Friday, March 26, 2010

DnD: Some Handbook Statistics

I'm a big fan of and the humorous-yet-informative charts Randall produces. Additionally, I'm thinking of designing something to help people new to roleplaying and D&D figure out what race/class might best suit them, without overwhelming them with 3 handbooks' worth of information. So, having compiled the information from the handbooks on a spreadsheet (or two) and inspired by a webcomic, I present to you a bunch of Excel charts.

Please note, these have all been scaled to 350 px wide, clicking on the images will open up the full size chart. Also, this only incorporates data from the three Player's Handbooks - it does not include any campaign-specific source material (Eberron, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun).

Some info on the Races of 4th edition

Concerning Classes

And finally . . .

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

DnD: Player's Handbook 3 Quick Review

For those who want the bottom line right away, here it is:

If you definitely know you want to play a certain class or race featured in the PHB3 - or perhaps you want to build a character using the hybrid rules - this is the book for you. Those players who simply like having a lot of options may find some use in (some of) the Skill Powers and the additional Feats this book provides, but probably little else. I got the impression that the developers were really struggling at points to make all the new races and classes unique and distinctly separate from those in the previous two PHB's. At this point, it's hard to imagine they'd be able to scrape together a fourth PHB - and I don't think I'd want one if they did.

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, I spent the better part of the weekend digesting the PHB3 and taking notes on what jumped out at me. I will confess up front that I did not read every single one of the class and skill powers in detail. So, without further ado:

As an aspiring artist, it would be remiss of me not to point out the incredibly awesome cover illustration. I was really impressed with the rendering and detail.


Not a fan of the introduction, which explains the origin of the Shardmind and a (possible) origin of the Psionic power source. I often find the abundance of nameless, faceless figures doing things "a long long time ago, in a place far far away" to be annoying and sloppy writing - but that may just be me.


Gith - Has a Wizard's Ability Scores, but a (Ranger/Rogue)'s skills and abilities

Minotaur -
So glad they included them, even if they're competing with Goliaths as the party's 'heavy'

Shardmind -
A better Eladrin, they'll make tough Wizards. Hate their concept and origin. HATE the fact that they are depicted as male and female. If the developers/artists could stick with one non-gendered living construct with the Warforged, why not another?

Wilden -
Kind of like them, but choosing a new aspect every day could get confusing. Add Psionic powers and Monk disciplines to that and you've got a real pain of a PC to keep track of. WHY are sentient autonomous plants depicted as having genders and mentioned as having parents? Most plants reproduce asexually. Last comment for the Shardmind applies here, as well.

Racial Paragon Paths

Bloodied Champion (Minotaur) is scary.

Shard Disciples' Irruption of the Gate power seems really strong.

As much as I dislike their flavor, powers like Recrystallize are awesome. Min/maxers are going to love the Shardmind.


Ardent = Cleric + Paladin?

There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to the power point progression chart.

Battleminds have a lot of movement and damage resistance powers.

Not a comment on the classes, per se, but let it be known that John Stanko is an awesome artist.

The Monk's Full-discipline rules take a few read-throughs to sink in; even then, it seems complicated. Perhaps if I were able to see it in action, it'd make more sense, but from a strictly text perspective, it's not something I'd encourage an unseasoned player to try.

More confusion: The Monk's unarmed strike is a weapon in the unarmed weapon category; Ki-focus is an implement (along the lines of a holy symbol, if I understand it correctly).

Psion = mind Wizard

A high-level Runepriest will be a force to be reckoned with, by my estimation.

The names of powers seem to be getting a little crazier.

Bloodbound Seeker strikes me as a less damaging, but more fun Ranger.

Cloud of Doom (Lv 20 Death Arrow Paragon Path) could put some serious hurt on a flying creature, due to the fact that it automatically makes it fall out of the sky (landing prone).

Hybrid Rules

Oh, the min/maxers are going to have a field day with this section. I can only imagine what sort of insane concoctions are being created at this very moment.

The rules do seem fairly straightforward - low level hybrids will be pretty powerful for their level; higher level hybrids will be somewhat less effective for their level.

Epic destinies are tacked on to this section. Rather awkward place to stick them.

