Mission to Limbo

November 26, 2010

It’s been a while since I had time to post on the blog, so here’s a humongous post about a thing from my game. Let’s see when I get around to the design philosophy again…

So, the party I’m DMing went on a detour to Limbo – yeah, Limbo still exists in my 4e game – sometime soon. It was one of three missions to locate certain artefacts, so I tried to do what I could to set the missions apart and make them feel very different from the normal world. In Limbo therefore instead of the three fight encounters that are in the others, I’m combining them with a secondary mission.

If you’ve never played Planescape, the plane of Limbo may not mean much to you. It’s the plane of chaos, so a number of thus-inclined gods live there, not to mention the Slaadi – sinister, frog-like beings of pure chaos. The plane naturally changes shapes and forms all the time in a chaotic whirlwind of mutability. However, people can stabilise it if they concentrate.

In the olden days that meant using a non-weapon proficiency and nowadays it would probably be handled as a skill challenge. I have another solution, though.

There are certain individuals – anarchs – who are better disposed to control the changing of the plane, and I thought it would be fun to give the characters such a person as a guide, getting one of the players to control her in combat.

I whipped up some statistics with relatively high defenses and a pretty low HP count.  This – I hoped – would force the PCs to try and protect her – she can’t take many hits – but would give them a fair chance of doing so – she wasn’t going to be hit so much, and they controlled her actions in combat. I allowed them to heal her as if she was a PC with unlimited healing surges, but when she reached 0 hp, she died. And she died pretty fast thanks to the PCs greediness about getting to use her attack powers.

Unless the PCs devoted one of themselves full time to keep the plane from falling apart, the plane would attack each PC at the start of their turn with a +16 against will. On a hit, I would roll on the random effects table below. As the PC fought Slaadi, I ruled that their opponents would not be targeted, but might have been affected by the results.

Here’s the table:

Random events of Limbo

  1. Random Teleportation: The character affected is teleported 1d6 squares in a random direction. If this takes the character out of the board, the board expands to accommodate the character’s new position.
  2. Ye Olde Swithceroo: Two characters – the one not hit is randomly determined – find themselves switching weapons/implements via teleportation.
  3. Elemental Superflux: any elemental condition affecting the character or any elemental power he or she uses doubles in effectiveness for 1 round (double damage, double to-hit, daze becomes stun etc.).
  4. Change of Scenery: a close burst 1 area around the effected character becomes a random type of terrain (see attached table).
  5. Spontaneous Combustion: Sudden explosion! +18 vs. fortitude. Hit: ongoing 10 fire damage (save ends). Miss: 1d10 fire damage.
  6. Gravity Fall-Out: Gravity does not effect the character this round. He/she gains a fly speed equal to normal speed.
  7. Wally West: The character speeds up to near-impossible levels. Double the amount of actions this round.
  8. Pocket Dimension: The character is trapped in a white blur in a lower level of limbo. He/she disappears from the world (save ends). When he/she saves, the character reappears in a randomly determined square in a close burst 1 radius from the origin square.
  9. Shrinkage: The character shrinks one size category (save ends). This reduces speed by 1.
  10. Hole: A hole opens up in the floor. The character must make a saving throw or fall into the hole, emerging from the ceiling momentarily having fallen 30 feet and landing prone on the now restored square of floor.
  11. Slippery Floor: Anywhere the character sets foot, a layer of grease is spread before him/her. Treat all terrain as difficult terrain this turn. The first time the character steps into difficult terrain in this turn he/she must make an athletics check DC 25 or fall prone.
  12. Split Action: The character is caught in a temporal anomaly. He/she skips this turn and disappears from the world until the beginning of the next round. At the beginning of the next round he/she must roll three new initiative checks, one for each of his/her actions. The character takes these actions as they come along in the initiative count and also his/her normal turn this round.
  13. Rainstorm: Heavy rain obscures an area in a close burst 3 from the character. All creatures in the rain have concealment. Thunder and lightning powers are +1 to hit and +2 to damage when they target anyone in the zone. The zone lasts until the beginning of the character’s next turn.
  14. Not That Way: Each time a character moves a square this turn, he/she moves in a random direction.
  15. Birds!: A swarm of birds blink in and out of existence in the character’s square. They make a +20 reflex attack against the character dealing 3d4 damage on a hit, and having the effect of slowing the character until the end of his or her turn.
  16. Snowstorm: A snow storm is conjured in a close burst 2 around the character. That character and any other creature that starts its turn in the zone takes 10 cold damage. Powers with the cold keyword are +1 to hit and +2 to damage when it targets anyone in the zone.
  17. Instinctual Teleportation: The character may teleport up to his/her speed as a minor action this turn.
  18. Time Explosion: All creatures in a close burst 3 from the character reroll their initiative. The character, being the epicentre of the explosion, does not change his/her initiative.
  19. Black Insects: Not again! A swarm of black insects from the desert of Deadhold blink in and out of existence in the character’s square. They attack reflex +18. Hit: character loses a healing surge.
  20. Flying Tile: The character’s square takes off from the ground lifting five feet in the air. The character can control the square with an arcana check made as a minor action each round. If the character does not make the roll, the square will move according to the directions of the Slaadi or their allies. The character can try to jump off from the square as if he/she is escaping from a grap. The square has a fly speed of 6, a reflex of 30 and a fortitude of 28. If the character jumps off it, the square returns to its origin. At the squares origin is a hole that follows the rules of event 10.

Random Terrain Table:

  1. Desert: endurance check DC 25 or 10 damage from heat.
  2. Bushes: difficult terrain.
  3. Grassland: natural and fey creatures gain a +5 hit point bonus to all healing received here.
  4. Ice: athletics check DC 23 or fall prone.

However, the random table was never put to good use. The players were so scared that they would be hurt by the plane that they continually kept one of them dedicated to keeping it together. This made the encounters a bit more challenging, but it also meant that one of the players were always missing a turn.

So my question to you is: what should be done differently? How can I encourage the PCs to expose themselves to my random table? Is the table something, you would use?

I’m looking forward to some feedback.



Busy week…

November 9, 2010

I’m quite busy this week, but hopefully either tomorrow or the day after, I’ll be able to update with more 4e Design Philosophy.

Now, when I say, I’m busy, it doesn’t mean I don’t have time for something like this:
I am Red/White
I am Red/White
Take The Magic Dual Colour Test – Beta today!
Created with Rum and Monkey‘s Personality Test Generator.

I’m both chaotic and orderly. I value my own principles, and am willing to go to extreme lengths to enforce them, often trampling on the very same principles in the process. At best, I’m heroic and principled; at worst, I’m hypocritical and disorderly.
Which is fun. And I’m never too busy for fun…

Work = Weekend Off

November 6, 2010

Just in case you were wondering, I’m taking this weekend off from the blog to get some work in. Preparing teaching for A LOT of hours next week is taking up my time…

The Dragon in the Throne room

November 4, 2010

In honour of this post by Wolfsamurai over at rpgmusings, I’m going to tell a story about a spontaneous plan the players in my old group – 2e – hatched once. I hadn’t really planned for them to fare as well as they did, but they spotted a tiny detail in my description and acted on it. We travel to the land of Archetypia in the following short story:

”Sooo,” said Mr. Joshua casting a look he very much hoped could be called casual down the corridor at the enormous red dragon lumbering around the throne room, its very presence defiling the complete piece of the Holy Mountain of Archetypia that made up the floor. “What now?”

His question was backed up by a quick glance up at Tug. The fighter’s grey, rock-like frame had been a support and an encouragement to Joshua’s less responsible side for years now, but still – that dragon looked like he could swallow Tug whole and Joshua knew he wouldn’t be far behind. Tug shrugged. It was a movement so familiar to him, that it was appropriate that it rhymed.

Joshua’s glance went to the wizard. Something had always struck Joshua as fundamentally wrong about the guy, but Chermez had gotten them out of tight spots plenty of times. Even if the group’s other wizard did depart a little too hastily and middle-of-the-night after Chermez joined them.

