Archive for July 2011

The Heirs of Ruin Play Report 3

This was a pretty short session as Randy and Beth arrived a bit later than usual due to work, and we had to introduce a new player. Most of the session was devoted to the initial party discovering that they were being followed by an assassin-lead squad of soldiers, "dealing" with them, and learning that the assassin did not really want to be in the business anymore.

So, hey, free striker.

Once the dialogue wrapped up they continued skulking about the sewers looking for a way out, soon stumbling upon a large pile of bones that animated and tried to kill them. The fight was not terribly difficult on paper; some skeleton minions, dwarf skeletons, and an eladrin skeleton that still knew how to use wind magic. All in all the fight had a XP budget of 600 I think. However, one of the eladrin skeleton's powers--blinding wind--did a hefty amount of damage along with a blind kicker, but only recharged on a six. The problem? I rolled that six, in front of my players, three times in a row.

The pile of bones was intended to be a major terrain feature, being difficult terrain and causing creatures to fall over if they got subjected to forced movement and failed an Acrobatics check, but because the skeleton kept blinding everyone never really had a chance to use its other spells that could knock them about. So...oh well. After smashing all the skeletons, the ghost of a dwarf manifested over the bones, but it was getting late so we decided to leave it at a cliffhanger.

Anywho, here are some pics of the game table, since I kept saying that I would take some and forgetting:

July 30, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Homebrew: Seeker Evocations

I wrote up some seeker evocations with a desert theme in mind for those that read this blog and actually use third-party/homebrew material. It is a hard class to write for because the concept seems kind of un-refined; you throw axes or shoot arrows, and spirits pop out to beat shit up. That much is made clear in Player's Handbook 3, though some of their powers let them knock critters into the feywild, grow quills, and ignore difficult terrain because the "land recognizes you and your allies as friends". It really makes it difficult to put some boundaries on what sort of things a seeker should be doing, as well as how to explain it.

Monster Updates And Evard's Shadow

Aside from monster updates for the chuul, grell, and gibbering beast the only other interesting thing this week was the follow up adventure for Dark Legacy of Evard, Evard's Shadow. Yeah, they did an update for the warlock but most of that was to include the new zone rules and make some of the star pact spells affected by either Charisma or Constitution, something that players have been bitching about for years (even after the warlock article that included a bunch of new spells for Charisma or Constitution, I forget which).

Monster Updates
Starting with the monsters--because I do like monsters so, especially aberrants--I am going to do a side-by-side comparison for mechanics to see what has changed, aside from the stat block layout.

  • Chuul: AC gets dropped by one point, Fort by 3. Attack bonus on claw is dropped by two points, but damage goes up by a d6. Double attack gets a one-point attack reduction. Basic damage boosting.
  • Chuul Juggernaut: Reflex and Will are increased by two points. Claw has its attack bonus knocked down a few pegs, but gains a d8 damage boost (or +7 bonus damage boost against immobilized targets). This is not nearly as brutal as psychic lure, which in exchange for a reduced attack bonus has its damage bonus increased by 17 points. Seventeen. Holy shit. Oh, and it can now affect one or two creatures. Oh, and the secondary attack on double attack gets a three point attack reduction, but oh well.
  • Gibbering Mouther: Defenses have gone up by 1-4 points, attack bonus on gibbering  was improved by one, damage all around was increased by a d6, but the ongoing damage was halved. So it is harder to hit and hits harder initially. The ongoing damage reduction makes me think that the overall damage is reduced (average of a d6 is 3.5 and the ongoing damage was dropped by 5), but since I am not sure how many powers allow immediate saves or saves out of turn, this could actually be in the gibbering mouther's favor.
  • Gibbering Abomination: The aura is subtly altered to impose an attack penalty while you are in it, as opposed to if you start in it. Otherwise attack bonuses and damage dice are increased by one across the board, though attacks also benefit by an increase in bonus damage from 5-6 points (so, kind of like having another 1-2 dice lumped on).
  • Gibbering Orb: Hit points see a major reduction of around the 250 mark, though Fort gains a hefty boost of 5 points. Bite is increased by 2d6, and while each eye ray loses one point of bonus damage, they all either get an extra d8 lumped on or (in the case of souleating ray) deal damage in addition to the previous effect. Oh, and gibbering gains an extra point on its attack bonus. Definitely keeping with the theme of reducing hit points while ramping up the damage. 
  • Grell: The grell's tentacle rake loses a d8, but gains a +2 bonus. On top of that it now has double attack, allowing it to grab and slap someone using one action (a staple for Elites and Solos alike). Tentacle grab's attack bonus loses two points (putting it where it should be) and also gains a +2 damage bonus.
  • Grell Philosopher: AC gets dropped a few points, and tentacle rake and venomous mind lose a point of attack bonus. The damage on lightning lance is reduced, and thank fucking god that psychic storm now only dazes for a turn instead of requiring a save to end. I have dealt with an encounter using a few of these fuckers, and the never-ending field of auto-dazing was the bane of fun.

Other than that, each monster also gets about a page of much-desired flavor content in line with what we got in Monster Manual III and Monster Vault. Also, a fucking awesome Wayne Reynolds pick for the chuul.

Evard's Legacy Review
Evard's Legacy involves a band of characters delving into Evard's bi-planar, monster-infested mansion for...whatever reason they want. Though intended as a sequel to Dark Legacy of Evard, the only thing that is really used in this adventure is the town Duponde in name (which gets a small paragraph glossing over it), and one of the NPCs, but just as part of one adventure hook. Really, if you played through Dark Legacy then it should be easy to segue characters into it, but otherwise you can get away without the module.

The start of the adventure has the characters plowing through a skill challenge and horde of zombies in order to reach the material version of the mansion, which looks like it would be a lot of fun. There is the usual undead, corrupt fey in the undead-infested garden, and some bandits obviously waiting to betray you, but the parts that excite me is the wraith--which could easily be a recurring element of every fight, given that it can phase through walls--but the social role-playing opportunities that the human element provides.

Once you shift into the Shadowfell version of the mansion, you get to draw a card from the Despair Deck (which you really should have), in addition to having to deal with dark ones (one of which is a butler), shadow traps, more undead, and denizens of shadow (which are separate from undead in that they lack the keyword) that include Evard's own shade. He is a level 9 artillery. Good luck, and hopefully you have overcome your Despair card by then.

There are not a lot of maps in this adventure, as most of the encounters are encapsulated on the two that detail Evard's mansion in both worlds. Yeah there will be some flipping around, but it saves a lot of space in the end. Some of the encounters look like they could be insanely hard depending on the level of your party. It is intended for a party in the 3-5 range, but the last encounter looks like it would be overkill. Definitely consider removing monsters unless the party is 5th.

In the end it could have used better art to help emphasize the theme and tone, but otherwise looks very well done. I would also recommend checking out the related Design & Development article, as it explains a few things about the new format.

Legends & Lore: Setting the Bar

Mearls contines to expound upon his concepts for a modular game system, and the more he talks about it the more I am in favor of it.

I think.

My understanding is that every class, or perhaps power source, starts at a baseline level of power. Groups that desire more complexity do so, effectively increasing their level of power. For example, fighters can add in an exploit system like 4th Edition has, while wizards get a more complicated spell system (something like rituals, perhaps).

As with all Legends & Lore columns it is a hot topic with gamers asking questions, voicing concerns, deriding the concept without knowing how it will work, and speculating if this will be a new edition entirely or just a new rules supplement.

One gamer asked about how classes will be balanced across the board. For example, if fighters get to use exploits, how will that work out for wizards, clerics, and the rest? Well, as Mearls puts it in the article, "each other class also gains access to a rules module that makes it more powerful (wizards might get more spells, clerics gain access to domain abilities, rogues could get maneuvers like fighters or a trick or stunt system)."

So for groups that went to maintain an equal degree of balance between power sources the solution would be quite simple, assuming the system works as intended, while groups that want to simulate magic being superior could feasibly get away with that by giving spellcasters more "modules", while leaving martial characters high and dry. How does the DM deal with this varied and scaling power? By "dialing-up" the monster difficulty. Two examples given were to increase the number of monsters, or use tougher ones.

Other things of interest were using "double-feat" rules, adjusting the amount of XP required to level up or going "XP neutral", as well as packing rules into modules with identifiers to allow you to pick and choose your rules to suit a campaign. This very much sounds like it could be done using the current edition, especially since Gamma World seems to have been very rules light experiment, though I could just as easily see them cleaning up 4th Edition for the next edition.

They do have products slated for next year, though, so who knows what is going to happen. I am kind of excited to see where this goes, and if I do not like it I have enough D&D material (and Gamma World) to last me a life time as is.
July 26, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Vampire: The Classquerade

Mearls made the big reveal on Monday that the vampire class was deliberately designed, as is, to try and provide a class option that could closely emulate one or more vampire entries in the Monster Manual. This is a reasonable goal that I tried to attain with my homebrew red dragon race/class; take a critter that was never intended to be played on the players' side of the screen, and make it functional and recognizable despite a lack of flexibility.

To me, making sure that it does what the monster is supposed to do takes priority over trying to saddle it with options that do not really make any sense, but going down the vampire's list of racial features and powers we have regeneration, necrotic resistance, radiant vulnerability, lethal side effects from the sun, the ability to drink blood/drain life, punch the shit out of people, charm them, turn into a swarm of bats, turn into a wolf and bat, and a bunch of other stuff that sounds very vampiric in execution.

You know, all the shit that this guy does not do.
The big shocker is that after providing a race, class, feat tree (though admittedly a poor one), and a multiclassing/hybrid option, that it is still not good enough for the vocal minority.

Ironically one detractor wanted a theme, which would provide way fewer options than the class iteration (like, 3-6 in total), not to mention that themes are optional rules that players without DDI accounts would likely be introduced to via Dark Sun Campaign Setting if at all, meaning that it is possible that their total number of themes to choose from would be exactly one.

But hey, it is all right because having a theme would open up more concepts, right? I mean, what if I want to play a wizard-turned-vampire? Currently my "only" options are to play a vryloka, go with the dhampyr feats, pick up vampire multiclassing as a wizard/wizard multiclassing as a vampire, or hybrid the two. I suppose I could also try combining these options to get my vampire-to-wizard ratio close to where I want it, probably exactly where I want it.

Could use a pointy hat, but that will do.
Others still cling to the misconception that it is a "poor striker". I did some number crunching myself, and while it is not strictly as good as an optimized rogue it comes close despite lacking vampire-specific feat support. However, it is important to note that an optimized rogue should not be the benchmark we are looking for. I have also played a vampire, and it was awesome; I did not have a problem with healing surges (not that I got hit), and did an insane amount of damage almost every round. I was able to contribute without being a liability, and felt very much like a vampire in the process.
July 22, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Red Sails in the Fallout Review

My judgement might be skewed in light of having just come away from Under the Crimson Sun, but I found this heartwarming tale of two anthropomorphic female animals literally playing grab-ass across the desert--along with a swarm of insects, racist human, and carnivorous plant--to be pretty a entertaining read that plays out very much like an adventure arc might.

The characters were enjoyable (especially Shaani), the pop culture references were not too tiresome (except perhaps for Wigwig's lolcat speak, but your mileage might vary), and the pacing flowed well up until the end, after which it felt kind of rushed; you never found out what happened to Watering Hole, but presumably they made out alright, how the Plodder's dealt with having their wombats exploded, and for better or worse Xoota and Shaani never got past the, "playful-spanking" phase.

I found it to be a good deal better than Sooner Dead, so if you liked that I would give this a read, too. 
July 20, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

The Ease of Essentials

Designing a class or sub-class with pre-specified class features and/or powers, aka "Essentials-style", is easier than one without because there are often fewer choices to make throughout your career.

For example a fighter gets to pick at least four exploits at 1st-level, one at 2nd, and so on and so forth all the way to 30th-level. The only point where new class features are gained is at levels 11, 16, 21, 24, and 30, which depends on the paragon path and epic destiny you choose. Conversely a class like the slayer chooses two at-will stances...and that is it. Your features are preset for you; +1 to attack with weapons, power strike as an encounter exploit, and you add your Dex mod to damage rolls. At levels where a fighter gets to choose utility exploits you get to as well, but a good chunk of level up will have you picking from a handful of class features or just taking what you get, like another usage of power strike.

This difference in complexity has lead some to believe that the designers at Wizards of the Coast are lazy, incompetent, pressed for time, lack the staff to properly design/playtest material, or a combination of all of the above. I think a major thing that the Essential-haters fail to realize is that there are plenty of gamers out there actually prefer these classes, or at least enjoy both, perhaps even at different times or for different game types. They seem to think that despite "everyone hating Essentials" or Essentials being a "failed product", WotC is simply trying to shovel out subpar content (that anyone could do) because they either have no other option, or just do not give a fuck.

Thankfully Trevor piped in to clear things up by page three, stating that no Essentials was not the result of lazy design or trying to get product out the door, but to provide an alternate entry point (as they have said), and because, yeah, there are gamers that want them, even if they are veterans. He even provides clarification on the vampire; it was designed to evoke the idea of a vampire in the D&D world, something that it does very well despite the limited options and thirty levels. Does a member of the WotC staff coming forward to clarify stuff and address concerns actually help? Eh...not really, which makes it no surprise that they so rarely do so in the first place.

One poster claimed that knights or slayers could have just been fighters, but with most of the choices made for them already. In other words, a pre-generated character that you could choose stuff for if you really wanted to. I...cannot see how this would make anyone happier, as you literally would be buying shit you already paid for. I look at it that the subclasses fill a desired niche. If you want to play a slayer--which plays somewhat differently from a knight or fighter mind you--then you can. If you want more complexity, then play a fighter. Different classes for different needs.

