Archive for November 2010

Virtual Table Overview

After uninstalling and reinstalling Java 6, I finally managed to get Virtual Table to load. I've never used other online mapping tools before (or really played online), so while I can't make a comparison I can go over what I like/don't like about it. Before I go on please understand that this is the beta software, there is a list of feature requests and reported bugs, and I expect it to get a lot better.

Currently, the Campaign Manager site is the first thing you'll see before you get to Virtual Table. Here you can search for current campaigns, open campaigns, or start your own. You can filter results by the campaign world, whether it's an actual campaign or one-shot, min and max users, and--oddly enough--edition. Yep, every Dungeons & Dragons version from 1st through 4th is represented, with Other encapsulating the rest. I doubt this will cause those playing lapsed editions to sign up for DDI...unless they offer it as a separate service (hint hint).

The real meat here is obviously Virtual Table.


It looks like what I'd expect from a virtual tabletop: most of the screen is dominated by a large map, there are menus at the top, with commonly accessed functions occupying bars beneath the menus and on the right-hand side. The right menu bar can be expanded or hidden if you want to increase your map real-estate. At the bottom is a chat window, and to the right of that is your Dice Roller (with a check box to make private rolls). The top menus let you--amongst other things--import/export adventures, maps, characters, and monsters, turn off windows that you don't need/want, change cursor modes (Normal, Pointer, Map Drag, etc), mute yourself and/or other players, and enable voice fonts.

Voice fonts will purportedly change the way you sound, though I'm not sure how effective it is. Some of the options are deep, male to female, female to male, elf, orc, and paladin. That sounds really cool.

The various cursor modes let you interact with tokens and tiles, drag the entire map around without moving anything, highlight specific elements on the map, draw line of sight, create area of effect zones (Close blast and burst), make parts of the map visible/invisible (likely for light sources and hidden passages), and draw free hand lines, circles, and squares. You can't move area of effects once you place them; you have to delete them and redraw them again. This is something that needs to be changed for spellcasters that want to display to everyone where they are casting spells, or for those employing zone effects (especially if they can move).

As it stands, you have to manually switch between cursor modes for each object. I think having a kind of "smart selection" would be very handy, having the cursor automatically switch modes depending on what you are trying to interact with. Also, there is no way to Undo an action. You have to manually erase lines and shapes that you drew. Thankfully, there is an option for the eraser that lets you drag over an area, but it won't remove anything else. This can be useful or a hindrance, depending on your needs. Personally, I'd like a way to erase large areas of tiles instead of having to meticulously remove each of them one by one.

The map has several default textures: typical battle mat, sand, dirt, or grass. Good if you don't feel like laying digital tiles manually over the whole thing. The Dungeon Tile library looks very basic, being all interior design features. It's organized into dimensions, so you don't have to go poking through a massive bin if the only thing you need is a 1x2 door tile. As expected, you can rotate tiles and move them in Pointer Mode after placing them. The oddest thing is that they included the map for the last area in Keep on the Shadowfell, because it shows monster locations from that encounter.

Speaking of monsters, you cannot import monsters from Compendium. To make matters worse, you have to key in everything by hand. The application should at least calculate formulas, though I see no reason why Wizards cannot include a fully functional monster library. Worse, monsters don't even seem to get full stat blocks, lacking fields for skills, ability scores, languages, and equipment. There is a notes section, but again, they could make collapsing stat blocks to save space. At least you can export monsters to your computer, so if Wizards drags their heels on this, we'll hopefully see some fan-made monster sets.

Characters have the same problems, but are in a slightly larger boat: they have fields for their ability scores, modifiers, healing surges, surge value, passive detection, but again, you have to do all the math. To make matters worse, you have to also input all the information for each power you have, so hopefully you aren't playing a high-level character for your first run through. People are clamoring for a feature to import from Character Builder (as well as an online character repository), so here's hoping.

The last thing of note is a journal feature that both players and the DM can use to store notes (DM's at least can make their notes private). Entries are saved by name, which is handy for quick reference.

That's it for a cursory feature overview. Remember, I've not yet actually used it yet, and it's still in beta. At this point, it looks promising, but then I've never actually used online gaming tools like this before. Once I get a game or two under my belt, I'll post my thoughts.
November 29, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Random Character Flops

Almost two years ago, back when Dungeon Delve was released, a then friend of mine wanted to try running the level 30 delve to see what end-game was all about. I can't remember if the offline Character Builder was out of Beta at this time, but after spending an hour or so building my own party I decided to let the program have a crack at a character. The result was...terrifying; a waforged fighter, somehow multiclassed into both paladin and warlock. I think the warlock spells had like, +13 versus NADs. Calling it substandard would be a compliment: I've seen blind kobold wizards wearing full plate with an Intelligence of 6 in 3rd Edition that were more viable.

Having tinkered around with the online Character Builder, it sometimes did alright in picking elements for me once I'd started doing some of the leg work. As a simple exercise, I decided to give it a shot at calling the shots. What I got was a human  shielding swordmage with a Constitution of 11, Alchemist and Implement Focus (talenta sharrash) for feats, but a longsword for a weapon. To make matters worse, the encounter spell is fox's feint, which gets a kicker effect for having Aegis of Ensnarement. The only ability that makes sense is greenflame blade since it gave me a Strength of 14 (despite the fact that Aegis of Shielding is keyed to Constitution).

I find that it's pretty hard to make a 4th Edition character this shitty. You get no bonus to your marking class feature, a feat for a weapon you don't own, and a secondary stat that you weren't using in the first place. Unlike the older Builder, this wasn't generated all at once. No, you gotta go step by step through the ropes in order to gradually auto-build a character. While this is all pretty bad, mind you, this is only level one. I'm sure if I gave this thing 30 levels we could see some serious damage.
November 26, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Into Dragon's Den, Part 4

After holding up the game for about half an hour trying to redraw a map I thought I'd lost, the players re-checked the door for traps, and feeling that it was no longer going to disintegrate anyone else, kicked it in. In my last campaign, the players actually complained that there weren't any traps--in an ancient, undead-ridden castle, no less--so this time I indulged their paranoia since I could rationally explain there existence (also, it would likely be awhile before I could use them in such abundance again).

In the map I drew the "dungeon" is divided into two halves, with each half basically having two ways to go about it. One is trapped, while the other is clean. For the trapped path, the doors are locked, suggesting importance, with traps setup to trigger once it is opened, or when someone steps on the area just outside (pressure plates). The idea is that no reasonable organization would employ mechanical traps in an area that sees regular traffic. I tried dropping hints, such as that the doors appeared to be rusted, or that the dust, mold, and/or excrement around the door didn't appear disturbed.

Despite this, they pressed on through a heavily fire-trapped-and-locked hallway, until they kicked in a door to find a scarred orc getting ready to take a cleaver to Moxie. Although I've never seen an episode of Doctor Who, Beth got it right in that it was a teleporter and not a disintegration ray. The trap, when triggered, teleports the individual into a chamber where the target is restrained by a magic circle. Moxie tried to talk her way out by pretending to be a "new guy", but the orc wasn't having any of it. Besides, he needed some blood for a ritual on there wasn't any on tap.

When the rest of the gang arrived, he tried in vain to draw one of them into a Khyber dragonshard, summoning some legion devils for support. Heien locked down the devils, while Lwaxana weakened the circle enough for Moxie to attack the orc when he got pushed too close. An imp stung Heien and fled invisibly to warn others when he got damaged. It was an easy battle as I'd banked on someone getting temporarily trapped in the dragonshard or knocking someone else into the magic circle, but thats how the 20-sider rolls.

They tried having Moxie trick more of the thieves, but the imp had already spilled the beans. They tried to go pretend to go along with her story, and while she saw through the ruse, the imp had snuck on on her and stung her, too. The rest of the party sprung into action, feathering the thieves with arrows while Heien and Moxie killed the imp before it could get away (again). Another pretty easy fight, but I didn't want them to peter out of healing before they got to the end, as I liked the idea of them plowing through a thieves guild without having to stop for a nap.

After looting some beds, they came across a pair of warforged. While most of the party took them on, Lwaxana ran the other way to open a door, adding a trio of minions and a skilled duelist into the mix. Who was also Moxie's sister. This was a problem. I might not have mentioned this before, but Moxie was looking for her sister, whom she believed had fallen in with Dragon and his crew. The basic story behind Liz's character is that she got into the dragonshard smuggling trade so that she could get close to Dragon and determine this for herself.

