Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ultimate Magic, Dungeon Crawl Classics and other tidbits

First of all, as most of you already know by now, the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG open playtest has started. The Beta Rules are available here to you perusal and entertainment… and I must say: they’re totally awesome! Before HackMaster Basic, I never saw a RPG pushing the Old School vibe to such eldritch heights as DCCRPG. To think that I have to wait until November to get the full pack is already driving me mad! A perfect (and humorous) Sword & Sorcery ethos, beautiful (old style) B&W art and lots of juicy subsystems like Mighty Deed of Arms and Spell Duels… I can’t recommend it enough for fans of the OSR.

Still on the town-crier part of this post, I must point out that Sigfried Trent is releasing, through Open Design, the Complete Advanced Feats, collecting all the series, of which I’m a great fan, as some you might know.

Well, that’s enough news for today, time to rant (again).

Reviewing Ultimate Magic reminded me of an old design issue that I had with D&D since the releasing of the 3rd Edition. It deals indirectly with the concept of a viable fighter/mage character class – a difficult perspective for a game that prides itself for niche protection and a “balanced” class system. Actually, I don’t have any problem with classes like the duskblade (from the Player’s Handbook II) or the thanemage (from Green Ronin’s Advanced Player’s Manual). They’re great examples of game design applied to the fighter/mage concept. The same is valid about the magus – I have already a player preparing an elf magus to use it in my home campaign.

My personal beef about the whole fighter/mage thing is the cleric (always the poor cleric, probably the greatest villain after the OD&D thief). Let me try to explain…

Before D&D 3rd edition came out, the cleric spells were mainly about protection, cure, curses and indirect attacks. You could argue the same thing about the druid and other subclasses. Rarely could their powers be used to inflict direct damage at multiple targets or over a large area (at least in the core books of AD&D 2nd). With the transition to the d20 system, the cleric damage-output through spells skyrocketed, leaving the class almost at the same level of the arcane casters. If you take into account the cleric’s armor casting, weapon proficiency, HD, BAB and combat-buffing spells, they’re clearly superior to the arcane casters. A high-level cleric can easily crush an equal level wizard or sorcerer.

So here’s the question: why can’t a fighter/mage also have access to high-level spells?

The duskblade has its own limited spell list, spells known and stops at 5th level (but has full BAB), the magus has medium BAB, a limited spell list (but no limit to known spells per level) and stops at 6th, while the thanemage follows a similar model but stops at 4th level . Why can’t we have a fighter/mage with full spell progression and medium BAB, like the cleric? Is that so unbalancing? Are arcane spells so more powerful than divine ones to justify such differences in Pathfinder (or even D&D 3.5)? I have my doubts.

In fact, my initial reaction was simply to give the full wizard/sorcerer spell list to the magus and then to adjust his spell progression to the full 9 levels (at first I thought about using the sorcerer’s spells known list, minus 1 spell at each level, as a basis to extrapolate a 1st-9th spell per day progression).

Then it hit me: why don’t do the contrary?

The cleric, druid and oracle are clearly stronger. Why not remove their top spell levels (I mean 7th-9th levels) and give them a spell progression closer to the magus? This way they’d conform to the format used by arcane casters. Also – what really motivated me in such approach – this culling would give me a wonderful excuse to make a cloistered cleric character that appealed to my players. It would be the only divine class with access to high divine magic. A second plus is that this cloistered cleric would help fill the fantasy niche of a more esoteric divine caster.

So, here’s a quick version of these changes. Please, note that (as usual) I didn’t playtest anything.

The Cleric and Druid Spell Progression: use the Magus’ spells per day.

The Oracle Spell Progression: use the Bard’s spells per day.

The Priest (full divine caster): use the cloistered cleric archetype from Ultimate Magic, but remove diminished spellcasting and change his HD to d6 (changing also his BAB). And don’t forget to use the normal cleric spell progression (1st-9th level). If you fill that the class is weak, add a third domain at 10th level. Another good extra class feature is to allow the priests to choose one variant channeling (from Ultimate Magic) for free, without diminishing the amount of healing or damage.

The Prophet (full divine spontaneous caster): use the oracle from the Advanced Player’s Guide, but change his HD to d6 (changing also his BAB) and give him the ability to spontaneously convert any spell to an equivalent summon monster. Don’t forget to use the normal oracle spell progression (1st-9th level).
If you fill that the class is weak, you could give him a weaker form of channel energy (1d6 at 1st level, +1d6 at every two levels thereafter), or – my favorite option – the ability to “turn people”. This is an old idea I took from a character of Monte Cook’s second Ptolus campaign named Archinemus.
Let’s call it “Divine Invocation” and ascertain that it manifests as a shinning aura around the divine caster. It has the same area of effect of channel energy and it affects all intelligent targets (except undeads, fey and outsiders).
A prophet can use Divine Invocation a number of times per day equal to his level. Prophets can use it either to manifest awe or dread.
Used to manifest awe, Divine Invocation allows a prophet to roll 1d20 + his Charisma modifier + his caster level to change a target’s attitude, even after failing a Diplomacy check or during combat. Against any target whose attitude is changed to unfriendly or better, the prophet gains a bonus to Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate equal to half his class level.
Used to manifest dread, Divine Invocation forces all targets in the area to succeed at a Will saving throw or become shaken for a number of rounds equal to half the prophet’s level (minimum 1). Targets with less HD than the prophet’s class level are frightened. Targets with 5 or more HD below the prophet’s class level panicked. Targets with 10 or more HD below the prophet’s class level are helpless.

(Theoretically, you should also remove certain domains and mysteries – like War and Battle – and similar spells from the Priest and the Prophet’s spell lists; but I don’t have the time to do that now.)