Saturday, June 18, 2016

Campaign Recap Part 2: 990-993 YK

April 990-December 993 YK: 

In April, 990 YK, Prince Oargev got word that an information broker in Sharn was selling the location of an item of ancient power called the Heart of Flame. It was advertised to be an almost inexhaustible source of arcane might, and the prince was determined to get his hands on it.

Oargev, Istav, Martin, Bas'shi, and Tact traveled by lightning rail to Sharn in order to secure the artifact's location. In Sharn, they ran into the Order of the Emerald Claw and an expedition from Thrane, all after the same information. Only the Thrannish and Cyran contingents left the city with the information, both on the lightning rail, headed north, for their destination, Icewhite Island. 

The Thrannish contingent was most notable due to its commander, a Paladin named Jared Daran. He and Istav got along very well, despite the fact that they were vying for the same ancient artifact. This meeting laid the groundwork for a very close future relationship between Oargev's government and Thrane. 

In Stormhome, the Thrannish expedition booked passage on one of the fastest sailing vessels in Lyrandar's fleet. Fortunately, Prince Oargev (let's be honest-Istav) secured the use of one of Lyrandar's fledgling airships, the Strikes Twice. This made all the difference in Prince Oargev's success in securing The Heart of Flame, which proved to be every bit as powerful as reported.

In one sense, this success spelled doom for Cyre. In a much greater sense, this success saved the world from a free and unrestrained Laz Shathoom, also known as the Lord of Mourning. Had Thrane or Karrnath secured this artifact and used it, they would have released him from his prison. Cyre was able to re-imprison him instantaneously-unfortunately, it cost them their nation.

Queen Dannel's Arcane Council went to immediate work drawing up ways to utilize the power in the Heart of Flame. A massive epic spell was developed which would activate a defensive perimeter around the entire nation, preventing invading armies from passing through. 

In the years following this expedition, Prince Oargev developed something of a shadow government separate from his mother's government. While Oargev continued to publicly work for the Queen, leading troops against the Captain of Corpses, defending Cyran territory in the Battle of the Cauldron, and placing the focii for the defensive ritual, his allies were making diplomatic ties to the Valenar, Thrane, and Breland.

World leaders rose and fell. Random poems started popping up in publications around the world by a man called Halmander, the Dragontongue. Prince Oargev and his followers took notice and organized the poems into a series of prophecies describing a year of signs and tragedies that would be inflicted upon Cyre before a great calamity. His shadow government began making preparations to prevent-and then when it became clear that prevention could end the world- minimize the damage to Cyran life and property.

The signs began, Prince Oargev and his followers became believers in the end of Cyre. Others read the signs and began reacting in their own ways, hurtling the world towards the Day of Mourning.

The poems that predicted the end are included below:

1. Signs
These thirteen signs shall break the proudest jewel
of Galifar’s mighty, prosp’rous lands:
The first shall show both time and death a fool,
The second dim the sun with misty bands.
Beasts not of this world next month appears,
For thirteen days no cock will ever crow,
Then rain will fall not water, but as tears
For never-ending heat that all shall know.
Thirteen beasts of every herd shall die.
The wash of soured wines shall make a flood.
Thirteen days of tears the makers cry,
Then the nation’s river runs with blood.
When moons go dark and dreams are things men share-
Even bold men of the Jewel should beware.

2. Decay
Death, you are not death when nothing fades,
When power robs you of corrupting grasp.
Though our spirits go unto the shades
Not so our bodies after dying rasp.
My true love, though she died a decade past
Lays just as sweetly on her final bed.
Her ruby lips and sparkling eyes will last
Even after all the world is dead.
Though poets write of powers in their verse
To save the lives of loves beyond their graves,
Not through my words but by its dire curse,
My love’s fair skin, forever, Evil saves.
Because today until the last tomorrow
My love lies deep within the Land of Sorrow.

3. Sunlight
In every land the sun rises at break
Of day and brings with it a happy dawn.
Except where, due to arrogant mistake,
Within that land sunlight’s warm face is gone.
For four long months we’ve never seen the sun.
We’ve only mists and clouds to clothe our sky.
I fear, before this gloomy spring is done
That every man of heart will wish to die.
For sunlight is the food that feeds the soul
And sunlight makes our loves and hopes to grow-
Only in the sun are we made whole.
For in the dark our bravery will go.
But soon, when sunlight sees this place at last,
We’ll wish these mists and clouds had never passed.

4. Beasts
In the forests of our mighty land
Ran deer, flew birds, stalked wolves, and swam the fish.
More things exist than e’er we’ll understand
And if we understood, well might we wish
To unremember things that we have learned
For there are things no man was meant to know.
But things once seen into our minds are burned
And force us, our innocence, outgrow.
Seek not the secrets locked behind the trees.
Seek not to know the things that nature’s hid.
For seekers will be brought unto their knees
For seeking that which nature has forbid.
But in these days no nature can be found
When forests stand on curséd, mourning ground.

5. Time
Who greets the morning with a one-note song
And rules his land with claw and garments fair?
He fathers armored children by the throng;
He’s calléd by the name of Chanticleer.
He is the herald of the morning sun
He is the cock that starts us on our way.
But once our days of sorrow have begun
For one less than two weeks his voice will stay.
In morning silence, we won’t know the hour
In mourning silence we’ll regret our loss.
This silent herald ushers in the power
That wipes us from the land like worthless dross.
The rooster who sings morning’s light is gone.
The rooster who brings mourning’s fright lives on.

