Monday, July 8, 2013

Survivor Style Dunegons and Dragons

The D&D campaign that we just finished up last week featured a significant amount of character death in the last several sessions. The entire campaign went for about 20 sessions or so, and in the last third of that there were four PC’s killed (in a party of five players). (That doesn’t include the final session in which four of the five characters were killed when they acted like cowards with a red dragon around.) I’m not a stranger to character death, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take it’s toll on the narrative arc of the campaign. Parties embark on certain paths that are determined by the characters involved and they put into motion story lines that have to do with those decisions and motives. Which is great. And then those characters die and are suddenly replaced by new ones that may not have the same agenda. It creates a problem. So what’s a DM to do in that situation?

There are a lot of options that I am not going to get into right now, though I would like to explore them in the future. But I did dream up with something the other day that sort of got me thinking about what to do in this situation. What’s even worse than having a character die? How about having your character die and then not being allowed to make a new character and join the game again! I know, it’s totally rotten, but I would like to play around with this idea of a knockout/survivor type of campaign. Essentially when you character dies you are out of the game. “Sorry buddy, we’ll call you in a couple of weeks.” Obviously everyone would need to know this ahead of time and be on board with it, but it could be a nice change of pace for everyone involved. And as a strange side effect it also allows a player to sort of “win” dungeons and dragons. Which, as far as I know, is otherwise impossible.

So how would this work? For starters, it would need to be setup to be a shorter term game since the number of players would be growing less and less with each session. And I don’t think it makes sense to play until everyone is dead, that has a certain Sisyphean quality to it that seems overly morbid. No, the goal here is to survive and that denotes that there can be an actual ending to it. Similarly, the game would need to start with a larger number of players than what one would typically run a game for. For me the sweet spot of players is usually four, but for this I think that starting with six or seven makes sense. And yes, I know that the primary rule of roleplaying is that the game is supposed to be fun for everyone involved over everything else, and this sort of flies in the face of that. Yeah, well, fuck that. This could be sort of fun for a little bit. I mean, we’re not talking about life and death here. Okay, we are. But it’s make believe life and death.

The first thing that came to mind when I thought of this is that characters would generally act like cowards for fear of getting killed. No one will want to be the first one through the door or to open up the trapped chest. But at the same time this is supposed to be a “heroic” group of people who have chosen adventuring, one of the most dangerous professions in all of the world. They can’t actually be cowards, it doesn’t make any sense. So I think the driving force behind this needs to be individual rewards. Experience points won’t be divided evenly among all survivors and treasure needs to be disbursed in a different manner. Bravery really needs to count for something since the result of character death is a little more severe than in other games. If your rogue just wants to hang out in the back and play it safe, they are not going to be as rewarded as well as the barbarian that charges into battle knowing fully well that the ogre with an enormous club could easily swat him down. Same thing with weapons and other treasure. If you charge into battle and strike down the enemy with a gutsy move, then maybe that sword of yours just became magical. I think this could work! The same would apply to roleplaying at the sake of one’s own survival. The first example that comes to mind is a cleric and their cure spells. Common sense says they should horde those spells for themselves, but if you actually spread the wealth and help some people out there should be a reward in it for you.

Normally I am very against this, but for this style of game I would also advocate that all dice rolling be done out in the open. It just seems more fair this way. A game like this would naturally lend itself to a competitive environment among the players and it does seem fair that everything should be on the up and up. I’m not saying that as a DM I’ve cheated, but I’ve certainly misread the dice a couple of times for the sake of the story or just because I thought it made sense at the time. I think it would actually be somewhat liberating in a game like this to be freed of the burden of secrecy when it comes to the dice.

I suppose that a game like this isn’t without precedence either. In a lot of ways it’s like a tournament style game in which players do receive points for surmounting obstacles and making it to the end. And in a short game, like a tournament, dying once usually means the end of your day anyway.

I guess the big question about all of this is why. Why set up a game in this manner? In a way it’s sort of a strange, meta way of running a game. There is some inherent knowledge that we possess as players that our characters can never really know, essentially that they are just pawns in our elaborate game of tabletop fantasy. As characters, death should always be treated as something to be avoided at all costs. After all, it is death and that’s sort of the end of everything. But as players we know that’s not the case. We know that at the end of a bad roll or a tough break is a brand new set of dice and attributes waiting to find stats. But what if there wasn’t? What if the game ended and you lost? If you knew that the game went on and you weren’t going to be a part of it, would it change everything about how your character acted? How would you feel if you could actually win dungeons and dragons? Would you go for it?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Strip Incan Gold

I’ve written before about my immense love of Incan Gold, I truly think it’s one of the best quick play games around. Well, I’ve decided to take my love of it to a new level. A risqué, adult level. I’ve created some rules for Strip Incan Gold, which is bound to be a huge hit with gamers who like to mix some real world excitement and nudity with their board games.

The Setup: You are a member of a group of archeologists, exploring a series of Incan ruins in what is now modern day Peru. Legends exist of massive temples filled with long abandoned stone passages containing gems haphazardly left in piles on the ground. Unfortunately, your exploration of the tunnels has also awakened Iitsatitti, the decadent Incan god of lust! Iitsatitti demands tribute from each person who seeks to plunder his riches! Are you brave enough to bare all and search for untold riches? Or will you seek the cover and shelter of your tented camp?

Gameplay: Strip Incan Gold follows the same basic gameplay as the actual Incan Gold, however there are several differences that result in a much more enjoyable and adult game. Due to the awakened prescence of Iitsatitti each player is forced to pay tribute to the god at the end of each of the five rounds of exploration. And there are only two things that can appease the god’s hunger: gems and clothing. When each round ends every player is required to pay a fixed amount of earned gems to Iitsatitti (the gems can just go back into the pot). At the end of rounds one and two, each player must pay five gems. After rounds three, four, and five the tribute is ten gems.

What’s that? You don’t have enough gems stashed under your little tent? Haha (that’s Iitsatitti howling with delight)! Any player unable to pay the tribute must instead remove a piece of clothing and pay that to the lust god as an offering to his insatiable appetite for flesh. An article of clothing is worth five gems. In the later rounds it is possible that a player must pay multiple articles of clothing to appease the increasingly perverted and aroused god. A player is not required to pay gems, they can choose to instead sacrifice clothing even if they could otherwise afford the tribute. It is a good practice for each player to start with the same amount of articles of clothing. At the end of the fifth round the player with the most gems remaining is declared the winner! Strip Incan Gold is best played over several games in succession. If that’s the case, the winner should get to take back a piece of clothing as a reward.

The five treasure cards in Strip Incan Gold are acquired in the same manner as in the regular game, however rather than having a value in gems each one instead confers some sort of special effect on the owner. Each treasure is usable only once. For a more exciting game shuffle all five treasures into the deck at the beginning of the game instead of adding one each turn.
“Trip Nip”- Every player other than the owner of Trip Nip must show their nipples to the other players. If you are already topless, you must deliberately point them at the owner of Trip Nip.
That Painful Looking Necklace- The necklace can be used at any time to recover a piece of clothing that has been donated to Iitsatitti. No one likes this necklace.  

The Cup- The owner of the cup may take five gems from any other player at any time. Sucks for them.  

Weird Block Man- The strange block man can be given to Iitsatitti as sufficient tribute at the end of any round. No one knows what he does with the Weird Block Man, but he seems to be real into it.

One Headed Man- The owner of the One Handed Man can force all of the other players to get up and walk around the table at any time. What a creep, that One Headed Man.

Variants: It is easy to adjust Strip Incan Gold to suit the needs of your game playing group. For a more conservative game, decrease the value of the tribute paid each round. Likewise, for a sleazier game increase the value of the tribute to near impossible levels and everyone will be completely nude within a matter of minutes. The above rules are designed for a game of four players. For proper game balance you should adjust the tribute levels to fit the number of players. For fewer players increase the tribute, and decrease it for larger groups.

Monday, June 10, 2013

We Hardly Knew Ye: Laughing Skull

(One in a series about adventurers who were better off staying at home.)  
Who was he? Laughing Skull was the last member of his barbarian tribe, the rest of his clan was wiped out by a gang of marauding slavers. Left with no connection to his homeland, Laughing Skull wandered off in search of adventure and excitement. And maybe some revenge. Alone in the woods, he came across a pissed off owlbear and prepared to battle it in the way of his people. It probably would have worked out pretty poorly for him if not for the group of adventurers who just so happened to be cutting through that section of the wilderness. Though strangers, they fought together and the mighty owlbear was slain! A trusty alliance was formed and Laughing Skull traveled with his new companions to the slaver stronghold city of Klausberg.

