Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Ability Spotlight: Sneak Attack

Once again into the breach with another Ability Spotlight, and this time it's a highly requested one based on a staple roleplaying class. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sneak Attack;

Sneak Attack

   You are adept at finding and capitalising on the weaknesses of your enemies. An expert with ranged weapons and light blades, your strikes are lethal and precise. Not for you is the raging assault, but the slaughter born from patience. Even if your plans fall through or you find yourself overmatched, you can always fall back on your sharp wit and quick thinking to get out of sticky situations.

   Your Hit Points per level rises by 1.
   Your Skill Points per level rises by 3.
   You gain a +1 bonus to Reflex.
   When you hit an enemy that grants Combat Advantage to you with a weapon in the Light Weapons category, any damage you inflict is multiplied by 2. This does not include additional damage granted by Enchantments. This damage multiplier is applied after other damage multipliers, including critical hits. This bonus damage cannot be applied against enemies that are immune to critical hits.

Ability Synopsis

   Sneak Attack is a classic ability of rogues and thieves, corsairs and assassins, cutthroats and ne'er-do-wells. Characters that benefit from Sneak Attack provide explosive damage and extreme utility to an adventuring party, with no single way to optimise or build.
   The ability is drawn from the typical Rogue class, and its practical applications and Talents lean toward that (ig)noble heritage. Sneak Attack is great at deleting weaker enemies and capitalising on large scale boss battles. Sneak Attack holds the illustrious privilidge of being the only ability that grants a permanent damage multiplier, and as a result can be counted as one of the most powerful abilities in the game. To top it off, Sneak Attack is one of the few abilities that comes with 3 Skill Points per level. As a result, characters can put spare points into extra combat skills, defences, or a multitude of skills.

   Sneak Attack comes with a few caveats that are reliant on game mechanics that are not immediately obvious, and finding a way around these caveats is key to utilising the effectively.
   Combat Advantage is granted by unseen attacks, flanking a target, kicking a man while he's down, or similar debilitating effects. While a target grants Combat Advantage, any creature that tries to attack them can roll two dice and choose the higher one. For any additional cause of Combat Advantage, the attacker gains another dice. A man that is prone and being flanked grants two dice, for example. A flanked and prone man being attacked from a man on higher ground gets an additional three dice. This is a restriction that forces a character to fight cleverly, such as flanking targets with allies, abusing terrain advantages, or tripping opponents. On the other hand, Sneak Attacks are always made from a position of strength, and are both accurate and lethal. Whatever grants Combat Advantage also has Combat Disadvantage against its attackers. Disadvantage is, of course, to roll an additional dice and take the lower. This means a character is safer from retaliation, so long as the victim can stay at a disadvantage.
   While double damage is a lethal effect, Sneak Attack can only use weapons in the Light Weapons category. This includes smaller blades, such as daggers, short swords, or rapiers, and most ranged weapons. Most of these weapons inflict Piercing damage, which can narrow their scope against targets resistant to piercing attacks. Infamous culprits include amorphs, skeletons, and constructs. There are no blunt light weapons, which means that these enemies are resistant to Sneak Attack regardless of your loadout. These enemies also tend to be immune to critical hits, which makes them very difficult to tackle for a Sneak Attack user. I would recommend characters to carry one blunt weapon and put a few points in it just for such an eventuality. You have skill points to spare, don't be afraid to sprinkle them around.

Key Talents

   Sneak Attack has two great strengths - damage and skill use. The Talents available to Sneak Attack focus on improving damage, expanding the use of skills, and making it easier to achieve Combat Advantage.

   Assassin transforms the damage of Sneak Attack from a double to a triple, so long as you attack in a surprise round or from stealth. This is the trademark talent of snipers and one-shot killers, and is a huge increase in damage. Characters with ranged weapons tend to get more milage from this Talent than melee characters because it is easier to maintain cover or stealth at range. Because of the added requirement, this Talent is not an auto-pick for most characters. However, this Talent can work wonders for characters built to accomodate it.

   Sniper supports Assassin very well, allowing to make a Stealth check to remain hidden after firing a ranged weapon. Essentially, this means the character can sit in the same spot and fire without being seen with free reign. Otherwise, a character must move, hide, and then attack. This is a time consuming strategy that, while great for remaining out of harms way, is slow. 

   Axeman, Swordsman, and Thug should be addressed together, as they allow single-handed Axes, Heavy Blades, and Maces respectively to be used with Sneak Attack. These weapons deal more damage that the standard fair found in Light Weapons, and they cover Piercing, Slashing, and Blunt damage types. However, these weapons are in the Heavy Weapons category, and use STR instead of DEX. This means that skills you may need, such as Stealth or Theivery, may be less potent if you chose to focus on STR instead of DEX. If you chose to increase both, then other important skills will be lacking.

   Trapfinding is a classic Rogue skill that has become a Talent, and is the forerunner of at least eight other Talents that improve skills. It grants a +2 bonus to Perception, and allows you to reroll one dice to find hidden things or Insight checks to identify the properties of traps. This is the only Talent of its kind, and makes dungeoncrawling that much easier. All of the similar Talents also provide unique bonuses, ranging from making Stealth or Climb checks at full speed, to replacing the use of some skills to others, allowing you to maximise the efficiency of your skills.

   Improved Trip, Improved Disarm, Improved Feint, and Improved Charge are on the General Talents list, but need to be addressed because of their usefulness to Sneak Attack. Trip and Disarm provide easy Combat Advantage and bonus attacks, but fall short against targets that cannot fall over or aren't carrying weapons. Feint can achieve the same end by providing a free attack, but does not provide any additional bonuses against targets that can be disarmed or fall over. Improved Charge requires a wind-up like a normal Charge, but grants Combat Advantage as well. If you Blitz instead of Charge, a dual-wielding character can murder an enemy in one flurry of knives and blood.

