Monday, December 2, 2013

The Godborn by Paul Kemp

In many ways, The Godborn was vastly superior to R.A. Salvadore's The Companions, the book that preceded it in the Sundering series.  It is only loosely connected, which was as expected.  What was unexpected was how easy it was to step into Paul Kemp's world.  I hadn't read any of the previous Everis Cale books.  Aside from spending some time reading Kemp's excerpts, and then looking up some of the names and characters on the Forgotten Realms Wiki, I had no experience with any of the preceding content.  Nevertheless, I found this book very approachable and easy to dive into.  In fact, I read the vast majority of it in a four-day span over Thanksgiving.

The summary: it's very good.  It has excellent pacing.  Despite the fact that much of the first two thirds of the book is largely preparatory, the whirl-wind, stunning last third of the book manages to wrap up most of the innumerable apparently disjointed threads introduced early on without seeming rushed or anti-climactic.  Kemp writes excellent dialog and presents some wonderfully believable characters.  In contrast with the chaotic but wonderfully energetic battle scenes that Salvadore composes, Kemp's combat scenes are far more cinematic and visually descriptive.  It begins as a very gritty, down-to-earth book, but as it moves along the action rises to grander and grander scales.  It was hard to put down, and never felt slow.

In the end, we have a very satisfying conclusion to a saga that I only know in part.  As excited I was to see it end, I can only imagine what someone who has read all of the Cale books must feel at its end.  It was riveting from start to finish.

I do have a few critiques.  First, the book does have substantial horror elements that are critical to the plot.  I'm not a big fan of horror, but I get it and it works for the novel.  There was one set of characters, however, that seemed to be created strictly to pound one the reader's emotional heartstrings.  This is unfortunately very obvious from the start, and to me felt far too transparent.  Furthermore, while it sets up a tale of revenge, this is never really allowed to run its course in a satisfying way.  

Second, I was surprised to see a number of editing problems in the kindle version that I read.  There were several cases where words or sentences were spliced together incorrectly.  Furthermore, there were some plot inconsistencies.  At one point, Vasen loses an important item to the Shadovar.  Then, later, the book mentions him using it again, only to later remind us that the Shadovar have it.  I wasn't the only one who noticed either--my Kindle noted that three people had underlined both of those passages.

Still, it was a great book.  If the first two thirds were a 3-4 star, the brilliant conclusion easily justifies a 5-star rating.  I'm not sure if we'll see more of Everis or Vasen Cale, or their surviving companions.  But if so, I will gladly and eagerly read on.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Companions by R.A. Salvadore

Some minor spoilers below, mostly from the first few chapters of the book.

The Companions was quite a surprise.  I left R.A. Salvadore's story after finishing the Paths of Darkness's final book, the Sea of Swords.  Wulfgar, now with an adopted child, had finally come to grips with his traumatic past and had taken steps to stride into his future.  He'd been reunited with the the Companions and found his great warhammer, while Drizzt and Cattie-brie had fallen in love.  I missed what happened next: the deaths of the Companions, and Drizzt's adventures with his new associates--those who did not share his morals and ideals.

Now, as The Companions begins, Bruenor, Cattie-Brie, Regis, and Wulfgar find themselves in a kind of strange pocket-plane created by Mielikki, a goddess of nature and the patron of Drizzt.  They are faced with a choice: do they continue on to their just reward, or do they instead accept a gift from Mielikki and be reincarnated on Toril, tasked to help Drizzt in his time of need.  What follows is the story of how those who choose to return are born and live through their early years once again.  It explores an interesting question: what would it be like to live your life again, having the memories, knowledge, and cognitive function of your prior life?

Each of the characters' new life story is faced with its own challenges, and in these we see each character grow and develop in leaps and bounds.  Their stories dominate this book--in truth, Drizzt gets far less screen time than the cover might suggest--and each has an eventful childhood and early adolescence.  By the end of the story, several are quite simply not who they were when the tale began.  Some of the individual plot-lines work better than others, but overall it is an enjoyable read...and a book that has me eagerly awaiting the next in the series.

A few specific comments (major spoilers follow!!)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

More Sundering Movies

For some reason, I didn't see this at the DnD website, but the DnD Youtube Channel has two new videos about the Sundering books.  Not much new, but they're worth the quick watch.

(fwiw, I wonder about when the conference footage was filmed.  It pretty much has to be recent, because it has the most recent artwork for each of the characters plastered on the walls!)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go read The Companions. ;)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Sundering is Upon Us

So says the video at Wizards of the coast!

This coincides with the release of R.A. Salvadore's new novel, The Companions, which is the first of the six Sundering novels.  I'm planning to read these as they are released, and I really look forward to them.

There is also a new facebook "game," which amounts to a character tracker for dnd encounters players working through the Murder in Baldur's Gate adventure.  I'll be DMing that adventure, though given that it will be done via play by post, I expect that we'll reach milestones long after the Encounters people do.  Still, I'm signed in there.  Why not?

I'm pretty excited about this event. Despite the video's rather scripted, we-know-everything-that-will-happen feel, this is going to my first real foray into the Forgotten Realms as a D.M.  By all accounts, it seems as though they've done their best to execute this event with as much forethought and inclusion as possible.  I like that the Sundering Six authors have been heavily involved in decisions, and that they're allowing the outcomes of the two Sundering adventures to shape the future of the realms in apparently meaningful ways.

The Realms are a world that I've experienced primarily in video games thus far, and I'm looking forward to getting to play in that world.

So, down with Bhaal!  I'm looking forward to getting started.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: The Oath of Vigilance

My thoughts on book #2 in the Abyssal Plague Trilogy, as posted on Goodreads:
It was good and I enjoyed it, but I did not think that it was as good as book #1 in the series. As others have noted, the developing relationship between Shara and Quarhaun didn't really ring true. While there might be reasons for this that we learn about later, it was probably the weakest part of the book.

On the other hand, there were things that I really loved about the book. Kri's development, though perhaps a tad rushed, was compelling and well-done. And Albanon's brush with madness, which featured him struggle to fight back using mathematics as a guide, was beautiful. Finally, I really enjoyed the opportunity to explore some of the sights and sounds of Fallcrest, which I know well from the roleplaying game.

All in all, it was a fun read, and a good bridge to the final novel in the Nentir Vale portion of this trilogy. I've already started in on the next book!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Vault is Down. But Vault 2.0 is up!

Edit: And...the Old Vault is back up.  Apparently, this was a false alarm...but it's also a sign of times to come.  The Old Vault is basically done, and chances are that it will not be around much longer.  The future of the Neverwinter Nights modding community lies with and  It's time to migrate and say goodbye to the old vault.  The good news is that this gives the crew at Vault 2 a bit more time.


It finally happened.

Without warning, IGN finally pulled the plug on, shutting down the site around which the entire Neverwinter community revolved.  It really can't be undersold what a blow this is.  The Vault contained a near-complete archive of all content ever created for the two Neverwinter Nights games.

It's not all doom and gloom, however.  Rolo Kipp and his cohort have, over the past year, copied every single file off of the old Vault and onto their hard drives.  They've created a new site,, which will serve as a new place for the community to share files.  The old files aren't yet available, and it seems like there are all kinds of logistics to work out...but still, there's hope!  Kudos to those guys for making this happen, and many thanks to Rolo for also simultaneously maintaining the Vault for the past while.

The new Vault site has potential.  It has all of the old categories, and appears quite flexible in terms of handling new content.  It has project pages for modules, and a 1-10 voting system (I'd prefer 1-5, but this might allow them to import the old votes).  It doesn't seem quite as "slick" as the old vault, at least not yet, but that might get better...and changing skins to "Garland" (register and then choose the skin on the left-hand side) helped a lot, in my opinion.

