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Previewish March 20, 2008
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A lot has happened in the table top gaming world since the last column. Wizards of the Coast demonstrated Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition at Dungeons and Dragons Experience in Washington, D.C. and just a few short days later the gaming world suffered a tremendous loss with the death of Dungeons and Dragons co-creator E. Gary Gygax on March 4th, Dungeon Master's Day. Toss in Paizo Publishing's announcement of Pathfinder RPG, what some are dubbing 3.75 Edition, and we have had a rather busy month of March.

We complete our trifecta of Green Ronin reviews this time with a review of the Advanced Player's Manual. To top that off, we have also included a review of Paizo Publishing's Into the Haunted Forest. Finally, for your reading pleasure, I have jotted down my initial thoughts on the latest edition of the grandfather of RPGs, and do not miss the news regarding Pathfinder RPG.

Do not forget, we have launched some new games in the Roleplaying Forum. Of course we are always looking for new players and Game Masters who are interested in a little Play-By-Post. Swing by and start a game, or join one.



This Week's Feature

Advanced Player's Manual March 20th, 2008
Advanced Options for Player Characters

Into the Haunted Forest March 20th, 2008
Many Will Enter, Few Will Leave


Tabletop Gaming News

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Preview

   Ever since it was announced at last year's GenCon, much has been speculated about what form Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition would take. Now that Wizards of the Coast has taken the wrappers off at last, some aspects have become clearer, while others are still somewhat muddled.

One of the first things that Wizards of the Coast said about 4th Edition was that character roles would be more clearly defined. 4th Edition defines the character roles as controller, defender, leader and striker. Given what information has been released so far, it appears that the wizard class will fill in the controlling role, fighters and paladins the defender role, clerics and warlords the leader role, and rangers, rogues and warlocks will fill in the strikers role.

Controllers are designed with the idea that they will be able to affect the whole battlefield, or at least a large number of the enemies on it, at a time. Based on this theory, the spells (arcane powers) of the wizard are capable of harming multiple foes, provided they are standing close enough together.

Defenders are the front-line characters capable of taking a pounding and dealing out pain in close quarters. For example, the paladin's prayers (divine powers) inflict damage, provide healing, or provide AC bonuses or other types of bolstering to themselves and allies. Some of the powers even manage to do more than one of those at the same time. For the fighter, the exploits (martial powers) allow those characters to inflict large amounts of damage against a single foe and secondary damage to another, or manuever a foe into a bad tactical position.

Characters filling the leader role are characters who are good at healing, inspiring or protecting other members of the party. To this end, they have powers that can deal a small amount of damage to foes while also providing a boost to one or more allies attacking that foe, or provide some other bonus (AC, temporary HP, etc) for themselves or allies.

Strikers are characters who are skilled a dealing a large amount of damage to a single foe or otherwise inhibit the foe's attacking ability. These powers can be of the martial variety or arcane variety and generally are used from a distance.

For 4th Edition, attack options outside of the basic swinging of the sword or shooting of arrows are refered to as "Powers." Powers are split into three categories: prayers (divine powers) for clerics and paladins, spells (arcane powers) for warlocks and wizards, and exploits (martial powers) for fighters, rangers, rogues and warlords. Powers come in three usage types: at-will, per encounter, and daily. For martial characters, at-will powers are best compared to attacks granted by feats in 3.5 Edition. Fighters have Cleave as an at-will attack, for example. For spell casters, at-will powers can best be compared to low level spells, like the warlock's Eldritch Blast or the wizard's ghost sound, light or magic missile. Finally, for divine power users, examples include the cleric's lance of faith, which does a small amount of damage but makes the enemy easier to hit for an ally, or the paladin's divine challenge which allows a character to challenge an enemy and punishes that enemy if they choose to ignore the challenge. Some at-will powers, such as the paladin's lay on hands, have special limitations in the total number of times they can be used per day.

At the encounter level, powers include class features, racial powers, feat powers and prayers, spells or exploits. Examples of these include the halfling's second chance, the cleric's channel divinity, and the wizard's force orb. Second chance forces an enemy to reroll an attack roll and except the second roll, even if its lower. Channel divinity allows the cleric to turn undead, cast divine fortune, or use a power that is specific to the diety the cleric worships. Force orb harms a main target, and any adjacent targets.

Finally, daily use powers are powers that tend to dramatically shift the encounter in the favor of the power's user. These include such things as the wizard's acid arrow or sleep power, the fighter's brute strike; which deals a large amount of damage, and the ranger's split the tree power which allows simultaneous ranged attacks against two targets.

In 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons attacks face off against one of four defenses; either armor class, fortitude, reflex, or will. A quick glance at the example character sheets released by Wizards of the Coast reveals that the level one fortitude, reflex and will defenses are much higher than they were as first level saves in 3.5.

A round of action by a character consists of a standard, a move, and a minor action. Typically, standard actions are used to attack, move actions to move, and minor actions to draw a weapon or open a door. Standard actions can be exchanged for a move or minor actions and a move action exchanged for a minor action. Free actions exist as well, and remaining basically the same as they were in 3.5. Triggered actions, such as opportunity actions (opportunity attacks) and immediate actions (like a readied action) round out the actions a player character can take.