Recommended Builds

   For all of its power, Sneak Attack is not particularly splashable. Instead, it does best work when paired with other abilities that help to provide Combat Advantage or build on skill bonuses.

The Shadow Assassin (Sneak Attack + Shadow Affinity + Bound Weapon)
   When building a character around Sneak Attack it is best to do so that increases the likelihood of Combat Advantage. Shadow Affinity's Terror in the Dark grants constant Combat Advantage to the target of the Shade, guaranteeing Sneak Attacks without much difficulty. Shadow Affinity also has a selection of highly useful powers - Executioner's Noose can drag targets toward you or allow you to zip line to them, allowing for instant executions or spiderman style antics. Destroy the Light and Tenebrarum Rex can be used to set up zones of complete darkness in order to activate the bonus of Assassin, whereas Darkside offers raw damage in the form of another damage multiplier. Shadow Affinity also brings Slip Away with it, allowing for free Stealth skill checks in concealment, followed by free movement.
   Bound Weapon provides stable damage that scales well with Sneak Attack, since the gradual damage upgrades count as quality upgrades rather than enchantments. However, other Talents that grant the likes of Axiomatic or Chaotic traits are still enchantments, and thus their damage is not doubled. Bound Weapon is better used for consistent damage, or taking Transform! multiple times to gain access to a variety of weapons with no draw time.

The Pit Fighter (Sneak Attack + Dominate the Field + Equipment Optimisation)
   Rather than the typical sneaky play that Sneak Attack encourages, this particular combination of Character Abilities creates a vicious head on fighter with elements of tankiness. Dominate the Field grants access to Unbalancing Shove, which grants Combat Advantage whenever you Mark a target. In other words, since Dominate the Field Marks targets when you attack them, so long as you keep attacking the same target they grant Combat Advantage to you. Thus, you can Sneak Attack the target in every round after the first.
   How you build from there is up to you. Take one of Axeman, Swordsman, or Thug to gain access to higher damage weapons and equip a shield to become tankier, or take advantage of Dominate the Field's punishing set of retaliation Talents and build for rapid strikes. Equipment Optimisation provides the opportunity for flat defence and damage increases, as well as a slew of skill related improvements. This also gives the option to gain some nifty Craft skill upgrades, allowing an amount of flexibility not usually associated with tanky characters. This includes attachments and augments, or gadgets available to Engineering crafts.

The Sneak Thief (Sneak Attack + Equipment Optimisation + Animal Companion)
   Built for nought but utility, this combination of abilities grants the widest selection of skills and flexibility. Equipment Optimisation comes into play in a similar manner as the example above, but with less focus on the bonuses to gear and more on improved crafting. The ability to create gadgets with Engineering play up to the requirements of Sneak Attack, while poisons and potions made by Alchemy can make those attacks even more lethal. Combining the two can create some game-changing control effects - an adhesive blind grenade can shut down an encounter, or poison-tipped snares to immobilise and damage high health targets. Both such examples grant Combat Advantage and allow easy escapes if you become the target of the enemy's ire. Animal Companion emphasises mobility and strategic play. You can use your pet to flank enemies, and the Talents available to you either improve on that mobility or expand your skill bonuses. The Talents that improve skills under Animal Companion also improve your pet, thus many pets benefit from a similar playstyle to you. Combining all of these aspects together, this character relies on the setup for easy takedowns. Imagine scouting forward with an unnaturally sneaky wolf companion, scaling the walls at full speed without being seen, hanging from the rafters and dropping custom bombs on the enemy, then rapelling down to aid your allies in the cleanup operation. Or whatever, you can choose to find the treasure instead.

The Dashing Swordsman (Sneak Attack + Glamer + Bardic Song)
   This particular set of abilities functions more as a supporting role with vicious melee capabilities rather than a backstabbing killer. Even without Talents, Glamer and Sneak Attack work seamlessly together. Glamer's power to alter a target's vision is unparalled, and provides both the opportunity to Sneak Attack and the ability to escape. Glamer also provides limited use of spells to compliment this swashbuckling playstyle, as does Bardic Song. These spells are limited to Illusion spells and a smattering of Enhancement spells, allowing you to pick and choose spells that compliment your fancies. Bardic Song provides the usual bonus to saving throws, and can be customised with different bonuses to best fit your party.
   Bardic Song also has Talents very similar to Improved Trip and Improved Disarm, Footwork and Riposte respectfully. This is noteworthy because the effects of each stack, so successfully disarming or tripping a target awards two bonus attacks. Sneak Attack and Bardic Song also benefit from Talents that increase passive Reflex, so long as you wear cloth armour or no armour, so you remain very difficult to hit amongst the cut and thrust of the chaos you sow. However, all of these abilities only grant 1 Hit Point per level. So while this character offers damage, magic, support, and a huge range of utility, you are surprisingly fragile despite being difficult to hit.

Thank you for reading so far, if there's anything more you want to see let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Providence v3: The story so far...

Years have come and gone, and Providence has been in a state of evolution, although do to personal activities, I haven't made any posts about it!
   Since being sampled at a few conventions and by some tabletop aficionados, there were some valid points raised which forced me to put Providence back into preliminary drafts. Of course, that's hugely depressing - I just finished writing those magic lists!
   The positives are very positive; character customisation is deep and rewarding. None of the playtesters felt railroaded into any build, and each of them managed to achieve their own personal image without sacrificing the typical party dynamic. One player raised an eyebrow, and asked to make a druid style character that could transform into an owl, had an owl pet, and was still a primary spellcaster, and could still be a viable combatant. Primal Magic, Animal Companion, and Primal Soul with talents focussed toward spell slots and improved Longbow damage proved an acceptable answer.
    The range of options, including backgrounds and racial options proved to be very popular, as did the revamping and simplifying of the crafting system. It was a barebones table during playtesting, but it made planned downtime a vital piece of certain parties for tinkering and item creation.
   The actual game handled well, which was expected, given that it was drawn from a mix of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 and 4th edition. However, this is also a key part of the problems.
   The origins of Providence are visible within the game design, which detracted from the overall experience since players familiar with Dungeons and Dragons didn't just take to it, they knew it almost inside and out. Whereas this made them feel comfortable, knowing roughly what was going to happen, how the mechanics worked and how best to fight, it was also taking them out of the game - it still felt like a homebrew mod. To put it bluntly, it still wasn't different enough from the original games.

