Archive for October 2011

Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan Review

Warning: Adventure spoilers abound, here. In a nutshell I like it well enough. I mean, the art is not all that great (having been cribbed directly from the original), but it is free and has some pretty cool stuff. Based on the level and cultural theme of this adventure, it could work really well as a sequel to Going Ape!.



If you DMed a session of Lost Crown of Neverwinter soon enough, then chances are you got this adventure as an added bonus sometime last week. It is basically the 1980's competition module of the same name, updated for the current edition. Having never played the original, and while I am not sure how close they hit the mark the original authors seem to be pretty happy with it.

The adventure starts out with the characters legging it from a bunch of angry, savage warriors, presumably after trespassing on a sacred burial ground.

Or jacking gold idols. They take that shit seriously.
In an M. Night Shamwowian twist the characters actually end up just stumbling into the ass-end of the dungeon and have to find their way out, dealing with the spirits and undead that inhabit it. To make matters worse there is also a poisonous gas that prevents them from taking an extended rest, while at the same time paring off their healing surges the longer they stick around. Fortunately a lot of the encounters are not well padded, throwing only a couple of monsters at a time at the party, and some do not even need to be fought.

There are a lot of little things in this adventure that I really like: neat dungeon dressing, logical traps and hazards integrated with monsters, monsters willing to actually talk, a deadly game of pelota, will-o-wisps that try and draw you into traps, and more. There are even rooms that just contain traps, and now that anyone can notice and deal with them I am curious how they will be received. I also like a lot of the monster design, such as the vampire in Area 7; he cannot cross running water, can turn into a cloud of bats whenever it wants, and lacks a double-attack mechanic until it can pick up its axe (which is a cursed item), after which it can use it as a minor action.

It is a damned shame that this is not something that anyone can just buy without spending a ridiculous amount of cash on eBay. At the least it would be nice if WotC would post it as a pdf download.
October 30, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: Runepriest

Runepriest support with an "asian" twist? Okay I am hooked. In addition to a few pages with some sidebars of flavor on how runepriests could fit in Kara-Tur, we also get a new runic artistry, prayers, paragon path, and a pair of feats.

The flavor parts are interesting, touching on the Path of Enlightenment (which was apparently written on cliffs with red lightning), and depicting rune magic as more commonplace in Kara-Tur, with "homes adorned with sutra scrolls of varying sizes, that burn with red lightning when focused on or read". There is also a sidebar on calligraphy, which along with the code of honor syncs well with the whole oriental thing they got going on. Great if you are running such a campaign, but you could still use stuff like the sutra scrolls--changing them to runestones or what-have-you--and lightning in other games.

Each of the existing runic artistry gets a few paragraphs for re-flavoring their place in Kara-Tur. Defiant words are pretty common, wield longspears or halberds, and they tend to serve in a standing army or serve as temple guards. Wrathful hammers use testubos (aka greatclubs), lacquer their armor in red, and tend to stick to the Plains of Horses and hilly regions. They also spend most of their time hunting demons, giving them a solid adventuring concept.

Serene blade is the new artistry. These guys embody the runepriest devotion to the sigils granted by the Celestial Emporer, wield longswords, and typically wander the land teaching literacy and the Path of Enlightenment. In game mechanics picking this class feature gives you proficiency with military heavy blades, lets you add your Wisdom to AC when wearing light armor (allowing you to stick to the red robes that they like so much), and gives you scaling temp hps based on your Wisdom once per round aftering getting hit. 

New Prayers
  • Words of Bravery (level 3): You hit each creature adjacent to you, you and an ally can make a save, and you either allow an ally push an affected target or dish out a bonus on the save.
  • Words of Compassion (level 6 daily): You or an ally regains hit points and gets a bonus to saves for a turn. Level 6, daily, and a standard action? Er...shrug.
  • Words of the Reflected Karma (level 9): A friendly-fire blast that targets a NAD (and Will at that), with an effect that causes the target to take lightning damage when it attacks. Veeery nice.
  • Protective Scroll (level 10 encounter): You burn a healing surge to scribe a sutra scroll, that can be used as a minor action to heal another creature and grant a huge bonus to defenses for a turn. These things last until you take an extended rest, meaning you can pretty much use it every encounter to basically give yourself a minor-action heal WITH something extra. Also, anyone can use it.
  • Words of Fiery Fidelity (level 13): Single target, hits Fort, deals fire damage, heals adjacent allies, deals ongoing damage as an effect (that also heals allies whenever the target takes ongoing damage). Oh, and depending on your rune state the ongoing damage and healing is either double, or the range of allies that it affects is increased. 
  • Words of Ancestral Bravery (level 15): Single target, hits Will, deals radiant damage with prone on a hit, half damage on a miss. As an effect if allies end their turn next to you they got a lot of temp hps and a bonus on saves for a turn.
Enlightened Word Paragon Path 
Only non-evil runepriests need apply. 
  • Cloud Step (level 11): A new rune state that lets adjacent allies shift as a free action if they hit an enemy. You can also end it in order to fly.
  • Shared Enlightenment Action (level 11): You can burn an action point to have an attack originate from a nearby ally, using your stats and giving them temp hps for their troubles.
  • Celestial Lightning (level 11 again): A ranged, friendly-fire area-effect that targets Fort, deals radiant and lightning damage. It has to be centered on an ally, but in addition to not giving a fuck the ally also deals lightning and radiant damage for a turn (in addition to whatever they would normally do, making it very unlikely that resistances will factor in). In addition, depending on your rune state the ally either a bonus to damage or their healing surges.
  • Touch of Hope (level 12 daily): You or an ally that you can touch make a save against every effect on her, regains hit points, and can stand up if prone.
  • Radiant Cloud Step (level 16): When flying by dismissing your cloud step rune state, you are also insubstantial and phasing.
  • Words of Celestial Heaven (level 20): A solid melee attack that deals lightning and radiant damage, stuns with a save end, and causes the target to make an attack against an ally after saving against the stun. Hit or miss you also deal bonus lightning and radiant damage for the rest of the encounter.
New Feats 
    • Heavenly Halberdier: You can use glaives and halberds, in addition to sliding targets of your at-will runepriest prayers.
    • Scribe Sutra: You can use Warding rituals as well as Brew Potion, Gentle Repose, and Magic Circle. In addition, making scrolls takes half the time.
    October 29, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    Excerpt: Fey Beast Tamer

    Only four themes? Really?

    The main attraction to this theme is the beast companion you get, which can be a blink dog, displacer beast, fey panther, or owlbear, all of which seem pretty strong for what is in all honesty an optional option.

    Yeah they only have half your usual hit points as a cap, but—for example—allies adjacent to a displacer beast gain a +1 power bonus to all defenses, while those next to a blink dog can teleport to another square next to it as a move action. In addition the level 5 and 10 features let you have combat advantage against any enemy next to your companion, and communicate normally with it and similar enemies respectively. Like spirit companions if they die you burn a healing surge and can just conjure it again from the Feywild as a minor action (though if you wait for a rest it comes back with full hit points).

    The powers let you heal them for free, use a move action to send it back to the Feywild, and transform into whatever your companion is. None seem particulary neat; though safe banishment is an at-will, it takes a move action to remove and re-summon it. I think making it an immediate interrupt-encounter to save it (and a healing surge) would have been a lot better and more thematic. On a similar vein, companion form gives you your companion’s aura, but the use of any power ends the effect. Kind of meh.

    Anyway, I guess the balancing act is that their defenses are rather tame (13-15 to start with), making them tempting and frail targets. Oh well, the only player I expect to pick this up is Randy, and that is just to have an owlbear companion as part of an inside joke from a previous campaign.

    October 28, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    Wrapping up Keep on the Shadowfell..

    ...for like, the third or fourth time.


    Here is the map before the characters went inside. The green pillars contained souls of previously sacrificed victims, and could be used to charge up Necrotic powers, and the moat of blood concealed zombie minions.


    The characters managed to sneak in before the paladin botched a Stealth check, causing Kalarel to open up with a blast of grave dust that dealt necrotic damage--which he resisted most of--and left a zone of damaging terrain. Shen (tiefling hexblade) leapt on top of the portal, surprising Kalarel but still missing with an eldritch bolt.


    The zombies are up after a turn of failed ranged attacks. I held back due to all the bad rolls so as not to immediately overwhelm them all.


     The dead body on the alter turned out to be a ghoul playing possum. After Shen leapt off the portal and knocked Kalarel over, it charged her, somehow missing despite charging and her being prone.


    After luring the zombies up, Kamon fey stepped off the high ground into melee with Kalarel to help out Shen. Unfortunately, the defender and other striker were stuck with a trio of zombies.


    This was quite a few turns later. They managed to kill Kalarel and stopped him from opening the portal any further (though he got it far enough to deal necrotic damage to adjacent living creatures). At this point they were just playing mop up with the ghoul and zombies.


    Almost done. The ghoul decided to leg it, and eventually was killed off with a well-placed vampire slam and blood drinker.

    Monk Basics

    This is a nice tutorial article that gives you an in-depth look on each of the monk’s class features, as well as giving you tips on ideal races—including a sidebar on what race best matches which tradition—and multiclass options, and a sidebar with some ideas on naming your personal style.

