Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Class Kits on the Fly

The last time I ran a D&D game I ran a slightly modified Labyrinth Lord.  There were three available classes, Fighter, Rogue & Cleric/Cultist.  There were no Wizards on account of them all being wiped out in a cataclysmic event in the setting.  However, that same cataclysmic event also endowed every sentient creature with the ability to cast arcane spells.  Essentially, everyone was multi-classed Wizard at no penalty and the only spells you knew were from the scrolls you picked up.  Scrolls were not consumables but rather represented your own personal library of spells.  I'm going to list the three classes and my slight modifications below.

Originally I gave the Fighter a "Master of Battle" ability that allowed them to attack as many hit dice as the fighter had levels.  So a 5th level fighter could attack two 2HD creatures and one 1HD creature, or three 1HD and one 2HD, etc.
Getting the wording right was a bit awkward so I've been leaning towards the old chainmail rule where they can make an attack for each HD they had.  Meaning that 8HD superhero could make 8 attacks.  For simplicities sake if multiple attacks are made against the same target it is resolved with one die roll and you roll as many dice as required (3 attacks -> one to hit roll and 3 damage dice).

Fighter's also had a variant of AD&D's weapon specializations and the optional Naked Warrior Rule.

"Stunt - Anytime the Thief viscerally describes some crazed stunt they'd like to perform such as swinging across chandeliers, using a silver platter as an impromptu shield, riding an enraged stag by the horns, or jumping out windows in their best Bruce Cambell impression they receive a stunt bonus to the die roll equal to 1 + half their level. This bonus can be applied to just about any roll involving a d20 (attacks, saves, skill/ability checks) as well as for damage rolls and reaction rolls."

The only thing I would change now is that it gives a bonus to damage/reaction dice rather than a simple  modifier.

I had previous used a Judge's Guild optional rule that allowed character to regain d3 HP at the end of combat. Originally I was going to replace the d3 with the class HD but I decided to forgo all variable dice for that game (d6's for everybody!).  Instead at the end of combat a cleric would have the party roll 2d6 and take the higher value as HP regained.

This ability proved to be quite powerful and could lead to near infinite adventuring (not necessarily a bad thing).  There was a bit of a disconnect as well because after a battle a party could end up with more hit points than what they started with.  To rectify this I'm going to try out a system I'm rather proud of which should eliminate disconnect altogether.  If it works well I'll keep it in the beta version of my game system.

Cleric's could also spontaneously cast Cure spells.

These crazy fools worshiped the Shrike, also known as the pain lord, an inscrutable being made of free-flowing metal and spikes that travels backwards through time.  If you've read the Hyperion Novel's by Dan Simmons you should be familiar.

At first level I decided to give the Cultists an ability related to the Pain Lord's effect on time and entropy.  The best I could come up with would be to affect group initiative and I decided to go with their enemies.  It wasn't particularly powerful (although the Cleric's ability would end up being) but it was by far the player's favorite.

Entropic Adjustment: When rolling initiative enemy groups must roll twice and take the lower result.

Cultist's could also spontaneously cast Inflict spells.

The guiding principle behind these class touch-ups was that the ability granted would either improve with them as they level (Fighter and Rogue) or it would provide a set benefit that was useful at all levels of play and they would receive separate abilities later on that would build on the theme of the class (Cleric/Cultist).  As an example at level 10 the Cultist was going to be able to take two actions per round with the downside that his permanently hasted body would lead to a very early demise.

Now I've taken the time to repost these class tweaks and analyse them for a reason.  The next time I run a D&D/LL game I plan on using Class Kits.  For those unfamiliar, a kit was a way to customize or create a variant of a class.  The fighter could be a berserker or a kensei, a ranger could be a beast master or an archer, a bard could be a blade or skald, a cleric could have a kit based on his god which would later grow into the Domain abilities introduced in 3.x.  The kits were a nice way to personalize a class without mucking around too much.  Most of them gave a fairly significant combat modifier or granted some neat ability used a few times a day.  Now, when I say I'm going to introduce kits I'm not actually going to write out a bunch of kits and pass them around to players since it's very unlikely that a premade kit will fully envision what the player has in mind.  Instead we'll talk about what kind of character they would like to play and we'll work out the finer details by choosing one of the three class archetypes above and creating the kit on the fly.

Kitting on the Fly

So let's say you want to play a Barbarian or a Berserker.  You start you off as a Fighter and decide they will be limited to Hide armor based on iconic barbarians, berkserkers and vikings.  We also decide that you'll have a rage type ability that boosts your damage, strength checks and capacity to take damage.  Now we may go the route of having it be a set number of times a day or we can have you go berserk at will with the risk of you losing control.  Said risk increases as the battle wears on.  We could also combine the two, where the set number of day represents the number of times you can rage without fear of losing yourself.

How about a Ranger?  He gains a favored enemy, woodland skills and has an edge on surprising creatures.  In exchange he'll lose the specialization of the fighter and have a more restricted armor choice.

