Saturday, May 22, 2010


This post is a diversion from my previous posts about my campaign ending or about the creation of a new campaign. Instead, I'm going to write about the fact that this evening, I played Quidditch from the Harry Potter books with my wife and daughter. My daughter (age 6) is currently having the Harry Potter books read to her. She is loving them. She has always enjoyed pretend and the recent requests to have us join her in playing Hogwarts-pretend have been incessant and the pace of our consent has not matched her desires. Last week she said, "Why don't you want to play pretend?" I responded, "Well, your pretend isn't very challenging for me". As the week went on, that answer gnawed at my brain. Really. I play RPGs for crying-out-loud what is that except pretend? So I looked up RPGs for kids and found a few fun links but the one that caught my daughter right away was Broomsticks. This evening, I downloaded the game, slapped together a quick revision of the rules in Fudge and created characters with my wife and daughter. I modified the Quidditch rules from the books in a few ways to keep things more manageable.

First, I reduced the team size to four. One seeker, one beater (down from two), one chaser (down from three), and one seeker per team. I also reduced the number of bludgers from two to one.

Second, I knew that I'd need to simplify the flying. I didn't do anything to track altitude. You could go over or under an opponent and at times I described players as dropping to the ground to pick up the quaffle but this was all flavor text and not in the mechanics. To track movement I created an arbitrary rule that Fair movement was 1/2 of the length of the table. Since I have an expanding table (with a beveled line separating the leaves) this made it easy to measure using string held and nocked in the bevel. For every step above fair I added 6 inches to the character's string. The strings were tied to each mini to show how far it could move each round. If I felt the maneuver was delicate like a sudden start and stop, a tight loop, or weaving through the goal posts, I made the character roll versus their flight skill. The table (round) also served as our pitch where I placed improvised Quidditch goal posts I made out of Tinker toys, pipe cleaner, and straws. A dime was the quaffle, a penny the snitch, and a tinker toy end cap the bludger.

Third, I decided what you could do in a turn. This was pretty simple, one move (up to your string length) and one action (search for the snitch, catch the snitch, catch the quaffle, steal the quaffle, throw the quaffle, block the quaffle, beat the bludger, or check an opponent). No double moves, no double actions.

Fourth, I just created a turn order that made intuitive sense. Bludger, snitch, seekers, chasers (if the quaffle was loose, I moved it on their turn too), keepers, and beaters. Each turn I just let our Ravenclaw team go first (if we wanted this to be more complicated we could have allowed for an opposed flying skill but I just kept it fast and simple). On the bludger's turn it could move toward the closest player(s). If it moved close enough to touch a player, it rolled its fair bludger skill against the difficulty of their athletics. I could have made it more complicated and made the roll opposed (or used the dodge skill in the rules) but this was fast and fun so we didn't worry about that. The Bludger could keep on moving after hitting one player to try to hit another character in line, or try to circle back and hit the same one with a fair or better roll. The snitch wasn't on the table until seen by the seekers. They spent most of the first two rounds trying to stay away from the bludger and chasing after one another. The chasers made opposed rolls to grab the quaffle, or to steal it from one another. If a chaser threw the quaffle at the goal, the keeper's turn came next who had to get close enough to attempt and then also try to block the quaffle. If the keeper missed, the chaser had scored a point. The beaters came next they attacked the bludger in turn trying to hit it and whack it toward the opponents or just away from their team. A greater beater roll v. the bludger's fair difficulty would send it flying (up to 1/4 its string length on a fair, 1/2 on a good, 3/4 on a great, etc.) closer to and possibly hitting an opponent. Then we started at the top the next round.

We had a blast. We played for about 45 minutes and about 5 turns before my daughter's character got the snitch (a little too easy compared the to description in the book but perfect for a 6 year old). Her character was aptly buffed by my newly minted powergamer with "Born to Fly" though it was a close call for her between that and "Allure". I might make some adjustments for the next time we play like quick game rules, long game rules, but these worked alright and they were fun. You'd be surprised how quickly the powergaming instinct set in. When I told her the best broom her family could afford was a Clean Sweep 5 (the Clean Sweep 7 gives a bonus to fly skill) she started pestering my just like my best powergamers from my last D&D sessions when I turned down uber powered items for them.

