Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Magic Item Reset (XVII): Update 1.1

Edit (27/07/11): Clarified text for Winged Weapon

I have implemented a round of revisions on these items, based on reader feedback and my first play experiences with the system. Broadly speaking, the changes can be classified in:

  1. Power balance adjustments. A few items have been weakened, including the Vorpal Weapons (which was found excessive in combination with auto-crit effects) and the Belt of Regeneration (which was too good with regeneration-boosting feats, and now grants a higher regeneration value, but only while bloodied). Many items have been improved, including most options at the Hands slot.
  2. Level adjustments. The original list had a shortage of uncommon items at levels 1,6,11,16,21 and 26. Many items have been shifted in level to address this, including most rings.
  3. Skill support. Skill bonuses have been added to many items where it felt appropriate. These are all of the form “replace your ability modifier with +4/+7/+10”, in order to prevent skill bonuses stacking to ridiculous values.
  4. Ranged weapon support. Weapon enchantments were a bit skewed towards melee characters. Two new items for ranged characters have been added.

The change list is shown below. These will be incorporated to the corresponding blog entries as soon as possible. The article index is here.

The following items have been added:

Winged Weapon - Level 2+ Common Weapon
Lvl 2 (+1); Lvl 7 (+2); Lvl 12 (+3); Lvl 17 (+4); Lvl 22 (+5); Lvl 27 (+6)
Requires: Ranged or thrown weapon
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
Critical: +1d6 damage per plus, and the target is knocked prone if it is flying
Property: When you make a ranged or area weapon attack with this weapon, if the target is flying you gain a power bonus to the damage roll equal to the weapon’s enhancement bonus.

Snap Shot Weapon - Level 3+ Uncommon Weapon
Lvl 3 (+1); Lvl 8 (+2); Lvl 13 (+3); Lvl 18 (+4); Lvl 23 (+5); Lvl 28 (+6)
Requires: Ranged weapon
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
Critical: +1d6 damage per plus.
Power (Encounter). Opportunity Action. Trigger: An adjacent enemy provokes an opportunity attack from you. Effect: Make a ranged basic attack with this weapon against the triggering enemy.


The following items have been modified:

Extending Weapon (Level 3+ Uncommon Weapon)

  • Power changed to “Until the end of your next turn [was “this turn”], the reach of this weapon increases by 1, and the normal range and long range of this weapon increase by 5.”

Vorpal Weapon (Level 5 Rare Weapon).

  • Critical  changed to “+1d12 damage per plus. If you rolled a natural 18, 19 or 20 on the attack roll, you deal +2d12 damage per plus instead, and roll a d20. On a roll of 18-20, the enemy takes double damage from the attack.”
  • Property changed to –7 penalty at level 15 [was –8] and –10 penalty at level 25 [was –12].

Nimble Armor

  • Added Property: “You can use this armor’s enhancement bonus instead of your Strength, Constitution or Dexterity modifier when making Acrobatics, Athletics, Endurance, Stealth, or Thievery checks.”
  • Removed Requirement (Hide or higher armor).

Juggernaut Armor

  • Reduced level to 4+ [was 5+]

Bramble Armor

  • Daily power changed to “…enemies that hit you take damage equal to 2+ the enhancement bonus of this armor” [was damage equal to the enhancement bonus]

Dwarven Armor

  • Added bonus to Endurance skill.

Invulnerable Armor

  • Daily power changed to add “Until the start of your next turn, you take half damage from attacks”.

Amulet of Shared Suffering

  • Encounter power changed to “… and has a –5 penalty to saves made against the ongoing damage this turn”. [was –4 penalty]

Trekking Boots

  • Level 2 Encounter power changed to add “You gain a +1 power bonus to speed”.

Acrobat Boots

  • Level changed to 6/16/26 [was 8/18/28].
  • Added bonus to Acrobatics skill.

Belt of Regeneration

  • Property changed to “You gain regeneration 3/5/7 while bloodied” [was regeneration 1/2/3 at all times]

Crown of Victory

  • Added bonus to Diplomacy skill

Glasses of True Sight

  • Added bonus to Perception skill

Mask of Terror

  • Added bonus to Intimidate skill

Covering Shield

  • Redesigned item. It is now as follows:

Covering Shield – Level 2+ Common Arms
Lvl 2 (Heroic); Lvl 12 (Paragon); Lvl 22 (Epic)
Requires: Shield.
Power(At-Will) Opportunity Action. Trigger: You are targeted by an area or close attack. Effect: One ally targeted by the attack gains partial cover against the attack.
    Level 12: One or two allies targeted by the attack.
    Level 22: All allies targeted by the attack. You can use this power as a free action.

Gloves of Sleight of Hand

  • Added bonus to Thievery skill

Gauntlets of Glancing Blows

  • Changed At-Will power to “and deals 3/6/9 damage on a miss” [was 2/4/6 damage]

Gloves of Piercing

  • Changed property to add “When you hit an enemy, if the enemy has resistance against any damage types of your attack, you reduce its resistance against those damage types by 5/10/15 until the end of your next turn.”

Gloves of Mercy

  • Added bonus to Heal skill
  • Change At-Will power to “…the ally regains 1d6/2d6/3d6 additional hit points” [was 3/6/9 hit points]

Gloves of the Wind

  • Change At-Will power to add “At the end of this movement, the target grants combat advantage to all adjacent characters until the end of your next turn.”

Gloves of Fearsome Abandon

  • Changed At-Will power to “…takes a –3/6/9 penalty to damage rolls until the end of your next turn…” [was –2/4/6 penalty]


  • Changed level to 6/16/26 [was 9/19/29]
  • Changed Encounter power to “deals an extra d10/2d10/3d10 damage on a hit” [was an extra 1d12/2d12/3d12]

Ring of Terror

  • Changed level to 11/21 [was 12/22]

Ring of the Sentinel

  • Changed level to 11/21 [was 13/23]

Ring of the Frenzied Berserker

  • Changed level to 11/21 [was 14/24]

Ring of Shared Hope

  • Changed level to 16/26 [was 17/27]

Ring of Covetousness

  • Changed level to 16/26 [was 18/28]

Ring of Death

  • Changed level to 11/21 [was 15/25]

Ring of Life

  • Changed level to 16/26 [was 20/30]
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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Magic Item Reset (XVI) : Treasure generation

At a certain point during the design of my item collection, I decided that I wanted to revise how treasure parcels are generated in the game. Not to change the average PC wealth per level, as that would be cheating - I had set out to fix the issues with the treasure system just by redesigning the items themselves, but otherwise working within the same framework. That said, there were a number of changes that could be introduced without altering the fundamentals of item distribution. This included rules for upgrading uncommon and rare items, integrating consumables in the general loot tables, scaling treasure with party size, and (once I realized that my item selection could make it work) random loot generation.

I have compiled all of these alternate rules, along with slightly modified tables for item and gold allocation in parcels, so that the whole treasure creation process is covered in this article. These rules are not required in order to use the new magic items, but I believe they can improve the player experience, so I recommend to give them a try. Likewise, you could use them in a campaign with regular magic items, and except for the random treasure, they should probably work fine. With one notable exception (consumables, of which I’ll talk below), this process will provide an equivalent amount of treasure as the rules from Dungeon Master´s Guide or Rules Compendium.


The item creation process takes up four steps, with an additional one if you go for non-random treasure. They are the following;

  • 0. Wishlist Generation
  • 1. Parcel roll
  • 2. Item generation
  • 3. Gold generation
  • 4. Consumables generation

Step 0 applies at the beginning of a campaign or adventure, and steps 1 to 4 apply whenever a new treasure parcel is generated.

0. Wishlist Generation

Skip this part if the players and DM have agreed to try out the fully random treasure rules. At the start of a campaign or an adventure, have every player select at least 1 item for each slot, write it down on a wish list, and hand it to the DM.. The following guidelines should apply:

  • In case of doubt, suggesting multiple items of different rarities for a slot is a valid option, and gives the DM some flexibility.
  • Players should be aware of rarity distribution across tiers. PCs will have, on average, 3 uncommons and 1 rare by the end of the heroic tier, 5 uncommons and 2 rares by the end of paragon, and 6 uncommons and 3 rares at level 30.
  • Likewise, having an even spread of item levels is also advisable. Try not to end up, for example, with no item choices between levels 7 and 10.
  • Secondary, and even tertiary weapons or implements often come handy, and should be considered as a slot.
  • When dealing with rares, I personally prefer when players write down a couple of options for each rare slot, so that there is some uncertainty (and excitement!) about this crucial piece of treasure.

1. Parcel roll

When generating treasure for a parcel, roll on table T1 to determine whether it has magic items or gold. This roll can be made by the DM beforehand, when planning an encounter or set of encounters, or after the fact, when the players win a fight. If the d20 result matches the Item chance, the parcel has a magic item: go to step 2. If the d20 matches the gold and consumable chance (“Gold/Cons. chance”), go to step 3 and then, if you are using the optional consumable rules in your campaign, go to step 4.

Note that a parcel can have both a magic item and gold or consumables, if the part has more than 5 members. Conversely, when there are less than 5 PCs, it is possible for a parcel to contain no treasure at all.

2. Item generation

If the step 1 has resulted in a parcel that has a magic item, roll on table T2 to find out the level and rarity of the item. At the DM’s discretion, a roll of 1 or 2 can generate a common item of the party’s level, or its equivalent in gold. The Dungeon Master’s Guide tables provide gold in this slot, but a campaign can benefit from having items instead, if the players aren’t interested in crafting items or won’t have a chance to purchase items in a shop.

  • As an optional rule, this can be taken a step further for a goldless PC economy (see step 3).

If the roll results in an uncommon item, there is a chance that the parcel has a rare item instead. This can be determined randomly (roll 1d4, on a result of 4, the item is rare), or at the DM’s discretion. However, the following restrictions apply:

  • At the end of each tier, every PC should have acquired 1 rare item - no more, and no less. If random item generation provides a rare item when all PCs have covered their quota, the parcel has an uncommon item instead. Likewise, if one or more PCs are missing a rare by the end of a tier, the DM should force their inclusion in parcels - either by automatically considering the first uncommon item to appear as a rare for those PCs, or by adding rare items to a parcel by hand.

Item upgrades (new rule)

As the PCs grow in level, their item slots should become filled with items they want. These PCs expect new treasure to include either items for empty slots, higher rarity replacements for some of their items, or higher level upgrades for their existing gear. This last option isn’t well covered in the standard rules, but can be addressed in the following way.

When an item is generated, there is a chance, depending on level and rarity, that it is an upgrade for an existing piece of gear instead of a brand new item. Roll on table T3, taking into account the level and rarity of the generated item. These guidelines apply:

  • If the generated item is common, an item upgrade can apply to any common or uncommon item. You can also upgrade a rare item this way, but only if the original rare item and the upgraded version are both in the same tier (i.e. both have levels between 1-10, 11-20, or 21-30).
  • If the generated item is uncommon, an item upgrade can apply only to a rare item, if the original rare item and the upgraded version are in different tiers.
  • If the generated item is a rare, it is always a new item; don’t roll on table T3.
  • When a generated item is an item upgrade, make a list of all the items owned by PCs that can be upgraded to an item of the specified level and rarity, and choose one of these items at random. If no item of that exact level is available for an upgrade, choose among PC items of the highest level that can benefit from the upgrade. If no item at all can benefit from the upgrade, generate a new item of the level and rarity determined on T2.
  • When an item is upgraded, the original item is replaced by a higher level version of it, and the party gains, as part of the same parcel, an amount of gold of residuum equal to the value they would have gained by selling or disenchanting the item.

If a new item is generated (i.e. the roll doesn’t result in an item upgrade or in raw gold), the DM selects an item of the chosen level and rarity from the PC’s wishlists. This selection should be made at random between all PCs with an appropriate item in their wishlist. Optionally, a DM may choose to exclude a PC from the roll if he or she has acquired magic items recently, or automatically assign the item to a PC if he or she is lagging behind in gear. If no PC has an item of that level and rarity in their wishlist, choose one of lower rarity. If there isn’t any item to choose at that rarity, follow these guidelines:

  • If the generated item is common, generate a common item at random (see random item generation rules below) or, at the DM’s discretion, add gold to the parcel equal to the value of the item.
  • If the generated item is uncommon or rare, the PCs gain no new item, but the first time a parcel is generated after the PCs gain a level, that parcel automatically has an additional item of chosen rarity and level equal to the chosen level+1. At the DM’s discretion, this can apply to any treasure parcel after the PCs gain a level.

