September 12, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: The Trading Post

Better late than never? Part of why this is late is that I haven't actually ran the Trading Post encounter, so I can't tell you how it plays in practice. What I can do is rant about how it can be used.

Anyway, the idea is that the traders Rannos Davl and Gremag are spying on the village for the Temple. The PC:s find this out by defeating Lareth and finding a letter to him from "RD". This is pretty silly, and I'd suggest using an actual skill challenge to track down the spies after the PC:s have found out that there are traitors in the village. After all, an unsigned letter to Lareth still hints that someone is reporting to him.

The fight itself looks decent. RD and Gremag fill the two stereotypes of thief/assassin - RD is the talkative swashbuckler and Gremag is the dour murderer with poisoned daggers. They have some Human Guards to help them, rounding out the encounter. Without crunching numbers, this looks okay on paper - the Guards keep the PC:s still while RD and Gremag move around and stab them to death. In theory.

I haven't even posted the map (by default, the fight takes place in the villains' trading post), and I'd suggest mixing it up. A sufficiently angered Temple could send a message to the traitors that PC:s are to be killed in their sleep. Grab Daniel Rivera's maps of the Inn of the Welcome Wench and you're good to go for a final showdown in the peaceful heart of Hommlet. Have them bring Zert the Human Berserker along, by the way. He's a spy for the temple too, after all.

Unfortunately, this fight feels very disconnected from the Moathouse (it doesn't take place there, after all). What it does well is connect the Moathouse to the rest of the Temple of Elemental Evil. Whatever the spies do - flee, attack or get investigated - they show the party that the cult they defeated was bigger than just Lareth's outpost. This hopefully incites them to investigate further, and move on to the Temple proper. Or follow whatever nutty plans you have.

August 02, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: Aftermath - Onward To The Temple of Elemental Evil?

So Lareth the Beautiful is defeated, the cultists in the Moathouse scattered. Hommlet is safe again. Or is it?

Probably not. The cultists in the Moathouse serve the Temple of Elemental Evil, a classic villain group harking back to AD&D. If one wants to continue after clearing the Moathouse, the Temple is the obvious next stop. I even made a rough plan:

Mid-heroic tier: The characters need to figure out where the cultists came from. The obvious choice is to go to Nulb - a hive of scum and villainy, where one might stumble into recruiters for the Temple. The less obvious choice is to track down the adventurers that defeated the Temple the last time and ask them. It's worth noting that the pair of retired adventurers in Hommlet (Burne and Rufus) weren't part of that dungeon crawl - they arrived in Hommlet later. Plenty of opportunity for adventures in the Big City!

Late heroic tier: Hit the Temple! Make sure to show your players the classic cover (shown above). Grab a pretty map of the first level here! Sadly, the lower levels have caved in (because I like to run with what I have, and Mr. Rivera hasn't got around to drawing maps of the lower levels), with mid-ranking Temple priests running the show on the mostly intact first level. If you want some actual elemental creatures, the Earth Temple should be strong here (with access to Galeb Duhrs, Xorns and Geonids) with the Fire Temple as a fiery minority (and opportunity to use Hell Hounds and Flame Snakes). Mostly humanoids, though. The head priest of the Earth Temple has clues pointing to the For Really Real Now Temple of Elemental Evil (the one that was erected after the old one was razed). Clearly these cultists were just performing archeology.

Capping the heroic tier: Disaster strikes! Hommlet is besieged by an army of giants and whatever else is cool for 10:th level characters to fight. If they break the siege, the PC:s have the full backing of Hommlet (and probably the nearby larger cities of Verbobonc, Dyvers and the kingdom of Celene, if you're using Greyhawk's geography and they work on getting that support). It's time to take the fight to the enemy. Time to hit the Temple like the fist of an angry god.

Paragon tier: This is where all the elementals and archons reside. Time to have some fun with four temples, one of each element. The fire archons are both lowest and highest level - I imagine a plot where they're the strongest in their own holdings and are sending their trash troops exploring the countryside - "random encounters" would be with fire archons. Going with the original TOEE module, each temple has a part of a MacGuffin that can be assembled and used to try to seal away some demon lord. That was Zuggtmoy in the original - as a Nethack player, I'm fond of her nemesis Juiblex (and it makes sense that he would like to take over the cult his rival once manipulated). Kill him to cap off the Paragon tier.

