Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Favorite Class

Let me tell you about my character. I’m playing a star pact warlock named Melech in Chris Perkins’s weekly game. Melech has learned the secret names of the stars. He’s caught a glimpse of a realm far beyond the lamps of night. Though it nearly drove him insane, he gained amazing power thereby. He can madden or terrify his enemies, scour his foes with star curses, and cast all manner of terrifying spells.
Although my preference could change over time, it wouldn’t be a mischaracterization to say that the warlock is one of my favorite D&D classes. I first played a “warlock” named Japheth as a made up class in my friend JD Sparks campaign in 1984, but “official” warlocks appeared in D&D during 3rd edition, and showed up in the first player’s handbook of 4th Edition D&D.
I happen to know that my friend Rob Schwalb has an unhealthy interest with assassins. Something to do with the staby-staby, perhaps. Assassins have been around since forever (as in, the Blackmoor supplement as a thief sub-class).
And my friend Monte Cook is enamored with Wizards. And really, who isn’t? Wizards learn magic, and with enough study, become archmages or lichs, and may even get spells named after them if they become famous enough. D&D has had wizards since the beginning, though they started the game with the name magic-users.
Throughout its history, D&D has published dozens of classes, from cavaliers to barbarians, and shamans to thief-acrobats. And you probably have a favorite. Just to keep the list of choices manageable, let’s restrict the possibilities only to classes that have appeared in a player’s handbook (and moreover, a player’s handbook that served as the initial offering of a given edition).
QUESTION: What is your favorite class from across the editions?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Quick Look at High Level Play

I once ran a 1st Edition D&D adventure where the player characters took a trip to the Abyss to steal the Wand of Orcus. Recommended level of play was for levels 18 to 100. Yeah, that’s right. 100th level characters. As most of you recognize, I’m referring to the module H4: Throne of Bloodstone. The three governing rules provided by the adventure for dealing with ultra-high level D&D characters were: 1) stomp on the power curve of expected character growth; 2) Strictly apply all the rules; and 3) actually, don’t apply the rules strictly--instead, weight results against the fortunes of the high level characters. They can take it.

I played in and DMed quite a few high level games during this time, using a varying mix of D&D, Rolemaster, and house rules for years, depending on the game . . . but I’ll resist the temptation to tell you about my college campaign. For now.

2nd Edition D&D brought us Skip WIlliam’s DM Option: High-Level Campaigns, which provided guidance on a variety of topics, including instructions for DM’s on how to handle potentially game-break situations and adventures,as well as new magic items, true dweomers (higher level spells than 9th level), and extended advancement charts to 30th.

3rd Edition D&D rolled out the Epic Level Handbook, an epicly sized tome by Andy Collins and moi that extended the style of play of lower levels into the stratosphere. The book also provided a bestiary of epic level monsters (including my favorites, the abominations) and a “roll-your-own” spell system that tried to provide a formulaic way for players to create spells that could do almost anything.

4th Edition brought high level play right into the core game, with expected progression from 1st to 30th described. The last ten levels of a character’s advancement includes that character’s epic destiny. Epic destinies were portrayed as if they could change the way players would interact with the game . . . but despite a lot of stirring verbiage, at the table the abilities provided by a character’s epic destiny where not too divorced from the same sort of things the character had been doing at earlier levels.

So, that’s the nickle tour of a few highlights of high level play from previous editions. If you believe some rumors, high level play is “broken” and many groups don’t enjoy it, regardless of level. I’ve probably already revealed my bias, but I’d like to find out what you think. For the sake of the question, let’s define high level play as games that occur within the last few levels of a given edition’s level cap, or games that occur within a given edition’s follow-on rulebook describing high level play.

QUESTION 1: What do you think of high level play?


I detest high level play.

I like high level play on occasion, but I prefer lower-level games.

I like them both equally.

I like lower-level games on occasion, but I prefer high level games.

I love high level play.

QUESTION 2: What is your favorite (actual or hoped-for) element of high level play?

Wide open narrative possibility, granting players a chance to treat with or defy emperors and gods, and more.

Ramped up usages of the skills, feats, spells, and other abilities that I’m already used to using.

New ways of playing the game with modified base mechanics, new ways to cast spells or use powers, and new ways to show forth martial might.

Choice 1 + 2 above

Choice 1 + 3 above

Choice 1 + 2 + 3 above

None of the above

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's in a (Spell) Name?

Melf. Tasha. Bigby. Leomund. Drawmij. Otiluke. Tenser. Evard.

