Monday, January 31, 2011

Islands in the Sky

Since I'm starting up a new campaign pretty soon, so here's an overview of the new campaign setting.

Millenia ago, there was a great and terrible war of aggression across the land, as two mighty human kingdoms sought to reign supreme over all the land. The war ravaged the lands, drawing in all other countries and peoples, until the whole world was embroiled in combat.

War destroyed much of the land and millions of people. In an effort to bring the terrible war to an end, elven magi, in conunction with wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks from every affected nation, devised a final solution, and carried it out. The land was all ripped asunder and hurled into the sky, and in the sky, it all remains. Most of humanity was washed away in the aftermath of the rending of the earth. To this day, humans are considered evil and dangerous, and are generally killed on sight, although none have been seen in ages.

The islands in the sky are always in motion, although their movements do not seem to be orbital or anything else that can be mathematically deduced.

There are several large motes that are several miles across, and hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller islands, most no larger than a thousand feet across.

There are airships that travel from mote to mote, facilitating trade between islands. Each major island has a magical beacon that allows specially equipped airships to locate them as they move through the skies.

Next up, our PC's starting island, and an overview of some of the major islands in the sky.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kill All Humans!

Well, not really. But I think a human-less campaign would make for an interesting game! The general assumption in the standard Points of Light setting for 4E is that humans are pretty much everywhere, and vastly outnumber all the other races, who, while not uncommon, aren't all over the place either. 

But just what would a fantasy world look like if you took humanity out of the picture? Well, for starters, you have to get rid of half-elves, half-orcs, and tieflings as well. But that much should be obvious. How would the lack of humans change the way the rest of the races get along? Would they become xenophobic, isolated and untrusting of each other in their own secluded communities and kingdoms? This view assumes that humans act as a kind of social glue that can bring members of different races together into a community, without wanting to kill each other. Without humans all over the place, the races won't mix at all. 

However, we do see some of that activity in standard D&D settings. The dwarves in their mountains, the elves in their forests, etc etc. Perhaps humanity's constant warring amongst themselves is what causes the other races to sequester themselves, and without humans they would all get along; or at least, all of them band together against monstrous threats. 

Or perhaps they banded together against the human threat, and thousands of years ago, eliminated them in a terrible act of complete genocide.  I think this may be the premise for my next campaign! 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sports in D&D

D&D Sports! 

I love sports. I played a lot of them as a kid and during my (short) time in college. One thing that has always been generally missing from D&D cultures is sports. Sure, there's the odd Quidditch match or old-school Gladiatorial Combat Episode, but generally, that level of cultural detail is left in the hands of DMs. 

We can easily find inspiration for fantasy sports in the games we play in the real world. Here are a few examples. 

Ice Hockey is my favorite sport, and one I played for as long as I can remember. It would be unlikely to find this sport in temperate climates, but in places that have snow for a large part of the year, and lakes that freeze, it would be possible. I can envision a large gathering of frost giants that gather annually on a big frozen lake for a hockey game. It would be a rather frightening event for the local villages around the lake, especially if there was regular collateral damage from errant pucks or body-checks! 

Soccer is a simple enough game to learn and play; there's a reason it is the most popular sport in our world, largely because all you need is a goal and a ball. Balls could be made from monstrous hides, which could impart some interesting side effects. A World Cup-like event would draw thousands of people from across the continent, depending on the ease of transportation in your fantasy world, including heads of state and other powerful and wealthy individuals. 

Lacrosse is a sport I was never overly fond of, so I envision it as something goblins would play, possibly with spikes adorning their nets. The PCs could get captured and forced to play a possibly deadly game against the goblins. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Starting a New Game!

It's been a while since we've actually gotten to play some D&D.  Having 5 children in the house can make a guy's life pretty chaotic.  Our "regular" group never got regular, due to everyone's crazy schedules and the arrival of the baby in my household.  So it's been months since we've been able to actually play some proper D&D (I don't count the Castle Ravenloft board game... that served only to whet my appetite but wasn't exactly filling).

Fortunately, an old friend has moved into the neighborhood, and when I asked him the other night if he ever played D&D, he got pretty excited.  He's new to 4E, but was quick to pick a feylock after perusing my Player's Handbook.  My wife will be playing her eladrin druid, Celindra.  There's only one guy from the old group who was pretty reliable, and we'll probably be bringing him back if he's generally available on Sunday afternoon/evenings. That makes 3 PCs, which is not quite a balanced group for 4E, but its workable.  I will resist the urge to run a DMPC, because it's an awful idea if I've ever heard one.  However, that means I have to tone down the encounters from the guidelines in the DMG, or I have to bolster their ranks with NPCs or henchmen.

By the way, if you live in the St. Louis, MO, area, and are interested in joining a 4E game on (every other) Sunday afternoon/evenings, drop me a line!

My preferred method is to have different NPCs come and go from the group as the story moves along, depending on the challenges I have in store for the party.  Along the way, old friends can become villains, and old villains can become allies.  You never know how it will work out.  Mostly it'll depend on what the players do, I suppose.  I like to think I'm fairly good at improvising.  The encounters I write myself are way more enjoyable than the ones I've purchased.

