Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Getting Players Invested

Getting players invested in the world around them is necessary if you want to tell a story. If they are only playing to kill things and gain experience/loot there wouldn't be need of a story.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

5 Minute Workday

The 5 minute workday refers to the PCs having daily powers which recharge after resting.
I discuss how often the PCs can rest.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rescue Merchant son from Dragon quest

A white dragon kidnapped the son of a wealthy merchant.
It's up to the PCs to track it and rescue the son.
This quest is for level 7 characters.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TPK and Storytelling

The PCs can all get killed in a combat encounter (Total Party Kill, TPK).
This can be due to bad choices, unlucky dices or too strong opponents.
It's hard to make up excuses for the opponents to simply let them
walk away, so I assume the opponents capture them alive.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Skills in D&D 4E

Skills are important for role playing in D&D 4E.
Ideally, if a player wants his or her character to do
something the DM should be able to map it to a skill.
Players shouldn't feel bound by their skill list to try
out things.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dara, Elf Vampire Cleric of Zehir

Eons ago, Dara was born to a noble family in a city.
When she was of marrying age, her parents were looking for a husband for her.
It didn't come to that, as a powerful vampire - some say Kas -
entered their house, slaughtered everyone and turned her into a vampire.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Abstract Mechanics and unexplainable powers

Powers in D&D 4E allow for interesting tactical combat, explaining how they work is often impossible.

Why are Fighters only able to perform some attack once a day?
Why can a cleric only have one divine fortune per encounter?
If a cleric fires a lance of faith, will it reflect in a mirror?
How does one knock prone an ooze?
How does one sneak attack the undead?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Storytelling in Kobold Hall

Kobold Hall has good encounters but can use more role playing. I try to add a decent story, non-suicidal monsters and player choices.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Protection from Death Knight quest

When the PCs enter the city, the city guards talk to them.
"Excuse, are you adventurers?"
when the PCs say yes:
"Would you please come along?"
The city guards won't give any more information, except that the leader of the city wants to talk to them.

When they arrive at the leader, he starts a monologue:
"Greetings, I'm Tharaxus, the temporary leader of this city.
We have a problem, the last weeks several city guards have been killed.
We know who is doing this but we cannot stop him.

His name is Heskan, a death knight.
He has a grudge against leaders of this city and kills city guards until he gets to me. My predecessor has been kidnapped a couple of months ago by Heskan.

Heskan attacks only in the open, so I'd like to hire you for protection.
There is a reward of 2000 gp for killing Heskan."

Examining the quest

Tharaxus leaves out a lot of details as not to scare the PCs.
An Insight DC 22 reveals this, and if pressed, he'll tell more.
He also doesn't mention his predecessor, who is probably still alive.

History DC 16:
The city was once part of great empire.
The last king of that empire was betrayed by his lieutenant Heskan.
Heskan successfully killed the the king but was killed by the king's
loyal followers when he wanted to usurp the throne.

He didn't stay dead for long as someone wanted him still around.
Heskan, once a Dragonborn Paladin of Bahamut, was transformed in a
death knight.

Religion DC 20:
He spends most of his time in the Shadowfell torturing the last
leader of the city. If a new leader emerges he goes to the city
and kidnaps the new leader to torture him.
He only kills a leader if he has kidnapped a new leader.
This cycle has been going on ever since he became a death knight.

Streetwise DC 16:
He rides a black horse on fire, which the PCs identify as a Nightmare.
People have seen the Nightmare and Heskan appear and disappear,
riding though a blackish portal.
PCs who succeed on a Religion DC 18 know that the portal leads to the Shadowfell.


