Next Saturday I’m going to be running more outer-space adventures at Pasadena’s D&D meetup, using the 4lternity variant of 4th edition D&D I’ve been working on.

In the spirit of the recently announced 5e D&D/D&D Next, here’s a description of 4lternity broken down into modular components.

Module: Gamma World Math

D&D Gamma World showed that you could simplify 4e D&D by fixing the math used on player characters. Instead of scores (defenses, skills, attack rolls, etc.) being based on this:

Attribute + 1/2 Level + Extra Bonuses (feats, items, class bonuses, etc.)

In Gamma World they’re based on this:

Attribute + Level

This gets rid of the need for “enhancement bonuses” on weapons, armor, and neck slot items; for “feat taxes;” for “inherent bonuses;” for tier-based scaling bonuses; and other little fiddly bits.

Module: Alternity Skills

4th edition D&D has 17 skills. Alternity has 40 skills. 4lternity uses the vastly expanded Alternity list for skills, because that’s what a science fiction game requires for distinguishing characters.

The features of the Alternity skill module are:

  • Your race gives you 6 skills for free.
  • Your class gives you more skills, chosen from your list of class skills.
  • You get to choose bonus skills (those which aren’t necessarily class skills) as well, with the number modified by your Intelligence modifier.
  • Each skill has subskills called specialties.
  • You choose your specialties from your list of class specialties.
  • You get bonus specialties with the number modified by your Wisdom modifier.
  • Gamma World math: If you’re trained in a skill, you get Ability Modifier + 2 + Level as your skill roll. If you’re trained in a specialty, that adds an extra +2.
  • Alternity skills aren’t just non-combat, but include skills that you use when making attacks: Modern Ranged Weapons, Primitive Ranged Weapons, Unarmed Combat, Melee Weapons, Heavy Weapons. (This accounts in part for why the skill list is longer than D&D.)

Module: Alternity Classes

The classes for 4lternity are adaptations of the original five Alternity character classes to 4e D&D rules — with the classes primarily built as subclasses or variants of the existing Essentials classes. The classes are:

  • Combat Spec: A variant of fighter, with a defender aura that’s modified for use with ranged weapons.
  • Diplomat: A variant of warlord with a focus on directing the battle, and a free “multiclass” into one of the other classes.
  • Free Agent: A variant of rogue with sneak attack and backstab abilities, plus fast talk for getting into or out of a jam.
  • Mindwalker: A variant psion with a broad range of mental powers based on 5 psionic disciplines.
  • Tech Op: An Int-based martial controller with specialization in a field of technology or science.

Module: Alternity Races

The standard D&D races are replaced with:

  • Humans: as per 4e D&D.
  • Fraal: psionic “grey” aliens.
  • Mechalus: cybernetic pacifistic aliens.
  • Sesheyan: winged jungle-born aliens.
  • T’sa: quick, reptilian aliens.
  • Weren: large furred aliens.

See my player handout Welcome to the Verge for better descriptions of the Alternity races.

Module: Alternity Equipment

The weapons and armor from Alternity actually extend the 4e D&D list instead of replacing it. Stats for “primitive” weapons or armor such as swords, bows and chainmail remain the same as in 4e D&D; the list just expands onward to cover more advanced weapons and armor.

  • Weapons do either “impact” damage or “energy” damage, instead of D&D’s plethora of typed damage. (There’s also “bleed” and “psychic” damage types in 4lternity.)
  • High tech armor provides resistance against impact and/or energy damage.
  • There are a number of new weapon properties such as energized, autofire, and piercing which are used to stat up futuristic weapons.
  • Weapons have an accuracy rating (-2 to +2) instead of a proficiency bonus; the math works out the same but comes at it from a different angle.

I recently picked up the Madness at Gardmore Abbey boxed adventure for 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. It’s better than I thought it would be and looks to be lots of fun. I’m running a weekly game based on Gardmore Abbey at Game Empire Pasadena on Monday nights.

After playing through most of this season’s D&D Encounters, I decided the game would be more fun if characters in Gardmore Abbey had specific hooks into the game, like the character themes introduced in the Neverwinter Campaign Setting book.

So then, here are my homebrewed themes for Gardmore Abbey:

Errant of Mithrendain Questing eladrin knight
Gardrin’s Heir Descendant of Gardmore’s founder
Guild Organizer Field agent for adventurers guild
Iron Circle Deserter AWOL mercenary
Pawn of the Eye Driven mad by a cult
Pelor’s Faithful Devoted to the light
Reclaimer of Saruun Khel    Restoring the Golden Temple
Tigerclaw Seeker Following a vision quest
Valthrun’s Apprentice Student of the prescient sage
Vile Rune Survivor Family was murdered by orcs
Wild Card Crossed paths with the Deck of Many Things
Winterhaven Regular One last mission for the town guard

Complete descriptions for each theme can be found in the following PDF file.

Download Gardmore Abbey Themes Now!

Update: Here’s my post-session-one report on session one of Gardmore Abbey, at meetup.com.

All of my other proposals have been silently ignored. This one actually got read enough to get rejected, and give a personalized reason as to why it was rejected!

Hi Caoimhe,

Thanks for your runepriest article pitch. There’s been a lot of discussion on our forums regarding support for the runepriest. We have some stuff already in the works, so I’m going to pass on this article.

Generally speaking, we’re wary of articles that present new feats since the game is already suffering from “feat bloat.” That doesn’t mean we’re out of the feat-making business, but we’re introducing them sparingly — something to keep in mind for future proposals.

Cheers!

