Saturday, May 29, 2010

LFR: Patronage and Pestilence

5/29/10 - The Game Keep
Module CORM1-7: Cormyr: Patronage and Pestilence (1-4) (Low Difficulty)

Kryla (Matt) - Level 1 Dragonborn Sorcerer (Cosmic)
Blast (Nick) - Level 1 Gnome Warlock (Feytouched)
Thorn - Shifter Warden
Mark - Cleric
Stefanos - Half-Elf Paladin
Ander - Halfling Rogue
Vin - Human Paladin

The scheduled DM had to call out, and it was too late to cancel the session. So Kristi, the LFR organizer, took over. She didn't have time to study the adventure, so she ran it on the fly, and did a very good job of it.

We had a couple of players who had never played 4e before. One of them had to build his character on the spot. I tried to help, but once you're used to the Character Builder, it's very hard to make one manually.

I rolled very badly this session. I swear, I have one encounter spell that I've yet to cast successfully.

The module itself wasn't great IMO; most of us agreed that our motivations just weren't very motivating. Also, the final skill challenge left me with no choice but to attack an innocent horse, which was sad for me.

Rewards: 400 xp & 75 gp

LFR: Darkness Falls Over Moray

5/29/10 - The Game Keep
Module MOON2-1: Moonshae Isles: Darkness Falls Over Moray (4-7) (High Difficulty)

Voranna (Matt) - Level 5 Eladrin Ranger (Archer)
...also an Avenger, an Artificer, and one other character.

This was a short one. We started an hour late (a wreck on the interstate prevented some of the players from making it on time), but still somehow finished an hour early. Because of some cancellations, we only had four people in the party, but we played the High Difficulty version anyway. The first encounter had an ungodly number of enemies, but we had a couple of really good rounds where we wiped out several baddies at once. Voranna even had one of those magic moments, earning her the nickname "Blaster".

Rewards: 980 xp & 150 gp

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Scarred Lands - First Session

Game Date: 5/22/2010

The Party:
Gorn (Jesse) - Half-Orc Tempest Fighter
Paige (Leigha) - Half-Elf Sorcerer
Blast (Nick) - Gnome Warlock
Aria (Matt) - Half-Elf Bard

This was our first session of a new campaign. It takes place in the "Scarred Lands" setting, but we're using D&D 4e rules. It is a world recovering from a relatively recent war between gods and titans. Our adventure began in the little village of Trela, where they were holding the Carnival of Flowers.

Slightly reminiscent of the opening of Chrono Trigger, we got to visit the festival and participate in the activities. Gorn fought in a mock duel, Paige ran in a foot race, Blast rode as a jockey in a horse race, and Aria performed in a bardic competition.

Late in the day, a plot hook came riding into town, in the form an injured man who handed Aria a mysterious artifact before passing out. He pleaded with her to deliver the Amphora to Vesh. However, other parties preferred that we deliver the item to the local ruler, a course of action we did not feel was in our best interests.

We soon found ourselves under attack by kobolds (or this setting's equivalent), and shortly thereafter we fled town on a stolen wagon. During our travel we defeated another band of the kobold creatures that we met on the road, and eventually came to a large chasm.

Unnatural storm clouds threatened to follow our wagon, so we sought shelter in the chasm. We took the wagon around a dangerous path to the bottom of the chasm, where rested a small kobold village. Luckily only a few inhabitants were present, but unluckily one of them was a troll. A few rounds later found our cart smashed, our horses slaughtered, our party's blood painting the ground, the party healer stuck in a river, and dark clouds converging overhead. We might not have made it if not for divine intervention.

As things looked their bleakest, a pair of spine devils - servants of the god Chardun - came to our aid, and we soon finished off the rest of our enemies. Badly needing rest and suddenly finding ourselves in a deserted village, we located a safe spot and ended the session for the day.

XP Rewards: 245+200+288= 733 xp each

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Philosophy of the Healing Surge

The debate should be over by now. At this point, you either like 4e or you don't, and h4ters shouldn't waste their time ranting about it any more. Pretty much everything that's going to be said, has been said. But I still keep coming across threads where people complain about surges and compare 4e to MMOs. So I'd like to respond with a rant of my own.

When 4e was released, one of the biggest complaints from the grognards involved the healing surges. "You can heal yourself freely!" they shouted, without fully researching their claims. "You're health goes back up when you rest! That's too much like a video game!" they whined, condemning the new system without even playing it first.

I think the problem comes with the idea that Hit Points represent life. Here's a quote from the Fourth Edition Player's Handbook (page 293):
"Hit points (hp) measure your ability to stand up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows, and stay on your feet throughout a battle. Hit points represent more than physical endurance. They represent your character’s skill, luck, and resolve—all the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a combat situation."

...but if you really want to simplify it, just think of it as stamina. Remember, in real life, it only takes one hit to kill you. But an experienced warrior spends the entire battle fending off that one lethal blow, relying on his skill to dodge and block oncoming hits. When he finally runs out of hit points, that means he didn't have the energy to block that last hit, or wasn't quick enough to duck that last arrow. The last hit point is the one that nicks the jugular, pierces the heart, or bashes the brain.

I'd even go as far as to say that until the first time you're bloodied (1/2 max hp), nothing's even broken the skin. Until then all your enemy's blows have glanced off your armor, sapping your endurance but not actually harming you. After that the attacks actually begin to hurt, but you're still alert enough to keep your squishy parts protected.

So, once per battle you can spend your Second Wind, regaining a bit of your stamina as you seize a little respite and catch your breath. Between battles, you get a bit of that energy back, as you rest your muscles and bandage your minor cuts and burns. But you can only do that so many times per day before you absolutely have to sleep, which is why there's a limit to healing surges per day. And remember, those of you who think 4e has "free healing", once you run out of surges, even healing potions don't work.

I think it's the best of both worlds. Some people have always wanted a system where you fight worse when injured. After all, if you get hit in the leg, you should be slowed, right? And if you get hit in the arm, shouldn't your swings be weaker? But realistically, that would make D&D too difficult. If you're already losing, you don't want the battle to get even harder. It would be too much like Monopoly (the most unbalanced board game ever created): whoever starts out winning is usually the one who wins the game, because it's so hard to come back once you're at a disadvantage. But 4e is similar philosophically if not mechanically... the more hit points (aka stamina) you lose, the easier it is to get whacked by that death blow, because you're too weak to block it.

Doesn't that make more sense than a "life" number? Why not just give your character little hearts like The Legend of Zelda? It drives me crazy that the ones who preferred previous editions, where hit points acted like Gauntlet, are the same ones complaining that 4e is too much like a video game.

Plus, the stamina/skill/luck definition of hit points also explains minions. One-hit kobolds don't seem so strange when you're at first level. But later in your career, you might start to wonder why the Ogre Bludgeoneers (Level 16 Minion) only take one hit to kill. Do they actually have less "life" than other Ogres? Of course not. It's actually due to one of my favorite tropes, the Conservation of Ninjutsu. When the hero of our story is swarmed by an army of ninjas, he manages to take one out with every swing of his sword. But when he faces that single last ninja, you know you're in for a long bloody fight.

It's not that these Ogre minions are thinner-skinned than their tougher partners. It's not that they have less blood or whatever other measure of "life" the grognards think people have. It's simply that they're not as skilled in battle. They haven't learned how to block their vital areas, and they're easily tricked into revealing their weak spots. If a PC hits a minion, they hit them in a lethal spot. These are the ninjas our hero managed to throat-slash and groin-stab as he waded through the swarm on the way to the boss.

So in short, you can debate all you want about whether or not the surge system is better, but DO NOT tell me that surges makes 4e more like a video game, then turn around and tell me you preferred the old "life meter" system. Because I will laugh at you and take your lunch money.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Hybrids are complicated, especially if you don't have the Character Builder. They're a lot closer to Multiclassing than 4e's actual Multiclass system. You take two classes, take half of the hit points from each class, add them together, add your Aunt's telephone number and divide by the square root of zero. You lose most of the minor class features from each class, but you can gain one of them back later by taking a Hybrid Talent Feat. You get a few skills from each class, but some classes get extra skills. You take three points from your IQ and add it to your pants size. You get one At-Will from each class, and you can cherry-pick your Encounter and Daily powers from either class. If one of the classes uses Power Points, you can choose an option that makes them more like normal powers. You get all the weapon proficiencies but only the lesser of the armor proficiencies. If your paternal grandmother was a Half-Orc, you also get a fruit basket and a three-legged newt named Nadine. Or something like that.

Hybrids are great for jack-of-all-trades characters, but it's hard to come up with an optimized combination that works really well. I foresee them being used far more in roleplay-heavy campaigns than in combat-centric games. You can come up with some great combinations if you really work at it, but you'll still be giving up something somewhere. The difficulty is that the two classes need to have several points of synergy; specifically Primary Stat, Armor, and Weapon.

Of course, a Fighter/Wizard sounds awesome. You can rush into battle, slashing everyone around you, and launch fireballs at those farther away. But Wizard spells are based on INT, and you put all your points into STR and CON so you could survive the melee. You need to use your wand to cast that fireball, but your hands are full with your sword and shield. And Hybrids only start with the lesser armor of the two classes, so you're going to get cut to ribbons rushing into battle in your Wizard robe. Sure, you can take a Hybrid Talent Feat to regain the Fighter's normal Armor Proficiencies, but that's a feat that could have gone toward something else.

On the other hand, some classes work together pretty well, but upon closer inspection seem sort of pointless. I started putting together a CHA-based Warlock/Sorcerer, and it was looking pretty good... the stats, armor, and weapons all worked pretty well together. Until I realized that neither class was really adding anything to the other. The two classes are too similar - either way you're firing blasts of arcane energy from a distance. Unless there's a particular roleplay reason your character has studied the two fields, you'll probably be stronger as a full-blood Sorcerer or Warlock.

Now I'm not particularly good at optimizing characters, so I'm not going to run down a list of the best Hybrid combos. (The WOTC forums are probably full of cheesy builds by now anyway, so try there.) Instead I'm just going to mention a few observations, and notes about combos I'd like to try. If you want a quick reference to help you decide what might work, I put this together: Classes and Builds. It's a list of all the different 4e classes, the suggested primary stats, and the races that match the primary stats. It might help to have all the information in one place.

Class Features
Hybrids lose most of the features you automatically get with that class, unless you take extra feats to get them back. So the best Hybrids are ones where you didn't use the class features much anyway. For example, Rogues keep Sneak Attack, which is of course their best feature. But they lose First Strike, which is painful. First Strike allows Rogues to use their Sneak Attack in the opening round of battle, and a crafty Rogue can change the entire dynamic of the encounter if they use the right power on the right enemy. My buddy Rick once took out the boss in the opening round, which left the DM cursing. So most Hybrid Rogues will want to take the First Strike Hybrid Talent Feat.

Meanwhile, my Archer Ranger Voranna hardly ever uses most of her lesser class features. Of course she uses Hunter's Quarry all the time, but Hybrid Rangers keep that. The features she would have lost are Prime Shot and Defensive Mobility. Prime Shot gives you an attack bonus if you're the closest ally to your target. That's fine for melee rangers, but Voranna tries to keep as many allies as possible between her and the enemies. Defensive Mobility gives her a bonus to AC vs Opportunity Attacks, which can be very useful in certain situations, but in five levels I've still yet to provoke an OA. So while Voranna's not a Hybrid, I very well might not have noticed if she was.

At-Will Powers
Hybrids get one At-Will from each class. Keep this in mind. Some characters have a tendency to use the same At-Will every round, while others have cause to use both. My Voranna uses Twin Strike almost exclusively, so she wouldn't have minded giving up her second At-Will for that of another class. But a Cleric, for example, might miss having both Astral Seal (which is very useful but doesn't do any damage) and an actual Cleric attack power. The worst is the Hybrid Druid, who no longer gets that extra At-Will for their alternate form. I hope they errata that, but as of this writing a Hybrid Druid is pretty limited IMO.

A lot of players are talking about making Hybrid Rangers, because Twin Strike is one of the most coveted At-Wills in the game. Other players are condemning that combo as pure cheese, but welcome to the world of D&D.

As I mentioned earlier, Hybrids only get the lesser armor of the two classes. However, the armor prof for the other class is regainable with the Hybrid Talent Feat. This makes Paladin a particularly attractive choice because you're only one feat away from plate armor. So you could take whatever you want as your primary class, and use the Paladin simply for the armor.

