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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Conquest and Conclusions for 2013

     With 2013 finally wrapped up I cannot help but take the typical measures and review the conclusions that coincided with the end of the calendar year. I am, by my nature, a person prone to flights of nostalgia, and so I never need my arm twisted to write a retrospective. I had a very solid year as far as my life at the tabletop went, and wanted to discuss some of the milestone moments (both in general and personally). It’s an editorial, which I prefer to keep to a minimum on this blog – so I won’t shed a tear if you’re happier navigating right past this.

 Most obvious is the termination of the public arm of the D&D Next Playtest. Much of my trepidation about the state of the game was alleviated in this latest iteration. I think Wizards is hitting all the marks, and I’ve been evangelizing for this edition much more doggedly than even I had anticipated. And I’ve been earning converts in the process. I’m looking forward to the final release, but am happy to have, until then, a more than workable game in my hot little hands to continue enjoying in the meantime.

     The year also saw the start, conclusion, and delivery on a lot of titanically important gaming Kickstarters. Dwarven Forge rolled out their new line of much more affordable game tiles, Reaper Miniatures fired off a second wave of their (again, very affordable) Bones line, and countless other contenders  dove into the crowd-funding arena in an attempt to support your game (by first earning your support). There’s a lot more in terms of exciting projects popping up this year, so you’ll have no end of reasons to fling money at your computer screen.

     I finally took the time to start investing in a little fancy scenery as well. Being a lover of miniatures, I always want to enhance the table experience in 3D, and getting into the hobby of terrain crafting was a nice jumping off point. It granted me the confidence to try my hand at painting minis as well, and that has been a rewarding, (and time consuming) addition to my retinue of gaming interests.

       

     Most importantly, 2013 marked the end of the longest running D&D campaign I have ever participated in. It spanned eight years (on and off) and three separate editions of the game before it finally reached a climax just a few days before the termination of this past December. The game in question was the (admittedly) blandly named: “Orc Campaign” – a story in which each of the players portrayed a ranking warlord in a bloodthirsty raiding party sent by the Bleeding Blade orc clan.

     The impetus for this game began way back during the early days of our time with 3rd Edition (back before it was 3.Anything) in which I was asked one evening to run an impromptu one-shot. To break up the regularity of the game, the players wanted to try something different – monstrous PCs. Seeing as how we were all avid fans of Warcraft III (this was prior to there being any World of Warcraft!) we settled on orcs. They played their ruthless savages to the gory hilt, even developing a codified trophy system by which to measure who earned the most esteem in battle (based on how many spikes, horns, and skulls adorned your armor. Totally Metal. Totally Brutal). I capped that session off by pulling out character sheets from their regular game, and facing them off against the clerics and paladins they had played but a week prior (a nice switcheroo that I’ve made mention of on this blog before).

     That session was firmly in mind a few years later when The Orc Campaign began. The game was oriented toward realm and squad management; with each player having a handful of orc lackeys who were acquiring EXP and leveling up right along with him (albeit from a lower starting level). I drew up a map of the proposed kingdom for invasion, replete with locations that sounded interesting but were entirely undefined at the time.

     Despite the premise (Orcs, at war! How could this be anything but attack rolls!), the campaign was characterized by a great deal of roleplaying, secret keeping, wheeling and dealing. What I assumed would become a sort of strategy/invasion simulation quickly became “The Sopranos” + A Holy War + Dragons. The principle  thesis of the campaign was thus: How does a leader help a society predicated on “Might Makes Right” as the most important rule of law to flourish? 

       

      The players all had ambitions as to what orc society as a whole, and the horde under their command should be, but had to temper their progressive and often counter-culture agenda against the single-mindedness and violence of their subjects. Underlings challenged their leadership, and players challenged each other (ultimate decision making was kept in the hands of the “Warchief” who held his title through dueling). The worship of the orc God Gruumsh, was opposed by the deep roots of shamanistic tradition among their society, which clashed with the absolute control of the warrior caste. Then add to that one upstart player whose Warlock character had plans to use magical boons from bound demons to polymorph, and thereby “Orcify” the “lesser” races. Conflict abounded within and without. 

