Monday, November 28, 2011

It's a GammaWorld Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown

So I did something a little funky for the holidays this year and I thought I'd share what happened. On Thanksgiving, we usually go over to my wife's family's house and during the festivities at some point, all of us in the "next gen" category play games together. It's been Rock Band, Settlers of Katan, Citadels, Munchkin, etc, the game changes up year to year. So this year, the family proposed that we maybe play a little GammaWorld to introduce the cousins to. My wife and her two sisters are all players in my regular 4E game, so they know the mechanics and have all rolled up a GammaWorld character at some point, but the two cousins (both guys) had never played a tabletop RPG. Also did I mention that I found out about this idea with only a day to prep? I'm normally a very proactive planner when it comes to gaming material so I got more than a little nervous about having something to show for the newbies as well as my sister-in-laws who have a bit of RPG background.

I already talked about how awesome I think the Fourthcore Alphabet is and if you haven't check it out, you need to, but I thought I'd put it to the test and use the randomized tables from the Alphabet to create the scenes for the adventure on Thanksgiving. I didn't really have a full idea of what I wanted so I decided to use the random tables and create a quest for the players.

So rolling up ideas, I came up with a simple Quest that my party was going to have to seal away a powerful enemy using some kind of ritual, they were going to have to seek an enemy's help to do it and as a result, the enemy was going to gain access to a powerful artifact as a result of their quest. I wanted to do something remotely Thanksgiving related so I decided that the enemy who had to be sealed away would be something known only as "The Gobbler" and when I came up with more details I would make sure that the turkey theme continued. I also decided that in order to stop the Gobbler, they couldn't just fight him, they'd have to lure him on a "table" and set the table with ingredients which would activate its containment (and yes the ingredients were all components of a thanksgiving meal). This information would be had by a biker gang of Porkers, which several of my players have already had horrible run ins with Porkers in our previous missions in GammaWorld, but the Porkers wouldn't just fork over this information. They want Omega Tech for it. So there is a sacrifice up front, but it hopefully pans out since they gain the means to actually stop the BigBad.

At this point, I started flipping through the Monster Vault to try and find a creature I could use for the Gobbler. I was having a hard time coming up with something, so I turned to the Overlord section of the Fourthcore Alphabet. Randomly I determined that the overlord (i.e. The Gobbler) couldn't speak,but used telepathy to speak through a proxy. I also determined that he controlled his allies through a ritual that must be repeated on a regular basis. This was how the Porkers were able to escape! I also determined that there were bas relief images that covered his entire base and I decided that these would be images of natives fighting armored warriors (a little nod to the colonial Americas).

After that I realized I needed to determine what the base looked like. So I rolled on the Dungeon section. It came across that they were caverns which were constructed by an ancient people who no longer used them. I decided it worked well to have these caverns be a home to a native people group who lived their until they fled do to the advances of a force known as the Grims. I also determined that the main denizens of the dungeon were Animated Constructs. At this point I landed on the page of elementals and start thinking about how perfect it would be if the minions of the Gobbler were all Thanksgiving food related. Fighting a golem made of gravy would make for a very different meal afterwards.

I decided that I wanted the caverns to be made up of 3 chambers (a little classic and blah, but game time was limited). I wanted the first chamber to have potential for a combat, a temptation, and a puzzle. I thought a fountain with a potentially dangerous outcome could be perfect so I went and ahead and declared it a gravy Fountain (great source for constructs if they failed the puzzle) that if drank would attack the player and if hit they would die of a heart attack. I actually rolled the effect and was like, wow, that's appropriate. Drinking from the gravy fountain and just drop dead. Huh. Then I rolled for the Puzzle. I came up with the series of bells in a chamber that need to be rung to sound like the bell on a grandfather clock in the room when the hands are set at midnight. This was a little obscure a puzzle and knowing my players to not be the best at puzzles, I decided to include a subtle detail to give them a hint. The clasp on the bells, the part you hold, looked like two hands side by side straight up. I thought this would give them the piece they needed to solve it pretty easily, but they still spent over half the time in this adventure in that front room. They failed with the bells and summoned increasingly more Gravy Constructs (reskinned water elementals) until finally someone just clicked on the idea and set the hands up and then rang the bell. It was awesome once she got it. :)

The next chamber I wanted to be a gauntlet of Traps so I rolled for three devious devices that they would have to get past to gain access to the next area. The first one was spectral tendrils, that I reflavored as cranberry sauce reaching out to grab people. It had the effect on a hit that the items on the creature would begin to rust and decay away as the jello salad made them older and older. The next trap was a pitfall full of old turkey carcasses and bones that if a party member fell into it (they had to jump the pit, which they used some very creative thinking to make it over) would summon 4 skeleton turkey minions (reskinned skeleton warriors). The final trap was a false floor made of stuffing that gave way when three party members stood on it. They failed their perception checks to smell the difference and it gave way under the whole group dropping them into the last section.

As the party was working their way through the caverns, they collected different bits from the different traps and constructs since they knew they were going to have to use them to lock down the Gobbler. As they walk into the main room, there were Broccoli and Mashed Potato constructs that were reskinned fire and earth elementals and the Big Gobbler himself a reskinned Beholder Gauth. Using the Beholder was something I was particularly proud of. It worked really well with the concept and it was giving the party a really hard time. They were having a hard time of it until they realized they should focus on the constructs to gather the needed materials for the ritual. Once they realized this they were able to maneuver the Gobbler onto "the table" and start putting the ingredients in place to imprison it there. Overall game time took 3 hours and was a LOT of fun. Creating the adventure took 15 minutes. That's what impressed me so much. The Fourthcore Alphabet was a great means for story ideas and made it a snap to make something really specific and cool. I'm definitely using this again when I have another quick adventure to put together and need something really special and different.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Awesomeness All Over the Place

So I'm doing a lot of cool stuff right now. My gaming schedule has shifted pretty substantially in the last month and instead of predominantly running games, I'm actually a player quite a bit.

We took a month off of our regular D&D game that I play in (run by Humorous Endeavors) and have been trying other RPGs. We tried out World of Darkness (which was creepy), Mouseguard (which was AWESOME and a really stark juxtaposition to the dark world concept of the previous game), and this week I ran a one shot of Old School Hack and ran through a pared down version of "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" from early D&D lore. There is something cool about taking a break from your usual game and trying something new that gives you an appreciation for the original game and a new approach to thinking about the game in the first place. We start up our regular 4E game next week and I'm honestly really excited about it.

I'm playing in the WeeklyGrind4E series that MilwaukeeJoe is running (the room we are currently on is the first that he wrote himself and it's absolutely devastating right now, especially since the last room killed over half of our party). Having time to think about how my actions unfold (which you don't get to do quite as much in a live game) has been really cool and has let me think about just what it looks like when my character takes particular actions. A really fun exercise in description and tactical combat without the visual cues and table talk of a regular table top game. This blog taught me how to do play-by-post and it has proved absolutely invaluable for the other thing that is taking up my time right now.

CStevenRoss is doing some great stuff and started running a PvP game using 4E and I'm on a team (playing, I know how silly!) and it's SO INTENSE. I'm literally refreshing my browser to keep an eye on just how many hit points I have left and whether I'm in danger or not. The decision-making process and balancing the potential dangers all over the map embrace exactly what Fourthcore represents.

Speaking about Fourthcore, this past week marked the release of the Fourthcore Alphabet by Sersa V which is essentially a book filled with awesome charts filled with incredibly innovative and descriptive dungeon and monster design ideas. Just flipping through the tables, I got all kinds of ideas on how to better describe and inhabit any dark and spooky place that an adventuring party could explore. The tables are really game system neutral so you could use it to create all kinds of interesting locations for any game. All the charts work as random tables if you want to let chance decide the fate of your dungeoneers, but just reading through the charts is a great way to find cool ideas and really develop a stronger dungeon vocabulary. D&D is a game of  heroes wandering into dark places, hopefully to come back out and this resource can help a gamemaster make that darkness seem especially dark. It's seriously awesome and really worth the $5.99 to pick it up.

My actual game (the one I run) has been slow lately. We've had a lot of random breaks that slowed us down and that has made it more difficult to keep momentum. Especially at Epic tier. Big exciting things take so long to unfold that having these big breaks has really hindered our ability to keep our energy and excitement high. We had a pretty awesome session last time (week and a half ago) involving an elder worm (note that it's not a wyrm) summoned by the blood of Mephistopheles in a gladiatorial arena in Hell. They then traveled from Hell to Letherna and met the Raven Queen in her palace. And since the session wasn't epic enough at this point, they ended up on the shores of Hestavar in the Astral Sea with a squadron of angels and silver dragon-knights flying down on them. I love big cliffhangers. :) It's go time in just a few days and boy do I miss running our normal game.

So that is what I have been up to lately. Sometime soon I'm going to post a write up of my worm arena combat because I sculpted the worm and painted it up myself and it turned out pretty cool. So until next time...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Winter is Coming, RPG Blog Festival

Twwombat put together a week focused on Winter and how that fits in RPGs. There are a tone of awesome articles and how to tell a winter story or how to otherwise integrate winter into your game as part of the festival. This is my addition to the fun! 

Channel Divinity: The Raven Queen
While the Raven Queen is most often known for her domain over the dead, she also holds sway over the coming of winter and the frost is hers to command. After wresting control of darkened months from Khala and ushering her into her dying folds, the Queen of the Land of Decay also took on the role of Queen of Winter. Many see this as fitting since winter is a season of the long dark and cold and since the trees all appear dead, but what many fail to see is just how necessary winter truly is. Without winter, many plants cannot properly germinate. Winter is merely the natural and inevitable off setting of the cycle of seasons just as death is the natural and inevitable ending of a long life. The Raven Queen is the neutral party who is able to preside over this perfectly.

Those who serve her are not only the keeper’s of the dead, but also those who watch over the earth in the long season of darkness. Not only do they thrive in the long night of the Shadowfell, they also thrive in the long night that winter brings, which makes them ideally suited to watch over the winter months. As a servant of the Raven Queen, you have a responsibility to not only guard the dead, but to watch over the inevitable cycle of seasons. Those who would see Winter kept off through unnatural means are as abberant as the necromancers you would so despise.  You must take caution that you yourself do not seek to upend the cycle of seasons and bring Winter too long. For as death is part of the natural cycle, winter must also give way to spring.

Here are options for the faithful of the Raven Queen to give a more complete picture of her full domain and her power over the winter months.


