Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's All In Your Head

"If you could be inside my head..." - Ozzy Osbourne, Flying High Again

Last week, I was invited to play in a 3.5 Edition of D&D.  Having wanted to play 3.5 a bit, I was all for this.  However, the game that I was about to play was unlike anything else I have ever experienced with Dungeons and Dragons.

Let me explain.  When I started playing, my friends would take turns DMing "an adventure", which basically meant an entire level of play.  I remember my first adventure, which was basically the party trying to pit a tribe of orcs against a tribe of gnolls so that the villagers could live in peace while the two factions of monsters destroyed one another.  I was brand new to 4E and the game in general, so I took the written rules literally and tried to find a way to have 10 encounters so my party could level up.

Another friend of mine (who no longer wishes to play), basically did the same thing, only over and over again for his adventures.  Playing his games were fun, but it was almost like a "ok, we're exploring, how long until we have to fight another group of monsters?".  It wasn't until I started delving into other DM tips and really thinking about the kind of game that I wanted to run when I realized that I didn't like encounters for the sake of encounters.

In the time that I've played D&D, I've always used a grid with miniatures.  I love drawing maps, I love seeing my enemies, and I find it totally immersing into a different world.  The 3.5 game I played did none of this.  Everything was in our heads, or what is called "theater of mind".  Right from the get-go, this game was unlike anything I had ever played.

The players all had their laptops, which basically had all their stats and items typed up in a Word document.  I had 5 pieces of paper, using one to take notes while the others were my Level 5 goblin rogue.  Old school vs new school.  Cool.

The DM, Doug, was a very puzzle oriented DM.  Everything we did had some threat involved, whether it was crossing an underground river (which awakened a bunch of water elementals) to trying to figure out which door to proceed down next (all of them trapped).  There were other things, like an anti-gravity trap, a sleep spell, and just lots of goodies to go against.  You could tell Doug got stoked when we came upon his next puzzle and we had to discuss how to figure it out.

Doug also had a lot of house rules (from what he told me).  I've never played 3.5, so it was hard to tell what was his, and what was the systems.  But that was ok.  As a player, I'm counting on the DM to know the rules and to help me, not for me having to know everything and trying to do something broken (not all the time).  And it was in this session that I finally understood what DnDNext is trying to accomplish: give a set of rules that players can adopt or not use, making DnD a unique game for every group involved.  Let people play the game they want to play.  Just help them get there.  I guarantee that even with the next edition and the new rules, my games and Doug's games will still look very different from each other.

When the college year starts up again, Doug expressed that he probably wouldn't be able to keep up with a huge group, meaning that the groups would probably split.  So, now there's a possibility that I might be able to go from work to hang with a group and start up a new campaign, set in my world.  I'm looking forward to that.  The goal would be heroic tier.  Maybe Level 5 by the end of the year.  Who knows.

Below is the list of the group that I played with.  I've also put pictures of the mini I would give them to use if they were in a game run by me.

Doug - The Dungeon Master!

Mark as Roc, the Half Dragon Avariel Fighter (male) - Mark roleplayed his character as a stern, serious warrior.  He offered suggestions and was quick to assist the party.  I was always happy to have Mark (as Roc) on my team covering my back.  He was also extremely enthusiastic about the game and the group, which is always a plus.  I would definitely want Mark covering my back while exploring a kobold infested shrine.
No wings, but the half dragon part looks right.

Bria as Raven, the Drow Druid (female) - Bria is brand new to D&D (this was her third session or so).  She seemed like the type of player who was all about exploring a new world and asking lots of questions.  She helped contribute to the team a lot and really liked the social part of the game.  Bria was the glue that held the party together, as she got along with everybody and helped the entire team work better together.

She means business
 Cody as Jemima, the Half-elf Ranger (male) - Pronounced Ja-me-ma, Cody loved to create backgrounds for his character.  Jemima was a cook, and a darn good one at that.  In many of the games that I've played, nobody ever talks about things like food and drink and trail rations.  Cody made sure it was a priority, which brought a sense of realism for me and made me see Jemima as a character who thought about things other than just collecting gold and slaying creatures.

 Ethan as Tumultu, the Elf Cleric (male) - One of the dark secrets of Tumultu (at least to me) was that he was a werewolf too.  Doug's world had two moons, meaning the lycanthorpy was twice as potent and happened twice as often.  The rest of the party was quite afraid of Tumultu turning, but wanted him to learn to control it so that he could throw down on enemies.  Ethan seemed to be a player that enjoyed leveling and becoming stronger, something that I'm familiar with, as I have a player just like that.  I could always count on Ethan to deal the killing blow to whatever threat we were facing, or finding a way to heal those affected by ailments.

