Tag Archives: Face Cards

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.

Picturing the dungeon – Other publishers revive keyed illustrations

In my last post, I discussed my love of keyed illustrations in adventures, and how, after dabbling with the feature, TSR abandoned it.

Despite TSR’s lack of interest in the keyed illustrations, they haven’t died. Other creators clearly love them as much as I do.

In the third edition era, both Goodman Games and Kenzer & Company championed keyed illustrations. Just about all of the Dungeon Crawl Classics feature them. Kenzer even coined a marketing term for them. Their adventures tout the ImageQUEST Adventure Illustrator. “Because a picture is worth 1,000 words. ImageQUEST is the picture book that gamers love. Now DMs can not only read the boxed text, they can actually show it to the players.”

Monte Cook must appreciate keyed illustrations. His adventure The Banewarrens includes them, as does his adventure The Harrowing from Dungeon issue 84.

Dungeon issue 77 includes a White Plume Mountain spin off called Ex Karaptis Cum Amore, which features keyed illustrations.

None of the early classic adventures featured pictures of non-player characters, but adventures do benefit from portraits of supporting characters. For years, Dungeon magazine routinely showed pictures of the prominent NPCs. (Too bad they buried them in the text.) I like attaching pictures of NPCs to my DM screen. The pictures provide a far more memorable impression than a mere description, and pictures give role playing encounters a visible focus. I’m not great with voices, so if I can point to a picture as an NPC speaks, the NPC makes a more distinct impact. This enables the players to better follow an exchange between to NPCs.

Most of the guys who ran Dungeon then work at Paizo now, and they still recognize the value of NPC portraits. Paizo publishes decks of Face Cards that feature character portraits suitable for the characters in your game. The playing-card format strikes me as perfect for sharing NPC portraits as the players encounter the characters. Paizo even releases decks of NPC portraits to accompany their adventure paths. Brilliant.

Have I missed any published adventures that feature keyed illustrations?

Next: My tips for using maps and dungeon tiles