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!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

[Actual Play] Session 3-2


We're going on a bear hunt / We're going to catch a big one / What a beautiful day! / We're not scared.

See, what had happened was …

Brother Canus, the aspiring necromancer for reasons unknown, having in the last session been druidly tasked with the vanquishing of a monster in the Realm Wood, set out to do so.

He picked up Takk the fletcher's youngest son Li'l Eric, to be his guide. It's a short way to the Realm Wood, but, what with all the snow and all, better not to take chances on getting lost.

Along the way, I got a random encounter: bears. So I said there's a cave. WDYD? Brother Canus wants to go in. Li'l Eric says yeeeeeeahhh, I'll be out here in the trees because you know there's going to be bears in there, Brother Canus. Brother Canus says it's cool and heads in, torch ablaze.

There are, of course, bears in there. 1d4 of them. 2 of them. This is done by chat; so there's no mapping. I just describe the narrow cave entrance twisting around and opening into a large chamber, where Canus can hear snoring/breathing. He tosses his torch 30', and, 10' ahead of that, he sees two bears. They perk up. I roll a 2 on my reaction roll: hostile, immediate attack.

Bear charrrrrrge.

Like a boss, Canus had dug out a little hole in the ground when he heard the breathing. He jams his spear into that thing and waits to receive the charge.

Massive critting ensues. The bear is impaled, but the force breaks the spear and sends Canus back into the cave wall with a dead bear arm on top of him.

Then the female bear starts sniffing around. He's playing like he's dead, but it doesn't work. The remaining bear rises up on its back legs and roars. Some quick thinking and a visit to Wikipedia later, Brother Canus starts banging on the cave wall with his sword and yelling like a crazy man. Another reaction roll: success! The bear backs off, unsure, and Canus slips out with some fresh, clean XP.

Then things got crazy.

Canus and Li'l Eric happened upon the sacred grove without further incident. It's a 60' diameter thing with a "hallway" of trees, an altar, a pile of bones, and a big boulder carved with something. The monster is of course on top of the pile of bones, presumably flossing with them.

It's an owlbear, right? But I wanted to spruce it up. So it's got the body of a bear, but imagine a decapitated bear with a huge bronze imperial Roman aquila standard shoved down the hole: the eagle head is its head, and the eagle wings sprout inflexibly out the back. This enabled some quasi-improvisational weirdness to follow. Looks kinda like this except more life-sized:

What do you do? I said.

Brother Canus says he knocks Li'l Eric out and takes him to the altar as a sacrifice to the monster.

Yikes, Brother Canus. Your necromantic aspirations have crossed the line. See Fig. 1, below:

Brother Canus's Necromatic Aspirations
Fig. 1.

In any case, Li'l Eric puts up a fight and slashes Canus across the face before Canus shoves his head into a tree.

The monster plays it cool the whole way to the altar. It lets Canus retreat and proceeds to eat the boy alive. It is uncomfortable. Canus holds himself together. The monster still doesn't move to attack (my reaction rolls were highly favorable). Then Canus gets the idea to hop up on the boulder and drop down Dark Souls style onto the monster for massive damage. Seems legit to me.

As he prepares to scale the boulder, I tell him he sees some kind of religious frenzy-hunt scene with animal-headed humans led by a giant in bone armor. Weird. And, when Canus gets to the top, he can tell the boulder's hollow: dungeon entrance.

The attack plan goes very wrong. The aquilabear eats the javelin and tosses Canus. It's charging him now; it's almost certain death, and then Canus says he stands up and chants something to him in Latin. I can't recall what it was, but man does it work: 12 on the reaction roll—enthusiastic friendship.

The aquilabear bows. It says how it's plundered the barbarians. Come and see their treasure. The monster shows Canus the silver and gems it's taken from the druids, and it requests some of Canus's blood so that it can find him later after Canus "releases him from service." The monster calls him "Pontifex" and, as he takes off, says, "Hail Caesar, son of Zeus, king of kings, savior of the world."

Okay . . .

Canus decides not to mess with the dungeon entrance for now. He takes Eric's knife and some of his bones and intends to go get the hide from the bear he killed earlier, but he hears ominous sounds from within the cave and thinks better of it.

We cut it with him heading back into town bloodied and in serious trouble.

I can't wait to see him get his just deserts.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mass Combat the Easy Way

Treat each unit as a character. Average the HD out.

For outnumbering, treat the more numerous side as having +1 HD. For every multiple by which you outnumber them, increase the unit's HD. So a goblin warband that outnumbers their foes 2:1 but not 3:1 will be treated as HD 3 - 1 creatures rather than the usual HD 1 - 1.

When numbers change via casualties, adjust HD from outnumbering.

The percentage of hp lost equals the percentage of units lost, rounded down.

A side that's defending a fortification suffers 1/2 damage. Make other ad hoc adjustments as it seems good to you.

Roll hp, initiative, and morale as normal.

Then have each unit attack as normal.*


*If one side has a special power, like a medusa's petrification, adjudicate that as you see fit. This is supposed to be quick.

Using Basic Monsters in 4e

The reason 4e combat tends to be slow is primarily the fault of the players, including the GM. If you have your powers memorized, you can blow through your turn in seconds.

But that's the thing. Even a first level PC has 2-3 pages of powers. The character sheet only gets longer as you level (although you can fix this to some degree by changing the way you handle magical items; more on this in a later post).

And, as I learned in session 3, the GM can take almost as long. I had a bunch of creatures I'd never even looked at before, each with 2-5 powers. I want to provide a challenge; so I needed to take a minute or so to read them over initially and then some time each round thereafter to refresh myself.

Too long!

Now then. I'm going to try something different next session.

Running Monsters from Basic D&D in Fourth Edition

Find the monsters you want to use from whatever old school or new school reference. Use as many of their special abilities as you want. (For instance, I'm not going to hesitate to use straight up level drain in 4e.) Frex, if you want a rogue-like skirmisher goblin, give him +1d6 damage when he has combat advantage. You can do all this by the seat of your pants, but be consistent with it.

