Thursday, September 27, 2012, 7:59 AM
(With apologies to The Herbaliser featuring Latyrx)
Over the years I have gone through phases of mixing with other gamers, going to conventions, dabbling in organised play, trying out different RPG clubs & games. My experiences may not be as extensive as others but are probably more than most (by virtue of age if nothing else). I have met many types of gamer, introduced more than my fair share of people to RPG (how many still play is another question), from all walks of life, gender (male, female, trans), lucky, unlucky, supra-genius, below average, very rich, very poor, clueless, clued-in, space cadets, ground control-freaks and everything in-between.
So I think I have acquired some wisdom about gamers and gaming. Somewhat arrogantly, I thought I would share this wisdom. If we all shared the values I’m about to list I’m sure we’d all have better gaming experiences. All of the points are linked to a greater or lesser extent, some may appear to duplicate but I think that they also stand-up for themselves. I’ve added a few extra comments to clarify what is uppermost in my mind for some of the points. There are other values that can be derived from each point too but rather than point them out I’ve left them as fairly plain principals. In no particular order:
Point 1: Be optimal, don’t optimise
Point 2: Play to the spirit of the game
Point 3: Be friendly
Point 4: Explore and be rewarded
Point 5: Participate – be an active & interested player.
Point 6: Commit – don’t be flaky: turn-up, bring your character sheet & dice!
Point 7: Invest – time and, where needed/possible, money. Learn the basic rules.
Point 8: Be creative – use your imagination, role-play, contribute to your gaming experience.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 8:18 AM
It was pointed out to me recently that my blog isn’t very positive with its views towards 4e. This is a shame as I do like 4e. But, just like every other RPG system past, present and, no doubt, future (I’m looking at you here D&D Next) it has its pros and cons. No system is perfect.
Before 4e came out I was playing v3.5 and before that v3 and before that OD&D. I didn’t really play much 2e for various reasons, not least being our group had become so frustrated and tired of the idiosyncrasies of 1e AD&D we switched to hybrid of Rolemaster (mechanics) and AD&D (magic). This worked brilliantly, but was horrifyingly complicated and tended to breakdown skill-wise at high level.
When 3e came out it reinvigorated our gaming group and we played with renewed enthusiasm. After a while problems began to emerge with overpowered feats & spells, buffing etc. Then v3.5 came out and fixed various problems but still left some residual problems of power creep and the buff-dispel variations (end fight in Red Hand of Doom was the final proof of that I think). All-in-all the game, unless ruthlessly controlled by the DM, was prone to breaking down at high level (12th+). These problems inevitably lead to discussions on how these problems could be fixed, disillusionment, house rules that variously helped and hindered.
Then 4e came out and the mechanics of the game changed. There were a number of innovations that were excellent and I wouldn’t want any future versions of the game to leave them out, such as balanced character classes meaning they are all (not just wizards and clerics) are worth playing at high level, skill challenges (had some fun with them), encounter design for DMs (so easy), monster amendments & design (so easy) and action points all stand out as worthy additions to the game.
Other aspects whilst OK gave rise to odd game effects: healing surges, so why bother with random encounters while travelling (why bother with travelling between adventure locales would seem to be the 4e response)? I quite like the idea of healing surges so you can keep things going but it does mean you have to pack a lot into an adventuring day to challenge/threaten PCs. Rituals: good idea but some more flexibility in casting times would have been a good idea to make relevant rituals more castable in an encounter or during an adventure (a simple knock spell for example takes 10 minutes to cast, who is going to stand in front of a dungeon door for 10 minutes chanting?).
There are some elements of the game that were removed in 4e that I sorely miss: save or die effects, energy drain & negative levels for example. Not too much but some things itch.
On the whole 4e is a good game but clearly too much changed for many people from v3.5 (see Pathfinder’s success). It looks like D&D Next might bring some of these things back (as optional rules) and I hope they do as no doubt I will transition to the new game when it comes out. But I have a feeling that this is too little too late for D&D and Next will just further dilute and fracture the FRP gaming base. Pathfinder will continue the v3 legacy, some won’t transition from 4e, some will move onto Next and there are still all those guys out there playing OD&D (go guys, enjoy those weapon speeds, resurrection survival checks and level-limited demi-humans). In some parts of the world, outside big cities, its already hard enough to find players and further versions of D&D won’t help this situation.
