Saturday, March 19, 2016

Shattered Star: Pew Pew Pew!

Game Date: 3/19/2016
Location: The Game Keep
Campaign: Shattered Star, Session 51
System: D&D 5e
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Bjertha Brawlbaker (Matt) - Dwarf Fighter
Fellany Mertien (Gary, subbing for Cliff) - Human Fighter
Gustav Greycastle (Graham) - Human Necromancer
Maruca (Daniel) - Elf Ranger/Cleric/Rogue
Slancio Brioso (Thomas) - Human Bard

The Session:
Last week we got our asses handed to us by Lord Xin's soldiers, and retreated with our tails between our legs.  Back in Magnimaar, we spent a few days raising our dead characters, and prepared to head back to Xin's island to try that battle again.  (What's the definition of insanity again?)  We knew the soldiers were weak to lightning (but immune to damn near everything else) so we spent some of that downtime seeking out lightning items.  Gustav went ahead and recruited some new undead followers.

When we finally felt prepared enough, we used Dimension Door to pop back to Xin's island.  Aaaand... Ouch.  Turns out the door we'd attuned to was trapped - we should have known that; it was one of the magical Force traps Meruca disabled last session.  It must have reset in our absence.  As a result, it teleported some of us a mile away in the middle of the ocean.  Luckily we were able to catch the attention of a passing ship.  Having learned a valuable lesson about door selection, we gathered back together and entered Xin's tower.

Once again Xin was sitting on his throne, and once again he ordered his Legionnaires to kill us.  Four of the mechanical soldiers sprang to life and attacked the group.  But this time we were ready.  It was still a tough battle, and we still took a lot of damage, but this time we all survived.  Gustav killed two of them with his lightning magic, and Fellany finished off the other two.

We took a short rest, during which we passed around the Sihedron until everyone was healed up.  No spending hit dice for us!  We looked around the enormous room, and saw several doors to try.  Picking one at random, we entered what turned out to be a magical library.  There was a large black crystal held up by a spider-shaped pedestal.  The pedestal began to come to life, but we killed it before it could hurt us.  Then the crystal shattered, releasing a demon.

It wasn't a long battle.  Slancio opened with Faerie Fire, making it much easier for the rest of us to hit it.  Gustav's deadites used their Magic Missile spam.  Meruca got two crits in one turn, and Gustav's zombie dragon got the final hit. Afterwards we found some interesting loot.  There was a tome with brass pages, that allowed you to summon runes.  We found a scroll of Wish and a scroll of Conjure Celestial.  There was also a Flame Orrery that allowed you to see into the past, and allowed you to cast haste and timestop.  Gustav was fascinated by Orrery and began using it in every room, peering into the past to see visions of Xin's rise to power. 

In the next room, two Wraiths sprang out of pillars and attacked us.  Gustav tried to cast Command Undead on them, but failed.  So he went back to Magic Missile spam.  Slancio used Faerie Fire again, which kept Bjertha's aim true while she while she worked over a Wraith with her Undead Bane Longsword.  Meruca finished off that one (kill stealer) while Gustav kept the other one surrounded by his wall of pet skeletons.  Meruca finished off that one as well, and we checked out the next door.

In another small room we found a chair facing a disc with carved runes.  Meruca pointed out a trap above the chair, but Gustav set it off anyway to investigate the runes.  It turned out to be a "spell well", which gave Gustav access to all Transmutation spells.  Gustav hopes to make this dungeon his tower one day, so this will be a nice room to have when that happens.

The next room was some sort of temple.  Several pews floated in the air, and there was a statue at the far end of the room.  The statue was of a mouthless woman with six wings, the Thassilonian goddess of magic.  She had a seven pronged helm on her head (a reference to the Sihedron), and the statue wore an actual removable robe.  Gustav viewed the past through his Orrery, and saw worshipers taking off that robe and wearing it to pray. 

As we entered the room, two living runes emerged and moved across the floor.  Bjertha failed a wisdom save, and wandered away from the battle.  She walked towards the statue, intent on taking the robe and putting it on. Fellany transferred the Sihedron to Bjertha, mistakenly thinking she'd be able to use it for a saving throw against the Suggestion.  This effectively took the Sihedron out of the battle for a few rounds, because Bjertha wasn't in her right mind to transfer it back to anyone else. 

When Gustav noticed Bjertha was going for the robe, he tried levitating it above the statue, but Bjertha's a very good jumper and retrieved it easily.  Unfortunately, when the robe left the statue, it revealed a sigil of death, which caused a large amount of damage to all the party members (though we did save for half damage).  Gustav animated the pews, and had them attack the runes as well.  The pews proved to be fairly effective allies.