Heskan level 13 Soldier
Medium Undead
Initiative +11                     Senses Perception +16; Darkvision
HP 200; Bloodied 100
AC 30, Fortitude 27, Reflex 21, Will 22
Speed 5
Action Points 1
Saving Throws +2
Resist Necrotic 10, Vulnerable Radiant 5
Immune Disease; Poison

Standard Actions

Soulsword,        +19 vs. AC,    1d8 + 17 necrotic damage
Unholy Strike (At-will), +19 vs. AC,    2d8 + 21 necrotic damage
Sword Slash (At-Will; Range 10),
                        +19 vs. AC,   
                        3d8 + 16 necrotic damage, the target is knocked prone

Flame strike (Recharge 5 6 Bloodied; Close Burst 2),
                        +16 vs. Reflex,   
                        5d8 + 12 fire and necrotic damage,
                        undead creatures within burst deal
                        an extra 10 fire damage with attacks until end of next turn

Minor Actions

Dragon Breath (Encounter; Minor; Close Blast 3),
                        +20 vs. Reflex,   
                        2d6 + 7 fire and necrotic damage

Divine Challenge (At-will; minor; Range 5), the target is marked until
                        the death knight uses this power against another target.
                        If the target makes an attack excluding death knight
                        it takes -2 to attack and 14 necrotic damage.

Chaotic Evil
Languages Common, Draconic
Intimidate +20, History +16, Diplomacy +18

Protecting the leader

The leader walks outside with his city guards, with the PCs nearby.
The city guards and leader are Human Guards (see monster manual).
The leader has double hit points compared to Human Guards.

Shortly after entering the streets, Heskan appears riding his Nightmare mount.
He gains fire resistance this way.

  • Heskan
  • Nightmare (see monster manual)
  • Sword Wraith (see monster manual)

Heskan's background:
Shortly after adventuring in the Shadowfell, he gained companions:
  • Nightmare mount, which allowed him to travel quickly from the natural world to the Shadowfell
  • Sword Wraith, which he wears as a cape

Heskan won't say much, he'll charge straight for the leader.
Being mounted on the Nightmare gives him a speed 10.
If he notices the PCs he'll let the Sword wraith kill the city guards to create more Sword Wraith (Spawn ability).
The PCs recognize the Nightmare and may recognize and Sword wraith (Religion DC 19)

An important point to make is whether the PCs keep the Nightmare alive
so they can tame it for just one trip.
Taming the Nightmare means defeating it in combat, keeping it alive and make an Intimidate DC 18 to make it choose between service and death.
That way they can save the previous leader from the Shadowfell.
An alternative is to use the Shadow Passage ritual.

If Heskan is killed while Sword Wraiths are still alive, they will try to go into nearby houses and start killing commoners (or leader and city guards first if they are still alive).
If Heskan is killed while the Nightmare is alive it will try to escape and eventually go to the Shadowfell.

Also, who made Heskan a death knight and wants no leadership in the city?
This fact may lead to an antagonist.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Encounter Management: combat and role playing

Running encounters is at the heart of D&D.
Whether these are combat encounters or role playing,
the balance between those gives an adventure more depth.
They aren't mutually exclusive, as an encounter may start as a combat and end in a diplomacy session or vice versa.
Besides, combat encounters show many details about NPC opponents and the world.

Combat Encounters

I think combat is one of the most discussed topics of D&D 4E.
Other people have compiled a list of combat accelerators.

I like the tactical combat of D&D 4E and the combination of powers.
Each class is equal in number of daily resources which I find great.
But as our group levels up, combat starts to slow down.
Which isn't a surprise considering the number of powers each player has.

I have an encounter manager for managing initiative, monster attacks, monster health and skill checks.
That way the DMs turn is finished quite fast.
Having a laptop or PC is essential for this.

I increase monster attack and damage while reducing defense,
somewhat similar to monster manual 3. I end pointless combats early.
I avoid effects that prolong combat like stun, blind, unconscious, etc.
So combat encounters are very offensive, a lot of damage gets tossed
around in a short time.

Role playing

The most important thing I did was having less combats but making them count more.
If PCs would have 8 combat encounter per character level like the Dungeon Master's Guide recommends we would barely get 2 encounters done per session.

Many encounters are role playing, information gathering, exploration, etc.
A sort of informal skill challenges (no number of successes or misses).
I think there are about 4 combat encounters per character levels.

This also prevents repetition, something I noticed in published adventures like Kobold Hall, Keep on the Shadowfell, etc.
Some encounters feel like filler to get to the 8 combat encounters.

Maps and tracking status

Maps are created in Gimp and projected by an overhead projector on the table.
Miniatures are from HeroQuest, although we sometimes use coins, bottle caps, etc.
That way a combat starts very fast, keeping the momentum of the game.

