Archive for August 2010

Ravenloft Board Game Review

It's late, but I finally managed to snag it a day before its new release date.



Ravenloft in its board game incarnation seems to be a rules-lite D&D-ized variant on Descent/Arkham Horror: you tour around a randomized dungeon layout killing monsters while trying to achieve one of many objectives, such as killing a specific monster (the "villain") or trying to lift as much shit from Strahd's castle as you can before he shows up. You can get the rules online for free, and I recommend checking them out before committing yourself to the $65 price tag.


(Don't forget to look underneath the black plastic container; there's another four sheets of tiles and tokens hidden there. I only noticed because I was trying to find the "start" tile and failed.)


As an overview of the components, all of the minis are unpainted reprints with the possible exception of four of the hero minis (so if you hate D&D Minis, you'll hate these, too) and the tiles are as sturdy as your typical Dungeon Tile. The tiles have jigsaw-type edges so you can clip them together as you drop them to help fasten them into place. The tokens are made of the same shit and are legion: there's tokens for hit points, tracking healing surges, recharging monster abilities (like breath weapons), items, monsters, etc. It reminds me a lot of Arkham Horror, except I don't think it'll take a weekend to setup and a year and a day to play.


I haven't played the game yet and I won't tell you in-depth (that's what the freely available rules are for), but basically turns play out like this: you get to move your hero about and attack monsters, if you're at the edge of a tile and not head-butting a wall you get to expand the dungeon by drawing a tile at random (or draw an Encounter card if you are busy head butting the wall), and then the monsters try to get their comeuppance by running at you like lemmings and frantically trying to pry off your hit point tokens like jawas snatching parts at a droid mosh. I joke, but having preprogrammed actions is probably good because monsters only have to take down one player in order to do the job proper.

The game handles somewhat similarly to actual D&D, but some things get changed to better accommodate the differing presentation. For example, attack rolls handle the same, but hit points are greatly reduced (the dwarf cleric has eight) and healing surges act more like a universal pool of extra lives: if a player goes down, you burn one and they get back up, but everyone has to share. Other mechanics are made even more abstract than before, such as the dragonborn fighter's breath weapon being able to target every creature on the same tile regardless of position or being able to spend XP in order to automatically avoid traps and special events.

Some of the objectives are pretty lame if you attempt to append a story to them. One involves a hag isolating everyone in different parts of the castle so that she can complete a ritual, because placing the characters in locations that they can just walk out of never bites you in the ass. Another has Strahd for some reason kidnapping everyone and putting them directly outside his coffin. Oddly, the goal here is to try and escape the castle instead of dragging his slumbering corpse outside and tossing it into the sun. Why he didn't just kill everyone or put them in an actual dungeon is beyond me. Some are more straight forward, such as barging into the castle to stake Strahd or prevent a specific number of monsters from escaping.

Like both Descent and Arkham Horror, you can also find treasures on the pre-rotted corpses of your enemies that help even the odds, in addition to leveling up if you have 5 XP in the bank and roll a nat 20. You can only do this once (since the hero cards only have two sides), but that's okay because I think it's humorous that 2nd-level characters can ruin Strahd's day. At a cursory glance it looks like it'll be a lot of fun. I've enjoyed other fantasy board games that have a similar play style and feel, so I've got high hopes for this. Personally I'm hoping for expansions that will add more heroes, monsters/villains, objectives, and environments (again, similar to how Descent did it).

Next up, an actual play report.
August 30, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Starter Set Review

"Red Box", "Essentials", whatever. The point is that thanks to Shazbot's tip I was able to get ahold of this $20 gateway drug well ahead of time. The Starter Set (as it's officially labeled) comes with a book for players, a book for DMs, several sheets of power/magic item cards that you have to punch out yourself, a sheet of tokens for monsters and characters that's easy to punch out, some dice you won't use, and three one-sided character sheets.

Getting the negatives out of the way (because I'd prefer to end reviews on a high note), the art is recycled and the paper quality of the books and cards is suspect; it's too damned light and none of them will last through repeated use. I would not be surprised if they fell apart from getting slightly moist. I intend to use the tokens in typical play and write down the effects of any powers on other cards if a player or myself want to use them until they're in Character Builder.

The Player's Book does not list classes in the traditional manner, instead having you go through a choose your own adventure story based around a goblin attack in order to determine your ability scores, class, and powers. The first question determines your class from fighter, wizard, rogue, or cleric, and from there it will grill you on how you want to dispose of your enemies until you either succeed or get your ass handed to you. Shazbot thumbed through the entire thing and is of the opinion that it would be really cool for new players to get a handle on things.

Strangely, the Dungeon Master's Book features the actual game rules in addition to a seven-encounter-long dungeon mapped entirely out of Dungeon Tiles. The encounters use a mixture of new and old monsters, though to be fair some of the "new" monsters look very *ahem* familiar. For example this book features a goblin hex hurler, who is identical in every way to a goblin hexer except that he lacks incite bravery. Some monsters gain new abilities instead of losing them; zombie hulks, er, I mean "hulking zombies" have a trait called zombie rejuvenation that allows it to stand up at the end of its turn with 1 hit point unless it was either killed by a crit or took damage while down. Of course, some monsters get more than others, as evidenced by the fledgling white dragon who crits on a 17+ when bloodied.

The tokens are numbered and have stock images of monsters for easy identification on the field, and the characters have bloodied sides, allowing you to dismiss with counters for that sort of thing. Even though I have a massive minis collection, I'd really like having token packs because they would be great for highlighting minions or for incredibly rare/expensive minis. They're also pretty durable.

Speaking of durability, the cards were a bit...difficult to remove. Initially I tried scissors but settled on simply folding the cards on the corrugated lines both ways, which made them much easier to remove them. I'd prefer it if WotC simply provided a more durable, pre-punched deck similar to those power decks that I don't think anyone gives a shit about.

Finally, the character sheets. These are one-sided with some layout changes like moving skills directly beneath their derived ability score and omitting some sections entirely. Is it comprehensive? I'm going to say no because the space alloted to powers and feats is not nearly enough, even if you only use it for racial powers and feats. There is a very large blank section for "character notes", which is where I suspect conditional information from feats, resistances, immunities, etc to go.

Despite the shoddy materials, I think that at $20 this is a very good bargain for those that are utterly new to D&D. As a veteran player I still consider it a good purchase, as I can get some mileage out of the tokens, new powers, and even a lot of the monsters from the DM's Book.
August 29, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Bat Monster Homebrew

Nothing special, just a basic bat that serves some function in a combat scenario. I was thinking of doing a bat swarm as a kind of hazard instead of traditional monster swarm.

August 25, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Magic Item Rarity

4th Edition has spoiled us in terms of magic items. I remember in a 2nd Edition game where the first item I got was at level 2, and it was a +1 two-handed sword (+2 vs. undead). How did I get it? Well, another player playing a thief climbed up a lengthy vertical passage, and opened a coffin filled with mold. She barely made it back after being poisoned, and we only survived because the cleric dragged us to town and got us detoxed. Nowadays they're everywhere and their number is legion. Every level the DM is expected to hand out five of them, which means that for your typical party players can each expect to get one of varying power since in this case everything is not equal.

With the release of Essentials items will be assigned a rarity of common, uncommon, or rare. Common items can be readily crafted or purchased, and do minor things like grant a passive bonus to something. Uncommon items are both purported to be impossible to craft or purchase, right before the article moves on to say that they are, "seldom up for sale and few people know how to craft them."  From what I've gathered, almost all the items that currently exist are getting pegged at uncommon, while the really minor shit like burglar's gloves will be common. Rare items, on the other hand, must be found or crafted at the DMs whim if you gather up enough frog legs and basilisk urethra.

I jest but actually use that system in my games already; sometimes when players kill certain monsters they can make Arcana/Nature/Whatever checks to harvest components that can be sold or used later. Now don't get me wrong, I do like the simplicity of D&D's residuum, allowing players to assess at a glance their magic item creation budget. However, I also like the idea of players butchering up monsters for various body parts that they could use to make stuff later. It's a fantasy staple that I can understand why isn't an official mechanic to the game due to the hundreds of monsters and magic items, but gives my players a chance to garner up a chunk of a treasure parcel by harvesting cockatrice blood and feathers for later use.

Ultimately the system serves to restrict certain items from the players, but also I suppose adds some mystery to the game. Player's might hear about a sword that can shoot fucking lasers (now thats craftsmanship), but they can't just plop down a barrel of magic dust and make one themselves. No, they'll likely have to go on some quest or other to kill someone that has it, or gather up dragon blood or some such to make it themselves.
August 23, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

The Vault of Darom Madar Review


A long time ago two merchant houses got into a fuss over selling the same products, and one took it upon himself to "eliminate the competition" (cue maniacal laughter). Literally. However, the other saw what was coming and did the sensible thing by gathering up all his shit and hiding it where it would be conveniently found when the plot felt it appropriate. Fortunately for the party, that time is now.

The Vault of Darom Madar is the heartwarming tale of a group of adventures robbing someone else's tomb for a cut of the personal gain. So, it's like most D&D adventures. It has has two major things going for it; the first is that it takes place in Dark Sun, and the second is that it's written by Aeryn "Blackdirge" Rudel (whose first name I can now correctly write without looking at it first). It's intended to take place directly after Sand Raiders (a short adventure included in the back of Dark Sun Campaign Setting), so there's some synergy to be had if you are one of "those guys" that actually runs the adventures out of the campaign books. If you don't, then who gives a fuck? This one's also for 1st-level characters.

This is the first time I've seen Aeryn venture out of the Chaos Scar, and he takes advantage of this freedom by dragging the party through several skill challenges and numerous combat encounters as they cross the desert in order to earn their treasure parcels. Many of the combat encounters involve bandits or assassins trying to jump your characters, which keeps with the whole survival-of-the-fittest theme, though for variety a few of the random encounters are all about flaunting the deadly fauna native to the wastes. I particularly like how the solo undead near the end of the adventure is designed; no double-attack or even reliable means to hit multiple targets, instead having the ability to do a recharging small AoE attack and when bloodied can potentially dominate targets, which is a method to work in those extra actions.

At any rate, it looks to be a great primer for people new to Dark Sun, as well as groups who've toured the sands before and want to quickly get back into Athas. Despite its meatier fare the adventure looks short enough to get through in a session or two and sets up future adventures by providing the party with a fresh new nemesis to fuck with them.
August 22, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Slaves of Athas

Slaves of Athas is a Dark Sun article that adds the escaped slave theme (martial striker) that includes eight exploits, the freedom fighter paragon path, and three feats.

Taking the theme grants you free training in Bluff and hidden strike, an exploit that lets you make a Bluff check after hitting someone to be treated as invisible until the start of your next turn. The idea is that you make them think that the attack came from somewhere else, and I think a better idea might to have been to follow suit with misdirected mark (you hit an enemy and make them marked by someone else). Perhaps roll on combat advantage or receive concealment?

Other exploits from the theme let you do stuff like make saves-with-a-bonus against certain conditions (like immobilize and slow), make a reactive attack when creatures try to flank you, or even grabbing an enemy and making them beat up their allies. I just imagine a character grabbing onto a templar and saying, "Quit hitting yourself" over and over again. 

Freedom fighter works for anyone with the theme, or warlords if thats your bag. Burning action points lets you let allies make attacks to break grabs, grant increased Aid Another bonuses if the use is about "breaking bonds or escaping", and self-sacrificing strike, which lets you move, push an ally out of the way of an attack, make your own attack, and take the damage of the attack instead of your ally. At level 11 you can use a minor action to make a save and if successful grant allies a free save, at level 16 you grant all allies initiative, Perception, and Insight bonuses automatically, and at level 20 you get a quad-damage attack that includes a save end mark effect (including making free attacks when they attack things that aren't you).

As for feats, Master of Escape grants you a bonus on Thievery when using open lock or sleight of hand, as well as another bonus when using Acrobatics or Athletics to escape from a grab or restraints. Slave Sympathy grants a Streetwise bonus in areas with lots of slaves, as well as other skill bonuses when interacting with slaves. Finally, Slave to None grants a save bonus against dominated, immobilize, and slow.