   The other key problem was the world itself. Originally created as a generic fantasy world of 'points of light' equilibrium for a campaign, the world of Providence has been grilled as boring and uninspired. Race selection is standard, and as a result players often fail to attach themselves to the world. And why should they be emotionally invested, if everything is in a state of equilibrium, and nothing is at risk? In a world of elves, men, and dwarves, what differentiated it from the next adventurer's domain? Nothing, not really.

So, back to the draftboard!
   The changes I want to make are drastic in scope, and while I have started I am still working my way through the numerous kinks. To explain the extent of the changes, I must first tell you a brief story of the first ever campaign and the evolution of the new world.

   Providence was drafted for a 4E campaign. The campagin was entitled The Glory of the Fiendking, and was a tale of how an enigmatic figure, the self-styled Fiendking, began a terrible war against the entire civilised world. The established kingdoms of men, elves, and dwarves were crushed against a foe that knew the outcome of every skirmish, and understood the weaknesses of each kingdom. The adventuring party were a group that were caught in the crossfire of the Fiendking's war, and had to deal with a world where old, content realms were suddenly plunged into chaos.
   The campaign was never finished, although it was started multiple times with different groups. Later, the campaign was renamed The Glory of the Shining King just to avoid confusion (the King never actually enlisted the aid of Fiends to his army). Despite this, the end of the campaign had been written, just never played through.
   The story was fairly straightforward - the Shining King was a demigod, the son of the god of time. Over the course of his very troubled life, he discovers that aberrant creatures are pouring in from the Silent Beyond, and it would only be a millennia or so before the dark realm breaks through into realspace and those creatures consume all life. At which time, the gods of Providence would abandon this reality and create a new one. The Shining King discovers that this is a cycle that has repeated countless times. Thus, to create a world that could withstand the rigours of the Silent Beyond and fight against the horrors that wait there, he hatched a plan to unite the world under his rule, and ascend to godhood via a ritual of apotheosis. The adventuring group would get caught up in his machinations, and eventually defeat him by interrupting the ritual. Of course, doing so causes a fracture in reality...
   This is where the new Providence world starts. After the defeat of the Shining King, the sky cracks in a cataclysmic event, known as the Fracture. All demigods, divine descendents, and the most faithful suddenly disappear. Angels cease their interactions with mortals, and deities cease answering prayers. Divine Magic ceases to work, and without divine healing properties the world turns foetid almost overnight. Freakish aberrant creatures randomly appear through slips in reality, devouring or capturing anyone they can get their monstrous hands on. The tears in reality appear anywhere, and once mighty fortresses crumble in the face of the creatures. They are the Blighted, a scourge on the land.
   The weather is random and rampant; whole islands are thrown into the boiling seas and storms split the sky. The ground heaves in protest, and whole cities fall in on themselves. Worse still, through the crack in the sky sits a world that is getting ever closer. It is a monster planet, looking onward to Providence with a mad, squid-like eye. It is coated in the ruins of the civilisations, and the surface can be seen with skittering creatures. If one were to look past the horror, distant lights are moving toward the crack, for there are more of these monster worlds. They are known collectively as the Tyrannous Stars.
   The end of divine rule has created a terrible schism amongst the populace. Catechists and flagellants perform witch hunts on spellcasters, claiming that overuse of magic caused the Fracture and the Blighted incursions and only abstinance from magic can win the Gods' favour. There is some measure of truth to that assertion, as the Blighted seem to swarm places of magical power, and target mages in the midst of battle. There is no divine salvtion awaiting, sadly. The gods have moved on with their most loyal flock, and have left the universe to die in the tide.

   There is some hope and progress, however. What spellcasters remained created a spell, Reality Bind, which prevents the tears in reality from appearing. This stops Blighted incursions, but it also prevents spellcasting. By maintaining the spell, civilisation has been allowed to regrow to a certain extent. There are a handful of city states scatted across the surface of the tattered world. Trade is difficult, as the great distances are fraught with danger. Magic has been set back, with much of the knowledge gleaned over thousands of years being lost to the catechist purgings. Magic is now treated as something of a controlled substance, and education is highly restricted to colleges and institutes. Oddly, more and more people have been exibiting unnatural powers and magical talent. Technology has slowly filled the gap that magic has left, although it is still fairly simple. Basic steam engines are in wide use, and blackpowder weaponry is largely considered the height of offensive weaponry. Each city state has their own standing militia, but many businesses operate individually to reclaim some of the lost world beyond the walls. These are called the Free Companies.

   This is the world that the new players are thrust into. It is desperate and visceral, and the planet faces impending disaster. Everything has been lost, but there is everything to reclaim.