Other than being famous D&D wizards, what do all these folks have in common? They’ve got spells named after them of course, spells like Tenser’s floating disc, Otiluke’s reslient sphere, and Melf’s acid arrow.

D&D spells that include proper names are rich in history, both because of the real-world story behind a particular name, and the in-game myths that surround the famous wizard in question. For example, the spell (and 4E ritual) Drawmij’s instant summons was devised by Drawmij the archmage, who was a founding member of the conclave known as the Circle of Eight. And in the real world, Drawmij is of course the talented and famous Jim Ward’s name spelled backward. Jim, a player’s in one of Gary Gygax’s games, once remarked how darn useful it would be to have a spell that would summon misplaced but owned articles to hand. And so it came to be.

Spells that bear a creator’s moniker have been part of the game nearly since its inception. However, there’s an argument (given some, but not complete, heed during 4th edition design) that eponymous spells speak to a specific D&D setting. To include eponymous spells in the core game is actually anachronistic for games that take place in settings that don’t include those wizards in its history. The argument goes that in order to avoid anachronisms across all the possible potential settings DMs might create for their campaigns, all such eponymous spells should merely become spells, which would mean that Melf’s acid arrow, for instance, should just be acid arrow, Bigby’s grasping hand would be grasping hand, and so on.

The counter-argument goes something like this: Eponymous spells are part of D&D. Wizards created these spells, and to strip those iconic spells of their names is to actually do damage to the story of D&D. If a particular DM wants to strip names from spells, then she can do so simply by indicating those spells are not part of her game, or to the extent they are, different (or no) names are associated with those spells. But D&D has lore all its own, lore which is part the game’s identity, and eponymous spells speak to that. Besides, is it so hard to believe that ancient archwizard’s spells have spread via a panspermia-like migration of dimensional travelers over the millenia?

What do you think?

Should eponymous spells be part of the core game?

No, eponymous spells should be presented with the settings they’re appropriate too.

Maybe a few, but eponymous spells should be restricted.

Yes, eponymous spells should be part of the core game because that’s what D&D is.

Yes, and in fact, add more than before! How about some spells by Emerikol, Entreri, and Blackstaff?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Close Call with Negative Hit Points

Demascus is no slouch when it comes to swordplay, especially when he can remember his previous incarnations (when he was almost unbeatable). But that was then. Now, an ambush by a drow hunting party has knocked our hero unconscious.

He’s lucky that Carmenere the cleric is on hand with a healing spell. If Carmenere has a powerful enough spell, Demascus might not only survive, but he could be back in the fight in mere moments.

If the above scene plays out in a D&D game, the edition in which it occurs makes a big difference as to how likely Demascus is to survive. That’s true for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that in early editions, once you dropped to 0 hit points, you were dead. Later, the concept of negative hit points was incorporated into official rules, which allowed characters to linger a few rounds while unconscious and dying. The character could then be saved by a comrade with a handy potion of healing or a cure light wounds spell.

In the current edition, the number of negative hit points available to a character is larger than ever, to say nothing of the healing surges. Both of these elements have increased character survivability (some would argue too much).

But 4th Edition also introduced the concept of healing while at negative hit points that goes something like this: Any time you receiving healing, no matter how many negative hit points you have, you calculate the healing you receive as if you had 0 hit points.

For my question, I want to set everything else aside and focus on the idea that healing always brings a character to consciousness.

The reason the rule was introduced was because the designers hated it when a cleric spent her entire action healing a comrade in a previous edition, only to roll a 1 on the healing die. A dying character at –6 hit points is now at –5 hit points (though probably at least stabilized). A few more bad healing rolls might mean that character sits out the rest of the fight and sucks up the cleric’s actions in the process. In addition, it’s just easier to dispense with having to add positive numbers to negative hit points.

It can be argued, however, that the above rule is too favorable to a dying character, too “gamist” at the expense of simulation, and really anti-intuitive, breaking the rules of regular math which, come on, aren’t all that difficult. Ultimately, it could be argued that “always heal up from 0” is just not in accord with every previous edition of D&D.

What do you think?

Friday, February 3, 2012

A New Abolethic Sovereignty Review

Even though I'm enjoying writing about Demascus these days, it's great when books in my backlist get some love. So it was fantastic to see a new review of my Abolethic Sovereignty trilogy (Plague of Spells, City of Torment, and Key of Stars) by the Crimson Bastards, a podcasting and game reviewing site.
"I have read several books by Bruce Cordell but I think that the books in this trilogy might be my favorites. From the beginning the Lovecraftian vibe these books bring to Faerûn captured my attention and didn’t release it until the story was complete."
Read the full review here!