Archive for May 2010

The Crawling Fane Review

A level 3 adventure for the Chaos Scar adventure path, The Crawling Fane pits the characters against a duergar named Hargash who fled his home city to avoid being killed for worshipping a bizarre, vermin-based god named Chitteruk. "Chitteruk" is in fact a made-up god created by the meteor in order to get Hargash working for it for some reason (though to be fair I'm not sure what the meteor's overall game is, other than being a dick). The meteor sent Hargash some visions that lead him to a ruined temple formerly dedicated to Moradin, and after an undefined length of time that brings us to the present.

As always I really dig the adventure hooks. The first hook has the characters bringing back a sacred relic to one of the NPCs. Its worth quest XP but the really cool thing about it is that if you go with that one, the NPC gives you a +1 thundering warhammer right at the start to assist them. The second hook has the characters harvesting venom sacks so that another NPC can make antivenom out of them. This reminds me of one of the hooks from Stick in the Mud, where you gotta bring back mud from various bullywugs, and I think its a solid way to reward the players further for doing shit they would be anyway. The last hook doesnt come from a NPC, but instead rewards the players immediately for getting off their asses and "seizing the initiative." Me likey.
    The adventure has four encounters. Starting out within the ruined temple, Hargash uses a ritual to crack open a pit, allowing his minions (some ettercaps and centipede swarms) to scuttle out and attack the characters. After swatting them down, the rest of the adventure is a trio of sequential encounters consisting of varying combinations of insect-like monsters and duergar, that allows for no deviation. This is where I think the adventure is weakest: you dont get any choices and the party is railroaded to the adventure's conclusion. The adventure isn't very long so its not much of a complaint, and Aeryn does a good job making the encounters interesting via effective terrain features (ie difficult terrain, cover, and holy water that still hurts duergar).
    May 26, 2010
    Posted by David Guyll

    The Slaying Stone Review

    The Slaying Stone is part of the second run of sequential adventure modules by Wizards of the Coast. I almost never run these things, but I'd heard it was better than the others and it was cheaper. The other appealing feature is that its a booklet and not a folder, something I appreciate because it makes them easier to store and less fragile. There's also a map featuring some of the encounter locations, and the rest can be constructed easily with Dungeon Tiles. So far so good. I'm happy with the physical presentation, but what about the actual adventure?

    Beware of spoilers.

    The backstory is that the town of Kiris Dahn had magic stones that could kill people who attacked it, which were created by tieflings. Almost ten years ago, goblins attacked the town and ran everyone out, claiming it for themselves and subsequently trashing it (par for the course when it comes to goblin behavior). The former ruler of Kiris Dahn, Kiris Alkirk, and his advisor Treona legged it and holed up in a tower some distance away. Everyone was apparently fine for the past eight years or so until Treona found out that one of the slaying stones was still around, and is now looking for adventurers to go get it for some reason.

    I say "some reason" because while the slaying stone kills a target that it hits, it can only be used within five miles of the town, affects one creature, and is consumed after usage. Also, according to the magic item stat block it cannot be created via Enchant Item, or destroyed via Disenchant Item. So...why do they care? Are the afraid that someone is going to find it and, I dunno, use it? The goblins and kobolds are going to kill people anyway, its just a one-time-only, really quick way of doing so. Personally, I say let the fuckers keep the damned thing and just put up a sign telling people to stay the fuck away.

    Anyway, thats the backstory in a nutshell.

    The adventure introduction is, in a word, weak. The party, who may or may not know each other, meets up at crossroads before getting attacked by wolves. Wolves aren't so bad. At least its not like, another fucking kobold ambush or something. During the fight, an old lady pops out of the tower and takes potshots at the wolves with flash powder, all the while trying to coax you inside. Not the worst setup I've seen, and I know its hard to get the party gathered if the players insist on not knowing each other in any capacity. No, where it gets really awkward is when the players wrap up the fight and get their quest from Treona.

    Inside the tower, Treona reveals that she's been watching the characters for an indeterminate length of time, "catching news of their exploits." Though level 1, she's apparently got enough faith in the group to give them ritual scrolls to locate the stone, alchemical components to use each scroll, and promises of a hefty reward if they bring it back so that she can destroy it, or if they do and bring back proof of the deed. Like I said, for some reason she wants this thing destroyed despite the fact that its utterly useless outside of Kirin Dahn.

