Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unfortunate Character Choices - Sledge

This week: another supervillain from 1982's "Enemies" supplement for Champions. The awesome concept making this villain worthy of a place in a supervillain supplement? He, uh, lost a hand and replaced it with a sledgehammer. Yep, that's it.

Now I kind of like the idea of the hammer-handed-hero (or villain) but everything about this one from the illustration to the mechanics is lame. Technical issues:

  • You have a hammer for a hand. What does that do for you in-game?  According to this it adds 2d6 to your Strength damage. With a 50 Str he already punches for 10d6, so the hammer takes it to 12d6, and that's it - no enhanced knockback, no armor-piercing, no extra Stun multiplier, no area effect slam or shockwave - it's just a rather weak damage bump. Wow.
  • Speaking of that 50 Str, where does that come from? He can lift 25 tons - he didn't get that from an NFL workout program, I don't care what kind of drugs he was on! Was it part of the experiment that took his hand? It doesn't say. Having a 50 Str is a far more important and life-changing ability than having a hammer for a hand, yet we don't learn a thing about it in the paragraph of description that we get here. 
  • Does replacing your right hand with a block of metal have any downside? Not according to the stat sheet. It offers no physical limitation (the most obvious disad) but it does generate a 15-point psych limit of being sensitive to insults about it.   
  • His other disads are just random - double Stun from sonics, explosions, vibration, and radiation attacks? Why? How are those things related? A pair of Hunteds, OK. Then, of course, Secret Identity - Really? How exactly? He's a big bad dude missing his right hand and he somehow maintains a secret ID? Being generous, we can assume the hammer unscrews or something but what if it didn't? Does he work as a pirate mascot of some kind? This is just really not well thought-out.
So let's see what kind of thought went into attacks and defenses. A 12d6 hammer-slap against himself would  do an average of 12 Body and 42 Stun. His PD of 25 (another unexplained ability) will stop the Body and let through 17 Stun. With a Con of 28 he's not going to Stun himself and with 53 Stun he can take 3 punches before he's in trouble. That's not terrible. In Champions a 50 Str is a typical starting point for a "Brick" character so he's alright there. He's in serious trouble though if he gets attacked by a Sonic or Radiation blaster though - ED of 15 and 2X Stun means that a 12d6 EB would inflict 54 Stun (Average 42 Stun, 27 get through his energy defense which is then doubled) knocking him unconscious in one shot. That's pretty weak for a Brick type character. I've noticed a lot of this in older Champions write-ups - there are way too many 2X Stun vulnerabilities tossed around, especially on characters with low defenses.

So yes, I think this is a rather weak character though not as ridiculous as some (Frizbe). How could we make it better?

  1. Better illustration
  2. Make the hammer matter. Give it a shock effect, maybe a 3d6 NND Stun attack. Make it armor-piercing vs. power armor suits and let him be a nemesis for your battlesuit player . Give him extra knockback from a wallop. Anything to make him a more memorable and more effective villain. 
  3. Give him a little bit more background. Many of the baddies in this book are tied to Viper or some evil organization - tie him to those and make him an enemy of them so you can set up an enemy-of-my-enemy situation with the PC's. 
For Atomic City I would probably recast him as a  cyborg and replace his whole arm with an obvious chromed replacement and something like a thunderhammer from Warhammer 40K The pro-athlete burnout/accident victim who seeks alternative means of power could work just fine as a superhero or villain. It just needs more than this guy got in 1982.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Look at Healing in Different Game Systems and "What I Like"...

While I've been looking at a lot of RPG systems over the past year I've noticed something. A lot of people will focus on differences in combat systems or skill systems or realism in a particular game vs. another game. Something that I don't see a ton of discussion about though is healing, and that's odd because it really impacts the flow and pacing of a game. It's not flashy and it may not even show until the game is actually played for a few sessions - maybe that's why it's overlooked - but I wanted to look at some examples and talk about different approaches.

Basic D&D - Hit Points return at 1d3 per day. A 1st level character will have 11 or fewer while a 3rd level character might have 30. If clerical healing is unavailable that means it takes days of game time to recover full health. Also, this doesn't scale well as the level rises. Expert adds no new healing rules so a 9th level fighter could be out for 1-3 months of game time. Magical healing is essential beyond the first few levels to avoid extended downtime. Even then a Cleric can burn a full day's worth of spells just healing up one character.

