Friday, March 26, 2021

Talking to Swords and Complexity in Design

The Ancient Swordsmith

    Part of our core goals at Gelatinous Cubicles is to create things which allow players to do something in D&D which they weren’t able to before - be it fighting something new and spooky, wield a magic item with an unusual effect, or play an archetype that gives them enjoyable, novel features. So, if I were to ask you the best way to play an ancient swordsmith, the kind that folds a blade ten thousand times, or can understand a blade’s history just by running a thumb along its edge - how would you do something like that in D&D?

    I’ll admit there’s a few close approximations - Kensei Monks, Forge Clerics, Battlesmith Artificers - but those are all focused on either the use of weapons or the making of them as magical objects. Now that’s great - I love me some magic objects - but none of them really strike that feeling of knowing a weapon’s ‘soul’ through forging or handling it. Any of that would have to be handled through roleplay, or DM fiat.

    This is where the Ki-weaving crafters we have dubbed Seamwrights come in. They lack the Artificer’s magical ingenuity or the Kensei Monk’s raw combat prowess, but they possess something I find wonderfully interesting: A bond with the weapons they and their companions use. Not only can they grant these tools unique boons - thus not stepping too hard on Artificer toes - but they can feel their history, learn things about them and their wielders, and if talented enough, even make real companions of them. This is what makes Seamwright really special to me, and why I’m very glad we get to share it with you.

Artificer and the +X Problem

    That all said, I did mention a bit of a conflict of interest with the good ol’ Artificer in the Seamwright. While, yes, the Artificer can do much more with their magical infusions, that is a core class ability - while Seamwright gets all of their Archetype features on top of being the fully functioning punching machine we call a monk. It was important to ensure Seamwright was able to shine while not overshadowing the Artificer in its ability to outfit the team. Thus the archetype was limited to imbuing weapons with elements of what it is to be a monk - either making existing monks better by buffing their already existing features, or letting other classes play at being a monk by giving them approximations of monk class features. These features, I feel, are all great - if sometimes complex - and I don’t feel a need to defend them here.

    What I do feel a need to defend - or at least justify - is the choice to allow the Seamwright to compete with the Artificer in creating +1-3 Weapons. These kinds of weapons are both fundamental and game-changing for a D&D party. It’s half presumed you’ll get them eventually but also highly coveted when you do - and for good reason. Martial classes simply do not function if they do not hit, so any reliable benefit to that is near invaluable - the extra damage is a lovely cherry on top. Thus, part of Artificer’s contributions to the party was creating these weapons, even if in temporary form. Allowing Seamwright to do this demanded a counterbalance - the regular spending of Ki, denying the Monk other strong abilities - and considerations about when the Seamwright could grant such powerful benefits as +2 and +3 boons to weapons.

    Now, some might question the choice to allow the Seamwright to create +3 weapons while the Artificer cannot - I feel no strong need to explain this. I flat out think it is a mistake. Artificers cannot craft such tools at level 16+, and therefore saw no need to prevent the Seamwright from doing the same, albeit at appropriate cost. Hopefully you agree.

The Complexity Problem

    As I mentioned earlier, one of the chief aims we have is providing new experiences. As most anyone who has tried to make some original homebrew can probably tell you, that tends to require a lot of new rules text and explanation for that new rules text. This tendency for original ideas to go hand-in-hand with lots of text runs headlong into a problem though. It conflicts with another one of our major priorities at Gelatinous Cubicles: Simplicity. 

    Now don’t get me wrong, everything we release is, at least in our opinion, just as complicated as it needs to be (give or take) to function and be enjoyable. That being said, the more information a DM or player needs to process before they can use a piece of content, the harder it is to practically use that content - especially if you need to be referencing it mid-play. It’s not the most fun thing in the world to put a whole session on pause so you can double-check whether your cool homebrew’s 5th level ability refreshes at short or at long rests - and that process is made a whole lot slower if the player or DM needs to scan through multiple paragraphs of text to find the answer.

    Now, if you’ve read Seamwright, you know full well: It’s complicated. There’s no getting around that. It has a lot of text, a lot of original rules, and a lot of references to other material that exists, both inside and outside the document itself. So ‘what gives?’, you may be shouting at me incredulously - why, if complexity is generally a negative, did you release a really complicated Monk archetype?

    Because it’s fun. At least I think it is. And I care more about fun than I do about simplicity.

    Everything in Seamwright is vital to creating the ancient master or the blade that I wanted to make - it mechanically does some very unique things that, while complicated, aren’t too demanding once you have them established. It may be a bit presumptuous of me, but if players can learn the difference between a melee weapon attack and an attack with a melee weapon, or the ways pact magic and regular spellcasting work and don’t work together, I think they can digest Seamwright well enough to have a lot of fun with it. 

    And if they can’t, that’s okay too - they can go play a Way of the Brawler and give someone a haymaker. 

-Jon the Wrangler of Kobolds and Kobold Accessories


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