Oct 29, 2008

4E makes monster creation fun again! - Revised

Good morning all! And HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

This is an edited repost, as Thanks to Graham of www.criticalanklebites.com I have made some minor adjustments to Shkrem and his minions. Enjoy!

I am finding that the more I use Asmor's monster maker 3.1, the more I enjoy making monsters! While simplistic on the surface, the new system makes modifying and hybridizing critters so easy, I suspect I may be missing something :-)
Here is another encounter core that I am polishing up on, a dread necromancer was brought low by a group of adventurers. They hounded him from one end of this valley to the next, until the final battle at a secluded box canyon known as the tar pits. While Shkrem the unclean was slain, he took the heroes who did him in to the grave as well. Later, when he arose as a wraith-ish creature, he bound the spirits of the heroes that slew him for an eternity of torment.
Now the party has the opportunity to put him down for good. And collect some sweet treasure sunk down in the tar pits. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Shkrem the unclean, and his bound spirit band!
Still trying to find an optimal resolution and such, but that is but a minor concern. Next up is to begin mapping encounter areas. I like the concept of having an "interactive" combat environment, ala terrain and such, most of it seems a bit contrived. We shall see if I can pull it off. Until next time, Game on!

Oct 23, 2008

Picture this...

...The party wends it's way throught the ancient dwarven citadel. Each step taking them deeper into the massive city. Ahead, in the distance, a dome of once white marble glows with an unnatural bluish fire. With each step forward, the air cools a fraction more - the cold of the grave. The weight of the curse hanging upon this once mighty place palpable to all...

...From the shadows, alleyways, and windows all around can be seen red glowing eyes...watching, and waiting. Long past feeling such trifles as the bone chilling cold and stale air... The party ascends a great stone stair at the base of the Thane's seat. The steps, and all the palace are coated in over an inch of blackish rime frost...

...Standing at the entrance to the throne room, a pair of enormous stone dwarves. The party pauses, unsure of what to do, when the statues slowly come to life, moving about, and pushing open the massive bronze doors...

...Within, seated on his once grand throne, sits what was once High Thane Kraelor Blackstone. Once regal and proud, he is now a twisted thing. Ice blue eyes glowing slightly, set within snow white flesh. Beardless, he sits tall in his black plate armor - Blackheart, his ancestral greataxe sits across his armored lap...

...Shadows abound in this unholy place, red eyes and sounds of movement betray the presence of many others in the courtiers boxes. The smell of death is faint, but definite...

...Tightening his gip on Blackheart, The once mighty king rises - the creak of dry old joints merging with the clatter of armor plates shifting about. "I am Lord Kraelor Blackstone...Why do you defile my city with your warmth?"...There is a sussuration of movement from the darkened galleries all around. "I assume you are here to deliver some kind of justice?" At that last word, a clatter erupts from the darkness to his left. A diffuse white glow illuminates what was once a shrine to Moradin, now merely a shattered anvil, whose hammer has apparently fallen to the ground...

..."Long have I been imprisoned here...trapped by my own blood, left to rot with my kin while my brother takes the blackstone name and barters it for trinkets and trollops. He left me here to die, did he tell you that? He fled in the night, and brought the mountain down on the gates. We that were left, were too sickened by the plague to dig our way out..." His eyes dim momentarily, as a single black tear slowly travels down his cheek. "Tell him we lived for a tenday, if you can call it living. WE ATE THE FLESH OF THE DEAD!" He roars. The susurrations pick up in volume...the words "feed" and "life" can now be heard, almost a chant...

..."No matter, now that the seals have been broken, I will tell him myself. Once I have feasted upon his life, I will pass on for Moradin's judgement, aye, to spit in his beard if I must. I only need to pass your foolish band to do so..." With that, he begins to slowly stalk forward, his axe at the ready - from all around there is nothing but hissing and dark promises...

Please allow me to introduce, LORD KRAELOR BLACKSTONE

His toadies will be mostly dwarven ghouls, and wights. The terrain will be slick with ice (1/2 move), and it should be good times for all! What say you?

Oct 22, 2008


Greetings, gosh it's been awhile eh? Been plugging away at Assault on the Lightless Depths for what seems like years now. As of last night, I have just shy of 10,000 words (after some brutal editing) and something useful is beginning to emerge.

I include, for your pleasure, a .JPG image of a map that started out as a hand drawn sketch, was scanned as high res, and then battered by my GIMP. That being the free GNU Image Manipulation Program. It's a bit friendlier than photoshop (IMO) and has the advantage of not costing the same as a down payment on my truck.