   The gameplay is also getting a significant change, but it's more of a rework than a complete overhaul.
   The create - a - class feature is still the key part of character creation, although a handful of abilities are getting reworked to make them fit, or being removed because they no longer match the lore of the game.
   Status effects are changing with duration and DC. Saving throws are becoming specific instead of just a duration timer, and their conditions can be more vicious a la 3.5e.
   Skills are changing, as are skill point allocation so you can spend points based on the bonus of your base attributes. Defences, attacks and all of the secondary maths of character creation have been rolled into their own skills. To that extent, skills are expanding to include weapons and defences. To improve one's expertise, you must spend skill points on the weapon skill. Defences are being overhauled - AC has been removed, and now armour grants a flat damage reduction.
   Magic is being redone (yes, damnit! Again! I know, right?!) to reflect the destroyed state of magical knowledge in the world. The five branches of magic - Arcane, Divine, Psionic, Primal, and Meta - are being stripped down and removed. Now, there is one magic list with an extensive number of spells, but there is a system in place for players to edit their spells or to craft completely new ones. Spellcasters are also encouraged to go forth and discover old spellbooks, so to reclaim spells that they otherwise couldn't research. The secret to mass teleportation, for example, has been lost long ago.
   Crafting is being tweaked and expanded in the form of more options and new skills. Accompanying this is the new Basic Craft Blueprint table. If a player wishes to craft something that has no rules or guidelines, the Blueprint table can be used to allow the Narrator to make a judgement call as to how the craft will be performed. It's uses will be rare, but it allows players to construct large scale items such as ships or buildings. In a world where technology is becoming more important, complicated crafting might just be the cornerstone of a late campaign.

   It's a lot to digest, I know. I'll be back sooner than you think with another Ability Spotlight to keep you interested and up to date! I hope you're excited about the new world. Tell me what you think in the comments below.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Ability Spotlight: Time Manipulation

 It's been such a long time since I've posted anything, I promise I'm not dead, and I am still working on Providence! As evidence, I'm periodically going to do these Ability Spotlights, just so's everyone can see what I'm working on, and get a feel for the kind of game I'm aiming toward.

Today's Ability Spotlight, and the first Ability Spotlight ever, is Time Manipulation;

Time Manipulation

   You have the power to control your own personal time, appearing and disappearing from one moment to the next. As your mastery of time expands, you can rewind time, slow time for your enemies, and even cull fragments of lost time for yourself.
   Your Hit Points per level rises by 2.
   Your Skill Points per level rises by 2.
   You gain a +1 bonus to Will.
   You can use Time Manipulation for a number of rounds per day equal to your History skill. Whilst under the effect of Time Manipulation, you gain a +2 bonus to Speed. As a Minor action, whilst under the effect of Time Manipulation, you may teleport a number of squares up to half your Speed. Time Manipulation can be ended as a free action.
   When you end the effect of Time Manipulation, you become Fatigued for a number of rounds equal to twice the number of rounds you spent manipulating time. You can't activate your Time Manipulation whilst Fatigued. If you become Fatigued during your Time Manipulation, the Time Manipulation continues as normal.

Ability Synopsis

   Time Manipulation is a character ability that was modelled from the old Shadowdancer class, and by extention, the pre-rework Darkness Affinity ability. The ability focuses on high mobility and makes extensive use of teleportation, allowing characters that utilise it a fast paced hit-and-run playstyle. The ability can be used by mage or rogue style characters to chase, reposition, or escape, while heavier characters can make use of the increased speed and teleportation to gain Combat Advantage or stick to a Marked target.

   Time Manipulation is one of several Round Per Day (RPD) abilities, and so its actual in game use tends to be limited at the beginning of a campaign. Many players do no choose talents that increase skills, so a 1st level character will have approximately 8 RPD of use of this ability. Unlike Berserk Rage or Bardic Song, where choosing talents to increase duration are encouraged to compensate for this early deficite, Time Manipulation's bonus to speed doesn't offer a direct numerical advantage in combat.
   However, as the campaign continues, Time Manipulation becomes more and more impactful. The bonus to Speed, while seemingly small for the limitations of an RPD ability, allows for outmaneuvering enemies that would otherwise be impossible to pin down.
   Without any other buffs or Talents, a Human character has a base speed of 6. This rises to 8 under Time Manipulation, and when combined with the Teleport move, a character can cross 12 spaces and still make an attack. If the character decides to move again as a Standard Action, that's 20 spaces. If the character makes a Run action for both of their moves, the character can cover a whopping 24 spaces. For reference, that pretty much crosses the whole board in a turn. In real life terms, that's almost 15 mph!
  The teleportation aspect of Time Manipulation is representative of your character slipping out of time to move faster, and is a large part of the ability. Teleportation allows you to move between obsticles easily or flank foes that would otherwise be impossible to get around. Huge creatures or creatures with the Reach trait can be treacherous to flank given their extended attack of opportunity range. With the ability to teleport at a whim, you do not provoke such attacks, and by using multiple minor actions, you can teleport twice to get out of attack range as well.
   A lot of utility is tied up in the teleport move. Even though you're moving through time, the normal rules for teleporting apply, namely you can teleport in any direction, including vertically, and you need to see where you are going. You can hop between the bars of a jail cell or on the back of a giant, and then just as easily teleport away if that move turned out to be a bad idea.

Key Talents

   In keeping with the themes of speed and maneuverability, the Talents found in Time Manipulation improve your speed, and find more creative ways to use your teleport.

  Teleporting Stride allows you to change your basic move action into another teleport, this time at your regular speed. While it may seem silly on its own ("Why teleport the distance I can walk, in the same time that I walk it, when I can just walk?"), it allows you freedom of movement, and interacts with other talents that only work when you Teleport.

   Dimensional Snatch is one such ability. The premise is very simple; when you teleport, pick one adjacent willing ally or one medium-sized enemy that grants Combat Advantage to you. That target teleports with you, landing in any square you choose. This allows you to reposition key members of your party around the battlefield, such as rescuing the wounded or setting up unlikely ambushes. When combined with Lethal Jump, which makes enemies you teleport next to you grant Combat Advantage, you can theoretically leap to the other side of the dungeon, grab the enemy boss wizard, and teleport him back to the awaiting arms of your party members.

