Friday, July 24, 2009

Rewriting Skill Challenges

I like skill challenges... when they work. I've been through a few that were fairly drab or didn't make sense or a few that were incomprehensible. Now, most of the "packaged" skill challenges that I've seen have been from Dungeon's Scales of War Adventure path. Due to the creativity of the multiple authors that have contributed to the series, I've seen many different spins. some have worked better than others.

My take on skill challenges is that series of small skill challenges work better than one large one, so when I looked at the "Walls Come Tumbling Down" challenge in Beyond the Mottled Tower, I think it needs a re-write. The basic premise of the challenge is that an inn is collapsing due to an apparent earthquake and the PC's need to save the Inn's patrons and themselves before the inn collapses.

Now the interesting thing about the challenge is the sequence of events that happen during the collapse of the inn. Here are a few things that are described as part of the collapse:
  1. A patron is hit on the head by a falling beam.
  2. A patron is trapped under rubble.
  3. A terrified patron hides under a table and needs to be convinced to out.
  4. The floor collapses, trapping PC's and patrons.
  5. There's a fire.
  6. The whole building will collapse in 7 rounds.
The presentation of the events piles everything into two groups: one complex skill challenge with 12 success required before 3 failures, and a time line of events. As well the reward/drawback for the outcome of the challenge is a little bit non-sensical. If you succeed at saving the inn's patrons - you get some extra time to save a villager outside the inn, but of you fail (eg if you leave the inn without saving the patrons) you get less time.

I'd rather run this as a set of simpler skill challenges - with any round not getting a success toward one of the challenges counting as a failure. The challenges would each have their own reward/drawback - and it's not going to be time.

The four challenges would be:
  1. Starting on round 1: the drunken patron struck on head; athletics, heal; on success drunk patron is saved; reward: potions
  2. Starting on round 2: terrified and trapped patrons: athletics, diplomacy, intimidation, insight; on 5 success all villagers are safely out; reward: saved villagers help with fire in this and next encounter
  3. Starting on round 3: crumbling floor: athletics, acrobatics; on success patrons that have fallen into the basement escape; on 3 successes villagers in hole are saved: reward: saved villagers aid in rescuing villagers and PC stuck in collapsed building
  4. Starting on round 4: fire: athletics; in 3 successes the fire is out; reward barkeep reveals knowledge.
  5. Collapse of building - not a skill challenge - rounds 6 and 7 is the last chance to save any patrons trapped inside.
Perception checks may be made to notice new events as they happen (possibly providing a bonus). The general penalty for failure is enmity from the villagers, and lack of help from them in the upcoming (combat) encounter.

I'll see how the challenge runs this weekend.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


It has been a while.

I've been running two D&D 4e campaigns and have resorted to using Dungeon adventures for all of them. My Sunday group has been playing "The Last Breaths of Ashenport", which is an 8th level Cthulu-esque adventure. And I've been bringing my Saturday group through the Scales of War campaign from Dungeon as wel. Even using prepared adventures, the preparation time investment to running all these is enough to suck up my time and not allow for much that's original, or all that interesting to write about.

No more! Things, they are a changing. I've been hinting (complaining) about it for long enough that *two* of my players have stepped up to try their hand at dungeon mastering. So I'm now a player! This makes me happy.

For the Sunday group, I have "about 2 months" of a break according to my new DM while he goes through an original adventure that he's been working on. It's a Celtic, Dark Ages themed, low magic campaign. I'm playing Carric, a 1st level paladin - who's acquired his Divine magic by being possessed/ridden by a spirit/demon. It's an interesting take on the nature of magic, reminding me of "The Curse of Chalion".

For the Saturday group, I'm trading off every second week with one of my players who is running "Keep on the Shadowfell". I'm semi-familiar with that adventure based on forum discussions I read back in the early days of 4e, but I'm hazy enough on the details that it's still a refreshing play through. I've been playing Pallas, a 1st level eladrin tactical warlord for that adventure. He technically died in the first session (4 level 1 characters going up against the Irontooth fight is pretty bad, we narrowly avoided a TPK). He's got a pass though, so he's made a miraculous recovery, despite the fact that nobody but me has either any healing powers nor the ability to roll a 15 on a heal check... whatever. I'd have been more than happy to roll up a new character, but in the interests of continuity, Pallas lives.

The result of all this is that I'm having fun playing, and I have *one* adventure to DM every second Saturday. Which gives me lots of time to stray off the written adventure path for the Scales of War campaign that I'm DMing every second Saturday. I think I may add a little divergence to next week's game. I'm thinking Zombies!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Vengeance is Theirs!

Last week, our heroes, comprised of:

Aeldrick, 6th level Human Warlord
Minos, 6th level Minotaur Fighter
Rendrill, 6th level Halfling Rogue

having discovered the connection between the dragons Dre and Oran returned by boat to the port of Shinar in Prolia where they went to report their findings to King Yutsen and met up with

Lindark, 6th level Elf Cleric

Lindark is being played by Voden's player, and is a Dex/Wis based Cleric with some Ranger powers and archery.

While Aeldrick and the rest of the party went to confer with the King about their plans for dealing with the "Dragons" Minos, his usual boisterous self went to recruit some help at the bar, where he met up with a loudmouth warrior/knight named Gaston. (Think of Disney's Beauty and the Beast's (no one fights like Gaston!) combined with a little bit of "The Tick") Anyway, Gaston has heard of Minos and his great exploits with the party, and insisted on joining up. Gaston was modeled as a level 1 Soldier - decent AC and attack for a level 1 NPC and 25 hit points (20 AC, longsword attack +6 vs AC; d8+3 ).

After spending a day and night in Shinar, the party headed out on the road toward Derros and the tower where they met the Dragons before.

There was much discussion of just how to deal with the Dragons, who up till now were summoned to the tower with a silver bell. A few minutes after the bell at their door was rung, one of the dragons always answered, and the party was welcomed into a cold-but-warming room withe a freshly lit fire, which looked un-lived in. They argued about whether they should scout out the tower before approaching. They argued about whether they should ring the bell at all or try to break in the front door, and they also argued about what tactics they should use. All this went pretty much nowhere except for one thing. Because they expected that their opposition must have some illusion or shape-changing ability, so they created a challenge response code of two numbers which should add up to 5. So if they suspected that Minos was not himself they'd say "three" and Minos would have to say "two" to prove that he was himself. Minos barely was able to comprehend this, and it was *way* over Gaston's head.

Ultimately the party and Gaston decided to trundle up to the front door and ring the bell, which began the first combat encounter of the evening.

From the ground, rose a group of undead. 2 Ghouls, 2 Corruption Corpses (zombies that use ranged necrotic attacks), and 1 Zombie Brute (a powerful Ogre-sized zombie). Gaston, arrogant and overconfident way beyond his experience immediately charged the Zombie Brute, the biggest and meanest looking target in the battle, and proceeded to get walloped by it while the party both attempted to keep Gaston alive, and to deal with the undead.

Everyone survived although Gaston got a Healing Word, a Cure Light Wounds and several temporary hit points from Sacred Flame from Lindark and still came near death almost every round.

After resting from the initial combat (all the while wondering if they'd be attacked by ambushing Dragon-pretenders) the party decided to try to get into the tower. Rendrill attempted to pick the lock - and failed despite a spectacular Thievery skill check. Minos got out his axe and began chopping down the very solid looking front door, which surprisingly was bust-in after only a couple of hits.