6. Tears
What grief could make the heavens freely weep
And wash the earth in sorrow’s salty wine?
The griefs that into nations, peaceful, creep
And threaten peace and lives, both yours and mine.
We’ve built a court to house the Lord of Mourning.
We’ve brought him home to feed him from our fears.
We’ve disregarded every single warning
And soon he’ll slake his thirst upon our tears.
For one less than two weeks these tears will fall:
Arawai mourning that which mortals do.
But when these tears have fallen one and all,
The hazy, sunless mists will then be through.
The One Who First Brought Weeping to this World
Brings weeping to our land: his flag unfurled.

7. Heat
Until the final sorrow claims our lives,
When winter’s cold embrace should grasp our hands,
We’ll find the chill of winter ne’r arrives:
Only the sun to blast our fields to sands.
Our lips are parched and rivers nearly dried
From long-lost sun’s miraculous return,
For all the prayers for sun’s return we sighed
Have only served to make us sweat and burn.
We thrive on warmth, deny the chill of death,
But death can come as surely when it’s hot.
When suffocating fires claim your breath,
I’ll thank the Crying Lord your flesh can’t rot.
The fires from far north that bring despair
Were brought here from the cold by our brave heir.

8. Feasting
A dozen taken from us for our sins
And one more taken from us for our fear:
A time of tears and weeping soon begins
In a nation that won’t see another year.
When we feast sorrow, set with fresh-cut steak
At thirteen places, mourners all to sit,
We celebrate the day our jewel will break
And welcome he whose fate to ours is knit.
Though death will come to all in mortal time
To some it comes too soon, a rapid fate.
The time we’ve left, in revelry sublime
We’ll meet our death and always celebrate
The lives we lead ‘fore power’s grasping fist
Knit us shrouds of death in dead, grey mist. 

9. Celebration
A dozen taken from us for our joys
And one more taken from us for our pride:
These are the tools the Crying Lord employs
To move into our land and there abide.
When we feast sorrow, set with soured wine
At thirteen places, mourners all to drink,
We spoil the meal, forever to malign
The day in sorrow’s pit we start to sink.
Though grief commands us all to drink its health
The vintage it provides will never sate
Our thirst, no matter how much of our wealth
We spend to try and fight to stop our fate.
The vines of grief are ripe--so take your cup
Of tears and vinegar and grief--drink up!

10. Industry
The People of the Gorgon always craft
Cunning things of steel and wood and flame.
Accordingly, their city’s shops are staffed
With cunning people who all do the same.
The truest steel will never, ever weep
In hottest forge or in the cool of snow;
As finest woods, relied upon to keep
Their spring when used to make a mighty bow. 
The only flame they know is forge’s light;
No fire ever burns within their breast.
But passions in their hearts will soon alight
When Sorrow’s Maker makes a mighty test:
Will workers keep their crafts within their keeping
When one less than two weeks all eyes are weeping?

11. Water
Through our veins blood flows providing life
To every mind and heart and leg and limb,
But when blood leaves our flesh it causes strife
And causes life, so sweet, so short, to dim.
And so the waters flow, bring life unto
The land that calls the flowing waters home.
And so, in times when rains are overdue
That we miss river’s life-sustaining loam.
The day that river runs with life-red blood
For thirteen hours of fear and sorrow dire,
It signals death for child and planted bud
As surely as does plague or burning fire.
In three month’s time, no river, mortal man,
Or blood will flow, will walk where now they can.

12. Moons
Above our heads the windows to the planes
Look down and teach us things we’ve not been shown..
Amidst this nation’s trials and campaigns,
They offer comfort that we are not alone.
When we look to Siberys above,
Lighting up the clear and darkling sky,
We see the source of flame, and war, and love,
A home for beasts, for dreams, and those who die.
Even when all allies leave our side
And enemies surround on every shore,
Above is where our allies all reside
And with their guidance we’ll win every war.
The night they turn their faces from our land
Will mark the night our end is close at hand.

13. Dreams
The Crying Lord, long sealed in fire and ice
Can only visit men in thoughts and dreams.
Once he’s freed, a nation is the price
To buy the world and silence dying screams.
The sacrifices know their lives are due-
The One who Drinks All Tears will tell them so.
But soon their dreaming horrors will be through.
It is the ones who live who’ll have to go
Out to a world that’s left them all behind,
To find a way to live their lives again
While haunted by the dreams that once maligned
The strongest of belovéd countrymen.
The one who chose his nation for this fate
Will fight the Dreaming Grief and be made great.

14. Mourning
Oh Jewel of Galifar, please tell me why
The bitter tears are streaming down your face.
Your victory is won, though now you cry-
You took the curse in all of Khorvaire’s place.
Though only monsters, metal men, and fools
Walk on your roads or tread your hallowed halls,
You’ve bought the world the time to find the tools
To kill the Lord of Mourning and his thralls.
In any other realm he’d be set free-
Only your blood will fight him to the end.
The world can’t know how great your heroes be,
But all who know will call your nation friend.
Today we consecrate you to the ground-
Tomorrow, be reborn, once hope is found.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Campaign Recap Part 1: 988-990 YK

So, we finished our campaign. I have had a few requests for a record of the game and I will likely also put some ideas I have had for re-vamping 4ed moving forward. This is part 1. I'm writing it from an in-game perspective.

