Monday, September 29, 2008

Thieves, How Should They Work?

The thief, as we have stated before, is a bit of a tricky one. I honestly like the class, but can well understand why many in the 'old school renaissance' no longer allow the class in their games. I, however, really want to try and make it a viable choice (I'd also like to do that for the fighter as well, but one thing at a time...) and so I'm going to throw out a couple of ideas.

1) Point buy percentages. This sort of thing, presented in 2nd Ed. AD&D, has the advantage of allowing the player to be really good at, at the least, one thief ability. The downside: Over-specialization and I don't really care for it.

2) Ditching the normal (to AD&D) bonuses due to a high dexterity and replacing that with a flat bonus to all thief abilities equal to the thief's dexterity score.

This doesn't address the issue that some have brought, i.e.: the thief is an unneeded class as the player should be challenged, not the character, but, though I find the idea attractive, I do think the character's abilities should be taken into account...

Until later.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Of Tieflings and Mongrelmen

Whilst not naturally thought of together, these two races are, I posit, naturally connected. I hear your cries of disbelief already, but bear with me and all shall be made plain.

Mongrelmen, as we know, are a "mixture of many different creatures" and "lair in ruins, deserted buildings, or other places that humans once lived in or built" (emphasis mine). Tieflings, on the other hoof, are said to be "part human and part something else" and, whilst this is heavily insinuated to be something of the diabolic, demonic, or daemonic sort, it is not stated so in their description in the Planescape boxed set. This being the case...

The races known as 'tieflings' and 'mongrelmen' are, in fact, the same race. Originally human, their ancestors melded their bloodlines with many other races in an attempt to breed a new race with the best qualities of all. This plan may well have worked, if it hadn't angered the various gods of the different races, causing those gods to smash their civilisation and reduce them to savages. As savages, they quickly lost track of the old breeding plan and began to spiral into a vortex of chaos and mutation, though some are still born with wit, cunning, and magic power, the bulk of their race has become dimwitted and hideous caricatures of humanity.

The Illusionist: His Kith and Kin

Today, I choose to expound on the illusionist. Needless to say, it is difficult to discuss the illusionist without discussing their professional focus (i.e.: illusions). Therefore, a brief discourse regarding the adjudication of illusions will preface my revision of the class.

Illusions have always been a difficult matter. In my experience, they have either been too powerful or too weak. Usually, too powerful when used by the DM and too weak when used by PCs. This seems to be because illusions normally need to be disbelieved to be avoided and whilst the DM controls the descriptions given to the players, and does not mention any small flaws in the creation, the DM normally demands specific details from the player and ruthlessly exploits any flaw.

Disbelief has always been a tricky matter. Without any penalty, there is no reason not to disbelieve every encounter, thus getting a save in case any illusions are present (no matter how ridiculous that doing so may be...), but with a penalty, none will disbelieve unless the player is certain of an illusion being present (at which point the illusion is merely annoying). Also, few take into account expectations and what "everyone knows" when adjudicating illusions.

For my own part, I choose to edit out the choice to disbelieve. When confronted by an illusion, the victim is entitled to a saving throw versus spells. This saving throw represents the chance that the character notices whatever flaws might be present in the illusion. This save is modified by certain things, the aforementioned expectations and what "everyone knows", as well as personal skill and whatever else might be appropriate. It is imperative that the DM be as fair as possible when judging illusions, as tricky as it might be, as otherwise we return to the basic problems already noted.

As an example: If the Amazing Rando is known to travel with the Ice Barbarian warrior Erik Longtooth, and a band of bandits encounter a robed man travelling with an Ice Barbarian, then the bandits would have a penalty to there saving throw to realise that the warrior isn't real. Even if there has never actually been an Erik Longtooth, as they "know" that the warrior exists.

Conversely, should the Amazing Rando conjure forth an illusion of a goblin band and make the goblins yellow, because he has actually encountered goblins, but the surly villagers he's attempting to scare off "know" that all goblins are green, then the villagers would get a bonus to their saves, even though the illusion is accurate to reality,

Furthermore, unless partially real (as the higher level illusion spells often are), an illusion fights as well as the illusionist, including such niceties as weapon proficiencies and such. So the aforementioned Erik would fight much as the Amazing Rando does, i.e.: poorly. Partially real creatures will fight as well as the real creatures upon which they are modelled.

As a last note, the longer an illusion is interacted with, the more chances there are for it to be noticed for what it is. So, for every three rounds that an illusion persists, the victim receives another saving throw to notice something amiss. These additional saving throws may receive bonuses that the initial save did not get. (In the case of the Amazing Rando versus the bandits, the bandits may realise that the "barbarian warrior" is a terrible fighter, which may cause them to twig to the actual facts of the matter.) Allies of the victim may trigger a secondary save by informing their deluded friends that they are, in fact, facing an unreal foe. Partially real illusions do not receive these secondary saves, however.

And now we head forth to the illusionist...

