Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Musical inspiration

Music has a special place in my gaming-heart. Most of us have tried background music at the table, but I find that when it comes to putting together a world, the kind of music I listen to becomes a big part of the world. I though I might share a few of my favorite experiences with music and DnD, and I hope to hear about your experiences in the comments.

In-Game Music
When it comes to styles, Folk music is probably the easiest to incorporate directly into a game. The instruments and style haven't changed much from the Medieval setting of most games. Music with electronics or heavy guitars can be a little to jarring. I've been able to mine some great adventure hooks and storylines from ballads, legends, and sea-shanties. The music of Stan Rogers (RIP) is particularly excellent, I recommend checking this out for a taste of what could be added straight into a DnD game.

I've used both Stan's music and the work of Blackmore's Night directly in game. With enough material it makes for an interesting mechanic of giving quests. The players were working to resurrect a dead god of Music and Prophecy, so what better way for his lingering memories to guide the PC's than with his last disciple's songs?

World Building
When it comes to working on a setting, I often find myself turning to much heavier music. While Epic Metal might not be everyones cup of tea, I find that the themes presented of Hero's prevailing against armies and monsters really sets a good tone for designing the places your heroes will travel. For a high-adventure and Viking style tale it's hard to top groups such as Tyr or Falconer. Again, this is a more personal element to my style of prep, and your mileage will certainly vary.

Battle Planning
Planning a good encounter or fight is a big part of being the DM, what's a good story without some action? When trying to strike that balance between high-energy and challenging tactical battles, I find that music by groups such as Hammerfall (or Tyr again) can get me in the right mood. Faster music helps me keep in mind that the battle shouldn't be allowed to lag, and I make sure to keep possible slowdowns to a minimum.

These are some of the tricks I use when doing my prep-work for DnD, I hope someone finds them useful, let me know what you think. Are there any unusual rituals you use when prepping?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Creation Myth for Fourth Edition

When 4E was being designed, the writers made a point of leaving the history of the world vague and distant, allowing the GM to do with it as they wished. For my own world I wanted to shake up the beginning of time a little bit. Rather than a war between Primordials and Gods being the foundation of the world, I wanted a bit more mystery to it, and a story closer to more traditional creation myths. What follows is my best attempt to do just that.

How the World was Made

Ask a thousand men and you will get a thousand answers. No one can be sure exactly how the world came to be, yet none will be deterred from the search for truth. What follows is the best account which can be pieced together from the thousands of legends and scriptures which supposedly hold the story of creation.

The Ur-Gods (or Primordials as they are commonly known today) were the first to come to the Universe. It was they that shaped the world from the cosmos. It is thought that the astral sea existed long before they arrived, though for what purpose is unknown. The Ur-Gods are said to have entered the cosmos from elsewhere, they brought with them bits of other worlds, as only one of them could create from nothing. It was Uruk who became the provider of the other gods, for they wished to mold new things with the matter he would call. They built the world as it pleased them, and then took their leave.

It is thought that the Ur-Gods have left the world and the planes, but what has happened to them is unknown. It is known that there were left remnants of their power, and a few of these primordials were left imprisoned within the elemental chaos which supports the world. This was the creation of the Primordial Uruk, the place from which all matter was gleaned. The Elemental Chaos was made as a blessing, yet this creation was flawed, rough, and lacking beauty, it was the other Ur-Gods who gave meaning to the matter, and sculpted it into good things. The Primordials used this matter to shape the world as it is today.

The other Ur took what Uruk had summoned and used it to build a magnificent world. The earth was crafted by the great hands of Kig, and bathed in air by An. Before the first races were introduced, Nammu blessed the land with water pulled from Uruk's chaos. Once the land was made, the favored races of the Ur-gods were put upon it. The first creations were: The Dwarf Moradin, wise and patient. The Elf Corellon, beautiful and skilled. And Io the Dragon, strong and with powerful magic. 

For a time things were good, but it came that the races felt great fear and cold, as in this time Nilu had snuck upon the world. Nilu was a lesser god of the Ur, but he was the most subtle and dark. He cast a shadow in the lightless world, and created death as his gift. Seeing the fear in the people, Moradin, the first Dwarf, asked that the gods give them something to oppose the darkness and evil which threatened to engulf the fledgling creation. The first response was Ninu, twin to Nilu. In every way Nilu was dark, Ninu was bright, she gave the lands the power of birth, creating the well of souls, from which new living things could arise to oppose death. This well was filled with the tears of the Ur-Gods, Uruk contributing the most as his grief at not shaping the world was great.

Even with the well of souls and birth, the people of the land had difficulty, for who could teach these children? The first had been born with knowledge, but these new lives were blank. It was then that the Ur-God Utu gave his gift to the world, he took his great spear and swirled it through the primordial ring, as the gods lived upon Uruk's creation. The last element of Uruk's ring clung to the blade. His spear now burning bright with fire, was then cast at An, who's breast was pierced by the blade. The sun shown from this mighty conflagration, and An still burns today, gifting us with light to live by.

Uru had been considered the wisest of the Ur, yet they did not understand his actions. Some wished for war, while ohers wished to simply abandon their creation, it had been their sins that made it, let them trouble it no more. It was then that Uruk spoke for the first time since he had created the elements. He said to look upon the world. In their arguments the gods had turned away from arras, yet now they saw tribes, the children of their creations. On looking closer they discovered what Uruk had seen, a man had appeared, from where they did not know, yet he and the other races had come together and made a table at which they could speak and sit. This astounded the Ur, as they held the power to shape things so close, and to see it in their creations filled them with a satisfaction, their work was done, and with this they departed.

Before retreating to wherever they went, Nilu and Ninu each cut a part of their flesh and placed it into the world, while Ninu's flesh went to seed and grew the magnificence of life that became the wild lands of the Fey, Nilu's seed destroyed all that it touched, creating the blighted, dark, lands of shadow and death. An had given his life for the people of the world, so his wife Ina wished to remain as his counterpart, she could not approach his fiery body, and so she follows him diligently as the bright moon.

