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4E Road of Chain's Campaign


D&D 4th Edition (and Beyond)

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Sebastrd wrote:
I'm enjoying this thread, and would just like to encourage you to keep it up. Thanks. :)

Thanks - I like the encouragement. I also really like talking about any D&D campaign I'm running and the issues that it has posed. It often feels as if 4E in particular benefits from that. In a lot of ways 4E 'feels' like some kind of independent game (one influenced by stuff like Spirit of the Century) that had massive corporate backing so there is often lots of interesting elements to talk about where things are different from what I initially expected based on 30 years of playing D&D.


Welcome to my (mostly) Dark Fantasy World
So my homebrew is meant to be Dark Fantasy - has always been that way since I originally designed the first iteration when I was 14. What is interesting here is how well I have been able to get that point across in this campaign when compared to my previous campaigns. I think that 4E has made this more possible in a number of ways but three that come to mind at the moment are:

Global Feel: I've mentioned repeatedly how easy it is to use the minion rules to give allies to Team Good. Simple to run and yet still fairly effective due to the fact that you don't really have to track them. If they take a hit they die but their attacks and Defenses are reasonable. So they definitely contribute without being a lot of paperwork. This has allowed me to have the PCs be in a significant number of situations where they are not alone in the encounter but are something of the star of the show in an encounter with a bunch of allies...the militia or arriving watchmen in a crisis etc. The result is a kind of expansion of scope in the kinds of encounters I run - in particular having the PCs be part of the group holding a key outpost during an attack and such. From a campaign perspective its easier to run story's putting players in the middle of the big events of history - not just the strike group that is after the BBEG but scenes that convey why such a strike group will be needed.

Sandbox Skill System: The design of the game to facilitate having player operate well both in and out of combat automatically (for the most part - dex based PCs have issues here) has really encouraged me to make longer and larger elements and scenes that don't focus quite so much on getting to the action despite the fact that my players really like combat. That they are all engaged in the build up helps to convey the larger issues of the world and the skill system is so versatile that you can - if you want - have a pretty open ended element to all of this...with the big caveat that 4E really rewards well designed combats once it comes to a fight...so the DM has to be essentially avoiding combat except at pre-designated points where he has put in all the work to make a great combat scene.

The Power System: One of the interesting elements of the power system is how impactful it is when you do custom design a PC something. The whole narrative basis to the game means that when you want to convey to a player what they are getting when they fall to the dark side you can make them special unique powers that deliver that message. The conceit that everyone is unique really allows the DM to highlight what is uniquely important about a PC that has turned toward evil. In my case its all about handing out specially crafted Pact Boons to that PC...though the well crafted encounter specific powers I gave one PC when he sacrificed a human to his Goddess in the evil temple conveyed the message strongly as well. The fact that powers are unique to each class makes highlighting elements for a specific player for story reasons much easier.

In a previous campaign in 3.5 I gave a PC a baby dragon familiar but once you slot everything into the rules it seemed to loose something and eventually the player chose to slot out the dragon for a better feat...since giving a player a dragon familiar in 3.5 was just a story element behind more or less forcing a PC to take the dragon familiar feat. In an interesting way what I found with 4E is that, while I love the games balance, I also love my ability to scew with that balance via customization.

In fact I plan to give the party (and really one PC in the party) a companion in the near future but that companion is unique to the character and the party - its not a trade off for improved defences or some such.

On a side note in this department the player is a pixie but a kind of hard drinking, gambling sort of pixie. The companion I have worked out for him should provide some fun as its essentially a fey magic pixie horse but the really good kind...I've actually been watching episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to get the personality down...I essentially plan on giving the player a My Little Pony for his 'pixie warhorse'. Should cause quite the stir for my 40 year old male player! I can't wait to see the look on his face or the ribbing he gets from the rest of the group when they figure out its a My Little Pony.


Trying to find the Balance for in Combat Skill Challenges

So the last encounter my players went through I finally set up a scene that I think of as being kind of quintessential 4E. Pretty much a scene where the players need to make some kind of a trade off between using their skills in combat to accomplish something and also deal with some kind of monstrous threat.

In my scene the players are fleeing a city that has become a death pyre due to minotaur invasion and they have been moving along the bottom of an aqueduct with a bunch of refugees in tow when they get to the outer walls of the city and realize that the way is blocked by closed sluice gates.

Two ways the PCs can proceed - use mechanics atop the walls to open the sluice gates or ferry the refugees up and over the walls with ropes and such. No matter what they do the encounter starts with three minotaurs on the map and another one arrives every round so they need to pull something off before they all die from being overwhelmed.

In the case of my PCs they decide to operate the sluice gates which are a 6 before 3 skill challenge with mostly easy DCs. In terms of tempo and such it works pretty well...though I realize just how much help the PCs had from their minion allies in previous encounters as I rate this one as pretty easy and they just about get slaughtered by the arriving minotaurs.

The real problem is that the PC using the machine every round (and eventuality there are two of them working on it) don't really get the kind of excitement that I was hoping for. The PCs trying to keep the minotaurs off them are having a really exciting time - they have an interesting challenge but the PCs that pretty much have nothing to do on their turn but make a few skill checks are pretty bored.

I made the checks require standard actions in this encounter and I don't think I'd do that again - in future a move or minor action would be more appropriate. The downside is that the PCs cease to have to make the same kind of meaningful choice between fighting and working on the Skill Challenge. I can't really stop that result without conceding that I'm making the encounter less fun (the wrong answer) but I can make it so that there are monsters that have some way of pulling PCs off the machines and at least leave the PCs with some dilemma's regarding how to interact with the skill challenge while their are baddies that make that difficult.


Some thoughts on 4E Monsters
Been thinking about this a bit recently. Pretty much initially because I wanted an encounter where the PCs are ambushed in the street and it initially made sense to have the group that wants the hit to get Zyrog (of Age of Worms fame) to do it.

The problem here is that Zyrog would either use Doppelgangers or Dark Elves. I want that to be true because my players may well one day play through Age of Worms - it'd likely be the next campaign I run when my turn to DM rotates in again. Its important to me that the campaign world is consistent in this way from campaign to campaign.

That brings me to the problem. Dark Elves are too high level, and there is no way in hell I'm de-leveling Dark Elves. They are just perfect as low paragon creatures. They kick major ass but they are not gods. Making lower level Dark Elves cheapens the concept...I won't do it.

OK so that leaves Doppelgangers...the problem is 4E Doppelgangers suck. I used them when I ran my newbs through the first third of Age of Worms and encountered them again as a player when we did 2/3rds of Scales of War and in both cases they where lousy monsters. They are just boring. Pretty much they are just humanoids that usually get one attack and maybe have some psuedo doppelganger trick that is itself not very interesting.

This got me to thinking about why it is that Doppelgangers suck - I mean lots of monsters only pretty much do one thing and they don't suck. The answer, I think, is because monsters need to be designed to handle the role they are likely to play in an encounter. An Ogre should be a pretty simple monster most of the time - bag of hps with a damaging attack is just fine here. Ogres usually act as the 'muscle' in an encounter and they are fine for that role (I suspect - I've not actually used a 4E Ogre). Doppelgangers, however, have a much more difficult role to fill. You'll generally find that the companions to a doppelganger in an encounter are either duped humans or, much more common, other doppelgangers - and they often feature during some key scene since there is always the big reveal when one figures out that the baddies are doppelgangers. The problem is nothing about doppelgangers really suggests a good way to make them interesting. I mean the lone wolf doppelganger assassin trope can be made cool...though its the lone wolf assassin part that is driving the 'cool' not the doppelganger. Baring that you just kind of end up with a skirmisher that does not actually skirmish.

I've been thinking about this off and on for a bit and nothing has come to mind that really inspires me in terms of redesigning doppelgangers to try and make them cool. At this point I'll likely just browse through my monster books looking for something better to use in this encounter.

Nonetheless this highlights, for me, some of the key points with using 4E monsters.

For one - 4E monsters use the same power system that the players use - its fundamentally a pretty cinematic system. I mean I used a lot of minotaurs in recent fights and the players learned not to shift when dealing with a minotaur because it'd then get to gore you and fling you around. Another example is I was using Velicoraptors in my most recent adventure. My Velicoraptors had a power that they could use on a recharge that allowed them to, as a free action if they hit with their foot claw attack, jump 6 and then make another attack.

When we think of these two powers, and there are innumerable other examples, we see a very cinematic basis to the design - same story with the players powers of course, The rules don't bother trying to simulate how the monster goes through the steps of using its power...it just happens because the power says it does. If the players try and shift around minotaurs then they might get gored and if they are gored they'll be flung around. If the Velicoraptor hits you with its foot claw and its recharged its leaping attack power then it uses you as a launching pad, jumps over the whole friggen party and attacks the mage in the rear. It can always do this because the power says it can and yet it can't always do this because there are triggers for using the power. If you don't shift in front of a Minotaur then it does not gore you. If the Velicoraptor misses it can't jump. None of this actually bothers me as I easily accepted the fact that if one was fighting Velicoraptors then it is supposed to have a look and feel akin to one of the Jurassic Park movies and that is the underlying point of the power system - to get that sort of feel without a whole bunch of - slow - simulationist mechanics taking the dramatic impact away from what just went down.

I bring up the minotaurs and the Velicoraptors for more then just their interesting cinematic natures. They also happen to fill the same kind of role as the doppelgangers. Velicoraptors don't (outside of Eberron) work with other creatures. Minotaurs, of course, might - and there can be all sorts of different kinds of minotaurs, but in the encounters I ran they acted as the main piece on team evil. So why did the Minotaurs and the 'raptors work but not Doppelgangers? I think the answer to that lies in the fact that, in both cases the powers the monsters had messed with the players ability to form into their 'standard' combat formation. Most 4E parties have a tank whose job it is to hold the monsters out at the front, maybe supported by some kind of a melee based striker and then there are probably some ranged guys and maybe the cleric back behind them. The 'raptors leapt over the tank and attacked the rear of the party while the minotaurs stopped the tank from being able to shift around and keep multiple monsters pinned down...and once the minotaurs got into the rear ranks the PCs there could not shift away to use their range abilities. The result in both cases is the players vigorously debating among themselves what the hell to do about the situation and that is generally what we want to see.

