Saturday, June 25, 2011

The drone of swarming stirges may be the last thing you hear

I like the idea of those nasty blood sucking creatures called stirges, but always felt there should have been a different implementation of them.  Cristian over at Destination Unknown posted his Gurps take on stirges, which triggered sharing one of my takes on the beasts.

Green Winged Swamp Stirge

Green Winged Swamp Stirges are smaller than their larger cousins, being only 8” long on average and weighing approximately ¼ of a pound.. These stirge’s coloration is grey green wings and back with a dirty yellow underside. The proboscis is pink at the tip, fading to gray at its base.

Hit Dice: 9d8
Initiative: +8
Speed: 10ft crawling/30ft flying
AC: 22 (+8 size, +4 dex), touch 22, flat footed 18
Attack: Swarm 2d6
Space/Reach: 10'/0'
Special Attacks: Distraction DC 13
Special Qualities: Low light vision, immune to weapon damage, swarm traits
Saves: Fort +7, Ref +7, Will +4
Abilities: Str 1; Dex 18, Con 10, Int 1, Wis 12, Cha 6
Skills: Hide +20, Spot +4, Listen +4
Feats: Improved initiative
CR: 5

One individual of these creatures poses little danger, however they are rarely found alone. These creatures travel in large swarms which are quite deadly to living creatures. Like their larger cousins, these diminutive stirges feed on blood.

Each swarm of the Green Winged Swamp Stirges numbers approximately 5000 of these creatures. During most of the day, the attach themselves to the underside of leaves, branches, grasses and the like waiting to surprise passing creatures. Shortly after sunset they go out in search of prey for an hour or two. When in flight, they make a low pitched droning noise, created by the beating of thousands of wings. This is a terrifying sound to those who know what is to shortly follow. It is not unusual for there to be more than a single swarm seeking prey together or hiding side by side in the swamp. A swarm of these creatures will happily feed on a creature until it is completely drained of blood.

Each swarm fills a 10' cube. Diminutive swarms are immune to weapon damage. Swarms take +50% damage from area attacks & spells. A swarm does automatic damage to any creature whose space they occupy at the end of their move.

A lit torch swung as an improvised weapon deals 1d3 points of fire damage per hit. A weapon with a special ability such as flaming or frost deals its full energy damage with each hit, even if the weapon’s normal damage can’t affect the swarm. A lit lantern can be used as a thrown weapon, dealing 1d4 points of fire damage to all creatures in squares adjacent to where it breaks.

Distraction (Ex): Any living creature that begins its turn with a stirge swarm in its space must succeed on a DC 13 Fortitude save or be nauseated for 1 round.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

To Cast or Crush?

Our next session is tomorrow.  We have just defeated some extra tough bug bears apparently arranged by some very naughty elves.  We are pretty much decided to heap vengeance upon these miscreants as long as we can locate them.  Which is not exactly a sure thing when tracking elves in the deep forest.

As we contemplate our next actions, I try to think how my character will contribute to the vengeance.  He is a rather dim witted but very wise cleric of Torm.  He also happens to be a half-orc with a 20 strength sporting some serious armor, shield and a nasty hand-and-a-half sword.  It is not the roll play elements which I am considering, I am quite comfortable with that.  Neither is it whether I am willing to be a supportive player or not; as a cleric I always look to make sure my party members are in good stead before leaping in myself.  What has me thinking is about the change from low level characters to higher level characters.

At the earliest levels, we are accustomed to worry about every combat because a few wayward rolls can easily put you in trouble.  As the characters progress, the additional hit points and other improvements make the characters quite durable.  We should easily be able to throw ourselves into most problems, and still be able to survive a mistake or two, or even arrange a hasty retreat if we are not managing to win the day.  No I am talking about stinginess with spells.  At the lower levels the spell cast must hoard her spells.  If she expects to have three, four or even five encounters before she has an opportunity to restore spell capacity she must carefully weigh each encounter wondering, is it now, or do hold these until later?  Wait too long and the encounter turns against the party.  Use them all too early and leave yourself vulnerable later.  Spell casters practice this carefully if they, and their companions, are to survive and thrive.

A funny thing happens as you move up in levels, you get lots of spells.  The ratio of spells available to each encounter changes drastically.  Instead of wondering if you should cast a spell this round, you are more likely wondering which spell to cast this round.

