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21st century, 21st level

After a couple of weeks off for real life stuff, our regular game got back under way last week. The big news is, we’ve hit the heady heights of the epic tier! This is uncharted territory for all of us. Even the guys who played previous editions of D&D never got near the old cap of 20th level, so to get to this sort of level is a serious achievement.

We’re going through the H/P/E Orcus adventures, and I’m glad to see the back of Nightwyrm Fortress. It was a slog and the monsters just lined up to be killed in order. Add to that the poor mechanical implementation of the monsters back then and well, let’s just say we made the best of it.

Onwards  and upwards. Internet opinion of Deaths Reach is quite high, and I have to agree on rereading it (I bought the thing 18 months ago!). It seems to get stuck into a big story, pulling together various strands that have been touched on in the earlier parts of the series. Even so, it’s presented in the usual dry mechanical linear fashion. I knew from past experience that it would be best to put my own spin on the adventure. I don’t have a huge amount of prep time, so I wasn’t going to rewrite every encounter or move things about wholesale. I just wanted to add a bit of flavour where I could and bring the characters into the heart of the plot.

This is where my players really come into their own. I simply asked everyone to say what they’d been up to in the game months since emerging from Nightwrym Fortress. How was the epic destiny going to manifest? What had changed? Whatever really. Danurai had sent out a pre-emptive shot with this e-mail from before game night:

With the hissing crash of a wave breaking on a shingle beach the planar skiff materialized in the grounds of the ruined Keep above Winterhaven. A tall man stood on the prow of the ship clad in brown and grey snakeskin which appeared to writhe around him and an inky black cloak clasped in place with a plain silver brooch. He wore an obsidian mask carved with the visage of a handsome drow but the ivory horns curling above them and the purple glow of his eyes from within the mask identified the traveller as the Tiefling known as Raelthos the Radiant.

Carefully re-rolling the scroll in his hands he replaced it in a carved ivory case. In the blink of an eye his form collapsed into smoke that rolled off the deck of the ship and re-formed on the rocky ground beside him a magical horse formed made purely of Obsidian it ducked it’s head and pawed the earth a clicking sound of stone on stone. Quickly mounting his steed Raelthos wheeled once gesturing to the Githyanki captain before galloping off towards the tower of Valthrun the prescient. Somewhere in Valthrun’s books was the key to unlocking the secret of the scroll and the ring of Lady Janstine Helltalon.

Julio’s retort:

From the shadows of a nearby bluff Flynn slouched idly rolling a platinum piece across his knuckles. “Hmmm” he mused “Tiefling’s back then…”Flynn paused, his head cocked to one side “good to have him back I reckon….still a ponce mind”.


Stevie went with the idea that his Shadar Kai swordmage has become a devoted acolyte of the Raven Queen. He had fasted and undergone many rituals in a far flung temple devoted to her. He’d handed over all his loot to the priests and set out into the world refreshed and renewed. Cool.

Julio plays Flynn the Rogue. What had he been doing?

Setting up a fake temple to the Raven Queen and buying some second hand robes. Made a stack of cash out of one idiot.


Love it. Stacks of character getting us off to a great start. I knew I had to raise my game.

If you don’t know the first encounter in Deaths Reach, it’s fairly basic as written. There’s a street scene, a Marut appears to give the party a message from the raven Queen, and then the bad guys launch a mounted ambush. To give it some extra oomph, I set the street scene in Moonstair, from the adventure King of the Trollhaunt warrens. I also set it at night during the monthly opening of the moon gate. I went for a post celebration vibe with the taverns full and couples stumbling drunkenly down alleyways as the party sat on the town fountain and caught up. Then I had time freeze completely and the statue in the fountain come to life and address the characters while water flowed from his hands. As the statue finished, the clatter of hooves announced the arrival of the Ebon Riders. Roll for initiative!

The monsters were utterly trounced in short order (epic characters are rock hard!), but the adventure  was properly underway. The party stepped through the portal to Zvomarana….

