Apr 062014
 

Fresh from their island rescue, our young heroes finally set foot upon Xalpia Dominia once more. After thanking the ship captain for the ride our intrepid heroes had little time to take in the sights. Kazamir wanted to see his parents, of course, but the rest of the group was more concerned with purchasing some new clothing. Onward, to market!

Our heroes head toward the market but are quickly shown that there are different plans afoot. Within minutes the group is surrounded by several winged Deva and herded up toward the Stupa of the Celestial Dragon, a large domed building that dominates Xalpia Dominia. Being wise (or at least not wanting to pick a fight), our heroes follow the Deva and are soon escorted into a secret back entrance. They are lead down a hallway shrouded in mist, clearly a very special entrance for very special (I.E. Player Character) people.

The Temple

We didn’t do it! Honest!

Our heroes emerge into the main temple area. There are more Deva guards and perhaps the oldest priest the heroes have ever seen. His race is hard to make out, as the only thing really memorable or visible are his pure white eyes and a long beard. He is clearly in touch with the Celestial Dragon and he quickly explains some setting background. He also drops some knowledge: long ago the nine dragons who ate daddy eventually became the nine stones of power (at this point I started singing the Dragonball Z theme song). The priest was sure that we had been touched by the Black Gem, which held great power to control the undead.

Even better, we’d all been marked by the Celestial Dragon. Which meant that it was our job to clean up this whole mess. And given that we’d been touched by the Black Gem, it was highly likely that we’d run into it again. Great. But at least we all had a reason to stick together and so our heroes depart richer in knowledge, if not comfort.

Our heroes had money in their pockets and a definite surfeit of goods. Time to hit the market! Kazamir took a small detour to visit the family alchemy shop and gear up with his backup gear. Then it was time for some shopping. At first the little market excursion was going well. We had credit at shops and new shiny magic items. But suddenly we are beset by screams and we roll out of the shop to see tons of humongous rats attacking the marketplace! Time to spring into action!

The Marketplace

You seem to have a rat problem.

The fight wasn’t anything serious, as the rats were just minions. Still, it had a few fun little highlights and I had a few thoughts.

  • I personally love minion battles. They make you feel heroic and the controllers get a chance to really shine. Newt was really able to make good use of his beguiling strands power.
  • The rats were actually just a distraction. This was a really, really good use of minions and a nice way to move the plot forward. Quite well done.
Marketplace Battle

Roll out and assume Omega Formation!

We dispatched the rats with ease, but not before some shady halflings had a chance to cut our purses. We were all at least 100 gold pieces lighter in the wall. Though the fools decided to steal Kazamir’s sword. Not smart, considering he had sword bonded it to himself. A mental thought and it was back in his hands. But not everything else! Our heroes gave chase immediately!

Our heroes soon found the hideout the thieving scoundrels had been using. It was a collection of buildings with rooftop walkways. Very bad for us, good for the thieves. Still, they had our gold and we were mighty heroes! Onward, into the warrens! What followed was a nice little fight with a bunch of rats and those pesky thieves. A tough but well won victory.

Thieves Hideout

TWO DOLLARS!

Fight Highlights

  • Poor Beren rushing around the corner and eating three readied attacks, getting dropped from full to negative hit points in one fell swoop. Cost him the use of a daily power, too.
  • Newt dropping his Protection From Arrows and not having it do a bit of good.
  • Kazamir dropping his Punishing Eye and just reaping in the extra damage. That daily is really, really good.
  • Everyone else using their burst powers to cash in on the Punishing Eye.
  • The Punishing Eye showing me an invisible zombie killing the last halfling. This really, really freaked out Tish.

Other Thoughts

  • I really have to say that the battle maps put out by WotC are just brilliant. Between Paul and I we must have a good 20-30 of them. We sprang to get them laminated and even at the highway robbery costs it was worth it. These maps are going to see use for years.
  • I gotta hand it to Paul here: this was a pretty solid fight. The choice of where to move was very meaningful and the use of readied actions gave a real sense of danger. Those rogues did a ton of damage, though.

Eventually our heroes win out against the thieves and have no choice but to venture forth into the sewers. Near the end of the fight the last halfling had been brutally killed, and thanks to Kazamir’s Punishing Eye he saw what did it: a horrible zombie that was invisible. Not good. Not good at all.

Aside: Tish just hates zombies. It’s one of her phobias and I just felt terrible for her for the rest of the fight. This is one thing I try to keep in mind. If I have arachnophobia players I don’t drop in spiders. It sounds silly, but it can make a difference. So for the next few bits her character was pretty quiet.

Anyway, our heroes journey down into the sewers. It’s about as pleasant as you can imagine. At this point time was getting a little short due to time commitments, so Paul made the wise decision of shortening some battles into a running skill challenge. This is the kind of thing I highly approve of doing and I think it shows some nice development on Paul’s part. Learning when to roll with the punches and simplify things is a great skill to have.

Hideout Sewers

Okay, who cut the cheese?

Challenge Thoughts

  • I personally really liked this challenge. Without any set goals beyond “reach the end of the map” it was a nice chance to flex my thought muscles.
  • I think some players get really, really frustrated or confused in these sorts of challenges. Depending on what sort of gaming you grew up on, the whole “just do something!” aspect can get quickly overwhelming. I noticed a few players being very unsure about what to do.
  • Poor Tish didn’t want anything to do with the Zombies at all.
  • The one quibble I have with this challenge is that if you ended your turn next to a monster you got attacked. I think I would have only done the attack on a failed skill check, to raise the stakes. But that’s a pretty minor quibble.

Eventually our heroes push through the main sewers and have to enter a large pipe that the zombies are following. Lovely. A short and very icky (save for Kazamir and Newt, who were surfing on Tenser’s Floating Discs) ride later and we emerged into a large chamber. We moved forward as cautiously as we could but after a few minutes giant carrion crawlers attacked!

Carrion Crawlers

Look at the size of that distraction!

This was a short and very brutal fight indeed. Both crawlers surged forward and trampled us all at least twice. It made things feel tense, but they didn’t have a lot in the way of hit points. We took out both crawlers without too much trouble, though for a few minutes things looked grim. That’s the best kind of fight I can imagine.

