Monday, July 2, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

So it has been awhile since I last posted.  This is not an apology, I promised myself I wouldn't let this be that kind of blog (I already have one of those), but I have been so quiet largely because I haven't been gaming very much as of late.

Since playtesting D&Dnext in Hawaii, I don't have a game I am running so my headspace has been a little occupied elsewhere (aka my job and my wife), which has been great for me, but lousy for my blogging.

I did finish out the latest round of FTDM earning another win and establishing myself as the PBP player with the most games under my belt (just don't look at my win ratio). I also started up as a player in a G+ Hangout of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game run by StephenChast, which was crazy fun (see me tear the leg off a Sentinel to ill effect, or at least describe doing just that).

For the longest while I have also been considering what to do with my online name and identity. The Extended Rest is pretty secularly cached in 4E and while 4E was good to me in my 3 year long campaign, I'm ready to try some new systems and so my ID didn't seem to make as much sense. I also wanted to have a space that was more open ended as it came to integrating how my faith interacts with my game. I am almost done with my seminary studies and will be looking to take on a job as a pastor at a church in another year and a half and what I am learning is giving me lots of  ideas and things to think about as it relates to my RPG experience  and the game I want to play.

So it is time for a change.

The last ExtendedRest is a long one, the rest of death, but from the dust and to the dry bones comes a voice that rushes with the wind and with the cry of RAISE DEAD, I carry on!

Monday, June 4, 2012

D&Dnext in Maui

While you are reading this, I am on vacation in Hawaii. And I took the D&D playtest with me.

That's right, I'm playing D&D in Hawaii. Who knew the Caves of Chaos were in a Hawaiian volcano? I know I didn't see that coming. :)

So between vacation and the influx of new stuff that comes with the playtest, I'm going to be quiet on here for a bit. I haven't given up, just refocusing. So bear with me and be ready for some new directions when I get back.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 7

The Knights of the Tarnished Dagger are an organization of NPC creatures with a strong vendetta and desire to destroy the Platinum Dragon god. They are a cadre of demon-like beings who seek mortal hosts and through the offer of power would slowly coax them under their control eventually subsuming their host's personality completely.

Click here for the pdf of the final two members of the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger. Ak'dur, Ritualscribed  Warrior is a creature now made of raw magic who grants his host access to an array of magical abilities that far outstrip the mere parlor tricks of his fellow Knights. This also includes the only member of the Order who was not corrupted by the shard of evil, Xergel, Uncorrupted Radiance. Xergel was once the leader of the Knights of the Platinum Dagger and when the shard of evil struck them all, he was trapped in his blade, like his friends, but was otherwise unaffected. He blames himself for what happened to his allies and to this day seeks their final redemption as penance for his sins.

The compilation document of the Knights depicted at this time is kept here on a separate page. This project is the fruit of well over a year of thinking and dreaming about what I could do with 4th Edition and now in the twilight of 4E, I'm glad I was finally able to put this out there. I hope that it has inspired you, or at least entertained you for a bit, it has been a blast to write and is going to hold a special place in a campaign coming soon.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Librum Secerno

Dark tomes and musty books often hold secrets of great darkness. These secrets can hold hidden lore which will open a scholar's eyes to the mysteries of the planes, or they can proclaim dark secrets to which none should ever gain access. The god of secrets, Vecna, has few true divine followers. As a god of secrets, it would be against his nature to have an order that instructed others in his ways. Instead, Vecna recorded a number of secret tomes which hold the secrets of his dark powers. In order to follow the lord of secrets, you have to discover one of his ancient books and discover the secrets yourself. The power the lord of the undead has secreted away is great, but the cost of that knowledge is also great. 

Anyone who dares open the book of the dark god Vecna, will discover the pages to be empty. Only by offering a sacrifice of the flesh to the god who was maimed will reveal the full text of the Librum Secerno. If an offering of willfully given flesh is made, the giver will gain the ability to read the text of the otherwise blank book. Inside are many secrets and powerful spells that would otherwise take a lifetime to learn. Vecna offers this power to those who prove themselves worthy and who will take his secrets to the world and bring death to those who would stand against him.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 6

The Knights of the Tarnished Dagger are an organization of NPC creatures with a strong vendetta and desire to destroy the Platinum Dragon god. They are a cadre of demon-like beings who seek mortal hosts and through the offer of power would slowly coax them under their control eventually subsuming their host's personality completely.

Click here for a pdf of the next two members of the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Shiel, Psionic Ghost and Taelt, Sealed in Stone. These two are a powerful dichotomy of stuck between the spiritual and physical. Shiel was a psionic prodigy in life and as a Knight warped by the shard of evil is now a psychic ghost stuck in astral form while Taelt is one stuck with a physical curse. He was a fierce warrior half-petrified by a medusa who now can pass his curse of stone on to others. With the two of these warriors you can grant your players powers that pull them away from their normal physicality and maybe make them question the nature of their being.

With these two members of the Order, only two remain. The compilation document of the Knights depicted at this time is kept here on a separate page.

Monday, May 7, 2012

May of the Dead: Crypt Wyrm

This is my first entry into the blog festival month exploring concepts of the dead and undead. Since I'm also celebrating the year of the dragon with a series of thematically related posts detailing the majesty in the draconic heritage of the game, I thought I'd unite the two. So BEHOLD, the mighty Crypt Wyrm!

Ser'Aurann was a silver dragon and protector of a great city once. As a tremendous warrior in the fight against evil, Ser'Aurann made adventurers almost unnecessary in his region as he single-handedly thwarted any threat that arose to threaten his people. Unfortunately, his protective nature and his incredible self-confidence were the undoing of this draconic protector. When fighting off a necromancer of Orcus who was attempting to turn his protectorate into zombie chattel, Ser'Aurann barged into a horde of ghouls; ripping and tearing his way through undead monstrosities. In the center of the group, leading the ghoulish horde, was a fiendish Wight commanding the undead. In order to disrupt the forces of undeath, Ser'Aurann quickly swallowed the Wight removing his leadership from the battlefield. Surely this would end the battle as the mindless ghouls ran off without their leader's guidance.

Thinking he had won the day, Ser'Aurann returned to have his wounds bound and to receive the praise of his people. Little did he know that the Wight lingered and survived. Feeding on the innards of the silver dragon, the wight commander continued to rip and tear into the flesh of the dragon while its open wounds poured necrotic filth into the blood of Ser'Aurann. The pain in the silver dragon's side soon grew to a significant internal wound and because of the wight's presence, it could not be healed magically. As Ser'Aurann grew increasingly desperate for release, he eventually hired some local (low-level) adventurers to enter his digestive tract and clear out whatever was "disagreeing" with him. The wight had been working for some time at this point and was prepared to deal with a threat as simple as the adventurers, but an idea had occurred to the evil, undead fiend. Instead of merely killing the adventurers, he changed them into wights as well and with their new found strength they all began to tear into the dragon from the inside, bringing devastating harm to and eventually killing the majestic beast.

illustration by David Wilcox
(i.e. HumorousEndeavors)
As Ser'Aurann fell, the people began to worry about what to do with his corpse. Their concerns were short lived as soon the sounds of moaning coming from inside the beast's grew louder and the very flesh of the mighty silver dragon began moving in a horrific mockery of life. The wight had tapped into dragon's motor functions and now Ser'Aurann rose as a mere vehicle of undead destruction controlled by a malevolent and undying mastermind who was now thoroughly protected by a slowly dying shell of draconic might.

