Monday, October 31, 2011

Encounters: The Spawning Mass

After escaping Shadix and slipping from the Faedark into Khyber, the PCs came across a city called Klaatu inhabited by aberrant, freakish Dolgaunts, Dolgrimm, Dolgarr, and their enslaved, mutant goblins.
These Guys

Here's what was cool:
I got the basic idea from a monster that was already in the Monster Builder, but I tweaked it just a little bit, as usual.  I described the monster as a giant sac of amniotic fluid filled with clearly moving THINGS, all trying to claw their way out, hands, feet, and faces clearly pushing hard against the lining.  When it spawns, it convulses, and a full-grown goblin mutant claws its way out.

It freaked the PCs out when they discovered that it could move.  It worked exactly as I'd hoped, using nearly every single one of its powers and getting to munch on a PC for a while.

It had support and it's support was cool:
2 of these guys.  Maddening Whispers was an awesome way to hurt the PCs and throw them into the Spawning Mass.  That said, as an at-will targeting Will, it was really hurting my PCs.  I decided that the two Circles of Power on the floor, next to the portal they were trying to open, actually activated these guy's ability to use maddening whispers, and that the PCs, if they were to stand in these circles, could use this power too.  If any of the PCs actually tried to use this power, I would have also given them all sorts of nightmares and plot related to having their minds touched by Elder Evils they aught not have communed with.  Istav nearly did, but it never seemed advantageous to do so.

In addition, I decided that the circles of power would be blood-activated healing circles, so that whenever a creature adjacent to the circle takes damage, any creature within the circle gains 5 temporary hit points.  The PCs definitely took as much advantage of this feature as the monsters did.

There were also other monsters in this fight.  They were mostly fodder.  

I described the Mutants as goblins with semi-transparent skin that was practically gelatinous that they could easily scrape piece off and throw it at their enemies.  Also, to use reintegrate, they would scrape some of their flesh off, and then eat it.  Finally, their bones had grown through the tips of their fingers, and then were sharpened into points.  The PCs had encountered them before this.  The Goblin Slaves were just normal goblins, enslaved and waiting to be fed to the Spawning Mass so they could come out as something...better.

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Getting Crafty Part 1: Mundane Weapons

Over on my friend Harbinger of Doom's blog,  he's been fiddling with a satisfying 4ed crafting system.  I like many of his ideas, and am currently trying to wed my love of the core skill challenge mechanic to crafting.

My idea: making a plain old every day item is pretty easy.  Making it cool in some way, even in a non-magical way, is harder.  Screwing up while making a weapon doesn't instantly ruin it, but it can make the weapon a bit unreliable.  These rules are rough and incomplete, but I think the idea behind them is pretty solid.  I will certainly be using Harbinger of Doom's ideas for materials of extraordinary (and crappy) quality, and these rules would best be used in a game using the inherent bonus rules from DMG2 (and in a setting where magic items are pretty rare or at least not readily available in a shop).

Crafting Rules (Normal Items): You can derive the base DC of making a weapon by first looking at its Group.  If a weapon falls into more than one Group, use whichever DC set is highest.
  • Maces, Slings, and Staffs are all level 1 items (DC 8/12/19)
  • Axes, Bows, Hammers, Spears, and Unarmed Weapons are all level 2 items (DC 9/13/20)
  • Crossbows, Heavy Blades, Light Blades, and Polearms are all level 3 items (DC 9/13/21)
Then you look at which Category the weapon falls into.
  • Simple Weapons use Easy DCs.
  • Military Weapons use Moderate DCs.
  • Superior Weapons use Hard DCs.
I keep talking about checks and DCs.  What skill am I rolling to make all of these items, you might ask.  That also depends on weapon type.
  • Axes, Hammers, Heavy Blades, Light Blades, Maces, Polearms, Spears, and Unarmed Weapons use Dungeoneering (knowledge of metals)
  • Bows, Slings, and Staffs use Nature (knowledge of woods and leather)
  • Crossbows use Thievery (knowledge of mechanisms)
In order to complete a basic weapon, you must complete a Complexity 1 "crafting challenge" that follows the basic rules of a skill challenge.  The DC is set by the type of item you are making.  Unlike a normal skill challenge, where you creatively figure out what you are doing and which skill best fits your actions, you simply keep rolling the associated skill check (by yourself or with a friend) until you succeed 4 times.  On each check, you  apply a modifier for the quality of item you are using (basic quality is usually a +/- 0).  Each failure introduces a Flaw (more on these later) into your weapon.  Fail 3 times and the weapon comes out so messed up it is unusable.  You lose some portion of the materials and must start over.

Flaws and Features
Flaws and Features are Item Daily powers.  Features are activated by the player.  Flaws are activated, when the appropriate trigger occurs, by the DM.

I haven't worked these all out yet, but the idea, similar to Harbinger of Doom's post, is that each weapon group has a lesser and a greater flaw associated with it.  If you fail once, your weapon gets a lesser flaw.  If you fail twice, your weapon either gets a second lesser flaw (if your weapon is of multiple groups or has a feature) or your first lesser flaw becomes a greater flaw.

Example 1: A Quarterstaff.
     Hoborne, the level 1 Shifter Druid (Nature +11) has been beaten up by thieves, robbed, and left for dead.  He wakes up after sleeping off his wounds and decides he needs a quarterstaff for protection.  Luckily he is in the woods.  He doesn't have very good materials on hand, but he can get an oak tree limb, a sharpened rock, some kind of appropriate sap and some basic wood charcoal to make his staff, but all are sub-par materials, resulting in a -2 for each check he'll be making.  A simple staff is a DC 8 project, so even with a -2 penalty, he will never fail.  Hoborne can make his quarterstaff with no problems, not even having to roll a single check.
Example 2: A Scimitar.
     However, if he decided to try and make himself a scimitar, it would be a different matter.  Unfortunately, he is NOT trained in Dungeoneering, so he only has a +4 Dungeoneering check.  Even more unfortunately, he will be working with objects wholly unsuited to scimitar making: Stone blade (-2 check), Stone hammer (-4 check), plain old stream water (+0 check), and a camp fire rather than a forge (-4 check).  To make matters worse, the DC for a Scimitar (Military Heavy Blade) is DC 13.  To make a functional Scimitar, Hobbes would have to roll an 8, a 10, and two 12s before failing 3 times.  Let's say Hoborne fails twice before succeeding.  He'd have a functional Scimitar, but it would have a major DM-controlled Flaw:

Notched Blade Item Flaw
The imperfections in your blade leave it open to being easily notched.
Immediate Reaction
Trigger: You roll a 1 on an attack while using this weapon
Effect: You deal -2 damage with all weapon attacks that use this weapon until you take a short rest.

