Capturing Villains

Sorry for the late post this week. I was out on Isle Royale with no phone or internet service. Hopefully I’ll have some good gaming stories for that soon.

In my game, we joke that the party is basically a murdering machine… we roam the countryside and massacre evil-doers. In the real world, vigilantes can’t just go around executing people. Even in movies and books, there are generally few lethal fights. Sometimes the bad guys go scurrying off, permanently defeated. Othertimes the villains are tied up and left for the nearby and incorruptible authorities to pick up.

When my group feels sympathetic towards the last standing enemy, instead of killing him, we tend to make them forswear villainy and set them up to be a reformed community member. But generally we choose to kill him to save the hassle.

What I want to try is next time we know we’re going after the bad guys, is to notify the good and trustworthy constable so we have backup to arrest and cart away the bad guys after we’re done. That way we can be heroic without having to deal with the logistics of prisoners.

We actually did this once during Keep On The Shadowfell and it worked out pretty well, although I think the DM was annoyed that we brought along a half dozen NPCs into the dungeon.

Another neat thing would be to create an item or ritual that we can use on defeat bad guys to transport them directly to our campaign’s Azkaban or Arkham Asylum. We don’t know about such a place yet, but it sounds like a great adventure location.

Sword Fightin’ In Style

One aspect of Robert Jordan’s mega Wheel of Time series that I enjoy is its description of dueling, or “dancing the forms” as he calls sword-fighting is called.  A lot of attention is paid in these novels to a blademaster’s maneuvers: each combination of swing and footwork has a fantastical name that evokes an animal and its environment with names like “wind follows the loon” or “heron in the rushes”.  In Jordan’s world, a blade master has learned hundreds of special forms and knows when to use a particular one to counter his opponent’s.

In 4th edition there is a lack of a  a good blade-master class. It’s absence makes me miss the old class kits from 2e, although those were usually associated with the Fighter. In 4th Edition, a Defender Fighter is built to soak up damage: a sword & board type of warrior. I think that my desired type of  sword-master would be more of a striker, like a two weapon ranger, except specializing in one type of sword. The big difference between my vision and what is available is the lack of specialized powers that represent the sword master moves. Martial Power 2 comes close with Combat Styles, although that seems more like different Eastern fighting schools than special individual forms.

Although I probably wouldn’t opt for it in my own games due to the time issues at the table, it would be neat to see some kind of system for more expressive combat: sword forms and dueling. For instance, if an opponent were to attack with a “Fox stalks the Seagull” maneuver, it would be nice to have a list of counter moves to choose from. I don’t know if you’ve played Monkey Island with its unique fight by insulting mechanic, but basically you get a list of responses to given attack and have to choose the most appropriate one. I think I would give that kind of mechanic a go to see how it feels.

Are there any 4e powers or combat variations that put the strategy into individual swings of the sword, rather than the move/damage type strategy of the standard powers?

Deepest, Darkest Fears

Sarah Darkmagic just got back from Gen Con with a crate of swag.  When your DM gets new material, it is an occasion of concern for any player. This event combined dangerously with a simple innocuous email she sent out my fellow players: “Can you please send me your characters worst nightmares?” Now I’m suspicious about what she has planned. My guess is our campaign is headed for some sort of abyssal/madness encounters with sanity-eating monsters. Or maybe just some heavy shadowfell and fear themes. Or maybe these questions are just about adding depth to characters. (Yeah, I don’t buy it either).

This question isn’t one I’ve previously answered for my character. There are two interpretations of “worst nightmare” that could answer her question; its usefulness depending on which direction the campaign is going. The first is a literal nightmare. I’m talking about scary dreams that might involve being chased, falling, being trapped, etc. Nightmares tend to have common themes for people, but vary in specifics. In particular it’s common for fantasy characters to have reoccurring nightmares. These can vary from being chased and captured by a blue dragon out in the Misty Mountains, or seeing your homeland ravaged by savage orcs.

Since my character is a Tiefling, I imagine his nightmare are more demonic in nature. He probably dreams of being captured and tortured by Dispater for not being evil enough and failing to terrorize the material plane.