   Rewind is one of the few Powers available to Time Manipulation. It can only activate it whilst using Time Manipulation, and even then it costs an additional RPD to activate. When a d20 roll is made involving you, you can choose to reroll that d20. There is no limit to how many times that dice can be rerolled, but each attempt costs another RPD. While this may sound game breaking, and indeed this power has no hard per day limit, all of the powers of Time Manipulation require RPD to work. At early levels this power is especially taxing because of how few RPD you have access to, and against multiple attacks you must pay that cost for each d20 roll against you. On the other hand, Rewind works with any d20 roll, including attacks, saving throws, or skill checks so long as the roll involves you in some way. Just fluffed the critical jump across the chasm? Rewind. Missed the attack that can kill the boss? Rewind. Failed to save against full petrification? Rewind as hard as you can!

   Overdrive is perhaps one of the most influential Powers in the game. When activated, you roll Initiative again, and may act on both Initiative steps. The cost of this is (you guessed it) you spend an RPD to activate it, and your new turn counts as exactly that - a new turn. This means that you burn through RPD at twice the speed, buffs and debuffs last for half the time, and you can potentially do twice as much damage or move twice as fast. As far as fluff is concerned, the actions are taken at the same time, so if it were real life, you'd be blinking backward and forward in a blurr of activity! Remember that speed example earlier? Your character could move at 30 mph (48 spaces in 6 seconds). That is insanity. While this frenetic pace is incredible and great for ending encounters quickly, the toll of time adds up. Once the effect of Time Manipulation ends, you become Fatigued for a number of rounds equal to twice the amount you spend under the effect, a penalty only exacerbated by Overdrive. For every round in effect, you will suffer a -2 penalty to Speed and Attack Rolls for 4 rounds. Use this Power wisely, for time is of the essence...

   Although not key Talents by themselves, the Force elemental boosting family of Talents lies within Time Manipulation. What few damaging options available to Time Manipulation all deal Force damage, and as such the ability has good synergy with Force based spellcasters.

Recommended Builds

   Time Manipulation benefits from a good set of Hit Points and Skill Points per level. Along with the hard to find bonus to Will, this means the ability is fairly splashable with many other abilities. However, there are some that stand out amongst the crowd. These are just a few ideas, there are hundreds of builds to tinker with, especially with such a flexible ability.

The Ghost Hunter (Time Manipulation + Hunter's Quarry + Radiant Affinity)
  Historically, ghost and banshees and such have proven to be the bane of many an adventuring party, given they ignore most attacks, and only take half damage from the rest. Time Manipulation's high mobility kit allows it to keep up with Incorporeal and Insubstantial targets, while the Force elemental talents allow a character to deal full damage to such targets. The extra damage from Hunter's Quarry and its accompanying Talents will help confirm kills and ignore any Resistances. Radiant Affinity builds on this, as the Radiant family of talents can help exploit the weakness to Radiance most undead creatures possess.

The Efficient Berserker (Time Manipulation + Berserk Rage + Bound Weapon)
   A previously unmentioned Talent, Attainment, increases the RPD of any RPD ability you possess by 2. If you only possess Time Manipulation, it becomes 4 instead. With Berserk Rage RPD spamming still a thing, stacking Attainment early on can offset some of the restrictions on the ability's usage. This Talent is also very cost effective, allowing your Berserk Rages to continue for longer, and thus deal more damage. All of this, and you can still hop around terrain and surprise your foes. Keep in mind that Berserk Rage and Defensive Formation share the Fatigue aftereffect of Time Manipulation. Since you cannot activate any of these abilities whilst Fatigued, you have to be careful when you activate them independantly of each other. Yet, if you activate them at the same time and they both go into their Fatigue state, you become Exhausted instead. If you get caught while Exhaused, it's pretty much game over. Bound Weapon plays up to the efficiency of this combination, allowing you to customise your weapon as you grow. Although the early campaign may be something of a grind, as you progress your can perpetuate Berserk Rage and Time Manipulation for as long as you need with a weapon that should be well ahead of the damage curve.

The Force Mage (Time Manipulation + Sorcery/Spellbook + Arcane Soul)
   With the normalisation of Spells, spellcasters have become very utility based, often choosing a selection of similar damage spells to capitalise on any particular weaknesses rather than sticking to one particular theme. Because Force elemental attacks have no natural resistances nor vulnerabilities, they are often used as a middle ground spell, one to learn in case you don't have a particular enemy weakness in your repitoire. However, by focussing on empowering Force spells with Time Manipulation's Force family Talents, the term "jack of all trades" becomes "always effective megadeath spells." Time Manipulation allows you to move out of harms way whilst still allowing you to bombard your enemies, so flavour your slippery spellcaster to taste with the power or Sorcery or the utility of Spellbook. Arcane Soul isn't required, but the consistent damage and further buffs to spellcasting it offers is very difficult to offset.

The Time Thief (Time Manipulation + Sneak Attack + Animal Companion)
   With Lethal Jump providing easy Combat Advantage, Time Manipulation lends itself easily to Sneak Attack. If there was one detractor, the Combat Advantage granted by Lethal Jump does not last past the turn, so you must keep jumping around a target to continue to benefit from Combat Advantage. This means you cannot perform a Full Attack Action off the back of Lethal Jump, but you can always deal double damage when you teleport. Knowing that, it would be better to take Axeman, Thug, or Swordsman from Sneak Attack to use stronger weapons. Animal Companion is a utility choice. With so many movement and combat options build into Animal Companion, and the teleportation granted by Dimensional Snatch, you can build a highly mobile duo. Canines and Felines can benefit from Combat Advantage moreso than other pet families, although you can create an interesting combo with a Raptor pet and Shared Vision. With Shared Vision allowing you to see what your pet sees, you can have your pet fly overhead to grant yourself full vision. This allows you to teleport over walls and obstructions you otherwise couldn't.

Thank you for reading so far, if there's anything more you want to see let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Updatables and Advanced Wizards and Warriors

Has it really been over a year since my last blog post? Wow, that's shameful! 

