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D&D 3rd Edition

3E Campaign Journal
11/20/2000 | Ken: Pre-launch thoughts on the end of 2nd Edition

11/21/2000 | Lance: A player's pre-launch take on 3E: "Fixed, flexible, and fair."
12/12/2000 | Ken: Where art thou Greyhawk?
1/9/2001 | Ken: Fuming about feats
1/12/2001 | Ken: Challenge Ratings work, arguments about Attacks of Opp.
1/19/2001 | Ken: Beetlemania
2/3/2001 | Ken: Sneak Attacks of Doom!
2/9/2001 | Ken: Learning about Multiple Attacks & Reach Weapons
3/14/2001 | Ken: Kobold Paladins Destroy Greyhawk!
3/29/2001 | Ken: The Leadership Feat
4/08/2001 | Ken: Creating Throwaway NPCs
6/19/2001 | Ken: Remembering the Forgotten Realms
6/21/2001 | Ken: Dealing with high ACs in 3E

Ken's pre-launch thoughts on the end of 2nd Edition
by Ken Newquist (DM)

One month to go. It's a little odd, thinking that little more than a month from now, we'll be playing 3E ... and that we'll probably never go back to 2E. Four more games, and then that's it. At last Friday's game (11/17) we started having one of our old familiar arguments about some rule or spell, and we said "hey, let's not worry about this -- in four weeks, it won't matter any more."

Ok, sure, call me weird -- this is only a game. But I've been playing with the 2nd Edition for about 15 years now, longer than I played 1st Edition. I've got a closet shelf filled with battered and broken 2E books (some of which are battered and broken because of extreme frustration with it's rules), and while I'm not sorry to see the old edition go, it does close a chapter in my geeky life. When I look at those books, I think of all the great games I've played with them, including my most excellent college games, as well as my all-time favorite, our current Blackrazor Guild campaign.

I've spent a lot of time hurriedly paging through the PHB looking for a loophole in a spell description (or trying to close one) or re-reading the wand of fire write-up in the DMG. Of course, I also remember arguing over the half-dozen different rules for parrying, tripping, overbearing, and unarmed combat in 2E, and the never-ending, always heated fights over the wording of the stoneskin spell.

It's going to be odd, retiring this books along side my old First Edition ones. I doubt I'll look back on any of them with the same adoration I feel for the 1E DMG, but they served me well. Of course, some will continue to be used -- the Encyclopedia Magica and the spell compendiums are still goldmines, even if they're out of date -- but the ships of the line are going into drydock. And who knows, maybe I'll even throw out my old PHB with the torn binding...

Lance's pre-launch take on 3E:
"Fixed, flexible, and fair."
by Lance Miller (player)

As everyone in the campaign is painfully aware, I for one am eagerly awaiting our 3rd Edition campaign. My interest in RPGs revolves around the grandeur, magic, and nostalgia of a well-roleplayed epic adventure. A clunky, overcomplicated, dated rules engine only drags the potential of such a campaign down the tubes.

Enter stage left the new Player's Handbook. Fixed, flexible and fair. What else can I say? Someone read our minds and delivered what D&D was intended to be. By some lucky stroke of fate, I came back from my RPG sabbatical just in time to live the most dramatic revolution in the long, colorful history of the granddaddy of all RPGs.

All the adventure, story, role-playing, and of course, sword-playing, spell-tossing mayhem we can handle without the tiresome burden of page-flipping, power-gaming, and lawyering anyone? Bring it on!

Ken: Where art thou Greyhawk?
by Ken Newquist (DM)

I've read through the Player's Handbook once, and I'm still working my way through the DMG, but there are a few things in 3E that really annoy me.

First and foremost is the bastardization of Greyhawk. I don't understand the thinking behind the massive changes to Greyhawk's pantheon, mainly the changing of St. Cuthbert from Lawful Good to Lawful Neutral, and the addition of vengeance to his portfolio. This, combined with the elimination of Trithereon, really bugs me, especially since Trithereon's played such a pivotal role in our primary campaign. The callous throwing away of 30+ years of Greyhawk canon simply to accommodate a new addition is a slap in the face to Greyhawk fans.

