Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some Observations on DMing Tomb of Horrors (4e)

This isn't a blog post per se, but more of a notice that I've been discussing my observations of running the 4e Tomb of Horrors super adventure. We've currently started Chapter 3, and while I do really like this adventure, there are some aspects that need tweaking.

Note of course, that spoilers abound, but they're covered by spoiler tags.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New unannounced D&D 4e products coming?

Just a quick item of note.

One of the interesting undocumented items in the Monster Builder update that just came out is that two new 'sources' are listed:

Advanced Dungeon Master Guide
Players Option: Heroes of the Feywild.

Perhaps my Christmas wish may be coming true?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'm moving (sort of).

I have joined the 'This is My Game' blog, and have now published my first post: The Slow Death of Epic Tier.

I haven't quite decided whether to exclusively blog there or not, but plan on posting there at least every two weeks.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Putting more Pulp into D&D 4e (Part 1)

As I've mentioned before, I was a big fan of Torg shortly after it came out, and ran a campaign that lasted 18 months or so.

One of the aspects of Torg that I really liked was how cinematic it was, in the vein of Indiana Jones and Star Wars.

When Eberron first came out I really liked how it emphasized the pulpy aspect of adventure, and even introduced Action Points which allowed the PCs to add a 1d6 to their d20 rolls.

Unfortunately, one of the problems with 4e is that combat tends to be on the slow side, even for combats that really aren't as important as others. During our last session, which was a major combat in the new 4e version of Tomb or Horrors, we had one combat that took on the order of 2 hours in order to complete. Actually, technically it wasn't complete as one major combattant hadn't really been touched when the session had to end.

This is getting to be a potential deal breaker for us (and I've started looking at Savage Worlds), but I really want to give a try at making 4e more pulpy.

One of the first house rules I'll be adding will be to increase the number and utility of action points. First, instead of only getting 1 AP after an extended rest, and an additional one per milestone, the PCs will get a set amount per session, which do not roll over if they don't spend them. As well, as described on the aptly named Action Point blog, I will be rewarding APs for good roleplaying.

The PCs will be able to use their APs on the following:

1. Get another action on their turn (as usual).

2. Spend an additional AP to trigger their paragon path AP ability. The reason I've separated this out is that some paragon path abilities can be rather time consuming.

3. Add 1d6 to any skill check or attack roll. This will allow daily powers and encounter powers to hit a bit more often, which will speed combats up. I'm not sure how I'll take into account blasts and bursts though.

4. Make a natural roll of 19 a critical hit.

Monsters will also get the benefit of these changes, and I will probably add a bonus AP to Elites, and two bonus APs to Solos.

The goal of these changes is to make combat more "Fun, Fast and Furious", or as much as I can get it in D&D 4e, which admittedly takes on more of a tactical bent than Savage Worlds.

In Part 2 next week, I will discuss more changes I'm planning on making to combat encounters to make them more pulpy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

An Interesting Tidbit about the Dark Sun Creature Catalog

So I went into my FLGS to pick up the Dark Sun Campaign Setting and the Creature Catalog. I was surprised to see how cheap the Creature Catalog was. The store owner pointed it out to me and I'd mentioned that I'd seen that originally it was supposed to be a softcover.

Turns out that STILL was what it was supposed to be.

However, the printer made an error in the order and printed it in hardcover instead of softcover (obviously they'd gotten used to everything being a hardcover). Apparently Wizards of the Coast had paid for it to be softcover, so they just sent it along as is.

So those of us who get the first printing will be lucky to take advantage of a printer error.

Now I'm going to sit down and start devouring those books. :-)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Review: Tomb of Horrors (mild spoilers)

Tomb of Horrors is this year's super-adventure, a 160 page hardcover by Ari Marmell and Scott Fitzgerald Gray, featuring the legendary Acererak a demilich of great power, ambition and madness.

Warning: There are some mild spoilers, so if you plan on playing this adventure, think twice before continuing.

Unlike last year's super-adventure, Revenge of the Giants, this Paragon-tier module is actually split into 4 chapters of varying level from late Heroic to early Epic. Where Revenge of the Giants was a continuous adventure, the format of Tomb of Horrors is more like four (or five) separate mini-adventures, split up by other adventures you might want to run.

This edition of Tomb of Horrors treats the earlier adventures, S1: Tomb of Horrors and the Return to the Tomb of Horrors as backstory. Instead of adventuring through the original Tomb of Horrors, the PCs will go through four (mostly) new tombs, each with their quirks and challenges.

I've been rather critical recently about WotC's adventures published since 4e was started. While most of the time the combat encounters were interesting, there was very rarely any exploration like there used to be, little roleplaying outside of combat, puzzles were practically non-existent and the pacing was off. If you weren't fighting something you probably weren't doing much at all.

Tomb of Horrors is completely different. It is in my opinion, the best 4e adventure that WotC has published. Though there still aren't a ton of roleplaying opportunities, there is one section of the adventure where there are some.

Previous adventures featured a rather linear sequence of encounters, mostly combat, with very little in the way of empty rooms or interesting features without creatures. There is definitely a sense of exploration in this Tomb of Horrors. There are different paths to take, different things to poke around, and not every encounter needs to be encountered in order to succeed in the adventure.

Given that it is called Tomb of Horrors, there are definitely puzzles to be solved, although admittedly not as many as I'd like. I suspect this is because puzzles are very party-specific. It's difficult to have puzzles have a significant meaning in an adventure if you don't know if the party playing it likes solving puzzles. That said, it wouldn't be difficult to add some puzzles on your own. Still, I'd love it if WotC would publish an adventure on D&D Insider at least for those of us who love puzzles.

