Morning Ritual


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!

Good moring, gamers! I’ve got a busy next two days of gaming ahead. Friday night is the first session of my Break the Iron Circle game at the Roll the Dice. I’m running the Reavers of Harkenwold adventure that came in the Dungeon Master’s Kit and I feel I’m ready for it. The first session will probably get through 2 or 3 encounters at the most, since it will be the start-up session which usually entails extra RP between the characters and the NPC’s in order to get the players immersed in the world. I think it will go well.

Saturday is a big day. I’m running Revenge of the Iron Lich at noon at the store and that’s the game that I’m a little nervous about. The players that I’ve gathered up for it seem to be excited to play it, but they are all relatively new to the 4th edition. I’m worried that they won’t complete the adventure in the time limit simply because they don’t have a lot of experience with how 4th edition works.

So to help speed the game up I’m considering changing the way damage rolls work. Instead of rolling for damage with each attack, I’m thinking that each attack that has random damage will instead do average damage + half their level.  Monsters would just get the average damage, no half-level bump. If the attack deals a static number of points of damage, it deals that number + half their level. I’m going to go over the pre-gens and mark down ahead of time what those numbers total out for every attack and write them on each power card.

It’s a small measure, but nearly every power the pre-gens have will be new to the players so any attempt to reduce the math and change it to a quick visual check (okay, I hit with that so I do X damage) I feel will help speed the game. So the dwarf fighters melee basic is now +21 atk, 27 dmg while a sample enemies attack would deal 24 damage. The favor is to the PC’s, but I think they will need the help.

Critical hits still deal max damage, as they should.

 

Good gaming!

Good morning, internets.

Got a relatively busy day today. Breakfast at Wall St, physical science test in my first class, then class the rest of the day. But tonight is Encounters night! Woot.

Last week I played a Cleric (warpriest) for the first time and I was really pleased with the difference from 3.5. Instead of simply using my actions to cast cure spells on the party in combat I was attacking and providing short buffs, whether it was a healing surge or boost to defenses. It was pretty cool to have the party form around the cleric, sort of like a mobile defense station. There were 8 people and 2 DM’s last week at Encounters and hopefully they’ll all be back tonight.

Should also get the chance to talk to my players more about the game Friday and get some close to final notes about what the party composition is going to be. We’ve been in e-mail contact for the past week and so far it seems that the party will consist of a Gnome Bard, a Half-Orc Paladin, Elf Druid (spring), and an Eladrin Psion. There’s another player that has expressed interest but I don’t have his e-mail so I suppose I’ll find out tonight what he’s playing. If he hasn’t decided I’m going to recommend Cleric, because while the party will have a Druid for some healing, my experience last week showed me that it’s important to have a character that is dedicated to healing. Well, I suppose I could say dedicated to a single role in order to provide the most benefits of that role to the party.

To explain that further let me talk about my weekly Dark Sun game. There’s a Human Warlord in the party that at first was built half & half, and by that I mean the player roughly divided his abilities between powers that affected other characters and powers that enhanced himself. After a few sessions of play and some retraining he changed the majority of powers to effect other characters. The difference was really noticeable and a big jump in our effectiveness. There’s no healer in the group, so the Warlord does that as a side job, but his main deal of granting attacks, and attack and damage bonuses, really turn the tide for us in battle. So while the Druid will be able to heal some, I think the party will have a better chance of surviving if they have a dedicated healer.

I’ll report back on Encounters and how the party is shaping up later tonight.

Good gaming!