Epic tier: I fleshed this out even less than Paragon tier, but the goal is obvious. The Temple's mortal servants are beaten. Let's take the fight to the planes and the Princes of Elemental Evil - Imix, Ogremoch, Oldydra and Yan-C-Bin. Start with Imix's worshippers among the Efreet and work your way up the hierarchy. Don't stop until you're standing on Tharizdun's dead body raising his severed head above your own.

Imix and Ogremoch gets stats in Monster Manual 3. Olhydra is easily made by taking Solkara from Plane Below and renaming her. Mual-Tar (Dragon 370) or Sirrajadt (Plane Below) make half-decent Yan-C-Bins. Cryonax isn't a classic Greek element and doesn't get to play. You'll probably want to make Tharizdun's stats yourself - or have him be the one guy you can't fight, but have to seal away.

Next up: Oh wait, there's one encounter left in Hommlet!

July 26, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: The New Master

That 15 square corridor leading up to the New Master's Lair? That's bland and uninteresting.

That said, this is the ultimate encounter of the Moathouse. Lareth the Beautiful, the leader of the cult, lives here, and he's got a sizable entourage. The guy himself, Drex (a dragonborn soldier), three Human Guards (statistically identical to the bandit leader Enzer, who the PC:s likely fought earlier) and a shedload of minions. Some of the minions hang out in the abovementioned corridor, theoretically slowing down the advancing PC:s while the Human Guards poke them with their halberds.

In practice, the fighter blasts past them with an action point, bringing the fight into the proper rooms. A battlefront sets up, and Lareth steps out and says something nasty. Then he charges in, critically misses, and the party unloads with their dailies and kill the poor guy in one round. Or maybe that was just in my game. Rest in pieces, Lareth the No Longer So Beautiful.

Moral of the story: If the party takes a second extended rest right before assaulting Lareth's chambers, follow the advice in the module about adding enemies to the Moathouse. I did, but a single extra Barghest (recently arrived, now pissed about the deaths of his bugbear friends) didn't change much. If you're feeling adventurous, do what I considered and have everything that still breathes set up an ambush in the courtyard. Maybe toss in the Giant Crayfish if the PC:s didn't kill that earlier, removing some minions and maybe a guard because the desperate plot to capture it took a toll on Lareth's troops. Oh lord, why didn't I actually do this, it sounds like such an awesome fight in my head.

All in all, this wasn't a bad fight. To be honest, real life intervened and I didn't get to finish it (but at least Lareth hit the dirt before the game broke off). If there's anything I'd complain about, it's that the room is kind of small, but it worked okay with the melee-heavy NPC group and the almost equally melee-heavy PC group.

July 19, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: The Bugbear Recruits

As I've mentioned, this could be the next encounter after you clean out the cell block. But probably not.

Unlike the gnolls, the bugbears have been treated well by Lareth. If the PC:s trample in here, there's going to be a fight, no question about it. And it's a nasty fight too. There's a Bugbear Strangler leading a bunch of Bugbear Warriors. The former tends to grab one PC and slowly choke it to death (using it as a shield against any other attackers), while the Warriors move in and hit like freight trains, especially if you have them flank to bring up their hit chance. Going from memory, someone went down every round in this fight.

Having a goblinoid encounter in the module makes sense since Lareth is recruiting from their tribe, but the fight still feels a little redundant after the gnoll fight. As I mentioned back then, it probably doesn't hurt to skip that fight or this one.

Next up: Lareth the Beautiful!

July 12, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: The Gnoll Den

The gnoll encounter is the first in a pair of encounters with a very similar set-up: "One leader-dude and a pack of identical mooks". In this case, a gnoll Demonic Scourge (Brute) leading gnoll Claw Fighters (Skirmishers). The other case is the ornery bugbears I first hinted at back in the cell block. If you want to cut down on encounters, one of these is a good candidate.

As it is, this encounter works out okay. The Claw Fighters get a relatively big room to zip around in, which they thrive on, and the Demonic Scourge hits like a mofo (it's not very sticky, but rather relies on being a legitimate threat to tie up PC:s).

The aftermath of the encounter is interesting too. The last standing gnoll will offer information for freedom. The module even suggests that future encounters with gnolls in the area should be easier to reflect how you showed them the weakness of the Temple of Elemental Evil. There are, of course, no further gnoll encounters listed in the module, but it nicely sets up future adventures. Maybe the gnolls could even be grudging allies?

