Talent vs. Effort

This comment came in recently on the article In Defense of D&D Stats in Simple Language: The Definition of Charisma:

I think the use of the word “empathy” was the one mistake in your article. Psychopaths by definition don’t have empathy, but are often incredibly charismatic because of (as you do say here) their *understanding* of other people. They know what people expect and what they’ll find charming.

I don’t think this is true. I think psychopathy generally correlates with a decreased ability to feel empathy, but it’s not the definition of psychopathy because there is no common definition. But I am not an expert in psychiatry, and I could have it all wrong. I know enough about it to know I don’t know enough to meaningfully debate it.

Instead I want to take this in another direction. There’s an assumption here that I’ve seen in several books, sources of online commentary, and even blog comments, an assumption so understood that I think many of the people making it don’t even know they are. The assumption is that a person with high Charisma is good at influencing others because they have high Charisma, or more generally that a character’s ability score is the most important factor in their skill and the ability score is indicative of who the character is more than the character’s actions. This isn’t true in 3E or 4E, it’s only true in certain parts of 5E, and I think it violates one of D&D’s core concepts so subtly we don’t even realize we’re buying into it. Continue reading

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Faith: A Love Letter to Automatic Bonus Progression

I love D&D’s vast array of magical items. When I started gaming, this was the section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide in which I spent the most time, using different items to come up with character or adventure ideas. I designed items for several campaigns based on the rules in Weapons of Legacy. I’ve gotten more ideas for monster abilities out of the Adventurer’s Vaults than perhaps anywhere else. I unironically own the Arms and Equipment Guide. This is one of the reasons I have some problems with 5E’s focus on making magic items not just special, but special, because it means they have fewer opportunities to affect gameplay. If I know I’m going to go through an entire campaign and see only a few items, it doesn’t make me more excited about what those items might be in particular. It makes me less excited about the concept of items as a whole.

I realize this change was a reaction to issues with previous editions. 3E and Pathfinder have a real problem with the number of items it takes to make a character viable. Pathfinder especially expects that characters will use items to increase their AC, attack bonus, hit points, saving throws, damage, spell DCs, skill checks, and every other stat. A given item probably only increases one or two of those stats until you get to a reasonably high level, which means characters are loaded down with items that do nothing but increase numbers. That’s not fun, and it needed a solution. Returning to the days in which wars were fought over a +2 longsword isn’t the solution I would have picked, though I appreciate the attempt. I’m much happier with a different system, one that increases the opportunity for entertaining items instead of decreasing the opportunity for items as a whole. Continue reading

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Faith: Signature Spells

No, I’m not done talking about Faith just because it’s on break.

My explicit goal going into Faith was to make it feel like an anime. This means arcs needed a certain pacing, enemies needed a certain charisma, battles needed certain stakes, and so on. I haven’t quite nailed it yet, but it’s a work in progress. Where Pathfinder conflicts with the rules of anime, we’re generally giving deference to the latter, and we’re probably doing that ever more as the campaign goes on. Usually this means just means making a rule tweak here or getting an unexpected success there, but sometimes we have to invent rules wholesale. Signature items were an example of this. Signature spells are another.

I’m hard-pressed to come up with a fighting anime that doesn’t have characters who charge up their attacks. Even if “charging up” is just “yelling a signature phrase that only sort of makes sense in English”, dramatic attacks almost always come with some sort of lag period. Pathfinder, and D&D in general, doesn’t do that. Most actions take one action. To create attacks that get stronger as characters put more time and energy into them, we had to go a bit outside what the game expects. Specifically, we had to go to a previous edition of the game and crib a mechanic everybody forgot about.

These use the rules for channeled spells, which I laid out the last time I talked about them. Each character has one custom spell, and boy were some of them a pain to write. Liam’s healing spell? Simple. Sarai’s touch-range-maybe blast? That had to work within the ridiculously, unnecessarily complicated mechanics for the magus and also within Sarai’s atypical build for it, but not be so specific that it wasn’t useful for any other character in any other situation. Sildroag’s spell also went through several revisions before we came up with something worthwhile, acceptable as a swift action but also worth giving up two rounds of attacks for the full-power version. I’m still not completely sold on all of them, but that’s why we have play testing.