For the time being, until the old archives reappear, this dramatically reduces my choices in terms of modules to download and play.  There are currently a total of five NWN2 modules available at, plus another 48 over at Neverwinter 2 Nexus.

The Nexus has really been improving a lot lately, and it's much easier now to find ways to sort based on module quality than it used to be.  I do wish there was a bit more nuance to a vote than simply endorsing it.  For example, I rated Shaar Moan as a "7" on the old Vault2 rating system.  So, do I give Shaar Moan an endorsement?  Probably.  But what if it was instead a 6, "qualified recommendation?"

Also, does anyone know what the "Vote" button does at Nexus?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Play by Post RPG's: Reflections after a year of gaming

A little over a year ago, I created an account at a site called dndonlinegames (now called to give play by post a try.  As a friend on that site has put it, my life is full of family, and so it is impossible at this point for me to schedule time for gaming with actual people around a table.  I was craving a gaming outlet pretty badly at the time, so I decided to give it a try.  It has been a fantastic experience, and has dominated my limited hobby time ever since.  Shortly after starting, I posted some first impressions about play by post.  Given that I've passed a year at this point, I thought I'd post some reflections.

What is play by post?

Play by post is the practice of playing RPG's like Dungeons and Dragons on an internet discussion board.  This video does a great job of summarizing what it's like to play at RPG Crossing:

How is it similar to playing around a traditional table?

In terms of the core of the game, play by post is very similar to traditional tabletop gaming.  The DM tells the story, which players can directly influence and shape.  We roll dice (using the forum's custom die-rolling plug-in) to determine outcomes when the DM requests it.  Players control their own characters.  They build their characters, maintain (online) characters sheets, describe their character's actions, and write (rather than speak) dialog.  Using attached images players and DM's wage battles, and if they use Google Docs Drawing, the players and DM's can each move their character tokens.

It's not some distant offshoot of transitional pen and paper gaming.  It *is* gaming.

How is it different?

Despite the similarities, the different medium makes for some particular differences.  Some of these are clear positives, and some are negatives that one has to deal with when playing these games.

Challenges to Play by Post

Play by Post is SLOW

This really is the big one.  I get really excited about gaming.  I want to play and play and play.  There are wonderful game concepts pitched every day at RPG Crossing, and I often want nothing more than to dive right into them.

The problem is that, because you're playing asynchronously with people from around the world, it's rare that one ever is able to post as a player (or even as a DM) more than once per day in a game.  Sometimes, it's more like once per week.  And sometimes, it's even less often than this.  Not only can this be maddening for the impatient--and I am a bit impatient--but it makes it hard to keep a game in your head from one week to the next.  If I don't take notes, I have a hard time remembering the names of the other PC's, much less the NPC's in the campaign (or even the main plot line!).

To illustrate the point, the game that I began last June, the New World, has been running continuously for over a year.  We've "recently" reached level 3, and just today I took my first combat turn as a level 3 character (I'm thinking that we've been through three or four combat encounters).  My own game, which is a tad more combat-oriented, has been running for 6 months, and my PC's are level 2 and have been through a total of 5 combat encounters.  And frankly, in both cases, the fact that we are at those levels is the result of a substantial amount of extra XP given for roleplaying.  Otherwise, we'd probably still be level 1!

The solutions I have for the pacing are twofold.  First, join more games.  The more you're in, the less slow each individual game feels.  Second, take lots of notes!  I don't do this as well as I should, and as I result I am sometimes scrolling through pages of old posts trying to find some detail from times past.  But when there is a quest, or there are important NPC, I try to jot them down in the notes section of my iplay4e character sheet.

Players disappear.  Games fizzle.

In large part because the games do run at a snail's pace, players will disappear.  And often times, it's without warning.  You'll be playing with someone for months, and then suddenly something will happen in their lives that leads to either a quick "I hope this is not farewell, but farewell" post, or, even more often, just silence.  In my game, six months old, despite doing a fairly extensive "background check" on each player to try to avoid disappearances, I lost two of my original seven players (and added one replacement).

Obviously, this can derail campaigns.  There's a temptation as a DM to make campaigns character-centric.  In fact, doing so might be rule 1 of DMing, and one of the best ways to engage one's players.  But if you build your campaign around a character, and that character leaves the game without warning, where does that leave you?  It's something that you always have to be prepared to handle in a play by post game.

Players aren't the only ones to disappear.  Just as often, it's the DM.  A lot of would-be DM's vastly underestimate the amount of time, effort, and commitment it will take to run an effective play by post campaign.  Or, they are prepared for it, but then experience a life change that changes their ability to commit time to a game.  I'm currently involved in five games, not including my own.  I've been involved in four other games that have crumbled because the DM disappeared.  In another, one of the two co-DM's disappeared within two weeks of the game getting off the ground, leaving the other to pick up the slack.

Game posts take time

Paradoxically, after you have waited for the game to come back to you, it often takes a substantial time commitment to make a good contribution to the game.  Sometimes, I can just sneak in with a quick post that will allow for a short response to the DM or other players.  When I can, though, I try to do at least two paragraphs.  Somewhere in there, I try to show how my character responds to what the players and the DM have just said, as well as to push something back for either the players or the DM to run with.

I type pretty fast.  But I don't compose quickly, and I'm not always the most creative person.  I'm probably slower than most, but it's not uncommon for me to spend a half-hour or more on a meaningful game post.

During combat, it's often easier to decide what my character will do.  But to do a good job of tracking my encounter powers (I use a "combat array" dashboard of sorts as an in-post character sheet), and to write evocative descriptions of combat, it still takes time.  It's fun, but it takes time.

Organization is critical

With players scattered all over the world, organization is really critical.  Players are responsible for keeping track of their characters' stats, loot, attributes, etc.  In a game like fourth edition, this is pretty critical, as combat can become quite complex.

And as a DM, it's even more important.  You can get away with just relying on player posts, but my own experience is that combat runs much more smoothly if a DM tracks not just the monsters, but also the players during the fight.  I maintain a fairly large page of tables and such during each encounter, and one of the things I have the hardest time remembering to do is to keep them updated.  But the players rely on those tables, as do I, to know what is happening during the combat.

Party coordination can be hard

At a table, the players can have a short conversation to decide what they want to do next in a matter of seconds.  In play by post, such conversations can take days to complete.  Add in a little bit of uncertainty that discourages players from chiming in, and you have a stalled game.

It really helps when a player or two takes the lead to keep the adventure moving.  As a result, I've been writing more and more of my characters to be leader-types of late.  Even my quiet ranger has become more assertive, helping to push the group forward when necessary (by actions if not by words).

Similar issues occur during combat.  Because each post tends to make up a turn, you have little opportunity to plan out strategy in advance, or even during combat.  Characters can shout back and forth from turn to turn, or players can make general suggestions to the party in the OOC forum (if the DM allows it).  But it nevertheless can be difficult to devise a coherent strategy in the middle of a fight.

On the other hand, one can see this as a benefit.  You certainly only rarely see players trying to directly influence the actions of other players at the table, which is all too common during pen and paper sessions in my experience.  Furthermore, outright metagaming is also often not a big issue.

Benefits to Play by Post

Roleplaying and Character Exploration

I first heard about play by post on the excellent Exemplary DM Podcast (which recently started releasing new episodes!), where it was described as largely a literary exercise.  While you will meet a lot of aspiring writers on play by post games, I have felt little pressure to try to become one.  And I am not a writer, nor do I have aspirations to become one.

At the same time, the medium of play by post demands that character posts be descriptive and evocative.  Otherwise, there's nothing really there to game with.  And in many ways, writing what your character says in third person (as is usually the custom) is far easier and less awkward for many of us than speaking your character's dialog out loud in a tabletop session.  As a result, very rarely do you see situations in which players are unable or unwilling to roleplay.  It doesn't take much: a paragraph or two, describing what your character does, along with a few lines of dialog, and you've made a useful contribution to the game.

Therefore, given this recent background, it's pretty hard to even relate when you hear tabletop DM complain about a lack of roleplaying at their table.  If there is one thing that the slow rate of the game tends to promote, it's introspection and exploration of one's character.  I think this is where the medium really shines--characters come to life in play by post more consistently than I've ever seen in a tabletop session.


While this might offend the purists, one thing that I really like about play by post gaming is the ability to easily add visuals to your games.  As a DM, including an image of an important building, scene, or NPC is as easy as uploading to photobucket and adding the appropriate tag to your image.  The medium is always going to be dominated by the written word, but visuals can really help bring a game to life.

Doing the same thing at a tabletop game either requires a) print-outs, or b) a laptop at the gaming table, ideally with a secondary, attached monitor.


When you walk away from a tabletop game after a session, the game exists only in your mind.  Some groups will try to take the time to write down what their group does in adventure logs, but this can be a time consuming and ultimately often thankless activity.  It certainly is also not one that lends itself to evocative writing--adventure logs tend to be pretty dry, point-by-point descriptions of what happened at a session.

In contrast, in play by post, every post contributes to the story of the adventure.  And those posts are essentially permanent.  As a result, a year later, you can go back and read an adventure almost as a novel.  And there are some folks who actually do this!  I've had at least one lurker who drops by my game and reads the wonderful stuff that my players have written.

Lessons learned

Play by post gaming has been a wonderful addition to my life over the past year.  It has given me a wonderful creative outlet and brought a lot of fun into my life.  It is not without its challenges, but my experience has been that there are tremendous rewards to getting involved in play by post games.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book mini-review: Sea of Swords by R.A. Salvadore

I've gotten back into reading over this past year, thanks in large part to my picking up the Path of Darkness book collection on a whim at a public library sale while attending a wedding in Milwaukee last August.  It cost me a buck.  I've read this collection of four novels in fits and starts ever since, and have read three other fantasy novels over that time.  But while I still am not overly fond of Drizzt the character, the supporting cast in Salvadore's books is strong, the pace is fast, and the action is terrific.  I'm sure that they are not fine literature, and there's no question that they are full of cliches and tropes.  But they are fun.  And that, in the end, is really what it's all about for me!

So...I thought I'd try my hand at penning a short book review over at goodreads.  And, since I'm writing it there, I figured that I should post it here as well!

I really enjoyed the Sea of Swords as the conclusion to the Paths of Darkness collection.  This fourth book in that series is an action packed adventure that sees most of the key story lines that began in the first three come to a satisfying conclusion.  We see Wulfgar, who decides to come to terms with his demons, and ultimately chooses to go on a quest to reunite with the Companions of the Hall.  Furthermore, we see those same companions set off on a quest to recover Wulfgar's enchanted craghammer, Aegis-fang.  We also meet new characters.  Sheila Kree, the pirate captain who purchased the stolen hammer earlier in the series.  Bellany, a powerful sorceress who works for Kree and a former companion of Morik the Rogue.  And we meet Le'lorinel, an elven assassin who has made it a life's mission to hunt down and kill Drizzt.

The book is full of action and adventure, punctuated by excellent character interaction.  There aren't a lot of major surprises, but there are a few--enough to keep you on your toes and turning pages.  The remarkable thing to me is just how satisfying the book, and the Paths of Darkness series as a whole, managed to be.  Between the Servant of the Shard and the Sea of Swords, virtually all of the major plot lines are brought to a close (one way or another!).  Though he obviously did not, Salvadore could have walked away from Drizzt novels at the end of this book, and I don't think anyone would have complained.  It's not that there isn't anywhere for these characters to go or develop.  As someone who has not read much of his subsequent work, I can imagine grand adventures to come for all of the (surviving) characters.  But the immediate concerns have largely been resolved, freeing these characters to venture into new adventure.  It was a fast and very enjoyable read.

While I am doubtful that I will read much of the intervening work, I am greatly looking forward to reading The Companions when released in August.  The sample chapter on Wizards' site, which I assume to be Drizzt's opening reflections, seems to pull heavily from the events in the series that I just completed.  It looks like I chose a great place to sample this vast storyline!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Module comments: Misery Stone by BouncyRock Entertainment

Not that I really do formal reviews anymore, but I did not finish this module so this will be even less formal (and I am not going to vote having probably seen less than half of the mod).  Still, it's interesting enough to talk about...

The mists of Ravenloft roll in!
I downloaded Misery Stone in hopes of continuing the journey of a level 10 warlock that I had, but at the recommendation of the readme I ended up taking along a melee character.  I originally created him for Avendale: a ranger that I geared toward combating undead as I leveled him up to 9 for this module.  I wanted to be prepared!

I ended up not finishing it.  It's not that it's a bad module.  In a lot of ways, it's really exceptional.  But I also found it both frustrating and arduous to play through, and ended up throwing up my hands and archiving the saved game.  

First, the good.  This is one of the two most cinematic modules I've seen (the other being Harp and Chrysanthemum, which was built by Misery Stone contributor Maerduin).  I have passing familiarity with Ravenloft, and the module's depiction of how your character comes to enter the mists in this module is nothing short of brilliant.  The module is very well written, with a trio of wonderful NPC's that accompany you on your journey through the land of hopelessness and darkness.  It is also scary as hell; the pacing, especially early on, is extremely well done.  The tension of exploring dark places where terrible horrors had been committed is allowed to build until it is finally punctuated by a dramatic fight with monsters.  Horror elements are also deftly employed.  A personal favorite was a village of the mostly dead, where people had been turned into doomed, semi-mechanical beings designed to perish as they delivered verbal messages.  There's also just oddness, like the strange gnome merchant who will give you magical items in exchange for random, but sentimental artifacts that you find as you explore.  It was great stuff!

A quiet town...except for the man in the street who
is still twitching from the pitchfork he took to the chest.
So what went wrong?  Well, part of it is just my sensibilities: I'm not a fan of horror, mostly, and I'm not really a fan of Ravenloft for those reasons.  But it's also the case that as the module progressed, it became far more of a hack 'n slashy series of dungeon crawls.  You essentially travel the map, carving up dungeons as you go, fighting off all manner of undead, goblinkin, and other nasties that will invariably ambush you repeatedly both indoors and outdoors.  There were a lot of ambushes: the kind of "Chewie they're behind you!" things where you walk over a floor trigger and a group of monsters spawns right next to the most vulnerable member of your party.  I can deal with this happening occasionally--say once or twice per module.  But it seemed to happen a LOT in this module, and it got old.  Maybe it's because I was playing a ranger (NWN2's "tracking" feature can have some nasty unintended consequences), but I was extremely aware of the monster spawn triggers as I moved through these dungeons, and it really hurt my sense of immersion.  The dungeons could have been a lot better if a bit more history was injected into them, but many of them (as the game went on) were nothing but a place full of monsters and a magic item or two.

Yep...that's a dead woman taking a bath in blood.
On top of that, the combat seemed inconsistent in difficulty.  Some fights were pretty easy.  But others, despite being a fairly minor skirmish, were very difficult.  The final straw, for me, was facing down an undead caster who summoned an elder water elemental as his first action.  The thing carved up my party (my ranger was a decent tank--I pumped his AC as high as I could, and added all kinds of buffing spells to boost it further), and I couldn't figure out a good counter for it.  It was far too high of a level to be susceptible to hold monster, it had no unsummoning spells.  I probably could have come up with something if I kept at it, but I was already pretty frustrated with the module.