The PhD is going well! I'm currently editing and formatting the final document ready for submission. If any reader here is doing or applying for a PhD, get your formatting down straight away. Going back through this epic beast and correcting every citation and formatting error is not a fun soup day.
Employment is still tough, as is publication, but that's the game. On a similar note, I haven't done anything to forward the publication of Providence, but for a very good reason.

Over the past year, Providence had its second edition run. Skills grow in points, the number of said points are determined by the Class Abilities chosen. Combat handles pretty much the same, though a few of the Abilities have had a few tweaks. Hunter's Quarry has a range of 20 up from 5, Sneak Attack now deals double damage instead of single dice damage increments, Sorcery has had a few Spell Slot upgrades, and a whole plethora of other minor tweaks.
The Spell lists were completed, albeit to a minimalist standard. Spellcasting works on a basis on the number of Spell Slots you  spend on a spell, rather than just which spell you cast. This means that one spell can have numerous different effects based on how you cast it. Fireball, for example, can be a high-damage focused blast, or a huge zone of lighter fire. With enough Spell Slots poured into it, Fireball can do both to deal huge damage in a large area.

I took the game to Indiecon (google it, it's great fun), where it met with positive response. There was some feedback, in that it looked different to a standard tabletop game, some of the lingo and terminology made it smell of its D&D origins. That, and the generic fantasy setting I had tried to tailor the game to left it without any stand-out originality.

So, I've decided that Providence is going to enter its third phase of drafting. The original campaign setting, The Glory of the Shining King, is going to be scrapped and set into the history, and the setting will move on a few hundred years.
To balance out the existing issues between attacks, defences and skill checks, every number is now being tied into a skill. Certain articles and stats will be renamed, and the character sheet will have an overhaul.
For example, if one were to attack a creature with a Sword, you add your STR modifier to your Heavy Blade skill, plus any additional bonuses. 

Currently, the spell lists work as they are. However, I do want to experiment with a more freeform system, where you create spells as you learn them. This would be done in a similar manner to the original draft of Sorcerer where certain effects could be tailored to spell templates. However, each spell list would have their own selection of options to keep the spell lists unique.

I've taken an extensive hiatus from the writing the game, and it's about the time I got stuck back in.
So, over the next few weeks i'll do my best to give you all information about the new direction of the game. I may or may not dip into some PhD stuff, and I guarantee you'll like that too!

I'm going to finish up this post with a quick dip into the land of cinema; Advanced Wizards and Warriors is a movie about four middle-aged men embarking on their own adventures, both in real life and on the tabletop. It's a project that looks fantastic and has great potential. Check out the video below, and hit them up on CineCoup to support them. Voting for them puts them a little bit closer to the goal of $1,000,000 to fund and create a movie that speaks to me, and is sure to speak to the rest of the tabletop community!

Saturday, 22 March 2014


One of the more recent problems I've encountered with the System is skills. I had already removed and condensed a few from D&D in the 1st edition, and the skills carried over. Now, I'm thinking that there needs to be some editing, and here's why.

The skills in 1st ed. were much like the skills in 3.5; each class has a set number of skill points per level which is increased by an Intelligence modifier, and these skill points were spent on skills relevant to the class. There was room for customisation, room to breathe if a character, say a wizard or some such class, was on horseback for a long stretch of a journey. Even though the DC to ride a horse normally is only 5 our hero might not have the skill points to do it consistantly, and as a result may fall off from time to time. Certainly, if the party is ambushed they might end up doing a Gimli-son-of-Gloin and face planting into the mud. Thus, our Wizard might drop a few points into Ride when next he levels up, a symbolic feature suggesting his horsemanship is increasing over the course of his adventure.

One aspect of skills I disliked in 4th edition D&D was the distillation of the skills list. In retrospect I understand why it was done; the length of skills in 3.5 was cumbersome and colossal, and it meant that certain specific skills would be left by the wayside and ignored. Use Magical Device is a good example, as it can be used to tinker with magical requirements, disable traps, use artefacts and other awesome stuff. The 4e skill list removed something from character creation, and I sought to address in this project.

When Providence was first conceived in strength, the list was compiled from 3.5 with a few adjustments, the biggest of which was the addition of Endurance and Perception, the removal of Spot, Balance, Search and similar skills. As time has ground on and campaigns have been tested, it occors to me that the new edition doesn't fit a skill list very well.
The old skills points worked because you had a large selection of skills to choose from and a few points to spend every at every new level. Growth was fluid and natural, and diversifying your skills added a bit of neat customisation. With the new straight up bonuses from Character Abilities, this element of customisation doesn't exist anymore.
Each skill is represented evenly, there are none that have been ignored or neglected. However, unless a character chooses a talent that increases a skill, 2.0 skills tend not to grow. The exception to this is the increase to ability scores, and even then the increases are negligible.

This change in dynamic has forced a change to the meta game as well. In the current testing campaign, skill check difficulty has had to slow significantly. The skills, the strength, the quickness of characters has not grown quickly, and in two cases, not at all.
As 4th level characters, I feel a simple locked wooden door with metal bracing shouldn't be so much of a problem. Give it a trap, and it's a nice little road bump in a dungeon. However, whereas a 1st ed. Character's Disable Device skill (we assume) has risen by 4  at this point, there's no guarantee that a 2nd ed character's score has risen in any way. The trapped door becomes even more difficult, and unless the heroes can think of a way to bypass it, they may be forced to walk a road they don't want to. Alternatives, such a beating the door down and taking the trap to the face, become an easy fix. 
I wouldn't expect this door to be a problem forever. At the end of the day, I couldn't beat down as door like that, and I'm not dexterous enough to even consider disabling its defences, but our heroes can.
However, there is a danger of our heroes, when they reach their maximum level that same level where they're supposed to challenge gods and knock on the doors of greater demons, will still have that average Disable Device ability.
For a Rogue esque character, the chances are slim. The trend to put Ability score points into DEX almost guarantee Disable Device growth. If we assume this god-tier rogue maxes out, then Disable Device will get a +10 bonus, in addition to any bonuses achieved through talents. If we assume our Rogue is something of a monkey, and chooses Sneak Attack, Quarry and Lightning Affinity, then he can gain a +6 bonus to Disable Device from starting abilities alone. With the Skill Tricks, Skill Focus and Thief talents, our Rogue can benefit from a +8 bonus. This totals a whopping +24 to Disable Device, a minimum of 25 if we include the d20 roll. A 25 is enough to auto-success most of the complicated traps ever seen in dungeons, with an average of 33-36 to deal with the endgame traps such as acid floods or accidental Spheres of Annihilation. 