These suckers will do more damage than normal 4e creatures by default but won't have as many fiddly limited-use things either; so it should all average out—and be a lot quicker. Besides, we want the PCs to have a lot to play with in combat. We just want the monsters to be scary and dangerous and susceptible to being pushed/pulled/slided/dazed/stunned/marked/etc.

Attack Roll

5 + HD (for HD + X, add the +X too) vs AC, -2 vs NADs (Non-AC-Defenses). +2 for artillery roles if you wanna.

A goblin (HD 1 - 1) attacks at +5 vs AC (5 + 1 - 1) and +3 vs Fort, Ref, or Will. An orc (HD 1) attacks at +6 vs AC and +4 vs NADs (+6/4).


Base of 10 average damage + 1 per HD.
A goblin (HD 1 - 1) would do 10 average damage (10 + 1 - 1), which we can work out to 1d10 + 5. An orc would do 11 average damage (10 + 1): 1d12 + 5 or 1d10 + 6 or whatever expression you like.

Hit Points

Follow this equation for calculating monster hp: 20 + (HD)(5). 

Or, to put it another way, it's base 20, plus 5 per HD, plus or minus 5 for each point of HD adjustment, if any. To make elites, double it. To make solos, quadruple it. Easy.

An orc has 25 hp: 20 + 5 for 1 HD. A goblin has 20 hp: 20 + 0 for HD 1 - 1. An ogre has 45 hp: 20 + 25 for HD 4 + 1. 


  • AC is base 15 plus 1 per HD, including adjustments. 
  • NADs are AC -2 by default.
  • If a creature is wearing actual armor, you may use the AC value of that armor as the base AC and add subsequent HD, if any, on top of that.

An orc is an HD 1 monster. Its base AC is 15. Adding 1 for its HD 1, its AC is 16, with NADs at 14. Or, if the orc were wearing plate, his base AC would be 18, plus 1 for his HD. Monsters are scarier than normal humans, who would only have an AC of 18 if wearing the same armor. An ogre is an HD 4 + 1 monster. Its AC is 15 base plus 4 + 1 for its HD: 20. 

If something conceptually should have a lower or higher score in a particular defense, just adjust it by +/- 2 for most creatures or +/- 5 for a few. Frex, zombies should have their Reflex and Will defenses at AC - 5, but their forts should probably be at +2, i.e., equal to AC.


Use whatever. This should translate directly. A movement rate of 90' = 30' / round = 6 tactical squares.


Use this! Take it directly from your old school reference.


Use whatever schema you want. If a B/X creature has a + or a * after its HD, treat it as that many levels higher for XP purposes.


When you use a spell, make it attack a relevant NAD on the PC.


Attacking NADs most closely approximates the saving throw schema of older editions. Just have the creature that's forcing the save make a NAD attack.

Remember to give elites +2 to 4e saves and solos +5 to the same.

To prevent stunlocking a special creature type (i.e., elites and solos), give them the ability to save at the beginning and ending of their turns in addition to the save bonuses.


Mercilessly focus-fire on the PCs. For non-intelligent monsters, ignore opportunity attacks and go for the throat. Try to down as many PCs as you can as quickly as you can. Have minions (if you use them) surround PCs in melee and use Aid Another.

Remember to give elites 1 Action Point and solos 2. Elites should also be able to act twice in a round and solos 4 times. 4e replicates this by providing a lot of interrupts. You can make interrupt powers for your creatures or just let them go multiple times.

A simple way to do this is that, if an attack misses an elite or solo, the creature may immediately respond somehow with a standard action. This way they're only in the initiative once, but they're moving all over the place, owning bones.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

[Actual Play] Session 3-1

I'm introducing a new kind of actual play post: a summary of our chat-based, non-dungeon-crawling roleplaying through the week.

I'll enumerate these like this: everything that occurs between Sessions 3 and 4 will be numbered Session 3-1, 3-2, etc. Hence the title of this post.

TL; DR (October 17 AD 597)

The Abbot Puts a Hit Out. Arrival at the Sacred Grove. Quest Accepted. Charles Not in Charge.


We're starting things during the baptism of the thanes from Session 3.

The Abbot Puts a Hit Out

During the baptism, Abbot Laurentius sidled up to Brother Canus. "Hey, come meet me in my cell afterward. Got a thing to talk to you about." When he does, Laurentius is copying 1 Kings.

Abbot: Brother Canus. I'm copying the passage where King David lies upon his death bed. He's issuing last orders to his trusted men. Do you recall it?

This leads to the Abbot telling (or strongly insinuating to) Canus that he wants Canus to assassinate the brother of the recently massacred druid Wyrd. The brother's name is Byrne. He's a big shot on the whole continent, going on a yearly circuit. He's back in Kent for a week, though, about a day's walk to the west. Guy's a hermit, lives near the irminsul from the prelude session.

Arrival at the Sacred Grove

Brother Canus, toting his gear and wearing snowshoes (because of the 8" snowfall!), makes it without incident to the place indicated to him by the abbot. See above picture for the scene, but put snow in it.

Once Canus gets there, a voice calls out form inside the hollow of one of the idols: "Brother Canus, come in from the cold."

Quest Accepted

They chit chat, and it's the druid. Byrne the druid apparently knows everything. Canus confesses he's come to kill him but might be willing to spare his life if he teaches him his evil druid-magic. Byrne doubts his Roman blood can even accept the power, etc. But Bryne says if Canus does a thing for him, he'll consider it.

Byrne: In a place known to my fathers as [something incomprehensibly welsh], one of the most ancient groves of my line has been destroyed by one of the monsters you Romans have set upon our land. Your king calls it the Realm Wood. It's near Canterbury. Ask for it. Come back with this creature's head, and we will see if you can learn the name of the wind.

Harhar at the above if you've read certain fantasy novels.

Canus asks for a token so that he can prove to the abbot that Byrne is dead, and Byrne offers his laurel of holly. Back to Canterbury for Canus.

Charles Not in Charge

Brother Charles, after the baptism, heads out of the church, and suddenly he's having flashbacks to the war. When he comes to, he still sees the boy he killed. The boy's holding Charles's hand and holding his guts in. Charles freaks out appropriately until Takk the fletcher comes and escorts him to his hut for some milk and mead and washing. Washing, because there's actual blood on Charles's hands.

Charles lays out the story. Takk says you know what? I think a walk would be just the thing. Takk's wife Olga and their three pigs agree. Takk's obviously uncomfortable with this whole situation, but he's a nice guy.

So that's what Charles does. He takes a walk, out in the snow, and sits on a snowbank praying the rosary and fiddling with his cross. Cut.

Now he makes his death save (see this for info on how this works: briefly, it's a way to handle dramatic arcs using the 4e death save mechanic). Fails! That's 1/3 failures so far, but now he's at plus 1 each time he makes them.

[Actual Play] Session 3

TL; DR (October 14-17 AD 597)

Winter deepens. Elven ambush. The Washerwomen. Tracking the elves, destroying them, seizing the plunder. A mysterious structure. Pagan unrest. The scop Gadd seeks material, finds none. A request for conversion. A subtle and violent ruse. Baptisms.


This was our first session using a digitally projected tabletop. More on that in a subsequent post.

For this session, we had Br. Charles, Fr. Bernard, Sr. Anastasia, and two new players: Br. Cerdic (a Saxon convert) and Sr. Erma (a Gaelic nun).

We skipped past the "hey how are you how about you come to the dungeon with us?" business and just said it happened. We resumed right after session 2, which was a successful ambushing of an elven ambush party. (A trick is made!)

Winter Deepens

Before the party headed to bed, snow started to fall. I don't mean normal snow. I mean heavy stuff, all of a sudden. When they woke up (Oct 15), it was six inches deep on the ground, and the snow hadn't let up any. Twenty degrees below where it was yesterday. Hmm.

Half the players wanted to head into the (mega)dungeon that they've barely touched so far; half wanted to track the elves that have been ambushing travelers on the road. We roll a die to break the tie, and the elves it is.

Elven Ambush

After an hour tromping up to the Blean Wood, they get smacked by an ambush party: even numbers. But what punks! The party picks off the leader of the party, and the rest break for the woods. Because of the snow and a great tracking roll from Sr. Anastasia, the party follows the little elf-feet to the northeast, where I finally roll a random encounter: the Washerwomen.

The Washerwomen

I don't want to spoil this for the players; so I won't explain who they are and what they do. Sr. Erma snuck through the woods, following the sound of their singing, and saw three old women washing clothes in the river Stour. She could only catch a glimpse before getting spooked and retreating. The party elected not to make contact. I think that was a wise decision.

Tracking the Elves, Destroying Them, Seizing the Plunder

After another hour of tracking, the party hits upon the elven hideout. It's a bad scene. They had whittled their numbers down some, but there were still 16 elves in there. (I'd generated a lair per the Moldvay Basic rules.) Since I didn't want this necessarily to be a huge thing, I made 2/3 of the group minions, but I had them led by a level 7 fey knight dude. Serious business. They were getting sniped from the walls and the top of the trees, and then the commander teleported out into the middle of things. I thought I might have been looking at a TPK. Or "TPK," as the case may be.

But Father Bernard has this power, "Moment of Glory," I think it's called, that gives the party resist all damage 5 until the end of the encounter. And my minions did how much damage? 5. Minions negated. Encounter managed. Plus, my fey knight couldn't hit for his life on Brother Charles, and in a few more rounds, the elves were slaughtered.

I randomly generated their treasure using my Moldvay Treasure Generator, and they got lucky: a huge haul: thousands of gold and silver, as well as 3 potions of levitation (more on how I'm using magic items in a later post—in short, I'm using Moldvay rules for them). I should have adjusted it downward to account for the minions, but, hey, that's in the past now.

A Mysterious Structure

On the way back, the party is heavy laden with coin sacks. Movement speed is in the pits. And I generate another random encounter. In this case, it was B7. I don't want to say what it is for spoiler-y reasons, but it's a structure of some kind. It's a sweet structure. They could barely see a stone corner sticking out of a snowy mound in a clearing. They decided to save that junk for later.

Pagan Unrest

When they got back into town, they saw that a scorn pole had been set up in front of the church, a wooden pole carved with curse-runes, a pig's head set on top. In its blood, "Go home foreigners" was written on the wall.

While the rest of the party deposits the treasure with Abbot Laurentius and Bishop Liudhard, Father Bernard kicks over the scorn pole and pours holy water all over the scorn pole, then washes off the graffiti. The bishop figures the druid Wyrd and his five priestly sons are behind this. The party scopes out the druids. They live in a ring of huts in the middle of the ruined amphitheater in the middle of Canterbury.

The Scop Gadd Seeks Material, Finds None. 

That night, before the party went to bed, the scop Gadd came by. I've decided he looks like the guy from Iron & Wine:

Gadd: "Hey guys."
Party: "Hey."
Gadd: "So, um, do y'all, like, know any stories?"
Party: "Um."
Gadd: "Yeah, just stories. You know."

One of the new PCs, Cerdic, was actually a scop (bard) as well. So he told Gadd all about their latest adventure with the elves.

Gadd: "Wow, man, awesome, really. Are you for real?"
Party: "Yeah. That just happened."
Gadd: "Great, great. Hey, do you know how to put things in meter? And, like, make things rhyme and stuff?"

At this point it dawned on the party that Gadd is a hack. Scop Cerdic says, hey, I'll give it my best shot. I have him check Charisma, and he blows it. I ask the player what that's like. He says Cerdic starts "spitting rhymes" and totally loses it mid-sentence. He peters out to nothing.

Gadd: "Yeah, that's how I was gonna put it too."

A Request for Conversion

The next morning (Oct 16), the party heads to see Aethelberht, who's already drunk, and it's six a.m. Yikes. Queen Bertha seems embarrassed. Anyway, with all the bone arrows and treasure the party's recovered, the Order of St. George rolls in there with Bishop Liudhard and Abbot Laurentius, and they say, "Check it, king: look at what we've done for you and your people. We've destroyed these evil spirits. How about a little forced conversion?"

The king demurs. He says the druids are too strong. They're his diplomats; everyone fears and respects them. He hates Wyrd; he thinks he's (Aethelberht's words) "a total freakazoid."

Party: Hmm.

Father Bernard: I've got an idea.

A Subtle and Violent Ruse

And was it. Remember those naiad-containing urns the party hauled up from the buried temple (session 2)? They were supposed to release them into the river, but, you know, you've got a monster in a jar—it's like Barack Obama's senate seat: you don't just throw that away.

Cut to 9 p.m. that night. The party takes 3 of the vases from the church and deposits them outside the ring of druidic huts. Then they wait outside the amphitheater. An hour passes. One of Wyrd's sons goes to take a leak, sees the vases, opens one. Cue the screams.

Within a few seconds, the naiads have torn through the entire camp and are storming out into the city, where, of course, our PCs are waiting for them with a big torch-wielding audience of thanes and commoners watching. They try some talky talk.

Party: Wouldn't you know it, we were trying to get y'all to the river, but then these guys—
Naiads: You betraaaaaaaaaayed us—

<fight to the death>
They gank the naiads.
</fight to the death>

Folks are impressed. Then someone stumbles out of the amphitheater. It's the solitary survivor: a little girl with bloody flowers in her hair. She hid under the corpse of her mother.



With the massacre of the druids, the king feels sufficiently secure in his reign to command his thanes and their households to be baptized. He feels the old ways have too strong a hold to command that all his people convert. And that's where we leave things, with a big procession of thanes getting sprinkled at dawn in the Church of Saint Martin.

None of them are genuine converts though. I'm sure that won't be a problem later.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

[Role] Fighting

The easiest role in the world.

How to play:

  1. Move (or don't)
  2. Choose something to hit
  3. Hit it

Type: Striker
Proficiencies: Martial
Defenses: +2 to all
HP: 18 plus Constitution; 5/level afterward
Surges: 4 + Con mod per day
Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics

Good at Fighting

You have a +3 proficiency bonus with all weapons.

All weapons you use do 1d12 damage plus stat plus level. If you use two hands to attack in melee, roll twice and take the best result.

You do stat damage on a miss, regardless of the weapon you use.

You don't provoke opportunity attacks.

You don't have the second wind power.


Level 1 Fighting Man
Str 16 (+3) Con 15 (+2) Dex 16 (+3) Int 9 (-1) Wis 10 (+0) Cha 12 (+1)
HP 33 Bloodied 16 Surge Value 8 Surges/day 6
AC 20 Fort 16 Ref 15 Will 13 Speed 4
Attack +6 to hit, 1d12+4 damage on hit, 4 damage on miss
Gear plate armor, heavy shield, spear, javelins (5), flint + steel, torches (3), iron rations (3), waterskin (3/3), rope (50'), backpack, belt pouch, burlap sack, hammer, iron spikes (6).

Monday, October 15, 2012

[Archetype] The Priest

You can baptize, forgive sins, bless things, and say mass. You may be elevated to the office of bishop. If you are also a monk, you are called a hieromonk. You are to be celibate and may not marry.

Best stat: Charisma
Skills: Diplomacy, Religion
Languages: Latin, Ancestral
Motive: temporal power, gain merit before God, an easy living, reform the church, nurture the diocese

Becoming a Priest

If you are not already a priest and wish to become one, you must convince your bishop that you are worthy. Tell the DM to give you a new Skill Challenge: Deaconate. If you are successful, the bishop will ordain you as a deacon. Your only privilege is teaching. Tell the DM to create another Skill Challenge for you: Priesthood. If you are successful, your time as a deacon convinces the bishop to ordain you as a priest.

Flaw: Abuse of Power

Tell the DM that you gain Flaw: Abuse of Power.


When you baptize someone, gain XP = a minion of your level. Check Charisma.

DC 18: target becomes a faithful convert, calls and considers you "Father." Tell the DM to make a new entry on his Development List: Guidance: [convert's name] comes to [priest's name] asking for guidance concerning a sensitive matter.

DC 10: the target still holds on to major beliefs or practices of the old ways. Tell the DM to create a new Skill Challenge for you: Sanctification: [convert's name]'s [the convert's problem(s)].

Miss: the convert is Christian only in name. Tell the DM to create a new threat: Apostasy: [convert's name].

Note: when you baptize a child, the the provisions above apply to the child's parents or guardians.


When you bless something (a person, place, or thing) over someone's objection or at their request, check Charisma:

DC 18: it comes to good, and God is considered to be the cause of it. Tell the DM to make a new Development: Reward of Successful Blessing.

DC 10: meh.

Miss: it comes to ruin, and you (and maybe your God) are to blame.  Tell the DM to make a new Development: Blame for Failed Blessing.


When a PC comes to you for confession, follow this script, or it doesn't work. "(+)" means the person speaking must cross himself. If you do not follow the script precisely, there is no XP or forgiveness.


  • (+) 
  • [After making the sign of the cross, the penitent shares some passage of scripture.] 
  • Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [time] since my last confession.
Priest: Speak, my child.

Penitent: [honestly recite the number and kind of your transgressions.]


  • [Give counsel to the penitent, exhorting him to trust in God and pursue holiness.]
  • [Assign penance. Verily, only if uncomfortable or inconvenient may it grant XP.]
  • I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father (+) and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

That done, if the penitent then performs the penance, the penitent gains XP = a minion of the priest's level.

For goodness' sake, only one confession per extended rest.

Note that the priest himself receives no XP for this, only the penitent. You may want to leverage your power to forgive sins.


When a PC comes to you for sincere guidance and you give it, they gain a +2 token usable post hoc on any check only if they follow through on your guidance.

When an NPC does the same, treat it the same as giving them a blessing (see above).


When you conduct mass, you literally turn bread into divine flesh and wine into divine blood. Anyone who goes into battle on the same day he has partaken in a mass you have said (including you) checks Wisdom vs DC 10. On a hit, all his damage types are also radiant.


If you wish to become a bishop, you must convince your own bishop that you're worthy. Tell your DM to create a new Skill Challenge for you: Bishop [priest's name]. If you are successful, the bishop sends for Rome to recommend you, and you will be ordained when word comes back, with all the privileges and responsibilities that entails.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

[Role] Shielding

shield wall at the battle of Hastings 
Type: Defender / Controller
HP: 15 + Con and 6/level thereafter 
Proficiencies: martial
Defenses: +2 Fortitude and Reflex, +1 Will
Skills: Athletics, Endurance

A Shielding character hunkers down and turtles up. You wait for the enemy to come to you, then nullify him. You should wear heavy armor and carry a big shield. 

You get Dig In and two others. 


When you take a full defense action and are bearing a big shield, you are dug in. (If you're bearing a wimpy shield, halve the benefits.) If you move more than 1 or take damage, you are no longer dug in.

While dug in, adjacent allies not in front of you gain a +2 dodge bonus to AC and Reflex vs attacks by creatures not behind you that you threaten and from missile attacks originating from a blast 3 centered in front of you with line of effect extent.

Additionally, you may make an opportunity attack against any creature that, after entering your threatened range, moves within it or exits it or makes an attack that doesn't include you.

On your turn, as a standard action, you may leave your dug in status and do 1[W] + stat damage against an enemy in melee range. 


You must be dug in to use these.

 Shield Bash: Daze or make an enemy grant combat advantage until the end of its turn rather than taking an opportunity attack.

Shield Push: Push an enemy 1 if your size or smaller instead of taking an opportunity attack.

Hard Advance: Move 2, remaining dug in, granting superior cover to yourself and one ally directly behind you.

Fearsome: When an enemy that can feel fear would enter your threatened range, if you wish, you may force it to save. On a failure, it stays outside your threatened range.

Character Flaws

NOTE: This post has been deprecated. To see the most current rules (and how they've changed), check out the 4E + OSR + Story page.

If you take a character flaw, you'll get some extra XP, your character will change, and your character will experience comedy or tragedy. If you don't want that possibility, don't take one.

There are three things necessary to make this work:

(1) A goal the PC strives for militantly. This should already be baked into the setting. In Against the Pagans, it's the conversion of England. You can have an additional one personally if you want.

(2) Someone you care about. Ideally, this is someone else. But it may be yourself, a community, your goal, or an ideal.

(3) The flaw itself. This is either (a) your goal, if your goal is problematic, harmful, or if you are conflicted about it, or (b) something else that could lead to your severance from the thing(s) you care most about.

This can be freeform, or, for the sake of ease, you can roll a d8 on this table (of the 7 Deadly Sins plus one):

  1. Lust (sexual, or for power)
  2. Gluttony (intemperance / addiction)
  3. Greed
  4. Sloth (depression / guilt)
  5. Wrath
  6. Envy
  7. Pride
  8. Error (in doctrine or apprehension of another's character)
Here's the thing, then. These are generally player-facing. They usually only come into play when you want them to. But, every time they do, you get XP = the XP value of a standard creature of your level (about 10% of what you need to level). 

Here's what I mean when I say "come into play." I mean I'll say, hey, show me how this is making everything terrible for you, or you can let me give you some ideas; I'll also tell you if something is weaksauce. Then you say it and get the XP. And it has to get worse each time; it has to escalate. 

Additionally, since this thing is the thing that's killing you, each time you get XP from it, you must also make a death saving throw as if you were dying from a physical wound. If you accumulate three failures before recovering, you "die" of your flaw: the DM will say how it destroys you, although you're probably still alive. 

In order to overcome your flaw, here's what you need to do. 
  1. You need a source of healing. The combat analog is a healing surge. You get this by acknowledging/considering the advice of another character regarding your issue. I'll bring NPCs in to give you this advice; whether you consider it is up to you. Your fellow PCs can perform the same function. Without this, it's impossible to overcome your flaw. 
  2. Roll a 20+ on a death saving throw before accumulating three failures (results of <10) and have a source of healing available. This may seem steep, but you gain +1 (cumulative) to flaw death saving throws each time you reject the counsel of another character, whether PC or NPC. If you play this correctly, you've got a good shot. 
If you do roll a 20+ before getting three failures, then you may choose to have a comedic outcome, where you overcome (or, if you're not tired of your issue yet, at least take a major step toward overcoming) your issue, and you get an XP bonus = 2x the XP value of a creature of your level. If you choose a tragic outcome, or if you fail, you get an XP bonus = 3x the XP value of a creature of your level. 

You can deal with your issue in these mechanically significant ways once per "day," i.e., between extended rests. The GM can force dealing with an issue in this manner according to the same schedule. 

So, to min-max your character, make a ton of really bad stuff happen and then tell me to make stuff even worse, as bad as possible

[Actual Play] Session 2

the cella of the buried temple

TL;DR (October 13-14 AD 597)

The party liberates a sextet of naiads, clears a buried temple to an Etruscan god of its undead guardians, and turns the tables on an elven ambush in the Blean Wood.


After introducing the new PC Sister Anastasia, an Irish Christian and itinerant healer who showed up in Canterbury just in time to save a churl, Eomer, from his elf-arrow-induced wounds, leading to the baptism of him and his whole household (16 souls), the party decided to head back down to the buried temple beneath the crypt of St. Martin's church. They brave the 20' wide moat/trough of water without incident. Their jerky-fishing proved that at least no natural predators were living in the waters. I mean, if I were living in a sunken water-moat, and someone started fishing in my house with beef jerky, I'd be all up on that. But the jerky was still on the line, pleasantly rehydrated.

The stairs on the other side rose 10' high and went for 20' long before terminating in a portico 40' tall, with tons of rubble in it. Skeletons crushed by the rubble. They didn't come to life! Yay. But, problem: when they breached the line of the columns, they triggered a pressure plate that unchained the six naiads kept in the bottom of the moat they'd just crossed.

I'm using B/X reaction rolls, and I got a 10 on the roll. Whew. I used the 4e dryad stats for these things, and that means they are level 5. The party is level 1, with one character (Brother Charles) at level 2. So it would probably have been terrible slaughter in a straight up fight.

As it was, with such a good reaction roll, I went with it. I knew that the naiads had been imprisoned here against their will and tortured terribly; so I figured they'd want out. Maybe they had to be transported in particular vessels, or else they would die with a curse upon them. Sure. I was improvising. So that's what they said. Bro. Charles knows Greek (apparently), and so he could understand what they were saying: "bring us our urns." Oooookay. The naiads melded back into the water, and the party proceeded.

Bro. Lucas detected a pressure plate in front of the temple door. They didn't touch that junk. The door was locked, but a search of the skeletons in the rubble revealed a key and some coins and gems. Sweet.

Inside the temple, it's all crazy bone-decor, like this:

It's a 10' wide rectangular hallway, with a puzzle-door (apparently) at the back. See below.

bad scene
When they opened the door (after 10 minutes of failed Open Door checks), of course there's a flaming skeleton high priest sitting lotus style on the altar, and of course his priests and virgins are in there too. (Level 5 Burning Skeleton x1, Level 1 Grasping Zombie x5, Level 1 Skeleton Minions x4 = 1000 XP).

It is a baaaaaaad scene. They get pincered. The high priest burning skeleton guy keeps rocking Bro. Charles. If Father Bernard hadn't popped some daily I had no idea about (that apparently gives resist all damage 5 until the end of the encounter to, like, everyone in the world), I think it'd be a TPK. Sister Anastasia kept picking off the zombies, and, once they realized the skeleton minions couldn't harm them anymore, it was straight pwnage on the high priest. GG.

the climax
The party looted the corpses, looted the cella. Bro. Charles failed a save or die vs a poison needle trap and might have bit it had not Sister Anastasia, a Healer class (one of my homebrews) prayed for his healing. She rolled a hit (not a crit), which means God told her something uncomfortable or inconvenient that had to be done. In this situation, I said that she had to smear Bro. Charles's blood all over her face. She did, and the poison started spurting out of the cut she had made in his arm. Legit.

Inside the trapped chest were the six urns of the naiads. They hopped in them, and the party headed for the surface. They deposited their treasure with the church, rested a day, and saw some pagan unrest going down. Some druid they don't know was giving them the stinkeye at Mass, and he had at least a dozen sympathizers with him.

They didn't want to brave the underworld again; so the party headed out to deal with the elves that had nearly killed the churl Eomer, the guy that Anastasia had miraculously healed. They searched along the road where the attack had happened and actually managed to surprise an elf raiding party of seven (random encounter per B/X rules).

All the party contributed nicely in this one. Bro Charles tanked like it was going out of style; Sister Anastasia locked down the leader of the elves, and Father Bernard and Bro Lucas brought down the pain on the rest. The elven leader (level 3 Elven Guard) fell quick, and the rest failed their morale save (per B/X). The party killed a scout (level 2) before the rest could flee.
The leader had a quiver of bone arrows with raven fletching. Bro Lucas picked that junk up post haste. They count for +1 to attack because of the devilishness of it all, don't ya know. But the bodies of the two dead dissipated in black mist shortly after their death—or "death."

We ended there, with Bro Lucas and Father Bernard joining Bro Charles at level 2.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


There are rough equivalents to the cp > sp > gp progression in this period.


This is a copper piece. There were smaller pieces too: a semis and a quadran.


This is a small silver coin, approximately a day's wage for a common laborer.


Actually worth a third a solidus, we're making it an even half, to correspond to ep.


This is a small impure golden coin worth roughly 10 denarii.


These are hardly ever seen. For simplicity, they are worth 10 solidi.

Moldvay Treasure Generator

I created this little utility to make prep a ton faster for me.


It's the random treasure generator from the Moldvay edition of Basic D&D (1981).

Click on the heading above to check it out.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

[Archetype] The Sage

Let's face it: you're probably the only one in this town who can read.

Best Stat: Intelligence

Name: Josephus, Simon, Sophia, Lucas, Thomas, Philo, Tacitus, Junia

Motive: complete an account, assuage doubts, find something lost to history, defend a system of thought, prove something they say you're crazy for believing, solve a mystery, resolve a contradiction

Languages: Latin, your ancestral tongue, and three more (select all three categories once or multiple languages in same category): dead language, foreign language, secret language.

You have a library. At first, it's only three books. Write down what they are and what they're about. "I don't know what what they are or what they're about" is fine.

When you consult your library on a subject, add +1 to your Int check for each relevant book in your library:
  • Crit: you find just what you need
  • Hit: you find part of what you need, but it's (GM's choice):
    1. vague
    2. partial
    3. riddled with lacunae
    4. apparently contradictory
    5. obviously a later addition
    6. overwritten by other text (will take time and/or special instruments to make out original text)
  • Miss: you'll need another work to get anything good, and you've got an idea where you might find one

When you relax undisturbed (as part of an extended rest—no research!) "in your library," you gain temp HP for your next combat encounter equal to your Int Mod plus level.

When someone comes to you for a serious answer about what they consider to be a matter of grave concern, you get XP = a minion of your level if you blow them off or tell them some convincing nonsense, which they will, of course, believe. They'll be ticked off at you—now or later.

When you encounter a text in a language you don't know, check Int:

  • Crit: with enough time, you can make out the meaning, and, with another such text, to learn the language passably enough.
  • Hit: you can make out words here and there. With another text to work off of, you should be able to make out the meaning.
  • Miss: gibberish! You need a comparative text to even make out a decent passage.

When you're searching somewhere in particular for a certain piece of knowledge, say why you think it would be here and check Int:

  • Crit: you find it.
  • Hit: you find a marker, clue, or piece of the puzzle.
  • Miss: DM decides if you find something troubling or a dead end.

When you study something intensively, check Int:

  • Crit: it's clear and complete and what you what you want to hear
  • Hit: GM decides if the info is confusing and symbolic or if it is clear but partial
  • Miss: GM decides if info is clear but troubling or just, after all that study, a waste of time

[Role] Sniping

Type: Striker / Controller
HP: 12 + Constitution; 5/level
Surges: 6 plus Con mod
Defenses: +3 Ref, +1 Fort and Will
Proficiencies: Martial
Skills: Perception, Stealth

You get Sight. Choose two more.

Sight: use a move action to take aim at a creature. It is now your target.

You may switch targets on your turn as a minor action.

If you attack or take damage or move more than 1, you lose your target.

On your turn, if you fire at your target, you automatically hit, doing 2[W] plus stat damage.

At any time, as long as you have line of sight, as an immediate interrupt, you may tell the target's player to choose for the target: take 1[W] plus stat damage from your fire or dive for cover. If they dive for cover, you may move (not shift) the target 1 and may make the target prone if possible.

Line of Fire: you target a line of squares within range. You treat any creature in this line as your target.

Zone of Fire: you target a burst 1 within range. You treat any creature in this zone as your target.

Cover: use sight to make one ally your target. When that ally is targeted by a melee attack, as an immediate reaction you may switch your target to the triggering creature.

Dodge: if you are targeted by an attack of which you could be aware while you have a target sighted, you may as an immediate reaction lose your shot and target and shift 1. If this causes you to be an ineligible target, the attack misses you. If you are targeted with a melee attack by an adjacent creature your size or smaller, you may instead pull the target into your square or any square adjacent to you. If you pull the target into your square, you may grab the target.

Self-Defense: if you are targeted by a melee attack while you have a target sighted, you may as an immediate reaction lose your shot and target and deal 1[W] plus stat damage unarmed or with a light blade.

Perch: you get combat advantage against all targets 10' or more below you.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Skills & Checks

Skills are concept toggles. They don't affect math. They tell the me not to roll for something or to give you a chance to roll you wouldn't otherwise have.

The DCs are static.

DC10: Hit
DC18: Critical

On a hit, the DM may still bring some badness. It's a complicated success or partial success or success with a cost.

On a critical, you do the thing.

For instance, getting converts. Getting someone to convert means getting them baptized. Their behavior and beliefs are not necessarily different.

It's a Charisma check, vs  the usual DCs. Never add half level.

Prerequisite: have serious leverage on the person. This is not a threat; it's a deal. You don't make the check if you don't have leverage; without it, you're just talking.

Crit: they will be baptized if you promise them something, implicitly or otherwise.

Hit: The person will go along if you do something for them. The DM will say what.

Miss: DM always gets to do good stuff on misses.

One of the DM's miss options is to do damage. Base damage is your surge. value. If the situation warrants, this may be multiplied.

Another option is to impose a condition or two, like restrained, unconscious, an helpless. Things need not get so dire right away, but failure is a permission slip for the DM.

All this is very much influenced by Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, and Mouse Guard.


The thorn plague is spreading. The wave of undead is ravaging the countryside. The elves are restless in the forests. The xenophobia of the townsfolk is starting to get violent.

All these are Threats. They represent bad stuff that's going to happen to the town of the players don't intervene. They don't have to intervene, but, come on, they're heroes.

To make a Threat, identify or create something that threatens the town itself, a group in the town, or a person in the town. See the above. Have a few going at a time.

Now think: what's the end game? What's the terrible thing that happens of the PCs don't stop it? Write that down.

Then write down some way to introduce the threat. If the thorn plague will kill off the whole village and spread for its endgame, think of a way to introduce the threat to the players. Maybe a few kids are coughing like crazy on the street. Write that down.

Your got a beginning and end; now full in the middle with at least one escalation: more people get sick, the first few deaths, more deaths and sickness, massive death and sickness. Then the end.

Write down each step in a list. Each step is called a threat level. Use a 3x5 card for this, maybe.

Whenever the PCs take an extended rest, mark off a threat level and show as soon as possible how the new threat level is affecting people. You can choose or randomly determine which threat to advance.

You may also advance the threat levels whenever it seems necessary. If the PCs haven't taken an extended rest in a week, and you KNOW the plague would have spread more by now, go ahead and knock it up a level. Make it seem real.

So why use threats?

Threats give you something interesting to say when the PCs resupply and blow off some steam at the tavern. Threats are a way to make the town & dungeon combo seem dynamic. They force you to include NPCs and give the players opportunity to take an interest in them. They encourage the party not to take extended rests since, meta-game, the players know things will get worse topside if they do.

(Threats are based off Poison'd's Cruel Fortunes and Apocalypse World's Fronts.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

[Role] Brutal

This is my first stab at homebrewing a class. Actually, this is a reconstruction of what a class in 4e means. It separates the combat role from the fluff and other character elements.

The "class" then is separate from the combat role. (See the previous class post, The Healer.) The role is the fighty fight stuff. 

Type: Striker / Controller
Base HP: 12 + Constitution
HP/Level: 5
Surges/Day: 6 + Constitution Modifier
Defenses: +2 to Fortitude and Reflex, +1 Will
You get Plaything at level 1. Choose two more level 1 powers.

Plaything (Level 1 Brutal Power)

Attack an adjacent creature in melee using your best stat. If you hit, do 1[W] plus stat damage, and you may say how you do any or all of the following:

  • knock the creature prone
  • immobilize the creature
  • restrain the creature
  • disarm the creature
  • slide the creature 1 square
  • slide the creature into any square adjacent to you
If the creature is larger than you, you cannot slide it under your own strength. 

You may enter the creature's square, and you may enter any square from which you slid the creature. 

Stomp (Level 1 Brutal Power)

While adjacent to a prone target, you and all allies adjacent to that target gain +1d6 damage against it. 

Catch (Level 1 Brutal Power) 

When you slide a target adjacent to an ally to which the creature was not already adjacent, that ally may  as an immediate reaction make a melee basic attack with a bonus equal to stat. If multiple allies qualify, choose one to make the attack; the others may aid the attack as an immediate reaction. 

Creature Shield (Level 1 Brutal Power) 

While you have a creature restrained, you may say how you harm the creature. You inflict 1d6 + stat damage. 

Additionally, whenever you are hit with a physical attack while restraining a creature, save. On save, the damage applies to the restrained creature instead.

Furthermore, you can "cut free" a restrained creature by doing 2d6 + stat damage. The creature is no longer restrained, and you cannot occupy the same square. You may slide the creature 1, or you may shift away.

The Distance (Level 1 Brutal Power)

Whenever you force a creature to move, you may force it to move an additional square. 