Part two will explore what the non-magical types can do to make their weapons awesome without having resort to magic.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Archetypes Part 8: Sovereign Priest and Druidic Initiate

Archetype: Sovereign Priest
Race: Human, Halfling, Half-Elf, Elf, Changeling, Gnome, Dwarf, Half-Orc, Shifter 
Class: Any Divine
Religion: Sovereign Host (all or any specific)
Hook: You serve the predominant religion of Cyre, the Sovereign Host.  You are either a priest of the entire pantheon or of a single deity, and you have been assigned to Prince Oargev to provide religious guidance.

Archetype: Druidic Initiate
Race: Human, Half-Orc, Shifter, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, Changeling 
Class: Any Primal
Religion: Wardens of the Wood, Gatekeepers, Greensingers (common), Ashbound, Children of Winter (less common).
Hook: You are an initiate in one of the druidic sects of Khorvaire.  You have befriended the Cyran crown and work as an adviser on matters of nature and sealed-away ancient evils.

Commentary:   I never got around to benefits for these two.  They were both positions I could easily see at Court, and provide the outlet to a very specific type of character that people might want to play.  They also both provide some great hooks for plot, tying the group to a specific world-wide organization.
     My thoughts for benefits for the Sovereign Priest were to provide either the military training or superior education benefits found in other Archetypes and then to also provide a specific benefit for followers of specific gods or for full-pantheon priests.  My thoughts for benefits for the Druidic Initiate were to let them pick either Well-Traveled or some other new benefit I'd create that is based around being raised in the wilderness.  I would then also have a specific benefit for each Druidic Sect.  I might go back an add some later if I find any inspiration.  Do any of you have inspiration for me?
    As far as why I included these, I was thinking a lot about Mists of Avalon and, to a lesser extent, The Warlord Chronicles.  I wanted a PC to be able to play Prince Oargev's Merlin (or Galahad).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Encounters: Shadix the Gremlin

     On their way out of Thelanis, the Feywild, I wanted there to be a series of interesting "gatekeepers" that the PCs have to deal with.  I wanted a darker fae creature to be the guardian of their passage into the Faedark underground caverns. Browsing through the Monster Builder, I saw that the Gremlin seemed like a likely candidate.  I updated him, adjusting his numbers, added a magic item from one of my PC's wish lists, and started looking for other monsters to round out the encounter.

     Nothing fit.

Looking over his stats, considering what could play well with his abilities, I kept coming back to Sabotaging Presence, Befuddling Burst, and Slip Up.

     Sabotaging Presence convinced me that, somehow, PCs needed to be forced to make skill checks.  What's more, it made me think of TRAPS.  That's when my initial idea came to fruition: a Gremlin mad-scientist who has rigged his lair with traps, running around a higher level catwalk shooting spells down on the PCs.  I added a Pit Trap (which actually gave me 4 squares of pit), a bunch of squares from a Spear Gauntlet (in key squares the PCs will want to use to get up to Shadix), and a couple of squares that trigger a Magical Crossbow Turret.  Of course, Shadix would be close enough, if high up and out of reach, to make it harder for PCs to disable the traps, climb or jump up to the catwalk, or do anything else terribly skillful.

Of course, I still had some XP budget to spend.  I knew I needed to create a monster that would take advantage of his Befuddling Burst and Slip Up powers.  In short, I needed something terrifying that would prey on the prone.  After not finding anything terribly interesting in the monster builder, I started thinking of an entertaining YA novel I had listened to on audio-book called The Edge Chronicles 1: Beyond the Deep Woods by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell that had a terrifying creature described in it called a Wig-Wig:
     Wig-wigs are an unholy cross between Tribbles and Piranha.  They are cute little puff-balls that swarm around the forest, consuming some of the most nasty and fierce predators around.  They are at the top of the food chain, and the only defense is to outrun them or hide in a tree because they can't climb.  They are little, they are cute, and they are vicious.  I thought an adaptation of Wig-Wigs would be a suitable minion for Shadix, the insane Gremlin Scientist.  I called them Shadix's Fuzzies:
The Fuzzies interact with this scenario in lots of entertaining ways.  First of all, they can appear as a mass of swarming puff-balls that get underfoot, and can slide you in different directions.  This means they can move the PCs into trapped squares. Secondly, they are completely harmless unless a PC goes prone from one of Shadix's spells, falls off the catwalk, or falls down a pit.  However, once that does happen, the fuzzies can encase you, blind you, and drag you down into one of the pits and start eating you.  Even if your friends kill the fuzzies to get them off of you, you will also be hurt by the damage.  Over all, I loved the concept behind theses little buggers.

     The fight itself didn't go off as planned.  The NPC that accidentally got dragged along on the quest, Donata, won the fight.  I hastily gave her stats as a low-level version of the much higher level threat she would become.  There was a great deal of variability in her attack power, as I decided she had not yet learned to control her raw psionic talents.