It has long bothered me that certain classes, of which the illusionist is the chief example, required very high prerequisites, but were, for the most part, inferior to their base class. To my way of thinking, a class that required high scores to enter should be, not more powerful per se, but spiffy-er than the base class. The druid, for example, just seems cooler than the cleric, it's not really more powerful (some would agrue it is less powerful), but it does have a variety of unique and nifty special abilities. This line of thinking colours my philosophy towards sub-classes and is the base for what I am about to offer for the illusionist. Other bits for this revision have been taken from the Strategic Review article that introduced the illusionist and the Dragon magazine article a short time later that further detailed them.

Our first point of departure is in regards to the restrictions placed on the magic items usable by illusionists. Illusionists are capable of using all magic items normally usable by magic-users with the exception of the staff of power, staff of the magi, robe of the archmagi, bowl commanding water elementals, brazier commanding fire elementals, censer controlling air elementals, and the stone of commanding earth elementals. Note that whilst the illusionist may be able to command the use of, say, a wand of lightning, that does not mean that the illusionist will want to use such items. These individuals chose a career of trickery, not one of blasting things to death for a reason, though that reason is unique to each illusionist.

As masters of trickery, illusionists are keenly aware of the nature of illusionary magics and so have a 7% chance per level of recognizing any illusion for what it is and, if successfully recognized, the illusionist will know whether it was cast by a fellow illusionist or not. This is in addition to the normal saving throw.

Illusions can affect any creature that can perceive them. Thus, the illusionist is able to combat astral or ethereal creatures without having to shift to those planes.

Finally, starting at the eighth level of experience, an illusionist is able to employ a small number of magic-user spells of the lowest levels. These spells are cast as a magic-user of the illusionist's level and must be recorded in the illusionist's spell-book as usual.
At eighth level, one first level spell may be cast.
At ninth level, two first level spells may be cast.
At tenth level, two first and one second level spells may be cast.
At eleventh level, two first and two second level spells may be cast.
At twelfth level, two first, two second, and one third level spells may be cast.
At thirteenth level, three first, two second, and one third level spells may be cast.
At fourteenth level, three first, three second, and one third level spells may be cast. This is the maximum amount of magic-user spells castable by illusionists.

These spells are usually employed to convince others that the illusionist is not an illusionist at all, but really a magic-user of the more normal sort and in the support of their illusion spells (one is less likely to question an illusionary magic missle, for example, if one has just been hit by a real one...).

This, for now, ends my revision of the illusionist. No doubt I have forgotten something, or failed to make clear something else, but nonetheless I forge onwards...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why I Hate Second Edition AD&D.

Browsing throughout the amazing array of the internet, I have come across several persons who have expressed their love for second edition AD&D. And, without fail, at least one of their reasons for loving it is one of the reasons I don't.

I am not, contrary to what many might expect, posting this to belittle or deride these folk and their opinions. Many of them hold opinions that match mine in other areas and many gamers were introduced to the hobby through second edition AD&D and it would be a grave mistake to shun them. However, I do feel the desire to enumerate and expound on my reasons for disliking this edition.

I am not going to state that a second edition was unnecessary or unwanted. No less a person than E. Gary Gygax opined on the need for a second edition in his Sorcerer's Scroll column in Dragon magazine.

And there is one of my reasons for disliking the second edition that appeared. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the second edition that Gary outlined in his column. In fact, it was, in many ways, the exact opposite of what was foretold. Instead of new classes, for example, classes were dropped...

In the matter of the dropped classes, especially the assassin, I continually see the, to me, flawed reasoning of, "well, that's just a role, a way you use your skills, it doesn't need to be a class..." Might I humbly point out that being a man of the cloth is also just a role and certainly doesn't need a class? That stealing things is just criminal behaviour and certainly doesn't need a class? That anyone can learn to fight, and as such, a fighting class is certainly unneeded? You see, I trust, my point... 'Murderer' was not a class, as anyone can murder. 'Assassin' was a class, because it was built on the skulking, malevolent, stereotype of the black-clad killer. There is, to me, a considerable difference. The cavalier and barbarian can be considered elite examples of their type (due to the high attributes needed to enter those classes). In other words, a normal knight or tribesman is, in fact, a fighter. An exceptional one (differentiated by having multiple scores of 15 or better) will be a 'cavalier' or 'barbarian'.

Moving on, my second reason was the distortion of other classes. I present the 'mage' and 'cleric', formerly the 'magic-user', 'illusionist', 'cleric' and 'druid'. In this case, I don't so much condemn the idea behind the changes so much as the terrible execution. The idea of the specialty priest and the specialty wizard were and are good ones, the flaw lies in consolidating the spell-lists. In the cleric's case, the various domains were neat, but really, each deity should have had a separate spell list and granted powers. In the mage's case, combining the lists destroyed the illusionist. Why on earth would a player pick a class limited in spells and magic items and possessing a high ability requirement, when that player could just play a mage and have access to all the spells of the former illusionist? Yes, there is a slight increase in the number of spells castable, and there is a minor boost in regards to saving throws, but if you didn't roll more than one 16, it's all rather moot, as you can really do exactly the same with a mage who chooses to learn a lot of illusion spells and you'll have more options to boot.