Several other minor primordials had yet to give any gifts to the races, and refused to leave. The greater Ur-Gods did not want to interfere further, so the Satu (ungifted) as they came to be called took residence deep within the elemental ring of Uruk, imprisoned there so as not to be a danger to the world, until such times as they are called to by the first-born children of the Ur. These Primordials slumber to this day, though there are some who would call upon their anger and use it to destroy the world the Ur-Gods made.

Has anyone else tried to do something similar with the "built-in" mythology of 4E? Or do most people tend to work from scratch? I would be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The City of Veneline - Part 3

I had originally hoped to complete this portion of the Veneline series two weeks ago, but unfortunate circumstances arrived which prevented me from doing so. Well, without further delay, part 3 of the City of Bridges.

Breacan Mac Cahail
Breacan Mac Cahail is the owner and proprietor of Mac Cahail's restaurant. A native of Trathyr (or another northern land of your choice), he came here to escape the Midden wars and regain his former wealth. At one time he owned a large portion of the vineyards which lie upon the slopes of Veneterra. Breacan is very charming and courteous, especially with the noble women of Veneline. He is an expert on wines and while he maintains an air of nobility about him, Breacan often brings food to Veneline's homeless.

Janaolo is the Elven owner, and madam, of The House of Purple Silk. As such she is possibly one of the most powerful people in Veneline. Discretion is her game, and there is no safer place to whisper a secret than her establishment. Janaolo has a hand in every element of her business, picking each employee by hand, no matter how trivial the job. Of Janaolo's past, nothing is known, other than the whispers which surround the beautiful Elven matron.

Vincelli Demogeon
Vincelli is the current Droge of Veneline. His time in the position and as a member of the Ten has made him cynical and trusting of no one, yet his rule has been marked by a rare stability between the noble houses. Vincelli has a rare gift for balancing the wishes of many, and convincing others to accept compromise. However when decisiveness is needed Demogeon is hard and uncompromising with his decisions, he certainly has no shortage of enemies.

Racherd Dimenth
Master of the Venete Tam Consortium, this Halfling is a shrewd businessman. Racherd has hauled himself up by his bootstraps, and every coin in his pocket was hard earned. As of late some worry he has become too paranoid, especially with the arrival of a Dreadnought to bolster the consortium's naval presence.

Alrerich Ethn
Headmaster of the Collegium, Alrerich is a stern man who has balanced the needs of his school and responsibilities to the nobles for many years. More than once a noble house has tried to muscle him out for refusing to put up with their brat's antics.

Proprietor of The Rhemoraz Bar, Orde'lin is a bit of an enigma. No one could tell you exactly where he came from, beyond waving a hand to the north. The back wall of the main bar bears a massive black-metal harpoon which supposedly was used to slay the beast from which the establishment gets it's name.

Ciro Borducci 
One of the Ten, he has worked harder than most to achieve his position. A self-made noble family of only a few generations, the Borducci's have risen to power quickly, and there are a lot of folk who would be interested to know how he has done it.

A foreign soldier, he currently heads the soldiers in the service of Ciro Borducci. He has displayed remarkable tact in his position, as any grief he caused would inevitably be used against his master. That doesn't mean the man is without his vices, one vice in particular. Temethridan is a frequenter of several whore houses in the city, and it can only be a matter of time before his activities catch up with him.

Arod Rivach
A dissenter amongst the populous. Arod is yet to develop a large following, but he has spoken publicly about the lack of equality in the city, and his supporters are growing vocal themselves. There are many nobles throughout the city that would lift a drink to the man's disappearance, and perhaps even some coin.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The City of Veneline - Part 2

Last time we looked at the history and style to the city of bridges. Now followsh a smattering of interesting places and groups to throw into it. These locations can also be used in other places in your game world. 

Before continuing, first I must rectify an omission which was pointed out by seaofstarsrpg, the military and security forces of Veneline were absent in part 1.

Veneline's days as a major military power are behind her, but with such a powerful hold on the culture and economy of the land, it would be foolish for any one kingdom to attempt to capture the city without retaliation. The government does employ a small navy to patrol the lagoon and nearby waters. These ships supplement the often impressive private navies held by the more powerful merchant organizations. Venete Tam is the most visible of these, with their flagship Dreadnaught Bahadur considered possibly the most powerful vessel to sail the waves.

Veneline does not employ a traditional watch, as many other cities do. The leading Noble house in each ward is required to provide security for their holdings as well as those within their neighborhood. Each house's private guards tend to reflect the family in power, thus passing from one ward to the other could result in any number of interactions with the law enforcement. Longtime residents of Veneline can tell you the best paths to take through the city to avoid particularly malicious house guards. Most of the streets are safe, but the farther east you travel, the more cut-throat the noble's squabbles tend to be.

Notable Locales
The Harbor of the Green Drakes
The primary shipping point for locations on the mainland, this harbor is famous for the twin massive copper statues of Guard Drakes which line it's entrance. The Harbor also allows barges and smaller vessels to pass through the grand canal to the Eastern Docks.

Mac Cahail's
Mac Cahail's is a fine dining restaurant which lies near the Eastern Docks. It is a favorite restaurant of several noble families, and serves a wide variety of customers. The food is reasonably priced given it's foreign nature. Mac Cahail is originally from a northern country, and his accent has made him popular with some local youngsters.

The House of Purple Silk
This palatial complex caters to the needs and wants of a wealthy clientele, some have even called it paradise on earth, which irritates those evangelists who refer to it instead as a den of sin. The courtesans who work there are famed for their discretion and skill, thus it is a favorite location for political deals.

The Dead Noblemen
Bearing a darker name than it's pleasant atmosphere deserves, this tavern and inn serves as a welcome place for relaxed folk looking for simple food and a good story or two. They offer moderate accommodations, and have a good variety of food and drink from the many cultures which mix in Veneline.