What's worse - possibly - is the state of "living death" that the campaign world now resides in. Greyhawk is the "default" game world for all 3E products, which sounds good, but I have my concerns. First, the St. Cuthbert effect will undoubtedly spread, making the "default Greyhawk" more and more different from the real one as writers disregard canon and more or less make up the setting's history as they go along.

Then again, we're used to the abuse and there is one saving grace: Living Greyhawk. LG is a massive campaign being run by the RPGA and involving thousands of players around the country. These players, some of whom are old guard Greyhawk members (including it's leader, Erik Mona aka Iquander), are creating mountains of new content for Greyhawk, some of which has bee published (see the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer).

The Living Greyhawk journal, being published every other month by the RPGA, promises even more content, but it's still not the same as it being a full-supported product line. And that's exactly what it was a few years ago, in 1998 and 1999.

During those heady days we saw the publication of a bunch of great supplements - like the Scarlet Brotherhood book, the Slavers book, and the excellent Star Cairns module -- and the promise of much more. Those promises ultimately evaporated as WotC chose to winnow down its product line to just the basics: the core world (the generic Greyhawk), Dragonlance, and the Forgotten Realms.

Am I annoyed by the changes that 3E has brought - and will continue to bring - to the campaign setting I've been using for the last 15 years? Sure. But as I've said before, and will keep saying, I can't get too worked up about it. Between the Greyhawk books sitting in my gaming closet, and the ideas I have fermenting in my brain, I have enough to run decades worth of campaigns. Ultimately, no matter what WotC does, my Greyhawk will always be exactly that - my Greyhawk.

Fuming about Feats
by Ken Newquist (DM)

Ask someone why they don't like 3E, and chances are they'll point to feats. Feats are abilities that allow characters to extraordinary things. These include using one's "to hit" bonuses as defensive bonuses, bumping up damage bonuses by lowering "to hit" bonuses, creating scrolls, wands and staffs, various styles of unarmed fighting, and more. A lot of anti-3E folks I've talked to think that feats are just fodder for power gamers.

Real gamers, they seem to be saying, aren't interested in messing with their characters' math.

Yeah. Right.

Dungeons and Dragons, no matter what version you are playing, is based on numbers, and regardless of what your character concept is, almost everyone's looking for ways to maximize those numbers. Power gamers, of course, take this to the extreme by min-maxing their characters out and creating PC monstrosities that can slay anything.

Yes, players are going to love feats because it let's them throw another +3 into their favorite column. But feats are good for the rest of us too. Take me for example. I've always wanted to play a light fighter who dabbles in magic. I see him as a swashbuckling sort of fellow who's light on his feet, deadly with a rapier, and capable of surprising his opponents with well timed bursts of magic. Yet under 2E, this kind of character was very hard to create.

In order to be able to hit things under the straight 2E rules, you need a good strength roll. But for my character concept, I want someone with a good dex (which helps him defensively, since as part-mage he won't be wearing armor), high intelligence, and above-average charisma. Under 2E that means I'm probably out of luck unless I roll very well.

Not so in 3E. In 3E I can take that high dex and - using the weapon finesse feat - use my dex bonuses to improve my "to hit" rolls .Better yet, I can also take the expertise feat and fight defensively, improving my AC by sacrificing my attack chances. That's just cool.

Challenge Ratings work, arguing about AoO
by Ken Newquist (DM)

We had our first 3E campaign session on Friday (1/12/2001), and I learned my first lesson about the new edition: Challenge Ratings really work. For those of you who don't know what they are, a Challenge Rating (CR) tells a DM how tough a monster's going to be.

It works like this. Let's say a monster has a CR of 1. That means that four 1st-level characters should be able to take it out with minimum losses on their side -- they may get banged up a bit, but they'll win.

For our first adventure, I wanted to throw some old favorites at them: lost ones, AKA sea zombies. The CR for Zombies in the 3E Monster Manual is 1/2, which means one 1st level character should be just about able to take out zombie.

