Saturday 17 March 2012

C is for Carrion Crawler

We've had some debate over whether we should include creatures with more than one word in their name. After all, B may stand for "Brain", but it doesn't stand for "Mole". In this case, we've got two Cs, so we're both happy.

Carrion Crawlers are horrible worms that feed on the dead and lay their eggs inside corpses. They're also efficient hunters of the living, using tentacles coated in paralysing gum to subdue their enemies. Interestingly, the 1st Edition crawlers don't have a bite attack, and their poison doesn't actually deal damage. In fact, they don't even appear to have mouths. This is a million times creepier. I imagine their paralysing attacks are completely unfelt, anaesthetising the nerves instantly, like the bite of a leech. Once they've subdued their prey, maybe they lay their eggs inside the still living bodies? This is probably painless too. In fact, once those hatchlings start to feed, I don't imagine you'd feel that either...

Later editions added mouths (fair enough), and fangs (which seem wrong to me). Now they look a little silly, much like the cute pair above. Aw, bless!

Friday 16 March 2012

Draw Vecna Day

My computer kindly informs me that today is "Draw Vecna" day. At least, it is according to Twitter. Some talented bloggers have joined in, including James Stowe, whose work I greatly admire. In the spirit of this holiday, now seems an appropriate time to share Stacey's interpretation of the "Father of Lies". Unfortunately we're not on Twitter, so we can't really join the party. Looks like it's just you and me.

Funnily enough, Vecna plays a pivotal role in our campaign right now. After months of hiding his eponymous hand under a glove, the last session saw our ranger tragically cut down, just as he'd found a way to rid himself of the curse. I called things to a halt just as the glove was torn from Vecna's still twitching hand, exposing the treachery to the whole party. Amongst them was our cleric of Ioun, who isn't likely to appreciate the news. It was, as we like to say in England, "a real Eastenders ending".

I've also been having fun with Vecna's backstory. Since the start of the adventure, the ranger has been carrying a magical lantern haunted by a beautiful ghost girl. Over time, the two have fallen in love (he himself is a Revenant; the "Ghostmaster" of the haunted town of Hammerfast). The girl has little memory of life, knowing only that her father killed her. So far, we've had two more Eastenders moments based on this: the first being the revelation that her father is actually Vecna, and the second being the discovery that he used her body as his own phylactery. Kind of twisted, but hey, it's Vecna.

I also made the lantern useful in its own right. These last few months I've been bringing lots of homebrew items into the campaign, some of which I may share here one day. For now, here's the lantern. Thanks to Tjaart for the picture - and I promise we'll find some cool way of bringing your character back!

Sunday 11 March 2012

B is for Bullywug

Bullywugs are a warlike race of bipedal, swamp-dwelling frog things. They live in disharmony with their environment, often overfishing or outstripping their hunting grounds until their whole tribe is forced to move on or starve to death. Such debauched behaviour is taken a step further in 4th Edition: now their very presence warps and pollutes their homeland, perverting it into a "dismal echo" of what it once was. In a stroke of off-kilter design genius, killing a bullywug actually causes you to regain hit points, as though the land itself were thanking you! Sadly, such blessings are entirely out of whack with their cute, Kermit the Frog appearance.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Group Templates

The Yellow Banner doing what it does best - bringing the thunder!

"The maths is broken". It's a common complaint heard on the message boards - monsters from the first two Monster Manuals don't pack enough punch, especially at high levels. Wizards of the Coast consequently errata'd their official rules on monster creation, lowering defences and upping damage across the board. But was it really needed?

Yes, it was. In fact, I'd say it doesn't go far enough. True, damage for paragon and epic tier monsters wasn't high enough - but I think that's only half the problem. What encounter groups still lack at higher levels are power synergies and "gotcha!" powers.

Take my group. Every encounter, there are no less than three interrupting powers they can use to screw with an enemy attack. The ranger can make a disruptive strike, dealing damage to the monster and imposing a penalty to its hit roll. The battlemind can perform a lightning rush, gaining a free attack and taking the blow if he hits. The paladin can use guardian's counter, swapping places with the target, taking the hit himself, and then gaining a free counter-attack. Potentially, all three could even be used on the same attack. These are what I call "gotcha!" powers:

Me: "Lord Fatbeard laughs cruelly as he closes on the wizard. He raises his mace and..."
Tjaart: "Disruptive strike. Hits 37 AC. 24 damage, -6 to hit."
Me: "...damn."

In my opinion, the balance here is pretty screwy. As players go up levels, they gain greater and greater power variety. This versatility isn't shared by monsters - as they go up in levels, their power variety remains pretty much the same. Sure, their damage output goes up, but I don't think that's enough.

Again, take my group. Right now, we have two leaders (one dual class, one pure), but even so:

  • I'm adding +10 to all pre-Monster Manual III damage.
  • I frequently chain two encounters together into one.
  • Two of my players are cursed, meaning that whenever one takes damage, the other gets stung for half. 

Yet I still find it difficult to challenge them.

The attached rules are designed to counter that. The basic idea is to provide a set of "group templates": special power sets that are shared between all creatures in the group. By applying one of these templates to the group, they all gain access to a special trait and a number of shared powers (mostly interrupts and reactions). At higher tiers of play, power versatility increases. I've not tested them yet - I'll be trialling them this weekend - but hopefully they'll give my encounters a bit of added punch!

See what you think: