Friday, 6 December 2013

A Sample of 13th Age: The Lich King's Crown

The Lich King has a crown, hidden away in his vault, within his skull fortress, at the centre of his city of the undead, upon his island necropolis, in the middle of the Midland Sea.  If it weren't such an important crown, if there were not so many great reasons to want to steal (or retrieve) it, the wise would simply let it be.

But the crown is not just a crown, not just a symbol of power. It is also the phylactery of one Baron Voth, and with the item in hand, Urquilla may well have some leverage over the Baron, and be able to track down where the legendary White Dragon is.  The barbarian, raised by the Takamak tribe since birth, longs to be able to enact revenge upon the three great dragons who decimated his village.

Of course, Stump wanted the crown, too.  He knew a priestess of the Priestess who would perform a much-needed resurrection, should he obtain the crown.  The cleric didn't want to work alongside the Priestesses underlings, but some times, such things were necessary.  Murdak would probably agree - after all, he had chosen to serve the empire and work against the Lich King instead of the other jobs he would be forced into - many no place for a scholarly wizard of his upbringing.  And Kelly? Well, the elven ranger simply jumped at an opportunity to work against the hated Lich King.

So, together, the four of them set out for Roachdale.  Murdak's research had shown only one individual who might know how to find their way through the maze-like necropolis; a half-orc treasure-seeker by the name of Jont Urner.  Roachdale was the location of his last sighting.

Kelly had been to Roachdale a number of times before, selling furs gained from hunting expeditions.  The village's economy was cattle-based, and they had little opportunity for the warm fur coats Kelly traded with them.  However, when last he visited, Urquilla noted that there was a deep sense of fear in the locals - something in nature was upset.

That something, it turned out, was a living dungeon.  It had erupted through the hillside, and had drawn a swarm of insects around it, blackening out the village with a cloud heavy enough to be easily spotted from a distance.  Stump took Kelly's hastily-crafted torch, and created a reasonable smoke-filled bubble of protection from the creatures, allowing the group to pass through.

The horrid spine of the living dungeon jutted out of the centre of the village, displacing and destroying a few houses and other buildings along the way.  As they stood before it, aware of the horrendous carved skulls, a section of the wall opened, and five demons walked out.  Murdak was about to try diplomacy, but Kelly had no patience for such clearly evil creatures, and quickly brought battle forward; though the ranger stayed at a distance, Kelly's arrows joined the others as they fought back the demons, slaying each and every one of them - and acquiring a silver key.

Finding their way through the maze of tunnels, whilst dodging the few remaining patrols, was no easy task.  Only together did they make it - Kelly used a fine shot and some sturdy rope to allow everyone safe passage across a deep chasm, and Urquilla saved them all from a long, cold swim by smashing through an unstable wall when they thought the only way ahead was into the pool.  As their passage ended in mid-air, Stump's faith revealed an invisible walkway across a giant cavern, and Murdak's magic kept the threatening storm at bay. 

Eventually, they made it to a room in which stood a solitary chest, its lock matching the key Urquilla wore around his foot. The key opened this chest, and within were an array of items - an elven cloak to hide Kelly's presence; an orb of power to replenish Murdak's magic; a potion to ward off the cold for Urquilla, and a vial of healing, straight from the Crusader's own stock for Stump.  Stump and Urquilla also picked up some magical oil, before continuing on their way.

The heart of the living dungeon was a large, circular room, with cages containing prisoners of varying levels of decomposition hanging from the roof.  The group thought they saw one that looked half-orc-ish, but had little time to check it out before Kelly notices spiders and other crawling creatures currying away from one of the doors.  Surely enough, the sound of footsteps followed, as the room grew colder, and the stench of sulphur filled their noses.  A large demon burst into view, and not even Murdak felt it possible to talk this one down!

With a well-placed blast of acid, he caused the demon such pain that handfuls of tick-demons leapt from its body like rats fleeing a sinking ship, and flowed over to those standing a little too close.  Gnawing and sucking, the parasites caused Urquilla enough injury that the vrock took him down - momentarily - the situation all the worse when Stump momentarily lost his ability to heal.
But eventually, the parasites were squashed, the vrock was defeated, and the prisoner rescued.  The only downside was that Jont was dead.  All was not lost - the adventurer had his map on him - literally.  The map to the necropolis was tattooed across the half-orc's back, and with Stump standing guard, no one was going to take a blade to obtain the instructions.  But - that wasn't all; they also needed a compass...made from dragon's teeth.  Fortunately, Murdak knew someone...

There was an adventurer, a demon-touched dragon hunter (semi-retired) by the name of Shez-a-kah.  She was said to know of a brood of white dragons living up on Gorogan's Maw, but she wasn't about to hand out their location to just anyone.  So, whilst Stump stood outside, disapprovingly glaring at anyone who dared to enter the Shadow Port tavern, the others challenged Shez to a game - should they win, she would tell them of the dragons' location; should she win, Murdak would cover her tab. 

Kelly and Urquilla tried to support Murdak's game, with distractions, insights, and stories of old (Shez was most impressed when Urquilla revealed that he was the baby found in the devastated village, ten years post destruction!).  He even tried his own hand at the match, hoping that his time with the Takamak tribe would help him - but it looked like it was a different game altogether, or there were some strange rules added to it since.  Despite their best efforts, Shez proved victorious, and grinned menacingly as Murdak struggled with the obscenely large bill she had racked up.  The only way he could afford to cover his end of the deal was to hand over the precious stone he had found within the dungeon...and so he did.

Moved both by Urquilla's tale of origin, and by Murdak's honesty and loyalty to his bargain, Shez ultimately was convinced to share the position of the dragons, and the party headed up the snow-covered, treacherous climb. 

True to her word, Shez's location proved to be the resting cave of not just a few, but seven white dragon hatchlings.  Fortunately, an older sibling showed up to defend them (poorly, as it turned out), for the hatchling's teeth would not have been enough for the compass.  After rising from the snow (for he had been knocked down again), Urquilla grabbed the large flying beast by the jaw, and, with a tremendous blow, sheared its head right off.  Letting the body fall down into the ravine below, the barbarian held aloft the gory trophy, knowing he was one step closer to finding those that destroyed his village so many years ago.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Appendix 2)

Now that we have finished our DnD group's latest game (a Dark Sun adventure revolving around the heroes defending the city of Tyr from an oncoming Urik army, setting up to make a siege; look back to read them all!), I thought I'd spend some time looking at some of the alternate mechanics I used in the game.  
The final night of our monthly Dark Sun game came after I had been reading a lot about 13th Age.  I'd grabbed the book, kicked myself multiple times after finding out that I'd missed an awesome Kickstarter for the second book, and thoroughly immersed myself into working out how these new ideas could come and change my games for the better.

The party had returned from Raam, three dray heroes alongside them, ready to break the siege on Tyr.  Even if it weren't the final session in the campaign arc, this was the time for a climactic battle.  Players wanted to see threads resolved (such as what had happened to the Orb of Dust, stolen from them many sessions ago); players wanted to wade through the Urik army, scattering the lower-level, inferior forces before their trained and honed might; and players wanted to take down the leaders of the force, focus on the top-dogs of the invading army, and fight against someone of their own skill.  In all, not too much to ask, right?

The Soldiers
I wanted an effective way for the players to feel like they were cutting through multitudes of enemy soldiers who were ill-equipped to stand up against their heroic might.  Well, 4e has minions, so I used them!  And, for what they are, they work...most of the time.  Minions are great for easily killing, but some classes clearly are more effective at minion-pruning than others.  The warlock (who had taken more of a controller role, had focused on having a few area / blast attacks) could easily wade through ranks of the enemies, but the barbarian took down one or two a round.

Expecting this to be the case, I utilised 13th Age's "mooks" for the second battle.  Liet might have been spectacular in part 1, but part 2 was all for Kuoroar!!  Even without criticalling, it felt much more like a goliath champion cutting through waves of inferior troops with his fullblade swinging wildly.

To change things up for the third encounter, I used a version of Pathfinder's Troops rules, modified for 4e.  Essentially, they are a swarm of large creatures (soldiers, in this case!), and moved as a mass.  They were sturdy as a group, no longer as easily dismissed as the first two waves were, but they still went down reasonably well (as they were meant to).

The general idea of the different soldier types was to experience different aspects of being "great big heroes" against waves of enemies.  Blasting through them, slicing five guys with one sword-sweep, and then one mul fighter standing toe-to-toe with twenty soldiers.  The heroes took a beating (which is only fair, considering how many they were fighting against), but they were always pressing onwards, always slogging through the enemy.  During the third act, I even stated that they had many more of the 'minion-like' troops running around, but they no longer even posed a threat.  The soldiers acknowledged the heroes' superiority, and moved about them to fight troops more their level, and the heroes didn't worry about the soldiers, looking instead to the movers and shakers of the opposing side.

