Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Figuring Out Fighters     

Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store when it comes to D&D character classes: "That's my favorite, no wait, that's my favorite!  No, wait..."  But truly, I did not come to love fighters until the Second Edition kits came out, and even then they did not hold my interest long.  Fighters, well, fight.  They are fighting men (as the class was originally called), later expanded to fighting folk of all kinds.  They are as diverse as the weapons that they wield.  However, it is clear that, until Third Edition, a lot more effort went into designing the different weapons than did into designing the fighters themselves!

Third Edition fighters look a lot like the components that I have shown thus far.  They are endlessly customizable, with an extensive list of abilities (combat feats) to choose from.  Pathfinder increased the abilities of fighters even further, giving them even more bonuses to combat actions when using certain groups of weapons.  But really, the focus is still on: what sort of weapon do you use?  That's what distinguishes one fighter from the other.

The fighter is a class that I feel has so much potential, but designers seem to have never quite figured out how to express it.  Is the fighter designed to be specialized in one weapon or fighting style?  Or is it designed to be versatile and use many different weapons and fighting styles, switching between each depending on the situation?  The latter is much more appealing to me, but the rules simply do not support it.  Let's look at the different class abilities of the fighter with respect to which support specialization and which support versatility:
  • Proficiency with all simple and martial weapons (supports versatility)
  • Bonus feats (supports versatility in building the fighter, but not in play)
  • Armor training (supports specialization in a fighting style, i.e., heavy armor)
  • Weapon training (supports specialization in a fighting style)
  • Armor mastery (fairly neutral)
  • Weapon mastery (supports specialization)
And, of course, when it comes to feats, the big feat that only a fighter can take is Weapon Specialization.

This is not to say that Pathfinder did not add other options for fighting styles!  The use of the Combat Maneuver system to replace the incredibly archaic grappling chart of Second Edition, and the confusingly complex grapple algorithm of Third Edition, was very welcome.  But all characters have those options available to them.  Which leaves the fighter with the versatility of being able to pick from a long list of things, but still having to choose which individual thing they want to be good at.  Ultimately, the choice to create a fighter that splits their attention between two or three different fighting styles, is the choice to create a sub-par fighter.  And the system does not really reward such versatility.


Rewarding Versatility

Let's say that, as a design goal, I want fighters to be making more decisions during combat, instead of having one particular tactic that will almost always be the most effective for them.  Several things have to be considered to make this happen.

1.  More choices need to be made during combat, rather than during character creation.  As it stands, many of the various tactics (tripping, charging, grappling, tumbling) often require feats in order to be effective, and those feats are often part of a tree with several pre-requisites, not to mention the ability score pre-requisites for those feats!  Trip is a great example of this.  It is a maneuver that, without the feats, a character is unlikely to try.  Essentially, you are giving up your attack for an opportunity to knock your opponent prone.  Without feats, you will incur an attack of opportunity.  But in order to get the Improved Trip feat, you need to have Expertise, which also requires an Intelligence of 13.  Assuming that you take these things, you will also want to choose a weapon that can perform trip attacks (only some can) and you will probably want to focus in that weapon.  You will also probably want to take additional feats or abilities so that you can actually take advantage of an opponent who is prone.  Tripping opponents becomes the big tactic that your character can use, and unless you are planning to build your character this way, you are unlikely to ever try to trip someone.

2.  Weapons need to be more versatile tools.  Three of my favorite weapons are the dagger, the quarterstaff, and the halberd, because they are some of the most versatile.  A dagger can be used as a piercing melee weapon, a slashing melee weapon, or a piercing thrown weapon.  A quarterstaff can be used as a blunt melee weapon in two hands, a blunt double weapon, or it can be used as a monk weapon.  A halberd can be used as a piercing melee weapon, a slashing melee weapon, it can be used to brace for a charge, or it can be used to make a trip attack.  All weapons should follow the example of these three.  Instead of having a huge list of different weapons, we should have a smaller number of more versatile weapons.

3.  Combat maneuvers need to have a serious effect on combat.  As it stands, monsters who have weaknesses tend to be weak against a particular energy type.  This means that spellcasters have the best opportunity to plan their attacks to target a monster's weakness.  Only a few monsters are weak to particular non-magical weapon damage or combat maneuvers.  By changing who we think about when we build monsters (fighters, as well as spellcasters), fighters will get more of a chance to demonstrate tactics on the battlefield.  In addition, the battlefield itself is a great source of tactical advantage and disadvantage.  For example, a fire pit in the middle of the cave provides an opportunity to use bull rush.  Encounters that introduce battlefield features are going to often give fighters more to do.

Thus, changes to improve the fighter may depend on other system changes: to feats, to weapons, and to monsters.  But we should also consider, once these things are modified, how fighters will be able to take unique advantage of them in order to stand out as a character class.


Components of the Fighter

Fighters are fairly generic characters.  They are often multiclassed or given archetypes or unusual races in order to give them more flavor.  But looking at the fighter as it stands, here's how I believe the components should break down:
  • Primary Versatile Fighter:  This ability will give the fighter the opportunity to use weapons in a wider variety of ways than other character classes.  It will also give them proficiency with all martial weapons, as well as increasing their base attack.
  • Secondary Armored Fighter:  This ability will enable the fighter to wear heavy armor.  In addition, the Armor Training and Advanced Armor Training abilities will be a part of this component.
  • Secondary Weapon Specialist:  Ideally, this will not be a component called "weapon specialist", but will rather be a choice of components, each for a different combat style.  So, for example, Archer would be a component that could be chosen here.  This will reflect some of the feats that fighters gain, as well as weapon training and advanced weapon training.
  • Tertiary Soldier:  This will grant most of the fighter's skills, as well as their bonus to Fortitude.
Next post, I will look at some weapons and how the Versatile Fighter can get the most use out of them!

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Creating a Character with an Animal Companion    

Having thought about animal companions and the problems that the pose in the game, let's first set up some design goals for how an Animal Companion component might work:

1.  Animal Companions should be as useful, and diversified, as other components.  If someone is going to use one of their components for their animal, it should be as valuable as another component of similar rank.  Secondary and Tertiary Animal Companions should improve at a regular rate throughout all 20 levels.