To be continued


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Eberron at LemurCon 2009

Every year we have a bit of a reunion. Most of our gaming group met at university back in the early nineties. Since then we’ve spread out across the country and obviously we can’t all get together every week. So instead we try to have a full weekend of gaming every now and then, once or twice a year.  Usually we meet up at Pete’s and we must be on about our 14th or 15th mini Con by now. This year we were down on numbers, and we played at Julio’s for once, so we tried something new. Usually we play 4 or 5 different games over the weekend, plus board games etc, and have rotating GMs. This time we devoted the whole of Saturday to D&D 4e.

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It’s been said of 4e that it’s difficult to really scare the players, that some of the risk of the original game has been eroded. I have some sympathy for that view what with surges, death saves etc. Encounters will very rarely result in a TPK and there’s good reasons for that. 

Last night’s session showed that there is still a part of the D&D experience that frightens players to their very core, the gaze attack. We are playing through Pyramid of Shadows, about as old school an adventure as you could get for 4e. One of the encounters on the second level is against an ogre and a medusa. When I read through this part of the adventure I don’t recall thinking there was anything particularly special about it, but D&D 4e continues to show that it’s a game to be played rather than read.

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Falling off the learning curve

steves-notesSteve forgot his character sheet for last night’s game. Usually this would be an issue to say the least, but, rather wonderfully, technology saved the day. Steve had previously e-mailed his character out to all of us, so 2 mins on my netbook got him his original mail. Then he cracked open the character builder online and ported everything over to there. He already had his power cards in his dice bag, so we were ready to rock n roll.

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Keep on the Shadowfell IV

 And the party make up changes again!

No Mark or Tracy this time out so we lose our Paladin and Cleric. Gulp. Gan’t have that so Steve decides to run the Cleric for tonight. Good job he did as it turns out…

The party have now dealt with the Kobold threat and happily stroll back to Winterhaven for xp and biscuits. Huzzah! Trouble is, Winterhaven is having a bad day. The villagers are surly, the Inn  is half empty and even the Lord isn’t thanking visitors. The party manage to get a drink out of the landlady before she goes back to being all  Gordon Ramsey in the kitchen. What’s the matter with everyone? 

Valthrun the Prescient seems to have missed the memo on being sulky today so at least he can share a glass of wine beside the fire. He regales the party with the sinister tale of Sir K(r)eegan, which I won’t repeat right now. Suffice to say that in the published adventure, this character goes by the name of Sir Keegan, but the image of a bubble permed 70s footballer in chainmail doesnt bear thinking about.

Armed with this knowledge the party set off for the titular Keep. Obviously they arrive at dusk. My nostaglia glands start popping at this point because essentially I’m back to being an 11 year old describing how a staircase leads to a 30′ x 30′ room with 3 exits. And a goblin. I’m sure this is an homage to the classics, it made me smile anyway. The feeling of deja-vu just inceased as Steve, playing Alaric, Dwarf Fighter, decided to charge the Gobbo. Whooomph! straight into a pit full of rats! I must have played out this exact same scenario back in 1981, listening to Haircut 100 on a tape deck in my bedroom. Sigh.

Now, skipping to the end. This was a fight at encounter level 2. The party of five includes 2 at 2nd level. Its against 4 goblins and a rat swarm. For the life of me i have no idea how it took the best part of 2 hours and ended up with the dwarf dead! Don’t get me wrong, it was an enjoyable scrap, and no-one noticed the time going past but even so. In the post game analysis we worked out that pretty much every encounter lasts 6 or 7 rounds. The disconnect was for the old time D&D players still having a Gobbo standing up after 4 or 5 direct hits! This is definitely not the D&D we used to play. And to be fair, we’re all pleased about that.

So a second death already in the campaign. Alaric had some outrageously bad luck. Falling in the pit was a mistake, but me rolling max daage for the fall and critting with the swarm wasn’t normal. He got out of the pit, couldn’t shake off the ongoing damage and got clear. It took 2 rounds for the rats to climb after him, and they stayed on his trail (live by the mark, die by the mark…) another huge damage roll put the Dwarf down. Then the bad luck got a little surreal. the cleric (same player remember) engaged the rats and got taken down. That’s two prone characters with ongoing damage. At the start of their turns they take basic attacks because they are still in the rats aura. I’m not deliberatly targetting downed players, but that’s the way the swarm works. Alaric goes to minus Bloodied and he’s investing in cheap agricultural implements. At least Kallista didn’t feel too bad about letting rip with Burning Hands and cooking both swarm and dwarf corpse.

