Sunday, June 10, 2012, 8:18 AM
I will be the first to publicly thank WotC for changing the terms and conditions of the Playtest, allowing us to do it over play by post. It was a good decision on their part, and opens up the test of the new system for a whole host of people.
The thing about living in Iowa is this: The food's cheap, the beef is good, and the rent is manageable. The downside? Unless you live in Des Moines, Council Bluffs, Davenport or Iowa City (Not surprisingly, all are along the I-80 Interstate corridor), there isn't a whole lot of opportunity to get together and play real life D and D. That's why I got into play by post 5 years back. I figured, if I couldn't find any games around, I'd hit up the interwebs. One of the best decisions I've made when it comes to my hobbies, really.
So when we finally got the go-ahead to playtest online, myself and a cadre of pals got busy. I'm playing the elf wizard (And I'll keep things general, because we don't want to go violating any wiggling clauses in the agreement now, do we?), and I made her a girl named Ariadon. Ariadon was actually the first 4th edition character I played as well: So, one elf wizard became yet another elf wizard.
In our group, we fleshed out some rather colorful backgrounds. The one thing we have in common is that we all seem to be running from something. The fighter is running from his past, I'm running from an arranged marriage, and one of our clerics is running from someone who wiped out his entire family.
I jokingly suggested that if we ever kept this thing going once the real game was released and didn't break the party up, we could change the name of the game to "The Runners."
They seemed to enjoy it.
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Sunday, May 27, 2012, 7:39 PM
A long time ago, there was a really terrific cartoon called the SWAT Kats. Basically, two anthropomorphized tomcats ran a junkyard and in their burgeoning spare time, also flew a modified F-14ish jet called the Turbokat out of a secret hangar underneath all the piles of scrap at their place. They'd fly around and save the city and thumb their noses at the authorities with their vigilante awesomeness, and the weapons officer/tech guru would flaunt his stuff with the "Missile of the week", which always had such hilarious names.
The one thing I adored above all else in that show was that they'd say one phrase in particular: "I've got an idea so crazy it has to work!" And it always did.
When I started playing D&D, I took that philosophy to heart. It made me a more versatile player: I started examining my character's spells and abilities and questioning the bounds of them. It wasn't what a spell was designed to do, it was what a spell could do that was important to me. By the time I became a DM in my own right, it had reached codification. Now, it's my signature at message boards I frequent for roleplaying.
One recent example: My players were doing a flashback sequence about how our team of unstoppable A-Team like heroes were tasked with disabling an enemy fleet parked in harbor while the main army dealt with the invasion infantry. Now, sure. They could have done the logical thing, and commandeered some shoreside artillery to take them out, but that wouldn't be fun. Instead, my players came up with the notion of hijacking a ship, breaking it into pieces, and then climbing aboard the forward catapult and aiming themselves at the next ship in line before they went down with the first ship.
A few successful checks later, they scuttled ship one and landed safely on ship two. Insane? Certainly. But well within the bounds of the Law of Awesome, which I've been informed since also functions as the "Rule of Cool." I like mine better, though. They wiped out the entire enemy fleet in this fashion, taking only minimal damage from rough landings; they became quite adept at aiming their trajectories for soft things. Like enemy sailors.
So let's hear from all of you. Have you had any Law of Awesome moments in your own games?
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Friday, May 25, 2012, 7:39 PM
It took some doing what with all the server troubles, but I did finally manage to download the playtest packet. Learning that they were developing a new edition of D&D kinda made me happy. After all, sure, I got into 4e pretty seriously for a bit; had a D&D Insider account for a time, blogged here fairly regularly, and was obsessed about the bard.
I think what eventually turned me off was no longer having the Character Builder as a program I could refer to even when I was offline...and of course, the D&D Essentials, which went against everything I'd ever learned from playing D&D back when 3rd edition was still the status quo.
But huzzah! A playtest? I was on that right quick. I'm always up for trying new things, and the whispered hints appealed to me. They were attempting to take the best parts of every prior version of D&D and make something easy, yet enjoyable...yet not quite so railroaded and bluh as the D&D Essentials had been. Naturally, the first character sheet I checked out after unzipping the files was the wizard.
Worriedly, I scanned the top entry. d4 hit dice...yup, that's normal. Bad AC? Yup, good. And then it laid out quite clearly what bonuses I got for being an elf and being super studious. Decent knowledge skills. Oh, they're called Lore so far.
And then my spells. To my amazement, they pulled some inspiration from 4th edition: Cantrips were at-wills. They were inexhaustible, and lo and behold, some of my favorite attack spells were now cantrips. MAGIC MISSILE! And the Magic Missile I remember! Autohit, minor damage, improves over time? Sweetness! And to make matters even more terrific, I had a potent selection of 1st level spells to pick from at the get-go. More classics!
I stared into the bounty before me, and unconsciously began to apply what I knew. Rolling for spells to hit? 4th Edition. At-Wills and freebie cantrips? 4th Edition. Back to Hit Dice, and with the ability to pick and choose? 3rd edition. Spells that carried quite a bit of weight, and the element of uncertain victory? 2nd edition. DM freedom to run the game however they wanted to? 2nd edition.
From what I've seen so far, 5th Edition (I refuse to call it D&D Next, preferring my numerical favoritism) looks like it's going to be quite fun.
Now I just have to get into a group and try this bad boy out.
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Monday, November 15, 2010, 8:23 PM
Once upon a time, very long ago, Wizards of The Coast announced that they would be building a vast panoply of special features for those who played D&D. The two that they put out first, The Character Builder and the Monster Builder were both quite enjoyable, and well put together. (Well, maybe not the last Character Builder update so much...)
Now, the Character Builder is going to the Cloud, and we'll see how it does. Meanwhile, what happened to the rest of the Adventure Tools?