    New Feats
    • Flurry Resounding: You can burn an action point to use flurry of blows again, even if you have already used it this turn.
    • Internalize the Basic Kata: You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for melee basic attacks, as well as use flurry of blows on an opportunity attack.
    • Master of the Fist: A multiclass feat that gives you training in either Athletics or Acrobatics, Unarmed Combatant, and ki focus proficiency.
    • Piercing Palm: You can use Sneak Attack with a monk’s unarmed strike.
    • Shielding Whirlwind Style: This is great for monks with a quarterstaff. You gain partial cover against ranged and area attacks for a turn after using flurry of blows, and also do not grant combat advantage for flanking.
    • Slashing Kama Style: You can use a sickle, and when you use flurry of blows with one you deal ongoing damage instead of just plain old normal damage.
    New Disciplines
    • Deflect Arrow (level 2 encounter): An immediate interrupt that not only gives you superior cover against ranged weapon attacks for a turn, but allows allows you to shift as a free action each time you are missed.
    • Wind Through the Willows (level 3): This seems like a much more elegant way to handle an attack that is supposed to represent you moving through a bunch of enemies and beating the shit out of them; instead of telling you to shift and make an attack against enemies you move next to, you instead affect a close blast and can shift into a square in the blast or directly next to it (hit or miss). As for the actual attack, it does decent damage for an area-effect, and also slows and prevents charging for a turn, and the movement part lets you swap places with an adjacent target.
    • Water Gives Way (level 5): Another immediate interrupt that lets you deal damage against a target, slide it, and then knock it prone. The best part is that if the target charges you, you get a nice bonus to the attack and damage roll. The downer is that while you do not expend the power on a miss, you cannot try to use it again for the rest of the encounter (making it bad for delve runs, one-shots, or boss battles).
    • Brilliant Counterstrike (level 7): The damage seems kind of low, but any enemy that attacks you for a turn takes automatic damage as a free action. The move portion lets you either end a grab or mark, and shift a couple squares.
    • Stone Warrior Training (level 9): This is a really nice “training montage” power that lets you teach an ally how to better work with you. In game terms until your next rest, whenever you hit an enemy with an attack your ally gains a damage bonus equal to your Strength modifier.
    October 27, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    Ecology of the Banderhoob

    Aside from the articles on hengeyokai and ninjas, Ecology of the Banderhobb (and its accompanying Design & Development article) is my favorite article of the month, and I do not even plan on using these things for quite some time. Not because they are "officially" pegged as paragon-tier threats mind you--I can just de-level them to make them work with the low-heroic range--but because I am running Dark Sun.

    In addition to a bunch of new traits and powers to customize your own banderhobbs--incuding the ability to chase creatures that try and run out of turn, teleport through shadows, and even chase you at full speed in cramped quarters--it adds a lot of flavor content that helps set the tone and feel for how to use these guys, including some descriptive text, poems, and even a short story on an adventurer's experience inside one's stomach (which has a random loot table!).

    Hopefully at least one player knows of these things and the level that they should be expected at. I think that, coupled with some of the new stuff, will go a long way in freaking them the fuck out. Yeah, it is focused, but this really should be a monthly article, and done well you can get a lot of great ideas on how to use, describe, and customize a monster.
    October 26, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    The Heirs of Ruin, Play Report 9

    After a three-week hiatus we finally managed to get in a short session. Having liberated some treasure from some gith mummies, they proceeded through the canyon until they reached the entrance to the gith's cave. A bunch of gith were gathered outside, doing gith things and playing gith games. Some were stationed on top of rocky spires (using a terrain feature out of Creature Catalog).
    The group was able to sneak up and gain a surprise round, though no one bothered trying to topple the spires, which sucks because that would have made it easier for them to take out the hobblers. Did you know those fuckers deal like, 2d6 + 5 damage on their default ranged attack? Even worse, they can roll on a save-ends immobilize, which made it hard for Branor to keep them off of his allies. Despite the elevated terrain and minions, the battle dragged on for awhile due to all of the terrible, terrible rolls, though eventually they succeeded and entered the cave to look for silver and captives.

    Deep inside the cave they found a whole bunch of gith gathered around firepits, dining under the light of psionically charged crystals on what could only have been the torsos of human-like victims. Again, despite Branor's heavy armor and lack of a Dexterity modifier, they managed to gain another surprise round. Most of the encounter was a cluster-fuck of gith minions coupled with a handful of artillery that hung back and tried to pin them down. Again, bad rolls caused it to drag out again, as well as deplete them far worse than it had any right to. 

    At any rate, that is where things ended. Long night, longer fights. Hopefully next week there will be better pacing and a stronger focus.

    Ecology of the Hengeyokai

    My first brush with hengeyokai was in 3rd Edition's Oriental Adventures, and I am happy to see them make a healthy comeback in this whopping ten page article. Aside from paragraph upon paragraph devoted to their appearance, personality, culture, and place within Forgotten Realms (and a side bar for the Nentir Vale and Eberron), there is also a section on example monster stat blocks, advice for making your own hengeyokai monsters, and a full racial write up on par with what you got out of Heroes of the Fallen Lands/Forgotten Kingdoms.

    For previous fans, they still get to choose a Tiny animal form, can turn into it whenever they want, and gain a benefit in your animal form, such as a burrow, climb or even fly speed. If you though the pixie having an altitude limit of 1 and being able to fly at-will was overpowered, crane and sparrow hengeyokai have a fly speed of 6 and no altitude cap. Granted you cannot do anything in your animal form, but I am sure that fact won't stop people from complaining about how it already ruined their game.

    This is the kind of stuff that I like to see. While intended by default for Forgotten Realms (specifically Kara-tur), it is actually great for any campaign with Feywild elements (certainly better than, say, the wilden). My only gripe is that there is zilch feat support, which I won't hold my breath on.
    October 18, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    The Five Deadly Shadows Review

    The Deadly Shadows gang have recently assassinated the magistrate of Kudoku, and only the characters can be bothered to do anything about it! The Five Deadly Shadows is the adventure for this month's "asian" theme, and I gotta say I was expecting something a lot better to showcase the whole thing. The fact that the adventure is intended for late heroic does not mesh well with the fact that the content we have seen so far plays best with low heroic, not that much about the rest of the adventure was particularly compelling for me.

    For starters, the backstory does not make a lot of sense. From what I gather a gang called the Deadly Shadows shows up in a town called Kudoku and goes about corrupting the place in stock fashion; the monks leave, the merchants take their trade elsewhere, and so the government responds logically by dispatching one person to handle it. To his credit he manages to parse their numbers down to five and convinces one to join his cause (despite not being Liam Neeson or Chuck Norris), but ultimately loses and has his soul bound to this world. Oddly it's not the people leaving, murder, or extortion, but the soul-binding that caused the townsfolk to think, "Oh shit, we are fucked."

    Not only does the plot confuse the hell out of me, but the adventure hooks are pretty weak. It starts out by recommending that you tie character involvement with character backgrounds or themes, which while good advice is also the bare minimum that I expect from a DM. From there the suggests are having a governor ask the characters for help, a merchant sending them over to figure out why shipments of "fine silk" are no longer coming in, and...sigh...one of the characters has a dream. Out of all of these having a government official is the most solid by technicality. I mean, the plight of the village should be well known once you learn how it got the way it did, so a merchant wondering what the hell going on just makes no sense. And the dream? At best it is a cliche, and at worst it is passive-aggressive railroading.

    It is not just the background and hooks that bug the hell out of me, but the rest of the adventure. The characters start out in Kudoku and after earning the trust of the villagers, learn that the last magistrate tried to stop the Deadly Shadows and was killed, and that the Deadly Shadows haven't made a move to consolidate their power (despite having nothing stopping them from doing so). Presumably the characters go visit the new magistrate, who despite readily admitting that he sucks will not relinquish his position of power, and basically serves to direct the players to the tea house to fight the first boss.

    On the way to the tea house the characters run across a monk trying to carry some wood. I guess they are supposed to help him as part of the virtue of honor (?), but they basically need to in order to get some orange robes that are important later (special characters appear on them as they progress through the adventure).

    The only difference is that a laser-shooting sword has some
    obvious applications.
    Aside from the robes he also provides some very basic story information about being unable to fulfill the tasks given to him by his master, that his master (who I call Second Boss) is cruel, and so is the First Boss at the tea house. It is at this point that the characters can choose to hit up the tea house or go to the monastery (I guess do deal with the douche of a master).

    At the tea house the characters have the option of going through a tea ceremony skill challenge in order to gain a very minor benefit during the following battle. Basically they have to strip down, put on white kimonos, and succeed on some skill checks in order to succeed. If they botch it then they are attacked by First Boss,  and if they succeed then the boss's cronies literally just leave with some parting words to the effect that "they have shown courtesy so fuck you". Oh yeah, if the characters stripped down their gear just teleports back on whether or not they beat the challenge (though they have to burn a healing surge in the latter case).

    As little sense as that whole scenario makes, the monastery is not any better. In fact, I think it is worse. The monastery is in a bad state, you see, and as part of the benevolence virtue they can opt to repair it while they climb (not that anything really hints at the fact that repairing the monastery is in keeping with the virtue). If the characters pick up on trying to fix up the place, they are constantly taunted by Second Boss. If they manage to go through enough repair-montages, then they gain a flight ability during the combat challenge. Otherwise they do not get it, and the water deals poison damage when they enter it.

    Without some heavy maintenance I can just see my group plodding through this adventure, brows furrowed in confusion as to what they are doing, why they are doing it, and why NPCs are making them do things. Ever watch an anime and ever get confused when a character says and/or does something? It is like that, but stretched out into an entire adventure.

    Lair Assault Play Report

    I ran my first Lair Assault session on Thursday to the tune of a total party kill, which took all of my resolve to follow through with given a life-time of running games in which I also want to see resolution. The four-man group consisted of a kobold rogue, human paladin, tiefling hexblade, and dragonborn knight. Not optimized and leader-less? How could I expect anything less...

