The Cleric

Go to Pathfinder: New Deal Index


Through every incarnation of D&D the cleric has always given me the most trouble. My favourite clerics (in terms of concept rather than execution) were the Priests of Specific Mythoi from the second edition game, and I’ve desperately been trying to recreate them ever since. To me a cleric should be entirely coloured by his faith. A cleric who worships the God of Fire should be completely different from one who worships the God of Death: different appearance, different skills, different powers, different spells. Stand them side-by-side and you shouldn’t even know they are the same class.

Clerics with a common spell list, or common abilities such as turn undead or channel energy strike me as a bit lazy. They could have been so much more. To this end I have created many, many house rules for clerics. And because clerics have always been an intrinsic part of the campaign, those abilities are deeply woven into the campaign world. Excising them, returning to a semblance of the published rules is not going to be easy – and arguably it’s not that desirable either.

However, we have our Pact of Minimal Tinkering. So let’s compare the Pathfinder cleric to the House Ruled cleric and see if it’s possible to fit a square peg into a round hole.

The Pathfinder Cleric: All clerics have the same skill list and the same proficiency in weapons and armour, with the exception that all know how to wield their deity’s favoured weapon. All clerics also share the same spell list. The only limitation is that clerics can’t cast spells that have a descriptor for an Alignmen that is opposite to their own. In addition to this generic spell-list, each cleric chooses two Domains that reflect the purview of the cleric’s god. For example, Animal and Plant for a god of nature. Each domain adds a few faith-specific spells to the cleric’s list that may not be on the Cleric spell list. Each domain also grants the cleric two special powers, one at first level and one at eighth. These powers are tied to the theme of the domain. All clerics also have the ability to channel energy a number of times per day. This unleashes a wave of energy (positive for Good clerics, or negative for Evil clerics) that heals and harms according, and increases in power as the cleric gains levels.

The House Ruled Cleric: All clerics of different gods have different skill lists and different proficiencies in weapons and armour depending on the nature of their faith. All spells in the game are divided into one of 46 domains. Every cleric has three major domains and three minor domains that come together to create a spell list unique to the cleric’s religion. The cleric can also choose special powers listed under its major domains. These powers are directly tied to the nature of the domain, and the cleric gets one at every even level, so many more than the traditional Pathfinder cleric.


The Three Tests

I like the version of the cleric that we’re using, but I know that it is complex and I know that some of the domain powers I’ve come up with are ill-advised and game-breaking (the Second Chance ability of the rebirth domain springs to mind). If we are to adopt the Pathfinder rules as they are written, then I don’t think there’s a place for the cleric in its current house-ruled form. However, I also don’t think I could stomach a vanilla cleric that uses the rules as written either…

Narrative Integrity

This is the biggest stumbling block to the adopting the Pathfinder cleric in all its glory. The signature abilities of clerics have long been established in the campaign world. Priests of Calafax are immune to fire, even from first level. Priests of Zephyre have the ability to fly at will. Nothing in the domain powers currently in print comes anywhere near this. We simply cannot move to the printed rules. The story doesn’t allow it. It can’t be done.

Games without Miniatures

There’s nothing too much to worry about on this front, though. Although some domain powers may use the tactical combat rules these are things we can look at in a case-by-case basis.

Our Preferences

I find the Pathfinder clerics bland and pointless. I don’t really want to use them in their current form. However, the basic rules for the cleric with its Channel Energy feature and its homogenous spell list are simple. There are tools within the Pathfinder rules that would help us customise clerics into something of an approximation of what we have now. It would probably be easier to handle, as it had full rule support.

As far as I see it we have three choices:

1) We keep the house ruled cleric and be damned. We continue to work on the spell lists and the domain powers to bring them in line with the Pathfinder game.

2) We adopt the Pathfinder cleric whole-cloth. We simply take the rules as written because they are easier.

3) We take the middle road. We make an effort to create a cleric that is as like the published rules as possible, but we don’t compromise the story elements that already exist in the game.

My preference is option 3. Getting there is not going to be particularly easy however. I’ve given a little though to an approach that we can take, which I explain below. Then I present a cleric crafted with these rules: the good old Cleric of Calafax. Most of us are familiar with how that clerci works, so I think it’s the best starting point for our discussion. There are rules in Pathfinder for Subdomains, clerical Archetypes, and for Variant Chanelling. We have been given the tools to make this work. So let’s see what we can do.


Building a New Cleric

The generic Pathfiner cleric has the following class abilities and features. In order to create a new cleric that operates the same way under the Pathfinder rules, we’ll have to hit each of these abilities in the new cleric as well, although we do have the freedom to change them slightly.

  • Base Attack Bonus: Average.
  • Saving Throws: Good Fortitude and Will saving throws.
  • Class Skills: Appraise, Craft, Diplomacy, Heal, Knowledge [arcana], Knowledge [history], Knowledge [nobility], Knowledge [the planes], Knowledge [religion], Linguistics, Profession, Sense Motive and Spellcraft as class skills.
  • Skill Ranks: 2 + Int Modifier per level.
  • Hit Points: 1d8 hit points per level.
  • Alignment: Must be within one step of the deity the cleric worships.
  • Weapon and Armour Proficiency: The favoured weapon of the deity, as well as all simple weapons, light armour, medium armour and shields (but not tower shields).
  • Aura: An Aura that corresponds with the deity’s alignment.
  • Spells: Access to all spells on the generic Cleric spell-list. Clerics are acquired spellcasters that prepare their spells in advance. They have a set number of spell-slots of each spell level that they can cast each day; although they can prepare a lower level spell in a higher level slot. Clerics gain bonus spell slots for having a high wisdom. The cleric also has orisons that he can cast at-will; although he must still select which orisons are available to him in any one day and prepare them accordingly.
  • Channel Energy: All clerics can unleash a wave of energy that affects targets within a 30-foot radius of the cleric, and the cleric as well if desired. Good aligned clerics channel Positive energy, Evil-aligned clerics channel Negative energy. Neutral clerics choose which type of energy they channel during character creation, after which time it cannot be changed. Positive energy heals living creatures and harms undead. Negative energy harms living creatures and heals undead. However, the cleric must announce whether he is chanelling energy to heal or harm when he uses it. He can’t both heal and harm at the same time. The energy inflicts (or heals) 1d6 damage per odd-numbered cleric level to a maximum of 10d6 at nineteenth level. The cleric can use the ability 3 + his Charisma modifier times per day. Certain divine feats can be selected that modify this power with other abilities such as Turn Undead.
  • Domains: The cleric selects two domains from his god’s portfolio. He may only select an Alignment domain if his own alignment matches it. Each domain adds nine new spells to clerics spell list: one of each level from 1st to 9th for each domain. The cleric also gains an additional spell slot for each spell level that must be used to prepare one of his domain spells. If a domain spell is also on the generic cleric list, then the cleric can prepare that spell in one of his other spell slots. If not the spell can only be prepaered in the domain slot. In addition, the domains grant two special powers: one at first level and one (usually) at eighth level. There are 35 domains in the Pathfinder game. There are also 70 sub-domains (two per domain) that a cleric can choose instead of the related domain if their deity permits it. There’s a full list of all domains and sub-domains over at the Pathfinder SRD.
  • Spontaneous Casting: At the point of casting the cleric can replace any prepared spell with a cure or an inflict spell of the same or lower level. This means the cleric never has to prepare healing magic as it is always on hand. Which spells the cleric is able to spontaneously cast depends on his Channel Energy choice. If the cleric channels positive energy then he spontaneously casts cure spells; if he channels negative energy then he spontaneously casts inflict spells.

