Thursday, April 26, 2007

d20 Monster of the Week: Underhill Devourer

As promised, here is the Underhill Devourer. This is a fey that adapted (degenerated?) to life underground. It has come to play a significant role in supporting the underground ecosystem by producing green plants where they are not otherwise able to grow.

The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Underhill Devourer

Size/Type:Medium Fey
Hit Dice:9d6+27 (58 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 20 ft. (4 squares), Burrow 10 ft., Climb 20 ft
Armor Class:19 (+2 Dex, +7 natural), touch 12, flat-footed 17
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+8
Attack: Claw +9 melee (1d4+4)
Full Attack: 2 claws +9 melee (1d4+4)
Space/Reach:5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks:Spell-like abilities, draining rend
Special Qualities:Damage reduction 5/cold iron, earthbound, low-light vision, scent
Saves:Fort +8, Ref +8, Will +8
Abilities: Str 19, Dex 14, Con 17, Int 7, Wis 14, Cha 10
Skills:Escape Artist +14, Climb +15, Hide +15, Listen +10, Move Silently +15, Sense Motive +15, Spot +8
Feats: Alertness(b), Great Fortitude, Improved Initiative, Stealthy, Weapon Focus (claw)
Environment: Underground
Challenge Rating: 6
Treasure: Standard
Alignment: Usually chaotic neutral
Advancement: 10-11 HD (Medium) 12-15 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment:

Underhill devourers are tall and lanky, with gaunt features and claw-tipped arms that almost reach the ground. A typical underhill devourer stands over 7 feet tall. They are remarkably flexible, and are capable of curling up into a small ball. Their skin is gray-green and has an opalescent sheen if seen in bright light, which it rarely is. Instead of hair, they have a mat on their heads of whatever sort of vegetation is growing on their hill.

Underhill devourers feed on emotion. They tend to cultivate a herd of herbivores which will feed on the plants that grow on the devourers hill, and are lulled into a drowsy state by their pleasure at finding green plants underground. When a predator approaches, the devourer is energized by the fear that is produced. If the devourer believes it can do so, it will hunt down the predator to feed on its fear and protect its herd. Underhill devourers will bury any corpses they find (or produce) in their hill. In a matter of weeks, the corpse and all the non-magical organic material that came with it, will have turned to fertile soil. Any surviving items will typically remain buried in the hill.

Underhill devourers, if they are willing to speak, speak Sylvan. A very few also speak Undercommon.


An underhill devourer lies in wait within its hill until its prey is nearby and distracted. It usually attempts to use deep slumber first, and rend and exhaust its victim. It often stalks its victims invisibly, feeding off of their fear. It may prepare its stalking grounds with its spike growth ability.

Spell-Like Abilities

At will—meld into stone, speak with plants; 3/day—invisibility (self only), deep slumber (DC 15); 1/day—plant growth, spike growth (DC14). Caster level 8th. The save DCs are Wisdom-based.

Earthbound (Su)

An underhill devourer always lives in a mound of dirt or a hill in an underground chamber, cavern, or tunnel. They may not venture more than 100 yards from their hill, or they lose access to their spell like abilities. After 24 hours away from their hill, they begin to die. Every hour past 24 hours that they spend further than 100 yards from their hill, they take 1d4-1 points of Dexterity damage. If they reach Dexterity 0, they turn to earth and crumble. If the pile of dirt is left undisturbed, it will slowly grow in size and, within a year, a new underhill devourer will be born within it.

Draining Rend (Su)

An underhill devourer that hits with two claw attacks latches onto the opponent’s body and tears the flesh. This attack automatically deals an extra 2d4+6 points of damage. In addition, the victim must succeed on a DC 16 Will save or become fatigued. Opponents who are already fatigued (or asleep due to to Deep Slumber), become exhausted instead. The save DC is Wisdom based.


Underhill devourers have a +4 racial bonus to Escape Artist checks and a +8 racial bonus to Sense Motive Checks. They have a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks and can always choose to take 10 on Climb checks, even if rushed or threatened.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sequential art

Monday after work I picked up Angela and we met Tim over at the Krannert Art Museum to see a talk by Scott McCloud.

