Monday, February 22, 2010

Dealing with Resistances

One of the elements in 4e that I don't think is handled well is resistances. The main problem in my view is that 'typed' damage should be more dangerous than 'untyped' damage.

It's one thing to get hit with a sword...but to get hit by a sword that then burns you (fire), or shocks you (lightning), or drains your life (necrotic) SHOULD be nastier.

But it's not.

The problem is that PCs realize that one of the ways they can reduce the damage done to them is through resistances. It's difficult to get resistance to 'all' (and as far as I know there isn't a resistance to untyped only) but it's easy to get resistance to poison and there's even a 10th level Wizard Utility power (Mass Resistance) which allows you to choose the resistance when used (and can potentially protect the entire party to boot).

However, most monsters and the Page 42 stats do not take resistances into account. Even worse, certain groups of monsters (yuan-ti, drow) or solos (any dragons) typically only have one damage type, and it's not untyped damage. Thus, a single use of Mass Resistance can turn a challenging encounter into a grind. This, in fact, is exactly what occured in our last session on Friday. The Wizard's use of Mass Resistance had made it so that none of the monsters could significantly damage anyone in the party.

One thing that struck me odd when altering the Elder Blue Dragon for my Monster of the Week post a couple of weeks ago, was that the Gore attack, which you would think would be physical, was only lightning damage.

Personally, I think something needs to be done about this. However, on the other hand you don't want to punish players who use their resources in order to prepare for an attack on a green dragon, or such. However, I think that the way the rules are in 4e, resistances move encounters that are challenging to grinds. I'd rather resistances be part of the problem solving in the encounter. One that would be dangerous, but with smart preparation, the party is able to handle the challenge.

I have two recommendations:

1. Add an untyped damage amount to those powers that involve some sort of physical attacks like claws, bites and the like. A perfect example of this is the Red Dragon bite. As for how much, a starting point would be the Low Normal damage for the appropriate level on Page 42.

2. Add 1 die damage per tier for powers that don't involve physical damage (ie the Young Red Dragon would see it's Breath weapon become 2d12+4).

The final question is whether or not there should be any changes to the other direction, that is, the monster resistances. I don't feel this is necessary. The PCs should have a good variety of damage types. Also those classes that do specialize in one type (ie the Infernal Warlock) have abilities that can either ignore resistances or they get extra damage when faced with a resistance against their prefered damage type.

Any other recommendations out there for dealing with resistances in 4e?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Avoiding the Dead End Branch (Part 2)

As I wrote in Part 1, my campaign hit a major snag when the players surprised me by deciding to attack 200 drow.

As played at the end of that session, which was near quitting time anyways, the drow then counterattacked and although the vast majority of them were minions, they still managed to drop all the PCs.

Unfortunately this threatened to destroy what campaign plots I had for this group.

After discussing it with my players, I gave them the option to either bring in new characters, still use the old characters, or start a completely new campaign.

In the end, two of the players brought back previous characters who they'd semi-retired, two brought in completely new characters, one is keeping his old character (who will be raised) and one was a very surprised player upon returning from his vacaction. :-)

In the end, I decided to have the 'new' party join up with the goliath warden, who then managed to found the bodies of their friends. They discovered that it was impossible to raise some of the characters (their destinies had been fulfilled), but the goliath barbarian (the brother of the other goliath) could be raised. That player was missing from this session though.

They then proceeded to the tribe that the new drow sorceror belonged to (the previous destination of the party), and were eventually attacked by the sole remainders of the tribe, who had been taken over by tsochar. Unfortuately this combat took 2.5 hours to run...a subject of one of my next posts.

I did however have a plan what to do if the players wanted to keep their current characters en masse. Basically the idea was that I'd retcon the last 60 seconds of the previous session in that they'd been knocked unconcious by sleep poison, not killed.

One reason is that the guy who ordered the killing was only the negotiator, not the chief. The 'out' was that they'd have to play a game of tatchli, which would be based on the Aztec game, that involved having the losers get killed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More on Building Challenging Encounters

Critical Hits just released a podcast discussing Challenging Encounters.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Avoiding the Dead End Branch

All DMs know that the PCs have an innate ability to choose to deal with a situation in a way that is one that you didn't consider. Worse, they'll find the choice is one that you did consider, but decided it was so crazy to do so, they wouldn't go for it.

That happened to me last week.

