Thursday, December 29, 2011

Update: Race/Class Build List

I've finally updated my Race/Class Build List to include races/builds from Heroes of the Feywild.  It's basically a list of all the races and class builds in D&D 4e, and which race/build combinations have the best stat synergy.  Wow, 4e has 26 classes now, and 115 builds for those classes.  It also has 32 PC races, plus 11 monster races, making 43 playable races.

Please let me know if you see any mistakes on the list.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas... now roll initiative.

Seasons greetings to my gaming group, my gamer friends, my blog readers, and anyone else who happens to stumble across this page.  Have a wonderful holiday!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unlikely Heroes: Game, Interrupted

Game Date: 12/10/2011
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Dalia (Matt): Human Ardent
Durp the Oblivious (Cliff): Half-Elf Bard
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Sorcerer
Marrick (Greg): Dwarf Knight
Teddi (Ted):  Dwarf Warlock

Last Session:
I missed the 12/3/2011 session, and had to have the other players fill me in.  Here is a quick recap of what I missed, courtesy of the other players:

We left town to search for some Druids to cure Jevra.  On our way through the woods, we saw a pack of wolves feeding on a corpse.  We chose not to fight them, and just skirted their way around the pack.   Derp found a magic dagger.  The party then came across another town, and went to the inn.  While there, a ranger accosted Derp, claiming that the dagger belonged to him.  This resulted in a bar fight with the ranger's party.  The brawl went on for a while until the sheriff arrived and broke it up.

During the fight, a valuable shroud was burned.  The shroud belonged to a professor, and the sheriff held both parties responsible.  Also, during the night, the dagger was stolen from the sheriff and our party was not allowed to leave town until we found it.  We eventually found it in a stable, having been stolen by a gnome's familiar.

Since the shroud was priceless, the professor came up with a task for us instead of paying for it.  He wants our party to find some druids and ask them a favor.  He wants to borrow some artifacts from them for scientific purposes.  Since we were looking for druids anyway, it seemed like a fair punishment.  Plus we now have a map, so we're not wandering around the forest aimlessly. Our party also hopes to track down the ranger's party and get a little payback.  Gee, I hope these woods are safe...

Today's Session:
As we were getting to leave the inn, we discovered that we couldn't find Glynnyn.  She appeared to have left town, and we wondered if she left with the ranger's party.  We entered the woods and began tracking the other party's footprints.  After a bit of hiking, we triggered a trap.  Merrick and Keyanna quickly found themselves hanging upside down from a rope.  We then heard some rustling in the woods, and were attacked by a werewolf and four wolves.

The wolves were easy enough, but the werewolf meant business.  It had a nasty burst attack that hurt us a lot.  It took Keyanna a few rounds to get herself free of the trap, and Marrick spent even longer as a Dwarf piƱata. Eventually the werewolf tried to flee, but we managed to overtake it and finish it off.  Teddi was bitten during the fight, and has contracted Moon Frenzy.

After the battle, Teddi found a scroll of "Speak with Dead".  We continued to follow our map until we reached a clearing.  We saw a circle of stones, with a mass of moving vines in the middle.  A wolf was being engulfed by the writhing vines.  We considered trying to help the wolf, but having already been attacked by wolves today, we just watched it for a while.  Finally Teddi ran up to help it, got grabbed by the vines, and teleported back to freedom.

There was Elvish writing carved in the stones.  Keyanna translated one passage as:  "Two miles towards the Sun's first fire, the Earth's embrace will steal its ire."  She wanted to read the other side of the stones, but couldn't see enough from her position.  So she climbed a nearby tree and tried to climb out over the stone circle on one of the branches.  It didn't work out like she'd hoped.  On top of one of the monoliths was a suit of plate armor and a panther.  And it turned out the tree was full of stirges.

We were attacked by one large stirge, four stirge suckerlings, the panther, and of course the vines.  Early in the battle, Merrick climbed up onto the monolith to fight the panther.  The vines kept grabbing him and trying to pull him off, but being a dwarf he was able to resist their pulling.  While he faced the panther, the rest of us picked off the suckerling minions.  The big stirge attached itself to Teddi, and he'd already used up his one teleport power.  Jevra ran off and hid between some trees, but then transformed into a werewolf herself.  She came back out and attacked the party in her wolfy form.  Merrick finally killed the panther, but was unable to rejoin the party because the vines still held him in place.

We had to end our session early due to some real-life concerns.

Due to the holiday season, we might not play again for a few weeks, so we'll want to keep a good record of where we left off.

We're still in battle, and the battle isn't going very well.  We've used up a lot of our Encounter powers and Dailies, and most of us are low on hit points.  There are three enemies left: the vines, the large stirge, and Jevra.  None of them are bloodied yet.  The vines aren't much a problem, if Merrick can just get away from them.  The stirge is still stuck to Teddi's face, and is hard to hit because it gets an AC bonus when grabbing something.  Jevra might be our biggest concern.  She hits hard - she hit Dalia twice in one round, taking two-thirds of Dalia's hit points.  Since we've used up most of our healing options, we can't afford to take many more hits from her.  Also, Dalia may have contracted Moon Frenzy.

Initiative Order (As best we remember it):

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unlikely Heroes: Magic Carpet Ride

Game Date: 11/26/2011
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Dalia (Matt): Human Ardent
Durp the Oblivious (Cliff): Half-Elf Bard
Glynnyn (Tamara): Elf Druid
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Sorcerer
Marrick (Greg): Dwarf Knight

The Session:
Last session we barely survived an epic battle with a Beholder and a gaggle of Wights.  This left us in a poor state, and our plan to take an extended rest was foiled by the arrival of several more undead.  We huddled in a side room, while our only escape was blocked by a large number of Kobold Zombies.  We hadn't even managed to get a short rest in, and our party was desperately low on healing surges.  Things looked pretty grim.

Only 16 of 'em?  Bring it on!

Fortunately, they were all minions.  Keyanna took out a good number of them with her blast attacks, and none of us took much damage during the fight.  After our victory, we finally took our well-deserved extended rest in the side crypt, while Payday and his lumberjack cronies guarded the door.  Once we were rested, Marrick climbed up the walls of the Beholder's chamber, through the magical fog, but didn't find anything of interest. 

The next room was full of rubble from old statues, making the entire room difficult terrain.  Marrick and Dalia were the first to enter, and were quickly hit by crossbow bolts.  We suddenly faced a pair of Undead Kobold Marauders, four Zombies, and their leader:  the newly-reanimated Kobold King Merlokrep, whom we had defeated a few sessions ago.  It wasn't easy, but we came out on top.

The final room contained a large sarcophagus made of carved coral, and four bound lumberjack prisoners.  Inside the sarcophagus we found a Mercurial Rod, and a stone tablet inscribed with a strange language.  Inside the Kobold King's skull we found an amber gemstone with floating runes inside.  While holding the gemstone (a "Polyglot Gem"), Keyanna found she was able to read the text on the stone tablet.  It read "Zelfin Cova" in the Azlanti language.

When we got back to town, Kreed finally unlocked our tower for us.  We reunited with Durp in town, even though he was supposed to be out of town with Ranell for a couple of weeks.  (Derp: "I forgot my lute.")  The next morning, we discovered that we'd all contracted Mummy Rot.  On our way to the church to get treated, we heard that several of the lumberjacks from our party had died overnight, including the four we'd rescued.  Apparently we'd brought back a plague, and the Rot was spreading through town.

The cleric at the church was working on a cure, but it would take a few days and require some materials that weren't found in town.  Kreed came to see us again and asked us to go to the town of Olfden for supplies to fight the plague.  (Aren't his own employees good for anything besides cutting down trees?)  Marrick volunteered first, but Kreed hasn't really trusted him since the dwarf threw a hammer at him last session.  Instead, Durp made the trip solo, using a magic carpet borrowed from Kreed.  (Everybody now, "I can show you the world...")

He was gone four days, during which the rest of us had to make heal/endurance checks to stay ahead of the disease.  He did a little shopping while he was there, and traded a Sacrificial Longsword we'd found for a more useful Songblade.  By the time he got back to Falcon's Hollow, the rest of our party had been cured through die rolls.  But the supplies were still needed by the town, so it wasn't a wasted trip.

We then learned about some murders in town.  Three people had died by the docks, and had wounds that might have been made by an animal.  We headed straight for the church, to see if our favorite Teen Wolf Jevra had been involved.  The priestess didn't seem to think Jevra had been getting out, but she did say that Jevra had been a discipline problem ever since she learned about the deaths of Vex and Davor.

