Friday, September 26, 2008

Gaming/Blogging vs. Real Life

Being in meetings for work for two solid weeks not only destroyed my blogging schedule (as my dozens... well, tens... well... two? faithful readers may have noticed), it also almost made me miss the cutoff for RPG Carnival #2 - THIS IS HOMEBREW!

After building the pyrosphynx and a bunch of 4e spider monsters, that just would not do.

Of course, now I'm going out of town for a hopefully relaxing weekend, which includes forcing myself to not take the laptop along, so there will be another period of silence. I hope to come back with lots of post ideas, though.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Into the Demonweb Forest, Part 1

The all-girl party, informed by Mungo Sandybanks of how to destroy the shards in their possession, headed off toward the Demonweb Forest. As they walked a remote road toward their goal, they noticed a goblin waiting in ambush. The ranger called out to it, but it disappeared into the trees. Figuring the ambush was meant for the road, the party moved off the road directly toward where the goblin had been spied. When the ranger spotted another goblin behind a large rock and shouted its location to the party, the goblins attacked.

The encounter was:
2 goblin sharpshooters (level 2 artillery, 250 xp)
3 goblin warriors (level 1 skirmisher, 300 xp)
2 goblin cutters (level 1 minion, 50 xp)
Map: King's Road from H1 Keep on the Shadowfell

This was intended to be a pretty easy starting encounter, and it didn't disappoint. The girls are still a well-oiled machine, setting up the bad guys to get mowed down by the wizard. They were foiled only by Jen's dice, which managed to roll truly impressive strings of natural ones during both this encounter and the subsequent one whenever she unleashed large area effects.

When the easy goblin encounter was taken care of, the ranger spotted goblin tracks leading to the ambush site, but the party ignored them. Instead they moved off the road and on toward the forest. As they walked along a small stream a while later the dense forest came into view on the horizon. They were confronted at this point by a goblin spellcaster who leaped out and yelled "Take the shards for Drogo!" A rustling of more goblins was heard in the nearby trees, and we rolled initiative... which the goblins lost. Badly.

This encounter (which was intended to take place in the goblins' lair after the ranger tracked them there from the last encounter... but oh well) was:
1 cavern choker (level 4 lurker, 175 xp)
1 goblin hexer (level 3 controller, 150 xp)
2 goblin skullcleavers (level 3 brute, 300 xp)
1 goblin sharpshooters (level 2 artillery, 125 xp)
2 goblin cutters (level 1 minion, 50 xp)
Map: The outdoor 1/4 of Caves of Chaos from Fantastic Locations: The Frostfell Rift

I thought I was in big trouble in round 1 since the hexer was just dangling out in front of the full might of the party. I... umm... fudged a bit and gave the choker its own initiative roll (on which it rolled WAY better than the goblins) and placed it hiding in the stream right next to the paladin. It burst out of the stream and attacked. Even though it missed, it kept the whole party from bearing down on the hexer as a unit. The choker and the paladin slugged it out for the entire fight, the paladin unable to hit and the choker unable to do enough damage to make the dwarf break a sweat. There were some scary moments for the ranger, who tried to take out the hexer by herself and wound up double-teamed by the skullcleavers. Eventually the group (including the paladin, who by this time was grabbed and being choked) started ignoring the choker and mopping up the goblins. Once all the goblins were defeated (and the paladin was barely bloodied after four rounds of choking) they finished the choker off as a team.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Heraldry and the Party

The other day I came across a heraldic device generator (I think one of the other RPG bloggers mentioned it, but I don't remember which one). I thought it would be cool to create a device for Kain's Cadre.

I came up with an initial design based simply on what I thought looked cool. Jen and the DM thought I should go back and redo it, bearing in mind the meanings of the symbols. We found another site that defined a lot of the terms used. With that in mind, we came up with this (which isn't all that different from my "looks cool" original):

The azure field is for loyalty. The sable pale and quartering are for constancy of military strength and fortitude. The lion is for deathless courage, and the gules (red) color is another reference to military strength.

We also hunted around for a motto, and wound up including a family motto from a site listing a huge number of them, added to something I made up to go with it, along with a variant of the Jem'Hadar's "victory is life".

"Strike with power, endure with strength, flourish with victory."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Treasure of Talon Pass, Part 6

Having crushed the imp and his iron defenders, the party was ready to enter the Test of Valor. The dragonborn paladin was ready, declaring his gung-ho-ness to anyone who would listen, and wound up being the one to break down the door and crash head first into the final room.

Once the defenders were in the room, the rogue raced in and started trying to climb out of the arena/pit. That was the signal for the BBEG to unleash all the monsters at once instead of one group at a time. Since the monsters included three guard drakes, just two of which had destroyed the first Garback, I was a little worried.

I had no reason to be. The paladin opened with a dragon breath on the minion skeletons and destroyed most of them, then closed on the burning skeleton and kept it from using its more effective ranged attacks. The guard drakes rolled horrible to hits, so their extra damage for being near allies rarely came into play. The burning skeleton's 1 hit point fire aura and melee damage were so laughable the rogue and paladin ignored them while beating the tar out of him.

The party had destroyed most of the arena monsters by the time the evil mage finished taunting them each round and started throwing spells at them. Once he did, every ranged character in the party ganged up on him and took him out in a round. I think when he went down he was bloodied, slowed, cursed, dazed and on fire. We've been using pipe cleaner rings to track effects, and all you could see of the mage mini at the end was his little head poking out the top of a pile of rings.

The party had re-gelled quite a bit by this point. They were remembering to always let the laser cleric go before someone who was about to expend an encounter or daily power, so she could set up a +2 to hit with lance of faith. Everyone was looking for opportunities to set up flanks for the rogue. The fire resistant tiefling was taunting the burning skeleton as best he could to draw its ongoing fire damage away from other party members and onto his obscene collection of temporary hit points from fallen cursed minions. A successful final battle all around.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Let Me Tell You About Jason's Character

Adincari Qiliir spent his early life growing up under the watchful eye of his Reverend Mother Jeseyu Qiliir in the House Inlindl. He had an aptitude for arcane magics and began training to become an arachnomancer in the service of Lolth and House Qiliir.