 CHANNELED MERCIFUL REMEDY
School conjuration [healing]; Level bard 2
Casting Time See text
Components V
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Targets One or more creatures; see text
Duration Instantaneous
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance Yes
You soothe your allies’ ills, cleansing them of minor problems. When you cast this spell, you channel energy into it. You can choose how long to spend casting this spell.
     If you cast this spell as a swift action, select one of the following conditions: dazed, fatigued, shaken, sickened. One ally within range can ignore the condition you choose for 1d4 rounds.
     If you cast this spell as a standard action, you end the chosen condition for one ally.
     If you cast this spell as a full-round action, you may either end one chosen condition on two allies or end two chosen conditions on one ally within range.
     If you spend 2 full rounds casting this spell, you may either end one chosen condition on three allies, end two chosen conditions on two allies, or end all conditions from the above list on a single ally.
     You do not need to declare ahead of time how long you want to spend casting the spell. When you begin casting this spell, you decide that you are finished casting after the appropriate time has passed.
 
 CHANNELED MIGHTY STRIKE
School transmutation; Level bloodrager 1
Casting Time See text
Components V, S
Range Personal
Target you
Duration see text
Magic coalesces in your fist, enhancing your next attack. When you cast this spell, you channel energy into it. You can choose how long to spend casting this spell.
     If you cast this spell as a swift action, your next attack (if it is made before the end of the next round) gains a +5 bonus to the attack roll.
     If you cast this spell as a standard action, you gain a +5 bonus to weapon attack rolls until the end of your next turn, and any attacks you make with this bonus ignore damage reduction.
     If you cast this spell as a full-round action, you gain a +10 bonus to weapon attack rolls until the end of your next turn.
     If you spend 2 full rounds casting this spell, you gain a +10 bonus to weapon attack rolls and a reach of 30 feet, and any attacks you make ignore damage reduction. You may make one additional attack of opportunity per round, plus one additional attack for every five caster levels above 4th. All benefits last until the end of your next turn.
     You do not need to declare ahead of time how long you want to spend casting the spell. When you begin casting this spell, you decide that you are finished casting after the appropriate time has passed.
 
 CHANNELED MYSTIC BLAST
School evocation; Level magus 2
Casting Time See text
Components V, S
Effect force energy around your hand
Range Touch or close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Duration 1 round / 2 caster levels
Saving Throw None or Fortitude partial; see text; Spell Resistance Yes
You concentrate your aura into a powerful burst of force. When you cast this spell, you channel energy into it. You can choose how long to spend casting this spell.
     If you cast this spell as a swift action, once during the duration of the spell you may make an attack that deals 2d4 points of force damage.
     If you cast this spell as a standard action, you may make one attack that deals 4d4 points of force damage. The attack also knocks the touched creature prone unless it makes a successful Fortitude saving throw.
     If you cast this spell as a full-round action, you may make two attacks that each deal 4d4 points of force damage and may knock the target prone.
     If you spend 2 full rounds casting this spell, you may make three attacks that each deal 6d4 points of force damage and may knock the target prone.
     You may deliver each attack as a melee touch attack or a ray. If multiple attacks hit the same target in the same round, the target only makes one saving throw, but the Difficulty Class of the spell increases by 2 for each attack that hits the target beyond the first. You do not need to declare ahead of time how long you want to spend casting the spell. When you begin casting this spell, you decide that you are finished casting after the appropriate time has passed.
 