We had six players. Not quite trusting the CR, and deciding that I decided to throw 8 zombies at them.


The PCs did win, but I dropped three of them in the process. All of them were hovering at death's door, so they weren't totally dead, but they were down. They did manage to kill all the zombies.

Now I did roll very well during this combat -- lots of 17s, 18s, and 19s -- but I think the CR was right on. Based on the 1/2 CR rating for each, the total encounter level was a 4 -- and the party should have been up against a Encounter Level 1 to escape slightly winded but unscathed. And that's what I should have done -- I wanted to challenge the PCs, but I didn't want to drop any of them.

So, the score so far is 3E designers: 1, Ken: 0.

Other issues we ran into were Attacks of Opportunity. Man, there just can't be enough documentation on this aspect of 3E, and I have the feeling we're going to be arguing about it for a damn long time.

Basically, during the first session the question was ... "if you close to attack someone, do they get an attack of opportunity on you?"

In our 3E gladiator matches, we'd said yes, but playing it last Friday, we realized we were probably wrong. Based on the AoO rules in the Player's Handbook, we think that you only provoke an AoO when you run through a threatened square, ignore a possible attacker, or run away without going exactly backwards.

Just moving forward to attack someone doesn't provoke an AoO, which makes sense. I mean really, do you want someone to get a free attack on you every time you close to engage?

One other note on the spell identify. It looks like 3E's toned down the spell quite a bit -- now it just reveals the most basic aspect of a magic item. Very cool (at least for the DM).

by Ken Newquist (DM)

This week's session was a straight-forward bug hunt ... literally. A bunch of bombardier beetles (CR2, from the Monster Manual) were attacking an island -- the PCs had to figure out what was happening, and then drive off/slay the beetles. They succeeded. It was a pretty straightforward night of gaming. I was a little surprised at how quickly the beetles went down -- the party's made up of 1st level characters, and they took out these allegedly CR2 beetles fairly easily. Then again, I rolled very badly, and they rolled very well, so it could have been tougher if a few dice roles had gone my way.

The Sneak Attacks of Doom!
by Ken Newquist (DM)

I learned tonight just how nasty thief sneak attacks can be. The little buggers get sneak attacks whenever a) their opponents are flat-footed or b) they flank their opponents. At first level it's an extra d6 of damage, but I can see how this is going to get nasty fast when we're in the main campaign and some of the high-level thieves get converted over.

Oh yeah, that's right ... the party doesn't have any high-level thieves (Mal got turned into an ice sculpture and melted, Scrappy's in the clutches of the Blood Lord on the Plains of Chaos). Still, when the party's thieves get to a high enough level, sneak attacks are going to be devastating. I mean, done right, I could see a thief having half his attacks in a given night be sneak attacks.

Fortunately there are feats like Uncanny Dodge that negate its effectiveness, and -- just as importantly -- the NPC thieves get the sneak attack ability too. <<evil dm laugh>>

The other thing I learned tonight? Dire weasels are really nasty -- they're CR2 and damn it, they really are CR2.

Learning about Multiple Attacks and Reach Weapons
by Ken Newquist (DM)

Between this week game and last, I was reading the PHB and learned two important things:

  • Multiple attacks: If someone uses multiple attacks in a round, they can only make a 5-foot adjustment move, and not a regular movement.

  • Reach weapons: A PC can attack over an ally's should using a reach weapon (i.e. a long spear) but if they do so, the ally provides their opponent with 1/2 cover, and a +4 AC bonus.

Kobold Paladins Destroy Greyhawk!
by Ken Newquist (DM)

The following essay's taken from one of our listserv debates over whether or not demi-humans should be able to take classes -- like barbarian or paladin -- that were previously restricted to humans. Similarly, it delves into such 3E possibilities as dwarven battle mages.

What we're talking about -- and one of the initial points of this thread was -- is not "what does 3E allow?" but "how do we make 3E fit our vision of Greyhawk?"

In 3E, a kobold paladin is a perfectly acceptable character concept. So are orcish druids, gnoll cavaliers, gnomish necromancers, dwarven mages, and so on and so forth.

However, they aren't all acceptable in Greyhawk. Greyhawk is a realm heavily influenced by real-world concepts, inspired by traditional fantasy, and powered by low-to-mid level magic. So, by the very nature of Greyhawk, certain traditions have arisen. Paladins are lawful good, chivalrous *human* knights. Dwarves are not magic users.

And so on.

As the DM, I don't give a rat's ass what 3E let's you do. I care about what *Greyhawk* let's you do.

The feel behind the campaign is more important to me than the rule set, and I don't want to torpedo the 4+ years we've got into this game because 3E suddenly let's gnollish cavaliers charge down from the hills.

Broadly speaking, we have two approaches to creating characters.

The first is the "archtype-based" approach that has dominated D&D for years. This approach maintains careful distinctions between what each of the races can and can not do, explicitly limiting what classes you are allowed to have, what magic items you can use, etc.

The second approach is "exceptions-based", and it based on the idea that characters are the exceptions to the general rules established by the archtypes. Thus, while *most* dwarves would never think of studying magic, let alone casting spells, there are a few exceptional individuals who do so. And those people are the PCs.

Now the thing I like about the exceptions-based approach is that it plays with people's expectations. As a DM, I can throw stuff at you guys -- like minotar monks and orcish rangers -- that you haven't seen before and aren't expecting. It also makes possible certain non-stereotypical sub-cultures possible -- so you could have a secluded tribe of pacifist orcs who have good-aligned rangers and a druid among their number, but still retain some aspects of their orcish culture (maybe turning all their aggression towards organized blood sports).

Based on my conversations with everyone I think the consensus is that we allow exceptions for PCs, but make sure that they are exactly that: exceptions. So maybe we do have *one* elven barbarian/ranger, but because they are so rare, that maybe the only one we ever allow in the campaign. And, because these characters are so strange, they will most likely encounter hostile reactions from their clans.

So an elven ranger/barbarian would just be too wild, too uncivilized, for most of his elven relatives.

The majority of the really weird exceptions would be NPCs -- like the dwarven mages or gnomish druids. These variants would be providing essential skills to their communities, and wouldn't be off adventuring -- and those that were (the aforementioned PCs) would be actively shunned for turning his back on his clan (even if he was doing it for the right reasons).

Now all this having been said, I still think there are concepts that are just so sacred to Greyhawk that they shouldn't be messed around with. And I'm thinking specifically of the paladin.

The paladin in Greyhawk is a human-centric class based on the classical ideas of knighthood. Other races may have holy warriors dedicated to their gods, but THEY ARE NOT PALADINS! I can see those with human-blood, raised in human lands, being paladins (half-orcs, half-elfs), but these would be exceedingly rare, and again, would probably not get much respect from the population.

But kobold paladins?

I'm sorry, but I just *can not* accept that. I have the same feelings about cavaliers. You should just *not have* demi-human and humanoid cavaliers. Ultimately, when it comes to swaying me -- and I suspect, most of the rest of us -- on an odd character concept, you need to rely on not what 3E allows, but what is appropriate to Greyhawk, and how it fits into where we play AND how we play.

On the Leadership Feat
by Ken Newquist (DM)

Here's another of my posts from the GriffCrier e-mail list. This time I'm talking about the Leadership feat, how we should convert our 2nd edition characters based on it.

I read up on the Leadership feat last night, and man-o-man does it open up a can of worms with the cohorts.

Here's the deal -- once you have the leadership feat, you can attract a certain level of cohort based on certain feat modifiers, such as reputation. You can also attract a certain number of followers.

The cohort can be up to the character's leadership score, but has to be one level less than him. So if you're a 10th level fighter with an +3 Charisma bonus, the Leadership feat and an average reputation, you've got a Leadership score of 13, which means you can attract a 9th level cohort and 10 1st level followers.

