Thursday, June 26, 2014

Barad plays in a 3E gestalt character game

I joined a game recently where they are using gestalt characters in a third edition with house rules campaign.  Gestalt character definitions can be found in the Unearthed Arcana book.  There were only two players before I joined the game, so the DM chose to use Gestalt characters.

What is a gestalt character?  For a more robust description, look here at the d20srd site.  Short answer: to
support high-powered campaigns, characters essentially take two classes at every level, choosing the best aspects of each. The process is similar to multi-classing, except that characters gain the full benefits of each class at each level. If the two classes you choose have aspects that overlap (such as Hit Dice, attack progression, saves, and class features common to more than one class), you choose the better aspect. The gestalt character retains all aspects that don’t overlap.

Don't ask me to explain how the name links to the word as used in psychology - I don't get it.

If you are running a game, and have only 2-3 players, this is a way to have them cover more capability.  I think it takes a more experienced player to handle one, and certainly takes a more experienced DM to attempt to setup encounters in some sort of balance.  I think the write up in the Unearthed Arcana is spot on: gestalt characters are more powerful than regular characters but NOT twice as powerful.  You still only get one character's worth of actions per round, and even is you have more hit points due to using best in class, it still is not the amount two separate characters would have.

So, in the attack/capability area, you suddenly have more choice which is very powerful.  However, since the DM is hitting you with a larger challenge things can get swingy.  Our experience so far has been if we play well, and the the opponents hard, we do very well.  If we stumble a bit, if we lose the tempo, or get on the defensive things can go sour very quickly.

Most of 'monsters' are just that, regular monsters.  The DM may use higher challenge ratings, which can be dangerous if we don't have the necessary capability to take them down, or more often just use more monsters.  The DM does occasionally include gestalt opponents, but of course we do not know that until they do something unexpected.

All in all the game is fun.  There have been some awkward moments, but I think the DM has done a pretty good job of keeping the party challenged.  And there are times, gestalt character or not, we should just run away to fight another day.  Alas, that does not always happen, and death has occurred.  Usually happens when people get cocky or bored.  We may be powerful, but we are still just three in the action economy.

So, in summary, gestalt seems to be a viable choice if:

  • the party is 2-3 players
  • players and DM are experienced
  • you do not mind additional swingy-ness in the game
  • you do not get hung up on potential rule collisions and let the DM rule quickly and move on

The party consisted of a Paladin-Sorcerer, Fighter-Rogue, Fighter-Wizard, but the Paladin-Sorcerer perished in the last game. (...know when to run away...).  We'll see what he brings in next.  I find the Fighter-Wizard I am playing to be quite flexible and potent, and I am quite pleased that I always seem to have something useful and dangerous to do.  Have a big bad guy in front of me - go all fighter on him, then be suddenly surrounded by lots of troublesome little cretins - how'd you like that flaming hands.

That's it for now.
The dice never lie.

Friday, April 11, 2014

BBC post - The 1980s D&D panic

Seems like this topic never goes away.  At least some people laugh about it now.

The stigma is still real though.  How many of us admit publicly in most social situations to playing this 'geek' game?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Barad sips some Abita Turbodog

Sometimes I feel like the lonely voice in the crowd when I go the the specialty beer shop.  While others are clamoring for the latest super hopped IPA, or IPA like pale ale I ask my local merchant, "You have anything with a nice malty flavor?"

He takes me around back to the 'cave' and points to the six pack of Abita Turbodog.  I know naught how the name relates to the brew, but he was correct - this is a malty ale.

Pours out with a nice thick head which lasted a couple of minutes. The aromas are not strong to me.  It is a dark brown color with reddish tint.  Very pretty.  Taste - ah the taste; sweet malty goodness with hints of chocolate, toffee, and caramel.  Strong enough in tasted that you might not have more than two in a row unless you were pairing with some food.

I like the brew, but I do not find it outstanding.  Except for the fact it is a malty beverage saving me from a sea of out of balance hoppy concoctions.  So for that, I thank you Abita.

I give it a mild thumbs up.  Go ahead and try it if you are like me and need a break from IPAs masquerading as pale ales.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Captain Blood

Once more I read an old adventure novel.  I have a mild interest in old adventure novels.  I am interested in the historical perspective they sometimes reveal, curious about the ground work they have set for future works, they generally are much shorter than the modern behemoths being published, and if I don't care for them I am not out anything but time because I generally get them on my Kindle.

I read this free Kindle version of the novel (spoilers in the 2nd link).

As far as I can tell the novel appears to be historically based.  I am no expert on the time period, about 1688, but they major events seem to track to real history.  The novel is not so much about the main events of the time period but more about the effect it had on people.  As in most adventure novels I have read from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it does its fair share of thinly veiled social commentary.

Basically Captain Blood, is a hero of high moral standards who is thrown low, and comes back in a dashing style.  What more could you ask for in a pirate adventure?

The writing is not too bad.  However several times the writing style devolves into explaining things instead of telling the story.  That also seems to be quite common in early novels.  One thing I do find interesting is the general reviling of the Spanish throughout the book.  I am not sure if that is historically accurate, or just a bias of the author.

All in all, not a bad short read, with some interesting history.  It most certainly is fertile ground for ideas to be used in an episodic adventure style RPG.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Other observations from 4th Edition

After some additional time playing 4th Edition I offer these more recent observations.

Movement, area spells and the lack of extra cost for diagonal movement really does make the action move faster.  That said, I still don't know if I favor the approach.   When playing the 4th Edition game I just went with it and tried not to think about the discontinuity of the approach.  Last week I played in a 3.5 game and the additional time to calculate movement and spell area effects was noticeable.

WoTC online tools for 4E make character upgrades and decisions faster.  I do not know how you would find all the options in books, and whether the cost of that sized library is worth it.  The options in just the core books are a bit limited and the huge number of options available in the on-line tools is tempting.  The DM has a subscription and we logged in as him to make the updates.

In the last session my Mage character was hit with a strange poison which brought me to zero hit points and kept me unconscious.  It was an usual situation, and the numbers were a bit of an oddity, but the net effect was I was not going to die from the poison but there was no way to trigger a save roll or nor death save until additional damage from another source hit my character.  So I was out for a few rounds with nothing at all to do.  Seeing that, the DM gave me control of a bad guy.  I happily attacked the party until I realized if I used an area power that hit my character it would trigger events which would likely have brought my character back into the battle.  The bad guy wouldn't know that, and I didn't want to take advantage of that in playing the bad guy.  Awkward.

I still find formal skill challenges to be awkward.  In the last session an NPC leads us through the explanation of how we prevent a machine from blowing up.  Unfortunately it ended up being a bunch of rolls rather than role playing.  I would still rather see a DM give players a problem and let them figure it out with their own minds and using rolls as a last resort.

Where has Barad been?

Life got complicated the last several months.  Some family issues and the loss of my job.  Not to worry, it will all work out in the end.

Blogging may continue to be spotty.  My 3.5E group essentially ended a while back and there is no outlook for interest in reforming in the near future.  The 4E Zeitgeist campaign I joined is on hiatus, and it may be a permanent end.  I am having difficulty getting interest from my group who plays in my d20 past Victorian Shadows campaign.  In the mean time I am a guest in my sons 3.5E group and am looking for a local table top D&D group to join.

Until next time, all the best.  The dice never lie.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Who says 4e characters cannot die

In an earlier post I commented on how hard it appeared to be to kill characters.  We have played a number of times since then, and regardless of how difficult the rules may seem to make it to kill off characters, we have had a couple of kills, some near kills, and a near TPK.

We are playing the Zeitgeist campaign and have had four characters through much of it, and five characters through some of it.  We had a number of times where a character went down, but the rest of the group was able to contain the encounter and get to the fallen comrade before death, no big deal.  The last couple of big encounters were very different.

I'll try to avoid spoilers, but the encounter on Cauldron Hill appears to have been designed to be a challenging one, and we were only four characters.  We were protecting a NPC, which was a distraction, and three of the four characters were rolling very poorly including one which was dominated or something.  Our paladin, who as the defending was taking the brunt of their attacks and attention, was low on HPs and took a hit from the BBEG so hard it killed him outright.  The DM took some pity on us since he felt he underestimated the challenge and we rolled so poorly, and gave us a roll play way out.  If not for that, it was a TPK in progress.  The paladin's player decided he wanted to play something else, so we didn't attempt to haul his dead body out - not that we were in any condition to do so anyway and the role playing opportunity essentially took that option away in any case.

The next big encounter involved a player deciding to go toe to toe with a large creature who was obviously very dangerous in melee.  We looked to be successfully handling the behemoth from a distance with ranged attacks and battle field control which kept it from closing with us.  The player, for reasons which are not clear to me (perhaps he was bored with his limited ranged options), moved his character within melee, and in no time at all was pummeled into unconsciousness.  Another character closed too to attempt to save him, and he too was quickly down.  Fortunately, we were able to get the creature down in time to save one of the two downed characters.  The now dead character, through a role play method (my character can speak with the dead), expressed his interest in being 'reincarnated'.   So that became our mission for him (he wanted to play the same personality, but a different character class).

The next encounter had us fearing failure and death once again, but this time only one character down and saved just in time, and we negotiated our way out of what could have been either a victory or TPK - it was close.

What do I make of all this?

  • This is a difficult adventure.  Some of the bad guys are very dangerous, and can do lots of damage in a short amount of time.
  • The adventure is designed for five characters and we have been mostly four.  It makes a difference.
  • We had no heavy damage striker, and it took us too long to take nasty folks out.
  • Some of us are new to 4th edition, and we are not taking good advantage of the fact this is a high magic campaign.  (Using the minor action and potions would make a difference)
  • We are being slow to coalesce as a fighting group.  We are bad at focus fire.
  • The players who are experienced at 4th edition, are playing it like 3rd edition and coming up short on healing.
  • 4th edition characters can be difficult to kill, however, serious BBEGs can easily overcome that difficulty.
We have plenty of role playing in our game, so I stick to my earlier comments about it being our bias regardless of whether 4e rules help/hinder role playing - there is no problem getting role playing with us.

