Friday, 30 March 2012

Assaulting Immunity

Dominic Matte
Lately I've been thinking about monsters with immunity or resistance to a certain damage type.

Immunity to a certain damage source makes sense in a lot of situations. The dragon that lives inside an active volcano and bathes in lava isn't going to worry about, say, stepping in a campfire. It makes an equal amount of sense that such a dragon could easily shrug off a wizard's fireball. Or, coming from a different direction, it makes sense that a gelatinous cube is immune to a sneak attack that targets a creature's vital areas.

On the other hand, it isn't fun.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Solo Design: Geomancer

Dominic Matte
Solo Design is a series of articles exploring solos -- monsters designed to engage an entire party -- using monsters I've designed for my own games.

What's the easiest way to create a really dynamic encounter that forces the players to think on their feet? To run a monster that alters the battlefield itself, of course! I wanted a dynamic encounter, so what better way to do that than to build a monster that alters the battlefield to his advantage every single turn?

Brigadier Stonefist is a high-ranking military officer and geomancer. He's a goliath with the ability to move and control the earth and stone around him. In combat, Stonefist is a tough and durable controller who focuses on splitting up and engaging the party one at a time. He can take a flat, boring battlefield and turn it into a blasted rocky maze of a wasteland in only a few turns.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Thought Experiment: A Very Modular 5e

There's a lot of talk about D&D Next / 5e being very modular, where you can mix and match elements depending on the desired level of complexity.

What if character classes were extremely modular and flexible?

Essentially you'd have a giant list of 'feats' divided up into categories. For example, you could have categories like weapon proficiencies, weapon tricks, damage boosts, control spells, healing spells... whatever.

Classes would be differentiated in two ways:

1. By having a few basic abilities that modify their feats -- fighters gain greater benefit from proficiency feats while rogues gain greater benefit from movement feats; wizards add an extra die to damaging spells while clerics add an extra die to healing spells

2. By the number and categories of feats they can choose -- fighters get more proficiency feats while rogues get more movement feats; wizards get more control and utility spell feats while clerics get more healing and buff spell feats.

As an example of potential feats within the category of damaging spells, you could have an at-will fire bolt; a more powerful encounter fireball; or a very strong daily inferno. You could choose any one of these at a given level, or over time you could take all of them to build a versatile pyromancer.

At any given level you could also choose to take racial feats instead of class feats -- if you really wanted to, you could define yourself as a dwarf first and a fighter second, or the other way around.

This would give you a huge level of freedom in character creation while still allowing you to keep it simple: you could build a fighter with a lot of tactical feats, or one that's dead simple with lots of bonus damage feats. You could build a wizard who can cast a few high-power spells per day, or one that can cast many lower-power spells.

Do you think this kind of approach would work?
Would classes feel unique enough?
Would it take too much work to categorize feats and decide how many of which types each class would get?
Do you see any major flaws that I'm missing?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Solo Design

Dominic Matte
Solos are single monsters designed to take on an entire party at once. They're used to give the players an epic battle against a powerful creature, and are often featured as boss battles. A dragon is a classic example: a huge challenge that a party needs to work together to overcome.

There are a few very important design considerations that go into building a solo monster. A typical party of four or five players has four or five times as many actions as a single monster, and a lot more options at their disposal.

In this article I'll explain what you need to consider when designing a solo monster, and as an ongoing series, I'll examine solo monsters I've designed for my games to fit certain themes or roles in gameplay.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Antimagic and 4e: King Duncan

Dominic Matte

The last stat block is King Duncan himself, leading the campaign to purge magic from the country. He's not the kind of king who has others fight for him -- as a solo soldier he's tough all around and exerts some control over his enemies' movement and abilities. He's also an expert wielder of antimagic, able to disrupt his enemies' connection to the very source of their power and take advantage of their weakness.

Read on for stats.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Antimagic and 4e: AM Grenades

Dominic Matte

Looking for a fast and dirty way to test out antimagic in your 4th edition game? Try throwing this power onto one or two monsters in an encounter, or simply using the hazard:

Antimagic Grenades (3/encounter, standard action)                     
Choose a square within 10 squares of this creature. Those squares and each adjacent square become antimagic zones until the end of the encounter.

Antimagic Zone
Creatures within the zone cannot use powers with the Arcane / Divine / Primal / Psionic / Shadow  keywords. *

Continue reading after the break for tips on how to use them effectively.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Making Friends. From Scratch!


First rule of Dungons and Dragons, Fight Club allusions aside, is that at its heart it is a cooperative game.

It seems obvious. You and your party spend every session struggling together against impossible odds after all. But try to remember that through all this you're also cooperating with a DM who's furiously trying to keep up with all the hair brained, half-cocked, deliciously ridiculous, unquestionably brilliant schemes you lot come up with. It's a miracle he lets you out of the Inn.

