Saturday, September 25, 2010

Scarred Lands - Gnomes Are Brain Food

Game Date: 9/25/2010

The Party:
Aria Thatcher (Matt) - Half-Elf Bard
Blast Flashing, Jr. (Nick) - Gnome Warlock
Shade (Jesse) - Drow Rogue
Thorfin (Ted) - Goliath Fighter

Last week ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. We had fought our way up to the third floor of a four-story church. After clearing the level, we found and solved a puzzle box. Soon a figure began to coalesce, and...

The Session:
...we found ourselves in a battle with a gasty Nast (make that a nasty Ghast) and a ghostly Shadow. Additionally, some disembodied heads we saw earlier grew bodies and became undead minions. This was a difficult battle. Cecil and Paige (whose players were not present) stopped moving, as if they were frozen in time. This left the four of us to battle the monsters. The worst of the bunch was the Shadow. It spent a lot of time floating over a pit in the middle of the floor, which made it difficult for us to use anything but ranged attacks.

At one point, Thorfin tried jumping at the Shadow and grabbing it in mid-air, but he fell down to the second floor below. To be fair, Ted knew it wasn't the best idea, but he likes to try interesting things. Eventually the Shadow escaped up the stairs to the fourth floor, while our party retreated back to the second floor for an extended rest. We slept in the room where we'd fought a bunch of spiders in our previous session. We went ahead and left Cecil and Paige in the spider room, then proceeded to the fourth floor.

On the fourth floor, we found a Wraith, the Shadow we'd fought earlier, six Skin Kites, and a Giant Brain. The Brain was hooked up to a lot of tubes and wires, giving us the impression that it was controlling things. This was an incredibly hard fight, and for some of us, it was our final battle. The Wraith had a natural aura that harmed anyone who stood adjacent to us. The Skin Kits could adhere themselves to our faces, simultaneously restraining us and blinding us.

While Thorfin was up and down several times throughout the encounter, Blast was the first one to actually fail his third death save. Shade and Thorfin barely survived the encounter, but Aria wasn't so lucky. She put up a good fight, rolling some of her highest numbers in the session, but it was just one too many rounds. She failed her final save right after the last hostile was defeated, but before the encounter was officially over. Shade and Thorfin then teamed up on the Brain itself, smashing it to pulp.

As they beat up on it, the building shimmered, and they saw quick flashbacks of the creatures they'd defeated. When it was finally pulverized, the building started to collapse. Shade and Thorfin grabbed their teammates' corpses and started looking for a way out.

From a hole in the third floor's ceiling they could see a bell on the fourth floor. But oddly enough, no such hole or bell existed on the fourth floor. It was an interesting mystery, but they didn't have time to solve it. They remembered seeing a grate on the bottom floor, and rushed to open it. But they couldn't get it open. Then they remembered that there was one room they never explored. Inside they found a chest full of gold (550 gp), and another grate. They opened this grate, and climbed down into a tunnel.

After a bit of running, they found themselves in a room full of zombies. This is where we ended the session, and it might even be where we end the campaign. Next week we're going to give Nick a turn at DMing, in a Forgotten Realms campaign. We've got a couple of other possible campaign ideas in the works as well, so it might be a while before we get back to the Scarred Lands, if ever.

Next week we need to bring some Level 3 characters. So far we've picked our roles, but are still deciding on the actual classes/races. What we've decided so far:
Rusty - Defender (probably Paladin)
Ted - Controller (probably Wizard)
Matt - Striker (probably Elf Avenger)
Jesse - Leader (knowing Jesse, probably some sort of unholy monstrosity who can kill you by looking at you)

On A More Personal Note:
This is the first time I've had a character die in a pencil-and-paper campaign. I've been wondering for a while how I would handle it. As it turns out I'm not too upset - it's just ink and paper after all - but I do feel a little bit hollow. I mean, I had plans for this girl! I spent a long time working on her backstory, and fleshing out her personality. Just a few hours before the session I was perusing paragon paths on the Compedium. Heck, I even went as far as to memorize a bunch of dirty limericks just in case her comedy skills ever came up in session.

I don't think the fact Aria died bothers me nearly as much as the senselessness of the death itself. It wasn't a very heroic end, and the girl who dreamed of fame very likely won't even get a public funeral, and instead might be left behind as zombie chow beneath a collapsed building. Her parents will never know what happened to her. But that's D&D for you. If things were always supposed to turn out the way we planned, we wouldn't even use dice.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Arena of Death!!

9/18/10 - The Game Keep

Great event. The Arena of Death pitted each player against 10 randomly-drawn monsters, in one-on-one matches. We each brought a level 7 character to the game, using standard rules for magic items and other equipment. The entire event took place in one day with no extended rests, so we had to make the most of Encounter powers while saving Daily powers for just the right moment. And with 10 consecutive encounters, healing surges were a valuable commodity.

