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The Big Wrap-Up: Closing Vignettes

April 28, 2014 Comments off

Recently, I finished up an epic campaign, probably the last one of such length I’ll complete in my life.  We started playing some iteration of it back in 1997, and finished in March of 2014. I was a lot younger when we started, didn’t have kids but was dating the woman who would become my wife (her tolerance of our gaming shenanigans was an excellent trial by fire).  Accordingly, however we gamed at least weekly in the beginning, going to weekly, then monthly, then quarterly before the game finally wrapped.  Still, after being separated by about 200 miles, the quarterly journey to common ground was a welcome pilgrimage to see old friends.  In many ways, I’m remorseful that we had to call it quits, but we had completed the arc I had redefined in 2004 for the children of the original characters, and the urge to do other things started to make the old game feel like a small burden, which is an excellent sign of it being time for a change.

Point being, how do you wrap up a game that is over a decade in the making?  There is perhaps no fully adequate way, so you’ve really got to just hope you can hit as many high points as you can.  I’ve never been a fan of exposition or narrative telling you what happened (like at the end of some John Hughes film), but I wanted to indicate where the players were going before we bid them farewell.  So after the players believed the final battle was over, I used the tool of the Closing Vignette to give them one more chance to tell their story, and have their old enemy make a final appearance.

[Warning.  This is work intensive.  To pull this off, I had to make about 36 NPC’s suitable for play by players that had never seen them before, not to mention prepping the usual monsters, plots, dungeons, maps, etc.  Fortunately, Paizo’s NPC Codex and Gamemastery Guide were invaluable to making this happen quickly, and the choice use of Lone Wolf’s Herolab saved the day, but it was zero-hour when the printouts came rolling out for the final game.]

The idea behind the closing vignette is similar to the idea we presented several months ago in the Opening Vignettes article.  It’s a way to showcase a character, but here we know who they are, just not exactly who they’re going to be.  Now, while you or the player could do this on their own and everyone read it and smile and say, “Yep, always knew he’d be the Lord Mayor of Greyhawk” I wanted players to shape it… LIVE.

Just like with Live television, there are lots of opportunities for things to hit the fan, so don’t undertake this lightly.  However, with the right planning, you can see that everyone gets their time in the sun.  Here’s what you need to do:

1.  Identify Major and Minor Plot Issues:  This is where you get to attempt to be J. J. Abrams and close all your plot holes, weave together plot threads, and bring in arch rivals, villains, and bit players that delight the characters and players alike.   The more you can identify and bring in, the more satisfied your players are going to be with the fullness of the resolutions.

2. Develop Player Expectations:  Talk with your players to establish what they want to see happen to their character.  This much time invested in a character deserves a consult and some deference.  I asked several hypothetical questions to see how the player thought their character would likely react, and built my story and resolutions generally to concur or enhance those plans.

3. Develop Your Story With Subtle Connections:  Create a small adventure (estimated 2 hour play time) that is essentially a brief set up, some RP with closure of various issues important to the player and their character, and then an opportunity for the PC to shine – lower level threats stomped into the dirt before a more imposing confrontation with a primary adversary.  This isn’t the epic final boss combat, but it’s someone that gives them a visceral reaction, and it should probe their power in a meaningful way.  However, somewhere in this story, place  a seed that is related to the other vignettes.  When each story piece is revealed, the combined stories will lead into and tell the story of the final confrontation.

4. NPC’s NPC’s NPC’s:  So here’s the crazy part I mentioned – to focus on each PC individually, I made NPC’s that helped emphasize who each Epic PC was now (or was going to be).  NPC’s that were followers, admirers, earned allies or powerful friends (but not as powerful as the PC, of course).   These, I doled out at random to the other players.  That way the players can participate and be entertained, but aren’t compelled to bring their own PC crashing into the focus character’s.

5. EPIC FINALE: Each thread leads into the final confrontation.  Your nemesis awaits.  Everyone, playing themselves, plays out the endgame.

 

In our story, each PC encountered a familiar villain that stood in the way of something they wanted: the now mad hierophant of winter, the political enemies of the party politico, an on arch-enemy demoness seeking to poison the children of the cleric’s orphanage, etc. Each part of that story found a small link (components to a artifact which, if used, could deify the party’s oldest and greatest of enemies, Iuz the Old).   They arrive in the nick of time to thwart his plans, but not before the party paladin has to choose to marry the woman he loves or fight his nemesis.

