Archive for July 2010

Saying Yes, Or How I Winged It

On Tuesday I ran Songs of Erui after about a month of down time. The party had traveled to the mostly-dwarf city, Cindervault, looking for the second fragment of a song that's been the primary focus of the campaign since the ass-end of the first adventure. When they arrived they found that it was mostly abandoned, but figured out later that night that it was now under the occupation of a shit-ton of drow. Not wanting to end up as spider-chow, they made a beeline for Cindervault's fortress under the assumption that something really expensive would be locked up there.

En route they ran into various drow entries cribbed from the Monster Manual (de-leveled of course to account for the fact that they were only level 9), in addition to a web golem, blade spiders, and some summoned mezzodemons (a drow demonologist needs him some demons). Now, after a few encounters they got to choose which way to take trying to get into the castle: the main gate or the access ramp for wagons and cripples, and deciding to tackle the main gate. Unfortunately, the gate was guarded by a purple dragon that I had to change to a black dragon after I realized that purple dragons go as'plode in the sun (WHOOPS), but in the end a summoned unicorn took it down and they got a level for their troubles. The session ended with the party on top of the ramparts observing 20+ drow and a drider communicating to a formorian king through a visual- and audio-only window.

That was all just pointless recap. The actual point to this post is that the following session they decided to stick to the wall and attempt to loop around the side of the walls where they hoped drow wouldn't be skulking about as they so often do. Now, my plans were to have them more or less make a direct assault, using the various siege engines on the walls to give them an edge. I did not think that they would just side-step all the encounters I'd had planned. So...time to wing it.

There was a lot of wall to cover, and several towers, so I used towers as indicators for where encounters could still rationally occur. It was just a matter of rapidly populating them in the span of a few seconds. Blade spiders were level 10, so in the first tower I just had one using it as a lair. Inside they found that there was one lurking on the ceiling amidst the suspended, putrefied corpses of dwarves. One of the characters opened the doors, and they had the druid go in under the guise of a Medium-sized spider. Discovering the spider, she tried to communicate with it, and trick it into thinking that there was a threat just outside. A few Bluff and Nature checks later, the druid was able to distract it long enough for the ranger and cleric to take a few pot-shots at it.

The highlight of the combat was when the druid used pounce to latch onto its face and pull it off of the ceiling, and then the ranger made a very nice grab and bull rush checks to slam in onto a ballista, which the cleric used to launch it off of the ramparts, taking a total of, "enough damage to say it died without bothering to roll."

That was the first instance of the session where I had to make up rules on the fly. How much damage does a ballista do? I dunno, 3d8 plus Intelligence modifier? How do I resolve the attack?  Make a level plus Intelligence modifier attack. I didnt want to make it just deal a shitload of damage, for fear the party would try and lug them around and potentially backstab shit with them. So, going off of damage that ogres can dole out with boulders, I think it was a nice benchmark that made it worthwhile. Anyway, it wasn't the bolt that killed the spider, but the push effect that knocked it over the edge. A fairly easy kill, but all those nice rolls (including the use of memory of a thousand lifetimes)...fuck it. It was awesome.

The second moment came when the party decided to look for hidden passages into Cindervault so that they could avoid taking the door. I thought, sure, fuck it, give me a roll. After a Perception of 33 I was like, okay, you find a narrow crevasse that a halfling or gnome could safely get through. I figured that they could squeeze into it and that I could throw in some insect or vermin swarms to mix things up. Nope, not gonna happen: the druid used some level 10 daily that let her turn everyone into ferrets. Or rather, spider-ferrets (its D&D, animal combinations happen) and rapidly scurry through the opening.

And that was last night's session. The players easily steamrolled my encounters through liberal use of bull rush, push-effects, and clever thinking. Easy XP, awesome session.
July 30, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Essential Fighter Preview

Well technically, its a knight. Shazbot mentioned that the podcast mentioned that the fighter knight wouldn't get at-will exploits, but instead have abilities that would modify melee basic attacks, and from the looks of things thats true. The knight is proficient in every sort of armor out there (as opposed to having to burn a feat on plate like actual fighters), but otherwise looks to be on par in terms of class traits.

