Eberron

D&D 4E Wrap-Up Thoughts

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There’s been a lot written about D&D 4E and why is it superior/inferior to all other editions. I really don’t care about those arguments. This is my blog and I’m going to write MY thoughts. :p
(In other word, the following post is my OPINION and does not reflect a judgement upon anyone. If you find a game to be fun, then play what you like!)

I love playing D&D, regardless of edition. That doesn’t mean I like all editions equally. The title of this blog is How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love all D&D, and even though I tried (I think the dozen or so sessions of D&D 4E with a mix of adventures from Dungeons and adventure I wrote myself counts as having given it a fair shake), I just can’t love 4E. I’m going to stop short of saying I’ll never run/play it again, but it is not my edition of choice.

Why?

First of all, I don’t want a debate with 4E-lovers. Let’s just say it doesn’t fit my GMing style and leave it at that. The real answer is more complicated than that, but as long as you can accept that personal preferences do not have to be the same for every person who plays the game, then we’re good. There’s just something about it that rubs me the wrong way as a GM and I just don’t enjoy running the game like I have with other editions. I think part of it is the tactical combat. The more tactical combat is in a game, the less I seem to like it. At first, when D&D 3rd edition came out, I was totally on-board, but the more I played it, and through the transition to 4E, I just found combat tedious.

4E has it good points, to be sure. The online tools work pretty well as much as I used them and certainly made my game prep easier. Far easier than it had been since 2E and the Core Rules CD-Rom. The tools made it dead easy to convert classic adventures (Basic D&D and AD&D) as long as you know how to build 4E encounters. I learned that you can’t rely on the Encounter Builder’s estimation too much, because it makes assumptions that my group didn’t always meet (it was rare for us to play with more than 4 player-characters, for one, and we did not have a perfectly balanced party of Defender-Striker-Controller-Leader all the time).

My background in D&D starts in 1982 with the Moldvay/Mentzer basic sets (my friend had one and I had the other). I moved on from there to AD&D and spent much of my gaming “life” playing AD&D 2nd edition. I played a lot of 3rd edition and really liked it, but always felt 4E moved too far away from what I was used to. To me, and I stress this is MY opinion and not meant to infer that everyone should share my opinion, it feels like Fantasy Superheroes, far more so than D&D 3.X ever did. My last session with the system really cemented that with character making vertical leaps from standing that really, probably, should’ve been physically impossible, though I will admit I didn’t stop the game to look up jumping rules, so maybe I just screwed it up.

We’re moving on (some might say backwards) to Pathfinder. Time will tell how I feel about it. I spent a lot of time running D&D 3.X, but I’ve only run one Pathfinder game. Maybe it’ll be too complicated for me (I suspect I’m going to find combat too tedious and complicated since it’s just an evolution from 3.x). I’ve said before (in this blog or elsewhere) that the older I get, the more I prefer rules-light systems and I think we can all agree that D&D 3.X, Pathfinder, and D&D 4E are anything but rules-light. I’m curious to see how much game prep is involved in running an adventure path. We’re going to start with Skull & Shackles. I’m hoping the chance to be pirates will allow my players to indulge in some of their more anarchic tendencies and by the time we’re finished with it, they’ll be ready to play the heroes they’ll need to be for adventures like Rise of the Runelords. To further add to the anarchy, the PCs will be goblins (at least until/if they die; I won’t restrict races for replacement characters).

Who knows? By the end of the year, I might swear off modern D&D/Pathfinder altogether and go back to my beloved AD&D 2nd edition and play other games like Savage Worlds and various FATE-based games. Or, I might finally grok the rules-heavy games (I haven’t felt I had a system mastery of an RPG since I left AD&D 2nd edition and the West End Games Star Wars d6 behind). Time will tell.

I asked my long-term players (of varying levels of experience) to write up some of their thoughts about D&D 4E (as I did with Basic D&D). Here is what they had to say (names have been altered to protect the innocent):

Theirastra’s Player: “[4E] is too complex and takes the fun out of the role playing aspect of the game. And in an effort to please everyone, there are zillions of races [and classes], which are not really necessary. I liked Basic better. Haven’t played enough Pathfinder to compare to it.”

Mercutio’s Player: “After running a campaign and playing in this short one, I think that 4E reads better than it plays.  In practice, while our powers all have different names, they all come off on the gameboard like pretty much the same stuff.  The numbers are a little too sterile for my taste, if that makes sense.  There’s no “swing” on rolls.  Little sense of risk/reward, in that you don’t feel in danger with all those hit points and surges and heals and stuff, and you don’t get the satisfaction of smashing your enemies into tiny bits, since most of them take 3 or 4 hits to fall down.  Even a crit isn’t terribly satisfying in this system, and that seems kind of wrong.”

I won’t go so far as to say that I think D&D 4E is a bad game. It’s OK. It does what it’s trying to do well, but it’s not what I am looking for when I play D&D. It’s not what I think the game should have evolved into. If my opinion on that offends you, then you really need to take a closer look at your life, your passions, and your priorities. To those who love 4E and think it’s the best edition yet: more power to you. I’m glad you’ve found an edition you love. It’s just not the edition I love.

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Categories: Eberron, Random Thoughts | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Session 10 – Stopping the Clockwork

When we last left our valorous PCs, they were speeding across the sky in a House Lyrandar airship, hastening to intercept the Lighting Rail presumably carrying Clockwork and his army of mechanized men toward Sharn.