August 18, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

At the Mines of Madness, Part 2

Part 1

After camping out in a cramped, blood-soaked, very hot single room "house" (more like a hut) the party continued investigating the mining camp. They decided to hit up the Shardpit garrison, with Moxie (Liz) and Hawkeye (Josh) scouting ahead to see if it was clear. The doors to the garrison were open, and they could see something moving about inside in the morning light. Moxie tried to get closer while Hawkeye went back for the rest of the gang, and on the return trip Randy's character knocked over some crates, causing one of the warped hounds to investigate. Unfortunately, Moxie was a bit too close and she was the first thing it saw.

The encounter was pretty brutal, with a level 2 elite, some normal level 2's and a quartet of warped hounds to round it all out (600 XP). Most of the fighting occured in the gate, so there wasn't a lot of room and Randy ended up getting gang-raped by powerful strikes and dog bites. Though the XP budget was high, this encounter shouldn't have been as hard as it was since the monsters had Defenses of 15 or less (and the elite had an AC of 14). No, the real culprit here was shitty rolls on both sides of the screen. There was a string of bad luck for me where I didn't roll anything higher than a 6, and brutes are already suffering for attack bonuses. I threw in the warped hounds hoping that they could teleport into key locations and grant the guards and hunter combat advantage, but the party refused to move out of the gatehouse (to their benefit).

Further investigation of the garrison had them hewing their way through more warped guards, a few warped Tharashk hunters, and even the Tharashk patriarch before discovering a +1 byeshk scimitar. True adventurers, they even scrounged up the leftovers out of the pantry for a few days of rations. In the last wing of the garrison barracks they found out the source of the problem; a planar tear connected to Xoriat (Far Realm) that was bleeding warping energy into the natural world. While Beth's character tried to seal it using Arcana, various forms of fell taints slipped out and attacked. It took them quite awhile as Beth was only able to succeed when she had her ferret roll for her. I'm not kidding; when Beth rolled she couldn't get a single 9 on the die, but if she put it in the ferret's paws and let it drop, it worked every time.

After sealing the rift they rested up in the kitchen since it only had one door and some tables to prop against it, they head over to the House Tharashk enclave. They rummaged through personnel files--which were mostly complaints from miners about various illnesses and symptoms--and found a logbook with entries pertaining to a man named Obed from the small fishing town of Greyshore who'd apparently showed up prior to the incident hoping to purchase any relics found in the mine. Hawkeye had heard of the place, it was poverty-stricken and almost never received visitors because it had nothing to offer anyone except a meager existence.

Further exploration had them face off with a few more hunters, an insane dwarf artificer and his chisel-wielding assistants, and sealing a second planar tear. This was a more lucrative run, as they found hundreds of gold pieces worth of unfinished and finished dragonshards, gemcutting kits in case they wanted to try their hands and improving the value of the small horde, a Khyber dragonshard, and a tangler (which Randy isn't so sure he trusts). Oh, and they found a dried mucus trail leading down into the mining quarry, which I'm sure will not result in anything bad, no siree.

Winning Races: Eladrin

Beyond the Spiral Tower is a four-page article that provides a quartet of feats for unorthodox eladrin that want more support for arcane classes that aren't wizard--specifically artificers and warlocks--since as it stands they have two feats for artificers and jack shit for warlocks (note that I'm only counting heroic feats since that's what the article mostly provides). I suppose swordmages should have gotten some props since they have all of one so far, but then I like artificers and warlocks more so, fuck it, I'm happy.

The synergy here is great. Artificers can take feats that grant them a bonus on a few class skills (effectively Skill Focus doubled), teleport their conjuration effects or summons, grant a free save with bonus when using healing infusion on the target (including yourself), and at 11th-level Feywild Propulsion gives all summoned creatures a teleport speed. At a glance Arcane Repositioning seems weak since it can only teleport one thing within 5 squares, while Redistribute Minions lets you teleport all your shit no matter where they are, but keep in mine that Arcane Repositioning triggers as a free action and can move your conjuration effects: it's not limited to only creatures.
For warlocks, you can take Eldritch Blade to get an attack bonus when using longswords with eldritch strike, deal Int-based bonus damage on eldritch blasts (all the time), regain fey step instead of the normal pact boon once per encounter, or render yourself invisible to enemies that take curse damage. Very fucking cool.

As an added bonus, there's also three new familiars, complete with a feat. Fey Familiar lets you teleport your familiar when you use fey step, so long as they aren't too far away. The new familiars are fiddling grig, faerie dragonling, and coure attendant.
  • The grig lets you master and perform bard rituals, acts as a focus for bard rituals that demand an instrument, and when active can immobilize adjacent enemies that you hit with arcane attacks. I think I found a new familiar for Liz. >_>
  • The dragonling grants a Bluff bonus, a one-time penalty to saves against charm and illusions, and has a close blast 3 breath attack that it can use when active. Doesn't deal any damage, but makes them vulnerable to radiant damage.
  • Finally, the coure attendant is a pixie-ish eladrin type thing that grants an Arcana bonus, can grab items for you, and makes enemies count the area around you as difficult terrain. When active it can turn into a ball of light that makes it harder to hit, creates light, and causes enemies that end their turns in the light to grant combat advantage (to you only).
August 16, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Dark Sun Campaign Setting Review

My distant recollection of Dark Sun has always been thri-kreen, psionics, and lot of sand. I wouldn't exactly say I'm a fan of it like I'm a fan of Eberron or even Planescape, but I am a huge fan of the concept: a post-apocalyptic world combined with a non-standard fantasy setting. Magic drains life, so everyone and thing relies on psionics. There aren't any gods, so you can count the clerics out. Coins come in ceramic and weapons come in one of many flavors of bone or stone. One of the standard races is an intelligent, many-armed, bipedal insectIt's like, a fucking magical, medieval Mad Max.

