Actual Play – He’s Dead Jim (02/27/2009)

System: Dungeons & Dragons

Our “Purple in Waterdeep” DnD game started off with a bang last Friday. We found that the spy master had been killed in his room. Door locked and found with a bloody dwarven blade at his side. It was clear that the dwarf George Strongarm was the one we should assume committed the crime, but some clever investigation proved otherwise.

Seeking out the would be suspect we encountered a small band of satyrs and gnolls that put up a brief resistance before defeat and leading us to the dwarves that were eagerly awaiting George’s return. When we found out he had gone into the mountain and had not returned, we “persuaded” the dwarves to let us past and help their leader.

What we found was that he had been taken by followers of Tiamat who worked an evil guild master (Moreno) and was captive of none other than a red dragon. Fight!

What rocked

The first encounter was awesome. It was set up in our spare room and had clues all over that our characters made various skill checks to find. Talk about skill challenges on a new level. It was very clear that the DM put a lot of energy into making CSI: Waterdeep.

The direction of the game was definitely political. Yes, we had two fights but both of them were to save a captive guild leader. We also found a badges designated for us that signified we had raised to the rank of “freelancer”. Very important people indeed.

The Boss Fight. So far the solo fights we’ve had didn’t involve a ton of tactics, we just clobbered the hell out of the one guy and he usually had tons of hit points and lots of powers that allowed him to dole out the damage. This fight however, was very dynamic. The dragon didn’t move too much but he forced us to… and move we did. He also had a tail lash that was vicious and prevented several of my sneak attacks.

My combo worked! I decided that since my character acts like a defender most of the time anyway (he’s the only other melee character in the group) I might as well have a feat that makes my melee opponents miserable. At 6th level, still unsure of his deity, Ace took the “Soldier of Faith” feat which allows him to give a divine challenge to a monster (the paladin’s mark). If they ever attack someone else, they take some radiant damage. Add that to the 5th level daily power “Clever Riposte” and anytime they attack me, they take my Dexterity modifier in damage and I can shift one square. Result: I rolled four 1s in that battle, sprinkled with a few other rolls under 5 and I still did crap ton of damage to that dragon. Trimming him down with a few hit points a time. I was very happy with that combination.

What could have been improved

According to the warlock, he didn’t have much to do besides stand in a corner and fire eldritch blasts. I think future solo encounters could probably be improved by adding environmental factors (moving walls of lava, collapsing bridges, etc) that would make things more interesting for the ranged characters. Alternately, make of the boss fights in WoW have special tricks you need to do in order to win. It might be that statues need to be broken, orbs need to be lifted, buttons need to be pressed, words need to be chanted, etc that would make a boss weaker so the other characters could fight him. Just some ideas.

The game ran late, after midnight I think, which kind of jacked me up in the morning. It wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular, it just means we need to factor in more time for some of the major fights.

Actual Play – Breaking into the Bricklayer’s Guild (2/6/2009)

System: Dungeons and Dragons

The Dungeons and Dragons story continued with the troubleshooting team following up on a lead from our guild master Jilnik. Our enemy Lord Aberidge was using the services of the Bricklayers to move goods for him on the docks, and we went down to break things up.

The encounter format was skill challenge, combat, combat. This particular format allows the heroes to use an action point in both fights, as they are unusable in skill challenges. The first skill challenge was very interesting. The DM has been playing around with creating challenges that force the players to dedicate their efforts in particular directions, but giving them some freedom in how they do it. In this case we had three objectives (find a way in, locate the alarms and distract the guards) and each of these had to be tied together. In order to physically represent this challenge, we were all given died marshmallows and tasked to make a pyramid (of sorts) but connecting those three points (also marshmallows) together. We used toothpicks to stick it all together. Each success allowed us to add a marshmallow to the structure, but we had to narrate how that fit into the three objectives. For instance, if we were tying “distract the guards” with “find the secret way in” one of the characters got into a discussion of bricklaying with the guards and asked him for a tour. All the while keeping his eye open for secret ways in.

The combats were well varied, the first was vs. human guards, the second was vs. human guards who’s souls had been ripped out and their bodies had been magically mutated into dire vermin. Yummy!

What rocked

The skill challenge was very cool. I like props, I like characters narrating and I like using skills, so for me this was a big win. I encourage DMs to think if skill challenges like this, that give players lots of options but those options all have to reasonably tie into the task.

