Heroism and Damnation

This is the second of two articles dealing with new house rules I am introducing into my Witch Hunter game.  The first can be found here.

As of October, my group will have been playing Witch Hunter: the Invisible World for four consecutive years, with the same cast of characters.  It’s been a great ride and there is still more story to tell (theirs’ and mine), assuming my players are on for the ride.

I say that to give some weight to this: while on the whole I think WH 2nd edition is superior to the previous edition, there is quite a bit of dead weight and cruft.  Some of these are artifacts from the previous edition, some were brought over from Arcanis without much thought or integration.  (Seriously, has anyone read the Creature Size rules lately?)  These are rules and elements that don’t really hold it back so much as add drag to what could otherwise be a lean, mean ruleset.  Take the following use for Hero Points:

 One Hero Point may be expended to gain the use of any one Talent the character qualifies for but does not currently have. This talent only applies for one action.

Now on paper, that sounds great!  And I’m sure plenty of groups and players have used that benefit extensively.  Mine…have not.  And if it’s not being used, then its just a drag.  Besides, talk about choice paralysis!  Do you really want your players reading through all the Talent descriptions and requirements in the thick of play?  I don’t.  So why not trim that rough edge and reshape it into something more useful?  Which is exactly what I’m doing.

Consider instead…

Uses For Hero Points (Revised)

Hero Points can be expended for the following effects: (Changes are in green.)

  1. Add one bonus success to any roll. The Hero Point may be expended after the dice for the action are rolled. This is the most common manner of expending a Hero Point. Additional Hero Points will need to be spent to gain a bonus success on any other actions.  (We’ve been using this tweak for months and it really has a huge affect on gameplay.  Heroes feel a lot more heroic and it offers some protection against the whiff factor.)
  2. One Hero Point may be expended to negate damage suffered from a single exchange (damage roll) up to the character’s True Faith score.
  3. One Hero Point may be expended to resist the triggering of a character’s Sin.
  4. When a character is injured, she begins to suffer penalties to her action rolls. One Hero Point may be expended to ignore all injury penalties for one round.
  5. If a character fails her roll to remain conscious, a Hero Point may be expended to remain conscious.
  6. If a Witch Hunter is killed, one Hero Point may be expended to avoid death. The character is instead unconscious and at the threshold of death. Remember, barring an exception from the GM, only one Hero Point may be spend per instance, so another Hero Point could not then be spent to remain active.
  7. One Hero Point may be spent to gain an additional Quick Action in a round.  Unlike normal conditions, this quick action may repeat a previously performed action (ie. an attack, parry, dodge, etc.)
  8. One Hero Point may be spent to increase any one Defense by 1 until your next turn (or approximation thereof).
  9. You may spend a Hero Point to grant another hero a +3d bonus to any single action.  This represents you helping the receiving hero in some way, even if its only moral support.  A hero may only receive help from one other hero for any single action. (Hat Tip: 7th Sea 2nd edition)

1, 7, and 8 pretty much cover, in the broadest terms, almost every available Talent.  Not all of them, but enough to make me happy.

With that out of the way, and after my last article on the Damnation Pool, I felt like I should turn to Damnation.  For me, damnation just never felt tempting enough.  There’s no real reason not to buy it off unless you just regularly find yourself in desperate situations with no Hero Points (which may not be uncommon if the con events I’ve played in are any indication).  Gaining Damnation shouldn’t be the goal of any witch hunter character.  But I want that slippery slope to be a bit more slippery.  These changes are meant to go hand in hand with the incorporation of the Damnation Pool.

Using Damnation (Revised)

  1. A damnation point may be spent to gain a 2 bonus successes to any roll. Damnation may be expended after the dice for the action are rolled. This is the most common manner of expending a Hero Point. Unlike Hero Points, you may expend as many Damnation dice as you wish on a single action.  Each additional point spent on an action only grants 1 additional success.  (Example: Spending 3 damnation on a single action would grant you 4 bonuses successes to your roll.)
  2. A Damnation Point may be expended to negate ALL damage inflicted from a single exchange (damage roll)!
  3.  As a character becomes injured, he begins to suffer dice penalties to his action rolls. A Damnation Point may be expended to ignore injury penalties for one scene (typically one combat, or the remainder thereof).