The early favorite was Jesse's Half-Elf Paladin, who got all the way to the final monster before getting defeated. Very few of us got that close; my Dwarf Battlemind got five fights in before losing to a troll. But the final character - Nick's Gnome Warlock - actually won all ten fights. While the rest of us concentrated on building characters with lots of healing surges and high defenses, Nick focused on trickery. His character had multiple ways of teleporting and turning invisible, which made him difficult to hit. He had the fewest healing surges out of all the players, and he started the final bout with no remaining surges, and less-than-full hit points. But he got a lot of lucky rolls, and made the most of all his tricks.

A good time was had by all (except possibly one Dwarf Battlerager who stormed out when he couldn't hit his Thri-Keen opponent), and I hope to play in similar events in the future.

Btw, the arena is by Playmobil. It looked really good. WOTC should release something similar.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Worldwide Gameday - Red Box

9/11/10 - Next Level Games

Today's Gameday introduced us to the controversial "Essentials" line of D&D products. Essentials is a new line of D&D 4e options that are designed to appeal to new players, and to recapture some of the flavor of previous editions.

I played Brannus, a Human Fighter (Slayer build). He did not have any Daily powers. Rather than distinctive At-Wills, he just had basic attacks which were affected by battle stances. I had a couple of Encounter powers, but I spent most of my turns just making basic attacks.

Sitting next to me was an Elf Wizard, whose bread-and-butter power was the new version of Magic Missile, which uses neither an attack roll or a damage roll. On my other side was an Elf Rogue, who had some great At-Will movement powers to make up for her lack of interesting attacks.

So basically, it's all about simplicity. I can see how it would be a lot easier for someone unfamiliar with 4e to just pick up and play. I, however, missed having more things to do. Still, D&D is D&D, and we had a great time.

The worst mistake made was when the party's other fighter opened a door before we'd had a chance to rest from our recent battle. So we went straight from one encounter into a boss battle without a chance to recover, and it very nearly killed us all. My character would have died if not for grace of the DM. But in the end we survived.

The characters (along with new Essentials-style character sheets) can be downloaded here.
The newest Essentials-related rules updates can be downloaded here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Scarred Lands - Bats in the Belfry

Game Date: 9/4/2010

The Party:
Aria Thatcher (Matt) - Half-Elf Bard
Blast Flashing, Jr. (Nick) - Gnome Warlock
Cecil (Dane) - Githzerai Swordmage
Paige (Leigha) - Half-Elf Sorcerer
Shade (Jesse) - Drow Rogue
Thorfin (Ted) - Goliath Fighter

Last session ended with the party fleeing hordes of zombies, finally taking refuge in a church. As soon as we entered, the door vanished behind us, becoming a blank wall. We turned around and...

The Session:
We found ourselves in a rather hospitable-looking room. There was a long table filled with food. There were various pieces of furniture to examine, and two very detailed statues. The room had five exits: four doors and a flight of stairs.

Not seeing any immediate threat, we ate some of the food and explored some of the side rooms. We found an unmarked potion, and Blast dared Thorfin to drink it. It turned out to be some sort of ice potion, but Thorfin managed to overcome its effects. While exploring a small library, Blast found a ritual scroll of Transmute Stone To Flesh.

Soon, a large Basilisk came lumbering down the stairs. It wasn't a very long battle, and none of us ended up getting turned to stone (Aria came the closest). Our characters realized that the well-sculpted statues were actually people who had been stoned by the Basilisk's gaze. We used the ritual scroll, returning Paige and Cecil to normal.

Aria and Blast recognized Paige from our very first adventure. However, we seemed to be under the impression that she was dead. Also, she had no memory of attending the festival which kicked off our quest.

Further explorations yielded some notes written in a strange language, which none of us recognized. Aria used her Comprehend Languages ritual to read the documents, which turned out to be research notes. Apparently the entire island was actually part of some psychological experiment.

When we were bored with the first floor, we went up the stairs. The second floor had more shelves and crates to examine, and four doors to check out. Shade opened the first door, and we were attacked by two Poltergeists and two Animated Corpses. We weren't worried at first, until Cecil fumbled an attack, causing Dane to have to draw from our Critical Fumble Deck. It cause his power to backfire, summoning two additional Poltergeists. And to make things worse, our party kept rolling badly, while the DM rolled a few crits.

It was a very difficult battle. Jesse - who has a reputation in our group for being the untouchable badass - kept predicting a TPK. And it was close. We fought hard, we bled a lot, some death saves were rolled... but in the end we survived.

After the battle we checked out the room the monsters had come from, then we went downstairs and took an extended rest. Now refreshed, we returned to the second floor and tried more doors. We found one room full of Giant Spiders and Skeletons, but it wasn't a difficult battle. Once we'd cleared the floor, we found the next set of stairs to level 3.

On the third floor we found more furniture to search. Upon opening one cabinet, we were attacked by some bats and swarms of rats. We killed them off and continued our search. We found a few odd items, the strangest being a collection of heads. Thorfin found a puzzle box, but couldn't figure out how to open it.

He handed it off to Cecil, who tried to solve it using his superior intellect. But nope. Finally Shade managed to figure it out using her thievery skills. As the box opened, bright light began escaping from it. It became very hot and Shade dropped it to the floor. A ghostly figure began to take form, and... we ended the session.

We believe there's only one more floor to explore, which will be the bell room itself. Our next session is in three weeks, on September 25th.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Character - Aria Thatcher

This was my character in the Scarred Lands campaign.