Another poster mentioned that the mage and warpriest are very close to the class design of the original classes, which demonstrates that if the designers think that a class needs to use the original progression to evoke a concept they will, as opposed to needlessly limiting themselves. 
July 19, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

The Heirs of Ruin: Method Mapping

I really dislike drawing maps, so often I try to play out the events of the adventure in my head to get a feel for what might happen (as opposed to what I would like to happen), usually resigning myself to the task of mapping a day or two before game night.

The campaign started out with the players going through a few arena battles before having an ideal chance of escape when a silk wyrm starts wreaking havoc on the place. The intent is that after escaping that they go through a door leading to the mess hall, beat up the guards in there, head into the kitchen, and then use a waste disposal pit to get to the sewers.

When I was writing up the adventure, I figured that not all the guards would get eaten by the silk wyrm, instead fleeing and locking the door behind them, giving the characters extra incentive into taking the other door. The problem is that that whole thing is contingent on the characters not interfering with the guards, and not being slaughtered by a level 3 solo.

When I ran it, the wyrm eventually ran away on its own and the guards followed it, making sure to lock up the prison from the outside. The players armed themselves with loot from the dead guards, and then proceeded as planned when I had a squad of guards show up in the mess hall looking for escapees.

Ultimately it felt like that there was too much that could go wrong, and in the interest of helping things run more smoothly the next time I run (or put it online) I decided to make some hefty cuts to the previous map, making it a bit more straightforward in its purpose. I put the waste disposal in the same room, figuring that it made sense because those cells are not going to clean themselves and it gives the guards a place to go. I also put the whole structure underground, making a lift necessary to access the place. Makes sense, as slaves--as well as dangerous monsters--will now have a very hard time getting out this way.

Playtest: Wizard

Wizard playtest is up. Most of the changes entail giving encounter attacks miss effects of one kind or another, changing zone effects so that the damage occurs at the end of their turn instead of the start (and only happens once), and adding spell school keywords to spells to help mesh with mages and their school specialization class feature.

Some stuff got nerfed, in particular the blood mage paragon path, which I guess puts it at the level of "compelling choice" as opposed to "has easily abused spells". Overall I think the changes are comparatively neutral; yeah, zones get shafted a bit, but I think they needed it. Some people are bitching that magic missile did not get reverted, and of course there is the familiar chorus that this or that did not need nerfing, and they have the numbers to prove it.

Since it is a playtest article I think I am going to actually, you know, play it and submit some feedback based on my experiences. I have a suspicion that it will be enjoyable and functional.
July 15, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Under the Crimson Sun Review

I am sorry. I could not finish this book. I barely got through half of it before I had to call it quits, and by then the author had just gotten around to doing something with the abyssal plague. It was not the thri-kreen walking around on six legs, or the crodlus with carapaces; that I could deal with. No, what got me was the author spending page after page going into thorough detail of characters both main and minor, stating and re-stating details--hobbies, likes, dislikes, etc--again. And again. And AGAIN.

The most recent example was about a templar named Dhakar that did not like to go to the arena, but had to pander to one who did. He mentions that the arena was the latter templar's favorite form of entertainment, then that he went there all the time, then reiterates that while his duties kept him away, if he was free then he was there. This is after the author spends a couple of paragraphs (at least, I might be forgetting more) writing about how much Dhakar disliked going to the arena, among many other things.

This repetition occurs constantly and feels like tedious padding. I felt like I was reading a book that was three times longer than it needed to be, about boring characters and not the abyssal plague (which apparently on Athas is incredibly slow acting). The synopsis about the abyssal plague spreading had just gotten into motion, but was about a hundred pages too late to catch my interest, especially after pages upon pages about the infected mercenary going on and on about how he was having trouble remembering things.

I am sure that shit eventually happens, but I frankly could not care less.

Neverwinter Fortune Cards

I got in a booster box of Neverwinter Fortune Cards, which equates to a grand total of ninety-six cards. I picked up a hefty chunk of Fortune Cards back when the first set was released, and though I tried to get my group into them they often forgot they had them. This time around the cards do a bit more (especially rares), so I'll give them another shot--ironically during my Dark Sun campaign--and see if they get any better traction. If nothing else I'll be taking them with me to Lair Assault games and just throw them at people until I exhaust my massive stack of doubles.

This will still be one of those "love or hate" products, and depending on why you might not have liked the first set of Fortune Cards--power creep, turning the game into a card game, etc--you probably are not going to like these. Me? I like the idea of handing them out as rewards during a game for doing cool shit or for good social role-playing moments.

The cards that were not copies.

The stack of doubles I had left over.

