Sunday, August 31, 2008

Runelords D&D: In Retrospect

The following is an in-character journal recollection as written by Shanika, one of the players in my Rise of the Runelords campaign path. She plays the druid Deanda Kamp, and has logged her memories of the events so far as follows...

In Retrospect: a Recollection of a Series of Events.
As written by, and to the best recollection of, Deanda Kemp.

I have not written, prior to this, anything of my thoughts, feelings, hopes, and observations of the ongoings of this group and all that we have gone through. However, we have been through a lot, especially Blayne and me, and I feel it necessary to set things straight, for myself and for the record.

We started out, Blayne and I, on a journey to regain my stolen belongings. We had searched from market to market and had just begun to drift away from the Yondabakari. We were to stop in Sandpoint, just as we had with every small town before it, search the town markets and pawn shops, and continue as we had before. That's when it happened: the goblins attacked. How were we to know what it would lead to? How could we have known what was to come? Blayne has a penchant for murder, no matter how I try to stifle his urges, and I couldn’t really just stand back and let him fight. No. We fought together. But, at some point, it went from just the two of us to three, and then four, and suddenly six heroes. At least, that’s what the villagers acknowledged, and who was I to say any different? Somehow, we were enlisted with this gaggle of many dissimilar “heroes”. We were revered through the town, given thanks and privileges, even discounts!

I had no problem with this. We were kept fed. Blayne was entertained. There was nothing wrong with the bunch of them, nothing exceptional, but nothing wrong. So, we continued with them. Soon I found Blayne would leave me alone with these strangers. Why I felt a pull to stay with them, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand, but I did.

I will take a moment to step back from my reflection upon the events to state my initial reactions to each of these new characters, these heroes of Sandpoint, my new ‘friends’.

The first notable character, Kiikii Jiikii, one of the many magic users of the world, struck me on first appearance as nothing more than another human. A magician, just like the rest of them, that’s what he was to me. I should probably state that, unless proven otherwise, any magic-using human, is simply nothing more than a magician if you ask me. Nothing special. It didn’t take long for Kiikii to show that he isn’t just like the rest of them. He has a young soul, a cheery disposition, and a warm presence about him. Above all else, I couldn’t help but notice his connection to nature and the Goddess Desna. Whether he acknowledges it as being drawn to her or not, Kiikii’s obsession with Desna’s creatures is an obvious sign that She has touched him.

On the subject of Desna, we move on to the bard: Jaime. A bit of a flake if you ask me, Jaime reinvented himself halfway through our adventures, but that is for later. At first meeting, Jaime was a bard that simply refused to stop his incessant singing and general loudmouth behavior. He was not too unlike some of those bards the Varisian gypsies would encounter throughout my travels with them. I would not be surprised if this was, in fact, not the first time Jaime’s path had crossed mine. But I don’t believe I would have paid him any mind if I were not being put with him in a close circle such as the one I am describing now. My original assessment of this Jaime person was not too distinct beyond that of his similarities to the gypsies’ encounters, thus it was no surprise to me when he, from time to time, would not be anywhere to be found. Performers are flakes; it’s simply how the world works.

In contrast to the formerly mentioned party members’ personalities, the seemingly rigid and cold Nakor was everything the other two were not. To be honest, even in this setting, where he posed no threat to Blayne or me, and gave what seemed to be his version of friendly tidings, I was wary of him. I read from him no vibes of evil or malicious intent, simply his standoffish and pompous nature. It gave me a sense that he was one of those many humans that hold their head, and nose, high above those they do not approve of, and more often than not, Blayne and I are certainly in that category. I’ve never liked that sort, those that judge others based on their own laws and morals. We’ve never quite seen eye to eye, regardless of their approval of my ways. Nakor, though, proved very difficult to read. He never really proved my assumptions by action nor by his words, but neither did he ever really show any real connection to anyone. At this point I had resigned to decide, as far as other people are concerned, he either dislikes them or he couldn’t care less about them. Though I thought it a sad way to go about one’s journeys, I couldn’t say I can’t relate.

The last of the faces among these heroes was the valiant young half breed, Slavla. A mighty force in combat, yet disastrously feeble minded, this young barbarian was one of few individuals to catch my eye prior to the goblin onslaught. Obviously of Elven descent, and thus an intriguing character in my eyes, Slavla proved to be nothing I expected. On first glance, he is a generally good looking individual, the strong fighter type. However, once he opens his mouth, one loses hope for our race. The poor child has the intelligence lower than the frogmen’s lizard steeds. As slow as he may be, he is a force to be reckoned with, and I am glad Blayne didn’t even have a chance to attempt to pick his pockets. Goodness, that surely would have been trouble, even though the poor sap may have been too slow to have even noticed.

These four men were, along with Blayne and me, the victorious and honorable heroes of Sandpoint. They’re the kind they tell stories about. I seem to be dwelling on this, yes? The ‘heroes’ bit? I have my reasons for doubting the validity of such a title. After all, the goblins have heroes too, do they not? So who is the real hero here? But that’s a discussion for another time, another day, and another crowd. Back to the point…

The goblins were apparently linked to something bigger, so we were soon enlisted. Blayne seemed to always be elsewhere when I was with the group, which was unnerving for me. He should’ve known that… I coped with it though. I felt a pull to help their cause even though I felt so alone in doing so. We tracked the attacks to a Quasit, a formidable one, by the name of Erylium. We drowned her in her own little pool and took care of her Sinspawn creatures as well. But of course, as these things go, that wasn’t the end of the trail. There were also the Nualia and Tsuto characters to deal with and the goblins at Thistletop - a maze of links in a puzzle that seemed to never end; one face behind yet another evil mask, one after another, after another, after another…

Tracking down the face of the monsters behind this plot lead to one man, if he can be called such, Malfeshnakor. This being, as it turns, is one and the same with the creature that killed our Jaime’s dear old dad many years ago. We found him in an ancient chamber amidst the dungeons of Thistletop. Unfortunately, it was we who freed him of this chamber. Yet another link in the puzzle, we gathered that his next stop was Magnimar, Nakor’s home, and our next destination.

I have, in retelling these events, left out one crucial point in the story. I am, at heart, an emotional being, and though I do not show zealous emotion often, I am very sensitive when it comes to those I hold dear. Let us be honest, I do not grow attached to people forthwith. No, on the contrary, I am more inclined to be quite the listless soul. However, as of late, in the midst of these events, an individual crossed our path that has brought out the more poignant side of my persona. (In a stroke of irony, taken out of context, that statement might just be the sort of reaction that particular individual would love to have heard.)

A man, by the name of Aldern Foxglove, once justly described by Nakor as a fop, was the first person we all encountered as a group. A pathetic sort of being, we found him allowing his dog to sacrifice herself for his sake while he hid from the goblins. We saved him. I will never cease to regret that. He, just like most humans I have ever encountered, went unnoticed. His passes were nothing new, humankind seems to have a penchant for Elvin beauty; I was very blasé about it. “Let him have his fun”, I thought. No harm in a few compliments. I am, after all, a woman and enjoy compliments just as much as the next girl. How wrong I was.

This worthless piece of scum was the next villain in our travels, a serial killer of those whose hearts he saw to be consumed in greed. He left letters for me on his victims, proclaiming his love and telling, in riddles and ambiguity, of what he had planned for me. And then it happened. I had been noticing for some time, Blayne’s absence, but I could always feel him near. I knew he was safe, until suddenly, he wasn’t. I knew he was next. “The Hunter”? How incognito did he think that was? Or did he mean for it to be obvious? Anyone who targets the greedy, of course, has Blayne on their list, but to add to the fact that this crazed killer has an unhealthy obsession with me, the jealousy factor kicks in, and Blayne is slated for death.

It was only a matter of time before he turned up and I knew it. We found him, after an excruciating expedition through Foxglove Manor, in the lower chambers. Aldern was there, smiling, as if someone were glad to see him. I was enraged. The sight before my eyes was one that I never wish anyone to endure, not even Foxglove himself, no matter how much he may deserve such a fate. There, upon the wall, with no jaw, crudely carved into, a bloody massacre if there ever was one, my best friend hung. I wanted nothing more than to summon every amount of strength within me and make the world feel the pain that overcame me. I was to the point of tears, a flame lit in my hand, I fought, I tore at Foxglove with all my might. We overcame him, and though I felt it didn’t justify what I felt inside, I took Blayne from the wall and we evacuated. The house was tearing itself apart. I couldn’t leave him in that; I couldn’t abandon him.

Our next stop, still Magnimar, became the site where my hope would lie. I had the local priests preserve Blayne’s body. I prayed for Desna to keep his soul near me. I would not lose him. Would. Not. We left for Magnimar and searched for a reincarnation scroll to bring my dearest friend back to my side. With Nakor’s knowledge of the area, I was confident it wouldn’t be too hard to track down. Thanks to the treasures we had come upon throughout our adventure, the scroll, which was no small expense, was soon mine. Blayne’s poor tattered body held up through the trip, but it wasn’t whole, it wasn’t him. I set out to find a new host body for him, one I knew he would enjoy. I chose his favorite animal: a flying squirrel. The scroll was not too difficult of a spell for me, thank goodness, and I was soon in a world beyond our own, one of emptiness and despair. Souls numbering upwards of several million were stacked upon each other in the form of a wall stretching in all directions, each graying, faceless, soul indecipherable - no different than any other among them, save one; it was him. Blayne’s soul, or at least a part of it, was fixed within the mass of souls, but before I could reach out to him, I was being pulled, drawn away. I stopped at a familiar site, a pier, not unlike those along the Yondabakari, and Blayne, fishing. He was catching nothing, which was quite unusual for him, but he kept at it anyway, just as he always did. I brought him back with me, back to his new body, back to my side. He’s back where he belongs and will stay there for a long time. I refuse to let him be stolen away again.

