WorldWide D&D Game Day: Red Box

This coming Saturday, September 11, is the next WorldWide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day, celebrating the release of the new Red Box starter set. We’ve got four DMs available to run the game at Imagine Games and Hobbies, starting at 1:00. This is a perfect Game Day for anyone who’s interested in D&D, but who has no experience with the game to come by and give it a try. It should also be fun for more experienced players, who will get to try out the new character builds from the Red Box set.

So, come on down and play with us.

Dateline – Storm Point

Yesterday we had the latest installment of the Storm Point campaign. I’ve been working on fitting more into each session of play with this game, because I was unsatisfied with the way it was turning into the fight-a-week club, too similar to the D&D Encounters format. There have been a few specific challenges to that strategy, though:

  • Fights have been too tough. This is sort of a feedback loop: I want a challenge for the characters, so I build a tough encounter, but that means that we only get through one encounter in a session, so I want to make sure that encounter is memorable and challenging, so I build a tough encounter…
  • The actual setting of the adventure is not optimal for highlighting things like NPC interaction and roleplaying encounters. They’re in a ruined dwarven city, looking to repatriate the bones of one of the character’s ancestors, so the place is pretty empty, except for the foul creatures that drove the dwarves out in the first place.
  • Focus is tough in this group. In previous posts, it may have seemed like I was bemoaning this fact and blaming the players, but that’s not the true story. The real story is that we have all been friends for years, but as time has gone on, we see each other less and less outside of the game. So a large part of the enjoyment that we all have in the game is the socializing, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

This session, I worked to address the first two points, and wound up doing some work on the third one, as well.

After the interesting combat last session on the crumbling stairs over the lava, the party had found its way down to two different ways into the dwarf city: worked mines and natural caverns. I explained that both would probably lead to the city, but that the mines might be easier to navigate, though more heavily patrolled. The caverns might have less-organized monsters, but would be tougher to find their way through. The group chose the mines.

I built almost identical skill challenges for each path, shifting the DCs as I felt appropriate. The idea was that they needed 12 successes to get through the mines before 3 failures. Every time they made four successes without a failure, they found some raw amethyst in the mine, giving them some interest in the actual skill challenge. Every time they rolled a failure, they would run into a patrol of bad guys. If they had any successes with the Stealth skill, they would have a chance to evade or surprise the patrol; otherwise, they’d have to fight. Twelve successes would see them into the upper city of Silverfalls, while three failures would mean that they had wandered into the caverns and had to get through that skill challenge next.

They made it through the skill challenge with two failures, giving them two combats, and letting them find one cache of amethysts. I threw in an extra cache of amethysts for completing the skill challenge, and because I had pushed the players pretty hard on the final combat.

See, the combats were less of a challenge than I usually make. The group is 8th level – 9th level, after this session – and the first combat was a level 7 encounter, while the second one was level 8. The third, if they had triggered it, was level 10. Usually, I make the encounters a couple of levels higher than the party to make sure it’s a good challenge. The party can handle it, but it means we get through one encounter per session, and the players usually want to take an extended rest after about two encounters, meaning they’re not getting any of the rewards for passing milestones.

We made it through both combats and completed the skill challenge this session, and I was very pleased. We started the last combat about an hour before the time we normally look at stopping for the evening, so I told the group that I was going to be a bit of a dick about running this combat to keep things moving, and that they should be thinking about what their characters are going to be doing before their turn comes up, and that that I was going to limit their waffling time.

In truth, I had to make some noises about hurrying up during the first couple of players’ turns, and they decided I was serious. We got through that combat in about an hour, rather than the two I was fearing it would take. These guys can focus when they want to.

So, we got them to the upper city of Silverfalls. Along the way, they fought drow and troglodytes – and a few demons – and found on the corpses little chits of stone carved with Deep Speech symbols that lead the party to believe that there are aberrations pulling the strings.

I count this session as a huge success for the game, based on the following facts:

  • Effectively three encounters completed.
  • Got through the tougher combat in about an hour.
  • Interest from the players in the non-combat stuff, including some discussion of the history of Silverfalls.
  • Laid some groundwork for possible roleplaying encounters with some of the monsters.
  • Less-challenging opponents allowed the characters to shine, doing some very cool stuff, including a nice teleport bait-and-switch by the fighter and the swordmage, and a very wuxia-style attack by the monk that wound up putting down the boss monster in the first round (assist by the ranger softening the target with a couple arrows).