Although, to be fair, I am hoping to find a way to work in the 4E Tomb of Horrors.  I bought the damn thing, and I want to put it to use!  I'm definitely looking forward to breaking out the dice and the DM screen again, though.  This whole process of starting up a new game is fraught with peril, of course.  I can't wait to get into world creation mode again!  Last time, we went with the whole Nentir Vale, as outlined in the DMG.  It was functional, but I'm itching to run something a little more fantastic.  But that's a whole different post, friends.  Til next time!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Monster Vault: Fluff Galore!

One thing I really, really liked about the Monster Vault was that, in addition to the stat blocks and tactical descriptions, it came chock full of a whole lot of fluffy story-telling nuggets to help DMs craft something more interesting than the old "attacked by bandits on the road" bit.  

It also came chock full of names for NPCs.  I recognized a couple from The Keep on the Shadowfell, notably Kalarel, the main villain, and Salvana Wrafton, the innkeeper in Winterhaven.  But there were a whole lot more, too.  What's more is that they are generally "quoted" talking about this or that monster, which definitely helps bring the creatures to life.  

So without further ado, and to help everyone out with their game, here's a list of all the NPCs "quoted" in the Essentials Monster Vault.  

Andravar, angel of Vecna
Baredd, Champion of Argent
Lathras, Mage of Saruun
Kathra, wizard of Haven
Adrin of Tiri Kitor
Lord Soth
Kalaban, death knight of Nerath
Nimozaran, Septarch of Fallcrest
Rhogar, paladin of Bahamut
Valthrun the Prescient
Douven Staul
Aunn, doppleganger spy
Jothan Ironspell
Vadania, druid of the Harkenwood
Azarax, drider of Erelhei-Cinlu
Galados of Celduilon
Boldrik of Hammerfast
Obanar, guardian of Argent
Shemeshka the Marauder
Janic of the Harkenwood
Matron Urlvrain of Phaervorul
Gurgnash, ettin
Verinn, paladin of the Raven Queen
Noldir of Hammerfast
Moorin of Fallcrest
Kristryd, paladin of Moradin
Philaster of Hestavar
Egeira of Moonstair
Anastrianna of Mithrendain
Grukik, goblin cutthroat
Drellin the Mad
Archimandrius of Vor Rukoth
Korrigan, green hag of the Mistmarsh
Jarett Farwhere
Vyndra Sysvani of Mithrendain
Mari Valmidren, cleric of Ioun
Anders Partieren of Fallcrest
Salvana Wrafton of Winterhaven
Kelana Dhoram, mayor of Moonstair
Vadriar the Sage
Malaphar of the Golden Wyvern
Deric Widewanderer
Uldane of Winterhaven
Rothar of the Seven-Pillared Hall
Caiphas, paladin of Pelor
Oak Warden Sharasta
Zardkeran of Forgehome
Ashatra, rakshasa mage
Agroth of the Winterbole
Tennaris of Silver Spire
Kalarel, Scion of Orcus
Shara of Winterhaven
Rallaferanishad, treant of the Wild Grove
Kalistros of Maelbrathyr
Harbek of Hammerfast
Elior of Harkenwold
Terevan of Celduilon
Vastrana, yuan-ti malison
Farren Windhowler, ranger of the Harken Forest
Oakley, knight of Therund
Mardred of Hammerfast
Corrin Riverwander

Saturday, January 22, 2011

D&D the CCG: Progress!

I have decided to fully embrace the potential for making D&D a fully card-based game. So this morning I fired up my Magic Set Editor and began to make Essentials feat cards.  

Since I'm throwing in a healthy serving of Dragonquest into the mix, with static hit points and trading experience points for ranks in skills, it's going to be an interesting process.  The math is certainly something I'm going to have a hell of a time wrapping my brain around, but I'm pretty sure I can do it.  

First off, Weapons.  Weapon Proficiencies, Expertise, and Focus will be by weapon group, ie light blades, heavy blades, axes, bows, etc. Proficiency grants your character the proficiency bonus listed on the weapons chart.  Weapon Focus gives you a +1 to hit and to damage for that weapon group, which you must be proficient in.  Weapon Focus can be purchased repeatedly for the same weapon group. Weapon Expertise gives you a +1 to hit and another bonus, and requires Proficiency and Focus in the weapon group. 

Next, Armor.  Armor proficiencies graduate from one another, so you must first get leather, then hide, then chain, then scale, and finally plate.  There are also shield proficiencies. There are also feats that can be purchased  that allow you to ignore the armor penalties to skills and movements. 

I left Toughness in.  It gives you 5 extra hit points. You can buy it multiple times.  It's going to be expensive. 

There are feats that can be bought to upgrade your Fortitude, Reflex and Will defenses.  

There are currently 5 different feats that give you Combat Advantage in certain situations. 