One of the biggest changes in Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition is the overhauled healing system. No longer will the cleric often find his or herself solely responsible for being the primary healing source for the party. Each character now has a "healing surge" that can be used a limited number of times per day, and generally only once per encounter (via the second wind action) to recover a set number of hit points and gain a small bonus to AC lasting until your next turn. This new healing behavior frees the cleric to be more than just an hit point refilling machine, but balancing the new ability with the rest of the game mechanic may be a bit challenging.

Along with this new healing scheme, a second so called "short" rest type has been added. Lasting just five minutes, its enough time to recharge per encounter powers, including the second wind action to use healing surges. The extended rest action last six hours and results in the party being fully healed, all daily powers available again, all healing surges restored and action points set back to one.

Speaking of action points, in 4th edition action a character starts an adventure with one action point, and gains one for every two encounters completed (referred to as a milestone). Action points can be used to perform one extra action on your turn. This can be a standard, move or minor action.

Several other changes to note with the new edition; moving diagonally no longer requires every other square to count as double the distance, saving throws generally require just a roll of a 10 on a d20 to succeed, duration effects, such as those from poisons or spells, continue until the target either makes a saving throw, or the end of the attackers next turn, and finally, reach weapons generally do not threaten squares other than those right next to the wielder. Veteran players will also note that the starting hit points of classes are considerably higher than they were in the past editions.

Undoubtedly there are still more changes in the wings for the 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Whether this edition is better or worse than previous iterations is obviously something that each gamer will have to decide for his or herself. So many changes have been made that it is likely personal taste will be the sole deciding factor as to whether or not he or she will enjoy the new game mechanics.

Wizards of the Coast has just sent the core rule books off to the printer, and has numerous events setup for the month of April, so stay tuned for the latest.

 

Paizo Publishing Announces Pathfinder RPG

   On March 18th, Paizo Publishing announced the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, which will serve as an anchor for the Pathfinder adventures, sourcebooks and campaigns. Playtesting will last a year with the final version, based on the 3.5 rules of the Open Game License, being released in August of 2009. The Pathfinder RPG is designed to be backwards compatibile so players will be able to continue playing existing adventures without the need to completely overhaul their library. The first Pathfinder RPG Alpha release is available now from Paizo's website. Until the completed product is released, all Pathfinder-branded products will continue to use the current 3.5 edition rule set.

"I'm really excited to work with the playtesters to make this the best game possible," said Jason Bulmahn, Paizo's Lead Designer. "In the spirit of the Open Game movement, the Pathfinder RPG is really your roleplaying game. It's a huge thrill to get to lead the design process."

Paizo will issue additional Pathfinder RPG Alpha releases in the coming months, covering new changes and additions to the 3.5 rules. Gamers can download, read and participate in the free open playtest by setting up a paizo.com account and joining the discussion with Paizo's design staff. In August of 2008, Paizo will release a massive, full-color, softcover Pathfinder RPG Beta release for $24.99. This book will be available via the website, at Gen Con, and local game stores. Just like the Alpha releases, the Beta release will be available as a free PDF.

Paizo hopes to support the 4th Edition ruleset with fan-created online conversions of its Pathfinder products and a complete line from its partner company, Necromancer Games. Necromancer has already announced a new 4th Edition version of their award-winning Tome of Horros monster encyclopedia, and has plans for additional player and GM support products.

To support the playtest of the new Pathfinder RPG, Paizo also announced the hiring of Nicolas Logue to run the Pathfinder Society organized play campaign, a massive mega-campaign to launch at this year's Gen Con. The Pathfinder Society will feature events at major conventions, retail stores and home play as a way to involve thousands of players in a constantly evolving campaign environment fueled by downloadable scenarios released by Paizo. Mr. Logue is a long-time Paizo contributor to the print versions of Dragon and Dungeon magazines, as well as the Pathfinder Adventure Paths and Pathfinder Modules line.

"Nicolas Logue is one of the most energetic, personable gamers I have ever met," said Erik Mona, Paizo's Publisher and the co-founder during his tenure at Wizards of the Coast of Living Greyhawk, the largest organized play RPG campaign in history. "Running a successful organized play campaign involves a magical combination of cool ideas, organizational skills, and enthusiasm. Nick is absolutely the perfect man for the job, and I'm thrilled that he will be joining us here at Paizo.

Additional information on the Pathfinder Society campaign can be found at paizo.com/pathfindersociety.

 



Outro

So two big articles along with two reviews. A two-fer two-fer, if you will. Or even if you will not. Until next time, keep those die-arollin'.

Again, if you have any suggestions, ideas, or other things you think might improve the column, just click on the e-mail link below and send me an e-mail. I am particularly interested in any ideas for format change you might have. I am thinking of doing some forum-based updates--I always seem to get news items the day after I post the column as well.


Martin "..." Drury



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