As this is a public project, please feel free to use this for anything your little heart desires. I plan on beating it some more, and spraypainting its quivering, bruised body with color at some point. Until then: A nifty little B&W map that could fit into ANY fantasy game out there. Enjoy!

Oh! and a funny or two for those so inclined.

Oct 9, 2008

F*** the edition wars. Sometimes you just need to play, Part II

Faustusnotes from http://faustusnotes.wordpress.com/, better known as Compromise and Conceit, raised a point I have seen several times throughout my travels. His quote, (relating to my last post).

"The two times I have played 4e have been completely the opposite of that - zero description, zero flow, and books books books. Also indestructible characters and no sense of threat. Also the wizards were really really weak.So maybe you just had a really good adventure, and a DM who didn't care about the rules...?"

says a lot. I'd like to offer my thoughts here. Let's take this one part at a time.

1.)"Zero description, zero flow, and books, books, books." - I am not going to go into "yer doin it wrong". That's as non-constructive as hell. Instead, I will try and relate/describe how my experience worked out.

First, while I do lament the loss of the 500 word flavor text, I am sure most of it (at least for the iconics) is practically internalized for most of you. If I pointed to a bare stat block, and said, "It is 3 1/2 feet tall, green, talks in a squeaky high pitched voice, and is wielding a rusty short sword." What would be your guess? Of course, it's a goblin.

According to said stat block, they have a very limited set of abilities, depending on what type they are. The flavor is just that, flavor. Then again, why not make them blue, with rat noses, and lots of purple pustules? Use the same stat block. Now they are "Booglies" They can even be mixed and matched to keep the adventurers on their toes! I improvised that said minions had a belt pouch full of venomous "snacks" that they could throw (+3 vs. Ref.) for ongoing 3 poison damage (save ends). 3.5 had gotten us all used to being spoon fed EVERYTHING about said critter. This is no longer the case. The fluff and flavor is YOURS now.

As to the flow, this is a subjective thing I think. The flow was only a bit off during the first hour or so. Once the players got used to their character's abilities, it began to pick up FAST! We're talking 1 minute rounds here! Some of your problems are undoubtedly unfamiliarity issues, these will pass. Just follow the rules of fun and cool, and you will not fail.

A BIG help was using the Pre-Gen characters. They had all the 1st level selected powers printed right on the sheet. When they make their own characters, they plan on copy/pasting these: http://chadsblog.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/dd-4e-power-cards/ or doing as demonstrated for Magic:TG style flip/tap use. Hence the players only once referenced the PHB.

4E is a much more seat-of-the-pants style of gaming. It REALLY encourages improv within a loose and balanced framework of rules. Making the now brainless Inn patrons rise up during the last part of the fight was completely made up. The zombies as written don't do that. So what? I am the DM and I say they do! The looks on their faces were priceless though, EVERYBODY knows that victims of zombies rise again!

2.)"Indestructible characters and zero threat" - This was most definitely not the case for us. The poor dragonborn Paladin can attest to that! See, the trick is to challenge the party WITHOUT killing them. To do this, I had the main threats (the corruption corpses) and a bunch of piss-ant minions. The CC's are level 4 artillery. They had a nasty ranged attack, and guess what? In melee, they are truly nasty - their aura gives a -5 to attack rolls due to stench! They hid behind the wall of minions and pelted the party with chunks of necrotic flesh! The trick was to keep them shielded by their minions. The monster roles are VERY important if you want to challenge the party. Once you understand how they work, it makes it much easier to design a challenging encounter.

The goblin encounter later had 1 goblin hexer (lvl 5 controller) 4 goblin slyblades?(lvl. 2 lurker) and 12 cutters (minions) in a swamp clearing surrounded by thorny bushes, chanting and dancing around a bonfire. The party snuck up and killed a couple of minions before all hell broke loose. The hexer was actually a wee bit much for them, against a 2nd level party it would have been fine however. I had two party members down before the Cleric (DMNPC) was able to go around and revive them.

My experience is that combat is all or nothing. TPK or victory. Period. Dying in 4E IS hard, but is far from impossible. Remember, without help, you can only use 1 healing surge yourself & a second wind, per encounter. The cleric or Pally can help here, as well as healing checks, but that requires more teamwork - hence incentive based gaming. By using the wave tactics, I was able to work my way through those pesky Dailies and Encounter powers, as well as the healing surges. My new rule of thumb is "if the first encounter was too easy - throw another one at them right at the end." You'll see a little more desperation then.