Even the Gobs were being ferociously tough. there were furious exchnges between Flynn the Rogue’s shuriken and their crossbows. Scorching bursts and clouds of daggers weren’t putting them down either, and the poor old Starlock rolled 1s time and time again. Dan hasn’t managed a decent hit in about 3 hours of real time now. I’m staying away from him next week as the law of averages has got to snap back soon.

Eventually the party managed to clear the decks and get a breather. some exploration followed and next week will be all about the walking dead. Cue Thriller intro…

Now then, Goblins. The two sharpshooters in this encounter were bringing serious pain to the party. Kallista got nailed by two shots, one of which critted, and was straight to Bloodied before her initiative even came up. So I checked the stats in the adventure against the same creature in the monster manual. In the MM they have hand crossbows doing 1d6+4, in Keep they have normal crossbows doing 1d8+4. Also, the Keep versions have +2 on Fortitude, Reflex and Will. All for the same xp. Hmmm, that ain’t hardly fair is it? On the flip side, the Warrior in the MM does more melee damage than the version in the adventure! Now, I say version, but these are not presented as completely new variants, they are supposed to be the same. What do I trust now?

Anyhow, a great session, full of drama, and looking forward to more.


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Keep on the Shadowfell 3

We continue…

So the party has now taken a new shape, here’s the roll call:

Clara, half elf cleric
Kallista, human wizard
Alaric, dwarf fighter
Moonchild, tiefling warlock

And two newcomers,

Rhogar, dragonborn paladin
Flynn, human rogue

Since the party fulfilled their quest to rescue their mentor, both Kallista and Moonchild have levelled up. So, first order of business is to pick kewl nu powerz. This is traditionally a time sink for everyone else, and the same was true this time round. Mrs King is using the pregen so all the decisions are laid out for her. She loves the idea of Expeditious Retreat so plumps for that straight away. Unfortunately the pregens don’t include any rituals at all so there’s still some book work to be done. Dan selects some new stuff for his warlock and also takes the opportunity for some retraining, swapping out a power for another more to his liking. This kind of option goes down well with the players, sometimes you have to see how your character is running at the table before you are truly happy with your abilities. The chance to make changes as you go is voted A Good Thing.

The party gain an audience with the Lord of Winterhaven so we are straight into a bit of roleplaying. Negotiations go well and I enjoy the chance to flex my characterisation muscles without recourse to dice. Happily the party take the story forward and head off for the Kobold lair.

The map goes down, along with more than a dozen Kobolds of different stripes. Julio’s rogue takes battle command and immediately the party start to plan and scheme. Using Ghost Sound and extreme stealth the party draw out the Kobold skirmishers. Stealth goes out the window as Rhogar strides in, longsword and Divine Challenge to the fore. The alarm goes up and kobolds start swarming through the trees to launch the encounter proper.

Notable events include Kallista flinging Magic Missiles from the safety of halfway up a pine tree. The slinger drives her to ground with stinkpots and deadly stones. The Dragonshield gets bored waiting in his magic circle so trots out to play with his minions before him. Players boo me when I flank them!

The party don’t have too much trouble with this lot. Teamwork is running like clockwork and they are definitely getting used to each others roles by now.

The slinger and a minion escape to the lair behind the waterfall and raise the alarm. Wardrums and chants of ‘Irontooth! Irontooth!’ go up and now the party decide to press the assault.

I was eager to get this part of the adventure resolved. Thing is, this is a pretty big encounter and could have take up the whole session on its own. In hindsight, we bit off more than we could chew as a group and we were all getting tired and frustrated towards the end.

Anyway the fight within the caves was very cool and got very close to the wire on occasion. Kallista got to shout ‘Burning Hands!’ and immolate kobolds left right and centre. Rhogar and Alaric stormed through and got busy marking and defending for all they were worth. Moonchild was always on the move, making him very hard to take out, though God knows the Wyrmpriest tried! Clara got tied down by two Dragonshields at just the wrong moment and every one chipped in with advice and encouragement as she was in dire straits. Meanwhile Irontooth and Alaric were going old school on each other with battleaxes and cursing aplenty. I’m still getting my head around the idea of a goblin with 106 hit points and Steve was shaking his head in bewilderment as his hits kept going down and Irontooth’s didn’t. When Irontooth eventually got Bloodied I swear a cheer went up. Shame the players didn’t know it just makes him even more dangerous. Flynn was darting from melee to melee looking for flanks and keeping everyone on target.

