Sunday, April 21, 2013

Improvised Mass Combat in 13th Age

My 13th Age Campaign based on the Dungeon World Front "The Great Wyrm Axtalrath" has taken on a life of its own.  Which is perhaps to be expected, given the GMing philosophies and story game slant of the two systems.  A few sessions ago the PCs traveled back in time to the 8th Age, encountering a very different Crescent Isle (and a very different Midland Sea, pre Archmage enchantment; wild and untamed).  Their experience in the 8th Age planted seeds for overcoming the problems they've been facing in the 13th Age, the importance of some of which haven't been revealed yet.

Given the differences between the two ages, there's a lot of unexplained history and perhaps some avenues of interest that would inevitably lead to dead ends if pursued.  So how did I address this potential issue?  The almighty flashback.  This past session the players took control of new PCs from the 8th Age (80 years after when the main PCs time-traveled to), all part of a crew tasked by the then-Emperor to take control of Crescent Isle by force (the native sea and wood elves took issue with the Empire essentially using their island as a prison colony, so they began sinking Imperial ships).  The big upside to this flashback was also that the players got to experiment with other classes.

Fast forward to the final encounter of the evening.  The party, backed by a platoon of imperial soldiers and 3 ballistas, took on the wood elf capital, their victory explaining why there are no wood elves on the island in the 13th Age.  Oddly enough, it wasn't until I was a round or two into this combat that I thought "shit, I didn't even THINK about how the system doesn't have any mass combat rules!"  Here's what I came up with, a few rounds into the combat (before that I described everything narratively).

I kept track of different units or sections of the battlefield.  The Ranger was fighting with the soldiers, but the Wizard and Rogue went off on their own to take out some Druids that were controlling magical blasting stones that were decimating the soldiers and damaging the ballistas.  Archers on top of the city walls were raining death down from above, while Druids wild-shaped into bears and wolves were trying to kill all the soldiers in the vicinity of the ballistas to neutralize them.  Soldiers were escorting companions carrying a battering ram, and later in the fight I had a second unit arrive with reinforcements.

Perhaps appropriately since the idea for the campaign came from Dungeon World, my dirt-simple, on-the-fly mass combat rules were also inspired by Dungeon World.  The core mechanic in Dungeon World is roll 2D6+modifiers, with a 6 or less as a failure, 7-9 as success but..., and 10+ as full success.  Ok, so technically you could argue that the core mechanic of Dungeon World is actually narrative description, but when the dice come out that's how they roll.

Using that as a base, I rolled a d6 for each unit and on a 1-2 bad things happened, on a 3-4 both sides had some success and it mostly evened out, and on a 5-6 good things happened.  It worked well enough to give the impression that I wasn't just making up whatever I felt like, but it was still pretty simplistic and didn't account for relative unit strength.  Clearly there's room for improvement.

Refining the Basic Concept
Still, I like the base of letting large-scale events hinge on the roll of a d6, with results being more than just binary success/failure (namely that those middle values are a partial success).  The question, then, is how to assign value to units in the simplest way possible?

I'm thinking of using the strongest unit present at the outset as a baseline, and giving it a value of 10.  All other units are assigned values as a percentage of the strongest (a unit half as strong would be given a value of 5).  Unit strength is an abstraction, so a unit with fewer raw numbers but in a highly defensible position would be pretty strong.  An eyeballed approximation of advantage.  This is still meant to be quick and dirty, potentially even run on-the-fly.

A unit's value represents its "damage roll."  A multiple of the unit's value (10?) would serve as its "HP."  Rolling for just a single side (the player's side), a 1-2 would deal the enemy unit's damage to the player unit's HP and the player unit would deal half damage to the enemy, 3-4 both would deal their damage to each other, and 5-6 the player unit would deal damage to the enemy while the enemy only deals half damage.  Just like a group of mooks, once a unit takes damage equal to the HP multiplier, its value is reduced by 1.

