Saturday, August 31, 2013

Painting the Behemoth Part 1

I finally got fed up proxying the Khador Behemoth with the meager Destroyer, so when a friend of mine sold out of his minis I caught the opportunity.  It was a huge steal for such a huge and awesome model that I find myself including more and more in my lists.

I’ve been warned about the Behemoth, though. How it’s a bitch to assemble since, for some reason, the designers thought it would look kind of neat if it did this nifty little pose:

With such a huge metal model, I was prepared that it’d be an even bigger challenge to make it stay solid on its base than, say, Fenris. But of course this is one of those challenges the people of the internet have written guides about and most Khador veterans have their own story about solving.

Personally, I’ve just taken the first step now and made sure to keep the leg drilled. Making it look like it stands on top of a rock with the other leg, which should suffice nicely. I’m not really in the mood to make any spectacular base work out of this, even though it seems obvious. So for now, it’ll likely just be some snow and whatever.

Stay tuned for updates!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Painting dat Fenris

Earlier this month, I made a post about my progress on Fenris. Our beloved, brave (albeit psychotic) patriot of the Motherland. He was one of those minis I tended to overlook when I began playing Warmachine; mostly because he, I imagine, was a cavalryman and therefore used complicated rules I didn’t know about.

For said reasons, I went about for my first many games without him. Till the day I met another Khador player who pretty much seemed to auto include him in his lists, and watching this beast chew through half a regiment of Iron Fang Pikemen by himself was indeed a grand sight to behold. So I went home, read up on this fiend of a solo and decided to try him out. In a few games of proxy, I quickly realized as much: I needed to have him too.

As I have described elsewhere, one thing I love about Fenris is how he seems to take priority on his own, and with some smart play he becomes a force not to be approached lightly. While he’s by no means as immortal and durable as the lore would otherwise lead you to believe, he can manage to take some hits with the chance of knocking him off the horse, thus reducing his valued mobility by a great deal. But keep him safe and sound till he gets into range (which, on a horse and with reach isn’t all that hard) and you’d be bound for chopping. While he still seems to struggle from time to time with his lack of “Pathfinder”, he’s often done well on a flank by his own since he pretty much forces your opponent to react to him. Otherwise he might just make the journey up close to the enemy warcaster and have his way with those weapon mastered, charged doomblades.

Assembling him is not a huge ordeal; it certainly seemed smoother than previous adventure with the drill-and-replace-Iron Fangs. The guy comes in two minis; one mounted and the horse is in this dramatic stance where it only supports on two of its front legs. One of them has to be assembled, so some drilling seems advisable. I used two-component glue to make sure they would support properly. Despite of what you might think, the mini doesn’t suffer that much from imbalances with risks of it tilting.

Painting him was pretty much by the book. I considered doing more with his cloak, but then again, it seemed to fit in well with his grimdark theme. I used a lot of basic approaches to this mini, with my usual flesh toning (without Elf Flesh, since…grimdark) and the usual red combo, only without blazing orange. I know there are several tutorials out there dealing with the painting of horses, so depending on what color you want for it, finding guidance should be doable. I just chaos blacked and battlegreyed with black wash till I found a look I liked.

The base of such a mini certainly demands attention. He’s surprisingly big for a solo model, so I decided to make something special out of it. The plan was to make it look like he was making his way through a small brook out in the tundra (just because!)

I constructed the banks out of green stuff and once it was dry, glued on the snow effect and dirt on bottom of the river. I proceeded to apply the water effect; there are so many options for water effects out there and I haven’t tried most of them. I think different people will recommend various solutions. As for this effect, building water in motion seemed to work best with my old favorite C1212. It pretty much allows you to form waves and splashes with ease, as shown in this brilliant guy’s blog:

Some things to keep in mind, though, if you’re going for C1212:

A) The volume shrinks somewhat once it dries, meaning you’d be better off making the splashes a little bit exaggerated. If in doubt, either make a practice version, or remember that you can reapply the effect in layers, once the first one is dry.

B) Speaking of dry, even though the official statement about C1212 is that it dries in 24 hours, I’ve found that to be far from true. In fact, it took me well over four days before it was truly transparent and looked like it does now. So be patient : )

You can then add some vegetation to the base. An idea I had was to add a dead Cygnar trooper with his head in the brook, making blood run down it in streams. But while I admit that it seemed like a good idea, ultimately I decided for it to be somewhat out of my league for now. It’s definitely a thing that will be added later.

I hope this could inspire someone out there to make their own creative approach to this lovely model. I’d love to see what you guys came up with, so feel free to comment and mail me about it.

Coming up next; it’s likely mercenary time again. I’m having my eyes on a certain rogue alchemist…

Friday, August 16, 2013

D&D Next: Chapter 1 - A Ko-Bold Move

Picking up the yellow exclamation marks
 “In recent times, you’ve all been down on your luck, earning nothing but petty coins cleaning tables in slummy taverns of Sembia. Nothing near what you’d imagined when you left home a year ago and travelled north, across the Sea of Shooting Stars to seek out your fortune in the lands to the north. You still remember how you back then were full of ambitions and high hopes for fortune and glory to be found in the adventuring life.

The opportunities have been rather slim, and always you have seen yourself beaten to it by more seasoned parties of adventures, or the leads have been nothing but false information. And as your pouch of coins ran slim, so did your hopes of ever making a name for yourself in these distant lands.

Your fortune, however, has significantly increased the other day, when an envoy of a baron of the neighbor-country “Cormyr” paid a visit to your tavern. He informed you that the recently installed baron; Pendleton Longshore of the small town Thunderstone, sought help from able adventurers. For once you were in the right space at the right time, and the next day you booked passage on a caravan that would take you west towards this unfamiliar kingdom.

 The journey has been uneventful, despite the rumors of vile greenskins launching fierce attacks from the nearby forests and the Thunderpeaks. None of your companions have provided you with much information, ultimately leaving you behind the moment you reached the small town of Thunderstone. It’s a small settlement of houses resting in the shade of the peaks with a grand view of the lush Hullack Forest to the north. Indeed this is a green kingdom that despite its recent troubles maintain an impressive sight for the newcomers.  If only the small town of Thunderstone could impress the same; it’s a humble gathering of buildings mostly consisting of peasant families and some outlying farms. In particular, three newly constructed mansions are placed in various edges of the town; one of them significantly bigger than the rest with the Cormyr-banner resting from its top.

While there is a certain amount of peace here, you can’t help but notice the also moody atmosphere and feeling of despair in the eyes of the population. They glare at you with some hesitation as they pass, but don’t speak a word: around here, strangers are not to be trusted. And yet, they’re encouraged by a nearby sign. It looks new and reads -

“Able heroes wanted: For solving mysterious kidnapping. Big reward promised! Inquire at baron!”
And here you are, in the middle of nowhere, prepared to take your first step into this huge adventure!”

(This first part of the campaign was designed around the prewritten adventure included with the test package, called “Caverns of Chaos” - it’s an easy to use module that allows for a lot of flexibility; pretty much just some small dungeons of greenskins and you have total control over why the heroes are there. This first chapter is how I used it. Hope I can inspire someone.
I mainly used music from Temple of Elemental Evil here. Hommlet theme is great for the town. The combat theme good all in all, for all combat.)

The heroes decided to set out immediately and went through the main street of the town. On their way they met the drunk gnome, Fenthek, who recently lost his business in the old apothecary in town because his biggest shipment was robbed by pirates (this was a nudge to actions taken by the players in their other campaign; Skull and Shackles). He told them that things were bad around here; besides from him losing his business, Baron Longshore had his lovely wife Clarissa gone missing a week ago under mysterious circumstances. Fenthek told them he’d often seen small, dog-like creatures in town at night, yet nobody believed him. People were too busy being afraid of the goblins who were apparently being lead by the old goblin “Bellokk”, killing off cows on a weekly basis.

They decided to check the bounty board for Aramill and saw there was a bounty of 50g for two highwaymen out in the forest. Also, there was a notice from Mara who’d apparently lost her two sons one night.

Upon visiting the baron, the heroes learned the story was true. Clarissa had been kidnapped along with her chambermaids, Milla and Dana, one night as they’d been spending time out in the rose garden. The baron was deep in despair, and told them that neither he nor his two brothers, Perenolde and Terminus, knew what to do. He’d lost all enthusiasm for Thunderstone, and whenever the heroes brought up the various problems, he reacted with indifference at best. All he could ask them, was to set out, find Clarissa and he’d reward them handsomely.

(I love having some sidequests for my players, really. You could easily just keep the main quest around, but I had: Find Clarissa and her chambermaids, stop the goblins attacking the cows at night with their king, stop the two bandits in the forest and find Mara’s sons.)

Getting waylaid on the road to adventure
The heroes decided to take matters into their own hands, being a bunch of do gooders as they were, and searched the rose garden for tracks. Jason, the rogue, quickly found a bunch of tracks leading close to the hedge in the edge of the garden, apparently like small reptile like creatures. After some investigation and consideration of knowledge rolls, they concluded that this was the work of Kobolds. A good bunch of them too, who’d apparently dragged something heavy out of the garden and northwards towards Hullack forest. Recalling some lore, Baltazar knew that Hullack forest was one of the densely populated areas of greenskins in Cormyr and they would likely have to approach with caution.

Nobody cared much as the heroes set off along the trail and noticed more families of farmers moving in towards the safe reaches of town, mostly mumbling to themselves and complaining that enough was enough and how they’d lost more than enough cows and sheep to the goblins already.

Nothing that deterred our mighty heroes, however, who only made it slightly down along the path into the woods before a couple of hooded gentlemen jumped out of the bushes. They pointed their bows at them, demanding a toll for travelling the roads. The players at this time gently tried the delicate art of diplomacy and cunning, insinuating that perhaps they were the two missing sons old Mara had been looking for? Through some good Sense Motives they saw from the flicker in their eyes that this was so, and Morgan stepped up with his mighty barbarian voice; “If the two of you bastards don’t come home RIGHT NOW; I will cut you into tiny pieces and send you home to your ma’, you hear me?”

With an Intimidate roll with advantage, the would-be bandits surrendered peacefully and were dragged home in chains to the baron, who didn’t really care that much as long as the news didn’t involve his beloved. Old Mara, on the other hand, angrily stomped onwards, up to the Baron’s dungeons. The heroes later heard some very angry yelling up there, and had their due reward.