The Old Battery
This island has only one bridge connecting it to the rest of the isles which compose Veneline (of which there are over a hundred). It once served as a military training ground for Dragonborn legionnaires. But now it's open paths and high towers serve a seedier sort. The single bridge allows the Thieves guild to control most traffic, while the proximity to East Dock allows them to move about by boat without being noticed.

Verasalle Shipyards
Veneline was once an Imperial power, visible no where else more than at the massive dockworks which occupies the eastern portion of the city. Massive dry docks and ship scaffolds surround the still pond which holds completed ships before they are put to sea. Most construction these days is by commission of private parties, though the Veneline Navy still keeps a small fleet of powerful vessels in case of threat from hostile kingdoms, or even worse the beasts of The Dragon's Maw.

The Rhemoraz Bar
A haven for the adventurous, this dangerous establishment is owned by a Shadar-kai by the title of Orde'lin (meaning Slayer of the High Beast in Shade). The structure is build like a bunker, and it's bouncers aren't known to go easy, or mind the sight of blood.

The Grand Collegium
This center of learning is renowned throughout Southern Arras, and is spoken of within any learned region. Paired with the Academy of Expression, these institutes ensure that those who can afford their services are well educated.

Basilica of Saint Melanon
This massive building was constructed in 1394, and is the largest religious building in Veneline. It is a magnificent golden structure which faces the Plaza of Lions, dedicated to Melanon's symol. This plaza also connects to the Droge Palace, which faces the Church.

Allsaints Cathedral
An open air, covered cathedral with devotion spaces reserved for hundreds of gods and saints. The walls are crafted from a series of arches, allowing patrons to come and go freely from devotions. The government commissioned the structure to keep the envangelicals off the common streets and relegated to a single location. This has resulted in an economic boom to the quarter where the Cathedral stands.

Fate's Temple
A temple devoted to The Lord, The Fate, and The Master, the three forces of Universal Law. Also houses all the dead of the city within massive catacombs.

The offices of The Venete Tam Consortium
One of the largest trade consortium in Arras (or your own world), Venete Tam currently holds the lions share of trade rights with the neighboring continent of Rethelm (if you are in a single-continent world this is equally effective as rights with another large kingdom).

Tensions and Rumors
Many folks in the streets whisper about why Venete Tam requires such a vessel as the Bahadur to patrol their shipping lanes. Such a ship is better build to besiege towns and sink fleets, or at least that's how the rumor goes

The Church of the Great Three is the primary religion of Itania and Greater Erchanon. As such Veneline must pay some amount of respect to the Religious leaders of The Church. This includes the Grand Archon, who oversees the faith of the Great Three under Lord Dv'emok. Veneline's religious freedoms has earned it the ire of many of the more orthodox faithful.

Racial animosity rears it's head within the gilded streets of Veneline. The Tiefling gangs and Dragonborn thugs in particular wage a nasty shadow-war, punctuating the common noble-son's brawls with bloody battles.

The nature of the Watch in Veneline has left many merchants feeling the pinch. If you don't hire guards of your own, it's unlikely the private soldiers of others are going to protect your wares. Less scrupulous individuals have made a point of pointing out just how valuable their services are, and not all the merchants are bowing down to extortion. Perhaps some intrepid adventurers can make a coin or two out of the trouble brewing.

A particular voice has been heard throughout the streets of Veneline more and more these days. Arod Rivach is a dissenter against the political control the Noble Houses have over the city, and what's worse is that he hasn't been done away with yet. Have The Nobles assassins failed or is there more at work here?

Next - Person's of interest within Veneline.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The City of Veneline - Part 1

Here I present a city which was created for a 4e campaign, inspired by Venice. It sits within my homebrew world, known as Arras, at the northern edge of an inland sea. The city was built in such a way that it should be possible to transpose it into any game world without a terrible amount of work. As-is it fits with the generic 4e history WOTC has outlined.


Population: 45,000
Primary Activity: Trade port
Imports: Food, Luxury Items
Exports: Art, Fine Wine

The Republic of Veneline sits along the northern coast of the Dragons Maw ocean. While The Republic technically contains a number of cities and communities, almost all references to it pertain to the city of bridges which is it's crowing jewel, and shares it's name. Veneline is famous for it's high culture, with wines grown in it's mainland vineyards selling for hundred to thousands of gold pieces.

Veneline lies on a group of islands within a large lagoon, which protects it's inhabitants from the larger predators of the Dragons Maw. The city proper lies upon four large groups of close islands which are connected by a number of bridges. A variety of other atolls and islands within the lagoon boast villages, huts, and other permanent dwellings. The Republic's mainland city is known as Veneterra, and services the large number of farms and vineyards which populate the slopes of the mainland.

Originally an Arkosian city, the fortresses which defend Veneline to the north and south were constructed to form a path for ships from the southern lands onto the northern section of Arras. During the ancient war, the fortresses and the populated islands were captured by Shea'Dath (a divinely-inspired nation). Shortly before Bael'Turath made it's pact, the remaining inhabitants declared independence, and gathered together a number of small coastal villages and local dwellers. Even during the hardest times, with folk abandoning cities for fear of bandits and monsters, Veneline was never truly barren. Over time the city developed as a primary point of trade for those ships which braved the Dragons Maw, or those which followed the in-land coast north. This opened trade with The Western Plains and The Midden-Realms (a grouping of small European kingdoms) to the Southern Lands.

Veneline and the surrounding lands became part of Erchanon, or 'The Kingdom of Light' as it often referred to itself,  in the early 1100's, and the region know known as Itania was made into a province. This lasted until 1329PT when the declining state of Erchanon's holdings allowed Veneline and several other cities to peacefully separate into the League of Itania. Though there were many in Erchanon who were angered, they could not hope to force Itania back into the fold militarily.

The League of Itania's dissolution as an imperial power in 1386 created the formal Republic of Veneline.