Uses 4 and 5 remain unchanged.

If Adventure Has a Name…

In the remote mountains of Croatia, an archaeologist makes a strange discovery:  a subterranean Catholic chapel, hidden for centuries, holds the bones of a Neanderthal woman. In the same cavern system, elaborate primitive paintings tell the story of an immense battle between tribes of Neanderthals and monstrous shadowy figures. Who is this mysterious enemy depicted in these ancient drawings and what do the paintings mean?

Before any answers could be made, the investigative team is attacked, while at the same time, a bloody assault is made upon a primate research center outside of Atlanta. How are these events connected? Who is behind these attacks?  The search for the truth will take Commander Gray Pierce of Sigma Force 50,000 years into the past. As he and Sigma trace the evolution of human intelligence to its true source, they will be plunged into a cataclysmic battle for the future of humanity that stretches across the globe . . . and beyond.

With the fate of our future at stake, Sigma embarks on its most harrowing odyssey ever—a breathtaking quest that will take them from ancient tunnels in Ecuador that span the breadth of South America to a millennia-old necropolis holding the bones of our ancestors. Along the way, revelations involving the lost continent of Atlantis will reveal true mysteries tied to mankind’s first steps on the moon. In the end, Gray Pierce and his team will face to their greatest threat: an ancient evil, resurrected by modern genetic science, strong enough to bring about the end of man’s dominance on this planet.

23434061That’s the back cover blurb for James Rollins’ novel, The Bone Labyrinth. Part of his “Sigma Force” series, which sounds like a mix of Vince Flynn and Dan Brown. And DAMN if it doesn’t sound like the set up for a kick ass Witch Hunter campaign!

I haven’t read any of Rollins’ latest stuff.  But Amazonia and Excavation were great fun if you like pulp tales in the vein of Doc Savage or Indiana Jones.  Which is probably why Rollins got the nod to write the novelization for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  It’s light, breezy stuff befitting of the genre.  Rollins isn’t at the top of my recommended reading list, but his stuff is consistent and fun and well worth a look if you are into pulp adventure.  I haven’t read any of his Sigma Force novels, but they have been on my radar.  Because, as with the Bone Labyrinth, the descriptions just scream Witch Hunter (or Rippers, for my fellow Savage World aficionados) adventures, though set against a modern backdrop.

4294057-lI’m going to take the plunge though.  The Bone Labyrinth is sitting ready, just waiting for me to finish Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind.  Once I’m done, I’ll report back.  If its as good a fit as I think it will be, I may even do a bit of adventure outlining here.

But what about you?  Any other James Rollins fans out there?  What Sigma Force books should I be looking at if I like The Bone Labyrinth?

Making Sense of Damnation

This is the first of two articles dealing with some new House Rules I’m going to be introducing into my Witch Hunter game.  The second can be found here.

One of the parts of the Witch Hunter rules that feels a bit threadbare are the rules for Damnation.  Oh, the basics make sense.  Characters earn Damnation points for giving into their sins.  Sins grant a special benefit (like a Talent, Edge, or Advantage) when activated and damnation points can be spent just like Hero Points in play. That part is crystal clear.  The rest is sort of…vague and handwavy.

Unlike 1st edition, the GM no longer has to worry about tracking individual Damnation scores for adversaries. Instead, many Powers can be enhanced by using the PCs’ own damnation against them. But the rules are unclear how this is supposed to work. Does it eliminate the PC’s damnation point? Can a player tap into a damnation point that has been used by an adversary? When does a PC’s damnation recharge for other encounters?

After reading over the Conan Quickstart and the new edition of 7th Sea, I’m going to test out a new feature in my witch hunter game: the Damnation Pool.  I want to see how they affect the ebb and flow of the game. With the Damnation Pool, damnation becomes a limited resource for the GM to heighten the tension of an encounter or a scene. It clarifies all the above questions and gives the GM some new tools for screwing with the players. About the only big change to the rules is how the GM activates character sins (which probably needed some guidance anyway).  There’s probably some cool way to tie the damnation pool into Story Themes, but I’m not there yet.

