Friday, August 29, 2008

The Tower of Krolak Nol (Chapter 5)

The last session left the party at the base of the tower of Krolak-Nol, having beaten the skeleton and magma-men encounters.

This session, added a little bit of a twist. We have a new player and a new PC.

How does one introduce a PC midway through an adventure? In D&D it's pretty easy, magic being what it is, nothing really needs to make sense.

What I ended up doing is after having a conversation with the new player, we had the idea of introducing them as an anachronism; an original knight from Jarl Arnesson's party that came to the tower, and who had been petrified. Add in a ritual scroll in the library, and fini! The party now has a full time, female, human, wizard named Capricia .

After the meeting of their new member and some discussion of the mission of the Jarl they proceeded up the tower's floors. Primarily the encounters were resolved by combat.

I played the Red Dragon as a psychopathically delusional treasure hoarder, sitting on a pile of rusty armor.

The floor was dark, and filled with rack and rack of hanging, rusty armor, obscuring the PC's vision, but it was obvious to them that *something* big was there, muttering to itself in an unknown language (draconic).

After lighting up the room and blundering through the armor, they came face to face with the dragon who screamed about intruders come to steal his precious, precious, rusty armor bits.

The fight started out with the dragon winning initiative and spending an action point, and using both its dragon breath and its terrifying presence to open the fight. From there it degenerated into a tooth and nail fight. Other than bloodied breath, the dragon breath never recharged, but the party was quite tired after the fight, using a couple of daily powers and a handful of healing surges.

The pair of Spinagons in the summoning circle was a brief bit of dialog before continuing up the tower. They were not released form their circle, despite coaxing and pleading on the Devil's part.

The top floor of the tower with the bodies of Fendraeus and the Jarl, led to a rather hasty Ragnar immediately grabbing the book, releasing Caramnon and leading up to the climactic fight, if not the last of the adventure.

Caramnon was indeed tentacle-y and poisonous, and his ability to grab and slide people around in combat combined with the party bringing out their own shifty powers led to a battle of constant repositioning. It was quite tactically interesting. Caramnon's breath ability recharged several times during the fight, and his threatening-reach/grab abilities combined well with his close burst poison gas cloud attack. In the end the party defeated him, using the rest of their dailies, some of their magic item daily abilities and some action points. Ragnar was left with 0 healing surges after healing to the point of being unbloodied.

Afterwards, they collected the body of the fallen Jarl Arnesson and the iron crown he was wearing, and returned to deal with the Spinagons.

The party decided that they didn't want to deal with the Devils except to kill them if possible. They tried to trick the Spinagons into a binding agreement that would allow the PC's to attack the Spinagons without reprisal, but they didn't fall for the ploy. After a fair bit of back and forth, the party decided jut to kill the Spinagons and be done with them, breaking the circle and attacking them.

The Spinagons attempted to escape, but were marked, slowed, knocked prone, shifted around and otherwise prevented from leaving before they could be cut down.

And that was the end of Krolak-Nol and this section of the adventure. The PC's set off back south through the Hobgoblin lands towards Prolia and ended the session upon returning to Prauld.

I dropped a few hints of slaver activity in the mountains near Greenhill, and will possibly run the D&D 4e module, H2 Thunderspire Labyrinth in that area, with some rather heavy modifications to make it fit the game world.

Complications around the crown will still come up, but I believe the next session will be a transition from the first story arc to a second story arc which will focus on the gnomes and giants south of the area the Dwarves now claim.

Five Room Dungeons

I've gravitated towards this type of adventure design over the years. I never knew it was quite so popular.

I should read more stuff on the intertubes.

It's perfect for homemade adventures. Not so much for published adventure modules.

Chatty DM's Project Kobold Love: The Adventure Plan is a 5 room adventure, that I'd run as a one-shot if I had the time, but as I wrote in the comments, I have one problem with it.

I like everything except for “Scene 1, Dungeons and Diplomacy”. I’ve seen a fair bit of scaled skill challenges with successes reducing number of combatants, and I honestly I don’t like em.

I prefer a different approach. Design a balanced combat and map partial successes to a delay before the underlings get their act together.

A good success could be a bloodless victory, in this case the leader is mollified, wishes the party luck and goes away. Yay!

A total failure would be immediate combat; the leader and all his underlings are pissed off and enter the fray with blood in their eyes.

A middling success could a lesser number of combatants in the first round. The leader and a variable number of his underlings are upset and immediately attacking, but some of the underlings thought the diplomacy sounded reasonable, and aren’t ready. When their leader ups and attacks the kobolds though, it’s just a matter of time (one round probably) before they snap out of their confusion, grab their weapons and join in.

(i.e. The leader cries “Attack boyz!” and charges into combat, but the first round all that the rest of the group does is look confused and draw their weapons… the discussion was going so well!)

That way we can have a well planned tactical challenge that doesn’t become dangerous with a total failure, nor trivially easy with a near total success. What happens if 7/8 (or 9/10 or whatever) of the threats wander off, do you really want to play out that combat against the sole foe? How about a complete failure and zero threats wandering off. TPK?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Published Adventure Modules

I have a love/hate relationship with published D&D modules.

As a player, I tend to hate published modules. Maybe it's just the game masters that I play with, but when somebody goes into a wooden reading of the "boxed text" for an encounter... Let's just say I don't like it. Published modules are a crutch. Everything is prepackaged and preplanned, and all it takes is for a GM to spoon feed their players the contents, following the printed plan. They can turn a genius of creativity and improvisation into a soulless automaton.

As a game master. I like published adventure modules. They often have interesting backgrounds and settings. Memorable NPC characters. They are sometimes very well polished with interesting tactical combat challenges, infuriating puzzles and traps and great opportunities for role-playing and development. I enjoy reading the modules and thinking about how how my players might react to the setup.

I just bought H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth. And I think with a little work I can work it into my campaign. In fact it's a pretty good fit.

So I've been thinking about how I can use the supplement without falling into the "reading the boxed text" trap that I hate so much. I've come up with a few options.
  1. I could just read and enjoy the published adventure at home and continue to run my homegrown adventures, for which I still have lots of ideas.
  2. I could (figuratively) rip the module into little bits and plant the pieces into my campiagn where I think they'll fit.
  3. I could do as much preparation as I'd normally do with my own adventures making the published adventure into my own adventure.
  4. I could completely rewrite the adventure using it as inspiration rather than as a reference.
Honestly, Option 1, is what I usually do. For the most part, I'll buy an adventure, enjoy reading it, and never spring it on my players. At least half the published adventures I own have never been played.

Option 2 is unsatisfying for me. A story is more than the some of its parts. A group of encounters is really not that difficult to put together. The value of an adventure, published, homegrown or improvised, is not so much in the details, but rather in the how it fits into the overall adventure. The sum is more that it's parts, so to speak.