Donata d'Vadalis Level 2 Controller
Medium natural humanoid (magebred) XP 125
HP 36; Bloodied 18
AC 16; Fortitude 15; Reflex 13; Will 14
Saving Throws +5 vs. fear and charm effects
Speed 7 Initiative +2
Passive Perception 11 Low-Light Vision
Inspire Protective Instincts
Whenever Donata is adjacent to an ally, that ally takes a -1 penalty to all defenses and Donata gains a +1 bonus to all defenses. If Donata is adjacent to more than one ally, she gains a cumulative +1 to all defenses for each ally she is adjacent to.
Standard Actions
(Melee Basic) Unarmed Throw • At-Will
Attack: +5 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d6 + 3 damage and the creature is pushed 3 squares and falls prone.
(Ranged) Wild Talent (charm, psychic) • At-Will
Attack: Ranged 10, +5 vs. Will
Hit: 1d10 + 5 psychic damage.  To determine the secondary effect of this power, roll 1d4 and consult the following table:
4: the enemy is dazed until the end of his next turn.  
3: the enemy makes a basic attack against his nearest ally.
2: the enemy is pulled 3 squares.
1: the enemy takes ongoing 5 psychic damage (save ends).
Skills Arcana +6, Diplomacy +9, Nature +6
Str 20 (+6) Dex 13 (+2) Wis 10 (+1)
Con 12 (+2) Int 10 (+1) Cha 17 (+4)
Alignment unaligned      Languages Common, Elven

I had her mostly controlled by the PCs, unless I decided she'd flee in terror or shrink from the fight, so she walked into the room and shot Shadix with her mind. She hit and rolled a 2, pulling Shadix from his catwalk to the ground, prone...where he was quickly killed by the PCs and devoured by his fuzzies.

The fight didn't go as I'd hoped, but it was memorable, fun, and creepy in a zany sort of way. I'd totally use the Fuzzies and Shadix in another campaign.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Silent but Deadly: The Essentials Assassin

Problems with the Essentials Assassin:
It is not made immediately clear (at least, it wasn't to me or the player who chose the assassin, using just the E-tools web character builder and Compendium to create the character, not the book the e-assassin appears in, Heroes of Shadow) that the Essentials Assassin melee-build should have as high a strength as possible if you want to have any chance at successfully using their very cool garrote at-will power.  You can grab an enemy and start choking them out, but they will almost certainly defeat your Fortitude defense with Athletics checks and escape.

Some of my players and I brainstormed a couple of fixes:

Fix 1: A Feat.  This is inspired by the Fighter Feat for grapple-fighters that makes creatures you grab always oppose your Fortitude Defense when trying to escape.

Unshakable Garrote  
Prerequisite: Assassin, Proficiency with Garrote
Benefit:  Creatures you have grabbed with your garrote who are trying to escape always oppose your reflex defense.

This makes you spend a feat for one of your class powers to work the way you want it to, which isn't my favorite thing, but it certainly follows existing design and takes up a less valuable resource (a single feat) than having to max out your strength as your secondary stat.

Fix 2: Skill Challenges.  This idea, combined with Skill Challenges as they are presented in the Rules Compendium, set me on the path of extending the skill challenge system beyond its intended use and creating entire skill-challenge based mini-games.

Quite simply, this fix involves creating a standing skill challenge for garroting enemies.  It would be a complexity 1 skill challenge with a level (and thus DCs) tied to the level of the monster being assassinated.  As complexity 1, it would involve 4 successful moderate DC checks, and not fail until you've failed 3 checks.  Basically, you would always roll a Stealth check (or MAYBE in certain situations, a Bluff check) to approach your target, and the other three checks would be situational:
  • Insight to wait until the guard looks distracted 
  • Bluff to throw a stone to the other side of the courtyard to distract the guard
  • Athletics to tightly wrap the cord around his neck
  • Acrobatics to stick with him as he thrashes around
  • Perception to watch the guard's patrol patterns in order to strike when other guards aren't looking.
  • Endurance to never, ever let go.
  • The appropriate monster knowledge check (or a Heal check?) to identify the best way to cut off the air supply of an unusual species.
  • Thievery to lock my garrote around his neck so I don't have to maintain the garrote myself.
Basically, this lets the PC and DM co-narrate sneak-and-kill scenarios, allowing every 4 checks to kill a standard monster.  Since it is a Complexity 1 challenge of a level equal to the monster, it is, by the rules, worth the same XP killing that monster in combat should be worth.  And if the PC fails the challenge?  Then he has to fight the monster and he STILL can, if he manages to be hidden, use the combat rules as written.  Of course, in this case, he may have even more monsters come down on him, but that's why he has allies who will, hopefully, rush in to guard his back.

If the PC wants to sneak up on and kill minions, it's even easier: that would take a single check per minion (on the basis that minions counts as a quarter of an enemy, and 4 successful checks win a Complexity 1 encounter).  3 failures between a group of 4 minions alerts any remaining minions in the group, plus whomever else is close enough to come.

Elites and Solos would be WAY harder to do this to, probably impossible.  Complexity 2 challenges seem too easy to take out an elite.  Complexity 4 challenges seem too difficult to narrate reasonably.  Was Jabba an Elite? A Solo?  How good were Leia's skill checks?

I like this because it follows existing 4ed design, but doesn't use up PC resources beyond investment in skills, which PCs likely to do this sort of thing (assassins and rogues) would be doing anyway.  It also opens this sort of activity up to small squadrons taking out facilities on the fly, combining skill checks to get stealth kills.  It might be fun to run a group of stealth-minded PCs through a castle-invasion, and play the whole thing in skill challenge mode until they fail the small skill challenges, then shift to combat.

In conclusion: If I had another PC who wanted to play an Essentials Assassin, I will likely do both of these things in order to make his or her iconic concept, stealth kills, work.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Archetypes Part 7: Foreign National

This is the archetype for the strange, exotic, or unusual PC.  This gave me the freedom to say that, pretty much anything in 4ed, was available to my PCs.