This means that she [Moxie's sister] is a changling, a race that hinges on the ability to create perfect alternate identities. So, I tried to describe her fighting technique as "very similar to Moxie's", what with the graceful flourishes, feints, and two-weapon style, but no one really caught on. I didn't want to make anyone roll Insight, as once you call for it the players immediately become more paranoid or interested in something than they have any right to be. Kinda like when you ask for a Perception check and everyone fails.

Long story short, they killed her, she turned into a changling, and Liz realized what was going on. After some accusations that I did that to avoid developing the character hook later, or that I'd allegedly forgotten about it, I reminded the players that such a thing as Raise Dead exists in D&D. Since, you know, forever. All they have to do is find a halfling House of Healing and shell out the 500 or so gp (I might up it to 1,000 due to supply and demand, but certainly not out of irritation, so siree. :-P).

With that out of the way, the found a room with tables and gemcutting kits and an attached vault filled with chests and crates. They went after the crates, triggering an explosive trap that also blew up the crates. Which were filled with rocks. When they got around to checking the crates, they say that those were filled with Eberron dragonshards.

The last stop was Dragon's throne room. Yes, this guy had a throne room, along with an attractive half-elf...well, let's call her a "mediator". To the party, Dragon appeared as a big-ass green dragon lounging upon a gem-encrusted throne made of gold. The entire hall glittered with opulent splendor. So, I'm hoping none of the players were surprised when they discovered it was a grand illusion. Dragon was a brain in a jar, while the half-elf was a dolgaunt, with more dolgaunt minions lurking behind illusionary walls.

The battle opened with Dragon dominating Heien and tossing Hawkeye into a dolgaunt infested room. Moxie chucked daggers to no avail, and Lwaxana had a bitch of a time hitting him with any Will spells since, surprise surprise, his Will was his highest Defense. With the ranged guy surrounded, the defender dominated, and the two support characters being directly confronted, they pulled out the big guns dailies. Since none of them had even used daily powers, Dragon lasted a round or two before the head-based puns started rolling.

Next session, it's off into the Shadow Marches to deal with the orcs, ideally after pawning their shit, doing some research, and gearing up.
November 24, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Character Concepts: Revenant Chaladin

I thought of this a few days ago, and forgot what thought process spawned it. One of Pelor's faithful, gifted perhaps with modest healing powers, is captured by a necromancer and sacrificed in his own temple as part of an "unhallowing" ritual (causing statues to bleed, holy symbols to melt, the foundations crumble, etc). The character might belong to a powerful bloodline, or be "pure of heart", or maybe the necromancer just needed someone. At any rate, he rises the next dawn, gifted with the powers of a paladin, with instructions from both the Raven Queen and Pelor to stop this person.

  • Prayers: Ardent Strike, Virtuous Strike, Valorous Smite, Majestic Halo
  • Feat: Human Soul

I figure that destruction of your village, while a RPG cliche, is sufficient to prompt most people to action. However I think that it's much more personal if they actually kill you. The background should prove easy to work into most campaigns, as evil necromancers are a villainous staple of the genre. It also provides a reasonable explanation as to why a dead person is going about chanting prayers and channeling holy light, which to me is more interesting than another human, dwarf, or deva.

(what follows is just my thoughts on paladins over the ages, and has nothing to do with the above character)

I've seen people play paladins, thankfully never in the way commonly--and hopefully satirically--portrayed in other media; an annoying pretty boy (or girl) with armor and teeth that never tarnish, loudly proclaiming his intent to invade an orc camp, or complaining when the party wants to try subterfuge regardless of potential consequences, good or bad. Mostly I remember my players running them like they would any other character, with the occasional warning that they would forfeit their powers if they continued to proceed with an imminent infraction, which might have been due to a looser (read: more fun) interpretation of alignment and the paladin code.

Despite a lack of harrowing experiences, I've never really had any desire to play a paladin. In 2nd Edition it was partially because of the alignment restrictions and paladin code, partially because that the odds of me rolling a Charisma of 17, in addition to the other steep requirements, were slim to say the least, especially when you had to record your results in order. Come to think of it, I think that the only reason any of my friends played a paladin was because they rarely legitimately had the stats to do it, and when the opportunity finally arose they just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

3rd Edition made things a bit easier since you got to roll 4d6, drop the lowest, and place them however you wanted to. Unfortunately 3rd Edition tied ability scores closely to the rest of the mechanics, and paladins wanted Strength, Constitution, Wisdom, and Charisma. It wasn't unfortunate that they tied ability scores to mechanics, but that the paladin demands so much. You needed Strength for melee attacks, Wisdom to cast spells, Charisma for a few class features such as lay on hands, and Constitution to not die. And if that wasn't enough, you were still double-teamed by Lawful Good only and the silly paladin code.

Ugh.

4th Edition paladins are much friendlier to everyone at the table. You don't have a set alignment, and the ability scores you need are Strength or Charisma, and Wisdom helps. Strength and Charisma are used for your attacks, and there are sufficient prayers that you can pick one instead of spreading yourself too thin. Though divine challenge is keyed to Charisma, you can take a feat to link it to Strength instead, allowing you to forgo Charisma almost entirely. Last but not least, there's no paladin code, so you're free to act entirely within whatever character traits you desire.
November 22, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: The Lady's Gift

If there's one thing Dungeons & Dragons was missing, it would be a system of magic based around strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' magic swords. Thankfully, that's been addressed. Like the star pact hexblade article, the new crunch is restricted to levels where you don't normally get to choose. There's also a page of flavor to dish up with it, which could provide a solid foundation for a character to go a-questin'.

At 1st-level, you get a renamed blade of annihilation and a pair of spells that let you deal radiant damage or a lot of radiant damage (and making nearby enemies vulnerable to it). Many of the attacks revolve around dealing radiant damage, but as you ascend levels you can also summon undead handmaidens, blind enemies, and transform into a radiant champion that gains a considerable speed boost and can deal automatic damage once per round.

It's a good variation of the fey pact theme that delivers its own, solid concept of a questing knight, and will be something I'll use when I revisit my failed primal adventure path.
November 19, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

D&D Comic

I'm not exactly a comic book fan. Yeah, I've got the entire run of Hellboy, BPRDBone, and a smattering of other titles, but those are exceptional cases as I prefer web comics to their dead-tree counterparts. Also, I don't like most D&D novels because too often I find the plot, characters, and/or writing to be too simplistic and/or annoying to care. So, when Shazbot and I were leaving Guardian Games over a month ago and saw the Issue #0 freebies, I was skeptical despite the price tag.

Boy, was I surprised.

In a good way, no less.

It's really two comics in one, with the second half grounded in Athas, delivering a Conan-esque flavor. Though it has promise, I was more impressed with the first half, which depicts a party of adventurers literally kicking in a door, fighting gnolls, accidentally killing a dragon, rescuing slaves, and picking up a new recruit. The party composition isn't interesting unto itself, consisting of a dwarf, human, halfing, elf, and tiefling all with classes to match. Basically, much of what you'd expect in your "typical" party.

Despite this traditional spread, in the span of a half-comic the author managed to hook me through a combination of witty dialogue, quality art, and characters that simultaneously evoked racial tropes--such as dwarven proclamations to Moradin, and both a backstabbing and paranoid halfling--and didn't piss me off, or groan and roll my eyes. It's also very action-packed and delivers, to me, the core D&D experience. This is something that I could confidently recommend to fans of both D&D and fantasy comics in general.

I pre-ordered a five issue set from IDW, and was pleased that as good as the promo issue was, Issue #1 was a lot better; orphan zombies, heh, no one'll miss them.
November 18, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Beholder Collector's Set

I got this a quite awhile ago, but kept neglecting to post about it. It's a non-randomized quartet of beholders that not only comes in a badass box, but only runs $35. Oddly, at RPG.net people are actually complaining about this price. If they think that's steep, perhaps they should scope out singles at eBay, where they only run $15-20 per individual mini. Strangely, some people are offering the entire box for only $20. Personally, I think the tag price is a bargain; it's cheap, you know what you're getting, and it comes with a staple beholder as well as a few new additions (though the sculpts are copied).



You get an eye of frost, ghost beholder, eye of shadow, and eye tyrant, and stat block cards for each.


I wish they offered a print for this...


The lamp I used for lighting makes it look like their eyes are glowing...I need a new camera. >_>

Virtual Table Announcement

Invites are going out some time today for the "friends and family" beta for Virtual Table, with D&D Insider invitations being passed out at an undetermined point in the future (aka, "later"). There's a FAQ here, and a thread about it here. So far we've got this screen cap:


There are concerns about increased pricing, but given how long Character Builder was in Beta I wouldn't expect to see it tacked on for more than a few months. Hopefully it's not too much more, but given that I have a regular game it might be one of the few D&D things that I don't buy.