Four of the rares.

Four other rares.

Posted by David Guyll

Neverwinter News

Today's Neverwinter Campaign Setting excerpt is about racial variants, specifically gold and shield dwarves. Previous editions swamped us with sub-races, allowing you to cherry pick the elf, dwarf, or even orc whose ability score modifiers best match up with your class. Do not get me wrong I am used to players going with optimized race/class combinations, but I much prefer 4th Edition's removal of racial penalties and inclusion of racial feats to help push different concepts, instead of just making a shitload of slightly different races.
See? If we go with gold dwarf we can be paladins without a Charisma penalty.
Thankfully these are not nearly as aggressive, functioning more like a combination of a background and racial feature swap. For example, gold dwarves can choose to gain a bonus to Dungeoneering or learn Deep Speech or Elven, and can opt to exchange their save bonus on poisons for one against psychic damage, and/or gain proficiency with war picks and mails instead of axes and hammers. There's also some role-playing notes to help give you some pointers on what it means to be a [insert racial variant here].

This isn't the actual picture, but
it looks waaay cooler.
In other news, a preview for the bladesinger class--a wizard subclass--can be found here. It is still an arcane controller, but uses a mix of melee attacks and ranged followups to get the job done: every time you make a basic melee attack you can cast one of your Bladesong spells on a critter within 10 squares. Strangely the melee attacks are keyed to Intelligence, while the spells are linked to Dexterity. Luckily Guarded Flourish not only gives you a shield bonus to AC in light-or-no-armor, but also lets you ignore opportunity attacks when zapping your enemies.

Other features include allowing you to use a light or heavy blade as an implement (you have to choose, which I like because it lets other races choose more thematic weapons), a bladesong encounter utility that gives you a big attack and damage bonus for a turn, spellbook, cantrips, suggestion, and magic missile. You still get to pick other spells, though another different mechanic is how the bladesinger handles encounter that they are treated as daily spells (of which you get none).

It is kind of one part wizard, one part swordmage, and one part monk. You get a lot of wizard features and spells, but you will spend most of your time carving up monsters in melee while simultaneously rolling out No Action magic with static damage and controller riders. For example, dancing fire causes a target to grant combat advantage, dazzling sunray imposes an attack penalty, and frost bite slows. While it sounds very striker-ish, the damage is based off of your Dexterity mod, scaling at levels 11 and 21, and I think it is balanced by the fact that you don't have daily spells, instead starting with two encounter spells that you can only use once per day.

There is other class features mentioned on the table, such as Arcane Strike and Steely Retort, but we'll have to wait and see what they do in future previews/after the book is released. Anyway, it looks really cool and I am glad to see WotC building a class that does what they want to do without sticking to previous class progression models.

Legend & Lore: Head of the Class

Classes with scaling customization sounds like a pretty interesting concept that has not been explored before.

Basically a new player/player with little interest in making lots of decisions during the character creation process can opt to stick with a "core" character, similar to a build in Player's Handbook (or an archetype from Shadowrun), while others can make a few more choices similar to an Essentials subclass, and so on and so forth until they are customizing every aspect of their character like a "normal" class. The best part is that no matter how many decisions you make--or don't--each character would remain viable throughout the entire game.

Pre-packaged characters would also be handy for pick up games, Encounters, one-shots, delves, or players that have their character killed off and need to roll up something quick to get back into the game before the night is over--and after the game is over I'd allow the player to map out their choices in more detail after the fact to get the character they want. There is also talk of making races into classes to evoke archetypes, such as "dwarves" as super tough fighters and "elves" as multiclassed fighter/wizards.

The big question is whether or not this new type of class design requires a new edition? Builds have been in 4th Edition since it was released, and Essentials subclasses were partially a step in this direction in that they dole out class features at specific levels. I think that WotC could pull this off without ushering in 5th Edition, but we will have to wait and see.
July 12, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: Assassin

It has been awhile since the assassin got any support, and this article provides about two pages each of flavor and crunch content. While the black flame zealot was a prestige class in 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms, this article thankfully provides setting-neutral story information, in addition for some tips on incorporating them into Eberron and ironically into Forgotten Realms (which gets its own sidebar). Much of the information paints them as "sith" assassins, channeling their hatred and fury, which fits the theme of the shadow power source.

The real highlight is being able to swap out shade form with black flame form, which gives you damage resistance, a damage bonus, and you can use your shrouds for free. Like shade form you can sustain it. There is also a handful of feats that increase shroud damage (I thought we already had a feat that increased shrouds to a d8), keep shrouds after critting, move them to other targets after killing them, gain combat advantage against shrouded creatures, and a damage bonus with ki focus powers.