We decided we needed to get Jevra out of town fast.  We didn't want to chance the townsfolk pointing fingers at her, and we weren't so sure we trusted her ourselves.  We'd been planning on taking her to the local Druids soon when we had the time, to see if they could cure her lycanthopy.  Off we go!  Wait, not yet.  We had to postpone our trip for legal reasons.

We'd been waiting for a certain lawyer to come to town, so that we could finalize the legality of our adventuring company.  We didn't want to have to rewrite our tower's lease every time our group's membership changed, so we legally established a name for ourselves.  No longer are we just unlikely heroes, from now on we're officially known as...

(We briefly considered the name "Durp's Bitches".)

We also signed a three year lease on the tower.  We have a remodeling contract for the tower for 10,000 gold (we already have 4 thousand towards that from our dealings with Kreed).  It should take about 8 months for the work on the tower to be completed.  We also decided to go ahead and employ a couple of hirelings to stay in the tower for upkeep and security purposes.  For this, we sought out some of the kids we'd worked with on our previous adventures.

We knew that Hollin's sister Ralla was working as a prostitute, and figured it might not be the best job for a girl her age, so we looked for her first.  We arrived at the brothel, the Rouge Lady, but it wasn't open yet.  Nevertheless, Durp knocked repeatedly on the door.
*knock knock knock* "Hookers."  *knock knock knock* "Hookers."  *knock knock knock* "Hookers."

A window opened up above us, and a couple of annoyed guys dumped a chamber pot on Keyanna's head.  She wasn't thrilled. Merrick and Durp kept knocking, and one of the men upstairs aimed a crossbow at them.  Durp shot him with his own crossbow, and Merrick broke into the brothel through a window.  After Merrick let the rest of the party in, a noseless Half-Orc angrily entered the room and asked us what the hell we were doing here.  It was Kabran Bloodeye, head of thieves guild.

We asked to buy Ralla's contract, which he agreed to do for 300 gold.  Afterwards, we found Ralla and Hollin, and put them to work in the tower.  Now that we'd tied up a bunch of loose ends, we got ready for our trip to find the Druids.   And we'll pick up from there next week.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Unlikely Heroes: I Only Have Eyes For You... And You... And You...

Game Date: 11/19/2011
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Dalia (Matt): Human Ardent
Glynnyn (Tamara): Elf Druid
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Sorcerer
Marrick (Greg): Dwarf Knight

The Session:
Last session we fought a small kobold army in a lumberjack camp, resulting in the deaths of three party members.  As long as the party was going through drastic changes, we decided to switch systems, abandoning Pathfinder and returning to D&D 4e.  We're also trying out the "inherent bonus" system (DMG2 p.138), and keeping magic items to a minimum.

The surviving party members headed back home, devastated by their recent loss.  Upon reaching the city, their first order of business was to take care of their dead.  Since their players were absent, Durp and Ranell volunteered to deliver Davor's body back to his family.  This left Keyanna and Glynnyn to plan the burials of Vex and Adrilar.  They headed for the church to make arrangements.

Meanwhile, Dalia Lockwood arrived in town.  She is a member of the Eagle Knights, on an undercover mission to learn more about Kreed.  Her organization has been suspicious of him for a while, but they haven't successfully gathered any evidence of his misdeeds.  Lately there have been rumors about a group of adventurers who refused to join Kreed's payroll.  Dalia hopes to speak to these heroes and see if they've seen anything that might help her.  Her first few attempts to learn of their whereabouts were fruitless, but eventually she spoke to the right people and learned where to find the party.

A thick-skinned dwarf named Marrick came to town as well.  He is looking for information about the Dwarven Monastery, and has been searching for his lost uncle Glintaxe.  After asking around a bit, he was pointed in the right direction.

At the church, Keyanna had the sad duty of informing Jevra (our young lycanthropic ward) about the deaths of her adoptive parents.  Jevra didn't take it well, but Keyanna promised her that the rest of the party would still take care of her.

Soon, Marrick entered the church and introduced himself.  Keyanna told him what she knew of Glintaxe and the monastery, and Marrick joined the party.  Shortly afterward, Dalia also arrived and introduced herself.  While the adventurers couldn't provide her with any additional evidence against Kreed, they were exactly the kind of group Dalia was looking to join:  people who have done jobs for Kreed without actually aligning themselves with him. Dalia plans to stay with the group for a while, so that she can collect the information she needs.

The party attempted to return to the tower, but found that they were now locked out.  Apparently our contract was in the names of Davor and Snidely, both now deceased.  We spoke to Kreed about the issue, but the meeting did not get off to a good start.  Marrick lost his temper quickly, and tried to attack Kreed.  Keyanna quickly stepped in and prevented the fight from going further.  Once things calmed down, Kreed offered us a deal.  Fulfill our obligations with him - that is, make up for the mission we just botched - and he would alter the contract to cover all the members of our ever-evolving group.  We're not allowed to enter the tower again until the mission is complete.

Reports say zombies have taken some human prisoners at a place called "Cold Marsh".  We left town right away, accompanied by Payday and more of Kreed's men.  We reached our destination, a gargantuan burial mound.  As we started down the stairs into the crypt, we were attacked from behind by a pair of Shadows.  Dalia never managed to hit once this encounter; not a good start to my character. We continued down the stairs and found a room full of fountains, where we defeated three Lesser Water Elementals.

The next room was a large open area with what appeared to be clouds up above us, obscuring the ceiling.  There was a smaller room to our left from which we heard moaning, and we could hear laughter coming from the hallway on the far end of the room.  Marrick was a few steps into the room when a blast hit him from above.  A Beholder floated down out of the clouds. 

The Beholder hovered above us, forty feet in the air, which was frustrating since most of us don't have ranged attacks.  Since she couldn't hit the enemy, Glynnyn decided to explore the adjoining room, which was full of sarcophagi.  She found a magic sword (that's good!), but she also woke the dead (that's bad).

The Beholder finally came down, and we hacked at it with all our might.  As it got closer to death, the battle was joined by a Wraith, three Wights, and two Deathlock Wights.  It was a difficult battle, and we lost a lot of surges.  By the end of the battle, Glynnyn was completely out of surges and low on hit points.

After the fight, our immediate plan was to hole up in the smaller crypt room, and take turns guarding the door so we could take an extended rest.  However, as we moved towards the crypt, we heard some noises approaching from down the hall.  We ended the session on that unsettling note.

Character - Dalia

This is my new character in the "Unlikely Heroes of Darkmoon Vale" campaign.

Full Name:
Dalia Lockwood






As a teen, Dalia lived a charmed life.  She wasn't from a wealthy or prestigious family, but somehow she was unusually popular with her peers.  Doors were always opened for her, both literally and figuratively.  She never thought much about why, she just figured she deserved it for being pretty.  The idea that she might have some latent mental powers, and that she might be subconsciously influencing people with her mind... well, her thoughts just didn't run that deep.

When she was twenty, she met a soldier named Duncan Cwyburn.  He was an officer of the Eagle Knights, a militia devoted to justice.  She was surprised to find that he was immune to her charms.  What's more, he recognized her psionic abilities for what they were, and convinced her that she could be more than just a pretty face.  She joined the Knights, where she learned to control her psionic abilities, for battle and for defense.  More importantly, they taught her to be a responsible person, instead of a petty socialite.

Dalia has always had a knack for the healing arts, so her primary training is in the field of combat medicine.  Two years have passed since Dalia began her training, and her superiors have decided it's time for her to get some field experience.  Recently stories have begun to spread about a group of busy adventurers in Falcon's Hollow, and their refusal to cooperate with the unscrupulous aristocrat Thuldrin Kreed.  The Knights have been eying Kreed's suspicious dealings for a while, but have neither the evidence nor the legal power to take any action against him.  Perhaps these new adventurers might know something?  Dalia has been sent to check it out.

Personality, Mannerisms, and Appearance:
Dalia has red hair and attractive features.  As a representative of the Eagle Knights, she is the epitome of courtesy and chivalry.  Her psionic-enhanced empathy, combined with her social training, sometimes allows her to gain control of conversations in order to get what she wants.  When insulted, she keeps her temper in check, and responds with the civility one would expect from a knight.  In short, she's nice... until it's time to not be nice.  Once things turn physical, she has no qualms about smashing faces and severing limbs.

Creating this character:
This character came together pretty much by itself.  I rolled her race and class randomly to get Human Ardent.  Our party has been greatly lacking a healer, so I mostly took healing options when building her.  I picked the "Knight Hospitaler" theme and the "Surgeon" background, after which her combat medic background practically wrote itself.  Going through my miniatures, I only found one that really fit the build, so I based the character's appearance on the mini.

Her name also sort of evolved by itself.  I wasn't really thinking about names while building her, so I kept calling her "Ardent" in my head.  Subconsciously this evolved into "Dale", probably because of Flash Gordon's "Dale Arden".  But I didn't really like the name Dale, so I morphed it into Dalia.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Unlikely Heroes: Kobold Katastrophe

Game Date: 11/12/2011
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Adrilar (Greg): Elf Sorcerer
Davor (Ted): Half-Orc Sorcerer
Glynnyn (Tamara): Elf Druid
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Dragonblood Sorcerer
Nishallivexiania "Vex" Corman (Matt): Half-Elf Monk
Ranell (Michael): Halfling Barbarian

The Session:
Last session left off with us checking out a lumber camp.  When we got there, we were ambushed by a bunch of kobolds.  Adrilar went down, others were wounded, and things looked grim.  We ended the session on that cliffhanger.

So, after dreading this potential TPK for over a month, we started right where we left off.  We faced a large number of enemies, mostly kobolds and kobold zombies.  Ranell briefly considered shooting Vex in the leg and fleeing into the forest.

Adrilar was the first to go.  He got swarmed by kobold zombies, who continued to attack him after he went down.  They didn't leave him alone until they'd eaten his brain.  I'd make a joke about how it must have been a small meal, but I'll refrain out of respect for the dead.

(But I'm still thinking it.)
When the battle first began, Davor had been poking around in a small, two-room shack.  He heard some noises from the shack's other room, so he blocked the door by pushing a desk in front of it.  He then left the shack, and investigated a large shed.  In the shed he encountered a giant beetle, which very quickly killed him.

I think this picture speaks for itself.

Once we killed all the outdoor enemies, we had a brief respite.  We looted Adrilar's healing items and used them to get ourselves back up to full.  The survivors - Glyynyn, Keyanna, Vex, and Ranell - started looking for Davor.  None of us had seen him run into the shed, so we didn't even know he was dead yet.  Ranell and Vex went into the small shack, pushed the desk aside, and fought a few more kobolds and a swarm of bugs.  We'd had bad luck with swarms before, so after a couple of rounds we sealed the room again and went back outside.

Once outside, the giant beetle came scuttling out of the shed.  It was very hard to hit and did copious amounts of damage, but we stood our ground (for some reason).  Keyanna tried to cast Sleep on it, and rolled a crit on her attack roll.  Unfortunately, it turns out there is no attack roll for Sleep in Pathfinder, and Sleep only affects creatures of lower level than the beetle anyway.

The beetle knocked Ranell out and buried him in the ground.  Keyanna spent her next turn pulling Ranell out of the ground so he wouldn't suffocate. Vex was messily killed by the massive insect.  It was Glynnyn who finally delivered the killing blow against the beetle.

The final survivors were Glynnyn, Keyanna, Ranell, and of course Durp (because his player was absent, Durp stayed on the sidelines).  They found a cart and loaded it up with the bodies of their friends.  They decided to head back to town, and ended the session there.

In an earlier blog I compared the pros and cons of Pathfinder and D&D 4e.  One of the bigger issues was combat length.  Part of the reason we switched to Pathfinder was that we were tired of 4e's incredibly long encounters.  Well, this entire session was a single encounter.  To be fair, we started a little late and ended a little early, but it was still a pretty long battle for Pathfinder.  I wonder how it would have played out in 4e.

Our party has just changed so drastically, and some of the players have been getting a little annoyed with Pathfinder.  We've decided to switch back to D&D 4e next session.  We're going to continue with the same storyline, and the surviving party members will be converting their characters to 4e versions.  I rolled my race and class randomly, and I will be playing a Human Ardent.

For those party members still alive to enjoy it, we now have blueprints for our tower.  It's probably going to cost a good deal more than we have right now, but it's a long-term project.  Pix below:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Miniatures: Exotic Mounts

A while back I posted about some Horse Mount Miniatures from It's a great idea: these horse miniatures are offset on their base, giving you room to set your rider mini on the same base.  But why stop at mundane horses?  More recently they've added some Exotic Mounts.  Your minis can now ride panthers, drakes, unicorns, griffons, and more.  So far I've only ordered one of them, the Tourqen Panther.  I plan to order a few more of them when I have some extra money.  These cost a little bit more that the horses, but they probably use harder-to-find minis.  They do have a buy-4-get-1-free deal, so you can save a little money there.

Here's some pics of my panther (click to view larger):

The Tourqen Panther

Panther with Rider

Mounted Party

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Module: Death By Chocolate

This is a just-for-fun one-shot Halloween/Easter module that doesn't take place in any particular universe or time period. This module's major gimmick is that it uses various types of candy instead of miniatures, and players get to eat what they kill.  It is not designed for any particular setting, though it does mention magic, Half-Orcs, Gnomes, and Half-Elves.  Even so, the story could easily be converted to most settings.

For starters, you'll need to buy some candy. What kind is up to you, though you do want pieces that can fit in 1x1 squares, as well as a few 2x2 sized candies. A variety would would be good, to represent the different kinds of monsters in the module. You might want to check with your players first to see if they have any special likes/dislikes or dietary restrictions. For sanitary reasons, I would use wrapped candies.  Good choices would be Hershey's Kisses, Starburst, Reese's Minis, and Rolos.

My suggested grocery list:
Hershey's Kisses (10) [Chocolate Zombies]
Reese's Miniatures (4) [Lesser Choclan]
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (2) [Choclan]
Reese's Big Cup (1) [Greater Choclan]
Rolos (4) [Carm Hounds]
Starburst (5 total; 4 must be different flavors)  [Fruit Imps]
Chocolate Bunny or other 2x2 chocolate character [Boss]
Ring Pops or Chocolate Coins [Treasure]

The Module:
"For whatever reason, your party has been traveling together for a few months now. You're on the road one night, and it's starting to get late. You're thinking about finding a good place to set up camp, when you see a side road. The road leads downhill into a valley, where you see a tiny town surrounded by farmland. The town wasn't on your map, probably because it's so small. But it looks like a good place to spend the night; better than sleeping in the woods, anyway."

"As you walk down the hill, you pass a sign that says 'Welcome to Hushley. Home of the World Famous Hushley Chocolate Factory.' Anybody want to give me a History check?" (Medium DC) Success: "You actually remember Hushley chocolates from when you were a kid. But you haven't seen them in years; you thought they'd stopped making them." Failure: "You've never heard of Hushley chocolates."

"The road leads straight into downtown, which is basically a single street lined with houses on both sides. Some of the houses double as businesses, with small signs that say things like 'Barber' or 'Blacksmith'. A few have candles flickering in the windows, but the only building that actually looks lively is the inn. The inn is about three houses down on the left. As you look farther down the street, you see that eventually the houses end, and the road starts to go back uphill. Farther up the hill, the road ends at a large mansion. There are no lights on in the mansion, and it looks to be in a state of disrepair. Most of the windows are broken, the shutters have fallen off, and a new paint job couldn't hurt."

Hopefully the PCs will stop at the Inn before checking out the mansion. However, if they head straight for the mansion, have someone stop them. Make up an NPC, possibly one of the patrons from the Inn below. "Hey, you! What are you doing? Don't go in there!" When the PCs ask about the mansion, have the NPC offer to tell them all about it, if they'll come to the inn first. Or just have the NPC tell them the whole story right here.

The Inn:
"All eyes are on you as you enter the inn. You see a bartender, a waitress, and eight patrons, all of whom stop their conversations as you walk through the door. They don't look angry or suspicious, just curious. This town probably doesn't get a lot of visitors."

The Bartender is friendly and offers the PCs a cheap room. The other patrons are eager to meet the out-of-towners, and some offer their various services to try to earn a little money. Eventually the PCs will probably ask about the mansion or the Chocolate Factory. It doesn't matter much who the PCs talk to, they all know the history of the town, and they all love to retell the story. As one patron relates the story, other patrons constantly interrupt with the parts they want to tell. If you want to expand this roleplay portion of the adventure, give each of them unique personalities and their own insights into the events.

