Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hidden Enemies: The Cult of Urlden

I'm not happy Bob. Not... happy.  Ask me why.  Your enemy makes me unhappy, Bob!  This drow... she doesn't make any sense.  If she has a pathological hatred of deep gnomes, then I'm sure there are places she could have gone to mess with them, rather than skulking around a ruined city for several decades, grubbing for loot.  She's just another version of the wight that is presented in Chapter 3 - a weak excuse to have a drow show up.

There just isn't enough rationale for a drow to be obsessed with conquering Blingdenstone (in the case of the wight) or with fucking over the svirfneblin (in the case of Talabrina).  I mean - they're GNOMES!  Nobody really likes them or thinks they are cool, but by the same token, when have they ever pissed anybody off enough for a 40-year vendetta?  It's like an unprovoked nuclear strike against Sweden.

All this went through my mind while I was reading the adventure, but then I came upon Gak Fixen.  A "twisted and evil" surface gnome who worships Urlden and plays a mean flute!  Ahah, I thought!  The Cult of Urlden is just the sort of seriously evil and fucked-up bastards who would get a whole gnome city destroyed, then hang around and just enjoy the wreckage afterwards.  Serious Joker-style bastards.  Guys who just want to watch the world burn, then roll around in the ashes.

So that got me thinking.  If the Cult of Urlden is involved, how are they involved?  They've always been involved is the obvious answer.  The Cult has always had a presence in Blingdenstone, and now they want to reclaim the city, their ancient temple and maybe kill some folks while they are at it.  So for your enjoyment

Appendix 3 Revised - Claws in the Dark.

As presented here, it is fairly likely that the Cult will have a presence in Blingdenstone after the city has been reclaimed from the underdark.  I'll follow-up with more information about the Cult, as well as some adventure ideas for after the standard Blingdenstone adventure is finished.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thoughts on Traps in DnD Next

I’ve been reworking Ch 2 of Reclaiming Blingdenstone, and since there are kobolds involved, there are obviously a lot of traps.

Actually (as my 3-year-old would say) there aren’t a lot of traps.  There are basically just nets that drop from the ceiling.  Over and over and over and C’MON PEOPLE.  TRY A BIT HARDER.  There is also a pit trap and some kobolds leaping out of holes in the walls!  Oh they are soooooo crafty.

But something is confusing me a bit with the checks involved in traps.  I also noticed this with the secret doors in Chapter 3. 

Let’s quote:
Falling Net Traps: Characters can attempt a DC 15 Wisdom check to spot either the net stretched above the passage or one of the tripwires near the floor. A character actively searching needs to make a DC 13 Intelligence check instead. If a character finds anything, the adventurers can search to find the three tripwires with three successful DC 13 Intelligence checks and avoid the trap entirely.

I’m sorta OK with the DC 15 Wisdom check.  It means that a rogue with find/remove traps will find it automatically (take 10 and +6 bonus from +3 default and +3 trained skill).  Is that good?  Less rolling means more streamlined play…  But that means that all these traps are basically no threat to a party that includes the pre-gens…  Which it’s assumed they will…  Sure a lot of text here for something that seems unlikely to ever threaten the party.  But anyways, forging on.

What I don’t get is "3 successful DC 13 Intelligence checks".  Why are we switching back and forth from Wis (useful for spotting things) to Int (useful for making you pretentious to talk to at parties)?    And why 3?  And why DC 13? 

If the party has a rogue, these are found automatically (Take 10 and +3 check default).  If they don’t have a rogue, they have to roll 3 times?  Why not just 1 roll with a DC of 15 to accommodate the fact that they have to find 3 tripwires?  More waste of rolling, and why would the mage (generally speaking) be theoretically better at finding tripwires than the rogue, who presumably does this in order to keep on living?  Makes no sense to me.

The whole thing is even worse in Chapter 3 with the secret doors and pit traps:
A successful DC 15 Intelligence is required to find this secret door. A successful DC 13 Intelligence check  made while searching the wall at the end of the long alcove to the north reveals a pressure plate. Pressing the plate causes the door to slide open. Otherwise, the door can be forced open with a DC 17 Strength check, which breaks its mechanism.

WHY INT?  Now the rogue doesn’t find it automatically at least, but Int?  I can see maybe the Int check to figure out how the door opens.  I like the idea of the wizard glancing over, then saying offhand “l expect that the pressure plate down at the end of the hall there opens the secret door.  That or the elvish word for ‘friend’”, then going back to doing whatever he was doing.   But spotting it using Int makes no sense to me. 