The take home message here seems to be - if your just pretty much using thugs (and surprisingly often that seems to come up) your thugs need to be able to mess with the players planning to be interesting monsters. If you have thugs and lurkers and artillery this is probably not necessary - the diverse nature of the threats will keep the players on their toes.


I think the issue is that dopplegangers are not combat monsters, they're solitary story monsters. Combat with a doppleganger should come at the end of a campaign - a sort of "Aha!" moment right before the finale or at the end of the climactic battle.

In the particular encounter you discussed I'd use a gang of changeling thugs with class features, so that they cover all of the necessary roles for your ambush party.


Sebastrd wrote:

I think the issue is that dopplegangers are not combat monsters, they're solitary story monsters. Combat with a doppleganger should come at the end of a campaign - a sort of "Aha!" moment right before the finale or at the end of the climactic battle.

In the particular encounter you discussed I'd use a gang of changeling thugs with class features, so that they cover all of the necessary roles for your ambush party.

On a hypothetical level maybe but I think you'd find that this was not usually true when we actually see Doppelgangers in play. Certainly it was not true in the adventure Hall of Harsh Reflections and while I'm unsure the name of the adventure in Scales of War they appeared in it was not true of that adventure either. Furthermore they are really bad for a final encounter...once the big reveal shows up the PCs can kill the Doppelganger with ease as they are currently designed. Big reveal monsters usually need to at least be elites even if they have support in order to show off their bad ass nature. If they are just standards and are the third monster to die in the combat that is usually not really desired.

Especially true in that 4E rewards the players taking down elites and Solo's last in an encounter (usually) so one tends to get a more climatic feel.

I'll think about the changelings with class features idea however. Bit of a bummer they never gave us templates for they later classes and its impossible to use templates on the monster builder.


More Thoughts on Monsters and Encounter Design
When I'm looking at a 4E monster I've usually got an idea for what I want it to do in some encounter. For me the next step involves considering what I need to do to make the monster suite the encounter.

Note that right here we hit one of the most fundamental elements of 4E and monsters - they are gamist. Their design as initially conceived was always meant to be the perfect foil for the PCs. 'Course it did not really work, I'm sure most 4E DMs would agree that one of the most problematic books in 4E is Monster Manual 1. Full of mostly badly designed monsters. Beyond that as things went forward there is a sense that WotC tried in part to step away from this gamist core to their monster design but its not really possible to truly do that in 4E. The Gamist element is built into the underpinning and it always exists if the DM wants it to exist.

From my perspective much of the Gamist core is really very useful and its actually grown in utility despite the fact that WotC at first messed it up and then took steps away from it. The improvement in the numbers for the later monster books definitely helped in that, as it now stands, default monsters are pretty good in terms of the challenge they present and I can, and usually do, step in to improve the gamist aspects I desire when needed.

One way I do that with the defenses. I've mentioned before, on this forum, that the first thing I do with any monster is take their lowest non-AC defense and lower it - by 3 in Heroic and the plan is to make that by 4 in Paragon and by 5 in Epic. I do the reverse for the best monster defense raising it. It seemed to work when I played with my newbs and now with close to a year with my veteran group I can definitely say that this seems to be a good policy with them too. The point was always to have the monsters have a weak point and a strong point and, if your at my table during a fight, you'll find my players definitely talking about whether a monster is a reflex monster or a fortitude monster and they usually figure that out in the combat after a few rounds of missing with good rolls against one defense and hitting with bad ones against another defense. Its not uncommon for a player to choose to use one power instead of another because the defense is too high. This is particularly useful in a combat where there are different monsters with different strengths and weakness' as then the players can really use their knowledge. Against a Solo they might not change their options as much partly because they plan to go through all their powers one way or another and the only alternative to not use the fort based encounter power is instead to use an at will.

This though is a pretty mechanical element that comes standard in almost every encounter. The real element to doing this usually comes when I'm deciding if the monsters level, role and powers are going to work out. This step does come with some hurtles in that gamist department. Now if your players are likely to soon transit out of 4E or you play in one off campaign worlds (that is its usually a different place next campaign) then you can be very gamist at this step. There are no future consequences to the changes you make. So long as your Basilisk basically seems like a Basilisk your pretty much good to go. I face a slightly more difficult consideration at this point. The campaign world is persistent. Having run it for 25 years I can be pretty sure I'll be running in it on the day I DM my last D&D session. So in this regards I want to try and make my choices for monsters not be ones that damage the concept of the creature for my homebrew.

A good example of this is Dragons. 2nd edition Dragons have always been my favorite iterations of the concept. 3rd was close to that iteration so they are good too. 4th edition Dragons however don't work as is for me. Thing is if your players have faced 2nd and 3rd edition dragons then they probably know that the breath weapon, devastating as it is, is not the real problem with fighting a dragon. The real problem is the phenomenal physical suite...its claw/claw/bite/wing buffet/wing buffet/tail slap routine. The breath weapons main ustility is usually in keeping the players from mobbing the dragon, because then they concentrate and all get hit by the breath weapon.

When my players came upon a Wyrmling Blue at around 3rd level I made sure to put them back on notice that Dragons worked like they have always worked in the Haddath Empire (having played through Scales of War they know 4E Dragons). Pretty much did this by making sure that the Blue Wyrming got a power added that let it do a claw/claw/bite routine as a standard. This worked like a charm in the combat - the players saw a small dragon - got hit by its electric volt ranged power a couple of times and then organized to move in for the kill. After all they had faced 4E Dragons before and new that Blues where Artillery Dragons - plus this one was small. So the defender steps up and immediately gets completely shredded by the Dragons physical suite. At that point I've got their attention but I've also reminded them how Dragons work within my campaign world.

Immediately the players are in arguing/planning mode. I'd have been happier if the players refereed to the Dragons as Haddathian (my homebrew) but I can certainly get by with "Oh s&*+ these are Jeremy's Dragons - how the f*#& do you fight them again"? What followed was a recap of previous experiences with dragons and then the realization that essentially with the resources at hand some one was just going to have to stand in front of it or it'd kill the mages and clerics. More fighting as the Striker is told to get up there while he protests that the defender - who was better at taking it to begin with is currently bleeding out on the ground. Ultimately if one has a persistent world this is precisely what one wants to see in terms of fighting monsters. Recognition that elements of what has been seen before hold true in every campaign.

So the changes a DM makes should not damage the concept to much and if its a persistent world then one needs to be sure that the changes will be fine in every future encounter with the monster in question. Both of these are actually in line with narrative or simulationistic considerations. Its the same reason I won't de-level Drow Elves. After all these caveats there still remains the gamist core - what should be done with a monster that is going to help make this next fight a really exciting fight.

About half the time, for me, that really just means a very few tweaks. Making sure that its powers really do what I want them to do. I'll sometimes ramp up the effect a little just so that its more clear - subtlety does not usually play well in monster design...when it does something its best if its pretty dramatic. Still for your average standard monster there usually is no need to go really overboard.

What I have found however is that I usually want to do more work with elites and Solo's. It can vary somewhat but much of the time I'm looking to have these guys stick around a little longer and I want them to remain interesting through out their encounter. I'm often OK with most of the attacks available. Depends on the creature but its often pretty good. Where I usually find throwing in more powers is in the minor, move and interrupt slots. Especially if the creature has a name. Once the PCs are up against something that has a name I'm looking to make sure the monster can keep up with the players maneuvers, mess with their standard tactics and has some way of mitigating their debuffs. At this point I'm not worrying a lot that the monsters stat block is getting out of control. I just want the monster to be able to keep whipping out surprises for much of the combat. Obviously this varies - a T-Rex should not do too much but what it does should be huge. The Super Ninja the PCs just cornered is the opposite extreme - Every time the PCs do anything for many rounds of the combat the Super Ninja should be able to counter or mitigate that.

The ultimate goal is to keep the players on their toes through out the encounter and for the DM to have very few 'dud' encounters. Ultimately its in avoiding 'dud' encounters that the gamism in the monsters shine. In my experience 4E works best with few if any 'filler' encounters (because encounters usually take some time to play out) and its up to the DM to embrace the gamist roots of the monsters to make sure that they are providing entertaining challenges whenever they make an appearance.


The Telhran Job
I'm pretty much in the middle point of my prep for my players next adventure. In this case we are going with a conversion of Craig Shackleton's The Aundairian Job.

Very much not a pure conversion where I just take the material and put it into 4E. Much like I found myself with the conversion of Murder in Oakbridge I really need to change the plot right at its core in order to make this the story I want to tell for my campaign. So instead of this being about stealing an object from a dwarven bank its become a mission to free a hostage from a secretive foreign religious cult. Nonetheless much of the core does remain. Its still primarily an infiltration mission since the cult has broken no laws that the PCs can prove and this takes place in the big city - so direct assault is a bad plan (I hope my players figure that one out) both in terms of their chances of success and in that this would get them in trouble with the law.

One of the really significant changes I'm making to this adventure is substantially expanding out the investigation elements. In The Aundairian Job a Paladin pretty much tells the PCs, here is your mission and here is a shady dude that can help you with your mission - get to it.

Here my PCs have a much more tenuous connection. Basically speaking just a coded message from a foreign intelligence operative whose mail drops they are secretly reading. Thus my players need to satisfy themselves that this really is the place where their hostage is being held and then figure out how they want to tackle it (hence why I'm a little concerned that they might go with frontal assault).

In designing this investigative part I can see why the original dungeon adventure did not go down this path. I brainstormed all sorts of things my players might try in terms of getting info and there are a fair number. Nonetheless its probable that my players will think up some ideas I did not and some significant chunk of what I do develop will probably never get used. For example there is a chance that the PCs will look over the land tax records on the place to see how the cult is paying for itself so I have a few paragraphs on that...but its quite possible my players will never choose to 'follow the money'. Ultimately this is the kind of adventure that really only likely exists in a home game - lots of potentially wasted word count that would not be really acceptable in a product made for the mass market.

I've noticed that I actually have a lot of difficulty in starting this kind of an adventure as well. There is a certain amount of paralysis because its not the kind of adventure that one can really easily break down into stages. Instead I'm thinking of things that the PCs might do to investigate, meanwhile I need a map of the complex. Then there is the encounter key - who is in the complex, what they are doing and have done.

Thing is that each of these factors influence each other. While brainstorming how the players might investigate this place for a B&E it dawned on me that they might try and use the cities extensive sewer system. The place is surely connected. Well that thought leads me to modify the map to handle that element and the text of the complex needs some modifications as well.