January 988 YK-March 990
On Prince Oargev’s 18th birthday, he entered into public life. He received two significant birthday gifts from his mother, Queen Dannel of Cyre. The first was a troop of warforged freshly minted in Cannith’s creation forges, led by two warforged heroes-a silent, broken warrior called Tact, and his brother, a charismatic commander called Blade. Blade served as the troop’s leader under Oargev’s command and Tact served as Oargev’s personal bodyguard. The second gift given by the Queen was Prince Oargev’s first mission- a diplomatic progress to a handful of nobles in Cyre’s northeast who had been less than enthusiastic about Queen Dannel’s reign. Along the way, the Prince and his companions were to inspect a secret House Vadalis installation at Clifftop and make some decisions on the progress of certain projects Vadalis had been working on for Cyre.

At this point, I should identify the companions that travelled with the young Prince at this juncture. First and foremost was his cousin, Lord Istav ir’Somme, recently returned from school in Aundair. He was sent to serve as Istav’s diplomatic advisor-of course, he had great success in that role. Secondly, Oargev’s childhood friend and companion, Martin ir’Dallis, whose family was dispossessed of lands by the Valenar, accompanied the Prince out of loyalty and service. These three friends served as the core of Oargev’s rise to power and inner councils until the end of Oargev’s reign.

During this progress, Oargev and his companions fell into the middle of a plot by the Ashbound Druids to destroy the secret House Vadalis installation, discovered an invasion in progress by Karrnath, and uncovered the first in a long line of prophecies that later proved that Oargev ir’Wynarn was the champion of prophecy for his age. Many lines of the prophecy were unreadable at this point, but were later reconstructed.

The Lord of Mourning

The blood of one removed from royal, shed
Shall bring unto the world a realm of night
And fill the heart of every man with dread
Of spreading pestilence and growing blight.
For when this sorrow of a nation falls
And sorrow soon becomes that nation's name,
The dead will only walk the castle's halls
And sit the thrones of those who are to blame.
But all is never lost in darkest gloom:
The life of one removed from royal spent
Can save the guilty parties from their doom,
Though all the land they darkened still be rent.
This I say is how the Lord of Mourning
Shall rise again. Take heart and heed my warning!

References to the coming tragedy of the Mournland abound in this poem, though at this point, we didn’t see them clearly.

Over the course of the following year, Prince Oargev wins the love of Brelish noblewoman Elyse ir’Kristain and preparations for their wedding commence. He is also involved in military action along the Karranthi-Cyran border. Most Notably, the Prince leads a rescue attempt to save a key Cryan military commander, losing almost all of his men in the process-but they escape with their lives, inspiring songs and heroes of Cyre. Istav serves as a mediator for the impending split between the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair. Relationships with the Valenar Elves, Goblins of Darguun, and Breland become strained and complicated during this time. A Valenar warrior, Bas’shi Bosti, becomes impressed with Prince Oargev’s valor and joins his band of advisors for a time, aiding him in his military campaign against the Karrnathi.

After the Prince’s wedding, he and his advisors are given another major task that will change the course of the world...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Adventure 2 Recap., Part 2

So, here's the adventure I'd planned:

The first section went according to plan: the PCs bit the hooks I'd laid out for them and made very interesting arrangements to travel first to Sharn, then to Stormhome.  They hit all of the encounters I'd planned: mysterious shadow-marked assassins, lots of Emerald Claw, a bit brutal bar-fight.

On the train to Stormhome, I had prepared for them to try and jump the Silver Flame team.  If that'd happened, I had planned on trying to put an end to the fight or call a truce: after all, their leader is just as much a Lawful Good Paladin as Oargev and doesn't want to see anyone dead over some artifact, but I knew that a few of the PCs REALLY hate Thrane.  They didn't go for the fight even a little bit.  I had planned for this, and the encounter wasn't essential.

Here is where things broke down: On the trip to the Frostfell, after encountering the hired griffon-riding Shadow elves, the Airship was supposed to crash on the shores of the Demon Wastes after one of the saboteurs managed to place explosives on the elemental binding struts.  Then the PCs were going to need to fight off sahuagin on the shoreline, venture into the wastes and encounter the Plague Clans while trying to find a fire elemental to rebind to the ship, and hold off both the Sahuagin and Clans while repairs were being made, all the while giving both the Emerald Claw and the SIlver Flame a chance to catch up.  

My PCs were FAR too effective at keeping the saboteurs from blowing up the ship.  That's when I decided to introduce the Fernia Manifest zone...and the PCs basically tackled that with insane skill checks.  I wasn't about to just swat them out of the sky for no reason, and between the new PC who dramatically changed fight dynamics (Elf Essentials Ranger Controller) and the party's focus on skills after Kingdom Building, I didn't manage to challenge them enough.

The original plan was for them to, fairly easily, make it from there to the Frostfell, getting there first, and making their way across a fairly desolate waste with maybe one Frostfell encounter, to help set the stage (the Yeti and Mammoths encounter I ran).  Once they got to the Temple, they were supposed to be caught up with by the Silver Flame adventurers.  There was going to be a likely fight there that would, again, be called off, with both parties hopefully agreeing to take different paths through the Temple and see who got the stone.  The idea was that the Silver Flame would get the stone moments ahead of the PCs, but that the Cardinal in their party would take the stone, give in to the power it represents, and command his crew to kill all of the PCs.  The Paladin was going to turn against the Cardinal and be struck down for in, badly wounded.  I was going to give the PCs a chance to save an enemy, and in doing so, make a VERY powerful friend down the road (Like I said, the Paladin's name was Sir Jared Daron. He has a young daughter.)  

