Unlock Keywords

When Dungeons & Dragons 4e first arrived I was very interested in keywords. Specifically how would they play out and interact with not only the flavor of the new D&D world but also the design. I could imagine that specifically schools of magic would become much easier to define as all you would need to do is attach the associated keyword to all arcane and divine powers. Design mechanics could function around keywords with bonuses to save or resistances or defenses. On a much grander scale classes could melt away and you could take whatever power you wanted as long as it met the power source keyword requirement.

Suffice to say much of this has not happened. One of the biggest let downs has been the near complete absence of keywords for monster powers. You can tell that some of the designers saw opportunities what with there being all these floating bonus to saves versus fear effects. Can anyone tell me how many monsters actually have fear keyword associated with their powers?

To a lesser extent the designers have started implementing school of magic keywords back into wizard powers. I have missed the schools of magic quite a lot. It is pretty sad that the schools are only tied to wizard powers. You could really open some interesting and synergistic doors if all the appropriate powers had a school of magic keyword included (um bards?).

There has been a slight, albeit feeble, trend to include multiple power source keywords into the builds of different classes. Examples include the bard with martial and arcane powers as well as the more prominent and failure ridden seeker with primal and martial abilities. I could easily imagine a system of class building that revolved around defining your character’s power structure specifically through power source key words. Most likely each character would not start with a class, but instead would choose a power source to define their character going forward. You could then take a feat, similar to a multiclass feat, that would unlock other power sources for you, resulting in you being able to start making power selections from different power sources. Imagine something like this:

This way a character could end her career possibly pulling from as many power sources as she wanted. And you notice that I put in a feat bonus to hit. That is because even in my own fantasy world I am still a slave to expertise. What a travesty.

However in the current incarnation of D&D, I could see power source keywords being a nice tool for the wretched expertise feats. Sure we could just house rule a +1 to hit for everyone, but I would rather take a look at the expertise feats that exist now and consider just how absolutely horrible they are. Recently there was a release of “dual” expertise feats. These were supposed to help your bards and clerics and all other forms of dual item wielding characters that are stuck having to either take multiple feats and/or upkeep multiple items in order for all their powers to have the same to hit.

Does anyone see why I think to-hit should just be inherent? In a cooperative game why would you want any of your characters to be on unequal footing? But I digress. Here would be a sample expertise feat that uses the power source keyword:

Pretty simple and straight forward. This would facilitate all of your powers, no matter what you used as your weapon or implement. I think the expertise feats are so remedial and torturous that they need something else besides a plus to hit. I would go so far as to say that every last one of them needs to give you a bonus to hit and a skill and one other thing. Basically the +1 to hit is something that should already exist. So fundamentally you are taking an empty feat slot. Here are some jazzed up power source expertise feats:

Character Creations: You Must Be My Lucky Star

There is a stargazing bard in my weekly group. The player originally conceived this character as a bard that had been thrust into a dire situation by powers beyond his control. However, he was able to survive the calamity by reaching out blindly to anyone or anything that might help him live to see another day. Unfortunately and perhaps even unbeknown to him, he made a desperate deal with a cosmic power from the Far Realm. The bard now has an ongoing pact with the Guide Star, Caiphon.

It is a great story in my opinion. I think lush back stories really help a build come to life. Most especially when you can find a synergy between the fluff and the mechanics. It is easy to get caught up in the mechanics of a build and lose sight of what inspired the character concept in the first place. On the other hand, it is also easy for a well crafted background to be stifled by a lack of support in terms of mechanics. Fortunately for this “bardlock” the world of hybrid exists.

This character creation is actually my first encounter with someone running a hybrid at my table. I have never been a fan of the multiclass system in 4e, so I was very hopeful for hybrid when I first heard about it. And while I find hybrid to be much more like what I wanted from multiclassing, hybrid classes still suffer from some serious hurdles when it comes to class abilities and feat selection. Certainly there are potent combinations that already exist, but I wonder why WotC did not expand upon unique options based on different class pairings.

Managing Roles

I think one of the greatest issues with hybrid is that it flies in the face of the role system that was incorporated in 4e. Since each class has a relatively well defined role, when you hybrid that class with another class that does not share the same role, then the results can be less than stellar (star pact pun intended). There is a huge untapped amount of content for hybrid specific feats. I believe they could get really creative with all sorts of iconic characters in mythology and modern fiction.