She gets a laundry list of class features at level one,  only a couple of which are even touched on: Defender Aura constantly marks any non-marked enemy adjacent to you, but it doesn't look like she knight gets the freebie attacks. Instead of at-will attacks, you instead get two Fighter Stances: battle wrath gives you +2 damage, while cleaving assault works like cleave, except that the damage is based on Con instead of Strength. Power Strike is cited as a class feature, which is actually them just choosing your level 1 encounter for you. It also modifies melee basic attacks, dealing +1[W] damage as a free action after you hit something.

Again, the essential classes look to be thematic characters that make most of the decisions for you. The knight's only key ability scores are Strength and Constitution, instead of the usual Strength and maybe either Constitution or Dexterity, perhaps with some Wisdom on top that the usual fighter possibly demands (I'm guessing the slayer will be linked to Strength and Dexterity only). Again, I think these are going to be great for newer players, or players looking for that nostalgic feel without all the save-or-fuck-all bullshit of past editions.
July 23, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Adventure Tools Update

Adventure Tools got updated to include both all the content from Monster Manual 3 (including the block layout) as well as a slightly improved interface, by which I mean that the buttons are larger and have text along with the graphic. Everything else is basically the same, until you try to create and/or edit a monster. 

Powers are automatically ordered by either traits or its action-type (if you switch the action type while editing a power, it gets moved to the appropriate category). The power menus also got some changes to reflect how powers are now written. For example, if the power is an attack, there are buttons that let you cycle between the power's hit, miss, and effect...effects. For damage, the drop-down menu has normal, limited use, and none options (limited use actually tells you by how much it is increasing the damage by), and there's also an average damage field to calculate it for you.

Ultimately, most of the changes are just organizational. There's a few extra fields here and there, which might confuse you for a sec but if you've used Monster Builder before then it won't take long to get the hang of it. In the end you get a monster that follows the new layout conventions, and as a plus it automatically updates all the existing monsters to follow it as well. Here's a comparison between the two blocks on one of my custom monsters.


...and after...

The block's a bit longer, but narrower, and for me that's good because it'll fit better in column layouts in Microsoft Word (the old one fit snugly in two-columns, but not so much when in threes). Otherwise, I haven't had a chance to try them out so I can't say for sure if they are more efficient. They do look better organized, though. 
July 21, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Returning to Athas, Part 2

Hmm...I seemed to have missed out on Part 1 (Edit: I went back and realized that I already knew everything about Dark Sun and so didnt care). Anyway, we learn in this Dark Sun Design & Development article that there will be ten themes present in Dark Sun Campaign Setting, and for those that lack a DDI subscription, those themes are (in a particular order):

  • Athasian Minstrel
  • Dune Trader
  • Elemental Priest
  • Gladiator
  • Noble Adept
  • Primal Guardian
  • Templar
  • Veiled Alliance
  • Wasteland Nomad
  • Wilder

Things that we already knew was that a theme gives you an extra encounter power at level one and serves as a gateway drug for feats, paragon paths, and theme-specific powers that you can choose instead of your class ones (akin to skill powers, which are also awesome). You can also upgrade them by slotting them into a higher level position than normal when one opens. For example, fearsome command at level 3 deals 2d6 + what-the-fuck-ever ability modifier you want damage, in addition to slowing for a turn. You can boost the damage to 3d6 when you hit level 13, and finally at level 23 you can make it deal 5d6.

They don't cost anything to take, but I guess you can opt not to take one and miss out on free shit. It's like a background on steroids. The article provides insight as to why the designers made certain concepts like gladiators themes instead of classes or class builds, and its recommended reading if you were considering inventing your own themes (which I plan on doing for my Eberron game). Here's hoping they make "generic" themes as well as other campaign-specific ones.
July 19, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Greyshore Church Map

Encounter map of Greyshore's only church. It's a pain in the ass to make the tower section clear: the tower isn't entirely intact, the third floor is missing (so the second floor is entirely exposed to the sky), and parts of the walls on the second section are missing. Some of the missing sections pertain to upper wall sections on the first floor. This allows players to maneuver from the second floor to the first by jumping...or falling.