Either way, this is the place to tell the players where everyone is, if you haven't already. If they didn't use shenanigans to bypass the walls, they have at most three encounters left, and that's assuming they came from the north (through the ornery bugbears, I'll get to those alright), leaving the giant crayfish, the ghouls and Lareth's office still standing.

Oh right, Lareth. Just a little peek into the bugbear den and we'll get to him.

July 05, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: The Mysterious Pool

So there's a pool in a room. And when you get near it, a giant crayfish bursts out and tries to pinch you to death. Looking at its stats, it would do a half-decent job at it. Lareth and his troops avoid the place, and the players have the option to do the same. Mine did.

Basically the only reason to go here, if you've figured out that the room is a dead-end, is to look for loot. There is some, but meh.

Shortish post. Next up: Some gnolls!

Village of Hommlet 4E: The Crypt Keepers

Our heroes (probably) return from a night of wenching, drinking and sleeping in Hommlet, to search the cell block for secret passages (since there are no obvious ones). If they follow the blood trail to the secret door in the stone pillar, they'll find a tunnel to an old crypt... with undead! PC:s can never catch a break.

Cliché aside, four ghouls work pretty well as a combat encounter. Their regular claw attack immobilizes the target, which sets it up for a subsequent bite attack which stuns. Obviously, this works better the more ghouls are still alive. When the party has worn down the pack to one remaining ghoul, that one is pretty pathetic. Consider having it try to flee when bloodied.

Also consider moving a treasure parcel here. The module doesn't, but come on. It's a crypt! It should be filled with treasure.

After clearing this room, the characters can go straight to the boss fight, to a dead end, or fight some of the actual underlings of the boss. (So far, only the ogre has been an actual hired goon.)

Next up: The Monster In The Dead-End Room.

June 28, 2010

Village of Hommlet: The titular Village

As I mentioned last time, the PC:s will have a pair of rescued prisoners on their hands after rampaging through the cell block. Time to return them to Hommlet!

4E Hommlet lacks a thorough description of every house in the village, the people living inside and the 1000 gp diamonds they keep in secret compartments. What it does have is maps of the village and the inn "The Welcome Wench", a two-page spread describing the most important buildings (said inn, a druid's grove, the temple of Pelor, the trading post, a shrine of Avandra, the home of the village elder and a defensive tower that's under construction) and another spread about the notable denizens (The innkeeper, the priest of Pelor, Rufus and Burne - the two retired adventurers building the tower, the traders at the post, a local bumpkin/spy etraordinaire and various people including the druid).

If you use the town as a starting point in the adventure, it has some hooks for getting the characters to the Moathouse, adventure and glory. They can either agree to track down a brandy shipment (which was stolen by the bandits in the Moathouse) or they can go collect herbs for the druid (during this, they'll stumble upon the Moathouse). In my opinion, the herb quest sucks and I went with a combination of looking for the brandy shipment and having the druid speak gravely about Evil Rising In The Area. It helped that the elven Avenger was sent to Hommlet by his superiors in Celene with a message for the druid.

Hommlet isn't just an adventurer pit stop, though. If the PC:s want to get involved, they can hook the local acolyte up with the barmaid he loves, or get entangled in local politics by giving the elder the evidence she needs to have the council increase patrols (this could be the start of a long campaign of dabbling in politics, if the PC:s keep adventuring in the vicinity of Hommlet). And then there are the cult spies. We'll get to that little subplot later.

Oh, there are NPC:s that may be willing to come along for a small price. Good if the party is smaller than usual, but a full-sized party shouldn't need extras.

This got long but hey, what do you expect from a town writeup. Next time, we delve further into the Moathouse.

June 21, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: The Cell Block

If the PC:s, after defeating the bandits, find the secret door in the leader's room and decide to go down there (reaching the closet to the north of room 14) instead of taking the stairs (to room 11) and go north from that closet, they'll bypass the cell block and meet a band of ornery bugbears instead. More on those in a few posts, but as it is this room is likely to be the third combat encounter.

What we have here is an encounter with the ogre Lubash and metric buttloads of zombies. If the PC:s get hold of the evil looking cloaks from room 12 and wear them, Lubash will invite them to his lair to keep them safe from the zombies (because he'll think they work for the evil cult running the show on the lower levels). The bandit leader is a good opportunity to drop this factoid, but as written, expect a fight.