So I figure, what the hell. I like backstory, you like backstory. I like dice, you like dice. Let's take this relationship to the next level. Let's get the party involved in a bit of pre-game worldbuilding. I know, I know. I'm kinky like that.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Antimagic and 4e: Brigadier Hazen

Dominic Matte

Brigadier Hazen is another ranking officer of King Duncan's military and antimagic specialist. He would prefer to work alone, but as a sniper he's vulnerable and reluctantly keeps a spotting team and guard. Hazen has several large antennae strapped to his back, designed to collect magical energy and funnel it into his rifle (or crossbow if you don't like guns in your D&D).

Read on for stats.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Antimagic and 4e: Brigadier Hawkeye

Dominic Matte

Brigadier Hawkeye is the first major enemy I designed as an antimagic specialist for 4th edition. He's a high-ranking officer in King Duncan's military, in charge of a small black ops unit that assassinates key magical targets. Not only is he an elite soldier with some leadership ability, he's also slightly psionic and trained to counter users of arcane and divine magic.

Let's take a look at his stats.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Antimagic and 4e: Beyond No-Magic Zones

Dominic Matte

Articles in This Series:
1: Antimagic and 4e
2: Beyond No Magic Zones
3: Brigadier Hawkeye
4: Brigadier Hazen
5: Antimagic grenades
6: King Duncan

The response to my first article on antimagic in 4e has been overwhelmingly against the mechanic (although I'm hoping that's because people commented on the idea of antimagic without reading the article) so I'd like to explore some more specific reasons for using it, and how I used it.

First off, I didn't decide to try antimagic in 4e just for fun. A war against magic and magic-users was the major plot arc of the game in which I used antimagic in 4e. If the king makes it his mission to purge all magic from the land, you can bet he's got a few tricks up his sleeve to deal with spellcasters. He's not going to throw wave after wave of soldiers at the archmage in the hope that maybe some of the army will survive the fight; he's going to send in a small assassination squad that's specifically trained to break wards and resist magical assault. 

Second, I never used traditional antimagic fields that block all magic. Not once. Over the entire campaign, only three specific encounters contained an antimagic specialist, and two of those couldn't stop casters from casting if they'd wanted to. I would never ever EVER run a combat entirely within an antimagic field because that's frustrating for everyone.

Starting with Monster Manual 3, Wizards drastically reduced the number of monsters with resistances, because it's no fun for a player built around fire attacks to come up against a monster that's highly resistant (or worse, immune) to fire. Instead, fire monsters have traits or abilities that activate or become more powerful when they're hit with fire. Instead of feeling useless, the player deals full damage and is faced with the tactical decision of when to use fire-based attacks. 

This is the approach I was aiming for when I built my antimagic specialists. In the next few days I'll be posting the three stat blocks to give you a better idea of exactly what I mean.

Antimagic and 4e

Dominic Matte
Articles in This Series:

Remember antimagic back in the older editions? I had a lot of fun with antimagic as a DM, until I realized that not letting the wizard cast spells is less of a suspenseful combat situation and more of a "go away until the encounter is over".

While antimagic could be used to create unexpected tactical situations, it did more harm than good. Plus, the rules didn't always make clear distinctions as to what was magic and what wasn't. It's obvious that you can't cast spells in an antimagic field, but can a dragon disciple use his breath weapon? Are psionics magic, or something else? What happens to magical constructs like familiars?

D&D 4e got rid of antimagic, and that was a good design choice. But when I wanted to adapt an old campaign up to 4e and realized that my story about a king trying to destroy all magic relied heavily on antimagic, I had to make a choice: radically alter the story and game world, or find a way to make antimagic work in 4e. 

I chose the latter.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Creating a character you and your friends will love! Part Four: Becoming your character!

Dallas Kasaboski
The last three blog posts have been working toward this. I wrote those so we would be on equal footing at this point, but the entire purpose was to get you here. In my opinion, this is the most fascinating part of D&D, the development of a character, turning that character sheet into, well, one which you and your friends will love and remember/reference for campaigns to come!

So, let's just quickly review. You've made a character. You've spent so much time, maybe too much, poring over books and things and you've statistically made your character, all the appropriate boxes are filled in. On top of that, you've given some serious thought as to backstory. You've made a way for your character to fit into the DM's world and given your character some general motivation in life. Perhaps, you've thought of personality traits already, perhaps not. Either way, you are ready to play, but you're a little unsure.

What is my character like?

This question, and variations of it, come up so often in D&D. You want to role-play, but unless your character is you, or you're just a really good actor, you have no idea where to go from here. The Player's Handbook is generally good about what makes a character tick, asking questions to determine how you might handle certain situations. But, it's one thing to say, "My character is brave" and quite another to prove it. When it comes to showcasing your character, actions speak louder than words.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Creating a character you and your friends will love! Part Three: Powers, Feats, and Skills

Dallas Kasaboski
So, last time, I gave you more or less the same information as the Player's Handbook when it comes to Class and Race. I tried to make it a little more interesting by providing some examples of my own experience.

