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Harold of Acholt worries about his father, the Thane
Harold of Acholt worries about his father, the Thane

When you prep for the players to zig, they always zag. Continuing from part six...

We're finally caught up to the most recent game session! With game world firmly built out and chock-a-block with adventure hooks and sidequests, a firm campaign direction ("Escort Xerlo to the Eye of the All-Father"), and brain-eating enthusiasm infinitely better than the floundering avoidance I started with, I was excited for the characters to head into Rohan Hestelland. It was a four-day hike from Tyvalich to Hierandal, the capital of the realm, which was summarized in a paragraph because it mostly consisted of staring at grass for hours on end.

The first order of business on arriving in Hierandal was looking up Piotr Zymorven to ask him about his father's sword. They found him in a tavern... )

Well my dear readers, reskinned wyverns are still CR 6. A party of six 5th-level PCs and their CR 7 stone giant ally piledrived Svartjaw so fast that Lord Alden and his son didn't even get a chance to draw their swords. Lord Alden was quite upset by this apparent anticlimax to what he had expected to be an epic last hunt that would be sung of by the bards and so on... until Rina pointed out that the tracks they'd been following had a very distinctive tread missing three toes on one foot– and that the monster they had killed did not.

Svartjaw, it seemed, was not the only one of his kind.

Furthermore, examination of the bear revealed that like the displacer beasts in the previous session, Svartjaw was also wearing a collar with a token on it, in this case an emblem of Nerull the Reaper, a dark god of death and murder from eastern lands. There was still hunting to be done before dawn. The session ended with Lord Alden giving the order to mount up to continue the hunt, darkness and the forest be damned.

And with that, the campaign summary is up to date! The next session will begin with the PCs attempting to find Svartjaw's lair and confront the source of its evil. Will Lord Alden survive his last hunt? Time alone can tell.

-The Gneech
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The Grand, Unified Map of Gneech's Campaign World

Then, the world changed. Continuing from part five...

I was going to finish the recaps with the discussion of last weekend's session here, but I got to talking about the map (as one does) and realized the last recap would have to wait for one more post.

Once I realized that Storm King's Thunder was a "build your own campaign" framework and not a straightforward adventure module and embraced it, that meant that I had to build out the world in order to make room for it all. I went through the module from front to back and placed every location important to the campaign somewhere, and then set myself to the task of filling in as much of the blank space around that as possible.

I discovered that the Silver Coast was waaaaay too small... )

It took several days and the project pretty much ate my brain the whole time, but now that it's done I'm really happy with the result. This is a game world that I can see going pretty well forever, with enough detail and history to feel "lived in" while still having plenty of room for expansion as needed (I tried to leave myself lots of open spots). It's not suitable for publication or any such thing– it's got chunks of Greyhawk, chunks of Faerûn, bits of Lovecraft's Dreamlands, and of course the Middle-earth nations of Rohan, Arnor, and Angmar with the serial numbers shaved off. But it is a cool place for me and six friends to visit every Saturday night.

It also taught me a lot about world-building in general, which is valuable for creating original works. I will probably use a very similar process to build out Calypsitania and the Fortress of Tears world for writing novels in next.

Next time, part seven, in which we finally catch up to the campaign!

-The Gneech
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This Round's On Lem, from the Pathfinder Wiki
This Round's on Lem, from the Pathfinder Wiki

He spews lightning. He crashes into everything he gets near and knocks trees over onto himself. And yet he's still kinda adorable. Continuing from part four...

The first town on the road north was Tyvalich, a major trading town at the mouth of a pass up into the richest silver mountains in the world. Before they got there, however, the party was confronted by Felgolos, the Flying Misfortune, a young-ish adult bronze dragon who came swooping in, blasted a line of lightning between the party and the road, and proclaimed that he was the protector of the north and they would go no further. And then had to duck from the lightning-blasted tree that almost fell on his head.

Seeing Xerlo in their company had apparently... )

They headed back to town to collect their reward, stopping briefly to aid and comfort the same band of Calladganger hunters they had met before, who had been tracking a herd of aurochs through the mountains and gotten the snot pounded out of them by a bunch of hill giants. Still convinced that Nikki is some kind of nature spirit, they turned down his offer of "eagle" (actually bloodhawk) meat, because eagles were sacred to them and this was obviously some kind of spiritual test Nikki was putting them through to make sure they followed the old ways or some such. Nikki informed them that there was a nicely large, vacant Calladganger-style homestead in a box canyon just a ways up the mountain that they could safely camp and recuperate in, as long as they didn't mind the smell of burning dead monster. Their leader promised they would ritually sanctify the house and that anyone who settled there would be named the People of the Squirrel in gratitude for this beneficence.

"Right. You do that."

(For the record, the Calladganger leader is not whimsically eccentric, even if I do refer to him as "Kronk." He's a perfectly normal big dumb amiable lug.)

After a night of rest, it was time for the four day hike to Hierandal, which will come in part five.

-The Gneech
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Drow Assassin by thatDMan
Drow Assassin by thatDMan

You knew a prophecy had to show up eventually. Continuing from part three...

Upon arriving back in town, the party headed for Lord-Protector Shendrel's offices only to find an unruly mob of farmers complaining about Xerlo, the stone giant, who apparently defended an outlying farm from attack by throwing the farmer's silo at a bunch of hill giants who were stealing all the livestock they could get ahold of while chanting "Food for Guh! Food for Guh!" They said they'd have a talk to him.

While they were in town, [personal profile] inkblitz headed off to the Golden Compass Society for Exploration, Acquisition, and Monster Dispatch (a.k.a. the Adventurers Guild), while Sirfox headed for the Brotherhood of the Spider (a.k.a. the Thieves Guild). [profile] jamesbarrett went off to the temple and the garrison to boost morale, aid the refugees of the volcano still clogging up the town, and presumably chop wood or something paladiney like that.

Investigation at the Adventurers Guild revealed... )

They were not expecting the dragon attack that comes in part five...

-The Gneech

PS: Quit creeping on that drow, guildmaster! Don't you know that's Obsidian's mother?
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Ghost paladin possessing a troll SMASH!

Kolstaag Albrek never knew what hit him. Continuing from part two...

It has always been true, but it is especially true of 5E that rolling low on initiative kills bosses dead. Between being blasted by the party's wizard and cleric, sneak-attacked by the rogue, and having a ghost-possessed troll flip a desk on him then pick him up and go all TROLL SMASH, Kolstaag Albrek didn't even get a spell off before the party had wrought their revenge. The pair of drow he was meeting with decided that was their cue to call it a day, and the wizard's vicious gargoyle pets were quickly dispatched. The only other occupant of the house was a cranky old coot named Xzyyzx, the wizard's housekeeper, whose opinion was that the wizard's death meant it was his house now.

The party were not inclined to debate the legalities of property ownership in Three Roads, but instead reclaimed their gear ([profile] jamesbarrett was quite jazzed to discover that Togar was the owner of a suit of adamantine plate), read Kolstaag's mail, and headed back to town. Kolstaag, it turned out, was working for a drow by the name of Nezannar, which triggered deja vu in players from my previous Silver Coast game.

(Since that game is actually set 50 years in the future relative to the current one, the events of that game are history repeating itself, even though it got played first. Wibbly-wobbly campaigney-wampaigney.)

They also fetched Xerlo the stone giant out of the basement. He was quite surprised they were no longer in their cells, but on being informed that his former employer was dead, he adopted a very c'est la vie attitude on the subject. The party invited him to come along back to Three Roads with them, with the plan of setting him up as an 18' tall Lurch-like guardian angel.

