Friday, December 28, 2012

Dungeon Lords is the best game ever, or The Emperor Has No Clothes

Dungeon Lords is the most interesting, engaging, rewarding and fun board game that there has ever been.  It has pathos and irony, plays great with two, three, or four players, the art is wonderful, and it makes you a better person with a deeper understanding of life when you play it.  Of course, I just sort of have to take your word for it because I actually can’t figure out how to play it.  But everyone says it’s awesome! It has a really high ranking on BoardGameGeek (currently 69th)! It must be the best!

Doesn't this look fun?

At what point is a game not worth playing due to the rules being so complex that the balance of time put into it is not worth the return of “fun” that I am getting out of it?  I’ll let you in on a secret. I play board games because I like them and I find them to be really enjoyable. Enjoyable in the actual moment of gameplay, not because I want to blog about them or to endorse the most obscure game that I can find.  So here’s the deal with Dungeon Lords. I just can’t make sense of it, the game is apparently over my head. The rule book is 24 pages with all sorts of pictures and snarky commentary from monsters! It comes with special boards that have the sole purpose of helping you learn how to play! (So clearly I’m not the only person who has struggled with this.)  I’ve had Dungeon Lords for about two years and not once have we actually played a game through to completion. It’s just too obtuse and far removed from what I want in a game.  I know that this is a personal thing, I’m not damning the entire thing, it’s just not for me.  Actually, I think I might be damning the whole thing.  Who wants to play this? Is it really fun?

I assume that the counter argument here is that once you learn how to play it’s a really great game.  It’s an acquired taste.  But I have so many other games that I really like, so why would I struggle with something in the hopes that one day it will maybe be as fun Ticket to Ride or King of Tokyo? I suspect that Dungeon Lords is actually a great idea more than a great board game.  The concept is awesome.  You take on the role of a monster that owns a dungeon. It is your responsibility to stock the dungeon with traps and monsters, and then adventurers show up and try to take your shit.  And you try to kill them.  Clever and just the sort of role reversal, meta gaming that I really dig.  Except that that the execution of it actually sucks.  There are so many counters and tokens to keep track of, all sorts of different phases to the game that all have their own rules, and the game just seems to move really slow.  Of course, when you have no idea what is really happening it tends to draw your interest away from the actual game. 

After two years I need to admit that Dungeon Lords is just a sunk cost, I will never get anything even close to the $50 that I spent on it back in enjoyment.  I think I may be writing this blog just so I can get some use out of it.  Currently, there is a stack of games on top of Dungeon Lords, it has literally been buried by just about every other game that I have. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Animal Lord prestige class

The relationship between D&D characters and animals is well established in many parts of the game; there are animal companions for druids and rangers, wild shape, handle animal skills, nature summoning spells, and lots more.  It all makes sense since there is a long history of this type of relationship existing in fantasy stories and lore.  But for some characters it’s not enough to merely be friends with animals and summon them to do their bidding. No, other characters really intend to take it too far and cross some sort of line and maybe become an animal. Kind of?  And it is for these characters that the Animal Lord was born! The Animal Lord is similar to other prestige classes in that a character gives up progressing in their previous class, however it differs because it also seems like you get nothing in return for it.  Seriously, unless your idea of a new power is a claw attack that does 1d4 damage or the ability to detect horses.  And if it is, then this is totally the class for you. 

The thing I like most about the Animal Lord is the great degree of variety that you can find in them.  There are eight different Animal Lords listed (each one connected to a specific animal type) and the requirements are pretty wide open, so all sorts of builds can get into them.  Generally, any sort of warrior type makes the most sense.  The majority of Lords will be rangers and barbarians.  So really any character can wind up as a Horselord as long as they take Run as a feat.  Fifth level is the earliest point of entry. 

