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Archive for July, 2011

As I am prepping for my Revenge of the Giants game tonight, which is being played out through Wizard’s Virtual Tabletop, I thought I would blog a bit about my thoughts on the module so far and playing at the Paragon Tier. The module itself is….okay. The production quality is fantastic (it makes me lament the fact that Wizard’s is not really publishing adventures anymore, I think we get one this year and the DDI stuff just isn’t the same). The story is fairly classic, with giantkind banding together to try and release an ancient primordial from its prison while wreaking havoc and laying waste to everything.  The adventure essentially plays out in a series of delves or crawls and is very combat heavy, punctuated by forced and sometimes mechanically awkward skill challenges.   There is a really weird section/delve where you travel back in time and lay some smack on Acererak before he became a lich. The hook is that you need to get some “sky metal” to make some potent magic weapons to aid you in your quest to defeat the giants. It left me thinking that if you can travel in time why not go back and alter the events that lead to the current predicament, but whataya going to do maybe that would violate the prime directive or something.

You can tell that this module was written early on in the life of 4th edition before they had a fuller understanding of how the system really worked and potential pitfalls (another reason why I lament the lack of new published modules because most of the ones in actual print suffer from this). The only tweaking I have done so far is to swap out monsters for their current versions post Monster Manual 3 or updated the damage to the new progression levels.

With regards to DM’ing at the Paragon tier, I have to honestly say I have no fucking clue about what’s going on during the game most of time. Each Character has so many powers, magic items and abilities that whenever I do anything  2 or 3 voices chirp up over the interwebs calling out numbers that reduce attack roles, damage rolls, or trigger some kind of awfulness for my monsters. It can be very confusing. I have access to all their character because they are stored on the virtual table, but really it is too much to keep track of and I think you have to just trust your players.  It is even confusing for the players as some have crib sheets stored on the notes section detailing specifics or exceptions of how their characters work. Also, I can’t even imagine running this module or any paragon game without the new monster damage as it would be just a joke. Even with the pimped up monsters the party still hasn’t been really threatened. I haven’t dropped anyone unconscious yet and rarely bloody more than one person per encounter.

Here is the intro I sent out to the players as I wasn’t really feeling the initial hooks that were laid out in the adventure:

You are all members of the nation of Fallcrest’s Special Forces, some on the books and some off the books, whose mission has been the protection of your fledgling nation from the ever encroaching darkness.

Several weeks ago, tales began to circulate of a strange mechanical bird that flew into the throne room. After several minutes of just circling the room, the strange bird landed at the feet of the throne and began to address the king. Not all of the details of what was said have emerged but it is known that this strange bird addressed the King as “the mighty and benevolent ruler of Nerath” and repeatedly mentioned his duty to uphold “the Paragon Compact” and how the great city of Argent could not be left without champions as the world itself would suffer the consequences.

You have been ordered to equip yourself for deployment and present to his majesty in the throne room at first light.

When I had the king send them off to investigate the strange mechanical bird’s plea, I spoke as the King and asked if they had any questions. This was followed by nothing but dead air and the faint sound of crickets chirping. I then responded, as the king, “that’s what I like about you special forces types, all business no talk”.  Guess this is the right module for this job after all  😉

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I have a confession. Long before I fantasized about picking up Anduril and trouncing off through the forest looking for the one ring and bitch-slapping Sauron I wanted to be a Jedi….really badly.  I can’t tell you how many times, as a kid and occasionally as an adult, I have almost stroked out or saw spots from trying to use the force. Back then it was to move some object into my hand like Luke in “Empire”, nowadays it’s trying to force choke the shit out the myriad of dick-wads I seem to come in contact with (I know not very Jedi-like but the lure of the dark side is strong).

So where am I going with this? Well as I have detailed before I have a bit of a shopping problem (more of an addiction) and tend to just throw money at rpg’s. In addition to my extensive D&D library, I have quietly (so as not to arouse wife suspicion and aggro, although I do occasionally get a “what the fuck is this?”) been acquiring varies rpg systems over the past year or so.  I have Pathfinder, Dragon Age, Mutants and Masterminds/DCU, Hero System 4th and 6th Edition, and Star Wars Saga Edition. I have been plotting to add some mini-campaings featuring different systems as a little break between D&D games and have settled on Star Wars Saga Edition. My face to face game will be finishing the heroic tier soon and it would be a good time to insert a mini-campaign in another system before either continuing the story or starting another in say Dark Sun. I am always leery about teaching a new system given the nature of my face to face group so I think Saga will be good because of it’s similarity to 4th edition D&D.

As I am delving into the sourcebooks and gearing up I have narrowed the setting down to either Knights of the Old Republic or this Alternative Universe where basically Anakin didn’t fall to the dark side and Let Mace gut Palpatine. I need a Star Wars game to be rife with Lightsabers, the force, and Jedi. In getting familiar with the system I have a greater appreciation with what Wizards did with 4th edition D&D in terms of making it DM friendly. When I look at the stat blocks for villains/monsters with all the feats and talents as well as trying to figure out how to build encounters with the whole CL thing I start to sweat a little  (I have a fucking Ph.D. you’d think I could do simple math).

I am going to start the game at either 3rd or 4th level.  I am pretty sure everyone in my group will want to play a Jedi, so I thought about giving some background choices reflecting experiences/work within the Jedi organization that would then translate into a starting level in another class i.e. scout, noble etc..before multi-classing into Jedi to deal with the  lack of skills that are available to the class. I also want them to feel like Jedi’s from the get go, so I think starting at higher level will help with this. So anyone have any suggestions for running a saga game?

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The party descended the stairs into the ancient crypt with the smell of death, new and ancient, heavy in the air. As their torches illuminated the large room at the end of the staircase revealing torn remains and body parts of templars  scattered across the floor and several large skeletal warriors whose socket-less gazes slowly turned to regard them. It was then on like Donkey Kong in a brutal donnybrook that had several of the party members dropping during the fight as they kept eating exploding skeletons during their death throws.

After re-grouping, the party moved into the next room which contained a large mural spanning the entirety of one wall. The mural depicted Shar and her sister Selune standing on opposing ends of the scene and between them swirled elemental chaos. Each held a small stone to their mouths and appeared to be blowing through each, as life and order was springing forth from each the stone to replace the fury of the chaos. In typical paranoid fashion, the party scoured every nook and cranny of that room looking for any kind of trap or bogeyman.  Eventually they decided to move further into the crypt fully expecting to be waylaid from behind.

As they entered the final chamber they were greeted by the crypts ancient guardian, a member of ancient species long extinct, and his guardian construct. The party got a glimpse of a very Indiana Jones esq. type of artifact on the dais behind him. Khaine tried to sweet talk the Guardian into letting the party safeguard the artifact, but the guardian grew suspicious at his honeyed words. With that it began (note to DM self, solo controllers are meh), when the dust settled the party collected the loot and decided to rest up in the chamber before braving the heat of the desert.  

When the party emerged from the beneath the sands they noted a dust cloud announcing the approach of a small group. They decided to hide and potentially ambush these interlopers. When the group arrived with a familiar and most hated face at the head in one assassin named Torrin the great debate began about whether to slink off with the artifact and complete their mission or lay some smack on that pompous dickface. Needles to say the battle was joined. It was quick and dirty (but in reality long and grindy) and the initial onslaught, despite the element of surprise, had the heroes wavering on the brink of disaster until a late rally and some tactical warfare started to shift the tide of battle. Sensing his eventual defeat, Torrin fled into the desert leaving the party to mop up the rest of baddies.

Beaten and exhausted, the heroes set off for Netheril to try and decipher the strange markings on the artifact……

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I know I can give Wizards a bit of a hard time for some of the shit they pull (I am looking at you turd builder and your pal cash grab cards), but I really do enjoy and have fun playing their current version of D&D, as I have with all previous editions. I am, however, no fanboy that gets down on his knees and well..fluffs them no matter what they do nor am I a hater that looks for a way to take a flaming dump on every offering or move they make. I fall more in the middle, a cynical douche whose hackles go up at the first hint of marketing spin or duplicity.  

So I thought I would give Wizards’ some love for the noticeable increase of fluff/story in their published offerings beginning with the essentials materials, which I have found to be fantastic. I love these little story elements as I feel it brings things to life. I have to admit when I first got the core books and was reading through them it was a bit like reading the owners manual for my Blu-Ray player, and I often found my eyes sort of glazing over (you know kind of like when your wife is talking/nagging). I know some of you crunch warriors out there get all worked into a shoot and start talking about how you don’t need any fluff as you can make your own. I feel your pain, but we have talked before about my somewhat challenged creativity and how I really appreciate a helping hand now and again. Wizards’ latest monster book Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale is particularly awesome. Monsters, villains, and threats are grouped together and bound with a story or background that is not only interesting to read but stirs the imagination for use in your game as is or as an easily re-skinned jumping off point. 

Another shift I have noticed is an effort to include powers or mechanics for non-combat use. I have struggled sometimes with most of the powers and effects being so tied to the combat mechanics and how to do things when not in combat. A great example of this for me is in Heroes of Shadow and the poisons that the Executioner Assassin has at his disposable. Each entry has an in-combat effect as well as an out of combat effect. Again, I know a more skillful DM can create and adjudicate these things just fine using skills, powers and role-playing, but I prefer a little more guidance to sort of keep me within the white lines of the highway and prevent a situation such as this:

“Okay so as the count is distracted I slip the poison in his drink”

“Cool, so he takes a sip as he gives you a condescending look”

“Great what happens?”

“He clutches at his throat and staggers to his feat, his rage visible as he draws his sword”

“That’s it? What does the poison do?” “

Oh yah, good point…ahh…you see him grab painfully at his crotch as his dick falls off.”

“What?”

“Yah, his dick totally falls off.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“Well I guess he would take a penalty to his reflex defense on account of being off balance”

“So let me get this straight, I am a master assassin with years of training and plying my craft and I would brew a poison that would make my target’s dick fall off?”

“Hmm yah I see what you mean, okay he’s dead”

“So now he is dead?”

“Yep totally dead…and his dick falls off”

So thanks again Wizards for preventing something like this from happening at my table and keep up the good work.

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