The Inn Staff and Patrons:
William Leaubrau (Bartender) Human, Male. Very friendly and likes to tell stories.
Veruca Leaubrau (Waitress) Human, Female. Daughter of William. A bit lazy and distracted; tends to get drink orders wrong.
Augustus Durtham (Farmer) Human, Male. Doesn't say much, mostly grunts and nods. His sheep have been getting slaughtered lately.
Josephine Fitchpork (Farmer) Human, Female. Factory widow. Since her husband died, has been seeing her farmhand Gene.
Gene Strong (Farm Hand) Half-Orc, Male. Works for Josephine. Big and strong. Not very bright, but good heart.
Violet Lawton (Sheriff) Human, Female. Factory widow. Promoted from deputy after Sheriff Marlow died investigating the factory.
Michael Lennon (Clothier) Human, Male. Factory widower. Very manly (overcompensating), likes to show off his muscles.
Georgina Honeycutt (Barber) Human, Female. Factory widow. Always commenting on other people's hairstyles.
Charles Cook (Chef) Half-Elf, Male. Used to work at Chocolate Factory, had the day off when accident occurred. Always snacking.
Dodo Hushley (Undertaker) Gnome, Female. Niece of Reese Hushley. A bit nuts, but honest.

The History:
"The mansion once belonged to an old Gnome named Reese Hushley the Third. He was born rich, a bit on the eccentric side, and was something of a dabbler. His favorite hobbies were magic, alchemy, and cooking. He was a master dessert chef, who was always inventing new types of candies and chocolate confections. He found ways of using magic to invent new flavors, which were unlike anything anyone had tasted before. He liked to call himself a 'Choclomancer'.  He built a factory in his basement, and he became hugely successful. He employed more than half the town, and his chocolate creations were exported to cities all over this continent."

The Disaster:
"But one day he made a mistake. We're still not exactly sure what happened. He had been talking all week about some new flavor he'd discovered, and how it was going to be he greatest creation. He called it 'Planar Chocolate' and said that some of the ingredients were from another dimension. It's all he would talk about."

"Then the day finally came to start producing it. Nobody knows what went on inside the factory, but just a few seconds after the morning whistle blew, there was a 'BOOM' that shook the whole town. The windows blew out of the mansion, and brown smoke filled the air. A single worker staggered out of the mansion with burns all over his body, but he only could only say a few words before he fell over dead. His last words were, 'Don't go in there, it's loose.' Half the town's population died that day. The sheriff went to check out the wreckage, but something killed him. When we found his body, it was covered with large bite marks... and chocolate."

"That was ten years ago. A few months later, we hired a Wizard to place a binding spell on the grounds, to keep whatever is in there from escaping. In the years since then, a few people have gone into the mansion. Most never returned. The few that made it back told wild stories about monsters in the dark. These days we try not to think about it. Every few months some foolish treasure hunters will pass through town and have a look for themselves, never to be seen again. But now we think the Wizard's barrier is starting to wear off, as we've seen some strange shapes lurking in the darkness lately. Some of the farmers have reported their livestock getting killed. We're starting to fear for our safety."

Tips For Other Settings:
If you run this in a less magical setting (such as Gamma World), change all references to magic into technology.  The binding spell becomes a force field, the Wizard is a scientist, and the magic rings (mentioned under "Possible Questions", below) could be "Personal Disruption Units" or something similar. 

The Treasure:
"There's rumors of a big treasure down there. A few years before the disaster, Mr. Hushley had been talking a lot about alchemy. He claimed to have invented a method of turning sugar into gemstones. He said he owned the world's largest ruby, but he refused to show it to anyone. He said he didn't want his method to get out, because it would ruin the world's economy. Legend has it that Hushley's Ruby still sits in the safe in his office, deep below the mansion."

Possible Questions:
Where is the Wizard who sealed the grounds? "We hired him from out of town, so who knows where he is now."
What was the Wizard's name? "Oh... I think his name was Cadbury."
What have you seen in the dark? "We haven't gotten a good look, but we get the impression of large, dark people, with claws."
Where did you see them? "Usually near the mansion, but some of the farmers say they saw them in their pastures."
Is there a reward for stopping this evil? "This is a poor town, but we'll see what we can get together. And of course you can have whatever treasures you find there."
Once we get into the mansion, how do we find the factory? "There's a service entrance around the back of the mansion."
How will we get past the Wizard's ward? "It's only designed to keep things in, not out."
How will we get back out? "Well, like I said, the spell seems to be weakening, so it shouldn't be a problem. However, the Wizard did give us some rings that allow the wearer to step through the barrier. I'll go find some." Have the Sheriff return to her office to get a ring for each PC.  If the players don't bother to ask, then don't worry about it.

Setting Out:
Once the players decide to go into the factory, they head towards the mansion. It's late by now, unless they spend the night and try the mansion in the morning. At night there is a full moon, causing a low-light environment. It is still low-light in parts of the mansion, from the moonlight coming in the windows. The underground factory will be pitch black no matter what time of day. The descriptions below assume the PCs have some sort of light source.

"At the end of the street, the road goes uphill a bit until it gets to a metal gate. On the other side of the fence, the grass is much higher, since no one has tended to the grounds in years. The fence itself glows slightly from the Wizard's warding spell." (Open gate) "The gate is unlocked, and creaks loudly when you open it. You think you see what used to be a path leading up to the front door. The remnants of a side path go around the back of the house."

If they go through the front door: "The door is unlocked, in fact the door is hanging from one hinge." (Enter) "The place is a mess. There are pieces of charred furniture everywhere. The walls are grey with soot. There is black dust on every surface. You see the remains of a grand staircase in the main hall, but it has collapsed." If they explore the first floor of the mansion, or climb up to the second story, they don't find much of value. Everything was destroyed by the initial blast ten years ago, and has just been rotting since. If they find the bedroom on the second floor, they might uncover a locked fireproof safe containing a small amount of gold. If they explore the kitchen area on the first floor: "This looks like it used to be the kitchen area. You also find a staircase leading down. On the wall next to the stairs, there is a metal sign that reads 'To Factory'."

If they go around back to the service entrance: "You push your way through the tall grass and make your way around the back of the mansion. Eventually you find a door with a sign that reads 'Service Entrance'." (Open it) "The door is unlocked and opens easily. It looks like you are in what was once the kitchen. There are pieces of charred furniture everywhere. The walls are grey with soot. There is black dust on every surface. You see two doorways leading to other rooms of the mansion, and a staircase leading down. On the wall next to the stairs, there is a metal sign that reads 'To Factory'."

Once they go down the stairs to the Factory: "The stairs go down a very long way into the darkness. As you get close to the bottom of the stairs, you hears some noises coming from the room below." (Listen) "You hear some shuffling, some movement. Occasionally you hear a low moan." (Go down stairs) "This appears to be the factory floor. It is a very large room with a high ceiling. To your right you see the remains of several large machines. To your left you see some giant vats, with words like 'chocolate' or 'molasses' painted on them. You see some broken tables in front of you, and at the far end of the room you see a doorway. Suddenly there's a movement to your right."

"You see a slow-moving creature shamble out from behind a candy press. It looks like a walking corpse, still wearing a factory worker uniform. However, this zombie appears to be covered from head to toe in some brown substance. As the zombie turns toward you, you become aware of more moving shapes all around the room. You quickly realize that this room is infested with the creatures."

Encounter 1: Factory Floor
10 Chocolate Zombies (Hershey's Kisses)
1 Choclan (Reese's Peanut Butter Cup)
Don't place the Choclan on the board yet. Roll initiative for all creatures. During the Choclan's first turn, read the following: "Suddenly you hear a loud pounding sound from one of the vats. As you look in that direction, you see one side of the vat deform as something pounds it from the inside. With one final crash, one side of the vat is ripped open. You see a large brown shape standing in the opening. It is large humanoid, probably 13 feet tall. It looks like a statue carved out of chocolate."

As soon as it can, the Choclan will charge the nearest PC.  The first time a player does damage to the Choclan, make a point of mentioning that its insides look like peanut butter.  "As your weapon penetrates the creature's brown outer shell, a lighter brown substance spews from its wounds.  You think you smell peanuts."

After the battle, if they decide to search the bodies, they find a few gold coins in the pockets of the factory workers.  You might want to hand out chocolate coins to represent the gold.

On the North wall next to the door, the PCs will see a map of the factory. There is a hallway to the North which leads past the break room, and into the packaging/shipping department. From the packaging room there is another hallway which leads to Hushley's office.

If the PCs search the bodies of the zombies, they find a few gold pieces (consider passing out some chocolate coins to the players as rewards).  The Choclan has no treasure.

Encounter 2: Employee Break Room
4 Fruit Imps (Starburst, different colors)
"You're now in a 10 foot wide hallway. To your left you see a door to the break room. You see another door to the break room further down the hallway, also on the left. At the end of the hall, you see a door marked 'Shipping'."

If they decide to peek into the break room door: "You see four small winged creatures sitting around chattering to each other. They look like some type of imp, but each one is a different bright color."