Heroic Tier:
Prerequisite: You must worship the Raven Queen
Benefit: Choose an attack power you possess that has the Necrotic keyword. It gains the Cold keyword and if it deals necrotic damage it now deals cold and necrotic damage. You may reassign this bonus at the end of an extended rest.

Ice In Your Veins [Divinity]
Heroic Tier:
Prerequisite: Channel Divinity class feature, must worship a deity of the winter domain
Benefit: You gain the channel divinity power Ice In Your Veins.

Ice In Your Veins                              Feat Utility
As you enter a dangerous situation, you pause and draw forth an icy cloud from within you and frost forms across your skin, protecting you from harm.
Encounter   *  Divine
Standard Action, Personal
Channel Divinity: You can use only one Channel divinity power per encounter
Effect: Until the start of your next turn, you gain resist all equal to any cold resistance you already possess. Aftereffect: You lose your cold resistance until the start of your next turn.

Guardian of the Sleeping Season
Heroic Tier:
Prerequisite: You must worship the Raven Queen
Benefit: Whenever you do cold damage to a creature with the plant keyword, they gain vulnerable 5 cold until the end of your next turn.

Magic Item:

The Chill of Death                                                                   Level 3+ Rare
This elegant sickle of blackened steel is freezing cold to the touch. This is the favored weapon of a servant of the Raven Queen and embodies both sides of her control over the dead and winter.
Lvl 3                +1                  680gp            Lvl 18             +4                   85,000gp
Lvl 8               +2                   3,400gp         Lvl 23             +5                   425,000gp
Lvl 13             +3                   17,000gp       Lvl 28             +6                   2,125,000gp
Weapon: Sickle
Enhancement Bonus: attack rolls and damage rolls
Critical: +1d10 cold or necrotic damage (your choice) per plus
Property: If you worship the Raven Queen, you gain proficiency with this weapon and may use this weapon as a holy symbol. It adds its enhancement bonus (but not its proficiency bonus) to attack rolls and damage rolls when used in this manner. If you do not worship the Raven Queen, you do not benefit from this weapon’s property.
Power (Cold, Necrotic) * At-Will (Minor Action)
All cold damage dealt by this weapon is now necrotic damage, or all necrotic damage dealt by this weapon is now cold damage. Another minor action returns the damage to normal.
Power (Cold, Necrotic) * Daily (Free Action)
Trigger: You hit with the weapon.
Target: The creature you hit with the triggering attack.
Attack: Lvl + 3 vs. Fortitude
Hit: The target is frozen in a pillar of black ice (petrified) and takes ongoing 5 cold and necrotic damage (save ends both).
Level 13 or 18: 10 ongoing cold and necrotic damage.
Level 23 or 28: 15 ongoing cold and necrotic damage.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Published Adventures, Backstories and the Player Characters

***Warning, this post will contain spoilers about the Scales of War Adventure Path***

So for the last 2+ years I've been running a campaign through the Scales of War adventure path. I mainly chose to use this published material because of my insecurities as a dungeon master/writer/story teller and wanted some material to get some ideas from and some generally balanced encounters to try to throw at my party. I've written about some of my experiences doing that for the last while and I've talked a bit about the changes I've made to the adventure path to try and flesh out the world and draw the experience together. The main problem I've been having as of late has been the sheer amount of plot information that is part of the adventure path (while cool) is not tied into the story of my players. They are more a part of the story of the plot. When the plot comes first, players become servants of the plot. While my party is intrigued by the story of the plot and seeing how it further unfurls, my long term goal has been to give them realistic motivations for caring about the plot and wishing to push it further. This is hard in a published adventure because all that material has to be integrated after the fact and for me has been one of the hardest (if not the most rewarding) parts of my session planning.

My party is made of up 6 characters; a dragonborn fighter/cleric who served Bahamut many ages past and was locked inside a stasis crystal for a thousand years, a half-elf paladin whose elven mother abandoned her and her human father for fear of watching them grow old and die and now the paladin serves the Raven Queen and is becoming a servant of death itself, a human wizard who studied under another great wizard named Gandalf (ha,ha I know), a gnome artificer who lost her brother into shadow long ago and whose only clue is a black crystal left behind when he disappeared, a drow rogue who is essentially the good in a drow warrior that was removed and cut out with ritual magic leaving the evil half behind to actual serve her father a drowish king, and a dwarf barbarian who was raised by giants and thinks he's a miniature giant. So with this diverse set of character backgrounds you can see how it would be hard to weave the story together, especially since alot of this great characterization is stuff that evolved over 20 levels of game play. Lots of this stuff only just came out at the table recently. 