Your skills are a mix of the two classes, but some combinations yield more skills than others. If you want a skill-heavy character, you might consider making a Hybrid Rogue, as they get two more skills than the norm. Bards and Rangers each get one more skill than the norm.

Personally, I'm itching to abuse this system with a character so versatile that she's not even playable. Have a hybrid that also takes multiclass feats. Make her a Half-Elf so I can take her Dilletante power from a third class. Make one of her classes Bard so I can take even more multiclass feats. And so on, until she knows how to do a little bit of everything (and sucks at all of it).

Some combinations suffer or excel simply depending on which class you want to put in the background. For example, I've been considering making an Elf Ranger/Rogue, or possibly a Rogue/Ranger. Yeah, same thing, but stay with me here. With either combination, I'm going to want the following feats as early as possible:

Lethal Hunter (+ Quarry Damage)
Weapon Focus Longbow (+ Damage)
Weapon Expertise Longbow (+ Attack Rolls)
Treetop Sniper (Elf Only, Use Longbow for Rogue Powers)
First Strike Hybrid Feat (Have Combat Advantage at start of battle)
Backstabber (More Sneak Attack Damage)
Improved Initiative (+4 Initiative)

The first three are all I need to have a happy archer at level 4, and I already mentioned the Hybrid Rangers don't lose anything that I'll miss. But the other 4 feats are fairly important to have an effective Longbow Rogue, IMO. So my plan would be to simply forget the Rogue part until I'm level 6, other than the extra skills. Of course, this also means I can't take whatever else normal archers would be taking from levels 6-10, but them's the breaks with specialized classes.

Now, if I were to do it the other way around, emphasizing the Rogue over the Ranger, I'd probably want to take Backstabber and First Strike early on. I'd forget the bow altogether at first, and probably wouldn't even buy one until I had the Treetop Sniper feat. So for the first 4-6 levels I would act as a normal Rogue, my only disadvantage being that because of Hybrid First Strike, I'm starting one feat behind most Rogues.

The third way to approach this is to embrace the Hybrid - take Treetop Sniper first, because the combo is built around that feat. Then just live with the fact that I'm not going to be as effective as either class for a few levels. Maybe I'd use my 1st level experiences to decide whether I want to emphasize the Rogue or Ranger feats early on, or I could just alternate them.

Or course, this doesn't matter so much if you're in a campaign that lets you start at a higher level. But I've been playing for over a year and I still haven't played a character over level 6. So the order of feats at early levels is critical to me.

So in short, while you certainly can build some highly effective builds if you do the research, IMO Hybrids better thought of as flavor for people who want to play versatile characters. But useful or not, Hybrids are definitely one of the more interesting things in the PHB3.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Players Handbook 3

I realize I'm late to the game here, but it took me a while to actually look through the Player's Handbook 3 and play around with the new builds in the Character Builder. I still haven't looked closely at a few of the classes, but I've seen enough to know that the PHB3 is not quite as big a release as the PHB2.

Races: Githzerai, Minotaur, Shardmind, Wilden

We seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Not only are there only four, but they're a bit too exotic for a PHB, in my opinion. None of these are races you expect to see walking around town, or serving beer at the local tavern. But then that's one of the big differences between the tone of 4e as opposed to previous editions. D&D used to be about ordinary people who were destined for greatness, farmers and apprentices who only became heroes after doing great deeds and earning experience points. But Fourth Edition is about people who were exceptional to begin with, people who stood out from the crowd even before the first play session. I'm okay with that, but it turns some players off.

Of the new races, I really don't see myself trying any of them out. I can see Minotaurs appealing to the same people who play brutish Dragonborn, Half-Orcs, and Goliaths. The other three appear to have been added just to fit the new classes. The Shardmind seems especially alien to me; I just don't know how someone would roleplay one. It's hard enough to think through your motivations when you're playing a Dragonborn, but I can't even imagine the wants and desires of a creature made of animated crystal.

Classes: Ardent, Battlemind, Monk, Psion, Runepriest, Seeker, Hybrid

Well, we finally got the Monk, and we'd been needing that for a while. I like what they've done to the class, giving them both moves and attacks in their powers. I really want to try one sometime.

The new Psionic classes are very different. The biggest change is the "Power Point" sytem - instead of encounter powers, you get a certain number of PP per encounter. (C'mon, WOTC, think about the potential abbreviations before you name things.) The PP can be used to augment your At-Wills, to make them as powerful as Encounter powers. It's a lot more versatile than normal Encounter powers, because you can either spend 1 PP to make your At-Will a little bit more powerful, or 2 PP to make it a lot more powerful. So if you have 2 PP per encounter, basically you can use two mediocre Encounter powers that battle, or 1 really good Encounter power instead.

Since the Psionic power source is the PHB3's big thing, they had to make sure they had at least one Psionic class for each battle role. So whether you prefer Controllers, Strikers, Leaders, or Defenders, there is something Psionic you can try out. Personally I'd like to try the Battlemind. They're the second 4e class to use CON as their primary stat (the other being certain Warlocks), but they have the same armor proficiencies as Fighters. So they get high AC and a lot of hit points right off the bat. Plus their marking system is pretty neat - They can damage adjacent marked enemies who attack the Battlemind's allies, and they get to shift with their marked foe as an immediate reaction to the foe's shifting.

The Hybrids are complicated but interesting, and combinations range from useless to potentially gamebreaking. A lot of really creative combinations could come from this, and there's a few I'm hoping to try sometime. I'll give them a blog of their own.

Skill Powers

One of my favorite things in the PHB3 is the skill powers. These are utility powers that can be taken by any class, as long as they're trained in a specific skill. I used to hate the choices of utility powers, as a lot of them are worthless to me. So this is a nice way to give us more options.

A lot of them are kind of useless unless you're in a completely roleplay-based campaign. For example, they might let you reroll certain skill checks, or let you roll one kind of check in place of another. Meh. Some of them have been done before for specific classes, but are now available to anyone who trains in a certain skill. For example, Graceful Maneuver is a level 6 Acrobatics power that lets you shift half your speed, which is similar to the Rogue Level 2 power Tumble.

My favorites are the ones for Endurance and Heal, as they can give any class a little bit of healing. I'll likely make sure all my characters are trained in at least one of those from now on. One really neat one is the Level 2 Endurance Daily power Invigorating Presence, which allows you to give nearby allies 10+(CON mod) temporary hitpoints when you use your second wind. There's also Third Wind (Endurance Daily 6) which lets you spend a healing surge as a minor action, Physicians Care (Heal Encounter 6) which lets you or an ally spend a surge, Reactive Surge (Endurance Encounter 6) which lets you spend a healing surge as an immediate reaction to being bloodied, Miraculous Treatment (Heal Daily 16) which heals an ally without spending a surge, and so on.

In a pinch, almost character could fill in for the party healer. So in addition to Hybrids and Multiclass feats, we now have a third way to dabble in another role.


The PHB3 does include some new feats, but most of them are just extras for the new races and classes. There is one interesting feat that's been the source of a lot of debate on the D&D forums. Versatile Expertise is like taking Weapon Expertise and Implement Expertise at the same time. You can choose one weapon group and one implement group, and you get an attack roll bonus when using either. With two feats for the price of one, why would anyone still take Weapon or Implement Expertise? Some say that the feat is broken, giving an unfair advantage to implement users. Other say it's a math fix, helping the classes who unfairly had to take more feats to be as effective as their allies. And still others say we're reading the feat incorrectly, and that it's not nearly as powerful as it first sounds.


There's also some new items, but nothing really big to report. Overall, this was the least interesting of the PHB series to me, and I hope they don't feel the need to release a PHB4. Now that we have the Monk - the last missing "core" class - there's just no need for more. If they want to make more playable monster classes, like goblins or kobolds, I'd rather they make that a book in itself. Actually, a whole book dedicated to playable monsters would actually be kind of interesting. But I can't imagine where else the PHB series could possibly go.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Year-and-a-Half Later...

I've just moved all my D&D-related blog entries from my general blog to this one. From now on, this will be my total D&D blog.

Several years ago, I picked up a copy of "Knights of the Dinner Table Illustrated". It was so funny, I had to pick up a copy of their regular magazine. The comic strip in the magazine, for those who've not read it, basically shows these guys sitting around the table, playing Hackmaster (an RPG based on AD&D). These characters really made tabletop role-playing look fun to me. Between that and the old "Dead Alewives" sketch, I think I found my first itchings for a similar game.

I started reading up on D&D, which was on version 3.5 at the time. I bought a starter set, and read "D&D For Dummies". I started collecting miniatures and tiles. In 2007 I went to GenCon Indianapolis, and played my first (and so far only) 3.5 game. It was just a one hour "Introduction to D&D" game, but I finally knew that I really liked the game. I just didn't know how to get in one.

Playing Neverwinter Nights helped satisfy my RPG urge, but I continued to look for a PnP group. The problem is, I'm shy. It's hard for me to put myself out there and meet new people. So while I knew about the bulletin boards at my local game stores, I didn't want to call anyone up out of the blue to ask about meeting them.

When D&D went to 4th Edition, I knew I wanted to get in on the ground floor. So I googled around a bit and found out that a former co-worker of mine was the organizer for Nashville's "Living Forgotten Realms" games. I e-mailed him a lot of questions, and signed up for the next LFR session (along with my friend Bryan). We played our first D&D 4e game on 11/22/08.

At the time I wrote this blog describing my first impressions. Since then, there have been a lot of changes. The game has had so much errata that the PHB is almost obsolete. The invaluable Character Builder has been released. A lot of supplements have been published. The "missing" classes (Bard, Monk) and races (Gnome, Half-Orc) have been restored. The whiners are finally quieting down (out of boredom or out of acceptance, I really don't know).

In the past year-and-a-half, my feelings haven't changed much. I've played in LFR games and home games, I've been a player and a DM, I've played it with and without miniatures, I've played both rules-as-written and heavily-houseruled.

I still love 4th Edition. It's a fun game. I still don't think it's as good a system as 3.5, and the LFR sessions especially feel a bit too much like board games at times. I still wish they'd kept 3.5 going and billed 4e as a spin-off, calling it something like "D&D Heroes" and marketing it to the Mutants and Masterminds crowd.

But so what. I could babble all day about mistakes they made, what I would have done different, and why previous editions were better. But the bottom line is, whenever I sit down to play 4e, I have a lot of fun. And out of all my complaints, my biggest gripe is that I don't get to play it often enough. So they must be doing something right.

Praktas - My Campaign World

I'm fleshing out the geography of the campaign I DM. It looks like I'll probably be DMing more often in a few months, so I want to have a solid world to work with. A good deal of this is based on Itropa, the module I built/hosted for Neverwinter Nights. But of course, a good deal of Itropa was based on some earlier stories I'd written. Apparently I was a lot more creative in my youth than I am now. Feel free to steal any ideas you find here, especially the stuff I obviously stole from other sources.

Most of the information in this post would be considered common knowledge to citizens of the area.

Praktas is the name of the region, and Trasa is the name of the city our heroes currently call home. Trasa is on sort of a small peninsula, jutting ever so slightly into the sea. North of town is Koramil Forest. In the West side of Koramil is Kora, home to an elven community. In the East side of Koramil is Mil, home to Halflings and a few Gnomes. East of Mil is Predek's tower, and northeast of that is an area called Silent Hollow. Far to the north are the towns of is Alta and Valos. North of Alta is Fertilund, and north of Fertilund is the Highpeak Mountains. East of Trasa is the Scarred Mountains, and eventually the harsh town of Fist.

The Koramil River runs between Alta and Valos, running south through the Koramil Forest, and passes through the middle of Trasa, where it eventually empties out into the sea on Trasa's south.

Trasa is a large coastal town, and gets a lot of its income from fishing. The Koramil River divides the poor side of town from the wealthy, with the middle class houses and businesses bordering the river itself.

Mayor Dalewood is a good man, but the town only has so much money. While they do pay the guards to stop the most obvious crime, much of the law enforcement is actually done by the Bounty Hunter Guild.

