Monday, July 20, 2009

Traveling Games

Well, I'm off for a couple of weeks to Eastern Europe with a friend. I have packed some cards and small, two player games in anticipation of some long train and plane rides. Of course I will be leaving some room to maybe pick up some along the way.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Swashbuckler base class

The swashbuckler is a pretty standard archetype of fantasy and historical literature. Musketeers, pirates, really any sort of dashing and charming fighting type fits the bill. Even in core D&D it’s not very hard to make a character that is capable of these things. Take some rogue, maybe a little fighter or bard, flavor accordingly and there you go. Despite this workable build I was pleased to see the Swashbuckler gets it’s own base class in Complete Warrior. I’ve been wanting to try one for a while and I just started up a new campaign and I decided, at the last minute, to go for it. I’ve only played a couple of adventures with my NE human swashbuckler and I like him very much, but looking ahead the class itself seems very underwhelming, but more so than that it seems like it is fraught with missed opportunities to do what this type of character class is supposed to do.

The vitals of the class are on par with any of the better martial classes in the game. Full BAB, d10 HD, 4+ skill points, and one good save (Fortitude). It’s really in the class features and skills that it falls flat. The description of the class says that Swashbucklers rely on Dexterity primarily but also on Intelligence and Charisma. DEX and INT make sense, but not so much Charisma. There are only two CHA based skills on their list and not a single class feature related to the stat, which sort of strikes me as odd. If a Paladin can have all sorts of abilities based on Charisma, why can’t the Swashbuckler, a character who supposedly gets by on their charm? Also missing from the skill list are appraise, search, spot, and listen. This is the pirate type class we are talking about, yet they are unable to use appraise or search? Would it be so broken if they could? Their list is mainly physical stuff like climb, tumble, and jump. All good skills and a necessary part of the dashing class, but some other options would be nice.

At first level the Swashbuckler receives Weapon Finesse for free, which is an excellent feat and most likely will dictate the fighting style of the character for their entire career. The problem is that they also get all martial proficiencies, none of which work with weapon finesse, essentially limiting them to a rapier. So why even give them those options? What sort of swashbuckler in going to wield a greataxe? Rather than the martial weapons I would like to have seen a progression of abilities related to light weapons. Maybe a free Weapon Focus, Improved Disarm, an AC bonus when wielding a light weapon. Something that reflects their mastery of that sort of finesse weapons instead of wasted knowledge of falchion swords. Plus, they can only wear light armor so they are really never going to be front line types, more a dash in and out type of combatant, so something to help them survive a bit would be nice.

At second level Grace is awarded to the class, giving them a +1 bonus to Reflex saves. Lame. How about just giving them the good progression of Reflex saves, which makes total sense based on what the character is supposed to be. Instead they get a crappy bonus that they receive again at 10th and 20th level. I think that should have the good Reflex save and Grace should be some sort of initiative bonus.

Insightful Strike comes on the scene at third level and, for my money, is the best feature that the class has. When using a weapon that works with Weapon Finesse the character gets to add their INT modifier to damage. That’s pretty cool, nothing overpowering, but cool nonetheless. I like that this is a reason to make a smart fighter, a vehicle to allow brains to triumph over brawn every once in a while. It unfortunately makes the class great for a three level dip as well, since the features that come after it are generally garbage. Improved Flanking is very nice, as is Lucky. Both are versatile and demonstrate something unique about the class. Dodge is okay, but it’s really just a feat. But six dead levels out of 20? That’s right, six levels the Swashbuckler receives nothing other than what the standard HD increase brings. I think what this character really needs is a combat feature related to Charisma. Maybe it’s just a smite type ability giving CHA to damage or attack a couple of times a day, or an AC boost. Something. Survivability seems to be a concern of the class. With the full BAB the temptation to be in the frontlines is there but the light armor make them vulnerable. Sure the D10 is nice but CON is going to be very low on the attribute list so Hit Points will be at a premium.

The build that I have tentatively worked out for my new character is Swashbuckler 3/Bard 3/Dread Pirate X. This gives him some competent fighting capabilities, the ability to inspire allies (which will stack with the Dread Pirates similar ability), the bard skill list will make him much more pirate like since he will finally be able to appraise, and the 1st level spells means he can heal himself (which seems important since he is not getting on very well with the party cleric). Plus I will only be losing one point of base attack, keeping me on pace to take Improved Critical when I get a feat at 9th level.

The Heroes Strike Back. Finally.

I’ve recently written about the struggles of the heroes to win the quick version of Last Night on Earth. Every time out they just seem to get slaughtered. The other night the stars were aligned and a major breakthrough occurred as the isolated hero emerged triumphant. So who was this lone, brave warrior? The unlikely Amanda, Prom Queen. Honestly I’m surprised that Amanda was the one to finally pull through and throw a victory into the hero column. For starters her abilities are not particularly well suited to being a solitary hero, or so it would seem. Her first ability is totally nullified by the scenario because it allows her to add an extra fight die to any male hero that she shares a space with. I’m not sure what that power says about Amanda, but that is a blog for another day. Normally it’s tough to use but good if you can get it going. The second allows her to avoid a fight by hiding. On a roll of 4+ she disappears from the zombie’s sight and lives to fight another round. She is essentially a traveling cornfield. An excellent ability but one that I foolishly thought would not be good for this scenario since the objective is to kill zombies, not just survive them. As a student hero she has the standard two wounds, which blows. It seemed like an uphill battle but kudos to Mike for working a good strategy.

