Tuesday Around the Web (Gnome Stew and Podcast Updates)

Today my more recent article is up on Gnome Stew, looking at Keith Baker’s Exploring Eberron, a product for the Dungeon Masters Guild, which is a major expansion for the setting, based on work from the setting’s creator.

If you like that content, I can neither confirm nor deny that you may want to keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming Gnomecast. I mean, you should listen to every Gnomecast, very carefully. Even the ones I’m not on. And I’m not just saying that so I don’t end up in the stew.

However, speaking of podcasts, today is also the day that the second full episode (third, if you count our session zero) of the Streets of Avalon: The Bleak Testament has been released. If you want to hear an audio version of the gritty urban D&D campaign I’ve been running for some friends online, but you don’t want to sit through my YouTube videos, you may want to check this out.

And also, The Streets of Avalon campaign setting, by Brett Bloczynski and published by Encoded Designs.

What Do I Know About Reviews? Star Trek Adventures Enterprise Player Characters

Enterprise PC CoverI haven’t had as much of a chance to mention it on the blog, but I’ve been running Star Trek Adventures for a while now, and really enjoying the system. From a mental health standpoint, I’m enjoying running games in a future where humanity gets it collective act together and works for the greater good, and from a creative standpoint, I enjoy the challenge of running game sessions that feel “Star Trek.”

I was recently sent a review copy of the Star Trek Adventures Enterprise Player Characters, and I thought I would take some time to look at it. While this product was sent to me as a review copy, in the past, I have purchased the Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager Player Character products.

Class Four Probe

This product is a 16 page PDF, with a cover, title page, index, and three pages of ads. The ads are for other STA products, other Modiphius products, and a Star Trek mobile game ad. There is a printer friendly and a full color version included in the download.

The standard Star Trek Adventures book assumes a TNG era setting, but has provisions for playing in other eras. Because of this, the core books are committed to the LCARS formatting to make the whole book look like the computer displays in the TNG era series. The Original Series Player Character product uses formatting that looks more like the 1960s series, and this one also uses a different formatting, which matches the display aesthetic of the Enterprise series.

Three Eras

The core rulebook presents the default of the TNG era, but also references how to use material in both the Original Series and Enterprise era. Most of this support comes in the form of statistics for vehicles from various eras, as well as notes on what cultures the Federation has contacted at what point in time.

I think it’s fair to say that the Enterprise era has gotten the least attention in the product line. We may get some older Romulan or Orion ships in supplements, but even the adventure anthologies usually skew towards the Original Series or TNG era, with notes on adapting adventures to the Enterprise era.

Virtual Contents

This product contains statistics for the following characters:

  • Captain Jonathan Archer
  • Commander T’Pol
  • Commander Charles Tucker III
  • Lieutenant Malcom Reed
  • Lieutenant Hoshi Sato
  • Ensign Travis Mayweather
  • Doctor Phlox
  • Commander Thy’lek Shran
  • Enterprise NX-01

Previous products have included statistics for extraordinary characters native to the show. For example, the TNG product had rules for playing androids, DS9 contained rules for Changelings, and Voyager had rules for both emancipated Borg drones and holographic characters. This product is more like the Original Series product, in that it doesn’t introduce any new player character options for original characters, mainly because most of the important characters belong to societies that were foundational to the Federation, and already have entries in the core rulebook.

I appreciated the inclusion of Commander Thy’lek Shran, the Andorian that became the bridge to communicating information about the culture in the series. Part of why I included an Andorian captain in my own Star Trek Adventures game is due to the groundwork that Enterprise laid for the culture.

While the NX-class ship has appeared in other products, the version presented here reflects some of the unique modifications made to the ship over the course of the series, as well as the special titles that ship acquired, in the form of Traits.

Stats and Famous Characters

I wrote in a review of one of the FFG Star Wars products that I’m usually disappointed when a game product takes up space giving me statistics for famous characters from the IP, because I’m going to be making my game about my characters. Allow me to both backtrack and provide some context.

It isn’t uncommon for the resolution of a Star Wars conflict to end with someone becoming one with the Force (you know, dying). Lines are usually more clearly drawn, where you are either for or against the protagonists. Additionally, Star Wars tends to be a Saga, i.e. characters do big things that build on other big things (even if some of those big things are just bigger versions of previous things).

Star Trek is a little more like a comic book. Many stories are episodic, so it actually makes perfect sense to play a one shot with characters that you are familiar with, in an episode that we just haven’t seen previously. Additionally, guest stars from other series are a trope within Star Trek. Characters that were important in one series often show up later in another series.

Additionally, conflict in Star Trek is often ideological, and while morality and ethics are important, traditionally there is a bit more nuance to some decisions. That means that characters may come into conflict with famous NPCs about how to handle a situation, without whipping out phasers or bat’leths to settle the conflict.

Given that the core game already accounts for playing supporting characters when a player’s main character isn’t available in a given scene, its even fairly easy to have a “guest star” available as a temporary supporting character.

