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.