HD&D: The Sorcerer

Well, we finally made it. Eighteen months of pontification, design, re-design and disagreement has led us to this point: the first HD&D character class. Yes, there’s still a lot of work to do. This is only one of five classes I need to finish before the play test, and more work certainly needs to be expanding the class out to something that could be playable over twenty levels. However, let’s ignore that for a moment to pause and reflect.

Are you pausing?

Good. I’ve had my doubts over the last year or so whether I was taking the game in the right direction, but every time I have played fourth edition or read a new Pathfinder product, I’ve been gripped with disappointment that the system couldn’t be better. And hopefully this is better. Or it can be better after a rigourous critique and playtesting. In any event, this feels like a milestone and I’m fairly happy with the results.

So I present the Sorcerer for perusal and comment. Reformatting all the feats and talents for the blog would have been a nightmare, so I’ve uploaded it as a PDF. Click on the icon below and you should be on the receiving end of 19 pages of sorcery goodness. 

Some Comments

There are a few things that I will say now about the sorcerer. The first and most obvious comment is that it isn’t complete. There’s more that can be done with familiars and there are many more heritages that need to be covered. Abyssal, Celestial, Destine, Elemental, Fey, Infernal and Undead are the other Pathfinder bloodlines. They could all find a home in HD&D eventually.

Also, we need to look at making sure that there’s no unnecessary overlap between certain abilities and races. Take the Draconic Sorcerer as an example. He undoubtedly shares abilities with the Dragonborn race, half-dragon characters and characters of a dragon bloodline. There’s no reason why all such abilities can’t and shouldn’t work in the same way. A dragoborn breath weapon should function in the same way as a draconic sorcer’s breath weapon, or the breath weapon of a charcter who isn’t a dragonborn or a sorcerer, but just happens to carry a dragon bloodline.

Inevitably, my long-standing third edition players will be looking at these rules in the context of their existing characters. The rules for the Potentate sorcerer has already been sent to Jon, and he was alright with me posting it here in its entirety (even though there are some aspects of it that other player characters may not know). Marc may find some draconic sorcerer talents that fit in with Elias. The ability to turn into a dragon isn’t there, but I was thinking that such a transformation could be explained as a product of the Dinnerplates of Destiny as opposed to something intrinsic to Elias. You may not agree, but we have a long time to have that discussion. I just wanted to point out that I was actively thinking of existing sorcerers while inventing these rules.

This will be the last post to the blog for a couple of weeks. I shall returned refreshed with posts on weapons and armour and then, eventually, the Fighter!


18 thoughts on “HD&D: The Sorcerer

  1. I’m possibly missing something but why does the sorcerer spell talents have progressively longer prerequisites? Wouldn’t dependency on just the previous talent be sufficient?


  2. I love the aberrant sorcerors – you can never have too many tentacles! My only concernis with the level requirements on the spellcasting talents. We now have thirty levels to play with and yet you can get the most powerful spells at level 17. The problem is that there is a certain obligation to choose the spellcasting talents as soon as they become available because any other choice would be sub-optimal.

    I had assumed that spellcasters would have the odd talent level ‘off’ where they cannot choose a spellcasting talent. This would allow them to choose some of the cool talents that will make them unique without the feeling of falling behind. Perhaps the spellcasting talents should be available at levels 1,3,7,9,13,15,19,21,25. What do you think?

  3. Hi Steve. Glad you approve of the tentacles. I quite like the way the aberrant sorcerer can together. He can be a true freak of nature, even at relatively low levels!

    Regarding levels and the spellcasting talents:

    I did come up with something similar to what you are suggesting in earlier drafts of HD&D, but then I decided that I wanted the upper end of level advancement at 20th level (as it is in third edition), not 30th level as it is fourth edition.

    Obviously, there are still rules for levels above 20 – and these are the Epic Levels in the same sense as they were in third edition. However, characters above level 20 are truly, truly exceptional.

    That’s why the spell progression is set at the same rate as third edition: because I’m expecting characters to advance at the same rate as third edition. If this is a problem in the ‘cool talent’ department: you may have a point.

    Between 1st and 20th level a character has access to forteen talents. Nine of those are very likely to be spellcasting talents. This is supposed to reflect the massive investment that spellcasters need to make in this one ability. If the spellcaster takes the spellcasting talents as soon as he is able, then he’s likely get two of these five non-spellcasting talents at level one, two at level eleven and one at level nineteen. Not a very smooth progression I will grant you.

