Iron Circle

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!

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!

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!

Tonight’s session went really well. Almost everyone showed up early and ready to play. We had to make some quick additions to the characters as no one had picked magic items. That one was my fault. We started at 2nd level so they should have had level appropriate magic items and gear, but they assumed they wouldn’t have any. No problems though, we leafed through the books real quick and picked out some basic items.

After character and adventure introductions we started the session with the first encounter in the book – the brigands and the farmhouse that I talked about a few posts ago. I was a little worried that the implementation of the non-skill challenge in combat was going to be clunky but it worked out pretty well. The mage went over to put out the fire right out the gate, except of scooping buckets from the well he used Prestidigation to put out portions of the fire. I figured that was equivalent, if not better, than single buckets of water, so after 4 rounds of him doing that I said the fire had been put out.

While he was putting out the fire he kept trying to convince the NPC to come out of the house and run to safety. Through dialogue with her he picked up that she wanted the brigands to be far away from the house before she would leave, so the party worked on pushing the brigands away from the house. After a few rounds the path was clear and I had her and her sons run out and hop over the fence to safety.

So without much prodding and very little OOC talk about the situation the party managed to accomplish both of the tasks and I rewarded them with some extra XP. They also prevented the escaping brigands from getting away in a climatic running battle. I considered pulling the DM card and just saying that he got away but I felt that it should be played out, so they ran him down and got him.

The highlight of the battle for me was when I got to push one of the PC’s into the well. It was pretty funny, and the ranger got up out of the well the next round, dripping like a wet elf.

The NPC interaction later and the second battle at the tavern went good as well. That battle was a cakewalk for the party so I think I’m going to have to beef up the encounters to make it more challenging. The party composition was: Elf Knight, Eladrin Enchanter, Elf Hunter, Half-Orc Paladin, & the Halfling Cleric. There was a mix between Essentials and regular 4e characters, but I didn’t notice a power difference.

Everyone had a good time and was eager to interrogate the Iron Circle brigand they kept alive, but I called it there for the night because the game store was closing, and it was past our stop time anyway. Overall it was a very successful first session and a very pleasant first time experience in DM’ing 4th edition. After years of DM’ing 3rd edition it was great that I didn’t have to find ways to make sure certain classes were able to contribute. The system works right out of the box. I’m not saying there aren’t flaws or rough spots, but for a group of 2nd level characters it worked great.

Tomorrow: Revenge of the Iron Lich. Anyone want to place bets on how long the PC’s last? 🙂


Good gaming!