Saturday, June 30, 2012, 7:23 AM
Arken's Guide to Adventure: Packing for your Expedition
"Hello, and welcome to Arken's Guide to Adventure! I am Arken Feyheart, a veteran adventurer, now retired. I was like you once; bright-eyed, strong of body, and ready to take on whatever challenge the gods threw my way. But, as eager as you are, you're not quite ready. You need a little guidance before you're able to answer that call to adventure. You've got the strength. You've got the constitution. You've got the dexterity, intelligence, and charisma. What you need now is the wisdom to bring it all together. Read on, if you think you can handle it." - Excerpt from Arken's Guide to Adventure
You've got your sword sharpened, your trail rations packed, and your waterskin full. You're ready for whatever obstacles come your way! Well, not so fast. While the key to a successful expedition is more often than not the sheer will to survive, it doesn't hurt to plan ahead when selecting your gear. The right tool can mean the difference between life and death when you're far from civilization, and your forethought will, usually, be well worth the trouble.
In order to carry gear, you have to have a place to store it. Whether that is your trusty backpack, a satchel, a belt pouch, or even the pockets of your cloak, you need to know where your stuff is at all times. As far as getting the most out of your coin, the backpack is hands down the most versatile bit of storage that you'll own.
A good backpack is made of sturdy leather with adjustable straps, and has several easily accessed pockets attached to the main compartment. Now, as with any leather good, you're going to have to perform some maintenance from time to time (this means cleaning and conditioning) but, if cared for properly, your backpack will last a lifetime (maybe even more than one). If leather isn't your thing, a decent pack can also be made of heavy canvas or (though less frequently) linen.
A satchel is an intermediary step between a backpack and a belt pouch. It is large enough to hold more gear than a belt pouch and is easily accessible since it hangs at your side via shoulder strap. I wouldn't recommend wearing BOTH a backpack and a satchel. Please choose one or the other, as the straps can become an obstacle in dire straits. You may have time to ditch your pack OR your satchel, but having to ditch them both at the same time can mean curtains for the unprepared adventurer.
A belt pouch is a good thing to have for smaller, more immediately necessary items, such as coins or vials. It is also advisable to keep a few "survival" items in your belt pouch, just in case you lose (or have to abandon) your main pack.
Pockets come in many shapes and sizes, though, typically, common clothes (tunics, pants, shirts, hose, etc) will not have any. Pockets are mainly present in cloaks and jackets (rather than pants), though vests and doublets may have them as well. Many artisan outfits include aprons with plenty of pockets for tools and such. Roguish types may sew hidden pockets into their clothing to conceal any number of items. Pockets, though useful for small items, will generally not be considered in our discussion of adventuring gear.
Standard Adventurer's Kit
This world is full of adventurers like yourself. Though you may not meet them on a regular basis, they are prevalent enough for enterprising individuals to learn how to profit from them. This means that in any given community, prices may seem to be a lot higher than you'd think; this is because they ARE! Merchants know that the ruins of ancient empires are filled with gold, silver, platinum, and jewels. They know that these same ruins are also filled with monsters. So, how do these merchants get their share of the treasure without putting their lives on the line? They sell things that you need at exorbitant prices!
This is exactly how the standard adventurer's kit was born. It is a package of gear that is common to most adventurers, sold together for convenience. You get a backpack, a bedroll, flint & steel, a belt pouch, fifty feet of hemp rope, two sunrods, ten days worth of "trail" rations, and a waterskin capable of holding half a gallon of water. But, just going out and buying the standard kit doesn't mean you're ready, and the standard kit may not contain exactly what you need. I would suggest staying away from the pre-packaged kits and putting together your own.
But, what do you need to pack? I've included a checklist of things I bring along with me on an expedition. Please note that the gear for a short day-hike expedition is much different than a three-day or seven-day expedition. Your own checklist will also vary depending on the obstacles you anticipate having to overcome.
Emergency Survival Kit: The Emergency Survival Kit is a small collection of useful items which can be kept inside of an adventurer's belt pouch. It should include some sort of compact, high-energy food as well as a bit of cord/fishing line and fishing hooks. Heavy duty needle and thread, a backup flint and steel, a small knife or cutting implement, a few small candles, and a flask or empty waterskin should round out your emergency gear.
Day-Hike Expedition: For a day-hike expedition (that is, an expedition that you anticipate will have you back in town before nightfall) you needn't pack everything you own. To do such would just weigh you down and wear you out.
- Emergency Survival Kit: NEVER LEAVE TOWN WITHOUT IT!
- A knife and hand-ax: apart from their combat applications, these two tools are amazingly versatile.
- Backpack: This one should be obvious. For transporting heavier gear you may need a "porter's pack". A porter's back is a wooden frame with a shelf and shoulder straps/waist band. Rather than putting gear inside of a pack, the gear (mostly bulky and heavy items, such as chests) is strapped to the frame and shelf via rope or cord. It is heavy, but helps relieve the stress of carrying heavy items on the back by distributing the weight more evenly, and allowing a bit of space between the back and the frame for ventilation.
- Rope, Hemp: 50 ft of rope. Rope is infinitely useful in a variety of situations. If you haven't used your rope today, then you haven't used your brain either.
- Waterskin: You'll get thirsty. Trust me.
- Food: You should pack at least two days' worth of food. This doesn't have to be trail rations. Since you're not travelling that far from civilization, you really don't have to worry about spoilage. Just make sure your perishable meat is cooked and stored in a cool, dry, place and that anything else you bring along isn't sitting in direct sunlight. You might even consider wrapping it up in a nice little basket, making a picnic of it with your friends. If you do so, expect to be ridiculed.
- A Light Source: whether you prefer torches, sunrods, or lanterns, make sure you have a light source other than the Wizard. It is a foolish adventurer indeed who trusts magic over preparation. Be mindful of the duration of your light sources. While a torch is cheap, it only lasts about an hour in good weather conditions. A sunrod is a more expensive but longer-lasting alternative, and lantern oil has many uses beyond just providing light. Expect to need four to six hours of light for a day-hike expedition.
- Flint and Steel: Although you have one in your Emergency Survival Kit, you should always carry a backup just in case you lose one. Remember, the flint and steel makes a spark as the sharpened flint shaves a small bit of the steel away. You MUST send that spark into a bit of dry tinder (or a shred of "charcloth" which is then used to ignite the tinder) to get a fire. Always have your tinder, fuel, and kindling prepared before sparking the flame.
- A Walking Stick/Staff: A quarterstaff is balanced for combat, and a staff "implement" is designed for ritual/magic use. Both make good, and expensive, walking sticks if you so desire. An alternative, though, is to simply use your hand-ax to chop off a large branch or find a bit of dead wood along the way to use as a walking stick. Such an item should allow you an easier time during your expedition (a +1 or +2 bonus to Endurance checks with regard to movement would be appropriate).
Three-Day Expedition: In addition to all of the gear listed for a day-hike expedition, you should include the following for a three to six day expedition wherein you'll be far (more than six hours journey) from the nearest civilized area.
- Food + Water: This time you're going to need food. Lots of it. But that doesn't mean you have to use up all of your pack-space for it (see Pack Mule below). You're going to need at least a three to six day supply of food. Trail rations are ideal for this, as they are compact and light, but subsisting on them is going to take a lot of the fun out of adventuring. Whenever you can do so, forage for nuts and berries or bring down an animal to cook. If you're alone, a rabbit or squirrel will do. If you're with a group, a deer or goose would be ideal. Just make sure you have enough food for your trip PLUS an extra supply for one to two days (you never know). I've included water here as well. Water is very important, even more so than food. If you're familiar with the area through which you're travelling, then you should know whether water sources will be available along the expedition. However, if you're not familiar with the land you should bring EXTRA water with you. At least a second waterskin per member of your party. Always refill your waterskins when you have the chance!
- Light Sources: Though a light source is listed in the three-day pack, you're going to need to carry more than the recommended 4-6 hours of light. Torches can be heavy when carried in bulk, though they are quite easy to make. You can cut down on your weight by carrying with you a roll of twisted flax and a jar of wax or tallow. Once you've made camp, take your trusty hand-ax and cut some branches (pine is good for this). Aim for each torch to be about one foot long and one to one and a half inches in diameter. Then, just soak the flax in the wax or tallow and then cap the end of each branch. Voila! Torches. Alternatively, carrying a variety of sunrods, torches, and lanterns (as well as candles) could work as well. Think about distributing light sources among your party to help cut down on the weight. If a one-day expedition requires 4-6 hours of light, a three to six day expedition will require between 12 and 36 hours worth of light.
- Firewood: You're going to need a campfire. Whether it's to boil water, cook some wild game, or just ward off the cold, a camp fire is one of the necessities of a multi-day expedition. However, though burning dead wood you might find lying around, or chopping your own wood at the camp site will provide you with a fire, the best firewood has been dried and cured for at least a year. Cured firewood will provide a hotter, cleaner fire than fresh cut wood. It produces less smoke, which, in turn, makes you less noticeable from a distance. But it can be heavy. Again, consider distributing the firewood, if you decide to bring it along, among the party (alternatively, you can just load up the dwarf, if you're lucky enough to have one in your party).
- An extra change of Clothing + Blanket: It is a foolish adventurer indeed who takes a journey far from town without an extra change (or two) of clothing. During the course of an expedition you will get dirty. You will get wet. Your clothes will get ripped. You're going to need to change your clothes. For one thing, sitting around in wet clothes is the quickest route to hypothermia. Sitting around naked because your clothes are wet and you didn't bring a spare set is the second quickest route to hypothermia. If your journey is going to take you far under (or above, i.e. mountains) ground, then you're going to experience temperature changes outside of the normal range. For this reason, it is important to bring along at least some warmer wear (jackets, cloaks, fur, etc) in addition to a blanket, though a full set or two of clothing would be ideal. Plus, when you return to town triumphantly, you don't want to be dressed in rags.
- A Pack Mule: While not a necessity, a pack mule is one of the most useful creatures you can bring with you on an expedition. Let the mule carry most of the gear, and your feet will be thanking you later. Plus, if one of your companions should become injured, the mule will save your (and your companions') backs by carrying him/her.
- Tents: A tent sleeps two. That means, with a party of five, you only need two of them. Four people in two tents, plus the fifth party member on watch duty.
- Soap: After a few days, the smell of an adventuring party will be extremely noticeable. Soap can be used to wash clothes (you DID bring extra clothes, didn't you?), dishes, and people. Be sure to bathe or wash downstream of where you're getting your drinking water. Soap tastes bad. Try to purchase soap that hasn't had fragrances added; you want to eliminate smells, not mask them with other smells. Consider also bringing a bucket. A bucket of soapy water can lubricate a dungeon floor and turn combat into comedy as your opponents slip and slide, struggling to stand.
Seven-Day Expedition: Anything longer than a six-day expedition will require a greater deal of customization, depending on where you're going and how you plan to get there (sea voyages are much different than land voyages, for example).
Other Useful Tools
- Shovels, Sledges, and Picks: Digging without a shovel or spade is frustrating work. A shield can be used in a pinch, but your back and shoulders will hate you for forgetting your shovel. Sledges are great for smashing objects from medium sized stones to wooden doors and chests. Picks can be used to try to dig your way out of a rockslide or cave-in.