For cynical readers, here is a flying pig:


Into Dragon's Den, Part 3

With Red captured and delivered to the authorities, the party--not wanting to leave any stone unturned--insisted on making Perception checks to see if they'd missed something in his hideout. Truth be told, they'd managed to avoid a room that the thieves had neglected due to a wraith infestation. Despite my descriptions of a bone-chilling cold and foreboding feelings, they determined that whatever glinting gem lay at the far edge was worth the risk. The room contained a single stone chair where the previous occupant practiced turning fleshy things into stone and/or horribly disfiguring them. They typically died painfully and were discarded, which is the sort of thing that you don't want to do in a world where vengeful spirits are a very real threat.

When they approached the room one appeared over the chair, dressed in decaying finery and staring with empty eyes. Moxie tried to lift tactics from Shaun of the Dead in a doomed attempt to trick it into thinking that she was also dead. I don't care what Dungeon Master's Book says, sometimes you need to say no. The moment she crossed the threshold, it drew a ghostly blade and rush her. So did four others that were lingering in the discarded rubble formerly known as their bodies. I like the cut of the new wraiths (and sovereign wraith), but I don't like insubstantial. To be fair, the party was both outnumbered, and one was a level 8 soldier. To their credit, they only had one force attack and legitimately killed the sovereign before I got bored and had the rest drift off after only being bloodied, leaving them with a khyber shard of lifedrinking for their troubles (and patience).

Back at town, they convened on the next course of action, which was to find Dragon, kill him, and take his stuff (aka, Plan A). Through the power of narrative and skill checks they found out that a merchant was accepting payment to use his premises as an access tunnel. They went there, paid his guards off with a combination of monetary incentive, skill, and promise of not progressing to physical incentive. Normally I like to think that paid guards are a bit more professional, but when you're outnumbered two-to-one and the opposing party is clad in magical armaments, the line has been crossed. They glumly accepted about several weeks of advance pay, and strode off to inform whatever amounts to the Zarash'ak law enforcement (which will be addressed later).

Inside, they were pleased to find increasingly paranoid that the merchant's house wasn't riddled with traps, but merely locked. The found the access tunnel, (accidentally?) killed the two archers on the roof, and not feeling larcenous enough stole some knick-knacks off of the shelves in his bedroom. The real adventure literally underway, they ventured into the tunnel to face Dragon. I laid out Dragon's hideout as a kind of old-school dungeon, deciding that the tunnels and chambers were built long ago before the Gatekeepers did their mojo to sweep all the aberrants under the rug so that a future generation of unlikely heroes could deal with it later. Even so, their influence is subtle and memories are short; people were drawn to this place to build atop the sunken ruins.

The underground passage lead to an iron door, beyond which they could hear talking. Moxie changed into a non-descript human and pretended to be wounded. She got someone to open the door and booked it, which did not cause the thief to give chase (as she'd hoped). Instead he crane his neck around the corner, and upon spotting the rest of the party brilliantly silhouetted by Heien's glowing shield, shouted a warning and attempted to close the door. Some of the characters won initiative and managed to put a stop to that plan, which was good because it locks from the inside. The combat that ensued involved a close-quarters skirmish that allowed Heien to easily maintain battlemind's demand on most of the opposition, and Hawkeye to deal lots of area-effect damage (something I'll need to consider in the future).

The next room had a large hole in the center that reeked of shit and rot. Beyond that they spotted a pair of warforged talking to a hobgoblin. Again, Moxie pretended to be a wounded guard and tried to convince them that intruders had arrived, but that she'd captured them. They told her to toss them in the hole, but she persuaded them that she needed their help. They followed her into a well setup ambush that allowed the party to easily triumph despite all the low rolls. They didn't kill the hobgoblin, and after some interrogation convinced him to take a handful of coins and a few weeks off. Before he left, he clued them in about a magic item-toting elf that'd shown up recently and got pitched into the hole during a "misunderstanding", which contained refuse and an otyugh.

Moxie lit a barrel of spirits on fire and pitched it in, lighting up the otyugh and causing it to climb out. Thanks to her smart thinking, she seared off about a quarter of its hit points before initiative even got rolled. To make matters worse, Heien saved against its filth fever. My goal is to one day strip away all 13 or so of his healing surges. It did not--as they'd hoped--eat the bow, which would allow them to easily retrieve it. No, they had to go into the pit and get their hands dirty. Heien couldn't find anything after some extensive rifling, so Hawkeye went in next since he felt that he had the Endurance to shake off any diseases (or corn) that might "crop up", digging up both a +2 venomous songbow and monkey's paw +2 lucky charm.

This made Lwaxana happy, and I didn't inquire as to if she would use a bow that had poo in the wood grain, +2 or no. From here they had two doors to choose from, and in true Gygaxian fashion one was trapped, while the other wasn't. They chose the one that was, or rather, had a trap in it's immediate vicinity. See, Moxie checked it for traps, as per routine, but I figured that a thieves guild wouldn't keep traps in a room that sees a lot of traffic for fear that something might set it off. I felt it was logical to place it on the other side, if for no other reason than to avoid the cost of rearming it. She opened the door, and lacking a sufficient Passive Perception, stepped on the plate, unleashing a salvo of poisoned crossbow bolts.

They missed.


Everyone.

However, there were also several gray oozes slithering about a stream of water nearby, which proved a minor distraction thanks to lock-down powers and Heien's high Fortitude.

They found themselves in an illogically large sewer tunnel, built in accordance to high fantasy requirements: about 30-feet wide, stream of water in the center, and the ends capped by metal grates. The only things missing were dungeon-grade rats and/or insects, which the guild apparently skimped on due to economic shortages. Oh, and two more doors. Moxie was smart and found the trap in front of the door this time, but rather than scope out the other door the party decided to go with this one. A botched Thievery check triggered it, causing a circle of runes to appear and zap her with a green ray. She disintegrated, leaving a fine cloud of dust, an ominous note that I felt appropriate to end the game on.

Next Time!


Is Moxie really dead? Just what is Dragon? Will Lwaxana disenchant her other songbow into chainmail that we didn't know she didn't have? Will all those paid guards really stop their life of crime, or will they create their own adventuring party,and do totally awesome things that will have repercussions later? Will Randy ever get his very own trained owlbear? Will anyone use Gary's acid spray attack?

Make Your Very Own Character Builder Button

If for some reason you'd like to be able to just click on a desktop icon to launch Character Builder--as you did before--here's how:

Navigate to Character Builder page and add it to your bookmarks (any bookmark will do, actually, as we're going to change the URL it points to), and drag the shortcut to your desktop (or wherever you want your icon).



Launch Character Builder, and then highlight and copy the URL.



Right-click on the shortcut and select Properties, then paste the previously copied URL in the URL field.



Booyah (to get the old CB icon, you'll have to go to Change Icon and navigate to the folder where you installed the old CB, and select one of the .exe files).


November 16, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

New Character Builder

I just spend about half an hour creating random characters with the refurbished, online-only Character Builder, and I have to say that I like it a lot more than the other one.

Don't Like

  • Takes about as long to load as the other Character Builder (and the loading image is grainy).
  • Backgrounds are no longer organized by terrain or race. You can uncheck Name Only and filter results by the skills, location, race, etc, however.
  • Double-clicking de-selects options; I preferred it when I could right-click.
  • Choose For Me is still wonky: it gave me a 20 in an ability score when I made a tiefling psion, which is generally not a good idea, but when I rolled a changling rogue (artful dodger) it gave me an 18 Dexterity, picked Intelligence for the racial bonus (boosted it to 12), gave me a Strength of 14, and a Charisma of 11 (boosted to 13 by racial mods). What. The. FUCK?
  • There's a delay when you increase/decrease ability scores using the plus/minus buttons. While minor, it adds up if you are trying to buy a stat up to 16. Thankfully, you can key in a value instead.
  • Crashed after I'd completed my second character (loaded up again alright, though).
  • The Marketplace graphic looks grainy, too.

