Some gaming amusement!
Here’s a quick, off the cuff, totally not fleshed out or playtested idea on how to handle a pet class (ie someone with an animal companion or similar) in D&D that may resolve the current disappointment/issues with the current iterations of the Beastmaster Ranger (and similar) classes.
To begin though, I get the difficulty in crafting this kind of class. There’s a few of major things to balance: first you don’t want to add too much complexity (having a player have to manage two full-fledged characters), and second you don’t want to add too much power (where the character + their companion’s abilities overshadow everyone else at the table). And while the revised Ranger and it’s Beastmaster subclass from Unearthed Arcana seems to have found a mostly workable solution for that, there is a third area of balance that remains the Achilles heel: hit points. To avoid allowing the companion to become a vast sponge of extra hit points for the party, the companion’s AC and Hit Points remain modest… which means they are all too often going down like a chump. Sure, the Ranger can resurrect them, but few want to play a class where their best bud is dying every other day.
So here’s the concept: Have the companion fully share the combat economy with the main character, not only in actions and attacks, but in Hit Points as well. How this is fluffed will depend on the specific pet class – a ranger or druid could have a real spiritual connection/ bond to their companion, a warlock might have a more parasitical and/or arcane tie, etc – but the basic idea is that you can balance the class almost as a single actor within a combat encounter. So when the main character takes a move action one or both can move, and when the main character takes the attack action, each attack they get as part of that attack action can be performed either by the main character or their companion. And when one gets hit, both are closer to being knocked down.
At its simplest, as well as in some ways the most extreme, everything about the two could be set to be exactly the same: to hit, damage, AC, etc. It’s one character, just being two places at once on the board. (To be fair, though, if both are caught in an area attack, they only take the damage once). It’s also workable to have some minor differences between the two in AC and attack power.
The nice thing about this is it makes it easy to turn nearly any character into a pet-using class, since there’s little change in their effective contribution to the party’s abilities and power. Of course, even if using the option of complete identicalness, there are some extra benefits that come from having two bodies in play, but they mostly fall into the same category of advantages that come from having a familiar (albeit one with much greater hit points, though outside of combat that should matter much less). The biggest impact may come from having an extra ally for the purposes of controlling territory or granting the Rogue sneak attacks. It’s fair then to have the character need to swap out a minor class feature, or make a custom Feat that allows them to gain the companion (with, I’d say, a few extra riders or a single +1 ASI, since the power gain wouldn’t otherwise be a full feat’s worth).
The last tweak that may make this sing is to allow – or require – the character or companion (whichever one takes the damage when this occurs, or a choice if they take area damage simultaneously) to drop unconscious when they reach 25% of their Hit Points.
So that’s the idea. Iffn’ and when I get a chance to test this out, I’ll report back. And if you try it, please comment below with how it went and any suggestions you have!
Last weekend our group wrapped up the first part of our Star Wars campaign (and the first part of my Aurora RPG Engine playtest). Though, in reality, it wasn’t really the first part of the campaign, for the campaign I’ve got planned to run is the Dawn of Defiance campaign, a massive 12-part adventure. Instead what wrapped up was three prelude adventures, which, originally, I meant primarily as a shakedown cruise for the new ruleset, to fix any egregious problems before we began to play in earnest. But what I’m realizing now is that these preludes provided so much more than just that, enough that for any epic-length campaign I run from now on I will always run a series of preludes.
Big-ass campaign modules are kind of in vogue right now. Whether they be termed “adventure paths” and bought as a series of interconnected modules, or whether they come in a single and big 256-page book, there are plenty out there that promise to take the characters through a big, grand, and heroic adventure arc. Which can be great! But if the campaign starts with beginning or new characters, there’s no time for the players to get settled and feel out and inhabit their characters before they get plunged into that big narrative. Which can weaken the feel and excitement and visceral experience right at the most crucial moments of the game: those events and those hooks that are intended to serve as the fire that carries the campaign forward. If those moments fall flat, or the investment isn’t there (because the investment isn’t yet there in the character(s)), then the feel of the entire campaign can suffer.*
Hence, running a series of preludes to give the players a chance to feel out and develop their characters before the inciting incident of the campaign proper. This goes both mechanically and RP-wise. Sometimes a certain build doesn’t play out at the table as well as, or as interesting, as we’d thought it would. Or, as our character’s character settles down, maybe what we built no longer suits this new direction.** And getting that direction itself is critical. While we may come with a backstory and thoughts on how they behave, often that shifts during game time as we explore and play and let things bubble up… often seemingly from nowhere, but it fits and feels right and so it becomes part of the character. Through the chance to play and develop the players get to know their characters, the characters get to know each other, and the builds get settled, all so that once they begin the adventure path there’s nothing left to hammer out and they can immediately fully inhabit what’s to come.
So that’s my little epiphany and cheerleading for always running a few introductory adventures before embarking on the grand adventure path voyage.
* Of course, for campaigns that consist of independent and smaller scaled adventures this isn’t required – in effect, every adventure is like a prelude. And sometimes the adventure path/big book/etc already does this, with a series of small things to deal with before the big hook, in which case great, the work’s already been done for you.
** Or, equally important, if the campaign starts with very experienced characters (ie, starting at a higher ‘level’), then there’s the added layer of just learning how to run that character and all their abilities. Plus, there are more abilities and combos to tweak and try out to find the fit that suits the vision and the evolving character. Nothing is worse than having an epic start to a campaign grind to a halt as each player tries to figure out what their character can do or how to do it… and yes, very much speaking from experience here).
