Archive for December 2011

Rebuilding Thunderspire Labyrinth: Gharbad

When I was going through Thunderspire Labyrinth and adding in some more stuff, I read through some Dragon articles on minotaurs and their entries in every Monster Manual. Somewhere there is a bit about how they gain powers from eating the hearts of other creatures, which gives you a vampire minotaur and I think even a gorgon one. I liked this heart-eating idea, and so decided to make a minotaur NPC in the Seven-Pillared Hall that would be a pathetic wretch who comes to the characters and offers to reward them if they bring him the heart of a powerful monster.

What he becomes depends on what the characters bring; there are hobgoblins, other minotaurs, duergar, and even demons running amok, so they got options. It reminds me a lot of a quest in Fallout: New Vegas, where you can bring a brain to fix up a dog NPC; each brain gives a different bonus, like more health or damage. I was waffling around on what he might offer them as a reward--if anything--and the more I thought about it the more he reminded me of Gharbad the Weak, and since I didn't have a name at the time decided to just go with that.

Though Gharbad was pretty pathetic, even if I souped this guy up considerably I cannot see him holding off an entire party of adventurers. I am thinking that he might teach them a ritual that will allow them to gain bonuses (or a one-time permanent bonus) from eating hearts, or even give them an item for their help, but ultimately I see him becoming a villain later in the campaign. He might even show up in the final encounter to help thwart everyone and take control of all the bronze warders while they are duking it out with whoever the final boss is (P-something?).
December 31, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Heart of the Scar Review

Looks like whatever the Chaos Scar was supposed to be is finally wrapping up. At least with Blackdirge on the job it will go out with a bang.

Literally.

If you are going to play in this adventure, stop reading and go make your DM run it now. Bribe him or her if necessary. If you are a DM then you are probably already running it, or preparing to murder the characters in your current campaign to pave the way for this one.

SPOILERS

The adventure backstory reveals that the meteorite that carved out the Chaos Scar was actually the heart of a Far Realm entity known as Shoth-Gorag. After it landed a group of Banites ascertained that it was a gift from their god, and decided to built a fortress around it that would become known as Hallowgaunt. After construction was complete the heart began attracting monsters and influencing the Banites--who named themselves the Brotherhood of the Scar--forcing them to help build it a new body using the flesh of captured victims. Not all of the Banites were affected, but while transporting a weapon highly effective against denizens of the Far Realm most were captured.

Fortunately one managed to make it to the King's Wall as the characters are passing by...

The adventure assumes that the characters help out the fleeing Banite, who is then more than happy to divulge the truth about the meteorite, as well as the hidden passage he used to escape. After that it is an action-packed killfest of taking on crazed Banites, foulspawn, mimics, and finally Shoth-Gorag.

This adventure was fucking awesome to read. In particular I loved the encounter with the mimic: when the characters find Farbane, it is on top of a mimic disguised as a basalt slab. When they approach it transforms and eats the hammer if they don't remove it before hand. A mimic disguising itself right beneath a magic item is pretty rad, but the best part is that once it is dropped to 50 hit points it spits the hammer out and reverts to its slab form in the hopes that the characters just leave it alone (meaning that it could come back later).

The grand finale is the best part, though. Shoth-Gorag is a minion-spawning, triple attacking solo brute with threatening reach, an auto-damaging aura, and a very painful recharging blast. To make matters worse when he is bloodied he spawns minions for free, and can have more than usual active at once. If the characters manage to defeat him and shatter his heart with Farbane, they are rewarded with a collapsing base skill challenge worthy of any action flick.
December 29, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Rebuilding Thunderspire Labyrinth, Duergar

I am probably not the only person that doesn't like beard-chucking duergar, so while working on updating Thunderspire Labyrinth I also decided to give them a new conic power to spare myself having to describe the original.



I wanted to avoid stepping on the toes of the tiefling. I figure if any of my players actually play one I'll let them take it instead of the quills, and also add in a duergar feat that lets them deal fire damage to nearby enemies after using a second wind.
December 25, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Tile Trek: A Knight in Shadowghast Manor Review

For a dungeon delve designed to showcase the Shadowghast Manor tile set, this adventure sure tries to pack in backstory content.