Area design is really beautiful.  But with that beauty came a cost: the camera was annoying and very frustratingly obstructed as I worked through the module.  The forest, in particular, was full of these amazing trees...but as a result, I often couldn't see anything on my screen!  It was maddening.  Even some of the dungeons, which are typically cleaner in NWN2, were sometimes full of pillars and such that made it hard to keep an eye on my characters.  

The opening is incredibly cinematic.
So, for now at least, I'm moving on to something else.  I'm glad that I played it and experienced its beginning.  Reading the comments page, it does sound as though the end of the module was a bit rushed anyway, and so I might well have seen the best parts of it.  It's an extremely impressive module...but in the end, it probably was just not for me.

More screenshots below the jump.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Baldur's Gate Reloaded is out!

Guessing, but I think I'm right: Fighting two ogres as the party
approaches the Gnoll Stronghold
Earlier this week, Drew Rechner and Shallina released Baldur's Gate Reloaded.  This NWN2 conversion of the original game has been a recurrent feature on this blog, and I've been following their progress off and on since 2007.  It's amazing to me that 6 years later, the module has finally been released!

They're off to an amazing start, too.  They've gotten just shy of 45,000 downloads since the release, which is nothing short of incredible.  By way of comparison, Trinity, which I just finished and is a very well-regarded module and has been out since 2010, has received 6,199 downloads.  The Maimed God Saga has received over 4,000 downloads.  My own little utility module, the FRW Character Creator, which was released in 2007, and thus available during the height of the NWN2 player community and made the hall of fame, has received a bit over 23,000 downloads.  So...45,000 downloads in a week?  Wow!

A tremendous congratulations to the BG Reloaded team for releasing their game.  Given that I just finished the original a couple of days ago, I'm probably not going to jump right into the game again.  But it might be something that I do as BG2: Enhanced Edition inches toward release. :)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Shaar Moan

My character: level 10 warlock, got about half way to level 11.
Time Played: 2 hrs

Shaar Moan is a pretty fun little module.  It is a basic, unapologetic dungeon delve.  You encounter a man fleeing from authorities along the road, and volunteer to help clear his name by eliminating the undead threat that he inadvertently caused.  There is one outdoor area, and your are instructed upon entering the dungeon that there would likely be three levels.  In fact, you are even told what kinds of enemies (all undead) one should expect to find on each floor.  There is a minor mystery and story underlying the dungeon, and some humorous elements scattered throughout (especially near the end).  It was enough to make it fun.

Combat was generally challenging and fun, if a bit inconsistent.  Perhaps it was due to the specific guard I took along (I took Bruiser), or the fact that I was playing a warlock, but the first floor's combat was the most challenging for my group.  Subsequent floors were far less of a problem.  Every floor featured custom monsters, however, which were varied and interesting.  There were also a lot of loot drops.  In fact, it is something of a monty haul, although I will say that at least all of the equipment is level-appropriate.  There's just a lot of it!

Overall, it was a fun little romp.  My score: 7 - Very good, deserves a look.

Warning: Major spoiler screenshot below the jump!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: Trinity

Welcome to class!
My character: Chellise Patson, level 8 human warlock
My score: 10 - A Masterpiece, Genuinely Groundbreaking

Lord Falconhand of Shadowdale has put out a call for help: a madman bent on putting all of the Dalelands underfoot is seeking untold power in Soloria, the great, abandoned school of wizardry.  You have been chosen, along with four others, to adventure to these lost ruins, put a stop to his ambitions, and secure any artifacts that you find for the greater good of the Dalelands.

So begins a fantastic adventure by E.C. Patterson.  Trinity is, in many ways, a shining example of what the NWN2 toolset can do.  It is a relatively short, but nevertheless extremely satisfying adventure that combines overland adventure and grand combat with a fascinating dungeon delve (or two!).  Throughout the adventure, Patterson combines spectacular visuals and music with excellent pacing to deliver gripping atmosphere. 

Dining hall.  Love the statue work in the background.
The heart of this module is the primary dungeon, which is designed as an abandoned school of wizardry.  It is flat out one of the best dungeons I've ever experienced.  As Tiberius has often said (and in some ways has been echoed by Benoit), the best dungeons have a story of their own.  They're about more than just a death trap for heroes.  They should have their own reason for being.  Abandoned public buildings, or in this case, a school, makes for a really interesting place to adventure.  As you explore, you encounter dining halls, classrooms, libraries, and more.  A real highlight was when one of the undead living there mistakes you for a student.

On top of all of this, the author gives you a lot of meaningful choices throughout the module.  Some of these involve providing different paths to a given destination.  This is done via some wonderful scripting, and sometimes these non-combat challenges are as scary and dangerous as the actual fighting.  In other cases, you get to make meaningful choices that not only can dramatically impact how you experience the module, but they can ultimately lead to very different outcomes to the story.  That several of these choices do not have black and white, "good" or "bad" (or even "lawful" vs. "chaotic") sides makes them all the more enjoyable.

(minor spoiler) Fantastic bit of flavor with the rogue
character as he looks through the abandoned
wine collection
The companions also deserve a mention.  They are each distinctive, and in some ways all of them are both likable and detestable.  With the possible exception of the cleric (who might have been a bit underdeveloped), I really enjoyed that each had his or her own motivation for going on this adventure, all of which play prominently in in the module by the end.  I also liked that, mechanically, none were really outstanding characters.  The fighter for example, brings a 15 natural strength into the module.  This can be boosted by items and leveling, but she's definitely not going to mow down enemies for you--you'll need to provide support.

The combat was fun, and you as the player have a lot of control in how challenging it was.  I opted to play through most of it in "Normal" mode, which allowed for unlimited rest and (of course) no friendly fire on spells.  This didn't make the encounters cake-walks, exactly, but I am sure that it did make them dramatically easier.  I ended up resting 7 times, which I'd guess is more than twice as often as I would have.  Furthermore, I brought an 8th level warlock into the game with me, which was definitely at the high end of what is suggested.  That said, while she was an asset, especially against individual monsters, she did not feel massively overpowered.  Despite all of that, I still had characters knocked unconscious during the game, and combat was exciting enough to get me perked up in my seat on multiple occasions.

Beautifully rendered outdoor environments
Overall, this is a really outstanding module.  It's really a shining example of a beautifully crafted dungeon delve.  It doesn't try to do too much or be too much.  Instead, it focuses on telling a good story and providing an interesting environment in which characters can adventure.  In a lot of ways, if I were to try to write a real NWN2 module, this is exactly the type of module that I would hope to be able to create (and no doubt would fall far short of).  So for that, I'm giving it full marks: 10/10 - A Masterpiece, Genuinely Groundbreaking.

More screenies after the jump...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition

I purchased the original Baldur's Gate shortly after it was published in 1998.  I was in college at the time, and I ended up spending a substantial portion of the following semester battling all manner of denizens along the Sword Coast.  It was my first real exposure to Dungeons and Dragons, and I loved tromping across the countryside, exploring, completing quests, and making enemies explode on critical hits.

I never finished the game, though.  I played it hard and fast, and pushed myself to keep playing as I approached the endgame despite feeling some fatigue with the game.  Just a few short encounters before the final fight with Serevok, I entered The Maze below the Thieves' Guild and ran into a tough encounter with a couple of skeleton warriors.  They were pretty jazzed up skeleton warriors in this case, shooting lighting arrows or somesuch, and were protected by three traps that pulverized me if I tried to rush them (and the arrows killed Imoen when I asked her to disable them!).  The fight was so frustrating that I decided to take a break from the game.  I moved on to Fallout 2 (IIRC), and I never came back to it.** 

**As an aside, and perhaps as a fine demonstration of my relative lack of skill with games and thinking, it didn't occur to me until years later to get those skeletons to chase me back up the hallway.  And yeah, that worked rather well this time around!

Fast forward to 2012, and Beamdog released Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition.  Updated to run well on modern computers, including a very welcome ability to zoom out and see more than the default 640x480 view (I heart this!), I dove back into this adventure when it was released with great zeal.  Now, here it is June, and I finally finished.  Games requiring 100+ hours of time don't fit as well into my schedule as they used to!

My playthrough this time around largely reinforced my opinions of the original game.  It's a great game, and it really shines during the first half to two-thirds of the game when you can spend your time exploring each little area of the sword coast.  It's very free-form, and every area has at least a few simple little quests, mini-dungeons, etc.  I often could work through one area per evening, and it was just a delightful way to spend some gaming time.  The plot is quite good, too--a political and economic scheme that takes on ever deeper, and ever more personal meaning.  I don't remember thinking much of it during my first go-around, but I found it really compelling this time.

I think the game works very well until you finally are able to enter the great city of Baldur's Gate.  ... and at that point, both during this playthrough, as well as in my first time, that's where the game's magic sort of faded.  The city is quite large, but as I explored the city it ended up feeling kind of empty.  There were sidequests all over the place, but somehow they weren't enough to make it all seem to fit together.  The fact that pretty much all of the shops just sold junk didn't help.  Neither did the large wall that ran through the city, which was authentic but nevertheless was extremely frustrating when the area loaded with you on the wrong side of the wall.  Maybe there just wasn't enough fighting, and the XP given for quests just wasn't enough to keep my characters progressing.  I don't know--it's hard to put my finger on what went wrong, but something clearly didn't work for me.

Part of the problem was that by that point, I really just wanted to get on with the story.  As a result, I tried to be pretty direct about my actions at this point. Nevertheless, the story jumps around a bit in this stage in the game, and there were some minor consistency issues which broke the immersion for me (e.g. the fact that there was a huge Iron Circle Headquarters building in the middle of town was awfully surprising--prior to arriving in the city, it was depicted as a secretive organization).

Metagaming!  Don't want to trigger Sarevok's
conversation too soon!
The combat throughout was pretty fun, mostly.  The game is generally pretty easy, but is punctuated by pretty extreme difficulty that seemed to jump up at me unexpectedly in places (see the random skeleton battle mentioned above).  Part of this is the nature of low-level 2nd edition D&D--you get missed a lot, but when you finally get hit it HURTS!  I do think that the final battle to end the game also deserves some mention.  There, in order to make it possible to succeed, I found that I had to do a lot of metagaming: exploring the room step by step, trying to lure enemies one by one, toying with the A.I. to the extent that is possible, etc.  Still, in scouring the #1 piece of information that helped me is this: Sarevok may resist most spells, but he is still susceptible to magic missile.  My fighter/wizard and Imoen provided all of the damage, while Minsc and Ajantis ran around distracting him, engaging and disengaging to keep Serevok busy.  It wasn't very artful or heroic, but it worked.  I don't need the game to reward me for just charging in guns blazing.  Nevertheless, no matter what your strategy, I honestly don't think it's possible to win that fight by engaging in all of the enemies simultaneously as the story would intend.

All in all, though, it was a fun experience to play through BG again.  I don't miss second edition D&D in the least, and I really do think that the game becomes something of a slog from the moment you enter Baldur's Gate.  But the free and open, yet still organized exploration possible in the first half of the game, along with the surprisingly fulfilling plot make this game well worth the play.  I give it a 4/5.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How tough is too tough? Encounter design in 4e

As with the prior article, if you're playing in my RPGX game and would prefer not to have your illusion of immersion damaged, you might not want to read this.  You've been warned!

Recently, I managed my first kill as a DM.  Killing a player is certainly not a goal of mine as a DM, and I felt pretty horrible about it.  In play by post games, in particular, players spend hours crafting not only their character's mechanics, but also their backstories and relationships.  Play by post as a medium is extremely good for encouraging deep roleplaying, and I've been fortunate to have a group of players who enjoy doing just that.  Therefore, it is no small thing to kill off one of their creations.

DnD 4th edition has a reputation as a system in which player death is extremely difficult to achieve.  In fact, the lack of lethality in 4th edition is one of its most common criticisms.  But without intending to do so, I managed to kill off a PC in what was intended to be a pretty uneventful encounter.

In this case, my players were working their way through a small dungeon based on a mini-delve created by Benoit over at Roving Band of Misfits.  They came upon a trapped door.  Without even bothering to check for traps, our party's Skald opened the door, launching a combat as a series of constructs came to life and attacked the party.  The biggest of the constructs rolled high on his damage dice on charge attack against our party's squishy thief, which pushed him just past his negative bloody value.  In one punch, he went from bloodied to dead.

I was pretty sad about this.  Thanks to the player's wonderful efforts to flavor the thief, he had become one of my favorite characters in the game.  And while his death has allowed for some excellent roleplaying opportunities for other characters, I still would probably have rather preferred that it not happen.  The party ended up abandoning the dungeon before they could fully appreciate the story around it, I think it hurt the group's enthusiasm for the game a bit to see that character die in a meaningless sidequest.

In any case, I've been trying to decide if my encounter design is to blame for what happened.  The DM Kit recommends the following distribution of encounter levels during each level:

  • 3 encounters at the party's level.
  • 1 encounter at the party's level - 1
  • 3 encounters at the party's level +1
  • 1 encounter at the party's level +3

Prior to this, I'd given my 1st level party three encounters, which were pegged at level 2, level 4, and level 2, respectively.  The first encounter was pretty easy.  The second was very challenging but do-able, especially because the biggest threat ran away at the end of the combat.  The third was a little scary (due to a lurker), but ultimately was over quickly.

This encounter with the constructs was technically avoidable.  Players could have rolled a series of thievery checks to disable the trap system on the door, though it would take good rolls from their thief to do so.  It was also possible to turn off the constructs with a combination of successful arcana and thievery checks during the combat, and the constructs were also set to reset if the players exited the room the way that they came (they tried neither of those approaches).  Finally, it was the only real encounter I had planned for the entire dungeon, and that the characters were fresh from an extended rest with full resources.  Therefore, given all of this, I pegged it as a level 2 encounter: hopefully challenging, and a punctuation mark on the mini-delve, but very much within their scope.

I only had four monsters to oppose my party of six:

  • 1 Thaalud Constructor (Elite Brute), de-leveled from level 5 to level 4 (350 XP).
  • 3 Iron Defender (Soldier), level 3 (150 XP each, 450 XP total).
  • Total XP budget: 800 XP (level 2 encounter cutoff is 750 XP for a party of six)

This seems pretty reasonable, even in retrospect.  If I made a mistake, it was probably in not de-leveling the Constructor enough.  Taking it down to level 3 would still allow it to be an imposing figure, but he'd have about 20 fewer HP (as an Elite), hit slightly less hard, and have slightly weaker defenses (which were already low--he's a brute).  And given that it was a sidequest, without any real bearing on the main campaign plot, I could have knocked off one of the iron defenders to get it into level 1 encounter territory.

In the end, though, even if I would have done these things, the constructor might still very well have killed the thief.  When you use elites, solos, or lurkers--enemy types designed to make attacks that do the damage equivalent of several rounds or opponents in a single strike--it's pretty easy to kill off a player without intending to do so.  In fact, the same thing almost happened in the prior encounter when I used a level 4 lurker against the party: a character was within 1 or 2 HP of her negative bloody value.  Those things hit hard!

Lessons Learned

It may well be true that 4th edition is less lethal than prior editions of Dungeons and Dragons.  But it certainly is still very possible to kill your players by accident!  When designing combat encounters in the future, I will probably be a bit less aggressive with encounter levels, and will pay more attention to not just the monster XP budget, but also the levels of the individual monsters in the encounter.