The political sphere of Veneline is rife with deals and intrigue. The city is run by it's noble families, who each have some amount of say in the goings-on in the city. The true political power resides within the Council of Ten, who are made up of elected members of the hundred+ noble houses. The Council elects it's own leader (Droge) but this position holds no more power than the other ten. The Heads of each noble house also act as a senate which advises the Ten.

There have been many accusations from the common folk and merchants that the Nobles do nothing for their plights, and indeed there have been rumblings of uprising in the past. Each time a prominent speaker attempts to go against the ruling class though, they have been the victim of strange accidents.

Having such a long history has led Veneline to sport a variety of architecture second to none. The ancient Draconian spires and foundations remain in places, often abutted with the gothic walls and buttresses from the Shea'Dathi period. More modern buildings tend to be two or three stories, made from brick and stone harvested from the mainland. Most materials are made from a yellowish clay, though nicer homes may sport white-washing or even expensive foreign facad's. Due to the age of the city, and the need to re-use older structures, it is not uncommon to see a repair crew on any number of buildings along a street.

Next - Places of Interest within Veneline, and Tensions within the City of Bridges.

Friday, February 19, 2010

D&D Mini's

I'm a cheap gamer... and not by choice. This means that I can rarely engage in any purchases which might be considered blingy, no matter how much I might want to. So I usually rely on gifts and careful spending to put together any game aids I might want. This has long kept me out of the realm of Miniatures, even though I have always wanted them for my games. So in this post I thought I might ramble on a bit about my experience jumping into cheap miniatures for D&D.

The best friend to any frugal gamer, bulk lot purchases on Ebay can net you figures for under 75 cents a piece if your lucky, far better than any individual seller. After picking up a few smaller boxes and receiving a 100-piece box as a gift, I have a few notes.

- Lots of repeats: The cheaper bulk boxes usually consist of the common's the seller can't get a good price for, so expect a lot of commons and poor sculpts... and tons of Gricks. This has been a boon for me, as I'm looking to put together a solid set of each monster type, even if they're lower quality repeats. Out of a 100-box, I got 8 elves in rough armor using scimitars... and no Orcs, so as always your mileage may vary.

- No PC's: This is not necessarily a rule, but as a general observation it seems true. Out of my most recent 100, I found just over a dozen which looked like they might work as PC's, ignoring duplicate wild elves. Another box of some 13 mini's yielded 2 promising figures. So as most people could guess, bulk purchase seems better suited for DM's providing monsters.

- Cheap: This one is so obvious I almost didn't put it it, but it is worth note. Any cons must be balanced against the cheapness of this method.

I don't have more than an order or two's experience with these, but I will be gaining more and more in the future.

- Shop Around: The above link is to MiniatureMarket, which has the largest selection I have found, but it is also worth looking at places such as TrollAndToad and Auggie's Games n Movies. Each site tends to have slightly different prices and stocks of miniatures, so it's worth it to see what your cost would be at each one.

- Cost/Exactitude: The biggest boon of individual buying is that you know exactly which miniature's you're getting, perfect for finding a particular NPC or PC you have been missing. But with this comes the downside of increased cost over random figures, especially for rare ones. The nicer and more unique figures (Dragonborn especially) tend to come with bigger price-tags.

Original Random Packs

Surprisingly, it is still possible to find older random booster boxes for sale, often for less than 10 dollars. This is best used if your not looking for anything in particular however, every once in a while you get a nice surprise in the box, just don't count on it. I have not had much luck with the few boxes I have cracked open, but that means that someone out there must be getting exactly what they wanted.

Anyways, these have been my experiences with D&D miniatures, anyone else out there have any really good tricks for putting together a collection.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Meaningful choices and rewards

How do you avoid gaming on rails?
This is a common question, and one I have asked myself far more times than I can keep track of. The answer I keep coming back to is this: Choices. Meaningful, world-impacting choices. The choices may be small, but anything which changes the world around the players will help break your game off those rails, and -at least seams to- increase player enjoyment.

I have been guilty of accidentally forcing my players down rails in the past, a habit I am trying to break. To this end I put together the example which will be presented next, and it seems to have worked out fairly well. In this case experimentation has payed off.

How to work choices into a game - Rewards
I recently was rewarded by seeing my players spend at least half an hour debating whether or not to accept a reward which they have been working towards for a few sessions.

The players have been helping out around a small border town for quite a bit of their heroic career. Now returning at Paragon tier, they have been asked to clear out the same keep they first adventured in. Having done that, they were offered the keep, and support as knights in the mayors service. This gift came with a caveat, their influence was likely to be used by the mayors political games throughout the region. So, was the chance to be landed knights worth the inevitable political requirements? Unfortunately we will have to wait until next session to know, nonetheless it was great to see real thought going into a game, and some mighty roleplaying on their part.

The first part was to use a non-monetary reward as the pivot point. While I have not tried it firsthand, it seems that the draw of gold is too ingrained into character power and level. Using the Keep allowed the players to look at it from their characters perspective, rather than their characters pocketbooks.

The second part was to tie it into an existing storyline, easier said than done. Since I had not planned this side-quest and related choice into the main storyline, it took some tinkering and liberal use of a hammer before i figured out how to do it. If the choice seemed arbitrary and capricious, i worried that my players would rebel or check out and simply go for power.

As it stands, and as the players saw it, the acceptance of the reward would result in the characters taking more of a stance in the political skirmishes surrounding the local cities and states. It also makes it harder for them to travel abroad at their whim, which is a very real concern I had not considered. This choice could very much affect the future tone of the campaign, and whether the players face coming danger as intrepid hero's, or as powerful guardians and leaders of men.

I personally can't wait until our next session, and seeing where the players choices take the game. Handing some story power over to the players has been hard, but I believe it will be more than worth it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Spell-Shapers Sands

This magical region might appear in any large desert or drylands as a fantastic location. Given the manner of it's magic it could also appear almost anywhere that magic has been misused. This fits into a Points-of-Light game as a remnant of one of the ancient wars that wiped out it's fighters.