Okay… I’m going to take each on these elements one step at a time, and highlight my thoughts and intentions moving forward.

Pantheon-related Archetypes

Some priestshoods and gods are connected and have certain abilities in common. The Moon Gods are an obvious example of this. Calafax, Zephrye, Vitaeous, Terranor, Mortis and Sharrash are elemental deities exemplified by the six moons of Iourn. The waxing and waning of those moons affects the powers and abilities of the clerics. Traditionally, a cleric in the dark of the moon is less powerful and has access to less spells. A cleric during the full moon is super-charged. I don’t want to get rid of this element as it has significant game related effects.

Therefore I would propose that all clerics of one of the Moon Gods would have to take the “Moon Faith” archetype. This would present subtly different ways that spells and domain powers would function during the dark and the full of the moon. It wouldn’t preclude the cleric also having other archetypes if that was a route the player wanted to take. You’ll see the text of the Moon God archetype when we look at the cleric of fire below.

Church-related Archetypes

Just because clerics worship the same deity, does not mean that they are equal. On Iourn, the Moon Gods are worshipped by various different priesthoods. Calafax is a the god of terrorism and explosions to the Bombastics, he is the god of war to the Warmakers, and he is also the god of fire, rebirth and good dress-sense to the Firestarters. Helian, the god of the Hadradan faith, is worshipped by Elyastic, Vandanian and Timonite churches. The rules for these different churches shouldn’t be equal.

Therefore I propose that where there is more than one church or sect that worships a god, then that church should also have its own archetype. This is an archetype that jollies along with any pantheon-related archetype. So the character of Nicos in the Iourn campaign would be of the cleric class, but also take the Moon Faith archetype and the Firestarter archetype.

Church-related archetypes would influence the following aspects of a cleric: base attack bonus, saving throws, class skills, skill ranks, hit points and weapon & armour proficiencies. These would be balanced so that, taken as a whole, they would have the same net utility as the vanilla cleric.

Aura and Alignment

I haven’t looked at Alignment closely yet, but it’s my opinion that we’re going to have to accept it in some form in order for the game to work mechanically. However, there’s no reason that it needs to be in the forefront of the cleric. The universe of Iourn is polarised by the forces of Good, Evil, Law and Chaos and everyone sits somewhere on the alignment spectrum whether they realise it, or care about it, or not. I use terms such as Taint, Rapture, Order and Entropy as physical forces but this is really just somantics: beneath it is alignment.

I view alignment as something that is mutable. A person may slide around the scale completely unknowingly depending on their actions. As far as the cleric is concerned, I just think that a cleric simply has to follow the tennets of his deity and his church. If he does that then his ‘alignment’ must be acceptable. It should be gross violations of the church’s code that expel a priest, not something as abstract and woolly as an “alignment violation”.

I think that we can leave the Alignment system quietly ticking along in the background. We can reference it every now and then (when someone casts detect evil, for example) but for the most part we can ignore it. That’s largely how I’d view these elements of the cleric: yes, they exist in the game. No: we’re not going to talk about them unless we absolutely have to.

Spells

Now we’re getting to the meat of it. Obviously clerics will use the standard rules for casting spells. I’ve talked about that on this blog in the post on Arcane and Divine spells, so there’s no point discussing that again here. What I proposing is that we follow the rules as written here. There is a generic list of cleric spells as it’s published in the Core Rules, and all clerics from all faiths have access to all spells from that list.

“Whoa there, Tex” you’re thinking. Doesn’t this is contradict the ideal that each cleric of each faith is unique? Well, it does slightly. But I’m hoping that other elements discussed, and how we’re going to handle domains, spontaneous casting and channel energy will make up for this. The fact is that the generic Cleric spell list is so hard-wired into Pathfinder that saying it doesn’t exist causes more problems than it solves and would lead to more house rules, which we’re trying to avoid.

It’s not entirely without story-precedent on Iourn. In my setting gods grant divine power, they don’t grant spells. It’s up to the invidual clerics and churches to create spells. You can imagine that over the centuries spells have been passed around between friendly churches, they’ve been copied, they’ve been stolen… until you reach a point when the majority of the more utilitarian spells are available to most churches.

What I am going to do is remove the Alignment restriction on spellcasting. Good clerics can cast spells with the Evil descriptor if they want to. However, they might not stay Good clerics for long if they keep using such a spell. Their alignment would drift. Whether that would have any other game effect beyond roleplaying would remain to be seen; but the impact on a character’s conscience should be enough.

One last point: in my post on Arcane and Divine spells I appealed for the retention of one of my favourite house rules. I said that I wanted clerics to learn new spells in the same way as wizards, that rather than automatically get access to every spell ever, they should grow their own personal spell list in the same way as a wizard does. Those rules would make the use of the generic cleric spell list much easier to swallow and to administer. Go and read them if you haven’t already.

Channel Energy

Channel Energy as a concept and a mechanic stays with the cleric. However, the type of energy chanelled and the effects of the channelling vary from faith to faith. There are some fab rules for Variant Chanelling on pages 28-31 of Ultimate Magic (2011), and also online at the Pathfinder PRD. I would definitely want to use these these rules, at least in principle. The alternatives in the text are just examples, but I’ve taken the principles into something I hope is generally in keeping.

Domains

We abandon the house rules for domains and domain powers. We keep the Domains and the Subdomains as they are written in the Pathfinder rules. Clerics still choose two domains and still get the granted powers from those domains at the appointed levels. However: we make two changes to these domains. Firstly, domain spells aren’t limited to one of each spell level from levels 1 to 9. There can be any number of spells of any level in the domain. This means we don’t miss spells that are incredibly appropriate for clerics because of the restrictive format that domains currently have. Obviously, this rules change would lead to an enormous bloat in cleric’s spell-list unless we also rule that clerics gain new spells in the same way as wizards (something I’m continuing to push for). Secondly, although clerics still need to prepare a domain spell in their domain slot, I would lift the restriction that says spells that are not on the generic cleric list can’t be prepared in other spell slots. All domain spells can be prepared in any slot regardless of their origin. I think this would encourage players to learn and prepare spells closer to their idiom.

