Saturday, December 19, 2009

Talamhlar - Session 1

Today I DMed the first session of the Talamhlar campaign. We basically played the whole day (from 12:30 pm to 11:30 pm), with our only substantial break being to get pizza.


Garret Kahneus - Half-Elf Valorous Bard
Alaric Rose - Elf Archer Ranger
Urogoth - Half-Orc Bleak Disciple Assassin
Martok - Goliath Rageblood Barbarian


As was outlined in the campaign brief, the PCs had all recently taken up residence in the town of Helmund, with their last memory before the campaign being walking alone, with a feeling that someone was watching them. Then, blackness. They all woke up to the sound of a crackling noise, and they regain consciousness within circles of blackened (spent) residuum. The crackling sound came from another circle with an unconscious human suspended above it, surrounded with energy which seemed to be fed into a giant crystal in the center of the room. Then blood began to pour from his nose, eyes, and ears, and he collapsed on the ground. At that point the PCs noticed that each of them was bloodied, and they were down on healing surges. Not surprisingly, they were also missing all of their gear. The room was in shambles, with bookcases and tables turned over, and various alchemical fluids spilled on the floor. Against one wall a Goblin was chained. He asked the PCs to help him out, as he knew where their stuff was probably hidden. The Goblin, Gaknar, explained that some strange monster had torn the room apart, apparently looking for something. It was something he'd never seen before. He also informed the PCs that he was a lowly worker to the mages that had taken up residence in the castle, and that the mages perform various experiments (many of capture people like the PCs). He warned them that "the servants" had joined this monster in turning on the mages, and that various other creatures may have escaped containment.

The PCs spent surges to regain some HP, and then searched for some improvised weapons to use. Gaknar explained that they were in the north tower of a castle, and that their stuff was probably in the south tower. He led them out to an open-air bridge connecting to a wing of the main castle, which continued out the other side of the wing to the south tower. Bodies that looked like they'd be bludgeoned to death included some hobgoblin and human soldiers, as well as mages. Along the bridge and in many rooms of the castle, motes of blue and white energy, as well as black and purple shadow energy, floated through the air. Below the bridge the PCs could see a moat surrounding the castle, filled with strange, bubbling purple liquid. Yellowish smoke issued from windows in the ground floor of the rear wing of the castle. As they entered the wing (on the second floor), they had their first encounter. Some corpses were lying on the floor, being devoured by rats (2 dire rats, 2 giant rats, and 2 rat swarms). Terrain features included a bookcase that had been knocked over, a bookcase that was still standing (but could obviously be knocked over), a lit torch, and a smashed oil barrel that had spilled oil over several squares. Once violence ensued, the floating energy motes coalesced into energy orbs. Shadow orbs debuffed the attack modifiers of adjacent PCs, while the blueish orbs shot rays of radiant energy and exploded upon death (both types were minions). Given that the fight was with improvised weapons, it was fairly difficult (especially the swarms). Toward the end of the encounter the party was finally able to maneuver the swarms near the oil, push one in, and set it on fire.

The party eventually made it into the South Tower, but an "improved" goblin (with Bugbear arms and embedded with various crystals) guarded the tower (on the orders of "master"). This was a custom solo creature, with more energy motes present. There was also a weapons rack in the room, which allowed the PCs to at least fight with something useful. Luckily, the solo fight didn't drag. The PCs then recovered their gear and took an extended rest.

Fully refreshed and with their gear recovered, the party decided to explore the castle at their leisure. Various points of interest included the following:

  • A room with the floor on fire, apparently fueled by a viscous, orange liquid. A spiral staircase going down was on the opposite side of the room, but the players (wisely) didn't attempt to run through the conflagration (which would have resulted in certain death).
  • A room where a binding ritual had been attempted, using 4 large crystals, one of which had shattered and caused electrical energy to lash out at random, all around the room. A roof hatch discovered earlier led to a lightning rod, which Martok decided to retrieve and stick into the room (while holding it). He took a massive amount of damage and was knocked back, prone. Urogoth used his shade form to reduce damage taken as he ran to the other side of the room to retrieve some treasure.
  • A three-room encounter (a dining area, a food storage area, and a kitchen, all connected by halls and open doors) against flail-wielding Bugbear skirmishers and (leveled up) Goblin Cutters. Some energy motes coalesced into orbs, as usually happened in the castle during encounters, and a green slime that had been feasting in the storage area joined the fight in the second round. The slime spent the entire fight trying to engulf Gaknar.
  • An encounter against a decrepit flesh golem, a storm shard (lightning elemental), and several motes in a room with several teleportation circles and a broken obelisk with an aura of damaging necrotic energy (which the enemies were immune to, save the storm shard which avoided it).
  • After making it downstairs (which required finding a couple of keys to open locked doors), the party faced off against a wight, some skeleton archers, zombie minions, and (of course) the ever-present energy orbs. A pillar in the center of the room allowed the orbs to summon more orbs, all of which winked out of existence once the undead all perished. Patches of necrotic ground covered roughly half of the room, and it granted undead within it a damage bonus and reduced surge healing by half. The fight was surprisingly easy for the PCs, who were able to avoid the necrotic ground, keep the undead largely out of it, and didn't need to use much healing.
  • The ground floor of the rear wing contained some sort of generator which seemed to be powered by crystals, and in turn powered a drill. Fissures opened directly through the floor, and were spewing out the smoke seen from the bridges. Three Azers were dead on the floor.
  • The party decided to go the other way, toward the front of the castle. This was the final encounter of the night, which brought them to level 2 (they gained 150 XP from backstory, and fought 6 encounters, most of which were 3rd or 4th level. They took 2 extended rests). It was against a (modified) Warforged soldier, 2 Warforged Resounders (artillery), and a custom creation of mine, an Ironwood Warforged (Elite Soldier). The soldier had a recharge daze attack, and the Ironwood Warforged had a minor action (Iron Kick) attack which dazed as well. Tough encounter, as the artillery did substantial area damage.
Notes on Treasure

I roughly followed the parcel system as is laid out in the DMG, but I handed out many more healing potions over the course of their exploration (many of which weren't needed), and I gave each PC a magic item. I never really liked the idea of 1 player getting the shaft every level (even if it is a different player each time). This may result is slightly overpowered characters, but I tend to run difficult encounters and if it becomes an issue I'll just either forego magic items for a level to even it out, or provide lower level magic items for a level or two. Either way I don't think it will be a problem.

Clues Discovered

During the course of their exploration, the party discovered several documents (mostly letters or books) lying around the castle. I'll list these clues here as a reference, because some of them will tie into events later in the campaign.

  • Loose Page from a largely destroyed book found near the body of a mage on the north tower observatory. Reads "They've decieved us. They don't have what we need, so we've begun to look below."
  • A Book titled Geneology of the Selfeer's. Essentially, a quick skim (and a History check made by Garret) revealed that the Selfeers were the rulers of Lyria Castle. About a century ago, there was a city-state called Lyria that was conquered, and the region has remained largely unsettled since then. In the margin of a marked page on the last ruler, Duke Glenn Selfeer, is the note "see nephew." Another marked page revealed that he had 2 nephews, Clor and Vistun. Vistun's short bio showed that he was exiled for collaborating with one Aston Grimslade. No further details are provided, but this was clearly of interest to the mages.
  • A letter, which reads "Baern refuses to cooperate with us. Arrogant fool! He thinks his status and fortress can protect him. The Dwarf will suffer. Perhaps we can pursuade Orsir to deal with him. It would be an expensive bounty, but it would be worth it. Alive, if possible. Signed, Tintrim."
  • A letter which reads "their first attempt was mere NECROMANCY! I made it clear to Karek, et al. that we needed to take that extra step. I don't care what the smoke's doing now, we've almost completed a beta Volksair specimen! Signed, Tintrim."
  • Yet another letter, reading "Tintrim, we can't continue with the Volksair Project. The Smoke was an unexpected side effect, but we can't get rid of it. And now it's starting to do some...strange things. Signed, Karek."
  • A chapter in a book of local history titled A History of Grimslade Castle, with a note scrawled in the margin "Is he still there?"
Further commentary may come later, when it's not quite so late.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advice on Playing the Controller Role

I have a guide on the WotC forums called Controlling 101. It highlights what the controller classes bring to the table, and how to best utilize their abilities tactically. Not much else to say about it; check it out!

The Ardent: A Theoretical Fix

I'll ignore, for now, the conceptual problem that I have with the Ardent (namely, the disjunct between its flavor as a "mood reader," or empath, and its mechanics as an exclusively weapon-wielding melee class). Fixing this would be an undertaking far too large for me to attempt, seeing as it would require a complete re-working of the powers to accomodate ranged implement psychic attacks, and wouldn't see publication anyways. So I'll grudgingly make my peace with the fact that there's very little in the mechanics that reflect the flavor well.

This leaves the AC problem. I'm assuming that the Ardent is going to be published as-is, so there's really no option for giving them shield proficiency out of the box. Pity, as that would have been a simple solution and provided an incentive for Ardents to wield something other than a polearm. This leaves a feat patch as a solution. There's precedent for feat patches (see Expertise feats), and there are also existing feats that serve as de-facto patches to compensate for design flaws (Chainmail Proficiency for Con Shamans). Sure, Scale proficiency or Light Shield proficiency could be taken to patch the Ardent's AC, but both require 13 Str and Scale requires 13 Con as well. So as it stands, improving the Ardent's AC exacerbates the inferiority of the class, as it requires a more MAD build. Thus, a new feat is in order.