If they decide to burst into the break room:  "As you enter the room, four brightly-colored imps fly into the air and prepare to attack. Roll initiative."

If they decide to walk past the break room, have the party make a medium DC stealth check. If they make the check, they pass by both doors without incident. If any of them fail the stealth check:
"You walk pass the first break room door. Suddenly, the second one bursts open and a brightly-colored imp flies out. Another imp then flies out the first door behind you. You see two other imps hovering in the doorways."

Encounter 3: Packaging Department
1 Choclan (Reese's Cups)
1 Greater Choclan (Reese's Big Cup)
2 Carm Hounds (Rolos)
1 Fruit Imp (Starburst)

This isn't a very important encounter, so if you are running short on time, skip to Encounter 4. However, you still might want to have the PCs pass through this room so they have the opportunity to go through the crates and find some candy. Or hide the candy in the break room instead.

"This room is full of broken crates, and the floor is covered with debris. There is another exit on the right wall. In the center of the room, you see two large brown creatures pacing around and talking to each other in a strange language. They look like the monster that came out of the vat earlier, but one of these is much larger than the other." (If the Choclans see the PCs) "Both of them turn their heads and gesture threateningly. The smaller one makes a loud call, and soon more creatures come running through the other door."

After the encounter, if the PCs examine the crates, they will find some snacks. "The crates are full of chocolate bars and other assorted candies. Most of it has been destroyed, and a lot of the candy has melted. But you do manage to find a few pieces of edible candy."  These things have a shelf life of 30 years, so they are still edible.  Different items will give the PCs different effects.  Possible items:

Hushley's Chocolate Bar - Gives 6 temp hp.
SillyDillyicious Bar - Until the end of the encounter, your speed increases by 2.
GummiGooey Gumdrops - Burst 1 in 10, creates zone of rough terrain that lasts until end of encounter. Creatures that start their turn in the zone are slowed (save ends).
SugarDumbos - You may take one additional Standard action this turn.

Encounter 4: Hushley's Office
1 Caxaodemon (Bunny)
2 Carm Hounds (Rollos)
4 Lesser Choclans (Reese's Minis)

"You enter a small waiting room. There are doors to the right and left marked 'Restrooms', and Hushley's office is straight ahead.  Standing in front of the office door you see three chocolate beings.  They look like the ones you fought earlier, but smaller."  If they stealthily opened the door: "They don't see you yet, but one of them will probably look in your direction soon." If they just opened the door normally: "All eyes turned towards you as you entered, and the room's occupants prepare to attack. Roll initiative."

This fight may or may not make enough noise to attract the creatures in the office.  This could end up being one large encounter or two smaller ones.

Whenever they enter the office: "It appears to be a nice large office. There is a desk in the center of the room, with a bearskin rug in front of it. In the far back corners, there are two large bookshelves.  The one on the left seems to be sticking out from the wall slightly, and you can see a bit of light coming from behind it."

After the battle they might search the room and check out the bookshelves.  The left set of bookshelves has a secret passage behind it.  Since it is partially open, there is no search DC to notice it.  If they go through the secret passage, they find a room containing a large machine with lots of levers, all different colors. Next to the machine is what appears to be a magic portal.  There are two more doors on the back wall.  One of the doors leads to Hushley's private restroom, and the other door leads to a closet.  In the closet they will find the body of Hushley.

The machine has 10 levers, each a different color:  Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Purple, Orange, Pink, Black, White, and Brown.  If players start pulling them randomly, the first lever always does nothing, the second lever zaps them with electricity.

Example: "I'm going to pull the black lever." "You pull the black lever to the 'down' position. Nothing happens." "Now I'm going to pull the blue lever." "You pull the blue lever to the 'down' position. A bolt of lightning shoots at you from the portal." (10 vs Reflex, 1d10 Lightning Damage) "Both levers go back up to the 'up' position."

If they try to touch the magic portal without deactivating it, they will get shocked.  1d10 Lightning damage (no attack roll; they touched it), and they are pushed back 1 square.  It's a one-way portal, so there's no way for the PCs to use it to get to the other dimension.

If they don't open the closet door right away, mention that they see some blood seeping out from under the door.  When they open the closet door, they find the body of Hushley.  In his pockets they will find a key, a small amount of gold coins, and a journal full of notes.

"Looking through Hushley's notes, you find out a little more background, and you're able to fill in the gaps yourself. Hushley discovered a way to access a dimension where the most common elements are sugar and chocolate. What he did not realize is that these elements are also the building blocks of life in that dimension. Hushley's machines were designed to open up small portals and pull ingredients directly from the other dimension. When he started up the factory on the day of the disaster, too much matter came through at once, causing the explosion. This left some portals stuck open, and candy monsters have been coming through ever since. Additionally, some of the extraplanar living chocolate has inhabited the bodies of the factory workers, reanimating them into chocolate zombies."

"His final entry states: 'I've figured out how to reverse the portals! All I have to do is pull the red lever, followed by the green. Unfortunately, I can't make it to the machine. I fear that if I try to leave this closet, they will rip me to shreds. Perhaps if I just wait long enough, I can make a break for it, but some of these creatures don't even sleep. If you find this note, please do not judge me too harshly. All I wanted was to make the world a sweeter place.'"

If the players do a thorough search of the office, they might eventually stumble across a trap door under the bearskin rug.  This leads down some stairs to Hushley's most private vault.  "At the bottom of the stairs, you find yourself in a small empty room.  On the far wall of the room is a large metal door."  If the players didn't find the key on Hushley's body, they will need a moderate Thievery check to pick the lock, or a very high Athletics check to break down the door.  Once the door is open, they find a room with metal walls.  There are a few shelves full of various gems, with a total value of about 1200 gp.  There is also one particularly large ruby that is worth another 1500 by itself.  (Hand out Ring Pops and/or chocolate coins to represent the treasure.)

The Choclanic Plane is a very harsh environment, and survival is difficult. The most common form of life is a living chocolate-like substance called caxao. Caxao symbiotically bonds with other creatures by covering their entire bodies for life. This gives the caxao the mobility it needs to find food, and gives the host creature a tough outer shell required for protection. Here's a list of the Choclanic creatures used in the module. In parentheses I put what candies I used in the pictures above, but of course you can use whatever you like.

Stat the monsters however you like, based on the level you want the module to be.  The Caxao Corpses should obviously be based on Zombies.  The Choclans are brutes, so base them on big strong things like Orcs, Dwarves, or Golems.  The Carm Hounds are basically Wolves or other animals.  The Sucrademons are Imps, but give each color a different type of magical attack - for example, cherry could be fire, grape could be darkness, etc.  The final Caxaodemon can be pretty much any "boss" creature.  My attempt to stat the encounters is in this file, based on a level 1 Gamma World party. 

Caxao Corpse, aka "Chocolate Zombie" (Hershey's Kisses): These are the bodies of the Hushley factory workers, reanimated after being covered by caxao from the Choclanic Plane.

Choclan (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups): These are humanoid creatures from the Choclanic plane. They are sapient, but easily confused and quick to anger. They come in a wide range of sizes, but even the smaller ones are incredibly strong. Their natural form is a soft peanut-butter-like matter, but their outer shell of caxao is very tough.

Carm Hounds (Rolos): These dog-like creatures are made of a gooey caramel-like substance, held together by a thick outer shell of caxao. They are often kept as pets by Choclans. Carmhounds are vicious hunters, and are very loyal to their masters.

Sucrademon, aka "Fruit Imp" (Starburst): These are small demons from the Choclanic Plane. They rarely bond with caxao, as the bond would limit some of their arcane abilities. Instead they have developed other defenses which allow them to survive. These Imps don't usually get along with Choclans, unless they have a common enemy.

Caxaodemon (Chocolate Bunny): While most Choclanic demons avoid bonding with caxao, occasionally a very powerful demon will find away to do so without sacrificing their magic potency. These rare unions result in very strong beings with a great mastery of spells.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Unlikely Heroes: I'm A Lumberjack And I'm Okay

Game Date: 9/24/2011
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Adrilar (Greg): Elf Sorcerer
Davor (Ted): Half-Orc Sorcerer
Durp "Fisto" DuDerp (Cliff): Half-Elf Bard
Glynnyn (Tamara): Elf Druid
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Dragonblood Sorcerer
Nishallivexiania "Vex" Corman (Matt): Half-Elf Monk
Ranell (Michael): Halfling Barbarian

The Session:
Last session ended with us preparing to tackle a room full of kobolds.  We began today's session facing the Kobold King, along with a pair of his finest guards.  The King was sitting on a giant dead centipede, wearing a stone crown.  He offered to give us the honor of being his sacrifices, but for some reason we turned him down and attacked instead.