The last combat was very cool in description. I really like the idea of a pissed off wizard (necromancer?) who can turn his hired help into vermin that will attack us. It made a combat encounter that we could have normally only found in a dungeon or the wilderness make sense in the city.

Failing equaled an interesting option. I was one of the two people who actually failed a skill check. Instead of just loosing at my task, my character Ace ran into some of his old crew… and boy did they not like him. He returned to the heroes beat up and wearing nothing but a tattered and torn woman’s shift. It was humorous but also illuminating as I got to discover more about my character’s back-story.

What could have been improved

You can’t spend action points in skill challenges. I found myself somewhat frustrated when I failed a skill check twice in a row and was wishing I could have used an action point to either take another action, or just reroll a failed roll. I know some DMs have made this a house rule and I think we should consider it.

AoE persistent spells make combat boring and slow. It was really clear to the wizard, as we were going through tight quarters that maintaining a stinking cloud in front of us was a great way to keep everyone from getting to us, or to make them take lots of damage doing so. In the second fight the warlock had an effect that did the same thing. For us melee types who a) end up getting hit by these effects and b) want to get in the fray, this is very boring. I think the DM is going to check errata on the Sticking cloud spell as the way we have interpreted it makes it brutally powerful, but even if it can’t be moved “onto” someone, it still will do a great job of blocking off huge chunks of the map. Personally, while I find this a great tactic, it seems counter to the spirit of heroic battles.

Actual Play – If I Had a Hammer – 1/30/2009

System: Dungeons & Dragons

Yay, the D&D game has really been rocking for me. I’ve definitely found that I love games that have social ladders we can climb. When I play in those games I like playing the kind of people that can slip between the cracks, go unnoticed for a while and have unexpected influence. Is this a trend?

The original. Sadric. Founder of Sadric was never meant to be a political figure but he found himself privy to knowledge that others could not be trusted with. He was driven first to protect his home town of Eldredd but, as he discovered a much larger conspiracy traveled throughout the Three Cities region (Theagh, Eldredd and Secsilcoren) to stamp out the evil that rotted it from the inside and to rebuild the an order of knights that had been extinguished. To do so he made powerful allies (and even more powerful enemies), traveled planes, fought all manner of foe and finally discovered Galathor, a beastmaster and warlord whose origin was similar to Sadric, but who sought conquest over man rather than union. As the campaign left off, it was Sadric’s charge to raise and army to fend him off.

Kevan’s Exatled Game set in Gem. There were lot of political machinations internally between the houses, as well as conflict from the outside (both the Fair Folk and the Dragonbloods). I played Hands of Velvet, a Night Cast who could appear as anyone he wanted to. His goals were very honorable (end slavery in the realm) but his methods were subtle. He used rumor and word of mouth as a weapon, invented characters to front the “resistance” and generally danced along the edges of society.

Charles’s “The Hand” Campaign. Set in an “Arabian nights “ D&D fantasy setting. The city was controlled by powerful merchants who perused their personal interests over those of the people. I played Sazil, a tiefling rogue who was rarely trusted but nevertheless earned the respect of the Forces of Good (FOG) to and enlisted to fight the FOE (yep, you can probably guess the acronym). Though this game ended up being less political than I thought it would be, Sazil was definitely a aiming to gain influence within Rajan (the capital city in The Hand).

Jeremy’s 7th Sea game. Grisha, also known as Hibou was an Usuran spy who was supposed to impersonate a Musketeer and send the secrets of Montaigne back to the Gaius. Nothing of this ever really happened and his “reveal” was totally anticlimactic (“hey guys, I’m actually a spy but we were always after the same thing, sorry for lying to you”).

And finally we come to Purple in Waterdeep. Ace, another rogue. In some ways he is the Grisha I never got to play. His goal is to gain power within the city, amongst the guilds. His method is information brokering. He knows that guilds will pay a high price to know the activities of each other, and that is what he has to offer. Specifically he is a spy for Jilnik. Ace is more of a mercenary than I usually play. He’s out for himself, but has a strong bond to his “crew”. To him the people at his side are his family and he will never (intentionally at least) betray them. The thing I’m really looking forward to in this game (over the next 5 levels at least) is making connections, political maneuvers, in order to climb the ladder and become a powerful political figure in the city (as well as being a hero). I think in the end I’d like Jilnik’s job. Placed as the spy master, I’d have a legion of underlings with an endless supply of plot hooks for the DM. This would satisfy me as a player while still leaving Ace as viable player character.