How close is it to 2nd Edition's version? As far as I can tell it's very close, but then as I've said I didn't actually get to play it a lot, just read, and that was a long time ago. There's no "setting reboot" as far as I can tell: the map looks the same, dragon-king Kalak is still dead, and Tyr is still a purportedly free city. Sure, there aren't any elemental clerics (clerics that act like normal clerics but get spells from various elements), but that's perfectly fine because we don't need them what with the myriad of equally competent "healer classes" and elemental priest theme for the real sticklers out there. Again though, didn't play it much, and so wouldn't have given two shits if they did "blow it up".



Unlike the books for Forgotten Realms and Eberron, Dark Sun Campaign Setting is for both sides of the screen. As best I can figure, chapter 1 has some stuff that DMs and players should both know, 2-4 seem to be player-only, while 5 and 6 look to be for DM's eyes only.

Chapter 1: The World of Athas gives you a brief rundown of how Athas rolls, such as the types of heroes that might exist there, a paragraph of exposition for each "heroic" theme, and a sidebar on why divine characters shouldn't make the cut. The section on Athasian Civilization divides up the social pecking order--with sorcerer-kings on top--so DMs new to the scene have a clear idea of where everyone stands, provides you with a table of races and the languages that they speak (but don't write), and a calendar that's based on the "subtle motions of the sun". Secrets of Power gives the foot-notes version of Athasian history, I guess because people don't actually know the history of the world since they aren't permitted to read or write. On one hand, this would normally be fine since the players might never discover this, but on the other hand its never directly stated that halflings were responsible for setting up Athas the bomb, and I can live with that.

Chapter 2: Races is 15 pages long and reintroduces muls and thri-kreen--complete with paragon paths and feats--with the same story but a different look in the case of the thri-kreen.
Muls get a +2 to Constitution and a variable to either Strength or Wisdom (your choice), get a bonus on Endurance and Streetwise, can pick to either qualify as humans or dwarves for the purposes of feats, get an extra healing surge, and get incredible toughness (racial encounter that let's you automatically end one of several conditions as a minor action).
Thri-kreen get a static bonus to Dexterity, and can choose from Strength or Wisdom as their secondary. They get an Athletics and Nature bonus, always count as running when jumping, have their own variation on trancing, and can use thri-kreen claws to make a melee attack against 1-3 creatures as a racial encounter. Its keyed off of Strength, Dexterity, or Wisdom, and the more critters you attack the bigger the damage bonus gets. One of my friends griped that they don't have natural armor and can't use their claws whenever, but that's fine since the 3rd Edition thri-kreen had an assload of racial levels that meant while you were getting up to the point where you could make multiple claw attacks, the real characters were getting attack bonuses and feats that were actually useful.
As for other races, dragonborn are the new dray, while goliaths are the equivalent of half-giants. I'm fine with this arrangement since I'm not a huge fan of having races that are virtually identical. However, not all of the races get mentioned: tieflings, halflings, and even kalashtar are in, but gnomes and devas are right out (and for good reason as far as the setting fluff is concerned). This might piss off some players, but there's still hope in the form of a small sidebar on page 30 that talks about making a concession for a player that really want's to play something out of the norm.

Chapter 3: Themes introduces mechanics for the third component of the character concept trinity, right after race and class. As the name implies they add additional thematic options to your character, allowing you to bring it to the table in a mechanical manner. There are ten featured in this book (each with their own pair of paragon paths), with more on the way for both Dark Sun and other worlds. They aren't intrinsically tied to any specific class so if you wanna make, say...a druid templar, go for it.

Chaper 4: Character Options touches the touchy subject of arcane magic and introduces the mechanic for defiling magic, gives a few alternate starting class features, new feats, epic destinies, and gear. Every type of armor gets some kind of hide and/or shell-based parallel, including all the masterwork materials. For example, instead of feyleather you have baazrag leather, and instead of tarrasque plate you get braxat lord. If you happen to find metal armor, its always pegged as a +2 item and might impose a -5 penalty to Endurance to resist heat at the DM's discretion. All the old weapons are back, so enjoy cleaving monsters apart with an axe made from a jawbone, or impaling them on a blade embedded in a turtle shell attached to your wrist. I'll probably end up using the carrikal the most since I fucking love the way it looks (trikal comes a close second). A sidebar on page 122 lets you use the optional rule for weapon breakage, but recommends you use fixed enhancement bonuses (mentioned in Chapter 6). There isn't a lot of added miscellaneous adventuring gear, though I find the distillation kit somewhat humorous as it lets you get a days worth of water by "cooking waste and toxic fluids" for six hours. 
Finally, there's also a couple pages devoted to Athasian magic items. 

Chapter 5: Atlas of Athas gives you a desert primer on specific terrain types before giving you an overview of the major locations on Athas, such as the seven cities, forest ridge, the tablelands, and more. Each section gets about 2-4 pages a pop, containing character backgrounds, adventure hooks, and general information about the important features and history to be found there.

We wrap things up with Chapter 6: Running a Dark Sun Game, which is invaluable for DM's, explaining to you all the themes that help convey the feel of a brutal, gritty Dark Sun adventure such as the desert itself, ecology, psionics, and arcane magic. There's a table for overland travel over various types of desert terrain, mechanics for using survival days, and sun sickness, a new disease that causes you to lose healing surges and take attack and defense penalties before eventually dying. The section under Encounter Building gives advice for running arena and wilderness encounters, wrapping things up with new skill challenges. Treasure and Rewards recommends using fixed enhancement bonuses instead of having them attached to weapons, since they can more easily break, as well as providing a lot of alternative rewards similar to boons from Dungeon Master's Guide 2. For example, gift of fire is a level 6+ elemental gift that lets you deal bonus fire damage for a turn. 

In closing, this book is awesome. Oppressive sorcerer-kings, an unforgiving wilderness, cannibalistic halflings: all these and more are conducive to a very different game than one that I'm used to running (and my players playing). I missed out big time in 2nd Edition, and I don't intend on waiting around again to drag my players kicking and screaming through the searing wastes.


My Girlfriend is a DM posted up part 1 of their own Dark Sun review, so go read it, too.
August 15, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

The Shivs of Sorcery

4th Edition has gone a long way to make wizards and sorcerers into distinct classes. Aside from vastly differing class features and spells (you know, the entirety of the class), sorcerers can also use daggers as spell implements, and this Class Acts article expands its utility by providing spells that require you to use the dagger in melee and feats that improve upon this theme.