    But maybe some spellcasters won’t go down that route. Traditionally in third edition, sorcerers were one spell level behind wizards any way. And the way DCs work in HD&D a spell’s power is related to a caster’s Spellcraft check, not the spell’s level. So low level spells are no longer suboptimal choices, even against high level opponents.

    Or maybe you’re right. And it would behoove me to space out the spellcasting talents more. As I’ve said, I have thought about this. The only trouble is that all the other classes who are not spellcasters need half again as many talents in order to keep up. If the upper end of advancement for a monk is 30th level and not 20th, I have to come up with an extra 7 meaningful talents for monks. And that’s hard!

  4. I suppose that if we extended it to 30 levels we could ditch getting three at level 11 meaning that only 5 extra ones would be required for the other classes. I would imagine that the way to go would be to plagarise the various monk prestige classes, the ninja and a lot of the stuff from oriental adventures. I am sure Indran would have a few ideas too.

    I hadn’t realised that DCs act independently of the spell level. That will make things more intersting. As you say, they will continue be useful even as the character levels. That said though I would still be in favour of the thirty level base. With all of the racial talents available as well, I just want to see as many of them in action as possible.

  5. Hi Steve. I’m replying via Hope’s iPhone so I’ll be briefer than normal.

    Making HD&D a 30 level game is still definitely on the table. Initially I’m going to stick with 20 levels as it’s what we’re used to, and it means no funny levelling for existing characters – all of the Chosen would need to advance to 1.5 * their current level to remain on par. A little messy.

    But it may b easier doing it as you suggest. Doing away with additional talents at levels 11 and 21 is tempting, but all characters would still need multiple talents at level 1. You can’t start a character with just one class ability.

    Yes, the power of a spell is dependent upon the result of the casters’ Spellcraft check. The higher the level, the higher the result. So the spell’s level doesn’t necessarily reflect it’s ‘oomph’.

  6. Well to be fair, levels 21 – 30 in 4th edition are supposed to be the ‘Epic Levels’ of 3rd edition. If you think about it, multiple Epic Destinies result in the PC’s reaching godlike power once they hit 30, and at least one ED actually turns the PC into a Lesser God (the Demigod ED) at it’s conclusion.

    These aren’t things that happen to 21st level 3.5e characters. So if you expand the game to 30 levels, you’re not actually saying “20 levels of stuff is now stretched across 30 levels and i need to make all my old NPC’s more powerful”, you’re saying “Epic content is now core and uses the same mechanics as pre-Epic content.”

    In a 30 level game, characters above level 20 are still truly exceptional; again considering 4e, the Epic Tier is when the PC’s literally save the universe and defeat Gods, not Avatars of Gods, -actual- Gods. During Epic Tier the PC’s are prancing all over the cosmos, warping from plane of existence to plane of existence at the drop of a hat and are probably in the process of becoming Gods themselves.

    Basically, all extending the game to 30 levels does is cut out the Epic Rules\Handbook, which i personally consider a good thing, because the Epic rules are a goddamn mess. Being able to build and run Epic characters without having to reference an entire new set of rules bolted onto the old set of rules is a plus in my book.

    I also noticed an error in the text about familiars: it says.

    “A slain familiar cannot be raised from the dead by conventional means. The master cannot summon another familiar, but he won’t get the same one again, even if it resembles the original.”

    I assume that should be “The master -can- summon another familiar”

  7. Hi there.

    Yes, it should read “…The master can summon another familiar…”. Thanks for spotting that. I’ll amend my master document, although the change probably won’t pop up on the PDF linked from the blog. Or if it does, it won’t be for a while.

    When I think of a 30 level game (like 4e) I do think of stretching the pre-epic content across 30 levels, instead of 20. I would still want non-epic characters to have access to ninth level spells to protect the integrity of the setting. So if 9th level spells weren’t on the cards until level 27 then something would have to change.

    I do see exacly what you’re saying about epic levels in 4e. Levels 21-30 in fourth edition replace levels 21+ in third edition. My point is that, the way 4e is designed, 30th level is billed as the level every character should be shooting for. Certain powers and features don’t kick in until Epic levels, so to feel as though you’ve played your character to its zenith you ‘need’ to get him up to level 30.

    Back in second edition (and in third edition) level 20 was considered the highest attainable level. Yes, you could go higher, but in practice hardly anyone ever did. I’m rather have a game that does everything that needs to be done over 20 levels rather than 30.