For all of those reasons, I think stats for specific, named characters are a lot more useful in a Star Trek Adventures game than a Star Wars game. I want someone like Sela to show up in a Star Trek game for the same reason I want Doctor Doom to show up in a Marvel game, or Lex Luthor to show up in a DC game. She’s likely to be a recurring problem, rather than a boss fight.

Commendation

I love the evocative formatting on these products. I helps to get someone reading them into the proper mindset, but I also appreciate that there are printer friendly versions of the file, in case you want to print these out for a one shot (I mean, I don’t know why you would do that, because who would ever game face to face . . . 2020, what have you done to us?). While the game itself isn’t so rules heavy that “builds” are tricky, I do like seeing how the designers frame the values of a character. I’m really happy to see an important ancillary character show up in the form of Shran.

A Note in Your Service Record

I understand why, but compared to some of the other Star Trek Adventures Player Character products, you don’t get the additional value of more player options. While I don’t expect this product to provide it, the framework for running a game in the Enterprise era is a lot thinner in the game in general, although this product in and of itself is a step towards fleshing it out.

Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

This is a solid product that does what it says it will, and provides you with stats for the Enterprise crew from the cast of the show. They will be great to use for a one shot and for context of who the characters are, in context of other characters from the Star Trek universe.

That said, there isn’t the additional “kicker” to purchase this beyond the player character stats. Beyond a holodeck or time travel shenanigans (which, to be honest, are viable options), you are less likely to use these characters in later eras.

Would the end of a review be a bad time to actually mention to Modiphius that I would pay for separate “era” sourcebooks for the Enterprise era and the Original Series that highlights exactly what is and isn’t in play, and the kinds of themes to play up in addition to the standard Star Trek feel?

What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana 2020 Subclasses Part 4 (D&D 5e)

PHB Special CoverTime for another round of first impressions with the release of a new Unearthed Arcana today. Press play on your MP3 of Alice Cooper’s “I Love the Dead,” because that’s kind of the theme of today’s offerings, with two new subclasses that deal with spirits from beyond. In this case, the subclasses are for bards and warlocks.

The College of Spirits (Bard)

This subclass represents bards who speak with spirits to learn stories from them, and gain special abilities from these stories. The flavor of the class leans heavily on concepts from fortune-telling and seances.

  • 3rd—Guiding Whispers, Spiritual Focus, Tales from Beyond
  • 6th—Spiritual Focus, Spirit Session
  • 14th—Mystical Connection

At 3rd level, College of Spirits bards get access to guidance, they can use alternate spellcasting focuses like candles, crystal balls, a tarokka deck, or a “talking board,” and they get a special use of their Inspiration feature which costs a bonus action to “charge,” and an action to “discharge. In this case, they hear a story from a spirit, then impart the power from that story.

The mechanic for this is a table for the type of story the sprits have provided the bard. The table goes from 1 to 12, but it uses the bardic inspiration die, so the higher entries on the chart are only available at higher levels, but aren’t reliably available as higher-level abilities. The effects of these stories vary from advantage, extra damage, save movement, and temporary hit points at the low end, to similar effects at the high end, which might involve the base effect and a “kicker ability” (such as becoming invisible and getting extra damage the first time the invisible creature attacks), to having effects that do damage equal to multiple rolls of a bardic inspiration die.

At 6th level, the character gains an addition die on healing or damage done with spells when using their special spiritual foci, and they can also perform a special kind of séance that grants them an extra divination or necromancy spell. This is limited by proficiency bonus AND the number of participants, so this might be an instance where party size directly affects the efficacy of a class ability, once proficiency bonus outstrips PCs in the group.

At 14th level, instead of spending a bardic inspiration die to use the Tales from Beyond feature, it’s something you can do all of the time, whenever you want to spend the bonus action and an action to trigger the effect, but when used in this way, without using a bardic inspiration die, you only roll a d6 for effects.

First off, the easy observations. I really like the flavor of this class, and like most of the Unearthed Arcana we’ve seen the last year or so, the “story” of the subclass is pretty strong and consistent. Additionally, we’re seeing more use of the “proficiency bonus” as a limiter instead of ability bonus, which leads me to think that it wasn’t too unpopular in previous feedback to keep making an appearance.

Having a table that scales with the die used for bardic inspiration is one of the most innovative ways I have seen to “level up” a class ability, but I’m not sure how comfortable I am with it. I know as a replacement for a bardic inspiration, there has to be a payoff to the larger die type, but it also feels like it could be really disappointing to not get those bigger effects when you spend a bigger die. I like this concept, I’m just torn on how I feel about how often it might get used, and if it will get used enough to appreciate entries that are 6+.

I mentioned that party size might be a limiter to how effective Spirit Session is, but unless your group is very non-standard, or is just missing someone for a session or two, this probably won’t even come up until 13th level, and if you happen to be somewhere with available NPCs, even that limiter is removed. I like the feeling of the séance and the need for more participants enough that I’m not sure I would tinker with it too much.