During the battle, the runes would change shape to use different powers.  For example, one might turn into a symbol of Pain before causing us damage.  At one point, one turned into a Stun symbol, hitting everyone but Slancio, Gustav, and a couple of zombies.  Meruca, Bjertha, Fellany, and the rest of Gustav's undead followers were stunned for one full minute.  So for the next ten combat rounds, Slancio and Gustav tried different strategies to stay alive and damage the runes. 

Slancio hit one rune with a Lightning Bolt, and Gustav killed it with a Magic Missile.  Then they played out the clock until the stun wore off.  Once we could all move again, we ganged up on the last rune.  Meruca dealt the killing blow.  We were running long so we ended the session there.

There's no game for the next few weeks.  Looks like the next game will be 4/16.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Finding Myself

So with only a few sessions left in our Shattered Star campaign, we've been talking more and more about what's next.  While it's not set in stone quite yet, it sounds like we're probably going to end up running a Pathfinder adventure path called "Wrath of the Righteous".  Using actual Pathfinder this time, instead of D&D 5e.  We've been talking a bit about what sort of characters each of us will be playing.  One is looking at a Changeling Witch, another is considering something skill-focused, and another is thinking Barbarian.

Usually I wait and see what the rest of the party is doing, and fill that hole.  But I just played the same boring fighter for over a year, so I'm wanting to pick something I'll really look forward to playing.  At the same time, I'm not as good with Pathfinder so I don't want anything too complicated.  So something simple, but still interesting.  Hopefully it's possible.

I'm currently researching the Warpriest, but I'm not sold quite yet.  If we do go with the Wrath campaign, Warpriest sounds like a decent fit, but I don't know enough about how it plays.  After playing Bjertha for 50 sessions, I'm a little sick of melee fighting.  If a Warpriest can be built that focuses more on healing, spells, or ranged attacks, that might please me.  But if I end up being the most heavily armored in the party, I'll probably have to tank again - which is fine, just not not my first choice.

So I'm writing this out as a mental exercise, to explore what I do and don't like about certain classes and races, so that maybe I can find something that really fits me.

My likes/dislikes:
My favorite classes are usually ranged and/or Charisma based. My favorite characters in previous campaigns were Bards, Sorcerers, and archers (various builds). I also like playing healers, but I don't like being the party's only healer unless I have a ton of healing options.  My favorite healing character was a 4e Cleric pacifist, who concentrated on healing so much that she was terrible in combat.  I also have a thing for nature magic and animal companions.

All of my characters are female (that's non-negotiable, but no one's ever complained).  Most of my characters are of Neutral Good or Chaotic Good alignment.  I could try other alignments, but I'd have problems staying in character.  A lot of my characters have been somewhat peaceful - not afraid of battle, but avoiding a fight when possible, and never killing a helpless enemy after the battle's over.  Bjertha was the most hot-headed character I've played, and she was hard to get used to.

I usually don't worry much about gold, because I like finding new equipment more than buying it in a store.  If I do buy a magic item, the first one I try to buy is a bag of holding, so I can carry more of what I find in the dungeons.  When the party does find a cache of magic items, I usually let the other players pick first.  I might end up with a random variety of mismatched equipment, but that's a lot more interesting to me than having a perfect set of optimized gear.

Core classes I haven't played in PnP:
One thing to consider is, what have I not played?  Seems like I should try everything at least once.  However, there are reasons for my omissions.

Barbarian - I wrote a big long backstory for a Barbarian one time, but I've yet to play one in a PnP campaign.  They sound like fun, but I don't think I'd like keeping track of how many rounds I've used my rage.  Plus I like my melee characters to be well armored.

Paladin - I've always liked them because they're well-armored and can heal, but I typically don't care for their personalities.  Most of my characters are of Good alignment, but I've never been into Lawful.  If the system requires Paladins be Lawful Good, I'm probably out.

Rogue - I'm fairly surprised I haven't played a Rogue in PnP, but it just hasn't happened yet.  They sound like fun on paper, but personality-wise most of them seem motivated by gold.  My characters don't tend to be very greedy, so my Rogue would have other reasons for choosing that lifestyle.  Online I used to play a Rogue who was on the run from the law after being wrongly convicted.  She didn't enjoy picking pockets, but she couldn't get a real job where she might be recognized.

Wizard - Meh.  They're so complicated and strategic, plus they go down too quickly.  I can see how they could be fun, but I don't think I have the tactical skills to run one effectively.