- Block and Tackle: While a block and tackle system is useful for bringing heavy golden statues out of pits in the ground, it can also be used for a myriad of other situations. If you have horses or other beasts of burden, you can use their strength, coupled with a block and tackle, to pull doors off of hinges, lift boulders, or haul gear up the side of a cliff.
- Boats: If your path follows a stream or river, there's no strength saver like a couple of rowboats. You store your gear, take a seat, and let the current carry you where it may. While it isn't void of work, it is a lot less strenuous than walking. Just make sure you have someone in the lead boat watching for rough spots, or you'll lose not only your boats, but your gear as well. Additionally, if you're adventuring near a sea, ocean, or particularly large lake, a sailing vessel can become indispensible. Unless you have the funding to hire a crew, you're going to want to stick to sailing boats rather than ships. These can have crew requirements as few as three and up to eight (or more, if oars are employed in addition to sails).
- Wagons/Carts: Wagons and carts are a great idea if you're following a road or trail. For exploring the wilderness, however, I wouldn't bring them along.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this article, and have gained something from it. While few of these items change the rules in any significant way, they can be used from a roleplaying perspective to add depth and player choice to your games. DMs should reward their players for planning ahead by allowing their choices to make a difference (small though it may be) in the adventure. Don't just arbitrarily take their "stuff" away from them because you want them to accomplish their goals in some other way; instead, encourage in-game thinking and roleplaying by letting those who planned ahead shine a little bit.
Thursday, June 28, 2012, 7:22 AM
"Well, I'm back." And thus ends the tale of The Lord of the Rings. The sentiment also rings true with your truest friend and humble narrator. After a couple of weeks worth of traveling across this great nation of ours I have finally returned with a new sense of self and an unquenchable thirst for real-life adventure. Since I have a job, much of that thirst will have to be ignored; but I still have D&D damn-it!
I've been thinking a lot about my little blogspace here, and how best to continue with it. So far, most of what I've done has been adventure summaries and short little posts about any number of unrelated topics. That's been fun and all, but I want to go in a different direction. I haven't entirely decided what that direction shall be, but I have a feeling that the adventure summaries are going to stop. They're just too... meh. It takes a lot of time (something in short supply) to type up with far too little payoff.
The Short Blog Post series has become tiresome as well. Not necessarily the subject matter, just the idea of organization. I want to phase that out, though I definitely want to continue blogging. My main focus, however, will shift from criticism to creativity. I want to help Players and DMs in their efforts to build a better game. I'm going to focus on 4e, for the time being, but plan on making the switch to D&D Next as soon as product begins hitting the shelves (I may even do a couple of articles on 1st edition AD&D once I get the re-released manuals).
Anyway, look for a post about once a week (more often if I can find the time). I have a pretty good idea for my first post in a series entitled Arken's Guide to Adventure, wherein I'll discuss some of the less prominent aspects of adventuring. I hope you find some use (or at least a little joy) in what I'm planning, and I want to say thanks in advance for your readership.
Keep rolling twenties,
Friday, June 15, 2012, 7:42 AM
Saturday, June 9, 2012, 8:55 PM
I was recently reading through some of the comments regarding the "look and feel" of the D&D Next Cleric. It strikes me as odd that there are such narrow views within such a massive game as Dungeons & Dragons. For instance, some people swear up and down that a "real" cleric wears heavy armor, swings a mace, and calls down holy fire upon his foes. Okay. But what if that's not the character I want to play?
A character class is just a skeleton. It provides the necessary structure for the character to function. Without the skeleton, the body (in this case the character) just flails about in a limp puddle of meaty goo. That's not fun. But the character is more than just the skeleton. The ability scores, themes, backgrounds, feats, skills, and, yes, even gear selection cannot be left out of the equation, nor can any one facet of a character be viewed as the defining feature of said character. It's the sum of the parts, rather than the parts themselves, that are important.
And that, Gentle Reader, is the crux of finding the fun in D&D. You have to WANT to play it, and you have to enjoy running your character; you have to make it YOURS. If your cleric wears robes, carries a staff, and prays five times a day that's just fine. There's nothing wrong with that concept. If your fighter only uses his fists but isn't a monk, that's fine too. If your monk is more like Friar Tuck than Kwai Chang Caine then that, also, is fine. Great. Wonderful.
The point is that you're creating a character that you enjoy playing. That is your contribution to the shared story of your D&D Campaign. You don't have to play your character the way that Johnny-Across-the-Table wants you to; you can do it your way, and that's just the way it should be.
Make your choices and enjoy them. But don't worry about whether your concept fits with someone else's idea of what you should be doing with your character.
Saturday, June 9, 2012, 6:39 AM
Cast of CharactersErika - Rona Gemheart, Female Dwarf Cleric of MoradinMelissa - Jarla Gemheart, Female Dwarf FighterKatie - Bree Klepto, Female Halfling RogueAndrea - Nelenna Sunsworn, Female Human Cleric of PelorMontana - Sariel the Green, Female Elf Wizard
I had an interesting opportunity on Saturday (June 2nd). My girlfriend, better known to readers of my blog as Liz but who is in actuality named Erika, invited me to her cousin Melissa's house in the middle of the night to DM a session of Caves of Chaos for her, Melissa, and "the room-mates".Introduction
Melissa and her room-mates (Katie, Andrea, and Montana) had been regaled with the exploits of the Group A playtest party and wanted to get in on the action. This was very agreeable in my sight, so I hurried over with my printed out materials from the Group B session and we played for a while.
Melissa, Katie, Andrea, and Montana are all n00bs, to use the common vernacular, and there was a bit of a learning curve. However, once they got their minds wrapped around the concept that you can do anything, go anywhere, and be anyone the pieces snapped right into place and the girls really took off.