What happened to the online gaming board that would allow players to link up and play with each other in a scalable three-dimensional setting of dungeons and settings, maneuvering their characters and pitting themselves against the forces of evil? They made such a big deal about it at first, putting together a demo for their booths and kiosks, waxing poetic about it, and trying to tap into the "Online" angle of roleplaying games, if only by a small degree.
Well, it's been 2 years since 4th edition launched...And still, all we have is the Character Builder (Which will go fully Cloud-online tomorrow) and the Monster Builder.
As a paying D&D Insider, I'm left wondering...
Where the Hell did the rest of their marvelous bag of tricks go? One of the things that concerns me most is that they don't even mention it anymore. As if, "Maybe if we don't bring it up, people might forget we ever had that idea at all."
Sorry, WotC, but if I didn't forgive my College for reneging on its "Laptop Replacement program", I'm probably not going to merrily wipe my mind of certain programs and features you found it convenient to mothball. And are they mothballed? Are they still works in progress? We don't know. Because they don't talk about it.
WotC remains vigilantly active when it comes to content: Dark Sun, The Essentials, ongoing "Power" supplements...
But when it comes to computer program additions, they fall woefully short of their promises. And considering that a lot of people pop $100 a year for access to the D&D Insider features (Myself included), one would think that they'd allocate SOME of that funding into following through on their original goals.
Make a plan. Announce a plan. Follow through on the plan. We don't pay engineers full price for a half-finished job, why should we pay WotC, if their intent is to cut and run?
So, the Santa Claus that lives in Seattle, do you know what I would like for Christmas this year?
I would like Wizards Of The Coast to follow through and finish the programs they promised, so I can finally get my full money's worth.
Otherwise, I'll gladly fade into my Play By Posting message boards and free utilities such as MapTool and never bother you again.
But I think they'd prefer to retain customers than have to constantly seek out fresh blood all the time.
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Friday, October 8, 2010, 10:25 PM
As gamers, we look for memorable moments...stories we can tell weeks, months, even years later. Fantastic exploits. A series of events and battles that we prop up as an example of what we want.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true. One thing I loved about the independent production "Dorkness Rising" was that it brought this to the forefront. The party was anything but incredibly combat efficient. They quarrelled, they stumbled. But they had fun doing it...
Plus, I'm partial to Bards, and the line "Hide behind the pile of dead bards!" made me laugh for two minutes.
Now, back to the point.
In the eight years I've been doing D&D, I have accrued a library of memorable moments. Memorable moments happen.
Games you remember, campaigns you always want to go back to however? Those are a bit more rare. I've been fortunate enough not just to play in one...
But to have created one as well. Minus the specifics:
About 3 years ago, I hobnobbed with an enterprising soul from a D&D game that turned sour on account of DM abuse. He and I were both smart enough to get clear of impending doom, but in each other, we'd found a common trait we liked.
Now, I'm from Iowa, and he's from Arizona. And we did our gaming via the internet...which, believe it or not, works all right.
The two of us thought for a bit. I'd been coming up with an idea for a new game, a bit of a Robin Hood-esque thing, and he was intrigued. I asked if I could bring an old College chum of mine on board.
Then he asked if he could do the same. Long story short?
MY gaming group met HIS gaming group. Iowa and Arizona, blended into a romp of infinitely awesome proportions. Everything just seemed to click into place. Our characters had all sorts of foibles. I played the heroic team leader, who, when he wasn't moping about, was going berserk and saving his men. My gaming buddy played my second in command, my right hand man who was the cool shadow to my poster boy. My primary Arizona pal played the head of the "Enlisted" crew, who did poetry with his attacks. His pal played our berserker who drank tea. All the time.
We had two awesome seasons of playing in that setting, and time eventually took us apart. But we remembered.
Now, a year after we last picked up the pieces, I've breathed life back into it, and turned our game into a play by post.
The adventures continue, and everyone's excited. Especially me. I get to DM in a setting I love, with people I enjoy playing with.
And there will be much awesomeness.
We remember "That one Game." You'll always want to go back to it.
And if you're lucky, and you take the initiative...
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Monday, September 27, 2010, 9:01 AM
When 4th edition first came out, I'll be honest: The three things I was most excited about were playing a 4th ed Wizard, a 4th Cleric, and (Though I had to wait for it), a 4th ed bard.
That said, time, wisdom, and sheer boredom has allowed me to do what I never did when I was in 4th edition: Branch out from my comfort zone classes and see what else was out there. And after much hobbling about, this past year I discovered I liked the ROGUE.
So, let's talk about the rogue. What makes a rogue special? They're the sneakiest of classes. Their utility powers, if chosen properly, allow them to move around any environment unseen, unheard. The bread of the butter of the class, their Sneak Attack feature, can be supported so that barring detrimental effects, you're sneak attacking your foes every turn.
But how can we build a rogue that awesome? How? Simple. Through a combination of Race and at-will power selections.
So let's talk about the build that's won me the role as my party's ultimate damage-dealer...
The Gnome Rogue, Warryn Shortwhack
The saying is, "Once you go gnome, you never go home." Oh, how true that is. Gnomes are perhaps the best race for rogue builds. Now, I know what you're thinking: Gnomes don't get a bonus to DEX like some of the other races out there! They get a bonus to CHA and INT. You can toss the bulk of your Ability Score points into DEX to make it to that precious 18, but those racial Ability Bonuses do help you out more than you know. As you could probably guess, a gnome rogue is built to be Charismatic.
At level 1, my gnome rogue looks like this: STR 8, CON 13, DEX 18, INT 12, WIS 10, CHA 15.
-The bulk of what a rogue is asked to do, skillwise, is dependent upon his DEX score, so we're covered there. Warryn's a nimble little fellow.
Skill Trainings: Minus Stealth and Thievery, which he started with, we also gave him Streetwise, Bluff, Acrobatics, and Perception. Warryn's turning into a regular old cat burglar, and after having done a few "Infiltration and steal" missions, how well I see that work. His racial bonuses to stealth and arcana make him sneakier than the average rogue by a fair margin.
Basic Items: Long story short, once you've gotten some gold in your purse, I highly recommend you spend it on a pair of footpads and a camouflaged cloak. Each gives you a +1 to Stealth checks (Albeit one when you're moving and one when you're standing still), so you get a +1 to your stealth that never goes away.
Power Selection: Let's talk about your At-wills. As a gnome rogue, you get two. So make them count. Movement's never going to be as much of a problem for a gnome rogue, and since I wanted to be more than just another pretty face, I wanted to be following up on my role as much as possible. A rogue is a striker, and a gnome rogue is a terribly vicious one with sneak attack.
Power 1: Clever Strike. This was an easy pick. If you're building a rogue who likes to get into the thick of a fight, Clever Strike is your winning ticket. Just gang up on an enemy that one of your comrades has targeted in melee, and WHAM! You get Combat Advantage for this attack. Which means you'll be in Sneak Attack heaven. Clever Strike makes it so a rogue never goes without his bread and butter.
Power 2: Duelist's Flurry. And then there was this one. Boy, how amazed I was when I saw this one come out in Dragon 381. This was the power MADE for rogues! Every so often, you'll find yourself in the midst of a fight where you just can't target somebody that your buddies are up on. When that happens, when you're backed into a corner, you go with the flurry. Hit, and sure, you don't get your weapon damage...but when you're dealing Sneak Attack damage regardless of CA, WHO CARES?!
Fighting as a Gnome Rogue
Gnome rogues have two racial powers that are absolutely phenomenal for either starting an encounter or mixing it up in the middle of one.
Ghost Sound: There's nothing quite like being able to go, "Hey, look over there!" When Ben Kenobi made the Stormtroopers look away in SW: A New Hope, he was doing this. And it works. There's nothing quite like distracting your enemies long enough to get in close and shank 'em. It's an incredibly satisfying feeling.
Fade Away: "Owww, I got hit! POOF! I'm gone!" And then they all say, "Hey, where did he go?" Right before you reappear behind 'em and stab 'em in the back.
With careful use of these openers, you can mix it up in every fight you're in. Sure, I didn't touch on Encounters or Dailies, but why would I want to? At this point, it's more personal choice.
With these tips and pointers (Oh, one more: BACKSTABBER. It's a Feat. Get it!) you will be well on your way to conquering whatever madness and mayhem gets thrown at you.
In 3rd edition, there were a lot of things not vulnerable to critical hits (And thus, immune to sneak attacks).
I'm glad that in 4th, the optimization of the rogue, and their backstabbityness, has finally been given its full due.
When I get my hands on the "Essentials Rogue", I'll let you know what I think about it. In the meantime, try out the gnome rogue build.
I think you'll like it. Gnome rogues are the best rogues.
And that's the Iowa Perspective.
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Friday, September 17, 2010, 10:12 PM
It should be listed as part of the job description when we play adventurers:
"Must be able to strut your stuff."
Adventurers are, at their centers, larger than life individuals in whatever campaign they play in. Most of the world's citizenry, even in fictional settings, manage mundane existences. They run shops. They operate schools. They fulfilll general societal needs...like running taverns, lighting lanterns, farming, and even cleaning out poo buckets.
But ADVENTURERS! Oh ho ho...adventurers are individuals who have thrown off the shackles of normal society and live aberrant lifestyles. Racing off and performing daring rescues! Saving towns! Fighting monsters! Charging into the wilderness and facing unknown dangers! Money for them is easy come and easy go; as soon as they make it, they shovel it into upgrading their equipment. Buying newer things. Better things.
It's a high-risk high reward career...and historically, careers like that attract a very particular sort of person. Nutters.
Take my group, for example. Nary a moment goes by when they're not (Minus the silent rogue) conversing with the enemy during a battle, shouting out boasts, curses. In a sense, we've been raised to believe that all fights have an ongoing dialogue, from our earliest watched cartoon shows. Of course, there's the matter that it WORKS. My ranger's gnashing his teeth and promising doom upon the shadar-kai the team's up against.
Then he turned around and did 30 damage to the leader of the enemy squad.
My team cleric proselytized on the conflict between light and shadow, and how the light of his god would triumph. Then he weakened the entire enemy squad.
Even the wizard I NPC had a belated Swaggery moment when he used his Dispel Magic utility power to neutralize the oppressive shadow aura the witch of the assassins had been using to hold the team at bay. He concluded by reminding the witch that all spells could be neutralized.
And of course, that his kung fu was stronger.
As an adventurer, you live from one moment to the next fighting for survival, not knowing if you'll live or die. Sure, caution and preparation will help, but one logically becomes a little deluded over time. Contemplating the end of one's existence tends to do that. Boasting and swaggering is more than a mere gimmick, I suspect. If we're truly getting into the minds of our characters, swaggering and boasting, especially during combat, is a natural reflex of this state of mind. It's a subtle reassurance that yeah, I'm going to come through this all right. And I'm not that worried. If I was worried, I wouldn't be talking while I'm fighting now, would I?
Of course, enough can't be said about a better and easier explanation for why we love to have our PCs goad the villain, interrupt monologues, and tease enemies incessantly.
We feel awesome doing it...And of course, one can never have enough AWESOME in their roleplaying career.
And that's the Iowa Perspective.
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Thursday, September 9, 2010, 12:17 PM
So let's talk about my boys a bit today.
Though I may have mentioned them in the past, to refresh, the group I DM for is a gaggle of three others I knew in College. They play a cleric, a dual-sword ranger, and a quiet rogue. Currently, I DM NPC a wizard to round out the four-man squadron.
