Thursday, April 26, 2012

More strangeness from WotC

When Wizards of the Coast announced the release of new reprints of the core AD&D books, I thought it was a pretty good move on their part. I already own the originals, so I have little interest in purchasing the reprints, but it seemed a good way to build some good will with the oldtimers.

However, there is now talk that WotC may also release reprints of D&D 3.5 later this year. I can't see much value in that. Aside from the fact that old copies of the originals are still fairly easy to acquire, anyone who isn't already playing 3rd edition will likely be more inclined to just jump into Pathfinder, which is almost the same game and is much better-supported.

Now, if they decide to reprint the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, they will definitely get my attention.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Monte Cook waives his no-trade clause

Monte Cook has left Wizards of the Coast, he announced today. This, combined with the traditional Christmas firings, makes it pretty clear that Wizards of the Coast is an awfully crappy company to work for. One can only guess what this means for the future of D&D.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Magus - old-schooler's nightmare fuel

Anyone of the OSR who read the previous post by Obiri on his Magus (Bladebound-Kensai) build has probably had all their suspicions about the complexity of D&D 3.x/Pathfinder chargen confirmed. I confess, it made me blink a few times since I rarely utilize a lot of the supplemental material that went into that build. Having said that, there's nothing forcing players to use all that stuff or DMs to allow it. However, as I read up on the Magus base class, I came to the conclusion that Pathfinder may be in danger of "jumping the shark". Now, don't get me wrong, the Magus is cool. Indeed, I intend to play one next time. In fact, my next few characters may be Magi as there are several options I'd like to try. However, one of the first impressions I got of the Magus class is how many things you have to keep track of, even at low levels. A third-level fighter, for example, will typically have two options, attack with melee weapon or attack with ranged weapon. Maybe he'll have to decide whether or not to use Power Attack, but that's it. A third-level wizard will have a handful of spells to choose from, usually magic missile or sleep, or maybe a bull's strength to buff the fighter. In any case, the choices are limited and typically easy to make. Then I read the Magus. The first class feature of the class is this:

Spell Combat (Ex): At 1st level, a magus learns to cast spells and wield his weapons at the same time. This functions much like two-weapon fighting, but the off-hand weapon is a spell that is being cast. To use this ability, the magus must have one hand free (even if the spell being cast does not have somatic components), while wielding a light or one-handed melee weapon in the other hand. As a full-round action, he can make all of his attacks with his melee weapon at a –2 penalty and can also cast any spell from the magus spell list with a casting time of 1 standard action (any attack roll made as part of this spell also takes this penalty). If he casts this spell defensively, he can decide to take an additional penalty on his attack rolls, up to his Intelligence bonus, and add the same amount as a circumstance bonus on his concentration check. If the check fails, the spell is wasted, but the attacks still take the penalty. A magus can choose to cast the spell first or make the weapon attacks first, but if he has more than one attack, he cannot cast the spell between weapon attacks.

Ok, that's freakin' cool! I can whack a bad guy with my sword and then peg him with a magic missile in the same round! first level!! Then I read the next class feature on the list:

Spellstrike (Su): At 2nd level, whenever a magus casts a spell with a range of “touch” from the magus spell list, he can deliver the spell through any weapon he is wielding as part of a melee attack. Instead of the free melee touch attack normally allowed to deliver the spell, a magus can make one free melee attack with his weapon (at his highest base attack bonus) as part of casting this spell. If successful, this melee attack deals its normal damage as well as the effects of the spell. If the magus makes this attack in concert with spell combat, this melee attack takes all the penalties accrued by spell combat melee attacks. This attack uses the weapon's critical range (20, 19–20, or 18–20 and modified by the keen weapon property or similar effects), but the spell effect only deals ×2 damage on a successful critical hit, while the weapon damage uses its own critical modifier.

I had to read that one a few times. My first thought is "Why would anyone want to tie a touch attack in to a normal melee attack when the previous class feature permits you to do both a spell attack and a melee attack in the same round anyway?" Then I figured it was all about using the weapon's critical range. Ok, I guess. It makes the scimitar the go-to weapon for the Magus class, but is, otherwise, pretty marginal as far as class features go.

By third level, things really start to get complicated. First off is the class feature, Magus Arcana. There are several different types of Magus Arcana to choose from, much like Rogue Talents in that regard. A likely first choice, however, is Arcane Accuracy. It allows you as a swift action, to use a point from your Arcane Pool (a pool of points that fuel various Magus abilities) and add your Int modifier to your attack rolls for one round. However, I haven't even talked about feats yet. In the first build I made of a base Magus, I chose a human with Combat Casting and Weapon Focus (scimitar) as first level feats and Arcane Strike as my third level feat. So now I have to choose whether to use Arcane Accuracy or Arcane Strike since both require a swift action and, of course, I only get one.