Fight Thoughts

  • This was a pretty simple group versus two elite monsters fight. Still, good use of the carrion crawler trample power.
  • I’m not sure if such low level monsters should have threatening reach. It’s an interesting tactical challenge, but can be hard for level 2 characters to deal with.

The Carrion Crawlers dealt with, our heroes eventually found the secret doorway that contained the source of the problem. A brief rest and our heroes dove through the door to confront the terrible menace!

Summoning Chamber

This doesn’t look good.

The chamber wasn’t large and it was dominated by a large pit of swirling blackness. The same thing we had to deal with on the ship! Not good at all! And floating above the void was a terrible looking Drow with a black gem! Our heroes had found the source!

The fight started in earnest! The drow wasted no time in conjuring his legions of undead. There were dozens of zombie husks who wanted to grab us and bite us to death. Two more of those large zombie hulks we had to deal with on the ship. It was enough to make even the bravest hero pause. But we went into the fray with nary a second thought.

The Battle Continues

Fight on, my friends!

Things heated up and we started doing battle. During the second round a lot of the dead zombies were turned into massive puddles of undead skin and sinew. Terrible oozes of undead energy. They were tough buggers and soon we found ourselves just surrounding with undead ick. It was all we could do to keep our heads.

The Tide Turns

Things turn in our favor

But eventually, as you might have expected, we emerged victorious. It was a brutal fight that took us nearly an hour and a half to complete. But we did emerge the winners, even if the Drow sunk into the black void, leaving us with a bunch of rotting corpses and a lot of questions. All that remained was the task of taking down the portal (a quick skill challenge that was rushed for time) and then we made our way out to the sunlight again, Our quarry had escaped once more.

Fight Highlights

  • Once more Punishing Eye proved to be highly effective. The zombie minions were actually “two-hit” minions, so the second damage instance from punishing eye meant that one hit killed them. Very useful!
  • Beren’s Abjure Undead just hits like a ton of bricks. He made good use of it.
  • Newt was dropping tons of area damage and on minion control. He did a good job of it, too.
  • Elrath dropped his own zone on the fight. This one boosted defenses and it prevented at least two hits.

Final Thoughts

  • A very enjoyable session all around. I really like having longer to play than we do on Wednesday nights. To me the Weekend format is still far preferable, if not exactly great for an adult lifestyle.
  • I felt bad for Tish and her fear of zombies. This could not have been an easy session to endure.
  • It’s quite enjoyable to see how far Paul has come in his GM skills. I think he’s getting more comfortable with improvising, at least to an extent. While we’ll never be exactly on the same wavelength, I think the gap is closing a bit.
  • Good world building in this session, too. We learned more about the setting and just what we might be going after.
  • My old school heat was warmed by the presence of the X ______ of __________ gambit. Be it a rod of seven parts or the seven swords of answering, I dig stuff like this. It’s a classic for a reason, folks!

Can’t get enough of this game (for some strange reason)? My buddy James is also doing a blog on this game. His is more an in character and you can find it over here: http://xalpia.wordpress.com/

 

Mar 092014
 

Our adventure begins not in a tavern, but in the dark and horrid bilge of an unknown ship. Our heroes awaken with hurting heads, a burning pain on the back of their left shoulders, and stripped of all their armor, weapons, and equipment. Not an auspicious beginning at all! The darkness is soon extinguished by Newt as he conjures forth a glowing orb of light (go, go wizard cantrips!). The situation doesn’t look any better in the pale light of the wizard’s light. Our heroes are shackled together in the tiny hold.

The Dark Bilge

I wanted the Prince’s Suite! I was very specific in my sending!

Being shackled in a cramped bilge isn’t in any of the heroes plans and so an escape is hatched. Beren is the first to slip his bonds, thanks to his fey step. Once free of the shackles he starts examining the bodies while everyone else works to free themselves. Beren quickly discovers that the four bodies in the chamber are dead. Even worse is a strange black fungus that seems to avoid our heroes but quickly begins to cover the corpses. The more learned among the heroes soon realize that this is the result of powerful necromantic magic. Not good!

Kazamir wastes no time in finding a few nails to pick open the locks of his chains. Elrath tries to break his bonds but is too fatigued to burst them. Being ever helpful, Kazamir soon picks open Newt and Elrath’s chains as well. Valdnor uses her body blades to sunder her own chains and our heroes are now freed, if not exactly standing upright (stupid five foot ceilings). The heroes quickly scrounge and improvise a few weapons, and none too soon! The black mold soon envelops the corpses and they rise as zombies! A ferocious fight ensues!

Bilge Zombies

All we wanna do is eat your brains!

A furious fight in cramped quarters ensues! This fight wasn’t designed to be all that challenging, and it wasn’t. Mostly thanks to three critical hits in the first two rounds. For those of you who don’t know, in 4th edition a critical hit automatically kills a zombie (think head shot). Highlights include:

  • Beren (Craig) starting out the fight with a natural 20 on his attack roll, instantly slaying one of the zombies.
  • Valdnor (Tish) then critting on her first opportunity attack, slaying one of the salt zombies.
  • Kazamir (Me!) shanking a zombie in the eye with a thrown shiv (yet another crit).

The former corpses turned zombies are quickly dispatched, but our heroes can’t rest on their laurels! They have to escape this terrible ship and the only way to do that is straight up the ladder. Our heroes gird their loins and start clambering up the ladder one at a time. The second level of the ship is soon revealed to contain, surprise, yet more zombies!

Midship Battle

What do zombies need with hammocks, anyway?

This level of the ship is a bit larger and filled with dozens of strung hammocks (which acted as difficult terrain). Beren was the first to emerge from the trap door and he wasted no time in abjuring the biggest and toughest armored zombie on the deck. His divine power was potent and he heavily damaged the undead. Valdnor soon followed and started flailing about with her chains as best she could. Next game Elrath, but here the luck started to shift in the favor of the undead. A lucky strike from a zombie froze Elrath over the portal, making it very hard for Kazamir and Newt to emerge. The two arcanists managed to get up on the deck, but not without crawling between Elrath’s legs and getting to know him much better than they liked.