This was all very foreign to me. Though I've RPed with plenty of players of the female variety, this was the first time I've ever DMed an all-lady group. I was... scared. That little overweight middle-school boy that I used to be came bursting forth and I suddenly forgot that talking to women was exactly the same as talking to anyone else.
If Erika hadn't been there, I would have been toast. Luckily, she's my rock - the wind beneath my wings, as it were, and she made me realize what a turd I was being. Once I got over my initial shock, everything went smoothly. In fact, I think this group of newbies was more creative than many of the veteran players I've had the honor of DMing.
Erika wanted to continue with her character Akire, but I didn't allow it, judging that it would be quite unfair to the other players of Group A for her to get extra XP during their absence. So, Erika decided to play the Fighter. Melissa became the Dwarf Cleric (and decided to be Erika's in-game cousin as well as her out-of-game cousin), Katie took up the role of Rogue, Andrea was the Human Cleric, and Montana was the Wizard. This was the final lineup, though during the discussion the PC character sheets were traded around several times.
Again, I decided that the caves would change according to what happened in each playtest. That meant that cave "A" was cleared out, caves "D"& "E" were likewise devoid of monsters (and the treasure left behind by Group B was safe and sound with the Hobgoblins of cave "F"), and now a third group of adventurers was about to enter the Caves of Chaos (for some reason, I keep wanting to type Chaves of Chaos... weird).The Crawl (Caves "B" & "C")
First thing's first: Erika, playing Rona Gemheart, led the heroes directly to cave "A", thinking that she knew what was there, and prepared the rest of the group for battle with a bunch of Kobolds. The look on her face was priceless once she realized that the residents of cave "A" didn't respawn.ME: "It looks like a battle was fought here. There are bloodstains, weapon marks, and a big pile of charred remains just outside the cave where it appears a makeshift funeral pyre was constructed. The tunnels themselves are bereft of any item of apparent value."ERIKA (paraphrased): "You mean the OTHER group gets to take THIS group's XP and treasure?"ME: "And vice versa."ERIKA (paraphrased): "Wait, what about the second group? Group B?"ME: *evil grin*ERIKA (paraphrased): "You suck!"
So, once that was all cleared up, Rona and the gals decided to tackle cave "B". What a treat! The "Watcher" was a particularly fun encounter to set up, and the girls got a real kick out of their first combat session. Again, there was a bit of a learning curve: with the exception of Erika, who, unlike me, is very good at explaining things so that people can understand them, none of the girls had EVER played D&D or any other pen-and-paper RPG before. However, the fun was fast & furious, and the girls picked up on the ins and outs very quickly (teaching Erika to play 4th Edition didn't go so smoothly, despite her general awesomeness. There was just too much to remember per round.)
They took the crawl room by room and got very creative during combat. For most of the game we used Theater of the Mind, but for encounters where there were a lot of questions I busted out some of my homemade battle-grids from the Group B sessions. The girls really seemed to enjoy the roleplaying aspect of the game and often tried to talk to the Orcs of cave "B" to discover why they were so evil and angry.
I think I might have traumatized Andrea. When they came upon the Orc Common Room (Area 10), she came up with a plan to burn the Orcs out with improvised molitov cocktails made of lantern oil. I let them have a go at it, and it worked out pretty well. However, when I described the suffocated and burnt bodies of not only combatants, but non-combatant whelps as well, she became noticeably upset. She got over it quickly, though, as I had them attacked by the inhabitants of Area 12 shortly after they burned out Area 10.
After this, they finished exploring cave "B" and discovered the secret entrance to cave "C". The centipede was a lot of fun (Melissa, being particularly wary of insects, squirmed; as did I. I hate 'pedes...). Andrea got a chance to save the whelps (whom she later adopted and taught to be fine, upstanding, young Orcs). It is ironic, though, that she and her companions just outright slayed their parents right in front of them, but they had little choice, I guess, and I didn't point it out.
Rona and Bree were killed in the encounter with the Orc Leader and his Battle-Tested Orcs. Sariel managed to save the day with a well-placed Burning Hands spell that finished most of them off. Jarla fought bravely to avenge the death of her cousin, dealing the death blow to the Orc Leader, and Nelenna (as I said before) adopted those little Orc whelps and took them home to live with her in the Temple of Pelor in some distant town.Conclusion
This was a lot of fun, and quite different from what I'm used to. I've never considered myself to be prejudiced against any group, and, after tonight, I know that I'll never be in danger of thinking that D&D is a man's game. The girls had a lot of fun, and I think Erika might be considering trying on the DM hat with them. I hope she does. She'd make a great DM, and then, maybe, she'd have a little more respect for me during OUR games (doubtful)!
As far as playtesting goes, the mechanics were easy to understand and incorporate. These ladies had never seen a Player's Handbook in their lives, and still were able to be darn near experts within just a few minutes of gameplay.
I do have a few issues with the adventure provided. Most of the encounters end up just being a free-for-all where all of the monsters flood into the corridors of whatever cave they're in and slug it out with the PCs. That, however, might be my problem as DM rather than the adventure's so I'll just leave it alone for now. Also, the inclusion of non-combatants, while more realistic, can lead to problems that some DMs and Players may not want to deal with. I suppose it's simple enough to remove them, though (which I might do in later sessions).
Overall, I give it two thumbs way up. Don't tell the other groups, but this session has been my favorite so far. Not because of all the college co-eds (Erika's the only gal for me) but because I think I may have helped create a group of life-long D&D players. I truly hope that Erika tries her hand at DMing Melissa and the girls. Otherwise, I'm going to have to find time to run ANOTHER campaign, which I don't think I can do.
EDIT: For some reason the whole post didn't show up the first time. I've added the missing parts. Just another reason why it's better to type out a blog in a word processor, then cut and paste to the web editor. Had I not saved a copy on my laptop, you'd be left with only half a blog entry.
Friday, June 8, 2012, 5:00 PM
Cast of Characters
Paul - Eberk, Male Dwarf Cleric of Moradin
Trent - Jozan, Male Human Cleric of Pelor
Travis - Tordek, Male Dwarf Fighter
Angel - Lidda, Female Halfling Rogue
Sarah - Mialee, Female Elf Wizard
This is Group B's first run through the Caves of Chaos. I had originally planned on letting them start at a higher level, but the group objected, claiming that starting at level 1 was the only way to go. I conceded to the point.
The combat style for Group A was "Theater of the Mind", but for Group B (a group of seasoned Fourthers) I decided to use Battlegrid combat, to see how it worked out, and whether D&DN would be able to accomodate the Fourthers (and Thirders, to a lesser extent). This inevitably led to hours of painstaking battle-grid preparation, since the adventure is rather non-linear, on photocopied sheets of 1" grid paper that came with my copy of the 3rd Edition DM's Screen (which I prefer to the shaded-in grid in the back of DMG 4e because the 3e DMS grid is completely blank). So far, the work has been increased ten-fold for what sort of payoff I am still unsure.
As everyone gathered around the table, I laid out my prepared materials:
1) a manilla folder full of battle-grids depicting all available battle-zones of the Caves of Chaos, numbered for reference, and colored in with crayons (yes... crayons).
2) a 3" binder, with a "For the DMs Eyes Only" insert on the front cover, containing the printed off adventure, the map/key for the overview map, the how-to-play document, the PC character sheets, the Bestiary, and the DM Document from the Playtest Packet, organized via tabbed dividers, which makes it a lot easier to navigate.
3) my 3rd Edition DM Screen covered in post-it notes featuring various rules I know I'm going to have to reference.
4) a box full of miniatures that are separated and labelled by race and/or type into zip-top bags.
5) a separate set of miniatures (painted pewter minis from the launch of 3e. I painted 'em myself!) to represent the "iconic" characters that the Players are using.
6) a yellow-faux-leather-drawstring bag from TSR filled with dice, and featuring my favorite (and most feared) d20 of all time: "The Blood of Innocents", a white d20 with red numbering that I got in a 2nd Edition Starter Box a couple of years before WotC acquired the D&D license. I know they're supposed to be random number generators, but TBoI has always served me well; uncannily so, one who has witnessed it in action might believe.
7) a lovely beverage. A tankard of ale (Smithwick's) to be exact.
With everything set up, everyone sipping lovely, cool, crisp, Smithwick's Ale, and time wasting away, we decided to begin. On a side-note, I'm actually treating the Caves as a "living" area. Group A's actions affect Group B's actions and vice versa. They're competing for treasure, and might even end up meeting each other, teaming up, or facing off. That said, Cave A has been cleared and Group A has headed back to Lapis Grove (the fictional town that isn't an official part of Keep on the Borderlands. Don't judge me!) to rest, resupply, and cash in their loot.
The Crawl (Caves D, E, & [almost] F)
Once the heroes arrive on the scene, Tordek uses his training in survival to find some tracks. Mingled in the area are tracks of Goblins, Kobolds, Ogres, and many others besides. The PCs discuss their options and decide to draw their weapons and follow the Goblin tracks. This leads them directly to the cave labelled "D", which they enter bravely (or stupidly) with a marching order of Lidda - Tordek - Eberk - Jozan - Mialee (each with a square between them).
TANGENTIAL INFORMATION: I decide to track time using 6 minute turns. This is something new that I've tried in my 4e games that works fairly well. A 6 minute turn for tracking time in-game is ideal for me because it is the amount of time taken during a 10-round combat + a short rest AND it scales evenly with an hour (10 turns = 1 hour). A character with speed 25 can move about 250 ft per minute at a cautious walk (he can "hustle" twice that distance). That means in a 6 minute turn that character can cover 1500 ft at a cautious walk, or half that distance (750 ft) if he's actively searching (tapping walls, testing floors, etc) the area as he's going. I have any PCs that are specifically remaining alert (i.e. they must tell me) to roll for Perception once per turn.
Lidda the Halfling lights one of her torches, and Mialee does likewise. I advise the Elf that she cannot fight with her quarterstaff while holding a torch, though she can keep it drawn if she uses it like a walking staff. I check for the wandering goblins several times before they get to area 18. Just as they prepare to enter that area, I roll a 97 on d% and have the 6 wandering goblins shout "Bree-Yark!" from behind the adventurers. This puts Mialee right at the front line. Additionally, the 3 Goblins from Area 17 arrive on round 1 to bolster the 6 Goblin patrol.
With the addition of the battle-grid,combat was slow compared to Theater of the Mind, but not so slow that it took an hour for a single encounter. The only downside, really, was the tactical complexity of an encounter wherein multiple groups of combatants enter the initiative track at different times, which made me have to backtrack once or twice to make sure they were in the correct positions. If my battle-grids had been larger than 8 1/2" x 11" it wouldn't have mattered much, and, in fact, I had made so many battle grids that tacking several of them together ended up being the order of the day. Problem solved.
After defeating the Goblins (AND the Ogre from cave "E"), the heroes were pretty wiped. Healing potions and magic were used up, and the expenditure of hit dice was required for a couple of the characters.
The PCs tried to explore Area 23 (a part of cave "F") but were handily defeated by the Hobgoblins there. Once Tordek and Eberk were below 0 HP, the rest of the PCs decided to beat a hasty retreat with their unconscious companions in tow. Unfortunately, that meant that most of the loot they had earned from the Goblins and Ogre had to be left behind (except for a few choice items they stored in their packs/pouches), presumably to the benefit of the Hobgoblins.
The session ended with said defeat. The PCs headed back to town with a mere fraction of what they had earned to lick their wounds. I think it's going to be interesting if Group A explores Caves D, E, and/or F before Group B is able to avenge itself upon the Hobgoblins.
All in all, it was a fun game, and the basic system is holding up extremely well. Advantage/Disadvantage is awkward at times, and I'm still having a little trouble wrapping my brain around skill training, but overall I like what I'm seeing.
The biggest difference between Group A and Group B, of course, was the addition of the Battle-Grid. The BG has the potential to make combat much more deadly, or much less challenging since it puts the positions and terrain right there for everyone to see (and take advantage of). This is not inherently a good or bad thing.
Again, until D&DNext Time...
Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 6:50 AM
Cast of Characters
Shaun - Lanstaf the Realmstrider, Male Human Wizard
Ed - Adrik Flamebeard, Male Dwarf Fighter
Pete - Erdan Woodsinger, Male Elf Ranger
Liz - Finduiloth of Winterhaven, Female Half-Elf Cleric of Avandra
David - Ulmo Brownbottle, Male Halfling Rogue
In our last session summary, I posted what essentially turned out to be a schedule for what the characters did and when they did it, without really going into much detail. As a result, I've become much more attentive to the amount of time that the PCs are spending in the Dungeon or out of it and have scoured the libraries of the internet for information on better ways of tracking IGT1.
What I've found is basically series of "segments", "rounds", and "turns". These terms are all familiar to me from AD&D but, considering I was only twelve when learning to play that game, I could stand a refresher. Anyway, I've broken up non-combat into a "turn" of 6 minutes (10 per hour) in which the characters explore, but no combat occurs. Using this estimation makes things much easier for me. Short rests take up a turn. Exploring a corridor while searching for traps takes a turn. A torch burns for 10 turns.
And, so, with this new metric in mind, we pick up where our last session left off, with the PCs on the first dungeon level of the Keep on the Shadowfell, at about 1:30 in the afternoon, in the torture chamber with Splug the Questionable Goblin.
Rat and Ochre Jelly with a Baseball Bat
After interrogating Splug (and getting very little information apart from the first 4 areas) the heroes decided to let the goblin accompany them as long as he promised to behave (they're not the shrewdest of adventurers). This took up 3 turns. They headed over to Area 9: The Maze of Caves, and Splug was very reluctant to go in, not knowing exactly what was there but knowing that he had been warned time and again to stay away by Balgron. The heroes each lit a torch, and gave one to Splug as well (that's six torches used, expire in 10 turns) and ended turn 4.
I gave the heroes a full turn to explore Area 9 before the rats began to attack. This terrified the heroes at first, Liz being particularly creeped out by rats (though Pete's skin was crawling as I described the feel of their tiny claws pressing against his character's head and neck, as they curiously sniffed his ears just before attacking) but they managed to hero-up and defeat the rats (Splug even helped, using his torch to burn rats that had attached themselves to a hero). While this was going on, the Ochre Jelly tried to pick off the closest PC (Lanstaf) with it's Flowing Form ability and it's Slam attack.
Now, Shaun, Ed, and Pete are all seasoned D&D players from previous editions, though they know little about 4e. So, as soon as they saw it was an Ochre Jelly, they scoffed and attempted to set it on fire with their torches, thinking they had outwitted their old DM. However, the Ochre Jelly, apparently, doesn't work that way anymore and it began to whip their ****.
Healing surges were used sparingly, though Finduiloth used up her encounter healing which consumed a couple of surges. The Ochre Jelly, after having split in twain, was finally finished off by the 9th round of combat, and the heroes were still in decent shape. Most of their Daily's were still available, the PCs subsisting on their Encounter/At-Wills until they're closer to eligibility for a rest. I decided the rest of turn 6 would make up a Short Rest, and the heroes searched Area 9 thoroughly (another 2 turns) and discovered the secret chamber with Balgron's supplies. They loaded Splug down with these, who was glad to be in charge of the ale, and moved on to Area 11: The Water Cave.
Blue Slime Blues
Entering Area 11 began turn 9 (the 5th turn since lighting their torches) and nearly ended the party. They searched around the edge of the water for about a turn and then Ulmo, being brave and foolhardy, took a sunrod from Splug's pack and handed over his torch. He decided to swim over to the island and see what was there. That's when the Blue Slime attacked. The splashing of water put the torches out, leaving the party in utter darkness until Lanstaf was able to cast his light cantrip.
By that time, the Blue Slime had already began grappling with Ulmo, trying to drown him, while using its acid attacks to melt through his armor. The heroes tried to fight it with their Encounter/At-Wills but just couldn't do a whole lot. Once all of their Encounter powers were gone and the thing wasn't even Bloodied they realized that they'd have to either use their Dailies or retreat.
This was the last straw of the day. They used up their Dailies, and managed to kill the beast, but it left them drained. They were all Bloodied, out of surges, out of Dailies, and Erdan (Pete's character) had used up all of his arrows and lay unconscious on the cave floor. After stabilizing the elf, the heroes took their rest (the remainder of turn 10), and decided to head back to the surface to recover and reassess their strategies. It was now about 2:30.
Back to Base
As mentioned earlier, the PCs created a safe area in one of the abandoned Gate Houses of the Keep, bolstering its defenses with the Silence and Eye of Alarm Rituals. I allowed them to go ahead and level up to 3rd, and they decided to go ahead and take an Extended Rest at the earliest possible time, which would be 4 hours later, at 6:30 (ER from 6:30 pm to 2:30 am, minimum).
The rest of the session was spent dividing treasure, updating character sheets, and complaining that Ochre Jelly was no longer weak against fire attacks.
1: IGT stands for In-Game Time
Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 5:39 AM
So I haven't updated my blog in a while (it's been about a week). I've just been really rushed with real life AND the D&D Playtest. I've had several groups of people that I didn't even realize existed asking me to run it for them. I now better (at least a little) understand how Gary Gygax must have felt when D&D first started to take off. But I haven't forgotten you, Gentle Reader, and I haven't given up... yet.