Fun was had by all, and very few stones were left unturned as we wrote everyone’s ‘final page’.

Of course, this isn’t going to work with every campaign.  You’re going to run into situations where the final confrontation is it, and then you shut the module and say, what do we play now?  But if you have the time to unfold after that and bring a little twist to your conclusion, you can get a very satisfying feeling of closure from the closing vignette.  Give it a try next time you wrap a 17 year campaign and let me know what you think.

 

 

Deep Magic Review

April 21, 2014 Comments off

deepmagiccoverI will start off by saying that I am not a huge magic-user player and I second guessed myself about backing this book on Kickstarter. I kept eyeing the project page during its funding period and it drew me closer to backing until I finally felt compelled to… Wait! Oh, great. I bet it was those pesky kobolds and their shenanigans. Seriously though, I thought the way the project unfolded was a great way to get a large amount of information in a manageable, condensed time-frame. By having multiple authors design and create a certain theme of spells, this project proved that it could really work. The result was a huge, beautifully illustrated book with so much information that I am surprised that I did not have a brain overload the first night I started reading it.

Let’s break the book down by chapters. The first chapter, New Magic Options, covers new tomes, ley lines and racial magics. It introduces gambling, saint, and other magic that draw their power from unconventional and new sources. New feats and other options are given for each section to complete each theme. Reaver dwarves and their ring magic and the minotaur magic section both look quite interesting and could be fun to experiment with.

The second chapter is all about new spells; 154 pages of spells. With my math skills I have determined that they make up about two fifths of the entire book! Out of those, almost ten percent of them were created by Kickstarter backers. Amazing! There are so many imaginative spells that if you cannot find a spell that suits your needs, it is probably really there but you’ll need an Advanced Search function to help you. I cannot wait for Deep Magic to hit Hero Lab for this exact reason.

Chapters three and four deals with glyphs, runes, ink magic, words and incantations. The symbols for glyphs and runes are illustrated and explained with great examples while words of power are reviewed, and then taken further than Ultimate Magic. Incantations are very interesting since it puts the ritual magic in the hands of any character, not just magic-users. Magic use such as that could really change a campaign in many different ways.

1-new-magic-optionsNew sorcerer bloodlines and oracle mysteries are detailed in the fifth chapter. The most interesting are the raven-blooded (tengu) and the disgusting ooze. The illustration that goes with the ooze bloodline perfectly describes what that taint involves. Some of the more interesting mysteries for oracles are the clockwork, snake and wine mysteries. Just picture a Greek or Roman blind oracle with the wine mystery lying on a giant pillow, eating grapes, drinking and throwing lavish parties!

The sixth chapter details some very interesting archetypes. Two stand out for the wizard; the clockworker and the iounmancer. The clockwork powers replay throughout the book and the clockworker archetype brings all of that together into a really neat magic-user. The iounmancer looks interesting since ioun stones are so prevalent in Pathfinder and this archetype allows more manipulation of the stones. But the archetype that blew my mind was the Demon Binder for the summoner class. Instead of having an eidolon I can bind demons? Yes please! You mean I can summon AND bind a balor to my will at level 20? Splorch! (head explodes)

Magical constructs make up the seventh chapter with rules detailing the creation of homunculus, leastlings and the undead. The rules for creating the undead are quite detailed and tell exactly what is needed for the desired result; definitely worth the read. There is also a section on clockwork familiars and how to create them using the same forms as normal familiars. This brings to mind Perseus’ Bubo from Clash of the Titans.

Chapter 8 consists of all the high level spellcasters you could hope for. Heroes and villains are presented with full statistics and beautiful illustrations to give you a full feel for each one. Included in this chapter is a certain Rastor Vex, the Undying Hivemind. If its name does not give you an idea of what it looks like, you must see the illustration. Talk about something out of a nightmare!

Overall, this book is a great product. It is overflowing with information and is full of art by very talented individuals. If you are big fan of magic-users and want to play something out of the ordinary or never seen before, this is the book for you. It does not matter if your character is good or evil, there is something for every arcane class. Pick it up, you will not be disappointed.

Worlds Worst Dungeon Crawl Brings Out Players Best Game

January 6, 2014 1 comment

db_wwdc_ks_cover_500pxOur typical gaming night is Wednesday, which last week fell on new years day. With it being a holiday, some people could make it, some couldn’t, so we were looking for a break from the regular campaigns. Luckily, the PDF of the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl arrived just in time for Christmas.

For the uninitiated, the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl was a kickstarter by the Dungeon Bastard to create the most trite, played-out RPG tropes and put them all in one adventure, and still make it AWESOME! In short, he succeeded in spades.

Once I started talking it up in our group, attendance went from “I don’t know if I can make it,” to “Make more pre-gens as we will be packed around the table like a can of dice-rolling sardines!” We ended up with 6 players, but I did make a pre-gen Paladin just in case. As it turned out, no one wanted to play the blind cleric/archer with a 95% chance to hit one of your allies on a miss. Wussies. However, in true D&D style no one wanted to play the cleric, so points for that.

We went over the rules for Badass Hack, which is a simplified version of D&D with some excellent additions. My favorite was the introduction of Shame Points. The idea is to have the players do awesome, badass actions on their turn. They are completely arbitrary, and can be awarded anytime at the GMs discretion. Once a shame point is earned, the player has to roll a d20. If they roll under their current shame point total, they are kicked out of the game! To mitigate this somewhat, a player can assume another player’s shame and add it to their shame score, but the player who just got saved owes the other player BIG TIME.

DoomfireThis, along with the comedic awesomeness of the adventure, kept players focused and trying awesome stuff. It also encouraged good gaming habits. Roll a d12 instead of a d20 on an attack? SHAME POINT. Checking your phone when your initiative comes up? SHAME POINT. Negotiate with orcs instead of cutting a bloody swath through them? SHAME POINT. You get the idea.

Also, the GM can award a 1d6 bonus if an action is particularly awesome. This is called GOING EPIC. A half-orc bard with strings attached to his great-axe leaps from a mine cart while rocking a wailing solo on his axe, buries it into the skull of a kobold as his finale? EPIC.

This kind of carrot/stick approach to RPGs was fantastically effective. It lead to players trying to out-do each other, and look at the map to plan their turn, rather than their character sheet. No fiddly grappling rules, no underwater combat, just epic awesomeness! You want to do something, roll a d20. Was it a particularly fantastic plan? Add a d6 or 3.

We all had an uproariously great time, and as Scott said at the end, “It really has about all the rules you need.” If you didn’t get in on the kickstarter (SHAME POINT) I’m not sure what the Bastard’s plans are for general distribution. If enough people bug him, he may release it on some digital platform like rpgnow.com. In the meantime, if you see this game posted on a schedule for a con near you, sign up, and GO EPIC!

Converting 1e old school adventures to DCCRPG

July 2, 2013 Comments off
From Dungeons of Dread

From Dungeons of Dread

With the re-release of so much classic material from Wizards of the Coast like Dungeons of Dread S1-S4 and Against the Slave Lords A0-A4, as well as all the PDFs on DnDclassics.com it has never been easier to try your hand at classic adventures that helped establish the game and the hobby. My one issue with playing the classics is having to deal with all the quirks of 1e AD&D. I’d rather not have to deal with separate saves for Petrification, Spells, Wands, etc., descending AC, THAC0, and the like. It is no secret I’m a big fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics, which I feel combines the best of old school style with the benefit of picking and choosing the best mechanics of all the versions of D&D from the past 40 years.

My current mission is to convert S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth for DCC levels 4-5. I listened to the recent Spellburn Podcast (which you should definitely check out if you like DCC) and they mentioned that roughly 1 DCC level equals about 2 AD&D levels. Thus, with the original adventure for character levels 6-10, I think it should be a good match. My plan is to have the players start at 4th level, then level up to 5th when (if?) they reach the lower caverns. I also plan on having them start out with one +1 and one +2 item. Whether that item is a weapon/staff or armor is up to the player.

I can’t wait to use the very cool magic item creation tables in DCC for both wizard staffs and magic swords. To quote from the DCC RPG book for those unfamiliar, “There is no such thing as a ‘generic’ magic item. All magic items are unique.” When creating a magic item, you roll on a bunch of tables to determine its intelligence, alignment, motivations, banes, and special powers! I’ll also encourage the players to name their weapons and either create or roll back-stories (yes, there is a table for that) as to how they were created and previous owners, etc.

