Thursday, November 18, 2010

The NEW Character Builder

I’m really not picky. When Wizards of the Coast announced 4th edition, grognards everywhere groaned, but I couldn’t wait to try the new system. When WOTC announced the Essentials line, forum members pitched such a fit that I had to avoid the message boards for a while, lest my eyes roll all the way out of my head. Every time WOTC makes the slightest change to anything, they get blasted for it, while I try to ignore their unpleaseable fanbase and enjoy the change. I don’t like everything they do, but usually I think the good outweighs the bad and I’m willing to go with the flow. But this new Character Builder is hard to accept.

On 11/16/2010, WOTC released the new version of the Character Builder. The old CB was an actual program you could download, and I loved it. The new CB is a web application, and so far... I'm not as impressed. Now, to be fair, this new version isn't really complete. Most of the things I hate about it might improve in the future.

For starters, right now it’s buggy and incomplete. Of course this will be fixed in the future, and the only real scandal there is why they decided to release it so early. It’s actually hard for me to use it long enough to really get a feel for it, since it crashes a lot.

You have to be online to use it. So if you were hoping to kill some time building characters on your laptop between wi-fi hotspots, you’re out of luck. And because it runs on their server, it's slow. Not insanely slow, but slower than the old CB. This isn't likely to improve much, because you are running this over the internet. Button-clicks that used to work instantaneously now have to load like a web page.

Of course, this also means you have to have a subscription to use it. “Duh,” you say, but I only bring it up because it wasn’t necessarily the case before. With the older CB, you could pay for a one-month subscription just to download the CB and get the newest update, and if you were happy with the content, you could wait a few months before updating again. As long as the program stayed on your hard drive, you could use it. So if you didn’t require all the latest feats and powers, you could basically pay as much or as little as you wanted to. But now, you have to stay subscribed if you want to use the builder.

And for that unreasonably high subscription price, you only get to store 20 characters on their server. This is ridiculously low, IMO. In the old Character Builder, a character data file is usually less than 200k. So for our $70+ a year, they can only afford to give us 4 megs of space? Some gaming groups share a single subscription, but with only 20 characters that’s going to be hard. But then, that’s probably one of the things WOTC was trying to prevent anyway. On the bright side, with everything stored on their server, there's no more transferring your character file back and forth between your desktop and your laptop.

It doesn't have an option for normal-looking 4e character sheets. It gives you a choice of two styles. One is the Essentials style, and the other is a new style I hadn’t seen before. While I do like the new style sheet, I hope they add normal 4e sheets as an option. Preview:

Essentials Style:
New Character Builder Style:

The program’s interface is simplistic, and seems designed for D&D newbies. It suggests classes for you based on combat role. I’m not against that as an option, but I would like them to put in a “Beginner/Expert” toggle switch that I can set. If I go to the trouble of loading up the program, I usually already know what class I’m going to build.

Oh well. The older Character Builder didn’t work well when it first came out, and it took a while to work the bugs out. The difference is, I really liked the old CB from the first time I used it, bugs and all. So far using the new one is onerous.

In a way, the project was doomed from the start. The web program was not designed to give WOTC's customers any sort of improved experience. No, first and foremost, it was created because WOTC was worried about piracy. The old character builder has been illegally downloaded a lot, so they decided to put the CB online instead. I can't fault their motives, but I wish they hadn't rushed it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Artifact Hunters: Umberlee's... What?

Game Date: 11/13/2010
DM: Nick

The Party (Level 3):
Amarat (Tamara) - Elf Rogue
Anna Bella (Leigha) - Halfling Monk
Gavail Pontiff (Ted) - Eladrin Wizard
Marek the Silver (Rusty) - Dragonborn Paladin
Morigan McBane (Jesse) - Human Artificer
Talindra Seryth (Matt) - Razorclaw Shifter Avenger

New to the group is Tamara, who is giving our game a chance. While she is new to 4e and isn't yet comfortable with the rules, she did a great job and we hope she returns.

We used my new horse miniatures this session. We've been doing a lot of fighting on horseback this adventure (despite Jesse's objections). Using the minis makes the board look a bit more cluttered, but it also looks really neat, IMO.

Unfortunately 4e's horseback rules are confusing and a little bit silly. For a while we were jumping off our horses the moment we heard the slightest noise, just so we wouldn't have to spend a standard action dismounting once battle started. But most of us are warming up to mounted combat, and we spent most of tonight's first encounter attacking from horseback. Tal and Marek only dismounted because they were knocked off their horses. Gavail loves her scathebeast, and Marek plans to buy a rage drake mount. Morigan is... not a big horse fan. But to each their own.

The Session:
Last session ended with us preparing to fight some bandits. We rode into the bandit camp, where Amarat was tied to a tree. She slipped out of her bonds early in battle, and helped us kill her captors.

The encounter consisted of four bandits (who looked like Burt Reynolds, the token pictures chosen as a "Smokey and the Bandit" reference), two panthers, one sexy female wizard, and a Genasi Stoneshield. The Genasi was the hardest to kill. Tal singled out the Genasi early in the fight, which may have been a mistake. He didn't have to roll very high to hit her, and it was hard for her to hit him. Tal hit 0 hp twice this encounter, but both times she was healed by Morigan before she had to make her first death save.

Eventually the rest of the party finished off their targets and came to Tal's aid. Marek's Divine Challenge took the focus off the battered kitty and soon we finished off the creature.

We reached the next town. We learned that the ship we wanted to ride was about to leave port, so we had a skill challenge to ride the horses to the port before it left. We failed the challenge, putting us a little behind on our quest.

We booked passage on a ship called "Umberlee's Vagina" (you gotta love Nick's sense of humor). There was some debate over the passenger fee of 65 gp (up from 60 after Morigan failed a Diplomacy check). At night, we had to decide where each of us slept. Tal slept in the cargo hold with the horses, because she isn't fond of sailing. Gavail joined her so she could be near her scathebeast. Still angry about the fee, Morigan slept in one of the lifeboats up top, intent on leaving us to our fate if things went sour. Marek slept up top as well, but left his armor in the cargo hold, for fear of drowning if he fell overboard. Amarat also slept up top so she could be ready for anything. Ana Bella slept in the crow's nest with the ship's lookout, where nothing salacious went on at all. Or if it did, I've blocked it from my memory. *sticks fingers in ears* La la la la la la I can't hear you!

Many seamen jokes later, the ship was attacked by Sahuagin. For the battle, we were allowed to "purchase" additional crew members to fight with us, by lowering the final XP of the encounter. A quote from Tal: "I'd like to purchase the maximum number of sailors." We faced six Sahuagin - One priest, one barbarian, and four minions. On our side we had the ship's captain, a guard, a lackey (who also looked like Burt Reynolds... is there something you want to tell us, Nick?), and two human rabbles. This encounter would have been fairly easy except that our Defender - the one party member who marks creatures so that he's the only one taking damage - wasn't wearing any armor. And of course he picked a fight with the Sahuagin Barbarian, the toughest of the group.

The minions went down quickly, followed by the priest. Eventually we had the barbarian surrounded, with everyone hacking away from all directions. The barbarian knocked Marek down to 0 a few times, but thankfully we keep Sleepy (Marek's squire) stocked with healing potions. The barbarian took out a couple of the crew members, but in the end we killed it. We even negotiated our 65 gold back.

Our travels eventually took us to a Genasi town. As part of our main quest, we were looking for a geologist. A Genasi named Shale had us meet him at a bar called Gaia's Bosom, where he bought us free drinks. He wanted to hire us to find his missing brother Manganese (a geologist). Using a magical scroll, he sent his brother a message asking his location. Manganese was in trouble on an Earthmote, and we agreed to find him.

After a lot of climbing, we found a building marked with the symbol of Bane. Marek and Tal especially dislike Bane worshippers, so we prepared for a fight. But that's for next session.

Obsidian Portal Entry

I'm not sure if we left our horses back in town, or if we tied them up at the bottom of the climb. Also, there is some debate over whether Gavail's scathebeast came with us, but I believe we finally decided we left him with the horses.

613 Each
The breakdown:
1525 bandit encounter
150 racing to Sapra
150 Negotiating with the captain
1552 Sahuagin attack
300 Saving Gregorio
Total 3677/6 = 613
This brings us up to 3761 (Level 4)

Gold: 353 each
The breakdown:
618 taken from the bandits of Morningstar Hollows
1500 sack of pearls: 5 white and 2 black found on the Sahuagin priest
Total 2118/6 = 353

Other Treasure:
Circlet of Second Chances (Marek)
Bracers of Archery (Morigan)
Vicious Fullblade (Tal)
Leather Shockweave Armor (Morigan)
Cape of the Mountebank (Tal)
Cat Paws

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Horse Miniatures

Because we're in a campaign that uses a lot of horseback riding, I recently bought several horse miniatures from a site called Stuffer Shack. We used them in our most recent session, and they worked very well. The horses are positioned in such a way that your mini can fit on the same base. One of our horses even had two riders, and they both fit just fine.

They come in 12 styles, so there's something for everyone. The party's Halfling Monk rode a pony, while our Dragonborn Paladin rode something grander. You can order specific ones, but that costs extra. I just ordered the 10-pack, and was perfectly satisfied with the variety. I didn't get two of the same horse, so everyone in the party had a unique steed.

