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.


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?