So, I'm a lowly third-level Magus and I already have to decide on whether to attack, cast a spell or both, which spell to cast, whether to use Spellstrike or not and whether to use Arcane Accuracy or Arcane Strike. To paraphrase the old US Army recruiting slogan, "The Magus, we do more in the first round than an AD&D Wizard does all day".


Monday, April 16, 2012

The Pathfinder Kensai

As Designed by Obari. Piranha Strike might be a nice addition if you can squeeze it in. The spell selection would be largely dependent on the rest of your group. The Kensai is more appropriate for a replacement character as their AC is god awful at low levels and they'd be unlikely to survive.
Scimitar Kensai

Male Elf Magus (Bladebound, Kensai) 12

CG Medium Humanoid (Elf)

Init +12; Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception +19


AC 26, touch 26, flat-footed 13 (+12 Dex, +3 deflection, +1 dodge)

hp 87 (12d8+12)

Fort +12, Ref +14, Will +12

Defensive Abilities Canny Defense +5; Immune sleep; Resist Elven Immunities


Spd 30 ft.

Melee Black Blade +20/+15 (1d6+15/15-20/x2) and

Unarmed Strike +16/+11 (1d3+3/20/x2)

Special Attacks Spellstrike

Magus (Bladebound, Kensai) Spells Known (CL 12, 9 melee touch, 16 ranged touch):

4 (3/day) Wall of Ice (DC 19), Dimension Door, Dragon's Breath (DC 19)

3 (4/day) Haste (DC 18), Slow (DC 18), Fireball (DC 18), Vampiric Touch

2 (5/day) Mirror Image (DC 17), Mirror Image (DC 17), Mirror Image (DC 17), Mirror Image (DC 17), Frigid Touch

1 (6/day) True Strike (DC 16), Silent Image (DC 16), Shocking Grasp, Shocking Grasp, Shocking Grasp, Feather Fall (DC 16)

0 (at will) Read Magic (DC 15), Prestidigitation (DC 15), Detect Magic, Light


Str 10, Dex 21/25, Con 12, Int 16/20, Wis 12, Cha 8

Base Atk +9; CMB +9; CMD 35

Feats Arcane Strike, Dervish Dance, Dodge, Elven Weapon Proficiencies, Extra Arcane Pool, Improved Critical: Scimitar, Sickening Critical, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus: Scimitar, Weapon Specialization: Scimitar

Skills Acrobatics +19, Climb +4, Escape Artist +19, Fly +11, Knowledge (Dungeoneering) +20, Knowledge (Planes) +20, Perception +19, Perform (Dance) +1, Ride +11, Sense Motive +9, Spellcraft +20, Swim +4

Languages Celestial, Common, Draconic, Elven, Gnome, Goblin

SQ Arcane Pool (+3) (11/day) (Su), Black Blade (Ex), Black Blade: Arcane Pool (3/day) (Su), Black Blade: Energy Attunement (Su), Black Blade: Strike +3 (Sp), Black Blade: Telepathy (Su), Black Blade: Teleport Blade (Sp), Black Blade: Unbreakable (Ex), Chosen Weapon: Scimitar, Critical Perfection +5 (Ex), Elven Magic, Empowered Magic (1/day) (Su), Iaijutsu (Ex), Improved Spell Combat (Ex), Metamagic Rod, Enlarge, Lesser, Metamagic Rod, Intensified, Lesser, Perfect Strike (Ex), Superior Reflexes (Ex), Wand Wielder (Su)

Other Gear Belt of Incredible Dexterity, +4, Cloak of Resistance, +3, Handy Haversack (empty), Headband of Vast Intelligence, +4: Knowledge (Dungeoneering), Escape Artist, Manual of Quickness of Action, +1, Metamagic Rod, Intensified, Lesser X2, Pearl of Power, 2nd Level, Ring of Protection, +3, Wand of Mage Armor, Wand of Shield


Arcane Pool (+3) (11/day) (Su) Infuse own power into a held weapon, granting enhancement bonus or selected item powers.

Arcane Strike As a swift action, add +1 damage, +1 per 5 caster levels and your weapons are treated as magic for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

Black Blade (Ex) You gain an intelligent bonded weapon whose power grows with your own.

Black Blade: Arcane Pool (3/day) (Su) The Black Blade has an Arcane Pool used to fuel its own abilities.