(This encounter could either end as a very basic introduction to fighting or testing out talky-skills; it served great for either. You can also expand upon it with some search checks to let the heroes find their stash, and spot checks to let them detect the hiding robbers in the first place).

To the forest!
Deciding not to waste any time, the heroes journeyed back into the forest, on the way quickly hearing the first rumors blossoming about the fate of the two young brothers, how it didn’t really surprise anyone with such a poor upbringing.

Their tracking took them half an hour into the forest, before they decided to approach with stealth. Not an easy task, seeing how two of the party members were at a disadvantage on their stealth rolls. They yet decided to give it a go, and were, needless to say, detected by the Kobold patrol not far away. On the other hand, the heroes all made their listening check to detect the approaching patrol and thus set up for combat. (This is pretty much where Caverns of Chaos begins; it states that groups of Kobolds will often be out patrolling the woods during the day. Originally, I was a bit nervous about using as high numbers as described in the setting, so I opted for a patrol of just four Kobolds to start with).

The two groups clashed and we drew up the battlemap in the forest. I decided the ground was easy enough to pose no trouble for the heroes, and the kobolds approached from the north, clashing with the heroes at a 40 feet distance. Deciding to try out the rules for moving entire squads of similar monsters at once, the kobolds won initiative and all made a barrage of ranged attacks against the heroes, with two of them inflicting a meager 2 damage to the paladin and the barbarian. On the heroes’ turn, Aramill turned into a bear and rushed at them (this was during the former rules update), mangling the first to shreds. Baltazar hurled a ray of frost, taking off the head of the other, and Jason, Bjørn and Morgan all missed against the remaining two kobolds. (At this time I realized four kobolds were a gross undertuning, so I had another patrol be alerted and rush in from the flank).

They delivered some scratches on the bear, while the barbarian got his acts together and finished the remaining two of the original group. The cowardly last two decided to make a move for it, but were felled by an arrow to the knee, a ray of frost to the head and a bear claw to the face. And thus victory was achieved!

Down to dungeon, Level 1
Without alerting the kobolds, the heroes evaded the remaining patrols and shortly after found their lair, to which they decided to utilize their element of surprise. Also known as:

They barely got to light their torch and venture into the cave, before the floor beneath them collapsed in a devious trapdoor. Morgan managed to hurl himself backwards just in time, but Bjørn fell with a shriek, ensuring a paladin-in-a-box, some damage to said paladin and a large noise alerting people in the next rooms.

(From one extreme to the other: Let’s try and see how the heroes deal with overwhelming numbers! I decided to unleash two rooms of kobolds, while the others began fortifying with some ad hoc traps. This meant both the rats in the trash rooms and another six kobolds from the guard room!)

Splitting up in the corridor, the heroes yelled for Bjørn to get his act together and come out of there! (It’s a DC 12 or so STR check to pry open the lock, something the paladin didn’t manage till after a couple of rounds). On one side, Jason the rogue and the bear druid would hold the rats, while the wizard and barbarian went up against the kobolds. Morgan unleashed his rage and splattered an unfortunate, scaly soldier across the wall, while roaring a warning throughout the complex. (Barbarian rage has become really, really good in 5th edition. Some have argued it’s too powerful, but as the following example will show, it has its limits too. When it’s up running for its passive damage bonus, advantage on all STR attacks and resistance to pretty much all physical damage; make no mistake. This is a powerhouse!)

Baltazar jumped in, and if the caverns were already teeming with booms and noise, it was nothing against the thunderwave he unleashed upon the kobolds. With rolling cracks and an echoing roars it hurled the entire group of kobolds backwards, smashing every single one against the wall. As this sadly meant Morgan couldn’t get into contact with another enemy before the end of his turn, his rage ended and instead he helped Bjørn escape from the trap.

The rats weren’t big on the whole fighting fair thing (as a Skaven player, I felt right at home) and used their new toys of ganging up for bonuses on the enemy. They tore flesh off Jason who retreated, and as Bjørn stepped in to take his place, he noticed the huge dire rat slinking out of the trash room to strip the meat off his bone. Thus we was surrounded by five ordinary rats with a +5 to their attacks rolls and the dire version stepping in. In a single round, he was reduced to well below half hit points (the small minion rats only do a single point of damage, but throw in enough of them and it really starts adding up). Seeing as how everyone else had started to burn their limited resources for the day, Bjørn popped a Smite and tore apart the dire rat in a round. At that point, Morgan arrived and together they cleaned up the rest.

Storming the throne room
(At this point I pretty much knew the rest of the dungeon would be by the book, so seeing as I want to try out as many of the new creatures as possible, I decided to try out two of the kobold types in the beastiary. The kobold dragonshield guard and the alchemist.)

The heroes took a short rest outside to regain some hit points, spend some hit dice and prepare for the next haul. It was quite by the book for a couple of rooms (basic encounters all with four to eight kobolds that were really quick) and some hastily made traps of crossbow bolts and the like. All of them were found by Jason, and eventually they reached the grand hall before the throne room. It was guarded by four Dragonshield Kobols, which are basically royal kobold guards. They had fortified behind a lot of old furniture and fired arrows at the enemy, while the hour had allowed them to place some simple tripwires for the heroes to stumble in. One of their really good things is how they can impose disadvantage on any creature attacks one of their comrades within reach, making this a good and challenging encounter for the heroes.