Weaving these components into the story of the Scales of War was tricky and it took alot to connect specific details from their backstories into the epic level adventures. Currently the players are working their way to find a ritualist of great power who was wooed to the service of Tiamat and was working on some really powerful ritual to aid her in the war against Bahamut. At first, my big idea was to just sub out names from the adventures with people from the characters’ backstories, but that was just too unfulfilling. I decided to take it a step further and *gasp* change the stories of the published adventure.

image from Grasp of the Mantled Citadel
So the dragonborn exarch of Tiamat became one of the clutch brothers of the dragonborn fighter/cleric who was also put in stasis many centuries ago, only he was awakened early and chose to betray Bahamut. Totally different story concept, but a really fun thing to include and made for an EPIC battle with this dragonborn as opposed to a guy they’d never met before. I even tweaked his hitpoints in the battle (just adding a bunch more) so that the fighter/cleric could actually get the killing blow. Much more satisfying than if I had let the hits fall as they really did.  I also modified the the undead lich ritualist who is working for Tiamat. Now he’s secretly Gandalf, the archmage who taught the party’s wizard (and on top of that also a necromancer named Rufus who they met in heroic tier and had loads of interactions with in the early stages of our game). Early on I had the necromancer take a sample of each of their flesh so that he could “potentially” raise them from the dead. This was their insurance policy in the early game and it was something I chuckled about because I always told myself if they were to go to him for the resurrection, I could have the party member return as a Revenant or other kind of undead with a penalty that would fit the way a necromancer would raise a character. I had no intention of making him who he ended up, but that’s half the fun. As I was sitting down plotting it all out, it just worked too well and I had to go for it. I broke the Lich Ritualist into 2 stages, one where he just looks like a normal wizard and had some allies to back him up, but now that the party defeated him, his ugly undead side is showing. I even got two different minis for the two stages. It worked awesome. We ended last session with the now obviously undead ritualist rising up and sloughing off his skin and meat to fight them with his full necromantic power. It made for an epic night and I’m excited to see what is still to come! 

By freeing myself to fiddle with things, not only behind the scenes but while the game was running, I was able to create a much more narrative experience that told the story in a much more exciting way. It’s the kind of creativity that I would not have felt comfortable with as a newer DM, but all the lessons I’ve learned up to now have equipped me to feel much better about where I can take the players from here on out. I can’t wait to get to the point when this campaign is over and done and I can look back at how much I’ve changed as a DM and as a storyteller. That will be an epic post indeed, until then I really can’t wait for next session (which I’m editing on the fly as we speak)!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Kids Are Alright: Part 2

Here is where you can read the first part of this entry and my thoughts on traditional 4th Edition D&D play in Epic Tier

When Essentials first came out I was very cautious about jumping on the bandwagon. At first I thought it was a clever marketing ploy to pass 5th edition off on players without actually branding it “5th Edition”. I was exceedingly unsure of how I felt about the new direction WotC was taking D&D and what they planned on doing with the game in the long run. Now that some time has passed since Essentials premiere we have seen a good deal of material and support offered and I admit that I am really impressed about the changes WotC has made, where D&D is going, and if there will be candy when we get there.
If you take the time and read the first part of this two-part entry then you would probably be under the impression that I would have welcomed Essentials with open arms, but this was not the case. Though I do have a problem with the overly complex and elaborate way encounters work outside of Essentials, what with so many immediate interrupts, reactions, and conditional bonuses that make my brain bleed, I still was hesitant to believe Essentials to be what WotC was marketing it as, a new version of the Red Box for a new generation of players. At a cursory glance I assumed Essentials to be what most others had presumed and still may allege it to be; a simple, dumbed down version of a bigger and better game. Many see and or saw it as becoming just another board game on the shelves among the throngs of other games in your local Target or toy store.
Though I have come to find this untrue, the initial feelings of a poor man’s D&D game are not unfounded or without their own merit. With many classes such as the Executioner Assassin, the Hexblade/Warlock, and Thief (Rogue) getting minimal to no options when it comes to selecting powers I can see where the opposition is coming from. The opposition feels like there is no way to make that character you want to play significant or customized. With many players metagaming and munchkining the crap out of the current 4th Edition system I can sympathize with the plight of those who stand opposed to Essentials.
However I think there is a bigger picture to be seen here that many either cannot see or simply refuse to accept. Wotc is trying to re-gear how D&D is played from within. Ever since 4th Edition came out it has been ridiculed for pandering to a broader demographic, namely the video game and World of Warcraft crowd. I think that Essentials is Wotc’s attempt to correct this misguided assumption.
With power choices stripped down to their bare minimum and feat choices reeled back significantly players can no longer rely on their power choices to define who they are. It’s a back to the roots approach of the old school D&D mentality that I think, given time, support, and acceptance, will work marvelously. Players must now rely on their in game decisions, backstory, role, and overall style of play to define their character. Characters no longer need be determined to pick the powers that maximize their role in the group, or that do the most damage and can now proceed down a more flavorful and character oriented path.
This isn’t to say that those who still wish to play their games in the traditional 4th Edition style cannot continue to do so. Many, if not all of the current Essentials builds allow you to pick from previously offered powers and feats along with the Essentials ones so the need to throw up arms and abandon ship to Pathfinder need not be upon us as some are claiming.
As it stands, Wotc has done a phenomenal job at putting out quality work thus far with their Essentials line up and they show no signs of stopping. With the “Heroes of Fey” book coming out in the future, weekly Dungeon and Dragon Articles supporting Essentials and promise for more Essential support on the horizon I see a composed sea of adventure ahead that shall take us safely to our next adventure. So drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Kids Are Alright, But Not Really: Why Epic Tier Is Making Me Cry Tears Part: 1

I feel very blessed to be able to play in the 4e game that I am a part of. My DM Joe (the guy who runs this blog) is one of the most dedicated DM’s I have ever known. The sheer amount of time and effort that he puts in to each session blows my mind week after week and the level of commitment he given to our game astound me.