But wait, that's not "a 9th level cohort" as in, you can only attract one cohort of that level. No, you can attract numerous cohorts, all of that level -- there are not explicit restrictions placed on it in the feat description in the DMG, or in the "cohorts" section of that same book.

Now, the way it's set up, I can see how it's supposed to be regulated, or at least, I think I do. There are all kinds of modifiers that help or hinder your cause, and the very fact that it's a feat requires that non-fighters give serious thought to whether they want to followers.

But hell, the ability to create a dozen (or two or three or four) characters one level lower than your main one is worth giving up a more combat-oriented feat.

The DMG acknowledges that cohorts can be problematic, and implies that they should be used with caution. As far as converting our existing followers, I'm thinking we convert all existing leveled followers (what will now be called cohorts) just as we would regular PCs, with the same penalties.

3E may allow all everyone's followers to suddenly be one level lower than themselves, but I do not want to see the incredible jump in power levels that would bring about. As for the future, I'm thinking that characters with the leadership feat will attract one loyal cohort, with an additional 1 to 2 cohorts without much fight from me. Any more than that, and you'll have to sell me on it.

After I wrote this, we learned that the upcoming DMG errata will include a mention of the Leadership feat -- specifically it will require that for someone to have multiple cohorts, they'll need to take the feat multiple times. That seems far more reasonable than the way it's set up now. You can read about the errata here.

Creating Throwaway NPCs
by Ken Newquist (DM)

The Throwaway NPC is an important part of any campaign session. These are the redshirts of the D&D world -- the 1st and 2nd level fighters, thieves, thugs and lightweights who's fate can be summed up as "life sucks, then you die." Most of these NPCs are doomed to end their lives on the end of a PC's sword, or under a barrage of magic missiles.

I'm finding however, that creating these NPCs is not something that can be left until the last moment -- they're just too damn complicated under 3E.

Now, under 2nd edition, creating a throwaway fighter was pretty easy. Figure he had average (no bonuses) ability scores, and wasn't specialized in any weapons -- that means his thaco was 20. If he was 2nd level, his thaco would be 19. Oh it could get a bit more complicated than that if you you wanted to, but as a DM you could whip out a bare-bones fighter in a few seconds. The same goes for thieves -- a first level thief had a thaco of 20, and if you needed to know what his thieving ability percentages were, you could just look at the old DMG screen.

Now look at 3rd edition. Your 3rd level fighter is none-too-smart and knows how to swing a blade ... but hey, he gets two feats -- one for being human, one for being a fighter. Of course, I'm still a fledgling DM when it comes to 3E and I haven't memorized all the feats yet ... but it still takes longer to figure out what feats the guys going to use.

The same goes for thieves. In order for a 3rd edition thief to be effective you have to figure out what skills he's going to use. And unfortunately, there's no longer an "average thief skill" matrix on the DMG screen. Oh, and don't forget that thiefo -- if he's human -- gets a feat as well!

Wizards of the Coast tries to help by offering "average" NPCs in the DMG, but they're aren't nearly enough of them. What I need is a good old fashioned "Rogues Gallery" that gives all sorts of permutations of different "average" character classes.

Failing that, I needed a quick-and-easy computerized NPC generator. I found one such generator on Jamie Buck's RPG Generator web page. It's a cool little tool that lets you specify what kind of NPC you want to make and includes options for all the races in WotC's Monster Manual and Sword and Sorcery's Creature Compendium, sex, level, class, and alignment. It has all kinds of customized outputs, so you can see how it figured out all the various bonuses, feats, and skill points.

The only downside to it is that it doesn't generate the equipment as well, so the guy might have a +6 attack bonus and the weapon focus (rapier) feat, but the DM needs to add in the actual weapon and damage stats. That's not a big deal -- hell, the generator does most of the heavy work -- but it does mean that you can do what I did on Friday night, which is try and create four higher-level NPCs a half-hour before game time.

I'm hoping that Wizards of the Coast's forthcoming Master Tools will address this. It's supposed to have random encounter generators, and with any luck, it'll let you generate a band of human thugs as easily as a kobold war tribe.