On the other side, the heroes found a strange little room with a throne. Upon it sat a fat kobold, clutching his prized possessions in his hands and two human women linked to the wall. He shrieked in terror as Morgan kicked in the door.

Besides from four ordinary kobold guards, the heroes faced off against two strangely cloaked kobolds who carried bottles and smelled strangely of exotic herbs. They squeaked in obedience and the first boss fight began.

With a high initiative, Jason and Morgan both went into the room and attacked the nearest guard. Jacon downed one with an arrow but Morgan missed. The Kobold King hurled out threats and shook his fist, as he attacked the first of the two girls, bringing her down to 0 HP and dying, bellowing they would die if they did not retreat.

The alchemists came up and the first one hurled a glass of nasty glue that detonated on impact, managing to snare both Aramill and Jason to the floor. Then the second one followed up with a firebomb that hit for a nasty four damage to most of the party. Bjørn was furious and charged the Kobold King to protect the innocent, bashing his head up against the wall.

Morgan, who was already raging, moved down and chopped up one of the alchemists, while Aramill released himself from the glue. The kobold guards spread their fire between Bjørn and Jason, downing the rogue to 0 hit point. Unleashing a barrage of magic missiles, Baltazar took out a good deal of them and proceeded into the room.

With Bjørn still fencing with the Kobold King, both Jason and the unconscious girl began taking death saves.

The remaining alchemist used his potion to infuse the guards with a frenzy, granting them advantage on all attacks, and they hurled themselves at Morgan for a devastating beating. But it was nothing against the barbarian muscle at this time. As the round proceeded, Bjørn slew the king and the remaining alchemist was killed by a charging bear. And Jason had failed his Con save versus death twice. With the paladin busy attending the wounded girl and the bear too far away, it was up to the remaining members of the party to administer first aid to the rogue, which sadly didn’t happen.

Luckily, he stabilized on his final check and they decided to quickly loot the room for whatever pieces of gold it held, along with some hastily scribbled notes and get the hell out of there.

Coming up next...
Back out in the forest, the heroes recuperated and fed the two girls. Struck with terror and dread they revealed themselves to be the chambermaids of Clarissa, who were kidnapped along with her as the kobolds struck. They’d been at the mercy of those foul beings for days, but quickly they’d seen green small men coming for Clarissa herself to take her away shortly after arriving.

The documents the heroes found on the king revealed this to be true. In draconic it spoke of another cave to the north-east where “Bellokk the Goblin King” resided, and recently some form of “transaction by the command of the master had taken place”. Realizing there was much more to it, the heroes packed up their equipment and decided to head back for town with the girls.

On the way, however, Dana couldn’t help but share some information about the kidnapping. While she had to be pressed a bit through some diplomacy rolls, she eventually revealed some degree of wonder about the attack. For example that Clarissa had been strangely compliant all the time, and not really seemed that surprised.

Almost as if she’d been expecting it…

(To be continued)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

D&D Next: Creating the party

Alright, with all that said and done; a brief overview of the character creation process.
We originally started five players in the group and eventually lost one who didn’t have the time due to real life obligations. He might return if we ever make D&D Next our weekly system.

So the group consists of four heroes and yours truly as a GM; currently with a matchup of:
Bjørn the human paladin of the holy triad.
Morgan the human barbarian
Aramill the wood elf druid
And Jason the human rogue
It also featured Baltazar the human mage (who’s now left the group)
(Short races don’t tend to fare well in this group, for some reason)
The rollup system was the 4D6, discard the lowest dice, rinse and repeat for all six stats. I allowed some flexibility to ensure everyone was within 2 of each other when calculating the total of ability score modifiers.
Of the backgrounds, Morgan was a noble with a nasty temper who just so happened to take his three servants along for the ride. Aramill a bounty hunter, so I knew I’d had to make up some bounties for him to visit in every town, and Jason a guild thief.

The campaign gets its name from its rather crude unfolding in the Forgotten Realms kingdom of Cormyr. Mostly because I’ve had a really great campaign in Sembia some years ago, and I’ve always been in love with the Cormyr history and culture. Plus, it features a shitload of greenskins, making it ideal for low level adventures.

The general premise of the story is that the heroes will be chasing down an old forgotten cult that’s been working behind the scenery for a long time to bring the kingdom even further down. Not huge on new thinking, but the story isn’t what’s most important when we’re simply playtesting.

The story will take them across some of the greatest sights in Cormyr as they chase down the cult and test the system, including some of the more important cities. Each city is a quest hub for them, starting with the small town of Thunderstone which has called for skilled heroes to help out their regent.

I take myself some liberty when it comes to the setting. A lot of towns and cities are anyway described rather vaguely in the 3.5 FR setting (which is what I mostly use), so for example, Thunderstone had recently had a new baron who was ordered to keep track with the trade and make the town prosper despite of the nearby threat from the orcs.