We mark only the bloodied status, other statuses are remembered by the players.
There is a public initiative list with defenses of all the monsters and PCs.
This speeds up combat and makes it easier for players to plan their strategy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

5 Lesser known undead

Most people know iconic undead monsters like zombies, skeletons, liches, vampires, etc.
In this post we're going to examine some lesser known undead monsters and look at story telling possibilities.

All of the undead here are from Open Grave.
  1. Unrisen
    Unrisen are people brought back from the dead by the raise dead ritual.
    Something went wrong, so they look the same but are undead monstrosities at  heart.
    I find them creepy as they are one of the few undead that can easily pass of as normal humanoids. I wrote a quest about them.
    Maybe there exists a way to sabotage the raise dead ritual so that a healer can corrupt an organization or city.
    Or an unrisen healer sabotages the raise dead ritual to create a family.
  2. Caller In Darkness
    This ghost is a group of spirits that died in terror.
    It wants to draw others into the group.
    As a ghost it can be defeated but will return until the reason that caused the deaths is solved.
    Also, how large can it become? How many souls can it draw in before it gets huge or gargantuan?
  3. Forsaken Shell
    These are undead skins that want to envelop living creatures.
    When these living creatures die, their skins become new Forsaken shells.
    An interesting way to use them is in an encounter with low-level NPCs or even commoners. This forces the PCs to focus on more than just destroying the enemies.
    Only the skin becomes an undead creature, the rest of the body can be used to create or feed other undead.
  4. Wraith
    These undead are fantastic. Their phasing and spawn ability (any living humanoid killed by them becomes a wraith) can lead to an wraith apocalypse.
    An intelligent antagonist may keep them and threaten to set them loose in a populated area. Or an insane antagonist may just set them loose anyway.
    Players can then fight against swarms of wraiths or a huge amount of minions.
  5. Nighthaunt
    Nighthaunts are shadows that prey on the innocents.
    The cool thing about them is their ability to create corpse grass.
    Anyone that eats even a little of it becomes a nighthaunt at death.
    So it can be put in food, the water supply, beer, wine, etc.
    Once the first infected person dies the fun starts.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Vistra, Dwarven Wizard

Vistra was born to a poor, religious family in the mountains
south of Hammerfast.
He was born with poor legs and was unable to walk at a young age.
As he was bound to his room, he started reading.
Not religion like his parents wanted but the arcane arts.
So when a healer was finally able to come along to look
at Vistra's legs, he dismissed the healer.
He vowed to follow his own path and cursed the Gods names
for allowing such injustice to exist at all.
He conjured up a Floating Disk and used that to get away.

His anger at the Gods grew every day, while he became more and
more convinced of the superiority of the arcane arts.
"Ultimately all power is derived from Arcane"
He met someone that could give him new legs using grafts.
He rejected that offer, tricked an angel into being summoned
and took the angel's wings for his own.
He hides those wings except for combat or fleeing.

Role in a Campaign

Vistra can be enraged by sweet talking the Gods or down talking arcane magic.
When first battled he may use his wings to flee the encounter.

He uses Eye of Alarm to guard himself against surprise attacks.


Vistra level 14 Elite Controller
Medium Humanoid           
Initiative +14                            Senses Perception + 20; Low-light vision
HP 140; Bloodied 70
AC 30, Fortitude 25, Reflex 26, Will 28
Speed 1; falls Prone unless a manages a saving throw, Fly 8
Action Points 1
Saving Throws +2
Resist 10 Force
Stand Ground: -1 to push/pull/slide and saving throw against falling prone
+5 to saving throws against poison

