Sunday, April 9, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: "Defense" part 3

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have not had access to any other players and so I have just been kicking around ideas that normally would be in a game and instead I am just going to post them on my blog.  This is going to be a reoccurring thing as I just keep hammering out things and not all of them can be turned into elements in my “random fantasy novel ideas” folder.

Last Time and This Week
            Last time I talked about ways you can manipulate the 8 layers of defense that exist in 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  Be they a Shield, being tough enough to take a hit, or using the power of gods to mend your injuries.  There are a host of nooks and crannies that can be fingered open and explored with different modifications.  To remind everyone, here are those 8 things again.
1)     Defensive Spells
2)     Miss Chance
3)     Armor and Shields
4)     Damage Reduction
5)     Regeneration
6)     Hit Points
7)     Fast Healing
8)     All other forms of Healing

Layers of Defense.  Like walls within walls.
            This week I am going to propose two other alternatives to the basic system one of which is a big change that exists only in theory (I have already written 9,000+ words on this topic and Alternative 3 would require 10,000 by itself to be completely workable to say nothing of heavy beta testing, I can’t do it alone).
            Alternative 4 is a modification of existing rules to make defense oriented players just a bit more viable in the game without needing anymore rules.  These are Feats that slip right into regular play touched up or invented whole cloth to make the players’ nuts harder to crack.

Alternative 3: Points and Active Defense
            This is where all my talk of Defense “being a thing you have, not something you do” comes to a head.  I would like to suggest that Defense in the context of a roleplaying game can be more active.  I will point to two examples.
            In the “Mario & Luigi” series of roleplaying games combat allows a player to jump to avoid attacks of oncoming enemies.  This has the unfortunate side effect of allowing a skilled player (or someone who is not the target demographic of little children) to no sell even the more difficult opponents, but it is still an interactive feature that keeps people engaged even when they are not attacking.
            In “Tales of Symphonia” combat is in real time and allows for characters to block attacks when they lack the energy to continue attacking or are simply biding time.  I reviewed “Symphonia” last year as one of my personal favorite games and I would suggest picking it up to see how magi-tech can be used in a classic fantasy setting.  As “Symphonia” is a real-time combat game (though in the context of instances) it has the luxury of continuous input it doesn’t really reflect on the rules of a purely turn based tactical system like Dungeons and Dragons.
            OR DOES IT!?
The color theory that went into these character's designs is nearly flawless.
            Here is my suggestion: give players the ability to make decisions about their defense and to take “actions” to alter their strategies while they are being attacked.  Forcing a player to hold their action to wait for something that might not come or having them limit their own attacks and active play in favor of bracing themselves for something that might not happen is weak sauce.
            Playing defensively makes little sense in a game that has few if any ways to force an opponent to attack the person with the best Defensive statistics.  If an opponent sees that the fighter has just used his Combat Expertise (+5), Dodge (+1), is holding a tower shield (+4), and is shuffling around in Heavy armor (+8) … The foe will just jump the guy in robes who is waving his arms around and speaking in mystical base code.  The wizard is gonna get it.

            Here is a place I give 4th edition credit, you can allow the Fighter to pin someone to an area, pull attacks, and have them be proactively holding someone in place for hits.  It has a lot in common with the Warriors of “World of Warcraft” (both good and bad).  4th relied on abilities that could only be used a limited number of times each encounter or each day (an imperfect solution) but there might be a way to do something similar in the context of 3rd Edition and other roleplaying games.
            Give players Defensive credits/chips/gems/tokens, this resource can be used to gain temporary bonuses of the players’ choice in response to attacks.  In exchange for this obvious buff to player’s flexibility you limit them slightly, Armor Class is no longer a base 10 + (other factors) it is now 8 + (other factors).  You might even make Armor less effective overall dropping the protection it provides or giving fewer classes access to heavy and medium armor types.