Greyshore Map

Map of Greyshore, the second major location that the players will hit up in The Shadows Over Greyshore. Its got cultists, fish people, and an opal carp.

Wizard Preview

Bill assures us that Essentials isn't a new edition, and that content is backwards compatible between both it and "normal" D&D. I think the main hangup people are getting from this is that every class since Player's Handbook was released follows the same model of power acquisition. Sure you get differing class features at level one, but after that every time you level you all go through the same motions of picking a power, picking a feat, and/or improving a couple of ability scores. This is unlike all versions of D&D in the past, where you often got new class features of nebulous utility as you leveled up (if you got anything at all).

And you know what? I'm okay with every class following the same level-up routine. In fact, I'm really happy with it, because getting a new power is a big deal. It's also more interesting that getting an often set-in-stone class feature that you cannot change, and always does the same thing. I've become very accustomed to classes getting to essentially pick their own class features instead of jotting down the one given to them. I'm not sure if this will be the case in Essentials, but from the looks of things you're going to get a mix of the two: sometimes you'll get something that let's you pick from the list, and sometimes you'll take what's given to you.

The wizard is actually a mage, and they are touted as magic school specialists. Now, magic schools are thankfully mostly dropped from 4th Edition. Some spells still have keywords that let you categorize them (Charm, Illusion, Teleport, etc), but more or less you're free to take the spells that you want and not worry that your specialist (or perhaps merely thematic) wizard is stuck with a spell that you don't particularly care for (something that's happened more than once in past editions to my wizards).

From the looks of things, the first Essentials book will only have three schools to choose from: illusion, charm, and evocation. Whichever one you choose gives you an Apprentice Mage benefit (and logically affects whatever the hell Expert Mage and Master Mage does). Nothing is mentioned as to what they do, and the only class feature really touched on is Spellbook, which I guess at higher levels will let you also start swapping out encounter spells (instead of just daily and utility). My guess is that the benefit gained will be on par with the wizard's own Implement Mastery, so I'm curious as to how they will balance later benefits against it. They'd better not say, "well since you have to take magic missile it's okay to give you something extra later."

Oh yeah, Magic Missile is a class feature (thats why it gets the caps), and every mage has to have it. In case you were wondering, it's the new version, as well. Other sample at-will spells include a reprinted arc lightning, but added in beguiling strands and hypnotism. Beguiling strands lets you deal psychic damage and push, while hypnotism lets you either have a creature make a basic attack with a +4 bonus, or slide the creature 3 squares (neither option deals damage), and since it targets "creatures", you could totally hit an ally with this and let them get away with a free attack. Just sayin'. >_>

The new class features doled-by-level gives me a distinct nostalgic feel. Like...playing older D&D editions, just with a balanced, intuitive game system. When I look at the classes from "normal" D&D and compare the two...I dunno, it feels kind of...odd? I don't think its an issue of balance but style, and perhaps the best way for me to cope with the situation is to do what Shazbot has posited: run either D&D games, or Essentials games. As always, I'm just going to wait and see instead of making unfounded accusations. Even if Essentials sucks ass, it just means ten months of not having to buy any books until they get it out of their system.
July 16, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Janow, Gnome Illusionist

Another pregen, this one is a natural fit and pretty optimized. 

Janow d'Sivis, level 1
Gnome, Wizard
Arcane Implement Mastery: Orb of Deception
Background: Zilargo (+2 to Insight)

Str 8, Con 11, Dex 10, Int 18, Wis 13, Cha 18.

Str 8, Con 11, Dex 10, Int 16, Wis 13, Cha 16.

