Welcome to my D&D blog, a place of discovery and adventure. Here, there be monsters.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

DnD Next Playtest - Enter Vultura

Harken ye to the tale of Olaf the Implacable, scion of the twin deities Helion of the Sun and Bellarion of War, and his trusty guardian "Captian" Garl Stillwaters, former sea dog & sword-swinger extraordinaire. The two hapless would-be crusaders are stationed in Outpost, the northernmost bastion of the Solaran Empire. Regular shipments of tithe and foodstuffs from the town of Grenville have trickled to nothing, and no one from the town has been seen or heard from in over a week. Traffic on the road from the southern empire is at a minimum, with only the largest caravans and military supply groups making it through. Most curiously, these caravans report dead silence on the road; even the regular Kobold raids have stopped.

The irritable Bishop Alaric, patriarch in Outpost, has ordered Olaf to investigate Grenville and report to Chaplain Godfrey in the temple there. He and his paranoid yet resolute companion leave in the morning through the Verdant Hills toward the town, encountering little on the way except a few emaciated Kobolds attempting to steal their food. Righteousness prevails, and all is eerily quite until they reached the outskirts of the town where they encounter an unconscious man who has been thrown from his cart. He had been fleeing Grenville as fast as possible when his cart wheel was smashed, killing his horse. His guard, Orik, stands nearby, confused as to what made his boss flee the town without him.

Olaf revives Saul who, after first reacting in utter terror to the sight of the cleric, eventually explains that he is under contract to run supplies to the town. He reported to the temple to collect the tithe as his man went to the inn to grab a quick flagon of ale. As he opened the door to the temple, though, he saw what he described as horrible human-like monsters tearing people to pieces, and tossing them into a black cauldron where the altar once stood. At the back of the room a man in black wearing what looked like the symbol of Bellarion, a soaring hawk over a golden sun, but corrupted somehow. He fled as fast as he could, leaving his guard behind. Orik caught up to him and found him and the broken cart, not knowing the terror his master had experienced.

The two novice adventurers approach the town with great caution after sending Saul on his way back to Outpost. As they enter the town, they notice that all buildings have been stripped of any consumable material, particularly wood and foodstuffs, though they find a few valuables scattered left behind unprotected. As they near the square, they pass by the stone walls of the Inn, the only stone building in town other than the temple. On the granite walls they find large raven's head drawn in blood, its eye piercing their very souls as they pass through the desolate streets. The symbol belongs to the Cult of Vultura, mistress of decay, disease and carrion.

Just as they enter the square, they spot about a dozen figures behind them, dazed expressions on their faces as they shamble ever closer. The two get the sense that they are being herded towards the temple, but are able to take advantage of the zombies' slow speed and dispatch them with ease.

Clear of the rather slow and obvious ambush, they proceed through the square and notice it's filled with what must be the charred remains of the entire region's harvest. Human and a few Kobold corpses are scattered about, many missing limbs or other body parts. Steeling themselves, they bravely enter the temple to find out what plague has befallen this town.

Inside they see that the temple is in ruins, the pews scattered about, the altar broken and in its place a bubbling cauldron as Saul described. Inside, four more of the undead villagers await them, along with a man in dark priest's garb whom they recognize as Godfrey. A black symbol of the Carrion Lady hangs about his neck. Godfrey laughs triumphantly as he sees Olaf enter, and he proclaims that Olaf will be his first acolyte. His zombies come after them, focusing on Garl by Godfrey's command. Godfrey himself nearly smites Garl to death, but the Olaf is able to use the blessings of light to repel the evil spawn and slay the dark priest.

Wizened by their experience, they head back to Outpost, neither of them looking forward to telling Alaric of the food shortage that will soon plague the town....


This was adventure was the first I have planned in a very long time, though I was able to put it together over a few lunch breaks at work. We played maplessly over Google Hangouts, and all things considered it well rather well. The zombie ambush was partly a skill-challenge, and they would have been hard-pressed to defeat Godfrey at the temple with a dozen zombies behind them. However, I knew going in that this part of it was too hastily thrown together. As well, the zombies turned out to be a minimal threat with a too low attack bonus, but a rather high experience reward. Garl and Olaf were able to gain two levels from 4 encounters. Godfrey in contrast was probably too overpowered, (a 3rd level Dark Priest), and I will try experimenting with custom villains next time around.

The next adventure will be within Outpost, and I'm going to keep striving towards a balance of minimal preparation time but well-conceived encounters to take full advantage of mapless combat.

Feel free to send me any comments about your experiences with the Next playtest, or this adventure specifically.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

FTDM - Super Smash Bros.

