Thanks to everyone that posted in this. I'm going to be running Strasa for my game also, although not with 4e, I’m going to use a grittier, low magic, system. I feel like part of the fun of the setting is the oppressive nature of the wet and cold, the Strassan's struggle for survival in this uncomfortable place. 4e characters are too powerful to experience that element of the setting, drop a quick fastidiousness charm and you'll stay dry for week.
I’ve been compiling the information in the thread into an ‘official’ version for my game, adding my own stuff as I go. Here is a low magic explanation as to why people might stay in a place like this and a bit about how their behavior has changed to accommodate the rains, some of which comes from previous posts.
Industry Strasa sits in a pass, which is the only navigable area in a wide mountain range. The surrounding countryside is all swamp and bog, making regular wagons and draft teams useless. Goods are carried as far as the outskirts and then given over to Strasan teams who use man power and pulleys to haul the cargo up a long series of wooden ‘ribs’ to the lake, where it can be ferried across. Without them to maintain the path and ferries this area is effectively impassable.
The city also houses a large military force in service of a major kingdom in the flat lands below. These cities, ‘The Flats’ in the local vernacular, vie to offer the most lucrative military contract. Control of Strasa and the people and trade that travel through it is a major political and practical advantage.
Mannerisms and Dress Among the city’s wealthy residents, sheepskin is the most popular material, it’s light and highly waterproof. They craft it into long, leather overcoats to keep their bodies dry, tall leather boots to keep their feet from soaking in the many puddles in the city, and wide hats with floppy brims to deflect the rain from their heads and their eyes. But sheepskin must be imported and it ruins easily. All the poor and middle class people wear loose wool pants, and nothing else, while outside. Each building and home has a small atrium with towels and fireplaces for guests to hang their stuff. Visitors dry off and then are given new clothes to wear while indoors.
It’s necessary to make frequent stops indoors to warm yourself during the day, so many homes leave their outer doors unlocked so that passersbys can use the fire. There are also lounges where you pay a chit for a warm drink and seat by a roaring fire pit.
You and me both, bug. We're actually supposed to play tonight, but we'll see how that goes. The game's seriously lost its momentum, which is a shame. This is why I'm always the GM, lol. Don't get me wrong, I think Akkarin's getting a lot better, but the pace of the game has slowed down tremendously. People are losing interest, you know? Even I'm starting to lose interest.
We're also all extremely busy. My wife and I, especially. We're only a few final steps away from buying our first house, my school semester is just about to end, and we're only 2 or 3 weeks away from having our second child, lol. It's all coming together really quickly, and it's hard for us to get time to do anything.
At any rate, if we play tonight (and again, we're supposed to), I will let you know what happened in a post tomorrow morning.
Thanks for continuing to show interest, guys. I know it's been really spotty lately.
So, one of the biggest issues right now is that we're all strongly focused on melee. We've got Mogr (the Rageblood Barbarian), Virgil (the One-Handed Weapon Talent Fighter), Phedre (the Artful Dodger Rogue), and Victoria (the Tactical Presence Warlord). On bigger maps, with a lot of room to move around, we're super effective: Mogr is just so fast, and so mobile, that he can easily blitz past enemy defenders to strike at the artillery in the back. He's incredibly focused on charging, and hits like an absolute truck while he's on the move, so it's a great strategy. Enemies near the front lines clearly want to turn back to help their artillery, but it's often too late; once Virgil sinks his teeth in, there's no shaking him off.
On smaller maps though? With smaller engagement areas? We struggle. Last night was probably the closest we've ever come to a total party wipe. We had been out in the woods, working with the Resistance to track down a hobgoblin camp several miles outside of Strasa. The plan was to clear the hobgoblins out, then set up a Resistance Headquarters in the area where we can train new recruits and launch attacks against the Council. In the game we played last time, one of the hobgoblins had sounded a horn on top of a building before we could stop him (I mean, he did it in the first round of combat -- we never had a chance to stop him), so enemy reinforcements were en route when the last session ended. This game started pretty much right where the last one left off.
It's been a while since we played, and Virgil wasn't there last time (I played his charater, in addition to Mogr). So even though we had a few rounds to prepare before the hobgoblin reinforcements closed in, none of us realized, I guess, that we were all sitting right around bloodied. Like I said, it's been a while since we played.
So, like I said before, we really need some space when we play. Mogr needs some room to set up charges, Phedre needs room to set up flanks, etc. Virgil and Victoria tend to push right up the middle, but they're the exceptions. In this scenario, we really didn't have much elbow room. I mean, we had a pretty big map to play with, but all the fighting took place in a small corner of it, and we didn't have much of an opportunity to move. Nearly all of the enemies had area attacks. We took massive amounts of damage very quickly. There were guys with flails that dealt 15+ damage to everyone in the party, pushed us back, and knocked us prone. They also had a "no roll required" attack that dealt 5 damage to everyone. There were hobgoblin war casters who could deal area damage. And there was some kind of leader, who kept dazing us, and allowing all of his allies to shift 3 squares as a free action.
