Dec 31, 2008


From me, to all of you...Have a happy and safe years end celebration, or not. I plan on playing WoW with my wife : )

Happy happy obligatory holiday greeting dispensed, now for the good stuff.

I have found new life in the gaming part of my brain. Creating monsters and skill challenges has been very enjoyable, and as such, I plan to continue them. My goal (F*CK resolutions, they are so...last century) is to develop and post a single full encounter, critter, or skill challenge each week.

I have found 4E to be very much a "Nodal" approach wherein the players transition from one set piece encounter to another. What it allows, is a seamless narrative flowing from one encounter - in a swamp, say. To another in a wooded glen without the "everyone count their footsteps, and tell me how much weight you are carrying" crap. I find this approach to be more Diablo II than WoW (except for instaces I suppose).

I have an interesting idea for a quicksand skill challenge.
Another regarding arbitration during a miners vs. teamsters dispute.

Sneaking into a castle holding 200+ bandits.

As to encounters, my crown jewel as of now, is a fight between a lvl.4 party and two ochre jellies at a majestic forest waterfall. Hell, I even figured out how to get Shadar-Kai involved!
So if you like reading my ramblings, there is a lot more to come. If you don't, well you probably aren't reading this anyway : )

And now, just because I can...

Dec 29, 2008

"We're gonna need an bigger boat" an aquatic skill challenge. Part II

I hope you all enjoyed the ultimate fishing trip I posted last week. Here I just wanted to post the promised monster catfish, but include a shout out to oneother blogger who was involved with the collaborative effort over at The Core Mechanic and Mad Brew Labs . It was none other than the Gamefiend from over @ at-will! Sorry I missed you!

I have yet to upgrade to the newer monster maker 3.3, no particular reason, just lazy :)

Just promise me, dear readers, that next time someone harps at you about how 4E or D&D in general is too hack and slash...they should try fishin!

Dec 24, 2008

"We're gonna need an bigger boat" an aquatic skill challenge.

Inspired by the rampant coolness of the Mad Brew Labs / Core Mechanic series on skill challenges, I brainstormed one up for an upcoming encounter. Please let me know what you think of it : )


The fishermen of Whisker Lake beseech you! A monster fish from the lake’s black depths has come, and is eating all of the fish! Old Jack Lefty has made a heavy line to hook the beast with, but none of the fishermen will go back into the water. “Please, we are humble folk without the courage to face such a monster, will you help us?” they beg. Your reasons are your own, but your group decides to help…fish the monster out.

…"We're gonna need a bigger boat"…

Even the most pathetic of creatures become dangerous when they are the size of a draft horse. Catching this monster will be no easy task.

Complexity: 5 (12 successes before 6 failures)

Encounter Level: PC Level+3

Goal: Kill the Fleshwarped Whiskerfish by either exhausting it with a line and chase, or enter the water to do battle with it.

Power Use: Players can expend powers to get bonuses to a skill check. When expending powers, have the players describe how the power is being used. For each power used, the following bonuses are gained:

At-Will: +0 to skill check
Encounter/Utility: +3 to skill check.
Daily: +5 to skill check.

Skills Used: Acrobatics, Athletics, Arcana, Endurance, Insight, Nature.

Acrobatics –(Hard DC) - Half of the challenge will be staying in the boat! Each time a character fails a check, he must make an acrobatics check.

Success indicates that the character has kept his balance.
Failure indicates that the character has fallen into the lake (see “No Swimming” below). Checks made falling into or getting out of the lake do not count toward the challenge goals.

Arcana – (Hard DC) – You recognize that the nature of this beast has been altered in some fundamental way. By focusing your arcane energies, you are able to identify weaknesses that can be exploited.

Success on this check bestows a +4 bonus on any other check made during
this encounter. This check may be made more than once, with the DC increasing by
2 for each successive check, as the beast only has a finite number of weaknesses.
Failure indicates that the character has no ideas that are helpful to the encounter. This
check may not be re-attempted.

Athletics - (Moderate DC) – While reeling this monster in, SOMEONE has to man the oars! Not to mention pulling folks out of the lake. This is an opposed check, that may only be made at 1 on initiative. If player's total is higher than whiskerfishes vs. Ref attack, the attack fails.

Success indicates that you have been able to keep the boat from being jerked or rocked
excessively. Additionally, it may be used to pull a character out of the lake – checks
made to pull a character out of the lake do not count towards the challenge goals.
Failure - Oops! someone randomly falls into the lake.

Endurance – (Moderate DC) – Fighting the fatigue in your muscles, you continue to draw in the slack on your line. The beast appears to be tiring!

Success indicates you have been able to pull in some of the line, weakening the fish, and
bringing you closer to delivering a killing blow to the monster. The fish takes 10 points of damage, as the hook digs deeper into it's flesh.
Failure indicates that the beast has pulled some slack back, undoing your progress.
The character making the check loses one healing surge.

Insight – (Moderate DC) – Your observation of this creature leads you to believe that despite it’s size and grotesque appearance, it is still a primitive creature. Using the bait buckets, you can influence it’s movements to a degree.

Success indicates that you can keep the monster from attempting violent action, and
rocking the boat. The DC increases by 2 for each successive check, as the
beast becomes full.
Failure indicates that you error in your bait placement, erratically moving the boat, causing you to fall into the lake.

Nature – (Moderate DC) – Same as Insight (see insight – above).

SPECIAL – Every round, at initiative 1, the beast struggles and thrashes, making a +5 vs. Ref attack on all those in the boat. (if the beast is in melee, this is a free action) A hit causes the character to fall into the water (See “NO SWIMMING” below)

Success: You drive the beast until exhausted, then deliver a killing blow to it, ending the threat to the fishermen and their livelihood.

Failure: If the party fails, the boat is smashed in half, and they are spilled into the water to do battle with the creature.

NOTE: The beast nay be attacked from the boat. A -4 penalty applies to the rolls due to being in a dinghy.

NO SWIMMING – See “Aquatic Combat” DMG Pg.45 “Athletics” PHB Pg.182

If a character falls into the water, he immediately becomes a target for the monster fish. The player will effectively be fighting the beast solo (or with others fallen in), as it will never surface, and the water is too murky for the other players to see.

The other circumstance would be the failure of the check, with the whole party fighting this monster.

It is a more powerful foe underwater, and will take full advantage of that fact, attacking from below to foil opportunity attacks, and using it’s superior movement skills to respond to actual threats.

NOTE: I made an image of the new stat block, but blogger is misbehaving, and won't allow me to post it. It's coming, honest - It is a Lvl.5 Solo Soldier.

Condition: Swallowed

- The Whiskerfish may only swallow two medium sized targets at any one time. If, at any time it has two medium sized targets inside it's stomach, it will attempt to flee to the dark, cool waters of the lake bottom, effectively dooming the characters.

- A swallowed character may cut his way out with a total of 20hp damage to the whiskerfish. Small edged weapons only.

- Additionally, an acrobatics or Athletics check (DC 20) will also cause the whiskerfish to vomit the character out.

- The damage done to the swallowed character is crushing and acid.

Dec 22, 2008

Healing surges...the currency of heroism?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday during one of our scheduled D&D games. It revolved around several key points on 4E character mechanics. Namely, how the healing surge mechanic allows a party to be effective without a dedicated healer class.

The conversation was relevant, because the current party in our 4E game has eschewed both paladin and cleric for a trio of strikers instead. The warlord can help with that in combat healing, but only twice per encounter...did I mention I killed his ass?

Anyway, it was brought up that without a character dedicated to helping you "trigger" your surges, you are left with few options (potions, other people trying to make heal checks while in combat) to use more than 1 or two of these per encounter. With most characters holding 5-8 of these, it seems an awful waste to let this resource go serially untapped. Healing surges always felt more like action points to me, well, kinda like action points. Since this is a "Narrative" type of game now (Depending on who you ask) giving the players control over said narrative should be a good thing right? I think so.