Obviously, this means that there would still be work to do in expanding the spells on the domain lists, and it makes the subdomains merely a source of alternative domain powers rather than also being a source of alternative domain spells. I’m okay with that. A lot of work on putting spells into appropriate domains has already been done by the house rules. Graham’s new Spell Filter will make it very easy for us to produce a list of all spells in a domain, so there shouldn’t be any book-keeping issues once that is up and running.

But wait! There’s more.

I also propose that all clerics have a third domain. A “Deity Domain” if you will. This domain looks very much like the cleric’s other two domains, but it contains powers and spells that only clerics of that particular god have access to. So the Calafax Domain would grant immunity to fire, and the signature fiery aura. The spells in the Deity Domain could also be other signature clerical powers that we’ve used in the past, but converted into a spell format. Again there is no limit to the number of spells that can be in the Deity Domain, but there’s likely to be less than in the other domains.

Spontaneous Casting

We retain the mechanic for Spontaneous Casting, but the type of spells that can be spontaneously cast vary from faith to faith. Normally, spells that can be spontaneously cast would be defined by a descriptor or a subschool. Therefore clerics of Calafax could spontaneously cast all spells with the Fire descriptor instead of all cure spells as it is in the printed rules. Again the versatility of the cleric becomes directly related to the god he worships.


And there we have it. It’s taken a long time to describe rules that I think make fairly minimal changes to the Pathfinder cleric. Yes, there’s a lot to take in… but I think this would really do the job while staying as close to the spirit of the generic Pathfinder cleric as I dare. Spellcasting, Channel Energy, Domains and Spontaneous Casting have all be drawn back to the base cleric and then embellished.

There’s far more tinkering for this class than anything else in the rules, but I think there always would have been. The cleric is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. The above is a compromise, but is it a good compromise? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so here’s the new cleric of Calafax attached as a PDF. Have a read and tell me what you think.

New Deal Clerics


Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal Index

The Skill List

Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal Index


During the many house rule expansions over the years I have changed the list of skills to accomodate the Iourn campaign setting. I’m quite attached to all these rules, but I know that now might be the time to let go of at least a few of them.  Skill descriptions are found on pages 87-109 of the Core Rules (2009) and also on the Pathfinder PRD.

I’m going to assume that the mechanics of how each individual skill works will remain entirely unchanged. What I’m therefore going to do is take each of my changes to the skill list one step at a time and try and justify these changes to you, and say whether I recommend that we keep the house rule or dispense with it.

Alchemy (Int): This skill has always existed in Pathfinder as Profession (Alchemy). By removing it from the Profession skill and turning it into a skill of its own – as was the case in version 3.0 – I restricted its use to only certain classes. I’m not altogether sure what the point of making this change was in hindsight. The skill remains unchanged so I say we stick to the rules as written and keep this as Profession (Alchemy).

Athletics (Str or Con): This is a devisive one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t want to keep it. I do want to keep it, however, as it fills a gap that the skills system currently has. In Pathfinder there is no Jump skill as there was in version 3.5. The ability of Jump was folded into Acrobatics. I can see the logic when applied to tumbling, but not when it comes to the high jump and the long jump. That’s a different discipline and a different skills set. So in the house rules I took jumping out of Acrobatics and put it into Athletics.

But Athletics is far more just jumping, and this is (I think) the strength of the skill. You can use Athletics for any feat of strength or endurance that normally would call for an ability check in the game. Depending on the type of check it might be appropriate to use Strength or Constitution as the relevent ability score modifier. So endurance running, sprinting, holding your breath underwater, bending bars, lifting gates, kicking down doors – all of these things would use the Athletics skill. Characters would actually have the ability to get better at this sort of thing as they gained levels. I would strongly recommend holding onto athletics.

Autohypnosis (Wis): Originally published in the Psionics Handbook (2001), it was updated for Pathfinder in Psionics Unleashed (2010). Although not in the Core Rules I see no reason why this skill cannot stand as it is. Plus Raza has ranks in this, so we need to hang onto it.

Control Shape (Wis): Introduced in the third edition Monster Manual, this skill helps lycanthropes resist their supernatural urges. I think this skill is a bit too specialised and, like Concentration, should probably be treated as a level check in the Pathfinder game. This is a skill that’s never been in the official Pathfinder rules so I say that we let this one die.

Diplomacy (Cha): Under the Pathfinder rules the mechanics of the third edition Gather Information skill was folding into Diplomacy. I didn’t agree with this and took that functionality out of Diplomacy to create a new skill called Streetwise. More on that below.

Intimiate (Cha or Str): No change here except to rule that you can use your Strength instead of your Charisma in the Intimidate skill if you want. Makes far more sense. We want big burly characters to by physically intimidating right?

Knowledge (Int): Okay, this is the big one. Including Knowledge (Psionics) from Psionics Unleashed, there are eleven Knowledge skills in the Pathfinder game. Under the houserules there are thirteen. Some skills have been removed, and some have been added. Here’s a summary, so you can see exactly what has changed.

I’ve elimated the knowledges for The Planes and Dungeoneering, because I think they are a bit too broad. Instead we have knowledge skills for each of the general creature/environment types in the game: Aberrant, Ancients (aka Outsiders), Draconic, Elementals, Fey, Nature, and Undead. Those knowledge skills not only cover knowledge of the creature types, but also knowledge of the environments including the planes in which they live. So if you want to know about the Far Realm you’d make a Knowledge (Aberrant) roll. If you’re in a natural cave formation on the prime material plane then it would be Knowledge (Nature) you would require to survive. Those areas of knowledge are connected, so it makes sense to hang them together. This way a knowledge of the undead is no longer dependent on knowing the Religion skill, which never made much sense to me anyway.

In other changes: I’ve folded Knowledge (Psionics) into Knowledge (Arcana), and Knowledge (Local) has also been removed from the game. It’s been folded into the new Streetwise skill. See below.

Linguistics (Int): A character would choose to learn either a spoken tongue or a written script each time he gained a rank in Linguistics. This change is tied up with the rules for languages, which I discuss separately.

Lucid Dreaming (Wis): Introduced in the Manual of the Planes (2001), I’ve used this skill quite a lot in the Iourn campaign. For the sake of narrative integrity, it has to remain. I think the text we currently have of the skill works well in the context we’ve used it in so far. But I will revisit it to make sure that it properly fits with the Pathfinder rules.

Streetwise (Cha): This is a new skill that folds in the old Gather Information skill (that currently sits under the Diplomacy skill) in Pathfinder, and the Knowledge (Local) skill. So it’s a skill that let’s you know what’s going on and who the movers and shakers are in your community, as well as knowing who to talk to in order to find out information. It works for me.


The Three Tests

I’ve done a lot of work with the skill system over the years, and I’m probably more invested in this than any other part of the game. There are more house rules that I’d like to retain here than elsewhere in the system. Which is not to say that everything is not up for debate. Remember that there are companion rules that go part and parcel with the skill list. All classes have extra skill points because I’ve introduced more skills into the game. The language rules are affected by the way the Linguistics skill works. Changing something here, has a knock-on effect across other house rules in the game.

Narrative Integrity

As we’ve seen in 4e a lack of skills can significantly hurt the narrative integrity of the game. But even if adopted the Pathfinder rules system whole cloth… it’s not going to make a great deal of difference.

Games without Miniatures

Any skill that allows some form of movement has the potential to fall foul of the tactical combat rules. Most seriously, the Acrobatics skill allows you to “move through a threatened square without provoking an attack of opportunity from an enemy”.  That would have to be addressed, although I think it makes more sense to talk about with Attacks of Opportunity.

The house rules I’m working for Attacks of Opportunity don’t allow characters to “threaten” the area around them in quite the same way. Therefore Acrobatics is probably going to be used as means to jump over foes you are actually blocking your path. The enemies are standing so close together trying to go trough them would be an Overrun attempt. Or you could use Acrobatics to close on a foe with Reach, withour provoking an attack of opportunity.

I’d appreciate any additional views on this.

Our Preferences

Well, my preferences are pretty strong on this. I’d like to excise Control Shape from the house rules and rename the Alchemy spell as Profession (Alchemy) but otherwise leave the houserules unchanged. I think that the Athletics and Streetwise skills add more to the game than they detract, and I’m happier with the default list of Knowledge skills in the house rules than the written rules.

You may feel differently, which is fine. If there’s sufficient opposition to retaining these house rules then we can swap to the written rules entirely.


Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal Index

Spell DCs

Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal Index


A blistering short post.

The rules as written calculate the saving throw DCs of spells using the following formula:

10 + Spell Level + Ability Score Modifier

The ability score modifier used is the same ability score that governs the magic-user’s spellcasting powers: so Intelligence for a wizard, Wisdom for a cleric, Charisma for a bard and so on.

The current house rules calculate spell DCs using a different formula:

10 + ½ Caster Level (rounded down) + Ability Score Modifier

Which version shall we use?


The Three Tests

Narrative Integrity

No problems here. It’s just how we set the DC. It doesn’t make any difference to the story of the campaign world.

Games without Miniatures

Again no issues. This is just as easy to adjudicate with or without little plastic figures.

Our Preferences

So it boils down to this. The house rules equalise the DCs between spells and supernatural abilities. Any monster or class that has a supernatural or spell-like ability uses the hosue rule formula already. So this is already something that exists and works in game, and is already balanced against the saving throws of character classes. I don’t think we have anything to worry about on the imbalance front.

What these rules do is big up lower level spells, and make them more valid choices at higher levels. The rule is stating that the power of the spell comes from the caster and not the spell itself. A charm person cast by a twentieth level wizard should be harder to resist than the same spell cast by a first level wizard.

However, you may argue that the game already takes that into account, because your twentieth level wizard will have a higher ability score modifier than your first level wizard. You may also think that there should be a graduated difficulty in spell DCs, rather than having one DC fit all spells.

Our Pact of Minimal Tinkering states that we use the rules as written and ignore these house rules. However, I like these house rules. I don’t like them enough to make a big issue of it if you want to drop them: but I would like to have the discussion.


Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal Index

Arcane and Divine Spells

Go to Pathfinder: New Deal index


In this post I’m looking specifically at the mechanics of spellcasting, concentrating on the sections on Arcane and Divine spells printed on pages 218-221 of the Pathfinder Core Rules (2009). The same material can also be found on the Pathfinder PRD. Details of spellcasting is also divided among the  Wizard, Cleric, Sorcerer and Oracle classes; but for the most part I’m ignoring mechanics unique to individual classes in favour of a broader approach. We’ll deal with the classes in due course.

Because I am solely dealing with spellcasting mechanics in this post, it makes more sense to me to divide spellcasters along mechanical rather than narrative lines. Therefore I am considering Acquired casters (wizards, druids, paladins, rangers, witches and clerics) separately from Instinctive casters (bards, sorcerers, summoners, inquisitors, magi and oracles). This is helpful because other spellcasting classes such as psions, psychic warriors, wilders and hexblades also neatly fit into one of these two core mechanics.

Before we begin could you please make sure you’re aware of the existing house rules for spellcasting by checking the New Deal index. I won’t repeat them here.

Acquired Casters

Acquired casters have a fixed daily limit of spells they can cast, as noted in the “Spells per day” section of their advancement table. If they have a high prime spellcasting ability score, then they may get a few additional spells per day on top of this total.

Acquired casters need to prepare their spells in advance in order to be able to cast them. It takes one hour to prepare spells to fill the slots in the “Spells per day” section of each class’s advancement table. For the arcane caster this hour is usually first thing after waking from eight hours sleep. The divine caster prepares spells at a prescribed time of day depending on her faith, such as at dawn or at dusk. When preparing spells, the acquired caster must select specific spells to fill his spell slots.

For example, a third level wizard prepares four 0-level spells, two 1st level spells and one 2nd level spell. He has to choose specific spells to fill each slot, therefore his versatility for the day is set during the hour he prepares his spells.  The same spell can be prepared twice or more, but once the spell is prepared it cannot be forgotten and replaced by another – even if that is more convenient. Acquired casters can always leave certain spell slots empty when they prepare their spells. Then they can use a quiet 15 minutes later in the day to fill it.

An acquired caster from the Arcane tradition is able to fill a higher level spell slot with a lower-level spell if he wants. So instead of fireball  (a 3rd level spell) the wizard could prepare invisibility (a 2nd level spell). The rules as written do not specifically state that divine casters have the same freedom. However, its not entirely clear so I’m happy to rule that divine acquired casters also have this ability.

Once a spell is cast then it is forgotten by the acquired caster, cleared from his mind until he prepares his spells again. Arcane casters must sleep or otherwise rest for eight hours before preparing their spells. If they do not rest then they cannot prepare their spells until they have rested. Divine casters do not need to rest, but they still need to wait until the appointed hour to prepare their spells and therefore cannot prepare them more than once per day.

0-level spells (cantrips and orisons) work a little differently. Although the acquired caster must still choose which cantrips he prepares, he can cast those cantrips as many times as he likes during the course of the day.

There is no limit to the number of spells an acquired caster can know, but how spells are learned or gained varies widely. Most arcane classes gain two spells per level as they gain levels, and can also research, beg, borrow or steal spells from other spellcasters. There are extensive rules for arcane magical writings and spell-books in the Core Rules. Divine casters automatically gain knowledge of all the spells they have access to at their caster level, and choose to prepare spells from this extensive list. They can also research new spells.

Individual acquired classes may have special abilities to regain cast spells, spontaneously cast certain types of magic or possess some other clever way to influence their spellcasting. However, the above represents the core mechanic shared by all acquired casters: prepare, cast, forget, sleep.

Instinctive Casters

The instinctive caster knows an extremely limited spell list. Each instinctive class has an associated “Spells Known” table which denotes the number of spells of a particular level that the instinctive caster has knowledge of. This is a fixed number dependent on the instinctive caster’s level, and is not affected by the caster’s prime spellcasting ability score, although certain class features may add additional spells known to the list.