Important Places In Trasa:

West Trasa (Poor side of town):
Blue Acorn (Inn, Tavern, Gambling)
Pleasure Palace (Gambling, Tavern, Arena, Companionship)
Shifty’s Supply Shop (Merchant, Pawn Shop, front for Thieves Guild)
Stew & Spew (Restaurant/Tavern)
Dreg's Shanty (Dockside tavern/seafood restaurant)
Poor houses

Central Trasa:
Arcania (Located inside Arcane Guild)
Birk’s “Everything” Shop (Supplies, Misc)
Bjorn's Bakery
Carts Before Horses
Ellyniel's Apothecary (Located inside Arcane Guild)
Fine Blades (Swords and Daggers; located inside Swordsman's Guild)
Hunter's Cache (Ranged Weapons and Ammo, Located inside Hunting Club)
Just Rope
Krog Nito’s Costume Shop
Philip's Exotic Animals
Quality Armors (Armors and Shields)
Virtuoso Music
Ziza’s Zenzations (Stylish Clothing)
Adventurer's Guild
Arcane Guild
Hunting Club
Swordsman's Guild
The Sisterhood
Bounty Hunter Guild
Haunted Bed & Breakfast
Multi-Denominational Church
Town Hall (Courts, Jail, etc)
Houses, Apartments
Andrik's Teleportation Station

East Trasa (Wealthy):
Dockside Delights (Restaurant)
Guardsman's Guild (Must be member of Town Guard)
Guilded Eagle (Restaurant)
Expensive houses

Other Cities

(2 day horse ride from Trasa)
An Elven city located on the Western side of the Koramil Forest. Most of the citizens are nature lovers who live simple lives, peacefully trade with Trasa and Alta, and guard the Koramil forest from monsters. However, there is a small faction of Kora extremists who despise civilization's encroachment on the forest, and defend nature violently.

Notable locations in Kora:
Kora Bows - Very well-made bows.
Armor Dillo's - Custom-fitted armor, and animal barding.

Mil (Two day horse ride from Trasa)
A small town on the East side of the Koramil Forest. Mil was once an ancient graveyard, until a small band of Halflings (and a few Gnomes) converted the mausoleums into houses.

Notable locations in Mil:
Stuff I Found - A shop whose inventory changes constantly.

(Five day horse ride from Trasa)
Located north of the Koramil Forest, Alta is a very cosmopolitan city, populated by wealthy nobles of all races (but mostly Humans and Eladrin). Citizens of Alta tend to look down on the other nearby cities. Alta has the strictest laws of any city in the region. Within Alta's walls, you must keep your weapons sheathed, and you can not wear helmets or hoods. The town does not allow gambling, prostitution, begging, public drunkenness, or arena fighting. (Actually, they do have a fighting arena, but all the fighters are magically animated golems.) Alta is ruled by Queen Wynnifred.

Notable locations in Alta:
Alta Arcane Acadamy (sometimes called "Triple-A") - A school for those who study magic.
Alta Bardic College (sometimes called "The ABC") - A school for those who study music.
Alta Bath House - Relax, clean up, get a massage.
Fine Armors - One of several stores owned by Darrian Fine. The best place in Alta to buy Armor.
Fine Clothing - Owned by Darrian Fine. Sells stylish outfits.
Fine Grooming - Owned by Darrian Fine. The best place in Alta to get a shave and a haircut.
Fine Weapons - Owned by Darrian Fine. Sells top-quality weapons.
Triple-A Arena - Watch magically animated golems fight. The arena is owned by the Triple-A, and the money earned from the arena goes towards the school. The golems are created by students, who compete to see who can enchant the most powerful golems. (Think of it as a medeival Battlebots.) It is illegal to gamble on the outcome, but a lot of students do it anyway.

(Six day horse ride from Trasa)
To the Northeast of Alta, Valos was once Alta's prison. Though ruled by Lord Teykor Vermon, it remains nearly lawless. Most of the citizens are either starving beggars, or professional bandits. Valos may be home of the crime syndicate known as the "Inner Eye." Valos is also the home of the Darkshade Assassin Guild, an organization whose existence is well-known but never proven.

Notable locations in Valos:
Valos Weapons - Specializes in rogue/assassin weapons.
Valos Armors - Specializes in light armors.

(3 day horse ride from Trasa)
Located in the Scarred Mountains to the East of Trasa, Fist is a very harsh town where might is right and leadership is determined by arena battle. Fist is populated mostly by the hardier races - Orcs, Half-Orcs, Goliaths, Dwarves, Minotaurs, and a few burly humans.

Notable locations in Fist:
Crush's Smashifiers - Sells all types, but specializes in heavy weapons.
Fist Arena - Has minor fighting tournaments every day, and major tournaments to celebrate each 10-day, month, season, and year.

Fertilund (Five day horse ride from Trasa)
Located just north of Alta, Fertilund is a small farming community.

Notable locations in Fertilund:
The Trading Post - Where the farmers of Fertilund go to sell their wares to Alta's grocers.

Notable NPCs
Aaron Cobbler - Poverty-stricken man who sent Tirah and Dorath to find some missing children.
Alana Dillonniel - Female Elf, owner of "Armor Dillo's" in Kora.
Alton Drathiel - Half-Elf. Owner of the "Hunter's Cache", a hunting club and hunting supply store in Trasa.
Andrik Munitae - Male Elf, owns "Andrik's Teleportation Station."
Ardok DuMaj - A wizard who works for the Bounty Hunter Guild. He sometimes teleports Guild Members to other towns for a fee.
Bjorn Wallbanger - Owner/Bartender of the Blue Acorn, a small tavern on Trasa's West side.
Brutemaster Kragg - Captain of the "Stone Army" in Fist.
Captain Caleb Callahan
- Another successful Trasa fisherman.
Captain Credence Horn - Leader of the Alta Guardsman's Guild.
Captain Nathanial Jarran
- A fisherman who gave Drew and Damakos a ride to the Hells Fury island.
Crush Cudgel - Male Half-Orc, owner of "Crush's Smashifiers" in Fist.
Darrian Fine - Male Human, owns several businesses in Alta.
Darrow Lightbeard - High Priest of Moradin.
Darryl "Red" Thatcher - A farmer in Fertilund.
Dreg One-Fist - Aging Half-Orc, owner of run-down dockside bar "Dreg's Shanty". He lost his left hand to a pirate years ago, when he was a sailor.
Eroll Gold - The very charismatic owner of the Pleasure Palace, Trasa's largest tavern/casino/arena/brothel.
Grag Prime Arathnon - Goliath Barbarian, Current ruler of Fist. Fist's leader is chosen by way of an annual fighting tournament. Arathnon has won three years in a row, but fighting enthusiasts say he's slowing down as he gets older.
Hector Goldheart - Cleric of Moradin. He helped Drew and Damakos find and defeat Predek the Necromancer, to cure their vampirism. Hector has burns on one side of his face, from an encounter with a dragon in his youth. This prevents him from growing a full beard, so he shaves the opposite side as well, and wears it like a very long goatee.
Henna - A healer who works for the Bounty Hunter Guild. She is unable to speak, and is a pacifist.
Jordan Darkwynde
- Leader of Bounty Hunter Guild.
Kim Shadowfoot - Female Halfling, leader of Trasa's Thieves Guild.
Krog Nito - Male Half-Orc, owns a costume shop in Trasa.
Kurn Icetooth - A blue-scaled Dragonborn. The Assignment Officer at the Bounty Hunter Guild.
Lord Teykor Vermon - Ruler of Valos, and also rumored to be the leader of the "Inner Eye", a crime syndicate that stretches even as far as Trasa.
Lucre Gold - Famous fighting promoter (and brother of Eroll Gold).
Madeline Starkraven - A crazy ex-pirate who hired Drew and Damakos to find Merea Scorne.
Predek - A Human Necromancer guilty of raising the dead and creating vampires. He was caught by Drew and Damakos, and is currently in Trasa Prison.
Queen Wynnifred - Elf bard, ruler of Alta. She is highly intelligent and very beautiful. While Alta's citizens have a reputation for elitism and snobbery, Queen Wynnifred is actually very generous and compassionate. Was once married to King Parras (human), until he was assassinated. Has a half-elf daughter, "Wyn".
Shifty - Runs "Shifty's Supply Shop", a Trasa pawn shop known for buying potentially stolen goods. Shifty is Trasa's go-to guy for all things of questionable legality.
Trent Dalewood - The kind-hearted but greatly overworked mayor of Trasa.
Wyn - Princess Wynnifred II of Alta. She's a bit of a tomboy, and doesn't enjoy palace life. She often sneaks out disguised as an ordinary citizen named Kya.