The short of it is that the ironically named Shadowghast family used to be big-ass heroes. One of their sons suffering from Elric Syndrome makes a deal with the devil so that he too can be a hero, until they pull a Darth Vader and demand that he tries to turn his family to the dark side in order to keep his power. Possibly praying that they do not alter the deal further, he somehow succeeds and the family begins recruiting stock mid-Heroic tier fodder.  He then repents and the family fades into obscurity for awhile. Anyway fast-forward, someone named Arcturas is doing more bad stuff, and the characters have to go through the delve-standard in order to win.

Basically I found this delve to be pretty damned boring. It sucks if the author was instructed to work with what he got, but frankly I think I would have preferred some example tile layouts--both with just the one set and with others--to give people ideas on what they can do (given that the adventure uses just the two layouts out of the pack, I cannot even say that I get that). Instead it is a forgettable string of encounters against a forgettable villain. My advice is that if you just want to use the tiles to run a delve just whip up your own encounters, you would be hard-pressed to do worse.
December 23, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Homebrew: Map of Erui

One of my players says I take too long drawing maps. I dunno, I like the payoff.

Posted by David Guyll

Paragons of Fey Virtue

The last time I ran Erui one of the highlights was when the characters defeated some Winter Court agents and jacked their magic shit, which resulted in Beth's character gaining a figurine of wondrous power that was an ice unicorn. Immediately after using it the game devolved into a bunch of Charlie the Unicorn jokes, which was fine because I can do the voice alright and they started it.

This time around I had initially intended to try and shoehorn in another unicorn for her, partially because it is a Feywild game, and partially because it is generally a safe bet that a female gamer--and to be fair some male ones--will want one.

Unfortunately Beth threw a curve at me by not only playing a male character, but a pixie of all things, which is why I find this article of fey-themed paragon paths deliciously ironic.

White Horn Knight
This would actually have worked out if you did not need to be able to wear heavy armor. Most of the features and powers have a decidedly leader-like quality, allowing you to dole out temp hps to adjacent allies when burning a healing surge, or allowing a nearby ally to heal when using the attack powers. There is some passive stuff, like a bonus against diseases and poison, as well as being able to ignore difficult terrain when charging due to rapid teleporting.

Really though the point of this path is being able to summon a unicorn at level 12 that you can ride around on, which gives you a bonus when charging, has its own kick attack, and can teleport and dole out a saving throw once per encounter.

Moon Hunter
Despite its focus on shapechangers I really dig this paragon path, which is basically a individual empowered by the Maiden of the Moon--or otherwise attuned to it--to help remove lycanthropes from the world. With the exception of the level 12 utility all of its abilities work on anything, but gain a bonus against shapechangers or creatures affected by a polymorph effect. It is alright, but will definitely work better if the DM makes it clear that the campaign will include were-critters or if the party has someone who can dole out polymorph effects ahead of time (witch, anyone?).

Soaring Rake
This paragon path demands that you either be fey or at least have a fey-pact going on, and be trained in Acrobatics. In exchange you get the ability to fly by doing basically anything part of it: spend an action point? Fly. Use the level 11 attack? Fly. Use the level 20? Everyone. FLIES. Hell, at level 12 you gain a once-per-round at-will that lets you fly. Whether or not the lack of faerie wings is a benefit depends entirely on your taste and/or orientation.

I like this article but while my players are not too far ahead to benefit from it, two are channeling concepts more at home in Kara-Tur, and the third is too small for a unicorn and can already fly. Oh well, maybe I can kill 'em off and start over.
Posted by David Guyll

Demons & Devils

Hordelings
Hordelings were first featured in Book of Vile Darkness, presented as a Gargantuan swarm that could spawn 1-4 minion brutes once per round when it got hit. This article adds the greater hordeling, which is more in line with what I remember from Planescape--and possibly 3rd Edition, I honestly don't remember--as you choose from any monster role except soldier, and then roll on a bunch of tables to generate the rest of its capabilities; size, speed, sight, special attacks, and even appearance  9which has 17 tables to go through). It is a nice throwback to their roots, and I highly endorse it.

Infernal Prince
It is really too bad that Blackdirge cannot be a full-time member of the staff as I really dig his stuff, and the infernal prince theme is no exception. A character with this theme is directly related to an infernal lord, most often Asmodeus and Mephistopheles, which sends a tutor to them to basically school them in the ways of horribleness.

The starting features give you a power bonus on fire attacks (I am sooo going to make another tiefling pyromancer), in addition to hellfire heart, an encounter kicker that can be used on any attack you make, dealing scaling fire damage and imposing an attack penalty for a turn. 5th-level gives you a bonus to Bluff and Diplomacy, in addition to a reroll against natural humanoids if you roll too low, and at level 10 you recharge hellfire heart when bloodied (and it does more damage if you use it against that target).

  • Devil's Due (level 2 daily): When you grant an ally a power bonus or let them burn a surge, you gain a defense bonus for the rest of the encounter and temp hps. On the downside your ally's surge value is halved for the encounter. So, good for leaders?
  • Liar's Lure (level 6 encounter): A friendly-fire AoE that lets you make a Bluff check to gain combat advantage against each target for a turn.
  • Infernal Inheritor (level 10 daily): A polymorph effect that imposes an automatic attack penalty for a turn, and then gives you darkvision, fire resistance, and a bonus on Fort and Will for the rest of the encounter. Unfortunately, the fire resistance doesn't stack or boost existing resistances.
December 20, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Thunderspire Labyrinth, Episode 2

I cannot even remember the last time my weekend group got together to keep plodding through filtered WotC adventures. I suppose I could just scroll down and check the date for episode one, but...eh, screw it.

While wandering through the labyrinth with a bound hobgoblin for a guide, they run into a gelatinous cube shadowed by a dwarf wraith. After a ridiculous battle in which the characters beat it mostly to death from inside, they discovered that the dwarf had been following the cube ever since being digested by it, and once the cube was destroyed it nabbed a piece of its magic armor and drifted off. At least they got to keep an adamantine axe for their troubles.

They ran into more trouble when a group of Bloodreavers tried to ambush them. They managed to talk them down until they noticed the hobgoblin captive, though the fight didn't last long after Riven managed to take down the leader with a well-placed crit. Once they bloodied the warcaster they all surrendered and discovered that they had captured a goblin trader named Rindel. They freed him, and he was more than happy to guide them the rest of the way to the Seven-Pillared Hall as thanks (his fire-beetle driven cart had nothing else of value).

In the Seven-Pillared Hall they were informed by a minotaur sheriff named Asteron that since slavery is legal that they would not be able to simply kick in the door to the Bloodreaver's enclave (but that they could try to sell the captured Bloodreavers to them as an ironic statement). They stayed the night at the Gorging Gorgon before calling it an actual night, with the intention of hitting up the Bloodreaver's next time.

I was really happy with how this session went, as the players are in a very unique situation. First they cannot just go to the authorities, as slavery is legal and the actual powers are enigmatic wizards with a horde of programmed golems to enforce their will. Second most of the inhabitants of the Hall are denizens of the Underdark or otherwise montrous; bugbears, orcs, and goblins, with a good deal of dwarves but only a handful of humans and the like.

I am really curious to see how they handle the problem, as well as if Shen is going to try and get his hands on a control amulet.
December 18, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Steading of the Hill Giant Chieftain

Part one of a four-part re-imagining of Against the Giants is up, written by Chris Perkins no less. I have been a huge fan of Perkins ever since he started doing the Penny Arcade podcasts, and his Dungeon Master Experience column has been invaluable in writing my own loose, sandbox campaign.

