Archive for June 2010

Shardpit Inn Map

Simple three-story inn.

  • Bottles: Bottles can be wielded or thrown as an improvised weapon that deal 1d4 damage on a hit. If they are full, the next fire attack that hits the target deals 2 extra damage. Finally, characters can use them to prep molotov cocktails (minor action to prep, 1d6 fire damage on a hit).
  • Chairs: Can be pushed into a monster (Strength versus Reflex), dealing no damage but knocking them prone on a hit. They also grant a +2 bonus on Athletics checks made to jump.
  • Tables/Bar: Difficult terrain. Characters can stand on one without making any kind of check. They can be flipped over to gain cover.
June 24, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

D&D And Content Creep

Donny the DM asks, "Is 4E beginning to creep too much?", by which he means if you think that 4E is coming out with too much content, too quickly.

Thinking several years back, I want to say that its about the same. I seem to recall 3rd Edition books coming out in singles or pairs each month, and thats basically the same rate as now. Checking an online listing, I found that back in 2004 we got essentially ten real books, along with a few minis expansions and accessories like Deluxe DM Screen, Dungeons & Dragons Dice, and Map Folio One. I'm not sure during which months these were released, but all in all there were 21 "official" D&D products released during that year, so there was certainly overlap. This doesnt take into account Dragon and Dungeon magazines, which were also "official" D&D products that added content that my DMs never let me use (and my players rarely bothered to use, either).

Compare to, say, this month, where we got Monster Manual III, PH Races: Tieflings, and Deserts of Athas dungeon tiles, and I'd hazard to say that its really on par. One book is for DMs, another is for players, and the last one is just an accessory (nothing to study or learn). Hell, PHR:Tieflings is insanely light reading when compared to the crap-quality Races of... books from 3rd Edition (I owned them, but never really used them). Last month was Player's Strategy Guide, Dungeon Magazine Annual, and HS1: The Slaying Stone, a player book and two DM books respectively. PSG didnt add any crunchy content, and the latter two books were adventures. Next month is Demonomicon, HS2: Orcs of Stonefang Pass, Tomb of Horrors, and Vor Rukoth, all of which are intended for the DM (monster supplement book, two adventures, and an adventure site).

Really, thats the trend I've noticed going back a few months: often the players get a book intended for them, but usually the DM ends up with one or more products aimed at them. Of course, there is also Dragon and Dungeon to take into account here, especially since Dragon has all those Class Acts and Winning Races articles that heap tons of content onto the already growing pile. So, after that analysis, I'd say that the rate of used content has gotten increased quite a bit since 3rd Edition: most of my players actually have DDI subscriptions and actively use content from Dragon.


Well, the Character Builder. See, back in 3rd Edition I was the guy with all the books that had most of that shit memorized. Players would ask me questions on if this class had any cool shit from Dragon or some supplement, and we'd ask the DM if it was okay. Too often the DM would say no because they didnt have the book, or werent sure if it would break the game. Now everyone has access to all the mechanical content via DDI. Its simple for a DM to look up the feat, magic item, power, etc and make a call. Mostly though I think its the fact that Wizards has worked hard on ensuring that everyone has the mindset that its all official, so everyone is free to make a character with whatever options you want.

So, despite 4th Edition having more content that before, I dont feel overwhelmed. I can make any character I want and not have to browse through five different books to make sure that I have most of the content at my grasp. Its also easy to ignore large blocks of "useless" shit like Guild feats and the like by simply collapsing the category. Also, errata gets incorporated so I dont have to explain to a player or DM that something they wanted got changed without them knowing.

I'm not going to touch the bit about Adventure Tools, however. :-P
June 20, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Updated Aberrant Shrine Map

June 19, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Tharashk Enclave Map

A map of the House Tharashk enclave in Shardpit. I did this map a few times, and instead of drawing out the furnishings again I'm just going to number-label everything and describe it in the actual adventure.

