Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Drow Necromancer

I thought I'd post the Drow Necromancer I pit the group against a couple of sessions ago. I made him using Asmor's monster creator, and for powers I picked wizard powers reflavored to fit a necromancer, and some undead abilities (the Reanimate ability comes from the Deathlock wight. He never got to use it)

I learned some stuff. I thought the ability to negate an attack was too powerful so I made it recharge, but realized later that fights are so dynamic, and usually short, that having an ally close at hand was not always a possibility and therefore the power was not all that overpowered. The big bad death shroud should do half damage, as most area attacks do. I think tacking a weak status effect on the main ranged attack would not have been unbalancing and fit the encounter well, I think slow would work well. Without further delay, the Necromancer...

Drow Necromancer Level 4 Elite Controller (Leader)
Medium Fey Humanoid
XP 350
Initiative +5 Senses Perception +4;darkvision
Master's touch aura 3; Undead in aura gain +1 to attack rolls and all defenses
HP 104; Bloodied 52
AC 18; Fortitude 15, Reflex 17, Will 16
Resist Necrotic 5; Vulnerable Radiant 5
Saving Throws +2
Speed 7
Action Points 1
M Staff (Standard; at-will) ♦ Melee
+9 vs AC 1d6+4
r Reanimate (Minor; daily) ♦ Healing, Necrotic
Ranged 10, affects a destroyed undead creature level 6 or lesser, the target stands as a free action with a number of hit points equal to one-half its bloodied value. This power does not affect minions.
c Death Shroud (Standard; encounter) ♦ Arcane, Necrotic, Implement
Close burst 2 Target each enemy in burst +8 vs Fort 2d8+4 damage and target is pushed 2 squares Miss: Target is pushed 1 square When bloodied this power recharges.
a Draining Burst (Standard; at-will) ♦ Arcane, Necrotic, Implement
Area burst 1 within 10 squares Target Each creature in burst +8 vs Reflex 1d6+4 Necrotic damage
Dimension Door (Move; daily) ♦ Arcane, Teleportation
Teleport 10 squares
Minion Sacrifice (Immediate Interrupt; recharge 56) ♦ Arcane
When hit by a ranged attack any adjacent undead may shift and take damage instead.
Alignment Chaotic Evil Languages Common
Skills Religion +11, Arcana +11
Str 10 (+2) Dex 16 (+5) Wis 14 (+4)
Con 12 (+3) Int 18 (+6) Cha 12 (+3)


Tuesday, October 28, 2008


First, a feat:
Ritual Knowledge (Familiar)
Prerequisites: Trained in Arcana, Ritual Caster Feat
Benefit: You learn the Familiar Ritual

Then the ritual:

You call a portion of your being into the world as a small creature. This creature will be your new familiar.
Level: 4
Category: Creation
Time: 1 hour
Duration: Permanent
Component Cost: 400 GP
Market Price: Unavailable
Key Skill: Arcana
You bring into being a small animal of a type chosen by you. While in all respects it looks like the real thing, it is in fact a part of you. It communicates with you verbally, and speaks the languages you speak. Your familiar possesses a number of Hit Points equal to your Healing Surge value. At the time of creation you lose one healing surge to your familiar and it is only regained on it's destruction or dismissal. The small animal gains all movement types but none of the special abilities of the animal you chose. It must remain within 20 squares of you at all times, or it is dismissed. If your familiar is destroyed by any means you must wait until you take an extended rest to call another. During combat a familiar shares your actions. You may at any time elect to have your familiar take any of your standard, move, or minor actions. A familiar has no natural attack. Your familiar uses your defenses.

Calling a familiar grants the following utility power:
Alter Familiar
With a thought your companion melds into a different, more useful shape
Daily✦ (twice daily) Arcane, Polymorph
Minor Action Ranged 10
Target: Familiar
Effect: Your familiar changes shape into another small animal. As the original it gains the movement types but not the special abilities of the animal it resembles.
Special: At 11th level this becomes four times daily, at 21st it becomes six times daily.

And we add a second feat:
Close bond (Familiar)
Prerequisites: Ritual Knowledge (Familiar) Feat
Benefit: You learn the Deliver Spell Utility Power

Deliver Spell
You gesture with your implement and magic power bursts from your familiar.
Daily ✦ Arcane, Implement
Standard Action Ranged 10
Target: Familiar
Effect: You make all attack rolls and determinations as normal, but the power emanates from your familiar. Powers with the weapon keyword or other powers that rely on a melee or ranged attack do not function in conjunction with this power.


Monday, October 27, 2008

10/25 Actual Play

This session fast forwarded the typical end-of-story wrap up and started the beginning of a new adventure. We leveled to third in the interim. Participating:

Chelsea, playing Ana the Half Elven Cleric
Chris, playing Merril the Halfling Cleric
Dan, playing Arlarond the Human Wizard
Jay, playing Therryk the Dragonborn Paladin
Jesse, playing Halma the Human Rogue
Lisa, playing Feawen the Elven Ranger
Colin was DMing but ran Lucan, his Elven Fighter

We had 2 Defenders, 2 Strikers, 2 Leaders, and 1 Controller. A pretty balanced group. Of course, the three not attending are all strikers, so it was more luck than anything...

The city of Fallcrest embraced their new heroes with open arms. Upon hearing of the events that transpired in the Scarred Caverns a celebration was thrown, with our heroes as guests of honor. Somewhat more attention was paid to Ana, the bastard child of the Lord Mayor. The party was a chance to relax, and to get paid for being heroes.

It was also a chance to hear about the local goings on. It seems a party of dwarves had been spending their days in the local watering hole. These dwarves had been in the town for a few days and nobody seemed to know why they were here or what they were waiting for. Arlarond, who had spent the evening drinking with them not long ago, made his way to the Inn and began pumping them for information.

It did not take much to discover what the story was. They were biding time waiting for their leader to show up. He was stuck in prison in Hammerfast and would send a runner when he was released and ready to meet up. At that time they would head North to find an old abandoned Giant Temple. Since no more giants claimed it the temple was newly dubbed the treasure temple.

Arlarond wasted no time. He found Halma drinking in another establishment. Halma readily offered to hire an actor to convince the dwarves that their boss needed them in Hammerfast (though this is still unknown to the party). Arlarond moved on. In turn he contacted the remaining members of the party in their respective hangouts or homes. The plan was to meet at the Wizard's Tower at sundown.

He finished in time to return to the Inn and witness the actor approach the dwarves. He played up being the runner sent from Hammerfast. The dwarves were mostly passed out drunk by this point, having been kept in supply by a generous donation from Arlarond. The actor informed them that their boss needed them to return and post bail for him. One of the dwarves was with it enough to demand proof that this runner was from the boss. Arlarond graciously volunteered himself as an impartial party to verify that the name whispered in his ear by the 'runner' was the name spoken aloud by the dwarf. Big surprise, it was! The dwarves decide to finish their one last night of drinking and leave early the next morning to Hammerfast.

There is time enough in the day for some planning and research. Ana attempts to search the castle for any information about a 'Giant's Temple' to the north, but is unsuccessful. Arlarond quizzes his master, who admits that he does not recall any such thing, but freely allows Arlarond to do research of his own in the small private library in the tower. After some diligent searching he spies a map tucked away between two bookshelves with a handwritten scrawl mentioning some larger than life ruins on a specific island in the lake north of Fallcrest.

Nightfall comes, with the gathering of the heroes at the foot of the Wizard's Tower. Preparations are made, and discussion about travel arrangements turns to boats. It is agreed that waiting until mid morning the next day (after the dwarves leave town) would be best. The next day, a small boat is hired for the journey, provisions are procured, and the journey begins. It will be days of sailing just to reach the lake. To pass the time, the two Human party members attempt to learn the ropes of sailing from the 4 man crew.

Three days out from Fallcrest the sharp eyed members of the crew, and the captain of the vessel spot a boat headed downriver. As it gets closer it is apparent that there is nobody aboard and the out of control boat is headed on a collision course with ours. Fast acting by the crew and party together push it out of the way in time to avoid disaster, and Halma leaps aboard to investigate this new mystery.

With both boats anchored near each other, the party begins to examine the derelict. Large gouges mar the deck, and portions of the railing are torn away. Exploring the lower deck illuminates part of the mystery, as 5 bloated corpses are found. Simultaneously Feawen comes to a conclusion about the claw marks, and Arlarond recognizes the origin of the poison. This boat had been attacked by a green dragon.

A quick party council agrees on two things. Make no mention of the bodies or the dragon, and take as many barrels of wine as we can load on two Tenser's Discs. Once the boat is once more unoccupied it is released to float downriver to Fallcrest. Interestingly enough, the captain volunteers a tale about a green dragon terrorizing a village in the north. He travels this way often trading goods, but has never seen one. He considers it a legend.

Days later as the party entered the lake, they saw the expected shape far away in the sky. Knowing what they did about the reality of a green dragon in the area, the party points the boat to shore and ushers the crew below decks. Before too long they are staring down the charging gullet of a large green dragon.

The battle was long. Highlights:
- We were bunched up on a 15 x 50ish boat. Had the dragon felt sporting he would have waited until we reached the shore to attack, but he took advantage of the situation and charged while we were still almost 100 feet away. The boat was moving about 2.5 feet per second. Less than 2 miles per hour.
- The dragon had a mental ability that compelled the target to move 10 feet in a direction of his choosing. This meant that no place on the boat was safe from being ordered to step off and into the lake.
- All of his attacks afflicted some status effect or another. We were doing awful at saving. Everyone had some sort of status on them most of the fight except for Feawen. Being the primary ranged attacker she managed to stay out of the clump. One might thing Arlarond would also have stayed back, but he ventured out over the water in his floating disc, and was hit in the first pass with the breath weapon.
- The Clerics are both ranged attackers, obviously Feawen the ranger and Arlarond the wizard could attack from afar. That left the three melee classes. Lucan has an enchanted trident so he could stay back a few squares. Therryk chose to stand at the bow and attempt going toe to toe with the dragon, and Halma took a different approach...
- His Daily ability blinded the dragon, and then he ran and jumped from the boat and attacked in the air with is action point. He spent a few rounds in the water after that, since the dragon stunned him and a few others with his fear ability. He got dragged under the barely moving boat and lost a healing surge for the trouble. Arlarond was knocked from his disc and took a dip too, as did Feawen, Therryk, and Merril at some point during the fight.
- Surprisingly in spite of the constant poison damage, the slowing from the after effect, and the fear debuff we kept dealing damage. The dragon moved onto the ship and began going after different targets. The boat crept towards the shoreline, and was only stopped from beaching by the timely action of Halma dropping anchor. His second attempt at glorious action was thwarted by his relative inexperience with sailing. An attempt to cut a rope and cause the boom to knock the dragon in the head was less than effective, but we much appreciated his not allowing us to crash into the shore.
- With most people bloodied and Merril and Ana out of healing magic the party was feeling pretty grim when surprisingly one last arrow from Feawen sent it pinwheeling towards the water.


I was in the player's seat for this and the next few games, which is nice for a change. We spent quite a bit of time role playing the town action, even getting momentarily bogged down in that D&D constant, over planning. For some odd reason it was buying a boat that did it this time. Goes to show that you never know what will set it off.

The dragon fight took up most of the rest of the time. I did not expect it to last that long. Most of the difficulties from this fight were due to the terrain. Granted, fighting a dragon in any circumstances should be difficult, but considering that there was nowhere on the boat safe from his slide ability and no way for us to not be bunched up, his breath weapon and dragon fear were especially effective. Later in the fight with both of those not recharged he flyby attacked several times, which is still rotten since his melee attacks also add poison damage.