At the moment, they're engaged in a rather serious skirmish. They've survived the rest of the small dungeon I made to help them "Test the waters", so to speak, and put a few raiding parties of shadar-kai, shadow hounds, and even an elite Gelatinous Cube out of their respective miseries. They picked up a few milestones, and after much exploring, have arrived at the last showdown against the leader of the Shadar-Kai assassins hellbent on destroying them...and a fair lot of her cronies.
Now, encounter build-wise:
1) The leader is a level 10 Controller.
2) There are 2 level 8 Shadar-Kai Warriors, a Level 6 Gloomblade, and a Level 6 Chainfighter (Who they killed already).
3) There is also a level 8 Deathdog, who the head witch keeps as a pet.
4) The team is all Level 8 (Minus the NPC Wizard, who is level 9)
Currently, most of the team's seen better days. The witch has managed to keep the cleric and my NPC wizard locked in a struggle against the deathdog by limiting their vision, and the ranger and the rogue of the squad are taking turns getting the stuffings beaten out of them by the gloomblade, who is taking full advantage of the witch's Shadow Aura effect and his allies to hide and avoid being attacked.
The thing is, by degrees the guy who runs the cleric and the guy who runs the ranger have been picking up steam. They're becoming more confident with 4th edition, playing their characters, maximizing their turns. The third member of the troupe, however, hasn't caught on as quickly.
He plays the rogue, and he's made a tradition of running his character like he was a fighter; walk to the nearest thing and make melee basic attacks. The only time he's used any of his powers was after constant and continued prodding. I more or less let the problem sit when I was the only one noticing. Now, though, the other two have begun to vocalize complaints that he's not doing everything he can be doing, and that they may get wiped out at this rate.
Given how they've only downed one foe and barely scratched the others (With the cleric and the wizard barely holding the deathdog at bay in their corner of the map), I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Cleric and Mr. Ranger that Mr. Rogue may cause problems for the squad in due course. What irritates Mr. Ranger is primarily how Mr. Rogue isn't using his attack powers. What irritates Mr. Cleric is that he's trying to solo monsters, when rogues were BUILT to double-team foes, flanking them to get CA and Sneak Attacking the heck out of them.
My opinion on the matter, as the DM, was that their characters aren't mine to run. I have a rule set up because we do PbP that if they don't post in a week, I run their turn for them with an At-Will, but we're not at the deadline. Barring inactivity, I don't run their guys for them. I try not to force advice on them, either. It's their fight, after all, and their characters. But I am fearful. I've made a reputation as a fair DM who challenges my players, but doesn't go off killing them.
Hopefully, the fight starts to turn around, and they whip out some more Dailies, burn their APs, and go to town. If they fight hard and fight smart, they'll plow through these guys, I've no doubt of that.
Just waiting for it to happen is slightly traumatizing.
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Thursday, September 2, 2010, 8:28 AM
And now, as promised, here's a snippet of a thing I wrote for my players to highlight how awesome their intended foe truly was...and how truly frightening in ability. Keeping with my previous post, in where I discussed what makes a memorable villain, the villain presented here is perhaps one of my most memorable.
His name is the Grey Shadow, and he's an assassin of the highest order, a fearful whisper in the darkness of night. His trademark: Every kill of his is beheaded, and the head is never found. His mantra: Do it with style.
The BorderCity of Baraden
Istus, Continent of Ashra
Baraden didn’t exist on the maps of Ashra; it was a township held only in rumor, preserved in secrecy. Of course, that had everything to do with the sort of business that was conducted there.
Hidden from the skies by a large overhanging ridge of land, its foundations laid in a cavern that time and the elements had carved over thousands and thousands of years, Baraden was a marvel of engineering and ingenuity. With glowflies acting as the natural luminescence, swirling about in their hives on the ceiling, it was passably lit. A complex set of dams and culverts diverted the water from the seasonal rains into deep reservoirs that its inhabitants used to live off of, and further plumbing took the city’s waste out through underground tunnels to the Ocean of Idane to the south. Other tunnels led to the caverns beneath Ashra; the places where men feared to go, but others trod regularly. Dark elves, monsters almost indescribable, and countless others would occasionally pass through Baraden, and provided they did not seek to threaten it…were allowed to come and go as they pleased, for a small fee.
That was where its business came into play. The city, a marvel of its time, was home, hospice, and den to some of the worst brigands and cutthroats to ever betray the night’s tranquility. Partially in Samael’s Lands and partially in Istus, it held allegiance to neither, but Istus certainly lied more in line with the business interests of Baraden. It was home to the Mist Riders, a fabled group of assassins whose name sent dread into the hearts of goodhearted men and women.
That fact didn’t escape the Grey Shadow’s thoughts as he maneuvered through the damp, musty streets of Baraden. It had been approximately two months since he had last been here, and he had only stayed an afternoon before he grew tired and left.
Well, that and the fact that he had killed one of the Mist Rider’s apprentices. It had been the stupid boy’s fault, anyway; Taking on the assignment of trailing after him, in hopes of seeing what lied underneath the cold, gray iron faceplate. Out of amusement, the Shadow had let him think he was undetected; he killed him only after letting the boy see what he had been hired to see.
He still couldn’t decide what had been more delicious; The look of utter surprise when the youth realized the Shadow had known all along, or the noiseless, openmouthed scream when the Shadow had taken off his faceplate and let him see the true monster underneath.
Naturally, the fool’s death had won him the Mist Rider’s open hostility. Still, they were nobody’s fool; the Grey Shadow had made and kept a reputation as being one of the best in his line of work. While they let him know that he wasn’t welcomed in Baraden, they didn’t attack him openly. It just wasn’t done.
Convenience and necessity had brought him back; Convenience, for entering into Istus through Baraden was a safer option than through Road’s End, and necessity, for his latest contracted employer had arranged to meet him here for the payment of that job of his in Sorvindal.
His latest job had been particularly harrowing on him, really; Had he known that the Cursed Blade would have caused him so much trouble by getting new, and decent companions, he would have stayed around with the orcs and killed Ness himself.
Hindsight, as they said…
Even in the relative darkness, the Shadow kept his tattered black shroud around him, hiding every part of his armored body except for the skeletal faceplate he wore, and his curiously sized boots. If he were to walk in at his full glory, shortswords clasped at his sides, he would have attracted far too much attention for his liking. At least this way, there was some element of obscurity to it. He wasn’t the only sort of fellow who hid away in shrouds and cloaks, after all…
Although I’ve never seen anyone as cunning at hiding himself than that blasted Sorceror…
He frowned and let the thought pass, pushing into a well-lit alley. Ten feet in, there was a raised doorstop and a bolted entrance. He went up to it and lifted a gloved hand out of his shroud, knocking on the door with deliberately slow force.
A slot in the door, positioned for a pair of eyes, slid open to a gruff-looking set.
“Whaddya want?” Came the snarl.
The Shadow pulled the edge of his shroud back, revealing his masked face more clearly. The eyes did nothing, and the voice kept its edge. “He’s expecting you.” The slot slammed shut, and the door swung open. The Shadow calmly entered inside the tavern through the back entrance. The only people who used the front were fools who didn’t mind being seen, after all…
His contact was sitting up in the balcony of the dank, odorous tavern, swirling his finger through a half-empty snifter of brandy with utter disregard for the impropriety of the motion. The studded velvet robes, even covered by the thick and rough material of his cloak, gave him away. That and the ruby red ring that sat on his finger, capable of launching a salvo of scorching rays once every day.
The Shadow casually took the seat opposite of him, waiting for his employer to begin the conversation. It took a few moments for the wiry middle-aged spellcaster to conclude his bizarre ritual before he finally looked up at the Shadow with an unsurprised look.
“You took the back entrance. I almost thought you might brave the front this time.” He said.
“Save your Scrys for someone who cares, Arlemyst.” The Shadow rasped back. “I’m here for my money.”
Almost in disappointment, the wizard sighed and motioned to a brass lid sitting on the table. It was the kind used to cover dishes while they were being delivered to a dinner table. “Always so professional, Shadow? I thought we might stay and talk for a while.” He said hopefully.
The Grey Shadow lifted the lid up and found a thick moneypurse underneath, filled with platinum coins. Nodding appreciatively, he tucked his service fee away. He couldn’t help but try and calculate how much he had spent just to get here, and how much he had thrown at all those useless buffoons and beasts he had paid to get in the way of his pursuers. Even with those expenses, he had earned himself a tidy sum. “Sorry, but unless you’ve got another job to discuss, our business is concluded.” He summarized solemnly.
The wizard smiled, touching his fingertips together as he leaned on the table. “And if I did? Arlemyst Destane has many enemies, you know.” That curious habit the mage had of referring to himself in the third person was something that had grated on the assassin’s nerves from the moment they had met.
If anyone had reason to speak in such a fashion, it wasn’t this aging arcanist, that was for certain.
“Perhaps another time.” The Shadow rumbled. “For the moment, I have other business to attend to.”
“You’ve been chased out all this way?” Arlemyst mused, stroking at his chin. The candor surprised the shroud-covered assassin, but he didn’t let on. “Curious. I thought you were better than that.”
The Grey Shadow narrowed his eyes into slits at that, but said nothing.
“Well, as long as you’re here, could I offer you a drink for your troubles?” Arlemyst asked. “Something for the road ahead of you?”
“I don’t think that this place carries…my brand.” The Shadow said, growing tired of the conversation. Like all conversations with Arlemyst’s kind, they were pointless, layered in fickle intrigue, and rooted in a sense of superiority that the Shadow found sickening and completely laughable.
“Too bad, too bad.” Arlemyst said waving his hand about and humming briefly to himself. The motion seemed less than coincidental to the Shadow, and he found himself wondering if the man didn’t have some hidden plot at work. It certainly seemed like he had cast a spell, but there was no immediate sign that he had.
The Grey Shadow stood up, tired of the brief meeting. “I believe our business here is ended.” He rumbled, reaching out with his finely tuned senses about the tavern. No, he should have anticipated the possibility of danger…Because whether he wanted it or not, there was clearly danger present.
Arlemyst gave him one of his insightful grins, as if some master plan was unfolding. It was a trap, the Shadow realized with calm realization. “I believe you’re correct. You should think of a way to spend that money…while you still can.”
On the main floor below, and in the balcony, several of the tavern’s patrons stood up, glancing towards the Shadow and the curious wizard.
The Shadow recognized them the moment that the closest knave, only six feet away, drew out an ornate dagger with a stallion engraved on the pommel. The Mist Riders. It figures.
He hadn’t turned his head to see the danger, but he knew it was there anyway. Arlemyst had an odd smile on his face as he looked up to the standing assassin. “Is something the matter, friend?”
“Tell me something.” The Shadow rasped, keeping his voice calm while he lowered one hand down to the hilt of his first shortsword. “Did you hire the Mist Riders…or did they buy you?”
“A little of both, actually.” The wizard replied smugly. “See, I just didn’t feel like parting with that much money…and they had an old score to settle with you, apparently. So, in turn for bringing you here and helping in your eradication, they waived their fee…and I have an entire guild of cutthroats to use for eliminating my enemies.”
The Shadow laughed a little bit at that; a low, watery laugh that seemed more of a wheeze. It set the odd mage off his balance, and that was his intention. “Of course, there’s one flaw in your plan to not pay me.” The Grey Shadow announced coldly. “You’re assuming that you’ll be able to pry back your coin from my cold, dead hands.”
His fingers wrapped around the hilt of his shortsword. Hissing in triumph, the Shadow threw off his shroud. It struck the face of his nearest aggressor, blinding him and stopping the first charge.