"Do you think this is enough?  I don't want to be under dressed for the movies."
"Just remember not to sit in front of anyone."
            How would this work?  The players have Defense Credits, a form of spendable action points that replenish either at the end of an encounter or following a short rest (again, needs beta testing).  A player can spend one of these credits for some temporary boost to their stats and defensive capabilities allowing them to choose when to use their defenses and in what ways.
            “What stats/abilities?” you are asking.  Pick from the 8 that I talked about in the last blog, “I spend a Defensive point to create shadow clones of myself” or “I spend a defensive point to grant myself a miss chance of 15%” or “I use a defensive point to grant myself Damage Reduction of 4/-”.  Each of these alterations could last for 1d4 rounds, maybe more with certain feats, and less if the player wanted them to have a stronger impact, “I want to increase the miss chance to 50% even if it means for only 1 round, because 1 round is all I need to finish this!” (again, beta testing needed).
1)     Defensive Spells
2)     Miss Chance
3)     Armor and Shields
4)     Damage Reduction
5)     Regeneration
6)     Hit Points
7)     Fast Healing
8)     All other forms of Healing
Layers of Defense can also come in the form of overlapping areas of covering fire.
            Have it that the players chose to use these as an attack against them is declared, “Do you want to take any sort of evasive action?” and they get to decide whether to use any of the effects.  The effects (as I mentioned last week) can be fitted to different classes based on the feel of the mechanic, Paladins gaining fast healing makes plenty of sense, just as gaining Damage Reduction boosts make sense to the Barbarian, and Shadow Clones (Mirror Image) make sense for the Rouge (Ninja).
            It could also be used for pressing an attack, rather than use it to make yourself harder to hit.  Fighters could spend them to more easily hit back, spending a point to immediately gain an attack of opportunity.
            This also opens the box on dozens of potential feats for giving more defensive credits each encounter, dipping toes into other classes’ defensive abilities, tying those bonuses to the level of the class you have, and magic items that further augment these factors for the players and the monsters they fight.  For instance, Blink Dogs currently Blink, what if they had defensive powers that allowed for better uses of that power when it came to avoiding certain types of harm and allowed for counter attacks?  This would allow for more flexible monster encounters, which if you haven’t noticed can make up a big part of Dungeons and Dragons.
"It can be so hard to make friends around here."
            This sort of mechanic change could fill an entire chapter of a “Complete (Thing)” book because it offers so many different ways to play what is already there.  To say nothing of how these things could be applied to resisting magic, or the incredibly nebulous mechanic of counter spelling.

Alternative 4: The Easiest Method Which is Not at all Game Changing
            You might be wondering why I did not just talk about this rather than banging on about those others which I called weaker, it is called context, I give it.  Also, I just created an entirely new way to look at Defense in Roleplaying games and how it might be utilized, for fucks sake give me some credit that all that was maybe interesting.
            Anyway, on with this.

            The easiest way to address defense as a concept in 3rd edition is to beef up the few feats that give bonuses that (while useful) are too complicated to justify bothering with under normal circumstances.  Emphasize movement, cover, flanking, and the removal of your opponents’ options when attacking you.  Make things more interesting, but keep them easy to understand, people play Fighters because they do not want all the spell book keeping so don’t go crazy.  The complexity of previously simple classes like Fighters and Rogues is almost certainly a detriment to 4th Edition.
            Here are 6 feats from the player’s handbook that I have slightly modified, and 4 new feats.  If you think these are good/bad, please say so in the comments.  If you have your own suggestions, please say so in the comments.

            Dodge is currently a boring feat that pretty much everyone eventually takes if they are a Fighter or they are a Rogue who doesn’t care about skill bonuses.  It grants +1 to defense against 1 opponent.  That is all.  I want to change this and was inspired a bit by “Dark Souls”.  Mobility is a Feat that follows in the same tree of character development and is even more boring and situational so I changed it significantly to compel action from its user.

Prerequisite: Dexterity 13
Benefit: You gain +1 to Reflex saves.  In combat select an opponent, whenever that opponent attacks you, you may choose to take a 5ft step.
Special: If you have the Mobility feat you receive +4 to your Armor class to avoid the attack your selected opponent made against you.

Prerequisite: Dexterity 13, Dodge
Benefit: Your speed is increased by +5ft.  You receive +2 to your Armor Class whenever you move more than 10ft during the round.  You do not receive the -2 to your Armor Class whenever you make a charge against an opponent.