As they approached the Lightning Rail, they devised a cunning plan. The plan was to overtake the train, and use the power of the airship to lift away some of the conductor stones. The captain of the airship was amenable to the plan and put it into motion. Night fell and the train reached the gap in the conductor stones, running off the rails and crashing, sending dirt, trees, and shrubberies flying (poor Roger). While they had hoped removing the conductor stones would cause the Lightning Rail to stop, they didn’t take into account that the conductors running the train wouldn’t be able to see the gap in the night. Still, with the train stopped, they rappelled down from the airship to deal with the warforged. At this point, they didn’t actually know if there were any innocents on the train, but proceeded anyway because the needs of the many, etc. etc.

A large number of warforged were picking themselves up off the ground. There were more on top of the train, presumably guards. The lighting elemental that was bound to the train broke free and started going on a rampage. The captain of the airship dropped our heroes off while they went to deal with the elemental. With the element of surprise, the heroes took out several of the warforged as they recovered from the crash. Master Yorel rushed inside the Lightning Rail in an attempt to deal with Clockwork himself.

The battle raged on the ground around the crash Lightning Rail and on top of it. The House Lyrandar airship kept the lightning elemental occupied whilst our heroes dealt with the warforged. Occasionally, they’d hear explosions and breaking glass from inside the coaches. Wave after wave of warforged poured out, and finally Master Yorel, thrown from a window. Clockwork and his lieutenants followed on his heels. Though Master Yorel was set on fire at one point, our heroes eventually proved triumphant, defeating Clockwork and his army of mechanized men.

Master Yorel commented that while they stopped Clockwork from reaching the old Creation Forge, they used up all their hard-earned Xendrik Expedition money to do so. After some much-needed healing, rest, and relaxation, it would be back to the grindstone: chasing down rumors of lost artifacts to sell; more treasure hunting for profit and glory….

When I developed the climactic battle of the campaign, I envisioned a battle where the PCs helped maneuver an airship to intercept a Lightning Rail and leapt between the two to duel Clockwork atop a moving train. The derailment worked pretty well, too, though it wasn’t as dynamic (or, frankly, as dangerous for the PCs). One of the players commented that this battle was the most coordinated and tactically-sound the group has ever been since he started playing with us. Just as we wrapped the 4E campaign, everyone clicked.

I could’ve made the battle harder, but as it was it took the entire session and the PCs did expend almost ALL of their resources, so it appears that I also, finally created a perfectly balanced encounter. Judicious use of minions helped a lot. I’ll have more thoughts about 4E and what’s next for the group in my next blog entry.

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Eberron Session 9 – The Everflame

After resting and refreshing themselves in the room with the silver fountain, the party was ready to move on. Seraphina had gone off to scout ahead while the rest prepared themselves. When they were ready, they followed after her. They moved through the catacomb in which they found the plague zombies into a room with a long muck-covered reflecting pool. When they cleared the muck away, they saw their reflections in the pool rotting away before their eyes.

Putting the disturbing images behind them, they moved into another catacomb. Fortunately, none of the dead assaulted them this time and they were able to move through unhindered. The next corridor backtracked a bit, and led them to a large room with a massive bridge spanning a chasm. Two statues with spears and shields guarded a pair of brass doors. Moving forward cautiously, Vistra sprang a trap on the bridge, causing one of the statues to charge him! It’s momentum was no match for his dwarven steadiness and it ground to a halt. Mercutio blasted the statue with lighting until it fell into the chasm and did the same to its twin on the far side of the bridge. The statues dealt with, they moved forward and opened the double doors.

At the far side of the massive chamber was a dais shrouded in shadow. Statues lined the hall and they spied the body of a woman at the base of an opened sarcophagus. When they entered, they saw it was Seraphina. Dry, mocking laughter echoed through the hall and an armored marched forth from the darkness, welcoming them for facing him again. More skeletons crawled out of other sarcophagi in the room. The battle was joined.

Though it was a hard-fought victory, the party was victorious nonetheless. The skeleton’s lightning-fast blows and explodey minions were no match for the combine might of the treasure hunters. When the last enemy fell, Seraphina regained consciousness and the shadows burned away. There, at the back of the crypt, the Everflame burned bright. Once the artifact was in their possession, the party decided no further exploration was warranted and left the crypt behind.

Upon reaching the surface, they discovered their warforged companion, Wycliffe did not survive after all (Ya rush a miracle sonny, ya get rotten miracles). They decided they did not trust Clockwork, so returned directly to the Lightning Rail station and returned to Sharn. The return trip was thankfully uneventful. Master Yorel was dismayed to hear that Clockwork destroyed his package without even looking at it, but was even more disturbed that he had sent the party out to retrieve the Everflame. He rushed out of his office, grabbing a strongbox, urging the group to follow him. Master Yorel led them to a House Lyrandar airship dock where he purchased a charter voyage for all of them.

Once they were underway, he explained himself: “Clockwork has toiled ever since the end of the Last War to improve his kind. According to the Treaty of Thronehold, the creation of new warforged is forbidden. He thought he could find some way to bring true life to his people: the ability to reproduce as any man and woman could. He developed this theory that if he could somehow link a Creation Forge to Xoriat, the raw chaos might infuse a subject with that ability. It was madness! But, he did not listen to me and so we had a falling out. We served together during the war and we found something near Vathirond about which he swore me to secrecy. I have never spoken of it until now: an abandoned Creation Forge in working order. I helped him seal the chamber in which it lay and we hid the entrance. He must be heading there. The Everflame would have provided him with a power source sufficient enough to power the Forge and link it to Xoriat during the upcoming conjunction. Time is of the essence: the conjunction is near. The item I had you deliver to him was a schema to modify warforged in a way that would appear to be in line with his plan, but would have destroyed the Forge if he had tried to use it. Unfortunately, his suspicion of me was too great, I fear. By now, he has is no doubt tracking you to determined why you have not yet returned. We must intercept him and stop him at all costs.”

Over the next few days, Master Yorel concentrated on his divinations, coming out of his cabin only when the airship was approaching an oncoming Lightning Rail. “Clockwork is on that train. He comes for the Everflame, and you.” The airship dove to intercept the Lighting Rail….

And, it turns out that this is the penultimate session of the D&D 4E Eberron campaign. Next session will be the climactic climax. The ultimate showdown of ultimate awesomeness. An airship with PCs vs. a Lightning Rail with NPCs. Who will prevail? Who will win?

Well, probably the PCs., but one never knows.

Preparations have already begun for the next campaign: Pathfinder Goblins Skulls & Shackles. If you’re not familiar with the Skulls & Shackles Adventure Path, it is the one wherein the PCs are pirates. I’m twisting it a bit by making a requirement that the PCs be goblins. When the idea of goblin pirates entered my brain, it was too good to let it pass by. This group can already be a little anarchic with no small amount of pyromania, so this should be right up their alley. Detailed information will appear on Obsidian Portal, but campaign logs will appear here as well.

Next week is Gary Con and the next game is the following weekend. We won’t be playing D&D at that session though, due to some planned absences. If there is just the one I know about, then one of my players is going to run a Space 1889 Savage Worlds game for us. If there is more than one absence, it will be a board game night. The next D&D game, the conclusion of the Treasure Hunting for Profit & Glory D&D 4E Eberron campaign, will be Friday, April 5th, 2013.

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Eberron Session 8 – Bunches of Bloody Bones!

After defeating the shadows, our four heroes headed back to the crypt entrance so they could rest a bit and check on Seraphina and Wycliffe. Wycliffe was recovered enough that he encouraged Seraphina to return to the crypt with the rest of the group while he watched the horses and cart. After refreshing themselves, they went underground once more.

From the entrance, they went the other way this time, traversing a large room filled with columns and pit traps only to discover a one-way stone door through which they could not pass and an alternate route to the room in which they killed the beetles. They returned to the room with the fountain and pool and proceeded to search their keys for the one that would take them through the second locked door. It turned out the key they found with the shadows was the correct one for that door.

The door led to a large, circular room with an arrow-studded pillar rising out of a pit. Just as the trap was sprung, they retreated back through the door and shut it. They waited until the sound of arrows hitting the door abated then went back in. The pillar was set up to rotate and fire arrows in every direction at once. Hundreds of them now littered the floor. Proceeding with caution, they followed a door out of the room into another large chamber with stairs leading down at the far end.

Skeletons attacked when they entered the room. Most were easily dealt with, but one was much stronger than the others. It too, fell to their might. The heroes went down, deeper into the crypt. Much to their surprise, the first room they encountered contained a fountain with healing properties. They moved on, refreshed, into a catacomb. Plague-ridden zombies crawled out of the nooks and attacked!

Expecting an easy fight, our heroes were dismayed to see the zombies hurling filth at them. A foul stench filled the air, hindering their attacks. Though they outnumbered the zombies, the close quarters made the fight difficult until, at last, they prevailed. On one of the non-animated bodies, they found a suit of magical hide armor and wasted no time taking it for themselves.

They prepared to move on, wondering if they would ever find the Everflame…

It’s funny how going a different direction from the beginning can totally change the adventure. Not much happened in this session, relative to last session because they went to a puzzle-heavy section this time instead of the fight-heavy section.

I had a plan for the rest of the campaign. Then, as I did research and made preparations, I discovered what I was going to do was going to take at least 6 months of game sessions. Since I’m already to the point where I don’t want to run 4E anymore, I decided to change my game plan again, because another six months of running a game I don’t particularly enjoy would be stupid, stupid, stupid. I have a new plan now, one that will wrap things up 1-2 sessions after they find the Everflame. Strangely, it came to me while I was playing Fallout: New Vegas and ties everything up pretty well. Strangely, it has absolutely nothing to do with Fallout: New Vegas. Isn’t it funny how ideas happen?

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Eberron Session 7 – Crypt of the Everflame

When we last left our heroes, they were marshaling their resolve outside of a set of doors set into a hillside in a valley to which they were led by a map they received from a warforged they didn’t trust.

The doors were not locked, but seemed to be stuck, whether by age or design, no one knew. The strength of our heroes prevailed and they pulled the doors open to reveal a two-tiered entry hall. Skeletons covered the floor, along with a couple of fresher bodies. In the distance, a wailing could be heard echoing in the halls. A faded painting of a man was hung on the far wall.

As they entered the hall, the skeletons came to life and swarmed them! Making short work of the bony abominations, they searched the two bodies. They found only supplies and pressed onward, choosing the nearest of the two doors leading deeper into the crypt.

The next room was dominated by a large pool of water fed by a fountain. The fountain was in the shape of a maiden holding the headless body of an armored man. A voice boomed from the darkness “Magic is the key.” Upon closer inspection, they saw the statue was not headless, rather the head had been broken off. Our heroes explored the room thoroughly, discovering hundreds of keys at the bottom of the pool. Mercutio determined that one of these keys was magical, and Rurin retrieved that key from the water.

It was here that I uttered the phrase “Piranha keys” giving rise to the speculation of what an insidious trap it would be to have a pool full of keys that, upon some trigger, all turned into piranhas that would eat the meddling PC. I’ll have to remember that for the future.