[Archetype] The Healer

Note: This is my first stab at homebrewing a class. Actually, this is a reconstruction of what a class in 4e means. It separates the combat role from the fluff and other elements of character. The "class" then is separate from the combat role. (See my first role post, Brutal.) The role is the fighty fight stuff. You mash together the two and get, say, a Brutal Healer. Also, note that there are no encounter or daily powers here. Everything's fictionally triggered. There aren't dissociated mechanics either.

You're The Healer. When you come into a town, it's only a matter of time: the people will swarm you: my son is mute; my brother is a leper; my sister won't stop bleeding. They always hear about you eventually, and then they're banging on the door at all hours, dragging invalids into your path—they know you can heal them, but it's rarely so simple.

Best stat: Wisdom

Skills: Diplomacy, Healing, Insight
Languages: Latin, Ancestral

Choose a motive: atoning for past sins, desperate to gain merit before God, fulfilling a vow, pursuing a vision.

Create or choose a name: Raphael, Anastasi(a/us), Asclepi(a/us), Medic(a/us), Salv(a/us), Cura, Curatio, San(a/us)

When you lay hands upon someone and pray earnestly for their healing, roll.

  • Critical: immediate healing; all who see it fear.
  • Hit: the DM chooses either (a) immediate healing leading to envy and hatred (b) a test of faith: there will be immediate healing if something bizarre, uncomfortable, or inconvenient is done—the DM will tell you who must do it and what must be done. 
  • Miss: sin is preventing the healing. The DM will tell you whose sin it is, and he knows what it is, but he won't tell you that. When the sin is dealt with, pray again, and the healing will be immediate. 
As long as you touch someone, he will not taste death. 

As long as you touch a corpse, it will not see decay. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

[Actual Play] Session 1

For our first session proper (and by "proper" I mean "conforming to my experimental new school plus old school GM procedures, on which more in a later post), we had four PCs: Brother Charles (from last time, a tankish kind of 4e class), Father Bernard (cleric), Brother Canus (an artificer, buffer/debuffer class), and Brother Lucas (a ranger).


Since the prelude, a couple things have happened. Father Laurentius has succeeded Augustine and is now the Abbot, in charge of the whole mission. He's sent a couple monks back to Rome to give the news and ask for advice from the pope about all the supernatural goings-on.


We started things with the burial of Augustine of Canterbury (later sainted). Turns out there's a crypt below the Church of Saint Martin. That can't be infested with undead, right!?

But of course it is infested with undead, which they discovered when they tried (with NPCs Bros. Cadrus and Codrus) to inter poor old Augustine in one of the two empty clergy-crypts below the church. There was a statue of Saint Martin there, and two deacons, two bishops, and old Martin's bones himself got reanimated and joined the party.

The party wisely decided to back on up. Those undead deacons were crawling on the ceiling man, and the bishops were shooting bone-shards outside the range of their torchlight. BAD SCENE. So the squishier members retreated up the 5' wide stairs, while Brother Carolus held things down midway up the stairs, just out of line of sight of the Bone Bishops.

The chokepoint tactics worked; and, even though Brother Carolus almost got killed by a Bone Bishop during mop-up, the party survived with some sweet XP. (I always underestimate the strength of a 4e party.) Cheers to Bro. Bernard for stopping Bro. Charles from bleeding out just in time.

After informing the cyng, ├░egns, and Bishop Liudhard about the situation, the monks of the Order decided to explore a bit farther into the crypt.

First thing, they took the cloak off of St. Martin. This thing is their first magic item. I'm not using 4e-style magic items. Whenever they find one, it's unique, and I assign whatever properties to it I feel appropriate. It's only a half-cloak (since St. Martin gave the other half to a naked beggar), but the thing has at least one other miraculous property the party doesn't know about yet. Brother Lucas is currently wearing it.


After a lot of exploration, the party discovered the following:


Watch out for those undead. The party didn't dismember them after the battle, and so, a while later, they had to reprise their battle with six of the undead laity. It wasn't a problem, but, if more had arisen, it could have gone very, very badly.


The terrified children telling stories about seeing elves in the Blean Wood may not be lying.

After all, it's a pretty creepy forest that people stay out of anyway. According to the scop Gadd, a hipster kind of poet/historian that entertains the cyng in his mead hall, the elves are serious business: shadowy demons that feed on deer and man, playing music and laying out banquets to lure men into their territories.

The party interviewed Huss, Ulf, and Helga, three kids who said they'd just seen elves in the forest, and, using their info, entered the wood directly north of Canterbury. They found a miniature scorn pole facing C-bury as well as faint, faint tracks leading off to the NE. Since it was getting dark, they decided to head back to town. (I kept missing all my random encounter rolls!)


There's a secret door in the crypt, behind a painting of the crucifixion, that leads 70' down to a 60x20' pool of water at least 10' deep, beyond which the party can only see 10' of 60' wide stairs that go up for who knows how long. Brother Charles is terrified of water (because his player has had bad experiences in the past with D&D bodies of water), and so they are being PTSD-level-cautious about this area. They've left some jerky tied to a rope bobbing in the water, "fishing" for whatever might be lurking there.


There's a pair of symmetrical secret doors on either side of the clergy crypt tunnel. They lead down 30' to a 10x10' gold plate with an icon of an antipope on it. "MATTHAEUS 16.19" is written on both (i.e., N and S) side of the plate. Here's the biblical reference:
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19 ESV)
And this is kind of what the relief sculpture on the plate looks like, except imagine a skull wearing the miter, and invert the skull such that the keys are "above" the skull + miter combo: 

In any case, they piled about 200 lbs of rubble on the plate (and Brother Charles) jumped on it before they gave up trying to force it open. It remains a mystery for later. 


The last discovery of the night was that the statue of St. Martin conceals a shaft 60' deep that enters into a domed room 40' tall, making a 100' drop in toto. Weird thing, though? That room had starlight in it, grass on the floor, and you could hear cicadas. There were trees too, six big ones lining a central lane:

And the domed ceiling seemed to be an orrery. Weird. They lowered down Brother Lucas (the ranger character), and he almost got torn in half by a tree. He wrenched free at the last second, though, and, with the brothers pulling and a tremendous effort climbing, the bro made it back to the crypt in one piece. 

They retreated back to Canterbury, locked everything down tight, and that's where we ended up for the night.