The entire theme of the fight was status effects. We were experimenting this session with pipe cleaner rings to represent conditions. We started with pink on the dragon to represent the Hunter's Quarry (the Pink Ranger, hur hur) and yellow for the Divine Challenge. Then we got hit with the breath weapon and most of the minis on the boat had a green (poison) and orange (slowed) ring. Add red for bloodied and yellow for the fear debuff and the wizard could barely be seen behind his rings. Someone suggested the players keep the rings instead of their minis, and that is how we finished. The dragon had a couple status rings and the DMPC, but most players were wearing theirs on their fingers the rest of the fight. It was kind of a . . .less than ideal test for them, since the dragon caused a lot more status effects than normal, and in my mind the primary function should be to mark enemies so the players can see at a glance which ones are marked, bloodied, etc.

We were more worried than we should have been about colliding with the shore. At the bottom of every round Colin redrew the shore 3 squares closer and moved all the water treading PC's 3 squares away. Luckly the DC's for climbing aboard were only a problem for the full plate, heavy shield Paladin (me). Halma had the anchor in his hand originally in an attempt to leap onto the dragon (again), and hook it to him. I think had we not been careening out of control towards the shore he may have tried. It is funny, because it added that bit of desperation, I think. While I would have *loved* to fight on open ground, having a hole torn in the ship would have sucked.

This was my first FAIR dragon fight playing D&D. I did fight a red dragon once in a 10th level game, but he was. . .a pain in the ass, I guess. This dragon was a tough, exciting, dangerous fight, and a score for 4e, in my opinion.


Monday, October 20, 2008

10/18 Actual Play

We had 6 PC's this session, the Human Cleric, the Halfling Cleric, the Elven Fighter, the Human Wizard, the Human Rogue, and the Elven Ranger. The Halfling Cleric just happens to be the same halfling we had join us last session, only now she is a male cleric. Convenient. Onward ho!

The next room is a large, mostly empty stone room with a 5x20 foot altar in the center that rises about 4 feet high. As the party begins to enter the room they see standing in front of the altar a robed figure, moving slightly. The Elven and Half Elven party members see more in the dim light. At the other end of the long room are two pits. They also get a better look at the altar. It is covered with grotesque imagery, and from what they can see, it is a twisted fountain, with many spouts that dribble blood that collects in a trough around the base. Thankfully it appears empty right now.

The Rogue sneaks up behind the figure. As he gets close it turns, and he and the rest get a good look at it. Taught skin pulled over dry bones, draped in shapeless robes. Unholy light burns within and animates it's movements. They attack each other.

As the Wight screams it's unholy scream a handful of zombies climb from the pits. As they near the party, it is apparent that these are the same hobgoblins that they defeated not that long ago. Highlights:
- The Halfling Cleric manages to catch about half of them in a spectacular display of his Deity's power. The zombies flee and two of them tumble into the pit.
- The Half Elven Cleric does the same thing, and pretty much eliminate the zombies as a threat.
- The wight was too exposed to do much besides die. Melee characters charged in and ended it quick.

Exploration following the fight illuminates a few things. The pits are full of dead bodies, all in more advanced states of decomposition than the ones they fought. Of the three exits out, one is a dead end, and one is easily barricaded by the Rogue, leaving and obvious choice for the party. Not before the clerics take their time to rob this altar of it's power, just as in the previous room. Once done, the party noticed that the pits full of bodies began to stink. Before there was no scent.

The room the party chose was once a beautiful stone room with decorative pillars spaced throughout. Many of them had fallen, leaving piles of broken stone on the floor. In the corner were some stairs down, and opposite them was another door. After cautiously exploring the room and finding nothing of interest, they decided to move on to the next door.

This room held something interesting. The door opened on three dark elves gathered around a large table. The table had a body strapped to it, and appeared to be purpose built for torture and dissection. To the right was a dividing wall with living quarters, and in that room were three more Drow. The apparent leader began speaking with the party, but was interrupted by an orb of force streaking into the room and striking two of the guards. Important stuff:
- The Human Wizard put down an area of force daggers right in front of the door, anticipating the Drow's charge for the party. Unfortunately they had reach weapons and this only hindered the party during the first round.
- The Rogue shouting at his allies to keep out of that room and move the enemies to their room. They had good defensive position with pillars to hide behind and a choke point. This would have worked perfectly except...
- The Drow Wizard hitting the grouped party with a power that made four of them fall prone, and dazed them. The pole arm fighters were able to move into the room once the force daggers were down and attack the party in the open.
- The other two Drow were quickly dubbed 'cabana boys' and after one was dropped quickly it was decided to try and keep the other alive.
- The Elven Fighter attacking from the ground and shoving his trident under his assailant's armor, killing him. Afterwards he said he planned to go down, just for that purpose.
- Once the battle started turning against them, the Drow retreated into the room and slammed the door, attempting to get away.
- The Fighter leaped at the door, kicking it down after a vault with his trident, burst through, and charged the remaining guard, taking him down.
- The fight was largely over, but the Drow Wizard did not know that. He ran down a hallway and opened the door at the end. The other Wizard conjured another region of magical daggers behind him, trapping him.
- The Fighter (again!) bullrushed him into the daggers, and he dropped to his knees, protecting his face from the slashing. He did not see the rogue's dagger find it's mark between his fingers, and he fell to the ground dead.

The party took two prisoners, the living cabana boy, who the wizard had abandoned in his flight, and the last guard that had been taken down by the fighter. They examined the body and discovered that it was the man that they had been looking for, and that he was dead. The two clerics laid him on the bed and began to perform rites on him, while the party interrogated the cabana boy.

