Archive for December 2010

Updated At the Mines of Madness Adventure

For some reason, blogger kept timing out after my last post, so I had to delete it. Again, you can download the pdf and associated stat blocks for At the Mines of Madness here. It's been reformatted and updated from the original. I couldn't get it to properly format with the monster stat blocks and maps in the document file, so just put them in folders to make them a bit easier to manage. Lemme know what you like about it, what you hate about it, and if the idea of an aberrant-centric adventure path holds any appeal.

Assassin: Executioner

The finalized, non-accidental executioner class is available for download. Having read over the class for like the third time I think, my original opinion still stands: I like it a lot more than the shadow-only assassin. This is based on the fact that when I compare them side by side, the executioner just feels like more of an assassin. This is partially due to the fact that the assassin has plenty of specialized attacks that let them roll out an assload of damage--assassin's strike and attack finesse for starters--but also because the executioner regularly utilizes poisons, something I have yet to see any of my players do in any edition of D&D.

Having seen the assassin in play up to 6th-level in a Scales of War campaign, I can say that it's mechanically sound, but conceptually I have a hard time working something together in a satisfactory manner. Shrouds aren't well explained, and the class seems to focus on utilizing shadows to tear, stab, and poison your opponents. Also, the idea of trading part of your soul for "shadow-power" seems better suited for something like a necromancer or warlock, while the assassin as written makes me think more of Pride.

Really, I don't want to reiterate most of what I'd said in the past (which is what I'd be doing if I tried to go into detail again). Most of the class features and powers were very similar to the playtest versions, with some formatting and balance tweaks here and there. I found the accompanying Design & Development article to be an interesting read, as you get to see why R&D did what they did with the dual-power sources, assassin's strike, poisons, situational at-will attacks, etc. Whether you're pleased or pissed at the direction they went, it might inform you about their reasons for doing so.

It just sucks that they didn't update Character Builder with the executioner, yet. >_>
December 21, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon: The Aberrant Souls

I'd recently had to shelve an aberrant-heavy campaign due to one of the players quitting, complete with the potential for characters to become corrupted and mutated by exposure to energies from Xoriant. So when I read articles like this it feels like fate is mocking me, because it is both a good article--amidst a dearth of subpar releases--and ideal for my unfortunately expired campaign. It's mostly about taking primal characters and adding a dash of Lovecraft, with the first four pages going over how your character might first come into contact with the Far Realm, how society handles it, an organization called the Morphic Web, and how the corruption manifests itself.

The how/why section isn't very long, providing only four generic examples, while society's reactions are divided into two extremes, summed up as they either like you or hate you. The last paragraph assumes that regardless as to whether you're loved or hated, you'll probably just become an adventure and gain a series of increasingly powerful abilities that'll let you save the world anyway. The Morphic Web was interesting, a group of aberrant souls that try and keep in communication, watching each other to see who is about to crack, but I found the sample dialogue to be weak. If nothing else, it will provide a character with plenty of potential adventure hooks and NPCs. There's no cost to join, so its something you'll need to ask your DM about.

There's a background associated with a bit of Morphic Web story: someone went crazy 20ish years ago and massacred most of his tribe in the process of giving free hand-me-outs. It gives bonuses to Dungeoneering and Insight, or you can pick up Deep Speech. As an added option it also pitches you several personal quest ideas (which I heartily approve of)

The last bit on Far Realm corruption asks how it manifests itself, which has a sidebar on the same page that suggests 10 different mutations you can roll of choose from, such as tentacles for hair, eyestalks, or mouths in your hands, with the option of rolling a new one each level that replaces the existing one...or adds to the mess. The corruption is more than skin-deep, however, and the article provides a few examples for role-playing mental degradation due to visions and dreams from your aberrant totem. These provide another method for the DM to feed you information, with a sidebar recommending you to not overdo it.

The mostly-flavor part of the article wraps up with a new 13th-level Divination ritual that lets you pick an aberrant creature when you master it, and spend healing surges to make Dungeoneering checks to ask it questions. You can spend more healing surges to contact a different creature if the one you talked to doesn't know the answers you want. The good thing is that members of the Morphic Web can master this ritual without having Ritual Caster.

Last but not least, paragon paths. There are four, with two tied to class features, and the other two specific classes. Most are primal, but one also allows monks and rangers. You can multiclass or hybrid to meet the prereqs, so there's some flexibility.