The Undead (Warlock)

If you are thinking that the Undead otherworldly patron sounds a lot like the Undying patron from Sword Coast Adventurers Guide, you aren’t wrong. While the Undying patron mentions a lot of famous undead D&D NPCs, it also throws in a god that died and came back as well, while the Undead takes great pains to mention other famous D&D undead as example patrons. What’s interesting is that the NPCs mentioned in the Undying are more “background NPCs,” like Vlaakith, the ruler of the Githyanki, Vecna, and Fistandantalus, the Undead example patrons are NPCs that have traditionally been more likely to be encountered directly in various adventures, like Acererak, Soth, or Strahd.

  • 1st—Expanded Spell List, Form of Dread
  • 6th—Grave Touched
  • 10th—Mortal Husk
  • 14th—Spirit Projection

About half the spells on the Undead Expanded Spells list are in common with the Undying list. The Undead list has a few more “curse” feeling spells and spooky illusion spells. At the high end, Undying gets an option to garner knowledge, and Undead just keeps living people away and kills lots of them.

Form of Dread allows the character to transform into a semblance of your undead patron, giving you temp hit points, immunity to fear, and the ability to cause fear with your attacks. This is another “proficiency bonus” limited ability.

Grave Touched gives the warlock the ability to survive without food, water, and air, and adds a kicker to the Form of Dread ability that allows the warlock to sub out necrotic damage for the minute that the ability is in effect.

Mortal Husk makes you resistant to necrotic damage, or immune if the warlock is in their Form of Dread. It also grants the warlock the ability to explode with a necrotic blast when they reach 0 hit points, then reforms with 1 hit point and exhaustion. This is another ability that utilizes a random number of long rests.

Spirit Projection lets the PC leave their body for an hour, as if casting a concentration spell. The character is resistant to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, you can fly, and pass through solid objects (with the standard D&D 5e force damage if you end your turn in something). If you pop Form of Dread at the same time, you can heal yourself when you damage people with necromantic spells.

First off, comparing this to the Undying a bit more, the Undying feels like using the authority of a big bad thing beyond death. The Undead patron feels a bit more like borrowing the actual traits of a more powerful undead being. The theme of the subclass is consistent, but it does feel like it also maintains a subtle distance from what is admittedly a very similar theme in an existing set of rules.

It feels odd that this subclass doesn’t interact with poison damage. It feels like once you start playing with the need to eat, sleep, and breathe, poison seems like something that should also be affected. Is poison common enough that throwing in resistance would be too much? I’m not sure.

I can’t fully put my finger on it, but I don’t like the randomized number of long rests feature that has been introduced. I feel like in the course of a single night of adventure, rolling higher than a one can be a dramatic shift in how often something can be accessed. I know that the Divine Intervention ability has been cited as a guiding principle on this, but making it a week between uses effectively says “not until you finish something major.”

I do love the idea of the warlock’s body just exploding with death energy, and then reforming. That’s a great visual.

Final Thoughts

I love the concept of both of these subclasses. I like the idea of a séance/fortune-telling bard, and I like how it gets channeled into a summon story, then expend the story. I do like that the Undead patron warlock has more of a general ability to lock down attackers with fear, rather than the very specific ability of the Undying to be safe from undead. I think switching damage type to necrotic could be potentially powerful, depending on how often the PCs are running into undead, but that’s campaign dependent, and cuts both ways. I’m pretty happy with the “proficiency bonus limit” mechanic, although it feels just a little weird compared to all of the past “1 + ability bonus” older style abilities.

I am both really intrigued and really cautious about the “bigger die equals more access to effects” concept in the College of Sprits, but I want it to be a satisfying mechanic. It’s probably the thing I most want to see players use to see how they react to it. Now that I’m seeing more of it, I’m not a fan of a randomized number of long rests per “reset” of a class ability, but even with that in mind, I would be interested to see either of these subclasses at work in a few game sessions.

What Do I Know About Reviews? Armaments of Legend (Dungeon Masters Guild Product)

Magic items in Dungeons and Dragons started off as one of many, many tropes that got added to the game to emulate all the various sources that inspired the game. Everything from classic mythology and folklore to pulp stories describe various items, which got stats and could show up across the board.

In early D&D, this meant people could randomly find a thing that was kind of cool sometimes, to something amazingly awesome all the time, but until 3rd edition, the design of the game didn’t assume that magic items were part of what every adventurer should have. In 3rd edition, characters had a wealth “budget” to show how much player characters were assumed to have available to them.

Towards the end of 3rd edition, several supplementary rules tried to address the idea that these amazing, wonderful items eventually were underpowered, and characters would trade in their super special +1 magic item for a super special +3 magic item, because math. Two means of addressing this came from Weapons of Legacy and the Magic Item Compendium.

Weapons of Legacy allowed a weapon to become more powerful over time, so that characters weren’t constantly selling or trading off old magic items to get something more appropriate for their level. The Magic Item Compendium introduced runestones, which allowed a player character to acquire other magic items that could be slotted into an existing item to make it better.