As such, we decided we were going to try something different. Starting at the next session, we will be modifying the rules slightly to allow a character to use his healing surges (I think I like HEROIC surges better, to be perfectly honest) to assist in other ways. In addition to the standard healing usage;

1 surge - immediately re-roll a failed save vs. status or ongoing damage.
- recharge a used encounter power.
2 surge - immediately negate any ongoing status or effect (that is save based).
- recharge a daily power.

These cover the bases I am exploring right now, and eventually a master "cheat sheet" will be created as we work our way through the ins and outs of this. While this immediately brings to mind shadows of the "15 minute adventuring day" I think as a concept it is worth exploring, as the ability to recharge your biggest boom-booms during a knock-down-drag-out with that solo brute would help avert the whole "mountain of HP" problem. Suddenly those surges are worth more than a level appropriate healing potion, and become a carefully husbanded resource.

Also, undead get scarier...much scarier, especially the soul-suckers.

Other possible uses?
- 1 surge to negate critical hit.
- 1 surge to automatically succeed (par) on a skill check.
- 2 surges, automatically succeed on attack roll (yes, even with dailies and encounters...for now).

A finite resource? How about the option of getting a surge back in lieu of bonus damage for a critical hit? Milestone reward? The sky's the limit.

Does anybody else do something similar to this? Any other cool 4E houserules out there? Anyone see a flaw here I have missed? Think I suck, and need to vent? Bring it on!

Lastly, since I am sick and feeling too lazy to post again this week...


Dec 17, 2008

My 4E game.

The 4E game I am currently running, has been an absolute blast to play so far. That said, I thought I would share some observations from a DM's POV as to what worked and what didn't.

If you have been reading this Blog for long, you may remember that I had pondered writing an adventure path / campaign, and self-publishing it. It has been tenatively titled "ASSAULT ON THE LIGHTLESS DEPTHS" and was a 4E reboot (of sorts) of one of my all time favorite 2E boxed sets Night Below.

As I am new to 4E, I decided to make it a slightly longer term project, and playtest it as I wrote it. Unfortunately, my game only runs every third weekend...yeah, it's been rough.

Anyhoo, with three sessions down, the party has finally reached 2nd level! We have:
  1. An unnamed Water Genasi Warlord (I call him big blue)
  2. Meeshan, a Dragonborn Fighter
  3. Ned, a Shasar-Kai Warlock - Multiclass Wizard
  4. Two warforged Rangers, Cyhper and Cyther. One is ranged, other is two weapon.

Eventually we will have one more player, but she is one of those who holds an irrational hatred for 4E because a messageboard told her it was lame. She'll come around : )

So the setup:

The party, is a group of the Runeborne. (Thank you Justin Alexander @ the alexandrian for the idea.) These are folks marked for a place within the prophecies that have, and continued to shape this land. Being stronger, faster, and just plain better than everyone else, they naturally rose to prominence as leaders and villains extreme.

After a boatload of wars fought by the Runeborne - thinking that they alone knew how to fix the worlds ills, the people insisted upon the creation of a guild to "watch over" them. Thus was born the Guild of Runes.

The guild of Runes exists to maintain political neutrality within it's ranks. It does so, by keeping its members from congregating in large numbers. IT does this by assigning it's members to explore, map, plunder, guard, and fight for it's patrons.

Long story short, the party is a disparate group of Runeborne, on assignment to the Merchant's guild. Their job is to protect a seasonal caravan headed up into the remote northern vales that make up the fringes of civilization. Not exactly glorious work, but what do you expect for a 1st level character?

We opened up with a goblin ambush. Two CR3 waves of goblins, a mix of cutters and warriors, led by a lvl.3 Elite warrior. The party rocked their socks, and then some.

OBSERVATION 1 - Watch out for those damn strikers, they really change the flow of combat.

After winning the fight, they noticed that the goblins had oddly stained bluish green feet, hands, and mouths. Also, they were emaciated and acted like desperate animals. No treasure is found, and even the gypsies following the caravan wouldn't touch the crap they called gear.