Lord-Protector Shendrel of Three Roads was a bit taken aback by having the party come back two days later from the opposite direction the fire giants had gone, with a troll and stone giant in tow. However, when shown the evidence of Kolstaag's shenanigans, took them at their word. (Having a paladin in the party really does wonders for the group's trustability.) She installed Xerlo in a barn outside of town, but took pains to point out that the job she'd hired them for– make sure the fire giants don't come back– was still not done.

So they set off north, tracking the fire giants. Even two days cold, the trail was fairly easy to follow for most of the way. They ran into some Calladganger hunters from the Clan of the Eagle, who seemed to think that Nikki was a nature spirit, but eventually found a cave complex populated by orcs herding axe beaks.

Their attempt at scouting the caves was thwarted when Rina botched a Stealth check. The orcs thought she was just a random wood elf in the forest and were going to bully her for fun, but the rest of the party came swooping in and disabused them of that notion quickly. A general alarm was raised and it turned into a huge furball with orcs, maddened axe beaks, fire giants, and their fire elemental pets/familiars/adds/whatever they were.

In 30+ years of playing Dungeons & Dragons, I would have never guessed I would see opposed Animal Handling checks be a factor in combat. Achievement unlocked.

Hathas, his time "bonding" with the troll seeming to rub off on him, waded into the fray with more bloodlust than one generally expects from a paladin, even a fallen one. The fire elementals damaged the troll so badly that Hathas abandoned it and joined the fray in ghost form instead. While the troll retreated to a cave in the back where it could munch on dead orc and regenerate, Hathas attempted to terrorize a fire giant (not unlike the librarian in the prologue of Ghostbusters). The fire giant was not terrorized... but members of the party were. Nice jorb, Hathas.

The odd thing about ghosts in D&D is... they have hit points. They resist nonmagical damage, but in order to interact with the world they must manifest on the physical plane. Fire giants do an average of 28 points of damage with a single hit and their attack bonus alone equals a ghost's AC. The fire giant made short work of Hathas, much to everyone's surprise (including Hathas).

The fight was a tough one, but the party rose to the challenge. Brother Drang finally got to use the call lightning he'd been itching for, and Togar entered a new phase of his career by being the tankiest ever but not getting one-punched in the first round. When the dust settled, the party was battered and bruised but victorious. They retrieved the giants' rod of the vonindid, a kind of dowsing rod for adamantine golem parts, and also discovered that these giants had found the vonindid's entire left hand. They rather hastily buried this where it was, as it was way too big to haul anywhere, and headed back to town.

The troll survived.

It turned out there were developments with their new stone giant friend, which will be revealed in part four!

-The Gneech
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Ghost Martyr Paladin by SpiralMagus
Ghost Martyr Paladin
by SpiralMagus

"So there we were, locked in a dungeon with a stone giant." Carrying on from Part One...

The new phase of the campaign really began with the first session down in Kolstaag Albrek's dungeon. [personal profile] inkblitz's new character was introduced to the rest of the party ("A talking griffon? Neat. I'm a five foot tall flying squirrel!"), as was their erstwhile guard, Xerlo the stone giant, whose first line was a straightforward, "If you try to escape, I will kill you," but who seemed more interested in scribbling on the floor than anything.

But he was willing to chat, assuming you could parse his mode of speech. Riffing on the idea that stone giants are sort of the hippie-dippie mystics of giantkind, I decided that Xerlo didn't care about things like "good" or "evil," but was only interested in what was "true" or "untrue," and that he was on a vision quest to find out what was really going on with the breaking of the Ordning– because he didn't believe that the stone giant thane's interpretation ("We must destroy every town, city, or building of the little folk!") was correct. I chose a stone giant particularly because, being inherently neutral, he could be a wild card. The players could recruit him or fight him, but it would be their choice and an impactful one.

They decided at first, once they'd gotten the gist of what he was about, to basically leave him alone, and that was probably a good call. They also worked out that while he was completely serious that he would kill them if they tried to go out the front door, there was also a back door that he apparently couldn't see and wasn't aware of.

So, being the mighty heroes they were, they slipped out the back, and again, that was a good call. They managed to scrounge up some sharp bits of broken metal or rusted bars from the cell doors to make crude weapons, and plunged into the depths. They found an old series of vaults that either Kolstaag didn't know about or wasn't interested in, origin and purpose unknown, populated by orcs, whom they avoided, but who were also between them and the exit.

They also caught glimpses of a ghostly figure in the darkness... )

They will confront the wizard in part three!

-The Gneech
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The Silver Coast Map, Revisited

So there have been some pretty big changes in my D&D game since the last time I posted about it. I want to bring my chronicle of the game up to date, but there's a lot of ground to cover so it's going to require several posts. So here's part one!

The party did in fact defeat The Yellow Lady, mad priestess of Hastur behind the evil brewing in the Caves of Chaos, only to discover that she had in fact been the missing daughter of Duke Blakewell all along. Oops. >.> A tragic and somewhat downer ending to the scenario, but also completely in line with the kind of crap that happens when Hastur gets involved.

The players all wanted to continue, and after presenting them with the various options I was weighing the group voted for Storm King's Thunder. So I said that with everything at the Keep being so awkward ("Sorry, m'lord, we kinda killed your daughter... but in our defense she tried to kill us first!") the party decided to move on to greener pastures. They heard that Mt. Thunderdelve, over on the Silver Coast, had erupted, and decided to head over there to see what they could do to help, and maybe find some gainful employment on the way.

Unfortunately, here I hit a bit of burnout, and floundered for a time. Far from being something I could easily pick up and run more-or-less off the shelf as Red Hand of Doom was, I discovered that Storm King's Thunder is an immense, sprawling, hot mess of an "adventure." It's not like a traditional module, so much as an enormous sandboxey "Build Your Own Campaign!" kit. Which is cool if that's what you're looking for, but at the time, that was so totally not what I was looking for.

Storm King's Thunder as written covers pretty much all of northern Faerûn, and the Silver Coast wasn't anywhere near that developed. I didn't realize it then, but the monumental task of actually sifting through SKT from front to back and building a world that could accommodate all 256 pages of it while still being a world I liked and wanted to run adventures in, was really biting off more than I was prepared to chew. And because of the way the book is structured, it isn't really something where it's easy to just toss the tracks down in front of the train as it goes.

So, I kinda bobbled a bit at first. I spent several weeks grinding my gears on the problem and not really getting anywhere. But I knew if I let it sit too long, the campaign would pass its expiration date. So I transposed Triboar in the Forgotten Realms to Three Roads, its Silver Coast analog, and ran the giants' assault on the town pretty much as written in the book just to get the game moving again. After a big hairy fight against orcs riding axe-beaks and a lot of what-the-helling at fire giants pulling an enormous adamantine staple out of the ground under the town fountain, the players decided to go visit a local wizard named Kolstaag Albrek to see if he could give them any insights before they chased the giants down– only to have Albrek knock them all out and toss them into a dungeon, the jerk.

Somewhere in here, two things happened... )

These two seeds turned out to be the defining factors of the game. Once I embraced the idea that SKT was a campaign kit and not an off-the-shelf adventure, thirty years of DMing instincts took hold and I was suddenly on fire! But how the party escaped the dungeon and what they did next, will have to wait for the next installment.