I think Option 3 is what most people *should* be doing with published adventures. I think that good DMs usually put a fair amount of time into planning for their home-grown sessions. When I'm planning one of my own adventures, I think about the plot direction, get a vague notion of what NPC's will be doing and otherwise make sure that I have enough of a framework that I can easily fill in the fleshy bits with improvisation. I do this with a broad strokes in planning out the developing plot as an ongoing effort, and in a more detailed fashion planning for each upcoming session. So if I was running a published adventure module I could easily spend a the same amount of time reading through the module getting an idea of the overall adventure, and then look in detail at the sections and encounters that the party will likely be running across in each session.

But it's Option 4, that has a special resonance with me. Let me tell a brief story.

When I was a young lad, before I owned any D&D products. I played my first published adventure. That adventure was Castle Amber it was DMed by an inexperienced DM that mostly just read the boxed text, and ran it straight, with no improvisation that I recall. I liked it then. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like it run that way now. I was young and easy to please in those days, but still I believe that Castle Amber was one of the better published adventures of its day.

Years later when I wasn't quite so young, I was DMing for a group of players and decided to recreate Castle Amber from memory for them. We were playing a completely different system at the time. Castle Amber was for the "Expert" boxed set for the non-advanced D&D and the group I was DMing for was playing the original "Oriental Adventures" rules in a far east campaign.

Castle Amber adapted from memory to Oriental Adventures was one of the funnest adventures I ever ran, both for me and for the players. I never saw the stats for any of the encounters of the original, I did fight the battles and hear the room descriptions though. That one time that I played through it, the group I was with certainly didn't manage to explore the whole castle, but I remembered the fun that I had and I possibly forgot about the frustrations. I tried to create something that incorporated the best of everything and modified it to fit the oriental flavour of the game we were playing and succeeded better that I or anyone had expected. It was a high point of my early D&D experience.

So Option 4 is to read through the adventure, and the leave it at home and try to recreate it from memory. I don't know if that's quite the same as playing through it once then trying to recreate it from memory years later, but maybe I'll give it a try.

The real objective is to take some ownership of the adventure. In order to do that you need to put some work into it. Whether that work is reading the adventure before hand, and doing the prep work you'd normally do, or to force one's hand by leaving the actual materials behind, there's a certain amount of you and your campaign that just has to be there to give it life and to bring fun into what could be a soulless and frustrating experience.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jarlsburg to Krolak-Nol (Chapter 4)

The first half of this session was all role-play.

First, the party cleaned up in Jarlsberg and set out heading north from Jarlsberg, through the rest of the swamp. I sprung a few swamp encounters on them but in each case the party detected the threat before they were themselves detected and decided to avoid the encounters.

The party's first stop out of the swamp was an edge-of-civilization farmhouse where they got cleaned up, replenished their supplies had a hot meal and went on their way. They camped out in the countryside the first night and found an inn on the second night. On the third night they arrived in Belrane.

In Belrane the met with Jarl Wellus, who's a non-nonsense leader of a port town which is the bread basket of Prolia. Wellus is a traditional Jarl, with a stone keep, patterned after a Prolian longhouse, which they had a small feast telling about their trip through the swamp. The party did not mention the book of lost kings that they found but did describe the sunken, undead infested city of Jarlsberg and the dangerous creatures of the swamp. They stayed the night, and had their first chance to get a good read of the book.

Then the party traveled to Shinar, staying at inns along the way. The road between Belrane and Shinar is well-traveled and fairly safe this time of year. No encounters.

By the time they reached Shinar the party had gotten all the relevant information from the book, made their history checks, which fell slightly short. They sought the knowledge of a Skald in Shinar, Drinl Scot, who was able to augment their history knowledge to pull the last few scraps of information about Fendreaus and Krolak-Nol.

Also, in searching around for information of a Skald, they ran across the information about the Dragons between Beryl and Derros, and the current situation with the Dwarves. They finally decided to back Jarl Jorgen in their quest and think they have an edge in being the first to find the crown.

Jorgen also invited the adventurers to a feast and put them up for the night. He's much more mercantile and less traditional than Wellus, by contrast. his demense is a Palace.

One particular conversation they had with Jorgen in trying to sound him out convinced the PC's to back him was his talk about uniting the Towns and how he'd mediate disputes and make the country prosperous. I'm not sure if anyone noticed that he specifically never boasted about his ability to lead the country in times of war. Jorgen is a great merchant-king, a good diplomat and has good relations with all the Jarls... but he does not have any experience in battle.

The next day the party started north again. This time in search of Krolak-Nol.

In Derros,they met the Minstrel who regaled them with tales and information about the two Dragons.

They traveled the rest of the way to Prauld without incident, where they decided to ask the watch if they'd heard of Krolak-Nol. The tower guards had not, since they only ever scout half a day's travel into the forest.

The PC's then entered the forest to see if they could find the tower themselves. One day's travel into the forest they met the Hobgoblins and managed to avoid hostilities, although it was a near thing. After some discussion and a hefty tax paid to the squad captain, who knew the location of Krolak-Nol, they arranged an escort through hobgoblin lands and got some directions to take them the rest of the way.

After finding the tower, the party decided to descend into the crevasse and fought the skeleton encounter and the magma-men/imp encounter, having some difficulty with the fumes in the area, but pulling through.

And that was the end of session 4.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Development of Caramnon

The PC's will be around level 3 if they encounter Caramnon at Krolak-Nol. I'd like to design this Infernal as a fairly difficult solo encounter, possibly level 4 or 5.

If we look at the monster manual however, it's plainly obvious that there are not many low level solo monsters to choose from, however we should be able to adjust an existing monster for our purposes.

A Young Green Dragon is a level 4 skirmisher. And it seems about right for a poison-based demon. The good news is that it already falls within my intended level range for this encounter. the bad news is it still needs a lot of work to make it feel like something other than a dragon encounter.

Or does it? I might in fact be able to get away with purely cosmetic changes. For example, the poison breath weapon attack and frightful presence could probably stay as is. Infernals are scary, and maybe breathe poison. The bite attack could stay. The claw attack could be kept mechanically the same with the description changed to a "tentacle attack". It would work.

But since I have the time, I think I'd like to change the mechanics of the powers a bit more.

To start, what shall I keep?
  • The defenses are fine
  • Hit points and ability scores are fine
  • Saving throws
  • Skills
  • Perception
What base stats shall I modify?
  • I think I'll change the resist poison to immune poison, resist fire 10, vulnerable cold 5. This tower is a fiery place, and I think most fire resistant creatures should be vulnerable to cold. (Besides the Minotaur has a frosty greataxe now, need to make it useful.)
  • The flight can go and its speed can be reduced to 6.
  • The attack powers need a one-by one overhaul
Dragons have Bite and Claw as basic attacks. These need to be replaced by tentacle-y powers.
  • Bite can be replaced by a Slam attack from a tentacle. The bite from a green dragon has a poison effect, so this fit's quite nicely.
  • To replace bite, I'd like to add a Grab as a basic attack. I'm not sure how far I'm pushing the rules here, but specific overrides general so this puppy can grab people with a basic attack.
Next up are Tail-sweep and Luring Glare, which don't seem like tentacle demon should have, but are actually pretty convertible.
  • Tail sweep allows an attack on an enemy that hasn't moved during the last round it does some damage and knocks em prone. Sounds good, we'll replace the knock down with another grab affect.
  • Luring Glare allows the Dragon to slide people around in combat as a minor action. Let's call it Grasping Tentacles and make it a single target in close burst 4.
Flyby Attack, is sort of central to the Green's dragons role as a Skirmisher so we'll need to replace it with a similar movement/shift ability.
  • Caramnon doesn't fly, but he has tentacles! How about tentacle powered shifty movement? Say, "Tentacular Perambulation" which allows Caramnon to shift 6 and make an attack at any point along the way.
And lastly the breath weapon powers. I'm going to keep these with some small changes.
  • Slightly modify the breath weapon to be burst 2 instead of a blast 5. Same area, centered on Caramnon.
  • Keep bloodied breath as is.
And lastly Frightful Presence and Double attack, scratch em off. Caramnon isn't magically frightening, he's just disgusting and poisonous. And the "make two claw attacks isn't that interesting". However, I'd like to spruce up the grab ability. What I really want is for Caramnon to be able to grab multiple targets with his tentacles, so I shall do the following:
  • Caramnon's sustain action for the Grab is free action.
  • When Caramnon moves, his tentacles can maintain the grab as long as Caramnon is within 2 squares.
  • Such elongated tentacles may be attacked, at the usual defense values. If 12 points of damage is done to a tentacle it releases the target. Half the damage also applies to Caramnon's HP total.
  • Caramnon has reach with his basic tentacle attacks and threatening reach with his Tentacle Grab attack.
So a stat block for Caramnon:

Caramnon the Many Tentacled, Level 5 Solo Skirmisher
Medium immortal humanoid (infernal) XP 1,000
Initiative +7, Senses: Perception +10, darkvision
HP 260, Bloodied 130, see bloodied breath
AC 21, Fort 17, Ref 19, Will 17
Immune to Poison, Resist 10 fire, Vulnerable 5 cold
Saves +5
Spd 6, see Tentacular Perambulation
Action Points 2
[Basic Melee] Tentacle Slam (standard, at-will) * Poison
Reach 2, +10 vs. AC, 1d8+5 damage, ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).
[Basic Melee] Tentacle Grab (standard, at-will)
Reach 2, +8 vs. Reflex, Target becomes Grabbed
[Melee Recharge] Tentacular Perambulation (standard recharge 5-6 )
Caramnon shifts up to 6 squares and makes a basic attack at any point during the shift.
[Melee] Tentacle Sweep (immediate reaction, if an adjacent enemy does not move on its turn, at-will)
+8 vs. Reflex, 1d8+5 damage, and the target is Grabbed.
[Close Burst] Grasping Tentacles (minor 1/round, at-will) * Melee
Close Burst 4, one target in burst +8 vs. Fortitude, the target slides 2 squares.
[Close Burst Recharge] Breath Weapon (standard, recharge 5-6 ) * Poison
Close burst 2, +8 vs. Fortitude, 1d10+3 poison damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 poison damage and is slowed (save ends both). Aftereffect: The target is slowed (save ends).
[Close Burst] Bloodied Breath (free, when first bloodied, encounter) * Poison
Caramnon's breath weapon recharges, and he uses it immediately.
[Power] Infernal Grab
Caramnon's Tentacular Grab ability has reach 2 and threatening reach. Maintaining the Grab is a free action and the Grab may be maintained as long as Caramnon stays within 2 squares of the grabbed target. Tentacles holding grabbed foes that are not adjacent, may be attacked. Doing 12 damage to the tentacle frees the grabbed target, but does only half damage to Caramnon.
Languages: Supernal
Skills: Bluff +15, Diplomacy +10, Insight +15, Intimidate +10
Str 15 (+4) Dex 20 (+7) Wis 16 (+5) Con 17 (+5) Int 15 (+4) Cha 17 (+5)

I've also thrown in some campaign related modifications such as removal of Alignment and no Common in the Infernal's languages.


Initially, Caramnon attempts to move in close and use its breath weapon on as many enemies as it can. If it's enemies are scattered, it uses its Grasping Tentacles and Tentacle Grab to get them in range.

After breathing it then uses it's Grasping Tentacles, Tentacle Grab to keep it's enemies at bay, while focusing it's Tentacle Slams on those it can't control, shifting away with Tentacular Perambulation when the opportunity presents itself.

I'm afraid this guy may be a tad annoying to deal with. Maybe I should play-test him?

Complications: The Republic and the Iron Crown

What evil republic plot could this be? The fact is, that the Republic is interested in helping Prolia for their own reasons. The ever expanding Empire of Rhodes is the root of the Republic's problems, and while the Republic wishes to turn Prolia into a thorn in the side of the Empire, their ultimate goal is not altruistic.

In particular, the Republic is not entirely unified in it's actions in Prolia.

Lord Ambassador Carl Marshane the Duke of Whitehouse is the official representative of the Republican Crown in Prolia. His mandate is to provide diplomatic, military and strategic assistance to Prolia and to aid in the reconstruction of the nation as an ally of the Republic against Rhodes. It's a tall order, but Whitehouse is following the letter of his instructions and he believes in them. He's a "good guy" even if he is a little bit naive.

Unfortunately for Prolia, not all Republicans wish to see Prolia as a strong nation. These "other interests" fear the possibility of the alliance breaking down and wish to leave Prolia in a relatively disorganized state without strong leadership. In that state, Prolia can more easily be manipulated by the Republic.

Secretary Gerard Jenkins, who is an aide of Whitehouse, a commoner and a secretly is a member of the Republic's "Special Diplomatic Corps". He is in fact a highly skilled assassin and the Republic's representative for some of these "other interests". Jarl Jorgen believes that Jenkins was responsible for the death of the Jarl's son, Giordi. The Whitehouse has no idea of his aide's other activities.

Jenkins may arrange for several attacks on the party if they return to Prolia with the crown. Jenkins does have access to rituals of divination and is certainly interested in any news of the crown's appearance. He will eventually realize that the crown has been discovered and where it may be found. If he does arrange an attack, he will attempt to obscure his involvement in the attacks. Jarl Hastel's brother Hagel, may be easily influenced into attacking the PC's for the crown. Either on his brother's behalf or even to displace his brother and move to take the crown for himself.

Jenkins certainly doesn't want the crown to be found and should the attack by Hagel succeed, Jenkins will likely kill his patsy and make sure the crown does not resurface. Probably he would ensure that it is kept in a safe place until a suitably controllable King of Prolia could be found.

There are several ways these encounters can play out:
  1. The PC's could be defeated in battle
  2. The PC's may succeed in fending off the attacks
  3. The PC's may partially succeed in fending off the attacks but lose the crown
I'd be loathe to put the PC's up against a force that will guarantee their defeat and risk a party wipe. It's hard to lose without dying. So, I shall carefully craft the encounters and hopefully option 2 or 3 will happen. I'm rooting for 3, but we will see how it plays out.

Any of these possibilities may lead to the PC's doing the following
  • losing the crown and questing retrieve it
  • even if they find the crown they may deliver the crown to Yutsen's hands, be convinced to deliver it to a different Jarl, sell it, or even keep it for themselves.
  • investigate the attack of Hagel.
Or maybe they'll do something completely different. Hopefully, in the next few sessions, I'll get some advance warning of how they plan to deal with events as they arrive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Planning for Book 2

The quest to retrieve the Iron Crown of the Prolian Kings is an introductory campaign for the characters, and it's nearing completion.

Events in Prolia and the actions of the party shall determine their future adventures.

Here are some notes about current and upcoming plot hooks:
  • The arrival of the two dragons in Prolia may lead to an adventure. The dragons are interested in Prolian politics and the rise of what may be a strong nation.
  • Nobody knows what's up with the Giants of Estvald.
  • The lost party of adventurers who went into the mountains to investigate the Giants last fall and have not returned, are possibly worth investigation.
  • Solanthus the leader of the Hobgoblins may lead to future adventures.
  • Lastly, the Republic envoy may have an interest in keeping the crown undiscovered!
I have plans for many of these hooks. It's nice to bring them up early so when and if the party ever do track down these hooks to their logical completion, they'll see the long arc of planning that must have gone into the story. This is entirely illusion. I have some vague notions about where some of these plot hooks may lead, but at this point I believe it's unlikely for the PC's to follow up on any of them; they're busy being Prolian heroes of legend, returning lost artifacts and rebuilding their nation. So, for the most part these are not detailed, just vague ideas for what might be cool adventures. I plan to keep throwing adventure hooks at the party, some of which may lead to the same place as the others, and other that may open the possibility of moving to new challenges and possibly changes of scenery.

Now that last hook, the Republic envoy's interest in the Crown will result in some amount of complication on the current story arc but the others are really fairly disconnected, at least at this point. I shall elaborate on the Republic's involvement (meddling) in the quest for the Iron Crown in a future post.

Why I must push myself to say "Yes!"

Saying "yes" to your players can be hard. What I mean by "saying yes" is to allow players to do what they want.

My players currently have a party with a Minotaur in it. A Minotaur! A creature of legend!

My gut reaction to having a Minotaur walking around in my adventure is that it doesn't really belong. I do plan some city-based adventures, and my idea of Prolia is modeled after a weird hybrid of Norse and Celtic coastal society. Traditional, longhouses, Jarls, fishing, and rural. Actually seeing a Minotaur walking through town would certainly be disruptive!

When the player of the Minotaur and I were originally talking bout the races in 4th edition, he was slightly distressed that the half-orc was gone. He's a player that enjoys playing the big, strong and as monstrous as you can get, within the rules. If he plays Shadowrun, he'll be a Troll. In Feng-Shui, probably a "Monster". In Champions, a mutant brick of some sort. It's just him. It's what he likes.

The question is, whether having a Minotaur around really has to be disruptive. Prolia is certainly not a real world. It's whatever I decide it is. My original vision of Prolia didn't have Minotaurs as an accepted part of town life. Minotaurs are monsters! But is my original vision really all that different, if I change things a bit and say that, Minotaurs don't really distress people that much? What if there were some encouraging stories of a Minotaur hero from ages ago. Maybe Prolians would be afraid, uneasy, and initially distrustful of a Minotaur walking around, but maybe most Prolians do have the ability to accept him once he proves himself as an ally.

The careful planner in me makes me want to say "no" to suggestions that I don't expect. To say "no" to things that are not what I envisioned. To say no, when I'm not sure about something. i don't want players to run amok in my beloved campaign. I want things to proceed as planned. To methodically and orderly proceed through my story and do never surprise me with a curve ball that shakes up my world.

I said, "yes". And with that one word, his eyes lit up like a kid with candy. It's simple; fun is good. The truth is, that this particular player is in love with the idea of playing a Minotaur. I know he's having a blast doing his brutish monster thing, and the end result is that Minotaur hasn't upset my plans.

Now if my player was just pushing for a Str/Con combo fighter and like the ability that minotaurs with large weapons, it may have worked out differently. I'd be willing to give somebody the mechanics of a Minotaur without actually being one if that's what they really wanted. So, you're a big human of dubious parentage, possibly a monster in your genetic background, and you have all the stats and abilities of a Minotaur. It's their character and as long as they are not raining on anyone's parade, and they aren't messing with my plans, they can do *whatever* makes them happy.

So even with a Minotaur PC, everything is just fine in Prolia. My plot is intact. A few new role-playing opportunities have arisen in dealing with the townsfolk, but it's nothing that the party and the towns can't handle.

My instincts to say "no" are dead wrong. I don't really want the things I think I do. I'm game mastering for my players because it's the players that give life to my campaign. The unexpected suggestions, the requests that I'm worried about, the danger to my plans are what brings a campaign to life. It's what makes the game interesting to me. If I wanted things to go *exactly* as I planned, I'd be playing alone. I could control *everything*... and there would be no point. No fun. Nothing interesting for me.

I must constantly push myself to allow players to play what they want. When I'm not sure, or when I'm caught by surprise by a suggestion, I shall say "Yes" unless there's a good reason not to. I shall roll with the punches. I shall use the players' ideas to make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

Including me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Five of my house rules that 4e implemented

I have embraced the 4th edition Dungeons of Dragons rules. In case nobody has noticed, Pathfinder is still around for those that would like to continue in the 3.X/D20 direction, but for me, the 4th Edition is closer to what I've always wanted.

In particular I've been looking at the house rules that I've been using for Alia. And many of them are mirrored with this latest edition of the world's most popular fantasy role playing game.


One thing that has always annoyed me is the implementation of alignment and it's impact on the game.

Alignment has always been an oversimplification of morality and ethics. It's a simple on-paper justification for killing things and taking their stuff.

I've often tried to remove the alignment system from my D&D games but it is, in fact, quite ingrained into the D&D system. There are a rather large selection of spells, abilities and other rules that:
  • Detect alignment (Detect Evil)
  • Protect against alignments (Protection from Evil)
  • Have effects only on an alignment (Dispel Evil, Smite Evil)
  • Magic items with alignment effects: (holy, unholy, axiomatic and anarchic weapons)
  • Monsters that have damage resistance dependent on alignment ( /good /evil /lawful /chaotic)
With some work, the long, long tendrils of the alignment rules can be removed from D&D 3.X. You can see some of my efforts here.

