Saturday, September 26, 2009

Campaign Journal #1- Character Creation

I’m back to DMing after about a five month hiatus (I did run a one shot over the summer) while some other players in our game ran things for a little bit. Honestly, I’ve been itching to get at it though and we started up a new game this week and I’ve decided to keep a campaign journal for the first time.

I think that a little background on our gaming group is necessary to set things up. We’ve been playing together for about three years and currently there are six players and myself. The majority of them had no roleplaying experience prior to our gaming (I’ve played for about 20 years). I had a great gaming group a couple of years back but it fell apart when half of the group moved away, so I decided that the best thing to do would be to take the people that I was normally hanging out with and turn them into gamers. The results? It has worked out great and I’m pretty sure that Tuesday night is a weekly highlight for most of us. I also really dig that the majority of the group are people who would have never ever imagined themselves playing D&D. I’ve run three long campaigns with these players; we always start at 1st level and wind up somewhere around 10th. Somewhere around 30-35 adventures in a campaign. We’ve had a ton of good times.

This time around we decided to start with a little more power so the characters are all at 9th level. We are also not a group that heavily optimizes, but I’ve encouraged them to use prestige classes and make characters that can really do some damage. I’ve also helped them put together characters that work well. They were each given 28,000 gp to purchase magic items and watching them go through the DMG and buy stuff was a lot of fun. They were like adventurers in a magic shop.

Going into character creation I told them that they were an established adventuring group, there would be no meet up in the first quest. As 9th level they also had a fair amount of power so I wanted to hear what they had done. Did they have enemies? Friends? What kind of quests have they been on? What were their great victories? Losses? I thought that this would be good for everyone involved. It would help me design hooks and plots that would appeal to them and they would benefit from having a shared history from the get go. So who are these intrepid adventurers? Let’s take a look.

Romulus Blitzbane is a half orc neutral evil Rogue 5/Fighter 2/Nightsong Enforcer 2. He specializes in two weapon fighting and sneak attacking. He fancies himself a master of breaking and entering and will do just about anything for money. He spent his gold on a pair of+2 weapons (longsword and handaxe) and some gloves of Dex and has gone the two weapon fighting route with his feats (including two weapon defense). With his sneak attack and two weapon his damage can pile up in a hurry, though his lowish hitpoints should encourage him to stay out of longer fights.

Mgabwe King is some sort of bizarre scythe wielding voodoo witch doctor. In game terms he is a Ranger 4/Necromancer 2/Abjurant Champion 3. This player has the most experience and he built Solomon to be pretty bad ass. I believe he plans in reveling in death, not just causing it (which he should do plenty of) but sort of making a ceremony of the whole thing. He has no qualms about doing dirty work, to the extent that I don’t think he can ever get clean. As a human with Favored Enemy (Human) I suspect some of his anger comes from self loathing.

At a young age the half elf Lela Bonnaire ran away from her gypsy home with a much older elf and learned the mysterious ways of enchantment magic and esoteric lore. She can fight a little too. For those keeping track this makes her a Fighter 2/Bard 7. Her perform skill is whistle! Focusing on social skills and enchantments I assume that she will be the face of the party. In combat she will be buffing her allies and firing her bow. Her main magic items are a Cloak of Charisma +4 and a circlet of persuasion. Cure light wounds is one of her first level spells, making her the only healer in the party.

As a former member of an elven military unit Alandia Leafwhisper learned what she doesn’t like. Mainly order and rules. The chaotic neutral Ranger 6/Scout 3 will serve as the primary guide and survivalist for the party, for as long as she sticks around. A true free spirit she seems to have little loyalty or use for the conventions of society. (This player plans on not being around for much of the campaign, so she designed a character that can easily come and go, for which I am thankful) She has a longbow of shock to deal some damage and a wide assortment of skills, including stealth and thievery.