Ahh… but the game… this was a post about the game. It was broken down to three parts.

1. A cipher puzzle. We were given an encrypted note that some of the smarter members of our party were able to uncode and discover that Lord Aberige had some kind of business deals with the hags that were attacking peasants outside the city.

2. An extended and personal skill challenge. Each player got to choose a goal for their character and play it out over a skill challenge. Savana succeeded in becoming well acquainted wit the streets of Waterdeep. Grungebeard was taught Draconic by a Dragonborn, and Fancy was indoctrinated into the church of Gergil (sp?). I had a partial success (5 success, 2 failures) in winning the favor of Jenny, the baker. I learned what was most important to me, which was that she wasn’t the one who hired the assassins to kill us. One more test to see if she will actually trust me in the end.

3. A fight with Henry O’Toule, a dead carpenter who wouldn’t give up the ghost. He was an solo monster with some cool tricks but I don’t think he packed a big enough punch.

What rocked

All three components of the game were good at what they did. Despite not winning the skill challenge, I think something interesting happened out of that. The other players went in widely different direction and I think we got to see a little bit of what is going on in each of their heads, which was cool.

The encounters all had purpose. The letter we needed to decrypt to find out who was attacking us. The fight was done to gain the Carpenter’s guild as allies, etc. Everything was done in the service of revealing more of the story. This was VERY good.

I was griping earlier about weapon damage and the DM was very kind in dropping me a nice superior magic item to help out with that. Thanks!

What could have been improved

I need to remind myself to start asking if I can frame the failure condition. In my case the skill challenge was a partial success so the “total failure” option didn’t happen but I found myself fearing that if I failed, nothing would result and I would have wasted my time (as a player). Had I made the suggestion up front that I want to gain the guild leaders confidence and that if I fail, she wouldn’t trust me and would try to have me kicked out of the guild; that would have made the failure condition much more exciting.

The fight at the end lacked a little punch. Usually I end every fight pretty thrashed. This one I only ended up hurt because the Wizard blasted me out of tree and I fell 60’. That, however is a whole OTHER issue.

Actual Play – Guild Wars in the Swamp (1/23/2009)

GM: Dungeons & Dragons

We picked back up the D&D game with our characters apparently forgetting that we wanted to find the lady who might have had a lead for us and instead following a priestess of Chantau (sp?). Our characters were asked to go look into some missing peasants outside the city. One of our guild leaders was an acolyte of Cantau and so there was some minor gain by aid her with work that wasn’t officially our job, extra credit if you will.

In my character’s case, he wants to find out who our enemies in the baker’s guild are so he used this as an opportunity to spend some time with the guild leader he knew the least, Jenny. His appraisal of her was that she was a very earnest in her religious devotion, but he didn’t really get a chance to talk guild politics with her. Maybe this will serve as a intro for further investigation.

The game them proceeded to three fights. The first with some lizardmen who we found were in service to a hag, then with the hag’s guards and finally with the hag, who turned out to be three hags, and some REALLY tough orcs. We prevailed but just barely. Ace has a suit of “bloodcut” armor that give him Resistance 10 to all damage when bloodied for a round when used. In the particular round that he used it in, it absorbed 50 points of damage that would have otherwise DESTROYED him. In the end he had used up ALL of his healing surges, and had 3 hit points left. It was a brutal fight.

What rocked

In each fight there were environmental elements that REALLY tipped things in one favor or another. With the lizardmen they had difficult terrain (swamp) which they treated like normal terrain. Interestingly, the difficult terrain ended up being daunting enough that none of us entered it. My character resorted to his crossbow when he usually prefers a blade as he is much deadlier with one in his hands. The other characters ended up immobilized for a time and generally less effective. In fight number two, we snuck in and found a harpy, with some Aracna checks learned about her alluring call and stuffed our ears with wax before entering the fight. It made the harpy ineffective and we did very well in the fight. In the last one the three hags were controlling two BRUTAL orcs, who were kicking our butts. Eventually we figured out how they were doing it, shattered the gems of power and turned the orcs from allies to at first fighting each other and eventually fighting the Hags (though really not until the very end of the fight).

We found out at the end that we discovered a letter that would tie the hags in the swamp back into guild business. If we hadn’t I would have felt somewhat like this was a “throw away” adventure with no relevance to the main storyline. As is, it turns out it is connected, which I’m stoked about.