On feats, there's a Heroic tier feat for Cosmic, Storm, and Wild Magic sorcerers that took Sorcerous Blade Channeling (lets you use ranged attacks in melee) that add a small benefit such as forced movement or letting you shift after the attack. Armored Sorcerer only works with leather, boosting resistances gained from your Spell Source. I really like Mastery of Knives, which gives you proficiency with kukris and lets you treat them as daggers for sorcerer spells. Glee.

As for spells, there aren't a lot and they range from levels 1-9.

  • Ensorcelled blade is an at-will attack that deals automatic damage to the target if they tap you back in melee before the start of your next turn. As another perk, you can use it as a melee basic attack.
  • Teleporting strike lets you attack, teleport as an effect, and then attack again (the second attack imposes conditions instead of dealing damage).
  • Lightning cuts is really simple: you deal double weapon lightning damage without an ability boost to damage. The plus is that it targets Reflex and only takes a minor action to use.
  • Blinding blade is a level 5 daily that deals double damage and blinds.
  • Dweomer dagger is a level 7 attack that deals double damage and imposes a defense penalty for a turn. Nothing too fancy.
  • Force daggers is a level 9 attack that affects a close blast and deals double damage, unless there was only one target in which case it deals triple damage.
Posted by David Guyll

Psionic Power Review

Growing up my family was fairly poor so for the longest time I had to make due running D&D games with only a Player's Handbook, some pages from that one Monster Manual thing that was in a three-ring binder, and bumming books from friends. Thankfully there weren't magic item parcels (or even estimated wealth levels) because I had sporadic access at best to a Dungeon Master's Guide, which for all you kids out there is where magic items were kept at the time (and no, you couldn't easily build your own stuff until 3rd Edition).

Where this is gradually segueing is that I distinctly recall on Christmas where my uncle gave me a box of allegedly blank paper and another box that also allegedly contained a shitty wooden sleigh model--to which I had to pretend to give two shits about until I would invariably go home and play my second-hand Sega games that I sort of cared about--but in all actuality were 500 character sheets and Complete Psionicist's Handbook incognito. Suffice to say that that is the only Christmas I care to recall because the rest consisted of family members who hated each other getting together and pretending to like each other until the booze kicked in.

And that lengthy tangent is connected to the fact that while I wasn't playing the game when psionics were originally added to the game, I can lay claim that I was the only person in my group that bothered to try understanding and using psionics in a game (much to the DM's chagrin) up until 4th Edition. Back in the day (circa 2nd Edition), psionics got power points that they had to burn in order to energize their psionic abilities. When you tried to do this, you had to make a roll that was based on one of your ability scores somehow. If you rolled higher (or lower, I can't remember) that a certain number it worked (or failed), but if you rolled the modified number exactly, then it did something better, kinda like getting a psionic critical.

A lot of DM's didn't like it because they felt it was too powerful, and in hindsight I don't know if that's true since I haven't use it in well over 10 years, but I'm glad to see that psionics nowadays are both balanced and accessible to the point where DM's won't balk at me wanting to give it a shot (and other players are also chomping at the bits to try out a psionic class).

And with that, onto the actual review. Psionic Power appears to be the last Etcetera Power book being released for 4th Edition before Wizards moves on to a different naming scheme (ie, Heroes of Shadow). You know the drill: you get more content for all the psionic classes, as well as some story-centric information on the classes in-depth, as well as psionics in the world and how the classes relate to it. There's a lot of extra shit in this book, so I'll start out with the new class features as an opener.

  • Ardents can now pick up Mantle of Impulsiveness, which gives them a damage bonus when they are hit by opportunity attacks, a passive bonus to Endurance and Intimidate, and ardent eruption, an encounter power that grants all allies a damage bonus when you are bloodied.
  • Battleminds can choose Persistent Harrier as their Psionic Study, which causes them to teleport adjacent to a target and make an attack after an enemy hits or misses them, no matter how far away they are. An asshole DM could have something shoot at them from 20 squares away, effectively isolating them from the party. Randy's been getting a lot of mileage from Persistent Harrier in my Tendrils of Fate campaign, but I gotta say I prefer Battle Resilience because I like being essentially rendered immune to damage (even if its just for a round).
  • Monks can practice the Iron Soul tradition, allowing them use iron flurry of blows which lets them deal automatic damage based on your Con modifier and preventing them from shifting after you hit someone else. Oh, and if they weren't the original target it also stops them from making opportunity attacks. Finally, you get Mental Arsenal, which gives you a shield bonus to AC when you are wielding a weapon (ie, not unarmed).
  • Psions can now make astral stuffs by picking up Shaper Focus. You get two encounter disciplines, shaped consciousness and minor creation. Shaped consciousness lets you conjure up a fragment of your conscious that lets you sense things through it. Minor creation lets you make a simple item from the equipment list that lasts for the encounter. Out of all the new class crunch I'm most excited for the psion's shaping abilities, since I'm a sucker for summoning shit and I do so enjoyed astral constructs from 3rd Edition.

Aside from new class features, you get paragon paths, lots of feats for each class across all the tiers, epic destinies, and magic items. I particularly like the alienist paragon path, partially because of its randomized action point kicker, but mostly because everything you summon from 16th-level and up is corrupted by the Far Realm, rendering it a nightmarish amalgamation of tentacles, eyes, and mouths. Oh yeah, the level 20 daily discipline, summon far realm abomination, is a very "controllery" beast that is capable of grabbing and throttling two critters at the same time. Just don't forget to tell it what to do each round or it will unleash a psychic scream that deals a bit of psychic damage and dazes everything it hits.

I also like Chapter 5: Psionic Options, which is 17-pages of fluffy content that describes the psionic power source such as it is in Athas, Eberron, and Forgotten Realms, philosophies and orders, backgrounds (including a specific one for each race), and psionic origins. One of the biggest crunchy highlights, for me, are the two feat trees for Psionic Bloodlines: one brings back elans (originally debuting in 3rd Edition) as a benign psychic race, in addition to introducing the foulborn bloodline for those that want to go with a darker bent. I gotta say elan resilience is nice and all for the damage reduction, but I prefer unbalanced mind for the automatic psychic damage. All told there's 21 feats between the two trees and three tiers, as well as a paragon path for each.