Implementation: Third Edition and Beyond

Weapons of Legacy had a harder time fitting into the 3rd edition paradigm, because they were designed to assume sacrifice on the part of the player, in the form of investing experience points to unlock greater abilities. This created a weird calibration between the assumed gold piece value of magic items and what the Legacy Weapon could do. A little more calibrated to 3e’s paradigm were runestones, where the different tiers of runestone powers could be mapped to a gp value.

Fourth edition had both a similar and very different idea about magic items, in that they were assumed as part of the player character’s power level, but the paradigm of how player characters changed and upgraded their weapons had brand new rules. Finally, we reach 5e, which doesn’t assume that characters have any particular magic items, but where you may still notice the difference between that +1 sword you find at 5th level versus the vorpal sword you pick up at 15th level. Can you really put aside Doomchopper, Survivor of Rust Monsters, just because you found a vorpal sword? I mean, you probably should, but you named it and everything, even if it isn’t codified in the rules.

Wow, that was a long preamble. What I really meant to say is, I’m going to look at the Dungeon Masters Guild product, Armaments of Legacy.

Details of the Artifact

This product is 19 pages long, including a cover, a title page with legal text, and a credits page which also includes the author’s introduction. Rich Lescouflair, the author, is one of the go-to people for layout among the Guild Adepts, and the product shows his talent for formatting. It looks great and uses the art assets available extremely well.

What’s in the PDF

As with a lot of my reviews of smaller products, I’m doing more of a flyby of the book than I do in larger products, lest my review ends up being as long as the product itself. The product describes how the concept works, then dives into the actual magic items rather quickly.

The main body of the work is detailing the weapons, armor, shields, and foci, and the powers that they gain over time. At the end of the book, there is a short discussion about requiring specific events to trigger upgrades instead of just being triggered when the character levels up. It finishes up with the idea of using runestones as items that can trigger the upgrades in a weapon, or the alternate idea of sacrificing spell scrolls to etch upgrades into an existing weapon.

Using Legacy Items

As someone that is a fan of the origins and quirks that magic items can have, as detailed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I like how this section includes suggested bonds for the weapons to the campaign, and to the characters that gain them. This section also outlines some of the rules and terminology surrounding the concepts. The upgrade points are “close” to the way tiers are detailed in Dungeons and Dragons, but not exact, with the upgrade points being at 5th/10th/15th level.

The Items

The general concept here is that various magic items are structured with a base level power, then upgrades that trigger when a character reaches the higher “tiers” of class levels. Many of the magic items feel very similar to iconic magic items, often building to the more well-known powers, but adding some more utilitarian powers at lower levels.

There are a range of items, including weapons, armor, shields, and caster foci. There are a few discernable patterns with the progressions. For example, weapons that do extra damage often scale from 3/7/10 additional damage over the tiers. Caster foci often scale from 7/10/20 charges to power the focus’ secondary powers. Some of the magic items break from this pattern, but I like that it feels like there was an established baseline, and when the concept calls for it, that’s when the product experiments with the structure.

I suspect that these rules represent some of the ideas that may go into Rich Lescouflair’s work in the 5e space opera game Esper Genesis, mainly because the Charger Weapon grants a bonus to “burst saves,” which I’m not sure are a thing in Dungeons and Dragons, but are a thing in Esper Genesis, regarding auto-fired weapons.

Even though all the items have the same upgrade points, some of them feel more specialized than others, so how well they compare to one another is going to depend on the events of the campaign. For example, an elemental weapon is going to be more broadly useful in combat than a demolisher weapon, which is effective against structures and gets benefits when attacking constructs.

The level curve feels smoother for some of the items than others. For example, the battle focus levels from a +1/+2/+3 bonus to spell attacks, finally allowing a once per long rest recovery of a spell slot at the highest upgrade level. On the other hand, the healing focus goes from allowing you to cast cure wounds, to lesser restoration, to heal, to having the option to cast resurrection or true resurrection depending on how many charges you want to spend. While we’re talking about foci, the legacy items retain the odd dichotomy of having general implement bonuses being limited to spell attacks, but giving the warlock specific focus bonuses to the spell DCs as well.

I am especially interested to see how the more powerful items, with upgrades split across levels, feel in a game, compared to similar, non-scaling items. As an example, I currently have a character with a vorpal sword in my game, with the characters around 11th level. This can cause some swingy fights. On the other hand, the sundering weapon adds an escalating damage bonus to critical hits, with a secondary roll at higher levels to trigger the ability to cut off heads and other important protrusions. I have a feeling that at 10th level, this weapon would “feel” like it could have the same impact, but wouldn’t potentially have that impact earlier in the campaign.

Variant Rules and Runic Legacy Weapons

The variant rules provide some brief advice on a range of topics, like sentient legacy items, legacy items becoming artifacts in the campaign when players reach epic levels and do great deeds with them, and how to address characters losing their legacy items after they have invested their personal development in the item.

Runic legacy weapons and the rules around them confused me a bit at first. Essentially, it’s not a separate set of rules, it’s a set of rules meant to replace a legacy weapon automatically gaining its powers. Instead, the weapons are presented as simple magic items with slots, which can upgrade when new runestones are added to the slots.

