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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

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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.”

How We Roll: Critical Hits & Misses

August 29, 2010 2 comments

Have you ever played with one of those great narrative DMs? The kind that describes in detail the visceral impact of your crit or the humiliating consequences of that fumble? It’s a rare trait and if you are that kind of DM, you probably don’t need any help. But if you’re not, there are two simple tools that can take you one giant leap forward in becoming ‘that’ kind of DM.

The tools? The GameMastery Critical Hit Deck and Critical Fumble Deck. I own both of these 52 card decks and they are flat out awesome. These came out when 3E was all the rage, but are general enough that they can be applied to just about any version of D&D.

Critical Hit Deck: Each card describes four different effects depending on the type of damage inflicted (Bludgeoning, Piercing, Slashing, Magic). Each has associated flavor text (e.g., Roundhouse, Nailed in Place, Disembowel, Combustion) and suggested impacts – either additional damage or other effects. For example, “Nailed in Place” prohibits the target from moving until a save is made. The deck also comes with a couple of bonus cards that describe various optional rules for using the cards in your game – though I’m not sure how practical applying multiple cards to a single attack would be (the optional rules suggest this for high damage weapons). Otherwise, high production value, quality cards, and a flying decapitated head of an orc on the back of each card – what’s not to love?

Critical Fumble Deck: Each card describes four different effects depending on the type of damage inflicted (Melee, Ranged, Natural, Magic). Each has associated flavor text (e.g., Attack the Darkness, You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Stop Hitting Yourself, Weak-minded Fool) and suggested consequence. For example, “Too Much Stuff!” results in you getting tangled up in your own gear until you spend a standard action to free yourself. As with the Hit Deck, these cards are fantastic in quality and have a bloody d20 on the back – rolled to a ‘1’ of course. In addition to the optional rules, this deck comes with a new weapon ability ‘Sure Grip’ to help avoid the consequences of a fumble and a couple of new spells to promote fumbles. Just think of the look on your player’s faces when you pop this out the first time and then give them the option to lay it down on their own foes – priceless.

All told, I think these decks are a great value and well worth the $11 or so that they cost. Need more info? In addition to his normal witty repartee, Gamer Bling has a great statistical run down on these products at…

http://gamerbling.wordpress.com/gm-tools/critical-hit-fumble-decks/

Enjoy!

How We Roll: Accessories

July 25, 2010 1 comment

For this entry I had hoped to provide a thorough and well rounded accounting of resources for you to build a flexible and diverse set of minis that would not only add style to your tabletop but spark the players’ imaginations for creative use of environment and terrain. Alas, it is not to be. The problem? For affordable, quality accessories, there simply are few to none to be had. During my research for this article I discovered that the small set of useful items that I do possess were gained out of pure dumb luck or misguided and expensive forays into other games that I’ve never used for their originally intended purpose.

That said, I have a very few key pieces that you should keep your eye out for – and a couple of resources to point you toward depending on the size of your wallet and your skill at painting.

I have made one, count ’em one, purchase of Dwarven Forge merchandise and it was this – their accessories kit complete with bed palettes, crates, barrels, sacks  and urns. The quality of these resin figures is astounding, though I doubt I would have even these if it wasn’t for a going out of business sale at a Wizards of the Coast shop at my local mall. What cost me $12 will now put you back $35 – ouch!

The tables were from Wizards’ Harrowing Halls 3-D tile set and were probably the most useful items in it. But there were only three included.

The door standees are from the ‘Descent: Journeys in the Dark’ board game by Fantasy Flight Games. Trust me, you don’t want to lay out this much cash unless you’re really interested in playing the board game too. Back in the day, Hero Quest and Mage Knight had some great doors and other accessories, but collectors have generally priced these out of the market.

Yet all is not lost. If you have a steady hand you can score some nice unpainted accessories from Naloomi’s Workshop or for the real do-it-yourself folks, plaster molds from Hirst Arts. For a few bucks and the price of materials, you can have all the accessories you like!

One final thought – bottle caps. Be observant and you may come across some with very interesting and useful graphics, like these. Oh and it was nice to find that they are almost all about 1″ square.

In any case, be on the lookout for useful props for your games – and if you come across something useful that doesn’t break the bank, by all means grab it! Trust me, affordable finds in this area are too few and too far between.

Tuning the 4E Wizard – Level 3

July 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I played Bayne again in our 4E D&D session on Friday. It was a marathon session this week that went well past midnight. Good news! He made level 3 (by a long shot).

This week the DM had wised up to how painful it can be to cluster enemies together so I had to adjust tactics a bit. More often than not I had to start an encounter with Thunderwave to cluster the enemies. Recall that Thunderwave has a push effect that can be used to slide a foe or two beside a couple of their evil cohorts. Unfortunately it is a hit affect, so if you miss a baddie then he gets left out of the future fun. It takes some pretty creative positioning to get off these area effect spells without tagging a PC, especially given the close blast nature of Thunderwave – it kind of feels like positioning a knight in chess.

Once clustered, I would blow an Action Point and follow with the standard Scorching Burst (if there was a follow-up chance of capitalizing on Bayne’s specialty of imposing cold vulnerability – see earlier posts on this topic) or jump the gun and lay down Icy Terrain to knock prone the previously pushed targets (if Bayne’s allies needed a bit of breathing room). And they did.

So what to do at this next level? At level 3 some great powers come into play. I had to make a difficult choice between Fire Shroud (an AoE DoT), Icy Rays (Chill Strike on steroids, as it targets two foes), and Color Spray (a crowd control spell attacking Will, and one of the few Will targeting spells). Recall that with the Tome of Readiness, I can grab two of the three but I’ll need to drop the level one encounter already loaded in there – which is exactly what I did. Goodbye Chill Strike, hello Icy Rays and Fire Shroud. I went with Fire Shroud purely for thematic reasons – I’ll retrain if it doesn’t work out. I kept the level one power, Icy Terrain for it’s great crowd control.

I regret leaving behind Color Spray, but what’s a caster to do? I’m still liking the variety and spell flexibility of this guy – Tome of Readiness rocks!

Tuning the 4E Wizard – Level 2

June 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Hi all.

I got to play Bayne, my 4E wizard, last night and try out his level 2 powers. Considering how unusually poor most of my rolls were, Improved Initiative kept me high enough in the firing order to get in some good one-two shots.

On one encounter, Bayne caught five goblins clustered together during a surprise round and managed to hit all of them with Scorching Burst. Rolling an underwhelming ‘3’ on a d6, he did eight damage each for 40 total hit points worth of damage. Not bad for starters, but the key for this attack was that each one was now vulnerable to cold damage. On the next round, Bayne was able to catch four of the vulnerable goblins in his encounter power, Icy Terrain. Rolling another underwhelming ‘2’ on a d6, he did 12 damage to each (2 + 5 int bonus + 5 cold vulnerable) and even managed to crit one for 16. That dropped another 52 damage on our hapless foes.

So, all told, under some ideal clustering circumstances and even with mediocre damage rolls, Bayne did exactly what I designed him to do – he laid down 92 points of damage in back to back attacks.

Overall, I’m pleased with the character concept.