    Entrance
    Here is where things started to go south. This room is comprised one-part narrow walkways, four-parts pits filled with oil. The opposition? A fire elemental and a hell hound. The pools had fish that you can eat in order to shave off 10 points of fire damage, but the downside is that you need to burn through two minor actions in order to pick one up and eat it. I think really the only upside is that the fire elemental only deals ongoing damage, meaning that you need to spread out its attacks in order to get any major impact, so hopefully whoever it spends the most time bitch-slapping took Superior Fortitude.

    So the tiefling opens up with diabolic soul for the extra damage and fire resistance, giving her a grand total of 4. Whee. For the first round or two they were stuck on the starting platform fire-spamming themselves until they realized that having a powwow around the fire elemental was a bad idea. To try and make things easier I had the elemental provoke opportunity attacks whenever it could, such as when the paladin legged it across an oil pit to take on the hell hound mano-a-mordida, getting consistently by the fire-breathing statue.

    Eventually they decided to just get the hell out of the room, leaving the paladin to take on both the hound and elemental at the same time. The hall lead to another fire-breathing statue, which the rogue easily took out with a simple Thievery check (much more economical than trying to chop through 50 hit points).

    Forge
    Running into the Big Bad Evil Guy on the first guess? Not bad, especially considering that you are A) on a time limit, and B) cannot take a short rest. This is good for groups trying to get the glory award for winning in 5 rounds or less.

    A gotta say, Mordai is pretty fucking hardcore. Mebbe it is just my home games, but this guy was able to take an entire round of beatdown without me having to whip out a Bloodied token. He managed to use his scepter to smack the kobold into some fire, which got worse seeing as we had just hit the end of round 4.

    With the temple engulfed in flames, the paladin ended up falling into lava, knocking her "unconscious" (it was super effective). So with one of the defenders down Mordai was basically free to lock everyone in place and blasting them with his minor action attack, while the elemental caught up and continued to light people on fire. The group basically hit a death spiral as the kobold was slid through more fire and then into a pool of lava, the knight mauled to death by a hell hound and Mordai's flunkies. Next round the hexblade bit it and then it was game.

    Commentary
    So...I think everyone lasted six rounds. I think that they would have had a chance had there been a leader, especially if it would have upped their group to five characters. Taking Superior Fortitude is great, especially because it shaves off 3 points of ongoing damage and is untyped. Better than taking a fire resist 5 item. Another good tip is for melee types to snag fish out of the pools on any turn in which they do not move: ignoring 10 points of fire damage is basically the same thing as ignoring a single hit from the fire elemental, and most if not all the damage that the hell hound would dish out.
    October 15, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    Rebuilding Thunderspire Labyrinth, Part 1

    My Friday group has almost wrapped up H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, so I have been spending time making H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth a better place to adventure. Like H1, this adventure is pretty bad; the plot, locations, and monster composition does not make any sense. There are a lot of missed opportunities, (like the whole minotaur culture), false alarms, and a lame payoff at the end.

    I really, really do not want to treat the labyrinth as a normal location. I want the characters to feel like they are strangers in a strange place. In the module the labyrinth is woefully underplayed, and players literally walk down a straight shot to get to the Seven-Pillared Hall, which is a wide, open chamber with some buildings strewn about. The Hall is essentially a quest hub, where the players pick up locations of dungeons and then go straight there. With the exception of an ogre and a drow, the rest of the citizens are races taken out of Player's Handbook, offering all of the commodities that one would expect from a typical city (and not, say, a glorified trading post teetering on the edge of the Underdark).

    None of this remotely evokes the feel and theme of mazes or minotaurs, especially given that it was allegedly part of a minotaur city.

    GETTING THERE
    Originally there are four adventure hooks: investigating the Bloodreavers, rescuing slaves, dropping off an item, or "just because". Investigating the Bloodreavers and slaves goes hand in hand, and in my notes for Keep on the Shadowfell I made it a bigger point to illustrate their activities and consequences, so hopefully it makes these hooks all the more compelling. Since I am trying to make the labyrinth more of a dangerous and mysterious place, the delivery quest does not really fit and I am just going to axe it.

    Finally, instead of Valthrun just telling the players that it is a super awesome place and they should totally go, I am going to have him play the role of an aging explorer eager to have one last, great adventure. He has heard rumors and read aging documents about an ancient minotaur city, and wanting to see it for himself, offers to either come with them (if they have other business there) or hire them as an escort.


    Given that the labyrinth is inhabited by monsters and the Mages of Saruun are not too keen on making the place a tourist trap, there is no straight shot from the entrance to the Seven-Pillared Hall. Lanterns would just be destroyed, or more cunning denizens like drow would create their own lanterns to intentionally misdirect travelers. With no guiding star and a vast maze of passages to navigate, safely getting in and out requires a map, a guide, and lots of muscle.

    Going this route gives me the chance to have the players go through a skill challenge to find their way, as well as throw them random encounters from stuff like oozes, hungry ghouls (travelers that died from hunger), lost ghosts (helping them find their way might be a minor quest), spiders, or most importantly, hobgoblins.