The PCs are in Xen'drik (in Eberron) on the way to a drow tribe that had adopted the warforged fighter/cleric. On the way, they accidentally travelled into the territory of a Vulkoor worshipping drow tribe. They fought one combat against a group of drow, and that night had encamped next to a river.

They were then attacked in the middle of the night by a group of hill giants (along with some mutated frost giants), who had been led there by a pair of drow, using a stolen 'artifact' as bait.

They fairly quickly eliminated the giants, but then heard dozens upon dozens of drow heading for their location. They ran.

A skill challenge then broke out and the PCs nearly succeeded, but ended up failing. They did however, find themselves in a sacred grove featuring an upthrust giant scorpion claw. They knew via a Religion check that the drow would be unwilling to spill blood on their sacred ground.

They were surrounded by about 200 drow, and a rather tense negotiation occured (another skill challenge), which the PCs succeeded at. They had agreed to basically clear out the giant enclave that had been causing the drow problems. However, knowing that they were dealing with powerful people (the PCs are level 18) the drow wanted the PCs to touch the claw and swear to try to defeat the giants, in order to make sure that the PCs would comply with their side of the agreement (effectivelly an old school Geas).

Suddenly the deal fell apart, two of the PCs refusing. At this point, given that it was close to normal quitting time, I should have just called the session there. But I didn't.

This then escalated to the point that the negotiator ordered the drow to 'kill them'. Now, these guys are powerful, but even 190 minions are going to do a lot of damage (375 points to the Assassin).


This bothered me all the way home and the next morning. I emailed the players asking 'WTF?' thinking that there was some sort of communication problem. There was.

Lessons learned:

1. PCs will choose death over being 'forced' to do something. Even if they've already agreed to it.

2. It's a good idea to have some idea of what the PC's religions are. The Assassin player (one of the two PCs to refuse the Geas) surprised me by basing his objections on his religion...which had never come up in play before. (admittedly, we had less roleplaying previously than we should, and are now trying to focus more on it, but it was still a surprise).

3. Always have an out, even if it involves something the PCs would be insane if they tried.

I have come up with a solution, but we don't play again until next Friday, so I will leave that for the next post.

My question then is, what have other DMs done that resulted in a TPK? What, if anything, did you do to continue the storyline from there?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More on making Solo's tougher

This seems to be a theme throughout the 4e blogosphere lately. This entry from Epic Destinies talks about doing a Solo in phases, like World of Warcraft (oh noes...4e is just like WoW!!!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monster of the Week: Elder Tempest Blue Dragon

The point of this monster is to be a variety of dragon that truly could be a frightening threat against a party of 5 PCs. I have used some of the suggestions made by the great folks at Radio Free Hommlet, Sly Flourish and the Chatty DM.

Here are some of the alterations I have made to the Elder Blue Dragon to come up with the new version.

1. The defenses and hit points have been reduced to what would be expected for a Level 20 monster, as recommended from Monster Manual 2.

2. The dragon now has an aura which allows it to shoot a bolt of lightning at it's oppenent at the beginning of it's opponent's turn. This allows the encounter to scale according to party size, and also substantially increases the amount of attacks it can make.

3. Damage types have been altered, adding thunder to the lightning damage for the breath weapon, and making the damage from the claws and gore untyped. This will make it a threat to parties that have good resistances to lightning.

4. The Blue Dragon is a bit different from other dragons in that it's breath weapon was an at-will. However, I switched it back to a Recharge 5 but also dramatically increased the damage that it puts out. Largely this was done because of the existence of another at-will 'breath weapon' which is an Area Burst attack.

5. Since it's important for the dragon to be able to fly around sniping the party, it's critical that it has the capability to get away from Defenders and other powers that might permanently ground it for the duration of the battle. The Take to the Air power allows this, and combined with the already existing Thunderclap power, the dragon has at least the ability to do this. I did however, reduce the stunned effects in the Thunderclap power to Dazes, for player enjoyment.

6. The dragon now gets a minor action, that doesn't do any damage, but it does give a minor control ability.

7. The dragon now gets substantially stronger damage-wise when it's bloodied, but it also gets easier to hit, reducing 'grind' effects.

8. Stuns and dazes only eliminate the standard action now, which does substantially hamper the dragon, but doesn't completely neuter it either.

It does have a fairly large stat block, but it is designed to be truly encountered alone, with the possible exception of hazards, traps or environmental effects.

So what do you think?