With the PCs getting to the Frostfell so quickly, I had to call an audible.  I crashed their ship once they got to the Frostfell.  I added Frostfell encounters.  I decided to slow them down by encouraging them to find a Fire Elemental in the temple in addition to the Heart of Flame.  Since they were going to be dealing with ALL of the Temple guardians, I figured it would take them longer, and all I needed was one or two extended rests and the Silver Flame could find them in the temple.  

They never rested, they got lucky in choosing their path in the temple and found the Heart of Flame and got out,

Originally, my plan was for the PCs (and maybe the Paladin, Sir Jared) to get back to the airship only to find their ships captured by the Order of the Emerald claw.  There they would have to free the ships and get back home, flying home with no incident.

If the PCs were far outstripping the Silver Flame, the Order of the Emerald Claw had no business up here.  I decided to force the Silver Flame encounter while the PCs were headed back to their ship, but again, my PCs took every opportunity to conceal themselves, and there was no reasonable way for them to be found by the Flame, short of DM fiat, which I hate to use.

So I just added some air-encounters on the way back to Cyre, to reinforce to them that, nabbing a major artifact under the noses of Thrane and the Order of the Emerald Claw is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

Despite my abysmal planning, I think everyone had fun and is enjoying their international rockstar status.  That's what it's all about, right?

At least I still have a team of Silver Flame adventurers to foil my PCs in the future.  

Bonus Material:
My key NPCs are generally inspired by lots of different sources.  The Silver Flame team's inspirations: 
-Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan from Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King (Cardinal Dravot, Silver Invoker and "Apples" Carnehan, halfling assassin)
-Thomas of Hookton from Cornwell's The Archer's Tale (Thomas ir'Hoekton, Thrannish Expert Archer)
-Jackson "Grimjack" Grimwood from our most recent Forgotton Realms Campaign (Jack, a Brute)
-Prince Oargev if he'd been raised in Thrane, and was a few years older. (Sir Jared Daran)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Adventure 2 Recap., Part 1

Last week my PCs completed their second adventure, taking them from level 4 to level 8.  I made some huge DMing mistakes on planning this adventure, and I hope writing about them will help me remember NOT to do the same thing again.

A brief summary of the adventure as it happened: Prince Oargev and the Heart of Flame
The PCs found out about two fortuitous opportunities both taking place in the next month.  First, House Thuranni was selling maps and notes that led to an ancient temple that contained an artifact of amazing, pure magic called the Heart of Flame.  They would sell copies of this information to any and all comers.  Later in the month, House Lyrandar was quietly looking for an impressive expedition to hire out their first for-hire airship expedition.  They specified that they wanted high-profile passengers on a mission of impressive scope.

The PCs decided to take the train, incognito, to Sharn to purchase the information.  While there they discovered that both the Silver Flame and the Order of the Emeral Claw were trying to get their hands on the documents.  They'd already missed the Silver Flame, but they actually arrived at the bar where the contact was selling the info while the Emerald Claw representatives were inside, purchasing.  They killed the Emerald Claw guards waiting outside the bar, they were drawn into a bar fight, which they used as an excuse to take out the Emerald Claw guards inside the bar.  They then let the Emerald claw commander and his bodyguards walk out of the bar, with the info as they went in and bought the info themselves.  On their way out, they were attacked by the remaining Emerald Claw operative, and managed to defeat them, though one messenger got away with the expedition information

They then took the train to Stormhome, the Lyrandar base.  On the Train, they discovered that they shared both destination and goals with a group of Thrannish adventurers, led Sir Jared Daran and Cardinal Dravot.  The Silver FLame party thought they would stand a good chance in hiring the Airship because Sir Daran was the grandson of a much beloved Keeper of the Flame, and Dravot was an up-and-coming Cardinal.  Since Oargev was in disguise, the PCs said their best claim was that they had Istav, the Prince's cousin.  Istav and Sir Daran came to the agreement not to fight it out on the train, and to be adversaries in the pursuit of the Heart of Flame, but whatever happened, to make sure one of their two nations received the Heart, NOT the Order of the Emerald Claw and Karrnath.  The PCs at Stormhome successfully negotiated the rights to the ship and convinced Lyrandar to sneak off without immediately informing the other parties of their departure, giving them a head start.  They sent a best wishes bottle of alcohol to Sir Daran, who, I think, they legitimately liked.

They decide to take, not the quickest route, which would have taken them directly over the capitol of the Demon Wastes, but the next quickest, which skirts the Wastes for a while and then heads north to the frozen isles south of the Frostfell, their destination.  Along the way they fought off Griffon-riding elves with strange shadow abilities who tried to sabotage the ship, they tracked a huge Fire Manifest Zone that, had they entered, would have empowered their Fire Elemental, allowing it to break free, they discovered a mole on board who was sending updates to the Emerald Claw on the ship's location, and finally, they fought against creatures of elemental ice that disrupted their fire ring and caused the ship to crash on the shores of the Frostfell.

The PCs lost no time marching directly to the temple (along the way fighting more ice creatures and a yeti mammoth hunting party), and then rapidly finding their way to the guardian of the Heart of Flame, obtaining the gem, and getting the heck back to the ship.  They stopped for nothing--they didn't even finish exploring the temple.  On their way back to the ship they saw, and hid from, the Silver Flame expedition, having just arrived by boat, making their way to the temple.  They escaped on their repaired ship and flew over Aundair and Breland to arrive directly in Thrane.  Along the way, shadow elves tried to infiltrate their ship once more and Talenta Halfling mercenaries attacked them just out of Metrol.  They arrived vistorious, national heroes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More Prophetic Poetry

Work is totally eating my face right now.  I'd planned on writing a detailed post-mortem on the campaign's second adventure, which ended last night, but that's not going to happen.

Instead I'll leave you with two more poems of prophecy that are dropping hints at the events that will lead to the Mourning.

In the forests of our mighty land
Ran deer, flew birds, stalked wolves, and swam the fish.
More things exist than e’er we’ll understand
And if we understood, well might we wish
To unremember things that we have learned
For there are things no man was meant to know.
But things once seen into our minds are burned
And force us, our innocence, outgrow.
Seek not the secrets locked behind the trees.
Seek not to know the things that nature’s hid.
For seekers will be brought unto their knees
For seeking that which nature has forbid.
But in these days no nature can be found
When forests stand on curséd, mourning ground.

Above our heads the windows to the planes
Look down and teach us things we’ve not been shown..
Amidst this nation’s trials and campaigns,
They offer comfort that we are not alone.
When we look to Siberys above,
Lighting up the clear and darkling sky,
We see the source of flame, and war, and love,
A home for beasts, for dreams, and those who die.
Even when all allies leave our side
And enemies surround on every shore,
Above is where our allies all reside
And with their guidance we’ll win every war.
The night they turn their faces from our land
Will mark the night our end is close at hand.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Dungeons and Dragons Edition

Time to put up my list of things I'd like to see in Dungeons and Dragons Next.  A few notes on my D&D background: My 2nd ed. experience is limited to extensive play of the Balder's Gate computer games. I jumped in with both feet on day 1 of 3rd edition during my freshman year of college and played it avidly up until the release of 4th edition.  I played 4th edition from day 1 as well, and still do.  Pathfinder never interested me in the least.  I've also spent a good amount of time playing Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Ed, Iron Heroes, and Star Wars Saga edition.

I know these are all my opinions.  By all means, disagree!

