4e Character Sheet

Right then. The contents of this post will be familiar to those playing in my new weekly campaign as it’s pretty much the same as the email I sent out last Monday. However, I’m a great believer in recycling old work at every opportunity – that’s largely how I got through my undergraduate degree after all.

You will all be pleased/startled/indifferent to learn that I have completed my new fourth edition character sheet. This is the sheet I intend to inflict on my players when the new campaign kicks off on the 30th. Many thanks to Marc who managed to convert the thing into PDF without jumbling up all the text boxes or crashing the computer in the process (that’s what happened when I tried it). Assuming I successfully figure out how to upload a file to WordPress, the full character sheet can be found at the bottom of the post.

Obviously the sheet incorporates a number of the house rules that I’ve been dwelling on over the last few months. There is also some Iourn-centric material on it. There wouldn’t have been much point in my creating this sheet if I didn’t include those things. What that probably means is that the sheet isn’t very useful outside my gaming group unless you’re prepared to use exactly the same house rules as me. If you like the design, but want to change the content, then let me know in the comments and I can email you a Word version that you can tinker with to your heart’s content.

I find myself quite ridiculously proud of this character sheet – in the same way as I might be of my son if he grows up to be an Olympic gold medallist. My main bone of contention with it is that the type seems a bit small. However, no-one in the group seemed too bothered about the size when I presented them with a printed version, so I’m happy to let that stand. All the boxes are the same size as the official sheet – I know, I measured them all with a ruler.

Here’s the guided tour:

The Front

As always with these things, there’s far more to be found on the front than the back. What you won’t find is the information for Racial Traits, Class/Path/Destiny powers and Feats; they have been removed to the back of the character sheet (which is where they were in third edition).

The information at the head of the sheet has been tweaked. I have removed a line to record alignment (did I ever mention how much I hate alignment?), as it isn’t required at all in fourth edition. Also removed is the entry for the Deity and Adventuring Company, to be replaced by Faith and Nationality respectively; I find these terms more appealing.  There is also now a line to record your Multiclass separately from your Class, which I think will prove useful. The Age line now gives you sufficient room to record your character’s age in seasons and years (that’s important on Iourn).

The record of Initiative, Movement, Senses, Defences and Attributes are largely unchanged. I have inserted a couple of extra boxes into the line where you record the modifiers for your defences, as the official character sheet was lacking a degree of clarity. The Movement box now makes it clear that we are recording movement in feet and not in squares.

Turning to the left hand column below the attributes, you will see that Action Points and Hit Points have swapped places. Below action points are a couple of new additions to the sheet.

“Base Attack Rolls” lets you record you base chance of hitting when you make an attack roll. For example, you might be called upon to make a Strength versus Fortitude attack when you try and grab someone. Well, now that figure is recorded on the sheet. Yes, I know that it’s the same as your attribute modifier + half your level, which is recorded elsewhere, but there’s something to be said for underlining this mechanic. Plus, there’s a chance you might have something operating that improves basic attack rolls. I’m not sure what that something might be, but if it does crop up we have a box for it.

Below “Base Attack Rolls” is the section on Basic Attacks. This replaces the largely incomprehensible Attack Workspace, Damage Workspace and Basic Attacks sections of the official sheet. There is space here to record the statistics of four basic attacks, with all the various modifiers for attack and damage rolls exploded out so you can see how they are derived.

Basic attacks are exactly what the name suggests. This is your chance of hitting and your damage potential when you are not using any of your powers. Sometimes you might get the chance to make an additional attack in a round, this is almost always a basic attack. Powers are never basic attacks with the exception of the warlock’s eldrtich blast and the wizard’s magic missile. They are special cases.

These is no space on the character sheet to record your chance of hitting and the damage of your powers. This is deliberate. Powers have too many variables to be properly condensed onto a character sheet, and you know too many powers to condense them all onto two pages and still have room for everything else. You can note your powers on the rear of the sheet and then refer to the rulebook to see what they actually do. My suggestion would be copy all your powers out onto a separate sheet and just keep that with your character as an appendix. That’s the sort of thing that speeds up play.