Alaric couldn’t stand for long and sure enough, he went down, along with the morale of everyone else. Rhogar followed in short order and things were looking like a TPK.

Let the dice fall where they may…

So Flynn hefts his short sword and shrugs. ‘In for a penny’ he thinks and steps up to the plate wincing. Irontooth roars with delight and brings his axe to bear, when, from absolutely nowhere…

…Clara appears around the corner, covered in kobold blood, advancing on pure guts and bloody ignorance. She mutters her prayers and a Lance of Faith drills into Irontooth’s face. He goes down! Huge relief as the remaining kobolds break and the party surge forward to stabilise the twin defenders, pulling them back from the brink of death at the very last moment.

Looting and high fives follow and then we wrap it up for the night. It’s been a long one.

Final thoughts: the party are getting more and more confident now and are really working as a team. Every session someone discovers a new way of using an existing power. Whenever there’s a daily power announced everyone watches the dice with interest. Misses on these are absolutely crushing. I don’t think Dan’s character got anything but his At Wills to work all night. It seems we all need to get the set up right to make the most out of these big powers.
The monsters are incredibly fun to play. They have simple rules that really help immersion. The shifty power of the Kobolds is coming to define these guys as really nimble and bloody annoying, and that’s exactly right. When Steve realised that as a dwarf Alaric could take his second wind as a minor action there were nods all around the table ‘cool, that’s dwarfy’

The next night I’m watching tv with Mrs King and she says, ‘Can I borrow your players handbook?’ It doesn’t get much better than that.

The love affair with 4E continues. 

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Keep on the Shadowfell 2

Two of my players couldn’t make it this week so I had a decision to make. Cancel? or, see how easy it is to adjust the encounters and get some game on anyway. No contest.

The difference this time out was that the party would be only three strong: Moonchild the Tiefling Warlock, Kallista the Human Wizard, and Quinn the Human Rogue. That’s two strikers and a controller. This should be interesting…

So the Kobolds spring their ambush (side note: the DC to spot the ambush is 25, not one of the pregens can actually achieve that) and everyone gets back into flexing their powers and roles. Now, I must have lulled them into a false sense of security by rolling a bunch of 1s last time out. Julio, playing Quinn, charges into the fray, alone, and three rounds later is flanked by a pair of Dragonshields. Flanked again. They strike with their shortswords, and one comes up a crit! Quinn hits the deck and Julio starts looking up the death rules muttering under his breath. 

Things don’t look good. Thankfully, and I’m not sure if he realises what a big deal this was, Dan pulls off a crit with his warlocks daily and drops the Kobold Wyrmpriest in one shot! In hindsight, I can see how vital this roll was to the outcome of the encounter.

On come the Kobolds and Kallista and Moonchild literally have their backs against the wall, shifting like crazy to try to keep away from the Skirmishers spear. They are back to back, cursing, Eldritch Blasting and Magic Missiling for all they are worth and the Dragonshields just. Will. Not. Die. I’m looking down the barrel of a TPK here so silently make the decision to have the Kobolds bug out at bloodied.
It literally happens at the last possible minute. One shield comes to Bloodied exactly and breaks away. It allows the party to focus on the others and little by litttle they turn back the tide.

By now Quinn has been bleeding out for some time. The others see off the Kobolds and rush to his side.  Quinn’s one missed save away from death. The Warlock and the Wizard compare notes on healing ability. Moonchild tries to aid another, but rolls a 1! so much for getting the hot water, he brings back some poisonous mushrooms. Kallista needs to roll 14+. The d20 hits the table, rolls, spins, 13. Julio is now at save or die. 10+ to live. Rolls… 9. He dies in the arms of his team mates. His last words, through cracked and bleeding lips, “flanked by sodding Kobolds…”

To be continued…

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