It was good.

It was in fact, the best use of a powerpointesque (Keynote, actually) presentation I have ever seen. I suppose that shouldn'e be a surprise coming from someone who is a sequential art theorist... but 700ish slides in about 70 minutes? ...and it worked? Neat.

I can't say that I agree with everything he said, but he had some neat ideas. I came away from it thoughtful. Most of my thoughts were art-related, but I also started thinking about whether any of what he said could be applied to rpgs.

One example:

Scott talked about how, in making a comic, you have five choices: choice of moment, choice of frame, choice of image, choice of word, and choice of flow. Pretty much all of these apply to GMing.

Choice of Moment - Where do you pick up and leave the story? Usually, we ignore the minutia of everyday life. We fade in and out and pick out the interesting bits to roleplay. How do we identify them?

Choice of Frame - How much detail to we fill in with respect to the scope of the world around the PCs? Is it just them and whatever they are focusing on - or do we 'pull back the camera' and fill in detail about the rest of the world. Each choice has its uses.

Choice of Image - What do we describe to the PCs? Do we just give visual information? Do we describe noises, textures, and scents? How do we describe things - when describing, say, a goblin do we focus on his inhuman visage or the fact that he looks kinda sad? The choice makes for a different reaction.

Choice of Word - How do we relay dialog?

Choice of Flow - How close together are the moments that we choose to roleplay? Is there downtime between sessions? Within sessions? How much?

There are clearly some other choices in rpgs that don't apply to comics (Choice of Challenge and Choice of Reward, for two obvious examples), but this seems like something worth considering.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Run Away

My Monday night gaming group, which I've been playing with since I moved to town in 2001, might be coming to an end in the not-too-distant future. One of the three guys I play with is moving to NYC (he's finishing up his second Ph.D. from the U of I and got a teaching gig). Last night we came to a stopping point in the long-running, nostalgia-driven Greyhawk campaign.

Now we are moving on to pick up an Aberrant campaign that we'd put to the side some time ago. I'm more or less OK with that. Storyteller games have grown to annoy me, but Aberrant and Adventure! are the versions of it that I can best deal with - and my character in that game is fun (Alem Tefatzion, the vaguely geeky/Westernized nephew of a Eritrean warlord who can control gravity).

There were requests for me to pick the Exalted game I'd been running back up, but I just can't do it. Exalted, to me, exemplifies the confusion in game design that Ron Edwards is always going on about. It is trying to be a highly tactical and fiddly game of fast-action heroics with player freedom to alter a setting that is highly detailed. It is just too much in too many different directions. The frustrating thing? I like nearly all of it, just not all together. Add that to the fact that the group dynamics in the game just weren't working. One player had created his own plot in his background and only wanted to pursue that, while another player wanted to move in a different direction every session, never completing anything. The third wanted to dwell on the minutia and focus in on every little thing. In an attempt to rectify things, I tried to move the game to a more episodic format, but the players weren't interested in that.

If I were to run a game now, I'd probably want to run something like a city-based fantasy with steampunk/pulp/noir elements. I'd set it up to be mission-based within a story-arc. Something Shadowrun-like. I'd probably run it with a houseruled d20 system, though Secret of Zir'an might be tempting, since it fits the feel near-perfectly. Setting-wise, I'd either make up my own or use a D&D city that incorporates some of the feel I am going for - either Sigil (Planescape) or Sharn (Eberron), depending upon how weird I was feeling.

Monday, April 23, 2007

d20 Monster of the Week

In honor of Earth Day this week, I'm going to give you a double-fey-feature.

Unfortunately, work is crazy and I haven't written them yet. I do, however, know what they'll be.

First, we have the Underhill Lurker. This is your typical boogeyman who lives under a hill. I'm thinking it will be an incorporeal fey who lures victims to its abode by causing beautiful flowers to grow on the hill.

Then we have the Underhill Devourer. Really, I thought of this one first - it is a degenerate version of the Underhill Lurker that has adapted to underground environs and has become an integral part of the ecology there. It causes tunnels to sprout with green plants, sustained by its fey magics. These attract herbivores of various types. The Devourer, though, has developed a taste (and scent) for blood - and only comes out of the cave walls when fresh blood is present. This usually occurs when some sort of predator is feeding on the herbivores that it has attracted.

Later this week: OGL stats. I promise.

Gourm Sneak Preview

Enough panic this morning. Here is some content.

I've alluded to a project that I've been working on that involves an adventure. The adventure? The Goblins of Gourm. The project? A goblin-based city-book, The City of Gourm.

These aren't your standard goblins. These goblins:
  • live in a rotating city made of brass and bamboo
  • worship a mechanical god-king
  • pursue an aggressive eugenics program
  • have an affinity for waterfowl
This is a joint effort that Angela and I have been working on - it came out of a brainstorming session on nonhuman cultures for her D&D campaign. We were so taken with a couple of the ideas we came up with that we decided to flesh them out (the other one involved arboreal dwarves in a petrified forest).

Current progress? We have an outline for the adventure that will serve as a lead-in/introduction to the City. We hope that we can release the adventure as part of WoAdWriMo. The project itself is shaping up to be large. A chunk of it (The Culture of Gourm - featuring details on fashion, the arts, music, and food) is written. A few supplementary rules (cultural feats and such) are written. Most of the rest is in extensive note form. My culture-making checklist has been put to good use.

I am awesome!

...or at least not as lame as I thought.

Due, presumably, to schedule changes too numerous to count I did not in fact miss the game yesterday.


I am lame. (and other news)

It appears that I completely flaked out yesterday. There was a C-U Run Club meeting scheduled that I just missed.

I could blame it on hectic work and sleep deprivation, but the truth is that I knew that it was scheduled for the end of April. I knew it was the end of April. I just didn't put those things together in my head. If asked on Friday, I'd have said that it was coming up soon - I don't even know if it would have registered then that it was scheduled for this weekend. I only discovered it this morning because I checked the C-U Run Club blog (linked above) to see if Jeff had made any more plans for running his Tom Moldvay tribute game... and then I thought to double-check the date.


I feel like such a moron.

Friday, April 20, 2007

OGL Monster of the Week: Headless One

Over at EN World, there was a thread looking for d20 stats for the Headless Horseman.

It seems rather odd that none of the gazillion undead that have been created fit the bill, so I went and made one up - I did this as a template rather than as a creature. I'm sure there was a reason why...

I'm a little iffy on the CR and LA for this thing. Thoughts are welcome, as always.

The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Headless One

Creating A Headless One

"Headless one" is an acquired template that can be added to any humanoid, giant, or monstrous humanoid creature (referred to hereafter as the base creature) of 3 HD or more that normally has a head.

A headless one uses all the base creature’s statistics and special abilities except as noted here.

Size and Type

The creature’s type changes to undead (augmented humanoid or monstrous humanoid). Do not recalculate base attack bonus, saves, or skill points. Size is unchanged.

Hit Dice

Increase all current and future Hit Dice to d12s.


Same as the base creature.

Armor Class

The base creature’s natural armor bonus improves by +4.


A Headless one loses all attacks of the base creature based upon its head such as a bite, gore, breath weapon, or gaze attack (but see Substitute Head, below). A headless one otherwise retains all the attacks of the base creature and also gains a slam attack if it didn’t already have one. If the base creature can use weapons, the headless one retains this ability and will typically arm itself with a slashing weapon. A creature with natural weapons retains those natural weapons. A headless one fighting without weapons uses either its slam attack or its primary natural weapon (if it has any). A headless one armed with a weapon uses its slam or a weapon, as it desires.

Full Attack

A headless one fighting without weapons uses either its slam attack (see above) or its natural weapons (if it has any). If armed with a weapon, it usually uses the weapon as its primary attack along with a slam or other natural weapon as a natural secondary attack.