Archetype: Foreign National
Race: Elf, Halfling, Hobgoblin, Goblin, Bugbear, Kalashtar, Dragonborn, Human, Tiefling, Minotaur, Gnoll, Drow, Eladrin 
Class: Any (see cultural restrictions)
Religion: Spirits of the Past, Deathless Ancestors, Sovereign Host/Dark Six (Dragon variant, Nature variant), Scorpion King, Silver Flame (Demon Waste variant), atheist, Path of Light
Hook: You are from a foreign culture, working with Cyre either independently or with your government's sanction.  You may be a representative of Aerenal, Valenar, the Talenta Plains, Xen'Drick, Argonessen, the Demon Wastes, the Rhuukan Draal, the Feyspires, Droaam, Adar, Q'barra (natives), or Riedra.  Your strange ways bring an interesting point of view to court politics, which has ingratiated you to Prince Oargev.
Benefits: You gain either the Diplomatic Immunity trait or the Well Traveled trait, in addition, you gain an additional trait based on your nation of origin.
Diplomatic Immunity: As an official foreign representative, you are not held to quite the same standards as other citizen in legal proceedings. More can be forgiven, but extremely heinous crimes could potentially cause international incidents or deportation.
Well Traveled: You gain 2 bonus languages. You may keep these languages undetermined until you decide that you should know the language in question. At that point, you may set a specific language. You may not select any secret languages as these two bonus languages.
Aerenal (Elf; Any Non-Psionic Class; Deathless Ancestors): Once per level, you may send word back to Aerenal to ask a question of the Deathless Ancestors. Questions concerning Arcana, History, Religion, and Nature are most likely to get a useful response.
Valenar (Elf; Any Non-Psionic Class; Spirits of the Past): You gain the Mounted Combat feat for free. You begin play with a Valenar Warhorse that levels up with you.
Talenta Plains (Halfling; Any Class; Sovereign Host/Dark Six nature variant): You gain the Mounted Combat feat for free. In addition, you gain a Riding Raptor that levels up with you.
Xen'Drick (Drow; Any Class; Scorpion King): You gain a +2 bonus to saving throws against ongoing Poison damage or any effect inflicted by a Giant that a save can end.
Argonessen (Human or Dragonborn; Any Martial, Primal, or Arcane Class; Sovereign Host/Dark Six Dragon variants): Once per level, you may send word back to the Dragons of the Chamber to ask a question concerning the Draconic Prophecy. Questions concerning Arcana, Dungeoneering, Nature, and current events are most likely to get a useful response.
Demon Wastes (Human or Tiefling; Any Class; Silver Flame demon waste variant): You gain a +2 bonus to saving throws against ongoing Fire damage or any effect inflicted by a Demon that a save can end.
Rhuukan Draal (Hobgoblin, Bugbear, or Goblin; Any Martial or Shadow Class; Atheist): You gain a +2 bonus to saving throws against ongoing psychic damage or any effect inflicted by an Abberation that a save can end.
The Feyspires (Eladrin; Any Non-Psionic Class; Spirits of the Past): Once per level, you may commune with one of the Spirits of the Past and ask him a question. Questions concerning History, Religion, warfare, or heroics are most likely to get a useful response.
Droaam (Minotaur, Gnoll; Any Military, Shadow, or Primal class; Sovereign Host/Dark Six Nature variant): You may specify a fairy tale told about you in civilized lands. Every time you reach a new settlement, roll an Intimidate check. On a success, the people of the town will either be terrified of you or beleive that you couldn't possibly exist.
Adar (Human or Kalashtar; Any Psionic or Divine class; The Path of Light): You gain a +2 bonus to saving throws against ongoing Necrotic damage or any effect inflicted by a Fey creature that a save can end..
Q'barra Natives (Dragonborn; Any Class; Sovereign Host/Dark Six Dragon variants):
Riedra (Human; Any Military or Psionic class; Atheist): Once per level, you may send word back to the Inspired to ask them a question. Questions concerning Arcana, History, and Current Events are most likely to get a useful response.

Commentary:   Part of the intention of this Archetype was to be for players new to Eberron.  There's a lot of politics and intrigue that go into understanding the setting of the Five Nations.  However, if I'm playing a foreign national, I am not going to be expected to know and understand all of that at first.  My customs and ways can be strange.  Plus, it's easier to say to a new player, "Picture a nation of Samurai-Viking Elven mercenaries who just decided that a huge chunk of this country belonged to them. Go." or "Mongolian/Native American nomadic halflings that ride dinosaurs instead of horses. Go." or even, "Psionic Tibetian rebels holding out against Utopian China, because they achieved Utopia through MIND CONTROL."  All of that creates a useful shorthand for a new player that will help them with characterization and personality, but not rely on tons of details they will be expected to bring forth at every turn during play.
     I also thought this background would do well for my players who tend towards randomness and ignoring in-game social mores.  Perhaps we could write much of their crazy off to being from foreign cultures?  That was my hope.
     I only included two of these cards in my deck because I didn't want the game to be Oargev and his team of freaks.  That said, I thought it would be cool to have the Cyran equivalent of Thoros of Myr or Xalabar Xho in the game, should a PC decide that'd be cool.
     I decided against including representatives of the other 5 Nations or key "civilized" nations of Khorvaire such as the Lhaazar Principalities, Eldeen Reaches, Shadow Marches, Mror Holds, or Zilargo.  I did this because I wanted to preserve certain groups as enemies to challenge the PCs with, or at least as stolid allies of the other nations.   
     When I tried to get this game going on a PBP, I had a foreign national PC: a Human Sorcerer (Dragon) from Argonessen sent to advise the young prince because recent interpretations of the draconic prophecy indicated that he was DEFINITELY important and needed to be guided by the Chamber.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Encounters: Karrnathi Pretenders

The first combat encounter I'd planned was for the PCs to engage with mercenaries paid off by the Ashbound druids to harry Cyre's coast in order to find a secret House Vadallis installation, and hopefully have the whole thing blamed on Karrnath.  In order to make this work, the Ashbound have created Animated Plant creatures from the Boneash tree of the Eldeen Reaches, a highly flammable wood that resembles human bone to the untrained eye.

When creating monsters, I use the old off-line Monster Builder from WotC, MM3 defense and damage expressions (slightly modified, but not by much), and then I give monsters 4/5 of their expected Hit Points, in order to keep fights moving quickly.