Quell Savagery
Prerequisite: Ardent Mantle
If your off hand is free, you gain a +2 feat bonus to AC against all attacks originating from within your Ardent Mantle.

I'm assuming that the Ardent MC feat doesn't grant the Ardent Mantle class feature, so there shouldn't be any cheese with other classes stacking the bonus on top of their already respectable AC. Fluffwise, it fits the concept of an empath in that as an enemy is attacking, the Ardent projects a pulse of emotion into their mind to suppress their volatile temperament, reducing the efficacy of the attack. It also makes further use of the Mantle, which seems to be the Ardent's defining feature.

By going the Swordmage Warding route and requiring a free hand, deciding between a two handed weapon (likely a polearm) and a one-handed weapon is now a meaningful choice. The reason why I made the AC bump +2 instead of +1 was because A) +1 AC may not have been a good enough incentive for an Ardent to dump the polearm, and B) since Ardents should have gotten light shield prof. anyways, a +2 bonus represents the same investment that a Warlord would make to get heavy shield proficiency (1 feat, with the Str prerequisite being irrelevant for a Warlord).

Furthermore, there are tradeoffs that don't make it strictly superior to getting shield/armor proficiencies. In the case of Quell Savagery vs. lt. shield proficiency, the shield nets you a +1 to AC and Reflex, but requires a 13 Str. Quell Savagery gets you a higher AC bonus and doesn't require a Str investment, but it doesn't improve your Reflex and only applies to attacks originating within your Mantle (leaving you more open to ranged attacks). In comparison to Scale Armor proficiency, Scale would get rid of the armor check penalty that the Ardent keeps if he/she remains in Chain (with Quell Savagery). Furthermore, Scale may be attractive in that it offers enchantments not available to Chain (but once again, requires a Str and Con investment).

Overall, while I'm not a fan of "feat taxes" I'd rather have an option like Quell Savagery than requiring a class to become too MAD to fix an AC that's simply insufficient for a front line leader (and secondary defender, to boot). This way, a Mantle of Clarity Ardent can invest stat points in Cha and Wis and then choose to bump either Reflex (and possibly initiative) or Fortitude (and possibly surges) without being pressured into putting points in Str or wielding a polearm. This is especially important since new players might not see the necessity of these two courses of action, and will feel very squishy if they run around with a longsword and chainmail. At least Quell Savagery would be a fairly attractive feat choice for a new player, and it would be right in the first place that they often look for feats (the class feats list).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Debut: The Ardent

The Ardent debut article is up on D&D Insider, and it contains the Mantle of Clarity build for this new Psionic Leader. The full class will appear in the PHB3 in March.

What's in a Name?

First, a comment on the name. I hate it. A lot. Judging by the discussions on the WotC forums many people agree with this sentiment. The problem is partially that the word "ardent" is an adjective. You're left thinking, "so what exactly is this guy ardent about?" You can say that members of the class are ardent, but you can also say that Rogues are sneaky; does that mean that the Rogue class could be called "Sneaky" and make sense? "Sneak" would make sense, but that's a noun. Same goes for renaming "Barbarian" to "Reckless." Or we could just re-name the Wizard the "Intelligent." Grammatical faults aside, there was already a widely speculated name for the Psionic leader: Empath. The Empath was a Psion build in 3rd edition, so there's even a precedent (to be fair the Ardent was a 3rd edition class from Complete Psionic, but it doesn't resemble the 4E Ardent except that they both have "mantles"). Here's the kicker: the flavor of the 4E Ardent could not possibly be more suited for the name Empath. They Psionically read the emotional state of their enemies, as well as influence the emotional state of their allies. They're empathic. I liked the name Empath. It made sense. Ardent is just silly.


Anyways, moving on to the actual mechanics of the class. Not surprisingly, they use Charisma as their primary stat. Also not surprisingly, Wisdom is secondary for the Mantle of Clarity build (secondary defender). The other build, to be released in the PHB3, is the Mantle of Elation, and is a secondar striker that uses Constitution as a secondary stat. If you can't already see a problem with the Mantle of Clarity build, I'll point it out right now. Like certain builds of other classes (for example, Charisma Paladins), the Mantle of Clarity Ardent gets a primary and a secondary stat that contribute to the same defense, Will. That's a little odd for a secondary defender, wouldn't you think? But wait, there's more. Their armor proficiency goes up to Chain (so at least not having a secondary or primary stat for AC doesn't hurt them too much), but they don't get any shield proficiencies. That's an AC of 16 at 1st level. And they're a melee class. I'll reiterate that: the party leader (who is supposed to play backup defender) is sent to the front lines with minimal armor and no shield. This is the guy who you want to keep standing so he can heal you. And shouldn't the secondary defender build get Con secondary instead of the striker? So yeah, you'll have very few healing surges too. And if you want to improve your armor you'll need at least a 13 in both Con and Str (just Str if you're going for lt shield, but consider your surges!). And forget about a heavy shield completely unless you want to waste enough stat points for a Str of 15. So yeah, improving your AC is both feat intensive, and stat intensive. If you're a race that gets a bonus to Str it would definitely be worth it, but everyone else loses out. And with all the points you're throwing into Cha, Wis, Str, and Con, your Reflex is really going to suffer.

I'm thinking that polearms will be pretty much mandatory for these guys if they want to not die. You have proficiency with military melee weapons, and the picture in the article has a glaive. So have fun hiding behind your defender and attacking around him, just like every other Ardent will be doing.

Like the Psion, the Ardent gets an extra at-will power and can replace at-wills as they level with more powerful ones. These at-wills can be augmented to be more powerful with power points. They do not get encounter powers because of this (a fully augmented at-will is equivalent to an encounter power, and they get enough power points to cast the same amount of fully augmented powers as other classes get encounter powers). Power points recharge after each short rest. The benefits to this system are that Psions/Ardents can use the same "encounter" power twice instead of using two different ones. You can also augment an at-will with 1 power point instead of 2 (full), essentially giving yourself two weaker encounter powers instead of 1 standard one. All of this can be done spontaneously, when you attack. So yeah, great flexibility with how you use your powers, but less flexibility in terms of how many different things you can do. Example: whereas a Wizard could have an at-will that debuffs attack and an encounter power that dazes, a Psion would have an at-will that debuffs attack, with the ability to augment that power to either debuff more targets or debuff with a bigger penalty (whatever is laid out in the power). Kind of like a one trick pony that's really flexible with that one trick.


The 2/enc healing power is called Ardent Surge, and it's pretty standard in terms of what it heals (normal xD6 progression for extra HP). What makes it unique is that it has a different effect depending on your Mantle. Mantle of Clarity Ardents give the target a +1 bonus to all defenses until the end of your next turn, and Mantle of Elation Ardents give a +1 attack bonus. This is actually a pretty cool way to distinguish the builds that we (surprisingly) haven't seen in a leader until now.

In terms of other differences between the mantles, nothing else about the Mantle of Elation is specified. It can be assumed that it's similar to the Mantle of Clarity though, which is a constantly active close burst 5 "aura" that grants any allies within it a defense bonus against opportunity attacks (equal to Wis, your secondary stat) and a +2 bonus to Insight and Perception checks. Flavorful. Also, as I learned when playtesting my World Speaker Shaman, granting a solid bonus against opportunity attacks can potentially alter party tactics, reducing the risk of risky maneuvers (things that provoke OAs). Artful Dodger Rogues in particular will be virtually invulnerable to OAs, especially if they're Halflings.


I really like the flavor of the class. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect a Psionic leader to be, minus the crappy name (if I ever make an Ardent I'm just going to call it an Empath). The Mantles are pretty standard in terms of their mechanical influences on the different builds, which is a good thing since I've heard that mantles in 3.x were not done very well. I've never seen Complete Psionic so I don't exactly know in what ways the 3rd edition Ardent was poorly designed, but I trust the prevailing opinions on the WotC forums, especially considering the Psionics Handbook (which I do own). I do suspect that the 4E Ardent will carry over the legacy of being somewhat inferior, and unfortunately the reason should have been easy to foresee on the part of the devolopers. Proficiency with the light shield at the very least would give Ardents an option other than polearms, and having some ranged implement attacks would mitigate the low AC, as the Ardent wouldn't have to be in melee constantly to be effective. And on top of all of this the Mantle of Clarity build's two highest stats feed the same NAD (non AC defense). The result is that Ardents will feel the need to "catch up" to their fellow leaders, most likely through feats (armor/shield proficiencies will be attractive options, but will require investment tertiary/quaternary stats, making the Ardent quite MAD (multi attribute dependent)).

Con-based Shamans have a similar AC problem (and similarly need to invest in Str for better armor), and people have been complaining since the release of the preview (and are still complaining, for that matter). The situation is arguably more dire for Ardents since they'll have to be in melee almost constantly. A simple comparison can be drawn with the Warlord, which is another exclusively melee leader and is known for taking a beating if played carelessly. The Ardent is at a disadvantage in terms of initial AC (since Warlords have shield prof.), and also in terms of improving AC (Warlords attack with Strength, the main prerequisite stat for armor prof., whereas Ardents would not normally want to invest in Strength). In particular this build (Mantle of Clarity) is supposed to play secondary defender, but will have stats spread out between Cha, Wis, Con, and Str if it wants to be even passably effective at it. I can't imagine any race except the Dragonborn being able to make this work.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Class Acts: Druid

This article has gotten some flak on the WotC forums because it doesn't present any caster-form options, but in my opinion that isn't necessarily a bad thing. There will be more Druid material in Dragon in the future, and I definitely hope that we get some new caster-form goodies. This article, however, had a definite theme of customizing your beast form so that different forms granted distinct mechanical advantages. This was an issue with Wild Shape when it was first presented before the release of the PHB2. People complained that while it gave the Druid access to a different suite of powers, the player's choice of specific form was just cosmetic. Even from the start some attempt was made at differentiation; after all, the PHB2 had Enraged Boar Form and Ferocious Tiger Form as Heroic Tier feats, Hunting Wolf Form and Stalking Panther Form as Paragon Tier feats, and several Daily slot items in the vein of Primal Wolf, Primal Wolverine, etc.