Friday, August 3, 2012, 8:48 AM
So I play with another group as well my old school internet group I have a “live” game going on locally to me with some random people that I’ve met over recent years. Whilst this local group is the usual collection of role-playing misfits – including computer games designers, someone’s girlfriend, a Czech girl (yes, two girls!), some other guy and me, there have been others too who have come and gone – but the interesting thing for me about this group is the age profile: all the players (past and present) are at least 10 years younger than me! In fact, one guy was so young that I still own dice that are older than him (he was in his early twenties and I got my D&D red box in 1984, I still have some of the dice)!
What I have found interesting is the difference in gaming that this age gap has produced. I’m probably over-analysing the situation but I have noticed a difference in styles and expectations. I have observed a certain expectation for information, clues, etc to be served up on a plate. I have also noticed a certain prevalence for optimisation, or crunch over fluff at least. Most strangely of all I’ve noticed a certain lack of adventuring spirit: I’ve never seen D&D players actively avoid so many adventuring hooks.
Maybe it’s just this group but it seems to be trait that is endemic to a number of random people from different parts of the country but all of a similar age. Another similarity, however (I am getting to point here), is computer games. OK, it’s not a robust theory as not all members of the group are computer gamers but most are and most have come to tabletop RPG from computer games. As an old (school) gamer, I got into RPG through books and to a lesser extent films. This was the same for all my contemporise as there were no decent computer games! This, I sense, is where the generational differences lie.
This is my theory – I’m sure others have written along similar lines – how you get into RPG affects how you play, your expectations from the game. Some of my expectations were formulated through the advice provided through 1e DMG and other products. Here it was made clear that whilst D&D was a roleplaying game it was a balance between roleplaying and gaming. Sometimes players would have to think and solve problems for themselves and sometimes in character. Today players seem reluctant to think things through for themselves. Perhaps they are unwilling to put forward creative ideas for problem solving as this is not their expectation for the game, informed as they are by scripted computer games?
Another aspect of my expectations come from literature and story-telling in that sometimes you have to follow the story to get the rewards and other times your interaction with the plot lines can re-direct the story taking everyone down a new path. I have recently experienced players ignoring story lines or missing hooks. Why? Because there were gaps in the story that either needed investigating or filling by the players’ actions. Their expectation was that the plot would be presented, information provided and success guaranteed.
Maybe I’m just with the wrong group of gamers (I live in a small town however) but I find this gap in expectations frustrating as I can’t seem to engage my new group as well as my old group. Why should this be so? My theory is that our gaming expectations are different because we have come to RPG from different experiences. I wonder how these differences can be resolved..?
Friday, June 8, 2012, 4:01 AM
It was bound to happen. I tempted fate and was justly punished for my arrogance. There I was in my last blog blithely rambling on about how hard it was to kill a 4e character and that players have lost the fear of death. And so it came to pass that my character was killed. My elven avenger: she whose character concept had remained dormant but filed away in my brain for years.
And I do mean years.
The concept of an axe-wielding religious fanatic female elf was one I had imagined playing since my days of playing RuneQuest (3rd edition) in the dim and distant past – a short infatuation, the gradual realisation that the mechanics for character development were painfully slow and that too many bizarre fights with characters unable to move as their left leg had run out of hit points (joy of hit location tables) saw pay to that game.
Nevertheless, RuneQuest did give me a healthy respect for religious fanaticism (this seemed to be the best way to progress in RuneQuest) and the Gloranthan campaign world came with the most sophisticated pantheons and religions. Amongst the many gods of Glorantha was the elven goddess, Bebeester Gor, whose domains covered revenge and (oddly) drunkenness. Her initiates and priests were axe-wielding agents of destruction and I’d waited years for the right opportunity to roll out this backstory replete with two-weapon swinging female religious fervour.
Only recently my on-line group started a new 4e campaign set in the High Forest of the Forgotten Realms. Even better the characters were to begin as residents of a small elven village. What better time to dust off my Bebeestor Gor background? What’s more the 4e avenger was the perfect class to reflect Bebeestor Gor’s domains. OK, I’d have to crowbar Bebeestor Gor into Forgotten Realms mythology – not a problem, I made her one of Angharradh’s children (she and Correllan had many) and thus whilst Dara would extol the religious fervour of Bebeestor Gor she would draw her divine power from Angharradh. The only down side would be that I would have to ditch my two-weapon wielding idea as avenger’s don’t lend themselves to using smaller weapons – I did consider changing her to a religious ranger but then when else would I play and avenger?
So Dara the avenger of Bebeestor Gor took form in my mind and commenced her adventuring career. Things went well for a few sessions; she wrought much vengeance against a tribe of bullywugs that were bringing great offence to the elven community and Angharradh. In the final encounter the elves mounted a raid on the bullywug base. It was a difficult battle and though many bullywugs were slain, Dara fell victim to a mud lord and three woeful death saving throws later she lay dead in the mud.
So my character was dead in 4e. I thought it might be impossible. OK, the party is 1st level but we had a leader, I’d used my second wind, so how had this happened? I was slightly shocked, slightly disappointed (after all I’d spend some effort on my character background and I could see no prospect of a raise dead at this level), yet slightly happy that death was still a feature of the game and perhaps I should still be fearful when my character wades into combat?
Nevertheless, despite dying, I never thought that my character would die. I knew the 4e rules were on my side. It would have only taken a successful death saving throw, a successful heal check by my fellows, the force feeding of a healing potion – all these things were well within the bounds of probability. But sometimes probability kicks you in the ass. So I have to feel extremely unlucky to have died. Not like in previous editions when you just had to be a little bit unlucky to perhaps fail that save against an instant death effect.
The threat of death in 4e is far diminished in comparison with other editions and I think this is a shame as it takes some of the edge out of the game. But thereagain, you don’t loose a well developed character within weeks of starting a campaign.
Monday, May 14, 2012, 8:42 AM
So, I like 4e. It has its good points and its bad points compared to previous editions but on the whole its still D&D to me. One of its bad points to me is the lack of threat. It seems ridiculously hard to put down a 4e character or worse still give the player a feeling that their character’s life could be forfeit at any moment. Previous editions were not like this. There were too many save or die spells, massive damage traps and too few clerics on many occasions. To me, as player and DM, this was a good thing as it often brought an air of tension to the game at key moments, like when a wizard appears or an ominous click is heard followed by a deep rumbling… In 4e space I think players often roll their eyes at these moments now and wonder how many healing surges their going to lose before the next combat rather than, “Am I going to die..?”
I think this is particularly a shame as now having a single encounter during an adventuring day is pointless. You can’t just throw in a hard encounter while travelling or just to keep the PCs on their toes. If the encounter is level appropriate then the PCs don’t even break a sweat, probably throwing in a few dailies to mash the opposition. If the encounter is to be a true test then it won’t be level appropriate which may give you the TPK threat you were looking for but will probably promote complaints and bitterness from your players.
How to make the 4e war of attrition interesting and dangerous? The solution seems to be to push the PCs to their limits of endurance using numerous encounters during the day. A mechanic is needed to prevent the PCs from taking an extended rest so that they are constantly wondering if they have enough healing surges left, when should they spend a daily power, can they actually take a 5-minute short rest before something else happens? This erosion of resources eventually means that come the final encounter the PCs are down to their last few healing surges (if any) and actually fear for their character lives knowing they face a powerful foe who could kill them fair and square.
In the next adventure I ran for Tarlock (the revenant paladin of Heironeous – it’s a long story, see previous blogs for a summary), presented itself as an ideal test of this war of attrition concept: I converted the Pathfinder module, “The Demon Within”. This adventure made lots of sense. It was correctly themed for a paladin, demon-slayer prestige: it is based around a castle full of paladins that is invaded by demons. It had a mechanic built-in to drive the PCs forward: they had to find and re-seal a gate to the Abyss within a specified time-frame (less than a day) or else a whole army of demons would invade Oerth.
The adventure is 3e based (Pathfinder) and not in Oerth but this proved to be of little consequence as a little window dressing, changing place names etc. soon moved the adventure to Castle Hart on in eastern Furyondy, Oerth where the Veng River separates the noble kingdom from what was the Horned Society and is now the Empire of Iuz.
