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Archive for April, 2011

Blowing in the Wind

With the recent release of Hero’s of Shadow WoTC has finally flipped their cards face up on the table and we get to see what design philosophy reins supreme. All new classes follow the essentials design format with a smattering of material that can be used by the older pre-essentials classes, although largely if you’re a non-martial class. To be clear I have no problems with the essentials style classes/material, I like them just find, and in general I am largely indifferent. I haven’t urinated on my 4th edition books and set them a blaze nor am I planning on lighting a flaming bag of dog shit and hurling it at the front steps of Mike Mearls’ home. In fact I have welcomed all essentials classes and material into my games with open arms. I even got a chuckle when I opened the character builder and the lovable Drax was now a “Weapon Master”. I of course initially thought that Wizards had recognized how awesome Drax is and had given him some honorific title befitting his awesomeness. But let’s not kid ourselves, this is really a new edition of the game or at least a half-edition despite Wizards claim otherwise.

I guess it comes down to what your threshold is for calling something a new edition. For Wizards that threshold seems to be when the new content is no longer compatible with what came before and they stop producing content for the older material. For others that do not work at Wizards, it might be when they update their rule set, change their design philosophy for character classes, and re-print their core classes within the new design philosophy. It does seem like Wizards is trying to deny something that would be apparent to any 5 year-old, but I guess they have learned from their past mistakes. Their spiel is pretty slick and well thought out with the classic politician double speak of how essentials is only a 10 product on-ramp for beginners but will be the basis for their design philosophy going forward. It’s like being in a room full of people and someone just rips some gas and you’re looking at them like “dude you just shit your pants” and their like “what are you talking about man? That wasn’t me” and you’re left kind of just staring at them and in the back of your mind your like “shit, maybe it wasn’t them”

Regardless of whether this is a new edition or not, as a DM, I kind of feel like I am blowing in the wind a little bit. Wizards cancelled the Class Compendium which was supposed to bridge the gap between essentials and pre-essentials (I know they are slowly releasing some of the content online instead) but assures us that they are totally compatible. Looking at all of the content I can’t help but remember the first rule of Ghostbusting, don’t cross the streams ‘cause bad shit will happen. I don’t think it is a huge deal but I think mixing and matching essentials and pre-essentials leads to definite power creep and some brokenness. This was brought to my attention when the charging Scout in one of my games was telling me he can’t wait to multi-classes into Rogue so he can add back-stab damage to his charging attack.

I guess, at the end of the day, I am left wondering why Wizards felt that this shift was necessary. What are your thoughts?

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….and then it happened; I sent the campaign off the rails. At this point I am not really sure why I did this. Aside from the obvious masochism in increasing my prep time, I guess I was a little dissatisfied with the status quo of the adventure path we were on. I am referring to my online game where I had planned on running them through the only published module series that Wizard’s put out in support of 4th edition. We were in the middle of H2 Thuderspire Labyrinth when I started dropping alternate plot hooks. It might have been the nostalgia goggles (a second cousin of beer goggles who I dated regularly in my youth) amplifying my sense of dissatisfaction with the current module, which is actually a pretty solid adventure, as I began to think back on some of the more classic modules from 1stedition D&D with a growing desire to tell those stories in

Come get a taste

4thedition while maintaining a little bit of that old school feel.

Some of this push might be coming from a DM pit trap I stumbled into. When I looked in the mirror I was beginning to see the reflection of a dick DM who was trying to curb stomp the crap out of his player’s faces. I think, in part, I was butting heads with the mechanics of combat in 4th edition interacting with character optimization. I had this feeling that if combat wasn’t challenging then I wasn’t doing a good job. This is complicated by the fact that even an easy combat in 4thedition can sometimes take like forever. I found myself setting up most encounters as set piece battles of at least level +2,  like some diabolical DM concoction (add 8 parts minion, 4 parts brute, a dash of artillery, with a smidgen of skirmisher, and then bake in a pre-heated environmental  hazard until ready to fuck up your players). It was fatiguing, frustrating for everyone, and getting in the way of telling more of a story.

