Friday, August 22, 2014

From the 5orcerer's 5croll: Concentration and Spells

WotC was, shock and surprise, really rolling out the red carpet for 5e at GenCon. One of the best parts was getting to listen to Mike Mearls and others on the team speak about their intentions for the game and why they built the rules the way they did. I hope a lot of what they talked about is in the DMG because there’s some stuff that seems (inadvertently) designed to trip up us old-timers. If you basically treat all RPGs as additional rules, gear, and monsters to bolt onto some version of Basic D&D from when Reagan was president, then you’ll want to keep your eye out for these things.

Magic is one of the big ones. I’ve already discussed the changes to how preparing spells and spell slots work. Mearls, however, pointed out a few things I’d missed that are probably more important to how 5e is supposed to play at the table. So, in the spirit of “5e is always right,” I’ll be combing through my notes and sharing what I heard with y’all here.

One change that’s huge is how 5e handles concentration. Nearly every spell that lasts longer than 5e’s six-second round requires concentration. Concentration isn’t that limiting; you can still fight, run, drink a potion or whatever while you concentrate on maintaining a spell.

One thing you absolutely can not do while concentrating is cast another spell that also requires concentration. This is huge because most (though not all) buff spells require concentration. This means stacking buffs (like bless and enhance ability) can only be done if you’ve got multiple casters. Gone are the days when the party’s lone cleric would start every fight casting bless and prayer and whatever else buffs, stacking a pile of +1 and +2 bonuses on the rest of the party.

This is part of streamlining the game. One of the things advantage/disadvantage (and I’ll be talking more about that later) does is remove the chained arithmetic that plagues older versions of D&D: +1 for you STR bonus, +2 for being specced, +1 for bless, +2 for holding the high ground, -4 because your foe is invisible…

So, with a limited number of buffs, and most situational modifiers handled by advantage/disadvantage, it should be a lot easier to judge whether any given roll is a success. This shaves seconds off every player’s turn in combat and minutes off every combat.

There’s more to concentration however. If you’re killed or KOed, you lose concentration. Also, if you take damage while concentrating you have to make a Constitution save and the target number is 10 or half the damage you took, whichever is higher. Fail and the spell goes poof.

This isn’t just a big deal for buffs because a lot of spells that used to be fire-and-forget now require concentration. This includes the various “wall of…” spells and those like it, like web. That’s right, stop concentrating and your wall of sticky webs vanish and whatever was trapped in it is free. I don’t know about you, but that radically changes how I assumed those spells worked.

But wait, there’s more! Check out this bit from the spell flesh to stone (page 243 for those of you playing along at home):

A creature restrained by this spell must make another Constitution saving throw at the end of each of its turns. If it successfully saves against this spell three times, the spell ends. If it fails its save three times, it is turned to stone…

Yep, turning someone to stone is no longer a quick, save-or-die roll. I think all the old save-or-die spells have been changed this way. Mearls said he wanted to end the anticlimax of facing down the ancient dragon in its lair, only to have it fail a save in the first moment of combat and end the fight right there.

I’m not sure how much I agree with that goal, but it certainly makes those spells a lot more exciting and dramatic in combat.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Spell-slinging in 5e

During the playtesting for 5e, I never DMed and I never played a spell-slinging class. Most of my play was with a low-level monk, a class I don’t think I’d ever played before. It was neat, and did a good job of introducing me to the basics of 5e as they evolved through the playtest. However, I completely missed what they’d been doing with spellcasting in the game.

The writing of the rules is subtle but the changes are dramatic, and if you’re as guilty as I am about treating all later editions of D&D as just extra options and monsters to bolt on to the BX/BECMI rules, then these changes may come across as jarring at first. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

The 5e rulebook describes spell slots as “a grove of a certain size--small for a 1st-level slot, larger for a spell of higher level.” This sounds just like the spell slots we’ve always known and (sometimes) loved, but that’s absolutely not how they actually work.

A better metaphor for spell slots would be capacitors. A 1st-level spell slot holds enough magical juice to power a single 1st-level spell. A 3rd-level spell slot holds enough juice to power a single 3rd-level spell.

Yes, magic-users and clerics still prepare spells, but the number of spells and their levels are NOT based on your spell slots. Wizards prep a number of spells (that they have in their book) of any levels they know equal to their Intelligence modifier + their Wizard level. Clerics can pick from their whole list, but it’s about the same: Wisdom modifier + cleric level = number of spells you can prepare.

Now, why would you prepare spells in a ratio of levels that doesn’t match your spells slots? Because, while a 1st level slot doesn’t have the juice to power a 3rd level spell, you can use any higher level slot to power a single lower level spell. So if you really need to fire off another Jump spell (1st level transmutation), you can burn a 3rd level slot for it. (And yes, it uses the entire slot; you can’t cast three Jump spells from a single 3rd level slot.)

But wait, it get’s even weirder, because casting a spell doesn’t end its preparation. By that I mean, if your wizard has prepared Jump and they cast it, it’s still prepared! From a single preparation, your wizard could go on to burn every single spell slot of every level to keep casting the Jump spell over and over and over again.

So, the number of spells you can prepare (appropriate stat modifier + class level) is the breadth of your spellcasting ability. It defines your character’s magical flexibility. Your character’s spell slots define the depth of their magical ability; how many spells they can sling before needing to rest and recharge their magical capacitors.

This gives those classes unprecedented flexibility in spell-casting. You’re going to be seeing a lot more unusual spells prepared and actually used. (I expect we’ll also see a lot less angst and time spent in picking just the right spell list, too.)

But wait, there’s more! Because that’s just the cleric and magic-us- er, I mean, wizard.