Headless ones have slam attacks. A medium-sized headless one does 1d6 damage with its slam attack. Creatures that have other kinds of natural weapons retain their old damage values or use the headless ones damage, whichever is better.

Special Attacks

A headlesss one retains all the special attacksof the base creature (other than those which are based in its head) and gains those described below.

Terror (Su)

At the mere sight of a headless one, the viewer must succeed on a Will save or be panicked with fear for 1d4 rounds. If the save is successful, that creature cannot be affected again by the same headless one’s terror ability for 24 hours. The save has a DC of 10 + ½ HD + Cha modifier.

Throw Head (Su)

If a headless one has a substitute head (see below) it may remove that head and throw it as a standard action. This is a ranged touch attack with a range increment of 20 feet. On a successful attack, the target takes 1d6 points of dexterity damage, and all of the headless one's slashing attacks against that target are considered vorpal (as the magic weapon quality) until the target's dexterity damage is healed.

Special Qualities

A headlesss one retains all the special qualities of the base creature (other than those which are based in its head) and gains those described below.

Damage Reduction (Su)

A headless one has damage reduction 5/silver ormagic. A headless one's natural weapons, as well as any slashing weapons it wields, are treated as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.


Headless ones are immune to gaze attacks, visual effects, illusions, and other attack forms that rely on sight. They lose these immunities when using their substitute head ability.

Substitute Head (Su)

When a headless one replaces its head with a head-shaped object (of the same approximate size of the head that the headless one possessed in life) that was severed from a living being within the past 24 hours, the substitute head is surrounded by a ghostly image of the head that the headless one had in life. While possessed of a substitute head, a headless one gains normal sight, darkvision for 60 ft., a +4 inherent bonus to Charisma and regains the use of any attacks, special attacks, and special qualities that were based upon the head it had in life. A substitute head lasts for 1-4 days plus one day per point of Intelligence bonus of the donor before becoming useless to the headless one. A headless one may use the head of an unintelligent creature, or even a head-shaped gourd cut from a living plant, but these only remain useful for 24 hours. Attaching a substitute head is a full-round action.

Tremorsense (Ex)

A headless one has tremorsense at a range of 80 ft.


Increase from the base creature as follows: Str +6, Dex +2, Wis +2, Cha +2. As an undead creature, a headless one has no Constitution score.


Same as the base creature.


Same as the base creature.


Any, usually same as base creature.



Challenge Rating

Same as the base creature +1.




Always evil (any).


By character class.

Level Adjustment

Same as the base creature +4.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Taking stock

Yesterday saw a rather large spike in readership, and I have no idea why. My stats didn't show any particular pattern. If you stumbled by yesterday for the first time. . . and actually came back, I would love it if you dropped me a comment letting me know where you heard of this blog.

For those of you who've been here longer than that, I'd love to know if there is a particular thing that brings you back here. Is it Open Game Content? Non-d20 stuff? Setting elements? GMing techniques? Random forays into theory? Something else?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Good GM Advice

About half the time, it seems that the roleplaying articles over at are a waste of space. This one, however, is great. It is short and to the point. It focuses on a common problem, recognizes it for what it is, and addresses solutions.

"The Great Clomping Foot of Nerdism"

I've seen a lot of talk about this lately, and its relevance to rpgs. For those of you afraid of following links, sf writer Mike Harrison has declared worldbuilding to be dull, unnecessary, and futile.

My thoughts?

First, what he has to say is about writing - and reading - not about roleplaying. He claims (note that I did not say "He argues." as there is no argument) that worldbuilding cheapens the act of reading, stifling the imagination of the reader. While this might be relevant to certain styles of roleplaying, roleplaying is - for most people - a social experience that requires a shared world.

Second, he's wrong. I don't mean that he's completely wrong. Worldbuilding may not be necessary. It often isn't, particularly if you depend upon common tropes. It is neither dull nor futile, however. The claim to futility is clearly a straw man. Yes, a complete worldbuilding exercise would be impossible - but we aren't looking for completeness of an impossible level. What are we looking for? Well... in fiction J.R.R. Tolkien and Frank Herbert are usually set up as great worldbuilders. Was either The Lord of the Rings or Dune dull? I didn't think so. Yeah, I have trouble with Tolkien sometimes, but that is due to his use of dialog.