The instinctive caster also has a “Spells per day” section in their advancement table. These are the number of spells of a particular level that the instinctive caster can cast in one day. Unlike the acquired caster, these spells do not need to be chosen in advance. Generally, the instinctive caster abides by this limit of spell slots per level per day. However, Arcane instinctive casters can elect to cast a low level spell instead of a higher level one.

For example, a eighth level sorcerer can cast six 1st level spells, five 2nd level spells and three 3rd level spells in the same day. If the sorcerer wanted to cast a seventh 1st level spell, she could do so by using one of her 2nd level spell slots, although she would then have one less 2nd level spell slot for the day. Again, the rules don’t specifically indicate that divine instinctive casters (such as inquisitors) have the same freedom, but like clerics I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this.

0-level spells (cantrips and orions) are always available for an instinctive caster to use. However, they will have far fewer to choose from than the acquired caster.

Instinctive casters only require 15 minutes to ready their spells. Arcane casters must have 8 hours of sleep/rest prior to attempting this, but divine casters do not need any rest. The time at which divine instinctive casters ready their spells may be prescribed, or may be at any time during the day. However, they cannot ready their spells more than once per day.


The Three Tests

So as we can see, the rules as written present us with some very different spellcasting mechanics. Personally, I’d like to use them as written because I feel (after all these years) handling magic as it’s presented in the game will lead to less problems between spellcasters and non-spellcasters. However, I’m willing to be guided in this.

Narrative Integrity

I don’t see any great story-related issues in implementing this change. Acquired and Instinctive casters are still different, and these rules aren’t a million miles away from the flavour of the house rules that currently exist. Plus, magic has only just changed anyway, so we still have the in-game excuse of the move away from spell points etc. Iourn has traditions of Primal magic (druids) and Song magic (bards) but these are just words that don’t have any mechanical weight behind them. The actual rules don’t present any narrative problems.

The main issue is how this form of spellcasting is explained in game. With Acquired casters it would be easy to rule that spells simply cannot be cast on the fly at all, and that spellcasters are simply using the hour in the morning to ‘pre-cast’ their magic. The spell sits in the mind until it can be unleashed by a gesture. In which case we can say that Acquired characters never actually ‘know’ magic at all, but require their spell-books or their supplication to gain power. Which is pretty close to where we are now anyway.

Instinctive casters develop spellcasting powers as they grow older and more experienced. The compartmentalisation of spells per day is a bit artifiicial, I will grant that. However, the fact that the instinctive caster is able to use a higher level spell slot to cast a lower level spell goes a long way to overcome this inconsistency. It’s probably fair to say that sorcerers are less able to cast higher level spells and more able to cast lower level ones. I think I can live with that.

Games without Miniatures

While some individual spells might need to be tweaked to take into account the lack of a battlegrid, the base rules for spellcasting exist completely separately. No issues here.

Our Preferences

So it boils down to whether we like the spell system or not. Having been a fervent detractor from the rules as written for the last twenty years, I think it would be helpful as to why I’ve changed my mind. I’ve always implemented house rules to govern the spell-casting systems in the game. They’ve met with mixed success over the years, but all of them have taken time and effort to implement. The magic system is a massive part of the game, and requires a commensurately massive committment to maintain. I don’t  really have the time to that anymore. I’d rather be writing be writing adventures or expanding the campaign world.

We must understand that these are the rules the game comes with. Therefore these are the rules that are balanced across the whole of the Pathfinder system. With the best will in the world the house rules eat away at the parity between PCs and their adversaries. The game, as a whole works better with these rules. Are they the best magic rules in the world? No, not even nearly. But they aren’t so offensive, that I would rather indulge the prospect of continuing not to use them.

Many of my other changes to the spells system – such as the way I’ve nerfed teleportation and divination magic – simply aren’t necessary if we use the rules as they’re written. If a seventh level cleric can only cast discern lies once per day instead of eight times per day (as it was under the spell point rules) then there’s no need for me to adjust the spell. It’s only the repeated use of these things that bugged me. Use the rules as written as that problem goes away. It’s liberating.

There are two areas regarding the spellcasting system as noted above where I think a small change – a minor house rule – would be beneficial to the game. Now, I’ve far from wedded to these ideas. You might think that they are the thin end of the wedge, and that we should shy away from any modification to the system. If that’s the consensus then I’d accept it. Have a read and see what you think:

Rituals: This gives acquired casters a little more versatility, while at the same time being flavourful and helping to explain how magic works. Under this variant spells can be cast by acquired casters without being prepared in advance, but they must be cast as a ritual. A ritual version of a spell is exactly the same as a normal version of a spell except that it takes much longer to cast. I would peg the casting time as one hour for a spell of levels 1-3, two hours for a spell of levels 4-6, and three hours for a spell of levels 7-9.

In story-terms this makes sense. We can say that rituals are the default form in which all spells are cast for acquired casters. It’s the way they manipulate magic. However, in order to be of some use during a day acquired casters can prepare certain spells in advance, pre-casting them and holding them in their mind until they are needed. However, there is a limit to the number of spells an acquired caster can hold in this way and must often cast certain less utilitarian magicks in the traditional ritual manner.

What this change to the system also does is allow certain spells to appear in the game that would not normally be prepared by your average player. D&D is a combat game, and inevitably combat and not utility spells are more likely to be prepared. The very obscure spells might never see the light of day. These house rules follow the rules as written, but still give acquired casters the ability to cast any spell in their repetoire if they were prepared to invest the time. So a wizard would never need to prepare the Alarm spell, but he could still spend an hour every night casting it before going to bed.

These are very similar to the rules presented in the playtest material for D&D Next, and I like them a lot. You may feel that this shot in the arm for acquired casters is unfair on instinctive casters, as I have nothing comparable to offer them.

Less is More for Divine Casters: As the rules stand at present, when a cleric or a druid gains access to a new level of spells they automatically know every spell that is available to them. So on gaining fifth level a druid immediately gains knowledge of every single 3rd level druid spell that exists in every sourcebook; and it is from this repetoire that druids would prepare their spells.

What we found at higher levels is that this degree of choice can paralyse players. It’s bad enough in a spell-point system, but in a system where you need to select the best handful of spells to see you through a day… I think it would be better for players to have a thinner list of spells to choose from. What we’ve been doing recently is having divine casters gain spells in the same way as arcane casters. So they gain two spells they can cast every time they go up a level, and have the ability to learn more by consulting tomes, trading with their fellow clerics and so on.

If we assume (as Iourn does) that gods simply grant divine power and it’s up to the clerics to invent spells, then this approach make a good deal of narrative sense as well. These rules do not tie a cleric to a prayerbook in the same way a wizard has a spellbook, but they do make divine magical writings more important in game. I like this option very much, and it doesn’t really do anything radical within the system.