The adventure itself converted relatively easily as it used demons such as babu, succubi, mezzodemons etc. which all pitch in around the 11th – 15th level area in 4e (the PCs are 11th level at this point). I did have to convert a couple of creatures into 4e speak, such as a unique demon the adventure used which looked interesting and a demon too iconic to miss out but had no 4e stats (yagnodaemon anyone..?).
The adventure is pretty linear, the PCs are shown a secret way in by some allies which is predictably as far away from the end encounter point as physically possible meaning they have to traverse the entire castle and run the gauntlet of about 15 level-appropriate encounters! Some of the encounters were avoidable and Tarlock & his friends did indeed manage to avoid about 5 encounters either by stealth (from a paladin!?) or by simply resisting the hook, which again was an interesting role-play situation for a paladin as several hooks involved innocent people being attacked by demons. Nevertheless, Tarlock managed to rationalise these incidents as being for the greater good…
As expected resource management being a crucial factor in deciding to help innocents or take on demons or not as the adventure progressed. This proved particularly true for the party’s cocky rouge, Lindal, who lost over half of his healing surges in the first encounter having been almost killed by a yagnodaemon (acid breath and reach 3 is a bitch when you think you’ve shifted safely out of the way). So paranoid was Lindal (and rightly so) after this that he resorted to ranged attacks throughout the rest of the adventure until the final encounter.
Towards the end of the adventure the PCs were rightly worried about their health but had no choice but to carry on. In the end I felt I had exhausted them of magic and health. It was fun but it wasn’t the sort of adventure you could run all the time (though the next adventure had a similar mechanic but a very different feel). So you can threaten 4e characters and make them fear for their lives, it just takes a long time to erode their abilities.
Friday, April 20, 2012, 4:11 AM
The first adventure I chose for Tarlock’s return was a 3e Dungeon adventure called, “The Throne of Iuz” (Dungeon #118). I chose this for no particular reason other than it looked pretty simple, it was based in Greyhawk (Vesve Forest) and I loved the BBEG – a titanic toad awakened by Iuz. I also loved the setting, an ancient elven burial mound in the shape of a serpent coiled around a hill, made even more brilliant by being based on a real place (ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/sw16/index...).
The synopsis of the adventure is that PCs must enter an armed encampment atop of the Serpent Mound. The encampment has been set-up by followers of the titanic toad – who goes by the fabulous name of King Bog – and are now not only desecrating an ancient elven burial site but raiding surrounding settlements and trade routes. These follower are no mere minions though, they are a powerful tribe of orcs who believe King Bog is divine. The orcs number over 100, well-armed and well resourced – armoured, griffin patrols, organised.
The first change I made was one of flavour. The original adventure used orcs as the followers of King Bog. It made better sense to me to use – bullywugs! This was a simple substitution and easily achieved but there were thornier, mechanical problems to be solved to make this a playable 4e adventure.
Converting the adventure for my players presented some significant problems. Firstly, this was originally a 3e adventure for 4 15th level characters now being run as a 4e adventure for 3 10th level characters. In 3e 15th level characters have a multitude of options, particularly if they have a wizard or a cleric with them, and in 3e which party doesn’t have a wizard or a cleric and probably both? Options just for getting in and out of the camp are many: teleports, dimension doors, mass invisibility, mass charms, scrying, etc. A 10th level 4e party consisting of a paladin (defender), cleric (leader) and thief (striker) have none of these options. Choices boil down to skill based solutions: sneak in and see what’s happening or talk your way in to see what’s happening. The party is optimised for neither.
What I like about 4e are some of the DM tools developed for this version of the game and the construction of skill challenges is a good example. I like to construct skill challenges that can involve all of the players so I try and come up with ideas of how their skills can be used. Sometimes this means you have to feed ideas to them but this is compensated for when they realise they can suggest ways to use their skills by imagining how they could be used in the situation presented. I like to encourage this by rarely saying “no, that won’t work”. If a player comes up with an obscure idea, the very least I will do is offer them the chance of using the skill check to grant a bonus to a character using a more relevant skill, an easy example is to use insight to support diplomacy or bluff the idea being the insightful character can read the target of the diplomacy and offer advice to the diplomat. A more obscure example might be using history to know something about dungeon architecture and aid a dungeoneering roll. In this way, even if the primary or secondary skill being employed in the skill challenge isn’t optimised or even trained then the players can build up some bonuses through use of other skills, as well as standard aiding rules, to feel confident enough to try the skill challenge rather than just feeling it is impossible for their characters to attempt just because they’re not optimised for the challenge in front of them.