Once a unit's value is reduced to half of the opposing unit's strength, that unit would start making morale rolls.  I'm thinking a d6 with 1-2 as a failure, with failure increasing by an additional 1 for each additional point below half.  If PCs want to act as "commander" types they could make Cha checks (with any relevant leadership background) to provide a +1 bonus to morale checks.  Or maybe even damage checks.

For the sake of simplicity, unit strength could be tracked using d10s.  If you use a map, the d10 could even represent the center of the unit's position.

Anyways, this hasn't been playtested AT ALL, it's mostly just me throwing out an idea for simplifying mass combat as much as possible.  It's also worth mentioning that the way I envision this, it probably isn't the main focus of the combat.  The PCs are off fighting specific foes at critical locations using the normal combat rules, with the mass combat going on in the background.  So anyways, give it a try, tweak it, and let me know how it goes.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

13th Age Monk

The Monk is back!  This is the first class to be opened for playtesting of 13 True Ways.  As per the Introduction in the PDF I'm not going to discuss any specifics publicly.  The rationale is that reading what others think will affect your own perceptions of the class, disproportionately perpetuating a single opinion.  I happen to agree, and I think that can be seen by reading a lot of the D&D Next feedback.

All I will say is that I made a Monk, and I ran it through a "solitaire" playtest battle (along with a Bard and a Sorcerer), and submitted my initial feedback (much of which was informed by that encounter).  It's a huge improvement on the versions in the Escalation Editions.  It feels like a Monk.  It has a non-traditional structure, and it makes me wonder how some of the other classes in 13 True Ways will be built.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

D&D Next March Playtest - Concluding Thoughts

I figured I'd end this series with what personal expectations I have for D&D Next, and whether or not the system is shaping up well enough to meet them.  I have two groups that I game with in-person, on a  regular to semi-regular basis.  Currently I'm gaming once a week, with one of those groups, though I'm hoping to start something up with the second group again soon.

I also like to try a lot of games, at least recently.  Since there are a LOT of options for fantasy gaming, D&D Next faces stiff competition.

It's also worth noting that I've had the good fortune to introduce groups completely new to tabletop roleplaying to the hobby.  Mostly on a casual basis, often a one-time thing just so they can see what it's like.

I'm hoping that D&D Next fulfills the role of a good "introductory" game more than anything.  It's got the D&D label, which is sometimes important to new players.  It doesn't have the complexity (at least not the basic module) of 3.x or 4E.  And it's a more attractive candidate than 0, 1, or 2E for a couple of reasons: the first being that I haven't played those editions and so am not terribly familiar with them, and the second being that what I've read has left me relatively cold.  A lot of archaic mechanics that, while not too difficult if you put the effort into learning them, simply have more modern alternatives that I would constantly pine for if I actually played.

Will I look to Next for either of my regular groups?  We'll probably give it a shot, but it's unlikely to be an ongoing thing.  An initial introduction to the system, and perhaps the occasional one-shot (especially if it delivers on the play-an-adventure-in-an-hour front).  I might also use it if I'm in the mood for a more Old School style of game.  But for my staple, go-to fantasy roleplaying I'm more likely to use either 13th Age, or possibly 4E if I want a more tactical focus.  Group 2 still has players that would be willing to RUN 4E, so I'll certainly keep PLAYING it even if I choose 13th Age when I'm in the GM's seat.  Heck, I've been doing some research on Savage Worlds as well (I have the core book but haven't played), and if I end up really liking the system then a fantasy setting like Hellfrost would probably be higher on the list of games to run long-term than D&D Next.  The caveat here is that if D&D Next really wows me with the more advanced modules then that could change things, but based on the direction it seems to be headed other games just simply cater to my wants better.

It's important to note, however, that I REALLY DO want D&D Next to succeed.  The D&D brand is a rallying cry for tabletop gamers in general, and when it's doing well so will other games.  It's the best way of bringing new blood into the hobby.  And besides that, even if I don't play it regularly it'll still probably hold my interest from a game design standpoint.  Just having the opportunity to participate in the playtest is a huge privilege as far as I'm concerned, and I'd like to think I'm playing my part in making the game better.  Perhaps even helping it to align more with my preferences (as an optional module, if nothing else).  But that's the key thing that I try to keep in mind - keeping separate the questions "is this game well-designed?" and "does this game meet the needs of my gaming preferences?"  A lot of the negative reactions toward Next don't seem to make that distinction.