Middle column. This is the section on hit points. It is largely unchanged except the eagle-eyed among you will notice a box that says “Current Max” and another place to record “Critical Wounds”. This is part of a house rule for inflicting significant and lingering wounds on characters. I’m not using it just yet, as I haven’t worked it out, but I wanted there to be space on the sheet for it when it is introduced. I’ll chat about this potential house rule in due course.

Beneath that is space to record up to fourteen languages and scripts, as well as little boxes so you can record if you know the language as a Trained (T) or Secondary (S) skill. Beneath that is space for any extra skills or specialisation that are not included in the master skill list.

Finally, the third column is largely taken up with the most significant change to the character sheet: the introduction of the new skill list we decided upon a few weeks ago. There shouldn’t be anything surprising here. I have exploded Ability Modifier and Half Level into their own separate columns, but aside from that the information is recorded in the same way as on the official sheet.

The Back

Some significant changes (and omissions) between the official sheet and my version. Gone is the space to record your personality traits, mannerisms and appearance, character background, companions and allies, the session and campaign notes and the little box where you can draw your character. All of this was just a pointless waste of space. All of those things should be recorded on separate sheets of paper, not on the character sheet itself. I’m used to getting three pages of character background from my players, not three lines of it.

I have also removed a space to list Rituals. As I’m going to limit rituals to just spell casters the need to have it on the generic character sheet was lessened. Plus, rituals are things that you don’t need to refer to during combat. I think it’s better to have a list on a separate sheet. They’re just clutter here.

So what is left? Well, there’s a space to record all your powers, race features, class/path/destiny features and feats (slightly more space for each as it happens). I have truncated the space for magic items and you will see no reference to “Daily Item Powers per Day” as I’m going to discreetly ignore those rules. I don’t post everything on the blog you know!

There’s far more space for coins, other wealth and equipment as I think that’s the sort of thing that could well be expanded as the game grows. The sheet ends with a little box for “Notes” (largely because I didn’t have anything else to put there) and a place to record how much you can lift and carry. How could such a thing as that have been omitted from the official character sheet? That’s essential intel for the players and the GM.

The Sheet

Iourn Character Sheet (4e)

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Dragon Magazine #364

You will have noticed that I’m running a little behind on my reviews of fourth edition products. I think it’s obvious that I’m not going to go into everything in as great a depth as I currently am with Player’s Handbook 1. However, I do want to take a look at all the releases, even if I can only spend a small amount of time to write something about them.

Which brings me to Dragon magazine. I last looked at this magazine in the hey-day of second edition, when I obsessively sought out Darksun articles from any source. I largely ignored it throughout third edition, have decided that I already had about a 1000% more material than I could possibly used in the printed books I had bought, without opening another can of worms. Plus there was always the nagging opinion that Dragon didn’t really matter as much as the books; that the material inside it was somehow less worthy of attention or incorporation in the unending game.

Fourth edition has changed all that. Dragon (and Dungeon) are now electronic journals. New material is added on a weekly basis over at the Wizard’s website, which is then drawn together into a single PDF at the end of the month. All the material is scrutinised to the same level as material that finds its way into the printed books (whether you find that reassuring or laughable is up to you). All the articles expand upon things that the printed works don’t have the time or the page count for. They present new options, new powers. In short, they do matter. And I will be making full use of them.

As I type this, the magazines are free – but this will not be the case for very much longer. Even though the more technical applications of DDI (the Gaming Table, the Character Creator and so on) are not ready, Wizards will start charging for their e-journals very soon. My guess is that they will start charging for content from #368. If you pony up the cash for a whole year’s subscription then it’ll cost $4.95 per month. That’s £2.50 at the current exchange rate. Considering both Dragon and Dungeon magazines were retailing at about £7.00 each in the UK when they printed, I consider this something of a bargain.

