Thursday, February 24, 2011

Inspired adventure design

So today on my blog reads I hit Robert J. Schwalb's Blog post about 10 changes to 4e that he would make if he could. One of them was changing of Tactical Encounters in adventure design, since it takes a lot of space when you factor in the format in published work, he elaborates more in the comments section with the new format that they should be pretty basic and the typical encounters should be reserved for the Big Boss fights.

I took that and ran with creating one for the first group of encounters for my Spring Dawning campaign.

I like this idea and it reminds me a bit of the old AD&D adventures with a sprinkling of the 4e concept with tactics and different things going on for the encounter. I plan of building one for the rest of my campaign especially one where there is a dungeon aspect with multiple rooms or locations on the map. This one has two with one leading into a third which I did not detail here. I just have the first part.

Edit: I updated the image with the locations of the kobold's I have not put the location for the humans and halflings just yet. This was a quick mockup to test how it would look for me I need to add in locations 2-3 and then continue from there with more fleshed out details since there is a small boss fight to introduce him to the players.

I am also toying with the ideas of location buff/debuffs like area blessings and protection spells to change things up a bit.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Started messing with making some big bad's for my game. I wanted a ranger dragonborn for the first several encounters who could go and give the players a bit of a challenge for the first few rounds until the surrounding minions were dealt with.

Gave him Aspect of the Seeking Falcon Stalking Dragon, Rapid Shot, Splintering Shot and the Combat Advantage. I still do not know at this point how far Hesherett will make it in the game. Will he become a thorn in the PC's side? Depends on my mood at game time I guess.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The seeds of Spring Dawning

I am liking Pymaper a lot. It saves me time with digging through all of my tiles to make the maps I need for my games. Since I am in this kick to be "prepared" for my games now I thought it would be best to find tools that would help me along those lines.

I thought I would show off another encounter maps I am going to use at the beginning of the adventure for Spring Dawning. These encounters will take place on the journey from Lake Wintermist to the town of Fallcrest. I just smiled because at some point my players are going to start thinking Fallcrest is like Tatooine from Star Wars in that the story seems to always go there, but they really can not say that because in two years of my Saga game they never once went anywhere near Tatooine.

Encounter 1.1
There is a group of treasure hunters who have been uncovering what they think is old Nerathi Empire ruins and soon find themselves in deeper trouble than they know whats good for them. Enter the adventurers and how they will get caught up in the events of Spring Dawning.

In Encounter 1.1 A Cry For Help; The uneventful trek from Lake Wintermist is spoiled by cry's for help. Captain Collar Rado of the riverboat they travel on has his boys make for the shore to lend assistance, this close to Fallcrest he wants to make sure he can offer assistance. The party finds a group of Kobold's harassing several humans, they are being toyed with but it does look like a few people are already hurt.

Encounter 1.2

In Encounter 1.2 Forgotten but no longer lost; The adventures must deal with the Kobold's and their boss a Dragonborn Elementalis, they seem to be digging through the tomb and the belongings of the treasure hunters.

QUEST: The Order will know what to do: The group is tasked with taking the surviving treasure hunters back to Fallcrest and deliver some scrolls to the Wizard who dwells in the tower there.

Things have been pretty active in the area as of late, the rumors that Emperor Magroth the First returned to the Vale as a Lich! His actions are rumored to open up a hole into the old hills that undead have been seem pouring out of. The undead are just the tip of the Thunderspire.

Magroths actions have set the entire Nentier Vale into chaos and the very darkness that was already slowly shrouding the world has a new ally who has decided that it is time she and her followers claim the world for themselves, what better treasure than the world itself. The key of all places to start is Fallcrest.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Campaign Logo finished

Blog Version for campaign logo

So I was busy this morning and part of the early afternoon reworking the logo for my campaign Spring Dawning. I am a total novice when it comes to things like photoshop but I like messing with that program a lot.

It gets the job done for my own uses. If I thought they sucked I probably would not show them off.

Player Handouts and other props

So I am going to do something I have not done in forever. Player handouts for when they find things like maps and the like along with other little props to make the engagement level just that much more.

This will be something the players find near that encounter map I posted a picture of. I am not going to reveal what it says, I think my players are reading my blog now that I said something about them not making backgrounds and then praising one of them.

What kind of props have you used or had given to your as a player. What do you think about props in your games good or bad?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Character Backgrounds: My Stunned Silence

Kevril's Character Sheet.
So yeah I do give my players crap all the time, or I write about the crap I would like them to experience from me. So when I wrote Part I of Getting my players background is no easy task I was surprised today on actually getting a post on my groups Facebook page for his characters background. It was two posts actually, here is the first one.

OK Frank...i know you've "blogged" about how none or few of us have provided a background for our D&D characters. I also know you created a minor one for me...I took it, editted it and added to it. I hope you enjoy it...
Now at first I was worried, when I started up my Star Wars Saga Edition game the same player pulled a fast one on me. For years he has made up these character ideas with screwy names and when he made his character he used his cadre of characters and put them into his background as kind of funny jab at me. Was I going to get the same here?

First I have to say, this guy deserves props, (all my friends personal lives are jam packed with work and/or kids, except for the Twins they have it easy.) He is a police officer for one of the local towns, (One of three in the group in law enforcement) he is married with three kids. Getting him to do things with us is a monumental undertaking that would win him gymnastic awards with all that he does to try and hang with us. For the rest of my group do not take this as me belitteling you, seriously we all know its hard for him to do things with us.

So its with this and my past experience with his "backgrounds" and his sense of humor I felt I might get a jab at me for my talking a bit of trash for not getting a background when "I" wanted it. Really the not getting it wont kill the game I just will do what I normally do and creat things for them and they tend to like it, anyway. What I got from him... I made me happy, it was a good read and I was impressed. He has a great imagination and usually has a great storytelling ability I envy.

Kevril Shieldheart is the Defender of the Flame Imperishable.

Kevril was born to parents Roman and Dalia Shieldheart in the waning days of the Empire. The eldest of three children born to the Shieldhearts, Kevril took his role and place in the family hierarchy seriously. Never one to shy away from chores, duties or family obligations, Kevril grew into a stout young boy with a grim disposition. Kevril and his two younger brothers Kadron and Brax all worked hard assisting their father run the blacksmith shop outside the small farming community they resided near.

While folding iron and hammering steel, Roman would regale his boys with daring tales of courage and stalwartness enacted by the Knights of Nerath, Defenders of the Empire; the men and women who spread the light into the darkness and drove back the hordes of the “Ruler of Ruin”. While the two younger boys would quickly lose interest in the stories, believing them to be exaggerated accounts at best , Kevril would hang on everyone word.

In between the stories of knightly deeds, Roman would impress upon his growing lads that no person deserves to be oppressed and all should enjoy the freedom that the Empire of Nerath provided its citizens. “Give light to those who are in darkness and drive back the evil who would spread the veil of darkness across the world”, Roman would quote.

Those words struck a chord in Kevril’s soul in the same way the hammer rings would rattle his bones each time they struck. He vowed to himself that one day he would be the beacon of light and freedom shining hope on the down-trodden and forlorn. Knowing he did not possess the birthright of a cavalier or the spiritual calling of a paladin, Kevril instead committed himself to become the one thing he felt brought purpose to his life…the calling of the Knighthood.

Knowing the determination and hard-working spirit Kevril had seemingly been born with, Roman knew there would be no swaying his son from his course of action. Upon Kevril’s 17th birthday, a tearful Roman gave his eldest son his blessing to seek his way in the world. On a chill, autumn night with the coals of the blacksmith fire burning brightly Roman pulled a large broad sword from a thick, wooden chest hidden away under a tool bench. The aging smith, with his strong, callused hands presented Kevril the weapon. In his gravelly voice, Roman the blade had been forged decades before and carried into countless battles by Kevril’s great-grandfather Graydon, a Knight of Nerath during the height of the Empire.

So with his family heirloom at his side, Kevril journeyed to join the ranks of the Knights of Nerath. He was disappointed to find Empire he had heard and dreamed so much about defending was in fact, no more. He found few members of the Knighthood even remained. Learning all he could from the knight’s remnants, Kevril once again set out. What he found this time, was even more discouraging. He found very little hope in the land but a seemingly increasing darkness creeping in from all sides.