The Cool Thing About This Fight:

The Boneash Skeleton Warriors are built off of the basic, level 1 Skeleton minions.  I changed their type to Plant and initially gave them a vulnerability to Fire, which I quickly realized was stupid, seeing as any amount of damage on a hit kills a minion.  I wanted to represent that they were REALLY flammable, so I decided to go a slightly different route with their vulnerability: They are so vulnerable to fire that if someone close to them takes fire damage, it ends the "skeleton."
     The other fun thing I did with them, that made the fight memorable, was the Bone Dry trait.  Having them burst into magical flame when they died made for a pretty tense fight in which spreading flames caused some severe battlefield damage-zone nightmares for both monsters and PCs. Rather than roll a D8 for EACH square of fire, I rolled a single D8 each round and expanded all fire squares in the appropriate direction.  I decided, on the fly, that certain forms of damage would prevent them from bursting into flames-Cold, Necrotic, Psychic, Poison, and Thunder.  Untyped, Lightning, Radiant, and Fire damage still caused a blaze.

Other stuff I considered for the fight:
I couldn't find anything in the rules indicating what to do when monsters were mounted, but I really wanted a mounted knight for this combat.

The options I considered:
  1. Rebuild them both as a single level 3 elite monster with a shared pool of HP, attacks, and defenses.  This isn't, as far as I can tell, done anywhere else in the rules, but it should, for all intents and purposes, work.  It doesn't handle the PCs doing things like killing just the horse, pulling the Knight from the horse, or doing other cool stunts like that.  This is why, ultimately, I disregarded this idea.
  2. Make them follow PC mounted combat rules, and assume the Knight has the Mounted Combat feat.  This uses established rules, which I like, but since it loses the actions of one monster, the XP becomes very inflated relative to the actual challenge.  While it nicely deals with the issues from my initial idea, figuring out the actual challenge to XP ratio proved more work than I wanted to be be bothered with, and the fact remains, that Monsters and PCs are different, and this is a good thing as far as I am concerned.  Thus, this solution was scrapped.
  3. Count each monster completely separately.  The horse loses his move action, the Knight gains the horse's speed and the Mount benefit.  Otherwise, they both get their full set of actions, defenses, and hit points.  This isn't explicitly in the rules anywhere, as far as I can tell.  It does have some pretty even trade-offs, and pretty evenly maintains the challenge ratio, and it keeps standard actions for both monsters in tact, making the monsters a solid threat.  This is what I went with, and it worked nicely.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Never Split the Party

So, after my first session, my second session had to be cancelled, leaving us with some dead momentum.  When it became clear that session 3 was going to be missing another PC (Oargev!) I knew I needed to do something to keep momentum going.  I decided to go ahead and run a game on our normal night and then turn around and run another game on Saturday.

Night one, I had Marten and Istav's players.  I decided it might be fun to take advantage of the fact that Marten is built to be a ninja (heck, at this point he was an Essential's Assassin), so I made a pre-gen PC for Istav's player to play for a 1-shot partner to Marten.  The gist of the story was that a local Cult of Mabar found out the Prince was in the area and was doing a ritual to empower themselves to capture the prince, sacrifice him, and usher in eternal night on Cyre, according to some prophecy they had found.

In Session two, I had Oargev and Istav continuing the story while Marten was off-camera, finishing up taking out the evil cult.  They were accompanied by the lord they were staying with, and fought against the Not-Karrnathi for the first time.

The game with Marten vs. the Cult was tough.  The PC I provided was another striker (Eladrin Fey-Pact Warlock), and my idea was for quick-strike kills and lots of stealth.  Unfortunately, the E-Assassin, which looked awesome, with cool sneak-up-and-kill powers, sucked.  I had to bend the rules in lots of the fights in order to help out the PCs and keep them from dying outright.  I think they enjoyed the session, and the prophecy they got will certainly be interesting to their characters later, even if it's already interesting to their players.

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 [text illegible and stained]:
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 [test illegible and stained]
Shall rise again.  Take heart and heed my warning!

[signature of author impossible to make out]

Let's see, that last bit is clearly a couplet.  What rhymes with warning...maybe...Mourning?

And yes, I know my Iambic Pentameter is off--but the general rhythm of 5 stressed syllables is maintained.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Archetypes Part 6: Dragonmarked Scion

The dragonmarks, in 3.5, served to make most of the core PHB races interesting again.  The Dragonmarked houses are a very cool aspect of Eberron, and having a PC be torn between loyalty to his house and supporting a Prince he is dedicated to would be interesting.  Were I PCing in my own game, I would almost certainly play a dragonmarked scion.

Archetype: Dragonmarked Scion
Race: Depends of House: Human, Half-Elf, Halfling, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, or Half-Orc 
Class: Any
Religion: Sovereign Host, Dark Six (most common); Silver Flame, Blood of Vol, Spirits of the Past (less common)
Hook: You are a member of a Dragonmarked house that has been assigned to work with Prince Oargev.  Your family is among the economic elite, exercising great power and influence over certain sectors of the war-time economy.
Benefits: You automatically gain a background benefit related to your house. In addition, you select either Impressive Connections, Well-Traveled, or Superior Education.
Impressive Connections: In any sufficiently large city across Khorvaire, and anywhere in Cyre, you may roll a Streetwise, History, or Insight check to discover if there is someone in town with whome you are connected. The higher your check, the better the connection. The skill you choose to use will determine the sort of help your connection will offer (Streetwise: a merchant connection- benefits to buying and selling in town; History: a family connection- a place to stay, contacts in local society, formal introductions; Insight- Old Friends- a place to stay, contacts in regular society, active help in your affairs in-town.)
Superior Education: Choose 1: You gain +3 in one associated skill, all associated skills as class skills, +1 in three associated skills, or 2 bonus languages. Associated skills: Arcana, Diplomacy, History, Insight, and Religion. Also, you know a handful of gifted scholars and have established connections in one or more educational institutions.
Well Traveled: You gain 2 bonus languages. You may keep these languages undetermined until you decide that you should know the language in question. At that point, you may set a specific language. You may not select any secret languages as these two bonus languages. In addition, there is a decent chance you have an old friend or acquaintance in any new place you travel.
     House Cannith (Human): You can use one additional Magic Item Daily power per day.
     House Deneith (Human): You gain proficiency with all military melee weapons, any one superior weapon, or any one armor or shield (ignoring ability score prerequisites, but not other prerequisites)
     House Ghallanda (Halfling): You know all about the best inns and taverns in Khorvaire.  In any city, within an hour of settling in, you can get a full report on the major news of the city.
     House Jorasco (Halfling): In any city, you can buy any magic item that has a daily power with the healing keyword or any ritual associated with the Heal skill for 75% of the cost.
     House Kundarak (Dwarf): While in any city, you have access to short-term, intrest-free loans from the family coffers.  You may borrow money up to the value of a magic item of your level.  You must pay this money back before you will be allowed to borrow any more.  If you pay back the loan before you gain a level, funds will become immediately available to you for another loan.  For every level you gain before paying back the loan, you must level up an equal number of times before you will be able to take out a maximum loan again.  You can, however, get lesser loans equal to a magic item of your level-half the number of levels you must gain before being eligible for the full amount, rounding down.
     House Lyrandar (Half-Elf): You can obtain sea (or eventually air) transportation at 75% of cost.  Also, in any port, you can get at least one piece of international news.
     House Medani (Half-Elf):  You can purchase items that grant a bonus to Insight or Perception checks, and divination rituals at 75% of cost.  In addition, you can always know who the best inquisitive in any given city or town is within 30 minutes of talking to people in the town.
     House Orien (Human): You can obtain over-land or teleportation transportation at 75% of cost.  Also, if you can cast Teleportation Circle, you gain one additional Portal Code, and can gain an additional free portal code at every level ending with a 4 or 8.
     House Phiarlan (Elf): You have access to a spy network.  Each level, you may ask a question of your network.  The next time you level up, at some point during that level, you will get an answer.  It will be accurate, though it may be misleading.
     House Sivis (Gnome): Once per level, you can get a message to anyone, anywhere, for free.  You must be in a city in order to send this message.
     House Tharashk (Human or Half-Orc): Your house has an agreement with magic item produces to get deep discounts on enchanted dragon-shard items.  In any city, you can buy dragon-shard items at 75% of cost.  Also, in any city, you can get reasonably accurate directions to any one person's home or business 10 minutes of asking.
     House Thuranni (Elf):  You have access to a spy network.  Each level, you may ask a question of your network.  The next time you level up, at some point during that level, you will get an answer.  It will be accurate, though it may be misleading.
     House Vadalis (Human): You gain the Mounted Combat feat for free.  You can buy animals for 75% of cost.

Commentary:  I decided that, if someone wanted to play a member of a dragonmarked house, they were probably going to be going for the feats and possibly even the paragon path related to the house.  Those feats certainly tend to push characters certain directions, so I figured that should be the only inducement to certain classes I needed.  Even though racial restrictions were removed for dragonmarks in 4ed, I am certainly keeping them as is.  If you are a Dragonmarked Scion archetype, you will be playing a pretty representative member of your house to a large degree, but how you interpret your house is left pretty wide open.
     Coming up with individual benefits according to house was tough, but kind of fun.  I didn't want to retread the bonuses they get from dragonmark feats, but I wanted to represent the significant (largely economic) benefits to being from a dragonmarked house.
     We had one player toy with this archetype before finally deciding on playing a Cyran Nobel.  I breifly considered running a 4th DMPC with this archetype rather than Tact, but decided that I didn't want to bother having to run a character in addition to DMing.  I will certainly flash the shiny dragonmarked houses in front of any new PCs we happen to pick up.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The First Session or Why I Love my PCs

So, I think I had a pretty solid outline for the first adventure of Prince Oargev and his faithful companions, almost a year before I even knew who the Prince and his companions would be.  I even broke-down a rough estimate of what we would likely get done session-by-session. As if.

My theory on Eberron adventures:  If at least 3-4 organizations, factions, or nations are not at work in an Eberron adventure, it is a failure.  I like complex plots, misdirection, and politics in Eberron.  That's what I was going for.

