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RPG observations, wisdom and tools from an early adopter

Month: November, 2013

Will-O’-Wisp – 13th Age



Will – 0’ – Wisp

5th level spoiler (Aberration)                                                          Initiative:+11                                                                                                 HP: 50  AC: 21 PD: 20 MD: 18                                                                                                                                                                                        Shocking touch +10 vs. PD – 14 lightning damage                                      Feed on your fear: The Will–0’–Wisp heals 5 HPs at the beginning of its turn for each nearby, staggered enemy.                                                 Flight: Will-O’-Wisp’s can fly.                                                                             Magic resistance: Will–0’–Wisp’s have a natural reisitance to magic (magic missile being the exception, it works normally).  Any spell cast on it must be a natural 16+ to affect it, if not, the caster loses the action and the spell is canceled.

13th Age – Second Darkness – Session 5

ImageWe’re already onto Book 3 in the Second Darkness Adventure Path.  The second book took up only a single session as the PCs managed to rip through the content in no time.  13th Age also plays much faster than Pathfinder so GMs, be prepared!

The PCs were subjected to a swarm of Akatas and Zombies along the beach which could have been much more difficult but I provided two NPCs to assist in the battle and also, paced out the appearance of the monsters.  The new ranger that replaced the slain rogue has given us a chance to enjoy having an effective pet.  I come from a 2nd edition background where pets were independent entities that didn’t cost the PC their actions each round as 4E does.  13th Age returns to a model closer to older editions of D&D and that in my opinion is a great thing.  The ranger’s wolf proved its worth in this battle, soaking up and dishing out a respectable amount of damage.

This session was easily the weakest run so far.  By weakest, I mean least compelling.  Distractions and joking ran rampant at the table and I had a hard time reining it in.  Every GM has to battle and balance this out.  We’re socializing and enjoying each other’s company and having some much needed laughs and if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t be at the table in the first place.  On the other hand, many of us get one night a week to play for a few hours and we would like to devote that time to the game at hand.  GMs especially as they devote hours of prep-time to the game and then to not be able to have your PCs remember key points of plot or their purpose can suck the life out of you right quick.  This was one of those nights where I lost the table.  So while we got through the planned “content”, it felt tedious.  Some nights are going to roll like that.

Balancing each battle has been a big challenge for this conversion. This session’s battle felt easier overall.  I leveled the party to 4th halfway through the evening and right away, the damage output was noticeable.  I have to say, I’m excited to see how the higher levels feel.  The cleric managed to drop one monster with a 60 point strike and then in another fight, dropped two mooks that had 18 HPs each.

Next session will likely bring the PCs face to face with their first 13th Age dragon and my version of the Gray Render.  I expect some bruises will result.

Gray Render – 13th Age


I’ll be honest.  Up until about an hour ago, I had never heard of this creature. Working my way through a conversion of “The Armageddon Echo” I discovered that I need a 13th Age version of this brute.  Here it is.

Gray Render

Large 5th level wrecker (Beast)

Initiative:+4                                                                                                    HP: 100  AC:18  PD:17  MD: 14                                                                                                                                                                                                     Rending claws +9 vs. AC (2 attacks) – 15 damage, if both attacks hit, the target is grabbed and the gray render may use its brutal bite attack as a free action upon the target. The grabbed foe can’t move except to disengage, and disengage attempts take a -5 penalty unless the victim hit the gray render with an attack that turn.  The gray render gains a +4 attack bonus against any enemy it is grabbing.                                   (Special trigger) Brutal bite +8 vs. AC – 20 damage                                        Thunderous charge +9 vs. PD – 35 damage and the target is stunned until the end of its next turn.                                                                                Unstoppable charge: The attack instead deals 50 damage on a hit if the gray render first moves before attacking an enemy it was not engaged with at the start of its turn.

Demon, Babau – 13th Age

Since so many creatures don’t have an official 13th Age version, mother is the necessity of invention. Here is a Babau Demon that I needed to slap together for my current adventure path conversion.babau


Large 4th level wrecker (Demon)                                                                        Initiative: +6

HP: 50   AC: 19   PD: 17   MD: 16

Spear +8 vs. AC – 8 damage                                                                  Natural even hit: The target also suffers 1d4 acid damage.

Slime aura:  Enemies engaged with the babau that hit it with melee attacks suffer 1d6 acid damage each time they hit the babau.                                     Teleport: – As a move action whenever the escalation die is an even number to anywhere it can see nearby.