In short, where others see a "simplified", "cleaned up", version of AD&D, I see a waste of squandered possibilities and horrid implementation.

Of course, what really killed second edition for me was the T$R Code of Ethics.

Next time: The Illusionist, His Kith and Kin.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Random Creative Thoughts, Section IV

Over seven thousand years ago the mighty Empire of Mhu-Thalan ruled the world.

Seven thousand years ago the empire collapsed amid bloodshed and black magic.

Six months ago, explorers found the pathway to the fallen empire's accursed capital...

Now, a disparate and mayhaps foolish expedition seeks to plunder the once lost city's ancient treasures.

Battle bestial ape-men, vile serpent-men, degenerate diabolists, cursed immortals and the betrayed dead of the Empire of Mhu-Thalan as you strive to take - and keep - the priceless treasures of a vanished age...

Friday, September 5, 2008

"There Must be Some Way Out of Here." Said the Cleric to the Thief

For our short discussion today, I wish to consider the case of the cleric and the thief in D&D.

The esteemed and respected cleric is, by all objective standards, a powerhouse. Having access to all types of armour, many weapons (none perhaps so mighty and prone to enchantment as the fighter's noble friend the long sword, but still fairly potent), good hit dice, spells (and a dizzying array of them to boot, considering the potential for bonus spells due to a high wisdom score and the fact that a cleric may prepare any of the spells on the cleric list, provided the character can cast that level of spell), a decent attack strength, and the ability to turn undead. (And, in some campaigns, specially granted divine powers above and beyond these enumerated.)

The skulking and furtive thief is rather less so. Having access to some, mostly weak, armour, a decent panopoly of weaponry (including that champion of blades, the resilient long sword), fair hit dice (sliding to poor if one uses the B/X or BECMI thief), and some special abilities. Said special abilities, however, require a fair amount of luck to use successfully at the low levels.

So, one can plainly see that the cleric is the more powerful, less 'balanced' (to slip into neo-jargon for a brief moment) of the two classes.

Yet, it has been this author's experience that many players will pick a thief but only a few will willingly play a cleric.

Something about being presured into being the party's medic, I am given to understand...

With the prologue now out of the way, I present some of my meandering thoughts regarding the re-working of the cleric and thief classes.

The cleric, it would seem, started it's fictional life as a vampire hunter and slowly transmogrified into the all-around holy man (woman, elf, insect, horrible eldritch monstorsity, etc.) that it is today. It can not be doubted that the typical party will need some, and often a bit more, healing, but should one player be "forced" into serving such a role? Should the DM be "forced" to weaken encounters because the party lacks healing? I, in my near infinite wisdom, say, "No". In my next game, the cleric is not the standard sort of priest, neither is the ecclesiast - a cleric subclass more oriented to spell-casting than armed combat, the standard priest is just that, a priest. A normal man (0 level) who can conduct the appropriate rituals, knows the history and stuggles of the faith he/she serves, and can possibly invoke a blessing if pressed. In short, members of the varied clerical subclasses are special because they can invoke miracles.

Wandering back on point for a moment, in the Cassandrian Campaign, clerics are the chosen warrior-prophets of their dieties. Primarily focused on destroying the damned who still haunt the earth (or, in the case of evil clerics, known as anti-clerics, commanding such wretched abominations into malignant service...) and warring against the enemies of their faith. As such, they have fewer spell casting powers than the "by the book" cleric.

First of all, they do not possess spell casting powers at first level, a cleric's spell progression starts at second level (I simply and easily "move the chart down", i.e.: read the first line as pertaining to second levl clerics and so on), these miracle-workers must prove themselves to their gods. Secondly, a high wisdom score does not grant any bonus spells. Such powers must be earned, and as a result of this decision, I no longer need to worry about the players of magic-users complaining that they should get bonus spells for a high intelligence score... Thirdly, a cleric (including the ecclesiast and the shaman, but excluding the druid) must retain a prayer book detailing the varied miracles that they are able to invoke. Analogous to a magic-user's spell book, this prayer book (in the case of the shaman, this is usually a collection of fetishes, inscribed bracelets, or the like) allows the cleric to prepare their spells. This limits the cleric to a select number of spells, allowing the customisation of different faiths but avoiding the creation of thousands of different spell lists. These three things limit the spell-casting power of the cleric, but also free them from the burden of having to be the healer as the DM may not alot any healing spells to them.

The thief is a rather different problem. One that I am, as yet, unsure of the correct course of action. I do not want to strengthen their combat abilities as they strike me as less of a direct combatant than any other class. I am tempted to improve the chances of success at thieving abilities at lower levels, but what then? What is there for high level thieves? And yet, I like the class and want it to thrive in its odd little niche...

More thoughts later.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


After a brief bit of comatose silence, we shall resume regular posting by this Friday. Apologies to all and sundry.