D&D Next March Playtest - Monsters

I'm concluding this series with a brief look at the monster design so far.  I'm not too concerned with the math; there's plenty of time for that to be nailed down later, and besides that I haven't actually playtested this packet yet, and since the most important thing about the math is that it works out in play, I don't consider myself terribly qualified to comment on that.  Besides which, the lethality of the system will ultimately come down to personal preference, and my "too much damage!" might be someone else's "just right!"

The most important elements of monster design are 1) ease of use, 2) speed of adjudication, and 3) mechanics that emulate the fiction (i.e. how a monster "feels").  Some of these things seem mutually exclusive, but that's not necessarily the case.  You can have interesting monsters that are also quick to run, if they're well-designed.

The D&D Next monsters are, by and large, too simplified.  While they have some minor trait differences and have different numbers, once the blades are out and swinging a kobold doesn't fight that differently from a goblin, which doesn't fight that differently from a hobgoblin, etc.  It's mostly a matter of "walk up to target and make melee attack," or "stay away from target and make ranged attack."  Kobolds and goblins don't feel any more mobile than hobgoblins, which don't really have a schtick aside from "I don't get scared."

Granted, some enemies have decently evocative stuff (Kobold Dragonshield's Shield Block), but even that's yet another application of Advantage/Disadvantage.  I really liked Advantage/Disadvantage when it was first introduced, but I feel that it's a bit overused, I don't like how easy it is to cancel, and shoehorning too many abilities into the mechanic reduces their scope and variety.

The stat block could definitely use some cleaning up, which would help both ease of use and speed of adjudication.  Some attacks are too "wall of text" and more information than necessary is given (how often do I need alignment or languages in a fight, and consider how trivially easy it is to make that stuff up on the fly).  A lot of monsters also have "Multi-attack," which basically boils down to "make these two or three different attacks," which are then all given individual entries.  Why not just list a single attack (ex. Claw/Claw/Bite), with the same attack/damage values, and just say "make 3 attacks?"  If you really feel the need you could specify piercing/slashing/bludgeoning damage, but that's also super easy to adjudicate on the fly.  First of all, from the PC's end it usually doesn't matter (those damage types are more important for describing what the PCs themselves dish out, because things like skeletons might react differently to them).  And even if you didn't list them, and it comes up in play, well isn't Next supposed to favor Rulings over Rules?  Most DMs would find it to be common sense that claws deal slashing damage, and the bite is piercing.  If a player asks, the DM should be able to spout that out without hesitation, or looking it up.  So why clutter up the stat block with that mess?

Once a monster has more "things" describing it than Basic, you really do need to start thinking about 4E-style stat blocks.  Have the things that need referencing the most jump out to the eye, and well organized (list AC prominently, preferably next to HP and any other defensive notes, then list attacks as concisely as possible).  And don't just rattle off a list of 10 spells that an enemy spellcaster has.  Pick a handful and write them out like any other attack: (Ranged) Ray of Frost +X to hit - X cold damage.  How likely is this guy to survive the combat?  He doesn't need more spells listed out than he'll use, and the few spells he does use shouldn't need to be referenced by flipping through the Spells chapter of the book.  If a DM wants to put the effort into adding more spells, more power to them.  Maybe at the bottom of the stat block you can suggest other spells.  Most likely, they'll only be needed if this is a major villain, and otherwise they can be ignored.

Case Studies
I'll be honest, I haven't examined every single monster in the Bestiary.  Not even close.  I've skimmed through it, but I'm sure I've missed a LOT.  Still, I think comments on a sub-sample will provide insight into the kind of design I would prefer be carried over to other monsters.