I’m not adding a poll to this post, and it’s all a bit to complex for that. Please leave your comments below and let me


Return to Pathfinder: New Deal index

Spell Components

Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal index


The rules for spell components in the Pathinder rules are brief, but as we’re currently using very different house rules, it’s worth bringing these up. The rules I’m referring to are on pages 212-213 of the Core Rules (2009) and also on the Pathfinder PRD.

The rules as written discuss the traditional Verbal (V), Somatic (S), Material (M), Focus (F) and Divine Focus (DF) components that need to be present to cast a spell. I’m sure you know what they all mean, so I’m not going to go into a lengthy discussion of them here. The big difference between the house rules and the written rules is what we do with material components and foci.

In the house rules there aren’t any components per se. If the spell obviously needs a component (e.g. you need a mirror to cast a scrying spell) then you still need it, but otherwise material components have been replaced with foci. A wizard uses a wand or a staff, a cleric uses a holy symbol and so on. The house rules were largely born from the fact that we could never be bothered to track components anyway.

I intend to ditch all that now in favour of the rules as presented in the book, so all spells are back to having their requisite bizarre and obscure spell components. The Pathfinder rules acknowledge that keeping track of these things can be a hassle so this is what they say about them: “Don’t bother to keep track of material components with negligible cost. Assume you have all you need as long as you have your spell component pouch.” Obviously sorcerers or other classes with the Eschew Materials feat don’t even need to worry about that.

Okay, that’s all fine as it goes… but there’s still a whole host of spells where you do need to keep track of components. Take Stoneskin for example. Each casting requires 250gp of granite and diamond dust.


The Three Tests

Basically, introducing these rules will mean that all spellcasters will need to do a little more book-keeping. It also means that I as a GM need to start worrying about giving characters an appropriate amount of gold. For the components rules to work as they are written then money is going to have to matter more in the campaigns.

Narrative Integrity

The house rules for foci have made so little impression on the world so far, that I don’t think anyone is going to notice getting rid of them. There’s not been any adventures or plot-twists that hinge on this game element. No objections on this score.

Games without Miniatures

Equally, there’s nothing here to do with tactical combat either. This change in the rules would make no mechanical impact on the game.

Our Preferences

So it’s all down to whether we want these components rules or not. Looking to our Pact of Minimal Tinkering I’d say that there’s no compelling reason not to use them. All of the various components can be confusing, but Graham has worked very hard to produce a Spell Filter for Pathfinder, that I am currently adding content to. The spell filter will be able to identify spells that have components with “minimal cost” and also that have expensive components. Also as well as searching for Verbal and Somatic components, it’ll also search for non-verbal and non-somatic: which is really jolly useful in the context of the game. When the filter is up and running, it will drastically help manage components.

I’ve no suggestions for any extra rules to throw in here. I’ll talk more about the money element when I discuss equipment. Iourn will continue to follow the “low magic” approach to magic items as discussed in the Core Rules (2009) and the Gamesmastery Guide (2010), although I’m making more of an effort to get magic items into the hands of PCs even if there aren’t any magic item shops. More on that when I get to Equipment.


Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal index

Pathfinder: The New Deal

Over the past few days I’ve been discussing a few things with my Iourn players, and we’ve come to the decision to shelve almost all the Pathfinder house rules and play the game largely with the rules as they are written. I’m not going to go into the whys and wherefores here as it would rather deflect from the point of this blog entry. I’ll of course pontificate at length if asked, but I’m assuming on balance no one really cares.

What we are now left with is a large number of House Rules for Pathfinder that need to be excised from the system. However, we’re not of a mind to blindly adopt everything, so we are taking the opportunity to discuss the House Rules and see if there’s anything there worth saving. What I intend to do is to look at the orginal written rules behind each house rule and apply these Three Tests:

1) Narrative Integrity: Would adopting the rule as written directly conflict with the ongoing story of Iourn; would it contradict anything that had already been established? In principle, story should trump mechanics, and so the rules should reflect the story first and foremost.

2) Games Without Miniatures: Is the rule something that can be easily adjudicated without using miniatures and a battlegrid? If it isn’t, then it needs to change. The tinkering will be minimal but such rules need to be streamlined to make them easy, consistant and fair in play.

3) Our Preferences: Finally we need to look at whether we like a rule or not. It may be possible that we actually prefer an existing house rule and would like to retain it. But, we’d have to look very carefully at what side-effects such a decision would have.

In applying the Three Tests, our guiding principle should be to tinker as little as possible. A Pact of Minimal Tinkering if you will. If the published rules work soundly for our purposes, then we should be very unwilling to change them. I’m not against creating new game elements such as spells, archetypes, prestige classes or feats if it helps realise the game world. But these additions will need to be within the existing rules where possible.

As far as converting materials from editions 3.0 and 3.5 – obviously we’ll do this if those materials are currently in play. I’m not going to insist that Kybos becomes a Witch instead of a Binder, or that Ravenna drops the Spellsword prestige class. However, using materials from previous editions may create certain ‘legacy’ issues within the system. So what I would say going forward is that new characters only use material from the Pathfinder books. At least until I have the time to mount a massive conversion project.

You can a full Index to the Pathfinder: New Deal on its own page.

D&D Next Playtest – Session 1

With the second D&D Next playtest session just a week away, it’s time to have a look at the first. If you recall from the last post on character generation, this is the motley crew of adventurers I have on my hands:

  • James: “Renko Silverbeard” – hill dwarf sorcerer, bounty hunter background, survivor speciality
  • Malcolm: “Adric Hummerstone” – hill dwarf rogue, charlatan and thug backgrounds, jack-of-all trades speciality
  • Marc: “Lord Wilhelm Cryton” – human warlock, noble background, necromancer speciality
  • Neil: “Erannis” – high elf fighter (slayer), bounty hunter background, survivor speciality

Without further ado, here is the synopsis of the session from 29 August 2012:

The barony of Penhaligon is on the verge of much strife. Since his rescue from the Caves of Chaos five years ago, the Honorable Percival Penhaligon has made no secret of his desire to be baron and wrest control of the land from his elder sister, Arteris. Recently he has gained some political support, and there are also rumours of Percival courting darker allies. There are those who link a growth in the cult of Tharizdum with Percival’s aggrandisement. Civil war seems all but inevitable.

The party are summoned to a clandestine meeting at the Red Raven tavern in the river district of Penhaligon. Upon arriving they discover the mark of Tharizdum has been scratched into the door of the tavern, although Erannis points out that an effort has been made to sand it away. They enter to discover the tavern deserted save for an out-of-work bard, her dwarven minder and the innkeeper Tom. Between them the bard and the innkeeper tell tales of the foul events that have become commonplace in the town over the last few weeks. A flower-girl was recovered from the river only yesterday with the mark of Tharizdum scrawled on her back, and Tom is very suspicious that all cats and dogs have disappeared from the town.