Don't mess with Tumultu
 Jesse as Aasimar, the Elf War Mage (male) - In my notes, I don't have Aasimar's race (sorry Jesse!).  But, I remember all the cool things that Aasimar was able to do.  Jesse was an extremely skilled problem solver who was quick to give advice.  In my opinion, he seemed like the unofficial party leader; he offered suggestions, helped others, and took things into his own hands.  I would follow Aasimar (or Jesse) into a beholder's lair if I had to.

The staff has some crazy magical properties
 Dom as Balrick, the Half-orc Barbarian (male) - Dom straddled the worlds of roleplaying and power gaming.  His character wasn't as strong as Tumultu, Aasimar and Roc, but he packed a powerful punch and enjoyed portraying a typical barbarian while doing so.  He was able to provide some comedy relief that way.  I've known Dom for a number of years, so it was cool getting a chance to adventure with him in the depths of the Underdark, something we have never done together at this point.

I would love to play more D&D with all of these people, perhaps introducing them to my campaign world at some point.  We shall have to see what this fall brings.

As always, be sure to leave comments, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Adventure Idea: The Bridal Party

"Do you wanna get married?  Or run away?" - Goo Goo Dolls, Slide

From my understanding, the idea of a bridal party/groomsmen were to escort the bridge to the wedding.  I found this through google:

"Actually the bridal party began with an Anglo-Saxon tradition. In this tradition, friends of the groom were given the role of guardians or body guards of the bride. It was their duty to make certain that the bride made it safely to the wedding and later the groom's home. She should arrive at both places with her dowry and herself intact. This is how the term bride's knights originated. It evolved into bridesmen and later into groomsmen." -

So, how cool would it be to make this an actual adventure?  I ran it my by fiancee, who said that she would love to play a D&D game like this.

Synopsis: A fey ally to the party is set to married, or an ally of his is about to be.  However, the betrothed needs to be escorted to the location of the wedding.  The players are given the task of being the bride's knights (or groomsmen, depending on who they're leading).

Adventure Location: In my campaign world, this adventure would take place on the continent of Finyar, in the Sacred Forest.  They could start in a small elven village, or perhaps the great wild elf city of Dawnscythe itself.  Alternatively, the party could start in the world, and have to finish their journey in the Feywild, or from the Feywild into the world.  Feel free to change the adventure to fit your needs. 

Enemies: With my adventure set in the Sacred Forest, there are a variety of foes you could pit against the party.  Here are my top choices.
  • The Sisters of Affliction: A trio of hag slavers, the Sisters (Darkiss, Xia, and Shrei) know of the bridal parties that journey through the forest.  The have a wide network through the Feywild and locations in the world heavily influenced by fey.  Their personal appearance in attempting to capture a party of bride's knights would be monumental indeed, as they frequently have their minions attend to such thing.  Goblins are their typical servants, and many a clan has fallen to the influence of the Sisters.  Other groups of mercenaries have been known to serve them as well, for a favor or perhaps a glimpse into the future through their powers.  When one of the Sisters does make an appearance, it is typically known.  Shrei, a howling hag, tends to fight with a group of scarecrows.  She also likes lighting things on fire.  Xia, a vain bog hag, spends most of her time as a beautiful elf maiden (adventurers beware!), while Darkiss, a night hag, enjoys stealth and treachery when tracking her quarry.  
The Sisters of Affliction (from left): Shrei, Xia and Darkiss