Chris Perkins
D&D Senior Producer
Wizards of the Coast LLC

Note that my proposal did include new feats for runepriests. I think it’s appropriate, mind you, because while many other classes, races, and so on are glutted with feats, runepriests are one of the classes that lack options. One mechanic specifically introduced for runepriests in PHB3 was “rune feats” — and yet we probably will not see any more of those ever, if this rejection letter is to be believed. Which kind of sucks.

On the other hand, it’s good to read that runepriests will be getting some kind of support in the future.

Here are the rejected feats, in case anyone wants to house-rule them for their campaign:

 

Rune of Stone [Rune]
Heroic Tier
Prerequisite: Runepriest, dwarf
Benefit: When you use your second wind, you gain resistance to all damage equal to the number of rune feats you have. This resistance lasts until the end of your next turn.
Rune of Reincarnation [Rune]
Heroic Tier
Prerequisite: Runepriest, deva
Benefit: When using memory of a thousand lifetimes to modify an attack with a runic power, you gain an additional bonus on the roll equal to the number of rune feats you have.
Words of Comfort
Heroic Tier
Prerequisite: Runepriest
Benefit: While you are in the rune state of the rune of protection, adjacent allies gain a +1 bonus on saving throws.
Words of Rebuke
Heroic Tier
Prerequisite: Runepriest
Benefit: While you are in the rune state of the rune of destruction, allies gain a +1 bonus to damage rolls against enemies that are adjacent to you or to any othter runepriests who are in this rune state.
Hasty Inscriptions
Heroic Tier
Prerequisite: Runepriest
Benefit: You can change your rune state as an immediate interrupt.
So yeah, basically, I’m just happy that I got a rejection letter.

On the official Dungeons & Dragons website, there’s part four of an ongoing "tutorial" series about teaching kids how to play D&D. This one’s called "D&D Kids: Punishment."

In it, the author — who is apparently a professional "teacher of RPGs" in Israel — talks about how to punish and humiliate children between the ages of 7 and 11 who don’t fit his idea of what a roleplaying game should be.

Suggested "verdicts" for these "crimes" (the terms are his, not mine) include public humiliation, loss of experience points, character death, and ostracization from the gaming group (called "exile" by the author).

He accomplishes this by applying labels to children, such as "The Astronaut" (for a child who is unable to quickly grasp the complex rules of D&D), "The Crybaby," "The Cheater," "The Serial Character Changer" (a kid who dares to "care more about experiencing different classes and races than about character development"), "The Hyperactive" (with a note to make sure that you can tell who is not just an "attention grabber" but "genuinely hyperactive" — do people even use these words about kids in this day and age? — who might "go bananas"), "The Joker" (who gets compared to Batman’s sociopathic foe for being silly at the game table), "The Chaotic-Stupid" (who deserves character death and return at lower level), and "The Antagonist" (who should just be banished for being a threat to the DM’s authority).

Now, there’s a long history of categorizing gamer types, not always in the most attractive way — I remember the old "Real Men / Roleplayers / Loonie / Munchkin" stuff that I first saw on USEnet in the 80s. Most of this stuff consists of stereotypes and insults coupled with "old school" "hardcore" "grognard"-style gaming advice. (You know, where Gary Gygax tells you that you must punish players who, I dunno, don’t recognize his initials in the map or something.)

Modern gaming has gotten away from the more destructive uses of these categories, and recent advice — such as that found in the 4th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 — focuses not so much on judging and condemning players, but recognizing that different play styles and play goals exist. The best advice sections give hints and tips on how to keep everyone happy within a campaign by understanding what your players are hoping to achieve and realizing that their desires are valid and reasonable.

This "D&D Kids: Punishment" article doesn’t do that. In a move that would be out of place in gaming if applied to adults — let alone children! — the author suggests stripping characters of experience points, levels, and characters for not playing Dungeons & Dragons as seriously as he thinks they should be playing it.

Rather than giving advice on what’s going on in a kid’s head when he or she engages in potentially disruptive behavior — and suggesting ways to work with whatever desires the child is expressing — the article focuses almost entirely on the idea that it’s the role of the adult Dungeon Master to inflict punishment on the children.

The first subheading of the article is "The Cracking of the Whip" — and the staff at the WotC website decided it was appropriate to illustrate this article — about kids! — with an angry demon wielding a flaming whip and a sword.

I object to this guy’s namecalling categorization of young children this way; I’m offended by multiple things throughout this very problematic article. I’m frankly shocked that Wizards of the Coast decided this was worth publishing, since it goes against their current DMing philosophies for playing with adults, let alone with children.

I know for certain that I would not want the author ever attempting to teach my nephews how to play Dungeons & Dragons.

Oh, and don’t think I didn’t notice that he only refers — throughout the four parts of this "tutorial series" — to boy players and never girls. He talks in one part about when it’s appropriate or not to give slaves to childrens’ characters as loot/alternate rewards ("slavery is a touchy subject best avoided with younger gamers"), but he never addresses in any place how to deal with a group of mixed genders of children.

If, like me, you need to cleanse your palate after slogging through "D&D Kids: Punishment," check out this recent BoingBoing post by Enrique "NewbieDM" Bertran, "I turned my 4-year-old daughter into a Dungeons & Dragons geek." That’s the kind of introduction I hope more children have to this hobby.

The D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 introduced the concept of monster themes – groups of statistics that can be used to flavor “stock” monsters to give thematic unity to an encounter.

You can use the concept of monster themes to adapt D&D monsters from various sources – such as the D&D Essentials Monster Vault – for use in your D&D Gamma World game.

Choose an appropriate theme for the monsters you want to use, and then select one to three powers or traits from the list for that theme.

Here are three themes you can use in your campaign: cyborg, radioactive, and alien.

Download GM Advice: Mutating Your D&D Monsters here!