If you like psionics, pick it up. There's a lot of new stuff.
August 14, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Bardic Items, Closing the Magic Treasure Gap


I like this article because I just so happen to have a bard in my current campaign that specifically wants to use songbows and only songbows. It really is just about "closing the gaps", giving you nine magic items to round out the level 1-4 selection as well as level 9 and 29 magic instruments (for the group at epic tier that was wondering where the hell they were).

The first few items--+1 bard's songblade and +1 bard's songbow--aren't anything special, merely providing the basic magical staples that are both weapons and implements.
The howling songbow has a property that lets it deal thunder damage to creatures granting cover to the target, which is kinda cool since it gives you incentive to go after enemies that are slightly harder to hit.
Tuning songblades have a property that imposes a save penalty against ongoing thunder damage and a daily both deals ongoing thunder damage but also grants an attack bonus while the creature has it.
Venomous songblades have a weaken-save-ends effect, but don't actually inflict poison damage at any time. On the other hand, venomous songbows have an ongoing poison damage daily power.
Finally, the wailing songbow has a property that penalizes a stricken targets Stealth modifier and an encounter power that lets you ignore concealment, so long as you've already hit the target during the encounter (cause the arrows scream when they hit someone, you see).

As for instruments, the lyre of supplication counts as a +6 item and has a daily domination power built into it for good measure, while the mesmerizing harp is a meager +2 item that has a sustainable daily power that reduces a creature's Will defense.
August 12, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

At the Mines of Madness, Part 1

I've finally started off a new campaign after shelving Songs of Erui since the only original character's was Josh/Shazbot's, a razorclaw ranger named Greymalkin. I've been itching to run something Eberron since it came out last year, and after building up on a one-shot idea I had am glad to be back in Khorvaire, or more accurately the Shadow Marches. For the curious, here's the party roster (the reason I list the player's name first is because I only remember the name of Liz and Josh's characters).

  • Liz is playing a changling rogue named Moxie.
  • Randy is playing a half-elf battlemind whose name I forget.
  • Josh is playing a half-orc seeker named Hawkeye (or rather, Hok'Ai, or some such spelling)
  • Beth is playing a kalashtar bard that uses a bow.

I mentioned a long time ago that I was going to start out this adventure with a flashback vignette, in which the players played commoner-type characters running from something in the middle of the night. They didn't know what it was, just that people in Shardpit started going crazy, killing and eating each other. Naturally they and a bunch of other townsfolk legged it and after many hours were severely dwindled in number and exhausted, which was about the time I started murdering them. It started off shaky, and in the final adventure writeup I'm going to note how I think it would be better initiated, but suffice to say it did a good job of getting the players freaked out and wondering what the fuck was going on.

Of course, I did forget to mention that some of them had golden treasures of various sorts, but I added them in later when the party looted their digested corpses.

The adventure opened up with the party guiding a caravan through the Shadow Marches, along with a few minion soldiers to try and even up the odds with the 938 XP encounter that they ran into. It had bullywugs and frogs, which they laughed at until they realized that the croakers hit pretty hard and that if they burn healing surges then they get weakened for a turn. Yeeep, that shut 'em up.

After losing half the guards and chasing off the last remaining bullywug, they found some fish-themed treasures, half-digested corpses, and one without a head (their characters from the vignette). They didn't laugh at that, but it did start getting them to ask questions (and Beth accusing frogs of being the BBEG). Realizing that they were getting closer to whatever it was they killed them before (but unable to act on out-of-character knowledge, heh heh), they proceeded to loot their previous characters--something that hasn't happened since OD&D--they trekked on and arrived at Shardpit.

The gates were open, but finding everything abandoned looted the everburning torches and proceeded. They found a blood-spattered stone, and a stable with lots of dead horses. As they stood around arguing for a bit until crazy-eyed people started emerging from their houses. When a crazed human horde arrived, Liz described it as a very, "Left 4 Dead moment," which I guess is apt.


And then a girl packing a hammer came rushing out of the stable, except that she had a shark mouth in her stomach. Actually, that's still pretty similar to Left 4 Dead.


Okay, she wasn't that ugly. Blegh.

They barely scraped by this fight with a few healing surges left, but still kept going until they got ambushed by dog-crab things that could teleport and the guards with tentacles for arms. I had the guards on top of the houses, hoping to grab characters and strangle them while the dogs distracted the rest of the party, but Josh fucked that plan by lighting the buildings on fire with his elemental spirits power. This attracted more of the crazed horde who upon seeing the warped guards and dogs didn't stick around long.

At this point the party has abandoned the caravan wagons and lost two out of three merchants. The general prediction is that they will all die, which probably won't happen because I've got at least five more adventures planned out. We'll see who makes it through the next session.

Rising Tide Inn

An inn in Greyshore, from The Shadows Over Greyshore. There will be hijinks because I drew the map and according to Beth I only draw maps when shit is about to hit the fan.


I didn't draw all the chairs. Or the furniture in the kitchen. Or the furniture in any of the small rooms, which just have a bed anyway so whatever.

GenCon Announcements

A lot of stuff rolled out at GenCon this year. They opened up with the announcements by mentioned stuff that was already released before moving on to the new stuff (as well as "super secret stuff!"). I'm going to skip all that and move to the new releases.

Now, we already know a lot about The Essentials, and the "Red Box" releases next month along with Rules Compendium, Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon, and Lords of Madness. Rules Compendium is going to be a 6" x 9" soft-cover book that will have all the current rules updates, while Lords of Madness is a DDM expansion that I will be pre-ordering an entire case of.

In October we'll get the next Essentials product, Dungeon Master's Kit, which has a starter adventure (of course) and monster tokens. I'm curious if they will start releasing token packs instead of minis, which would be easier to carry and cheaper to produce. We'd also be able to quickly get tokens of all the monsters from the game instead of waiting for them to make specific models. On the downside, I do like being able to freak out my players with a sense of scale. Additionally (and more importantly to me), there's Gamma World. I never played it in the past, but I did play Rifts (which sucks ass), and Gamma World looks like a funner romp in a post-apocalyptic world. As has been said in the past, chargen is purportedly random and faster, with mutations being presented as randomly drawn cards (including card booster packs to be released later).