As I understand it, Animal Lords are essentially animals in their soul but were unfortunately born into some sort of humanoid form.  The prestige class is a way for them to get closer to who they feel that they really are. In a way that’s really sad. I feel bad for them, they just want to be accepted by their animal brethren. I feel even worse for them when they begin to acquire the shitty abilities that go with their search for identity.  At first level they get the ability to Detect Animals at will, but limited to the type that they are connected to.  I guess this is how they make friends in the animal world, especially when coupled with the Animal Bond that they have with the animal type as well (giving them a bonus to handle animal).  A 4th level they can Speak with Animals, but only once a day so I don’t think they are going to form any lasting friendships. It just seems so desperate.  They need to use magic to make friends. Who would want to adventure with one of these weirdos?

The definitive trait of the class comes at third level and is called Wild Aspect, which is when the Lord actually begins to take on characteristics of their animal type.  Specific to each animal type, the abilities are an all around plethora of actual garbage.  Now, these are characters that are at a minimum eight level. You know what’s really useless for that character?  A claw attack that does 1d4 damage.  Its cool to fight like an animal, except that these characters can actually use weapons.  Do you think that a cat chooses to use his claws because they are awesome? No, it’s because they can’t hold a sword. If they could they would happily abandon their claws for it. (Maybe there is a Human Lord prestige class available to animals?) The sample character presented in the book is a barbarian/Apelord with the following attacks listed in it’s stat block: +14 melee (1d12+7/x3 with a greataxe) or +13 melee (1d4+5 with a claw).  Hmm...which should I attack with? 

And these crappy powers aren’t even active all the time! They start off at once a day for a minute a level.  I get it, having that claw attack all the time is way too powerful. The wizard would definitely get jealous. Other examples are the Sharklord’s 1d8 bite attack, the Horselord runs faster, and the Snakelord gets a weak poison bite. 

Fifth level’s Summon Animal is probably the only ability that is actually good.  The Lord can summon some animals to help him out, or maybe to just bullshit and have a conversation for a couple of minutes.  There are some decent options like a polar bear or a dire lion. 

There is also a bonus feat at sixth level and an attribute increase (+2!) at tenth level, but that’s about it.  The bonus feat is predetermined and features such stellar options as Trample for the Horselord.  The winner has got to be the Apelord’s Brachiation, one of the weirdest feats in the game. It’s actually pretty cool, but I’m not sure how good it is. 

I’ve only seen one actual Animal Lord in play, a strange Cat Lord (read more about his untimely demise here), but I think that’s enough.  There just isn’t really anything going on with them.  If you really like birds you can still dress up like one and act like one if thats what your character wants to do. The best of the bunch is the Wolflord, which is halfway decent though still subpar.  It gets scent and Improved Trip, but that’s not much for the level investment.  I think that any character is better off staying with their original class. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Suel Arcanamach prestige class

The world of Dungeons and Dragons certainly has no shortage of character classes that blend magic and melee. The Abjurant Champion, Eldritch Knight, and Spellsword are just a few of the many masters of the martial and magical mixture. However, only one of this archetype is good at jumping, tumbling, and speaking some strange language that is the D&D equivalent of ancient Latin. That’s right, the somewhat odd, but actually really cool Suel Arcanamach. The prestige class has it’s roots in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting, where the Suel are some sort of something or other. Honestly, I’m not sure and I don’t think it’s all that relevant. Not because I don’t like the fluff of the character (I actually really like it) but because I usually just don’t really care about the history of fantasy worlds. I like to live in the present of made up worlds. All that being said, the Suel Arcanamach is an interesting class and a real good approach to the fighting spellcaster concept, but an even more interesting approach to prestige classes in general.