Similar to Weapon Proficiencies are Implement Proficiencies, with corresponding Expertise and Focus feats, although I still need Expertise in Orbs, Totems, and Rods. 

Languages. First you must learn to speak a language, then you can learn to read and write.  That's a lot more basic than it could be (Dragonquest has 10 ranks each in Read/Write and Speak, with corresponding levels of literacy/understanding and vocabulary), but I think it will function. 

Skills.  There's a Skill Training card for each skill, and a generic Skill Focus card. Skill Training grants +5 to a roll on a skill. Skill Focus can only be added on a skill once you have training, and adds +3.  You can buy it multiple times. 

In Essentials there are a number of "Disciple of..." Feats, which typically have a minimum ability score you must meet, and have wildly different bonuses associated with them.  

There are also some random ones thrown in, such as two-weapon fighting, blindfighting, fire and cold resistance.  Whenever a feat has a bonus that increases at paragon and epic tier, I made a 2nd and 3rd rank for it that can be purchased.  

I did assign Experience Point costs, but did so in a rather arbitrary way as I put things in. Those costs are all up for revision and most likely everything will change between now and the finished project.  But for the sake of reference, to start with I'm thinking that killing a monster will generally be worth 15-30 experience points, defeating a boss monster would be from 100-250, accomplishing a side quest 300-500, and completing an adventure nets you 1200.  Dragonquest had a system whereby once you had gained X ranks in Y skills and abilities, you started earning more for completed adventures. I'm not sure if that would work for this system.  It worked well for Dragonquest because every skill, ability, class, what-have-you had its own chart for experience costs per rank, and the costs grew quite a bit as you ranked up.  This system, as yet, being entirely card-based, does not.  I want the rules to be concise (about the size of a Magic-the Gathering rulebook, that slips inside a deck), and avoid any charts at all.  Everything about your character should be right in front of you on the cards you have earned.  

If anyone wants to take a look, I can put the cards up as a PDF file for download.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Inspiration comes in many forms.  Today, it came in the form of a typo.  Ameron over at Dungeon's Master had this excellent article today about henchmen in 4e, and this was the original opening sentence: 

"As your character earns enough XP and gains sufficient level doesn't it make sense that he'd start to attack some of his followers?" 

Now, I'm quite certain that Ameron meant "attract" and not "attack" but it definitely gave me a good laugh and got my creative juices flowing.  I mean, really, if your followers were completely obnoxious, why not attack them? This idea could make for a really good circumstantial villain.  I'm thinking a paladin who gets fed up with whiny, weak parishioners who keep needing things from him.  One day he just can't handle it any more, and snaps.  Starts cutting people down in the temple.  Completely loses it and goes berserk.  He must be stopped!  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

D&D the CCG: Static Hit Points

In every edition of D&D since the original red box, characters gain hit points as they level up.  This is generally an abstraction of how much tougher it is to kill a veteran warrior than a rookie.  But is it really necessary?  Does it even make sense?  It shouldn't matter if you're fighting your first battle or tenth war, an arrow through the heart should be deadly.  A critical hit in D&D 4E is critically weak.  Making the damage the same as maxing out your die roll (and only getting extra dice with special magical weapons) takes away the magic of critical hits.  I remember in AD&D 2e, I had a whole DM screen that was devoted purely to critical hit effects.  Piercing vs Humanoid, Slashing vs Monstrous, etc etc.  

In 4e, most of the time a critical hit has no chance of killing a monster unless it's already well past bloodied.  Same goes for monsters attacking the PCs.  There is no sense of lethality to combat unless your group is severely overwhelmed (which the DM Guides strongly recommend against) or makes a series of bad decisions/rolls. 

One thing I really liked about the old Dragonquest game was the sense that combat truly was a deadly game.  Nasty shit could happen, and often did.  Critical hits could be devastating.  We got to be pretty good players and went a while without losing anybody (except one guy, who was basically always our red-shirt, poor guy), and eventually got TPK'd when we got greedy and fought a lich when we definitely should have run like hell out of there.  But it was great fun.  And part of that was because any combat situation could kill you.  The stakes were always high.  Critical hits, while rare, were usually game-changers and often happened at dramatic moments to turn the tide of combat.  That's the way combat should be.  Combat in D&D 4E feels more like a drawn-out chess game instead of a brawl.  

Too many hit points are definitely part of the problem.  By keeping hit points static (or perhaps allowing a little growth through rare magic items, spells, training), combat remains potentially lethal.  This puts healing at a premium, as well as good armor and defensive magic items.  Maybe starting hit points should be a character's Constitution score, plus their Strength score, plus a roll of 3d6 and drop the lowest roll.  This gives us a HP range of 24 (10 STR, 12 CON, and rolling three 1's) to 46 (18 STR, 16 CON, and rolling two 6's).  This obviously skews hit points towards melee warriors like fighters and paladins, while leaving other builds kind of screwed.  

Does this work?  Any other ideas out there on a mechanic for coming up with Hit Points?  The only skills that jump out at me to use in some way would be Athletics and Endurance, which still leaves us in the STR and CON hole.  Maybe that's okay.  I do like that mechanic of rolling for part of your hit points, at least.  Brings back some of that old-school feel.  

