Archive for September, 2010

Thunderspire Labyrinth: Part Eight – Gone Digital!

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, we’ve finally done it. The grognards have gone digital. Digital D&D – or as I like to call it DD&D. With the wealth of computer knowledge we have in the group, I’m surprised it’s taken this long. So, inaddition to the usual session recap, I’d like to outline to you good readers how our DM pulled it off and what tools we used.

The Hardware: Two laptops, a big screen plasma TV, an HDMI cable and a wireless network

The Software: Fantasy Grounds II (the Ultimate edition) for use as the virtual table top, maps produced with Campaign Cartographer 3, a DDI subscription for access to the D&D Compendium for quick rules look-ups and of course the excellent Character Builder and finally at least one player using iPlay4E as his character sheet.

Other than that we figuratively and literally “rolled” as normal. I still rolled real dice to hit and do damage, I told him where to move my fighter (north two squares and then northwest one), I still kept tracking of the conditions I was under and those I applied.

The Best Part? Probably the maps. It was great to have very colorful and detailed maps projected on the big screen. Much better than the hand drawn fair we normal use.

The Worst? Set-up of all this electronic goodness is always a bit of a hassle. The Fantasy Grounds II beta client was a bit unreliable – BUT it is beta after all. The workaround was simply to project the image from the Fantasy Grounds II server on the DM laptop. The DM juggled windows on the laptop and big screen to keep all the senstive DM-only info off of the big screen. Other than that, I hated watching the dust gather on my dragonborn warrior mini. If we ever get the big screen horizontal on a table top, that problem will be solved – and it will be awesome.

In this final session, Gorn and his three remaining companions confront (and barely overcome) both Maldrick Scarmaker and Paldemar in the final battle. You read that right – four PCs, two bosses, one hairy battle.

As always, all downloads are posted in the widget in the sidebar to the right. Pop on over there and download “Thunderspire Campaign Newsletter Vol 8!” Or see all files available for download and grab them from here.


House Rules: Terrain Powers!

September 11, 2010 Leave a comment

The Dungeon Master’s Guide II introduces Terrain Powers (page 62-63) to formalize what DMs have been improvising for years. It provides a standard template for using terrain for tactical advantage. The problem? No one uses them since to do so you typically have to sacrifice an attack – and that is just too expensive a consideration for most players.

Over at Sly Flourish and Penny Arcade, a house rule has been proposed to increase the characters’ tactical use of terrain during combat. The proposal? Make it a minor action to activate terrain effects or to make active skill checks. Now characters can flip over a table, topple a statue, or swing on a chandelier and still have a standard action to launch an attack. I like it! Let’s look at a few examples…

Terrain Power – Distract Foe:
Set-up: The fighter, Gorn, is somberly drinking ale when a rowdy brawl breaks out. He begins his turn next to a flagon (which has a terrain power of Distract Foe).
Minor: Gorn throws his flagon at the nearest assailant, activating the Distraction terrain power. If he makes a successful ranged attack roll, he negates that foe’s possibility of performing an attack of opportunity this round. Note that this minor attack only applies a condition and does no damage.
Move: Gorn then freely moves past the distracted foe to engage the brawler just beyond him.
Standard: Gorn finishes his turn by punching the brawler square in the face.

Terrain Power – Improvised Cover:
Set-up: Across the room, the wizard Bayne is sitting at a table sipping ale. He notes the outbreak and decides a little melee cover is in order.
Move: Bayne stands up.
Minor: Bayne flips the table on its side, giving him cover from the escalating brawl.
Standard: Kneeling behind the table, Bayne peeks over the edge to fire off a Magic Missile at Gorn’s distracted foe.

Terrain Power – Unmolested Movement:
Set-up: From the loft upstairs, the rogue Falon needs to make a fast break across the room to line up his backstab – and notices the iron chandelier (terrain power of unmolested movement).
Move: Falon jumps from the banister to the chandlier 10′ away.
Minor: Falon makes an acrobatics check to grab and swing on the chandelier. If successful, he’ll complete the swing and drop behind his foe while immune to all attacks of opportunity.
Standard: Falon, though unarmed, executes a vicious kidney punch to his flanked foe.
As always, remember that whatever is good for the players is good for the DM. After explaining the house rule, introduce them to it first hand!Kick that flaming brazier over at their feet and let the good times roll!