My cleric is 9th level.  With spells per level, ability bonuses, and domain spells included, he can cast about 25 spells before a restore.  Now in practice, if you have consumed all your most powerful spells and have only a few low level stragglers, you probably don't wait until you have no spells left to restore.  However, if a typical combat encounter lasts 6-10 rounds, that still means he can easily use four or more spells in each of four encounters and still have a few for between combats for knowledge, curing or pre combat buffs.  This is vastly different thinking than in the early stages of character development.

Now, additionally for the cleric of Torm, there is the challenge of cast or crush.  He is a decent combatant with a weapon, and especially so if he applies some of the individual combat buffs upon himself.  From a role playing perspective, he likes to crush.  Tactically, he has reached the point where it is much more important that he cast spells, and then step in and fight.  Lastly, because he is a outfitted with heavy armor, battlefield position is difficult to maintain due to his slow speed.

It is not really all that much of a conundrum, it is more of a rhetorical question.  I know what I need to do.  I need to become a spendthrift with my spells, make decisions quickly, make no mistakes in battle field position, and then near the end of the combat use my weapon to slay the enemies of Torm with ruthless efficiency.  It is just remembering that I am no longer a low level character hoarding the precious few spells, and breaking the previously life saving habit for a new one.

The dice never lie.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Legend of Shamus McGinty's Gold

In response to my post about our Western Game a fellow blogger (you can find one of his blogs here) recommended, and then generously mailed me the hard cover version of I. J. Parnham's The Legend of Shamus McGinty's Gold. (Thanks again Chris)

I used the opportunity of a business trip to have time to read it. It is a short read as well as an easy page turner. I have not read much of the western fiction genre. Most of my experience would be from non-fiction and from Hollywood movies. Therefore I cannot compare this to other fiction writers works. I can say it was a pleasant read; you don't have to work hard to follow the story line. It is not a story in the style of the great western movie, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

It is a quaint little story with interesting characters, clever twists and turns, and an underlying moral which doesn't spoil a good tale. It is family friendly, so just about any age could read it. It has a few action sequences involving guns, but does not glorify or gorify them. The story does move along and was finished in no time.
I wouldn't call this a classic, but I don't hesitate to recommend it as pleasant summer reading. This would be a great Western RPG adventure if someone could turn it into one... it is the kind of adventure I wished I had written... but I digress.

I think the book will pass around the house this summer, so I might add comments from the other readers.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Long Trail Blackbeary Wheat

Although this is available year round, the Long Trail Blackbeary Wheat is really a summer beer.  I find the entire Long Trail line to be on the dry side - which is fine for me because I favor crisp dry beers - and this brew is no exception being very dry even with the blackberry flavoring.

When you pour it out, there is not much head, and whatever is there does not last long. It is very pale in color, so there is not much to look upon.  Given it is summer, most often I drink this right out of the bottle.  There is some blackberry aroma which is pleasant.  The is no doubt this is a wheat beer, that comes through quite clearly.  The blackberry taste is not overpowering, but is does have a seltzer like after taste in the finish which some people might not like.  Clean & fizzy, a thirst quencher and somewhat of a palate cleaner.  I like it in the summer as the first beer on a very hot day, or an in between beer when changing from one style to another.

This is not an award winner, but if you like a fruit beer that has only a touch of the berry flavor and is very dry, you might enjoy these.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Players must worry about failure

Christian over at Destination Unknown prompted this post.  He writes an interesting blog over there, I recommend you check it out.

He asks, what is the point of combat.  He talks about his transition of opinion regarding combat and how his monsters & NPCs will now do everything in their power to kill the PCs.  In a broader view, I maintain that players must worry about failure in the adventure or the adventure is no longer fun.  If the tension created by the possibility of failure is gone, where is the excitement?

Failure is not limited to combat, and the consequences of failure are not limited to death.  I maintain that players fear other types of failures more than death.  The loss of prestige, the loss of treasured magic items, capture, or the loss of face by a notable villain usually generate more emotion than simple death.

Al over at Beyond The Black Gate says that character deaths are fun, and one of the notable differences between new and old school FRPGs is whether characters are disposable or not.  He makes a interesting point about this difference.  I see that both can be fun, and have had fun both ways.  However, the game I want to play regularly does not involve disposable characters.  Even when 1st Edition was our primary game vehicle, we didn't favor disposable characters.