The King cast a sleep spell which knocked out several members of our party.  On Keyanna's turn, she figured turnabout was fair play, and cast the same spell.  Her spell incapacitated the King and one of the guards, after which the battle ended pretty quickly.

Ranell put on a lot of the King's best equipment, and we proceeded down a side hall.  We found the King's consort, but she surrendered and we decided not to kill her (yet).  Down another hallway we found a sacrifice being performed.  A kobold shaman, guarded by two warriors, was ritualistically killing a couple of prisoners.  He tore the heart out of a sorceress, and was about to kill a young boy when we attacked.  After the battle, we looted the area, and found that we'd searched everywhere we knew to look.  Still no Jevra.

Ranell then slit the throat of the kobold consort before anyone could object, and we headed back to the upper levels.  We had a bit of trouble climbing back up the well, but eventually we made it (thankfully without disturbing that Forge Spurned creature).  As we entered the courtyard, Jevra came running up to us.  While we were thankful for her return, we had a bit of trouble believing her story.

Jevra had been showing off, and took the kids to see the ruins of the old orphanage.  But that area had proven too dangerous, so the kids went to the monastery instead, where they were captured by kobolds and separated.  That much of the story we already knew from the other children.  Jevra went on to tell us that she'd managed to survive by killing two kobolds and hiding.  Granted, kobolds aren't the scariest entries in the monster manual, but it still seemed an unlikely accomplishment by someone as young as Jevra.

We pressured her on it, and finally got her to admit there was something she hadn't been telling us.  As it turns out, her parents had been killed by werewolves, and Jevra herself had been bitten during the attack.  So she might be turning into a werewolf herself.  Ranell wanted to kill her right there, but we've decided to do whatever we can for her.  We knew that the local druids have been known to work with the werewolves, and we wondered if they might be able to help us.  They might not have an actual cure for lycanthropy, but at least they might know a way to help Jevra control it.

As we searched through the woods, hoping Glynnyn could find signs of druidic activity, we saw a hill giant.  We tried to hide, but several of the party members failed miserably, so we decided to try diplomacy instead.  The giant staggered as he walked, and we noticed he was crying.  We greeted him and asked him what was wrong.  The giant said that he'd been out drinking with some ogres, and had taken off his wedding ring so he could hit on some hot ogresses.  After that he must have had a lot to drink, because now he couldn't even remember where this drinking had taken place.  He was afraid to go home and face his wife without his wedding ring.

We offered to find the ring.  It wasn't difficult to track his path, and soon we found some smashed kegs and dead ogres.  His ring was easy to find, and we returned it to the giant.  He thanked us, then promptly regurgitated on Ranell and Keyanna.  He told us his name was Kardoblog, and he said that he'd remember us.  We won't hold our breath, but you never know.  Sometimes these "thorn in the paw" encounters pay off.  On our way back to town, we noticed some unusually large crows in the distance. 

We reached town just as they were getting ready to lock the gates for the night.  Once inside, we split up and started working on different tasks.  Orders of the day included baths for the puked upon, bartering for the loot-laden, inquiries of druidic activity, and lycanthropic security.  We took Jevra to the church and reported Jevra's problem.  The priestess first offered to kill Jevra with fire, but we talked her into just chaining Jevra up at night.

Over the course of the next few days, we got a few things done.  Jevra's friends gave us a tip about druids in the forest south of town.  Durp got his stone hand uncursed.  And we finally got to see the inside of the tower we're planning to rent.  It's three stories tall.  The first floor is made of stone, and the higher floors are made of wood.  There's also a basement.  The place hasn't been lived in for a while, so it's in a bad state of disrepair.  While exploring one crawlspace, we discovered the tower's trash/sewage system - several holes that drop into the lair of an Otyugh (a waste-eating monster).  The party is currently looking into hiring people to fix up the tower.  We're drawing up a floor plan that will hopefully give everyone enough room, so we can have a decent base of operations.

One morning there was a knock at our doors.  Kreed, the town's most influential citizen, wanted to see us.  We were rude to him as usual, because we don't want to end up as his lackeys.  Kreed told us that one of his lumber camps had been attacked, and many lumberjacks had been slaughtered.  While we detest being in Kreed's employ, we accepted the job due to the nobility of the mission... and the money was just too good.

Kreed sent a small army of lumberjacks with us, which we immediately deemed to be cannon fodder.  (Lumberjacks wear red shirts, right?)  He also sent his right-hand man, Payday.  Along the way, we came across a flock of large crows feeding on a dead horse.  Keyanna cast sleep on a few of them, causing the rest to fly off and start making lots of noise.  We didn't stick around.

After several hours we came across the lumber camp.  Some of the buildings were on fire.  While we stood around debating on where to look first, some of our group was struck by lightning.  We quickly ran behind some of the buildings.  It soon became apparent what had attacked the camp, as we were ambushed by kobolds.  Adrilar, already injured by the lightning, was reduced to 0 by the first kobold attack.  It seemed like a good enough cliffhanger, so we ended the session there.

Next week is WingFest, and the week after that is Nashville Zombie Walk, so there's no game until October 15th.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Unlikely Heroes: Girl Power

Game Date: 9/17/2011
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Adrilar (Greg): Elf Sorcerer
Davor (Rusty): Half-Orc Sorcerer
Durp DuDerp (Rusty): Half-Elf Bard
Glynnyn (Tamara): Elf Druid
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Dragonblood Sorcerer
Nishallivexiania "Vex" Corman (Matt): Half-Elf Monk
Ranell (Michael): Halfling Barbarian
...and Jerry Mathers as "The Beaver"

The Session:
We're still exploring the cavernous sublevel of the Dwarven Monastery. The session began with us exploring a room full of stalactites.  Or possibly stalagmites.  Or stalagsprites.  I vote for stalagFreds.  Anyway, shortly after entering the room, a dark form swooped down from the ceiling.  It was a Dire Bat, who was quickly joined by two Shadows.

This encounter lasted longer than it should have, due to a lot of bad die rolls.  Adrilar went down early in the encounter, but he survived.  The Shadows could only be harmed by magic weapons, which few of us possessed.  So once the Bat was dead, those of us who couldn't assist retreated back into the hallway so the magic users/wielders could be in front.

For the record, Glynnyn killed the Dire Bat, Davor killed one Shadow, and Keyanna killed the other Shadow.  Due to the badassery shown by Glynnyn and Keyanna, we declared it to be our "Girl Power" session.  (Sorry Davor, I guess you're a girl this week.  That's what happens when you miss a session.)

We took a long rest in the stalac-whatever-filled room, and proceeded to search the rest of the level.  We found one hallway that led to a caved-in dead end.  There were a couple of dead kobolds near the cave-in, and the following was inscribed on the wall in Draconic: “Darky-dark below, and whispers soft and low. Evil lurks, its lipless mouth smirks. Do not go! Only death below!

We left this alone for now, and searched until we found last unexplored section of this level.  We were about to enter the room shown below (and Rusty was already starting to root through the Kobold minis) when something came up and we had to end the session early.

This was a short session.  One player was out, another arrived too late to play, and the game was cut short due to real life issues.  But after a couple of weeks without a game, it was still nice to get a gaming fix.  And it's really better this way, as the absent player won't have missed as much.

I hate to say this so early in the campaign, but I'm starting to get a little bored with Pathfinder.  This isn't anyone's fault; the campaign itself is great, the story is great, the DM is great, and the players are great.  It's just that I went into this wanting to try something new, and well, Pathfinder is just D&D 3.5 in a new hat.  There's nothing wrong with that, and I respect Pathfinder for keeping one of the best versions of D&D alive, and even improving it. But it's nothing I haven't played before.  I am having fun, and I do plan to stick out the campaign.  But I hope our next campaign is something very different.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dragon Age: Tabletop RPG

I've been rambling a lot lately about finding the perfect RPG for me (here), and comparing the ones I've played most so far (here).  A while back I was at The Great Escape and saw a good price on the Dragon Age roleplaying game.  I only picked it up because it was cheap, and I was looking for something to read on my trip to Dragon*Con.  I'm funny that way, when I can't get in the mood to read an actual novel, I like to read gaming books.

Reading through the Player's Guide, here's some of the things that jumped out at me:

Simplicity - The player's handbook is only 64 pages, and from what I've read it looks pretty easy to learn.  Unfortunately a few of the most important rules were found in strange places (IMO), and were hard for me to find by just flipping through.  It wasn't until I actually sat down and read it straight through that I managed to catch up on some of the basic fundamentals.  So for me, anyway, the book almost has to be read in order.