2.  The component should not require recreating the stats of an NPC animal.  By choosing to make this a component, we are deliberately following a strategy of making animals into class features, and not NPCs.

3.  Animal Companion actions should happen on the same initiative order as their owner.  This will prevent one character from getting multiple turns and will simplify combat.

4.  Animal Companions should only be killed if their owner dies.

5.  Animal Companions and their owner must stay relatively close together, to prevent a character from effectively being in two places at once.

Animal Companion

Requirements:  none

Hit Dice:  no change

Skills:  Characters with Animal Companions gain the following class skills:  Handle Animal, Knowledge (nature), and Ride.

Base Attack Bonus:  no change

Saving Throws:  no change

Additional Spells:  Characters with an Animal Companion learn the following spells, in addition to any spells they learn from the Spellcaster component.  They must still meet level requirements to cast these spells.
  • 1st - calm animals, magic fang, speak with animals
  • 2nd - bear's endurance, bull's strength, cat's grace
  • 3rd - magic fang (greater), reduce animal
  • 4th - animal growth
Special Abilities:  Characters with the Tertiary level of this component may choose any Tiny sized animal to be their companion.  That animal gains two abilities from the list below at first level, and one additional ability every four levels, starting at level four.  Characters with the Secondary level of this component may choose any Medium sized or smaller animal to be their companion.  That animal gains three abilities at first level, and one additional ability every three levels, starting at level three.  Characters with the Primary level of this component may choose any Large sized or smaller animal to be their companion.  That animal gains four abilities at first level, and one additional ability every two levels, starting at level two.

In addition, all characters with animal companions gain the following abilities:

Combat Action:  Instead of taking your own action, your animal companion takes an action.  If this action is an attack, your companion makes a single attack using your unarmed melee.  This does not provoke an attack of opportunity.  Tiny animals deal 1 point of damage, Small animals deal 1d4, Medium animals deal 1d6+1, Large animals deal 1d8+2, etc.

Empathic Link:  As the familiar ability.

Find The Way Home:  Animal companions have a supernatural ability to find their masters.  If the two are separated, the animal companion will attempt to rejoin the character, and will eventually succeed.  The GM should use reasonable discretion in adjudicating this ability.

Combat Move:  Instead of taking your own move, your animal companion takes a move action.  However, if both you and your animal companion remain in the same square, you may move together, using whichever's speed is higher.

Safeguard:  As an immediate action, a character may choose to safeguard their animal companion.  For a tiny animal, this means they hide in the character's clothing.  For a small or larger animal, they remain prone in the same square as the character.  If the character wishes to move, they must carry or drag the animal with them.  Any animal smaller or equal to the size of the character cannot be targeted by an attack or spell while safeguarded and cannot take any hit points of damage.  However, any condition that affects the character may also affect the animal companion.  For example, if the character fails a saving throw versus a sleep spell, the companion also falls asleep.  And if the character is killed, the companion may also be killed.  The safeguard will remain in effect until the end of combat, or until the character ends it, however the animal companion can take no further actions until the end of combat, regardless of whether the safeguard is ended.

Share Defenses:  Your animal companion has 1/2 the number of hit points as you, rounded down.  They have the same armor class, CMD, and saving throws as you.

Share Spells:  As the familiar ability.

Additional abilities:
  • Breathe Water:  Your animal companion can breathe water (requires Swimmer).
  • Boost Save:  Character gains a +2 on a single save type.
  • Boost Skill:  Character gains a +3 on a single skill.
  • Climber:  Your animal companion is an expert climber, and uses your Climb skill +20
  • Deliver Touch Spells:  As the familiar ability.
  • Fast Movement:  Your animal companion has a base speed of +10 feet.  This ability may be taken again to gain a total of +20 feet.
  • Flight:  Your animal companion can fly, and uses your Fly skill +20.
  • Independent Attack:  You do not need to give up your action to grant your animal companion an attack.
  • Independent Move:  You do not need to give up your move to grant your animal companion a move, even if it moves into a different square than you.
  • Low-Light Vision:  Your animal companion has low-light vision.
  • Scent:  Your animal companion has the scent ability.
  • Scry on Familiar:  As the familiar ability.
  • Speak with Animals of Its Kind:  As the familiar ability.
  • Speak with Master:  As the familiar ability.
  • Swimmer:  Your animal companion is an expert swimmer, and uses your Swim skill +20. 
(As in other components, this is only a partial list of additional abilities that could be chosen, focusing on abilities within the Pathfinder Core Rules.)

Multiple Animals

Having more than one animal companion could be handled in a few different ways.  If the animals are small, you could simply treat two animals as if they were one unit.  If you remember the 1980s movie The Beastmaster, this is how the two ferrets were treated.  Another way might be to have secondary Animal Companion provide two animals at tertiary levels of ability (or primary provide two animals at secondary level of ability.  Lastly, there's no reason that a person with an animal companion cannot also have a normal mount or pet.  This would be treated as an NPC and not gain the special advantages listed above.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Discussing Druids     

The druids were fairly mysterious leaders in ancient Celtic culture.  What most people know about druids is that they built Stonehenge, a "fact" that is untrue.  They might also know about Getafix, the druid from the Asterix comics, who brews a magical strength potion for his village in Gaul, the northern part of France inhabited by Celtic tribes.  Oak trees and mistletoe probably also come to mind.  Druids as mystics and prophets appear in legends.  Take all of these things, facts and myth, and mix them together, and you get D&D druids:  secretive clerics that are followers and protectors of nature and have mystical abilities.

Druids in early D&D were most known for the limitations placed on the character class.  They could wear no metal armor and could use no metal weapons.  Additionally, they had to be True Neutral in alignment, seeking balance above all things.  A fascinating part of the druid class that hasn't really stuck with D&D is that, originally, only a certain number of high level druids existed.  Meaning that your character might have to challenge high ranking druids in order to level up!

By Third Edition, druids still could not wear metal armor, but only had to be partially Neutral (due, in part, to the Forgotten Realms use of warring groups of good and evil druids).  They also gained the ability to shapeshift, previously only available as a spell.  The wild shape ability was interesting, but resulted in a major problem for druids:  their ability to cast spells while in animal form was severely limited.  A feat to address this, Natural Spell, was added in a supplement to Third Edition that became almost mandatory for any druid who wanted to use wild shape.

Also in Third Edition, druidic magic became focused on summoning animals and elementals to fight with them in combat.  The summoning rules were problematic, to say the least.  Not only did it require players and the gamemaster to juggle a lot of stat blocks, but the animals would only show up for a few rounds and then disappear.  My extended rant on summoning will have to wait until a later post, but the short version is this:  In a system that uses hit points as a major player resource, you have to rely on the self-preservation instincts of the players.  They do not want their characters to get too low on hit points, because it risks death.  Thus, the tone of the story, the tactics used by players, and the roleplaying of their characters all change based on how many hit points they have left.  When you introduce into this mix a source of hit points (a summoned creature) where there is no risk in expending those hit points, you essentially break this carefully balanced system.  In addition to creating a lot of bookkeeping, the summoning rules change the way that the game plays, substantially.  That said, the opposite issue comes into play with another feature of the druids, the animal companion...


Pets, Mounts, Familiars, and Animal Companions

I have a reputation as a tough, but fair gamemaster.  Players know that their characters might die in my games.  And it is my hope that risk makes the game more exciting and interesting and challenging.  I have even, on occasion, had total party kills.  But do you know what I have never done deliberately?  Kill their pet.  I'm a pretty firm believer that in the fantasy genre (as opposed to the horror genre, where all bets are off), pet killing is a non-starter.  Maybe you run your fantasy games dialed to a darker, Game of Thrones sort of tone, and that is totally fine!  But the majority of fantasy stories that modern D&D seeks to emulate tend to avoid pet killing.  This presents a problem for the game master.  On the one hand you have lots of indiscriminate killing of monsters and even "bad guy" animals (rats, wolves, owlbears, etc.)  But on the other hand, you kill the wizard's familiar and they will throw a fit.  You kill the druid's animal companion (which always seems to be a tiger, for some reason?) and the players will not enjoy the game.

So here's the situation that arises:  A low to mid-level druid has summoned a nature's ally, an animal.  The druid also has an animal companion.  The druid can shape change into an animal with wild shape.  These three animals all have radically different statistics, attacks, and abilities, and will act in different ways.  One of them, the summoned animal, is entirely expendable.  One, the animal companion, is not.  And the player character is themselves the third.  From the perspective of the game master, the story begins to break down, because the stakes are simply not the same, depending on which animal is being threatened.  From the perspective of the other players, the druid is "broken" because they have three times the number of actions as everyone else, and often three times the power level.

What is the solution to dealing with pets?  Pathfinder has taken the approach of making pets as much like summoned creatures as possible, as well as giving players the option to eliminate them.  Druids, rangers, paladins, and wizards now have the option to get alternate abilities, rather than getting an animal companion, warhorse, or familiar, respectively.  Warhorses can be summoned and dismissed at will.  Familiars can be replaced within a week, and no longer cost the wizard permanent hit point loss if they are killed.  But these solutions that do little to address the underlying story problem:  many players want pets as permanent companions for their character, and they do not want these pets to be in danger, despite being less powerful than the typical party member.


Three Approaches to Animals in the Game

Some of you may be reading this with personal experience concerning these types of problems.  Some of you, on the other hand, may never have thought about it much, and see the potential loss of an animal companion as just another part of the game.  Some might not mind such a loss, as long as it contributes to interesting storytelling (see John Wick).  When running a game, it is always a good idea to set expectations for the players, as well as hearing from them what they expect from you.  Here are three ways to handle animals that both address some of the game balance issues with the druid, as well as determining whether animal death is something that you want in your game.

Animals as Abilities:  Under this approach, an animal companion of any sort is a class ability first and foremost, and should get its own component.  Depending on how important the animal is to your character's concept, it could be a primary component, like a cavalier's warhorse, or a tertiary component, like a wizard's familiar.  The rules should support the story result that no animal companion will die unless the player dies (although they could be seriously injured or incapacitated). Game balance is addressed by the fact that you have to use one of your components to acquire the companion.

Animals as Cohorts:  The Leadership feat allows your character to have an NPC follower who has pledged their loyalty as a squire or apprentice or such.  The Monstrous Companion feat allows you to take an animal companion that is a magical beast, instead of a human NPC.  Either way, this places "ownership" of the animal more in the hands of the gamemaster than the player.  The rules should support the story result that such companions are as "protected" as normal NPCs are, which is to say, not at all.  In addition, animals may leave because of poor treatment by the player.  This approach will work best in games that have less combat, as party size could easily double in number if everyone has taken Leadership.

Animals as Flavor:  When I discussed charm spells in my prior post, I noted that the same spell or ability could be used with different flavors, to keep consistency with the character's concept.  In the same way, an animal companion could be used as flavor for a variety of abilities that the character already has.  A wizard's mage hand could actually be a small monkey familiar.  A high Perception skill could be the hawk that always sits on the shoulder of the druid.  A venomous snake under this approach becomes the functional equivalent of a poisoned blade.  The rules should support the story result that any action taken by the animal merely duplicates and takes the place of an ability that the character already has.  Thus, these animals can never be directly attacked.  This is a less realistic approach, but one that emulates the fantasy genre quite well.  In addition, it is the easiest to implement for the game master.

If you are interested in the first method, animals as abilities, next post will contain a draft component to duplicate the animal companion class abilities of the druid, ranger, wizard, and paladin!

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Charm Person and Other Enchantments    

Charming and enchantment spells are a key part of the bard class.  I'd like to talk about some of the problems with these abilities, and how they can be used well in a game.  In my past posts, I've talked a bit about enchantment, in combination with the trope of "beautiful woman enchants male protagonist."  There are several places that this ability comes up in the D&D rules, and I'll use Pathfinder to draw attention to some examples.