Two Essentials products debut in November: Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms and Monster Vault (which I guess is a boxed set that also includes tokens). There's a Dungeon Tiles set cleverly named Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The City that I'll by a few of and shelve, a beholder minis set that has four beholders (sold as a limited quantity deal, so I need to snag two of them), and a Gamma World expansion: Famine in Far-go. According to the product catalog, it's a 160-page adventure with new mutants, monster tokens, and a fold-out map.

Finally, at the end of the year we'll get Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Wilderness. Yawn.

Aaaand in a similar vein, next year starts off pretty sparse as far as I'm concerned: Dungeon Tiles: Caverns of Icewind Dale is one of two products that interests me, and only because I don't have ice Dungeon Tiles. Double-yawn.

I'm really excited for February because of Deluxe Dungeon Master's ScreenDeluxe Dungeon Master's Screen will sport badass Wayne Reynold's art and (hopefully) accurate tables. There's some of other stuff, too: Gazetteer: Nentir Vale is, like Rules Compendium, another 6" by 9" softcover that details (dun dun duuun!) the Nentir Vale. If it's good I might actually want to run adventures there. Legion of Gold is the second Gamma World adventure (more tokens and another map, of course). Good month.

The last mentioned product that's also on the catalog is Heroes of Shadow, which will be about more than just races and classes that hinge on the shadow power source (though the hexblade and necromancer are in there): you'll be able to give new and existing characters a shot at tossing around some shadow-goodness. In other words, its designed to, "appeal to lots of players," and I fully endorse that movement. 

After that it's kind of a crap shoot as to when other mentioned products are coming out.
  • Fortune Cards are for groups that want to inject more randomness into their games in a similar manner to mutations from Gamma World, just without the added side-effect of permanently mutating your character. I'm envisioning them possibly akin to all those bullshit critical fumble/critical hit charts from older editions (just without the bullshit). It's slated for 1st Quarter, but not mentioned in the catalog.
  • Mordenkainen's Magical Emporium will be another magic item book, except that it will have lots of story elements for each item and will list items with their rarities. I guess common and uncommon items can be purchased and made by characters, but rares can't. At least they won't be sold in boosters.
  • Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond is the next of the planar books, except that it will also have a "Despair Deck" that lets the DM afflict the characters with various mechanical and roleplaying effects while they're touring around the place.
  • Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale is a "monster book" that comes with tokens and poster maps. Nifty.
  • Conquest of Nerath is a strategy wargame, board...game, that is similar to Risk or Axis & Allies taking place on the ruined kingdom of Nerath. This, along with the Castle Ravenloft board game will give my group some more things to do instead of delves on nights when no one feels like running, or when we're missing a player or three. I recently got Liz into Inn-Fighting as a short analog game to play while we watch TV or need to kill some time, so I got high hopes. Also curious to see what Nerath looks/looked like.
  • Player's Handbook: Champions of the Heroic Tier will introduce (among other things) themes for core D&D, so you can get your theme on outside of Athas, in addition to new options, feats, and "non-combat options" that I guess will be like professions but wont cost you anything to pick up. One of the non-combat options has been stated multiple times is the blacksmith.
  • Neverwinter Campaign Guide is for Forgotten Realms, so the only reason I care is the bladesinger class.
  • Hero's Builder Handbook is for players that want to heavily emphasize a concept. I love building characters around a concept, so am looking forward to what this will bring to the table.
  • Madness of Gardmore Abbey is a super-adventure that's build around a scattered deck of many things that will come with a deck in the box.
  • Ravenloft Roleplaying Game slated for release in the fourth quarter of the year. It's designed to be stand-alone, yet compatible with the rest of D&D (whew!) that let's players play werewolves, vampires, and other monsters. Like Dark Sun and Gamma World, I'm looking forward to running a game with an officially made, updated setting.
August 09, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Essentials Powers, Feats, and Implements

Up until now, the stuff I've heard about the Essentials didn't worry me at all. Classes built differently? That's cool. Magic item rarities? I can work with that. The recently revealed changes? Well...they've given me pause. I mean, the team over at WotC has done an excellent job with 4th Edition thus far, so I'm willing to give the whole thing the benefit of the doubt, but some of the changes are starting to get me a bit worried in the way that only a fuck-ton of changes can.

Not all of it's bad. For one thing, if you have two implement-using classes, then any implements work for your powers even if the normally wouldn't. For example, if you're a sorcerer/bard, then you can use daggers as implements. I don't think it's difficult at all to understand how implements work, but I can get behind making multiclassing less irritating (I've had players not want to multiclass because they didn't want to have to try and maintain two separate +whatever-whatevers).

Its when you get to races and powers that things start to seem a bit...power creepy. Wizard encounter spells will have miss effects, which we already knew but didn't know what they would look like. One of the examples is  burning hands, which will deal half damage on a miss. Now, if the base damage is reduced that's fine, but if they are going to go through the entire wizard spell selection and alter all of it? Well, that's a lot of modifications, and while I'm glad that DDI updates all this shit automatically I would appreciate them printing updated books to reflect the more radical changes they've made (magic missile, I'm looking at you).

Races from Essentials will all get a static modifier to one ability score and a floater between two others. I don't think this is necessary, except for players that have to pick optimized race/class combos. What I like about 4th Edition is that you can mix and match any race and class and end up with a working character. The plus side is that this technically makes races more flexible in the sense that they will have key modifiers to a specific class, but I dont feel that it was necessary. I mean, I've made a functional gnome barbarian and Shazbot played a halfling dagger fighter for quite awhile and we perceived no problems with either.