This article published several more Primal X powers, as well as some utilities and feats that support beast form specializations. I'll review each new feature, since the article was fairly short.

Heroic Tier Feats
Each of these feats augments one of the Druids original 3 beast form at-will attacks.

Patient Hunter: This is what Pounce should have been from the start. At least now it compares more favorably to Swarming Locusts. Druids with feats/equipment that enhance their damage when they have CA might consider this power now, especially if there's a Rogue in the party.

Ruthless Killer: Swarm Druids just became even better defenders. This feat would actually make real defenders jealous! What's better than a mark? At-will immobilize (albeit with the caveat of staying adjacent)! This might be a candidate for slightly overpowered, but not game-breakingly so. Essentially, a defender's mark is a form of soft control (do this or get an attack debuff and some sort of punishment), whereas Ruthless Killer gives a Swarm Druid hard control (the enemy has no choice in the matter). They still can't punish enemies for attacking nearby allies, but they sure are sticky now.

Unstoppable Beast: Useful for any off-tanks that want some extra positioning. Even Predator's might find it useful, though. Push someone into a zone/hazardous terrain and then guard the edge. If you can slide 2, this is useful for staying 1 square away when using Primal Wolf (for charge protection) while still benefiting from the increased slide range.

Paragon Tier Feats
Most of these serve to emphasize specific tactical strategies.

Brutal Grappler Form: Hey, this synergizes quite nicely with Latch On, Constricting Coils, and Scavenger's Prize! If you've enhanced your damage when you have CA you can be a pretty darn good isolating striker, especially if you have the Defensive Advantage feat (better AC when you have CA). In terms of actual grab attempts, it still doesn't make up for the fact that Str is a dump stat for you. Only bother with this if you have grabbing powers. Any build can be a grabber, but Predators should focus on grabbing opponents that are unlikely to use Str/Athletics to break the grab since they have a low Fortitude. Predators also have some notably good riders on encounter grab powers (Latch On and Scavenger's Prize). Swarm and Guardian Druids, conversely, shouldn't grab foes that are likely to escape via Dex/Acrobatics checks since their achilles heel is their Reflex. For any grabber, artillery and other ranged enemies are prime targets (even if they break the grab right away, they've still wasted a move action to do so and will thus provoke OAs if they attack).

Fierce Thrasher Form: I already have Rushing Cleats. I'm definitely taking this too. Anyone who likes forced movement will probably do the same. With both, you get a slide 3 with Savage Rend. Basically, I use Savage Rend as my primary damaging power since I can set up situations where I'm charging into CA fairly frequently (and have damage boosts for charges and CA). Now I can also throw my enemies all over the place while doing so.

Scuttling Crawler Form:
Hey, my cat form doesn't suck at climbing trees anymore! It's about time they released this feat. This was a major point of contention with wild shape when the Druid preview was first released, namely because Str is a dump stat for most Druids and yet, paradoxically, a lot of actions that animals should be good at require Athletics checks. Personally, I would have preferred a feat that lets you use Wis in place of Str for Athletics in beast form, but that may have been overpowered.

Venomous Fang Form: Given that Druids don't have a plethora of poison powers, you're unlikely to have very many of them unless you specialize in poison attacks. Furthermore, you can MC Assassin and get better poison resist/immune penetration. Pass.

Daily Powers
A mix of Daily attack powers, all of which are Primal Form, and Daily utility powers, which grant the Druid abilities which Wild Shape does not normally confer, much like Skittering Sneak and Black Harbinger from the PHB2.

Primal Spider: Solid and flavorful. Surprisingly inferior the the similarly themed Wizard's Web though.

Treetop Lurker: A Daily form utility, and a pretty specific one at that. Some Druids will probably take it for flavor reasons, but I can't really justify picking it for most builds. Maybe if it was 2nd level.

Primal Serpent: Assuming that this power doesn't contain a typo and you really can't save from the poison damage, it's still pretty weak. This level has some steep competition, including Primal Wolf, Summon Crocodile, Entangle, and Sunbeam. I really can't justify taking this, and my Druid's a Coiled Serpent (thought to be fair I don't use snake forms exclusively, or even most of the time).

Diving Fin: Wow, lame name. But still, a much sought after concept. I honestly expected this to be in the PHB2, and was a little disappointed when it wasn't. Then I forgot about it by the time Primal Power was released, but I'm glad the concept was finally published.

Primal Boar: This is actually pretty decent for striker and controller purposes. Position yourself so that you provoke OAs from anyone that you want to knock prone, and unless your DM is metagaming even intelligent enemies should take the bait the first time. It's slightly annoying for Predators that the powers in this article tend to be Con based, but at least the bonus isn't that critical for the function of the power.

Primal Crocodile: The -2 penalty to escape grabs probably won't be enough for most grapplers, especially if the enemy targets your weak NAD (tee-hee-hee). Still, if you're not a Predator this isn't overshadowed by Latch On quite as much. Plus it synergizes with Brutal Grappler Form.

Primal Lion:
I actually really like this power. It's a solid mix of controller, leader, and striker, it evokes truly spectacular imagery (ok, that one's subjective), and it targets Will! An excellent pick for this level. Did I mention it also only targets enemies? THP is Con dependent but this would still be worth it for Predators.

Primal Panther: This one I'm not so sure about. It's pretty much a pure striker power, but if you have Pounce you can basically give yourself permanent invisibility for the entire encounter (against a particular foe, that is). Anyone who wants to be a Displacer Beast will love it.

References: article link

Mini Review of D&D Insider

Yesterday I finally broke down and bought a 1 month subscription to D&D Insider. I think the main reason why I hadn't done so before was because the main computer that I use is my Macbook, and the Character Builder and Monster Builder are only supported for Windows. Sure, I could run Windows on my Mac, but I'm not going to buy an OS that I'm only going to use for two applications. No thank you. I got around it by lugging my desktop from college downstairs (where the internet connection lives) and installing the CB and MB on that. Then I took it back upstairs and voila, I have all the benefits of D&D Insider (thought I still wish I could use everything on my laptop).

I'm still not sure if it would be worth it to have a continuous subscription. The initial investment has the greatest yields, as you get the CB and MB which contain everything from every published source thus far (mechanics-wise). Don't feel like paying for Martial Power just because you plan on playing a Rogue in a one-shot? No problem, the CB has you covered! Still, having continuous access to the Compendium would be nice (searchable online database with all of the info from the CB).

Character Builder/Adventure Tools
So far the only one of the Aventure Tools that's been released is the Monster Builder. It's still a Beta version, but it's very nice. It's essentially a database of all published monsters, and you can change their level with one click (so you don't have to re-calculate everything yourself). You can also customize monsters, and create your own. Definitely worth it! Hopefully I can easily export stat blocks to PDFs or some other format, so that I can at least view them on my Mac outside of the program and print them if need be. I'm really looking forward to the unreleased Adventure Tools, and I hope that the next one is a mapping program.

The Character Builder I've already discussed a little bit. It's pretty nifty, with the main benefit being that you can build characters without having 5 different books sprawled out in front of you. I think what I enjoy even more is the content. I finally have the Assassin class (D&Di exclusive) and all of the options from Divine Power. I especially appreciate finally having the Artificer without having to buy the Eberron Players Guide. It's also really easy to find stuff from Dragon without searching through all of the PDFs. Mac users certainly get screwed by not being able to use these 2 excellent tools.

These alone aren't worth the subscription. I find the layout of Dungeon kind of annoying, with the adventures as presented being difficult to utilize. I actually haven't read through much of anything though; just seems so daunting and the reading so dull. Unless I found a specific adventure that would apply to my campaign, of course.

Dragon is better, though it's fairly well-known that some of the content is broken (i.e. overpowered). It's nice to have a steady stream of published material though. Each month the Dragon material (as well as anything from a newly released book) is added to the Compendium and the Character Builder. This means that if you don't have subscriptions every month, you can't update the CB. Still, updating every few months doesn't seem like such a bad deal, especially since you can keep track of the content offered to see if anything is of interest to you. If they release another D&Di exclusive class, release a crunch-heavy book, or do a really good article on one of your favorite classes, it would be a good idea to get another monthly subscription so you can get the updates. Another nice perk is that debut content appears in Dragon. Right now one build each of the Psion, Monk, and Seeker have been released, all of which will appear next year in the PHB3. I probably won't purchase that books since I've never been a huge fan of Psionics, but the Monk is neat and the Seeker looks very cool, and it will be nice to get these two classes without having to buy a book filled with a bunch of Psionic stuff.

The Verdict: The subscription was worth it, but seeing as I'm currently unemployed it's unlikely that I'll continue it beyond this month. As content is released, I'll almost certainly re-subscribe in the future.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Shaman: Altering conventional "when to heal" wisdom?

