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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…

http://slyflourish.com/on-environmental-powers/
http://slyflourish.com/harrowing-halls-terrain-effects/
http://www.penny-arcade.com/2010/6/23/
http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/278976-interesting-house-rule-gabe-pennyarcade.html
http://www.gamecrafters.net/archives/654

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!

http://www.em4miniatures.com/acatalog/TRINKET_BOXES.html

Day 71: The Oracle, the Skeleton, and the Rakshasa

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

As before, I have sketched a map of this area and noted significant events and locales. The unholy alliance between the wardens of death and those dedicated to the pursuit of evil grows stronger. We have overcome orc priests, ghouls, and, of course, more skeletons.

I have also noted on the map where I met and embraced my worst fears – face to bony face. Upon approaching a chest, I failed to discover a pit trap and fell into the waiting clutches of a great bluish skeleton. Having no where to run and no other recourse, I grappled the thing. I must have been quite a sight to my companions – eyes squeezed shut, screaming at the top of my lungs, and hugging the great skeleton for all my life. We were able to defeat the foul thing, and it is likely that my terror-enhanced grappling saved my life.

We encountered a skull oracle with a taste for magical items. After feeding it, it identified the items that we were looking for – the elven king’s money purse, and the queen’s comb. The oracle was also able to locate the items – several levels down in the possession of a group of priests.

Finally, we battled a majestic guardian of evil, a Rakshasa. Unable to damage the demon, Cerin encased the demon within a wall of ice while I foraged through its treasures for some item to help us defeat it. Finding a powerful magic ring, I used it to “steal his life” – and in so doing not only defeated it but became the bearer of its power and its form. I still recall wielding awesome magical energies, holding sway over lesser beings, and the taste for destruction. Fortunately, my companions escaped my wrath with the one magical item capable of restoring me, a soul gem that encased a fairy dragon. Upon releasing the dragon, they were able to impose upon it to restore me to my normal form. I remain forever in their debt.

Thus ends the diary of Falon Shimeron – aside from some unsubstantiated claims of felling an unsuspecting rust monster in a single shot and falling victim to a paladin vampire. But that’s the stuff that other stories are made from.

Day 61: Rappan Athuk – Level 3

June 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Our greatest success was discovering the tomb of the fabled arch mage Spiegal. Atop a great column of stone, sixty feet above the subterranean hunting grounds of a great purple worm, I discovered the merest shade of difference in the stone. Not even the faintest hairline lent the trapdoor to discovery. Bearing protections instilled by the others in the group, I withstood triggering numerous traps to finally open the mage’s white marble casket. Lying inside, undisturbed on the mage’s corpse, were a robe of the archmagi, a staff of power, and counterspell ring. Knowing no other safer place to rest and recover, we remained in the tomb several days until we were once again ready to venture forth.

On our next crossing of the sandy cavern floor, the floor erupted and the great purple worm attacked us. But we were not the tasty bite-sized snacks that it was anticipating. Though Frip, Ji, and myself were swallowed, we fought the beast from without and within. When the monster lay dead, Frip also lay lifeless. We have returned to Brindinford to revive him.

Day 52: Rappan Athuk – Level 2

June 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I have sketched a map of this area and noted significant events and locales. The place is rife with decaying ruins of humanity – skeletons, ghouls, and ghosts. The only living things we encounter – rats, ogres, and a single human – seem to have formed some uneasy alliance with the wardens of death. The man, though alive, was quite mad and attacked us immediately. Apparently if this place can’t steal a life, it will settle for a mind or a soul. It is thoroughly and completely evil.

I have never known such terror as that I encountered upon facing the elite black skeleton. Though Aranthis and Ji’Etah were able to destroy it, I was no help. My blind panic took me far from the battle before it even began. I must find a way to conquer my fear of these fleshless fiends!

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.

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.