On the other hand when I'm writing the text about the people in the complex I realize that I've got some of the places NPCs involved in activities that the rest of the members of the cult would not approve of - two of them are in an illicit lover's tryst while one has become addicted to the luxuries of the big city beyond the compounds walls. These influence things the PCs might find out about and try and exploit so that information must be added to the investigation part of the adventure.

Just knowing that there are all these elements and that they will influence each other tends to cause me to not know where to start or how to proceed. For me this is fairly heavily mitigated by the fact that I use the old Dungeon Magazine format to write these things and once you have done the background of what is going on and, particularly, written the adventure synopsis that explains how this is supposed to play out, I've usually got at least some firm direction. The rest of it, in my case, is just sitting down and doing it, accepting the fact that I'll be hoping all over my document and that I'll probably change things like how I layout information along the way.


Thoughts on Adventure Categorization
Finished off the prep on this and some other thoughts crossed my mind in terms of how this adventure works in 4E.

One of the big elements is that I realized that this would be the first adventure since the first adventure Cell Block F (Escape from Meenlock Prison) that I'd mostly not be using battlemaps for the encounters. This got me thinking about how one might catagorize adventures. When I'm thinking of the ones I have run in this campaign I have two, Cell Block F and now The Telhran Job (The Aundairian Job), that are exploration type adventures. These types of adventures see the movement of the PCs through the local as a key feature of the adventure. Its often difficult to do Battlemaps for them because the circumstances in which the PCs enter encounters can not be easily predicted beforehand. This is a pretty classic style of adventure. If I converted Ravenloft to 4E it'd slot into this style - Ravenloft is all about exploring the castle.

The House on Swan Street (Shut In) & The Oak Bridge Murders (Murder in Oakbridge) are event based adventures. In both cases the PCs interactions with NPCs (or sometimes locations or just time passing) cause events to take place. Things like Battlemats work well in these adventures since the DM usually has some serous control over the circumstances of any combats. They are essentially scenes within an adventure that could probably be put on a flow chart.

The Saporo Caves, Salvage of the Ocean Empress (Salvage Operation) & The Menagerie where Encounter based adventures. In effect the PCs are generally on some kind of linear path that takes them from one encounter to the next. Since the adventure is really just encounters strung together its clear that battlemats are a big part of such an adventure.

Its rather a utilitarian way of thinking of the different types of adventures - I'm not sure that use/don't use battlemats is really the heart of the matter however there really is something significantly different about an adventure that is based on exploration principles versus one based primarily on NPC interactions or clues versus one that is really all about the Encounters. I suspect that I'm missing some important type of adventure(s) as well since my thoughts stem mainly from only the ones I've used.


Leave the Sith Lord Behind!

Name: Lesus, Male Eladrin
Class/Level: Psion 7th
Adventure: The Telhran Job (4E conversion of The Aundairian Job)

Catalyst: For 30 rounds and much of three full sessions the PCs have been fighting their way out of The World's Temple with the NPC they have busted out of a vault in the bowels of this place. Its a combat that at times was taking place on three levels and was very scattered. As the PCs approach their escape route Lesus was gored by a power charge from one of the Temples clockwork guardians. While he survived this he was badly wounded.

Tragically within sight of their escape, discipline within the party began to break down. With nearly everyone running on fumes the first PC to escape takes the NPC whom they busted out - who also happened to be the only healing the party had left.

Lesus, following behind, was cut down by one of the Temples Guards who scored a lucky critical to do just enough damage to take him down. Without healing the few PCs remaining on the scene make the choice to cut and run leaving him to bleed out...or more accurately to be killed by the World's Temple guards.

The scene is influenced significantly by roleplaying within the party. Earlier Lesus had saved the party in a Temple of an evil Goddess by sacrificing a semi-innocent to gain enough power to win the fight. He had turned to evil. The Player who ran Lesus had switched to an evil warlock miniature (Evil Costume Change) and people would hum The Imperial Death March when his turn came up. However the two remaining characters on the scene where both Good - one of them had chosen to switch from unaligned to good after witnessing the sacrifice. So the players running the last two PCs on the scene basically said - "I'm not sure if you can be saved and we are nearly dead ourselves...but the bottom line is my good character would not risk dying for your evil character". The group is mature and the player running Lesus agreed that this was true.

I'm personally somewhat conflicted with the death as I spent a significant amount of time with the character designing him 'fall to the Darkside' etc. so having it be that character that buys the farm is a bit annoying.


Why wasn't he captured, only to reappear later in the campaign as a significant villain looking for revenge?

According to the polls at the end of Chris Perkins articles on Wizards.com, an old PC resurfacing as a villain is a favorite moment of a lot of gamers. It looks like you have a golden opportunity on your hands.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

Bwahahaha!

Though, oddly enough, when it's happened in real life it wasn't great at all.


Sebastrd wrote:

Why wasn't he captured, only to reappear later in the campaign as a significant villain looking for revenge?

According to the polls at the end of Chris Perkins articles on Wizards.com, an old PC resurfacing as a villain is a favorite moment of a lot of gamers. It looks like you have a golden opportunity on your hands.

Actually he was though not in this campaign. Presuming I ever run Age of Worms with this group, and it is on my list of campaigns to one day run (along with Curse of the Crimson Throne) he just became 'The Faceless One.'

That said my PCs are told that he is killed because otherwise they will attempt to mount a rescue operation and I will find myself running pretty much the exact same adventure a second time...not interested. Great, if long, combat the first time but it'd kill it to do it again so soon.


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
That said my PCs are told that he is killed because otherwise they will attempt to mount a rescue operation and I will find myself running pretty much the exact same adventure a second time...not interested. Great, if long, combat the first time but it'd kill it to do it again so soon.

That makes perfect sense, lol.


Recap of the Telhran Job
There is something about investigative adventures that invariably makes me want to recap them - maybe its just to get a feel for what my players actually did in this sort of sand box because that is important for future adventure design. In any case this post is a recap of how my players handled this adventure. I'll stick it in a spoiler for space reasons.

Spoiler:

It is a time of war and the PCs have an inside track on a foreign operative that is orchestrating clandestine operations within the capital. At the start of the adventure the PCs head over to the drop box to see what Spider, the code name the foreign operative goes by, has told her, now dead, assassin to do. They are very interested because the last drop was an order for the Assassin to kill and NPC by the name Blessed of Hern.

The PCs are desperate to find out where Blessed of Hern is located because, in their very first adventure, they took Blessed of Hern from a secret political prison and handed him over to a shady character - its an action they managed to justify to themselves at the time but have bitterly regretted ever since. If their foreign operative nemesis wants Blessed of Hern dead then she'll have to tell her assassin where to find him and then they can swoop in to rescue him from wherever he is.

They get the mail drop and are a little surprised to find that the whole thing is suddenly not at all straight forward. Its like Spider has suddenly started talking in code - the letter looks like a friendly social one a high born lady might write to a female acquaintance. Scrutinizing it they come to the conclusion that Spider must be suspicious - not great surprise, her assassin is dead and has not been able to report in. Still the letter seems to indicate that Spider wanted the assassination carried out if her assassin was reading this and had just failed to make a meet. Since the only location specified in the letter is The World's Temple they figure if a hit is being ordered in this letter that must be where the target can be found.

When they leave the drop point they realize that someone is watching them - but that person jumps down a open sewer grate the moment she realizes she has been followed.

The PCs give chase and they come out of the sewer in the middle of a Temple to the Smith God of the Pantheon where humans which is kind of a construction site as humans and dwarves are constantly doing renovations and such to that temple. Here they are ambushed by Dark Elves while the crafts-clergy flee the scene, their quarry is killed in the cross fire, two of the Dark Elves die but the third manages to escape.

[DMs NOTE: I used a 'perspective' map for the scene as there was a lot of elevation - I was trying to get a feel for the chase scene in the James Bond Film Casino Royal. This did not work on two levels. The perspective map just confused everyone - I'll never do that experiment again. The chase did not work as the parties Defender is a 'your not allowed to move and I'm super fast' specialist and he just shut the runner down. The Dark Elves are actually foreshadowing for a later Age of Worms campaign - Foreign Operative is making use of the criminal master mind Zyrog the Illithid to supplement her own elements. So in that later campaign the players will have met the Dark Elf using Zyrog before.]

With the combat out of the way but the person following them dead the PCs return to trying to figure out if The World's Temple is where Blessed of Hern is being held.

They start with the obvious, asking around to find out what is known about the World's Temple. One of the PCs is a young noble and he asdks among family and friends. He learns that the World's Temple is made up of expats from the southern continent that make money from selling mechanical guardians to rich noble houses - guards that are always loyal and don't ask difficult questions about what the nobles have gotten up to and also when the southern continents trade fleet comes in.

Streetwise nets the PCs knowledge that they already know as well as that the homeless and such like the people of the World's Temple as they hand out free food and such in the winter. Also that no foriegners are allowed into the World's Temple, that it sends out the women of the temple most days to buy supplies but the men of the temple are never seen outside. [DMs Note: there was juicy stuff on the table as well involving World's Temple residences involved in a tryst and a powerful member addicted to the drugs of the city – but a fairly low roll on the part of the PCs means just basic general knowledge is learned].

This leads to some speculation that the temple might somehow be Drow related as the PCs just fought Drow [DMs Note: PCs barking up the wrong tree here]. They decide to pay a visit to the World's Temple meet the guards at the gate and try and bluff they they have important information. No dice – so the Noble PC decides to just imperiously try and walk through the open gate into the courtyard beyond. That causes the guards to start drawing weapons and when the PCs draw in response there is a shor standoff – however then the women of the temple start yelling for The Watch and the PCs back down make some apologies and leave.

At this point the PCs decide to go and talk to one of the vendors that sell food to the World's Temple. The noble born PC decides to pay a visit to an old girlfriend – the daughter of a noble he knows has purchased the mechanical men from the World's Temple in order to find out if they have any weaknesses. He finds none however – they are pretty much golems and are not just mechanical but magic as well. They obey their masters orders and such but don't seem to have a real weak point – they don't turn off for instance.

They learn that many of these vendors make a living selling exclusively to the World's Temple and find one that makes a living from such sales that is in reality actually hostile to the World's Temple [DMs Note: They made a really good roll on diplomacy – so I use this as justification to tell the PCs everything such a vendor would know about the World's Temple]. They learn that the World's Temple is actually a temple to Kezeus – a local God in my Pantheon, but that the traditional Church of Kezeus does not know that. Everyone assumes the World's Temple worships some foreign God (DMs Note: In my campaign world that is not really possible – their is a finite list of Gods and the same Gods are worshipped everywhere]. Furthermore on the Southern Continent these guys would be considered holy warriors and that Kezeus' followers are engaged in a series of Holy Wars on the Southern Continent and have actually conquered large parts of it over the last thousand years or so.

They go to the High Temple of Kezeus and try and tell them that the World's Temple is really secretly a rival Temple of Kezeus but they have no proof and are dismissed out of hand. Nonetheless the PCs are aware that the story sounds legit – it jives with the tenets of Kezeus – its just that the Church of Kezeus in the local area is not strong enough to engage in this sort of thing [DMs Note: My players have dealt with the Church of Kezeus in previous campaigns so the players already know the basic tenets and how ambitious the Church of Kezeus is].

At this point the PCs are basically sure that they have the right target – but how to get in. They start debating the topic and decide that their must be a sewer connection. They contact a member of the Dungsweepers Guild – these guys run the sewers (and all cleaning and garbage disposal in the city) as the members of the Dungsweepers Guild are notorious for being ready to make some money on the side. They find some one willing to make them a map of this section of the sewers including exits etc. No hard questions asked for a little coin. However this guy won't engage in this side project on his time off – so they have to wait for him to actually be 'working' for him to be willing to perform this task.

They decide to spend the meantime casing the World's Temple. The Pixie player even flies over when the guards are not on part of the wall and the courtyard is empty to look in the sky lights where he sees a room dedicated to the worship of Kezeus as well as a number of office type rooms. He flies back and the Players discuss the option of breaking in through skylights – the place has no windows and only one entrance on the ground floor so they can't go in like that. There is a second floor with an enclosed wrap around balcony but they think that this has a real danger of quickly alerting the inhabitants to the break in as there are women and children as well as men moving around up there a lot and pretty randomly – they figure that must be a living quarters type area – and no one wants to face the chance that they will be spotted by a child and then have to choose between killing a child or being discovered.

They wait for the Dungsweeper to take them down to the sewers and provide them with a map before making up their mind. When that happens and they have paid the Dungsweeper to be on his way they test out the walls of the sewer near what appear to be the major mains into and out of the complex and find out that the wall here has pretty decayed masonry – they could remove the bricks with ease,

They listen for most of the night but no one enters the room beyond. The PCs then retire for the day and consider their options. After a short debate they come to the conclusion that the Sewer is their best bet. They are guessing that Blessed of Hern is kept underground and an entrance via the sewer seems most likely to bypass most of the inhabitants.

The next night they break in through the room that borders the sewer. They are in the water maintenance room and nearby are rooms with toilets and showers. Its nioght so no one is using the showers. They wait for some one using a toilet to leave and get out a little ahead. The Pixie is stunning at stealth with a power that allows him to not be spotted for a full round after he is 'spotted' so he is acting as point. There are cleaning rooms, a storage room – up a hall is some family rooms where some of the people are still awake and a small dining area where some guards are easting. They find a stairway down and have to pass through the line of sight of the guards to use it. The Pixie goes into the kitchen and fids some dirty dishes on the counter piled up...maybe who piled them there did not put them in far enough he reasons and nudges them precariously toward the edge. Tips them over and slips back to his companions – everyone then tries to quietly move down the stairs while the guards in the kitchen react to the smashing dishes in the kitchen. One group stealth check later and everyone slips down the stairs with the sounds of the guards arguing with each other about whose fault the broken dishes receding in their wake.

At the bottom level they spot a guard post as well as the complex's work area etc. And realize that their is a door they can't get to without being spotted by the guards. Plus the the door is guarded by ever vigilant mechanical guardians. They figure this is their door and that Blessed of Hern is surely in there. They try a ruse on the guards but it does not wok out...

...and so begins the longest combat I have ever run. The Guards are nothing excepotional but the mechanical Guardians are just brutal and mainly ranged combatants. The layout involved walls of bars with bared doors and, while the PCs initially think this favours them it turns out that their defender has been substantially nerfed. They are a heavy range party but with the Defender unable to take the heat off what is really a party full of ranged squishes they are getting brutalized. Things then go downhill when all the noise brings some noncombatants down the stairs to see what the racket is – and these guys see the fighting and start calling up the stairs to more noncombatants to get the guards and some one called 'Lord Silancis'.

At this point the PCs are getting very concerned – they realize that they can't 'win the fight' and then rest or anything – they are probably in for one long fight and its taking to long. They manage to get some of the inside doors open and finally spring the guarded door at which point there is Blessed of Hern and a handful of other prisoners whom they free. Blessed of Hern tells them that another nearby room is the treasure vault and they might want to grab loot on the way out. Right about this point more guards come racing down one of the two staircases on the level blocking their way but they can run around the long way and flee back the way they came after taking a tour of the level. Grabbing the treasure slows some of the PCs down as well and the defender is doing a rear guard action so the PCs
are getting spread out further and further. When some of them get back up on the kitchen level they find themselves facing the guards on this level and are forced in two directions maning that the party now has some members on two different parts of the kitchen level as well as their defender coming up from below but with his route technically cut off.

However the Defender has great AC – lots of hps, has used a power that grants DR for the entire encounter and comes with forced movement powers usable at will. So the defender is phenomenally resistant – the players are still discussing what to do because even with all this there are concerns that he might be dead but its not certian yet. The fact that they have been broken up all over the place is a problem too – especially when the parties cleric is escorting Blessed of Hern – who, it turns out comes with healing powers of his own. Meaning almost all the healing is out on its own.

Then 'Lord Silancis' makes his appearance and low and behold he is talking with the Captain of the Watch. The PCs hear him ask the Watch captain to make sure this stays covered up. So now the PCs know what they have long suspected – their is rot at some of the highest levels of their society. Bodes ill for the ongoing war. Nonetheless their Defender manages to make his way through the guards and such and with the PCs running on fumes they have managed to get in the vicinity of their sewer escape. At the last moments of the fight – with escape in sight discipline in the party starts to break down. One of the players flees out of the Sewer with Blessed of Hern – now the parties only remaining healing – in tow. Then the parties resident evil charcter and their controller (a psionic) goes down. The defender and the pixie – both good decide that that they are within one good hit of going down themselves and the healing just left. They won't risk themselves for an evil character and they flee as well...thus ends the adventure and the PC Lesis. It was a huge fight that ran for three sessions. Probably close to a full ten hours of game time.


OK some thoughts on the adventure and my players.

* Fights sure can be long. It was a good fight but it went on for a really long time. More then 30 rounds. I was actually surprised my PCs could fight for that long. Surprisingly there where still one use powers being used even as late as 20 rounds into the fight – though most where used within about the first 8 rounds. The amount of punishment my players can take is also getting really up there. At lower levels if I used encounters that where about two levels higher then them the players would be hard pressed. Its very clear that 4E characters get a great deal more potent as they go up in levels. Much like 3rd edition characters they can handle a much higher level spread at higher levels then at lower levels. I can see a day when I'm running encounters up to 6 levels higher then they are just to give them a tough challenge. Certainly 4 levels higher for one off encounters will now be my norm up from 2 levels above their current level at levels 1-3 and 3 levels above their current for levels 4-6.

* A sandbox like this requires a DM that is willing to make a lot of area that never gets used. My PCs where only ever on two of the four floors of the complex. I had two full levels with rooms and a key etc. That they never went near. That said I spent more time on the lower levels since they had to go through them so it was not all bad.

* In terms of the investigation my players could due to be a little more innovative. They did not come up with a single thing I had not anticipated and did not try about half the things I thought they might. They have a tendency to kind of rush things after 20 minutes or so without an encounter jumping out at them which can lead to them not really trying a lot of leads even if I think they should have obviously thought of such a lead. They also have become a bit complacent – only about half the players tend to do anything at all when it comes to investigating and most of the time they do exactly what they have done in previous adventures. The streetwise Pixie uses streetwise. The Noble PC talks to his noble friends and family etc.


Oops...I screwed up the look and feel
OK so my players are on a road quest. They are getting deep into the over arching plot and now have a bit of a background on where this is all headed. They have that the beginnings of that insider knowledge that will ultimately be the explanation on why its them that unravels the whole overarching plot and will one day come face to face with the UPE - as opposed to other technically more important or powerful NPCs.

So now they are on the trail of this plot thread - this thing that they have reason to believe is of significant importance that no one else really recognizes.

That is going to substantially be moved forward in what is really a road adventure. Now road adventures look like they allow complete freedom for the players since their are no walls or anything but the truth is they are actually the most linear adventures out there. The PCs follow the road to their destination and the DM tells them what happens and where along the way.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this - but its important that the DM try and make these scenes interesting and I'd only run a road adventure every so often - you really want to mix it up since being on rails - even if the scenery is pretty good - can get old pretty fast.

In my case I'm showcasing part of the campaign world they are in as well as highlighting various scenes from the ongoing war. Perfectly happy with that as the basis for the scenes in this road adventure...

well I was anyway until I ran the first session and it completely blew up in my face. Basically I have this scene where the PCs are on the road - get to the front lines of the war and then can't get through but they are at one of the main bases of the big knightly order in the campaign world. So off they go to talk with the knights (well Cavaliers in my campaign) and low and behold the Cavaliers say - we plan on doing this big charge through the goblinoid lines to get at their siege engines in a few days - ride with us and you can just keep going when we break through.

PCs agree and I have this whole well done read aloud text of the dawn breaking and the charge surging forward. Get the players to set up 12 cavaliers plus the cavalier leader and the second command and of course their own characters. For the battle they'll get to control the cavaliers as well as their own characters.

For team evil I have orcs including just a slew of archer type minions. Players are getting into it - the big charge looks awesome and I'm managing to get them into the scene when the Orc archers turn comes up...and they blow away pretty much every cavalier minion in one round...

So now the players are pissed. I got them into this cool scene and then I just ruined it. 'Course that was never my intent - I wanted a cool Cavalier charge just as much as anyone and my players will probably still win the fight but the scene itself is a bust and it really does not convey what I wanted in terms of the Cavaliers.

I can't really fix this now but I can take steps to learn from it. What has essentially happened is that the cool minions of lower levels that interacted together so well have ceased to work so well as the levels have risen. Basically speaking as monsters - and that includes minions - have moved up in levels they have gotten ways of getting more then just a single attack. Now they can do multiple attacks and they have abilities that let them do neat tricks. This really is necessary for higher level monsters and for higher level minions but, if I'm going to have minions on Team Good I need to help them out a bit to stop one side from instantly slaughtering the other side.

Scowering over house rules from other 4E games I came upon something that would have probably saved my scene. Basically its the idea of the multi-hit minion. At this point if both sides have minions I probably want to go with 2 hit minions. When I get even higher level - like past 15th might want to go with 3 hit minions for scenes where both sides have guys in the fray (though that will likely get less and less at higher levels). I don't believe you can really have a minion with more then 3 hits and still call it a minion so that is likely as far as I can push the concept...but that should be OK. At that level I can't really imagine there are going to be many 'minions' on Team Good anyway. There just are no 'common' soldiers that I'd rank as 15th level outside of maybe Svirfnebli or some such in the Underdark.


Just wanted to stop by and offer some encouragement. I don't know if anyone else is reading this, but I still do. So, thanks.


This is a cool thread, except that I'm not currently running a 4E game, so it's not as useful to me right now as it might otherwise be.

I recall when I was running 4E experimenting with minions. I like the idea of minions, but feel that other systems do minions a little better than 4E (M&M and Savage World come to mind). Anyhow, I didn't love single one hit minion, but I also didn't want to track hp for them. I made a mechanic whereby if a minion was hit by an encounter or daily power it still functioned as a minion and would be done, but if it was an at-will power that hit it, it would get a special save to survive. I'd roll a d6 and if the result was a 5 or 6 the minion still lived. Thus, I could have minion take more than one hit, but not have to worry about tracking damage. Most minions would die after a single hit, but every now and again I'd roll well and the minion would survive multiple hits from at-will attacks. In the end, I dropped this mechanic, as my players didn't seem to particularly enjoy not being able to kill a minion with a single hit.


I don't run 4E either and probably never will again. However, I think it's important to understand the underpinnings of a system. Why things work and, more importantly, why they don't, is a great addition to a DM's arsenal.


P.H. Dungeon wrote:

This is a cool thread, except that I'm not currently running a 4E game, so it's not as useful to me right now as it might otherwise be.

I recall when I was running 4E experimenting with minions. I like the idea of minions, but feel that other systems do minions a little better than 4E (M&M and Savage World come to mind). Anyhow, I didn't love single one hit minion, but I also didn't want to track hp for them. I made a mechanic whereby if a minion was hit by an encounter or daily power it still functioned as a minion and would be done, but if it was an at-will power that hit it, it would get a special save to survive. I'd roll a d6 and if the result was a 5 or 6 the minion still lived. Thus, I could have minion take more than one hit, but not have to worry about tracking damage. Most minions would die after a single hit, but every now and again I'd roll well and the minion would survive multiple hits from at-will attacks. In the end, I dropped this mechanic, as my players didn't seem to particularly enjoy not being able to kill a minion with a single hit.

I like your idea but I think my players would have the same problem as yours. In reality I mainly have to worry about the effects when I have a lot of minions on Team Good - its scenes where the PCs participate in epic Charge of the Light Brigade type events that get really messed up if the minions don't function. In a normal fight if the minion was a little broke it'd probably not matter.

I'm not a fan of tracking hits either but if I want to keep putting my players in the middle of the unfolding history I'm going to have the bite the bullet on that one.


So what we finally went with rules wise was a split the difference type effect. Essentially minions get a save but only against other minions. That removes the need for book keeping while simultaneously insuring that the players are not whining over the fact that some minion has now taken the equivalent of 100 hps worth of damage.


Haven't We Been Here Before?"
With my players well into my road adventure its time to start up on their next adventure. I'm running a tad ahead of schedule here as I'm trying to avoid something that I constantly do as a DM which is race like a maniac in the week before a new adventure starts desperately trying to finish before Game Night. I kind of doubt it will actually work as I have tried starting early before and I still seem to end up working like a fiend at the last minute...and its never fully done either - I just end up with only 5 hours sleep and an almost done adventure. Still optimism springs eternal. Maybe I'll actually manage my prep on time this time!

This adventure was never one I was planning on using, its actually essentially a 'I need to fix campaign pacing' adventure. Basically speaking my players just went through an investigative/jail break type adventure. Now they are on a road adventure which are all just set pieces and when they finally get the info they are looking to acquire they'll end up back in the capital city in an adventure about a clandestine street war with the master spy that has been their protagonists for a bunch of levels. That might well actually run two adventures. All of this is fine and good but its a lot of set piece style encounters...a lot, a lot. At some point I realized 'I need a dungeon'. Dungeons present a different style of play in a way that is a little more extreme then the differences between an investigative and a road adventure since booth investigative and road adventures tend to lead to one off set piece encounters.

Fundamentally Dungeons are pretty much about resource tracking and that is one thing that really does not come up much in investigative adventures and happens to not play a part in this particular road adventure (resource tracking can be part of a road adventure - any kind of chase would probably revolve around resources for example).

So at some point I recognized that I needed to stick a dungeon in between my road adventure and the return to city based adventures. That stumped me pretty hard actually - I was quite literally flipping through my stacks of Dungeon Magazine trying to find something that I could integrate in. Fortunately inspiration finally hit me.

In my Road Adventure my players will visit the small town where their last campaign characters made their base during the early parts of the campaign. In fact I have carefully orchestrated it so that my players show up only a little after their previous characters have finally truly moved on. Initially this was supposed to be mainly a blast from the past encounter but it does hook into the over arching campaign since their previous characters actually have the information they need...and we know from this last campaign that those characters gave that information to some one. Hence my players needed their trail to end in the small town so that the small town mayor can tell them that they need to go back to the capital to try and meet their previous characters. This is actually their secret edge - everyone else that is looking for the information the PCs seek is shady so the mayor of the little town kept his mouth shut that he actually has an idea not what the answer is - but at least where to look for the answer. But the PCs are A) not shady and B) adventurers like the previous group that did so much to save his town.

OK so that's why they are in the small town but it dawned on me that here was a chance to give them a dungeon. Not just any dungeon but one that the players (but not their characters) had been through before.

In Dungeon #18 is an adventure Called Tallow's Deep. Its an important adventure in terms of Dungeons and Dragons as it is part of the 'intelligent monsters' movement originally kicked off by an editorial in Dragon Magazine called 'Tucker's Kobolds' (if you have never read the editorial go use google to look it up - its a defining document in the history of Dungeons & Dragons).

So Tallow's Deep is in the vicinity, in fact one of my players went through it as it was originally designed many many years ago in real life and at least a decade ago in terms of the Haddath Campaign World. Well when I was designing my last campaign I had the bad guys take over the tunnels and set up shop there. They renamed it Creation because here the evil guys plotting the invasion of The Empire planned to make Draconians (an idea I quite obviously stole from Dragonlance...but it was a good idea!). Well in the previous campaign the great hero's (aka the PCs) showed up and destroyed the place and then they moved on to bigger and better things.

Well it turns out my PCs are right about the perfect level to fight Draconians - they even encountered a batch some time back - but now they are the correct level to fight all Draconians. So I thought to myself - 'what if the Draconians want to try and salvage Creation'? The previous PCs trashed the place but its unclear if the damage they did made it completely impossible to repair.

So for one of my players this will actually be the third time he is playing through Tallow's Deep. Originally when it was infested with goblins. Then after Draconians took it over and now once again after its been re-occupied by Draconians. For most of my players this will be the second time through though I have two players that have never been through it at all.

That said I don't plan on running it as is. The last campaign PCs where 3rd edition and 3rd edition PCs are significantly more powerful then their 4th edition counter parts. So last campaign the players where capable of dealing with what was an organized army of Draconians led by powerful leaders. Here the Draconains have moved back in but this is just the dregs of outside forces without significant command from the evil powers that be. More like an enterprising junior commander. The previous group trashed a lot of the traps as well. Some can be fixed some not so much. So the first thing I'm doing here is reading over my old adventure and going over it with red ink to make notes on what my previous players actually did in this place. Its a living environment and previous damage persists unless its been repaired.

If nothing else it'll be interesting to see how this 'replay' works out.


The Fallen Prince

Name: Wojtek, Male Human Nobleman
Class/Level: Warlord/Invoker 8th
Adventure: The Soldier of Kezeus

Catalyst: An odd combat in many ways. The PCs are escorting a food caravan out of the war zone when they are attacked by an eclectic mix of trolls, ogres, hobgoblins and a Hill Giant.

The parties main healer is 'sick' in one of the wagons (player can't make the session but I allow two floating healing words from the cleric to be used during the combat)

The PCs have a bunch of minion allies in the fight including a slew of Halfling Outriders and some caravan guards that are helping escort the caravan. The minions are pretty effective but remain minions - that would be part of what went wrong.

In the opening rounds of the combat the PCs along with their minion allies seem to be really dishing out the control and the damage. I've designed a daily fight but the players note that the creatures all seem to be pretty easy to hit and most of them don't seem to have a real ton of hps. One of the two trolls is dropped on round two and the players are talking about saving daily's and such because this probably is not the only fight.

Even I as the DM have considered upping some of the monster hps but decide that once in a while a reasonably easy fight is not the end of the world. Hence, afterword, its never quite clear when or exactly where it is that it all goes wrong and starts to slide downhill.

Its just that eventually the monsters get around the party on both sides, the hobgoblins , initially considered one of the weaker monsters turns out to be fairly strong with two attacks per turn. The Ogres have sweep attacks that, once they get well positioned hit everyone around them etc.

It all seems as if the players suddenly look up and realize quite a few rounds in that the situation has really gotten completely out of hand. The defender can't seem to decide where he is needed - if he is not on the enemy front line brutes the hill giant has a nasty dazing rock attack - if he holds the hill giant down then the rest of the enemy front line brutes are all over the parties controllers.

Its a situation that sees players popping action points and dailies 5+ rounds into the combat as the situation completely slides out of their control.

Ultimately the players find themselves in a situation where they can't really spend their actions healing themselves as they all need healing and the monsters will just keep attacking - so the players pretty much resolve to stand more or less where they are - scattered about the battlefield fighting to the death.