And here we reach a problem. If we assume the player is experienced enough to recognise the need for Talents that increase or enhance skills, he must also realised that, in order to get to that level, he has wasted three of his talents and consumed his skill bonuses to the exclusion of everything else. The rogue will never be as good at sneaking, stealing, backstabbing, sniping, conning or looking good than another rogue who has generalised. One might argue that this is the point of specialising in something, but consider that the rogue's skill with any of the above might not have improved much since 1st level. If a Providence character specialises, I would want it to be at the exclusion of a handful of things and not of everything else.

So, what to be done?
For starters, the skill list needs to be truncated. Not much, mind you. Although I love it with a passion, Use Magical Device will be rolled into Spellcraft and Knowledge (Nobility) will become one with Knowledge (History). I have no idea what to do with Professions. Probably drop them altogether, since they never get used, and I'm at a loss as to what to do with certain DEX based checks.

In terms of skill growth, I have no idea what to do. The variables we have to consider are thus; ability scores are going to go up as characters grow, increasing skills as they do so.
Skills are used in combat to perform actions against enemies and for allies. In 1st edition, this created characters who could auto-trip and auto-tumble boss monsters, due to the difference in size between a skill and a defence. 
The difficulty of dungeons is variable, but generally has an upward curve. The DC to pick a lock will rise if it has been made and enchanted by dwarves, or go down if it's a rusty, dirty thing scrounged up by Kobolds. 
DC modifiers tend to be realistic - a colossal reinforced iron door with defensive spells and trapped with an electric keyhole will require multiple high-end checks to disable or damage.
Types of people don't change, but their attitudes do. At 1st level a barbarian wouldn't be able to intimidate the tyrannical baron into lending his party aid, but their slick-tongued bard might be able to convince or connive resources from him. Only later, when that barbarian is known as a slayer of dragons and wrestler of ogres does his intimidation have any weight. Even then it will be a difficult sell to rattle a hardened and feared ruler. Thus, the skill check changes from 'Impossible' to 'Very Hard' (to the 30's).

I'm open to ideas. The goal is to have a skill system that rewards a player with scale and options, but doesn't overpower combat or fall beyond the realms of reality. Play your favorite tabletop games, see what they did, see what you would change.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

On Character Creation in 2.0

'With the new version comes a new way of generating characters. On paper, it is vastly different to the first iteration of the game, but in actuality the process is very similar.

In the original, a character recieved the following; six ability scores, racial bonuses, defence bonuses, hit points, and the typical plethora of armour and weapon proficiencies, skill points, spell growth, attack growth and healing surge count.
Providence Classes were built on the concept of three abilities to define a class and its play style. Paladin had Divine Aura to detect alignments, Divine Challenge to control and tank targets, and Domain of the Order for their class- orientated growth. Here, the aura and the challenge can identify and isolate enemies, while your domain choice and the traits within that choice will alter the way that character is played. As an example, this Paladin is a smiting heathen guy, so he choses the War domain, from the War Domain, he chooses access to a permanent melee damage bonus, the ability to fly into a divine rage, and improved AC. On top of all that, he also gets a 1st level feat, gear selection and so on and so on. Let us call this knightly paragon Sir Roderick of Ormley Fields, hunter of the wicked and defender of the weak!

In the new version the three abilities per character is still in effect, and is the main method of creating your character.
To recreate this character in the new edition, we select the three abilities suited to the class we want to make. Firstly, Divine Soul is functionally identical to Divine Aura, so choosing it gives Sir Roderick his ability to hunt out alignments. Divine Challenge has been replaced by Challenge; both abilities are marking tools, the new ability lets Roderick make free move actions instead of auto-damage. This makes him sticky, tanky, and surprisingly mobile. Lastly, we choose Divine Magic to allow Roderick access to a handful of Divine Spells.

So far, Roderick handles almost the same between the editions, the only major change is the mechanics of his marking tool. However, here is where the divergences begin to appear.

Hit points are not determined by class, but by which abilities where chosen. To calculate Roderick's 1st level hit points, we add the bonuses provided by the abilities to his CON score.
Roderick is a healthy man, boasting a CON of 16. Roderick generates 6 Hit Points per level (2 from Divine Soul, 3 from Challenge and 1 from Divine Magic), and so his starting Hit Points become 22.
When Roderick levels up his Hit Points will rise by 6, and his CON modifier will be added to that. Since his CON score of 16 gives us an ability score modifier of +3, his Hit Points rise by 9 for a total of 31.

Defences and skills are similar in that each ability comes with stock bonuses. Both Divine Magic and Divine Soul grant Roderick a +2 bonus to Will and Challenge offers a +1 bonus to Fortitude. However, these bonuses will never rise or change. The only way for defences to rise is through ability score adjustment.
Each ability comes with a +2 bonus as standard. Challenge offers a Nobility bonus, Divine Magic grants Spellcraft, and Divine Soul allows the choice of any skill. On top of these bonuses, we may choose from another selection of skill bonuses limited by our ability choices. Not having abilities befitting of a skill monkey, we choose Religion and Endurance for Roderick to play to his religious and knightly strengths. Other abilities would have granted him a greater selection of skills. Sneak Attack grants a Stealth bonus and an additional three bonuses from its list. However, the obvious trade off is fewer hit points per level and a list of skills that may not fit into Roderick's play style. What use is a sneak attack if he needs to be in the open, challenging things to mortal combat?
With this in mind, these particular abilities could make a funny, dishonourable knight, the kind that jumps out from the bushes and stabs a man in the back, and only then shouts "I challenge you!" Combined with some of the stealthier and sneaker Divine Spells, you can really abuse the bonus movement from Challenge to stick to the poor, poor victim.