Moreover, worldbuilding can be fun. Sometimes, particularly for people interested in rpgs, worldbuilding is an end in itself. At its best it is a separate art form - and is occasionally recognized as such.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Funky Mechanics, revisited

A simplified summary of this Funky Mechanic System that I was obsessing on last week, which I hereby dub the FM system:

Each skill/ability/whatever has one or more pools of dice (d6s). Each pool of dice represents an additional level of mastery of that skill.

When you roll the skill, you roll each of your pools. You take the highest result from each pool and add those results together.

With one level of mastery, you get a result between 1 and 6, with two you get a result between 2 and 12, and with three you get a result between 3 and 18. A result of 18 is the highest that you can ever expect to achieve as a normal human being who has mastered the skill, though there will be more than three possible levels of mastery if the game includes rules for things with abilities beyond those of humans.

How to interpret the results?

I'm leaning away from a Difficulty Class or Target Number based system. Instead, I'm inclined toward a system that allows you to roll and then spend the results of your roll on relevant effects. Why? As I noted in my second-ever post in this blog (exactly 14 months ago today), I don't trust the dice when it comes to depending upon them for things like story outcome or character integrity.

What about attributes or ability scores or whatever you want to call them?

Read the comments on my last post for a possible method (or three) of dealing with such things. I'm actually considering doing away with them, though. I've noted before that I think these things are superfluous most of the time.

Class Creation Workshop Part II (Martial Artist)

Some refined thoughts on the Martial Artist (with some notes toward the Ascetic):

HD: d10
BAB: Best
Good Fort and Reflex saves. Poor Will save.
Skills: 4+ Int bonus/level (skill list unfinished, but close to the Monk's)

Weapon Proficiencies: Simple + Monk

Armor Proficiencies: none

Class features by level:
1. Improved Unarmed Strike (bonus feat)
Martial Focus
Focused Strike +1d6
Unarmored AC bonus
2. Martial Flexibility
Focused Fury
3. +5' move
Focused Strike +2d6
4. Focused Mind
Combat Expertise (bonus feat)
5. Focused Strike +3d6
6. Improved Martial Focus
Focused Flurry
7. Focused Strike +4d6
Focused Flurry
8. Focused Flesh +1
9. +5' move
Focused Strike +5d6
10. Uncanny Dodge
Bonus Feat
11. Focused Strike +6d6
12. Focused Flesh +2
Superior Martial Focus
13. Focused Strike +7d6
Penetrating Focus
14. Improved Focused Mind
Quick Move
15. Focused Strike +8d6
Bonus Feat
16. +5' move
17. Focused Strike +9d6
18. Improved Focused Flurry
19. Focused Strike +10d6
20. Focused Flesh +3
Bonus Feat

Improved Unarmed Strike
At first level, a Martial Artist gains Improved Unarmed Strike as a bonus feat.

Martial Focus
A Martial Artist may focus her will into physical power. Martial focus is identical in all ways to Psionic Focus, but it does not require a psionic power pool. A Martial Artist qualifies for psionic feats that require the ability to achieve psionic focus. A Martial Artist may only attain martial focus when not wearing armor.

Focused Strike
At first level, a martial artist who has attained martial focus may expend that focus when making an attack with an unarmed strike or a weapon for which she has weapon focus. If the attack hits, damage is increased by +1d6 points. This bonus damage increases by +1d6 at every odd-numbered class level.

Unarmored AC Bonus
A martial artist adds 1 point of Wisdom bonus (if any) per martial artist class level to her armor class when not wearing armor. This applies even when the martial artist is flat-footed.

Martial Flexibility
At second level, a martial artist may spend a a standard action concentrating upon or otherwise practicing with any weapon. If she is already proficient with that weapon, she is treated as having weapon focus with it. If she is not proficient with that weapon, she gains proficiency with it. These benefits last as long as the martial artist makes at least one attack roll per round.

