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D&D 4E 4e-like game (title TBD)

Inspired by the 4e retroclone posted here, as well as the recent developments viz. the OGL, as well as my experience in playing D&D 4e, I've decided to develop a 4e-like game. (Basically, I was tinkering with a 5e heartbreaker, but between A5E, Kobold Press's project, and stuff, I think big 5e-likes are a saturated niche, especially for aspirants such as myself.)

I'm not sure I want to go full-on retroclone, but I do want the game to feel like 4e in play (even if, for obvious reasons, I'm not sure I want it to look too much like 4e in presentation).

One thing I wanted to mention off the bat is that I want the layout of content, when viewed on the page, to be as readable as, say, OSE (which is a very well laid out book, at least in my view). (The layout of D&D books is one of my pet peeves.)

I have the gameplay rules worked out, enough of the ABCs (ancestry, background, and class) worked out to be getting on with, and am filling in some more character options, magic items, monsters, and adventuring content (hazards, suggestions for stocking dungeon rooms, sample challenges, that sort of thing) before I get on with soliciting playtesters.

I expect to post further about this project here, over at Giant in the Playground, the big 4e Discord server I'm on, and I'm not sure where else. (Suggestions on that score would be well received!) Once I have a "playtest edition" ready to go, I expect I'll start a Discord server for dedicated discussion. I'm also debating a development blog or "vlog" on YouTube (again, maybe starting once there is a "playtest edition" ready).

Here is a sample of a more-or-less complete monster - the Deep One - one page of lore, one page of how to use the monster in the game, and a stat block that fits on one page. (You get three guesses as to what this is based off of, and the first two don't count.) The Deep One and its various types of thrall take up 7 pages, so my intent for a polished published text would be to have a single full-page illustration so that the whole set takes up four 2-page spreads.

888 Deep Ones 3.01024_1.jpg

888 Deep Ones 3.01024_2.jpg

888 Deep Ones 3.01024_3.jpg

Notes about the Deep One
Basically, I want a GM to read the entry and be able to run a Deep One "out of the box" as-is, both in and out of combat.
  1. The reference to "treasure tables" is provisional, pending work on the actual treasure content. (I know 4e classically uses treasure packets; I'm not sure that I want to copy over that "mechanic" exactly.)
  2. I can already see a few small changes I want to make. (That, despite having overhauled this entry twice from its original form!) For instance, I think in the "Slimy Tentacle" attack, I'll change the line at the end of the attack block to a "Requires" element at the start of the block, specifying that the Deep One can't use this attack if it has already grappled two creatures, and the "Bite" attack ought to work on non-grappled creatures - perhaps it will do more damage to grappled ones.
  3. Elite Actions are how elite monsters (a kind of extraordinary monster) get in their extra action economy. Basically, an elite monster can take one elite action per round outside of its turn at a fixed point; certain conditions can cause it not to take an elite action but instead it ends such a condition (such as dominated or stunned), so there's always value in imposing that condition without it completely locking the monster down.
  4. World Actions are inspired by 5e lair actions and the A5E concept of the same name; the rename is because other things will also cause world actions - possibly including player character powers (such as a druid's call lightning).
  5. The difference between the lore on the "lore page" and the "monster lore" stuff on the stat block page is that the "monster lore" is combat-relevant stuff that would come up when the player characters first encounter the monster (more or less like a Monster Knowledge Check from 4e proper). The other lore is the stuff they might know off hand because of skill training or that they can research outside of combat.
  6. "Dazed" in this project is not the same as "dazed" in 4e. Instead, the "staggered" condition is. "Dazed" is like a weaker form where you can't take quick actions (aka minor actions) or reactions.
  7. In the sample encounters, I'll add a note saying that GMs should consider rewarding canny players who think of trying to play multiple Deep Ones off one another with the same outcome that they can roll randomly.
  8. Yes, there are some typos to fix.

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Work perodically progresses! I have finished somewhat over half of the rituals I intend to include. Here are a couple of sample pages.

