More on Renown Rewards

Posted on : 09-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, Downloads, House Rules

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A couple of my players have given me feedback on my post on using Renown Points in your home game. They seem to like the idea, but they think it was maybe a little too complex and required a bit too much book-keeping in some cases. After looking at it again and giving it the old hairy eyeball, I tend to agree with them.

I’ve tweaked a few of the Renown achievements, and lifted a lot of the per encounter/per session restrictions. None of the once-per-session achievements still carry that restriction, but some of the point values have been changed a little. As far as the ones that were once per encounter, I’ve lifted that restriction sort of. What I’ve done is I’ve created a score card for keeping track of your Renown Points.

For the stuff that is free of restrictions, basically the DM tells you that you earned that achievement, and you immediately add those Renown Points to your total. For the encounter-based ones, I included four spaces for check marks for each of those. Any time you hit that achievement, put a check mark in one of the spaces; when all your spaces for that achievement are full, you can’t earn any more check marks. At the end of the encounter, each check mark that you’ve earned turns into a Renown Point, and you erase all of those check marks so you can earn them again in the next encounter.

Because you can earn these achievements multiple times in an encounter, I’ve tweaked a couple of them. Now, instead of hitting for 15+ damage (which my strikers do pretty often), you have to hit for 20+ damage. It’ll happen a little less often, but it’ll still happen. Also, the achievement for taking 50 damage in one encounter seemed like too much book-keeping, like it would get forgotten a lot. Now, instead, you have to take damage equal to your bloodied value in a single round to earn a check.

You’ll also notice that the costs of the rewards have increased a little; specifically, each one is 5 points more expensive. This is to compensate for the fact that players will likely be earning more Renown Points than they would have before. Anyway, take a look at it, and feedback, as always, is welcome.

Using Renown Points in your Home Game

Posted on : 08-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, House Rules, Links

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D&D Encounters has this system of Renown Points that it uses to reward players for doing cool things. Since, during a single season of Encounters, you may not gain enough experience to level up, Renown Points are really the primary reward currency in Encounters.

Now, my players level up plenty, and the lethality rate of my home game is probably a bit lower than that of Encounters, so I expect them to level up and gain all sorts of cool gear. I do not, however, like handing out experience rewards to a single player; for book-keeping purposes, and for the sake of simplicity and balance, I try to make sure that everyone gains experience at the same rate, and everyone levels up at the same time. In terms of monetary and gear rewards, I try to provide magical gear that is good for specific players, and I try to reward my players equally. These reward mechanics, therefore, reward the players for pushing the main story forward, but not necessarily for pushing their own stories forward, or for simply doing cool things in play. I’ve been trying to think up a reward mechanic that allows me to reward individual players without disrupting the balance of the game too much, and I just realized today that Wizards has already done a lot of that legwork for me.

That said, Renown Points aren’t going to work in my–or your–home game without a little tweaking. Some of the Renown achievements don’t make sense in campaign play, or in your home game, and there are some achievements that I’d like to add for the sake of story and character development. So, here’s the list of Renown Point achievements that I plan on using in my home game:

  • Hit a milestone: 2 points
  • Complete a minor quest: 2 points
  • Complete a major quest: 3 points
  • Create a personal quest: 3 points*
  • Complete a personal quest: 3 points*
  • Revive a dying ally: 1 point**
  • Hit for 15+ damage against 1 enemy (25+ at paragon, 35+ at epic): 1 point**
  • Kill 3 minions with 1 attack (4 minions at paragon, 5 minions at epic): 1 point**
  • Take 50 enemy damage during one encounter (75 at paragon, 100 at epic): 1 point**
  • Score a critical hit: 1 point**
  • Moment of Greatness: 2 points*

*Can be earned once per session per character.
**Can be earned once per encounter per character.

This is a working list, and things may be added or dropped. Now, what can you actually get with those renown points? Poker chips. At least, that’s what I’m going to be using. Different colors correspond to different effects (listed below), and both your chips and your unspent Renown Points can be carried over from session to session.

  • Yellow (10 Renown Points): +2 bonus to any one skill check, ability check, saving throw, or attack roll OR +5 bonus to any one damage roll.
  • Red (15 Renown Points): Re-roll any one d20 roll or damage roll, take the higher result.
  • Blue (20 Renown Points): Immediately regain one spent encounter power OR immediately regain one healing surge
  • White (25 Renown Points): Immediately regain one spent daily power OR immediately gain one action point that you must spend before the end of the encounter (you can spend this action point even if you have already spent an action point during this encounter).

Again, this is a working list; values and effects may change. At any rate, I like this idea a lot, and I think I’ll float it by my players and see what they think. What do you think?

Thoughts on Paragon Paths

Posted on : 07-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, Links, Musings

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Mike’s Blog had a thought provoking post today.

My players haven’t quite hit paragon level yet, so I don’t really have any practical experience with paragon paths yet. I tend to build characters in the Character Builder a lot, and I often level my favorites up to paragon and epic levels, just for fun. I can tell you that, when I find a paragon path that fits particularly well thematically with a character, it makes me smile. Sometimes, though, the mechanics fit really well, but the theme needs to be tweaked a bit.

And that’s the thing about paragon paths in 4e; because they offer almost exclusively combat-oriented benefits, it can be difficult to reconcile thematic elements with mechanical elements. There’s a paragon path (I forget the name) that allows you to become a spy, but mechanically it just makes you better at fighting in a slightly sneaky way. Not really very spy-ish, but still useful. The opposite is also sometimes true, though; some paragon paths include mechanics that are extremely congruent with their underlying themes, and these are the ones I often wind up liking a lot and mentally filing away for later use.

I think that, in practice, a player who enters into a paragon path should simply choose the one that speaks to them the most, whether mechanically or thematically, and not worry too much about whether the mechanics and the flavor match up. Flavor can always be tweaked, and mechanics can always be re-skinned.

In general, I’m in favor of anything that allows players to tell their characters’ stories more effectively; I think that paragon paths can do that, even if not all of them are created equal for that purpose.

Random Encounters: Orc Ambush

Posted on : 06-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, Downloads, Random Encounters

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When planning encounters for an adventure, I like to throw in at least a few that are unconnected to the main story, to build verisimilitude and give a sense that not everything in the world revolves around the PCs. I don’t use random encounters; that is, I don’t create these encounters on the fly using a table of any kind. They’re very much planned encounters, with the appearance of randomness. Still, I like the term for this series of posts, so I’ll use it.

At any rate, this encounter is designed to be used when the PCs have camped for the night in a cave, taking shelter from a bad snowstorm. Orcs who are used to the weather and who know the area take advantage of the weather and the late hour to spring an ambush on the unsuspecting PCs.

Without further ado, I give you Orc Ambush.

Hybrid Characters

Posted on : 06-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, Links, Musings

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The hybrid rules are an interesting beast. I like the idea, and I play with hybrid combos in the Character Builder all the time. I’ve even hit upon a couple of really good combos; a dragon sorcerer/thaneborn barbarian is pretty good, for example, and not necessarily an expected combination. Plenty of role-playing potential there.

More often than not, though, I feel underwhelmed by the results. I think this may be because a lot of the really cool pieces of the classes that I’m mashing together don’t make it into the hybrid build (which, really, is as it should be; a hybrid rogue/monk shouldn’t be as good at being either a rogue or a monk as a full-fledged member of either class).

I think maybe I need to look at it from a different angle. It’s true that you can look at hybrid rules from a purely mechanical perspective and try to find the “best” combination, but I don’t think that’s the point of the system. I think Stupid Ranger was on the right track when she chose classes that were thematically appropriate together, and that meshed with her character concept. I think that the real strength of the hybrid rules is that they allow you to put rules to the picture you have in your head if that picture doesn’t fit neatly into one of the existing classes.

[Edit: URL corrected to show the original post rather than my comment on it, and gender-specific pronouns were corrected.]

Character Profile: Vanity

Posted on : 05-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, Character Profiles, D&D

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In just about any RPG, D&D included, you need people who can take care of the exposition for you. It can get pretty boring if you’re just telling the PCs everything they need to know in paragraph format; it’s much more interesting if you can plant that information in dialog that they’re participating in, allowing them to ask questions and find things out as a result. It’s the difference between being an active participant and a passive observer. To that end, here is an NPC that can fill that roll for you. As will likely be the case in future posts, I’ll refer to specific place names from my own campaign, and you can feel free to substitute names from your own as needed.

Vanity grew up on the streets of Bastion, the capitol city. When she was old enough to have learned how to pick a pocket, she tried to join the thieves’ guild, but was rejected for her lack of natural aptitude. Where she did have aptitude, though, was in getting people to talk to her and trust her. The local guild wasn’t being very helpful, so she moved to Fallcrest and set up as a fence and information broker; she was quite successful.

Vanity if flirtatious in the extreme; it seems to be the only way she knows how to relate to men, who are uniformly attracted to her. This works in her favor more often than not, as she is able to get good prices and set good prices, and often picks up valuable information through idle flirtation. What she doesn’t tell anyone is that she’s not actually interested in any of the men she flirts with; her interests lie in other directions.