Lubash - a level 8 skirmisher - is a pretty good match for level 4 PC:s. However, if they enter his room from the north (like my players did), the zombies will arrive after he's dead and get slowly slaughtered as the PC:s can bottleneck them in the two rooms leading there. It's a decent fight, and I'd say the players deserve the easy ending if they bypass the zombies by taking the back door, so I have no changes to suggest.

Room 14 is Lubash's larder, which holds some prisoners (including any replacement PC:s you want to put there) The group has now taken on three fights of varying difficulty, become responsible for a few prisoners, and possibly found out that there is a nasty cult afoot in the Moathouse. This is an excellent opportunity for them to report back to Hommlet. More on that in the next post.

Finally, a peevee. There are two ways to progress. Both are secret - the passage to the north and the secret door in the pillar in room 13. The DC:s for spotting either are also quite high. On the other hand, if everyone searches, someone will probably succeed, so it's probably OK. If the PC:s are totally stumped, have the ghouls in the room to the east attack (leaving the secret pillar door open).

June 14, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: The Bandits

After the PC:s foil the furious frogs, they get to battle the brutal bandits. It looks a little railroady so far, but once we get into the Moathouse proper, the PC:s will get more choices. If we assume the group is new, running them on rails for the first two encounters might not be bad.

What's supposed to happen here is that there are tons of archers firing at the group from inside the Moathouse, while the melee enemies (The bandit leader Enzer, a few regular bandits, and a barely tame rage drake) confront the PC:s in the courtyard (area #3). What actually happened when I ran this was that the whole group ran from the drawbridge to the stairs. Taking a double move gets you there in a round, so you can imagine the cluster that formed in the main hall (area #4).

With smart players, you too should expect the encounter to mostly take place there. A subversion would be to have the drake chained in the courtyard (weakly enough to break free when the PC:s arrive).

Anyway, one of the players decided to try to talk to the bandits. Not a bad idea, I thought, and whipped up a skill challenge. (That's the beauty of PbP: If your players surprise you, you have a day or two to come up with a comeback.) There was probably going to be a fight either way, but if they succeeded Enzer would spill some clues about the lower levels before attacking. Otherwise, there just aren't that many.

Some fateful rolls later, there was a fight. Enzer is a decent distraction, the rage drake is nifty, the archers do their job even in close quarters. However, the Human Bandits are rolling +4 attacks versus AC:s of 19 and 21 (in my group, which wasn't overly optimized). That's just silly. This was certainly a harder fight than the frog butchery, but in the end, the PC:s will prevail.

As I mentioned last time, consider moving two or three of the frogs in here too. Maybe they barge in after the PC:s cross the drawbridge, adding another incentive to stay in the courtyard.

Next up: The Moathouse basement is a nasty place.

June 07, 2010

Village of Hommlet 4E: The Frogs

Welcome, dear reader, to my Village of Hommlet 4E conversion read-through. Back in 2009, WOTC sent it as a gift to everyone who were signed up as an RPGA DM. This is something you can do without actually running anything for the RPGA, and totally free. Not one to refuse free swag, I signed up when the brouhaha started on EnWorld that WOTC were sending out MOTHER#¤&#¤&! VILLAGE OF HOMMLET.

Anyway, in the fine tradition of Eleven Foot Pole, I intend to go over the various elements of the module - that being nine encounters, the village itself, and the epilogue. In the interest of full disclosure, yes I've ran the module. First time I ever DM:d anything too.

Let's start in media res. That's Latin for "Get on with it!". Meet the frogs!

The frogs are kind of a classic encounter. The PC:s arrive at the Moathouse a few hours away from Hommlet. Frogs burst out of the swamp and attack because hey, they're hungry and a bunch of heavily armed thugs looks like a good meal right now.

In the original (note that I don't have it, so there won't be that many references to it), the frogs could reel in small characters with their tongues and eat them alive. (Protip: Gary Gygax hated hobbits.) In 4E, they still haul people in and eat them, but there's no instakill, you just take damage every round.

Unfortunately, the giant frogs are level 3 Controllers, in a module billed for 4:th level characters. Two of them burst out of the pond (marked "1" on the map) at the start of combat, then one more trickles in every round until there's five. Now what do tactically minded characters do with an underleveled encounter that comes in small waves? They murder it, that's what.