sample rituals.jpg

Notes About Rituals
As with monsters, I want the rituals to be similar enough at first blush to 4e rituals, without necessarily being identical.
  1. The ritual categories ("divination", "abjuration", etc.) are not unlike the categories used in 4e ("exploration", etc.) only they tend to use names closer to classic schools of magic. I don't copy over all the schools of magic, though - anything that affects an existing creature or object is probably going to be an "enchantment"-category ritual, unless I have cause to categorise it otherwise, for instance, so "transmutation" probably won't exist as a distinct category. At the moment "summoning", which calls forth otherworldly creatures, is a distinct category from "conjuration", which manifests magical effects out of nothing.
  2. The four kinds of ritual that players can access are arcane, divine, occult, and primal rituals, roughly corresponding with "power sources". The kind of ritual tells you what skill you need to use - Arcana for arcane or occult rituals, for instance, or Nature for primal ones.
  3. The spell keyword and the "component" keywords tell you what you need to provide in order to cast the ritual. The spell keyword also interacts with rules and effects that affect spells - such as a counterspell effect, a dispel effect, antimagic zones, and the like.
  4. Each ritual specifies its material components, although it usually doesn't explicitly spell out "consumable" materials. Instead, the general rules for casting rituals and reading their descriptions offers some examples of consumable materials for different types of ritual. For instance, holy water or sanctified incense are common consumable materials for divine rituals. Usually, you don't have to keep track of exact materials, just an amount of Treasure worth of materials of a given kind.
  5. I didn't want to exactly copy the way rituals interact with skills, so they do usually require a pass/fail check. Failing a check to cast a ritual means it doesn't go off, but you don't spend any consumable materials in that case.
  6. The difficulty of casting a ritual uses a keyword - Moderate, Hard, or Vey Hard - and the ritual's level, which you then compare to a table of DCs like the table of DCs by level in 4e to determine a specific DC.
  7. Any other keywords that might apply to the ritual's effects are listed after its duration. For instance, animal messenger has the charm keyword. It would fail to affect a creature that's immune to charm but is otherwise a valid target for the spell.
  8. To avoid duplication, I've tried to combine rituals with the same basic effect together. For instance, the tongues ritual in the samples includes effects comparable to classical comprehend languages and tongues as they appear in various editions of D&D (including 4e). You can "upcast" a ritual at a higher level by recording it in a spellbook at a higher level and then casting it at that higher level; this can cause it to have more potent effects (as is the case with tongues).
Next time I update, I think I'll either provide some sample magic items or some sample character options.

(Edit: I used to have consumable materials specifically spelled out for each spell, but decided to remove that; it does mean some language using that old concept hasn't been removed from spell descriptions.)

The work progresses. I am working on magic items right now and have just completed the initial set of magic armours. I have 14 types of armour in the playtest ruleset, or half as many as were included in the 4e PHB1. Each armour is, I hope, a little more impactful than the 4e armours. I'm hemming and hawing about having magic items in the Tome of Rules or the Tome of Game Mastery. Right now, leaning towards the former, but it might depend on individual page counts.

Here are some sample pages: a two-page spread on how to read magic item stat blocks, and a two-page spread of select magic armours.

Reading a Magic Item
sample magic items spread 1.jpg

Sample Magic Armours
sample magic items spread 2.jpg

Notes on Magic Items
  • The rarities are common, rare, and legendary. Common items are easily found in the default setting, even for sale. Rare items (which will be the majority of items) normally require a special downtime activity to find for sale (although GMs can always include magic shops) in addition to being discoverable during adventures, and legendary items usually have to be found on adventures. (The first page of the magic item rules, which discuss rarity, imply that there's usually only one legendary item of each kind in a given game world.)
  • Most magic armours are crafted from an ordinary armour; the extra ingredients are required for the enchantment (using the appropriate ritual). Legendary items require both modifying the base armour while crafting it and additional effort and ingredients in the enchantment. Usually some kind of quest or great accomplishment is required in either or both steps.
  • The ruleset currently goes up to 10th level, so that's where magic items stop for now.
  • Crafting ingredients are detailed in other rules; they can be used for enchanting magic items and for special materials (what 4e would call masterwork items). In 4e, masterwork items have to also be magic items, but I plan to decouple that.
  • Yes, that's a set of cursed armour! Because it's craftable, I'm actually including it more with a view to player characters finding ways to foist it upon NPCs, or having to help an NPC who is cursed with it, than with the expectation that they'll be caught wearing it themselves. In general, I like the gameplay possibilities that cursed items provide, used sparingly.
  • Most permanent magic items will have one, maybe two, properties and one power. Some items might have more properties and no power, and legendary items tend to have more properties.

I've finished up magic weapons. Here's a few samples. (Also, I should note that I've since completed the rituals I set out to write up, since last I wrote about them I noted they were half done.) Since the holy avenger was included in the previous post (since it's used as an example of how to read a magic item stat block), this pic means I've shared all the "legendary" weapons planned for the "playtest edition".

sample magic items spread 3.jpg

I have yet to read everything you've posted but it looks interesting. I like the way lore is structured into "tiers" of information.