D&D the CCG: 5th Edition?

Let's face it, Dungeons and Dragons is becoming Magicized.  It was inevitable, considering they are owned by Wizards of the Coast, a company that made its money selling a Card Game.  I would like to see a fully card-based system for the next D&D.  4th Edition is halfway there, really.  Powers, items, feats, everything comes in bite-sized chunks that fit easily on cards.  As I made clear in the previous D&D the CCG post, I've been using custom-made cards for a year now, and they work great.  I don't think the R&D guys were really ready to fully pull the plug on the character sheet, though, to make something truly revolutionary.  Instead we have a bloated mess when it could be streamlined and elegant.

Ninety percent of the rules of Dungeons and Dragons are focused on combat.  The other ten percent is about skills used outside of combat.  (At-Will has a great series on this called Serious Skills, by the way).  This has been the case with every edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  There have never really been rules to govern role-playing at the table; it's always been an ad-hoc, back and forth kind of affair that will never be quantified well by dice rolls.  4E Skill Challenges, when done well, are actually a pretty decent way of stream-lining role-playing for groups of power-gamers.  So really, most of the rules that we need concern combat. There is the Core Mechanic: roll a d20, add the requisite modifier, and try to beat a target score.  That's the basic rule of the game.  That rule is trumped by a number of specific rules for specific situations.

All of those are things that can be represented very easily on cards.  If you as a player don't have the card, you don't need to worry about the rule.  If you're the DM, the rule is right there on the card the player is using.

Eliminate Levels.  Yeah, that's right, I said it.  Screw levels.  Change it to an "earn and spend to train" experience point system to gain ranks in certain aspects of your character, a la "Dragonquest".  Simple and easy to quantify for any given power or skill on a card.

Eliminate Classes.  Yeah, that's right, I said it.  Screw classes too.  Pick one of the power sources: Martial, Arcane, Divine, Primal, Shadow.  You select your features and powers from any that are available inside any one given power source.  A certain amount of overlap is okay.

Hit Points become basically static.  This will increase the possibility for character death, and in another post I'll talk about why I think this is a good idea.

Keep, but simplify, Races.  Boil them down to basic physical information (speed, vision, size) and whatever their cool power is.  Drop attribute bonuses.

Keep the attributes.  Strength, Dexterity, Consititution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, all these are core to the game.  Everyone gets a standard array of 18, 16, 14, 14, 12, 10.  This incorporates the two +2s the races typically get to their scores and gives the player the ability to put it in any stat, so its easier to make a decent halfling barbarian.

Keep the 4E skill set.  Everyone starts with training in 5 skills, with ranks to be bought and trained with experience points.

Keep and expand upon the 4E combat powers.  Start with 3 at-will powers, 2 encounter powers, and 2 daily powers (or some other combination... probably make it part of the initial point expenditure, along with skills).  These powers can increase in strength with training (by spending experience points on them) or more can be trained (by spending experience).

So your "character sheet" would be a two sided card with your attributes, defenses, and hit points on one side and skills on the other.  You have a race card.  You have 8-12 cards for combat powers.  You put a sleeve on the power cards so you can write your rank on them.

I think this system will allow players to create a truly unique character, while at the same time allowing for the more traditional Fighter, Cleric, Wizard and Thief to prosper.

WotC could sell the core decks all for about $100.  Say each power source comes in its own sealed deck (like a starter deck of magic cards), 60 cards for $15, and include a good chunk of powers from that source, half a dozen races, and a few "character sheet cards".  So that would be 5 different decks at $15 bucks a pop for the core character creation cards, which comes to $105, about the same price as the three current Player's Handbooks.

Do the same for the DM.  At this point all he needs are Monster and NPC cards, and magic items and treasure to give out.  Sell core decks of those.  Sell booster packs of everything.

Next post in this series, we'll start taking a closer look at some actual mechanics.

Any thoughts, questions, suggestions or remarks?  Comments are most welcome!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Pack of Gnoll Slavers

Well, the blog is called "A Pack of Gnolls", right?  Gnolls are some of my favorite monsters.  Just plain nasty buggers: demon-worshipping, humanoid-sacrificing, hyena-men.  Their god wasn't tough enough to handle Yeenoghu, so now they worship that evil bastard. So I'm gonna start coming up with some unique gnoll packs for use in adventures.  Because, really, using gnolls just as random bandits along a road or in another bland dungeon room is just boring and doesn't really explore the full potential of their cruel, malevolent, sadistic nature.  

Azrebe's Fangs

This band of a dozen gnolls is led by Azrebe, a cunning and power-hungry gnoll who is currently in Yeenoghu's favor, thanks to the hundreds of slaves and sacrifices he has brought to the Abyss.  Entire villages worth of people have disappeared, leaving ghost-towns behind.  The few who escaped the mass slaughter and kidnappings are driven mad by the atrocities they witnessed.  

