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Archive for June, 2012

Well the summer of Dark Sun has begun. The players have managed to free themselves from the Gladiatorial pits after a failed assassination attempt on the sorcerer king Andropenis..er I mean Andropinis. They are currently skulking their way around the under-belly of Balic while being hunted by their former slave master and trying to decide how to get the fuck out of dodge.

I started the game with a battle in the arena where the players were fighting as a team against a Black Dragon posing as a Silt Wyrm. I just wanted to give some props to the Black Dragon from the Monster Vault. At level+1 it was supremely efficient at eviscerating my gang. I managed to drop 3 of the 5 characters without breaking a sweat and needed to take my foot of the accelerator a little to not TPK in the first combat of the first session of the campaign.

The group, through the vagaries of online play, has found themselves without a leader. The current roster is filled with a defender, 2 strikers, and 2 controllers. Is it me or with that make-up are they not just asking for me to pound on them? I mean 2 controllers come on man. This puts me in an interesting spot as no one seems interested in playing a leader and I am not interesting on insisting someone play a leader and the players (at least one) want the game to be brutal in that prototypical Dark Sunny way. I was thinking of adding a 6th person but there is no guarantee they would want to play a leader either. So what are you going to do? It sort of makes encounter planning a little challenging as the game is balanced around the assumption of a leader.  

So we are going to do some experimenting and see if we can make this work without compromising the feel of the setting too much. What I mean by feeling is that in my view things in Dark Sun need to be extremely nasty, scary, and hit like a sac of doorknobs to the junk.  In the next session one of the NPC’s will dole out some magical fruit (Dark Sun equivalent of a healing potion) which the players can use with a minor action to spend a surge.  So it’s a little better than a regular healing potion but a little worse than healing power. If this turns out to be a viable option then they will just have to use a lot of their resources acquiring the healing fruit. I am still setting the encounter difficulty at level +2 and above and have reminded them that fleeing is also an option in combat….what was Khalid’s catch phrase “better part of valor”

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“Give me the loot”…man I love me some Free RPG Day. I have a pretty good relationship with one of the many FLGS’ I frequent and have parlayed that into goodies galore, such as the new Lair Assault: Spider Killer and first dibs on the spoils of Free RPG Day. It’s one of the perks of being and old neck beard that still buys printed books from an actual store, plus I can be a pretty charming mother fucker when I try.  

I agreed to run the D&D adventure at the store as you know how I love to mingle with the sweaty, stinky, Dorito stained masses. The adventure was your basic delve scenario featuring a Beholder as the big bad mofo. The presentation, like all of WOTC’s products, was fantastic. There were several things that made the adventure less than ideal for public play and I think WOTC kind of dropped the ball on this. Although given that they are on to bigger and better things with “Next” I still think you want to maximize any opportunity for people to sit down and play your product, especially first timers. The biggest problem was the lack of pre-generated characters coupled with the adventure being in the 8th-10th level range. Making 7 level 9 characters was a super pain in my ass and took away from actual adventure prep. The relatively high level of the adventure/characters also had me slightly concerned if I ended up having to teach the game to any noobs. I went with all Essentials classes to reduce the complexity and ease the generation workload. In terms of adventure design, I thought the monsters were interesting (I was looking foreword to having a cave roper eat someone while talking like Kang and Kodos from the Simpsons) but with a lot of fussy powers that synergized well together. They definitely gave off that far realm vibe but I was worried they might be difficult to run, especially if I needed to divide attention teaching noobs or less experienced players the ropes.

It turned out to be moot as of the 6 guys that showed up to play, 2 refused to have anything to do with 4th Edition (one hadn’t even tired the system before but was just going on what he had heard). I had never seen that kind of edition warring and hatred right there onFront Street, it was kind of funny. I mean the one guy was super rigid and a little anal retentive (I spent the afternoon playing with him) so I could see a lack of flexibility and a very black and white mentality. I really don’t get it though, unless the core mechanic of the game is the DM pulling his cock out and beating me in the face with it I will pretty much play anything, especially for a one shot.

So the owner ended up running the Pathfinder offering, which is also pretty slick and included pre-gens. I actually got to play for a change which was way cool. I went with Valeros, who is the Pathfinder iconic fighter. I really enjoyed playing and thought the adventure was good, but I felt the final showdown was a bit of a grind. We faced off against some kind of demononess who was pretty tuff. I don’t mind a hard fight but her AC was so high that I as the badass melee fighter had only a 15% chance of landing a blow. The cleric was kind enough to give me the old shocker and buff my ass up with Bulls Strength, but that still left me with only a 25% chance to hit (35% when flanking). No one could hit the monster. The fight wore on with us essentially surrounding it and whiffing at it while the wizard plugged it with his wand of magic missiles. Despite the little bit of grind at the end it was all and all a very enjoyable time. Hopefully the store can scare up enough people for me to run the Lair Assault cause I love being given the green light to stomp a character’s face into the ground 🙂

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I think I must be voyeuristic by nature. It’s likely what pushed me in the direction of becoming a psychologist. With the coming of “Next” it also has me transfixed on the forum boards, mesmerized by the bickering and bile being spewed back and forth. I think what I find most amusing are the cats that hated 4th edition, all puffed up with self-importance, like the coming of “Next” is a validation of their hate and proof that WOTC was wrong and now must grovel at their feet.