So when the party was stumbling through the Underdark they came upon a bunch of cultists summoning a fire elemental out of a lava pit while dropping numerous references to a place called Hommlet. This had the party quickly abandoning the slaves they were trying to rescue to a life of toiling at the feet of the Duergar of Clan Grimmerzhul and off to the Welcoming Wench. I am running them through a modified Village of Hommlet (the 4th edition version) while I work on a loose conversion of the 1st edition Temple of Elemental Evil. Part of the old school feel I have been jonesing for is a little more exploration and openness that I think fosters more role-playing. I am also looking at smaller encounters at party level or even lower, intermixed with the more set piece battles (think of a slow bleed with occasional cock punches). I am even contemplating adding some random encounters, as I have previously shied away from utilizing them due to the length of 4e combats and a desire to keep the story moving within the limited available game time. Now least you think I am getting soft as I decompose my way through middle-age, last game session I hit them with a Level +4 encounter as I knew it would be the only one in the adventuring day. I had Rufus and Burne be the hidden agents of the Temple of Elemental evil instead of the merchants, and had them lure the players into the druid grove by falsely implicating Ashstaff as being in league with the bandits plaguing the village. It was beautiful as the party never saw it coming.

I am interested to see how this little “old school” experiment works out as I am also thinking of loosely converting either I3 or I5 with my home campaign given they are in the desert now. I have also received a request from some of my online players to blog more about their exploits as I think they are kind of feeling like the red headed step child of my campaigns.

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The action picked up with the gang standing over the dead bodies of the Netherize agents and their Duegar slaver contact. After rolling the bodies into the river it was decided that they would delve into the sewers in an attempt to gather more information about this new gang of slavers that has been muscling into the underworld while being mindful that the ritual disguising their identities was slowly wearing out. After mucking about, the party came upon the slave exchange and without much thought or planning dashed in head-long. Unfortunately (or fortunately for me J ) they failed to notice the Duegar Lurker skulking about in a sniper’s nest. When the shit hit the fan, the human gang members fled leaving the slaves and money while the Duegar turned and prepared for battle. The fight was quick but vicious, with Rhogar and Grimlock both getting dropped courtesy of Mr. Lurker, who escaped after his comrades were finally cut down. At this point Sir Alaren (a senior knight in Rhogar’s order) came sauntering in with some of his men with the human slavers in tow. After congratulating Rhogar on a job well done he set to questioning the slavers, and buy questioning I mean cutting off their heads one by one when they refused to talk.  Khaine was able to use his knowledge of the arcane to ascertain that they were under some mind influencing effect that seemed to have blocked out memories. Rhogar, attempted to intervene to stop the slaughter but was quickly cowed by his superior officer.

So in the aftermath of this slaughter what did Rhogar decide to do? Well like any good paladin he ratted on Sir Alaren to the head of the order Sir Keegan. This lead to a tribunal and a somewhat awkward and stunted role-playing scene that culminated with Rhogar convincing his order of Sir Alaren’s heinous acts and rebuffing his attempts to reverse-heat on Rhogar by playing up Sir Alaren’s possible ties to the “Purging Sun”, a extremist sect of the church of Pelor. When the verdict was given pandemonium ensued as Sir Alaren’s supporters clashed with their brothers in an attempt to allow him to escape. In the end the party was able to cut down Sir Alaren, although not before Rhogar was dropped several times.

With his order reeling form the schism, Rhogar and gang decided it was time to get out of town and to the task set to Grimlock and Garrick  by the Brand in Netheril. They decided to hire a “desert” sherpa to help guide them through he difficult trek. Near the end of their travel the ground beneath them began to shake and erupted with a massive centipede like creature  (AKA a re-skinned red dragon). The sherpa screamed “run” but it was too late as the creature already had a hold of Khaine. It was a massacre, with only Khaine left standing after the creature was finally bloodied and requiring the DM to have the creature flea to prevent a big fat TPK. The party, after licking their wounds and feeling very humbled limped into the city. With a well placed bribe they obtained a license to open a fighting school and rented a suitable establishment and promptly opened the “Scorched Earth” gladiator school and are currently awaiting contact by one of Brand’s agents.

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