Like

  • Layout and image usage usage looks a lot better, and it seems a lot friendlier to new people (or those that don't keep up as much with the game).
  • You can sort classes by role, power source, primary ability score, or book.
  • Classes and races have descriptions; you don't have to click on them to get the gist of what they're about.
  • Mannerisms and traits are in step 3, not consigned to some easily overlooked tab at the ass end of the application.
  • Dark Sun themes are in.
  • Choose For Me picks skill that you'd probably pick yourself.
  • Portraits can be sorted by race or class.
  • Buying equipment is much easier, as you can filter items by category, specific item, rarity, keyword, and level (or level range). If you want to shop for stuff you can't use, uncheck Show suggested items at the top.

Starter Set Play Report

I've been wanting to run the adventures from Starter Set, Dungeon Master's Kit, and Monster Vault, and I finally had a chance to start down that road last night. I let the players do whatever, not wanting to limit them to Essentials-only classes, and ended up with a triumvirate consisting of a longtooth shifter paladin of Kord, wise-cracking gnome bard, and dragonborn revenant dark pact warlock. At least it's not as bad as the all drow party that I dragged through Keep on the Shadowfell.

It was going to be a bumpy ride...

I skipped the intro battle entirely, not wanting to waste time, and got them directly to the dungeon's entrance after a bit of exposition about what was going on: they're looking for a merchants "black box", because it's worth more cash and XP. I laid out the map, allowing them to pick from a door, and got a very strange reaction. Two of the players are new, and I guess had some...bad experiences, let's say, going through a lengthy routine consisting of Perception (with two Aid Anothers), Arcana, tying a rope around a ring in the door, and trying to force it from as far away as possible. Apparently having every single door trapped was a popular trend?

They got one door open, a goblin peeked out, yelped in surprise, and then beat their collective Strength rolls to close it again. So they went to the other door, and after a few more Perceptions and Arcanas got that one open, and started fighting when I promised them that the goblins inside wouldn't polymorph into wraith dragons and drain their levels, and were in fact incapably weak. Again, two were new, and there were only three, so I parsed the encounters down for them (or delayed the arrival of additional enemies). They got through every room without much hassle, since it was mostly goblins with the occasional dire rat thrown in, until they got to the dragon.

More checks were rolled, and they learned that it was--drumroll--white and cold-based. One player tried to goad it, while another tried to bribe it. Eventually I just said fuck it and started combat, feeling that I'd been more than fair with the dragon's patience. Now, new solos are a bitch, so I did pull punches at the start. I used dragon breath, then stuck to bite since I was rolling poorly and didn't want to kill of the paladin immediately. It didn't help that the other players missed with all their dailies and encounters. The bard quickly ran out of majestic words and the paladin had to Action Point her second wind.

Then, for some reason, they started rolling crits. Like, a lot. As the dragon's hit points rapidly dwindled, I started using his Action Points and double-clawing. As fortune had it, I'd basically end up hitting the paladin when her hit points regenerated to where I wouldn't instantly kill her (fuck you vicious mockery). Anyway, in a surprising turn of events--in that I didn't have to fudge dice rolls for the rest of combat--they slew the dragon, looted his tiny lair, made Arcana checks to determine that the teleportation circle lead to a temple full of more loot, and pressed on. The session was called at 2am when they plucked a lifedrinking greataxe from a goblin.

To their credit, they no longer have an irrational fear of doors, so I don't think I'll be using mimics anytime soon...I'll wait til level 6.
November 14, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Star Cults

In the near future my group will be going up against a star cult, which prompted me to create some new monsters in accordance with my level and thematic requirements. If they're reading this, they can go ahead and take a peak, or stop and be surprised.

Neophytes are cult newbies that haven't been "rewarded" with any appreciable mutations. They're better when they can get flanking, but in general aren't that much trouble.


Acolytes are neophytes turned up to 11. They are more dangerous when flanking, but due to whispered portents and multiple eyes cannot be flanked. Also, they can teleport, which is great for maneuvering but also to gain combat advantage against an enemy.


Warlocks are, well, warlocks. They can tear open the planar fabric to conjure up clusters of grasping tentacles, or emblazon their foes with baleful signs. Mostly they just stick to eldritch blast while applying their curse.


Husks are the cult's guardians. Most people that are exposed to the baleful energy of stars die. They're the lucky ones. These guys didn't die, and now simply exist as roughly humanoid cinders that obey their masters. Husks draw their enemies close with their gravity well so that they can crush them with fiery slams, and can even fold space in order to better protect their charges.


Voices claim to speak for the stars, when they say anything coherent at all. They spend most of their time frantically scrawling the messages that the numerous mouths on their bodies whisper to them, which they can levy on their foes in order to instill insanity and terror.

November 12, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Ghouls For Gamma World

I don't care for Fallout: New Vegas (or Fallout 3 for that matter). Liz does, however, so I end up getting to experience wandering through radioactive wastelands running errands for strangers by proxy. Via watching and/or listening I realized that there's a lot of good concepts and monsters that could work very well for Gamma World, so I decided to stat up a few iconic monsters from the game last night.

Starting with ghouls.




I couldn't get Adventure Tools to change natural to terrestrial, but it doesn't really matter. I couldn't make heads or tails if ghouls were humans that got super-radiated, or died from radiation and reanimated, though a Fallout wiki seems to indicate the latter.

Class Acts: Cavalier

Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms gets more momentum this month with Class Acts: Cavaliers, which provides an alternate level 4 class feature for the cavalier, a bunch of new feats that are more general use, and a magic item to top it off.

Now, I don't like paladins. Not because of years of ingrained stigma from players that didn't know how to play a Lawful Good character and not be an ass, or DMs who didn't know what Lawful Good meant and tried to simultaneously fuck over the paladin by threatening to strip away her class features unless she did something to irritate the party (like loudly proclaim to a warband of monsters that we were going to attack them while overwhelmingly outnumbered). No, it's just that the concept never got any traction with me, and I didn't like the idea of needing a high Strength, Constitution, Wisdom, and Charisma to get the most out of my class features.

That, and I don't get to actually play a lot, instead spending the lion's share of my game time "playing" characters vicariously through the rest of the group.

The alternate class feature--Summoned Steed--lets you use summon celestial steed to conjure up an angelic warhorse twice per day that anyone can ride. Its got half your hit points, uses your Defenses, a Speed of 8, grants riders a damage bonus when charging, uses your level to determine attack bonus and Charisma modifier for damage, can kick as a melee basic, and trample as an encounter. If it dies you lose a healing surge (or take damage), and you can't summon it again until you take a nap. Basically, its a throwback to what paladins did in earlier editions, except you don't need to invest a lot of skill points into Ride and constantly make checks.

Feats are divvied into two categories; Mounted Combat and Improved Mount, with four for each.

Mounted Combat feats are more general use, granting you the usage of encounter powers when you are riding a mount (and in some cases has the requisite attack power). In otherwords, its multiclassing for mounts. For example, battle trample requires trample, and grants it a one-turn aura effect that automatically deals damage and pushes enemies that end their turn adjacent to it. Riding attack is for you, allowing you to attack something that your mount doesn't, though its keyed to either Strength or Dexterity and only deals 1[W] damage.

The Improved Mount feats are straightforward and limited to the cavalier, allowing you to summon something besides (and superior to) a horse with summon celestial steed. These ones are restricted by tier, with battle tiger being Heroic, behemoth and pegasi Paragon, and silver dragon Epic. The dragon is fucking hardcore, being all but immune to cold, having a flight of 10, can heal itself and recharge its breath weapon with the same minor action, and granting you a constant power bonus to attack rolls. Which is only for starters.

(This is where I wanted to put a badass image that Wayne Reynolds drew of a character on an armored lion, but I couldn't find it. If you own Defenders of the Faith, check it out and pretend it's here.)

Finally, we wrap things up with the jade horse, a level 8 uncommon wondrous item with a daily power that lets you summon your very own horse (of course). It has half your hit points, your Defenses, resist all, doesn't provoke opportunity attacks when charging, and can kick and trample to boot. Nothing too fancy.

While the cavalier doesn't hold much interest for me, I think the next character I make will have a warhorse. Ultimately, I'd like to get a skeletal horse or nightmare. A man can dream...
November 11, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

The Internet is All Gone?

Trawling the RPG.net forums I found a thread questioning about whether or not people upset at Wizards of the Coast logically protecting their intellectual property from piracy--while at the same time making it easier to implement updates--by adopting an online-only model, would cause fans of 4th Edition to cancel their DDI subscriptions and/or say fuck-all and go play Pathfinder (and not one of many other fantasy-based role-playing games). Frankly, I don't want to know anyone who would follow that bizarre logical train wreck.