In 4E, leaders do a whole lot more than just heal, though all of them retain a basic ability to heal thanks to their 2/enc. class feature. Obviously characters with more focus on healing are free to take other powers that heal as they level up. Conventional wisdom suggests that other (encounter) healing powers should be used first during combat, saving the minor action 2/enc. powers for emergencies (and any Daily healing for even more dire circumstances). This is because they're burst 5 (good range but won't provoke OAs), minor actions (so you can do something else with your standard action), and usually provide a substantial burst of healing (they general formula is surge + xD6, where x depends on level). All good things for when you're in a tight spot (other forms of healing may suffer from being ranged (will provoke OAs) or even melee (touch), requiring that an attack hits, etc).

For more general guidance, check out this thread from the WotC forums. Here are a couple of points that the guide makes (on the subject of when to heal), which all support the notion that class feature 2/enc heals should be saved for later:

Rule 1: It is better to heal later than earlier.As long as your ally's are up in the safe zone, it is better to keep healing powers available in case of an unforeseen situation, such as sudden monster reinforcements, or a second encounter before you can take a short rest.

Rule 2: Surge-free healing before surge-cost healing.Healing surges are your main daily resource, and saving healing surges is the main focus of 4th edition resource management (after staying alive). If you have an encounter power that provides some free healing on the side, use it first.

Rule 3: Healing Strike before Healing Word (and similar)Attack powers that heal help decimate the number of monsters, so use them early. On the other hand, they can miss, so they are not reliable if an ally is down on the floor. That's why you should reserve your minor action class feature heal for emergencies.

Rule 4: Encounter before daily.Encounter powers that provide healing will be back after a short rest, so use them first. Daily healing like Cure Light Wounds should be reserved for encounters where you need more than the normal amount of healing.

Rule 5: Temp hp first, healing later.Temp hp go away at the end of the encounter, so use everything that gives temp hp while there are still monsters around.

Now that it's (hopefully) been made clear that class feature heals should be saved for when they're really needed, I'll bring the Shaman into the mix. Clerics, Bards, Warlords, and (presumably) Artificers all allow an ally to spend a surge + extra healing (in the form of D6's). Clerics grant the most extra healing (their Wis mod + the standard D6 progression), Warlords grant a baseline amount (standard D6 progression), and Bards provide a free slide and slightly more consistent healing than Warlords (Cha mod + standard D6 progression minus 1D6). All three of these classes can use Healing/Inspiring/Majestic Word to allow an ally that's in deep trouble to spend a surge and then grant them some extra healing. A Shaman's Healing Spirits, on the other hand, breaks the paradigm by providing spread out healing (the target can spend a surge and an ally adjacent to your Spirit Companion (SC) gets the extra healing, which is the standard D6 progression).

So why does this matter? For starters, it diminishes the power's use as an "emergency" heal because the ally in trouble isn't going to get any additional healing (from the base power; items and feats may add some) beyond their healing surge. Second, whether or not a second ally recieves extra healing is dependent on positioning, which may not be favorable during an emergency situation. Thus, Shamans are somewhat lacking in their ability to react effectively to emergencies if they rely too much on Healing Spirits. That's not to say that the power is garbage, because it does have its uses; namely, it's good for proactive spread healing. That is, you can let an injured character with surges to spare spend one, and let another ally with few surges get some bonus healing, mitigating their need to spend more surges than they have to. Note that the Bear Shaman's spirit boon does grant some extra healing (to both recipients of Healing Spirits, to boot), giving it more utility as an emergency heal.

In addition to the other tactical nuances that the Shaman exhibits, they have to worry about having a "weird" 2/enc healing power. This further reinforces what a complex class the Shaman is, and also affects how it interacts with the party. As I stated before, a low surge striker like a Rogue or Ranger would probably love having a Shaman in the party, provided that he (or another party member) had access to at least one other good emergency heal. Parties that lack characters who can easily get themselves out of trouble might not be the best fit for a Shaman. Overall, due to their spread out healing Shamans are good at keeping the HP of the whole party fairly stable, but if things go south they may not be able to deal with it as effectively as another leader class. It could be argued that a Shaman might make it less likely that an encounter will go awry by keeping everyone fairly refreshed, but regardless emergency situations will inevitably occur, and these are the times when the PC's lives are most on the line.

Just something for Shaman players to think about I guess. The thought occured to me when I was playtesting my World Speaker Shaman for the first time, and in a relatively easy encounter (level = party) I blew both of my Healing Spirits (to give the Rogue some surge-free bonus healing both times). I'd been running a Cunning Bard with this party before, and usually with an encounter of this difficulty I would have maybe used 1 Majestic Word.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Detailing a setting

This article came up today on the official WotC D&D website. It's not exactly rocket science, but setting up the ambiance is something that is easily forgotten when you're DMing. You're preoccupied with describing important details, answering questions, or perhaps you're trying to move the game forward to an exciting encounter you have planned. Rather, you should stop as soon as the characters enter a new area and heed the following advice from the article:

I want to put myself, momentarily, into the boots of my adventurers. I want to think about what the air feels like. Is it hot or cold? Dry or humid? What does it smell like here? Are there irritants around? Bugs? Sand in my sandals? And what are the locals—monsters and NPCs—wearing? How do they cope? What impact has this region had on their culture? Their dress? Their mannerisms?

As a player, I can conjure up a pretty imaginitive scene even without the DM describing details. Sometimes I wonder, though, what the scene looks like in the mind of the other players at the table. It's kind of strange to think that all of these characters could be exploring completely different areas in the minds of each individual player. Not that that's a bad thing necessarily, but as a DM I also have a very specific image in my mind and sometimes it's easy to assume that the players have a similar vision. When I DM, I like to present what I've created, but I acknowledge that I don't always do the greatest job of communicating what I'm seeing in my mind. Not only that, but sometimes even the tiniest, seemingly insignificant detail might act as a seed of creativity in the mind of a player, allowing them to conjure up an elaborate rendering of the secondary world within the game.

I also really like the real-world examples that the author used. Having lived in western WA for nearly a year, I can assert that it does feel very different from where I've spent most of my life, in Ohio. Providing a few environmental details of the setting could go a long way in establishing the difference of a particular location compared to the physical region of the players, which many players likely subconsciously project into the game world. I'm reminded of one campaign that I ran years ago in which the main continent that the PCs were adventuring on was in the southern hemisphere of the fictional world. After several sessions, well into the campaign, they were travelling a great distance south and were shocked when I described the weather becoming colder, until they reached their goal which had a climate similar to the northern taiga (boreal forest) of North America. Since I'd designed the world (more extensively than I needed to, I might add, but that was part of the fun for me) it was just a given that the continent that they were on was in the southern hemisphere, but for players which have spent their entire lives in the northern hemisphere it was a jarring experience.

So yes, better to provide too much description than not enough.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Talamhlar - Player Resources

First thing I'd like to point out is the official errata. This document contains the most recent updates, as well as all of the past ones in one convenient PDF. No need to look through all of this, but as you're making your character you might want to check to see if any class features/powers/etc. that you chose have been changed (the doc is organized by book).

Second, if you have some free time on your hands and enjoy reading about such things, the Character Optimization Guides on the WotC forums are a pretty good resource. A lot of the specific builds are built around Epic tier concepts, but the individual class guides give a great overview of your options and really help to narrow things down now that there's a huge amount of feats and powers to choose from.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Talamhlar - Campaign Brief

This document is designed to be an introduction to the Talamhlar campaign, and to help facilitate character creation.

Introduction to the World

The game world is called Talamhlar (derived from the Irish talamh [land] and lar [middle], as a hidden reference to the Old Norse Midgard, Old English Middangeard, and of course Tolkien's Middle Earth). It's not uncommon for people to refer to it simply as The World, though this term sometimes refers to Talamhlar as well as its two mirror planes, Faerie (the Feywild) and Umbria (the Shadowfell).

The Town of Helmund

This medium sized city (pop. approximately 8,000) lies 2 miles north of Lake Nevrir in the Brumewold. Helmund was originally founded by Dwarves centuries ago, but is now a racially diverse city. All of the common races are well represented, and all of the uncommon races are present in small numbers as well. Rumor has it that a crossing to Faerie lies nearby, so transient Eladrin and Gnomes are fairly common. If you are a member of a rare race, you may be the only individual of that race in town. If you're a Shifter or a Half-Orc, you are grudgingly tolerated but not made to feel welcome. Travellers stay in a large inn called the Granite House, which was carved from a single block of granite by the cities founders.

The Brumewold

The terrain surrounding Helmund
is comprised of rolling hills with patches of forest and agricultural land within a prairie matrix. The climate is temperate with 4 distinct seasons. Several local tribes make use of land in the Brumewold, which is largely free of monstrous races. A Quenyar (tribe) of Elves (pop. approx. 300) inhabits the Brumewold year-round, keeping a small amount of livestock but largely hunting and gathering. They are on good terms with the people of Helmund. A band of Halflings make use of the Brumewold's abundant game from late autumn through the winter during most years, occasionally taking refuge within Helmund during severe weather. There is also a wide-ranging nomadic tribe of Humans, Elves, and (not surprisingly) Half Elves that usually show up once a year, though when they appear and how long they stay is generally unpredictable to the people of Helmund.


The pantheon in this campaign is identical to that in the PHB. A variety of minor gods exist, generally ruled by the major gods, but they are not well-known and not often worshipped. Various Celestials (Deva, Angels, etc.) serve the gods (though they rarely answer to minor gods). It's not uncommon for Deva to leave the Astral Sea (the Divine Plane, where the gods and their servants dwell) and strike out independently. In the youngest days of Talamhlar, the Dawn War raged between the Gods and the Primordials. The Gods wished to rule over their creation, which the Primordials sought to destroy (their motives are not known). The war repeatedly scarred The World until the Primal Spirits (see Primal Power) intervened, banishing both the Gods and the Primordials shortly before the end of the War (which the Gods eventually ended up winning, though their stewardship over the World had been revoked). Thus the Gods are worshipped, but their ability to affect Talamhlar is very limited. The Primal Spirits, manifestations of aspects of the World itself born out of the calamity of the Dawn War, are guardians and maintain balance. Some say that their numbers are infinitely numerous, though they keep their affairs hidden from the sight of most mortals and do not accept forms of worship. Individuals that commune with the spirit world (e.g. Primal characters) are viewed as allies rather than servants by even the mightiest of the spirits.

Character Creation

See my post on the overview of races; any unlisted races are not available for Player Characters (PCs). There are no restrictions on classes, including those available only through DnDi (Assassin, Monk, Psion). If you want to make an Artificer, you're responsible for obtaining the Eberron Player's Guide. Characters will start at 1st level, and must be created using standard point buy (22 points) or one of the equivalent arrays (PHB p. 17). Alignment should be unaligned, good, or lawful good. Companion characters (NPC party members) will be present for portions of the campaign.


Most regions of Talamhlar are somewhat low-magic. What this means is that there are no "magic shops" where you can purchase any magic item that you need. Items can be created with the Enchant Magic Item ritual, obviously, and most cities will have a ritual caster capable of doing so (though not necessarily one of high level). It's recommended that at least one party member can cast rituals, because having an NPC do it will cost more than the market price. Magic was more common in the distant past, so magic items are more common in ruins or cities that have existed for a long time.

Though you're encouraged to create whatever type of character you want, I will not compensate for weaknesses in the party with encounter design. For example, if everyone decides to be a striker you will feel the lack of the other roles (in this case, mostly defender). I would also recommend striking a balance between melee and ranged.

Going along with this, I'd like to state the disclaimer that I may occasionally present the party with challenges above their abilities. Don't assume that all fights can be won (especially if the encounter is a result of some other failure or bad decision), and roleplay your characters realistically as people with a sense of self-preservation. Sometimes fleeing may be the best option.

Your Last Memory

I'm putting this out there just so that there's no surprises when the campaign starts, and so you have some idea of what to expect.

The last thing your character remembers is going about his/her normal business. You're alone, and suddenly, you have a strange feeling like you're being watched. As you begin to turn your head to look over your shoulder, everything goes black. Now your head is throbbing--no, your whole body is throbbing--and you wonder what awaits you when you open your eyes...

Talamhlar - Character Backgrounds

The following is an outline for developing your character's background in the Talamhlar campaign. Feel free to go as in-depth as you want, as long as these minimum elements are addressed.

Players Handbook 2 Backgrounds

The PHB2 provides examples of different background elements from 5 different categories (p. 178). When you create your character, choose elements from at least 3 of the 5 categories (listed below). You are NOT limited to the examples given, which are just examples presented in the PHB2.
  • Geography - Describe the environment in the region where you were raised (ex. desert, forest, mountains, urban, wetlands).
  • Society - Describe your social and economic status (ex. poor, wealthy, nobility).
  • Birth - Some characters may have unusual birth circumstances (ex. among another race, blessed, cursed, omen, prophecy, born on another plane).
  • Occupation - This is what you did before your adventuring days (ex. artisan, criminal, entertainer, farmer, mariner, merchant, military, scholar).
  • Racial Background - Use the racial overview for ideas, I'm not going to list off all of the examples from the PHB2.
Backgrounds come with minor mechanical perks. Background elements each have some associated skills, but these are flexible. Basically, if you choose a skill just make sure that it makes sense in the context of one of your background elements. You gain a background benefit from ONE of your chosen background elements (if you have an idea that doesn't fall into one of the 5 categories, feel free to use it). Your background benefit can be one of the following:
  • +2 bonus to checks with a skill associated with your background.
  • Add an associated skill to your class's skill list before you choose your trained skills.
  • Choose a language associated with your background (Common, Elven, Dwarven, Draconic, Deep Speech, Giant, Goblin, Primordial). If you're a member of some organization and it's appropriate, you may choose a "secret" language (for example, the members of some Druidic circles learn "Druidic," certain thieves guilds utilize secret languages, etc.).
Additional Details

In addition to the background elements presented above, provide the following information about your character.

  1. All starting characters have been living in the city of Helmund (or, alternatively, in the wilderness surrounding it) for at least a year (see campaign brief for details on the city). Describe how you came to be in the city, and what you've been doing there.
  2. List two goals that your character has. At least one of them should be one that you'd like to see developed over the course of the campaign.
  3. List two secrets about your character. One of these secrets your character is aware of, and the second is something he/she knows nothing about.
  4. List and describe 3 people associated with your character in some way. At least one must be friendly toward your character, and at least one must be hostile.
  5. Choose at least one other player character and describe a connection that your character has with him/her. This can (and probably will) be completed after all characters have been submitted.
Magic Item Wish List

This step is optional, but is highly recommended if you want to customize some of the magic items recieved as treasure. Note that if any PC has the Enchant Magic Item ritual, items of your level or lower will be available for the market value listed in the books (if you buy magic items from NPCs who can create/enchant them, the cost may be between 10-40% higher). Items recieved as treasure will be higher level than your character, and most likely out of your price range.

Your wish list can contain up to 5 different magic items. If you recieve an item that was on your wish list, you may add a new item to the list. You may realistically find items up to 6 levels higher than you, but lower level items are more likely to appear. Listed enchantments may not appear on the same weapon that you use, but the 4th level ritual Transfer Enchantment (AV) can, obviously, transfer it. I recommend you pay special attention to "The Big Three," which are 1) Weapon/Implement (attacks), 2) Armor (AC), and 3) Neck Slot item (NADs, or Non AC Defenses).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Talamhlar - Overview and Demographics of Races

I've been mulling over a campaign idea in my head for a while, and I'm finally planning on actually implementing it. I've tentatively decided to name the campaign Talamhlar (derived from the Irish talamh [land] and lar [middle]), as a hidden reference to the Old Norse Midgard, Old English Middangeard, and of course Tolkien's Middle Earth. This fits well with the D&D cosmology of The World sitting between its two mirror planes, the Feywild and the Shadowfell.

I'm not sure how often I'll be able to organize sessions (nor how consistent player participation will be), but it's hard to organize D&D these days so I can either make an attempt at it or not play at all. The campaign world will be more free-form than I'm used to running, with just local areas being detailed at first and the world being expanded as the game progresses. Usually I map out an entire game world and choose a small corner of it for the PCs to start in. As I map I conjure up images of what certain places are like, and sometimes during play I find myself constrained by this (plus the fact that I don't use the majority of my ideas). Anyways, before I detail the starting region, I'll give an overview of the races in my campaign world.

The following is a list of races available for PC's. In general, only the races in the PHB and PHB2 can be chosen (I'll reserve judgment on PHB3 races after it's released, but regardless all will be placed in "Rare Races"). Races from the back of the Monster Manuals exist in the campaign world, but cannot be chosen by players. Genasi, Kalashtar, and Bladelings
do not exist.

I've tried to keep the "default" flavor of each race largely intact, so most of these descriptions shouldn't come as a surprise. I do, however, clarify their origins and social tendencies, including how a given race is viewed by others.

The Common Races
Members of these races can be found in most regions, and are always well-represented in large cities. All are natives to the World.

Humans - Culturally varied and highly adaptable, humans can be found virtually everywhere. Along with Dwarves, they are the race most likely to build large, permanent cities and are usually the dominant race in racially diverse cities. However, they are just as likely to be pastoral or hunter-gatherer.

Elves - The ancient ancestors of the Elves strayed from the Feywild when the World was young, and finding it to their liking they stayed permanently. Their love of Talamhlar is so great that as a whole, their race has a deeper connection to the World and the Primal Spirits than any other. They are largely nomadic to semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, though some pastoral Elven tribes (or Quenyar, as they call them) exist. They never build cities of their own, though they can be found in appreciable numbers in the cities of other races. Organization varies from Quenyar to Quenyar, and usually from season to season as well. They are adaptable, and commonly occupy virtually any environment.

Dwarves - Dwarven society revolves around Clans, which are extended family groups, but Dwarven cities comprised of multiple allied Clans are common. Clans tend to be sedentary, but Dwarves are skilled at the preservation of food and can exist comfortably even where food is only seasonally available. Often, they trade with agricultural or hunter-gatherer societies (their stone and metalwork being prized commodities). They are most common in mountainous regions, though they may settle in landscapes dominated by caverns, karst, or canyons. Dwarven merchants travel in large caravans, often staying in their host cities for extended periods of time.

Halflings - Halflings have adapted to their small size in the opposite way as Gnomes; instead of hiding and relying on secrecy, they are gregarious and often openly aggressive. Whereas a Gnome will often use stealth and illusion to disappear or protect himself, a Halfling will use stealth to catch opponents unawares and set up ambushes. They are ubiquitous in cities, often travelling in large groups, though they also commonly form large, nomadic bands. They are skilled with horses, which they'll use to pursue large game. In areas with tribes of savage or monstrous humanoids, their bands will, on average, be at least twice as large as their competitors and enemies. They will attack significantly smaller groups without provocation, to the point where creatures like Gnolls and Orcs have grown to fear them. They are exceptionally quick, and will rarely handicap themselves with large weapons and heavy armor.