Our plan is to play as long as possible, update the characters as the rules are developed and see how far we get before release. The heroes are allowed to respecc and make changes to their characters as they see fit, and try out as many things they like. Just as I aim to try out as many mechanics and monsters as possible.

Okay, let’s go then!

The Gamers: Hands of Fate video review

I sit down and review the new "The Gamers: Hands of Fate"
And I can't say I like it.
*Possible minor spoilers*

Sunday, August 11, 2013

D&D Next: General impressions

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If you’ve been following this blog for some time, it should hardly come as a surprise that over the past month, I’ve been busy looking into the newest installment in the Dungeons and Dragons regime; the aptly named “D&D Next” (or D&D 5th Edition, for those old schoolers out there - I know you’re reading along!)

What might be surprising is the fact that it took me so long actually getting my shit together and make some kind of statement about it, based on the few sessions we’ve had so far. The reason, however, is rather solid - We started playing around early July with the, back then, newest update of the rules (The 061413 edition) and managed to play one session and create characters. Then, a couple of weeks later, came the newest update/patching of the rules (080213) and boy did it bring around some changes. So you see, I didn’t really feel I could rightfully make a statement before at least having one session to try it out.

I still don’t feel right about providing such an early statement, but right enough to at least give you guys a careful opinion and overview of the current status of D&D Next. Following this entry, I hope to fire up more articles in which I describe our current campaign, along with the changes and issues we’ve run into along the way, sort of like I did with Carrion Crown. So for now, lean back and enjoy some ramblings from my side about the system, from a GM Perspective.

What I hoped D&D Next would bring…

While I love Pathfinder and in general consider myself a fan of the 3.X era, there were several issues in said systems that grinded my gears and didn’t feel properly fixed, or were ‘solved’ with too great of a cost in 4th edition. Knowing very little of what Next would bring, as a GM I hoped for the following elements:

1) Better scaling of Monsters Versus Players
Maybe it’s me and the people I play with, but I still haven’t encountered a group in which the players felt challenged, the closer and more beyond the moved to level 10. Even worse, either one or more would take immense joy grinding down the system to such a degree that just about every encounter became trivial to the degree that I had to spend extra time preparing the monsters to be stronger, the skill challenges to be bigger (if I bothered with skills at all) or simply relying on the old GM trick of “All monsters are just stronger when that guy hits them”. None of the options were really great. On top of that, I knew at the beginning of all campaigns that I had to make a choice of whether to allow expansion books or just the core. While expansions made it fun and with more build options, so did the repertoire of player tools grow, they would start having tricks that bypassed the core mechanics down to the degree that you had to utilize the same elements if the monsters weren’t to look like helpless idiots.  I hoped Next would bring a system in which the danger associated with monsters and skill checks during the first four levels remained into the higher levels.

2) Let everyone feel important.
Following the first point, I’d love a system that actually made the players feel like they were a party and had to rely on each other for victory. A thing that sincerely annoyed me was having a group in which one or two players came with a build that could devastate anything, while the remaining two or three who just made something ‘they liked’ never made a difference. In other words; the total obliteration of the power builds, without making everything as boring and plain as in 4th edition.

3) Relative>Absolute
A lot of 3.X was about avoiding dangerous stuff entirely. Spells instead of skills because they could do the same without chance of failure. Special abilities that made you immune to attacks of opportunity. Rings that made you immune to movement impairing effects. The list goes on. On the other side was the annoying “save or suck” abilities (which were, granted, better in Pathfinder) or effects that just made you practically useless. Effects should stack the odds, while still letting everyone have a chance.

4) Smooth encounter building
I understand that some of you love the number grinding and absolute control over your encounters, down to the last details. For me, it has always been tedious and frankly one of the huge factors keeping me from designing my own adventures. It’s not that the rules as such were complicated, but they never felt that smooth (although I’m saying this with a hindsight comparison, after I’ve tried the current system). What I hoped for was an encounter building system that was so smooth that the heroes were about to enter a room, and within a minute I could design an encounter on the fly, that could be challenging or trivial.

5) Fast combat and monster toys (even on higher levels)
Goes without saying. I hate long fights unless they’re special. The level 11 warrior who insists on resolving his six attacks one by one, the sorcerer casting Disintegrate with his bucket of dice and calculating it all, etc. all made it a living hell, unless you enforced timers or house rules. Something I hoped would be better in 4th edition, but alas…

6) Avoid the extremes.
The AC 37 alchemist/barbarian/fighter on level 11, the Warblade build with more than 100 damage per turn at the same stage and don’t even get me started on the creative clerics. The splat monsters draining people for 2D6 constitution per turn and whatever else shit people came up with. Again, I know there are people out there who’re into this crap (but again, I suppose you’re reading this for my opinion) - I wish that D&D Next would at least make an initial stand on whether it would allow this circus to go on, or try to succeed where 4th edition failed in terms of balance adjustments.

What D&D Next brought me…In general?
I’m not going into every tine detail about Next here; if you’re curious you can download the playtest package from Wizards and have a look yourself. That being said, what Next really brings to the table in my perspective, is a solid formula of something old and something new; it likely also borrowed something and I bet something is going to be blue. Veteran 3rd players will instantly see that Something Old in this sense is the core mechanics from 3.X in the terms of attributes and their respective ability modifiers just as you know it. They pretty much govern their same respective areas as they used to, only now, each of them are attached to a save of some kind, so that you’ll have to save with your STR mod for not getting crushed by a falling ceiling and with you CHA mod to avoid a compulsion effect and so on. In addition, whenever your character is trying out something which could go wrong, you simply set a DC as you know it (usually from 10-20) and roll off with the addition of whatever relevant attribute.  Or to put it short, skills have been cut from the equation (for now).