Cautiously the party entered, to search the empty-seeming premises.
  • The party admonished Gaston, out of healing surges and wounded from the last battle, to stay outside and rest. Being near-death he complied.
  • The party found the main room as they'd seen it before. There was small kitchen area, with a fireplace for a hearth fire (unlit), a door leading to a stairway to the cellar, a comfortable sitting area with several chairs surrounding a lit fire, and a wide stone stairway leading higher into the tower.
  • Minos guarded the main floor, while Rendrill decided to scout the second floor and the rest of the party checked the cellar. Stepping off the last step onto the second floor, Rendrill fell through the floor - which was apparently illusionary.
  • Un-phased, Rendrill joined Aeldrick and Lindark in the basement.
  • Unbeknown to the party exploring the tower, Oran the "Elite Succubus" snuck up on the wounded Gaston resting outside, slayed him and mimicked his appearance.
  • Oran, appearing as Gaston, wandered into the Tower claiming to feel ready for combat. Minos, unsuspecting, tried to convince him to take it easy and keep himself safe and was open to a surprise attack by Oran who used "Charming Kiss" on him.
  • The party discovered nothing downstairs except for a few sacks of root vegetables. Returning to the main level the party began searching the main floor more closely.
  • Upon returning upstairs, Oran (still appearing as Gaston) dominated Minos into attacking Aeldrick when was heading out the front door - and would have seen Gaston's body.

Oranthidirian Level 9 Elite Controller (Based on Succubus)
Medium immortal humanoid (devil, shape-changer) XP 800
Initiative +8 Senses Perception +8; dark vision; HP 180; Bloodied 90
AC 25; Fortitude 17, Reflex 23, Will 25 Resist 20 fire, Saving Throws +2
Action Points: 1 Speed 6, fly 6
(Basic Melee) Corrupting Touch (standard; at-will); +14 vs. AC; 1d6 + 6 damage.
(Melee) Charming Kiss (standard; at-will) ; Charm; +14 vs. AC; on a hit, the succubus makes a secondary attack against the same target. Secondary Attack: +12 vs. Will; the target cannot attack the succubus, and if the target is adjacent to the succubus when the succubus is targeted by a melee or a ranged attack, the target interposes itself and becomes the target of the attack instead. The effects last until the succubus or one of its allies attacks the target or until the succubus dies. If the target is still under the effect of this power at the end of the encounter, the succubus can sustain the effect indefinitely by kissing the target once per day. The succubus can affect only one target at a time with its charming kiss.
Dominate (minor; at-will) ; Charm; Ranged 5; +12 vs. Will; the target is dominated until the end of the succubus’s next turn.
Major Illusion (minor; at-will) ; Illusion; The succubus can take on the appearance of any creature of size tiny to huge, including a unique individual, and can also make convincing insubstantial illusionary areas that fool all five regular senses. (Insight DC 25, to detect)
Alignment Evil Languages Common, Supernal
Skills Bluff +15, Diplomacy +15, Insight +13
Str 11 (+4) Dex 18 (+8) Wis 19 (+8)
Con 10 (+4) Int 15 (+6) Cha 22 (+10)

The combat with Oran was a fairly long affair, fought around the "sitting area" of the main floor. Oran maintained "Charming Kiss" on Minos through the entire fight (nobody attacked him and he stayed away from Oran through most of the fight) and each turn Oran used a minor action to dominate Rendrill into attacking Aeldrick (and usually succeeded due to his low willpower). The dual leaders (Aeldrick and Lindark) were enough to weather the onslaught, and as Oran was deciding that it was time to flee by flying away the heroes managed to slay her.

After Oran's death, the illusion of the tower dissolved in to the ruins of a stone cottage, the party found a magical longbow which Lindark will use, and some crumpled vellum papers with Infernal writing which the party will attempt to extract more clues about the location of Dre and what he's been up to .

