Wednesday, September 17, 2008

All Hail the King (Chapter 5)

This session's play was, as expected, transitional.

The chapter starts with our heroes, Capricia, Minos, Aeldric, Voden and Ragnar entering the town of Prauld. Capricia happens to have a "bag of holding" and the brave adventurer's deicde not to bring the body of Arnesson into town obviously. They wrap the body in their bedrolls and blankets and put it along with the crown into the bag of holding, which is now just about full.

On the way into town, headed for the "nice" inn off of the market square, Ragnar succeeds his perception check and notices a merchant, who's in the middle of a conversation with a furniture vendor, has "noticed" them. Ragnar brushes it of as his Dwarvish good looks, and the heroes continue into town, where they arrange for some rooms. During the day they meet with a jeweler and exchange their massive diamonds that they found on the Devils in Krolak-Nol for some coinage.

For supper they meet with Jarl Jorgen, who's a fairly down to earth and traditional Jarl. Over the course of several rounds of decent local ale, the party learns a few things from Jorgen.
  1. Jorgen asks about the quest for the crown, but is brushed off by the party.
  2. Jorgen reveals that at least one of the Jarls are uneasy about Yutsen's ability to lead Prolia in a time of war. The king of Prolia has always been a warrior, and Yutsen is a merchant and a diplomat at heart. He's undoubtedly the best peace time leader of the country, but is probably the least versed in war of all the Jarls.
  3. Jorgen mentions that Jenkins, the aide of the Republic ambassador is in town. Jorgen offers the party 5000gp to assasinate him. He explains that while he is certain of Jenkins guilt in the death of his son Giordi, last summer, and that he has the right to mete out justice on his own lands, he is restrained from executing him in his official capacity, to avoid an international incident. If the PC's kill Jenkins, justice will have been done, and an incident will have been avoided.
  4. Jorgen also mentions that Jenkins has been hanging out around Beryl and seems to have some influence with Jarl Hastel.
After their celebratory dinner, they ask around about Jenkins. It turns out he's staying at the inn where they are. They tip the innkeeper and ask him to point Jenkins out when he arrives. They have a few more drinks. and discuss what they'll do with jenkins. There's talk of beating him up and tieing him to the mast of an outbound ship. There's also talk of killing him for the reward, and to see justice done, although not everyone thinks that Jorgen is seeing straigh abou t Giordi's murderer. Later in the evening, the merchant that noticed the heroes on their way into town walks into the inn. The innkeeper indicates it's Jenkins.

They invite Jenkins over for a drink at their table. By this time I'm having Ragnar make constitution checks cause's he's been drinking heavily. Jenkins orders white wine. They have a vaguely disturbing but fairly civil discussion with Jenkins. I'm not sure if the players were aware of it, but there was a very menacing undertone to the conversation, that *I* certainly picked up on, and Jenkins did too (no Insight roll required on that!).

After some time Jenkins excused himself and went off to bed. A few minutes later the heroes followed him up to his room, I don't think they really had a plan, but grabbing him out of his room seemed to be part of it. A rather drunk Ragnar, bashed the door in while the party was trying to discuss what the next step would be, revealing an empty room with an open window. Jenkins was long gone.

The next morning, caring for hangovers the heroes departed south (after buying new bedrolls).

Just north of Beryl they were ambushed by a group of
  • 8 Prolian Archers (souped up Human Rabble, Minions, with bows and axes instead of clubs)
  • 2 Human Berserkers
  • 1 Human Mage
  • 1 Human Bandit
A tough encounter made worse by the ambush... but this was the only encounter of the day, so daily powers could be used without much reservation. The archer minions were set up spaced out along a slope that was difficult movement to go up.

The first round saw Aeldrick, the leader get taken down by 2 arrows, a whack by one berserker and a hit from the multitarget lightning spell of the mage and from falling off his horse. Not a good beginning. Minos took even more damage, geting a crit from the other berserker's encounter power (for 25!) The bandit moved in from behind the party towards the softer targets.

Ragnar ended up saving Aeldric with a healing potion on the second round. That potions plus a second-wind, action point, and self inspiring word got Aeldric back into the action on round two.

After the initial schock of the ambush the heroes recovered, using action points and daily powers to deal out a brutal reprisal, taking down the two berserkers, mage and bandit, and having the prolian archers turn tail and run.

The heroes bypassed Beryl completely, skirting southwest around town to the road leading inland to Derros and through the Dragons domain. Dreasinoleanus and Oranthidirian (Dre and Oran for short) notice the travelers along the road. Dre is a male adult silver dragon, and his mate Oran is a female black dragon. They are both adult, and of "huge" size in their dragon forms but can shape-shift into human form. (I don't know or care if 4e dragons are supposed to do that, in Alia they do.) Oran carefully lands off to the side of the road of the heroes, shape-shifts into a beautiful, black-haired woman and comes up to greet them. The heroes are pretty nervous. She welcomes them to her lands and invites them meet with her and her husband in a tower off to the side of the road. They take a small path up to a newly constructed town with a handy empty stables and a clean looking well.

Inside are Oran and Dre preparing for their visitors. Warming up the main room of the tower and stoking up a nice wood fire, and preparing tea. Dre is actually the minstrel Iellos that they met on their way north through Derros. The heroes are a little nervous about being near such dangerous creatures, but the dragons seem to take a rather keen interest in the heroes activities and the activities of humans in Prolia. Soon the party is at their ease and the party tells the dragons everything they know including their journey's through Yuri's doom and into Krolak-Nol, admitting to finding the crown. The dragons thank them for their story and invite them back if the next time they pass through the area.