Also, there’s a cap of 20 on every ability score.

In the current edition of the rules, skills are undergoing an overhaul, so every character is restricted to two areas of Lore (Knowledge) that provide a +10 bonus on rolls within their respective fields. These are pretty much as you know them, ranging from Religion to Magical and so on. The previous ruleset featured some interesting ideas with skills, that brought a D6 extra on any skill roll you were trained in. Maybe we’ll see a hybrid.

Other terms that will ring familiar to the veteran are “5 feet increments”, “Class Attack Bonus” and “Weapon Proficiencies” and “Spell Memorization”. Again, something old comes with something new. While the measurement system on the battle square is pretty much as you know it, the attack bonus for classes is much lower and slowly progressing and unless you dual wield weapons, it’s kind of hard to achieve more than two attacks during the first 10 levels, unless you’re a fighter. Casters get a bonus to hit with their aggressive spells as well from the advancing attack bonus, and basically every caster in the game now uses the old Sorcerer mechanic for memorizing spells, with the exception they can change their known spell every day, and have Level+1 spell prepared. It’s very smooth and certainly a nice fundamental rule.

A lot of spells have also been taken down a nudge, in terms of power, but can however be boosted by spending higher level spell slots. The classic level 3 fireball can thus blast for more damage if you’re willing to use a level 5 slot to cast it, for example. Many spells can also be cast as rituals, meaning you cast it for free but with a 10 minute cast time.

The decrease in power isn’t limited to spells. If you browse through the Bestiary, you’ll notice that the highest AC you’ll find is around 18; even the lowly lich and beholder face an AC 17 and for a lot of monsters it all goes down from there. In comparison, +2 to +7 is the variety you’ll see on most monsters who can usually only attack once or twice during a turn. Looking at the heroes, it’s just about impossible for anyone to start out with an AC above 18 and they will likely struggle to reach 19. AC 20 is the absolute maximum a hero can have in mundane equipment, which is very costly and certainly not going to happen in the first four or five levels.

At the core of the system lies the elegant mechanic of “Advantage versus Disadvantage”, meaning that if you ever make an attempt at a task in which the GM rules you have an advantage, you get to roll the D20 twice and use the best result. Vice versa applies. Initially, this seems way too simplistic to work, but you’ll be amazed at how huge an impact it can have on a battle. During our last session, the heroes knew they were facing a tough encounter of the undead, and the paladin blessed himself and the barbarian with “Protection from Evil”, meaning all zombies and skeletons rolled with Disadvantage against them. What would have been a very dangerous encounter for the heroes instead turned manageable and prevented four critical hits along the way. Alternatively, having a buddy help you for Advantage when you try to stabilize a dying friend may make that final and crucial difference.

In terms of class?
I think most people will want to know what has happened to their preferred class, which ironically is the last thing I’ve checked up on. The wizard being my pet class, it’s still all about spells and lots of them. A thing that all classes have going for them now is the sub specialization; a pseudo prestige class system in which you have to specialize in a branch when you reach around level 3 to 5; which in the case of the wizard could be the evocation school, where you very early on get to shield your allies from your blasts, or the master of illusions or enchantments. The druid has the option to focus on shape changing and the fighter can dabble in the aggressive options of the Warrior or the defensive path of the Knight. The system is still in a very early stage in this regard, seeing as the Paladin for example only has one option for his oath at the current time, and the bard is still sadly lacking from the class family.

That being said, this is likely one of the Next elements I like the most. The diversity is interesting enough between the options, with only a couple being downright lackluster. I foresee that as usual, some will simply be much sexier than others, but this is definitely an area in which Wizards need to take all feedback they can get. 

In terms of internal balance issues between classes, I frankly don’t feel qualified to make any conclusions, seeing as we’ve only played to level two and with just five of the classes. The nerfs from the recent update hit the druid and the paladin somewhat hard on level 2, while the wizard and barbarian especially are trudging along quite well. I’m quite certain that barbarian will remain the powerhouses they used to be, with barbarian rage being insanely good as it currently is. While some people have expressed displeasure with the fighter, he looks really promising with some of the new stuff he can get his hands on, and only time will tell how well the rogue in the party will do. With my party being currently at level 2, it is safe to say that they’ve needed every action they could possibly get so far, with some very close calls.
In terms of feats and races?

Races are pretty much as you know them, mechanic-wise. They all provide you with a stat bonus and usually some profession or the like. Feats, on the other hand, have seen some changes back and forth in the two updates we’ve played. Initially they were as the 3.X veterans will know them, attained at first and every third level for a bonus. Some of them were kind of overpowered in the previous update, but now they’ve had a huge overhaul. Instead, you can only gain feats when you would otherwise have a stat improvement (that usually means around level 4), when you forego the stats and instead pick a feat. To reflect this sacrifice, the feats have become a lot better, although I still feel they’re testing the mechanic now, compared to the internal power balance of the feats. One gives you Advantage on three rolls per day, whereas good, old Toughness now gives you +2 hp per level. I’m still not entirely sure which model is the best, but I’ll admit I’m kind of keen on the new one.