    Once the party gets their quest its off to Kirin Dahn. I'm very pleased with the advice presented in this adventure: there's a rough timeline of how events might proceed to help plan things out, suggestions for which encounters to use to spike the tension, a list of factions along with territories and goals to assist in role-playing, and some themes and hooks to help move the plot along. I could see some players trying to play the kobolds against the goblins, which allows more socially inclined players to shine. Additionally, the adventure is very open-ended: the party can choose from several infiltration methods and once inside can essentially choose their own path. There's a kind of global Skill Challenge pressing down on them the entire time, and as they fuck things up and get noticed the town goes on alert and makes things harder.

    All in all despite the shaky start this adventure looks much better than the original run, but judging from the reception of Keep on the Shadowfell that might not be saying much... Its not a straight-up dungeon crawl brimming with goblins and hobgoblins and a nonsensical plot, and from a cursory examination many of the encounters look to be very interesting and memorable. In particular I like the one where a kobold is packing ankheg juice that she can lob at a character, causing an ankheg to surface and start mauling the hell out of the victim (which reminds me of the antlions from Half-Life 2). The kobold guttersnipes are also really cool new monster. They wear shitty armor that gives them a hefty AC until they get hit, after which it breaks and drops it to an abyssmally low level. Its a nice, simple dynamic.

    The only other thing that really bugs me is the brass dragon guarding the stone. The adventure plays her up as to be a suitable challenge for the party at paragon tier, meaning that she could easily take on everything in Kiris Dahn. If nothing else, she could ally herself with the party who is capable of routing the goblins via a skill challenge, giving her a relatively peaceful place to lair. I'm sure even returning villagers wouldnt mind having her around. It just seems like a win-win situation for everyone but the monsters, but I digress. In closing, its actually a decent adventure. The intro is weak but the actual meaty part of it holds up, and the price is good for what you're getting. A skilled DM can make it really shine and work in more social role-playing with just a bit of work, which is a far cry from having to rebuild Keep on the Shadowfell from the ground up in order to give it a semblance of reason.
    May 25, 2010
    Posted by David Guyll

    Neria, Elf Pursuing Avenger

    Was trying to make a tiefling avenger that I'd actually wanna play, and decided on an Eberron elf avenger that would be tasked by the Undying Council to go do shit on Khorvaire.

    Neria, level 1
    Elf, Avenger
    Avenger's Censure: Censure of Pursuit
    Background: Aerenal (+2 to Religion)

    Str 11, Con 13, Dex 18, Int 8, Wis 18, Cha 10.

    Str 11, Con 13, Dex 16, Int 8, Wis 16, Cha 10.

    AC: 17 Fort: 12 Reflex: 15 Will: 15
    HP: 27 Surges: 8 Surge Value: 6

    Religion +6, Acrobatics +9, Perception +11, Stealth +9

    Arcana -1, Bluff, Diplomacy, Dungeoneering +4, Endurance +1, Heal +4, History -1, Insight +4, Intimidate, Nature +6, Streetwise, Thievery +4, Athletics

    Level 1: Valenar Weapon Training

    Avenger at-will 1: Avenging Shackles
    Avenger at-will 1: Bond of Pursuit
    Avenger encounter 1: Angelic Alacrity
    Avenger daily 1: Oath of the Final Duel

    Cloth Armor (Basic Clothing), Falchion, Accurate symbol, Spiked gauntlet, Dagger, Adventurer's Kit
    May 22, 2010
    Posted by David Guyll

    Class Acts: Artificer

    This Class Acts article ties in racial traits with artificer class features, mostly focusing on the various effects of Healing Infusion: curative admixture, resistive formula, and shielding elixir. For example, Astral Elixer causes shielding infusion to grant resist 5 radiant, and the target can end the effect to gain a variable bonus to a save. On the other hand, Human Innovation lets you recharge an ally's daily item power when you spend an action point. Any race that's been in a Player's Handbook is on the list, even a few that aren't like the minotaur and shadar-kai, which is good for providing a foundation for players that want to play a "non-standard" artificer. There are a total of 25 feats, all Heroic, so useful to any artificer of any level.
    Posted by David Guyll

    Elans 4e

    I cant deny that I have always been intrigued by psionics since the first day that I heard about them back in the 3.0 days, but i never got a chance to play as one until the expanded psionic handbook came out and i made my first elan psychic warrior. I have always liked the elans, and thats why I brought the idea to Antioch to make the elan race. However, he came up with a better idea and that was to make the elan as a bloodline feat for humans and humans only. Here I present to you some of the feats.