Aria Thatcher










Aria is a Half-Elf, but she was raised by two human farmers. She was the product of an affair between her human mother and an Elf. Aria has never met her real father, and knows nothing about him. Aria's stepfather forgave his wife's infidelity, but he never really grew close to his stepdaughter.

One day when Aria was six, a traveling minstrel passed through the area, and spent a few hours entertaining local farmers. He sang a lot of songs and performed some magic tricks. This was the first time Aria realized that the world was bigger than just the farm, and she knew right away that she wanted to know more about everything.

Growing up, Aria spent her days doing farm chores, and her nights studying any subject she could learn. She would pick up any books she could get her hands on, even if it was just a handful of torn pages from a discarded tome. Therefore she ended up learning a small amount on a wide variety of subjects. She found farm life to be a bore, and these books opened the world to her, showing her that the world was full of interesting things.

Her biggest love was music. Mostly she sang, but she would learn to play any musical instrument she could find or make. She also had a bit of natural talent for Arcane magic, but couldn't get her hands on enough magic books to fully study the subject. But she did discover early on that she could mix Arcane magic with her singing to produce some interesting effects.

The other farmers in the community adored her, and she would always entertain them at gatherings. She enjoyed the attention, but it also made her long for bigger audiences and larger towns. At 16 she left home. She knew that if she stayed, she would grow up to be just another farmer. There weren't any opportunities in the area for entertainers, so she decided to travel until she could find someplace where she could make a living as a singer. And maybe even become a world-famous performer someday.

As of the first session of the Campaign, Aria is 18 years old, and has spent the last two years wandering from town to town, seeing the world.

Personality, Mannerisms, and Appearance:
Aria wears bright-colored clothing, and wears her red hair in outrageous styles. She is very outgoing, and loves meeting new people.

Aria is flighty, and has trouble thinking far enough ahead to have long-term life goals. She would like to be a famous singer, recognized and loved everywhere she goes. While she does have a great singing voice, she spreads herself a little thin when it comes to her other hobbies: Learning new musical instruments, comedy, dancing (badly), the healing arts, exploration, arcane research, and collecting things. She collects musical instruments, rare books, rituals, wands, sheet music, pretty objects, and random things she finds that she thinks she might need later (before forgetting about them). She also tries to keep a stock of clothing dye, so she can decorate any new clothing in bright colors.

She is a bit clumsy. Sometimes she dances as part of her routine, but she is not a good dancer. Often her audience thinks her silly movements and accidental pratfalls are intentional comedy. She doesn't always realize whether she's being laughed at or laughed with, but as long as they clap, Aria is happy. People don't take her seriously, which is usually okay with her, because she's rarely serious. However, when she really is serious, and people still dismiss her, she finds it frustrating.

Aria is book smart, but lacks common sense. She's can memorize a book overnight, but still makes bad decisions. She puts her emotions above her better judgment, especially when it involves helping people. She is easily swayed by con artists with sad stories. She is impulsive, and makes snap decisions without thinking it through. She might be a handful at times, but people generally like her anyway.

As a general rule, Aria thinks the best of people until proven otherwise (and sometimes even afterward). She trusts every member of the party, and would probably continue to do so even if she were to find one stealing her coin purse.

Aria thinks of Blast as the little brother she never had. She thinks of Gorn as the big brother who protects you from bullies. For a while she had a small crush on Alek Corman, but he died before it could grow into anything more. She doesn't know what to think yet of her newest companions, Shade and Thorfin, but as usual, she trusts them more than she really should this early into the relationship.

On first impression, most people who meet Aria think she's angelic and pure of heart. And to some extent, they're right. Other people's double entendres often go right over her head, due to her naiveté. Under normal circumstances, the harshest curse she uses is, "Oh, gooseberries!" But there are two exceptions to this virginesque demeanor. When she is very angry, she has been known to let out a string of magically-enhanced curses and insults that are so strong they actually cause pain. Also, when she performs her comedy routines (if it is appropriate for the venue), she has been known to delve into the raunchy side of humor. She is especially proud of her collection of dirty limericks, which she has collected from many sources during her travels.

She also writes limericks of her own, but hers are a bit more family-friendly... and not very good. Here are some of her more memorable verses.  (Let's see how many recognize the reference to the movie "The Court Jester".)

There once was a red-haired Half-Elf;
Who put her life's dreams on a shelf
With no one to test her
skills as a jester
She just made a fool of herself.

There once was a man from Calasta
Who learned how to win at Canasta
His wife was his teacher
And when he finally beat her
He said, "The student has become the Masta!"

There once was a drunkard from Mansk
Who got caught in the park without pantsk
As he got arrested,
He loudly protested,
"I was just going to water the plantsk!"

There once was a Half-Orc named Gorn
Who met with the Minotaur Dorrn.
There was confusion with names
Until Gorn, now insane,
Had steak dinner... but spit out the horns.

A right motley group from Calasta
A Half-Orc, a Gnome, and two casters
With an item of renown
Took a cart and fled town
While the Half-Orc kept yelling "Drive faster!"