Random item generation (optional rule)

As an optional rule, instead of using a wishlist, a DM can have all treasure in a campaign be generated at random. If you use this rule, when a new item is generated, roll on table T5 to determine which item of that level and rarity it is. This replaces the wishlist selection rules above. Item upgrade rules still apply as normal.

Note: Table T5 is huge, and will be included in a separate article, coming soon. This rule only works with my collection of magic items, unless the DM generates his own table T5 from any given item collection.

3. Gold Generation

If the step 1 has resulted in a parcel that has a gold and consumables, consult table T4. For each level, table T4 shows two gold values: the item cost of a magic item of that level, and the base treasure gold, or [G]. Each parcel with gold has the following amount of gold:

  • 1d4 x [G] gold pieces, if treasure parcels in this campaign include random consumables.
  • 2d4 x [G] gold pieces, if parcels don’t include random consumables.

A note on character wealth: The rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide hand out, for a 5-man party, an amount of gold per level equal to the cost of two magic items of that level, or 50[G]. Under my method, half of that is given out during the Item Generation step - specifically, for rolls of 1 or 2 on table T2. The other half is given as a combination of gold and consumables, so that if no consumables are used, PCs gain 25[G] per level from table T4. If consumables are used, PCs gain an average of 12.5 [G] per level from table T4, plus 12.5 [G] worth of consumables. Read section 4 - consumables for more about the value of consumables.

Goldless campaigns (optional rule): In some campaigns the players may prefer to have a PC economy that is entirely based upon magic items and consumables without any gold or residuum. If you want to have this style of play, use the following rules:

  • When a parcel would have gold and consumables, don’t roll on table T4 for gold, but gain twice the normal amount of consumables instead.
  • Alternately, if you prefer having no gold and no consumables, ignore parcel rolls with gold or consumables, but have table T2 for item generation provide two common items of the party’s level on a roll of 1 or 2.

4. Consumables

If the step 1 has resulted in a parcel that has a gold and consumables, roll on table T5, and add 1d4+1 consumables of the chosen rarity and level to the parcel. If you are using my item collection, there will only be one choice of consumable items for any given rarity and level. For a reference of the consumables available at each level, consult table T7 (to be included in a future article).

A note on consumable value: The amount of consumable items generated this way has been calculated so that a party will receive over the course of each level consumables worth an average of 12.5[G] when sold or disenchanted. The actual market value of these items will be 3 to 4 times that much (given that common items sell for 20% of their value, and uncommons for 50%), so that, strictly speaking, a party following these rules for consumable generation will receive slightly more treasure than if they followed the guidelines in Dungeon Master’s Guide. That said, I decided to use these values for the following reasons:

  • These tables provide what I consider to be the right amount of consumables: roughly enough for each PC to be able to spend 1 consumable every 3 encounters.
  • Due to their expendable nature and the (newly introduced) limitation on consumable uses per encounter, any extra items generated this way do not result in a substantial advantage for the party on the long term.
  • If the players choose to trade their consumables for cash, there is no net gain compared to the default rules.
  • An excessive reduction of available party gold (or non-consumable magic items) results in players being unable to upgrade all their gear according to their level.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Saving the game

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I never play long D&D sessions. I have this amazing gaming group who meets with regularity, takes turns for the DM role, and is kind enough to come play to our house and patiently wait for us to put the baby to sleep (often after several attempts) before we start with the dice rolling. Pulling off multiple encounters in a single evening is plainly impossible for us, and we are are often hard pressed to find the time for properly closing one fight. Still, we have managed to get by, and slowly level a party well into the paragon tier in these small increments, without finding any major trouble – that is, until last night.


