Wednesday, August 31, 2011

D&D Encounters Week 4

D&D Encounters, Week 4

This week, we began with our meeting with Lord Neverember, who is basically the current regent of the city of Neverwinter. He is a noble from Waterdeep who has spent most of his fortune rebuilding the ruined city in the aftermath of the Spellplague-induced volacanic eruption. He wishes to hire us to determine the truth behind the "Lost Heir" who has been battling spellplague monsters all over town, rallying support from the public, while wearing the Lost Crown of Neverwinter. He offers us the princely sum of 500 gold each if we can learn the truth, and gives us each a medallion that will enable us to pass beyond the guarded walls of the rebuilt city, and into the rest of still-devestated Neverwinter, where the Lost Heir is believed to be operating from. 

Of course, when we arrive at the gate, we find the soldiers stationed there killed, and we are set upon by the bandits. Only a couple of us were surprised in the first round. We managed to dispatch them all in three rounds. The cleric and the bladesinger wound up bloodied, and a couple magic items were handed out. No one really wanted the headband of perception, and I let the nethermancer and bladesinger roll off for the +1 armor (of their choice!). 

After combat, we discovered among the survivors of the earlier bandit attack the half-elf who had hired the group in the D&D Gameday event "Gates of Neverdeath". Turns out she was the one who delivered the "Lost" Crown of Neverwinter to the Lost Heir. She's in the employ of Lord Neverember, but is a true believer in the Lost Heir, but she doesn't know where he is at the moment and must return to the castle. So we're kind of on our own to find the Lost Heir. My blackguard's plan is to kill the Heir, take the Crown, and claim the throne, but I'm pretty sure that isn't exactly accomodated for in the adventure path. 

I really, really want to like Encounters. I really do. This is my first season participating in it, and I feel like it's missing the mark somehow. It's not the DM, or the other players. The combat encounters themselves, really, are not as engaging as they could be, I think. 4E has so much to offer in terms of tactical options, especially when it comes to how combat encounters are built and presented. So far, it seems to me that the writers have spent a lot more time crafting a railroad to lead us down than creating engaging encounters. They're counting on the political intrigue aspect of the story to carry it all and keep the players interested. That's the problem. Political intrigue is supposed to be pretty roleplay heavy, but with an adventure path like this, player decisions are pretty minimal (ie, nonexistent) in regards to how things play out, plotwise. 

Honestly, I think I'd rather be in a linear dungeon crawl with some crazy combat encounters. Maybe the new Lair Assault is more what I'm looking for as far as organized play is concerned. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Wish for Magic Story Items

This article here is just an excerpt from the upcoming 4E D&D supplement "Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium", and I have to say I'm sold and can't wait to get my hands on it! 

I admit I've been feeling a bit down on 4th Edition lately. I guess it's mostly because I see so much potential in the system and I haven't really been impressed by how it is implemented in official product from Wizards. This excerpt, however, definitely made me take notice, as they are introducing something new that is a pretty big departure from everything so far. 

"Story Items". Not quite artifacts, though one could be, in the old-school sense of the word. Magical, though lacking any bonuses to character stats. The primary function is really to help tell the story. I love it. Finally we're getting some ideas for gameplay outside of the Combat Encounter/Skill Challenge dichotomy! 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bar Brawl the fun way!

In my last post I lamented the boring third session of this season of D&D Encounters, as it was a particularly un-fun bar fight. Well, Charisma over at has posted an excellent skill-challenge type of mini system for Barroom Brawls, which is pretty system-neutral. Check it out!

Friday, August 26, 2011

D&D Encounters: Lost Crown of Neverwinter, Sessions 2 and 3

I've been too focused on "real life" things to blog about D&D very much lately, but I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things a little more regularly, now that work has slowed back down to a regular 40 hour week again.

I went back to the Fantasy Shop in St. Charles, MO, for Weeks 2 and 3 of this season of D&D Encounters. Our party for the last two weeks has consisted of the same 6 players and characters, and we have a fairly well-rounded group: Hunter, Thief, Warpriest, Bladesinger, Nethermancer, and my Blackguard.

Week 1 ended with the cliffhanger of the mysterious masked warrior wearing the Lost Crown of Neverwinter joining us in town-square battle against plaguechanged drakes and humans. At the end of the battle, a young plaguechanged white dragon landed in the middle of the square.

During Week 2, we fought the dragon. He was a big solo brute, and knocked us all around pretty well, but we managed to take him down. He did have some interesting effects that were brought to bear against us, such as the spellgplague explosion that occurred when we bloodied him, and his trample-rampage attack that ran us over a few times. The session ended with the Lost Heir of Neverwinter (mystery dude wearing the Crown) casting some kind of petrifaction spell upon the dying dragon, leaving a lovely monument in the middle of the town square, and throngs of onlookers cheering him on as he rode off.  He also gave us each an amulet which we could wear to signify our allegiance to him.

Week 3 picks ten days later. It's been generally assumed that the PCs spent the tenday mucking about town, picking up rumors and trying to learn more about just what's going down in Neverwinter these days. The town is thick with political strife, and different factions are all vying for control. One one hand is Lord Neverember, the current regent, and on the other is this mysterious Lost Heir. We also learn that shop owners and townsfolk are being bullied by the Lost Heir's thugs into pledging allegiance to him. There has also been an increase in attacks by plaguechanged creatures inside the supposedly "warded" safe area of Neverwinter, and every time the Lost Heir shows up to kick ass and take names.

So the PCs meet up at the Beached Leviathan, an inn built out of the hull of a grounded old pirate ship and run by the ship's old captain. He's a Neverember loyalist, but has been bullied lately. While we're in the pub, a group of soldiers shows up with a General in tow, who informs us that she'll be personally delivering us to Lord Neverember for a meeting. Whether we like it or not.

At which point we get attacked by some Lost Heir loyalists.

Frankly, this Encounter could have really been so much more. The setting, a pirate ship repurposed to an Inn, and the event, a bar brawl, has so much potential to be a completely raucous, over-the-top event. Instead, it was a boring trade of dice rolls. The brawlers attacked our group at our table, which meant we were basically stuck in a corner and surrounded. Because no one wanted to risk getting hit with any opportunity attacks, we all pretty much stayed put (except the nethermancer, who shadow-walked his way to a much further corner) and traded blows with the thugs until they were bloodied and we either Intimidated or Diplomatically convinced them to stop fighting. Of course, that took a while because they each had almost 60 hit points!

Now, I understand that the evening was more about learning everything going on in Neverwinter and to give us some insight into the political machinations going on. Which it did a fine job of. But, what could have been a memorable bar brawl wound up being a monotonous event at best.

I would be remiss, of course, if I didn't offer some suggestions on how to make it better.

First, there could have been a mini Skill Challenge involved right before combat commenced. An exchange of words, a rallying of either side's supporters, to see just how big this bar brawl was going to become. That could have offered some great role-playing opportunities.

Second, make the fight more dramatic and completely chaotic (like a real bar brawl). Duh! Once the brawl commences, have a randomized chart to see who could randomly get hit over the head with a chair, or slip on spilled ale, or have another combatant pushed into them, or being grabbed by someone, or someone gets tossed through a window or over the bar or across a table or into the big pile of barrels or hell, even into the fireplace!

Anyways, I'll be back for the rest of the season; I'm not a quitter! But I really think Wizards dropped the ball with this particular encounter.

Friday, August 12, 2011

D&D Encounters Session 1

Okay, time to blow off a little dust here. I've been working a ton of overtime, out in the heat, and that has generally left my brain a mushy mess of exhaustion by the time I get home. This has also left exactly zero time for gaming, along with trying to keep up with all the children's activities. Regardless, posting will continue to be fairly slow for the foreseeable future. 

Anyway, I took part in the new season of D&D Encounters on Wednesday at The Fantasy Shop in St. Charles, MO. They had at least six tables running (and with only 4 packets from WotC, so a couple tables had to improvise with the poster maps). Our table had a good mix; I played a Blackguard, Cecil, and across from me was Freya, a Paladin. We decided that honor trumped divine allegiance (at least so long as the Blackguard refrained from killing an innocent in cold blood!) so we could get along as a team. Next to me were two younger guys (20, 21?), one of whom ordered pizza for the table and made sure to role-play his Nethermancer's every combat action, and the other ran with the new Bladesinger class out of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting. Finally, across the table from them, two guys who were veterans of 3.5 D&D but new to 4E, and rounded out the party with a Hunter Ranger and a Warpriest Cleric. With all roles covered, we began. 

Our DM, Damon, is also the organizer for Encounters, so all the other DMs come to him for questions and such. So, it looks like we'll generally be starting a little later than the other tables. This didn't leave a whole lot of opportunity for role-playing in the merchant square where the encounter took place, but we did at least get to roll to hear a rumor. None of us had a relevant character Theme for the encounter (this is how WotC is writing in role-playing opportunities in this season of Encounters, apparently), however, the luck of the dice gave me a rumor tied to my Theme, the Devil's Pawn. This Theme basically means you've sold your soul to Asmodeus and are left with an anarchy-style A burned into your chest, and gives you a rockin-sweet Encounter power in "Hellfire and Brimstone", which does automatic 5 fire damage to everything within 2 squares of you. It was absolutely perfect for taking out the horde of Plaguechanged minions that popped out of the sewers at the start of the combat session. Regardless, I had a merchant ask if I'd heard about the cults of Asmodeus that were going around branding people, and I replied: "Like this?" and opened my shirt to show him the burning A branded across my chest, which caused him to flee in terror and earned me our session's "Moment of Greatness."

The combat was a pretty straightforward slugfest; the horde minions dropped quickly, and the tougher Plaguechanged drakes piled up on the Paladin, including a critical hit, to drop her pretty hard in a single round. The NPC showed up with a whole lot of FAIL, as he completely missed on the first round when he rode in to "save the day". More minions came out of the sewers and were quickly dispatched by the Nethermancer and the Hunter while the Blackguard, Paladin, Warpriest and NPC (wearing the eponymous Lost Crown of Neverwinter!) polished off the drakes. 

The session ended on a nice little cliffhanger, as a white dragon with Spellplague-blue highlights swooped into the middle of the market. 

All in all, we had a much better night than the table across from us, which suffered a total party and townsfolk kill. Just plain nasty, but the dice fall where they will. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

D&D Worldwide GameDay

Today I partook in my first WotC organized play event in the D&D Worldwide Gameday, at the Fantasy Shop in St. Charles, Missouri. They had three full tables at noon, and everybody seemed to have a lot of fun. My table was a healthy mix of 4E veterans and neophytes, and only one of us showed up with a character ready to go off the DDI Character Builder, which was a Drow Necromancer. The rest of the party consisted of a dwarf warpriest, an elf paladin, a human hunter, a dwarf slayer, and I played a human blackguard.

Overall, it was a nice little introduction to the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, and it was also nice that our characters could continue into the upcoming season of D&D Encounters. Almost everyone at the table this afternoon signed up to show up on Wednesday night, for the same table, so most of our little group will still be together. We didn't have enough time for the zombie horde skill challenge after the second combat scenario, unfortunately, but all our Level 1 characters managed to survive the two battles against undead skeletons and zombies.

It was definitely nice to see a whole batch of new themes released for this. Every player got a random theme card in their grab bag, and I traded mine for the "Devil's Pawn" theme, which fit with my blackguard's story pretty well (once a paladin, corrupted by a deal with a devil to save a family member, now tainted), even if it's not the most "optimised" choice. Actually, the encounter power that comes with the theme, "Hellfire and Brimstone" is pretty sweet, doing automatic 5 fire damage in a burst 2 for the cost of a minor action. I wound up using it in both encounters; in the first, I took out three minion skeletons with it, and in the second, used it to finish off a bloodied undead hound.

Overall, a good day. I'm definitely looking forward to participating in this season of Encounters, and I'll be posting reports after each and every session!