So, thanks and congratulations to my players. I think this kind of adventure structure is going to make our games more fun.

Oh, and yes. I wasn’t just taunting you with the beholder mini. Fair warning to Milo “GM Weaksauce” Tarn.

WorldWide D&D Game Day: Dark Sun

Just a quick reminder to folks in Winnipeg that I will be running the Dark Sun game day tomorrow at Imagine Games and Hobbies starting at 1:00. And when I say “I will be running,” what I mean is that I, along with D&D Encounters DMs Barry, Kevin, and Rob, will be there to put four tables through what looks like an interesting and challenging adventure.

So, come on out and play with us.

Dateline – Storm Point

Sunday was the latest installment of the Storm Point campaign. It was an encounter that I had been planning for quite some time, eagerly anticipating building an impressive structure for the fight, and having a lot of fun with it.

The plan was for a fight reminiscent of the Bridge of Khazad-dum scene from Fellowship of the Rings, with a desperate battle on a set of precarious stairways, platforms, and bridges, over a pool of lava. I had intended to build the encounter area using the Sewers of Malifaux Terraclips from WorldWorks. Unfortunately, they weren’t available at GenCon as I (and, I think, they) had hoped, so I was forced to fall back on my Dungeon Tiles. These work just fine, but they lack the 3D elevation stuff I was really hoping for. Now, I also have a bunch of .pdfs from Fat Dragon Games, which are very nice, but I have found that I just suck at building the paper terrain, so…

Anyway, I went with the Dungeon Tiles.

What I wanted in this encounter was to have the party very constrained in their movement, but have the monsters less so. I looked through the books for some good flying monsters and monsters with good ranged attacks, but nothing really fit what I had decided this part of the Silverfalls ruins would contain. Then I remembered the phase spiders.

Phase spiders worked perfectly. The popped in for a surprise attack when the party had made their way out of the entryway and onto the stairs, and they kept up a nice hit-and-run attack pattern that drove the players nuts. I put in a couple of spider webs on the platforms, too, both to hamper movement and to give the spiders some place nasty to teleport characters without just dropping them in the lava (which would give a save, which would prevent the teleport, etc.).

I messed up the way they phase spiders’ defensive teleport thingy worked for the first few rounds, though. The new version of the Monster Builder, while it uses the new monster format which I like, is still pretty buggy, omitting some minor elements from the stat blocks. Little things, like when a power recharges, or the climb and teleport speeds, or what triggers a triggered action… you know. That last one caused a few problems, because I had overlooked it when printing out the stats for the game, and got it wrong the first couple of times. But we straightened it out.

The combat itself was everything I could have hoped for. Characters were getting teleported all around the area, spiders were popping in and out, a couple characters were dropped unconscious from the venom, they were jumping over the lava from platform to platform, knocking spiders over the edge, everything very cinematic and exciting.

They managed to dispatch the spiders, and make their way to the exits, where they opted to head through the entry to the mines, rather than the entry to the caverns. I’d planned some fun stuff for each, and they’re going to run into that next session.

Dateline – Storm Point

We ran the most recent session of Storm Point this past Sunday. Things were a little bit more distracted than usual, because the Fringe Festival is going on in Winnipeg right now, and sometimes it seemed like the entire city was walking by the store windows. And some of the passers-by were very distracting, indeed.

After the last session’s marathon grindfest with the two vrocks, I had revamped the next encounter to be a fair bit easier for the party, but I still wanted it to be an interesting challenge. I kept the monster composition – it was the three minotaur warriors and the minotaur cabalist that had fled the field during the last fight* – but decided to have them make a fighting withdrawal through a narrow corridor with lots of little niches to hide in. I also gave the warriors crossbows, so they could take shelter behind the rocks and such and snipe at the party as they came down the corridor.

I think it would have worked pretty well, with a bit of a chase through the tunnels under enemy fire, but the initiative order totally pooched that idea. The entire party rolled well, and the monsters rolled crap, so the party was able to rush the first held position and engage one of the minotaur warriors in melee. I had the others fall back firing, but really, that first little closing moment was enough to take a lot of the advantage away from the minotaurs.

It was still an interesting fight, and it was neat to watch the players’ reactions when they realized that their enemies were making a fighting withdrawal. It really made them want to chase them.

What with the distractions, we wound up taking longer on this encounter than I had expected, so we wrapped up a little early, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I used DM’s Tracker on my iPad for most of the combat*, and I’m liking it more and more. The only real problem I see with it is that it’s an iPhone app, and I’d love an iPad version that took advantage of the larger screen. I see on the developer’s forum that an iPad version is in the works, so I’m awaiting it with some anticipation.

I was also inspired to dig out my Dungeon Tiles for this session, after seeing this new product coming. Seeing as I’m planning a “Bridge of Khazad-dum” -style combat in the abandoned dwarven city of Silverfalls, I immediately started salivating. Gonna have to check these out at GenCon. Strange thing with using the Dungeon Tiles: one of my players looked at them and commented on all the work I was putting into the game as I layed them out. Considering it was a lot less work than my normal method – drawing the scene out on battle tiles with markers – it struck me as odd. But it definitely added something to the game. I think I’m going to have to use them more.

This is going to be our last Storm Point game for a few weeks, because GenCon is coming up fast, and I’m heading down again. I’m curious to see if I wind up doing a little more frequent blog updates using the iPad, and maybe even Twittering about what’s going on. For that to work really well, though, I’m going to need to get a micro-sim from a US provider and a pay-as-you-go account for a week. Have to see what I can put together.


*2300 xp, a level 8 encounter for 6 characters. Back

*Somehow, it didn’t get turned off when I loaded it into the car and drove  back to the city this weekend. And the cell data functionality was active. Man, that sucks the power quickly! Back

Dateline – Storm Point

Last night was the latest Storm Point session. Due to some real-life concerns, we had to make sure that the game wrapped up early, which at first disappointed me a little, because the encounter I had planned was a tough one, and I didn’t want it glossed over.

In retrospect, I’m very glad that the session ended early, because I made the encounter waaaay too difficult. Somehow, even though I keep the character sheets for the players between sessions, I got into my head that the characters were 9th level, instead of 8th. So, I whipped up an encounter that included a few level 13 critters*.

Four levels above the party, that’s doable, I find, though it can take some time. But five levels above, and there’s a real tendency of the game to start to drag, as the characters are hitting less and less often, and the players get frustrated, and so forth. I’ve noticed that I have a real tendency to want to ramp up the challenge for characters, which I’m trying to curb.

My rationale for making the fights tough is that then the characters really feel like they’ve accomplished something when they win. The downside of this is that, without a balance of easy (or at least less challenging) encounters, the players don’t get to see how good they’ve become, and how they can walk all over some monsters that they used to have to run from.

So, last night’s battle was too tough, especially for the time frame we were dealing with. I started worrying about it right at the start of the session, so instead of having the vrocks swoop in on the party once they were inextricably engaged with the minotaurs, I decided to strike first with the vrocks, and unleash the minotaurs on any of the party that landed their hippogriffs to try and make for the tunnel.

If I hadn’t done that, I think the fight would have gone very badly for our heroes.

They were (most of them) having real problems hitting the vrocks, and wisely stayed out of range of the minotaurs on the ground. Every time one of the vrocks hit a party member, it was doing almost a quarter of their hit points damage. Most of the group ganged up on one vrock to take it down, while the ranger – who didn’t seem to have nearly the trouble hitting as everyone else, and was rolling out 20-30 points of damage a round – managed to take the other one down by himself.

In the fight, I had the minotaurs rush out for a round or two when one of the characters wound up on the ground, and then I pulled them back into the tunnel. I’ll save them for another encounter.

Before the next game, I need to redo my encounter plans – give the party some easier fights to help the pace of the game and decrease the frustration that everyone was feeling by the end of this one.

Well, everyone but the ranger.

*3 minotaur warriors, 1 minotaur cabalist, 2 vrock demons, for a total of 3,900 xp, a level 11 encounter for 6 characters. Back

Dateline – Storm Point

Last night was the latest instalment of the Storm Point game, and we wrapped up the Floating Island adventure. It was an interesting game, because three of the six characters had undergone greater or lesser changes as a result of the opportunity I had given them last session to rework their characters. These changes ranged from swapping a couple of powers to completely changing class. So, there was a bit of a learning curve as people got used to what is, in effect, a different character.