  • The Caido: A ragtag group of half elf/vampires, this band is led by the dhampyr Trinity.  She refers to herself as a half breed, and leads her group in raids against the elves of the Sacred Forest.  No group is safe, whether they be high elf (eladrin), wild elf (elf), or dark elf (drow).  Trinity would like nothing more than the slay every member of the bridal party, the bride included, after torturing them to the point where they beg for death.  While most raiding parties are sent on by Trinity, one may be led by Celeste Veron, a conflicted young woman who could be swayed to turn against the Caido. 
Celeste Veron
  •  Black Stars Bloodline: These vampires are mostly found in the south eastern area of the forest.  They have strong connections to the Shadowfell and shadow magic.  There are rumors that their dwellings within the Sacred Forest hold many shadow crossings.  It is known that the the Caido have been known to deal and treat with them at times. 
  • Spawn: A green dragon that dwells within the Sacred Forest and the Feywild, the official title for the dragon is the Spawn of Zehir.  The dragon is followed by a cult of Zehir, inhabiting ancient ruins of long lost civilizations.  It is unknown where her lair lies in the Feywild, or what she uses it for.  The wedding parties she captures are used in rituals dedicated to Zehir, while others are devoured. 
  • The City of Kwev: Rumors persist of a dark elf city built around the ancient tombs of an elven civilization.  There, dark elves animate plant matter and the dead.  While not entirely evil, they are a secret society who seek to avoid outsiders, unless those outsiders come to trade.  Their relationship with other fey is strained at best.
Overgrown Tomb by Rob Alexander
Those five options provide a good deal of enemies to thwart the the plans of the characters and the bodyguards.  Perhaps two of the factions collide, giving the players an opportunity to pit the enemies against one another.  Perhaps they team up.  Either way, feel free to adapt the enemies or use whatever other ones that you wish.

Other options to think about would be including dryads and nymphs, or any other fey influence.  Such beings could make powerful allies with the party.  Fey crossings and Underdark exploration could also be considered as a different way for the party to bring their target back in one piece.

The escortee should have a companion stat block for the appropriate level, but should not be allowed to fight.  Marriage is a saintly event; the escortee is supposed to be protected.  However, allowing them to use Healing Word twice per encounter, or having them carry some Healing Potions seems like it would be fair and would provide an extra bonus to protecting them.

If the players succeed, they should be invited to the wedding, which could lead to an interesting roleplaying evening.  Create a list of guests (some should have the potential to be good benefactors), or perhaps map out a large mansion (if eladrin), or some other appropriate setting.

I threw this idea out to my fiancee as an adventure idea, and she said she would love to play a game like this as opposed to exploring a dungeon.  I think interacting with the escortee could be just as interesting as trying to protect them.  Leave some feedback and let me know what you think!

As always, be sure to follow the blog, or follow me @artificeralf on Twitter.  The plan is update every Sunday from now on (with the exception of random posts throughout the week if I have something to share).


Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Trip Down Memory Lane

"3.5 is the best edition of D&D" - Various 3.5 Fanboys

While pretty much all of my DnD experience has been with 4E, I am now ready to take the leap into 3.5 (as a player of course).  It's not that I had issues with editions (I don't, I just understand 4E best and wouldn't want to try and learn more rules), I just never got the chance to play.

For Free RPG Day 2012, I bought a couple old modules from 2nd Edition, just because they looked cool, and I want a variety of things from all walks of DnD.  Indeed, opening the books and reading through the adventures, I felt an "old school" feel to DnD, something that the DnD Next Playtest had a lot of.  The whole thing gives me a different perspective of how the game can be run, and how things back in the day were done.

My good friend Peachey (who plays Gregg, and used to play Pog), has long been a fan of 3.5 (though he's played all editions, I believe).  He has most of the books, and knows it well enough to DM it.  When P@, (who plays Niz), goes back to school in the fall, we decided we want to put the game on hold and start something new.  This will give me a break at DMing, and allow us to try something new.  So, 3.5 it is.

I really like how the Pathfinder game has taken the 3.5 rules and continued to build on them.  Peachey says that other companies did it to, so there is a real wealth of knowledge out there if you know where to look.  I, browsing through and google, found a Pathfinder book that I knew I had to buy: Goblins of Golarion.

The book is basically a 3.5 take on goblins, with a TON of crunch and fluff to help with world building and inspiration (the kind of stuff I love).  So today, I'm sitting, leafing through the 3.5 Player's Handbook, trying to figure out how I'm going to re-build Kov Nitikki and get him ready for his next round of adventuring.

Here's a couple of things I've noticed about 3.5
  • Magic users are weaker.  They cast spells and then forget them.  My 4E Artificer build of Kov used weapon powers, meaning he would get to swing his weapon to attack.  I don't think a 3.5 Artificer build would work for Kov.  It just doesn't seem like him.  
  • Kov has always been more of an Alchemist than an Artificer, so maybe I can buy items and what not to supplement that.  3.5 has a huge skills list, so maybe I can train something to help.
  • Goblins get a huge Dex bonus (+4), so I think maybe something like a Rogue would favor them.
  • I get to roll for abilities scores.  Holy cow, this could be really good, or really bad.
  • I feel like characters have a lot lower starting HP (they do).  
This whole concept is brand new to me, but I think this is why I'm so excited to do it.  It just seems super fun and new.