Not that I mind. This is the first combat encounter in the module, and it's okay if it's easy. It might not be the PC:s' first encounter ever, since it's a fourth level module (the original was for starting characters). However, if you want to make it harder, I suggest merging this encounter with the next one (and maybe remove one or two frogs).

Finally, as I hinted at in the beginning: The module doesn't actually start with this encounter. (It starts in Hommlet, duh.) But I strongly suggest you, the DM, do. Hommlet is rife with roleplaying opportunities for the inevitable break in the Moathouse exploration, and after the group is completely done there.

Next up: Oh, I already told you about the bandits, did I?

June 01, 2010

CSI: Greyhawk

In the files marked "Stuff I'd like to run sometimes", there's one entitled "CSI: Greyhawk". The actual town isn't important (Sharn might be better if I knew diddly about Eberron), but investigative adventures ALL THE TIME feels like it could be fun.

The PC:s would be officially empowered to investigate crimes, either as part of the legal system (probably more Eberron/Forgotten Realms) or as the Queen's Finest, yadayada. Whatever, people die, there's a crime scene, characters use their various abilities to find clues leading them to the badguy and kick his/her arse.

So what system would I use for this. D&D 4E is nice with its skill challenges, and rituals if mere skills fail the PC:s. I've even considered a twist to skill challenges: The PC:s would be able to use any skill they want, letting them spam their best skill if they prefer that, but only the first success with any given skill gives them an actual clue to work with. This would encourage using different skills.

However, I'm seriously considering 3:rd edition. Let the spellcasters worry about picking utility spells or fighty spells. Rogues get to use their skills. There will be enough fights that the fighters aren't completely useless, but frankly, I'd boost their skill points and skill lists for a campaign like this. As written... I suppose they could Intimidate suspects.

There are of course systems like Gumshoe that are written specifically to handle mystery games well, but what's the fun in that, eh? Still, don't be afraid to steal ideas from there.

May 25, 2010

Greater and Lesser Gods of PoLand

So I figured I'd jot down my thoughts about the power levels of the gods of D&D 4E. So far, a bunch have got stats, but the great majority hasn't, so it's worth figuring out which would be "lesser" and thus low enough in level that they're fightable.

So without further ado:

Confirmed lesser gods (source in parentheses):

  • Tiamat (Draconomicon I) - merely half of the original god Io.
  • Bahamut (Draconomicon II) - Same deal as Tiamat
  • Vecna (Open Grave) - Possibly the youngest god, started out as a mortal and progressed through lichhood into godhood.
  • Torog (Underdark) - Beaten up and imprisoned in the Underdark, away from the Astral Sea. You figure that does a number on a god?
  • Lolth (Monster Manual III) - Cast down into the Abyss, acting as a demon queen rather than a goddess.

Confirmed greater god:

  • Bane. He got an article in Dragon #372, statting his aspects, and in the aftermath the writer spoke up, mentioning that Bane was officially to high level to stat up.


  • Asmodeus, Avandra, Corellon, Erathis, Gruumsh, Ioun, Kord, Melora, Moradin, Pelor, The Raven Queen, Sehanine, Tharizdun and Zehir.

So let's speculate a bit:

  • Asmodeus - Newish, like Vecna, and sealed up in Baator. On the other hand, he did take down a god, and probably has great personal power within his prison. In the interest of making a great villain available as a campaign capstone, I'd err towards Lesser God.
  • Gruumsh is locked in battle with Bane and that guy hasn't walked over and killed him yet. It could be because even gods balk at wading through entire armies, but I'd still peg the guy at Greater God. Going back alphabethically, that implies that...
  • Corellon would be a Greater God, since he beat Gruumsh in a duel.
  • Tharizdun - yeah, I'm skipping a lot of good gods here, going straight for the one that's been locked up in the Cosmic Loony Bin for aeons. Taking him down in the first place took most of the other gods, but maybe he's been weakened during his imprisonment. For the same reasons as with Asmodeus, I'd tag him as a Lesser God.
  • Zehir, finally, is a tricky one. He's waging a constant war with Tiamat (though not quite as violent as the one between Gruumsh and Bane) who is already pegged as Lesser. One could assume he's a terrible foe if he's prepared, but if you corner him without his strongest poisons available, he's a Lesser God. The Batman of the Gods, so to speak.