The wizard glared back. “I’ve got fireballs, transmutations, lightning bolts and charm spells, but nothing that’ll take a dragon out in one shot, and I’m betting you want that.” Chermez glanced in his coldly analytical way up the hallway. “I mean, the second that dragon senses duplicity he’s gonna scoop up that princess in his jaws and make with the swallow. I’m guessing you don’t want that.” Joshua nodded irritably. He hadn’t gone to all that trouble to win the princess’ hand in marriage just to have her eaten by a dragon. Plus, she seemed like she actually liked him.

The knight – he vehemently opposed being called a paladin, since he served the goddess of Assassins – shook his head when Joshua looked at him. “I’m sorry, Joshua,” said Derek. “I could distract the thing, but without a plan to take it out, I’m not going to last long. It wouldn’t help.” The deep, masculine voice of the tall man spoke sense. Joshua knew that. He looked longingly at the throne room. Nothing. His brain, usually a chatterbox of…well not good, but still some ideas, was silent.

“I have an idea.” The smooth and calculated voice of the dark elf came from a shadow where Joshua could have sworn nothing was before.

“Shazin,” he said, determined to not let his surprise show. “Where’ve you been?”

The dark elf shrugged. “Where I always am when we enter a castle: sizing up the guards.” His face put itself in a grimace that seemed smug, but then: almost any grimace an elf made… “Only this time the guards are on our side.”

“Great!” Derek quipped. “They’ll distract the dragon a second or two more than I’ll manage.” He never liked the dark elf, and the lack of respect was quite mutual.

“Well if they use your brand of tactics, I guess that’s all we can hope for,” Shazin said dismissively. “Still, we could think up a plan instead.”

Before the knight could answer, Chermez cut in. “What are you thinking?”

Shazin glanced at Joshua with a look the nominal leader of the group had never really seen in the dark elf’s eyes. He seemed like he was looking for support. Joshua nodded imperceptibly. He knew he could always count on the rogue to percept the imperceptible. Reassured, the dark elf continued.

“Well, palace guards equals polearms. Pikes, halberds, the works. We have them stab the dragon from multiple sides at once, bleeding it not only distracted but quite quickly dead.” Joshua looked around at the others. It seemed like it could work.

“But where would they come from?” Derek said, not in a spoilsport way, but almost thinking along. “The throne room has only one main entrance and two side entrances, and I don’t think we can reach the corridors to the side.”

Chermez cut in. His voice had that otherworldly quality that it got when he was thinking. “But on the floor below us there’s no shortage of hallways and entrances.” Joshua cut in: “Yeah. It’s the banquet room and it’s connected to kitchens, wine cellars, waiting rooms, accommodations…” Tug scratched his head. “But how dragon gets down there?” Shazin pointed to the floor in the throne room. “Look at the material of the floor.” The four of them looked at each other, then smiled. “Transmute rock to mud.” They said it together. Tug shuddered. Someone had tried that on him once. Once.

“Count to 500,” Joshua said to the wizard, starting a run towards the stairway leading down.

The wizard actually rolled up his sleeves. “Aye, aye, Joshua.”

The New Web-based Character Builder

November 3, 2010

There’s a lot of hub-bub right now on twitter and on the blogs about the new web-based Character Builder, Wizards (or WoTC or whatever…) just announced.

Now as I’ve more or less made it clear earlier, it won’t trouble me. The FAQ on the matter states that the downloadable CB will still work, only that it won’t be supported. Since I more or less don’t want any more updates for it – as I’m comfortable without the errata and my players are already content-overwhelmed, as we don’t game five times a week – I’ll just keep using what I’ve got. Hey, I even sidestep the whole Essentials issue, though it would have been nice to get Dark Sun.

The down-low of the matter is described superbly over at criticalhits by Dave Chalker, and I very much agree with his list of pros and cons, and the various possible reasons Wizards had to make the change. I’m also ready with a ‘told you so’ to the lack of house ruling and custom elements – but you know we are playing their game. Bottom line is, though: some will be thrilled, some will be downed. As always this is how change is received.

However, it is also a fine example of something, I haven’t quite gotten around to touching on in our ongoing series on design philosophy, but which seems to tie into it. Bear with me while I annoy people who like Essentials.