There aren't a lot of dragonmarked members, here, as Shardpit is at the ass-end of the Shadow Marches (and the one or two that have marks have least ones). Their dragonmarks have been corrupted by the shrine's influence, twisting them into aberrant marks.

Updated Shardpit Map

ThePlanewalker updated another map. 

Updated Shardpit Garrison Map

ThePlaneswalker likes to do maps and make brand-spanking new classes (as well as update this site) and he's really good at them.

Here's my pencil-rough that I scribbled out awhile ago.

And here's his rendition (its even got the realistically thick outer walls!).

June 10, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Bloodlines of Arkhosia: Dragonfear

So now dragonborn can swap out dragon breath for dragonfear, and I guess losing the ability to belch out a gout of elemental energy somehow makes you more intimidating? To be fair, I can see where they're going with this: get rid of one draconic quality and exchange it for another, and the concept has merit. Dragonfear is a daily encounter (errata kplzthx) racial that lets you hit all baddies within 5 squares with a Will attack that makes them take an attack penalty, and grant combat advantage for a turn. Its keyed off of Strength or Charisma, which is good for a lot of classes, but the passive bonus starts at +2 and never scales (MOAR errata?).

The article does add in five feats that all require it, which give you a bonus against Fear effects, to Intimidate, or even let you regain it when you trigger second wind (which could potentially let you use it twice each battle). The paragon path supplied (fear walker) also demands dragonfear, meaning that its got decent hefty support if the theme fits your character. Since all the attacks are keyed to Strength or Charisma, it'll fit any class that dragonborn are naturally suited for.

Note: I wasn't satisfied with dragonfear at all at first, because the power is black and not red (meaning that I thought it was a daily power). It wasn't until I read the Draconic Rejuvenation feat that made me go back and analyze the power block to see that, yep, it's actually an encounter power. So...I had to rewrite this whole post. XD
Posted by David Guyll

Monster Manual 3 Lite Review

Monster Manual 3 is purported to have, "over 200 monsters," but I'm not about to count the index or glossary to confirm this. There's a lot of monsters, and book supports the entire range of monster levels, so like past books its good no matter what tier(s) your characters populate. Some are classics, like the cave fisher, mimic, and nymph, while others expand upon existing monster types (more gnolls, runic gargoyle, and pact hags). I'm not sure if some of them are entirely original, but again I'm not about to do a shit-load of Google-searches to figure it all out.

Aside from having new monsters, it also features the new stat block layout that we'd heard about last month. The main difference between the format layouts is that powers are categorized by the action required to use it and are given a dark-green color to make the action type stand out, and powers now take up additional space. What I mean is that while power mechanics are listed in a clearer manner, they tend to take up an extra line or two of space.

For example, a typical weapon attack in the old format would take up a single line: +X vs. AC; X + X damage. In the new format, it has an Attack and Hit row. Really, most powers basically end up taking an extra line to type out, but the more powers the monster has the more lines it eats up (ie, four powers means four extra lines used). Otherwise there are some minor differences, such as auras and shit like regeneration being categorized in a traits section. I think that while it might take some getting used to, ultimately it's going to be more intuitive and easier to reference.

I'd heard that some of the formulas got shuffled around a bit, and comparing default values from Monster Builder I've determined that in most cases the attack bonuses haven't been changed at all (I did find a brute that had two points up on an attack bonus), but damage output got ramped up. For example, default level 5 brute damage is 1d10 + 5, but the silverback ape has a slam attack that deals 2d10 + 5. One of the apocalypse spells inflicts 4d10 + 10 damage on a hit, up from 3d8 + 10. Finally, one of those mirror golem thingies deals 3d8 + 14 on at at-will (normally 3d6 + 8).