Azrebe has a magical knife that has Yeenoghu's blessing upon it.  Once per day, as a standard action, Azrebe can use the knife to sacrifice an innocent (typically a child) upon an altar built to Yennoghu; this action causes a portal to Yeenoghu's Realm in the Abyss to open, at the Gathering Gate. This portal can remain open for up to two hours, as long as Azrebe maintains it.  

Azrebe's primary lieutenant is a twisted, mad gnoll called Skar.  

The Fangs have been roving across the land now for months, never staying in one place for very long, unless they find a place that is soft and ripe for the taking.  Azrebe's primary concern is presenting as many slaves as possible to Yeenoghu, in hopes of receiving some kind of twisted, abyssal boon.  The Fangs will typically attack a secluded farm or homestead late at night, make a sacrifice to open the portal to the abyss, and then fan out in groups of two or three to find more victims to herd to the portal.  Once the portal is open, Azrebe must maintain it, so Skar takes the lead on finding more victims.  On the other side of the portal are gnolls ready to take the victims and torture them into submission.  Or sacrifice them.  Or eat them.  Or all of the above.  

From the Monster Vault: 
Azrebe is a Fang of Yeenoghu (p 145)
Skar is a Gnoll Blood Caller (p 144)
The other ten are Deathpledged Gnolls (p 144)

That's a Skirmisher, a Soldier, and 8 Brutes, so make sure to introduce some good terrain elements or something to keep combat interesting.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Legend of Zelda 4E Great Deku Tree Monsters

Let us say that, when fighting monsters, Link and Zelda must do ten points of damage in a single hit to deplete a monster's heart point. To start, that is their average damage.  Less than ten points results in a stun but no loss of a heart. 

Which means that easy monsters should have 1 heart, tougher monsters should have 2 or 3, and the mini-boss should have 5 or 6.  (We’ll talk about dungeon bosses later)

Let’s take a look at the Great Deku Tree from Ocarina of Time as inspiration for our first dungeon adventure.  I picked four different monsters to populate this (very basic and beginner) dungeon: Keese, Skulltulla, Deku Baba, and Baby Gohma. 

The monster’s name is across the top.  Their number of hearts is at the top right.  Just beneath the picture is a list of defenses.  In the text box is movement, their attack, and any special notes.  Please note that these cards are for the DM side of the screen only. 

The mini-boss for the first dungeon’s item room will probably be a couple Skulltullas and a whole mess of Baby Gohmas and Keese.  Up next will be a dungeon map and write up for the Boss!  And maybe a little discussion on the potential plotline.  

Any thoughts, critiques, suggestions out there?  All comments are most welcome! 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Legend of Zelda 4E Starting Powers

Here's my starting powers for Link and Zelda in my stripped-down D&D4E system for my kids.

Link and Zelda starting powers

Now, you may ask, what is a Courage Power Attack and a Wisdom Power Spell, you may ask?  And why do they have numbers in the upper right corners of the cards (where the Magic: the Gathering casting cost would be?) They're not Legend of Zelda-specific Action Points.  During the course of play, Link can accrue Courage points, and Zelda gathers Wisdom points.  They can spend those points to use their "Power" attacks and spells.  While they each only have one "Power" ability, they will learn more throughout the campaign.

So, with the "Number of Hearts" mechanic replacing "1/2 Level", and the unlocking of new powers by learning them in-game, we've pretty much done away with "levels" as we knew them in D&D, but still have a way for Link and Zelda to grow more powerful.  

We also no longer have to worry about experience points.  Now, how do Link and Zelda gain Courage and Wisdom points?  I'm thinking that an at-will attack that hits and does damage is worth 1 point.  Slaying different creatures will be worth between 1 and 5 points.  I think they will also be found in breakable jars and crates and skulls throughout dungeons (though they will probably be pretty rare).  

Next up in this series: some monsters for the first area and the first dungeon, and probably some discussion on what the plot should be.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

4e Movement Issues

In D&D 4E, characters and monsters can move up to their speed in any direction, regardless of whether that direction is a rank, file, or diagonal.  This makes no sense whatsoever. 

A square on a combat grid in D&D 4E is considered to be a five foot by five foot square.  So a character with a movement of six can move up to thirty feet along a rank or file.  However, corner to corner length of a five foot square is just over seven feet.  This means that a character with a movement of six moving completely along a diagonal line on the grid can move a distance of forty-two feet. 

That’s twelve extra feet of movement.  Or, two and a half squares, along a rank or file. 

This bugs me considerably.  This is probably the only area in the game that bugs me for its lack of verisimilitude.  I could care less about realism in combat, except this thing just rubs me the wrong way.  Considering how much they dropped and changed from previous editions of the game, I just don’t understand why D&D designers decided to stay with the square grid for combat, when there are better, more realistic options available.

The first option is a hex map.  The drawback to hexmaps is that you often end up with half-hexes if you draw straight lines, because most rooms and corridors are built along ninety degree angles.  This causes problems when drawing out combat on your chessex map.  Can a character move into a half-hex?  Why or why not?  It’s really more difficult than its worth. 