     So after years of twists, turns, tense standoffs, secret betrayals, desperate foes, tactics, cruelty, and triumph, we finally laid the game to rest. In the end, prophecy and mutual respect (or ambivalence) led each of the players to cast away their rivalries. They took up swords against their supreme leader; the High Warchief of the clan, and slew him. It was their wish to rebuild orcish society not as a dictatorship, but under the iron fist of a ruling council, where each faction had a check/balance over the other.

        

     Maybe that’s what happens when a bunch of American Humans play a horde of orcs? Or maybe there’s something inherently functional about democratic ideas? Especially when you can enforce that democracy at the tip of a sword (and do away with the whole “civil representation in government” business).

     I’ve kicked around the idea of scribing an “Orc Campaign Setting Guide” for use with D&D Next – most likely as serial supplements posted here at Save Vs. Weekend. I’m not sure if there would be much interest in that or not (since it would be less flexible than the usual material I’m interested in) so let me know what you think.

     Though I’m much busier these days than I was when this blog started 2 years ago (really?!?!) I still intend to keep up with it when time and content permit – especially with the next edition looming over the horizon. You can expect to see more encounters in the coming year, though more than likely they will arrive once, or at best twice a month. I like to be accessible, but thorough in my encounters, and that means taking a little more time on the writing end to save you time on the DMing end.

      Ideas? Comments? Gripes? Please, feel free to share them. As a narcissist I love talking about things I have written and am always happy to hear from you. Another year begins! Gird those loins. Gird them well….

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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Editorial

 

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Mobbed in the House of Knowledge

This adventure is intended for 3-5 player characters of 3rd level and applies to the final release of the D&D Next Playtest

     So last year my fledgling 4th Edition Neverwinter Campaign Setting game fell apart thanks to my busy schedule. Though I lament its loss, I think the last encounter I ran can have some future life – potentially in your own game. The PCs were investigating some Ashmadai (read: evil devil-man) cult activity in the decrepit ruins (NEVERWINTER CAMPAIGN SETTING SPOILER AHEAD) of Neverwinter’s once beautiful House of Knowledge. They were questioning some of the squatters and homeless holed up in the old Oghman shrine, when their inquiries got the attention of cultists concealed amongst the rabble. A desperate melee ensued wherein the party had to limit their area attacks – lest they harm innocent bystanders. But with the cultists disguised in the crowd and the doors to the room shut, the party was in a dangerous (and near TPK!) situation.

     This encounter seeks to capture the tension of being locked in a room with an overwhelming number of foes, and many innocents caught in the cross-fire. I’ll also explore some home-brew rules for dealing with grappling mobs in a fast, easy way that affords you some realistic options in regards to being pinned by multiple attackers. 

     And you don’t need to be playing a Neverwinter campaign to benefit! Bear in mind, this encounter is tuned between moderate and tough for the level the players are at. Still, multiple opponents tends to make encounters much more difficult. You may wish to spring this encounter on a party that is fresh and has all of its resources to bear.

Setup and Tactics

     The PCs must track down a lead related to their current plotline. A possible informant lives amongst the squatters in a rundown library (In Neverwinter, the House of Knowledge) in a desiccated part of the city. Unbeknownst to them, less than savory elements (The insidious Ashmadai Cultists of the Forgotten Realms, for example) move in and amongst the destitute persons living in the ruins. Some of the rabble are evil agents taking advantage of the fact that few wish to be bothered with the City’s poor and downtrodden. 

      The vipers amongst the peasants are carefully concealed – and would like to remain that way. The main chamber of the library is a tall, dome roofed rotunda crammed with the unwashed poor. Let the PCs ask some questions of the unwashed masses and do some investigating before the action starts.

     The PCs may opt to flee, rather than fight –  a perfectly sensible response! However with the mob latching hold and supernatural cultists barring the main means of egress, that will be easier said than done. The cultist rabble will attempt to grapple PCs (two or three at once) to keep them in the room and allow the tougher cultists to more easily slay them. None of the cultists is above using an innocent bystander as a human shield.

Plot Text

      The conditions in this once shinning bastion of knowledge couldn’t be worse. The destitute are crammed into every nook and cranny of the dilapidated ruins. Clotheslines now hang haphazardly from rotting bookshelves, old folios feed pathetic cookfires, and all around you is the smell of mold, decay, and human waste.