There was the barest moment of surprise on the wizard Arlemyst Destane’s face before the Grey Shadow’s shortsword was out and flashing through the air, slicing through his frail body in a clean slice.
Too clean. There was no resistance, no form to him at all. The illusion of Arlemyst sitting at the table vanished into wisps of vapor, and the Shadow whirled about and drew his other shortsword.
So, misleading me all this time, were you? He could make out at least six other assassins from the Mist Riders now running towards him, and the rest of the tavern was clearing out at the sign of danger.
The presence of an armored, dextrous combatant with two jagged toothed shortswords was something that nobody wished to be in proximity of.
Under more ideal circumstances, the Grey Shadow would concentrate with his finely tuned senses to locate the invisible mage before he could escape. However, he had a feeling that the self-proclaimed Arlemyst didn’t have flight on his mind, not while he could watch the Shadow be overwhelmed and enjoy his chicanery. The other thing that kept him worrying less about where Arlemyst had gone, for the moment at least, was that there were seven members of the Mist Riders guild spoiling to chop his head off.
The first one threw the Shadow’s shroud aside angrily and reached at his side. Curiously, as the Shadow turned in towards him with his wicked blades, the man did not flee or feint, but held onto a pouch as he jerked a skinny arm towards the Shadow’s face.
The Grey Shadow closed his eyes too late to completely block the spray of sand. He could feel his eyes burning and stinging. The sensation was displeasing.
Under different circumstances, it would have meant a very feeble and pointless resistance. But underneath his staring faceplate, the Shadow offered a dark and malevolent grin, stumbling back in a feigned gesture of surprise and weakness.
Just as he thought, the first of the Mist Riders came in, hoping to score that needed critical stab. Just as he had practiced so many times, he knocked aside the small dagger with one lazy swing of his left shortsword, and then severed the man’s arm clean off with his right. There was the briefest moment of shock on the poor man’s face before the Shadow jammed his shortsword through the man’s chest, piercing his heart easily. The Shadow pulled his sword back as the now dead Rider fell, finding the entire affair displeasing. It wasn’t his preferred method of killing; open conflict.
There was just…no style to it, really. There was fighting, but an assassin did not live for open combat. All the same, they stood in his way. And they had made their first mistake;
They had thought the Grey Shadow needed to see them to fight. He didn’t, of course.
Smugly, he chuckled as his perception reached out and felt every one of them in the room. Turning to one of his favorite abilities once more, he began to hear the surprise and fear that echoed in their thoughts.
Heh heh…I can see you. He paused for a moment as the second and third Riders, carrying shortswords themselves, charged in towards him. The wizard Arlemyst had moved downstairs, and from his thoughts was preparing to fire a lightning bolt at him before his invisibility wore off. And I can see you, too.
The next two Riders came in towards him, ready to end his life. There was a magic blast being aimed at him from behind. The Shadow could have cared less. He simply lowered himself into a crouch and grinned.
This was going to be fun.
They came together as a single team, working their shortswords in tandem in a pattern of flash and weave. It gave them an edge in the direct conflict, and any attempt to dodge to the side or jump over them would have certainly met with failure.
The Shadow came at them, enjoying a brief clash of swords before he seemed to lose his footing and slip down. Taking the advantage, the two assassins swung their blades down, ready to lop off his head. They struck the wooden floor instead.
They were dumbstruck just long enough for the Grey Shadow to pull himself back to his feet behind them and kill them with two clean backhanded stabs. There was a brief pair of shuddering cries, and then they slumped silent and dead.
A shame. Did they have horror or surprise on their faces? He wondered briefly, sensing the third Mist Rider barreling towards him. Taking a chance, he opened his eyes against the burning sand, and got a somewhat blurry image. His new attacker carried a pair of daggers, but there was an aura to the weapons. The black hazy glow about them made the Shadow frown for a moment; they were magically enchanted to drink the life out of the poor souls they were used against.
A pinprick in the back of his mind reminded him of Arlemyst, finishing the last motions to unleash that lightning bolt of his. Idly, he wondered if he should have just taken it, for while it would hit, his natural resistances would stop it cold. Then he recalled, with the sort of lazy memory one possessed of utter calm had, that there was still the fourth Mist Rider coming at him with those troublesome daggers.
If there was a graceful or particularly stylistic way to kill somebody, the Shadow knew how. He knew how to make it count this time as well. Casually, he turned the handle of his shortsword about in his hand, letting the fourth assassin come at him.
Only when he could nearly feel the electricity of Arlemyst’s lightning bolt singe at his neck did he dart to the side. It missed him completely and soared on, moving in an unerring line.
With some amount of satisfaction, and still half-blind, the Shadow heard the crackling force strike at a target it was not meant to hit. He heard Arlemyst’s horrified curse as well, and that made him smile all the more in tandem with the sound of the fourth Mist Rider collapsing to the floor, charred and dead.
I suppose I could spare a moment, he thought to himself. Slipping his shortswords back into their scabbards, he fumbled around through his blurry eyes across a nearby table, grasping about a goblet. He splashed it onto his faceplate, and exhaled a bit in relief when it dripped down to his mouth and he could taste it. Aah, small miracles. Somebody was drinking that weak swill they call wine. The burning sensation faded from his eyes as it washed away the sand. The Shadow looked about the tavern again, seeing the last three of the Mist Riders charging up towards him. Arlemyst was busy ruffling about in his components pouch for something to fire another spell.
Casually, the Shadow looked to the three assassins, and then gave a hard, piercing look to the spellcaster. While he certainly wasn’t afraid of most magic, Arlemyst could prove to be a distraction in the wrong moment.
He reached down to the dead and thunderblasted Rider he had allowed Arlemyst to kill with his misplaced shot, then quickly scooped up the two enchanted daggers the assassin had been fixing to use on him.
Relax, friends. The Shadow mused, ignoring the three remaining Mist Riders as he jumped over the railing of the balcony. It was a solid ten foot drop, but he had barely touched the ground before he came charging at Arlemyst. The wizard’s face, so smug and superior for the longest time filled with dread. I’ll deal with you all in a moment.
Arlemyst reached for the one spell that he, like nearly every other arcane spellcaster, could pull off without fail. Wiggling his fingers at the charging assassin, he launched off a volley of five magical missiles. They all swung in with unerring force, and there was a glimmer of hope in the mage’s eyes.
Every shot disappeared and fizzled just before impact, just as Marik’s had. The similarity wasn’t lost on the Shadow, gripping the borrowed life-stealing daggers in his hands.
If he could replay that fateful night’s duel…
One dagger was jammed through Arlemyst’s shoulder, and the other the Shadow sent through his hand, pushing him back against the wall and pinning him there. The wizard screamed in pain and began to whimper, and for a moment, the Shadow thought of killing him on the spot.
But, he thought, with one arm paralyzed with that critical shoulder wound and the other hand helpless and bleeding, stuck to the wall by his weapon, he could afford to wait.
“I’ll be back for you.” The Grey Shadow hissed, leaning in his cold metal faceplate close to Arlemyst. The wizard moaned in pain and shut his eyes, begging for death to take him quickly.
Satisfied, the Shadow stood up and turned about, drawing his favorite serrated shortswords once more. Two of the three Mist Riders had reversed course and were charging down the steps. The last one had decided to leap off the balcony like he had earlier.
The Shadow rolled his eyes. At least he had made the jump with style. The other man would be lucky if he didn’t sprain an ankle in the fall.
He spun his shortswords in his hands again and narrowed his perfect eyes.
Now we shall see how the Mist Riders can fight against their better.
It was really no contest at all, not when he was so focused that he could almost predict their moves before they made them. The Mist Rider who had thrown himself off of the balcony landed a little harder than he would have liked, and stumbled. The Shadow came towards him at a leisurely pace, ignoring the quick kill for something better.
Gritting his teeth, the Mist Rider leapt away from the Shadow. He was biding his time, the Grey Shadow realized, waiting for his two friends to come in. It was a pincer maneuver, meant to trap him between three warriors…and simultaneously, to give the Riders an advantage of three swords against two.
Smiling to himself, the Grey Shadow kept walking towards the lone bandit, all too aware of the foes charging behind him.
If you’re going to kill, then kill smoothly and without warning. And always remember…Do it with style.
Idly, the Shadow tried to remember who had said that to him. Had he come up with that on his own, or was that phrase an alteration to some sage piece of advice he had heard in the past, and lost in his long years of being a feared killer?
It mattered little, and he could think on it later, when things of little matter could gain importance. For the moment, he reminded himself, he had other issues.
He could cast a spell of invisibility on himself; that momentary edge would give him the time to strike once, perhaps twice at them without immediate fear or danger.
It would be clean…
It just would have no style. And that was unacceptable.
So he let them come, and as he dueled against the first with one blade, he turned his body sideways and met the charge of the other two with his second.
Steel met steel, crashing with angry gnawing sounds, and the teeth of the Shadow’s shortswords scraped viciously against the weaker, mundane metal of the Mist Rider’s blades. In time, the Shadow knew, even his impressive body would be hard-pressed to maintain the physical output that taxed his seemingly endless stamina. A move would have to be made soon, and still holding all three at bay with his artful weaves, his elegant sword strokes, and that eternal dance on the razor’s edge between life and death, he ran over the options in his mind.
He could pull down in himself and exert the full force of his untapped fury…But that would raise too many questions, and for all he knew, there were still others of the Mist Riders, hidden eyes watching the duel unfold for later reference. No, he could not expose that, just as he could not expose his true identity.
Another option was to use his incredible dexterity to leap out of the conflagration and approach the fight from a different, more secure angle. His rational side favored this one.
The last option was to give in entirely to the hypnotic dance of his blades, of his arms, of his legs and torso, and become the sadistic dealer of death he relished in as a self-granted privilege. It would be risky, for he would shut off most of his rationality to let himself go…But it was preferred by his impulsive side.
After all, he reminded himself as he grinned behind his cold gray metal faceplate, the third option carried the most style. And he could use the practice in the sort of close combat he so rarely got to get into.
He whirled about to face the paired Mist Riders, working his blades in a feverish pattern that matched their own and slowly began to turn it back. They had built their determined cooperative bladework over years. The Shadow had had decades to perfect his art. There wasn’t much of a contest.
He contorted his body into one arch after another, pleased that not a single blow landed from them. The single troublesome Rider behind him came in too close for comfort, and the Shadow could feel the point of his shortsword tickle across the armored mesh covering his torso.
He ignored it for about a quarter second more, just long enough to gain the advantage against the two. He disarmed one with a quick double swipe of his blades, but did not throw the shortsword aside. Juggling it between his own swords for a moment, he hefted it into the air and delivered a blow with the flat side of one of his weapons to the shortsword’s hilt, forcing it through the air. Stabbed through his side with his own weapon, one stunned Mist Rider stumbled away from the fight.
Casually, the Shadow hurled the first of his own blades against the second of the former pair, and while the man was able to divert it from its course to his heart, it still slammed through his leg, bringing him down with a grunt.
And then there was one.
Knowing that if they were determined enough, the pair could return to battle in a moment, the Grey Shadow did a leaping backflip over the last of the Mist Riders. With his injured ankle, he couldn’t get enough reach into the air to deliver a solid blow, and his sword just scraped along the woven armor.
The Shadow landed behind him, squatting low to the ground with one leg held out to the side. The man was still turning when the Shadow rotated his entire body in a circle, using his extended leg to knock the Mist Rider’s feet out from under him.
He fell, expecting to bounce against the floor…He did not expect the flaring pain in his back, or the bloody tip of a serrated shortsword jammed clear through his chest for his eyes to see.