Through some clever trickery involving whispered words of his former master being conjured into his ear, he spilled all he knew. This was a Drow Temple of Vecna. Long ago a powerful Drown Necromancer had come to the surface world and enslaved or destroyed many. He had build temples like the one they were in all over, to enable him to perform his unholy rites. The fountain in the last room was an artifact that animated the dead placed in the two pits nearby. the current Necromancer was seeking to raise an undead army and begin the work of his master anew. The party learned:
- The dungeon was two levels
- The man the killed was not the Necromancer
- There were only a handful of followers, all outcast from the Underdark and Drow society as a whole

While the Clerics finished their rites the next room was explored. This was the final room on this floor. In the corner were five square obsidian pillars, each five feet on a side and going floor to ceiling. They were written in a language unknown to all present, but following a brief ritual the Wizard was able to discern that these contained the knowledge for using the altar in the next room. Essentially these were the Necromancers' spellbooks. With help from the Rogue they used a hammer to obscure or obliterate key parts of the rituals, rendering them useless.

Placing the body on a floating disc, they returned to the city to report their findings. The prisoners were taken to the Sheriff's office. While Constable Blackshield was initially reticent to take the prisoners, he loosened up after a long night passing the flask with the Rogue. The two Clerics took the body to be lain to rest at one of the town's temples, and Wizard went to the tavern to unwind. Following an unpleasant exchange with Constable Blackshield's wife, the Half Elven Cleric decided that the children needed a better place to stay.

Early in the morning they met at the sheriff's office to talk to Constable Morlinar about what should be done. The sheriff was summoned, and although gruff at first he agreed to speak to the Lord Mayor about what should be done. The question of the two recently orphaned Graygrinder children was addressed, and the Rogue produced a sack of gold to be put in a trust for their safekeeping. The Wizard offered them a place to stay as hired hands at his master's tower, and Constable Morlinar promised to check on them to see how things were going. The party all knew that their job was not yet finished, and left soon after for the Scarred Caverns and the Necromancer, who was likely waiting for them there.

Not even bothering to sneak, the party marches down the stairs and into his lair. The Necromancer was working on some type of magical sigil on the floor, but stood and commanded his undead as the party walked in:
- Two clerics in the party meant this fight was doomed from the beginning. Despite having an aura from the Necromancer that boosted their power they were turned and out of the fight almost right away.
- The Wizard conjured a fiery sphere that he controlled with his mind. He harried the Necromancer with it the entire battle.
- The Necromancer got fed up with this and unleashed Necromantic energy on the party. Four of them were caught in a vortex of dark energy and flung back.
- In the following seconds he paid dearly for putting himself out there. Crippled and stunned he again blasted everyone back.
- Feeling the end creeping close and not wanting to face his master after such a complete failure he leaped through a portal and down the hall.

The party chased him only to run right into a trap. The last room in this complex contained an elevator powered by powerful enchantments and guarded by crossbow firing automata. Three Drow soldiers barred the way, attempting to give their master time, but as it became clear that the party would break through, the final soldier hit the kill switch and sent the platform plummeting into the Underdark.


This is what I get for planning the inaugural session to introduce (1) The Underdark *scary* and (2) Undead.

I get two clerics! 4e Turn Undead is brutal. Having played a 3.5 Cleric I can say with authority that without special attention from feats, domains, or prestige classes, turn undead was usually a bust. 4e Turn Undead is super awesome. As it should be for an attack that only works against certain types of enemies.

The last encounter for this adventure got lopped off. We were out of time and 20 minutes from the end of the session so it just gets described in cinematic terms. Since Colin is running next session it would be a huge time waster for me to DM the wrap up and then turn things over to him. This way he can weave the end of adventure infodump/interrogation with the authorities with the beginning of a new adventure seed. Not that they will necessarily need to follow it. I did try to introduce possible adventures into the sessions that I ran, and I got two in. Not a world record, at all.

So, what did *I* learn? Three combat encounters per session, tops, end of story, no argument or addendum. Do not plan for more. Do not try and anticipate what the party will do, you will always, always be wrong. Controllers belong at the back. Minions work best when scattered among rank and file troops, and in moderation. Do not assume that your players will want to know everything about everything when given the chance. In fact, that is practically what this game is about.

And the Halfling thing. . .Different player, and the best option was to pretend that it was that Cleric all along.

Next week I get to play, wonderful!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

9/27 Actual Play

In attendance this session was the Human Wizard, the Human Rogue, the Elven Ranger, the Elven Fighter, the Half-Elven Cleric (formerly warlord), and the Halfling Ranger's first appearance. She was brought in partway through the session. We jumped in right where we left off, as the final Kruthik fell to the ground dead. The party was unable to discover anything by searching the area, as the Kruthiks has destroyed any footprints with their own. It was decided that they would continue downwards and try to find any sign of the Graygrinder family. After about another hour of travel they entered an even larger tunnel.

The system they were in was a tributary of an even larger cavern system. The Kruthik tracks ended where their caves met the larger cave. The party was able to search around and find a few partial footprints, booted humanoids had been here. A relatively short distance deeper into the cave the party came upon a larger cavern. The sharp eyed elven members of the party were able to function better in this low light environment. Two dimly burning torches were spotted burning against the cavern's far wall. In an attempt at subterfuge the Wizard used mage hand to levitate a torch ahead of the party, to the entrance of the large cave. Arrows zipped out of the darkness and a harsh yell demanded identification.

Shortly following that a group of Hobgoblin warrior charged around the corner and straight for the wizard. The quick actions of the party Rogue saved him, as he dashed up and in a flurry threw his enchanted knife in a blur, killing most of the warriors almost right away. Bolstered by this initial success they moved into the room, and started drawing fire from some archers hiding in the deeper darkness. In the center of the room a large Hobgoblin Warlord bellowed challenges to the party, and the Rogue answered. In a furious blow the Warlord's hammer knocked the Rogue from his feat, leaving searing flame dancing across his prone form. The party rushed forward to recover their fallen comrade, exactly what the Warlord was hoping for. He turned to a new target, the Elven Fighter now slashing and stabbing at him with a trident, and began to wear him down. The archers peppered the less armored members of the group, focusing on the Cleric as she began bolstering her allies.