Giant Centipede:  Cool, this guy gets poison which is as you'd expect.  But the effects tread on the "4 pages (of VERY small font!) of very specific and redundant status effects that 3.x had" territory.  A 5 ft reduction in speed is not going to make much of a difference on most combat rounds.  It's a mild annoyance when it does come into play, but because it's so trivial it's easily forgotten.  And it just increases bookkeeping.  Same with a mere -1 penalty to AC.  If an effect is important enough to be mentioned, its mechanical effect should be noticeable.  Cut speed in half.  Call it "Slowed" and add it to the list of general conditions.  DO NOT create conditions that effectively boil down to "kinda slowed," or "badly slowed."  That just increases bookkeeping, and the need to reference stuff in-game.  Which slows down play.  Similarly, don't spell out a monster ability that's "totally not the slowed condition" but that is, essentially, kinda/badly slowed.  If a monster's fluff slows affected creatures down, use the darn Slowed condition to represent that!

Cockatrice:  I almost threw a fit when I was listening to the Mines of Madness podcast and Barbie the Barbarian was affected by the dreaded Save or Die (turning to stone is effectively death) by the cockatrices.  One bad roll should not kill your character.  Fortunately, my fears were somewhat alleviated when I looked the critter up in the Bestiary and realized that they must have adjudicated that wrong.  The first failed save restrains you, which allows for another save that then turns you to stone if you fail.  Personally I'd prefer a 3rd save for good measure, or a general action that an ally could use to grant a free save (which wouldn't count toward the second failure), but the very presence of progressive saves is good enough for now.

Dragons:  Classic example of the multi-attack problem I outlined above, but the real reason I'm highlighting this iconic monster (or group of monsters, really) is their breath weapons.  They have a Recharge mechanic, straight out of 4E!  I like the tension of never knowing when that breath weapon was getting busted out; could be 2 rounds in a row, or the dragon could go several rounds without getting to use it.  Great way to create tension and call attention to the dragon's signature ability with an extremely simple mechanic (plus rolling dice is fun!).  Frightful Presence suffers from the wall of text syndrome, though, and could stand to be simplified.  Especially since Frightened is already a general condition.

D&D Next March Playtest - Skills

The skill system in D&D Next seems to me to be somewhat of a middle ground between 3.x and 4E.  What I mean by this is that it's a longer, more granular skill list than 4E, but it doesn't have the fiddly skill rank crap that plagued 3.x.  I liked 4E's condensed, streamlined skill list a LOT, but that system did still suffer from skill disparity (though not as severe as 3.x).  Skill disparity being when a character accrues such a high modifier for a given skill that it's pretty much an auto-success, while his companions have such a low modifier that failure is much more likely than success.  There's a fine line to walk here; a trained character needs to feel like his training is worthwhile, but an untrained character shouldn't be so discouraged that he shouldn't attempt a skill (being more likely to do harm than good in the attempt).

This system, in good ol' Bounded Accuracy fashion, seems to hit that line pretty well.  A highly skilled character is more likely to get a high bonus for being trained, but can always roll a 1 with the skill die, closing that skill disparity gap.  However, I still can't help but feel d20 + other die is just inelegant when the core mechanic is a d20 roll.  A modifier (+3 for being trained, which is the average of a d6?) and limiting the amount of misc. boosts that can be accrued would be cleaner and more intuitive.  That said, I'm really not sure if I like that more than the "hybrid dice pool" where your bonus is variable.

Of course the BIGGEST SELLING POINT of this system, to me, is that the SACRED COW OF CLASS-BASED SKILL DISCREPANCY HAS FINALLY BEEN SLAIN!!!!!!  Yep, if nothing else I'm happy that every class starts with the same number of skills by default.  Yeah, Rogues gain more skills through schemes, and that's cool if you're going for the skill monkey Rogue, but as I stated in my review of the Rogue I'd prefer that that be an OPTION.  A combat Rogue need not be any more skilled than a Fighter, meaning that some schemes wouldn't provide extra skills (but rather some extra combat utility).

I'll conclude with some comments on individual skills.

Balance + Tumble - My preference would be for this to be combined into Acrobatics.  Because Tumble is generally a pretty useful skill, but Balance is so situational that I can't imagine many players picking it up.