The Charm cleric domain is the most obviously tropey use of this ability.  It's description in the SRD reads:  "You can baffle and befuddle foes with a touch or a smile, and your beauty and grace are divine."  This is a very gendered description, evocative of many examples in genre literature of a woman's beauty entrancing a man.  Two subdomains of Charm are similarly gendered:  Love and Lust.  One might expect that Lust would be masculine, but the spells that it grants:  touch of idiocy and confusion, speak directly to the stereotype of men who are rendered confused and stupid by predatory, sexual women.

If charm is the feminine use of enchantment, the masculine use is hypnotism.  In the Captivation subdomain, hypnotism replaces charm person, and Entrancing Aura replaces the more feminine power of Charming Smile.  Hypnotists, in genre literature, are almost always men and they do not rely on sexual wiles to entrance people, but rather something akin to science, along with a strength of will that overpowers simple minds.

Throughout the many supplements and manuals of D&D, this gender divide in enchantment is pervasive, tracing back to the rules for Comeliness in First Edition (AD&D) that allowed particularly beautiful women to charm men.

The feminine forms of charm generally have the following qualities:
  • They are often tied in some way to the beauty of the charmer, either their physical appearance or the beauty of their voice.
  • They are generally persuasive, rather than controlling.  The target of these enchantments is aware of what they are doing, and believes that they are doing it of their own free will.
These include:
  • The Charm, Love, and Lust domains.
  • The charm subschool of Enchantment.
  • Spells such as charm person and suggestion.
The masculine forms of charm generally have the following qualities:
  • They are often tied to the strength of will of the charmer, either through holding and maintaining eye contact or through a hypnotic visual or sonic pattern.
  • They are generally controlling, rather than persuasive.  The target of these enchantments is unaware of the actions that they are taking, and may not remember taking them.
These include:
  • The Captivation domain.
  • The compulsion subschool of Enchantment.
  • Spells such as hypnosis and hold person.
Monsters that use enchantment are also overwhelmingly female.  More on that in a later post.

I feel that these sorts of rules lead to play and stories that recreate some of the harmful and gendered tropes found in fantasy literature.  Although I haven't gotten up to addressing the spell system, it seemed like a good idea to talk about this here, because bards use these sort of abilities all the time.  One way to break up this gender divide is to focus on tropes for charm that are gender neutral, or to deliberately gender-swap existing tropes.

 

How Do These Abilities Fit in the Story?

The first question that I feel needs to be asked is: how do we anticipate a protagonist, rather than an antagonist, using these abilities?  Here are some examples of ways that charm/compulsion abilities are famously used:

The Jedi Mind Trick:  "These aren't the droids you're looking for."  This is compulsion through mental strength, generally used by the heroes to evade capture.  It only works on the "weak willed."  As a trope, this type of charm is masculine in nature, but we can find examples of it being used by non-male characters (Rey in The Force Awakens, for example).

The Natural Charmer:  This is a subtle power, that may or may not be supernatural. Think Moist von Lipwig from Going Postal.  Generally an unconscious effect, it causes others to like the person more than they usually would.  This is a very widely used trope and is generally gender neutral.

The Seducer/Seductress:  Use of this ability may not be directly sexual in nature, but it is almost always sexually-charged.  Female examples abound, but Black Widow from The Avengers is one who comes to mind.  Although I haven't seen it, Eliot Spencer, from the show Leverage, is a apparently good male example of this (yes, I will see it, I just haven't had time yet!). 

The "Who, Me?" Trick:  Immortalized by Tasslehoff Burrfoot in the Dragonlance series, this protagonist is so clearly good and innocent that they can regularly get away with murder without being questioned.  This trope is usually associated with female characters, particularly young girls.  Gender is so strongly associated with that trope that when I read the books when I was young, I thought that Tasslehoff must be a girl in disguise!  (And, interestingly, it turned out that it was the player of the original character that was female.)

Note that all of these are abilities that mislead a (usually minor) character into doing something that is not harmful for them, but will help the protagonists.  The most problematic is the seducer/seductress, but it is still a good fit for some games, if handled well.  Most of these abilities require the person who is being charmed to understand the language of the charmer, and the charmed person is understood to be a human who normally has free agency.  In comparison, abilities that are more dominating than these are usually only used by antagonists, or, if they are used by the heroes, it is against creatures that are understood to not have free agency.


How Can the Rules Support This Use?

The structure of the rules should meet the following goals:
  • Charm spells and abilities should be tools in the same way that a sword is a tool, and should be able to be used in diverse styles.
  • Characters should not be forced to comply with tropes in order to make use of charm spells and abilities.
  • Abilities should be written from the perspective of the protagonists' use first, and the NPCs' use second.  Evil uses of charm abilities should be expressed as evil.
The four examples of charm types in the section above are generally used by very different characters.  You wouldn't necessarily expect the same sort of person to use more than one of these.  And yet the same character who makes use of charm-type abilities (a bard or an enchanter, for example), is likely to have access to all four, even when three of them aren't a great fit.  So another way that the rules can help is to be agnostic as to which flavor of charm ability is being used.  A spell such as charm person will have a different flavor depending on how the player wants to roleplay their use of the spell.

Finally, the rules can help is to set forth specific categories of actions that a charmer can persuade their target to do.  The trick here is to set limits that aid in story, while still allowing the players to be creative.  In addition, setting forth such categories can keep these abilities from being abused, in the sense that they can easily be used for rape or torture if no such limits are set.  The Pathfinder rules already take steps in both of these directions.  The command spell now includes a list of things that can be ordered.  And the charm person spell will not allow the target to do something obviously self-harmful, and requires an additional die roll if it is the sort of thing they would not normally do.  I believe the former goes a bit too far, while the latter does not quite go far enough, but together they encompass a range of restriction that does the job.  More details when we get to spells and magic!

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Backtracking to Bards    

Here we are returning to the subject of bards, which we briefly skipped over!  Bards have a fascinating history in Dungeons & Dragons.  Sure, it's easy to become a bard now, but back in the day, you really had to work for it.  Bards first appeared in core rules back in First Edition D&D (technically AD&D).  To create a bard, you had to meet stringent requirements.  Your human or half-elf only character had to have extremely high ability scores to even begin to attempt to become a bard.  You would then create a fighter character, and go off adventuring.  Sometime after you reached fifth level, you would then dual class (a variant type of multiclass) into a thief.  Finally, after many adventures as a thief, you would dual class again, to a druid.  You would keep your fighter and thief abilities, and now you could also cast druid spells!  This idea of a fighter/thief/spellcaster was very appealing, and had previously only been available to elves.  Humans could get this combo, but they had to work for it.  However, when Third Edition came out, everyone could multiclass freely.  Fighter/thief/spellcaster types were now available to any race, and in a variety of different interesting combinations.  Where did the bard now fit into the game?

The core of bards in D&D is that they are knowledgeable about many things, they are jack-of-all-trades, and they can charm people with their music.  This last ability is greatly expanded in Third Edition and Pathfinder, and becomes the core of what makes a bard unique.  When Third Edition came out, I felt that there was a great deal of excitement about bards.  Like the monk, here was a class with an entirely new set of abilities.  However, as time went on, I noticed that interest in the bard had waned.  Bards were underpowered, it was argued, and often didn't really fit into the adventure in the same way that the other character classes did.


How Did the Jack-of-all-Trades Become the Least Flexible Class?

To understand the problems with the bard, you have to look at the multiclass system.  Multiclassing is highly favored among many players of the game, both in D&D and in Pathfinder.  And yet, as I've discussed in earlier posts, there are some multiclass combinations that just don't work very well.  And, unfortunately, that includes pretty much any combination that contains the bard.

The first problem is that the bard is a spellcaster.  Any class that combines with the bard that is also a spellcaster is going to be at a significant disadvantage.  That includes a lot of classes!  But fighter/bards, rogue/bards, and even monk/bards are still quite feasible.  Why do we not see more of them?  Part of the reason is that sorcerer gives a lot more bang-for-your-buck as a multiclass spellcaster.  Sorcerers get access to a larger variety of spells and can cast more of them.  Then, with the advent of the magus class, bards were even less useful, as the magus blends their spellcasting and fighting in a much more efficient way.  Another reason is that there is too much overlap between abilities.  The bard offers better fighting and better skills than the sorcerer, but a fighter and a rogue, respectively, already have those things.  Monk/bards have an issue with ability scores:  they need all of them to be viable, which spreads their scores fairly thin.

But I believe that the main reason that bards don't get multiclassed (or played) as much is that players have a hard time figuring out what to do with the musical component of the class.  The idea that bards will play music and aid the rest of the party through their song is a very specific one.  It feels sort of odd and out of place in epic fantasy.  The most popular example of a bard that regularly uses bardic performance to support his allies is one that pokes fun at the very concept.  And it is this musical support ability that the majority of bard archetypes reduce or get rid of.  Pathfinder has done their best to expand the different ways that one can play a bard, but the fact is, it remains a very narrow character concept.  A good analogy would be the necromancer.  A great concept for a character, but clearly not for everyone and not suitable for every game.


Performers in the Fantasy Genre

My approach to the bard, to address some of these issues, would be to focus on the bard as a performer, and allow this to include a broad spectrum of abilities.  A Performer component would encompass the traditional "play music to enchant and buff allies," but that type of performance would not be overly critical for the class's function.  Performers in fantasy can be broken down into a number of different categories, all of which would be accessible by the bard.
  • Actor:  Actors in the fantasy genre are often associated with masks and the type of very stylized acting represented by Commedia or Mummery.  They are more closely associated with illusions than other bard types, as well as trickery.
  • Dancer:  This type of performance is almost always associated with combat, as well as the normal bard functions of enchantment and buffing.  The class of Dancer is a mainstay of Japanese fantasy RPGs.  It should be noted that dancers in the fantasy genre are almost always female and often tend to be sexualized.  Being aware of the problematic tropes associated with dancers is important, and I'll talk about it more in my next post, which is all about charms and enchantments.
  • Juggler/Acrobat:  Another performance that is often associated with combat.  Jugglers do not tend to be able to enchant with their juggling.  It is seen as skill, not magic, and is often used for pranks or thievery.
  • Musician:  The typical D&D or Pathfinder bard, this performer plays instrumental music and generally this has a magical effect.
  • Singer:  Enchantment through song is a strong theme in fantasy.  It is often gendered (women tend to be singers more than men) and often sinister.  The harpy and the siren are examples of singers that enchant male heroes, often to their doom.  See my notes on Dancer, above.
  • Storyteller:  Performers of this type are often used by an author of a fantasy story to introduce the myths and tales that are the core of the fantasy world.  In other words, they exist mostly for exposition.  Storytellers as protagonists do exist in fantasy as well, however, and they tend to be knowledgeable about many things.  They also tend to be the guardians of lore that would otherwise be lost.

Components of a Bard

We know, from prior posts, that our bard might include Spellcasting as a secondary component and Agile as a tertiary component.  Their other Secondary component could be Scholar (making them more like wizards) or Versatile (making them more like sorcerers) or Healer (making them more like clerics).  For now, let's look at a Performer component, which would be the primary component of the bard class.


Performer

Requirements:  None.

Hit Dice:  Primary Performers gain d8 hp, others have no change

Skills:  Performer characters gain the following class skills:  Acrobatics, Bluff, Craft, Diplomacy, Disguise, Intimidate, Knowledge (local), Linguistics, Perception, Perform, Sense Motive, and Sleight of Hand.

Base Attack Bonus:  Primary Performers gain base attack as rogues, others have no change

Saving Throws:  Performers begin with a +2 Will save and advance quickly.

Additional Spells:  Performers add the following to their spell lists:
  • 1st - cause fear, charm person, comprehend languages, confusion (lesser), hypnotism, remove fear, sleep, ventriloquism
  • 2nd - animal trance, calm emotions, daze monster, enthrall, heroism, hypnotic pattern, pyrotechnics, rage, scare, shatter, sound burst, suggestion, summon swarm, whispering wind
  • 3rd - charm monster, confusion, crushing despair, deep slumber, fear, glibness, good hope, haste, sculpt sound, slow, speak with animals 
  • 4th - dominate person, freedom of movement, legend lore, modify memory, rainbow pattern, shadow conjuration, shout, speak with plants
  • 5th - dream, false vision, heroism (greater), mind fog, nightmare, shadow evocation, song of discord, suggestion (mass)
  • 6th - analyze dweamor, eyebite, find the path, irresistible dance, sympathetic vibration, veil
Special Abilities:  Tertiary Performers gain a single special ability from the list below at first level.  Secondary Performers gain one ability at first level, and one additional ability every two levels, starting at level two.  Primary Performers gain one ability at first level, and one additional ability every level, starting at level one.
  • Acrobatic:  As the feat.
  • Affect Animals (Su):  Use all Perform abilities on animals as well as people.
  • Alertness:  As the feat.
  • Animal Affinity:  As the feat.
  • Athletic:  As the feat.
  • Calm Emotions (Su):  Calm down listeners and make them peaceful.
  • Catch Off-Guard:  As the feat.
  • Countersong (Su):  Counter magical effects that rely on sound.
  • Dazzling Display:  As the feat.
  • Distraction (Su):  Counter magical effects that rely on sight.
  • Dramatic Display:  As the feat.
  • Fascinate (Su):  Distract others, so that they receive penalties on certain rolls (such as Perception).
  • Gather Crowd (Su):  Compel all within a certain range to come closer to see and listen to your performance.
  • Hero's Display:  As the feat.
  • Inspire Competence (Su):  Grant allies bonuses on certain skill rolls.
  • Inspire Courage (Su):  Grant allies bonuses against fear effects.
  • Inspire Fear (Su):  Increase intimidation effects.
  • Inspire Ferocity (Su):  Grant allies bonuses in combat.
  • Intimidating Prowess:  As the feat.
  • Mass Charm (Sp):  (Primary only) Extend the effects of certain enchantment spells to all who see and hear the bard's performance.
  • Masterful Display:  As the feat.
  • Mocking Dance:  As the feat.
  • Murderer's Circle:  As the feat.
  • Savage Display:  As the feat.
This is a draft of the Performance component, and it is far from complete.  But it should give you an idea of the direction that this component would go in, and the types of benefits that it would offer to characters.

Next post I want to talk a bit more about charm effects, as they are often used by bards.  Then we will move on to druids!

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Building a Spellcaster    

Spells and spellcasting take up an enormous portion of the rules of any D&D product.  It certainly isn't the only way to create a comprehensive magic system (see Ars Magica, for example), but D&D and Pathfinder insist on having each and every potential magical action described, in detail, each with its own rules.  This is not necessarily a bad thing!  D&D has at its core a tactical combat game.  Designing a magic system with the breadth of the entire fantasy genre, that can be applied to the very narrow focus of tactical combat, is a fairly astounding feat.  For those of us who love the D&D magic system, even the parts that we sometimes hate, it is an integral part of the game.

That said, it has become so incredibly huge that it is barely workable for experienced players, much less for new players.  Consider, for example, the number of charts in just the core Pathfinder rules that deal with the number of spells that a character either casts or learns per caster level:  there are ten of them.

In addition, spellcasting hasn't really caught up with the evolution of the rest of the system.  No where is that more clear than in the multiclass rules.  Once you decide to be a spellcaster, anything that you do that takes you away from that specific spellcasting class is going to make your character substantially less powerful.  A fighter/barbarian, or fighter/ranger is a perfectly acceptable path, but a sorcerer/wizard is simply not.  (As an aside, I had a player play a sorcerer/wizard in one of my campaigns, and he was an excellent character.  This is not to besmirch the concept at all, just the way that the rules support that concept.)

In case it wasn't clear by now, it is my intention for these house rules to eliminate the need for multiclassing.  And I believe that Pathfinder has made moves in that direction as well.  For example, the hybrid classes essentially do what I am doing, but in a much more limited way: they combine the components of two classes together, so that you can level up in both at the same time.  The Arcanist, for example, is Pathfinder's solution to the sorcerer/wizard problem.

Why is this important for story? The short answer is, it isn't directly important, but the ways that it indirectly impacts the story add up to a big difference.  First, simpler rules allow new players to feel more welcome.  Having new players feel welcome leads to a table with more diverse viewpoints and experiences, which leads to better story.  Second, having spellcasting be an addable (and removable) component allows the gamemaster to easily turn the dial on how much magic they want in their campaign.  Eventually, this blog will turn to the subject of gamemastering, and how class components can be set up for particular genres of fantasy.  It may be that you want spellcasting to be a rare, but powerful thing.  An easy way to accomplish this is to eliminate Secondary and Tertiary Spellcasting, and only allow it to be a Primary component.  Or, alternatively, you may want magic to be pervasive, but not as powerful.  Doing the opposite, and allowing Tertiary Spellcasting only will accomplish this.  Rules that support genre will, in turn, support good story.  Third, streamlined spellcasting rules make the game go faster.  It means that a larger amount of the time that you have to sit down and play the game can go toward advancing the story, rather than fiddling with rules and looking things up.


Spellcaster

Requirements:  none (but see restrictions below)

Hit Dice:  no change

Skills:  Spellcasters gain the following class skills:  Knowledge (arcana), Spellcraft, Use Magic Device

Base Attack Bonus:  no change

Saving Throws: Spellcasters advance quickly in Will saving throws.

Additional Spells:  see below

Special Abilities:  Spellcasters are able to prepare and cast magic spells.  Preparing spells requires the spellcaster to be well-rested (eight hours of rest), and to spend one hour of preparation time in a relatively peaceful environment.  Note that other class components may provide additional restrictions or advantages in preparing and casting spells.