    Heroic Feats

    Demanding Resilience [Bloodline]
    Prerequisite: Elan Heritage, battlemind, human
    Benefit: You gain a +1 feat bonus to AC and Fortitude against creatures marked by your battemind's demand.

    Elan Heritage [Bloodline]
    Prerequisite: Human
    Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to Endurance checks. You gain elan resilience.

    Elan Resilience                                                                                                                                       

    Encounter✦PsionicMinor Action                Personal
    Effect:  Make a saving throw against a single effect that a save can end. 
    Augment 1: The saving throw gains a bonus equal to your Constitution modifier. 

    Invigorating Resistance [Bloodline]
    Prerequisite: Elan heritage, human
    Benefit: Whenever you succeed on a saving throw, you gain resist 5 all until the end of your next turn. At level 11 this resistance increases to 10, and at level 21 it increases to 15.

    Metabolic Resurgence [Bloodline]

    Prerequisite: Elan Heritage, human

    Benefit: You can swap out one 2nd-level or higher utility power to gain metabolic resurgence.

    Metabolic Resurgence                                                                                      
    Minor Action                Personal
    Effect: Spend a healing surge. Instead of regaining hit points, you regain a power point. You cannot exceed your maximum number of power points. 

    If you like this preview give us some feedback and let us know if you like it or not (and why not).

    Posted by Victor Julio Hurtado

    Player's Strategy Guide Review

    Player's Strategy Guide is a just-shy-of 160 pages advisory on how to make a D&D character and play the game well. As far as I know its Wizards second foray into a kind-of character tutorial bookthe first one being Hero Builders Handbook from 3rd Edition which I only used for randomly generating a character background when I was incredibly bored. And lazy.

    The cover is drawn by Mike Krahulik, and though I generally like his art I don't think its exactly appropriate for a...serious, I guess, D&D book. Like, I wouldn't mind him pushing out an art book with characters, critters, scenes, etc with a D&D theme, but when compared to the rest of the books the cover just doesn't match up. In fact, most of the art I would say goes against the typical conventions I expect: its all very cartoony and/or comical. Its not all bad per se, it just doesn't fit with the tone of a book that isn't likewise comical.

    As for book content, much of the advice here has been parroted on the D&D site or by other bloggers in the past. Actually I'm sure all of it has at some point or another, though I think its good to have a decent chunk of information in one book.

    Chapter 1: Building Your Character
    The first chapter is also the longest, eating up almost half the book. Its broken up into three distinct sections which focus on conceptualization, the mechanics, and character optimization. The first part recommends doing stuff like asking questions, and learning about the campaign setting and its themes so that you can best build a character that fits.

    In particular I like Know The World. Dont be afraid to ask the DM questions so that you can make informed decisions that help maintain the style of feel of the world. When I started running Songs of Erui I told my players to make whatever the fuck they wanted, but that it would have a heavy celtic theme and that primal classes would work out the best. In the end I got saddled with a dwarf paladin and gnoll so much for recommendations. This is why I enjoy playing Eberron (and to an extend other published campaign settings): its incredibly easy for me to pick a race and build a sound concept up from that that makes sense within context of the campaign setting.

    Likewise, I'm also fond of Know The Other Players, as it suggests conversing with the rest of the group to find out what they are playing and form connections before play even begins. While this is something that I've encouraged in the past, I've played in groups where this was frowned on. This helps avoid illogical party composition but more importantly allows you to skip past that awkward introduction phase where the players shoehorn reasons to trust and adventure with each other so as to get the game rolling. Hell, you dont have to ensure that every knows each other intimately at the start of the campaign, but talking about it beforehand sure as shit makes the transition easier.