Uncommon Races
These races are either migrants from other planes or variants of native common races. They can be found in large cities in appreciable numbers, and may be present in isolated communities/tribes in the World.

Eladrin - Common migrants from the Feywild, some Eladrin settle temporarily (or permanently on rare occasions) in the World. In places where they're not commonly seen, they're often feared, believed to be wild, unpredictable, and prone to sudden fits of wrath. In truth, most Eladrin are ambivalent to other races, with the exception of Elves and Gnomes.

Half Elves - Half Elves are the offspring of a Human and either an Elf or (more rarely) an Eladrin or Drow. They often have reduced fertility, and pairings between Half Elves and Humans or Elves almost always result in a Human or Elven child. Different cities and tribes vary in their treatment of Half Elves, though they're only very rarely outright ostracized.

Gnomes - Very common (though rarely encountered) migrants from the Feywild. They'll often form secluded colonies in forests, sometimes on the outskirts of civilized areas. They get along fairly well with some groups of Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings but most individuals avoid members of other races. They are exceedingly talented practitioners of Arcane magic, and thus they may settle in cities where such magic is prevalent and/or prized (and transients are common).

Tieflings - They are the descendants of a long-fallen empire, Bael Turath. The empire was originally ruled by a triumvirate which included a Human, an Elf, and a Dwarf whose names are long forgotten. The human and a small faction of his relatives made a deal with a mischievous devil who delights in watching mortals destroy each other. He gave the humans a vast amount of power, allowing them to achieve complete control of the empire while at the same time retaining a degree of popular support. Elven and Dwarven factions retreated beyond the bounds of the empire, but Bael Turath began to quickly expand. The Elves and Dwarves united, and a group of heroes were able to infiltrate the High Palace and held the devil captive. The human ruler, driven nearly insane by power, professed that he didn't need the devil anymore and if they wished they could kill him. The devil immediately placed a curse on the Turathi, stripping them of their power but leaving its scar with them and their descendants. For generations the Turathi were hunted down, easily recognized by their fiendish appearance, for the crimes that Bael Turath commited. The survivors retreated to secluded places, and once the furor subsided into the misty past most peoples began to take pity on the Turathi (most of which were ashamed of what their ancestors had done). There are still some areas where Turathi are largely disliked, contributing to the heterogeneity of their distribution.

Rare Races
A few individuals of these races may be present in large cities, and small communities/tribes may be encountered in isolated regions. Most commoners have either never come into contact with individuals of these races, and may not even know of their existence.

Deva - Deva are by far the rarest race in the World; they have no known settlements, and most individuals seen are merely passing through. To most common people they have the same eerie, unearthly quality as Eladrin, though their presence usually has a calming effect. They are said to be the surviving servitors of the gods, no longer needed after the Dawn War (the war between the Gods and Primordials). It is said that there are still Deva in the employ of many gods, but most that are seen in the World are independent, seeking to merely do as much good as they can without divine orders. Though they often go out of their way to help the mortal races (as Deva reincarnate, they are the only truly immortal race), they are rarely able to relate to them. Though each of their lives is about as long as a human's, they find most mortals to be too fleeting. Even the exceptionally long lived races (Eladrin, Gnomes, and Elves) find them odd, as each of their lives are as fleeting as a human's, and in their next life (though it still be theirs) they rarely remember anything from their pasts.

Dragonborn - The Dragonborn once commanded the great empire of Arkhosia. Though powerful, the empire was localized in the Arkhori Desert. The Arkhosians were an extremely advanced people (as a race, the Dragonborn are young; Bahamut sought to create a perfect mortal form, blending the strengths of dragons and humanoids), and wisely held no desire to conquer beyond the lands that they already controlled and spread their power too thin. This wisdom eventually turned to folly as the Arkhosians became more and more isolationist. They were unaware when the human emperor of Bael Turath made a deal with a devil, but the Turathi nevertheless feared Arkhosia. Allying with a demonic legion, a force of Turathi secretely marched to the Arkhori Desert and swiftly defeated the Arkhosians. Even after the fall of Bael Turath, the demons (pursuing their own agenda against Bahamut) continued to hunt down the surviving Dragonborn until very few were left. The once proud people mostly became refugees and slaves, scattered throughout the world. Few Dragonborn communities now exist, and their locations are unknown by most people.

Goliaths - Goliaths are alpine specialists, rarely leaving their mountainous homelands. Tribes tend to be small (sometimes consisting of just an immediate family group) and scattered because food is scarce, especially at the high elevations which they prefer. Some tribes have domesticated mountain sheep and graze them at the highest elevations that the season permits, whereas others simply follow their prey to the lowlands for the winter. Individuals sometimes come to cities for supplies, and they are usually held in very high regard by the citizens.

Half Orcs - Humans and Elves are capable of breeding freely with Orcs, though the exact origin of Half-Orcs as a breeding race is unknown (see the description of the race in PHB2 for some possible explanations). The few Orc tribes that have historically incorporated Half-Orcs became largely dominated by them through outbreeding, probably because Half-Orcs are more intelligent and often rise to the top of the tribe's heirarchy (which results in more breeding privelages). In wilder lands Half-Orc tribes may stay in good standing with tribes of the common races (and individual Half-Orcs will sometimes join them), but they're very rarely encountered in cities (where, like Shifters, they're typically shunned).

Shifters - They are the result of a hybridization between an isolated tribe of humans and lycanthropes that occurred generations ago. Though many hybrids were sterile, there were some that exhibited simultaneous morph expression (a form intermediate between humanoid and the bestial form of the lycanthropes) which were able to breed. Thus, a small population of what are commonly known as "shifters" came to be. They are often not welcome in civilized societies, as they are extremely predatory by nature and won't hesitate to take humanoid prey opportunistically. They're typically nomadic, occasionally living solitary but usually forming small packs, coalitions, or tribes. They'll occasionally join groups of mixed race when they're accepted, leading a disproportionate number of Shifters to become adventurers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Index cards

I'm currently planning an ongoing campaign (no, I don't have a name for it yet), which I've been mulling over in my head for some months now. I've DMed 4E before, but just a few times and they were always one-shots. Of course the players were new to the game and it was my first time DMing 4E (despite the fact that it's vastly easier to DM than 3.x, it was still a new system). One thing I noticed was that because combats tend to include larger numbers of enemies (often different kinds of enemies), I was flipping through the Monster Manual a lot. Even with pages bookmarked, it still took some time away from combat (not a whole lot, but the DM already monopolizes a lot of the combat time simply by virtue of controlling so many combatants!).

So as I'm planning this campaign, I think that I'm going to record the stat blocks of certain enemies on index cards. I've already created one custom monster, and statting it out on a card was the obvious choice since it takes up less space than a piece of paper (this is important at a crowded D&D table), and can by placed on a MM page without obscuring another relevant stat block. So while I'm not going to get rid of the MM for in-game use completely, I will keep a cache of stat blocks for the more common/recurring monsters that I plan to use. This should reduce the amount of time I spend flipping between pages in the book, as I can just glance down and all (or at least most) of the relevant stat blocks are right in front of me. Will this add more time to my planning? Sure, a little bit. But I'll likely only need 2-4 monster cards per session, which is only a couple of minutes spent copying them from the MM. Well worth it for the convenience, in my opinion.

While I'm on the subject of index cards, I should also note that I've found them invaluable as a player. The power system in 4E is nice in terms of balancing the classes, but it does result in more things to keep track of. Add to this the fact that on a character sheet that's printed double sided (once again, my preferred method for reducing clutter at the table as well as saving trees), the power list is on the back whereas most of the relevant information is on the front. And of course, the power list doesn't include space to write what your powers actually do. So you can either a) copy them down somewhere, b) buy WotC official power cards, or c) flip through the relevant PHB or __ Power book every time you want to use a power. Obviously "c" is a poor choice, since it increases the number of books at the table and/or may result in people needing to frequently share books. Option "b" can get very expensive, since a set of power cards is $10, and that only includes cards for one class from one book. So if you have a Fighter, for example, you'll probably need to spend $20 on PHB Fighter cards and Martial Power Fighter cards. Throw in an extra $10 once Martial Power 2 is released. Not fun, especially since you'll never even use the vast majority of the cards (unless you're an experimental player and retrain frequently and/or always play Fighters of different builds). Option "a" becomes so simple and convenient by comparison that I sometimes wonder how on earth WotC can even manage to sell power cards!