Look at a character like Itachi (yes I know I mentioned him before, I want to be Itachi, ok?) from Naruto, I see a wizard hybrid with a dark pact warlock (or perhaps hybrid goth with emo?). When Data from Goonies is discussing “boobie-traps,” I see rogue hybrid with artificer. And lets get real, Edward from Twilight is a total bard hybrid vampire… what a dark sad path we have just traveled down.

The point is that many of the mythological and fictional characters that inspire us to craft our heroes rarely fall into a single class. Taking little pieces here and there to help build that sexy aloof sparkling vampire is the only way its going to happen. But we are playing a game that rewards specialization. It is difficult to make a hybrid character that does one of his two roles very well. This is what I want to change, at least in the context of making the bardlock more like a leader that aids his allies with striker extra damage.

Leaders Make Allies Into Strikers

Yes, the point of hybrid is not to make the same class that you already had in one class. But I would argue that the key to hybrid is to recreate a class that has one role. In my approach to this I want to use the leader aspects of the bard and incorporate them in a manner that would highlight the fact that this hero is actually a striker. As a hybrid striker you miss out on a lot of damage, because virtually half of your powers are not keyed to work in conjunction with your striker mechanic, example in that the Warlock’s Curse only triggers with warlock powers. Conveniently the mechanic can be turned on its head to allow it to work like a leader mechanic. The key to being a leader is letting your allies shine and rewarding them for targeting who you want to take out. Knowing this we obviously have a way to key your target with the fact that every enemy of your goals can be cursed. Now we have a target of sorts for your allies to go after. We just need a reward. As I mentioned, I am trying to move towards a striker. Frequently leaders either give bonuses to damage or to hit or extra attacks as a way of harnessing the power of the group towards a common goal, which is usually to kill something. Knowing this and the fact that the hybrid warlock is missing a big chunk of DPR, I can easily rationalize a method of rewarding allies for targeting cursed enemies. Below are feats dedicated to the hybrid bard warlock. Let me know what you think. Special thanks to Versteeg the Bright for the inspiration.

Allied Pact

Ode of the Fey
Haunting Melody of the Guiding Star
Chant to the Dark Lords

Character Creations: Heroes of Creation

Recently, I have been playing a bard in Shimmertook’s campaign. The setting is a points of light world that is currently in the throes of a volcanic catastrophe that has left the predominantly human population shattered. There are some other interesting plot lines and backdrops, but for the most part the world has been offered up to the players to develop.

My bard in particular is from a unique village that reveres the old ways, those ways being arcane and divine powers. Much of the campaign setting focuses on the primal powers due to a retreat of the gods a long time ago. In addition, arcane magic is looked upon with skepticism and fear. Magical items are scarce or hidden away and heroes are hard to come by. All great fluff.

This did open the doors for the players to build more of the history and intertwine it with their character’s personal backgrounds. I have been a long time fan (as I am sure many nerds are) of Tolkien’s creation story in The Silmarillion. For those unfamiliar with it, there is a song at the start of creation; from that song the world is created. It is slightly more complex that that with some conflict and rebellion by future evil gods, but basically the world is created by this perfect and beautiful song that is limitless in its scope. So you know, great artists steal and all that.

What I really wanted was for the song of creation to be a part of my bard’s story, not just the back drop for the campaign’s history. Of course there is much that I can role play into the character, but I personally enjoy coming up with mechanics that enhance that experience. Mechanics that make these flavorful choices tangible in game play.

I got to thinking more about what this Song of Creation is all about. Certainly it encompasses more than just the idea of creation. It would be about all the things in that exist in this fantasy world. I liken it much to the descriptions of the Supernal language in 4e. This song is universal in that it is familiar and inherent to all living (and perhaps dead) creatures on the planet. I liked this idea so much that I asked Shimmertook if I could have Supernal as one of my known languages. Of course the DM’s guide discourages this, and I understand why.

Supernal is the language of the divine beings. The manuals even clarify that just learning the language does not empower a mortal being to speak it as if she were an immortal. That is fair, but at our table we are less concerned about such things. All the players are comfortable with each other and our DM knows that we are in this campaign to try some new (sometimes rule bending) ideas. So my human bard knows Supernal.