            Combat Expertise is one of those feats that is for a very specific type of Fighter build as it has very little benefit except as a stepping stone to Whirlwind Attack.  The ability to lower your ability to hit the opponent in 3rd edition (which I previously pointed out is a very attack oriented game system) to gain a slight bonus to not being hit is not fun.  Giving people attack bonuses that make the use of this safer fighting style worthwhile makes this a more desirable chain of feats to people who don’t own spiked chains.

Combat Expertise
Prerequisite: Intelligence 13
Benefit: You may subtract a number (1 to 5) from your attack rolls and add that number to your Armor Class.  If an opponent misses an attack against you while you are using this feat, they become flat footed against your next attack.

            Continuing the chain of Feats that build off of Expertise I wanted to make some slight alterations to Feats that provide interesting defensive maneuvers.  Especially Improved Feint, which I think is (at minimum) how feinting in combat should work now, it needs a little more juice because, obviously, the damn thing depends upon the Bluff skill, something Fighters do not have, and thus would be shit at.
            Improved Disarm and Improved Trip needed to be given just a little more juice.  Their mechanics are difficult to use without a flow chart to follow and so making them more powerful might overcome the complexity that makes people shy away from them (yes, veteran players, I know you have all of this memorized, this is not all about your ability to play what you know, but also seeing how things might be a barrier to a new player using a strange mechanic).

Improved Disarm
Prerequisite: Combat Expertise
Benefit: You do not provoke attacks of opportunity for disarm attempts, you receive a +4 to disarm attempts, and your opponent cannot attempt to disarm you during such an action.
            If you confirm a critical hit, rather than having your damage multiplied you may instead deal damage normally and automatically disarm the opponent choosing a square within 10ft of their current position for the object to land in.
"Are you making fun of my tiny hands?"
Improved Feint
Prerequisite: Combat Expertise
Benefit: Bluff is now considered a class skill for you if it wasn’t before.
            You may make a Bluff check to Feint in combat as a move action.  You cannot be deceived by Feints unless your opponent has this Feat.

Improved Trip
Prerequisite: Combat Expertise
Benefit: Balance is now considered a class skill for you if it wasn’t before.
            You do not provoke attacks of opportunity for trip attempts, you receive a +4 to trip attempts, if you succeed on a trip attempt against a melee opponent you may make an immediate attack against the downed opponent.
            If you confirm a critical hit, rather than having your damage multiplied you may instead deal damage normally and automatically trip the opponent choosing a square adjacent to their current position for them to land in.

            There is also the issue that the “tanks” of Dungeons and Dragons can’t do something that is the staple of tanks in other games (say for instance: WoW) in that they can’t pull attacks to them.  The best they can do is stand in the way and hope they get fixated on.  The issue being that any intelligent opponent would ignore the guy in full plate, do their best to take out the enemy spellcaster, and hope that they can do that before getting snuck attack in the back (rhyming, that was an accident).
            To help with the creation of a tank that can actually contribute to the survival of his party instead of being a momentary distraction (or more often the guy who gets mind controlled and sent to murder the rest of them) I present two feats that make them… actually able to do something.

Hey! You! With the Ugly Face! (New; Name needs work)
Prerequisite: Charisma 13
Benefit: You are able to issue a challenge or insult that leaves an opponent so incensed they attack you even if it means jeopardizing their safety by ignoring the surroundings and your allies.
            You issue your challenge as a move action, you opponent must make a Will save (DC 10 + ½ your level + your charisma modifier) if they fail they immediately and single mindedly attack you.  If they have no ranged attacks they will charge to close ground, if they have the Power Attack feat they will always use it to the maximum amount, if they are a Barbarian they will enter a Rage, and they will use all other methods to increase their attempts to kill you.
            They are considered to be flat footed to everyone but you, they will not seek healing, and they will not collapse until reaching negative 10 hit points, their anger keeping them up and fighting as if they had the Die Hard Feat.
Special: If you have the Deceitful, Negotiator, or Deceitful Feats each increases the DC of this ability by 2.
"I said some things I now regret..."
I Have Your Back (New; This name also needs work, less work, but still)
Prerequisite: Endurance, Diehard, Proficiency with Shield being used
Benefit: Anyone you wish to protect within 5ft of you receives a bonus to their armor class equal to the shield you are using and they cannot be flanked unless both of you are.  You can only protect one other person this way.
Special: If you have the Shield Parry Feat (discussed below) it works when protecting your ally as well as yourself.

