Sunday, December 29, 2013

Conclusion: What Happened

This blog is dead!


The campaign fizzled.

The reason?

4e is just not compatible with proper dungeon crawling. Hard fact.

Combat takes too long for the amount of resources it ultimately expends, which means you don't get enough exploration done, which is the name of the game in megadungeon or at least prettybigdungeon play. For instance, even getting inside the dungeon was a huge deal because any encounter means that about 1/4 to 1/3 of our session is now gone. Now, that's fine in other styles of play, but not for this one.

Other than that, the campaign was a blast. I think there are lots of good ideas on this blog; so I'll be leaving it up for future reference (my own and maybe yours).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

[Actual Play] Session 4

the Dead Acre

TL;DR (October 17-18 AD 597)

Canus Returns. The Dead Acre. Naiad Trouble. Maptool Issues. Experience Schemes.

See, what had happened was . . .

We started with Brs. Canus, Charles, and Cerdic along with Sr. Anastasia. We didn't have Father Bernard with us this time, which meant minions, if any, were going to be a big issue, and we wouldn't have much in the way of healing. This created interesting complications. The intent this time was to start plumbing the megadungeon proper. The characters know three entrances, but they've taken none (and they've missed one too!).

Canus Returns

We start things out with Brother Canus returning to Canterbury with the bones of Li'l Eric, Takk the fletcher's youngest son, who was Canus's guide out to the desecrated druidic grove where the evil Bro. Canus actually sacrificed Eric in hopes of appeasing the aquilabear.

Canus's player took this opportunity to make things worse for his character via his flaw (his flaw being, like, his entire character). So he stumbles in a daze into Canterbury, hauling stringy kid-bones, and everybody is gawking at him. The whole town sees him. The kid's father (Takk) does too, and we cut with Takk collapsing under the realization of his son's death. Canus makes his save vs tragedy just fine; so he's no closer to doom.

Cut to a few hours later, post Vespers, and Bishop Liudhard is grilling Canus about what in the world happened. Canus reveals that Abbot Laurentius sent him on an errand to speak with the druid Byrne, but he was cagey about the telling, and now the bishop is very suspicious of both the abbot and Brother Canus. I'm sure this is going to turn out just fine.

Canus talks to Father/Abbot Laurentius next, who's halfway through his transcription of 1 Kings. Canus shows Abb. L. the laurel from the druid Byrne as "proof" of his death. Laurentius is delighted. He absolves Canus of every sin from the past three years—which, unbeknownst to Laurentius, includes the human sacrifice of Li'l Eric!

The Dead Acre

The party decides to head for the megadungeon proper through the skull-door they found at the back of the buried Greek-style temple beneath St. Martin's crypt. Inserting the idol into the depression in the forehead's skull allows the skull to freely rotate upward, exposing the mouth, which is the passage to the next area. It's a 30' long 5' thing that ends in a smooth wall with a little indentation that looks like a handle. They party sliiiiiiiides it open.

With their torchlight, they can see they're in some kind of field. There's weird skeletal looking crops growing to the north and pale, transparent trees with visible networks of bloodred sap growing to the south. A 20' wide central avenue goes E-W as far as they can see. And they also see two torches about 150' away.

They douse their torch and send Sister Anastasia to scout ahead in the dark. She feels along the right hand wall, going south for 100', hitting a corner, then going E for 95' before she feels the wood of a door. But she also stubs her toe on a pile of rubble, which draws the attention of the two things holding the torches. They're goblins statistically, but they look like those things from The Descent:

The goblins are supervising a bunch of Gaelic (Anastasia can tell from their language since she's Gaelic herself) slaves, who were picking gelatinous, spherical "fruit" off the trees. Since Anastasia can tell the goblins are investigating, she hightails it back the way she came, and she manages to slip into the secret passage and shut the door behind her before the goblins can catch up to her. (The gobs were being cagey and never got a clear visual.)

They make a plan on the quick: open the door, toss the torch out, and then chaarrrrrrge. It happens. There are six gobs standing outside the door. One had already run away to alert the rest of the complex.

It's a quick thing. Six HD 1 - 1 gobs can't put up a decent fight with a party of three level 2s and a level 3. The party tries to interrogate the last goblin for a while, and then they hear the howling of wolves. Dire wolves, of course. Rather than retreat, the party attempts to head for the door that Sister Anastasia discovered.

But, man, dire wolves are quick. Three of them, with goblin mounts, intercepted the party while they were in a line against the south wall. Five more support gobs joined the party next round.

This junk was a bad scene. Anastasia (the ranged DPS character) was down to 1 HP and got totally shut down until the very end of the fight. Our level 3 tank, Brother Charles, got knocked unconscious and probably would have bit it had Bro. Cerdic not been there with the heals. The PCs were all literally up against a wall, outnumbered more than 2:1 with standard creatures (no minions).

But, in the end, they cut Anastasia free, and the DPS of Brother Canus and Sister Anastasia managed to clear out the remainder of the enemies. The last two gobs fled. One got away, and Sister Anastasia managed to injure the other with a blind shot into the darkness.

Having expended all their resources, the party ran back for the safety of the secret passage. They closed (and heard lock) the secret door behind them and took a breather in the cella of the buried temple.

Naiad Trouble

When they emerged into the church of Saint Martin (intending to take an extended rest), they heard screams. They saw Grecian urn-shards. Oh noes. The naiads have escaped.

When they emerged into the sunlight (it's only about 7 am on Oct 18 now), they can see the three naiads are just slicing through the two. 23 people are dead in the streets, and Aethelberhrt's thanes are putting together a shield wall just outside his longhouse/meadhall. Already their numbers are reduced.

By the time the battle's over, only 5 of Aethelberht's thanes are left alive. The challenge of this encounter wasn't whether or not the PCs would live; it was how much damage the naiads would do—and would they break through the shield wall to kill the king? Bro. Charles luckily managed to impose himself in the doorway of the king's longhouse, preventing a campaign-twisting event.

But now Aethelberht's seriously weakened, and there's already been trouble with Cyng Ilfwine of Essex . . .

Maptool Issues


It failed us again this session. I kept having it black out, and there was the—ugh.

So here's what we're doing next time: instead of opening two instances, one player instance that's always in the projected area and one GM instance on my laptop, I'm just running a single instance, keeping it in the projection area most of the time, and dragging it out of viewable range when I need to make some change to the map—erasing vision blocking layer (VBL), etc.

I'm hoping this will solve our problems. I don't see why it shouldn't.

Experience Schemes

I've been toying with various experience schemes, and this is the first time we've used the one I think will be the permanent one.

Under this arrangement, the XP-to-level requirements are standard 4e. However, whenever you defeat a standard creature, you get XP = a minion of its level. If you kill a minion, meh, it's 1/4 of RAW minion XP.

The bulk of your XP will come from the recovery of treasure (using a silver standard), the remainder being made up with roleplaying, various class features, and baptisms.

There were protests (Brother Charles, I'm looking at you) since, all told, the 12 gobs, 3 wargs, and 3 naiads were only worth 600 XP, but them's the grits. Find that treasure!

It still proved enough to level Brother Charles to 4. The rest of the party is at level 2.

Tactical Considerations of the New Combat Roles

The sniping and fighting combat roles are working great. It is absolutely imperative to keep heat off your sniper, or, as in the second encounter with the wargs, she gets completely shut down and can't deal out that massive DPS. The fighting role seemed like it was a lot of fun. Brother Canus's player said he enjoyed the freedom of being able to just jaunt around the battlefield without fear of opportunity attacks, setting up flanks and doing respectable damage on the regular.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Buy my novel!

It's not about D&D, but it does have zombies and vampires and possessed people in it.

Think: Buffy + Bleach + the book of Judges set in a tiny high school in suburban Alabama.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Using Digital Tabletop Projection

Brother Charles's player made us a gaming table. Hats off.

It's got detachable trays and a slot in the center for an acrylic plate upon which (a) to project a digital tabletop image (pictured) and (b) to serve as a wet/dry erase surface to improvise mapping non-digitally.

We use Maptool to run the maps (which have line of sight, fog of war, etc).

It's awesome, but we had some hitches. If you're running a game this way, here's what you need to do:

Do Not Mess with the Zoom of the Player Map

Seriously. I don't know why I didn't think of this, but it messed everything up. I had our views synced so that, when I zoomed out, their map zoomed out too. That screwed up the scale, and then we had to readjust . . . *sigh*

This eventually led to us abandoning minis, which is bad. We just used the virtual tokens as pictured above. No good! Don't link the views like this!

Use Physical Creature Representations

For both PCs and monsters, it's easier to just use real tokens: minis, pogs, whatever. As long as you don't mess with the player zoom (see above), everything should be peachy.

If Something Glitches, Save and Immediately Restart

Suddenly, the player map went black. What did I do?

Fiddled around doing nothing for five minutes: "oh, hold on, maybe this—"


Cut your losses, close the programs, restart. Tell people to take a refreshment break. If you saved your campaign file in Maptool, everything will be right back where it was. When the players come back, you'll be ready to go.

Don't Improvise With It

Another mistake from session 3! If you don't have a map prepped already, don't mess with virtuality. Get out your eraseable pens and start drawing a map. (Or, if you're in a dungeon, start calling out room dimensions to the mapper.)

Back Up Your Resources to Cloud Storage (with Versioning)

I'm using Dropbox. It's great. I save my campaign file at home and don't need to lug around a computer of my own. (I don't host games at my place.) Then, when the session's over, I upload the updated campaign file, and it's there waiting for me next time I need to add to it.

Cinematic Fights for Any Medium of Play

It can be done!

Let's say Brother Canus is strolling through the forest and encounters a dire wolf (HD 4 + 1).

Fight! But you want this to be choreographed, or you don't have the character sheet, or you're doing this pbp or whatever. Here's something:

In general, a 4e PC can withstand 4 good hits. The first two take him to bloodied, and he's got another before he's out of it. Remember this for later.

Don't roll init. Instead, threaten the PC with something (usually death, defeat, or capture), and set up that threat with increasing brutality, according to how many hits the PC has taken:

0 hits: apply pressure

1 hit: inflict pain

2 hits: draw blood

3 hits: induce misery

4 hits: traumatically injure

5 hits: kill

So, when I'm setting up the dire wolf's threat against Canus, who hasn't taken any hits, I'll only put pressure on him before asking how he responds.

Example: the wolf circles you, padding closer on the snow. Its tongue nearly scrapes the ground. What do you do?

After Canus takes a hit, I can inflict pain before asking what he does:

The wolf pounces past your guard. It hits your shield and rides you over the ice until you crash your head into the trunk of a frozen tree. Its mouth is open, about to snap for your throat. What do you do?

If he takes a hit there, our next setup draws blood:

He latches onto your ankle as you try to run. Blood streams down into the snow. He's not letting go. What do you do?

If he's got three hits, that's when things get really rough:

It's biting into your shoulder over and over again, ripping and tearing. You're covered in red. What do you do?

But how do you determine when the PC gets hit?

When the PC attacks a creature, ask the player exactly how he's attacking and have him make a relevant ability check (no 1/2 level bonuses!) *modified by the difference in HD between them*:

DC 18: it goes off just like the player intended. (A natural 20 always counts as this.)

Would the creature be incapacitated by this? Then it is. Ask the player how he finishes it off.

If not, or if you're not sure, the creature takes 2 hits.

Does the creature now have 4+ hits? If so, then the attack went off like the player intended after all. Say what it's like. If it wouldn't kill the creature, ask the player how he finishes it off.

If not, say how the creature is bloodied (2 hits) or made miserable (3 hits) by the attack.

DC 10: the creature takes 1 hit.

Does the creature now have 4 hits? If so, then the attack went off like the player intended. Say what it's like. If it wouldn't kill the creature, ask the player how he finishes it off.

If not, say how the creature is pained (1 hit), bloodied (2 hits), or made miserable (3 hits) by the attack.

Miss: inflict 1 hit on the player.

Say how the attack failed and how the monster pains (1 hit), bloodies (2 hits), miseries (3 hits), traumatizes (4 hits), or kills (5 hits) the PC.

With 3 hits or less, the PC suffers no lasting ill effects. The 4th hit means a lasting serious injury with mechanical reinforcement. The fifth hit is death.

Thus, against creatures with HD totals fewer than the PC's level, the PC is likely to hit DC 18 and immediately end the fight. Higher HD monsters present more difficulty.

If the PC does something other than attack that requires a check, on a failure you may treat it as a missed attack, or you may simply set up another threat. This shouldn't go on forever. Eventually, you'll have to hit the guy. The principle: make it feel real.

Example Exchange
DM: The wolf is circling you.
PC: I wait for it to lunge and stab it through the throat with my spear.