    In the adventure right before the characters get to the Hall they overhear the Bloodreavers mugging a halfling named Rendil, and have the option to help a guy out. I changed this so that as the Bloodreavers were returning to the Hall they ran into the halfling, and decided to just take all his shit--including him--and bring it back to the Bloodreaver enclave. As they are going through his stuff, they hear the characters arriving and try to set another ambush, and crazy antics ensue.

    Once the players defeat them, they not only save Rendil--who is a goblin, not a halfling--but also end up saving a bunch of would-be slaves who were taken from the region between Winterhaven and Fallcrest. In this way they end up making a friend and saving some people, and potentially learning more about the Bloodreavers if they leave any alive to interrogate (though Rendil could offer up some information as well).

    THE SEVEN-PILLARED HALL

    I changed the overall layout of the Hall to be more geometric. There are seven pillars, but that is because an earthquake collapsed part of the Hall, destroying one of them and creating a big-ass chasm from which aberrant horrors sometimes slither forth. There are also a lot more buildings, using up most of the space. Most are built like ziggurats, and there are plenty of stairs and bridges spanning structures, giving the city a kind of maze-like appearance (think mini-Sharn from Eberron). Geometric symbols and demonic busts and bas-reliefs cover them, clearly indicating the past culture's history of demonic worship.



    Brugg got changed to a minotaur, as they really do not get any representation. He is still in charge of keeping the peace, and hires a variety of races in addition to having the support of the bronze warders (which are situated throughout the city). I also put in a minotaur guide that the players could use as a hireling, partially because I wanna use the hireling rules, but also because my group hates the complexity of companion characters.


    The Deepgem Company got changed to a pair of dwarves that operate as much as a pawn shop as anything else, allowing travelers to exchange gems for as little coin as possible, then turn around and sell them to ritualists or other traders at a hefty markup. Whenever they get a sizable stock on hand they risk shipping it out to Fallcrest. I entertained the idea of making them members of a disgraced clan (or just disgraced themselves), but none of my players were dwarves. Even so it might make for an interesting quest hook.

    The temple of Erathis I just kind of chucked in favor of Torog, whose temple is a broken ruin located near the chasm. Travelers often chuck an offering into the pit in order to gain his favor. It is maintained by a collection of crippled and/or insane humanoids, giving the players a chance to learn some stuff about Torog that will come in handy when they go to the Chamber of Eyes (including recognizing the symbol on the door).

    Bersk gets swapped out for a scarred human that just goes by Scuttle. Scuttle's Den serves as a stable of sorts, selling riding spiders and lizards, as well as wagons. He does not rent, because it is way too easy for someone to just run off with his goods (and all those demihumans look alike). He is assisted by a bugbear, and they also sell poisons, spidersilk rope, and antitoxins under the table.

    I got rid of all general stores and replaced it with a bazaar, though the Grimmerzhul outpost and Gendar's are still there. Here players can interact with more unusual creatures like drow, gargoyles, troglodytes, alongside humans, dwarves, goliaths, and minotaurs. Though most of them are a bit more personable than usual, the main reason they are kept in check are the bronze warders (the Mages can control way more than one).

    That is it for part 1. I think I covered all the major stuff in the Hall. I changed the plot concerning the Mages and what they are up to, and will get into that in a later update. The next post will be about the Chamber of Eyes.

    Ninja-Assassin

    No, not the craptacular movie, but something of actual merit. Since I have been extensively playing D&D since 2nd Edition I have read plenty of articles on ninjas, ninja-like things, and their place in the D&D world so I'm basically skipping to the crunchy parts. Unfortunately there are only six new powers, two new magic items, and a new weapon (fortunately it was already easy to make a ninja, even before the article was considered):
    • Ninja-to Rush (level 1 at-will): "Ninja-to" in this case is a short sword. It is a straightforward attack that can be used while charging, and you gain combat advantage if you jumped, fell, or flew on the turn you use it.
    • Poisonous Shuriken (level 1 at-will): While you do not add your Dex modifier to the damage roll, you can attack 1-3 creatures. Another good part is that if you use poison, it applies to all of them.
    • Whirling Kusari-gama (level 1 at-will): This is a two-parter. The first attack targets Reflex, deals Dex damage, and knocks the target prone. Even better, you can followup with another attack that deals damage (sans your Dex modifier). All in all, very evocative in its execution.
    • Smoke Bomb (level 2 encounter): This is a rad ability that lets you create a lightly obscured zone all around you after an enemy moves next to you, and then shift your speed. As with whirling kusari-gama, this is a very evocative power.
    • Feathery Tread (level 6 encounter): You float until the start of your next turn, ignoring difficult terrain and can stand on water.
    • Veil of a Thousand Faces (level 10 at-will): You create a disguise, and gain a bonus on Bluff checks to avoid detection.
    • Manual of Ninjutsu (level 3+ uncommon): Basically a ki-focus with brutal 1 when you use assassin strike. Higher level ones let you reroll lower numbers.
    • The ineffable Secret of Death (level 15+ rare): For an opener the crit dice are upped to d10s, and it deals bonus necrotic damage against anything you have combat advantage against. One daily power lets you maximize you assassin strike damage against a bloodied target, while the other lets you target the lowest defense on the target. Finally, an encounter powerlets you turn insubstantial and gain phasing after dropping someone. Very sweet.
    • Kusari-gama: A flail/light blade that deals 1d8/1d6 damage, with the defensive, reach, and off-hand properties. 
    Its a nice article that makes we really want to run something using Oriental Adventures. Really looking forward to that runepriest article, now.
    October 11, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    Lair Assault Gameplay Thread