The fight continued to rage. Highlights included:

  • Valdnor (Tish) flailing about like a mad woman. She hit with two or three opportunity attacks, showing the zombies who was the boss.
  • Newt (James) and Kazamir (Me) fighting side by side and trading buffs and spells with the enemies.
  • Beren (Craig) landing a 30+ damage abjure undead on the toughest zombie.
  • Elrath (Jim) getting stuck over the trap door for multiple rounds, all thanks to poor rolls on saves.

Eventually these zombies were also dispatched and our heroes moved ever upward. Fortunately for them (and due to time) the third level was mostly storage and thankfully devoid of undead. A quick search revealed some actual weapons but little else of use. Onward and upward the party went. The rear stairs brought the party into the captains quarters, also empty. Kazamir tried to open the door quietly but failed at his attempt at stealth. Which was just as well, as the deck contained, you guessed it, MORE ZOMBIES!

I'm SNEAKING!

But I ROLLED A FOUR!

 

This time the fight was much more difficult. The party rushed out the doorway and saw the biggest zombie ever. It was a good ten feet tall and very rotten. It was commanded by a horned and snake bearded necromancy and accompanied by a few rotten husks. A terrible trial indeed!

Big Zombie

It’s big. And ugly. And dead.

The fight on the deck was fast and furious. Spells flew and blades clashed. And the whole time the party was terribly aware of the evil black portal that the ship was entering! They’d have to fight very quickly or be swallowed by what was no doubt a portal to a very, very bad place. Highlights include:

  • This battle was interesting due to the situation. The right side of the map contained a huge black portal. At the start of every round the ship moved 1d6 squares into the portal. The fight only lasted about 3 rounds before the bad guys were sucked into the portal and we had to run away.
  • Beren (Craig) critting yet again! Only this time it was against the big zombie, so no instant death.
  • Valdnor (Tish) dropping to negative hit points at least once. She and the super zombie were battling to the death.
  • Newt (James) popping a few zombies with some magic missile action.

After a short scuffle the necromancer was sucked into the portal and our heroes decided that it was time to jump onto the dinghy at the end of the boat. It was either that or be sucked into the portal of DOOM! Our heroes ran to the back of the boat just as the zombie hulk was pulled into the portal. A quick series of Athletics checks later and our heroes were all in the boat. Beren cut the rope with his spear and then fey stepped aboard.

Daring Escape

Row, row, row your boat.

What followed was some very serious and frantic rowing as the heroes tried to pull away from the portal. Poor Valdnor got too close and was thrust away from the portal, taking enough damage to drop her into negative hit points. Kazamir barely managed to catch hold of her and keep her in the boat, healing her up soon after. It was a tough spot but our heroes eventually managed to avoid the portal long enough for it to shut down on its own.

Which meant that the brave heroes were stranded out in the middle of the sea on a small boat. Bearings were taken and what followed was a one week trip in a very tiny boat. The group would have starved if not for Newt – his ability to breath underwater allowed him to swim and fish (with magic missile, natch!), giving us just enough food to survive. Water was captured in a Tenser’s Floating Disc. At least no one died.

Eventually landfall was made! Hooray! Our heroes then took the rest of the day to secure some fire, shelter, and a bit more food. It wasn’t overly large, but at least it wasn’t the open ocean.

Land ho!

No, James, you don’t have a future as a hand model.

At first the island looked to be mostly devoid of inhabitants. But after a bit of searching the heroes headed inland and discovered the only source of fresh water. It was a bit swampy in spots, but it appeared to be safe to drink. The area was also home to several giant frogs and some swarms of nasty insects. Our heroes wisely decided not to deal with the frogs and instead returned to camp with another disc full of water.

The following days were filled with foraging and exploration. The second day rewarded the heroes with an old pirate shipwreck! The sand around the area was littered with giant crab tracks. Not a big problem for our heroes. At least they thought! The tracks turned out to belong to a giant scorpion!

Run away!

Giant crab? No, Giant SCORPION!

The fight with the scorpion was a real knock-down, drag out fight. Several heroes lingered on the brink of death, but after a few rounds the heroes took down the scorpion! This fight really wasn’t all that memorable to me, as it mostly devolved into a big melee smash fest. The only big thing I remember was discovering that Artificer summons leave a bit to be desired.

After tussling with the scorpion our heroes explored the shipwreck. After a bit of digging around pirate treasure was discovered! Gold and magic items aplenty, enough for everyone to get their fair share! Hooray indeed! Even better, the scorpion carapace provided enough material for a few shields! Spirits were high as scorpion meat and treasure meant an enjoyable evening ahead.

A few more days passed as our heroes explored yet more of the island. Even the peak of the island proved to be a bit uninteresting. Of course things were about to change. Upon returning to their camp our heroes found their belongings being eating and gnawed upon by some shipwrecked gnolls!

Gnoll Attack

Who let the dogs out?

Once more our heroes did battle. They rushed forward and formed a battle line, but the gnolls were having none of that! The two archers in the rear let loose arrows, nearly felling both Elrath and Kazamir. Our heroes pressed forward and started going toe to toe with the gnolls. It was a bitter battle where several party members nearly died, but eventually our heroes won out! Highlights include:

  • Beren (Craig) critting yet again! On a big damage power, no less.
  • Newt (James) finally getting his first critical hit.
  • Newt dropping a massive Force Orb and bloodying three of the gnolls in one go.
  • Kazamir and Elrath both dropping to negative hit points. This fight really pushed the entire group to their limits.
  • The gnoll archers just dropping obscene amounts of damage for their level. Like 75% of max hit points damage

Sadly, the gnolls had nothing of interest beyond a few bows and a very shabby ship. Still, our heroes were still alive and all was well. Another period of waiting followed, but after a few more weeks a ship finally arrived! A merchant ship, the Xalpia Star. Even better it was headed for Xalpia Dominia! A quick conversation with the captain soon procured passage for the promise of work.

A ship! We're saved!

A ship! We’re saved!

After another ship voyage our heroes finally made their way back to civilization, burdened with new magical items and a lot of gold. It was time to do some shopping and figure out what to do next. But that is a tale for another day.

Mar 082014
 

Today was the first session of a brand new Dungeons & Dragons campaign, so I thought I’d start doing some actual play reports this time around. I’ll try to keep things light and casual and will mostly likely just hit the highlights of each session.

