Friday, April 17, 2009

A Confederacy of Adventurers

Ideally, my D&D games should be an unholy synthesis of A Confederacy of Dunces and Left 4 Dead. A party of adventurers stupid enough to make raiding death traps for treasure their profession, and smart enough to survive it. For a while, anyway.

So back when I played relatively unmodified third edition, I cobbled together a way for players to gain teamwork-based benefits. Teamwork is a Charisma skill that is in-class for every class in the Player's Handbook.

Teamwork (CHA)

Each player character contributes points towards a pool of teamwork points that are spent by mutual consent to provide benefits to the entire party. Each player character contributes a number of points equal to their skill ranks in Teamwork plus their Charisma modifier. The party may not have more benefits than there are player characters in it.

These abilities only work if the party is able to communicate effectively with each other and within fifty feet of each other. The player characters may re-spend these points at the start of each session. Each benefit has its point cost listed in parenthesis.

Teamwork Benefits

Helping Hand (3)
Part members enjoy a +2 bonus to beneficial skill checks that target other party members, such as Heal and Disguise.

Gangbang (4)
+2 to damage when attacking a target that is flanked by party members.

Ultima Hombre (5)
If all party members save one are unconscious or dead, that character receives a +2 bonus to AC, attack rolls, and spell DC.

Mass Assault (6)
+1 to melee attack and damage rolls when charging on the first round of combat.

Crossfire (7)
+1 to ranged attack rolls and damage if no member of the party made an attack with a melee weapon during the previous round.

Backup (8)
Each party member enjoys a +1 morale bonus to their saving throws, so long as at least one other party member is within fifty feet.

Nice Save (9)
If at least one party member is unconscious or dead because of events from during this encounter, cure spells cast between party members heal an additional 50% (round down).

Two To Tango (10)
You may switch spaces with an adjacent party member as a move action that does not draw an attack of opportunity.

Back To Back (11)
If at least one party member is unconscious or dead because of events from during this encounter, all party members gain a +1 morale bonus to AC.

Gitter Done (12)
Party members enjoy a bonus to their initiative rolls equal to their Charisma modifier.

Coordinated Backup (13)
Each party member enjoys a +2 morale bonus to their saving throws, so long as at least one other party member is within fifty feet. This benefit does not stack with Backup.

Take One For The Team (14)
If a party member is reduced to negative hit points by a melee attack, any adjacent party members receive an attack of opportunity against the creature that caused this.

Folies Au Deux (15)
When a party member is knocked unconscious or killed, all party members enjoy a morale bonus to weapon and spell damage equal to their Charisma modifier until the end of their next turn.

Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner (16)
Any party member may take a full round action to allow a single fellow party member within fifty feet to immediately take a five foot step that does not draw attacks of opportunity.


Notes Concerning Retrofitting for Other Editions


For second edition, you may have Teamwork be a general non-weapon proficiency that takes one slot. The player characters receive a number of teamwork points equal to half their Charisma --this method is a little front-loaded, but second edition can handle a slight power bump at the lower levels. Some of the benefits may not work as written for second edition, but I'm sure you can iron out the details better than I can.

These rules will work with fourth edition with very little modification, though I would suggest that is not be used with that version of the game because it is complicated enough.

For first edition, well, this isn't written by some septigenarian so I'm not going to even bother figuring out how the hell it would work for you guys.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Doing Attacks of Opportunity Right



Attacks of opportunity were added for two reasons, the first being that the exact position of characters must have primacy in order to necessitate the use of expensive miniatures, and the second being that an additional layer of complication was felt necessary for the combat system to be more interesting. Neither of these features are necessary in a well-run game.

Therefore, I propose removing threatened areas, attacks of opportunity, and the usage of reach as general rules, with the following qualifications:

1. Retain attacks of opportunity against creatures that use ranged attacks and ranged offensive spells when in melee. This is simple and makes range-based characters require protection.

