Wednesday, May 05, 2010

growing into the awesome

I'm told it's easy to get the impression that all the old school bloggers are grumpy old men who hate anything that Wizards of the Coast does.  This is not entirely true.  We have a few grumpy young women as well.  Also, Wizards has produced so much D&D material over the last decade or so that one is bound to find some good stuff in there if you don't just dismiss it all out of hand.  For example, I still kinda like the Template as a systematic way to give multiple disparate monsters a similar theme.  Many individual templates were pretty sucky though, such as the Fiendish template.  One would be hard-pressed to find a more boring way to mechanically express the idea that this particular monster has the brimstone taint of hell about it.

Another concept where I like the idea but not the execution is the magic swords and junk from Weapons of Legacy.  A chapter with a similar topic also appeared in the 3.5 version of the Unearthed Arcana.  I'm told by my sources that Earthdawn and the French rpg Bloodlust also covered similar ground but I've got to give WotC credit for getting me thinking in this direction.  The basic idea I'm digging on is giving low-level PCs a magic item that starts out weak but grows as the PC levels up.  Rather than constantly feeding PCs a slow diet of more powerful magic swords, you give them a single sword that grows with them.

I like the idea but not Wizards' execution of it.  First of all, both WotC versions require the PC to sacrifice game mojo (by taking levels in a stupid prestige class and/or dumbass feats) to make their trinkets pokevolve.  Nertz to that.  Second, the items grow in a systematic, preplanned way.  That's the exact same thinking that put me off chargen as a source of fun.  It makes every time I level up a PC in 3.x seem as enjoyable as doing my taxes.  Maybe you enjoy tax planning and keeping all those receipts, but I greatly prefer taking the standard deduction and getting on with my life.

Here's how I'd handle a Weapon of Legacy.  First start out by assuming that any magic weapon found in play with just a bonus (i.e. a plain ordinary sword +1, axe+2, etc.) is a dormant weapon.  Enchanted in a bygone age, these weapons sleep between periods of activity just like dragons.  Awakening them requires that they be found by an heroic personage (someone with levels), named and used.  Upon the heroic personage gaining a level, the player gets to roll to see if some of the dormant power within the weapon becomes active.  This would involve a huge-ass random die chart, of course.  If a new power becomes available, the PC is expected to give the sword an epithet.

Example: 

DM:  Inside the treasure chest you find 250 gold pieces stamped with the image of a long-dead king and a silver-hilted sword in an ancient scabbard of cracked leather.
Tom: I start filling my pack with gold.
Bob: I grab the sword and draw it from its sheath with a flourish.
DM: You feel an eerie power course through your sword arm.  It's a sword +1, dude.
Bob: I will name you... Doombringer!
Tom: Way to rip off Moorcock, dude.  Heh.  I said Moorcock.
Bob: Shut up.  Okay, howzabout Kings-Gift, since we're stealing some dead king's treasure here?
DM: I like both.  Kings-Gift sounds vaguely Old English, like I would believe a sword found in Beowulf would be called that.  But I'm always for more doom in the campaign.
Bob:  Doombringer it is, then.
Tom: I saw Beowulf in the theater.  Those wrist crossbows were rad.
DM: Part of me wants to smack you.  The other part likes wrist crossbows.

Later that session:

DM: Okay, that's four dead ogres split five and a half ways, or 291 XP each, 145 for the henchman.
Bob: Ding! Ding! Ding!  I just leveled up.  How's life as an elf, Tom?
Tom: Grumble, mumble.
DM: Bob, roll to see if Doombringer gains additional powers.
Bob: What do I roll?
DM: I don't know.  This is just an example and Jeff's still working out the details.  Let's say you rolled +2 damage versus a recently slain foe of your choice.
Bob: Awesome!  We're still in the Ogre Hills, right?  I'll take it versus ogres.
DM: Excellent choice.  To gain access to this power you have to give it an epithet.
Bob: What's an epithet?
DM: An additional name/title that someone or something goes by.  Like Chicago is the Windy City or Batman is called the Darknight Detective.
Tom: I know!  You can call your sword DJ OGA KILLA.
Bob: Right.  Because I've always thought of my paladin as a thug rapper.  Still Ogre Killer is sort of in the ballpark, isn't it?
DM: Ogres-Bane?
Tom: The Og-sterminator!
Bob:  Ogre Slayer.  My sword is now Doombringer, the Ogre Slayer.  Fear me, vaguely gigantic cave-men of the Ogre Hills!

Later Bob's paladin and Tom's elf fall into a pit and die.