Black Blade: Energy Attunement (Su) Replace weapon dam with fire/cold/elec for 1 point, or sonic/force for 2 points.

Black Blade: Strike +3 (Sp) The Black Blade can grant itself a damage bonus for 1 min.

Black Blade: Telepathy (Su) The magus can telepathically communicate with his black blade if it is worn or held.

Black Blade: Teleport Blade (Sp) Spend 1 point from own or blades pool to teleport it into hand.

Black Blade: Unbreakable (Ex) The Black Blade is immune to the broken condition while the arcane pool is not empty.

Canny Defense +5 (Ex) +INT bonus to AC (max Duelist level).

Chosen Weapon: Scimitar Kensai abilities only function when wielding a weapon of this type.

Critical Perfection +5 (Ex) Bonus to confirm threat & qualify early for critical feats with chosen weapon.

Dervish Dance Use Dex modifier instead of Str modifier with scimitar

Elven Immunities +2 save bonus vs Enchantments.

Elven Immunities - Sleep You are immune to Sleep effects.

Elven Magic +2 racial bonus on caster checks to overcome spell resistance. +2 to spellcraft checks to determine the properties of a magic item.

Empowered Magic (1/day) (Su) 1/day, cast a spell as if Empowered without altering the casting time or level.

Iaijutsu (Ex) May draw chosen weapon and make attacks of opportunity when flat footed.

Improved Spell Combat (Ex) Use a weapon with one hand at -2 and cast a spell with the other.

Low-Light Vision See twice as far as a human in low light, distinguishing color and detail.

Metamagic Rod, Enlarge, Lesser The wielder can cast up to three spells per day that are enlarged as though using the Enlarge Spell feat.

Strong (no school); CL 17th; Craft Rod, Enlarge Spell; Price 3,000 gp.

Metamagic Rod, Intensified, Lesser The wielder can cast up to three spells per day that are intensified as though using the Intensified Spell feat.

Metamagic rods hold the essence of a metamagic feat, allowing the user to apply metamagic effects to spells as they are cast. This does not change the spell slot of the altered spell. All the rods described here are use-activated (but casting spells in a threatened area still draws an attack of opportunity). A caster may only use one metamagic rod on any given spell, but it is permissible to combine a rod with metamagic feats possessed by the rod’s wielder. In this case, only the feats possessed by the wielder adjust the spell slot of the spell being cast.

Possession of a metamagic rod does not confer the associated feat on the owner, only the ability to use the given feat a specified number of times per day. A sorcerer still must take a full-round action when using a metamagic rod, just as if using a metamagic feat he possesses (except for quicken metamagic rods, which can be used as a swift action).

Lesser and Greater Metamagic Rods: Normal metamagic rods can be used with spells of 6th level or lower. Lesser rods can be used with spells of 3rd level or lower, while greater rods can be used with spells of 9th level or lower.

Requirements Craft Rod, Intensified Spell; Cost 1,500 gp

Perfect Strike (Ex) Use 1 arcane pool to maximize weapon dam, or 2 for +1 to crit multiplier.

Sickening Critical Critical hit sickens target.

Spellstrike (Su) Deliver touch spells as part of a melee attack.

Superior Reflexes (Ex) Extra attacks of opportunity equal to Int mod (min 1). Combat reflexes stacks.

Wand Wielder (Su) The magus can activate a wand or staff in place of casting a spell when using spell combat.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wrath of the Titans

I went to see Wrath of the Titans last night. Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, it was the sequel to the 2010 movie Clash of the Titans, which, of course, is a not very faithful remake of a 1981 film of the same name. WotT has been thoroughly savaged by the critics, which means absolutely nothing to me, since "the critics" never like big budget action films anyway. I was attracted to the eye candy and despite some faults, I enjoyed the first movie, so I figured I'd give it a look. I liked it, so there!

Sure, Sam Worthington is pretty stiff, but at least his new curly 'do makes him look a little more Greek. The monsters are a visual feast for gamers. The chimerae are awesome. They have two heads in the front, rather than three, but their tails have a snake head, very cool. The titan, Kronos, was simply amazing, but the fiery Cerberus-like creature featured in some of the trailers did not appear.

Worthington aside, the acting performances were quite good. The scenes between Fiennes and Neeson, starring as brothers Hades and Zeus, were superb and, at times, quite poignant. Honestly, I'm not sure what more one could ask of a big budget, summer popcorn flick. Go see it...or don't.