A pair of magic items thematic to assassins helps round things out: one is a level 16 arm slot that increases your crit range on targets with three or more shrouds, while the other is a level 10 rare ki focus that adds necrotic damage to fire attacks (and vice versa), with an encounter attack kicker that deals scaling ongoing necrotic and fire damage, in addition to stopping the target from regaining hit points. To top it off, the crit damage is both d10s and adds on necrotic and fire damage, making it very hard to resist.

I think a better assassin article would expand upon this theme more and provide additional power options to help differentiate them, like the blackguard. Eh, baby steps I guess.
July 10, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Minimalist D&D

think I get what Mearls is trying to say here: rather than have values derived from your ability scores, why not just use their values? In one example, he posits that instead of have a Fortitude defense derived from your Constitution score that you could just use Constitution. Interesting idea, though I wonder how it will handle stuff like skills; will trained skills give you a bonus to a roll, will everyone be able to try a skill and just use the ability mod (removal of skills), will having a trained skill enable you to make the roll at all, or something else? My main concern is a lack of specializing or focus, but this will have to be one of those "wait and see" instances.

In response there is now a very lengthy thread on the forums filled with uninformed statements and speculation on 5th Edition, and some mechanics brainstorming: stripping down ability scores from six to three or four, removing ability score increases, some or all of feats, comparisons of giants pushing each other around, and more. There is currently almost 20 pages to muck through, so I am sure I missed a lot. I think that people are expecting to see a greatly simplified game with modular rules that groups can utilize if they want more complexity.

For example, you have the "basic" game where your abilities basically function as your bonus and defense to help you resolve stuff. Anyone can try to do almost anything they want, but if gamers want to add skills there would be rules to tack them on. Perhaps the same thing with feats, multiclassing, rituals, higher levels, and more. I think that having a modular rules system would present some issues, especially for meeting new groups, pick up games, adventure writing, and the like, but we will have to wait and see where things go from here. Could be a D&D variant, could be 5th Edition, could be nothing.
July 09, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Going Ape! Review

It has been a looong time since I did an adventure review, but since Going Ape! is supposed to use some new-fangled adventure format I wanted to check it out. That, and the girallon mummy (unrelated, I remembered the name and spelling without having to look it up). It is a Heroic adventure for the level 5-7 range with some minor sandbox elements, and is the only 4th Edition adventure that I can think of where characters monkey around in a jungle, making it ideal for use in Eberron (though it would work in Dark Sun or the implied setting just as easily).


A king in the unspecified past used music to lure citizens to him in order to leech their lifeforce, granting him an extended lifespan. Eventually, one of the queen's figured this out and killed him with poison--presumably one from an older edition that inflicted ability score damage--but she got caught and was killed. Since the king didn't exactly set a noble precedent when he was alive, the city was eventually destroyed through a combination of internal strife and anarchy. Now the city is regarded as cursed, and no one goes there...except when they do.

Cue Yayauhqui, a witch doctor from one of the local tribes. He exiled himself after he wouldn't stop going to the City That Shall Not Be Visited in order to find a way to restore his people to greatness. While exploring the city, he found an amulet that contained a fragment of the king's life force and managed to learn the luring song. He used it to draw one of the chieftain's daughters to the city, but instead of being killed by the apes was crowned queen by them. The crown, containing the will of past queens, made her believe that she was queen of the city and that the apes were here subjects.

Yaya used the distraction to sneak into the king's tomb and put the amulet on his corpse, apparently thinking that resurrecting a dead king whose hobbies included using necromancy to drain the life from his own subjects was a good thing. He accidentally mistook the mummifed corpse of a massive four-armed monkey to be the king, which might have actually been an improvement, presumably fleeing after asking the king how he got an extra set of arms, and getting a hollow "ook ook" as a response.

And this is about where the characters show up: the chieftain of Jocotopec is worried about his daughter, and wants them to go into a haunted, ape-inhabited city to get her--just without lasers or Tim Curry.

Now that is a Superior weapon worthy of a feat slot.
I noticed right away that everything is divided into events, whether they are role-playing or combat encounters. It reads kind of like a choose your own adventure book; at the end of event 1, it tells you to go to event 2 if the players go to the other village, or event 3 if they head directly to the cursed city. There is no large heading text for setup, tactics, or features of the area. Instead, monsters, lighting, and Perception DCs are displayed with indented, bold text shortly after encounter's description, while terrain features and tactics listed with the monster stat blocks. Events sometimes run right after each other, though in some cases where there was not a lot of space they started at the top of the next page.

I kind of like this new layout a bit more, if only because of the order in which information is presented. Otherwise it looks similar to the previous layout, just with bold text instead of larger headings (which that, combined with white space, can make it easier to distinguish different blocks of information).