The Spell-Shapers Sands

The location of an ancient magical battle, there is a palpable scar upon the land. The golden sands scintillate under the beating sun, such rich colour would be beautiful anywhere else, but here it is a mark of the destructive power of uncontrolled magic.

There are some who try to cross the sands and survive, others come out changed if they survive at all. With magical beasts roaming the land with a hate for anything even remotely magical, this is a truly dangerous land for adventurers.

Environmental Effects
The Spell-Shapers Sands is a magical desert, thus it follows normal rules for exposure and heat danger. In 4E this is usually represented with endurance checks and loss of Healing Surges to represent the fatigue and dehydration which sets in. In addition to mundane effects, the Spell-Shapers Sands has another unique danger.

Residuum Storm
A searing, stinging winds whips up, carrying along razor-sharp bits of pure magic. This magical weather effect fills a roughly spherical area of approximately 2d4 miles in diameter. Arcane spell-casters may use an Arcana check DC (moderate) to calm the storm. This check requires that the Caster be inside the area of the Storm. Every minute of exposure causes a +12 vs. Fortitude attack on any creatures within the Storm, if hit by this attack, the target takes 1d6 untyped damage, and 1 random magical item -determined by the DM- loses all function until the next extended rest outside the storm.


Beast of Spell-Shaped Sand  Elite Controller
Beast or Magical Beast (Magical Beast)  XP Elite
Defenses +1 AC; +2 Fortitude, +2 Will
Resist 5 fire at 11th level, 10 fire at 21st level
Saving Throws +2
Action Point 1
Hit Points +6 per level + Constitution score
Magical Form
 The Sand-Shaped Creature gains a +1 bonus to all defenses against attacks with the Arcane Keyword.
Residuum Body
 Gain the Encounter Power Residuum Body

Residuum Body

The creature's form wavers and collapses into sand, but in it's place appears a glowing golden shape hovering in the air.
Encounter        Arcane
Immediate Reaction      Personal
Trigger: The first time it becomes bloodied in an encounter
Effect: The creature becomes insubstantial until the end of it's next turn. Each time it is hit with a power with the Arcane keyword it gains temporary hit points equal to it's level.

Feel free to drop this location anywhere you wish, and if the material is at all useful to you I would love to hear about it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Floating-point locales

What is a floating-point locale? I define it as a location which you the GM have created, but that doesn't have a particular location in your game world. When creating content for a Homebrew world, I like to put together a handful of settlements and interesting places (The Screaming Cliffs, The Spell-Shaper Sands, The Village of Arns'Borough, etc). These places have stories, and encounters, maybe they tie together in a quest. The point of having them floating is to not tie yourself to a decision you may later regret.

The Tradition Model
Not to say that this is a bad style, but I have seen GM's build together a massive world with every city on the map and dungeon complexes riddling the hills. The problem arises when the GM has a plan and a story, but needs the players to travel to a certain town. If the players want to go somewhere else however, this can turn into railroading, and quickly sap the fun from the game.

Floating-Point Model
What if you want your players to run into the Tall Tower of Terror, but they took a left turn instead of a right at the Stinking Swamp? Easy, just reposition the tower to be somewhere else. It only exists in a place once you describe it there, a little like Schroedinger's Dungeon.

My favorite style for this is with towns. Creating all the NPC's necessary to populate a town that sticks in the players memory can be time consuming, and you want them to experience it. So create that town, but don't set it down into a location until the players are ready to find a good resting spot between adventures, then you can bust out the Dwarven Blacksmith and Tiefling Merchant you've been practicing. Making the world exist around the players might not fit into every campaign, but it is a usefull trick up your sleeve.

So what are the downsides?
Well, the biggest one is cohesion, does your world make sense? This method of location placement can lead to some strange situations if not handled properly or abused. "You mean Dracula's Castle showed up in Saudi Arabia?" Like any technique, this hinges on the GM to make everything work right, and it shouldn't come at the expense of your players or story. It is simply another tool for that toolbox.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yamil Zacra - Homebrew

So I was reading an interesting post on The Other Side by Tim Brannon. His link and writeup of the star Yamil Zacra was very interesting, and was a Lovecraftian horror I had never heard of before.

Soon I will be starting a new campaign, and one of my players is planning on playing a Starpact Warlock, so what better time to create Yamil Zacra as a Pact Patron. This will follow the basic outline from the Dragon articles concerning Warlock Patrons.

Patron: Yamil Zacra
The dark reddish glow is barely visible, and yet there is a malevolent glee present in you as you stare into the sky, it is almost as if a thousand tiny points of fire are tracing themselves through your veins... It is exhilarating.
Origin: Watching silently from a distance, It has always had interest in the world. Sending tiny sparks of it's own evil essence to bury themselves within the flesh of mortals. These motes of malevolent flame trace their microscopic path through all mortal things. Fanning the fires of evil, and garnering those of the greatest strength to join others who live upon it's single planet in glory. What the goals of this cosmic center of evil are cannot be known, and yet the call of eons of evil knowledge and power draws many to these sparks of malevolence.
Goals: Yamil Zacra only has one goal. Baleful Power. It is the draw of all who choose to embrace the Red Star's sparks. If you can prove before the servants of Yamil Zacra that you are of the greatest power on the planet, then perhaps it will see fit to take you to that massive orb of rock which orbits it, where yet more unimaginable challenges await.
Interaction: Trying to contact Yamil Zacra directly would be deadly to all but the strongest warlocks, but timidness shall not mar your path. First one must learn the secrets of the stars which burn within your body before the evil of Nemesis (Yamil Zacra's other name) can be yours. Communing with the memories of evil stored in the star-sparks is painful beyond imagining, with the fires racing through your bloodstream and setting alight the synapses of your brain, leaving ancient curses in their wake. Sometimes the star-sparks are responding to the bearers call, but sometimes the sparks choose to exercise their will on an unsuspecting person. A normal life might be turned upside down by the revelation of the power which sits latently within ones flesh.
Communication: Attempting to speak with Yamil Zacra does not happen, rather one must learn the lessons of their star-sparks. These sparks will impart their knowledge through the dreams of the Warlock, but only in response to an act of great evil, such as the murder of an innocent family. The greater the atrocity, the greater the knowledge imparted by these malevolent motes of fire.
Pact Boon: Yamil Zacra's motes of fire respond to the death of powerful enemies, imparting a flash of knowledge to you, yearning for you to use it to cause even greater destruction.
Roleplaying: You know of the power of Yamil Zacra, but can any know the dark star's intentions? Do you seek to understand the unknowable, or would you rather let it guide you to it, and bask in it's infinite malevolence. Questions abound about Yamil Zacra, yet answers do not come easily. While the entity and it's fiery spawn are entirely and completely evil, might you use the power it gives for the furtherment of other works? Can you harness this knowledge it grants without being drawn to the side of the massive star... Only time will tell if your mind remains your own.
Suggested Traits: Sadistic, Hidden, Disturbing, Fiery, Visible Power, Dangerous

Heroic Tier Powers
Fires of Dark Knowledge                                                                 Warlock Utility 6 
You call out to the tiny specks of stellar matter which fill your body, they respond in  
a burning flash of malevolent inspiration.                                                                      
Encounter <> Arcane                                                                                                     
Minor Action          Personal                                                                                          
Effect: Take 5 points of fire damage (this bypasses any fire resistance you may have),
in return, you gain a +1 power bonus on the next D20 roll you make before the end   
of your next turn.                                                                                                             

Black Curse of Impediment                                                       Warlock Encounter 7
Briefly your appearance is replaced with a dark void, except for a faint red glow       
which burns like a raging fire. The words you utter may be alien, but the victim         
knows full well their implication.                                                                                    
Encounter <> Arcane, Implement, Necrotic                                                                
Standard Action         Ranged 10                                                                                  
Target: One Enemy                                                                                                         
Attack: Charisma vs. Reflex                                                                                           
Hit: 3d8 + Charisma Modifier Necrotic Damage, and the target is slowed (save ends)
   Star Pact: The target takes a penalty on all attack roles against you equal to 1 +    
your Intelligence Modifier until the end of your next turn.                                             

Yuhz's Black Corona                                                                  Warlock Daily 10     
A ghostly image of Yuhz, Yamil Zacra's midnight binary, appears behind you. Those  
nearby see the power you hold at your fingertips, as the waves of dark fire                
emanations sear their flesh.                                                                                           
Daily <> Arcane, Fire, Fear, Implement                                                                      
Standard Action           Close Burst 2                                                                           
Target: Each creature in burst                                                                                         
Attack: Charisma vs. Reflex                                                                                            
Hit: 3d6 + Charisma modifier fire damage.                                                                       
Effect: Gain a +5 bonus to Intimidate checks for the rest of the encounter.                       
   Star Pact: The damage is considered to be composed of half Necrotic damage, and     
you gain an additional bonus to Intimidate equal to your Intelligence modifier.                    

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Non-Monetary Rewards, continued

After writing my previous post about my own experience with Non-Monetary Rewards (NMR? Catchy?) I got to thinking about a more general list of such things. The DMG or Players Handbook (depending on your preferred system) generally contains a list of the types of treasure players expect to find in their adventures. Art Objects, Magical Tomes, +1 Swords, and the ever-popular pile of gold coins.

But why are these things always available? Other than the fact that they are a cornerstone of the genre... Treasure is another measure of power, just like XP, a bit more fluid, but a direct measurement of the characters power. But what other types of treasure might populate the DM's notes?

Pets/Followers - From a pet panther named Gwenhwyvar, to a little Kobold showing you the way through the mountain, pet's and followers can be found in all manner of Fantasy RPG's. The services and combat utility they offer are probably the most directly beneficial to the adventurers. Companion characters/cohorts also fall into this category, often complimenting the player's combat ability.

Possessions/Holdings - A mountain stronghold, the sacred texts of the sun god. These sorts of treasures may not be very useful for bashing the ogres skull in, but they can open up story routes that would have otherwise been closed. As long as these sorts of treasures don't cut too deep into the players budgets, they can really help drive a story forward. It is also possible for these places to grant material benefits on a players character sheet. Keeping up your training within a personal archery range, or studying texts in your library can grant small bonuses to a characters attack and damage without edging out weapons and other equipment.

Access to Resources - Ancient Libraries, the Great Smithy of the Dwarves. These treasures are great rewards for plot arc's. They give the players a big bonus, something the Bards can sing about, but without unbalancing the economy with a massive lump-sum of gold. Giving the players a resource at the end of an Arc can see the players returning there during future adventure's, and become a good source of plot hooks. Be sure to let the characters use this resource in following adventures. If the players are constantly fighting back local goblin uprisings, perhaps that library has a tome regarding the weaknesses of goblin combat techniques, or the Smithy has blueprints for a Sting-style blade which aids against goblins.

Political Support/Army - Need to get into the Lord Lich's Fortress of Darkness? Have a troublesome army of Orc's in the way? Time to call in a favor from the King of Castle Orledin to march his knights against the darkness. Support from a powerful third party brings more options to the table, and players love options.

I hope this helps you add a little more variety to the rewards for your next adventure.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Encounter in the Forest - Part 4 - The Aftermath and the Future

Continuing the series of dissecting an encounter, we come to the aftermath.

The players cleaned up the wraiths without a huge amount of trouble, but it did cost them a half-dozen surges. This left them wary of continuing to delve into the woods. Here my favorite part of the encounter comes to be. After defeating the Wights, the players decided to try and find a place to rest. They wagered that the forest should be safe after they dispatched the Wights and their commander... Oh how wrong they were.

The most overlooked part of Encounter Design.
This could almost qualify as a post topic in and of itself.

In my opinion the most overlooked part of encounter design is the repercussions and immediate follow up. Immediate follow up incorporates those things which should affect the players in between this encounter and the next, if this is a dungeon. Or the next hour or so of non-combat time. While repercussions influence the entire adventure from this point forth.

So what were the repercussions and Immediate follow up here?

Immediate follow up: Having slain the leader of the Wights, who had been holding the band cohesive, the spirits of the forest have been released, and are not to happy with the players. Any attempt to rest within the woods is now far more mentally taxing than it should be, there is a malevolence and weight to the air. The players may also run the risk of running into more corporeal Wights. These fights aren't meant as full encounters, but each run-in should have an effect, perhaps charge the players a healing surge each time they run into a wight before it is unceremoniously slaughtered... That will start to worry the players, instilling the dread of running out of surges and finally being dragged down from attrition.

The repurcussion of slaying the Wight battle group was that the Lich who now lives within the ancient manor keep knows that something dangerous exists in the forest, and defeated his lieutenant. A particularly paranoid individual, he now sets about setting his traps for the PC's when they decide to step further into his domain.

Overall Impressions?

This encounter taught me that varied enemies is paramount to success in 4e encounter design. But an easy battle shouldn't end without some danger to the PC's, a little bit of dread can go a long way... Be sure that the battle ties into a larger scheme of things, and is not just there for it's own sake.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Non-Monetary Rewards

Recently I have embarked on a little experiment on my players *cue evil laugh* which seems to have gone very well and been enjoyed by all *laugh ends in a sputter*

The experiment was this: I would take the usual treasure volume which I have sprinkled throughout the characters adventures to come, and take away half of it. This half of the treasure would then be converted into other types of tangible rewards. So far the change had been very well received.

So just what did they get?
Well, I developed a short list of each character's backstory and motivations, and brainstormed appropriate rewards. Here I will list my favorites.

The near-constantly teleporting Feylock received a pet Shadow Hound as reward for killing a dangerous Shadar-Kai Warrior who challenged the party's honor. The Hound was one of the few creatures who could follow him when he constantly jumped around, and thus meshed perfectly with his character concept. This pet would also be able to protect him from melee, which could be quite dangerous with only one other defender to rely on.

So far the Warlocks player has really enjoyed the presence of the Dog, and has nearly lost it when the dog has gotten injured. Such emotional response would be very hard to foster for a sword (though the Dragonborn has a strange relationship with his).

For the aforementioned Dragonborn Fighter, there came a both a divine boon, and a Fire Elemental taking up residence within his blade. Both rewards served the stories ends, and made for fun 'treasure' to be found. The boon came as a result of saving the life of a cleric to Heironeous, thus garnering his god's favor. While the Elemental is something of an enigma, though it saved the PC's life so they haven't questioned it too much.

The Player of the Dragonborn has proved to be very pious, respecting many gods. He primarily serves The Raven Queen, but will work with any faith he respects. The boon of Heironeous was a way to show him that the god had noticed him, and that he was pleased with his actions. On the flipside of that coin, the Fire Elemental appeared to save them from the vengeance of Zehir. This elemental has empowered his sword, but it also speaks ill of the gods, trying to sway his opinion.

From my experiences so far, and the feedback from my players, I think that such non-monetary rewards are very cool, but it could be easy to overdo them. The players need some wealth to throw around for their own purposes, and crafting their idea of their character. The warlock in particular has come to be a little short on cash. I will have to be a little more delicate with balance in the future.

So does anyone else out there have any favorite items they have given out to players?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Encounter in the Forest - Part 3 - Companion Characters

We continue a series dissecting an encounter for 4th Edition DnD.

Companion Character Background:
So, almost immediately after purchasing the DMG2 I was inspired by the rules for Companion Characters. For any who may not know; Companions are simplified party members with a small variety of abilities, meant to supplement a party role or act as henchmen or the like.

The two companions currently in this party are: A Shadow Hound which the Feytouched Warlock saved from it's (now deceased) master. As well as a Warforged Divine Champion of the Dwarven God of Battle.

It was a lot of fun creating the stat's for these two characters. The Shadow Hound was crafted by applying the rules from DMG2 to it's MM entry, and leveling it up to 11. The Warforged was created by combining elements of the Warforged Knight and Warforged Flamepriest available in the Compendium, and had to be leveled down so as not to outshine the party (though he was hardly in danger with terrible rolls that missed everything he attacked).

Overall I would say that the Companion characters do exactly what they are supposed to, flesh out the party. They have added tactical options which did not exist before in the two-person adventuring party, without taking anything away from the player characters.

Next - Part 4 - The Aftermath and the Future

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Encounter in the Forest - Part 2 - The Grand Melee

The Grand Melee

This is the second entry in a short series dissecting a particular encounter I ran for a 4E campaign.

The monsters for this Encounter were taken directly from the Nightmare's Monster Manual entry:
1 Nightmare
1 Battlewight Commander
6 Battlewights

I don't often use the given encounter groups, as often I find that they include thematically disparate creatures, but here the flavor fit, so I went with it.

The Party:
So the two PC's were a Dragonborn Dreadnaught Fighter and an Eladrin Feytouched Warlock. The Dragonborn is a staunch defender, and his marking combined with the Dreadnaught ability to automatically save with a small self-injury meant he could stand toe-to-toe with the band of wights. The Eladrin had so many Teleports at his disposal, that not more than one or two enemies were ever able to target him in a round, leaving him open to pelt them with spells. The two companions were a Teleporting Shadow Hound (The Warlocks Pet) perfect for flanking and bonus damage. And a Warforged Defender/Controller who rolled so poorly that he was nothing but a damage sponge.

The Enemies:
One thing I have noticed about Battlewights (and most other soldiers) is that they are almost a one-trick pony. Even the Commander (an Elite) only had one interesting ability beyond the standard wight energy drain and immobilization.

This battle wasn't intended to be dangerous, so much as a sink for the players resources (namely healing surges) and yet towards the end the monster's turns became quite stale. It would seem that even monsters need a controller in the group. I made a note to be sure to include more varied monsters in subsequent encounters. Even melee enemies can do with a few controller powers dragged in to spice things up, and with the Monster Builder it is only too easy.

So how did the battle go?
I had originally intended for the Battlewight Commander and his Nightmare to strafe the battlefield with charge attacks while the Battlewights held the party down in melee. The Dragonborn was able to trip the Nightmare and it's rider, and through concerted attacks, the party downed the Nightmare in only 3 turns. I was happy to see the players success, but the fight after that became more of a slog than a tense melee. The PC's were still threatened by the Wights, as the Surge drain which they can inflict could get deadly fast. But at this point the enemies had almost nothing to do other than attack with their swords in melee. The Immobilized condition never stuck to the Dreadnaught (given his paragon ability) and the Eladrin was rarely within range for the Commander to use his ranged special attack which hinged on the immobilized condition.

All in all the fight was still a success, but it pounded home the need for a varied group of enemies in 4E. Only 1 or 2 types of monsters doesn't cut it. Varied tactics keep the battlefield alive. For the next set-piece encounter in this little adventure (beyond harrying in the forest by skeletal horsemen) there will be much more variety.

Next - Part 3 - Companion Characters

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Gheron the Veteran - Part 2

Last time I posted the fluff and history of Gheron, now onto some Stat blocks.

Gheron could appear as a minor NPC, or should the Players choose to bring him along, a Companion Character. I have built his stats as a Companion for both Heroic and Paragon Tiers.

Changes to note
Gheron has lost the racial benefits Dwarven Resilience and Stand Your Ground due to his past and physical injuries. As a replacement he has increased AC and Reflex defenses.

Gheron the Veteran Level 6
Medium natural humanoid XP 250
Initiative +4
Senses Perception +5
HP 43; Bloodied 21
AC 23; Fortitude 15; Reflex 20; Will 18
Saving Throws +5 vs Poison
Speed 5

[*] Second Wind (standard; encounter) • Healing
Gheron spends a healing surge and regains 10 hit points. He gains a +2 bonus to all defenses until the start of its next turn.

[*] Unbalancing Force (standard; at-will) • Arcane, Force, Implement
Range 5; +10 vs Fortitude; 1d8 + 7 force damage. The next ally who hits the target before the end of Gheron's next turn also pushes the target 1 square.

[*] Lightning Sphere (standard; encounter) • Arcane, Implement, Lightning
Gheron rolls a small metal sphere into the enemy ranks, where it promptly explodes into lightning.
Area burst 1 within 10 squares; each enemy in burst; +10 vs Fortitude; 1d8 + 7 lightning damage, and the target grants combat advantage until the end of Gheron's next turn.

[*] Insightful Warning (immediate interrupt; encounter)
Trigger: A creature you can see makes an attack roll for an area or a close attack that includes you as a target.
Effect: You and each ally included as a target of the triggering attack gain a +2 power bonus to all defenses against it.

[*] Bolster Armor (minor; daily) • Arcane
Gheron touches your armor, and outlines reinforcements to the item.
Target: Self or one ally; Effect: The target gains a +1 power bonus to AC until the end of the Encounter. The target may use a free action when hit by an attack to end the bonus and gain +4 to AC against that attack.

Alignment Unaligned Languages Common, Dwarven
Skills Arcana +12, Stealth +9
Str 11 (+3) Dex 13 (+4) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 6 (+1) Int 18 (+7) Cha 10 (+3)

Gheron the Veteran Level 16
Medium natural humanoid XP 1,400
Initiative +10
Senses Perception +12
HP 95; Bloodied 47
AC 33; Fortitude 26; Reflex 31; Will 29
Saving Throws +5 vs Poison
Speed 5

[*] Second Wind (standard; encounter) • Healing
Gheron spends a healing surge and regains 23 hit points. He gains a +2 bonus to all defenses until the start of its next turn.

[*] Unbalancing Force (standard; at-will) • Arcane, Force, Implement
Range 5; +20 vs Fortitude; 1d8 + 14 force damage. The next ally who hits the target before the end of Gheron's next turn also pushes the target 1 square.

[*] Lightning Sphere (standard; encounter) • Arcane, Implement, Lightning
Gheron rolls a small metal sphere into the enemy ranks, where it promptly explodes into lightning.
Area burst 1 within 10 squares; each enemy in burst; +20 vs Fortitude; 1d8 + 14 lightning damage, and the target grants combat advantage until the end of Gheron's next turn.

[*] Insightful Warning (immediate interrupt; encounter)
Trigger: A creature you can see makes an attack roll for an area or a close attack that includes you as a target.
Effect: You and each ally included as a target of the triggering attack gain a +2 power bonus to all defenses against it.

[*] Bolster Armor (minor; daily) • Arcane
Gheron touches your armor, and outlines reinforcements to the item.
Target: Self or one ally; Effect: The target gains a +1 power bonus to AC until the end of the Encounter. The target may use a free action when hit by an attack to end the bonus and gain +4 to AC against that attack.

[*] Stalwart Defender (standard; daily) • Arcane, Implement, Summoning
Effect: Create a Small stalwart defender in an unoccupied square within range. The stalwart defender has speed 6 and a +2 bonus to AC. Any enemy that starts its turn adjacent to the stalwart defender is marked by the defender until the end of your next turn. You can give the stalwart defender the following special commands.
[Standard Action]: Melee 1; targets one creature; +22 vs. AC; 2d8 + 14, and the target is immobilized until the end of your next turn.; [Opportunity Attack]: Melee 1; targets one creature; +22 vs. AC; 2d8 + 14 damage.

Alignment Unaligned Languages Common, Dwarven
Skills Arcana +19, Stealth +15
Str 13 (+9) Dex 15 (+10) Wis 19 (+12)
Con 8 (+7) Int 23 (+14) Cha 12 (+9)