At the end of the session, Rendrill's player mentioned that he was wondering why I had everybody make Insight rolls the first time the entered into the Dragon's tower. And now he knows why. Nodding sagely, I smiled and said nothing. In fact, I don't remember making the players check their Insight. It's the type of thing I do every once in a while just to keep them guessing. I hadn't really decided what was going to happen with the Dragons at that point, but it seems my trixy DM ways have everybody convinced that this betrayal had been planned since we started playing this campaign six months ago. I see no need to reveal that they're over-estimating my planning which is rarely more that two session ahead of them. :)

Speaking of planning, I need to do some soon. I imagine the party will have to deal with Gaston's body. I'm curious about how they will do so, because Gaston was an errant son of a powerful Empire noble. There may be consequences for being involved in his death (maybe assasins?) - or he may be back from the dead (not everybody get Raised from the dead, but being a rich noble helps). Gaston was a fun NPC. I'll be wanting to expand on how they deal with Gaston's death at the beginning of next session, which will be this weekend.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The real story begins to surface (Chapter 6)

The holidays are close and also final exams are still a concern for two of our players, so there were just three PC's for this session. Aeldrick the Warlord, Minos the Warrior and Rendrill Halfmoon (from Thunderspire labyrinth) the halfling Rogue were present. Absent characters were off doing their own things for a time.

This session was almost completely devoid of dangerous combat and as such, it was filled to the brim with story development.

