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 curs├ęd, 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...