Monday, October 5, 2009

Wherefore Art Thou 7th-level?

Today I thought I'd talk about why I designed the pregenerated characters the way I did. Since statting the heroes was largely an interpretive exercise, I expect there could be some disagreement with the conclusions I came to, but one could always use the D&D Character Builder to whip up their own versions of the heroes in just a few minutes.

First, to get some perspective on where we're coming from, let's recall how the heroes were first presented. In the original module, DL1 Dragons of Despair, the pregenerated heroes were:

  • Tanis: 5th-level half-elf fighter

  • Sturm: 6th-level human fighter

  • Caramon: 6th-level human fighter

  • Raistlin: 3rd-level human magic-user

  • Flint: 4th-level dwarf fighter

  • Tasslehoff: 4th-level kender (halfling) thief

  • Goldmoon: 5th-level human cleric

  • Riverwind: 5th-level human ranger

  • One immediately notices that the heroes are not all the same level. One might initially ascribe this to the fact that in AD&D, each class required different amounts of XP to reach each level. However, this cannot be the reason for our heroes' varying levels, since if the heroes had all had the same total XP, Tas should be the higest-level character, because thieves needed the least amount of XP to level. Instead, I believe they assigned the characters different levels simply to show their varying levels of skill and expertise; Caramon and Sturm were the most skilled fighters, whereas Raistlin was just beginning gain mastery over his magic.

    In 4E, this approach doesn't work. Adventures work best when the PCs are all the same level, and all the game's math is based on a party of like-leveled PCs. Therefore, I knew that I'd be starting all the heroes at the same level. But which level?

    A couple of different strategies suggested themselves. For one, I could start the heroes all at 1st level. Since I knew I wanted to run the converted module for newbie players, this would have been a natural place to start. Another possibility was to follow the example set in the 3E conversion of DL1 (published by Margaret Weis Productions) and start the heroes at 5th level, which is very close to the average level of the heroes in the original DL1.

    Ultimately, I decided to go with neither of these options, and started the heroes at 7th level. I did this primarily because I knew that I wanted the PCs to gain one level with each adventure in the series. Therefore, at the climax of DL4, the end of the first story arc of the Dragonlance saga, the heroes would enter the paragon tier. This seemed pretty fitting. In 4E, the focus of the heroic tier is adventuring on a regional basis, righting wrongs in the characters' own little corner of the world. And in DL1 to DL4, that's just what the heroes have done in the lands of Abanasinia. The paragon tier is all about moving the campaign's action onto the world stage, which is exactly what happens in the final two story arcs of Dragonlance.

    With level decided and set at 7th, I set out to build the heroes. I'll talk about the more interesting points for each of them. As a general note, I didn't build the heroes with an eye to optimization. I was trying evoke their personalities in their builds, and therefore some of the heroes ended up being more (or less) optimized than others.


    Initially I wanted to stat Tanis as a warlord with a ranger multiclass. I figured that way he'd use his two multiclass power-swap feats in the heroic tier to pick up ranger powers. However, this proved to be problematic for a couple of reasons. The first was that since the PCs were starting at 7th level, Tanis would only have one multiclass power-swap feat to work with (the one at 4th level). Another problem was that as a warlord, Tanis would need to spend a feat to pick up longbow profiency.

    Based on these two issues, I decided to go with hybrid warlord|ranger for Tanis, since I felt that bow use is pretty iconic to Tanis's character. To differentiate Tanis from Riverwind, I gave Tanis the Quick Draw feat so that he could spread his powers equally between warlord melee powers and ranger ranged powers. Tanis's schtick effectively became switching rapidly and effortlessly between melee and ranged attacks. Ultimately, this implementation of Tanis proved to be evocative but a bit problematic. Warlord and ranger do not synergize that well under the hybrid rules, and required a wide spread of ability scores for Tanis. All this means that Tanis as presented is probably the most suboptimal of the heroes, but I think the final arrangement of his stats allows the character to be reasonably effective (and I went through several iterations). The bottom line is: had there been a ranged build for warlords, I would have gone with that. Maybe with the upcoming Martial Power 2 we'll see such a build.

