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Memories of Memorial Day

May 31, 2010 Leave a comment

In 2004, my bride and I had the great pleasure of touring Normandy – 60 years after the momentous events of D-Day. Though the waves have reclaimed much of the devastation along the shore line, 60 years was not enough to fully erase the artifacts of men fighting and dying to overthrow a tyrant.

Here are some photos of our trip – craters at Ponte du Hoc from the shelling by allied destroyers, a well-preserved German pill box and a completely destroyed bunker that suffered the brunt of a destroyer shell. At Ponte du Hoc, situated between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, the craters were formed by the Allied destroyers USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont as they bombarded the clifftop, providing the 2nd Ranger Battalion with cover as they scaled the cliffs.

One especially compelling moment of the trip was our visit to The American Cemetery at Normandy overlooking Omaha Beach. This small piece of American soil is the final resting place for over 9,000 men killed while taking the shore. It stuck me as strange that everyone visiting the cemetery was speaking a non-english dialect, but then the trumpet began to play taps and the place went silent. You could have heard a pin drop. It was tough to choke back the tears.

“What the Americans, the British, and the Canadians were trying to do was get back a whole continent that had been taken from its rightful owners by Adolf Hitler’s German army. It was one of the most monumentally unselfish things one group of people ever did for another.” – Andy Rooney

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Day 50: Rappan Athuk – Level 1

May 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This day was spent overcoming minor obstacles and traps. Grog lost his boots to a green ooze. Of particular note is that we found a skeleton sitting upright in a chair with a deck of cards on its lap. The grisly corpse was covered in ants, but posed no threat. Beyond a room housing an empty coffin, we located a set of stairs leading us deeper into the dungeon – but we elected to continue exploring this level before descending further. Toward the end of the day, while exploring some natural caverns, we came upon a horde of rats, wererats, and direrats. Though we faired well against the beasts, we were daunted by a wandering gelatinous cube and were forced to beat a hasty retreat. No doubt it wanders there still.

How We Roll: Battlemats

May 23, 2010 1 comment

In my group, we’ve been very fortunate to have a large variety of Chessex Battlemats. These vinyl, wet-erase, reversible mats are very flexible and, once broken in, lay absolutely flat. I believe that between the players, we have all three sizes represented…

Battlemat™, Megamat™ & Mondomat™
Double-Sided Reversible Mats

Battlemat™ = 26” x 23½” (66cm x 60cm)
Megamat™
= 34½” x 48” (88cm x 122cm)
Mondomats™ = 54” x 102” (137cm x 259cm)

Now let’s put that in perspective. The Mondomat is 8.5 ft long by 4.5 ft wide and covers a pool table! At 4 ft by just under 3 ft, the Megamat is the perfect size for coffee table gaming in the living room. And if your tables are a bit smaller, the flexible mats simply droop over the side out of the way.

Another great feature of these mats is that they are reversible. One side is printed with a standard 1″ grid and the other with 1″ hexes.Sticking with convention, we exclusively use the 1″ grid side, but it’s nice to have options (you know, just in case 5E completely changes the way we game once again).

Some of these mats have been bouncing around in our group for well over a decade and they look pristine. The key to preserving them is…

  1. Banish all but wet-erase markers from your house. One stray mark with a Sharpie or dry-erase marker and your mat is marred for good.
  2. Clean the mat after every use. In other words, don’t store it for long periods of time (more than about a day) with a drawing on it.
  3. Clean it with a wet paper towel. These mats are very durable, but if you gorilla-scrub it with an abrasive detergent you can damage the vinyl surface or printed grid.
  4. Minimize use of red markers. Just like washing a red shirt with your tighty-whities, a pink hue can result from over use.
  5. Store these mats rolled up in a tube with the surface you most use facing outward (just like you would artwork). This enables them to lay flat right out the tube – sans creases.

More than just about anything but the gamers themselves, these mats define what D&D means to me. They’ve been a staple at our group for as long as I can remember and are well worth the investment.

Day 49: The Entrance to Rappan Athuk

May 22, 2010 Leave a comment

After a trip by boat to the location specified on the map, we have found ourselves at a graveyard, complete with three mausoleums. True to the rumors, rat holes permeate the place, and there is indeed a well that bores into the darkness. We have survived an attack by eight gargoyles that jumped from the walls of one mausoleum and a giant black skeleton entombed in the same crypt.

Based on the statuary, it seems obvious that this was once a sacred place that now stands defiled. Though the crypt itself is trapped, we have discovered a key within the statue of a dwarf that will allow us passage to the dungeon below it.

Day 48: Maps & Rumors

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Having returned to Brindinford, we have purchased a map – reputed to describe the location of a Cult of Orkus, in a dungeon known as Rappan Athuk. Cerin feels that this cult is somehow affiliated with the theft of the royal elven family’s personal items and resulting curse. We also turned up the following rumors…

  • A mushroom under a bridge can restore health
  • The corridor of white stone is cursed
  • There are no monsters on the fourth underground level, but lots of gems
  • There are many tunnels dug by giant rats, but some lead to nowhere
  • Use the underground rivers
  • The entrance to hell is deep within a maze – swim through a pool of water
  • Don’t go down the well

4E Wizard Play Test

May 15, 2010 Leave a comment

As you’ve seen on a previous post, I tried my hand at optimizing my 4E Wizard, Bayne. Bayne went into “play test” last night with four good friends.

Background: The party consists of a diverse group of largely ranged specialists – definitely not your iconic tank-healer-dps group. We have a crystalline psionic, a warlock/swordmage, a ranger, my wizard and a dwarf cleric NPC. The game environment is a typical dungeon crawl through a mine infested with goblins, vermin and wererats (so far). Our first session was more the “gang of low-level baddies” rather than the “single elite” type of combat. After a bit of debate about who would lead the crew into the hostile unknown, the swordmage drew short straw and actually served the defender role well.

