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.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Barstool American Golden Ale

Barstool American Golden Ale from the Foolproof Brewing Company is reputed to be their flagship product.  There was some left in my beer refrigerator after a gathering so I thought I would give it a try.

It came in cans in a small decorative box.  I have no phobia of cans, done well it is every bit as good as glass
without the risk of light skunking the brew.

True to its name it poured a cloudy golden-amber color with a slight head which soon dissipated.  The aroma was very mild, and I couldn't pull much to identify from a sniff.  First taste has a bit of sweetness, a hint of citrus, a little malt, a little hops, (I am starting to like this until....), and then *wham* a harsh bitter after taste.

Medium body, medium carbonation, not heavy, yet not wimpy; the kind of beer one might have more than one.

I am a bit stuck on the lingering bitterness.  Maybe this needs a big warm salty pretzel to go with it.  This lingering bitterness reminds me of the old style beers my father and grandfather drank.  I guess I am more of a beer snob than they were.  I am on the fence on this brew; neither thumbs up nor down.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Where Did Barad Go?

I'm back.  I got busy on a project at work at the same time my trusty Toshiba laptop started having video problems.  Although I also have a smart phone & netbook, neither of those devices suits my preference for doing editing.  If we need more excuses I can rely on the old 'tripped on a rock, sun in my eyes & hole in my glove' series; they never fail.

Being cheap and somewhat tech savvy I decided to repair the laptop myself rather than buy a new one or risk paying someone else money to fix it and have them say it was a lost cause.  The issue seemed to be a video cable, and after many hours of internet research I found one on Amazon for about $20.  More hours of internet research taught me how to disassemble my old beast, replace the cable, and then do the disassemble steps in reverse, sort of.  End result - success!  I am typing this on my old laptop, almost good as new!  I do have three extra screws....  however I know where they went and just didn't need one with the new cable, and couldn't make two of the eight LCD screen holders go back in.  I think it will not fall out with six screws as long as I don't do acrobatics with it.

I'll give a shot at some 4e game updates shortly and maybe find a beer to comment upon.

Happy Summer!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Around the World in Eighty Days

On my most recent vacation I continue to indulge in reading old classics.  This is made quite easy via the free (expired copyright) books which are available on the Kindle.

Around the World in Eighty Days is unusual for a Jules Verne work, in that it is more in his now than predicting the future.  It does in some respects predict how the future will look with recent completions of travel venues the major travel venues: US transatlantic rail, India subcontinental rail, & Suez Canal.  Messier Verne does aptly see the coming new world of tourism on a whim.  

The hero of the story is Phileas Fogg.  He is a well to do proper English gentleman who lives an organized, highly structured, predicable daily life.  This repetitive existence includes his daily trip to the gentlemen's club.   To prove a point with his fellow club members Fogg undertakes a quest to circumnavigate the world in no more than 80 days using commercially available travel.  A rather wager is made to prove the seriousness of the adventure, and off he goes, taking with him his newly hired man's servant, Jean Passepartout.  To tell any more of the story is to spoil it, so I will leave it at that.

I find it interesting that Verne paints the two travelers as extreme caricatures of the English and French.  Both have exaggerated traits supposedly held by their countrymen, and both have redeeming qualities designed to make them endearing to the reader.  I might have expected the French Verne to favor the Frenchman in the story, but that is not the case.

As with most writing, this a book of its time.  The modern reader will find the exciting adventure bits a little weak.  There is even a section where Fogg goes off to save Passepartout and I suppose to raise tension, the exciting bits are done off screen.  Much of the book reads like a dry travelogue.  I imagine at the time since this kind of travel had been previously unimaginable the readers would have been fascinated with the little details which I found boring and tedious.  The surprise ending would not have been all that surprising to the modern traveler, but to the reader in the 1870s this would have been all new and amazing.

The adventurous portions are fun to read, and overall the book is a quaint reminder of a bygone era.  It was an easy read, not too long, and the language is readily understood by the modern reader.  It is a classic and if you are curious about classics, I give it a moderate recommendation.  I am glad I read it and did enjoy most of it.  If you want an edge of your seat thriller, then you should pass this by.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

4th Edition: After three sessions

As noted in previous post, I am not experiencing a lack of roleplaying.  Granted I am no newbie to roleplaying, and for new players there might be something which discourages roleplaying, but I am happily playing my character during encounters and between them.

I continue to experience a very tactical game, and cannot see playing without a grid.  I do not see that as a negative since I have been using grids since AD&D days as preference.  I also continue to find 1st level characters to be very powerful, much more than previous editions.  Sort of like starting at 2nd level or more in another edition.  Clearly in 4th you are already a hero, and the environment is more high magic and high fantasy.  This might not fit the setting you want to play, but where it fits the setting I am not finding it 'un-fun'.

Some rituals are often a little too vague and require some DM adjudication.  For example the Silent Image ritual did not give a range.  I had to query the DM if my use of it was going to work.  The Passwall ritual was fairly clear (you need to be able to touch the entry point of the passage) and the Silence ritual was not so vague that one could figure out you needed to be inside the area to be warded to use it - no casting from a distance.  I am finding the cost of ritual components to be a bit prohibitive at first level.  We will see as time goes on if that is really a control point for lower level and becomes inconsequential as my character advances.

In our last encounter our party druid was brought to zero hit points and tossed off a 40' high wall into murky harbor water.  No one was nearby to help him, and the first one get to the wall section where he went off could not see him (it was dusk and he had already sunk beneath the waves).  I now understand some comments I heard that 4E characters were hard to kill.  Even unconscious, he was burning through healing surges before he took drowning damage.  Wouldn't you know it on his second death saving throw he rolled a 20 to stabilize, and became conscious.  We thought him dead for sure... but it seems 4E characters are truly heroes.

I also learned that one of my jobs as the controller wizard is minion sweeping.  I say that humorously, because it is kind of cool to blow away a bunch of fodder and clear the decks for the others to attack the BBEG (big bad evil guy).  Some may turn up their nose at this, but hey, it makes me stand out from the others and gives me an opportunity to roleplay big ego and I annihilate a bunch of enemies.

It seems to me 4E has another thing in common with earlier editions: resource management.  Even though I have at will powers, I must manage encounter & daily powers, action points, healing surges, etc.

The litmus test so far as been passed.  I am having fun.  That may be more about the people with which I am gaming than the rule set.  Either way, I am a bit of a grognard and I can play this edition just fine.

The dice never lie (even though I rolled a statiscally improbable number of 1s in our last encounter).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

4th Edition D&D: experience after first outing

This past weekend I played my first outing of 4th Edition.  Yes, I know, I am late to the game.  You might notice from looking around this blog that I was a long time player of AD&D, then of 3.5E.

First off, it was a nice group of people I got to meet and play with for the first time.  We are playing the Zeitgeist adventure path.  I am not going to tell the adventure story, but there could be spoilers.

One of the complaints against 4E I have read repeatedly on the web is how it discourages or makes difficult role playing.  I just don't see it.  Sure, 4E is much more tactical, and I cannot see running a 4E game in Theater of the Mind.  However, you either will role play with the DM encouragement, or you will not.  I did not experience anything I found discouraging in the rule set to keep me from role playing.  Sure, I have been doing it for 30+ years anyway, so it would take a lot to keep me from role playing anyway.

As noted in a previous blog post, I have the controller role as a Wizard (arcanist).  In the first round of the first encounter I was able to use a spell to effectively end the encounter by pushing two of the three antagonists off a bridge and into the water.  The last antagonist, being outnumbered (and discovering he was facing a wizard as well) surrendered.  I found a first level character to be very powerful and the system to be very tactical.  I am not saying that is good or bad, it just is.

In the next encounter we were pretty much outgunned, and I think the DM pulled his punches.  Fair enough, two of the four players had never played 4E before, and this group had never played together.  Regardless, we just barely managed to come through.  As a controller I was able to knock prone, push (repeatedly) and render unconscious the bad guys until help arrived.  At that it was close as my Paladin ally was unconscious and on fire.  I don't recommend that combination.

Not surprisingly for any edition, I noticed quickly you need to make wise decisions about which spells to use against which opponents. A good variety of spells which attacked will, fortitude and reflex defenses proved essential to the limited success we saw.  Also, not surprisingly, splitting up the party creates hazardous conditions.  I can see the huge synergies already by having the well balanced and complimenting party all together.  Split us up and we are sadly lacking.

4E is quite a different game from its ancestors, but so far I don't see this as an obstacle to fun.

The dice never lie.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Harpoon Dark

Another one from the Harpoon Brewery.  It pours out a mahogany color with thick cream/mocha colored head which dissipates fairly quickly.  There is a yeasty smell which surprised me.  On the tongue is has a malty taste with dark roast and the faintest taste of chocolate. It is medium body with solid carbonation,
not really complex, but it ends clean and crisp and leaves your mouth watering.

I would have this again, but I don't find it spectacular.  I'll limit this to my 'on-sale' purchases.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Victorian Shadows Chiswick Tunnel

I ran my D20 Past Victorian Shadows game last weekend.  The evenings adventure revolved around an ancient Roman temple to Triva was discovered during tunnel excavation.  One of the recurring bad guys got wind of the discover and lusted after the potential of finding a magic book inside.
As we game masters all know, the party never does what you expect.  That is a good deal of the fun for me, watching them go where I am not prepared.  They did not disappoint me.