In a relatively short time Laughing Skull adopted to the ways of the city, changing his appearance and his name (to Dirge) and even his skill set (he took a level in Rogue). He was remaking himself as a new man with a new future. That future wound up being bleak and short.   
What happened? The Leap Attack/Power Attack combo is truly one of the most fearsome moves in the toolbox of the martial combatant. Unfortunately for Laughing Skull he was on the receiving end of it, rather than the deliverer. While attempting to forcibly board a ship with his party, Laughing Skull was sliced in half by the fiendish orc slaver warlord Shabazz Spine-Splitter. Shabazz was taken out by his friends, but it was far too late for poor Laughing Skull. Laughing Skull was a little banged up before getting into this combat, but even if he was at full hit points I’m not sure that it would have made a difference.

The bigger lesson here is that a decent battle plan is required before heading into a serious combat. Players can sort of coast through a lot of combat, but some fights require some advance planning from the PC’s to tilt the odds in their favor. This was one of those combats. Shabazz was painted as a pretty formidable warrior and they had been hearing about him for a couple of adventurers. (That’s DM code language for a tough battle.) The two sides in the combat were fairly closely matched, so it makes sense that there would be some casualties for each group.

Monday, May 13, 2013

DM Theory: Does Someone Really Have To Be a Cleric? Thoughts on party composition.

Does someone really always have to be a cleric?  Sometimes it’s a drag to always have a priest around.  What if everyone wants to be a wizard? Will they all just hide behind one another whenever danger appears? Or, God forbid, what if the entire party is a bunch of Fighters?  How will they ever win? D&D is not just a role playing game, but also a game of well defined roles among the party.  Each character meshes with those around him to form a perfect combination that is well suited to wreak havoc on their environment. Sort of like Voltron. But what if the players just make the characters that they want to make and some essential aspect of party cohesion gets over looked? Well, it’s certainly not the end of the world. And as a DM I actually really like when traditional class roles break down and the party is forced to be creative to circumvent a problem that is tailored for a class that they may not have.  Watching a group of Fighters try to deal with a locked door is generally a lot of fun.  Or some negotiating when no one has a Charisma above eight.

Since it’s inception, D&D has sort of had the iconic four character party as the ideal.  The brutish warrior, the sneaky and clever thief, the cleric that patches everything up and the aloof wizard that saves the day when everyone else is overmatched.  And that’s all well and good, but it gets old and can be boring.  And divvying up the treasure is always far too peaceful.  Whenever we are starting up a new game and it’s character creation day I do my best to encourage players to make the character that they want to play, not the one that they think that the party needs.  Realistically, these characters were born and raised totally independent of one another so it seems highly unlikely that a group of strangers will have perfectly complementary abilities and skills. It’s fine if two characters both have Knowledge (Nature), it’s a good skill.

I’m currently DMing for a group of five players that has a party composition that leaves plenty to be desired.  They consist of a ranger, fighter, barbarian, monk, and dragon shaman. You’ve probably noticed that they have no arcane magic, no divine magic, and really no thieving skills (the monk and ranger can sneak around, but they ain’t getting in places without the key). So what have I done to make sure that this party isn’t chewed up by a world that expects certain attributes from it’s adventurers? Nothing. I have done absolutely nothing differently to cater to them. Why would I? Just because none of them wanted to be a rogue, it doesn’t mean that everyone in town forgets to lock their doors.  Or that treasure hoards don’t have wands.  For me, it’s very enjoyable watching them try to figure out how to deal with a problem that could easily be solved if they had a different type of character with them.  A recent example of this is a locked metal box that the Ranger found in the cabin of a ship that they had stolen.  He had no way to open it and was afraid to bring it to a locksmith for fear that it would be recognized and he would be caught with stolen goods.  Instead, he held onto it for about seven adventures and waited until the Dragon Shaman could breathe acid and melt the lock.  Of course, he then had to split the treasure with the Dragon Shaman, but that’s the way it goes. Teamwork!

It’s also interesting to watch the party begin to evolve and understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, and then try to set up situations to take advantage of what they are good it and to also hide their deficiencies.  When they do it well (which, admittedly, doesn’t happen too often) it’s awesome to watch and rewarding for everyone involved. In a way it’s a very advanced form of gaming because they need to think slightly long term and not just about what is in front of them. In a traditional party the group can sort of walk into any scenario and feel confident that they have what is needed to handles things because they can do almost everything.  Not so with this group. 