So below are my two skill challenges I developed (I didn’t know which approach they would take). I adapted them as I went along and when they had been in and out of the camp a couple of times I dispensed with the skill challenge ruling that players had worked out how to get in and out without the need to take the challenge.
Version 1: Talk Your Way In
Setup: The PCs attempt to talk their way into the camp – this is hard, bullywugs aren’t easy to talk to, particularly if they think they are in a position of strength.
In order to secure an audience with their leaders, the PCs must first successfully adjust the camp's attitude to friendly - doing so merely grants the PCs an audience at the edge of camp with the two leaders (King Bog has no interest in diplomacy). At this time, the PCs must make the two leaders helpful from their initial hostile (or unfriendly, if the PCs are appropriately disguised) attitude in order to be granted access to the camp.
If they're granted access, two ground patrols escort the PCs at all times. Unfortunately King Bog has placed the underground portion of the Serpent Mound off limits; no amount of diplomacy can convince the bullywugs to let the PCs in there.
Complexity: 5 (requires 12 successes before 3 failures).
Primary Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate.
Secondary Skills: Athletics, History, Nature
Athletics (DC28): You attempt to use your sheet physicality to impress the bullywugs. Success also grants +2 to a bluff or intimidate check that immediately follows this check.
Bluff (DC20): With glib lies the PCs fool the bullywugs into trusting them. DC increases by +1 following the first bluff attempt.
Diplomacy (DC20): With smooth words the PCs convince the bullywugs they are trustworthy fellows. DC increases by +1 following each failed attempt.
History (DC20): Knowledge of the tribe, bullywugs and the Vesve give an insight into how to talk to them.
Intimidate (DC28): PCs attempt to cow the bullywugs into letting them in, tricky as they have a camp full of their comrades behind them.
Nature (DC18): Bullywugs are natural creatures, knowledge of their habits may prove useful.
Success: The PCs blag their way into the camp, though the bullywugs are still unfriendly, further work is required to find out what they are up to.
Failure: The PCs are caught out and attacked by a force of bullywugs equal to a normal patrol.
Version 2: Sneak Your Way In
Setup: The PCs attempt to sneak their way into the camp – this is difficult, this is a well organised military camp. Nevertheless, most bullywugs, even well trained ones, aren’t natural disciplinarians.
Complexity: 3 (requires 8 successes before 3 failures).
Primary Skills: Bluff, Stealth, Thievery.
Secondary Skills: Acrobatics or Athletics, Nature, Perception
Acrobatics or Athletics (DC13): All PCs must make this check to count as one success. You scramble through some cover to gain access to the camp, jump over ditches, etc.
Bluff (DC18): Using a diversion the PCs can sneak past a guard. DC increases by +1 following first attempt.
Nature (DC18): bullywugs are natural creatures, understanding them will help.
Perception (DC18): PC spots a guard, patrol or some cover to help with the sneaking.
Stealth (DC18): Check must be made by PC with lowest stealth bonus. PCs sneak past the guards, hide from patrols, etc.
Thievery (DC26): a PC steals an item of use to gain access to the camp, e.g. password, patrol patterns, etc.
Success: The PCs sneak their way into the camp and can spy on their activities.
Failure: The PCs are caught out and attacked by a force of bullywugs equal to a normal patrol.
In the end the players used stealth and succeeded the skill challenge with only one failure, prompting an encounter with a bullywug patrol. I learnt a good deal about the capabilities of the players and how skill DCs usually underestimate how good players are using skills by about 2. The players learnt to get out of their 4e straight jackets and look at their skills (and powers) and imagine how they could be used (often without prompting). This was a win-win result as we’d had our doubts about the application of 4e rules in an “old school” situation where players have to develop solutions to problems where there answer is not simply to charge in and blow your encounter powers.
Monday, April 9, 2012, 2:32 PM
I’ve been playing D&D a long time (getting close to 30 years now) and I’ve been playing with the same group for most of that time. There are only a few of us left (4) and we are dispersed, so much so that I game via skype & Maptools these days. As you might guess we have a lot of gaming baggage these days. Incredibly we are just about to start our first 4e campaign! Not that we haven’t been playing 4e since it came out, it’s just that aside from running through the first couple of modules to get the hang of it all, we transitioned all our existing campaigns from 3e to 4e so we’ve continued existing games and not had a chance to start a brand new one until now.
