjoy seeing a new, interesting take on the archetype. 

With that in mind, you can probably assume that I have no problem with the class' alignment restriction and that assumption would be right. 

Anyone who's read my blog before should know that I put a lot of importance on names and how they're used. Most names have pretty specific meanings and certain ideas attached to them. The Paladin is no exception. For those of you who aren't familiar with the name's historical context, I'll do my best to offer a quick summary. 

Sometimes known as the Twelve Peers, the Paladins were the foremost warriors of Charlemagne's court. While they did have connections to Christianity and that religion's virtues, they were supposed to be the knight's knight, the ultimate example of chivalrous ideas and the advocates of just and noble causes. When you consider that, Lawful Good really is the only alignment that makes the most sense for the class. 

Most people seem to see the Paladin as the martial arm for a specific church. 4e definitely took that path, and a few other products seem to adopt that belief as well. When you accept that belief, it makes no sense for Paladins to be a mono-alignment class. Only Lawful Good, Neutral Good, & Lawful Neutral deities can have Paladins? That seems a little weird.

However, Paladins are not divine warriors and shouldn't be seen as such. If you want to make a holy (or unholy) champion class, call it something other than a Paladin. "Crusader", "Templar", or "Warpriest" would probably be a better fit.

I feel like the main reason this misconception exists is because the Paladin receives the ability to cast divine magic spells at later levels. Sometimes, I wonder what people would think of the class if it didn't receive that diminished spell progression.

Now, I want to make something clear. I have nothing against those who want multi-alignment Paladins. If allowing Paladins to take alignments other than Lawful Good makes you and your group happy, I'm totally fine with that. Also, if companies would like to cater to that audience, I'm okay with that as well. 

I just like my Paladins to be Lawful Good and only Lawful Good. That alignment restriction is part of the appeal to me, and I feel taking it away would take away from what the Paladin actually is. If you want to make a divine champion class, that's cool. Just call it something else.

Monday, August 11, 2014

5e Musings: Healing & Hit Dice

Art by Alexandre Togerio
Like 5e's magic system, I wasn't too fond of the system's implementation of hit die as healing surges. While I have a few problems with this rule, the main one is that I'm not the biggest fan of the random element. Originally, I was contemplating a house rule that would replace the randomness with a set number. However, a thought occurred to me while I was brainstorming ideas: Why not find a nice middle ground between the two different methods?

With that in mind, I propose the following house rule. While taking a short rest, you can spend a hit die to regain hit points, as described in the D&D Basic Rules. However, you are now given a choice:

Choice #1: Take the rounded up average of each hit die (1d6=4, 1d8=5, & 1d10=6) you spend instead of rolling, or...

Choice #2: Roll your hit die as normal, using the results you receive no matter what.

While I'm still not that a fan of randomness when it comes to hit points, I think I like the middle ground of this rule and how it gives players a choice to make. Do they want to play it safe and take the average, or take a risk and roll the dice? Options that facilitate choices are always good in my book.