May 17, 2010

Monster Powers Triggering Off Other Monsters' Actions

Once upon a time, in a play-by-post game, we fought a huge executioner with an axe, and his "daughter" (a nasty little skeleton). When the nasty skeleton finally died, the executioner went nuts and started swinging his axe in big arcs, hitting everything around him. I guess you had to be there, but my point is that you don't see many instances of creature abilities keying off other creature's actions.

Which is quite understandable, of course. Monster Manuals, and even monster-themed books like Open Grave are written to be generic, and having monsters give bonuses to other specific monsters goes right against that. At most, we'll get things like the Azer Beastlord, which gives bonuses to "beasts". That's still a huge group, and a thematic pairing with a "beastlord".

However, for the aspiring homebrewer, it's a good thing to keep in mind. Take, for example, a big nasty that gets even nastier when its minions die. That might upset the usual tactic (kill the normal monsters first, since that's a faster way of eliminating a source of damage) and make it a good idea to focus on the leader (so you don't have to deal with him when boosted).

(Note that the "usual tactic" is dramatically appropriate - the BBEG dies last.)

In summary - giving monsters interacting abilities makes them more interesting and can shape the combat.

May 13, 2010

Against The Solo Grind

...or What We Learn From Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Well-designed solo monsters for D&D 4E flip out and gain nastier attacks when they are bloodied. Even some regular enemies do that - my favorite example would be the angels, who as a rule drop their angelic stoicism and go bananas when you've hurt them enough.

Zelda: A Link To The Past had an interesting twist on this over a decade earlier. There are certain bosses that are really separate creatures, and when only one of them remains, that one gets a serious boost in speed or damage output. The last Armos Knight gets faster, the last Lanmola shoots more rocks when it emerges from the sand*, etc.

*) Not that it's not still one of the easiest bosses.

What this encourages is - at least when fighting the Armos Knights - to spread out the damage a little between the creatures. That last Knight is a royal pain in the behind, so if it can be damaged before it goes nuts, so much better. That's obviously more pronounced in a 4E fight where an individual monster takes four hits to kill rather than two (as in Zelda).

Also, 4E has encounter powers and dailies. Having the last man standing get vastly more powerful encourages saving the more powerful attacks to kill that one quickly. Obviously, this needs to be telegraphed in advance, maybe by boosting the remaining monsters slightly everything something dies (this requires at least three monsters, of course).

May 12, 2010

Long Time No Blawg

Working on remedying that.

February 22, 2010

Converting White Plume Mountain, Interlude: Blackrazor and Wave stats from WOTC

The main treasure in White Plume Mountain is the three artifacts - Wave, Whelm and Blackrazor. Way back when, Whelm got stats in Open Grave (since it belongs to the vampire Ctenmiir). Later on, Wave got stats in Plane Below, and WOTC previewed it here.

That leaves Blackrazor, the distant cousin of Stormbringer. WOTC ran a competition looking for good stats for it, and now they've decided to publish the winner. You can see the stats here.

That's all three artifacts covered, and two of them are free. I like it when other people do my work for me.

February 15, 2010

Skill Challenges With Organic Time Limits in 4E

So I've been thinking about skill challenges again. One tweak I've come up with is to add in an organic time limit, by way of two steps:

  • Calculate how many rounds a normal skill challenge would take at maximum, if all rolls contribute either one success or one failure.
  • Add the number of complete rounds to the number of failures needed to fail, but also add one failure per round that passes without the PC:s completing the challenge.

Example: A complexity 5 challenge requires 12 successes before 3 failures. Thus the maximum number of rolls is 14 (11 successes, 2 failures, the 14:th roll decides the outcome either way). A five player party would complete two rounds and be at their third when the challenge completes.
Thus, the modified skill challenge requires 12 successes before 5 failures.

If the PC:s only roll for primary skills without any tricks, this is mathematically identical to the core skill challenge rules, but it opens up several possibilities:

  • You can have secondary skills that grant bonuses to primary skill checks, but rolling for them takes you closer to getting an "extra" failure for taking an extra round.
  • Spending action points to roll for those secondary skills becomes interesting, turning skill challenges from a "free" half-step towards the next milestone into an actual encounter that drains resources.
  • Skill rolls where success/failure count as two of whatever you rolled become more attractive.
  • And of course, a counter-incentive to skipping your turn, since you're usually not better off not rolling now, even if your skills are bad for the situation.