As you may already know, I've been playing a lot of Fourthcore Team Deathmatch since the beginning of the year, and I've taken the plunge and created a map of my own (with a fair amount of help from Crypt Thing's RWaluchow, and DMG 42's C. Steven Ross).

Feel free to check it out and post any feedback you may have.

Also, if you're unfamiliar with the glorious arena that is FTDM, and want to test your D&D 4e combat prowess, there is no finer way than going to a live event. There are a few matches happening at Gencon this year, and hopefully we'll have another in Toronto for the fall.

Monday, July 9, 2012

More thoughts on D&D Next

I've been considering D&D Next a fair amount these past weeks, and the reason why I'm so excited about it despite a lack of any sustained play experience. I think it has far more to do with the idea of a new edition than any concrete or assumed aspects of it. I was equally excited by the prospects of 3e, 3.5e and 4e, so it's not surprising at all that Next has been on my mind a lot lately.

4e was a step in a completely different direction over 3e, but the impetus behind the change has been more or less consistent for all new editions: in a word, simplicity. THAC0 is still a headache despite quite a few years of play (including pc gaming), and is basically the only reason we haven't ever gone back to try classic 2e modules (though that prospect is becoming far more realistic with Next). 3e was exciting because of the d20 system, and it seems highly unlikely that it will ever disappear from the game.

Similarly, the powers system in 4e was supposed to make for a smoother combat experience, with a character's options clearly laid out to avoid excessive rulebook scanning. Everyone in our group was initially excited by 4e, but we had no idea how it would play out over time.

Despite the initial push for simplicity, both 3e and 4e became bloated messes. I don't have high hopes for Next avoiding this trap. The push for profitability on the side of WoTC (and thus more content for sale), combined with the need for players (particularly power-gamers) to dream up better, faster and stronger builds, will mean that in about five years all interested parties will have dissected the system enough to start dreaming of something newer and more streamlined.

There isn't necessarily anything wrong with this process. For me, the game is about exploring the system as much as any particular adventure. For that reason, I will continue to be excited about the potential of Next and anything else that will come down the pipe.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fourthcore Team Deathmatch Toronto Event


Last weekend, #FTDM made it's way up into the (not-so) frozen north in the form of a tournament ran by RWaluchow over at Crypt Thing. RWaluchow ran the games, and also played in them so we could have enough numbers for 3 vs 3. This was my second experience with FTDM live, the first being a 2 vs 2 vs 2 game on RWaluchow's Court of the Storm Lord map.

This time, we started with one of the first maps, The Citadel. Each match lasted an hour, but the first seemed to fly right by. A combination of luck and solid tactics saw our team in the lead position throughout the game (and by luck I mean the Bugbear Slayer played by RWaluchow a good portion of the map prone and humiliated.) I played a warlock binder, who hit some good damage, and our two Eladrin mages were able to make great use of the ballista.

In the Court of the Storm Lord map, a combination of bad luck and solid tactics lead to our team losing by two kills. I spawned in the whirlwind twice, and RWaluchow and Gingerbeard Man were able to use the blood sacrifice secure victory in the second to last round. Gingerbeard was also able to use his Enchanter to great effect, sliding us off of ledges, and the Warlock on the other team was hard to take down with his steam of temporary hit points.

The second match was a bit slower than the first, as line of sight and mobility were problematic. Some tweaks by RWaluchow will make it a lot smoother, and ready for our next event (coming soon!)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

D&D Next Playtest: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wizard (again).

*These are my thoughts on how my character worked in a game RWaluchow at Crypt Thing ran. Check his site out for a description of the game itself, and for some killer artwork and maps.

Ok, maybe love is a strong word for a character I used for all of an hour (so far). Without any customization options beyond spell memorization, it's difficult to see what the class is really capable of. What magic schools (if any) are going to be available? What will be the upward limit of a wizard's power? When do I get my fireball?

The point here is that there is still way to much left for WoTC to figure out. And rightly so. They've opened themselves up to a dearth of opinions from the entire D&D-playing universe internet, a population that will not rest until they've posted their points of view—however relevant or useful—anywhere they can…


That said, there are some things that I think really work and hope will make it into the final edition.

Minor Spells

Magic Missile became my go-to spell again, functioning as I would expect it to and dealing enough damage to fell a kobold. Enough said.

Other Spells

I appreciated the simplified nature of spell descriptions. My biggest issue with 3rd edition was the amount of time I spent looking up spells in the PHB or Compendium. Even though we misused Comprehend Languages in an encounter with the kobold chieftain, and assumed it granted the ability to speak the language as well as understand it, the DM was so happy to try out the new skill challenge system that he didn't care. We later figured out a way to make a charisma check against an opposing intelligence save to see if the Kobolds could understand. A simple spell description inspired us to roleplay through a situation that could have easily seen our deaths.