2. Reach remains somewhat useful as a way to to fight past friends in crowded dungeon corridors. To help reach along a little bit, I suggest removing the cover penalties to attack rolls from attacking past allies in melee.

3. I also suggest removing most of special attacks from the game, except for Charge because it is simple and fun, and Trip because that is so essential for the Monk class. The special attacks and related feats that I would suggest removing include: Bull Rush, Disarm, Overrun, and Sundering. These special attacks are used only infrequently by most groups, and add undesirable complications to the game. I would also suggest removing Grappling as a PC option, saving it for those few monsters that have grab attacks. Will your game suffer for having these annoying, over-complicated options removed? I think not.

4. Remove Combat Reflexes from the game. Replace the effects of the Mobility feat with the following: "Mobility: You do not suffer a penalty to AC when charging."

I have been running a game without attacks of opportunity, and it's amazing how much faster things go, and how much easier combat has been. The complications from removing it are so few, and players can move around the battlefield with less stress. You might bemoan the loss of positioning being quite so important, but I think most groups will find the trade off to be well worth it. Try it and you will see what I mean.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Doing Ability Damage Right


When that undead drains two of your dexterity, about six different things change on your character sheet. If a cleric restores the ability damage, you must fix all six things, again requiring paperwork. Then if another undead of the same sort hits you for four dexterity damage, you must calculate everything all over again. It's clumsy, it takes too long, and too much of your character is reliant on ability scores to change them willy nilly.

The same goes for the +4 ability boost spells like Bull's Strength, Cat's Grace, et ceteras, especially when they have a duration of one round per level, meaning they can wear off in the middle of a fight or when you are affected by a dispel magic or anti-magic spell. Temporary modifiers aren't the only problem, either.

Having semipermanent ability score boosting items be such an integral part of third edition reduces the uniqueness of each character because the ability scores are the most unique part of a character.

How to fix it? Easy. Replace the ability damage attacks used by undead and poisonous monsters, fix ability boosting spells into more coherent buffs, and replace the ability-boosting magic items with more focused benefits.

Ability Damage Attacks

Most ability damage attacks are intended to allow monsters to slowly reduce players' non-hit point capabilities. Ability damage (and its bastard cousin, level drain) do this, but clumsily and with all the complications of other ability score modifications. To fix this, replace the abilities. My suggestions:

Undead Special Attacks

Undead are perhaps the richest category of monsters in d&d. Their special attacks are intended to scare players and permanently injure them, but level drain attacks are no fun and can derail an entire campaign by setting the players back months of real life time, not to mention affect five or six different things at once (just like ability score damage). Here are some suggested replacements for undead ability damage:

Energy Drain: The target's maximum hit points are permanently lowered by -1, and he suffers a negative level until the next day. Negative levels are a -1 inherent penalty to attack rolls and a -1 inherent penalty to spell DCs. Simple, fast, and permanently inconveniencing, but with none of the fuss.

Life Drain: You inflict an extra amount of damage (usually a convenient number like +5) that you then gain as temporary hit points.

Magic Drain: The target loses one of his spells. The spell is of the lowest level that he still has memorized (or one spell slot, for free casters). 0th level spells not affected by magic drain. The undead gains temporary hit points equal to 5 times the spell level of the drained spell.

Poison Attacks

The poison table in the DMG adds nothing to the game, and makes just as little sense as the poison tables used in first and second edition. With a few unbalanced exceptions, most players do not use poison as an option. I suggest that the rules for poisoning weapons be replaced, and offered guidelines below.

Note that these are all injury poisons, that the duration of all penalties is one day, that penalties of the same sort are not cumulative, that saves negate all damage and effects, and that secondary damage has been eliminated as a general characteristic.