Here is a sample sword: Neutral Long Sword +2, Int 11, Empathic, 3 banes (Serpent – festering wound +1d6 dmg, +1d4 dmg next round, Undead – +1 Crit threat range, Giant – Unerring throw, can be thrown 60′, returns to hand, regular melee dmg) , Special purposes – bring balance to a specific place – Live alone as a warrior-hermit, sheds light 20′ at-will, detects gems within 30′. Now THAT is a magic sword!

I think most monster and save conversion will be fairly easy. For converting descending ACs to ascending, I plan on subtracting 20 from the current AC and making the result positive, i.e. AC 4 becomes AC 16 (4-20= -16). Most saves seem somewhat arbitrary in AD&D (Ah yes, a rockslide. Save vs…..SPELL!?!) So for those I’ll just use what has become common practice in 3.5, Pathfinder, and 4e: Poison vs. Fortitude, Charm/Sleep vs. Will, Lightening/Fire vs. Reflex.

I can’t imagine how this was a tournament module, as the scope just seems daunting to try and accomplish in even an all-day session. For publication, Gary added a very detailed and sprawling wilderness section that was not included at the original Con version, but even still, he does advise this will “likely take several gaming sessions.” It will be a few weeks before we gather our band of treasure seekers and take a delve. Be sure and check back to see how it went!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, DnD, Epic, Lore, Retro, RPGs, Tips

The Art of Fail – What to do when games go bad

May 28, 2013 Comments off

Roper_for_Total_Party_Kill_by_GreenAirplane

Occasionally, a game takes a turn for the worst.

A few months ago, I ran a session of “Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk” for a group, and in the module the Deck of Many Things makes an appearance. The Deck has a reputation for danger, dealing fortune and misfortune indiscriminately, but it’s one of those items that my group has come to eagerly anticipate in a long campaign. Five draws later, we had two characters in the Donjon (trapped in an otherworldly prison) and one character in the Void (reduced to a mindless automaton). Needless to say, it threw a monkey-wrench into our game, and was discouraging to a few players.

Donjon

That’s one type of problem, and we fixed it. I’ll go into how in a minute.

It comes to mind this week because we recently had an incident in our Pathfinder Skull & Shackles game that put us in a similar bind. Our unoptimized party staggered into an encounter grossly underestimating the power and skill of our adversaries, and coupled with some cold dice and optimized villains (common in a Paizo product at higher levels), we were nearly killed to a man. Fortunately we stopped the action due to the late hour, and talked about what needed to happen next. Unfortunately, however, some of the votes as to what needed to happen next were to throw in the towel on the entire campaign.

That’s a different type of problem, and an infinitely more complex one. Perhaps most frustratingly, our issue in Skull & Shackles seems to be that our characters, despite our best efforts, are either not optimized enough to face the anticipated challenges of the modules, or our method of playing them does not rise to the anticipated levels of skill anticipated by the module designer. An architectural problem like that takes some work, but that’s not the only problem.

Long campaigns have a number of difficulties associated with them. I’ve never finished a Pathfinder Adventure Path in less than a year, with one of them lasting over 3 years, and that’s a long time to do anything. There is potential for burnout on your character, on the campaign itself, and sometimes your group. High Level play has a slew of issues that are problematic. So what to do? GM’s and Players both play a role in sorting these things out, but each issue lends itself to different solutions. Let’s take a look issue by issue.

Multiple Character Death

This is sure to put a damper on your campaign fun: Two or Three of your beloved heroes die (maybe permanently) meaning your champions are severely humbled, or maybe your entire cast and party dynamic are rewritten. Both player and GM have a role to play here. Players need to evaluate first whether raise dead / resurrection is the route to go, or if there is a persuasive reason to bring in another character. Death during play is definitely a part of the life of an adventurer, and is part of the process of paying your dues. However, if you can bring in a character that adds to the story or brings balance to the party, and the change isn’t disruptive to play, gauge whether this is your moment. If you don’t have a choice in the matter, is there a way to make a new character that complements the old? Is there an NPC already encountered that would make a fun PC? While there’s little you can do if resurrection or raise dead aren’t on the table, conspire with your GM a little to see what other solutions might be possible that would make for an interesting return or cunning plot development.