The Crypt Wyrm is a huge creature, so it takes up a lot of space and has a tremendous reach. Using it in the crowded streets of a city or somewhere where quarters are tight will make navigating the hulking beast difficult, but will lend to some excellent flanking opportunities for the vomited wight spawn. In combat, the Crypt Wyrm will try and get as centrally positioned as possible and use its ragged wings to grab and pull enemies close. Within the rotting rib cage of the Wyrm are many grasping wights trying to grab hold of the enemies brought close by the enfolding wings. The breath of the dragon has decayed to the point that now it is merely a shower of necrotic flesh which bellows forth. Once bloodied, the dragon will roar and belch forth  a wight spawn for each member of the party, drawing attention away from itself and changing the dynamic of the fight. Once the Crypt Wyrm is defeated and it erupts in putrid flesh and an Oath Wight from the Dark Sun Creature Catalog spawns to finish the fight. Enjoy and happy hunting!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 5

The Knights of the Tarnished Dagger are an organization of NPC creatures with a strong vendetta and desire to destroy the Platinum Dragon god. They are a cadre of demon-like beings who seek mortal hosts and through the offer of power would slowly coax them under their control eventually subsuming their host's personality completely.

Click here for a pdf of the next two members of the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Tarshel, Spined Monstrosity and Vav, Voice of the Mountain. Both these members come from the wilds and are not used to the confines of society. Tarshel was once a ranger in the wild and a master of improvised weaponry. Now he is a spined creature who can generate his own weapons and keep his enemies at a distance. Vav was an ascetic monk who lived in silence and in that silence cultivated a powerful voice. Now her powerful voice can throw people backward with the force of a mountain wind.

With these two members of the Order, only four more remain. The compilation document of the Knights depicted at this time is kept here on a separate page.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Step By Step We Travel So Far...

I really cannot believe how far we have come. It has been close to three years that my party and I have spent going through the Scales of War adventure path and now that it has come to a close I really don’t know what to say. No words I can form together seem potent enough to describe how I feel. Elation, sadness, excitement, and despair are tangling themselves together fighting for the foremost thoughts in my brain. I cannot believe we did it. I cannot believe we survived. It was without doubt the hardest and most stressful session I have played to date and I will never forget that evening. I would just like to reflect on how far we have come. Not only as players, but as a gamers as well and how far D&D has come and where it is going.

First a little on my character, I played Kyve the Dragonborn Cleric/Fighter Hybrid who in the final stretch of the campaign sacrificed himself at the bridge of worlds to raise Bahamut from the dead. Bahamut and Moradin then remade Kyve anew as Kydane the Runepriest. Now, anyone and everyone who has that one character that defines them will know what I mean when I say it was hard to say goodbye. You have this character that has not really become you so much as you have become them. That characters thoughts and emotions have become second nature now to your own. They are no longer just a character sheet, but a well rounded entity with flaws and strengths. I feel that through my years of playing D&D I have never found that one character that fit me like a Lego brick until Kyve. I will miss him sorely and will jump at any chance to play him in the future. And lastly a thank you so large it bursts through my heart to Joe for his gracious and undying love to the gaming community that he sacrificed so much time and effort to put together the best damn game of D&D I have ever had the good grace to play. I bet your wife is happy to have her husband back.

Heroic, Paragon, and Epic. Don’t even get me started, past Heroic Tier 4e is a broken game. The only way you will ever be able to play a good succinct game of D&D from 1st to 30th level will be if you tweak the crap out of it. The math and mechanics by Epic Tier are broken beyond measure. Having never DM'd a game through Epic though I have little insight into how to fix this problem. For those questions refer to Joe, he is the master at tweaking 4e so as to get the most out of the game. He is the reason that our party could not wait for Friday nights week after week.

With the announcement of D&D Next on it’s way and 4e still pumping out material this is a time in gaming where it is very easy to feel on odd footing. Do we continue to play 4e? should we just wait it out for next? What is going to happen to to the girth of material and supplies for 4e? So many thoughts race through my head about the next game I want to play, what themes I want to explore, characters I would like to play, and settings I would like to try out. However with Next just around the corner I feel a little defeated, as if I should just wait to see what happens when it comes out and then decide what version to play. People familiar with this blog will know how I feel about 4e and will be aware that I truly do love the iteration however I am excited to see what Wizards of the Coast does next. But still, what do we do now? Where do we go from here? Two words…

Mouse Guard!

Sunday, April 15, 2012


**This post contains spoilers for the Scales of War Adventure Path produced by Wizards of the Coast. You have been warned.**

Musing over the battlefield
Two and half years of real life game play. Miles of dungeon complexes. Thousands of monsters slaughtered in the hope of the greater good and future glory. All of it comes down to this final battle. If I screwed this up, all that came before would be forever tainted by the shadow of a weakened final boss.

No pressure. Fortunately, I have the benefit of those who have come before and found many of the potholes in Epic Tier combats. Fighting the gods (or demon lords or such), needs to feel different than fighting orcs, so my goal was to use the lessons learned from major end battles I've heard of already to make the final boss fight of my campaign really shine.

So to start things simply, the party finally disabled the disintegrator beams that prevented their upward movement toward Tiamat and took to the air with the wizard's Mass Fly spell. As they moved upward towards the platform (held aloft by a vertical pillar of magma), the music swelled (literally, I'd been prepping a playlist for some time) and they could hear a commanding female voice rise above the cacophony of the roaring energy column. Cresting the edge of the platform, they can see that it is almost entirely made of valuable stones and metals and not just your regular gems and treasure, but 5 foot wide gem stones forming a mosaic of colorful tiling that stretches across the platform with clusters of same colored stones forming circles around five gem-studded statues of heads of different chromatic dragons.

I constructed and painted this using the Hydra from
Reaper, and wings I picked up separately.
These dragon statues play a major role in the encounter and I wanted them to augment Tiamat's own abilities as well as deflect the attention of the party as they began to engage with the final boss. Each of the statues was granting some kind of boon to the dragon queen and while at least one of them stood, she had some pretty substantial resistances. The party quickly came to grips with the fact that they were going to need to deal with the statues before they could engage with the dragon queen, herself. I made a sheet with stats for each of the statues (which had no offensive capabilities themselves) with the skill checks and combat stats necessary to destroy the statues through combat or use of skills. I kept that sheet in front of me with each of the statues mechanics so that as the combat rolled out I could remove the reminders and give the party a physical sense of accomplishment.

Initiative cards posted for all the glory!
So with the terrible dragon head statues imbuing Tiamat with fell power, the party notices the gilded throne perched amongst the statues and seated upon it is a ravishingly beautiful woman. Atop her head is a crown with five spikes of glimmering gems and she is without a doubt the Queen of all Chromatic Dragons. She banters with the party making all kinds of sweet promises and informing the party of their inevitable doom, but the party knows better and as she becomes fed up with their insolence her form ripples revealing her true furious draconic form. And the last ROLL FOR INITIATIVE of our D&D4E experience commenced!

I commissioned some incredible artwork from James Stowe of my party standing together in their full Epic glory for our last session. I used the images to make special initiative cards for each party member. I also printed them a full sized glossy of the group shot as a gift. I also made initiative cards for each of Tiamat's heads. Statting out Tiamat herself was a real challenge. There was the official version of Tiamat, which was a good base, but was still based off of  the original damage values (pre-MM3 update) and just felt 'meh.' I used some updated monster math to balance out her damage numbers and put some serious punch to her attacks. I also added some other effects to make the combat a little more dynamic, but having a solo monster that had five sets of attacks and five different places on the initiative track got complicated. Suffice to say, it's a big stat block.

Many Headed Draconic Split!
With this much stat block, it is really easy to get lost and forget important things. I normally run my game using my computer, but this week I printed everything out. I did this to remove any barrier between the players and myself and I wanted to make sure I had all the powers, interrupts, and nuances of what this powerful epic monster could do directly laid out in front of me. I have basically been reading and reworking this monster for close to two months, so I was pretty aware of just what she could do, but I'd take any help I could get. I started posting the image of the stat block directly here on the blog, but it was just so massive it ended up taking up the bulk of the page, so I decided to put it together here as a pdf to simplify everything.

The battle was a truly epic venture as Tiamat went through transitions every time the party thought they had finally come to the end of  their foe. The party used every epic trick they could think of to match the unfathomable strength of the chromatic dragon queen. When Tiamat finally split into her five enormous draconic forms, the wizard opened up with Meteor Swarm and included all five of the draconic forms in a blast of cosmic might. Hitting three of the five dragons of Tiamat's strength she rolled 241 damage. Yes.  She then used her powers as an Archmage to speed her actions, recall the spell and use an action point to do it again for 226 damage. Yes.

Epic characters of Epic Proportions
Even before Tiamat split, the dwarven barbarian took on his true form as a primordial (that's him in the picture as the storm titan) and the dragonborn runepriest had burst into his platinum draconic form (the gnome is riding him in the picture). All in all, the entire party (except the wizard and the paladin) dropped below 0 hit points and most stayed under bloodied the majority of the battle. I was averaging 80+ hit points of damage per hit with a critical hit that did 200 damage which was interrupted by the gnome artificer who saved the paladin's life. The paladin kept Tiamat focused on her with various effects and I think overall, the dragon took over a hundred radiant and necrotic damage from violating the divine challenge.

The party used the tactics they mastered over 30 levels. Blood was shed both theirs and that of a god and in the end, Tiamat fell. With Tiamat gone, the party was left with the problem of how to stop the self-destruct sequence that Tiamat initiated to fire a blast of elemental power through the mortal world to strike out at Bahamut one last time. I hadn't actually planned out how this could happen. I decided to see what the party would do and their decision was to use the platform itself as a great stopper over the magma geyser to block the explosion and channel it downward. This would still destroy Tiamat's domain, but would spare the rest. The party dropped the platform and summoned the white dragon brood mother they had rescued just the week prior. The white dragon flew off with them while the wizard prepared some teleportation magic to get them free and from the distance of Bahamut's astral domain, they watched Tytherion explode in a burst of elemental energy.

Thus ended our campaign. The heroes were lauded by the forces of good. They were also granted one final meeting with the now truly dying Bahamut whose life was truly bound to the life of his sister, but was convinced that her death was worth his own. Living the two would have been locked in constant combat, but in true death they both find peace and their ages-old conflict would finally end.

We paused and reflected on what could have happened to the characters as they went off to fulfill their epic destinies and discover new adventures beyond this one, but that is an entirely different story.

From left to right:
Kildrak Stormborn (dwarven barbarian), Kydan (dragonborn runepriest), Hermy Blackhand (half-elf paladin), Xune (drow rogue), Muffi Greasemonkey (gnome artificer), and Bettledex (human wizard)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 4

So I've now submitted four pieces relating to the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger, an organization of NPC creatures with a strong vendetta and a desire to destroy the Platinum Dragon god. A cadre of demon-like beings who seek mortal hosts and through the offer of power would slowly coax them under their control eventually subsuming their host's personality completely.

Click here for a pdf of the next two members of the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Ordarg, Armored General and Las, Subtle Sneak. Ordarg was a mighty paladin who stood as a bastion of protection in service to the Bahamut who has now found his armor a black iron prison. Las was the diplomat of the order and a consummate scholar who's motivations are certainly suspect now since she has even been pushed out by her fellow Knights.

This brings us past the halfway mark for the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger. The compilation document is kept here on a separate page.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Keep it Frosty - or - Dangling Threads

***This post contains spoilers to the Scales of War Adventure Path. You have been warned.***

There were several dangling threads to the overarching stories of my player characters that I thought could be better tied up and I decided to use them as the appropriate guardians of this section of Tiamat's lair. The drow rogue was split in two before our game's story commenced and was divided into her good and evil halves. Her evil half (with name spelled backwards so you know she's the bad one!) had actively worked against the gnome artificer's little brother when they were young and sealed him inside of a crystal. This crystal was the power source behind a golem-like construct. I used an elite spider priestess for the drow so she could summon a Drider at-will (seemed pretty epic and fit with her trying to exemplify the perfect darkness of the drow).

For the gnome construct, I used a strategy I already detailed from Roving Band of Misfits, using two monsters piled on top of one another to create the dynamic of a monster that changes as you whittle it down. For the construct, I ran with a battle golem and used a leveled up gnome time wizard to represent the effect of the spectral gnome inside that powered the monstrosity. So the creature had two initiative accounts with really different effects and feeling. I also added a non-combat "out" to take this creature down. The gnome robot had two cavities in his chest and one cavity was already occupied by a crystal that looked identical to the crystal that the gnome artificer found on her person when her brother was taken. The only difference was that it glowed with incredible radiance instead of glimmering with the dull shadow with which her own crystal resonates. When the gnome figured this out, she took the crystal from her robotic arm and used it to bring balance to the now fully functional, warforged-former-gnome that is her brother. The crystal was her power source all through paragon, but now that she was a starborn epic tier chracter, she no longer required it to keep her arm functioning.

On top of all that, I included a lich from a previous adventure whose phylactery remained unscathed and had continued in Tiamat's service. To make the combat feel a little different, I made him a bit more flimsy. He had some wicked spells and started with some substantial cover, but he was a two hit minion. One hit rendered him vulnerable (save ends) and if he took another hit that dealt damage while vulnerable he would be destroyed. However since he was a lich empowered by the queen of dragons, I decided that he would immediately respawn at his phylactery. I even put the phylactery elsewhere to try and make it so he could zoom back behind and surprise them. If they had gone to this room first, it would have been a very different story, but they did this room last and had already recovered and destroyed the phylactery. Even though he got some good shots in, he still succumbed to the parties' prowess. This was the guardian chamber of plot resolutions, indeed.

So in my efforts to tweak the final adventure of the Scales of War Adventure Path, it came to the last dragon brood mother. This was something I spent a bit of time on because according to the adventure, this brood mother never wanted the job. So wait. Why are the party even fighting this one?

My PCs navigated this challenge especially well, I think. They entered the room and located the dragon, who they realized was weeping and entering into dialogue with her, she revealed her unhappiness. I had left this encounter as a full combat with draconic skeletons bursting through the ice and they were going to have to melt through the central ice column to recover the gem eye, but through the use of a little brain power and some persuasion, they convinced the dragon to help them out. I made a really fast, impromptu skill challenge while the party rigged the door to be locked quickly behind them and seal the guardians in the room once they had the eye. I also split the parties attention with this one while the other half did surgery on the dragon to remove the unwanted eggs of Tiamat. All the unnecessary bulk from Tiamat's attempted brood were weighing her down and keeping her stuck in position. After a quick cesarean section on an ancient white dragon.......let that sink in for a second......they soared through the challenge, which was quite flavorful and fun. When the party removed the gem eye, skeletal dragon guardians were summoned, the paladin teleported through the door which they sealed with a slam and were ready to move on to the final battle with Tiamat herself.

I decided to grant the party a little boon for their creative thinking and had the white dragon brood mother, Turac'lothtor, create a frosty magical egg that when shattered would grant a portion of her power to the user. Basically this meant that whoever cracked the egg could cast a ritual as a standard action, but only once since the magic would be quickly expended (i.e. consumable). Throughout the battle with Tiamat, they'd be pondering just what effect would be worth using such a powerful bit of magic to create!

And so they gathered the last of the eyes. While we have actually already played through the finale and are enjoying the glorious free time that the campaign's end has brought, I did make some major changes to Tiamat herself and to the combat that I'd love to show off a little so keep an eye out for the final pieces of my adventure through the Scales of War.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 3

So I've already put up two posts relating to the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger, an organization of NPC creatures with a strong vendetta and a desire to destroy the Platinum Dragon god. A cadre of demon-like beings who seek mortal hosts and through the offer of power would slowly coax them under their control eventually subsuming their host's personality completely. The compliation document is kept here on a separate page.

Click here for a pdf of the next two members of the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Septimus, A Man of Many Forms and the fiery sorceress Ilaren, Wreathed in Flame. Septimus is a conniving shape-changing creature who has lost his humanoid nature and given into the ebb and flow of his new life and Ilaren is a fiery-tempered mage who not only casts flames, but embodies the fire herself.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Which Seems More Epic, Kobold Priest or Red Dragon?

Without some serious help from the momma of all Dragons, Kobold doesn't stand a chance.

I've already talked about the changes that need made to bring the Scales of War Adventure Path's big finale, The Last Breath of Tiamat, to a truly epic and grand finale. I even detailed the changes I made to three of the guardians already. With over half of the gem eyes recovered and newly level 30, the party ventured into the red dragon maw this week to seek the red gem eye and defeat the red dragon brood mother, Maugh'gaul'lothtor.

Isn't he just terrifying?
As the party walked into the room, they saw a large chapel chamber with a balcony of pews and a very obvious podium to one side. A mosaic of stones is carved in the floor and heaps (even for Epic Tier!) of treasure are piled on a raised dais in the back of the room. Kneeling on the ground polishing some of the gemstones was the greatest of all epic tier threats, the mighty kobold!  Wearing a simply frock and holding a withered staff, this fearsome menace is named Arneia'ontor (draconic translation: magic trickster) and is a kobold high priest of Tiamat. This is a subtle change I decided to make to the adventure. Originally they would have seen a really badass-looking dragonborn sorcerer, but I thought we were better served by having a weak face, at least at first. Given the normally heroic tier nature of kobolds, finding one here would be surprising and makes the forthcoming transformation that much more amazing.

His initial reaction was to be more conversational. His intent, after all, is to coax the party forward so that he can make better use of the forthcoming trap, THE SHARD OF ANNIHILATION. After coaxing the party into position, he can commence with the attack. And this is a piece I decided to keep from the original. Over the course of the combat, with a mighty roar the tiny kobold priest's form rippled, expanding as he transformed into a mighty adult blue dragon. Fun transformation moment and fun movement when the kobold can jump about through bolts of living lightning.

This encounter took a little to get building. They were already wearing down and were at a pitiable amount of healing surges so I knew this would probably be either the breaking point and they would either run or finish with nothing left. The most devastating component of the encounter was by far the hazard of the shard of annihilation. I reduced the rogue to dust only to have her reformed by her powerful epic destiny effect (which she JUST GOT at the beginning of the session). This was followed by a particularly nasty critical hit on the Paladin. With a tremendous dragon breath (doing 6d20+40 lightning damage to an already bloodied character) she was reduced to negative bloodied. She was saved at the last minute due to an interrupt power from the artificer who was literally trembling as she rolled the attack to see if the paladin would live or die. Talk about save or die! The encounter ran as difficult and complex as I hoped and the party was battered and bruised after trudging through it, but they still had some surges left and decided to shuffle them around and push on to try and steal the red gem eye from the red dragon brood mother herself!

Now this little kobold is merely the guardian of the red dragon brood mother. After besting him, the party enter a heated chamber filled with blistering magma. Platforms rise above the hot lava with Maugh'gaul'lothtor seated upon a large central pillar. She is the most loyal of the brood mothers (draconic name translation: Fiery Loyal Breeder) and her chamber is part of the self-destruct mechanism that Tiamat has triggered so it is in an upheaval at this point. The magma level has risen from what it once was and Maugh is beginning to notice and take concern. Geyesers have begun to erupt throughout the chamber and there are five roaring when the party first enter. A sixth hidden geyser on the opposite side of a central pillar is clogged by the gem eye. The brood mother herself is another hazard, which the party has grown accustomed to at this point. Trying to mitigate the damage the brood mother can dish out and staying out of reach while investigating the room for the eye is becoming more fluid and the party is getting better at it every week.

This part of the combat went swimmingly as the party ruthlessly navigated the room, using the artificer's ability to grant temporary immunity to fire to the dragonborn runepriest who dove into the magma to seek out the stone. The party used some quick thinking and good observation skills to set themselves up well in this tactical situation. The runepriest used his action point to hammer away on the stone and pried it out very quickly. As the pillar crumbled and they all backed off, the red dragon bellowed her rage upon them all and spat her last curses out at the party. With that, the second to last gem eye was recovered and the party only has one more treasure to claim in order to unlock their final path to mother of all dragons!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 2

I already posted an introduction to the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger, an organization of NPC creatures with a strong vendetta and a desire to destroy the Platinum Dragon god who would seek mortal hosts and through the offer of power would slowly coax them under their control eventually subsuming their host's personality completely.

Click here for a pdf of the next two members of the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Simbak, the Snake in the Grass and Urbier, More A Beast Than A Man. Simbak is a serpentine warrior with an affinity for poisons and Urbier is a bestial creature who grants his host unbelievable strength at the cost of their self-control.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Something Borrowed, Something Black and Blue

**This post contains spoilers to the Scales of War Adventure Path. You have been warned.**

So I mentioned already that the last adventure of my epic tier campaign needed some work (since I am using the published Scales of War Adventure Path) and I specifically talked about the first challenge the party faced. This week's session started with the party entering the maw of a black dragon statue to confront the black dragon brood mother of Tiamat and hopefully find another gem eye that can shut down the wards blocking their path to the Dragon Queen herself. This week turned out pretty special because it featured a lot of material that I grabbed from other bloggers who had come up with great ideas.

As they entered the dragon's mouth, they saw a whirling dome of shadow in the center of a portal chamber rimmed with stone archways containing empty and inactive portals. As the first members of the party hear a roar coming from the shadows, they lunge into the blackness and see that the whirling darkness is essentially a veil that separates the interior from the exterior of the dome (i.e. no line of sight) and inside is a tremendous undead dragon who laughs at their boldness. So half the party has lunged into melee range with the undead dragon and the other half of the party is outside the dome when the dragon clicks his finger bones together. With a snap of magical energy, portals begin to open displaying a fiendish planescape of madness and horror....THE FAR REALM! So the party is divided and has to face two foes: an undead horror and the insanity inducing effects of exposure to the Far Realm.

Simply put, I got excited about the opportunity to use a monster made by someone else I found recently. The Id DM posted an epic tier threat this past month that really inspired me for this encounter. I lifted his monster (while leveling it up and tweaking its aura to make it work with the portals), but I kept the rest of his design whole. One major change I integrated was my second borrowed thing this week. CSRoss from the DMGp42 blog did a study of monster damage this past week and I decided to try this monster with his damage bonuses. HECK YES. Getting a critical that did over 120 damage felt so nice and when I announced the damage to the party and they all repeated it back to me in that scared and disbelieving voice.....classic. The threat was real and actually scary and to complicate things even more I borrowed another element. I just discovered Beholder Pie's blog and they had a post this week about templates to use with groups of monsters to help simulate the interplay of PC synergy and interrupts that allow for more benefits and bonuses. I used the Dragon's Den template in this encounter and trading in a token to turn my next hit into a critical was delicious. Really effective monster design, with good math and a synergy that brought it all together made for an incredibly effective and memorable session this week.

We started the session with a wrap up from the last time and jumped straight to initiative (since I like to end on a cliffhanger). Half the party was in an aura that blocked line of sight and the other half was outside reeling with horror from the effects of the opening portals to a realm of madness. The ranged section of the party, thought they try and disable one of the portals to the Far Realm. As the rogue got closer, she was immediately attacked by the madness effect, but toughed it out. She then failed her Thievery check to try and mar the runes and deactivate the portal which caused it to explode with the distorting energies of eldritch horror. For this I borrowed something else! The Book of Vile Darkness, while arguably not very vile, had a very cool hazard effect for a Far Realm Anomaly including a random table for flesh warping effects of exposure to the Far Realm. The explosion hit the rogue, who's legs became worthless rendering her slowed. Period. It also hit the party wizard whose legs warped and meshed together into a snake tail destroying her fancy pair of magic boots and reducing her speed by 3. No save, no disease track, these effects were just on there. That really grabbed their attention.

At this point the melee fighters had realized that things were getting bad and started hammering away at a black orb in the eye socket of the dracolich, which they targeted at a -2 to attack (since it's more of a called shot and I thought a penalty was called for). They hit it twice dealing sufficient damage to destroy the orb and dropping the veil of shadows. When your actions have direct impact on the way the encounter works, it is a very rewarding feeling as a player. So now the whole party could see the opening portals to madness and the ranged attackers could engage the dragon more easily. The dragon teleported to the other side of the map to harass the ranged combatants and it was at this point that the dwarven barbarian gave me a look that made me smile because he realized what I had just noticed at the same time. The barbarian moved into position and with a mighty howl, charged the barely injured dracolich, pushing it 7 squares and through the portal into the madness of the Far Realm.

The effects of the flesh warping planescape immediately started to bend and shape the dracolich, taking him over and causing him obviously excruciating pain. They continued to fire magical attacks at the dragon, who was taking a tremendous amount of ongoing damage as his bones creaked and bent and every attack passing through the portal was warped and bent further. I realized that if they could shut the portal down, he'd be stuck on the other side with no way back. They kept trying to immobilize him and slow him down so he couldn't get back through, but eventually he was able to muscle his way back in and as I described him clawing his way back to reality, I remembered the attacks being warped as they passed through the gate and decided to go for broke. As the dracolich's skeletal form passed through the gateway, its undead bones were turned to free-flowing flesh that rippled with obscene gesticulation and oozed with foul pus the color of madness. This creature was no longer a powerful undead villain, but a mound of hideous, cancerous tissue trying to heap vengeance on those who had brought it to this mournful fate. The paladin slid the creature halfway through the portal and shortly thereafter the portal closed with the dragon half in and as the portal snapped shut the fleshy dragon's head, if you could call it that, collapsed to the ground in a pile of bleeding flesh. Holy crap. What an encounter.

The final chamber where the black dragon brood mother, Auth'lothtor, actually resides required more customization as well. Since I fiddled with the green dragon and tried using a hazard to simulate a creature that could not be physically harmed, I did a similar work up on the black dragon as well. This room's theme was LOCKDOWN and DISSOLVE. Auth'lothtor was fussing over her eggs in a mire of acidic muck in a deep pit while feeding off of vines that were visibly growing. Both the dragon and the vines had many means of locking down the party by holding them in position. Given the range of a dragonbreath attack, this could be potentially very deadly. This is complicated by the mud of the pit being a highly concentrated, but slowly effective acid. The first time one of the characters is exposed to the acidic mud, I'm going to ask all of them to make tic marks on their character sheet equal to 1/4 their Constitution score. Creatures that enter or start their turn in the pit erase a tic mark. Characters with no tic marks at the start of their turn begin to dissolve and take ongoing acid damage equal to their healing surge value (save ends). A creature that drops to 0 hp due to this effect melts to a paste.

The foil to the encounter is removing the gem from within the muck and mire. Not only do the party need the gem to lower the ward, but it is also acting as the plug that keeps the acidic mire from draining. Once the gem is located and removed, the muck begins to drain with a great sucking sound (save ends). After the first failed saving throw, the concentrated acid damage effect will no longer hurt creatures in the pit. After the second failed saving throw, the dragon will no longer be able to splash the acidic mud and will lose access to that attack. The dragon is far too large to pull herself out of the pit so the main point of the encounter is more about mobility and smash and grab tactics as opposed to "find all monsters - kill all monsters."

It was honestly some what disappointing for me to see how quickly they swooped through this room and gathered the gem. Using some careful strategy and a creative use of their powers, they were able to handily locate and grab the black gem eye and beat a hasty retreat. Minimal damage was taken and they used just a few uses of their daily teleportation powers. After RAPIDLY claiming the black gem eye, the party zipped back to the center room with its pulsating magma geyser and it was here they realized how dire their problem was since they knew now that the whole volcanic compound Tiamat's fortress is based in was ready to explode in about 10 hours. The timer was started, but they were confused as to what Tiamat could hope to gain by destroying her lair at this point.

They chose the blue dragon maw next and this chamber I ran mostly as written. The beholder in the observation room works (with modified damage and truly scary damage) and the blue dragon I turned into a hazard instead of a creature. The Beholder room as an observatory lent itself well to show the Astral positioning of Tiamat's domain and just how dangerous her final desperate gambit was, but I've already talked about that before. Using their resources well, they were able to knock the beholder prone into the pit multiple times (doing over 150 falling damage to it) and they negotiated the blue dragon brood mother handily. I thought about posting that hazard here too, but after such an epic series of encounters I'd done enough.

This week proved incredibly memorable and truly epic! Using the full benefits of the lessons of the internet and borrowing A LOT of great ideas from some really cool designers and gamers, my session was really fun this past week. And when all the players are giving each other high fives after the session ends (even the DM!), you can't help but feel like a success. So thank you, TheIdDm, CStevenRoss and Beholder Pie for helping to get my synergy going and helping make my session this week a real success.

Now with two more gem eyes to recover the final fight and the end of an age is almost upon us! Only the Red and White Brood Mothers still remain and the Mother of All Dragons shall know her mortality!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 1

So a long while back, I read an article by Quinn Murphy over at the At-Will blog and it got my gears churning a bit in terms of game design. The article in question is entitled Horizon: The Darkness Within, which you should read because it is pretty cool. The general premise is that a character in the party is being corrupted by some dark being who is granting them abilities (very warlock like), but unlike the warlock these impressive power come with a very specific cost to the character in question. I remember reading this particular article and really enjoying the mechanical, story-infused ideas that just started brewing as I saw the possibilities for what I could do with such an interesting concept. Then I started reading the Dresden Files series of novels.

If you've never read the Dresden books you should, if only for their depiction of the Faerie Courts alone. The TV show is available for  streaming on Netflix, but is not nearly as good. I digress.

In the novels, there is a particular organization of characters made up of a collection of fallen angels who are bound to thirty ancient coins (the pieces of silver given to Judas to betray Jesus in the Bible). These demons attach themselves to a host when they come in to contact with the coin and eventually convince them to give the demon control through a series of sweet promises. Many mortals were taken over by these particular demons who offer incredible power in exchange for greater influence. They way it played out in the novels was AWESOME and just meshed really well with the idea that I was developing and that is when I decided to create my own set of NPCs and mechanics behind an organization of warped, evil creatures who would offer power (both through flavor and mechanics) to try and gain greater influence over a player character. That was when the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger were born; creatures who were once so beautiful and honorable, but who had fallen from grace and become a real threat to the known worlds.

I wanted to create a document with options for DMs to offer to their players in the hopes of creating dynamic choices for their players and this is essentially where I ended up. I've attached a pdf which explains the background of the organization and the mechanics for how a character makes movements further towards or away from the darkness along with the first of the Knights and a set of powers associated with the Knight that he or she could grant to the character as they fall further under his or her control.  In the coming weeks I am going to release the individual members of the organization a few at a time with a background of the character and the special powers and abilities they have to offer their host as well as a template for applying to an NPC monster or character that a DM could potentially introduce into their game to show how the Knights are at work or to use as a possible adventure seed for a villain in their own campaign.

I look forward to feedback on the idea. Give it a look over and please, feel free to steal ideas from this to use in your campaign. If you have a different take on a particular part of the story, tear my idea apart and run it your way. Part of the fun of planning your own campaign and being the captain of your own story is being able to take creative control and personalize things so they fit the world the way you see it and really owning it for your players. Besides, all good ideas are "borrowed" and tweaked from other great minds. :)

Click here for the compiled pdf that introduces the story of the Knights, explains the mechanic, and also includes the first of the Knights: Anduren, the Black Blade, perfect for tempting a roguish character with foul powers over the darkness. **Caution, meddling with foul powers of darkness may invoke Magic Missiles™**

Monday, February 20, 2012

Can a Green Dragon Be A Hazard?

**This post contains spoilers to the Scales of War Adventure Path. You have been warned.**

Last week, I talked about some of the preliminary modifications I am making to the last adventure of the Scales of War, The Last Breath of Tiamat. One of my major complaints with the adventure is that it essentially comes down to a grind of fighting a guardian room (which is actually kind of interesting) followed by a combat encounter with a solo dragon of each of the chromatic domains of Tiamat. Each of these solo dragons is essentially the same with only terrain effects and damage keywords to differentiate them. That just isn't very interesting to me. So my thought was to change the dragons, who were originally solo monsters, into hazards. So they have no hit point totals and cannot be affected by status effects, but are still a dramatic and dynamic threat to the party. Then the question becomes, how do the party uncover the means to defeat the dragons and disrupt the draconic ward keeping them from confronting Tiamat? I decided that instead of the ward being powered by the chromatic brood mother dragons themselves it would be powered by an enormous gem carved in the shape of an eye that was conspicuously missing from the statues that marked the entry to the five separate side chambers.

There are five different directions that the party could choose from in their attempt to bring the ward down and open the path to Tiamat and the party decided to go after the green dragon first, since they were reflecting back on which dragon exarch they faced over the course of the Adventure Path (they got it wrong too, Chillreaver the White came first). So in the first chamber, they faced a group of dragonborn defenders in a room full of coins and a piston-like hazard in the center of the room. They tore the defenders apart, which was quite satisfying since I decided that one of the defenders should be the former black exarch of Tiamat who they already defeated once. Having been raised by Tiamat, he was really annoying to the party and defeating him was very sweet. The hazard in the center of the room didn't make any difference in the combat (I should have made it cover the entire room so it would have a greater effect on the combat and created a lot more dynamic movement) and the party was really just grinding down some hit points from the creatures.

After that came the first of the draconic brood mothers, a great green dragon of poison. As they entered the room, they saw the chamber open up from a well chiseled section of structured tunnels to a more cave-like interior filled with mist. The haze clung to a pool of water that extended out in front of them with all kinds of fetid swamp life floating including a large quantity of torn up trees that all collected towards the central section of the pool. On this haphazardly created nest of torn-up wood was seated an enormous and grotesquely swollen green dragon. The thing I gave the most detail was the oozing pustules that covered the underside of the dragon. There are twenty evenly distributed all about the belly scales of the dragon and some kind of foul greenish fluid oozes out all across the mid section of the dragon. There are also two pale dragonborn warriors (vampire lords) seated on the wings of the dragon conversing with her. So as the party walks in, they can see this monstrous creature resting in the center of the pool and prepare to assault the dragon like we do every time it comes up. What they don't know is that instead of the usual solo fight with a dragon, this dragon is different. This dragon is a hazard.

This dragon (who I named Uxin'lothtor) is protected by the same wards that energize the defenses of Tiamat and that the only way to defeat the dragon is to remove the gem eye which is seated in one of the egg sacs drooping from the dragon's stomach. Since the creature has no hit points, every attack they make against the dragon has no effect against its defeat. What I set up instead, was that every time the party made a successful attack against the dragon, I rolled a d4 and that numbered attack was removed as an option until the end of the dragon's next turn. When multiple attacks were made against Uxin'Lothtor and the number is rolled more than once, then nothing happens the second time. So the dragon could feasibly lose all of it's options for it's turn or potentially just one. There is a little bit of swing there and it worked really well in terms of their being a realistic impact on the way the battle played. This hazard also took advantage of the fetid swamp water that the dragon nests upon. A creature knocked prone in the swampy water had to succeed at a difficult endurance check or accidentally swallowed some of the poisonous swill. This means they take ongoing 30 poison damage (save ends and they cannot make a save against until they are no longer in the water).

So the party can't actually kill the dragon the usual way. I figured something much more difficult and really special than a regular combat encounter was worthwhile at this point in the game. In order to defeat the dragon, they needed to locate the gem carved like an egg midst the actual eggs in the disgusting sacs all over the green dragon. Mechanically, the way I wanted to represent this was that the party could try and attack the eggs. Each one when destroyed caused the dragon pain, thus suggesting that they should pursue this route of attack as the means to weaken and eventually destroy the dragon.

There were 20 egg sacs attached to Uxin'lothtor. If a party members wanted to attack (or search) one of the egg sacs I rolled a d20+x (x=number of times the eggs have been attacked thus far). If the result was 25 or higher, the egg targeted was actually the gem eye. (Attacking an egg uses same defenses as Uxin'lothtor with a +2 bonus). Burst attacks gained a +1 to this roll for each square of the burst that covers the dragon. This was something I didn't think of ahead of time and had to improvise quickly to deal with once the wizard figured out about the eggs. Once the last of the eggs was destroyed, Uxin'lothtor began to thrash about (save ends). Each turn she thrashes about, any creature in the watery bog took 50 damage from the thrashing logs and was knocked prone. I allowed characters who wanted to ready an action to make an acrobatics check to attempt to dodge the logs as they began to jump about. The party rogue brought that one up and it turned out pretty cool.Once Uxin'lothtor saved, she fell dead. Since the green dragon was unable to move it wasn't necessary for the party to actually defeat the dragon, but they chose to do so because they really are quite thorough.

This was my first combat designed using a hazard with a specific countermeasure in order to disrupt it instead of a major monster. It was more than a little weird and was honestly more confusing than I had hoped it would be. I explained the mechanic to the party at the very end (after they had officially finished up the dragon by destroying the eggs. They commented on how the idea was pretty cool, but that it was something that they just never thought about. They were using daily attacks and seeing it have no effect and started to feel stupid because they just didn't understand what they had to do. When they did figure out that there was something else going on and successfully destroyed the last of the eggs as the dragon was dying they, more than a little perplexed, commented, "Wait, it's not even bloodied, how is it dead?"

This method may have broken the paradigm a little bit more than I original anticipated. The idea that a monster can't be defeated in the usual means is so against what they have come to expect and to make a change at the eleventh hour like this was a little jarring I think. One encounter down, I have hope that with the expectation that the brood mothers themselves will be a different challenge and require some lateral thinking.

After defeating the green dragon and catching their breath, the party decided to pass through the mouth in to the black dragon, but the chamber for the black dragon, Auth'lothtor, and the guardians keeping her safe will have to wait for next time.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Year of the Dragon

It is, in fact, the year of the dragon now and what a year it is shaping up to be!

My epic tier campaign is finishing out our last adventure in the Scales of War Adventure Path, which puts them directly into conflict with the mother of all chromatic dragons herself, Tiamat. Epic Tier play has gotten a lot of attention in the last year from bloggers putting up all kinds of ideas on how to address the issues around the most broken of the tiers of play in 4th Edition D&D and using all the benefits of all that iidea space along with three years of DMing experience, I’m reworking a great deal of the final adventure to give it more panache and a strong finish to a campaign that will hopefully be worth remembering and celebrating.