Poison, Cost, Fortitude Save, Effect
Small Centipede Poison, 40 gp, DC 11, -1 alchemical penalty to AC
Greenblood Oil, 80 gp, DC 13, 5 damage
Black Adder Venom, 100 gp, DC 11, +10 damage
Medium Spider Venom, 120 gp, DC 14, -2 alchemical penalty to attack rolls
Large Scorpion Venom, 300 gp, DC 18, -3 alchemical penalty to attack rolls
Giant Wasp Venom, 300 gp, DC 18, -3 alchemical penalty to AC
Purple Worm Poison, 600 gp, DC 24, -2 alchemical penalty to attack rolls
Insanity Paste, 1000 gp, DC 20, -2 alchemical penalty to spell DCs
Deathblade, 1800 gp, DC 20, +15 damage
Wyvern Poison, 2400 gp, DC 17, +20 damage

The idea is that you can spend money on expendable combat bonuses that hinder the target for a day. The prices are fairly round numbers so that it is easy to keep track of how much money one is spending on poison or to do math relating to poisons with different delivery methods, and the price is directly related to how helpful they are.

It is easy to devise additional poisons based on this list. A good rule of thumb for devising cognate poisons with different delivery methods is as follows: contact poison should cost +50% more, ingested poison should cost only 25% as much, and inhaled poisons should cost +100%.

Neutralize poison removes any ongoing effects caused by poison but does not restore lost hit points, and I suggest you replace delay poison with the following spell:

"Delay Poison (1st): You may protect a friendly creature that you touch against the effects of poison until the end of the encounter. Any poison damage or penalties do not occur until the end of the encounter. This spell cannot help against poison penalties caused before this spell is cast. This spell may be cast as a move action."

Poisonous Monsters

Creatures that use poison as part of their natural attacks will cause additional damage or a negative effect that lasts for a day, if the target fails a saving throw. I have suggested alternate effects for several creatures' poisons. The DC against the poison effects remains the same as that listed in the monster's entry.

Monstrous Scorpions: -2 alchemical penalty to attack rolls.
Monstrous Spiders: -2 alchemical penalty to attack rolls.
Monstrous Centipedes: -2 alchemical penalty to AC.
Giant Wasp: -2 alchemical penalty to AC.
Wyvern: +20 damage.

I went through the list in the SRD and these were the monsters that I found with poison attacks. I apologize if I missed any.

Ability-Boosting Spells

I have already discussed fixing clerical buff spells at length, but have not yet provided any kind of replacements for arcane spellcasters that have had their buff spells taken away. Below are a few suggested spell replacements that will please arcane spellcasters who are no longer allowed to memorize ability boosting spells. Note that some of these spells ought to be memorizable by divine casters, as well.

"Protection From Evil (1st): A friendly creature touched enjoys a +2 deflection bonus to his AC and saving throws until the end of the encounter. For the duration, he also immune to possession, charm and compulsion effects, and cannot come into bodily contact with evil summoned creatures (making him immune to their natural attacks). This spell may be cast as a move action."

"Shield (1st): A friendly creature touched gains a +2 shield bonus to AC until the next day."

"Magic Weapon (1st): A weapon held by a friendly creature touched gains a +1 enhancement bonus to attack and damage until the next day. This spell may be cast as a move action."

"Bull's Strength (2nd): A friendly creature touched gains a +3 morale bonus to damage with melee weapons until the end of the encounter. This spell may be cast as a move action."

"Empower Spells (2nd): A friendly creature touched enjoys a +2 morale bonus to his spell DCs until the end of the encounter. This spell may be cast as a move action."

"Enlarge Person (3rd): A friendly medium humanoid touched becomes large sized and increases his natural reach to 10 feet until the end of the encounter. This reach bonus is the only statistical modification caused by this size change, and does not stack with any other reach-enhancing bonuses, though reach weapons may still further modify one's reach."

"Chill Shield (4th): A shield of cold harms creatures that attack you in melee, and protects you from fire attacks. Any creature striking you with natural attacks or non-reach melee weapons suffers 10 cold damage (no save), and you gain fire resistance 20."

"Fire Shield (4th): A shield of fire harms creatures that attack you in melee, and protects you from cold attacks. Any creature striking you with natural attacks or non-reach melee weapons suffers 10 fire damage (no save), and you gain cold resistance 20."