In the end, more power lies in the GM’s hands where deaths are concerned. If you’ve killed half the party, either someone got incredibly (un)lucky, or you’ve misgauged the power of your encounters relative to your group. While bad decisions on the player’s part certainly merits the occasional ass-whooping, there is the enjoyability and continued longevity of the campaign to consider. As things turn towards TPK in a long term campaign, the GM’s Toolkit includes pulling back on the optimized use of some abilities: tossing a magic missile when a fireball may dish out 10d6 of campaign ending fury, commanding a charmed PC to attack an ally knowing full well he’ll get that badly needed second save, opting for subdual damage. etc. If it’s too late for that, a dropped PC can be raised or healed by the villains to extract information, letting the play continue and granting an opportunity for the PC’s to salvage the situation.

If there’s no room for resurrection, there’s the occasional wish or divine intervention, opportunities for which might be accrued during play over time to be used at just the right moment. In the case of our Deck of Many Things debacle, we actually played a session where a team of specialists went to free the souls of the trapped card-drawers, making for a fun offbeat extraplanar session that gave players a chance to mix it up with a different PC for 8 hours, and fun was had by all. The nice thing about a fantasy setting is that nothing is impossible with the right factors. A quest to get the item that will allow a resurrection is one good idea away, and may make for an interesting adventure in itself.

Character Burnout

You’ve been playing this damn cleric for 79 sessions and if you cast one more Cure Light Wounds spell you’re going to eat your rulebook. While largely a player problem, this is something your GM can help with, too.

Good character design should help to eliminate the onset of ‘Character Fatigue’ – Motivation, Backstory, Goal Setting all give you a roundness that should transcend function. However, especially with support characters, your most effective routines may be the least interesting. Check with your party and see if there can be some give in how roles are played out. Sometimes a few wands or scrolls can free up spell slots to let you take on the role you’re looking for. Depending on your level, there may be time to multi-class, changing you into the character you want to be.

A GM can help this situation a couple different ways. Work with the player to see what they want out of the game, and shape it to meet their needs. Indulge some of their campaign goals, or thrust them into situations where they are in the spotlight, creating unique opportunities.

Character retirement is always an option, and the GM should be able to create an opportunity to phase out one character while creating a compelling reason to feel attached or trusting towards the new PC (or maybe not so trusting, if your game is a little more sinister).

Campaign Burnout

In any adventure path or long running campaign, this danger is one of the most prevalent. Time passes in game and in real life, and the theme of a certain game can grow tired. Individual modules in a series can linger over frustrating details or hair-pulling monotony in many instances, or just a series of frustrations that make continued play feel unrewarding.

Players can attempt to turn the adventure in a way that is more pleasing to them, but this has very limited utility if the GM is not on board. GM’s, of course, have significant influence on this issue, and need to use their discretion to manipulate the campaign to meet the needs of the players. Ideally, this is done without overly telegraphing the modifications. However, if a particular dungeon crawl is literally crawling then removing or hand-waving a few encounters that don’t progress the plot will not usually be lamented by your frustrated players, obvious or not. Sometimes introduction of another element, such as a rival adventuring party, or some sort of internal dispute amongst your antagonists, can create an interesting way of clearing obstacles or adversaries in the path of your party and get them to the epic finale or wherever they may be heading while creating tension in the process.

I have very rarely had a party complain that something is too easy, but make things too difficult and they’ll tell you. There’s a fine line between challenge and frustration and the GM needs to make sure that the party feels like heroes most of the time and that the story keeps moving. Published scenarios should be used as suggestions, and as soon as the party gets bogged down in them, hustle to the next scene change, or take a pleasant detour into something you know they’ll like, to give them the fresh air they’ll need for another dive into peril.

Group Burnout

This is bad. If you’ve been playing with the gamers at this campaign for a while, either something outside of the game is interfering with the way friends play together, or worse, the way the game is getting played is making people rub each other the wrong way. Sometimes sitting down to an extended campaign can create a meeting of people that don’t know each other that well, and force them to meet repeatedly for 4 hours a week for years. While it is my belief that gaming can bring many types of people together (that being one of the things that is amazing about it), it sometimes does bring people together that just can’t click.

Players need to try to work out differences between each other, communicating their frustrations. Sometimes this is best done through a third party that can play peacekeeper and keep things from getting too confrontational during a session. The GM holds some responsibility to keep the peace and play referee, but sometimes your GM might be your problem.

With any relationship, communication is key, and identifying the grievance clearly and getting it behind you should be your first step. But, if you’ve aired your grievance and the other party can’t or won’t change their ways, make your excuses and cut bait. Don’t sit frustrated or mopey at a table and poison everyone else’s good time. If everyone shares the frustration regarding the single player, GM’s got to be the one to man up and diplomatically give the guy a last chance to shape up or ship out. The Jackass Rule states, “If one person calls you a jackass, ignore them. If ten people call you a jackass, get a saddle”.

If you’re the problem, don’t get defensive. Review your Gaming Ten Commandments. Take it on faith that you are representing yourself in a way that is making you come off negatively, and proceed with awareness that this is what your fellow player or players think, knowing you need to control yourself. You are not the first socially awkward gamer. I promise.

High-Level Play Sucks

Yes. Yes, it does. That doesn’t mean it has to, but you are going to find a lot of frustrations in high level play if you are not ready for it. First, you need to know your character and how it works. Secondly, you’re going to need to spend some time prepping for each game to make sure you know what you’re doing and how to do it. Third, you’re going to need to mark your pages or bookmark your pdf’s for common complex rules issues you know you’re going to run into: if you have an ability that grapples opponents, get your grapple rules ready, marked and reviewed; be familiar with the conditions you impose through your spells and know what spells your going to cast; if you have equipment purchases you want made, email the GM ahead of time to let them know what you want and update your character sheet as soon as you get the okay; get any sorts of buffs or powers outlined. In general, know how to play the game you’re playing and if you don’t know, read the rules.

GM’s suffer greatly under the yoke of high level play. You’re responsible for everything, and theoretically need to know what the players can do as well as all your monsters, traps, and so on. It’s a heavy burden, but one you can bear with the right prep and the right attitude. First, read your printed material if you’re using a module. Paizo has good message boards regarding it’s published material and they might address errata or other questions other GM’s might have had with your specific module. Look up strange powers in the bestiary and make sure you know how things work on your side of the screen.

Since you’re dealing with the same players over and over, it also would pay to read over the classes they’re bringing to the table if there is something they’re doing that confuses you. Sometimes you’ll find they’re mixed up about something and it may speed up game play if you both know how the power is supposed to function.

However, if you get down to the wire and are playing and you hit a complex rules snag, and you’re getting player burnout due to high-level play rules? Dump it. Make a call, and err on the side of player success: They will bitch to high heaven in you kill them through some sort of blown rules call, but few will make a peep at an error in their favor. Ties go to the runner. This works because it makes for a better story when the good guys win, and keeping play moving at high levels is key.

What Else?

There are plenty of other frustrations that can kill a campaign, but GM’s and Players alike need to maintain the polestar of Commandment 10 – Thou Shalt Have Fun. Make sure your fellow gamers are having fun with the campaign and that you’re not having fun at their expense. GM’s, make sure your players are enjoying themselves rather than maintaining the rubric of the module at the expense of their enjoyment. And finally, if worst comes to worst, find a good stopping point, set the module aside for a while, and pull out an old favorite or something new and give it a spin around the block for a while. If you come back to it, great. If you don’t, then at least you’re having a good time moving on to the next adventure.

We won D&D

April 13, 2012 3 comments

I forgot to mention we totally killed Tiamat the other day. I got a little too excited about DCCRPG. I’ve been playing the Scales of War 4e adventure path for about two years now, and on Monday we completed it. PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD. The last module was an assault on Tiamat’s fortress, complete with slaying pregnant brood mother dragons on our quest to confront her in her scrying chamber.

At this point we had been through 20 levels together. We started at 10th, and playing consistently almost every week, it still took us more than two years to reach level 30. After the final battle we talked about all the characters and climactic and memorable battles we had throughout the campaign. Unfortunately, I felt the actual battle with Tiamat wasn’t one of them. This was no fault of our excellent DM, but mostly the fault of epic play being ridiculous. By the time we reached 30th level, we were so powerful it was pretty much impossible to threaten us. Many of us had chosen powers that would allow us to come back if we were dropped to zero hit-points. I don’t think any of us had to use them. Ever.