Kevril is not on a fool’s errand, and he understands the Empire is no more. He sees darkness is everywhere and realizes he must be diligent and strive to empower those who have it within themselves to help drive back the darkness. For those who are unable, Kevril stands at the ready sword in hand. He has joined with a group of adventurers who appear to have likely goals. Kevril’s hope is that they up to the task of restoring the Empire.
I sat there stunned and I knew I had to write about this once I let it sink in. Because initially I could not think of anything other than wow! (and not the MMO)

He took what I wrote and expanded upon it so much. I need to print this, frame it and have it buried with me when I die. I am not looking for this much detail from my players, and not knocking them at all I don't expect them to go this much into detail though I know they can. For one thing I do not think they believe I will continue this game, seriously I was asked by the DM of our 3.5 game if I intended to run this beyond the original one-shot and I said, "Yes as long as everyone enjoys it that is my plan." to be honest that was my intention with Star Wars but I kind of let things get out of hand.

When I look at the limited information I gave him with my brief background he nailed it with his characters origins and peppered in some of the detail bits I put in the original brief background for him. All DM's would be honored to have this guy as a player in their groups.

Sorry I am gushing, he is a pain to DM for since he thinks like a Dwarf and steals like a Halfling Theif even when playing a human.

Spring Dawning Campaign Arc

Spring Dawning is my new campaign arc I will be throwing at my players in the next month or so. It will be a Heroic tier adventure that will probably take them into Paragon and eventually Epic.

Story Arc for Spring Dawning: Following the adventures exploits in Silverleaf on the shores of Lake Wintermist they travel south down the Winter River until it meets up with the Nentier River and eventually come to rest at the town of Fallcrest. There they rest up and tell tales of their adventures with the lycanthropes and the trip into the Fey Wild.

One of the encounter maps from Spring Dawning
Word soon comes that lizard folk to the south are stirring up trouble and venturing far upstream of the Witchlight Fens and during the night they actually try and breach the south entrance into the town using unheard of tactics. Travelers from the east speak of similar attacks on the farmsteads, of cloaked figures in the distance spying the townsfolk and then the attacks come soon after that. There are even rumors there was a Dragon sighting with one of the attacks.

The attacks on the south wall were a distraction, Nimozaran, the towns self proclaimed “High Septarch of Fallcrest” was attacked, he is a alive but his book of rituals has gone missing. Some people think he fell down the stairs in the dark again and that he lost his ritual book, but he is quick with the tongue and quickly points out that these are not the spells he gives out to his guild members. These spells predate the Bloodspear war and some even go back to the days of the Nerath Empire.

Who would have known of this ritual book? What spells were in there that have Nimozaran so worried?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Chapter means a new Character for me

So I am going on my fourth week of D&D Encounters at one of the many local stores in the Chicago area. The store is called Fair Game and is located in downtown Downers Grove. When I went to my first game I brought with me a tiefling Mage and a dwarf War-priest and chose the priest.

I am enjoying myself and it is fun with the kids playing, I have not asked their ages but they are definitely younger than I was when I started playing D&D around 1982 or 1983, I could be wrong though. Man those were the days, I remember walking home from this guy Bob's house after we played and it had snowed a lot and I was not ready for it. I had to walk like seven or eight blocks home in the snowy cold. Reminds me of the blizzard drive the other week.

Last week we had two groups of players and it just looks like it is going to keep getting bigger as the younger kids keep coming to play. We finished off chapter two's last encounter which means Chapter three begins this Wednesday. All the characters leveled up and a few of the players have new characters entering the game from Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms book.

I myself will be leaving my Dwarf Storm domain War-priest for my new Dragonborn Cavalier named Hesk Ar Ashn. I was torn with making a Hex Blade or a Scout but I think the Cavalier will be a good choice, I will be able to do a little bit of healing and as a Defender I will be able to really help the group out. I might bring a few other choices to the table depending on if we have multiple tables, it might be a chance to play that hex blade or scout.

What else is really cool is I just painted a mini from the Reaper Miniatures Dark Heaven Legends line. He is the Dragonman Warrior 03436 mini sculpted by B Jackson. This is my third mini I have painted since I started back as a player almost a month ago. I used to paint all the time back in the day but now I am really back into it. I still have my training wheels on when it comes to painting, like I do not know when it looks good and I keep fiddling with the paint job.

I might pick a few of these guys up just because they are good for Dragonborn and are definitely cheaper than buying some of the plastic ones from the D&D mini line. I have a cool mini I bought a long time ago that is carrying a chain weapon. He reminds me of this character from Giant Robo called Taiso.