What could have been improved

We had some debate over how AoE sustained spells work. They all read in a creature enters the region or starts his turn in it, they take X effect. In the case of stinking cloud the region is movable and this created the question if I move the region onto someone does that count as them “moving into” it. I thought that made the effect WAY to powerful but the other agree that is how it should work. I’d like to know the official ruling on it for next time as if that is the case we should change our strategies accordingly.

Again, the dice were brutal to me. I had +15 on an attack, there is no reason I should have missed it, but I still did and crap went downhill from there. I rolled really poorly on nearly every attack roll that mattered. Then I would roll really well on skill checks that were kind of peripheral. So, in the end, I started hating my d20. You know, it’s just the case, as I’ve said before that I want to see something happening each action and when I don’t, well it’s frustrating.

To compound that frustration, I didn’t feel like I could fulfill my roll. I’m a striker, supposed to get in, do a ton of damage and then get out. Instead I got in, missed and got the crap beat out of me. Right next to me the defender waded in and did insane damage. To the point where I’m re-examining how I created the character to see what I did wrong.

Defender: Dwarf Paladin using a Maul. +9 to attack, 2d6+8 damage (+4 from strength, +2 from Dwarven Weapon Training, +1 Weapon Focus, +1 Magic weapon). His more powerful attacks are doing 4d6, 6d6 and even 8d6+11 damage. His AC is higher and I’m pretty sure he’s got more hit points.

Striker (Me): Human Rogue with a Short sword +10 to attack 1d6+7 damage (+4 from dexterity, +1 from weapon focus, +1 from magic, + 1 from two weapon fighting). With a sneak attack I add 2d6+3 (from strength). End result is that on a basic attack I can do 3d6+10, on my most powerful attack I can do 4d6+14. Yeah, that seemed like a lot, but it just isn’t. Were I to have taken a more dangerous Daily Power, I think I could get it up to 5d6+12 or so, and of course all of these attacks are assuming I have combat advantage, which isn’t hard to get, but often puts me the position of having others gang up on me because I’m the one exposing myself. The fight has several times looked like this.

Party <-> 1 Monster <-> Ace (My character) <->All the other Mosnters

So, great, I get a flank, but now I’ve got an ass ton of guys on my head.

I don’t hold this against the defender. He made a good build and I commend him for it, I’m just frustrated that between dice rolls and weapon inferiority, I’d be contributing more to the group if I just made a clone of his character.   I start thinking about this and start wondering how the game would be different if it were Burning Wheel instaed.  The truth is BW isn’t the answer to everything, but man did I miss me some FoRKs!

Actual Play – Ace Man’s Introduction (1/16/2009)

System: Dungeons & Dragons

This is a little late in the coming, I should have done it this weekend but was busy, forgot, etc. It only really matters because it means my memory is going to be a bit foggier than it normally would be.

I got back into the Friday night D&D game. I left originally because Keep on the Shadowfell was pretty sad in the story department and I was overloaded on games. Right after I left however, the group started the game over in Waterdeep full of political intrigue. The group was evil however, which is a turn off for me because in my experience and evil group always ends up deciding at some point or another that homicide or even genocide is just fine if that is what it takes to get the job done. Still, the DM and I had been talking about what he was doing in the game and I started getting interested. Eventually that game imploded, for pretty much the exact reason I thought it would and another Waterdeep game was born. This one was the “good” characters complete with an epic backstory (fleeing from a town attacked by a Dracolich and her Death Knight Master/Lover) and lots of intrigue. At this point because my other games had calmed some, I was felt ready to jump back in… and boy am I glad I did.

I ended up making 4 different characters to bring into the game, each of them with a single common thread… a wondrous item called the Clamshell of Secrets. A marvelous device that can record and play back sounds. The idea that I had was that my character would be an information broker, someone who bought and sold secrets. The four different characters had different means and motivations for doing so, flavored by their race, class and skills.

The one I picked to play, based on the group composition and other people’s ideas was Ace, a human rogue who is a total mercenary. He’s a thug for hire who allegiance is strangely more to his crew than his pocket. He’s been on the streets of Waterdeep all his life and learned that the only way to get on top is to step on people BUT betraying your own crew is like stabbing yourself in the back, and he’s got a nasty scar to prove it. He’s done bad things in the past and now he’s looking to make something better of himself. Ace is friendly at first but shares little pity for his foes, and he doesn’t expect them to suffer him any mercy. He’s not very smart, he even knows he’s not smart, but he uses his natural predator instincts to the best of his ability.