This is how the table looked, like, when disaster struck.

It was a combination of several factors: poor planning, a late start, and an epic (though not Epic – we’re still stuck at level 12) encounter involving a large map and waves of minions. To be fair, it was a blast of a fight, where everything came together perfectly except for one niggling detail: it just wouldn’t end. A climatic moment where the party Assassin was brought down with no healing available wasn’t properly appreciated by the Assassin player, because she had fallen unconscious (save ends) in the sofa a while before that. The adventurers eventually started to drive back the hordes of foes, but there was more yawning than shouting with excitement. I tried to press on, to give this session a proper end but eventually it became obvious that we’d have to leave it unfinished with just a few monsters standing (but still resisting boldly against the worn down adventurers). And thus, a game that would have been all kinds of awesome had we started playing at an earlier hour had to be interrupted anticlimatically due to lack of time.

After my players left, I was left wondering how we could have addressed the situation better, other than turning the encounter into a more conventional and brief skirmish. It’s not like our scheduling allowed us to start playing much earlier, anyway. And then, looking at the untidy table covered with dungeon tiles, dice and miniatures, the solution dawned on me – I could save the game state at any point and continue the fight the following day!

Ok, so it’s not a huge revelation or anything (and besides, the post title was kind of an spoiler). Stopping games mid-combat is a straightforward concept, and one that I had already implemented as early as 20 years ago (don’t try to play Rolemaster in 15-minute school breaks, kids!). But it’s never been an efficient solution, and it only gets harder with a game as complex as 4E, with its rich tactical map, and the zillion variables to keep track of for each character. So, for practical considerations, I had erased that idea from my mind, when it came to my 4E campaign. But thinking about it at that moment, it all started to click.

The map status is easily taken care of, in this digital age – just take a handful of photographs, and use them to reconstruct the map at a later point. But what about the game status? How to handle the initiative order, spent HP and surges, PC conditions, and used powers for PCs and monsters? It turns out I had solved that problem months ago. As the group DM, I’ve been experimenting for a while with aggregating all game data on an excel sheet, which I update in real time. It’s a bit cumbersome, but you get used to it, and it is by far the most efficient way I’ve found for keeping track of all game variables. I figured out that with the data I had filled into that sheet, plus a couple of photos, we would have no trouble continuing an interrupted encounter.

This had two interesting consequences. The most immediate one, that I will actually be able to play through the demise of the mighty Ssark and his cohorts next week, making up for the failure of last session. And the second, that I will no longer need to force my patient players through a few more rounds just to prevent leaving a fight unfinished. I am now free to close a session whenever we feel like it, which is quite a relief. Hooray!

So, is there a lesson to be learned from all this? I don’t think this specific method for pausing and resuming encounters will be useful to all groups, as there are uncountable ways of keeping track of game status, and I suspect most wouldn’t lend themselves to this. But maybe you can do the trick by taking some notes, or it doesn’t matter so much if some information is lost along the way. The important thing is, there is a definite temptation of trying to push a game beyond the time your players should be going home, just because you only need one more turn (or two). When that time comes, it’s good to know that other options exist.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Playtest: Warlock Updates

The long awaited overhaul to the Warlock class (similar to, but not actually in, the Class Compendium series) has come out in playtest form, and there are quite a few interesting changes - but, unfortunately, one cannot help noticing the important issues they missed. Here is a summary of the changes, along with my thoughts on the matter.

The update: An unprecedented trap-removal exercise

It’s not easy to build a decent warlock. Or, to put it the other way, it’s too easy to build a terrible warlock. More than most 4E classes, the warlock is plagued by an excess of thoroughly underwhelming powers, which sit in the power list as a trap to the unwary player, often disguised under pretty names and shiny flavor. On the other hand, as more and more options have been published (and few classes can match the sheer amount of stuff that warlocks get), it is now quite possible to build a decent, if not spectacular, warlock character - provided that you know where to look, and that you are proficient enough to avoid the traps. Like it or not, this is the way things develop in 4E - you never get rid of bad stuff, but this is hopefully compensated by the abundance of newer options. The last update to the warlock puts an end to this.