Standard Actions

Quarterstaff,        +19 vs. AC,    1d8 + 4 damage
Thunderwave (At-will; Close Blast 4),
                             +18 vs. Reflex,   
                             1d6 + 14 thunder and force damage,
                             target is pushed 6 squares
Force Missile (At-will; Range 20), +18 vs. Reflex,    2d4 + 14 force damage
Force Orb (Encounter; Area burst 4 within 10),
                             +18 vs. Reflex,   
                             1d6 + 14 force damage, target is knocked prone;
                             Vistra and allies are not affected
Rolling Thunder (Encounter; Range 10; 2 attacks),
                             +18 vs. Reflex,   
                             3d6 + 14 thunder damage, target slides 3 squares
Force Grab  (Encounter; Range 20; Sustain minor; move 8 squares),
                             +18 vs. Reflex,   
                             2d8 + 14 force damage, target is grabbed
                             and if sustained grabbed target takes 15 force damage
                             (use Reflex Defense as DC to escape grab)
Spectral Ram  (Encounter; Range 10),
                             +18 vs. Fortitude,    

                             2d10 + 14 force damage, target is pushed 3 squares
                             and knocked prone
Thunderlance  (Encounter; Close Blast 6),
                             +18 vs. Reflex,   
                             4d6 + 14 thunder damage, target is pushed 4 squares

Minor Actions

Second Wind  (Encounter; minor),
Vistra gains 35 hit points and +2 to all defenses until end of next turn
Angel's Wings (At-Will; minor), Vistra gains or loses Fly 8
Drink Potion (Encounter; minor), Vistra gains 25 hit points and saves against condition

Alignment Lawful Evil Languages Common, Dwarven
Arcane +20, History +16, Insight +18


Heavenly Push (Immediate Interrupt; target of ranged attack; once/round), 
Vistra gains +5 to defenses against this attack
Shield (Encounter; Immediate Reaction):

                             if hit by an attack raise AC and Reflex by 4 until end of next turn
Storm of Blades (Immediate Reaction; reduced to 0 hit points; Close Burst 3),

                             +19 vs. AC,   
                             6d8 + 7 damage


Vistra is all about forced movement, so terrain will play a big role.
He tries to keep away from melee fighters using his flight.
He tries to push anyone into pits or spikes.


Vistra is in a training room:
all walls have spikes, and there are several pits with spikes on them.
Being pushed into any of those causes 10 damage.

Level 14 Encounter:
  • Vistra
  • ShieldGuardian (found under guardian entry in Monster Manual)
  • 2 Earth Elementals (found in Monster Manual 3; level up 2 levels)
  • DartWall trap behind Vistra. It only fires at ground level and he can fly above it. The trap is triggered by Vistra and can be disabled by 3 Thievery DC 34 or Arcana DC 32. It attacks 2d4 creatures in range.
    Use Poisoned Dart Wall from Dungeon Master's Guide as a start but level it to level 13.
The trap activates when the ShieldGuardian is dead as Vistra is Flying and
the Earth Elementals have little trouble with it as they can Burrow: half speed through solid rock. The earth elementals are hidden / burrowed at first.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Masterwork Armors

Masterwork Armors

Masterwork armors are introduced in Adventurer's Vault.
They give additional AC bonus and other special properties
like additional defenses or resists.


Some masterwork armors in adventurer's vault are related to race:
Cloth: Githzerai
Leather: Drow
Hide: Dwarves
Chain: Eladrin, Genasi, Tieflings
Scale: Yuan-ti, Dwarves
Plate: Humans, Githzerai

This is good opportunity to give PCs or friendly NPCs
a moment to shine with creating masterwork armors.

The list above is just a guideline.
If someone can explain how to make a masterwork armor,
it is possible.
It depends on character background, intelligence, race, Nature skill (skins), Arcana skill (cloth; leather), etc.

Masterwork Rules

Masterwork Armor is made using:
  • someone that knows the crafting techniques
  • correct materials, total market price is the same as normal item,
    also sells for the same market price.
    For example: a magic armor's market price is 20.000 gp.
    A character that has 5000 gp in components cost needs
    pay up 15.000 gp. The masterwork armor's market price is then 20.000 gp.
  • takes time to create in hours equal to the item level,
    which is can be interrupted.