  • PC's return to Shinar, hear rumors of a courier from Prauld arriving yesterday. There's some speculation about the courier's message, but no details.
  • PC's meet with King Yutsen, to inquire about what's up. Yutsen says that there have been reports of Hobgoblin movement in the northern forest. He also mentions that the heroes that scouted the giants armies have returned and are currently in Drunduin (Drunduin s the fort the dwarves captured from the giants in Estvald last year.) Yarl Hastel and his brother Hagel have been sent to Drunduin to gather information, coordinate with the Dwarves and to form the basis of a lasting trade agreement with Drunduin and the new Krondheim.
  • PC's stop by to visit with Dre and Oran the dragons that settled north of Derros. They ask the PC's if they could carry a valuable package to Nolton in the Republic of the Isles. The PC's agree to stop by on their way back from Drunduin.
  • On the road they see that the Dwarves are working on a highway through the hills between Drunduin and Derros. A wide path has already been cleared, and bridges are being built across ravines and gullys. Once the highway is complete, it will allow easy trade through the hills.
  • In Drunduin, the PC's see recent development of the area; the silver and mithril mines are in full operation. Drunduin's forges and factories are busy building war machines, weapons and armor for the anticipated confrontation with the giants.
  • The PC's meet with the "old heroes" (The "old heroes" are from a previous campaign, that took place in OY 603, whcih ended with the old heroes following the giants off to the war in the west.) According to the "old heroes":
    1. The Giants fought in a civil war backed by Kryve. and then against an invading Kryve army. The giants were victorious driving the Kryvans back out of the mountains, and using a powerful ritual the Stone Giants of southern Estvald, cracked the earth and raised a giant gap across the western edge of the mountains, effectively defending Westvald from Kryvan invasion.
    2. The "old heroes" made contact with the Stone Giants and explored parts of Kryve and old Kryvan ruins. They discovered a change in the religious leadership oin Kryve seems to be the cause of recent warlike activity out of the Kryvans.
    3. They do not think that the Giants will attack the hills. The Giants have already born the brunt of a major invasion and feel that there are world-shaking events on the horizon.
  • During their stay in Drunduin, the PC's were contacted by Hagel and his assistent (Jenkins in disguise). They tell the PC's about Jaryl Hastel's recent strange behaviour, and wish the PC's to stealthily break into his guest chambers while he's meeting with the Thanes. He's been particularly secretive about the room's contents and they want to know why. A key is provided, a dwarven guard in the area is bribed to take a short walk, but the key needs to be returned before the council is sceduled to finish in one hour.
  • The PC's break into Hastel's room and discover several arcance traps and glyphs protecting the room and it's contents, setting off one trap and making the break-in quite obvious due to singed carpet and damaged room contents. Nevertheless they do find notes that include a summary of Jaryl Hastel's life and mannerisms, including things that he should know and a check list of things that should be said to the Thanes that include many inflammatory statements. There are also ritual materials, and a lock of what appears to be Hastel's hair.
  • The PC's head for the council chamber and confront Hastel on the spot in front of the thanes of being an imposter. There is hot debate, followed by an attempt to escape by Hagel, who is eventually revealed to be a shape changer of some sort. The fake hastel is captured by the dwarves but manages to suicide while he's in custody.
  • Questioning Hagel, they determine that the switch likely took place at an inn just outside of shinar. The PC's head back towards Shinar, stopping at Dre's and Oran's tower to pick up their package. They investigate at the inn, find a muddy bootprint outside of Hastel's room that hasn't washed away in weather yet, a description of a inn resident that matches the description of the imposter (who dissapeared while Hastel was at the inn) and evidence of some dark ritual magic that was performed a few hundred yards outside of the inn, and a small wooded clearing. In addition, they found the impression of the front cover of a book on the waxy surface of a woden desk in the imposters room. Further investigation in shanar led to the discovery that the book in question was a book of dark magic rituals - written in Abyssal (the language of demons).
  • The package from Dre and Oran, is a small, seciure chest with arcane runes of protection and a solid lock, which is to be delivered to one Chancellor Warwick who is staying at the Stag and Castle Inn off of the Garden square in Nolton. After a brief sea voyage, the PC's arrive in Nolton, visit the inn and make contact with the Chancellor, who pays them a rather significant sum of money (900gp) for delivering the chest to him. Aeldirck feels a groqwing sense of unease when dealing with the man however. Who appears to be pretending to be a noble, but shows some mannerisms of speech and ettiquette that seem very much out of place. and sends Rendrill to follow the man after the deal is done.
  • Rendrill follows the Chancellor to a fishing shack near the docks where the chest is passed off once again. The receiver is a grizzled man, who assures the "Chancellor" that the package will be leaving for the Empire.
  • Rendrill reports his findings to Aeldrick and Minos and together they decide that this bears looking in to. They try to get some information about Dre and Oran, but are told that the best place to get information about dragons is from a dragon. There just so happens to be a Dragon who sometimes resides in Nolton. Gasparion - who's a longtime friend of the Royal family.
  • The party goes off to find Gasparian, in the north side of town in a massive tower, 80 feet to a side and over 180 feet high. At the main entrance to the tower the are met by a mechanical construct/golem who attempts to dismiss them, but eventually takes a message in to Gaspar, who allows the PC's entrance.
  • The PC's are overcome by fear as they see that the massive tower is a single giant room with ledges and aprches, and see Gaspar decend in his natural form as a huge red dragon. The ask about Dre and Oran the dragons that have recently arrived in Prolia, and are answered with a single phrase. "There are no Dragons in Prolia."
  • Stunned, the PC's realise that they may be being duped by the "Dragons" and race back to the docks where they break into the fishing shack, subdue the grizzed man, and recover the box.
  • They open the chest, suffering the magic protections and discover that inside the chest is a leather bound book, written in infernal (the language of devils). Heading off to their local arcane sage, they get the translation of the book, which is a detailed reconstruction of their adventures in Yuri's doom, including diagrams of the ritual circle where the druids are trapped in time and research about the origins of Yuri's ritual and possible means of disrupting the magic. The book is addressed to somebody called "My Prince".
  • The PC's decided to head back to Derros and confront the "Dragons" about their treachery.
That was the end of the session. The characters advanced to level 6. The next game to pick up this story line will be in January.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Back to the Alia Plot!

Our heroes are back on the free-form plot path and this week's game could go in any direction. Here are my thoughts as for how things may progress, and some background that ready to be uncovered. (but may take a few sessions to actually get discovered). So far, the heroes have heard of Solanthus. They've also heard about the adventurers that followed the giants into the mountains but not about the Kryvans or any specifics about what's happening in the West.

Over the next few adventures, some of these plot elements are going to be revealed. Which ones will depend on which paths the adventurers take. Although some events may happen in the world regardless of which direction the adventurers choose.