    So the first play-by-post Lair Assault game is going on, and if you want you can follow along here. Props to Perico for the interactive Google doc, which is making things WAAAY easier.

    October 10, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    Keep on the Shadowfell Notes

    So I'm running this thrice-damned adventure module again, and I recall sometime last year someone read my session reports and actually wanted some compiled notes on the changes I made. Well I did just that, and you can get them--along with some custom monsters for Adventure Tools--here. Just a warning, this is not a completely independent adventure. It does not even have maps. It is really a bunch of notes that I formatted so that it is easier to read and hopefully help you make the adventure better...assuming anyone actually still tries to run it. On that note, hopefully this group actually finishes it and sticks around long enough to venture into Thunderspire Labyrinth, which I also fully intend to convert into something more structured and, well, fun.
    October 08, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    The Wee Folk

    Pixie stats are up, ready for you to use under the assumption that you are not entirely reliant on Character Builder. The ability score spread came out as expected--though I could also have seen Wisdom instead of Intelligence, if for no other reason than to make them good at primal classes--but I had assumed that since 3rd Edition pixies were Small that they would follow suit, but these guys are literally Tiny. As we had been told, they can fly but have an altitude limit of 1, get a racial bonus to Nature and Stealth, can "communicate with natural and fey beasts", have a reach of 1 instead of 0, take a -5 to break things, and get two racial powers; pixie dust and shrink.

    Pixie dust lets them channel some Peter Pan, allowing one ally within 5 squares to fly as a free action (happy thoughts are optional). It is a nice little leader-type ability, though it takes a Move action to use. On the other hand, shrink seems to be best suited for allowing a pixie to arm herself with whatever loot the party finds, without having to fallback to a ritual in order to get it properly sized...or have the DM start populating dungeons with Tiny magic items. However, since it works on any unattended object "sized for a Medium or Small creature", it will be fun to see what types of creative uses the players will come up with. If the pixie is not carrying it around, the effect wears off during the next extended rest, but that is plenty of time for a pixie to sneak around and shrink the bad guy's weapons, armor, and/or plot devices.

    This is a nifty looking experimental race in that it is both Tiny and can fly right out of the gate. There is a 30+ thread on the forums where people are "discussing" whether or not it is too good, and while the pixie can simply fly over difficult terrain, and avoid some traps and hazards, I really do not see how it would be game breaking. Unless of course none of your encounters feature monsters with ranged attacks, and there are lots of terrain features that they can safely perch on. However looking back on my rendition of Keep on the Shadowfell, the pixie's flight would not have kept in safe in any encounter, even the ones without artillery. At best it would have been able to avoid the difficult terrain (not that other characters cannot simply walk around).

    My Friday grouped joked about trying out an all pixie party for a delve-night, and if we do go through with it I somehow doubt that it is going to be remarkably easier.
    Posted by David Guyll

    A Closer Look

    Quick side tangent: has anyone tried taking a page from Gamma World, giving D&D characters 2-3 set ability scores and rolling the rest? For example, for a heavy blade fighter might have a Strength of 18 and Dexterity of 16--before bonuses--and rolling the others. This could create some odd results, with a fighter or paladin having a really high Intelligence (and thereby making them better suited for some multiclassing), but also have more than one below average ability score. Anyway, just some food for thought.

    In the comments section of this post, Gerald asks that I go back and post something in regards to how I might "develop and improve" the system which currently exists. While I cannot say for certainty that I can improve it (probably not), I will try to explain in better detail why I do not like Cook's concept, and what I might do differently to make it better in my opinion. First, let us compare how Passive Perception works now, and how Cook's concept changes it.

    Currently if a player wants to try and notice something, she makes a Perception check, and if the result meets or beats the DC, she notices it. Characters automatically notice stuff that their Passive Perception meets or beats.

    Cook's pitch as, I understand it, works as follows:

    The DM assigns a rank to something like, say, a hidden passage, and the rank to find it is 3. If a player's rank is higher than 3, they notice it automatically. If it is 3, then they have to roll to see if they can find it. If it is less than 3 then they cannot normally find it unless they interact with the object. Where I am a little fuzzy on the details is whether a player with a Perception rank of 2 can get away with specifying that they want to check the statue for hidden passages, thereby lowering the rank to a 2 (and allowing the a roll), or if they need to describe how they are interacting with it; pushing, checking for scratches or seams, wiggling the teeth, etc.