The other encounter I have failed to mention, as of yet, is that of the meeting of Jenkin. A beautiful Storm Roc, Jenkin is the noble creature that answered my call when I, as many Druids do, felt it time to find an animal companion. I had felt Blayne’s absence for some time, and though he was still around (this was before his murder), I was lonely in the sea of new faces. I called to Mother Nature to send me a companion, the souls with whom I could connect, a true friend. Jenkin flew to my side and proved to be that faithful companion which I sought. Though his wit matched that of Slavla’s, Jenkin was the friend I needed at that time. He was a valiant fighter and a loving companion. He had so much promise, and I am truly saddened that he, too, was stolen from my side.

After our arrival to Magnimar, we wasted no time in finding the next link in the chain.

We ventured to Foxglove’s home in Magnimar and were greeted by none other than the wretch himself. And what joy, might I say, it brought me to watch him die all over again. Granted, it was not Foxglove himself, no, but I was pleased nonetheless. Two faceless stalkers had apparently taken over the lives of Aldern and his wife, Iesha, and were simply waiting for visitors. I’m not sure we were exactly the type of company they had hoped for, but no matter, they’re dead now. Within that hollow wreck of a home we found our trail once more.

We were fishing for something, new answers to questions I had never known. Somehow, even when I felt there was no way for us to continue following each lead, we would find another hint. We found, in the Foxglove house, strong ties to the Brothers of the Seven which brought us to their sawmill. We tracked down and killed the cult leader of these ‘skinsaw’ blokes. As it turns, he is of some importance to this city, a justice, I am told. Unfortunately, as these things always work out, it wasn’t the end. He wasn’t the big boss. We traced the group to a woman named Xanesha.

Another way of the world: there will always be a giant, gruesome, hideous, horrifying, unintelligent, unnecessarily strong beast between the ‘heroes’ and the ‘villain boss’. This is no different in our case. Upon our arrival to the emptied Irespan we encountered a frightfully huge flesh golem. We fought, pointlessly, valiantly, and for what felt like forever. I took hit after hit. And then the cowards began to leave. First, the cleric, who actually could have been of use, fled mid-battle. Jaime was gone, and I will not soon forget how he abandoned us. Next the sorry little dwarf, whom my hopes for were already no higher than his own small stature, showed me just how much faith in dwarves can actually be justified: as I thought, none. These two have made me begin to lose hope in this group, however, there is still hope in them.

As we fought on, I knew death was imminent. As Slavla was knocked away, the golem turned. I turned from him, but I knew Pharasma’s hand was at play. My fate was sealed and I was no longer in the Irespan. I was in the same sort of realm I had found Blayne, but much more pleasant. I could feel the warmth of Desna flowing through my spirit and could sense the caring, watchful eyes of Pharasma overseeing my every step. This sensation did not last long. Soon I felt Pharasma’s hand and Desna’s gentle pull, along with an unfamiliar godly presence I have since realized must have been Nethys, turning me towards a familiar visage. It was Nakor, accompanied by a very old man of the cloth. I walked towards them and was soon back in a more earthy realm. I was alive again.

I was told of Nakor’s noble efforts after my demise. He has earned himself a friend in me and is the one person in this group I turn to if I have need. Kiikii, too, has earned my respect and friendship. Between these two, I still have hope in what this group has to offer. The others may grow into more worthy souls in time, but for the time being, I am not impressed.

After my revival, we did not take long to get back into the swing of things. We found Xanesha, but not without loss. Faceless stalkers hiding within the clock tower, playing their tricks, dropped bells aiming for our lives. They hit someone. Jenkin was dead. I had lost yet another friend. It was a sad time, but we had to move on. We soon found the Lamia Matriarch known as Xanesha and took her down. After her death I scrounged through the debris and rubble for Jenkin’s remains. I gave him a decent burial. It will be some time before I search for a new companion. For now, this adventure continues.

It has been about five months since these occurrences. Since the mayor’s party and all of the extravagance, I have remained in Sandpoint leaving only for short periods. I have seen these companions here and there every so often. It has been quiet. I feel as this is going to change soon. I am certain Pharasma has planned a finish to this adventure to suit her wishes. We shall see…

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Runelords Recap: Part Four

New banner for the win!

And so, your Storyteller returns. I wanted to start back up again with a shiny unexpected blog post, but as the semester has begun and my D&D group starts up again on Sunday, I needed to finish their recap from last semester so everyone would know where we were starting.

Before I begin that however, I want to say an additional "thank you!" to Nathaniel, the fellow who entertained you all with his guest post in my absence. I know that I'll be adding it to my DungeonMaster Journal as it's got some great advice in it. He actually just started up a blog called Exfanding Your Horizons which I highly suggest checking out. That blog will deal with a very wide range of hobbies, some of which (or all of which) might interest you. So check it out!

Anyways, onto Brodert's final bit of the story before our "heroes" start adventuring again. Recaps from this point on will hopefully come after every session and will be a lot more detailed. These have just been designed as a general overview for my players over the summer. This post ends where they left off however. Enjoy!

- - -

Brodert continued without pause, as the crowd hung on his every word.

"The first few swings against Aldern could not even touch the strange man, as he ducked and dodged out of the way. The former noble lashed back with his war razor, wounding the party and sending them nearly running in fear. When Slavla finally struck the man however, something happened. Aldern was himself once more, but not for long. In his brief moment of sanity he asked for forgiveness and told his tale.

Seeking to reclaim his family's property, Aldern settled into the house of his great uncle, hoping to claim the manor as his own. Of course, Vorel's spirit had other things to say about this, and lashed out slowly but surely at Aldern's mind causing him to kill the gyspy woman he'd come to love - Iesha. As his ancestors were part of the secret society known as the Brothers of the Seven, he too was a member and sought their aid in dealing with this "accidental" murder.

Little did Aldern know however that the Brothers of the Seven were actually a front organization for a much more sinister group known as the Skinsaw Men - a group of murderers who killed not for the money, but for the pure joy of snuffing out a life. The Skinsaw Men saw to it that Aldern would pay handsomely for their assistance, and in the meantime caused him to become hooked on Dreamweed, a highly addictive drug.

As Aldern fell deeper into the hands of the Skinsaw Men, he was finally able to meet their leader - a woman named Xanesha. He was told to go home and salvage some of the mold which seemed to grow all around the mansion, but, not being willing to return to the site of Iesha's death, Aldern went to Sandpoint instead to clear his mind. There he fell for the beautiful Deanda, seeing in her a chance to start over and a chance to right the wrongs he'd committed.

Returning to Magnimar, Aldern told Xanesha he would have no more part in her schemes. That was when she turned him into what he was...

No sooner did Aldern begin to speak of this however, then he seemed to be attacked from within. His eyes grew red as he spoke in a changed voice, sealing the coming doom of all who opposed him. Donning a mask, Aldern took on the very appearance of Deanda, the woman he'd lusted for, and resumed his assault.

The battle was drawn out and bloody. Aldern was more formidable in this state then any others the heroes had fought before. Finally though, through a combined effort, they were able to bring the beast to rest. Aldern Foxglove was dead.

With little time to celebrate, the party made their way to Magnimar. Along the way, Deanda called upon the power of the forests in order to bring Blayne's spirit back from death. Blayne's spirit had been so brutalized however, that the spirit could not return intact. Rather then forming a new body for Blayne through her reincarnate spell, the spirit found it's way into a squirrel. The party's newest, and squirrelliest companion.

Upon reaching the City of Monuments, the heroes sought out Aldern's townhouse where they were attacked by a pair of shapeshifting abberations known as Faceless Stalkers who posed as Aldern and Iesha in order to spring a trap on the all-too-inquisitive adventurers.

After dispatching their would-be assassins, the group found a large number of financial documents which led them to the Seven's Sawmill, where the Skinsaw Cult supposedly had it's base. Invading the sawmill was more difficult then the group had originally imagined. Fighting in cramped spaces, and almost being pushed into log cutters and saw blades added a new shade of terror to the already heightened danger that our heroes faced. Finally they found one of Magnimar's chief justices as the Cult's leader. Though he fought back with keen skill and strange magic, turning the party against each other at some points, he was finally killed, and the cult was defeated.

Or was it? The woman named Xanesha was still at large after all, the cult's "true leader". Reaching a room high in the sawmill, our heroes found a room where messenger ravens were kept. Releasing one of them, the party followed the dutiful bird to a building beneath the Irespan - a great shadow-casting relic of Thassilon build as a crumbled bridge. The bird flew to a decrepit clocktower, vanishing within the high rafters.

Within, there was silence.

Soon however, the rubble was torn asunder as a creature unlike any they'd seen before emerged. A strange beast made of stitched flesh dressed in the garb of a farmer with a deadly-looking scythe. Kiikii found his spells almost completely ineffective against the beast, while Kraca and Jaime charged in - buffed by Nakor's spells. A few shots were made against the beast successfully, before it sliced it's wicked scythe into both of the would-be heroes, sending them reeling backwards from the pain. The group all silently wished that Slavla hadn't chosen that day to go drinking... Kraca and Jaime decided the battle was too much and ran to find Slavla, while Deanda moved in to assist. Nakor offered what magical assistance he could, fighting the beast himself under the enhancing effects of his transmutation spells. However... the fight was too much. With a horrific blow, the monster lodged it's scythe neatly between the shoulder blades of the young and beautiful druid.

The elven woman... was dead.

Infused with anger and a need for revenge, the small group that was still there attacked with all they had. With the aid of fire, they caused the flesh golem's movements to lock and slow as they fought off the creature with every passing moment. Finally, with a great swing of his quarterstaff, the solid skull beneath the golem's flesh exterior cracked. The beast fell.

Deanda's blood pooled, and there was nothing but silence."

There was not a dry eye in the house as Brodert paused, looking around. All the townsfolk of Sandpoint knew that this event had not been the end of Deanda... but they knew what had happened at the end of the story...

Brodert sighed and continued.

"Nakor, bearing Deanda in his arms, along with all of the other heroes, rushed the druid to a temple of Nethys. The clerics were hesitant, and unsure of how to respond, but thanks to Nakor's... insistful nature, they quickly fetched the head priest. Now you must remember, fair Sandpoint's citizens, in these days the heroes were not very wealthy. They offered what they could however, in exchange for bringing Deanda back to the land of the living. She was back, but she was changed.

They all were.

Fighting off goblins and chasing headlong into the fray in search of fame and glory had been all well and good in their young minds. They were indestructible. Young and strong adventurers fueled by their childhood dreams to bring good to the world. But now they saw a very real truth to the concept of 'being heroes'. There was death. Though they gave no thought to bringing it upon others, now this... game was a little bit more real.

Now, they were all too aware of their mortality.

And fueled by revenge.

With this new challenge to prove themselves, the heroes marched on the watchtower. Making their way up the rickety stairs they dodged falling bells, battled off more Faceless Stalkers, and finally reached the peak itself. And within it, they found Xanesha.

Xanesha was a creature known as a Lamia Matriarch. Powerful arcane beings with great resistances and both magical and martial capabilities. Her resistances to magic and deadly spear almost proved too much for our heroes as they battled against illusions and magical silence to fight her. After their fight against the golem though, they made sure to do this battle right. The heroes worked in perfect unison, trading blows for blows with the matriarch, until she finally laid in a heap at their feet.

Within her belongings, they found a list marked with several names. This list was labeled, "Sihedron Sacrifices". After informing the Lord Mayor of Magnimar that his name was on the list, the party was hailed as heroes and invited to a grand feast. They lived out the next several months in Magnimar in style. Of course, no peace lasts forever... and it wasn't long before the Lord Mayor of Magnimar laid a task before our intrepid adventurers.

What lies next for our heroes? What trials will they face in the future?

Well that's a story for tomorrow."

Brodert smiled, and closed his book. He stood and took a slight bow to the loud applause. In the back of the room, a squirrel perched high in the rafters let out the slightest of grins.

- - -

What will our heroes battle next?

Only time will tell...

Monday, August 25, 2008

This battle is too hard! This battle is too easy! This battle is juuuust right!

Many thanks to my good friend Nathaniel who has written up a wonderful guest post in my temporary absence. Enjoy! ~Storyteller

[Initiating overly verbose guest post in 3… 2… 1…]

It was to be a beautiful start to the campaign. There was no exposition, not even so much as character introductions; there were just three words: “Roll for initiative.”

My players had recently returned from summer break; all of them either had new characters, or else they had characters who had advanced to level 15 in the five years that had passed between the previous campaign and the current one. I wanted to kick things off with a hefty challenge.

I had what I thought to be a clever plan: toss my players into a battle with a particularly tough and nasty hydra (twelve heads, breath weapons, lots of hurt) before they had a chance to determine each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and roles in battle.

Once the battle was over, they would discover that they were actually watching a play of people pretending to be them, celebrating (though inaccurately) their historic deeds from the previous campaign, and that the hydra battle was really a performance on stage and was strictly for dramatic effect.

The details are a little fuzzy, perhaps because I blocked them out of my memory, but I’m fairly certain that my hydra never got a chance to attack before going down.

I was devastated. It was supposed to be a balanced battle, and there were the heads… so many heads… Hydra, how could you let me down???

Sometimes battles are intended to be too easy or too hard for players to handle, but when a battle is not of the difficulty you were anticipating, it can spoil the fun and lead to enormous disappointment and/or frustration. Unfortunately, I’ve had my fair share of battles that didn’t end up how I planned them. Fortunately, I’ve learned many things from those experiences.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I dedicate this post to exploring what you can do before and during a battle to ensure that it ends up being the challenge it’s supposed to be. These suggestions assume that you’re playing regular old 3.5, but most of them should hopefully be applicable to some extent beyond 3.5.

Wait… I have to come up with the plan?

The two greatest mistakes I made with the hydra battle were: (1) I didn’t fully understand how to effectively use a hydra, and (2) I was unprepared for how powerful level 15 characters are.

My D&D experience at that point was pretty limited: long story short, I played for about a month under 3.0 rules and then was the DM for the next several months using 3.5 rules, and that was it.

It took me a while to get comfortable with level 15 characters, and by the end of the quest I had figured out some things that might have helped that hydra battle, as well as numerous other battles, to be a balanced challenge for my players:

Know the level: If you’re launching a new campaign, set the starting level as one you’re familiar with, whether through DMing or through playing (preferably both).

If you only have experience with very low-level campaigns and are sick of never getting past level 3, don’t just start a new campaign at level 16; start somewhere close to what you’re used to and gradually work your way up from there.

Think of it this way: if you had only ever seen Star Wars: Episode I, skipping Episode II and watching Episode III would make almost enough sense for you to get away with it, but watching Episode I followed by Empire Strikes Back would be totally nonsensical.

Slowly progressing up from levels you’re familiar with (or progressing down, if you’re one of those strange folk who’s never played a character lower than level 8) gives you the opportunity to gradually get a feel for new feats, spells, etc. by having them slowly trickle into your campaign instead of needing to suddenly deal with new magic items, three attacks per round, obscenely high skill checks, etc. all at the same time.

Know the PCs: Ask for your characters’ backstories. Read your players’ character sheets. Look at HP, AC, saves, skills, feats, class features, equipment… you don’t need to memorize everything, but you should be familiar enough with them to know the characters' strengths and weaknesses. Know the basics about each race and class represented in your campaign.

I allowed a shadowdancer to join in the middle of one of my campaigns before I had much of a chance to review what a shadowdancer can do, and my ignorance of his character put me and my monsters at his mercy. Knowing the PCs puts them at your mercy (as it should be): in the same campaign, the players were strong in every department except for long-range offense, so any time I wanted to guarantee a tough battle, I threw in some enemies that attacked from a distance and were difficult to reach for melee combat.

At the very least, know your PCs well enough so that you aren’t surprised when the villain around which your entire campaign revolves, Lord Karthlor the Terrifying, Destroyer of Worlds, is suddenly polymorphed into a banana.

Know the enemies: Check challenge ratings and encounter levels. Understand everything your monsters and NPCs are capable of; don’t gloss over that stat block! Make sure your attack bonuses and save DCs are high enough to present a challenge to the party. Consider damage reduction, flight capabilities, AC, etc. and think about whether or not the party can overcome them. Anticipate any tactics or dirty tricks the party might try.

Look over the stats before the session or before the battle to ensure that nothing gets forgotten (I’m looking at you, fast healing!). If necessary, make notes to yourself about tactics and special abilities; concise and often incoherent notes such as “Ranger - bad!” and “Use electricity!” and “DODGE!!!” are effective and also double as suggestions for buying a new vehicle.

Know your place: Choose the right location for your battle, and know all of the specific terrain rules and hazards that go along with it, plus the weather conditions. An open road in broad daylight with some suspicious-looking bushes is a perfectly acceptable location for a battle between a few kobolds and a party of first-level yahoos, but it’s hardly ideal for a battle between epic-level heroes and the stealth-reliant assassins that have been following them.

On the other hand, having those assassins surprise the epic-level heroes at midnight amongst boulders and large piles of rubble next to a river of lava at the base of an active volcano is perfectly acceptable, but bear in mind that pitting yahoos vs. kobolds in such a place will not likely end well for your players or for your flammable kobolds.

Make sure you know whether the environment will help or hinder those involved in the battle, and to what extent; a fight between a party and their evil clones should theoretically be even on a level playing field, but put the bad guys on a tiny raft approaching the good guys on the shore or put the good guys at the bottom of a tiny well with the bad guys looking down at them (and probably spitting on them), and the dynamic of the battle changes and the difficulty shifts.

Status report: Consider the party’s condition at the beginning of the battle. Will this battle be the first one of the day when everybody’s rested and at full health, or will it be the last of a long string of battles when the players are worn down and have no more spells left?

Assuming that the battles are of about average difficulty, lower-level characters can handle very few battles before needing to rest, mid-level characters can handle a good number of battles before needing to rest, and higher-level characters can almost go on indefinitely thanks to special abilities and lots of items. Think about the shape the party will be in before and after each battle to help you gauge whether or not you should adjust the difficulty.

Put it all together: So, to sum up this section, consider how the PCs, enemies, location, and previous and future fighting will all interact in a battle. Could fully-rested PCs defeat the enemies in an empty, open field? (If they are facing a pair of dire sperm whales, my guess would be “yes.”)

What if they’re injured and running out of spells? Will the location give an advantage or disadvantage to anyone involved in the battle? (And, by extension, does the location make it possible or impossible for one side to defeat the other when it wouldn’t be that way otherwise?) How long could the PCs and enemies survive in the chosen location if they were exploring there without fighting anything—that is, is the location suitable for a long battle, and is it suitable for a battle at all?

Proper preparation goes a long way in making a battle the challenge you want it to be, and a battle that is thoughtfully crafted is almost always more satisfying and memorable than a battle against a random critter from the Monster Manual thrown at the party in a hurry. Unless the party demands a tavern fight and you have the Tarrasque come in to eat the tavern.

Perhaps we made a tactical mistake…

So you’ve memorized everybody’s character sheet. You can recite the stats for every monster in the Monster Manual. You know every square inch of the battleground for the fight to come. You’re ready. This is going to be the most awesome battle ever. The poet Homer would come back from the dead just to write an epic about it.

Yet, planning is only the recipe… you still need to bake the cake. And if the cake falls apart and burns up as it bakes, not even Homer Simpson will write an epic about it. But, if it melts in the rain, Donna Summer might sing about it.

…But I digress.

I threw a campaign where a city was under siege, and a few arrow demons (four arms, two big longbows, lots of hurt) had taken up sniping positions in the buildings surrounding a small city square. The party arrived on the scene, spotted one of the demons, shot at it once or twice, missed, and assumed it was just an illusion or something of that nature when it didn’t shoot back; they proceeded without too much caution into the center of the square.

The remainder of this story involves a dead vigilante who never got to roll for initiative, panic, disorganized execution of a nonexistent plan to kill the demons, and me remembering halfway through that the demons had damage reduction. If the survivors’ HPs were added together, the total would be roughly equal with the number of players. Oof.

What happened there? Aside from forgetting about the demons’ damage reduction (because I failed to write a note to myself saying “DR DEMON!!!”) everything I did went exactly as planned. It was the right challenge rating for the group, but there were the arms… so many arms… and the amount of damage I could dish out with multiple bows in an ambush was staggering, especially when all the arrows were directed at the one person that had gone ahead just a little too far.

I wasn’t expecting anybody to die before the battle started, and I really expected them to go into each building together and systematically wipe out the demons rather than split up and have one or two people mucking about in the square where all the demons could shoot at them.

I even anticipated that the battle might be a bit too difficult and worked in the fact that these demons were all mercenaries, and a few of them could have been convinced to leave or fight for the good guys for enough money or with a good Diplomacy check… if anybody would have rolled higher than a 7 on a Sense Motive check.

Shame on me, I underestimated the power of the arrow demons and expected my players to show a little more common sense. Perhaps we’re all equally to blame for the fiasco that was this massac—er… battle. Maybe it was just bad luck; if the person who initially shot at the one demon had hit the target and figured out the demon wasn’t an illusion, or if the players would have rolled higher on their Sense Motive checks, things might have turned out better for them.

Regardless of the causes, when a battle falls apart because of an unexpectedly high difficulty, steps need to be taken to get things back on track, both for the enjoyment of the players and for the success of the quest… provided that you’re interested in seeing them succeed at all and aren’t constantly trying your darndest to kill them off. Drew.

In the event that you’d prefer not to annihilate or nearly decimate your players’ party, there are some steps you can take during a battle if you see things starting to go sour:

Retreat: If the situation permits, remind the players that they can run away. During one quest I ran that I had reused from the previous year, the party encountered some girallons (four arms, rending, lots of hurt… hm… I’m seeing a pattern…) in the woods.

The quest was originally written for a group of six people who found the girallons to be a solid challenge, but the current party only consisted of five people; I figured that the extra XP they would gain by not having a sixth member would help to make up for their reduced number, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

The party’s barbarian pulled off a phenomenal critical hit against the first girallon and felled it, leading everyone to believe that these were big, fuzzy bags of easy XP they were fighting. Oh, how wrong they were.

One person after another was ripped apart, and the cleric ended up running in and out of the fray to drag bodies away and do some healing. Astoundingly, they managed to survive and moved on to nearly get slaughtered by minotaurs at a later date under similar circumstances, but there’s a lesson in here somewhere about the value of retreating from time to time.

Drop clues: If your players are finding the battle to be too difficult because they are doing something futile without realizing it, it’s OK to let them know. Dropping a hint like, “You’ve been slashing away with that sword and the monster doesn’t even have a scratch on it,” suggests to the player that the monster has damage reduction of some kind instead of a huge HP total like the player might mistakenly believe. You might have your players make a Wisdom roll to realize a better battle strategy if it’s obvious that they really don’t understand what to do.

Remember that it’s technically the characters who are fighting, not the players, so there’s always the chance that the character will pick up on something that the player does not.

Hold back: If the enemies have any attacks or abilities of any kind that haven’t yet come into play, ignore them. Don’t rend, swallow whole, constrict, trip, etc.

Move around so you can’t use your full attack. Rely on spells and abilities with low save DCs. Don’t try to flank anyone; only attack the characters with the most HP or highest saves.

Line up or cluster together to become easier targets for spellcasters; don’t use cover; provoke attacks of opportunity, perhaps by leaving one target to pursue another; charge whenever possible for the -2 to AC if the +2 to attack isn’t going to make a difference (that is, if your attack bonus is already through the roof); etc.

Doing all of these at once will make it obvious that you’re not trying, but using a few of them can make a big difference for the players.

The fewer, the merrier: If there are any enemies who haven’t yet joined the battle but are going to join in soon, forget about them; unless they’re somehow a threat to the enemies who are already engaging the party, they’ll only cause more trouble.

The more, the merrier: Add things that will work in the players’ favor:

“Hey, look! That bugbear just kicked over a mound of fire ants we didn’t notice!”

“Hey, look! There are two potions of Cure Light Wounds on this dead guard (instead of the none you had planned)!”

“Hey, look! It’s a purple worm! Wow, our whole party just got swallowed whole and we’re all going to die! Double wow! There’s another fighter in here who probably got eaten just before we did and will probably help us to fight our way out!”

“Hey, look! There’s a band of elves marching over the ridge! Maybe they can reattach Sir Malroc’s head and vital organs!”

The more plausible the addition is (for example, if you had heard rumors about a wandering band of elf surgeons who specialize in head and vital organ reattachment), the less your players will feel like you’re getting soft on them.

Fudge the numbers: Pretend that dragon started out with fewer hit points than you gave her. Pretend that the brutal critical hit you just confirmed was actually just a regular hit. Change the damage you’re about to give to a number that’ll knock a player to -9 instead of -14.

If fudging individual rolls rubs you the wrong way, consider applying a -2 penalty to everything your bad guys do, and maybe write it off as sloppiness caused by overconfidence from wiping the floor so far with the good guys.

Alternatives to death: This can be tricky to pull off, especially on the fly, but certain enemies might be willing to negotiate with the party: “We’ll let you live if you hand over all your gold,” or, “Scrag want goat. Bring Scrag goat and he not eat you.” Heck, maybe even one of the enemies might pipe up and just talk through the conflict, depending on how it started.

Some enemies might demand that the party surrender and be thrown into some musty prison somewhere, be made into slaves, or be brought elsewhere for a proper execution, thus keeping them alive long enough to find a way out of their new predicament, perhaps in a battle that’s more evenly balanced.

Even with animals and monsters who can’t talk and only seem to want the party dead, you might be able to develop a peaceful way out, like removing the thorn from the lion’s paw.

Even if there is no way to avoid death as a final outcome and the entire party is slain, you might have an evil cleric revive them and command them to do his bidding as his servants, or you might send them on a quest in the afterlife to gain enough favor with the gods to be restored to life. This isn’t Final Fantasy; losing a battle doesn’t necessarily mean it’s game over.

Bottom line: No matter what you do, try to make it plausible, and give your players as much of a chance as possible to fix the situation before you start interfering. Add things to the battle that could possibly have been there the whole time; take things away from the battle that the players never realized were there; and give your monsters and NPCs a logical reason for the actions they take.

Create the illusion that you had planned it all along, and an atrociously failed battle saved only by the grace of the DM can be transformed into a heart-pounding but successful close call.

That’s it? I was just getting started!

In my experience, battles that are too hard are easy to fix. Battles that are too easy, however, are hard to fix. I ran a campaign where the characters became epic along the way, and even before they made the transition to epic it was difficult to create battles that were anywhere near being challenging enough. Everyone had become so powerful that only the most complex enemies and the most sophisticated battle strategies could challenge them.

Also, the list of monsters with an appropriate CR for those characters is shorter than a legless gnome, so I ended up doing a hefty amount of NPC creation.

Due to time constraints, I basically had to ignore almost all of the advice I gave about proper battle preparation, and most of my battles suffered for it. They were almost always too easy; most battles were over quickly, and I often had trouble threatening the party at all. I felt powerless to do anything about it without putting in the kind of extra planning that requires failing out of school or switching from sleep to caffeine delivered intravenously.

I ended up falling back on the following tricks to increase the challenge of my battles after they had started:

Threat assessment: Is your battle too easy because you can’t hit one player’s AC? Is your battle too easy because everyone keeps succeeding on their Will saves against your enchantments?

