Sunday 23 October 2011

Illusion Cards: Thieves and the Archer

Behold! Two more cards for my Deck of Illusions.

Neither of these turned out quite as I expected, but I'm pleased with them both. I love how the thieves give the impression of being slightly clumsy - but who's betting those magic daggers still cut deep?

Actually, I'm surprised Sandy picked these cards to draw up next, as neither played a particularly prominent role in our game. The Archer wasn't even drawn: it was one of just two cards left after Devlin met the Master. Thieves appeared near the end of H3: Pyramid of Shadows, drawn as the Company battled through a tight maze of haunted passageways. It should have been perfect timing - allowing them to sneak past the banshees that roamed the maze - but sadly Sephirius was having one of those games, and just couldn't shake off the immobilising effects of their screams. So they couldn't leave him.

Splitting the party is famously bad tactics for most D&D players (not least, abandoning party members). Just the suggestion of it gets certain members of my group aghast - probably due to a famous incident back in 3rd Edition. Whilst exploring a besieged citadel tower, two 10th level characters decided to leave the others and quickly scout a stairway alone. "Should we be splitting up?", asked one. "Meh. We can take it", said the other (and that's an actual quote). Three rounds later both PCs were dead: one lying mangled with a broken neck, the other being absorbed by a Lovecraftian Moonbeast. That's eighteen seconds.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Thaumatic Themes: Ragwheeler

In truth, I thought about transferring "Tabletop" over to 4th Edition back when it first came out. I spent a few weeks in autumn 2009 working up my own classes, but then things picked up in our main campaign, and I realised people weren't going to want to switch. I'm glad now we didn't - the last three years have given me a much clearer understanding of the system, and I'm in a better position now to start a homebrew campaign. But those early class ideas became the basis of the themes I'm looking at today. Or, at least, they did until Sandy and Mike got involved. Damn them.

The problem with game designers is they always want to design their own stuff. Stacey loved the "Bombardier", but when I presented Sandy with the "Deathcrook" - another of my old classes I'd boiled down into a theme - he wasn't quite so sold. Personally, I couldn't understand why not: a class that could steal the souls of those it killed, and use them as fuel for necrotic attacks - even summon them as minions? What's not to like?

However, when Sandy mailed me through a near-complete theme of his own devising, I had to swallow my pride. Because his creation - which we named the "Ragwheeler" - was something special: a slave bound to its masters through a deadly shackle. Powers aside, what I loved about this was the flavour. Reading his description of the work-slum, I really got an image of what these poor blighters had to live through - and that's exactly what a theme should do.

But don't just take my word for it: take a look for yourselves. I'm really looking forward to seeing this in action!

If you like it, or have any suggestions, please drop me a comment. This time, I promise I won't delete them! (I'm still getting used to Blogger, as on Friday I accidentally deleted all of the previous comments whilst playing around with the dashboard. Doh.)

Monday 10 October 2011

The Deck of Illusions

The Deck of Illusions is kind of the ugly, unloved twin to the Deck of Many Things. Whilst it shares the same design - pull a card from a deck to produce a random, magical effect - there's none of the risk that makes Deck of Many Things so thrilling to use. Essentially, all the cards are the same. You just summon an illusion.

I suppose the fun bit is coming up with how to usefully apply these illusions to your situation. This lich could be used to scare off your enemies, but it could also engage them in conversation, right? Perhaps even trick them into following it?

Sadly, no: the second edition rules seem to imply that the illusions aren't even under your control ("The illusions perform normal routines and respond to attacks - they should be played as if they were real creatures"). Back then, the vast majority of cards basically had a single use: scare the pants off your enemies from afar. Kind of sucks if you pull the Pixies card.

3rd Edition clarified the rules so that the illusions reproduced the effects of a Major Image spell, but locked into a predefined form. I guess we can actually control them now, but as they were relatively easily disbelieved with a save - at least, they were in my experience - I still view the deck as nothing much to write home about.

For my 4th Edition game, I thought this artifact deserved a reinvention. When creating the deck, I had a couple of design goals in mind:
  • I wanted to give each card an effect that had a clear use in combat. A few of these could be bad for the user, just like the Deck of Many Things. One of them - the Master - could even be deadly.
  • I wanted to preserve the ability for players to think up clever ways of controlling their illusions. In the end, this worked best as an at-will artifact power, separate from the card powers.

As you'll see, it turned out very differently to the old Deck of Illusions. I think you'll find it useful in your games: our group's wizard used it to great effect throughout H3: Pyramid of Shadows, so I've had a chance to rebalance the powers after seeing them in play. Oh, and check out the lore for the Prince card - after all his adventures, I couldn't write this up without mentioning our own, friendly wizard at least once.

It goes without saying that you're missing a trick if you don't print out the cards yourselves and provide them to your players as a proper handout. To that end, Sandy's working through the deck now, polishing up the card designs and presenting his own spins to each one. I'll be presenting his designs here on the blog over the next few months, after which I'll wrap them up into a single, made-for-print doc.

Lastly, if you do use it, make sure to drop me a line here and let us know how it went. It would really make our day to know our deck is being used at other tables!