PC checks Strength (+4) minus 3 since the HD 4 + 1 dire wolf is 3 HD higher than the level 1 PC. So effectively a +1 check. He gets a 6 (5 + 1). That's a miss; so the DM brings the pain:

DM (marking 1 hit on the PC): the wolf's too quick. He plows into you, and you both go tumbling into the steps of the ziggurat. What do you do?


For a fight where one side outnumbers the other, you can just threaten with multiple creatures at once and apply the damage as it seems appropriate, or you can use my easy mass combat rules.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

[Archetype] Necromancer

You straddle the barrier of the living and the dead. This is bad.

Abilities: 18 16 14 12 10 8

Skills: Arcana, History, Religion

Languages: Ethnic, Ancient

Alignment: Evil

Tell (pick 1): milky eyes, red eyes, black eyes, withered frame, pallid skin, moist skin, stench of corruption, stench of brimstone, hot to the touch, cannot touch holy symbols

Origin (pick 1): innocent dabbling, born to occultists, sacrificed as a child, spurned by hell, deal with the devil

Motive (pick 1): power over the living, to return someone from the dead as they were in life, immortality, an ordered society, to rid myself of this spirit, human welfare via the secrets of the knowing dead, to judge the world, to be revenged upon X, to fulfill a vow to a dead king

You get Skinbottle, Control, Mutter, and one more.


A spirit lives inside you. It is your interface with the dead. Without it, you have no power.

The spirit begins hungry and uncontrollable. It hungers after (pick two): human flesh, suffering (its own), suffering (another's), terror, humiliation (its own), humiliation (another's), ever more of X.

While the spirit is hungry, you must seek to satisfy it. If you dally or fail, the spirit torments you per the DC 10 result of the Control power.

When you satisfy its hunger, scratch a rune of propitiation. You cannot command the spirit without such a rune. When you command the spirit, erase a rune.


When you command your spirit to perform a task, check Wisdom:

DC 18: it does what you want and returns in time

DC 10: the spirit goes too far or takes too long or draws attention to you

Miss: it works against you and/or refuses to return; death of the host will force it to return unto thee


Open your mouth to the spirit when you seek guidance from it. It speaks through you. Check Wisdom.

DC 18: it tells you what you want to know

DC 10: its knowledge is vague or confusing

Miss: it is angered at being disturbed; it speaks lies or dooms or curses


1d6 apprentices, loyal, ignorant, and fanatical, flock to you.

Call Up

Command your spirit to call up someone from the dead. You see its appearance, and you speak its words. Treat it as muttering.

Come Forth

Command your spirit to call up the dead around you. If there are dead here, up to 1d6 arise as minions of your level under your control.


Command your spirit to enter another. For PCs, they will only be tormented by the spirit if they allow themselves to be. If they do so, they gain XP = minion of their level.


Send your spirit into a corpse. You must touch the corpse. It reanimates under your control as it was in life. But it's gross now.


Place your hand on the ground and inquire of your spirit concerning the bodies buried here. It always knows. Treat it as hitting DC 18 on Mutter.

Handling Magic Items in a B/X + 4e Mashup

Magic items in 4e are zero good.

They're fiddly and complicated: "Hey, I think my Circlet of Ringfire Bladethorne gives me an inconsequential bonus in an extremely rare circumstance, except in the case of a crit, when it makes me slide anyone in a burst 3, as long as they're—"

That's how it is.

Also, you're supposed to get X per level, which isn't on. If you assume a power curve, just make that inherent in the class progression and have magic items be maaaaaaagic.

Solution: don't use 4e magic items at all.

When you give out magic items, give them from your older edition resource or else just make up stuff that seems cool to you. Don't make them blah blah blah +1 whatevers.

The exception, I think, are consumables. I think it adds a fun layer of resource management to have some potions of fire resistance, levitation, etc., in the inventory.

But, for non-consumables? Make them weird or legendary. Don't worry too much about making them OP. And don't worry about weapon proficiency requirements with them. Anyone should be able to use a magical weapon. Gandalf had his sword, man. And their proficiency bonuses should all be +3, which is the best in the game among the mundane items.

So, if one of my players finds Excalibur, which exists in the game somewhere, anyone can use it, and it will be boss for whoever uses it, because it's Excalibur.

Read the session 1 recap for the first magical item the PCs have recovered, the Cloak of Saint Martin. It's got history behind it, but they don't know what it does yet!