Formless predator requires wild shape, and is associated with the chaos beast. 
  • 11th-level grants you a damage bonus after using wild shape for the first time in battle, can choose to take on the form of an aberrant beast instead of a natural one, can end an effect and shift when you burn an action point. You also get undulating pseudopod, which lets you shift and make an attack that deals some hefty damage with a daze kicker.
  • 12th-level lets you end a polymorph or petrification effect and gain some temporary hit points, all without spending an action.
  • 16th-level lets you apply the Beast Form keyword to any one of your 1st-level attacks.
  • Finally, at 20th-level you can make a melee attack that deals a lot of damage, blinds the target, and deals ongoing damage that scales up with each failed save.
Herald of madness is for barbarians, monks, and rangers, and is associated with the gibbering mouther.
  • 11th-level causes creatures to take psychic damage whenever they attack your Will, force creatures you hit with action points to attack another creature of your choice, and allow allies to reroll failed saves by taking some psychic damage.
  • The 11th-level attack deals weapon-based damage, and also causes the target and adjacent enemies to provoke opportunity attacks from you even when shifting or teleporting.
  • At 12th-level you gain a stance that causes enemies to deal half damage between you and any other enemy adjacent to them.
  • The 20th-level attack, babbling rage, deals a shitload of weapon-damage and causes all adjacent enemies to grantt combat advantage to you.

The ocular adept was from 3rd Edition, though I can't recall from which book. Unfortunately, its for hunters and seekers instead of wizards (if I recall correctly). I'd be tempted to playing a multiclassed character just to get it. As the name implies, its associated with the beholder.
  • 11th-level lets you transform your weapon into a "spiriteye", which is basically the same thing as whatever weapon you're using, except it doesn't require any ammo or actions to load it (if any). You can burn action points when using it in order to make an extra attack that targets another creature, but it has to be a ranged basic attack.
  • Also, the 11th-level encounter attack requires the spiriteye, which deals weapon-damage, has a variable kicker, and lets you fly 6 squares by using a move action.
  • 12th-level causes you to grow a couple eyestalks, allowing you to fly for a turn and prevent combat advantage from flanking.
  • 16th-level lets you use your spiriteye without even using your hands, and when you make ranged basic attacks you don't draw opportunity attacks.
  • 20th-level is a Stance power that lets you make one ranged basic attack as a minor action and you can shift if the attack hits.
Last but not least is the phrenic master, which requires call spirit companion and is associated with the mind flayer.
  • 11th-level is really nice: any enemy that kills your spirit companion is dazed for a turn, and attacks you make using an action point take both a -2 penalty on any saves and grant combat advantage for a turn.
  • The 11th-level attack power is like a poor man's mind blast, dealing paltry damage with a daze kicker. It also has a slide effect, and your spirit companion can use it if you want.
  • Speaking of your spirit companion, the 12th-level utility lets you force your spirit companion to take a hit for you.
  • The 16th-level class feature is sweet: your spirit companion can use any of your ranged or area-effect attacks, and if its not next to any enemies you don't take opportunity attacks.
  • The 20th-level daily lets you dominated a target (or daze on a miss), and if the target is next to your companion when you turn starts, you can slide both the target and your companion 4 squares until they shake off the domination/daze effect.
I really enjoyed this article. It would have been great quite awhile back during my primal campaign, and if I revive it I'm going to make sure my players are aware of this article. I'm not sure what the intended audience for it, however, since its not for purely primal characters, nor is it for psychic characters. If you want to play a primal character that becomes corrupted by the Far Realm, then it will be a nice fit. Mostly, I think it's best for a DM who is trying to pitch a particular kind of story (Far Realm invasion).

Interactive Gamma World Character Sheet

Though Gamma World lacks its own Character Builder, you can make a character online via this interactive character sheet--with no subscription required. You can randomly generate everything about the character that you'd expect, though there are drop-down menus if you want to choose your options manually. The only glitch I noticed was that the first time messing with it, the origin fields went blank, though they still showed up in the Traits section.

December 20, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

The Awakened Psion

To my recollection, this is the second Unearthed Arcana article that's been posted, which is a way for Dragon writers to pitch various houserules. Despite being in the magazine, they aren't "official", and as such cannot be used in RPGA events, nor will they be included in Character Builder. If you want to use them, you're instructed to take it up with your DM.

This time we get psychic support, giving psionic characters the option to "delve" into a target's mind as they make an attack. Delving can only be used with disciplines that target Will, and you must declare that you are doing so before the roll. If you hit, the discipline has all the normal effects, but also gives you an additional benefit that you can change each time. They range from being able to see what the target can, to the most likely actions that the target is going to take, to getting bits of information for the targets mind. You can also opt to perform "dangerous delving", which nets you better benefits--gaining bonus damage, imposing an attack penalty, or preventing shifting--but at greater risk.

Since delving doesn't cost a feat or power selection, it comes at a cost. When you delve and roll a natural 1 or 20, or get an odd number on a dangerous delve, you suffer from mental contamination and have to roll on a table of consequences. You might just be slightly dizzy and suffer no other ill effects, or be dazed and allow the target to see through your eyes, or (in the worst case scenario) have some of your own memories overwritten by the target's in addition to briefly sharing the target's goals, forfeiting control of your character to the DM for a turn (but the overwritten memories are permanent).