The players and I are currently at level 22 (epic tier) as of last Friday night and are working our way through the “Scales of War” adventure path. We meet every Friday night to play for a good four to five hours and have been doing so for about two years now. That is two years worth of commitment that each player has given every Friday night give or take a few. From what I have heard this is very rare, whether it be due to epic tier having next to zero support from wizards or the fact that just getting to epic tier takes so much commitment and time and that a lot of groups don’t stay together that long, it still stands that I have heard of very few games making it to epic.

I joined the game at level 5 which was about 6 months from when the game started, this was back in July of 2009, so we have seen a lot of changes come and go to the 4e errata. Heck we have a Drow rogue who used to have Darkfire and Cloud of Darkness but had to choose when the race got changed. When we first started essentials weren’t around and I don’t think the player’s handbook 3 was even out. What I’m trying to get at here is that I have been around for a while and I know that what I’m about to say has a bit of weight behind it so before I say it I just want to make sure the people who read this don’t think I’m pulling this out of my ass. I’m trying to be genuine and constructive in my next few paragraphs so stick with me here.

I have played Kyve the Dragonborn Fighter/Cleric Hyybrid since level 5 to level 22 and after the last session that the party and I played I can safely say epic tier is epic, but in all the wrong ways. I cannot stress this enough so rather than trying to explain my reasoning let me paint a picture for you. With my words.

Killdrak the Dwarven Barbarian, Muffie the Gnome Artificer, Xune the Drow Rogue, Hermy the Half-Elf Paladin, Betteldex the Human Wizard and myself were going up against an undead dragon in the bowels of the Shadowfell in order to get Khaz’s sword, the one that cut off Vecna’s hand, in order to gain entrance into a keep deep in the Shadowfell so that we can kill one of the exarches of Tiamut. Before going into the encounter Hermy uses Wrath of the Gods and gives everyone a +7 to damage for the encounter. I use Augment of War on Killdrak’s hammer for another +12 to damage and the target grants combat advantage and is slowed until the end of Killdraks next turn each time he hits the target and then I use another daily to give everyone a +2 to AC until the end of the encounter and THEN we start the encounter by charging the undead Dragon. Somewhere around round three I get around to using Penance of Blood which gives the dragon vulnerability +5 to all damage until the end of the encounter. Then on my next turn on my next turn I use Sever the Source to give the undead dragon another +17 to vulnerability until the end of my next turn BUT because I used Penance of Blood that vulnerability goes up by +7. This is like round four or five and on top of all of this we tha players are constantly shouting across the table the fact that either we didn’t add the damage up correctly of that our last attack was radiant so Joe should add +15 to the damage we did (the undead dragon is vulnerable +15 radiant). Do you see where I’m going with this? Everyone in the party (especially Killdrak) is starting to feel more like a mathematician than an adventurer. Our rogue is throwing eight d8 with an At-Will +5 against bloodied enemies. This is why I gave Joe a little shout out at the beginning of this post. The guy deserves a freaking medal for all the stuff he does for our game. He makes Chris Perkins proud every single Friday night.

Now I’m not saying all this damage calculating isn’t fun cause it kinda is. It makes epic tier feel epic in a way. I mean Killdrak at one point did 86 points of damage (with an At-Will!!!). But there has got to be a better way. I’m sorry but there are just far too many conditional bonuses, effects, and actions in a single encounter for it to be fun. It makes me pine for the days of heroic tier. I mean every single party member has so many magic items with daily and encounter powers on top of properties that I don’t think we’ve used more than a handful of them ever, simply because we either forget to or just don’t have time to get to them in a session or ever. Muffie hardly ever remembers to used Fade Away, Killdrak’s At-Wills are so much better than his encounters/dailys save for a few conditional bonuses that he rarely uses anything other than howling strike or just a melee basic attack (which does something like either eight d6 brutal 1) and I forget to use many of my items cause of the overload I have on them.

So as you can surmise from what I’ve said in my opinion epic tier is definitely epic, no doubt about that. But it’s epic in the wrong way. Just because you shove a crap ton of damage down enemies throats and have more magical items than the fellowship of the ring on every single party member doesn’t make epic tier epic. At least it doesn’t need to. What I think needs to happen is that we shouldn’t measure how awesome or epic or difficult a tier is by the damage output or pluses to attack rolls. Yes I know epic tier campaigns often take players into the astral sea or some place near the gods and that this is a pretty epic act in it of itself but it is only by the access to your powers that you are able to do this, not your choices, your actions, or your characters arc/development.

I think it would be better if perhaps the tiers were measured in difficulty by their moral choices or their difficulty to discern right from wrong. It’s not too hard to decide what to do when a group of goblins is attacking a village in heroic tier but as the tiers go on the morals choices and predicaments that the adventurers are presented with should scale in their difficulty. The goblin issue isn’t a tricky one but what about a group of Tharizdun worshippers who you have defeated and delivered into the hands of the Deva whom they have been murdering. The Deva choose to let the ones who defeated the Tharizdun worshippers, you, decide their fate. The Deva can either destroy the worshippers minds and completely erase their individuality in the process or they can simply kill them. Which one would you choose? Why? Is there a right answer? What ramifications will this have?