Hells Fury:
An all-female pirate crew.
Captain Merea Scorne
(a.k.a. "The Pirate Queen") - Two-blade fighter. She is the leader of the Hells Fury. She was caught by Drew and Damakos, and currently resides in Trasa Prison.
Bruta Graxx - Dwarf Fighter, and Merea's bodyguard. Also captured.
Lyyra Syyr - Human Wizard, and Merea's advisor. Also captured.
Risha Thryst - Human Fighter, and Merea's lieutenant. Also captured.
Callexia Galean - Human Druid, and Merea's assassin. The only prominent member of the Hells Fury who is still at large.

Purple Mildew:
A popular music band that often played in the Pleasure Palace in Trasa.
Jeska Spartan (Lead singer) - Originally Jessiana Cole. She was arrested for setting fire to the Bardic College in Alta. She changed her name and formed the band Purple Mildew. The group became very popular until she was recognized, and she was eventually recovered by the Bounty Hunter Guild.
Todd Klute (Flute Player) - Has black hair.
Rash Decker (Harpist) - Has red hair, plays the miniature harp.
Drak Wilken (Drummer) - Bald, muscular, has lots of tattoos. Dates Jeska.

Fist Arena Fighters:
A few of the fighters often seen in the Fist Arena.
Brax "The Axe" Clovenhoof - An aging male Minotaur.
Travok Ballpeen - Male Dwarf.
Killian Krag - Male Goliath.
Orsik Cojones - Male Orc.
Tarn Gulag - Male Half-Orc with pet lizard.
Kren Starblaze - Male Dragonborn, young.
Mordik Morte - Male Human.
Rendar the Great - Male Human.
Krista Treehaven - Female Elf with pet tiger.
Skar Redscale - Female Dragonborn, killed in the ring by Throk One-Tusk.
Scrag Trakken - Male Dragonborn.
Glug Darkhammer - Male Dwarf.
Kirin Skeen - Female Goliath.

Kathernius - Young male Black Dragon.
Nyrithia - Young female Silver Dragon.

Bounties (Recovered):
Some of the criminals already recovered by the players.

Alas Mek - An Alta wizard whose consciousness was transferred into the body of an Iron Golem.
Jeska Spartan - See "Purple Mildew" above.
Skyrene Linnealinae - Wanted for taking her love of animal rights too far, this elf is wanted for killing hunters.
Throk One-Tusk - A former Trasa guard who was wanted for stealing an expensive item.
Victoria Vixen - A seductress who used her magical charms to aid her in her crimes. She was later revealed to be a succubus in disguise.

Bounties (at Large):
Here's a few of the criminals currently at large, whom the players will pursue in future sessions. Note that this is just an idea bank, the characters might change a bit before they make it into an actual session. To avoid spoilers, I'm only posting information the bounty hunters might have access to when signing up for the bounty.

Andar Thresh - Just a small-time thug.
Analon Leebo - Professional Hitman, expert at poisons.
Astral - High priestess of Tiamat.
Dante Bloodscale - Another Disciple of Tiamat.
Broono Grum - Former member of the Bounty Hunter Guild, expelled for carrion hunting.
Chane Tonson - Demolitions expert.
Dibny Kestil - Gnome bard, uses laughing spells to commit crimes.
Felinia Nulelve'tner - Cat-loving cat burglar.
Gar - Lizardfolk assassin.
Glognar Elgen - Dwarven miner who used his tunneling skills for crime.
Gludge - Disease-ridden victim of a transmutation spell gone wrong.
Kama Kur - Former member of the Hells Fury.
Khan Carne - Wanted for cannibalism.
Krimson Vize - A Swordmage.
Lilith de Fang - Death obsessed woman, possibly a dabbler of Necromancy.
Obsidia Pitch - A very stealthy Drow assassin.
Riith - A mysterious Assassin.
Rusty Krosion - Master of rust.
Sullax - Insane magic user, who specializes in mental spells.
Thaco Arclas - Possibly the world's greatest expert in armors.
Timmy the Tot - Halfling who pretends to be a human boy to aid in his cons.
Ug - A very strong barbarian.
Ursa Oso - Bear-loving mountain man.
Valindra Melin - An environmental extremist who loves despises civilized society.
Vana & Vena Kai - Twin assassins.
Zyx - A shapeshifting thief.
Shok Vrurk - Half-Orc Sorcerer who specializes in lightning spells.