I've been playing a Dwarf since mid 2014, and I'd really like to play someone attractive again.  But oddly, at the same time I've been wanting to try a Half-Orc or Tiefling - they're the only core races I've never played.  Well, I don't think I've played a Gnome either, but I'm not interested.  I've also been pondering some of the non-core races, because I'm sick of playing the same races over and over again.  But I don't feel like playing anything monster-like.  I've always wanted to try a Pixie, but I don't think Pathfinder has one.  I'm also partial to cat-like people.

In past campaigns, my favorite characters have been Elves, Half-Elves, Eladrin, Dragonborn, and one Hamadryad.  I think I've played more Humans than anything, which is funny because I find them boring.  I'm already playing one in real life (though not very convincingly), so I don't know why I'd want to play them in fantasy.

Twice now when I've had trouble deciding on a character, I've rolled for race/class randomly.  However, both times I was disappointed with the outcome, and they just weren't as fun or as memorable as characters I chose myself.

Anyway, I still have a few weeks to think about it, so we'll see.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Shattered Star: The Return of Bjertha (...for a minute)

Game Date: 3/12/2016
Location: The Game Keep
Campaign: Shattered Star, Session 50
System: D&D 5e
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Bjertha Brawlbaker (Matt) - Dwarf Fighter
Fellany Mertien (Matt, subbing for Cliff) - Human Fighter
Gustav Greycastle (Graham) - Human Necromancer
Maruca (Daniel) - Elf Ranger/Cleric/Rogue
Slancio Brioso (Thomas) - Human Bard

The Session:
When we left off last week, we had just met Lord Xin.  As with most people we meet, we pissed him off and started a fight.  Xin vanished as five of his mechanical soldiers came to life and attacked.  These constructs were very tough.  They each had three attacks per round, had incredibly high attack rolls, and several inconvenient immunities.  While they mostly stuck to melee attacks, occasionally they would surprise us with a high level spell.

Early on we discovered they were immune to Magic Missile, so Gustav's undead missile spam strategy wouldn't work.  We also found they were immune to Slancio's Eldrich Blast and Firestorm spells.  Late in the battle we discovered they were vulnerable to Lightning, but Gustav was the only one who could take advantage of that weakness. 

Meruca took to the air and attacked at range, while Gustav used his zombie army to surround a soldier.  Slancio used Dimension Door to keep his distance.  We passed the Sihedron around as needed, mostly keeping them on the fighters.  One soldier tried to use Finger of Death on Meruca, but Slancio used counterspell to stop it. 

Bjertha went down to zero while the Sihedron was equipped.  This caused the Intellect Devourer - who had been inhabiting Bjertha for the last seven sessions - to pop out and start walking around.  This left Bjertha without a brain, in other words dead... but the Sihedron automatically casts True Resurrection once a day, which brought her back to life at full hit points.  Her mind was finally whole again (for what that's worth).

On its next turn, the Intellect Devourer tried to jump into Fellany, but failed.  Fellany responded by creaming the Devourer with one strike.  A good hour into the battle, we finally brought down one of the constructs, but the party was hurting badly.  Slancio tried to separate us from our foes using an Ice Wall spell, but they just broke through it. 

The final turning point was when one of the soldiers cast Meteor Swarm.  It hit each of us for 60-something fire damage and 60-something bludgeoning damage, bringing all of us down.  Gustav died instantly from massive damage, while the rest of began making death saves.  The soldiers kept attacking us while we were down, causing Bjertha and Fellany to quickly fail three death saves (it didn't help that they both rolled 1's on their saves).

Meruca had the Sihedron at this point, and the artifact's regeneration brought her back up on her next turn.  She teleported to Slancio and revived him, and the two worked together on an escape plan.  They popped around the room using Dimension Door, leaving the building and coming back in a couple of times in order to gather up all the bodies.  They noticed that upon leaving and reentering, the soldier constructs moved back into position and Xin reappeared on the throne.

Fearing that everything would start all over again, they got all the party members together and teleported back to Magnimaar.  We ended the session there, safely back in town.  Everyone but Slancio and Meruca are still dead, but we have the resources to fix that.  Unfortunately we left all of Gustav's undead back in Xin's palace, our poor Necromancer may have to start from scratch building an army.

XP: 1,270 each, bringing us up to 174,750.

Friday, March 11, 2016

D&D 5e Vs Pathfinder

It's been a while since I've made a non-campaign-related blog on this page.  A few years ago I wrote a blog about D&D 4e vs Pathfinder.  I didn't have a clear winner at the time, because the two systems have such different play styles.  Sometimes you're in the mood for tactical combat, sometimes you're in the mood for simulationist roleplay.  But in retrospect, it's not that much of a contest.  Pathfinder is so obviously superior to 4e that it's not even funny.  I still remember my 4e campaigns with great fondness, but it's not a system I ever care to play again.