You might want to take a look at the Icon rpg. It's in development right now (by the guy behind Lancer). It's not really a retro clone, but it's obviously inspired by 4e. They go for a much more minimalist design than 4e.

I have yet to read everything you've posted but it looks interesting. I like the way lore is structured into "tiers" of information.

You might want to take a look at the Icon rpg. It's in development right now (by the guy behind Lancer). It's not really a retro clone, but it's obviously inspired by 4e. They go for a much more minimalist design than 4e.
Thanks for the suggestion - much appreciated!

The work progresses. I'm currently systemically revising the rules of gameplay.

The Tome of Rules is basically going to be divided into four parts:

Rules of Play - The actual rules for playing the game. If I get the layout correct, these will run from most basic/foundational to most complex/optional. For instance, how you roll a d20 is described in the "basic rules" section, since you'll do a lot of that, while the procedures for play at scales beyond encounters/combat will be detailed last, since they can often be handwaved using the "simple" gameplay procedure (i.e. GM describes situation, players make decisions, GM and players invoke mechanics if necessary, GM adjudicates and describes results, rinse and repeat).

Equipment - Gear, treasure, and magic items.

Ritual Magic - What it says on the tin.

Look Up Content - This is stuff like conditions, environmental effects, afflictions (diseases, curses, etc.), statblocks for animals, that sort of thing.

The work progresses. While I'm working on the equipment rules, I've been poring over 4e books and the new PF2e remaster books for inspiration. By happenstance, I noticed PF2e has equipment entries for assistive devices (wheelchairs, crutches, etc.).

That's inspiration! I've added some such devices to the regular gear, and I'll be keeping them in mind (especially the false eyes, I must admit) for magic items.

Mad Eye Moody Due Diligence GIF by REBEKAH

Should be "vigilance" but this was the one GIF I found, so yeah.

My employment has cycles of activity - low activity in the summer, picking up to a peak just before Christmas, then relatively busy through the spring after a holiday break. So things have been a bit slow. Also, since the sort of niche this game was occupying as it was conceived over the summer is being filled by the MCDM game (even if the MCDM game isn't a 4e-like), I'm also doing some rethinking on how to pivot to a slightly different niche.

Anyway, I want to share a couple of thoughts about the game's niche, the assumed/default setting, and some ideas about one of the classes.

The Niche
4e is a game of heroic fantasy, and I think that's still an important staple of any 4e-like. But I do think I want to go for a bit of a darker feel. Maybe not so much with mechanics, but with the setting and tone. So what is the game about? I would say it's:
  • Heroic but Dark Fantasy
  • Detailed Tactical Combat
  • Exploring an Ancient World
  • Adventure Around Every Corner

Heroic but Dark Fantasy
The player characters are points of light in a world threatened by baleful and malevolent cosmic forces. The world can't count on scads of high-level NPCs to keep the peace (as in the Forgotten Realms) or benevolent gods: it needs heroes to rise up from ordinary folk. These heroes and their deeds might not banish evil forever, but they can keep it at bay for another day, week, year - as long as they keep on fighting the good fight.

I've been playing a lot of Darkest Dungeon and its sequel lately (which has also been eating up a lot of time I could be spending on this project), and what I'm sort of envisioning is a tone that's a little bit lighter than what you get in those games. Something akin to pulp Cthulhu Mythos gameplay in a high-fantasy setting, as it were, where, yes, you can banish the eldritch monstrosities with a Tommy gun sword and spell.

Instead of cosmic horror, where everything the heroes do is ultimately insignificant and meaningless, what I'm going for is the idea that, yes, the evils that beset the world are eternal, and will ever return to threaten the world anew, but they can be beaten back as long as there are those with the will to fight them.

Detailed Tactical Combat
Detailed tactical combat is de rigeur for a 4e-like, to my mind. For detailed tactical combat to work, you need things like positioning to matter, using teamwork, off-turn actions, and varying conditions to keep engagement, and players having solid viable tactical options.

One thing I would like to switch up from classic 4e is that classic 4e still has attritional power usage at the encounter level. What I mean by that is over the course of an encounter, you'll usually use up your encounter powers, and maybe a daily or two (depending on the difficulty), and then fall back on at will powers. What I would like to do is have recovery of the resources needed to fuel more potent abilities, so you're using powers that are about equivalent to an encounter or daily for one or two rounds, then alternating between at-will and more potent abilities over subsequent rounds.

Exploring an Ancient World
The game world should be dotted with the ruins of antique and antediluvian civilisations, full of secrets to explore and evils to vanquish. The game isn't focused on dungeon crawling and wilderness "hex"-ploration, as such, but I do see them as an important part of play.