Here's what I've got in the works and will post as soon as is possible:
May 27 Heroes of the Nentir Vale session summary (aka Keep on the Shadowfell)
May 30 Caves of Chaos Group B session summary (aka D&DN Playtest)
June 2 Sorority House (Group C???) session summary (another D&DN Playtest)
June 3 Heroes of the Nentir Vale session summary
June 4 Caves of Chaos Group A session summary
June 6 Caves of Chaos Group B session summary
and probably a couple of Short Blog Posts about stuff that interests/irks me.
On a related note, I've been reading a lot about Gary Gygax lately. The more I read what he's written and said, the more I think the much-abandoned D&D idioms of the past should be resurrected. Sometimes whole-heartedly, sometimes in a more limited form. Still, Gygax was an interesting man. People should really read more about him (and, honestly, I'm excited to try to find copies of the "Gord the Rogue" series of novels).
Also, there are a series of books called "Gary Gygax's Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds" which I haven't been able to (affordably) find. I'm very interested in seeing what these things have to offer (from reviews, it's mostly lists which makes me even MORE interested since I LOVE lists). If anyone has purchased and/or read any of these works I'd love to hear what you have to say about them either in the comments section or just send me a message. I would appreciate it very much.
Monday, May 28, 2012, 9:06 PM
Cast of Characters
Robert - Trebor, Male Dwarf Fighter
Brian - Nairb, Male Halfling Rogue
Dennis - Sennid, Male Human Cleric of Pelor
Erika - Akire, Female Elf Wizard
This is my first Playtest Session for D&D Next. I have two groups, this is Group A. Group B will be meeting on Wednesday. For Group A, a seasoned 3rd Edition group, we decided to go Theater of the Mind combat, and to focus on PC ingenuity over hard numbers. Characters were named using the old (OLD) convention of spelling their actual names backwards (it's interesting to note that Dennis, the player using the Human Cleric, spelled backwards is Sinned. This was changed to avoid irony.)
At first meeting, I made sure that all players had signed up for the Playtest, agreed to the relevant agreements, and filled out the initial survey. Once that was done, we looked over the character sheets, discussed the various abilities, and reverse engineered the stats (because that's how they roll). After a few out of game examples of combat, skill usage, and movement we decided to wade into the adventure "Caves of Chaos" included with the Playtest Packet.
There was actually very little in the way of preparation done. Because the characters had very little coin on them they didn't really have any purchasing power, though the players did seem to relish the resurrection of the expanded equipment list (the block and tackle, for some reason, particularly).
I narrated a little about the background of the Caves of Chaos, giving them the main hook: monsters have been harrassing the village of Lapis Grove (a nod to my hometown of Bluefield) and several people have been kidnapped. The adventurers learn about the kidnappings and also know that there is a ten pound reward of gold (500gp) for the return of King Randor's son, Prince Adam (what's up He-Man reference).
The PCs, thirsty for adventure, decide to head out and try their luck with the rescue. At this point, Erika (Wizard) wanted to see if her character Akire knew anything about the Caves of Chaos. I improvised some basic information about the past, foreshadowing the cult activity going on there. This seemed to intrigue the group, of which I made a quick note.
Finding the Caves
After a brief travel montage (I even broke out the travel music on my iPod: Theology/Civilization from Conan the Barbarian [Basil Poledouris]) the heroes reach the edge of the map, so to speak, and the adventure begins.
I showed the players a homemade copy of the map that was included in the adventure. I just drew it on 1/4" grid paper and removed the "interior" sections, showing only the contours, tree lines, and cave mouths. The players decided to start with Cave A (lucky for them) and headed up there, using the trees as cover as much as possible. Once they neared the cave mouth, I sprung the hidden Kobolds from the woods upon them.
We used the rules for Surprise, and heroes were definitely not happy (but the players enjoyed it). Trebor waded into the reptilian nuisance with reckless abandon, swinging his greataxe and shouting "Baruk Khazad!" even though I reminded him that this wasn't Middle-Earth. By the second round of combat, four Kobolds were dead, one was running toward the cave mouth to warn the others, and both Akire and Sennid had lost a few HP. Once the remaining Kobolds had been handily dispatched, the PCs headed for the cave mouth, not knowing what to expect.
The Kobolds hadn't had a whole lot of time to react to the news that they were under attack, but the guards in Area 1 were prepared and the pit trap was pretty obvious since the Kobold tattle-tale had left a plank in his haste. This is where things took a nasty turn.
Though they knew the trap was there, what they didn't realize was that I had the runaway Kobold heading straight for the Chieftain's lair to let him know the bad news. Then it was only a matter of time before these halls were crawling with little scaly minions.
The PCs avoided the trap, and were attacked by the guards from Area 1 as well as the rats from Area 2. Akire used her burning hands spell to deal with the rats while Nairb and Trebor ganged up on a couple of the guards. Meanwhile, Sennid was unsure of what to do. He didn't want to waste his spells in the first encounter, but his attack bonus was low. I threw a d20 at Dennis and told him to roll it or forever be shunned. He killed second Kobold of the day and smiled broadly.
By this time, the Kobolds from Areas 4 & 5 were on their way to the entrance, while our friendly little Paul Revere Kobold ("The Heroes are coming! The Heroes are coming!") headed back toward Area 6 to prepare the reserves and protect the whelps.