Spells Per Day:  Spellcasters can generally cast at least two spells per day of the highest spell level that they can cast, at least three spells per day of the second highest spell level that they can cast, and four spells per day for all other spell levels.  They begin able to cast only first level spells or lower.  They gain access to a new level of spell every two character levels.  When they do not gain access to a new spell level (on even numbered levels), they instead gain an additional spell for every level that then can cast at, to a maximum of four.  Their progression thus looks like this (apologies, as Blogger doesn't seem to be able to do tables):

Character     Spell Level
Level           0             1st           2nd         3rd         4th

1                  3             2
2                  4             3
3                  4             3             2
4                  4             4             3
5                  4             4             3             2
6                  4             4             4             3
7                  4             4             4             3             2
8                  4             4             4             3             3

Spells Known:  Spellcasters know a number of spells equal to twice the number of spells that they can cast.  They can choose from this list when preparing their spells to cast.  For example, if a spellcaster can cast two second-level spells, three first-level spells, and four zero-level spells per day, they will have four second-level spells, six first-level spells, and eight zero-level spells in their repertoire to choose from.

Special Restrictions:  All Spellcasters must choose one of the following restrictions below.  Secondary Spellcasters must choose two restrictions, and Tertiary Spellcasters must choose three.
  • Delayed Spellcasting:  Instead of being able to cast spells at first level, spellcasters with this restriction do not begin to learn to cast spells until they are fourth level.  At that point, they continue to learn at the normal rate, reducing their character level by three for the purposes of spells and spellcasting).
  • Limited Spell List:  Initially, all spellcasters gain access to the same list of spells.  They will also gain access to additional spells through other class components.  However, spellcasters who take this restriction cannot learn some of the more powerful spells available.  A breakdown of individual spells and how to create spell lists for your campaign is the subject of a later post.
  • Required Item:  In order to prepare and cast spells, the caster must have a particular unique item available.  Note that this restriction cannot be taken if the spellcaster does not have to prepare spells (due to an ability from another class component).  The eschew materials feat does not remove the requirement to have this item.
  • Slow Learning:  Spellcasters with this restriction know half the number of spells that they can cast per day (rounded up), instead of twice that number.  Note that this restriction cannot be taken if the spellcaster has a way to learn more than the usual number of spells (due to an ability from another class component).
  • Slow Progress:  Spellcasters with this restriction gain access to a new level of spell every three character levels, instead of every two character levels.  If desired, this restriction can be taken twice.  Spellcasters who do so gain access to a new level of spell every four character levels.

Existing Spellcasting Classes

How does this look for our existing spellcasting classes?  Currently, we have three Primary Spellcaster classes:  druid, wizard, and sorcerer.  While all have Primary Spellcaster, they are distinguished by their other components and also by the special restrictions that they have chosen.  Druids have the special restriction of Limited Spell List, which removes some of the traditional "wizard only" spells such as magic missile, but druids can still gain additional spells to add to their list from their other components.  Wizards will have Secondary Scholar component, which will give them access to many more potentially known spells, but at the cost of having to scribe them into their spellbook.  Their restriction is Required Item: Spellbook.  Sorcerers have a Secondary Bloodline component which will give them an increased number of spells per day, as well as giving them access to a more spells for their list based on their birthright.  They will also have a component that removes the requirement for preparing spells in advance, making them more versatile casters.  Their restriction could either by Slow Learning or Slow Progress, but I strongly prefer giving them Slow Learning.   In comparison to current Pathfinder rules, this will mean they have a few less spells to cast, but will gain new levels of spells at the same time as wizards do.

Our cleric and bard have Secondary Spellcaster components.  Clerics take the restrictions of Limited Spell List and Required Item, which is their holy symbol.  They can then gain additional spells from their Primary Healer component, as well as from their Domain component.  Bards currently have the restrictions Limited Spell List and Slow Progress.  They share a component with sorcerer that will enable them to not need to prepare spells in advance.

Finally paladins and rangers have Tertiary Spellcaster components.  Assuming they are not traded out for something else, they will have the limitations of Delayed Spellcasting, Limited Spell List, and Slow Progress.

Next up is the Jack-of-all-Trades, but Master-of-None, the Bard!

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tackling Spellcasting     

Whenever I sit down to muck with whatever D&D rules have come out most recently (which is fairly often), I always say to myself:  "just leave the spells and magic section for later."  And, inevitably, I will immediately be drawn down into the rabbit hole of analyzing and rewriting the spells and magic section, and banging my head against the wall as to why mage armor is still a Conjuration spell (thank you Fifth Edition for fixing this!) and what exactly the point of the Transmutation school is (spells that change people or stuff, to make them better or worse, except not magic weapons, because that's Enchantment, and not cursing, because that's Necromancy, and who the heck knows why message is in here...)

See, even in that paragraph, I got drawn down the rabbit hole!  I cannot keep out of it.  But, in this post, I swear, I am not going to get into individual spells.  Instead, I'd just like to talk about spellcasting, generally, as a class ability.

Out of the eleven core classes in Pathfinder and Third Edition D&D, only four are non-spellcasters.  And one of those, the rogue, can actually cast a few spells through Rogue Talents.  Each class has its own spell list, gains spells at a different rate, prepares spells in different ways, casts a different number of spells each day, and requires different components to do so.

Compare this, for example, to the combat rules regarding fighting with weapons.  All but two of the eleven core classes can use crossbows, and they all use the same rules for doing so.  What makes a fighter better at firing a crossbow than a wizard is separate from the rules about how crossbows work.  This is what I would like to do with Spellcasting.  There would be only one class component for Spellcasting, because it would all work in the same basic way.  It would then be modified by other components of your character class.


Which Ability Score Should Spellcasting Use?