Vicious assault: Whenever the babau attacks a target that is engaged with an ally, it adds +2d6 damage to any attacks that hits that target.

Goldilocks Systems Syndrome or The Grass is Always Greener at the Other Table


I’ve been playing in a Castles & Crusades casual campaign for the last six months and it’s been quite an eye-opener for myself and my crew.  The others in my group haven’t played 1st or 2nd edition to any great degree so you can imagine the system shock.  I like to reflect on things; probably too much I think, (I’ve reflected on my reflecting) and I’ve come to some realizations about C&C and my growing system angst.

The first being about C&C and how the monsters adhere and play to the original interpretations of them in my opinion.  When I came back to the hobby in early 2012 after close to a twenty year hiatus, I was struck by how much had changed with established creatures.  Drow that took no ill effects from daylight, ghouls that didn’t paralyze, githyanki without their silver swords, etc.  I go back to the Rumplestiltskin analogy again, “What happened to the world while I was away?!”  C&C hits the reset button and brings things back to the beginning.  I love that.  Tinkering is fine.  Wholesale changes though have made many established creatures unrecognizable leave me annoyed.

While C&C creatures feel and play like traditional 1st or 2nd edition entities, so do character classes.  I’m not sure I like that anymore.  Look, I cut my teeth on 1st and 2nd edition. Thac0 is ingrained in my DNA and boy do I miss referring to charts for everything, but there has to be a middle ground between the super-powered PCs of 4th and the limitations of low level PCs of 1st and 2nd edition. C&C has been great for the nostalgia factor and I’m enjoying the experience of watching my younger players’ reactions to how differently each class feel and plays.  “Rogues suck now!” is one comment that speaks to how differently rogues in modern RPGs like Pathfinder and 4e are damage machines first and tool boxes second as to it being the opposite in the early days of the hobby.

All this reflecting has made me realize that I’m suffering from GSS (Goldliocks Systems Syndrome) at the moment. C&C is too simple, 4e is too combat-centered, Pathfinder is bloated and cramping and 13th Age is what 4E should have been but the amount of work I have to currently put in to creating creatures and items for it is exhausting me, there are too many holes to fill right now.

I haven’t taken part in D&D Next’s playtesting and while I’ve read bits and pieces of the process, I’ve pretty much been waiting for a finished product.  I think I’m ready for a look at what’s next.

Campaign planning – Dribblings from my brain

ImageWhile I’m knuckle deep in running this 13th Age mini-campaign, I’m more creatively invested in what I hope to run at some point in 2014.  I’m going to go all out on this one, I have a lot of ideas that I’d like to put into play and one of them is “spell points”.

The world I’ll be using is going to be a combination of “Primeval Thule” , and my own personal world that I’ve written/tinkered with for literally decades.  In this world, arcane magic will be powered by either necromantic/demonic assistance or the energy of these “arcane shards”.  Each shard has a finite amount of power in it, much like a battery.  Each spell cast requires a certain amount of power in order to be cast.  These are not original or alien concepts to anyone but I want to run with the concept of limited arcane power in this campaign. A caster could cast any spell he knows at any time, but is limited by how much juice his shards have left.

Thinking this through a bit further, a wizard in this scenario would therefore need to be skilled in physical combat to some degree.  So I’ll be customizing arcane casters a bit in this area too.  In fact, I’ll in all likelihood start the PCs at an advanced level instead of first.

I should start a checklist really,

1) Campaign story arc – Under construction.

2) Choose game system – 13th Age, D&D 5E, Pathfinder

3) Decide on character level start

4) Design arcane spell point system for game system

5) Prepare campaign background player handouts – first draft nearly complete.

6) – ?

13th Age – Second Darkness – Session 4

shadow demon Yet another PC death!  Before we get to that, my table completed the first book of this Pathfinder adventure path in our last session.  So we’re on to book 2 of the path, “Children of the Void”.  The story continues with my three PCs agreeing to assist their Elven ally, Kwava with an investigation of a nearby island.  Rumors of drow sightings have reached his ears and he enlists the PCs to do a bit of exploring.  After a bit of set-up and background discussion they are off.  Upon landing, they opt to bushwhack along the hilly coastline instead of using a clearly visible trail.  Some exploration ensues but no harm done and in time they arrive at a campsite.  The inhabitants are prospectors, led by a recurring NPC that two of the original PCs have dealt with.  Some role-playing and detective work leads them to believe that this fellow is hiding a secret.  The secret turns out to be drow related.  The group discovers not far from the campsite, a cave along the shoreline.   Neglecting to check for traps, the cleric sets off a ward and not long after upon entering the cave, two drow surprise the group.  Surprise turns outs to be a factor in this night’s session.  It’s a free shot that if successful, puts any PC in a hole right from the beginning.  Two drow turn out to be a solid challenge for our group, as they just kept hitting!  However, in time they are slain, though one PC was knocked unconscious and the cleric burned through five recoveries.

