July 18, 2017

How to Playtest New Classes

We recently got an excellent question on Patreon that we'd like to answer for everyone:

I had a quick question for you guys. How do you go about playtesting your custom classes? I'm creating my own currently, and I would like to know a good way to test it's mettle.
- Alexander Garcia

There's two or three levels of testing. All of them are important, but not all of them are strictly "play" testing.

Concept Testing

While building any new class, you should actively weigh its features against comparable abilities from other classes at similar levels. Importantly, you should recognize that levels in different classes have different intents: for example, 5th level is normally a level that offers a sharp damage increase, such as Extra Attack or cantrip damage increases plus 3rd level spells. It would be a critical mistake to offer something with the power of Extra Attack at 6th level, reasoning that, because it comes one level later, the feature can afford to be just as, if not more powerful than Extra Attack. 7th level is normally exploration/interaction, and 11th level is back to damage.

Take a close look at a class you'd like to emulate and try to match what it offers at each level, in addition to matching the power of the features themselves.

Build Testing

The next level is what I call build testing. Make several characters using the class, taking different approaches and leaning on different mechanics. You normally need to explore lots of different levels, but it's not always important to build a character for every level. These characters should have an eye for min-maxing, and you should really be attempting to break things. It might be useful to bring other people into the class at this point and ask them to min-max, since other people are more likely to find synergies that you did not intend for to class to have.

Compare these builds against Core-only prebuild characters at different levels, against characters that are actively being used in a campaign, and against optimized character builds. Your build should stand well below the latter and should not outshine the first two types of characters. If your build is ever punching near the level of an optimized build, tone it down in one or more areas to bring it into line. Remember that homebrew is always (and rightfully should be) distrusted, so any build you make should clearly express its mechanics and demonstrate that it is slightly below par for similar classes if you ever want someone else to use it at their table.

Playtesting

Last, but not least, is proper playtesting. Someone has to play the class at the table, using primarily core material and a DM that knows the insides and outs of core rules and this class's abilities (and importantly, knows what the class is not designed to do.) My rules for playtesting are to make sure someone other than the author plays the class and to run at least three full sessions with combat; more if possible.

At this stage, you're looking for three things: Is the class fun to play, does it outshine other party members, and does it frustrate the DM's plans in ways that a class should not be allowed to?  All of these come back to the people at the table having fun with the new class, which is something no other testing stage can look at. Even the best laid plans can make a class that simply isn't fun to play, play alongside, or play against. If any one of those three things is true, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Listen to your playtesters carefully, discuss the class at length, and make adjustments to the class as needed. Hopefully, you've chosen a playtester with a fair amount of knowledge about the game, so you can get informative opinions on how it's playing. Even if not, the vaguest impressions of "I feel powerful doing X" or "It's kinda frustrating that Y" are extremely helpful. Also ask everyone else at the table how their characters feel in the party -- it's a giant red flag if the words "Stole my thunder" are ever uttered about your new class.

Lat but not least: always be seeking criticism and flaws -- never be satisfied. Look for elegant solutions, where possible, and don't be afraid to go back to the drawing board.

- - -

I hope that answers Alexander's question in a useful way and I hope it provides an informative glance into how we playtest our largest, most elaborate classes.

July 17, 2017

Oath of Freedom

Sacred Oath
Notes from the Nails: because not all paladins are lawful!

Oath of Freedom

Most paladins place great emphasis on duty, honesty, order and justice, believing that an orderly approach to life is the best way to keep their tenets and accomplish their objectives. The Paladins of Freedom, however, reject this approach. Instead, they stress that personal liberty is the most important thing an individual can have – so important that they actively reject all laws that do not originate from the gods themselves.

Tenets of Freedom
All paladins who swear this oath respect the following ideals:
     None Shall Bind Me. The laws of men are artificial, arbitrary, and prone to abuse. I will not submit to any laws that do not align with the will of the gods.
     I Will Fell Tyrants. Those who seek to impose cruel laws or tyrannical rules rob the people of their freedom and must be actively and vigorously opposed.
     If Others Are Not Free, I Am Not Free. Freedom is meaningless if it is only available to a privileged few. It is essential that enslaved and oppressed peoples everywhere be freed.

July 14, 2017

Familiars – Under the Sea

Notes from the Nails: use the porcupine fish twice, you say? No, I'd never do such a thing.

Extended Familiars

By tradition, familiars take the forms of beasts, but we have decided to break away from that to offer some stat blocks based on non-beast creature types. At the end of the day, a familiar is an extraplanar spirit in the shape of a beast, so why not let them take the shapes of constructs, undead or fey?