Reverend Mother Jeseyu decided to personally train him. She believed that his ability, her training, and his loyalty to her would make him a formidable bodyguard, and she required protection from both the other families and her daughters, all eager to take her place. This proved to be a successful ploy, for while a mere student he uncovered a plot against the matriarch by one of his cousins. This led to the cousin being sacrificed to Lolth. Adincari was allowed to participate in her execution and sacrifice, an act that spurred the scorn of his sisters. The eldest, Myrlice, grew to hate Adincari almost as much as she coveted her mother's position.

As he studied further, he became interested in the source of the power and strength of his race. While poring over texts forbidden to him by his Matriarch, he discovered histories dealing with the nature of Lolth and Corellon Larethian and the expulsion of the drow from other elves. Adincari began to question the reasoning behind Corellon's deception of Lolth and why the Seldarine would side with him in granting the elven race even more knowledge and power.

As time progressed, Adincari began to dwell further on the fact that Lolth had been deceived, thus showing that she was by no means infallible, despite the fact she was revered as such. During one of his study sessions with his matriarch, he broached the subject. Jeseyu attempted to quiet the boy from further blasphemy, but the damage was done. Myrlice Qiliir used this opportunity to discredit Jeseyu for favoring the boy and gain favor with Matron Mother Dultha Sael Inlindl, thus opening her way to becoming Matriarch of Family Qiliir.

Myrlice's triumph was short-lived, however. After considering the implications of Adincari's statements, the Matron Mother decided Family Qiliir should be removed from House Inlindl. She secretly met with the Reverend Mothers of the other families, informing them that her house would no longer protect the family. Eager to remove even a small threat to their seats in the House, and using the charge of blasphemy as justification, families Vicloth and Shiphrin led an attack which destroyed all the holdings and members of Family Qiliir.

Ironically, Jeseyu had already sent Adincari into the wilds of the Underdark to hide him from possible repercussions from his questions. Consequently, he became the last survivor of his family. He crossed into duergar territory, trying to lose any pursuit in the twisting passages. When he overheard a group of the gray dwarves discussing the tale of his family's fall, he fled the Underdark completely.

Whew, all that and he still hasn't met Kain. I guess there will be a part 2 forthcoming...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let Me Tell You About How We're Changing Characters

Wednesday night, right after I wrote up the party roster, Jen decided the halfling wizard just wasn't working for her. She still wanted to play a halfling, but she wanted it to be a rogue. I bowed out of the rogue position for three reasons:
  1. I want Jen to play what she wants to play so she'll be happy.
  2. Recycling the already fairly lousy name "Tsoen-tso" had kind of poisoned my rogue character for me.
  3. I expect the githyanki warlord to use telekinetic leap on the rogue more than anyone else, and flinging a halfling over our heads into the thick of battle is way funnier than flinging a half-elf.
I was now left to fill the sole wizard position. Our group has already seen a tiefling wizard, a dwarf wizard, and a short-lived eladrin wizard. I wanted a control wizard and I already have a non-PHB-race character, so I looked for a PHB race with a wisdom bonus. Since we've had a dwarf, that left elf. I multiclassed into ranger to get a little striker-ness and because that's the class elves are best suited to.

So here's what the party is looking like at the moment:
  • Dragonborn Cleric (Battle) - Inhamut Baltphrin
  • Drow Fey-Pact Warlock - Adincari Qiliir
  • Elf Wizard/Ranger - V
  • Githyanki Warlord (Tactical) - Kain Gaa'zaith
  • (Male!) Halfling Rogue - Hobb Knobbytoes
  • Minotaur Fighter - Revis Marun
I might be changing the /Ranger part of my wizard, though. After seeing how the character came out I think there's probably a better way to spend my feat. I couldn't really buy a high enough dexterity score to be very impressive with the longbow, and being a ranger doesn't make me any better with it than being an elf does. All I got was the quarry thing once per encounter. I was hoping for nimble strike, but ranger multiclassing doesn't get you a power straight off like warlock multiclassing does. I'll still carry the bow since I'm not taking magic missile and I want to have a ranged basic attack for later when the warlord can give free basic attacks.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Treasure of Talon Pass, Part 5

After defeating the drakes and arbalesters, the elf cleric easily found the secret door at the north end of the stage. The party crept north through the secret passage into the abandoned dusty room. They were a bit unnerved by the silence, and even more by the shadow that flitted past the partially open door at the north end of the room.

They crept into the central hallway and the wizard threw the door completely open with mage hand. As she did so, two other doors opened and a ghoul emerged from behind each of the three now-open doors. Meanwhile a wraith floated out of the south wall behind the cleric. The defenders did a pretty good job of locking down the ghouls, in part because they kept getting hit and were spending all their time immobilized. The rest of the party mostly tried to deal with the wraith. At first it looked like the wraith might be a real problem, but it rolled crap to hit. Once the cleric started hitting with her radiant ranged powers, it didn't last long. Once the wraith was destroyed and the full party turned on the ghouls, they didn't last long either.

The lead-up was kind of tense, but once the battle was joined the party did a really good job keeping the monsters split up and pretty ineffective. I probably should have withdrawn the wraith and had it attack from another direction, but it didn't really have a good way past them or a good angle to come back in from.

The penultimate room was an amusing encounter. The imp talked to them as the party tried to convince him that he should ally with the dwarf wizard instead of whoever he was currently helping. The imp stayed near his escape route, but was ignorant of the fact that the rogue had spotted it and warned the wizard. With talks breaking down, and afraid that reinforcements would come out of the hole, the wizard blocked it with a cloud of daggers. With no way to retreat, the imp was slaughtered in a round. They then formed a battle line and beat down the iron defenders that came running from the other side of the room.

The imp managed to accomplish his goal of getting at least two party members across the wall of difficult terrain, but that just meant they were right on top of him after they cut off his escape. One horrible initiative roll later and it was all over for him. The party handled the iron defenders much more easily now that I know to use the 4e MM rules (free opportunity attacks against the single guarded creature) for them instead of the DDM rules (free opportunity attacks against anyone who attacks ANYONE but them while adjacent).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Let Me Tell You About My Wife's Character

The players in the new campaign we're starting got together tonight and hashed out characters a little more. This post is just a note, mostly for our DM, that the cast list of the upcoming campaign has changed a bit.

So here's what the party is looking like now:
  • Dragonborn Cleric (Battle)
  • Drow Fey-Pact Warlock
  • Half-elf Rogue/Warlock - Tsoen-tso
  • Githyanki Warlord (Tactical) - Kain Gaa'zaith
  • Halfling Wizard (War/Wand) - Kithri
  • Minotaur Fighter - Revis Marun
Jen has come up with a back story for Marun, Hatha's twin sister. The two were separated shortly after birth during a raid on their minotaur city. Marun was sold into slavery to the duergar warrior king Derlock the Ashen. Derlock intended to train her to serve as a guard in his keep. As she grew up she was treated harshly but was also trained well in the arts of combat. She came to think of both as her lot in life. While she didn't enjoy the constant beatings and other abuse, she came to see it as necessary for the development of the martial power she enjoyed.

The stability of the life she had found was shattered when the keep of Derlock was attacked and ransacked by a dwarven army. As the other guards fell around her, Marun realized that she felt no loyalty toward them and fled. She crashed through the dwarven lines, meeting little resistance once they realized she wanted to get away. They were more than happy to let such a formidable-looking opponent go.

Marun didn't know that the battle was being observed by the githyanki, Kain, who was watching for a promising dwarf fighter to start his cadre. When the minotaur came crashing out of the castle, knocking dwarf soldiers aside like tenpins, Kain followed her as she fled. He approached her cautiously and asked to hear her story. He saw a kindred spirit in her, raised into a life of combat, but thrust unceremoniously into the world alone. Marun agreed to travel with Kain since she had nowhere else to go. Over the next few weeks, she was surprised to learn that keeping combat skills sharp did not require beatings or insults. Instead Kain trained and tested her skills with inspiring words and encouragement. As the rapport between them grew, so did their trust in one another.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Treasure of Talon Pass, Part 4

Wow, apparently it's been a month and a half since we left our 6-PC party resting in a room where they just defeated two wights and a bunch of zombies. This past weekend we finally all got together again, and the PCs saddled up to tackle level 2 of the dungeon in Treasure of Talon Pass. I added one monster to almost every encounter to balance the party having 6 members instead of 5.

They stepped off the stairs into the lower level and the weird statue room. The dragonborn paladin led the way and was immediately attacked by a spiretop drake and fired at by one arbalester (strange crossbow-topped construct). As soon as she could, the wizard used mage hand to rip down one of the curtains in the center of the room, revealing all the drakes. The five drakes swarmed the party while the two arbalesters mainly targeted the paladin simply because he was standing closest to them.

Things took a bad turn when the rogue circled around to flank a drake and took the full brunt of both arbalesters' double shot power. At first it looked like she'd been killed outright, but that was just because I rolled all attacks and damage at once instead of applying them one at a time and having the constructs switch targets when she fell. I need to keep a closer eye on character hit points in the future, especially when rolling multiple criticals.

The paladin stayed in the middle of the room fighting the last drake and healing the rogue while the rest of the party charged the arbalesters and made pretty short work of them at close range (though the fighter took a number of bolt attacks at point blank range and might have gone down if the last construct had fired one more shot). The wizard got up behind the last one and tried to thunderwave it off the stage. Unfortunately I seem to be really good at rolling the save you get when someone tries to slide you off a ledge, and they had to finish it off as it lay prone and pitiful at the edge of the stage.

Taking a month and a half off really showed. The other party has been meeting every week, is 4th level, and acts like a well-oiled machine at this point. This group charged around aimlessly by comparison. I'm hoping for an experience closer to the former than the latter when Laurel starts DMing in two weeks.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Let Me Tell You About My Character(s)

We had a game yesterday that I should be writing a log entry for, but due to massive real world chaos I haven't really gotten started, don't feel like doing it, and, worst of all, don't have an illustrative sketch from Jen to add to it (and I suspect her growing fan club would never forgive me for that). In my opinion, the best thing about yesterday's game is that now that it's over we're retiring that party and in two weeks I'll be playing 4e instead of DMing it for the first time. I just want to talk about that, and I can illustrate it with something from the random sketch pile... like this pirate parrot.

Anyway, the plan is to start another party of 6, two characters each, with the same 4-person group that's been involved in the Dragonslayers "campaign".* The difference is I'll be playing and Laurel will be DMing.

So here's what the party is looking like (half of them even have names already):
  • Dragonborn Cleric
  • Tiefling Wizard
  • Half-elf Rogue/Warlock - Tsoen-tso
  • Githyanki Warlord (Tactical) - Kain Gaa'zaith
  • Halfling Fey-Pact Warlock
  • Minotaur Fighter - Revis Marun
I was actually going to go with eladrin for my taclord, but Laurel already has that character in the other campaign I'm running, so I wanted something at least a little different. The githyanki has the Int bonus and an encounter power comparable to fey step, so it seemed a good substitute. It was only after I read up a bit on the githyanki entry in the Monster Manual that I saw the problem: a member of a race of militaristic xenophobes in a party with one of the wildest racial mixes I've seen at my table in ages.

Obviously the stereotypical xenophobe part of the gith personality would have to go, but I was hoping to keep the rest. I asked myself what might happen to a non-xenophobic githyanki given their society. Obviously the top answer was "he'd be killed", but we're not playing Traveller so that was out. I settled for exile instead and came up with this back story:

Kain (not his original name) was expelled from his cadre and citadel for espousing heretical ideas. He wanted to recruit members of other races into the cadre to take advantage of their different abilities and specialties. He was dubbed Kain Gaa'zaith, which means something like "foul thrall of enemies" in the gith language. To make sure he wouldn't forget it, his superiors branded his new name on his right forearm before throwing him out into the world alone. He now seeks to gather his own multiracial "cadre" and sell its fighting services to the highest bidder. He thinks that if he molds his new cadre into a formidable force, it will show those who expelled him that he was right. As the campaign starts, Kain has his fledgling cadre (the party) assembled and is willing to lead them anywhere there is someone to fight. He figures the best training exercise is one that might kill you.

* In a bit of irony, the Dragonslayers actually skipped the dragon encounter in the adventure I ran yesterday.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why, That's a Pyrosphynx!

Four commenters came through for me when I asked what the heck the thing is that my dear wife drew. I'd like to thank Fat Alibert, Alex Schroeder, Reverend Mike, and Gomez for their ideas, all of which have been mashed together to create:
Pyrosphynxes are intelligent beasts distantly related to fey lions. Although they are native to the Feywild, pyrosphynxes also reside in the forests of the natural world. Pyrosphynx cubs are small and green, while adult pyrosphynxes are bright orange and red with tails wreathed in flame.

Level 4 Lurker
Pyrosphynx Cub
XP 175
Small fey magical beast
Initiative +9 Senses Perception +3; low-light vision
HP 45; Bloodied 22
AC 19; Fortitude 16, Reflex 17, Will 16
Speed 6
mClaw (standard; at-will)
+7 vs. AC; 1d6 + 4 damage
MUndeniable Cuteness (immediate interrupt, when the pyrosphynx cub is targeted by a melee attack; at will)
+8 vs. Will against the attacker; the attacker must target a different creature or end its attack.
CShattering Cry (standard; recharge 6) * Thunder
Close burst 2; +5 vs. Fortitude; 2d6 + 4 thunder damage, and the target is dazed until the end of the pyrosphynx cub's next turn.
Forest Camouflage
If a pyrosphynx cub is in forest terrain when it makes an initiative check at the start of an encounter, it can make a Stealth check to escape notice.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Elven
Skills Stealth +10
Str 11 (+2) Dex 16 (+5) Wis 12 (+3)
Con 15 (+4) Int 8 (+1) Cha 15 (+4)

Pyrosphynx Cub Tactics
A pyrosphynx cub uses its shattering cry as often as possible, trusting in its camouflage and undeniable cuteness to keep enemies from attacking it effectively.
Level 8 Brute
Pyrosphynx Sun Lion
XP 350
Large fey magical beast (fire)
Initiative +6 Senses Perception +6; low-light vision
HP 106; Bloodied 53
AC 20; Fortitude 21, Reflex 20, Will 19
Speed 6
mClaw (standard; at-will)
+11 vs. AC; 2d8 + 4 damage
MPounce (standard; at-will)
The pyrosphynx sun lion moves up to 6 squares and makes a claw attack. If the attack hits, the target is knocked prone.
MTail Lash (immediate reaction, when an enemy moves to a position where it flanks the pyrosphynx sun lion; at-will) * Fire
The pyrosphynx attacks the enemy with its fiery tail: reach 2; +9 vs. Reflex; 1d8 + 4 fire damage.
RSpitfire (standard; encounter) * Fire
Ranged 10; +9 vs. Reflex; 2d10 + 5 fire damage and ongoing 5 fire damage (save ends).
CEarsplitting Roar (standard; recharge 5 6) * Thunder
Close burst 5; +7 vs. Fortitude; 1d8 + 5 thunder damage, and the target is stunned until the end of the pyrosphinx's next turn. Miss: Half damage.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Common, Elven
Skills Intimidate +11
Str 18 (+8) Dex 14 (+6) Wis 15 (+6)
Con 16 (+7) Int 16 (+7) Cha 15 (+6)

Pyrosphynx Sun Lion Tactics
A pyrosphynx sun lion opens with a spitfire if no enemies are nearby, then a pounce if it can move without provoking opportunity attacks. Once in melee it uses its earsplitting roar as often as it can, and uses claw attacks if it can't.

Level 14 Artillery
Firebred Pyrosphynx
XP 1,000
Large elemental magical beast (fire)
Initiative +12 Senses Perception +11; low-light vision
HP 110; Bloodied 55
AC 26; Fortitude 26, Reflex 26, Will 25
Speed 6
mClaw (standard; at-will)
+20 vs. AC; 1d10 + 4
MTail Lash (immediate reaction, when an enemy moves to a position where it flanks the firebred pyrosphynx; at-will) * Fire
The pyrosphynx attacks the enemy with its fiery tail: reach 2; +19 vs. Reflex; 1d10 + 5 fire damage.
RSpitfire (standard; at-will) * Fire
Ranged 10; +19 vs. Reflex; 1d8 + 6 fire damage and ongoing 5 fire damage (save ends).
CFireburst (standard; recharge 6) * Fire
Close blast 5; +16 vs. Fortitude; 2d10 fire damage and ongoing 10 fire damage (save ends). Miss: Half damage.
CBurst of Rage (free, when first bloodied; encounter) * Fire
The pyrosphynx’s fireburst recharges, and the pyrosphynx uses it immediately.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Common, Elven
Skills Intimidate +16
Str 18 (+11) Dex 20 (+12) Wis 18 (+11)
Con 20 (+12) Int 18 (+11) Cha 18 (+11)

Firebred Pyrosphynx Tactics
A firebred pyrosphynx uses its spitfire every round. If enemies get too close it uses fireburst.

Pyrosphynx Lore
A character knows the following information with a successful Arcana check.
DC 15: Pyrosphynxes are intelligent creatures that grow from tiny green cubs into large red and orange fire-breathing beasts.
DC 20: Some pyrosphynxes are raised and trained by creatures of elemental fire. These specimens are infused with elemental fire and become living artillery.

Encounter Groups
Pyrosphynx sun lions are often worshiped by tribes of humanoids that live in their territory. Firebred pyrosphynxes are often the treasured pets of azer beastlords.
Level 8 Encounter (XP 1,700)
* 1 pyrosphynx sun lion (level 8 brute)
* 2 pyrosphynx cubs (level 4 lurker)
* 1 greenscale marsh mystic (level 6 controller)
* 3 blackscale bruisers (level 6 brute)
Level 15 Encounter (XP 5,800)
* 2 firebred pyrosphynxes (level 14 artillery)
* 1 azer beastlord (level 17 soldier)
* 1 azer foot soldier (level 14 soldier)
* 3 azer warriors (level 17 minion)
Total monster-building time: around 3-4 hours, but that's a complete entry. It's got three variants, lore, encounter groups, and a new picture of the sun lion variant.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What the heck IS that?

The series of spider monsters ported to 4e made my dear wife sick of drawing spiders. "You should be making up your own monsters if you're going to write posts like that!" she cried.

"Fine," I replied. "Draw me some and I'll stat them up."

That might have been a mistake. She drew the... thing to the right.

Somebody help me out. What the heck IS that? What should it do? Why is its face so freaky big?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spider Monsters for 4e Part 5 - Spider Minion, Spider Minion

If ever there was a type of monster that should go "squish" when struck by the mighty blades of the PCs, it would seem to be the lowly small-sized giant spider. Spider minions, attack!
Crab Spider
A crab spider is a giant poisonous spider. They are meat eaters and attack by dropping onto their victims.

Level 4 Minion
Crab Spider
XP 44
Small natural beast (spider)
Initiative +5 Senses Perception +8; tremorsense 5
HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion.
AC 18; Fortitude 16, Reflex 16, Will 14
Speed 6, climb 6 (spider climb)
mBite (standard; at-will) * Poison
+9 vs. AC; 4 damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends). Saving throws made against the crab spider's weak poison gain a +2 bonus.
Alignment Unaligned Languages -
Skills Athletics +9, Stealth +10
Str 15 (+4) Dex 16 (+5) Wis 13 (+3)
Con 14 (+4) Int 1 (-3) Cha 6 (+0)

Crab Spider Tactics
Crab spiders prefer to drop from walls or ceilings onto their victims, then swarm over them.
I was thinking about doing a few separate levels of spider minions, kind of like the Angel of Valor write-up in the Monster Manual on page 16, but I don't really need those at the moment. Maybe later.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Spider Monsters for 4e Part 4 - Tarantella

Digging all the way back to my Moldvay Basic Set book, I found one of the worst puns ever inflicted on us by a monster designer: the tarantella, a spider whose poison makes you dance. This gimmicky creature screams to me to be brought forward to 4e. Apparently it didn't scream to anyone else, since I don't think I've seen it in any monster book other than the basic set, even my beloved Tome of Horrors.

I like the way the dance is infectious to the viewers, so I want to capture that.
A tarantella is a huge, hairy, magical spider with magical poison in its fangs. The poison afflicts its victims with painful spasms which resemble a frantic dance. The dance affects onlookers, and they may start to dance the same way.

Level 5 Controller
XP 200
Medium natural beast (spider)
Initiative +4 Senses Perception +3; tremorsense 5
HP 61; Bloodied 30
AC 19; Fortitude 17, Reflex 17, Will 16
Speed 6, climb 6 (spider climb)
mBite (standard; at-will) * Poison
+10 vs. AC; 1d6 + 2 damage, and the tarantella makes a secondary attack against the same target. Secondary Attack: +8 vs Fortitude; the target takes ongoing 5 poison damage and is dancing (treat as dazed, save ends both). First Failed Save: The target is stunned instead of dazed (save ends) and all non-spiders in a close burst 3 of the target are attacked by the secondary attack at +6 vs. Fortitude instead of +8. Second Failed Save: The target stops taking damage, but is helpless instead of stunned (save ends). Saving throws made against the tarantella's poison take a –2 penalty.
Alignment Unaligned Languages -
Skills Athletics +9, Stealth +9
Str 15 (+4) Dex 15 (+4) Wis 13 (+3)
Con 13 (+3) Int 1 (-3) Cha 11 (+2)

Tarantella Tactics
A tarantella wades into combat, attempting to bite as many foes as possible. It will attempt to drag off the first one to fall helpless.

Tarantella Lore
A character knows the following information with a successful Nature check.
DC 15: The tarantella is a strange magical spider whose poison makes victims dance until they drop from exhaustion, at which point the spider devours them.

Encounter Groups
Tarantella are often encountered alone, but sometimes other creatures will take advantage of their attacks to try to drag off helpless victims.
Level 5 Encounter (XP 1050)
* 1 tarantella (level 5 controller)
* 1 narleth (level 6 elite brute)
* 2 deathjump spiders (level 4 skirmisher)
There's a lot of text packed into that bite, but it's pretty much all this thing does. I'm not as pleased with it as I was with the narleth, but I think it's better than my attempt at the aranea.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I'm going to take a break from porting spidery monsters to 4e for a day. Ravyn at Exchange of Realities just posted about fleshing out familiars. It reminded me of the most memorable familiar that ever turned up in one of my campaigns. I thought I'd talk a little about how that familiar, QuickSilver the pseudodragon, developed. Where he came from was covered in the linked article.

The key question that I asked at the time is in ravyn's article: "how does the familiar view its person’s competence level? Who does it think needs whom?" For the first couple of in-game months that the wizard had QuickSilver, the pseudodragon sat quietly in his pocket and watched. Mostly this was because as DM I wasn't used to having to play a familiar at all. In the end this quiet period became critical to QuickSilver's development.

After the party had completed some travel and one major adventure where QuickSilver did nothing but occasionally pop his head out to look for invisible threats, my wife/co-DM and I had some long discussions about how he might start to assert himself. We decided that since this was an axiomatic (law-aligned) pseudodragon, he should be keenly analytical and logical. Since the player of the wizard is a huge Star trek fan, we gave QuickSilver's personality a healthy dose of Mr. Spock. For example, in his first deep discussion with the wizard he pointed out that he had been observing the wizard for "two months, eight days, twelve hours and fourteen minutes".

It had also come to my attention that the player was having trouble making the wizard as effective as he wanted. At the time I had come across Being Batman: the Logic Ninja's Guide to Wizards, and hoped that if I could get the wizard to use some of those ideas his effectiveness would increase. So we decided to make the familiar an adviser and teacher, kind of like Spock to the wizard's Kirk or Brian to Dave's fledgling wizard in Knights of the Dinner Table these past couple years. In that first discussion QuickSilver indicated he wanted to discuss "more effective spell selection and deployment".