There was only three players for this outing, which is not an issue because I build adventures in this campaign to be readily scaled based on who shows up.  Starting at the British Museum, and working their way through an old pub they opted to jump right in and not take any opportunity to do additional research.  They created their own sense of urgency out of thin air.  Urgency keeps a game moving along which is good.  What was not so good, for them, was not preparing.  No knowledge, no supplies.  It was all I could do not to rub my hands in glee.

Once they determine the location of the tunnel, they must get past the lone constable guarding the entrance.  The come up with a simple plan which involves pummeling the poor man into unconsciousness.  These 'good guys' have a long history of making life painful for the hapless local police.  Of course now, they have created more urgency, they must get in and get out before the rest of the local constabulary comes down on them.
They spring one trap and manage to not take very much damage (they could have done research to learn this cult used to trap their temples), and then manage to disarm the next trap and take the valuable looking chalice from the alter.  Finding nothing else (they really didn't look for much else), they are about to leave when the bad guys show up.  Combat ensues.

At first, the intrepid group is handily eliminating the fodder the bad guy throws at them.  But, the bad guy (a swarthy Indian fellow with a tacky accent I had a hard sustaining correctly) sends the next wave at them and things don't look so good.  Indian bad guy hollers to them he will let them live if they give him the book.

Book?  They look at each other and shrug before one of them yells back, "We'll never give up the book." or some such thing.  Eventually they negotiate during the battle to surrender the book, and they place a book they have with them on the trap mechanism.  They step away from the trapped altar and watch with anticipation as the bad guy approaches, hoping the trap does something nasty to him and turns the tide in their favor.  Indian bad guy grabs the book, and yells out at them he is not fooled by this library book and the trap goes off.

Sadly for them, the trap was a pit trap and everyone in the room is affected, good and bad.  One of the party manages to make a save and grab the end of floor as everyone else falls into the pit, which has three feet of fetid water in the bottom.  The flare they were using for light falls into the water with a hiss and goes out.  Complete darkness, two good guys and two bad guys in the pit, at least one bad guy they believe can see in the dark and the tough fighter type they need to fight the bad guy is hanging from the floor.  Remember the lack of preparation mentioned earlier?  No one has any rope or other tools to get them out of the pit, and no one has brought any light except for the flares which are now out.  Internally, I am rubbing my hands with glee again.  They remember they carry a couple of magical amulets which provide some light and some efficacy against these bad guys.  There is still hope!

After a tough fight which nearly brings two of the characters to zero points (and in three feet of water falling unconscious is decidedly bad) they kill the monster and are about the converge on the Indian bad guy when he pulls out an ornate ceramic ball and threatens to smash it.  He claims it would be bad for him, but far worse for them.  After some tense moments when I am quite sure they are going to not believe him and attack (allowing me to break it and we all discover if he is bluffing or not), they instead decide to negotiate with him.  I am surprised, this is the group that tends to kill first and ask questions later.

The tense negotiations was quite enjoyable and both good and bad guys held up their ends of the negotiations.  They learned some valuable information about the nature of their opponents, gave me some adventure hooks, and made this recurring villain tremendously more interesting and complicated.  They separated with each side trying to recruit the other to their side.  A delicious outcome for which I had not any plan.

The dice never lie.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Barad is going to play 4E

Our 3.5 game is on hiatus until the current DM is motivated to run a session.  My d20 Past game is waiting for me to get off my own butt and put an adventure together (nearly ready).  Life was busy the last several months with house sale, moving, house purchase, moving, holidays, and all.  Enough of excuses, time to get playing.

I have been fortunate enough to connect up with a DM who is going to run the Zeitgeist adventure, and to be invited to play.  I have never played 4E before.  I read some material and decided it was not for my 3.5 group, though I did happily 'borrow' some ideas from 4E which became house rules.  So this will be an adventure on a couple of levels.  There will be no edition bashing found here, but I will write some about my experience mixed in with my other posts.

I am going to play a wizard (arcanist).  I am going to favor controlling the battlefield and team work over being a blaster.  Nothing wrong with blasting, I just decided I wanted to be supportive of my fellow players who I have never met.  Nothing says 'thanks for having me' like the new guy showing up and playing a character who could appear focused on his own fun and not so much on the group.

A couple of impressions I am getting before I even arrive at the first session.  This is a very different game and my previous edition experience is not necessarily guiding me to good decisions about character building. I don't find the relative usefulness of some of my powers is intuitively obvious.  I'll need to play in a few sessions to really grok how things work.  Next, I don't think the powers terminology is immersive.  It does not feel 'right'.  However I think this is easily rectified by my diligence in thinking of them as spells and using the word spell whenever I communicate about them.  I will report back on the feel when actually playing.

All in all I am excited by the chance to play, meet some new people, and learn the rule set.  In that order.
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