I never read or even played Against the Giants (or for that matter, Revenge of the Giants), but I am guessing that the plot is basically the same: groups of various giant types have been ruining the shit of people on a fairly large scale, and it is up to the characters to deal with them (actually to be fair, in the adventure it mentions that your group isn't the first to try and tackle the problem). Fortunately the giants follow general RPG logic and the nearest settlement also features the lowest level fare.

Since the adventure revolves around breaking into a hill giant's steading, it is location based and features ten "combat encounters" (well, eleven but it is also intended to be able to dealt with via social role-playing), which is not a big deal when you take a step back and realize just how big the steading is. The monster load out is pretty diverse, yet still makes sense in context: of course there are giants, but they also have ogres, bugbears, umber hulks, and a couple other giants holing up with them for various reasons (diplomats from other clans and a fire giant that is making weapons for them).

Even so it is not a massive, drawn out slug-fest and there are quite a few things about this adventure that I really dig, such as being able to negotiate with the big-bad if you find the proper leverage, little details such as the random junk table and a specific mention of a giant's crossbow breaking if it is used as a melee weapon too many times, being able to sneak past encounters using Bluff and/or Stealth checks, and barrel-, pot-, and cauldron-hurling hill giant cooks.

A good start so far. A much better reason to break out all the Large minis than Revenge of the Giants, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest (even if I never get to run them).
December 17, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Rebuilding Thunderspire Labyrinth, Part 3

We ended up cancelling the game again, so I spent some time working on a new map for the Horned Hold because I really did not like the layout.

Here is the uncrumpled sketch that I liked the most:
I just realized that the lower-right part looks like a hand pointing.
And here is what I got so far for the finished product:

I am also axing all the orcs and instead populating it entirely with duergar, devils, and perhaps some minotaur slaves (or allies that have eaten devil or duergar hearts). There are some lava flows and pillars to add something for combat challenges, and a few secret passages to mix things up. The slaves will be kept in an area across the chasm, where they toil in a mine and are used for blood sacrifices when they cannot work anymore. 
December 11, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Book of Vile Darkness Review

"Bound in human flesh and inked in blood, this ancient Sumerian text contained bizarre burial rites, funerary incantations and demon resurrection passages. It was never meant for the world of the living."

While that would be a pretty rad product, that is the description for another book. I'm here to talk about the Books of Vile Darkness. For $30 you get almost 130 pages divided into two books--one for DMs and the other for players--and a double-sided map, packaged in a sleeve featuring some sweet Wayne Reynolds art featuring Kyuss (or maybe just a run of the mill worm that walks).

This product is not for everyone, especially groups with players that like to use evil alignments as an excuse to be douchebags. You know the type; "I only kicked your unconcious body into the pit of lava because it is what my character would do!" (Which actually happened in a 2nd Edition game.) Even so DMs will get a lot of nice, crunchy content to throw at their players, along with lots of advice on making "vile" encounters and villains. Oh yeah, cursed items. More specifically, the kind you cannot use Arcana to fix.

So if you are a DM I would pick it up even if you are not interested in running an evil campaign (the player's book accounts for about a fourth of the package). If you only play I wouldn't, as there is just not enough for you that you couldn't just get out of DDI.

For Players
While the player's Book(let) of Vile Darkness barely peaks the 30 page mark, it contains a lot of useful flavor and crunch content on playing the bad guys: some considerations for running an evil game and ideas on how to keep the party tied together, villainous archetypes, themes, feats, paragon paths, and an epic destiny to top it off.

The advice is pretty sound; don't steal from, maim, or murder each other, make sure everyone is on the same page, and try not to use an evil alignment as an excuse to just go apeshit and be a complete asshole (I am looking at you, Chaotic Neutral). They also replicate the section on role-playing from the Player's Handbook, just modified for evil, and break up some of the ideas based on power source (including an evil primal spirit and some brief information on tailoring psionic content for a more sinister angle).

My favorite theme is infernal slave. While I like the infernal pact, your boon does not have to be arcane power; material wealth or other good fortune are all fair game for a Faustian bargain (and any race and class can benefit from it). Of course being able to use hellfire is a nice bonus. Two of the features act like double-edged swords, benefiting you but also potentially harming you, which is nice.