Two doors led out from the chamber, leading deeper into the dungeon. Both doors were locked and the magic key opened neither. They began to test all the others keys they found so far and found one that fit the rightmost of the two doors.

The hallway beyond the fountain room were lined with statues of the man depicted in the painting in the entry hall. Each statue was holding a longsword aloft, and the heroes quickly determined they were actual swords and not part of the statuary. After searching the first pair of statues and removing one of the swords, they could find no obvious mechanism, despite being convinced there was a trap they were missing. Vistra proceeded down the corridor ahead of the rest of the party and when he reached the third pair, the swords swung down. No one was seriously injured and they picked their way through the swords now blocking the corridor to the door at the far end of the hallway. It was unlocked.

Another two-tiered room lay before them, albeit different in layout from the entry hall. Another statue stood at the far end of the lower level of this room. The statue was that of the same man, but he held two wooden tower shields. The statue was near a door and stairs led up and out of the room to their left. When Vistra reached the lower level of the room, the statue came to life and attacked! In addition to bashing with its shields, it was able to use some sort of psychic attack to daze our heroes. Rurin noticed a keyhole on its back and they maneuvered to attempt to insert the magic key. Ultimately, it was not needed as they destroyed the statue before being able to insert the key.

Our heroes, being the thorough-minded people they are, inserted the key anyway.

Nothing happened.

The key did fit the door, however, and revealed a small storage room with a table. Upon the table were four magical items. None of them appeared to be an Everflame, so they stashed the items for future study and moved on.

Mercutio, Vistra, Rurin, and Theirastra followed the stairs which seemed to lead up and over an undiscovered area of the crypt before going back down into a squarish room where several fire beetles were swarming over a corpse. Mercutio made short work of the beetles with his magic and finding nothing of interest in the room, they followed a corridor south out of the room. That corridor led to another room with pillars surrounding a small fire pit. Noxious black smoke created a haze in the small, double-diamond-shaped room which they carefully explored.

Shadows came alive and attacked as they searched the room. The shadows assault them with dazing and weakening attacks. Our heroes faced their greatest challenge yet, but were not to be deterred and beat back the undead, destroying them. In the fire, they found a couple of charred bodies, one of which had a dagger untouched by the flames, a magic dagger. They also found another key.

What did the key open? And what secrets were yet to be revealed?

So much happened since I started converting this Pathfinder adventure to 4E that I totally forgot that I still needed to deal with the treasure. Of course, I can’t just drop in a wand of cure light wounds and a wand of magic missile in the appropriate place because of how they changed the way things work in 4E. I also keep forgetting about the passive perception checks to notices traps and the like. The more I run 4E, the less I like running it. I’m finding it too difficult to keep track of everything and some of the paradigm shifts in the way the game works are just frustrating because it’s not the way I’ve been doing it for decades. Game prep is easy as hell, thank to the electronic tools, but I just don’t like the feel of the game when it runs. At this point, I think I’ve given it a fair enough shake to determine it is my least favorite of the D&D editions (I’m a 2nd ed. guy, through and through, warts and all).

This makes this game my 7th in this 4E Eberron campaign and my 10th or 11th D&D 4E game I’ve run overall. I think that’s probably enough sessions to know. I will, however, stick with it until this campaign is finished. It does make me glad that I did not blindly buy everything for 4E as it came out. Of all my D&D stuff, 4E is the least represented in my collection. That being said, I can see how it appeals to some people and while I’ve found some landmines, I don’t feel it’s a badly designed system; it’s just not fitting in with my personal tastes. I will admit, however, it’s difficult to resist the urge to just figure a way to end the campaign early so I can switch to a different system that might fit my DMing style better.

And yes, I know that Pathfinder is not an easier game, per se, but I have often said that if I ever run Pathfinder, I will do so using Adventure Paths pretty much as written, so my game prep will mostly be limited to making sure I’m familiar with the material I’m going to use that evening (in theory). Whether or not that’s going to be easier for me, time will tell. I’ve also made no secret of the fact that I’m really interested in exploring both FATE and Savage Worlds as systems, and maybe even dabbling with the new HackMaster. In fact, I can see the Kingmaker Adventure Path to be a very good fit for HackMaster. I wonder how modular the revised Kingdom-Building rules will be in the forthcoming Ultimate Campaign from Paizo?

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Starilaskur – Eberron Game session 6

When we last left our band of heroes, they had just beaten the gnolls at the fort, having lost Wycliffe and Zarna to it’s cruel claw-claw-beak-your-face-off attack.

After having narrowly defeated the owlbear and its gnoll keepers, Vistra Kodiak and Theirastra searched the fort. Cries for help came from the prisoner pits near the back of the fort. In one of the pits, was a bedraggled-looking human. They broke open the spiked cage door holding him in and helped him out of the pit. He introduced himself as Mongrel Bo, Minstrel Extraordinare.

While Mongrel Bo helped them load their dead & the recovered Conductor Stones onto the cart, they questioned him as to how he came to be captured by the gnolls. He told them he had been wandering outside Starilaskur, looking for a valley in which the folk who lived there were experiencing disturbed, dreamless, restless sleep. He hoped if he could not solve their problem, he could at least sing them a lullabye.

After hooking up the gnolls’ horses to the cart and opening the gate, the three headed back to the Lightning Rail. When they arrived several hours later, Seraphina and Mercutio introduced them to a dwarven runepriest from the Mror Holds, Rurin, who’d been on the train with them and helped them guard the train against further attack while the others tracked the gnolls and the stolen Conductor Stones.

The Lightning Rail personnel repaired the track as our heroes buried Zarna. They believed Wycliffe could be repaired once they arrived in Starilaskur. By the time the solemn ceremonies were over, the Lighting Rail was ready to depart!

The next day, they arrived in Starilaskur and set about trying to find The Broken Forge. When they found the place, they found a warforged stoking the fires. He acknowledged that he was Clockwork and accepted the strongbox they delivered. He asked the party if they knew what was contained within. When they told him they did not, he said “That daft old man will not fool me again,” and threw the strongbox into the fire.

Clockwork indicated that he could repair Wycliffe and that he had a use for our heroes after all, to follow a map he had and retrieve an item called the Everflame. When questioned about why he seemed to be antagonistic towards Master Yorel, Clockwork became agitated, denied knowing what they were talking about and dismissed them. They decided to decline Clockwork’s help with Wycliffe and took their warforged companion to a temple for a resurrection ritual, concerned about the implications that Clockwork had access to a Creation Forge.

Our intrepid band of adventurers discussed what to do as Wycliffe recovered from his ordeal. They did not notice that Mongrel Bo seemed to have wandered off on his own after arriving in the city. They decided they would seek out this Everflame but return it instead to Master Yorel and warn him of Clockwork’s hostility.

The map indicated the Everflame lay some days’ journey to the east, so they set off in that direction, following a trail through the forest. During their journey, they were waylaid by a group of orc bandits, but handily defeated them. Shortly after the battle, they came across a pond, and the corpse of another bandit who’d been bitten multiple times by a large serpent and apparently died of those wounds. They returned to the trail as it began to rain.

Thoroughly drenched, they found a small valley indicated on Clockwork’s map. At the bottom, set into the side of a small hill, they found the entrance to a crypt marked with a rune Rurin identified as “Everflame.” Night crept in as they prepared to seek shelter from the rain and explore the crypt, searching for the Everflame.

And so begins another treasure hunt. I’ve started using Obsidian Portal for campaign notes & tracking. This campaign is called Treasure Hunting for Profit and Glory. Fear not, treasured readers: I will still post the adventure logs here. I’m looking forward to the next couple of segments. I had been floundering around a bit, unsure of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to take the campaign, but now, I have a clear vision and it can only mean good things.

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Tracking the Bandits – Eberron Game Session 5

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Eberron Logo

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After a anarchic jaunt into the post-apocalyptia of Alpha Complex, we return to Eberron. Leaving Serafina and Mercutio behind to guard Master Yorel’s lockbox and stay with the Lighting Rail, Wycliffe, Zarna, Vistra, and Thierastra headed off into the hills to follow the tracks left by the bandits who presumably stole the Lightning Rail’s Conductor Stones.

The trail was easy to follow, but eventually split. One branch of the trail led further into the hills; the other towards a nearby ravine. Investigating the ravine, they found a rickety rope & wood bridge. They tested the strength of the bridge and determined it was unlikely that the gnolls rode horses and took the heavy Conductor Stones across it. Following the other branch of the trail, they eventually came to a hill that looked across a valley at a fort.

When they scouted the fort, our heroes only saw one gnoll wandering around initially. After some more reconnaissance, they noticed two more working on a cooking fire. Scaling the walls, Zarna, Vistra, and Thierastra made their plans to ambush the two gnolls, while Wycliffe checked out a nearby barn. As three of them attacked the gnolls, Wycliffe discovered an owlbear in the barn. It charged him, bursting through the door, though he shut it in his bid to make a hasty retreat. As the battle joined, another gnoll, the one they saw moving from building to building, appeared out of thin air and began summoning swarms of ravens and vermin to hinder the heroes.

The battle was long and bloody. Zarna and Wycliffe fell to the owlbear before the beast was finally defeated. Vistra and Thierastra were both nearly dead by the time the rest of the gnolls fell. Vistra found the purloined Conductor Stones inside one of the building, and they stripped a magical suit of armor off the gnoll beastcaller. As they gathered their dead, they heard a cry for help from one of the caged pits nearby….

Wow. Oops. I knew owlbears tended to be nasty, but they really got a power upgrade. Of course, I expected the group to deal with the two lone gnolls before having the owlbear sprung on them. That’ll teach me to joke about TPKs prior to running adventures. Now it looks like I actually planned for them to all end up in the belly of an owlbear. The group is discussing who wants to be resurrected and who wants to roll up new characters. We’ll see what happens at the next game.

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On The Rails – Eberron Game Session 4

After a brief foray to Gamma Terra, we return to Eberron for the continuation of our regularly scheduled D&D game.

When last we left our intrepid…heroes…they were on their way to Sharn, having cured a town of a magical plague despite their best efforts at leaving the townsfolk to their uncertain fates. Master Yorel greeted them with sacks of gold after receiving the Coat of Eyes and bade his  Acquisition Experts to standby for another assignment. A few days later, he presented them with round-trip Lighting Rail passes to Starilaskur. Their new mission was to transport a strongbox from Sharn to a colleague of his at The Broken Forge, Clockwork. In addition to the money he gave them upon bringing him the coat of eyes, he gave them each an additional 250 GP for expenses and sent them on their way.

The first leg of the trip, from Sharn to Wroat, passed uneventfully. What apparently transpired in some of the cabins is best left for certain texts of a more…blue…nature. They stretched their legs at Wroat, and were surprised that no one accosted them or tried to rob them or tried to hire them and boarded the train again. The next day, while on the long leg of the trip between Wroat and Starilaskur, the…debaucheries…were interrupted by armed men demanding money from the passengers. Our intrepid heroes would have none of it and slaughtered them in hallway of their coach. The screams of the passengers in the other cars caught their interest, but they decided to climb to the top of their coach to survey situation. Mounted Gnolls ran alongside the train and more bandits, humans and gnolls advanced upon them. As they fought back the ones on top of the Lightning Rail, the conveyance came to a halt. Once the gnolls on top of the train were dealt with and the mounted ones fled, our heroes questioned the Lighting Rail driver about why they stopped. Someone had stolen enough of the conductor stones guiding the Lighting Rail, that the coaches could not continue without derailing.

Track led away from the route, tracks which suggested someone stole the conductor stones deliberately to halt the Lightning Rail. Our heroes followed the trail into the hills, making sure their strongbox was secure and well-guarded…

It seems like nothing happened, but 4E combat takes a lot of time. Plus, we did slip into a lot of tangents. They were entertaining, but tangents, nonetheless. Plus, a few players don’t have DDI accounts, so some of the characters had to be updated prior to the game on my PC and that caused us to get a late start. It’s the biggest downside I’m seeing to this 4E game. I don’t feel right asking everyone to have a DDI subscription, so I may start asking people to e-mail what changes they want made to their characters so I can go ahead and make them and print them before the game starts. Ultimately, I’m finding the reliance on the electronic tools for tracking characters to be more of a hindrance than a boon, though I do like the DM’s tools (particularly the Encounter Builder, even if it isn’t as up-to-date as I’d like).

I’m also starting to get a feel about what will motivate my group, in game, and I’m having to adjust my playstyle accordingly. My attempt at the last session to allow them a chance to play the role of the hero went over like a lead balloon (they wanted to leave the town to its fate and were very reluctant to determine the cause of the plague). Clearly, I should have made more clear my ideas that they would be playing the Heroes in this game. Ah well. These things happen and I’ll just adjust my expectations; it’s no biggie.

Also, I have observed that I feel very RUSTY when running adventures of my own design. When I brought this group together, it was after, essentially, a three year hiatus from GMing. Sure, I ran a few games at conventions in the interim, but those were one shots and mostly Paranoia (which is MUCH easier to run/play than D&D). When I started again, I was running pre-made adventures. Clearly, my skills have atrophied a bit as I am not really comfortable writing my own adventures for D&D anymore. I don’t have a problem with other systems, like Star Wars (d6), or Paranoia, so I wonder if I’m just not feeling the DM vibe anymore. Or maybe, I’m just out of practice. Maybe since D&D 4E isn’t my favorite variation of the game, I’m not as into it as I could be. It could be several things or something I haven’t thought of yet. One thing I may try is to adapt a pre-written adventure to fit into this Eberron campaign and see how that feels. Maybe I’m just feeling the crunch of working, trying to spend time with my family, trying to write books to publishing, AND write stuff to GM. Nevertheless, I’m committed to trying to provide an entertaining game for my friends, so I shall soldier on.

Categories: Eberron | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

I’m a Slacker — Eberron Game Sessions 2 & 3

I freely admit I dropped the ball posting about Session 2 of the D&D 4E Eberron game. So, I am going to combine it with Session 3’s post. The good news is there was a session 3! The bad news is that November and December are the busiest parts of my year because my main client at my day job is a farm equipment & agricultural distributor, so they used the winter to get their spring publications ready and my job is to do that. Of course, that’s neither here nor there and it may not affect my posting at all. But it could. As bad news goes, that’s not so bad. Particularly since my bad news could be far worse. I live about 2.5 miles away from what is known on Twitter as the #IndyBoom.

TL;DR summary: a couple of houses on Indianapolis’s southside exploded on Saturday (Nov. 10th) and rendered 25+ houses around the epicenter uninhabitable. We felt the shockwave from the explosion. Also, the next day (Nov. 11) was the fourth anniversary of the death of my first wife. But, that’s not news, it’s history.

On with the show!

SESSION 2
When we last left our heroes, they were preparing to descend into Khyber to following the trail of clues left by the cultists who’d been terrorizing Blackroot. During their preparations, two people from the village caught up with them in the caves, a tiefling wizard named Seraphina and a half-elf sorcerer named Mercutio. They asked to be allowed to accompany the group into the depths. Since Wizar the Wizarian and The Hand of Wisdom seemed to have disappeared altogether, the group readily agreed. Fortunately, the pack in which Wizar was keeping the weird tentacle things they pried off the dead cultists was left behind.

Descending into Khyber, the first cavern they discovered contained four dolgrims along with a strange pool of a viscous purple liquid. They defeated the horrid-looking fused goblin things and upon discovered the restorative power of the purple liquid, dumped some of their water for the liquid. They proceeded into the depths and discovered another cavern with a large area of impenetrable darkness. When they approached, the darkness lashed out at them*. Beyond the cavern containing the Living Darkness, they were forced to cross a cavern floor consisting of hundreds of chomping mouths, though they were small enough to cause no damage; they just looked creepy. Finally (after the DM skipped a few encounters due to time constraints), they encountered a purpose-built room containing many large crystal shells inside which they could see various villagers including Doria Veledaar. A machine of some sort appeared to be draining and devouring the soul energy from the prisoners within the crystal shells.

Putting their heads together, the PCs deduced a variety of ways to break open the shells and defeat the machine to free the villagers. They recovered the Coat of Eyes and the grateful villagers gave them a pair of magical boots; heirlooms of one of the families who were not lucky enough to survive the cultists. Mercutio and Seraphina elected to remain with the group and they all resumed their trek toward Sharn to return the Coat of Eyes to Master Yorel.

SESSION 3
On the way back to Sharn, the group passed through the village of Cedar Ridge. Everyone they encountered there seemed to be ill. The villagers were coughing and many were disfigured by lumps and growths under their skin. Seraphina wanted to leave immediately and leave them to their fate, while others were slightly more interested in finding out what the cause was. They stopped at the inn and questioned the barkeep, the bard and a warforged there. The warforged, Wycliffe, indicated other travelers had come and gone with no ill effects, but Seraphina was adamant that they leave. The barkeep indicated that most of the villagers, including the mayor had barricaded themselves in their homes and the town’s protector, a warforged named Bulwark had not been seen in a couple of weeks, about the time the afflictions began. When two villagers and the village healer brought in a screaming man, Seraphina left the tavern. The screaming man transformed before their eyes into a hulking brute who proceeded to beat the hell out of anyone near him, knocking Vistra across the room. They were eventually able to defeat the hulk-out villager and decided to confront the mayor.

The mayor’s house was locked up, as the barkeep indicated. They broke into the house and proceeded to browbeat and intimidate the mayor into doing something. The man was just as misshapen and ill as the rest of the village, barely able to walk. He screamed back at them, angry, frustrated, and frightened of this group of adventurers who broke into his home and demanded that he leave his home and lead by example. Eventually, they gave up on threatening the mayor and decided to check out the ruined castle where the barkeep said Bulwark made his home, at least, until they stopped hearing from the warforged.

Flickering lights appeared in one room of the abandon castle from the vantage point of the road leading up to it. In the dining room, the PCs found a large warforged lying on the ground near the table. An overturned jug on the table oozed a purple liquid (unrelated to the purple liquid they’d found last session…I guess I just like purple) and near the warforged’s head was a shadow that was NOT being cast by anything in the room. After a brief investigation, they discovered something that should not be: the warforged was passed out. They were able to converse with the shadow and it indicated that it had challenged the warforged to a drinking contest. When they investigated the upturned jug, the shadow demanded they hand it over. It wouldn’t say why, but just repeated its demand for the jug. Combat ensued and the shadow proved to be a superior opponent**. They fled with the jug, hoping to lure the shadow away and after some more beatings, the heroes decided to give the shadow what it wanted and handed over the jug. It headed for the river. They then returned to the castle and attempted to wake the warforged. Once awakened, the warforged (who turned out to be a Warforged Juggernaut Wizard) pursued the shadow and delivered an epic beatdown the DM was too tired to describe in all its epicness.

For their help, Bulwark gave the PCs a chest it found in the castle when he moved in. Bulwark said he would take care of the villagers and was confident he could reverse their affliction. They proceeded onward towards Sharn.

Now, it might be stating the obvious, but combat in D&D 4E is really dynamic compared to Basic D&D. There’s a lot for players to do. That also means, if they’re unfamiliar with the system, it really slows things down. I could have several combat encounters in a Basic D&D game, but with 4E, I have to limit it to 1-2 combat encounters, otherwise, the game goes too long, or we don’t really get anyway. The last combat with the Dream Shadow started about an hour before the scheduled end of the game, but of course, it was far from over when midnight rolled around. I have a whole list of ways to speed combat in 4E, but they mostly apply when the PCs are fighting more than 1 creature. I really should print out that list and keep it handy. We wouldn’t have finished the adventure if I hadn’t skipped encounters with mutated animals (and I was really looking forward to the mutated pigs). Still, it seems like every one is enjoying the game more than they enjoyed Basic D&D. I still put Pathfinder & AD&D 2nd edition higher on my “preferred systems” list, though. My problem with D&D 4E is that my players say they’re using Swift Striking Power of Awesomeness, but I don’t know what kind of action that’s actually doing. When someone says “I swing my sword at him.” or “I whack him with my axe!”, I know what kind of action they’re describing. A lot of the power names in 4E might be evocative, but they don’t evoke what I need as a GM to describe how the monster reacts. I probably need to ask them to be a little more descriptive for me, so when they say “I’m using MegaAwesome Power of Being Powerful.” they should also say exactly what that means their character is doing.

It was a difficult session for me (I refrained from outright calling the PCs “murder-hobos” in paragraph 2 of the Session 3 notes), exacerbated by the fact that my DM shelf on my Geek Chic table broke off while I was jotting down a note. I’ll have to call them about that.

*And for the first time in my 30+ years of playing D&D, someone could attack the darkness and I didn’t have to smack them for being an idiot.
**In retrospect, I should have telegraphed the shadow’s weakness to the liquid by explicitly stating that it was avoiding touching any of the spilled liquid, but by this point I was already frustrated and a little angry that my table broke. Throwing the liquid on the shadow would’ve defeated it, but since they didn’t know that, they tried to beat it in combat, for which the creature was FAR overpowered for their level. I only pulled one punch during the combat though, so I’m at least pleased there wasn’t a TPK since the shadow’s opening salvo took EVERYONE in the area of effect to bloodied.

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The Gear Shift – Eberron Game Sesssion 1

I started a new campaign last Friday at our regularly scheduled session. Tired of being frustrated by attendance, I decided that the Basic D&D Doctor StrangeRoll game would occur only when all non-redundant PC could be present. The rest of the time, we would play D&D 4E in Eberron. My newest player (my wife) was also getting frustrated at the no-shows (partly because we host and partly because with attendance low enough to not continue the game, it’s hard to play the game to learn it). I’m not certain players always appreciate (or are aware) of the amount of work that goes into both hosting a game and running a game and when people don’t show up without telling you until the last minute, it’s frustrating.

Now, D&D 4E is not my favorite system, but after a week or so of conducting informal research on the Internet, I determined that it was one of the more well-regarded systems for teaching a new player Dungeons & Dragons as well as offering sufficient character customization for veteran players to feel like they really had options. Basically, it’s a version that’s both newbie- and veteran-friendly. As an added plus, it’s very easy to prep for. Since I have a novel I’m trying to get published before Christmas, I didn’t need a time sink. I had the players create 2nd-level PCs, because I was going to used a canned adventure for an intro, and it recommended 2nd level PCs.

With all that out of the way, let’s get acquainted with the characters:

Theirastra is a female eladrin shaman. Trapped on Eberron with the rest of the eladrin after the Day of Mourning, she fights for the preservation of the natural world with her panther spirit companion. Zarna is a female drow hexblade. She returned to Khorvaire from Xen’Drik with a researcher from Morgrave University. Vistra Kodiak is a male dwarf warden. Wizar the Wizarion is a male fire genesai wizard/barbarian hybrid*. The Hand of Wisdom is a warforged cleric.

The PCs are working for a researcher from Morgrave University, Master Yorel d’Tharashk. He pays them to travel the breadth of Khorvaire finding relics, rare treasures, and antiquities for him. He’s particularly interested in dragon shards and relics from Xen’Drik, but cannot currently afford to sponsor an expedition there.

Through his sources, Master Yorel located a relic known as the Coat of Eyes and believed a House Tharashk inquisitive in the village of Blackroot knows the location. So, he sent his Finders to the Shadow Marches to meet with Doria Veledaar and bring the coat back to him. When they arrived in Blackroot, they were greeted with a very cold reception by the village reeve. The orcs of the Shadow Marches do not like outsiders, but they were able to persuade the reeve to at least direct them to Doria Veledaar. They were informed that she recently left Blackroot, but they were welcome to poke around her now-vacant house.

Immediately they saw now all was as it seemed, as there was evidence of a struggle in Doria’s home. They found a broken obsidian dagger, a trail of blood, and some sort of amulet made from a mummified eye. They also noticed that the Veledaar house was not the only vacant home in the village. As they looked around these other houses, an old orc approached them with a cryptic message, “It’s the Harvest. Sowing the new crop. This night, with three moons in the sky and darkness below. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll be out of here before it comes for you, too.” When they tried to question him further, he acted as if he had never spoken to them and had no idea what they were talking about. Theirastra could also sense an aura of magic around the village.

They followed the trail of blood and the confluences of the magical aura to a cave. Two orcs guarded the entrance and didn’t buy the group’s story that they were sightseeing. They readied their axes. As the battle was joined, two men joined in the fray from the cave. After the party defeated them, they discovered the men to be cultists carrying mummified symbols similar to the amulet they found in the Veledaar house. One of the orcs had a strange, worm-like thing in his mouth which continued to writhe and pulse even after his death. Wizar placed it in his pouch. They pressed on, deeper in the cave. The passageway in which they traveled was filled with glowing text crawling on the walls. It seemed alive, and creepy. They were able to translate it as a list of names, but did not see any they recognized. They could hear chanting from deeper within the cavern.

The passageway led to another room which contained an alcove and a pattern of symbols on the floor. The pattern slithered and shifted like a nest of vipers, and they heard strange whispers in the back of their minds. The chanting from ahead was louder, as well. Avoid the symbols, they looked into the alcove and saw three defaced shrines. They decided to follow the chanting and left the shrines and symbols behind, undisturbed. The chanting led them to a large chamber filled with men and orcs, all kneeling prayer around a figure with sunken eyesockets filled with cilia and tentacles coming off its shoulders (naturally, I got rid of my dolgaunt miniatures a few weeks ago and had to use a mind flayer instead). In the back of the cavern was a large eye embedded in the wall. Eyes were embedded in the exposed flesh of the worshipping cultists.

Neither side wasted time joining the battle.

The large eye shot out some sort of ray, dazing a few of the heroes, but in the end, our adventurers were victorious. When the great eye was destroyed, a crack opened in the ground near one of the cavern walls. The crack opened a tunnel leading deeper underground. They also found another weird tentacle thing around the arm of one of the cultists, which Wizar again pocketed. They prepared to proceed down the hole….**

And with that, the session ended. 4E combat was just as slow as I remember, and though I tried to let people know that they were next after another party member’s turn, some of them still didn’t decide what they were doing until it was actually their turn (and with all the powers 4E PCs have to choose from, that can drag things out). I have researched some ways to speed up combat under 4E, and I am going to slowly work some of these things into the game (they shouldn’t actually affect the players at all, except give them the same reward for less work during combat…I can’t imagine anyone would have a problem with that).

As you might have noticed, based on the characters, it looked like a full party. That’s because one of the people I didn’t think was going to come found out at the last minute that he could come and asked if he could bring a friend (who previous gamed with us during the first Doctor Who game), so I actually had a full table.

* I expressed some reservations about the combination. The player offered after the session to replace Wizar with a pixie vampire/paladin. Now, normally I lock stuff like this out of my campaigns because, well…I just don’t like these kind of options. But, I threw this together at the last minute and didn’t have time to come up with a player handout that outlined what kind of races/classes I would allow in my campaign. So, I have decided to treat this PC like the Great Gazoo. The player is often (about 40%-60%) out of town on business, so his characters come and go. I have decided they exist in a different continuum, so when he’s here, his characters pop in, cause mischief (or help out, whatever the case may be) and when he’s absent, they vanish.

** “Why are you always preparing? Just GO!” — Dark Helmet, Spaceballs

Categories: Eberron | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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