These acquired memories and personality traits lead to what is called dissonance, which causes you to take an assload of psychic damage whenever you act in accordance to a memory that you lost or against a personality trait that you've gained. To make matters worse they are cumulative, so if you end up acting against two or more memories and/or traits you'd take twice as much damage. This leads to the likely outcome that delve-abusers explode at some point when pause to consider menu items.

It's good for players that like psionic characters and gambling their character's sanity, but not so mkuch for players that get attached to characters or groups that constantly have long-term campaigns.
December 18, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon: To Live Defeated

Virtually every combat scenario--and more than a few non-combat ones--traditionally ends when the heroes having beaten all the hit points out of their foes. Sometimes the players don't want to kill an opponent for one reason or other: it might be a guard just "doing his job", an innocent citizen acting under misinformation (or magical compulsion), or someone that they need information from but won't give it up without a fight. In past editions you'd have to taken a penalty for your troubles, but 4th Edition edition makes it as easy as declaring that you want to deal nonlethal damage.

This article provides you with some guidelines on dealing with opponents that you don't want to technically kill, though I have to say many of those are actually worse than death: a few let you do some mundane harm, such as crippling or blinding them. In a world where missing limbs can be regenerated, doesn't sound so bad. However, one lets you teleport them into a volcano, where they are continuously burned and heal for theoretically eternity. Others tread the middle ground, such as petrification, memory wipe, removal of any ability to communicate, or transforming them into a harmless animal.

The author makes it a point to restrict some of these methods for players with suitable powers and degrees of power, so don't expect fighters to turn defeated foes into toilets, or even low-level wizards to wipe all mention of the villain from history. Generally when my players decide to spare a villain, servant, or minion, they just kind of run him off or bring him to the authorities. On one occasion, they beat up some guards and then paid the other one to "take a week off". This article, if nothing else, should provide some inspiration to help players come up with more..."creative" methods.
Posted by David Guyll
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A New Age

One of the players in my Tuesday group decided to hang up his dice due to burn out. Over the next few weeks we'll be looking for another player before I start running Age of Worms, converted to 4th Edition. I had quite a few adventures written up for my current campaign, and so before I stow them I wanted to know if anyone was interested in the adventures that I had written for the campaign.
December 14, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon & Dungeon Magazines For Sale

I've got a massive library of Dragon and Dungeon magazines that I'm looking to sell in order to make room on one of my bookshelves before I just donate them to one of my local game stores.

Dragon: Issues 99, 101, 102, 274-277, 283-359 (For the 3rd Edition magazines, I'm missing 278-282). They are all in very good condition, with the exception of the early 270's, which have some spine damage. I also have the 2001 annual issue, Monster Ecologies, The Art of Dragon Magazine, and Dragon Compendium I.

Dungeon: 103, 109, 110, 119, and 121-150 (the entire run of Age of Worms and Savage Tide adventure paths).

The asking price is between 50 cents and $2 per magazine issue, depending on the condition. If you want to buy all of Dragon magazines, I'd pawn them all for $75. For Dungeon, I'd go $30 since they're all in great condition. For all the magazines, I'd charge $90. The hardcovers would be $10 each.
December 12, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Mark of Nerath Review

I'd sworn that I'd posted a review of Mark of Nerath, but then I realized that I'd used it as an example of a terrible product in my Business class. When it comes to buying Dungeons & Dragons novels I'm always hesitant unless they're written by Don Bassingthwaite (whose name I can spell without looking), as like Jim Butcher and Aeryn Rudel, he's built up a reputation for quality. I've never read fiction by Bill Slavicsek, and at the time there weren't any reviews up on Amazon, so I figured what the hell, I'll take a gamble.

Thankfully it's been four months since I last read the book, so I can't recall many of the exact details. What I do recall is that the book opens up with a group of stock characters chasing a dragon because its been eating farmers or something. Suffice to say, most of them get killed and the survivors decide to keep at it despite the fact that their party is three and a half men short. But that's not all, the story cuts between an eladrin wizard also trying to avenge his master who was murdered by something that was never revealed, and a lich who made a deal with Orcus that would get him out of the Shadowfell. Oh, and a human chosen one cleric from some village that I guess is of noble blood that I think the lich was trying to kill.

All told, there was over ten characters, and I couldn't tell which--if any--was the main one, as they all got a fairly equal measure of screen time. Because of this, none every saw any real development, but Bill does make it a point to shove character quirks and traits down throat all the time (though to be fair, perhaps between all the characters Bill thought you'd forget who was who).

For example, after the eladrin's mentor is killed, he teams up with a dragonborn and tiefling that are there...because. He takes his master's familiar along, a pseudodragon, who spends all of her time reminding the eladrin just how incompetent he is. She wasn't cute, or funny, just an asshole. It'd be like if you were trying to learn to something, and a friend just kept parroting how bad you were at it instead of offering actual, constructive criticism.

The lich also tours around the world with his right-hand man, a death knight (I think). You'd think that being in the position that he's in, that he must have demonstrated some modicum of skill, right? Well the lich does the same thing that the pseudodragon does: he constantly berates the death knight for being useless. Then when he gets ahold of an iron golem, starts telling the death knight to his face how much better the golem is. Oddly, the death knight does his job and keeps him safe from harm, so...why?

The writing is just bad. I mean, wow. Here's the second sentence: The dwarf palain Cliffside, strong and confident, strode a few paces back, an axe in his strong right hand. That was really all it took for me to know that this was going to be a terrible book, but I kept at it in the vain hope that it would get better. To put it nicely, the dialogue is cheesy, the fare that players at a gaming table use because they know its cheesy. Here's something that the halfling rogue says on page 2: 'Lucky for you I spotted it on the path back there.  I do have excellent perception, you know."

Who the hell talks like that?

I cannot recommend this book, even for hardcore D&D fans. The characters are lifeless, the story is fractured, and the dialogue is choppy (to say the least). The only saving grace is that Wayne Reynolds did the cover, which looks pretty awesome. If you're a collector, I guess you could get it, but don't bother trying to read it. I really tried to finish it, getting through about two-thirds of it before I couldn't take it anymore. I'd give this book a 1 out of 10.
Posted by David Guyll

More from the Virtual Table

As part of a side-project, I copied the level 2 delve "The Broken Tower" from Dungeon Delve. Here's what I got:


I might have mentioned before that there aren't a lot of tokens to use, so I had to use the orc and hobgoblin to represent a bugbear and goblin underboss. The tile library also didn't have the 1x1 gong, a 2x1 broken alter (or even an alter, for that matter), or a 2x2 throne. Thankfully, you can draw that stuff in, though you get a very small assortment of colors to choose from. Again, this is Beta.

Here's a zoomed in shot of the second floor, with the visibility mask removed:


You can place hidden notes for yourself, as well as public notes for all the players to see. I generally use public notes for "Features of the Area", and to call out certain objects so they know what it is (in the case that I have to draw them in). Private notes let me easily reference what an object does, or a skill DC. You can also make monsters and entire sections invisible to the players. This is good for monsters using Stealth, or letting you gradually reveal the dungeon as they explore the area.
My major complaints are lack of ability to import monsters and characters from the compendium. Though I think I'm starting to figure out what format works the best, it's a pain in the ass if someone else makes and adventure and writes things up differently. Also, the whole keying it all in by hand is a nuisance in general.
December 11, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Famine in Far-Go Review

I've never played Gamma World before Wizards got their hands on it, an experience that I enjoyed but unable to indulge in nearly as frequently as I do Dungeons & Dragons. I'd heard from some source or other that Famine in Far-Go is also an adventure from a much older Gamma World edition, and chickens are implemented in some capacity. The cover certainly tries to make them look menacing, though even bulging with muscles and dual-wielding bloody cleavers isn't going to cut it. The expansion box is half as thick, containing a rulebook that roughly the same size as the Gamma World book, a small collection of cryptic allegiance cards, three sheets of monster tokens, and two foldout maps likely used in the adventure.

Chapter 1 adds twenty new origins, as well as instructions on how to use origins from Gamma World if you want to mix and match them. I like the exploding origin. Initially, you can damage very creature within 2 squares of you as an at-will, and while you can eventually explode once per encounter as an immediate reaction, the best one is the expert power: you literally explode, doing a burst 4 attack that removes you from play until your next turn, after which you reform yourself. Other origins let you control magnetic fields, be Stretch Armstrong, play a monkey, and more. There's also additional tables for ancient junk and starting gear (again, with instructions to determine which table to use if you want to include the ones from Gamma World).

Chapter 2 details five cryptic alliances that have more or less (loosely) good intentions, at least compared to the rest. Some want to make the world a better place through psychic coercion, while others want to use technology to destroy other technology. These are intended for players to pick from in order to add additional agendas to their characters, which might cause them to butt heads with other characters depending on if and how their agendas conflict. Yes, these come on cards. No, they aren't randomized. You get all five player-intended allegiances, with two cards each (doubles). Like D&D backgrounds they aren't mandatory, but provide a small benefit that might inconvenience the rest of the party (especially the one that imposes a penalty to Omega charge checks in order to gain a bonus that lasts for the rest of the game session).

Additionally, there are seven major and twelve minor alliances intended for game masters to give some background flavor to villains. These range from packs of goth kids to heavy-metal biker gangs to shotgun-toting nuns.

Chapter 3 adds over 50 new monsters (if you count variants to the theme), expanding the menagerie to include bizarre creatures like life-draining bipedal dogs, horse-shaped ambulatory cacti, and rage zombies (along with other kinds, too). The level range is alright, eschewing levels 1, 9, and 10, and they included a level 8 elite space dragon as an almost end game threat, unfortunately called a poong. One of my favorites is the hopper (aka, jackalope), which is a very easily scared, Large-sized critter that camouflages itself so long as it doesn't move too far.

For those curious about the froghemoth, its a level 8 elite soldier with a stat block that eats up the entire page, capable of making four tentacle attacks per round, which has an auto-damaging "mark" kicker effect, and can make a tentacle attack as a free action anytime someone hits it in melee. Its bite does a hefty amount of damage, and immobilizes you. The worse part is that if it bites you, it can try to swallow you as a minor action, meaning that you take automatic damage and are stunned until you make a save.

For those of you that wanted more story content in Gamma World (myself included), chapter 4 is a good place to get you started. Its kind of a lite-Nentir Vale treatment that provides you with twelves pages of history and information on a region of east Dah-Koh-Tah. Some of it is intended for the adventure, but a good deal can be used as a foundation for further adventures and encounter ideas. About half the pages are devoted to the city of Far-Go, including a stat block for the city, a map, and key NPCs and locations.

Crashed aliens. Fungus people. Mutant chickens. The adventure in chapter 5 eats up about a third of the book, and with good reason: the characters have a lot on their plate to deal with. See, aliens have crashed on Gamma Terra and are trying to fix their ship, but have unknowingly released russet mold into the area, which has caused local flora to grow to a very large size. The farmers use it to fertilize their crops, not knowing that the mutated plants become sentient and attack. This doesn't stop a band of mutant chickens from a factory south-west of the town to steal the crops and continue using the fungus to speed up plant growth, creating more violent fungus people. Finally, those aliens? The ones that just want to go home? They keep suffering setbacks due to mutating cockroaches stealing parts from their ship.

This adventure looks a lot better than Steading of the Iron King. Its got a sandbox feel to it, allowing characters some flexibility as to where they go (and what they'll face). There's some depth supplied for NPCs and the town, instead of just having you save a nondescript town from random, missile-launching robots. It also (re)introduces skill challenge rules on the off chance that you only play Gamma World and not D&D.

If you're a fan of Gamma World, this is a must-have. If you're on the fence, I'd flip through it, as the added content will probably sway your vote. If you hate Gamma World, then don't bother: its just more wacky wasteland hijinks.
December 10, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Return to the Mines of Madness

After having fully ran At the Mines of Madness, I'm in the process of making a lot of changes before posting a new pdf file on Box.net for download. Before I do so, I'd like to hear people's thoughts on it, in particular what you thought of the encounters, pacing, and overall feel of the adventure. Lemme know via email and/or comments so I can make it as good as I can before finalizing it. After that, if there's enough interest, I'll move on to formatting and publishing the next adventure, The Shadows Over Greyshore.
December 09, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Heroes of Shadow Essentials

Heroes of Shadow is going to be written Essentials-style, which means that instead of giving you the basic foundation of the class and a plethora of options to choose from in order to build upon that class in a way that pleases you, Wizards will instead give you limited control over the class's abilities and provide fixed abilities that will deliver on a concept that they envision. Hopefully, its a concept that you like.

Think of it like this: a fighter has six fighter talents to choose from. Each one gives you some benefit that helps build upon a concept, such as a gladiatorial fighter, a semi-pugilist type, a sword-and-board knight in shining armor, a guy with a big fucking weapon, and more. From there, you still get to pick numerous exploits that let you do things that you envision your character doing, on top of the simple "swing your weapon" maneuver. While a few people can't wrap their heads around daily exploits, the point is that you get a lot of flexibility.

With Essentials you don't get the fighter, you get the knight and slayer, which are basically inflexible fighter subtypes that either use a one-handed weapon and shield, or use a two-handed weapon. Sure, you get to pick a pair of stances at level one, but no matter what your encounter special lets you lump on another damage die. Want to be able to hit them in the legs and trip them? Too bad. Want to be able to smash an enemy in the face and daze them? Nuh uh. It's unfortunate that I could build the exact same concepts just using Player's Handbook. The difference is that I have more control over how the character grows.

Not all the classes function like this, however. Mages get to pick a magic school, but aren't restricted on their spells. If I pick Pyromancy, nothing says I have to pick any spells with the Fire keyword at all. This is really strange because you'd think that if they were going to pigeonhole you by school that there'd be at least some restrictions. I don't subscribe to the belief that only spellcasters need to be complicated (a level 1 mage has to pick nine spells, by the by), and I think it's great that 4th Edition allowed non-magical characters to have interesting actions and powers that they could use on a round-by-round basis.

Some people like this new direction. I'm more in the middle ground. I like a few of the classes out of the Essentials books, but namely the hexblade. Partially because it delivers at least two solid concepts, but partially because you get more say on what you can do. In other words, encounter and daily powers. Lack of daily powers, a preset encounter power that isn't even an attack, and the fact that I'm doing the same basic melee attack virtually the entire time are the reasons why I'd be bored to tears playing a knight or slayer. I like variety, and the Essentials spin on martial classes seems like more than a few steps back.