Definitely the oddest character in the group, Glee Drango takes just about every stereotype of a gnome and turns it on it’s head. A trained killer this Rogue 2/Ranger 2/Fighter 2/Ghost Faced Killer 3 plans on dealing lethal damage quickly and often. He has a twisted sense of humor and, not surprisingly, gets on quite well with Romulus. The two of them have been paired up since before the party got together. Glee spent just about all of his gold on a single magic item, a ring of blinking. The ring, which causes him to blink in and out of the ethereal and material planes, has also had the effect of making him sort of crazy since he stole it from a sorceror some years ago. It also allows him to use sneak attack and sudden strike on just about all of his attacks. Low hit points and bad armor make him also rely on the ring for protection.

Playing the role of the ambitious, forward thinker is Henri DeGaule (human Sorceror 9). He has a pretty general list of useful spells; from direct damage to party buffs and essentials like dispel magic. He is the only full caster in the party which makes him very valuable, and also vulnerable. This player is also the most inexperienced, having only played in the aforementioned one shot and one other short campaign over the summer. With his high charisma I suspect that he will serve as a secondary face for the group, also aided by a circlet of persuasion. I also find it funny that there are two characters in the party with French sounding names that have circlets of persuasion. They were also created independently of one another, which is sort of strange.

So far it seems like this party is going to be petty, ambitious, cruel, and thoroughly evil. I am so into it. Fortunately I cut my teeth as a DM on just that type of group so I should be okay with it. I also really like that for the most part they made their characters together and there is definitely a group cohesion to them. They all have some degree of stealth, every character but the sorceror has Improved Initiative, and they all seem to be of dubious morals. I think that they will all be interested in the same type of adventures. The bard, in particular, has expressed interest in having a chance to be a double agent and get mixed up in all sorts of intrigue and scandal. I plan on doing my best to accommodate. Combat wise they should also be a lot of fun. They pack quite a punch, especially with the ability to get the drop on opponents, but they have very little staying power due to generally poor AC across the board and not too many hit points. I see battles ending quickly or going very poorly for the PCs.

Truthfully, it is a wonderful group of players and we have a blast each week. I’m really looking forward to getting started.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Knight base class

There are not many classes in D&D that focus on defense. Usually defensive prowess is obtained through feats, items, and spells; not the class itself. The knight from Players Handbook II seems to be the exception to that, with a plethora of options and abilities focused around keeping himself and his allies safe from harm. There is certainly a role for this type of character in most parties, especially if there is another warrior type to really focus on dealing damage. I also like that there is a class that is the archetypical armored and mounted warrior that does not have the rigid moral and religious code of the paladin, though the knight does have his own code that he must adhere to.

The basics of the class are a pretty nice assortment; full Base Attack, d12 Hit Die, 2+ skill points, and a good Will save. It seems a little better than the standard array for martial classes mainly due to the d12 and that the one good save is Will, which is probably the most useful save to have and will cover up for the low Wisdom that the knight probably winds up with. The skill list is fairly typical, the only notable exception being Knowledge (Nobility), but the knight probably won’t have too many skill points to spread around.

Many of the knight’s abilities stem from it’s Knight’s Challenge class feature. Usable a number of times a day equal to half the knight’s level plus their charisma modifier, the challenges available to the knight increase as they gain levels. By yelling out to opponents on the battlefield the Knight is able to get an edge for himself and his allies. One of the best aspects of the Challenge is that it is always used as a swift action, making it very easy to find spots to apply it and still being able to take other actions. The fighting challenge allows the Knight to mark a target, granting them a +1 to attack, damage, and Will saves against that opponent. This increases to a total of +4 by 19th level. It’s an okay ability and it gives the Knight the luxury of focusing on defense with their feats, knowing that they can fall back on the fighting challenge for a little offensive boost. Other challenges give the Knight the ability to draw enemies to them, give allies a chance to reroll saves versus fear effects, reroll a failed mind affecting save, cause weaker opponents to become shaken, and continue to fight for a little bit after going past -10 hit points.