They come with some sticky-tack for keeping your minis from sliding off the horse base, which could be useful, but I found I didn't need it. The horses are solid, well-made, and feel right at home next to WOTC's pre-painted minis.

If your campaign involves horses, I highly recommend them. If you also want to try the same seller's bloodied markers and mini counters, there's an Adventurer's Bundle that's a pretty good value. Our group already has a good system of keeping track of such things, or I would have gone for that deal myself.

I'd also like to add that they shipped the horses very quickly, and I received my order just a couple of days after I placed it. Impressive.

Here's some pics:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I have a thing for 20-sided dice. I've always thought they were neat, even when I was a little kid who thought D&D was satanic. I've always wanted to find ways to use them in other games. I wonder how much it would change Monopoly to use a d20? You'd get around the board faster, but you'd also have a chance to roll a 1 (which is impossible in normal Monopoly).

I started collecting RPG dice about a year before I actively started looking for a D&D campaign. Here's some pics of my collection:

I know it's silly, but I like to match up dice with the personality of the character I'm playing. A magic user might get something clear or sparkly, while a melee type might get darker colors. I also like to get matching dice bags if possible.

I also like collecting weird dice dice, in strange sizes or that show funny results. Clockwise from top left: Large dice, glow-in-the-dark dice, tiny dice, and clear dice.

Here's a few unusual ones, including astrology dice, d1000, d100, d30, d24, pizza toppings, months, round dice, mood dice, weather dice, rock/paper/scissors dice, and a few odd finds.

I used the mood die once while DMing, when playing a mentally unstable character who had violent mood swings. Some day I hope to do something similar as a player.

This is a solution I had for playing in the car:

These bead boxes are made by Craft Mates; I bought mine at Joann. You shake the whole thing then look at the die you needed to see. The compartments lock shut so the doors shouldn't open while you're shaking it. Of course, 4e is difficult to play without minis, but if you run a low-combat module, you can probably get away with just writing on graph paper. I put them together when planning our last Florida trip, but we didn't get around to playing D&D, so I still don't know if it's a workable idea.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


While I've played individual D&D games from just about every edition, my first full campaign was for 4e. Tantris was a very good campaign, run by a veteran DM. However, the DM was new to 4e, and we played using a lot of elements from previous editions. Most notable was the lack of miniatures. It worked for us - it was a low-combat campaign, and we were running fairly simple characters. But in general, 4e just doesn't work without miniatures. There's way too many powers involving zones and "burst 2 in 10" spells and tactical moves. But beyond that, I just don't think I want to play in any non-mini campaign again.

My reasons are threefold:

1. I just really like minis. I've always enjoyed collecting things, and I was collecting D&D minis long before I actually started looking for a regular game. But my minis aren't doing anyone any good just hiding in a box.

2. My mind wanders. During the Tantris campaign, I had to give the DM my full concentration every second, which is hard for me. Sometimes he'd say something that would spark an idea in my head. I'd suddenly think, "Oooh! That gives me an idea for a story!" And I'd start writing that story in my head. When I finally returned to the present, I had missed three paragraphs of exposition. It was even worse in combat. Our DM was great at describing action scenes, but it's hard to keep an entire battlefield in my head. I'd constantly lose track of who was standing where. With minis, one glance at the board and you know where everyone is standing, who are affected by which status effects, and even which enemies have taken the most damage.

3. Breaks. When everything is in everybody's heads, then we all have to hear every word to know what's going on. If somebody has to go to the bathroom, then the game has to stop. Otherwise you'll just have to catch them up when they get back, and what's the point of saying something the first time if you know you're going to have to repeat it in a minute. With 4e, you just wait until combat, then get up right after your turn. Someone else can look at your character sheet to help determine if an attack hits you while you're gone. By the time you get back, it might be your turn again, but you can plainly see where everyone is standing now, which creatures are bloodied, and who is dazed/prone/blinded/etc. Nobody has to repeat anything.

Some people think using minis limits roleplay. I disagree with this totally. For starters, out-of-combat roleplay is unchanged. In combat, well, admittedly 4e's combat rules are tighter, which in itself might limit roleplay. But that has nothing to do with the minis themselves. And I don't see how knowing where all the creatures are standing affects roleplay. Personally I've seen some pretty neat roleplay in combat regardless. It really just depends on the player, and whether the DM is willing to allow off-the-wall combat moves.

Anyway, that's a lot of buildup for what is basically a blog to show off pictures of my minis. It's nothing special - I don't like painting minis, so I pretty much collect WOTC's prepainted stuff. But regardless, here's some pics of my collection.