AD&D - Each day of rest restores 1 hit point. After 30 days this goes up to 5 hp per day. So the 9th level fighter with 100 hit points would take a month of rest to get to 30 hp's, then it "only" takes 14 more days to fully recover. This is why some campaigns went on for years and years of game time - healing! Scaling here is terrible. Magical healing is required here too and can pretty much heal one up overnight if the Cleric does nothing else - or unless multiple characters need help.

AD&D 2E - 1 hp per day of rest, 3 hp per day of complete bed rest. Again, a 9th level fighter takes 3 months of bed rest to recover. Not really different from 1E.

D&D 3E - Hit points return at 1 per level per night of rest. This does at least scale but at low levels is actually slower than Basic D&D from 20 years before. A 10th level fighter could easily have 100 hit points - it's going to take him 10 days of rest to get back to full health. Scaling down to a 1st level fighter with 10 hit points, it would take him...10 days of rest. Well, at least it's consistent, although being consistently bad isn't really a bragging point. Now there is the "long term care" option under the Heal skill, and that can get the healing up to as high as 4 hp's per level per day - that's much better, but it does require another character making daily skill checks but at least it does not require magic. That means the same 10th level fighter could be up and about after 3 days, a major improvement. Mechanically there has been no real change to natural healing times in 20+ years os D&D at this point. Magical healing is still essential to not taking a month off in the middle of an adventure to recover although the Heal skill does take the edge off of it. Even with that though 3 days of uninterrupted rest in a dungeon is not going to happen, necessitating a retreat for full recovery.

Savage Worlds -  PC's have 3 wounds and there are ways to mitigate damage during an encounter inherent to each character. Assuming all of that failed and a character fell back on natural healing with 0 wounds remaining then they make 1 Vigor roll every 5 days and unless they are very weak they will heal back 1 wound, possibly 2. Call it a max of 15 days for most PC's to go from 0 to full health. Like a lot of more recent game designs, unless a character is killed in the middle of combat, recovery is very quick and pretty easy in Savage Worlds. There may be magic or superpowers available too, making it even easier.

Mutants and Masterminds - As might be expected in a superhero game damage in M&M is pretty easy to get over. The worst condition that can be imposed on a character (assuming they aren't dead) is "Disabled" and that has a chance to be healed once per day at a 50% or more rate of success. Remember that's *natural* healing - no powers or hero points or anything else. There are all kinds of external healing options in a supers game plus goodies like "regeneration" - downtime is rarely a problem in a supers game using any rules system.

Star Wars (d6) -  The worst case scenario is a mortally wounded character who has been stabilized - he will need 35 days to make the first healing roll and then will need about another 3 weeks to get through the rest of the healing rolls to be fully recovered. That's pretty hefty downtime but there are bacta tanks widely available and that cuts the same character's healing time down to 1d6 days - period. That's why bacta tanks get installed on the smuggler's YT-1300 before it ever lifts off. Some of us tend to think of d6 Star Wars as a more modern game design but it came out when AD&D 1E was still in print. I suspect healing would be different now if it was a brand new game. Evan as-is though, bacta pretty much handles the healing potion/handy Cleric role. Don't leave home without it!

Star Wars Saga Edition - Base natural healing is 1 hit point per day per level. Considering that the weakest first level characters start with 18 hit points, and some can start with over 30, this is horrible - going to 0 hp's means you are out for a month! This heal rate is ported over directly from 3E D&D but the hit points are much greater. Fortunately there is a heal skill here too (Treat Injury) and it has multiple ways to increase this rate using various skill checks, typically doubling or tripling it. A 10th level Jedi might have 100 hit points and this would cut his downtime down to 5 days or less. There are also Bacta Tanks in this system too and they can add another multiple to Treat Injury checks, cutting the recovery time down to 2 or 3 days with a decent skill level. There are also some options for healing through the Force, which could be faster or easier if there is no healer handy. At first glance I was appalled at Saga's healing times and I may still house rule something, but with skill and with equipment or a force-user it gets pretty reasonable. 