Small Icons
Another idea I have taken from 13th Age is the Icon Relationships. However, as I was using the idea for one might only, and didn't feel like reinventing the setting, I linked them to the NPCs they had been rescuing.  And then changed the mechanics quite a bit.  Really, the only things I kept were the d6 roll and that they were about another NPC!

For the second encounter, each player would roll a d6 to see how the three dray champions were doing.  On a 6, they'd do something really great, which would help out the battle they were having (such as a fly-by lightning attack, or raising some of the dead into undead servants).  On a 5, they may do something helpful, but at a cost (eg the NPC would be 'out' for a while, or one of the NPC followers would be lost).  With a few rolls each, these added excitement and interesting story telling opportunities, especially as I continued to use the d6 rolls for each player to report on how another unit was doing elsewhere in the combat.  A few nasty rolls seemed to call for a couple of their allies to be left behind, too wounded to go onwards.

When we return to Dark Sun (and even before then, in our next campaigns!), I'll be sure to invest in the icon idea again.  I'm not sure I will create the icons for the players, but rather ask them who they think are the big important characters in the setting, and how their characters relate to them.

Movers and Shakers
Of course, the other big event they wanted was to deal with this "Orb of Dust" thing.  So clearly, I had it return...along with two other Orbs they knew nothing of.  The biggest surprise for me in this part of the game was how willing the PCs were to go along with the dray's commands.  After months (in game, and in real life) of hunting and wondering about the Orb, they finally had it in their grasp...and then handed it over to someone else.

Now, knowing your ally is a dray is one thing; knowing that they are an undead dray is surely more concerning.  But Liet had lost his Sorcerer King, and was still struggling for someone with whom to make a pact.  Beren was moments away from being killed (and reanimated) when the first orb was exchanged; by the time they handed over the second, he was working on the dray's side.  And Kuoroar!? Well, he was also pretty beat-up, and wasn't about to go against everyone else.

So even though I had the option of fighting the dray, it didn't come up, for they elected instead to go along with their demands.  Instead, they fought off the others, planning to survive long enough for the enemy army to be broken by the death of its commander - which they (and it) did.

The three Orb-holders (Thakok-An, Maetan Lubar, and the dray champion, Rhyleighi) each came with their personal elemental beast (Sandstorm Vortex for the Orb of Dust, and an Earth and Fire elemental for the Orbs of Flame and Stone).  It is only too apparent what happens to solitary enemies in DnD, and I didn't want an anti-climatic stun or dominate to end the night.

The elementals were huge, imposing creatures that kept the party distracted whilst not actually being the main threat. On the other hand, once Thakok-An's was relieved of her orb, her Vortex vanished, and she was pretty much out of the battle, which proved to be an added bonus for the PCs vanquishing her!  And as can be read about here, the Earth Elemental had a most interesting time whilst being dominated and stabilising a dying PC...moments before it came back to its senses, and pulverised the squishy mul.

In the end, I enjoyed taking some outside ideas and merging them with the system as written.  I look forward to using elements of 13th Age in future games, especially for the simpler things such as Mooks and Icons.  (Indeed, I will eventually get around to writing up another post just about those ideas!)  Importantly, the players also enjoyed the varied elements, and they all worked together to create a better story.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Appendix 1)

Now that we have finished our DnD group's latest game (a Dark Sun adventure revolving around the heroes defending the city of Tyr from an oncoming Urik army, setting up to make a siege; look back to read them all!), I thought I'd spend some time looking at some of the alternate mechanics I used in the game.  
Back when the party had to defend the front gate of Tyr against the approaching Urik army, I wanted them to feel a sense of urgency about the operation.  I had toyed with the idea of increasing waves of minions, of minions being replaced with more able troops, or other clear mechanical threats, but had decided against it.  Depending on who was present at the game that night, the numbers and types of enemies needed would vary greatly.  Plus, most players have a tendency to not want to withdraw, no matter what the threat, and instead carve through every one of the soldiers before them.  That way could lead to much unwanted bloodshed.

There was an option to have some NPCs included, whom they would need to recover, protect, and defend whilst guiding them back inside the city walls.  I still think that could work, but there's a fine line between spending actions to rescue / guide NPCs, and being bored / grumpy because you couldn't use your latest powers.  I didn't want to go there, either.

The third option felt a lot better.

I have recently been getting heavily into collecting the LotR Lego sets - because Lord of the Rings is awesome, and Lego is awesome, why else?  I started out getting just the Helm's Deep set, trying to convince myself that that was enough.  Then, went about collecting them all.  At the time of my game preparation, I had just put together (with the help of my daughter, who actually builds most of each set!) my latest set: the Battle at the Black Gate.  I wasn't going to draw any analogies between Mordor and Tyr, but both the Lego set and my adventure had a shared focal point: a set of gates!

As I told the group about the situation (the broken gate, the enemy scouts outside, the folk working hard on repairs), I cleared out the map, dumped most of the Lego set at one side, and set up the miniatures.  I left pieces together, but broke apart most of the rest of it, so it had both the feel of destruction, and vague hints at what it once was.  Then I handed over the instructions, and told them that the enemy would stop (and they could retreat) once the wall was reconstructed.

The enemies they faced were simple enough: halfling forest runners with a headhunter, and a silt shark thrown in to stir things up.  Naturally, to go along with the theme, the forest runners were the hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin), and the headhunter was a dwarf (Fili, I think).  I even found one of my old "Pirate" theme sharks, and enough Lego flat boards to base them all, and the group had the threat of Lego on either side!

Before the game, I had thought of having restrictions on how many players could help with the construction at any one time, but once we were in it, I realised that that would have slowed things down, and largely been unnecessary. There was one player who is (like me) a keen and avid Lego enthusiast, and happily (for him and the other players) took care of the majority of the work.  Each round, players felt the tension between wanting to kill the enemy, but also wanting to play it safe and defend themselves long enough for the wall to be repaired.  There were enough calls of "Ooh, quickly!" that I felt the building exercise served to heighten the experience, and the feedback was all positive.

In all, the added excitement from a secondary challenge during the encounter worked well.  Rather than taking away from PC's actions, it worked by giving players who were not currently participating something else to focus on and work at, which could easily be put down when their turn rolled around.  The challenge was different enough that the 'new shiny' worked well, and though fun, is not something I would use every encounter, every session, or even every campaign.  But, will I use Lego in my games again?  (Have you not read about what my daughter chose for her character's representation?) Well, it just so happens that I have this nice ship... and our next campaign is going to be an Eberron based...pirate game.  Stay tuned for more!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Chapter 10)

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Dark Sun.  In the previous seasons (the first run by me, the second run by Richard), the party were involved with hunting through Kalak's pyramid, confirming if the Sorcerer-King was truly dead, and retrieving the Orb of Dust.  The group has now returned to Tyr to find it fully under siege - but they have an advantage against the invading Urik army: three Dray champions of old!

With the rising sun, the plans for their attack were made.  The ever-unsleeping Valentin had broken the petrification enchantment upon Rhyleighi, releasing the quite-alive dray from his two and a half centuries of stony sleep.  Kulo, explained what he knew of the situation within Tyr - mainly, that though the city army were ready to attack, they could not open the gates and get outside without being slaughtered, letting the Urik army in, or (most likely) both.  They needed the army to be focused elsewhere.  And that's where the team came in.

With the Urik army spread out between them and Tyr, they were in prime position to attack its unprotected back, close by the command tents.  Alyshialynn was to move along, killing those she could, and raising them as undead soldiers under her command.  Sadhbh would take to the air, delivering strafing runs, and press towards the siege weaponry being built to harass the city.  Kuoriar!, Liet, Beren and Paelias were to attack more directly, whilst Rhyleighi would join the other adventurers - Kulo, Pieter, Kal-kin and Tak-tha - and cause a similar distraction.  With multiple attacks close, but not on top of each other, the Urik army would have little time to collect reinforcements.  After adequate harassment, they could all fall back, and discuss their plans further.

Before departing, the dray handed across small items to each of the heroes.  They would grant them extra energy in battle, but they came with a warning: do not use them too much, lest they wipe them out in the long term.  Interestingly, Rhyleighi (the only non-undead Dray of the four) was the one who gave the warning, and also confided that the other three used their items too often.

That first skirmish worked well - the Urik guards were unprepared and under trained, and all the teams moved through their forces with ease.  One command tent was destroyed - unfortunately, there were no high-ranking officials, but the destruction left only three more tents waiting.  Sadhbh made it far enough across to set one group of siege engines alight, and the undead presence was felt far after Alyshialynn returned to the others.  There were losses, though, with Tak-tha being grievously injured, and contact to Garidias being lost (though Valentin ensured them that the eladrin had merely taken the long way around the enemy army).

By the time they had regrouped, recovered, and discussed their next assault, the Urik army was ready.  More seasoned troops had moved into position, and their training showed, in how they could turn the blows, and in how they approached their enemy.  This fight was looking dire, but thankfully, a few well-timed fly-by attacks from Sadhb, along with two squads of Alyshialynn's undead, turned the battle in their favour.  Indeed, the harassment had caused a decidedly large hole in the Urik army, and they were failing to get reinforcements there quickly enough.  The gates of Tyr opened, their soldiers pouring out to meet many troops who had turned around to face the surprise thread, and now fell in the confusion.

Whilst striking out towards the third command tent, another target came across them.  A solitary figure, walking through the masses of troops, with a whirling sandstorm clearing the path before her.  It looked as if she, too, was headed for the command tent, but Liet only knew that she must have the Orb of Dust...and thus, he must take her down.

Pushing their way through the otherwise-engaged spearmen, Kuoroar! and Beren took on two heavy squads of troops, whilst Liet squeezed his way past, focusing on the figure.  Paelias, as always, supported them from a safe distance.

The figure - who, once she was close enough, was revealed to be Thakok-An, the very same Templar who had stolen the Orb of Dust from before their faces only a few months ago -  seemed uninterested in them, and continued working her way towards the command tent.  Liet was not about to have her get away, not with his Orb, and so raced after her.  Invisible, he walked up behind her, and said "You have my orb."  Sadly, Thakok-An did not agree, instead dominating the lesser Templar, and sending him running wildly back to the others.

But his actions served to catch her attention, and now she, as well as her elemental whirlwind, focused on the group.  This allowed Liet another chance; if simply asking did not work, he now reverted to commanding.  Dominating the Templar in return was a hard task, but he only needed the upper hand for a moment, long enough to get Thakok-An to throw the orb to her.  From that moment, without her artefact, Thakok-An was defeated.  And she would have died, too, were it not for the arrival of two others, each with their own Orbs, and their own bound elementals.

The first to arrive was Rhyleigh, though his possession of an Orb was not apparent until after Liet had obediently handed her newly claimed orb to the dray.  Holding the Orb of Dust in one hand, and the Orb of Flame in the other, the dray touched them together, causing them to merge together and form one swirling, sandy, hot orb.

But the Urik army was not about to let the orbs go without a fight.  Maetan Lubar, along with his high command and a heavy earth elemental, arrived on the scene as Thakok-An was making a hurried retreat.  "You fools!", she cried, "I was fighting the Urik army with you!"  Whilst the titans raged, and the dray and army general battled, those in the middle tried hard to stay on their feet.  Beren went down, as the earth elemental crashed into him on one side, and a momentarily-dominated Kouroar! hit him on the other.  Liet, already weakened from his mental battle against Thakok-An, collapsed from the collateral damage, but not before once more asserting his will upon an opponent - this time, on the earth elemental itself.  For a moment, the creature's control was ripped from the Orb of Stone, and it bent down to stabilise Beren's bleeding form, but with Liet unconscious, the command didn't last. Moments later, ten tons of rock in the rough shape of a foot came crushing down onto the mul's body, and the last drops of life were squashed out of him.

Paelias had managed to rouse Liet, but Maetan had wrestled control of Rhyleigh's fire elemental, and seemed to have gained the upper hand.  Kuoroar was trying to upset the general's advantage, but he had little energy left.  Managing to slip away from the earth elemental, Liet put his all into one final attack, barely managing to throw out the burst of psychic energy before he felt like collapsing from the effort.  But that final blast was all that was needed: Maetan fell screaming, hands clutching at his head.  The orb rolled along the battlefield, stopping at Kuoroar!'s feet, and as the general's cries dropped away to a brainless blubbering, the half-giant picked up the heavy stone sphere.  Behind him, Beren raised himself off the ground, though it was clear to all that he had not miraculously recovered.  The same grizzly wounds were apparent on his body as were on the undead dray, and the same dead eyes now looked out of his head.

"Give it to me," Rhyleigh said softly.  "Give it to me, and let us end this siege here, now."  Not seeing any other option, Kuoroar! handed the orb across, and watched as Rhyleigh melded it with the other.  With the combined powers of the Orbs of Dust, Flame and Stone now at his control, none on the battlefield could stand against him.  Though skirmishes continued on for the better part of the day, the battle had been won.  With their commanded dead, those Urik soldiers that could turned and fled back to their city.  Some made it, others were cut down before the could get far enough from Tyr.  Many more were lost in the desert, left to die without food or water, or picked up by travelling bands of slavers.  Some became food for the various creatures of the desert - a few, food for small tribes of halflings.  Whatever their fate, the siege of Tyr was over, and the Urik army had effectively been decimated; it would be many years before the Sorcerer King Hamanu would be able to gather such a large force - if not centuries.

The dray did not stay long after the battle had been won.  Nor did they leave the three-in-one Orb.  The news of their pressing urgency took it's time to reach Tyr, but as with all news, it eventually found its way there, passed from refugee to merchant to soldier to traveler... the city of Raam had fallen.  Absalom, the so-called "first of the Dray", had torn through it within hours of the hero's adventure there.  He had raised up an army from those he had slain, much like Alyshialyn, and along with ranks of other dray, had set the city ablaze, not intending to allow a single survivor to escape.  The other dray champions had returned to him, to work under him, and root out every last survivor.  Some tales spoke of Abalach-Re escaping the destruction, but just as many claimed she fell when the four champions and their powerful Orb cornered her in her garden palace.

Liet and Kuoroar! slowly recovered from the use of the dray's stones, though it took days.  The dray left the magical devices with them, perhaps because they didn't care, perhaps because they were now attuned to the heroes, or perhaps to serve as a continual temptation.  Liet especially found his thoughts drifting back to it, wondering just how it linked him to his new pact-masters.  Indeed, working out how he drew strength from the dray at all, with them so far removed, was something he would have to think about carefully.

Kuoroar! had an easier time distancing himself from the stone, though he couldn't bring himself to throw it away or destroy it.  Though, every time he looked into Beren's dead eyes, he was reminded of the danger of power.  For the dray had left Beren behind - undead, like them, but slowly acting more like his old self as time went by.  That was, apart from the whole "living" bit.  He had his own free will, and his body even looked normal once he had rested.  But his any that had known him previously, the pale grey eyes now staring out at them were unnerving at best, and down-right freaky at other times.  Unlike the others, Beren had no choice when it came to the dray's stone - it was attached to him, and couldn't be removed.  Liet assumed that if it were removed, he would revert to the "plain old dead" state, so experiments along that line were stopped.

But for now, Tyr was calm, safe, and slowly rebuilding itself.  The outer sand-flats were scattered with dead, too many even for the local inix to feed off. In time, the sand would bury them, or the sand storms would erode them.  They had been quickly picked clean of valuables, and now just lay as a reminder to the other city-states of the folly of attacking Tyr, the free city.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Grandolf's first foray: Protect Those Flowers!

I have read other blogs about parents playing roleplaying games with their kids - and particularly, with their daughters.  I recall one where the adventure seemed to be focused mostly around riding ponies and shopping, which, whilst I can accept that some might find that fun, I am thoroughly glad I don't have to partake in.  Indeed, when Ali and I sat down to take her character "Grandold the Hobbit Wizard" on his first adventure, her first two questions were right to the point: "Are we going to fight something?", and "What can we fight?"

Effort was made to tie in the oncoming desired battle with some form of story, but all Ali was interested in was hitting something - and, in short time, that 'something' became a green dragon.  With a little convincing, I scaled it down to a few green drakes, used the stats for the kobold mooks, and told her that she was after them because they kept eating her flowers.  Ali was on board with that, with an encouraging "yeah!", and so Grandolf and Denver (the dwarven ranger I built to accompany her character) set out to deal with these pests.

The first roll of the session was a natural 20 for Grandolf's initiative, to which she cheered and demanded a high five.  Strangely, from then on, it was the hopes that we would each roll the same number (not necessarily a high number) that excited her.  I am still playing around with how to balance 13th Age combats, so this first battle was decidedly easy; the three mooks did not stand long against two characters and their friendly wolf.  That in itself wasn't a surprise - I didn't want poor Grandolf to go down on his first outing.  And it was most likely a good choice, too, as Ali's grasp of tactics didn't really match up to her eagerness for battle. It's not every day you see a wizard leap into melee, zap the enemy once, and then turn to bludgeoning them over the head with his staff...

Ali was keen to heal up again once the combat was over, even though Grandolf had barely been scratched. Again, she called for battle, and her desire for the green dragons had not been quenched, so I grabbed a large mini, and looked up the stats for a real green dragon.  Level could be dangerous?

The second skirmish started with us both rolling natural 4's for of course, Ali had to run around the house, telling everyone how wonderful it was that we both rolled the same number.  She had no care that it meant the dragon was able to bite us before we could react - we had rolled the same number, so more high fives were called for!

As it turned out, low rolling was the flavour of the encounter, and I was beginning to wonder if the green dragon had any bite, when it finally started triggering all of its special abilities.  It's definitely an interesting mechanic - instead of being able to choose between a number of actions, the dragon had one attack, and three triggered follow-ups.  The way it played out for us is that it did minimal damage for the first three rounds, where it missed or barely hit, then on round 4, it almost ate poor Denver alive!

Having no experience of fighting green dragons, Grandolf's first attack was his Acid Arrow.  The aim was botched, but there was a slight hissing as the splashback dissolved a few scales.  The rest of the battle was back to thumps with his staff, whilst Denver and his wolf focused on keeping the dragon off the wizard.  I did get the benefit of the "reroll-on-a-2" Two-weapon-fighting rule, which I enjoyed, but also brought up an interesting rules question I will have to research: is it the initial natural 2, or the new, rerolled score, that triggers the ranger's second attack?

With the dragon's saliva burning our skin (Ali then quizzed me as to what effect her mucus would have on the dragon...eww...), it was looking dire indeed, when a marvellous series of deft strikes (including one staggering critical) from Denver weakened the dragon enough that Grandolf's next clobbering knocked all the fight out of it.  " 'I surrender!' ", I had the dragon say, and described to Ali how it now cowered before her, respecting her power.  "What do you do now?" I asked her.

"I beat him up!" came her reply.  Hrmm... it would seem I need to teach her about accepting a surrender.

"No," I tried to clarify, "He is giving up - he is saying sorry, and that you win.  What do you want him to do?"

"Fight us!!"  Even after all her previous calls to battle, the violent call was still a surprise.  I guessed I just had to make the dragon seem even more weak and grovelling!

" 'No, please, I won't bother your garden any more - just let me go...' " The dragon made a final plea for mercy before the all-powerful and enraged wizard.

Something must have finally made it through, because her next response was a simple "OK, we go home."  And with that, the adventure was complete.

Ali enjoyed her time, and I managed to learn something about the system from the two minor encounters. Hopefully, next time will not be so focused on dragon-slaying; but for now, the good thing is that there will be a next time.  Already, she has been asking me "Daddy, when can we play that game with Grandolf and the dragons again?"  It's definitely a hit for her, and it's a fun thing we can share together.

Friday, 20 September 2013

On 13th Age (My Initial Thoughts, and My Daughter's Character)

There have been many things said on 13th Age so far, and many in-depth and useful reviews about it, so I am not delving into areas that have already been poured over many times.  In short: if you have not yet done so, take some time to read about what others have said, and if you can, try it out through their Organised Play events.

The best one-line summary I have read was that 13th Age was what DnD Next / 5th Edition should have been; without the hate for 4e players, and without the teary apology letter to Pathfinder fans. That is, where many 4e fans have felt 5e has ignored what they enjoyed, 13th Age has kept similar options.  It has been made from the houserules and home sessions of Rob Heinsoo (lead designer, 4e DnD) and  Jonathan Tweet (lead designer, 3e DnD), but has moved onwards, taking elements from each edition and forming something new (instead of simply rolling back to past editions, ala 'Next').

They have some great tricks, some of which can be found in other 'indie' games, but which would work well and be easily implemented in a 3rd or 4th edition game.  The Escalation Die is one I see the most talk about, but after backgrounds, I'm not sure I ever want to return to using skill lists!  4e simplified the skill lists of 3e, but Backgrounds makes them a whole new, easy to use, creature!

There are parts that I am still not too sure about - the "simple" classes (Barbarian, Paladin, Ranger) seem too simple on paper.  I am withholding judgement until I have seen more of them in action, but the latter two in particular have the feel of 'not enough choice' mixed with 'choosing from the same pool again'.  4e ran aground of this with their 'essential' fighters.  You have a pool of powers, and choose some from them.  Then, as you level up, you choose another, from the same pool.  Then another.  Ultimately, despite you gaining levels, the items you choose are getting worse, for all the best (be that mechanical, flavour, or however you chose them) were taken earlier.

But for every element of doubt (Constitution modifier to HP again? +1 to your constitution has huge differences at higher levels) is outweighted by many elements that are great (choosing middle modifiers for defences, more even scores, class and race getting stat bonus options).  Even the whole 'Vancian magic' problem has a simple, if not complete, solution, in that instead of 4e's at-will / encounter / daily slots, each spell slot can be filled with a spell of any kind, thus allowing a purely 3e wizard to be created alongside a wizard matching one from 4e.

When I received my 13th Age book, my daughter (currently 4, at least until the end of the year!) was eager to play this 'new game' with me.  So we sat down with the book, and talked about what she wanted her character to be.  There were times when her attention wavered ("How To Train Your Dragon" was playing in the background), but by dinner time, we had arrived with this:

Clearly, she was heavily influenced by "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" (she's only seen the first bit of The Hobbit, until they leave the Shire, and none of the LOTR movies...but she's played through the LEGO game, and I have a ...reasonable... collection of the LEGO figures).

Her character was "Grandolf, the Hobbit Wizard" (I wasn't going to go into the hobbit / halfling distinction), and it was played by a Sauraman figurine, because she liked his cloak.  Through some questions, she allocated her stats (10 / 8 / 16 / 18 / 14 / 12) and noted down her defences and hit points.

Ali decided eagerly that one of her backgrounds was going to be that Grandolf liked to breed spiders from eggs (watching the eggs with a telescope (!) to see when they cracked open, and the babies came out). He even carried a spider familiar! 

Strangely, the second background was a lot harder to pry out.  Every question as to what else Grandolf had done or likes to do kept coming back to those spiders...but eventually, we worked out that he also is an avid gardener, having the most colourful garden in the village.  These things turned out to be equally important, and so both gained a +4 bonus.

She then told me that Grandolf grew up on the clouds, which I quickly tied to the Overworld.  It seemed to fit that he should start with 2 points (positive) with the Archmage, and one point (positive) with the high Druid, because of his gardening.

By the time we reached spell choices, I think Ali was wishing she had chosen a simpler character (she did keep eyeing off my Fíli-the-Dwarf-Ranger and his Warg companion. I was making this character alongside her, so that she didn't have to adventure totally alone.).  But with some simple drawings, I described the spell options to her, and she chose them - but the only ability she wanted to write down was "Evasive".  The rest of the numbers were causing her to get a little distracted.

So now Ali has her character sheet, she has a card with her spells written onto it (made by me this time), and she has some dice - this weekend, I foresee some adventuring happening.  And I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Chapter 9)

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Dark Sun.  In the previous seasons (the first run by me, the second run by Richard), the party were involved with hunting through Kalak's pyramid, confirming if the Sorcerer-King was truly dead, and retrieving the Orb of Dust.  This month, the group takes a brief journey to Raam, in a final ditch effort to gain an edge over the invading Urik army.

No one made any movement to head back to Tyr.  They may not have liked working with the dray - and undead dray at that - but the hopelessness of Tyr's defences was only so apparent.  If they retreated within the city walls, death was a matter of when, not if. 

The group huddled together in the cave, with the Braxats watching over the entrance.  Once Alyshialynn and Valentin were reacquainted, the pair set to determine their next step.  Their work was noisy, but still allowed everyone to get at least a token rest in, and around midday, the group was once again all awake, and ready to hear out Valentin's plans.

"We know where the second hero is," he started out, confident and hopeful of his as-yet-unrevealed plan.  "Sadhbh, the Storm's Wrath, was lost nearly two and a half centuries ago, fighting the armies of Abalach-Re." None of the party had visited Raam, but they all knew enough about the distant city-state. Its population was over 40,000 strong, with almost as many living in the surrounding warlord-dominated estates within a day's walk from the city.  Instead of being a boon, the huge populace actually made the city-state weak, for Abalach-Re, the Sorcerer Queen residing over the city, took little interest in its upkeep, allowing the city to fall into chaos and almost open rebellion.  Their mines and quarries are exhausted, and only the large, deep water reservoirs below the city allow it to continue on; without them, the city would be forgotten within a generation. 

Eagerly, Valentin continued. "Though we lost track of her, we are confident that she still is out there, and that she, just like Alyshialynn, can be revived and brought to your cause."   As it is, even if there was some chance they could find the champion's remains in Raam, the trip would take roughly two weeks - and countless supplies they did not have - each way!  How many in the city would die before their return?

The news didn't bring anyone the same hope and excitement that Valentin showed; that is, apart from Alyshialynn herself.  "No - don't worry!" she comments, sensing the group's general mood shift.  "I have recovered further whilst you have rested.  I can get us there quickly, though it will weaken me somewhat.  But I can get you there, and whilst you find Sadhbh, I will prepare to take us back, as soon as you have recovered her." Leading the group to the rear of the cave, Alyshialynn showed them a large arcane circle drawn on the rough ground in inks, waxes, and paints.  A multitude of symbols criss-crossed over the circle, with strange runes that none had seen before.  "Using this, we can all travel to Raam instantaneously, and I can make another one there to get us back.  If you are ready, we can go now?"

"Absolutely, great one. I and my companions stand ready to recover your comrade, that together we may save Tyr from its impending doom." Liet, for one, eagerly welcomes this opportunity.

Alyshialynn stepped into the centre of the arcane circle.  The pair of dray had been up all night preparnig it - another advantage to not being alive, it would seem - but only Alyshialynn was coming with the group to Raam.  Valentin was to stay behind, and Kulo, was chosen to remain with the dray and 'watch over' him.  The rest were travelling into the distant city, and helping fuel the travel.  Liet was only too happy to allow himself to be used, but the others had varying reactions to the defiling magic.  Sure, it was the only way to get themselves to Raam in time, but the drain it took on each individual, and the arcane stench it left behind, was almost too great. 
Staggered and momentarily sick from the trip, it took them a few moments to notice the destruction their arrival had caused.  Two buildings had been torn in half, a rough hemispherical hole stretched up and around them.  Fires burned towards the edges, where pieces of the building not fully consumed had been thrown and scattered.  There were signs that a few bodies may have been there, too, but the layer of soot and ash was confusing, and everyone felt it better not to investigate the disturbing scene further.  Especially when the guards arrived.
A scene this damaging, this noisy, was sure to bring attention.  Four squads of mansabdars, the local guards / marauders for hire, quickly came to deal with the interlopers.  They didn't last long, being more used to dealing with small riots or the occasional pick-pocket.  Once their position was no longer under attack, Kuoroar!, Beren, Liet and Paelias moved off to find information on the missing dray; the rest of the party, weakened from their trip and further injured in battle, had to be left behind.   Alyshialynn also stayed, making preparations for their return trip.

The most likely place for a prisoner was a prison, so that was the first thing the team looked for.  The lower ring of Raam held no such place - they had landed in the low quarter, but as they scouted northwards, they only found markets and poor housing.  Their first obstacle - guards at the gate to the second ring - gave them pause for a while, but after luring a few foolish troops into a darkened and abandoned ally, they had the (almost) perfect disguise!  Trailing a large group of locals through a checkpoint, they were able to bluff their way through, and head towards the actual prison complex.
Trekking their way through the lower two rings of Raam had taken quite a lot of time, so when faced with another few guards - and, in particular, overweight and inattentive guards - Liet suggested brute force was necessary.  Boren quickly dispatched the two guards, and together, they dragged the bodies inside, removed their keys, and set about searching for any imprisoned undead dray. 

Fortunately, there was little opposition, as no one seemed to remember locking away the dray 250 years ago.  The final cell had simply been locked and left alone - whilst, inside, Sadhbh sat, chained to the wall, her powers negated by an intricate enchantment.  Intricate or not, Liet was more than a match to disperse the energies, freeing the champion from her bonds, and now, with her weapon calling to her, they charged forth from the prison, and into the final circle - the palace garden.  Within that haven, within the forest of trees, the rolling plains of grassland that would have taken more water to keep alive than most towns had for their population, stood a small stone structure.  Within that structure stood a statue.  And lying before that statue was Sadhbh's spear.
The dray took on the gate guards, urging the others to run ahead and secure the area.  They managed, but paid for it dearly, as two of Abalach-Re's High Huotagha lay in waiting, each backed up by a squad of crossbow-wielding archers.  When the last of them fell, the group approached the statue, seeing it for the first time for what it really was - not a work of art, but a prize taken in battle. The statue, another dray, was far too realistic to have been carved: what they had found was the petrified form of Rhyleighi, the third missing champion.

There were more guards flooding towards and into the garden, and Sadhbh feared that Abalach-Re herself could be called in, since they were now taking not one but two of her captives.  "Run now, make for Alyshialyn." she instructed, "I will keep them busy here, then take to the air with Rhyleighi and meet you there."  They didn't need to wait for Sadhbh to repeat herself.
The race was then on, the group fleeing through streets, into sewers (a bad decision), and even across a rooftop to leap from the second ring's wall.  At one stage, the guards had almost caught onto them, but a quick ploy by Kuoroar! saw them thrown off their track, and allowed the group to make one final sprint towards the awaiting portal.  By the time they were closing in to the area where Alyshialynn waited for them, they could see the bright form of Sadhbh streaking through the darkening sky; she landed moments after they arrived, weary and breathless.  The magic this time threatened to tear years from their lives, but in a moment, it was over; Raam was thousands of miles away, and Urik's army was now the immediate threat.  The sun had set, their bodies were exhausted and drained, and they had a statue to un-petrify. But tomorrow, when they were joined by the three dray champions, they would win back their city.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Chapter 8)

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Dark Sun.  In the previous seasons (the first run by me, the second run by Richard), the party were involved with hunting through Kalak's pyramid, confirming if the Sorcerer-King was truly dead, and retrieving the Orb of Dust.  The group is currently in Tyr, trying to stop the invading Urik army's siege.

"Come with me,", Liet had said, "Come, help me find my contact, aid me now, and together, we will win back Tyr!"  It had sounded so easy then, but that was perhaps the adrenaline from the last few hours of fighting back Urik's forces.  That had been yesterday, before the group slipped out of Tyr, crept out with the smugglers and other deserters, left the city before it was fully besieged.  Had they been caught - even by their own troops - their future would not look good.

But fortune was with them (just whose fortune, it was unclear), and the templar, along with his small group of keen heroes, made it to the base of the Ringing Mountains unhindered.  They were nine in number, now - all of Beren's companions had come along, even Garidias, who had been busy on other tasks for the past few months.  They all saw that this was possibly the last chance of winning back Tyr, and also realised that if it failed, being outside the city was far better than being within it.

Liet had never met his contact face to face - it had been through notes and secret messages that they had communicated, that promises of aid had been made, and vague descriptions of payment agreed to.  The templar had made such agreements - the rest of them had only now come into this knowledge.  But Liet was meant to meet with the contact the other night, within Tyr.  They never showed, and another meeting was scheduled, when both parties realised that the messenger had vanished.  This cave, guarded by two intimidating Braxats, was the location. 

Within, a cloaked, hooded, and overly mysterious figure greeted them.  He spoke with an accent that none recognised, nor could place, and asked them of their aid, before giving his own.  A hero of his people had been captured and imprisoned by the Urik army in a moment of weakness, and he asked them to free the hero, returning them so that they could fight the army once more.  With a plan and an icon of the lost hero, they ventured out once more; this time, into the dark desert, to hunt a fire drake. 

It perhaps wasn't the smartest of plans, but with only a short time before the sun rose, capturing a drake to let loose within the Urik army camp was definitely effective.  The blazing beast almost took down the party, with Tak-tha and Beren especially feeling it's burning claws more than once.  But after subduing it (and taking a moment to see to their own wounds), they dragged the creature back to the Urik camp, and smiled as it started its ferocious run through tents and personnel, setting ablaze stock and drawing the majority of the local troops away from the party's goal.

The tents were deserted, the tables left scattered with plates and cards, and the treasure unguarded...almost.  As Kuoroar! moved closer, three beast giants were spotted, their ill-shaped heads looming over the shorter tents.  One had the face of a viper, whilst the second was some sort of vicious-cat-thing.  The third looked to be a bird, but with sharp, jagged teeth.  All three were ferocious, and were (hopefully) the only beast giants that Urik had managed to convince to join with them. 

The battle was short, but to those participating, it raged back and forth - the danger only increased when they realised that every attack against the giants was stored as psychic energy, only to be thrown back at the party in a moment of weakness.  Unfortunately, their loud cries of pain alerted the army, and one captain brought his squad of pikemen to bear on the invaders; assailing them with arrows from a distance, before moving in close and finishing the job personally, the soldiers would have wiped out the party, had the drake not distracted them so long.  As it was, only a few of the heroes fell; and even the thri-kreen, who was almost lost yet again, was able to be saved by Paelias' healing skill.

With the troops distracted or defeated, Liet and Kuoroar! only had moments to ransack the three main tents, searching for the mysterious captive.  The first tent showed up many weapons, one bearing the hero's insignia; Kuoroar! picked up the heavy blade, and felt dark powers eating at his hand.  Looking down, he saw that his right arm had been scarred, his skin now a light grey, almost white, where a lightning-like pattern stretched up from his wrist.  Still, he carried the blade with him, and it seemed to have no further effect on him.

The second tent was completely fruitless - it held bedding, clothes, uniforms, flags, spare tents...nothing of value, and certainly no captives.  Strangely, the third tent likewise held no captives - just some finely crafted furniture, and a few sturdy chests.  One of the chests had a symbol on it that matched the icon Liet carried, and the sword that Kuoroar held.  And that chest was bound with chains.  Metallic chains.