Sorcerers work from a much more limited selection of spells known, based on their level. But there’s nothing in their description that mentions preparing spells. If you played any 3.x D&D this won’t be surprise to you. Bards handle spell-casting in an identical way (but do not get “sorcery points” that allow a sorcerer to use 3.x-style metamagic abilities to modify their spells).

The warlock, on the other hand, gets a set number of spell slots and each of those slots is at the same level. Combined with their Eldritch Invocations (largely power-boosts to particular spells), most warlocks are going to have a very limited number of magical tricks they’re very good at which they’re going to use repeatedly. Sorcerers are going to have a wider variety of spells, but still not as wide as most wizards and never as wide as clerics. However, the sorcerer is going to be able to do more with the spells they have in ways that will surprise people who think they know how those spells are “supposed” to work.

The changes are subtle in how they’re explained in the rules, but have dramatic effects on play, so you’ll want to take a closer look at those classes before you either play them or DM for them. The end result is greatly expanded flexibility across the board for every spell-slinging class while simultaneously removing the need for agonizing over every spell slot in advance for fear of not having just the right spell when it’s needed. While the changes were jarring at first (literally causing me to sit up and say, “What, what the fuck did I just read?!?”) I’m cautiously optimistic about how these will play at the table.

And now you know, and knowing is half the battle!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Playing with Kyma - the Fields & the Farmers' Gate

The Fields
The terrain west of the city is, by ancient decree, kept flat and clear of trees and bushes. The current Sultan’s father modified the law slightly by turning it into wheat and barley fields tended to by slaves, principally prisoners-of-war, criminals, and their descendents. These are kept in barracks nearly a mile from the city walls.

Tending miles and miles of grain fields is grueling work, but the bread they make is the lynchpin of the Sultan’s popularity in the city, as the food is given out for free to the poor (and sometimes these distributions are used as hunting opportunities by slavers). These distributions occur at noon in various spots in the city, but the largest happens at the Farmers’ Gate.

The slaves themselves are generally on good terms with their overseers. During the monsoon season, when there’s little work to do, they’re eager to hire themselves out for whatever work will earn them a bit of coin, and few have any scruples about the sort of work they’ll do.

Farmers’ Gate
Actually a large plaza just inside the largest of the city’s gates, it’s a daily market of fresh foods, livestock, oils, and fuel.

Every 2 hours the PCs are in the Farmers’ Gate, roll a d6. A roll of 1 indicates a significant encounter. During the monsoon, roll a d12 and consult the table below. The rest of the year, roll a d8.

  1. Relatives of POWs or convicts sentenced to slave in the fields looking for them. Roll a d4. On a 1 or 2, they are human and will reward any successful location of their loved ones (or other significant aid) with (1-10 on a d12) their gratitude and 3d4 silver pieces, (11) a useful rumor, or (12) a treasure map. On a 3 they are orcish and will swear a blood-oath to perform one important service (usually limited to killing or breaking something/one, though they will do up to a month of bodyguard work). On a 4, they are elvish and reward successful aid with (50%) two useful potions or six silvered arrows of such excellent quality that the shooter has advantage on rolls to hit.
  2. A farmer looking for help rescuing his wife and daughter from a gang of satyrs who have seduced them away.
  3. A farmer looking for help rescuing her husband from a dryad who’s seduced him away.
  4. Frightened farmers with tales of (1-3 on a d6) marauding orcs, (4-5) nocturnal werewolf attacks, or (6) wyverns carrying off livestock.
  5. Werewolves posing as frightened farmers in order to lure skilled warriors out to their collective of huts where they will be infected and charmed into the pack.
  6. Rangers looking for aid in hunting dangerous game (probably wyvern, griffons, or possibly even a roc).
  7. Centaur seeking to complete a bride-challenge in order to win the hand of a female centaur. The task she has set requires him to either (1-3 on a d8) acquire at least 50 gold pieces, (4-5) a prize goat for her herds, (6-7) an object of art blessed by the priests of Phaedre, or (8) a useful magic item. He’ll have 1d4 rivals in town, also seeking to complete the same quest.
  8. A riot as too many of the poor showed up and there’s not enough bread to go around. For four hours, the players will be challenged every round you roll a 1 or 2 on a d6 by (roll of 1-2 on another d6) their number multiplied by the result of rolling a d4 in 0th level squatters from the Warrens, (3) a gang of slavers looking to capitalize on the lawlessness including 0th level fighters equal in number to the party plus two 1st level fighters and either a 5th level thief leader or a 4th level priest of Shkeen, (4) city guards angry and looking to bust heads including a number of 0th level guardsmen equal to the party’s number +2d4 lead by a guardsman lieutenant equal in level to a roll on a 2d6, or (5-6) a gang of orcs on a rampage equal in number to the party, lead by a pair of half-orc fighters equal to the party’s average level. During any fight, there’s a 50% chance that assassins from the Beggar’s Guild will strike if the PCs have earned that Guild’s enmity.
  9. A witch from the countryside, come to procure (1-2 on a roll of a d6 + highest Charisma bonus in the group) the eye of an elf, (3-4) expensive alchemical equipment she needs transported 20 miles back to her home (25% chance a rival witch attempts to interfere), (5-6) the egg of a fertile woman of orcish ancestry (25% chance she has a magical method of procuring it that doesn’t involve the death of the donor), or (7+) one or two high-charisma individuals she can charm and lure off into slavery to her.
  10. 1d4 field slaves looking for work. They have no useful skills but know the city and the surrounding countryside extremely well.
  11. 1d8 field slaves looking to settle old scores. Their target is (1-3 on a d6) a wealthy merchant, (4-5) a city judge, or (6) a master of the Beggar’s Guild.
  12. A skilled slave looking for work. Determine the slave’s race and class randomly. They will be 1 + 1d4 levels lower than the PCs, though never lower than level 1.