I shall be putting to together some stock ready to go combat encounters and working on NPC profiles and dialog plans for some of the major figures.

Background (Plot Spoilers)

3 years ago, three comets were seen in the skies, one over the northern tundra, one over the great south forest Shadowwood and one far to the west, far beyond the mountains of Estvald. Each of these comets was a being from another dimension. Three beings of power who battled across the cosmos were caught in a great backlash of power and were hurled through the sky into the ground. Each landed in a crater, greatly weakened in power and looked about them, only to discover that they were in Alia, a place only most difficultly accessed from their home realms.

Solanthus a Captain of Celestia, is an Angel of War. He desires only to defeat his opponents in glorius one on one combat. (Or die trying). Since his arrival he has become the leader of the Hobgoblins of the forest North of Prolia. He has a plan to distract the Kryvan armies with the Hobgoblins so he may face Illranikus alone. He is *not* the hero of the story, and is only concerned about his personal honour. If he dies in combat and the forces of darkness conquer the world... well that won't be his problem.

Illranikus is a Duke of Infernus. He wishes to open a gate so he can conquer the world in the name of Infernus. He wishes to use a ritual, powered by a dedication of deaths killed in a great battle to power the ritual. He is attempting to use the armies of Solanthus and Ferazghul to do so, but has also insinuated himself into the Emporer of Rhode's good graces and may use a Prolian/Empire conflict, if the northern conflict is not successful. He is also known as "Prince Ran, of the Grey Isle." in Rhode. Illranikus wishes to offer the world as a prize to his Infernal Prince.

Ferazghul is a Demon of Tartarus, no title, but very powerful. He wishes to conquer the world or destroy it (depending on his mood). He has taken control of the Kryvan nation through it's priesthood, and is sending it's armies on the march. He is aware that his greatest threat to domination are his two otherworldly rivals, and wishes to begin the destruction with them and their armies. He has taken a liking to the Kryvan's interpretation of the Elmental pantheon and has taken the part of the four elemental avatars in previous battles against the giants.

Recent Events(Winter of OY 603/604)

1. Discovery of the "western threat" that is human empire beyond the mountains, called Kryve.
2. Kryvan follow the elemental pantheon, but have a darker view of the four gods of creation, and combine worship of Wikri, Umos, Enosa and Freda with worship of demons and dark magic.
3. Last year Kryvan agents corrupted one of the Storm Giant royal family, to support the Kryvan in a rebellion in Westvald, and lead an army of Kryvan into the mountains. Last winter the stone giants led an opposing army out of Estvald to support the rightful monarch, quelled the rebellion and shaped western edge of the mountains into a unscalable cliff three hundred feet high.
4. This spring, the giant army has returned to the east, but don't wish to engage the Dwarves for control of the Estvald foothills.
5. Solanthus, who has great power over dreams, was responsible for the portentous dreams that many Arcane and Divine heroes had last year, warning of a shadow in the West. The dreams were aimed mostly at the giants, to encourage them to mobilize in their own defense and to drive the main army north into Solanthus's territory.

A group of adventurers sent to discover what has happened in the west have returned to Prolia.
  • They followed the giant army into the west. They saw the first clashes between the Kryvan and the Giant armies, and eventually became embroiled in the conflict after meeting with a Stone Giant Psionic called Rankrull.
  • The Kryvan are on the warpath. Apparently, there was an abrupt change in focus from an inward looking corrupt society, to a war seeking rampaging army over the course of less than a month. A huge army is marching over the northern tundra towards the hobgoblin lands to the north of Prolia.
  • The group saw ancient Kryvan ruins suggesting that they have been living in that area for a very long time. Possibly longer than written records of Krondhiem.
  • Kryvan heroes favor Paladins and Warlocks, and are a racially diverse culture including a fairly large number of elves and half-elves.
  • The Kryvan versions of the gods include:
    • Enosa, a squid, associated with decay, poison and greed.
    • Freda, a raven, associated with rulership, tyranny and betrayal.
    • Umos, a worm, associated with secrets, insanity and fanaticism
    • Wikri, a burning tree, associated with punishment, slavery and massacre