In my home game the players have already fought this guy but without the chain. One of the players tried to pick pocket him and got caught.

I might follow that color pallet from the anime character for him. Would be interesting.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Random Encounters aka the Waste your player’s valuable time list.
I have been reading a few threads, blogs and twitter feeds about combat speed, does it need to be sped up or is it fine? I was randomly looking at threads in the WotC community and low and behold I found a thread about Random Encounter tables in 4e. A DM was looking for some Forgotten Realms random encounter tables for his new game he is starting up and this started a lot of people talking the negative side of them.
It boiled down to a lot of people saying how unrealistic it was or how they could not imagine a creature in the wild that would stop hunting the weak and infirm prey for a well armed adventuring party. I laughed at this and continued reading, another was about just wandering around until they leveled or that 4e does not cater to sandboxing real well.
Yet as I look at even just essentials I cannot help but think back to AD&D and the wandering monsters tables. As 4e stands right now if you were going to make tables for 4e it would probably be as book as AEG’s toolbox book just for encounters. With concerns of the XP pool for building encounters and all the other variables like minions, elites and solos the tables would be huge.
Usually in my games I would have an encounter or two set aside for things like a random encounter when the party chose the through the woods method over taking the well known path. This comes to another point about how random tables are out of place and how does this fit into the story you are trying to tell. Also it cannot always be just about combat so then throw in the random skill challenge instead of combat.

Old School Randomness:
In AD&D the typical way to kick off random encounters was based on location. There were tables for every type of location you could think of along with the time of day. Base that off on population density and you got the die type you rolled at a given point in the travels of the adventurers. I think back to some of the DM’s I had and it was a wonder we got any part of the story’s completed.
You would then consult the random encounter table if your die result was a “1” choose the appropriate dungeon level and roll a d20 to see which sub-table you then consulted.
Random, Back in the Day, Memory: My friend totally thought that the dungeon level on the table actually meant how far down (the depth) in the dungeon you currently were.
He justified this belief to us as such "Dungeons got tougher as you ventured out from the entrance." Now does that not resembles an MMO game, leave the starter town and it just gets tougher on the way.
I had always felt that the base chance for an encounter was a bit off, 1 in 20 when there is a more dense population around you but less in the wilderness. Our DM typically always rolled a d10 for random encounters no matter what and that meant… more encounters. Which was not always bad but sometimes it always seemed like it was encounter time.
I had always felt that the base chance for an encounter was a bit off, 1 in 20 when there is a more dense population around you but less in the wilderness. Our DM typically always rolled a d10 for random encounters no matter what and that meant… more encounters. Which was not always bad but sometimes it always seemed like it was encounter time.
Applying the randomness to 4e
There really does not need to be any randomness to adventures anymore, with so much advice out there for DM’s in regards to adventure and story building it pretty much speaks for itself. This goes back to a previous post I had made about running published adventures vs. the homebrew kind and that is adding in additional content when players go out of the game grid boundaries and do their own thing.

Have several random encounters built that are plot-centric to your story that can nudge them back onto the playing field as it were. Vary them up from what they are fighting right now to something monstrous that might want them to turn back and go the way they came. The goal here is not to kill them or having them waste valuable resources but to nudge them back onto the invisible campaign railroad.
Build the encounters during your campaign prep and have them ready to be used. You should build a few of each type of encounter (i.e. easy, standard and hard) that way it is not always the Goblin Cutters and Hexers the party is running into. In my games I have these built and I will do a re-skin on some monsters if the need arises to fit the location they are in.

Table 1.1 Encounter Checks

Encounter Chance
Base Chance of Encounter
Occurrence of Encounter Chance
Well traveled road or path
1 in 20
Once per day
Off the beaten path
2 in 20
Twice per day
Well Protected Borders (i.e. elf territories)
3 in 20
Twice per day
Camping (no ritual protection)
1 in 20
Once per day
1 in 20
Once per day

Table 1.2 Encounter Difficulty
Dice Roll 1d10
Encounter Type


Table 1.3 Encounter Style
Dice Roll 1d10
Encounter Style
Skill Challenge

Recently I decided after reading some cool ideas behind skill challenges and trap designs I decided to add these to my random encounters. Depending on the adventure the players are on the style of the encounter can add something to the session. Throwing an NPC at them while they travel through the Witchlight Fens who would rather parley with the group than fight or a series of terrain features blocks their path like a huge cliffside with a rope, perhaps with a trap thrown in to thwart persuit by the kidnappers they are following.