There were other symbols engraved onto the locks holding the chains fast, but even without them, the magical presence was clear.  It was a strange magic, unlike most that Liet had dealt with, but Paelias confirmed - the magic was not defiling; it was preserving.  And it needed to be broken, should the box be opened.

Breaking it was easy, it was the decision as to whether they should break it that would have been the hard part.  At least, if enough of the party was conscious and in a fit state to discuss such a decision.  Liet held the icon to the chest, and the power held within both was multiplied, breaking the chains and the binding magic, and opening the chest.  Inside were bones - humanoid bones - and a great darkness.  The darkness flowed quickly from the chest, swirling and spreading until it covered all the ground within a hundred feet.  And then it began to feed.  The dark, necrotic energy sucked at any and every living thing it touched, draining off its life, and fuelling the shadowy entity slowly rising from the chest.  It happened quickly, and with enough power that they all knew they could not defeat it; then as quickly as it started, the dark presence withdrew, forming flesh about the bone, giving armour and cloth to the scaled form before them, and gradually revealing the undead dray standing before them.  "I am Alyshialynn..." the raspy, powerful, but clearly feminine voice announced, as the dray's throat was reformed.  "And, I thank you for freeing me.  Shall we depart?"

As the sun started to threaten to rise, the group had made it back to the hooded figure's cave - Valentin, his name was revealed to be - and settled in for a rest.  Valentin had not exactly lied, but he had left a lot of truth out of his information, "so as not to confuse", he claimed.  Alyshialynn was his mate, they were both undead, and what's more, Alyshialynn's weakness was that she was with child.  An undead child, of course.  The exact nature of the being growing within her was not clear - in the centuries since their creation, none had ever heard of the undead dray bearing young.

But the promise of help was still true - Alyshialynn could lead, and with her, bring countless more undead dray soldiers to tear down the Urik army.  However, for a better (and quicker) chance of victory, she suggests the group aid her in freeing two other dray heroes: Sadhbh, the Storm's Wrath; and Rhyleighi, the Chosen.  Together, these three champions could destroy the Urik army, and save Tyr from the invasion.  If only the three could be reunited...

Friday, 5 July 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Chapter 7)

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Dark Sun.  In the previous seasons (the first run by me, the second run by Richard), the party were involved with hunting through Kalak's pyramid, confirming if the Sorcerer-King was truly dead, and retrieving the Orb of Dust.  The group is currently in Tyr, fighting against the invading Urik army.

The group were given barely enough sleep to get by on, but with the army a mere day's march away, no one was truly resting much.  As they moved out into the chaos of Tyr's streets, they were greeted by one of the guards, and ushered quickly to one of the templars in charge of defence.
"Finally!", was the gruff greeting they received when they arrived at the guardhouse.  "You are needed in at least half a dozen places right now - but most pressing is the front gates!"

After last night's fiery explosion, the engineers had tried to patch up the Caravan Gate as best they could, but it would not yet stand against an onslaught from the Urik army.  At the moment, they were trying to put the final touches on the strengthening of the outer layers of the gate, and complete the locking mechanism, but a squadron of halfling headhunters was picking off the workers and tearing down the plating before they could finish.  Following Pieter, an axe-wielding man with hair the colour of a late summer sunset, the group was quickly led through streets packed with folk wanting to escape the city before the siege pressing against those who had tried, and had been turned back by the guards.  Their task was to hold off these vicious halflings so that the workers could finish the job, and retreat inside.

That would have been easy enough, if it weren't for the silt sharks that a few of the headhunters had tamed and brought along.  These grey, leathery beasts swam through the dirt and sand, leaving a slippery path of quick-silt behind them, which caught Beren, and almost trapped others.  Their teeth were also most vicious, snagging Kal'kin at one point.

Still, even with Kulo, away helping put out the fires raging through the noble section, the team managed to keep the halflings at bay, and sent a few sharks down to the sandy depths.  The gates were repaired, they moved back inside, and the army scouts were locked out - for now.

They had barely finished reporting in when another cry went up - flyers! All had heard of the mighty Cloud Rays that floated through the skies deep in the desert.  However, none had turned them to warfare before - until Urik managed to collect some of the young. These creatures - only about 10ft across - made great mounts for the Urik templars.  These ones were surrounded by a handful of hatchlings, dashing through the air, and launching down at their enemies.  

The now-flying templars strafing attack wasn't the only thing to defend against - creeping through the shadows below, thri-kreen warriors ran towards the wall, quickly scaling them and leaping at those atop the wall.  Groups of soldiers, ex-slaves and other volunteers were spread out along the wall, attacking the Cloud Rays as they drew close, and trying to fight back the thri-kreen.  For a moment, Pieter pondered leaping atop one of the flying beasts, and the glory of riding the creature as it crashed to the ground sent shivers down his back.  

But glory was not his for the taking.  Instead, he played it safe, and lived on as just another faceless grunt in the war effort.  Still, once the walls were safe from invaders, he followed Kal'kin outside, and chased down the war machines being set up outside.

Kal'kin had always been fast, but now he seemed almost able to outrun a shot from one of the defiling-empowered trebuchets, as he charged at the machine, its crew and their guards single-handed.  One of the crew fell, and another was wounded, before the three half-giants turned and crushed the speedy insect into the ground.  Turning to face Kuoroar! and Beren, they presented a solid wall of muscle and flesh between their dying friend and Paelias' aid.  Taking down a half-giant and reviving a thri-kreen might not have been as climatic as surfing a cloud ray down the side of a city's wall, but it was clear that Kal'kin appreciated Pieter's actions all the same.

Sadly, the other teams did not fare so well.  The other six trebuches fell, but not a single other team returned to Tyr's walls.  Many good (or at least strong) folk were lost that day.

After taking an axe to his knee, Beren limped slowly off to the medic, with Paelias only barely supporting him.  Kuoroar! and Kal'kin travelled with Pieter, planning on returning to the temporary HQ, and debriefing again.  That was their plan - but when Kal'kin spotted figures running through the streets, dashing from shadow to shadow, they had to make a detour.  

The figures were clearly travelling magically - their forms were bulky enough that only fell means could hide the sound of their running. Kal'kin tried to move ahead of them, scouting around to get a better look, but instead positioned himself directly in the group's running path, and within moments, found himself surrounded by sturdy dray - bulky reptilian soldiers created by the sorcerer-king Dregoth.  As they fought, and died...and stood back up to fight again, Kuoroar! and Kal'kin recognised their abilities from another such fight.  Beneath the pyramid, the ziggurat in the centre of Tyr, they had fought such creatures.  They had dissolved into dust, reforming moments later. They had taken lethal blows and fought on despite them.  They were, in fact, undead.  

As they killed, rekilled, and killed them again, one phrase was spoken by the drey.  One phrase that, at first, was hidden behind the thickness of their accent.  This phrase seemed to be an urging, a plea, a request, despite their attacks.  And by the time the six drey had been defeated, a single word had been understood.  That word was a name: Thakok-An.  The name of the woman who had stolen the Orb of Dust from beneath their noses.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Chapter 6)

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Dark Sun.  In the previous seasons (the first run by me, the second run by Richard), the party were involved with hunting through Kalak's pyramid, confirming if the Sorcerer-King was truly dead, and retrieving the Orb of Dust.  The group is currently readying Tyr against the invading Urik army.

There were six cells, six targets: the Caravan Gate, the Guard's Barracks, the Northern Tower, the Stadium Gate Tower, the Templar's District Wall, and the Trader's District marketplace.  With Mutami's cell captured, that cleared the Caravan Gate, but time was short, and the other cells needed to be brought down in the next few hours, or the city would beset alight.

The barracks were the closest target, and the group was able to reach them without much hassle.  Kal'kin found a few lookouts positioned on nearby rooftops, and though he made a bit of a noise taking the first one out, the others didn't offer much resistance.  They went down, and Mutami, with Beren close on his heels, kicked in the door.  The three members inside were quickly overpowered, and the urns recovered before they could be used.

The next cell - targeting the Northern Tower - proved more difficult.  Their leader was a scoundrel called Horne Tomorev, ironically known as "the healer", and his men were better prepared for combat.  Their blades were covered in the venom of a nocturnal rock lizard, which rendered predators temporarily blind so as to allow the lizard to escape.  They also blinded the party, but not with the same consequences.  Beren seemed to perform far better without his sight, and Mutami was able to catch a sniper through a small window, across a few streets, by sound alone.  With Kuoruar! and Kal'kin pairing up against him, Tomorev found he had caught his last runaway slave, and was dropped, messily, to the ground.


