The Next Ten Levels

I have a game group that is six players plus me, the DM. Because of schedules and geography, I rarely get all six in a single game. For the last story arc, we agreed that every character had other important things they could be doing, so there wasn’t a need to explain anyone’s absence from a particular session. We would do a recap at the beginning of each session anyway, so people were mostly able to follow along. It worked, though it wasn’t a great solution.

The players are on the verge of paragon tier, and when the current storyline wraps up, the characters will be able to pursue whatever objectives they wish. I want to make sure that there is more continuity from one session to the next, so I came up with an idea that sounds great in my head, which means my players are going to hate it.

First I would place the players into three pairs. Mahelo and Rolen, the sorcerer and the ranger, would be one; they are played by two roommates. Zeelatar and Slammer, the runepriest and the paladin, would be a second; they are played by a husband and wife. Brie and Riot, the warlord and the cleric, would be the third; no relation between the players, but the two characters are closely tied together in backstory and actual events in the campaign.

Within these pairs, the players would have to come up with a single goal that they want their characters to accomplish and that would naturally lead them to work together. The goals could be as simple or elaborate as they like, and they would be free to invent whatever story elements they like. They should be the sort of goals that would reasonably take an entire tier to accomplish.

Then I would mix them up into different pairs. I’m thinking Mahelo-Zeelatar, Slammer-Riot, Rolen-Brie. We would repeat the process, coming up with entirely different goals. At the end, every character will have two goals they want to accomplish in the next ten levels, and two buddies who will help them do it. That way we can always be advancing the story no matter who is or isn’t at the table that day, and nobody will ever miss out on events that would have been pertinent to their character’s objectives.

Like I said, it sounds great in my head.

D&D Next

I’ve been reading a little about the next edition of D&D, the best overview of which I found here.  I need to float some of my own thoughts out on the matter.

First of all, I find that I agree with much of what Wizards has stated are their goals in developing a new edition, with regards to two things in particular.

The Brand

One, there is an effort to preserve what I would call the “shared culture” of Dungeons & Dragons.  Much has changed over the editions, but it remains true that if you grew up on 2nd Edition, for instance, and were suddenly thrown into a 4e encounter, it would still feel like D&D, and the same will have to be true of the next edition for it to have any chance of success.  This is paramount.  This is what D&D is as a brand.  It certainly needs to be the focus of every designer and every playtester.

The Product

Two, I like the talk I hear about “modules” as rule sets that can be layered on the core rules.  This is less about the brand and more about the product.  As a game, D&D is a marriage of Role Playing Game and Tactical War Game.  It certainly isn’t one or the other, it’s both.  Personally, I lean toward the min/max-ed, tactical, rules lawyering style of play, but I certainly don’t expect or even hope for Wizards to cater to me and and that style in the core game.  The goal of the core game should be to create a sort of forum where players like me can team up with the storyteller types (or any other type, there are countless ones) and have fun.  If I want to min-max or be a tactician, there’ll be modules for that.  (I hold out hope for rules so simple they don’t require lawyering).

Those are the fundamentals, and with the info we have gotten from Wizards thus far, I feel pretty positive about a new edition.  There’s just one crucial component I’d like to hear more about.

Delivery

I take it for granted that there will be books, books in electronic format, and online-only content.  But what will be the relative importance of each?  And how will players translate what’s in those source materials into an actual game session?  I for one would like to see a much more robust web-based component.  For a few sessions now I have been running monsters exclusively from the Compendium on Wizards’ website using my laptop, even though I own all of the books that those monsters were published in.  A couple of my players built their characters in the web-based Character Builder without even referring to a PHB, and I still routinely use the old offline version of it for my purposes.  The next edition will be facing the reality that the web is the cheapest and most efficient way to get content to the players, and the game will have to be designed with that in mind.

Great game today!

Fantastic session. Everyone was really pleased with the story telling and challenges. I really enjoyed the half-of-party kill with 2 critical hits during a single area attack in the final battle.

Zeelatar (sp?), Chester’s new Runepriest, was very powerful without breaking the game. He also seems more fun to play because he has something different to do each turn, and fights at close range, so it allows Chester to be more tactical.

Calamity, Mer’s wizard, has some potential. I know she was wanting to change out some powers after this game. We need to look at what her role will be within the party and then within the encounter group. Wizards have a lot of non-combat adventuring-type powers, which I don’t play to with this group. (The rogue being the other class of this sort, which we don’t have, and when we did he was a pure damage dealing backstabber) I know Katie and Chester would like to see more non-combat challenges, and I want to find out if Mer is on board with that. Or maybe she’s chosen the wizard simply to play a more ranged, AOE type class in combat. Or maybe it’s both.

I was a little surprised to hear that Kathleen has started to lose interest in her ranger, Rolen, though I guess it isn’t surprising. She hits often, but doesn’t regularly deal heavy damage, whereas a lot of striker classes get to toss major damage dice. She also said she doesn’t really enjoy using ranged attacks, which the party does often rely on her for.

Two or three more adventures until Paragon, then it’s a whole new ballgame.

An Always-Hit 4th Ed

For a long time I’ve been wanting to find a paper-and-pencil RPG with a combat mechanic that is essentially ‘Attacks rarely miss, damage is a set number rather than a range.  Occasionally attacks do extra damage.’  I thought I would need a new system besides my usual D&D, but with 4th Edition I have found an easy way to create it.

The damage is easy.  Instead of rolling for damage, attacks simply deal whatever the average roll would be, and deal maximum damage on a critical hit.

The change to the attack/defense dynamic would be much more dramatic, but simple to institute.  Right now the game has about a 50% miss chance built in.  Attack rolls are 1d20+ some bonus, and defenses are a static 10+ some bonus.  In an average challenge (an average PC of level-n attacking an average monster of level-n, for instance) those two bonuses are such that a roll of 1-10 will miss, 11-20 will hit, or close to it.  The change I am proposing is to simply remove the 10+ from the defenses.  Your defense is just your defense bonus.

At the basic level, this creates a game where every attack has a 5% miss chance, since a roll of a 1 (critical failure) always misses.  I like how this magnifies the impact of the critical failure:  right now, rolling a 1 isn’t really any worse than any other low number, because a miss is just a miss.  But if you were pretty much guaranteed to hit otherwise, those 1’s would be devastating.

I know this isn’t a game that everyone would want to play, but I think it would improve the current game in two ways:

  1. Shorter Combats.  Time spent in combat encounters would be cut roughly in half.  If it takes me 6 rounds to win a combat when I miss half the time, then it should only take 3 rounds when I hit every time.  Shorter combats means more time for other encounters, so more story development per session, or just more combats with more monsters.
  2. Less Unpredictability.  Attack rolls that miss half the time, and damage rolls that often produce a wide range of results, introduce such unpredictability into the game that it can be difficult to plan appropriately challenging encounters.  Too often the party feels either overwhelmed or underwhelmed by an encounter.  With monsters that nearly always hit and always deal the same damage, and players that do the same, much of the element of chance would be taken out of combat, and would have to be replaced by skill in tactics.

Beyond that, certain game elements would become more significant, while others would be diminished.  I like that encounter powers would be more useful, since they often do nothing on a miss, and aren’t ‘Reliable’.  The fact that daily powers usually deal damage even on a miss is less important, though not entirely worthless.  Obviously, elements that improve attack or defense bonuses will be now be secondary to those that improve damage or hit points.  But the current game is biased in the other direction, since so much more depends on whether or not you hit or get hit, than on what happens when you hit or get hit.

This is essentially just a house rule, and even the most minor house rule will create selective pressure that favors some game elements over others.  And even minor house rules can break the game.  I would like to play test this one to see if it breaks the game.  My hope is that, like I said before, it will simply shift the game from one of chance to one of skill, with the added benefit of shortening encounters.  My biggest concern is that I don’t know if the damage-hit points-healing axis of the game will break down.  Monsters have more hit points than PC’s because the party has access to healing.  Because of this, the house rule could make encounters either boring or impossible.  Even so, I think it’s worth a try

B.E.S.T. Campaign Ever: Cave of the Old Ones

The story of our most recent game begins in Sparta.  Rolen and Opah are there, and the party’s patron, Lacedon comes in with a trio of robed eladrin figures.  He tells them that they are to meet up with the rest of the party at Golnauk Crag but he has a task for them to complete on the way:  these eladrin, he says, are clerics of the Old Ones (who are essentially ancestral spirits that have risen to the level of minor deities), and the Old Ones are no longer responding to their prayers.  They wish simply for an escort to a certain cave which is sacred to them, to find out what has gone wrong.  Lacedon also informs them that Devyn (a sometimes-PC telepath played by me, the DM) has already gone ahead to this cave, and will meet them there.  Finally, he provides them with a Bag of Holding to carry a large magic and evil treasure chest that the party is investigating, since they probably won’t be coming back to Sparta anytime soon.  And so they set out.

Meanwhile, in Golnauk, Zee gets a telepathic message from Devyn describing the location of the cave, which is near a certain waterfall, and telling him to bring the party there.  And so they set out.

Both groups are approaching this waterfall at about the same time, and they spot, and are spotted by, a harpy circling overhead.  Then all of them hear a voice in their heads inviting them to ‘join the dance’ and they begin to see a vision:  at the waterfall, Devyn is dancing with some dark fey creatures (a korred, a spriggan, and a satyr playing the pipes, to be precise), but it becomes clear that she is being compelled to dance against her will; then the harpy comes diving down and knocks Devyn to the ground; finally, an old crone walks up and points a staff at her, and they see Devyn’s look of pain replaced with an empty, mindless stare.  The vision ends, and the party is now at the waterfall.

A battle ensues, from which the harpy escapes unscathed.  The old crone flees into the cave, and the rest of the fey are killed.

ADDED 5/31/11:  The highlight of the battle was Rolen’s duel with a trash-talking satyr, against whom she brought to bear all of her re-rolls (elven accuracy, luck blade, etc.), but she just couldn’t slay the thing.  Heroically, Brie gave up her own action to give Rolen one more chance, and with it the satyr was finally brought down.

The party follows the crone into the cave, where they see the ghostly faces of the Old Ones all around, scowling at them, and numerous corpses are strewn about, as if some ritual slaughter has taken place.  Suddenly, eladrin warriors appear from thin air and attack.  The first set of warriors seem to be made of ice, and when they are hit they immediately shatter (or melt when attacked with Opah’s fire).  A second set show up that are made of flame, and when these are struck they turn to ash.  The party spots the old crone standing at the altar of the cave, manipulating a pair of gemstones; as she does so, more of these elemental eladrin are conjured.  Rolen and Opah, first to enter the cave, engage the crone, and she dies on Rolen’s sword (one of them), and the conjured eladrin vanish.

Afterward, the party, along with the eladrin clerics, speak to the Old Ones.  The group finds out that the leader of these spirits has been compelled to make a pact with a powerful archfey known as Trilleste, and as a result they can no longer answer the prayers of their followers.  Trilleste’s henchmen, the fey creatures that the party just fought, then slaughtered all of the worshipers who came to this holy site.  The Old Ones inform the group that there is a very old elf woman named Loranda who is destined to become a spirit like them when she dies; however, she refuses to pass away because she feels that her life’s purpose has not been fulfilled.  They tell the clerics that if they can bind this woman in a similar pact while she is still alive, then when she dies and joins the Old Ones, she will still be able to answer prayers.  The clerics ask the party to help them find this Loranda, and the party agrees.  As they are discussing how to find her, Slammer hears Hilda say something about Loranda, a ‘dragonslayer’, and ‘the peaks of the Ironroot Mountains’.

While this is happening, Zee acquires the staff carried by the old crone.  He is immediately struck by a vision of a shardmind whose crystals are jet black, locked in battle with a great aberrant beast; the shardmind holds up his staff, and the beast is banished into the Far Realm.  Zee awakens from this reverie, feeling that the shardmind he saw and the location of the battle were eerily familiar; he looks at the staff, and sees that it is the same as the one in the vision, but with one of the shardmind’s own black crystals now set in the top.  Zee then helps the clerics revive Devyn, though she remains in a daze as they set off for the nearest town to continue their quest.

B.E.S.T. Campaign Ever: Westmere

Last game, the party traveled to a new locale known as Westmere, in the foothills of the Ironroot Mountains.  The party consisted of Brie, Slammer and Zee, as well as Gunda from our campaign’s B-Team.  They learned about a hero of long ago named Hilda the Hurler, a dwarf of the Valnir clan, who lived in their ancient stonghold at Westmere, and whose hammer, legend says, struck the killing blow against a powerful dragon of the Shadow Marches.  Since the party is planning do its own dragon-slaying in the Shadow Marches soon, they decided to go to Westmere and investigate.