I am also a fan of the vermin lord which makes a re-appearance as a paragon path for evil druids. You start out by being able to deal automatic damage and shield allies when you spend an action point, represented by swarms of insects bursting from your body, gain scaling poison resistance, and unleash a torrent of maggots that cause each target to grant combat advantage and impose vulnerability 5 to everything for a turn.
I dug the level 12 daily, which lets everyone communicate telepathically, prevent enemies from gaining combat advantage by flanking, and let you use your move actions to move them instead.

Divine characters will be happy with the new Divine Devotion and Divinity feats; Asmodeus's Fiery Command causes an ally to gain scaling temp hps if they hit a target, or take damage as well as damaging each adjacent creature if they fail, while Disciple of Darkness grants you a massive Stealth bonus as well as causing you to become invisible if you use a second wind when in dim light or darkness.

For the Dungeon Master
The DM's book is three times as meaty and features advice for creating "evil" adventures and encounters, example ideas, campaign arcs, new monsters and monster themes, organizations, magic items (including cursed and sinister items), and an even an adventure tied into the movie.

The infamous NPC dialogue featured in each section ranges from campy to good, and I can actually envision Robert going up to each of them with a clipboard and pencil, grilling them with questions about the nature of evil.

Robert: "So Azalin, what can you tell me about curses?"
Azalin: "Do not speak to me of curses!"
Robert: "..."
Azalin: "Just...look, look, I'm sorry. It's just that, man, I have seen some shit."

Chapter 1: Evil Unearthed
A very short chapter, you get a product overview, lots of dialogue from Vecna (including his origins and upbringing), an in-depth description of the book of vile darkness, and the facets of evil in D&D.

Chapter 2: Evil Campaigns
As with the player's booklet, the advice on evil campaigns is helpful for ensuring a party that slays well with each other regardless of alignment. I like that in addition to suggesting having a patron keep them in line, it points out that they are still playing a cooperative game. There is also the notion of a common enemy and positive connections like love and friendship, which evil people can still have.

The section on evil adventuring gives you some ideas for running evil adventures--like ambushing a caravan or performing an evil ritual--in addition to a sidebar on running a reverse dungeon (which was an actual D&D product an edition or two ago). A section on campaign themes gives you some ideas of the bigger picture, such as the tried and true deicide and/or destroying the world, and there are even a couple campaign arc examples in case you needed some more to work with.

Chapter 3: Vile Encounters
This chapter opens up with guidelines on making encounters more, well...vile. The main factors that stood out to me were to ensure that there were consequences extending beyond the encounter (such as a demon going on a rampage if they failed to stop it) and using a combination of the new terrain features, traps, and curses. I guess some of the other stuff could work to, like making sure that the players know where the undead minions came from (slaughtered village), or get to see sacrifices being executed to power a fell ritual.

Chapter 4: Villains & Monsters
This chapter opens up strongly with an extended look at villain construction; concept, scope, archetype, motivation, etc. Advice that has been seen before, but good for newer DMs or those that want it packaged in a current source. There is also a lot of monster themes like Moilian Dead, and some new monsters like hordelings (a level 11 elite swarm that can spawn level 11 minions once per round when it gets hit).

Chapter 5: Dark Rewards
This chapter comes in two flavors: cursed and sinister. Unlike the items in Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium, the bad parts of these items cannot be removed. In fact you cannot remove them either without slamming them with Disenchant Item, Remove Affliction, or something similar. For example, a cursed weapon acts normal until you hit someone, after which you take a -2 to attack rolls if you attack anyone but the original target until it dies or the encounter ends. Sinister items sometimes have good or bad effects, or just do "siiiinister" things. Bracers of suffering reduce your hit points by 5, but give you a bonus on saves against charms, stun, daze, and dominate, while a girdle of skulls lets you summon skeletal warriors.