This game is with my semi-regular group that plays about once a month on the weekends. The group is a mix of my regular Wednesday crew (me, Craig, James, and Paul) and a lovely couple by the name of Jim and Tish. Since both Craig and I were getting a little fed up with D&D, Paul volunteered to take the DM reins for a while. Paul is one of the newer additions to our Wednesday night crew and this is only his second time DMing. Despite being a comparatively new (only about 2 years experience) to the trade, he’s been doing a fine job and I was anxious to see what he’d brewed up for this game.

As is his wont, Paul plopped us down in another home brew setting (I must applaud him for starting his very first game in his own setting and without using any published adventures). Rather than give you the short notes, I’ll instead quote Paul.

The Land of Xalpia
Xalpia is a republic of sovereign nation-states that have allied together for strength and trade.  Comprised of mostly large islands, these individual nations cultures are kept primarily intact, while trade with neighboring nations have lead to an unprecedented period of peace and harmony.  Occasionally, invasions from other rivals has occurred, but have been met with a unified and resound front of the allied nations.

Life in Xalpia
The folk of Xalpia are simple, making their lives near seaside ports.  There is no great concentration of wealth or power.  While the different races can be found everywhere in Xalpia, each of the nation-states is strongly dominated by a different race.  The bond between the nation-states is weak but stable, and is sustained by the trade federation.  Due to deeply rooted rivalry between the races, there is little exchange except goods between the nation-states.

The four greatest nations currently within Xalpia
Xorenia – the nation state of the fae.  All matter of faries, elves, drow, and changeling call Xorenia home.  Their culture is primarily focused on the study of old magic.

Xalroc – the nation state of dwarves.  In Xalroc, great feats of engineering and architecture are undertaken.  Many of the monuments found in all of Xalpia can be traced to the forges and artisans of Xalroc.

Xalpor – the nation state of the humans.  Humans are the least plentiful people of Xalpia.  Their race is hated for their ambition.

Xordin – The nation of the Halflings and Goliath.  In the most impressive and diverse racial collaboration, the great and small work together for benefit each other.  Whatever the endeavor, you will find both working to perfect the result.  In Xordin, great machines are forged.  Their shipyards are considered the best in all of Xalpia.

A score of other islands are home to other less common races.   Some of these raises live quietly away from the politics and greed of the stronger nations.  Some are mere remnants of their former glory, laid waste by war, and disfavor of the gods.

Xalpia Dominia
Xalpia Dominia is the capital of Xalpia.  Here all the nation states, and all the races gather and negotiate and debate on behalf of their individual nation-state.  The Arbiter is the leader of the house of states.  The Arbiter is responsible to carry out the decisions and will of the house of states.  Of possibly greater importance, Xalpia Dominia is also the location of where the Grand Temple of the Celestial Dragon is located.  It is said, that Xalpia is forged equally from the brawn of the races and the grace of the dragon.

The Celestial Dragon
Before the time of elves, dwarves, and man, before all the creatures the crawl, swim, and slither, before the land itself cooled, there was the Celestial dragon.  This powerful magical deity was responsible for the heavens and all of creation.  After all was made, the Celestial dragon was pleased but lonely.  So the Celestial Dragon created children in his image.  These great beasts were granted dominion over the earth.  However, they became jealous of their creator and one day captured, killed, and devoured the Celestial Dragon.  Each of the lesser dragons gained part of the Celestial Dragon’s power.

After the death of the Celestial Dragon, the lesser dragons began to struggle for dominance and control of the earth.  Great chaos and change sprung during this period of conflict including the great proliferation and differentiation of life.  For over a millennia, the lesser dragons ruled with in complete dominance.  However, from the bowels of the earth powerful titans and great gods defeated these dragons.  When they were destroyed, the lesser dragons great and massive bodies faded away and became constellations in the sky. However, as they faded, a great gem of power was left behind.  These great gems were kept as trophies and in time became the source of great conflict between the Titans and Gods.  Great wars have been fought over ownership and control of the gems.  Many of the gems have been lost.  The gems have have been used for great good and great evil.

The Faith of the Celestial Dragon is a religious order that’s chief tenant is that one day the Celestial Dragon will return, and restore peace and order to the world. The Church of the Celestial Dragon recruits and sends out missionaries to convert the faithful and in hopes of recovering the great gems of power.  They believe that if the stones are reunited, it will harken the return of the Celestial Dragon.

War
Almost as if by clockwork, war comes to Xalpia, if not invasion from far off lands, then by the surge of strength and ambition of one of the nation states.  The last great war was initiated by Xalpor.  A great ruler known as Eucitis, began a renaissance on Xalpor.  A period of great technological advancement, as well as military might lead the humans to seek expansion.  The Arbiter of the time, Ulandis the II, rallied the other nation states to stand against the human expansion.  After 3 years of battle, the human were pressed back to Xalpor broken and defeated.  Tales of the last battle of that war tell of Eucitis and a holy missionary of the Celestial Dragon where the earth moved, and fire rained from the heavens destroying entire legions.  In that final battle, Eucitis was defeated and humananity retreated back to their safe haven of Xalpor. Most humans today only hear tales of the great Eucitis, but the oldest among the dwarves and elves remember the uprising well.

Xelnaga
The human uprising is the most recent of the race wars, but those most learned who’ve read the great histories in the Library of Xalpia know that no race is innocent.  The most infamous of the great uprisings was that of the city of Xelnaga.  Xelnaga had a great age of growth and power perhaps than has ever been know in any land or of any age.  But as their power grew, so did their hubris.  It is not known whether war or the gods themselves struck down Xelnaga, but their defeat was complete.  Xelnaga was swallowed by the sea and lost to time.  The people of Xelnaga were cursed.  Their bodies were transformed, skin turned red, and horns grew from their heads, and were henceforth known as the Tieflings.  the few Xelnagians who escaped the destruction are scattered throughout Xalpia, and their descendants still wear their disgrace.  While the details of the event are not well known or understood, the result is infamous.  Throughout Xalpia, every child who performs a selfish act is quickly chided with phrase “remember Xelnaga”.