Hit points

The first wizard I ever played, in 2e, had all of 1 hit point. The DM gave us healing potions at one point, and I gave mine to the fighter because if I ever needed the potion, I'd be dead. 16 was enough to survive a few sling bullets, but still feel a sense of urgency. We haven't yet used the healing or rest mechanics, but I think the lack of easy healing will bring a sense of urgency back to the game. It was assumed that a cleric could keep a party alive no matter what in 4e. Now, in the playtest at least, it's not nearly as certain.

High Elf

Personally, I'm very happy to get rid of the Eladrin and go back to the older classifications. The name High Elf evokes Tolkien, a sense of history and eternity, whereas Eladrin meant very little to me. Free Spirit, Keen Senses, and Low-Light Vision all felt exactly like the elf of yore, without being a dominating factor in the character build.

Background and Themes

Similarly, these inform the build without being a dominating factor. I flubbed my two lore checks—showing that they aren't ways of getting around role-playing as 3e Bardic Knowledge tended to be—but they are handy tools to move things along when the players are stumped. So long as there are numerous options to inform builds, and not become over-powered, they will only add richness to the game.

I have very few concerns right now, beyond fears over the level of variety in character design (which will likely be unfounded), and spell descriptions either being too ambiguous or too complex. 4e brought a level of clarity to combat situations that I hope they keep, while still encouraging creative applications of a basic set of rules. My own wishes are dangerous, as they assume a sense balance and elegance that won't end up bloated and unwieldy after four years of development, or broken in the hands of power gamers. I tend to belong in the power gamers camp most of the time, though I think in 4e that was easy if not necessary. I'm looking forward to revisiting my roots as an explorer and role-player in Next.

In fact, I'm torn by the fact that I have very little to argue with right now. The advantage/disadvantage system doesn't allow for scaling, and Bounded Accuracy will hard to judge fully until we can see how it impacts the game at higher levels. I want to provide constructive feedback, but I'm pleased with what I see and I'll stay cautiously optimistic about what WoTC will release. I'll leave the vehement arguing to the rest of the denizens of Twitter and the forums.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Never Forget Your First...

I've recently decided to revisit the campaign world I created in back in second edition. Many (if not all) of the maps and other materials I drafted in high school have vanished in the dozen or so moves I've made since then, but I would have had to update them anyways.

I hope use this blog to rebuild the feel and atmosphere of that environment and (hopefully) use the D&D Next mechanics to give it life again.

Two Nations at War

The first world map I drew, apart from the (terrible) fantasy novel I tried to write at 13 years old, was of a land book-ended by mountains in the East and West. A funnel-shaped sea lay in the centre of the map, tapering down toward the south. Surrounding the sea on the East and West were two countries, each at war with the other. A narrow land bridge ran across the bottom of the map, connecting the two duchies. I believe their names were Markdale and Lekeland, though I remember little else of the names.

The adventure opened with the players arriving in the newly-built capital of Lekeland, the Eastern nation. The duke had put out a call for loyal adventurers, hoping to find a group foolhardy enough to sneak into enemy territory and gather any intelligence they could. The former capital city of Lekeland had been razed by the enemy not long before this, and they had rebuilt a city geared for defense behind an ancient forest in the south-eastern part of the vale. The duke, as such, was a paranoid man constantly in fear of attack from the Westerners. Perhaps rightly so...

Shortly after arriving in the city, a pickpocket attempted to steal the coin purse of the party's wizard. He harshly dispatched the thief with his Shocking Grasp, and they were then able to get the attention of the captain of the watch and secure an audience with the Duke. The rogue, a dapper hand-crossbow-carrying rake, sweettalked the party into a banquet held that evening, and seduced a number of the court ladies (though spent the next day dealing with the harsh rules for alcohol we had recently downloaded).

With their mission in place they set out through the mystical forest, but the campaign didn't last too long thereafter. My intention was to have them get through the forest and explore the ruins of the former capital. The ruins were close to the disputed land bridge between the two nations, and they would move from there into the enemy encampment on the isthmus.

Unfortunately my laziness and lack of experience led me to borrow heavily from Lord of the Rings, The Riftwar Saga, and even Final Fantasy II (snes). I lost steam pretty quickly and the campaign fizzled into nothing but fond memories.

Newer experiences with pbp, and over a decade with two other iterations of D&D, have given me renewed confidence and a drive to see this world realized again. Hopefully I'll be able to find some of the old materials to update and post, but I'll enjoy creating them from scratch if need be.