    Now the game should still grow organically beyond level 20. All the rules stay the same. Nothing gets bolted on like some of the material in the old Epic Level Handbook. I think the internal mechanics should be good up until about level 45 before they completely break down.

    I do feel as though levels 21+ should be presented as more of a big deal than they are in 4e. Not just for PCs, but for NPCs and Monsters too.

  8. Whether or not levels 21+ are a big thing depends pretty much entirely on the setting. In the 4e settings the PCs are assumed to be beings which innately have the ability to reach godhood; if they don’t have that ability, that potential, then they’re not PCs. But that’s intrinsically tied to the setting, there is certainly nothing stopping you from cutting the game off at the end of Paragon Tier, or even Heroic Tier: cutting off a game in the middle of a Tier is a bit wierd, but ending between Tiers isn’t a big issue, as all the players are ‘missing out’ (i use the term lightly) on are Paragon Paths\Epic Destinies and some extra powers; pretty much exactly the same things they miss out on if you stop the game at level 10 or 20 in 3.5.

    My point was basically that if you make a higher level ‘core’ or normal, you don’t need to stretch the content across more levels, although you can do that if you want people to level up faster but not get as much power from each level, which can be fun for some people.

    On the other hand, if you don’t really intend to go above 20, there’s not really any point making any content for the game past 20. The designers of 4e expected the PC’s to reach godhood and thus designed content to facilitate that, but if you don’t expect the PC’s to reach godhood, then desiging rules and powers for when they do is a waste of your time.

    So basically, if in your setting treats the ‘Epic Tier’ as i like to call it now, as something extremely rare and special that odds are noone will ever really see, then don’t bother making rules for it. Crossing the bounds into the realm of the Epic is unlikely to be a snap off-the-cuff decision, so if you do later decide to go godly, you can always extend the rules to cover it.

    Based on what i’ve read, Iourn appears to be a ‘low magic’ High Fantasy rather than ‘high magic’ Swords and Sorcery which the later D&D editions assume, so there’s not really any reason to include any epic information in your rules for HD&D.

    One thing to keep in mind though, if you do want the rules to continue past level 20 indefinitely, make sure that everything that scales does so on a linear axis (including monsters). 3.5 required special rules for Epic because the monsters did not scale linearly, but rather scaled exponentially, due to the incompatible racial hit dice vs class hit dice systems. As a result of this, making monsters for greater than level 20, if you just use normal multiclassing rules for PCs, becomes a steadily more and more rediculous affair, with the monsters requiring hit dice way above the PC’s hit dice, making hit-dice based effects totally useless for the PC’s and horrifically overpowered for the monsters.

  9. Commas can be tricksy.

    Thanks, there’s some good advice there. I’ve always prefered to think of PCs as no different to anyone else: they’re ordinary people who become exceptional. The ethos that player characters are larger than life heroes from the get-go has never really appealed to me.

    I want to push Epic powers and abilities outside the expectations of the players. No every party of adventurers are going to be able to master those abilities.

    As a result I am keeping the number of Epic talents and feats I produce down to minimum. You’re right: there’s no a great deal of point creating content that’s never going to be used. The epic talents I have come up with a pretty utilitarian (Triple Attack, Greater Two Weapon Fighting). You’ll see more of those once the rules for the Fighter is finished. At the moment Epic abilities are little more than a logical extension of what has come before.

    I definitely appreciate the limitations of the epic rules in third edition. In HD&D all attacks, skills, defences, DCs and saving throws work to the same system. They’re all on a par. So a 20th level character’s maximum attack roll, saving throw or skill check are all potentially the same (depending on how the character is customised). Hopefully, that will overcome some of the problems you mention. Although whether I’ve correctly balanced damage, hit points and armour class is another matter.

  10. The issue 3.5 ran into is more that of scaling rather than equality. I sincerely doubt you’ll be able to bring true equality to the mix without ending up like 4e, but that’s fine, as D&D is not competetive so the classes don’t need to be balanced against each other.

    The issue 3.5 ran into is that of scaling; a 10th level character is not half way between a 1st level character and a 20th level character in power level. A 5th level character isn’t half as powerful as a 10th level character, and so on.