I think I might try this for the next skill challenge I run.

February 08, 2010

Go To Hell

Nono, don't go. Go To Hell is the reason I didn't update last weekend. You dig through the earth, gathering coins to afford the entry fee to Hell. Weird, but an entertaining game. You also have to gather food (each dug tile makes you hungry) and health (tangling with snakes and bats hurts, you know).

So why did I tag this with "Roguelikes"? Just this feeling I get from it. You dig down through layers of the underground, using the terrain as a tool to kill the wandering monsters or avoid them. Sensible stuff works - you can put out torches with water, drown snakes with the same, drop rocks on creatures to splat them. And you, too, can drown or get splatted. Also permadeath - you get lives, but no saves.

There are some glitches, like splatting yourself with a boulder when you push it over an edge, but other than that I can definitely recommend you to Go To Hell.

January 27, 2010

On Cursed Items In 4E

Save Versus Death just joined the RPG Bloggers' network, and one of his articles is about cursed items in 4E. That reminded me that I should get working on my own article on the subject.

See, cursed items in D&D are weird with their universal badness. The One Ring was evil in all sorts of ways, but it was still a perfectly usable ring of invisibility. Stormbringer too... well, a perfectly usable sword of murderation +5. But in D&D, cursed weapons are almost all bad. You touch one, it gets stuck to your hand (head, body, whichever), and there's never an upside to the item.

(As an aside, Nethack handles this in an interesting way. Wearables can be cursed, non-cursed or blessed, but their effects can be good or bad, and have no bearing on the cursedness.)

Anyway, I figure that if I add cursed items to my game, I would want there to be an interesting choice to make. Take the classic Backbiter spear, for example. A perfectly functional +X spear, but on a natural attack roll of 1, it curves around to hit the wielder. Or the Armor of Arrow Attraction - I wouldn't quite use a -15 penalty vs ranged attacks, probably just say that the attraction cancels out the enchantment bonus of the armor against ranged attacks. Armor of Rage is a third option.

Even funnier would be an "Armor of Rage" that gave you bonuses for reckless combat behaviour and penalized careful tactics. Oh wait, that's the Berserking Sword.

(Seems there are a bunch of semi-useful cursed items anyway. Still, the concept is totally absent in core D&D4.)

Anyway, interesting drawbacks to otherwise useful items, not huge minuses making you want to get rid of the item ASAP. Those are my five cents on the matter.

January 18, 2010

Old-School Multiclasses in 4E - Are They Viable

AD&D had a rather different multiclassing system than 3.x and 4E. You picked two (or three) classes and leveled up in a gestalt of those two, splitting XP between both. 4E works a lot differently, but having just multiclassed my fighter into the cleric class (which is perfectly viable), I wonder what else works really well. So let's go through the multiclasses AD&D2 allows:

Fighter/Thief don't line up the prime stats nicely, but is still nice. A tempest fighter can get the dexterity to qualify for the Sneak of Shadows feat, giving him training in Thievery, and is probably using light blades that work with Sneak Attack. That's a nice burst of damage once per encounter. Going the other way around, a Brutal Scoundrel easily qualifies for Student of the Sword, giving him a +1 to hit with a (one-handed) weapon once per encounter (which also marks the target, but eh). You probably don't want to multiclass much further, except maybe to take utility powers from your other class - making a rogue a little tougher, or the fighter a little more sneaky.

All in all, playing a sneaky fighter is quite possible.

Fighter/Cleric is an excellent choice. Your prime stats can match perfectly, not that it matters much for the initial feat. A fighter can (and should) take Initiate of the Faith to heal an ally once per day. A battle cleric won't mind a +1 to hit once per encounter and an extra skill. Neither have to bend over backwards to get the stats to qualify either.

The future for a tough guy who didn't qualify for paladin school is still bright in 4E.

Fighter/Mage is a tough one. Neither gets much use out of the prerequisite for the other's multiclass feat, and the feats themselves are pretty non-synergistic. However, Arcane Power introduces the Learned Spellcaster feat, which gives you ritual casting. That and some useful wizard utility later on could give a fighter a dash of wizardry. He still has to scrounge up 13 Int for the feat, but that's doable.

Seriously, I'd recommend a Swordmage.

