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Archive for August, 2010

 The action picked up where it left off, on the top of a roof in Cormyr amongst the littered corpses of the shadow monks. The party decided to head back to the Gilded Harp to plot their next move. Kaz needed to excuse himself as he was in the processes of trying to secure some financing for a new war horse. Meanwhile Garrick was getting a little restless waiting for Khaine to finish meditating on the force and decided to make his was back to Cormyr. He was beset several times on the way by the servants of Shar despite using his Ninja powers to stay hidden. Perplexed by this he visited his Master in the city and learned that the others had a similar experience and learned that they had been tainted somehow. Master Chiun, after commenting that despite Garrick being as graceful as a pregnant baboon with a club foot, that the Man of Many Faces had been buy requesting that he scope out a new gang that has been trying to muscle its way into the city and seems to be dealing in slaves. Garrick was then off to reconnect with the party at the Harp, with Chiun’s parting words echoing in his mind that the path of the stone fist is paved in battle.

I know, I missed my calling, I should have been a Cartographer or an Architect

The party then role-played it up and shook loose some info from Torm, a ritual caster, and from newest companion character Felimid “Slim” Mcfale, a bard of the Harpers dressed like a peacock had exploded all over him. The info they got: the book they needed seemed to have been moved from the library to a bar named the Prideful Unicorn then seemed to disappear. They also learned that the book was actually authored by the one and only sage of Shadowdale, Elminster himself. Plus his current retirement on his farm and the fact that the Harpers are kind of glad that he hasn’t gone nuts and starting killing everything after the fall of his god…yet.

While scoping out the Prideful Unicorn they noticed the sexually ambiguous Deva from the library enter the bar and seem to disappear through a wardrobe. When the party entered the wardrobe they were instantly transported to Narnia…. Or to a treacherous gauntlet of encounters that included a trap filled room (or douche DM room), a room filled with animate guardian constructs that dropped both Rhogar and Garrick, and ending with teleportation portal that could only be engaged by solving the runic puzzle on the floor (activating the runes spelling out “knowledge is power”).  With the portal activated the party stepped through ala Stargate styles. As the party was in the portal their friendly neighborhood assassin popped into the room and tossed several vials at the portal before it closed. On the other side everyone plus the vials materialized and when the vials smashed creatures from the elemental chaos began to materialize and an epic donnybrook ensued with Rhogar going down again, shielding his squishier companions from harm.

After the battle they were met by what seemed like an army of collectors which required a delicate negation to smooth over you know like the destruction/ invasion of their holy and secret ground plus trying to get the help they required. Eventually they were able to make nice and got their hands on the ritual but unfortunately part of it was smudged. After witnessing the sexually ambiguous Deva be decapitated for its failure in guarding knowledge, the party was then off to meet with Elminster with a nice bottle of scotch per Torm’s tip and who seemed mostly sane in an old hermit eccentric way. After a bit of chit chat and commiserating about what a bitch Shar is, he mentioned that the missing component to the ritual was the blood of a black dragon due to its affinity with the Shadowfell. After the party cleaned the crap out of their pants, he consoled them by letting them know it didn’t need to be a particularly old dragon just any black dragon would do. How do we think this is going to turn out?

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The Magic Show

As the release of Essentials approaches, WoTC continues to slowly pull back the curtain revealing tawdry glimpses of what is to come. This typically results in a frenzied explosion of confrontation across the cyber landscape between supporters, haters, and those who are indifferent. The longer this slow reveal goes on the more the indifferent/acceptance group grows, you still have the supporters and haters but these tend to be the extremists that really go after each other. What’s kind of amusing is it’s sort of how you treat an anxiety disorder, by gradually exposing the individual to the feared situation or object and over time it fails to elicit an anxiety response. So in a way it’s like they’re habituating us to the design direction they have plotted out instead of flooding us in one shot, which may have resulted in high numbers of nerduerisms.

This week’s reveal, although already mentioned at Gen Con, is that magic items are going to have a classification system based on rarity. The long and short of it is that the majority of items will be considered “uncommon”, which in game terms means that you won’t be able to buy them in stores or make them using a ritual. There is also talk of making more powerful items for the players to have one of at each tier of play to help define their character. I like this idea as it kind of dovetails with a previous post of mine.

It seems like they are trying to implement more game balance by limiting the ability to stack and build certain power combinations based on easy access to magic items.  I think they quickly realized early in the cycle of 4th edition the difficulties in maintaining game balance in an exception-based game design when you drastically increase the number of powers, feats, spells, and magic items; and have begun the process of shifting design principles to combat this. The only problem with this latest design concept is that it pushes the responsibility back on the DM, which is fine as that’s how it was in previous editions and I had already house ruled magic item access in my own campaign. Like I said before, it is hard to stuff Pandora back in her box, especially with how they set things up this time around with putting the magic items in the Player’s Handbooks and then being like sure go ahead buy and make whatever you want.

It is this element of power and control between the DM and players around magic item distribution and “wish lists” that has garnered the most flame. The sides being either you’re a power hungry anal-retentive control sadist DM  who wants to suck the joy out of the gaming world by McScroogeing players out of their desired loot or you’re a snot nosed whinny little munchkin bitch who is going to take his dice and go home if he doesn’t get what he wants. Here is a quote from a forum post:

Gimmie the items I need for my build and then give me some monsters to dominate and I’m a happy player.  Otherwise I’m out. People like you will end like model train enthusiasts – currently on the verge of extinction.”

I have to ask are people’s gaming groups really this antagonistic? Sweet fancy Moses, if you are having thoughts or ideas at either end of this position maybe your rolling with the wrong group. This has never been my experience. In my current campaign I have limited access to magic items but I make sure to give out items regularly to match the math progression of the game and to what the players want. It just fits better with my conceptualization of the fantasy genre. In my mind there isn’t a magic item section at the local Walmart. I don’t picture Gandalf being like “I’ll take a size 10 in the boots of speed but only if you have them in brown or else they’ll just clash horribly with my Cloak of Protection, then I need to pick up that necklace of fireballs because there having a promotional giveaway where if you buy a necklace of fireballs they will throw in a ring of the ram for 50% off, and you know how important it is to accessorize properly these days”.

I also have it easy as none of my players have really read any of the books and are unaware of the concept of power gaming (I think 2 of them have the Player’s Handbook), mostly I strong-armed, guilted, and manipulated them into my campaign to satiate my nerd lust. I have no problem dropping loot that they want (no swords for dudes that wield axes), but I also have no problem dropping “interesting” loot that they might not know what to do with. Plus we are all pretty non-douche baggy and reasonable people so if something seems broken or outlandish we can usually come to an understanding without coming to blows ;). So in the end this modification to the game system doesn’t affect me or my players, how about you?

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There has been a lot of hub-bub regarding WoTC’s upcoming release of the Essential’s Line. The various forums, blogs, and podcasts have sort of exploded into a shit-storm of epic proportions and mass hysteria. There have been strong accusations thrown out that this is a massive and widespread conspiracy by WoTC to release a new edition without actually calling it a new edition and that we should probably get on the horn and call in Kiefer Sutherland to start smacking some people around. There have also been so much inference and wild supposition drawn from very little actual information. The level of distortion is worse than that telephone circle game you used to play in kindergarten where the teacher whispers into the first kids ear “Jim has a blue shirt” and the final message comes out from the last kid in the circle “Jim has a blue gerbil that wears his shirt that Dora the explorer got from Angelina Ballerina..purple hippopotamus”. Although, I can totally understand people’s trepidation, as my initial knee-jerk reaction was to give them the big middle finger and immediately order Pathfinder from Amazon. Then I took a deep breath, stepped away from the keyboard, and really looked at what they were saying and showing us. I don’t think it helped that there are some significant errata accompanying the Essentials release that might be viewed as an attempt to synergize the two product lines. This interview by Neuroglyph I think lays out their intention fairly clearly and succinctly, and probably better than the drips and drabs that have been dropping at WoTC’s website.

I think it is fairly reasonable to have an introductory/starter line that sort of streamlines character creation and contains everything you need to get started in order to make it easier and less daunting for new players to get into the game. After all I had both the old basic and expert box sets before I graduated to the hardcover AD&D books. It is not only good for business but good for the hobby. I have seen the arguments, and quite venomous at times, that D&D doesn’t need to be dumb down, and essentially you’re an idiot if you think the current power mechanics and character creation are confusing because any chimp could be taught it. I don’t think what their attempting to mitigate or simplify is the mechanic of powers being separated into at-wills, encounter, utility, and daily, but rather reducing the dizzying array of choice in powers and feats and their myriad effects and combined effects and interacting combined effects, that eventually end up needing to be errataed because someone finds a way to one shot Orcus; and which I think can be overwhelming for someone new to the game who just wants to get playing and can’t or doesn’t want to devote a significant portion of their waking hours to immersing themselves in the material. Although, it is hard to stuff Pandora back in her box. It is interesting that the way they seem to have handled this is by reverting to older concepts of level progression and the reliance on class features, particularly for non-spell casters.

I think what may have most people up in arms and something that WoTC has been a little more tight-lipped about is the statement in the Essentials promotional line that this will form the principles of their design concept going forward.  Does this mean that future classes will built around level progression and reliance on class features seen in the Essential builds? Or will they still be pumping out classes and their myriad associated powers seen in the core products too date? Or will it be something in between? Who knows? If the later happens, then everything that came before will still be compatible as they have promised but it may feel like a different game (although way more balanced than previous editions), and no doubt ignite/revive a horrendous flame war. If everything ends up sucking hard, I think that people need to remind themselves that one of the great things about D&D is that it can be anything you want it to be, you are only really limited by your imagination and creativity (so basically I am screwed, but you might be okay), so add or subtract to the game until it’s to your liking. If you hate Essentials and their design philosophy, stick with what you have already. I know I have enough gear already to run games into the old age home. Some people still only play 1st Edition. I can understand the desire and want to always have the shiny new stuff as it gives you something to get excited about and different to read, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt the new stuff to the old stuff.  Will I pick up the Essentials products? I don’t know, but probably as we have already covered I am a bit of a compulsive shopper and have a tendency to spend money like it is going to rot. I like the Red Box for nostalgia factor and maybe someday will give it to my son to play with. I am more excited for the Monster Vault and DM’s kit largely for the goodies that come with it like monster tokens (screw you expensive mini’s) and the battle maps….Ahh it’s so cute that I am even trying to bamboozle myself into actually thinking I am not going to end up buying it all. So what are you thoughts on the apparent apocalypse that is the Essential’s Line?

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So the party woke up hung-over and mostly clothed after the festivities in their honor.  They made quick plans to re-equip and head out back to Cormyr and report back to their various contacts. Khaine and Garrick both decided to stay in Winterhaven to give Khaine a chance to go over the journal he had received from Valthurn, but the rest of the party suspected that it was really so they could spend some “quality” time together. Before leaving town a man at-arms named Soltawn Griz (AKA a Companion Character) from Rhogar’s Order of the Blazing Sun showed up after being dispatched to find and collect the young Knight and have him promptly return to the order.

On the road back to Cormyr, the party came across a wine deliveryman whose wagon had thrown a wheel. While helping the poor man out, from the bushes sprang mad men chanting undying fealty to Shar. As the party engaged the fanatics, they were waylaid from behind by the poor unassuming wagon driver and his pet shadow wolf (we all knew that was going to happen), who promptly introduced himself as Torin, stating they must be naïve if they thought they could mess with a god’s plan without any consequences. Prior to the session Kaz/Chris had mentioned that he felt a little let down because his character had never been in any real danger of dying in contrast to what the DM had threatened him with prior to him playing for the first time. Well Kaz… say hello to double crits from an elite assassin (never taunt the D&D gods) which then began the death saves. Fortunately for Kaz after the rest of the party appeared to turn the tide of battle Torin activated some kind of magic and disappeared, leaving Rhogar free to lay some hands.

Once back in the city, each member reported back to their various organizations and agencies with some unanticipated reactions and consequences. When Grimlock visited Brand at the Purple Dragon’s he found out that the ritual mark they had placed on him during his initiation had vanished over a week ago leading them to believe he was dead. When the wizard attempted to replace the mark, arcane energy surged and rebounded causing the wizard to explode all over Grimlock and Brand. When Kaz entered the office of Father Martek magic wards flared to life, Martek told him he seemed to have been tainted with the taste of the astral sea. Rhogar was denied access to his order’s buildings and was instructed to meet in the sacred grove at sunset. When he approached the grove the other Knights enveloped him in a large circle with the setting sun blazing off their polished amour. Knight Commander Kreegan asked him if he had anything he needed to confess, at which point Rhogar talked of his execution of the prisoner Balgron the Fat. Kreegan gave a lesson on the tenets of their faith and charged Rhogar to search for what it means to be truly merciful, not just in empty platitudes but in action.