(Fortunately, the Aurora Engine playtest has — mostly — been going better than this… )
Saw this floating around and… yeah!
You: <<roll to resist>>
GM: “Hmmm, let me see your character sheet…”
I mean, another way to put it is, if someone hands over a bag of 100 candies, and said that two of these will kill you, I doubt very much that anyone would willingly take one of the candies…
Mask on before entering the dungeon!
Alright! With a gaggle of sessions under our proverbial belts, our Star Wars game and my new ruleset that powers it have been going great. Thus far, things have run very smoothly and has already fueled a lot of great moments. There’s still some rules gaps and wrangling to do, but the base document is pretty much complete (if written completely in point form language). I’m not quite ready to share it yet, but I will try to get back to writing its big gestures and intents. Until then, here several cool things that have emerged thus far, specifically around core Aurora Engine elements: Continue reading
I am very much excited about WotC’s announcement that they’ll be shifting how they portray (and thus limit) ‘inherently evil races’ to open up much greater latitudes in alignment, abilities, societies, and etc. For one, the term race is confusing, since these are really whole different species. For two, just as our species (humans) are vast and varied, so too should be and can be members of other species (whether elves, or dwarves, or kobolds, or orcs). For three, it’s far more interesting! Automatic evil is easy (and still available, be it through fiends or monstrosities or undead) but allowing for greater agency by the antagonists is more juicy, and the meatiest stories often deal with the ‘evil within’ (both individual character but fellow humans/etc acting in very bad ways) vs an external and ‘black box’ kind of auto-evility machine. For four, as someone who finds attribute bonuses the least interesting way to differentiate different species, I hope this pushes more games (even if D&D itself likely won’t adopt this unless they ever do make a new edition or come out with an optional ruleset) towards more nifty species talents/stunts/feats (such as the Dwarf’s resistance to poison, or the Dragonborn’s breath weapon) that create far more interesting options, capabilities, and side uses for players.
For five, and of great importance, is this: who we know ourselves as a person and as a collective people is/are thoroughly governed by story – the story we know about ourselves, the stories we tell about our community, the stories we speak of about the world. As such, the stories we make up and tell each other for entertainment absolutely has an impact on how we view, interact with, and treat the real world and others within it. They are not separate. Thus to say ‘this race is all bad’ or ‘this race is always big and scary’ or ‘this race is really only good at this’ creates mental traps for us as we relate to and deal with others in our actual and lived lives.
So yeah. Doing away with the more rigid stereotypes and tropes and that present a gameworld view that one’s place, role, competencies, and expected outcomes in the world are governed primarily (and almost entirely) by factors of their species and instead moving towards the item(s) that often draws us to our favourite fiction: culture, style, worldview, way of life, way of building things, and ways of dealing with things. In short: towards character.
Because character and characters are what an RPG is all about.
I love this story, as published in the editorial of Dragon magazine, issue 144, penned by Roger E Moore:
The mountain pass was called the Demon Tongue, which implied there might be a demon and treasure there, so the party headed for it right away. The characters were hungry for combat and cash – lots of each. I was the DM. We were gaming on the pool table in the medical company rec room in West Germany, a decade ago last fall.
Not many of the details of that adventure are left with me now, but I remember what happened when the adventurers got to the Demon Tongue. The paladin was the point man, mounted up and armored like a tank (he had volunteered for, no, demanded the position). Some distance behind, the wizard was checking the landscape with his amulet of ESP, hunting for enemy thoughts. Everyone else was gathered near the wizard, weapons ready. They were on a narrow road in the pass itself, with a slope up to the left and a sheer drop to the right, when the wizard got a reading. Continue reading
As you’ve likely noticed, I haven’t written anything further on crafting the ruleset for our upcoming Star Wars campaign. That’s because the starting date got moved up a bunch and my time had to be focused on writing the rules rather than writing about the rules. Our first session was last weekend and it went well! And there’s already a few tweaks to make, which is cool and exciting – I knew there would be plenty of things to fix and refine and it’s great to do some honest actual playtesting!
I’m prepping like mad for this weekend’s game (and I need to make the opening crawl, of course), but I fully intend to return here to share the rules writing process, the nuances of the rules themselves, and to demonstrate how to take the core Aurora engine and craft an entire system out of it that supports the style of gameplay perfect for the game and campaign.
Until then, let’s talk a bit about… Kickstarters!
For the first, I got my copy of the Cortex Prime book (in PDF form) and W O W. It is a thing of beauty in terms of graphic layout (and hopefully in terms of organization too… I haven’t given it a thorough enough read with a blank perspective to assess it yet). I already had experience with the rules and liked them, so there was no disappointment there either. But what really caught my eye and has me super thrilled was reading all the contributors. Because many of them worked on other systems I have enjoyed, some of which were systems that they created. Which means that these creators – and sellers! – of their own rules nonetheless helped develop and play with other rulesets and enjoy them. It’s this great circle of everyone having fun and supporting each other (again, even if some might otherwise see them as “competitors”) and playing all sorts of different types of games and using the rulesets that support them. That’s just super heartwarming to me.
For the second, a new campaign just launched today on Kickstarter for something that, if you’re picking up on the theme here by now, has me giddily excited: an RPG based on the genre of Franco-Belgian graphic novels (aka bandes dessinée).