Ultimately though, I think I'm going to deal with this by creating my own Rogue's Gallery. Creating a few pages of generic NPCs -- with a little help from Buck's generator and the DMG -- should make my life a lot easier.

Remembering the Forgotten Realms
by Ken Newquist (DM)

The hardcover 3rd Edition sourcebook for the Forgotten Realms arrived last month, and I picked it up as soon as I saw it. It's 320 pages all of which are filled with tiny type and tremendous amounts of information. It's hard -- almost impossible -- for someone to condense the Forgotten Realms into such a small book, and even harder to do so while introducing rules for a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

But somehow the folks at WotC did it, and did it well. The book has a lighter look and feel than the original 3E hardcovers -- the edgy, darker illustrations and "underlined" text from those editions is all but gone here. The book introduces dozens of new clerical domains and feats, as well as new clerical and mage spells and a nice number of prestige classes.

All of this may sound like high heresy for an avowed Greyhawk fan, but I've always found that there were nuggests of good material to be mind from the Forgotten Realms. In 2nd Edition I used its drow and giants source books, as well as Undermountain, and I've gotten a lot of use out of the Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas. I suspect the setting will be even more useful to me in 3E.

Why? Well, for one thing the Forgotten Realms is considered the "advanced" campaign setting for D&D now -- it's the one that's going to get all of the hard-core, really detailed write-ups. Greyhawk, on the other hand, gets the water down stuff -- namely various class guidebooks and default adventures What this means is that if you're looking for something good -- say something on the same level as the Necromancers or Thieves Handbooks in 2nd Edition, you're going to have to look to the Forgotten Realms.

As for the Forgotten Realms hardcover ... there's a lot in here I'm planning to use in Greyhawk. I'm augmenting the Greyhawk pantheon's powers by importing some of the Realms domains (particularly "Retribution" for Trithereon, and "undead" for Nerull and "tyrany" for Hextor).

The Realms makes use of something called "regional feats" -- additional feats that players can choose to take based on the region that came from. I don't know if I want to go and do the same with Greyhawk, but there are feats in there (as in Star Wars d20) that could be imported into Greyhawk. Don't ask me what -- I don't know yet.

I'm definitely planning on using the rune magic system, as well as the runecaster prestige class in our Blackrazor campaign -- I was already using rune magic for the "Against the Giants" part of the campaign, and intend to keep on using it.

As for the rest, well, I don't know what I'm going to use. I might allow some of the prestige classes, like archmage, but I need to give it some serious thought. But that's what I like about the Forgotten Realms book -- it gives you a lot to think about.

Dealing with high ACs in 3E
by Ken Newquist (DM)

A recent series of posts -- brought about by one of my 3E journal entries posted to Greytalk -- discussed ultrahigh armor classes in 3E. Apparently a few folks were encountering PCs with armor classes into the high 20s-low 30s, and were having trouble hurting them.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to deal with high AC characters:

  • Use more rogues. Two rogues can flank an opponent (+2 attack bonus) and get to use their sneak attacks.

  • Make sure you enforce the chance of spell failure while wearing armor. (30% for chain mail). Shield only lasts for one minute per level, so I'm guessing he can't say he casts the spell and then put on his armor (at least, I wouldn't let him). As for cat's grace, attack when the spell's down -- it lasts 1 hour per level of the cast, and it has to be down sometime.

  • Use bluff. With bluff, you can feint against an opponent, and your next attack against them (well, the next round -- this is a full-round action) catches them flat-footed (if they'll fail Sense Motive roll). This will negate the individual's dex bonus (including the magically granted dex bonus) and dodge.

  • Use the "Improved Initiative" feat to help insure your guys win initiative. If the PCs haven't attacked yet, they are flat-footed, losing dex and doge.

  • Use their own tactics against them. Throw some NPCs at them that are also spelled up using cat's grace, shield, etc.

  • Monsters are people too -- many monsters can pick up class levels -- and even a level or two can help (with skill points, abilities, etc.).

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