I wanted to throw this out there for anyone interested to review and play around with. I’d really like to get some feedback on this. So dig in and don’t hold back.

The Damnation Pool

Where heroes have Hero Points, the GM has the Damnation Pool. This resource allows you to add drama to a scene, reinforce your adversaries, and boosting certain diabolical powers of the Adversary.

At the beginning of each game, the Damnation Pool has a number of points equal to the number of players, plus one point for each point of damnation possessed by the Witch Hunters.

Using Damnation

  • Activate a Hero’s Sin. Spend a Damnation Point to activate a character’s Sin.
  • Bonus Success. Spend a Damnation Point to give a Villain a free success to any action (including damage). The GM may spend multiple Damnation points on a single action in this manner.
  • Seize the Initiative. Spend a Damnation to interrupt the Initiative order and allow a lieutenant or villain (but not minions?) to act early in a combat round.
  • Enhancing Villainous Powers. Many villainous powers (such as Blast Attack, Engulf, Gestalt Body, etc.) may be enhanced with Damnation. Typically any enhancement costs 1 Damnation Point unless the power indicates otherwise.
  • Ignore a Price. Spend a Damnation point to all a Villain or Mastermind (not a minion or lieutenant) to ignore a single Price for one round or appropriate approximation thereof.
  • Ignore injury penalties. Spend a Damnation point to allow a lieutenant, villain, or mastermind to ignore any injury penalties for 1 round.

Adding to the Damnation Pool

There are two ways of increasing the Damnation Pool. The first is whenever a player uses a damnation point. This adds 1 point to the damnation pool. Likewise, any time a player voluntarily activates his Sin benefit or gains a point of damnation by his or her own actions, the Damnation Pool is increased by 1.

The Damnation pool does not increase when the GM activates a character’s Sin. This will, however, mean the starting pool will be larger on the next game session if the damnation is not eliminated through Virtuous play.

The other means of increasing the Damnation Pool is called the Devil’s Bargain. (Hat Tip: Jon Harper’s Blades in the Dark)

 The Devil’s Bargain

When a player suffers Consequences in a roll (rolling more 1s than successes), he or she has the option of taking a Devil’s Bargain. They can either ignore the consequences that accompany the action or, if the roll failed, succeed with consequences. Either choice adds 1 point to the Damnation Pool. Of course, the player may always choose to accept the consequences that accompany the roll.

 

Re-examining All For One: Regime Diabolique

Summer is almost over.  My wife is back to work at a new library.  The kids go back to school in a week.  Time for another big shake up of my schedule, hopefully in a good way.  It may make blogging a bit easier.  We’ll see.

So awhile back, if you recall, I posted my thoughts on running a B/X D&D and just how easy it felt.  It still feels easy, fresh, and fun.  Enough so that Witch Hunter feels a bit clunky by comparison.  So as an exercise, I starting playing around with home-brewing a system that would give me the same easy breezy feeling but include all the stuff I want and need for heroic swashbuckling fantasy.  And that’s what I stumbled right back over All For One: Regime Diabolique, by Wiggy of Triple Ace Games.

prod_35164For those of you unfamiliar with the game, All for One (AFO, hereafter) is a roleplaying game set in early 17th Century France, where the players assume the roles of the King’s Musketeers, protecting King and Country from the threats foreign, domestic, and…supernatural!  Demons, vampires, werewolves, and all manner of other things that go bump in the night lurk in the dark shadows of Paris, and in the catacombs below.  Now if that doesn’t sound like a dead ringer candidate for game of the year for this GM, I don’t know what does?