Skill Powers, Feats and Magic Equipment

Nice alternative(s) to Utility Powers, but some skills have more options than others. I think the devs could only think of so many ways to use History. In some ways, it's a reflection of PHB3 in general - they want to add more options, but there are only so many new ideas they could come up with before the races and classes start overlapping and losing their distinction from one another.

More feat options are always welcome.

There is 1 multi-class feat for each new class (6) and 3 multi-class feats for the Psionic Power Source.

Superior Implements add a couple of interesting new properties, but Accurate (+1 Attack) and Deadly (+1 Damage) seem redundant to the existing magic items/weapons/implements.

Really like the consumable magic items for psions - more for the fact that they are consumable than the abilities they confer. It adds an extra dimension to the experience, I feel.

Appendix & Glossary

About what you'd expect: attempts to explain, in a succinct manner the new and older terms, with an emphasis on effect type keywords.

Friday, March 19, 2010

DnD: Diplomacy Discourse

First, some quotes:

Diplomat: A person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip. - Caskie Stinett, Out of the Red, 1960

Diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest thing in the nicest way. - Bisaac Goldberg

Diplomacy: The business of handling a porcupine without disturbing the quills. - Author Unknown

In my limited experience as a DM, I have come to the conclusion that while most players, particularly those new to Dungeons & Dragons, feel that they have a decent conceptual understanding of the Diplomacy skill, it is rarely applied correctly during the course of a game.

The Concept

When asked to explain what the Diplomacy skill does, I would wager that the vast majority of roleplayers - on both sides of the screen - would offer up something along the lines of "A character's ability to speak in a convincing manner." And that certainly sounds reasonable. In-game, use of the Diplomacy skill in such a manner probably runs something like this:

DM: The guard moves to block you. (determines a DC of 15)
PC: I use my Diplomacy skill to convince him to let us pass - got a 17.
DM: Okay, you convince him to let you in.

How boring! I would like to suggest that both the understanding and the application of the Diplomacy skill in this example are incorrect. Let's take a closer look at what the Player's Handbook says about Diplomacy:

You can influence others with your tact, subtlety, and social grace. Make a Diplomacy check to change opinions, to inspire good will, to haggle with a patron, to demonstrate proper etiquette and decorum, or to negotiate a deal in good faith. - PHB I (4th ed.) pg. 183

Did you catch it? It's easy to miss right there at the beginning. The third word: influence. The Diplomacy skill doesn't determine what your character says or does, Diplomacy determines how others react to what your character has said or done. The higher the roll for Diplomacy, the better the reaction.

But something is missing. Let's apply this new understanding of the skill to our example:

DM: The guard moves to block you. (determines a DC of 15)
PC: I use my Diplomacy skill to convince him to let us pass - got a 17.
DM: Okay . . . (in guard's voice) What do you lot want?
PC: Uh . . . aren't you going to let us pass?
DM: (as guard) Is that why yer starin' at me like a lost puppy?
PC: We want to enter the city.
DM: (as guard) Why didn't you just say so?
PC: So . . . is it okay if we enter the city?
DM: (as guard) Well, under normal circumstances, no - it's past sun down. But . . . seein' as how my shift is over in a coupla minutes and you don't look like trouble-makers . . . sure, what the heck. (OOC) He lets you pass.

A little awkward, but certainly not as boring as before - there was an actual exchange between a player and a NPC!

The player's Diplomacy check exceeded the DC set by the DM, so why wouldn't he just let them into the city? This brings up the second important point about the Diplomacy skill: Diplomacy does not (and should not) automatically perform the actions for the PC. The PCs must still say and do things to which NPC's can react.

Let's try it one more time, with our newly enlightened PC:

DM: The guard won't let you pass. (determines a DC of 15)
PC: (IC) Good evening, sir! We're hoping to find some hot food and soft beds for the night (OOC) I rolled a 17 on Diplomacy.
DM: (as guard) We don't usually allow people through the gates past sun-down. But . . . seein' as how my shift is over in a coupla minutes and you don't look like trouble-makers . . . sure, what the heck. (OOC) He lets you pass.

Short, engaging and, most importantly, the flow of the game was not disrupted.

It is important to note that Diplomacy, no matter how high a PC might roll, does NOT offer carte blanche for threatening, anti-social behavior. An NPC who gets stabbed is not going to like it, no matter how convincing your argument for doing it might have been. This is where common sense must step in and override that infuriating tendency some people have to play according to the letter of the law, and not the spirit in which it was written. This might also be where a DM needs to back down and possibly get a little creative in allowing an individual or group to be influenced by the Diplomacy roll and not the specific words or actions made by the PC.

Applying Diplomacy

Cataloging the specific instances and uses for the Diplomacy skill would be impossible. However, I believe there to be two broad categories of interaction that I believe situations benefiting from the use of Diplomacy fall under. For lack of better terminology, they are: Manipulation and Avoidance


At its core, manipulation is all about changing, for good or ill, the way an individual or group thinks and acts. This is probably the most common use players have for the Diplomacy skill. PC's might seek to change an NPC's mind in order to: lower a price, provide assistance, allow entry, prohibit behavior, stand up to an oppressor, emancipate the oppressed, draft or abolish a law, offer information, confess guilt - basically anytime the PC's want someone to act a certain way, they will need to manipulate them (via Diplomacy) into the desired behavior.

This category can be further divided by the amount of time the manipulation needs to be accomplished. There are those manipulations, usually removing some sort of obstacle, which need to happen immediately (give me discount, let us in) and those of a more subtle, political nature which occur over the course of time (the neighboring kingdom is ripe for invasion, the humans have overstayed their welcome).


This may seem a little odd at first, especially because Diplomacy requires interaction to work. But the avoidance referenced here is not avoidance of the interaction itself, rather, of the potentially negative consequences of delicate social interactions. Adventuring takes characters from a variety of races and cultures and puts them in awkward situations - some they are prepared for and some that fall well beyond their realm of expertise and zone of comfort.

Where Perception and History and possibly even Insight might help prepare a PC for a social interaction, Diplomacy can be used to fill in the gaps and gloss over what might normally be a serious breach of etiquette or an obvious lack of decorum on the fly. A NPC might find that they just like the PC's smile or can't help liking her despite herself. NPC's who might normally be dismissive or even outraged at an uneducated PC's behavior find themselves simply shrugging it off, eager to preserve or improve the relationship.

One of these guys is using Diplomacy while the other uses Insight.
The horse just wants to take a huge dump.


To summarize, Diplomacy is not an action that PC performs as a substitute for roleplaying. It is their ability to influence how those around them react to the things they do and say. This, of course, requires that your PC's do and say things. For those players who are self-conscious about acting and doing voices (I include myself in this group, though I've gotten a little less uptight about it), having NPC's react based on the Diplomacy roll - and not the manner in which the lines are delivered - can help ease them into the idea of playing 'in-character,' as well as provide the opportunity for some really memorable - and humorous - interactions.

Give this approach a try and let me know what effect it has on your game!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Art: Fantastic Phrenology - Elves

We have arrived at the last Fantastic Phrenology entry for the foreseeable future. I have reached my limit of boring profile and mug shots. If you look back over past entries, you can probably see a decline in the attention to detail and proportion - which is kind of the opposite of what drawing every day is supposed to do for you, as I understand it.

Dungeons & Dragons (4th ed. Monster Manual I)

Slightly shorter than humans, and of a slighter build, these Elves have almond-shaped eyes that are just slightly proportionately larger and turned up at the outer corners. They share the same high cheekbones and sharp, delicate features possessed by the large majority of elves, regardless of origin. They are one of the few traditionally heroic races with pointed ears, by which they are generally most recognized.