Note that I will discuss alternatives to using attacks of opportunity in a future column, but in an attempt to be somewhat modular about my remedies I have included the enlarge spell as given.

Ability-Boosting Magic Items

Items should be broken up into bonuses to specific characteristics, rather than blanket ability score bonuses. I have suggested items that fulfill this role below, with what I feel to be appropriate pricing.

Amulet of Faith: This item provides an enhancement bonus to the DC of your divine spells.
Price 4,000 gp (+1 DC), 8,000 gp (+2 DC), 16,000 gp (+3 DC), 24,000 gp (+4 bonus), 32,000 gp (+5 bonus).

Belt of Health: This item provides a bonus to maximum hp. If the belt is removed, your maximum and current hp immediately lower themselves by the imparted amount.
Price 4,000 gp (+10 hp), 8,000 gp (+20 hp), 16,000 gp (+40 hp).

Boots of Reflex: This item provides a resistance bonus to Reflex saving throws.
Price 2,000 gp (+1 bonus), 4,000 gp (+2 bonus), 8,000 gp (+3 bonus), 16,000 gp (+4 bonus), 24,000 gp (+5 bonus).

Circlet of Spells: This item allows you to memorize additional arcane spells each day (or make use of additional spell slots if you are a free caster). If you unequip this item, you lose two spells of the appropriate level.
Price, bonus spells
2,000 gp, two extra 1st level spells
4,000 gp, two extra 2nd level spells
8,000 gp, two extra 3rd level spells
16,000 gp, two extra 4th level spells
32,000 gp, two extra 5th level spells

Cloak of Allure: This item provides an enhancement bonus to Charisma-based skill checks.
Price 2,000 gp (+2 bonus), 4,000 gp (+4 bonus), 8,000 gp (+6 bonus), 16,000 gp (+8 bonus), 24,000 gp (+10 bonus).

Gauntlets of Archery: These gloves provide an enhancement bonus to damage dealt with ranged weapons.
Price 4,000 gp (+2 dmg), 8,000 gp (+3 dmg), 16,000 gp (+4 dmg), 24,000 gp (+5 dmg), 32,000 gp (+6 dmg).

Gauntlets of Power: These gloves provide provides an enhancement bonus to damage dealt in melee combat.
Price 4,000 gp (+2 dmg), 8,000 gp (+3 dmg), 16,000 gp (+4 dmg), 24,000 gp (+5 dmg), 32,000 gp (+6 dmg).

Gloves of the Magus: This item provides an enhancement bonus to the DC of your arcane spells.
Price 4,000 gp (+1 DC), 8,000 gp (+2 DC), 16,000 gp (+3 DC), 24,000 gp (+4 bonus), 32,000 gp (+5 bonus).

Greaves of Fortitude: These metal leg-plates provide a resistance bonus to Fortitude saving throws.
Price 2,000 gp (+1 bonus), 4,000 gp (+2 bonus), 8,000 gp (+3 bonus), 16,000 gp (+4 bonus), 24,000 gp (+5 bonus).

Helm of Power: This metal helmet imparts an enhancement bonus to melee attack rolls.
Price 4,000 gp (+1 attack), 8,000 gp (+2 attack), 16,000 gp (+3 attack), 24,000 gp (+4 bonus), 32,000 gp (+5 bonus).

Lens of Aiming: This glass lens imparts an enhancement bonus to ranged attack rolls.
Price 4,000 gp (+1 attack), 8,000 gp (+2 attack), 16,000 gp (+3 attack), 24,000 gp (+4 bonus), 32,000 gp (+5 bonus).

Mitre of Spells: This hat allows you to memorize additional divine spells each day (or make use of additional spell slots if you are a free caster). If you unequip this item, you lose two spells of the appropriate level.
Price, bonus spells
2,000 gp, two extra 1st level spells
4,000 gp, two extra 2nd level spells
8,000 gp, two extra 3rd level spells
16,000 gp, two extra 4th level spells
32,000 gp, two extra 5th level spells

Slippers of Willpower: These slippers provide a resistance bonus to Willpower saving throws.
Price 2,000 gp (+1 bonus), 4,000 gp (+2 bonus), 8,000 gp (+3 bonus), 16,000 gp (+4 bonus), 24,000 gp (+5 bonus).

