We’ve been having so much fun with iCrit and iFumble, we were talking last session about fumble results for 4e skills. I suppose you could have a critical success, and in fact, my epic 4e Thief gained two successes in a skill challenge when I rolled a 20 on one, but really fumbles are more fun. At least for the GM.
Now before I raise the ire of all hardcore 4e players out there, I know that according to the Rules As Written, in a skill check a 1 is not necessarily a failure and a 20 is not a guaranteed success (though usually they qualify as failures or successes if the challenge is even moderately level appropriate), but put your books away. This is house rule time. As a bonus its presented in a massive table. What is D&D without house rules and massive tables?
A few of the obvious skills have failure conditions written in the rules already. Fail an acrobatics/athletics climb check, you fall. But what if you fell really awkwardly, or what if you fell on your head? What about massive failures at diplomacy or intimidate? I present the Skyland Games 4e Skill Fumble Table. Not only does it address consequences for failure, it has degrees of failure based on how far away from the DC the skill check landed.
It also addresses the somewhat irritating mechanic (to me anyway) that a ranger can fail a nature check, and due to the luck of the dice, a paladin could pass it. This will make someone think twice about using a skill they have no business attempting. It could certainly heighten the tension at the table during a skill challenge. There are few truly tense skill challenges I can remember from the many 4e adventures I’ve been on.
Check it out, and let us know what you think if you end up using it: SkillFumble1
– Edit: An astute reader pointed out I am terrible at mathematical symbols. This I freely admit. Updated the PDF to remove obfuscation. –
Last night the pirates campaign got under way again, with my 4e conversion of B4 – The Lost City. I did my best to keep the spirit of the original, but since our party is made up of pirates at sea, the top of the temple was just above the water, rather than above the dunes. Unlike a lot of the more recent 4e mods in the Scales of War adventure path and certainly the Living Forgotten Realms mods, this was a much more traditional dungeon crawl. Originally published in 1982, the majority of adventures at that time were crawls.
It was refreshing for me, after playing a lot 4e over the past few years, to recapture some of the old school feel. Some might think that it would be difficult to challenge the party given the mechanics of healing surges and the relative power of 2nd level 4e character as compared to the power of a 2nd level 1e character. I countered this in a few ways.
First off, all the monsters they faced had 4e stat blocks. Several of them had already been restated and were waiting for me in the compendium, or monster vault. Others I needed to find a suitable substitute, but even that wasn’t tough. For instance, in one room the party encounters an enormous beehive with foot-long bees. While there aren’t any 4e giant bee stats, there are giant ant stats. Change their climb speed to a fly speed, stat-up an encounter-power sting, and viola: 4e Giant Bee.
The second way I compensated for 4e mechanics was to limit the short rests they could take. The basis for this adventure is that they are almost out of supplies and need to find food and fresh water to replenish the ships stores. I gave them a little food and one waterskin between them, that I told them would be good for two short rests until they could find more food and water. While most of the encounters were just a few creatures, each battle drained there precious resources, and made them actively look for ways to get food and water, which led to some awesome role-play opportunities. (Player: Can we eat bees? Me: You can try.)
A third aspect that was really fun to see again was the party checking pretty much any door they came across for traps. The mod did a great job of setting this up by leaving scattered bodies of previous explorers who had set off traps ahead of the party. Also, the first room they encountered one of the party fell through the floor to a chamber with several fire beetles. While the rest of the party descended to assist their comrade, the wizard sat back and hurled a spell or two whenever it was advantageous, only going in to the room after freezing the last beetle to a wall with a ray of frost.
Playing an old school mod also got the players in an old school frame of mind. Early on, one of the characters gathered up some old, sludgy oil that could be used as smoky flasks of oil. When the party encountered the giant bees, he had the brilliant idea of using the smoke from the burning oil to make the bees docile. When is the last time a 4e character in your game, scrounged up some material and used it to avoid a fight? Brilliant.
The pirates have managed to scrape together a little water, and they took the time to cook and send back some giant lizard they had freshly slain. To keep the crew fed, they’ll have to journey deeper into the underwater structure. The party found a stairway down, but wisely chose to explore the rest of the floor they were on before charging off into the unknown. It was a great session and I’m really looking forward to next week!
Gaming during the holidays can be tough. Some suggest you may just want to take a break. On the other hand, there may be a few in your gaming group who want to game to escape the other pressures of the season. Often times, gaming during the holidays just isn’t possible because you can’t get the whole group together. For this, we offer a 2nd level adventure for 2 PCs, A DnD 4e Christmas Carol. It follows the Dickens story pretty closely, and as such, there is a lot of box text. Feel free to paraphrase as much or as little as you like.