A Brief summary of Prince Oargev and the Ashbound Conspiracy
     On Prince Oargev's 18th birthday he, his cousin Istav, recently returned from graduating Arcanix, and his best friend Marten are brought before the Queen's Council and given a mission.  They are to go to a secret House Vadalis installation called Clifftop and see what House Vadalis has been working on and is offering to Cyre's war effort.  To cove rtheir trip there, they will be visiting three different Cyran lord's estates and staying with them.  The forebears of each of these houses offered resistance to Queen Dannel early in her rule, and she would like for her son to have a little less problem with the local nobility when he inevitable takes the throne.  After the meeting, Marten is taken aside by his father and told that he suspects that House Vadalis is working on something at Clifftop that they are keeping a secret even from Cyre.  He wants to know what it is.
     The Prince, Istav, Marten, and the Prince's Own Warforged Unit, led by a warforged called Blade, set off on their trip.  They meet with each of the lords in turn, arranging a marriage between one lord and the widow of another and setting the groundwork for revolutionizing the eastern border defenses.  Marten goes on a side-quest (more later.)  They find out that Karrnathi Raiders have been crossing the river and raiding the villages, and even kill some.  When searching the bodies, they determine that the skeletons fighting with the Karrnathi soldiers are actually animate constructs made of boneash wood, found only in Thelanis or the Eldeen Reaches.  The Karrnathi uniforms are of a very old style.  These raiders are not what they seem to be...
     The Prince and crew send the warforged off to mask their true destination and they head to the Clifftop installation.  When they get there, they find some of the raiders attacking the secret entrance, as if they were looking for the entrance.  They manage to drive off the raiders and head down into Clifftop.  Inside they find a number of interesting Magebred Dinosaurs and Lizards intended for war.  They also realize that the head of the installation's daughter, Donata, is actually a magebred human and that is the secret of Clifftop.  Just as Donata's father is begging the PCs not to reveal his daughter's secret, as he doesn't want her taken from him or killed, the entrance to the installation explodes, caves in, and terrorists, claiming to be of the Ashbound Druidic sect attack the installation.  It seems that, somehow, the terrorists are both outside and inside the installation.  The party fights their way to a possible exit through the water system, but finds that the water tank in the underground farm that feeds the installation (getting sun and water through a permanent 1-way portal to Thelanis) is guarded with the leaders of the Ashbound.  They came in by making the portal 2-way.  They fight and subdue the PCs, accidentally killing Prince Oargev.  Some of the workers and Donata's father make it out of the water pipes before the Ashbound Heirophant reverses the portal, sucking all of them back into Thelanis, the Feywild.  The Prince, his friends, and Donata are sucked in.
     Having destroyed the House Vadalis installation and taken the Prince of Cyre prisoner, the druids consider what to ransom the prince back to his mother for: forcing Cyre to kick the Dragonmarked houses out of their borders? Dismantling the Warforged?  They raise the Prince from the dead while the other in his party try and plan an escape.  After the Prince is raised, the druids decide to move the prisoners to their stronghold in the Eldeen reaches, taking a shortcut through the Feywild.  Along the way, a squadron from Breland's Citadel attack, inadvertently freeing the Prince.  A small group tries to take the Prince captive, but are convinced to let him go.
     The party travels through the Feywild, braving many danger, following a map they took off of a druid, and find their way through a series of underground caves through a portal that leads into Khyber and an underground city crawling with twisted abberations.  They make their way to a portal there which spits them out on a hillside in Karrnath, across the river from Cyre.  There they find the Karrnathi Army formed up, ready to cross the river and invade Cyre.  They fight off one of the advance scouts and this time, they are real Karrnathi.  They steal a copy of their orders, make their way across the river, deliver the orders to the closest lord, who manages to get the army organized in time to stop a full-scale invasion.  The party returns victorious.

My plans called for session 1 to involve the PCs getting their mission and completing the skill challenge that lets them befriend the 3 noble houses between Metrol and Clifftop, including 1 combat with the not-Karrnathi raiders.  Yeah right.  My PCs are awesome.  Session one barely got out of Metrol.  The witty banter of Istav with Marten and Oargev, Marten revealing he's actually a changeling (and Istav's envy at that revelation), the PCs realizing that the Prince's Guard Captain was he who would become the Lord of Blades when Oargev asks what the Ghulra-mark on Blade's forehead looks like and I check the cover of my campaign guide and lament that you can't see it in the picture.  The characters really came to life that first session, and we didn't get to Clifftop until 3 or 4 sessions in to the game.  And that was okay.  I like having PCs that are entertained, even without more than 1 or 2 combats in 4 sessions.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Archetypes Part 5: Warforged Servant

Warforged are one of the most obvious features of Eberron, as a setting.  The complex social standing of Eberron as beings created for a war that is no longer being fought is one of the awesome existential questions implied in the setting, and I wanted to give a PC an opportunity to explore it.  However, to do that, a PC would have to accept the fact that, at least for now, he's property.  Warforged Servant is a good role for someone who doesn't desire very much spotlight and would be tough to play for someone who wants lot of attention.

Archetype: Warforged Servant
Race: Warforged
Class: Any Arcane or Martial
Religion: None
Hook: You have been given to Prince Oargev by House Cannith to serve him in some specific capacity.  You are a fairly typical warforged trained in battle and/or arcane practices.
Benefits: Select Ancient Model, Experimental Model, or Refurbished Model:
     Ancient Model: You are one of the Warforged found and reactivated by House Cannith in the first creation forges.  No one knows who made you, how they did it, or why.  You were found with an ancient item that is tied to your life in some way.  You begin play with a level 1 magic item with an enhancement bonus.  You may spend residuum to further upgrade and enchant this item as if you had the Enchant Magic Item ritual.  If this item is out of your possession for more than 24 hours, it appears back on your person again.
     Experimental Model:  You are a top-of-the line Warforged designed to be able to take advantage of Cannith's newest and least reliable innovations.  You may purchase items from House Cannith that can only be used by Warforged or creatures with the Living Construct type of your level+4, so long as you have the gold to pay for them.
     Refurbished Model: You were put into service years ago, but due to some sort of mistake you were returned to House Cannith .  They partially rebuilt you, wiped your memory, and upgraded you as best they can.  Of course, your wipe wasn't as complete as Cannith might have hoped, but the magics they used to do so leave you more open to rapid reprogramming. You occasionally get echoes of your old life.  You are trained in one additional skill or can speak one bonus language.  In addition, you may retrain 2 feats, trained skills, languages, or powers each time you level up, instead of 1.