The pit traps are even WORSE:
Anyone searching for traps can find it with a DC 13 Intelligence check, and it can be jammed closed with two DC 15 Dexterity checks. Otherwise, the trap triggers when a character reaches the center of the hallway, dropping everyone in the hall into the pit. Those who are near the outer edge can attempt a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw to leap to safety.

More INT checks.  Was this written by a different person?  Are they paying attention to their own rules?  Who can say?  It’s like they don’t even know about the find/remove traps skill.  And now we have moved to Dex checks to jam it?  2 of them?  Adding to the fun, on the map their appears to be a 10-foot walkway on either side of the pit that isn’t included in the description…  If you’re going to recycle maps, at least try to pay attention to them.

It doesn’t do any good to bitch about this stuff if you don’t try to fix it, so here are my alternative takes on traps and secret doors:

Pit Traps: This hall contains a covered pit trap. The pit will be noticed with a DC 17 Wisdom (or find/remote traps check).  Anyone specifically searching for traps can find it with a DC 13 Wisdom (or Find/Remove Traps) check, and it can be jammed closed with a DC 15 Dexterity (or Find/Remove traps) check. Otherwise, the trap triggers if 2 or more characters are standing  on trapped squares, dropping everyone in the hall into the pit. Those who are near the outer edge and are wearing light or medium armor can attempt a Dexterity saving throw (Light armor DC 12, Medium DC 15) to leap to safety.

Secret Doors: A successful DC 17 Wisdom check is required to notice this secret door.  Anyone specifically searching the hallway will find it with a DC 13 Wisdom check.  A successful DC 13 Wisdom or Int check identifies a pressure plate at the end of the hallway that opens the door. Pressing the plate causes the door to slide open. Otherwise, the door can be forced open with a DC 17 Strength check, which breaks its mechanism.

Net Traps: Characters notice either the net stretched above the passage or one of the tripwires near the floor with a DC 17 Wisdom (or Find/remove traps) check.  A character actively searching needs to make a DC 13 check instead.  If the trap is noticed, a DC 15 Wisdom (or Find/remove traps) disarms the trap.
If a net falls, characters in the twenty-foot diameter area of the net must make edge can attempt a Dexterity saving throw (Light armor DC 8, Medium DC 10, Heavy DC 15) to avoid being restrained beneath the net.  A restrained character can cut the net with a slashing weapon (2 rounds) or escape with a DC 13 Strength or Dexterity check (1 round).

Friday, August 24, 2012

More Bling(denstone)!

It occurred to me last night after I went to bed that with this DnD Next, I can basically use monsters from any edition with very little conversion.  This has always been kinda-sorta true, but it felt a lot less doable with 3e and 4e than it does with Next.

I'm going to have to give the Blingdenstone and Underdark encounter tables a much more thorough going-over and use some interesting 2e stuff.  I'll also probably modify the Random Events table, too.  I picked up the incredibly massive Monstrous Collection (2.1) from internet sources that shall remain nameless (and shut down by massive DNS attack), and it looks like I can use a lot of it right as written.  Which is handy, as the monsters in the playtest, as I mentioned earlier, are weaksauce.

So, continuing with what I started in Blingdenstone Enhanced:

Right now the party is exploring the Town Center (Chapter 3), so I'm going to do two different treatments for that.  First one is to use the existing map and encounters, but rework them slightly to make it a bit more interesting/challenging.  Second one is to totally rebuild it with a functional map that makes a modicum of sense, but with similar encounters.

Updated Chapter 3

Totally Different Chapter 3

I borrowed the map for the different version of Chapter 3 from the amazing Dyson Logos, over at Dyson's Dodecahedrons.  It's a fort, which makes more sense to me as a Town Center/Castle.  I basically used all the same encounters, but moved them around a bit.

Either way, Chapter 3 is now a bit more challenging and interesting.