Runestones can either be used long term to upgrade an item, or they can be used to cast a specific spell, like casting a spell from a scroll. As an alternative to the alternative, there is also a set of rules that details sacrificing a spell scroll to etch runes into an existing weapon to upgrade the weapon, for an additional cost (since the weapon doesn’t already have runic upgrade slots).

I’ll be honest, when I started reading this section, I thought it was going to be more of a freeform “rune X provides power X, and can be mixed and matched with various tiers to custom build an upgraded weapon,” instead of changing the story of how the upgrades work, while keeping the same structure. I would actually be really interested to see a set of “build your own” upgrade runes that allow for a more freeform combination of superior, master, and epic runes from different sources, possibly with some notes on some absolute “rune X will not work with rune Y” notes, but that would take a bit more room to unpack.

Just What I Wanted

I really like the concept of these items, and I adore how you can scale access to some of the more iconic magic items in Dungeons and Dragons by using some of the rules. I also really like the amount of effort put into providing more interesting foci. I like that by framing these as foci, and not just as random wands or staves, it feels like it’s something the player is actively engaged in utilizing, instead of being whoever can spend the charges from the item.

What Am I Going to Do With an Apparatus of Kwalish?

I would love a little more discussion of integrating these items into a campaign, like discussing the broad category of legacy item that players might want if they find them later in the campaign, suggested limits on how many legacy items characters should have, and more details on the expanded rules hinted at towards the end of the book. There are also a few either “uneven” expressions or artifacts of other game rules that I think snuck in. For example, most weapons do specific extra damage, but at least one starts off doing 1d6, but then shifts into the traditional 7/10 damage upgrades.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

I’m an easy mark for products that manage to reintroduce older game rules into 5e, but manage to do so in a manner that feels consistent with how 5th edition has been expressed. I think this product clearly falls into this category.

Some of the issues I would bring up about this product, like the uneven distribution of power for different items of power for different rarities, isn’t really a problem with this product, because the magic items, as presented, are pretty consistent with how 5e magic items already appear.

Magic items are more art than science.

If you are likely to be running a campaign with even a few “tiers” that the player characters are likely to progress through, you may want to take a look at this for your player characters, so they can love and cherish their special items over the long term.

Quest Review Today at Gnome Stew

I’ve got a review of the new RPG Quest up today at Gnome Stew.

Quest has been getting a lot of buzz lately online, and it’s interesting to take a look at a game that is very story-based, and leans heavily on resource spending and a multi-tiered dice resolution system.

Swing by Gnome Stew to get a look at the review, and let me know what you think, either there, or here. Thanks!

Wizards of the Coast, Diversity, Inclusion, and Hiring

1200px-Wizards_of_the_Coast_logo.svgWizards of the Coast has posted a job opening for a Senior Manager of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. While Wizards has been under fire since Orion Black’s discussion of their time working for the company, I wouldn’t doubt that this position was already being created before that came to pass.

In their statement, Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons, Wizards of the Coast stated the following:

“We’re proactively seeking new, diverse talent to join our staff . . . “

I’m fairly certain this position was already part of this initiative before the most recent wave of bad publicity. Because this is an important moment in gaming, I wanted to address this. Wizards of the Coast really does need to hire more diverse people, and needs to be more sensitive of a wider range of marginalized communities. It is one thing to make a mistake and to address it later, it is another to make a mistake that likely would have been caught by someone with a broader, more empathetic perspective, only to realize that the only perspective available during development was white.

The Buzz

This position posting is already being met with some skepticism. To some degree, I understand. Wizards of the Coast has failed to take action or to rectify situations enough times as to legitimately cause people to question their sincerity when it comes to addressing the negative aspects of their corporate culture.

In fact, looking at the requirements for the job position, I can’t help but think that those same requirements could be cited to give Wizards of the Coast “cover” if they end up hiring a white male to lead their diversity initiative, because many marginalized populations don’t get the opportunity to get that level of experience. I will go one step further and say that if Wizards of the Coast does hire a white male, this position could easily be seen as a sacrificial position, allowing Wizards of the Coast to fire the person in the position the next time they draw serious fire.

Hope?

So, if Wizards has given reason to mistrust them, and I can see where this position could be used improperly to direct fire at an individual, and away from the company, why am I disappointed in the broadly negative reaction to this posting? This comes down to two things.

Without this position, we don’t have any indication that anything is being done within the company. If we hear from the white male heads of Wizards of the Coast and the D&D brand that things are being done, but there is no further communication, we don’t see any progress. This position may not represent progress, but if the job is done the way it is presented, it will be progress. In many cases, we only have outward facing signs to measure in the short term.

The other thing that keeps me from being entirely cynical isn’t a reflection of good will towards Wizards of the Coast, its is a acknowledgement of the reality of modern life. We have a tendency to want to take a specific step, declare victory, and then get upset when that victory wasn’t as decisive as we initially thought.