So the dichotomy is this - I want to the players to fear for the safety & success of their characters yet I don't want a revolving door of new characters.  I want to the players to be attached to their characters, but not so much they will not take risks.  The game is only really fun when the tension of failure is palpable, when death, loss or embarrassing failure is perceived to be a real possibility.  The players only achieve satisfaction if they feel they overcame the challenges and were not saved by the DM every time they were about to fail.

When characters are low level, every encounter should be difficult.  They are at the bottom of the food chain and consequently they need to behave accordingly.  As they progress, logic dictates that more and more encounters should not be a challenge to them.  If as first level characters they are attacked by a raiding party of Orcs, it should be a tremendous challenge to survive let alone defeat them.  Once they attain higher levels that same raiding party should be a cake walk - the characters hardly breaking a sweat as they deal with the Orcs.  At higher levels the characters should be seeking more difficult challenges as motivated by their character goals.

As Christian points out, the verisimilitude is broken if the players understand there is a pattern or formula that allows the characters to easily defeat the opponents in every encounter.  It needs to be more random, and encounters need to be plausible.  As he says, why would 5 goblins attack 5 equipped adventurers?  Unless they were out of their mind rabid, they wouldn't.  So that is part of the challenge, creating plausible encounters where the 'monsters' believe they will succeed in their attack on the characters and can do everything in their power to do so.  Anything less is unsatisfying to the players.  Victory is hollow if there was no real threat.

The real challenge for the DM is to create those balanced encounters - balanced in the way the characters feel like it is plausible for the world in which they are playing, and threatening enough to make them fear for the characters they have come to love.

The dice never lie.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Picking up where I left off four years ago

We had our first session switching places, me as the player and our alternate DM behind the screen.  Hard to believe it was four years ago I last played this character.  I spent plenty of time updating and refreshing my memory on my character sheet.  I read old adventure logs.  I reacquainted myself with my character back story and motivation.  I even wrote a little color update on what my character was doing since the last adventure and what upcoming decisions troubled him.  Interesting when you are determining how best to handle introspection when your character has a 6 intelligence.

All that preparation and I still felt my roll playing was sluggish.  I guess it takes a little bit to get back in the swing of things.  Probably has to do with my being heavily invested in this character, and wanting to do it just right.  The group has big expectations of him too.  I am definitely over thinking it, and need to let is just flow more.

Session after session as a DM I handle NPCs with little or no problem, taking their shallow descriptions and making them seem plausible and differentiated from other NPCs.  All this with little or no preparation.  I also usually have no trouble role playing characters in a one shot scenario.  Yes, I am definitely trying too hard to be in my character.  Next session I will let it be more spontaneous.

The DM did a good job, and it was a good session overall my sluggish role playing not withstanding.  We faced a number of seriously leveled up Owl Bears and were able to tactically pull together well and dispatch them even though we had not used these characters together in a long time.  Funny, though, how we just take this D&D iconic monster weirdness in stride. 

My character recently added the Keen ability to his hand-and-a-half sword (bastard sword by the book in D&D).  Wouldn't you know that I didn't role a single critical threat all night, even though statistically I should have at least gotten one threat.  Disappointing when you have a new toy and you don't get to see it in action.  I did roll four consecutive 13s on a 20 sided though just to make things weird.

Although we really like playing 3.5 with our house rules, the characters are 9th level and we are seeing the beginning signs of unpleasant complication.  Tracking spell durations, and all the attack/defense math with all the spells and special abilities.  I'm still looking for ways to simplify the tracking/math without changing the feel too much.  I have an attack matrix for my cleric that allows me to more quickly calculation his attack & damage bonuses depending on which spells have been cast.  I still find that too slow.  I have been thinking that some quick reference spell cards might be better - make a template with the stats in same place on each one, and then just add up the numbers of the cards in your hand when your turn comes.  More thinking is in order.

There is also some conflict in the party - between the characters, not the players.  One of the party members was duped into working for some bad guys, and my cleric of Torm is on the fence whether this party member is a traitor (in which case my cleric will give him a quick painful death), or a true friend that just needs to redeem himself.  My player knows the truth, but my character does not.  I'm trying to make the play interesting without making it unfun for the other player.  It certainly makes the Elf fighter/rogue a little nervous with the half-orc cleric of Torm glaring at him on a regular basis.  We'll see how it goes. 

Anyway, it is fun to be back on the front side of the screen making the world to right again.

The dice never lie.
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