So that’s the basic rundown of the setting, at least as we know it. To round out this introductory post, I’ll introduce the party as it stands for the first session. Everyone wrote backgrounds for their characters, but I don’t think I’ll share theme here. Names and basics are good enough for now.

Beren – Eladrin Avenger; Played by Craig
Elrath Stonereaver – Goliath Runepriest; Played by Jim
Kazamir Lamanthus – Tiefling Artificer; Played by Me
Newt – Human Sha’ir; Played by James
Valdnor – Bladeling Berserker; Played by Tish

Mar 012014
 

Well, it’s been a few days since Dragonfall dropped and as a backer of the kickstarter I got a free copy. While I haven’t had a lot of time to play through the entire game yet, I thought I’d jot down some of my first impressions of the new campaign.

First and foremost, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this adventure. It’s easily superior to the original campaign, Dead Man’s Switch. In many respects I wish that this campaign was the default, not DMS. I think that it serves as a much better introduction to Shadowrun and the more open ended hub-based style is more comfortable for modern gamers. With more choices, better writing, and far more interesting teammates I find it a full on upgrade for the game.

Dragonfall is set in the Flux, an area of Berlin that should be familiar to many old school Shadowrun fans. For those not entirely familiar, the basic rundown is that Berlin is mostly free of Corp influence and the government is in a state of semi-stable anarchy. It was never a setting I really ran in, but I find that they’ve done a good job of translating it quite well. There’s a great deal of flavor packed into a small area.

I’m not that far into the game, but so far I’ve really liked what I’ve seen. I’ve already noticed a lot of small improvements, such as being able to use your rigger teammates much more often (though not as often as I’d like). Biotech has gotten a lot of love as well, with several conversation triggers based on it. Plus spellcasters get the chance to flex their muscles as well. All in all it feels like you have more options and that your character archetype matters a bit more.

One very nice feature is that they’ve added in a “save anywhere” function – a feature sorely lacking in the original campaign (and that feature has been added to DMS as well). I’ve also noticed some new cyberware and weapons as well. Conurer’s even get a weapon spell similar to the mage’s powerbolt. Some new totems for Shaman’s as well, including one that reduces spirit escape chance to 0% for a short time (very nice for Shamans!). All in all the new stuff are nice extra features that don’t detract from the original setup.

Other than that the game is still much like the original. Isometic and turn based combat. All of the old stuff is there and still functions just fine. Really the improvements here all in the story and campaign. I’m not going to spoil the storyline or really talk about it, since it’s a lot more fun to discover that for yourself (and I haven’t finished it anyway).

The greatest new thing I like is that you now have a core team of runners that you can hire for free. They’re nicely written and have a lot of extra dialog options. It also appears that each companion has their own little story that you can unravel. So far my favorite new companion is Deitrich, a Shaman with a fun past. Glory is great as well and I cannot wait to find out what’s going on with her (though I will say that if you’re playing a shaman/mage you have some interesting options when you first start talking with her).

So far the game looks great and I’ve been having a ton of fun. I highly encourage everyone to check it out. It’s well worth the price of admission (and if you were a backer you get it for free!).

Feb 282014
 

So, a long while ago my buddy James posted a fiction challenge on his blog. Well, I haven’t touched this one in quite a while, so I figured what better way to get back into the swing of things? Given that one of my buddies is starting a new D&D game soon, I figured I’d do a little short story about my new tiefling Artificer, Kazamir. It’s the story of how he found his famliar, an ooze named Sploot. Hope you enjoy.

 

Nothing Ventured

Kazamir’s tail curled over his shoulder and swept the battered hat from his head. With a trembling hand he wiped the sweat from his brow, careful not to nudge the delicate trap mechanism in front of him. He took in a deep breath and replaced the hat before bending down once more.

He surveyed the scene in front of him. He’d managed to pry the thin sheet of granite from the floor, revealing the complex set of symbols and runes underneath. The pressure plate was clearly wired to a trap in the room, but try as he might he just couldn’t suss out what it triggered.

Another deep breath and he glanced up from the plate to survey the hallway again. The walls were finely cut granite, etched with arcane runes of some ancient and completely undecipherable language. The floor was made of similar stone, though unadorned and laid out in careful one foot squares. The ceiling was only ten feet above him and also unremarkable. The only light came from the dim glow stones fitted into the ceiling every ten feet. Several of them had lost their magic and hung limply, lifeless orbs of dull gray crystal.

By Vecna’s cursed eyes, what does this trigger? Kazamir growled in frustration, a low and resonant sound at odds with his tenor voice. Another deep breath to calm himself and he closed his eyes. He carefully lifted his hands and held them outstretched, fingers splayed. Slowly he opened his eyes and started to feel for the flow of magic in the room.

His fingertips began to tingle and ever so slowly he built a mental picture of the mana flows. It was a delicate weaving, though the power behind the runes could never be fully disguised. He shifted his hands to the left wall and very carefully felt for the nexus of energy. There. The central rune roughly ten feet down the hallway, about ten feet up from the floor. That was one of the anchor points. Good. That was a start.

Slowly he pulled his hands to the right, searching in the opposite spot. Yes, the same thing on the wall. So. The runes were set up in a sympathetic net. Which meant that they had to be triggered from a primary ignition point. Which had to be the pressure plate he’d found. Once more he slowly spread his arms so that each palm was pointing directly at each anchor point.

Another deep breath to calm his nerves and focus his mind. Kazamir then slowly pulled his hands inward, letting his arcane senses guide his hands through the energy flow and down into the floor. Inch by inch they moved closer until his hands were nearly touching the the largest rune of the pressure plate.

Okay, so the flows lead to this rune here. Kazamir finally opened his eyes and glanced down at the rune. It was an inverted half dragon, a rune known even in this age. The half dragon wasn’t very complex, which was what made it an excellent trigger mechanism. Even the slightest flaw or shifting would break the anchor and release all of the stored energy, likely in a cataclysm of fire and lightning. Not a good way to die.

So, I can’t just break it or the trap will erupt wildly. No, I need to shunt the energy into the secondary runes, let it leak out gradually. But the only way to do that is by altering the rune. And to do that I need to etch it with acid. And if I mess up… well, I better not mess up!