Commentary:  I figured the Warforged Servant archetype was a good one for someone who doesn't love the spotlight, doesn't feel a need to engage on a high level in most role-playing encounters, and wants to play the mildly inhuman.  In my mind, this guy could run anywhere from HK-47 from KotOR to Data from Star Trek: TNG, and I'm pretty okay with that.  I limited the classes the Warforged could play, primarily, because, in my mind, the freedom for warforged to pursue their own interests, like casting Primal, Divine, or Shadow magic, would be developments that wouldn't come until after the Last War's end.  That said, Warforged are best suited to Martial classes, so taking away some of their other options isn't really that big of a limit.  They were designed to be Fighters (Though, they can make GREAT Wardens (or Transformers as I like to call them) or Barbarians.  
     The other reason I really wanted to include a Warforged Archetype was that I wanted to, during Heroic Tier, bring in LOTS of campaign-cannon NPCs and tie them to the PCs.  After all, Oargev is a cannon NPC-turned PC, so rooting the players deeply in the world is one of my key goals in the campaign.  What better way to tie a PC to the most Iconic of Eberron villains, than to have him be a forge-brother of the Lord of Blades.
     We thought we would have a 4th PC until about a week before we started the game.  He had shown interest in playing a warforged E-fighter (Slayer) but, being somewhat new to the hobby, wasn't as comfortable doing heavy role-play, making him a great fit for this archetype.  After he had to drop out due to work commitments, I didn't want to overhaul my plans for their first adventure, drop a key plot point or two, and deal with the problems a 3-man 4ed party can bring.  We decided to make a Party Controlled NPC Warforged Slayer named Tact.  He's simple to play, so it doesn't sacrifice much time having one of the players run him in combat in addition to their own PC.  Also, he's mute, so in role-playing situations, I am practically incapable of stealing the scene with a DMPC.  In the very first session (Oargev's 18th birthday), the Prince is given, as a gift, a pair of veteran warforged, the officers of a new type of warforged unit designed and trained to not need a human commander to make command decisions.  Unfortunately, one of them was badly damaged during Thrane's recent Invasion of the Messengers, destroying the speech patterns of one of their commanders, Tact, so he is being given as a bodyguard to the Prince.  The other warforged commander, a warforged who favors a two-bladed sword, is called Blade.  He commands the Prince's Own Warforged, a unit of 100 warforged mages, warriors, and skirmishers, commanded to go where the Prince goes and defend his life.
     The good news, it looks like the player that was unable to play may be able to step back in, so we'll get Tact's voice-box fixed (or maybe give him a Circlet of Command, making him a silent, telepathic warforged!).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Archetypes Part 4: Cyran Patriot

This is the last of the archetypes that is absolutely core to the campaign.  When I say Patriot, I mean commoner who is devoted to the nation.  This was the role for servants, guardsmen, or teachers dedicate dto the prince.

Archetype: Cyran Patriot
Race: Human, Half-Elf, Elf, Changeling, Gnome, Dwarf, Half-Orc, Shifter
Class: Any Martial, Arcane, Divine, or Shadow class.
Religion: Sovereign Host (most common); Dark Six, Silver Flame, Spirits of the Past, Blood of Vol (less common) 
Hook: You are a citizen of Cyre and have distinguished yourself through exemplary training, skill, and/or service.  You have been chosen to serve and advise Crown Prince Oargev, accompanying him on missions of state.
Benefits: You gain Beneath Notice, Beneath Contempt, and one other background benefit of your choice:
     Beneath Notice, Beneath Contempt: Nobility will pay little attention to you.  You aren't worth capturing and you don’t tend to be worth pursuing unless you have made a serious affront to their power.  Your lack of status can frequently be a hindrance, but in many situations, you will be able to turn it to your advantage.
And one of the following:
Prodigious Family: Your family is huge and has spread across Khorvaire. You may ask the DM if any of your family happens to be nearby. If it is appropriate, the DM will allow you to roll a D20 and add your level. There is a chance that a family member will stumble across you or be handily available to help. The better your check, the better the quality of help you will receive from the family member.
Merchant Background: You may buy one magic item of up to your level+3 each level. You must still have the funds to afford this magic item. You may use this connection to arrange an ally to purchase the item instead. Alternatively, you can use your one connection per level to sell a magic item of your level or lower as if it were one level higher, receiving extra money for the sale.
Friends in Low Places: You know a guy. No matter where you are, if it is big enough to be called a town, you know a guy. Once per level, make a Streetwise check to see how well placed the guy you know is. The higher the check, the more aid your connections can grant you.

Commentary:  As far as choices offered, this archetype looks a lot like the Noble.  This is on purpose, as I would like for Cyrans to be Cyrans, wherever you go.  I still hadn't included Primal classes as an option, even though this was the first archetype I was tempted to do so.  I decided not because, ultimately, I decided that, in order to clearly differentiate Cyre from other nations, I wanted them to be the nation that had most broken away from the Druidic traditions, that had most lost touch with the primal world.  Of course, knowing about the impending Mourning helped me make this decision, seeing it as the ultimate break with nature for the entire country.  Also, playing on the classic technology vs. nature theme, House Cannith is based in Cyre, putting it squarely in the camp of (magical) technology.  This is an example of how my choices on these archetypes are trying to paint the world-view I want painted without making the players' characters for them. 
     Coming up with benefits for being a commoner was hard, and I am not super happy with all of the ones I developed.  Prodigious Family was inspired by the Guardians of Order Song of Ice and Fire RPG's benefit for being a Frey.  I honestly still haven't really figured out the DM mechanics, though if I had a player using them, it would not just be DM fiat-I'd develop something.  I am using a rather strict version of the parcel system, so I thought a benefit that messed with that a little bit, letting you save up to buy a normally unattainable magic item (with much difficulty, I realize) or to get a little extra cash seemed like a very real boon.  Friends in Low Places was basically a more limited version of Impressive Connections, but more limited on the type of help granted (though, the DCs of getting any help are lower.)
     This archetype rounded out my party.  I tried to run this campaign as a PbP a year or so before I actually ran it at the tabletop, and that petered out quickly, but one of my PCs was a Changeling who was part of an ancient organization who had always served the Kings of Galifar and ensured smooth transitions of power from King to Heir.  They failed for the first time and the Last War began.  My developing role-player who has started to favor rather ruthless characters showed interest in playing the Prince's "fixer," willing to do that which the Prince was unwilling.  I shared the on-line changeling's idea with him, and he took it and ran.  Now we have Art, who has a number of aliases around the castle and Metrol who ritually reveals who he is and what his purpose is to Oargev on his 18th birthday.  Of course, we start the campaign on that day, which led to some nice RP between Art (usually called Marten) and Oargev.  Art started out as a Changeling Assassin, using the Essentials Assassin from Heroes of Shadow.  After a couple of sessions, he changed over to the Essentials Rogue.  More on that decision later.  While his main cover is that of a disenfranchised lord, I decided that was fine because, ultimately, he has no real standing or family backing him up.  He selected Friends in Low Places to represent the network of informants and allies his father, Queen Dannel's secret bodyguard, has built up and shared.