The PCs act as body guards for Mr. Scrooge, and must defend him from the ghosts that assail him during the night. The ghosts come in various forms. Included are possible adventure hooks, if one holiday session just isn’t enough. Maps were made using the free version of Dungeonographer, from Inkwell Ideas. They have a bunch of great resources.
I hope you enjoy our last installment of our holiday-themed 4e adventures. If you get together with a few friends and play it, let us know in the comments below!
The pirate campaign has been great fun so far. For this campaign we are throwing XP out the window, and round-robin DMing; leveling up any time we switch DMs. Our initial adventure is complete, and we’re setting sail to unknown horizons. DM for next level: This guy.
I love reading through old modules for inspiration, and I love the old school aesthetic. I found one particular module that I think lends itself to adaptation for our pirate campaign: B4 The Lost City. I’m aware that this particular mod has already been updated, but for Paragon Tier, of which our new scurvy dogs are not even close. I don’t want to give too much away, as several of the crew keep tabs on the blog, but I did want to mention that the process has been really fun, and a lot less painful than I anticipated. Most of the monsters already have 4e stats, and the trap damage can be updated by roughly multiplying the potential damage by about 4x. Other than that, its just a matter of drawing the maps. The old maps typically are 1 square = 10 feet, rather than 1:5ft., but that just makes for a more spacious map!
I’ve heard the complaint of so many fights in 4e being a squad of bad dudes in a room 8 squares by 8 squares, but its funny how often I’m encountering that very same setup in the earliest days of D&D. Dust off your old mods, and take a look. You might be surprised!
Don’t be afraid to try a 4e conversion of an old module. Its been a really fun and educational experience for me. Have you had a similar experience, or was a conversion a big pain? Let us know in the comments below!
A fascinating discussion was started over at critical hits over the holiday weekend. Mike Shea, who literally wrote the book on epic play, laments that scaling challenging encounters is much more difficult at the epic tier than it is in heroic. Having just completed another awesome session of my Scales of War campaign, I can understand the concern, but feel it should be looked at in a different light.
Consider the hours and dedication it takes to get a character from level 1 to level 30. Players even entering the epic tier are not going to be casual or new players. If you have the dedication to play at the epic level, its because kobolds, goblins, and orcs have lost their appeal. In our last session of scales of war campaign, we fought a living typhoon elemental that had the seals of three gods on its chest, in the middle of an ocean floor, while the ocean was held back by the typhoon. In the incredible battle that ensued we used party synergies and effective tactics to whittle down the more than 1400 HP beast, smash him open, grab the Arrow of Fate – an artifact that is a piece of Io, the dragon super-god that split into Bahamut and Tiamat at the dawn of time, just before the walls of the sea came crashing down around us. EPIC!
Will battles take longer at level 25 than at level 5? Almost without exception; but that is as it should be. Will it take more prep-time, flexibility, and skills from the DM? Naturally. An epic game needs an epic DM. I recently DMed a low-epic level module that was not properly scaled for our party. The PCs were walking all over every challenge. Some of it was good luck, a lot of it was character optimization, but in the end I feel it falls to the DM to bump up those stats, recharge that encounter power, and add an extra damage die or two. If you’re not up for the challenge for your weekly game, and feel like you have dedicated all the prep time you possibly can, have an awesome time in heroic. In my other group we limited both the dwarven clan, and we plan on limiting the pirates to level 10. Its fun, and not overly-taxing. There may come a time when you as a player, or as a DM want something more. At that point you can join me and my epic-brethren in the Astral Sea. Look for us on the most dangerous planes, in the deadliest locations. We’ll be the ones challenging the gods for rule over all creation!
Continuing our series of holiday-themed DnD 4e content (two makes a series, right?), Skyland Games presents: When Thanksgiving Dinner Attacks!
Originally this encounter appeared as the adventurers arrived at a dwarven turkey farm being ransacked goblins. Two goblins appeared in the doorway of the farmhouse, fighting over a horn-o-plenty. One goblin pushed the other away and grabbed the horn. He blew on the horn mightily, accidentally causing the farm’s defenses to spring to life. Gas began seeping from several nozzles attached to the farm buildings, a giant pumpkin came to life in the garden and started grabbing hysterical goblins, scarlet colored oozes flowed from various nooks and crannies about the farm and a turkey golem burst forth from a tool shed.
Skyland Games will be taking tomorrow off to defeat their own turkey golem. Look for our Christmas Carol adventure coming out in time for the holidays. We’ve got an interesting twist on the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Thanks for visiting and happy thanksgiving!
The guys at Skyland Games do not live in an analog bubble. We play video games, just like a huge percentage of the gaming population. Some people feel like 4e plays like a video game already, and some think that’s awesome. We love games of all types, we just generally choose to blog about RPGs and Board Games. That being said, the two do not have to live completely separate compartments in our brains. Many of you won’t be reading this article for a few weeks, because your every spare minute is dedicated to Skyrim. Having seen the immersive awesomeness therein, I completely understand. See you in a few months. That being said, you can mine Skyrim and other games for character concepts or adventure seeds.
In my particular case, I just started playing Sid Meier’s Pirates! over the weekend. This dovetails nicely with our newly launched pirates campaign, and has provided a wealth of ideas and adventure seeds. The main plot of Sid Meier’s Pirates! is that your family has been unjustly held against their will. As the young scion of your family, you manage to elude capture and must seek out your family and become the most renowned pirate in the Caribbean! The game itself is set during the golden age of pirates in the 17th century. This is generally much later than most fantasy RPGs are played in terms of available technology, but with a few house rules, just about anything can be used.
There was some debate as to whether our ship in our pirates campaign had cannons and whether gunpowder weapons would be used at all. As it turns out, in the first session our ship went through a portal that tore it in half, ship-wrecking the party and what remains of the crew on an island. Kind of a moot point for now. That being said, who knows where that portal took us, and what technology is available where ever our party ended up? If we do end up using cannons and gunpowder, Pirates! has some interesting special weapons that could be used in ship to ship combat.
First up, Chain-shot. Chain-shot is a naval weapon used to damage particularly masts and sails to slow an enemy ship down. Two smaller than average cannon balls linked with a section of chain are loaded in to a single cannon. When fired the chain spreads out and can do massive damage to rigging, sails, and masts. In the video game, its used to disable ships so that they can be easily boarded. Usually once all the masts have been taken down, the ship surrenders, leaving the precious cargo intact.
Secondly, Grapeshot. Grapeshot is an anti-personnel load that essentially turns a cannon into a giant shotgun. This weapon is formed with a small canvas bag filled with smaller, maybe musket-sized balls. Grapeshot doesn’t to much to sink a ship, but puts a hurt on the crew, most of whom would be above decks during a battle.
Look for these special weapons to be stat-ed out for 4e once we get our naval battle system up and running.
The Fourthcore Alphabet softcover from Save versus Death arrived at my door today. At first I was concerned because its been raining here in the mountains of North Carolina, and the packaging from Lulu did not look exactly water-tight. Much to my delight, the book was shrink-wrapped to another piece of cardboard inside the box (save vs. water damage… SAVED!).
This book is very similar to one of my favorites released by Goodman Games, The Dungeon Alphabet. Both are full of inspiring ideas for dungeon/encounter design, on handy tables that you can use to randomize the dungeon you’re creating or just read down them for the perfect idea. The Fourthcore Alphabet is decidedly darker and more deadly, which makes sense if you’re familiar with the aesthetics behind fourthcore. To put it succintly for the uninitiated, fourthcore challenges the assertion that 4e characters are nigh impossible to kill. While it generally follows 4e rules, you’ll find a fourthcore encounter or dungeon to be a lot more deadly and macabre.
I’ve been a big fan of the fourthcore genre since I first heard about it from Brian Patterson of D20Monkey, back in February of this year. His review of Revenge of the Iron Lich really made me think of 4e in a whole new light. Once I read RotIL, I was hungry for more. I don’t think its a coincidence that Brian was asked to do the art for the Fourthcore Alphabet.
Lets get to the good stuff. The book weighs in at 65 pages, 8.5″x11″, full-color cover and back, black and white inside, and it is full to the brim with deadly inspirations. Awesome titles like H is for Hellscapes and V is for Violence provide instant inspiration for Dungeon Master Writer’s Block. Several of the pages actually reference other pages in the book. For instance, on I is for Idols, if you roll a 6, “Piles of trapped (49) coins and magic items surround this idol.” This prompts the Dungeon Master to turn to page 49 and roll up whatever deadly traps await under the treasure around the idol. Awesome! Some of the tables have 20 entries so can be randomized on a 1d20, some have 39 entries and can be randomized by rolling 2d20 and adding the result! Sersa could have easily stopped at 20 for each, and I would have felt I got a good value, but with a lot of the tables being 2d20, or having multiple columns or variables to describe a single feature, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Now the not so great stuff. One of the big selling points for me on this book was that I knew Brian Patterson was working on the artwork. At first I thought it was just the cover, which is decidedly awesome. It turns out he did little sketches for each page. (Sorry for the crappy scan.) Which is cool, but not overly inspiring. I was looking for more sweeping art or at least a full page black and white or two. Maybe that was out of the budget for this project, and by supporting this one, future books may have expanded art budgets. One benefit of launching this project as kickstarter instead of a publish-on-demand service like lulu is that you can raise some money to pay for lots of awesome artwork. As I flip thru the pages of Goodman’s alphabet, I’m greeted by two page spreads of dungeoneers encountering the obstacles being described. In fourthcore, I get a sketch up in the corner. Cool, but not hugely inspiring.
Overall, its a solid buy. Especially if your 4e players have become a little to comfortable in their healing surges, and wimpy 5 ongoing damage. This book has it where it counts most, dark and deadly inspiration. I can’t wait to see what Sersa Victory comes up with next!
The pirates campaign launches this evening! Anchors away! Avast ye mateys, and all that. Most of the party is coming to the table with character concepts in mind (if not character sheets!) which got me thinking; In this new campaign we are starting as members of a pirate crew, each there for our own reasons. I chose pretty much the D&D archetype of archetypes, the elven ranger. Who am I, Legolas? I know, but here is the thing – I *like* elven rangers. I was a boy scout growing up, I always liked woodcraft and archery, and can identify with knowing where I am in the woods and wanting to enjoy and defend nature. Statistically in D&D 4e, it makes *sense* to play as an elf because of their love of the natural world, and the handy bonuses to Dexterity, Wisdom, (optionally Intelligence) and skill bonuses to Nature and Perception. It just feels right. Experienced gamers may roll their eyes and say, “Oh, and I suppose you have a gruff dwarf in the party who doesn’t like boats?”
No. That would be silly for a pirate campaign.
As far as I can tell so far, my character is the only true archetype among us. The rest of the party are unique combinations that will bring a lot of flavor to the campaign. We’ve got a drow artificer, who fancies himself a “doctor” that has engineered clockwork spiders. He seems very keen on the study of anatomy, if only to enhance his own creations. Next, a Gnoll Monk who serves as the ship’s cook. Apparently his cooking is terrible, but who’s going to critique a 7′ Gnoll surrounded by deadly cooking implements? We will probably have a Dragonborn Warlord who maintains the heavy weapons on the ship; ballistae and such. Finally we have a water Genasi Ensnaring Swordmage with longsword fashioned from coral. We may end up with a wizard before the night’s end, but so far, the elf is looking like the normal kid in the bunch.
While my character may start like a fairly typical archetype that many who are familiar with D&D would readily recognize, who knows what will happen to him throughout the campaign? He could acquire a beast companion who becomes a life-long friend, or a nasty scar from a future nemesis. Its important to remember that characters evolve as we play them, and my elven ranger would be a lot different from anyone else’s if for nothing but the different experiences and companions that this elf is going to have. To me, character creation should be about what you want to play. If you want something that sets your guy apart from the crowd from day one, D&D certainly provides the opportunity to create someone truly original. Want something more familiar you can slip in to, like an old sweatshirt, worn, but comfortable? All your favorite archetypes are possible too. Which do you like when it comes to creating a new character for a campaign? Tried and true, or something off the wall?
I know this was the hot topic a few months ago, but Skyland Games didn’t have a blog back then, so you get our 4e combat speed tips now. @slyflourish had mentioned on twitter that removing the DM screen can really open up the table and give you a better view as to what is going on. I tweeted back that I had been rolling in the monster vault box and tracking initiative with clothespins. He requested some pictures of the clothespins system, and I figured I would turn it in to a full-blown post.
Tracking initiative with clothespins helps speed up 4e combat (really any RPG with init) in a few ways. The biggest advantage is that if clipped along the top of the DM screen or edge of a rolling box, the entire table can see the play order, and can plan their turn accordingly. Once a player has had their turn, the DM taps the clothes pin to one side or the other to show the entire table where we are in the round at a glance. This is also a great cue for the DM to announce its the next person’s turn, and keep combat moving at a brisk pace.
Another great advantage to using clothespins is when a character (or monster) chooses to delay. Once the player announces they are going to delay, the DM just takes their clip off and puts it on the end. I usually try to put it at a different height to remind myself the character is delaying. When they “un-delay” you just drop their clip in the order whenever they act.
The biggest advantage I’ve found using the clothespins system as a player is planning my turn while the another player is up. This became most important as a controller when trying to judge whether you’ll have the right position to pull off that sweet Area of Effect daily that’s burning a hole on your character sheet. You can also request the striker delay until you can set him up for combat advantage.
Having that visual aide of the initiative order can also have more subtle advantages to speeding up gameplay. As a player, you need to know whether you’ve got time for a bathroom break, or to grab a drink from the fridge; check the initiative order and either plan out your next awesome turn, or take care of whatever you need to and jump back in to the action closer to your pin. No more waiting on players for the little things!
We write our actual names on them, as we play multiple systems with multiple different characters, but clothespins are cheap so you could write the PC’s name on them to help everyone remember the names of their fellow party members. For multiple types of monsters going on different initiatives, we typically use Roman numerals to indicate the different groups. The DM can just make a note next to the stat block of which number pertains to what creature.
There are a ton of great combat speed tips out there, but I felt this is one more that tables could really benefit from. Let us know what you think in the comments below!