Here's some of the ones my friends and I use for our characters:
Gygax High, Class of 2008

Top Row:
Krusk (Half-Orc Rogue, LFR, Rick)
Rhogar Bloodfang (Dragonborn Fighter, LFR, Bryan)
Kryla Bloodfang (Dragonborn Sorcerer, LFR, Matt)
Voranna Elun (Eladrin Ranger, LFR, Matt

Middle Row:
Dorath (Goliath Fighter, Praktas, Bryan)
Talindra Seryth (Shifter Avenger, Avatars of Torm, Matt)
Aria Thatcher (Half-Elf Bard, Scarred Lands, Matt)
Flint (Shifter Ranger, LFR, Bryan)

Bottom Row:
Damakos Redhorn (Teifling Rogue, Praktas, Rick)
Lia (Eladrin Wizard, LFR, Misty)
Drew Baker (Human Fighter, Praktas, Bryan)

Here's some other misc pictures of my collection. For most of these you can click on the picture for a larger version.

Let's start with some elemental types:

Other various creatures:

You shall not pass!

Lizardfolk, Kobolds and Goblins:

Animal types:

A few pics of heroic types and other non-monsters:

Some undead, insects, and drow:

If this one looks blurry, it's because they're using magic to distort your vision:

Orc fortress:

Okay, that was fun and all, but bring on the Dragons!

Most of these pictures were arranged and taken by KJ. Some of the props are pieces by Dwarven Forge.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Character - Talindra Seryth

This is my current character in the Artifact Hunters: The Avatar of Torm campaign.

Talindra "Tal" Seryth




Razorclaw Shifter







Tal was born to a tribe of forest-dwelling Razorclaw Shifters. Though the members of her tribe all had tan skin and brown hair, Tal's colorings were shades of gray and black. This might have simply been a natural genetic mutation, but the tribe believed it to be the mark of an evil god. Fearing a bad omen, they took the infant to a clearing on the other side of the forest, and left her there to die.

Whether by pure chance or divine intervention, the infant was found by a member of the Talons of Retribution, a reclusive order of religious assassins. A somewhat darker offshoot of the Harpers, the Talons are a multi-denominational cult, united by their common hatred of Bane.

The Talons also thought this strange baby was a sign from the gods, but unlike the Shifter tribe, they interpreted it as a good omen. And so they took her in and raised her, training her from infancy for one purpose - to seek out and destroy Bane worshipers.

Personality, Mannerisms, and Appearance:
Tal has a kind heart, but others often see her as rude and unapproachable. She is obsessed with her life's mission, and has little use for hobbies or small talk.

When she shows a sense of humor at all, it tends toward insults and sarcasm, mostly because she holds her teammates up to her standards of discipline. When she fails at something herself, she obsesses over it internally, and will spend days replaying the event in her head and analyzing where she went wrong. Despite her single-mindedness, she has a soft spot for art and beauty.

Tal has catlike facial features, which become more pronounced when she is angry. While most members of her species have brown or tan skin and hair, Tal's colors are more gray and black. She has bright green eyes, often her only visible feature when she's in the shadows. She is missing part of her left ear, and has scars all over her body. Most are the result of a childhood spent in training. She has a small tattoo on her inner left wrist, the symbol of her religious order. She usually wears dark clothing.

Creating this character:
When our last campaign ended, we were in a bit of a rush to decide what to do next. I wanted to try something new, and was open to anything. Someone suggested Avenger, a class which I knew nothing about. I've had the PHB2 since it was released, but for some reason I'd never read the pages on that class. I've got to say, it's interesting. Not as damaging as a normal striker, but it makes up for it by hitting more often.

Originally Tal was going to be an Elf. I even chose the name "Talindra" by searching the web for pages on Elf names. The only thing that bothered me was I was tired of elves. Okay, technically I've not played a full-blood elf in 4e. I played a few in NeverWinter Nights, and in 4e I've played Half-Elves, Drow, and Eladrin. But I still wanted to do something less Elven. At the last minute, less than an hour before I left the house for our first session, I decided to make her a Shifter. I've always liked cats, and I've always wanted to play something catlike. Plus, Shifters have the same stat synergy as Elves for the Avenger class. Our resident statcruncher thinks I've made a mistake, since Elves are faster and can shift through rough terrain. But I've always preferred fluff over crunch.

The next problem was choosing a miniature. I didn't have a mini that really looked like a female shifter, much less one with a greatsword. I finally went with the Catfolk Wilder:

The problem is, Shifters don't typically have black fur. I could have lived with that - a mini doesn't have to look a exactly like your character. But I like the way the mini looks. So I wrote Tal a background that gives her darker skin and hair. The weapons are still wrong, but it's not like she couldn't hold two swords. Maybe that's what she looked like in training. These days she carries a single large blade and wears black robes, but she might occasionally look like her mini when she's practicing.