Whilst usually I don’t centre a campaign around a character, this paladin is something of a “last man standing” from an ancient campaign started in the late 80s using 2e rules. Needless to say the campaign has not always run but there has been a sense of continuity with a very slow PBM being played between myselfand the paladin’s player (who posts here as Prism) throughout the 90s and early 00s.
The campaign has run in 2 main phases with a great deal of downtime. Phase 1, saw the campaign start in Greyhawk but with the PCs being drawn into the misty realms of Ravenloft soon afterwards. There were about 4-5 characters at this point, though I’d struggle to remember them as it was so long ago and I’ve lost most of my early campaign notes. Prism’s paladin was created as human of Suel birth full of arrogance and swagger. Nevertheless, the character also possessed a couple of interesting flaws which might explain his longevity – characters with flaws are always more interesting than those without. Who doesn’t find Clark Kent dull in comparison to Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne?
Firstly, Tarlock Rhola, had been knighted for saving some local Duke’s son from bandits and given a command position. In his arrogance, however, Sir Tarlock didn’t realise that he’d been over promoted and promptly got most of his first patrol killed by giants. He resigned his commission and went to join the City of Greyhawk militia. Secondly, Tarlock's Suel blood sometimes brought a battle frenzy upon him. In this blood haze of rage he could tell neither friend from foe and lashed out at anyone close in battle. Ironically, the red mist only descended when his allies were in trouble though sometimes but often resulted in Tarlock hurting them more than their enemies.
This first phase of the campaign took Tarlock and various associated through the Misty Realms, including the most difficult published adventure I think I’ve ever run: Castles Forlorn, which is a time-shifting, investigative nightmare to run and my players similarly found difficult to play. IIRC the players retreated from the castle leaving the inhabitants to their fates.
By the late 00s Tarlock was still adventuring in the Misty Realms of Ravenloft. He yo-yoed between 6-9 level due to the joy of fighting undead creatures with energy drain abilities. He also had various statistics drained at different times by other creatures. He had very few items and actually gave away his most magical sword to another character! In short, he was a proper Ravenloft character, down beaten, jaded and always battling against the odds.
He was following a plotline that took him in search of an extinct line of paladins and the hope of obtaining a Holy Avenger. This plotline slowly played out drawing to a close the second phase of the campaign. Eventually, Tarlock found his Holy Avenger but the Dark Powers of Ravenloft could not brook such an item in their realms in the hands of a paladin, so they (literally) kicked him out. At this point in time, I returned Tarlock to Greyhawk and back onto a regular campaign footing, thus allowing other players in the group to join.
This third phase of Tarlock’s campaign is driven by his return to Greyhawk. In one of these final adventures in Ravenloft, Tarlock was killed during a battle in a library in an adventure inspired by the book/film, “The Name of the Rose”. Whilst this could have been an ignominious end to the character – killed by bookcase is not a heroic epitaph – I decided instead to bring Tarlock back as a revenant (we were in 4e now and the race had recently been released in Dragon so I thought it would be interesting to make use of, particularly with a view to bringing Tarlock back to Greyhawk). So now Tarlock is an undead paladin of Heironeous, which sounds a bit weird, but who better to undertake some black ops on behalf of the good guys at the end of Greyhawk Wars...?
In the first session I had a simple objective of getting the players introduced and familiar with their new characters. Even Tarlock’s character was slightly new as we played so infrequently I usually allowed a partial rebuild to allow Tarlock’s player, Prism, to take advantage of new powers etc. that had been released in the meantime. So long as he kept to the spirit of Tarlock’s character I was generally happy to allow most (legal) changes.
For the new players (who I will refer to as Elras and Midge), I had laid down some simple character generation guidance in attempt to keep the PCs with a Greyhawk feel. The rules were fairly simple:
- Start at 10th level Tarlock would be 10th too; retraining option after every session until reach 11th thereafter normal progression.
- Players such use the “Starting at higher level” rules on p.143 of DMG but with a few house rules; in summary:
- Choose a race: stick to Greyhawk tropes for races, e.g. human, elf, dwarf, gnome, half-orc, half-elf, halfling (Greyhawk is a retro-, non-progressive setting!)