Hero System (5E) - Body is similar to hit points and the average man has 10 Body. He will recover 4 of those per month, and medical care can double that. Most Hero characters will have 10-20 body, and will recover anywhere from 5-8 points per month. Call it 1-2 months for complete recovery. That's pretty long, but like Savage Worlds Hero tends to get used for Pulp type games, Fantasy games, and Supers, so there is a lot of healing available in most campaigns, speeding that time up considerably. I've never had healing time pop up as an issue in any of my Hero games over the years.  

Shadowrun (3E but applies to earlier editions as well) - The worst wound status a character can take is "Deadly" the base time for healing up from that is 30 days Success here takes the damage level to "Serious" which takes a base of 20 days, then moderate which is a base of 10 days. Now there are modifiers here for whether the character is in a hospital or a gutter and for being extra tough but there are penalties too for being a mage or for having a bunch of cyberware and multiple successes can cut the time down by a lot but assuming he makes 1 success each time he is given the chance, then a character could be out for 2 months! Even a serious wound can take a PC out of the game for an entire month of game time. This is tremendously inconvenient given that SR's typical playstyle involves covert ops with a time limit. If you are stealing a code today for a mission tomorrow night and your street samurai gets harmed, he's probably out for that next mission. Bring on the backup character!. Now there is magical healing available but it has to be done during or right after combat and healing a cybered-up character gets very tricky and they tend to be the ones that need it the most! It's a rough system and screwed up more than one of my campaigns when too many of the runners got wounded in too short a time to allow them to finish a mission. If I ever run it again there will be some serious adjusting of these rules. 

So looking at most of these systems if a character gets hammered and put down hard, it's going to be a month or more to recover if they're using natural healing. This is likely to destroy any time pressure in an adventure the DM is running and may stretch believability even when there is no overt time pressure - such as, say, clearing out a dungeon in D&D. In one-off games this might not be a big deal ("sorry you're out" or "bring in another character" both being perfectly viable options) but in an ongoing campaign it causes all kinds of wonkiness as the party takes a month off of game time while someone recovers in the hospital, or they go on without him meaning the player gets left out and the party is weaker by that much. Neither option is great for getting things done so one system went a different route.

D&D (4E) - characters recover full hit points after an 8-hour rest. Period. In between, they have varying numbers of "healing surges" of 25% of total hit points which represent combat healing and can be added or subtracted through various types of magic, creature attacks, powers, and items. Now it is still possible to die in combat or from falling off of a cliff or other hazards of the adventuring life and a character will usually spend time moving around at less than full hit points but the one thing they will NOT do is spend weeks or months of campaign time sitting on the sidelines, and that greatly changes how a campaign runs. It removes a lot of the micro-managing of healing and downtime and cure light wounds spells and all the other trivial hassles of dealing with wounded characters and lets the game focus on getting things done.

I was weirded out by it at first - it was a little too abstract for me. Having used it for 20+ sessions of 4E now though, I have to admit I'm a convert. No more wasted camping days while the cleric goes "all heal"  and fixes up the fighters. No more months off at high levels recuperating in the keep because the cleric got eaten in the last expedition. Even ignoring the healing surges thing a game like Basic D&D can benefit from the "Extended Rest" rule - all hit points return overnight if you get 8 hours of sleep. They were already pretty abstract even then - they're certainly not a measure of purely physical damage after about 1st or 2nd level - so why not carry that concept the rest of the way?

It's very liberating - there's still the threat of being blasted by a dragon or engulfed by Gray Ooze - the danger is still there - but the hassle factor is nearly non-existent. Games with "point" mechanics - Fate points, Force points, Hero points, etc. - probably don't need it as they usually have instant recovery mechanics already, but for games that do not - Shadowrun, older versions of D&D - they can really benefit from this if it's how you want your game to go.