Friday, April 13, 2012


The topic of Gish came up in the comments section of Rognar's Sorcerer post about a week back. One of the central themes of Fantasy literature has been the arcane warrior who fights with a blend of sword and sorcery. The problem is in a game like D&D (or Pathfinder) Gish have to balanced with the Fighters and Wizards. After all, if you can fight as well as the Fighter and cast as well as the sorcerer no one would ever play those classes.

In 1st edition you got the multiclass elves that took both classes at the same time. They were balanced by their horribly slow rate of advancement. I seem to recall second edition being similar (which is why few people I played with ever chose elves).

3rd edition tried to standardize the classes in some ways and balance them as well. As anyone who played 3rd edition knows, for the first few levels the melee (non magic) classes do well but after about level 10 they are second class party members to the druid, cleric and wizard. By level 20, they are not much more than cheerleaders. In 3rd edition the wizard had no incentive to be a Gish. He could summon creatures that could out fight the fighter and still have 30+ spells a day to do other reality warping things.

Pathfinder has leveled the playing field somewhat. The Fighters can actually fight better then other classes now. Sure clerics can still buff themselves to a level equal to a fighter but it takes several rounds of buffing, in which time the fighter has probably killed most of the bad guys. The wizard is still bending reality, but he no longer can do it all as easily as before. Having a fighter friend around to deal the the segregated, slowed, and singed enemies keeps the wizard from having to exhaust all of his resources in a single battle. Druids can no longer be a wise but skinny weakling in human form and then turn into world wrecking animal. They are now strong in combat or master spell casters, not both.

Lets look at a few options for a sword and sorcery build. We'll compare them at level 12 which is around where most builds have matured but before the game has started to break down too much.

The first up is the Eldritch Knight. One level of fighter followed by 5 wizard levels seems to be the standard entry method to EK. At low levels if is awful and almost unplayable. The rest of your group will hate you as you are a deficient spell caster and a hopeless melee combatant. By level 12 things are not so bad. You are only 2 caster levels behind a full wizard so you can sling around a couple level 5 spells a day and you are starting to collect a few of the strong mid-game melee feats (although no "Greater" Fighter feats yet). I see the EK as a wizard that can melee a bit. Damage output in melee is quite comparable to the other builds I'm going to show but lacks their tricks for extra damage. My EK build focuses on Str and Int and probably needs some optimizing work. His saves were the worst of the bunch (12,9,12) but his hit and damage bonus respectable. +20 to hit, 1d6 +15 for damage. His AC was the worst at a self-buffed 23, but can Mirror Image .

The next build is also Str based. I am not a big fan of the unmodified Magus. While I have yet to play one, the Magus' schtick seems to be casting casting spells through his weapon greatly increasing his crit chance with them. They are very spikey damage dealers. The problem is that as a medium BAB class, the Magus has problems hitting high AC mobs. That's why I prefer some of his archetypes.

The Myrmidarch is basically a fighter with some spell casting ability. He gets armor training, weapon training (allowing the awesome gloves of Duelling), and Fighter feats. He loses most of the Magus's casting flexibility of some of his spells. I still think the trade is worth it. The Myrmidarch has a + 23 to hit, 2d4+18 for damage (+20, 2d4 +27 Power Attacking). His AC is a self buffed 27 but also can Mirror Image. His Saves are slightly better at 14, 8, 12.

The last two builds are both Dex based. First up is another Magus build. I always liked the idea of the Kensai but it took a while to find a trick to make it work. Since the Agile weapon feature is from a 3.5 Adventure Path it isn't technically Pathfinder material and so requires GM approval. The only other way to get Dex to damage to to use a scimitar and take the Dervish Dance feat. The Kensai Archetype is focused around a singular weapon and becomes very effective with it. Any time the Kensai scores a critical hit he can spend a point from his Arcane Pool to increase his critical modifier x1. It doesn't increase spell critical damage but it is still pretty sweet. The Kensai comes in at +20 to hit, 1d6 +15 to damage. Too bad there is no way to get either Power Attack or Piranha Strike with this build. AC is 26ish which is pretty good for no armor. Mirror Image is also an option here. The Kensai will end up with one of the highest ACs in the game. Saves are quite strong at 12,14,12

The last build is a much better team player than the others. This Gish is built from a Bard. The Arcane Warrior archetype makes a decent Gish at low levels but falls behind the To Hit curve by level 12 and starts having a tough time hitting things. I have recently spotted a better archetype for my purposes. The Dawnflower Dervish Archetype is also Dex based but uses Cha as a casting stat. Like most bards, this Gish has great skills selection and high skill values. He has more spells than the EK, but his spells tend to be more utility and buffs than offensive damage spells like the Magus. What makes the Dervish a good Gish is his Battle Dance class feature. Instead of Bardic performances effecting everyone, the battle dances only effect the bard but they are TWICE as effective. He can also cast Cure spells on himself 3 times a day as a move action. The Dervish's to Hit is +24, 1d6+18 damage (assuming 31 rounds of battle dancing is enough to cover ever battle). His AC is 28, he also has access to Mirror Image, and has a high UMD score to use Shield, and Barkskin wands for more AC goodness. His saves are the best of the bunch at 11,18,13.