 CHANNELED SHINING BEACON
School evocation [light]; Level sorcerer/wizard 2
Casting Time See text
Components V, S
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Area See text
Duration See text
Saving Throw None; Spell Resistance Yes
Your conjure a beacon of light that damages nearby creatures. When you cast this spell, you channel energy into it. You can choose how long to spend casting this spell.
     If you cast this spell as a swift action, you select a 5-foot radius within range. Any creature who starts its turn within the area takes 2d4 radiant damage. The beacon persists for 1d4 rounds.
     If you cast this spell as a standard action, the beacon deals 2d6 radiant damage and the duration increases to one round per caster level.
     If you cast this spell as a full-round action, the beacon deals 3d6 radiant damage and the area increases to a 10-foot radius. The duration remains one round per caster level.
     If you spend 2 full rounds casting this spell, the beacon either deals 4d6 radiant damage or deals 2d6 radiant damage but does not affect your allies (your choice). The area remains a 10-ft. radius and the duration remains one round per caster level.
     In all cases, the beacon is 30 feet tall and sheds light as a torch. You do not need to declare ahead of time how long you want to spend casting the spell. When you begin casting this spell, you decide that you are finished casting after the appropriate time has passed.
 
 CHANNELED TYRANNICAL INSPIRATION
School enchantment [compulsion]; Level oracle 2
Casting Time See text
Components V, S
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Targets One creature/level, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart
Duration See text
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance Yes
You push your allies to great heights at the expense of their well-being. When you cast this spell, you channel energy into it. You can choose how long to spend casting this spell.
     If you cast this spell as a swift action, each target loses 1 hit point per 2 caster levels and gains a +2 morale bonus to one ability score for one round. You select the ability score with you finish casting the spell, and you must select the same ability score for all targets. A successful Will saving throw negates both the damage and the bonus.
     If you cast this spell as a standard action, the bonus increases to +4.
     If you cast this spell as a full-round action, each target may gain a +2 bonus to two ability scores, and the target may choose to extend the duration of their bonuses for an additional round by taking the damage again on your turn. The target may repeat this indefinitely.
     If you spend 2 full rounds casting this spell, each target may gain a +4 bonus to two ability scores, and the target may choose to extend the duration as above.
     You may decide whether or not to target yourself with this spell. You do not need to declare ahead of time how long you want to spend casting the spell. When you begin casting this spell, you decide that you are finished casting after the appropriate time has passed.

My pie-in-the-sky goal is to give the players further signature spells as they level. Following through is mostly a matter of forgetting how hard it was to do this set.

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Under the Stars

While Faith is on its season break, now is a good time to talk about the other campaign I’m running. Under the Stars is, as I’ve said before, roughly “Breath of the Wild meets Ni No Kuni 2.” Unlike Faith, I’m not challenging DMing or system norms or violating any core narrative principles in this campaign, or not any more than I normally do. This is a fairly straightforward D&D 5E campaign in which the players are supporting an outpost in untamed wilderness, defending it from some locals and forging allies with others, trying to turn this poorly-supported, nearly-empty camp into a meaningful settlement. It’s D&D without tavern fights and sewer crawls, but it’s still bog-standard D&D.

Oh, I guess we’re using hexes instead of squares. That’s something. Continue reading

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Guest Characters

Concept: Guest characters
Tested in: The One Piece campaign, The Eight Arms and the Contract of Barl, the Worldwound campaign

What it is: In D&D, players build characters and control them through adventures. That’s the elevator pitch and core concept of the entire game. There are rare circumstances where players don’t build and control their own characters, like convention one-shots where the characters are built beforehand, but that usually doesn’t happen in ongoing campaigns. DMs rarely create characters, hand them to players in the middle of an ongoing story, and say “this is who you are today”. It kind of defeats the point. But sometimes it makes sense to temporarily look at the story from another standpoint, and players don’t always have the time, knowledge, or inclination to design separate characters for what is essentially an in-continuity one-shot.

We’ve had several instances where players had characters largely handed to them by the DM for short bursts pf play. In the One Piece campaign, the DM had us play the arc villains for a session so we could understand more about them and develop their personalities, live at the table. In the Worldwound campaign, the DM let us capture monsters and control them for an extended combat against enemies too powerful for us to risk fighting ourselves. And I’ve previously talked about building characters to supplement the PCs as they split up. In each case we did it for a different reason, using different methods, but in all cases the players drove NPCs for a session while the characters they intended to play sat on the sidelines. Continue reading

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