As evening falls, the caravan reaches the relative safety of a roadside inn called THE WINDING ROAD. The innkeep, Priam, welcomes them before offering up a fireside tale about the colorful history of Hogger's Vale. The party learns that:

  1. Priam's Father was a retired war hero, who died two summers back from a goring at the tusks of a monster hog living near Whsker Lake.
  2. The valley was settled by an alliance of Men and Dwarves near 400 years ago.
  3. 50 years ago, a great necromancer laid claim to the vale, and set about building an army. Eventually, another army led by the Dawnbringers advent. co. came and did battle with his forces for months. Apparently nobody survived the final battle, on either side.
  4. Wagon traffic has slowed to a crawl in the last month or two, there should be at least 5 a day hauling Iron ore and finished craft out of the valley.
  5. The Valleys protectors Jerrol and Karl the rangers, are a week late on their rounds.

After a lengthy bit of role-playing and exposition, Priam excuses himself to get some rest. As the party begins hunkering down for the night, Howls sound from all directions in the distance, and a panicked pounding echoes up from the common room.

First to investigate are the rangers. They identify the sounds as belonging to hunting dogs or wolves of some kind. Opening the door, an older man in tattered purple rags falls the ground in front of them. "Please! Help me! They mustn't take me back! They want the stone!" HE then promptly passes out.

Hot on his heels, are a pack of 5 gray wolves, led by a dire wolf. The party (all awake by now) close and bar the door, and begin upending tables to make a defensive position. With not a moment to spare, the doors come crashing down, and a wolf the size of a cow comes through the door.

OBSERVATION 2 - While the Dire wolf was always the center of battle, it wasn't the TPK I was afraid it would be. The designers aren't kidding when they say that favorable circumstances and good planning could let a party take down a beast 4-8 levels above the group.

This beast was joined the next round by 5 smaller grey wolves. These worked well against the party. The only thing better than the heavy use of knockdown in 4E is the relaxation of the rules allowing you to stand as a minor action with no AoO. After a spirited fight, ANOTHER pack of wolves busts in!

OBSERVATION 3 - I have so far found that successive wave attacks work very well in terms of challenging a party with lower level critters and minions. In this particular case, it was two successive CR4 encounters. The party took some hits, but was able to prevent any serious casualties.

After disposing of the wolves, the party gets a short rest, as they tally up the damage. The old man is malnourished (heal check) and covered with bruises. His rags (insight) appear to have once been fine satin wizards robes. Unfortunately, he is in a deep torpor (a coma), and will be answering no questions anytime soon.

A few short minutes later, there are sounds of combat outside! Goblins are attacking the wagons and their crews over at the stable! The Fighter immediately charges into the fray with her greataxe, Warlord and Rangers in tow. The party is immediately suspicious of some arcane chanting coming from out of sight behind a wagon, but cannot get through the crowd to identify it. After carving up the goblins, and one more dire wolf, the party is in dire peril. With no cleric or Paladin to help, they have already used their second winds, and are low on hp again.

The warlord does a fine job, leading from the front, when he is felled by a goblin axe. Time stops fr a moment, as the chanting reaches it's crescendo! And the bodies of the fallen teamsters rise up again as 4 skeletons join the fray, led by their summoner - a goblin hexer!

The despair in the room is palpable, as the skeletons advance towards the warlock and bow ranger. Only the intervention of the inkeeper (crammed into his dad's full plate) is able to slow them enough to allow these two to reach the relative safety of the roof.

As the skeltons continue to harass and annoy, the hexer and the bow ranger enter a shoot me / shoot you contest (ranger wins!). Finally, the tide of battle turns, and the party is victorious...only to find that their leader, big blue, had bled out and died during the last part of the fight.

So there you have it. My first three sessions in a nutshell. This group has always been a little light on the role-playing, so the tight tactical combat worked VERY well for them. To them, combat is combat, role-playing is what you do when NOT trying to gut someone : )

No skill challenges yet. I am trying to incorporate them into my encounter matrix. About every 4th or fifth encounter should be IMO, a skill challenge.