I used AFO a few years back as the basis for another campaign for my library program.  At that time, I was pretty wrapped up in the Savage Worlds system and the Savage World of Solomon Kane, so the Ubiquity system went in the hopper and was hastily converted to SW mechanics.  This was, of course, before Triple Ace Games (TAG) did me the courtesy of releasing a SW adaption on their own.  Boy, would that have saved me some work.  That campaign has long since wrapped, but I’ve kept AFO on my Witch Hunter resource bookshelf for ideas and inspiration.  So it isn’t like I found my dog-earred copy in the garage.

Now maybe you haven’t heard, but as much as I like the new 7th Sea game, it has some aspects that present a bit of a barrier to me as a go-to game.  But what started out as an exercise in stripping a game for parts became sort of a startling rediscovery of the Ubiquity system.  Understand, I never disliked Ubiquity as a game system, it was just a non-starter for me.  The whole even/odds thing felt gimmicky, and most folks compare its play with Savage Worlds.

Flash forward a few years and I have a sudden epiphany that Ubiquity could be the bad ass d10 dice pool game 7th Sea is never going to be for me.  Even better, it’s a rosetta stone.  You can easily map that parts of 7th Sea 2nd edition you like to it, due to the Hero Point/Style Point economies both games share, and still maintain a more traditional conflict resolution mechanic.  Oh sure, it’s not a perfect fit, but it’s pretty damn close.  It seems like a pretty hard game to break, too.  And the tone and style of the game flirts with covering the same territory as witch hunter (supernatural monster hunting) while at the same time opening itself to a more sandbox approach.  In fact, its a perfect fit for those who want to run a game akin to D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles.

After four years of playing Witch Hunter, I’ve got the system ALMOST where it needs to be.  So I’m not about to pitch the whole thing and jump ship to Ubiquity, but DAMN if it isn’t tempting.  A lot of the lore of Witch Hunter could easily be mapped to AFO, as could the setting material for Savage World of Solomon Kane.  Personally, I like that Witch Hunter is a more global game.  Where if you want to throw together an adventure in India, or Egypt, or the Far East, you are good to go.  But there are parts of the system that just feel like dead weight compared to what Ubiquity offers.

I would make a few changes off the top, however.  These ideas may not sit well, or may seem superfluous, to hard-core Ubiquity fans.  But if I play it, they are going in.

  • d10 dice pools. Successes on a 6+ (instead of standard evens/odds)
  • Exploding dice!  Rolling a 10 on any die lets you reroll.
  • Rule of 10. dice pools are capped at 10. For every two dice extra, the player gets a free success.
  • Static Defense.  At the very least for NPCs, do away with defense rolls and just reduce attacks by the Average defense.
  • Brute squads/Minion Bands! Gotta have rules for mobs of bad guys.  Someone has probably done this for Ubiquity already, but I’m thinking Threat Ratings 1-5, roll 2 dice per Rank.  Defense is equal to Rank.  Defense Rolls against brute squads don’t suffer the usual -2 for multiple opponents (they are brutes!).
  • Cinematic Health: On paper, the game looks a bit more gritty than I’d like for a pulp game.  But having not played before, I’m hesitant to change that.
  • GM Procedural Rolls.  I’m gonna have a whole blog post on these, as I’m coming to realize they are the secret sauce that makes O/B/X D&D click.  Any GM roll against a player skill is done with 1d10.  A roll equal to or less than the average rating succeeds.  Yes, sorry, the high-low thing.  But these are only for the GM, so…

And that’s more or less it.  Ok, I might add some special stunts for Fencing Schools, but I suspect those are already out and in the wild.

So if you’ve been following along with this blog and thinking, yeah, swashbuckling monster hunters sounds fun!  Or if your one of the many people who cracked the new 7th Sea game and said, “what the…um…” then DEFINITELY do yourself a favor and check out this gem.  The game line is well supported and mostly complete, so no supplement train to worry about (feature or negative, your choice).  Plus, the guys at TAG are fantastic folks who threw a lot of support to me when I was using their stuff for my library program.