As for the actual adventure, it does look like a lot of fun and very portable; you could add it as a side trek for an adventure that involves the players entering a jungle (or forest), especially if the natives can help them find something they are looking for/help get them out. You could also pad it out with some random encounters to boost the party by a level or more. I don't mind any plot holes that might exist (do not take my plot-mockery seriously), because there is really no way for the characters to know about them. From their point of view, villagers want them to get their daughter. It is kind of like that cliche of a mayor hiring them to save his daughter from cultists, only the daughter is the cult leader and there are apes instead of people.

So...not really like that at all.

A small chunk of the adventure can be avoided entirely if the party heads directly to the city, though they can also help patch up relations with the two rival villages (or make things worse with a some botched words and skill checks). My favorite encounter is the finale where you actually manage to square off against the girallon mummy; at 10th-level even a level 7 party (the highest recommended level for this adventure) will have a bitch of a time fighting it. What I like about the encounter is the usage of Arcana and/or Religion to try and force the mummy back into its sarcophagus. Even if you don't get it that far, just the fact that you can slide it and it cannot move closer for a turn could be insanely helpful to a party with ranged characters.

This adventure looks like a barrel, but I am on the fence concerning the new format, such as it is. I'll need to see more adventures before I can form a stronger opinion.

July 08, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Virtual Table Trial Run

Randy signed me up for a Virtual Table slot while I was on the way home for work, which wouldn't have been so bad if it was not 12th-fucking-level. I rarely get a chance to play, and have never legitimately exceeded 6th-level. I decided to keep things simple and roll a dwarf fighter, as it was thematic and I was able to get by setting the power filter to "Constitution". Thankfully Virtual Table now accepts character imports and does it well, so despite having a shitload of exploits and item powers at my disposal I was able to skim through them quickly and not drag things to a halt.

That last time I really messed around with Virtual Table was basically at the start of its Beta cycle roughly a year ago. I spent a lot of time building maps from The Twisted Hall and Dungeon Delve, hand-writing monster stats and powers using whatever format worked for me at the time, so I was already pretty familiar with various features like AoE zones, pointing, visibility, etc. Even so I was a bit nervous because I'd be playing with a bunch of strangers with the advantage of internet anonymity, which can make even the attempt at civil discussion a herculean endeavor.

Despite my, er, previous "experiences" with online games and gamers, I was surprised to find that the people were patient and fun to play with, despite not knowing them, being able to see them, and the DM having internet issues. We managed to get through almost two encounters before he was unable to get back online, but it was very easy to pick up and play with minimal instruction. Unfortunately I have not used other online software so I cannot compare them, but I really like Virtual Table: even seemingly simple features like automatic initiative sorting cut down quite a bit on combat preparation. Voice support made it feel more like a table-top experience, as we were able to joke around quite a bit between actions and waiting for the DM to reconnect. My only gripe is that I would like a larger variety of tokens and tiles, which serves as a major bar for me because I want to build maps that are not limited to dungeon interiors.

That, and most of the "games" instruct you not to join. I might have to bite the bullet and run some delves.
July 07, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

"Essential" Support

Two parts of the same rules system.
Various gamers don't like the Essentials line for various reasons; martial classes without daily powers and limited choices being among the top two that I have seen. That I can get behind. Some people are very happy with the diverse choices available to classes following the original progression method.

What I do not get is gamers who dislike Essentials because they think that it is taking support away from "original 4th Edition" content. I dislike this stance it because it not only implies that the content out of Essentials and the books that came before it is somehow incompatible or different, but also because it is wrong.

First, new content for the cleric was fairly recently released, but material for the ardent has also appear post-Essentials as well. This is indicative that WotC has not "abandoned" older classes, and I would expect to see new stuff for older classes at some point in the future, not that some classes--particularly the fighter or wizard--exactly need it.

Another important thing that I have seen willfully dismissed is content that is compatible for both subclasses and the parent class. For example, exploits for knights and slayers can be taken by fighters, and vice versa. Some people were upset because Heroes of Shadow allegedly lacked support for older classes. They had been expecting a necromancer class, or a necromancer build for wizards.

Unfortunately, they had to "settle" for a slew of new spells for wizards and warlocks, prayers for the cleric, a vampire class, and more. I know Mearls has stated that the new design would be used going forward, but that does not mean that they won't revisit older classes, create a class using the "classic" design, or try something new; they are not forced stick to one method. I am glad that they decided to branch out and give something new a shot, and actually like some of the subclasses and the vampire class (which works out when you actually play it).
July 06, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

The Heirs of Ruin Play Report 2

  • Randy's character, a genasi swordmage/warlock hybrid who is named something like Sars I think
  • Maximus, human warlord (Beth)
  • Jiga, elf rogue (Liz)
  • Kevek, goliath shaman (Kamon)
On day three of their less then luxurious stay at the Criterion, the characters were able to escape after a silk wyrm escaped from its cage while being transported and busted open the cell holding Sars and Maximus. While the guards were busy trying to get it off the handler, Sars managed to sneak out of his cell and use his psionic talent to lift the keys off of one of them. Maximus tried to get a weapon from one, promising to help fight, but they told him to stay put as they knew his reputation as a former general.

The silk wyrm tore off the handlers arm before turning on the guards prodding it with trikals. It briefly transformed into sand, flowing around them to avoid being surrounded, and continued tearing them with its jaws. The guards had gotten lucky with mighty strike, which the wyrm remedied by drinking the blood from one and healing itself. Sars was able to free several other prisoners, incuding Jiga and Kevek. As the guards started to fall, the wyrm eventually fled. The last one standing, faced with a bunch of freed slaves, ran into the hall and sealed the door.

The characters took some time to loot the guards, who of course didn't happen to have just the weapons they needed, and had to make do with no armor, trikals, and dejadas. Another door lead to the mess hall, which contained a handful of guards and jhakars who were heading over to investigate all the noise. Since the characters were armed and supported by a mob of slaves following Maximus's lead, they didn't stand a chance (especially considering that with two leaders, even if I dropped Sars he'd just get back up with more than half his hit points anyway).

The found more weapons and armor that they didn't like and decided to actually arm the other slaves, allowing them to make attack rolls with an actual bonus. In a storeroom I decided to make things easier on them and let them make checks to find gear suitable for their characters (plus they had character sheets with the "normal" stats and all). A squad of guards, including some more jhakar trackers and a "wielder of the Way" showed up looking for escapees soon after, which they handled by jumping into a waste disposal pit because whatever lives in the sewers probably makes for a more level-appropriate encounter.

Fortunately the managed to snag a single torch, and almost immediately had to fight off a pair of gray oozes that generally enjoyed pre-killed snacks. Kevek's wild talent let them know which way was north, which made it easy for them to pick the general direction of Balic's slums before moving on (I gave them a small bonus). After wandering through the sewers for an hour they were ambushed by rats of both usual and unusual sizes due to failing part one of the skill challenge, after which a pair of slaves were dead and Maximus was diseased (he got better, due to a meager DC of 12). Exhausted, they settled down for the day, munching freshly killed rats.

A major goal of this session was to try and usher them into the waste pit so that they could wander through Balic's sewers until they found a mini-dungeon with some plot-centric stuff. I was worried that they would try to fight their way through the main hall, but I didn't want to invalidate that option by making it obviously impossible. While drawing up the map of the barracks, I figured that if a guard could escape he could lock the door from the other side. A character could break it down, but it would take awhile, and included another unlocked door that would point them in the right direction. They went for it, found the storeroom, and leapt into the pit of their own accord instead of facing a very difficult--but still doable--challenge.

Two Custom Rare Items

I created a pair of rare items for my Heirs of Ruin Dark Sun campaign that the players won't get for three or four levels. As it typical for my games, they will "level up" along with the party should they keep them, gaining new abilities in a similar fashion to legacy items from 3rd Edition. 

Personally I'm not particularly concerned if they are balanced with other rare items. I like to give my players extra incentive to keep items like this, and by giving them a bit of extra oomph it should feel more rewarding if they get them (especially since in Dark Sun the enhancement bonuses do not really mean shit).
July 03, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

The Heirs of Ruin: Slave Barracks Map

Here's a map I sketched up for my current Dark Sun campaign, based on a map that I can no longer find, adjusted for the encounters and direction I want the players to go.

July 01, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

New Adventure Format

After some five years, it looks like the guys over at WotC have decided to stop shoehorning encounters into the "delve format". In case you haven't cracked open an adventure published by them for a good while, the delve format is basically a two-page spread that is designed to let you run an encounter without having to reference anything else:

While a noble endeavor not every encounter demands the same amount of real-estate, and it sounds like a lot of people are happy to see it (mostly) go. I tried running Expedition to Castle Ravenloft recently and didn't mind flipping back and forth to encounters, especially since I'd converted it to 4th Edition and so didn't need to crack open other books to determine what various special abilities or spells did. I'm interested in seeing the new direction; from what we've been told, they are going to just let it flow across pages and divvy them up using a horizontal rule.

At any rate, at least one adventure this month--Going Ape--will rely on it. At least the cover looks badass (as do some of the articles).

Posted by David Guyll


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