Today's topic goes a little more in-depth, transitioning from the character sheet, to the performance at the table. I will start with a quick couple of words concerning choosing powers, feats, and skills.

As should be obvious, your choice of powers, feats, and skills is vitally important. It will affect how you play your character, what you can do, what you're good at, and thus will affect your character's personality. Obviously, you are free to choose whatever you want, but as much as I generally choose the features which will make my character more awesome, effective in and out of combat, I absolutely love the chance to harmonize my choices with my character's backstory and personality.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Character Death

Dominic Matte
Character death can be a contentious topic. Some DMs and players expect characters to die as part of the game. Some players are outraged when all the time and energy they've invested into a character comes apart, while others see an opportunity to try something different and move on. Some DMs want all the characters to make it through the story alive, and others just don't think they're doing their job if everyone's character sheets are still intact.

Personally, my perspective as both DM and player is that the group should talk about how to handle character death before the game begins, or whenever a new player joins the group. Players can get very invested in their characters, and you want to make sure everyone is on the same page so there are no surprises. A DM wouldn't want to plan a party wipe as a plot point only to have half the group quit the game when their characters are brutally murdered by the big bad.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at a few different ways to handle character death in your campaign... at least mechanically.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Creating a character you and your friends will love! Part Two: Class and Race

Dallas Kasaboski

Last time, we discussed some considerations you should have before even narrowing down any choices. Hopefully, after talking with the DM, and maybe the other players, you have interesting and exciting options in mind.

So, now you've got the books in front of you, or maybe the Character Builder program, and you want to create your character. Today, we will discuss Class and Race and I will provide you with some thoughts and tips concerning choosing what might be right for you.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Better Minions Part Two: Tactical Minions

Dominic Matte
A lot of the official D&D 4e published material doesn't make very good use of minions. Much of the time they're just extra bodies to distract and slow down the players, rather than actual tactical elements. Here are a few ideas to make minions more interesting in combat. Use these with either regular minions or two-hit minions.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Creating a character you and your friends will love! Part one: Considerations

Dallas Kasaboski
Whether you're familiar with D&D and character creation or not, this guide will attempt to provide some helpful tips and suggestions for making a character you will enjoy playing, and one which your friends will remember for years to come! Obviously, as the game changes over time, and different editions are added, the way you create your character can drastically change. But, this is 4e, so that's where we'll be putting our focus.

So, where to get started?

Sometimes, there are so many choices and options that it can be overwhelming. Let's look at potential first steps.

Better Minions Part One: The Two-Hit Minion

Dominic Matte
The purpose of minions is to be able to throw a lot of monsters at your players and make them feel powerful, without adding any extra work for the dungeon master. But as they level up, players are less and less threatened by minions, and there isn't a lot of tactical depth to a one-HP monster with a single basic attack.

I've seen the idea of two-hit minions or tougher minions around the internet, but none of the designs quite worked for me. So here's my approach:
  • Two-hit minions have a damage threshold of 10 + 1/2 level.
  •  If a minion takes damage equal to or greater than the threshold, it dies.
  • If a minion takes less damage than the threshold, it is bloodied.
  • If a bloodied minion takes any damage, it dies.
  • If a minion takes a critical hit, it dies.

Friday, 9 March 2012


Dominic Matte
Welcome to D4sign, a Dungeons & Dragons blog.

The mission of this blog is to explore D&D game design, specifically 4th edition. There'll be a wide range of posts and articles -- I personally will write posts ranging from optional rules and tweaks to monster and encounter design to overall game and campaign design as a whole, but the other contributors are free to write on whatever they want. This means that the blog will likely end up mostly dungeon master-oriented in terms of the kinds of resources and discussions that will appear, but there will be player-oriented content as well.

You may have noticed the image in the top right corner of the post -- I'm hoping to recruit some other authors, and the image and caption will let you know who's posting the article.

I'll be experimenting with page design and layout as more posts appear. I want to use labels to full advantage, but I'm not yet totally sure of the optimal way to tag and organize things. At the very least, there will be "DM" and "Player" tags, so that you can filter posts based on what kind of material you're looking for. I'll probably also have tags for categories such as rules, encounters, campaign, etc if you're a DM looking for specific ideas or resources. I'd also like to tag each post with its author, so you can follow posts by each author individually if you so choose.

Of course, comments are enabled, and feedback is always welcome. If feedback results in improvement of an idea, revisions will be posted, because there's no reason not to make things better.

I know I'm going to have fun with this, and hopefully you will too.