The second option, that I like a lot more, is simply using a ruler, and good old-fashioned inches.  If a character is within a half-inch they’re considered adjacent.  This is assuming you’re using circular monster tokens (squares can make things a little more confusing on that front, though not impossible).  If this idea gets some traction or requests, I’ll happily come up with some printable templates for powers that use blasts, cones, circles, etc.  The only problem with this approach, really, is if you have a rowdy group that tends to knock the combat board around a lot, it’ll be easier for them to cheat when they put the pieces back where they “belong”.  

Legend of Zelda, 4E Style

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, Sullivan Houserules


I am developing these 4E Houserules as a way to teach my oldest two children, K and A, the game of Dungeons and Dragons without totally overwhelming them with options and rules.  The basics of the game are still here: Ability Scores, Skills, Initiative, Powers for combat, and the Core Mechanic of rolling a D20, adding a modifier and trying to get a certain number. 

Since K and A are a boy and a girl, the two characters in the game are Link and Zelda, Link being a martial hero and Zelda being a magic-user.  Puzzles and combat will go easier if the two of them work together and cooperate, rather than try to do their own thing (which, knowing these two, will probably be a challenge in and of itself!). 

At the bottom of this post is download links for the Link and Zelda basic character sheets.  What follows is a basic explanation of everything on the sheets. 

Hit Points are replaced with Hearts.  Link and Zelda each start with 3 Hearts.  Pieces of Heart can be found by completing small sidequests throughout the game, and also in certain treasure chests in Dungeons.  Full Hearts are dropped by boss monsters at the end of each dungeon. Four Pieces of Heart must be collected to form a full Heart.  Link and Zelda gain Hearts together

Ability Scores
Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.  Use the following ability scores 18, 16, 16, 14, 12, 12.  The modifiers are the same as in the Rules Compendium page 63.

½ Level Rule
The ½ Level modifier is replaced by the Number of Hearts the PC has accumulated.

Link and Zelda each have a Speed of 6

Initiative=D20+Dex total

Armor Class: 10+Dex total
Fortitude: 10+Str or Con total
Reflex: 10+Dex or Int total
Willpower: 10+Wis or Cha total

Skills: Link and Zelda are trained in 5 skills. Skills are modified by the Total Bonus from the skill’s Associated Ability and Training.

Magic Items
Each PC has the following magic item slots: Head, Neck, Arms, Hands, 2 Rings, Waist, and Feet. 

Link and Zelda each get three at-will combat powers and one recharge power to start.  Further powers must be learned in the course of the play.  There are no “daily” powers. “Recharge” powers require a certain number of successful hits with at-will powers to “charge”. 

Up Next: Link and Zelda’s starting power cards!  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

First Impressions: Castle Ravenloft Board Game

All the pieces on the board...

Since I mentioned it in my last post, I thought this would probably be the best thing to review next. 

Just like the Monster Vault, this box comes with a whole lot of stuff, and requires a certain amount of organizational capability to get the most out of it.  There are so many different pieces of heavy cardstock that get used in the game, from Hit Point counters to Dungeon Tiles, item markers and Player Character cards, if you can’t keep them organized you’ll have a hell of a time getting the game to run smoothly. Plastic baggies worked pretty well for me. 

There are forty plastic minis, 35 monster and 5 heroes, including a big nasty Dracolich.  I’m probably more looking forward to using these minis in my actual D&D 4E game than with Castle Ravenloft..

Same goes with the tiles that make up the dungeon as well.  They could very easily be used for a proper D&D game. 

You also get a d20 with the game.  Woohoo!

It is very much a simplified D&D 4E.  So simplified, that it’s kind of confusing.  There is no Dungeon Master, for starters!  The monsters are controlled by the individual player that encounters each monster, and the monster’s actions are dictated by what their little playing card says they’ll do.  Oh, and did I mention that the monster always wins initiative?  Pretty much every time a monster is discovered, it gets to make the first attack, usually against the hero that finds it.  It was definitely an exercise in frustration to roll for the hero to attack and miss, and then roll for the monster to attack and have it hit, almost every time, which was what happened to my eight-year-old son.  His wizard was the first to run out of hit points are require a healing surge (of which there are 2, to be shared by the whole team).  I’m surprised he still wants to play again. 

For its faults, the system still seems to work pretty well.  It is not an easy game to win, certainly, but it’s not too terribly difficult either.  Like any D&D game, a string of bad rolls can really cause some damage. 

I would have preferred to have some kind of Dungeon Master running the monsters, with a little more freedom to choose what they do.  Maybe that would make this game a little too much like “HeroQuest” but I think it would give it more of a D&D feel.  My plan is to work up some houserules to incorporate a DM into the game, and find a happier medium between this system and the 4E rules as written. 

Hell, I may just teach the kids 4E and be done with it, and use the pieces and adventures of Castle Ravenloft for our D&D game instead!

D&D the CCG

For the past week or so, there has been all manner of discussion, consternation, speculation and downright adject horror over some announcements that Wizards of the Coast has made regarding the future of their numerous product lines.  The timing of these announcements makes me wonder if WotC has any kind of Public Relations person in their office, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. 