    For Tanis's half-elf dilettante power selection, I went with jinx shot, a ranged bard power, since it is a power from a class with the leader role, and since Tanis has a decent Charisma (though this is not Tanis's most reliable attack). Although this is technically an arcane power, I thought that in Tanis's case, a little imaginative handwaving could be done to envision this as a martial ability for Tanis.

    From a non-mechanical perspective, some may noticed that I have listed Tanis as being unaligned, whereas in the original module, his alignment was given as neutral good. I think that this fits with Tanis's character as presented in the novels. This is one of a minority of cases where I chose to emphasize the novels over the modules. A major theme in Dragonlance is the balance between good and evil, and in the novels, particularly Spring Dawning, Tanis is depicted as being torn between selfishness and selflessness, between doing what's most expedient and doing what's right. In Spring Dawning the balance is served when two unaligned characters make a decision about their own moral positions: Tanis chooses good, and Raistlin chooses evil. Their individual choices later intersect to bring about the defeat of Takhisis and thus the restoration of the balance. I wanted sense that this is possible in my conversion, too, and therefore, Tanis is unaligned rather than neutral good.


    I might have made Sturm a paladin. It certainly would have been a nod to the codes of the Knights of Solamnia, and all the smiting and challenging powers of the paladin would have been very thematic. However, I instead went with fighter given that the plot of DL1 hinges on the restoration of divine power -- I didn't want to jump through hoops to explain why Sturm as a paladin could use his powers, when Goldmoon, a cleric, could not use hers without the Blue Crystal Staff. Worse, I didn't want to steal the thunder of the Staff or dilute the plot by concocting a MacGuffin to serve the same purpose for Sturm. Also, Sturm as a fighter will allow him some contrast later with Derek, a paladin.

    Sturm is usually depicted in art as carrying a shield, but the modules always portrayed him as using a two-handed sword. I knew I wanted to my version of Sturm to be a great-weapon fighter as well. In terms of optimization of the group as a whole, Caramon (as the hero with the highest strength) "should" have been the great-weapon fighter, so to help carve out Sturm's niche, and to show contrast between Sturm's studied skill with Caramon's raw power, I gave Sturm the Weapon Expertise feat and powers like sure strike that play up accuracy while downplaying pure strength. I also gave him a strong focus on defensive stances and powers that facilitate marking -- like come and get it. For Sturm, I see this power as being less about bravado, and more about his chivalrous challenges and bravery in the face of superior numbers.


    As mentioned above, from an optimization point of view, Caramon "should" have been the great-weapon fighter. However, Caramon is iconically a sword-and-board fighter. I played up Caramon's brawn-over-brains fighting style (and contrasted his style against Sturm's) by choosing powers like brute strike, feats like Power Attack and Weapon Focus (as opposed to Sturm's Weapon Expertise). I also decided that Caramon's schtick would be charging, and selected powers like knockdown attack and rhino strike, as well as magic items, like his vanguard longsword, that synergize with charge attacks.


    There has been a lot of discussion about how Raistlin could (or should) be statted. Those coming from a 3E perspective might naturally expect Raistlin to have some sort of mechanical nod to his having passed the Test and joined the ranks of the Wizards of High Sorcery. I discussed why I specifically avoided this in a previous post.

    Given Raistlin's well-known story involvement with the spirit of Fistandantilus, which I think fits brilliantly with the vestige warlock pact, I was faced with a decision to make for Raistlin's class: wizard, wizard with warlock multiclass, or hybrid wizard|warlock. I would have really liked to go with wizard multiclassed to warlock (vestige pact), but in the end I felt that would have required a bit of design work to more thematically represent the vestige pact. Since I knew I wasn't going to design fiddly rules bits, however, I ultimately chose to go straight wizard and leave the Fistandantilus stuff purely to story -- if Raistlin's player wanted to explore it.

    It seemed intuitive to give Raistlin the staff of defense form of implement mastery, given his iconic possession of the Staff of Magius, but since that build benefits from a higher Constitution, it was mechanically undesireable. Fortunately, the rules provided a good workaround for this. Raistlin's spellbooks are also an iconic part of his character, so I gave him the tome of readiness implement mastery and the Dual Implement Spellcaster feat so that he can wield both his tome and his staff to cast his spells.


    Traditionally, Flint has a high Constitution score. It was a pretty straightforward decision to build him as a battlerager fighter wielding a greataxe. His selection of invigorating powers play up both his somewhat unchivalrous fighting style and his staying power in a fight.


    Tas was another straightforward conversion, and an artful dodger rogue was a no-brainer. I decided that his hoopak would be easily represented by giving him a sling and a dagger -- weapons that already work with rogue powers. Since these are, in story terms, part of the same weapon, Tas doesn't need the Quick Draw feat to effectively use them both, and therefore all of his selected powers function with both melee and ranged weapons. Add in the Distant Advantage feat, and Tas has tons of opportunities to get his sneak attack damage each round.


    I initially thought about making Goldmoon an invoker to show her special relationship to the goddess Mishakal, but decided against it for several reasons, both having to do with Elistan. I felt that although Goldmoon was the one who was initially chosen by the Gods of Light to be the first cleric in their service since the Cataclysm to wield divine power, their real purpose in choosing her was so that she could then deliver the knowledge of the gods to Elistan, who would be their true prophet. Therefore, from a story perspective, I felt that Elistan made more sense as an invoker, as the voice of the gods. Furthermore, from a mechanical point of view, the heroes in the "Winter" story arc needed a controller, and that sealed the deal. Goldmoon would be the cleric, and Elistan would be the invoker.

    My first iteration of Goldmoon's stats had her combining melee cleric powers and ranged cleric powers, but this required her to have a high Strength score to be effective, which didn't feel appropriate. Therefore, I changed her to using strictly ranged and buffing powers -- a devoted cleric. I didn't go so far as to build her as a full-on shielding cleric, but it certainly could have been a valid choice.


    At first, I wanted Riverwind to use a mixture of melee and ranged attacks, but soon realized that this is an ineffective build unless the ranger is a dual-wielder (which I wanted to avoid for Riverwind). I also realized that would step on the toes of Tanis as I presented him. Therefore, I built Riverwind as an archer ranger, but with a few melee powers and the Quick Draw feat should he need to enter close combat. I also replaced his traditional sword with a spear to help further differentiate him from Tanis, but ultimately I felt that Riverwind should be primarily a ranged attacker.

    And that's why I designed the heroes the way I did.

    As an aside, I planned to include with this post links to pages containing the D&D Character Builder summary info so that anyone interested could import the characters to their copy of the Builder. I tried pasting the summaries on both wiki pages and in email, but unfortunately both methods were not importing correctly into my Builder. Does anyone have any experience with this? Suggestions?


    1. In terms of the DDI character builder - this always worked for me - when you export the character to the clipboard, open up Windows Notepad (not Wordpad, can do funny things to formatting) and just hit paste - should paste the character summary into a format that will be acceptable to export later. Save the notepad as a regular .txt file. When you want to import into Character builder, just open the Notepad file, select all, hit copy, then in Character Builder hit the "import from clipboard" button.

      If you do it like that, you should be able to just put the .txt files from Notepad online and people can import from there. That should avoid any weird formatting issues.

      You could also just post the .dnd4e files straight out the character builder and people could drop them into their saved characters folder.


    2. Great advice Bill, thanks for commenting. I'll upload the actual .dnd4e files and link those those.

      Thanks again!

    3. I also think the choice to leave Raist a wizard as opposed to involve Warlock, based on his pact with Fistandantilus was a good one - his day-to-day powers came from straight wizard powers (memorizing spells). It was only a couple of times (test in the Tower, using the Dragon Orb against Cyan Bloodbane, etc), albeit key times, where he actively pulls from his bargain with F.