April 2011


Last Friday my group finished Act 1 of the Reavers of Harkenwold adventure. They’ve done very well so far, enlisting the aid of the riverboat halfling clan, the farmers of Tors hold and the forest elves in their quest to rid the Harkenwold of the Iron Circle menace. They’ve suffered only 1 PC death ( paladin of the Raven Queen) and he was brought back as a Revenant.

Act 2 opens with a massive pitched battle between a hundred Iron Circle mercenaries & the rebel alliance at town of Albridge. The adventure book calls for 3 separate fights for the PC’s during this battle, each taking place away from the main fighting. I’ve talked on here about my plans to play out the battle itself using homebrew wargaming rules instead of doing the 3 fights. My players are onboard for this and I’ve run two playtests of the battle. Its a hard fight and both times the rebels lost, mainly due to improper troop placement before the battle. It’s a deceptive fight because the players naturally want to setup defenses on the north side of the rivet spanning bridge and force the Iron Circle to cross the bridge, but the Iron Circle has better ranged attack units and in each playtest have drawn the rebels south across the bridge where they were slaughtered to the last man. So if the players hope to win they have to position their troops south of the bridge.

One of the players was in one of the playtests and really wants to tell the group what they should do, based on his playtest experience. Thankfully he asked me first and I told him no. That’s direct meta-gaming, but I do want to feed the players some clues, in-game, about how they might best position themselves. I’m thinking a skill challenge type structure, using History and Nature to determine what kind of advice or plans I’ll give the players.

We were planning to do the battle this Friday but one of the players is going to be at an anime convention (MTAC), so we’ll push the battle to next week. Which means that this week I need something for them to do that isn’t covered in the adventure book.

I don’t know the statistics on whether DM’s prefer their own adventures or published adventures, but I usually run with my own adventures. This is actually the first time I’ve used a published adventure and I mainly choose to do so this time because I’m still new to 4th edition and wanted to run something that I assumed would be balanced as my first major foray in the 4th edition. I like making up my own stories and adventures though and I recently started a bi-weekly Sunday night game set in my own homebrew world. So I don’t mind gaming outside the published adventure lines, to borrow a metaphor.

What I decided to do is to have the session be an extended RP session with th PC’s organizing the town’s defenses over the course of 2 or 3 days before the big battle. The group likes to RP and we’ve had limited time for that recently so I think they’ll enjoy an extended RP session. But at its heart D&D is a combat RPG so I want to have them fight something during the session as well. There’s been talk on various D&D blogs lately about ignoring the XP budget when designing encounters and instead building them more for aesthetic  and story purposes. Theres merits and drawbacks for both ways of doing it, but I do use the the XP budget when designing encounters. If I’m pulling together a random encounter with monsters from the Monster Vault I’ll check the budget and pick ones that fit both with the story and the budget.

But if I’m custom making the monster, as I did for this Friday’s session, I generally ignore it and just make something that’s cool and fits the story. For example, this is the monster I made for the game Friday, the dreaded Vampire. He’s a level 5 solo brute that can dominate and drain healing surges in a single turn (The PC’s are 3rd level, by the way). The vampire will sneak into the town during the night, killing a few rebel pickets to get to the PC’s house and then try to kill each of them in their sleep. Realistically it won’t kill anyone in their sleep but it will start the combat with biting the PC while their sleeping in bed. A great opportunity to give them the heebie jeebies, and they’ll probably be fighting in the combat without their heavy armor on (since it’ll be attacking in the middle of the night). The PC’s might set a watch, but their sleeping in town with the whole rebel alliance guarding the town. They’re not that paranoid. Yet.

In other gaming news, one of my players is an old friend of Robert Schwalb and encouraged me to start using Robert’s forum as a place for OOC chatter and IC RP’ing when we’re not at the table. Though I’m an experienced PbP’er, I haven’t done much with on this forum aside from setting up the OOC thread. One of the players has started an IC thread as a continuation of the RP that we ended with last session.

I think it’s a neat idea and I encouraged the players to log on and post whatever they want. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to keep up with the forum threads as much as I’d like to, but it’s an interesting alternative to Obsidian Portal (which I use as well and like, no complaints here) and it’ll allow the players to RP some more, as we are limited to a 4 hour time slot at the gaming store.

Good gaming!

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Greetings all,

It’s been awhile since I’ve update here and there’s been a lot of gaming that’s happened in the meantime.

The Dark Sun game I play in has lost more characters, bringing the total to 5 PC deaths in almost 3 months of gaming. The party is now 5th level and a tip from the DM about tonight’s upcoming session had all of us make backup characters in case we have a TPK, which may happen. Apparently we are going to face some giant Dune-type Sand Worm that is 7 levels above the party. I’m not bothered that we all may wipe from a random encounter, which isn’t what I expected to feel. This is my first Dark Sun game and the DM has certainly made it live up to the common experiences of Dark Sun that I’ve heard about. To wit: It’s freaking deadly. There’s no easy or safe overland travel. Traveling even 2 days into the waste is dangerous enough to get you killed. It’s been an interesting change from the other D&D settings that I’ve played in over the years (Ravenloft, Rokugan, Forgotten Realms, Eberron) and I think the danger of the wastes adds to the flavor of the game.

At the same time, 3 of those character deaths have been dealt to the same player. After his first character died (a Thri-Kreen monk) he brought in a ranger, and when that died after 1 and a half sessions of play he brought in a thief. The thief also died 1 and a half sessions later. So the player has been understandably frustrated with the game, at least from a player perspective of feeling attached to a character. It’s kind of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand having these PC deaths really sends it home that this is a deadly world, but on the other hand it hasn’t been my PC dying. My fighter and another players warlord are the only remaining PC’s from the first session (though one player voluntarily retired his kreen. Said he couldn’t RP him). So while I enjoy that the game is deadly and brutal, I haven’t been on the direct receiving end of it.