I don't play 4th Edition because it's new, or it has all of its crunch-content condenses into one software application. On a similar note, I don't dislike 3rd Edition Pathfinder because it doesn't have its own variant of Character Builder, and I certainly wouldn't go back there if the entirety of 4th Edition imploded out of existence. No, I would have to be the kind of irrational person that boycotts a company because they slightly altered the accessibility of an entirely unnecessary--yet agreeably convenient--facet of their entire product line.

Using internet access to determine legitimacy as well as usability is not new, and in fact has proven successful for more than a few companies like Blizzard Entertainment or Valve. Some people like that Character Builder can be used offline, which has some merit in terms of flexibility in case you like to cart a laptop out into the wilderness and build characters by firelight. In all seriousness, I too have used Character Builder offline in order to browse magic items, but only because I didn't want to bug Randy for a few minutes about his router's information. I guess on the 16th I'll have to set aside a blip of time to get it all sorted.

*sarcastic sigh*

My laptop, as well as most laptops, have WiFi capabilities. So do most routers. This means that at home I can flip it open, get online, and do...whatever, wherever. Theoretically, were I for some reason to go elsewhere and desire to tinker with it, then my options would be limited to coffee shops, most major grocery chains (Fred Meyers, Safeway, etc), any community college campus, any of my friend's houses, and book stores. In other words, far more places than I would care to go and create characters, monsters, or do adventure writing. Were I to find myself stranded out in the middle of nowhere and find myself arrested by the urge to write, I can always fall back to the archaic process of putting pencil to paper and writing.

This is why I wouldn't care even if I lacked all the modern commodities of today; I can still jot down notes, go home, and then write it up to look all official-like. While your mileage (or availability) might vary, I think the real reason people are up in arms is the whole piracy angle. Some people only wanted Character Builder and/or Adventure Tools, but couldn't stand for the seven or so bucks a month that Wizards charged you for essentially all the crunch content of all the books they've ever made, and waited for updates to show up on torrent sites. Since Wizards really couldn't track this offline, it was easy to get away with it. Now, it's going to be harder, and people might actually have to pay for something.
Posted by David Guyll

Hexblade Impressions

I got to try out the infernal-pact hexblade as part of D&D Encounters tonight, which was a blast for two reasons; the first is that I was the only person in the general area aside from Shazbot that had a copy of Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, but the second is that I like being able to conjure up a hellish sword of dark energy that deals 14 damage on average. Reminds me of the end of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

It was the grand finale of Chapter 1, which had us stumble into a clearing while searching for someone. I don't recall the exact plot behind the encounter because the store owner was doing it on the fly and hadn't really read up on things. All I know is that it was a storm warpriest, dwarf slayer, and me up against a trio of lizardfolk, dragonborn, and "crazy guy". Despite having a new guy and being outnumbered, we kicked all kinds of ass.

Unfortunately, it was only one encounter so I can't say for certain how well the class holds up in the long term, but its a solid concept that I wholly endorse. The hit points and damage output are superb, and the Armor Class ain't too shabby. Having Charisma and Constitution as two key stats (go tiefling racial mods!), combined with the class bonus, ensures that my Fortitude and Will are pretty high to boot. Finally, since one at-will is usable as a melee basic makes Strength a pretty distant concern, and I think I'll focus more on Intelligence for a better Reflex and Arcana.

Since the store owner gave me a copy of both Chapter 1 and 2 for Keep on the Borderlands, I might use it for my own group for play reports.
November 10, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Into Dragon's Den, Part 2

The session picked up with the continuation of the previous session's battle. They didn't have a lot of time to recuperate before other guild members snuck into an adjacent room, but I allowed them all to burn up to two healing surges and regain one encounter power of their choice to reflect them managing to get a small breather. With that, combat resumed in earnest when one managed to hit Heien with both a dagger and combat advantage.

Unfortunately, the only safe route to the party was over a catwalk and down a ladder into a fairly cramped room, which meant that when Heien made his move he was able to get a few backed up against a wall, cutting off their escape and keeping them lumped up for Hawkeye's elemental spirits and biting swarms. Moxie ran in and got herself stuck between a thug and bugbear, which was unable to strangle her for a few turns due to opening move.

Things were looking up for a few rounds as Heien's battlemind's demand and restricted space kept the heat on him, and his elan resilience and whatever the fuck his level 5 daily is shaved plenty of damage off of the continual flow of Sneak Attack-bolstered-clubbery. However, I'd budgeted this battle for slightly above the norm had there been five party members, and there were only four.

It didn't matter.

With one thief left and only a quarter of her hit points pooled on the floor, she made a break for it. Heien is great at absorbing damage, but his opportunity attacks leave a lot to be desired in terms of attack bonus. Thankfully, Hawkeye is even worse at it. These two factors allowed her to run out of the warehouse entirely, only to be picked off by a ranged sly flourish from Moxie. Oh well, there went my plans to have Dragon informed and thereby be better prepared.

The party explored the rest of the warehouse, discovering a hefty cache of bank notes, coins, bars, and ladder-descending-underground, which is always a plus. Going down they wandered through a series of narrow tunnels both natural and man-carved, before Heien blundered into a gelatinous cube. This didn't bother him much, as he could teleport quite a bit thanks to his battlemind class feature and disciplines. No, what bothered him were the pair of green slimes dropping from the ceiling behind the softer characters.

Green slimes haven't changed much between Monster Manual and Monster Vault, except that their opportunity attack deals ongoing acid damage, while engulf deals more. I managed to get Hawkeye caught up in one while the other tried to slither up and over to Lwaxana, but Hawkeye's encaging spirits kept them both at bay while fire-based elemental spirits polished them off rather quickly, while Heien and Moxie finished carving up the gelatinous cube.

The tunnels weren't extensive, and they found their way out rather quickly into a massive hall that had been formed from petrified humanoids--mostly orcs and various goblinoids--and inhabited by a pair of warforged guards. Heien ventured out alone, hoping to talk his way past, but once other party members started showing up and failing Stealth rolls they extended weapons out of their arms and rushed him. Once more party members revealed themselves, they called for help, adding a bunch of minions to the fray, which ended up being easy pickings for Heien's augmented spinning cobra strikes and Hawkeye's elemental spirits.

Leaving one thug alive, they managed to figure out that Red could turn people to stone, and had a pet owlbear. This didn't bode well with Randy, who had just recently read up on owlbears from Monster Vault and did not care for their 4d6 + 6 claw attack one bit. Not one to levy player knowledge, they proceeded through the halls until they reached a gallery of disfigured statues illuminated by a crimson everburning torch set within an iron mesh on the ceiling. With a few amazing Perception and Arcana rolls, they determined that aside from an iron door that an illusionary wall was also noteworthy, prompting Moxie to investigate.

The wall wasn't trapped, and served to only conceal the owlbear's lair. It tried to maul Moxie, but she was able to scamper out of they way without taking a scratch (or having her body rearranged into inevitably fatal configurations). I applaud Randy's bravery, having Heien charge to the front with the knowledge that two well-rolled hits could drop is character instantly. Lucky for him, I tend to roll really badly when the star monster enters the scene, and even when I do usually Beth has Lwaxana do something annoying to mitigate the hit. Fucking leaders.

Once the owlbear was bloodied, Red decided to check out what the noise was about and seeing Moxie literally right in front of him, petrified her and had his dog-golems get in front to shield himself. Red was a dwarf that was a bit worse for wear after digging his way into a lost daelkyr ruin, discovering ancient magic carved into the torsos of petrified creatures, and trying to master it. His arm was mostly petrified as a result, though motion caused the stones to grind, causing it to constantly bleed as a result. Still, he had a lot to show for his sacrifice, being able to transmute stone to mud, and flesh to stone.

The party tried to parlay again, but the combination of combat and Red's own perception that he had them where he wanted them didn't help matters much. It did, however, give him pause, which is one way to phrase "combat advantage". Heien teleported behind him, Moxie got in a flanking position, and they knocked him out against Moxie's protest.

Randy, not being satisfied by the promises of gold or +2 weapons/armor, wanted to befriend the owlbear, and with Hawkeye and Lwaxana on the case he was no match for their Diplomacy and Nature skill bonuses. To add insult to injury, Red didn't fare any better against Heien's and Moxie's Intimidate checks, but instead of conditional friendship they garnered the district where Dragon had setup kip. With pockets full of dreams and twice-stolen goods (and dragonshards!) they turned Red into the authorities and have told me that they'll probably go after Dragon next, giving me less than a week to prepare.

They're not quite done exploring the place, so maybe next week we'll spend some time exploring artifact chairs and haunted quarries.

