Thursday, May 10, 2012

The campaign trail

My current DnD campaign is winding up and it looks like I will end up being the GM for the next one.  I haven't actually run a game in years but I really look forward to it; in particular I enjoy coming up with crazy fights for my players to tackle.  It bothers me that in Pathfinder the monsters are so badly designed and I hope that I can provide a lot of entertainment and improve the general feel of combats a lot over the baseline creatures that are available in the monster manual.  There are some real issues with Pathfinder monsters that I intend to fix:

1.  High level monsters have damage reduction, spell resistance and crit/sneak attack immunity.  These issues cause all kinds of balance problems between the various classes.  In our current campaign we fought a water elemental at one point and discovered that the rogue not only couldn't sneak attack it but failed to have sufficiently magical weapons to the point that she simply couldn't affect it due to it having flat damage redution and her using one handed weapons.  This seems like really poor design - it might make some kind of 'sense' that water elementals aren't affected by normal weapons or precision strikes (I debate even that) but when it renders some classes utterly ineffectual it isn't *fun*.  Spell resistance is another strange ability that pretty much means that against any hard single monster the caster can pretty much be relegated to sandwich duty which again isn't any fun.  It is certainly possible to spec out a caster to just buff the fighters for boss fights but I don't like the necessity to be a buffbot nor the endless +1s that everyone has to keep track of when multiple buffs come into play.

2.  Healing is stupid.  My current character is a healer and my healing options are as follows:  Heal one adjacent person for 14 HP or heal the entire party for 14 HP.  I have absolutely nothing effectual I can do against high single target damage.  Both take my entire standard action so if people are getting beat up I pretty much stand there spamming my group heal the whole fight until I run out of points.  This means that any monster that does AOE damage is a complete joke (or utterly lethal if it is hitting for 30 damage a cast, and the fight ends in 2 rounds) and any monster that does high single target damage simply blows people up.  The problem with a monster that just blows people up sequentially is that players are going to die constantly when the monster rolls high or they get unlucky.  This means that monsters are hugely constrained in how they can attack if the fight is supposed to be both challenging and not lethal and I want nearly all the fights to be like that!  I also don't like that in any hard fight the healer will simply stand there and take the same action over and over until they run out of points.  It sucks and is boring as hell to play.

My plan to deal with these issues is pretty easy in the monster case and more complicated in the healing case.  I am simply going to remove crit/sneak attack immunity, damage reduction and spell resistance from all monsters.  Making the rogue useless is already easy - just add highly mobile enemies that prevent flanking and the rogue is junk; no need to leave whole classes of enemies that reduce the rogue to joke status.  (Oh, it is an undead... sorry rogue.  Oh, it is an elemental... sorry rogue. :P) Spell resistance is likely there either as a holdover from previous editions or perhaps as a way to prevent low level spellcasters from killing dragons with save or die spells too easily; this is a bad system because if a great wyrm is immune to a level five wizard (the wizard needs a 21 on a d20) the level twelve wizard is still horribly ineffectual (the wizard needs a 14 on a d20).  Obviously I will have to be concerned about players casting Polymorph and killing the final bad guy of the campaign with a single favourable roll; I figure bosses are going to need to have high saving throws!

Healing is another beast entirely.  There are two problems:  One, that the healer never gets to do anything else and two that AOE healing is too powerful.  My plan is to make all healing powers move actions instead of standard actions and halve the effect of AOE heals but allow healers to heal one person at full strength.  This will mean that healers will really have to think about whether to heal the entire group or a single person and also will be doing lots of other things.  Casting a heal will have a distinct mobility cost but a healer will be able to make some attacks, cast some spells or do other fun things in combat.  I also figure that druids really need to have healing like a cleric as an option - right now druids are 'healers' but they are so wretched at it that their contribution is nigh irrelevant.  I think I will let druids select healing as an option instead of their animal companion or bonus domains - opening up more options for filling the necessary healer role seems good.  These changes do substantially reduce the total amount of healing a healer can output in a day so I might let all classes heal to full after a full night's rest to reduce the downtime required after a really hard fight.

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