See, the unique thing about the class is that they are a spellcasting prestige class that does not need to know how to cast spells to get into the class. It’s probably a waste if your character can already sling spells, actually. The entry requirements for the Arcanamach (I’m making it campaign setting neutral and dropping the Suel) are a decent bunch, but more than anything they take an approach to prestige classes that I rarely see. One of the major problems that I have with a lot of classes is that you just fill some random requirements and then, suddenly, your character begins to develop an entirely new set of abilities. The same is also true of multiclassing into a new base class. Wait, how did my rogue learn to spontaneously cast Grease? But the Arcanamach actually resembles a character that is learning something, that is breaking away from just being a martial character and moving in the direction of acquiring some new skills.

They need a +6 Base Attack, proficiency with at least four martial weapons, four ranks in tumble and jump, and Iron Will. That seems like a somewhat standard, mobile combat build to me. However, they also need (and this is where is gets interesting) Combat Casting, five ranks in concentration and spellcraft, be able to speak Ancient Suloise, and must have read the Grimoire Arcanamacha or studied with someone who knows it really well. Remember, this is not a spellcaster to begin with. You’ve got to take Combat Casting without being able to cast spells! Awesome. Speaking some weird ancient language is sort of a throwaway for flavor, it’s not like it costs a feat, it’s just a language. And since most D&D characters seem to have ability to be tri-lingual or so, it’s not that big of a deal. The spellcraft ranks are a bit tough to swallow for a lot of martial characters, it’s just that very few of them have it as a class skill. And since it will probably be cross class it will also slow down the entry into the class by a level or two.

So what martial class makes the best Arcanamach? The natural assumption is that a character that already has some magic would be the best, something like the Hexblade or Duskblade. The catch is that the Arcanamach does not advance casting the way that most prestige classes do, but rather has it’s own spell list. Therefore, the mediocre casting of the Hex-and Dusk-blades will never get any better. The character that seems to make the most sense, to me, is the Swashbuckler. It has good fighting, doesn’t use heavy armor (which will interfere with the Arcanamach spellcasting), access to some Charisma skills, and also those physical skills that the class needs. The problem is that the Swashbuckler sucks after three levels, so what to fill those other levels before qualifying? This is where the Hexblade comes in.

Swashbuckler 3/Hexblade 3 makes a real good entry into the Arcanamach. For one it can easily meet all of the requirements by 6th level, allowing access to the class at 7th level. But more than that I see this combo making sense. A physical, swashbuckling character adventures for a little while and gets exposed to some of the more magical aspects of the world and begins to develop a taste for magic (i.e. he becomes a Hexblade). Some magical abilities begin to develop but it isn’t until he discovers an ancient tome that teaches him to blend magic and melee that he actually learns the skill himself. And if you wanted to take it one more level in Hexblade you could get a familiar and some first level spells. Not a bad option.

Okay, you’ve finally found a logical way to get your character to be an Arcanamach. After all this, was it worth it? D8 Hit die, medium base attack, two good saves, and 4+ skill points are a nice start. They also receive Charisma based spontaneous casting that advances slightly quicker than a normal progression, which is a good way to make up for the late entry. The spells they get come from the wizard list, but are restricted to Abjuration, Divination, Illusion, and Transmutation. It’s not everything, but there are plenty of awesome options contained within those schools. After a couple of levels your Arcanamach can be casting Shield, True Strike, Protection from Arrows, Blur, Haste, and many others.

They also get a handful of other abilities, none of which are great but all have their uses. Some extended spells, dispelling strikes, and the ability to reduce spell failure in armor.

At the end of the day the Arcanamach lags behind classes like the Abjurant Champion and the Duskblade in terms of power. But it is so much cooler than those, because it actually makes sense as an example of a character growing into a new type of power, which is what prestige classes should be. It’s not overpowered, it lets a character do something that a base class build can’t do, and the requirements mean that you actually need to commit to the build by making some not so great choices. I also really like classes that are self reliant and can actually do the things that they are supposed to do, as opposed to relying on magical items and the party cleric to buff them up. The backstory of the Arcanamach is that they originally started off as bodyguards and assassins, particularly ones that were experts at killing mages. This class seems capable of doing those duties.