Upon hearing a noise downstairs, Adric fears betrayal and punches Tom in the face. Renko is quick to calm things down (using a charm person spell) and the party are soon in the cellar meeting with their mysterious patron: Baroness Arteris Penhaligon. She tells the party that years ago her father, Pevarry, defeated a dragon that was terrorising the northlands. Rather than kill the dragon, Pevarry extracted a promise from it. In return for its life, the dragon promised to help Penhaligon in its time of need. The baroness wants the party to take a token and find this dragon (named Red Shemeska) and convince it to make good on its oath. The only problem is that her brother has also sent agents to court the dragon. It’s essential the party get there first and deny Percival this terrible prize.

Despite being a rainy Autumn night, the PCs leave immediately. They ride all night and come to rest at a waystation around dawn. Here they meet other travellers just starting their day’s journey. They are fleeing Penhaligon before war breaks out.

The party settles down to rest, and all is uneventful until the Renko’s watch around midday. He sees a figure climbing over the back wall of the waystation, undoubtedly with larceny in mind. He shoots him with a ray of frost. The would-be thief is flash-frozen and totters back down the far side of the wall. Renko hears him shatter. The noise awakes Erannis. Renko tells him to stay in camp while he goes and checks out the body. However, Renko is ambushed by a club-wielding maniac and rendered unconscious. Erannis awakens Adric and Cryton and runs to help his friend.

Before Erannis can engage the club wielder he is attacked by two trained dire rats. Fortunately, his martial training keeps the monters at bay. Cryton become ethereal and steps through the wall of the waystation, quickly ripping the souls from the bodies of those who fall to Erannis’s longsword. Adric creeps up behind the leader with the club, but is seen and therefore does not land a telling blow. Reinforcements arrive from the woods and the battle looks all but lost when Adric falls.

Fortunately, Cryton’s spectral appearance unnerves the assailants and they do not attack him directly. This enables him to bring down the leader with his eldritch blast. With two of their number, their leader and both rats dead the remaining brigands flee into the woods. Erannis then unfastens his healing kit and does what he can to revive the two dwarves.

General Thoughts

As the first session of an extended adventure, we devoted a fair amount of time to character generation and exposition. The result of this is that we only had time for one combat encounter. That would be absolutely fine in a regular campaign, but it’s a shame that we got to so little of the business-end of the system in this playtest session. The next session should have a lot more sword-swinging and spell-tossing. Promise.

I’ll write more in a separate post about encounter building and design. Suffice to say that for the purposes of this adventure, I’ve planned out all the encounters in advance and balanced them against the number of PCs in the party, and the level I think they’ll be when they reach that point in the story. This worked against me in the first session, as I had four PCs and not five as I’d originally thought. The encounter was therefore a little harder than it probably should have been – and not helped by the tactics the PCs employed.

However, what I will say is that this felt like D&D. This really felt like D&D. It took me back to running the second edition game. I’m not sure I can put my finger on quite what is, but D&D Next seems to have that indefinable something that 4e lacked. At least for me!

Skills and Checks

I’m going to keep mentioning this. The skills system that exists in the game is inadequate. PCs don’t have enough skills, and there isn’t sufficient differentiation between low-skilled characters and highly skilled characters. Also for my money, the ability score plays too large a role when making checks. This is the one thing in D&D Next I really hate.

Now it’s not all bad news. The skill list has been extended. There are 25 listed skills in the playtest packet compared to only 17 in fourth edition. It’s a step in the right direction, but the skills still need more breadth. After all there currently aren’t any skills in Acrobatics, Athletics, Climb, Ride or Swim. I’d like to see those added to the list.

I am very pleased to see all the Lore skills listed there. During the course of the first session we used Societal Lore and Heraldic Lore. A nice strong skill list is required. The game suffers from not having one, yet.

Also: what’s wrong with “Perception” as the name of a skill? Calling it “Spot” is terribly misleading. In real life (and in most roleplaying games) you do not expect to spot something with your ears. If you’re having one skill to encompass all senses – which is probably a good idea – then a more general term such as Perception is far better. Certainly, I was calling the skill Perception all the way through the playtest, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone there.

The last thing I’ll say regarding checks is about the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. It’s one of those things you think should work well in principle, but doesn’t seem to live up to its promise in practice. The way that it seems to working at present is that Advantage is pretty much a guaranteed success. The very term “Advantage” tells me that it should give players an edge – it should be comparable to the floating +2 bonus that GMs could award in 3rd edition and 4th edition. However, guaranteeing success goes far beyond an ‘edge’. Does more work need to be done on this?

Healing

There are two rest durations in D&D Next. The short rest lasts 10 minutes, and the long rest lasts for 8 hours. You can’t do anything strenuous during these periods to take advantage of the benefits conferred by resting. As far as healing concerned, the base rules state this:

Certain abilities and items, such as a healer’s kit, allow you to spend one or more of your Hit Dice during a short rest, up to your maximum number of Hit Dice. For each Hit Die you spend in this way, roll the die and add to it your Constitution modifier. You regain hit points equal to the total. You can decide to spend additional Hit Dice after each roll. Once you have spent all your Hit Dice, you must take a long rest to regain them. You must have at least 1 hit point to take a long rest. At the end of the rest, you regain all your hit points and Hit Dice. You cannot take more than one long rest in a 24- hour period.

For us as a group that smacked a little too much like fourth edition. The characters were a little too superhuman for our liking. The rules recognise that this form of healing may not be everyone’s cup of tea and gives the GM three options that further limits or rations the supply of healing. As a group we felt that regaining all hit points with a long rest was our largest bone of contention, so we opted for the “Slower Hit Point Recovery” option. That’s defined in the rules thusly:

At the end of a long rest, you regain no hit points, but you do regain all your Hit Dice and can spend any number of them without using a healer’s kit.

In hindsight, we didn’t quite use this variant. We ruled that you still needed to use a healer’s kit in order to use your hit dice. This was a genuine mistake on my part when I read the variant rule, but it’s a mistake I’m glad I made. I really like the concept of the healer’s kit. It actually gives a justifiable in-game reason for the excessive healing. A character pops open his healer’s kit and takes out a few alchemical poultices, and some foul-smelling medicinal concoction…. It also makes sense that a character can only benefit from such healing so much in the space of one day.

On the whole, I’m very happy with that. I think I could run a campaign with those rules for healing.

Of course, on top of all the healer’s kit/hit dice healing is magical healing. Or it would be if this party had any access to it. There is no cleric in the party, and none of the PCs bothered to obtain any healing potions before commencing the adventure. An oversight perhaps, but a welcome one as it enables us to see how the game functions with no healing magic at all.

In the one combat (which I’ll get to in a moment) two PCs were taken down by the bad guys. Renko before he could do anything at all. With only healer’s kits to hand, Renko had no choice but to stay out of the fight. If there was a cleric in the party, or if one of the other PCs could have got to him and administered a healing potion, then Renko could have been on his feet again.

As a GM, I think I’m happy with that level of healing but we’ll have to see how it goes. At the end of the session, after the PCs were victorious, both Renko and Adric were revived and they spent all their hit dice to restore their hit points. They are both close to maximum hit points now… but it’s only just the beginning of the adventuring day. More encounters are to come and neither can benefit from any more non-magical healing until after their next long rest.