We're about to wrap up our current campaign, in which we are using D&D 5e to play a Pathfinder adventure path.  This has been particularly taxing on the DM, with all the enemy and item conversions.  As I write this, we're still debating on whether to make the next campaign D&D or Pathfinder, but I believe the group is leaning toward Pathfinder.  I'm torn.  I like both systems, for different reasons.

Character Creation
Winner: 5e
So in preparation for our potential Pathfinder campaign, I started looking through the PHB for character ideas.  And I swear, after playing 5e for so long, for a minute I thought I was reading one of my old Calculus books from college.  Pathfinder's like, "You can use this power 3 times a day plus your Charisma modifier minus your Strength mod unless you're left-handed or it's a Thursday after 3PM in which case you roll a d4 and subtract 5 and add your number of eyes (minimum 1), unless your grandmother owns a parakeet in which case you can use the power two extra times per day (maximum 3 per fortnight) and it also adds budgie damage except to monsters who are immune to ice cream."

Okay, I'm exaggerating.  But I can build a 5e character in less than 10 minutes, and the great part is that I can do it myself without having to use some sort of character generator program.  This was one of the first things I loved about 5e; even in 4e I had to resort to WOTC's character creator.  In my last Pathfinder campaign I used PCGen, which was helpful but tedious.  It sped things up a lot, but it's not user-friendly enough for my tastes.

Character Options
Winner: Pathfinder
Unfortunately 5e's ease-of-use comes at a price.  The system feels so basic.  People who want more interesting characters just don't have a lot of choices.  Personally I'm really into races.  The more a system has, the better.  My two favorite books in 4e were "Heroes of the Feywild" and "Heroes of Shadow."  They didn't have the most powerful options, but I loved the flavor.  Unfortunately those books came out near the end of 4e's life, and I only got to try out one of those races before I stopped playing 4e.  With 5e releasing new content at such a glacial rate, once again they'll probably start putting out fey/dark races and classes right before 6e launches.

Meanwhile, Pathfinder has a ton of options.  Being based on an earlier version of D&D, they had a big head start and have had a lot more time to get content out there.  In fact, I'm a little surprised they don't have even more to choose from, but what's out there is enough to keep me busy for years.  For those who are bored with the standard fantasy core classes, Pathfinder is the way to go.

On the other hand, if you don't mind a little homebrew, there are a ton of fan sites out there with great new 5e options. They vary in quality, but if you look hard enough there's a lot of well-balanced content with lots of new flavor.

Winner: 5e
I've said it many times before:  I hate slow healing.  People have different ideas on what hit points represent, but to me they're more about stamina than anything.  Getting "hit" doesn't mean your enemy's sword broke your skin, it means you deflected a blow and it cost you some stamina.  In most fights, the only blow that actually cuts you is the one that takes you below zero, because at that point you were too tired to block it.

Pathfinder's "1 hit point per level per night" is maddeningly slow.  It's a relic from a time when people didn't heal up after every battle, and while I have nothing against those players, it's not for me. 

Winner: 5e
And by "winner" I mean it's easier to stay alive in 5e.  For some people that's not a bonus, but I'm more interested in the story than the challenge.  I don't have anything to prove; I already know I suck at battle strategy, and it's not something that really bothers me.  To me, it's not a very interesting story if we keep rolling up new characters every few sessions.  If a campaign has an over-arcing plot, then I like there to be some continuity regarding the characters in it.  If the final sessions of a campaign have a completely different cast than the early sessions, it makes me wonder why we were following those early characters in the first place. 

Rules Specificity
Winner: Pathfinder
One of the big complaints I keep hearing about the table, is that too many of 5e's rules boil down to "ask the DM".  It can really slow things down when someone asks a question, and everyone checks three different books, only to find the information hasn't been written yet.  To be fair, the internet is full of fan-made documents that fill in the gaps, but should we really have to resort to that many houserules just to play the game?  The DM might rule one way in this session, then forget and rule the opposite way in a later session.  The more you rely on the DM to fill in the gaps on the fly, the less fair the game becomes. 

Negative Effects
Winner: 5e
I've said it before, but stat reductions and level drains suck.  I might spend hours at home doing all the math to figure out all my skills and attack rolls.  Then I get attacked by a wight or something, and suddenly I have to redo all my math right there at the table, on the fly.  I have yet to meet anyone who thinks stat drains are fun.  Let me repeat that for emphasis: STAT REDUCTIONS ARE NOT FUN.