Travelling across to the other side of the city took time, which meant that when they turned up at the next cell's safe house, they had already moved along.  Knowing where the target was, this time, they set up the ambush.  Whilst Beren and Kuoroar! took up the roles of brothel bouncers (the real bouncers being strangely absent for the next hour or so), the others took to the rooftops, and waited out the arrival of Davica, an archer, and (as they soon discovered) a defiler-in-training.  The battle was fierce, raging back and forth across the empty market streets, with flash-bangs going off, and multiple snipers on rooftops.  Kal'kin and Mutami were forced to flee as Davica's life-sapping magical energies were revealed, but Paelias ensured that they did not fall to the dark powers. 

Despite their fellow smugglers falling, Davica's underlings were determined to start the fire that would sweep through so much of the area and cause wide-spread panic, but ultimately, they were thwarted.  With the urn pushed up against the building's wall, the last smuggler was killed, and the hazard eliminated.

Knowing they had little time to spare, Kal'kin still convinced Paelias and the others to travel slowly, giving plenty of time for them to rest, before they reached the Stadium Gate.  Their bodies were starting to show the exertion of the night's activities, and getting there a little bit late seemed better than arriving there without any stamina left!

Hur Angroc, or "Wall", was already leading his group to the gate when Kal'kin spotted them. The large half-giant turned, growled, and ordered his mul savages (disguised poorly in the armour of Tyr's soldiers) to hold them back.  And they would have been successful, too, if not for Mutami's suggestion, and Paelias' ability with his crossbow.  "Shoot the pot,", he said, "Blow it up before they get to the gate, and take them out, too!"

The shot was a long one - the distance was significant, and there were multiple bodies moving about between Paelias and the target.  Plus, the urn wasn't as large a target as the Hydra he had felled the other day!  But still, the tinker readied his bow, set fire to the bolt, and took his shot.  The burning bolt sailed true, and the resulting explosion took out the smugglers and guards, and coated the half-giant in sticky flames, before starting a significant fire in the immediate area.  Fortunately, the blast wasn't near the gate, so the only structural damage was to a few nearby houses; and the area was well-to-do enough that streets were wide, houses were sturdily constructed, and the chance for mitigating fires was minimal.  And so the party turned, and raced for the Templar's Wall.


The hour of the attack was almost upon them, and Mutami was struggling to hide his nervous looks.  Helen Gayle, the bounty hunter from Urik was somewhere nearby - but as always, she kept to the shadows.  Two smugglers moved towards the wall with their urn, as various watchers waited upon rooftop and behind dark alleyways for those who would stop their sabotage.  They had seen the blast go off - too early, and too small.  The fire told them what they needed to know, that another cell had been compromised, and their mission, too, was under threat.

Being prepared only helped so much - Kuoroar! was able to sprint past guards, whilst Kal'kin skittered across wall and rooftop towards their targets.  Even when Helen appeared, along with her shadowy assassin friends, they only slowed Beren and Mutami's advance, they couldn't stop it....until a still-burning Hur reappeared on the scene.  Crying out in a mad rage, the flaming half-giant charged at his would-be killer, Paelias, and brought much rage to bear upon the poor eladrin.  The tide had turned.

Kuoroar! was fighting off Helen,  who was struggling to strangle the barbarian with her leather garrotte; Mutami had suffered one-too-many arrow-related internal injuries; Kal'kin was having to hide from the rooftop archers after ensuring the elf did not immediately die; Paelias was knocked out with a hefty blow of Hur's shield; and Beren, despite carving his way through numbers of his kin, was still being pushed around by the crazed Hur, who was still intent on stomping on Paelias' head.  For a moment, it looked like the urns would be set, and the Templar's Wall would come down.

With a shove, Kuoroar! caught Helen between his back and the wall, and she collapsed, the cord about his neck finally allowing him to breathe freely.  Kal'kin threw caution to the wind, and scuttled up the wall, to tear the archer apart.  And Hur's rage could only last so long - his injuries were already grievous from the explosion, and Beren only had to focus on them, and the hefty giant fell.  Paelias was safe, and Mutami had regained consciousness, and even managed to pick up the urn.

That was when the Caravan Gate exploded.


Kal'kin didn't have to think hard.  Mutami, despite acting for them, was clearly still playing the part of a Urik spy.  he had been the one to encourage Paelias to trigger one urn, and even now was holding another - was he taking it away, or moving it closer to its target?  The explosion from the Caravan Gate only clarified things: his first piece of information was that it was his cell that was targeting the Caravan Gate.  Clearly, that was now shown to be a lie - had there been a seventh group all this time, or was his group never entirely captured?

Kal'kin's thoughts didn't dwell on this for long.  Even as the various pieces were coming together in his head, his dagger was flying through the air, and embedding itself into Mutami's chest.  He was already injured - the blade just finished things off.  The elf dropped to the street, and the urn he was holding fell with him.  The liquid within spilled forth; without a trigger, it didn't erupt, but when brought into the air, it still caught light.  With quick medical attention, Mutami's chest wound could have been recoverable; but the fire-goo within the urn sealed his fate.

The intense heat left Mutami quite well done, but Kal'kin didn't mind.  One freshly barbecued elf was plenty for a single thri-kreen the enjoy.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Chapter 5)

These posts are from our DnD group's downtime chatter.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Dark Sun.  In the previous seasons (the first run by me, the second run by Richard), the party were involved with hunting through Kalak's pyramid, confirming if the Sorcerer-King was truly dead, and retrieving the Orb of Dust.  The group is currently readying Tyr against the invading Urik army. 
His wounds were severe, his skin blistering and peeling underneath the lengths of chain that wrapped around his body, but Kulo, was not defeated.  Sure, he had fallen before the hideous hydra, and was still fighting to regain his consciousness when Paelias delivered the fateful arrow.  That annoyed him - it would have been something to see, and something he wondered if it was by pure chance, or repeatable skill.  Time would tell, he was certain.  But for now...

Kulo, stepped across to the squirming mul, and gazed at him in contempt.  There was no mercy in his eyes, no desire for the smuggler's well-being.  Stopping about ten feet from his blistered body, Kulo, sent out his chain, which easily caught Xalos' ankle and, with a tug that probably sprained, if not dislocated, the man's ankle, Kulo, slid their captive across into the middle of the group. 

He made no effort to free the mul from his bindings - had he caught the man himself, instead of 'rescuing' him from the strange fiery cultists, he probably would be in chains, not ropes.  "Quit ya moving!" he barked roughly, "It'll only be worse for ya if ya manage to get 'em off!"

When he felt confident that the mul was going to stay still, he began his questioning.  "Now, tell us - who were them that we just fought?  Why did they git ta have the fun with your smuggler buddies out back, and we had to singe and burn in here? What were ya all doing here?"

Xalos struggles on a little more, though somewhat half-heartedly once Kulo,'s chain had wrapped itself around his leg, causing not an inconsiderable amount of wincing. Finally he lays on the ground looking up at the half-giant, "I don't really know who or what they are. Some kind of snake-men. We ran into them down here when we started digging tunnels...", he says, gritting his teeth against the pain of his ankle.

"Fine. Ya screwed up." Kulo, was happy to accept that.  His enemy being weak was natural, normal. Still, he moved in a little closer, letting his chains snake variously over the mul's flesh. They had cooled significantly since the fiery battle, but their touch was still warmer than normal, and the residual heat stirred recent memories in Xalos' burnt and blistered skin.

Leaving in close, so that the mul could smell his breath - almost a torture itself! - he hissed another question through clenched teeth. "But what were ya all doing, digging here in the first place?"

Kulo,'s twisting of the chains elicit some satisfactory gasps and winces from the stonemason, but Mul's were known for their toughness and Xalos regained a semblance of his defiant mood, "I would have thought you might have worked that out by now, you addle-brained half-giant", he said with a sneer, his lips curling to add to the insolent tone.
Xalos' response - or rather, his lack of an adequate response - did not make Kulo, happy.  "Hah, look who is dumb one, now!" he sneered, placing a large foot on the mul's shoulder.  "If'n I figured it out, why'd I ask you?"  Making sure to put a lot of his weight down on that one foot, and twist it so as to grind his shoulder into the hard floor, Kulo, looked to the others.  "Don't think he wants to be talking to us, even when we stop him from burning. Should we be putting him back, to finish burning, or start opening him up, and look for answers inside?" 

Whilst waiting for an answer, Kulo, looped some of his barbed chain through the mul's still-tied arms, and pulled it tight.  Sliding underneath Xalos' underarm, the sharp pieces of bone, obsidian, and hardened wood pierced the softer flesh, and wedged securely in.  Shifting his foot from shoulder to wrists, he applied enough weight to press Xalos' bound wrists into his gut, and ensure he could no longer move his arms.  The chain was trapped there securely, for now.