Back at the Gilded Harp the characters regrouped and decided on a plan of action to discover what that money shot of dark energy from the closing shadow portal did to them. Rhogar was approached by Sir Alaran, Knight Adamant in the order with an offer for work in routing out some slavers in the city. He applauded Rhogar’s dealing with Balgron and suggested that things in the order and the church might not always be as they are now, and dropping a reference to The Purging Sun (a long forgotten and thought extinct sect of the church of Pelor known for some extreme views).

The party was then off to the Imperial Library to do some research and where they came upon a tome which talked about Divine Marks/Brands, that Shar in particular favors to single out enemies to her followers for execution. The brand glows in the form of her holy symbol on the foreheads of the marks, and can only be seen by her initiated followers, and acts as a homing beacon. The tome was signed “Suck it Shar, The Last Prince of Athlandar”, unfortunately the second volume was missing which had been eluded in the first to include a possible ritual to counter-act the brand. Kaz was able to detect a faint aura of Magic that resembled a candle above the empty spot on the shelf. A skill ckeck roll here and a skill check roll there, and he was able to recall some lore about a society dedicated to Ioun that collect knowledge. They questioned the Librarian, who seemed to be hiding something, was vaguely asexual, and extremely nervous and uncomfortable… hmmmmm.

On the way back to The Harp, Grimlock noticed an attempted pick pocket and a chase was on that eventually led to the rooftops, and well surprise…another ambush. An epic battle ensued that ended when the final combatant attempted but failed to take Kaz over the side of the building (never taunt the D&D gods Kaz) with him as he fell to his sacrificial death.  What will the party do next?…

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Well that time of the year is upon us again, the best 4 days of gaming, Nerdapalozza, Geekcon, or whatever you want to call it, but yes Gen Con is this weekend. Since it seems en vogue to detail ones schedule for the Con of all Cons I will do the same but with a subtle difference given that I am not able to attend and hope ALL YOU LUCKY M***ER F**KERS CHOKE……..er…ahh I mean lovely people have a wonderful and delightful time. I will eagerly look forward to hearing all about your experiences.

Thursday August 5th

  • 5:30am-waken up by future gamer, wondering at what point does sleep deprivation cause permanent brain damage.
  • 5:45am-listen to D&D podcast in attempt to get back to sleep, first awareness not at Gen Con, resentment rising.
  • 10am-therapy session, attempt to engage patient in D&D related “therapeutic conversation”
  • 2pm- Not playing in Chris Sims 1st “Welcome to Dark Sun, Bitches” game, resentment rising, hate life, plot revenge….
  • 5pm-give campaign workshop seminar for 16 month old future gamer
  • 7pm-prep for home campaign, resentment decreasing

Friday August 6th

  • 5:30am-waken up by future gamer, wondering at what point does sleep deprivation cause permanent brain damage.
  • 5:45am-listen to D&D podcast in attempt to get back to sleep, realizing in own bed not a hotel room in Indianapolis, resentment rising.
  • 9:30am-assessment session rule out learning disability, use character generation and background to asses math and written language skills as well as executive functions.
  • 2pm-Not attending Monster Building workshop by Greg Bilsland, rage building choking on bile.
  • 6:30pm-Home Campaign session, rage lessoning, withdrawal symptoms abated.

Saturday August 7th

  • 5:30am-waken up by future gamer, wondering at what point does sleep deprivation cause permanent brain damage.
  • 5:45am-listen to D&D podcast in attempt to get back to sleep, realizing still in own bed, resentment rising, using images of previous nights game session to soothe self.
  • 11am-browse online stores in attempt to simulate dealer/vendor hall, purchase things I don’t need, have buyer’s remorse, hide details from wife.
  • 5pm-over diner attempt to start edition war with wife.
  • 8pm-write up game session note for blog in attempt to distract self

Sunday August 8th

  • 5:30am-waken up by future gamer, wondering at what point does sleep deprivation cause permanent brain damage.
  • 5:45am-listen to D&D podcast in attempt to get back to sleep, imagine others having to pack up and leave en mass from Gen Con, glad I am in my own bed
  • 11am-begin reading blogs and listening to podcasts describing everything I missed out on, resentment rising……..

But seriously, everyone going to Gen Con god speed and I hope you have a great time, I look forward to hearing all about it. Now I have a year to devise some way to convince my wife that Indianapolis is an awesome destination for a family vacation.

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