Fortunately, the necromancer and nethermancer seem to be mage schools, or at least based on the mage. This means that they'll actually get to pick stuff. The blackguard seems to be based on a paladin, like the cavalier, so she'll also get to choose more powers, as well. Would I have preferred Heroes of Shadow to be presented in the Player's Handbook format? You bet. Give me more options any day. Thankfully, when it comes to spellcasters, the Essentials format hasn't really done anything to change how they work.
December 08, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Monster & Morale

As you open the door, you see a pair of goblins arbitrarily standing there, ineffectually wielding spears made of a stick and somewhat sharpened rock, and shields made out of a few planks of wood tied together. They see you, and snarl savagely as they prepare to rush you.

This is one way that The Twisted Halls can open with: a pair of goblins middling about in a room, with a hex hurler and guard drake off camera for a round or two. These goblins are not only outnumbered but also out-gunned, as the party will either be utilizing obviously superior arms and armaments, or hiding behind someone using them. Unfortunately, whoever is doing the hiding is most certainly capable of dropping arcane ordinance. Goblins are pretty cowardly creatures, so it'd make sense of them to run for help, if not for their lives. No, they stand their ground, waiting for backup to arrive. Though the hex hurler jumps in almost immediately, the guard drake only shows up if someone opens the door to the room that its for some reasoned locked in. This costly delay results in a one-sided battle against the goblins, who even when bloodied are content to throw away their lives.

Why don't they beg for mercy, or simply run? Is it because its not in the rules? 2nd Edition had a morale check, though I don't remember what it did. I think one aspect of it is morality. If the monsters are begging for their lives the players might be reluctant to kill them, and even feel very bad for doing so. If they're all too eager to kill the characters, however, it becomes an easy decision rooted in self preservation. Since I like to play D&D as a pleasurable hobby, the latter is preferable even if it means that the world is populated largely by simple-minded antagonists. After all, I'm not trying to write a novel, but provide a few hours of entertainment a week. If this means that I focus my creative efforts on the plot and a handful of major NPCs, I think I'll live.

Another big factor is probably having the players deal with surviving monsters. Do they tie them up and take them to the authorities, chase them off in the hopes that they doesn't return (possibly at an inopportune time, or with reinforcements), or simply put them to the sword when all is said and done? This could lead to a lengthy discussion about how to handle survivors that might just bog the game down, especially if the party doesn't agree on how to handle prisoners. I'd rather not have the players explain that they are going through a routine of slitting throats, burning corpses, or stabbing nuclei. Even if I did, it would become one of those things that everyone agrees happens automatically without anything needing to be said.

On the other hand, leaving someone/thing alive could prove useful, which has been demonstrated in my current campaign on several occasions (especially since I don't require a monster to be killed to garner a XP award). If the party interrogates an intelligent monster they might learn something useful about the dungeon and/or its inhabitants. This information doesn't have to be accurate, and you can use it for foreshadowing. It can also speed up combat. If a monster surrenders, then you can reduce the grind. This could fail if the party takes a long time arguing over one what to do with the survivor(s). After the first batch of successful surrenders, its likely that your players will be quick to reach conclusions. Survivors might come back to haunt the characters, or assist them. Ultimately it leaves the potential for social role-playing opportunities. Just don't over do it, or they'll just go back to gutting the losers like fish in a factory.

When, if ever, should monsters surrender? In my games I try to run monsters logically, basing their combat behaviors off of what I think they'd do. I don't have a hard system for it, instead playing it by ear unless a monster is bloodied, in which case players can try the Intimidate route (as its already in the rules). That being said, I do have some guidelines:

  • Upon being encountered animals might not attack immediately, and could be dissuaded from fighting at all through the use of skills such as Nature, Intimidate, Diplomacy, Bluff, Insight, and others. If combat does break out, I generally have the animal strongly consider fleeing once its bloodied so that it can live to be arbitrarily thrown into another random encounter another day. If the animal is protecting young or its lair, it might fight to the death. Depends on the animal and location.
  • Programmed/bound guardians like animated objects, golems, elementals, devils, undead, and others don't play that way. They are created or compelled to protect an area or fulfill a function. Intelligent guardians do what is tactically advantageous, and some might try various forms of persuasion in order to fulfill their tasks (there could even be a dialogue exchange before and during combat). Unintelligent guardians, like golems, just go after whoever is closest or dealing the most damage. They never give up, even in the face of destruction.
  • Intelligent creatures are a lot more complex. You have to consider race, intelligence, and sometimes other factors like culture and religion. As I mentioned above, goblins are a cowardly lot. When most of them are dead and/or bloodied, I like to have some of them surrender or book it (perhaps to warn another group). Orcs are very bloodthirsty and not prone to giving up. Most major villains probably have a high self-preservation instinct.

My questions are, do you have monsters that surrender? How do your players react to it? How do their characters handle it?
Posted by David Guyll

Reflavoring Powers

Reskinning isn't a new concept, and today's Dragon article gives us two-and-a-third pages worth of advice on changing names, descriptions, and damage types. I found the article a bit weak, because the author suggests simple changes that people have already been doing for years. On the first page, he describes renaming the druid evocation thorn spray to debris spray to better fit his theme. While this is something that I appreciate, preferring to make thematic characters over optimized ones, I can easily swap thunder damage for fire damage in thunderwave, and call it firewave.

While the author also explains that not all energy types are created equally, this is both not new information or difficult to find. Even if you don't flip through the various monster books or frequent the forums, its a simple matter of doing a quick search through D&D Compendium: resist cold returns 281 entries under creatures, fire gets 547, force 72, and necrotic 722. The lesson is that be wary about swapping energy types for less resisted ones, something that I suspect players might try in order gain a slight advantage. One thing that the author fails to mention is that energy types also tend to carry certain themes: cold likes to slow and immobilize, fire likes to deal lots of damage, thunder and force add forced movement, and so on.

One the second page, there's a couple paragraphs where the author recommends changing the names of all the monk disciplines, which I found a bit misleading. By renaming them to maneuvers like hard right hook and haymeker, he believes that it would make it easy to envision it as a westernized pugilist. Not only do I not agree with people who think that the monk doesn't fit in, but when I read pugilist I think martial power source, and there's no explanation for the crazy stunts that is feasible for a monk to achieve. The brawler fighter is a better example, since he cannot jump insanely high, punch people from far away, or teleport

The only part of the article that I enjoyed was the last bit, where he creates a minotaur infernal pact warlock and renames some of the spells. Not because he renamed some of the spells, but because of how he interprets the effects in relation to the race choice. Unfortunately, it gets about a half-page.
Posted by David Guyll

Previews for December and Beyond

The previews open up with a reskin of the dehydrated man that you might have gotten from Gamma World Game Day--which I did not. It does basically the same thing, but gives bonuses to other skills.

Next month there's Caverns of Icewind Dale, a winter-themed Dungeon Tile set. I've already got a lot of tiles, but I like the boxes that they're coming in: easier to sort through them all for something I need.

Also next month, Dragon will feature a Channel Divinity article for Vecna. I'm glad to see that they are doing evil deities, as I'd like some more support with my tiefling paladin of Asmodeus. The feat Command Undead is previewed, which grants you a +1 to all knowledge skill checks and replaces turn undead with command undead. The feat power targets all undead in a Close burst 2 and targets Will. On a hit, you slide the targets, immobilize them, and cause them to deal necrotic damage to enemies adjacent to them. On a miss it instead dazes the undead. So, something either way.

Both the new Dungeon Master's Screen and Legion of Gold debut in February. Here's a shot of the screen:


Legion of Gold will--of course--add new origins, including demon, vampiric, and octopoid. Shit yes. During my dark times of playing Rifts, I really dug Splynn Dimensional Market, which had an octoman race that looked badass. If nothing else, there ya go for those wondering how to make the octopus-chick on the Gamma World box. There's also options for vocations, such as soldier of fortune, mad scientist, and bounty hunter.

For monsters, we're going to get more cyborgs, haunts, robots, saurians, and the lornak (a giant land squid). Never played any of the older Gamma World editions, so I don't know if they are throwbacks from an older age.

As for the adventure...well, you start on Gamma Terra, but at some point its bang, zoom, right to the moon. It's both habited and hospitable, assuming you don't count all the monsters that dwell within crystalline ruins, wrecked habitation domes, and "forests of weird plants". Characters start at levels 6 or 7, and should end up at 9 or 10, so combined with previous adventures it would be a simple task of getting from 1 to 10.

The preview for Heroes of Shadow, which comes out in March, gets quite a bit of coverage. The bit on Shadow Magic assures us that, despite all the villainous cliches that typically wield it, its not evil, just easier to get ahold of. Of course, they then preview some flavor text for the new paladin build: the blackguard.

In 3rd Edition, blackguards were a prestige class designed to emulate a fallen paladin. Sith Blackguards are no different, described as shadow warriors that focus divine power through a dark vice or dark emotion, cultivating dominance and fury to fuel their might. "Heroic" blackguards, on the other hand, stem from paladins who tried to exemplify a virtue, but were unable to control their anger (or some other emotion).

Necromancy and nethermancy will also be presented as two new magic schools. Necromancy seems to be more about animating physical undead, while nethermancy focuses more on spirits and ghosts. The spell summon shadow servant is featured, allowing you to conjure up a shadow skeleton (Necromancy) or shadow beast (Nethermancy). 

Virtual Table: Twisted Hall

This is the adventure out of Starter Set. I plan on putting the ddav file up when I'm done mapping and statting.