Break Object (WHAT?!?!) + Climb + Jump + Swim - These should all be consolidated into Athletics.  I mean, come on now, we all know that watering down the physical skills will have the same effect as "Hi, I'm Mr. Fighter I get less skillz cuz I'm dum and only good at fighting!"

Spot + Listen - What's wrong with Perception?  Or better yet, call it Awareness.

Sneak - SEE!  Hide and Move Silently were consolidated into one skill!

Conceal Object - Oh yeah, I forgot about how disarm trap, lockpicking, etc. are frickin' FEATS now.  See the feats article for those complaints, but to summarize these should all be neatly consolidated (as SKILLS!) into Thievery.  Or Detect/Disarm Traps separate from the Thievery skill (which would cover sleights of hand, which are situational, and lockpicking).

Ride/Drive/Handle Animal - Here's a proposition; why not get ride of Drive (unless your campaign setting departs from the medieval fantasy base and has some steampunk elements, perhaps)?  I mean, setting-specific skills are fine if detailed in their specific setting books/modules, but most vehicles in standard D&D will be animal powered anyways.  And thematically, I don't see much of a reason to separate Handle Animal and Ride, actually.  You have to be able to handle your horse to ride it, right?  The key being that "handle" is a pretty vague term anyways.  I see that as being training and commanding, which includes riding.

Speaking of DRIVE, why is there no Boating or Sailing skill?  That comes up WAY more frequently in my experience than "Ride" even.  Heck, moreso than Handle Animal even considering my streamlined definition above.

Recall Lore - The knowledge skill look pretty good, but I'm thinking Subterranean Lore should be called Dungeoneering Lore (though that's pretty nitpicky).  Glad to be rid of Heraldric Lore (I think Political Lore covers that pretty well).  I'm still not feeling Forbidden Lore.  What exactly is that?  Why can't that be handled by either Natural, Magical, or Religious Lore?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

D&D Next March Playtest - The Wizard

There's not much to say about the Wizard, at least not without discussing individuals spells in more detail than I'd like to.  Spells, and having the most versatile and powerful spell list in particular, is the bulk of the Wizard's schtick.  Wizards can simply bend the laws of reality more than a Cleric or Druid, despite the fact that those two classes have plenty of spells that are comparable.  They just don't seem to have such a vast array of potential offensive options as the Wizard.  Plus being able to recover spell slots gives them more daily resources, a distinction that only the Circle of Oak Druid shares with them.  It's pretty clear that the designers put a lot of stock into this ability if you consider the Druid.  Assuming thought was put into balancing Circle of Oak with Circle of the Moon, since this spell recovery ability is largely what replaces the combat-ready Wild Shape forms.  I'm actually not convinced, as I think Circle of the Moon is the better choice, with the spell recovery feature being a little underwhelming.  Which puts a major class feature of the Wizard in the "underwhelming" column as well.

Other than that, the Wizard traditions are the only other thing that the class gets.  Unfortunately, only Illusion is particularly impressive.  The Scholarly tradition lets you prepare an extra spell at each spell level, and lets you learn more spells when you level.  But your raw power isn't boosted since you still have the same number of spell slots as any other wizard.  You're just a little more versatile, so you'll probably feel a little better about preparing one of those situational utility spells.  Evocation lets you designate creatures (read: allies) to ignore the damage from your AoEs, which is awesome for spells like Fireball. Of course those spells are traditionally less valuable than control spells, and then you've got the spells that are a combination of damage and status effects (Evocation doesn't allow allies to ignore a spells non-damage effects).  Some of the most iconic "evocation" spells fall into this category (sleet storm, stinking cloud).  Finally, we're given the Illusion tradition, which is easily the best of the bunch.  Not only to Illusion spells typically offer some of the most powerful control effects, but the tradition's signature ability boosts the DCs to resist such spells by two (which is the equivalent of a +2 attack bonus; pretty impressive in a Bounded Accuracy system!).

The biggest problem is that an individual tradition pretty much just grants one ability.  Compare that with other spellcasters:  Druid Circles are roughly comparable to Wizard Traditions, but Druids also get Wild Shape and are far less squishy; Cleric deities grant channel divinity, a specific "Disciple of..." ability, domain spells, and sometimes different armor/weapon proficiencies (and once again the Cleric is far less squishy than the Wizard.