World of Warcraft
Barring the occasional daemonic pact, the elven peoples of Azeroth, despite a pronounced variation in skin tone, are nearly identical in most other respects. Possessing overly large pointed ears which sweep back past the skull, perhaps the most unique feature of the full-blooded Warcraft elf is the ability to grow facial hair. Elongated eyebrows, not unlike the antennae of some great insect, add to their uniqueness among the elven variants.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle (7th ed.)
Of the elves portrayed here - even among all of the races and variants selected for this series, the elves of the Warhammer world are likely those which most closely resemble humans, albeit ones with the tell-tale high cheekbones and sharp, well-defined features. The ever-present pointed ears should come as little surprise, though the fact that they are proportionate the rest of the head might.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Art: Fantastic Phrenology - Ogres

The term 'ogre' refers to a large, cruel, monstrous and hideous humanoid monster, featured in mythology, folklore and fiction. Ogres are often depicted in fairy tales and folklore as feeding on human beings, and have appeared in many classic works of literature. Of French origin, the term is often applied in a metaphorical sense to disgusting persons who exploit, brutalize or devour their victims and may have originally referred to giants, rather than a separate race.

Dungeons & Dragons (4th ed. Monster Manual I)
Resembling an early ancestor of humans, D&D ogres have sloped foreheads overshadowing beady, deep-set eyes. Wide noses and large maws full of misshapen teeth take up most of the facial region. Ogres are typically depicted as having a deeply recessed hairline and varying amounts of facial hair - though the area around the mouth tends to have little more than stubble. As with nearly every other monstrous race, the ears are pointed. They are also relatively small in relation to the size of the skull, protruding slightly

World of Warcraft
Of the selection of Ogres presented, those inhabiting the world of Azeroth are the most generally animalistic in appearance as well as being possessed of the widest amount of variation within a single species. Specimens have been observed possessing either one or two eyes, one or more horns, hair - even two dissimilar heads! Most, however, appear to have large, semi-pointed ears and tusks in common. Surprisingly, these ogres appear to be capable of learning how to harness and utilize magic.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle (7th ed.)
The ogres of the Warhammer reality appear as oversized humans bearing a distinct resemblance to a certain race of central Asian origin. Facial features, while large, are fairly proportionate to a human's, though noses tend to be flat and wide and the teeth will often protrude at odd angles due to a lack of dental hygine and an insatiable and nearly indiscriminate appetite. Facial hair is common and typically worn in a culturally-derived fashion, as are the locks of hair which can occasionally be spotted.

Note: Instead of scanning these images as a color document, as I had been doing up to this point, I accidentally left the setting on black & white for the final two entries of the Fantastic Phrenology series. Any differences in presentation are likely a result of this goof. Any deficiency in quality, however, is likely a result of my own ability - or lack thereof.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

40K: What if current Wounds = base Attacks?

I was going to post the next installment of the (blessedly soon to be finished) Fantastic Phrenology series (I'm sick of drawing mangled profiles and mug shots), but had an idea strike me as I went about my sinus infected-business today, so I'm gonna toss it up and see if anything sticks.

As I mulled the recent loss of my poor, forsaken Dark Eldar against the new uber-'Nids, and how I couldn't land a wounding Dark Lance shot on it to save my life, the thought occurred to me:

What if the base number of Attacks a model has is equal to it's current number of Wounds?

For most models, this is already the case: Base troops have 1 Wound and 1 Attack. Some Independent Characters and Monstrous Creatures are already this way, as well: My DE Archon (3) and the new Trygon (6, IIRC), for example. You'd still get the bonuses for CCW, charging, Combat Drugs, Wargear, etc.

As a model takes damage, however, it should not be capable of performing in combat as if it were undamaged. Even tanks have status like Immobilized and Weapon Destroyed that indicate it has taken damage and, while not out of the game, is less effective on the table. So why not apply that logic to the rest of the army?

An argument could be made against the complexity of tracking wounds in units of multi-wound creatures, but there are already rules in place for that. Really, unless you're running a MC-heavy 'Nid list, I think such a rule would be a welcome addition to the game and balance things nicely.

What do you more experienced players think: Worth considering or way off base?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Art: Steampunk Walking Contraption Mock-Up

One more step closer to the abyss: I'm on YouTube now.

This is a mock-up of a steampunk walking contraption I made in Google Sketchup 7 to help work out some perspective issues I was having on a drawing for Nevermet Press.

I exported the video from Sketch up as an .avi file and uploaded it to YouTube. Not really happy with the quality. If anyone knows how to export and upload better looking videos, I'd love to find out how.