Index cards are a perfect match for option "a" (you probably saw that one coming). They take up less space than a sheet of paper with your powers written on them, and they decrease the amount of bookkeeping you need to do on your character sheet. For example, once you use a Daily power you can simply turn the card over and move it to the back of your stack. After each extended rest flip all of your expended powers back up. Simple. I would also like to note that for power cards, which tend to have less text than monster stat blocks, I cut 3x5 index cards in half. That part's personal preference, but when I first tried out power cards I would slip them into the sleeves of a three ring binder style plastic trading card page (only 1/2 cards would actually fit). This way I had all of my powers visible, and I could use a dry erase marker on the plastic sleeve to note expended Dailies, etc. I abandoned this system early on because having a stack was easier to deal with, could still be used to manage Dailies, and because the dry erase marks would sometimes smudge off if I leaned on the page.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 2009 Errata

What a pleasant surprise, to have found this little gem on the WotC forums! A LOT of problematic things have been fixed in this update, and I'll list a few of my favorites below:
  • Swordmage Warding applies whenever you're conscious. Before, if you were knocked out and then healed up, you wouldn't have your Warding for the rest of the encounter. It now pops back up as soon as you come to.
  • Call of the Beast affects enemies only now, making it actually worthwhile! Protect that flanked defender.
  • Bloodclaw/Reckless are encounter powers now!!! I can't express how happy I am about this. I really hate when an item is a must-have for several different builds (in this case all melee strikers). I've also never really liked that because of cheesy items like these strikers vastly surpassed other roles in terms of damage. Now secondary strikers (like my favorite class, Druids) are more competitive.
  • Storm/Hurricane of Blades is no longer dependent on Con. Yay for narrowing the gap between Ragebloods and Thaneborns!
  • Phrenic Crown/Earthroot staff only apply a penalty to the first save.
  • Avengers will actually wear cloth now
  • Double Sword isn't mechanically superior to every other option, but it's still viable because of the Defensive Property and the reduced cost compared to maintaing 2 separate magic weapons.
  • Cloak of distortion's defense bonus equals the enhancement bonus, instead of a flat 5 (more acceptable at lower levels now!)
  • Spitting Cobra Stance is an immediate reaction (happens 1/round) instead of an Opportunity Attack (1/opponent's turn)
  • Barbarian at-wills that require 2 handed weapons now work with versatile weapons wielded in 2 hands (so small characters can actually use them)
  • Needlefang Drake swarms aren't as scary
  • Storm Pillar is clarified to prevent forced movement abuse
  • Eldritch Strike can be taken by Warlocks at character creation instead of Eldritch Blast
There's way more updates than just these, but these are the main ones that caught my attention.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Companion Characters

Anyone who has picked up the 4E DMG 2 will probably remember the section on creating companion characters. To summarize the concept for those who may not be familiar with them, it's essentially a simplified mechanic used to create NPCs that effectively act as party members. They are built following the assumption of the baseline math progression inherent within the system. For example, their attack bonus will always be 4 + the character's level, regardless of the actual ability modifiers, equipment, etc. Defenses are also a base number + level (15 for AC, 13 for non-AC defenses, or NADs), though there are simple rules for adjusting the defenses (raising one and lowering others) to help the monster better fit its theme.

I just built my first companion character for a campaign that will (hopefully) come to fruition in the near future. The process was painless, and the most time-consuming part was writing the relevant data onto a large index card. Companion characters are set up with statistics that mirror those in a monster's stat block (except they have healing surges, whereas monsters do not). Since 4E monster stat blocks are very readable, concise, and intuitive this is a good thing. The fact that the old CR system was abandoned for monster levels helps to make this system work perfectly, since one 1st level monster is roughly equivalent to one 1st level PC. Because of this, companion character creation can be simplified even further in that you can simply use a monster's stat block straight from one of the monster manuals, with some slight modifications (adjusting the HP, giving it surges, and tweaking its powers a little (for example, recharge powers become encounter powers). The DMG2 provides advice on what kinds of monsters work best for this, and gives some specific examples of various levels. This will undoubtedly prove to be an invaluable tool for when the PCs do something unexpected, and somehow drag some hapless NPC into the party. BAM! Just open up the Monster Manual, make some minor tweaks, and you have yourself a fully functional party member!

It should be noted that companion characters are primarily designed to be built and roleplayed by the DM, but controlled by a player in combat. Because they have such a simple stat block, any player can pretty easily pick up a companion character as soon as he/she joins the party without it being a distraction from the player's actual character. This also gives players a little more to do in combat, which is nice in 4E since the DM is usually controlling a whole horde of monsters with the players each controlling a single character. And going along with this, the DM (who has enough to do already) doesn't have to worry about keeping track of the companion NPC in combat. Prior to 4E I used to make NPC party members by rolling up a completely statted out character. It took long, was too cumbersome for other players to use fluidly, and it was certainly impossible to generate one on the spot if need be. Needless to say, I can't wait trying out companion characters in my campaign!

The one flaw that I can see in the system is that since companion characters have such a standardized system for attacks and defenses, they don't benefit from magic items (PCs are assumed to have level-appropriate gear for the system's math to work out, but for the sake of simplicity companion characters are "level appropriate" straight out of the box). While this is great for keeping their design and influence in-game simple, what happens when PCs decide that they want to give companion characters their old gear? Makes perfect sense in the context of the game world, but it would result in overpowered characters if it were mechanically implemented. The easiest solution is for the DM to say, "ok, Carl is now using your old +2 longsword" but not actually factor it into attack and damage. If the companion is player run, they will certainly notice that the magical sword is doing nothing. Depending on your players, this might affect their suspension of disbelief and/or frustrate them since their "upgrade" has no mechanical benefits. It's simple enough for the DM to just explain how companion characters are already consistent with the system's assumed level progression, but players are used to upgrading their characters with magic items so it creates a bit of a disconnect. Overall it's probably not a huge issue, but there are some players I know that might turn it into one (which is why I brought it up). I guess the important thing to emphasize is that a companion character isn't a second character, or even a cohort (which they might be used to from 3.x edition). Very little thought should be given to the companion character on the part of the player, at least until the companion's turn comes up in combat. It's also important to emphasize that companions are DM run in terms of roleplaying, and thus actions in combat can (and sometimes should) be vetoed. The player shouldn't make the companion character do something suicidal for the benefit of the PCs. Companion characters may also have agendas and motivations that the PCs know nothing about. In fact, it's probably much more interesting that way :D

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Scales of War Spoiler

The WotC website contains a major spoiler for its Scales of War campaign. I'm personally not in a SoW campaign, but if I was I would be pretty pissed off by this. Pretty major oversight if you ask me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Leaders: A Focal Point of Party Synergy

The title of this post shouldn't be a huge surprise; after all, the whole point of the leader role is party support. As such, the composition of the rest of the party is more important for leaders than it is for other roles. It's imperative that any leader knows the capabilities of his or her allies and chooses powers accordingly, but to achieve true party synergy the party and leader must quite literally be built for each other.

Building an Optimal Party
At this point I would like to make a disclaimer: I am not advocating one way of playing D&D as "better" than any other. While most of this post should be of at least some interest to players in general, this section caters to the player (or more likely, group) that enjoys not only character optimization, but party building and optimizing synergy as well.

The most extreme strategy, but the one that will likely yield the highest degree of synergy, is to choose a leader class and then build the rest of the party around it. This is unlikely to happen in most casual games, since it puts a severe restriction on the character options of the players. A group can go about this in two ways: 1) go along with whatever the leader player chooses, or 2) cooperatively discuss how the group would like the party to function, and then determine which leader class will be chosen as a group. Number 1 only works if the leader player is really determined to play a specific build, but the rest of the players are non-commital. Alternatively, one player can build an entire party just as a theoretical exercise, and then possibly play-test it (or play a nice, embarrassing game of D&D Solitaire). Number 2 combines input from all of the players and thus it is more likely to occur in an actual game, but it still requires that the whole group be interested in party optimization (or, as the case may be, some players may be uninterested in the exercise, but happen to want to play a class that fits with the group's overall concept).

A less extreme approach would be for the leader player to wait until everyone else has come up with their character concept. The player then chooses a leader class which complements the existing party best. The leader will likely want to ask each of the other players about specific details of their build (for example, "will you put a lot of resources into improving your Barbarian's charges?"). This way the leader will know what to build their character around. Note that for a new player that's joining an existing group (and happens to be the leader), this is the best way to achieve synergy. In fact, this situation may be even more ideal than building the leader and the rest of the party simultaneously, as an existing group already knows how their characters function from experience rather than theory, or intent.

Finally, there's the inevitable situation wherein all of the players have a specific character concept in mind, and they're not necessarily thinking about party synergy. This probably happens in the majority of cases. Obviously some leader classes (or builds within a class) are better at certain functions (to be discussed later) than others, but only rarely will a leader be detrimentally incompatible to a party (the only example that comes to mind is an Eagle Shaman in a party of all melee characters). Regardless of how optimally your leader class fits with the rest of the group, you can always choose powers that synergize with the party, despite the fact that they may not be typical of your build.

Examples: These are meant to spark ideas, and do not necessarily represent a specific party composition.

An Eagle Shaman with a Sorcerer, bow Ranger, Fighter, and one other melee ally in the party (both the Sorcerer and the Ranger have good RBA's that the Shaman can exploit. The Fighter is usually the stickiest Defender, and so will have less trouble keeping enemies away from the rest of the range-heavy party. Another melee character will help fill the front lines with the Fighter).

A World Speaker Shaman with a Warden and several squishies in the party (the Warden isn't very sticky, and the Shaman's Spirit Companion (SC) can help keep enemies near the Warden and away from the squishies).

A Valorous Bard with low AC/HP melee strikers (those Temp. HP will keep them standing).

A Tactical Warlord with a Rageblood Barbarian, Paladin, and other melee allies with good MBA's (the TacLord enhances the strong melee presence of his allies, and puts Commander's Strike to devastating use via the Barbarian. Weak healing is made up for by the Paladin's Lay on Hands).

Leader Functionality
Broadly speaking, a leader is a support character. As such, you make the party better at overcoming encounters with minimal expenditure of resources. This may be accomplished by patching gaps or weaknesses of the party, or by enhancing the strengths of your allies.

