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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.

How We Roll: Maps & Tiles

June 13, 2010 1 comment

I love map tiles. In a previous post you saw that my group primarily uses Chessex Battlemats and drawn maps – but once in a very great while, the DM will throw down a 2D tile with all of it’s interesting little features, difficult terrain, and line of sight implications. When he does, it suddenly sparks my imagination to try out new tactics or tricks that I wouldn’t have considered with a crude line art map.

My favorite tiles are the Wizards of the Coast tiles sets. They are of terrific quality and are affordable tile sets. They use very heavy cardboard 1/10″ thick, have great graphics printed on both sides (reversible!), and the printed surfaces are well-bonded to the stock material and even have a durable textured feel. The early sets (which in my opinion are the most useful compared to the later and more expensive niche sets) run as low as $10.

The following are my favorite sets since they are versatile enough for most dungeon crawls and also provide just enough specialty tiles to toss out a feature or trap when the party least expects it…

  • Arcane Corridors
  • Arcane Towers
  • Caves of Carnage

There are three things that turn these unassuming printed tiles into the best dungeon layout you’ll get short of a Dwarven Forge set…

  1. Choose a good backdrop. When delving through a dark dungeon, placing the tiles on a black backdrop (perhaps a section of black bedsheet or towel) enhances the feel that the party is deep underground burrowing throw earth and stone. Likewise, green works for wilderness areas, etc.
  2. Grab some door standies. 3D doors can enhance the sense of mystery that is foundational to D&D. I suspect your players will take doors more seriously when you plop one down at the end of a long dark corridor.
  3. Accessorize. Look for useful mini accessories that can be used to complement your play. Barrels, chests, tables can be bought, made from cardstock, or simulated with everything from matchboxes to bottlecaps. Since you’ll be using these common items a lot, you won’t regret spending a bit of money or time to make items as immersive looking as possible. I’ll follow up on accessories in a later post.

A note on Wizards new 3D tile sets: As much as I like the 2D sets, the 3D objects that Wizards offers just don’t do it for me. The slip fit build doesn’t work well for doors, which fall over at the least provocation. The stairs look awkward and the tab in slot approach for the tops of the objects means they don’t stay attached in normal use. Unless you’re intersted in kitbashing these with a good bit of glue, I’d recommend looking into Mage Knight or Dwarven Forge for good 3D doors, tables, etc.

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.

How We Roll: Player Playmats

May 1, 2010 1 comment

A very special thank you to Jonathan Dietrich (porter235) over at boardgamegeek. On the first day of playing 4E, I showed up at the game with a bunch of gifts – 8.5″x11″ laminated copies of his excellent playmat (God bless Kinko’s). I’ve got to admit that seeing everyone looking over this beautiful sheet and the ‘wow’ factor of free stuff was worth the price all by itself.

Each player uses it in place of a character sheet to provide quick (and erasable) reference for PC core stats. With it, and a stack of power cards printed directly from the character builder tool at Wizards, we’ve got all the reference info we need for an evening of gaming.

To be honest, I thought it would be a short-lived training tool until we got comfortable with the new system – then we’d be off again to our our old multi-page character sheets. Not so! To this day, I (and most of the other guys) still use the laminated sheet and wet erase markers for reference and tracking hit points, healing surges, etc.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/365471/porter235?size=large

Thanks Jonathan!

How We Roll: Roll Initiative!

April 18, 2010 1 comment

Well, this entry is going to be a bit of a product review for the GameMastery Combat Pad Initiative Tracker, typically available at paizo.com. According to the description there… “It is a wet- and dry-erasable board with a steel core, so the included magnets stick right to it! It is portable—about the size of a sheet of paper.”

At one of our first games of 4E, I unwrapped this baby and tossed it over to Tony, our first 4E DM. He had typically used pen and paper to track initiative, but was pleased to give this new toy a shot. He found sliding names to be a nice alternative to re-writing them each encounter. Now, our group doesn’t typically spend too much time delaying or readying actions (which is another proclaimed feature of this board), but the simple beauty of just sliding names into proper initiative order is worth the price of admission. But let’s say you want to use it to its full potential – with a bit of creativity and the flexibility of the wet/dry erase surface, it’s entirely possible to track duration spell-effects, persistent conditions, and monster hit points.

For my part, I find it to be simple and functional, as all great products are. I like the layout and the graphical style, but you can judge those for yourself from the picture. The thin steel sheet gives it a quality feel to it and enough stiffness to write (like a clipboard) or roll dice on.

The only downside is that the number of magnets and surface area are better suited to smaller encounters, unless you don’t mind doing some mixing and matching of the included magnet colors. With seven players and an equal number of monsters you’re beginning to push its limits of…

  • 8 player character magnets (blue)
  • 4 non-player character magnets (green)
  • 8 enemy magnets (black)

All in all, I’m pleased with the purchase. I got it at my local game store for the cover price of about $17. You might be able to find it for a bit cheaper at Paizo’s scratch and dent sale online. Word on the street is that a new version is in works and to expect some minor improvements – I hope they don’t stray too far from what made this product great.