The adventure was a simple one, at least at first. We were instructed to go into the city sewers and find out who was working against the Baker’s guild down there. We found some undead and an orc who was commanding them, along with some four armed monstrous (but very intelligent) aberration. Turned out he was a member of the Baker’s guild taking orders from another leader within the guild (a woman who we all think is now a vampire). He had been given power by his evil god (name escaping me right now) and wanted to take over the city with an army of undead. Pretty typical bad guy stuff.

Naturally we put a stop to that in a hurry. Destroyed the undead and beat down the orc. We threatened and cajoled him till he spilled the beans on his boss and his motivation. Then we knocked him out to return him to the Guild Hall.

One our way back however, we ran into members of Mercenaries and Guards guild who said we were under arrest for Murder Most Foul! Well, not being one to start fights with the lawful bringers of justice we surrendered immediately, but told them we had to return a member of our guild to the guild hall… guild business you see… something they wouldn’t want to interfere with. They agreed, escorted us back and then things got weird.

As it turns out the leader was actually a doppelganger impersonating the Mercenaries Guild in an attempt to assassinate us. The plan was eventually foiled but not before she duped a whole bunch of us and knocked out our leader… she could have killed him… I wonder why she didn’t.

Later, we were attacked again… this time by an imp who was a personal rival of the previous crew. The battle was interesting as it was composed of a number of non-standard opponents. We we’re caught off guard some but prevailed, largely due to a very intelligent move on the part of Grungebeard Strongarm, our Dwarven Spellscarred wizard who caught the imp and told him to call off his goons.

What rocked

Catching the assassin was very cool for me. I loved feeling like I got some leverage to work with.

Our combat moves were, if nothing else, very fun. As a group we’re more focused on raw damage that special effects, but we still have a good time with the moves we’ve got. In both fights there was a lot of hoping around the board. 4E does not fail in the creation of dynamic conflicts department.

The intrigue between guild politics is fun. I like working for people I’m not sure I can trust fighting people I’m not sure I should oppose. It makes the game of shifting sides viable. For instance, when the Ork said he was working for the interests of the Baker’s guild, I was willing to entertain that he was. Jack Bauer here we come!

The PCs had some good chemistry. One thing I hate in fantasy games is people defining their characters by race of class. One reason I guess I like playing humans is because there is not default stereotypes for humans. So, I was hoping to break the mold of you’re a dwarf and I’m a human so there is no way we can talk about anything else but the fact that we are different because you’re a dwarf and I’m a human. Grungebeard was particularly awesome in this both by agreeing with some of my ideas and, most especially, allowing me to wipe my bloody gut covered hands on his beard. Now that’s a friend!

Dungeon tiles. In one word: Sweetness! They made for very cool, very modular terrain. Be gone battle mat!

What could have been improved

I had an option to learn some information and turned it down because it wasn’t the exact information I wanted. Refusing to take options is something that I hate it when players do. In life we have to compromise, and frankly stories are more interesting if the protagonists suffer setbacks. So why did I get all stubborn and refuse the offer? Who knows, I wasn’t thinking. Anyway, the DM is cool, and when I recognized that I was being a stubborn tard offered me another way to get the information, with a different price this time.

In the first fight I got really frustrated. I missed with all of my attacks and spent half the fight not taking actions due to getting the crap kicked out of me. Baddied rolled well, I rolled crappy. It happens and I shouldn’t get annoyed by it, but I did because the greatest penalty you can give a player is not being able to act. What this means to me is that I need to have a few more “oh shit” options. I’ve got potions I need to remember to use (they are only minor actions after all) and should start planning to have powers that will help me get out of dodge.

Several of the players really weren’t involved in the assassination negotiations and were left with little to do, making that part of the game less fun for them. We agreed however, that next game should be more action oriented so I think all will be satisfied.

I’m missing names and treasure. I know it requires prep work (or quick improve) but we didn’t get the name of the Baker’s guild vampire, nor did we leave with any booty. I definitely could see us getting loot from the Orc (he was pretty nicely set up in the sewers, with a throne, altar, mechanical contraptions, summoning circle, etc) and from the Assassin (just because I set her free, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have taken a magical dagger off her before I did), and possibly even from the imp fight as the panther might have had an enchanted pelt or the vine abomination could have had remnants from his past life.