Chapter 6: The Vile Tome
A paragon-tier, four-encounter romp that features the book. Since it is an adventure I'll go into this more in another review.
December 09, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Erui, Episode 1: Edgewood

It has been a long time since we last visited Erui. This time I am taking a looser, more "sandboxy" approach as opposed to planning lots of stuff about. I spent a lot of time just drawing vague maps, creating factions with goals, and generally just giving myself and my players a lot of legroom to basically do whatever they want. I am not really going to break things up into adventures and take a more episodic approach, as well as make up magic items, creatures, effects, and just level them up whenever I feel that they have hit a point where they have "earned" it.

I used Neverwinter Campaign Setting to give myself a good idea of how to approach this--mostly the amount and depth of content--and was pretty happy with tonight's results; there was one combat encounter, and the rest of the night was filled with the players interacting with the scenery and NPCs, and being pulled in various directions by hooks that they chose to bite. I also had fun telling the players to describe NPCs to me. I envisioned Mirri as fairly young, but when I left it to Beth to describe her, she came out as somewhere in her mid 40's. I dunno...giving creative licence to the players is pretty nice, and probably makes them feel more invested in the story.

Heroes
  • Moon Piercing Fist (male halfling monk)
  • [Randy] (male goliath runepriest); he had a name, but I totally forgot it.
  • Treetoots (male pixie swordmage)
Non-Player Characters 
  • Ynvgarr (male human): Captain of the Scraghammer.
  • Kasaki (female human): Captain of the Sword Guard.
  • Einar (male human): An old man that they found in the Arcane Circle. He was able to open a hidden stair that lead to a forge by speaking, and he seems to be stronger than Randy despite his age.
  • Chisel (male personality warforged): A squat, broad warforged that speaks with a dwarven accent. His hands turn into a hammer and chisel, and he knows a lot about runes.
  • Enorian (male noble eladrin): An eladrin baron that serves as the voice of the Summer Court in Edgewood.
  • Sabd (male deer spirit): A servant in the Summer Court enclave.
  • Seliana (female swan): A servant in the Summer Court enclave.
Earthday, Ghael 6th 
As the Scraghammer makes port in Edgewood it is attacked by a hydra. A hydra with black scales, horns, and acidic breath. While trying to evacuate the ship, an assassin tries to kill Mirri using cold-iron bolts. Treetoots notices that the hydra is charmed and sends her Sidhe servant after the assassin while she tries to protect Mirri. The assassin kills the servant using a cold-iron bolt, and both Moon and Randy manage to corner the assassin before a White Owl traps him in an icy prison and teleports away.

Treetoots is debriefed by Kasaki before escorting Mirri to the Summer Court enclave, where Enorian is saddened to learn of the jarl's words. He charges Treetoots with learning about the charmed hydra and assassin. Treetoots then leaves to find Moon and Randy, who after trying to trick the owner of a rundown inn out of his business decide to investigate the Arcane Circle for information about runes. There Randy speaks to Einor and Chisel, who helps him refine his fire runes.

After investigating Edgewood for signs about Randy's missing mentor a crow warns Moon that "they are watching," before flying away. The characters then head to the Summer Court enclave to rest. In the middle of the night they are awoken by screams. As they take up arms and head to the street, Moon looks up to see that several of the stars look like monstrous eyes. When he blinks, they look normal again.

Next Time...
The characters want to followup on the White Owls and figure out why the assassin tried to kill Mirri. Of course that might change once they figure out what is going on in Edgewood...

Notes 
  • The hydra seemed to be combined with a black dragon (and ended up with seven heads before the charm wore off and it just fled).
  • The White Owls are a secretive organization that deals with fey matters. They employ lots of cold-themed magic to restrain targets.
  • In the Arcane Circle they saw a large, spherical object covered in runes. Einar said that it was similar to something they found in Mithrendain, though they modified it a bit (with a beholder's eye).
  • Chisel was able to help Randy refine his fire-based runes (giving him a +1 bonus to damage), and told him that he should seek out Cindervault if he wanted to learn more. He also said that if Randy found anything, to let him know and he would teach him more of what he knows.

December 06, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

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