My Characters - Past, Present, and Future

Currently I'm only playing in LFR sessions. My first LFR character - Voranna, the Eladrin Archer Ranger - recently hit level 5, so I had to make another low-tier character. I just started playing Kryla, the Dragonborn Cosmic Sorcerer last month. I'm really hoping to find another D&D group soon, because I'm tired of DMing, and I have a lot of characters I'd like to play eventually. Most of them aren't optimized enough to survive an LFR session, and would be better for a roleplay group.

One thing I always like to think about when coming up with a new character is their primary motivation. I see too many characters designed around a love of money. There's nothing wrong with that; in fact it's a very good motivator, and it probably helps the roleplay when the character and player have the same motivations.

But it's also boring. Personally, I think it's kind of neat when a player knows that his character would probably give some gold to the beggar, but the player doesn't want to part with the coinage. I also like the in-party conflict that occurs when they aren't all doing it for the same reasons. When one character wants to go after the treasure, while another character wants to save the orphans, it can lead to some interesting interactions.

When I played Nara Cavell in the Tantris campaign, I made religion her primary motivator. She was kind and caring, and truly wanted to eliminate any suffering she saw - including that of her enemies. The problem was I overdid it, to the point that she was annoying to the party, and sometimes I was actually annoyed at myself when I played her. If I ever have the opportunity to play her again, she will have matured a little, having seen more of the world. She'll still be religious and caring, but hopefully she'll be better at seeing the big picture.

Voranna Elun, my LFR Archer, is also motivated more by kindness than money, but she's not nearly as ridiculous about it as Nara was. But if she came across an injured creature, even of the type usually considered hostile, she probably would tend to its wounds. Being a ranger, she really doesn't have as much use for money as other characters. She tends to live a simple life, sleeping in the forest and foraging for food. She gets claustrophobic in crowded cities, and is much more relaxed in a natural environment. Of course, there's not as much room for roleplay in the LFR sessions anyway, so I haven't found many opportunities to show off her personality.

In a couple of levels, I plan to have Voranna multiclass as a Cleric of Silvanus, to represent her dedication to preserving life.

Kryla Bloodfang, my Dragonborn Sorcerer, thrives on attention. She dresses in wild colors and tries to get noticed. She loves studying the reactions of other people when they first see her, and finds it fun to scare people. She likes using her powers of intimidation, but it is just a bluff - she doesn't really intend to do these people harm (most of the time). But again, I don't know if the others at the table will every actually pick up on these traits, because it's so hard to roleplay at LFR sessions. Even when I have an opportunity to show off, my general shyness usually causes me to lock up. I'm a lot more comfortable roleplaying at home games with people I know.

What follows are some other characters that I'd like to try someday. I don't know why, but I've been itching to play a red-haired Half-Elf lately. Also, Charisma is my current favorite stat. So I'm expecting my next character will be some sort of Warlock, Sorcerer, Bard, or some combination of the above. So a few of these characters might be a bit similar to each other, while I try to decide which ones I want to play most. In other words, if I play Lynnia first, then I might never play Aria, or at least she might be totally rewritten by the time I get to her.

Lynnia Krynn is my current favorite. She is a Half-Elf Warlock (Fey Pact), or possibly a Warlock/Rogue. Lynnia's primary motivation is information. She is a dabbler, who likes to learn a lot of new things, but she always gets bored before she becomes an expert on any subject. She will most likely multiclass Bard, and will take a lot of skill-related feats like Jack of all Trades or Bardic Knowledge. If there's room she might take the Linguist feat a couple of times. Lynnia always leaps before she looks, and will risk her life just to find a rare book... which she will probably never finish.

Sundra Fane is an Elf Cleric. She hates battle, but likes to help people. She will take every possible healing option available. She might work for LFR games, as long as the other party members can keep her safe. Nobody ever complains about having a healer in the party. If I play this character, I will try very hard not to make her as annoying as Nara.

Zarra D'Argo is a Drow Rogue, or possibly a Rogue/Warlock. I would say her primary motivation is probably exploration. She spent her youth in the Underdark, where the scenery never changes. She's amazed by the variety on the surface world - forests, deserts, cities, tundras; changing weather, day and night, and so on. Zarra is a good person who escaped the corruption of her evil race, but she isn't a rip-off of you-know-who. She's good-hearted, but she isn't "nice". She has a sarcastic sense of humor, enjoys making fun of her teammates, and rarely gets close to people. But when the going gets tough, her party knows they can count on her, and she wouldn't betray them for any price.

Calla Noble is a Half-Elf Battlemind. This one started as a Guardian Fighter. I'm convinced that the majority of people who play Fighters in 4e are doing it wrong. I see them build characters designed to rush in and do the most damage, but in 4e that's really more the role of a Striker. You should let the Fighters draw the fire and keep the enemies busy, while the Rogues and Rangers sneak in and do the real damage. So I want to try a really durable character who can soak up a lot of attacks. I had already statted her out as a heavily armored Human Fighter, but then PHB3 came out and the Battlemind just looked so much more interesting. With Calla I'm planning to take every defensive feat and power. I plan to take a lot of the PHB3's skill-based powers; specifically the Endurance- and Heal-based powers. So she'll play a secondary role as a healer. Oh, and her primary motivation is probably honor.

Vex is an Elf Monk. I just want to try one, they look neat. She moves fast around the battlefield, punching and kicking everything in sight. As you can tell from the portrait, I'm kind of picturing Leeloo from The 5th Element. I would like Vex to be mute, or at least have taken some sort of vow of silence, but I'm afraid I'll be accused of being antisocial.

Vanya Scarm is a Human Barbarian. I don't actually have any interest in playing a 4e Barbarian, so I probably won't get around to this one. But I did give her a big long backstory that I hate to go to waste. She comes from a barbarian tribe called "The Tribe of the Scarred Mountain".

The tribal villiage is located at the base of a large mountain in Icewind Dale (or whatever setting-appropriate icy mountainous region). They worship Tempus (or Kord, or other setting-appropriate god of battle), but believe that the Scarred Mountain is a sacred place. They believe that a great battle took place there between Tempus and a powerful enemy, and that their mighty blows created the gorge that gives the mountain its name.

Tribe marriages are arranged, based on age. When an unmarried tribe member reaches 16 years, they are usually betrothed to the next youngest tribe member of the opposite sex. When the second one reaches 16, they are married. (They start young because life spans are short in that environment.) Children are raised by the tribe rather than by parents.