AC: 14 Fort: 10 Reflex: 14 Will: 16
HP: 21 Surges: 6 Surge Value: 5

Arcana +11, History +9, Insight +8, Diplomacy +11

Acrobatics, Bluff +4, Dungeoneering +1, Endurance, Heal +1, Intimidate +4, Nature +1, Perception +1, Religion +4, Stealth +2, Streetwise +4, Thievery, Athletics -1

Wizard: Ritual Caster
Level 1: Mark of Scribing

Wizard at-will 1: Illusory Ambush
Wizard at-will 1: Phantom Bolt
Wizard encounter 1: Grasping Shadows
Wizard daily 1: Horrid Whispers
Wizard daily 1 Spellbook: Sleep

Spellbook, Adventurer's Kit, Cloth Armor (Basic Clothing), Dagger, Orb Implement, Identification Papers with Portrait, Woodwind, Camouflaged Clothing
Comprehend Language, Glib Limerick, Secret Page

Essentials Preview

Finally, some information about what the fuck Essentials is all about. Reception is about what I'd predicted: trolls are crawling out of their bridges, and forums are blazing with excitement, trepidation, and people clamoring that its the second coming of another goddamn Half-Edition (even though none of the actual rules are getting changed and its all backwards compatible).

For the rational, here are some facts.

First, there are going to be ten products that are intended to, "provide a more comprehensive approach to the game rules," adding new options and material without changing the existing rules. So, no, its not 4.5 Edition, and yes, you can still use all the content you have now. There's stuff for veterans and newbies, but from the looks of things its supposed to make it really easy for new players to get into the game (or people who stopped back into the game). Frankly, I kind of wish that they'd done this from the start. :-P

Second, the "heart" of the Essentials line are character classes. From what I've gathered, they are making the newer classes more inline with the structure of past editions, doling out class features at various levels instead of leaving it all to power selection. In the end what we're looking at is alternatives to existing classes: they're different, but not better or worse. Two new types of fighters, the slayer and knight, are briefly mentioned. One is a two-weapon fighter, while the other is a sword-and-board. The only way these differ from the fighter is that each will get class features that the fighter does not, though they can still take feats and powers that are fighter-only. I'm guessing that slayers and knights will lose out on stuff to keep them balanced with the fighter.

They do go into more detail on the warpriest, which is a cleric by another name. Most of the traits are the same, though they do get a +1 to Fort and Will instead of a +2 to Will. As for class features and powers, they start out with healing word but get powers depending on the domain they pick (in this case, Storm or Sun). Apparently your domain determines both at-will attacks in addition to your utility (?) and encounter power. I'd heard that dailies were going away, but they're on the list (levels 1, 5, and 9, par for the course). From a cursory glance it all looks mostly the same...have to wait and see how much domains affect your abilities, as well as what exclusive shit they get.

So, more shit, no new edition. Cool.
July 09, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Thok, Half-Orc Artificer

One of the pregen characters for my Eberron adventure-path, I envision Thok as more or less like a Warhammer 40k orc, having a knack for building and manipulating magical gizmos. Just, you know, without the insane bloodlust and maybe not much like one at all...? Mostly I was going for a half-orc out in the backwater region of the Shadow Marches having to make due with what he's got, and when that fails, he can hit it with his axe.

Now, I did cheat a bit and give him seven extra gps so that he could afford the war axe. A completely legit option is to take Crossbow Caster so that he can use his repeating crossbow as an implement (which I would take anyway), Arcane Fury (when he gets an AoE attack), Furious Concoction ("makin' it orcy"), and Mark of Finding. Were I to play this character, I would definitely take them all, as it fits the theme.

From an optimization stance, this works better with a dwarf (or really anything that gets an Int and/or Con bonus) and taking static shock syncs better with his high Constitution. I was trying to stick with all Weapon-keyword powers.

Thok, level 1

Half-Orc, Artificer
Background: Tharashk Prospector (+2 to Dungeoneering)

Str 12, Con 16, Dex 13, Int 16, Wis 13, Cha 8.

Str 10, Con 16, Dex 11, Int 16, Wis 13, Cha 8.

