Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Return of the Ritual

This may be the most useful thing WotC has published on its website to date. It will probably get very little use by most groups, because the word on the street is that people just don't use ritual spells these days. It is a complete compilation of all rituals published to date by WotC in its various books, modules, and interweb magazines. It sorts them by type and also lists them by different uses at the end. 

Apparently, rituals are a very underused resource in typical 4e D&D games. This is probably because, the Rules As Written demand you give up some of your hard-earned gold for a one-time (possible) benefit. Player understanding of rituals is also a big time-sink. The players have a lot to think about at the table already, keeping track of powers and feats and status ailments and such. Getting the hang of the ritual system requires a LOT of reading and perusing texts and asking questions, when they've already done a whole lot of that. Nevermind the fact that the rituals are spread out over some twenty different sources. They are all easily accessible via the online Compendium, but that's still a whole lot of reading and processing to do. 

So, how am I planning to get my players more invested in ritual use? Well thank you for asking. 

First, screw paying for them. I treat ritual components like ammo and encumberance: we're not keeping track of it. 

Second, start including ritual scrolls in treasure parcels. Well, actually, I don't worry a whole lot about parcels and such. We don't don't worry about experience points either. Everyone levels up when I say they do. If we tried to follow the Rules as Written, it would take forever to advance out of the Heroic tier. I mean, really, the campaign world is all about floating islands in the freakin sky, so I think verisimilitude isn't all that terribly important. It's more about creating an epic story and having fun. Where was I? Oh yeah. Give the players ritual scrolls. Can't hurt. They'll either use them or lose them in the bag of holding. 

Yeah, this game is run fast and loose. Story, combat, role-playing, all good. It's not Dark Sun. The world won't kill the players if they don't have enough water. It's an epic tale. You never see Luke Skywalker worried about where his next meal might come from, after all. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Island in the Sky: Farhome

Farhome is an island dominated by its central feature: a volcano. Some say that it is the resting place of a long-dead primordial, or that the volcano exists due to an open portal to a fiery realm of the Elemental Chaos. Regardless of the how, the fact remains that the volcano is active and regularly discharges lava and ash into the sky. 

Needless to say, things can get pretty hot on Farhome. It has always primarily been home to the Genasi, and a couple thousand, of all elemental persuasions, call the island home. There are several thousand more Genasi spread throughout the world who consider Farhome their ancestral home. 

And so it is with great dismay that word spread from island to island that Farhome had been conquered, taken by the Dragonborn Empire of New Arkhosia, and bound to the Arkhosian earthmote. Many of the Genasi were able to escape during the invasion, but there were many who were no so lucky. The Genasi are a proud people and do not take to slavery well. 

Farhome is one of the crown jewels in the Arkhosians' Empire; a mighty, powerful people brought down and conquered, their symbol of power, the mighty volcano, subjugated to the will of the Dragonborn and helping to fuel the expansion of the Empire...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Islands in the Sky: People of Verys Hiladian, Part 2

And continuing on with this series... hopefully some of you find a use for some of these! If people are interested, I can make a PDF of all of them available for download. 

Davril is a retired Satyr ranger who has long been a guardian of Verys Hiladian. He has lived there his whole life, and when Tarak arrived, took the orphan under his wing and taught him the ways of the forest. Their relationship was never father-and-son, but rather master and apprentice.  Once Davril had taught Tarak all he could, Davril was finally able to retire. He has no house on Verys Hiladian, but lives simply amongst the trees and animals of the woods.

Ember (one of our PCs) is a Firesoul Genasi Swordmage. Ember learned from an early age not only how to control his elemental powers, but to channel them through an item, and the path of the Swordmage came naturally to him. Most of his life was one of peaceful work; he has a gift for enchanting items, particularly with elemental energies. A year ago, the island on which he was raised, Farhome, was invaded and conquered by the New Arkhosian Empire. He was one of the lucky ones who escaped with his life. Many of his old friends and a few family members are still there, enslaved by the Dragonborn.

Griffendian is an eladrin with a knack for training griffons. He has been doing so for many years, and every griffon in Verys Hiladian's Air Defense Corps was trained by him. His aerie is carved into the side of the island, and all the young griffons still being trained are housed down there. Fully trained griffons who are part of the Air Defense Corps reside in a stable near the airdocks. Griff is very protective of his griffons. He is generally more comfortable around the beasts than he is around other people. 

The Ice Queen (another of our PCs) is an Elf Ranger who wields a frostbow. Like Ember, she is also from the conquered island Farhome; she and Ember narrowly escaped with their lives on the night of the Dragonborn attack. Together, they and several others found Verys Hiladian, and the island offered them refuge.  She is called "The Ice Queen" for her affinity for the cold elements and her skill with the frostbow. She does not know her true name; she awoke one morning on the island of Farhome with amnesia, a stranger in a strange land, but the genasi there took her in and helped her.

Kalistros is a Kalashtar, and operates a magic item shop called "Flying Carpets and More" where she sells the many magic items she spends her nights dreaming up and crafting.  Many of them are strange, few of them have any functional use, most of them can be quite entertaining in the right hands, and she hasn't crafted a Flying Carpet in decades. She often speaks in riddles and verse, and usually has a faraway look in her eyes. 

Kelana Dhoram is an Elf wizard and a very accomplished alchemist. She operated a little shop called the Potion Panty. She is very outgoing for an elf and is known all around town for throwing the best parties. Whether this is because of the force of her personality or the contents of the punch bowl is a matter of heated debate in certain circles. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Orcish Horde!

So it was probably a few weeks ago that this was released...

But we finally got a chance to run it with the minions and my father-in-law this Easter afternoon. In case you didn't click on the link, it goes to an official WotC mini-campaign for the D&D Adventure System that combines monsters, encounters, and treasure from both the Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon board games. 

Once again we played with four kids and my father-in-law, and I took care of running the monsters. Dragonborn Wizard, Eladrin Wizard, Dragonborn Fighter, Human Rogue and Human Ranger. They would have won the scenario if the kids had a better grasp of class roles and strategery. As it was, I kept reminding the wizards that they didn't have to get right next to the monsters to attack them with their spells. Hopefully, the more we all play, the more of the strategy and tactics they'll figure out. I don't want to tell them how to play their characters, of course, but it's difficult sometimes when they're completely missing very clear and obvious courses of action. 

However, the more I think about it, the more I see how well-suited these games are for introducing new players to full-on D&D 4E. So, once the minions are consistenty kicking Ravenloft and Ashardalon's butts, we'll start introducing more and more concepts from D&D into the games until they are ready to take on a regular game. That's the plan anyway! 

Regardless, the new adventures/mini-campaign combining the two games are solid entries in the franchise. The chosen monsters and encounters definitely give these adventures a unique feel apart from the two games they're take from. We played the first scenario, in which the goal is to save the kidnapped villagers from the orcish horde. 

It would have been an easy win if the kids had any tactical sense about them whatsoever. As it was, the tile that flipped over that had the villagers was 2 tiles away from the Start tile, which was the escape route for the kidnapped villagers. By that time, the heroes were pretty well beat up and started needing to use healing surges pretty quick, and within a full turn around the table, the game was over with a downed hero. 

Maybe next time we'll do some combat and tactics gameplay theory, but I'm not sure it'll hold their attention. We'll see. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Islands in the Sky: People of Verys Hiladian, Part 1

Here are five of the characters that can be found on the island of Verys Hiladian as we begin our game. Please note that I do not own any of the images on the cards. WotC owns most of them, I think, but some belong to other people. Regardless, I'm using them anyway for my home game. Now, without further ado, and in alphabetical order, the personalities of Verys Hiladian. 

Arsenal is a warforged blacksmith. He is the only smithy on Verys Hiladian that makes weapons of any kind, and they are all for the sole use of the island's defense. He takes everything said to him quite literally, especially figures of speech and sarcasm.

Andros, Terran and Trite are the halfing owners of a magic item shop of the same name that specializes in items that allow for long-distance communication. Crystal balls, ear pieces, and all other manner of devices are made and sold here.  They do a robust business installing these devices on airships that pass through Verys Hiladian as well.  Andros is the male and Trite is the female, and no one has ever seen Terran.  They are all siblings.  They have a bad habit of changing prices on customers mid-sale, by adding on services and such, but they mean well, and they have the best products.  

Avenger (one of our PCs, played by Kevin) is a Revenant, sent back by the Raven Queen for some as-yet unrevealed purpose.  He awoke on the island of Verys Hiladian in the Chapel of the Raven Queen, and was found by the druid Khaledra and the ranger Tarak during their morning rounds.  He was a Shadar-Kai in his former life.  The island he lived on was conquered by the Dragonborn Empire of New Arkhosia.  He was part of the resistance, but was captured, tortured, and killed.

Barred is a Shardmind and the owner of Barred's Beacons, where he makes airship and island beacons.  These magical devices allow airships to "see" faraway islands that have installed beacons. Barred has difficulty turning off his mind-reading abilities and knows a lot of everyone's dirty laundry.

Boldrick works with Arsenal at the weaponsmith, crafting the magical weapons that enable Verys Hiladian to defend itself.  He has an appetite for ale that is a bit too healthy, but the weapons and armor he forges are all top-notch, masterwork pieces. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Get the Gauth!

Get the Gauth! 

Last Sunday night we got to play some D&D Adventure System Wrath of Ashardalon with the minions and my father-in-law. We played the adventure that introduces the Door rules (4 or 5?), and ends with finding the Horrid Chamber and the Beholder Gauth and crew inside. 

Since all four of my reading-age children wanted to play, and my father-in-law, I opted to simply control the monsters on each player's turn. Whenever I play with the kids I usually have to interpret monster actions from the cards for them anyway, so I figured this would speed up gameplay quite a bit. I had hoped that would be the case, anyway. Like in standard 4e D&D, players taking their time choosing their actions in combat can be a big time-suck in the D&D Adventure System. Having five players can also cause things to drag on. I think three players might be ideal. Regardless, the kids love it. I did eventually wind up taking over for the 6-year-old, because he was getting tired (it was almost 9pm by the time we finished). 

Anyways, we were (just barely) triumphant over the beholder, though this may be because we stopped drawing Encounter cards once the beholder was placed on the board. That was more an effort to speed up gameplay, as it was getting to be time to get on home. 

We wound up playing with Heroes from both Ravenloft and Ashardalon, and they all worked just fine. I cannot recommend these games enough. The box may say ages 12+, but all my children are younger than that and it plays just fine. It'll probably take them several more sessions before they start to grasp more the more strategic elements of cooperative gameplay, but we all had fun. It definitely gave me some food for though regarding a rules hack to allow for a Dungeon Master, Campaign Play, and more Roleplaying elements, but that's all fodder for another post. The Castle Ravenloft game has given me plenty of ideas for how to play out my 4e group's foray into Barovia in their next session as well, but I'll have to keep those details under wraps until after the session plays out. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: Players Option: Heroes of Shadow

So I picked up Heroes of Shadow at my FLGS (The Fantasy Shop in Florissant) on Friday, along with a few other goodies.  I am definitely impressed. This is WotC's first hardcover book since all the Essentials trade paperbacks, and I am very happy they made the choice to delay the book's release so it would be hardback instead. The trade paperback Essentials books, while nice to hold and read, are just awful for when it's time to put a character together. You can't lay them open flat without bending into the binding, which is kind of necessary for being able to take notes and scribble things on a character sheet. 

Anyway, on to the actual content. It is all presented in the Essentials format, and there's a reason for that: it's an Essentials book. Don't let the big hard cover fool you. There are a few things that could be used by classic 4e characters, particularly clerics, wizards and warlocks, but nowhere in the book is mention even made of a character class or race that has not been presented in the Essentials format. I think this is a big mistake on WotC's part, for a couple of reasons. First, it reinforces the notion that Essentials is D&D 4.5. Second, by limiting themselves and this book to Essentials, they've missed out on some great options for characters. Seriously, why was the Avenger class ignored for this book? If any class is dying for a Shadow-based write-up, that's it. Maybe that's just me and my campaign speaking (hello, Revenant Avenger of The Raven Queen who used to be a Shadar-Kai), but still. Other classes who could benefit from a bit of shadow power: Shaman, Sorcerer and Bard. Yeah, Bard. Death Metal Bard. Bring it! 

All griping aside, this book actually has a lot of great stuff in it. The fluff is deep and heavy, and the crunch is solid to match. Kinda like a death metal song. Deep, heavy, crunchy. Yum. Makes me look forward to the Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond book even more. I think this Heroes of Shadow book is proof that WotC is really hitting their stride with their 4th Edition material. It's the first (and only) Player's Option book
I have purchased. So, if you want to run a dark and twisted campaign full of anti-heroes and moral ambiguity, this book is definitely for you. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Islands in the Sky: Session 2: Critical Fails, Critical Hits

Islands in the Sky, Session 2

Watch out, this is a long report, but worth it. 

We had a full complement of players yet again! I had Lisa and Joey's new characters fully statted out, and Gabby and Curtis' characters got some minor changes. Lisa wanted to play an elf archer-ranger, which was the type of character she used to play in WoW, so that was pretty easy to stat up. We call her "The Ice Queen". I gave Joey the choice between a fire genasi swordmage and an elven warpriest of Kord, (the party is desperately in need of both a defender and a leader) and he selected the swordmage "Ember". 

Gabby's character, "Khaledra", underwent a minor cosmetic change in that she went from being an Eladrin to being an Elf, which I approved from a purely min/max standpoint, as her Predator Druid is a more potent build as an Elf. Curtis' half-Orc ranger "Tarak" went from an Essentials Scout build to a traditional 4e dual-wielding Ranger build. Kevin's Revenant Avenger, whom for now we are calling simply "Avenger" is a powerful build as is, and required no changes whatsoever. 

So yeah, three straight-up strikers, a controller who acts like a striker, and a defender. Good thing we gave them some healing potions. 

So, on to what actually happened in the game. At the end of the first session a week ago, the party slew the beholder gauth and all its minions deep in the heart of the mine. As we began the session, the party was heading back to town with their loot. They headed to the Rusty Dwarf, one of two local tavern/inns, where they met a few people. Salvana Wrafton (yes, name ripped out of "Keep on the Shadowfell"), a tiefling and the owner of the Rusty Dwarf, was the first of the NPCs they met and chatted with. They met Captain Misha, an eladrin skyship captain, and her crew. They also met Griffendian, proprietor of Griff's Griffons, the island's aerie. Griffon mounts are Verys Hiladian's primary form of airspace defense. Kevin always gets into the "talking parts" and did the lion's share of role-playing here. Nearly started a fight with the pirates, erm, I mean, the skyship crew, but for the arrival of Princess Elianna, the halfling ruler of Verys Hiladian. The Princess was very thankful they slew the beholder. Some questions were soon raised though, concerning the beholder's activities.  There were numerous dead bodies in the pit below the area where they fought the beholder, but there are no missing citizens of the island. Who are these people? How did they get there? Just what was the beholder up to, anyways? 

Kevin's Avenger decided to do things his way, and no one else joined him. Having befriended Griff, and having promised to get to the bottom of the beholder-related mysteries, Avenger hopped on a griffon and set about flying around the island. He made a pit stop at the temple to the Raven Queen and prayed, whereupon Curtis played his "Divine Intervention" PlotTwist card, and the Raven Queen gave Avenger a vision of what part of the island to search around and what was waiting for him there. 

Meanwhile, Tarak, Khaledra, Ember and the Ice Queen headed back to the mine, where mining operations had ceased for the time being. They went back to the beholder's lair, and Tarak went down into the pit to investigate. Sure enough, he found a hidden door under a body in the center of the pit. The party descended the stairs and found a hallway and a door. Listening at the door they heard some monsters. They managed to sneak in without alerting the gnolls to their presence. There was a long hallway, which opened into a big wide room, followed by another big room with locked cells and prisoners. There were six gnolls: one Fang of Yeenoghu, one Huntmaster, and four Deathpledged. 

A pretty tough group for four 3rd level heroes. Tarak took two shots with his longbow... And missed. And alerted the Gnolls to their presence. 

Back outside, flying around, was Avenger. He easily located the cavern entrance, which was big enough to fly an airship into. Kevin failed his nature check to get his griffon to fly in there, however, so he just jumped off the griffon and tried to make it to the ledge. He failed his acrobatics check to jump that far but succeeded at his athletics check to grab onto some rock and shrubbery and keep from falling several miles into a watery grave. He climbed his way up and found himself facing two of the gnolls, a huntmaster and a deathpledged.  They knocked him around pretty good, but a little help showed up in the form of Griff, riding a griffon and firing his bow into the gnolls. 

Back inside, the gnolls were refusing to just run down the corridor into the party's midst. They had cover around a corner. The bowmaster critically failed his FIRST ATTACK and broke the string on his bow, rendering him pretty useless as artillery. The Fang of Yeenoghu just hung back and laughed at them, and all the gnolls joined in, taunting the heroes. The heroes eventually moved forward, and battle was joined! 

The Genasi Swordmage attempted to use his encounter power "Incendiary Sword". The power requires he throw his sword into the target square, it does burst fire damage, and the sword reappears in his hand. Joey rolled a 1. Fail. I had him roll again to see if it was a really bad fail. He rolled another 1. The sword stuck in the ground in the midst of the gnolls, and nothing happened. And it was stuck there. So now the swordmage had no sword. 

Gnolls turn. Deathpledged rushes forward, attacks Tarak, and I rolled a 20. Critical hit. Tarak uses his Disruptive Strike encounter power... And rolls a 20. 

So we just saw someone roll two 1s in a row, followed immediately by a pair of 20s. I had to rule that such an obscene display of dice-rolling deserved an equally ridiculous in-game display, so that Tarak dodged the gnolls attack and ran him straight through with both swords, killing him straight-out. 

This wound up being the turning point in the battle, although the rest of it was hard fought as well. The party used three of their four healing potions, and Khaledra's Healing Seed, a daily power. This battle was really close. It very easily could have resulted in a TPK, which would have led to them waking up shackled on board the gnoll slaver airship. However, that did not come to pass. They killed all the gnolls and rescued their hostages, whom were all, shockingly, human! 

The humans claim to be from an island called Barovia, which is ruled by a vampire named Baron von Strahd... The bodies in the pit were all from that island as well, and must be taken back to their families, lest their souls haunt the mines for an age, which would put a serious dent in Verye Hiladian's economic situation. 

Oh, and as they were headed back to town, a flight of dragonborn from
New Arkhosia landed in the town square to demand tribute from Verys Hiladian. Before the Princess could say much of anything, Avenger gave them all a lewd gesture, and they laughed and vowed to return and conquer the island. Captain Misha offered them a ride to Barovia to return the slaves and the bodies to their families. Her price: a future favor from them all. She slapped a magical tracker on Avenger to be able to find them in the future. They spent all night loading up the bodies and soon set off for Barovia...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gnoll Samurai

It's been a little while since my last Pack of Gnolls post, so here we go. Someone found this blog by searching for "what d&d book is the gnoll samurai in" and that query scrambled my creative juices a bit. Stereotypical assumptions about gnoll "society" would definitely be antithetical to traditional Japanese Samurai. However, if your campaign has a Far East equivalent (as I'm sure many of them do) it would not be outside the realm of possibilities that a roving band of gnolls would manage to take down a lone samurai (albeit having suffered numerous losses, no doubt!). That samurai's gear would undoubtedly go to the pack leader, which would result in a gnoll with a katana and full samurai armor. This gnoll, however, would obviously be lacking in the years of training necessary to acquire Samurai combat skills, so he (or she) would just have nice gear. That's a little boring. 

However, what if we dressed Tom Cruise up as a gnoll, a la "The Last Samurai", and then we have a gnoll with full samurai combat training and a sense of honor to match. This can go one of two ways. First, you have a gnoll NPC that blows the PCs' expectations out of the water. Second, you have a gnoll BBEG leading an incredibly well-trained Pack. And of course, there's no reason that over the course of your campaign, that NPC couldn't be betrayed (by the PCs?) and become a BBEG...

I've got way too much work to do getting Saturday's game ready to go, otherwise I'd stat that badass up properly. Maybe next week. Or maybe I'll save it til after my PCs meet him... 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Crazy Busy Week!

Whew, it's been a crazy busy week! Many apologies to my regular readers for not getting up any posts since Sunday. Just a quick run-down of what to expect in the near future here: 

I got my Wrath of Ashardalon set all painted up. They're not amazing, but it's nice to have the pieces in more than one color. There are a few minis that turned out really well, and I'll have some pics up soon. 

We're fixing to run Session 2 of Islands in the Sky on saturday evening. Before then I'm hoping to have a map of the island of Verys Hiladian and a run-down of the interesting local folks and shops. 

Oh and I'm gonna try to run a game of Wrath of Ashardalon with the minions tonite. Woohoo!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Contents of a beholder's bag of holding

In PDF form, cards

For my 4E group, the contents of the bag of holding they have just taken from the lair of the beholder.

This beholder had probably just recently taken out a group of adventurers, as the contents of its bag of holding contains several items that are quite useful for our heroes.

They have found 4 potions of healing and a variety of alchemical concoctions. There is a Cask of Liquid Gold, Gloves of Recovery, Claw Gloves, and a Map of Unseen Lands.  There is also a set of musical instruments (a djimbe drum, a flute, a horn, a lute, and a lyre) that are all wildly out of tune but when played together sound quite strangely in-tune somehow, and several pieces of artwork.  There are twelve statues and twenty-two paintings of mind-flayers dressed up as circus clowns, and they are all clearly the work of the same (mad) artist.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Islands in the Sky: Session 1

Islands in the Sky, Session 1 

Play began with Kevin and his as-yet-unnamed Revenant Avenger of the Raven Queen. In his previous life, he was a Shadar-Kai and was part of a rebellion against the New Arkhosian Empire, which had conquered his Island and bound it to New Arkhosia. In a daring raid, he was captured, tortured, and ritually sacrificed in a most gruesome manner. The Raven Queen sent him back and gave him the Ravenblade, a black fullblade +1 with a carved raven for a hilt. He awoke in a temple to the Raven Queen and was found by Tarak, half-orc ranger, and Khaledra, eladrin druid, as they were making their morning rounds about the wilderness areas of their island, Verys Hiladian. 

Strange things had begun happening on the island. There were rumors of a giant spider, and little blue gnomes, and the mosquitoes biting people were unnaturally large. People in town were experiencing weird deja-vu moments, and things felt very... off. 

Khaledra, Tarak, and Avenger were joined by Ripper, the warforged warden, and Arriana, the tiefling invoker. They tracked the giant spider up to the mines, but none of the miners had seen it. This is when Kevin played the Plot Twist card "Erratic Behavior", which I ruled caused a cave-in deep inside the mine (the cave-in was plotted to happen that evening anyway, so I just let it happen then). A number of miners were trapped inside. Our intrepid heroes went to investigate, of course, and see if they could help. 

It didn't take long to discover that there hadn't really been a cave-in, but actually an attack by a group of earth elementals! The heroes pretty well clobbered the elementals, and the stirges that flew in to back them up. They were then faced with a right-or-left path choice, and went down the corridor the stirges had flown in from. This led to a Xirbolg lair, evil little blue gnomes, whom they also handled with ease. All along the way, the heroes were easily winning initiative and throwing down critical hits. Meanwhile, the DM was missing about 85% of the monsters' attacks. Definitely will be using a different D20 next time. 

After clearing out the Xirbolgs, they made their way to the end of the mine, and found the source of all the trouble: a beholder gauth had taken up residence and was performing some kind of ritual, using captured miners as sacrifices. Definitely not good. 

Of course, I proceeded to miss all but one of his eye-ray attacks and he was quickly clobbered, and a critical hit ended his life with a sword to the Eye. All in all, far too easy a romp, but good for a first night out. Kevin and Curtis knew that a beholder could do some nasty shit if it hit with its eyerays, and that knowledge alone, even though everyone was in pretty damn good shape, health-wise, was enough to raise the tension level at the table for a bit. They found some treasure in the form of a bag of holding full of strange art items and other things. What kinds of art would a beholder be collecting...?

Game Night: Success!

So we actually played some D&D! Wha? Only a month and a half after I had hoped to start the Islands in the Sky campaign, but hey, its started! Five players and myself running the game: Kevin, a Revenant Avenger of the Raven Queen who was a Shadar-Kai in his past life; Curtis, a half-Orc Ranger Scout (Essentials build); Lisa and Joey, playing pre-gens I took from the WotC website, a Tiefling Invoker and a Warforged Warden; and my beautiful wife Gabby and her Eladrin Druid. 

Kevin's Revenant Avenger we stole outright from the WotC message boards Character Optimization Forum. And he kicked ass. He likes a lot of story and plot mixed in, and took a little bit of time trying to figure out his motivation for helping everyone else, but it was definitely all good. 

I honestly wasn't impressed with WotC's convention builds. A warforged warden? I'm sorry, I just have a hard time connecting a mechanical/magical construct with the primal power source. And there are better ways to build an Invoker. That being said, Lisa and Joey are real champs for sticking with it and being ready to come back for more. I'll be searching for proper builds for them over the next couple of weeks, before our next game, so they can also kick some major ass. 

But yeah, it looks like we might have a team of (mostly) strikers by the time I'm done printing character sheets. 

A couple more things before we get into the play report. We played with a couple of supplements, to make things even more confusing for the noobs: D&D Fortune Cards (which I handed out to the players) and Paizo's Plot Twist Cards. The Fortune Cards only got used a couple times, but I think there are two reasons for this. First, the party pretty much cake-walked through the encounters. Second, nobody yet has a great grasp of the rules and terminology. I'm the only one with the books or the DDI subscription. So the Fortune Cards will probably see more use as players get the hang of the mechanics of the system. All the players were drawing from my one deck (I only ever picked up four or five booster packs), so I think a lot of them got cards that were kinda useless. 

The Plot Twist Cards were definitely better, helped move the game along and kept me on my toes, but in a very good way. I loved what they added to the game. More on this in the Actual Play run-down. 

Another thing that was a big help was having little pop-up monster info cards. 3x5 index cards, folded in half, with monster defenses written on both sides. I set them out at the beginning of combat and it definitely cut down a lot on me having to look through books and sheets during combat. Some might argue that players shouldn't know all that info right off the bat; I don't really care. It helped speed up the game and it helped players make decisions. All numbers in the game are purely meta knowledge anyway, so we might as well lay it all out on the table. 

I also didn't use a DM Screen, probably for the first time. All rolls were out in the open, no fudging at all. I found this extremely liberating. 

All in all, the players had fun, I had fun, the game ran well and everyone is coming back for more! The next post will be a proper report of what all went down. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Return of the Saving Throw

Older editions of D&D had a plethora of saving throws required in different circumstances. Save vs Breath Weapon, Save vs Wand, etc etc. Different classes had different charts for how their saving throws improved as they gained levels. 

In 4th Edition, the Saving Throw has all but disappeared. There are some effects that require a saving throw to brush off, but it is a flat "roll 10 or higher" across the board. How boring! But whatever. I'm not advocating the elimination of that mechanic, nor am I calling for a return to cumbersome charts. My solution is much simpler and is already part of the ruleset. 

Whenever an attack targets a PC's reflex, fortitude or willpower defenses, we will assume it will be successful, unless the PC saves vs the attack. All this requires is having the player make the monster's attack roll! By rolling under the target number, she effectively saves vs that attack. Just a simple way to put some of that old-school feel back into a decidedly new-school ruleset. Probably dangerous, as I can no longer fudge those things behind the screen! We're getting our game on this evening, so we will see how it goes. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wrath of Gravestorm!

So, me and my 7-year-old stepdaughter went for an expedition into Castle Ravenloft last night. We attempted to find and slay the Dracolich "Gravestorm". We found him all right. Sadly, we failed to slay him, even after destroying his phylactery (which, by the way, my stepdaughter was able to pronounce perfectly!). She played the elven paladin from Wrath of Ashardalon. I played a homebrewed character, Ninjadorg's samurai. Things were pretty smooth sailing to begin. A lot of 1xp monsters came our way, and they were largely easy pickings. My samurai leveled up on a natural 20 early on. We got some good treasure, too. 

Things were going well. A little too well...

Everything went downhill as soon as we found Gravestorm. A spear trap activated. Followed by an alarm, which immediately started summoning monsters. I had the Thieves' Kit, and got the alarm deactivated, but not before it had summoned a 3xp Gargoyle. My daughter made it across the board to destory the phylactery, but when she made it back to fight the Dracolich we were very quickly surrounded by the Gargoyle, a Ghoul, and two blazing skeletons, all creatures that do damage even when they miss. We did manage to get Gravestorm down to his last three hit points, but we were out of healing surges and fell quickly. We're fixing to try again with a different set of characters. 

I liked playing the homebrewed Samurai (go see The paladin, who is from Wrath of Ashardalon, definitely held her own. We probably could have won, had the monster cards come out in a different order. Regardless, we had fun, with lots of tense moments there at the end, and my stepdaughter really wants to play again. Hopefully the rest of the children won't be bogged down with too much schoolwork and will be able to join us next time. It would have been better if there were more heroes on the board. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Democracy

D is for Democracy! Okay, I'm not actually taking part in the A-Z Blogging Challenge going around, mostly due to a general lack of time to post, but I couldn't help putting this one out. Today is Election Day here, and I got to thinking about just how rare it is to encounter democratic or republican modes of government in our fantasy worlds. Most published settings default to monarchies of some sort, be they mundane, magical or divine in nature. However, we need only look at our own bloody American history to find the adventure possibilities inherent in the democratic process. "Gangs of New York" anyone? There are all manner of power struggles possible, as well as subterfuge, espionage, and dirty tricks. Voter manipulation? Intimidation? Payoffs? Manipulation of polling results? This is seriously uncharted prime waters for any D&D campaign to wade into, with a wealth of adventure ideas available in any local daily newspaper. Fizban for President!

Friday, April 1, 2011

4E Ritual Cards

I'm a bit OCD, so I regularly check my (admittedly underwhelming) Blogger stats, and one thing that has jumped out at me is that I have been regularly getting visitors from a Google search for "why no 4e ritual cards" query. I think most of these clicks wind up at my post on "D&D the CCG: Ritual Cards", but I'm not entirely sure that post has been helpful for those people finding it from the Google search, but seeing as the post was from mid-February and still is in my regular weekly top-5 for page views, I think this topic should be revisited. 

I think Wizards of the Coast is missing out on a great supplemental product by not selling cards for their Rituals. Of course, from what I've gathered around the forums, rituals don't see a whole lot of use in a lot of 4e games, which I think is sad, but is probably a by-product of the general delve-format that WotC has been pushing since 4e's release. 

These would be perfect as a treasure handout when the party finds a ritual scroll, as well as being a great way for a wizard to organize his spellbook without a lot of hand-cramping writing and character sheet clogging to deal with. 

Now, I'm not really willing to put in the time and effort to create Ritual Cards for the entirety of the D&D 4e ritual library. I'm also reluctant to trod upon WotC's copyrights by putting all that stuff up on the interwebs for just anyone to take. However, if anyone does want some custom-made ritual cards, I would be happy to make them for you (for personal use, of course). I would insist that one have either a DDI subscription (so mine isn't being leeched upon) or at the very least, copies of the books from which the rituals are taken. I would also love to hear how they wind up being used in-game! Email me at sully33 at gmail dot com if you want some ritual cards for your spellcaster.