This was definitely the planar collision of gamer and papa nirvana.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Creating the Final Battle: Plot

Finishing this series of entries, I'm going to explain some of the plot elements in the final battle as they relate to each of the PCs. My thinking is that each character should have something on the line in the final battle so the player is really invested. I'll start with the least developed character.

The player of the wizard makes almost zero distinction between himself and his character. Beyond a vague physical description (which was essentially, "Me but taller") there was no character background for his character. He has said little ever about character goals. But he has been somewhat loot driven and responded a little to magic items placed specifically for his character directly. Here are the three elements that I included which I thought would appeal to his character. First, the loot on the "lackey behind the bad guy" is a pile of wands. This won't motivate him to get into the combat but will motivate him during the combat. Second, the characters have been offered a large sum of 200,000 GP (far above that expected for the level) if they kill the Lord of the Blades. The player's response was one of the few times that he was clearly in character, "Sweet, I'm gonna build a tower." Third, one path to the final combat or an epilogue following shortly after the combat is a trip to one of two creation forges created by the Lord of the Blades. In this forge, he will quickly discern that in addition to runes of artifice and creation, there are also planar runes. I'll describe the forge in something like the following terms, "It is a working marvel of arcane and planar knowledge that could expand your knowledge of both domains far beyond your current levels". These three hooks will hopefully give him something memorable for the end of the campaign.

The player running the cleric character is new to the group. He has done a reasonable job playing up the ethos and keeping others from performing unjust actions. His attendance is difficult to count on but I've planned a few elements to tie in for his character. Some will be larger if he is there and smaller if he isn't. Two sessions ago I gave the cleric a vision of his god while preparing his spells for the day. The major D'oh! moment that session was that the player wasn't there the session but I still played it up taking the spot light away from the PCs who were there. There will be a brief reprise of that vision and the sense of embodying his God during the final battle as he gains the ability to cast Conjuration [Healing] subtype spells even though they are in the Mournland. Second, presuming a victory, he will have converts to the Sovereign Host. Third, an NPC who guides the players to the final battle will also be a cleric and appeal to his sense of justice to expand on the explanation of the need for the Lord of the Blades to be killed.

The ranger is played by the player who usually excels at roleplaying and tends to be much less crunch driven than the others. He was absent a couple of sessions due to work commitments and I realized in planning the final battle that I hadn't included enough elements in the entire campaign that utilized the back story he wrote for his character. So, I read his back story again and have included a couple of guards near the final battle that are his first favored enemy type (which ties in with his back story). The character also has a distinguishing facial feature (CHA:6=uuuugly) and a world view that anyone who treats him badly about it is a bad person. So, the BBEG and lackey will definitely taunt him about this feature. In addition, a captive I'll describe in the next paragraph will respond positively to the character despite his ugliness if they free her and that character is still alive.

The rogue is played by the fiancee of the warforged member of the party. She is a member of House Orien and a dragon marked heir. Her mother has figured prominently in earlier sessions. About 5 or 6 sessions ago, I gave the party an opportunity to find out that the rogues' mother had been kidnapped by the Lord of the Blades and brought to the Mournland as a direct result of hiring the party for earlier missions. The players didn't get curious enough to find this out but I'll be giving them the information as they go through the dungeon crawl on their way to the final battle. If that doesn't intensify the conflict enough, I'm putting a public execution of said mother as the precipitating event for the final battle. The rogue will be invested at that point if not before.

I've saved the central character for last. The character is a warforged, fighter 6/ranger 1. He was at first very reluctant to fight against his own people on this mission until he learned what the Lord of the Blades was doing to his people. Now he is facing this mission as regrettable but necessary. The roleplaying scene between this character and warforged refugees who has escaped from the Lord of the Blades was some of the best roleplaying of the entire campaign. He even took a level of ranger so that he could get Favored Enemy: Warforged specifically for fighting against the Lord of the Blades. So, his investment is a little bit of a given. I've got a couple of scenes to characterize more concretely the cruelty of the Lord of the Blades even against warforged as the PCs get closer to the final battle. There will be some pre-encounter indications from NPCs that there is hope that cutting down the villainous leader will be liberating for the warforged who remain. And, if all goes well (and I hope it does, and I'm the GM so I can help it go well) he will be named the new Lord of the Blades when he and the party defeat the Lord of the Blades and he'll have the capacity to use negotiation to turn back the army sent to destroy Forge. This will, I think, be a surprising but also happy ending for him despite some of the tragic elements that will also come from their victory.

I hope that these 2-3 ties per character will help make the Final Battle thrilling and enjoyable for the players. The purpose of this series of posts is to expose all of the elements of the Final Battle. I'm posting them now to enhance the learning that I gain from this experience because when I do the postmortem after the last die roll, I can review which element(s) did and didn't work and consider how I can enhance my planning for future campaign endings.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Second to last session?

I'm putting the series about Creating the Final Battle on hold for this post as I discuss our gaming session from Saturday. This session was a lot of fun but it was also a reminder of the reasons that I am looking for some new gaming experiences in the near future.

The best thing about this session was that every player was able to attend. We caught those who were absent up on the events from the last session and they began exploring the monastery. Two of the players were convinced that there was "loot" in the well from the tentacle monster that had attacked them in the last session. I had forgotten about this conviction when planning for the session so while they discussed amongst themselves how to get down the well, I hunted for some magic items to put in a pile. As they explored I improvised a magic device that held a water elemental in place to pump water up from the water table up into the well shaft. They eventually decided not to pursue the contents of the well after encountering the water elemental's power (I'm not really sure why) but by the time they had gotten that far, I had already planned to have a water troll guarding the player created loot pile.

The players seemed to enjoy the search process. Which makes that part of the session a success in my mind. However, this is the kind of thing that doesn't really make GMing a lot of fun for me. Generating loot, figuring out how much to allow without unbalancing the party for their level, finding an encounter that they can tackle. Too many of these are calculations or looking up tables. D&D lends itself to this kind of thinking for the players and the GM. Because the balance of these elements is so precarious, you can't really tinker with them without risking major consequences to what would otherwise be some of the more useful aspects of that game like Encounter Level calculations.

Later in the session, the players successfully avoided being led into a trap. Some warforged scouts were set up near the monastery the players were hiding in. If the players had approached the scouting party straight on the scouts would have run and pursuing PCs would have been led into an encounter with a Cadaver Collector. This CR12 monster is far beyond the capabilities of the party so the marker for success for the encounter was escaping alive. The players were smart and looped around to approach the trap from the north instead. This meant their ranger who was scouting ahead spotted the Cadaver Collector first and had ample opportunity to warn the party (the wizard was able to identify it) and they swiftly used every means of running away they could. I debated having the party encounter the warforged scouts first even though the PCs came from the north. However, I decided to let them experience an easier encounter because they had planned well.

This was one experience where I felt that I had really done a good job of managing the game well. As the party split into 3 groups (Dimension Door and two people flying in opposite directions) to get away from the Cadaver Collector, plus managing where the Cadaver Collector was on the ground, where each of the warforged scouts was on the ground, and who might be able to see whom from where, I created a small excel spreadsheet which provided each group of characters an (x,y) grid with the point from which the PCs started being (0,0). Then I just marked for each set of moves how many squares north or south and how many east or west. It ended up being fairly easy.

These two encounters were the whole of the roleplaying (or is that rollplaying in this case?) for the evening and we spent the next 3 hours with the players leveling up their character to level seven and acquiring the magic items to complete the final mission. Though now that I think about it, I realize that at the group's regular pace, we may have more than one session left.

The process of acquiring magic items stunk for me. It required many metagame conversations with the players to explain things that I had given in game reasons for. I also had to repeat myself several times about why I was letting them acquire items now and how much they could acquire. I also had to say "no" several times which I tend not to enjoy as a GM. A couple of the players were asking for magic items that would be very unbalancing for every remaining encounter (like weapons with the bane versus warforged special ability). These metagame discussions bog me down. As I said to one of the players that gave me a ride home, "Those aren't the kind of conversations that I'm most interested in as a GM."

All that remains in the campaign is a short dungeon crawl through tunnels, an encounter with an NPC that I anticipate will be fun, and the Final Battle.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Creating the Final Battle: Terrain

Continuing the series on Creating the Final Battle, I'll now cover terrain. Some of the most memorable battles I've been in as a player involved some interesting terrain or sets. A massive battle in a church deep under water, a tower battle where the goal was to get to the top but the foe could jump off the walls at will, exploring an underwater cavern with time distortion bubbles located randomly here and there. So in preparing this final battle I tried to think of a set that might be memorable. Here are the elements that I have settled on.

The Ground

I have been really drooling over some of the scenery created by gaming companies like WorldWorksGames and Fat Dragon Games. But frankly, my budget doesn't allow for that kind of extravagance very often. Well, never for World Works Games. I have bought some things from Fat Dragon Games and have been very happy with their materials. But I decided to take a little DIY attitude to creating this scenery. I started by trying rough sketch pictures. The next step was to try a 3D model in 1/4 inch grid paper. I then created a larger pattern in 1 inch grid paper which I use for most of my campaign session maps.

I traced the pattern on foam board which I bought for $5.99 at Michael's. I made sure the model fit together then proceeded to use MSPaint to alter pictures of stone work ground and screen shots of a wall from a Fat Dragon Games module to fit the size requirements. You really don't need a fancy and expensive Photoshop program to do to most of what you need (no matter what others say). With a little Aileen's tacky glue, I glued the pictures to the foam board. Don't use too much glue because it will warp the larger pieces of the foam board a little.

Something was still missing. I found a High Elf Watchtower for free at One Monk Miniatures. This fits perfectly into the scene. The Lord of the Blades will start up top. His lackey will start in the tower shouting to the crowd. The PCs may enter from several different locations but I think the most likely is the side of the stage opposite the tower depicted in the picture below.

Now I'm also working on a second possible scene, if the players don't follow the trail of bread crumbs, I can imagine that they'll try to

Here is the final result:

The Weather

In addition to just the ground, I'm also working out some details for random low level weather spell effects as a sort of storm of living weather spells. For example, I may randomly roll for a direction and strength of the wind, plus spell effects like obscuring mist and fog cloud form the PHB and Breathe of the Jungle, Cloud Burst, and Binding Winds from the Spell Compendium. Note that none of these deal direct damage but only inhibit movement, vision, ranged attacks, or saves. That's the point, just to make things a little more challenging, complicated, and hopefully memorable. At this level I don't think any of these 1st and 2nd level spells will alter the course of the battle much but may cause some major annoyance. Plus these effects will apply equally to the bad guys and the good guys for what I hope will be a net zero effect on the combat.

NPCs as Terrain.

In addition to these elements, keep in mind that in front of the first tier, there is a large crowd of warforged citizens rooting the Lord of the Blades on. This set is really an amphitheater. If a PC fall off the first tier, they will be surrounded by warforged and some warforged by be throwing rocks (for minimal damage if any), shouting curses and epithets, and generally seeming to be unruly and threatening.

I'm hoping the three elements of ground, weather, and NPCs will make fighting a combat in this final battle interesting and memorable.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Creating the final battle: Foes

The next three posts are about the build toward the final battle in my campaign. I'm writing them before the battle takes place and may offer comments on each after the battle to talk about the difference between what I anticipated and how it actually turned out. In this post, I'll discuss the foes. In subsequent posts, I'll discuss terrain and plot.

I've got the BBEG: The Lord of the Blades.