If you’ve followed these session reports from the beginning, you’ll remember a few things.  One, there are only three PCs. Two, in the process of converting this module, I’ve had to create 13th Age versions of all of the creatures.  Most of which don’t have an “official” play-tested version, forcing me to create my own. Lastly, balancing out the encounters in a way that straddles the line between pushover and “oh crap!” is not always going to be perfect.  So, seeing how tough of a time the PCs had with two drow and the evening still being young, I leveled the group to three. I whipped out already completed third level versions of the characters and we spent a few minutes reviewing what was new. An easy process for the rogue and barbarian but the cleric took a little extra time.  Having done that, I felt better about sending them further into the cave.

After a role-playing encounter with a wraith that did not resort to combat, the group once again were surprised.  This time, it was a Shadow Demon, gain, a DM created version.  It was here that our plucky Tiefling Rogue was most cruelly slain by said DM created Shadow Demon. The surprise round resulted in 30 points of damage, round 1 the cleric healed her but she took 15 more and I believe this left her in the single digits. The next round both attacks landed for 30 total damage again, taking her below the point of no return.  I may have left out a round there but there was no escaping the fact that she had been killed. Luckily I had a prepped 2nd level Wood Elf Ranger on hand as a replacement character.  She charged into the cave soon after the death of the rogue.

As I have said before, I take no joy from PC death.  It kills player involvement/connection, it can create storyline issues, it’s generally a bummer.  On the positive side, it reminds the player that their characters while heroic are quite mortal and not all monsters are easily overcome.  It’s the circle of Roleplaying life, (cue the music) and I as a DM try to learn and adjust going forward.  Was the Shadow Demon too difficult? Ultimately no, for the other characters took it down with little trouble.  Sometimes, the dice roll in your favor and sometimes you die.

The rest of the night proceeded apace and the group completed about 95% of the book.  We’ll be on to book three in two weeks.  I have some backup characters to prepare and more monsters too.

Forgotten Inspirations – Blue Oyster Cult – “Black Blade”

Image  Music does many things, it uplifts, it energizes and it also inspires.  Fantasy and Science Fiction have a solid place in the realm of rock music. Rush sang of “Rivendell” on their “Fly by Night” album.  Iron Maiden’s “To Tame a Land” reflects their interest in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”.  Led Zeppelin most famously mentions Mordor and Gollum in “Ramble On”.  However, in 1980 Blue Oyster Cult released the album, “Cultosaurus Erectus” and on it is a song that perfectly captures that band’s quirky style and paints a picture.  The song is “Black Blade” and the blade in question is Elric’s, Stormbringer.  I reset the needle on that song too many times to count.

I have this feeling that my luck is none too good
This sword here at my side don’t act the way it should
Keeps calling me it’s master, but I feel like it’s slave
Hauling me faster and faster to an early, early grave
And it howls! It howls like hell!

I’m told it’s my duty to fight against the law
That wizardry’s my trade and I was born to wade through gore
I just want to be a lover, not a red-eyed screaming ghoul
I wish it’d picked another to be it’s killing tool

Black Blade, Black Blade
Forged a billion years ago
Black Blade, Black Blade
Killing so it’s power can grow

It’s death from the beginning to the end of time
And I’m the cosmic champion and I hold a mystic sign
And the whole world’s dying and the burden’s mine
And the black sword keeps on killing ’til the end of time

Black Blade, Black Blade
Bringing chaos to the world we know
Black Blade, Black Blade
And it’s using me to kill my friends
Black Blade, Black Blade
Getting stronger so the world will end
Black Blade, Black Blade
Forcing my mind to bend and bend

I am the Black Blade
Forged a million billion years ago
My cosmic soul it goes on for eternity
Carving out destiny
Bringing in the Lords of Chaos
Bringing up the Beasts of Hades
Sucking out the souls of heroes
Laying waste to knights and ladies
My master is my slave
You poor fucking humans