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?

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.

SotC plus D&D

Posted on : 24-10-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, House Rules, Indie Games, Links, Spirit of the Century

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I’ve been reading Spirit of the Century recently in preparation for a freelance project that I’m about to start working on, and it’s giving me ideas. Specifically, I’ve been coming up with ways to incorporate some of the ideas and mechanics in Spirit into my regular D&D game. I’ll try to explain this in such a way that people who aren’t familiar with Spirit can still understand what I’m talking about.

Aspects: This is the big one, the obvious one. In Spirit, each character starts with ten aspects; these are words or short phrases that collectively give an overall impression of who the character is. They may be physical characteristics, personality traits, notable quotes, goals, important NPCs, or other, similar things. In addition, players get fate points that they can use to invoke their aspects. Whenever a player makes a roll, he or she can spend a fate point and invoke a relevant aspect in order to get a bonus to the roll after the fact, or re-roll the roll altogether (though the second roll sticks, unless another aspect is invoked and another fate point is spent). You can also tag other peoples’ aspects, which is functionally the same as invoking an aspect except that you’re doing it to someone else’s aspect for your benefit. Finally, the GM can compel an aspect, offering the player a fate point in return for the player acting in accordance with the aspect in question; this typically restricts behavior in some way, and often complicates things for the players.
In D&D: I plan on starting each PC with one aspect from the outset, as well as two aspects that they can choose at a later time, whenever it seems dramatically appropriate. When a player invokes or tags an aspect, it can grant one of three effects. First, it can allow the player to reroll the d20 roll, taking the second result. Second, it can grant a +5 bonus to the roll, after the roll is made but before success or failure is determined. Third, and this is really a very D&D combat-specific use of an aspect, if an d20 roll comes up 18 or higher on the die, an aspect can be invoked to treat it as a natural 20. Compels work in much the same way as described above; there’s really no need to convert.

Declarations: Spirit has a number of skills that can be used for gaining information, such as Academics, Mysteries, Art, or even Burglary. Gaining information is one thing, but players can actually make skill rolls in order to declare facts about a situation. For example, let’s say the players walk into an ancient temple full of traps. A player could say, “According to my extensive knowledge of the history of this temple, I know for a fact that there are numerous secret passages that we can use to our advantage.” The GM then calls for a roll, maybe Academics, and if it’s high enough, the statement is true. In Spirit, this usually means placing an aspect on the scene, one that can be tagged later for the players’ benefit.
In D&D: The knowledge skills (Arcana, Dungeoneering, History, Nature, and Religion) can all be used to make declarations as above. I’d also allow skills like Insight, Perception, or Streetwise to be used to make declarations given sufficient justification or under the right circumstances. Declaration can cause a narrative effect, can place an aspect on the scene or on a person that can be tagged, just like in Spirit, or might create a terrain feature or power that can be used during an encounter. Now, to limit how often this happens, I’d probably cap declaration usage at once per scene per player, a scene being roughly equivalent to an encounter.

4th Power

Posted on : 19-09-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, Gamecrafting, House Rules, Links

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Critical Hits is working on something that I’d really like to see happen, and would really like to be a part of. Go check it out.

The Shadow Rift

Posted on : 04-09-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, DM's Journal, Downloads, House Rules, Links

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As, I’m sure, many of you who have run, or are currently running, Keep on the Shadowfell, I modified the adventure as written. I added in a bunch of stuff at the beginning in order to get the PCs to Winterhaven, and I made numerous minor modifications to various encounters throughout the adventure. Mostly it was a monster here and a monster there being replaced with something that I found more interesting, either mechanically or thematically (or both), but nothing too drastic. Even the replacement of a deathjump spider with a more powerful monster, a cave troll, is something I consider a relatively minor modification; it altered the feel of the battle a little bit, but didn’t have implications that were all that far-reaching.

The single greatest modification that I made to the published adventure was in the final battle of the adventure, against Kalarel. In the published adventure, Kalarel is accompanied by some skeletons and a wight, and there’s a trap in the form of the Thing in the Portal, which grabs and draws nearer adventurers who draw too near in the first place. When I first read the adventure, I thought it was a cool encounter, but that was before I had experienced more of the breadth of what 4th Edition had to offer. I do think that, for those who are still undecided about the new edition, taking D&D for a test drive with the adventure as written is perfectly viable, and probably lots of fun. But I wanted to do something different.