Section 1: Things 4ed does well, I'd like see to maintained.
  • Teams:  In 3rd edition I rarely had to pay much attention to what my teammates were doing to be super-effective.  In 4th edition, the better I know my team, the better we are because so many of our powers and abilities synergize.  Keep this a design principle.  Tell the people who trot this out and scream, "MMO!" to sit down, shut up, and appreciate solid game design.
  • Defined Team Roles: I want to know, at a glance, what to expect from each member of my team.  I'm fine with certain character classes being able to fill, depending on build, certain roles, but I want to be able to know who should be doing what.  Classes should be as balanced as possible against other classes of their type.
  • Easy and Intuitive DM Prep:  I love creating monsters/npc combatants in 4ed.  It is easy.  In 3rd ed, it was a pain in the rear.  Heck, in SW: Saga, Iron Heroes, and Mutants and Masterminds, it was a pain in the rear.  4th ed is the only system I've ever seen where it is fast, plain easy, and still results in fascinating and memorable encounters.  This is the #1 thing that has turned me from a player and reluctant DM to a dedicated DM.  This is the #1 thing I do NOT want to see changed in D&D.
  • An Emphasis on Movement and Terrain: A good 4th ed fight is memorable and dynamic.  First of all, because of the monsters, but second of all, because of all the interesting ways the powers can interact with terrain, movement, and obstacles.  I don't want this to go away.
  • Constant Updates and Erratum: I want a game that is being looked at and revised from time to time.  Up until the introduction of the web-only character builder, I LOVED the fact that my game had gaming professionals offering me constant support that was easily referenced for my character.  That said, I didn't love the handful of times they decided to go in a completely different direction with certain design principles (Magic Items, Tiefling racial power, and Magic Missile!).  With this slow development involving open and dedicated play-testing, I hope the designers will be able to come up design paradigms and stick with them. 
Section 2: Things 4ed almost did.  D&D next has an opportunity!
  • Defined and Unified Power-Source Mechanics: Having a variety of ways to play DnD is awesome. 3rd ed did this pretty well (though the balance side of things was wonky), and 4ed figured this out to some small degree with Psionics and Essentials.  When I heard that 4ed was doing explicit power sources I was excited.  The fact that, in PHB1, all power sources looked essentially the same was a HUGE let down for me.  I want martial classes that work like the Essentials martial classes: an emphasis on at-will abilities augmented with per-encounter utility, damage-add, and special-effect abilities.  I want arcane classes with modified Vancian magic, able to add spells to their repertoire, their bread-and-butter in their daily abilities.  I want Divine classes tied to the gods they serve with powers reflecting their Patron's portfolio, dictating or modifying their power choices.  Your power source should MEAN something to HOW you play the game.  This is the #1 thing I wish 4ed had done differently.
  • Non-combat Abilities: Skills are a good way for characters to be able to do things out of combat, and skill powers were a neat step in the right direction for allowing some encounter application to skill training, but I don't think they went far enough.  I feel like maybe most Utility powers should have been tied to either your Power Source or your Trained Skills, leaving your class itself out of the equation.
  • Skill Challenges: I love the idea that there is a formalized framework in which to dictate success and failures in complicated non-combat situations.  If you read this blog, you can probably tell.  They should have taken this basic idea and provided expanded rules to use them in lots of ways: running a kingdom, commanding armies in mass-combat, crafting, or whatever seems like a cool thing for a PC to do in an adventure.
  • Key Words: They were used.  They should have been used better.  I want to see Monsters, first and foremost, have keywords associated with more of their powers.  I want the relationship between damage and keyword to be clear.  I want there to be more powers and effects that trigger off of a larger variety of keywords.  Make what each PC (and each monster) can do special.  Give it as many good descriptors as you can so it can interact with things in a special way.
  • Rituals: I love the idea of divorcing out-of-combat utility magic from combat magic.  The way it was done was a little bit less than perfect and pretty much punished PCs for wanting to use rituals, creatively or otherwise.  I want to find rituals a home somewhere between the abuses of 3ed and the worthlessness (Cost-benefit ratio) of so many 4ed rituals.  
Section 3: Things 4th Edition didn't even try to do, but a new edition should.
  • "Advanced" and "Basic" Options: 3rd edition had Core material and everything else.  4th edition has an everything is core mentality.  Core vs. Splat made everything not in the PHB seem optional, which is a very bad business proposition.  Everything Core made it hard for a DM (or players, for that matter) to customize the level of complexity they wanted in their games.  Other games I've seen have their core rules, but frequently have a section for "advanced" combat rules or even advanced overall rules.  I think, if the game wants to make differentiation in levels of product, this is the divide to create. D&D's wealthy, younger cousin, M:tG does it.  D&D once did it too (though, not exactly in the way I am suggesting, as I understand it-before my time.)  Basic-only games could be great for Encounters sessions, tournament play, or for lightweight dungeon crawl campaigns for beginners in the hobby.  Advanced games would be for veteran groups that need something to spice-up a previously basic game or for those epic home campaigns that last for years, have lots of character, and that keep you coming back to the hobby.  This, and all of the ideas below I have related to this, is the #1 thing I feel like D&D Next could do to bring players back to the table.
  • "Needless" Symmetry in Design:  I LIKE symmetry.  I think 4ed could have BENEFITED from some symmetry early on.  The 4ed designers called it needless, but I call it elegant.  Having a symmetrical and rigid framework in which to produce classes would have prevented such mis-steps as creating classes that received almost no support because the design space to support them was filled with existing classes (I am looking at YOU Seeker and Runepriest.)  Would it have been so bad to have the Ranger as a Martial Controller (which Essentials did-very well), disabling his opponents with trick shots and precise slashes of his whirling blades?  Could the Druid and Ranger have not just beaten up the Seeker and taken his stuff?  Why wasn't the Runepriest a Cleric build?  Maybe the Arcane classes benefited from redundancy (Warlock+Sorcerer and Bard+Artificer being the big argument in favor) but I still think using a rigid framework to motivate design is a solid idea.
  • Obviously Open Combat Options: Even if it's just as a list of "Advanced" options in combat.  "Basic" combat rules say I can move, second wind, shift, or make a basic attack on my turn.  If we are playing with "Advanced" rules, the list can expand to charge, grab, disarm, trip, whatever.  Now, this shouldn't discount powers being able to do these things TOO, the same way you can grab or charge in 4ed, but you can ALSO grab or charge with a myriad of specialized powers that have better reliability, more damage, and more flair. I say give people a chance at doing cool stuff if they really want to go for it.  I feel like this would solve many of the problems people had with 4ed being too "restrictive."
  • Optional, Expanded, Modular Rule Sets: These could be marketed as Advanced Options that might not have a home in all D&D campaigns, but could make D&D the default for any conceivable fantasy RP campaign.  Give us modular rule-sets for Kingdom Building, Mass Combat, Naval Warfare, Running a business, Crafting, whatever!  For bonus points, do it within whichever Skill Challenge structure you've already created to introduce ease of learning to players who want to drop these elements into their campaigns.  Can't make money off of these books?  Put them all into the same book with different chapters.  Market it as a DMG.  Still won't work?  Put it in the magazines!  This is the sort of content e-Dungeon should give DMs along with a few modules a month.
There might be other things I don't even realize I love and would be heart-broken if they changed.  There are things from previous editions I would be very put off by going back to that I don't even think of any more.  This list may grow as I think on it, but it's a pretty comprehensive start.  

What do you want in D&D Next?  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kingdom Building vs. Archetypes 2: Kingdom Building Utilities

The goal with these powers is to give each PC an encounter ability that will actually be useful during Kingdom Building.  Some classes grant a decent amount of skill-useful utilities (I'm looking at you Bard!) and Skill Powers are always great options, but I wanted to offer something special that can ONLY work during Kingdom Building play.

Prince Oargev:
Level 8: You gain the Inspirational Leadership Utility power.
Inspirational Leadership          Prince Oargev Utility 8
When you decide what the focus of the coming months is, you inspire others to work towards that common goal.
Encounter * Kingdom Building
Standard Action
Pick from the following Kingdom Building Keywords: Information, Domestic, Foreign, Philanthropic, Commercial, Research, or Diplomatic. Until the end of the encounter, you and all allies grant a +5 bonus rather than a +2 bonus when they aid another in a Policy with the keyword you selected.

Cyran Patriot:
Level 8: You gain the Luck of the Common Man Utility Power
Luck of the Common Man          Cyran Patriot Utility 8
You travel in circles in which those of your station were never meant to travel. Others get by on their status, power, and allies. You get by on luck and skill alone. 
Encounter * Kingdom Building
Free Action
You roll a skill check during kingdom building and dislike the result.
Effect: Ignore this result. Roll twice and take the better of the two results.

