Thursday 31 May 2012

May of the Dead: Lords of the Grave

"That's not a knife... That's a knife"

And so May draws to a close. Here in the UK we've had some beautiful weather, with well over a week of glorious sunshine (an oddity for Britain). The birds are singing, the flowers are in bloom, and the house I'm staying in has its own swimming pool (if a week of sunshine is an oddity, this is a temporal paradox). None of which is particularly appropriate for the gruesome May of the Dead blog carnival. Thank goodness for lone maniacs, eh?

I don't know if you've been following the blog carnival, but there've been some fantastic contributions. Here are a handful of my favourites:
Roving Band of Misfits brought us Horde Zombies. The twist here is giving zombie minions a resurrection power somewhat akin to a troll's, bringing them shambling back to life on their next turn. I'm not so keen on the encounter power (I throw minions around like confetti, so it's a pain to track anything on them), but I love the overall vibe here.
That Robed Guy gave us the Z-Virus, a brutal zombie contagion. I picked this one out not so much for the rules (though they're perfectly serviceable), but mainly because - as That Robed Guy says - your standard zombie doesn't have an infected bite in 4E (or in any other edition, as far as I know). Which is odd when you consider how common it is in the movies.
Fantasy Paper Miniature Models created some papercraft monsters that immediately brought a big smile to my face. Similarly creative was the wonderful Sarcophagus created by Terrain Wench. I'm big on props, so I really enjoyed checking out the construction process here. 
DMG 42 gave us a complete board game with the Siege of Barovia. I initially got a hint of Zombies!!! from the rules, but the more I thought about them, the tighter they became. I'd like to play this someday.
Going Last unleashed the catoblepas onto 4E, giving them a trait that forces all living creatures in sight to make death saves at the end of every turn. One of the main characters in my old 3E campaign died to a catoblepas, so the monster's always held a place close to my heart. Never known how to pronounce its name though. Cat-o-BLEP-as? Cat-OH-blepas? I usually go with Cat-OB-le-pas. 
D&D Weekly worked up a couple (!) of adventures for the carnival, the second of which had a ghost pirate theme. Brilliantly this included a ghost parrot that mimics the voices of its enemies during battle, drawing their allies out of formation. Who's a pretty boy then? 

For myself, I submitted the Death Knight as a racial variant to the Revenant. Over the past few weeks I've invented some new powers to accompany this, primarily triggered by Tjaart trying to take "Wild Talent Master" for his death knight ("three free powers!!" - hardly the first time a player has tried this). When Stacey drew the wonderful picture you see above, I decided to write it up into a new article. See what you think!

Sunday 20 May 2012

E is for Ettercap

Ettercaps are weird, spiderish creatures that spin sticky webs to capture their prey. With their dinner trussed up and ready to eat, all the Ettercap has to do is sidle over and administer the killing poison bite. They click well with giant spiders, which they keep as pets, or rear as hunting dogs. The 3rd Edition Monster Manual suggests they also keep normal spiders as humans keep bees, although they can't exactly do it for the honey.

The 1st Edition Fiend Folio is very specific that an Ettercap's spinnerets are located "near the anus". I find that detail unnecessary and unsettling, as now I can't shake the image of Ettercaps spinning webs from their bum cracks. 1st Edition Ettercaps are also far more human, basically described as hairy, pot-bellied hobos who spin webs from their bums. I prefer the "insectification" that Ettercaps received in later editions, especially 4th (which added an extra pair of arms to make them even more spiderish). It's the 4th Edition version that Stacey's gone for in her illustration above, which she has lovingly called "Daddy's Girl". 

Thursday 17 May 2012

Mass Combat Revisited

So - does this get your geek going? 

The armies of Therund had breached Snowbite Pass and begun their descent into the Nentir Vale. With snowstorms howling about them, the generals agreed to separate their host into two legions, one bound for Winterhaven, and the other for Fallcrest. Learning that a dragon had laid claim to the highlands ahead, they risked sending a messenger through its territory to Winterhaven. He returned with news that the town still held, but Lord Padraig had ridden to Fallcrest, and was now besieged by the Burning Banner. With time now of the essence, the generals agreed to cross the Gardbury Downs and reunite their legions for the liberation of Fallcrest. The war had just begun.

...and we'd been playing for about ten hours. If there's one thing to be said for my new campaign battle rules, it's that they're slow. Still - as the picture above demonstrates - they do make for a pretty sexy set-up, and with a bit of pruning I think I can make them play faster. It was certainly a great collaborative effort by the group, with everyone pitching together to draw up banners (and print them out!).

In the end we didn't get round to playing an actual battle, but I had my mass combat rules ready just in case. Way back towards the end of last summer, we used these to run the Battle of Moonstair - in fact, they're pretty much the reason I started this blog. Up until recently that first post has consistently pulled in more hits than any of the others (although now pipped by Stacey's ABCD&D!). I guess a lot of people out there are looking for mass combat rules.

Anyway, I've recently given them a significant overhaul. I've changed the dice resolution so it uses D20s and AC (which feels much more D&D), and cleaned up the maths by adding weapon bonuses and exception-based traits. The battle cards are now categorised into troop types rather than explicit units, and I've added a few more cards to support readying and "banking" initiative points. Perhaps the biggest change of all is allowing each troop to perform multiple actions in the same round, which massively changes the way it plays.

Have a read!


Tuesday 1 May 2012

May of the Dead: Death Knight

Dead but not buried.... Swaard of the Trollhaunt!
Things have been a bit "undeathly" around here recently. First off, I introduced Methragor's Skull into our 4E campaign, framing him as the leader of an orc army besieging Fallcrest. We also saw the return of our recently dead ranger, who came back as the terrifying death knight you see to your left - his latest incarnation in quite a long line, and one that drives his character even further into our story. Then, around the same time that Swaard of the Trollhaunt was clawing his way back from the dead, the guys over at Going Last invited us to contribute to their May of the Dead blog carnival: a coincidence which led directly to the article you see below.

I can't see many people wanting to introduce a death knight into their campaigns, so I've tweaked the fluff to make them more accessible (and bring them in line with my own campaign world). I'm quite keen on their benefit replacements too: especially the unholy flames power, which I've (hopefully) balanced somewhere between the revenant's dark reaping and a dragonborn's breath weapon. 

Anyway, see what you think! I certainly had fun writing it, and I think we can all agree Tjaart came up with a truly fantastic piece of made-to-order artwork. Also, be sure to keep an eye on May of the Dead throughout the month, so you can check out what the other contributors come up with! I certainly will be.