Monster Vault Review

The highlight of this month's releases, Monster Vault is a $30 box set that contains an adventure module for 4th-level characters titled Cairn of the Winter King (with adventure maps), ten sheets of monster tokens, and of course the titular book.

The Tokens
Nothing too fancy, here, especially if you've purchased Starter Set and/or Dungeon Master's Kit. They're great if you're just getting into the game or don't want (or can't afford to) buy lots of minis. Almost everything in Monster Vault has it's token (except for stuff like legion devils and rat swarms). They also have rings that you can slot Large tokens in to represent Huge monsters, so you don't need to have everything at Huge. As with all tokens, they work great for the gamer on a budget or if you're missing something specific (they have the exact same art as in the book), but don't deliver the sense of awe that minis do.

The Book
The real treasure, Monster Vault is digest-sized, runs at 319 pages, and purportedly contains "a horde of iconic creatures for any campaign". Most of the monsters seem to be culled from Monster Manual, though I found plenty featured in Monster Manual 2, such as the rust monster and duergar. It's got a nice spread of monsters that I'm used to seeing in a "starting" monster book; dragon's up to Huge, giants, titans, demons, devils, angels, archons, generic minions, the works. The glaring flaw, to me, is the lack of aboleths. They beholders and mind flayers, but no aboleths?

Point deducted.

They've all been updated to the new stat block format, have several paragraphs of flavor text, and most greatly benefit from improved design; for example skirmishers have plenty of mobility options, either part of attack effects or by using other actions, while soldiers mark as part of traits or attack effects instead of sometimes on a hit. To make matters worse, enemy marks also allow them to hit you instead of just imposing an attack penalty.

The Adventure
Joe Half-elf was wandering through the Frostjaw Peaks (Nentir Vale), taking refuge in a cave filled with skulls when a storm picked up. As if this wasn't enough of a red flag to get the fuck out of there, he ventures further inside and eventually discovers a throne with a dead guy stuck to it, holding a magical scepter. Having long-abandoned reason since the entrance of the cave, he takes the scepter, waits for things to calm down, and heads back to Fallcrest, head full of gilt dreams and blissful naivety.

I don't blame the guy so much since most of the time when the player characters rob an ancient tomb there typically aren't any repercussions (beyond having to kill the occasionally undead rightful owner), so I guess no one saw it coming when the ramifications weren't upsetting the local economy so much as devastating the local ecology with endless winter.

There are a few minor errors, such as an ettin speaking in Common when it's only spoken language is Giant or it mentions three dogs instead of two, but ultimately I found this to be a very interesting adventure with some good pacing. There's some hefty dialogue between the townsfolk of Fallcrest, talking air-boat, and a dungeon filled with sociable sociopaths vying for the Winter King's favor. Coupled with the other adventures from Starter Set and Dungeon Master's Kit, this could be the start of a beautiful adventure path.


Conclusion
A definite buy whether or not you're into the Essentials stuff. All the monsters (and tokens) look a lot more functional and attractive, and the adventure looks like a fun romp. $30 is also a cheap buy for the product.
November 06, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Star Pact Hexblades

I'd almost completely overlooked this addition to the hexblade pact choices, available before Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdom was supposed to be in stores. I'm not complaining, as the star pact has always been my favorite anyway. The article provides some interesting flavor as to the nature(s) of stars and a hexblade's relationship to them, if any. One thing of particular note is that under the races section, shades get quite a bit of mention, including confirmation that they will be in Heroes of Shadow. A nifty not-quite-easter egg.

The rest of the article has a sidebar on the Revelations of Melech, a list of known stars and qualities, in addition to new class features. Unfortunately there are no extra powers (or feats) for levels where you would get to pick something, so hopefully your DM will let you peruse Player's Handbook and/or Arcane Power for thematic options. Most of the class features allow you to deal radiant and/or psychic damage with some blind kickers here and there, and the summons let you conjure up an invisible entity that eats thoughts or an emotion sapping void. I like the neither are really described (thought the way walker is mentioned as being vaguely humanoid), as it better invokes a Lovecraftian flavor.

Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms Review

I hit up my not-so local store and picked up Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, Monster Vault, and a couple Gamma World booster packs since Famine at Far-go wasn't out despite ads being plastered all over the D&D sit. Since I want to do a video review of Monster Vault I'm going to tackle Forgotten Kingdoms first.

The second (and final) player book from the Essentials line, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms is, like Player's Handbook and Heroes of the Fallen Lands, a stand-alone deal. It's virtually a direct copy of Fallen Lands, as information is written in the same friendly style and even dispensed in the same order page-by-page for the first three chapters, which explain the rules to you and informs you about the significance of your decisions, culminating in an analysis of power structure. Additionally, the chapters on skills and equipment are likewise almost the same, though feats has a few new entries to account for new classes and races.

Really, the main difference is in the non-standard classes and races. Instead of fighters you get cavaliers, sentinels instead of clerics, drow instead of elves, tieflings instead of eladrin, etc. If you want a more detailed review on other chapters, check out my review of Heroes of the Fallen Lands. Actually, you might want to read it if you haven't and then come back.

Chapter 4 features five classes based on previous classes with a twist: sentinel (druid), cavalier (paladin), hunter (ranger), scout (again, ranger), and hexblade (warlock). As before there's plenty of paragraphs explaining the concept behind the class, key ability scores, ideal races (with information as why that race might choose that class), skill selection, and more. As per Essential's standard they all follow a fairly linear path of class feature accrual, and unfortunately when you get the chance to pick something your options are severely limited (especially if you are trying to do an Essentials-only campaign). This isn't something that will bother new players a lot, but when I'm used to getting upwards of 10 choices, seeing two or three is disappointing to say the least.

To be clear, I don't think that the classes are bad, just restrictive. I understand that having fewer meaningful choices is better than a dearth of shitty ones, but when trying to maintain a theme it helps to have two or more to differentiate. Despite this I'm definitely going to give the hexblade a shot, which is a melee-oriented warlock that gets a slightly modified eldritch blast, and can conjure up different arcane weaponry depending on their pact (fey or infernal, though star is coming this month). A good chunk of your class features hinge on your pact, and though utilities and dailies are somewhat more flexible there's only like, one thematic choice on the list. It still looks like the most appealing class to me, since you can summon minions, and I like conjuring up devils to boss around.

Chapter 5 has six races; dragonborn, drow, half-elf, half-orc, human, and tiefling. Again, as in Fallen Lands each race gets several pages of exposition on origins, personalities, physical qualities, role-playing tips, etc. Mechanically they, for the most part, remain the same as their original incarnations with the exception that instead of getting two set ability score bonuses, they can pick a secondary one from two others (a trend started in Player's Handbook 3). A few races get some additional modification: half-elves can opt for knack for success if they don't like their dilettante options, and drow now have to pick between cloud of darkness or darkfire. Sucks for them.

As with Heroes of the Fallen Lands, this book is not a substitute for 4th Edition, and probably not a good enough substitute for Player's Handbook since most people are used to seeing human, elves, dwarves, fighters, wizards, etc in their rulebooks. That doesn't mean that it's a bad book. On the contrary, it's an excellent supplement for those that prefer how Essentials is doing things. If you like 4th Edition, I'd get it if you really want to see what they did with the hexblade and hunter (4E's first ever official martial controller), and/or want to check out the new feats (some of them are really badass).

Now to break open Monster Vault.
November 05, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Changes

Thanks to the Essentials line (specifically Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms) there's two pages of errata listing changes made to various other books. A good chunk of it is for the races making re-appearances, but a few magic items and some rituals also get modification.

Much of the racial information is simply telling you about variable secondary modifiers, such as that dragonborn get to pick between Strength or Constitution, while tieflings can choose from Constitution or Intelligence now (hellooo star pact). A few races get extra attention; half-elves get opt out of dilettante for knack for success, which is a great alternative to a subpar at-will-turned-encounter power. On another note, drow can look forward to now having to pick between cloud of darkness or darkfire during character creation.

Other changes include divine challenge getting clarified and condensed to about half its former size, amulet of health sees its poison resistance reduced to twice its enhancement modifier, Brew Potion only makes common potions and elixirs, Disenchant Magic Item now provides different percentages of residuum depending on item rarity, etc.
Posted by David Guyll

Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell Preview

November's Ampersand opens up by reminding you to buy Beholder's Collector Set before telling you what we already knew about the Character Builder going web-only, which is fine in case you're the type of person that only goes to the D&D homepage to learn about the going-ons. The part that gets good is the Heroes of Sword and Spell preview, which unfortunately does not seem to be so good.

