Cassidy FTW

Last night was Cassidy's first Fellowship of the Tweet adventure. We had a great session with @NewbieDM as, well, the DM. Due to people's schedules, the game starts around my normal bed time, but I am more than willing to make the sacrifice to play with this group. Fortunately my shyness didn't last too long although my computer started to hate me as we neared midnight.

So far, playing OD&D has helped me understand a bit more about 4e which is really great. During the post adventure conversation last night I made the point that one of my problems with many of the 4e books, particularly the DMGs, is that there is a lot of assumed knowledge in them. For someone like me, who doesn't have 30 years experience playing and running D&D, it can be really hard to grok what they are trying to say, especially since so much of the advice is pretty abstract. For instance, I would love a basic tutorial on how to create a monster, what guidelines, math-wise, go into creating new attack and utility powers, and things like that. I'm a coder; I could go through and compare a bunch of them to see what overall math they are trying to get, but I'm also lazy and don't want to do that much work.

While I'm having fun with the adventure, I really miss the way magic is handled in 4e. This 2 spells per adventure/day thing is a bit of a drag. :) On one hand, it means that I reserve them and try to bring them out when they really count. For instance, in our first fight of the day versus two hobgoblins, Toma, one of our dwarves, was hit early for 7 damage. Afraid that the next round might be a bit much on the dwarf, I went in and healed him for 3, putting myself in melee range. On the other hand, it can lead to a lot of, "Well, if we are willing to wait a day, I can prepare a spell tomorrow that will let me clear that water right up and we can see if there is anything down there." I need to wait a whole day? I guess that's better than potentially not knowing the spell at all, but I prefer the 4e way.

Overall, I'm really glad I'm in this game, mostly because of the great group of guys I get to play with. Hopefully we'll be able to keep it going and I won't be as shy in future adventures. For now, I'm still feeling out what I can get away with in the conversation, which seems to be a lot. Great job guys and thanks again NewbieDM for running an awesome game! Hopefully the audio will get released soon, and you'll be able to hear Cassidy's moment of the game, near the end of the session. If it doesn't get released, I'll write it up here. Let's just say things are often darkest before the dawn.

Cassidy, a Priestess of Apollo

My last post centered on the crunch of Cassidy, my 3rd level cleric for @NewbieDM's red box game. In this one, I'll explain a bit of her flavor and backstory. I know it's a cliche but actually, I'm writing to show how I create characters, since this is the process I use for both my PCs and NPCs.

Usually I start off with a concept of some sort, usually a few words that express what I really desire for the character. In this case, I want to play a pretty feminine character. I figure the guys in the group can handle it and such a character would be a good counterpoint to the darkness that is almost fundamental to Red Box D&D. I have a strange quirk in that when there is a lot of lightness and mirth, I will want to go dark and when things are too gritty, I want to go light. Usually I sum it up as I bring order to chaos and chaos to order. In addition, I didn't want to be tied to upholding the laws, so I really want a neutral character. My issue with playing lawful characters is that too often players will tend towards the medieval, favoring chivalry. I find this great for male characters, but a bit limiting for female ones. I don't think it will come up in this game, yet I have an aversion to the whole thing. I'm sure I'll play a lawful character eventually, but for now, I'd prefer to be neutral.

My initial thoughts led me towards a druid-like character, but the rules make that really hard. I'm the only healer and if healing is necessary during a dangerous situation, I can't afford to take a hit. So I scratched the wild child idea pretty quickly. Still, I had to determine how to follow a cause and still be fairly neutral. Not wanting to just steal gods from later D&D editions, I started thinking about the Greek pantheon. Right away I thought of Apollo and as I read the Wikipedia article, I became more convinced. He hits all the things I wanted in my character, prophesy, healing, music and the arts. In addition, he's known to bring both disease and cure, sounds fairly neutral to me. I also like his association with Dionysus, which I might have chosen as my deity if it wasn't a bit over the top.

Now that I someone for her to worship and follow, I needed a way to demonstrate it. Apollo is known for his lyre and music. What better way to show her devotion than to have her play an instrument of her own? I'm sure she doesn't play it wonderfully, but she'll carry it where ever she roams and her natural charm will get her a crowd. Since we're not following the skill rules, the process of getting her the play instrument skill was simple, I just asked my DM. He agreed and now I have something distinctive about my character. She's a bit of a bard and cleric, a perfect combination for someone who worships Apollo.

With those things squared away, all that remains is a bit more character back story. To play up the Apollo and Dionysus angle, she has a twin sister who is an acolyte of the latter. In fact, most of her family favors the Dionysian side of the equation, which is part of the reason she left home. Her orders are to travel the world for the next few years to learn about as many bits of culture and art as she can. Besides, many can use her healing powers and the older members prefer not to travel that much. She'll favor reason and civilization over instinct and primal concerns but with her background she can't help but have moments of pure emotion.

I'll develop the rest of the backstory over time, usually through interplay with the rest of the group. Since she's a PC, I went a bit deeper than I would with most NPCs. I can't wait to play her on Tuesday.

Giving Red Box a Try

Even though I swore I wouldn't play anything other than 4e, I'm giving the original Red Box a try. The truth is the game mechanics still make me weep, at least so far, but my fellow players are awesome and I really want to play with them. They're promising me a good time and I have no doubt that they will deliver.

Obviously the first thing I needed to do was roll up my character. My DM, @NewbieDM, gave me permission to change my ability scores a little, if necessary, to make a cleric work. With that in mind, I rolled my 3d6 in order from top to bottom. The rolls actually weren't too bad with the notable exception of Strength: Str 8 Int 10 Wis 12 Dex 14 Con 13 Cha 13. Sure, I wish my strength and wisdom were just a tad bit higher so I could wipe out that -1 penalty to attack and damage and I could get 5% more XP. But then I remember it's balanced out by lowering my AC by 1 with dex, an additional hit point with her constitution, and perhaps the ability to hire an extra loyal helper or two with her charisma. Besides, if I fudge the numbers too much, I won't be able to complain as much later when she dies.

Next up, determine hit points. If I remember correctly from the audio recording of the first game, the DM is allowing the players to take the max for the first round and then roll for each additional round. After doing that, I ended up with 14 hit points, not too shabby. Last night I thought it was 12, but that's because I didn't see the part where I get to add my con bonus every level. I'm feeling a little better about her already.

Now it's time to go shopping. Normally I would roll 3d6 and multiply it by 10 for my starting gold, but I think he's allowing us to take the maximum amount of gold and he is figuring we already have our weapon. This still leaves me a fair bit to buy, but I should be able to get everything I need:

* chainmail
* shield
* mace
* sling with 30 sling stones

* backpack
* long cloak
* boots, riding or swash-topped
* mirror
* rope
* holy symbol
* 2 torches
* tinder box
* 2 waterskin
* Clothes, middle-class

These are a good start, although I might refine the list before the game on Tuesday. Now that I have my equipment, I can figure out my armor class. We are using the descending system, so lower is better. My chain mail gives me 5 and the shield brings it down to 4. Once I add in my dex bonus, I'm down to 3. Not too bad.

Now I just have character story creation. Cassidy the cleric needs a god and reason for existing. More on that later.

There's No Role Playing in 4e

I hear this all the time, 4th edition doesn't lend itself to role playing. I blame it on not knowing any better, but my campaign tends to involve a fair bit of role playing. Last night was a perfect example, we spent the entire session doing just that. No combats. No skill challenges. All I had was my storyline and the Hammerfast book (I reskinned Hammerfast to fit Andernach in my campaign world). In fact, here were my notes for the session:

After breakfast Elessandra announces that the preparations have been made for their trip to Andernach. She tells the party that they will arrive in the temple of Pelor, headed by Sunspeaker Deldaran. Deldaran can answer their questions about the town and perhaps point them in the direction they need to go.

Conversation with Sunspeaker Deldaran

  • Residents of the tenements are going missing at night. He suggests that the party keep an eye on the tenements to see if they notice anything.
  • He also mentions that the person thought to have stolen the books is probably staying in the tenements.
  • If they ask about history, he suggests they visit the House of Memory.
  • If they ask about hidden knowledge, he suggests the Grand Library.

Mystery of the Missing Destitute
Tenements are never nice places to live and the residents of the one in Andernach have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Players can hang around the tenements to see if they can spot what is happening to the residents.

I tried to make the mystery of the missing destitute into a skill challenge before the session, but I couldn't figure out a good system. Figuring the mystery would pique the PCs' interest, I decided to wing that part of the game at the table. I'm really glad I did, because it opened up the possibility that they could just explore town.

They decided to explore a number of different options in town. The warlord Lady Alexa pretended to be an elderly lady seeking a room in the tenements. Skamos, the psion, and Birkalis, The Bard[tm], tried their luck at the Great Library. Berend, the dwarf paladin, talked with a humble blacksmith to get his take on the town. Finnan, the rascally rogue, met up with some of his guildsmen to get their version of events.

All received clues that confirmed most of the rumors they had heard and conjectures they had made. Not only was someone kidnapping residents of the tenements, others went missing as well. Word is all of the workers in one of the smaller mines near town are gone. The town's leadership was doing its best to keep the news secret, to no avail. In addition, it seems Garell, the rumored book stealer, did make his way back to Andernach. He went from living in the tenements to buying a house in a nicer section of town. Some think he must have made his money at the Hidden Coin, a gambling hall, but it all feels a bit strange. The head librarian also remembers seeing him and Ragdin, a rather wealthy dwarf of Andernach, in the library, trying to find the books on the Age of Legend.

Done with their exploring, they headed to the Arcane Inn, a place recommended to them by Sunspeaker Deldaran. While Birkalis and Skamos chatted with the innkeepers, Berend and Alexa arm wrestled and Finnan sat in the corner and watched. Sensing Birkalis' sleepiness, the innkeepers suggested that he take a walk around to waken his mind so they could continue their conversation. Finnan left secretly to follow him while the rest stayed behind. They recommended a walk along the battlements and while he was up there, Birkalis heard a heated discussion down below. Curious, he let himself down to the ground. Worried about his friend, Finnan did the same, and let his presence be known to Birkalis. They saw a boat moored under the bridge and an open door. Sticking to the shadows, he snuck up to the door and overheard a heated conversation where a rather gruff voice was demanding more money for services rendered, saying that the kidnappings were becoming too noticeable and it was harder and harder to find good candidates. The other responded telling him to be careful as he would make a fine candidate himself for inclusion in the army. With that, the inner door opened with a bang and the two continued their conversation while walking towards the boat. Finnan did the best he could, hiding himself in the shadows under the bridge and, fortunately for him, was able to escape their notice.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group became worried about their friends and set off to look for them. As they neared the bridge, they heard the raised voices down below. By the time they got down to the lower level, one had gone back inside and the other was rowing up the river. Alexa tried to follow him, but he quickly passed out of sight around a bend. After a brief discussion, they determined that the one who stayed was the half-orc, Urgak, who runs the tenements and the other was either Ragdin or one of his men.

Overall, I'm really happy with this session. Inspired by @NewbieDM's red box session, I really hammed it up for them. I made up a lot of stuff at the table, such as how Celdaran the Mad died defending the library.

Celdaran: So there I was. It was dark and I could hear the screams throughout the town. I rushed to stash away the most important books. Then I saw their shadows outside the windows. I walked up to the doorway. Remembering a story from my childhood, I yelled, "Thou shalt not pass." I even killed some of them too.

Birkalis: You killed some of the orcs? How many?

Celdaran: Well, one and it was a woman, but I took one of them with me anyways.

I can't take all the credit though. The Hammerfast book provides so much great content that can be used and reused in numerous different ways. And my players were great, getting into character and just having fun with it.

Holding Back

As a DM, I struggle with how much information to give at the table. My natural inclination is to just spill everything at once. Lately, I've placed safeguards against giving away too much. For example, I used rumor tables a few weeks ago. Last week, I did a few things to make sure the PCs didn't walk away the entire plot along with monster names, descriptions, stat blocks, and turn ons. To accomplish this, I used a weakened sage and a library with missing tomes. Instead of leaving with all the answers, the PCs left with a series of clues for where to find them.

The timing of Mike Mearls' article on sages in D&D made me laugh since last week the PCs met another great sage of Arcadia. Lilith, an eladrin who built a tower as a haven for those in need, lives even though she is well over 1500 years old. Born during the Age of Song, she has firsthand knowledge from the Age of Legends and the events that are of particular concern to the PCs. However, she is weakened from her advanced age and the main subject, the Shadow, causes her to faint if she gives it more than a passing thought. She is not useless to the party but perhaps a bit less useful than they desire. This weakness gives me a great in-story reason why she can't just tell them everything they would like to know and leaves them a little less frustrated.

In addition to the sage, the tower has a library with volumes going back to the Age of Song and the town has other residents who might be useful in some way. To frame their search through these resources, I ran it initially as a skill challenge and then allowed it to progress to skill checks for additional information. Some of the party went to consult the tomes. Others huddled around one of the Shadow Army collars, determining how they could be removed. I tried to make the players be as specific as they could, although the initial round was pretty generic. Each round built upon the last until they had a basic idea of what happened. They determined where in the library the books they wanted should be. Then they started looking through the books and found that the ones they needed the most to learn about the Shadow were gone. This led to questions to the staff and townspeople about where the books might be and, if they were taken, who might have taken them.

For those studying the collar, the progression wasn't quite as natural. The rogue studied the latching mechanism which looked much more complicated than it is. Likewise, the patterns of the arcane energy surrounding the collar seemed intricate at first, but ebbed and flowed in the rhythm of a popular children's song. This knowledge gives them a leg up if they try to remove the collars during combat. They also found that creatures without their collars will still be a threat, but they instantly lose the bonuses being a member of the shadow army gave them. In game mechanics terms, they lose the shadow origin and the bonuses to stealth and intimidate.

Overall, the result was great. The players seemed to enjoy the skill challenge. The PCs received valuable information, most importantly clues that they can investigate further. I didn't give away everything I have. This will mean less prep time for me in the future and gives the players some real decisions to make. Do they try to find the missing volumes when they get to Andernach or do they continue on in their quest, worried that each passing day means an increased likelihood that the kidnapped noble will die? Slowly getting the clues about what exactly the Shadow is sets the tone for the final encounter of this campaign arc and also gives me an opportunity to find out from them what their worst fears about it are. The guesses and jokes that result are excellent fodder as I nail down the final details of the upcoming encounters.

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