The Warlord's tone started turning to one of defiance and encouragement as the party began targeting his archers. As the party moved into the room they illuminated slaves chained together in the corners of the room. One of these slaves, our Halfling Ranger, began slipping out of her bindings. The Elven fighter went down, but the fight clearly had turned against the Hobgoblins and it was just a matter of time before they were defeated. The Halfling Ranger slipped out and snuck the bow right off of a Hobgoblin's back, shooting him and his ally. The Wizard blasted two of the archers into the cave wall, and they crumpled into a heap. The Warlord eventually fell to the combined might of the party, and the fight ended shortly after that.

The party's search of the fallen Hobgoblins turned up little new information, but they did find keys which they used to release the captives. All of the Hobgoblins wore thin metal collars, and the leader had a powerful flaming warhammer. The captives were all small. Most were members of the smaller races, goblins, gnomes, halflings and the like. Among the captives were the two Graygrinder children. Upon releasing the captives, most of them bolted without a word. Three halflings, natives of the area, stayed and answered the party's questions, but unfortunately they did not know much. The day was most certainly gone, even though this deep underground it was impossible for the party to tell.

After some initial fear and trepidation that on the journey to the surface they would be attacked by Kruthiks again, the party walked all the way back topside and found a safe place to rest for the night. The two Rangers, feeling tough, decided to try and find something fresh for the party. They stumbled upon a freshly killed deer and two territorial wolves feeding on it. A short and painful battle later the Rangers waltz into camp with a partially eaten deer and a wolf carcass.

Back in Fallcrest the party dropped the Graygrinder children off with Constable Blackshield, who asked payment for the inconvenience, and brought Constable Morlinar up to speed. They promised to return to the caverns to locate the father of the family, did some quick shopping, and called it a day. The next morning they left for the Scarred Caverns, hoping to find some good news inside.

After a lengthy but uneventful journey they found themselves outside the enterance to this strange underground building. Just inside the entryway they saw a large font in the center of the room, shaped like a skull and formed from bones. As one of them entered to examine it several skeletal forms animated and moved to attack the party. Half of them burst into flames as they did so, and it was on. The non-flaming skeletons crumbled before the party's might, but the fiery ones were able to put the hurt on several people, igniting the rogue again and letting him burn for much of the encounter. This was twice in a row this had happened to him. The Cleric was able to call upon her God and the party beat back the skeletons. Afterwards the Cleric took a few minutes to desecrate the empty pool. She felt it lose its power and it began to crumble right away.


We ended there. This session happened a month ago, almost, and while I remember most of what I had planned for, things like the trip to town are vague and the details fuzzy.

This was a good session. I really, really enjoyed running the Hobgoblin NPC during the fight. I don't know if the players will have as fond memories about the event. No more skill challenges, I need to think about them some more. This happens to me all the time, but I really thought that they would get further along this session. I need to scale back those expectations, otherwise things go poorly, I end up skipping things and it becomes a speed run.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

9/20 Actual Play

In attendance this session were. . .a lot of players. My house could not comfortably contain them all it was so many. 9 of the 10 potential players showed, since I was DMing that was 8 PC's, an Elven Fighter who used a trident, a Human Fighter (pregen, so no flavor!), a Half Elven Warlord bastard daughter of a noble, A Human Wizard with a mysterious nature, and 4 strikers. Ouch. Genasi Infernal Warlock with a seriously messed up past, a washed up drunk Human Rogue, an Elven Ranger chased into the city by the violent storms, and a Minotaur Ranger who protected the Warlord with his 2 swords. And a scared DM.

The session opened with the morning after the storms dawning and the Lord Mayor of Fallcrest sending deputies to all parts of the city to recruit a working force to help with the cleanup and recovery. In their isolated position Fallcrest remained largely self sufficient and the stability of the city depended on it's farms and it's people. The PC's were largely enticed to the meeting in the market green with promises of a fair day's wage for their work. The Warlord was there because she felt like she could help, and the Warlock was looking for something out of the ordinary. While loitering in the green the Warlord was approached by a constable known to most of the PC's, Constable Morlinar. He explained to her that he was asked by the Sheriff to check on an outlying farm days ago but was prevented from doing so by the arrival of the storm. He now had other duties to attend to, and was looking for some of the volunteers willing to forgo their wage and seek the missing family.

The Warlord approached the PC's and convinced them all (except the Warlock, who was hiding and followed this new development with interest) to accompany her to the Graygrinder farm to check on the family. As they were leaving the constable gave to them a brace of healing elixirs, just in case.

The first test came just off the main road. The Graygrinder farm was some distance northwest of Fallcrest in the hills. The party followed the road north and turned east onto a rough path known to the Elven Fighter, as he had been there before. As they made their way toward the farm they were ambushed by a large party of goblins. Goblins were known to make their homes in the woods to the south of Fallcrest, so they were not unknown to the party. Goblins were found to die easily. During this fight the Warlock made himself known and during the rest of the journey the rest of the party tried to get to know him. This proved difficult, and the Human Fighter distrusted him right away.

The day was nearing half done when the party entered a clearing, and saw the Graygrinder home up ahead. The Rogue snuck ahead and was surprised by a group of drakes charging from the cabin. Thinking fast he leaped up and clambered onto the roof. Battle was joined. Soon the party discovered the drakes were guarding a large group of kobolds squatting in the cabin. Kobolds attacked from range while the party was torn up by drakes. The Wizard wove a spell to put the drakes into a slumber and caught the Rogue in the blast, and he tumbled from the roof. The drakes were worn down and the Warlock saw his opportunity to squeeze into the cabin. His spell nearly tore the roof off, as with a deafening boom the kobolds inside were liquidated. Two remained standing, and though their leader put up a fight he was no challenge and the party was able to finish him off.