So "the spell list makes the Wizard," since Wizards appear to have a better spell list (though this is arguable, and would need playtesting to verify) and fewer useful class features.   Where I foresee running into problems is for spellcasting classes that are traditionally similar to the Wizard, notably Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Bladesingers.  Sorcerers and Bladesingers in particular have shared the Wizard spell list outright, but both classes have a lot of potential for features well beyond the Wizard traditions.  The problem, obviously, is that if Wizards don't have much outside of their spell list, then there's not much that the designers can "trade out" when designing (and balancing!) similar classes.

Like Druids and Clerics, I can foresee most of the other spellcasters just being flat-out more interesting than the base Wizard.  Whereas those classes have "spell list + a bunch of cool stuff," Wizards have "spell list + weak, tacked on stuff" and they're much squishier to boot.  Even if I'm right about the Wizard spell list being better (which might be justifiable from a balance perspective), it's a bad solution to the problem.  What if a Wizard player doesn't choose the right mix of spells, or the best spells?  Or, on the other end of the spectrum, what happens when new spells are released and the inevitable power creep ensues?  Hint - Wizards (spellcasters in general) become more effective than martial classes.

I guess the main things I'm taking away from this initial reading is that the designers need to tread carefully, and Wizard traditions should be more comparable to the features that other classes get.  Just like "better armor/weapons" isn't a good way to balance Fighters against classes with more "interesting" features, "better spells" is a bad way to go about balancing Wizards with other classes (albeit for somewhat different reasons).

D&D Next March Playtest - The Cleric

I'll be honest - the momentum of the playtest packet has waned, and so goes my interest.  But I'd like to complete this series on my impressions.  So here's the Cleric.

The basic framework behind the Cleric is extremely solid.  By virtue of its being a spellcasting class it's inherently customizable.  Prepare whatever spells you want to achieve a specific playstyle.  The spells themselves are pretty much what you'd expect, so I won't get into specific details here.  One thing that bears mentioning is that I'm not too happy about how important magical healing is, but I admit that that's personal preference.  I have players in my group that are of the opposite opinion.  That's what compromising is for (besides, I doubt there's anybody that likes every single element of any one game).

More important (at least in my opinion) is that the Cleric isn't relegated to "necessary" status.  Fortunately, that's not the case.  As you'd expect the Druid is another "full caster" that has ample healing, and given the increased spellcasting ability of Paladins and Rangers compared with past editions and Clerics are hardly necessary.  Indeed, to compare the state of available healing with 4E it's worth noting that so far we have a class from each of the four roles that can heal, even if the classes aren't quite as married to those roles (i.e. Druid isn't necessarily a controller in Next).  This is a good sign, because it suggests that as other "Leader" classes are designed they're likely to have more than enough healing to get by.  If a Ranger specced for healing can do a decent job of keeping the party up, I'm sure a Bard, Shaman, or Warlord would be more than capable.

Because ultimately spreading magical healing out amongst a wide variety of different archetypes makes magical healing as a critical party function a much easier pill to swallow.

Something that I've seen suggested a lot since these playtest packets have been released is making deities an important aspect of a Cleric's playstyle.  This packet really delivers on that front, with deities possibly affecting armor proficiency, what cantrips you automatically get, what domain spells are "auto-prepared," and what Channel Divinity options you have access to.  Who you worship has a big impact on how you're built.

Now, I've complained about the lack of customization for some of the classes in that your choice of "build" at level 1 determines pretty much everything you get.  The Rogue is especially bad for this.  While that's essentially what choosing a deity does for the Cleric, there are some important differences to keep in mind.  The most obvious (and one that I already mentioned earlier) is that Clerics will still be customizable regardless because they can choose to prepare whatever spells they want.  Defensive buffing, offensive buffing, healing, control, utility, etc., you have a pretty broad spectrum available to you.  But the other major difference is that having so much decided based on deity is more desirable than Rogue schemes (for example) because there's a strong tie to the game world.  In other words, Clerics get their power from the gods so it makes sense that a god of Trickery is going to give the Cleric a specific set of specialized abilities that are different from a Sun god.  From a narrative standpoint it also reinforces a player's choice of deity, keeping it in the spotlight.  The deity is important to the Cleric (in the game world), and so it's important to the player.

It makes a lot LESS sense for a Rogue to ALWAYS have all of their abilities lumped in specific "packages."

The deities themselves are pretty generic, keeping them open to be fit into any pantheon.  This also opens the players up to seizing narrative control by making up their own details about the pantheon.  As a DM I prefer leaving this stuff up to players, and I'd rather have them fill in the narrative blanks as opposed to simply picking a god out of a list.

I like the choices that are given.  The Arcanist allows for an "arcane dabbler" type Cleric, the Lifegiver is the healbot, the Lightbringer is the "laser Cleric" or white mage archetype, the Protector is a defender/defensive support option, the Reaper is your death god (awesome, because The Raven Queen was quite popular in a lot of 4E groups), then you've got the Stormcaller (your typical flinging lightning, bow before Zeus type guy), the Trickster (Rogue-lite, but with spells!), and the Warbringer (the martial "crusader" Cleric with the best armor and weapons).

Religious Knowledge
A minor point, but Advantages on all Int checks to recall religious lore establishes the Clerics as the go-to guy when it comes to that sort of thing, despite a (likely) minimal investment in Int.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

D&D Next March Playtest - The Monk

My first impression of the Monk is that it doesn't look customizable enough.  Really the only thing that makes it special, the thing that differentiates it from a Fighter in play, is the Monastic Traditions.  I like that there's a good mix of the more mundane martial arts as well as elemental attacks, but the fact that you make one choice at character creation which determines ALL of your special powers for the rest of your career just grates at me.  Choose Path of the Phoenix, you're the Fire Guy.  You won't be throwing around Stunning Strike or healing yourself with Wholeness of Body.  You're just...pigeonholed.

The per day limits on ki are also a bit annoying.  It's these abilities that will make you "feel" like a Monk in combat, and you just don't get to throw them around often enough.  Spellcasters get cantrips now that make them feel like spellcasters, why can't Monks get something like that?  There's nothing here that conveys the feeling of that crazy guy without weapons fluidly darting around the battlefield hitting large numbers of foes.

Granted, he IS unarmed.  But the martial arts playstyle is just fluff.  His fists count as a d6 light, finesse, bludgeoning weapon, but he basically just walks up to guys and hits them, kinda like a Fighter.  Except that even this incarnation of the Fighter gets his Expertise dice, which being an encounter resource will get a lot of "screen time."  Meanwhile the Monk, with his daily ki limit, is going to be encouraged to "save" his big powers and playing that resource management metagame doesn't seem even remotely appropriate for a martial artist.  He should be showy and fight in a distinctive way.  Right now he's just "walk up to a guy and hit them until one of you dies" the vast majority of the time.

About the only thing this version of the Monk gets right (at least out of the gate) is Mindful Defense, which is the same basic mechanic that the Barbarian gets to make up for the fact that he's not wearing armor.  Predictably, the Monk gets to add his Dex and Wis mod to AC.

Other than that it's your typical array of stuff Monks got in 3.x.  Almost every level has something new, but they vary A LOT in terms of usefulness.  Immunity to disease and poison are pretty situational, immunity to aging will have exactly zero impact in 95% of campaigns, understanding all languages comes out of left field, and Perfect Self is just so overpowered and nonsensical it borders on ridiculous (at 20th level, all of your abilities that aren't already 20 increase to 20, so your 8 Int dunce magically becomes a genius just because he's reached some form of nirvana).  Abundant Step is just about the only one that screams "Awesome!" though; it's an at-will ability that allows you to exchange your movement to teleport 30 feet.  So at-will teleporting at 12th Level definitely gives the class an edge, but it's still not the "martial artist" kind of mobility I'd expect from the class.

A swing and a miss on this one.