Essentials is a stab in the back to 4e. There is no other way to describe it. This does not mean that I do not like Essentials. I haven’t played it or even read it. But to overhaul the 4e system so completely almost within two years of the publication of the (first) core books is a way of saying: “We do not believe in our original system.”

At least that is how the fan base in majority will see it, unless there is a clear statement of something else – like, is this the new D&D to 4e’s AD&D? – and a rigorous follow-up to that statement in business strategy – like, continuing to publish significant 4e material at the same time as Essentials material.

This is rather basic. Don’t first use a lot of time and energy getting people to like your product just to tell them that the product isn’t really worth liking. Think of how idiotic those people are going to feel.

Enter the new CB. We have always made our characters on paper with pencils, but 4e and the CB changed all that. Most people use it now. To go out and change everything about it when you’ve made it a stable of gaming group’s activities everywhere is a stab in the back to the whole idea. Thus we get angered statements about not wanting to pay for DDI anymore.

Well, as I said, I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about this, since it won’t really affect me that much. When they move the Monster Builder to the web, I’ll just keep using the one on my PC. There’s like a thousand monsters in there and I can build new ones myself. What, do you think my players are going to run out of things to kill? Or feats to choose?

We’d have to play like five campaigns simultaneously to do that. And who does such a thing?

4e design philosophy: Supplements and revelations

November 2, 2010

4e is an odd specimen when it comes to supplements. There are plenty of them and they cover a pretty wide variety of topics. However, there is one common denominator between them: almost all include new powers, feats and all in all crunch.

This is not a bad thing, but it is a bad thing that there are so many new things out there that players – my players anyway – level up and then immediately groan: “Oh nooo! Do I really have to take a new feat again so soon?” They’re tired of wading through thousands of feats, some of which are now redundant, trying to pick out one they like. The same is true about powers, only not as acute, since there is usually about a dozen or so applicable powers to choose between.

We’re two years into this edition and yet the enormous palate of crunch options is already tiring. But that’s really mostly my problem. If there are too many options I can simply say: “None of that book, that book and that book.” It does puzzle me that they mostly can’t just have an article about some fluff without throwing in a new paragon path or something, but that’s all really neither here nor there.

What’s more of a problem is the entire attitude from Wizards towards these supplements. As I touched on in my earlier post, it seems like I’m no longer playing my game, I’m playing theirs. The same seems true in the supplements.

From the world-changing of Forgotten Realms to the all-encompassing origin stories of the Underdark, we have been treated to a lesson in how the designers from Wizards have always imagined these things in their game. Instead of presenting a plethora of information we can use at will in our game, we’re told how their game is going and what is going on in their game.

This is sometimes just what I need. Hearing about other people’s ideas and how they run the game can inspire me to think about my own. But that’s not what I want from official supplements. I want a lot of stuff that I can pick and choose from because I don’t have the time to get all the ideas and design all the background in my game cold. Instead I seem to get some kind of revelation about how the Game is going. The aforementioned outpouring of feats and powers seem to be what Wizards is prepared to give me as usable as-is stuff.

Again these two things are not unconnected. The designers at Wizards are showing us their game. Since they game four or five times a week – oh, how I wish I had time for that! – they need a plethora of new powers and feats to keep it interesting. Similarly in their games they have a campaign in Forgotten Realms, one in the Underdark, one in Eberron and so on – and the corresponding books are telling us how that’s going.

This is not necessarily true.

But it feels like it.

It feels like it when the designers talk about it. One example: when James Wyatt says something like “People are not going to believe what we did in the first chapter of DMG2” and “Minds will be blown” by the PHB3 (in this episode of the Tome), it feels a bit like he will reveal the truth about the game, not like he will give me stuff to use in my game.

As I stated in the “mission statement” earlier, this and the way it fits with so much else of the design philosophy in 4e is not necessarily a conscious decision on the part of the designers.

But it sure fits well.

Next up in the series on 4e design philosophy, I will talk a bit about the streamlining of the system that 4e is based upon. That one is both good and bad.

Disgusting nasal suffering

November 1, 2010

No update today, as I’m down with a cold. Sorry folks. Hope to be back tomorrow.