This post is for all the 4th edition players out there, or at least those of you willing to admit your still playing 4th edition which has become the gaming equivalent of smoking while pregnant..not technically against the law but overwhelmingly met with shock, revulsion, and swift condemnation by others. I wanted to let people know that there is still awesome content being produced, not by Wizard’s of the Coast mind you (god forbid), but by others with a real passion for the system and who share the belief that it was thrown in the wood chipper a little to soon. I am not just talking about great fan generated content like Frothsoff 4e, but company generated stuff as well.
The Midgard Bestiary for 4th Edition (Open Design) by Richard Green and Brian Liberage is one of these new products that really scratched an itch for me. I have written before that one of my major gripes with 4th edition is that they didn’t get the monster math sorted out until later in cycle, causing the majority of the monsters designed for the system to be full of suckage and virtually unusable. When I flip through the Monster Manual 1 and 2 I actually feel embarrassed for the monsters, like I am embarrassed for them. It would literally be a crime to have them square off with the veritable plethora of twinked up pc’s I am frequently assailed by. Listen I know what your gonna say “the players don’t always have to be physically threatened, you can have alternative combat goals…blabity blah blah blah” Sometimes you just wanna smash the pc’s in the mouth and let them know you mean business.
The Bestiary does not suffer at all from this monster impotence as it utilizes the updated damage progression. The monster ecologies and fluff are based, not unsurprisingly, on the Midgard setting, another Open Design project and originally Wolfgang Baur’s homebrew world. I enjoy reading fluff, you might even say that I am a bit of a fluffer (kidding), and the Midgard Bestiary really delivers in this regard. Don’t let this push you away from the product though, as the monster mechanics are not tied to the setting and are easily re-skinned. For example, I have used dudes exclusively from this book to stock the latest location in my Dark Sun game full of Tareks. In the end it is really the mechanics that matter most and the book offers some interesting and cool variations for a little freshness. I particularly liked the several different Hags and Babba Yaga’s Horseman.
I managed to snag this bad boy through a Kickstarter project. I got a full color soft cover print edition and a pdf (if you’re reading Wizards take some notes) for 25$, well worth it my opinion. Overall, I really like this product and find it refreshing to grab a monster book that isn’t the “Monster Vault” for a change when I am looking to make my players crap their pants
Read Full Post »
Does it get any better, as a DM, seeing your players shit their pants as they watch their characters drop like a sac of doorknobs and bleed out all over the battle mat? I think not. I guess collaborative storytelling, character growth, and making the players feel like super bad mofo’s that catches bullets with their teeth is alright, but between you and me I think I still prefer the old brown note moments.
One of the fair criticisms of 4th edition is the length of combats and to a lesser degree combat grind. I have been experimenting with combat and encounter design over the past little while to try and tweak the grind a bit. I had to make a conscious decision to move away from making every combat a set piece battle and allowing for smaller skirmishes that fit the story better. For example, if the players were going to get rolled by thugs I would be okay with using 2 lower level dudes instead of a “gang of 4 to 5” to make a balanced encounter. I also started using higher level mooks but less of them to create quicker but still damaging fights.
I kicked it up a notch this past weekend and got me some of that brown notey goodness. I was inspired by Frothsof 4E and his musings on monster design and threat level. He had a post (it doesn’t seem to be up anymore) were he adapted and old 1st edition module that had a lot of solo monsters. He modified the solos into a sort of elite/solo hybrid that would give decent challenge and play quicker to prevent grinding the adventure to a halt. His tinkering definitely scratched an itch for me as I like using solo monsters but often feel like the combat can take forever and with little threat (even with many of the post MM3 solos). I needed a badass assassin to challenge the entire party, but I wanted it to be quick and dirty after the Paladin sees the head of his order gutted in front of him.
So I made an “elite solo” and added some of the design concepts that Frothsof outlined. The “Night Hawk” actually exceeded my expectations and I was rewarded with some brown notey goodness with multiple “holy shits” and “this guy is way tougher than I thought he was going to be” and “you seem to be mentioning cock a lot today” (which is not really relevant here but still a valid observation). The Night Hawk ended up being a pretty good challenge for my party of four 9TH level characters as he bloodied everyone and dropped the cleric and the ranger before the Paladin finally cut him down. The battle was also super quick so I will definatly utilize this style of monster in the future. You can check him out below:
Read Full Post »
…..after several months of working your way up through his minions, foiling his dastardly plots and machinations, you kick down the doors of the long forgotten temple to badness and trade soliloquies with the BBEG. He threatens you with an eternity of suffering as he ignites his rod of doom; you question his sexual orientation and mock his flamboyant wardrobe. He levels his massive rod at you and a pulsating beam of pure vileness erupts from its tip striking you right in the bread basket….”okay you take 8 damage”, “really? Dude that doesn’t even blow through my temps, are you sure he hit me with that rod thingy and not his limp cock? I’m just saying”…….
It became readily apparent after playing 4th edition for a while that something was slightly off with the threat level of the monsters. It seemed that Wizards hadn’t calculated something quite right, I am not sure what it was, but needless to say they have been on continuous quality improvement mode since the editions’ release, utilizing their sort of free-form development style that has become the hallmark of D&D these days and can be seen in successive monster manuals and creature books. I disagree with Wizards assertion that this was more of an issue with paragon and epic tier monsters, as I have struggled with challenging my players from the get go. I was finding that I needed a level + 3-4 encounter to create significant threat, and this is with my minimally optimized group, I am not even talking about my group of filthy uber optimizers that I run an online game with (I’ll save my thoughts on character optimizing for another post) as even a level +3 encounter can sometimes be like having them square off against my grandmother.
The fixes to this problem have come in the way of the July rules errata with an updated monster damage table, Monster Manual 3, Dark Sun Creature Catalogue, and Monster Vault. For a DM, I can’t recommend these products enough as they are proving, at least for me, a well needed recalibration. You can actually use a solo monster as originally intended. I won’t use monsters anymore that don’t come from these sources or haven’t had their damage upped per the July errata. I am not some dick DM trying to win D&D by ball kicking my players at every chance, but I really feel the game is boring if there is no challenge or threat, and I also find it can be difficult to tell a story if your players feel like they can pown everyone in the universe.
I will give you an example from my online game were I ran them threw H1 Keep of the Shadowfell, a sort of before and after deal. “Kalarel” the BBEG of the adventure is a level 8 elite controller, he has 2 main attacks his melee does 2d6+5 (+ongoing 5) and his ranged does 1d6+5 (weakened), the encounter is filled out by some minion skeletons, Wight, and the “thing in the portal”. If I run this encounter as is, I guarantee the war priest doesn’t even need to bust out a healing word. When I ran the encounter the Wight got nuked before it acted in the first round. That really left me good ole Kalarel and the “thing in the portal”. When I updated the damage on Kalarel he looked a little more imposing with his melee attack doing 2d8+2 (+5 ongoing) and his ranged going off at 2d8+7 (weakened). The result was a modern day throw down, with one player dead and another making death saves while being dragged toward an eternity of torment in the Shadowfell when Kalaral was finally struck down.
I would say the only real drag about Wizards having to recalibrate the monsters in 4th edition is that it makes it a lot more work if you want to run previous adventure material, but well worth it and for me pretty much mandatory.
Read Full Post »