At 2nd level the knight gets Mounted Combat as a bonus feat, which is pretty much feast or famine. If you plan on fighting from horseback than it is obviously an essential feat to have, however if you don’t it really has no uses at all. The thing is that it is going to take a bit of work to make the knight a good horseman, so I’m not sure how useful it is. For starters it is going to be based on Ride, which the knight has very few points to spend on. And Ride is Dex based, another area that the knight is going to be deficient in. As a DM I would have no problem allowing the Knight something different here. My suggestion? Combat Expertise. That’s a great feat for the Knight, for both mechanical and flavor reasons it fits the class really well. Due to the Int 13 requirement the Knight may never be able to obtain it otherwise, so I think it’s a good option. The other 2nd level ability is shield block. This gives the Knight an additional +1 shield bonus to their AC against one opponent. It is essentially Dodge with a shield. It increases by 1 at 11th and 20th level. Not a bad ability but it sort of dictates the style that the knight is going to be using in combat, making them a sword and board type of warrior.

At 5th, 10th, and 15th level the Knight gets a bonus feat that comes from a list. Most of the mounted feats are on the list so the knight can continue to pursue that, though it’s a long time to wait for some of them. I think that you would probably want Spirited Charge before 15th level if that was your thing. The list is not the greatest feats in the game, but there are certainly enough viable options than any Knight will wind up with something decent. Vigilant Defender (also at 5th level) is sort of a nifty ability. Any Tumble checks to avoid attacks from the Knight have the Knight’s level added to the DC.

My favorite Knight ability is Shield Ally, obtained at 6th level. As an immediate action Shield Ally lets the Knight take half the damage dealt to an adjacent ally, making him an excellent flanking partner for a rogue or any other hit point needy friend. At 14th level they can absorb all the damage to an ally, though they are limited to doing this once a day.

At 17th level the Knight gets the bizarre Impetuous Endurance. The fighting spirit of the knight is so great that he no longer fails a saving thrown automatically on a roll of one. Really? That’s a 17th level ability? They may not automatically fail, but they will probably fail anyway. A 17th level Knight has a base Will save of +12. Let’s give him a +1 Wisdom, and assume that he has Iron Will (which is on the bonus feat list). We can even say that he has that feat that uses Cha for Will saves instead, so let’s make that a +4. That is a +18 Will save, with the rolled 1 that is a total of 19. I suspect that most casters fighting 17th level characters are going to have DC’s higher than 19. And the Fort and Will are going to be even worse. Totally stupid ability. They have such a remarkable fighting spirit? How about a reroll on failed Fort or Will save instead? That gives them a more realistic chance of actually using the ability.

If I was making a Knight I would put my best stat into Con, followed by Cha and Str. Shield Specialization also seems like a good feat for them, or anything that can jack up their AC. If they can get Combat Expertise, Improved Disarm or Trip also seem to be good options. I can’t imagine that there is a better “tank” class among the melee classes in the game. Lots of hit points, a shield, defensive abilities. The Knight is really a support character, their job is to keep the squishier characters alive while they sneak attack or cast spells. It also mixes well with the Dwarven Defender, making the ultimate in party protection. One of the best aspects of the class is that all the Challenges and the Shield Ally ability are swift and immediate actions, so the Knight can still go about fighting, moving, or whatever else they want. Their best features don’t seem all that powerful, but when you consider that they are essentially free to use (action wise) it makes them much better.

The other interesting feature of the Knight is the code that they must adhere to. All Knights have to be lawful, but they also have to follow a code of conduct. The description talks about honor and being righteous, but the end of the entry spells out exactly in game terms what the code means. Sort of an interesting approach to controlling conduct, but it seems to work. Knights may not gain a flanking benefit in combat, though allies they are flanking with still gain the +2, Knights never attack flat footed opponents, and they never deal lethal damage to helpless foes. I like it. None of them are crippling to the Knight, but they have enough substance that it’s not a total throwaway. The flanking one is the biggest disadvantage, since Shield Ally means they will frequently be in flanking situations.

I would put the Knight on par with the better melee classes in the game. It can fight a little and has a ton of survivability, and the moral code makes it good for roleplaying. I think that my biggest complaint is that most Knights are going to resemble one another. They are all going to be horse riding, shield wielding, damage absorbers that greatly endear themselves to their teammates. You can do worse.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Last Night on Earth Hero Ranking

One of the aspects of Last Night on Earth that I really enjoy is the large selection of characters to choose from, or have randomly chosen, depending on how you set the game up. There is a pretty big disparity between the best and worst of them, so I’ve decided to rank them all! One thing I will say is that strategy and cards are more important than the characters, it is certainly possible to do well with a bad bunch of heroes. It’s really all about weapons and planning.

1. Sheriff Anderson: Guns don’t kill zombies, Sheriff Anderson kills zombies. Actually guns do kill zombies, which is what makes Sheriff Anderson the best hero in the game. Not only does he come strapped with a revolver to start the game, but his Man of Action power assures that he will never be without one for long. Whenever the Sheriff searches he can choose to pick up a gun as long as there is one in the discard pile. Since he starts the game with a gun, if he does not have one then there is one in the discard pile. See how this works? The fact is that guns rule in LNOE and Sheriff Anderson is always packin'.

2. Rachelle: Rachelle would be the number one if I were ranking my favorite characters. A curious out of town police officer, Rachelle arrives on the scene looking for a fight. She starts the game with a revolver, flashlight, and an ability to ignore any wound she receives on a roll of six. That is quite a package. My only criticism of Rachelle is that the revolver and flashlight are both really awesome, but if she loses them she does not have a ton going on for her.

3. Jake: The shady Drifter Jake Cartwright has a knack for turning up useful items with his Resourceful ability. Anytime Jake searches he draws two cards, keeping one of them. In a scenario that requires certain items he may actually be the best character to have. And since he is drawing so many cards he is usually a pretty good fighter due to most likely having a competent weapon as the zombies come crashing down all around him. I also really like his picture a bunch and his miniature is top notch. It is also not a coincidence that the top three heroes all have abilities related to items.

4. Sally: Despite her diminutive stature the High School Sweetheart may actually be the best pure fighter in the game. Her Lucky ability allows her to force a zombie to reroll any or all of it’s fight dice once per battle. That’s really good, especially since zombies are usually not rolling a bunch of dice. The two health boxes make her vulnerable, but it seems that she does not lose fights all that often. Her only drawback is that the revolver is the only gun that she can use, which I think just means that she can’t use the pump shotgun.

5. Amanda: The charming Prom Queen is one of the better hero’s in the game, relying on her looks and small stature to survive the zombie onslaught. Whenever Amanda shares a space with a male character, so eager are they to please her, that she grants them an extra die in any fight. Sounds more like a cheerleader than a prom queen, but whatever. The ability is rather circumstantial but a nice boost when it happens. Her real strength is her hiding ability, which essentially makes her a traveling cornfield. Whenever she fights a zombie she can roll before the fight starts and cancel the fight on a roll of 4+. Sure, it doesn’t kill any zombies, but it makes her a huge nuisance to the undead.

6. Sam: Sam the Diner Cook, former military, is the toughest hero in the game. The only character with four health boxes, he’s the one that you want slugging it out with the zombies. Unfortunately zombie slugfests rarely work out for the hero, so even Sam should avoid them. His Brawling ability to potentially cancel a fight card played against him does make him a better fighter, though a weapon would be even better. He should have a meat cleaver or something. In many of the games that we’ve played Sam’s glaring weakness has been exposed on more than one occasion. The zombie player can infect him with any of those cards that turn the hero into a zombie when they take another wound, thus nullifying the large amount of health that Sam has. That sucks for any character, but it hits Sam the hardest. Still, he’s a solid character.

7. Johnny: The quote on Johnny’s card sums him up pretty well, “I ain’t goin’ out like a chump.” Too true. Johnny usually does wind up getting killed, but no one would ever confuse him with a chump. His ending is usually spectacular. His Blitz ability is one of the most interesting in the game. During his move phase he can run around the board and fight zombies, and continue to move. His potential for destruction is unmatched, with a decent weapon he can decimate the enemy ranks in a single turn. He also wins fights on ties, which is like giving him a +1 to each fight die. However with only two health boxes the zombies only need a couple of lucky shots to take him out. Johnny has the highest home run potential of anyone in the game. Maybe he should be ranked higher.

8. Father Joseph: I don’t know what to make of Father Joseph. For starters he has one of the biggest handicaps in the game; he is unable to use guns. I don’t know why this would be, I can’t imagine that the Bible says something about killing zombies. In order to just be average he is going to need a pretty good ability. His Strength of Spirit allows him to sacrifice a point of health in order to cancel a zombie card on a roll of 3+. Considering how devastating many zombie cards are this is pretty good. The problem is that this ability is fueled by his health, and since he can’t use guns it means that he is going to be mixing it up with the zombies and short on health anyway. He is also immune to Last Night on Earth cards, so pairing him with Becky makes a pretty good combo. As the only Holy hero he benefits the most from the Faith cards.

9. Kenny: An outcast teen working at the supermarket, Kenny is able to focus his anger and kill a zombie in a fight even if no doubles are rolled. In order to use this ability Kenny has to take a wound (not a great option considering that he has two health boxes) or discard an item that he has. This ability, the awesomely named Cleanup on Aisle Seven, can be useful because anytime that you can kill a zombie is a good thing. But the cost is steep. In a one on one spot he can safely sacrifice a health to do it, but if there are other zombies around then he is basically sending himself to the morgue. And the other option is not much better, there are just not that many items that are worth sacrificing for a single kill and have it be worth it. In some scenarios the lighter is a good option, and maybe something like the jumper cables. I sort of see why the other teens don’t like Kenny too much.

10. Becky: Becky seems like she should be real good. In a zombie invasion scenario, wouldn’t we all want a nurse around? Especially a cute one like Becky? Especially in game where health is at such a premium? The problem with Becky is that she can heal the other heroes, but she has to be in the same space as them. Generally heroes should avoid being in a space with one another because of the devastating cards that cause them to lose a turn, so she runs the risk of that every time she uses it. And that is her only power. I have seen Becky go through an entire game without using her ability once, actually I’ve seen that happen more than once. Sorry Becky.

11. Billy: Someone may want to run a paternity test on Billy since he bears little resemblance to his father Sheriff Anderson. A misunderstood teen, he would rather run from his problems than face them. This makes him slightly better at running, so he gets a +1 to his movement roll each turn. Clearly not a power player, but I will say two positive things about him. One, his power automatically works each turn so you will get a lot of use out of it. Two, I’ve seen many games of LNOE come down to the last turn and often success hinges on a couple of movement rolls at the end of the game. If you need someone to get the keys to the truck or sacrifice himself to destroy a spawning pit, Billy may be your man.

12. Jenny: Jenny the Farmer’s Daughter is a total bum, I don’t know what else to say about her. I suppose her ability to keep hand weapons from breaking has it’s uses, but she should really be avoiding close combat anyway. Like with all the teen characters she has two health boxes, making her very vulnerable. She gets a slight bump in the rankings if the barn or cornfield is in play (she gets a an extra fight die in either area), but to take advantage of this she just needs to hang out in the cornfield which isn’t really a good idea. Oh, I don’t want to forget that she also gets a bonus when she rides that horse card.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hidden City Philadelphia card game

During the early part of the summer the Hidden City Philadelphia arts festival opened up and exposed unique locations in the city, filling them with art and performances and, in many instances, allowing visitors into spaces that are otherwise not accessible to the public. In conjunction with this project the Hidden City Philadelphia card game was produced. I was much more interested in this. The goal of the game is to build up actual Philadelphia neighborhoods to prosperity, the winner being the first player to complete a neighborhood with the required components. The festival focused on much of the Philadelphia that is off the beaten track, and while these elements are represented in the game the focus is more on the typical and the well known. I thought that was sort of weird.

Hidden City is for two to four players, but each player needs their own deck of cards to play the game. The cards themselves are totally lackluster for the most part. They are very simple and have no art on them at all, they are really just text. I guess the part that was most disappointing was that it seems like a great opportunity to include little facts about the places and people that are in the game, but it really does little of that. A good example of this are the neighborhood cards, it doesn’t even say where in the city the neighborhood is. Sure, I know where Logan Square is but I think it would greatly increase the appeal of the game (especially to out of towners) if some information about it was included, maybe a famous event that took place there or a bit of slang that the locals are known for. And I also feel compelled to acknowledge the total lack of South Philly in the game. Really, South Philly doesn’t get a neighborhood? Tacony is there. I see Fishtown. The best that South Philly gets is Two Street, thus totally ignoring the Italian Market, the Stadiums, and just about everything else. The cards are broken into several categories and they are easily identifiable by the different colored borders, which does help a lot.