4th edition has really downplayed the alignment rules. They are still present, (in a form that many find distasteful) but those tendrils are not nearly as present as those that were there before.

And that makes me happy. My only house rule so far in relation to alignment is: "Alignment doesn't exist." Don't choose one, and ignore Alignment where it comes up. So far I haven't come across any rules that are particularly tied to alignment.

Death and Damage

The death at -10 hit points rule has always worked well for very low levels. When a PC's total hit points are less than 20 and monsters are hitting for 1d8 damage, those 10 hit points between unconscious and dead are meaningful. At higher level, where PC's have more than a 100 hit points and monsters are hitting with multiple attacks of 2d12+17 those 10 hit points make little difference.

One of my first house rules was to define the point of death based on the total hp. Of course then I went on to construct complex wound recovery rules, that are thankfully not present in 4e.

Magic Item Creation

I've read a few rants about how overpowered the item creation feats were in 3.X, many elaborating on just how powerful a class like the Artificer could be given the time to juice up.

That style of power-gaming isn't really mine. It may be fun to think about and discuss on a forum, but in actual play
it ends up being boring and/or disruptive in my experience.

On the other side, the rules for making such items demand time, money, feat expenditure and experience. Given many cinematic style campaigns don't give players the time and/or access to a magical laboratory when the big bad is about to destroy the world, players are often reluctant to take the requisite feats in fear that they will never see a use.

I have always waived the XP cost item creation. And 4e has too.


I have always allowed for the re-visioning of characters through play. The addition of a new splat book, or a player becoming dissatified with the mechanics of a characters play, but not being dissatisfied with the character itself.

Many times I've had a character express dissatisfaction with their vision of a character, and ask me if they can role up a new one. My usual answer is to say, no need your character can have an *atomic accident* like in Champions, or even be ret-conned in.

For example Thor the human barbarian, has always seen himself as a nature warriorlike woodsman, and a few sessions into the game says he thinks he'd rather be a ranger. If Thor has all along been doing ranger-y things then it really has no impact on the story to re-make the character sheet, maybe switching out a breastplate for hide armor, and redistributing few skill ranks.

Now, the rules in D&D 4 aren't talking about swapping whole classes and rebuilding characters from the ground up as a different one, but they're laying the ground for a flexibility in the rules that allows for modifications of choices that maybe once made don't feel right.

Swap a feat or power when you level. That's a start. It's not like I'm expecting rules for redoing characters. There's a section on character creation. Do it again!

Ritual Magic

It's not like 4e was the first to introduce ritual magic rules, but I've always liked to separate the god-like power at hand magic wielded by Wizards and Clerics, from the idea of the long, complicated potentially multi-participant magic that ritual magic can be.

Skill based, cross-class trainable, slow casting, non-combat ritual magic doesn't have to be the sole domain of spell casting classes. Having "Commoners" perform some ritual magic certainly fits many game settings. And I like it.

4e's ritual magic feats and the ability for anyone to pick up the relevent class skills is certainly not game unbalancing and gives many characters access to useful abilities.

It's also an area that can easily accomodate campiagn specific flavour, and can serve as plot points or even campaign objectives in a campiagn.

Hmm. Maybe I should add some of that. Skulking peasants... ritual magic... maybe some infernal influence? We'll see.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Part 2 of The Heroes of Prolia, OY 603, May


The heroes return to Shinar with the book The Last King of Prolia written by Eodwyn the Skald. The book is a journal of the Skald recording his researches into King Arnesson. The following facts may be gained from reading the book:
  • Arnesson had the iron crown and ruled from 452 OY to 469 OY
  • During his time, the major threat to the country was invasions of goblins and hobgoblins from the north
  • The tower lookouts along the norther forest border fell during this time period.
  • The last records of his life detail preparations for leading a force of Prolian Knights against a goblin fortress, called Krolak-Nol which seemed to be the locus of where the hobgoblins were attacking from.

History checks can further enhance the reader's knowledge of the time-frame of the events.
  • DC 10 - The Prolian conflict with the goblins was ended around 470 OY
  • DC 15 - The "goblin fortress" Krolak-Nol was a fortress inhabited by a powerful being named Fendreus who had organized the goblin raids.
  • DC 20 - Fendreus was a the name of a Knight of Rhodewho was banished from the Empire in 402 OY.

Gather Information checks can enhance the PC's knowledge of current happenings in the northern forest.
  • DC 5 - The past year has seen the re-organization of the goblin and hobgoblin tribes.
  • DC 10 - In last summer's raid on Prauld, the hobgoblins of the northern forest have been more disciplined and united than usual.
  • DC 15 - Goblin raids on the northern part of Prolia have been severely reduced.
  • DC 20 - Hobgoblins seen at the raid in Prauld all had a red tabard with a white wing.

And also unrelated Gather Information
  • DC 5 - Last fall a large black dragon and a silver dragon have been seen several times between Beryl and Derros, they have apparently settled there.
  • DC 10 - The expected battles against giants have not happened to the dwarves. The second wave of Dwarven settlers is arriving in Beryl and traveling to Caer Dunwen.
  • DC 15 - Council of Thanes will decide this spring whether to attempt to settle another fortress in the hills or to consolidate their forces around Caer Dunwen or to attempt to find and bring battle to the giants.
  • DC 20 - The party of adventurers that went off into the mountains scouting the giants last fall have not yet returned.

Chapter 1: Travel Through Prolia and the Forest.

There are several possible encounters while traveling. Dole out as interest dictates.

On roads: Human Bandits and Human Rabble

In the wilderness: Kruthik Lair.

In a tavern/inn or possibly on the road. The Minstrel "Jorna Iellos", who has apparently been hired by the Dragons Dreasinoleanus and Oranthidirian to announce their presence and territory. In particular they are not levying taxes on travelers, are not taxing or evicting the few resident farmers in the area, but insist that no new buildings shall be erected, no forest may be cleared other than by residents for hearth fires, nor shall the game be hunted by any but residents for food.

A group of halfling Golanists are making a pilgrimage from Belrane to the Dragon's new fiefdom.

In the forest: A hobgoblin patrol - the patrol is not immediately hostile, will give a chance for the PC's to retreat, but will insist that they do. If the PC's do retreat they will follow them as far as the forest border. If they refuse the hobgoblins will attack, unless decent diplomacy and/or role-play by the PC's dissuade them. Exceptional successes could result on the hobgoblins escorting the PC's to Krolak-Nol.

If asked about their leader, or their tabard, they reverently refer to the great Solanthus their new leader. If asked to describe him they say his glory is to bright to gaze upon. They also say that Solanthus will lead the goblins to victory and greatness, and that he is honorable unlike Fendreus.

Chapter 2: Krolak-Nol.

The fortress of krolak-nol is a very bad place. The hobgoblins of the region have a basic understanding of what happened in the fortress during its time: Hobgoblins consider that time to be a low point of their greatness. Fendreus's twisted the leadership of the hobgoblins to his will and led the entire region to invade Prolia, with great losses. Hobgoblins desire to conquer the south is present, and with a proper leader they would have won but Fendreus's insanity caused him to drive the hobgoblins to fight without proper strategy or tactics, wasting their strength.

