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Archive for December, 2011

I have been following the Legends and Lore articles, originally written by Mike Mearls and currently written by Monte Cooke, over at Wizards of the Coast’s website since their inception. The main thrust of the articles is to provide some kind of insight into the thinking and processes that the designers are going through with regards to the future direction of the game. One theme that keeps getting batted around is the concept of modularity and how it may factor into the next iteration of D&D.

So what is this modularity they speak of? Well it seems what they are talking about is having a basic rule set of D&D or chassis if you will, and then you the DM/play group have the option of adding these optional rule sets or modules to create the type of game experience you desire. This is generally couched in level of complexity terms, for example if you want a more complex simulation experience then keep adding modules until your happy and vice versa.  My first thought was how much is that going to fucking cost me given that I will of course need to purchase the full monty so I don’t have to live with crippling feelings of inadequacy. I am sure it is going to be more than the equivalent PHB, DMG, MM from previous editions.

Then I had some other ideas (some of them albeit tangential and vaguely sexual which I‘ll not share) around what these modules might include.  Now I could be wrong, as I frequently am, but one of the goals of the next edition has to be to reclaim a lot of cats that didn’t make the transition to fourth edition or tried it and jumped ship. What would entice these players back into the WoTC fold? I think one of the modules might just be the Vancian magic system. Is that even possible? I don’t know, I have absolutely no game design skill whatsoever (my modifier would be -15 to any checks) or business acumen (hence psychologist). The way I see it though, at the heart of some individuals rejection of 4th edition, aside from coming to early in order to keep the money machine rolling, is that it didn’t feel like good old D&D to them. This was primarily due to the removal of the Vancian system in favor of the power system and subsequent effect on character progression i.e. multi-classing and balance. So would it even be possible to have the 4th edition power system as a module alongside the Vancian magic system module for people to choose between and place over the basic game rule set? I have no idea whatsoever. All I can say is that Wizards is in a precarious position going forward as any significant change with the current system has the real risk of splitting the customer base yet again without bringing back significant numbers of lapsed players. Definitely between a rock and a hard place, it will be interesting to see what shakes out.

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I have been slowly making my way through Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, mostly during my morning and evening trips to the “office”, and I have come to the realization that it is an awesome book. This is exactly the kind of book I was looking for in 4th edition with regards to magic items. I found the first two magic books, Adventurers Vault 1 and 2, to be pretty meh and a cure for insomnia. I can understand WOTC’s dilemma as they needed to get out a wackload of items given how integral they were to the math of the new system, but the result was uber melba toast.

Mordenkainen’s definitely follows in the post essentials mold with more emphasis on story/fluff. Each item has some story text describing its origins, and in some cases potential story hooks. They have finally sorted out the rarity system so it is more viable to implement in your games, including some pretty friggin cool rare items.  The book also updates some iconic magic items such as Frost Brands, Dancing swords, Helms of Brilliance, Rings of Wizardry, and many more.

The over arching concept of the book is also pretty cool in that it is a lost journal or tome of the great wizard Mordenkainen detailing and cataloguing the world’s magic items. Following in this vein, the book contains little anecdotes by the big man himself.  But more so than anything this book made me dream of magic again, like that 11 year-old kid who was under the covers pouring through the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide pregnant with possibilities.

Although one item or more so the art caught my eye and made me think good lord Drax wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing (Drax is the lovable fighter whose exploits I have occasionally chronicled here). The item is question is Fishscale Armor and Shoes of Water Walking accessory.

When I saw these I had the thought that if I know Drax (and I do on account of him being a figment of my imagination) he would rather sink to the bottom of the ocean encased in full plate or at least be cut down bare chested in his loin cloth than suit up in that get-up. I mean come on man what is that a turquoise bonnet or bathing cap?

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I think my favorite column currently running on WOTC’s website is Chris Perkins’ “The Dungeon Master’s Experience”. The column centers on giving DM’ng advice through the backdrop of his two home campaigns. If you have ever listened to one of his live-play podcasts his brilliance as a DM comes across not only in his ability to bring the world and NPC’s to life but also in his ability improvise with what the players bring to the table. One of the themes that comes across in these articles is having the campaign be reactive to the players decisions and actions with consequences in game for the things they do or don’t do. This inspired me to look at this issue in my own game, and several of my recent posts have been about making my players choices have impact in the campaign both good and bad.  Another thing that has struck me is that he is not afraid to throw adversity at his players whether in the form of something awful happening to them or having them face off against threats way above the party’s level.

I think this has the effect of making the game more of a living and breathing entity and much more engaging and evocative. I felt I was getting stuck a little bit in a delve/video game mentality of adventures being a discrete series of encounters ending in a boss battle. Although the adventures flowed together and propelled the overall campaign story forward, there was at times, little interplay between events. I am not talking necessarily the big picture story arc, because that’s always been there but more the little things. Part of this might be due to only playing monthly as it can be hard to do certain things or maintain a certain feel or immersion and only now have we had enough sessions where I can start to weave in some of these reactions and complications.

Which brings us to Rhogar, the dragonborn sword and board turned Shifter full blade wielding paladin of Pelor. You see Rhogar belongs to a knightly monastic order devoted to Pelor (think orders within the Roman Catholic Church or Eddings  Elenium series) and just so happened to expose a conspiracy involving a secret sect of the order called “The Blazing Sun” (think ultra extremists seeking to expunge evil at any cost). This all culminated in Rhogar cutting down Sir Alaran, one of the leaders of the sect. Everyone thought that was the end of it, but no such thing. I didn’t know what it would be but in my mind I knew this wouldn’t be the last they saw of the Order of the Blazing Sun. I’d been toying with some ideas for a while; you know letting things percolate, or my case ferment. Then it hit me, betrayal and then a choice for young Rhogar.

Because I run with a small group I created a few companion characters to fill in some of the roles when we were short a player instead of canceling a session. One of these characters was Sultan Griss who was a man-at-arms in Rhogar’s order and assigned to him as sort of a squire. While the rest of the party was on their way to be poisoned and captured I had Sultan separate Rhogar from the rest of the party with a secret sign language used in the order indicating that Rhogar needed to attend to an issue involving church business. As they were walking down an alleyway Sultan put his arm around Rhogar, smiled, and slid a poisoned dagger into his side and whispered “you have to answer for Sir Alaran”. Rhogar’s last sight was of the Templars closing in as the poison burned through his body.

Now here’s where the choice came in. He was placed in a cell with the other players but still unconscious and possibly dying from the poison. As his comrades were attempting their escape and fighting for their lives I had him bear witness to this as the scene around him began to shift to the dark reflection of the shadowfell, where he was greeted by an exarch of the Raven Queen. I had the exarch offer him a proposition; he stated that as it sat he was hovering between life and death with about even odds of recovering or dying. Given the animosity he had generated with Shar it would be unlikely that his soul would be able to reach his mistresses kingdom should he perish. So he was offering him a choice, serve the Raven Queen and he would be returned and healed. When Rhogar asked about Pelor, the exarch replied that sometimes deals are brokered and sometimes people serve many masters. The best part, and what made me giddy like a little schoolgirl, was how much he agonized about the decision. It went on so long that I thought I was going to start playing the Jeopardy music. He eventually accepted the offer and as the exarch placed a hand on his shoulder and seared a black Raven into his skin he immediately awoke and proceeded to vomit a swarm of shadowy raven that flew out and devoured several of the guards fighting his comrades (a new encounter power akin to dragonbreath). I was very pleased with how this all played out; although I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do with it in future adventures. Afterwards I also had let him know that there was no way I would have killed his character like that and he would have woken up to aid in the escape, but would have been weakened. I mean come on; I am a douche but not a fucking douche. If you haven’t checked out Mr. Perkins column yet you should as not only is it an entertaining read but also inspiring.

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