Races/Classes - There's only three races and classes in the basic set.  First you also have to pick a background, which effects which races/classes are available to you.  Players of the video game should be familiar with the selections, and already know about the limitations of the universe (for example, Dwarves can't be mages).  I'm not sure if more races or classes are available in the other books.  Of course, each class is somewhat customizable, so your warrior might not play anything like your friend's warrior.

Stats/Skills - There are eight stats: Communication, Constitution, Cunning, Dexterity, Magic, Perception, Strength, and Willpower. Instead of full stats and stat bonuses, you just have lower stats. So instead of stats ranging from 8 to 20 (with bonuses of -2 to 5), your starting stats generally range range from -2 to 4 (with the occasional 5 if the conditions are right). Your skill checks are generally done using the governing stat, but you have Focuses that give you an additional +2 to specific skills  like Leadership (Communication) and Stealth (Dexterity).  The game does ask you to roll your stats randomly, in order, so you may not end up with decent numbers for the class you wanted to play.  But you are allowed to swap one pair of stats once you're done rolling, so you at least have some level of control.

Feats - Talents are pretty much feats.  Some let you wear better armor, some improve your skills, and some improve your ability to use specific weapons.  Each class starts with one or more Talents, and you gain an additional Talent at odd-numbered levels.  Each Talent has two levels, so instead of taking a new Talent you might choose to upgrade an existing Talent from Novice to Journeyman.  For example, if you take the "Horsemanship" Talent, at first you're a Novice, and the Talent just allows you to mount a steed as a free action.  If you later upgrade Horsemanship to Journeyman, it also gives you a +2 bonus to speed when riding.

Dice - Each player needs three six-sided dice, where one is a different color than the other two.  These are the only dice used in the entire game. The odd-colored die is called the "Dragon Die", and is used for special circumstances, such as Stunts.

Stunts - When you roll doubles on your attack rolls, you get stunt points which you can immediately spend to add a little extra oomph to your attack.  Depending on how high you rolled on the Dragon Die, you can do things like hit a second target, shift, knock your target prone, disarm, change your position in the initiative order, etc. For spells, the stunt points can be spent to do things like reduce the mana cost, increase the damage, and so on.

Armor - You have both a Defense score and an Armor score.  Defense works like AC - you have to beat that number to hit the target.  Armor works like damage reduction - you subtract your armor score from whatever damage you take.

Healing - The healing system seems to be a good compromise between hardcore and video gamey.  In addition to the mage's heal spell, all players can attempt to heal other players for a few hit points (standard action, must pass ability test, heals 1d6+Cunning).  However, this heal skill can only be used once until the victim takes more damage.  You can recover a few more hit points during a 5 minute rest (5+CON+Level), but you can only do that once after every combat.  So you can't just keep taking 5 minute rests until you're full.  You can recover even more hit points with a full night's rest (10+CON+Level), which I think is a pretty good average between D&D 4e's cheese (recover everything) and Pathfinder's stinginess (1 or 2 hp per night).

Magic - Funny, I was just saying how I'd like to try a PnP RPG that worked this way.  Dragon Age uses mana points, just like most video games.  Different spells cost different amounts of points to cast, and you keep track of how many points you have left just like your hit points.  You get some mana back during a short rest, and all of it back with a long rest.  Additionally, mages also have one basic ranged spell (Arcane Lance) which uses no mana, so they're never completely without magic. 

Distance - The game measures everything in yards rather than feet.  If you use miniatures, it suggests letting each square or hex represent two yards.  This could get confusing at first, but I think I'd get used to it.

Death - There is no such thing as negative hit points.  If you hit zero, you stay at zero and are considered dying.  If no one heals you within a certain number of rounds (2+CON), you die.  I haven't come across anything about resurrection; so far it looks like death is permanent.  The good news is that everyone has the ability to heal, so if you just stay near each other, somebody should be able to heal you.

I have read a few reviews, but they vary a lot. Most were positive. Of the bad reviews, some complained it was too much like the video game, while others complained that it wasn't enough like the video game.  The reviews that weighed the game on its own merits (as opposed to comparing it to other formats) were generally the most positive.

Since I've yet to actually play the game, I can't say whether or not I recommend it yet.  I wasn't expecting much when I picked it up - it is based on a video game, after all - but now I'm actually looking forward to trying it sometime.  While there are some things in there that wouldn't be my preference, it still looks like an interesting game that should be a lot of fun to play. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dragon*Con 2011

So, this was our second time attending Dragon*Con.  The first time was in 2008.  All we really did that time was walk around and take pictures.  We only did a couple of things that actually required our badge, and in the end decided we'd wasted our money.  Not that it wasn't worth it, it's just that our favorite parts of the trip were free, such as the parade. (2008 Facebook Pictures: Here.  Parade Video: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Come to think of it, this is actually the fifth con we've been to, if you count Star Wars Celebrations.  We went to SW Celebration 2 in 2002, SWC 3 in 2005, GenCon Indianapolis 2007, and of course Dragon*Cons 2008 and 2011.

But Dragon*Con is our favorite.  Every year when it looms closer, we consider the following options:
1. Nope.
2. Be complete cheapskates.  Either get a cheap hotel Friday night, or just drive down very early Saturday morning.  Don't buy tickets.  Just watch the parade, walk around the hotel lobbies taking more pictures, then drive back up Saturday evening.
3. Pay, but make it worth it.  We still wouldn't pay for all three days, but whichever day we do pay for, make sure we actually attend some of the symposiums we paid for.  Come back with a couple of souvenirs.
4. Go whole hog.  Get a room in one of the actual hosting hotels, and pay for the entire weekend.

Maybe someday we'll do #4, but that plan might involve winning the lottery.  But this year we at least managed to scrape together enough for #3.

After poring over the event schedule, we decided to attend the con itself on Friday.  We attended two symposiums.  The first was Star Trek related, and was hosted by Garrett Wang (Voyager).  The second was a discussion of Doctor Who continuity.  We also bought some souvenirs at the vendor hall, walked around an art gallery, and took lots and lots of pictures (here).  On Saturday we returned to the con to watch the parade (pictures here).

It wasn't all about the con, though.  We got to visit with my cousin, and we went to the Atlanta Zoo (pics here).  We had a great time, and we're thoroughly exhausted.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

D&D 4e vs Pathfinder... in a Steel Cage!

My week off continues, and so do my ramblings.

So, I've been playing Pathfinder lately, and while I've been jotting down a few of my thoughts after each session's blog, I thought I'd take some time to make some more in-depth comparisons between it and D&D 4e. These are just my opinions; I know darn well that a lot of people prefer a more hardcore simulationist game than what I enjoy.

Winner: Pathfinder
From what I've seen so far, I would definitely say Pathfinder is more realistic than 4e.  However, realism is not always my first goal in an RPG.  I live a fairly humdrum life, and I like my fantasy to be, well, fantastic.  Realism already goes out the window the first time somebody casts a fireball.  Most of the time I don't want to roll to see if I successfully do the laundry, but sometimes that level of compulsiveness helps me get into my character.  Pathfinder doesn't quite go as far as that, but compared to 4e's heroism (see below), Pathfinder is much more down-to-earth.

Winner: 4e
In my opinion, D&D 4e is practically a super hero game with a medieval setting.  Sometimes I think they should have marketed it that way in the first place.  They should have kept 3.5 going, and made 4e a spin-off called "D&D Heroes" or something.  So while I don't think 4e should have been WOTC's flagship product, I am glad it exists, and I do enjoy playing a heroic character

Healing Surges vs Slow Healing
Winner: 4e
It's no secret that I dislike slow healing. Since I believe hit points represent stamina, not wounds, it just makes sense you could recover them by resting. D&D 4e's healing surge system is great at getting you back into the game so you aren't constantly heading back to town. The system is still a little clunky, IMO, but it's better than Pathfinder's "1 hit point per night" healing.

NADs vs Saving Throws
Winner: Tie
So the DM rolls a die against the player's Reflex, rather than the player rolling a save against the attacking spell's DC... I think 4e's method is slightly simpler, and simple is generally better. But overall I'd say it's six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Negative Effects
Winner: 4e
In older editions, there's several spells and effects that cause you to lose a level, or make one of your stats go down for a while. When this happens, there's a lot of re-mathing your character sheet, figuring out how that stat is going to affect your attack rolls, AC, saving throws, hit points, etc.  4e has a lot less of that nonsense.  When we reach the point where every gamer at the table is using electronic interactive character sheets on their netbooks/smartphones, automatically adjusting all their numbers instantly when they're hit by such a spell, then I'll be okay with it.  Until then, I prefer the simplicity of 4e.

Stat Advancement
Winner: 4e
I like how all the stats go up a notch, twice in your career. I've never bought into the idea that just because your character concentrates on STR and CON, you never get any smarter. 

Skills Advancement
Winner: Pathfinder
I liked assigning my skill points manually each level. It bugs me that my 30th level 4e Lawful Good Paladin, who never lies, still has more than 15 points in Bluff. It also bugs me that my high-level 4e Fighter doesn't have more points in Intimidate.

Skill Selection
Winner: Pathfinder
I've stood up for 4e on this one in the past, but I have to admit I missed options like Crafting.

Diagonal Movement
Winner: 4e
So what if a square is slightly longer diagonally than lengthwise.  When it comes to measuring distance for tactical combat, there's a lot of bad, complicated systems out there.  4e is probably the least realistic, but you know my feelings on realism.  4e wins for now, but I still haven't played a game that uses hexes.

Powers vs Basic Attacks
Winner: 4e Essentials
4e's way of giving Fighters more to do was nice. But Fighters already could do more than just attack if they really wanted to. Any time you roll a d20, you can flavor that attack as anything you want. If it's the same damage, then nothing needs to be changed.  Instead of just saying "I hit him with my sword", feel free describe it as a backhand swing or a sudden forward thrust as you roll your d20.  If it's something that actually affects the outcome (i.e. "I'm aiming for his left elbow so he'll drop the idol"), the DM can ask you to subtract a couple of points from your attack roll to simulate difficulty. The ability was always there, 4e just added more mechanical rules for it. And by doing so, they seemed to have shorted out some players' creativity, because those players don't seem to understand that the effects of Reaping Strike don't have to be described exactly like it says on the power card. I think Essentials represents a decent compromise between 4e powers and the basic attacks of previous editions.

Combat Length
Winner: Pathfinder, by a mile
This is the chief reason I've been enjoying Pathfinder lately. It is such a joy to get through an entire dungeon level in a single night. Sometimes when I was playing 4e, I would look up at the clock and just roll my eyes. "Has it really been 3 hours since we entered this room? Seriously?" There are ways to streamline 4e combat, but they take work, and some people just find it easier to switch to another game system.  I don't blame them.

Magic System
Winner: 4e
I haven't actually played a Pathfinder Wizard yet. But I've looked through the Player's Handbook, and I've played a lot of computer games based on D&D 3.5, and I honestly think preparing spells is for the birds. The whole "you can cast three 1st-level spells, two 2nd-level spells..." system is just more complicated than it needs to be.  Give me At-Wills, Encounters, and Dailies any day.  Someday I'd like to play a PnP RPG that uses a mana system like you see in a lot of video games. Just another number like your hit points, which will go up as you level. Different spells would cost different amounts of mana to cast, and your mana replenishes when you rest. Simple.

Roleplay vs Rollplay
Winner: Tie
Others disagree, but I really don't think the system matters much when it comes to the quality of roleplay. One of the chief criticisms of D&D 4e is the focus on combat, and lack of roleplay rules. But frankly, I'm not even sure what a "roleplay rule" is. Heck, roleplay probably works best when there aren't a lot of rules. Still, 4e's tactical combat probably attracts more action-loving players, which could have a detrimental effect on roleplay. On the other hand, I have seen roleplay done really well in 4e.

Character Customization
Winner: Pathfinder
I have a friend who loves to play 2-weapon rogues. In 3.5, that was no problem. Pretty much any class could take the two-weapon feats, and get an extra attack per round. So when he tried to build one in 4e, he was disappointed. Oh, sure, anybody can wield two weapons in 4e, but you can't use both in a round, so what's the point? Only a couple of builds feature true two-weapon effectiveness. D&D 4e has a lot of classes to choose from, and those classes have a lot of builds. All told, there's over 100 builds now. And yet, it still feels like each build is just a predesigned character built by someone else. 

Winner: Pathfinder
D&D 4e Multiclassing is a joke. The Hybrids are an even bigger joke. 'nuff said.

Winner: 4e... if you're into that.
4e was built on balance.  One could argue that it was the primary focus of the system.  If any class is discovered to have an overly desirable power, WOTC's errata police sniff it out and blandify it immediately.  This can be a good thing; spellcasters in older editions were downright frustrating at early levels.  But people who managed to keep their mages alive earned bragging rights.  Meanwhile, most 4e classes have similar difficulty, which probably contributes to the common complaint that the classes are too much alike (see below).

Class Uniqueness
Winner: Pathfinder
In older editions, your first character was a fighter.  Once you got the hang of that, you had to relearn the game a little bit the first time you tried a spellcaster.  But with 4e's powers system, all the classes pretty much play the same.  The ranges and effects might be different, but a fighter's Encounter Powers follow the same rules as a wizard's.  It's hard to say whether this is good or bad.  It does make the game easier to learn, and balances the classes.  But it also makes you wonder why we need so many classes and builds, when so many of them are similar.  Essentials throws a few wildcards into the mix, but it still doesn't beat Pathfinder.

Death and Dying
Winner: 4e
4e wins because it's harder to die.  I am not a hardcore player.  I like it when I can play the same character long enough to really know them.  I get sick of old school grognards who whine that "Death used to mean something in this game!"  I'm sorry, but I disagree.  When you die all the time, death becomes meaningless.  When your first 20th-level character is killed in an epic battle with a dragon, death means something.  When your twentieth 1st-level character is killed by an orc, death becomes cheap.  Once I've actually had a few 20th-level characters, I might change my mind on this.  But right now, the more I die, the more these characters just seem like scribbles on paper.

Winner: Tie
In both editions, 100 copper pieces equals 10 silver equals one gold.  So it's pennies, dimes, dollars. Simple!  However, a 4e platinum piece equals 100 gp, while a Pathfinder platinum is only worth 10 gold pieces.  Neither is better than the other, but I do wish game designers would keep it a little more universal.  It's not like they're even the worst offenders; for example the Dragon Age RPG has a system where 1 GP = 100 SP = 10,000 CP.  People who go back and forth playing different game systems are liable to get confused. 

Overall Winner
To be honest, I think "Edition Wars" in general are a bit dumb.  Do apples taste better than oranges?  Is hang gliding more fun than water skiing?  Is Star Wars more entertaining than Star Trek?  It's okay to like Pepsi more than Coca-Cola, and it's even okay to wear Pepsi T-shirts and to post on your blog why Pepsi rocks.  But when you get into internet debates arguing why Coca-Cola sucks, you've probably gone too far.  People need to learn the difference between "better" and "more enjoyable to me".

That said, I prefer Pathfinder's character creation and quick combats, but 4e's fast healing and simplified rules. I really wish I could play a 4e campaign, but with shorter combats, and with Pathfinder characters. Essentials goes a long way towards granting the last part of that wish, with older-style characters that are fully compatible with the 4e system.  I really like Essentials, something I'm reluctant to admit on a public blog.  There are places on the internet where I'd rather admit to being a transsexual than to tell them I like Essentials.  Heck, just saying you like 4e at all is like telling people you enjoyed the Star Wars prequels.  Showing support for Essentials is like saying your favorite Star Wars character is Jar Jar Binks.

There are a lot of things that annoy me about Pathfinder.  But despite Pathfinder's flaws (and really, they're not flaws so much as things I don't prefer), I'm really enjoying the campaign. Bottom line is, I don't need to know that I'm playing the "best" system out there.  It don't eat my favorite food for every meal, I don't go to my favorite city every vacation, and I don't wear my favorite outfit every day.

I'm fond of saying that the system doesn't matter if the story's good. That's not entirely true; I'm sure there's some systems out there that I'd hate if I actually got around to playing them. And a good story could easily be killed by an incompetent DM or bad players; but I've been pretty lucky so far where that's concerned.  I've been blessed with a wonderful DM who makes things interesting no matter what we're playing.  (But he does read these blogs, so lest he think I'm sucking up I should probably say something negative soon.  Perhaps I'll make fun of the way he pronounces "archetypes".)
It's "ahr-ki-tahyps", not "Archie types."
In any event, 4e and Pathfinder appeal to different parts of my brain. 4e is like a board game where I can empathize with the pieces. Pathfinder is like a storytelling game with a bit of gambling thrown in. Sometimes I'm more in the mood for one than the other, but I think I'll always enjoy both.