Monday, August 4, 2008

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.

No comments: