November 30, 2010

Terrain Power: Floating Castle, Part 2

Continuing in the redux of Remains of Empire, here are some terrain powers that I've used with great success in the finale encounter with the adventure's villain, Bozidar. In it, the PCs confront the final enemy in the ruined throne room of the shattered, floating castle. The magic spells holding the castle aloft have been greatly weakened, and as such, being of sufficient skill can warp the spells. The Dungeon Master should go out of his way to show off these terrain powers to the players, by having Bozidar use them frequently and by having a lareg font printout of the terrain powers laid out on the gaming table.

This is a tricky encounter to pull off. It requires the participants to all think in three dimensions, and envision this room rotating about. While there are many enterprising ways of representing a three dimensional encounter, those of use without the patience or arts & crafts skills will have to get creative. When I ran this encounter, I used a small marker, a business card with a large arrow printed on it, to indicate which surface of the room was down. I then had extra tiles, the long 2x8's, placed down beside the floors to represent characters on the "walls". Relative to the real world table (and its real world physical constraints), all of the minis moved while the Dungeon Tiles stayed stationary.

Rotating Room
At-will Terrain Power (Level 6)
Move Action; Personal
Check: Arcana  DC 23 [Hard]
Effect: The room rotates 90 degrees in any single axis. Each creature standing on the current floor of the throne room must make an Athletics DC 15 [Moderate] check to hold onto the a peice of the wall or other stable object and dangle from the new ceiling. While holding onto the wall in this way, the creature grants combat advantage to all attackers. A creature may also make a DC 23 [Hard] Acrobatics check to land safely on the new floor. Otherwise, the creatures are knocked prone and thrown onto the floor, taking falling damage as appropriate.

Features of the Area
Stained Glass Windows: A creature that is knocked into the window when the room is rotated shatters the glass and must make a saving throw. On a failure, the creature falls 90 ft. down to a floating peice of shattered castle outside, taking falling damage as appropriate. On a success, the creature is prone, hanging onto the window edge.

November 26, 2010

Arkham Friday - The Great Library of Vor Kragal

The tiefling empire once spanned thousands of miles and served as a testament to the power of its devil-bound overlords. The tainted masters of countless empires ruled from Vor Kragal, their seat of power. Vor Kragal pulsed with the terrifying might to break the souls of kings, and its markets flowed with the treasures of a hundred worlds. The secrets of life everlasting and the power to touch the face of the gods were all as commonplace to the tieflings of old as irrigating crops or erecting a simple stone wall is to those living in our current age. Precious few peices of their once-great libraries exist, tempting foolish adventurers of the current age. Such knowledge that is contained within; for even a glimpse of it, a person might trade his soul. Now, though, the ruins of Vor Kragal are merely an ashen landscape, riddled with volcanic eruptions and earth-rending sinkholes that unknown terrors call home.

November 25, 2010

Mining Cart Chase Scene

This picture from a product sold here.

Continued fom Part 1, here is the second half to creating an awesome mining cart chase scene. Now that we have the basic building blocks of the encounter down, we need to spice things up a bit and add in some elements to the encounter that force the players to change up their tactics round to round. It keeps them thinking and rewards (presumably) good choices. That is what keeps them engaged with the game and hnging on the edge of their seats.

For a typical N+0 Mining Cart Chase encounter, I like to break the action up into 5 distinct parts. The first four parts last precisely 1 round each, representing different areas and obstacles that the mining carts and their occupants traverse through. The last part is the end destination. This is a more standard area where all of the occupants are dropped off to finish the fight, and any occupants of destroyed carts can meet up in.

For this example, and what I wrote this for, is taken from the Demon Prince of Undeath Conversion of H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth. It replaces the chase scene through the ruined Dwarven fortress on foot with a chase scene of enemies racing against the PCs via mining carts that crisscross through vast underground caverns and the crumbling remains of a long-abandoned Dwarven outpost buried deep in the earth. In this encounter, there were both enemies in mining carts chasing after the PCs, as well as a Shadow Dragon racing after them.

This encounter features three (3) seperate tracks that the PCs must choose to go down in. Typically, players will split up their PCs into at least two different carts going down in different tracks. And really, that's he way to do it. It's pretty exciting to have a two-front battle like that unfold. Eventually, the players start getting wise to the system here, and will switch tracks so as to get all of their enemies on the middle track and then they have a cart on each of the outer tracks. It's not technically "flanking", but it does a great job of hitting the middle guys pretty hard.

This encounter really starts when it clicks for the PCs to start racing down the mining cart tracks. At that poin, describe in general terms what is down each track. In this case, there are tracks leading through the upper towers of the Dwarven fortress, there aretracks leading right through the center of the fortress, and there are tracks running through the deep underground parts of the citadel. It is assumed that the tracks crisscross and come back together enough so as to make the premise of the tracks being seperated by only a square (as described in Part 1) still plausible.