The biggest example of this that we can see is in political elections. We are conditioned to look for the “right” candidate, and then expect everything to function well until the next election. But that’s not actually how to make anything better. Just like with the political process, fighting for a specific thing to be done, and then not following through with further input and pressure to make corrections and follow the correct course, is a path to disappointment.

Even if this position isn’t a position created to redirect blame, it is entirely possible that the position may not have the influence and resources that it needs to create real change, unless the public continues to show their desire for Wizards to address the mistakes that they have made, and will continue to make in the future. Real, substantive change cannot be achieved on auto-pilot.

There have been times in the past when positions that were created only for the purposes of appeasement have been filled with people looking to make real change. If nothing else, a strong person in this position may be willing and able to elaborate the problems they are having with the company in doing their job. There may be a preponderance of evidence that this won’t fix the problem, but without taking this step, we have no way of knowing that any of these initiatives are anything more than press releases.

Expectations

I have a hard time accepting that anyone who is not from a marginalized community will the the empathy and perspective needed to do this job. That is not a matter of tokenism, it is the reality of people with privilege leading any initiative to divest people like themselves of being the sole arbiters of equity.

While I am very skeptical that Wizards of the Coast would follow this next bit of advice, I think it would speak volumes to the public if this position was not bound by Non-Disclosure Agreements outside of the realm of product development. Being able to speak freely about the hiring process and the actual internal initiatives would provide transparency to the public. That said, being owned by an even bigger company like Hasbro makes this level of transparency extremely unlikely.

I want to see this work. I will not say that it is unlikely, but I will say that it is unlikely without continuous input and pressure from the public. 

I’m Talking and I Can’t Shut Up! (Podcast Appearances)

In case you actually want to hear my sonorous, deep, nasal voice being recorded as I talk about games, I’ve had two recent podcast appearances lately.

The first one is on the Gnomecast, where I get the chance to talk with Ang and Senda again, this time about evolving preferences that we have learned from gaming online in recent months. Ang and Senda are both great to talk to.

The second podcast is a first for me. For years I’ve listened to The Tome Show, but this is the first time I have been a guest on the show. I get together with Jeff, Sarah, and Sam to discuss how we go about deciding where to put out gaming dollars.

I feel honored whenever I get to be on shows with great hosts, talking about fun topics, and I enjoyed both of these appearances greatly.

Shotguns and Sorcery the RPG Review at Gnome Stew

Today over at Gnome Stew, I have a review up for Shotguns and Sorcery the Roleplaying Game, a hard-boiled fantasy setting based on a series of stories, and utilizing the rules for the Cypher System.

If you are interested to see how Cypher System rules used for settings outside of those that have been presented by Monte Cook games, or just want to get an idea of the kinds of things that are present in the game, please swing by and check out the review.

What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana: Feats (2020)

PHB Special CoverToday saw another Unearthed Arcana drop for the first time in a while, and this time around, it’s all about new feats. I’m going to look at all of them individually, but first, I wanted to list all of the feats that are in the document, and I’m going to put a star next to all of the feats that give you an ability score boost, so I’m not addressing that every time it comes up.

  • Artificer Initiative
  • Chef*
  • Crusher*
  • Eldritch Adept
  • Fey Touched*
  • Fighting Initiate
  • Gunner*
  • Metamagic Adept
  • Piercer*
  • Poisoner
  • Practiced Expert*
  • Shadow Touched*
  • Shield Training*
  • Slasher*
  • Tandem Tactician
  • Tracker*

In addition to the ability score boosts above, Eldritch Adept and Metamagic Adept both require some form of spellcasting as a prerequisite, and Fighting Initiate requires a martial weapon proficiency of some kind.

Artificer Initiate

It’s a little bit more than what Magic Initiate gets, in that it grants a tool proficiency, but that doesn’t feel like a huge problem, especially since tool proficiencies are one of the things you are allowed to pick up with downtime.

Chef

I like the idea of someone being good at cooking, but I wish the effects were broader than extra hit points when recovering and temporary hit points. Some kind of floating “well fed” die that can be used would be something I would like, since that means cooking isn’t only effective at helping the “combat” tier.

Crusher/Piercer/Slasher

I’m looking at these together, because they are structurally similar, with an ability boost, an effect when you hit with something that does the indicated type of damage, and an extra effect that triggers when a critical hit is scored. I like decoupling combat “style” feats from specific weapons and towards damage types, but I’m not sure all of the effects are equal.

I didn’t have a problem with Crusher, but actually, looking at Piercer, I have more of a problem with the differences between these feats. I know rerolling damage is to model Piercing weapons having a more precise ability, but there are already a lot of “reroll damage” feats and abilities. Also, when we look at Slasher in a bit, like Crusher, it seems to have a movement based “kicker.” I almost think instead of rerolling damage, pierced creatures should have a movement rate style effect.

Instead of pushing someone back, this Slasher you reduce their speed, but unlike Crusher, you don’t have a size limit, which feels like this movement base modification is overall more useful. I’m also visualizing the grievous injury portion, only really fits the narrative of something that feels pain. I can understand something hit by something heavy staggering, but this one is a bit more of a fuzzy place for me.

Precision be damned, I think the crit effect for all three should probably be extra damage. I think there either needs to be a size limit for all three, or for none of them. Introducing a save might be more fiddly, but may be better across the board, with the “once per round when you hit” option requiring a save, then either knocking someone prone (bludgeoning), keeping them from moving (piercing), or forcing them back (slashing). But that’s my gut feeling on this one.

Eldritch Adept

I’m not a fan of adding class features from one class to anyone that can take the feat. I think it starts to really muddy the water on the lines between classes and why they get the abilities they get. I don’t think it’s a devastating use of the ability, my concern is more from a flavor perspective.

Fey Touched

Ability boost, grants 1st level spell from enchantment or divination, as well as misty step. These are castable with native spell abilities as well as the normal 1/long rest ability. I think I like the idea of “extra spell” feats based on the “story” of where a character has been and what as influenced them.

Fighting Initiate

Fighting styles aren’t limited to one class, but they are limited to “front line” fighter types, so I think I feel the same way about this feat that I do about the Eldritch Adept feat. Of the “thunder stealing” feats, I’m the least concerned about this one, because it’s already a shared ability and requires some proficiency with some martial weapon. I kind of want to see what this looks like for people that are moved to dabble with it, but I’m on the fence.

Gunner

I like an “official” way for a character to know how to use firearms in the game, and it’s pretty much what I would expect, being very similar to what happens when you are a crossbow expert, so I’m good with this.

Metamagic Adept

So I don’t sound like a broken record, while I have the same problem with this as I do with Eldritch Adept and Fighting Initiate, I think I’m even less a fan of this one than the other two. The most fiddly things I’ve seen done with spellcasters in 5e have been with sorcerer multi-class (or straight class sorcerers), and adding part of the fiddly nature to other spellcasters and giving them the option of when to use or not use their points isn’t one of my favorite things to contemplate.

Poisoner

I don’t know if everyone else has had players like I have over the years, but given that poison is kind of expensive, but maybe effective, it’s nice having a built in “poison specialist” ability for the game, and I’m a fan of this. You can still buy the expensive stuff and take a full round, but if you want to make it your “thing” that you poison people, you have a more instantaneous option with this. It could still get expensive, but not quite as expensive and tedious as looking for the DMG defined poisons.

Practiced Expert

I’m not a fan of class abilities that double proficiency bonus. I understand some of them, I just feel like there shouldn’t be as many of them as there are. So I’m not a fan of this. Part of why is that 5e is built around bounded accuracy. The more ways you have to skew the expected average, the more you start feeling that skill checks are either pointless outside of combat, or that you may need to start going back to 3e era “superlocks” and “ultra-climbs” that require you to boost things past DC 25 to be “really really hard.”

Shadow Touched

This is similar to the Fey Touched feat, except with Darkness and an illusion or necromancy spell. I like the bookends of the Feywild and Shadowfell affecting people that wander too close to them, so I like this one as well.

Shield Training

You get to lose your shield a lot more quickly, which is something that actually came up a few times in games that I have been in, because people remembered the rules for shields. The most noteworthy thing about this is that it means you can have spellcasters that normally aren’t shield wielders using shields for focus objects, like warlocks, wizards, sorcerers, and druids.

Tandem Tactician

This is another one I feel like I would have to see in action, in part because it’s changing the “help” paradigm in multiple directions. It’s increasing the range of help, allowing you to do it with multiple allies, and changing it to a bonus action. Action economy is a tricky thing, and in a way, this thing is messing with that on two axis.

Tracker

I’ll be briefer with this one . . . I feel like taking a ranger trick from the ranger in 5e is just not a good thing to do. Even if you think rangers aren’t underpowered and just need to be deployed effectively, the zeitgeist is really going to turn on rangers if you can pull one of their tricks out of their bag. I would almost rather leave all of the other effects in tack, but instead of allowing someone to use hunter’s mark if they don’t have it, allow hunter’s mark to function without concentration. That makes the feat a lot more limited, but plays into the story of being super focused on tracking.

Summary Thoughts

The last time we got an Unearthed Arcana with a lot of feats in it, my biggest concern was that some of those feats were doing the 3e trick of “backwards constraining” what characters without the feats should be allowed to do. In general, I feel like this batch largely avoids that trap. I’m more concerned about niche protection this time around and probability creep for non-combat skills.

All of that said, I’m kind of interested to see what would happen using some of these instead of allowing for full multi-classing, as the only way of picking up tricks from other classes, in which case, I think these feats work on a different level.

 

When You Want D&D Flavor In a Non-WOTC Container

5eBadge-238x300I’ve got another article on the way that is going to dig a little bit deeper into some of the current issues with Wizards of the Coast and some of the missteps they have made recently, and what that could mean for D&D going forward. I’m not going to advocate for a boycott, and I’m not going to tell you to keep buying. I know some people make money off D&D that are good, and there are people making money off of it that are not, and how to make the best impact when communicating with corporate entities can be difficult alchemy.

