February 23, 2012

The Three Pillars of Fourthcore

Recently, the idea of describing Dungeons & Dragons by three generalized spheres of play, three pillars if you will, has come into popular usage; those three pillars being roleplaying, exploration, and combat. I think it’s a nice way to organize the game and a good tool to have and think about when designing a dungeon and/or adventure.

Here’s a prediction of mine, or perhaps a mild suggestion to Wizards of the Coast: If the three pillars concept describes the core values of any Dungeons & Dragons game, the very basics that are going on here, then those ought to be the three most core, most basic, most necessary releases for D&D Next. Yes, I’m talking about the PHB, DMG, and MM.

Furthermore, I believe that any successful Fourthcore dungeon must be tested against three additional pillars: strategy, tactics, and luck. Whether you are designing a Fourthcore dungeon or preparing to delve into one, you must ask yourself if you are prepared to conquer these three additional foci.

Player’s Handbook – Roleplaying
Tell me about your character.
The Player’s Handbook covers the basic areas of roleplaying, as player characters are the means by which players express themselves. It describes crafting your character, with some attention paid to the mechanics involved, but a substantial amount paid towards how to roleplay your character and how to craft roleplaying encounters .

Dungeon Master’s Guide - Exploration
Tell me about your dungeon.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide describes dungeons, as dungeons are the means by which Dungeon Masters express themselves. More specifically, it handles all of the basic rules , mechanisms, and methods to creating a sense of exploration in your adventure. I envision this book to be full of traps, hazards, dungeon features, puzzles & secrets, wondrous rewards, and bizarre geographical locations.

Monstrous Manual - Combat
Kill monsters, take their stuff.
The last book covers what is usually a massive single chapter in other editions’ PHB: combat. This is a mechanically dense subject, and deserves the lion’s share of a book. Combat, of course, does not exist in a vacuum and needs monsters for the dungeoneers to fight. Ideally, I envision D&D Next monsters to be very simple and easy to run with short stat blocks and easy ways of slapping together an interesting and mechanically sound combatant. Thus, the encyclopedia of iconic monsters shares a home here with the combat rules.

The Three Pillars of Fourthcore
Having played extensively in the Fourthcore fashion for a long time running, I can see the idea of Three Pillars being applicable to the ideals of Fourthcore. If the Dungeons & Dragons core rulebooks handle roleplaying, exploration, and combat; then the pillars of Fourthcore play are strategy, tactics, and luck. To be successful in a Fourthcore game, be it deathmatch or something more traditional, dungeoneers need all three of these at their side. A lack of any single pillar will spell certain doom. Conversely, if you are attempting to design a Fourthcore dungeon and believe that success can e had without any one of these pillars, then perhaps it is time to revisit your dungeon and go back to the drawing board.

Strategy encompasses the meta planning, the before-the-game preparations, optimizing character builds, creating custom character sheets, establishing marching orders, etc. For many players, this is the only pillar they focus on, believing that the Dungeons & Dragons rules are fair and balanced enough to see them triumph over any challenge if they simply optimize and plan enough. Those players are in the wrong game. While a strong character build is necessary, it is but one pillar among many and cannot be relied upon to carry a dungeoneer through a Fourthcore delve alone.

This pillar is the minute-to-minute thinking and quick wits needed on a successful delve. Where strategy is slow, careful planning; tactics is pulse-pounding, think-on-your-feet, spasmodic reactions needed to adjust to a constantly changing challenge. Without quick thinking, without being able to instantly react to a moving target, a dungeoneer will quickly find his or herself overwhelmed and defeated.

The unpredictable and the unreliable, luck is clearly the most elusive of pillars to master. A dungeoneer cannot rely on a run of good luck alone to carry him or her through the dungeon’s challenges. Likewise, a dungeoneer must be prepared to see a run of very bad luck destroy all of his or her best laid plans, learning what can be learned from the experience and applying it to a possible repeat steading. No matter how familiar a player is with the adventure in question, the element of chaos ensures that that they can never truly master the dungeon.

And Now For Something Different
I can't leave you, dear reader, wading through all this hot air without at least something usable at the end. Here's a few bits of flotsam and jetsam that I've kicked around, based on Week 10 of Jason Buhlman's Grind series. I hope you find some use or inspiration from it!

Soul Vortex
Level 5 Charged Terrain Power
Charges                            RRRRRRRR
Standard Actions
r Extract Soul At-Will
Special: You can only use this power during a rest.
Attack: Ranged 5 (one helpless humanoid creature); +10 vs. Will
Hit: The target's soul is extracted, leaving him or her in a permanent helpless comatose state. The target is stunned and helpless until the Soul Vortex is destroyed. The Soul Vortex gains a number of charges equal to the target's level.
Soul Mend (healing) 1 charge
Check: Arcana or Religion DC 22
Success: Gain 10 hit points.
Special: Activating this power provokes an opportunity attack.
r Soul Rend (cold, necrotic) 2 charges
Attack: Ranged 20 (one creature); +8 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d6 + 9 cold and necrotic damage and the target takes a -2 penalty to all ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws until the end of the encounter.
r Summon Soul Spawn 3 charges
Effect: Ranged 2; Summon a Soul Spawn in any unoccupied square in range. The soul spawn is an ally under your control that has a full set of actions and acts immediately after your initiative.

Soul Spawn
Level 5 Minion Skirmisher (XP --)
Medium shadow humanoid (undead)
HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion.
Initiative +8
AC 19, Fort 16, Reflex 18, Will 17
Immune weapon
 6; phasing
Perception +7; blindsight 10
 Combat Advantage
The soul spawn deals 2 extra damage against any creature granting combat advantage to it.
Standard Actions
M SlamAt-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +10 vs. AC
Hit:  6 damage
Effect: The soul spawn shifts 2 squares.
 m Consume Life (necrotic) Encounter
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature granting combat advantage to the soul spawn); +8 vs. Fortitude
Hit: The soul spawn is destroyed and the target takes 1d6 necrotic damage for each healing surge it has remaining.
Triggered Actions
Shadow SlideAt-Will
Trigger: An attack misses the soul spawn.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The soul spawn shifts 2 squares.
Dark One’s BlessingAt-Will
Trigger: An enemy is bloodied or reduced to 0 hit points or less by the Infernal Dwarven Cultist.
Effect (Free Action)
: The Infernal Dwarven Cultist gains 5 temporary hit points and deals an extra 1d6 fire damage on its next attack.
Variable Resistance2 / Encounter
Trigger: The Dwarven Infernal Cultist takes acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage.
Effect (Free Action)
: The Dwarven Infernal Cultist gains resist 10 to the triggering damage type until the end of the encounter or until it uses variable resistance again.
Str 16 (+5) Dex 22 (+8) Wis 20 (+7)
Con 18 (+6) Int 10 (+2) Cha 16 (+5)
Alignment evil

Wings of Wrath
Level 5 Rare                                       1,000 gp
A golden icon of a bat-winged skull
holds the power of flight.
Wondrous Item
Power + Daily
Move Action
Fly up to your speed.

Candle of Summoning
Level 19 Rare                                       4,200 gp
This black candle burns an oily smoke
and is only consumed when its magic is
Wondrous Item
Power + Consumable
Standard Action
You summon a demon, which
appears in the space the candle
occupied as if you had just cast the
Summon Demon ritual [Demonomicon].

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