The other upside here is that it seems to be more fun for the players since they get to be the character that they actually want to be.  I have noticed that there is a pretty noticeable lack of clerics in games that I run. That's sort of too bad.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why I Hate Dungeons; or You Can't Spell Dungeon Without Dung

I have a confession to make. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but the truth of the matter is that I hate dungeons. Endless poorly lit corridors with random encounters, challenges that get tougher the deeper underground that you go. I want no part of it. Can not stand them. Probably the last place I want to take a group of adventurers. Please don’t take my d20 away for this. I can deal with some caves, an underground passage that leads somewhere interesting, and maybe even some mines if something halfway decent is going on in them and they don’t follow some sort of monotonous layout for hours. But a real dungeon filled with T intersections, wall sconces, and bags of rotted things? No thanks. I don’t see the fun of placing player characters into an environment that is so one sided and thoughtless. There just doesn’t seem to be much to do other than walk from room to room and kill whatever you find. And take the treasure after wiping the blood off of it. Right? Even the classic dungeon crawls in the annals of D&D bore me. Tomb of Horrors? Really, what the fuck is that supposed to be? That’s fun? Queen of the Demonweb Pits? Come on, look at that map! Aside from being absolute nonsense (granted, I realize that it does exist on some sort of plane of chaos…) it is nothing but an exercise in rolling dice and hoping that the ones you roll come out better than the ones that your opponents roll. And we’ll ignore the fact that Lolth lives on a weird pirate ship, I suspect that some people think there is something cool about that. I am not one of those people.

Perhaps if I understood the general ecology of the dungeon better I would appreciate them more. But as it stands, they really make no sense to me in terms of how they actually exist. Some of these fantasy dungeons really are very impressive feats of engineering; traps all over the place, incredible architecture, secret passages cleverly hidden into the stones of some well carved walls, enchanted statues that animate and kill people unless the proper words are spoken. This is some serious shit going on. But that’s actually the part that really infuriates me. You mean to tell me that the same evil genius lich that had the chutzpah to put this entire operation together, is the same dude that sits in a tiny alcove all day hoarding some fantastic magic items (but not actually using them) and doing nothing proactively to stop the adventurers that are rampaging through his lair and killing all his minions one by one? It just seems inconsistent. And none of these monsters are smart enough to decide, “Hey, maybe we should all work together to kill these guys before we are all slaughtered one at a time.” That never occurred to them? They would rather play a card game behind a closed door and wait until it gets kicked down and a horde of murdering lunatics storm into the area and annihilate them? It just seems to me that all of these danger filled dungeons exist solely to be a foil to adventurers. What if the adventurers never arrive? Did the dungeon really even exist? I understand that a lot of them have some sort of flimsy backstory to explain their existence, but I’m not buying it. I like realism in my fantasy!

The point of all of this is that I have been thinking a lot about urban settings in fantasy worlds, and mainly about how much I like them. It’s true that they are much more challenging to run from the DM/GM/ZM/Keeper/Referee standpoint because of all the options that are available to the players, but that’s what makes them come to life and feel like you are actually having an open adventure as opposed to a semi-scripted jaunt through a dungeon. There are only so many decisions that you make at an intersection. And the worst part is that a slog through a dungeon generally reduces a character to nothing more than their stat sheet, they are usually only worth whatever they bring to combat and trapfinding. Come on, let’s be honest. Dungeons are lame and lazy on the part of the DM. I don’t think I have ever seen players get real excited about the prospect of trekking through the subterranean darkness in the way that they light up when learning some juicy information from a well placed NPC or in slaughtering the adversary that had been hanging around town and taunting them. Towns and cities have structure and laws, whereas a dungeon really has neither of those things. Having laws, customs, and structure forces players to think about their actions and to balance risk versus reward, as opposed to operating inside of the pseudo vacuum that is the Dungeon of Evil Wizard. Who cares what you do in there? I guess that I am just at the point in my roleplaying career in which I have seen every monster, given out every piece of treasure, and watched players die in every sort of horrid manner that there is. I want more than that and I don’t think I will be finding it inside of a dungeon. I like creating and designing cities for PC’s to run through. Coming up with an unusual shopkeeper or a tavern with a weird theme is fun for me, finding ways to work interesting combat situations into an urban environment is a rewarding challenge. Generally I homebrew all of this stuff, but there are lots of sources that I have drawn on over the years for both inspiration and examples of how this information should run and look. I’ve talked about my love for the City of Greyhawk boxed set before, but over the next couple of posts I am going to look at some of the other urban fantasy sourcebooks that I have used in the past.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Top 5 Weirdest Charts in the DMG

Gary Gygax was nothing if not thorough.  Recently I revisited the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide (Right up there with the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract as the key books of my formative years) and I was blown away by the massive amount of charts and tables that occupy a substantial portion of the book’s 240 content crammed pages.  There seems to be a numerical representation of just about anything that one could imagine. Fortunately for us, Gygax thought of it first and saved us the headache about wondering on this stuff. Of course, the important stats like Attack Charts and Saving Throws are in there, but I am much more interested with some of the more odd content in there.  Has some of this stuff ever been used?  Was Gary trying to micromanage every game of D&D played around the world by having a hand in seemingly every event that occurred everywhere? Was he worried that some bizarre situation would arise and the DM would have no idea what to do? 

I went through the book and chose my favorites.  Here are the Top Five Weirdest Charts in the 1st Edition DMG:

5) Type of Harlot. There is a section in the back of the book that contains numerous charts for randomly determining NPC’s that the party may come across in an urban setting. Okay, I’m with you here, there is some purpose to that and it could be fun.  A nighttime roll of 44-50 means the party has come across a Harlot! Sounds exciting!  The odd thing is that the Harlot roll further yields a secondary roll that goes into more detail for the specific type of harlot. (Along with Drunk it’s the only NPC type that gets a roll for more info. That’s odd. And telling.) Among the Harlot subtypes available for perusal are the Slovenly Trull, Brazen Strumpet, Saucy Tart, and Aged Madam. That’s quite a list! And I am also slightly suspicious of Mr. Gygax’s vast knowledge of the world’s oldest profession.  I guess adventurers need to do something to blow off steam after all those lethal dungeons crawls. 

4) Maximum Height of Opponent that Can be Stunned by a Monk.  The poor Monk, as if it’s d4 Hit Die and bizarre set of abilities isn’t rough enough (not to mention that at high levels Monks are required to fight one another to the death in order to keep advancing), now there is a set in stone guideline for how tall someone can be if they are going to be stunned.  Considering the types of giants and heavyweight monsters out there, it’s not all that good.  A monk needs to be 10th level to stun someone that is 8 feet tall. Which pretty much includes any type of giant, troll, dragon, ogre, etc…

3)Spy Failure Table. I’m not sure I understand this section of the DMG at all.  There is a chart showing an Assassin’s chance to successfully spy on something based on level and difficulty.  But the better chart is the one that shows what happens to the spy if they fail.  If they are caught and a roll of 81-95 turns up the spy is caught with proof of their spying and then they are tortured.  This then leads to another chart that details the torturing of the worthless spy (1-2 dead, 3-4 reveals everything, 5-6 turncoat). Of course there is an additional note stating that if they spy was fanatical he will just kill himself instead.  I don’t know about any of this. Isn’t that an adventure? Shouldn’t all this stuff be roleplayed out? Where can I hire a fanatical spy?

2) Unexplained Sounds and Weird Noises.  This is located in the Dungeon Dressing section of the DMG, just some details to spice up an otherwise randomly built dungeon.  I do feel that this chart is a bit of an oxymoron.  I mean, the title says that they are Unexplained Sounds, but then it goes on to explain what they are.  Okay, let’s see how this works. 

DM: You are walking down the dimly lit stone passage and you hear a noise.

Player: (worried) What does the noise sound like?   

DM: (rolls dice) A gong. 

Player: What sort of gong?

At this point the DM would then consult the type of gong chart located on the next page.  I’m kidding about that, it’s actually located in the DMGII.

The entire Dungeon Dressing section is absolutely bizarre and remarkable in it’s thoroughness.  There is a chart that describes the Air Currents in the dungeons.  Yes, 15 different types of Air Currents are detailed including such diverse items as “Breeze, slight” and “Breeze, slight, damp”. 

1)Damage Taken by Lycanthropes During Transformation Due to Armor Worn.  Wow.  I don’t know what to say about this.  Does it matter? Does a DM really need to consult a chart for this? Is it important to know that a were-tiger will take 2-5 points of damage if they are wearing splint mail when they begin to transform? I really hope that somewhere in the long annals of D&D a character has died from this damage.  That would be the ultimate tribute to Gygax, for both his legendary lethality and his superhuman attention to detail.    