 

mirror mirror

Mirror, Mirror: the Other Side of the Coin

So about the time my 7th Sea: First Play Impressions post went live, I was being called out for being too much of a 7th Sea fan boy.  That perhaps my enthusiasm for the setting and previous edition was coloring my impression of the new edition.  And I think to myself, well what’s wrong with that?!  If you’ve read anything I’ve posted around here about gaming, it’s no secret that 7th Sea was sort of a seminal game experience for me.  One that sort of set the standard for the play experience I want in any game I play going forward.  And if that colors my expectations and enthusiasm for the 2nd edition, so what of it?  I mean, isn’t that the flip side of calling OSR fans out as nothing more than nostalgic?

But ok.  I’ll play along.  Because it’s not as though 7th Sea 2nd edition is perfect.  It wasn’t dictated by God Almighty as the Final Word in gaming.  You can’t even really compare it to 1st edition beyond the setting, because the game system is almost entirely new with only a cosmetic veneer to tie the two together.  So if you’re on the fence about 7th Sea 2nd edition, wondering if you really want to drop the money on the PDF, or the hardcover, or the leather bound collector’s edition, and you were foolish enough to come here then pay attention!  I’m going to tell you what I don’t like about the new edition.

Dracheneisen vs Hexenwerk

I think Hexenwerk is a poor replacement for Eisen’s national sorcery.  As a replacement for Zerstorung?  Sure!  Great!  But Dracheneisen was so iconic; it defined the look and character of Eisen.  Hexenwerk, as flavorful as it is, is very specialized and isn’t going to fit into every game.  Also, the core book makes it pretty clear that this is it.  There isn’t any more development space for Hexenwerk.  It’s done.  Now I get it that Eisen is now a dark fairy tale land of ghosts, ghouls, and vampires lurking in castles on high.  But you can have that and still have big bad Germans charging around in fancy armor.  There have been rumblings from folks looking to expand the utility of Hexenwerk by making it apply to all monsters, not just undead.  There are also folks working to put dracheneisen back in its rightful place as Eisen’s national sorcery.  Personally, I’m down for both.  And the Die Krieuzritter?  Magical blades forged of light and shadow brought to bear against monsters in the dark works just fine for me.

Faux Diversity

Gender equality and diversity!  These are two things that help define Théah and separate it from 17th century Europe.  Applause.  No, that’s a great thing really, and perfectly fitting with the tone of pre-reboot Théah.  But is it really more diverse?  Not really.  Right now, with just the core book, it’s very difficult to create an “exotic” hero from Ifri, Cathay, or the Crescent Empire without reskinning, homebrewing, or buying another sourcebook.  Is that a mark against the writers?  No.  They can’t include EVERYTHING.  But if you think about it, 1-2 pages of content would have been all you needed to be truly inclusive in terms of Ethnic diversity.  A handful of backgrounds, a handful of thumbnails.  Hell, Iskandar is right there on the map.  This isn’t so much a black mark as a missed opportunity.

Risks

First let me say, I love Action Scenes and Dramatic Sequences (Kinda. More on that later.). By comparisons, Risks still feel a bit forced.  Like an oval peg in a round hole.  I think part of the story in RPGs comes from the unexpected occurring, something that 7th Sea downplays in favor of player’s choosing the consequences of their actions.  I’m not sure a three-tiered success system wouldn’t have fit along side Action and Dramatic scenes more seamlessly (both of them have essentially three tiers of success: Approach, Improvised, and Unskilled.  I’m sure the developers playtested this and chose to go another way because…they liked it more.  But to me, standard Risks FEEL much different than Action and Dramatic Sequences.  They don’t feel like extensions of one another.  And there are limits to what you can express with Risks that I don’t like.  Time will tell on this one.

Raises vs Successes

This one goes hand in hand with the previous point.  Raises, rolling your dice pool and counting 10s, don’t feel quite as intuitive as rolling and counting successes (WoD, Witch Hunter).  Others with better math skills than me have pointed out that rolling and counting 6s and above gives you the same peak probability while widening the curve, thus making your pool of Raises a bit less predictable in the long term.  The method the developers went with feels like change for the sake of change, to help give the game its own identity.  I suppose it does that, and predictability does have some benefits, but I’m not sure the game as a whole wouldn’t be more accessible and just as exciting if they’d taken a more tired and traditional method.