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Default)

Berelandine the Halfling Serving Wench by Dunlaoch on DeviantArt

A popular barracks/meadhall song in Orbis Leonis, sung to the tune of “The Mademoiselle From Armentiers.”


The halfling lass from Appletop is a tavern maid.


The halfling lass from Appletop is a tavern maid!

The halfling lass is a tavern maid.

In gold or kisses she gets paid!


Will you have another round, me lord?


The halfling lass from Appletop is three foot high.


The halfling lass from Appletop is three foot high!

The halfling lass is three foot high.

She looks your codpiece in the eye!


Will you have another round, me lord?


The halfling lass from Appletop is a lovely girl.


The halfling lass from Appletop is a lovely girl!

The halfling lass is a lovely girl.

She’ll take your stallion for a whirl!


Will you have another round, me lord?


I asked the lass from Appletop to be my bride.


He asked the lass from Appletop to be his bride!

I asked the lass to be my bride,

and spend a lifetime at my side!


Will you have another round, me lord?


The halfling lass from Appletop said “Nay, sir, nay.”


The halfling lass from Appletop said “Nay, sir, nay!”

The halfling lass said “Nay, sir, nay!

Not until your tab you pay!”


Will you have another round, me lord?

Put that in your weed-pipe and smoke it. 😉

-The Gneech

the_gneech: (Default)
Writing this as part of my World Map Project for the Storm King's Thunder campaign. Chunks of it will go into the gazetteer handout for the players, but I'm also posting it here for my elfy players (lookin' at you, Plotline and [personal profile] laurie_robey).

Elves are always a joy, and always a problem. Every campaign, and every edition, has treated them differently, to the point where it’s become a giant blurry mess. So for Orbis Leonis, my “grand unified D&D setting,” here is the definitive word on elves.

Earliest Days

In prehistoric times, the elves were a single people. They have a variety of creation legends, but they are largely biased and contradictory. What is known is that there was once a wide-ranging high elven civilization throughout the region now known as the Marches, ruled from the great spiraled tower Elfspire. Before the foundation of Elfspire, even the elvish histories are lost, other than that the elves fled from some calamity across a seemingly-endless plain– a plain that would have to be where the Gulf of Irul Kinthé is now– only to stop in despair upon sighting the eastern reaches of the great desert of Xadar. The Elfspire was created, the story goes, when the Maimed King, Iearendir, prayed to Corellian Larethian, who appeared before them and commanded a unicorn to touch its horn to the ground. From that spot sprung a well of miraculous healing powers, and around it grew the Elfspire in “an echo” of the unicorn’s horn. This happened, according to the elves, “hundreds of centuries ago.”

For an indeterminate (but presumably very long) time, the elves ruled the region. How the elvish realm interacted with other ancient kingdoms is open for speculation. However, roughly 30,000 years ago, according to what elven records still exist, there was a bitter internal conflict among the elven gods, which was in turn echoed by enclaves of elves in the mortal realm. This conflict led to a massive event the elves call the Sundering, that splintered the elves into the eladrin, high elves, wood elves, and drow that the world knows today. (Some scholars point to this as also being the origin of the orcs. Orcs deny this. Often via manslaughter.) This event also ended the elvish dominance of the region and seems to have led the decline of the entire elvish race.

Note that this story seems to conflict with the giants’ tradition that there were no civilizations of note on the surface other than Ostoria during its heyday. Either the elvish record is incorrect, or the giants’ idea of what is a “civilization of note” is disputable. Which of those may be true is left as an exercise for the reader.

High and Wood Elves

Of the elven kindreds, high elves and wood elves are closest to each other, with their differences being purely cultural. A high elf raised by wood elves, is a wood elf, and vice versa. They are called "high" elves because they prefer to live on the surface, or even better, in trees or tall spires, but also because they did not follow Lolth into the Underdark. Although the stereotypical high/wood elf is of fair complexion, with very fine, straight hair, there is more variation than people generally think. In the Sea Kingdoms and realms further south particularly, elvish complexion ranges to a copper or deep brown color.


Eladrin ("noble elves" in their own language) are the most powerful of the high elves, with the strongest attunement to the realm of Faerie, to the point where they are infused with its magic. They are closer to elemental spirits to mortal beings, being tied to the passage of the seasons and the movement of the sun, stars, and planets. Although physically similar to their more terrestrial kin, Eladrin are readily discernible because their eyes are solid orbs of color with no visible pupils, and their bodies often radiate a visible aura. Tales say they can speak any language, and step between the mortal world and Faerie/Feywild at will, and while this may certainly be true of individual eladrin, it may not be true of all of them.


Drow, the "dark elves," followed their goddess into the Underdark. Before the Sundering, the elf goddess Araushnee was a patron of the stars, destiny, and craftsmanship, whose emblem of the spider represented her weaving of the fates. Her favored followers, although still high elves, would undergo a ritual transformation that altered their skin to an intensely dark blue and their hair to a shining white or silver as a mark of their devotion. During the great conflict that caused the Sundering, Araushnee forsook the light of the stars and fled the realms of light (or was banished, or simply left, depending on who you ask), taking her followers with her into the Underdark. From that small pool of common ancestors came the modern drow.

(Note: Araushnee's daughter Eilistraee, a high-spirited goddess of moonlight and dancing, shares her mother's appearance, and what few drow who have forsaken the worship of Lolth for its wickedness and cruelty, have generally turned to her as their new patron. A small cabal of drow worshippers of Eilistraee can be found in Myth Talminden, and it is something of a "promised land" for discontent drow of the Underdark who would flee their dark mistress.)

Orcs and Elves

How do the orcs fit in? The truth is that mortals don't know and the gods aren't telling, but there are clear signs of some sort of connection. First, is their shared mythology: the story of the battle between the orc god Gruumsh and the elf god Corellan Larethian, allowing some variance for which side you are rooting for, is remarkably similar in both cultures, and always highlights the famous cutting out of Gruumsh's eye. It is also worth noting that elves and orcs are both interfertile with humans and each other, unlike any of the other demi-human races. (It is rare in the extreme that an orc and an elf would have a child, but such a child would essentially be either a half-elf or a half-orc depending upon which parent they favored.)

Elvish Homelands

There are two major elf holdings in Orbis Leonis. First, and oldest, is the Elfspire, in the southeastern portion of Thessalaine near the Gulf of Irul Kinthé. This consists of a massive, spiral conical tower formed out of a unique mineral reminiscent of mother of pearl, a dizzying fifty stories in height and crowned with an ever-burning beacon. The mountainside below the spire is also populated by houses and fortifications in the high elven style.

The second largest is the western seaside realm of Myth Talminden ("Silver Lighthouse" in Elvish), a fair and green country on the westernmost point of the mainland. The city of Myth Talminden proper consists of several large stone towers inlaid with silver from Argent, in a curving spiral style that echoes the Elfspire, but on a much smaller scale (the tallest reaching only seven stories). The towers are connected by a dizzying network of narrow, gracefully-arcing catwalks that not only provide walking access from one spire to the next, but also reinforce the overall structure like a lattice.

There are many smaller settlements across the land, usually referred to as "havens." These include the wood elf settlement of Starsong Hill in Elsir Vale, Mother Oak of the Westdeep, or Dimhaven and Mistvale in Thessalaine. Of course, the drow have their own cities in the Underdark, but the names and locations of these are not generally known to surface dwellers.

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)
This weekend, if all goes to plan, will be five sessions into The Keep On the Borderlands. We're somewhere near the mid-point depending on how deep into the Caves of Chaos the heroes want to plunge, so it's worth putting some thought into if we want to continue beyond it, and if so what we want to do. Some possibilities…

Call It a Game

The object of the game was to show Seifer the ropes of Dungeon Mastering. To that end, I'd say "mission accomplished." There’s always more to learn of course, but once you've got a basic idea of how it goes, there's really only one way to learn, and that's to do it yourself. So in this option, once the Caves of Chaos are dealt with and the Keep on the Borderlands is secured, the group is simply declared heroes, rewarded for a job well done, and they ride off into the sunset. Pros: Simple, clean, provides a satisfactory "the end" which can be a rarity in roleplaying campaigns. Cons: No more game.

Storm King's Thunder

The most recent 5E adventure from Wizards of the Coast, theoretically at least the state of the art in D&D adventure design. I've looked through this and honestly it looks pretty darn cool. It does present me with a quandary, however, because it really should be set over on the Silver Coast and some 65-70 years later than the Keep as I've been doing it. However, a) I’m really the only one keeping track of my in-world canon, and b) the Appletop Wines are an anachronism already. So I don't imagine it would make that big a difference if we just slid over there and said the game was at the right point in history. Pros: Modern adventure, starts at around 5th level (which you might reach or be close to by the end of KotB), seems like a good adventure. Cons: Wibbly wobbly continuity wontinuity, and takes us to a different part of the world that only my previous players have any real connections to. Also, commits us to a much longer game. Adventure Size: Quite large, intended to take characters to level 11+.

The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

Another classic module by Gary Gygax, a straight-up dungeon crawl of the old style. The archmage Iggwilv, mother of the demonborn Iuz the Old, was rumored to have left "her greatest treasure" buried somewhere under the Barrier Peaks. Seeking something that will help in the never-ending enmity against the Empire of Iuz, the party is hired by Thessalaine to find and recover Iggwilv’s treasure. Pros: Lots of old school dungeoney goodness; considered a classic adventure; smooth transition from Keep. Cons: Another Gygax module, with the usual backstabbing NPCs; set in the wilderness, providing limited RP opportunities. Adventure Size: Comparable to Keep on the Borderlands.

The Dragon’s Demand

This is a Pathfinder module involving the machinations of a devious dragon and its kobold minions; the basic idea would be that you’re following the kobolds south to make sure they don’t cause trouble wherever they land. Pros: A relatively modern adventure, focusing more on story and NPC interaction and less on dungeon assaults. Can tie nicely to Keep. Cons: Suffers from a lot of Pathfinder bloat; designed to go from 1st to 7th level on fast forward and is actually a bit thin for all that, so might require more conversion on my part (although probably just condensing will work). Adventure Size: Hard to tell. Probably about half again as long as Keep on the Borderlands.

The Temple of Elemental Evil

One of the definitive mega-adventures of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, also written by Gary Gygax. A generation ago, a massive horde of evil creatures swarmed out of the Temple of Elemental Evil, to be defeated at the devastating battle of Emridy Meadows. The temple lay quiet and all but forgotten, but in the little village of Hommlet, there are hints that evil may be stirring in the temple again. Pros: A cool adventure and one every D&D player should at least be familiar with, even if they never play it. Cons: Gygax yet again; in many ways, it’s a rerun of The Keep On the Borderlands just on a larger scale (the same way Lord of the Rings is The Hobbit again on a larger scale). Adventure Size: Roughly three times the size of Keep on the Borderlands.

The Age of Worms

One of the Dungeon magazine adventure paths that set the stage for Pathfinder, this is actually twelve sequential adventures. Prophecies foretell the coming of a new age of the world– the Age of Worms, in which the great god Kyuss will rise from the dead, to fill the world with his endless hunger. Pros: A complete campaign of creepy crawly undeady adventure that namechecks a lot of Greyhawk lore. Cons: All the usual problems with Adventure Paths, plus conversion from 3.x to 5E (which is actually a little trickier than converting older editions for various reasons). Adventure Size: Considerable. Designed to be a complete campaign.

Make Seifer Run Something ;P

This whole thing was his idea in the first place, wasn’t it? Just sayin’.

I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I'd like to hear from you, players! What sounds good?

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Yog-Sothothery)
Pondering the game session tonight, and what if any refactoring I should do. The party is one malnourished kobold away from hitting 3rd level after two sessions ("Dammit, 5E!") and they've simultaneously barely scratched the surface of the Caves of Chaos while jumping to the "bottom level of the dungeon" (i.e., the topmost caves). I feel like I should be worried about their safety, but I'm totally not. They are just tearing through everything, and at this stage I have a hard time seeing them be seriously challenged by anything they're likely to find.

The original adventure was written assuming levels 1-3, with only the stuff at the very end being a challenge for a 3rd level party. (And that's a third level "OD&D" party, not the durable heroes of 5E, although using modern stats for the monsters mitigates that some.) For a modern game, The Keep On the Borderlands should probably have been done assuming levels 1-5, with a lot more of the midrange stuff being factored for 3rd level groups, and the tough stuff assuming 4th or 5th. And really, looking at the math, I probably should have realized that just based on the encounter XP compared to the XP required to level up, I just didn't take the time to figure it out.

So, oops. ¬.¬

At the same time, this was always intended to be a "disposable" adventure, to show Seifer how it's done, so I'm not sure it warrants doing a lot of refactoring work. I put my own spin on things, turning the "Cult of Evil Chaos" into a cult of Hastur specifically and using that to spin the personalities, goals, and methodology of the various factions involved, but I have no plans for it beyond what's in the module and no real notion of a followup. If there's enough interest from the players, we might carry on a campaign, but we'd have to figure out what it would entail. If nothing else, I could just string modules together– I've got most of the "classics" from 1E through 3.x and ten years of Dungeon magazine to pull from.

I do know that after this, it'll be a while before I want to run low-level adventures again. The Silver Coast game started at 1st level because it was a new edition and I used the Starter Set as a kickoff, but the group had just hit 5th? 6th? when it imploded. If I was starting a new campaign with an experienced group, I'd probably launch the game at 3rd or 5th right out of the gate. I'd like to see what 5E looks like on a higher tier, given that SlyFlourish says it still feels like D&D at high level in a way 3.x and 4E didn't.

Anyway, we'll see where it goes. One of my DMing strategies is "never prepare more than a few sessions in advance," and certainly that holds true here. Tonight's session will probably be the deciding factor on what happens with this particular game. If they go the direction I expect them to, they'll pretty much "break" the Caves of Chaos (or get broken themselves in the attempt), at which point I'll have to refactor it anyway because they will have thrown a major spanner into the works of the monster factions' balance of power.

And if I have to basically overhaul the whole thing, it becomes time to decide whether it's worth moving forward, and how we might want to do so, anyway.

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Boromir battle)
Okay, it's not that dark. And it's also not that secret. But here it is anyway:

I don't want to be the DM.

I mean, I do sometimes, sure. I've been a DM fairly regularly since 1981 or so, so I must get something out of it. I even have a Gamemastering Credo. But the thing is, the reason I'm usually the DM is not because that's what I want out of the game.

The reason is that if I don't DM, there is no game.

Like, almost ever. I have played in a few games, including a few run by [ profile] jamesbarrett that actually spanned more than three levels. But not often, and rarely with sustain.

The reason I bring this up is because I spent the past week working on my Keep On the Borderlands conversion, and I put some thought yesterday toward how it could be built on if the group gels and people really get into it, etc.

Then I remembered my binder full of stuff for Secrets of Thunderdelve and how much of that never saw the light of day, and all the plot threads I put in to hint at adventures the characters would someday get to as they levelled up and so forth... and then Jamie's work schedule went south and we moved to Maryland and everything just fell apart. Again.

Blugh. I don't want to go through all that again. Especially not for what was supposed to be a throwaway game to teach Seifer how to play. Maybe I can pull stuff out of it to use again? I probably should have just figured out some interesting stuff for 1st level characters to do on the Silver Coast instead of Keep On the Borderlands anyway.

Meanwhile, I've got folders full of PCs I've never played, or only played in very small chunks; and for that matter I've got a certain drow bard I'm very very fond of and want to play more, but despair that I ever will.

I wonder if I should just suck it up, go find the nearest Adventurer's League location, and take what I can get. It's not the same experience as gaming with your friends, but it is at least gaming... and (theoretically at least) it would be with someone else behind the screen.

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Boromir battle)
Woke up at oh-dark-thirty from the most explicitly Lovecraftian dream I can remember having– not just in the sense that it contained otherworldly monstrous horrors (which it did), but also in that the true horror was not at what the dream showed as what it implied. For all the corn of reading a Lovecraft story, that sh!t's pretty darn scary when it feels real and primal and in your face like that. And like Lovecraft, now that the dream's over, "I cannot and must not recall" is a pretty apt description of my feelings about it.

So instead, let's talk about gaming! Last night was the first session since January of [ profile] jamesbarrett's game in which I play drow bard Obsidian. I was a bit confused as to how long it had been: I'm not sure why but my notes on the things we encountered and the loot we acquired was clearly dated July of 2014, but as my LJ indicates, it was actually January. Not sure what's up with that. Anyway, last night's session was mostly a link, between what had happened before and what is intended to come, but it was better than nothing and apparently gave Jamie's creative juices a bit of a jolt, so hopefully we can build on that momentum.

Meanwhile, [ profile] sirfox laments that I haven't posted a summary of my last session yet. I hadn't actually intended to, but who am I to say no when apparently the audience is eager for something? ;) Unfortunately it was a few weeks ago now, so a lot of the details are hazy in my mind. But I can hit the high points.

When we last left our heroes they had been through several harrowing fights to make their way into the flooded sewer-catacombs under the late (now vampire) Captain Ballak's house. (Think the knight's tomb under Venice in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade except with statues of Orcus instead of Christian crusader iconography and you'll be on the right track.)

There was basically only one obstacle remaining between them and the final assault on the vampire's lair, which was a more deeply-flooded chamber (as in, chest height for humans, rather than the knee height water they'd been wading through) that had rapid currents leading to a vortex drain. At that depth, and with such a strong current, there was a real danger of being sucked into the whirlpool and lost. The result might not be fatal, but it certainly bad: I ruled that a character who got pulled down the drain would take 4d10 damage and be washed into the river five minutes later. The rules for suffocation in 5E are generous, but not completely trivial, and even for the barbarian that could be a one-way trip.

The party, realizing just how hazardous this could be, all tied themselves together, using the dwarven cleric as the anchor in front, and the 19 Str barbarian as the anchor in the back, and started to carefully make their way across– except for Morgo the Magnificent, who didn't want to get his robes any more ruined than they already were (nor did he want to be making Str checks the whole way) and spider climbed his way across the room. We can only assume he used mage hand to keep his robes from turning inside out and dangling over his head as he walked across the ceiling.

It turned out the party's paranoia was even more justified when a water weird, looking like a skull-headed version of the thing from The Abyss, reared up and started attempting to pour itself down [ profile] lythandra's throat whether she wanted it to or not. A tense fight ensued, with the water weird attempting to pull people under, various team members losing hold of the rope and being pulled towards the vortex, having to catch themselves on outcroppings, and unsavory water tentacle face-squeezing action. Luckily, they were able to best the thing and escape without anyone going down the hole.

On the other side of the city's sink trap, a short passageway ended in a chamber empty except for a rather incongruous free-standing full-length mirror. Given the way the vampire had been scrying on the party through mirrors the whole time, their immediate instinct was to smash the thing, much to my consternation. That this would be their reaction had not occurred to me, but made perfect sense in context. Unfortunately, in the scenario as I had conceived it, this mirror was the only conduit between the vampire's "pocket dimension" lair and the prime material plane. While smashing the mirror would have sealed away the vampire, it would have also permanently trapped all its kidnapped victims with it on the other side, which would have been a pretty downer ending.

So I gave Elsa a chance to make a Wisdom check, on which she rolled a 16. Normally one of her flaws is that she acts without thinking and runs headlong into a situation, but this time she was actually the cautious one, saying "Why is there a mirror by itself down in this hole? Are we sure we want to just smash this thing before we know what it's about?" Reluctantly, the rest of the party agreed that she had a point and went over to investigate, finding that instead of reflecting the caves around them, the mirror showed a vista of swirling mists. Morgo groaned, saying, "We're going through that mirror, aren't we?" Short answer: yes.

Stepping through the mirror deposited the party on a narrow bridge made of bones, suspended in never-ending, swirling mists. Shadow realm? Some backwater spot on Orcus's level of hell? They had no idea and no real way of finding out, but Morgo decided they were somewhere in hell and announced it as such with perfect confidence either way. The party followed the bridge to a tower, also made of bones, upon which lurked winged demonic creatures, and in front of which stood more of Captain Ballak's mirror men. The vampire taunted them to "Come into my parlor..." and they decided that it was time to tear him up.

They charged forward, obliterating the mirror men in short order. Several of the creatures atop the tower, which for all their horns and creepy iris-less yellow eyes, looked suspiciously like winged kobolds, swooped down to join the fray, shooting at the party with demonic bows that shot arrows of fire. The kobolds from hell actually hurt the party more than the mirror men did, prompting the party to flee into the tower to get under cover. Of course, in the tower, they found Captain Ballak, a CR 4 dwarf vampire spawn wearing plate armor and able to draw on the Legendary Actions of a full-fledged vampire, as well as two more mirror men and some zombies, just to keep things interesting.

Like their previous fight in the ghoul shrine, the vampire's regeneration was a big problem for them this time. Being in plate armor, he was very difficult to hit, and they had to hit him hard enough and often enough to out-damage his regeneration (or shut it down). This task wasn't made any easier by the fact that demon kobolds were still hitting them with fire arrows; but the real problem was that the vampire had captives scattered around the room and could use Legendary Actions to basically move or act almost every time one of the PCs did, meaning he could simply keep running around the room sucking blood out of his victims to "top off" whatever hit points the regeneration didn't return.

This is where preparedness made all the difference: upon learning that they were going to be going down into a vampire's lair, [ profile] sirfox had decided to head to the temple and pick up several vials of holy water and distribute them among the group. The party began lobbing said vials at Ballak like hand grenades. Several of them missed, smashing uselessly to the floor, but enough of them hit that Ballak started taking radiant damage almost every round, which shut down his regeneration. This caused the vampire to become a lot more aggressive– and being a skilled tactician (former captain of the Red Gauntlet, after all) he went after the glass cannon first, i.e., Morgo. He latched onto the wizard and began sucking blood for all he was worth, rapidly draining Morgo's life away. Morgo, in return, let loose with all the arcane fire he could muster, pouring damage into the vampire like it was water. By this time, Mei and Elsa had dealt with all the minions, and the party ganged up on Ballak.

By the time half of Ballak's face was burned off, he came to the conclusion that he'd taken a lot more damage than he intended to that day, released Morgo, and fled in his creepy spider climb-y way up the walls and across the room, heading for his "escape kit" stashed at the far end. Before he got there, however, [ profile] sirfox hit him with a sacred flame that rolled max damage, blasting away the last of the vampire's hit points, immolating him. He fell from the wall and hit the floor, curling up into a blackened ball like a bug set on fire. Elsa then used one of her javelins as a makeshift stake through the burnt up cinder that was Ballak's heart, just to be sure.

High-fives all around.

The party grabbed what loot there was to find, including Ballak's scorched and gruesome plate armor, which [ profile] sirfox claimed as a trophy, and escorted Ballak's prisoners (various other people involved with the trial that led to Ballak's execution, including Gimlet's one real friend in the Mintarn) back to safety, very carefully taking their time at the flooded vortex room. As a reward for their heroics, including the rescue of the judge (an important personage in the Argentine court), the party was summoned to meet Princess Adallin, the Duchess of Welltide.

Tylow seemed dubious, claiming that princesses don't really exist. When she turned out to be a shortish, frumpyish no-nonsense woman in her late thirties who said of their fight with the vampire "That must have been quite exciting, eh?" Tylow decided maybe princesses did exist after all. Princess Adallin was very interested in all the details of both Ballak's trial and his return from the grave; she had also been given reports of the party's activities in Welltide by Lord Sildar and was quite impressed by the group. She said that she wanted to give them a suitable reward but really didn't have any ideas, asking for suggestions. Only Gimlet had one immediately, which was that Ballak's plate armor be cleaned up, re-fashioned, and given some kind of enchantment, to which the Princess agreed, saying it would be done by the time the group was on their return trip from Starhold.

While in town, the party commissioned a few other magic items, including Elsa who reluctantly handed over her heirloom greatsword Zweihänder to get enough basic enchantment on it that she could hit things like vampires and not have the damage negated. The party then headed for the mountains, to continue their intended mission of delivering Brannar Diamondheart's request for mercenaries to Starhold.

My post-mortem? Refactoring the adventure was definitely the right call. The adventure as I had initially designed it would have been needlessly deadly, but worse it would have been grindy and dull. My original plan when I first crafted the scenario was to have another regenerating statue in Ballak's lair and several more mirror men, mostly to keep the minions up and fighting longer, as well as having Ballak being a full strength vampire spawn instead of a CR 4 variant buffed up with Legendary Actions.

I also had various different ideas originally about what to have in the vortex chamber, focusing on various floaty monsters like grell that would be immune to the vortex effect, but most of the things I thought of would have been too much for what the room was supposed to be. It was supposed to be an exciting "hazardous challenge" sequence, where the danger of the room was the real scare rather than the monsters in it, and as such the water weird hit just the sweet spot.

As far as how the final battle played out, it was purely the luck of the dice, but I was pleased that Gimlet got to land the killing blow on Ballak, since the vampire was intended to be an almost literal "twisted reflection" of the dwarven-mercenary-turned-cleric (hence the mirror motifs, which also tied in nicely with his vampire nature). Each character in the party has at least one NPC campaign villain set up to be a nemesis/dark reflection sort of character, of varying levels of redeemability and/or correspondence. Ballak was the most obvious "negaverse" version of one of the PCs, but also, due to his nature, doomed to be the one with the shortest in-game lifespan. Now what will Gimlet do for an arch-enemy? Guess he'll just have to piss someone else off. ;)

-The Gneech

PS: That mirror is still down there. Just sayin'.
the_gneech: (Legolas silhouette)
First of all, [ profile] sirfox might find this particularly interesting: Weirder Fantasy.

Second of all, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the Sandbox vs. Railroad and Unlearning 3E Habits issues highlighted by my recent sessions. This led me to further rumination on the idea of What Is the Game About? 3.x (and especially 4E) put an unwarranted focus on "Fight, fight, fight!" Which isn't to say that the killing of monsters and taking of their stuff wasn't always a big part of the game, but as I rather incompletely observed when lamenting the loss of true rogues, in more recent editions combat has been "what the game was about," with exploration of the fantastic, scheming, and skullduggery being stuff that just interrupted the flow. Even if that wasn't the intention of the game designers, it was certainly the vibe created by the game mechanics and support material.

I'm still working out what I want to do about this for my game. In terms of game prep, the obvious thing is to put more emphasis on NPC plans and motivation and coming up with neat and weird things for the players to do/see/discover, and stop wasting my time on tricking out combat encounters. Mechanically, I'm also leaning towards halving the XP awards for combat, and adding a boatload of other XP awards to compensate, ranging from XP awards for treasure looted (or possibly awarding XP for "training," which would give the players something to spend loot on), to extra bonuses for completing "side treks," finding Ye Olde Secret Treasure Stashe [1], and so forth. I'll work something out and present it to the group before we put it in action.

Third of all, and related to the point above, as part of the "level up" of the Sword Coast game I have decided to rework the Silver Coast map in order to line it up with the mapping guidelines in the Dungeon Masters Guide (which had not been released when I initially put it together). To tie it further in with my Grand Unified Theory of Gneech's Gaming Worlds (as well as make it a bit less of Faerûn's Sword Coast with the serial numbers scratched off) I will also be doing a bit of retconning of the history and geography of the region. It won't impact anything the player characters have done or directly experienced, except for a few name changes (the nation to the south of Argent will get a new name, and probably Coneyburr too). Mostly Argent as a nation will be built out a little more to be more consistent with the levels of wealth and sophistication established by the campaign, and probably the eruption of Thunderdelve will be more recent history. Fifty years is a long time for a nation to be just starting to recover from the effects of a volcanic catastrophe, even one as large as that. I will also be making a formalized timeline that will incorporate some of the key events from Red Hand of Doom, since elements of that campaign are leaking over into this one.

I'm also going to clean up a few continuity oopses (such as just how Nezannar got to be in Wave Echo Cave) while I'm at it. Again, nothing that will have a major impact, just a bit of narrative housecleaning, more for my own reference than anything else.

-The Gneech

[1] It's a handlebar made of diamonds!
the_gneech: (Mysterious Beard)
In my post about difficulty the other day, I tossed in a random joke-not-really-a-joke sobbing about the fact that the characters are primed to hit 5th level at the end of the next session, and that it was too soon. It occurred to me after the fact that once upon a time (i.e., back in my 1e/2e days) hitting fifth level would not be cause for alarm. Certainly it's something of a watershed level, with fireballs and such showing up, but it's often seen as about the time heroes really come into their own, the training wheels come off, and the nitty-gritty of a game truly begins.

So... why too soon? I mean, I explicitly started my Eberron game at 3rd level (albeit in Pathfinder) to sorta "skip ahead" a bit. And it's not like the group hasn't earned it: they've conned a bugbear king, toppled a thieves' guild (a small one, but it still counts), clashed with the sinister machinations of a drow mage, and more.

Well, some of it is, I think, that we're in a new edition and I at least am feeling my way around to learn the ins and outs of it, but just about the time I start to feel like I'm getting the hang of things, the group levels up again and I get flummoxed. But I think that's just the surface issue, and there's something deeper underneath, to wit, I've been trained by 3.x to pay super-strict attention to the party levels... and that's something I need to unlearn.

In the faster-looser environment of earlier editions, where each class leveled up at its own rate and a party full of lackeys and hench... uh... persons? was expected, encounters weren't these carefully-structured pieces of art. Encounters were often super-random ("1d10 orcs... so a 100 XP to 2500 XP encounter, and you don't know which? Madness!") and just included whatever the DM thought sounded cool. Of course, that made for parties occasionally getting eaten by something the DM didn't realize would be quite so threatening, but that was part of the game. Hop over to a super-freeform system like Tunnels & Trolls and all bets were off... bathe your sword in a magic fountain you happen upon in a solo module and you might end up with the T&T equivalent of a +4 sword that does a base 2d10 damage or something crazy like that.

But 3.x has tight math in place, designed to help the DM predict how an encounter will go, and prevent the dreaded "accidental TPK". Part of this includes a heavy-handed progression along the level track: in 3.x a party of 5th level characters isn't just a bit more powerful than a party of 4th level characters, it's way more so. An encounter carefully tweaked to be "just right" for the 4th level party, feels like an easy win for the 5th level party; an encounter that was easy for the 4th level party, is a major snoozefest for the 5th. So yeah, you pretty much have to handcraft things to keep them interesting. And every time that level gauge goes "Ding!" you have to refactor everything.

Thus, it makes sense that someone used to thinking this way would cringe when the levels come flying at us like a freight train. But then I need to take a deep breath and remember, "Oh yeah, bounded accuracy." Going from 4th to 5th in 5E is still a significant bump because that's where your proficiency bonus goes up a notch, 3rd level spells and extra attacks appear... but it's not so significant that I have to throw away all of my prep leading up to it. Orcs are still dangerous, they just come in groups of 2 per PC instead of 1 for every 2 PCs like they did at, say, 3rd level. But at 5th I don't have to shy away as much from putting some more interesting things on the encounter list. Tromping around in the woods between Welltide and Pelann, there's been a "1d3 trolls" random encounter that I've been cringing at the possibility might come up, for instance. Now, I'm not so worried about it.

What I can do, however, is to go back and weed out some of the "junk" encounters that would just waste everyone's time, or possibly just narrate through them. "You encounter three ash zombies roaming around the woods. Gimlet, do you want to just channel divinity and blast 'em?"

I do worry, at the current growth rate, that the characters will suddenly be 8th, 10th, 12th level faster than a speeding bullet, and then things might start coming off the rails. Poking around the woods outside Welltide or wandering down into Wave Echo Cave is going to seem very dull by that point, unless those areas have been "civilized" and the characters have moved on to deeper delves and darker dangers. But realistically from a worldbuilding standpoint, that's going to take time. Welltide's defenses are under construction, but that doesn't happen overnight even in a magical setting, and the Diamondheart camp in Wave Echo Cave will need some shoring up before the PCs can leave it alone with confidence.

Basically I need to figure out some way to pad time in between adventures so the world can "catch up" to the PCs' advancement, or slow that advancement down. Maybe story-wise it would make sense to require some "training time" before the characters can actually make the jump to 5th level? Training between tiers does seem like a fairly natural hybrid of the original "train every level" rules vs. the modern "ding mid-adventure" mode.

I'll have to discuss this with the players.

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)
The current scenario in my Silver Coast game, as initially written and run for the first two sessions, was a study in the limits of 5E encounter design. And it taught me some very interesting things– not the least of which is that 5E can be just as painfully grindy as 3.x and 4E, when the difficulty is skewed way up and the tactical setup is the focus of the adventure design.

Pursuant to the issues I discussed in an earlier post, I wanted to see how tough a "hard" or a "deadly" encounter was, and so I tossed the group into a very linear adventure with a clear "This is the hook!" focus and their choice of which type of dangerous path they wanted to take to get there.

Long story short, [ profile] sirfox's warrior cleric Gimlet was formerly a member of a mercenary company tasked with keeping the peace in the largest nearby campaign city, and his pre-game background was that he left that group in disgust at corruption within it. I built on this background by saying that his former captain had been hanged for treason on the strength of Gimlet's testimony. But what Gimlet had not known at the time is that while dangling from the gallows, his former captain had been offered the opportunity to sell his soul to Orcus in exchange for revenge etc., etc., and had taken it. Thus, Gimlet's former boss returned as a vampire who is granted "seven years of continued existence" for each soul he sends to Orcus. Naturally wanting to front-load this a bit, said boss decides to start by murdering just about everyone he knew and turning them into undead minions. The party, happening to pass through the city on their way to another mission, happens into this situation when the boss spots Gimlet on the streets and sends his minions to attack.

The first act of the scenario, which I'd envisioned being something like a Call of Cthulhu-esque investigation tracking down the various people involved in the boss's trial, didn't really go as I'd hoped. I gave Sirfie a list of the various people involved in the trial, as Gimlet would have known who they were, but it was probably too big of an infodump [1] and the party just sorta vagued around the city a while until they finally latched on to one and waited for him to get attacked. Once the attack actually happened, tho, they did a good piece of detective work to track the boss's minions back to his lair.

The second and third acts are the assault on the vampire's lair, i.e., the former captain's house in the city and the catacombs underneath it. This is where the tactical focus/difficult combat aspect came into play. The ground level of the house had three different "encounter" areas of varying difficulty, but given their proximity, the nature of the encounters, and the villain's underlying ability to pretty much see everything going on at once and command his minions accordingly, it became one big furball, with the monsters coming in waves one or two turns apart. The six ghouls, probably would not have been a problem. Six ghouls plus two hellhounds, a bit more of a problem but a self-correcting one as the hellhounds' fire breath hits the ghouls as much as the party. Six ghouls, two hellhounds, and two helm horrors? Yeah, that's a bit much for five 4th-level characters.

Not quite a fifteen minute workday, but enough that the party wanted a long rest, and I couldn't blame them. Then down into the catacombs... where they fought six more ghouls and a ghast scrunched up in a tight corridor... then another six more ghouls and a ghast who were all praying around a statue of Orcus that enabled them to regenerate at the beginning of their turn.

Oh, ye gods. So. Grindy. -.- That was a seriously bad encounter design, Gneech. And of course, they wanted another long rest at the end of it, and it would have been foolish of them not to take it. Definitely a 15-minute workday that time.

So, yeah, lesson learned. I didn't care for it. I much prefer the freewheeling sandbox to the grindy, grindy railroad, and so I have refactored the rest of the scenario to be closer to 5E standard guidelines (although the vampire at the end will probably still be pretty tough 'cos, y'know, vampire boss fight). Once we are through with it, I'll be going back to the "smaller, lighter adventure hooks but more of them" mode we were in leading up to it.

On a related note, at AnthroCon [ profile] sirfox let me know in rambliness inversely proportional to the amount of rum and cola involved ;) that he is all about the phat l00tz. If I understood him correctly, anyhow, he'd like to get some cool "signature gear" that does things beyond the numerical +x bonus, which I must admit is how I prefer magic items myself. Ironically, there have been some items like that floating around (such as the ones guarded by the spectator in the Lesser Spellforge), but the party has tended to turn around just as they got close to 'em.

Last session Gimlet yoinked a pair of magic hammers and shields from the defeated helm horrors, but unfortunately they were (by design) of the generic +x variety, merely being components of the helm horror manufacturing process. On the other hand, the party is in the big city, maybe they can find a purveyor of fine weaponry who would be willing to trade for something more interesting, once they've climbed back up out of the catacombs.

Sirfie also told me a while back that I had been described to him as a GM who was stingy with magic items, which I have to admit came as a surprise. My general goal has been to operate more-or-less within the parameters set by whatever game system I'm using, tending to randomly generate and then tweak-to-personalize loot when the players come upon it. However, having cut my teeth on 1E, I do also believe that treasure, particularly magic items, must be earned (or at the very least searched for). That means that choice items are often down side-passages, hidden in secret chambers, or being used by the baddies against the players first. For players used to CRPG- or MMO-style treasure "drops," this might seem stingy I suppose, but in those settings any given piece of treasure rarely matters anyhow compared to the item it's replacing. A +0.15 sword doesn't actually change anything regardless of how prettily it shines!

But the biggest factor has probably been that we tend to play low-level games, and low-level games tend to have low-level gear. I think the longest contiguous game I've run was Red Hand of Doom, which went from 3rd level to 9th level if I remember correctly, with a short-lived 10th - 12th sequel game. Certainly the players had some pretty nifty gear by the end of that (red dragonscale armor is a particular standout I recall). The characters in the Silver Coast game will almost certainly hit 5th level by the end of the next session (*sobs* TOO SOON!), so magic items will probably start showing up more often as their adventures scale up to match.

-The Gneech

[1] NOTE TO MYSELF: Two clues is too few, and four clues is too many.
the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)
When thinking about how the Silver Coast game has gone so far, I have been struck with the relative lack of danger your characters seem to have been in. Some of this has been smart play: when confronted with things that seem dangerous, you've mostly avoided it, and you've tricked your way out of some pretty sticky spots. But a lot of it seems to be that the monsters in 5E are just plain less dangerous than their CR equivalents in 3.x/PF (the room full of ghouls you just plowed right through was considered a "deadly" encounter going by the math), and with the super-fast 5E progression you have quickly out-leveled most of the encounters as written.

On the other hand, I can only think of one really nail-biting moment, and that was when [ profile] sirfox got sucker-punched by the owlbear. Other than that, you've mostly gone through the opposition like a hot knife through soft butter. In the case of the cultists in the most recent session, without them even so much as getting off a shot (although there is a plot-related reason for that particular instance).

So I'm curious, my players: how do you feel about it? Do you want tougher foes? Are you happy with how things have gone so far? Enquiring DMs want to know!

the_gneech: (Rastan Kill Monsters)
So the other day Lone Wolf floated that they planned to support 5E in HeroLab. Given what a power-user I've been of Hero Lab for Pathfinder and Savage Worlds, I find myself remarkably blasé about this announcement.

The truth is, 5E doesn't really need electronic support. That's one of the reasons I like it so much.

For just about anything you might want to do in 5E, the formula is "stat bonus + proficiency (if applicable) + magic item (if applicable)". Since those numbers will tend to range from -1 to +6 at the wildest, this is not something that requires a lot of fiddling or tracking. Spell slots or other character pools (e.g. the monk's ki points) are a little more tricky, but even they are relatively flat.

The one place I can see electronic calculation being handy is in the creation of custom monsters. The DMG has formulae for determining the CR of a critter based on comparing its damage output vs. its defenses, but the calculation doesn't really work the other way around– i.e., you can't really say "I want a CR 4 monster" and get back the desired values, the formula is too dynamic for that. The best you can do is start with an educated guess and then tweak to fit. On the other hand, reskinning monsters is so trivial and "baked in" to 5E, that I'm not sure I'll ever need to create a foe from scratch.

But again, CR in 5E is not the arch-statistic it was in 3.x and up. A group working with a good plan and hot dice can absolutely devastate opponents at a much higher CR than expected. Instead of being the target number for generating encounters, CR is now a signpost of potential threat for the DM. So far in my Silver Coast campaign I've been eyeballing all of the encounters, and even the ones I was worried about have been perfectly manageable.

There are a lot of mathy subsystems in the DMG, such as treasure generation, downtime activities and living expenses, etc., and I can see a "campaign manager" program being useful, but a lot of these have already been put out by fans. So if Hero Lab does add 5E support, I'll certainly give it a look, but honestly, I have a hard time imagining it'll be worth the effort.

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Legolas Aaah)
Last night's Silver Coast game entailed the final smashing of the Redcloaks. The session began... )

Alas, that was probably the last session we'll be able to do for a while: December is awash in holidays and conventions. I feel bad for Gimlet, who keeps getting voted down and who, upon hearing that there was a random encounter in the forest, enquired "What kills me from behind this time?" I was somewhat surprised he didn't turn the skeletons, although in 5E that has returned to the less-useful "make them scatter" than the holy-blasteyness of Pathfinder, at least until 5th level. Given how effectively I've seen [ profile] sirfox play clerics in the past, I'm a bit baffled by Gimlet's relative lack of oomph. With characters spending hit dice to heal themselves during short rests, Gimlet's role of healer has been all but removed. Instead he's spent most of his time casting bless (which has been handy but not a game changer), guiding bolt (which is nice but not spectacular), and bonking things with his hammer. His main feature seems to be his unhittability, as the monsters swarm him and just bounce off his armor, putting him in the role of tank more than anything else. (Well, except for owlbears, anyway.) Pretty much anything that hits Gimlet, crits Gimlet, because it almost had to roll a 20 to connect anyway.

Tylow the rogue, on the other hand, is a sexy shoeless god of war, using Cunning Action to practically teleport across the room and sneak attacking ALL the things. Elsa the barbarian has been a virtual damage sponge, thanks to her raging damage resistance: the quaggoths for instance hit Elsa for 18 damage and she only took 9, making her also a very effective tank. Mei, although optimized for archery, has also become quite fond of wading in with her new shiny magic greatsword, making her a versatile, reliable damage dealer, leaving Morgo as the wildcard. He's an evoker, specializing in area effect blastery, but he's also the reluctant face of the party, having high scores in Int, Wis, and Cha and a tendency to be grandiose.

Overall it's a fun group, with possibly a few more wrinkles to iron out, but shaping up nicely. I was just relieved that they didn't level-up again at the end of the session: I was prepared to rule that they got "whatever XP they earned, or 1 point fewer than necessary to hit 4th level, whichever is lower," simply to slow things down. Fortunately, the XP they earned still puts them at least one and possibly two more sessions away from that. Also, the Dungeon Masters Guide finally hits the stores on Friday, and I will be snatching it up to check out alternative XP systems. I want to get away from "combat as the XP engine," and I hope there will be some good advice there. If not, I'll just have to bake my own, I guess!

Players, any thoughts on the XP progression issue?

-The Gneech
the_gneech: (Fred/George)
During Saturday night's game, I had a dickens of a time trying to explain to [ profile] hantamouse what exactly he was rolling when attempting to use his thieves' tools. He kept looking for Disable Device or Open Locks/Disable Traps etc., and the wording of the Expertise blurb on his character sheet wasn't helping. He knew that he got "+7" to his rolls with the thieves' tools, but not why [1], which is kind of an important detail when it comes to figuring out how it changes later.

And I gotta say, I feel his pain. When I was first going through the rules, I couldn't figure it out either. Basically, "tool proficiency" is a skill by another name, why not just put it in the skill list? I still haven't found a good answer. One blog I found suggested that they wanted a mechanic that would require the presence of the thieves' tools to pick locks, without adding the mechanical complexity of a +2 circumstance bonus for "having the required tools."

Seriously? XD Why go through all that confusion? Why not just include good ol' Disable Device (or even the anemic 4E "Burglary" skill), and say that using it without tools gives you Disadvantage? Done and done, without adding a whole new and confusing mechanic.

Thoughts, anyone?

-The Gneech :cool:

[1] Proficiency bonus +2, doubled for expertise to +4, +3 Dex bonus.

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