Archive for May, 2011

The D&D gods must be smiling at me as I have been fortunate enough to actually play for change.  When Wizards started their open beta for the virtual tabletop I was able to snag an invite with some gentle prodding/ harassment. The VT is actually pretty slick and seems to integrate seamlessly with both the character builder and monster builder. The VT has its own forums with one sub-forum dedicated to helping people connect and play everything from ongoing campaigns to one shot delves to pickup games if you have some free time to kill.

It took a while to find something that fit with my schedule, you know after the kids are in bed and not too long or frequent to generate significant wife aggro. I’m pretty sure even Drax would be scared to tank my wife. What I latched onto was something akin to D&D encounters but all roided up called Fourthcore Weekly Grind. This is an amalgamation of a few things. Fourthcore is a design concept in response to a feeling that 4th edition seemed to lack the difficulty level, challenge and lethality of the older editions.  The Weekly Grind 4E: Vault of the Wailing Prince is a Fourthcore adaptation of the Pathfinder Weekly Grind series, designed and currently run by Jason Bulmahn the lead designer of Pathfinder. It is essentially a weekly dungeon delving campaign where teams of players move through one deadly room at a time, collecting treasure, scoring points and competing against the other teams.

I have to say that I am enjoying this play experience despite having my face kicked in weekly. We are on the fifth week and I am already on my second character. I started out with a pacifist laser cleric who got nuked in the first encounter because we failed to figure out a number puzzle required to open the door to the next room. When we triggered the trap my poor cleric was shot by an acid dart that instantly disintegrated him. I thought that was a little lame as where was my save or die; it was more like just die. That’s okay it gave me the opportunity to bring in a new character to fill some of the holes we had in party makeup, such as traversing and Uber deadly dungeon with no one that could pick a lock or disarm a trap. Thus enter one Bruce Leroy, centered breath monk, on a personal quest to find the glow even if he has to travel to the pits of the abyss itself.

Each room or encounter has had a specific resolution goal that is not limited to laying some heavy smack on the monsters.  The difficulty is amped up through various techniques such as environmental hazards and traps, debilitating conditions, time limits, and pouring on the damage through ongoing effects, auras, and my personal favourite, automatic damage for hitting a monster. It has definitely made us paranoid of everything just like the old days. There have also been a lot of puzzles to solve which our party has largely sucked at. This has been in part because no one speaks abyssal (which I don’t think is even possible at second level or at least highly unlikely) and partly due to the inherent detachment of playing over the Internet. I personally have found it difficult to process and integrate the information needed to solve the puzzles due to the stunted and disjointed verbal communication that can happen when playing online.  I really need to be able to dive in and grapple with the visual clues while being able to hash things out in a give-and-take with the other players.

Overall, I am pretty jazzed about the experience so far. The only thing that I am missing is a little bit of role-playing as it is fairly tactics orientated, but beggars can’t be choosers can they? Perhaps someday I will get the chance to play in a more traditional campaign, although at this point it seems like the only way that is going to happen is if the universe  spontaneously creates an eighth day in the week or if I somehow stumble upon a pocket dimension were time flows much faster than in our world.



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An Errata to Far?

The party descended into the crypt and was assaulted by the pungent scent of death and rot. The light from their torches spilled out revealing the large and intricately detailed sarcophagi perched on a raised dais. The clink of metal and scraping of bone signaled that they were not alone as skeletal figures began to emerge from the shadows. Kaz, whispering a quick prayer to Wotc, stepped forward and raised his hand, feeling the familiar warmth fill his body and steeled himself for its release. In a blinding flash, a wave of energy burst out from him, dissipating several feet from the majority of the skeletal warriors. Those that were caught by Wotc’s blessing were slammed backward and singed but surprisingly still standing. Sultan turned to Kaz and queried “Dude, what the fuck was that?” Kaz replied “Hmm.. I don’t know man, usually when I do that it is a little more…impressive?”

For those of you not in the know Wizards recently released the next saga in their class compendium articles meant to bridge the gap between pre-essentials and essentials in their Cleric-to-Templar article. Apparently the process for the original cleric to be ret-conned to fit the new essentials design philosophy is a lot like a gang initation where they take you out back and beat the shit out of you with nerf bats until your bloodied and dazed, after which they all crowd around and welcome you into your new life as a Templar.  

The constant errata is starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t like how they are treating my favorite pen and paper rpg like a computer game that they can just release patches for ad nauseaum. It makes me look at my beloved books and feel like they are useless and at best recycling paper. I know that this isn’t the case as Wizard’s isn’t the boss of me and I can play the game however I want, but I feel that it puts me in an awkward position.  I can ignore errata but in doing so I loose the convenience of the digital tools that make my life easier, and I am all about making my life easier being the lazy bastard that I am. If I embrace all errata then I have to look into the puppy dog eyes of one of my players as I kick his Cleric in the junk.  How much errata is too much errata? Ultimately that is specific to the individual with different strokes for different folks. For me, I would have preffered Wizards to have kept their tinkering to a minimum and just brought out another edition, even if it was only after a couple of years. I would have respected it a lot more than the muddled shades of grey stealth edition bullshit they are doing right now. What can I say I like clear lines drawn in the sand.

Ultimately I still enjoy the game and will continue to run my campaigns and hopefully slip in some player time (the D&D gods willing). However, I do feel like a bear that is trying to sleep but keeps getting poked with a stick.

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Doing the Opposite

There was an episode of Seinfeld where George Costansa re-evaluates his life and decides that every decision he has ever made is wrong and that he needs to do the opposite of what his instincts are telling him. Some recent incidents have, upon reflection, led me to believe that I should Constansafy my DM’ing a bit. I will give you an example from my weekly on-line game where I am running them threw the Village of Homlett.  Before I got my grubby little hands on the 4th edition DM rewards update I was dissecting my old 1st edition copy seeing what elements to keep or toss, particularly around monsters and NPC’s. In the original module the village has a church dedicated to St Cuthbert who isn’t in the current pantheon and therefore required a suitable substitute. I was going to compare his qualities and domains with the current 4th edition gods and come up with a similar alternative.  When I got the 4th edition re-do I noticed that St Cuthbert had been updated to Pelor. Now I have one pacifist Warpriest (I know, don’t even get me started) named Murdin who just happens to be a devote of Pelor.  Most DM’s would be pumped with built in story hooks and role-playing opportunities. Well apparently I am not one of those DM’S, as my first impulse was to change that immediately to avoid any potential hi-jinx’s. Unbelievable, I was actually going out of my way to kill fun, or at the minimum make my life harder by forcing myself to create story hooks and characters to replace what was already in front of me.

Luckily my laziness overrode my better judgment and I left Pelor as the main deity of the village. What ensued was massive amounts of role-playing involving Murdin deposing the lecherous and lazy resident priest, taking over the church including actually giving sermons, and mentoring a young acolyte not only on the ways of Pelor but in life…so basically exactly what you want to have happen in your game. I was even able to use his abduction to propel the plot forward.  In reflection, I think I can struggle with tolerating the ambiguity and uncertainty of the unknown and trusting myself to respond in a way that is interesting and not lame. This is not new to me, as it has been present since I started running games in high school that were so railroady they often featured a conductor. What is encouraging is that this apprehension is so diminished since then that I mostly forget about it until I catch myself shying away from something that would be totally cool, like role-playing a lazy, debased, bi-sexual priest of Pelor.

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With their impressive display of combat skill in the Arena, The Scorched Earth Fighting School was open for business with individuals from all walks of life seeking tutelage. The party took on a contract from an owner that uses slaves exclusively to fight in the Arena, and were exposed to the harsh realties and suffering that a life in bondage may entail in Netheril. Garrick, now wearing the clothes and vestments of a devote of Amaunator, floated the idea of emancipation but was quickly shot down by the others as the task being too ambitious and not in their mandate. Tomas, a half-orc gladiator who won his freedom in the Arena, sought instruction to bring his game to another level for his next match. Without much prompting, Tomas told of his youth growing up in a clan of desert nomads that where exterminated by the Templars for violating one of the emperors oasis’. He was one of a handful of survivors that was then sold into slavery. He won his freedom in the gladiator pits and earned enough income to free another female survivor and is now married and expecting a child. A contract was agreed upon, with the party extracting a very Don King like 25% of Tomas’ winnings.

While exploring the city one evening, Bran’s agent made contact with Grimlock. Azim Nhadinamar, an officer in the Templars and minor noble, spoke of many secretive meetings in the palace between the emperor and his most trusted advisors, resulting in multiple deployments of Templars out into the desert with excavation gear. They seemed to be pouring over an ancient manuscript but Azim had only been able to overhear the phrase “Hlaxer Natomabad” which loosely translates to “the gift of life”. Azim also mentioned that the Emperor seemed to have stopped showing any sign of advanced ageing. The group had much to ponder, but before they could set their minds to the task Tomas reported that he was being pressured to throw his next fight by the Talon or risk threat to his wife. Some digging around the underbelly of the city revealed that the Talon was a local street gang of Thri-Kreen that deals in slavery, narcotics, and protection being lead by one called Screwface. The party decided to pay Mr. Screwface a visit in the slums and you know, make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. This of course led to a vicious smack down with insectoids flying and bounding around the bar and the party absorbing massive amounts of damage before exterminating Mr. Screwface with extreme prejudice.

Uncertain weather this was the end of things or not they had Tomas and his wife move into their training compound as a precaution and then set off into the desert trailing a group of Templars. After several grueling days they came upon a dig site that revealed a stairway leading beneath the sands. Using a bit of stealth they were able to see several of the Templars descend the stairway leaving a small guard in the camp. The party made quick work of the guards after failing to just Boss Hog themselves past them like they own the joint. During the attempted parley, sounds of screaming and dieing emanated from the passageway weakening the morale and resolve of some of the Templars. After the remaining Templars fled into the desert night the party cautiously descended the steps beneath the desert and were met with an overwhelming darkness and the scent of death, both new and ancient

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Alright, I am going to need you to keep this on the down low. I don’t want this getting back to a certain lovable Dwarven “Weapon Master” with balls of stone and a heart of gold, as he can be so sensitive sometimes, but I played a Rogue in an Living Forgotten Realms adventure at my local game store last week and it was freaking fantastic. I’m not just talking about the massive amounts of damage Mr. Sultan Griss was able to drop on poor unsuspecting kobolds, although it did get me wondering if this is how these striker guys get you to fall to the dark side by giving you a little taste of the power, for free of course like some damage pimp, and then the next thing you know your force choking poor Natalie Portman for suggesting that maybe you need to remember your defender roots. What I liked about playing a Rogue was you just couldn’t swagger up to a bad guy and blow your load like some lazy out of shape porn star; you had to think about how you were going to go about getting your combat advantage, which greatly added to the game play experience. I found myself more engaged and attentive even when it wasn’t my turn, watching the battle unfold and plotting my next move.  It almost made me forget that I was playing a module for the second time (what are the odds of that, I play so rarely it is like the D&D gods were mocking me). Not to mention Role-playing a rogue is also pretty badass; I mean come on who doesn’t love being a proper scoundrel.

I went with a Drow artful dodger with a pimped up melee weapon in the rapier and a dagger in the off hand. I modeled him after Salvatore’s Jarlaxe (who is about a bazillion times more interesting than Drizzt) complete with eye patch affectation. I went with a 20 Dexterity to start, as I think this type of Rogue is a build you can get away with it given your attack bonus, AC bonus, damage bonus, and initiative bonus all key off dexterity.  I also opted for the Drow Cloud of Darkness racial power. Aside from being way cool thematically, I found that it came in pretty handy to get your combat advantage when you really needed it as well as a nice emergency eject button when you’re about to have your shit handed to you

One of the quirky things about skills and the mechanics of Rogues in 4th edition is that you are unlikely to have any points in your Wisdom. This means your Perception skill and by default your ability to detect traps will suck balls. Even if you put a couple of points into Wisdom you will still struggle hitting those hard DC’s. You can be a trap disarming savant but you’re more likely to walk into that pit trap than disarm it, unless of course the Elven bow ranger points it out to you first or even worse the Cleric. I think in my campaigns I might give Rogues +2 bonus to the Perception skill to better suit my view of the Rogue Archetype.

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