FYI for those who worry about the speed of counting groups of 10s, don’t worry about that.  That isn’t an issue with the way the game handles dice rolling.

Rulings vs Rules

I can’t help but get the feeling that the rules of 7th Sea are a little half-baked.  By that I mean, immature, unseasoned, and untested.  In my previous post I said:

I think it’s safe to say the game succeeds at what it sets out to do.  Now that it’s in the wild, I’m really eager to see how far people are going to push it!

That cuts both ways.  I believe its a good start.  I think Action Sequences are there.  Dramatic Sequences are too open ended, like something they tried a few times and said, “Looks great!  Put em in!”  Risks?  Like I said: oval peg in a round hole.  Almost there, but not quite.  Over the next couple of months, as more and more people get their hands on the rules, beat them, bash them, and twist them like the mercurial things they are, I think we are going to see some maturity, some road weariness, beaten into the system.  We’re going to find out what really works and what doesn’t.

Pay close attention to this.  And please, do not read this as a negative.  I think when 7th Sea: the East rolls off the presses in 2+ years, we are going to be looking at a more mature game.  And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we are 4-5 years away from a revised edition (most likely an expanded or revised second printing, but still).  In that time, I think GMs are going to take the tools given to them in the core book and spin off about 2 or 3 new variants that will become so ubiquitous in play that it would be ridiculous not to include them as part of the core rules.

This isn’t because the rules are bad.  They’re simply immature.  Kinda like the LBB edition of Dungeons and Dragons vs. BECMI/AD&D. I think 7th Sea 2nd edition is a natural extension of where John Wick has been going in terms of game design, but none of those games ever slammed headfirst into the hands of 11,000 people.  I suspect years of hard playtesting, convention play, house ruling and home brewing is going to create an interesting beast, but it’s still a couple of years out from real maturity.

I’m okay with that.  I think John Wick would be okay with that assessment.  But not everyone will be.

The Toolbox

Ok, to be fair 1st edition 7th Sea was no hallmark in this department.  Aside from a few false starts (“Random” Encounters in the GM Screen adventure, The Powder Keg in the Villain’s Kit), the game never offered much in the way of tools for adventure building.  Hooks, sure.  Metaplot, yup.  But nuts and bolts so you could create your own unique vision of Théah?  Nope.  Nada.  Almost zero.  Oh, there were plenty of subsystems and mini-games that made 7th Sea a nice sandbox, but that’s not the same thing.  The GM who wandered off the page was on his own.

2nd edition is following the same playbook thus far.  There aren’t many tools for GMs in the new game.  There is no sample starting point, no example NPCs, no example monsters, no idea generators, no random encounter tables, no tools for creating a town or city.  The information is most big picture stuff (“this is what swashbuckling adventure is…”) and not little stuff (“here’s a list of elements to ratchet up the swashbuckling flavor of your adventure.”).  Is this even a valid critique of modern RPGs?  I think so.  Maybe all those Savage Worlds Adventure Generators have spoiled me.

That may all be coming in the sourcebooks.  John Wick has said as much that this edition will not have a metaplot.  So its quite possible that we’ll see some GM tools that focus on and highlight the individual locations in the setting.  In that sense, Pirate Nations, the first sourcebook (due out in November 2016), will be very telling.  And if JWP doesn’t see the value in providing tools for us hands-on sandbox worldbuilder GM types, maybe the promised Explorer’s Society marketplace will give us a venue for such things.

In Conclusion

I don’t want anyone coming away from my previous comments about 7th Sea 2nd edition thinking its all sunshine, roses, and kittens.  If you look at these critiques and think, “meh,” then by all means polish up those d10s and start dreaming up consequences.  If these give you pause, then track down a game on Roll20 or at convention and give it a spin before you start throwing money at it.  Or toss the new rules and just graft the old R/K system back on top of the new setting.  There’s no shame in that.  Even the crew at JWP is on record as saying they want folks to use the old system if the new one doesn’t work for them.  You know your tastes more than I do.