If there’s anything obvious that is allowing the players to fare so well, start targeting only the players you can harm, and/or take away whatever it is that’s causing your players to kick your butt. Disarm the dude with the vorpal sword. Shine some light on the area so that blasted rogue can’t sneak attack from the shadows. If you find that a player is using the same tactic in every battle to take your monsters down, use that tactic against him or her, or keep that tactic from being effective.

One player in my epic-level campaign dual-wielded swords with Wounding, and thanks to Haste, had something like 17,000 attacks per round. Give or take. Having all of my bad guys die of Constitution loss after about three rounds is bad enough, but constantly recalculating HP and Fortitude saves was truly vexing.

My solution was to start introducing enemies with an immunity to ability score damage, and also to start striking back with characters with Wounding weapons of their own. *WHAM!* A dire flail to the face! *WHAM!* Look, your face is bleeding! *WHAM!* Look, I’m wounding you! *WHAM!*

And, if that doesn’t work, just house-rule the problem out of existence. (“Sorry, man, each sword can only do 1 Constitution damage per round, even though you have 17,000 attacks. My villains are not anime characters and do not contain 12 gallons of blood for you to drain them of. Tough noogies.”)

Call in reinforcements: If one monster isn’t strong enough, have another one join the fray. There might be an endless supply of kobolds behind those suspicious-looking bushes, so keep them coming until there are enough to make your players sweat. If that isn’t an option, pick any monster or any stock NPC that might fit the situation, regardless of CR, and add as many as you think is reasonable.

If Xandor Soulbane, leader of the Army of Hextor, is totally surrounded by the good guys and is taking a beating, send in a few soldiers to distract the party. They might not pose much of a threat, but they cost you nothing to add and can draw one or two characters away long enough for Xandor to make an escape or to have more of a chance to dish out some heavy-duty damage before he falls.

Perhaps the greatest stroke of spontaneous genius I ever had was during a final battle where the evil NPCs were putting up a great fight, but didn’t have enough hit points to last for more than a few rounds. I had a flesh golem come crashing through the wall, as if the villains had been impatiently expecting him, and I also threw in two invisible lackeys who each fed a potion of Cure Moderate Wounds to the main villain every round, baffling the players about how he could “drink air and gain hit points.” I can’t speak for anyone else, but I love how the battle turned out.

If all else fails, make up a monster on the spot and arbitrarily choose its HP, AC, attack bonus, damage potential, and one or two special qualities like spell resistance or an immunity to fire; mutant skeletons and funny-colored oozes can fit in almost anywhere for this purpose.

Fudge the numbers: Basically, do the opposite of everything I suggested for when a battle is too hard:

Pretend the dragon had the maximum possible amount of hit points when starting the battle. Automatically confirm any possible criticals. Add +2 to everything the enemies do. Re-roll any 1s on your damage dice. Forget the 1d4-turn wait for breath weapons; make it 1 turn. Increase damage reduction, elemental resistance, or spell resistance if they haven’t come into play yet.

The element of surprise: Suddenly reveal that the villains tied up a character’s loved one and threw her into the lake behind them. Have the enemies start to burn down the town or try to collapse the tunnel you’re in. Have an enemy pull out an item that suddenly teleports everybody to a random location on the battlefield. Have an enemy keep whispering over his shoulder and trick your players into believing that there’s another monster in hiding for them to go after.

Along the same lines of calling in reinforcements, have an ethereal filcher pop into the middle of the battle and steal the players’ healing potions. Allow a poisonous insect to land on a player’s neck undetected and bite him or her for a high-DC Fortitude save. When a monster dies, have it explode. That is, explode like a bomb, not explode like the pig-lizard in Galaxy Quest; the biggest challenge to come out of that would be getting the stains out of your clothes.

Things that come completely out of left field, when used sparingly and reasonably, can panic, confuse, and distract players enough to squeeze more of a challenge out of a battle than there really should be. Just look at how much chaos I caused by having that arrow demon sniper unexpectedly wait for the party to enter the square before retaliating.

Desperation attacks: Some video games feature enemies who use “desperation attacks” once they take a certain amount of damage, attacks that are more powerful than or very different from the attacks they’ve been using; that concept can be applied to enemies in D&D as well.

Perhaps the monster being fought is wearing a small magical item that no one noticed that casts Mage Armor on the wearer or grants the wearer an extra attack after they receive enough damage; to discourage the player from wearing it after defeating the monster, perhaps the item only works on a specific creature type or crumbles into dust after being used, etc. Players can generally spot that this is also a desperation attack for the DM, though, so be careful if you use this.

Bottom line: Add stuff if it’s plausible, but be ready to explain to your players why they are not allowed to explode when they die. Surprise, panic, distract, and confuse your players. If you pull it off properly, you might just convince your players that your lame-o excuse for a battle was really a clever ploy to catch them off-guard… if your Bluff check is high enough.

Don’t Overdo It

If you have the time and energy to plan thoroughly in advance, if you or your players are dissatisfied with the level of difficulty of a battle, or even if you want to draw out or cut short a battle for some reason, consider these suggestions. However, don’t forget that players sometimes enjoy a battle that’s too easy or two hard, whether you planned it that way or not.

Just don’t go crazy with trying to salvage every battle that doesn’t go as planned; if your players are sharp, they might be able to tell you’re making stuff up when they start seeing elves who reattach heads and vital organs on every hilltop and street corner.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Minor Hiatus

Howdy all,

A little bit of real life is requiring that I take a step back from my lovely blog for about a week. I am back at school, doing morning to evening prep work for the rest of campus to return. I work as a resident assistant and am bogged down with training, designing door decorations, organizing my many, many D&D books, and other general busyness.

Also, this upcoming weekend I'm off to LARP for a few days. I may get up a post or two if I get the opportunity, but getting back into the swing of things is giving me very little online time. On top of all of that, my room's internet is acting screwy.

If anyone would like to write a guest blog post in my temporary absence, get in touch with me via email at See you all in a week or so!


Friday, August 15, 2008

Robe of Useless Items

Ah, Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Magic Items. Some of them were... kind of silly. As much as I loved rolling treasure randomly and providing my players with any of Quall's Feather Tokens, or for that matter a Sustaining Spoon...

"You find a magical spoon."

"Wait. Are you serious?"


"What does it look like?"

*DM checks in the book.*

"An unremarkable eating utensil fashioned from horn."

"How... unremarkable. I cast Identify."

If the spoon is placed in an empty container the vessel fills with a thick, pasty gruel. Although this substance has a flavor similar to that of warm, wet cardboard, it is highly nourishing and contains everything necessary to sustain any herbivorous, omnivorous, or carnivorous creature. The spoon can produce sufficient gruel each day to feed up to four humans.


Anyways, my favorite item has ALWAYS been, the Robe of Useful Items. I mean, first off, it's a robe. So... no one wearing armor can use it. Secondly, it's full to the brimming with useful items. That you can use once. 16 - 28 useful items to be exact. I'm a particular fan of the fact that you could potentially pull a mule, a rowboat, and a window all out of this robe. Yes, you can pull a window out of the robe. I guess you can put it in a dungeon wall... right next to the pit and iron door...

So, to share my joy of this item, I wanted to drop it in one of my first level campaigns. I couldn't however, since it apparently has a 7,000 gp market value. I --- I don't even... 7,000... what in holy hell were they.... *sigh* Moving on.

So, lo and behold, I crafted the Robe of Useless Items.

This appears to be an unremarkable robe, but a character who dons it notes that not only is it adorned with small cloth patches of various shapes, but it makes them look fat. Only the wearer of the robe can see these patches, and see that the robe makes them look fat. The wearer of the robe may detach the patches, though they will be too concerned with how fat they look in the robe to recognize what the patches will turn into until they have been removed.

A robe has both lesser patches, and greater patches. The wearer may detach one lesser patch every round and may remove as many such patches daily as they like. The wearer may detach one greater patch daily. Detaching a patch causes it to become an actual item, as indicated below. The items remain in existence for six hours before vanishing. Once removed, a patch cannot be replaced. Once a patch's item vanishes, it cannot be retrieved and another patch does not take it's place.

A newly created robe of useless items always has two each of the following lesser patches:

* Dagger Hilt
* Bullseye lantern (empty and extinguished)
* Mirror Frame (capable of holding a highly polished 2'x4' steel mirror)
* Pole (10-inch length)
* Hempen soap (smells like feet)
* Snack (tastes like feet)

In addition, the robe has several greater patches. Roll 4d4 for the number of greater patches and then roll for each patch on the table below to determine its nature.

01-10% - Bag of 100 Gold Chocolate Pieces (melted)
11-20% - Mug of coffee (decaf)
21-30% - Door, straw (up to 10'x10', highly flammable)
31-40% - Gem Pop (as ring pop, grape flavored)
41-50% - Potion of
Cure Minor Papercut
51-60% - Rowboat (hole in bottom)
61-70% - Portable Ram (deceased)
71-80% -
Elixir of Unrequited Love
81-90% -
Boot of Jumping (only one, use leaves wearer prone 5' to the left)
91-00% - Half of
Mordenkainen's Amulet (grants immortality if joined with 2nd half)

Now I need YOUR HELP! I want to craft this fun little item into a great artifact of epic proportions, but to do that, I need a lot more uselessness! What useless items do you think we should add in order to form the Greater Robe of Useless Items? Comment with your ideas!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pathfinder RPG: Urban Variants

In my preparations for fall semester, I've decided to take on a second Pathfinder campaign. I will be continuing (and hopefully finishing) the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, but I will be starting up another group to run the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path as well. In addition, I've decided to run this adventure using the new Pathfinder RPG Rules.

Since this is primarily an urban campaign, I've already had some player interested in using both the Urban Ranger variant, and the Urban Druid class from Dragon Magazine #317. Now, I love urban campaigns, and both of these variants, so I was more then happy to oblige. So, I sat down and made the changes - some big, some small - but I think they are passable versions of either class. Enjoy!

Pathfinder Variant: Urban Ranger

The urban ranger stalks the treacherous streets of the city, relying on his knowledge of alleyways and underworld contacts to keep him alive.

Class Features
The Pathfinder urban ranger has all the standard Pathfinder ranger class features (as presented in the Pathfinder RPG Rulebook), except as noted below.

Class Skills
Eliminate Knowledge (nature), Knowledge (dungeoneering), and Survival from the ranger's class skill list. Add Diplomacy, Knowledge (local), and Sense Motive to the class skill list.

Hunter’s Bond
An urban ranger can’t naturally bond with an animal larger than medium. If the urban ranger takes a feat that grants him a specific type of animal companion however, he may bond with the provided animal, regardless of size. For example, an Urban Ranger who wishes to have graduated from the Endrin Military Academy of Korvosa may take the Sable Company Marine feat from the Curse of the Crimson Throne Player's Guide and bond with a Hippogryph.

Urban Tracking
An urban ranger does not gain the Track ability at 1st level. Instead, he gains the Urban Tracking feat (see below), which allows him to use Diplomacy to track down a missing person, suspect, or other individual within a community.

An Urban Tracker gains a +2 bonus to Urban Tracking check against his favored enemies.

Urban Tracking [General]
You can track down the location of missing persons or wanted individuals within communities.
Benefit: To find the trail of an individual or to follow it for 1 hour requires a Diplomacy check. You must make another Diplomacy check every hour of the search, as well as each time the trail becomes difficult to follow, such as when it moves to a different area of town. The DC of the check, and the number of checks required, depends on the community size and the conditions. If you fail a Diplomacy check, you can retry after 1 hour of questioning. The game master should make these rolls.
Normal: A character without this feat can use Diplomacy to find out information about a particular individual, but checks takes 1d4+1 hours and don’t allow trailing.
Special: A character with 5 ranks in Knowledge (local) gains a +2 bonus on Urban Tracking Diplomacy checks. You may make Diplomacy checks every 30 minutes at a -5 penalty.

Favored Enemy

Remove Survival from the list of skills given a bonus by this ability.

At the game master's discretion, an urban ranger may select an organization instead of a creature type as his favored enemy. For example, a character might select a particular thieves' guild, merchant house, or even the city guard. The favored enemy bonuses would apply to all members of the chosen organization, regardless of their creature type or subtype.

Favored City
This replaces the Favored Terrain feature gained at 3rd level.

At 3rd level, a ranger may select any community in Golarion. This may be anything from a Thorp to a Metropolis. The ranger gains a bonus on Knowledge (local), Perception, Stealth, and Diplomacy skill checks when he is in this community dependent on the community size of the location shown on the table below.

Likewise, he gets a +1 bonus on initiative checks when in this community. At 8th level and every five levels thereafter (13th and 18th level), the ranger may select an additional Favored City. In addition, at each such interval, the skill bonus in any one favored terrain (including the one just selected, if so desired) increase by +1, while the initiative bonus increases by +1.

The urban ranger's spell list differs from the standard ranger list. Remove the following spells from the urban ranger's spell list: 1st – animal messenger, charm animal, detect animals or plants, detect snares and pits, entangle, speak with animals; 2nd – bear's endurance, cat’s grace, hold animal, owl’s wisdom, snare, speak with plants; 3rd – command plants, diminish plants, plant growth, reduce animal, tree shape, water walk; 4th – commune with nature, and tree stride.

In exchange, the urban ranger adds the following spells to his class spell list: 1st – comprehend languages, detect chaos, detect law, detect secret doors, hold portal (*secret weapon), message; 2nd – arcane lock, detect thoughts, eagle's splendor, knock, locate object, spider climb; 3rd – discern lies, invisibility, secret page, shrink item, speak with dead, tongues; 4th – dimensional anchor, and locate creature.

Woodland Stride
An urban ranger does not gain this ability.

Swift Tracker (Ex)
Beginning at 8th level, am urban ranger may make a Diplomacy check for his Urban Tracking feat every half hour without taking the normal -5 penalty.

Quarry (Ex)
A ranger can, as a standard action, denote one target within his line of sight as his quarry. Whenever he is tracking down the location of his quarry, a ranger can take 10 on his Diplomacy skill checks making Diplomacy checks for his Urban Tracking feat, without penalty. In addition, he receives a +2 insight bonus on attack rolls made against his quarry and all critical threats are automatically confirmed. A ranger can have no more than one quarry at a time and the creature’s type or association with an organization must correspond to one of his favored enemy types. He can end this effect at any time as a free action, but he cannot select a new quarry for 24 hours. If his quarry is killed, he can select a new quarry after waiting 1 hour. This ability does not confer the ability to know whether or not the quarry is still alive. The ranger must see proof that his quarry has been killed to select another after 1 hour.

An urban ranger does not gain this ability.

Hide in Plain Sight (Ex)
An urban ranger can use this ability in any area, whether natural terrain or not.

Improved Quarry (Ex)
The ranger’s ability to hunt his quarry improves. He can now select a quarry as a free action. He can now take 20 while using Diplomacy to track his quarry every half hour without penalty. His insight bonus to attack his quarry increases to +4. If his quarry is killed or dismissed, he can select a new one after 10 minutes have passed.

Master Hunter (Ex)
A ranger of 20th level becomes a master hunter. He can, as a standard action, make a single attack against a favored enemy at his full attack bonus. If the attack hits, the target takes damage normally and must make a Fortitude save or die. The DC of this save is equal to 20 plus the ranger’s Wisdom modifier. A ranger can choose instead to deal an amount of nonlethal damage equal to the creature’s current hit points. A successful save negates this damage. A ranger can use this ability once per day against each favored enemy type he possesses, but not against the same creature more than once in a 24-hour period.

Pathfinder Variant: Urban Druid
The urban druid sees a city as a living organism – living, breathing, seeing and hearing. They are one with the urban environment they live in.

Class Features
The Pathfinder urban druid has all the standard urban druid class features (as presented in Dragon Magazine #317), except as noted below.

Class Skills
Eliminate Concentration, Gather Information, and Speak Language from the urban druid’s class skill list. Add Linguistics to the class skill list.

Skill Points Per Level
4 + Int modifier (do not multiply by 4 at first level)

An Urban Druid should follow the spell chart on Table 4-6 of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting book to determine the appropriate amount of spells per day (page 24).

City Sense
Replace the bonus granted to Gather Information with a bonus to Diplomacy checks instead. Gather Information now falls under the Diplomacy skill.

Favored City (Ex)
Remove the bonus granted to Gather Information. Gather Information now falls under the Diplomacy skill.

Information Network
Replace the benefit granted to Gather Information with a benefit to Diplomacy checks instead. Gather Information now falls under the Diplomacy skill.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Half Pint Adventures: Bright Kin'daile - Day 1

Half Pint Adventures is a series of diary-based adventure recaps through the eyes of my many play-by-post characters. Conveniently, they are all members of the Kin'daile Halfling Clan. The mighty Kin'dailes will be braving dungeons, slaying vampires, and generally being hilarious. Warning, these diaries contain the ravings of a sometimes inappropriate and all-the-time crazy halflings. Read at your own risk. Parental supervision suggested.

The Halfling: Bright Kin'daile
The Class: Spellthief Extrodinaire
The Lineage: Father of the Kin'daile Clan
The Trusty Steed: Boots, the Riding Dog
The Adventure: Temple of Elemental Evil.

Dear Diary,

Much too much too much riding today. Finally got to Homlett! Little town shaped like a big 'ole fish. Smells like one too! Mordikai was quiet today. New book I guess, or old book... Can never really tell with him, since he reads stuff over and over and over again all the time! I think he maybe just doesn't know how to read but pretends like he does just to seem like a smart boss man. He is though, I can't deny him that. Knows what's goin' on, that's for sure.

Brynn is a funny one. Talks to birdies and such. Well, one birdie. Clorinth or something. Florinth? Florence? Florence the Nightingale? I dunno... She's pretty though, really pretty. I just wanna pet her. Florence, not Brynn. Though she's pretty too. I guess she's already made her mind up though, since she shacked up with Mordikai last night! Woo! She's too tall for me anyways.

Traako's my roomie. He's a fun guy. Talks a lot, but he's actually got something to say when he talks, not like most people who just talk to hear their own voices. I thought I was good at talkin' my way outta trouble, but Traako seems like he'd be just as good. For a guy good at talkin' though, he doesn't do much of it around strangers though. 'Cept for that guy he kept flirting with at dinner. Or maybe it was that guy eyein' him. Human flirtation is such a weird thing.

We stayed at the Welcome Wench, and there certainly was a welcoming wench there, though not quite in the way I expected. Vesta is the innkeep's name. Reminds me of the word "vestibule" which means something like "wide opening". Maybe this wench is more welcoming then I took her for!