I had also wanted to make the combat for this session a little bit interesting. One of the things this group does well is manoeuvre the battle to their advantage, taking advantage of being able to move around while restricting the ability of their opponents to do the same. I wanted to see how they handled having their movement rather severely restricted.

To restrict the party movement, I set the combat in a store room, with long, narrow aisles between tall, heavy stone shelves. The opponents were some constructs: three scythejaws and four whirling blade automatons. I hid the scythejaws in boxes on the lower shelves down the centre aisle, with the idea that they would trigger at different points in the combat: two would trigger when a character was adjacent to them, and the third would trigger a few rounds later, at the opening of the aisle, cutting off retreat. The automatons I had drop out of the ceiling on the first round in the corners of the room and start in on the characters.

The scythejaws worked beautifully, and did a ton of damage. The narrow quarters for fighting limited what the party could do, making them rather nervous and desperate, and I managed to isolate them in about three little pockets to pound on them individually. However, the narrow aisle also really limited the effectiveness of the automatons: their burst 1 attack could catch at most two characters at once, and didn’t do a whole lot of damage. I also forgot their blow-up-on-death power, but that wasn’t such a big deal, overall. They acted as a nice distraction and impediment to movement, while the scythejaws chowed down mercilessly on the characters they were next to.

I got a few of them down to single-digit hit points at the same time a couple of times.

Now, the whole point behind setting the combat up the way I did was not to screw over the players, or to invalidate the way they’ve built their characters and the things the characters are good at. My goal was to pose an interesting tactical challenge, and see how they responded. Sure enough, they had to change their typical tactics, and think about things somewhat differently. It was a fun exercise, but I made sure that the combat wasn’t too overwhelming so that they had a good chance at surviving it, even when they were not in their tactical element.

But I didn’t want it to be too easy. If it’s too easy, there’s no sense of victory.

After this encounter, which was the last defence before the dragon’s lair, they found the loot, and headed back to Storm Point. One of the characters has requested that the next adventure be an expedition to Silverfalls, the ruined dwarven city in the mountains, to find the bones of his grandfather, who fell in the final defence of the city while the dwarves were evacuating.

Sounds like a good adventure to me.

At this point, the characters are 8th level, so I envision this adventure bringing them up to 10th or so, right on the edge of Paragon Tier. The group has also expressed some desire to find a bigger city to use as a base, and I think Paragon Tier is a good time to do that. On the far side of the mountains is the city of Belys, a thriving metropolis ruled by a dynasty of genasi, that I envision as a sort of Arabian Nights Baghdad, so that’s where we’re going next.

On a (sort of) related note, we also had a discussion about the future of the campaign in the real world. I asked folks if they’d be willing to take a hiatus from Storm Point for a few sessions starting in November. Why? Because, in October, Wizards of the Coast is releasing the newest incarnation of Gamma World, and I’d like to give that a try. And this group is pretty much perfect for the traditional weird and wacky world of Gamma.

They all enthusiastically agreed.

But that’s a way off in the future yet.

Dateline – Storm Point

Sunday was the latest session of the Storm Point game. It was even more scattered than usual, and we got into combat somewhat later than planned, and wound up playing until much later in the evening than we had planned.

Still, I think we all had fun, even if I had to threaten them all with death a couple of times to get them to focus.

With the dragon out of the way, the group was seriously depleted, resource-wise. The main tank had only two healing surges left, and everyone else was pretty beat up, as well. The battle with the wights just before the dragon hadn’t helped any, either. The temple was still jumping pretty randomly through time, and there was some discussion about whether they should just get off the temple and enter the new time period.

I was ready for that decision, but I wanted them to appreciate the gravity of the choice. See, I hate time travel in games. Well, more specifically, I hate player-controlled time travel in games. It just adds so many new layers of headache to running a game. So, I explained to them that leaving the temple and going adventuring in the remote past was a viable choice for them, but that once they left the temple, they couldn’t be sure of ever finding their way back to their own time. I told them I was prepared for that to happen, and to continue the campaign in the new world they found themselves in, but that it was a big decision for them to make.

They opted to stay in the temple, and try to stop it from jumping through time. I handled this with a complexity 5 skill challenge, and was quite glad that it all came down to the final roll*, when the dwarf decided to use his Endurance skill to act as a bridge for the arcane energy to use and complete the mystical circuit. Several of the other characters assisted him, and we had this great image of several adventurers joining hands and touching two different arcane terminals, with mystical power flowing through them to reset the time-jumping magic the dragon had messed up.