Yeah sure the damage you do should go up as well as your pluses and number of daily items for every tier but only to a point and I think it is a crime that those are the tools by which we use in order to measure how “epic” the tiers are. If there could be a way where players choices and character development defined the tiers (this is a role playing game after all) then in doing so players not only learn about their characters but also about themselves and in this way I feel like D&D can truly become an art form.

Part 2 will be coming soon…

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fighter Hits Hard. Why Can’t Fighter Hit Hard Lots?

image by David Wilcox
(aka Humorous Endeavors)
So sometimes (okay, alot of times) I share stuff about D&D with my wife. She's a player in my game and she's been super patient with my fascination with role playing games, but this past week she went beyond mere patience and absolutely stunned me with her insight into a simple mechanic into 4E game design. My wife studied Kinesiology in college and knows a ton about exercise and nutrition (which is why I've lost 30 pounds since we got married +5 to Charisma for the win!). Her insight gave me a really cool perspective on something I've been wondering about for a long time, specifically since Essentials came out and renovated the way that player powers are distributed. So I asked her to type it up so I could put it in here! So here's my wife, Brittany. :)

Always consult a medical doctor and/or certified fitness trainer before applying any of the below concepts to your own body.

             Between the two of us my husband is the true Dungeons and Dragons aficionado and much more deep in the melting pot of RPG enthusiasts.  I myself play a Raven Knight Paladin whom I have grown quite fond of, and prefer playing defenders overall.  As a Dungeons & Dragons nerd-adjacent I hear about a lot of the discussions and squabbles over D&D 4E. One of which is the practicality of rechargeable powers.  Some people had a hard time understanding why a fighter or rogue could only accomplish specific tasks once per day. “It’s just a physical activity, shouldn’t they just be able to DO IT again?” My husband mentioned the debate and I gave him my opinion based on my knowledge of the human body in motion, which was my college major.  My husband blinked at me and offered me a high-five, and now I have been asked to share my opinion here.  I would like to put my college education to use and give my two cents on this topic.  I will give a physiological account in support of why certain classes should still be held to a limited amount of “awesome” they can dish per day.
For many classes it makes sense that you wouldn’t be able to do certain powers more than once day.  I would like to meet the wizard who has enough energy to cast Closing Spell twice in 24 hours.  However, the question has been raised as to why some classes (such as fighters) are held to the same “at-will”, “encounter” and “daily” restrictions. Fighters are, for the most part, a one trick pony.  They hit things, they hit things hard.  BUT, sometimes they can hit things with a strength that commands awe from fellow party members.  And on VERY special occasions they can hit so hard that their foe’s fall to their knees in a “we are not worthy” fashion. Does this make sense?  If someone’s specialty is bashing faces in, why can’t they go full speed all the time and continually pull their most devastating moves as at-will powers?  Please, follow along with me as I break down my physiological understanding of at-will, encounter and daily powers in relation to actual human capacities.  For the purposes of this article I will assume all playable races function similarly enough to humans to be included.
Our body functions off of ATP molecules as energy.  I won’t go too crazy in details here but the body has a few major ways of synthesizing ATP including: ATP-PCr system, fat, carbohydrates and protein.  Protein is known to contribute much less than the other systems (McArdle, 38) and since D&D combats are supposed to last a matter of minutes we will not go into protein metabolism.
As you read this you are probably sitting, maybe standing.  This means that your body is using fat as it’s primary fuel source.  Your body can do this for a very, very, very (etc) long time.  Even when doing light exercise (i.e. walking and light jogging) your body will continue to pull most of its energy from fat because it has the oxidative time to do so (McArdle, 30). We will call this light activity “at-will”.  As a trained adventurer you can deal good blows to a “minion” type enemy without putting yourself in a tizzy and you can do this for a long time before getting significantly winded.
Once we start really moving (i.e. running) and getting our heart rate up pretty high our bodies will stop pulling energy from fat and start using predominately carbohydrates in our blood stream and liver (McArdle, 15).  These carbs are a much quicker energy source for a body in significant motion, but we have a much more limited supply on hand (McArdle, 148).  Hence, the invention of the sugary sports drinks to fuel athletes who train and compete for hours on end.  You know how Michael Phelps has to eat obscene amounts of bread and pasta in a day?  He needs every bit of it to maintain his ability to do hours upon hours of high aerobic training.  Lets look at this high aerobic activity as an “encounter power”.  Encounter powers suggest difficulty, but are easy enough to gain back once an adventurer takes a five-minute breather and sucks back a trail ration.  You’re dwarf has replenished his carb stores with hardtack, yum. Bring on the horde!
Hopefully everything so far has been easy enough to follow. Here we tackle the ATP-PCr system.  Here I will spare you the minute details of a very fascinating and intricate metabolic process.  Lets just say that ATP is a valuable molecular product of metabolism, a ton of work is in play just for the production of a few precious ATP molecules.  We only have enough ATP in our bodies to last about 2-5 seconds of all out sprinting, and PCr chimes in with about 5-8 second to simultaneous boot.  In unison we get about 6-8 seconds max of bursting energy output (note: these numbers vary slightly depending on the resource, but you get the idea).  The body is moving at such a rate that is splitting on-hand ATP and oxygen utilization isn’t even necessary (McArdle, 131).  This activity cannot be repeated until your body replenishes it’s ATP-PCr stores. Although ATP is constantly being synthesized PCr stores do take a few minutes of rest to rebuild.  This is a very good example of a “daily” power.  Your fighter companion has been swinging his long sword at goblins all afternoon and breaking a light to moderate sweat.  Now you’ve run into a big bad solo and you see the defender go into a complete flurry of movement and in a matter of seconds has dealt three or four weapon damage.  Or maybe he wound back his weapon and released a blow that appears supernatural in strength.  This is ATP-PCr at work, it has been used, and now your body is working to make more. I hope you hit! It's okay you do half damage on a miss anyway! 