    As I said before, the main difference is that Cook essentially gives the characters a bonus for describing how they interact or search something, though his theory is that it will encourage players to interact with stuff rather than just say, "I'm looking for hidden passages," and making a roll.

    However it is really just another form of system mastery, which given his track record is not surprising to me. Players are going to very logically compile a routine that they will go through whenever they encounter a statue, door, look for a hidden passage, etc. From a narrative point it makes perfect sense: a party of professional grave robbers is going to have a routine that they will go through, so it becomes less interacting with the environment so much as taking time to go through a list of procedures. And when the players start a new campaign, what then? Do you allow the players to just toss the list at you again, or do you make them pretend to not know what to do, like how some DMs try and force players to not act on knowledge for classic monsters like trolls, mind flayers, beholders, and the like?

    Talk of fleeting system master aside, Cook's idea of "Zorking" the terrain can work in the current system by simply adding guidelines for giving characters a bonus on their skill checks for describing their actions and hitting the right notes; there is no need to restructure the rules to change from a numerical bonus--which has the added benefit of granularity--to ranks. Basically the only meaningful thing his concept adds is the possibility that players might go into more detail when making a skill check.


    So getting around to what Gerald asked me to do in the first place, what would I do were I in charge of it (or at least trying to pitch ideas at WotC)? Currently I do not feel that the system needs changing or improvement. It does what it is supposed to do, does it well, and follows the basic concept from other games I have seen.

    I guess if I had to think of something I would give characters a bonus for having certain backgrounds or training in relevant skills? For example, characters trained in Dungeoneering might get a bonus on noticing secret doors in structures, while characters with Nature might get a bonus on Heal checks in the wilderness. Makes sense and might help avoid skill-spamming, where all the characters just try using Aid Another without care for what the bonus or penalty is--though to avoid this I always tell my players that if they try Aid Another and it fails, that they instead impose a -2 penalty.
    October 05, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

    Legends & Lore: Magic & Mystery

    Sigh...I guess I'll just take it from the top...

    What I can gather is that Cook wants to remove magic items from character advancement altogether,  rewarding characters with better loot for tackling harder shit, and "re-injecting the magic back into magic". While I can get behind this mission statement you can already resolve the first two "issues" using current rules in 4th Edition thanks to inherent bonuses, and a DM being able to place whichever monsters and magic items that she wants. Nothing he is saying is exactly new or innovative, and like many others makes me wonder if he has even read about the game that he is writing articles about. There is however a problem with how he wants to solve this problem:

    His example cites a 4th-level character packing a +3 sword, with the understanding that if a character is smart and/or lucky enough, that she could feasibly get one and be better off for it. Since generally campaigns--whether adventure paths or episodic--involve the DM planning stuff with a rough challenge level and treasure already in mind, this is something that I guess I could see happening in a non-structured sandbox game where the players could hear about monsters and explore them at their leisure, though it does carry some problems:

    The first is that if I am running a campaign and the characters hear about a dungeon or something with monsters consistently higher than they are, and still try to tackle it that they are most likely going to die. Maybe not in the first encounter, and maybe not in the second, but once they start running out of resources (or run into a bout of bad luck) if I do not start pulling punches then I could easily be out a party, or forced to find some contrived way to keep them alive.

    The second is that if they succeed, then I either have to find some way to try and balance the encounters so that the guy with the good loot is challenged without making it impossible for anyone else to contribute, or run things business as usual, making things much easier for her (basically 3rd Edition Syndrome all over again). Here is a fun fact: if you want to reward your characters with better items than their level would indicate without drastically altering game balance, you can always use the rarity and artifact rules, which yet again already exist.

    As for the mystery of magic items, he claims that this was lost in later editions--ie, 3rd and 4th--both because magic items are "expected" and because players can buy whatever the hell they want (though the rarity system introduced last year prevents you from buying uncommon and rare items).

    This is one of many arguments that detractors of 4th Edition have made in the past, and it makes me wonder what version of D&D they played before: ever since 2nd Edition at least, magic items and spells have always had clearly defined effects, which more often than not could be gleaned through a simple identify spell (though 4th Edition made it easier with an Arcana check). However as one forum-goer put it, there are plenty of examples from mythology of clear-cut magic and magic items, so I am not sure they were ever very mysterious.

    In a nutshell, everything that Cook proposes can be handled using the rules you already own, and if this was not disappointing enough he wraps up things with a very black and white poll: why does it have to be something that is decided by either the DM or the player? It does not. There is nothing wrong with players being able to buy some things and craft others, while still leaving the DM with some control.

    October 04, 2011
    Posted by David Guyll

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