What I would like you all to realise is that because Dragon and Dungeon aren’t working toward a specific page count, they can afford to be slightly more indulgent regarding both the material that appears, and the length of time they spend on it. This has led to the articles in the magazines being really rather good. I’ve been impressed with almost everything I’ve read so far, which is saying a lot considering the miserable old curmudgeon that I have become.

So, let’s look at issue #364. I won’t dwell on everything in insane detail, just the highlights. Although, in this issue of Dragon there are a lot of highlights:

Yeenoghu, Demon Prince of Gnolls

Always good to start with a tongue-twister. Yeenoghu has a pretty impressive pedigree in D&D. He’s been around for a long time, and has popped up in every incarnation of the game. His power and importance has waxed and waned, and there’s a nice section at the beginning of the article on the history of Yeenoghu.

Fourth edition views gods, demon lords and archdevils as sets of stats for PCs to carve into. After all, Orcus has a stat block in the new Monster Manual. He is intended to be a credible opponent for a party of five 30th level PCs. Yeenoghu isn’t quite as powerful as Orcus. The hyena-headed god is listed as 28th level, and his Aspect (what we might have called an avatar in second edition) is 22nd level. Still fairly respectable. Although I don’t really see the need for either his stats or his combat tactics, I suppose I’ll forgive D&D this little extravagance.

Once we’re past the number crunching there’s a very nice and informative article of Yeenoghu’s primary minions, his ambitions, his cult and his extraplanar realm. There are even instructions on how servants of Yeenoghu sacrifice their victims. Marvellous! This is just the sort of detail I want to see. The rest of the article is stat-light, and information-heavy. There’s enough material to see me through a good sized campaign.

This is exactly the sort of material that we should have for Orcus, but this runs for twelve pages and there is no way that one entry could command that much space in a fourth edition monster manual. This is why Dragon magazine serves such an exalted purpose. If I want to use clerics or servants of Yeenoghu then I now know exactly where to come for their goals and their practices. Nicely done.

Vor Kragal, City of Ash

Vor Kragal was once a tiefling city, ruined in their long war against the dragonborn. Even if you don’t subscribe to that history (and I don’t) this article still provides a great deal of food for thought. The article describes the city at the height of its power, and delves into the wasted ruin that it has become. There are some very nice ideas here.

I won’t go into too much detail, as there is much of Vor Kragal that is worth pillaging for Iourn. I will say that this article is good example of the things the new Dragon magazine is trying to achieve. It takes something from the 4e game that is a generally unknown quantity, in this case the new tiefling race, and fleshes it out in rich and satisfying fashion. There are few game mechanics here (a couple of new artefacts, though), it’s all about the history and the hooks for adventure.

Playing Warforged

The jewel in the crown of Dragon #364? It has been said, often by me, that we don’t have enough races or classes to choose from in fourth edition. Presented over ten pages, are all the rules you need for playing a warforged PC in fourth edition. There is a detailed description of the race, lists of racial feats for the heroic, paragon and epic tiers (which is one up on any race from PHB1), a detailed look at the warforged origins, racial paragon paths and a whole host of new equipment designed for your warforged PC.

For those of you not in the know, the warforged is a product of the Eberron campaign setting. They are living constructs – magical androids if you will. They were built to fight in a great war, but somehow gained sentience. On Eberron they have only been emancipated from enforced servitude in the last human generation. They are new race, one that is extremely curious about the wholly alien world of the living. They cannot reproduce, they can only experience and they live in fear of an end to that experience.

The background history of the race presented in Dragon is a ‘genericised’ version of the Eberron history, edited and adapted to fit into the assumed setting. This seeks to point out how easy it is to use warforged in most settings, and they will certainly be making an appearance on Iourn very soon. I have resisted the tempatation to use them up until now.