Setting a soft limit of party level +2 to the monster level seems like a good rule of thumb (even though I've seen +3 mentioned somewhere--which is what I did with the Constructor).  I'll also probably make plot-irrelevant sidequest encounters be built at the characters' level or lower.  If I'd done two iron defenders and a level 3 Thaalud Constructor, I'd still be at 600 XP (level 1 encounter for a party of 6), and my feeling is that the players would still have felt that it was a fitting challenge in that tomb.

That said, maybe what I did was actually pretty reasonable and I'm just feeling gun-shy!  Combat is supposed to feel scary, after all.  Monsters are dangerous and unpredictable tools for the DM.  The fact that their effectiveness is dictated on the randomness of dice rolls is part of what makes the game exciting to run: even the DM doesn't know how it's going to turn out!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

DMing with Improvisation

Improvisation is a big topic around the online DM community.  It is, for example, a key message from Sly Flourish's latest book, the Lazy Dungeon Master, and is the heart of countless how-to articles on DMing.  Good DMing requires one to take what the players give you interactively to spin a story.  Otherwise, players start to feel railroaded, which can ruin the sense of immersion in a living, breathing world that is so important to making a game work.

I've been DMing a game of my own for the last 6 months or so at RPGCrossing, and while I've been having a great time, it's become increasingly clear how important improvisation is.  As an example, here's a synopsis of what I put together as the opening chapter of my game, which is set in the Nentir Vale.

....If you're one of my players, you might not want to read this.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, and all that. :)

My Anticipated Plan: River Rats Plague Lowtown Fallcrest
  • Amara Azaer hires the PC's as adventurers to solve the problem of an extortion ring in Lowtown, Fallcrest (the default 4e starting town).
  • PC's start poking around Lowtown near the Lower Quays, where a lot of the extortion has been happening.  Get ambushed by gang members, who are simply trying to rob them.
  • A shifter who spies on them during the battle sneaks away, and PC's follow him to the Bluffs on the other side of lowtown where they have a minion-filled battle outside the River Rat's hideout.
  • PC's find incriminating evidence in one of the buildings at the bluffs linking them to Kelson of the Lucky Gnome Taphouse.
  • PC's confront Kelson at Lucky Gnome, have a boss fight, win the day, save the town, and move on to bigger and better things.

What Went Wrong: The PC's Go Off the Rails

After receiving the quest, the PC's decide to bait the thugs by posing as a rival gang at the Lucky Gnome Taphouse.

Are you kidding me?  The very first thing the PC's decide to do is go to the home of the Big Bad?  This was a blast.  Kelson, who was tending bar when the PC's showed up, made some great bluff rolls, and immediately began making plans to deal with the PC's once they arrived.

I also invented a new character, Arya, who was playing dice games (i.e. gambling) in the corner of the room.  She was based on an enemy I'd already planned to feature in the first fight, but she never had any real personality or background before there was a need for her to populate the bar.

Springboarding off of something that one of the NPC's said about the gang potentially having infiltrated the Fallcrest Guard, the PC's took steps to entice crooked guards to show up.  This included recruiting one of my PC's to spread word of a new gang operating in the area among the guard.

I hadn't thought this through when my NPC said it, but I was planning to throw a couple of guards into the final battle to justify that statement.  The PC's really latched onto it, though.  So, I instead opted to create a pair of crooked guards, which I named Horace and Jasper (Jasper was female, though), who promptly showed up at the bar and started harassing the PC's.

I was a little worried about whether it was too convenient that the players' plan would work so well.  But if nothing else, it seemed like a good way to get them out of the bar once the crooked guards left.  This actually worked brilliantly. The thief in the party immediately followed the guards to a safe house that I invented in Lowtown.  After he was subsequently captured, the rest of the party followed, and I had my ambush battle.  

I decided to try to lead the party back to the Lucky Gnome now, with Kelson heading off to the hideout near the bluffs to organize the gang's effort against this new thread.

Rather than head back to the Gnome, the party decided to send Jasper, who they'd captured, to entice her leader...who they had not yet identified as come to the safe house to parlay.

Little did the PC's know--though perhaps they should have guessed--but Kelson already knew what they were up to.  Therefore, rather than show up to have a conversation, Kelson showed up with the full strength of his gang behind him to wipe out the PC's.  This was a tough fight, but it ultimately resulted in Kelson (somewhat controversially...more on that some other time) fleeing once his gang was decimated.

I hadn't planned for the party to meet Kelson until they hit their third battle in the sequence, but the story demanded it.  I also hadn't planned for him to escape, really, but I wanted to get the group out to the bluffs to get access to an optional sidequest that I wanted to be available to them.

Of course, given that they'd already fought Kelson, I needed a new threat at the bluffs.  Therefore, as a means of linking them into the next bit of story, I grabbed an Iron Cicle Spy from the Threats to the Nentir Vale monster manual and placed her in the bluffs.  Unbeknownst to me when I started, it turns out that Kelson was actually in cahoots with the Iron Circle!  What a great segue, right?

Lessons learned

I spent a lot of time planning, write out descriptions, etc, before the game began...and ended up doing almost everything differently.  What began as a simple little sequence of three battles, with a loose story, became much more as we went.  New NPC's emerged out of necessity, and entire links between plot points developed out of thin air.  While there were some issues with execution here and there, on the whole it became a far more interesting experience than the thing that I'd originally planned.  This improvement was a direct result of the players' contributions to the plot, and the reactions required on my end to make it work.

So, for all of my planning, the most useful bits that I came up with in advance were simply who the main bad guys were, and what specifically they'd been up to until the moment the campaign began.  Everything else came down to playing my NPC's as they would behave, given their motivations and what they knew minute by minute.  Fortunately, in a play by post format, I, as the DM, have the time to get my thoughts together so that I can zag when my players zig.  Something like this would be a lot harder to pull off in real time at around a table!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Taric Tannershall, take two: Warpriest of Pelor

This is a revised version of Taric, customized to fit Elwen's version of the DnD Encounters season Beyond the Crystal Cave.  The build is fairly similar, but his background and RP sample is completely revised to fit the campaign.

Character Name: Taric Tannershall
Race: Human
Class: Warpriest of Pelor (could also easily convert him to a paladin (cavalier) if needed, though my preference is the cleric)
Alignment: Lawful Good
Gender: Male

With above-average height and an athletic build, Taric can be an imposing figure. On the battlefield, he radiates the brilliance of his god as he pushes through his foes with sword and shield, clad from head to foot in shining armor. Nevertheless, his facial features are fairly soft, and are punctuated by kind eyes that often set those around him at ease.

Strong, compassionate, forthright, and devout, Taric embodies the teachings of Pelor. Yet while many of the Clergy seek to proselytize at every opportunity, Taric has found that he is far more effective in accomplishing the goals of his god--and in so doing, winning new devotees--by instead leading by example. As a result, he has earned a reputation in the poor districts of Sybaran as a caring man who is willing to help those in need while asking little in return. At times, he is probably a bit too willing to help; in the past, he's found himself manipulated by those who would take advantage of his selflessness.

The Tannershalls are a minor noble house within Sybaran. The excesses of Taric's great-grandfather unfortunately left the family destitute, with few resources beyond the value of their name. This, however, proved enough to help the family get back on its feet. Starting with virtually nothing other than their name, Taric's parents played the politics of Sybaran with great skill. Other houses found that when they need to gather support within the modest noble court of Sybaran, the Tannershalls are often willing to cast their lot to those who can provide them material wealth in return. And by keeping their ears alert to gossip, along with no small amount of guile, the Tannershalls have managed to foil those families who might seek retribution when double-crossed. From an early age, his older brother and sister, Cedric and Dalia, also demonstrated tremendous political competence, and thus house Tannershall is known as a small but rising power.