Finally, we decided that QuickSilver needed to use some sort of honorific to refer to the wizard, to reinforce the master/adviser relationship since he was about to get bossy/nitpicky. We toyed with lifting Spock's "Captain", but eventually settled on the more medieval "My Liege". This had the additional amusing effect of making the player a bit squirmy, as admonitions of "Just call me Raerskhed" were met with "Of course, my liege."

The simple personality base (logical, analytical) coupled with the honorific made it simple for me to get into character. When I turned to the player and said "My liege, we need to talk," I was instantly in character. The spell mentor relationship I had envisioned didn't really have time to get going, since we only played two more complete adventures in that campaign.

Maybe the wizard's player will drop by and leave his impression of my efforts from his side of the screen (hint hint QuinnTheRanger...)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Spider Monsters for 4e Part 3 - Narleth

Probably my favorite monster from the old 3e Creature Collection is the narleth. Something about the look of it just grabbed me the first time I saw it. This "horrible blending of human and spider" should be relatively painless to port to 4e - it has two fairly simple powers and four hands full of weapons.
The narleth are a horrible blending of human and spider. The narleth is larger than a man, with four arms ending in large, clawed hands. They delight in causing misery to any creature that stumbles into their clutches, immobilizing them and slowly dissolving them with their venom.

Level 6 Elite Brute
Narleth Webspitter
XP 500
Large natural humanoid (spider)
Initiative +6 Senses Perception +9; darkvision
HP 176; Bloodied 88
AC 20; Fortitude 21, Reflex 20, Will 17
Saving Throws +2
Speed 8, climb 8 (spider climb)
Action Points 1
mFalchion (standard; at-will) * Weapon
Reach 2; +9 vs. AC; 1d10 + 4 damage, and the target is pushed 1 square.
MDouble Attack (standard; at-will) * Weapon
The narleth makes two falchion attacks.
CBlade Frenzy (standard; encounter) * Weapon
Close burst 2; targets enemies; +9 vs. AC; 1d10 + 4 damage, and the target is pushed 1 square.
CBloodied Frenzy (free, when first bloodied; encounter)
The narleth recharges and uses blade frenzy.
MQuick Bite (minor 1/round; at-will) * Poison
Immobilized target only; +8 vs. AC; 1d6 + 2 damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).
RSpit Web (minor; recharge 5 6)
Ranged 10; +11 vs. Reflex; the target is restrained (save ends).
Alignment Chaotic Evil Languages -
Skills Athletics +10, Perception +10, Stealth +11
Str 15 (+5) Dex 17 (+6) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 18 (+7) Int 6 (+1) Cha 3 (-1)

Narleth Webspitter Tactics
A narleth webspitter prefers to attack from ambush, concealing itself, then springing and covering a victim with a spray of webbing. Once the victim is trapped, the narleth closes in to use its bite. It uses its weapons to fend off the victim's allies.

Narleth Lore
A character knows the following information with a successful Nature check.
DC 15: Narleth, which in Elvish means "silken death", are a plague upon elvenkind, terrorizing their forests and preying upon their children.

Encounter Groups
Narleth usually hunt alone, but are sometimes encountered with spiders.
Level 6 Encounter (XP 1250)
* 1 narleth webspitter (level 6 elite brute)
* 2 giant webby spiders (level 5 controller)
* 2 deathjump spiders (level 4 skirmisher)
Oh yeah, I'm pretty pleased with how this guy came out. He focuses on one poor webbed fool while using all those weapon attacks with push effects to keep the victim's buddies at bay. He's also almost an appropriate encounter for my 4-girl 4th level party by himself. Tack on one spider and he's ready to take them on.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Spider Monsters for 4e Part 2 - Aranea

After making a new monster for the upcoming adventures in the spider-haunted forest, I thought I'd do a few more. I thought for this one I'd go really old school with a monster I remembered from module X2, Castle Amber. Then I noticed that it had come along for the ride into the 3e monster manual and the SRD, which might make this a bit easier...
An aranea is an intelligent, shapechanging spider with sorcerous powers. In its natural form, an aranea resembles a big spider, with a humpbacked body a little bigger than a human torso. It has fanged mandibles like a normal spider. Two small arms, each about 2 feet long, lie below the mandibles. Each arm has a hand with four many-jointed fingers and a double-jointed thumb.

Level 4 Controller
Aranea Webmage
XP 175
Medium natural beast (shapechanger, spider)
Initiative +5 Senses Perception +8; darkvision
HP 52; Bloodied 26
AC 18; Fortitude 16, Reflex 17, Will 16
Speed 8, climb 4 (spider climb)
mBite (standard; at-will) * Poison
+8 vs. AC; 1d6 damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).
mDagger (standard; at-will) * Weapon
+9 vs. AC; 1d4 damage
rPsychic Bite (standard; at-will) * Psychic
Ranged 5; +9 vs. Will; 1d6+2 psychic damage, and the target is dazed (save ends).
RWeb Net (minor; recharge 5 6)
Ranged 10; +11 vs. Reflex; the target is restrained (save ends).
ASleep (standard; encounter) * Sleep
Area burst 2 within 10; +10 vs. Will; the target falls unconscious (save ends).
Change Shape (minor; at-will) * Polymorph
An aranea webmage can alter its physical form to appear as a unique Medium humanoid or a Medium spider-humanoid hybrid (see Change Shape, MM page 280). It loses its bite and web net attacks in humanoid form. It loses its weapon attack in its spider form.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Common, Elven
Skills Athletics +7, Perception +8, Stealth +10
Str 11 (+2) Dex 16 (+5) Wis 13 (+3)
Con 14 (+4) Int 15 (+4) Cha 15 (+4)

Aranea Webmage Tactics
An aranea webmage avoids physical combat, using its webs to immobilize targets and employing its psychic bite. In a battle, it tries to immobilize the most aggressive opponents first.