There is a well known rule in the 4E errata cycle, that only overpowered options tend to be revised, whereas the weak stuff is left alone. After all, overpowered game elements tend to be much more disruptive to the game, and there are a LOT more weak options than strong ones. Still, players have often wondered what the game would be like if R&D took the time and effort to purge the underwhelming feats and powers. Now we know.

Not counting paragon paths, 27 warlock powers have been revised, from a total of 75 in the Player’s Handbook. Most of them have been improved in some manner, except for three that have been toned down, and one that just received clarification. The slot receiving the most changes is the daily attack, with 19 out of 27 dailies receiving some kind of revision. The changes range from small increases in a power’s damage dice, to cleaning up of mechanics (particularly for those pesky powers with “save ends” effects that you had to sustain), but also include adding a damage roll to powers that lacked it (typically turning them from useless into legitimate options) and one complete redesign, for Thief of the Five Fates.

Overall, this update achieves a much more coherent power level across most attack options for the warlock. Now we can find a viable power for each build at each encounter and daily slot using just the PHB, which is no mean feat, considering that there are three builds to support, with two different attack abilities. Not only that, but at most levels there are two useful options, though in-build powers will typically be preferred. Though some attacks are still better than others, the difference has been reduced greatly, and I wouldn’t point to any single one of them as being completely without merit (which is a HUGE improvement from the original version!). This is also helped by the controversial decision to weaken some of the most spectacular daily attacks in the Warlock’s repertoire (such as Hunger of Hadar, Tendrils of Thuban, and Hurl through Hell), which are still extremely competitive, if not the best at their respective slots, though no longer to the point that you should altogether ignore the alternatives.

What they missed

I believe that most of the changes were well implemented and in the right direction - but that doesn’t mean that they got everything right. Specifically, there is one glaring hole in the update, affecting the Star Pact Warlock. As anyone who has tried to build such a character will agree, the Starlock is a messy character build whose ability score requirements are all over the place: Your build-specific powers are split in half between Constitution and Charisma, but also ask for Intelligence as a secondary score for their additional effects (never mind AC!). This is complicated enouch, but what really kills the build is the fact that one of your fixed at-wills, Dire Radiance, will only work for Constitution-based characters. Unless you are willing to ignore that power, you won’t be able to build a Cha-focused starlock, and all Charisma-based powers for the build are unplayable except for characters boosting both Con and Cha, in detriment of Int (which is usually considered a very bad idea). At the very least, they should have offered the option to use Charisma with Dire Radiance.

The problems with at-will attacks (which are untouched by this update) do not end here. Eldritch Blast remains a frustratingly boring and weak mandatory power, the equivalent of a longbow basic attack that does nothing special but takes up an attack slot. It should be changed to have some additional effect. Anything would work, here, though my personal favourite would be the ability to deal curse damage on a miss.

And there is yet another broken at-will in Hellish Rebuke, which suffers from horribly ambiguous wording, and an extremely exploitable trigger. The power as written doesn’t clarify if the extra damage can trigger once or multiple times per turn, which is bad enough, but there are also some doubts as to whether this damage trigger is affected by modifiers such as feats or enhancement bonuses. In addition, the fact that a character can hurt himself in order to trigger the extra damage makes this one of the most absurd damage sources in the game, rivalling even the mighty Twin Strike. I’d like to see this as a 1/round trigger that only works off damage dealt by your enemies.

Finally, there are some concerns about the overall ability of the class to perform as a striker (i.e. damage monsters), which the update doesn’t really address. I personally think that warlocks are in decent shape now, after hundreds of released feats and powers, but they could still see a minor damage bump. Their at-wills in particular (barring Hellish brokenness) don’t hit all that hard, getting routinely outclassed by basic attacks from non-striker classes with two-handed weapons, even after accounting for curse damage. A dice size increase for most of them (including those outside PHB) would be welcome: Eyebite, Dire Radiance and Hellish Rebuke could deal 1d8 (or even 1d10), and Eldritch Blast could remain as is or improve to 1d12, depending on what extra effect it got. I wouldn’t mind seeing curse damage boosted to 1d8 per tier, too.

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