    Building a Foundation talks about the mechanics-side of character generation: race, class, powers, feats, etc. There's some advice and guidelines on re-skinning existing backgrounds, and it breaks up skills and feats into categories so if your aim is a character that wants to be kickass at avoiding shit or emphasizing your role, its got you covered.

    How To... is all about min/maxing various elements of a character, from getting hit points out the ass or a really high AC, hit points, and/or saving throw mods. Each section has a paragraph informing you on the class, race, ability scores, feats, items, and other shit that helps you achieve your goal. What I read seems sound, but whether or not its on par with whats written on the CharOp forums I'm not sure, and I'm not going to go there and contrast and compare.

    Chapter 2: Building Your Party
    This chapter isnt too long and is mostly about character roles and party composition. Dealing with large/small parties, what you can live without, what to double up on if the option presents itself, and some tips on multiclassing or going hybrid to try and cover your ass. Party Optimization goes into detail on each of the roles, and there's even a table linking each skill to all of the currently available classes. The end of the chapter devotes six pages to sample parties that I overlooked because I don't really give a shit about sample characters.

    Chapter 3: Strategy And Tactics
    Fuck yes, my kind of chapter. This one explains monster rolls, common tactics like flanking, healing, and even tries to explain why its a damned good idea to focus fire on monsters instead of everyone spreading out and going one-on-one. This is usually the reason why combat takes a long time in my games, and I'm glad to finally have a diagram to go with the lesson. Speaking of speeding up combat, there's a part in Troubleshooting on how its okay to handwaive the rest of an encounter if its obvious that the party is going to fucking win. This is something that Josh has been doing for awhile, so kudos to him.

    Chapter 4: Playing The Game
    Working with the DM to generate and drive story, handling skill challenges, narrating class powers, working well as a group, dividing loot, and not being a fucking prick are all covered here. I like that it actually encourages players to take the bait, even if it seems strained or forced, if for no other reason than its possible that such a shaky start could lead to an otherwise entertaining session. I've actually played in groups where players ignored a plot hook because it wasn't "just right", or because they knew it was just the DM trying to fucking entertain them. -.-

    There are lots of sidebars where designers and players talk about their characters and short, loaded quizzes that are both very limited and probably not accurate at all that you can use to get a vague notion of what role, class, race or whatever you might like the most. I didnt find them particularly useful, but then I've yet to see any such test that was useful.

    For the most part I feel that the book provides a lot sound advice even when it came to the crunchy parts, which was something that I was concerned about at first since in the past Wizards hasnt exactly given the best advice when it comes to character building. For me, much of the advice in the book is a no-brainer, but I've been playing for just over 15 years and consider myself a great, great deal more invested into the game than a casual gamer. If you're new to the game, or a casual gamer looking for some advice, or even an experienced player wanting to expand into another role/class then its a nice primer.
    May 20, 2010
    Posted by David Guyll

    Token Making

    A while back, my group and I decided to buy miniatures. Well, it didn't work for us at all. Nowadays, it seems that buying miniatures is a luxury for people who wish to use them for their campaign. In the end, we decided to go digital by using Google Sketchup and someone's huge ass screen as our battlemap. Though awesome as it was, we realized that combat time was increased as everything had to be managed by the DM. Then it hit me. I used to play with tokens back in the day, so why not buy them? Or better yet....make them!
    With a budget of less than 50 bucks, I managed to make more than 200 tokens and two battlemaps with the help of reliable friends. Below are pictures of the tokens in the making, as well as the final (sort of,) product. If you are looking for tutorials you can go here for homemade dungeon tiles or you could go here for token making tutorials and/or tiles.

    Laminating the tokens already printed:

    Laminated strips waiting to be cut:

    Final product:
    Random pics:

    With a laminated battlemap i can just draw on it with a sharpie and erase it afterwards with cotton and alcohol or nail polish remover (my mom is going to kill me).

    May 16, 2010
    Posted by Victor Julio Hurtado

    Winning Races: Shifter

    Keith, you magnificent bastard. Technically this article is great for shifters in general, but I think that its especially thematic for Eberron players. Eberron has been my prefabbed setting of choice since Planescape, so its both not surprising and a delight that he has written an article on urban shifters.