Monday, February 4, 2013

2nd Edition Fighter revisited

Having recently written about the Pathfinder changes to the3.5 version of the Fighter class, it got me thinking about how these character classes evolve over time.  RPG’s seem to be constantly changing in both theme and mechanics, to the point that there is even a semi recent trend of retro style games. Have the martial classes always been outclassed by the magic users? Has the Fighter ever been anything other than a guy in armor, or was he originally imagined to be more? So I decided to go back and check in on the 2nd edition version of the Fighter and see what the signature armed combatant of the D&D world looked like in the late 80’s/early 90’s, back when I started gaming. And what I found was a class that fills the melee role better than the later versions does. 

Like all 2nd edition characters, the Fighter has a lot less going on than it’s 3rd edition successors.  The entire entry in the PHB is barely a page, and the vast majority of it is a chart that shows the types of followers that they can attract when they become 9th level (a “Lord”). The main benefit of the class is the ability to use any weapon and armor and some additional weapon proficiencies.  I like that just because the Fighter is allowed to use all the weapons, that they don’t automatically know how to wield every instrument of death that there is.  This is a 1st level character, they probably haven’t had the opportunity to use military picks, all swords, as well as the guisarme-glaive and man-catcher.  The amount of weapon knowledge that characters have in 3.5 has always seemed a bit ridiculous.  A young rogue off the street is trained to use well over a dozen weapons effectively. That seems unlikely.

Reflective of their martial nature, all Warriors (which includes Fighters) have the most favorable THAC0 progression in the game and also have percentile Strength (with an 18 they get bonuses above what a non-warrior receives) and a better hit point bonus from a high Con.  I’m fine with all of this. Does it make sense that a Cleric can never be as strong as the strongest Fighters? Not really, but lots of things in fantasy roleplaying don’t make sense, like monks falling from ridiculous heights but not taking damage if they are sort of close to a wall.  I really don’t know what that is about.  I feel that hurting things through brute force is the domain of the warriors of the game and they should excel at it.

The thing that really sets the Fighter apart from just any old person with a bastard sword is Weapon Specialization, an ability that I feel makes the 2nd edition Fighter superior to the versions in the other incarnations of the game.  Weapon Specialization allows the Fighter to be a legit expert with a specific weapon type (it costs two proficiencies, so the Fighter can continue to add to this list as they gain proficiencies, there is no limit to their mastery). It’s also an ability that is only available to Fighters, not their brethren in the Warrior group (Rangers and Paladins).  Specialization with a weapon gives the Fighter +1 to attack, +2 to damage, and a significant increase in the number of attacks with the given weapon.  Additionally, specializing in a bow also grants the use of a Point Blank category that gives another +2 to hit on close ranged attacks.  For example, a 1st level Fighter with a 16 Strength specializing in the long sword is going to have a +1 to attack and a +3 to damage, and also attack three times every two rounds. Chances are that none of the non-warriors in the party are going to have any damage bonuses (in 2nd edition a 16 is needed in Str to get any sort of bonus), nor can they attack more than once a round. This long sword wielder is going to be doing significantly more damage in melee than anyone else.  It definitely serves to more clearly define the role of each character type. It you want to have a pretty consistent damage dealer in melee, the Fighter is going to be your man.

I think it would sadden the 2nd edition Fighter to see what became of him in the 3rd edition.  In an effort to streamline rules and make multiclassing and customization more accessible, the Fighter lost the edge that he had.  (Sure, there is still Weapon Specialization in 3rd but it sort of sucks.)  And I’m not even one of those people that feels that the Fighter in 3rd edition is horrible. But because of all the crazy spell options, the rogues sneak attack, classes like the Duskblade and even the Barbarian, the Fighter somehow lost his way as the master of combat and instead became a foot soldier better served to be cutdown by a PC, rather than a warrior of legend.  In 2nd edition you can still see the badass that he was meant to be. Or at least a warrior that isn't overshadowed by those around him.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pathfinder Fighter

The 3.5 Fighter has taken a lot of flack for essentially failing at the one thing that it is supposed to do.  Fight.  I agree with this in theory. Yes, it’s totally possible to build a better warrior with just about any other class, but it is also completely realistic that a fighter can be the best damage dealer in most non-uber powered games and a player can enjoy the class.  I’m not too concerned about it.  Fighter, you’ll always have a spot in my game.  However, I’ve recently had the chance to check out the Pathfinder Fighter and I must say that I really like the small changes that they’ve made to the class.  A couple minor tweaks have made the Fighter feel like more of a skilled warrior, which is what they should be. 