Cyran Noble:
Level 8: You gain the Political Acumen Utility Power
Expert Delegation          Cyran Noble Utility 8
You have managed people all of your life.  When you take the lead, those who work with you are a well-oiled machine.
Encounter * Kingdom Building
Standard Action
Select one Policy you own, have Supported, or have Pursued. You now know all Advantages the policy may have attached to it. In addition, you may use the aid another action for each ally who is Pursuing or Supporting this policy this round as a free action. You may not Pursue this policy until the next round.

Warforged Servant:
Level 8: You gain the Yes, Master Utility Power
Yes, Master          Warforged Servant Utility 8
Your devotion benefits all of your master’s pursuits.
Encounter * Kingdom Building
Free Action

Trigger: You successfully Aid Another
Effect: If the total result would hit the moderate DC, the success counts as a difficult success.

Dragonmarked Scion:
I recently realized that the Dragonmark feats don't actually give a skill bonus like I thought they did.  Since both my Action Point ability for the Dragonmark Scion and my planned level 8 ability involved a related skill, I decided to assign each Dragonmarked house the following related skill:

Related Skills 
  • Cannith (Arcana)
  • Deneith (Endurance)
  • Ghallanda (Streetwise)
  • Jorasco (Heal)
  • Kundurak (Dungeoneering)
  • Lyrandar (Acrobatics)
  • Medani (Insight)
  • Orien (Athletics)
  • Phiarlan (Bluff)
  • Sivis (Diplomacy)
  • Tharashk (Perception)
  • Thuranni (Stealth)
  • Vadalis (Nature)

Level 8: You gain the Let the Expert Take Over Utility Power.
Let the Expert Take Over          Dragonmarked Scion Utility 8
The special training offered by your house makes up for the shortcomings of others
Encounter * Kingdom Building
Free Action
An ally attempts a skill check in your house’s related skill and doesn't like the result
Effect: You may immediately make a skill check and use your result in place of your ally’s result.

Foreign National: Level 8: You gain the Outsider’s Insight Utility Power
Outsider’s Insight          Foreign National Utility 8
Your knowledge of how things are done in another country gives you a unique perspective on local affairs.
Encounter * Kingdom Building
Minor Action
Effect: You may support or aid another a policy with the Domestic keyword. You gain a +5 power bonus to this roll.

Sovereign Priest:
Level 8: You gain the Act Through Faith Utility Power
Act Through Faith          Sovereign Priest Utility 8
Sometimes, just praying for a desired outcome is enough.
Encounter * Kingdom Building
Standard Action

Effect: You may pursue, support or aid another a policy. Roll Religion for your check, but you may treat it as any counting as any skill of your choice (this affects aiding another, policy advantages, and limited uses of the religion skill on some policies).

Druidic Initiate:
Level 8: You gain the Where the Wild Thing Are Utility Power
Where the Wild Things Are          Druidic Initiate Utility 8
You have useful contacts throughout the world that can help your friends in need.
Encounter * Kingdom Building
Minor Action
Any Unit you send on a mission this round may reroll one Observation or Survival check, with a +2 power bonus.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

More Rituals

Note: Sorry for my holiday disappearance.  The beginning and the end of semesters is a super-busy time for me, and I haven't had much time to blog.  I hope to be back on a regular schedule soon.

But as for rituals: The more I think about this skill-based ritual system, the more I like it.

I wonder if, while giving rituals a level is still useful, seeing as we should have guidelines concerning at what level they should have these abilities and what the DC for checks should be, divorcing a PC's level from their ability to USE a ritual isn't a good idea.

This makes rituals another great type of treasure.  Using the treasure guidelines of giving out items of up to 4 levels above the PCs can give casters a chance to try a rituals that may be a little too tough for them, but not impossible, and very valuable.  Also, while it would be easy to allow PCs to freely purchase rituals of their level or lower, you could pick and choose appropriate rituals you might want your PCs to have access to for plot reasons.  In a very difficult and potentially deadly campaign, slipping the ritualist a raise dead ritual at level 4 might be useful, and while actually raising the dead could be tough for a little while, it would eventually become pretty much automatic.

Now for an Epic Tier Arcane Ritual!

True Portal
Level: 28
Type: Arcane (Travel)
Initial Component Cost: 5,000 gp (see text)
Aid Another DC: 24
Failure Cost: 5,000 gp (see text)
Market Price: 425,000 gp
Duration: Special
This ritual works the same as Linked Portal, except as noted here.
Check 1: Gather Arcane Energies (Arcana DC 40)
Check 2-4:  You are not limited to teleporting to places you've seen or that have permanent teleportation circles.  However, when performing this ritual, you must describe your intended destination clearly and hold that description in your mind.  "Lord Sommes's Audience Chamber" is sufficient, as is "the nearest temple of Kol Korran."  Your description must use only place names and other static references; you can't say, "wherever Prince Oargev is."  All participants in casting this ritual must seek the same location or the ritual automatically fails. (Nature or History DC 30)
Check 5:  You open the portal at the pictured location.  If the destination is blocked by a warding ritual, the portal opens at a point along the ward's boundary.  You can see through the portal before you enter, and you don't have to step through if you don't want to. (Arcana DC 30)
     You can use an existing teleportation circle as the origin point of this ritual, making minor temporary modifications as part of the ritual.  Using a teleportation circle reduces the ritual's initial component cost and failure cost to 100 gp and grants a +5 bonus to your Arcana checks.