A historian among the hobgoblins may further elaborate on some of the details, and the powers of Fendraeus. None are present in the first encounter.

Krolak-Nol is a tower rising out of a deep fault in the earth. The fault is deep and active, with noxious gas rising out of the ground. The fortress is a black iron tower, it's base surround by ash and volcanic rocks and is quite uncomfortable for living creatures. There is a large gothic styled door with a raised pathway at the base of the tower, which leads into a cavern in the side of the fault, there was also a bridge leading from the tower to the edge of the fault at ground level, but that has been destroyed. The tower is 100 feet tall, 40 feet wide, square. The fault is 40 feet deep, and 80 feet wide. There is about 20 feet between the door to the collapsed bridge and the top of the fault.

It is easy to climb down the side of the fault, or it would be were it not for the noxious gas. Anyone entering the fault must make a save each round or be Dazed. If a Dazed character fails the save, the character is stunned. Stunned characters who are climbing, fall.

Except for the pathway from the cavern mouth to the tower, the terrain is rough, and causes d6 fire damage per round.

Encounter 1: The Cavern.

The cavern was once an easier entrance to the tower, but 40 feet in, it has collapsed. The cavern is hand hewn in rough stone, 20 feet high. The ground is littered with skeletons. In addition to the skeletons, covered by a partial rockfall are the remains of a knight clad in black iron scale armor +1. In a belt pouch are 3 poitions of minor healing (10hp for 1 surge).

If a character enters the cave the skeletons aniimate. 3 skeletons and 4 decrepit skeletons.

Encounter 2: First Floor/Chasm Floor

The door to the tower is securely fastened, but is quite rusted, it may be battered, chopped down or blown away with magic. Four rounds of concerted effort will allow a character to pass through the door as rough terrain.

Immediately after the characters destroy the door to the tower, two magma claws, one magma hurler and one imp rise appear and attack. The magma creatures must use a move action in the first round of combat to rise out of the ground, and do not cause surprise.

Fighting these creatures in the chasm is very dangerous due to the Daze/Stun effect of the gasses and the fire damage. The "bridge" across the lava stone is 2 squares wide and 8 squares long.

Two guardian constructs once guarded this room, bits of unmoving golem parts are strewn about the room, littering the floor.

Encounter 3: The second floor (20ft) The Armory.

Armory, several dozen suits or armor are displayed on racks as well as a fine collection of weaponry. The leather and hide armor has long since rotted away, but there are functional, non magical suits of plate, scale and plate armor with only a small amount of corrosion. In the northwest corner, readying an ambush is a rather frightened and angry red dragon juvenile (level adjusted to 3). He considered the tower to be a safe place to live away from Dragon society. He is from a fief miles to the southwest in the mountains of Estvald. He is aware of the Spinagons above, the alchemy lab and the temple.

The dragon speaks Draconic and common and may be calmed down, if not bloodied. Once bloodied the dragon's rage overtakes him and he fights to the death.

Encounter 4: The third floor (40ft) Summoning Circle.

Two Spined Devils (Spinagons) (purple, spined, winged creatures) stand in an active summoning circle (religion and arcana checks allowed). They've been trapped since Fendreus was interrupted while attempting to recruit him for his defense. Two armored bodies lie outside the circle, charred and ruined. The devils will try to trick the party into to letting them out of the circle. They will switch to begging if the party begins to leave. They will agree (and honor) most deals to let them out, including up to one year's service (however it's doubtful how much the PC's will benefit from such service. If released before a bargain is struck, they will attack.

Encounter 5: The fourth floor (60ft) The Study and Alchemy Lab.

The eastern part of this room has a table and a wide book case filled with arcane tomes, most who have been horribly burned to uselessness. The west side has a destroyed alchemy lab. Broken glass-works and potion bottles are everywhere. Scorch marks cover the walls.

Encounter 6: The fifth floor (80ft) Unholy Temple

A large polished obsidian carving of a horned Devil dominates the north side of this room. Two armoured bodies lie in the room as well. One body has been pierced through the chest by a longspear (magic frost +2) and is clutching a large book a purple and black silk cloak still rests about it's shoulders but it is long dead. In the corner of the room, slumped against the wall is an armored skeleton with an iron crown about its neck.

If the book is touched Caramnon servant of Illranikus immediately appears and attacks the party. (Who's Illranikus? Dunno. Maybe he'll be a recurring villain! I like to give named Devils a place in the Infernal heirarchy.)

Caramnon is a unique Infernal, four legs, eyes circling it's many horned head, covered in green and black scaled tentacles tipped with fangs dripping of poison. Caramnon attacks without reason, mercy or fear until dead. I'm planning on creating him by starting out with a solo monster (maybe a green dragon) and replacing each of it's powers for something of similar power level that is poison-y or tentacle-y and then level it adjusting it for the party, I'm thinking maybe threatening reach, and/or a "burst of tentacles" attack, with some ongoing poison damage thrown in. A fully fledged stat block will be forthoming.

And with that I've caught up with my backlog. Future updates won't be quite so frequent. I'm hoping to write at least two per week.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Campaign Map Software

Once upon a time, I drew a big map of Alia with Dundjinni. I put a lot of time into it, and I liked it.

Then I lost the original source files. I still have the jpg's that were produced. And I still have a hard drive that probably has the original data on it, so I might be able to recover it.

I was thinking about how much effort I put into drawing that map of Alia, and while I enjoyed the time I spent on it, I'm not sure the amount of control over detail that Dundjinni provides is really required for a overland campaign map.

I do like to have nice maps though, so I was looking around to see if I couldn't find something a little easier for country sized hex maps.

The first tool I came across was Hexmapper and with it I quickly produced this:

Not bad for about 10 minutes work. It's old, but it's simple and clean. I like it. It may be worth while to do a bit of a zoom in on Prolia, and possibly expand the size and scope of the map to the entire known world of Alia.

I'm hoping to take a look at Autorealm at some point as well. I also took a brief look at Dungeon Crafter 3. While doesn't look like I'd want to use it for a map like this, it might be useful for buildings and dungeons.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jarlsberg (Chapter 3)

The entirety of the this game session was spent in Jarlsberg. The session went mostly according to plan.

One thing that surprised me was how well the party did in the multiple-encounters-without-a-short rest. I expected that after two full fledged encounters with the zombie hordes that they'd be pretty desperate to find a place where they could hole up and take a breather, but they just demolished those zombies without a thought using almost entirely at-will attack powers.

Of the three zombie types that I used, I'd say the most bothersome for the party was the Corruption Corpse ... however Aeldric the Warlord had picked up a suit of Black Iron Scale Armor +1 from the armory in Tidemarch. The 5 necrotic resistance really made him quite tough, and Vipers Strike against a ranged attacker is a pretty effective way of managing them.