Game play is very simple. Each player draws a hand of seven cards from their deck and then a single landmark card is placed in the center of the board. The game works on a resource and purchase system, essentially every card in play generates a set number of resources each turn, which are used to pay for additional cards. Cards are drawn each turn and many of the cards allows the player to draw extras. The landmark in play is shared by all players, allowing everyone to benefit from the resources that it produces. Example, William Penn’s Charter (4 resources) is in play as the landmark, and I also have Society Hill (4) and Mayor Michael Nutter (6) on my board. This gives me a total of 14 resources to spend on my turn to purchase new cards. With my resources I decide to purchase The Constitution for 12. I decide to not make any more purchases, thus my two remaining points are wasted for that turn. It is very easy, but also extremely cumbersome as the game goes on. By the last couple turns of the game Mike and I were both generating over 40 resources a turn, making it tough to keep track of them. The rules do suggest that a pen and paper may be helpful for his, which I agree with. However, I think it would have been better if the game came with counters or a less intensive system was developed.

The game is won when a player has a neighborhood in play and all of the components that it requires have been played on it. That neighborhood has now been fully developed and the player wins! Two Street requires that an Art, Education, Economy, and History card be played onto it. I also really do not like that the aspects of the neighborhoods are called components, it seems so robotic and cold. Actually, the whole game sort of feels that way. I suspect that the game design was purchased and then Philadelphia was just plugged into it, sort of like Mad Libs.

I really wanted to like this game a lot, but unfortunately it falls into the mediocre category. I suspect that I will certainly play it a couple more times, but I do not think that I will purchase a third or fourth deck and get some others involved. The main thing is that it loses steam as it goes along. In the first couple of turns each player has only a couple of cards in front of them, making it easy to keep track of things. But it quickly gets bogged down, collapsing under the weight of the awkward resource point system. More play testing would have benefited this game greatly.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

One if by sea, two if by land, 120 if by air.

I am totally perplexed by the Legendary Tracker (Epic) feat found in the Complete Adventurer. Now, I really don’t ever play or DM in an epic level campaign so perhaps I am missing something here, but how is a character supposed to make a DC 120 check? I mean, that seems really absurd for even the most munchkinny of munchkin players.

The legendary tracker feat allows an extremely skilled woodsman to track prey across virtually any surface, including underwater and through the air. The DC for tracking an opponent through the air is 120! So how does one go about making that roll? I have no idea but I am willing to try and find out. First off, any character that qualifies for this feat is no joke. The requirements are Track, Wisdom 25, Knowledge (Nature) 30, and Survival 30. That is one serious ranger, but even then can he really track an opponent through the sky? Let’s be generous and say that our tracker in question is 40th level, and has 43 ranks in Survival (the skill that track is based on). Realistically I would think that anyone who is 40th level is probably friends with a wizard that has other ways of locating this person, but we’ll say that they are out of town. Our Tracker’s Wisdom is very high, somewhere around 30. That is another +10 as his ability modifier. He also has a Periapt of Wisdom +10, to give him another +5 to his Track check. Even though it is not entirely legit I would be more than happy to give him another +2 as a synergy bonus related to his Knowledge (Nature). 25 ranks of Knowledge should be enough to cover some atmospheric conditions that will help in this particular example. This man is also so serious about tracking that he has taken Skill Focus (Survival) for another +3 to his roll. I can’t think of an item that gives a bonus to tracking, but I’m sure it exists. And this guy has it. And it gives a +10 to his track. All together that puts his modifier at +73. We will assume that he rolls a 20 on his attempt for a grand total of 93. He is still 27 points short of tracking the elusive airborne creature. So how does he do it? Any ideas?