Kazamir took in another deep breath and his nose wrinkled? The winds in the old ruin had shifted, bringing with them the stench of some terrible carrion. Probably some dead rat Kazamir thought. He pushed the smell out of his mind. No time to lose focus.

His tail deftly probed in one of his belt pouches and lifted out a small vial. He took the vial in his left hand while his right rummaged around in the upper pouch of his armor. He pulled out a very thin glass tube and with careful movements popped open the vial. In went the tube and with his finger capping the top he brought the pipette of acid over the rune.

One more deep breath and a prayer to Avandra and he was ready. With the finest of movements Kazamir slowly started dribbling acid on the rune. The material sparked as it hit the magic and Kazamir held his breath. One… Two… Three…

Nothing exploded. That was good. He glanced up at the wall and noticed that two of the runes were now glowing a cheerful green. A heavy sigh of relief and Kazamir bent down again. Another dip into the vial and the processes started anew. More sputtering. One… Two…

Pain erupted across Kazamir’s back. He screamed and tried to wrench away from the source of pain: right onto the pressure plate. The tiefling only had an instant to take in the situation. The floor and walls around him thronged with power. Behind him he saw a terrible worm-like creature. It had hundreds of single clawed legs and a mass of tentacles beneath a set of mandibles and a many-toothed mouth. Its beady black eyes were on elongated stalks and it absolutely reeked of carrion.

And then the world exploded.

 

* * * * *

Kazamir groaned as he regained consciousness. His vision was nothing but a blur of colors and his entire body hurt like never before. His head swam and he tried to remember just what had been so important before the world had ended. Think! Slowly he reclaimed his wits. Oh! Carrion Crawler! Avandra save me!

Kazamir forced himself to focus on his surroundings and his body. His whole body hurt. That was good. That meant he wasn’t paralyzed. He glanced around the smoldering remains of the room. The floor all around him was covered in blackened rubble. The walls rose a good fifty feet above him, the sides smoothly polished black stone. It was hard to make out anything beyond that, as the only light came from the sole remaining glow stone from the ceiling high above.

A pit trap. And as if that wasn’t enough, Kazamir could hear scuttling from up above. He slowly moved his head and caught sight of the carrion crawler advancing down the wall. Well, at least I’m not alone in my misery he thought as he took stock of the situation. The carrion crawler was moving slowly, its once green hide now covered in burns and charred bits. One of its eyes had gone white and was oozing puss. One mandible was now nothing more than a charred stump.

Ha. I’m fireproof and you’re not he thought, managing the shade of a wicked smile. Kazamir tried to push himself to his feet and pain shot through both of his legs. He screamed again and quickly dropped back onto his back. Vecna’s eyes, I’ve broken both of my legs!

As the pain receded Kazamir took stock of the situation. He was laying on his back on a mound of rubble. His back felt wet and he could hear and feel the crushed vials in his backpack. He glanced down at his hips and breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted his trusty khopesh and wand. At least he had weapons.

A quick glance up at the wall showed that the carrion crawler was now halfway to him. It might be moving slowly but it was still approaching far too fast. And if it got him he was dead for sure. Their touch brought on paralysis and he doubted if he could kill it in a brawl even fully functional. Which meant that he had to kill it now, while it was still on the wall.

That meant the wand. He slid his hand down to his wand sheath and carefully pulled out the beautiful ash and crystal device. Pain shot through his shoulder and Kazamir sucked in a breath through gritted teeth. He only had one shot at this. His arm wavered for several critical seconds as he tried to get a bead on the creature.

The crystal wobbled over the creature and then suddenly all was right. Kazamir called upon the arcane power in his soul and spoke the words of power he needed. A brilliant lance of blue energy shot forth from the wand and impacted the carrion crawler right square in its midsection. CRACK! The energy beam split into several bands that wrapped themselves tightly around the aberration. The crawler squealed in agony as the bands contracted ever tighter.

The squeal went on for almost a second until there was the horrendous sound of splitting meat. The bands sliced through the crawler and the remains of the creature fell to the floor with wet splats and a gut churning stench. Kazamir let out a a sigh of relief. At least he wasn’t going to die in the belly of a monster.

But he was still quite wounded. Well, he could fix that, too. Kazamir closed his eyes and found the center within himself. One of the first things he had really mastered was the art of infusion, healing infusions in particular. He pulled upon his inner power and then spoke the word of power necessary to infuse a living soul with arcane energy.

Magic surged through Kazamir’s body, knitting bones and mending flesh. He gasped in sudden relief as the pain left his system. He panted for a few minutes in then slowly pushed himself to his feet with a groan. He glanced down at the ruins of his backpack and sighed. He pulled it up and shook it a couple of times and was rewarded with the distinct sound of broken glass.

Well, at least he wasn’t dead.

* * * * *

It hadn’t taken long for Kazamir to examine the bottom of the pit. It was roughly twenty feet square and devoid of anything interesting, save the rubble and a small pile of all his broken potion bottles. He shook his head and glanced up at the ceiling. At least he’d had enough sense to pack some rope and grappling hook.

It only took a few moments to get the grapple attached to the rope. As Kazamir was checking his knots he suddenly stopped at the sign of movement from a small crack in the wall. Leery of another attack, his hand crept toward his wand but stopped when the tiniest ooze he had ever seen flowed out of the hole.

It was no bigger than a small apple and a bright electric blue. The little blob suddenly flowed up into a little tentacle. The tip of the tentacle swiveled all around and then stopped dead when it focused on the pile of broken potions. The ooze suddenly quivered, turned a bright red, and let out a wet sounding SQULORCH!

Then the ooze shot toward the pile with a speed that was surprising given its tiny size. Within moments it was flowing around all of the broken bits, soaking up every bit of alchemist’s fire and potion that had been left. With every little tidbit the ooze shifted color and droned in a very pleasant way.

Kazamir stood in stark surprise for a moment before letting out a tremendous laugh. It was about the funniest thing he had seen in months. The little ooze let out a SPLETCH and darted behind the nearest bit of rubble.

“Ah, did I scare you, little guy?” Kazamir asked.

The ooze didn’t answer, but after a few seconds of silence it did resume its feast. Kazamir bit at his lip in thought. Just how long had the thing been trapped down here within absolutely nothing to eat. Was that why it was so small? And would it remain that small?