I’ve talked already about the issues that have come up with railroading the party, which my party actually really likes, as well as with drawing their character stories onto the rails of our game and making it a unique and special experience as we finish up and for the most part it has not taken a great deal of effort to make those changes really click well.

The Last Breath of Tiamat, the final adventure of the Scales of War Adventure Path, is going to need a little more work than my usual fare. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good starting material to work with here. Small party of heroic adventurers infiltrating an enemy bastion, sneaking behind enemy lines through a great black gate, trying to avoid detection and seeking the means to finally defeat their greatest enemy. It is cliche, but proven. On top of that a nasty draconic ward that is essentially one or two-shot deadly that can only be disabled by defeating the draconic guardians imbuing it with power, sets up a very strong (if simple) dungeon that could be pretty cool for an epic tier party to cut their newly level 30 teeth on before facing the big momma herself.

It could, in theory, do this, but unfortunately the adventure as written just turns into a grinding battle of solo dragons that are essentially the same other than switching out damage keywords and different trappings with some flavorful hazards and traps. That doesn’t sound like the exciting and interesting end to a three year venture to me. Now I don’t want to spend a ton of time picking out what really ticks me off about this since it was obviously written WAY before people were playing at Epic level and a lot of lessons have been learned in that time. What I do want to do is show just what I did to make this adventure at the end of Epic Tier just a bit more epic.

I really wanted to keep the iconic components of the adventure all together. The setting and story is all staying, but I am going to establish a few things that will set the tone a little differently as well as set the time frame that the party has to complete the task. Tiamat is pretty much all, but defeated at this point. Her alliances have failed her, her army is scattered and her home forces are divided with in fighting as the mother of betrayal is betrayed at last. So what does a god do when everything looks down? Blow up the universe of course! I thought it would be more interesting (and this is in my home campaign cosmology so bear with me now) if Tiamat’s realm was situated in the Elemental Chaos. Sure, she is one of the divine, but if any god would be set up in an elemental infused hellhole it would be her. So given this information, I thought, if Tiamat was going to try and pull one last F U to the planes she’d probably try and take out big brother while she is at it. 

So when the party first entered her base they heard her talking in desperation to her former allies through a communication scry in her main lair. After exploring for a bit though, they hear her again echoing through the halls saying, “Fine then prepare to die you, motherless slug.” With a mighty roar, they feel the entire hall reel and buck and an enormous magma geyser infused with the full power of the elements began to not only roar, but pulsate in the center of the main chamber. They got the sense that the living volcano this domain is built upon is ready to blow, but an eruption on this scale would be larger than any ever recorded in history. With a quick Arcana check, the wizard was able to tell that this explosion will be so tremendous that it will destroy Tiamat’s palace, but not only that it would rip through the planes. After an additional Arcana, Religion, or History check they were able to tell that the target of this explosion will be a domain of the Astral Sea, but given the positions of the cosmology the Primary Material Plane lies right between the two so it would be blasted through devestating the world and leaving a giant hole just seeping into the Elemental Chaos. Essentially, and I know I’m going to have to frame this repeatedly to my players because it IS convoluted, if they are unable to stop Tiamat before the eruption of the volcanic fortress, the entire fortress will be destroyed in a titanic blaze of glory that will also devastate the Mortal World and reach all the way to the Astral Domain of Bahamut, levelling it and potentially killing Bahamut, Kord and Moradin. From what they can tell, they only have 10 hours left.

So that sets the framework for the ending of our campaign with world shattering consequences. Can the party brave the danger, defeat their enemies and save the wold one last time!?!  We’ll just have to see how it plays out.

In the coming weeks/months, I’m going to post the changes I made to the draconic guardians that the party needs to overcome in order to gain access to Tiamat and a bit after that I’ll include my final changes to the Dark Queen of Dragons herself. I’ve also got a couple of other projects I have been working on much more long term that will be popping up in the coming weeks/months and conveniently they are all dragon themed!

Thus begin the Days of the Dragons. May they be long and dangerous.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Take Two Creatures and Call Me in the Morning

**This post contains spoilers from the Scales of War Adventure Path. You have been warned.**

The folks over at Roving Band of Misfits wrote a post that got me thinking. We know it is always a dangerous thing when a DM starts thinking. They proposed a new method of creating solo monsters with a dynamic that changes over the course of a combat. Specifically, the idea was that instead of it being one one monster with a ton of hit points, why not create two monsters that are overlaid and both take actions while one creature takes damage at a time. Once one creature is killed, they only get one set of actions which creates a dynamic change in the combat.

For the final battle of my adventure, I thought I'd give it a whirl. Solos have had a lot of problems for a LOOONG time and the technique presented by the Band of Misfits was a novel approach to the concept. Implementing the idea is pretty simple and they detail the principles behind the idea in their blog post linked above.
image from Deviant artist Pale Drow

For me, this worked in to a major battle sequence I put together involving a Drow king (I know, right?!?) who had usurped the Efreet of the City of Brass while allied with Tiamat's forces. I used two templates to construct the Solo beastie. I started the idea that basically due to his new mastery of the elemental forces of fire, the drow king had taken command of the fire armies and formed a spectral suit of armor made of the flesh of Efreet noble. So I used an Efreet elite as the first stage of the solo monster. His AC is higher and he has a fly speed, but as he takes damage his hitpoints will be depleted.  His hardened fleshy armor slows him down a bit and he is less reflexive too. Once he is bloodied, certain effects kick in and he is constantly getting worn down until those final hitpoints are chipped away and all that is left is the final stage of the creature.

To make matters worse, he will have a second initiative account as the Drow King himself (also an elite Drow taken from Monster Manual 3). While the first stage is active, both monsters will be making attacks against the party which is a pretty dangerous threat. They will also be unable to do damage to the Drow King until they damage his elemental armor and once that fall away, he will lose an initiative action making him more desperate and more dangerous. I cranked his damage when this happened to decrease the number of actions taking place, but increase the threat making him feel more deranged and more dangerous as he got backed into a corner. At least that is all how I designed him to operate as a monster. I specifically chose two elites that were also leaders and had aura effects to give buffs to their allies (in this case a horde of elementally imbued Drow minions who were rampaging against the party attempting to catch them alight with flames from the elemental chaos), but as always happens things don't always go according to plan.

As the encounter panned out, the elemental minions didn't survive very long. One well placed Chain Lightning spell nuked the entire room and killed all, but two of the minions. So the leader effects weren't that useful as a whole. The effect of the change was pretty cool. When the first creature's set of hit points were reduced and it went from being bloodied to being non-bloodied and the defense numbers were suddenly really different, the party really responded to that. It was dynamic and different and I like how that played out. The one thing that didn't work so good was the sheer quantity of hit points. This was entirely a mistake on my part. Both halves had the same massive bucket of hitpoints where I probably should have had the Efreet starting creature have the bulk of hit points so that as soon as he dropped and lost his magical armor he would have felt more like a glass cannon. The fact that he had just as many hit points to go after the first piece disappeared made for a slug match of a combat. That's really a different conversation and part of the design dynamic of Epic Tier. Overall generating a Solo creature that is a real threat in this level of play was really interesting in a story sense, but I'm definitely giving it another crack to see how it would play out with more dynamic hit point totals.

The next time I try using it, I'm going to have a gnome creature (leveled up from heroic) whose spirit is trapped in time and stuck inside an iron golem construct. I'm going to balance the hit points more skewed the way they should with the gnome creature with less hit points up front and once defeated the iron golem with more hit points to deplete. Combining a brute and a lurker should prove interesting. More on that later.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


**This post contains spoilers from the Scales of War Adventure Path. You have been warned.**

I asked one of my players to write out a narrative for the final battle of our current adventure because of how completely he had neutered the fight by his actions, which I described in my last post. I debated for awhile what to do when he completely busted up my plans and I thought about running the combat encounter but giving the NPC of Bahamut to the party to use against the final boss, but I decided that it would just end up feeling like a grind so handing the reins over to the player as a reward for his creative thinking seemed the logical answer to my problem. Handing over creative control of the story on such a large scale was really hard, but made for a very interesting end. He’s a natural storyteller (he’s a DM too) so I knew this would be a rewarding experience for him, but I had NO IDEA what was coming for me. I thought I would post this so you could see how the narrative summation of a final fight that was just going to be a drag mechanically ended up being really worthwhile and made a very neat story moment in our campaign.

Time, Kildrak?! Time is a theory of the utmost worthlessness to me. My whole existence has been dictated by time. The time that has passed, the time that will pass and the moments by which we define time that are circling our presence at this instant. We have but to reach out into the ether to dispel all that time can construct around us. My very existence was purposed so that in a single moment, a singular fragment of history, the planes could breath and in that breath consume my life and in the very next exhale an essence more powerful than I could ever hope to be. My life has been spent waiting in and on time, so no Kildrak. I will not rest now upon this spire with you for I am needed. We are all needed as we have always been. The strength that lifts is only supplement to the strength that sustains, and that is what I ask of you now. That is what I ask of all of you. Stay your wounds, and steal your weapons a bit longer from the sheaths for which I know they so hunger for so as to give solace to your aching hands and the burdens that bite tear at your backs. And do not this deed lone for Bahamut, but for all those whom you fight for. For a brother. For a father, mother, and queen. For a soul, for a conscience, and even for glory, Kildrak. For what greater glory is there to be had in this life or the next then to go gnawing and ripping into the dark from which you tire, only to beat it back with less strength than whence it’s entrance gripped you. We all tire. We will always tire. The powerful play goes on and we may contribute a verse. What will your verse be? And how loud will you proclaim it?”

And with that I tore my feet from the ground which they so yearned to rest upon if only for a moment longer. Like weights they tired with the fight that only fear can bring to pull me down. Yet my wings beat on, taking me closer and closer to the clash that was inevitable. Where I would stand by my god’s side and embrace him in life or death which ever might come first, for to deny my god would be death.

I neared the flaming falls and as I burst forth through them I felt the searing pain that I knew awaited me in their fiery grasp and yet as I burst forth from the falls, the fire licking at my scales with a thirst unquenched, a renewed sense overcame me at it’s burning hands met my skin, and I thought to myself, “If I am able to feel this much pain, then in the reverse I must be able to feel this much elation.” And it all came back to me. My past life… my wife standing on the Arkhosian temple steps… my companion and friend Basix as he once was… I had felt happy then. And I would feel happy again someday. I would overcome this pain and in a day that once shined so bright, but was now so dark, so sheltered by the tendrils that reach out from the recesses of lost hope to obscure the eyes of faith, I would rejoice. I would smile again in the presence of my compatriots and in the halls of fellowship and for that I flew on renewed by what once hurt me, but could never hurt me again.

As I reached the fallen form of Bahamut lying below the hideous behemoth form of Namissi, I could view his breast plate of platinum scales still heaving. Though they were scarred and blood birthed from many wounds about his newly risen body he still had breathe in him. It was so clear what I had to do.

I call now,” I spoke aloud to myself, “upon that words that time has forgotten to be recalled now to my soul. Oh though we all may one day slip into the eons that pass into forsaken corners of space that time destroys and turns to dust I stand HERE! NOW! IN THIS MOMENT! I command all that is in me to exist not only from this moment to the next, but to turn the wheel of time and act upon the levers that will continue to turn forevermore! FOR THAT IS NOT DEAD WHICH CAN ETERNAL LIE! AND WITH STRANGE AEONS EVEN DEATH MAY DIE!!!”
Kydan, Dragonborn Runepriest, illustrated by Symatt
I would like to say that I then charged at Namissi with every part of me that would move, but I do not think there was enough within to gather the strength to me. I charged at Namissi with as much strength as a man charges the earth when falling. I was so unaware of all around me that I’m not sure how hard I hit Namissi, all I know is that it was enough for my blow followed true and the ancient runes bound in my body ignited and I turned with my open palm to Bahamut and as the healing light burst forth to drench the Platinum Dragon in radiance, I saw my god rise.

To his full form he rose, but he did not stop there. It seemed he had become more now in his resurgence than he was before in life. His anger was reformed, his rage re-ignited, and his spirit as violent as a Tarrasque!

Forward my god sprang, his powerful wings beating and breaking the air itself. Namissi was bewildered for but a fraction in time, yet that was all it took. That was all I needed. Like my god towering over me, my conscience and fortitude was set ablaze. Bahamut’s head reared back and forth, striking and biting he tore forward at the giant blue exarch of Tiamat. Their claws and teeth clashed again and again. Their blows were like thunder, their moments like water. Ichor seeped forth from the many wounds they exchanged. It was then that I ruptured onwards to aid my Lord in battle. I felt my body grow in stature as my weapon found its mark on the exarch. Together we fought though my body was weak my spirit spurred me onward, begging my muscle for just a moments more energy. Just enough to finish what had begun.

In an instant though the battle rounded on us as Namissi’s strength seemed to double. His ferocity was impossible, his fury unstoppable. He knew he was the final exarch. The final hurdle between us and Tiamat and his queen would have a show of him before his body adorned the ground in defeat. A defeat that had seemed inevitable only seconds ago. My strength was failing me. I was failing me. I begged and pleaded with my body to continue but I was broken. Time had won. Kildrak was right I had to rest.

Stand little one! Stand as you can. On your knees if you must, crawl if it is all you can rally, save do not cease. He is almost overtaken!”

My body is breaking within me Bahamut…”

As it should, as it has, and as it will again before your time is through. But that time is not now.”

I wish to…”

Do not wish. Wishes are for those who cannot gather the strength to try! You and your patriots have tried and succeeded a thousand fold. In some ways more than I.”

My weapon is too heavy; my shield is a weight to the grave.”

Then cast them off and fight with your body and soul! The fight is ours as long as we never give up.”

I feel the defeat in the corners of my essence, hiding and waiting for the darkness to come so that they may rise up and drag me down.”

Defeat is in all of us little one. It always will be. You must learn to not run from it, but set after defeat and burn it! Let defeat be the fuel that spurs you on! You and your compatriots have done the impossible so many times before and I ask it of them and you again! Spit in the face of impossible and take to defeat like a battering ram!!!”

It was over in the next instant. Namissi’s rage was so all-consuming on Bahamut and I that his blindside was turned on his conquerors. As Namissi threw all he had against us, Kildrak, Muffi, Bettledex, Hermy, and Xune came like the fires of all the Nine Hells down upon his form as arrows, magic, swords and hammers falling together in harmony, breaking into the back of the beast. Their aim was true, their swings flawless. The raven’s wings enclosed and snuffed out the light of Namissi blow after blow. Sparks flew as iron and metal clashed upon tooth and scale. The littlest creatures can often pack the hardest hits. Rage as I had never seen before poured out of the dwarf’s maw. His hammer falls rivaled Erek-Hus’ deathly swing. Spells flew hitherto birthing rocks and flame anew in life. Bettledex manipulated the very world surrounding us and bid it to rise up against the final exarch. And from Xune’s crossbow, a single bolt: an ancient and most sacred artifact, The Arrow of Fate. She loaded the arrow of bone and with well timed precision and aim that only falls from those most… cunning, she fired it directly into the beast’s belly and he was cast down upon the ground beneath us. Namissi was fallen.

So that's how our session is starting this week......

I love Epic Tier D&D.