A more colloquial interpretation of “worst nightmare” is an intellectual fear. These could be being trapped in an elevator with an annoying coworker, being asked to campaign for a political rival, or having your spouse find out you’ve been lying about your identity all this time. These aren’t nightmares per se, but this kind of very personalized anxiety can be just as powerful in a role playing situation.

My character is a Psion and his identity and source of power comes from his incredible intelligence and telepathic abilities. Being stripped of his mental faculties is a big fear of his, and he’d probably turn tail and flee from a mind flayer when he might stand up to a powerful dragon or devil. He’s also a little egotistical so a worse fate than being rendered stupid (which he might then be too dumb to realize) is being treated as if he were. A big irrational fear of his is being trapped by some kind of playground conspiracy where everyone pretends like he’s an idiot and won’t admit to it. That’d drive anyone nuts.

Fears may not be a traditional aspect of character generation, but a good one to think about when fleshing out a well-developed person to be your PC. Any good suggestions for nightmares for my Tiefling Psion or for your own characters?

Catching Up on Gen Con

Like many people, I didn’t get to go to Gen Con this year. Thankfully there are a number of podcasts that have recorded interviews or whole panel sessions and have posted them for free on their sites. After listening to a bunch, I feel like I was there (at least, in a small part) even if I didn’t get to play or buy any games. Here are my recommendations if you want to catch up through podcasts.

  • The Official Dungeons and Dragons podcast. These guys have recording from their big panel sessions, which is basically like a State of the Union for D&D along with their future plans. The official podcasts seem to have the best audio clarity of these sessions, which is a big plus.
  • Fear the Boot. The guys from this podcast created a series of 3-6 minute videos from the con and social activities outside the main events. My favorite is Chad’s walk through the dealer halls, even if it is mostly his beard.
  • Atomic Array. These Ennie-award winning guys put out a bunch of ~30 min podcasts with 3-4 interviews each episode. The sound quality is pretty good and the interviews interesting with a good dose of familiarity between the hosts and interviewiees.
  • Tome Show. Jeff did a great job getting his panel recordings out while the con was still going on. Unfortunately the sounds quality is not great so go with the official D&D podcasts if they cover the same talks.

Any other good sources of live-recorded Gen Con goodness? For those who were at the con, how do these compare to the experience of being there?

[Your Advice] No Game? Problem.

My group missed its game tonight, bringing down our average this summer to less than 1 game per 3 weeks. I would love to keep gaming week after week but real life keeps getting in the way. My younger self believed that we could keep the gang together by getting together for a game, movie, or have a guest DM.

The problem we’ve had with the guest DM situation is that it takes time to prep a game. I’ve had a backup adventure in the back of my head for a few months. Unfortunately it’s not fleshed out enough to deliver on a few days notice. It also doesn’t want to fit into one night of gaming, making hard to do it for a one-shot. Even if I ran an encounter straight out of a module, it still takes time to read through the adventure, and pick out maps, minis, tokens, etc. In additions I like to prep monster cards and take some notes to let the game go smoothly. Even if someone was able to run a game completely off-the-cuff, if we’re down one or two players, it’s tough to run any adventure. And if we’re down our hosts then there are logistical and cleaning issues in the way of getting together elsewhere.

And if we wanted to punt on the game and just get together, we have to fight inertia and being tired after a whole day of work…

What do you do to keep going and keep momentum up? If your game gets canceled how do you spend your free evening? For myself, I’m blogging and reading some Robert Jordan, but somehow it’s not scratching that itch tonight…

5 Cards to a Deeper Character

I heard an idea a long time ago and I’m wondering if anyone has every tried something similar.  Take 5 random images, magic cards, quotes, book titles, etc and use those as inspiration for a character’s back story. For the next campaign I want to run, I was thinking of providing 5 random magic cards to each of the players to help them with a back-story. For instance, if the card is a soldier, the character could have a military background, been an army brat, could come from a land under occupation, always wanted to be a soldier but didn’t have the health or discipline, etc.