First, there’s Fortune Cards, which will be a mandatory part of certain RPGA events and optional for others. 

Second, they dropped a few books out of their upcoming product releases, and pushed back another that I had been very much looking forward to. 

Third, they will stop compiling Dungeon and Dragon articles into monthly releases and will change how they release articles in both sections of the website. 

Fourth, they are discontinuing D&D Minis. 

Damn.  Did I miss anything? 

Oh yeah, our horoscope signs are now all different.  I’m a Leo instead of a Virgo and I have found this changes my entire outlook on life. 

There hasn’t been this much flaming and NerdRage around the ‘nets since 4E was released.  I know I’m opening a can of worms here by even broaching this topic, but I’m going to take a different tack with it. 

I’ve been using custom-printed cards for my D&D game for almost a year now, and I love them.  I have cards for action points, feats, powers, items, gems, quests, handouts, NPCs, initiative, and PC portraits and character quick-sheets, all made using a program called Magic Set Editor.  I also got Weem's condition cards, which have been very helpful in combat.

I can’t put up all of the cards I’ve made, because I’ve brazenly stolen all the artwork, but here are some examples of what I’m talking about. 

Action Points and Monster Initiative Cards

Feats, Abilities, Items

PC Cards

This works very well for our group.  D&D 4E is such a complex game for PCs, with so many feats and powers and abilities interacting, that it is often difficult to keep everything straight.  And we kept finding bugs in the character builder that kept things from adding up correctly, so we’ve taken to doing it all ourselves.  Having the cards to put down to actually “stack” your effects is great.  So, yeah, I can see D&D 4E going the way of the Collectible Card Game, and I can see it working pretty well. 

Just look at the Castle Ravenloft Board Game for more examples.  That game comes with some 200 cards for powers, items, and monsters.  There is another game, “Wrath of Ashardalon” being released in about a month that will have more of the same.  In fact, there will apparently be some overlap between the two. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see booster packs, new PC classes, new quests, etc. for the D&D Board Game System being released sometime during the summer or fall.  In fact, I would welcome it.

Dungeons and Dragons will continue to lead the way in the RPG industry, as it has for years.  Hell, people are still copying the things they published in the Seventies!  There will always be people that like things the old-fashioned, original way, and there will always be people who enjoy the next big thing.  I'll take the best of both worlds, thank you.  

Review: Essentials Monster Vault

Holy cow there’s a lot here!  For $29.95 plus tax, you get all these tokens:

You also get the Monster Vault book, which clocks in at 318 pages and has an excellent balance between fluff and crunch.  There are plenty of ideas for how to use the different monsters in your adventures, and there is plenty of variety in powers, even among all the different orcs, gnolls, medusa, demons and devils, etc. The book is definitely heaviest on the Heroic end of campaigns, with well over a hundred individual monsters between levels 1 and 10, and then something in the range of 80 or so Paragon level threats, and only a handful of Epic level creatures.  I was happy to see they didn’t bother to include any of the gods

The adventure is decent, pretty much standard fare for WotC.  It’s a lot better than Keep on the Shadowfell, while still expanding upon the history of the Nentir Vale and surrounding areas.  It is easily adaptable to any homebrew campaign. 

There is a double-sided battlemap.  One side is a wintery village, and the other is part of the dungeon featured in the adventure.  The rest of the dungeon is easily assembled with basic Dungeon Tiles; they conveniently put the most complex part of the Dungeon on the included map.  Unfortunately, in play, you have to cover most of it once you place it down, lest the players gain too much metagame knowledge, as it comprises some 8 rooms, including the throne room where the boss is waiting. 

The tokens themselves are great.  One side is regular and the other is bloodied.  They are heavy enough to be easy to pick up and move around.  There are an awful lot of them, and I highly recommend finding a good way to keep them organized before popping them all out of the cardstock.  And don’t expect to be able to quickly find certain tokens in the middle of a game session, either.  They definitely require a DM to be prepared, tokens and all, ahead of time. 

This product is highly recommended, especially if you are a fledgling DM and don’t have minis to use in your game (especially now, since WotC is discontinuing official D&D Minis, but that’s a whole different post). The book itself is well worth the price, the tokens look great, and the map looks great.  I got this as a Christmas present from my in-laws, and of all the Essentials books, I have definitely spent the most time with the Monster Vault.  

Friday, January 14, 2011

My D&D Library

So, here's a list of all the tomes in my D&D library (not including novels).  I will do some reviews of some of these books in the future, so if you really want my thoughts on one of them, let me know in the comments!

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition
Player's Handbook
Player's Handbook 2
Player's Handbook 3
Player's Option: Heroes of Shadow
Dungeon Master's Guide
Dungeon Master's Guide 2
Monster Manual
Monster Manual 2
Monster Manual 3
Manual of the Planes
Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead
Tomb of Horrors
Adventurer's Vault
Adventurer's Vault 2
Dragon Magazine Annual 2008
Eberron Campaign Guide
Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide
Vor Rukoth Adventure Setting
Dungeon Master's Screen

4E Essentials
Heroes of the Fallen Lands
Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
Rules Compendium
Monster Vault
Dungeon Tiles Master Sets: Dungeon, City, and Wilderness

Dragonlance: Age of Mortals

AD&D (black cover)
Player's Handbook
Dungeon Master Guide
Monstrous Manual
Player's Option: Skills and Powers
Player's Option: Combat and Tactics
Night Below Underdark Campaign
Council of Wyrms Campaign Setting
Dragonlance Modules 1-8 (the teeny-tiny reprints)

I have been seriously considering doing a 4E conversion of Night Below for a while, but have yet to really begin it.  It would definitely take a lot of work, and I would probably have to take some liberties to make it function well in 4E, but it would be well worth it.

As far as reviews go, I'll probably start with Essentials and see what else strikes my fancy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why, hello!

Welcome to my blog! This will primarily be focused on Dungeons and Dragons, a game I have been playing in one iteration or another for a good fifteen years, both as a player and DM. I have a few different projects that I am going to post here, including developing campaign settings, adventures, 4E-style Dungeon Delves, characters, ideas, thoughts, and commentary. I'll also link up to the other places on the interwebs that I'm stealing things from for my own campaigns, as well as tools and just about anything else related to Dungeons and Dragons.

The one thing I will not do is get caught up in Edition Wars or any other kind of NerdRage. There are plenty of other blogs out there that do that quite well, and I just don't have the patience for it.

My two oldest children are 10 and 8 years old. They are both very interested in playing D&D, and they (like the other children) love The Legend of Zelda video games. So, currently, my biggest project is adapting The Legend of Zelda video game world to the Dungeons and Dragons 4E system, while also simplifying the system so that it is not too overwhelming for my kids. Trying to find a balance between the 4E style of play and the feel of a Zelda game has been kind of tricky, and I am going to share what I come up with here. Interestingly, I've had an easier time adapting the mechanics than I have coming up with a storyline and dungeons. Regardless, I'll be posting a lot of that here.

Now, to kick off the new blog thing here with something totally not related to the Legend of Zelda, I give you "The Great Tree". I originally posted the kernel for this campaign setting on the WotC D&D forums, and here it is a little more filled out.

The Great Tree

The trunk of the Great Tree is two thousand miles across, with countless kingdoms and lands spread out among its huge branches. The Tree is surrounded by numerous floating earthmotes, where stone is mined for use in the kingdoms of the Great Tree

For directional purposes, North is always towards the Tree.

The huge branches tend to be about 100-200 miles across and thousands of miles long. Civilization tends to stay close to the trunk, generally within a few hundred miles. Past that, that the terrain becomes treacherous and monster-infested.

Typically, each branch is the domain of a single political entity, be it kingdom, democracy, magocracy, etc.

There are a great many carved tunnels throughout the trunk, many of which connect different branches/kingdoms. Many are Underdark-like. There are a number of Dwarven kingdoms in the trunk as well.

No one has ever returned from an expedition to the base of the Great Tree. It cannot be seen from the lowest branch/kingdom, obscured by clouds and mist.

Large, flat areas of branches are typically covered with soil deep enough to sustain some farming. It regularly rains on every level of the tree. Some areas get water from never-ending earthmote waterfalls.

The sun appears to travel around the tree, so that when the sun is behind the tree, relative to your position, it is night-time (ie, it is dark because the tree is providing shade). The sun is never directly overhead, however. High noon is when your shadow is pointed directly at the Great Tree.

Out beyond the earth-motes is sky, forever, and danger. Elementals and dragons rule the skies out there, and skyships rarely stray more than a hundred miles from the Tree.

The Great Tree is the source of all life on the Prime Material Planes. Before the Gods created Faerun, or Krynn, or any other “world”, there was the Great Tree, in the midst of the Heavens. They filled the Great Tree with all manner of creatures, natural, fey, and shadow, living, dead, and undead.

All other worlds have been populated with creatures chosen from the population of the Great Tree. All other worlds are connected to the Great Tree, so much so that the destruction of the Tree would bring an end to life on all Prime Material Planes, for it is from the Great Tree that all life flows.

Of course, the denizens of the Great Tree do not know of the importance of their hometree. Most are unaware of the existence of other planes of existence. The Gods are real and make their homes on their own branches of the Great Tree. Those branches are very well protected, and the gods are not often found there, anyway.

There is one group, however, that does know of the Tree’s history and importance: Melora’s Guardians. They protect both the Tree and its people from threats abyssal and elemental.
The Primordials are jealous of the Gods, and the life-sustaining power of the Great Tree. They seek to tear it down. Those from the Far Realm seek only to corrupt and feed off the Great Tree; they are abominations and must be destroyed.

Well, that is my overview of "The Great Tree" campaign setting. There is definitely a lot of room to expand, and plenty of possibilities for adventure. I'll start filling in the branches as inspiration comes to me.