For more info…

Core 4E Rules All in One Place – with Errata!

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment

With a flurry of new D&D introductory and “essential” products being offered, related product confusion is at an all time high. Quickly, let’s review the bidding…

Heck, there’s even the oxymoron of an essential supplement…

All this and even a couple of ready to play boxed sets with minis, in the vein of Fantasy Flight Games awesome Descent game…

But in this deluge of mostly optional fare, there is one upcoming product that I want to make sure you 4E veterans don’t overlook. It is the Rules Compendium: An Essential Dungeons & Dragons Compendium. This 320-page paperback purposes to compile all 4E rules and play reference material with the latest errata. Genius in its simplicity and with a very approachable price point of $13, I’d go as far as to say it should be on your short list of planned purchases. If it is indeed all that it promises, this is all we’ll need for on the fly rules clarification during games – and will save us the hernia-inducing effort of lugging all those DMGs and PHBs around. You can get more information on it over at the Wizards site. This title will be released on September 21, 2010.

Rules Compendium: An Essential Dungeons & Dragons Compendium (4th Edition D&D)

How We Roll: Critical Hits & Misses – Redux

September 4, 2010 Leave a comment

In an earlier post this week, I discussed the use of Critical Hits and Fumbles and how some excellent GameMastery products can improve your narrative style as a DM. Ed Grabianowski over at Robot Viking has an excellent house rule to tailor the use of the GameMastery Critical Hit Deck and Critical Fumble Deck for 4E.

“The cards as written don’t really fit 4E critical mechanics, but we didn’t want to abandon them, since they’re cool and fun. We simply continued using them, making judgment calls each time a card was drawn. After more than a year of using them, all those judgment calls have added up to a loosely defined set of rules. First I’ll list what the card says, followed by what we house rule it to mean:

  • Double Damage; Deal normal 4E critical damage (ie. maximum plus magic weapon bonus).
  • Triple Damage; Deal normal 4E crit damage plus an additional roll of your normal damage for that attack. Example, if you hit with a 2W attack using a weapon that does 1d8 damage, a Triple Damage crit would deal 2d8 +16 damage.
  • Bleed; 1d6 ongoing damage, save ends.
  • Ability reduction or bleed; Weakened, save ends.
  • Other status effects; We still rule these case by case. Some of the 3.5 statuses match 4E ones well, other times we have to stretch things a bit.”

Random Encounters: A Treasure to Ignore

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

The players come across a chest sitting undefended in a corridor. Always hungry for treasure, they quickly glance over the flimsy chest only to find that other than being tenuously guarded with a rusty lock it is otherwise unremarkable.

But there is something devious here – the chest is really a very simple alarm that alerts denizens deeper in the dungeon to intruders. How? The chest has no bottom – it is simply an overturned wooden box perched over a privy sized hole in the floor. Suspended within the box and above the hole is a clay pot with a stone inside. Perpetual light is cast on the stone, but the clay pot masks this fact. If the players are unsuccessful in a series of skill checks, the chest simply collapses dropping the clay pot into the lower levels to shatter and shed light there as an alarm.

So how do they defeat this alarm?

  • Do nothing. Ignoring the chest is an easy way to keep the baddies from knowing you’re coming. Yeah, but we know that ain’t gonna happen.
  • Unlocking the chest is actually the trigger for it to collapse. So a successful unlock attempt or bashing it is an automatic failure.
  • Perception Check: A perceptive character may discern the following.
    • The lock on the chest is all but useless. It would take little to no effort to open or break it.
    • The chest appears to be too flimsy to protect anything inside.
    • The top of the chest is actually nailed to the sides.
    • The chest appears to have no bottom.
  • Thievery: By carefully supporting and rigging the sides and top (NOT unlocking and opening it), it can be defeated while in position above the hole. Describe this as slipping something underneath the entact chest to cover the hole  (and the party gains a handy continual light source).
  • Arcana/Detect Magic: Senses the faint aura of magic from the lighted stone within the chest.
  • Acrobatics: Carefully lifting the chest and moving it from over the hole, defeats the alarm.
  • Insight/History: Discerns the true nature of the chest after it has been triggered or disarmed.

By the way, if you like the look of that treasure chest you can purchase one of your own! Stop over at eM-4 miniatures and pick one up!