Then there was this other guy. Chatrilon. Ha ha. Sounds like "charlatan". I'm gonna call him Charliton tomorrow morning and see if he notices. I bet he won't cause he's a CHARLATAN! Anyways, failed to work my charms on Vestibule or Charlatan - course Brynn scared Charlatan away. He's as nosy as a stirge anyways.

Oh also met Elmo the guard. I almost called him Elbow by mistake though, that would have been bad. He not only took a drink of my ale, but went to tattle on me! I hope a halfling is this ale's keeper so I won't get into too much trouble. I didn't see any halflings on my way into town. This place is all way too tall. Anyways, Elbow was nice.

Tempted to sneak into Charlatan's room tonight and steal something. Like his pants. He wants adventure? How about the adventure of the disappearing PANTS! Maybe I could move his bed down to the common room... That'd be fun, but we've got work tomorrow. I've gotta get some sleep. Besides, I don't think I'm sneaky enough to pull of anything like that yet. Maybe with some practice... Since we've been traveling along a river these past couple days I've been using Brynn's bath time as a chance to test my sneaking so far, with great great success. Wink. Wink.

Boots got drunk tonight. Big dumb dog. I lovez him.


Bright Kin'daile, Conquerer of Pulsch Ale!

- - -

Current Party:

Bright Kin'daile - Halfling Spellthief
Brynn Lovell - Human Warlock
Traako Darkmoon - Human Swashbuckler
Mordikai Limmins - Human Archivist

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Playing With The Big Kids

Who would have guessed it? They're making a movie about me! No, no that's a lie. But I am in the spotlight today over at Chatty DM's Blog. As Chatty's gone on vacation (though I believe he may have been abducted by gnomes... they are monsters now you know...) he has welcomed a trio of bloggers to kind of fill-in-the-blanks over these past days. I was lucky enough to secure a spot.

The post I wrote over there, in all it's glory, talks about anything and everything tavern-related. My initial plan was to give DMs a tool to make their tavern adventures more exciting with some personal advice from my campaigns (my players love tavern-hopping). I was planning on dealing heavily with the concept of tavern brawls and games to keep players occupied.

As I wrote the post however, I quickly found that there was so much I wanted to write, I knew I had to draw the line somewhere. So I broke taverns down into what I considered to be their five key elements, and wrote a section on each. Yes, bar fights is one of them, and tavern games (or "gimmicks") is another. If you want to know the other three topics of interest, I guess you'll have to go read the post!

Anyways, I wanted to thank Chatty DM once again for helping me get off to a running start with all of this RPG blogging excellence. I feel like I really found something that I love doing, joined at the perfect time, have had amazing help to get here, and already have connected with a bunch of great bloggers in the process (thanks in a large part to the RPG Blogger's Network).

To name a few...

Ravyn (Exchange of Realities)
Geek's Dream Girl
Questing GM
Berin (UncleBear)
Greywulf (Greywulf's Lair)
Sektor (Musings)

Thanks all your support!

I don't have much of a post today (since I spent all of yesterday finishing up Chatty's - hence yesterday's lack of post), but I do hope that you'll hop on over to Chatty's blog and read my post there once it's up and running. I may put a post up on here later, but no guarantees! Thanks for reading! Have a great day!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Runelords Recap: Part Three

Brodert took a long sip from his glass, finishing it off as the story's break came to an end and people began to locate their seats once more. Ameiko had cooked up some snacks and everyone seemed content to stay as late as need be to hear the end of this chapter in the story. "Last we left our heroes," Brodert began, "Blayne the rogue had gone missing, Deanda the druid was being targeted by some strange man calling himself 'The Hunter', and a Dwarven monk by the name of Kraca had shown up on the hero's doorstep with news.

Apparently, the monk had been on his way to Sandpoint when he came across a half-crazed farmer in the nearby farmlands, yelling out nonsensical words, before finally running into a tree. The dwarf was able to transport the man the rest of the way to town, but no sooner did the famer arrive then he started spewing nonsense again. Kraca said that Sheriff Hemlock had sent him to tell them.

The heroes made quickly for the room where the man was being held, chanting over and over again a strange and unsettling Varisian nursery rhyme with a scared and shaking voice.

Mumble Mumble Scarecrow
Alone in the maize.
Sleeping in the daytime,
A stitched man he stays.

But when the moon she rises,
Up Mumble gets.
He shakes his hands at first
And moves his feet the next.

And when the dog is snoring,
And when your fast asleep,
Mumble Mumble Scarecrow
Will find you good to eat.

After calming the man down, the farmer launched into a breathless recount of his troubles. Something about the Hambley farmhouse, a group of farmers set to destroy the evil within, and the lot of them being devoured. 'They even ate the DOGS!' Farmer Grump exclaimed before falling back once again into his nursery rhyme.

So far, the adventurers had not been able to gather many clues. When dealing with the insane bodyguard in Habe's Sanatorium, Jaime was able to identify the Ghoul Fever that was sweeping through the man, though they were able to get little information from the sickened fellow, save for a phrase he kept repeating over and over again. 'The Skinsaw Man is coming…'

The adventurers decided that they needed to investigate the Hambley farmhouse themselves. Sheriff Hemlock suggested they take along a handful of Sandpoint militia members, just in case they needed the backup. The heroes agreed, and welcomed Anthony, Briar, Jade and Kayla to their party. Kiikii had made good friends with the guardsman Briar at the beginning of their investigations, so he was happy to see the man tagging along. Jade, the more beautiful of the two sisters, quickly captured the heart of Slavla – despite her having been deaf from birth. A setback Slavla intended to quickly remedy.

Mounting their horses, the group set out for the farmlands, and made quick work of the beasts that inhabited it. They fought toe to toe against ghouls and wicked undead creatures – striking down the strange beasts that had taken over the Hambley farmhouse.

There they found another strange note to Deanda, but nothing that told them for sure where they would find their murderer. Following up on one final lead, the party advanced on Scarnetti Manor. The Scarnetti's owned Sandpoint Lumber Mill and it was common knowledge that the man who was murdered – one of the millers there – had been embezzling money from the Scarnetti's profits for years. If they'd found out about it… well… word on the street was that the Scarnetti's could be pretty ruthless.

What they came upon when visiting the Scarnetti home was not at all what they expected however. A young child answered the door that seemed initially unwilling to allow the adventurers enter. He was the young Aaron Scarnetti, and when he finally did open the door they saw why. Both his father and mother laid murdered behind him – the Sihedron Rune carved into them. A note clung to the man's coat.

'Deanda, you continue to ignore my invitations my love. Did you not sense my need for you that evening we hunted? ~The Hunter'

The heroes set off at once for Foxglove Manor…

The manor, also known locally as 'The Misgivings', had earned its nickname well. An ancient and decrepit old building that looked perched to commit a suicidal leap off of the cliff it perched upon.

One of the most dangerous places our heroes had ever visited, their laid no real enemies here for Slavla to impale, or for Nakor to bash the skulls of. No, here all they faced were the unsettled spirits of Foxglove manor – reaching out for vengeance after ninety years of pain and suffering. As our adventurers advanced through the manor, they found themselves facing the hauntings of tragic moments past. They filled the walls and chambers of this building, threatening to drive them mad. And in these adventures, our heroes slowly learned the history of this tragic manor.

The heroes learned that Foxglove manor was built by Vorel Foxglove – Aldern's great great uncle. When it was built, construction of it was partially funded by a group known as the Brothers of the Seven – a secret society – with the understanding that the manor house would revert to the Brother's control after 100 years.

During this time, Vorel sought to become a lich. However, in the time of his great transformation, Vorel's wife Kasandra interrupted the ritual causing a great magical backlash – consuming Vorel in a storm of disease and tumors. Kasandra tried to escape, but she and her children quickly fell victim to the disease as well and perished.

Forty three years later, Vorel's great nephew and his wife Cyralie moved into the manor and had their son, Aldern. As the spirit of Vorel worked to drive the family mad, Cyralie – in a fit of insanity – burned the servant's quarters only to be thrown from the window of the observatory by her husband when she tried to burn the manor. Traver killed himself when he realized what he had done – leaving Aldern to his strange future.

Making their way through the manor, our heroes faced the ghosts of the many who had passed away in this haunted place. When they came upon the spirit of Ireena, a strange woman they knew little of, they followed her with haste as she cried out to Aldern in anger. Their journey was deterred however, by the large number of ghouls in the lower catacombs - some of them with the bodies of goblins.

Carving their way past a great spider, and many ghouls, finally the group came upon Aldern himself. The man had gone mad, and had given himself over fully to the ghoul fever which had a hold on him. His lower chambers were riddled with mementos of Deanda, and high above his alter to her hung Blayne – his jaw removed and the Sihedron medallion scribed painfully upon the thief's chest.

Fueled by the death of their dear friend Blayne, battle was joined…"

The RPG Three: Part Three

In today's RPG three post, I want to talk about Live Action Roleplaying. I've noticed that LARPing is not a very common RPG blog topic, and as someone who's done it for 8 years, I hope that I can shine some light on the subject, help you find out if LARPing is right for you, and give you the steps to get involved in a local game.

Before we get started into that however, I've got some great news. I mentioned on my previous RPG Three post that Ravyn from over at Exchange of Realities was going to help out the series by writing a post on Play-By-Chat roleplaying and post it over on her blog. Well, she delivered, and it's a great post! Thank you Ravyn! It's enough to make me want to join up in a Play-By-Chat game (if you have any with open slots, let me know)!

Now, I wanted to expand upon live action roleplaying since, to tell the truth, LARPing events are tons of fun, and probably my favorite style of roleplaying. I will say this: LARPing is not for everyone. But for a special few, it will probably be the most fun you'll ever have. So lets waste no time, and dive right into the grand world of LARPing.

LARPing's not for everyone? Is it for me?

To be a successful LARPer, there are some key personality traits you're going to want to look for. Primarily, people who are drawn to such games have to be pretty extroverted, not to mention proud of their geekiness. If your a cosplayer then you're already halfway there, since you're used to dressing up in a costume.

One common misconception about LARPing is that you need to be athletic, or a skilled fencer/swordsman in order to play. Bzzz. Wrong. Trust me, from a guy who goes to the gym maybe once a month and lets just say... avoids the beach... LARPs are welcoming to people of all shapes, and sizes. In fact, LARPers are probably some of the most accepting people I've met. After all, you can't really judge someone when you're running around in a cape...

Another misconception is that girls don't LARP. That it's just a bunch of guys getting their manly anger out via fake swords. Also very wrong. While it's true that LARPs generally do attract more males then females, a lot of LARPs have strong female player bases, and are always welcome to having more.

If you play a tabletop game and love to really get into the minds of your characters - maybe even finding yourself acting out your character's actions more then describing them, then LARPing may be for you. If you enjoy acting or improvisation, or simply wish life was more like the game you enjoy playing so much, you should give LARPing a chance!

You're hitting each other with swords. Is that safe?

Well, techinically we're hitting each other with boffer swords, not real swords. Boffer swords are generally crafted with a PVP piping core, with pipe insulation foam around the pipe on all striking portions. The foam is usually secured with strapping tape and then the whole thing is wrapped in duct tape (for the blade) and electric tape or grip tape (for the handle). Some games allow archery as well, in which case the arrows are usually made out of golf tube similarly tipped with insulation foam, if not entirely covered with it.

That's a lot of "typicallys" and "usuallys"...

Every game is different. Some games will allow latex weapons for use by experienced fighters, while other games may have different rules for weapon construction. All games though take safety very seriously and have detailed rules for the weapons they allow in-game, usually followed up by weapon-checks at registration.

In addition to strict weapon construction guidelines, LARPs take many other safety precautions as well. All LARPs have safety rules that all players are required to abide by, generally accompanied by safety calls such as "HOLD" and "EMERGENCY" based on what the safety issue is. All players and staff members are briefed on these rules through the rulebook and usually following registration at any given event.

LARPing combat follows the "lightest touch" combat system, meaning that all swings are pulled. Basically, this means that players are only allowed to swing hard enough to lightly touch their opponent, and that people swinging any harder may be removed from combat if not from the game. This takes a little getting used to, and of course accidents do happen, but it's pretty carefully regulated.

Combat? How does that even work?

LARPs vary in combat rules depending on how the game works, but many LARPs work with a hit-point based system. Once you run out of hit points you can be knocked out, and then killed. Some LARPs have a much quicker combat system which is based on "hit locations". In these games, if you get hit in the chest or back, you're dead. If you're hit in the arm or leg, you lose use of that limb.

In the end, in either system, LARPs generally are based on an honor system. Obviously, you're the only one who can keep track of your hit points or armor, so everyone is generally expected not to cheat in order to make the game fun for everyone else.

So you just run around in the woods, hitting each other with fake swords?

Well, yes there is some "running around in the woods" that always tends to happen, but we don't hit each other. We hit monsters! In addition to the player characters at any LARP event, there is also a number of staff member who help to run the plots, stories, and encounters for the weekend.

Over the weekend, staff members alternate between taking on the roles of "Face Characters" (named NPC's who may be anyone from a traveling musician, to the head of the town's mages guild) and "Crunchies" (monsters of all shapes and sizes). For example, if you were to come to the LARP that I work as a senior staffer for, over the course of one weekend, you may see me as a half dozen different monsters, or Volt Greyfeather - the town's Chief Engineer.

Good LARP events will have a mixture of both combat and roleplaying encounters, with a nice mix of puzzles and dungeon crawling as well. LARP events will usually have many different plots going on - both overarching plots that concern everyone, and personal plots that deal with specific characters - usually based on their backstory or their current goals.

At most LARPs, after an event the staff will have some sort of form that you can submit to them prior to the next event. Through this form, it allows the staff to learn what your character is trying to accomplish, and allows them to write plot for you. Some LARPs will also allow you to accomplish tasks between games, such as producing alchemical potions, or doing scholarly research.

So, can you level up in a LARP?

While most LARPs won't actually call it "leveling up", your character does increase in power the longer you play them. In addition to the magical items, tools, or wealth your character might find in their adventures, your character will gain points or "build" of some kind the longer you play them. In almost all LARPs you increase in power simply by attending an event.

Usually, there are other methods you can take to increase in power more quickly - such as good roleplaying, donating materials to the game, helping to set up before an event, or helping to clean up after. Generally, in most LARPs, if you help contribute to the game in some way, you'll benefit from it. So, the more you help out, and the more you play, the more powerful your character becomes.

Some LARPs have a cap on how powerful your character can become, though in some games your character could theoretically continue gaining power for as long as you played them. This is generally based on the Death system that the particular LARP uses.

Wait I can die? You didn't mention that!

Well yes, just like in all RPGs, LARPs do allow characters to die. However, this varies wildly depending on the type of death system the game uses.

Infinideath - In what I like to call "infinideath" games, you can die theoretically an infinite number of times. Dying has no effect on your character, and it generally just means that you have to lie there until someone raises you. In infinideath games, generally there are a lot of people who can bring back the dead, since dying is most likely a pretty common occurance. Killing off a character permanantly is usually possible in these systems, but incredibly difficult to do. These games usually use "hit location" fight systems and have monsters that can swing blows that kill in one hit.

Finideath - In a finideath game, you can only die a finite number of times, and it's usually not that many, depending on the game. If your character dies too many times, you may have to make a new character. At these games, after you die there is usually a designated spot where you have to go and speak with the entity of death, played by a staff member. Such games usually use a hit point system and the ability to raise the dead is available, but hard to come by. Monsters can vary between weaklings and things you just plain run away from.

One-death - In a one-death system, you can only die once. These are the more gritty, realistic games. Generally characters are more powerful, and monsters are weaker in these games, as the characters become true "heroes". Such games have complicated death systems, and usually make it pretty hard for your character to die. For example, once you get knocked down, there may be a certain amount of time before you start bleeding out when a basic healer can get you up. After that, you may have another amount of time before you die, during which someone can try to use powerful magic or stitch you up in some other way. These games are usually more horror based, and certainly take advantage of the fact that you may die at any moment, adding a whole new layer of fear to the game.

Are there other LARP genres besides fantasy?

Why yes! In fact, there are tons of different LARPs out there, of all different genres. Certainly there are plenty of fantasy LARPs out there in countless different settings, but you can also find steampunk LARPs and even contemporary LARPs. For those of you familiar with World of Darkness, there is actually quite a popular LARP based on that game that is played nation-wide. Like Call of Cthulhu? Play Cthulhu Live! (Eeeeeeevil!)

You've piqued my interest. How can I get involved?

Huzzah! Well, the first thing to do is find a LARP in your area. One of the best ways to do this is to visit Shade's Larp List. There you can check out games in your area. Once you've found one that's piqued your interest, look around their website. Reading through the rulebook and taking a glance at their photo album is a good way to see if the game will be fun or not. Check out their messageboard if they have one, and don't hesitate to email the game directors!

Obviously the people running the game are going to have nothing but good things to say about it, but they can answer questions that you may have and help you make your character. With their help, you can get everything you need to set up.

My first LARP event is coming! What should I bring?

- Money for the event

- Snacks and water for the weekend (even if they're being provided. I strongly suggest beef jerky. If you have an in-game pouch you can carry beef jerky around in, it will sometimes even deter an ogre from killing you. Trust me.)

- Your costume (most LARPs will have costume requirements they mention on their website. Try to look at least partially in-period for the game you're going to. Avoid logos and denim jeans.)

- Your boffer weapons (if you don't have one and can't make one, ask the game directors if their might be extra ones. Most staff centers will be more then equipped with weapons and will gladly lend you one. Work this out ahead of time.)

- Your cell phone (it's a good idea to get the cell phone for a director of the game since most LARPs are held at campgrounds that are hard to find - especially if you'll be arriving in the dark.)

- A notebook and something to write in (you'll need it, trust me. You can pick out journals or notepads without metal rings or words on the front at most bookstores.)

- A flashlight (helpful for finding your cabin or tent in the dark, though you shouldn't use them in-game.)

- Your papers (make sure to have your character sheet on you, if you're required to bring it, as well as the waiver for the game you're playing since most LARPs require a signed waiver.)

- An open mind (don't be scared to have fun and talk to people!)

- A friend (sometimes you'll just have more fun if you don't go on your adventures alone. besides, some LARPs will give you a discount if you bring a friend! Everything's more fun when you get a discount.)

Happy adventuring!

Edit: As an added bonus since I made this post way longer then it was supposed to be, here's a lovely picture of yours truly sparring in one of the LARPs I used to play. The guy in the blue was actually the king of an in-game nation. I lost on purpose, you know, because he's royalty and all. Yeah... that's my story and I'm sticking to it.