3.)"The wizards were really, really weak." - Another throwback to the "old" ways of D&D. The wizard is not weak, per se, but re-tasked. See, his job as a CONTROLLER is crowd control. He influences the enemies movement, and causes a lot of AoE damage. Nobody else does that. Make sure that the word choice of "weak" is not just an instinctive reaction to his "colossal cosmic power" being curtailed to a point of balance. This is also a pretty subjective area. Remember that he is currently (IIRC) the only character that gets an extra Daily power, via staff or Orb too.

What it really boils down to is CHANGE. We have been doing it another way for so long, it is REALLY difficult to adjust. Personally, I have been drifting away from D&D for almost a year now. As a 31 year old full-time civil servant with a wife and two kids, a mortgage, and all the associated baggage, I simply didn't have the time to stat up a CR 24 Fiendish Red dragon / Disciple of Ashardalon. Much less it's minions, lair, and horde. 4E has been a god's-send to me. I also hear a lot of folks say that the players love it, but it's no fun to DM.

I hope my rambling helps to spur the creative juices in anyone who is having "issues" with 4E. It may simply not be your cup of tea. That's ok! Anybody else have these issues? Wanna chime in with homebrew solutions? Correct my hideous errors?

F*** the edition wars. Sometimes you just need to play.

I just noticed it has been entirely too long since I last posted. Having been given "someone else's" job at work has had me pretty busy. No excuses! My public demands a post!

This last Sunday, I had the satisfaction of running a one-shot 4E game for a small group of friends. On autopilot, in true seat-of-the-pants mode, it ended up being a total out of my ass game. While sounding rather unhygienic, it was a blast!
I decided that I wanted the whole enconter to take advantage of my Tavern flip-mat from Paizo.com. HIGHLY reccommend the flip mats, they are GOLD! We started with the party as members of a caravan guard squad, dispatched to the far-flung north to guard a midsummer train as it winds it's way through the dales and valletys of the north.
Stopping at the tavern for an eve's rest, the normally baudy festivities are interrupted by an old man crashing through the door. The heroes investigate, and the old man (in tattered purple robes) gasps, "Don't let them get the stone!" before passing out from his numerous wounds. The wounds appear t be deep scratches and...human bite marks!
No sooner do they discover this, when a low, anguished moan sounds outside - near the stables. It is answered by many more from the darkness. Soon the shambling forms of zombies begin to traipse forward. The patrons immediately freak out, and the doors are closed and barred. Soon the thudding of fists on wood punctuates the sounds of crying and praying inside the tavern.
Sitting around in a tavern with a bunch of scaredy cats is NO FUN! So I smashed down the back door, and allowed the horde to enter. The encounter consisted of 3 consecutive waves of:
1 Corruption corpse
6 zombie rotter minions
Due to bad luck and planning, they soon had all three corruption corpses atacking simultaneously. After a very touch and go fight, the heroes triumphed. MY favorite part? When the bar patrons who had been lunched by the zombies started to twitch before rising as new minions! The party didn't see THAT coming!
The result? MORE STABBY! We went on to do a plain old trash fight with some goblins, so the players could take their training wheels off.
Ironically, this game was this groups first exposure to 4th edition. They LOVED it. Books were only broken out once, to clarify the grappling rules. Everyone had several options to use every round. The power flavors were spot on. These folks used the quick start characters from KotS to circumvent the 1st time character creation blues, and now all are wanting to make their own.
Despite the still lingering criticisms from many 4E opponents, these long time gamers loved it. Squares instead of feet as movement? No problem! Laser cleric? No problem! It was fast paced, and most of all FUN! In fact, it served to remind me of how long it has been since I actually enjoyed DMing. 3rd edition, and to a lesser extent Pathfinder have been slowly driving me away from gaming for a couple of years now. 4E has been a breath of fresh air!
For those of you who are new here, I used to be a card carrying 4E hater. I trolled several messageboards. Spammed a few great blogs, and was finally shown the error of my ways. I can't tell you all how good it was to forget all the stupid edition war crap. Wait a sec, I can, It's GREAT!
So let this little tale be an example/lesson/whatever. The edition wars are bunk. They exist due to a small minority of gamers being angry and wanting the rest of the hobby to agree with them. A surefire cure for it? Sit down. Shut up. And just roll the dice!
Next up: We'll have to find out more about the old man and his mysterious stone.
PS: LOLCats (and hamsters) rule!

Oct 3, 2008

Giggles! Giggles for all!

If your week has been anything like mine, you probably need a little giggle. Try these on for size.

Oct 2, 2008

When a campaign goes right.

I want to share two campaign journals I have been following for some time now. These are both shinig examples of what a game "feels" like when everything is being done "right".