Chuckling to himself, the Grey Shadow stayed like that for a moment, suspending the man off of the ground by inches as he was speared on his blade. The eyes of the dying man, fluttering as his heartbeat and breathing became erratic, came to the side to stare at the emotionless skeletal faceplate that covered the Shadow’s entire face.
“You’re a monster…” The man rasped. “Nobody…can be that good…”
The Grey Shadow mustered a watery, derisive snort. “You have all eternity to figure out why you were wrong.” He tilted the man onto his side and pulled his weapon out, making sure that every inch of his weapon’s teeth sawed away at the Mist Rider’s insides as he did. He wiped the blood off of his weapon onto the man’s back, noting the growing pool of blood underneath the assassin.
The last two weren’t much of a challenge at all. The one with his second blade made a feeble attempt to defend himself with his own weapon, struggling to pull out the Shadow’s shortsword as well…But he couldn’t do much in the span of three seconds, which was exactly how long it took the Grey Shadow to sever his head from his body. The last Mist Rider had gone into shock from his wound, and it became a mercy killing to decapitate him.
Wiping his blades off one last time, the Shadow turned about in the empty tavern full of bodies and looked towards the wizard Arlemyst, still pinned against the wall and whimpering. The daggers the Shadow had left in him had done their work; his face was ashen, and he was beginning to shiver as the life was drained from him.
Somehow, as the Shadow approached, the spellshaper managed to focus enough on the ring on his right hand to muster three blazing rays of fire. They struck out at the Shadow, and there was the barest impression of heat before they, like the mages’ magical missiles, simply snuffed out.
“Oh, stop it. You’re just embarrassing yourself now.” The Shadow chastised the wizard, shaking his head. Arlemyst’s lower lip trembled as the assassin came towards him and knelt, entirely unafraid.
“Please, d…don’t kill me.” He begged. The Shadow rolled his eyes, even more disgusted at the wounded man. Even when he was dying, Arlemyst Destane found a way to annoy him. “I’ll give you anything! Money! Gems!”
“I have my payment.” The Shadow commented drily, patting a hand against the moneypurse of platinum coins. “And besides, now you’ve gone and forced me to play my hand. I’m afraid I just can’t let anyone live who’s seen me at work. Professional security…and personal pride.”
“I could work for you!” The wizard said, panicking. “Surely, the services of the great Arlemyst Destane could be of use to your endeavors!”
He’d said his own name again. The Shadow let out a long sigh, and tilted his head to the side as if he was thinking about it.
“And what could Arlemyst Destane do for me?”
“Arlemyst could bring all manner of magical doom upon your foes!” The mage promised eagerly. “He can help to make your enemies bleed!”
The Shadow hadn’t been seriously entertaining the notion, of course…but he had thought it would be amusing to play the part for a while.
And the while was over.
Slowly, he pulled out the enchanted dagger from Arlemyst’s shoulder, and the Wizard began to sigh in relief…
Up until the Grey Shadow jammed it deep into his heart, and his velvet robes grew darker around the wound. Dumbstruck, unable to speak, he looked to the Shadow in disbelief.
“My enemies always bleed.” Came the Shadow’s response. And then that was the end of it, and Arlemyst Destane, unloved arcanist of intrigue perished with a final exhalation.
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Wednesday, September 1, 2010, 11:11 AM
We adore our villains. Evil as they may be, we love to hate them. More importantly, we love going up against them. Why, it's part and partial of the player mentality! We love a good challenge, after all, and a big bad who makes the world tremble in their wake can make a very good one.
Examples abound in the common thought market. Darth Vader (IV and V) is a shining example, for his ominous appearance, unstoppable power, and outright confidence. There's Professor Moriarty, the original Genius Brain and Mad Scientist, who did battle with his own nemesis in the sphere of thought and riddles. The Joker, who for all his madness, only ever wanted to get a laugh out of Batman. And of course, the more sinister ones from horror movies. (If you haven't caught on yet, I'm not a big horror movie kind of guy!)
When coming up with a game for my players, or even when I'm just sitting down to write a story, creating a memorable villain is one of my chief concerns. I want to give them someone that they'll love to hate...a foe that they'll pursue to the ends of the earth, spend their time and effort thwarting over and over again. And I've done experiments to determine what works best. I've learned the following:
A memorable villain has some aspect, some part about him that is unique, that stands out. A memorable villain does not have to be the ultimate big bad: Take, for example, The Princess Bride. Who remembers Prince Humperdink? Anyone? No, we're more likely to remember The Sicilian ("INCONCEIVABLE!") or the six-fingered lieutenant of Prince Humperdink. They have...a certain something about them that sticks out. Something that we remember.
Something that grates on us. A visual or auditory cue, a flaw, a characteristic.
In one game I ran, the lead bad guy had a psychological hangup over one of the protagonists, to the point of shouting out that person's name with "KHAAAAAAAN!"-like Shatneresque intensity whenever somebody mentioned them. It got to the point that the PCs started name-dropping that person just to make me give off that reaction; it was gutbusting laughter every time.
Another memorable villain I use a lot of the time is actually an entire cadre of assassins, slavers, and underground marketeers whose trademark is emerging and fleeing into thick patches of magically created fog. I call them the Mist Riders. They're supposedly a highly secretive group, but my PCs always seem to bump into them. And best them. It's led to an unspoken rule in my games: "If there's something amiss or unexplained, The Mist Riders are probably involved."
And then of course, sometimes a memorable villain isn't even a mid-level henchman, but just a particular kind of enemy you set up with environmental cues to strike fear into the team.
Gricks= "Chirrup?" coming out of the darkness of underground caverns.
Later this week, I'll do an additional blog post showing off one of the villains I'm most proud of. But for now, let's hear from all of you out there, who follow my journal!
Can you think of a memorable villain you've made or gone up against in a D&D game? One that's stuck with you, even years later?
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