Focused Fury
A martial artist reduced to one half or fewer of her total hit points may make a concentration check as an immediate action to gain Martial Focus.

Movement Bonus
A martial artist adds 5' to her base move at third, ninth, and sixteenth levels. By expending her martial focus as a swift action, she can double this bonus for one round.

Focused Mind
A martial artist of fourth level or higher may, as an immediate action, make a concentration check in place of a Will save when martially focused. Doing so expends the martial artist's martial focus. If she expends her martial focus in this way she cannot regain it until a full round has passed.

Bonus Feat
At fifth level, a martial artist gains Combat Expertise as a bonus feat, regardless of whether she otherwise qualifies for it as a feat. Every five levels thereafter, a martial artist may choose one of the following feats as a bonus feat: Blind Fight, Combat Reflexes, Deflect Arrows, Endurance, Improved Disarm, Improved Feint, Improved Grapple, Improved Initiative, Improved Trip, or Weapon Finesse. She may ignore ability score prerequisites for acquiring these feats, however, if she does not meet these prerequisites she may only use the feat while in martial focus.

Improved Martial Focus
At sixth level, a martial artist may make a concentration check to attain martial focus as a swift action in a round in which she moves 10' or more.

Focused Flurry
At sixth level, a martial artist may, as a swift action, expend her martial focus when making a full attack. The martial artist may then spread her focused strike damage dice among her attacks. She must choose before each of her attacks how many of her focused strike damage dice will apply to that attack.

Focused Flesh
At eighth level, a martial artist's natural armor bonus increases by one when in martial focus. This improves to +2 at twelfth level and +3 at twentieth level.

Uncanny Dodge
10th level

Superior Martial Focus
At tenth level, a martial artist may attain martial focus as an immediate action by taking a -10 penalty on their concentration check.

Penetrating Focus
At thirteenth level, a martial artist's unarmed focused strikes become capable of penetrating even the toughest of materials. Before rolling damage for a focused strike when unarmed, a martial artist may sacrifice focused strike damage dice to reduce a target's DR or hardness. Each die so sacrificed reduces the DR or hardness by 5.

Improved Focused Mind
At fourteenth level, a martial artist may choose not to expend her martial focus when using her focused mind ability. If she does not expend her martial focus, she receives a -1 penalty to attack and skill rolls until she expends her focus. This penalty is cumulative.

Quick Move
At fourteenth level, the martial artist may as an immediate action take a 5' step to flank an enemy.

Improved Focused Flurry
At eighteenth level, the martial artist may, as a full round action, expend her martial focus and sacrifice a single die of focused strike damage. This enables her to use her focused flurry ability
as above, but also provides her with an additional attack at her highest attack bonus.

Notes on the Ascetic:

The ascetic will use a mechanic compatible with martial focus. While the martial artist emphasizes regaining focus quickly, the ascetic will be better at not losing it in the first place. This will be set up so that the two mechanics work together well when multiclassing without being overpowered.

In combat, the Ascetic will focus on delivering status effects as swift actions through unarmed melee touch attacks or unarmed strikes: stunning, dazing, disarming, tripping, etc. At high levels, this might become a ranged touch attack. Multiclassing will allow an ascetic martial artist to combine these status effects with more powerful unarmed strikes.

The ascetic will get the immunities and most of the supernatural abilities of the monk. Some of these (such as, perhaps, abundant step and self-healing) will be expanded.

The result? You will, ideally, be able to make a pure martial artist, a pure ascetic, or mix the two in varying degrees in order to get a spiritual warrior-monk, a martial artist who is interested in enlightenment, something roughly equivalent to a 3.5 monk, or whatever...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Funky mechanics

In case the two people who read this have been wondering, I've been popping in and out of town a lot lately on business, which has cut into my posting rather dramatically. Unfortunately, this isn't going to change anytime soon, so I will have to adapt.

(Actually, Statcounter tells me that I have significantly more than two regular readers.)