That said, I wanted to take a look at how much you can engage with Dungeons and Dragons 5e content without actually engaging with Wizards of the Coast. This is all assuming that you are coming in “cold” and don’t already own a bunch of WOTC products.

The first thing to keep in mind is that even though the Basic Rules exist, the SRD is even more comprehensive. The SRD for 5th edition D&D is not formatted in the most effective way to teach the game . . . but formatting for newcomers can be a tricky thing with D&D anyway. The point is, the core rules are all there, the core classes are all there, so there is a lot to hang other material on.

I’m going to talk about other products that have come out, and how you can utilize them. If I don’t talk about a campaign setting you know and love, or a product you enjoy, it’s not a slight, it’s just that I’m only talking about things that I have had the time to directly review.

Disclaimer

Many of these products use the terminology established in the base D&D game, so the term “race” is used frequently, because many of these products are following the established pattern. Where the game rules have used the term, I have used them as well.

More Support for Player Options

I just recently finished up reviews for several products that address player options that may make more interesting additions to your game. For example, if you want to drift “race” in D&D to ancestry and culture, check out the reviews on the following products:

Between these two products, you will have alternatives if you really miss using “official” Goliaths, Warforged, Shifters, Changelings, or Yuan-Ti.

Additionally, if you want to look at some other products that expand player options, you can pick up these, which give you more options for “race” in the game (as well as some custom classes):

Both of these products provide some non-standard player character options that might be interesting to explore, especially if you want to avoid the official expansions in WOTC products.

If you are looking for some new, contained class options, especially class options that hearken back to 4th edition D&D classes, Robert Schwalb’s Max Press impress created the following classes:

There are lots of other examples, but I wanted to highlight these classes as potential expansions because of their history with D&D in general, and Robert Schwalb’s work with the 5e rules.

Campaign Options

Currently, official WOTC options include support for the Forgotten Realms (Sword Coast), Ravnica, Eberron, Exandria (Wildemount), and Theros. That means if you don’t want to build your own campaign setting from scratch, WOTC has given you a few options to provide a framework. If you are looking for non-WOTC options, however, several campaign settings have come out that will help you with this a pre-determined setting.

If you really want to engage with Critical Role content, there is a campaign setting book that lets you do this without the direct purchase of any WOTC product. In this case, it’s the Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting that was published by Green Ronin several years ago. This covers the lands visited in the original campaign, and it has the least amount of player-facing materials of any of the other campaign setting information that I’m posting, but there are still some options, and this is a good candidate to use with the player options mentioned above (especially using giant kin to represent goliaths).

What Do I Know About Reviews? Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting

If you were really looking forward to the Theros setting and getting a feel for the amalgamation of Greek mythology with Dungeons and Dragons, thankfully there is an extensive product that came out recently that will allow you to explore some of those options. Odyssey of the Dragon Lords also contains a long term campaign in addition to laying out the lands encompassed by the setting, and has many new races and subclasses included.
What Do I Know About Reviews? Odyssey of the Dragon Lords

If seeing the Ghost of Saltmarsh adventure anthology made you curious about a nautical campaign, you also have non-WOTC options for a campaign. While Seas of Vodari only has an introductory adventure, the setting of scattered islands of adventure gives plenty of opportunity to sail ships and use vehicle rules, as well as providing a new class, a ton of new subclasses, and various options for player races.

What Do I Know About Reviews? Seas of Vodari

The next setting I’m going to post about has had a long history, spanning all the way back to 3.5 D&D, 4th edition D&D, and Pathfinder, and has supplements for 13th Age and Green Ronin’s Fantasy AGE in addition to the current 5e product line. There are extensive adventures, player options, and other material, and Midgard is probably more detailed just in 5e products than any of WOTC’s home campaigns.

Midgard Campaign Setting Reviews

The various player’s guides have a ton of subclasses, new races, and expanded spells for players to engage with, as well as some of the best-expanded monster options with the Tome of Beasts and the Creature Codex.

Options

The main reason I wanted to recap all of this is not to advocate for a specific position, but to understand that WOTC has put a lot of people in a really bad position by undermining a lot of what they have been advocating lately. That said, there are a lot of people that have produced some excellent quality material that is associated with 5th edition D&D, but have nothing to do with any of the decisions begin made at a corporate level.

This also allows you to try something different with your games. There are so many third party options, and I know when I have used the settings and the materials I have listed above, often players will still default to official WOTC material. You may get to see some interesting options at play if you only have the OGL and setting specific material available for a campaign.

Also, none of this is meant to slight the Scarred Lands 5e material, Sasquatch Studio’s Primeval Thule 5e conversion, the Arcanis campaign setting, or any other 5e based epic high fantasy games that may be out there. I just haven’t had time to review these products to the degree that I have the above, and wanted to give a quick primer on what might be available.

This is a pivotal time. I think if you have ever loved D&D, you should let WOTC know what they have done to jeopardize your patronage. Keep an eye on them, keep the pressure on them, and communicate.

 

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