Seems simple enough right?    Grant an advantage or two and add a few defects.  In the above examples the Berserker's ability came with it's own disadvatage, losing control, while the ranger had to give up a powerful class feature, their starting weapon specialization.  Let's try a few more.

Want to make a Spellsword type Gish?  Sure, you're a fighter with an offensive wizard spell list that can cast through their blade, with shocking grasp represented by electrified steel or activating burning hands while your sword misses in a wild arc producing a fan of flames.  The spell list is restricted to offensive spells and they cannot wear armor heavier than leather or mithril/elven chain.

Want to play Gygax the level 27th level warrior mage?  {My apologies in advance for the annoying sound effects inserted.}  Sure, you're a Wizard in heavy armor with a mostly defensive spell set.

In the first case you are gaining an ability, discharging spells through your sword, with the disadvantage of a restricted spell list.  Being able to cast in armor is balanced by the limited armor selection.  The battlemage on the other hand retains his armor selection and spell casting but forfeits the bread and butter of spell repertoire. Since in this particular game anyone can pick up a scroll or wand so the addition of the Wizard's spell list is a relatively minor modification.

Now I haven't laid any actual groundwork here for a reason.  I'd rather provide examples in place of guidelines because even an easy heuristic like 1 advantage for every disadvantage can become clunky when you begin weighing the benefits, frequency of use, an significance of abilities against each other.  Plus, examples serve as kindling for the imagination and you may have thought of a few kits of your own by the time you read this.

If you'd like to try this yourself make sure you work with your players and create something that is not immediately unbalanced and everyone agrees would be fun to play.  Always remember, what may seem fine on paper may absolutely wreck things in actual play.  And of course the opposite can also hold true.

Temple of Elemental Evil

I completed Cugel's Saga last month and now I'm going to start Rhialto the Marvelous.  When I've finished I'm going to sit down and work on a spellcasting section and finalize the magic using class, or at least its first level.

In the meantime I've been playing the Temple of Elemental Evil through Good Old Games (GOG).  This would be my third experience with a 3.x edition computer game.  I absolutely love Icewind Dales 2 (and it's predecessor) while I loathed Ruins of Myth Drannor due to it's flagrant disregard of XP rules and from what I could tell inability to flee from combat.  As you can imagine this can be quite fatal when your 1st level party accidentally walks near an incorporeal spectre.  Since both Ruins and ToEE were both turn based I was cautiously optimistic of what to expect.

I'm playing with the Circle of 8 modpack because like all Troika games it was unbelievably buggy.  I fell prey to the secret door bug about an hour and a half in and had to start from scratch.  The modpack has a wealth of new content which is nice since the content in the main game is rather sparse to put it nicely.  Plus it allows you to accrue a fair amount of experience without dealing with the monotony and excessive backtracking in the Hommlet, lazy town people's quests.

Of course that's not really the issue here, the game is called the Temple of Elemental Evil so let's talk about the actual Temple!  My first observation was how well thought out the actual dungeon was.  Escape tunnels, plenty of secret passages, massive combats, various critters, and an easy way for PC's to impersonate temple factions.  As I was exploring the dungeon I was beginning to regret playing a super good party because it looked like there was a lot of fun in store for the more nefarious party with the all the political backstabbing going on in the clerical hierarchy of the temples depths.

I'm enjoying the game but man are low levels lethal.  I haven't gone digging through books to verify this claim but it felt like you had a much harder time not getting in hit in AD&D (a la Baldur's Gate) then you did in the 3.x world.  Of course my experience with level 1 in AD&D mostly involved heavily armored characters (and occasionally supplemented with a good dexterity) while in 3.x most games I ran had lightly armored rogues, swashbucklers, druids and Wizards.  Not exactly the most stalwart bunch so I'll chalk that up to bias.

As a final closing thought I'd really like to point out the radial menu in ToEE that basically covers almost any action your character can possibly do.  At first I found it rather frustrating but as I grew used to I find it to be very intuitive.  My one major usability gripe though is finding more information on items in your inventory.  In Baldur's Gate/Ice Wind Dale a simple right click will tell you what you need to know AND have the option to identify it on the same screen.  In ToEE you must use the radial menu to identify an object, and if you are identifying more than a few objects/scrolls/potions at a time this can get very tedious.  Furthermore, you must shift+click to get more information on an item and some items won't even allow you to do so without first identifying the item.  This is rather frustrating when all you want to do is see what type of proficiency an item requires to be wielded.

All in all I've enjoyed my time in Greyhawk and the next time I run a D&D game I'll definitely be considering running it in Hommlet.  I can definitely see a lot of ways PC's can have fun with temple politics.  My first idea occurred after I had dispatched the Head Earth Priest while reading his journal and who he regarded as an ally and an enemy.  With that kind of information it would be trivial for the PC's to dress up in two sets of robes, stage a fight and have on member run in and declare the fire temple was attacking.  The group fighting would 'hold them off' while the actual temple forces would descend to attack their unguarded base.

Should be exciting.