On a similar note a lot of feats are getting changed, as well as a purportedly better organization method that uses categories like Enduring Stamina, which is for feats that make your character tougher and last longer. I'm guessing this time around we'll have forum-goers bitching that a feat should be in this category or that. 9_9
Posted by David Guyll

Essentials Fighter Preview, Part 2

Shazbot got around to it before I did, but I still want to offer up my thoughts. The first thing I notice is that despite it being categorized under the fighter heading, its actually a martial striker, the striker mechanic being that they get to add Dex to every damage roll they make. This is very good for the class since it revolves around the use of Strength and Dexterity. On the downside (for some) it just means that you're going to want to stick to heavy blades. I like swords, so I don't give a fuck. In all seriousness, the knight seems to be Strength- and Constitution-focused, and since they are building classes around themes my guess is that they are trying to parse the weapon selection as much as possible.

Does this make sense? Well, when I think slayer I do start out with swords first and foremost. Axes tend to come second, and for a ranged weapon I envision a crossbow for some reason. Maybe its too much Vampire Hunter D? However, when I think knight I still think sword. At any rate, I don't know if Essentials fighters will get anything out of their ability scores when it comes to weapons. Feats still apply, but its yet to be seen if their powers will say anything to the effect of, "when using a heavy blade/axe, add your Dex/Con modifier to whatever."

Moving on, the Weapon Talent class feature is also featured on the knight, but not explained: it grants you a passive bonus to all weapon attacks. This is better than old fighters, who had to pick how many hands were required to squeeze the bonus out of their weapon, if they even got it at all (you could pick to instead be badass with two weapons, or to keep getting more hit points when you got hit).

Fighter stances, as explained in the knight article, are at-will powers that modify how your basic attacks work (since martial classes now rely on basic attacks that get kickers from their at-wills). There are two stances previewed: the first, berserker's charge, grants you a +2 bonus to Speed and attack rolls when making charges. Since its a power bonus, it stacks with the +1 gained from charging in the first place, so its a good way to make sure your charge hits. The other one is unfettered fury, which imposes a -2 to hit in exchange for a +4 to damage. Good if you've got combat advantage and want to make the modifiers a wash, I guess. Finally, the last level 1 class feature is power strike, which is identical to the knight's (encounter power that lets you deal extra damage on a hit).


August 06, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Essential Slayer Preview



Posted last night on Bill Slavicsek's Ampersand column, the Slayer is the other new Fighter build being published in September's "Heroes of Fallen Lands" Essentials Player Book.

It was hinted at in last months Cleric preview that the Knight would be the traditional defender, while the Slayer occupied more striker-ish territory...and boy they weren't kidding. The Slayer, in a break from what we've seen in 4E thus far, is a martial striker rather than a defender.

The class is STR/DEX based and shown in the preview is their "Heroic Slayer" class feature, which allows them to apply their dexterity bonus along with their Strength bonus to all damage rolls from weapon attacks. At 5th and 9th level, the Slayer gets Mighty Slayer and Inexorable Slayer, respectively. I presume these bolster their extra damage mechanic further.

Also shown in the preview is the Weapon Talent class feature (also granted to the Knight) which garners them a +1 to hit on all weapon attacks.

Along with class features, two stances were previewed: Berserker's Charge, which grants a boost to speed and attack rolls when making a charge attack, and Unfettered Fury, which imposes a penalty to melee attack powers in exchange for a damage boost. Pretty much exactly like the Power Attack feat from core 4E...the difference is that this penalty applies to weapon powers and not melee basic attacks...so it seems that for the Essentials Slayer, this is just free damage.

It looks like the Slayer is the answer to players who've been clamoring for a more vanilla flavored Barbarian.

My one complaint here is that the class is STR/DEX based, which pretty much shoehorns Slayers into focusing on heavy blades, since most axe and hammer (iconic choices for this archetype, I feel) feats are STR/CON based. This might not be a problem in Essentials, but it is one point in which the rules between the two lines don't interact well.

A lot of people are also complaining that the Slayer being a striker rather than a defender undermines the class/role system of 4E, which might have a note of truth. But during the Design and Development panel (recorded here) at this year's Gencon, the folks behind D&D admitted that going forward, the major shift in design philosophy is based around building upon themes rather than building a theme into mechanics. From this standpoint, I have no problem with classes as basic archetypes that can fill a number of roles.

For example (and this is just speculation/masturbation on my part, so don't take it too seriously):

Fighter: Knight (Defender), Slayer (Striker), Lancer (Controller), Marshall (Leader)

Rogue: Thief (Striker), Dervish (Controller), Mountebank (Leader)

Cleric: Warpriest (Leader), Hierophant (Controller)

Wizard: Mage (Controller), Warcaster (Striker), Abjurer (Leader), Spellsword (Defender)

Ranger: Scout (Striker), Guide (Leader)

Paladin: Guardian (Defender), Justiciar (Striker)

Druid: Mystic (Controller), Stalker (Striker), Keeper (Leader)

Warlock: Hellbinder (Striker), Feybinder (Controller), Starbinder (Leader)

Just a thought. By the way, the inspiration for these comes from JohnSnow, a regular poster on the WotC forums and on rpg.net.
Posted by Shazbot

Essential Rogue Preview


I like how the Essential Rogue preview opens up--yet a-fucking-gain--with a disclaimer about how Essentials isn't a new edition, replacing the original core rulebooks, or is in any way incompatible with 4E. Of course, I still expect to see forum-wankers clamoring to the contrary (which is why I don't like the forums).

The featured rogue build is a thief. Sneak Attack is still there and works like you'd expect (edit: Shazbot pointed out that it works on a turn-by-turn basis, instead of round-by-round, and you can do it with shortbows to boot), but backstab makes a return as an encounter exploit that you can activate against a creature granting combat advantage to you and within 5 squares as a free action, giving you a +3 power bonus to the attack roll and an extra d6 damage to boot. Other class features include Weapon Finesse, First Strike, Skill Mastery, Cunning Escape, and Combat Readiness, though none of them are explained.

Unlike the various "essential fighter" builds, the essential rogue doesn't modify her basic attacks with stances, instead having to burn move actions to both let her move and add on a kicker effect to her basic attacks. Ambush strike lets you move your speed, and until the end of your next turn causes all enemies within 5 squares to grant combat advantage to you. Feinting trick, on the other hand, let's you move your speed and let's you add your Charisma modifier to damage so long as the target doesn't grant combat advantage.


August 01, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

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