Adventure Opportunities

Dwarves are looking for:
  • An escort for a diplomatic mission to Estvald. The escort will be likely attacked by Kryvan agents and or demons

  • Wish a package carried to Nolton (the package contains details about Yuri's doom ritual and instructions on how to break the ritual - for an Empire agent in Nolton. Ultimate destination is Prince Ran, of the Grey Isle in the Empire of Rhodes)

  • Hastel, Jarl of Beryl, has been replaced by a Kryvan employed shapechanger. Hastel, wishes to employ the PC's to kill Jenkins (the Republic diplomat/assassin).
  • Jenkins and Hagel(Hastel's brother) are suspecting that something's wrong with Hastel - but they don't know what.
  • King Yutsen of Shinar, is concerned about recent activity in the North. (He hasn't yet heard of the Kryvan in the North - but he will soon.) He's worried that they may join forces with the Hobgoblins in preface to an invasion.

  • The hobgoblins leader, Solanthus wishes help to confront Illranikus, who is treacherous and will not hesitate to use his underlings to interfere in an honorable combat challenge.
  • It might be a good idea to venture into older Krondhiem ruins in search of knowledge pertaining to Kryve.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thunderspire Labyrinth is Bland

... is no longer being played by my group.

I'm quite disappointed with it overall. It started out okay. The Seven Pillared Hall was an interesting town/quest hub, the overall story was ok... but the encounters quickly became quite boring.

The encounters in the Chamber of Eyes, were fine. There were four or five of them depending on how you count. The last part has the potential to combine two or three encounters into on extended encounter, which is in itself a little bit interesting, at least in terms of difficulty.

The sameness began to appear in the Horned Hold, which has a total of eight encounters, of which at least five of them are *really* generic, and quite similar. When the encounters start becoming predictable, that's when you know something's really wrong. When the third group composed of "two soldiers/two artillery or skirmishers/one named or controller leader joined combat in a room" happened everybody was feeling the blandness. Sure, there was a fight across a bridge. There was fireplace or two to shove the enemies into (but wait Druegar have resist fire 10 so make that fireplaces to shove players into). But they were small details amongst the larger repetitive battles. Honestly, I expect more from a stand alone, published package like Thunderspire Labyrinth.

What really drove the point home for me was that I started up a second D&D 4 group last week and ran the beginning of the Scales of War adventure path from Dungeon #156 "Rescue at Rivenroar". That adventure started out with two really different combat encounters as the town of Brindol comes under the attack of some goblins and a cart-pulling Ogre. A couple of memorable battles came out of that, interspersed with some fun role-playing in the aftermath of the attack (skill challenges as written are still boring to me, so I don't use them at least not as written). Then the party set off overland to find Rivenroar and had some (also fun) wilderness encounters. It could have been a series of "you meet a balanced group of 5 goblins" and if that was the case it would have been boring... just like the Horned Hold was.

So two things resulted from this...

First, I'm staying away from "adventure modules" for a while. There's something about them that makes me feel constrained to their framework rather than inspired by their content. We finished up with the Horned Hold last weekend, and the breadcrumb trail that should have led off to the next chapter in the labyrinth mysteriously dried up. The heroes will leave Thunderspire Labyrinth next week and I'll start working the creative juices towards something original and fun in Alia.

Second, I'm enjoying my digital subscription to D&D Insider. Go, Scales of War! The Character Builder is looking pretty nice too. Levels beyond 3, and the rules filter, sometime soon please?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rorni's Creek Play (Part 1)

So we finished up characters and started the adventure.

