March 2011

Last night at D&D Encounters my group steamrolled through the fight. We had 2 warpriests, 1 druid, 1 hexblade, 1 thief, and a paladin. In other words, 3 leaders, 2 strikers and a defender. It didn’t even feel like a challenge. I was playing one of the warpriests and between me and the other warpriest we gave the party enough temporary HP’s, bonuses to defenses and resistance to damage that only one person in the party spent a healing surge. That was me, and the only reason I took enough damage to warrant spending my second wind was that I moved around enough provoking opportunity attacks to give my allies flanks. Of course when I spent my second wind I got temporary HP’s and my allies got some more as well  (the Disciple of Light & Disciple of Stone feats).

The fight lasted 4 or 5 rounds and I think during each round nearly everyone in the party had some amount of temporary HP. Everyone had boosted defenses and at least 1 person every round got the damage resistance from either mine or the other warpriests Blessing of Battle. The druid? He just attacked the enemies with his wolf. All total we had 8 different ways to heal (6 healing words, 1 resurgent strength, and the druids healing acorn)…and none of them were used.

This encounter is similar to last weeks fight at D&D Encounters in that we had stacked up heavy on 1 type of role. Last week we had 3 controllers, 1 leader, 1 defender and 2 strikers at my table. Yes, both weeks we’ve had a large number of PC’s, but that’s the same at the other table. We get between 8 and 12 people showing up every week and don’t have quite enough people for a 3rd table yet, so we stack up on the 2 tables. It’s been interesting for me as it’s a chance to observe how the roles in 4th edition are tied tightly to how an encounter runs. In last weeks fight the 3 controllers sat behind our shieldwall of the warpriest, knight, and fighter while the thief skirmished across the line and back. We destroyed the waves of zombies before they could mass a large assault, and the zones dropped in front of the shieldwall reduced the zombies effectiveness so much that it was just a mop-up.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept and execution of roles in 4th edition ever since I started playing. It’s probably the most interesting meta-aspect of the game to me and I think that the typical, balanced party would ideally consist of a controller, leader, defender, and 2 strikers. I’ve seen what happens with excess controllers, leaders, strikers and I’m imagining what would happen with excess defenders. The controllers and leaders examples are from the D&D Encounters recounted above, while the Dark Sun homegame I play in seems to be Striker heavy. Although we’ve had heavy PC attrition (4 PC deaths in 2 months) the group usually consists of a leader, hybrid striker/controller, striker, striker and my defender-in-name-only Mul gladiator fighter. I say in name only because he was the first real 4th edition character that I made and I didn’t really grasp the idea of a defender fighter, so I took the powers and abilities that make him hit harder instead of forcing enemies to attack him. He’s basically a high HP striker and more than once has been the last character standing tall after a fight thanks to his high HP and number of healing surges. But I haven’t been playing him like a defender at all, so our group is about 3/4’s strikers. We put out some serious damage but we also get hurt a lot. Did I mention that we’ve had 4 PC’s die in 2 months of play? It’s a brutal game, but it’s great fun and I think it’s maybe how dark sun should be run. I think too much safety and protection (i.e. an actual defender, an additional leader) would take away some of the great risk that we play with and enjoy in the game.

More on roles later.


After the Encounters game I came home and my friend Jack came over to the house to help me test some wargame rules I came up with. Thanks to helpful D&D nerds on twitter I got pointed to a bunch of 4e wargame type material. Unfortunately the really nice stuff costs money (Soldiers of Fortune & Hard Boiled Armies to name a few) so in the time honored fashion of gaming on a budget I made up my own rules.

I took some advice from others and treated a collection of units as a single group. Using the Monster Builder I created 4 different types of groups; the Shieldwall, the Infantry, the Archers, and the Medics. There are a few differences between these stat cards and regular monsters, otherwise they run the same way. The HP value doesn’t represent Hit Points. It represents the number of units in that group. When a group gets attacked and takes damage, the damage value is how many units it loses. So if the archers shoot the shieldwall for 6 damage, the shieldwall loses 6 units.