Pathfinder is one of the world's most popular tabletop RPGs, and the makers spent a lot of time taking the best elements of D&D 3.5 and tweaking them to perfection.  And yet they intentionally put in a mechanic that absolutely everyone fracking hates.  For a game designed to be fun, it doesn't make a bit of sense.  I mean, would you keep playing Monopoly if one of the rules was that you have to shove a pencil in your eye every time you pass Go?  Frankly, this is unforgivable.

But, you don't get a Marvel No-Prize just for pointing out a problem, you also have to figure out a solution.  Our DM is fond of handing out condition cards when you get Dazed or Stunned or whatever, so how about some Stat Reduction cards?  You get hit with stat reduction, you get handed a card that says, "You Are At -2 Dex.  Your get -1 to your ranged attacks, AC (depending on your armor), and the following skills:  Acrobatics, Disable Device, etc."  That would at least leave fewer eraser marks on my character sheet.  But more importantly, I want these negative effects to go away faster. 

Overall Winner
Honestly, I really prefer 5e, I just wish there were more books out for it.  I'll happily play Pathfinder, though.  Bottom line: The fun comes from the group, not the system.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Shattered Star: Xin-Sational

Game Date: 3/5/2016
Location: The Game Keep
Campaign: Shattered Star, Session 49
System: D&D 5e
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Bjertha Brawlbaker (Matt) - Dwarf Fighter
Fellany Mertien (Cliff) - Human Fighter
Gustav Greycastle (Graham) - Human Necromancer
Maruca (Daniel) - Elf Ranger/Cleric/Rogue
Slancio Brioso (Thomas) - Human Bard

The Session:
Last week we reassembled the titular Star, and used it while saving the city from tidal waves and attacking monsters.  After we returned to Heidmarch Manor, the Pathfinder Society had some news for us.  It looks like the attacks had been coming from the "Island of Xin", and they asked us to go check it out.  After a long rest (which brought us up to level 15), we hired a ship and headed for the island.

This island had recently risen out of the water.  In fact, it was still rising.  It was full of ruins, and had one significant landmark - a large tower made of crystal.  As we approached the tower's only door, we saw three gillmen beckoning to us from the nearby water.  We couldn't understand their language, so Slancio cast a communication spell.  The gillmen kept encouraging us to join them, but we declined.

Meanwhile, Bjertha tried the door.  There was no handle, so she just pushed, which set off a trap.  Crystal shards shot out in a cone, damaging several party members.  Meruca finally managed to defeat the magical locks and let us inside. 

There was a hallway inside.  Three runes rose up out of the floor, and formed into elf women.  These servants of Xin told us that their master was not available right now, and asked us to leave.  We asked them several questions, but their responses were limited so our conversations went in circles.  While we stood around wondering what we should do next, Bjertha and Fellany suddenly felt compelled to start walking into the water.

Those gillmen outside turned out to be a ruse, in reality three Aboleths swam nearby trying to compel us to be their slaves.  As the two fighters marched into the water, Slancio used his magic ring to part the waters, making the battle much easier.  While Slancio couldn't dispel the Aboleths' mind control through words alone, he managed to convince Bjertha and Fellany to adopt a relatively neutral stance in the combat.  The fighters didn't attack either side, but did their best to protect the Aboleths from damage.

Gustav sent his pet dracolich to charge the Aboleths.  Bjertha and Fellany made no move to harm the dragon, but attempted to grapple it instead.  Meruca delivered the killing blows on two of the Aboleths, and one of Gustav's skeletal minions finished off the third.  After the battle, we had Meruca fly around to see if there were any other ways into the tower, which there weren't.  With no other options, we decided to fight Xin's servants.

We started the battle by shooting a lightning bolt at them. They answered with a couple of bolts of their own. Slancio threw down a zone of Silence at them.  Bjertha and Fellany ran into the room to for some melee attacks.  All of Gustav's undead followers have their own wands of Magic Missile now, so they kept moving into view, firing all their missiles, and moving back out of range.  We passed the Sihedron around a few times during the battle, putting it on whoever could make the most use of the artifact. 

Bjertha killed the final servant, and we looked around the room.  On the far side of the hall was another wall similar to the outer door, and Meruca was good enough to deactivate this one as well.  We went through the door and entered a large throne room.  There were mechanical troops standing in rows, and a transparent floor revealing water beneath us. 

On the throne sat King Xin himself, missing two legs and an arm, and covered in horrible burns.  We spoke to him with utmost reverence, faking loyalty in order to gain his trust.  He showed us a vision in which he revealed his plans to take over Magnimaar.  We asked him if there was any way to execute his plan in a more peaceful manner, perhaps an alliance with Magnimaar instead of war.  He lost his temper and accused us of disloyalty.  And on that cliffhanger, we ended the session.