There are MANY others, but my limited free time has made these two in particular, the journals I follow.

http://paizo.com/paizo/messageboards/community/gaming/campaignJournals/blackDaysOfKorKammorGameOne&page=1 Excellent game run by the mysterious DungeonGrrrl over at http://dungeon-grrrl.livejournal.com/ It is a wee bit high in actual sexual content, but not in an over the top fashion.

http://paizo.com/paizo/messageboards/community/gaming/campaignJournals/theLiduDiariesAPlayersProspectiveOfTheSTAP&page=1 This one is run by a Paizo community member, detailing a campaign through the savage tide AP from Dungeon magazine. It centers around the exploits of a burgeoning Alienist, and her talking severed BarIgura head.

That's all for today, may your dice roll well!

Oct 1, 2008

Superpowers? Who needs superpowers!?

So yesterday I took my own advice, and bought the Houses of the Blooded PDF. While an enjoyable read, I found it to be a LARP game hiding behind the veneer of tabletop RPG.

Let me be clear that this is NOT a bad thing per se. It simply isn't my bag. That said, I saw a mechanic or two that I cannot believe are not used in more games. The best of these, is their action resolution. See when you are "doing your thang" during a combat or somesuch, the game has two beautifully intermeshed "modes".

During normal event resolution, the DM adjucates and describes a success or failure. When you either spend style points (from a daily pool), or wager from your dice pool, the PLAYER describes the success, and may insert "facts" into the game.
Here, I have to generalize a bit, because it started getting awful complicated to this old fool. See, my understanding is that when you take a risk or engage in combat you generate your dice pool using virtues, aspects, and wagers, and such. Then you bust out with a seriously superhuman feat of brilliance (usually).

Now, what does this have to do with superpowers!!!? Let's do a quick and ugly graft onto how this would apply in D&D, either 3.5 or 4E. When you roll an attack or skill check, for every 5 points you exceed the target DC, the player may add a minor story element. These elements follow a small set of very basic rules:
  1. They cannot effect past events, but can affect future outcomes.
  2. At player's option, one condition may be bestowed upon an opponent involved with roll.
  3. DM's story, DM's final approval.

I am going to gut and scab an example together.

To quote from the book:
"One free Effect for beating the risk, plus one bonus effect for each 5 the roll exceeded the DC. He can now use his additional effect for… well, additional effects. Here’s how he uses them.

1 Effect (free for rolling target DC or higher):"I fall short of reaching the other side."
2 Effect: "I land on a balcony." bonus effect for first 5 over DC.
3 Effect: "The balcony opens to a ladies room." 2nd bonus effect for 10 over DC.
4 Effect: "And, she offers me ‘safe passage." 3rd bonus effect for 15 over DC.

Remember, success gives you 1 Effect. That’s free...You get that for free because you beat the target DC. With that one effect, Sam lands successfully on the other rooftop."

NOTE: bold added by me

A lot cooler than simply beating an easy jump DC eh?

What would this mean? Hmmmmm......I've thought about a few different scenarios, all of them involve some pretty cool stuff. How's about this, Fighter is toe-to-toe with a mercenary trying to kill him...He swings - 19! His total attack roll exceeds the target AC by 13. A mighty blow that should be dramatic - don't you think?

  1. 1 effect - hit target, roll damage.
  2. 2 effect - "I smash him through the wall" bonus effect for 5 over target AC.
  3. 3 effect - "He lands, winded, on his back."

he chooses to use the force of his blow to smash the idiot through the thin wall of the tavern. The mercenary starts his turn slid three squares back - through the wall - and is now prone in the street - in a pile of horse manure (I'd give that last bit for free).

What's cool here, is that it makes the DM's job easier (just say yes!), the players are more interactive and paying closer attention to the scenery, and most importantly - the players get to do AWESOME SUPER-POWERED stuff! Add to that, it's edition free!

  1. Let's see, throwing bad guys through the air like toys....check.
  2. An uppercut sending a guardsman through a plate glass window...check.
  3. Picking a lock by tapping it twice and belching at it.......check.
  4. Jumping 60' due to a tailwind.....check.
  5. Stunning a dragon by kicking it in the...lizard? ....check!

While admittedly rough, it seems pretty nifty. Apply it (or a variant thereof) to skill challenges, and you'll never be able to wash all the role-playing off.

I opine that this would make already exceptional characters occasionally superheroic. Game balance? Meh, you've already succeeded by at least 5 on whatever the roll is - you deserve to be great! Now to find some guinea pigs...

Whatcha think guys? Does this have potential in a space opera?