When I first thought about the random tables and how I missed them and then started reading the posts on the WotC forums I started realizing how much it was just the DM’s way of adding in more combat. I guess if you are the DM for a Hack-N-Slash group and like running those kind of games adding in the old style table for everything would be great. These tables are not perfect, but they are what I use when I run my games.

Even now as I sit here and think about it, while these little tables are not really necessary for anyone even me I have to say that a little randomness in a static adventure is nice.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Adventures: Home Brew or Published, which is easier to run?

I think I have figured out my problem with Dungeons & Dragons and my role as the Dungeon Master. I can not be bothered with published adventures, or at least I think that is my problem. Back in the day with AD&D I used to just wing my adventures when I did run a game. I was starting to think I just sucked at the whole DM'ing of 4E and then I thought about my 3.5 games and how I tried running some adventures and realized I just felt like I was doing a poor job as the DM.

I have run Star Wars campaigns since the good old West End days and I have never had any problems with my games. Sure I might have felt the game session was lacking every now and then, actually I felt that almost every time I ran the game but I always asked the players how the game went and I always got back enthusiastic responses from my group. I even got thank you emails and text messages (with our more current games of course) from my players telling me how wonderful the game was and I was a great story teller. So what is it with D&D?

I think it comes down to some minor undiagnosed ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) when it comes to reading adventures. Take for instance the adventure Bark at the Moon from Wizards of the Coast and written by Robert J. Schwalb. It is a cool story, and it fit in well following my Halloween adventure I cobbled together for my first "real" 4E game. I read it quite a few times to make sure I got it and knew what I needed when I ran the adventure. My players were having fun but I was a wreck, here is why. 


This is not a result of poor layout or anything done wrong by the writer, my players did not co-operate at all with trying to get them to do anything. Following the first encounter they chose to camp for the night, their thinking "lycanthropes are easier to deal with during the day so we camp at night and fight during the day" Now this threw me for a curve because the adventure runs on a strict time-line.

The group makes it to the village just before the Fey Bridge opens and this now makes it even harder to get them to go around as ask questions as most of the day is now over. They make one decision right, they choose to stay in the town and set up for when they perceive will be the inevitable attack that night.

The next encounter comes and they soundly defeat the attackers and even manage to capture a Wererat and they get some important info out of him. They have pieced together a few pieces and know they need to go to the island, even with my subtle hints of going to the Fae Barrow. Their plan now, "We will wait until the morning because lycanthropes are easier to deal with during the day." This time though I made the wizard think something was off with that strategy and he decided to do a little research and realized this is not the case, he informed the party but they still thought heading off in the night was foolish. I then had to use Yura the healer to get them to go to the Fae Barrow because there were more infected people who needed treatment and they needed the herbs to preform the rituals.

Now this is not the adventures fault merely mine and not trying to railroad them to where they needed to go, I just had not prepped enough to prepare for decisions that would seem normal, like waiting until the next day to head out. Telling the group that there is a time-line would make it less exciting of course, and I of all people know adventures do not survive 10 minutes of play with most groups.

But does this kind of thing happen with published adventures over home brew adventures? When you make things for your own group you tend to know how they react to certain situations. As I was running the game I had all these thoughts I was doing something wrong, a DM who has been running games twenty-five plus years feeling like I was about to do an Epic Fail. I feel better admitting I felt bad, I have to ask though, should I look at each decision point in the adventure and come up with possible reactions that will derail my game? I know this is the age old questions DM's have always asked, how do I keep them on track without railroading them?

Quests work well for this, as I am writing this I think I will need to make some quest cards to hand out during the game. Does anyone else notice this little issue? What do you do about it?

About Me

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I am Regional Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region for D&D Adventurers League. Worked for Best Buy as a Project Team Specialist were I did store remodels, support Vendor displays and set merchandising standards for the stores in the Chicago market. He also enjoys playing games (PC, Console, Board Games, RPGs and Miniature Skirmish Games), reading, watching movies and listening to music.