- Use an array/point buy for stats
- Choose powers/feats – any general class/feat/power is available for selection, i.e. not ones detailed in FR or Eberron or other world source books
- Choose equipment – you are entitled to 3 magic items (1 x 11th, 1 x 10th, 1 x 9th, you can substitute a lower level item for any of these picks), plus 4200gp that can be spent on anything (rituals, other magic items, residium, etc.) plus any mundane equipment you like. Any general magic items are available for selection during character creation, i.e. not ones detailed in FR or Eberron or other world source book.
- DM approval required.
- Should not be evil or worship an evil deity
- Should come from Vesve or its vicinity, e.g. Highfolk
- Note that adventures are based around doing some “black ops” for Heironeous and some social and subtle skills and powers may prove useful
The two players “new” to the campaign (both had played in the first phase of the campaign in the 90s) chose to play:
- An essentials halfling thief, named Lindal Tosscoble, played by Midge. I don’t really get the “Essentials” line (too old now) so it would be interesting to see how this character went.
- A gnomish cleric of Ulaa, named Ulfur Sverrir, played by Elras. Surprisingly, Elras had chosen to reinvent his original character who survived phase one of the campaign. I didn’t advocate this for story reasons – too coincident for starters – but I was eventually persuaded. Worth noting that Midge tried this angle too but found his original character concept, a psionic-sorcerer kenku, too changed in 4e from 2e to interest him.
So I had players, characters and a starting point – Vesve Forest. This choice was driven by my selection of adventures for this campaign arc. I used to write my own stuff but Real Life takes its toll these days, especially with young children in tow, and I had collected a number of “Tarlock” adventures over the years that I thought would make good scenarios for a paladin who has learnt, begrudgingly, to investigate and not necessarily take everything at face value. Whilst he can investigate he realises that as a paladin he is not very good at it and usually ends up kicking in the doors when he has a few shreds of evidence of malfeasance.
The first adventure I wanted to run was taken from an old Dungeon and was set in the heart of the Vesve Forest I loved the premise of the adventure (which I will give more details of once the players have completed it) and it had a brilliant BBEG. It needed few tweaks (few monster substitutions and treasure tweaks) and a few skill challenges writing but otherwise was good to go.
BTW I’m using Anna Meyer’s brilliant maps of Greyhawk as source: www.ghmaps.net/
So the first session took place. The PCs met and after a bit of a Mexican standoff agreed to collaborate in tracking down the missing gnomes. The first couple of encounters were standalone intended to allow the PCs to test out their characters, throw powers around and learn to fight together.
Starting higher than 1st is always a challenge I think and it’s good (unless you’re a complete cheese monkey) to see how those powers that looked so good on paper actually work out in an adventure. The PCs started at 10th so there plenty of potential to have made the wrong choices which would hamper you later on, particularly with Paragon class selections beckoning at 11th. So I allowed Midge and Elras to change a power or feat or skill selection after every encounter for the first level of play. This would mean they could rapidly change those bits of their characters that weren’t working for them. For Prism I wasn’t so generous, I allowed him his usual rebuild before play option and then that would be it, back to standard retraining rules for him. Seems cruel but Prism is a cheese monkey so I have little pity for him.
For the most part the objective of the first session was successful; the PCs got it together and beat up on some random encounters. They learnt a bit about their characters and also managed to reach the site of the main adventure. I learnt a few things too about them:
- Revenants are extremely hard to put down. Tarlock took over 200 points of damage against the werewolves (he only has AC15 at the moment as he had no equipment other than his Holy Avenger) but never went unconscious!
- Essentials thieves can’t miss. Lindal has +19 to hit! But they also do unspectacular damage (about 20 points) despite being able to sneak almost every round. They are relentless but without daily powers to drop a 4W plus effects attacks on something seem pretty dull in comparison to their non-essentials equivalents. Time will tell though.
- Clerics are always useful. Healing powers are great. I don’t expect to be scraping this party off the ground at any point but the next adventure might test that theory...
Next blog we’ll have a look at what happened when the PCs reached the Serpent Mound and some of the adventure conversion issues I faced when looking to run this 3e adventure as a 4e adventure.