At some point a hurled rock takes Wojtek down and he is making death saves - already out two of them and little chance that the PCs can spare resources to help him but what actually kills him is another boulder that lands among him and some of his companions knocking him past negative bloodied. This is also the point where the PCs seem to finally manage to wrestle the upper hand back in the fight and the rest of the monsters are finally dispatched.

In this case I'm not to concerned with the roleplaying loss for loosing the PC. His schtick was being a noble and nobles are mainly only interesting early in a campaign where they open interesting political doors and such. Once the PCs are heading toward Paragon - as my PCs are they are already such heros that the fact that one of them is a noble is just a foot note. There was not really a ton of interesting roleplaying elements that where jumping out at me for this character at this point - though he had been the centre of a lot of attention earlier in the campaign.


Different Editions of Traps
So I mentioned that I'm working on a 4E highly modified version of the classic adventure Tallow's Deep and that I've run this thing in 2nd, 3rd and will now be doing it in 4th.

This got me thinking about how traps are done between the editions. Really this is one area where the non-skill based older editions always really shined. I mean this gets brought up practically anytime some one starts talking about Tomb of Horrors.

In 1st and 2nd edition there where tons of points where the players pretty much ran their characters with little reference to the characters themselves. What I'm talking about here is when its the players and not their characters that are trying to solve the riddle or the trap or what have you. Works pretty well in 1st and 2nd and starts to fall apart in a hurry in 3rd and 4th...well at least the traps often fall apart.

3rd and 4th actually take a different tack on the problem but neither of them really solve it. In effect 3rd tries to plop the traps into the simulationist mechanical environment and then that just falls apart when the players start asking about how much space there is between the holes where the arrow traps are being fired from - then they'll come up with some scheme involving covering the holes with their shields and slipping past each hole in turn. 3rd editions little mechanical stat block says nothing about what to do in this case - heck the rules themselves are pretty silent on the topic - except that they would seem to indicate that their are supposed to be trap checks done by skilled rogues and such and this seems to slide around that.

4th has no solution to the problem since it technically deals with this in a pretty similar manner - PCs have the Thievery Skill and its supposed to come into play in this sort of situation...course one can end up facing the same sort of issue as the 3rd edition DM.

Mainly 4th avoided the problem by...avoiding the problem - or trying to do narativist end runs around the problem - trap has power X - X is true; explain X. Some how haqving to explain how a monsters power still works in an implausible situation does not even come close to the same story with a mechanical trap. The sheer number of things a monster could potentially do allows for some sort of explanation to be worked out - but traps are mechanical and always behave the same...so X is true can become insanely hard to swallow.

Hence the favoured 4E solution...don't use traps that have these types of issues - notice the prevalence of 'blaster' type traps - the trap is some kind of robot and it shoots you with its turret. That is sort of an OK solution well except for the fact that turreted blasters are anything but iconic and can get boring eventually - not to mention it does not really address the situation at all.

Not to say that I have a solution or anything. I mean what brings this post up is an ambush type trap in Tallow's Deep that involves the players going past a spiked pit when the baddies start trying to stab them through holes in the walls and knock them into the pit.

In 2nd edition this is done with dex checks - I don't recall it working out for the monsters even when I ran this in 2nd edition but can't remember the details. The key however is no one cares if the PCs think their way around the trap in 1st or 2nd - that's what they are supposed to be doing.

3rd faced the problem I described above...Think the players used strong characters with tower shields (they used to wander around with extra tower shields) to block the whole wall and go past.

Now I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do to try and make this work in 4E. I mean I suppose I'll give the Draconians some kind of push power if they hit with their spears...hmm...if I give them an opportunity action type interrupt and specify that the wall does not get in the way of them making opportunity attacks it might work...or I might end up trying to figure out how the power is supposed to work if the players block the trap with a table or something...that'd be a problem...blocked powers don't fraggin exist in 4E.

Thus I can already see a lot of awkward adjudication when trying to run this...and a bunch of players calling b.s. I'm tempted to simply erase the whole thing or rework it so that its not such a problem...but I'm also curious to see what this train wreck will look like - I mean what if its not a 'real' train wreck...or...or...maybe it'll suggest something to me for a good way to handle this sort of thing in the future. I think I'll stick with the encounter and see what comes of it. Small enough that it should be OK as a learning experience.


In my opinion, even if the PCs try to block the holes with a tower shield, that still wouldn't make them immune to the push effect. There is still force being applied. I'd just template the power so that the push is a seperate effect, not dependant on a hit.

Spear Push - Reaction Interrupt
Str vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + Str
Effect: Target is pushed [Str Bonus] squares.

The PCs will still get a saving throw to avoid falling in the pit. I don't know what level they are, but there should always be an alternative to running headlong into the deathtrap.

In DDN, I'd make the attack an opposed Str check, with the attackers having advantage on the roll because of the PCs' poor footing.


Sebastrd wrote:

In my opinion, even if the PCs try to block the holes with a tower shield, that still wouldn't make them immune to the push effect. There is still force being applied. I'd just template the power so that the push is a seperate effect, not dependant on a hit.

Spear Push - Reaction Interrupt
Str vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + Str
Effect: Target is pushed [Str Bonus] squares.

The PCs will still get a saving throw to avoid falling in the pit. I don't know what level they are, but there should always be an alternative to running headlong into the deathtrap.

In DDN, I'd make the attack an opposed Str check, with the attackers having advantage on the roll because of the PCs' poor footing.

This sort of illustrates the problem. What the heck is 1[W]+Str when the PCs have stuck a table along the wall to try and block the holes? Is that damage to the table or is it somehow damage to the person behind the table?

All that said I might be best off in this sort of circumstance just demanding athletics checks to keep the table up and avoid falling into the pit.


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:

This sort of illustrates the problem. What the heck is 1[W]+Str when the PCs have stuck a table along the wall to try and block the holes? Is that damage to the table or is it somehow damage to the person behind the table?

All that said I might be best off in this sort of circumstance just demanding athletics checks to keep the table up and avoid falling into the pit.

The point is that the damage doesn't matter. Since the Effect is separate, it is not dependant on whether or not the attack "hits". Then again, a series of athletics checks isn't a bad idea either. As I said, that's basically what I'd do if it were DDN.

Either way, I'd let the PCs notice a bunch of skeletons among the spikes with the remains of a table on top of them. ;)


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Largely this problem exists if you let it exist. There are two ways to go with 4e one of which is as you originally described, X is true explain X. And of course this is entirely the "feel" of the rules and the RAW. WotC have also hedged around the issue some with explaining tripping oozes and the like. This approach seems to be based on the argument of a level playing field for the DnD experience. Some attempt to pretend the game is like a computer game.

But the nice thing with RPGs is that you can alter the rules, but more importantly you have a human DM. To really make 4e work great you simply alter the paradigm to X is possible if you can explain X. And make the whole table responsible for accepting the explaination with the DM as final say. This is certainly how I run my games, and it does require consensus and a degree of maturity (what do you mean my power doesn't work?).

An example is the ranger hunters class ability to slide 2 with I think the power is called clever shot. My standing rule here is that the player must in some way convince the table that shooting someone with an arrow could cause the desired effect. Generally sliding someone towards you would be difficult to narrate in this instance, if you can't it does not occur.

The kick on effect of this is that "magic" effects are essentially easier to narrate that martial powers in a number of cases (tripping oozes, wrestling dragons to the ground). And our group has accepted that this is the case. Others may not.

I think the table idea is great. It should shield the characters regardless of the rules. But perhaps not make them immune to the push. They could rope themselves together tightly to prevent them falling into the pit. Automatically make the save. Why not? If it makes the game more fun then it's good.


Sebastrd wrote:
Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:

This sort of illustrates the problem. What the heck is 1[W]+Str when the PCs have stuck a table along the wall to try and block the holes? Is that damage to the table or is it somehow damage to the person behind the table?

All that said I might be best off in this sort of circumstance just demanding athletics checks to keep the table up and avoid falling into the pit.

The point is that the damage doesn't matter. Since the Effect is separate, it is not dependant on whether or not the attack "hits". Then again, a series of athletics checks isn't a bad idea either. As I said, that's basically what I'd do if it were DDN.

Either way, I'd let the PCs notice a bunch of skeletons among the spikes with the remains of a table on top of them. ;)

The Effect being separate does not really handle the issue - or not very elegantly. Hitting the table with a push power bumps up against the problem that the push can't be blocked.

I'm thinking a push power if the monsters stab some one but if its a wrestling match with an inanimate object then opposed athletics checks.


Alan_Beven wrote:

Largely this problem exists if you let it exist. There are two ways to go with 4e one of which is as you originally described, X is true explain X. And of course this is entirely the "feel" of the rules and the RAW. WotC have also hedged around the issue some with explaining tripping oozes and the like. This approach seems to be based on the argument of a level playing field for the DnD experience. Some attempt to pretend the game is like a computer game.

But the nice thing with RPGs is that you can alter the rules, but more importantly you have a human DM. To really make 4e work great you simply alter the paradigm to X is possible if you can explain X. And make the whole table responsible for accepting the explaination with the DM as final say. This is certainly how I run my games, and it does require consensus and a degree of maturity (what do you mean my power doesn't work?).

An example is the ranger hunters class ability to slide 2 with I think the power is called clever shot. My standing rule here is that the player must in some way convince the table that shooting someone with an arrow could cause the desired effect. Generally sliding someone towards you would be difficult to narrate in this instance, if you can't it does not occur.

The kick on effect of this is that "magic" effects are essentially easier to narrate that martial powers in a number of cases (tripping oozes, wrestling dragons to the ground). And our group has accepted that this is the case. Others may not.

That is an interesting style and its actually been brought up once or twice at my table but its not how we want to play the game.


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Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:


That is an interesting style and its actually been brought up once or twice at my table but its not how we want to play the game.

Can't blame you there. The number of really wierd situations we have encountered has been very low so it's not a big deal. My players have an extensive history with White Wolf games that practically prescribe this approach, so each group has its own style.


Alan_Beven wrote:
Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:


That is an interesting style and its actually been brought up once or twice at my table but its not how we want to play the game.
Can't blame you there. The number of really wierd situations we have encountered has been very low so it's not a big deal. My players have an extensive history with White Wolf games that practically prescribe this approach, so each group has its own style.