In third edition, the warforged suffered from having an enormous laundry list of abilities and resistances that stemmed from their nature as semi-constructs. They were immune to poison and mind-affecting magic to name but two. Fourth edition levels the playing field between the warforged and other races. Few races have that level of immunity any more, and the 4e warforged succeeds in retaining the flavour of the original without sacrifcing what makes the race unique.

Well, that’s what I think anyway. As I never saw a third edition warforged in play, I have nothing but the naked stats to compare the two. Maybe this is for the best. The warforged are a very interesting race, and I can think of some of my players that were born to play warforged. Of maybe they were just born warforged, which would actually explain a good many things come to think about it.

The availability of another player character race is something to celebrate. I suspect the warforged will eventually appear in the Eberron Player’s Handbook – but as that isn’t out until at least July 2009 I think we should be glad to have the stats for it now. Of course, the warforged did appear as one of the playable races from the back of the Monster Manual but it was in nothing approaching this depth. The text of the racial power has also been changed between the two sources. I would favour the Dragon one, given the choice.

Alchemical Imbalance

But I save the best until last. What, the best – better than the article on the Warforged? You betcha. Alchemical Imbalance is a wonderful article by Bruce Cordell and Chris Sims about a tribe of goblins who are using alchemy and alchemically changed allies to conquer the world. Well, that’s their ultimate goal – they’re starting small.

I won’t go into too much detail about the content as I love it too much not to use it, but I will mention the presentation and approach of the article. This text introduces numerous new monsters and aberrations, but doesn’t bother to give them stats, it merely gives the GM a nice long list of monsters and advice on now to modify their appearances but keep their abilities and role intact. I’ve used this tactic as a GM for a while: take the stats from monster, change the description and the players suddenly don’t have a clue what they’re fighting. It’s good advice, and very timely at the beginning of a new edition where there simply isn’t the weath of resources to draw upon.

Secondly, and importantly the mini-adventure that accompanies the description of the tribe can be completed from start to finish without once engaging in combat. Certainly it’s a dangerous adventure, but the PCs don’t have to fight. After a succession of terrible adventures that would have seemed hackneyed 20 years ago, it’s such a relief to see something more sophisticated.

And the rest…

Well, there’s a suitably creepy Eberron article, some illusion spells for wizards (these were largely absent from PHB1) and even an article set in the Darksun campaign setting. This bodes well for Darksun being the campaign setting released in 2010. I was looking forward to the article, but it was just a few pages on some killer Athasian cacti. Useful, but I wanted more.

Anyway, that is Dragon #364. Much better than anything WIzards has so far released for 4e in a print. You’d be crazy not to download these issues while they’re still free.

D&D Character Record Sheets

Okay. I don’t know why I bought this either.

In my defence, it was very cheap over at The Book Depository, and I thought that it might present a slightly more intelligable version of the 4e character sheet. Sadly it didn’t, and I’m left with little more than a cardboard folder and some pretty art.

So what do you get for your £6.99 (RRP)? The cover is detachable and completely superfluous – it’s just there to protect the product within. It serves the same purpose as the covers of the old Planescape modules. Within the cover is a folder that sports a larger version of the cover art, although the image is inverted. And within the folder…

The character sheet is exactly the same as the one in the back of the PHB1, and the one you can download from the Wizards website. There are two copies of this sheet in portrait format, and two copies of it in landscape. The sheets are indentical, the tables on the landscape version have been juggled about a bit to fit the new orientation. Quite why they thought the world was crying out for a landscape version of a generally crappy character sheet is anyone’s guess.

Why is the sheet crappy? Well, I suppose that this review is as good a place as any to vent my opinion. There are parts of the sheet where the maths become hidden for the sake of expediency. For example, when recording your AC you note down all the modifiers that apply to your armour class to the left of the final figure. The bonus from your armour and the bonus from your ability score have the same box. It’s only a small thing but it annoys me. I’m playing a ranger wearing leather armour. I apply both my dex bonus and my armour bonus to my final armour class total. I want to be able to see that on the sheet. It’s the same with skills. Why is “Ability Modifier” and “Half Your Level” the same box? Why are you expected to add them together? It can only make it harder to work out if you have applied the correct bonus for your level to the skill. Isn’t the whole point of exploding out the modifiers so you can see at a glance where everything comes from?