I’ve said the game is outside of my comfort zone, and it is.  For all the reasons I’ve listed above.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to give it a try.  It also doesn’t mean I’m in it for the long haul (though that kickstarter sure did make that easier).  We had bucket loads of fun with the original edition, and I really hope this edition will deliver even more.  But the proof is in the pudding.  The first taste was nice, but that’s all it was.  Let’s see how things hold up over time.

 

Monty Python's And Now for Something Completely Different (B

The Service Industry

Caveat: I’ve never been a big fan of “crafting” in MMOs and the like.  The idea of spending hours on a computer game collecting different artifacts to put together something for sale just doesn’t do it for me.  That’s why I have a job.  That’s why I have hobbies.  I don’t want to spend my leisure time “crafting” virtual products for sale.  If you are the kind of person who does, you will probably disagree with the assessment in this article.

Recently, over on Google+, I shared a few thoughts with Brian Fitzpatrick on a prospective Alchemist class for old-school D&D.  Now first, let me say that Brian is in good company.  I’m not sure how many versions of an Alchemist class have been developed for D&D, between retro-clones, heartbreakers, Dragon Magazine, Pathfinder, and unattributed home brews, but I’m sure its up there in the Top 10.  He’s not breaking new ground, but he’s not trying to get blood from a stone either.

Once upon a time, I loved the idea of NPC classes.  Because more is better, right?  In a class-based system, the only way to achieve these expressions of diversity is through new classes.  It’s not like a skill or advantage-based system where I can spend a few points and BOOM!  I’m an alchemist, bitches!

The trouble is, those sorts of classes don’t really work in an adventure/exploration heavy game like D&D.  A character class focused solely on a support role just isn’t going to be fun to play over the long haul by the majority of players.  Because they never really get a chance to step into the spotlight when it counts.    Sure, I’m sure there are a handful of games that sort of class will fit like a glove, but the traditional “let’s explore” D&D game, not so much.

Besides, the rules already provide guidelines for the creation of potions and alchemical devices by clerics, magic-users and elves (even the other character types too, if the GM is flexible and willing to be extrapolate a bit).  This makes perfect sense.  After all, if we look at the life and career of Isaac Newton, its reasonable that in a quasi-historical fantasy setting all of these skills would have gone together.  A “wizard” would of course be able to cook up alchemical concoctions.  That would be assumed in the background and training.  So you already have the framework for your adventuring alchemist.  You can make it as simple or robust as you need it to be.

So my response to Brian was, rather than a class, why not just come up with a more detailed alchemy service?  Because that’s what it really comes down to: service and cost.  The party hires an alchemist to keep them afloat in healing potions, greek fire, and (in the case of Brian’s class) keep their magic items charged.  That stuff really isn’t the bread and butter of adventuring PCs, so lets mitigate it to a support role.  Brian disagrees with me on the merits of the class.  Which is fine.  As I’ve said, he’s in good company and I’m hardly the final word in game design.  His argument is as follows:

…I think the party alchemist, especially in a longer campaign with more spellcasters, could be extremely useful. Perhaps not all the time, but more often than not… Here are a few possibilities.

  • Imagine having the ability for both a Cleric and an Alchemist to temporarily enchant or improve weapons for the battle at hand
  • Or recharging an expended magic item at a critical juncture
  • Or creating a scroll, potion or powder from an unused spell at the end of the day “just in case” the party needs it at a future time

If we make the alchemist at lower levels (1-5) more useful for those three tasks, as well as give them a few additional abilities or spells, I think that would be enough to make this a useful player class.

Sure.  Or you could simply tweak the magic item research and fabrication rules as they are and achieve almost the same effect without having to wedge a player into a largely supportive role.

Consider:

  • Clerics and magic users can already temporarily enhance weapons for the battle at hand without the extra step of alchemy.
  • Recharging expended magic item sounds great, but removes the necessity of further exploration to replace expended resources.  Plus, most magic items replicate spell effects, allowing you to put your other limited resources elsewhere.
  • The rules already allow this to some degree.  Building a class around it is unnecessary.