Kuoroar! moved forward from where he had been sitting, and added his own voice. "If he ain't gonna answer our questions, put him back in. We have no time for fools who don't appreciate their skins being saved!" Sure, there was no fire any more - the strange liquid had burnt off - but there were plenty of bottles left to make more!  "Look, you got two choices. You prove to be a friend by helping us and we let you go, or you prove yourself to be an enemy, and we don't leave you behind alive, on the chance you backstab us. What's it gonna be?"

Quietly enough that he could be mistaken for failing to whisper, but loudly enough that everyone heard him, Kulo, mutters under his breath, "Please pick enemy, please pick enemy, please pick enemy..."

 Xalos frowns at the strangely muttering half-giant, then looks up at the younger one as he joins in the threats. The spikes of Kulo,'s chain now digging in rather uncomfortably makes the Mul wriggle slightly, which in itself seems only to cause further pain, so he takes a committee decision to stay still.
The sneer on the Mul's face, slowly fades to a wry smile, "Friends? Why not, eh? What sort of help might such likely fellows such as yourself be needing?"

Sounding like the child, and not like the parent in the relationship, Kulo, whines at Xalos' decision.  "Oh, Kuloroar!, why'd you have ta give him a choice?  I wanted ta kill him..."  Sitting down gruffly - on the mul's thigh - he held his chain tightly, and sighed deeply.  "Fine then...what were ya smuggling, and who were ya working for?"

The mul, strangely, didn't take Kulo,'s word that he would not be killed, and instead, demanded to be brought to the authorities.  There, he claimed, he would talk.  With their word already given, and the promise of information at hand, the party started their trek out of the caverns, and back to the surface of the city.  There, Kulo, and Beren took Xalos back to the templars that had initially sent them on their missions, whilst the others returned home to rest.  Kulo, claimed he could do the task alone, but Beren thought Xalos had an increased chance of survival should he accompany the bloodthirsty half-giant.

The following morning, when everyone reported back to the templars, there was some further news.  Xalos had given some names, and eventually spilled on one attack scheduled for later tonight.  Other groups of smugglers and those the smugglers had smuggled into the city were even now working on placing more of the dangerous jars of liquid fire at strategic points throughout the city's defences.  When the time was right, they would be released, to cause chaos, death, and destruction, allowing the oncoming army an easier time at taking over the city. 

A small strike-force, including the exhausted Kulo, and their thri-kreen contact, Ix'it, had taken down the communications cell, but the jars had already been transported throughout the city.  One of the captured would-be saboteurs, an elf named Mutami, had agreed to not only give names and locations, but help the group take the smugglers return for some spare ceramic, and not being killed for being a traitor. 

Before they departed, the very weary Kulo, took Kuoroar! aside, and with a grin, pointed out a new adornment hanging around his neck.  A bloody ear.  "Xalos didn't want to name names, he kept trying to play us, so I gave him some incentive.  This is my trophy!"  After a moment's pause, he held out a hand, and said "Thought you'd like one, too - there' pretty rare!"  In his opened hand lay another bloody ear, a pair for the one hanging about his neck.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Another Trip to Neverwinter

It's interesting how many times games come back to Neverwinter.  Neverwinter Nights was a great step forward in DnD computer games, and I had a great deal of fun with it.  The option to play alongside others, to create your own adventures, and to play in other adventures, was a real special and rare thing for the time.  With my love of the 4th Edition of DnD, I was excited when I initially heard that there was to be a computer game based upon it.  That excitement didn't last a whole long time, however.

Cryptic's initial idea was to have five standard characters, each with race, gender and class locked, and to play from there.  And that's about where I stopped keeping up to date with the news.  It felt like going back to the Diablo 2 character choice - which, mind you, wasn't bad for D2; it just wasn't Dungeons and Dragons.  DnD is about choice, about customisation, and about creating your character how you like.  So, when the open beta went live, I decided to check it out again.  And fortunately, things had changed.

Now, you can choose gender, choose one of seven races (more coming), and take one of five classes (also with more coming).  Right there, that's a total of seventy options, a great improvement to the initial five.  Plus - it's free, so I jumped in.

First of all, I'm not a big MMO player, and I've never played an MMO via a subscription (I don't have enough time, with my other hobbies, to make it worthwhile).  I have played a lot of various RPG or ARPG games, the ones most similar to this being Diablo, Torchlight, Neverwinter Nights and even Fallout 3.  You could even draw similarities between it and Jade Empire, or Knights of the Old Republic, if you wanted to.  Like Diablo / Torchlight, it involves a lot of clicking, killing monsters, and grabbing loot.  But the camera is not fixed, leading me to feel more within the game (as in Fallout, or KotOR).  As I will explain later, the item / levelling system is much more similar to the ARPGs than the more role-playing games.  The areas seem relatively large, and nicely populated (though, there are often congestions around critical plot points, quest givers, and doors).  The setting feels "alive" more than the other games I have listed.  Streets bustle with movement, even if some of that movement is another PC hopping about the place, or someone riding a giant spider.

However, what excitement of choice there was when I started playing quickly diminished when I started completing quests.  I understood that, being an MMO, many of the quests would be "kill five of these", or "gather seven of those".  I wondered at how they would change the action economy of 4e, especially what they would do with immediate actions, into a computing sense.  I've seen them used well in a turn-based Facebook game, but how they would work in a real-time game?  Well, sadly, that question won't be answered now.  because they didn't.

Cryptic took familiar names, and the very general idea of at-will / encounter / daily powers, and ignored everything else.  They have built up a system where a PC starts with around a thousand hit points, where AC acts as damage reduction, and where such things as "Power", "Recovery", and "Armour Penetration" are more important than our good old ability scores.  The changes were evident as I levelled up - one point every level, which could either grab me a new power, or upgrade one of my current ones.  Gain enough levels, and I could finally gain feats...which are not feats.  Don't expect interesting perks or character changing abilities here - the feats are simple, basic, +1% or +2% bonuses to a number of different abilities.

Now - don't get me wrong - these aren't particularly bad choices, nor bad design; it's just not what I was expecting, nor what I was hoping for.  I realised that a perfect electronic form of the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons was not possible, but I saw what was done with Neverwinter Nights, and I had hoped for something more than this. So as it was, I was disappointed.

When creating characters for DnD, you get a lot of choices.  Even at first level, and focusing solely on class powers, you choose two at-wills, an encounter, and a daily.   At the moment, for a rogue, there are 12 level 1 at-wills, 16 encounters, and 14 dailies, meaning if everything else about the character was the same, I could still have almost 15,000 different possibilities of power choices.  Sure, not all of them would be great, or even viable for your character, but there was still that wealth of options and possibilities that meant that any two rogues could really be different.

Sadly, that aspect is not found in Neverwinter.  The rogue gets two at-wills, and doesn't even get a third choice until level 20.  In fact, by the time you are at level twenty, you have had 20 points to split between 12 powers.  Each power can be increased with a second point (typically, for +10% damage), but that's it.  And, considering you can only have two daily, two utility, and three encounter powers active, only nine of those twelve possible powers are worth putting points into.  Not only do you not have the breadth of choice, it is most likely that every 20th level rogue is remarkably similar to each other, at least in power choice.

The lack of customisation carries throguh with 'feats', seeing as they are giving small background bonuses that are not evident in a character's performance.  Who would notice a 2% difference in at-will damage in the middle of combat?  Even the choice of gear is sadly not there.  Rogues only use daggers / short blades, and always use two of them.  There's no choice for other weapons, for bows, for an alternate weapon layout.  So again, every rogue ends up looking similar, fighting similarly, and the entire breadth of customisation found in 4e is lost.

And yet, I've put a remarkable number of hours into the game so far.  Because, despite all the issues above, it is a fun experience.  It isn't what I hoped for - an electronic form of DnD 4e - but it is a fun Action RPG.  And whilst the levelling system was not what I hoped for, it does work.  Sure, I could do with more options, with a way not to waste those early points, and for bonuses to powers that wasn't simply +10% damage (how about more charges for the throwing daggers? A longer range teleport? Something to change / boost each power other than damage?), and I would feats that worked like feats, but for the system they have given us, it works.  Crazy levels of hit points works, because with it, there can be smaller, more subtle variations in weapon damage.  With larger numbers, there can be more items falling in between the significant milestones, and thus the eternal search for better gear - even if it is only slightly better - is maintained. 

And they have the "keep going for more" aspect working well.  The mini-games of levelling your professions, the come-back-every-day-and-pray aspect of increasing your divinely gifted coins, and the various other small rewards encourage you to keep coming back, keep being involved.  I don't know yet how long they will work for, but they have brought me back enough to get past my initial "not 4e" disappointment.  They haven't convinced me to actually pay for anything, as even the cost of expanding your bag space (~$10) is quite steep.  The best mounts are about $40, and the ultimate "Hero of the North" pack is a whopping $200.  But still, people are buying them, so for now, it would seem that the high-end system is working.  And if that means I can continue to play for free, that is keeping me coming back! 

Because it isn't 4e, but it is enjoyable.