    This compounded the hit-dice issue, being that 1 level of ‘Giant’ hit dice is treated, by the rules, as the same as 1 level of say Barbarian hit dice. Unfortunately, this is not the case and it is particulary egrarious with Undead, who have possibly the worst hit dice in the game. As a result, monsters at low CR have similar hit dice to their CR, but at high CR they require giant masses of hit dice which rapidly gets rediculous.

    So the key is basically to ensure that the scaling is linear and can continue indefinitely. Or, if not linear, at least consistant.

    The easiest way to do that is probably to eliminate the CR system, but i imagine you have your own ideas for that, so i’ll hold on until you get to monster design :P

  11. I agree. PCs don’t necessarily need to be equal in the 4e sense, as long as they can all do something the other members of the party can’t. There is an illusion of equality in third edition, and I’ll try and bring that into HD&D.

    Hopefully, a 20th level monster will be of roughly the same power level as a 20th level PC regardless of what race or type it turns out to be. If it needs to be more powerful, I’ll just increase the level.

    And I will completely eliminate the CR system. I don’t give away experience for killing things, I give it away for completely the goals of the adventure. If the PCs do that by killing things, then fine. If they copiously avoid killing anything then that’s also fine.

  12. The CR system’s issue was less that you get experience for killing things (since that’s ovbiously entire up to the DM) and more that it was completely and utterly wrong.

    The fact that Dragons were deliberately under-CRed added insult to injury, but the system itself is still fundamentally flawed.

  13. On the thirty versus twenty level problem, to illustrate my point I will use Nicos as an example. If he was converted he would have just four talents left over after spells. Three of these would be needed to buy the three fire priest special abilities that he already has i.e. fire resistance, firey aura and unchaining the flame. It would also take at least two talents to buy the various firewalker abilities leaving us in a negative talent situation just to get to the same place as in v3.5. When Nicos eventually gets converted I was hoping to add a few of the human talents and a little bit of bard but this would just not be possible as it stands.

    I think the same problem will happen with all of the spellcasting characters. I doubt Arvan or Ravenna could be converted either without leaving something significant out and I think the problem would be very noticeable indeed with Cortez. Although he was probably overpowered in 3.5.

  14. You make a fine point, Steve.

    The problem here is not so much that HD&D isn’t balanced within itself, but that third edition made for such unbalanced characters. I think it’s actually Elias who would lose out the most, because his laundry list of powers and class abilities from six different classes aren’t that easy to reproduce in HD&D.

    Between levels 1 and 20, all characters get 14 talents. If the character is a spellcaster, and wants to have access to the most powerful spells before level 20, then he will have to spend 9 of those 14 talents on his spellcasting: about 65% of this resources. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether this ratio is just and proportionate.

    I would say that it is. Spellcasting is extremely powerful. There is nothing in the game that makes PCs more powerful. A spellcaster is stronger, faster and more versatile that any other class. That’s always been the case in D&D (4e was a bit of blip) and HD&D subscribes to that tradition.

    It should take a long time to master these abilities. It should be exrtremely difficult to master ninth level spells. Sacrifices should have to be made.

    Which, of course, is not how you’re looking at it at all. You’re looking at our exisitng PCs and foreseeing problems ahead. If we can’t recreate the characters we already have, then what’s the point of HD&D in the first place? Of course you have a point. One of us is looking at this backwards, and I’m not convinced it isn’t me.

    But I’m still not sure I want to expand a character over 30 levels (the 20 level ‘limit’ just feels more D&D to me). However, I could reduce the number of feats you need to take be a spellcaster.

    In a 30 level system, the 9 spell casting feats would be taken over all 30 levels. A character spends 30% of his talents on spellcasting. Extrapolate that to a 20 level game, and you reduce the number of talents required to 4.2 – or 5 to keep the maths easy.

    Each talent could grant you access to two spell levels (0-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7 and 8-9). But there would still be a level requirement to be able to cast certain spell levels. You might take the talent that lets you cast 8th and 9th level spells at level 15, but you still wouldn’t be able to cast 9th level spells until level 17.

    This inverts the ratio between spellcasting and non-spellcasting talents. Should Nicos be reintroduced full-time into the game, he would be 15th level. Assuming he wanted access to 8th level spells (the highest level he could possibly cast) then he would need to spend 4 of his 11 talents on spellcasting. The remaining 7 could be spent on whatever else tickled his fancy.

    This approach would do as you suggest, make spellcasters even more versatile, but still keep us to a 20 level game. I’m not sure I would run with this idea, but it’s a preferable option to me than extending the game out to 30 levels.

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