And that’s really what’s at issue here.  Unless alchemy is going to be a big feature of your game (and it could be!), building a class doesn’t really add value to the game.  Instead, it provides a character that isn’t as capable as a magic-user or cleric that is focused on downtime activities and with more equipment and resource requirements.  See, a magic-user is just as capable whether or not he can find a steady supply of mandrake root to create this or that potion.  An alchemist would need to have that same, if not more, utility and versatility.

I’m not saying an adventuring alchemist isn’t a cool idea.  But I do think it needs to have a bigger niche than, “you want me to recharge that for ya?”

But I didn’t write this whole thing to shoot down Brian’s hopes and dreams.  No, see I want to redirect him a little.  Because what I DO NEED, as a DM AND as a player, is a reason to travel 300 miles over land and sea to seek out a MASTER alchemist as opposed to hiring that guy in the base town.  And I need a justification as to why that dude charges x10 as much for his services, other than that his calling card reads “Master Alchemist.”

If you look at B/X and AD&D, you’ll see roughly the same thing:

B/X D&D (Expert Rulebook)
Alchemist (1000 gp/month): If given the formula or a sample, an alchemist may make a potion at half the normal time and cost. They may also conduct research into different types of potions at twice the cost and time required for a magic-user.

AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide
Alchemist (300 gp/month):
This profession handles the compounding of magical substances, and the advantages of employing an alchemist are detailed under the section FABRICATION OF MAGIC ITEMS, Potions. Alchemists will only be found in cities unless you specifically locate one elsewhere. It will require an offer of 10 to 100 gold pieces bonus money, plus a well-stocked laboratory, plus the assurance of not less than a full year of employment, to attract one to service.

There really isn’t anything there that sets one apart from the other.  So there is just as much benefit to tracking down the famed Isaac Newton at University in England as dropping into Ted’s Apothecary and Lubricants for all of your alchemical needs.  What I’m proposing would serve the game well would be to grade hirelings by degrees of skill (I’d recommend three tiers to avoid getting too granular and keep the book keeping manageable), with different rates and some different capabilities attached.  Ted’s A & L might be a great place to go for low level potions.  But for the real heavy hitters (like recharging your wand of fireballs or a potion of super heroism), you have to seek out a Master.  And I think it would be worthwhile to do this across the board.  There should be a difference between hiring the Black Company and Wallace’s Band of Ne’er-do-Wells.  And there really is no guidance on how to do it right now.

I’m going to come back to this eventually on my own, but I suspect someone just as smart and twice as dedicated has already beaten me to the punch on this one.  And if not, someone needs to.  In the meantime, don’t give up hope on your Alchemist class, Brian.  I hear the one in the Arcanum is a fantastic starting point!

 

Would you Believe more Books for Gamers in Training

That’s right!  It’s been awhile, but I’m back with more children’s reading recommendations for gamer parents with young kids.  Here we go!

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George and the Dragon, by Chris Wormell

The story of a fierce fire breathing dragon with a terrible psychological flaw and his new, impoverished but upwardly mobile neighbor.  This book is not what you expect.  It’s short and its fun.  The art is great, too.  If your kid loves dragons, this needs to be in your library.

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Vampirina Ballerina, by Anne Marie Pace (Illus. LeUyen Pham)

Here’s one for you World of Darkness fans, you Camarilla members, goths and gothic lovers.  First up, LeUyen Pham is a fantastic illustrator and has been attached to a lot of good projects (I’ll give the Hillary Clinton puff piece a pass because my personal biases shouldn’t diminish the quality of the art).  This is a cute book and my daughter’s new favorite.  It really speaks to being the new kid, being out of step, and coming together as a team.  Oh, and it has vampires.  BTW, for fashionistas-in-training, I can also recommend another LeUyen Pham illustrated book, Shoe-La-La.

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When a Dragon Moves in Again, by Jodi Moore

What?!  Jodi Moore wrote a follow up to When a Dragon Moves In?  I haven’t even read it and I’m going to recommend it.  That’s how good it’s predecessor was.