Wednesday 30 November 2011

Firing to Suppress

No, I haven't forgotten about my Gears and Gunpowder campaign (although we haven't started it yet either). I'm still mulling over ideas for themes, and jotting down notes for the general setting.

I've an idea for the campaign that has echoes of the 100 Bullets comic series. Corruption, cartels, and a conspiracy that dates back centuries (I won't say any more than that, for fear of spoilers).

Thankfully, thinking about gangsters and gunfights has given me some ideas for updating my firearms rules. So, with that in mind, I give you my new rules for suppressive fire. Now you can shout out "cover me!" and have it actually mean something.

When making a ranged weapon attack with a firearm, you can choose to fire to suppress. Only firearms fitted with a magazine can be used for suppressive fire.

Firing to suppress: When firing to suppress, you take a -2 penalty to your attack roll, and must fire one or more additional rounds of loaded ammunition. These additional rounds automatically miss. After the attack has been resolved, the target must pass a saving throw or become suppressed until the end of their next turn. For every additional round that was fired, they receive a -1 penalty to this saving throw.

Hitting the dirt: The target can choose to fall prone as a free action when they make their saving throw. Doing so grants a +5 bonus to the save, and cancels all penalties imposed by multiple shots.

  • You grant combat advantage.
  • Your speed is halved.
  • Enemies have partial concealment if they are 5 or more squares from your position.

Creatures can also use the Aid Another action in combat to help an ally suppress their enemy.

Aid Another (Standard Action)
You fire one or more rounds of ammunition at an enemy to turn the next ranged attack made against them by one of your allies into a suppressive fire attack. All rounds that you fire automatically miss. Any firearm can be used for this purpose, including those that do not have a magazine.

The ally does not gain the +2 bonus to their attack roll that is normally granted by aiding, but does not need to fire to suppress. Once the attack has been resolved, the target makes a saving throw as though it had been targeted by a suppressive fire attack. When calculating the saving throw penalty, additional rounds fired by aiding creatures are counted in addition to those that may have been fired by the ally.

Sunday 27 November 2011

The Rhônic Saddle

Brixton stares into the face of death yet again...

I killed somebody the other week.

Hush. Though it would be particularly wonderful to confess to murder through the medium of a poorly-subscribed RPG blog, this particular slaying occurred in-game. I killed Sandy's character. Killed him good, in fact. With a dragon.

Now. A lot of people will tell you DMs shouldn't ever use Coup de Grace. It's unfair, and it looks like you're picking on your players. Ignore them. 4th Edition characters are tough, and sometimes the only way to kill them is to get your licks in when they're down. Especially if they deserve it.

But this sudden turn of events left Sandy with a bit of a dilemma. Should he bring his character back, or roll up a new one? Death is often an opportunity for reinvention, but in a way Brixton was beginning to scrape the barrel. In the past, he'd come back as a vampire (which the rest of the party promptly slew), as a stoic paladin who lasted for about ten minutes, even as a cursed assassin wreathed in shadow. Where could he possibly go next?

I think I came up with something fairly unique (well, I did until Sandy pointed out I'd basically lifted it from Raymond E. Feist's Magician). I'd been meaning to give Brixton his first magical artifact for a while, and the dragon's lair was the perfect place to find it. When he died, he fell within inches of the most powerful item he'd ever seen. Perhaps a splinter of that artifact's power could pull him back? Maybe even bring him back with a rekindled purpose?

The Rhônic Saddle is imbued with the spirit of a long-dead king: last ruler of a kingdom of boasters, thrill-seekers, and horse-masters. Those who ride it gain great power, but also suffer a terrible curse. The king's spirit whispers to them in dreams, long-forgotten by morning, but subconsciously compelling them throughout the day to perform deeds of glory and daring.

Give in to these urges, and they risk death at every turn. Deny them and the curse takes control, forcing them to act against their will.

Being a mount slot item, this artifact may have limited usefulness in your games, but who knows? It could be just what you're looking for. We've not played it yet, so there may be some kinks to iron out, but I'm fairly confident it will work well at the table. See what you think.

Thanks to Sandy for the image of Brixton at the top of this post - definitely my favourite he's done so far. And thanks to Stacey for spending this afternoon drawing the saddle. It's exactly as I imagined it.