Don’t get me wrong, we had some great times. Honestly, I probably built it up too much in my head. Despite that, there are some questions that remain: Previously, Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon, Lord of Justice and everything Good, had been slain. Luckily, we were traveling with this girl, that happened to be his phylactery/horcrux, so we were able to resurrect Bahamut. What prevents Tiamat from having something similar, and furthermore, wouldn’t she need to come back to preserve the balance? There was a bit of box text explaining how greed had been extinguished from the world, but if that was true, wouldn’t the world turn in to some hippy-dippy commune? I mean, a lot of greed is bad, but it can be a motivator, and is certainly an agent of change. It seemed a bit anti-climactic, at what should have been the most climactic event ever. Also, there was this big concern when Bahamut was slain that the balance of power was all out of wack. No mention of that when we defeated the Queen of Darkness. At the same time, how do you wrap up a muli-year campaign and make it a satisfying ending? Here is what I would have done:

“With the final head taking it’s last shuddering breath, the massive five-headed form of the Goddess of Greed collapses. In a shimmer of black fire, the huge carcass burned away to reveal the crumpled form of a bruised and bloodied raven-haired woman. In a shimmer of radiance, Bahamut, in the form of a wizened old man in white robes steps through one of the scrying portals. He smiles kindly at the heroes as he stoops to pick up the battered form of Tiamat. ‘Dear, dear sister. We can finally be together again.’

In a blinding prismatic flash of color, the forms merge and grow into a dragon that looks as if it was made of starlight, it’s skin a swirling mass of ever-shifting colors. ‘I am Io, the beginning, the end, the all. You have done well in reuniting my spirit. I shall guard the balance of creation henceforth. If you wish, you may join me at my side as my exarchs. Thank you for what you have done. You have earned a well deserved rest. However, there is much to be done to maintain the balance. Will you join me?”

Bam. Epic.

Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, Epic Tags: ,

Balancing Epic Scales

February 21, 2012 3 comments

http://images.wikia.com/dragons/images/9/9a/Tiamat.pngLast night was another Scales of War session. We’re wrapping up the penultimate module, and while we started at level 10, getting to level 28 has taken more than 2 years of pretty regular gaming. Monte’s recent article and the Weem’s recent post were perfectly timed, as I had them fresh on the brain while playing last night.

As I’ve mentioned here before, playing Epic 4e takes not only an Epic GM, but Epic players who know their PCs cold. Most of our character sheets are somewhere in the range of 10-14 pages, and we don’t even currently have a wizard in the party. That spell book eats paper like no other type of character. There are a number of challenges when playing at high levels for both the DM and PCs.

One of the main ones is encounter balance. It is extremely hard to challenge a well-built epic party. At the beginning of the session last night, we had to figure out if we had just completed an extended rest last session, because several of the party members weren’t down any surges, and weren’t hurt. Not a scratch. Turns out we had been through at least one fight, as some of the guys had used surges, but with the ability to slough off even the most debilitating effects and defenses in the mid to high 40s (my warlord has a fortitude of 53), its very difficult to challenge the party. In the module we are currently playing we encountered an ancient black dragon… as a wandering monster. In a regular game that would be the ultimate encounter and any of the party would be lucky to survive. Using party synergies and team work developed over the last few years of play, we spanked him like a misbehaving wyrmling.

A lot of great ways to counter this and make it challenging using 4e mechanics are detailed in Sly Flourish’s Running Epic Tier D&D Games. One of the best points in there, and one used to great effect in the last fight of the evening, is that big enemies should have auras of vulnerability. Some of the minions were only  doing 10 damage a hit, which at epic level is next to nothing, but then when we stepped up to the big bad, and were vulnerable 25 fire, suddenly the minions were doing 35 a hit; Not insignificant, even at level 28.

We are approaching the ultimate battle with Tiamat herself. It looks to be the very epitome of epic play for 4e. Of course, once we defeat her (and we *will* defeat her), won’t the balance of good and evil be thrown out of wack and cause a dragonlance-like cataclysm? We’ll see.

In the end though, I think I was hoping for something more. Sure, we’re rolling a big pile of dice for any major attack, and my head-math skills have improved appreciably because of it, but shouldn’t our near god-like heroes be something more than just bigger numbers? We’ve got enough feats to allow us to break every rule in the book (Flanking? No I don’t grant combat advantage. Oh he’s got cover? Great! I’m more accurate if they have cover than not.) So why have those puny ‘mortal’ rules at all? I think the Weem has got the right idea. If you stick with it long enough, your hero should ascend to the heights of a pantheon, and when he does, a lot more than the size of the numbers should change.

Categories: 4e, 5e, Adventure, DnD, Epic, RPGs, Tips