    About half of the article is fluff content on how shifters might adapt to living in the cities, while the rest is devoted to backgrounds and feats. I'm particularly fond of the Urban Shaman background, which reminds me fondly of Shadowrun and also helps drive home the fact that, yes, you can run an urban campaign and still use fucking primal classes.

    With only six feats there isnt a lot of crunchy content, which is fine since the first half is actually an interesting read. Of the feats, I like Crow's Flight the most: ignore difficult terrain when running and get a bonus to Acrobatics and Athletics? Hell yes. Predatory Spirit is also pretty nice, allowing you a free reroll on a single primal attack after using longtooth shifting or razorclaw shifting. Though I doubt I'll ever personally play an epic-level character, Primal Instincts looks very cool, causing all your primal at-wills to deal miss damage while you are bloodied.
    May 13, 2010
    Posted by David Guyll

    Garret, Halfling Ranger

    Wanted to make a thematic Talenta halfling from Eberron. Alternatively you can just take Mounted Combat and pick up a dinosaur with any class.

    Garret, level 1
    Halfling, Ranger
    Fighting Style: Beast Mastery
    Beast Companion Type: Lizard
    Background: Talenta Plains (+2 to Athletics)

    Str 16, Con 11, Dex 16, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 10.

    Str 16, Con 11, Dex 14, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8.

    AC: 16 Fort: 14 Reflex: 14 Will: 12
    HP: 23 Surges: 6 Surge Value: 5

    Nature +7, Perception +7, Stealth +7, Athletics +9, Acrobatics +9

    Arcana, Bluff, Diplomacy, Dungeoneering +2, Endurance -1, Heal +2, History, Insight +2, Intimidate, Religion, Streetwise, Thievery +4

    Level 1: Talenta Weapon Training

    Ranger at-will 1: Predator Strike
    Ranger at-will 1: Circling Strike
    Ranger encounter 1: Synchronized Strike
    Ranger daily 1: Driving the Quarry

    Adventurer's Kit, Hide Armor, Talenta Tangat, Talenta Boomerang (3), Footpads, Woodwind
    Raise Beast Companion
    May 10, 2010
    Posted by David Guyll

    Running Keep on the Shadowfell, Part 2

    I'm just going to fast-forward to the part where the group actually got to the dragon burial site, as the events that transpired between Winterhaven and there are best forgotten. All that needs to be said is that they "got" a kobold cleric on their side, partially because Liz (playing a drow assassin) wanted one and mostly because the three-man group was missing a leader of any capacity.

    So, burial site.

    I think that initially Nate (playing the warforged fighter) wanted to try and talk to the diggers and find out what they were up to. All they had learned from the that the Orcus-cultists were looking for some sort of special bone to use in a ritual, but didnt get any specifics since A) they seriously botched some of their Intimidate rolls, and B) Kalarel didnt leave affectionate notes for his flunkies thoroughly detailing his plans.

    The encounter composition used the original map from the module (kind of a mistake), with the following changes to the setup:
    • 1 human cult fanatic (level 3 brute)
    • 1 human necromancer (level 2 controller)
    • 4 human rabble (level 2 minion)
    • 2 grave drakes (level 3 soldier)
    Again, the grave drakes were not there when combat started. The necromancer "summons" them during another round, allowing me to start out the fight with a more manageable XP budget before ramping it up a bit. He could summon them within a burst of 5 squares, meaning that they could be conjured up at tactical positions. I had entertained the idea of requiring a sustain minor to keep them in the game, but promptly forgot about it when he died and the dragon skeleton showed up (not that it would have changed much).

    For the most part, combat ran pretty damned smooth for the group, even when the necromancer summoned the grave drakes. I surrounded the bone pile with necrotic terrain, and each time the necromancer used one of his spells the necrotic ground surrounding the pile of bones got bigger. Necrotic terrain halves the efficacy of healing powers, so the bigger it got the further they had to get from the center of the pit in order to ensure that they got the full oomph from second wind and healing word. This wasnt terribly easy since three out of four party members were melee oriented.

    Once the necromancer was killed, I gave it two rounds before the young white dragon skeleton popped out, which I changed to a blue dragon at the last minute because they had that white dragon skull and +1 frost fullblade, and didnt want to render both items basically useless. Besides, I wanted to use one of my three blue dragon minis. Sadly, they steamrolled this fucker handily and we called the session.