December 04, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Virtual Table: Whispering Cairn Map

Here's what I've been able to do thus far in copying the map from The Whispering Cairn. There aren't a lot of tiles to work with, but the ability to block off parts of the map and drop notes for them to see is neat. I'd like to see a function that allows you to attach skill modifiers to elements that players automatically notice if their modifier is high enough.

For example, I find myself dropping hidden notes for myself, but it would be better if I could place a note that characters with a high enough Passive Perception score detect automatically. There's some tracks that they could identify with a high enough Nature skill, so having the note display to players with a high enough "passive" Nature would be cool.

Delve Night: Cairn of the Winter King

Not really a delve, but the adventure taken from Monster Vault. I wanted to try something really weird, and ended up with a shardmind shaper psion. Shardminds are an annoying race in that I can't really think of a working character concept outside of, "you're in the natural world, trying to kill aberrants." Great if you're running a campaign frought with aberrant baddies, but...not so good in any other circumstance. Also, they're very alien looking, falling outside what the arbitrary acceptable non-human traits of other races (glowing eyes, horns, tails, and/or fur).

Since it was a delve I wasn't surprised that the party and townsfolk never questioned my existence or purpose. I'd elected to go with the shaper class feature, because I enjoyed forging astral constructs in 3rd Edition, and while I knew I couldn't do it so easily in 4th Edition wanted to see if it was still enjoyable creating more bizarre, temporary things as even at level 4, none of the at-will Conjurations were humanoid in shape. Instead, I could create shards of force, static motes, and...whatever the hell a psychic anomaly is.

The first encounter in the adventure consists of a cliched viking boat dropping out of the sky and unloading more undead that what could fit into it. Thankfully, a lot are minions, but since our DM wouldn't indicate which I decided to reserve power points and throw out a static mote. Initially, it only slows things that start their turns next to it, and on the following round explodes into a Close burst 3 attack. Anything next to it has to basically double move (or teleport) to get far enough away to avoid it. This, combined with the fact that it targets creatures, made it somewhat annoying to use.

The Most Useful Power award went to psychic anomaly. This thing is awesome, and aside from the occasional force shard I used it exclusively throughout the session. You drop it on your turn, and anything that starts next to it gets hammered by an attack. The best part is, that if you burn a power point then allies can flank with it, but if you spend two it also dazes them. This, coupled with our skirmishing warlord's knock-back attacks, helped us keep the heat off of our gnome paladin, who unfortunately still got dropped about five or so times throughout the session.

After we dispatched the undead, we talked with the boat, which allowed anyone on that affirmed having the ice scepter, whether or not they actually did. Figuring we'd need it later, we bothered to dig around and found someone that happened to have just the scepter we were looking for. After that we got on the boat, and were subjected to a lengthy and annoying skill challenge. There weren't a lot of skills that we were allowed to use, and thankfully the DM was kind enough to ignore the fact that we'd accrued a good deal more than three failures by its conclusion (though we were a healing surge worse for wear).

The entrance to the dungeon is indicated by a massive pile of skulls encased in ice. We didn't spend time checking it out after the DM mentioned as an aside that it had some form of attack. On the other hand, the first room was warm and inviting, with an old man claiming to be the Winter King and swearing that he'd drop the curse if we handed over the ice scepter. Beth's gnome, being fey and all, outright refuses any kind of "free gift". Good advice. None of us trusted this guy, especially since the NPC that nabbed the scepter in the first place described an ice-filled cavern with people frozen inside.

So combat starts, everything's revealed to be an illusion, and we get our asses handed to us a second time. Now, the DM claimed to have yanked a dire wolf from the mix, but the fact that we had to go through Action Points, healing potions, two inspiring words, one lay on hands, and multiple daily powers tells me that either this encounter is not balanced at all, or that we were doing something very wrong. On one hand, Beth and I were playing classes that we weren't familiar with, but on the other hand we were pretty damned optimized.

Many rounds and healing surges later, we decided to make camp for the night in a storeroom, and were awoken when someone heard a patrol outside. The patrol consisted of a bunch of tiefling minions, some guards, and a gnome. Things went easier because we propped the gnome in front of the door and just blasted them from the safety of the room while our halfling assassin zipped about outside murdering stragglers. The gnome got away, and we came out having used our dailies only under the pretense that A) this was a one-shot, and B) we were calling it for the night.

Did I like the adventure? Well, when I read it, it looked really cool. Not sure if I'd fault the DM, luck, or the encounter composition, but something was definitely awry.

Did I like the psion? Yes. I think I'd swap out static mote for something a little more direct. Perhaps something with forced movement so that I could use an action point to drop a psychic anomaly next to more critters (or to just have something that doesn't require monsters to start next to it). I'd certainly try it again, but probably not as a shardmind unless its something more central to the plot.
December 01, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

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