But I envision her really knowing Supernal and speaking the language of the gods as an immortal. In this world, bits and pieces of the Song of Creation have been slowly uncovered by luck or fate or divine providence. Slowly mankind has pieced this song together. Certainly no one knows the entire song, until my bard gets to epic that is! Anyway you get where I am going with this. There is a goal and a story here that I want to develop and I want my bard’s abilities to reflect that. So I drafted this feat:

Words of Creation
Prerequisite: 11th level, know Supernal
Benefit: If you wish it, when you speak Supernal listeners who don’t speak Supernal can understand your words as if you used their native language. When making a charisma based skill check or ability check while speaking Supernal you gain a +2 feat bonus to that check.

Pretty straight forward and admittedly cool (for charisma-ie types). After crafting this feat I thought more about “words” that were already in the game. Mainly for my own bard, but potentially for other types who would perhaps sing in combat. I could go down interesting paths for many a class, but I stuck with some of the first leaders as they all were designed with the “word” class healing powers.

My thought was to simply build upon that already incorporated design, these leaders who cry out inspiring and healing and majestic words in combat. I feel most all the feats are true to the roles, and in particular the class they are affiliated with. All of these feats are paragon and higher as I felt like the context of the Words of Creation was something that more powerful and wizened characters would be drawn to (let alone have the resources and intellect to be within reach). Let me know what you think:

Familiar Chorus
Prerequisite: 11th level, Bard, Words of Creation
Benefit: When you use your Majestic Word power, you may slide each ally in the burst 1 square.

War Chanter
Prerequisite: 11th level, Warlord, Words of Creation
Benefit: Any ally that you target with your Inspiring Word gains a +2 power bonus to its next attack roll before the end of your next turn.

Hymn of Succor
Prerequisite: 11th level, Cleric, Words of Creation
Benefit: When you use your Healing Word power, each ally in the burst gains temporary hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Song of Creation
Prerequisite: 21st level, Bard, Words of Creation
Benefit: When you target an ally with your Majestic Word power, that ally may move her speed as a free action.

Song of Suffering
Prerequisite: 21st level, Warlord, Words of Creation
Benefit: When you target an ally with your Inspiring Word power, that ally may take a basic attack as a free action.

Song of Forgiveness
Prerequisite: 21st level, Cleric, Words of Creation
Benefit: When you use your Healing Word power, each ally in the burst may make a saving throw with a bonus equal to your Charisma modifier.

Ritual Book: Cooking the Books

This is the Ritual Book. In this series we will look to explore and expand the role of rituals in Dungeons & Dragons 4e. We will focus on character options for players who want their ritual casters to cast more frequently and more effectively in game. In addition, we will offer up advice on how dungeon masters can make rituals a more important or integral part of the game. The goal is to encourage ritual use in general.

In this first installment, I would like to explore the financial aspect of ritual casting. One of the harshest criticisms of rituals is the constant financial tax. It can be very difficult for a player to make a choice between saving up for an important magic item or slowly whittling away at her resources to cast rituals throughout her career. It can be even harder to rationalize spending resources on rituals if your fellow players or dungeon masters are not keen on the time and results of rituals. With that in mind, I want to look at some character options for free or reduced cost rituals.

What Options Do I Have?

There are few ritual caster classes already out there for budget conscious ritualists. Currently the wizard and bard have the most freebies. A wizard receives two rituals to start as well as two free rituals of her level or lower at 5th, 11th, 15th, 21st and 25th. The bard is allowed lots of component free casting with bard rituals, once per day at heroic and one additional time per day at each tier. Do not forget you can pick up the Bardic Training class feature with the Bardic Ritualist multiclass feat if you like casting bard rituals for free. After that the field is slim. Psions, druids and invokers each receive one ritual they can cast for free whenever they like.

Some more versatile choices would be the skill powers Improvisational Arcana and Experienced Arcana. Both options are daily utility powers that cut the cost of a ritual in half, with some additional riders as well.

And that is about it. Unfortunate for sure. There are many ways to make multiple rolls on your ritual attempts or gain bonus to skills associated with rituals, however not many selections to reduce the financial burden of being a ritual caster.

Creating Options

I would like to propose several alternatives to help alleviate the financial strain of ritual casting. The goal here is to provide additional avenues for ritual casters to either offset the cost of buying rituals in the market or consuming gold for casting rituals.


Class Features:

Magic Items: