Merric's Musings

Thoughts from an Australian Board Gamer and RPGer

Archive for Merric Blackman

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A historical look at AC in D&D (part 1)

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
Victoria
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Historically, Armour Class is derived from naval games (Fletcher Pratt, Jane's Fighting Ships) which Dave Arneson incorporated into his own naval design, and then passed on to D&D.

Original D&D Armour Class is not a feature of Gygax's and Perrin's Chainmail. Instead you have a table that cross-references the type of armour with the weapon used, the combinations are as follows:

Armours: None, Leather/Padded, Shield, Leather + Shield, Chain/Banded/Studded/Splint, Chain+Shield, Plate, Plate + Shield

By Original D&D, you get AC of 2-9 and the "to hit" tables give only those values. Of note, Dexterity gives *no* modifier to AC, a magic suit of armour subtracts its value from the "hit dice of the opponent", and magical shields have only a 33% chance of working (in which case they give their penalty to the attacker).

Supplement I: Greyhawk has a much greater range of magical armours, and has one of the clumsiest explanations ever as to how they work, using this table:

From gallery of MerricB


(It also has errata: Chainmail and +1 shield should be AC 3)

It's in AD&D that we finally get the cleaned up tables, AC now goes from 10 to -10 (rather than 9 to 2), and it'd stay that way (mostly) for the next twenty years, or thereabouts.

One of the interesting features of this is that every AC in original D&D (sans supplements) is in the range of 2-8.

With the expanded AC ranges from Greyhawk, you get the Will-o'-the-Wisp, with an AC of -8, the highest on the supplement's table, but there aren't many other monsters with negative ACs (the Platinum Dragon, with -3, is the next best).

Blackmoor is back in the 2-8 range, Eldritch Wizardry gives the first AC of actually 9 (the Succubus), and gives Demogorgon a fearsome -8 AC, with Orcus behind on -6. Finally, Gods, Demigods and Heroes incredibly goes back to the 2-9 range, with a few exceptions (and not gods - generally monsters), though some of the gods have magic armour that isn't factored into their AC - Odin has a helm +5 and mail +5!

So, onto AD&D where Gygax is drawing on the various work he and others have done for D&D. There's no AC 10 in the Monster Manual (but, to be fair, there's no AC 9 in the monsters in core OD&D either!) The Will-o'-the-Wisp retains its AC of -8, likewise the Platinum retains -3. Demogorgon and Orcus keep their respective ACs.

The tables in the DMG enshrined the -10 to 10 range of ACs, and a monster came out with a -10 AC not all that long after - Dave Sutherland's take on "Lolth" - from Q1. Also in 1980, RJK's and Jim Ward's revision of the deity supplement gave the gods ACs that weren't generally quite as impossible - Odin has AC -6 instead of his previous (effective) -8, although we get our first breaking of the -10 "cap" - Indra has an AC of -12!!

Indra's AC is actually correctly calculated for his +4 plate, +4 shield and 25 Dex (-6 def bonus).

However, it's debatable how many of these really low ACs belong to beings that will be fought...
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Tue Apr 10, 2012 9:44 am
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My AD&D campaign

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
Victoria
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Thirteen sessions in, the AD&D campaign is doing pretty well. We've had 21 separate players, several for just a session, but most for more than one. It's running beside two fortnightly campaigns both of which have different players and who play in my game when they're not in the other, so from week to week the roster changes a lot.


Players Class #Sessions 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 (13) 14
Rich Thief 13 1 1 1 2 2 3 - 4 4 4 4 4 (4) 5
Chris Cleric 10 1 1 1 - 2 2 3 4 4 4 - 4 - -
Jackson Fighter 8 1 1x - - - - C1 1x (MU1) 1 - - (1) 1
Lee Cleric 7 - 1 - 1 - 2 - - (3) 4 4 - (4) -
Reece Fighter 6 - - - 1 - 2 3 - T1 - 2 - (2) -
Tait Fighter 6 - - - - - - 1 1 1 - 2 2 - 3
Shane MU 5 - 1 - 1 - - 2 - 2 - - - (2) -
Paul Fighter 5 - - - 1 - 1 2 - (2) - 3 - - -
Cosmo Cleric 5 - - - - 1 - - - (1) 2 2 3 - -
Adam F/MU 4 1/1 1/1 1/1 - - 1/1 - - - - - - - -
Nash F/T 4 1/1 - 1/1 - 1/1 - - - - 2 - - - -
Callen Fighter 4 - 1 - - - - 2 - - 2 3 - - -
Jesse Cleric 4 - - - - - - - - 1 1x - MU1 - 1
Ben Ranger 4 - - - 1 - 1 1 - (2) - - - - -
Josh Cleric 3 - - - - - 1 - - (2) 3 - - - -
Matt Ranger 1 - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - -
Greg F/MU 1 - - - - - - - 1/1 - - - - - -
Montie Fighter 1 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - -
Dakota MU 1 - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Stephen Fighter 1 - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - -
Michael MU 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1


It's been fun so far - we'll see how it develops as the year progresses. I'm loving that it's mostly a weekly game!

Values in parenthesis represent a session that Callen has run rather than myself.
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Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:48 am
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Prepping for Pathfinder: Miniatures, Monks and Missiles

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Our second Pathfinder session is scheduled for this weekend, two weeks after our first, our once-a-week schedule already disrupted by other events (in this case, the requirement of Greg to visit his grandmother with his new baby in tow).

I've already gathered the miniatures for the session, placing them in one of my many plastic containers for transport. This one has dividers in it, so I can place miniatures sorted by encounter - except, of course, there'll be a lot of miniatures used in more than one combat, so that doesn't work so well.

We didn't get as far as I expected last session due to character creation taking a full hour longer than my initial estimate. So, the structure of the next session will probably look like follows:

* Meeting the Rebels and planning the Rescue (role-playing)
* The Rescue (combat)
* Meeting the Leader (role-playing)
* Returning the Horses (role-playing)
* The Hellknight Stronghold (exploration/combat)

The group doesn't seem to be very RP inclined, so I expect the RP sections will be very brief.

It took me all of one session to realise that I don't really miss how 3E does low-level characters. A large part of this is compounded by the character selection on the part of the party. I can understand Lee, Michael and Tim making substandard characters, but Dave has actually played a fair bit of Pathfinder already... how is it that he ends up with the worst character of the lot, a halfling monk?

The only competent monk I saw in 3E was one made with the Vow of Poverty, which brought it up to a level of a standard PC. Monks are great survivors, but horrible contributors, especially when they have a 10 Strength and are small. It's part of the MAD of the class: they need good Strength, Wisdom and Dexterity. Yes, he has an AC of 20. But he can't hit anything, and does d4 damage.

Dexterity seems to be a theme of this party. The cleric has a really high Dex and uses a bow (he's an elf). Fair enough, except we were brought down to reality by the effects of PF cover and shooting into melee - an effective -8 to the attack roll. It's a shock to the 4E sensibilities of most of the group.

It should be noted that Lee has been playing in my AD&D campaign, so he's seen the even earlier version of firing into melee: which selects a *random* target from all those participating. Though he's been playing a cleric, and it doesn't come up so much for him.

One of the other features of 4E that isn't in 3E that I miss is the retraining rules; admittedly there is a version of the rule in place for the sorcerer (so Tim will be able to train out Sleep when he reaches 4th level), but I'm very likely to be using some variation of retraining rules with the group. It might well go further than that - especially with Dave's character, because the halfling monk may well turn out to be as I fear, a useless character. (It might surprise me as well, but I'm not betting on it).
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Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:01 am
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Prepping for Pathfinder: Council of Thieves

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
Victoria
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This weekend, I hope to start what will be a long and fulfilling campaign: the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Council of Thieves

I've got two players who are quite eager to play Pathfinder, a third who is eager to play anything, and I'm still looking for a fourth. I was going to ask the D&D players at my FLGS store on the weekend, but quite a number of them were missing due to the long weekend, so I'll have to ask this Saturday if anyone wants to play in a Sunday campaign... which starts the next day. Heh.

I haven't run Pathfinder before, but I'm rather hoping that 8 years of running 3E (often about 6-8 hours a week) will hold me in good stead. There are a few significant rule changes that I will have to worry about, but I'm hoping that mostly the players can handle all the new powers their characters have.

Of course, the first step is to read the adventure, The Bastards of Erebus. My initial impressions of it aren't that favourable, mainly due to the hamfisted way it starts. After a meeting with the NPC who recruits the characters, the group are chased into the sewers where they stay there until they get bored.

No, really: the sewers are generated randomly, and they end as follows:

"The exit to the safe house is not something that can be randomly rolled; you should place this exit once the PCs have had enough encounters to reach 2nd level, or once their resources have run so critically low that going on for much longer becomes too difficult—when a PC is reduced to negative hit points or is otherwise helpless is a great point to have the exit be just around the corner."

Errata to the adventure indicates that the level 2 guideline is a mistake. I have some tremendous problems with adventure design in this manner, because it doesn't matter what decisions the players make!. They can't act well because there are no bad decisions. If there was any section of the adventure that would have been far, far better designed as a 4E Skill Challenge, this is it. (Skill Challenges have their own problems, but well-structured ones are brilliant).

All of this is made worse by how much space is given in the adventure for this set of random encounters: ten-and-a-half pages!

Thankfully, once the party makes its way out of the sewers, the adventure begins to look up.

I'm going to run the first session slightly differently to how written in the adventure. Instead of Meeting, Sewers, Hideout, I'll begin it in media res with the party tracked down by a Hellknight patrol in the sewers, then (after that battle is done) return to where things began and the initial meeting (which will be quite short). After that, it'll be another sewer encounter and then onto the rebel hideout where the actual interesting part of the game can begin.

I'll probably have the exit having a bunch of sewer goblins in the way; Janath (the recruiter NPC) will alert the group to the way out, but the goblins block the path. The sewer goblins - as written - are hilariously incompetent. So much so that they aren't a credible threat to the party except through extremely lucky rolls. I'll have to consider whether I want them that stupidly weak. (-6 to hit, 1d4-1 damage? And still CR 1/2? Yeah, that's blindly following the CR rules.)

We'll create characters and start the adventure in the same session. I expect about 1-1½ hours for character generation and thus 2½-3 hours for play; finishing the session with the Ambush to rescue Arael would be the best ender, I think.

So:
* Character Generation
* Encounter One: The Hellknights (combat)
* Encounter Two: How we got here: the Meeting (role-play)
* Encounter Three: The exit from the sewers (combat)
* Encounter Four: The Rebel Hideout (role-play/planning)
* Encounter Five: The Rescue (combat)

I'll now go and review this part of the module in more depth and the rules I'll need. (As well as getting more familiar with the PC generation rules.)
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Tue Mar 13, 2012 3:06 am
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Amber Diceless RPG and me

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
Victoria
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When I was at university - a very long time ago now - a rather interesting role-playing game came out: the Amber Diceless RPG. Based on the works of Roger Zelazny, it allowed the players to play Machievellian demi-god-like characters, who would spend a fair amount of time scheming against each other as well as dealing with the latest threat to whatever they held dear.

The campaign we set up lasted about three years (of which I played in a couple of), and involved from 6-13 players each session. We swapped over GMs throughout, as the game was *very* GM-intensive, and some sessions would have a couple of co-GMs just to deal with action in several places at once.

More than any other RPG, Amber taught me about story-telling and role-playing, and about how dangerous DM Fiat is. D&D has always been my first love, and I've very rarely played Amber since my university years, but the games of Amber I played and ran have informed my D&D play since.

On occasion, I get out the Amber books and run a Throne War - a one session game where the player characters attempt to overcome each other in a contest for the Throne of Amber. I've done it twice in the past decade, and I'll be running another such session tonight (in celebration of my birthday). I've got 5 or 6 players lined up for the action, and it should be a lot of fun. Unlike many other RPGs, Amber rather likes having more players, just because it causes more conflict, plotting, cabals and the like. Difficult to DM well, and the way I run Amber today will not be the same way as how I ran it 17 years ago.

Although I learnt a lot about DMing from Amber, running multiple D&D games for the past decade has also left its mark.

Back when I first ran Amber, it was in a very sandbox, freeform style; the players would drive the action. When I ran Serenity recently, I was more structured about the action: dividing the adventure into acts and scenes that I thought would occur. Though I was amenable for the players running off the rails, I gave them a lot more guidance as to how the adventure could unfold.

So, for tonight's session, although I expect it'll be mostly player-driven, I'll have a back-up plan for structuring the action.

In addition, I'll be keeping the players (perhaps not the characters) in one group, so there won't be so much "secret" knowledge... which is entirely due to me not wanting players to get bored while waiting for their turn to come around with the DM and just sitting in a corner. Secret plans and splitting up the group? Yeah, leads to some boring times. Better to have everyone there all the time, being entertained by the plotting (and failures) of the others. There'll be some secret information, certainly, but not at the expense of engagement.

At least, that's the plan. Whether it will come to pass is another thing entirely!

So, here I'm wondering: Have any of you played Amber?
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Fri Dec 16, 2011 12:02 am
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Pathfinder and Paranoia

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
Victoria
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Well, I now have most of the core of Pathfinder sitting on my shelf: the Core Book, the first Bestiary (the second is ordered but not in stock at MilSims), the Games Mastery Guide, and the Advanced Player's Guide. Next to that is 40 Adventure Path modules, and sitting on the floor wanting a place to stay is the Paizo Beginner's Box.

What I'll do with all of that is anyone's guess. If my players suddenly become interested in playing Pathfinder, I'm ready for them. However, at present I think it's going to serve more as reference material - mostly so I know what people are talking about when they talk Pathfinder.

I've started reviewing the current Adventure Path (Jade Regent) and it's been an interesting experience. Popping in to research what other people think of the books on the Paizo boards have opened my eyes to a few flaws here and there - the most damning being the problems with the caravan rules. The adventures aren't as interesting to read as I hoped (mainly because there's only so many dungeons that I can take), but the good bits are very good. Alas, there are enough assumptions and plot points that I disagree with that if I ever ran the adventures, I'd have to gut a lot of them... especially the NPCs who accompany the PCs, who, four parts out of six in, haven't yet shown themselves to be worth including.

Meanwhile, I've also been picking up the small selection of Paranoia 25th Anniversary products: the core rulebooks and the adventures. However, Mongoose are having some big QA issues on their major releases (the reprint "Redux" adventures), so I'm feeling rather let down by them.

This is another game that I don't have time to run; unlike Call of Cthulhu, it's a lot harder to run with fewer players (as an interim game). You really want 4-6 players all backstabbing each other... but I may get the opportunity next year.
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Thu Dec 1, 2011 12:50 pm
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My new D&D campaign

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Unfortunately, it seems very likely that the D&D Sunday campaign will be on indefinite hiatus. Well, we finished the campaign, so perhaps hiatus isn't the right word, but due to a lack of players, it won't be continuing on Sundays.

Instead, I'll be starting up a campaign on Saturday evenings (7pm-11pm), running 3 weeks of every 4. (On the 4th week, I'll be running Lair Assault). It will begin in December, probably have a couple of sessions where we find our feet before Christmas and the New Year intervene, and then get fully underway in January. The theme of the campaign will be the viking/barbarian game I've discussed before, but we'll use the 4th edition rules instead of AD&D. Probably.

So, this Saturday, I'm running a Lair Assault... and the session after the new campaign will begin.

Who will be playing? Honestly, I'm not 100% sure. My basic impression is that Rich, Chris and Adam are willing and available. Greg - if you're reading this - is very welcome to join in, but I wouldn't be 100% surprised if his job will preclude him from the game. Another 2-3 players will probably join us from the Good Games players. And, yes, the campaign will be taking place at Good Games Ballarat.

I'll be paying some attention to races and classes taken in this game - it's not open season, as there is a particular theme I'm going for. Some of the Feywild stuff is probably appropriate (the classes, not the races). I'm open to running it in AD&D if the players want that.

The adventure will begin in a small village of the Frost Barbarians, a village that isn't doing so well: in the last raiding season, the ship it sent to raid the southlands was sunk, and no-one returned to the village. The village is impoverished, and the young men and women of the village - that's you - are being looked to bring prosperity back to your home.
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Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:01 am
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Creating D&D Encounters characters

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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I've spent part of yesterday and today creating D&D characters for the new season of D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave.

We had 10 people turn up for our Saturday "Let's Create Characters" session, and through a not-the-most-well-thought-out procedure I've ever enacted (we didn't think about it at all), we first got them to name the two roles they'd like to play most; then the role itself; then had the two leaders select people for two "teams" (better yet, "tables"), and so ended up with two balanced - sort of - groups.

All of which will probably be set awry when the game begins next week and not everyone turns up. Oh well!

My table ended up with the following characters being created:
* Human Warpriest - Unseelie Agent - Crystalbrooker (Leader)
* Dragonborn Cavalier - Unseelie Agent - Sybaren (Defender)
* Pixie Hunter - Feybeast Tamer - Sildaine (Controller)
* Eladrin Witch - Sildaine (Controller)
* Half-Orc Berserker - Sybaren (Defender/Striker)

As we'll probably have Rich joining us as well, another striker would be best...

The most challenging thing about this process was the lack of rulebooks. We had two copies of Heroes of the Feywild between the twelve people, and about three sets of the "Heroes" Essentials books. Character creation sessions work best when people actually have the books. It's quite frustrating to try and do it without that - and without access to the Character Builder (alas, the store doesn't offer wireless...)

Because we do have players without the books or character builder, I took home the notes on the characters that three players wanted to play. A large part of time today has been spent writing those up into proper character sheets. I've been using Word for that, because I think the Character Builder character sheets are extremely unclear when it comes to power cards: they are moving into microtext these days. So, the Human Warpriest, Dragonborn Cavalier and one from the other table - a Half-Orc Scout - are now in nicely formatted form on my computer. I'll print them out before the session next week.

The actual Encounters season looks really entertaining, with a lot of role-playing encounters (Hooray!) Callen's warpriest was designed with a lot of skills - at one point, it had taken the Skill Training feat twice, but I realised as I wrote it up we'd forgotten the extra skill humans get, and reinstated Bludgeon Expertise - it's my opinion that D&D is at its best when you don't fail all the time. The warpriest still has a lot of skills, though, and should be very entertaining to play. Passive Insight and Perception of 20 at level 1? Yeah, not a lot will get by him.
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Sun Nov 20, 2011 7:30 am
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My strangest D&D Encounters session

Merric Blackman
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The D&D Encounters campaigns have had a rocky history in our town. We started off when they began, and wandered between one and two tables a week. Then came Christmas of 2010, and everyone disappeared. Not just for the holiday season, but for several months after that. This so depressed me that I stopped running D&D Encounters for a while. I'd run the first half of Keep on the Borderlands, but the last half I never saw. Instead, Mick and Josh continued running the sessions when there were enough people.

Eventually, the numbers began to build again, but - unfortunately - our DMs' appearances were getting rather unreliable. And, because we were running more the next session according to what was last played, the sessions were somewhat behind the printed schedule. (This would be a bigger problem if we had people just wandering in to play a session of D&D Encounters after playing one in Melbourne the previous week. We don't, though).

So, when came the next occasion where neither Josh nor Mick were available to DM, I pitched in. And kept on DMing after that. Let's face it: I really, really enjoy DMing. I've been doing it for probably over 25 years now, which is longer than Josh has been alive. (It's a lot scary, let me tell you).

One of the first things I was able to do was get the game back on schedule. We were about to come up to the next season (the latest): "Lost Crown of Neverwinter", and that had a Game Day scheduled for it. And we were about 5 weeks behind on "Dark Legacy of Evard". So, with the (enthusiastic) permission of my players, I ran 5 sessions of Dark Legacy in one night. It took about 3 hours. And so we were set for Lost Crown - and to have the actual game day on the actual game day.

The fact that I could run 5 D&D Encounter sessions in about 3 hours has a little to do with much of the setting up/administrative work of running a session could be dispensed with, and a lot to do with how fast I am at running D&D combats. It's something that is a little bit of a problem with my D&D Encounter sessions, actually. Is it really worth your while coming for only 30 minutes of D&D?

And so we get to the story of my strangest D&D Encounters session. We're midway through Lost Crown of Neverwinter - which was a really enjoyable adventure - and the group has been sucked down into the sewers by a trap triggered by the Dead Rat Gang. Or Drowned Rat Gang, as the last survivor seemed to be. There, the group had to fight two green slimes and eight kraken tentacles. The tentacles were minions.

Throughout Lost Crown, we'd normally had two groups at once, and this wasn't the exception. Mick was running one group, and I ran the other. Mine only had four players, but they were good players. A cavalier, mage, cleric and - erm - slayer? I'm not quite sure. Might have been another cleric, actually. With only four players, I dropped a green slime from the encounter to make it 1 slime + 8 tentacles.

So, round one: the tentacles come up and start grabbing one of the PCs. So, Chris's mage comes up and casts Beguiling Strands. Hmm - that's it for half the minions. Meanwhile, the first slime drops from the ceiling, only to discover that both the cleric and the paladin are dealing radiant damage. Guess what it's vulnerable to? After the first round, it's almost dead, and the tentacles don't look like they're going to be much more entertainment - not with Chris around. So, I readjust the encounter back to its original form, and drop a Green Slime on Chris's head.

Chris says "Ow". Then he says, "Burning Hands!", and that's it for the second slime. The rest of the tentacles likewise were destroyed, and two-and-a-half rounds in, the encounter was over.

The session didn't have much role-playing in it - although I suppose I could have played up the half-drowned thief a bit more. Well, I did, but even so the group isn't full of massive roleplayers. So, after about 20 minutes of actual play, we were done. Heh. Off for dinner, and time to prepare for Lair Assault afterwards.

However, that's only half the story: you see, Mick's table were having a lot more trouble with the monsters. Mick had a table of mostly strikers and defenders, and certainly no-one with radiant damage, nor a mage with area effects. After about 70 minutes, the group were all down and bleeding to death, and only the arrival of the Sons of Alagondar (who were trying to work out what the hell was going on) saved them.

The rest of my group, who had watched this in much amusement, caught me up on it as I returned with my dinner. If my sessions run at under 30 minutes entirely too often, Mick's table will run 60-90 minutes. There's two factors there: Mick tends to score the less experienced players, and my rules mastery. Even when I have the newer players, my tables tend to go very quickly.

It was a big lesson on how you can get really different table dynamics based on class choices and DM style. After we finished the Lost Crown season, I ran half of a follow-up Dungeon adventure to continue the story of those characters in Neverwinter, since the players liked them so much. We got through 2 skill challenges and 4 combat encounters (and some roleplaying) in about 3 hours. I'm big on story progression and combat, but much less so on roleplaying. Not to say that I can't roleplay, but I don't emphasize it the same way Mick does. (Mick will very likely go on a lot of tangents, and he's not a D&D specialist or rules lawyer the way I am).

Later this week, we'll be creating characters for the new season of D&D Encounters. It will be an interesting experience... especially as I think we don't have enough copies of the D&D books to go around. I'll expect I'll jot down their choices in my games diary, so I can create full character sheets for them before we start the adventure proper the week after.
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Wed Nov 16, 2011 3:45 am
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Running the Lost City (4E)

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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At present, my Greyhawk campaign has wandered into the Lost City - a Open Design module on which Logan Bonner, Jobe Bittman, Michael Furlanetto, Tracy Hurley and Quinn Murphy have design credits. It's an adventure written more in an open, sandbox style than the overly linear quests that Wizards has been producing.

It's been a lot of fun to run so far, not least because of the range of play it supports. There's roleplaying, puzzle solving and (difficult) combats. I've seen more ritual use in the four sessions I've run of it that in most of the campaign leading up to this point. The biggest problem with rituals isn't really the amount of time they take to cast: it's the structure of the adventures they're used in. When you have a bard turning his parrot familiar into a giant size that he could ride, then towing a thief on a Tenser's Floating Disc behind him over the traps so that the thief can disable it, you can safely say that ingenuity and ritual use can go hand in hand.

However, the adventure isn't exactly complete: the DM has to bring a lot to the adventure. It provides the tools to create a memorable campaign, but it requires massaging. Why are the PCs there? Several hooks are given, but choice of what hooks to use and the emphasis the DM gives to various sections of the module can really change how the game goes.

Through all of this, I'm trying to pay attention to my players' desires. Oh, and then there's Archibald, who is showing every indication of hijacking the adventure.

My original set-up for the adventure involved a vision given by Heironeous to our paladin (of armies marching across the sands), and by having Archibald, the NPC nemesis of the group, steal one of the player's Obsidian Horse and set off in search of the Lost City. So, the group wanted to get back the Obsidian Horse, and the paladin had an additional hook.

Archibald is great fun. He was Adam's original PC in the campaign. In an early adventure, a priest of Iuz offered him wealth and power in exchange for betraying the party (and killing the paladin). Adam accepted, and started rolling up a new character as Archibald changed into an ongoing NPC who pops up every so often to plague the party (and tries to kill the paladin). Just to rub it in, it was Adam's Obsidian Horse that Archibald stole. He really is a villain they love to hate. I wouldn't be surprised if the final encounter in the campaign is Archibald *finally* being defeated by the group.