It is worth noting that my group does expect the DM to do some extra homework in this department. Hence Oozes don't get tripped because they have a trait that states that they are immune to effects that would knock them prone. Skeletons and Zombies have effects that make them immune to fear, charm and effects that would dominate them etc. etc.

This gets around some of the more annoying elements that stick out to much. I also wonder if we would have a harde4r time using your groups approach in that not all points in time are equal. If my players are desperately trying to stay alive their views get quite skewed compared to some situation there is no danger. Considering that I've killed two of them in the last 6 or so sessions I'm not sure that all of them could reasonably be detached under circumstances where a characters life might depend on the answer.

Beyond that this group is happily rules bound and has been forever. I mean our house rules for Necromunda where a Codex in themselves and very well organized and even our 4E house rules run five or six pages. We've always dealt with things by writing it down...been that way for 20+ years so I doubt we'll change.


Narativist Adventure Design
So I bumped into a couple of interesting adventure design elements during the course of my designing Re-Creation (converted Tallow's Deep).

One is a 4E conundrum and one, might, have been true in 3rd as well as 4th and I address it here. Second one for a later post.

The first deals with a room with two baddies in it that exists mainly so that the baddies can spy on the PCs and see if they have passed a certain point in the complex. These baddies need to be there so that I can reasonably have all the ambushes and traps occupied and ready for when the PCs show up in the various encounters. Presumably they bad guys don't stand with their hands on the switch 24 hours a day. Plus they'll sound a gong that echoes all through the dungeon - it'll add atmosphere and that is always a big bonus.

Thing is its possible for the PCs to find their way to these baddies and when they do (and they probably will, eventually) I face a strange dilemma. This is not a fight worth having. Two guys is a waste of everyones time. The players won't feel cool for beating down two guys it'll just eat up valuable game time for no real purpose. I don't want to beef up the fight - its not an interesting location and this is a really big dungeon already - largest in the campaign so far. Another fight is just not needed so that is not a solution. I can't have these baddies run away after sounding the alarm because this adventure is big enough that the PCs will need to leave for long rests - so we eventually get back to the point where these guys need to be there to warn the complex when the PCs come back.

So, ultimately I have this situation where I want some guys in a location, but only conditionally - they are there unless the PCs go there - in which case they have in fact withdrawn. I mean these guys are actually really ephemeral - they don't exist except when they are doing their spying thing. I did not include them in any encounter.

This is a pretty unusual concept - I don't recall every reading an adventure that had 'conditional' baddies that exist unless they would be encountered and then they cease to exist. In 1st and 2nd, when this adventure was actually made, this would have just been an easy fight. That is fine - used to happen all the time and no one really commented on it. Lots of the fights where easy. The fact that the combats ran quick made it not to terrible...but I do remember that the magic using players would sometimes complain. They where not to waste spells on easy fights by group consensus (and I was a bit of a killer DM even back then so they really did need to know when not to waste resources).

In effect it was not perfect in terms of game design but, since 1st and 2nd edition combats where fast, it was not really terrible.

In third I just did the same thing - really easy CR encounter. It was actually worse by this point because battle matt encounters do suck up game time. I'm not sure that it was the best option in 3rd but I kept playing in the style that I was accustomed.

4th though was a game changer. 4E could have really great combats with lots of interesting moving parts and the problems with designing encounters where I went looking for interesting elements to add to them simply does not mesh with 'lousy opposition chosen for encounter'. In effect there are only good fights in 4E 'either interesting ones, very challenging ones or ones specifically designed to show off how kick ass the PCs are. Don't meet this criteria? Then remove the combat. Simple as that.

For the first time the point of having perfectly simulationist (or Gygaxian if you will) adventures no longer made sense to me. This gets ever more dramatic when its become routine for me to build into the flavour text reasonable PC actions just to make sure that the players get into the interesting combat encounter.

For example in the next session my PCs will pass through a recently evacuated city. They'll need to camp there and they'll stay at a specific inn and will be interrupted and attacked by bad guys during the night. In an older edition the players would indicate to me where they where planning on taking their rest and I'd go from there - but with a need to work out all the features of the Inn, design its floor plans and the rules for when the bad guys try lighting it on fire etc. etc. they no longer get to choose to occupy a different building or choose to camp outside the city...its reasonable that they would enter the city and take up residence for the night at an abandoned inn so I say that is what they do...

Now it is very important that this is part of the social contract with my players. I started off this campaign in the traditional manner and they missed a few interesting encounters because of their choices...and they complained about it. I actually got marching orders from my players to simply place them in the interesting encounter but not to really jar them out of their suspension of disbelief. So know I have control over reasonable PC actions in flavour text.

Once this had taken place it becomes easier to step away from other elements of simulationist adventure design that follow the same logic - if a good fight should be triggered in flavour text if that is what is required then it starts to make sense that an unfun fight can be avoided in pretty much the same manner.

At this point I'll probably just flavour text the fight - "you guys won and it was so easy that you took no damage...moving on".


I am not familiar with the adventure, but FWIW I think this is a good opportunity to replace a combat encounter (easy an throw away in 1e/2e) with a skill encounter. This culd be a mini skill challenge that covers questioning the enemies (who may have been overcome, or surrendered) as well as working out how the PCs could use the traps themselves - and what group could resist that? At the end, leave the players to decide what they do with the 2 guys. In a complex of traps and ambushes it may be a good change of pace.


This is good advice. Though in my case it won't work as my adventure is full of Draconians, in my campaign these are created super soldiers who have no sense of self preservation and will fight to the death. If I was using a different monster here I'd go for it but its always important to me to keep the themes of my campaign consistent. Hence if Draconians behave in manner X this remains true whenever they are encountered. The point is to get it so that ones players, over the course of many campaigns in the same world, come to understand the world in the same way as one can come to understand a place like Mexico or Thailand.


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I know you like to play by RAW but I will throw in how I deal with this stuff. Simply I run the combats without battle maps, drawings or dice for positioning. And I make these guys minions using my super minion rules. Essentially if they are hit they get a special save (on a d20, generally 15 or more to stay alive).

The thing I love about 4e is that it is so well balanced as a DM you can make these types of encounters up by making up your own rules. YMMV.


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I originally went down your path of removing the fights. Then I realised that 4e fights that are "important" were designed to last long. So I created a category of fights with minions. Thing with minions is they are guaranteed to hit the dirt and the players know it. Throw in a special effect on the minion that it goes back to 1 hp on a 15-20, unless it takes a crit, and you throw some randomness back in play.

I did it last session with two orcs guarding an entrance. The players unloaded, one Orc got lucky and skewered a PC with a javelin before getting nuked. Total fight length probably 4 minutes. Players had a blast.

What makes 4e awesome in my opinion is judiciously breaking the rules.


Alan_Beven wrote:
What makes 4e awesome in my opinion is judiciously breaking the rules.

I'd say what makes D&D awesome is judiciously breaking the rules. It's something that finally dawned on me at the tail end of 3E, and it was quite a game changer.


Sebastrd wrote:
Alan_Beven wrote:
What makes 4e awesome in my opinion is judiciously breaking the rules.
I'd say what makes D&D awesome is judiciously breaking the rules. It's something that finally dawned on me at the tail end of 3E, and it was quite a game changer.

I think my issue in these types of situations are not so much that I love RAW. We use a lot of house rules in my game for instance - we just add to the rules, essentially creating an expanded version of RAW as opposed to going adhock with each situation.

My issue is not so much about RAW in any case - its about consistency of themes. If I establish that monster X behaves in a certain manner then I want that to be consistently true. I want my players to have a feel for monster X even when they encounter the creature again in the next campaign. I love minions and, in fact, my players and me worked out some new minion rules (see some posts above) to make them function better at higher levels but I'm not really inclined to create a minion that exists simply so that my players can have a fast fight that has little real importance to the adventure. I want my monsters to feel authentic and this option does not really go in that direction.

That is not to say that I think of minion as a static thing. One of the things I will do is create minions out of standard monsters at about twice their level. The most obvious example is the town guard is a third level creature when my PCs are low level - when they are higher level that same town guard is a 6th level minion. He exists in both states relative to the PCs.

However what you are talking about is not relative to the PCs - its relative to the desires of the DM and the players sitting around the table. The monsters morphed into minions not because they are now substantially weaker compared to the hero's but because the DM did not want to spend to much time on this throw away encounter.


Sebastrd wrote:
Alan_Beven wrote:
What makes 4e awesome in my opinion is judiciously breaking the rules.
I'd say what makes D&D awesome is judiciously breaking the rules. It's something that finally dawned on me at the tail end of 3E, and it was quite a game changer.

I think this is true but their are serious pitfalls in 3rd that are much less prevalent in 4th. In 3rd I found that about half the time when I introduced a house rule it would actually eventually come back to bite me in the ass. Everything was just so interconnected it was hard to judge the knock on effects. Its easier to break 4E down into what is supposed to be going on and therefore easier to go in and tinker with things without it just exploding in your face.


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Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Sebastrd wrote:
Alan_Beven wrote:
What makes 4e awesome in my opinion is judiciously breaking the rules.
I'd say what makes D&D awesome is judiciously breaking the rules. It's something that finally dawned on me at the tail end of 3E, and it was quite a game changer.
I think this is true but their are serious pitfalls in 3rd that are much less prevalent in 4th. In 3rd I found that about half the time when I introduced a house rule it would actually eventually come back to bite me in the ass. Everything was just so interconnected it was hard to judge the knock on effects. Its easier to break 4E down into what is supposed to be going on and therefore easier to go in and tinker with things without it just exploding in your face.

Agreed and precisely why I like 4e so much in this regard.


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Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Sebastrd wrote:
Alan_Beven wrote:
What makes 4e awesome in my opinion is judiciously breaking the rules.
I'd say what makes D&D awesome is judiciously breaking the rules. It's something that finally dawned on me at the tail end of 3E, and it was quite a game changer.

I think my issue in these types of situations are not so much that I love RAW. We use a lot of house rules in my game for instance - we just add to the rules, essentially creating an expanded version of RAW as opposed to going adhock with each situation.

My issue is not so much about RAW in any case - its about consistency of themes. If I establish that monster X behaves in a certain manner then I want that to be consistently true. I want my players to have a feel for monster X even when they encounter the creature again in the next campaign. I love minions and, in fact, my players and me worked out some new minion rules (see some posts above) to make them function better at higher levels but I'm not really inclined to create a minion that exists simply so that my players can have a fast fight that has little real importance to the adventure. I want my monsters to feel authentic and this option does not really go in that direction.

That is not to say that I think of minion as a static thing. One of the things I will do is create minions out of standard monsters at about twice their level. The most obvious example is the town guard is a third level creature when my PCs are low level - when they are higher level that same town guard is a 6th level minion. He exists in both states relative to the PCs.

However what you are talking about is not relative to the PCs - its relative to the desires of the DM and the players sitting around the table. The monsters morphed into minions not because they are now substantially weaker compared to the hero's but because the DM did not want to spend to much time on this throw away encounter.

You are correct in your assessment. Our group could care less about monster consistency or verisimilitude expression via rules. We make our own story using imagination and bend the rules to make the story awesome. I can certainly respect your approach however, but it's all a bit to tidy for our style. Limited chaos leads to great stories in my opinion.


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:

I think my issue in these types of situations are not so much that I love RAW. We use a lot of house rules in my game for instance - we just add to the rules, essentially creating an expanded version of RAW as opposed to going adhock with each situation.

My issue is not so much about RAW in any case - its about consistency of themes. If I establish that monster X behaves in a certain manner then I want that to be consistently true. I want my players to have a feel for monster X even when they encounter the creature again in the next campaign. I love minions and, in fact, my players and me worked out some new minion rules (see some posts above) to make them function better at higher levels but I'm not really inclined to create a minion that exists simply so that my players can have a fast fight that has little real importance to the adventure. I want my monsters to feel authentic and this option does not really go in that direction.

That is not to say that I think of minion as a static thing. One of the things I will do is create minions out of standard monsters at about twice their level. The most obvious example is the town guard is a third level creature when my PCs are low level - when they are higher level that same town guard is a 6th level minion. He exists in both states relative to the PCs.

However what you are talking about is not relative to the PCs - its relative to the desires of the DM and the players sitting around the table. The monsters morphed into minions not because they are now substantially weaker compared to the hero's but because the DM did not want to spend to much time on this throw away encounter.

I very much agree with you. I was just commenting that all versions of D&D benefit from breaking rules when necessary. In fact, it's often precisely to maintain the type of game you describe.


OK lots of traps in my adventure and while I'm working on them I notice that there are now two different versions. Flicking back through the copies of Dungeon it would seem they went with a new format and layout from about Dungeon 180 on. Did they ever announce that or otherwise delve into the changes that anyone knows about? I'd love to read that article if it exists.

In any case the new format gets major kudos from me. They've gone with a far simpler format and yet it seems much better spelled out and much more functional. Very happy with the new design and it addresses some of the issues I was having with 4E traps.


That Solo Problem
I jump my players with a Hydra being careful to pick one of the ultra modern ones from the latest monster books as Hydra's are particularly well known for being uninteresting monsters in the early books.

The monster looks really good - its got lots of attacks and a very powerful free action that allows it to attack any creature within its head's reach at the end of their round. It can even do this attack when dazed or dominated (why not stunned confused me).

However my group is just about to hit Paragon and the single solo enemy is something they are phenomenally good against. I mean my poor Hydra was at -7 to hit and weakened for pretty much the entire combat.

This gets me wondering if this is just the nature of 4E or if its particularly a function of my party. After all when I threw a not as hard but much more standard lots of enemies encounter at them a few sessions before one of them died. I've done a similar 'lots of enemies encounter' recently and it was a pretty easy encounter and they still took a lot of surges worth of damage (problematic because this is a rare thing in my current campaign ...a bonafide dungeon).

Truth is I don't know - I don't really have a control group. I suspect that its both a function of 4E and a function of my group. Put another way all the powers that add conditions and such in 4E eventually make it so that any party will lay down a ton of negative conditions and penalties. Nonetheless I think my group has essentially focused in that direction. To the point that they are actually not very good against sizable groups but can make one baddie have horrible penalties all day long.

My hope is that this will even out a little more as time goes on. I'm near sure that it will to at least some extent...because the single solo by itself is an encounter I'll be avoiding for some time to come and I expect my players will note that and put more focus on powers that work well against many enemies and are less focused on nerfing that one big baddie.

While this will help significantly I also suspect that in any 4E game there comes a time when the single lone Solo is just over matched by even a more balanced group. This does annoy me somewhat as the one or two big baddies tends to be a favorite type of encounter for me. Though I'm somewhat mollified in the fact that as bad as this is in 4E it was even worse in earlier editions. 4E designs the monsters, especially solo's, from the ground up to try and combat this sort of thing. That its not perfect at it does not mean that its not trying to mitigate the issue.


I think the bane of Solos are Controllers... I am running SoW at the moment and have a group with a (dex based) Druid and (illusion based) Wizard. Compared against non-Controller parties, they are able to really limit their opponents, freeing up the other roles to do their jobs very effectively.

In a normal encounter the Druid may be able to limit a single foe, whilst the Wizard may be able to lock down 2 or 3 with area attacks, but it takes a lot of planning and co-ordination to do this and normally at least some of the opposition avoid the controllers.

In a Solo fight... the Druid can happily use single target lockdown which affects all of the foes (1 Solo) they are fighting (instead of simply a single standard). The Wizard is in an even happier place as his area powers are hitting all of the foes (1 Solo) every time.
As long as the party leave enough space for area attacks to avoid friendly fire, the Solo is controllered off the table.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

I typically find solo encounters a bit anti-climatic. This was an area of the game where the concept moved ahead of the design and took a while to catch up. Even then I get the impression they are hard to get right. Oddly, one of the better solo fights we had was against a hydra (at early paragon level) but it was a old one jury-rigged to do more damage. They killed it quite swiftly but it hurt them.

I think solos often suffer from limited attacks and vulnerability due to being a lone monster being subjected to the effects of several PCs at once - basically another way of stating the controller issue Ylissa mentions. Plus they can't be in more than one place at once, unlike multiple monsters. Arguably, as well as multiple attacks solos need ways to throw off control effects as well - the reason for the +5 bonus to saves but maybe not sufficient by itself. I think some of the more modern dragon designs have this.


Ylissa wrote:

I think the bane of Solos are Controllers... I am running SoW at the moment and have a group with a (dex based) Druid and (illusion based) Wizard. Compared against non-Controller parties, they are able to really limit their opponents, freeing up the other roles to do their jobs very effectively.

In a normal encounter the Druid may be able to limit a single foe, whilst the Wizard may be able to lock down 2 or 3 with area attacks, but it takes a lot of planning and co-ordination to do this and normally at least some of the opposition avoid the controllers.

In a Solo fight... the Druid can happily use single target lockdown which affects all of the foes (1 Solo) they are fighting (instead of simply a single standard). The Wizard is in an even happier place as his area powers are hitting all of the foes (1 Solo) every time.
As long as the party leave enough space for area attacks to avoid friendly fire, the Solo is controllered off the table.

Well I'd caution against using SoW to draw any real conclusions. The problem is SoW is essentially the very first adventure in 4E and it is rife with all the problems, growth pains etc. etc. in 4E not to mention that the adventure writers had no idea what they where doing - how could they - for most of them this was the first time they had tried to make an adventure for 4E. The plotlines are often pretty good in SoW but just because X is a terrible way to design an encounter in 4E does not mean that you won't find X in Scales of War.

In particular early solo's where considered particularly problematic and exceptionally prone to being debuffed into uselessness. Looking at the Solo's from the Monsterous Compendium and they are much, much improved...though obviously there are issues even so.


Aubrey the Malformed wrote:

I typically find solo encounters a bit anti-climatic. This was an area of the game where the concept moved ahead of the design and took a while to catch up. Even then I get the impression they are hard to get right. Oddly, one of the better solo fights we had was against a hydra (at early paragon level) but it was a old one jury-rigged to do more damage. They killed it quite swiftly but it hurt them.

I think solos often suffer from limited attacks and vulnerability due to being a lone monster being subjected to the effects of several PCs at once - basically another way of stating the controller issue Ylissa mentions. Plus they can't be in more than one place at once, unlike multiple monsters. Arguably, as well as multiple attacks solos need ways to throw off control effects as well - the reason for the +5 bonus to saves but maybe not sufficient by itself. I think some of the more modern dragon designs have this.

All true but I find even with ways to throw off effects and such they tend to have issues. For instance they are the Markee - the Defender piles everything on them without hesitation because there is no one else. Another big issue is that many control effects are not, mechanic wise, control effects. Your not under any real condition most of the time if your suffering a -2 penalty to hit from a players power - and they can stack up the penalties. Beyond that there are a lot of powers that say 'do X to the target' and then go on to describe what X is and its a set of circumstances but not a condition so much as a unique effect of said power. There is a really potent Battlemnind power like this that comes up in my group. At will the Battlemind can make it so that the target may only move if it ends its move in a space adjacent to the battlemind. If it can't meet this criteria then presumably it can't move. This is not a condition so there is no way to save out of it or anything like that its just an effect of the Battleminds power. However its really potent since its immobilization without an escape clause much of the time and further the Battlemind, being a defender often actually wants to hang out beside the monster.

Truth is in my case at least the parties controller is barely a controller and is not the source of my problems - its the rest of the guys. The Defender is actually a phenominal controller and the cleric is loaded with some really exceptional 'I nerf you forever' type powers. Iron to Glass stands out here - -2 to damage every time the target hits, cumulative up to -10 for the rest of the encounter. Again this is not really a condition but, for many monsters, having -10 damage for every attack makes it way less dangerous.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

On the other hand, they had a fatality on the next encounter where they had to fight more than one enemy. Could be they are tricked up best for anti-solo work - there still exists a trade-off, potentially. Killing solos is pretty easy a lot of the time so perhaps they aren't that optimised.

The big issue with solos is really the lack of actions coupled with being the only target. That said, from an encounter design perspective it may be sensible to have some mooks in with the solo. Not just minions, but standard monsters. From memory, a lvl X solo plus two lvl X standards should be about a lvl X+2 encounter - tough but not overwhelming for lvl X characters. Playing round with the levels can give you different mixes and numbers. That would be probably a challenge to most parties. I hasten to add I haven't tried this, but I'm thinking that perhaps it's time... Anyway, just because it says "solo" they don't have to enter the stage alone.

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