So, I completely rejiggered the final encounter. For starters, I created the corpse mound that I talked about before. Then I added a couple of hazards; one represented the darkness emanating from the portal, the other the subtle and seductive call of said darkness. Then I reduced Kalarel’s level a bit and modified some of his abilities so that the encounter’s level was a little more in-line with my party’s level.

It’s a level 7 encounter, all said, but with a lot of potential to be very, very difficult. There are some nasty threats in there, and all of them had at least a couple of levels on the party. So I staggered things a little bit. Initially, Kalarel is involved in completing the ritual, so the party only has to contend with the corpse mound. After a couple of rounds, Kalarel completes the ritual, joining the fray. The following round, the two hazards activate, and every round thereafter the darkness expands, filling more of the room.

Now, I had a way for the PCs to reverse the effects of the ritual built into the encounter, but I’m a firm believer that a big failure should not be a show-stopper, but should rather make things more interesting. Thus, I created a skill challenge that would trigger if the darkness expanded too much. This had the effect of also putting a time limit on the encounter, which prevented it from turning into too much of a slog.

At any rate, here is my writeup of the encounter. The experience per party member assumes a party of 5 characters, and there’s no treasure included in that writeup (I had that in a separate document for some reason). The encounter does use the standard battle map that the original encounter used; Kalarel starts in front of the altar, while the corpse mound appears as a mere pile of corpses in the pool of blood in the center of the room. The darkness, as you’d expect, emanates from the portal once Kalarel has completed the ritual. Enjoy.

More on Story Points

Posted on : 29-08-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, DM's Journal, House Rules

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Ok, I’ve thought about this idea some more, and I’ve come up with the following.

Each character has a personal quest, some sort of long-term goal that he/she can work toward over the course of the campaign. It doesn’t have to take the whole campaign, but it should be long-term enough that it should last at least until the next tier of play. Now, these personal quests to not grant experience points directly; they may inform adventures that I come up with and reward the whole party XP in an indirect way, but they do not grant XP to a single character, leaving the other characters behind. Instead, any time you accomplish some significant goal that gets you closer to your ultimate goal, you get one or more story points.

Story points can be used to do a variety of things, both story-related and mechanical, and their capabilities and limitations are largely up to a specific gaming group. I’d like to give my PCs a lot of narrative control without having to use story points, so they’ll be affecting the story in a lot of ways without having to spend these. However, they might be able to use story points to:

  • Change an NPC’s disposition toward them. The PC would have to come up with an explanation for this; maybe the NPC is secretly attracted to a PC, or maybe they knew each other a while back and the NPC just remembered this.
  • Dictate some loot that will make it into the adventure in the near future, probably in the next session. If there’s a particular magic item that a PC reall, really wants, this is a surefire way to get it soon. It does, however, have to be level-appropriate. I’d also probably say that, if the PC is willing to spend a lot of story points on it, it doesn’t have to be deducted from the party’s treasure parcels for the current level, but it can be if the PC doesn’t want to spend a lot of story points.
  • Automatically succeed on a single skill check. Great for skill challenges, not being surprised, etc. This, again, will require narration and explanation.
  • Turn a regular hit into a critical hit. This use of a story point would likely be limited to once per encounter, or perhaps every time you use it in the same encounter, it doubles in cost. This would be a nice way to get some mileage out of feats that only trigger on a crit; my PCs tend to avoid those, because you might never get a chance to use them.

Those are just some examples. Another thing about story points is that I’d like to encourage players not to hoard them by giving them an expiration date, similar to action points. My idea is that they can carry a limited number of story points over into the next adventure: 1 at heroic tier, 2 at paragon, and 3 at epic. Any story points above that are lost.

Now, I’m really curious about what other people think of this mechanic, so feedback is welcomed.

Story Points

Posted on : 27-08-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, DM's Journal, House Rules

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I just had a thought, and I felt I needed to get it down before it escaped from my head. I’m short on time, so this’ll be a quick post. In 4th Edition D&D, players are rewarded for completing encounters not only with XP and treasure, but also with action points. Action points allow them to do cool things in combat, they earn them by completing encounters, and they don’t stick around forever so there’s no incentive to hoard them.

A while ago, I was allowing my players to come up with personal quests, little things that they thought were cool and wanted to be part of the story. I awarded them XP for these quests, but quickly learned that that was not an ideal solution, because it created a disparity between the party members’ XP totals, and made leveling more complicated than I wanted it to be. So, why not award them with something else? Story points!

The idea is that story points are like action points in that they are a reward mechanism that is designed to be spent. Instead of providing combat benefits, however, story points would allow players to influence the course of the adventure in small ways. They’d last perhaps until the end of the adventure, or perhaps there would be a limit to how many you can have at one time, in order to prevent hoarding of story points. I’ll need to figure out exactly how they work, but I like the idea. More on it later.

Monster Mash

Posted on : 20-08-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, DM's Journal, House Rules, Links

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During the last D&D session, I used a few custom monsters that I put together with WotC’s Monster Builder. They worked out so well that I thought I’d post them here for your perusal and potential use.

Shadow Ghoul
This is really just a modification to the base ghoul in the Monster Manual; I wanted a lurker rather than a soldier, so I gave it a couple of extra abilities: death from above and fade to shadow. To complete the concept, I gave it the shadow origin, and you can play it up even more by describing how the shadows seem to cling to it, and how a cold numbness creeps into the PCs’ veins when it strikes. At any rate, this beastie works really well for harassing defenders and getting to back-rank strikers. The fact that it can leap 8 squares and knock someone prone and grab them means that it effectively monopolizes one PC’s attention for a round or two (assuming it hits), and once they shake it off, it can teleport away and do it again. Make sure you use it in a place with lots of shadows and darkness to make best use of its abilities.

Corpse Mound
This guy is a pretty effective soldier. The final battle in Keep on the Shadowfell, for my group, consisted of Kalarel, the main bad guy, and this thing, as well as some traps that manifested later on. The corpse mound (and the ravenous corpses it spawned) did an admirable job of keeping the heat off of Kalarel so that he could focus on completing his dark ritual. Basically, you’ll want to keep it close to as many PCs as possible so that it can get free attacks from its aura, and use corpse missile and corpse burst whenever you get the chance. As with the shadow ghoul above, we see that the combination of being knocked prone and grabbed is extremely effective at getting a PC’s undivided attention.

A Session Report, and some musings

Posted on : 13-08-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, Downloads, House Rules, Links, Musings, Reviews

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Hello, all. Apropos of the quickly approaching D&D Day, I thought I’d post a session report from the last D&D Day. The party is almost done with Keep on the Shadowfell; this next session should finish it off. I have, however modified the end of the adventure pretty heavily.

Other things. Dungeon Delve, it turns out, is a fantastic resource, not just for the obvious reason of having 30 pre-made delves at your fingertips. If you pay attention, you can glean a lot about what makes a good encounter, not just in terms of what monsters to use together, but also how to use traps and terrain to make things interesting. Even less obvious but, I think, more interesting, the book shows you how to use your Dungeon Tiles in creative ways, using features on specific tiles to represent interesting and important terrain.

Also, as you may have discerned from previous session reports, an NPC has joined the group: Splug the fey goblin. I’m using homebrewed follower rules to represent him in the battles (I’m aware that the Dungeon Master’s Guide II includes official rules for this, and I’m eager to see how close I am to the mark). For those who are interested, here is a PDF of Splug’s statistics as well as the rules for using followers.

You may have noticed that the stats for Splug were made using Wizards’ own beta version of the Monster Builder. I absolutely love this tool. For a beta, it’s extremely functional and remarkably free of show-stopping bugs (not to say that there aren’t any, just to say that I haven’t run into anything too inconvenient). There’s clearly some work left to be done on it, but there’s a lot of potential there. More than that, there’s a lot of functionality and ease of use already built into it, which is a great boon to me, and to other DMs that like to make stuff up for their campaigns. Now I just need something like this for traps.