Obviously this is not a perfect match up between fantasy and physiology, but it is a decent answer to the question, “if I’m capable of hitting this hard, why can’t it be my at-will?” If your character is doing something that is limited to once a day usage (magical or material) it’s probably because the amount of energy expended to do so is greater than the amount of energy you can regenerate within the next few seconds or couple of minutes.  Mr. Universe may be able to bench press over 500lbs. but he only works out 3 or 4 times per week, and when he is training he’s not doing his max capacity.  Conclusively, rest is pretty essential whether your’re a body builder, track star, wizard or fighter.
I believe that the at-will, encounter, and daily restriction on all classes are appropriately equated with the human body’s natural fat, carb and ATP-PCr fuel sources.  The harder the activity you try and do, the less available your energy stores are per that activity.  This is not a perfect analogy and players are still entitled to grump about daily powers feeling limiting if they wish.  This is only how I wrap my head around the limitations set upon classes that do not have an arsenal of widely different types of powers.

McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I., Katch, V.L., Sports and Exercise Nutrition 3rd Edition. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. 2009

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dawn of Worlds

So to start my new home campaign I’ve decided to try out Dawn of Worlds. For those of you who don’t know, Dawn of Worlds is a fantasy-based world generator game. The game was designed by Legends, a group of rouge game designers from I know very little about the designers but I’ve heard rumors that they are working on a new version of the game but the original version that released in 2005 is free for download. Feel free to visit their website and download the pdf of Dawn of Worlds at your leisure. In the Game, the group leader draws up a blank map of a world. Then each player in turn order begins to add to the world to create a unique setting for whatever game you may be playing. The game is not rooted in any one system of role-play. In fact, any fantasy game from D&D, World of Darkness, and the Dresden Files could combine this game to its set-up.

I think this game is amazing. It allows my players and I to equally participate in the development of our own fantasy world. Players can feed off each other’s ideas and react to changes in the environment to create a rich history of a fantasy epic perfectly tailored to our desires. My hope is that my experience with Dawn of Worlds will inspire you, the reader, to at least check it out, browse over it, and maybe give it a whirl.

For my first session we were missing a few players sadly but I felt like we had to get the ball rolling. Even though this was my first time running/playing Dawn of Worlds and I knew that it was going to take a long time to play. The game is divided into 3 ages; Creation, Population, and Civilization. So I tried to time it out so that we could finish at least one age per session. At a rate of one session per week, then world creation should be done by week 3 and we could start playing D&D in our custom world by week 4. Sence we had our first session this week, I want to share with ya’ll how our world is turning out to be so far. During game play, we each decided to take on the role of a deity of our own design. I had no idea what kind of god I would turn out to be but it is really interesting to see the dynamics that build between the players and the world itself.

The Briefest History of Astra

Years 0-5,000 of the 1st Age

The World of Astra was founded by Four gods of Creation. Rekoligo (Josh) the gatherer, he preferred to be inspired by creation and manipulate and make it beautiful and grand. Far-Mor (HumorousEndeavors) the Never Sleeping Frost god, he forges mountains and breaths a cold wind that covers the land in Ice. Dra (Ryan) the Dragon god, he erupts volcanoes and covers the land in flame while his dragons roam the skies of Astra unchallenged. Khauzdul (Scott Farspell) the Dwarf god, he raised the highest mountains and forged the strongest of races, his burly Dwarves who seek honor in a hard day’s labor.

Years 0-1000

In the first millennia of the first age, Far-Mor began to raise mountains in the north and covered the land with his Frost Winds creating the Frost Lands. Rekoligo took the Frost Winds and created Hiber, an angelic being who embodies the Season of Winter. The others slumbered.

Years 1000-2000

In the 2nd millennia, Far-Mor Raised the High Top Mountains and continued to spread his Frost Winds. Dra began on an island in the far East by creating the Fire Dragons, a race of dragons whose bodies are engulfed in flame. He also created a massive volcano that would rival the High Top Mountains in size. But Khauzdul raised the largest single mountain ever seen in the middle of the Frost Lands, the Dawn Forge Mountain. While Rekoligo sent his servant Hiber to visit the Fire Dragons, which he befriended them and brought some back to the Frost Lands where the cold doused their flames, turning them into Stone Dragons

Years 2000-3000

In the 3rd Millenia, Far-Mor created the frozen lake of Rym between the High Tops and the Dawn Forge, in honor his kinship with Khauzdul. Dra covered his island of Dragons in fire and called it the Burning Lands. While, Rekoligo created the beautiful Hiber-Mor Forest on the northern coast of the frost lands. And Khauzdul created the Dwarves and placed them in the Dawn Forge Mountains.