            Inspired by “Dark Souls” (again) I have decided to include something that gives shield users a bonus in a small situation, but a situation that happens often enough for this to be useful.

Shield Parry (New)
Prerequisite: Dexterity 13, Strength 13, Endurance, Proficiency with Shield being used
Benefit: When an attacker misses an attack against you and you have a shield there is a chance you may counter attack against them.
            If the attacker rolls a 1 (if you have a small shield or buckler) or 2 or lower (for a large shield) then their attack automatically misses and you are allowed a free attack of opportunity against them.  (The number is equal to the bonus the shield provides, if you have a magic shield that provides a +7 bonus, 2 from being a shield and 5 from magic then an attacker can be parried if they roll a 7 or below).
Special: You cannot parry with a tower shield unless you have the Feat, Tower Shield Mastery (discussed below).
            If you were using the Expertise Feat then they are considered flat footed for purposes of the attack of opportunity, if you have the Dodge Feat then you may move 5ft before or after attacking (so as to take advantage of favorable positioning).  If you have either the Improved Trip or Improved Disarm Feats, you may attempt to use them in place of taking an attack of opportunity.

"I don't know about all this.  Actually fighting might result in my stuff getting dirty.
"I don't want to put up with all that."
            Lastly I just wanted to give some love to the often ignored most defense oriented bit of non-magical equipment out there, the Tower Shield.  Which is basically a chunk of wall that gets carried around.  Keep in mind this thing might be barely used in DnD but it was an indispensable staple of Rome’s army for centuries and remained a valid tactical decision for any military that could afford enough of them to equip their army.

Tower Shield Mastery (New)
Prerequisite: Strength 15, Intelligence 13, Proficiency with Tower Shields
Benefit: You do not suffer from a penalty to attacks with a tower shield if attacking with a light weapon.  You may bash with a tower shield.  Your tower shield now provides a +5 AC bonus rather than a +4.
            You may utilize your tower shield as total cover from spells targeted on you but doing so causes you to drop the shield and you must retrieve it after the spell has struck it.  This causes the Shield to be the target of the spell and it make take damage or be destroyed by the effect.
Special: If you have the Shield Parry feat you may now parry blows with a Tower Shield.

Next Time and the Beg for Attention
            I know that this is just a small section of what could have been written on this topic.  The whole point of this small series of blogs was to illustrate how underutilized defensive mechanics are in the game.  But, I am just one guy and as I continue to write these blogs they are going to gradually turn into something I wasn’t sure they would be when I started them: a eulogy for 3rd Edition.
            I have a vast library of 3rd Edition material and have hung with it not because I get lots of opportunities to play, but because I first learned to play DnD on that system and my brain has very wide paths carved in it by the D20 system.  I keep these books for the same reason I have Traveler, Star Wars, and Call of C’Thulhu, not because I get to play them all the time, but because I like to learn about the thought that went into them in hopes of cracking the eternal riddle of, “What makes a game fun?”
            You know what does?  “Easy to Learn and Hard to Master” might be the best answer but really the most fun of games like Dungeons and Dragons and other cooperative table top stuff is the fun you have playing with other people.  While I could side step to Pathfinder they have a lot of the same issues that I have with 3rd.  And while I did give 4th Edition a fair shake (I played and DM’d complete multi-month campaigns) that Edition is even deader.  No, I think in the coming weeks I am going to be looking for a group to play 5th edition because I have seen some aspects of it I like and want to dive in again.  I have that creative itch that needs to be scratched, I think all players get such things from time to time.

It's a little sad.
           I am going to keep writing these blogs, I still have thoughts about this game I have been playing and would still like to point to instances in which I think it has been done better, but if you suddenly see a lot more “in 5th Edition” you will know why.  I hope this discussion of Defensive mechanics was informative or even entertaining.
            Just remember to have fun.

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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