Anyway, I was up in McHenry County, Illinois last week, and I was thinking about how skill systems tend to work in rpgs. One thing that I find odd is that, in real life, one of the benefits of becoming more practiced in a skill is that you become more consistent. In rpgs, the variability of outcome often either stays the same (d20) or increases (Storyteller). There are some exceptions, like Savage Worlds, but these exceptions often have some other issues... such as discarding the possibility of highly skilled individuals accomplishing feats that are impossible for the less skilled.

I think both of these are important. As one increases in skill, one should become (1) more consistent and (2) able to accomplish more impressive feats.

How to model this?

Here's one way. Let's say we have a system that uses d6s. Skills have three levels: Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master (or Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert... or whatever). Each level has a numerical rank. In order to have a rank in Journeyman or Master level, you need a minimum rank (say, 3) in the level below it.

For each level, you roll a number of dice equal to your rank and take the highest roll, then you add the results of each level together. So, for an Apprentice you get a result of 1-6, a Journeyman 2-12, and a Master 3-18. Alternately, you can choose not to roll at all and simply take your rank in the level as your result. For example, if you are a Master (2) with 3 ranks in both Apprentice and Journeyman, you can automatically get a result of 8 without rolling.

Also, you can move ranks down. The above individual could roll Apprentice (3) Journeyman (4) and Master (1) if she wanted to - the reason why she might isn't apparent yet. I'll explain that in a minute.

Easy enough so far?

Modifiers can work well in this system. It allows you to impose modifiers that have a more significant effect on less skilled. Each modifier would have a single level and rank - which in the case of a penalty would be negative. The ranks are added to/subtracted from the appropriate levels of the skill. This can result in a negative number.

If there's a negative number, then that level's die is subtracted rather than added. This is why you might want to sacrifice a higher level rank for a lower level one - to remove penalties.

This is still a work in progress, obviously. I'm using this space primarily as a brain dump at the moment.

Friday, April 06, 2007

D20 Core Class Theory

My recent martial artist/ascetic musings have me thinking about the role of core classes. Recently, Wizards seems to have been developing very niche core classes (Dragon Shaman) and core classes that are more efficient mixes of archetypes (Duskblade) than you can normally get by multiclassing.

I wonder how much of this could be handled by designing core classes to be multiclassed more efficiently and evocatively. There has been a lot of complaints about how multiclassing is, generally, a bad idea with spellcasters. I suspect that if d20 were rewritten today, we'd see this improved somewhat through a multiclassing rule that set caster level equal to a character's levels in spellcasting classes plus one-half the character's level in non-spellcasting classes. That's pretty much how they handled things in the Book of Nine Swords. We've also seen a number of new feats (first in Complete Adventurer and, more recently, in Complete Scoundrel) that make multiclassing between certain classes more efficient.

Currently, most core classes seem to gain their multiclassability (oooh! new word?) through front-loading. A one to four level dip into most classes gives you access to their core abilities. Want to play a street-smart warrior who grew up as a cutpurse? Rogue 3/Fighter X will give you a +2d6 sneak attack, evasion, trapfinding, and a bunch of skills. That's not bad, mechanically speaking, but it leaves me a little cold.

Instead of the duskblade, could we have had a Fighter/Wizard with one of these feats? Not with the current Wizard class... but maybe with a differently-designed one. File this under projects for another day.

How does this all relate to the project for today? The ascetic and the martial artist will be designed to work together well. I've already said that, but what do I mean?

Combat-wise, the ascetic will deliver status effects (dazing, stunning, tripping, disarming, etc.) through unarmed attacks. I'm thinking that the attacks can be either melee touch attacks or unarmed strikes. A pure ascetic will rely on touch attacks. A multiclass character will take advantage of a martial artist's increased BAB and damage and, usually, use unarmed strikes - but will be able to deliver a touch attack in a pinch.

Both classes will use a martial focus-type mechanic. The martial artist learns to regain this focus quickly. The ascetic learns how to not lose it in the first place. A multiclass character learns enough of both to be effective.