Before marriage, tribe members must leave the villiage to go on a spiritual journey called a "Kthaya". (Sort of like a Native American vision quest.) This Kthaya includes different tasks for different people, set forth individually by the tribal chieftan. These challenges often exploit a person's specific weaknesses. (If a person is afraid of spiders, part of the test might be to sleep in a nest of spiders or slay a giant spider, etc.) Some Kthaya tasks/rules are universal. For example, participants are not allowed to bring food, and must eat only what they hunt and kill during the journey. All participants must climb to the top of the Scarred Mountain and fast until they hear the voice of Tempus. Most tasks take place on or around the Scarred Mountain.

As part of the Kthaya, Female tribe members also ritualistically scar their faces. This tradition evolved from an old tribal saying: "Never marry a beautiful woman, other men will desire her, and she will betray you." So the scarring symbolically makes you less beautiful. It is a sign of betrothal, like wedding rings, but it is also considered good luck for the marriage. Some women just give themselves a couple of simple, understated scars, while others go overboard and practically shred their faces, while still others take a more artistic approach and carve intricate designs and symbols into their skin.

(The obvious question is why men don't have the same tradition, but the tribe is sexist in that respect. On the other hand, men who cheat on their wives are executed, while cheating women go unpunished, so the women don't always get the short end of the stick.)

When Vanya returned from her tasks, her tribe had been slaughtered by giants. She never found her husband's body. Since he was on a journey at the same time she was, it's possible he wasn't killed, but she searched all the surrounding land and never found him. These journeys take different amounts of time for different people, so he might have returned before the battle. Or he might have been killed during his journey, as sometimes happens. He might have even been involved in the tribe's destruction, though such a thought would never occur to Vanya. Still, Vanya didn't know him very well, so it's possible.

Vanya tried to follow the giant tracks, but there was heavy snowfall. Eventually she tried to kill herself with honor. She threw herself from the highest peak of their sacred mountain, in hopes of her reuniting her soul with her clan. She passed out in midair, woke up in a snowdrift, completely uninjured. She doesn't know how she survived, but believes it was her god that saved her. Out-of-character, I really don't know either, and I'm leaving it up to the DM in case he ever wants to expand on it.

Vanya has black hair, but is usually bald. She shaves her head whenever she takes a life, so if you see her with hair, it's been a while since she's been in battle. She collects parts of enemies (claws, etc) for necklace. She feels it gives her strength. She fears the undead; they're just unnatural. People of her tribe have no surnames, so she uses "Scarm" (short for Scarred Mountain).

Aria Thatcher is a Half-Elf Bard. Though she is a half-elf, she is the daughter of two human farmers (which was a bit of an unhappy surprise to the father). Literally being a red-headed stepchild, she became a source of friction between her parents, and she left home early to study music in Waterdeep. Aria is very outgoing, and has a tendency to speak without thinking. She is booksmart, but often makes bad decisions. She has a very silly sense of humor, and doesn't understand why others don't laugh at her bad puns.

Aria is sort of evolved from a character I once played in Neverwinter Nights, Sillia Aylomein.

Galea Clowder is a Razorclaw Shifter Druid. This is just something crazy I'd like to try sometime. I love cats, so I wanted to make this one totally cat-themed. In addition to her primary animal form being some sort of cat, she will also take any possible cat companion options I can find, such as multiclassing Shaman (spirit companion) making her a Hybrid Ranger (Beast Mastery option) or building her so she qualifies for a familiar feat. I have not figured out a motivation for her yet, but it will probably be related to her love of nature.

Brynwyn Elswyth is an Elf Ranger. Or possibly a Ranger/Rogue Hybrid. She was one of my NeverWinter Nights characters. She's has a bubbly personality, but is prone to periods of depression, due to a tragedy in her past. Her backstory is here.

Dervish is a human fighter; I haven't decided which type. Another NWN character I'd like to try in PnP someday. Her real name is Priscilla, but she hates the name because it sounds too girly. She comes from Cormyr (or setting-appropriate honor-themed kingdom), and was raised as a tomboy.

Her father spent years trying to get her to act like a lady, but his repeated efforts just made their relationship worse, until she left home to prove herself in the world. Her expanded backstory is here.

Whisper is a human Rogue. She's based on a character in a sci-fi comic I used to draw. Her real name is Alterra Sarr. She was convicted of a murder she didn't commit, so now she's on the run from the law. She tries to stay in the shadows as much as possible (so she's probably a Shadowy Rogue). She has tattoos on her arms that indicate her prisoner status, so of course she keeps them covered. She is a good person and wants very much to help people, but she has to balance that with the necessity of keeping her identity hidden.

Tao Xiang is a human Sorcerer. Another NWN character, originally named Taochi or sometimes Tao-Chi. She's from Kara-Tur (or other setting-appropriate exotic land). In NWN I played her as a Fighter/Bard/Red Dragon Disciple, but in 4e I'd probably make her a Dragon Magic Sorcerer. But one way or another she'll have some connection to dragons. Tao enjoys reading fortunes - in NWN I would give actual Tarot readings through her.

Pepper Proudfire is a Halfling Fighter. I played her in NWN, where she was a dual-wielding Kukri Weapon Master (and it takes a LOT of feats to accomplish that). In 4e, she would probably be a Tempest Fighter. She has a spunky personality, and reminds me of one of those toy dog breeds that think they're larger than they are.

A note on the character portraits: I didn't draw them; some are from the offical WOTC art from the actual books, and a few are Neverwinter Nights portraits. The rest came from a variety of forgotten sources around the net. The same goes for the pics I have running down the side of the page. If you are the author of one of these pics, and wish for me to give you credit (or take them down), please send me an e-mail.

Heh. I won an art contest. Me.

By the way, a couple of months ago I actually won an art contest. One of my favorite blogs is NewbieDM, which is a terrific resource for up-and-coming Dungeon Masters. Occasionally they have contests, mostly of the "post a comment to enter" variety. But this time they actually had a game to it - draw a picture of Drizzt and Gwene- Gwhene- Gwhnenne- um... draw a picture of Drizzt and his pet kitty.

Here's where they posted the contest, and here's where they announced the winner. And here is my winning drawing:

....Yeah, I know. In my defense, I hadn't drawn anything in years, and I wasn't that good in my prime. I found out later he only got one other entry. So let's hear it for participating! Whoo-hoo!