Taric was the youngest of the family, born a full 10 years after Dalia. While the rest of his family engaged at court, Taric often spent time on the grounds of the local temple. A half-elf priest there named Garren, an extended relative of the Tannershalls and former adventurer, would watch over the boy. Garren played games with him, told him stories, and even taught Taric basic weaponcraft as he matured.

As Taric came of age, he found the life of his family, marked on all sides by the need for political gain, was a poor match of his sensibilities. Indeed, while he had basic competencies in custom and culture, his parents often treated him as a liability, asking that he do little more than smile and nod at social functions. As a result, at 18 years of age, and with his family's blessing, he joined the Priesthood of Pelor.

There, he found his calling. He proved an excellent student of his chosen god, and almost immediately forged a close connection with Pelor. As he completed his studies, he volunteered to work not with the nobility--as he certainly could have done given his connections--but rather to follow Pelor's charge and work instead with the poor. He became a champion on the streets of Sybaran, working with both citizens and the guard to drive out gangs of ruffians and establish social support systems within the city. While he always tried for a diplomatic solution to hostilities on the street, he also was known to accompany guardsmen when they were forced to clear out a den of criminals. Word quickly spread of the young cleric, shining in battle as if illuminated by the Sun, fighting back with divine radiance against those who would take advantage of the downtrodden.

When Count Varis Sybar put out a call for adventurers to help maintain the peace between Sybaran's neighbors, Taric volunteered the next day. There was, of course, still much to do in the slums of Sybaran, and he was reluctant to put that work on hold. Nevertheless, as he believed that Pelor revealed in a dream, war between Crystalbrook and Sildaine's elves had the potential to do great harm to the region. Indeed, were the fighting to spill over into Sybaran's borders, it was the very poor that he'd worked to protect who would suffer the most.

Role-playing sample: 
The moon was still shining brightly in the sky as Taric rose from his bed, a make-shift cot within an equally make-shift house. He looked up at the night sky through a hole in the roof before setting to work. In a small trunk nearby, he collected several small artifacts: a sun-shaped pendant, which he placed around his neck, a book of scripture, and, perhaps the only item he possessed that belied his family heritage, a mechanical timepiece. Those in hand, donned in robe, stepped outside, and climbed a ladder up to the roof.

Gazing about, he could see and smell the slums around him starting to awaken. A trickle of people made their way through the streets: some leaving for the day, others finally returning home. Looking to the east, he could just make out the first hints of dawn. He sat cross-legged upon the roof, left hand grasped around the holy symbol at his neck, and immersed himself in familiar ritual. As the minutes ticked by, he read softly the creed of his god, though he knew it by heart. "I will alleviate suffering wherever I find it, just as sun of mercy shines upon those in need. I will bring Pelor's light into places of darkness, showing kindness, mercy, and compassion. I will be watchful against evil, just as the Lord of Light casts his gaze to the earth throughout the day."

As he completed his prayers, the sun peaked over the horizon. Following custom, he focused just below the horizon, averting his eyes from the power of his god. As he meditated in the glory of the morning light, he had a vision of a great conflict. Elves warred against man, bow against shield, forest against plains. And caught in the fury, he saw the slums of Sybaran burning.

The vision faded as the sun cleared the horizon, leaving Taric to his thoughts. There was still much work to do in the slums. But the announcement of Count Sybar's call for adventurers hung in his mind, as did the image of his town burning. He knew what he had to do.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Harmony Dawnchorus, Pixie Bard

This character is the first that I've ever submitted who did NOT make the cut into the game.  It's been almost a year since I started playing at RPG Crossing (formerly Dungeons & Dragons Online games), so I guess that I was due!  But it probably isn't my best effort...or, at least, not my most compelling hero.  The application was for a Pixie-only game, and pushed whimsy and charm.  I'm sad not to get in..but at the same time, I'll readily admit that I was going to have a hard time executing this character.  She plays pretty far from my strengths.

Character Name: Harmony Dawnchorus
Class: Bard
Role: Leader
Theme and/or Background (if any): Fey Beast Tamer (for both!)

Appearance/Personality: With flaming red hair, pointy ears, glimmering wings, and a radiant voice, Harmony is the definition of charming. Strangely, she seems more or less oblivious to this, content to linger on the periphery of crowds, and rarely taking center stage. She's not shy, really, just blissfully unaware of her gifts and skills--even incredulous of those who would try to convince her otherwise. When she begins to sing, however, all eyes and ears turn to her.

Born the daughter of the renowned pixie minstrel, Sagegrass Dawnchorus, Harmony grew up in the shadow of her two older sisters, Melody and Cadence, who were five and seven years to her senior, respectively. Both were heralded as prodigy musicians, and her father had spent most of her life touring pixie communities and performing, leaving Harmony with extended family.

Her aunt Appleblossom lived near the edge of an enchanted pond, where, among the dragonflies, young faerie dragons darted through the sky, chasing after little bugs, small birds, and each another. Disenchanted with formal musical training, she spent the years prior to this adventure playing among the faerie dragons, and eventually befriended one: a beautiful creature with wings that, when the light passed through them, shone like emeralds. Together, they spent much of a season darting among cattails and sneaking up on frogs. Inspired by her companion, she would often sing nonsensical songs as they played.

As the years went on, she spent more and more of her time with Emeraldwing. At the same time, the ties to her family became more distant, as her father and sisters hadn't returned to visit her since leaving on tour a year before. As she came of age, she began to feel a sense of wanderlust. Time spent exploring the pond and nearby environs with her faerie dragon friend had given her a taste for the adventure that might lie in the world beyond, and she had just begun to seriously consider leaving on a journey of exploration when King Sunfire spread word of his impending proclamation.

RP sample:
Flushed from their race across the waterlilies and glistening in the warm sun, Harmony alighted on a large toadstool. Emeraldwing, her faerie dragon companion, landed next to her with a coo. She laughed merrily as she rubbed the dragon's snout. "Some day I'll beat ya, you cheat!" she teased the dragon, who seemed to chuckle, unfurling the crest behind its head before it shook its head in the negative. She sat back, folding her wings down under her back and resting on her elbows as she gazed into the blue skies above. She sighed. It wasn't really a sigh of contentment, as much as she enjoyed their games on the shores of this pond where she'd grown up.

"You know..." she cooed, as she turned to her companion. "There's some kind of big announcement happening tonight. King Sunfire himself will be speaking. Everyone's talking about it, and rumor has it that it's something to do with the Murkendraw." The dragon shorted derisively as she uttered the name of the cursed swamp. "Yeah, I know. But I think we should go! Who knows? It might be exciting to hear what's going on! Maybe they figured out some way to stop that Rotten Ethel!"

The dragon looked nonplussed at the idea. "Oh, come on you old stodgey-stodge! I hear all the cool pixies and dragons will be there..." The dragon snorted again. Harmony responded by singing a frolicking, playful tune. "Pixies and dragons, fur-balls and wagons, drunkards and flagons, to miss would be an...infraction!" Harmony giggled. "Oh, I know it doesn't work! I'm just playin'" The dragon seemed to chuckle a bit, before lowering it's head, almost in a shrug. "So you'll come with me? Oh great! We haven't been to town in AGES!" With that, she pulled grabbed hold of the dragon's front legs, flapping rapidly up and pulling the beast along with her. "Let's go!" she called, letting go of her friend and taking off for town.

Why you want to play this game: I've wanted to experience this adventure ever since I saw it in Dungeon. I really only gave it an overview, and don't remember specifics. I don't think that I know anything that would spoil it for me or for anyone else. I'm pretty good about avoiding metagaming.