Most of the basics of the class remain the same.  Base Attack, saves, skill points, and hit die all remain unchanged.  The skill list has changed a bit.  They have Knowledge (Dungeoneering) and Knowledge (Engineering) as class skills! Who knew that the Fighter could actually know something? What a remarkable development.  Still no Perception (Spot/Listen) though, which is sort of silly.  All that time spent reading engineering books has left them with their head in the clouds, apparently.

The Achilles heel of the fighter (especially in theoretical matchups on internet message boards) has always been their low Will save.  Coupled with a (most likely) low wisdom, they are easy targets for spellcasters. Well, the Will save has not improved, but with the 2nd level ability Bravery they now get a Will bonus against fear effects! I guess that’s cool.  It’s better than not having it.  I feel like every other character class has a bonus of immunity to fear, so at least the Fighter won’t feel so left out.  Though with all of these immunities flying around, why would any casters bother using fear spells?

Armor Training is a nice ability, maybe my favorite of the new stuff.  It begins at 1 and gradually gets up to 4 (at 17th level). Each point of it reduces the armor check penalty and increases the max dex of worn armor by that amount.  I like it because it allows the fighter a little bit of diversity and the chance to take advantage of some skills.  Fighters always have high strength, but none of them are ever any good at climbing or jumping because the plate mail ruins it for them. This helps with that a little bit. I’d actually like to see the number get a little higher, but it’s something. In 3.5 if you want to make a lightly armed combatant you are most likely to be anything other than a fighter, maybe a two level dip for some feats.  Armor Training lets you put on the chain shirt and still be able to jump and climb a bit, but have all the combat resources of the fighter. If this ability also applies to shields it is even better (the rules are a bit vague on this).

Weapon Training is the new signature ability for the Fighter.  It allows the Fighter to select a weapon group (Bows, Heavy Blades, etc…) and gain a +1 to attack and damage with any weapon in that group.  It begins at 5th level and every fourth level they can add a new group and the previous bonuses increase by another +1.  Not bad.  It’s nice that the bonus applies to an entire grouping of weapons and not just a single one, that’s always been the problem with Weapon Specialization.  “I decided at 4th level that I was all about great axes, but then I found this really awesome magical flail. Oh well, I guess I just have to waste one of the few resources that I actually have.” My favorite grouping is definitely the Close group, it contains the sap, punching dagger, spiked shield, and several other awesome choices.  I assume it’s the most popular among players, easily outdistancing Heavy Blades and Axes.  The cool thing is that it shows that the Fighter, more so than any other class, really knows weapons. And they should! These are the mercenaries, soldiers, and gladiators of the world. They know how to excel with more than just a longsword.  I really like the idea that a medium level Fighter can pick up a bunch of different weapons and not just know how to use it, but to really kick ass with it. 

There are also two high level powers that the Fighter obtains at 19th and 20th level, they are Armor Mastery and Weapon Mastery.  Armor Mastery is simply damage reduction 5/- whenever the Fighter wears armor (which I assume is going to be all the time, everyone knows that adventurers sleep in their armor).  I do think it’s odd that this is not a gradual ability that starts lower in the Fighter’s progression, but something that just appears at a pretty high level.  Personally I’d like to see this power just rolled into the Armor Training ability, it’s all sort of the same subject matter of using armor well. Weapon Mastery is the final bit of expertise that the Fighter will get.  At 20th level they can choose a single weapon type (not group) and with that weapon they automatically confirm critical hits, the critical multiplier increases by one, and they can never be disarmed while wielding this weapon type.  The disarm stuff is mediocre, but the critical aspect is pretty badass.  Is it a reason to take 20 levels of Fighter rather than multiclassing? Probably not, but it’s nice to see that there is something waiting at the end of the long road of battle. 

The Pathfinder version of the Fighter is certainly a more fearsome opponent than the 3.5 version, though I suspect it still lags behind a bit in overall power level compared to other characters. (It seems like everyone got a bump up with Pathfinder). I do like what they’ve done with it.  Before this the Fighter literally did not get a single class feature other than bonus feats, and with the very small exception of some Fighter-only feats there was really nothing that these guys could claim as their own.  Now they’ve got Bravery! Joking aside, this seems like the framework of what could be a very component martial combatant with a large range of options and looks.  I dig it.