AC: 15 Fort: 14 Reflex: 13 Will: 12
HP: 28 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 7

Arcana +8, Perception +6, Heal +6, Dungeoneering +8, Thievery +6

Acrobatics +1, Bluff -1, Diplomacy -1, Endurance +5, History +3, Insight +1, Intimidate +1, Nature +1, Religion +3, Stealth +1, Streetwise -1, Athletics +1

Artificer: Ritual Caster
Level 1: Weapon Proficiency (Waraxe)

Artificer at-will 1: Magic Weapon
Artificer at-will 1: Aggravating Force
Healing Infusion: Healing Infusion: Resistive Formula
Artificer encounter 1: Burning Weapons
Artificer daily 1: Flameburst Armor

Ritual Book, Leather Armor, Repeating crossbow, Adventurer's Kit, Magazine, Crossbow Bolts (20), Waraxe
Brew Potion, Disenchant Magic Item, Enchant Magic Item, Make Whole

July Rules Updates

Thats...a lot of changes, and not simple ones, either. For starters, magic missile now always hits but deals less than half damage than before, dispel magic becomes an encounter spell, and lead the attack only lasts a turn even if you hit. And thats just a few of the changes out of Player's Handbook. All told you're looking at 20 pages of errata, so I'm glad that Character Builder gets updated as well. This means that unlike 3rd Edition I don't have to print out the pages (or check the interwebs) so that I can reference them when making a character.
July 06, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Gargantuan Orcus

I got one in today. Its Gargantuan, and its Orcus, and its fucking awesome.

In the box...

...and in mah hand.

Is it worth the price tag? Some would compare it to the Colossal Red Dragon that came out years ago, and I'd say that I suppose pound-for-pound that it might not be. I dunno. Depends on inflation or what-the-fuck-ever. If nothing else, its a $70-incentive to get my group up to level 30 to kick his ass.
July 02, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Swamp Ambush Map

I'm a fan of doing the random encounter bit while players are going from plot-pertinent area A to plot-pertinent area B, or at least making my players think that its random. I'm not really a fan of actually random encounters because all too often they are not relevant to the plot at all, and when the players know that it seems like so much padding and pointless grindage. Since 4E isnt a fan of throwing out ludicrous amounts of treasure, in most cases you can't even throw them a +1 enchanted bone to tickle their fancy.

The first encounter in At The Mines Of Madness appears to be a random encounter, but is in actuality carefully planned. Well, its not "carefully" planned, but I at least but enough forethought into it to draw up a map and populate the encounter ahead of time.

The caravan that the party is on gets ambushed by bullywugs and their trained battle-frogs (Monster Manual 3). The caravan is being guarded by more than just them (since the party might not all be hired to protect the caravan), so I decided to make it pretty damned hard.

Swamp Ambush (858 XP)
  • 8 bullywug croakers (level 3 minion brute)
  • 3 bullywug muckers (level 1 brute)
  • 2 murklord frogs (level 2 skirmisher)
Treasure: crude gold bracelet (20 gp), crude gold necklace (15 gp), 3 gp, 20 sp. The jewelry is graven with an abstract fish motif (these were taken from the characters killed during the prologue).

The bullywugs will leg it if reduced to half their number or less. The frogs will also book it if they are bloodied and no bullywugs are within 3 squares of them. Depending on the player's character, I will have the players control some or all of the guards (minion soldiers) and just give them the stat blocks to make it easier on me (in particular characters with a history of making caravan runs, Shadow Marches guides, or leader-types).

Lets talk about terrain features.
  • Shallow Water: Difficult terrain for anyone without a swim speed. It also grants an attack bonus to creatures with the Aquatic keyword (ie, bullywugs and frogs). Characters taking ongoing fire damage can fall prone to immediately end the effect.
  • Deep Water: Characters in deep water need to make Athletics checks to swim, and it still grants the aforementioned attack bonus. Creatures in deep water gain resist 5 fire, and ongoing fire damage automatically ends at the end of their turn.
  • Trees: The large black dots are big trees that fill the entire square. Characters can climb them, and particularly devastating attacks might destroy them or knock them over. They also grant cover. The small dots are smaller trees that count as difficult terrain for everyone, and can also be destroyed.
  • Bridge: Its mostly level with the ground. Characters pushed off of it make a save to avoid falling prone, but dont take damage if they fall in the water. It could be lit on fire, I suppose.