The journey south of the Dragon's tower, through Derros to Shinar is otherwise uneventful. The party sends ahead to Shinar the day before they arrive in town and are met the next day by an honour guard that brings the body into ton in a majestorial procession.

The heroes then settle down to a week of being feasts, rewards and partying, from the soon-to-be crowned Jarl Yutsen.

The heroes confronted Hagel, Jarl Hastel's brother. About the ambush. Nobody died. Hagel seemed genuinely sorry about his involvement in Jenkins plot. Claimed that he was manipulated by Jenkins while in his cups to sending out his men, and claims to have reformed. The party was doubtful, but accepted his explanation and apology. The heroes are doubly on the lookout for Jenkins, but he did not show up.

The session concluded with the pomp and ceremony of the crowning of the new king of Prolia, who's now severely in debt to the heroes for their service they've performed for Prolia and the heroes are thinking about what to do next. Thunderspire Labyrinth is probably it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Seems one of my posts has incited some additional activity from The Geek Emporium.

..."Now, I may be calling maestrod out, which isn’t my intention, but it was a catalyst that forced me to realize that not everyone knows how I, and my group, play D&D."

"Maestrod" is me, I really should be consistent about my blogger tag. My original comment was on this and was in direct a response at “…the roles are something I can’t stand about 4e…”

Now where do I start?

I like 4e. But that isn't because I don't like 3.X. I like for 4e for what it brings to the table that's new and different. And because it's a new, it has renewed my interested in classic fantasy role playing. The fact is, I still have a shelf full of 3rd edition rules, and dozens of other games. (plug for Dark Heresy here!)

When I play a game, it is for what it *has* is not what it doesn't. Everyone (unless you're running something within a larger organization such as the RPGA) is free to write house rules and ignore any rule that they're not comfortable with. For example, I've long ignored any alignment rules that D&D has used. They just do not interest me.

One thing that's very apparent in all of the 4e rule books is that there's an obvious effort to spell out everything that more experienced gamers may take for granted. Just like the oft-repeated "What is role-playing" section in the intro chapter, much of this effort is not aimed at experienced gamers. I appreciate this content even though it's really not for me. The class commentary that explains what ability scores a particular class build should focus on is wasted in the eyes of an experienced gamer, it's *not* wasted on someone like say... my wife. For her, an explicit instruction saying "A warlock's main strength is dealing damage at range" and "choose constitution, charisma and intelligence as you ability scores" for an infernal-pact warlock is what she needs.

I don't think that these hints and instructions and labels make 4e any less flexible for the experienced gamer than 3.X or 2nd ed, or Advanced or Basic/Expert/Companion/Master, especially if you're okay with throwing the rules you don't like out the window and writing your own house rules.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

D&D Insider Ennui

I've read a number of blog postings about D&D Insider over the summer. Most recently, a preview from Pen and Paper Portal, PAX 08: Hands-On D&D Insider. Earlier in August there were some articles commenting on the pricing and the timing (RPGCentric with D&DI: The Price is Right and Critical-Hits with D&DI Updates: Charging Before Ready) but for the most part there seems to be a lot of waiting-and-see since the initial criticism over the missed launch dates and the hysterics over pricing.

I understand the wait-and-see feeling. While I hope that D&DI will be the greatest thing since home made bread (sliced bread is really not that great). I haven't been able to get excited about D&DI at all.

When it comes down to it, it's going to be a digital magazine subscription combined with some online tools. The Dragon and Dungeon magazine articles have been out all summer, so there's no doubt what they'll be. The Compendium and Character Creator and Game Table/Dungeon Creator look pretty neat, but I'm not sure how much I'd actually use them.

When faced with the monthly cost for access to these, I'm hesitant. The fact is that half of D&DI is available right now, for free, and other than some casual reading and poking around I don't use it. For the other half, there are currently non-WotC equivalents for pretty much all of the content that D&DI is promising, that I also don't use. Some examples:

Character Visualizer : Hero Machine
Character Builder : Ema's Char-Manager
Game Table : RPTools & IRC

Plus there are dozens of completely free blogs, forums, and dedicated websites with more content than anyone has the time to digest. Now, I'm not claiming that any of these tools are as slick or as polished as the D&DI tools that have been promised. Nor are most of the online forum, blogs and websites nearly comparable to what you'd expect from a professional publication. But it's there and it's free and some of it is really, really good.

Since, to date:
  1. I haven't read more than half a dozen of the (still free) D&DI Dragon or Dungeon articles.
  2. I have no problem making characters using printed character sheets and a pencil.
  3. I haven't used the Compendium for anything other than seeing how it works.
  4. I don't run games online using IRC or any other online tools.
I don't think that my behaviour is going to change overnight. I know that some people feel differently about D&DI. Some people think that the magazine content alone is enough to justify the cost. Some people are really into running on-line RPG games and may think that the Game Table alone justifies the price. I'm just not sure how many people fall into those categories.

I'm a pretty fanatical pen and paper RPG player, and D&D has always been a game that I enjoyed, but even for me I'm not convinced about the subscription price. And if it's not worth it for me, I don't see that there are many casual players that are going to look at the yearly D&DI cost and decide to subscribe.

I expect that WotC will not see the returns on this development that they're hoping for.

I hope that I'm completely wrong, that D&DI will be worth it to enough people to keep it a viable business for WotC. I hope that it's so awesome that I'll be convinced of its usefulness, and by this time next year I'll be a cyber-dm with my laptop glued to my hip, using D&DI for everything even at my regular game table.

But the cynic in me is suspecting that D&DI will go the way of Gleemax.