In terms of background?
One new, little feature is how backgrounds are no longer just something boring your players throw at you, but a package you can buy for some small bonus to your character. It’s sort of a glorified trait, meaning that if your character is a bounty hunter, you can find and claim bounties in every city. This can provide your GM with options for side quests or the like; or perhaps you were a priest or member of a guild for your craft, which could potentially help you out in a political situation. They aren’t grand, impressive advantages, but interesting enough to consider, and actually incorporate instead of just skimming through the boring texts of history players write.

In terms of what I expected?
1) Better scaling: It’s still very early to speculate on this, but from what I’ve read there is no doubt that things will settle down from what we were used to in 3.X, if not only because of the streamlined stats on monsters and players. The fact that the monster AC remains so low and their attack bonuses consistent should hopefully hit the spot where they still have a chance of hitting a well geared hero, while a full AC 20 would still mean a nasty monster would only hit around 25% of the time with its +5 bonus.  This works the other way around, of course. What I’m curious to see is how this works damage wise. At the low levels we’re still seeing the syndrome of monsters dying extremely fast, but seeing as they do get more life as the levels go up and the damage output of the heroes remain static for certain periods, it could potentially mean longer and more challenging battles. I’ll have to get back to you on this one; but I’m hopeful.

2) Everyone is important: So far the system is a clear winner in this department, but it’s often so on the lower levels anyway. As said, every hand is needed when you only have 10 hit points.

3) Relative and Absolute: When looking at things such as status effects and various spells and buffs around, they add nicely on top of the fact that’s stated in Point 1). A lot of stuff is about advantage and disadvantage now, thus changing your odds without really screwing you over for failing. Although spells such as the Black Tentacles and Feeblemind can still be really devastating when used correctly. Other nasty effects usually allow multiple saves, or require the caster to concentrate, with the limit that a caster can only concentrate on one concentration spell at the time (well, duh). Classic spells such as Color Spray, Sleep and the like are still good, and Freedom of Movement, for example is still an instant 1 hour negation of everything denying movement. I suppose such elements need to be kept, but we’ll have to see whether they go overboard. I’ll bluntly admit that this is one of those areas that are truly hard to manage and balance, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

In terms of magic items, it’s worth noticing that these things have become much, much rarer than they used to. And even if a hero should get his hands on one as such, anything above a +1 sword is unheard of, unless it’s a special item with other abilities. This means that buying them and crafting for now is not an option, which sort of results in the interesting question what heroes actually need gold for, except resurrections?
4) Smooth Encounter Building: Absolutely this. As it is now, building encounters on the fly is very easy. It’s the usual Players X an amount determined by average party level XP from which you can shop creatures. I was able to make up an undead encounter pretty much on the fly and it was challenging as it was supposed to. While the bestiary is still rather limited, and making enemy spell casters is not also on the short side, I hope they stick with this one.

5) Fast combat with Monster Toys: There are some new and fun abilities for the monsters, for example the Zombies and their ability to roll a DC 5+damage dealt CON save whenever they would drop to 0. If they succeed, they instead go to 1, representing not being hit in the head or something. Thus it makes them really durable and true to their concept. Other monsters have more powerful abilities that follow the old model from 4th edition, in which they can recharge on a roll of, say, 5 or 6. I always liked this a lot in 4th so I can only approve of it now. In terms of combat speed we’re, as said still in the low end, but it’s really fast, and when I think of how only a few extra attacks will be added around the table, I’ll be optimistic enough to think it will stay like this for some time at least.

6) Avoid the extremes: Just covered; there is a nice cap on everything as it is.

In terms of overall? (TLDR)
I bet you jumped here right from the start. If not, sorry for some repetition.
I’ve read a couple of other reviews out there from angry enthusiasts, seeing a myriad of different points that haven’t been that popular with the crowd. Some of them have been downright disagreeing with me, others commenting on points I hardly believe are problematic, and of course a lot of the complaints are somewhat dated to previous versions of the rules. I suppose that’s really the thing about writing articles about this system, right? Once you read this there could easily have been a new update that totally destroyed everything I loved about it.

But let’s keep it realistic and to the current state - I’ll happily admit that I’m very optimistic about D&D Next and that this, with the proper fine tuning, could become my favorite edition so far. I love it how everything is smooth, how little space the rules take up and how easily everything flows once you get started. I love it how easy the monsters are to handle, how I know pretty much what to expect from my players and how we’re pretty much all still on the same page of power. If you asked me what I’d wish to see changed, I’d point out how the feats still need some reworking, whereas I didn’t find anything to be really wrong with the old approach to the Skills, in which you added a D6 to the trained rolls.

The package also comes with a couple of adventures for you to try out and they’re remarkably easy and fluid to execute, mostly because they’re just some encounters that so happen to be linked. They leave a lot up to you to flesh out, such as whether the dungeon should be kicking down the door, stealth, diplomacy or something else entirely, and well - it works. It really works because the system is still so fluid. I’m not sure whether this will be the new golden standard of prewritten scenarios, but I wouldn’t really complain about it.
I understand some of the criticism, of course, and I agree that for some people there might not really be that much new stuff in Next. People who appreciated the huge steps and changes included in 4th ed. will likely feel this as a step backwards to things that were abolished a long time ago. For me, it’s a step back to something that at its core had a great idea but needed a different form of execution.  I also see the point when people point out that perhaps this system is not as fluid and simple as we’re lead to believe, once you take it into consideration that you get bonuses from your race, your subrace, your class, your subclass, your background, your feats and the fact that some of the equipment needs you to have proficiency in it to use. It can actually rank up rather quickly, which I suppose can be a detriment if the system’s goal is to be fluid and swift. Still, this seems like a relatively minor concern in the grand scheme of things.

While I’m still wondering how long it will be before the heroes lose all interest in gold, beyond what they need to raise their friends, I’m curious to see what the future holds for this system. I can already now say it looks way more promising than 4th edition ever did, and for me it’s very much about Wizard not dropping the ball now. While we likely have to wait some time before seeing anything definitive about it, I’m actually praying for only minor changes and corrections from here.

That and an awesome bard.

Let’s move on to the campaign journal.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fenris, Entropy and Pikemen

It's time for more warmachine updates, again mainly through pictures. With summer flying by as fast as it pretty much did last year, I suddenly realized how I've missed any updates about the painting progress. As well as my experience with the most recent league.

Last thing first; the Entropy league.
This was my very first attempt of participating in a league, and even though our EO had a relaxed approach to this and it was launched during one of the hottest months (meaning a lot of people weren't participating or only played on a very sporadic basis) I had a good time. I only got around playing ten games or so; I likely could've played a whole lot more if I wanted to. Still, it was summer, there were Steam games to play, weather to enjoy and beers to drink. All in all good times. In addition, I'd saved so many of my Khador minis in order to secure a high score through painting. I love it how PP actually rewards people in the leagues for being creative, seeing as one of the schematics this season was all about creating pieces of terrain.

In the end, I reached just about 60 points. I lost two games, but I pretty much assume that many opponents went light on me because I'm still on the entry-level to Warmachine. One opponent even allowed me to backtrack a move that ultimately lead me to win the game, so when I found out he was about to win the overall league, provided I didn't paint anymore than I already had - I decided he deserved the victory and stopped. Because that kind of gentlemanship in games is what I want to encourage. I know some people out there insist that going rough on the newbs is the only thing that will ever train them (or simply discourage those filthy n00bs from ever participating in our real man game again! That'll teach them not to want to become a part of our community!)

Besides, I was very happy with how much I'd painted already.

Mainly this is about my now done unit of Ironfangs as well as Fenris on foot.

I've written some earlier blogs about the pikemen and how much trouble I've had with them. In the end, they turned out well and the feeling of them being metal is lovely. They're heavy, they're impressive and they're mean. There is some agreement that these boys are certainly not the most competitive troops Khador can muster. Some even hate them outright, especially when the choice is between them and the assassins. I see where people are coming from with this, yes.

During my first game with them, they were blown to pieces by a Cygnaran army. And because I was an idiot, mostly just sprinting forward with them, hoping to get to them before they could get off a shot. It didn't work; in fact - I stopped 10'' short of them or so, well within a world of pain delivered by a sadistic unit of gunners. GG. In my second game, they huddled around the terrain, steering for an objective, and decimated an entire unit of stormblades in a round. I've also seen them take jacks and big solos down, when they get a battle lust to help them out a bit. The main thing about them seems to be hitting stuff with above average defence; they tend to struggle in this regard, if you don't manage to knock them down or combine your attacks.

I'm still intrigued by the possibilities in these guys, however. With en eIrusk, their ordinary attachment and the new Kovnik there are so many tricks you can pull out your ass. They can be incredibly mobile and realtively easy muster a shield wall for an impressive ARM 18 if needed. Thrown in with a battle lust and tough with relentless charging and you're set to go. They might still struggle with concentrated fire, but I've heard some amazing stories with people who've played with the black dragon attachments. Throwing them up into the ARM22 is pretty much immunity to blast damage, so I definately want to play around with these a lot. While I still stick to the well-tested WG-Deathstar, I find it I have way more fun with the Pikemen.

I've seen another Khador guy in my community play with Fenris, and I've felt the pain he's able to deliver. He's also known as the guy who taught me that deploying my unit in one huge chunck is not always a good idea. Even alone, on foot, he slaughtered four in a turn and that was with really bad rolls. I'm not sure whether he truly fits in well with my Pikemen+WG+Irusk theme, but then again - he's a huge barrel of death that just starts rolling. Sticking to the doom reaver philosophy, you know he's going to fuck up must things he gets in contact with, and due to his horsey's SP 8, that can be a really swift barrel. He pretty much demands attention from your opponent, which will mean the rest of your army will have an easier time while the enemy troops are busy attending Fenris. Or, he'll ignore him and most units will be in for a world of hurt.
He's definately someone to try out at some time.

The above image is the foot-model. I'm yet to start on the horse edition, due to this model being so terrible to assemble.

I'll be back and let you know how it all turns out!