Which brings me to my other point - a lot of this depends on whether you want a more realistic game or a more cinematic game. Realistically, it takes time to fix a damaged human body. Cinematically, it doesn't. As I've gotten older I've gotten a lot less interested in realism in my games. Runequest's self-impaling combat mechanics just annoy me now. Twilight 2000's long healing times are certainly realistic but they also make the game less fun when all you can do is limp around at half speed and try not to get shot. I have gone way over to the side of "- the Movie" as in whatever game I'm running it's "That Game - The Movie" where everything is bigger and badder and we don't have time to play through multiple random encounters for every hex of movement on the big scale map nor do we have time to spend a month healing up because watching other people play while you do nothing isn't fun - it's a waste of very limited game time.  If you die in combat, hey, that's the breaks - roll up another character. But if the penalty for serious injury is actually worse than that, then there's a problem - a fixable problem in my opinion.

I realize not everyone agrees with my preference for the cinematic approach and that's OK - I'd probably still play in your game if I had the time and the opportunity. This is just my take on one particular area of RPG's and it works for me now. 20 years ago I felt differently and I expect in 20 years I may feel differently as well. For now though, it's what I like.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The New Old Campaign - Part 11: The Fungus Among Us

Back at Falcon Keep (the Keep on the Borderlands) our heroes gear up for another expedition. This time they plan to head back to the solitary cave they discovered (The Cave of the Unknown) and explore more of the dungeon within (which is Quasqueton or B1: In Search of the Unknown). Our heroes are:

  • Willem the Thief - 3rd lvl
  • Apollo the Elf - 2nd lvl
  • Orrick the Dwarf - 2nd lvl
  • David II the Halfling - 1st lvl
  •  Skullduggery II the Magic-User - 2nd lvl
  • Horus the Dwarf - 2nd lvl
This time the trip to the cave is uneventful and they quickly scout out the interior. Not wanting any part of the Ochre Jelly in the eastern half of the dungeon, they decided to explore more of the western side. This led to a lot of moving through dusty, empty rooms. They eventually found the fungus garden and while poking around disturbed a crab spider. As it attacked - scaring the bejeezus out of the players when they realized it had a poison bite - the party tramped all over the garden, disturbing another spider and making the battle that much more exciting.

The fight is short but brutal, as both spiders end up dead but Horus and the one remaining hench fighter both end up poisoned. Scrambling around the hall of exotic fungi the rest of the party manages to put together something they think will stop the poison and they feed it to the downed pair. Miraculously it works and after a short rest the group is back on their feet, ready to explore.

 Heading for the northwestern section of the halls they hear noises and proceed cautiously, arranging the party in a hall-fight formation. As it turns out, just in time, as they encounter a band of giant rats exploring the hall and moving in the opposite direction. After a short fight the rats lay dead and the party has suffered only a few scratches. They prepare to move on...

DM notes: This was a nice productive session that didn't take a lot of time. The Ochre Jelly in the pool room really put the fear of dying into them so they want no part of that side of the dungeon even now, months of real-time later. I had not put much into the part of the dungeon they went for first and that was probably good as they  had a chance to explore and get their confidence back up.

The Spider fight was fun but it did remind me of some of the differences between old D&D and newer D&D. There were really no terrain rules back then. I gave them some cover modifiers for moving into the fungus forest and setting off clouds of spores but there was nothing in the module and if it was a 4E game I probably would have worked up all kinds of weirdness in advance. For this I mainly went with a +2/-2 for various conditions. I also was reminded of how much I dislike instant-death poison - hated it then, hate it now. In this case if the PC fails his save vs. poison then they die in 1-4 turns. That's pretty harsh at low levels and with no magical healing. Since they were in a fungus garden I gave them a wisdom check to come up with an "antidote" that would give a poisoned character another chance to save upon consuming it. They managed to make a few doses (each un-poisoned character got one check) and the re-saves were successful, so they felt pretty good.

We then wrapped up with the rat fight in the hallway which was a nice straight-up fight - no traps, no engulfing, no poison.

For the "poison" problem I am thinking about possible house rules. One idea I am toying with is adding the condition track from Star Wars Saga Edition to the game. Something like a Crab Spider would inflict a -1 on the condition track with a failed save. Stronger poisons might inflict a -2 or more. It might even work with petrification and the like, so that if you go all 5 steps from one of these attacks you pick up a persistent condition that doesn't go away until the proper spell is cast or potion is drunk - neutralize poison, stone to flesh, etc. It's just a rough idea but it would eliminate the all-or-nothing element and give the players a chance to strategize or even retreat from a bad situation  rather than losing a character to one bad roll. I don;t want to over-complicate Basic D&D (simplicity is kind of the point) but I don't like losing a character in every other session either and this might be an acceptable compromise for us.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 16: Orcs Orcs Orcs Orcs

As the trio of heroes catches their breath after defeating the orcs in the banquet hall they hear footsteps approaching from the basement dungeon. As they prepare they see Althea and Kordan emerge from the darkness. "Right where they said we would find you" quips Kordan.

DM Note - the two returning players worked through a quick skill challenge to follow up the rumors, move past the Plaza guards and locate the rest of the party. I ran this pretty quickly as I wanted to get the group together before continuing into another battle and leaving half of my players out of the action. 

Our heroes this session:
  • Kordan, 4th level Human Fighter - Sword, Board, Talking Armor
  • Uthal, 4th level Goliath Barbarian - Really Big Spear (no magic helmet)
  • Althea, 4th level Eladrin Wizard - THUNDERWAVE!
  • Mikal, 4th level Human Warlock - Curse, Eldritch Blast, Flames of PELEFLEGEMEGATHOSIUS
  • Jovanni, 4th level Half-Elf Bard - Vicious Mockery, Stirring Shout, and don't make him use his sword
Uthal and Kordan kick down the door to the next room and see 2 winding staircases leading up to a balcony. Three orcs on the balcony begin throwing axes while a raging orc shouting challenges charges down one staircase on the back of a dire wolf and launches himself at the party - apparently they were expected.

As the party is peppered by axes the big orc does some damage with his greataxe as he and the dire wolf team up.  Despite this the fighting is over fairly quickly as the heroes overwhelm the leader and his wolf then swarm up the stairs and slaughter the rest.

Looking around the group sees that the remainder of the ground floor has collapsed but the balcony has one large door. Opening it they see a library with a roaring fireplace and a big wolf with an even bigger orc waiting for them inside. He challenges Kordan and, encouraged by his armor, Kordan challenges back and the fight is on.

The warlock starts blasting as Kordan charges in and things seem to be going OK until the two bodyguards jump out and hammer Kordan hard. Uthal charges in to mix things up and more blasts and shouts emerge from the Wizard and the Bard. Althea drops a flaming sphere next to the Chief and the Wolf which forces them to move about more than they would like. The close quarters fight with a flaming sphere and a large-sized creature is pretty dangerous and the fighter took a serious beating but Uthal's long-reaching great spear helped a lot as did the judicious use of spells that did not harm allies.

In the end the orc chief stood alone fighting Kordan and Uthal directly while being roasted, magic-missiled, cused, blasted, and taunted mercilessly  until he finally collapsed. Uthal cut off his head for a trophy/bounty while the rest searched the place. On the chief the group found Iron Armbands of Power, a map, and some gold.

Many of the books had been pulled from the shelves and piled or tossed around the room. It was difficult to tell what the orcs were looking for but the party did find several ritual books and hoped that more educated persons back at the temples would be able to help them discern the purpose of this curious move by the orcs.

DM notes: These were two good fun combats that also set up some further adventure options for later. 

In the first, the stairs + balcony meant that the party was being attacked at range while being engaged in melee and could not easily jump the shooters. Now the fight only lasted 5 rounds so it was not huge but it was pretty funny to hear the fighter's player taunting the orc shooters for cowardly attacking from safety. 

This was not a part of the original delve. I had written up an orcs-in-the-mansion scenario earlier and decided to just use the delve instead but added in this one encounter to make it a little more extensive than the 3 encounters of the original. Plus I liked the visual of the berserker orc charging down the stairs on a dire wolf.

In the second fight I ran it pretty much as-is and with the chieftain being a level 8 Elite Brute he makes for a tough fight. Add in the close quarters, the large wolf alongside, and two starting-out-of-sight berserker assistants and it's looking pretty tough. Then the wizard goes and complicates things with a flaming sphere (which harms everyone in a radius around it) and the fight gets a lot more interesting with repeated shifting and forced movement to try and maneuver out of the fire zone and get someone else into it.This fight only lasted 7 rounds which is long enough to feel serious but short enough to not drag. It was a lot of fun and a good way to wrap up this orcish sidetrip.    

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 15: Barbarians are NOT DEFENDERS!

After the party's return in triumph there was much celebration. While the Fighter, the Wizard, and the Intermittent Invoker were still recovering the Bard, Warlock, and Barbarian decided to follow up on one problem the Tormites were having.

Someone was digging into some of the burial mounds outside of the city and outside of the graveyard proper. With so many of their priests and templars dead or injured from the disastrous graveyard expedition they asked the party to help investigate and watch some of these mounds. Our three intrepid heroes agreed.

Directed to one particular mound as a likely target they discovered that it had indeed been opened. Moving cautiously they approached the open entrance and saw faint light. They also saw at least one undead creature moving about inside and decided to attack. This proved to be a mistake.

Uthal charged while Jovanni and Mikal moved in but stayed close to the entrance (since they are ranged combatants and liike to give him plenty of room to do his thing). They quickly discovered that there was more than one undead creature in the room as 3 (Boneshard) Skeletons lurked near the sides of the place and were fully capable of moving to engage once they had noticed intruders. The Wight that they had seen from outside also moved in.

The bard ended up sandwiched between two of the skeletons and took a beating while Uthal was busy fighting the wight. In seconds Uthal and Jovanni are bloodied  and riddled with bone shards. The Warlock manages to hit one of them extra-hard and it explodes, flinging bone shards everywhere (hence the name - it was a bit of a surprise to the players) and doing just enough harm to its fellow skeleton to cause one of them to explode in shards as well (also a surprise). The heroes retreat - quickly. Dragging themselves back to Phlan they realize they need help to tackle the barrow.

DM Notes I:  Since we only had 3 players this session we decided to follow up on a side adventure outside the city and I used "Tomb of the Tiefling Empress" from the Dungeon Delve book, the first non-homemade set of encounters I have used in this campaign. It's a level 5 dungeon and these were 3 level 4 characters so I figured it would be challenging but fine. HA! They took a beating in the very first room and ran away scared -also for the first time in this campaign. 

Part of it was the character mix - 1 melee striker, 1 ranged striker, and a controller is not a very solid mix. If the Fighter had been there instead of one of the strikers it probably would have gone quite differently. Also, Uthal had just changed over from using the Mordenkrad (Great Hammer) to the Great Spear, with the idea of fighting in and around Kordan with a big reach weapon. With no fighter in the center, some of his fancy moves are less effective than planned. 

The other part was the opposition - Boneshard Skeletons do ongoing damage, explode for a close burst when bloodied, and explode again when slain (in other words, they are awesome) - lots of close burst damage in the close quarters of the entrance tunnel made it very painful for the team even when they thought they might be winning. I ended up having the Wight very obviously run down the outgoing tunnel for reinforcements, encouraging the party to leave. 

The next day the trio regrouped and decided to head off to investigate a band of Banites that had moved into the city not far from Podol Plaza. The High Priest of Tempus wanted to know what they were doing and wanted the heroes to whip them if possible. Relieved to be fighting simple orcs the heroes ventured forth.

They successfully negotiated their way past the Plaza guard station (skill challenge similar to the old one)  and made their way to the orcs' reported lair. They found a half-ruined mansion (this was the old wealthy district) and discovered a tunnel to the inside though a burned down outbuilding - possibly an escape tunnel from long ago.

Sneaking in the party discovers they are in a basement dungeon with holding cells and manacles on the walls. They also discover a par of Fire Beetles and 3 Orc guards. Combat ensues and this fight goes better than the last one with the trio fighting 2 orcs and 2 beetles up close while one orc chucks axes from a firing slit high up on a wall. Finishing off the melee opponents Uthal charges up some stairs and slays the sniping orc in short order.

Continuing  up the stairs the trio kicks open a big door and skids to a halt as they find themselves in the middle of an orc feast - 12 orcs gathered around a huge old table and a big bubbling cauldron in the middle of the room. Seeing a challenge the toughest orc in the room saunters up to Uthal and lays into him. The barbarian responds by thumping him across the room! Mikal unleashes a storm of fire on the orcs and the fight is on - quarter is neither asked nor given as the warriors charge into battle again.

 The fight swirls around the room as orc after orc falls to spell and spear. Javanni sings and directs, Mikal blasts away, and Uthal charges and stabs with his spear. There is a tense moment as one orc triggers a trap door, surprising the barbarian who falls into a pit and another orc then dumps the boiling cauldron's contents in on top of him. Seeing the party split, the Gruumsh priest leading these orcs and the war leader gang up on the bard and warlock but in the end it's not enough - with the rest of their group slain they too fall to the spell, spear, and song of the heroes.

Uthal's Log

DM Notes II: This one went a little better. It was another Dungeon Delve set, this time for level 3 characters, and it was clearly a better match with only 3 characters playing.  Plus, Orcs are a little more geared towards a straight-up fight rather than exploding on contact. What's funny though is that some of them do have a "dying strike" ability where they get a free shot when they drop to 0 hit points - it's not a close blast effect however, so all was well. I was happy that I did get to spring the trap too - many times in my experience any kind of monster-triggered trap will never be used as the beasties are wiped out by a fireball or some kind of forced movement effect that renders it unusable. This time it worked.  

It's the barbarian's job to charge things so he's just doing what he's best at but it makes things more fun for me too as he tends to be the one to set things off or to take the worst beating because he has a mechanical reason to be rushing out in front of the party! In the old days many barbarians played pretty much like extra-tough fighters and were very static in combat but I really like the way 4E encourages them to move around and CHARGE! as a part of what they do. It's fun for the player and fun for the DM too.

Finally, if you need a good Heroic Tier anti-barbarian monster, remember the Boneshard Skeleton from Monster Manual I - they are perfect for the job. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 14: Parvus Sed Potens

The negotiations with the Fire Knife halflings were brief and unproductive as there was no way that Kordan, sporting his new possessed suit of armor, was going to take guff from something that little. As the Warlock dives for cover (player was absent) the Wizard and the Bard open up on the 14 halflings surrounding them (well - 11 halflings, 2 elves, and 1 human mage*)

The halfling leader charges into combat with some of his band while others stay back and shoot. The barbarian is the main target as he crushes one halfer into paste. The fighter jumps in too and despite the shorties preference for keeping the ambush at range a fair melee scrum develops too. The halfling commander is using poisoned weapons and manages to tag both Uthal and Jovanni, making the fight a little more even. Kordan ends up trusting to his armor more than he expected in its first fight as he is hit by several area blasting spells but comes through OK.

In the end the leader is the only one still standing and decides to run when his last accomplice drops. The Bard, however, manages to pull him back into range and the party snuffs him in one satisfying volley.

As the party heals up, Uthal arranges the bodies into unflattering positions for the various scavengers and allies no doubt lurking in the ruins to find. Then the party heads back to civilized Phlan to recover.

Back in Phlan there is great rejoicing at the return of the lost priest, the Invulnerable Coat of Arn(ol)d, and the wealth of information gathered by the team. Councilman Barnabus starts talking about a possible land grant outside the city if the party will agree to stay long term. A commission is also issued for the destruction of the Fire Knives. The Bard, the Wizard and the Warlock head for the Mage's Guild while the Fighter and Barbarian head for Martial Hall and the training facility next door.

Uthal's Log

*Who would have happily surrendered if he hadn't been blasted out from under his pointy hat at the first opportunity

DM Notes: This was a pretty good little scrap. I had planned to have more halflings run away (to show up later) but the fight only lasted 6 rounds. The leader's poison, the elves' mobility, the mage's area attacks, and the halflings' having both melee and ranged capabilities plus their second chance power (reroll once during the encounter) made for a fun fight that was the opposite of the stand-up brawl last time. The Warlock player missed this session so they were down 1 man and that made things a little tighter too. Most of the party was bloodied at some point during the battle which always makes me feel like I'm doing my job right.

Despite only having one encounter, this was not another whole-session combat. Much of the time was spent back in Phlan cashing in, leveling up, picking out gear, talking to NPC's, and looking at what to do next. Most of the party is now level 4 and there are multiple leads for them to pursue. The first 2 areas were fairly linear, then the 3rd was a little more open with options for more exploration, interaction, and stealth in the Plaza. For the next few levels things will be largely up to them until certain looming threats pull them back together for the climax and finale of the campaign - for Heroic Tier anyway.

Motivational Monday