Kazamir slowly walked toward the pile of glass, being careful not to make too much noise or move so suddenly. After a few minutes of patience he was kneeling beside the potion remains, watching the little ooze finish off the last of the potions. With one last little SLURP the ooze finished off the last bits. It quivered and formed into a tentacle again, trying to see if anything else remained. When it spotted nothing it let out a mournful keen and turned a dull brown.

“Ah, poor little guy. You still hungry? Well, how about you come with me, then? I’ve always got extra bits of spoiled potion you can eat” aid Kazamir. Then he paused. Why am I talking to an ooze?

To his surprise, the little ooze suddenly grew a little bluer and rose up a bit. Slowly the little creature crept closer to Kazamir. With careful moments Kazamir pulled out his very last vial of acid and uncorked it, holding it out of the ooze. The little ooze then let out another trill and darted toward and into the vial. Almost instantly it turned an electric green and started humming.

“I’ll take that as a yes” said Kazamir, laughing all the while. “But just one question. What am I gonna call you?”

The little ooze only responded with a horrible wet sound. SPLOOT!

“Sploot it is.”

Oct 172012
 

The following rules can be used to run a Shadowrun game with the Leverage RPG. Unless otherwise noted, this conversion uses the standard Leverage rules.

 

Races/SURGE

Shadowrun features several unique races (and SURGE variants). Races are best modeled with a simple distinction, such as Orc or Troll. The advantages and disadvantages of such distinctions should be pretty obvious, such as a Troll having an advantage when bulk or strength is in question and a disadvantage when trying to act nimbly or in a suave manner.

Distinctions can also be used to model especially prevalent SURGE qualities, be they positive or negative. Try to keep the distinctions short and focus only on the qualities which are most important. If a SURGE quality would particularly help a single role, it can also be modeled as a Specialty.

Characters without a racial distinction are considered to be humans.

 

Cyberware/Bioware

Cyberware and Bioware can be modeled with signature assets. Such assets follow all the normal rules for signature assets, save for the fact that they cannot be lost or stolen (except in dire and messy circumstances). Characters with extensive ‘ware assets should consider taking a Distinction that signifies their modified nature (such as Chromed Up).

 

Awakened Characters

Magic is modeled with custom talents that have a few special rules. Once a character takes an awakened talent they are considered to be an awakened character and are subject to a few special rules.

  1. All awakened characters are required to take a distinction related to their magical paradigm and outlook (such as Rat Shaman). The player and Fixer should outline just how the magical paradigm can come to a characters advantage and disadvantage.
  2. An awakened character can perform a special assensing notice action. Unlike a normal notice action, the stakes are set by the character being assensed (use Intelligence + Willpower as a default). If the awakened character is successful, he immediately learns if the character possesses any awakened talents or ‘ware-based signature assets. At the Fixers discretion the assensing player may also learn the target’s current mood and physical health.
  3. A fully awakened (defined as any character with both the Spellcasting and Summoning talents) can astrally project. While doing so the character’s body is inert and the only actions the character can take are Notice Actions, as they have no physical form. The upside is that the character is completely hidden form unawakened characters and they can pass through non-warded physical objects. The downside is that the Fixer gains a shiny new Comatose Body (d6) asset to play with.
  4. Any complication that arises from the use of an awakened talent is considered to be magical in nature. Perhaps the character makes a great deal of noise, or suffers spell drain. Or maybe that spirit they just summoned isn’t quite as obedient as it first seemed. Fixers are encouraged to get creative with awakened complications.

An awakened character can use magic to enhance their roles. Whenever an awakened character uses an awakened talent they are using their magic to cast a spell or summon a spirit. In terms of game mechanics nothing changes, but any player of an awakened character is encouraged to describe just what spell they are casting and how it helps. As a general rule of thumb, the primary role of an awakened character can be used to describe their magical style.

  • Grifter: The character is skilled with Illusion spells that can confound an enemy or mask his true appearance.
  • Hacker: The character is skilled with Detection magic that can ferret out hidden information.
  • Hitter: The character is skilled with Combat magic that can blast foes and alter the physical world.
  • Mastermind: The character is skilled with Health and Manipulation magic that can enhance his team and deal with unforeseen obstacles.
  • Thief: The character is likely a bit of a magical generalist who focuses on spells that make him harder to spot or that get him past physical obstacles.

 

Awakened Talents

Adept

You use magic to augment your already impressive skills.
Role: Any
Activation: You are performing an action that includes your Primary or Secondary role. You can activate this talent only once per scene.
Effect: Add an extra d8 to your roll.

Spellcasting

You can cast spells to aid you in a task. But be careful: such spells can sometimes have unintended effects.
Role: Any
Activation: You’re performing an action and wish to cast a spell; spend a Plot Point for extra effect.
Effect: If you wish, add an extra d6 to your roll – but if you do, you must also add a d4. If you spend a plot point you can step the d6 up to a d8.

Summoning

You can summon spirits to aid you or your companions in a task. This sounds great, but sometimes the spirits are a bit uncooperative.
Role: Any
Activation: Spend a Plot Point.
Effect: You can spend a Plot Points to give a spirit-based asset to any other member of the Crew (including yourself). If this asset is used in a roll that results in Complication, the resulting Complication is automatically stepped up by 1 die. Fixers are encouraged to flavor the complication to the type of spirit summoned.

 

Technomancy

Technomancy is modeled with custom talents that have a few special rules. Once a character takes a Resonance talent they are considered to be in resonance and are subject to a few special rules.

  1. All characters in resonance are required to take a distinction related to their stream and outlook (such as Infomancer). The player and Fixer should outline just how the stream can come to a characters advantage and disadvantage.
  2. Characters in resonance can interact with the virtual world without the need for a commlink asset.
  3. Characters in resonance can sense the presence of each other with a standard Notice test.

Like an awakened character, a character in resonance flavors their hacking with the tools of a technomancer. Most of the time this will simply be flavor, but with the proper talents a technomancer can often find a distinct edge when in the matrix.