The character is significantly altered from source books. I started with the idea that the Lord of the Blades should wield two blades. I tested several different builds that would lead to a dual wielding Blackguard and eventually settled on Ranger 6, Blackguard 4. Did you know that of the standard classes, Ranger offers the fastest path to the prerequisites for Blackguard? I would have thought fallen Paladin but Hide prerequisite gets in the way. Anyway, I kept crunching the encounter with the Encounter Calculator and trying to weigh it against my PCs who are finding most encounters too easy. I decided to aim for an Overpowering encounter for the final battle. After factoring all of the other elements, I decided that adding the Spell Warped template would still work.

I've got the lackey behind the bad guy.

For this role, I created a wand wielding artificer with a secret or two up his sleeve. The players may dismiss him in the first few rounds of combat while he talks to the crowd for up in a tower otherwise removed from the battle. He'll be using his wands to protect himself during that time. If they all out assault, they'll have to fly to the tower and he has some antiflier defenses. This guy is inspired by Grima Wormtongue from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. He has some power himself but was most dangerous for how he influenced the Lord of the Blades. . . but if the PCs fail to deal with him while he protects himself, he'll begin dishing out a lot of damage and battle influence around round 3 or 4.

I've got cannon fodder.

I have created two beefed up Iron Defenders as companions for the Lord of the Blades. I took a little creative license with them. The Eberron campaign setting says that they fight "for their creator". I interpreted that loosely by saying to myself that the creators of the iron defenders order the iron defenders to protect the Lord of the Blades. Their main purpose on the battle field is to flank anyone attacking the Lord of the Blades (allowing him to use his sneak attack) and or grapple a magic user or rogue still on the ground. I don't anticipate that they will affect the battle very much at all but they serve an important distraction role.

I've got witnesses.

The background for the combat is that the Lord of the Blades has formed a city named Forge in the Mournland. He then sent many small units to attack Breland (there's a good reason but not necessary for this explanation). Thrane, Zilargo, Breland, and Aundair are afraid of this show of force so joined together to stop the Lord of the Blades. The siege army is at the walls of the city. However, attacking a well fortified city is challenging. With human inhabitants they would wait a few weeks to weaken the defenders. But how do you weaken a city where the inhabitants don't eat, sleep, breathe, or eliminate waste? Moreover, how do you feed your army and keep up morale when living spells wander the terrain. So the PCs have been sent in as a last ditch effort to try to decapitate the leadership before the army will try to scale the walls. The Lord of the Blades knows about the party entering the city and has planned for them. He has gathered as many citizens as possible to a public address area where he intends to kill the PCs in a morale boosting show of warforged superiority. So, the third foe is the crowd watching the battle. In a way, they could have been described under terrain. If the PCs get too close to the crowd the crowd may try to grapple them. Of course the farther from the crowd the closer to the Lord of the Blades. A random spell caster or two may try to counterspell the wizard (to no effect other than the generation of fear in the PCs). And, the crowd will be cheering, booing, and throwing a few things randomly with very low damage. There will also be a few warforged who will be rooting for the PCs so a fireball aimed at the crowd would be morally questionable. The main purpose of the crowd is to add tension and stakes to the fight. Win and the warforged army looses morale or maybe even tears itself apart. Lose and they will be emboldened, the tempering few will lose heart.

I've got the heroes.

The PCs will all be 8th level at the final battle. They are as follows:
1. The main dramatic lead is a warforged fighter with Monkey Grip and a large battleaxe. He is hoping to save his people from becoming a feared reviled race.
2. I've got a dragon marked rogue. She doesn't know it because they didn't investigate some things earlier but her mother was captured by one of the warforged parties that entered Breland. Her level of investment will intensify once she learns this getting to the final battle.
3. An amoral wizard. The player doesn't care much about plot but he'll be very interested in how to stop the artificer and get his loot.
4. A cleric. This player has only been coming to every other session. I added a vision from his God in the last session to increase his investment in this conclusion. His God told him that the character would be able to cast healing "when he needs it most" which the players presume correctly will be the final battle.
5. An archery track ranger. This player has been gone for some sessions due to work commitments, the character is interested in just doing the right thing.