  • Cloth Armor
    Githweave: 5000 gp Alexandrite Crystals
    Mindweave: 6000 gp Sapphire Crystals
  • Leather Armor
    Drowmesh: 6000 gp Onyx Crystals
    Snakeskin: 7000 gp Emerald Crystals
  • Scale Armor
    Drakescale Armor: 4000 gp Rage Drake Scales
                                    5000 gp Dragon Scales
        Wyvern Scale Armor: 6000 gp Wyvern scales
                                            7000 gp Hydra Scales
        Stormscale Armor: 6000 gp Gorgon Scales
  • Goggles of Night: 9000 gp Dark Crystal

Where to find Materials

  • Crystals: found in caverns in the Fey wild,
    Nature to navigate and to avoid wildlife,
    Dungeoneering to find and navigate cave,
    History to know about caves
  • Dark Crystal: found in darkest caves of the Shadowfell,
    Nature to navigate,
    Religion to stay clear of dangers,
    Stealth to bypass Nightwalkers, they can be distracted,
    Dungeoneering for navigating caves
  • Scales: kill rage drakes, dragons, wyverns, etc. 

How to use Masterwork Armor

This all depends on how adventures are played.
If it's a pure dungeon crawl with players focusing on tactical combat,
it's best just hand them Masterwork Armor instead of regular armor.
That way, they don't have the hassle of finding components or caring about the details of crafting Masterwork Armor.

If players focus a on non-combat and crafting the above house rules may help crafting Masterwork Armor.

So it all depends on the play style of the group.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Deserter quest

The Deserter

The PCs come upon a poster hanging in town:
Crime:    desertion
Wanted:  alive
Reward: 400 gp

with the face of blond haired middle-aged man on it.

A Streetwise check easily gives the following information:
Jared deserted his post. There was an incident
where some citizens were fighting amongst themselves.

He got a wound and fled into the sewers and hasn't come
back for 2 weeks now. Because of that the other guards
were in danger. People can't imagine him being
in the sewer for so long due to the crocodiles.
None of the other guards know him well, he seemed a bit odd.
The last weeks he seemed more off than usual.
His nickname was Crazy Jared.

To navigate the sewers use Dungeoneering. The stench in here is
quite overwhelming. Nature checks help with tracking.
Nature DC 20 finds him directly, any lower than that and the PCs spend several hours marching in the sewers and lose a healing surge.
A Dungeoneering or History DC 18 lead to the PCs being able to map the sewers. This means no lost healing surge for failing the nature check.

Finally they find him in a barely closed of room.
He's in there with 3 Fey Crocodiles (see monster manual).


Crazy Jared level 10 Skirmisher
Medium humanoid
Initiative +9           Senses Perception +12

HP 104; Bloodied 52
AC 26, Fortitude 23, Reflex 27, Will 22
Speed 6
Longsword (At-Will),   +15 vs. AC,    1d8 + 7 damage
Twin Strike
(At-Will; 2 attacks),    +16 vs. AC,    1d10 + 8 damage
Shadow Wasp Strike
(Encounter),    +16 vs. AC,    2d10 + 10 damage

Level 11 Encounter:
  • Crazy Jared
  • 3 Fey Crocodiles

There are 3 waterfalls converging into 1 stream here.
The waterfalls are difficult terrain and grant complete cover.
The streams are shallow water but are slippery: Acrobatics DC 15 when
crossing a stream to prevent falling prone or Athletics DC 20 (10 when running start).
All perception checks take a -5 penalty due to the noise.
Jared is sitting on a rotten chair. In the south-western corner
is some wood that appears to be used as a bed.
He wears a rusted scale mail and rags. He uses 2 broadswords as weapons.

The deserter fled into the Sewers because he has gone bonkers.
He believes he's a king.
The entrance is hidden to be safe from other sewer dwellers.
He has attracted Fey Crocodiles, he's a ranger multiclassed
to druid and thinks he can shapeshift into a crocodile.

If found out he shouts phrases such as:
"Onward my knights! For Anduria!"
"I won't let you kill my subjects!"
He lives under the delusion that he is King Jared IV, King of Anduria.
If one of the crocodiles gets bloodied or killed he screams:
"John, you will not have died for nothing"
"How dare you rebels hurt my noble knights"
If defeated, he mumbles:
   "How can this be?"
   "I am not worthy to be king, please take my crown..."

If brought back, he's sent to the asylum.
He carries with him:
  • decayed rat meat
  • bronze crown worth 100 gp