I can post exact builds but I didn't want to fill up too much space with walls of stats. Ask if you want more details. I think all of them are quite playable and each has a very unique flavor. By the way if you guys have not read it, pick up Inner Sea Magic. I think I enjoyed it more than Ultimate Combat.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Gods of Mars - John Carter returns

Although my plan to read all the sci-fi novels on the NPR Top 100 science-fiction and fantasy books got derailed back before Christmas, the recent and short-lived release of the film John Carter has piqued my interest in the source material. Having finished A Princess of Mars in about a week, it was on to the next book in the series, The Gods of Mars.

[Minor spoilers]

John Carter returns to Mars after a lengthy absence and quickly encounters several new races of Martians, the Plant Men, the White Martians (aka Therns) and the Black Martians (aka Black Pirates of Barsoom or First Born). He learns the horrible secret behind the cult of Issus and fights many battles for his princess and the people of Mars who he has grown to love. I won't reveal much more except to say, at the end of The Gods of Mars, a great dread weighs heavily on the hero and he will have to wait a good deal longer to learn the fate of his beloved princess and be reunited with her once again.

The Gods of Mars, much like its predecessor, is an entertaining, though not particularly challenging read. Aside from a bit of commentary on the potential dangers of organized religion, the book makes little effort at deeper themes. It really is ideal for a casual reader such as myself who typically only has a few minutes per day to dedicate to it. I have to say, seeing the movie has really helped me become more immersed in the setting. In the climactic battle, where the Helium, Thern and First Born navies contest the skies of Barsoom, while the Tharks assault the Temple of Issus, I was seeing scenes from the movie in my mind. The visual aspects of John Carter really were fantastic.


Monday, April 09, 2012

Building a sorcerer the right way

I would have to say, my favourite class in Pathfinder is the Sorcerer. For the benefit of the uninitiated, sorcerers differ from wizards in that they derive their spellcasting abilities from a bloodline they inherited from a magical ancestor such as a demon or dragon, rather than through scholarly pursuits. In game terms, this difference means they can cast more spells per day, but are more limited in the number of spells they know. They also receive certain magical abilities such as energy resistances or claw and bite attacks, but are hampered somewhat in their use of meta-magic feats (i.e. special abilities that allow spellcasters to alter certain aspects of spells such as duration, range, damage, etc.)

I play sorcerers a lot. In fact, I'd guess that roughly half the characters I've played, including my current character, have been sorcerers. One constant that applies to all the sorcerers I've built is that they have all been underpowered. The sorcerer class offers more options for character design than just about any other class and most of those options are bad from the perspective of optimization. Why? Because most of the bloodline powers encourage you to create a character that resembles a spellcasting rogue or melee fighter. Let me tell you, if you want to be a fighter in Pathfinder, be a fighter (or a paladin, maybe). Anything else is the very definition of suck in this game. Sure, it sounds cool to create a character who can launch a fireball, then charge in and lay a beatdown. Unfortunately, Pathfinder doesn't reward versatility. While the sorcerer is buffing himself, the fighter and the wizard have already killed every living thing within a half mile radius. High-level Pathfinder combat is a lot like the last two minutes of a football game. It seems to take forever, but in game time, it's only a couple of rounds at most. So to be effective, a character has to be able to contribute something substantial immediately and most sorcerer builds can't do that.

Notice, I said most. If you can pry yourself away from all the superficial coolness of the Abyssal or Draconic bloodlines and play to the strengths of the class, it is possible to be effective. First and foremost, the sorcerer is an arcane spellcaster and not surprisingly, the best bloodline for optimizing that role is Arcane. The bonus spells are all excellent, there's a nice selection of bonus feats and the Metamagic Adept bloodline power is quite handy when you really want to maximise that fireball and still run behind cover.

Sadly, I think I will always be attracted to the idea of a sorcerer who sprouts poison fangs and jumps into combat only to get promptly mauled because he has half the hp and AC of a real fighter. Like the scorpion who stings the toad, it's in my nature.