I find myself, when designing these rituals, coming up with a pattern of:

  • First Check: Gather appropriate Energy
  • Middle Checks: Craft the spell
  • Final Check: Execute the spell.

I am considering making this a formal part of the ritual, possibly even requiring the First and Final checks to be made by a caster with the appropriate ritual caster feat, and the middle checks to be made by anyone participating...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kingdom Building Part 6: Prince Oargev and the Duke of Hazards

This is the write-up I gave my PCs for the mission detailed in the last Kingdom Building post.  By "gave them" I mean they watched me write, real-time, in Google docs, waiting to see what happened next:

How it happened:
Knowing that no one on the council would be particularly excited about the prospect of the Crown Prince leading just over a hundred troops into Karrnath to find and rescue Duke Korlan, Oargev tries to mask his leaving.  He has the members of the Prince’s shield spread word around Metrol and all the way to the northern border that the Prince is embarking on yet another mercy mission to war-torn villages.  Intrigue Roll=18! Anyone who is paying attention to the Prince and his movements assume his northern trip is another mercy mission.
As the the Prince and his retinue camp in the north, they join up with one of the northern army encampments.  The plan is to sneak across the river under the cover of darkness and be deep into Karrnathi territory before anyone notices they’d gone.  Roll=13!  The crew sneaks across the river and moves deep into Karrnath.  They find a copse of trees to set up camp for the evening.
The plan is for the Order of the Prince’s Shield to travel into nearby villages and try to find out where the Duke might be held while the Warforged and Oargev hide in the woods, keeping a perimeter to make sure no one who sees them makes it out alive.  Intrigue=30 and Combat=20.  The order is barely gone one day before they return with very solid information that the Duke is being kept in the dungeons beneath the Fortress of Atur.  The one patrol that comes across your hidden camp doesn’t make it out alive.
The rescue mission moves quietly across Karrnath, through the Karrnwood to get to Atur.  Roll=19.  They make it through silently and make camp again just southeast of Atur under the cover of the mountains and trees.
The Order of the Prince’s shield sneaks into the town surrounding Atur and hits the bars, drinking with the soldiers from the castle, learning what they can about it’s design and defenses.   Roll=13!  They find the soldiers tight lipped, and return to camp, determined to take another approach.  Blade sends some of his best scouts to observe the castle over the next 24 hours, hoping they can find some weakness in their defenses that can be exploited.  Roll=11!  As far as they can tell, the fortress is impregnable.  Amidst all of the waiting, Prince Oargev and Blade discuss amongst themselves old war accounts of Atur, and try to decide on an appropriate plan of action.   Roll=17  Blade recalls a story he once heard about an Aundarian master spy who broke OUT of Atur.  Oargev and blade piece together that story with the small pieces of information the Order and the Warforged are able to deliver and come up with a plan.
The plan is a concerted assault on a hidden sally-gate they remembered from the story that will take them into the dungeon.  There they will kill the guards, grab the duke, and make their way quickly back south to Cyre.  They make the attack!  Roll=15  The fighting is brutal, and in the first assault, many members of the Order of the Prince’s shield are badly wounded, but the warforged press on, making their way into the dungeons.  The dungeon guards, totally surprised, still manage to put up a fight.  Roll=19!  They find the Duke, break him out of prison, and flee the castle back through the way they came, disappearing into the dark woods, taking their fallen companions with them.
They move quickly, hoping to beat any border reinforcements that might be summoned, staying ahead of any pursuit.  As they leave the Karrnwood, they are faced with a patrol that heard them coming.  Roll=19.  The fighting is close, and the patrol manages to contain them, but the Warforged keep fighting! Roll=17, Roll=23, Roll=12.  It looks like the patrol is just biding their time.  It seems that they might be waiting for a larger force to come up and finish the group off.  Roll=8  A much larger patrol arrives, and surrounds the warforged, the Prince, the weak duke, and what is left of the knights.  Roll=9  Things start looking very grim as the army closes around the squad. Roll=9.  The fighting becomes more and more desperate.  Roll=13  The assault from the Karrnath army breaks the circle of warforged.  Prince Oargev is knocked unconscious.

The next the Prince knows, he wakes up in a tent, with Tact and Blade standing over him.  When he asks what happened, he is told by Blade, “In the confusion, Tact and I were able to grab you and slip away from the fighting.  Only a handful of your warforged made it away with us.  We were unable to rescue any of your knights or the Duke.  I apologize for our failure.  We are back in Cyre.”

Your Mechanical Options:
  • You can redo Order of the Prince’s shield to recruit a new crew of Prince’s Shield.
  • You can also do a Policy of “Purchase and Train Warforged Unit from Cannith” to put together a new warforged unit.  
  • The warforged unit you had has now turned into a Hero Unit (level 4) called “Prince Oargev’s Warforged Bodyguards.”  This is Blade, Tact, and 8 other warforged.

Mission debriefing: Talking to the warforged, they tell you that, once it was clear they had lost the battle, Blade commanded most of the surviving warforged to hold the line while they got the Prince to safety.  They also tried to bring out the Duke, but the warforged carrying him was struck down.  You get the sense that Blade is deeply saddened by the loss of the warforged, but not saying anything.  He does ask you if you plan on rebuilding the unit, commissioning more warforged from the Cannith forges.  He mentions he would be more than happy to train new recruits.