Anyway, the group reached the Lost City (which I placed in the Bright Desert, not so far from the City of Greyhawk where most of the campaign has taken place), and started exploring and looking for Archibald.

It wasn't long before they met the oklu, the strange reptilian race that make the primary NPCs the group can interact with in the adventure. They're meant to be incredible mimics, but I don't think I've managed to get over that point yet to the players: it doesn't help that I do have trouble handling multiple NPCs at once. So, the group mainly have interacted with just the one oklu, Kade, of the warrior caste.

The adventure suggests way that the various castes of oklu should act. I read them, and promptly threw them out. That's actually not true, but I'm pretty sure the way I run the oklu is not the same as how someone else would who was following the module's text more closely. The Lost City is an adventure I feel very happy in bending, folding, mutilating and spindling. It consists far more of situations, characters and ideas rather than a strict "you must do this" path. So, I used Kade as an introduction to the oklu of the city, far more sympathetic to the party than perhaps the original description might imply, and then had him take the group to another faction of oklu... who had become allies of Archibald.

Of course, this isn't in the original module. However, it does a couple of things: it allows a force to be actively working against the PCs, and it highlights the difference between the different castes of oklu.

The drawback of all of this is something I realised last session: it concentrates the adventure far too much on being an Archibald-hunt rather than an exploration of the wonders and mysteries of the Lost City.

Another blunder: I suggested to the group when they met the third group of oklu (members of the Cult of Rebirth), that the oklu would be able to help them if they just helped them first. Well, the PCs helped the oklu - which led into the wonderful failed resurrection (and giant mummies) encounter - but the oklu then weren't able to help the PCs as a result.

That's not good, because it undermines the role of the oklu as allies. I'll need to try to fix that: interacting with the oklu can be one of the highlights of the adventure, but the PCs need to have a reason to do so. If the oklu are just an annoying hindrance, then they end up like Jar-Jar Binks: something to be avoided at all costs.

There is an overall climax to the adventure which I want to work towards, which involves the PCs retrieving three parts of a key first. They've got one part of it, but the other two parts must be found as well, and they're in parts of the city that the PCs are unlikely to visit on their own, especially as they want to hunt down Archibald first.

In theory, I could have Archibald racing to get the keys first, but in terms of play that doesn't actually work so well. Archibald could quite easily overcome the challenges guarding the keys... and leave nothing for the PCs to do. I'd rather like the PCs to overcome those challenges themselves. Archibald will want the keys, certainly, but he needs to get them in a way that doesn't take away from the heroism of the party. That's going to be difficult.

At this stage, I need to take the focus off Archibald. I'm thinking that this needs to come in two parts: first, the group has to actually recover the Obsidian Horse that Archibald stole. Not sure how that can come about, but it's something I'll be thinking about. The other part is emphasizing some of the other threats in the Lost City. I'm doing that already, by giving visions from their deities to the cleric and paladin in the group.

Here's the one I sent to the cleric:
You stand on a ruined tower on the sands. All around you, you can see the people of the desert going about their lives - trading, working, sleeping, laughing, crying. Then a madness begins to overtake them. Brother fights brother, husband fights wife, neighbour fights neighbour. The sands grow red with blood.

Your gaze is drawn to a young girl, drawing water from a well. As she drinks from the cup, her eyes fill with madness... and you wake in fright.


I'm able to send that vision because it's something suggested as one of the original adventure hooks in the module: the water supply of the city is tainted, and as it leaks into the surrounding lands, it taints the water of the communities around causing madness. The group found the route to the waterworks last session, but showed little interest in it. I hope this gives them a spur to go visit. If not, they can always return to the above and discover a civil war...

I don't want to railroad the group into doing something, but conversely I feel that the game will work a lot better if I shape the adventure to provide an entertaining narrative: I'll act in response to what the players do, but letting the game drift isn't really in its best interest.

Whatever happens, it's going to be interesting. The Lost City is really giving us a chance to play some entertaining sessions, and showing what 4E can do when it has the chance.
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Thu Nov 10, 2011 12:11 am
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