Most leader powers can be categorized as either rescue powers (namely healing and granting saves) or enhancement powers (buffs/debuffs). Leaders often have powers that grant extra movement, and these can fall into either category. Sliding an injured ally away from the troll that's about to bash in his head is an obvious example of rescue, whereas sliding an ally into a flanking position is an enhancement of tactical position; specifically, the flanked enemy is de-buffed (grants combat advantage), resulting in a net +2 to-hit for the flanking allies (which may include a damage bonus, i.e. a Rogue's sneak attack or Druid's claw gloves). Rescue powers are defensive by nature, whereas enhancement powers may be either defensive (granting an ally temporary HP, for example) or offensive (granting an ally a damage bonus). Note that some offensive powers are effective for any party member (a to-hit bonus, or a flat damage bonus) whereas others are more situational (granting an extra melee basic attack is most effective on an ally that has a strong melee basic attack). The major difference between the two categories is that rescue powers are reactive, and enhancement powers are proactive. Any good leader should have some of each in their repertoire.

In a vacuum, offensive enhancement powers are the best choice. These consist of to-hit bonuses, damage bonuses, or granting extra attacks. They'll theoretically result in the party killing enemies faster, and since dead enemies don't do damage the party will lose fewer surges per encounter. Since fights are shorter and party damage is higher, the rate that the party needs to spend Daily powers will likely decrease. The overall mechanical effect is a longer adventuring day.

Of course there's a difference between theorizing on paper and actual gameplay. Sometimes the party makes a series of really unlucky rolls, despite the leader's buffs. Sometimes it's not readily apparent which enemy in an encounter is the most dangerous. Sometimes a foe has debilitating status effects. And sometimes the enemies simply take advantage of the terrain better. In all of these instances, something goes wrong and the party is placed on the defensive. It's the leader's job to either protect the party enough to get them through the fight, or to at least get everyone on their feet so that a retreat can be made. This is where rescue powers come into play (fortunately, all leader classes have their 2/enc. minor action heals, so even the most offensive leader has something to fall back on). This is also where an important line is drawn between theory and actual play; in theory, an offensive leader can help the party overcome the majority of encounters more quickly. However, the majority of encounters aren't life-threatening, and the party would probably be able to slog through them regardless. It's the tough encounters where the PC's lives are really on the line, and while good offensive buffs will certainly help in these encounters, the fact is the party is outnumbered and/or outmatched. Allies will fall, status effects will often be inflicted. Backing the striker up with a heavy defense will probably be more effective in the long run than giving everyone a small damage bonus.

In the grand scheme of things (and because of the unpredictable nature of actual play), there is no overall strongest or most optimal function that a leader should specialize in. The most important thing is to make sure that your abilities complement the party. If half of your allies are defenders, including a Paladin and a Life Warden, you won't need as many rescue powers. Conversely, if you have a reckless Rogue that likes to charge into melee and flank, while rarely (if ever) sniping from safety, you'll probably need a lot of rescue powers. Which brings me to my final point: while selecting powers based on what classes are in your party will go a long way toward ensuring that you can effectively support your party, you must also consider the other players. Cautious players might feel more comfortable if they know you have plenty of heals or defensive buffs for them. Reckless players might need these things, whether or not they actively tell you. Power gamers will probably appreciate an even bigger damage boost, while secretely you know that some of the credit for their kills is yours.

Understanding the 4E Druid, Part 2

In this post I will discuss each of the Druid builds, specifically in terms of how well they fulfill their secondary role.

Predator Druids

Predators are secondary strikers, and with the right feats and items they can become quite good at it. Some good places to start focusing your character are either picking up Enraged Boar Form and a Horned Helm to charge as much as possible (like a Barbarian), or Ferocious Tiger Form and Claw Gloves to become a Rogue-like striker. Going the "rogue" route will give you a higher payoff early on since Claw Gloves gives you an extra 1D10 and the Horned Helm is only 1D6. Plus, between your controller effects and flanking you should have CA almost every round (whereas you won't charge every round, since encounter and daily powers aren't usable on a charge). As you get higher in level (by late Heroic or early Paragon), you have enough resources to do both. Charging an enemy that you have CA against will get you DPR (damage per round) that's well into striker territory, and you can set that up at least a couple of times per encounter most of the time. Predators also have better mobility than some strikers since they can shift as a minor (or free) action whenever they wild shape (in Paragon they can even shift # of squares = to their Dex mod when changing from humanoid to beast form), and many of their powers incorporate mobility as well.

Because a Predator's damage comes largely from items and feats, they don't need to sacrifice much control (as control, in all controller classes, largely comes from power selection). All of your Dailies should be control oriented (unless you opt for Summoning, which is still control but will also add appreciably to your DPR), and I would argue that all of your encounter powers should be as well (though 1 pure damage encounter power isn't going to sacrifice too much control either). Also, remember to look for synergies; for example 1) Savage Rend + Primal Wolf for good damage and the ability to eat enemy actions potentially every round, 2) Entangle for a good beginning of encounter setup then a DPR boost throughout the encounter from the expanded crit range.

Swarm Druids
Swarm Druids make excellent secondary defenders. They may not be as sticky as Fighters, but they're nearly as sticky as Wardens (both have at-wills that slow, and both have low level Dailies that can prevent shifting). With Hide Armor Expertise (it's inevitable that they'll take it), they get good AC in addition to having ranged and melee damage against them reduced. Add to that a steady source of THP in Paragon (through Bolstered Swarm) and various powers that make them even tougher to take down (though this will come at the expense of control), and they can be harder to take down than many defenders. I don't have experience with Swarm Druids aside from playing around with builds, but it seems like they're the best defenders of any class that shares that secondary role, and if built right I'll bet they can even serve as primary defenders if there aren't too many squishies in the party.

If you're looking to optimize survivability, you might want to consider making a Longtooth Shifter Druid. The racial power makes you even tougher, and it's augmentable with the feats Longtooth Spirit Shifting (Primal Power) and Beasthide Shifting (PHB2). Note that the damage reduction granted by Beasthide Shifting stacks with your Primal Swarm ability that reduces damage (since it's technically not "damage reduction"). The racial bonus to your Wisdom is perfect, and the Strength bonus might not go to waste either since you may want to pick up Powerful Charge (PHB).

Guardian Druids
I'd like to start out by saying that I think Guardians are sub-par. The description of the Guardian Druid makes it sound like it's going to be a good build; after all, with a secondary role of leader it's the most logical translation from the average 3.x Druid. Unfortunately, the Druid doesn't have a ton of good leader powers, and most of the ones that it does have are not Guardian specific (some actually have Predator riders). As sub-par secondary leaders (see above on the importance of a Druid's secondary role), Guardians become sub-par overall given the heavy emphasis that the Druid class places on secondary roles. Guardians aren't much better controllers than the other builds. To make matters worse, Guardians have the worst build-specific riders, often simply adding your Con mod to damage. And here's the icing on the very sad, stale cake: the Guardian's class feature simply lets you use your Con modifier to AC, which is exactly the same as Hide Expertise (feat from Primal Power). Thus, Swarm Druids can match your AC at the cost of a feat, and they still get their pseudo damage reduction class feature (likewise, Predator's get their +1 to speed and maintain AC through Dex as a secondary stat).

In my opinion, the best way to salvage the Guardian's utility is to multiclass Shaman and take the Mending Spirit MC feat from Primal Power. This allows you to use Healing Spirit 1/enc., and the Spirit Companion is in general a decent way to block a square (control). Also, there are some decent Paragon Paths that tend toward the leader role (Keeper of the Hidden Flame, Guardian of the Living Gate, and, especially, Spiral Wind's Ally).

Note: I may have been a little harsh on the Guardian Druid initially. Though disadvantaged with a terrible class feature (Con to AC) and some sub-par riders (which merely grant Con mod bonus to damage), they do have some decent riders that expand the forced movement of some of their powers. If you want to play a controller that focuses on forced movement, the Guardian's probably your best bet. I suspect that once PHB3 is released, the Telekineticist Psion build will probably fill the same niche, though I suspect the Druid will still have more/better zones, which complement forced movement nicely.

Summoner Druids
Summons intrinsically provide an interesting control mechanism in that they take up a square and offer HP resource management. Essentially, if the enemy forces attack and kill your summon then some (or all) of the damage dealt is net HP wasted (equivalent to wasted turns). This is because summons have HP equal to your bloodied value, but when they're killed you lose a healing surge (which is equal to half of your bloodied value). You can get even more devious by dismissing yoru summoned creature as a minor action when it's very low on HP, which effectively negates all damage done to it (since you don't lose a surge for dismissing). Thus, summons provide an interesting twist in contributing to your primary role, but this post is mostly focused on the Druid's secondary roles.

Druid summons most ostensibly contribute to the striker secondary role. This is because their instinctive actions (actions they'll use automatically if you haven't given them a command by the end of your turn) add a great deal to your DPR while the summoned creature is present. Simple, low maintanence, and a good choice for Predators (though any build will benefit from an increase in DPR). They can also be used as a flanking buddy, which is advantageous for the Predator that has damage bonuses when they have CA. Summons may also have some limited utility for the secondary defender (Swarm Druids), namely because they take up space and can therefore be positioned adjacent to an ally to prevent them from being flanked. Also, the Guard Drake is a mini defender in its own right and is an excellent choice for a Swarm Druid. Summons don't greatly contribute to the secondary leader role of the Guardian Druid, but the Guardian Briar does give allies a defense boost so at least that's something. The Guardian's focus on forced movement may also allow them to easily position enemies adjacent to summons, increasing the efficiency of instinctive actions. Note that Guardians will have slightly more durable summons due to their focus on Con (as opposed to Predators), and more importantly they'll have more surges available for when summons are killed. To summarize, while each build is capable of using summons effectively, they'll contribute most to the secondar role of Predators. This is balanced by the fact that Predators will have fewer surges to spend on summons than Con based Druids, though they can get around this by dismissing their summons when their HP is low.