The Kobolds from Area 4 & 5, including the Chieftain, headed into the combat and the players, rather than feeling overwhelmed, gritted their teeth and relished the impossible odds. For every Kobold that fell, two more took its place. The heroes were waning. Sennid had run out of healing magic, and had only one potion, which he gave to Trebor. The poor dwarf, despite his ability to deal damage on a miss, was swamped by Kobolds poking and prying at him. Nairb was in his element - the darkness - often using his ability to hide behind larger creatures (namely, his allies) to take advantage of his sneak attack and lurker abilities, while Akire blasted her foes with magic missiles left and right.
The bodies were piling up, now. The Kobolds were down to nearly half their numbers when a group of ten came out of reserve from Area 6. The players were sweating. Let me repeat that. The PLAYERS were sweating. The PCs fell back, and regrouped. The Kobolds formed ranks. Suddenly, Dennis said something that made me smile. "Parley!"
The rest of the group looked at him with expressions of mottled disgust and confusion. I, on the other hand, had anticipated this. I decided long before we ever started playing that the Kobold Chieftain's major priority was to stay Chieftain. That means a) the survival of the tribe is paramount. After all, what is he the Chieftain of if his entire tribe is slaughtered? And b) he doesn't wish to appear weak in front of his tribe. Otherwise, they may consider someone else for the position of the Chieftain.
Dennis tried. He really did. But none of his arguments were good enough to make the Chieftain come out of this in a good light. The fight continued. The PCs rallied, the Kobolds waned, the Chieftain was slain. Area 6 was taken after the PCs managed to break down the door, which the Kobolds inside had barricaded. The PCs didn't have the heart to slay the whelps, even if they ARE Kobolds. They intimidated them into retreating and let the noncombatants as well as their remaining defenders escape.
The complex was cleared and we had only been playing for about an hour. The players wanted to take stock of their loot and head back to town to cash in and re-equip. They took their time, going over every single item, weapon, and scrap of material they could find. This took up the rest of the session (we're fairly detailed when it comes to this kind of stuff) and I was glad to hear them say, in one form or another, "I finally got my D&D back!"
We loved the rules as they were written, though there was some missing information, it wasn't enough to break the game.
The advantage/disadvantage system worked wonderfully, though I'd like to have some more detailed examples of when and how it would apply in various situations.
Surprise was cool. I liked that it didn't add a confusing surprise round but instead made fairly sure that surprised creatures would act last in combat.
Simplified actions worked wonders to speed up play. No longer did I have to consult the rulebook to see if something was a minor action or a move action or a standard action or a free action or an opportunity action, ad nauseum ad infinitum.
The abilities from the Themes and Backgrounds were useful and a lot of fun to see in action, and the Halfling racial abilities kicked ass as far as racial abilities go.
All in all, we had a lot more fun than we've had in years. I can't wait to tackle the character creation rules, and I plan on running the rest of the adventure for this group. I think with Group B, I may start them at a higher level and tweak some of the abilities as per the suggestions in the latest Legends & Lore column.
Until D&DNext time (<-- cheesy, I know)...
Monday, May 28, 2012, 10:35 AM
So, I've been looking through some of my old materials because it occurred to me that I don't really know how much "stuff" can fit in my character's backpack. Sure, the standard backpack holds "1 cubic foot of material" or 1,728 cubic inches. Okay. How does that help me unless you include the amount of space that each other item takes up?
For example, how much space do trail rations take? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. Are the rations scattered about my pack, or are they in their own container. What do the rations consist of? Are they nuts, jerky, and hardtack? Panforte? Apples and spinach? Who knows? Some things, such as standard vials, are given this treatment. A standard vial is 1 inch across (or, in diameter) and 3 inches deep. That's 3 cubic inches (pretty big, actually. Draw it out on 1/4" grid paper and it's 4 squares x 12 squares in two dimensions). That means I could have 576 vials in my backpack. If they're empty, that's 57.6 lbs. If they're full (1oz of liquid each) then that's 93.6 lbs.
Take the "Standard Adventurer's Kit" as an example. The kit includes a backpack, a bedroll, flint & steel, a belt pouch, 50ft of hemp rope, 2 sunrods, 10 days worth of trail rations and a waterskin. Okay, the backpack (obviously) doesn't take up any space in the pack. The rope, belt pouch, bedroll, and waterskin are all assumed (by me at least) to be "outside" of the pack (either attached to the pack, or to my character's belt). So, inside the backpack is the flint & steel, 2 sunrods, and 10 days worth of trail rations. So, what else can I put in there?
The sunrods appear to be about the same size and shape as a torch. That's roughly 1 inch in diameter and 12 inches long (or 12 cubic inches). The "flint & steel" is a little strange, though, because it's not just a piece of flint and a piece of steel. It (historically) would be a small "tinder box" made up of a piece of steel in the shape of something like the letter D, a bit of flint or other stone, and some kind of tinder (either a bit of shredded cotton/linen/burlap etc, or a "char-cloth" or anything else that catches fire easily). This would fit nicely in a box that is about 3"x4"x1" (or 12 cubic inches). What about the trail rations?
This one's tough because, despite all of the seemingly useless information floating around on the internet out there, I can't find a single example of what a D&D trail ration might look like. It's 1lb, so, maybe another 12 cubic inches per day? That seems to be the trend for 1lb items, so that's where I'll go for now.
2 sunrods = 24 cubic inches
1 flint & steel = 12 cubic inches
10 trail rations = 120 cubic inches
So, my adventuring kit items take up approximately 156 cubic inches of space in my backpack. That leaves 1,572 cubic inches of space in my pack for whatever else I can think of. Plus whatever fits in my belt pouch. Maybe I should invest in a coin purse as well? All of those coins have to go somewhere.
My point is simply this: if you're going to pique my interest by telling me how much a backpack can hold, then follow through and tell me how much space the other stuff takes up. Finding examples and making estimations gives me anxiety, yet not knowing the answers to my questions ALSO gives me anxiety. Maybe my head is just all messed up and I should leave well enough alone?