Oh, and if you want to run Blingdenstone using a digital tool, here are a couple of handy maps:

Map of Blingdenstone

Town Center Map

Now my to-do list just looks like this:

Stat out the major NPC's.
Rework the Wormwrithings (Chapter 2) encounters to reduce repetition.
Add more adventure hooks to Mantol-Derith (Chapter 6)
Rework the pregens, add a couple of new ones.
Enemy activity page for the drow chick.
Modify Journal notes to make them more interesting.
Enemy activity page if you want to use the Cult of Urlden as the overarching antagonists.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blingdenstone Enhanced

The Blingdenstone adventure that is packaged with the DnD Next playtest is quite good, conceptually speaking. It's sandbox-y, providing 6 short adventures that can be accomplished in any order, with a combination  of combat, dungeon-crawl, exploration and role-playing.  There are also a number of places to add extra adventure hooks that can allow things to spin off into a larger campaign - which is what I may do if it holds our interest.

That being said, there are a number of weak points, too.  The maps in particular are lacking, notably the Town Center map in adventure 3.  The overall cavern map is pretty sparse, too - but it fits with the sandbox ethos in that it lets you develop quite a few of the details as you see fit.  The encounter and tunnel maps are a nice shout-out (well, copied from, to be honest) to the old blue maps - these ones come from Vault of the Drow, I think.

The adventure has quite a bit of material in it, and the organization isn't that great.  The occupied sections of the ruins aren't presented first, but are interspersed with other caverns, and random encounters for specific caverns are only detailed in their entries, which are all scattered in the first 5 or 6 pages of the module, so the first thing I did to make it easier to run was write myself out a couple of reference pages.  These will allow me to track events in Blingdenstone more easily and keep me from having to constantly flip through the adventure to reference things.  Having this kind of cheat sheet is essential to running a sandbox, I find - if only because it allows me to respond almost instantly to things the group wants to do.

Ultimately, I put together 3 reference sheets.

Blingdenstone Summary Sheet

Orc Summary

Gnome Summary

The orc summary is basically just compiled information from the adventure - crib notes, essentially, where I can track how many have been killed and look them up.

The Gnome and Blingdenstone Summary are a bit more interesting.  The whole idea behind this adventure is the reclamation and rebuilding of Blingdenstone, so what I wanted to do was set up a system where the gnomish position, and the gnomes themselves, get stronger as the different adventures are completed, or get weaker if the characters dawdle too much, fail to complete adventures or certain random events happen.

The main thing here is stats for individual gnomes, because curiously enough, other than the stats for the guide to the Wormwrithings in Adventure 2, there are no stats provided for the gnomes anywhere in the module.  In some cases, the gnomes can be expected to fight alongside the PC's (such as when orc raiders attack the barricades), so having stats for them is important.  I'm also tracking the number of healthy/injured gnomes in Blingdenstone, the same way I'm tracking the number of orcs.

As you can see from the sheet, successfully completing some adventures causes additional gnomes to arrive, or the gnomes to get better equipment or more HP and morale.  This is a bit more bookkeeping, but it makes the impact of the party more obvious and concrete.  I'll also stat out the major NPC's for use in the events, but for the moment, I'll treat them like normal gnomes.

I also added a couple of cool things to the summary - enlarged Blingdenstone and Underdark encounter tables and a random major event table which can alter things in the city in a major way.

Other things I'm doing that I'll detail more later:

Stat out the major NPC's.

Rework the Wormwrithings (Chapter 2) encounters to reduce repetition.

Add more adventure hooks to Mantol-Derith (Chapter 6)

Reduce XP values of monsters substantially (20% of current, approx)

Rework the pregens, add a couple of new ones.

Enemy activity page for the drow chick.

Update Town Center Map for digital tools.

Modify Journal notes to make them more interesting.

Add Cult of Urlden adventure hooks

Change encounters in Chapter 3 (more zombies, more skeletons, wight from drow to gnome king).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Some Thoughts on our D&D Next Playtest

I've gone off 4E.  And I've also played Rules Compendium, 2e and (VERY briefly) whatever the frack it is the Alexis over at Tao of D&D runs.  Plus Warhammer Fantasy and TMNT.

And they are NOT DOING IT FOR ME.

I like pieces of each of them.  As a DM, I like encounter building in 4e.  I feel like I can create cool and challenging combats very easily in that system - so much so that I'm having a LOT of trouble with something like TMNT which basically has NO rules for building encounters or monsters.

I like the faster combat in Rules Compendium, but the character building is just uninteresting.  I don't need 3e or Pathfinder complexity, but Rules Compendium is a bit too bare-bones.  Warhammer Fantasy is good - gritty, fairly lethal - not too hard to make encounters...  but I'm not used to that system, so it's a challenge to run for the moment.

2e is a bit of a sweet spot for me, as it's what I spent most of my earlier DM years running, and to some extent, that's what the DnD Next Playtest feels like.  Some might think that's a bad thing, but it's 2e with the rough stuff filed off, and cracks plastered over with lessons learned from 2 subsequent editions.  It isn't spotless yet, but I had more fun running it than I have in quite a while.

That being said, it's obviously a playtest version.  Some things definitely could use more thought, but the foundations seem really solid to me.


Unified, easy-to-remember mechanics.  Tying everything to modified checks using stats is really smart.  Clean, flexible and easy-to-remember.  A couple of characters wanted to vault a rubble barricade.  DC 13 Dex check, please.  No fuss, no bother.

Saving throws as checks tied to stats.  Yaay.  I have always hated saving throws.  Simple - easy to remember and flexible enough that I can on-the-fly them.  WotC, I salute you.

I'm a bit less in favor of Contested checks.  They can end up with a LOT of rolling - like trying to sneak around a number of enemies seems to require contested checks against each.  Not going to do that.  But the basic premise is sound and fits well mechanically with the rest of the rules.

Combat is quick, dangerous (sorta) and doesn't encourage the 3-minute adventuring day.  In our game, I played a PC in addition to DMing, and each player had 2 PCs, for a total of 5 - and they STEAMROLLERED the encounters - but limited HP and healing made the hits they took feel consequential.

Reclaiming Blingdenstone.  This is a really good adventure.  Miles better than Railroad to the Shadowfell.  If it is indicative of the settings/adventures that WotC is working on for this edition, I'll start buying modules again.  In fact, I'd forgotten how much I like using a good sandbox module.  There are plenty of good adventure hooks, a real feeling of progression and some nice variety in things to do.  Best module I've seen since reading the Pathfinder Adventure Paths.

Character creation is easy and interesting with neat background ideas and lots of good stuff for roleplaying, hooks for DMing and generally neat stuff.  I handwaved most initial equipment purchases, so I'm not sure if  the money system actually works.  My suspicion is that it don't.


Monsters need all kinds of work.  They are boring.  And xp value is WAY out of whack.  460 XP for an orc?  200 XP for a zombie.  With 9 hp, 20 spd and one attack for d6+2?  What the what what?

I threw 1600 XP worth of zombies at the party in an "undead rise from the ruins all around you" ambush.  They took 7 hp damage total.  2 encounters (one with 3 orcs, the other with the zombies) and some rp'ing awards and the entire party of 5 characters leveled...

I heard that Zak from DnD with Pornstars is consulting on DnD Next.  Mearls - please deposit the entire stack of monsters on his desk (not that he has a desk) and tell him to "turn this heaping turd pile into metal awesomesauce, and do it forthwith".  Him or scrap princess from Monster Manual Sewn from Pants.  Or BOTH!  Oh god I just had a small monster-manual induced orgasm at that though.  Too much? Too much.

Light and Vision needs some attention...  I don't like the whole darkness/shadows garbage, and I don't like low-light vs darkvision and that shite.  Simplify this down and use the cover mechanics or something.  Also, the pregen halfling rogue has no low-light or darkvision.  So he's stealthy but USELESS as a scout in dark areas.  Like the Underdark.  Where the first adventure is set.  Focus WotC.  Focus.

In fact, the whole rogue class needs work.  3 skills is insufficient for what has traditionally been the skill-based class.  AND WHY DOES THE PREGEN HALFLING ROGUE HAVE NO SLING?  Easy to fix, though.  Still, weird.

Town Center Map from Blingdenstone.  WTF?  How hard would it have been to just come up with something that looks like it could actually be used for town centering?  (Do gnomes vote?  Do they have voter ID laws? Can you tell them apart on photo ID?)  I'm all for a mini-crawl, but c'mon, let's at least try to build a map that represents an actual building that somebody would use. Plus the scale is wrong - everything in this game uses 5 ft squares, and all the tiles here are 10 ft.  So clearly recycled that it's annoying, but I'll use it and grit my teeth.


Obviously a playtest, but miles better than the first one.  I like the core rules, I like the modular nature and how the Backgrounds and Specialties slot together to make interesting characters.

Some bits need work, but checks, cover, saves and basic combat seem to hang together OK.  Monsters are super-thin, but that's OK for the moment.

Good adventure, some rough bits to it, but interesting to DM and a major, positive change in adventure direction for WotC.  Successful night, fun game.  I'll be playing this again.