Notes on the build:
* I've built her as a "Cunning Bard," and as such there is some off-turn movement stuff that we'd need to talk about during combat. Virtue of Cunning, in particular, is a power that lets me slide an ally 1 square when they are missed by an enemy attack. I think we can coordinate that to keep it from being disruptive--maybe even let you make the decision about where they shift if you feel that you can do that--but it is something that could potentially slow the game down. Similarly, Majestic Word allows me to slide an ally 1 square with a heal. If they are going to have input on where they slide to, it could slow things we might have to all make some decisions in advance to try to coordinate this.

I could potentially go a different route with her build, but I don't see her as a weapon user unless she has to be. But singing songs and shooting some kind of pixie/bard magic with her wand? Yep, that fits.

* She's a fey beast tamer, but I'd like to reflavor the displacer beast as the faerie dragon. It can work exactly the same way as written, mechanically. But my preference would be to make two changes if you're up for it. 1) make it tiny instead of medium sized, and 2) allow it to fly (same height restrictions as pixie flight). But if you're not comfortable with that, I can run it exactly as described in the rules. Maybe the dragon hurts its wing or something so that it can't fly.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Character: Pery Clearlight, Warlock (Hexblade), Dead Rat Deserter

Here's another character app for a game that fizzled before it get started.  I really like this one.  I'd just read Erik Scott de Bie's Shadowbane at the time I wrote this, and used that book to frame his background.  The game was to be set in the Neverwinter 4e campaign setting, and I think would have been a lot of fun.  I may hang onto him and submit him for the next Forgotten Realms game I see that seems to have promise.

And yes, I know, another character who has lost his parents.  But when you're born in Luskan and fall into the Dead Rats, that's almost a given, isn't it?

NamePery Clearlight
Gender: Male
Race: Halfling
Class: Warlock (Hexblade: Fey Pact)
Theme: Dead Rat Deserter
Role: Striker

Physical Description and Personality: Small, even by Halfling standards, Pery stands just shy of four feet tall, with a mop of dark brown hair that he keeps tucked under his trademark green checkered cap. Nevertheless, he exudes a combination of delightful charisma and bravado that many find charming. While his language betrays his upbringing on the chaotic streets of Luskan, and his blue eyes tell of an eventful life, he nevertheless manages to portray himself as pleasant and, when circumstances allow, almost happy-go-lucky individual.

Background: Pery was born on the streets of Luskan. He doesn't know much about his parents. He has blurry memories of his mother from early in his childhood--one night, she just didn't come home--and he knows nothing of his father. From an early age, he had to make his own way. Even his last name is his own design--he borrowed it, as he'd "borrowed" many things in his life--from a temple dedicated to Tymora in southeast Luskan.

If one is to survive on the streets of Luskan as a child, one has little better prospects than to fall in with one of the local street gangs. For Pery, that was the Dead Rats. By age 10, he was scrubbing the floors at the Drowned Rat Tavern, and by his late teens he'd graduated to the role of a minor thug within the gang. His days were filled with the usual: extortion, theft, bullying, and so on.

He continued to move up through the ranks, and his prowess with his words and blade eventually caught the eye of Toytere: King Toy, the captain of the Dead Rats. In a ceremony in the dead of night, Toytere infected Pery with lycanthropy, granting him admission into the inner circle of the gang--an honor shared by only 20 others.

Gang life wore on Pery, though. While he enjoyed the mayhem and intrigue that went with the job, the brutal reality of the enterprise was a poor match for his sensibilities. He'd pulled himself up by his bootstraps with no small help from Lady Luck. But his duties to the gang required that he erase the limited opportunities of others.

One night, Pery was ordered to conduct an assassination. It would be his first, and success would undoubtedly raise his stock even further within the gang. Nevertheless, the target was guilty of little more than the loss of a small treasure when he was ambushed while serving as a courier. When Pery arrived at his target's house, the man, his wife, and his children were eating what passed as dinner. Pery just couldn't do it. Instead, he helped the family escape from town in the dead of night. Just as they were about to clear the walls, a group of Dead Rats jumped them. Pery held them off long enough for the family to flee--they were headed north toward Ten Towns--but the halfling was overmatched.

It's hard to explain what happened next. One moment, he was diving back, fleeing from the Dead Rats' enforcer as she spun her horrible axe toward his skull. The next, he was on his back in the snow. It was summertime in Luskan, so he knew that something unexpected had happened. Furthermore, as he sat up, he saw no signs of his former allies; just a cold, vibrant, frost-covered forest.

What happened next? That's something that Pery doesn't talk much about. It is clear that he entered into a pact with a powerful entity of some sort in that forest. And with that pact, he received a new set of powers, including a rapier covered in frost that he can summon into his hand at will, humming and quivering with energy. With those powers, of course, came equally powerful commitments.

After the deal was made, his patron returned him to Faerun, though fortunately a bit further to the south, near Port Llast. From there, he made his way to Neverwinter, joined an adventuring guild, and had begun to carve out a minor niche for himself as someone who could get things done. It was in this capacity that he received the summons from Belias Grigor, requesting his aide in an act of community service.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Character: Taric Lansing, Undead Hunter Warpriest

It's been a while since I posted one of these (or anything else) around here.  But I've put together a few more character applications since the last one I posted, several of which were for games that never went anywhere.  Here's one.  I kind of dig this guy, and would still like to play him at some point.  It seems like no one wants to play clerics in 4e now that there are so many other options for healer-style characters, but I see a lot of possibilities with this guy.  He is modeled a bit after my priest of Tyr that I played in Tiberius's fantastic Maimed God's Saga.

Name: Taric Lansing
Class: Cleric (Warpriest), Sun Domain (Pelor).
Race: Half-Elf
Alignment: Lawful Good
Age: 34


A half-elf, Taric possesses the prominent, strong brow and dark eyes of his of his noble human father, as well as the striking cheekbones of his elven mother.  In battle, he wears a suit of polished scale armor, and wields a longsword along with a shield embossed with the six-pointed Sun of Pelor.  His enemies would see him as a beacon of terrible light, annihilating enemies with his glowing sword while channeling divine energy aide to his allies.

For all his wrath, Taric is an amicable and engaging companion.  The arrogance that might come with his noble upbringing is tempered heavily by the recognition that he has no official place in what he considers his family.  Taric is a man who takes Pelor's teachings to heart, and is a generous friend to those who need his help.

His crusade against undead, however, has become an obsession in recent years.  While he serves as required by his superiors in the church, he believes that Pelor has commanded him to dedicate his life to purging the scurge of undead from the world.  In truth, he rarely seems satisfied in other pursuits.


Taric is the son of Edmond Lansing, the human noble lord of Lansing Keep.  The Lansings have a proud and rich tradition, and are known as benevolent, responsible leaders with an impeccable reputation for responsibility.  It was surprising, then, when Taric was introduced, for his mother was not Edmond's wife, Lady Cassandra Lansing.  Rather, she was an elven commoner by the name of Calya Casernia.

While many men might shirk from their duty, Edmond accepted the boy into his family and raised Taric as his third son.  The boy proved up to the task; despite never being completely accepted by his half-brothers and their mother, he took to the Lansing family traditions well.  He displayed tremendous skill in weapon instruction, and from an early age also demonstrated a remarkably close relationship with Pelor.

As he came of age, it became clear that the boy needed a place in the world.  As a bastard child, he was not eligible for a lordship.  Given the boy's relationship with Pelor, Edmond turned to the church, and it was with the clergy that Taric found his home.

Taric proved to be a tremendous asset to the church.  While the disciples of Pelor seek to bring kindness and compassion to those who suffer, they stand tall against evil.  And this is where Taric made his mark.  His combination of martial skill and his close connection with Pelor allowed him to be a powerful weapon against those who opposed the church violently.  Through the years, he has specialized in combating undead, which he views as the antithesis to Pelor's holy light.  When the people of Marin appealed to the church of Pelor for assistance in their time of need, speaking of strange creatures kidnapping victims in the night, Taric seemed a clear choice for the job.