One way in which the different classes approach spellcasting is that they use different ability scores to do it.  Clerics, druids, and rangers use Wisdom; bards, paladins, and sorcerers use Charisma; and wizards use Intelligence.  There isn't, as far as I can tell, a reason why these particular ability scores are used.  Paladins cast divine magic, but sorcerers cast arcane magic.  Bards do not need to prepare their spells, but paladins do.  All three classes use Charisma as their ability score for casting spells.  Let's look at the sort of things that having a high ability score will give you, with respect to spellcasting:
  • Determines whether or not you are able to cast spells of a particular level at all.
  • Grants a number of bonus spells per day.
  • Grants a bonus on the DC for opponents to save vs. your spells.
The first two rules are odd, to say the least.  Most other class abilities that are based on an ability score have a set number of uses per day, and then either add or subtract their ability modifier to that number of uses.  It would make more sense if low scores for spellcasters resulted in the opposite of bonus spells, i.e., you can cast fewer spells per day, instead of not being able to cast at all.  Moreover, ability scores do not grant a flat bonus of "plus however many spells per day."  Instead, there is a table that limits these bonus uses of spells by level, meaning that a first level character will have a maximum of "gain one bonus spell per day" and a minimum of "can't cast spells at all."

The third rule affects some, but not all of your spellcasting actions.  Specifically, it only affects spells that require a saving throw from your opponent.  These spells are offensive in nature, since spells that boost your abilities or the abilities of your allies do not require a saving throw.  Nor do spells that are cast on non-creature targets, generally speaking.  And many offensive spells do not having a saving throw, but are instead resolved with melee touch attacks or ranged touch attacks (making the relevant ability scores Strength or Dexterity, respectively).  Indeed, only about 26% of the Pathfinder Core Rules, first level cleric spells require a saving throw.  That number rises only slightly, to 27%, when considering first level wizard spells.

It is with this context in mind that I would like to propose the following:  eliminate ability requirements for accessing high level spells, and standardize what ability score determines save DCs with respect to all spell casting.  Other facets of spell casting, including number of spells per day, can be determined by whether your Spellcasting component is primary, secondary, or tertiary, and what other class components your character has.  The challenge will be keeping the distinct flavor of each major spell casting class, and keeping the ability scores balanced within the game.


Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma: a Brief History of the Dump Stats

In original versions of D&D, you did not always have control over where your ability scores were placed.  It was also fairly likely that you would have one or more ability scores that were below average.  So the concept of the "dump stat" started very early in D&D's history.  Charisma was the primary target, since the system didn't provide very much incentive to take a high Charisma, unless you were a paladin.  But Wisdom and Intelligence were not far behind, especially before the advent of a skill system and the all-important Perception skill.  Wisdom was important for clerics, and Intelligence for magic users, but neither was particularly important for any of the fighting types.

Second Edition added school specialization rules for wizards that required very high ability scores in something else other than Intelligence, presumably in an attempt to balance and differentiate them.  However, this approach was not particularly successful, and was dropped in Third Edition.  Third Edition's approach was to add a robust skill system based around Intelligence.  The Will saving throw and the Perception skill made Wisdom useful.  Charisma was used for several key skills and special abilities, as well as being the core of the new Sorcerer class.

Intelligence, however, suffered major setbacks when it came to Pathfinder.  Originally, the number of skills you received at first level was multiplied times four.  An 18 Intelligence score could translate, therefore, into twenty-four (!) additional skill points for a first level character (and an additional four per level).  Pathfinder changed this rule (for good reasons) so that instead you would only receive four extra skill points at first level (and an additional four per level).

These extra skill points from Intelligence were not bonuses, but rather ranks.  This is important, because in Third Edition you could spend up to your character's level +3 in ranks into a skill.  However, in Pathfinder, you can only spend up to your character's level.  This means that additional skill ranks will give a character more skills, but not higher skills.

In Third Edition, Intelligence added to the following skills:  Appraise, Craft, Decipher Script, Disable Device, Forgery, Knowledge, Search, and Spellcraft.  In Pathfinder, however, the Decipher Script and Forgery skills were eliminated.  Search was incorporated into Perception, which remained based on Wisdom.  And the important skill of Disable Device was made into a Dexterity skill.  This left only five skills (with the newly added Linguistics) for Intelligence in Pathfinder.


Intelligence as the Primary Spellcasting Ability Score

My house rules would make Intelligence the ability score used for calculating all spell saving throw DCs, regardless of class.  How would this impact the other spellcasting classes?

Bards are often already high Intelligence characters, since they have access to all Knowledge skills (as well as the other four Intelligence based skills).  Their Charisma will be less useful for spell casting, but will remain critical for their Perform-based abilities and bardic performances.

Clerics will be at somewhat of a disadvantage, since they are not generally high Intelligence characters.  However, their Domain abilities are often Wisdom based.  By standardizing that rule, that Domain components work off of Wisdom, it will remain an important score for clerics.  To further keep Wisdom as the primary ability score of clerics, it could be substituted with Charisma as the score which determines how many channel energy uses the cleric receives.  This will also serve to further distinguish clerics from druids, as clerics will be higher Wisdom whereas druids will be higher charisma.

Druids are also not generally high Intelligence characters.  However, the trade off from Wisdom to Intelligence is unlikely to affect druids very much.  Their abilities are generally Charisma based.  The advantages that a higher Wisdom brings are mostly in the area of skill bonuses, will be offset by additional skills in the form of higher Intelligence.

Paladin and ranger are tertiary spell casting classes.  Their spells are focused primary on buffing, and they will not be unduly hindered by having somewhat lower save DCs.

Similar to the cleric's domain being important for Wisdom, sorcerers will keep Charisma as a primary ability score by making it critical for their Bloodline abilities.  But Sorcerers will have to have a decent Intelligence score as well.  Currently, Sorcerers have less need for Intelligence than Fighters do (after all, fighters might want to take combat expertise).  This is a change that I think will enhance game balance, and to the extent that sorcerers are less accurate in their targeting of spell effects, I think that makes for good story as well.  Wizards are the spell experts, and sorcerers are the rogue talents who don't know nearly enough about the massive powers that they can wield.

It's a big change, but a change that I think makes for a better game system.  Next post, a breakdown of Spellcasting and how primary, secondary, and tertiary components differ!

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