Over on the right of the sheet, the Attack Workspace, Damage Workspace and Basic Attacks sections are utterly baffling. Six people sit down to character generation. Between us we have about ten higher degrees including a doctorate, and none of us could work out what we were supposed to put in those boxes. Nuff said there, I think.

Let’s look at the reverse of the sheet now. Exactly how much space is taken up to record magic items? Are you ever going to need that much space, really? There’s no attempt to give you enough space to record what the item does, so all that space is just to list the things. Twenty-five magic items? Each? Really? I know I’m pretty reluctant to hand out magic items, but is anyone that generous?

Then you have six lines for your personality, five lines for mannerisms and appearance, four lines for your character background(!), and a mighty twelve lines for session and campaign notes. It’s a woefully inadequate space for any of those topics, so why waste the space on the character sheet at all?

Anyway –

In addition to the character sheets, we have a set of eight perforated cards that you can divide into sixty-four power cards. Ever since the earliest known stages of official play testing it has been mooted that fourth edition D&D plays quite well with cards. You have one card for each power you have. The card has a description of what the power does written on it (so no more flipping through the PHB to find a ruling), and you can just turn the card face down on the table when you have used the power, so you don’t forget you’ve used the power.

I’m not going to poo-poo this idea out of hand. I can see how this would be an advantage in some games. What we have here are eight at-will power cards, twelve encounter power cards, twelve daily power cards, sixteen utility power cards and sixteen magic item cards. There are spaces for you to fill in the details of your own powers. I know that I will never use these, and for those of you that might, be warned that Wizards are bringing out official printed decks of all the powers for all the classes starting in April next year.

All things considered this a bit of a rum purchase for me. 100% useless on every front. Still, the art is quite pretty.

Dungeon Master’s Screen

Okay, I have a mountain of background material to write for my upcoming game, and two reviews to post on Spiderfan, so this is going to be brief. I received the new 4e Dungeon Master’s Screen in the post this morning, and I felt moved to say something about it.

It’s awesome!

There, glad I got that off my chest. You see, I normally buy the official GM’s screens because I’m a bit of a completest. I have the original 3.0 screen, the 3.5 version that came with Dragon Magazine, the 3.5 “deluxe” version as well as one for the Forgotten Realms and one for the Eberron settings. I’m used all the screens as a barrier to conceal my wild cheating, but I’ve seldom read the stuff that was written on them.

I feel that this screen will be something different. There’s some truly useful stuff plastered on the inside of this screen, notably a full list of all the conditions from PHB1 p277. That is really going to speed up play. Plus the Experience Point Rewards, and Damage by Level tables makes it much easier to come up with encounters on the fly without referring back to the PHB or the DMG. I whole-heartedly approve – but that’s not the reason I love this screen.

There’s a beautiful picture on the player’s side, a dark and moody dungeon filled with all manner of iconic nasties; and it’s given the widescreen treatment thanks to the landscape printing of the screen. But that’s not the reason I love this screen.

I love it because it’s thick. We’re talking thick-as-a-Scrabble-board thick. Every GM’s screen I’ve had up to now has just been a laminated piece of cardboard, this is more… so much more. I set this screen up on a table it’s not going to snap back to its original shape, folding itself neatly up, spilling my dice on the floor and revealing my notes to the players. That’s why it’s awesome. Well done Wizards of the Coast.

Right, I’m off to look at my new Dungeon Master’s Screen some more. Once I get a couple of projects out of the way, I’ll be adding a great deal more to this blog, so bear with me a little while longer. In the meantime, I’ve extended the list of 4e releases all the way out to August 2009.