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"It's a mess!" 
- Zach Galifianakis as Marty Huggins, The Campaign

While I was unable to post a blog last week, the last two weeks have brought me lots of ideas and lots of thoughts about my games.

First, the new playtest packet for D&D Next is superb.  The Fighter was always my favorite, but the Cleric is looking solid now as well.  I really enjoy the fact that they simply outline clerical domains, and DM's can decided what deity fits what domain in their campaign world.  This allows DM's to use the rules as a tool, not to be constrained by them.  In my own campaign world it was always difficult for me in 4E to figure out how I wanted to do deities and powerful beings, mostly because they were so well defined.  With Next, I feel like I have starting points to jump off of and use how I want to.

The Rogue has always been an interesting character for me to play.  I've spent a good chunk of time with him in the first few playtests.  I remember in the first playtest, I liked him, but spending every other round trying to hide so I could get Sneak Attack damage wasn't fun to me.  It was cool for a couple of rounds, but after that, it felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again.  The new Rogue definitely has an interesting take by adding Maneuvers.  These basically allow Sneak Attack to be an option instead of a definitive part of the class.  I also like that Sneak Attack is not only applicable with Advantage, but having the target being in range of another ally.  This means my Rogue doesn't always have to hide in order to deal more damage.  The Rogue really does shine with skill use.  I'm glad to see that the Rogue is the go-to guy for skills, which means that even if my pesky Wizard friend tries to out shine me with whatever, it takes some serious dedication to beat the Rogue.

I'm extremely happy with the new Wizard.  At-Will spells and Signature spells give the class a feeling that seemed to be missing from the first couple of playtests.  From my perspective (story-wise), it makes sense that Wizards can cast some spells multiple times, and have other spells that take time to recharge, while others are a one shot thing until you get time to rest.  Players who choose to build Wizards do so because they want to be a magic user; they don't want to cast their spells and then be forced to use weapons.  That doesn't sound very Wizardly to me.  (If, however a player does want to be a battle mage Wizard weapon user, more power to them.  That's always an option).

All in all, the 4 base classes really encompass a lot of character archetypes.  With the original Notebook stories, I had two other friends involved: P@ and Nybor.  Our characters were Kurnar Leafbaum, Lunaki Sesh, and Celeste Veron.  With 4E, I struggled to build each of them.  Now, I can do so with these 4 classes relatively easily.  Kurnar and Celeste are both fighters, but feel very different and unique.  I've also been able to write down all their details on one sheet of notebook paper and create them relatively quickly, something I believe is essential for beginners to be able to do.

I really want my fiancee to try out the playtest.  She's played 4E, and wasn't impressed by the length of combat.  I think Next will really show off all the reasons I love D&D.  I have to run another playtest soon.

Another thing I've been working on is different music for games.  I don't want to play continuous music, I want to be able to play it at certain times to invoke a certain response in my players.

For example, in my Vellyn story, I want to have the players journey into an old shrine inhabited by cultists.  The walls are frozen ice with many holes in them, allowing the chanting to be heard throughout the shrine.  In order to invoke this, I want to play music as certain locations inside.  I went with the Hymn of the Fayth from Final Fantasy X, as it invokes something foreign, but it could easily be heard in the world.

I've also felt that "Titan" by Thomas Bronzwaer would make for sweet background music on a fight aboard an airship.

My goal lately has been to look for small things that create a big impact on the game.  I don't have to use music all the time, but pulling it out every once in a while creates a new sort of tension or immersion for the players.

I've also been re-looking at many of the Notebook sessions that I had with my friends in high school.  The biggest one, called the Genkar campaign, remains my all time favorite Notebook Arc.  I would really like to flesh it out as a D&D adventure/campaign, mostly for nostalgia's sake.  It was also where I created the character Ragnarok Senzez, and P@ created Nizumo Misoka.  All the other characters were somewhat non-significant to ones we've revisited (sorry Nybor!).

The story (this was a group story, much like D&D) started off in the city of Genkar (it has evolved much since 8 years ago).  However, the basic jist of Genkar has remained the same.  The group met up in Genkar, with Ragnarok trying to reach out to the High Elves of Finyar (an island off the coast) to gather strength for the war that is brewing.  

The party was attacked on the ship as they took passage to Finyar (I can't remember what, though I feel like it was undead).  When they arrived at Finyar, they had a grand Masquerade, which led to a massive undead attack on the isle from a being simply called The Necromancer (we were a creative bunch).

I've mentioned in some other posts about why this arc sticks out in my mind.  However, I want to break it down in depth here.

1. Masquerade - This part of the story was one of my favorites.  The characters got to describe the dress clothes that were provided for them and basically got to explore a huge castle.  It was a great experience as an event where weapons were of no use.  Creative-wise, I think it was a great time for all involved.  It has definitely furthered my D&D creativity.

2. Character Depth - While some of these character were not the most memorable, the fact of how much everybody got involved playing their characters said a lot.  Players looked at their motivations and background, as well as their relationships to one another.  One of the things I really enjoyed about the group is that they really understood how to get along with one another, even if their characters were completely different.  No PvP if you know what I mean.

3. Descriptive Details - I distinctively remember scenes like Ragnarok fighting a Warlock named Vinzyar atop Finyar Castle in a thunderstorm.  Meanwhile, the other characters were battling undead through the halls of elaborately decorated castle halls.  Niz was always jumping off bannisters and using 'terrain' and room decorations to his advantage.  As a player, P@ is equally creative.

4. Minor Details - I got to start this Notebook Arc with my friends.  I wrote about Ragnarok bending down, pressing a seed into the earth, and using Nature magic to make it sprout.  It was a simple gesture, but I feel like it spoke volumes about the character.  Too often (with 4E especially), we look at things like at-wills, encounters and dailies and fail to think of the small, out-of-combat things the characters could do in any given scene (outside of combat).  I also had Ragnarok use a quarterstaff to fight (when he wasn't a werewolf).  However, his quarterstaff always existed as a small cylinder of wood that he would infuse with Nature magic to make grow into a staff (like a lightsaber!).  Mechanically, this did nothing except add more depth and more flavor to the story/game.

Hope this sheds some new ideas for everybody.  On one last note, take pictures of your surroundings.  They can be all you need to set a scene.  Here's a pic after a huge snowstorm on my college campus.  I love it.

 As always, be sure to leave your comments below, and follow me on Twitter @artificeralf


  1. Good to hear you enjoy D&D next.
    I've been meaning to try it, but I haven't found the time for it.
    I heard of the problems with the rogue class in the beginning of the play test, glad to hear the class is improving.

    1. I think you should start getting involved, even if it's a short game. It's been really cool to see the game evolve since May. Glad you liked the post!

  2. I really don't like the new Rogue, mechanically speaking. I feel I'm just playing a kit of the Fighter, weaker in everything but skills.
    I believe skill prowess shouldn't be balanced against combat. The balance I look for is perhaps trickier but allowing for the Rogue to be really different in combat.
    One simple solution I'd see is to let the Rogue recover Expertise Dice after a successful Sneak Attack, so that he can use move-based maneuvers to get out of difficult situations. This would make the playstyle different and more fun. More Rogue-like too.

    1. Thanks for the response Feraal!

      When I first wrote this, I was really excited for the Rogue, as it was completely different from what I had played previously. Now, however, I'm not so sure. The only Rogue damage Maneuver is Sneak Attack, and all the others either help avoid damage or increase checks. I would really like to see a Maneuver that increases damage from traps, or something that makes them feel like an engineer/trapsmith of sorts.


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