OBSERVATION 4 - Combat isn't any faster at all. In fact, it felt like it took a little longer than in 3E. However, the rounds themselves went by about 3-4 times faster, averaging 45 seconds per character, unless there was research involved. For the first time in years, the DS's stayed closed, and the knitting was left undone. If you fall asleep during 4E combat, you are a narcoleptic : )

One of the players later found a strange stone with an unknown rune seemingly etched into it's smooth surface. It radiates incredibly strong universal magic, but defies identification (oh, to be 1st level, lol!). The character has kept it quiet : )

OBSERVATION 5 - With the RP rules trimmed back, the biggest issue I am finding, is that some folks have a hard time actually DOING it without the rules telling them how. I am fairly sure we will see a lot of development on that side as new material is printed up. They are, in the meantime, getting more comfortable with the "wide open" experience so far, it just takes getting used to.

So there it is. The first wobbly steps of my 4E campaign. The players love it, and there is already talk of one of the other games (3.5 age of worms) converting to 4E as well.

My intent is to contnue posting the exploits of these "intrepid entrepeneurs" as they buble about, and eventually save the world. One of them (Jeremey, I mean you!) has been invited to contribute here as well. I plan to continue a once or twice a week posting schedule at least through the holidays, we'll see how ambitious I feel next year!

Anyways, back to the topic. My take on combat was that successive waves of CR appropriate (N +/- 2) seems to work out better than using a single higher level challenge. This is definitely the case in any battle involving lots of minions or low level squishies. Not so much with elites or brutes. As a design rule, I have been reducing the HP by 10-20% of the suggested value, in order to shorten the battles a wee bit. Brutes are the worst ones to adjudicate, as the HP are central to their schtick.

Anyone else try this? We trash games a level 8 encounter for a lvl.3 party, and it was a wipe. Close, but not quite. Until next time, good gaming folks!

Dec 11, 2008

Is there any room left for the Yugoloths?

After writing about an oft-passed on part of D&D that appeals to me, I was reminded of another one that is even more relevant. The Yugoloths.

Remember them? Everyone's favorite NE blood war mercenaries? My question is; in a game world where concepts such as the flavors of neutrality have been cast off, will we ever again see the penultimate mercenaries?

You know, the fence-sitters who care less for domination and supremacy, as a tenable balance wherein they, and only they will be able to profit?

This, of course brings about another issue. Alignment in general. I have not fully adopted 4E's alignment mechanics, because I see the old school 9 point alignment tree as more than just a confusing source of spell descriptors. This is because evil, good, and yes, even neutrality are more nuanced than Super good, good, doesn't care, evil, and super evil. Remember LN? The bane of any character of chaotic origin?

Back on topic, these nuances were most pronounced in the outer planes. The actual physical embodiments of the virtues and vices of each particular path. LN? Cold, uncaring logic. CN? Cocksure independence. In fact, I would have been happy if WotC had finally grown some fuzzy ones and ruled that only a character of animal intelligence (or any beast that meets said criteria) should even have it as an option.

Now as to how this played out in terms of the Yugoloths? Tanar'ri are the more numerous of the fiendish ken. They suffered mightily due to their disorganization, but always had numbers to fall back upon - keeping their enemies at bay.

The Baatezu had the organization to run a tight military machine, but suffered greatly due to an extremely top heavy structure. The old BLOOD WAR boxed set had a wonderful gem about how all one has to do to stop a Baatezu campaign dead in it's tracks, was to kill the general, and watch as the offensive falls apart.

The Yugoloths? Different story altogether. They represented pure evil given purpose. Not that silly mad beast evil. Or the endless lines of bureaucracy evil. No, they were pure self serving evil, freed from the bonds of working with or against the "rules".

IMO, they have always been the more dangerous foe, as they had no qualms about using their enemies (or working with/for) whenever necessary. They have no rabid bestial impulse control issues, no anal to the extreme organizational issues, nada.