    I think the biggest problem was that there was really only two encounters for the entire fucking day, meaning that for this encounter they basically had all of their resources on hand to take down the necromancer and his minions. I tried to ramp things up a bit by introducing the dragon skeleton before they could snag a short rest, it didnt matter much.

    Homebrew Content

    White Dragon Skull: This is a head slot item that lets characters use a daily version of a dragonborn's breath weapon, except that it relies on Int, Wis, or Cha and can only inflict cold damage.

    I had to manually create a stat-block for Meepo, since companion characters are not quite the same as monsters. Thankfully I kept all my template files for Microsoft Office. ^_^

    I changed this guy to a blue dragon, which basically meant that resist 15 cold became lightning and the breath weapon became a ranged attack that arced to different enemies instead of a blast. Nothing too massive.


    Inspired by watching Liz play Half-Life 2, as well as working on an aberrant-heavy Eberron campaign.

    For head crab zombies, you could use a normal zombie but remove zombie weakness. Poison headcrabs are basically headcrabs that also deal ongoing poison damage on a hit. 
    May 08, 2010
    Posted by David Guyll

    Know Your Role: Defender

    An epic-exclusive article, this Know Your Role article talks about defenders. Its got almost a page of fluff content that could apply to anyone of any level, but really its for people playing defenders that are 21 or older.
    • Level 22 paladin utility stance that grants allies resistance 20 to anything you have resistance to, at all, but you lose the resistance.
    • Then there's ten epic feats, four of them being Rapid-something feats which let you use your defender's immediate reaction ability (swordmage aegis, fighter's Combat Challenge, battlemind's mind spike, etc) twice per round. The others do stuff like change mind spike to an interrupt, grant you resist 5 all when you have 2+ enemies marked, or auto-mark an enemy within 10 squares at the start of combat.
    • Finally, a vanilla-defender epic destiny grants you +2 to any stat and +1 to Speed, take immediate and opportunity actions while dazed or stunned, and let you give healing surges to allies that die. The level 26 utility lets you set your initiative to the highest of your allies and take an entire suite of actions even if surprised.
    Posted by David Guyll

    Winning Races: Revenants

    Unfortunately this Winning Races article isnt just for revenants, but revenant assassins, which isnt too strange seeing as both are DDI exclusive content and I can understand Wizards wanting to pimp both as much as possible. While it does provide about a half-page of fluff content for revenants, a few paragraphs are devoted to talking about how iconic the race-class combination is in terms of mechanics and story. Really though its a page of feats and ki foci.

    Every feat requires that you be a revenant assassin with the exception of Raven Queen's Disciple, which also demands that you have bleak disciple (increases temp hp gained by 1, 2 if its bloodied). Most of them mess with shadow form or dark reaping, though a few do some interesting things with one when you trigger the other. 
    For example, Quick and Dead increases your shadow step distance after you've used dark reaping for the entire encounter, while Death Walk lets you use shadow step as a free action after using dark reaping.
    Some of them require specific class features, even if the feat doesnt modify them at all (helps restrict them for multiclassing purposes). Specter of Death requires shade form, and makes you insubstantial when you are unconscious.
    Some are just really fucking awesome. Swallowed by Shadow makes you invisible after using dark reaping, while Raven's Queen Sanction allows you to deal full shroud damage to undead and shadow creatures if you miss with an attack (instead of deducting a shroud first).

    The ki focuses are a bit more flexible, though all but one utilize features of the assassin class. There are five, but I'm only going to sum up three of them.
    • Cup of death adds to the temp hps gained from bleak disciple and has an encounter power that lets you shift after you hit an unbloodied enemy.
    • Death shroud deals standard crit damage, plus extras based on the number of shrouds a target has. It also has an encounter power that lets you auto-shroud a target that you hit.
    • Ghost mask deals d8s on a crit and lets you make an attack target Will and deal psychic damage once per encounter. 
    Its a lot of interesting and useful options to customize revenants and assassins, with basically nothing in there for anything else. Its not bad, but I'd have rather seen something that supports revenants in general as opposed to on a specific combo. Still, it adds quite a bit, so if you were on the fence about a revenant assassin before this will almost certainly push you over. 
    May 03, 2010
    Posted by David Guyll


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