 

Resonance Talents

Compiling

You can compile sprites – living programs that can aid you in the matrix.
Role: Hacker
Activation: You are in full VR and the Fixer gives you an Opportunity.
Effect: You can create a sprite asset to aid you in your next roll taken when in full VR. If this asset is used in a roll that results in Complication, the resulting Complication is automatically stepped up by 1 die. Fixers are encouraged to flavor the complication to the type of sprite summoned.

Threading

You can compile new complex forms on the fly, letting you adapt to changing situations.
Role: Hacker
Activation: You may activate this Talent at any time when you are in full VR, once per scene.
Effect: You may replace one of your existing Hacker Specialties with a different one. The change last for the duration of the scene, at which point the Specialty reverts back to its previous form.

 

The Matrix

The Shadowrun universe contains a massive digital world known as the matrix. Any character can enter full VR with the right equipment (or mentally if they are a technomancer). While fully immersed in virtual reality, characters can perform almost any action they could in the physical world, with one difference. When performing a non-hacking action a character replaces any Attribute die with their Hacker die. This represents the importance of skill when interacting with the matrix.

While immersed in full VR, most of the roles can be used for additional digital actions. The following list details some of the most common actions by role.

  • Grifter: Spoofing, Redirecting Traces, and other acts of digital subterfuge.
  • Hacker: Most digital actions should default to the Hacker roll. Even when the Hacker roll isn’t being used, it is used in place of the default attribute when using other roles.
  • Hitter: All forms of Cybercombat.
  • Mastermind: Analyzing a system, encrypting files, and other forms of digital analysis.
  • Thief: Decrypting files, cracking hidden files, or other acts of digital subterfuge.
Jun 202012
 

After months of struggling with my D&D 4e game, I finally melted down and asked for quarter. My group was gracious enough to let me run something else, and I’ve decided to choose Sundered Skies. I’ve long wanted to run this setting and now I have the change.

I plan on doing actual play reports of the sessions, but for now I wanted to share my formatted Setting Rules and some new character sheets I made. The sheets are as fancy as the one by Cheyenne Wright (http://arcanetimes.com/), but they are highly functional and form fillable. I share them in case other folks want to use them. I even included a blank and generic Savage Worlds sheet.

Sundered Skies Setting Rules
Sundered Skies Character Sheet
Savage Worlds Character Sheet

Mar 282012
 

Just a quick post to share the cheat sheet I made for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. It combines Page 42 with MM3 Monsters on a Business Card, with a few other handy references thrown in for good measure. I find it useful and hope others will as well. It’s a handy resource for those of us who have internalized a lot of the rules and status conditions.

DM Cheat Sheet

Mar 122012
 

As my comrades and I continue the development of several new game systems, the subject of ability scores has continually risen to the forefront. I figured I’d take a moment or two talk about the concept of ability scores as it relates to RPGs.

I think for most of us, attributes are seen as a given in an RPG. That likely stems from the games we were trained and raised on: the Storyteller System or Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not saying that every gamer started with one of those two games, but I’m betting that the majority of them have. And the one thing that both games have in common is that they use attribute scores to represent the raw physical and mental characteristics of a character. I’d be willing to bet that attributes are likely one of the most common elements of all RPGs.

But they’re not the only way to represent the raw attributes of a character. Take a look at FATE: it doesn’t have attributes at all. Instead the game relies on skills to represent your capabilities and aspects to represent anything extraordinary about your character. There are other examples, but I think that FATE is likely one of the better ones I’ve personally experienced and played.

Which is all just a way to say that lately I’ve been thinking a lot about attribute scores and what they mean. When thinking back though my old characters I don’t remember which D&D character had a 13 Strength or which one had a 12 Constitution. But I can tell you, even now, which ones I rolled a natural 18 or a natural 3 on. Those are the characters that stand out to me, because they had attribute scores that were clearly exceptional or inferior.

You see, with attributes all that really matters are the extremes, not the average. It’s usually assumed that a PC is going to be mostly average with a few areas that are clearly above average. Those are the attributes we care about, the ones that make your character special or unique. No one cares if you have an average strength, but if you’re the strongest there is (to paraphrase the Hulk) that becomes a central aspect of your character.

So why are we still mucking around with ability scores at all? Why not assume that everyone is average until they take something that makes them clearly above or below average. In one of the systems I’m developing with my friends we’re using the idea of traits. When you take a trait you’re clearly saying that your character has something about him that’s remarkable. That the trait you’ve chosen is important and you want to use it. Which I think leads to really interesting situations.

Which to me is starting to lead us in really interesting directions. When you start worrying about the exceptional suddenly you can design around those high and low points, not the boring median points. Only time will tell if we can really pull it off.

Dec 162011
 

I am an unabashed Changeling: the Dreaming fan. I can chalk that up to the fantastic Storyteller (hi Jamie!) who introduced me to the game. It was never the most popular of the old World of Darkness games, but for me it was one of the greatest games White Wolf ever published. It was absolutely rife with story potential and the concept of past lives and old pacts was absolutely chock full of possible stories. We played it regularly back in college but I really haven’t touched it since, a few chats not-withstanding.

And the reason for this? In this day and age the mechanics feel pretty darn clunky. It never even made it to the revised edition, so it’s got some pretty big mechanical warts when you get down to playing. But the potential is absolutely there, just waiting to be polished up and uncovered.

I’ve seen a few fan revisions on the ‘net, but for the most part they never sat right with me. And while Lost is a great game, it doesn’t feel much like Dreaming to me and so that’s not a suitable replacement. Which means that I’m likely going to have to do the revision work myself.

Right now I’m leaning toward one of two approaches. The first is a more faithful recreation using the new World of Darkness engine. Most of the work is already done for me and I can snag most of the Kith abilities directly from Lost, which will save time. The only big bugaboo would be the magic system, which was pretty unique. At first thought I’d make both Arts and Realms the main magical abilities, with dice pools being Art + Realm + Skill as the dice pool. Rather than limit your targets by Realm I’d instead use Realm as a dice pool bonus, with higher difficulties for different targets.

The second option would be a thematic conversion using either Dresden Files or Strands of Fate. I’m thinking that Strands would likely be better for this sort of conversion, given that it’s more modular and less tied to a specific setting and mode of magic. If I go with Strands I’ll likely drop the Realms and make the Arts much more general in application.

Just a few thoughts to keep the blog alive, since I’ve been slacking a lot.