Each track then has different obstacles handed to it each round, small changes and checks that make shake up the battle. These effects, and any related skill checks or attacks, are done at the beginning of every combat round as free actions.

November 23, 2010

Vehicle: Mining Cart

The vehicles in Adventurer's Vault are a nice step in the right direction, and provide a starting example of how to slap some vehicular mayhem into your game. However, I think that vehicles are underused and underappreciated. Here's the first part of how to do a good mining cart chase scene, just like in Indiana Jones and teh Temple of Doom.

Step 1: Draw a combat map of 2-square-wide mining cart tracks, seperated by 1 square in between.

Step 2: Hand your PCs a couple of mining carts.

Step 3: Profit.

When running encounters with these vehicles, it's critical to keep things in relative motion and distance from each other. The base assumption is that all of the carts and their occupants are flying down the tracks at high speed. The important part, and the only part you need to map out, is where they are relative to each other. In this sense, upcoming hazards at the tracks are more coming at the carts, rather than the carts speeding towards the hazards. This isn't any new advice here or anything, the chase scene idea done this way is pretty old, but I thought I would be remiss if I didn't mention it.

November 19, 2010

Arkham Friday: Gloomwrought

One of the brightest lights in the gloom of the Shadowfell, Gloomwrought is a large walled port city on the shores of the Stormy Seas. Surrounded by a perilous bog called the Skins, most travelers enter the city by way of dark one ferrymen who navigate the Skins, by magical portal, or by ship.

Prince Roland the Deathless is lord of the city, but real power is in the bony, decrepit hands of the mysterious custodians of the city known as the Keepers, a cabal of powerful necromancers whom have discarded their bodies to pursue of an unnatural afterlife of willful undeath.

November 18, 2010

Terrain Power: Karalel's End

Here are the terrain powers I've used for the finale encounter of Keep on the Shadowfell. I feel like they add a little bit of spice where it is sorely needed. As written, the final encounter, the climax of the adventure, is fairly stale. Not completely, I love the grasping claws of the shadowrift gate. That's definitely cool.

Where do I start? At the beginning. The first thing the players face is the blood-slick chains descending into the dark recesses where Karalel is chanting his ritual. The adventure uses the elevation change as an obstacle where it could be used as a creative decision point. I decided that the chains aren't just there for shwo, and hoity-toity Karalel isn't going to climb up and down them everytime he needs to leave the keep. Instead, there is a rusty, battered lift system attached to the chains. Players now get to decide: should they take the fast and dangerous route by sliding/climbing down the chains, or should they take the slow and safe route via the elevator? For my campaign, one of the PCs was a Tiefling hunting for relics of his people's bygone past. Hence, I decided to describe the architectural style and engravings of the lowest leevls of the keep and this elevator in the vein of Bael Turath. I wholehearted suggest you do this with the entirety of the keep. Split the layers it up into epochs that have signifigance to your players or to your campaign. Let the PCs explore the keep and peel back the veils of history.

November 16, 2010

Terrain Power: Floating Castle, Part 1

Awhile back, I posted that I'd be revamping the DDi adventure Remains of Empire with some extra features and try to bring out its sweet nectar of good storytelling from the cancer-riddled corpse of bad mechanics.

To start with, let's add some fun tricks. Here is a series of miscellaneous terrain powers that I used for my go at Remains of Empire. I sprinkled them throughout the encounters that take place once the PCs start hunting down the villain and his drake cavalry in their floating castle lair. I'm using these terrain powers to help tell the story of the collapsed tower, how it is nothing more than a ruin of its former glory.

This first terrain power is really fun in play, and literally shifts the battlefield around. In a highly lucky encounter with a lot of 20's, you start with a straight-up fight and end up with a game of island-hopping as the melee Strikers/Lurkers/Skirmishes try to outflank the Defenders/Soldiers on their way to the ranged combatants. This could also be reflavored for fighting on a floating island of garbage in the sea, breaking apart as the encounter progressed, an iceberg breaking apart in the arctic waters, or a bit of solid rock on a bubbling flow of lava.

Also, here are  a few terrain powers that can be used almost anywhere in the second half of the adventure. They're good all-purpose kind of terrain powers, in that they provide that all-important boost to damage or good tactical choice when all encounter and daily attacks have been exhausted. I've opted for a minor action attack here, which I think should be used more ften than it is. When you ask a player to sacrifice a Standard Action for a terrain power, you're really asking them to give up one of their class attacks. Class-based attacks are comfortable, familiar, and help define the character.  If you want your terrain to be used, either make the actions into Minor, or make the effects really spectacular.

Collapsing Castle
At-Will Terrain (Any Level)
The power of the Arkhosian rituals are being weakened. The flying castle is ripping apart and destroying itself, the strength of the ancient spells no longer capable of holding it together.
Free Action; Personal
Trigger: A creature rolls a critical hit
Effect: A crack forms in the ground, moving a section of the castle by 1 square. A gap between sections of the castle now exists.

Floating Debris
At-will Terrain Power (Level 3)
You jump up and kick a floating piece of rock, sending it hurtling towards your enemies.
Minor Action; Ranged 5
Attack: +8 vs. AC
Hit: 1d6+5 damage and the target is pushed 1 square.

Gravity Well
At-will Terrain (Level 3)
The ancient Dragonborn ritual has left pockets of transmuted gravity in teh wake of the castle's destruction. These can trap absent-minded explorers in a spiralling vortex.
No Action; Area of gravity well
Trigger: A creature starts their turn in the area of the gravity well.
Effect: The triggering creature is restrained until escape (DC 21).

Oil Cauldron in Gravity Well
Single Terrain (Level 3)
A globule of flammable pitch has been caught in this gravity well.
Single Use Terrain Power
No Action; Area of gravity well
Trigger 1: An area or close attack with the fire or lightning keywords touches the gravity well area.
Trigger 2: A character lights the gravity well area on fire with a torch or other source of flames.
Effect: Until the end of the encounter, creatures starting their turn in the gravity well take 2d6+9 fire damage.

November 12, 2010

Arkham Friday: Time Travel

The first post of the series can be found here.

The next installemnt in my Arkham Friday series is Time Travel. Use this chart when your PCs are haplessly manipulating the strands of fate, or when they're thrown into a temporal vortex! Epic adventurers can be made worthy of their title by the kinds of craziness found in these random encounter tables. The table itself has a mix of good and bad, although like any other Arkham Horror inspired item, it's going to be more bad than good.

This is definitely a table I am excited about and am actively looking for ways of using in my home games. And certainly, it fits the theme of this blog. Is not time travel truly an action the rules do not cover?

November 11, 2010

NPC Ally: Douven Stahl

Part of the story here is that I am running H1 and H2 for a group of players right now. We started in the Spring of 2010, almost 2 years after Keep on the Shadowfell was released. I really enjoy the adventure this time around, even though I've technically run this adventur before. I'm using a ton of terrain powers, almost every encounter has some. Also, I've added NPC Allies and interesting magic items and MM3 monster design to everything. There are vehicles and mounts, and Karalel has a better name and steals your beating heart. I've incorporated the countless reviews and tidbits of advice on the internet that have been floating around since March '08, and the story is just coming together beautifully.

Douven Stahl
NPC Ally (Level 1)
A renowned archeologist from Fallcrest, Douven is a professor of Turathian literature who, according to his students, is "the one you hope you don't get". He is often heard shouting out "This is intolerable!" when frustrated. A driven man, Douven seeks out forgotten relics and texts from the past, risking his life in the pursuit of knowledge by going to strange and dangerous locations. Stahl speaks little of his family. His wife, Anna, died from scarlet fever many years ago, and the loss pains him still.

HP 1; a missed attack never damages Douven.
Armor Class 14; Fortitude 11, Reflex 13, Will 14

Guarded By Heroes + At-Will
Immediate Interrupt
Douven is hit by an attack and you are adjacent to him.
Effect: You are hit by the attack instead.

Hustle It! + At-Will
Minor Action
You command Douven to take a move action (Speed 5).

Douven knows the following languages, in addition to Common:
Draconic, Dwarven, Elven, Giant, Goblin.

Expert Advice
All allies who can see and hear Douven gain a +1 power bonus to Arcana and History checks.

November 9, 2010

Magic Items: Anglechel

Anglechel, The Flaming Iron Star
Magic Item (heavy blade)
According to The Silmarillion, it was one of two swords forged by Eöl the Dark Elf out of a black iron meteorite. The sword was carried by Túrin, who had it reforged as Gurthang. It was said to have a will of its own, and to have spoken to Túrin when he used it to take his own life. There is malice in this sword. The dark heart of the smith still dwells in it. It will not love the hand it serves, neither will it abide with you long.

Property: When you use Anglachel to make an attack and score a critical hit, roll one additional die of bonus damage.

Property: When you use Anglachel to make an attack and roll a natural 1, you are hit by the attack instead of your target, and the attack is a critical hit.

Power, as a flaming weapon (PHB p. 234)

November 5, 2010

Arkham Friday: The Abyss

Welcome to the start of a new series here at DMG p.42, called Arkham Friday.

Each Friday for the nex few weeks, I'll be taking an element from Fantasy Flight Games' Arkham Horror and applying it to D&D 4E. One of the ways in which games evolve and grow is by seeing what other  games in other platforms have done well, and taking ideas from that. Thus, I'd like to examine what Arkham Horror has done well, and see if that can't be used to add new depth, immersion, or excitement into the D&D game.

Arkham Horror is a cooperative board game based on the Cthulhu Mythos in which 1920's era investogators gather weapons and clues, and travel to unimaginable alien vistas to defeat the mind-numbing horrors from beyond before the world is torn asunder. I highly recommend it if you've never given it a try. It's a great way to break up your gaming schedule a bit; and since it's entirely cooperative, it allows your group's usual Dungeon Master a chance to rub elbows with the rest of the table.

One of the hallmark's of this game is it's excessive deadliness. Since you're not playing against the other people at the table, the game's challenge comes from it's sheer difficulty. Many times, you will have a series of misfotunes happen to an investigator in succession. Often, they will be progressively worse; for example, your investigator can easily have to make an impossible skill check, become cursed, fight a hideous monster for absolutley no benefit other than to not die, become corrupted, gain a greivous injury, inexplicably lose the majority of their sanity, develop a major psychosis (madness), become lost in time and space, and then, finally, devoured. All in the span of 1 turn. For this reason, Arkham Horror is a "must buy" item for any FourthCore Dungeon Masters. If you like what you see in these Arkham Friday posts, be sure to check out Sersa V's excellent blog, Save Versus Death. The brutality of his world will make your players weep.

This first Arkham post is a random encounter table. Bear with me, as this is not your usual means of banality in rolling for a random monsters. This is a random encounter list of things that happens whilst your player characters explore the unrelenting horrors of The Abyss. A lot of hot air is given out when trying to advise Dungeon Masters on how to handle and describe Epic tier encounters. "Turn it to 11" and other cliches abound from the experts, but hard and fast rules are few and far between. There is precious little mechanical support to get across the feel of a higher tier adventure. You can increase all the math to match the level of the party, and you can call "gold coins" by "astral diamonds"; but it's still the same feeling to everything. I suggest, when your PC's visit a truly horrific location (as is their wont in the higher Tiers), have each of them roll a d20 and consult the chart below for the effects. You can have them do this once upon arrival, or everytime they venture through the wilds of this alien landscape, or as much as between every encounter. That depends on exactly how FourthCore you really are. Don't let some of the seemingly harsh penalties here dissuade you. If you're rolling in Epic tier, the PC's should be able to easily shrug off anything, including arbitrary character death at the expense of a single botched die roll. I'd also implement the rule that if an effect forces your character to lose a Healing Surge and you are at 0 Healing Surges, the character simply dies. Other have slightly saucier dispositions.

November 4, 2010

Terrain Power: Spinning Log

This is a fun terrain power I came up with. Originally, I designed it for a bridge crossing a cavernous lair of a beholder. The beholder's minions would then jump out and attempt to spin the PCs to their doom. Hijinks ensue. After playing with it, the terrain power seemed perfect for representing some logrolling, like a hillbilly.

m Log in the River At-Will Terrain (Level 5)
This water-bound log slips and spins around in the river. You can speed it up or slow it down to spin your enemies off, or stabilize yourself from doing the same.
Minor Action Personal
Endurance or Athletics DC 22
Effect: The log moves up or down one speed category. The log cannot move faster than fast, nor slower than stopped. All creatures starting their turn on the log must make an Acrobatics check (based on the speed category) or else fall prone. A creature that is already prone and that fails the check is knocked off of the log.
+ Stopped: Acrobatics DC 0
+ Slow: Acrobatics DC 10
+ Fast: Acrobatics DC 15

November 2, 2010

Terrain Powers: Barrels of Fun

Here is a quick and easy pair of terrain powers for use anywhere in an adventure that has barrels.

a Thrown Barrel Single Use Terrain (Level 4)
You lift a barrel high over your head and lob it at your enemies.Single Use
Standard Action Area burst 1 within 5 squares
Attack: +5 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d6+8 damage and the target is knocked prone.
Miss: Half damage.
Effect: The barrel is wrecked and the area is filled with debris, creating difficult terrain.

r Rolling Barrel Single Use Terrain (Level 4)
You kick over a barrel and send it rolling at your enemy.
Single Use
Minor Action Ranged 10
Effect: The barrel rolls away in a straight line in the direction of your choosing and attacks the first target it hits within range. This attack does not provoke opportunity attacks.
Attack: +7 vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d8+4 damage and the target is knocked prone.
Effect: The barrel is destroyed in the square adjacent to the target, creating one square of difficult terrain that lasts until the end of the encounter.