Vanity can be used to relay information about the goings-on of a city, as well as its underworld. She has an extensive network of contacts, and she can arrange meetings for the PCs with many influential people. Also, because she is a fence, she knows how to move things on the market, black and otherwise; this can be useful for PCs who want to sell some gear, particularly if it is of questionable origin.

If you have a rogue in your party (or anyone with ties to the criminal element), you can tie Vanity to that PC by giving them common history. In my own campaign, Vanity and Silus (the half-elf warlock) are both rejects from the same thieves’ guild, and they used to commiserate about that together.

Villain Profile: The Mockers

Posted on : 04-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, Links, Tips, Villain Profiles

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In general, I’d like to start providing more material on this site that’s usable in your game. To that end, I’m going to endeavor to post recurring, column-esque posts that run along common themes. You’ve already seen the first “Setting Seeds” post; I plan on continuing that series in the future. This post marks my first “Villain Profile” post. More in this series will come, and I will also try to add variety to what I post by including additional series.

The Mockers are more than a single villain; they are a villainous organization with a few main villains at the top. The Mockers are a thieves’ guild; they operate out of Fallcrest in my own campaign, but they can operate out of any medium-to-large city or town. As the moniker of “thieves’ guild” would suggest, they do a lot of stealing. They fund a variety of criminal activities, from simple theft and burglary to extortion, bribery, prostitution, drug-running, and–at times–murder.

The Mockers have a reputation for being extremely mercenary. That is, while they work for themselves frequently and line their pockets with the fruits of their endeavors, they also hire themselves out to powerful individuals who need their services. They have an extensive information network, which is attractive to the wealthy and powerful. They also employ a number of very skilled burglars and second-story men, who are often contracted to steal things from other rich and powerful people. Occasionally, they are also hired for assassination. This is rare, but not because the Mockers have any particular problem with it from a moral standpoint; rather, it tends to attract a lot of attention, so the price is commensurately steep.

At the top of the organization is Kalder Red-Eye, a tiefling who passes himself off as a much less influential crime boss. Most people in Fallcrest know Kalder is a petty criminal with aspirations to a much greater position; he exploits the weak and destitute. The reality is that Kalder is the head of an extremely powerful criminal syndicate that is thoroughly integrated into Fallcrest’s infrastructure. Kalder enjoys being underestimated, as it gives him the element of surprise on his opponents.

Kalder is an ambitious and calculating man, and is almost completely amoral. He doesn’t go out of his way to hurt people or cause misery, but doing so is often a byproduct of his profession, and he has no particular problem with that. Where Kalder comes from is a bit of a mystery; most people just say that he’s always been there, doing what he does. Few can remember when he first appeared, and this is likely intentional. Kalder deliberately does not use his true surname, even though his persona is quite public; his father was a farmer who lost everything because of a gambling habit, and he wants no one to know this about him.

If Kalder has weaknesses, it is likely his overconfidence. Kalder believes himself to be superior to most people that he meets, and while he doesn’t make a habit of underestimating his enemies, he is an arrogant man. He also has an over-developed sense of opportunism; often a slim chance of a large payoff is enough for him to commit resources to the job, and this can sometimes blow up in his face. Finally, as befits someone of his amoral viewpoint, his loyalties are extremely flexible. He’ll hire the services of the Mockers out to nearly anyone, even someone who one of his minions just stole something from last week. While he’s usually subtle enough to get away with this, sometimes it gets him into trouble.

The Mockers, and Kalder, are appropriate for heroic-tier characters. Kalder’s likely not the true villain, but he probably works for the true villain, even if it’s not obvious for a while. The Mockers are designed to be an omnipresent low-level threat, constantly harassing the players and getting in their way, but rarely posing a truly serious threat to anyone–until the villain hires them to do something really evil.

Encouraging Terrain Powers

Posted on : 30-04-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, DM's Journal, Downloads, GMing Methodology, House Rules, Links, Tips

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The DMG 2 introduced the concept of terrain powers. These are pretty much what they sound like: they’re effectively environmental effects structured as powers, to make them easier and clearer to use. I like the system quite a bit, and actually utilized some props to encourage their use in my last session. To encourage the players to use these powers, I printed out power cards for them. This allowed them to see just what a terrain power could do before they used it, and allowed them to weigh cost versus reward. I tended to err on the potent side for terrain powers (since they can be used by either side), but I also tended to make them limited in their ability to be used; that is, most were single-use, while others had a limited-use mechanic.

Overall, it worked fairly well; the players used the terrain powers, and they used them to very good effect. There was one thing missing, though: my monsters never really used the terrain powers, because I forgot to. While the players had a handy visual reminder of what they could do with the terrain, I had neglected to give myself one; as the DM, I had a lot of powers to keep track of, and without something to remind me that they were there, I tended to focus on what my monsters could do by themselves. There is, I realized, a very simple solution to this problem: put the terrain powers right in the monster stat blocks.