     But you can detect the shifting air as someone closes the worn double doors to the library’s central rotunda. Standing in front of the only entrance to this lobby is a tall man in a black cloak. He sneers at you and hisses, “We don’t accept outsiders prying into our business. You know too much for your own good.” A warm, eerie light emits from the man’s open palms and with a snap, magical chains of molten hot metal slide out of his hands and clink on the floor. 

     Around you the crowd cowers, and backs away. Most of the crowd, anyway. Some anonymous vagabond shouts “Kill the outsiders!” There is a flash of movement as the squatters run too and fro…some scrambling to get away from the melee…others pushing forward with rusty knives, clubs, and bare hands to strike at you!

The Rabble Attacks

Part of the challenge in this combat encounter is separating the innocent squatters from the concealed cultists. To create an environment of confusion and tension, only have part of the hostile human rabble attack at first. Each round, more of the incognito cultists will strike at the PCs. Use the below guidelines for how many Human Rabble to introduce per round:

If the players attack the crowd indiscriminately, assume that some of those killed were indeed cultists; other were not. Innocents who are attacked will opt to flee rather than strike back. The cultists won’t bother to attack the other squatters – nobody will believe their claims of Ashmadai cultists hiding iut in the old library anyway. However, if barring the PCs path means injuring or harming innocent civilians, so be it.

Innocent squatters use the same “Human Rabble” stats as the cultists.

Mobbed!

The grapple rules in D&D Next (found on page 17 of the How to Play document) are simple and efficient, but lack a bit of the nuances that apply to attacks from mobs. Consider applying some of the following optional rules below to make this encounter mor dangerous.

For context: restraining a target is like holding them tight bodily, while their arms and legs are still free to move (albeit in a much more limited fashion, hence the apllication of disadvantage). Pinning aLimb is like getting an opponent into an arm or leg lock; stopping their limb from functioning while not impeding overall bodily mobility. In either event the target is grappled, and thus bound in place, though not completely motionless.

     Multiple Grapplers – •A second (third, fourth, etc.) attacker may grab an already grappled target using the normal rules for initiating a grapple, and does so with advantage. 

•There should be a limit to the number of assailants in a grapple (4-5, DMs discretion). 

•Three or more grapplers may move a target without taking the normal 5 extra feet of movement penalty. Doing so requires that they all act on the initiative of the lowest attacker.

•Any assailant may attempt to restrain, or pin the limb a grappled creature.

•Escaping a grapple with multiple creatures requires you to make a Strength or Dexterity roll opposed by a Strength roll from each attacker. You need only beat the highest attacker’s result to escape the grasp of each assailant. 

     Pinning a Limb – While grappling a creature, as a separate action you may attempt to constrain a creature’s limbs by making an opposed Strength check opposed by the creature’s Strength or Dexterity (their choice). Doing so prevents the creature from using that limb (possibly denying them use of a weapon, or spellcasting ability if both hands are bound). The creature need only escape the grapple to cancel the effects of a pinned limb.

Features of the Area

     Lighting: Cracks in the walls and broken stained glass windows in the upper floor, along with the blaze of cookfires and candles make this room brightly illuminated.

     Statue: In the middle of the room is an enormous statue of Oghma – though this may not at first be apparent. Weather, vandalism, and seismic disaster have all contributed to this once beautiful piece of art’s decrepit appearance. Stained and pock marked with ware this 30 foot tall statue is barely recognizable, but its size is no less impressive.

     Stairs: Though damaged and now treacherous, these marble stairs wind around the wall of the rotunda and climb up seven stories. Each floor above the main chamber is lined with stacks of rotting books and crumbled shelves, niches where statues once stood, and the occasional row of scholar’s stalls. Anything of value has long since been looted.

     Floorspace: Though left open in the image, feel free to clutter the floorspace with tents, cookfires, clotheslines, cots, waste piles, barrels, crates, fallen sections of ceiling, and any other debris you might expect in a shanty-town.

Map

This map was made using the Dwarven Forge map visualizer 


Monsters

Branded Zealot – (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 6) [3 Players: x2, 4 Players: x3, 5 Players: x4]

Human Commoner – (Bestiary pg. 57) [3 Players: x15, 4 Players: x19, 5 Players: x24]

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Combat Encounter, Playtested

 

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