The smart zombie strategy would be to disperse the undead all over the board and make the hero pursue, you only have to survive ten rounds as the zombie player. But we sort of have an unwritten rule that the zombies should be aggressive, which I did and went after her from the start. Mike rolled well when it came to hiding and barely had to fight in the early rounds, using a couple of cards to help him out when he did have to throw down. The hiding bought him time to search and come across some good cards. He hit the jackpot with the chainsaw, the ultimate weapon for this type of matchup because it absolutely chews up zombies. Any time a hero wins a fight the zombie is killed, rather than just defeated. Somehow this weapon was just sitting there in the post office. Odd. I actually thought that I had her on the ropes because she was surrounded until the weapon came into play. I didn’t last long after that. Mike rolled well, I did not and the rest is history. Congratulations Mike. Well played.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fatespinner prestige class

What an awesome concept; a wizard who harnesses his natural arcane talent to manipulate the forces of fate and luck. Of course I speak of the Fatespinner prestige class from Complete Arcane. Obviously. Unfortunately the actual mechanical execution of the class seems a bit on the weak side, sure it has some luck based powers but I’m not sure it’s enough to warrant an entire prestige class around it. The requirements for entry are pretty simple. Ability to cast 4th level spells (including at least one divination spell), 10 ranks of Knowledge (Arcana), and five ranks of Profession (Gambler). I love the gambler requirement. Seriously, I do. The class vitals are standard wizard; poor BAB, good Will, d4 HD, and 2+ skill points. Spell level advances at all levels except 5th.

The Fatespinner is only a five level class so I wouldn’t expect it to be loaded with goodies. And it is not. In fact, it’s a bit underwhelming. At first level they get what amounts to their signature ability Spin Fate. A Fatespinner has a number of “spin” points equal to their fatespinner class level. So at most they have five points of spin. Spin allows them to raise the DC of a spell by the number of spin points spent. Really? That’s it? A third level Fatespinner can increase a DC from 15 to 18! It’s a wonder that they haven’t taken over the world yet with that ability. At 2nd level they receive Fickle Finger of Fate which, as a free action, allows them to make any other creature reroll any roll they just made. This is usable once a day and it never improves. A 1st level Cleric with the Luck Domain has a similar power but it only affects the cleric. The Fatespinner is probably level 9 by now.

Spin Destiny comes into play at 3rd level. Identical to Spin fate but can also be used to alter skill, attack, or saving throw rolls. Unfortunately the spin points come from the same limited pool, severely placing limitations on the use of this ability. A Fatespinner automatically succeeds on a roll to become stable when placed into negative hitpoints at 4th level, this mighty ability is called Deny Fate. The capstone ability at 5th level is Seal Fate, appropriate because any PC foolish enough to go 5 levels in this class has sealed their fate as a mediocre character. Once a day as a free action the Spinner can grant a -10 or +10 on a targets next save. However, it does not work on any creature with more HD than the fatespinner, meaning that it will never be useful in a really tough battle. I see how it could work well with Spin Fate. Jack up the DC of a spell, Seal Fate, and watch the creature fail. But it that really necessary for something weaker than the character? And the fact that no new spells are gained at 5th level is sort of weird. It’s like the folks over at Wizards are trying to talk you out of this class. I don’t get it.

I do think that the idea is very cool, but the class is sort of lame. I would rather see more random effects or more rerolls. Increasing the DC of a spell doesn’t seem all that fate related. And honestly any wizard casting Fox’s Cunning on himself before a fight has already done more for himself than the Fatespinner, especially since it will last the entire battle.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

One Shot Through the Heart

My usual D&D group is between campaigns so I decided to run a one shot last night to fill the void that would have otherwise been Tuesday night. I also decided to make all the characters for the adventure and have the players draw them randomly. I thought that this could be an excellent opportunity for them to try some odd characters, the type that you may not commit to for a full campaign. Plus, I had a fun little scenario in mind that I thought would work well for one night.

The approach I took to making the characters was that they were essentially D-List adventurers. Not quite good enough to make it in a real party and not likely to live for more than a couple of levels. I also thought it would be cool if they all had pretty opposite alignments, kind of going for the dysfunctional party thrown together due to circumstances. The characters wound up being a half orc hexblade (LE), a goblin rogue (NE), a half elf bard(NG), and a dwarf paladin(LG). There was also a fifth character I created that was not used, a CN elf swashbuckler. The setup was simple; they were all moments away from being combatants in an arena. Various circumstances landed them in the position they were in, but they had a common cause to bond them initially. Moments after the adventure started a huge minotaur was charging at them while a bloodthirsty crowd cheered on the prospect of death. They were also equipped with totally crappy weapons; a trident, dagger, light pick, and a whip. Oh, and no one was wearing anything better than leather armor. It was quite a crew.

Though wounded, they survived the melee and while being led back to their cells an opportunity for escape presented itself. The rich Lady that the Paladin was in service to had arranged for a boat to wait for her in the harbor. Bribed by the Lady, the guards showed the party an entrance into the sewers beneath the arena and told that it would lead out to the harbor. And the escape was on! Eventually the party wound up bickering with one another, fighting amongst each other, and going their separate ways. Most of them wound up being killed by a rat catcher who worked for the city and lived in one of the passages they were traveling through. He had a pet dog that killed the bard. The paladin did manage to make it to the harbor and onto the boat, safely sailing away from the ugly situation she had left in her wake.

I love the character development and relationships that develop over the course of a long campaign, but there is something very fun about disposable characters and simple plots. I think that in the intense world of power gaming and min maxing that simple games like last night’s somehow get lost, which is a shame. It’s okay to be a hexblade with a 9 AC or a bard that can cast Magic Mouth and not much else. And as a DM it’s a very nice, stress free type of game to run. I don’t have to worry about hooks for future adventures or the PC’s missing key plot points. I’m into it.