From memory, the party consistes of the following:
  • Dragonborn Paladin, cha/wis/con, sword and board
  • Dragonborn Fighter, str/dex/wis focus, sword and board, with a focus on OA and knockbacks
  • Elf Ranger, bow using, dex/wis, rogue multiclass feat
  • Elf Cleric, wis/dex, ranger multiclass feat
  • Half Elf Warlock, fey pact
I don't remember their names.

We borrowed from Spirit of the Centrury/Fate's character creation process and Pathfinder Society's raison d'etre (transplanted into Alia) to fill in the back-story of these freshly created level 10 characters. 'Twas fun. I'm not sure how much real depth that it's added, but if they want they have a framework that should work as a decent skeleton to develop their characters and their back-stories.

We started play off with a bit of narration, explaining how their contacts all referred them to the Thanes of Drunduin and jumped right into the action.

Encounter 1: Orc/Ogre/Dire Boar combat

I allowed for a skill challenge of Perception or Nature(DC 25) for the PC's to be aware of the Orc band following them. The party succeeded and decided to set up an ambush. They successfully surprised the Orc's as they traveled up the path toward the entrance of Rorni's Creek and the gate.

The combat was fairly straight-forward with the usual delays as the players tried out their new powers and got used to the way things worked. The Orc Chieftain proved to be very tough, if not very dangerous after all his companions were killed. It took nearly ten rounds for the players to defeat the initial encounter.

The double defender/double striker/single leader party is actually fairly well balanced. The fighter and paladin can fairly effectively control critical targets in combat and are proving to be very tough, and they each have a per-encounter use of their breath weapon, which should be a great help in killing and dealing with minions. The ranger/ cleric ranger and warlock are all quite comfortable in a second rank behind the defenders and the fey warlock is really enjoying his mobility. The fey pact is turning out to have a quite different play style from the infernal pact play style of Voden, even though the fundamentals are very similar.

Anyway the characters move on to opening the door after the combat was concluded, The ritual of opening succeeded and the vision of the closing was sprung on the players, who reacted with a sense of satisfaction and a hope that the sealed door will lead to many well preserved and long lost treasures and secrets.

Encounter 2: Trapped Room and Kloin

I brought out the ghost of Kloin after the party had set off one trap and were taking their time clearing the dust away, trying to see if there were more.

The Ranger and the Cleric/Ranger who both have excellent perception checks, noticed the faint amorphous blob of the ghost. Further perception checks also allowed them to hear a faint whispering in a foreign tongue (old dwarvish). The warlock actually knows dwarvish, so a bit of laborious sounding out of words, allowed them to translate one important word that Kloin is saying, "posses". When the warlock tries to converse in dwarvish with the spirit, he felt a "chilling" presence". The +2 versus willpower wasn't nearly enough to actually possess the warlock. A successful religion check by the Paladin revealed to the group that old spirits like this often cling to the earth because of a need to accomplish a task in the world of the living, but this particular spirit is too weak to much effect on the material world. The party decides that the spirit is in fact trying to posses one of them. After a few clumsy attempts at communication, the warlock agrees to allow himself to be possessed.

The possessed Warlock/Kloin briefly recounted his companions' ambush during their rest and the desperation that overcame the outpost after months of being sealed in. He reiterated his wish to discover what became of the outpost and to discover why this betrayal happened. And with that Klon faded to the back of the warlocks mind.

The party continued deeper into the outpost exploring the living and crafting quarters of the old outpost. Everything through those areas was covered with a thick layer of undisturbed dust. Several of the Thanes of Drunduin's valued objects were found, a few traps were avoided, leading the party eventually to the doors into the fungus farm.

The session ended with the adventurers opening the doors, seeing the foulspawn and the grell and the unfortunate the elven slave being "dealt with". The PC's are about to attack the aberrations. The encounter 3 combat will continue next session (in two weeks) .

Level 10 characters have a good deal more complexity than level 1 characters do. After one combat encounter, I feel that the players have a good grasp of their at-will powers and just a basic appreciation for their encounter powers. Hopefully the upcoming battle will allow the players to explore their characters a bit more fully.