What happened next was something I had been planning for some time, but it really surprised them.

I told them that the lightning pillar that had been powering the temple had changed into a vast sphere of silvery energy and, when they looked into it, they saw themselves as they might have been, with different abilities, different training, even different races. I said that they knew that, if they touched this sphere of potentiality, they could be remade into one of their alternate selves – and that they would always have been that person.

Yeah, it’s kind of corny, but here’s my thinking.

When we started this game, the Forgotten Realms settings had just been published for 4E. Since then, there have been a whole lot of new character options that have come along, including new races and classes. I wanted to give my players a chance to look at their characters and decide if they were the ones they still wanted to be playing, without having to bring in a completely new character if they wanted a change. This tied in with the temporal energy being used in the scenario, and gave them the opportunity to think about how they’ve built their characters and whether they want to change them.

I know that one of the players is reworking his rogue into a monk. Another couple may be making minor tweaks to their characters. But mostly, people are happy with the characters they’re playing, and that’s a good thing.

Anyway, after that, they went looking for the dragon’s treasure, of course. They didn’t find it that session, but did manage to find a crypt full of undead that ate up the rest of the evening*.

Next session should be our last one on the Floating Island. After that, one of the characters has expressed some interest in going to see the old dwarven ruins up in the mountains, where his grandfather died. Should be fun.


*11 successes, 2 failures. One roll would tip it either way. Back

*10 zombie rotters, 3 zombie soldiers, 2 zombie hulks, and 2 skull lords, for a total of 2455 xp, a level 9 encounter for 6 characters. Back

Dateline – Storm Point

After too long a hiatus, we finally got back to the Storm Point game yesterday, for the climactic showdown with the blue dragon that had been giving the group such a problem.

In setting this encounter up, I was faced with a bit of a problem. See, the blue dragon has the artillery role, meaning that its best plan is to stand off from the party and blast away with lightning. Now, if I did that, the party would have no choice but to retreat – I had already established that the terrible storm made flying on their hippogriffs untenable, so they had no real way to take the fight to a flying dragon if it held its distance. On the other hand, the group had already proved that they could rapidly do serious damage to the dragon at melee range, and could pin it down in the process.

I decided to level the dragon up by 2* to give it the survivability it needed at close quarters. However, that bumped its defenses high enough that it was putting it in the unhittable range for the characters. So, I tied the increased level to the way it had harnessed the time-shifting power of the temple they were in, drawing on the potentiality of its future self through some special runestones. While it stayed within range of them, it had +2 to its level. This also let me set up a little skill challenge to run in concert with the combat, where the party tries to shut down the runestones that seem to be feeding power to the dragon.

It turned into a hellaciously tough fight for the group. It didn’t help that they sent the eladrin ranger teleporting ahead to the roof where the dragon was charging up to scout, giving the dragon a chance to attack him as he was all alone and then set up at the head of the stairs to take opportunity attacks on the rest of the party trying to make it to the roof. I also added some streams of lighting between pillars that made attacks on characters crossing the line, and a 20-foot shaft of magical lighting shooting up from the centre of the roof into the sky. In retrospect, this latter addition was not the best choice for an environment that favoured the dragon, because it was powerful enough to penetrate the dragon’s lightning resistance.

I managed to drop several of the party members during the fight, and they were already depleted in healing surges from the battle with the wights the previous session. In fact, I had both defenders unconscious at one point, and it really looked like the dragon would get to fly away again, but quick healing by the cleric and the warlord, and a critical by the newly revived fighter right when he needed it most kept things right where they wanted them to be.

But the group managed to deactivate the runestones, dropping the dragon back to its original stats, and kept it pinned in the big shaft of lightning. The dragon did some serious damage, and I almost had them on the run, but they held their ground and triumphed.

During the fight, I had the temple skip through time every few rounds, changing the scene below the temple to reflect the various ages that it was passing through. Now, resting after the difficult battle, they are turning their attention to the time-jumping of the temple in order to return to their own time.

And that’s next game.


*I had reduced the level by 2 to make it a viable solo opponent for the party, so really it was just returning it to the proper level. Back