For an example, here are five magic cards randomly selected from a box in my attic. The nice thing about these cards is that in addition to an evocative name, it also has artwork and usually flavor text that can contribute ideas. Before I start, my initial character concept is a Halfling Monk that was adopted by the monastic order and is adventuring to find his true parents.

  • Sea Serpent. Since I’m building a Monk, I think I’ll equip him with a Cobra Strike Ki Focus [DDI] item. I’ll “reskin” it to be a Sea-Serpent Strike Focus. Instead of being made from clay, it’ll be made from the bones a Sea Serpent he helped hunt in his training.
  • Island. This is fortuitously combined with the last card. The monastery where  was raised was on an Island. Dealing with sea creatures was part and parcel of their order.
  • Unsummon. What’s with all the blue cards? I don’t feel like adding some sort of summoner to my character’s past, but the picture on the card looks like a guy in a dark cloak being surprised by an armored demon appearing before him (I think it’s actually supposed to be disappearing). So I’m adding to the Monk’s past an apparition of a demon army. Even though his quest is to find out who his parents are, in the back of his mind he’s worried about when this army might appear and how he might help prepare the world for this event.
  • Mons’s Goblin Raiders. Goblin raiders are pretty easy to work with. For my character I might add that the Monastery was attacked and destroyed by goblin raiders; the loss of the home is what set him journeying. Unfortunately this feels like too many items for a backstory, so I’m not actually going to include it.
  • Dwarven Warriors. This a great card, although with a high mana cost for a 1/1. Anyway… the first adventure my halfling ran into was with a group of Dwarfs. He helped them with a few battles, but couldn’t stop helping himself to more than his fair share of the treasure and so had to leave quickly…

As you can see, this is a great way to come up with some character inspiration, and is especially good if you get “Adventurer’s Block” or feel like everything has been tried too many times. This is probably also a good way to come up with adventurer’s hooks.  Any other good ideas for random inspiration?

Wardrobe Function: Imposter’s Armor

Here’s a post that has nothing to do with Gen Con. Based upon my RSS feeds and twitters it feels like I’m the only one not there, but I am sure there are others too.

One of my favorite magic items is armor that appears to be something other than armor. There’s like a billion role-playing reasons why this is awesome. In a recent game I played an evil Paladin. I wanted him to be fearsome on the battlefield: he had dark black Plate-mail with blood runes, skulls, and death metal stickers. At the same time I wanted him to be able to travel around the countryside without attracting attention, especially from good aligned priests and warriors. In 3rd Edition, I made good use of Glamered Armor with my rogues, making them that much more sneaky and unremarkable. In 4th Edition we have the Imposter’s Armor [DDI], thanks to The Adventurer’s Vault. I gave my evil Paladin the plate-mail version of it.

This armor is great for appearing to be something else on purpose. By day it can appear as whatever you want (e.g. court clothes, peasant clothes, wizard robes, etc) so it counts as a disguise. Even if you had it appear as normal “adventuring gear,” NPCs may misjudge your function in combat (i.e. a controller not a defender) or may just misjudge your overall “squishiness.” On top of that, while the armor is in “clothes form” it doesn’t incur any armor check penalties, so you can sleep, climb, or swim in it and not have to worry about leaving your armor behind or having a tougher time. The downside is that the armor doesn’t provide any bonus in “clothes form” and I’ve been dinged by this several times by having a low initiative at the start of combat. The advantages are still totally worth it. In addition, if this is a common scenario you can take feats like Unarmored Agility [DDI] to balance out the lack of armor bonus.

With the Imposter’s Armor you can swap it back and forth as an At-Will Minor Action, which means it doesn’t count against your magic item dailies and you can use it pretty much at the start of combat and still get in a Move and Standard, so you don’t loose time switching.

Basically, you should pick one up today for the sneaky Defender in your life! And if that’s not enough for you, there’s also Summoned Armor [DDI] from the Adventurer’s Vault that works with any armor type. It doesn’t give the disguise bonus, but does have the “gone one minute, here the next” of the Imposter‘s Armor. And since it’s not actually on your person it can’t be magic-detected, stolen, or confiscated.