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.