On the topic of new layouts, all monsters now have multiple paragraphs devoted to fluff content about them instead of well, barely one-ish. There's an opening paragraph that supplies some exposition about the monster in general, some more focused information on the individual monster type, a section on encounters (though no more sample encounter group bullet lists), and a bit on combat tactics. Some monsters like the chitine get quite a bit of story content (not to mention a sidebar).

For example, since for some reason I keep opening the book up to the entry on banderhobbs, I'll just fucking roll with it. Banderhobbs are frog-like creatures native to the Shadowfell that cross over into the natural world to abduct people for some nefarious purpose. How do they abduct you? By either swallowing you up, or more mercifully stuffing you into a sack (though oddly the Equipment line is absent from the stat block...I...don't wanna know).

Anyway, under Banderhobb Abductors in Combat it doesn't say something like, "Start out with grasping tongue and follow up with gobble or swallow." No, instead it says, "In a soundless second, a long, muscular tongue encircles a body and yanks it forward. The monster's head snaps backward, and it's jaws unhinge. Then the victim's body disappears down the creature's gullet. A second later, the creature vanishes."

I actually like these descriptions, since it not only provides you with an example of how to narratively describe the actions as they occur, but also adds some, I don't know, personality to the monster. Not all monsters follow this trend, however, some just talk about the monsters habits in combat though it doesn't cite specific powers.

This is my favorite Monster Manual by far: more monsters (obviously), better stat-block layout, and better balance between hard mechanics and story content. I'm hoping that Wizards updates Monster Builder to alter all the official monsters to follow the new format (because I'll already have my hands full updating my own creations). 

Update: My Girlfriend is a DM also did a review.
Posted by David Guyll

Player's Handbook Races: Tieflings Review

Though not exactly a fan of dragonborn I thought that Player's Handbook Races: Dragonborn kicked ass. It added a lot of fluff and crunch to the race that helped inspire a few characters (that I'll honestly probably never play, but still). Tieflings got kind of a bum rap at the start of 4th Edition, and thanks to numerous racial feats, a few Winning Races articles, and the infernal wrath update they've become a lot more viable (not that it stopped me in the past). Even so, Player's Handbook Races: Tieflings adds a lot of cool shit to the race, following the same model that PHR: Dragonborn did.

You get eight solid pages of information on tieflings in general, in addition to their noble ancestry and history (including sample noble houses and noble backgrounds). It then moves on to discussing tieflings by power source--including the psychic source--with a paragon path for each, and all of this eats up 24 pages of a 32-page book. Like PHR: Dragonborn, I could easily see using all of these. Where before I was torn on a paragon path for my warlord, I'm absolutely sold on the Turathi hell-kite (head-butt attack? FUCK YES). Shit, the redeemer of the damned (primal paragon path) has you channeling the damned spirits of your ancestors.

And then, there's feats. Its a hefty section with 31 feats, and I particularly love the tail feats. Clever Tail lets you use your tail to stow/retrieve objects, including making unpenalized Thievery checks, while Tail Slide lets you slide an ally when you shift. There are more warlock feats that help make tieflings the best warlocks possible, such as Blood Pact of Cania (damage bonus when you use warlock attacks that rely on Constitution) and Hellish Blast (eldritch blast becomes a fire attack and gains a damage bonus), but many classes get something and most of them are for tieflings in general.

The book then wraps up with some new magic item properties, fluff information on tiefling quests (two more pages), and the heir of the empire epic destiny. Heir of the empire gives you a Int and Cha bonus, bonus on Cha skills, causes infernal wrath to auto-prone targets, and lets you dominate the first creature you hit in an encounter (for free). Ruler of life and death lets you auto-dominate a slain creature, causing them to get back up and fight for you, and when they finally save against the effect they die.