Encounter Groups
Aranea are often encountered with spiders and can also be found leading groups of ettercaps.
Level 4 Encounter (XP 875)
* 1 aranea webmage (level 4 controller)
* 2 ettercap fang guards (level 4 skirmisher)
* 2 deathjump spiders (level 4 skirmisher)
Okay, this one was not nearly as simple as the webby spider. I was thinking about doing a second stat block with a higher level and more spell focused version, but just this one has taken way too long. Maybe tomorrow I'll hit a happy medium...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wait - Where Are the Webcrawling Spiders in 4e?

As revealed in the last log post for my all-girl party, they are about to embark on a quest into a dark forest crawling with spiders. I've been walking around all week with visions of web-draped trees in my head and thoughts of the girls fighting their way through hordes of creepy crawlies. I also plan to get some use out of Mearls' fancy skill challenge wandering monster checks in the forest.

So imagine my disappointment when I cracked the 4e Monster Manual and found exactly one spider at their level, and that one modeled off the wolf spider rather than the web-spinning variety.

I figured I needed at least one giant web-crawling spider before game day, and I thought others might get some mileage out of it, so here it is:
Giant Webby Spider
This aggressive web-spinning spider uses webs as weapons against its prey. This type of spider often waits in its web for passing creatures to become entangled, or drops onto prey passing beneath.

Level 5 Controller
XP 200
Giant Webby Spider
Medium natural beast (spider)
Initiative +6 Senses Perception +5; tremorsense 5
HP 63; Bloodied 31
AC 19; Fortitude 16, Reflex 18, Will 17
Speed 6, climb 6 (spider climb)
mBite (standard; at-will) ✦ Poison
+9 vs. AC; 1d6 + 4 damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).
RWeb Net (minor; at-will)
Ranged 5; +9 vs. Reflex; the target is restrained (save ends).
AWebbed Terrain (standard; recharge 6) ✦ Zone
Area burst 2 within 5; +8 vs. Reflex; the target is immobilized (save ends). The zone is filled with spider webs and is considered difficult terrain until the end of the encounter.
Web Walker
A giant webby spider ignores the movement effects of spider webs and difficult terrain related to spider swarms.
Alignment Unaligned Languages -
Skills Stealth +11
Str 14 (+4) Dex 18 (+6) Wis 17 (+5)
Con 15 (+4) Int 1 (-3) Cha 8 (+1)

Giant Webby Spider Tactics
A giant webby spider often attacks from ambush with webbed terrain and web net, then moves to attack the victim of the web net.
That was simple and really kinda fun. I might do some more monsters this week. The selection of 4th-8th level monsters for the kinds of encounters I'm planning for the next stage of the campaign is kind of thin.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Is Eldarin the New Rouge?

I've seen it in a couple of places on the web now, and even had a guy pronounce it that way at me in a 3e/4e debate in a game store. It shouldn't bug me as much as rogue/rouge that a made-up word like eladrin is being butchered into eldarin all over the web, but it kinda does.

It's eladrin, people. Say it with me: Ell-add-rin. Eladrin is 4e for high/gray elves. Eldarin is a branch of Tolkien elvish.

I feel a 4e character coming on...

The Eldarin Rouge
Male Eladrin Rogue
Level 1 Good

Strength12+1Armor Class15

Hit Points20Healing Surge Hit Points Healed5Second Wind
Bloodied10Healing Surges/Day5

Race and Class Features
Eladrin Will, Fey Origin, Trance, Fey Step, Low-light Vision, First Strike, Artful Dodger, Rogue Weapon Talent, +2d6 Sneak Attack


Trained Skills
Acrobatics, Bluff, Intimidate, Stealth, Streetwise, Thievery

At-will: Deft Strike, Sly Flourish
Encounter: Positioning Strike
Daily: Easy Target

Leather armor, sling, short sword, thieves' tools, red cloak

Common, Eldarin

Ugh, formatting that was a pain. I think I'll stick to powers and monsters from now on...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Full-party Initiative

Through most of the Iron Heroes campaign I was playing in earlier this year, and throughout both of the 4th edition campaigns I've been running since late June, we've been using a loose house ruled system for initiative. Each PC rolls initiative. The monsters roll once (I usually use an off-the-top-of-my-head average of their modifiers to get one modifier). The PCs who beat the monsters go, in any order. Then the monsters go in any order, and the PCs go in any order. Repeat.

In Iron Heroes, with very few effect durations to worry about, this was a completely simple system to implement. Everyone seemed to love it. It fostered cooperation and teamwork among the PCs. It kept everyone's head in the game at almost all times.

In 4th edition, there are a few hurdles to jump over, but I firmly believe they're worth it. You have to be careful of all the durations on effects, but since 4e thrives on teamwork anyway this initiative system really brings out the best in the PCs.

I haven't had much trouble with the durations yet, surprisingly. The 4e Player's Handbook has a section on page 288 where it spells out the effects of delaying and where effects start and end if you do so, but that section strikes me as way more complicated than I want to deal with.

Basically I play that if an effect lasts "until the end of your next turn", that means each party member gets to take advantage of it once. Sure, it's a little weird if the warlord gives some creature an AC penalty after the ranger acts, then the paladin takes advantage of it, then a new round starts and the paladin acts again without the bonus, then the ranger acts and gets the bonus, but that's in keeping with the spirit of the duration and it really hasn't come up that often.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Review: 4e DM screen

I had heard good things about the D&D 4th edition DM screen so I picked one up before the game last weekend.

I love it. I didn't have to reference it once, and I still love it. I don't care if I never have to reference it, I love it anyway. I love its shiny surface and its solid construction.

The construction on this thing is the second best I've ever seen, topped only by a generic one I can't find online at the moment (a big silver thing you could slide whatever printouts you wanted into) that I believe costs twice as much. The main thing, for me, is that it stomps my 3e screen and my old AD&D screen into the dirt. The 3e screen, even though it's also four panels in one piece, is toilet-paper-thin compared to the 4e beast. The AD&D screen was not as thick (though also not as flimsy as the 3e screen), but was two two-panel pieces that I was always clipping together with something or another.

I just wanted to say that, even though it was really terse. Now I want to go finish watching Heroes Season 2 and read War and XPs, two things which might have something to do with the terseness.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Shards of the Gate of Darkness, Part 7

After defeating the main encounter and killing poor little Scuttles, the party gathered up the cabal's treasure and returned to town. As they approached, they spotted smoke and ran into town. They discovered that the tiefling that fled the first battle at the jungle temple was setting fire to the head librarian's house. The librarian was at a window calling for help, and the ranger rushed to his aid.

This was a pretty weak encounter, but it was completely unplanned. I just needed them to mop up the last cabal member.
1 tiefling heretic (level 6 artillery, 250 xp)
Map: Market Square from Fantastic Locations: City of Peril

The heretic's cloak of escape ability helped him to hold on for quite a while on his own, while the ranger pulled the librarian out of the burning house and went in after an unconscious halfling who was also in the house. Eventually, though, the melee types stopped attacking the heretic and just moved around him to cut off avenues of escape while the ranged types shot at him. He did get one shot in at the defenseless librarian just because I was feeling spiteful, but the party jumped in with healing immediately and saved the old man.

After the heretic was defeated, the librarian introduced the party to Mungo Sandybanks, the halfling who had been in the house with him and "an old and trusted friend." Mungo explained that his friend had contacted him to see if he knew anything about how to destroy the shards, and in fact he did. Mungo told them they could destroy the shards by placing them under the roots of the largest tree in the Demonweb Forest, a dark forest full of giant spiders and worse.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Shards of the Gate of Darkness, Part 6

After the nearly disastrous fight against the cambion and the tiefling, I was really concerned about throwing essentially the same encounter at the group with extra monsters. I needn't have worried because
  1. The dice decided to reverse themselves suddenly
  2. I gave my bruiser a small Achilles heel and they exploited the crap out of it
So as noted in the last post, this combat was two tieflings, a cambion hellsword, and a fire beetle. The first good move the girls made was to draw the bad guys out onto the Jungle Temple map with ghost sound so they could stay near the healing font. The tiefling darkblade came out first, invisibly, to investigate. He blew a Stealth check and the ranger made a massive Perception roll followed by a massive attack into his square. That set the stage for the whole group to spend two rounds beating the crap out of the guy while the wizard yelled downstairs in Supernal "Everything's okay! Got it under control!" and made a nice Bluff check while the crew downstairs blew their Insight checks. See what I meant about the dice?

After the darkblade was destroyed, as the girls fell back toward the font, the rest of the monsters came up from below. The girls didn't like the look of the beetle and unloaded enough ranged firepower at it to bloody it immediately. The Achilles heel mentioned above was the fact that the cambion thought of the (pretty fragile at this level) beetle as a pet. He got perturbed and charged the wizard, doing a chunk of damage. Then the warlord and paladin engaged him while the wizard withdrew. The warlord hit him with Viper's Strike and the paladin marked him.

Then the ranger shot the beetle again and killed it.

With a cry of "YOU KILLED SCUTTLES!!" the cambion disengaged from the warlord and took a blow from the paladin due to Viper's Strike. Then he charged the ranger, missed, and took more damage from the paladin's mark. To make matters worse, the ranger proceeded to taunt him and shift back after each attack she made for the next two rounds while the warlord and paladin came in from behind to keep him marked and viper struck. When it looked like he might come to his senses the wizard taunted him in his own language, reminding him that the ranger killed Scuttles. He went down from paladin mark damage during his third missed attack on the ranger. After that the last tiefling was slowly whittled down with ranged attacks so he couldn't teleport away.

This was a cake walk by comparison to the first fight, mostly because the party couldn't seem to miss and the cambion only hit once or twice, but the viper striking and paladin mark damage didn't hurt either. On the plus side, I suspect this is one we'll be harking back to and laughing about for a long time....

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Shards of the Gate of Darkness, Part 5

After the tough fight in the dragon's graveyard, the group fled back to the town to lick their wounds. After some debate, they elected to let their librarian contact hide the three shards they had recovered. After an extended rest, using a clue they found on the dead tiefling in the middle of the graveyard, they struck out to take the fight to the cabal's hideout.

I had two very similar encounters planned for the cabal's hideout:
1 tiefling heretic (level 6 artillery, 250 xp)
1 cambion hellsword (level 8 brute, 350 xp) wearing Gauntlets of Ogre Power
Map: Jungle Temple from D&D Miniatures Game Starter Set

1 tiefling darkblade (level 7 lurker, 300 xp)
1 tiefling heretic (level 6 artillery - 250 xp)
1 cambion hellsword (level 8 brute - 350 xp)
1 fire beetle (level 1 brute - 100 xp)
Map: Tomb of Queen Peregrine from Fantastic Locations: Fane of the Drow

As the group approached the jungle temple, the cambion and the party spotted each other and the cambion won initiative. He opened with his whirlwind charge and started hammering away at the paladin. The tiefling came out and started flinging balefire at the other party members. The party tried to focus attacks on the cambion but had a terrible time rolling high enough to hit him. The ranger eventually ran past the front line and tried to shut down the tiefling. When the tiefling retreated to the healing font and got back a bunch of hit points, the ranger did the same. The ranger and the wizard eventually chased the tiefling off the field. Then they all turned their attention to the cambion and managed to finish it off.

When the fight started, I hadn't decided whether to give the healing font the effect listed on the map (use a standard action to regain 20 hit points). As the fight wore on, and the party expended all their healing and daily powers (only hitting with one out of four), I realized the second encounter would destroy them without a place where they could heal up. Their die rolls throughout this fight were simply abominable. Meanwhile, the cambion was seemingly unable to miss the paladin's armor class of 22 and the tiefling pretty reliably hit whoever he aimed at. The cambion spent most of the fight feeling almost completely safe, so he didn't bother to use his Gauntlets of Ogre Power. Once the full party turned on him his luck fled and he was no longer able to hit anyone, so he was unable to use the gauntlets then.