Thanks to the Monster Builder, it’s easy enough to modify monster stat blocks and to copy terrain powers from one monster to another. Having terrain powers in the monster stat blocks acts as a handy reminder of what tactics are available to your monsters, as well as a good reference for how powerful those powers are in relation to their own. You can also use this technique to remind yourself of specific tactical tendencies of monsters. If you’re running a combat with a lot of different terrain powers, it’s easy enough to only put the powers in a given stat block that that monster is likely to use. Is there a mounted ballista that does less damage than your artillery monster’s own weapon? It doesn’t need that power. The skirmisher or brute might, though, until the PCs close the distance. Zombies aren’t likely to utilize the environment a lot, but orcs and goblins probably will, and you can bet your bottom dollar that kobolds will.

Here is a very simple example, an encounter from my last session that I modified after the fact. I encourage you to experiment with this technique, and I also encourage you to share your results and modifications here on this blog.

Setting Seeds: The Witcher

Posted on : 22-04-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, Musings, Setting Seeds

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A while back I read The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski, and I really enjoyed its dark, moody take on fantasy tropes. I’m currently playing my way through The Witcher, a computer game based on the book. I’m really digging it, and I keep thinking that this would make a great setting for D&D.

The basic idea would be that players are witchers: professional monster-hunters who have undergone genetic mutation in order to make them better at what they do. They are a necessary part of society because monsters are everywhere, and they threaten normal people on a regular basis. Normal people, however much they need the witchers, despise them for what they have given up: their humanity. They have an essential otherness that makes them automatic outcasts, and many see them as abominations of nature.

It would be fairly easy to model witchers in D&D. Before becoming witchers, every PC was human. They still get to choose a race, but the race they choose represents some of the mutations they’ve undergone to become what they are. Alternately, maybe all of the races are available normally; The Witcher does include elves, dwarves, and gnomes. Here’s the thing about nonhumans, though: they are also largely despised by the dominant human race, and are subjected to a lot of hatred and bigotry.

In D&D, the idea is that the PCs are heroes: they’re special, more powerful than normal people. In this setting, the same would still be true. The difference is that it doesn’t make them heroes in the eyes of the common folk; it makes them abominations. They may be necessary, but most folk see them as a necessary evil at best.

Conditions in 4E

Posted on : 19-04-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, GMing Methodology, Links, Musings, Tips

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I just came across this monster optimization article in my blogroll. In general, I like these articles a lot, primarily because I’m always looking for ways to really challenge my PCs. Most of my fights wind up being significantly easier on them than I expect them to be, and some of the ones that are “difficult” are really only long and probably somewhat annoying. In theory, I like the idea of the grell/quickling combination presented in the article above. That one-two punch of blinding or dazing combined with a combat advantage damage spike can be a nasty surprise for PCs who think they’re untouchable. It does bring up a problem that I find myself dancing with frequently, though.

The problem is, some conditions in 4E can be really annoying to players when they’re overused. The dazed condition is one of them, the blind condition is another. Slowing and immobilizing can make your extremely mobile characters have to vary their tactics, but they can also be really irritating to players whose tactics rely on mobility if they’re being shut down for an entire fight. Stunning and dominating are probably the ones you want to use the most sparingly, though a monster that dominates can be a lot of fun if you allow the PC to continue to play the dominated character.

As a related aside, I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 on my DS lately. It’s a lot of fun and, like 4E, utilizes a myriad of conditions that do various things. Some of these conditions are extremely fun and satisfying when you get to use them on monsters. Immobilization works like it does in D&D; disabling prevents a monster from taking actions other than movement. I rely on these two conditions quite a lot in my fights, and it makes the game more fun. But here’s the thing: there are a lot of conditions, both in FFT and in D&D, that are lots of fun for players to use, but can make the game really un-fun when they’re used on the players with similar frequency.

The above article makes me a little wary. In theory, I like fight that allow the monsters to gain combat advantage frequently, especially when that grants them extra damage, too. It makes the fight more dangerous for the PCs, which makes the fight more exciting and memorable. If you can drop a PC in a fight, that’s a fight that’ll be remembered in the future. However, I know from experience that relying on the dazed condition too much makes for a long, drawn-out fight that isn’t all that exciting, or that feels unfair to the PCs. There’s a fine line between difficult and cheap, and it can be difficult to walk in D&D.

What are your thoughts? What experiences have you had with conditions such as dazed, stunned, dominated, and so forth? Do you have tips for how to utilize them effectively?