This book is a fucking must-have for tiefling fans of any capacity.
June 09, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Shardpit Garrison Map

Oh, castles, keeps, forts, etc...the bane of my existence. Since Shardpit is at the ass-crack of nowhere, I figured that House Tharashk wasn't given much of a budget, even for a dragonshard operation. The garrison isn't too big (can "reasonably" house 34 soldiers, two to a room), but the townsfolk are a hardy bunch and are expected to pick up arms in case they get attacked. That, and some of the houses could also be setup as impromptu barracks to house conscripts. I wanted to limit myself on this quite a bit, and make it feel cramped, as if they couldn't requisition sufficient funds to expand it. So access to the prison and kennel was added wherever they could shoehorn a room in.

The players will mostly deal with warped guards and dogs. Actually, I'm going to put half-eaten dogs in the kennel and have the rest be free-roaming (since they can teleport). The main objective here is getting into the prison, where there is a planar rift that can be sealed (sealing rifts weakens the end-boss and removes skill challenge failures). Some of the rooms contain tainted treasures taken from the shrine, and I'm also going to put in a byeshk weapon in the armory or sergeant's quarters to give the party an edge (it wont be carried since none of the warped citizens or soldiers could safely touch it).
June 08, 2010
Posted by David Guyll

Heirs of Prophecy

Like playing Eberron? Like Siberys dragonmarks? Butt-hurt that they didnt include them in Eberron Campaign Setting or Eberron Player's Guide? Then this article's gotcha covered. The first two pages provide iconic character combinations that fit a given dragonmark, such as human fighters for the mark of Sentinel, as well as some brief advice on fucking with Multiclass feats so that the benefits provided better fit the dragonmark you have.

The latter half gives us the heir of Siberys epic destiny, which breaks away from 3rd Edition Eberron's, "you can only take this feat if you haven't picked up a dragonmarked feat already." If you have a dragonmark, you can still pick up heir of Siberys: your mark just gets bigger and you it gives you more shit, aaand I'm strangely "okay" with this sudden change. Heir of Siberys gives you +2 to any two stats, a cumulative bonus on saves if you fail, auto-ress (burn two surges when dropped once per day), lets you keep encounter attacks that miss all targets, and a variable daily that depends on the dragonmark you want. So, its kind of like demigod combined with chosen of what-the-fuck-ever from Forgotten Realms, as there's a level 26 daily utility to represent each mark.

Do they fit what the Siberys marks did in 3rd Edition? Fuck no. The Siberys Mark of Passage doesn't let you teleport hundreds of miles once per day, instead allowing you to teleport 20 squares, bringing along willing allies, and you don't have to see where you're going. Siberys mark of handling is also pretty cool, giving you an extra action to have a companion, summon, or mount make an attack with.

Ultimately, if you enjoy Eberron this is going to be something that at least one player is going to pick up...assuming anyone actually gets to epic tier. >_>
Posted by David Guyll

Stables Encounter Map

Once the party arrives at Shardpit, the first major building they'll bump into is the stables. Like almost every other building in Shardpit, its elevated (1 square) on thick posts, but otherwise looks "normal". However, normalcy isn't something I'm going for here, so I want the town to appear normal in every way with the exception of a minor detail or two.

Liiike, empty streets. They don't see anyone. If they approach the stone in the middle of the path, they will discover that it merely points out the most direct (and safe) route to the House Tharashk enclave (north). A moderate Perception check reveals blood on it despite the rain.

Shortly after continuing on, characters with a passive Perception of 10 or higher automatically notice dead horses in the stable yard. If they investigate, an easy Heal check reveals that they were bludgeoned to death despite the fact that they were also eaten. A moderate Heal check reveals that the bite marks are human in nature, and that the horses have been dead for about two days.

At this point, characters with a passive Perception of 17 will hear something growling from inside the stables. If they investigate the stables, they find that the gates have bloody hand-prints on them, blood stains the hardwood floor, and several pens have dead horses as well. In the last one, they find a stable-hand eating a freshly clubbed horse (the bloody shoeing hammer is on the ground next to him).

Now, if the players just barge on in and make a lot of noise, the stable-hand instead tries to ambush them. His Stealth isn't that hot and I figure the best I'll get out of it is having him take a swing at the first person to look into the pen he's feeding in. That's okay, because I want to surprise them since I'm hoping that they keep thinking back to the Epilogue session where they controlled random NPCs fleeing from something that they couldn't ascertain. Excepting from his extra mouth, the stable-hand also isn't anything too fancy (level 1 skirmisher), so once combat begins the noise attracts other townsfolk who come-a-callin'.

Most of the everyday citizens dont suffer from any extreme mutations, though there are exceptions like the poor, poor stable-hand (I think I'm going to say that those who are in possession of treasures taken from the shrine are at high risk of contamination). His slobbering maw is a shark's mouth and grows from his stomach. He seems to go into a frenzy at the taste of blood.

Human rabble will fill the niche I need for rushes. Most of the humans in Shardpit look perfectly normal, except for a deranged look in their eyes. They are all very dirty and smelly, having spent the last few days reduced to an animal-like state. They tend to cluster together with a pack mentality, avoiding the townsfolk that possess major physical deformities. Their stat blocks dont need any change.

Guards were sent into the shrine to investigate it for traps and monsters. Since they all share the barracks, they infected eachother and now possess tentacles growing from some part of their bodies. Their fingers have begun to grow suckers and bond together, and their skin has become splotched.

Along with the guards went the hounds. Again, they share a kennel and have some shared features: guard dogs have chitinous growths and spines (emphasizing the soldier role better), while the hounds just have multiple sets of eyes. Down here, they all teleport.

Thinking of changing the names, but frankly I don't care too much since the players wont see the names: I just want a normal dog and then an armored one.

At The Mines Of Madness Maps

With the school term over I got some more work on At the Mines of Madness, the first adventure in my aberrant-themed Eberron campaign, specifically maps. I fucking hate mapping because I always think I do them wrong. I've tried checking out maps of villages, caverns, castles, etc, including construction techniques and what-not, but in the end I'm usually never happy with the result. Here's the new map for Shardpit, an Eberron dragonshard mining town situated over a mostly-natural occurring quarry.

There are two gates to the town, and the wall is made of wood. I tried to go for a more chaotic, scattered layout of buildings. To access the mines, you gotta go through a secure building and down a long set of stairs. This also serves as a checkpoint where miners can be searched for dragonshards if they tried to steal them. There's another building with an arcane elevator that is used to move heavy objects, including a wagon with a bound elemental.

I'm going to place encounters at various locations, such as in the tavern, stables, and the House Tharashk enclave. I'm also going to put in a skill challenge if the players try to skulk about the place and avoid direct conflict. The more failures they accrue, the more often they attract bad things when they get into fights (ideally I'd like to get the players mostly leveled before they head into the mine).

Here's also a map of the mine that the players will be heading into.

This is the source of all the problems. I eventually managed to find some mine maps in addition to a page talking about mining methods, and settled on the room/pillar style. First, it gives it a kind of labyrinthine layout that I like, making it easy for the party to get lost and add to the tension (I didn't draw in the collapsed sections, but they're totally there). Second, it allows for me to make locating the ruin a skill challenge, having them get ambushed on a failure.

Finally, the actual dungeon map.

Dungeon mapping always pisses me off because I spend a lot of time fretting over the logistics: cost and time required to build it, logical placement of rooms, space, whatever. I hate it. Especially castle-mapping. Ugh. Anywho, its not very big. The idea is that Gatekeeper druids found a shrine to an aberrant critter, destroyed most of it, and sealed away the stuff they were afraid of breaking (which is why the last two rooms still have a pool and statue). The first room had a bunch of coffins with some minor valuables and a hidden door to dissuade treasure hunters, but the miners found the door anyway and cracked it open.

I figure I can get a good four encounters out of this mini-dungeon, which is more than enough to get the players leveled at this stage of the game.


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