AND all of these guys have that hobgoblin Phalanx ability, so they get a bonus to AC when they're adjacent to their allies. And since they can't really HELP but be adjacent to their allies, since the encounter area's so small, we had a hard time landing hits.
When we don't have a lot of room to move around, this kind of an attack force just obliterates us. There's not a whole lot we can do. We just kept getting pushed, proned, and dazed. My wife wasn't there last night (she's 9-months pregnant, and very close to being ready to deliver our second child), so I played Victoria in addition to Mogr. I did everything I could to keep us upright, but every member of the party dropped at least once during the fight.
We won, but it was incredibly messy. That was the harshest fight I've probably ever been in. Not because the enemies were over powered or anything, or because we weren't prepared, necessarily, but because the encounter area was too small. All the enemies started on basically the same section of the map, and since we're all essentially melee, we all met up in the middle and then got locked down.
One of the things I started doing, before I stepped down as the DM, was to have the group start in the center of a large-ish map, and have enemies pour in from all sides, rather than the opposite side of the map. That way, your group has to develop an effective plan on the fly. They don't just have everyone move up and meet in the middle, you know what I mean? It makes the fight more dynamic and interesting.
When we're in a small area like that, and all the enemies are basically standing side-by-side, it's especially rough for Phedre, who can't move past anyone to set up a flank. I keep track of everyone's damage output during gameplay (because that's just the kind of person I am, lol), and typically, Phedre's right up there next to Mogr, but last night, she did about 1/3 of his damage. I think Mogr dealt like 165ish damage over the course of a few rounds, and she dealt maybe 53? Even Virgil and Victoria dealt 80+. But that's because she uses a low [W] weapon, and the fact that Rogues rely on their sneak attacks to deliver their Striker damage. She got a sneak attack in on the first round of combat, and I think that was it.
But anyways, we won. Akkarin rolled for loot, and I picked up that Horned Helmet (which allows you to deal an extra 1d6 damage on a charge) I've been after since I rolled up my character, lol. Mogr's very much focused on charging. He's using a Vanguard weapon already (which deals extra damage on a charge), and I fall back on Howling Strike to deal the majority of my damage. At this point, I think that, with all of my modifiers and equipment, my At-Will Howling Strike damage on a charge is like ... 1d12 + 2d6 + 1d8 + 7. Something like that? It's pretty high, lol.
But yeah, I rely on charges. When I can move around a lot, they work out really well for me. Most of my encounter and daily powers don't even hit as hard as my At-Will Howling Strikes, so I choose those powers based on utility. I pick powers that will allow me to be more versatile and effective. It's working out pretty well for me. I don't think there's been an encounter yet where Mogr hasn't been on top for damage. But again, it's hard for Phedre to compete when she can't reliably get Combat Advantage. I know she's capable of out-pacing Mogr given the right set of circumstances.
Oh! I forgot to mention that Virgil has a new girlfriend, and that she came to watch us play last night. She's really cool. I think she fits in very well. She's said that she'd like to make a character and start playing with us, so we're all pretty excited about that. She's got some 3.5 and Pathfinder experience, I think, but last night was the first time she's seen 4th in action. I think that anything she makes would be good, as long as it's ranged, lol. I know Virgil likes Rangers, and I'm partial to Sorcerers, for whatever that's worth. I've been reading through the classes this morning, and I've been thinking that Invoker might be nice, too. Anyway, whatever she decides will be awesome. I just think we need more range and area damage, and sorcerer fits that bill nicely.
Sounds like fun... one thing that you may need to look at is that the "new" DM tends to see a fight like that and go "Aha! I finally challenged them!" and then carbon copy that encounter one bazillion times. You guys are INCREDIBLY melee based though.. without writing the potential new party member's character for her, point out that she is likely to be able to really shine in situations like the one she watched, since it is a glaring lack in your group make up.
But if she decides to be a Charisma based paladin.. well, then you have your work cut out for you! Hobgoblins in particular can be a big mess, in my experience, because of that Phalanx ability that even the minions have. (The other low level monster with out of control TPK ability is the Etter-cap)
Good to be gaming, harsh that you guys basically got caught with your pants down (starting a couple of points off of bloodied is ALWAYS bad!)
Something to check for your Rogue player is that she can get CA with a couple of her powers, and I think you can also use a Standard Action (not good all the time, but can be good with an Action Point) to Bluff an opponent, granting CA until the end of your next turn (check the write up... it's been a while since a player Bluffed me in combat!)