Next: Doing Attacks of Opportunity Right

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Doing Feats Right


Doing Feats Right

I sat down to write about how to fix the problem of chained feats. That is, those that feats with multiple pre-requisites to take. I found that I could not do so without modifying the way that the fighter class works. As I believe any readers playing third edition are unlikely to alter their basic character classes, I had to content myself to tidying up the feats found in the core rulebooks.

If this is a little dry, I apologize, but I think some d&d players will find these suggestions very helpful.

Removing and Fixing the Useless Feats


Remove all the feats whose sole benefit is to give a trivial bonus to two skill checks. This eliminates some fifteen or so feats listed on d20srd.org, including the following: Acrobatic, Agile, Alertness, Animal Affinity, Athletic, Deceitful, Deft Hands, Diligent, Investigator, Magical Aptitude, Negotiator, Nimble Fingers, Persuasive, Self-Suffient, and Stealthy.

While you are at it, you may as well remove the feats that are useless or extremely weak within the context of the core rules, namely: Endurance, Eschew Materials, Extra Turning, Heighten Spell, Improved Counterspell, Improved Overrun, Improved Shield Bash, Improved Turning, Improved Unarmed Strike, Mounted Archery, Quick Draw, Run, Skill Focus, Spell Mastery, Toughness, and Widen Spell. Suggested replacements:

Endurance: You heal fast than other people. Your natural healing and any spell or effect that heals damage heals you an additional +50%, rounding down.

Skill Focus: You enjoy a +4 bonus to a single skill of your choice.

Toughness: You enjoy bonus maximum hit points equal to your level or +4, whichever is greater.

Remove and Fix the Clumsy Feats


Then there are the feats that are so poorly designed that using them slows your game down or requires extra paperwork to use, feats like: Augment Summoning, Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Leadership, Power Attack, and Trample. Of particular note there are Power Attack and Combat Expertise, which exist solely to slow down combat as math-savvy players haw and hem about the optimal penalties to take against a particular foe. Also of note is Improved Sunder, because once you're no longer low-level it becomes incredibly easy to destroy the weapons used by one's enemies. Suggested Replacements:

Combat Expertise: Any time you take a full attack action, you enjoy a +1 bonus to your AC until your next turn.

Combat Reflexes: You enjoy a +4 bonus to your attack rolls when making attacks of opportunity.

Dodge: You enjoy a +1 dodge bonus to your AC.

Improved Sunder: Whenever you threaten a critical hit against an opponent wielding a weapon, he must make a Fortitude saving throw equal to 15 plus your level or his weapon will be broken.

Power Attack: When taking a full attack action, your one-handed melee attacks inflict +2 damage and your two-handed melee attacks inflict +3 damage.

Trample: When you threaten a critical against a target that you have made a mounted charge attack against, you knock the target prone and inflict an additional amount of damage equal to your character level.

Removing and Fixing the Metamagic Feats

You should ignore the metamagic feats in the core rules. Every last one is weak tea or, in the case of Natural Spell, broken. They are completely eclipsed by the metamagic feats given in other supplements, and I'm not even talking about the really unbalanced supplements.

Alas, most of them are also uninspired. I think it better to just replace them wholesale rather than futz around with fixing them. Let me know if you like my suggested replacements.

In the case of metamagic spells where memorization is indicated, free casters may still use the feat and need not choose what spell to use it with in advance, but may still only used the listed feat once per day. As usual, a free caster making use of a metamagic feat casts his spells as a full-round action.

Aeromancy [Metamagic]: You may memorize a single area of effect spell so that it knocks any medium or small bipedal creatures that fail their saving throw against it prone. Spells that do not offer a saving throw cannot be used with this metamagic feat.