A close search revealed a hidden box at the foot of the only bed in the house. Inside the box was a curious diary, written by the patriarch of the Graygrinder family. Those members of the party so inclined pored over it's contents, uncovering uncomfortable secrets and eventually deducing that the farm's proximity to the Scarred Caverns likely led to it's demise.

The Scarred Caverns are a series of caves in the foothills north of Fallcrest. They get their name from curious rock formations, remarkably scar like in nature, that are the primary feature of the Caverns. Local legend links them to disappearances and other less likely occurrences, and several party members know of their reputation. According to the diary, soon after the family acquired the farm and moved in, the 2 children began a dangerous obsession with the caverns. As the sole parent, Bowric Graygrinder did not have the time or attention to spare looking after them, and frequently had to go looking for them near the cave's entrance. The diary, in the father's hand, grows increasingly bizarre as time goes on, and the party struggled to glean useful information from it. They deduce that most likely the father had to go into the caves to find his children weeks ago and none of them ever came back.

With some amount of daylight remaining the party travels to where they think the children could have disappeared. It does not take much to find an entrance to the cave system, and they make the decision to start their exploration immediately. The caverns are odd in appearance, almost perfectly round and near 15 feet across, there is room for them to walk comfortably. At scattered intervals they see smaller openings in the cave walls, openings closer to eight feet across. After an hour of silent travel they divert into one of these side openings to see where it may lead. The side cavern curves steadily to the right, and sure enough they see in the distance what looks like the large main cave. Several creatures skitter by as they approach.

The Warlock (who doesn't know that so far the party has traveled undetected) curses the one he can see and the battle begins. The party is in a very tight situation, all eight of them single file in a long tunnel with some of the squishier members in the front. The Kruthiks (reptilian burrowing creatures) pounce and bottle up the entrance as best they can. What follows is a series of shifting, delaying, and generally confusion while the party attempts to put it's best face forward. As they move into the large tunnel the biggest Kruthik starts launching poison darts at the party. It is a hard fight, but the two fighters get a line formed and beat back the enemy, emerging victorious.


We stopped there for the day. It is difficult to get much more in with so many players, but combats are very fierce. I had to beef up everything I had prepared. In fact, though I had prepared the fights for 5 PC's, and put notes on what to *drop* in case not that many players, I had not prepared for there being more. As a result, the two big fights were structured better for smaller groups, and I didn't think about altering them until days afterwards. How hard would it have been to make everything five feet bigger?

The initial meeting was the most nervewracking part for me. While I had encouraged having a back story with some of the other players in pre gaming emails and board posts, nobody had taken the offer up, and everyone came in as strangers. I had several hooks that could lead that party in different ways, and a few hooks that led to this particular 'adventure'. I did not necissarily mean for everyone to bite and go together, but luckily they did.

I stuck a social skill challenge in here, attempting to get some aid for the mission they were just sent on. It went through several iterations but settled on trying to convince the generally amiable Constable Morlinar to part with several hundred gold worth of healing potions. I think it was too soon, and I think it was not run as well as it should have.

The goblin ambush was supposed to be more of a challenge, but in beefing it up on the fly I added a bunch more minions and a few more of the fighter types. Minions just drop like flies to this group. With a ranged ranger and a two weapon ranger able to kill four a round, a wizard with thunderwave, and a warlock multiclassed with thunderwave, I would have been better to keep the minions as is. The least challenging fight of the day.

Originally the next fight was two guard drakes, a kobold wyrmpriest, and a handful of minions. The two drakes hold the party off while the rest pepper them from inside the cabin. I added two guard drakes and a few more minions. The two drakes were just perfect, this fight was almost a month ago so I don't remember specifics but I know that at least one person went down, and I suspect more than one. Adding more minions was silly, they were inside the cabin and only two or three could shoot out at a time. Kobolds are shifty, but mine pretty much stood there the entire fight till they were thunderwaved into oblivion.

The diary was another skill challenge, one where with each success I gave out a little more information. After about halfway I think the party could have found their way to the next part of the adventure, but for finishing they got XP and a magic item. This one worked better, but making it a mental challenge naturally excluded a big chunk of the PC's.

The kruthik encounter was another fun one that should have been more fun. Originally having a handful of PC's bottlenecked in a cave would force them to use different tactics to fight into a more open spot. With eight, though, there were some players that were so far back they didn't do *anything* for the first couple of rounds. Bad choices on my part. The front half of the party did well though, and nobody was permanently damaged...



We have 10 members of our group, though we will likely not game with all of them at the same time. They are:

Chelsea - Ana - Half-Elven Cleric
Chris- Merril - Halfling Cleric
Colin - Lucan - Elven Fighter
Dan - Arlarond - Human Wizard
Jay - Therryk - Dragonborn Paladin
Jesse - Halma Heiral - Human Rogue
Joel - Shiloh - Minotaur Ranger
Josh - Jinn - Genasi Warlock
Lisa - Feawen - Elven Ranger
Mac - Gennal - Elven Ranger


Setting information

As I intend to post game information here It might be handy to have it all posted, so any future readers can make sense of it. There is a lot of information that I am not going to duplicate here, because it is not really relevant to telling a story.

I was inspired by this post about the Shared Map. I thought that in a group like ours that rotates through DM's having a common setting neutral world for the DM's to play in is a selling point. The goal here is to have the PC's shape the story, and the DM's to provide as the PC's adventure. It should be clear that we are not using a lot of what the West Marches suggests, just what we think will make our game better. Some of the key differences between our game and West Marches are:

-No severe death penalty. Ideally every time a PC dies the party will choose to raise him from the dead, but if for some reason a player wants to bring in a different PC, starting all over at level 1 is too much

-Marginally less freedom. Rotating DM's make it impossible to allow full freedom to do whatever, as it would be counterproductive for each DM to have an entire world build, and less fun for the DM's to know what the world holds when they are taking their turns playing.