Adventure Around Every Corner
The player characters don't have to look to far to find adventure, though! They can find cults in the cities and villages of the land, whether demon-cults spreading among the nobles, or a cult to some old god demanding sacrifices in a village (like that one episode in the first season of Supernatural), or horrors creeping up from the deep places of the world (be they subterranean or aquatic).

The idea is that the game and the setting should support regularly going out and finding heroic adventures to embark on; during these adventures you explore the world and discover its secrets - secrets you might be able to use to make it a safer place, if only for a time.

The Setting
The game's niche already has a few things to say about the setting.

One thing I would like to have in the setting is that I'd like it to have more of an explicitly Moorcock-esque vibe as regards cosmic powers acting in the world. I like the Law vs. Chaos vibe where on the one hand, both are good for the world in small measures, and terrible in excess. They both bring something to the table in small doses that make the mortal world habitable, but at their extremes (which Lawful or Chaotic cosmic entities invariably seem to want!) they make the cosmos inhospitable to mortal life.

So then you have the alignment of Balance betwixt them. Of course, this "neutral" alignment is not necessarily benevolent! The general idea is that the player characters are the ones stepping up to be heroes because you can't count the benevolence of gods or other cosmic entities.

That is, alignments are explicitly that - alignment, allegiance, affiliation. Your alignment isn't about your morality, it's about where you come down in the great cosmic conflict between Law and Chaos - although even Lawful or Chaotic mortal heroes will find themselves at odds with cosmic powers of the same alignment, for the reasons discussed above.

Beyond that, I like the general idea of the Nentir Vale as an inspiration. A setting that is "post-post-apocalyptic", you might say, where the collapse is now long enough ago in the past that society is on the path of rebuilding towards new prosperity - as long as heroes and adventurers can keep evil at bay, that is.

Next post, the Berserker!

The Berserker
The 4e barbarian is a primal-theme class. (Indeed, that's their power source in 4e.)

I think I'd like this game's equivalent to be more of a martial-themed class.

Core Ideas
I had worked up a prototype/pre-generate berserker, but I think I'll be rejigging it to better fit the core ideas of the class. These are:
  • Rage
  • Living on the Edge
  • Mobile Heavy Hitter

You can't have a berserker without rage, at least to my mind. The berserker's combat shtick revolves around accumulating rage and then burning through it to achieve their cool powers. This allows berserkers to sustain the use of their cool combat abilities over the course of a combat, although they won't always have access to them every turn.

Right now I'm thinking that this will be Rage Dice, which you should get by doing things that fit the class fantasy of the berserker, and that you spend by doing other things that fit the class fantasy of the berserker.

For instance, charging and scoring critical hits should give you Rage Dice. So will becoming bloodied or being hit by a critical hit.

You can actually see an older iteration of this idea in homebrew I put up at Giant in the Playground. This berserker won't necessarily look like that, but there are similarities in concept.

A way the berserker will perform some resource conservation is that they are raging as long as they have at least 1 Rage Die, which gives certain benefits, such as boosting the effects of their at-will powers or access to certain utility powers. So there are times when you'll be thinking about the trade-off of delivering a big hit versus giving up your raging benefits for a time.

One point of customisation for barbarians is that they can gain some thematic benefit when they begin raging. These benefits can be reminiscent of the ones you get with a 4e rage daily power - a buff to Speed, for instance, or say, once per round knocking a creature prone with a melee weapon attack.

Living on the Edge
The berserker likes to live on the edge. This is supported by the ways they can build up Rage Dice, but I also want to give them passive buffs that are in effect while they're bloodied. The idea is to incentivise pushing your luck, more so than other classes will want to.

I actually think it would be cool if the buffs could escalate when a berserker is at 0 hit points, but I think that's pushing things too far. (More on that at the end of this post.)

Mobile Heavy Hitter
The barbarian likes to charge, more than any other melee-oriented character, because that's the most reliable way for them to generate Rage Dice. (Or, at least, it's the one that the player has the most control over!)

Although I say "heavy hitter", the barbarian doesn't have to be wielding a big two-handed weapon! The 4e barbarian at least supported a two-weapon-fighting variant, and while I'm not sure I'd want to support that version in the core rules, I'm certainly hoping to be able to support such a kit in future. "Heavy hitter" just means that the barbarian also wants to be dealing damage! They can act as a defender/tank secondary, but their main shtick is to deal damage.

I am getting too tired to go on, so gonna wrap things up. I thought I might have more to say, but I think the discussion on the core ideas of the berserker is enough to be getting on with.

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