Though it didn’t print on the cards, each unit has 1 healing surge that revives a certain number of units within that group. The healing surge value is standardized at half the bloodied value. That’s pretty much it. Other than those changes they have the stats for a 3rd level monster, with a few exceptions. I hand adjusted their Defense values and during the playtest it became obvious that some numbers needed to be changed.

The basic setup is that of the enemy warbands attacking a small town. There’s a wide river and stone bridge that crosses it and the PC’s will be the town’s defenders. Here’s the aftermath of the battle . The units on the left are the enemy archers and medics, and the enemy infantry has pushed its way through the PC’s shieldwall and decimated their infantry. The playtest was a loss for Jack who was running the PC’s side, but it did highlight a number of things that needed to be changed and things that I hadn’t thought of.

The damage values worked out okay for the most part, but the archers armor class was way too low and their damage output was too high. So I’ll adjust their damage to a flat die roll and boost their AC to 16 or 18. The shieldwall couldn’t hit anything with its attack, but it’s defenses worked out great, especially when combined with the medics aura.

As far as Jack’s tactics went, the first thing he did was to divide the 20-man shieldwall into 4 groups of 5 units each. I hadn’t planned on that but it worked out fairly well. I’m going to change the cards to have smaller unit sizes, so instead of handing the PC playing the shieldwall a single card with 20 figures in a huge block formation, the PC will get 4 cards with 5-man formations that he can move around. Breaking up the large 20 and 25 man units was a good part of Jack’s strategy and something I’ll incorporate in the next version of the cards.

Jack had 1 type of each unit, while I gave the enemy an extra archer and took away their shieldwall. The battle went pretty straightforward, with my archers focusing on his archers and then his infantry, while my infantry pushed their way across the bridge. If he had kept his shieldwall locked on the bridge instead of moving them back and let his infantry come in and fight on the bridge it would have been a different fight. As it was his infantry got shredded and my infantry pushed past them and surrounded his remaining shieldwall and medics.

The battle took a little over an hour to play, so I was real pleased with that time. I’ve got a 4 hour slot at the game store and I want the battle to take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, something that is big and exciting. A normal D&D fight that lasts that long would be tedious, but because this is basically wargame D&D I think it’ll work out pretty well.

Good morning, gamers.

::sips coffee::

Wanted to post some updates for the past week and a half’s games. Encounters is going along at a steady pace. We have about 8 to 12 people that show up each Wednesday, enough that we regularly need 2 DM’s. Thankfully we have enough DM’s in house that have experience with Encounters to handle the job. It’s really encouraging to me to see that Encounters is actually bringing people into the gaming store to play D&D. I think every week I’ve met a new gamer. This past week there were two new faces, as a dad in his late 30’s brought his 12 year old son to play. They sat at the table I was playing at and everything went fine. That was my first time playing D&D with a younger person and there weren’t any problems. Since the game is at the game store I think everyone tries to keep their language and such at a PG-13 level (or at least I do), in order to make the environment kid and family friendly, since that’s the type of place that I think the store owners want.

My Friday night game, Break the Iron Circle, had it’s second session this last Friday night and it went really well. The first session had the PC’s fight some brigands outside of town, save the farm woman and her sons, hook up with the resistance movement in the town and then ambush the brigands that were in the town bar. We actually got a decent amount of the story introduced in the first session, at least enough so that the players knew what the problem was in the area and why they should help. The two fights they had weren’t much of a challenge though.

The first fight was at a farmhouse and in fairly open terrain. The enemy consisted of 2 crossbowmen, 2 swordsmen and 2 wolves. It was a long fight, but none of the enemies had enough oomph to really put the hurt on a PC in a single hit, so the cleric was able to heal up the damage that the swordsmen were nickel and diming on the PC’s. The second fight was even less of a challenge. They knew the enemies would be in the bar, came up with a tactical plan and actually got it to work. It was simple, of course, (draw the enemies outside the bar where our ranger and mage can blast them), but the simplest plans like that are the best because they have the highest chance to actually work. So in the first round they had divided the enemies into two groups (minions outside, non-minions inside) and made quick work of all them. I think that fight took about 30 minutes, tops.