I don't mind the idea of requiring a feat to efficiently multiclass when you are splitting your attention between two unrelated paths, but I see these two classes as blending together naturally.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Class Creation Workshop

A few weeks ago, I mentioned some of my dissatisfaction with the Monk class. In the meantime, I decided I'd do something about it. I've been working on splitting the monk class into two separate classes: one which focuses upon martial arts and one which focuses upon contemplation and mysticism. The two will be designed to multiclass well together. For now, I'll call them the Martial Artist and the Ascetic.

I'd like a straight-up martial artist to be comparable to a fighter in combat effectiveness. An ascetic, on the other hand, will focus on supernatural abilities, giving enemies status effects through attacks, and gaining outsider-like traits.

In the rest of this post, I'm going to focus on the Martial Artist - with the realization that I may need to adjust it some once I develop the Ascetic more.

I want the martial artist to have a good number of hit points and a good BAB.

For now, let's say he gets d10 and Fighter BAB. The ascetic will be inferior in both of these - and they should average out to be around Monk level.

Save-wise, it would be tempting to give him all good saves. I won't though. He gets good Fort and Reflex saves. He may end up with a class feature that can help him with Will saves. We'll see.

Class features:

Improved Unarmed Strike is a first level bonus feat. That's a no-brainer.

The Monk's Wisdom bonus to unarmored AC? Yeah. Can I wait until second level for this? Probably not... maybe cap it at the character's class levels.

Heightened damage - I don't like the monk damage progression. I would rather see something more like sneak attack, where additional dice are rolled. Let's base this off of the Soulknife, though. A martial artist acheives a state of focus (martial focus) by making a concentration check - actually... let's just use the rules for psionic focus. No need to recreate them. Making a focused strike expends the focus.

I want the heightened damage to be, potentially, usable with weapons. Let's create a class ability called Martial Flexibility. At second level, a martial artist may spend a a standard action concentrating upon or otherwise practicing with any weapon. If she is already proficient with that weapon, she is treated as having weapon focus with it. If she is not proficient with that weapon, she gains proficiency with it. These benefits last as long as the martial artist makes at least one attack roll per round. Now - focused strike works with unarmed strikes or weapons with which you have weapon focus.


Those are the basic abilities. Too much for the first two levels? It is probably less than monks get.

Other stuff:

Movement - let's give the martial artist occasional 5' speed bumps.

Focused Mind - How about when the martial artist is focused, he can expend that focus as an immediate action to replace a will save with a concentration check?

Improving Martial Focus - at higher levels, a martial artist can gain focus more quickly.

Improving Focused Strike - at higher levels, a martial artist can sacrifice damage for accuracy or the ability to ignore damage reduction and hardness.

Focused Flesh - at higher levels, a martial artist may gain a bonus to natural armor when martially focused.

Even more other stuff:

If I can fit Uncanny Dodge in there, it would be nice. Evasion? Maybe... but that might be better for the smaller-HD ascetic.

Bonus Feats - if possible, I might toss in a few bonus feats chosen from a mid-sized list (like the Scout or Warblade gets).

Now - how would this play?

An immediate concern is that the martial artist would be dependent on gaining focus in order to be effective. A secondary concern would be that the martial artist would be geared toward hitting one target a round.

Let's look at the second of these issues. We can add in a Focused Flurry ability that allows a martial artist making a full attack to expend his focus and split the focused strike dice between the attacks. That is pretty easy.

The other issue is trickier. The easy way would be to say that the martial artist has a limited number of times per day (Wis bonus + 1/4 class levels?) that he can regain focus as an immediate action. I generally dislike charges/day things, though. How about, instead:

Focused Fury - a martial artist reduced to one half of his total hit points may make a concentration check as an immediate action to regain martial focus. If the martial artist is reduced to one fourth or fewer of his total hit points he gains a +4 bonus on this roll.

It still isn't certain - it requires a roll... and it uses a resource (an immediate action counts as your swift action for the next round). It is also evocative - the martial artist who gets beat up a bit gets tougher. That's pretty cool, I think.

Soon, I'll write this up and post it level by level. In the meantime, comments are welcome.