Phedre has a number of tricks up her sleeve to help her maintain Combat Advantage even when she can't flank. The issue I've been seeing, though, and this is probably my biggest complaint with Akkarin as the DM so far, is that he never takes the bait. She's got a feat called Opportunity Knocks, for example, that says whenever she hits with an Opportunity Attack or is missed by an opportunity attack, she gains Combat Advantage against that enemy. She's an Artful Dodger, so this feat is right up her alley. When I was the DM, I loved when she used it. She understands the importance of maintaining CA to keep her damage output high, and she's taken a feat that allows her to take a gamble: she can intentionally provoke an attack of opportunity, and she's betting (hoping) that she won't get hit. If she's right, she'll gain CA. If she's wrong, not only does she not get CA, but she also takes a hit.
I think that's a good trade-off. When she uses it on me, I think that's great. But when she uses it on Akkarin, he almost never takes the bait. And don't get me wrong, I can see how a perceptive or tactically-minded monster would pick up on her trick and play a little more reserved, but sometimes she'll only try to use it once in an encounter, and her enemy will just refrain from making an attack. That's the worst possible outcome for her. It punishes her for taking a feat she's not going to get to use, wastes her move action while she dashes into a position that won't grant her anything, and she ends up hitting for ... not very much at all.
I've taken a Fighter multiclass feat on Mogr, too, which allows him to attack an enemy who shifts or attacks an ally of mine once per encounter. It's pretty bad ass. You know how many times I've been able to use it? Once. Once in about four encounters. It was last night, and I'm pretty sure the only reason he allowed me to do it is because we were getting absolutely torn up out there. Any other time, he'll focus fire on me, and refuse to move away. I mean, that really irritates me, to be honest. I know it really irritates Phedre when he does it to her, too. You can see it on her face, and gameplay immedlately stops being quite as interesting.
Here's another quick example, lol: My ability to strike at an enemy who shifts away or makes an attack that doesn't include me as a target functions just like the Fighter ability, but doesn't require a Mark. It's pretty neat, and since I have almost no other Immediate Actions at my disposal right now, it's a really beneficial way for my to increase my DPR. But again, I just never get to use it. One time, Virgil had an enemy Marked, and I was adjacent as well. So that enemy is in a serious bind: if he attacks Virgil, I get to attack him; if he attacks me, Virgil gets to attack him; if he tries to shift away, we both get to make immediate attacks; if he tries to move away, we both get Opportunity Attacks. It's nasty. So what does the guy do? He basically just burns his turn and does nothing.
I try to bounce off of Virgil as much as possible. That's something I have a lot of fun with, I just wish it ... worked, you know? We like to tag team enemies whenever possible. If he's got a target Marked, I'll intentionally provoke an Attack of Opportunity by moving straight away from the guy. The idea is that this monster will attack me, get hammered by Virgil, and then I'm open for a Charge. Basically, I'm opening myself up to some possible damage in exchange for essentially turning my move action into extra damage. I think that's a fair trade off.
But again, he never goes for it, lol. He'll just not attack me when I move away. I guess that's okay, because it still opens me up for a charge, but it's frustrating to continously get shut down on stuff like that.
Sounds like a newbie dm mistake, he's focused on beating you using the outside knowledge he has instead of trying to provide you with a fun memorable encounter. Hopefully he is a quick learner. Sorry to hear you guys are losing momentum though, it happens to us every year right around this time because of the holidays and peoples vacations. Hopefully you can reinvogorate the game.
Virgil's decided he'd like to change his character. There's nothing wrong with Virgil, but he's the kind of player who likes to switch things up all the time. Frankly, the fact that he's stuck with Virgil for this long is amazing. Story-wise, we'll just have Virgil fade into the background of the Resistance a bit, and a new character from their ranks will join our squad. We spoke at length about his thoughts on a new character; at first he was pretty excited about Swordmage, but I know it's not something he'd enjoy. That's a class that requires a lot of in-depth knowledge and finesse, and like I said before, he's the kind of guy who likes to change things around all the time. It just doesn't suit him. I think we're pretty sold on Dwarven Earthstrength Warden at this point. He intends to go full two-hander (Mordenkrad, I think), and he's pretty excited.
We'll see how that goes.
His new girlfriend, who I may have mentioned wants to play with us, has decided to make a Razorclaw Shifter Archery Ranger. Virgil's player says he might work on her a bit, and see if she'll want to switch to an Elf, but Razorclaw Shifter's solid, in my opinion. It'll certainly help us in the range department, which is something we sorely need.
Anyway, pretty exciting. More news when I have some.