Tomb of Horrors still features lots of encounters, and the authors did an amazing job making each one interesting. They have a higher level of sophistication than previously seen, in that not all combats need to result in the eradication of the opposition. Some combats have goals that need to be attained. Some combats are fairly easy, some are nearly impossible and require the PCs to succeed at their goal and get the heck out of Dodge.

One major difference between the original Tomb of Horrors and this version are the traps. They still apply a 4e philosophy, mixing traps with monsters and not having instantly lethal traps. This isn't to say that the traps aren't dangerous though. While there are no save-and-die (or worse, no-save and die) traps, there are traps that will kill outright, although it requires some failed saves.

Given the historical lethality of the original Tomb of Horrors, there are recommendations for upping the lethality of this adventure. This includes increasing the damage of the traps (a good idea IMO) and starting the adventure at 8th or 9th instead of 10th level. I don't care for the latter idea, as this mainly would just result in longer combats.

There are lots of skill challenges as well, and they are creatively integrated with combat as well as stand-alone. I still think the way that the skill challenges are written are rather kludgy, but I'm not sure there is a better way to write these things.

As far as the monsters seen in Tomb of Horrors, there definitely is an emphasis on undead, to the point that I highly recommended that someone in the party be able to inflict radiant damage. The challenge will definitely go up if there is no access to radiant damage powers. The emphasis on undead is highest in chapters 2 and 3, which is why I am glad for the opportunity to take a break between those chapters and have adventures involving abberations or giants for example.

One thing I was pleased to see is that the new monsters definitely are using the new damage expressions recently updated in the errata and Monster Manual 3. Unfortunately, when monsters from earlier Monster Manuals are used, the original damage outlay is still used (I'm looking at a specific pair of iconic monsters in Chapter 4 in particular). This is understandable, but unfortunate. However, the weaker damage is so obvious, especially later in the adventure, that it's a snap to slot in the new values.

There is a battlemap featuring three of the locations in the adventure. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure why they chose these particular areas (with one exception), but the big map is generic enough that it could easily see re-use at some point.

Finally, those running this adventure in the Forgotten Realms shouldn't have too much problem at all adapting the adventure. Those of us running it in Eberron though, will have a bit more work to do. I find that any high Paragon or Epic adventure published by WotC so far is really tough to use in Eberron without substantial changes, due to the reliance on the 4e D&D World dieties and cosmology. The authors do have some suggestions in a sidebar, but I find the suggestions for Eberron a bit lackluster given some of the great villains and history that Eberron has available.

The bottom line is that if you've been unhappy with the adventures that WotC has published in the past, they're starting to listen to the criticism. Tomb of Horrors is certainly a quality product.

Monday, July 12, 2010

House Rule: Stunned

It seems like the Stunned condition is a topic of note lately on the 4e blogosphere, Twitter and on Enworld.

The gist is that the Stunned condition, just isn't much fun. It removes the player from the game effectively for one or more rounds.

This situation was hammered home on me at our last session. I've been playing rather than DMing the last couple of months, as I needed a breather and wanted to see what 4e was like from the other side of the screen.

During this combat, which was against the Big Bad Evil Guy at the end of the adventure, I had managed to have horrible dice luck when attacking (hit twice out of something like 8 rounds, rolling less than a 5 on most of those misses).

But the worst part was when my Sorcerer got slammed unconscious. I made my first death save, and then the Artificer in the party healed me. Unfortunately, the BBEG went next and since she was right next to me, slammed me again unconscious (nearly killing me again). I then failed my death save. The Artificer then succeeded on a Heal check to allow me to use my Second Wind, which I did. However, again the BBEG slammed me unconscious. I then failed my second death save.

As it turned out, we won in the end (though we had a lengthy conversation afterwards regarding difficulties with Level + 3 Solos, which get healing... 90 hp through the combat). Admittedly a large part of our problem was also that we were under-manned with only 4 PCs and no Defender.

However, the fact was that after having a lengthy combat where my luck was crap, I then had to endure three rounds of doing nothing (I do wish our DM had spread the pain around a bit).

Doing nothing is not fun, especially when rounds can take 10-20 minutes to complete. Theoretically I could have been out of the game for an hour. In earlier editions rounds were (usually) much quicker, so if you didn't get your turn (if you were say, Held), it wasn't so much of a big deal.

Now, this problem was demonstrated to me with the Unconscious condition rather than Stunned, but it was similar enough.

This problem with Stunned has actually resulted in me changing up what monsters I want to run. Which is unfortunate, since a lot of cool monsters have powers that inflict the Stunned condition. One shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So I have been thinking about how to change the Stunned condition. Here's what I'm thinking at the moment:

Stunned: You are Dazed.
You have a -4 to all defenses.
You have a -2 to all attack and skill rolls.
You cannot sustain powers.

This makes the Stunned condition an uber-Dazed condition. In addition, it should make combats a bit faster since both monsters and PCs would be easier to hit, and while the offensive abilities of whoever is stunned are reduced, they are not eliminated.

Best of all, the player is not taken out of the game.

DM Samuel on RPG Musings also mentioned dealing with the Dominated condition.

I'm not as prepared to change that up at the moment. First, it hasn't come up very much in my game. Second, as DM Samuel mentioned, the player isn't taken out of the game as he gets to still inflict some pain on his own teammates and gets a roleplaying opportunity to boot.

So what do you think? What have you done to alleviate the problems caused by Stunning?