Augment Summoning [Metamagic]: Any creatures you conjure via the Summon Monster spells have +2 to their attack rolls and +2 to their AC.

Explosive Magic [Metamagic]: You may memorize a single damaging area of effect spell so that it inflict extra damage of the appropriate type. It inflicts an additional amount of damage equal to twice your level.

Favorite Spell [Metamagic]: Choose a spell. Any time you cast that spell, its DC is increased by +1. When you gain a level, you may reselect the spell to which this feat applies.

Focused Magic [Metamagic]: You may memorize a single damage spell that targets a single creature to deal extra damage of the appropriate type. It inflicts an additional amount of damage equal to thrice your level.

Heighten Spell [Metamagic]: You may memorize a single spell to be especially difficult to resist. The DC of this spell is increased by +2.

Natural Spell [Metamagic]: You may memorize a single spell that you will be able to cast while in an alternate form such as those granted by the wild shape ability. The chosen spell must not be of the very highest level you can cast. For example, if you can cast third level spells, this feat may only be used with a spell of second level or lower.

Off-Hand Spell [Metamagic]: 9th level or higher. Your first level spells may be cast as move actions. You must have two hands free in order to use this feat.

Quicken Spell [Metamagic]: You may memorize a single spell that normally requires a standard action to cast so that it will instead require a move action. The spell that you so choose must not be a spell of the very highest level you can cast. The chosen spell must not be of the very highest level you can cast. For example, if you can cast third level spells, this feat may only be used with a spell of second level or lower.

Reach Spell [Metamagic]: You may memorize a single spell with touch range so that it may instead be cast with short range.

Sacred Spell [Metamagic]: When you cast an offensive spell, you may spend a turning attempt so that undead suffer additional damage from it. This extra damage is equal to your class level.

Scribe Scroll [Metamagic]: Each day, you may choose a single spell that you know and are able to cast. That spell is recorded on a special scroll that may only be cast by you. Their magic fades after the day is over, and so you cannot accumulate more than one at a time.

Good Ideas, Bad Feats


Also, a lot of the feats are good in theory but their implementation is shoddy or they rely on bad rules from the other parts of the game. All of the item creation feats fall into this category, as do Improved Grapple and other attack option feats. Mounted combat doesn't work very well, either, because mounts often have trouble fitting into dungeons, and the extra attacks that mounts can make can slow the game considerably.

I don't care to tackle any of those problems in this post because this is already lengthy and those feats seem to fall outside its scope. But I will tackle the two-weapon fighting feats. Extra attacks are the single worst offender when it comes to slowing down combat to a headache inducing crawl. My suggestion is, firstly, to remove multiple attacks gained from a high base attack bonus and, secondly, to replace the two-weapon fighting feats with these:

Two-Weapon Fighting: You may make a single additional attack that suffers -5 to its attack roll with a light weapon in your off-hand. If this is attempted without the benefit of this feat, both attacks suffer a -5.

Two-Weapon Defense: When you are equipped with a weapon in your off-hand, you enjoy a +1 bonus to AC. When you are equipped with a double weapon, you enjoy a +2 bonus to your AC.

Oversized Two-Weapon Fighting: 3rd level or higher. The weapon in your off-hand need not be light to use two-weapon fighting style feats.

Double Weapon Mastery: 6th level or higher. When using a double weapon to make a whirlwind attack, you inflict an additional +3 damage.

Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: 6th level or higher. The penalty for your off-hand attack is reduced to -2, and you inflict +1 damage with your off-hand weapon.

Greater Two-Weapon Fighting: 11th level or higher. You suffer no penalty with your off-hand attack, and your damage bonus with your off-hand weapon increases to +4.

In Summa

That's over forty feats (or about a third core rules feats) that are either useless or cumbersome. So much for playtesting. I do not assert that my suggested changes are the best possible or that that all of the above feats are useless in every campaign, but I have never regretted changing them in my games.

Here is an optimized feat list with my changes included, in PDF form.

Next: Doing Ability Damage Right