(If you're playing in my game, you may not want to read this. Spoilers, spoilers)

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Illusion Cards: Gloaming and Day of the Dead

Ah, it's you. How have you been? Marvellous.

Here are two more cards for my Deck of Illusions. I guess we're about halfway there now, and I'm loving the symbolism that Sandy's cooked into this pairing. A pool of spilt blood, a candle about to be snuffed, and an army of marching moon-heads. What can it all mean?

Maybe something, maybe nothing. A while back, I congratulated him for including exactly 13 spears on one of his cards - and it honestly came as a surprise that he had.

In a way, I do a similar thing in my D&D games: include random symbolism on the spur of the moment, and build in meaning later on. In our present campaign, Splug returned from the dead with a mysterious map scratched into his back, Swaard heard a strangely-worded prophecy when he died, and Dia discovered she was the legendary "Starfallen". In each case, I dropped these in with no idea where they'd lead, and thought up meanings later (in some cases, years later). Occasionally, hooks like these lead to wonderful things that make me look clever in retrospect. In other cases, they're simply forgotten.

A handful of things that have worked well in previous campaigns:
  • The strange feeling you're being watched. Later on, this can be attributed to near enough anybody.
  • A mysterious gift left on the doorstep. Who it's been left by - and why it's been left so mysteriously - can be slotted in later.
  • Strange tattoos found on the bodies of slain enemies. These are ultimately uncovered as marks of a cult/secret lottery/whatever.
  • A device with no obvious meaning. Later on, its purpose is revealed when it suddenly starts glowing/ticking/summoning devils.
Simple stuff really, but some of my best stories have grown from these. Even better, many of them have grown from my players talking about the possibilities around the table. I may be smiling and winking mysteriously, but really I'm thinking "bloody hell, that's a great idea!"

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Aegis of Ages

This week's article is all about the Stunned condition: a much-maligned rule that's fallen out of favour of late. Back in the heady days of the original Monster Manual, stun appeared all over the place. Dragons, for example, used to stun their opponents as part of their Frightful Presence attack. Nowadays, in the halcyon age of the Monster Manual III, they simply don't.

Not that ditching Stunned is a real issue to me (although I have to say, ditching Frightful Presence is). Nobody wants to miss out on their turn, especially with rounds sometimes taking upwards of ten minutes to rotate. The concept may have a precedent in card and board game design, but Dungeons & Dragons isn't a game of Uno.

We've had similar issues in my 3rd Edition campaign, with a PC called Hamish: a half-orc fighter/barbarian played by my good friend James. Hamish has a really bad Will save, and no matter how many Periaphs of Wisdom or Iron Will feats he bolts on, he simply always fails those charm saves. It's like the dice are playing to his character. Hamish has been possessed, scared off, dominated, charmed - the works. And consequently, James has spent a long time waiting for conditions to wear off. Hours. Days, probably, if you add up all the adventures we've played over the years.

The last time Hamish got possessed it was by an ancient sorcerer queen called Akasi. We ended the session on that cliffhanger, so I had a good while to think about what could happen next. We don't get to play so often nowadays, and I didn't want James sitting it out. So I had an idea: instead of being lost, Hamish's mind could be banished into a labyrinth carved into the wall, where it would be hunted down by ravenous spirits.

Whilst Hamish's body rushed about under Akasi's control, our sorcerer managed to project her own mind into the labyrinth to aid him. So we ended up with a battle taking place simultaneously in two locations. It was pretty intense, and allowed James to play without actually controlling Hamish directly.

When thinking about Stunned, my mind went back to that Akasi encounter, and I wondered if we could do a similar thing in 4th Edition. In the end, I came up with the encounter provided here, which we ran at the finale of the Battle of Moonstair.

In brief, the party went up against a grimlock champion who carried a sentient magical shield. Every time the shield Stunned them, it hurled their minds back in time to fight its previous owners. If they could beat the champions of the past, the shield would grant them an edge in the present. To fully test the concept, I modelled the grimlock champion around the original Monster Manual's most notorious stun-beast: the Dracolich (updated to Monster Manual III maths).

Of course, the trick only works once: it's by no means a "fix" for the Stunned condition. But hopefully it'll be a memorable encounter for your group - as it was for mine.