I don’t buy it for a second that 4th edition wasn’t financially successful. I also think it helped to significantly grow the hobby in very crowded entertainment environment dominated by video games. People look at the successes of Pathfinder as evidence of 4th edition financially underperforming and the “split” of the player base, but I think that ignores those that have purchased and played both, people like me. Another claim of 4th edition suckage is its short edition cycle. I guess I would counter this with the fact that the business landscape is dramatically different than what the previous editions faced, particularly being a publishing business in the era of digital piracy. When I was involved in D&D Encounters I couldn’t believe the number of virgin players that showed up to pop their d20 cherries, mostly young guns, and I was equally amazed that virtually none of them ever bought a book. Oh they had all the products, usually stored on whatever mobile device they were carrying at the time. I am beginning to believe only old fucktatrds like me buy actual books anymore, although I would gladly purchase a pdf alongside my hardback copy if WOTC is listening. I also think that WOTC had run out of design space in 4th edition. I mean really, I don’t know what else they could have possible sold us at this point. It’s partially a consequence of their diarrhea style release schedule, plus nothing sells quite as good as the core books of a new edition.  

I have sniffed around the D&D Next playtest package and I can honestly say that I have no desire to playtest or play that game. It doesn’t look bad, it looks exactly like what it is proposing to be, a very rules light, old school vibe system with some tweaks. It reminds me a lot of Castles and Crusades, particularly in how they handle skills, saving throws, and “contests” which seems to mirror the “SIEGE” engine. I guess for me, if I really want play with old school nostalgia I would just play with the original material or a retro clone. I realize that this is the base core rules and that they are going to hang optional rules modules on it like some kind of giant gaming Christmas tree, so I want to wait and see what some of the more tactical options are before I make a real yeah or nay. My speculation is that the souped up version will look a lot like 3.5/Pathfinder so I am not sure how much that will entice me to throw money at it. I am also curious about the packaging and how they are going to manage these so called “modules”. I mean are they going to be in the core rule book? Or are they going to go with separate books for a lot of these things? If they do that it seems like it might be very confusing for new players and if it costs me more to get the game I want than the previous core books that might seriously give me a case of the old red eye. In the end I am kind of left wondering how long you can continue to re-package rules with some tweakage and survive.

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Does it get any better, as a DM, seeing your players shit their pants as they watch their characters drop like a sac of doorknobs and bleed out all over the battle mat? I think not. I guess collaborative storytelling, character growth, and making the players feel like super bad mofo’s that catches bullets with their teeth is alright, but between you and me I think I still prefer the old brown note moments.

One of the fair criticisms of 4th edition is the length of combats and to a lesser degree combat grind. I have been experimenting with combat and encounter design over the past little while to try and tweak the grind a bit.   I had to make a conscious decision to move away from making every combat a set piece battle and allowing for smaller skirmishes that fit the story better. For example, if the players were going to get rolled by thugs I would be okay with using 2 lower level dudes instead of a “gang of 4 to 5” to make a balanced encounter. I also started using higher level mooks but less of them to create quicker but still damaging fights.

I kicked it up a notch this past weekend and got me some of that brown notey goodness. I was inspired by Frothsof  4E and his musings on monster design and threat level. He had a post (it doesn’t seem to be up anymore) were he adapted and old 1st edition module that had a lot of solo monsters. He modified the solos into a sort of elite/solo hybrid that would give decent challenge and play quicker to prevent grinding the adventure to a halt.  His tinkering definitely scratched an itch for me as I like using solo monsters but often feel like the combat can take forever and with little threat (even with many of the post MM3 solos). I needed a badass assassin to challenge the entire party, but I wanted it to be quick and dirty after the Paladin sees the head of his order gutted in front of him.

So I made an “elite solo” and added some of the design concepts that Frothsof outlined. The “Night Hawk” actually exceeded my expectations and I was rewarded with some brown notey goodness with multiple “holy shits” and “this guy is way tougher than I thought he was going to be” and “you seem to be mentioning cock a lot today” (which is not really relevant here but still a valid observation). The Night Hawk ended up being a pretty good challenge for my party of four 9TH level characters as he bloodied everyone and dropped the cleric and the ranger before the Paladin finally cut him down. The battle was also super quick so I will definatly utilize this style of monster in the future.  You can check him out below:

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