Multiple attacks, ability checks, and keyed illustrations revisited

Murder In Baldur's Gate Launch Weekend

Murder In Baldur’s Gate Launch Weekend

At Gen Con 2013, I’ll be running the Dungeons & Dragons Next adventure Murder in Baldur’s Gate most mornings and afternoons. If you attend Gen Con, check my photo in my About section, and then find me and say hello. In real life, I’m less grainy and less out of focus.

I have yet to run D&D Next, so I’m studying the latest rules packet. After the convention, I plan to write some posts discussing aspects of the design. Until then, I want to revisit a few topics.

In “Changing the balance of power,” I told how D&D Next’s flattened to-hit bonuses weakened high-level fighters against low-level enemies. “Fighter-types should hew through the rabble like grass until, bloodied and battle worn, they stand triumphant. Instead, they wind up muffing to-hit rolls against one mook.” I mentioned that restoring multiple attacks would restore the balance. Perhaps the designers reached the same conclusion, because the latest playtest packet grants multiple attacks to fighters and to some other classes.

The playtest package’s DM Guidlines advise skipping ability checks when a character uses a high ability score: “Take into account the ability score associated with the intended action. It’s easy for someone with a Strength score of 18 to flip over a table, though not easy for someone with a Strength score of 9.” As I explained in “In D&D Next, ability modifiers are too small for the ability check mechanic,” the current D&D Next rules practically require this sort of DM intervention because the system fails to give someone with Strength 18 a significant edge over a Strength 9 character. The result of the d20 roll swamps the puny +4 bonus. In practice, the system math makes flipping the table only sightly easier at strength 18.

Ulder Ravengard card from Murder in Baldur's Gate

Ulder Ravengard card from Murder in Baldur’s Gate

In “It’s Mathemagical!,” Mike Mearls discusses plans to introduce escalating ability-check bonuses of up to +12. This may finally give exceptional characters a chance to stand out from ordinary characters—at least at higher levels. Still, the game screams for a system where abilities grant bigger bonuses to ability checks. If a +1 bonus per ability point worked for Moldvay in 1981, then it works in Next. Why not adopt the steeper bonuses? I assume that the designers feel wedded to using the same ability bonuses for ability checks as for attacks and saves.

Way back in “Picturing the dungeon – Other publishers revive keyed illustrations,” I praised the face cards Paizo produces to accompany their adventure paths, so I’m delighted to see similar cards packaged with the Murder in Baldur’s Gate launch adventure.

Pyramid of Shadows - View of the Bridge

Pyramid of Shadows – View of the Bridge

In “Picturing the dungeon – keyed illustrations,” I shared my love of the keyed illustrations included in some early adventures. I lamented how TSR and Wizards seemed to have abandoned this enhancement. Recently, a clearance sale prompted me to buy most of the 9 original adventures shipped for fourth edition. To my surprise, many of these adventures include keyed illustrations. In Pyramid of Shadows, a dungeon with a classic feel, the illustrations seem to hold clues to the adventures or show complicated scenes too difficult to describe, so the pictures compliment the adventure perfectly. In some of the other adventures, the illustrations simply add flavor.

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