Utility: As for utility, I’m very pleased with the wizard. A sunrod (or Light spell, if pressed) combined with the Mage Hand spell made for a terrific torchbearer that remained positioned 20′ ahead of the party. Mage Hand also allowed us to open doors and chests from a relatively safe distance since we didn’t have the services of a rogue. Finally, Mage Hand came in particularly handy in digging through some suspicious old rags that turned out to hold a swarm of rats. With all our ranged talent, this often let us get in an early shot or two.

Combat: As expected, the wizard’s damage output is modest at best – especially when conditions restrict targeting to a single foe. Fortunately, there were often enough targets to catch at least two and often three foes in each blast. My highest damage output was with a Chilling Cloud cast on three foes for 25 damage total. That was only possible due to a prior casting of Scorching Burst that did modest damage, but inflicted two of the three with vulnerability 5 to cold.

Control: Perhaps also as expected, the wizard did adequately control the foes, but perhaps less than I had hoped. Sleep came in handy for a group of about seven foes and effectively slowed all but a single target. This helped keep them grouped together for subsequent multi-target attacks from the rest of the party. By the time they were making their sleep saves there was only a target or two left. Too bad it’s a daily and therefore only saw use once. Icy Terrain saw routine use in each encounter – it’s ability to knock foes prone was excellent for restricting movement. As for Thunderwave, and this may be heresy, but it was underwhelming. The short push effect (two squares for my wizard) provided no tactical advantage for the environment in which we were playing and did nothing to slow the advance of the bad guys. I’ve no plans to swap it out yet, but I need to figure out a way to make it tactically useful.

All in all, I felt that I was able to improve on the damage numbers that I’ve seen many wizards impart, but I’ve got more to learn in the tactics department. As I figure it out, I’ll let you know!

Day 47: Lost and Found

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I guess by now I should have come to expect the unexpected. Having settled in for a little rest, we had only the night before our adventures caught us up. We awoke the next morning to find Ji E’tah missing and a strange magical summons in his place. Assuming we wanted his safe return (and we did) our only option was to recover a black orb for a master wizard. Seemingly without ever leaving the room, we were transported by an enchanted ship to an isolated isle. For days we sailed while the ship was tended by undead constructs that neither threatened nor even acknowledged us.

Upon arriving at the isle, suddenly heat and humidity engulfed us like a great wave. We explored the island, but found it deserted – no people, no animals, not even insects. What we did find was old, very old – dilapidated huts and strange monuments with ancient markings. It was at one of these that I was able to trigger an “entrance.” Unfortunately, it was directly under Aranthis, who plummeted into an underground lake.

At the nearby shore she located a well-tended dock and we quickly threw down ropes to join her. We found the ornate dock well lit with torches and, curious, we began our exploration. Grog immediately fell victim to a spiked pit trap and it was all Aranthis and I could do to remove him from an impaling spike. Luckily he’s as tough as a bull moose and Brannick was available to restore both his health and spirits.

We soon came upon a large room surrounded by doors. The central focus of the room was a 35’ metal statue that intoned an indecipherable warning as Grendel approached. Behind one door we encountered another automaton, similar to the ones that manned our enchanted ship. Only this one was much more dangerous. Though he approached as if through molasses, his attacks were flurries of untraceable movement. He dropped Frip before any of us could react, but Grog retrieved the gnome before he reached death’s door. Though the battle was sore fought and I was grievously wounded, we were finally able to down the fiend and discover at least one source of his fighting prowess. He carried a magical longsword (+2) and dagger (+1) and a rod that is able to silence an area.

We found the remaining rooms empty but were also able to jump across a crumbling ledge to another corridor. As we traveled this corridor, we noted a humming growing ever louder. Circumventing traps, we made our way through an ornate pair of double doors to find another room guarded by two armored figures with swords. Upon entering the room, these also attacked us and again we were sorely pressed. We were finally able to defeat them, but even in death they lashed out; exploding in a great ring of fire.

Continuing on, with that omnipresent humming growing ever louder, we came upon a luxuriously decorated apartment ensorcelled with a magical alarm. Hearing a huge foe pursue us, even above the loud humming, we pressed quickly onward and found a throne room. Upon a dais within this room was a strange white light that seemed to beckon us. Running from the two metallic automatons that burst into the room and fluidly transformed into a single entity, we all ran for the light and suddenly found ourselves in a remote and quiet cavern – no longer in danger of pursuit.

Making our way back up toward the surface, we first encountered living creatures. The dozen or so canine humanoids were much more fearful of us than we of them and beat a hasty retreat. We then fought our way past two displacer beasts. Frip did his best to salvage the strangely wavering hides of the beasts. They make me a bit unsteady just trying to focus my eyes on them.

Finally we came upon the prize. But a huge metallic automaton guarded the orb. Being in no mood to fight this Giant, we rushed for the orb (reasoning that our patron wizard would keep his promise to return us once we found his prize). As the Giant split into four lesser entities to stop our assault, we dove and rolled around them. The once gnome Fodkin made wonderful use of his new found pixie wings to grasp the orb – suddenly we were transported in a flash back to the “Morning Star.” Ji E’tah sat comfortably waiting for us, unharmed and unaware of our adventure. If it wasn’t for the sword, dagger, rod, displacer hides, and this newly found figurine of a horse, I doubt Ji E’tah would even believe our story. Even now it seems as if no time at all has passed, and we awaken as if from a dream – and, though a week has passed for our band, I can only reconcile my diary by recording this single entry.

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