Replacing Feats and class based growth are Talents. Each Ability comes with its own list of Talents to choose from, which in turn is supplemented with a General Talents list that offers options anybody can take. A character chooses three talents at 1st level, and they gain another one at every level thereafter.
However certain options are no longer available - in this case the Divine Rage ability doesn't exist.  If one were to make a holy warrior with a violent streak, Divine Magic could be replaced with Berserk Rage to capitalise on melee attacks and the inherent speed granted by Challenge, but Sir Roderick is not that man. Sir Roderick is a man of Divine purpose! Great, unmitigated justice! Say it again - JUSTICE~! Roderick's strengths are his speed and smiting power in a well armoured package, backed by his spells.
The first Talent Roderick chooses is Tactical Break; by ending the effect of his Challenge, Roderick can make a move action for free. This means he can move forward into challenge range, challenge his target, end the challenge and break forward, letting him get to melee range and going in for the kill. It can also be used defensively if he needs to get away. Say Roderick's Wizard friend is under threat. By shifting back and using Tactical Break, he can gain ground on the attackers and rescue his erstwhile companion.
Secondly, Roderick chooses Attacking Aura. This grants a +1 bonus to all attack and damage rolls for Roderick, and anyone in his Aura. By taking it again for his third talent, this +2 offence bubble provides Roderick and his allies a forward base, as it were, to benefit from his attack bonuses and capitalise on the protection he grants them.

So, between the editions, what's new?
Roderick is less aggressive and more supportive, although the aura and abilities could be built with killing in mind and provide even more damage instead. With the change to Challenge, Roderick can move significantly faster, and in theory, provide more coverage for the party. The number of spells he possesses have not changed, nor have the majority of their effects. However, character growth has slowed significantly.
Any defence, attack or skill increases are all talent based, it's up to the player to decide where their characters should grow. So between the two versions, the characters are pretty much equal at 1st level, minus one feat and a some increased skills. However, the difference between levels is more jarring. Character growth is a slow, natural evolution rather than a set of sudden power jumps.
In the endgame, 2nd ed characters will be weaker than their 1st edition counterparts, but their growth is more varied. Magic items and customisation selection are more important, and Sir Roderick as a character will, or at least should, grow into the man the player wants.

What do you think of fully customisable characters? We're still very much in a beta phase, but more abilities and talents are being continuously added! I see exciting times!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Pains and Painting

I am a terrible 40k collector. I have something of hobby ADHD; I build an army list, get the models, assemble and base the models, and then do nothing with said models for months at a time. I'm also a bit of a codex whore, I'm the sad act who owns every major digital rulebook release, save for the dataslates.
Recently, I've taken an interest in the Orks (thanks to the hilarious ravings of the Ork Mekboy from Retribution, mentioned in the previous post), so I dusted off the remnants of my Black Reach box set, long forgotten in the tides of modelling yore, and started gluing stuff together.
This Warboss isn't quite finished, he needs a few more layers to him, some brighter skin, another wash, and a good, thick swampy basing, maybe some mushrooms here or there!
What I find important about this little deviance is not the army, but the painting. My beloved girlfriend said to me "can I paint one?" So I dug out an old, unpainted metal Chaos Chosen and let her go mental. I taught her the basics of brush care and which brushes to use when, the importance of washes and thinning pains, and this is what came out! Meet George, Chaos Chosen:
What humbles me is that I had never expected my other half to take an interest in my hobby. I had never even considered the possibility of painting with her, and I had been ignorant enough not to ask. When George was finished, she smiled, and laughed, and said "oh he is just the coolest guy!" Or something to that effect. The important bit is her enthusiasm reminded me of what it's like to see your army roaring into combat, with every model painted and based to the best of your ability. The old adage that painted models play better than unpainted ones rings true if you really put your heart into it. It doesn't have to be perfect quality, and it doesn't have to be a studio level job, but if you feel like it was your best work, you're obviously going to be proud. You can feel that your unit is going to accomplish a great feat in the course of the game, and you feel their loss more keenly when they're off the board. 
I cringed as a volley of Necron warrior fire shot down one of my anti-tank  Stormtalons, but I whooped and cheered as the remaining two swung forward and peppered the monolith to death. Tactical Squads have drop-prodded in, bearing flamers and heavy bolters, who had to defend an objective against Deathwing terminators. Did they die? Yes, and horribly. They were completely out of their depth, and they didn't have the weapons for the job. But they held the line, the second combat squad counter-charge and survived combat long enough for the Chaplain and his own terminators to do something about them. They even brought two of the bastards down themselves, and the Chaplain's Terminators wouldn't have won the combat if the tactical squad hadn't engaged. With two tactical marines left, they held the objective and hid behind the remains of the drop pod.
Now that is an epic event, a mote of action in a much bigger game. If written up, it'd make an awesome action scene in a novel, and would open up the two survivors to some character development, perhaps promotion to Sergeants of other tactical squads. I put a purity seal on each of them, and I remember that battle very clearly. Whenever these regular Bolter boys hit the field, I feel that the squad they're in is destined for great feats.

When my girlfriend jumped for joy at the birth of George, I felt a little spark of happiness in my heart because I'd ignored the call of the hobby for too long. My head was wrapped in competitive lists and model orders, paint schemes and basing effects, future release rumours and current cheese-mongering strategies. Sometimes, we just need to take a step back and say to ourselves "I'm going to paint my Orks with bright pink lipstick, because I think it's funny!"