Before setting out, there had been some talk of dealing with a recurring villain known only as “The Lady” who dwells in the jungle north of the their home base in Sparta.  Since this would be on the way to Westmere, we ran a small side-quest.  The Lady was diverting the energies of the Feygroves in the jungle, which normally allow travel between this world and the realm of Faerie, to instead travel in and out of the plane of dreams.  The party could sever her connection by performing a ritual at one of the Feygroves, but The Lady had put guardians there to deter them: a Choker and a pair of Dryads.  While the others did battle, Zee took to performing the ritual, and was nearly lost in the planescape, but he was finally able to master the energies and he tossed The Lady’s henchmen into Faerie before severing the link.  Then it was on to Westmere.

Up in the foothills they spied two settlements on opposite ridges overlooking a valley.  One was bathed in the sunshine of a warm spring day, with lots of little thatched-roof cottages and kids playing outside; the other was under the shadow of looming clouds, with houses built for defense, not comfort, and nobody walked the streets; beyond the latter village lay the ruins of Westmere.  The party decided to go to the sunny village first.  Brie and Slammer met with some worshipers gathering at the church of Pelor and participated in one of their ceremonies.  Afterwards they talked to an old dwarf woman named Daena who told them more about Hilda and sent them along with a guide to the dark village across the valley, a place known as Golnauk Crag.  There the party talked to one of the village’s elders and expressed their intent to enter the ruins of Westmere and the chamber that was the last known location of Hilda and her hammer.  They were provided with another guide who took them there.

It was a nondescript door, and they were told that they would be locked in and would have to speak the password to be let out.  They entered.  At first it was just a normal hallway, but as they went further things got weird.  First, the surface of the floor seemed to be made of liquid stuff that looked like stone tiles.  At this point, Slammer prayed and received a blessing from Bahamut that protected them from the weirdness.  Soon they began to see tentacles covering the walls like vines, and as they went further the tentacles grew thicker and seemed to be covered in eyes.  Then they heard scuttling sounds and were soon set upon by a swarm of spiders whose legs looked like slender, manicured fingers.  After this came sounds of snuffling and fluttering wings as a host of flying creatures approached, creatures whose bodies were simply human noses attached to leathery wings.  These sniffed around, being particularly attracted to Brie’s scent.  Finally, some of the tentacles on the wall parted to reveal a mouth filled with sharp teeth, oozing with blood.  And it spoke to them in a man’s voice.  He claimed to be a demon lord, said that he desired a god’s blood and some minor magical items, and that he could provide access to Hilda and her hammer.  The party was hesitant to do business with this thing.  He invited them in to a more comfortable chamber, a sort of study, where they could discuss details.

In the study, the demon revealed that he was imprisoned here, and that the magic that detained him also prevented Hilda’s soul from going to the afterlife.  He also said that he had been summoned by Hilda herself in a fit of madness which he believed was a result of her contact with one of the Daelkyr, lords of madness from the Far Realm.  He wanted the god’s blood and magical items for a ritual that would send him back to his home in the Abyss.  The party was willing to perform this ritual for him since it would also allow Hilda’s spirit to rest.  Also, Zee was concocting a plan to alter the ritual in order to instead send the demon lord to a prison world that resembled the Abyss, deep in the underworld of Khyber.  Zee began the ritual, and Brie emptied her own blood (since she is the daughter of Bahamut) into an enchanted chalice, while Slammer prayed to strengthen the power of Bahamut that resided in the blood.  A portal opened up, and all the aspects of the demon lord were drawn into it: the finger-spiders, nose-bats, eye-tentacles, and finally his own silhouetted form, that of a tall, handsome man, stepped through.  Too late, he realized he had been tricked, and tried to come back through before the portal closed.  Also, a pair of mezzodemons emerged from the portal, and the party had to fight them.  Zee was able to position the portal underneath one of them and it was sucked in, and then he finally closed the portal; the group then easily dispatched with the other one.

They heard a wailing sound from behind a door, and when they entered the room they were confronted by Hilda’s ghost as she was preparing to leave this world.  She offered the heroes her warhammer, and was about to depart, though she did not believe she would be welcomed in the halls of her ancestors.  Slammer asked the spirit if she would instead come inhabit the warhammer and join them on their quest, and Hilda, liking this idea, obliged.  The heroes, speaking the password, emerged victorious, hammer held high, and saw that the clouds had lifted and the sun shone on Golnauk Crag once again, and they were treated to a great feast of tempura at the best pub in town.