It's a bare-bones book that features five classes--almost all the martial plus wizard, and for some reason cleric--and that's about it. No races, no skill descriptions, no gear. Instead, they direct you to Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms if you want to wrap things up. I'm guessing that the classes are going to take up a lot more space than Essentials?

The classes are presented Essentials-style (ie, tables by tier) which is entirely unnecessary since every class in the book follows the exact same progression: get a utility power at level 2, get an encounter power at level 3, etc. I understand that they're trying to maintain the theme of using tables to illustrate progression, which was fine because classes out of Essentials books didn't all get the same thing, but this just seems like that they're doing it for "tradition's sake". Speaking of tradition, they've previewed the Heroic tier of the fighter-renamed-weaponmaster, which is a fighter that only gets to pick between the two weapon talents (that fighters got when 4th Edition came out). It otherwise operates exactly as a fighter does, same class features and powers.

From what I've gathered, this is what you get when Wizards of the Coast takes a fraction of Player's Handbook and repackages it. Its got all the "base four" classes, plus the ranger, but nothing more. The question is, why get it instead of Player's Handbook, which has all that and more? From what I've heard, this has all the errata'd powers and class features. Unfortunately, its got a lot less content than Player's Handbook (by several classes at the least) and not much cheaper (five bucks...woo).

On the other hand, as with the Essentials books, they go into a lot more detail on individual powers and concepts. For example, cleave gets a few lines that further explain what it does as well as indirectly when it's a good idea to do it. Powers still have their descriptive text built-in, but they get a bit more. Perhaps this will help make things seem friendlier, or easier to explain to people who have a hard time understanding concepts like daily powers.

At this point, I'm tentatively on the fence. I like the idea of having an updated, compartmentalized book, but I don't like having to go back and forth between books to pick races, figure out what skills do, etc. Well, I personally don't, since I know all that already. I'm talking about new players who haven't had the luxury of years of play experience under their belt. It'll also depend on how many powers are given to each class; if it's the same or less than Player's Handbook, it's going to take quite a bit to sway my vote.

I will say this: it does have a bitching cover.

Monster Vault: Purple Worm

I remember using purple worms as a basis for overworms when running Age of Worms (converted to 4th Edition of course). The result was a boring, drawn-out slugfest; despite being level 16 solo soldiers they could basically make all of two attacks on the third round, assuming they managed to bite, grab, and swallow someone. That's...well, there're standard monsters that can do stuff like that.

Let's Compare
The new purple worm is two levels lower, a brute, and actually lives up to its solo status. I'm just going to skip to the powers, since obviously hit points and defenses are going to be lower.

  • It has two traits, ponderous and blooded frenzy, which allow it to take immediate actions while stunned, dazed, or dominated, and grant an extra minor action while bloodied respectively.
  • Though lower level, its bite deals 10 more damage on average.
  • Swallow is replaced by devour whole, allowing it to eat you in one action instead of three. The attack deals 3d10 + 7 damage on average, and you take 10 more points of acid damage while swallowed.
  • Its also got several minor action attacks; fling deals 3d10 + 8 damage and slides the target quite a distance, poison stinger only deals 2d8 damage, but also lumps on ongoing 15 poison damage, and regurgitate lets it barf up a swallowed creature up to 4 squares away, and deal 3d10 + 8 damage.
  • Finally, thrash is an immediate reaction that triggers when it gets hit by any attack, targeting up to two creatures, and dealing 3d12 + 5 plus a 6 square push.

So, there you have it. With a Melee range of 3 for all of it's attacks and plenty of Minor Action options to boot, this guy is going to be slapping the entire party around. While not as resistant to lockdown conditions as say, a dragon, he can still reactively swat you and do some other nasty things in the process. They're much scarier now, even without some bullshit DC 25 Strength-draining poison attack.

Into Dragon's Den, Part 1

En route to Zarash'ak, the party was ambushed on their boat by a group of dolgaunts occupying varying levels and roles. One vainly demanded that they hand over the silver key, while the rest positioned themselves atop the cabin thanks to a combination of high Dexterity scores and training in Stealth. Well, except for the two artillery trawling a raft to the side. They were safely out of melee range and had a clear shot at most everyone. Moxie and Hawkeye wanted to resolve things peacefully, or perhaps just delay initiative rolls for a bit since Lwaxana and Heien were...well...indisposed. With an "Endurance-based skill challenge". *cough cough*

Obviously, words failed, initiative was rolled anyway, and half the party was forced to fight without pants. Although I was able to grab almost everyone at the start, Hawkeye was able to take out the pair of artillery on the raft almost instantly thanks to a crit and area-effect attacks. I think that, despite the defender having no armor and people being outnumbered, things were made far too easy thanks to most of the party testing out fresh level 5 daily attacks. At one point, a dolgaunt managed to snag the silver key to everyone's chagrin, but as predicted he was frozen and then shattered on the following turns. Yes, I predicted that turn of events. My players seem to enjoy selecting powers that specifically fuck with me.

They rolled into Zarash'ak without further incident, except for the part where we spent a half hour discussing how they would sneak into the city without paying for documentation that would have allowed them to loot freely and not be taxed and/or arrested for it. Eventually they took the honest route and told a guard what happened, visited with one of the House Tharashk leaders to explain things in detail, and learned that there was a lot more going on than they expected: in addition to mass citizen unrest in the city, mining camps were being overrun by bizarre monsters or razed by orc warbands. Hawkeye immediately volunteered to speak to orc leaders to the House patriarch's delight. He granted them claim over all treasure previously discovered with the exception of dragonshards (since they were now a hot commodity).

The next item on the agenda was to fence a bag of holding's-worth of gilt fish idols. I informed them that they could only trade so many to merchants, and after prompting them for various skill checks that they easily succeeded at, managed to ditch 1,000 gp worth. Afterwards the party split up, with Hawkeye and Moxie going to fence their gilt fish idols while Heien and Lwaxana sought council from elan Signers.

The talk with the Signers was brief, but Heien and Lwaxana learned that the documents found in Obed's shrine pertained to creating gates linked to Xoriat, corrupting the Gatekeeper seals, and communing with old stars drifting through the far reaches of the Astral Sea. Fearing that their foe might very well be one of the old stars, he decided to send missives to other Signers to determine the best, if any, course of action, and informed the pair that he'd get back to them in a week's time.

To make a bad day worse, Moxie and Hawkeye ran into one of Dragon's catspaws, an eccentrically crazy orc with an aberrant dragonmark named 'Nogs, whom both knew of as an extremely dangerous criminal throughout most of western Khorvaire. He informed Moxie that she had three days to deliver 600 gp of dragonshards, after which Dragon would permit him to do whatever he wanted to her. Not in so few nor pleasant words, mind you.

Once the party met back up, they exchanged information and determined that they didn't quite like Moxie being threatened by that. This resulted in another lengthy debate about whether they should just leave and try to find those orc clans causing so much fuss, try and trick Nogs into thinking that Moxie got the dragonshards and beating his ass, or kicking in the door of another dragonshard smuggler and taking his stash. Eventually they settled on option three and through another series of easily succeeded skill checks found out that a dwarf named "Red"--Moxie's employer and one of Dragon's right-hand men--was holed up in an abandoned warehouse in the seediest side of a port district.

They went there and found only a single half-orc sitting by the door. Moxie wanted to try the diplomatic route, got told to fuck off, and went around back. I feel bad because Beth (Lwaxana) fired up Glib Limerick and words of friendship, but none of them detected the trap on the backdoor. I mean, Hawkeye suspected as such, but only one person tried Perception and failed. I figured that they'd all give it a look for good measure and a +6 Aid Another bonus. The trap was several flasks of alchemist's fire rigged to the other side to the tune of 3d6 + 3 fire damage and a push, which alerted a pair of arbalesters situated in a storeroom. They opened fire on a prone Lwaxana, which basically ruined her plan to take the lair by farce.

The arbalesters opened up on a bunch of prone targets, which was beneficial since they got a -2 to hit. They beat on them for a round before some of Red's thugs peeked in to see what the ruckus was about. Heien managed to more or less block them in a crowded room, allowing Hawkeye to mow them down using at-will attacks since most were minions. I'd also placed an arcane crane in the room, which Lwaxana was able to use to pick up and drop an arbalester in the water after a few rounds of fiddling with the controls. One the minions almost got away, but Moxie planted an enchanted dagger in his ass, whose dying screams alerted a warforged on the catwalk that something was amiss. Rolling out numerous encounter attacks, he hammered almost all the party at once with area-effect force attacks before being scrapped.