That is it for now.  We'll be getting to 4th level next session and throwing ourselves face first into danger again.

The dice never lie.

Monday, August 12, 2013

4th edition: beyond 1st level

You can read about the mechanics of going from first to second level in the rule book; there is no value in regurgitating the facts.  Rather I'll relate how I feel about going up a level.

The math takes a plus 1 at even levels, and though when I first started playing 30+ years ago it was exciting to gain math bonuses, math bonuses no longer have much thrill for me.  My character gets a bigger number, the monsters get bigger numbers.  The additional hit points are only a fraction of my HP total, so I don't feel significantly tougher.  Contrasting with older editions, going up from 1st level was a sigh of relief given how easy it was to be reduced to 0 HPs.  It feels right though, my character is a little bit tougher, a little bit more powerful vs. the larger step functions which were the earlier editions.

I get a feat - I take improved initiative and look forward to a much improve chance of going first and doing controller things to significantly alter the encounter.  I get to select two utility powers of which I can learn one of them each day; I take defensive powers.  I feel more confident in putting my squishy mage out there in combat with these interrupt powers.  

All in all, the step function up a level is not that grand but it is enough that I feel my character IS more powerful.  

I'll skip ahead and over most of our 2nd level adventuring.  In this game we are playing much of it is role playing and intrigue.  The big combat on the docks is our gateway to the next level or to the cemetery.  This combat is quite different from previous encounters in there is very limited line of sight.  My mage powers are severely hindered because most of what I acquired is area control, and most of what I can see is one or two enemies.  Undeterred, I press forward trailing our Paladin by only a square or two as we endeavor to push through quickly to get to the ship we must prevent from departing without us.

Interesting tactical quandary: two of the five characters decide to hold back 5-10 squares at the start.  The tactician in me wants to scream - what are you crazy?  The apparently don't see they are going to lose a tempo or two in just getting to the fight vs. the ability to 'see' the battlefield and make strategic decisions.  30 years of tactical gaming tells me otherwise, and is borne out during the encounter.  However I say nothing, and I digress.

My character's spells are not high damage, but they are controlling.  I push people, make them fall down, make them slow, and sometimes a combination at this low level.  I am nothing without other characters to take advantage of the battlefield I have rearranged.  I am the puppet master, and my party members are all powerful because I am pulling strings for them.  (mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha).  What I actually start to observe is what I will call the 'half effect' result.  When I start throwing spells around I notice that some number of opponents just over half are affected.  Sure sometimes I miss everything, and sometimes I hit everything, but more often than not I affect 1/2 to 2/3 of the creatures I target.  The tactician in me takes careful notes.

I have not had enough encounters yet to bear this out, but the tactician in my is observing my powers and suggesting I either open with a full blast of my most potent powers on first round (in a scenario where I can see the enemy clearly and have access to them all), or hold the most potent powers to turn the encounter around (in a scenario where I cannot target the bulk of the enemy at once, and our tactical plan is in question).  Sort of the open with cavalry first when the opponents are in an open field vs. hold them in reserve for the counter punch in a less sure situation.

Back to the scenario - we two push forward with two party members 1-2 rounds behind us, and one party member waiting up ahead having snuck into a tactical position.  The layout forces me to abandon the Paladin in an attempt to clear his way to the boat.  Unfortunately this leaves me in a situation where I must use powers to not only hinder the enemy from stopping the Palandin's rush forward, but to keep them from cornering the squishy mage while the remaining party catches up.

The encounter is well balanced against the party - we will either win or come dangerously close to a TPK.  At the end, I unleash my most potent power to change the encounter.  Of the three party members who had made it to the ship one was down, one was hurt very badly and hanging off the ship, leaving only a bow wielding Ranger to deal with three opponents; two of which were the most powerful in the encounter.  It looked bad.  My horded daily power turned the tables - I dropped one of the two powerful opponents and disadvantaged the other (thank you Phantom Chasm) plus I used a minor action to deliver a curing potion to the Ranger to give to the Paladin.   A heroic leap to the boat by our Druid changed the odds completely and the encounter was ours.  It was close.

We are now 3rd level.  Some interesting observations I have made:
  • The way the encounters are setup, and of course the way I choose to play, I have only used my daily powers once during first level, and once during second level
  • My character does not get hit very often and has never gone down.  I think this is due to my playing him as nervous about combat, the Paladin standing firm to protect the mage, and having very good defenses (probably the 2nd best defenses on average in the team).  Not due to my hit points.
  • I have not yet had to use my utility spells or my staff of defense interrupt.  Related to above bullet point.
At 3rd level my character gets another encounter power which is a bit exciting.  Additional cash and item found added to my gear was also a nice bump.  Similar feeling of power increase like the previous level but nothing like the uneven bump in earlier editions - going to 3rd felt like a big deal in those editions.  I do say I like the smoothing out of the power increase this way.
More another time.  The dice never lie.
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