-No restriction on Urban gaming. Our first city holds a lot of promise as a small urban adventure setting, and there is nothing to suggest that future sessions will not introduce even more intriguing locales.

We wanted a setting neutral place to game, one that everyone had access to. The most promising thing to do was to start our game in Fallcrest, the sample town at the back of the 4e DMG, and go from their. It was a little too explored out for us, so Colin wrote a fantastic alternate backstory for Fallcrest that I will post here:

Up until four centuries or so ago, the Moon Hills and the surrounding Nentir Vale were thinly settled borderlands, home to quarrelsome human hill-chieftains and remote realms of non-humans such as dwarves and elves. Giants, minotaurs, orcs, ogres, and goblins plagued the area. Ruins such as those on the Gray Downs or the ring-forts atop the Old Hills date back to these days, as do stories of the hero Vendar and the dragon of the Nentir.

With the rise of the empire of Nerath to the south, human settlers began to move up the Nentir, establishing towns such as Fastormel, Harkenwold, and Winterhaven. A Nerathan hero named Aranda Markelhay obtained a charter to build a keep at the portage of the Nentir Falls. She raised a simple tower at the site of Moonstone Keep three hundred ten years ago, and under its protection the town of Fallcrest began to grow.

Over the next two centuries, Fallcrest grew into a small and prosperous city. It was a natural crossroads for trade, and the Markelhays ruled it well. When the Sorrow descended and the empire of Nerath began to crumble about thirty years ago, Fallcrest saw its own share of troubles.

Maddened by illness and driven by famine, a fierce horde of orcs known as the Bloodspears descended from the Stonemarch and swept over the vale. Fallcrest’s army was defeated in a rash attempt to halt the Bloodspears out on Gardbury Downs. The Bloodspears burned and pillaged Fallcrest and went on to wreak havoc all across the Nentir Vale, until they too succumbed to the pestilence.

In the decades since the Sorrow, Fallcrest has struggled to reestablish itself. The town is a shadow of the former city; little trade passes up and down the river these days. The countryside for scores of miles around is dotted with abandoned homesteads and manors from from the days before the Sorrow. Once again the Nentir Vale is a thinly settled borderland where few folk live. This is a place in need of a few heroes.

It is a few key alterations from the default setting that make our adventure possible. The largest is the decades of isolation. Our PC's are likely the first adventurers the city has seen in 20 years. Things have changed. Maps are less reliable. Power groups have dissolved and new ones arisen. In short, the DM is free to create, and the PC's should be encouraged to explore what is new.

Character creation is standard, no real restrictions on race or class (though players choosing a class not explicitly stated as having a resident population will need some reasonable explanation why they are in Fallcrest). 2nd level characters with 1st level equipment (mostly because at this point we had played 3 or so 1st level sessions and it was silly to expect that many more). 22 point buy or standard array. Players submitting backstories prior to the 1st session would get a magic item suited to their past.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

10/11 Actual Play

I posted this on our gaming group forum, and I'd like to do these more often. If I do them for any future games I'll cross post here.

No gaming on the 4th, but the 11th Jesse ran an evil one-shot. Do other groups have these as often as we do? I think I have played a monster race more than a player race.

Anyhow, in attendance were a Minotaur Cleric of Tiamat with an oversized mace, an Bugbear brutal Rogue called Hobo, an Undead infernal Warlock (Richard from Looking for Group?!), and a Goblin Wizard. We were tasked to lead the invasion of a keep built into a cliff. To prevent the Humans from taking what they could and burning the rest, a small advance party (us) was to sneak in and destroy the leadership, throwing the place into dissaray and allowing the Legion to claim the keep and it's spoils.

We skirmished with a handful of guards when we were about a day's march from the keep. While it was not a challenging fight, it did illustrate our ability to burn down the shrubbery surrounding our target and leave it unharmed. The cleric managed to club them into paste while the rogue buried his kukri elbow deep, saving us from a humiliating death.

We met a gnome who was supposed to help us get into the keep at this point.

After walking most of the night and into the morning the party spotted a cozy farmhouse and approached to see if they might spend the night inside, and away from the elements. Somehow a fire started in the wheat fields leading up to the house.

By somehow I mean the Warlock started a fire.

When we reached the main buildings we were able to kill a human who was fleeing the scene, and then cold nuke the barn to kill the rest of the population. A lovely meal of fresh human peasant was had by all (save the walking dead) and we were able to rest and recover.

As we continued towards the eventual goal we detected an approaching posse, and quickly moved to conceal ourselves. Most of us ran into some cornfields near the road and hid. The Minotaur, thinking on his hooves, grabbed some 'string' (a rope? he is big, but not THAT big) and hurriedly tied it to a tree and ran across the road, submerging himself in the river. Also, the pyromaniac started another fire, this time in some corn.

The approaching horses almost surely saw the huge cowboy pretending to be a shiny metal covered rock in the water, and were hesitant, but the shuffling dead bolted from the field and began to flee up the road. The leading two horsemen charged after him and at the right moment our Holy Cow pulled the rope up and tripped the horses, sending the men flying from the saddle and onto the ground. At this point, the seeming leader of the group sent one man back up the road towards the base and spurred the other two forward to fight.

What followed was a furious melee of clubbing, stabbing, and magic being tossed about, with notable events including:
- The minotaur basically standing there and smashing things dead without any sort of reprise or repercussion at all. He seemed invincible.
- Hobo delivering the final blow to the caster leading this patrol by eviscerating her while she sat on her horse. He carved the event in pictograms on her chest, for posterity.
- The gnome dissapearing.
- The wizard freezing one of them solid and leaving him in the cornfield.
- The warlock burning everything in sight, including the caster and a poor guard that didn't learn the lesson and kept hitting him to no avail.

We managed to obtain a horse and a dead body, and finished the bulk of our journey to the keep. Upon nearing our destination we saw a crowd gathering at the entrance, and surmised that they were gathering in response to the guard that got away. They were likely on their way to hunt us down and kill us in the countryside. It was pointed out that we now had less guards to fight, and the posse would probably be destroyed by the approaching Legion army.

Finally the gnome was useful and led us to his 'secret' entrance, a 100 ft vertical climb to a window in the face of this cliff. Unfortunately we did not kill him for being so stupid, and did not get the chance to later as he disappeared once we got inside. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Hobo climbed the face of the cliff with our climbing gear and some rope, setting pitons and making it possible for the rest of us to follow. When he reached the window he heard two guards conversing and clung there while he waited for one of them to leave. After some time he deduced that he would not ever be so lucky, and attempted a distraction by throwing a rock to make a noise. When one guard (whose name was Sam, and who stunk horribly) leaned out, Hobo grabbed his uniform and tossed him 100 ft down to his death (and our delight!). His friend soon followed, and we were able to follow our Rogue up and into the keep.

We wound our way down the stairs to a guard barracks in the heart of the keep. While the party waited, the Goblin Wizard (diguised as a human) entered the adjoining main chamber and convinced one of the guards to come and help him in the guard room. He was quickly murdered. Changing appearance to mach the now dead guard, the wizard was able to convince a more heavily armored guard (one with a helmet, something that the undead warlock greatly desired) to go into the room, where he was also murdered. This left only two guards in the main chamber. During the third attempt to lure the guards into the room, things went awry, and in an attempt to seal the deal, the zombie warlock poked his head from the room.

The guard yelled for help, and soon after that a handful of guards entered the room, followed by a guard leading a half dozen or more hounds. Interesting highlights from this fight:
- The thoroughly confused guard bonking our warlock on the head and him collapsing like a pile of bones (apt description?), and playing possum till he could stand up behind the guard and steal his soul.
- The wizard being confused what floor he was on and going from cockily triumphant to panicking in about 6 seconds.
- Hobo and the minotaur (buddy movie forthcoming) working out a plan to open the door and eviscerate the first guard that came by. This worked perfectly, and was followed by much smashing and slicing.
- The most clumsy guard ever falling twice into a trough. What made this even better was the minotaur falling in the trough, and the bugbear joining in for a menage a trois of blood and death in a water filled canal in the middle of this room.

Some of the guards had escaped up the stairs and we went to follow them, but were stymied by a stone door. After 5 minutes of searching around for something, and the imminent arrival of backup forces only being held off by a similar door on the floor below, we smashed through the stone and confronted our target. Secrets were revealed, the head of the guard turned traitor, and we were able to complete our objective.


Second level session, standard array or point buy, and a 3rd, 2nd, and 1st level magic item. The only requirement was no PHB races, MM races preferred.

OOC, I played the Doppelganger Wizard (disguised as a goblin most of the session), Dan was an Undead Warlock (a warforged skinned/ repurposed as undead), Josh was the bugbear rogue (incorrectly jotted down as "Hobo" on the initiative board during the first fight, and stuck with it after that, and Chris played the minotaur cleric. I am not certain why I personally had so much fun, but I guess it has something to do with the class/race and trying to roleplay it. And wizards are fun. Jesse brought in the Gnome (I'm guessing it was a warlock, but I don't really remember enough to say for sure, or to peg which pact). He had quite a lot of material for us, and unfortunately we were too few in number to really take advantage of it, since a lot of the adventure was to be intra-party intrigue and roleplay.

Crunchy bits:
The first fight was a wash for Dan and I, I missed most of my attacks and I remember he missed more than his share. Chris charged in and pretty much bashed everyone, Josh managed to get his sneak attack on every attack I think, and we didn't get hurt.

The farmhouse. . .by this time we were all pretty solidly in character and Dan (or entropy personified) decided to start the fields aflame as we approached our victims. We handily dispached the escapee and I used my wizards daily to flash freeze the innocents taking refuge in the barn (which then collapsed on them, nach).

The most hilarious moment for me was everyone running to hide, the guards are like 200 ft away, and Chris uses the time he has to set up this impromptu trap. Props to Jesse for saying "Yes, and..." and letting us get away with it. Somewhat dissapointingly for me, my encounter power dazes an opponent and being an orb wizard I can extend it so it lasts an extra round. Perfect for the party rogue. I think we only managed to pull it off in the first fight, because in the other fights it killed the guy outright. Ah well, Josh got to deliver the final blow to the mage. And took her horse. And Dan grabbed a corpse. In typical D&D fashion those both dissapeared as soon as we weren't thinking about them.

The cliff was also more entertaining than I can relay here, but Josh did fail a couple of checks and so his climb was not as. . .steady, as I glossed over that. Wrenching the guards from their window happened just like it sounded, and immediately after that Josh fell again. Good times.

The most fun I had was trying to convince guards to come back to the room. Admittedly selfish, I know. I rolled a natural 20 on one of the many bluff rolls though, so, whee! Once that started going south one of the guards sent the remaining one to go get someone, Dan attempted to visualize the threat i was espousing, and the guard started calling for help. I stayed in character as long as I could, and dan rushed the guard. When the backup burst through the door, I was happy to break character and nuke them (all arrayed in a square like that, how could I resist? Action point and blast them again.

We really did well considering we had no defender. All of our builds were pretty mobile or tough in other ways. This was the biggest fight and we handled it well. After beating them we had a D&D moment where we had to get through a door and spent too much in game time overthinking it, Dan had to go, so once we busted through it was curtains (though I feel like we were approaching the end anyhow).

This ended up long.


PS - I went through and cleaned it up. Hopefully it is a little clearer now.