Playing Monstrous Characters

I don't get to play D&D as much as I'd like to, so its a good thing that I enjoy running, but when I do sit on the other side of the screen I play a lot of monstrous races. While the other players are rolling humans, shifters, gnomes, and devas, I'm trying to find ways to shoehorn a minotaur or gnoll into the plot. I think its probably due to the fact that I've been gaming for a long time, about 15 or so years, and maybe I've gotten tired of playing humans and elves and the like. Heh, just kidding. I've never played and elf and hadn't even seriously considered it until recently.

In your typical D&D setting most of these races are the bad guys. This usually means that if no one in the party is aware of each other when the adventure starts, you gotta do that cliche social role-play part where people distrust you, you talk back and forth for a bit, and then they grudgingly allow you to do your adventuring bit until you earn their trust. I hate that part because first of all, it is a cliche. Everyone knows its another player. All you're doing is making everyone wait while you rummage through dialogue until someone says something halfway plausible to get the game moving (which would be the second thing I hate about it). Actually, makes me glad that monsters generally aren't trained in a lot of skills...

Frankly, I prefer having that part inherent to the character background in addition to already knowing one or more of the party members for some extra insurance. Really that's the best advice I can give for anyone playing a monstrous race: build up a background where the character has already dealt with the locals and gotten on their good side. It also can't hurt to know someone influential in addition to one-or-more party members. While it might not matter in the next town over, at least at the start you can keep the ball rolling. Maybe your exploits and achievements will reach the other town before you do?

I'm not a bad player. If the DM explains that in his or her campaign setting that the monsters are Evil-aligned treasure-hoarding experience parsels that live in dungeons, I've got reserves. Tieflings do the trick just fine, and I've been known to play a human or two. However, this is one of the reasons I like Eberron so much. Its incredibly easy and consistent with the setting to roll up a monstrous character, because there's an entire nation of monsters milling about Droaam. Well, two nations if you count all the goblinoids in Darguun, and that's not counting all the orcs mucking around in the Shadow Marches. 

July And Beyond

Its a good thing I'm out of school, because the next few months have a lot of shit coming out.

July sees the release of a novel I wont read, Demonomicon, and Tomb of Horrors. I intend on getting a copy of the latter two, but will unfortunately likely only use the last (anytime soon, anyway). I've never played Tomb of Horrors with the exception of a half-hearted attempt in 3rd Edition, which resulted in a clutch of exalted half-dragon kobold monks getting trapped in the first goddamned room. Of course, that was back in the day when mechanics existed that would randomly force a reset, so we'll see how 4E actually, you know, legitimately challenges players.

August is also a big month: both Dark Sun books (instead of one, as it was for Forgotten Realms and Eberron), the Dark Sun adventure Marauders on the Dune Sea, and Psionic Power. Dark Sun by itself is already more than enough badass for the entire month. In addition to it being a very far stretch from your typical fantasy setting, we'll also get the rules on themes. I generally always build characters around a cohesive theme, such as a wizard with mostly fire-keyword spells, or a minotaur with a lot of charging/mobility exploits, but themes give you a granted power as well as serve as prereqs for certain feats and paragon paths. What with all the existing stuff I'm curious (but confident in R&D's capabilities) as to how it will work out.

There's a small chunk of preview info for Psionic Power: a level 29 psionic attack called ravenous singularity, a level 11 attack for the alienist paragon path (GLEE!) called far realm gift, and some features of the grandmaster of flowers epic destiny. While the name probably wont strike fear into anyone without allergies, it does have a lot of movement kickers (never provoke opportunity attacks, and you can move your full speed whenever you are allowed to shift).

Oooh, another minis expansion in September? And its called Lords of Madness? Sounds like I got a good starting date for my Eberron campaign.


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