This will make the rest of the day very interesting for the two dwarves.

The Encounter

It’s probably fair to say that this wasn’t the party’s finest hour. Assaulting the enemy one at a time is a tactic usually reserved for henchmen in a Bond movie, not a savvy group of adventurers. If we allow metagaming to enter our minds, I sure that Renko would have thought that his 20 hit points would have made him fairly resilient to any level-appropriate threat. At least for a round or two. Seems like a fair assumption. I was pretty surprised when the villain who burst out of the bushes downed him in one blow.

The problem was that this villain (whose name was Sarn) was not a monster from Bestiary. He was a second level human rogue, built with exactly the same rules as the PCs. A second level villain is within the bounds of acceptability for a 1st level party, and in fact this was only an Average encounter for a party of five – which made it somewhere between Average and Hard for a party of four.

The ease in which Sarn took Renko down started alarm bells ringing for me. Not because Sarn could kill off the entire party (although he probably could), but because it highlighted a discrepancy in the rules: PCs and Monsters are not equal. It’s not as blatant as in fourth edition: on paper they look equal. The Bestiary-built opponents (the dire rates and the human commoners who were acting as brigands for this encounter) have an armour class and a hit point total that is comparable to the PCs. The difference comes in how often the PCs hit, and how much damage they do.

PCs tend to have higher ability scores than Monsters of the same level. They also deal more damage. Looking at the opponents the party faced: the commoners had +0 to hit, and did 1d4 damage; the dire rats had +2 to hit and did 1d6+2 damage; Sarn had +6 to hit and did 1d8+4 damage (with an extra 3d6 if he had advantage). 1d8 + 3d6 + 4 is a lot of damage, and far too much for a 1st level character of any class to absorb. When you take into account that attack is delivered with Advantage, then such an attack is unlikely to ever miss.

And it’s not just sneak attack that seems overpowered in this way. The warlock’s eldritch blast inflicts 3d6 damage flat at 1st level. An average of 11 points of damage. Also enough to bring down most 1st level player characters. Now, I guess this might be a low-level problem. 1st level PCs are always a bit binary in D&D. It might be something that evens out by level 3 or 4. If it doesn’t…

A lack of verisimilitude would kill D&D Next for me. For me to able to invent a campaign setting, and write adventures using this rules-set I need to have a consistant world. I need my PCs and my NPCs (and my Monsters) to use the same rules and the same conventions. NPCs don’t need to be as complex as PCs – their abilities, feats and skills could be thinned out for sake of brevity – but they need to work the same way. This is the tremendous strength of third edition and Pathfinder. If D&D Next doesn’t have it, then I can’t see myself using it as a system of choice.

So, Renko is taken down by Sarn. Poor Renko. Let’s move on.

The elven fighter Erannis then runs around the side of the waystation and is attacked by two dire rats. I feared that Erannis would have been completely torn apart (and so did Neil, I think)… but this is where the fighter’s Combat Superiority came into play. And it worked wonderfully.

Never before in D&D have fighters really seemed like the masters of melee to me. They were all about damage. You couldn’t have a complex duel between two master swordsmen because the D&D rules didn’t work that way. Whoever won initiative would probably win the battle, it was all about number of attacks and how much damage you can do. Combat Superiority changes that. As Erannis desperately spent his expertise die to reduce the damage inflicted by the dire rats, I could really imagine him parrying the little bleeders. This simple mechanic gives the fighter so much versatility… and it reflects the core theme of the character class.

As Erannis was dealing with the rats, Adric tried to get the drop on Sarn and give him a taste of his own medicine.  Now as it happened I rolled very high for Sarn’s Perception check (sorry, ‘Spot’ check) and so Adric’s successful hit wasn’t a sneak attack. If it had been Sarn would probably have been killed. As it was he was still on his feet and his return attack was enough to take Adric down. Now as a large bunch of thugs and Sarn headed over to attack Erannis, things were looking pretty bleak. And as a GM, I was worried that I was on the verge of killing the entire party.

Enter the warlock. Now, Cryton is the least physically adept of the party. I think he has about 6 hit points max. A butterfly’s sneeze is probably strong enough to fracture his tibia. However, he has some incredibly potent magical powers that let him punch far above his weight.

The warlock invocation Ethereal Stride allowed Cryton to walk through the solid wall and appear on the other side as an indistinct ghostly figure. As he’s also a necromancer, Cryton has the Aura of Souls ability that lets him snatch the soul of a recently dead creature and turn it into a spirit that floats next to him. He can then destroy that spirit to give him advantage on an attack roll with a necromancy spell.

Now, I have to confess to being a little kind here. Because of Cryton’s spectral appearance and the fact that he had apparently ripped the soul from a dead body, I ruled that the remaining brigands would prefer to gang up on Erannis than attack him. If I hadn’t ruled in that way, both Erannis and Cryton would surely have died. I also allowed Cryton to use his Aura of Souls power to fuel eldritch blast. That shouldn’t have worked as eldritch blast is not a necromancy spell.

I’ll have to decide how I rule on that in the future. It certainly seems (from the way it is written) that Aura of Souls only provides a benefit to wizards, clerics and sorcerers who can cast necromancy spells, and not to warlocks. The third level ability of the necromancer Speciality, Animate Servant definitely does work for warlocks so being a necromancer isn’t entirely useless.

In any case it was a bit of touch and go. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Sarn missed Erannis when he engaged him in combat (a highly unlikely turn of events) then the elf would have been killed in that round. As it was he was still standing when Cryton killed Sarn, and it seemed appropriate to have the remainder of the rabble flee. The PCs really only won the day through the skin of their teeth.

So what lessons am I to learn from this combat?

As the rules stand, I should be wary about using foes generated with the PC rules. I have to say that Sarn is not the last such adversary I have planned in this adventure, so it will be interesting in seeing how future encounters pan out.

Secondly, I should read the ‘death and dying’ rules again as I completely forgot all about death saving throws for Renko and Adric.

Thirdly, I need to decide what happens with Aura of Souls as it seems quite useless for a warlock as it’s written. I also need to properly get my head around how it works. Technically it’s an action to use use this ability, which means you can’t wrench a soul from a body and cast a spell to take advantage of it in the same round. The upshot of this was is that Cryton was more impressive in the combat than he probably should have been – but that’s my fault. It’s a learning curve for all of us.

The Bottom Line

I really enjoyed running the session. There was roleplaying, there was combats, there were laughs… and unlike fourth edition the rules weren’t getting in the way of me telling a story. I like D&D Next a lot. I’d certainly use it over 4e, but I don’t think I’d use it over Pathfinder. I would like a clean break from third edition for my next campaign though, so I’m hoping that that problems are addressed.

I am really looking forward to running this again. And I’m determined to keep Renko standing for at least one round so I can see what the sorcerer is capable of.