Simply put, they were the conduit that the "good guys" used (to good effect) to keep the blood war constantly boiling, lest one side win and turn their red rimmed eyes upward.

So what say you all? Is there anyplace left in 4E for the poor, misunderstood Yugoloths? Tell me what YOU think.

Dec 9, 2008

The Far Plane needs more love.

One of the 3.5 supplements I had hoped to see was a folio detailing the Far Plane. Nothing says "evil beyond comprehension" like an entire universe of constanly morphic flesh older than the universe, that is always hungry...

Hopefully, 4E will be adressing this issue in their release schedule. Until then, what do you get, when you cross a foolish conjurer with a barely understood aberrant ritual? A Mind Ripper!

…As the door to the summoning chamber shatters into splinters, a purple glow emanates from within. The hair on the back of your neck is attempting to flee with all due haste as you peer around the shattered door frame. Within the room (that was once a well appointed summoning chamber) sits a large…blob? Your confusion is compounded by the powerful smell of fresh cinnamon. It appears to be a 10’ diameter mound of semi-transparent, bluish goo. As it shudders and settles, you see floating within, there appears to be miscellaneous bit and pieces of flotsam…a second glance shows them to be brains! Or pieces of them at least. As you watch, several larger pieces merge together with a flash of purple energy…

…This poor creature is frightened! An alien being trapped in an alien world! It was brought here by HER! If you stop her ritual, it can go home! It only wants to return home! As you move to enter the room and assist it, Jelena screams, “It’s a trick! Don’t let it touch you!” You scoff, but when you turn back to the thing, it has indeed gathered itself together, and formed wickedly barbed tentacles! The errant floating bits have now mostly congealed into a solid mass, that is slowly forming crackling lines of arcing violet energy towards it’s appendages. “It’s a MindRipper! If it gets loose, it will kill everyone in the valley!” Comes Jelena’s desperate and exhausted cry. Her ritual binding circle has nearly faded completely from sight. She gives you an exhausted look, “I cannot hold it any longer, send it back to the void it came from!” At that, she collapses, and the last vestiges of control over this beast slip free...

Yeah, I know. I write like an illiterate orangutan, but that's okay - I never claimed to be a novelist : )

This little beastie will be coming up in three or four sessions, as the party explores the Masterson Estate, and discovers that the descendants of the Archmagus Dennil Masterson have delved rather deeply into things that should concern only those whom have an affinity to tentacles and too many eyeballs.

God I love the Far rife with possibilities!

Dec 3, 2008

A little late, but a little fixed as well.

My thanks to Graham and Rev. Mike for pointing out various flaws and errors on my part. Let it be known that Irespond just as well to constructive criticisms, as I do to random floggings : )

Here are the corrected three, and a couple of skeletal Dinosaurs from an upcoming part of the game, enjoy!

And the Skeletal pets of an ancient slain necromancer...
...It seems that you have been trudging through this godsforsaken field of shattered bones and blasted earth for weeks! The point man calls that he has found something, and calls you over to the lip of an enormous crater!
Terraced every 10 squares (lol!) or so, your dungeoneering experience tells you it is a dig site. What they would be digging for in this blasted wasteland is anyones guess...
...After much trial and tribulation, the party reaches the bottom of the crater. Bones. That is what Shkrem was unearthing here. The bones of giant beasts untouched by the sky since the elves first came down from their trees. Dismissing the thoughts as irrelevant, you scan the area - and are rewarded! The spars you need to activate the bone wheel are still sitting in a neat pile next to the rusted framework of a lathe...
...One second you are looking upon the spars, the next, Chaos! Fearsome beasts of all sizes, similar only in excess of claw and fang burst forth from the very earth below and beside! They seem to be led by an enormous monster of bone and teeth, as tall as Taran's tower it stands...the ichor of it's past victims still dripping down from within it's gleaming ribcage...

These are a bit rough still. I am undecided as to exactly how I want this battle to flow - other than having the Players run away screaming, that is. As always, any thoughts, ideas, and insults welcome - but as to the insults, I give as good as I get : )