I have been in the past though. When Oriental Adventures and the Rokugan setting were released for 3rd edition (back in…2001? Think so.) my gaming group at the time started a Rokugan campaign. I loved the setting then and I still do. But I was plagued with character death in that campaign. I started out as a monk, who promptly died. Replaced by a Nezumi, who died. Then I played a rogue, who died. After that I had a different monk, who lasted for just enough sessions for me to get attached to him…and then he died.

After that I played a Naga (big snake) and I really liked that character. It was cool, being a big snake thing and fighting with a glaive. I liked him so much that after he survived through the short story arc that we were in I retired him because I didn’t want him to die. By this time we were about 6th or 7th level and I was about to be on my 6th character. After the first couple of character deaths it got very discouraging, even though some of those deaths were admittedly my fault (Having my 2nd level rogue charge the Big Bad Ugly Monster…) it still was getting harder to get attached to my characters.

The last character I played in that game before it ended was a Samurai. He wasn’t a typical samurai though, as I had gone through the Rokugan book looking for something interesting and had found the lore about the Honor quest, wherein a samurai would be stripped of his name and honor and go on a year long quest, traveling the land while trying to understand what Honor really meant. I found it to be a really interesting idea and I was immediately hooked again back into the game.

I suppose the point of this rambling story is that character deaths are going to happen. Back then the key for me getting interested in the game again was finding this little bit of lore that I immediately got attached to. It may be different for other players, but I think the idea remains the same. When players have a reason to care about their characters, when they’ve invested time and energy and thought into why a character is doing something, then that’s when character death will mean something, which now lets me segue into talking about last night’s Break the Iron Circle game.

 

We had our first character death last night at the game store. We’ve had 7 sessions of play so far and the players are now 3rd level. Over the course of the campaign I’ve modified a number of monsters, some heavily, some just light revisions, but all of my changes have gone to making tougher encounters. One of the reasons for that is we play with a big group. We have 7 players, but usually average about 5 or 6 people at any given session. Most of the players are experienced enough with 4th edition to make a decently optimized character, though I don’t think we have any that over the top.

So I’ve been slight modifications. A little AC bump here, changing that attack to a minor action over there, and the fights have been tougher. I’ve consistently knocked the Knight down in just about every fight, but the player loves it, as she gets to feel like her character is doing her job. There’s a Warpriest in the party, and sometimes the Druid’s player comes, so there’s at least 1 healer at all times, sometimes 2. With the party composition the way it is I don’t feel bad about making the fights tougher as they have the resources to deal with it.

The general reaction I’ve received from the players about the difficulty of the encounters is that they enjoy the tougher fights. Each fight a number of characters get bloodied and at least someone uses a daily power each fight.

The character that died last night was the parties Paladin (of the Raven Queen). The group had gotten into the sanctuary of an undead mage that the neighboring elves wanted killed and after fighting some goblins and such in an outer chamber they literally broke down the door (no one was trained in Thievery) and stomped into the Lich’s room. Ok, so he’s a 3rd level Lich, but Lich nonetheless. Battle ensues, with spiked pits opening and spiders the size of large horses teleporting around and webbing people. The Lich is throwing lightning and necrotic energy around, challenging the party’s wizard to come out and face him. The cowardly wizard (not an insult, that’s how the character is played) of course declines to answer and hides among the rangers stalker mist.

As the fight is drawing to a close the Paladin finally gets past the lesser enemies and lays the smack down on the Lich. He dropped at least 1, if not 2 daily powers and did 5W damage to the Lich, totaling about 60 dmg. The Lich isn’t doing so hot, but neither is the Paladin. The Lich’s skeleton buddy stabs the Paladin in the back and drops him to 1 HP. Here’s where things got interesting.

I allow Fortune Cards at my table. Besides other reasons, one of the reasons is that since we play at the game store, I want to help the owner out. So if players are buying D&D stuff at the store I want them to be able to use it in our game.

That aside, the Paladin’s character decided to play a Fortune Card when the Skeleton hit him. He had a 50% chance to take have damage and a 50% chance to take extra damage equal to his level (3 dmg). He rolls badly and falls unconscious in a square adjacent to the aforementioned spiked pit. Experienced dungeoneers can probably see where this is going already.

The Lich’s turn rolls around. Oh, hey, look. An unconscious paladin that really wants me dead for all eternity. Let’s blast him into the netherworld. So the Lich makes an attack, auto-hits and auto-crits. It wasn’t a lot of damage though, bringing the Paladin to -17 or so (he’s got until -20). But there was another reason I had the Lich choose that low damage power over a higher damage one, and that is because the power also pushes the target 1 square. So the Paladin gets blasted by necrotic lightning and is shoved into the pit, where he falls onto the spikes and dies.

It felt very cinematic and the group was aghast. The first companion had died. They quickly finished the fight, as the Lich didn’t have much left in him after the Paladins smite. Before the ranger got a chance to loot the Paladins body I had a quick conference with the Paladin’s player. He agreed and so we went back in character and we RP’d a short vision with the Raven Queen, congratulating him on dying in such a worthy cause (fighting a lich) and asking if he would be her champion once more. The player agrees, so I describe the dead paladin’s body starting to writhe and pull itself up off the spikes. The half-orc paladin has been brought back to life, sorta. He’s a Revenant now, blessed by the Raven Queen with another opportunity to kill in her service.

It’s turning out to be an interesting game and I’ve got some big things lined up for the next couple of sessions, so I’ll be sure to keep it updated.

Good gaming!