Mage/Thief No stat synergy here either, and the rogue has a harder time justifying both 13 Int and 13 Wis to qualify for Learned Spellcaster. I suppose a Wizard could be slightly interested in the Sly Dodge feat - giving him a bonus against OA:s.

I'd look into playing a Rogue/Warlock or even a Rogue/Sorcerer. Those feats aren't fabulous, but the stat requirements mesh well with what you already have. The Assassin is also relatively magical, though in another way than a wizard.

Cleric/Mage gets you a Wizard with a daily healing ability, or a Cleric with rituals (this one has to take some Int it doesn't need much). Again, you probably don't want to take attack powers from the other class, but utilities can be useful.

Cleric/Thief - no stat synergy, consider whether you want a healing Rogue. A cleric that can sneak attack with a light blade isn't all bad, but there's nothing amazing here.

Fighter/Druid... Fighters get no benefit from turning into a beast at-will, unless your DM is generous. Druids don't use weapons, and thus can't use the +1 from Student of the Sword. Hilarious. Battle Awareness - slap an adjacent enemy that shifts or attacks an ally - is at least moderately useful, but if your druid is in melee with enemies, they probably want to beat on him anyway.

Consider a Warden.

Fighter/Ranger doesn't even exist (thanks to Anonymous for pointing out that I had misread "Cleric/Ranger" in the comments), but it could work. Admittedly, the tempest fighter is close already, but what Ranger would say no to a +1 to hit once per encounter? A Fighter can pick up Warrior of the wild and kick arse with Hunter's Quarry. Stats line up perfectly.

Still, I wonder what the point is, fluff-wise, since the tempest fighter is already there.

Cleric/Ranger is the last of the two-class multiclasses. A ranger has the Wis to take the multiclass cleric feat, and a Battle Cleric will easily qualify for Warrior of the Wild (ranger multiclass) which doesn't have weapon restrictions and thus works just fine with cleric weapons. The character can then go on to take attack powers if he's going for battle cleric (both use strength), but note that many (but not all) ranger powers require two weapons, a beast companion or a ranged weapon.

Verdict: Cleric multiclass is as awesome as always, not huge potential for further multiclassing.

Fighter/Mage/Cleric is hard to do straight, since you can only take multiclass feats for one class. There is a background (Windrise Ports) that lets you multiclass into two classes, and of course the Bard can take as many as he wants (but then you have to start as a Bard). Given the background, starting as either Fighter or Cleric and taking the other two could be useful, as shown above.

Fighter/Mage/Thief has the same issue as the other triple-class, but works as stated above for class pairs if you can pull it off.

Verdict: Not shabby. Meleeist/Caster has issues that can be worked around sometimes, sometimes not. Druids are just weird, being melee beasts based off Wisdom. If you want to say that you're playing a Fighter/Thief, it is doable.

January 04, 2010

How Few Encounters Before Levelling Up?

So I've pondered how fast you can level up in D&D4. The base assumption is that the PC:s will have ten "encounters" before levelling up. That falls apart right away as at least the climactic fight should be higher level (and grant more XP). Let's say you use mostly hard encounters at character level +2 or +3. That's roughly 50% extra XP for each such encounter.

Then there are quest rewards. One major quest reward gives XP equal to that for one encounter. It's pretty easy to say that each adventure gives one of those.

Let's not forget skill challenges. They grant XP just like an encounter.

So if a DM wanted to level up the party rather quickly, it wouldn't be hard for him to design adventures for that. Let's say he wants to use the 5-step method, which actually has four legit encounters since the last step is the "aftermath". It might run thusly:

  • Recieve a Quest in town - eventually grants XP for one encounter.
  • The PC:s find their way to the dungeon through the wilderness - skill challenge, XP for one encounter.
  • Entrance and First Rooms - one skill challenge, two normal-level fights. XP for three encounters.
  • Setback - major fight. XP for one-and-a-half encounters.
  • The PC:s work to mitigate the setback and get back in gear to take on the final fight. Skill challenge, XP for one encounter.
  • Climax fight - major fight. XP for one-and-a-half encounter.
  • Cleanup - skill challenge as the PC:s investigate what to do next. XP for one encounter.

  • Total: XP for ten encounters.

There you go, new level after only four fights (and you can make that three by turning one of the normal-level fights into one more skill challenge in a puzzle-heavy dungeon). Who said D&D was only about fighting?