They took one of the brigands alive and that was where we ended the first session. The second session started with them taking the brigand back to the stables and interrogating him. The wizard cast his charm person equivalent and they proceeded to get a fair amount of information out of him before the ranger threw him off the second floor hayloft.

I had told them after the first session that I was going to beef up the encounters a little because of how easy they had handled the first two and they agreed that was a good idea (ha!). The next fight was going to be a caravan ambush, where the PC’s learned of an Iron Circle mage being escorted to the town to take over as mayor. They spent the night at their ambush site and waited for the stagecoach to arrive, having one of them lay down in the middle of the road wearing the colors of one of the dead brigands. Another simple plan. The stagecoach stopped while the guards got out and approached the half-0rc laying in the road, which was when the PC’s attacked.

Surprise rounds in 4th edition seem to be super deadly to me. I don’t know exactly why that is yet. Perhaps it has something to do with my first session in the dark sun game – we got ambushed 3 times in a row, and a surprise round against 1st level characters in dark sun is brutal.

The PC’s focused fire on the mage in the first round and got him bloodied. The rest of the combat was a grudge match. I had changed the standard brigand guards into Iron Circle Knights that had plate mail, heavy shields, warhammers, and the Knight’s Defensive Aura ability, as well as a Prone & Slowed effect on their at-will attack. There were 3 of them, the driver with a crossbow, and the mage. The Knights took a ton of punishment and they had an extra effect. If they dropped to 0 HP while within 5 squares of the mage, his necrotic aura kept them alive for one more action. In effect they gained Resist All: Infinite until after their next action, at which they dropped dead. I described the effect appropriately, I think, letting the PC’s know that the Knight should be dead by all rights, but there was strange, dark lights within his eyes and so on, etc.

The mage had some chain lightning that was reflavored as chain fire bursts that also healed the mage with siphoned life energy. In addition whenever a PC spent a healing surge within 5 squares of the mage he had an immediate power that would allow him to regain the same amount of HP. It didn’t stop the PC from healing, it just created a shadow duplicate of the healing energy that the cleric was sending to the PC, and the mage redirected the shadow duplicate to himself.

There was also a clockwork construct dog that I didn’t modify. It basically just guarded the mage but didn’t do a lot.

This fight was a challenge for the PC’s. While the ranger was able to skirmish and hang in the back, everyone else got at least a couple hits on them. I think 4 of the 7 PC’s were bloodied at some point and the PC Knight took a combined total of 80+ damage, having dropped to 0 HP twice during the fight. The cleric spent both his healing words and his Cure Light Wounds on the Knight and they both used their second wind. Even the PC mage (who was crucial in this fight) got knocked to 4 HP.

This tougher fight also showed me how the roles can really shine when they do what they are supposed to do. The PC Knight took a beating, but that was her job. The cleric was on the spot with healing, the ranger was away and skirmishing, the mage was blasting people and sliding them halfway across the battlefield, and the melee ranger and paladin were in the thick of it. I didn’t count but I’m pretty sure the fight used up about 40-50% of the PC’s resources for the day (healing surges, dailies, etc).

The end of the first part of the adventure is a massive attack on the town that the PC’s have just liberated. It calls for multiple encounters that have the PC’s fighting different small skirmishes around the main battle. While this is cool I’d like to change it to have an actual mass battle. Unfortunately it’s not feasible to use the full combat rules in a mass battle like this (around 50+ enemies, similar number of defenders plus the PC’s) so I want to go back to D&D’s roots and use some wargaming rules for the battle.

My initial thoughts are to have each PC be placed in command of a small group of defenders and have them roll attacks and control movement for that group. I need to come up with some simple rules for what kinds of attacks each group can make and I plan on having the PC’s each give different bonuses to their group according to their class abilities, i.e. the Knight gives her group bonuses to Defense, the Ranger gives bonuses to ranged attack, the Paladin to melee attacks, etc.

Does anyone have some simple mass combat rules worked up for a 4e equivalent to a wargame? This encounter is probably a month away so I’ve got time to develop and plan for it and I’ll post the rules I come up with before it happens but I’d like to hear/read what others have come up with in regards to this.

Good gaming!