Under the Sea

Those of you who follow us on Patreon may have noticed that the High Seas Update has opened up a strong lead in the October poll. The race is not over yet, but the mere thought that we might be writing a nautical setting book has inspired me to stat up a collection of aquatic familiars. The perfect complement for one of our merfolk!

July 12, 2017

Divine Domain: War (Variant)

Divine Domain
Comments from the Knuckle: I don't know about everyone else, but the War Domain has always felt lackluster to me. Mechanically and mathematically, I'm sure it's sound, but thematically it just never felt like the priest who stands on the front lines with the fighter and the barbarian; for that role, I look to the Tempest Domain. 
     This rewrite of the War Domain is something I've been mulling over for quite some time, but I wasn't sure how to do it until recently. I knew for a fact that I was going to upgrade their capstone, because how lame is resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage after you've invested 17 levels of your adventuring career into serving a god of war? I also wanted to make the abilities flow together a little more. 
     The core War Domain gets War Priest at 1st level, and don't get me wrong, this is a cool ability, but it never gets better. And it feels like it should, over time. Guided Strike seems wasted since you only have the one attack and you don't get Sneak Attack or Divine Smite - who cares if you hit, one hit from a War Cleric is not going to change the course of the fight. Yes, you get the upgrade to use it on your allies at 6th level, but even so: you have to survive 4 more levels to apply it to the people who could really use it when they need it.
     And on top of that: personally, I don't like handing out +x's via class features, so this one went right out in my rewrite, and was replaced by Fury of Battle, which builds on War Priest, as I mentioned earlier. When Guided Strike went, I knew I had to scrap the 6th level feature as well, so I worked with the Finger and one of the DMs from my home games to come up with a feature that encourages you to be on the front lines. No puss-out Archer Clerics here, thanks!
     I'm eagerly awaiting your thoughts, feedback, and general criticism. Do you feel like the War Domain is lackluster? Which Domain would you change if you were on the writing team for 5e?

War Domain (Variant)

In every conflict there have been priests who stand on the front lines alongside their lay brethren. They display courage and valor just as much as the next man, and none can doubt their ability to contribute to the fight. War Clerics are often figures that soldiers will turn to for guidance on the tumultuous field of the fray. Offering up their prayers to their deity, begging for protection, they bless their brothers in arms and prepare for the onslaught of the enemy. War deities can include champions of honor and valor (such as Athena or Odin) or gods of senseless violence (such as Ares and Surtur). Still others champion not the virtues of war, but the warriors themselves (such as Bast, Nike, and Tyr).

July 10, 2017

Power Word Spells

Spells
Notes from the Nails: Power word spells have always struck me as the purest manifestation of magic in d&d. A wizard takes up magic in order to tell the universe what to do - no ifs, no buts, no silly hand waving, no saving throws. So imagine my shock when there were only three in the PHB! Here's my attempt to remedy that.

Power Word: Annihilate
9th-level transmutation

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V
Duration: Instantaneous

You utter a word of extreme and terrible power that can completely destroy one creature, object or creation of magical force you can see within range. If the creature or object you choose has 150 hit points or fewer, it dies or is destroyed. Otherwise, the spell has no effect.
     When killed by this spell, a creature and everything it is wearing and carrying, except magic items, are reduced to a pile of fine grey dust. The creature can be restored to life only by means of a true resurrection or a wish spell.
     This spell automatically disintegrates a Huge or smaller nonmagical object or a creation of magical force. If the target is a Gargantuan or larger object or creation of force, this spell disintegrates a 15-foot-cube portion of it. Magic items are unaffected by this spell.
     Regardless of whether this spell has any effect on the target, the amount of energy required to cast it is immense, and very harmful to the caster. When you cast this spell, you take 10d6 psychic damage, which cannot be avoided or resisted in any way.

July 7, 2017

Path of the Cursewrought

Primal Path
Comments from the Finger: This came out more like a barbarian hexblade than I initially thought it would, but that's not a bad thing. 

Path of the Cursewrought

You have been riddled with curses, whose magics have seeped into your very being. Whether this corruption came from a vindictive cabal of witches, or as a result of your trespassing on forsaken grounds, you cannot escape the arcane darkness that dwells within you.
     Barbarians who follow the Path of the Cursewrought are outcasts, seeking either redemption and purification, or revenge. Through their fury, they have learned to transform their curses into weapons, spreading them like a pestilence to their enemies, and crushing all those who stand in their way.