The Warlord is shaping up to be able to fill in as a back up defender in this group, which is handy. Also, Ragnar the melee ranger has been doing a fair share of minion control. Dire Wolverine Strike is an awesome response to being mobbed by zombies. I expected that without Lindrin to help manage the minions that they might have issues. I don't see them yet.

After a third encounter without rest, they were starting to feel the pain. I added a nice scary horde of zombies coming up the road to encourage them to head for the defensible Temple of Umos and they obliged.

What followed was their encounter with the three Phantom Warriors. I decided at the last minute to pull a bit of The Sixth Sense and have the Phantom Warriors not realize that they were dead. What followed was a rather starnge encounter wher the ghosts asked about how the battle over Jarlsberg was going. The phantoms pointed the party at the inn, and helped clearing that scary mob of Zombies that had gathered out front of the temple. After seeing the zombies and being confused about not being able to leave the Temple grounds the Phantoms came to the realization that they were dead, showed the PC's their armor and arms and bade them use it to carry on the battle against the Empire.

There was some interest in the ritual site at the center of town, but nobody had time to really stop and take a closer look due to the constant trickle of zombies shuffling after the party.

The inn battle went fairly quickly. The leveled down Ghoul was a decent challenge to the PC's getting off his immobilize power twice and took a nice chunk out of Ragnar, who despite being reduced to 0 hp, managed to survive. We were pressed for time at that point, so I narrated the conclusion of their exploration of Jarlsberg. They find the book, Last King of Prolia and manage to escape from the rest of the Zombies in the city without being overwhelmed.

Leveling without Arithmetic

I've never been particularly interested in rules for game masters. Guidelines are awesome, but rules are restrictive. The guidelines for putting together encounters are particularly good in 4th edition, but advancement due to experience has always been an aspect of D&D that I hated as a GM. If you follow the rules as written they are mathematical handcuffs on an aspect of the game that's really important. Reaching a new level is an important reward that evolves the way a PC plays the game, opening new options and keeping the experience fresh and exciting.

I'm currently using an alternate advancement rule. Characters advance in level when I say they advance. Pretty simple, no?

My recommended GM's guideline for when to give PC's a new level is "Advance your characters when you believe it will lead to the most fun." For me, there's a certain amount of fun that is discovering a character through playing him. There's the intrinsic fun of building a character by gaining power as they follow the campaign. There's the enjoyment of choosing that power that you've been looking forward to. There's also fun to be had in trying out that power of feat, seeing how it interacts with the other party members, or how it works against monsters or maybe how it doesn't work. When the shine is beginning to wear off and the players feel that they have a good grip on their new set of powers and abilities and are looking forward to their next level, that's when they should be advanced.

Usually, I'll have a quick discussion about how things are going at the end of a session and if the time seems right, I'll say, you're all now level N+1.

It's dead easy and it works. No arithmetic required!

I've found that a level every two sessions (about seven or eight hours of play) seems to be about right for the current game and if we're not having 10 encounters per level in these two sessions, it's really not a big deal.

I do use the XP values marked in monster stat-blocks. I use them as a guideline to balance encounters, because for that purpose XP works very well. For leveling, the informal approach works better for us.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Journey to Yuri's Doom (Chapter 2)

The next session saw our heroes fleeing the pursuing forces of the empire to the swamp, Yuri's doom.

The first order of business was switching out Ghesh for Ragnar. After a bit of discussion, everybody decided that the Party could do without a controller, and would rather just control one PC each, so Lindrin would be left out too.

Story wise, we narrated the travel from Tidemarch to Yuri's doom and some parallel events in Prolia. Ragnar had some disturbing dreams and was convinced by a crazy old beggar that his brother was in peril south of Yuri's doom. Ragnar paid for a small fast ship to take him south, but couldn't convince the crew to wait around for him to bring back his brother.

At the same time, Lindrin came down with a rather serious disease and bacame unable to travel. When Ragnar found the party, it was decided that Ghesh would remain behind to care for Lindrin and the group would travel through Yuri's Doom and send back a ship to pick up Lindrin and Ghesh at the spot that Ragnar was dropped off.

So Ragnar, Voden, Minos and Aeldric traveled into the swamp. The had an encounter with Deathjump spiders, who's "death from above" ability proved to be quite annoying. The warrior's combat challenge was not being applied when it could have. I'll mark it up as inexperience on our part. I need to make sure that my players are aware of and are going to keep track of their abilities, I caught at least one instance of an attack that Minos wasn't aware that he could have taken, I possibly missed a few as well. Next time I'll be more thorough in checking that players are using the abilities that they have.

They also meet a Fey trickster Frog-man encounter from a monster supplement that I found on the web and can't find the link to. [I think on ENWorld; I shall go looking again.] After defeating the challenge, the Fey offered a reward in the form of information. Gool ol' party played along and asked where they might find the Iron Crown of the Prolian kings. The Fey didn't know where the crown was but did offer directions to the ruins of Jarlsberg where they might be able to find something.

The party headed off towards the ruins and ended the session with a rest in a nearby half-sunken stone tower.

We decided that the party was now level 2. [Decided? What? More to come!]

Yuri's Doom and Index Cards

At the end of Chapter 1, the players indicated that Yuri's Doom was where they were going next. That was my indication of what needed further development. So I spend some time getting some things straight. I didn't need to write plot elements for this because I already had most of this planned in my head.

The short version was the following:
  1. Yuri's doom is dangerous enough to prevent the empire from moving through it. I need to convey it's danger by some encounters with some "Swamp Nasties".
  2. Jarlsberg is going to have a bunch of undead. More encounters.
  3. Jarlsberg is where the druid Yuri cast his uber-powerful ritual that created the swamp there needs to be some evidence of it. Possibly I'll have the ritual in some time-stopped frozen tableau - something to look at with a bit of awe.
  4. Jarlsberg needs to have some clues to the location of the Iron Crown to continue the main quest plot line.
Encounter Cards

I'm becoming a fan of the 4th edition Monster manual and the monster adjustment rules in the DM's Guide. After putting together some encounters, I'm seeing that the guidelines for putting together encounters seems to be balanced very well and it's pretty easy.

I've been starting to use a combination of index cards and what I call encounter cards to keep track of combat rounds, and I've got to the point to where I'm getting very comfortable.

I started out doing this by copying out the entire stat block of each PC and monster to an index card, putting those cards in a stack in initiative order and cycling through them. The problem with this is the PC or monster on the top of the stack is doing the attacking, but it's attacking a card deeper in the stack. This leads to constant shuffling through the stack to find out defense values and mark off hit points or status effects.