Years 3000-4000

By the 4th Millenia, Rekoligo built the great Vaerym City for the Dwarves of the Dawn Forge Mountains and commanded Hider to anoint the Stone Dragons as the guardians of the Frost Lands. Far-Mor Continued to spread the Frost Winds across the land. While Khauzdul raised the Hiber Rift mountain range to protect his Dwarves, Dra created the Elm of Ages, a giant tree which emanates life extending magic.

Years 4000-5000

The 5th age begins with Rekoligo’s Great Forest which sprang up around the Elm of Ages. He also created Willow the tree Ent, guardian of the Great Forest. Far-Mor created a son from rock and ice which he named Roc-Mor the stone giant. Dra continued to scotch the Burning Lands and add to the Great Forest, while Khauldul fell back into slumber.

5000 years of History in one 3 hour session. I had a ton of fun and I can’t wait to play again next week. I’m curious to see how some of the elements in our game will translate to D&D but so far the themes of Astra has not strayed too far from traditional fantasy. The best part about the creation process isn’t the creation itself but the story that develops. The gods, creatures and even the land begins to take on personalities of their own and I found myself being inspired by the other players as the game progressed. My only criticisms are that it does take a long time to play and some rules are still a little vague. I was hoping we would be done with the first age this week but it is going to take at least one more 3 hour session.

Next Week we will start in the year 5000.

Until next time, keep playing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Call of the Dream

So Devan (Scotty Farspell) wrote his own one-shot adventure!!!

It's called Call of the Dream and is loosely (or heavily) based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Devan is a big fan of the Necronomicon and the narrative of Lovecraft's design definitely comes through in the adventure. It is based off of D&D4E (cause that's how we roll), but Devan also made a little tweak to the rules to help capture the feelings of insanity that comes with the world of darkness that Lovecraft details.

We are planning to put together a PDF of the adventure with all the information required to run it.

To test it out, Devan ran through the adventure with a small group of people (me included!) and that playtest is available here to check out! Enjoy!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gold, Frankincense and Murder Rap-up

So it has been exactly a month sence we posted the latest Episode of Gold, Frankincense and Murder. Sadly the summer is coming to a close and it is time to bury the hatchet on the Red Box adventure.

Overall, I liked the Twisting Halls adventure. It had everything you need for a good game from Dragons, magical puzzles, treasure, and a little bit of mystery. I would recommend the Red Box as the perfect starting game for someone who is new to the game, but experienced players might think that this adventure is generic because that is what it is. It is a generic dungeon crawl, perfected for rookies but a little bland for a pro.

I will miss the Red Box but I'm excited for our next adventure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Whose Been Invited To the Party

Who here doesn’t like beating shit up? Heck it’s one of the main reasons we play D&D, so we can act out our fantasies of revenge and dish out our own brand of justice. But sometimes that desire can get in the way of a fun game.

The striker role in 4e is probably the most popular role in the game and understandably so. Everyone likes being the party bad ass, the one who can really throw down when push comes to shove. But this can sometimes lead to problems because no matter how tough of an assassin, rogue, or barbarian you are if you can’t stay up you can’t fight. It won’t matter how many healing surges you have if you can’t expend them to stay in the fight. It’ll never matter how much sneak attack damage you can do if you can’t get combat advantage to use it.

And what about when you just absolutely need to hit an enemy and could use the extra buffs? This is why there are leader characters. Leaders characters are probably the most unappealing characters at first glance. I mean just take a look at how many rogue, paladin, and warrior players there are in World of Warcraft and then and then compare that to how many priests and healer players there are. Why everyone hates playing the healer I will never know but it really confuses me. If my past and present gaming experience in D&D/4e are anything what yours are like then you will be aware that usually people have to be forced or coerced into playing healers. More on that latter though.

What use is a striker against large groups of enemies? Even if it’s just a group of minions if you’re a striker you can easily be overtaken in just a few rounds. Since strikers usually focus on a single enemy at a time (the Barbarians charging, the Avengers Oath of Enmity, the Rogues Sneak Attack) they can be easily defeated if they find themselves surrounded or singled out. This is where the Controller role comes in. With their large bursts and blasts that can not only deal out the AOE damage but also help in keeping enemies busy and off the Strikers back.

And how about Defenders? Strikers tend to have the lowest AC, the defense that the majority of attacks target, which means they are very easily hit and can go down with only a few well rolled strikes. Paladin’s are a Strikers best friend. Not only because they mark the shit out everyone taking all the agro, but because they allow the strikers to sneak around back and get combat advantage or to single out an enemy and focus on it entirely without having to worry about his guards jumping into the fray.

What I’m trying to get at here is that Dungeons and Dragons is a game that is designed to be played with these four roles in each party. The game is not designed to be played by a party of all Strikers or all Defenders or what have you. If you do so you “break” the game. A party with four or five rogues will die within a few encounters and only by the DM making vast, huge breaks in the games core structure will it ever work. I know that it sounds as if I’m being hard on people who want to play as strikers but I’m not. All I’m simply trying to get across is that not everyone can play a striker and why not try branching out? Try playing a Cleric or Warlord or maybe a Wizard or Paladin, give another role a try and you might be surprised that you like it better, but no matter what you do, make sure to let the D20’s roll like milk and honey.