We called it there due to time, but the encounter wasn't over since another gaggle of thugs are scheduled to arrive before the five-minute mark.
November 03, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

The Shadows Over Greyshore, Part 4 (Finale)

I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, since this was wrapped up over two weeks ago, but the party went into a dark (non-magical) portal rimmed with tooth-like protrusions. Walking through a glistening cylindrical passage, they concluded that whatever they were in, it was probably alive at some point. Pressing on, they found a round chamber filled with water and criss-crossed with wooden bridges. They heard Obed taunting them in the distance, and after much banter the characters were resolved to beat him to death and finally get the fuck out of Greyshore.

Lwaxana used a Water Walking ritual to basically foil most of the hindering terrain for the rest of the adventure, so when tentacles burst from the water to tear it apart, they didn't give two shits and were able to focus entirely on the crauds that were harassing them. After dispatching more crab-people, it was a straight shot to the Obed, who was waiting for them in a larger chamber, also filled with water and wooden platforms. And more crab-people. I remember this being pretty frenetic, with Obed unleashing devastating lighting attacks while his minions screened Hawkeye's ranged attacks and kept Heien occupied in melee.

Eventually, riddled with arrows and bleeding from numerous cuts, Obed erupted into a tentacled horror that tried in vain to get a hold of the silver key that Lwaxana kept on her person. With all of his minions slain the party gang-raped Obed and destroyed another idol dedicated to Dagon as per their usual routine. With Greyshore's cult finally routed, they were able to safely explore the rest of the shrine. They found a portal with an opening that seemed to perfectly accommodate the silver key, but no one in the party would have any of that (pity, really), as well as extensive notes written in Abyssal and Deep Speech.

They packed everything up, went back to Greyshore, fixed up their earth tumbler, hitched a boat, and headed out. Hopefully, the next place they went to wouldn't have a population unanimously dedicated to their end and have some answers to their questions.

Web-Based Character Builder

Note: There's apparently some confusion about my stance on the whole web-based direction that Wizards of the Coast is taking Character Builder. First, I don't mind if it requires internet access. That's a perfectly acceptable response to some fans' stance of picking up a month of DDI a year, or every so often, to get a shitload of content for an incredibly low price. Second, I like the fact that my character is saved server side, as it means that I can access it from anywhere instead of having to transfer character files back and forth between PCs, and I don't have to worry about losing my data.

You can read up on what details are revealed here, and bitch about it here. Since it's web-based you'll need an internet connection and Silverlight to use it (they're also pulling Character Builder from the site when it rolls out, so no more offline support, period). On the plus side, there will be immediate support for both Dark Sun and Essentials, and character files will be stored server side. Oh, and all previous content will be there, including the option to import older characters.




The new design looks a bit friendlier, though I've never under understood their obsession with "jagged" graphics, which contrasts with the smoothed borders that the buttons use. I just wish they'd pick a style and stick with it. Something actually fantasy would also be great. There's not a lot shown, but picking from styles would probably be handy to help narrow things down for new people.
Posted by David Guyll

Monster Vault: Otyughs

Not merely an otyugh but a neo-otyugh, which is a psionically endowed super smelly crap-trap. Checking D&D Compendium, it looks like they'd never made it into 4th Edition until now.

I wonder why?

They're basically otyugh turned up to 11. Like otyughs, they have a stench aura, but these guys are Huge, have a threatening reach of four, deal a lot more damage with their tentacles (with a pull and grab), and instead of having a bite can make a "close blast 2 attack" (two ironically being an odd number in this case). If it bites you, you can also contract greater otyugh filth fever, which causes you to lose healing surges, take defense penalties, and eventually stop being able to heal at all.
Its only psionic ability is disgusting lure, which deals psychic damage and if you don't move closer to the otyugh you take more damage. Its immediate interrupt, body shield, is kind of a clever way to gain an extra attack in a roundabout way. If it has a creature grabbed, it can cause any type of attack to hit the creature instead.
November 01, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

November and Beyond

November looks like a pretty busy month, weighing in at three products that I want.


Beholders
I'd forgotten about the Beholder Collectors Set, which in addition to a combined expenditure for Monster Vault and Famine in Far-Go promises to weaken my wallet (savings ends). The set runs $35 and has four beholders, and when compared to eBay prices that's a really good deal.

They've also posted up a preview for a (the?) beholder. This one is only level 9 and not a zombie nor drinks blood, so that's a plus. My only experience with a beholder was back in 3rd Edition, where we slaughtered it effortlessly (perhaps accidentally) thanks to a min-maxed arcane archer that could shoot fireball enhanced arrows modified with Elemental Substitution (ice) because we were going up against a red dragon. The group in my Tendrils of Fate campaign is good enough for a gauth, but I think I'll hold off and let them gain a level or two before throwing the real deal at them.

Like a few of their kin, beholders cannot be flanked, which sucks for rogues, and their bite is fairly tame (17 damage on average). I don't think anyone would really bother with it since they can fire two out of ten eye rays at a time without provoking opportunity attacks despite being ranged, and if you start within 5 squares of it? Well, it gets to shoot you. For free. With no action required. I would say count your blessings that it's random, but they've got some nasty eye rays in their arsenal.

I checked, and they have almost the exact same abilities as a 3rd Edition beholder (which is not a good thing, let me tell you), the exception that instead of a charm monster ray they get brilliant ray. Here's a list in case you somehow aren't familiar with an older beholder:

  • Charm ray: Dominates for a turn.
  • Wounding ray: Deals lots of necrotic damage.
  • Sleep ray: Immobilizes you, and if you fail the save you fall asleep (save ends).
  • Telekinesis ray: No damage, just slides you around a lot.
  • Slowing ray: Has only slightly less average damage than the wounding ray, but also slows (save ends).
  • Brilliant ray: Minor amount of radiant damage and blinded...save ends. Bitch.
  • Terror ray: Good amount of psychic damage and you are pushed your Speed.
  • Petrifying ray: You're immediately petrified (save ends), and when you shake it off you're still immobilized. Holy save-or-screw, Batman!
  • Death ray: Hefty amount of necrotic damage, and also dazes if the target is bloodied before of after you resolve damage. If you fail your first save, you're also weakened, and if you fail that save, you die. 
  • Disintegrate ray: Minor damage, but also causes ongoing damage.
So, hmm. At first I didn't care for petrifying ray, but really it's a lot like the stunned condition except that you get a lot of damage resistance, and you can still shake it off so it's not quite a "save or fuck-off" effect. Immobilized ain't so bad, especially if you have ranged attacks at any capacity. The really nasty one is death ray, because if you're bloodied at all it starts the doom counter. In case all of this doesn't impress you with just how nasty this fucker can be, when you bloody it, it can also use a recharge 6 ability that lets it pepper you with three eye rays instead of two, and its central eye locks down your encounter and daily attack powers for a turn. It can do this as a minor action, whenever it wants.

Famine in Far-Go
The first Gamma World expansion will add more cards, to some's dissent and other's delight, that allow you to reflect an allegiance (if temporary) to a "cryptic alliance". A group can all be allied with the same group, or everyone can draw one at random, but one thing to keep in mind is that its an optional rule. I'm sure many will conveniently overlook that bit. Each of the cards provides you with a benefit that gives your character an advantage to the detriment of the rest of the party. The efficacy of many will hinge on whats going on, such as untapped Alpha mutations or penalizing Omega Charge checks at the end of the encounter.

As for the actual adventure, expect mold, mold men, and aliens. I can't say that that the prospect of mold particularly excites me, but all the same I'll be glad to get my hands on more origins, and if nothing else there's another "high-level" threat, though I find it odd that an alien ship is actually weaker than a much smaller man-made robot. Maybe they used lots of American parts to repair their ship?

The death saucer is an alien ship that fires death rays, drops a neutron bomb, and can teleport in minion shock troopers occasionally. It can make four death ray attacks each round, and has a solo action ability that it can use up to two times during the encounter (which is really another way of forcing the monster to ration the Action Points that it would have gotten in D&D). So, everything one expects from a solo monster. However, there's one thing I take issue with: neutron bomb. It recharges once bloodied, but when it becomes bloodied it immediately lands (no action), and while it's grounded it cannot use neutron bomb (or confinement ray).

Oversight, or am I reading it wrong?

December's Dragon and Dungeon
Not much dropped here, except that modrons are coming back? o.O

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