A better way of doing this is to have a separate place for the things that are needed off turn. These are commonly defenses, perception, hit points and a place to mark down damage and conditions. Additionally some mosters have resistances, immunitires, vulnerabilities, auras and other powers that take place on other's turns. My index cards have space for ten lines of information, and given that I rarely (never) have more than 5 types of monsters in an encounter, I developed a 2 line stat block. On it, I record: NAME, AC, Fort, Reflex, Will, Perception, HP, Bloodied Value, Role, and XP value on the left hand side of the two line block and have a free form area on the left to note other things like hp totals, powers of note, resistances etc.

It looks something like this, with an encounter card having five rows that look like the following:
NAME... | AC FR | Per HP | Notes......................
ROLE XP | RF WL | Int BL |
The Role and XP are additions that should help the re-use of some of the encounter cards, by mixing and matching. So for example, I decided that the undead encounteres in Jarlsberg would be mostly zombies, with an occaisional ghoul thrown in as well as Phantom Warriors for a special encounter. For this I wrote up a card with Zombie Rotter, Zombie, Corruption Corpse, Ghoul (level adjusted to 3) and Phantom Warrior.

I also copied out those five mosters to individual monster cards, with complete details. In particular, the information that needs to stand out on the monster card are abilities and stats that get used on the monsters turn, that is mostly the Speed and the Attack Powers. Monsters can be counted on moving and attacking each round, usually. The intent is to have the whole stat block on the monster card, but the movement and attacks are really the thoings that must be there. The monster manual is still available as a reference for full details if required and if space does not permit them to be recorded on the index card.

I have one encounter card made up as a quick reference for the party, with all their defensive stats. That way I don't have to query them all the time. I have an index card for each party member. The PC index cards are mostly blank. Hopefully the PC's will be able to keep track of their attacks and moves. It's there for mostly for initiative.

At the beginning of combat I'll lay out the party and monster encounter cards then grab the correct set of monster cards for the encounter. Next, I'll have each PC and monster roll for initiative, recording the initiative on the upper left corner. The index cards get sorted, and then the top PC or monster takes it's turn, getting placed at the back when finished.

When a PC or Monster gets attacked, their defenses and relevant abilites are referenced on the encounter card, and any damage or conditions that are inflicted are noted.


For the Yuri's Doom part of the adventure I drew up about the following encounter cards.
  1. The undead encounter card I mentioned before, with the Zombie Rotters, Zombies, Corruption Corpses, level adjusted Ghoul, and Phantom Warriors.
  2. One swamp encounter card. I put Stirge, Fire Beetle, Deathjump Spider, Visejaw Crocodile, and Shadowhunter Bat.
  3. One card with the solo "Hopper" encounter from Chris "Goober" Ramsley's Boss Compendium. [I sill can't find a link.]
I also noted a suggested sequence of encounters. I plan on putting together the wilderness encounters as the party travels. For Jarlsberg I plan to have several undead encounters, starting with rotters and regular zombies, with additional encounters introducing the corruption corpses and eventually the ghouls.

Level Adjusting

The DM's guide suggests that PC's should be able to handle creatures from Level-4 to Level+7. That may be the case, but I'm not sure it applies at the very low levels. And the very low levels suffer for a little bit of lack of monsters, since the only variety is to move up in the level range.

I have noticed that in particular when the monster's defenses get a little bit too good, everything sort of falls apart. Encounter powers that don't hit don't swing the battle as much as they should and high defenses combined with a larger pool of hit points can make these encounters a little bit too long.

I'm currently trying to limit the level difference of creatures that the party faces to +2 levels, at least on the upper side. Or at least having a long hard look at the monster's defenses.

Regardless, level adjusting monsters in 4e is very easy, and there's hardly a reason not to. The ghouls I added to Jarlsberg are level adjusted to 3. It doesn't make them trivial, it just balances things out a bit and allows me to bring in a larger variety of creatures that the party can face, without being overwhelmed or being caught in a fight that's lasting a little too long because of the enemy creature's toughness.

Jarlsberg Plot Elements

Jarlsberg will have the following non-combat features:
  1. The tableau I mentioned previously of Yuri and his compatriots casting the ritual that created the swamp. I'm thinking a fountain in the middle of town, with a miagic circle containing five druid-looking individuals frozen in place at the conclusion of the ritual. The fountain's water is motionless, the druids's arms are outstretched and holding magical implements. The only movement from within the circle is a thick mist billowing forth from the fountain adn rolling outwards through the ruins into the mists of the swamp.
  2. There is massive amnount of destruction around the city. All the non-stone buildings are essentially destroyed, with a few stone hearths visible among the lush swamp vegetation.
  3. Only a few buildings still stand. A blacksmith, a stone tower half sunk into the swamp at the outskirts of the town, a temple of umos that looks as solid as the day it was buit and a not so solid but still mostly intact inn.
  4. Around the town are hundreds if not thousands of (restless) zombies. They are mostly inanimate these days but will react to the presence of the PC's and to sounds of battle. The conflict with the undead will start slowly with a few zombie rotters slowly raising themselves out of the muck and pathetically attacking the PC's. This will attract Zombies in greater numbers over the next few minutes, until things start looking desperate.
  5. Holing up in the Temple of Umos will afford the PC's a chance to rest and to meet with the three Phantom Warriors who still defend the temple. These will be helpful, provided things don't go badly. The Phantom's earthly remains are in the center of the Temple and have magical goodies for the Party, which the will gift if things go well, or may be taken if the Phantom Warriors are defeated. The Phantom Warriors can recount how most of the Prolian battle against the Empire went, and if asked about the Iron Crown of the Prolian Kings, they recall that a Skald named Eodwyn was collecting information about King Arnesson and was staying at the inn.
  6. The rest in the temple will be followed by a confrontation my a rather large mass of Zombies that have surrounded the temple (mostly rotters). After this fight, the number of Zombies in the area will have been mostly exhausted.
  7. The Inn has the final major undead encounter. Suggest 1 ghoul, 1 corruption corpse, 2 zombies and 3 zombie rotters.
  8. In a room upstairs "The Last King of Prolia" written by Eodwyn the Skald may be found on a table beside an unoccupied bed.

The Party: The Non-Dwarves

Minos the Minotaur Fighter has been a slave of the Empire of Rhodes for as long as he can remember. His mythical name was given to him by his human slave masters and has long been used to promote his gladiatorial fierceness.

Minos has always lain uneasily under the Empire's yoke despite his favored status as a gladiatorial champion. He has made several escape attempts over his life, the latest seeing him recaptured in the far outpost of Tidemarch where he was set free by the party. He has joined his rescuers and is relishing the glory of the adventuring life.

Aeldric is a Human Warlord who recently was instrumental in fighting off a Goblin raid on his village north of Prauld. During his heroics he took command of the villages defenders, outshining the village's leader and commander and thereby saving the village and embarrasing the leader. After the victory celebration, he was informed in no uncertain terms that he would be welcome to depart from his village to pursue his heroics elsewhere. Taking this as an opportunity, Aeldric headed toward Shinar to join in the hunt for the Crown.